“Shining Armor, I… I don’t think he will surrender peacefully…”
“Princess Celestia wouldn’t do it if she didn’t think it would work, Twilight.”
“But… I’m afraid… If it doesn’t work, Princess Celestia told me I’ll have to… What if I can’t stop him? What if I can’t wield the Eleme—”
“Twily, if it comes to that, you will be able to stop him. And remember, Cadance and I will be here to help you always.”
“An instant camera?”
Rarity smiled and nodded, levitating the camera in the air for Princess Twilight to look at. “A Spectral System Go-Pro, to be exact,” Rarity recited, quoting the salespony she’d bought it from.
Princess Twilight didn’t seem nearly as excited as Rarity felt. Judging by how she’d backtracked several steps, it quickly became apparent she was actually wary of the foreign object. The way her ears perked up and the way she tilted her head, on the other hoof, were clear signs of the fascination and curiosity that the small device evoked.
Just a few snaps and Rarity would have undeniable, irrevocable, and unquestionable proof that Princess Twilight was not a figment of her imagination, thank you very much. Proof tangible enough that she could take it to Princess Denza herself. After all, the trip to Canterlot she and Fluttershy had been planning for weeks was just a few days away, and it would be the perfect chance to get the princess’ help.
She lowered the camera and delicately brushed her hoof against it as though it were the finest Saddle Arabian silk. Honestly, with how much it had cost, it might as well have been.
She floated her saddlebag over, took out the camera’s instruction manual, and flipped through its pages. “I was assured it is the best available model, and that it will take pictures of—” She looked at Princess Twilight and smiled deviously. “—absolutely anything.”
Her sentence barely finished, the instruction manual vanished from her magical hold and reappeared in front of the princess. The parchment she’d been using for unknown words from Rarity’s magazines appeared as well, which the princess added to as she read.
Rarity decided she might as well test the camera out now that her ghostly model was engrossed in her reading. She pointed the lens toward Princess Twilight, looked into the viewfinder and… saw nopony?
“Princess?” she asked, looking up and finding the princess gone. However, after a quick glance around, she spotted Princess Twilight standing next to a wall, wings flared up and staring at Rarity wide-eyed. “O-oh, I beg your pardon, I didn’t mean to frighten you!”
The camera’s lens quickly lowered, and Rarity coughed awkwardly. Perhaps pointing unknown objects at an easily excitable alicorn prone to throwing ponies against bookcases was not the brightest idea she’d ever had.
The manual appeared once more beside the princess. “…Does it hurt?” she asked, glancing back and forth between the camera and the booklet.
Though Rarity understood why the princess would ask that, it was hard to stifle her amused giggle. “Not in the least!” she exclaimed brightly, pointing the lens at herself, smiling and almost snapping another picture. It wasn’t that she was opposed to preserving photographs of her youthful self, but she had a much better idea. “Why don’t you try, Princess Twilight?” She turned to the alicorn and levitated the camera toward her. “Now that you’ve read the theory, perhaps practice will be more interesting?”
Princess Twilight’s expression lit up, and she carefully took the camera within her magical grasp. The fascination with which she looked at the instant camera was something Rarity had an easy time finding adorable, and she would have said as much if she knew the princess better. Princess Twilight, still oblivious to Rarity’s amused gaze, studied the instructions before pointing the camera toward a nearby desk.
With the click of a button, the photograph ejected itself from the camera and into Princess Twilight’s magical grip. She stared at the picture, her eyes wide, for about thirty seconds. “This…” She drifted off and turned toward Rarity, flipping the picture around to show a black square. “Nothing is happening.” She levitated the instructions again and read, her brow furrowed. “Why is it not working?”
Rarity bit her lip, giggling when the princess gave her a helpless glance. Goodness, it was cute seeing the princess be baffled by modern technology, wasn’t it? “Be patient, Princess, it’s not truly instantaneous. Why not give it a little shake?” she advised, doing a similar motion with her hoof.
Princess Twilight didn’t seem convinced, but she nevertheless gently shook the picture before drawing it close to her face, eyebrows scrunched up. As the seconds passed, Rarity’s smile grew as the princess’ eyes widened and her mouth took the shape of an O.
“This is— How did— What magic—” Princess Twilight stumbled on her own words, her thoughts obviously flying at a pace her mouth couldn’t follow. She teleported next to Rarity and showed her the photograph of the desk, still rambling on in stunned, incomplete sentences.
“Oh! What a lovely picture of the desk,” Rarity exclaimed, taking it with her hoof to have a closer look. In reality, only half the desk was actually in frame, but an expert photographer wasn’t simply born as such, after all. “Would you like to take another one?”
Before she’d even finished her question, Princess Twilight was already looking for the next subject of her photograph. “Uhm…” She looked at Rarity for a minute, and the unicorn couldn’t help but strike a dazzling pose. Princess Twilight instead turned away, leaving a disappointed Rarity behind, and pointed the lens at Elara, who was resting on top of a desk.
No matter, I can take plenty of pictures of myself, Rarity thought theatrically, still smiling despite the little pang of disappointment. She watched as the princess took a picture of Elara, and couldn’t stifle a laugh when Princess Twilight furiously shook the picture in an attempt to develop it faster.
The second it did, the princess once again rushed to get Rarity’s “expert” assessment.
“My, how pretty!” she exclaimed, admiring the photograph of a perplexed Elara staring back at the camera. Now that Princess Twilight seemed thrilled by the concept of photographs, Rarity wondered if she ought to finally see about getting a picture of the royal herself. “Princess Twilight, would you like me to take your photograph?” she asked, carefully grasping the camera with her hooves and watching as Princess Twilight’s magical aura dissipated.
Rarity took several steps back, putting some space between them and pointing the camera at the princess. Looking through the viewfinder presented Rarity with an amusing sight: Princess Twilight’s entire body was visibly stiff as she stood, her ears were pressed against her head, and she had one eye closed while the other remained open.
A laugh escaped Rarity and she smiled sheepishly when Princess Twilight glared at her. “Sorry, Princess. Now, relax; I promise you that this won’t hurt one bit.”
Despite her reassurances, the princess still seemed uncomfortable. Ears flattened against her skull, half hiding behind her mane, half ready to flee at the first sign of trouble. Rarity had a more firm hold on the second laugh that bubbled up from within. Whoever didn’t think I was crazy before will most certainly think that I am when I tell them an incredibly powerful spirit is afraid of a camera, she thought with a smile.
“Now, say ‘cheese,’ Princess.”
The flash went off and the picture that came out of the camera was nothing short of comical. There she was: Princess Twilight Sparkle, the immortal, captive spirit of the tree library, looking as though there was a fly on her nose. Rarity bit her lip and showed the picture to the princess, who immediately grabbed ahold of it, gazing at it intently for a moment before glaring at Rarity.
“I look ridiculous!” she said accusingly, flaring her wings in apparent agitation.
“I’m sorry, Princess,” Rarity replied, unable to help the few chuckles that came out of her mouth. “Would you… I mean… should I take a few more? I’m sure we’ll get better pictures once you get used to it.”
She was almost afraid that the princess would say no after a minute of silence passed, during which the princess frowned thoughtfully. “All right then, but if I look ridiculous again I will—”
“This time will be much better, Princess, I promise you. Just pretend as though this is for a highly important event, and you would like to present yourself in the best light.”
Rarity’s words had a stronger effect on the princess than she expected them to. Gone was the awkward fear that had made the first picture into just a laugh-worthy experience. Princess Twilight circled around on the spot a few times, trying dozens of different poses for half a second each before changing her mind and moving again. She put one hoof in front of the others, flaring out her wings to their maximum length, and took a deep breath. “Right, this is… no, wait…” She flapped her wings twice, giving each of them a once-over before taking another deep breath. “All right… I’m ready.”
Rather than smile, she decided on a serene expression, face framed by her mane, which almost seemed to make a conscious effort to do so. One lock of hair disagreed with the rest and came loose, hanging in front of her left eye.
Whatever Princess Twilight’s intentions had been, Rarity was impressed. She’s quite stunning, isn’t she? It took a minute of gawking for Rarity to finally look into the viewfinder and snap two photographs. Once developed, she was pleased to see Twilight was just as impressive in them as she’d been when posing for them. It seemed the princess, too, was satisfied with the picture she was given, nodding approvingly at it.
Pictures in tow, Princess Twilight quickly trotted over to the table where she’d left the guide and continued reading, giving Rarity the much-needed opportunity to hold her own photographic tour of the library.
“I’ll be right back, Princess,” Rarity announced, trotting off and leaving the alicorn to continue examining the pictures and reading.
If she was to prove to Princess Denza that Princess Twilight was not a figment of her imagination, she’d need proof of not only the princess, but of the library. Feeling much more confident about wandering the library by herself, she went on her own personal photographic tour: the maze, the floating chandeliers, anything and everything she thought would help prove her case. By the time she had finished, Rarity ended up near a small desk hidden away on the first floor, parchments, and quills scattered on it.
“Oh!” The princess’s sudden appearance half-frightened Rarity to death, but she was able to collect herself quickly. She cleared her throat and smiled. “Yes, Princess?”
The princess glanced at the camera. “May I borrow your device again?”
“Of course, Princess! Be my guest,” she said, hoofing the machine over to the princess. “I’m delighted you like the camera so much.”
Princess Twilight merely thanked her before teleporting away again, giving Rarity the opportunity to inspect the desk. On the wall hung a calendar and clock, both things Rarity had brought to help the princess get organized and keep track of time. She was pleased to see the princess had already filled in the following week with all sorts of tasks, but one whole day was curiously empty.
She lowered her gaze and found her very own copy of Legends and Myths of Equestria lying alongside several sheets of parchment. Despite Princess Twilight’s negativity, she’d brought the book to the library regardless, hoping to coax the alicorn into releasing any helpful information. She looked toward the parchment and realized they were all annotations, corrections, and questions pertaining to the legend.
In other words, just what she needed.
“Let’s see,” she muttered, squinting her eyes as she read. “Journal entry number one thousand six hund—”
Practically jumping away from the table in fright, Rarity turned around and found Princess Twilight behind her again, a particularly unimpressed expression on her face. Oh dear, why did I have to look at her things? Wonderful job, Rarity, you’ve upset the ghost of an overpowered alicorn princess. Do put that in your résumé.
“Pr-Princess Twilight!” she exclaimed, looking from the research notes to the princess. “I— H-have you come to show me your pictures?”
Princess Twilight briefly glanced at the desk before looking back to Rarity and shaking her head. “I…” She looked unsure of how to continue her sentence, and Rarity could have sworn she saw a blush grace the alicorn’s cheeks. “Will you be leaving soon?”
“Relatively soon, yes,” she replied, furrowing her brow. Had… she crossed a line somewhere? “Why? Would you like for me to leave now?”
Princess Twilight shook her head. “No. I just… I don’t know if your camera will be ready by the time you leave.” She looked at the floor and frowned, seemingly upset. “I am having trouble reassembling it.”
Rarity raised her eyebrow. “Reassembling my camera?”
Princess Twilight nodded quietly and signaled for Rarity to follow her. They made their way through the rows of bookcases until they reached a table at the main entrance, on which Elara occupied herself by rearranging the pieces of what had been Rarity’s new and expensive camera a mere thirty minutes ago.
“I thought there would be assembly instructions in the book you provided, but…” She levitated the pieces and gave them a closer look.
“That’s… That’s because… It’s not meant to be disassembled…” Rarity said quietly, watching as Princess Twilight put the pieces back on the table with a crestfallen “oh.”
If all her years in the fashion industry hadn’t helped her perfect the art of the “poker face,” Rarity might not have been able to mask her horror. She felt faint of heart, levitating the broken camera pieces and staring at them. If it hadn’t cost her a thousand bits, she’d have let the pieces fall to the ground instead of slowly putting them back on the table.
“I… I…” She leaned back a bit, her knees faltering but not giving in solely because she did not have a chaise longue to actually faint on. Heaven knew how long the library had gone without a proper cleaning. She took a deep breath and rested her hoof on her cheek. The only possible comfort she found was that Princess Twilight hadn’t known better. Probably. “I suppose there’s nothing to be done… Almost a thousand bits down the drain…”
“A thousand bits?!” the princess asked in shock, glancing back and forth between the disassembled camera and Rarity with a look of complete and utter horror. She waved her hoof wildly in the air, as if trying to figure out what to say. “But you could purchase a… a small cottage near the castle with that!” she sputtered.
Rarity couldn’t help but giggle at the princess’ horror even despite her own. “Not anymore you can’t. I’m afraid the value of bits has greatly diminished in the last thousand years, Princess,” she explained, throwing her camera one last sorrowful glance. It wouldn’t be in her best interest to dwell on it too much, so she quickly moved on to other things.
Namely, her keys to freeing Princess Twilight.
“Right then, I’ll take my cards and be on my way,” she announced, grabbing a stack of thirty cards upon which she’d copied the information to all of Twilight’s lost books. “It’s already rather late, and I promised my mother I’d look after my sister Sweetie Belle tonight.” Since that usually included Scootaloo, it meant she would have less time to pack for the trip.
“Don’t forget my book!” Princess Twilight quickly said, a large volume floating next to her as she trotted behind Rarity.
Rarity blinked. She’d completely forgotten about the book, mostly because it was Princess Twilight who had insisted she borrow it. “Princess, it’s kind of you to allow me to take out so many books, but I’ll be busy packing so I don—”
“Return date is in four days,” Princess Twilight interrupted, forcefully pushing the book against Rarity’s saddlebag. Why was she so insistent on it? And why did the number of days keep shortening? “You will be back from your trip by then, won’t you?”
Rarity nodded, putting the book inside her saddlebag and stopping right in front of the exit tunnel. “I will! Saturday night, to be exact. I promise I’ll make sure to stop by first thing Sunday morning, if that’s all right with you.”
Princess Twilight nodded several times before trotting back toward the table where the camera’s remains were. Rarity watched her levitate all the camera pieces and in a flash, they and the princess disappeared. She’d already become accustomed to the princess never saying goodbye, so she simply shrugged it off and stepped into the tunnel.
“Oh, Rarity, wait!”
Rarity stopped in her tracks and looked back into the library, finding the princess standing several feet behind.
Princess Twilight shifted awkwardly for a moment. “Oh, uh… farewell.”
Rarity couldn’t stop herself from giggling. “Farewell, Princess Twilight,” she said, bowing slightly for good measure.
That said, Princess Twilight nodded and teleported away, prompting Rarity to playfully shake her head and continue down the tunnel.
Sunday it is.
The city of Canterlot was quite possibly one of Rarity’s favorite places, if only because of how dearly she longed to live within its white walls.
Sophisticated theatre, exciting races, extravagantly elegant shops, architecturally magnificent restaurants, beautiful gardens, and the top ponies could all be found in Equestria’s capital. Not to mention all the hours of shopping, visiting museums, and just trotting around the city feeling like the crème de la crème. In many ways, being in Canterlot felt like a fairy tale to her, and considering her new purpose behind the trip, she might as well consider herself the protagonist of Equestria’s newest fairy tale.
And that particular fairy tale would begin, like all good stories should, with an audience with royalty.
Three princesses lost to the ages were locked away around the kingdom. Legend told that the princess of the sun was near a raging waterfall, the princess of the moon was trapped inside her very own mountain, and the last princess was locked away inside an underground library.
For now, however, sightseeing was Rarity’s top priority.
Even if she was going to go look for them, her entire existence would not revolve around the princesses. She had a life to keep up with, and as horrid as it sounded, the princesses weren’t going anywhere. She and Fluttershy had a very busy schedule ahead, and she had no intention of spoiling a nice trip with her best friend.
“Oh, Fluttershy! Look at this necklace!” Rarity gasped, pointing excitedly at an emerald necklace on display in one of the stands of Canterlot’s largest flea market.
Rows and rows of stands offering all kinds of objects were spread throughout an enormous plaza. With how crowded the place was, it would take at least several hours to get through them all—not that Rarity minded the crowd, of course. She had brought her best sapphire necklace from back home just for the occasion, and she couldn’t say she didn’t delight in all the mares gawking at it—which she knew they would. Just because she was from Ponyville didn’t mean she couldn’t dress like she was from Canterlot, no?
“Oh, and look at this one!” she continued, pointing at a ruby necklace on display. Nothing like the ones she’d found, but very pretty nevertheless.
When the only reply she received was a giggle, she glanced around and noticed Fluttershy looking at one of the pictures from the library. The pegasus’ giggling made it easy to guess which photograph it was.
“A most graceful princess, isn’t she?” Rarity asked with a laugh, turning back toward the stand. While she couldn’t show that particular picture to Princess Denza for obvious reasons, it didn’t mean she couldn’t keep it for herself. A nice and comedic way to remember the beginning of… my… friendship? with Princess Twilight. Funny, who’d have ever thought I’d call a ghost my friend one day.
Fluttershy nodded, giggling softly. “Very graceful.”
The train ride from Ponyville to Canterlot had been spent subjecting Fluttershy to even more stories about the princess, as well as Rarity’s decision to seek out the other two alicorns. She hadn’t been surprised at her friend’s reluctance at the idea of her traveling through Equestria on a potentially dangerous mission, but the pictures of Princess Twilight had shifted Fluttershy’s apprehension somewhat. As Rarity had hoped, offering real, tangible proof of Princess Twilight seemed to work wonders on getting other ponies to believe her tale.
“After this, we’re going to Floral Faune’s, right?” Fluttershy asked, trotting over and hoofing the photographs back to Rarity. Visiting Floral Faune’s, a store that specialized in the care of wildflowers, had been the only request of the pegasus. Considering their schedule was practically packed with things Rarity needed to do, she’d be remiss to deny her friend’s only errand.
“Of course, darling! And after that, we must stop by that quaint ice cream shop down by Fifth Avenue. I’ve heard the ice cream they make is simply divine,” Rarity said, looking away from the necklaces and continuing on her path.
It was then that she noticed books for sale at a stand further away. Perhaps, if she was very lucky, she’d find one of Princess Twilight’s books!
“I’m going ahead, Fluttershy!” she called back, cantering toward the stand.
The stand, boasting a sign decorated with the title “Winter & Spring’s Travelling Books,” was managed by an elderly pegasus mare. Despite her age, she still retained a vibrant ochre-colored coat, and the glasses she wore gave off an elegant intellectual appearance. The stand itself was simple, which was understandable considering they had to be set up and torn down quickly.
“Oh my, what a stunning necklace!” the mare exclaimed, clapping her hooves together and squinting her eyes to take a closer look at Rarity’s sapphire jewelry. “I’ve never seen any like it!”
“It’s quite unique, isn’t it?” Rarity replied, absentmindedly stroking her necklace while taking a look at the stand’s goods.
At least thirty old-looking books were neatly placed on the stand. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they all somehow turned out to be Princess Twilight’s lost books? Rarity took out her stack of cards and started looking through them, trying to find a matching title with the books on the stand.
“Can I help you, dear?” the mare asked, rearranging the books to help Rarity go through them faster.
“Ah, thank you!” Rarity replied, acknowledging the gesture by smiling quickly at the mare before going back to her cross-checking. “And that’s kind of you to offer, but it’s quite all right. I…” She put down her cards with a crestfallen sigh. “I’m afraid you don’t have any of the books I’m looking for.”
In a way, she couldn’t say she was completely devastated, as it would have been far too much coincidence for a book over a thousand years old to be— A thousand years old? She looked at the book on the stands: worn-out, the leather they had been bound in falling to pieces, the pages stained from use. It had only just occurred to her that there was no feasible way Princess Twilight’s books had survived the passing of time. Even more so if they were scattered across the land instead of carefully preserved.
Rarity’s heart fell. Does… Does that mean she can’t be freed?
“Oh dear, I understand the pain of not finding a book you want, but there’s no need for that sad face! Come, come, let me look at your cards,” she asked, gesturing with her hoof. When a dismayed Rarity did as instructed, the elder mare inspected the cards through squinted eyes. “I’m sorry, dear, I don’t recognize most of these titles,” she said after a minute, but before Rarity’s dramatic sigh left her lips, she continued: “There is one that seems familiar, however!”
The mare nodded, jotting down the title from the card on a stray piece of paper. “Why don’t you come back next Friday? My husband and I will be leaving town soon, but if I find it, I could bring it here when the market returns.”
“Oh, that would be splendid!” Rarity exclaimed, immediately cheering up. “Though unfortunately, I don’t live here. I’m visiting from Ponyville.”
The mare smiled at that. “Ponyville, you say? My husband is very fond of Ponyville,” she said, returning the cards to Rarity. “He goes there once a year to visit. I often wonder if I should go with him since he somehow always leaves a book while he’s there! I sometimes think he’s just giving them away,” she added, shaking her head playfully. “As for the book, I might be able to meet with you tomorrow afternoon, if you’d like. We’d have to set up a time and place.”
“Oh, thank you! How kind of you!” Rarity exclaimed, trying not to get her hopes up too much. She’d get excited once she saw the book, not before.
Minutes later, once the information had been exchanged and a meeting time arranged, Rarity and Fluttershy went on their way. Or would have gone on their way had they not been interrupted by the sound of distant trumpets. Ponies around them gasped in surprise and quickly hurried off, leaving Rarity and Fluttershy to look around in confusion.
“Ah, sounds like the princess is back from her visit to Saddle Arabia!” the elder mare exclaimed. “You better hurry along if you want a chance to see her!”
Before Fluttershy could even express her excitement, Rarity took her by the hoof and galloped away, thanking the elder mare in the process. She had thought the princess would be back already, but there was simply no way she would miss the opportunity to see the princess now that it had fallen into her lap, as it were.
The two mares made their way through the crowds of tourists and locals, all clamoring to get a glimpse of the event. The distant sound of the marching band only got louder and louder the closer they got, drowning out the noise of the excited ponies and Fluttershy’s hasty apologies as Rarity relentlessly pushed her way through the crowd. When they finally reached the edge of the sidewalk, the two mares carefully maneuvered around ponies and watched.
Colts and fillies climbed up on their parents to get a better view of the spectacle, mares swooned and giggled at the dashing soldiers, elder ponies grumbled about the monarchy becoming an excessively loud entertainment show; the excitement of the crowd was contagious to Rarity. All of it added to her already fervent desire to be a part of that world of show and prestige, glamour and glitz.
Soldiers of all ranks and types marched down the streets in orderly lines, led by the blaring trumpets of the royal marching band. All the costumes and uniforms, perfectly crafted, perfectly designed; how she envied the pony in charge of the royal wardrobe. Her heart beat to the rhythm of the soldier’s loud hoofsteps, her eyes glued to the corner of the street in hopes of catching the first glimpse of the royal chariot.
And, with some surprise afterward, she caught herself wishing Princess Twilight could be there to see.
Her thoughts were dispelled, however, by the sound of another loud trumpet and the effusive screams of the crowd, signaling the arrival of the royal couple.
Princess Cadenza Armor the Tenth and her husband, Prince Silver Lance, entered the street sitting on a beautiful golden chariot. Prince Silver Lance, a magnificent unicorn with a lovely blue coat and a pearl white mane, raised his forehoof, his cape falling off his shoulder as he did so. The crowd immediately fell silent in reply, every single eye staring down the couple.
Once all was quiet, Princess Denza stood upon the chariot, and Rarity felt her heart skip a beat. Though Princess Twilight was, well, a princess, she didn’t send chills down Rarity’s spine for the same reason Princess Denza did. She was the princess Rarity had heard of her entire life, the one she had dreamed of meeting and, heavens allow it, work for in the castle, days upon days designing elegant gowns for Equestria’s beloved princess.
“She’s soooo pretty,” sighed a filly sitting by Rarity’s hooves, gawking up at Denza as if she were a porcelain doll.
The princess had inherited her pale pink coat from her mother, and her grandmother before that. It glistened under the sunlight, complemented perfectly by the silver silk cape that hung on her body and covered her cutie mark. Her violet mane was tied up in a complicated-looking bun, hiding away the pink streaks accenting her mane that were only visible on the rare occasions she let it down in public.
Princess Denza smiled brilliantly and waved, cheers of admiration erupting from the enthusiastic crowd—amongst which were Rarity and Fluttershy. The princess and prince waved with all the grace and finesse expected of them. Prince Silver Lance leaned in to whisper something to his wife, and she laughed, nuzzling against him for a second. Oh, how perfect they were, the royal couple.
She would never admit it, of course, but Rarity was oh so envious of them. In a way, wasn’t that the dream of so many mares? How she wished to be in that golden chariot, sitting alongside a handsome prince—the love of her life—waving away at an adoring crowd. How she dreamt of having her prince whisper things in her ears, making her laugh and feel blissful in every sense of the word, in every aspect of her life.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful?
She stirred from her daydream to the sound of a trumpet and watched as the chariot and soldiers continued on their path. Her eyes were still glued to the princess all the way up until the chariot disappeared around the corner of the street. The crowds started to disperse now that the princess and prince were gone. Most wouldn’t see them until the next parade, but Rarity?
Rarity would see them very soon.
Right after visiting Fluttershy’s shop, of course.
“I think we should be close to the plaza the guard mentioned,” Fluttershy announced, leading Rarity inside one of Canterlot’s many alleys. A guard had told them the shop could be found near the statue of The Teacher, but they hadn’t had much luck yet. “He said the statue wouldn’t be difficult to recognize.”
Admittedly, Rarity was not being much help. Her mind kept wandering back to Princess Denza, rehearsing over and over the eloquent speech with which she was going to convince the princess to help… the other Princess. Did Princess Denza believe in the fairy tale? She was a descendant of one of the princesses, was she not? She of all ponies had to be a believer.
“Oh, there it is!”
Fluttershy’s voice snapped Rarity out of her thoughts. She saw they had arrived at a small plaza with a large statue sitting in the middle. The place was oddly empty considering it was tourist season for Canterlot, but Rarity wasn’t complaining. Well, maybe a little, considering it meant nopony could admire her necklace.
Fluttershy immediately sped off toward the shop, leaving Rarity behind. Wildflowers weren’t really her area of expertise, so she decided to take a closer look at the magnificent marble statue. As she got closer to it, she noticed a faint blue magical aura permeating the statue, no doubt to preserve it from any kind of damage.
The statue depicted a beautiful alicorn princess and a small filly. The princess, sitting on her hind legs, looked down at the filly with a kind smile, her wing carefully draped around the younger pony. Though it was marble, the alicorn princess seemed as though she could come to life at any moment.
The unicorn filly herself was looking up at the princess with a bright smile. Curious… She seems vaguely familiar… Rarity thought, tilting her head and squinting her eyes. If it weren’t for the lack of wings, absent cutie mark, and the fact that the filly was actually smiling, she’d have a striking resemblance to Princess Twilight. Perhaps the princess’ manecut was all the rage in olden times. The base of the statues was decorated with several carvings of the sun. There was an inscription on it, as well.
“Nice statues, aren’t they?”
Rarity turned to find a pegasus guard standing next to her. Where had he come from? “Oh, uhm, yes! They are quite nice indeed.”
When their eyes met, he took off his helmet to reveal a dark blue mane that went wonderfully with his dark grey coat. “You must be from outta town. You and your friend seemed kinda lost earlier. You passed by my patrol station twice,” he explained, grinning cheekily. “Three times and I’d have stopped you to ask if you needed help.”
Rarity’s cheeks turned red. Great, she’d acted like a clueless tourist in front of an attractive guard. She certainly was on the right path to meeting Prince Charming.
“Oh, well, it’s been some time since I was here last,” she said, laughing nervously and playing with her mane. “But we found it eventually! No rescuing necessary!” When the guard grinned at her, she turned to the statue before her cheeks became even redder. “The teacher and her student, I suppose. It’s rare to see a statue of an alicorn that isn’t Princess Denza.”
“There’s two more alicorn statues, actually. The Dream Watcher is near here. It’s my favorite.” He paused and nodded toward one of the exit alleys. “I could take you to see it, if you want! And your friend too, of course,” he quickly added.
My, my! Rarity, perhaps you might find your Prince Charming yet!
Rarity raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Oh dear, but didn’t you say you were on patrol? I certainly wouldn’t want to get you into any trouble!”
The guard blushed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Right… I guess my offer could take place after my shift ends?” he asked, receiving only a giggle in reply. He cleared his throat and played around with his helmet. “So, what brings you to the capital?”
Rarity straightened herself up. “Well, if you must know, my best friend and I had been planning to come for a while now,” she explained. She paused for dramatic effect and added, “And I’m hoping to be granted an audience with Princess Denza.”
His expression shifted into a serious one. “Oh? At what time? I’ll be on guest escort duty tonight.”
“Oh, er, well… I don’t have an appointment scheduled as of yet,” she admitted, shifting uncomfortably when he raised his eyebrows.
“You don’t?” he asked, surprised. “What, were you planning on walking right up to the castle, use your bewitching looks and charm to get yourself an audience with Princess Denza?” he teased, a grin returning to his face.
Rarity giggled foalishly at the subtle compliment. “Perhaps…” she admitted. Truth be told, she had considered taking it to the royal court, but she wasn’t sure she’d like talking about Princess Twilight in front of so many ponies. It would probably be Sunday by the time she’d finished showing the pictures to everypony in the room. “Would you know where and when I may schedule an appointment for today?”
The stallion shook his head and sucked his teeth. “I’m sorry to say it’s too late for today. You can only schedule an appointment at noon. I would suggest you wait until tomorrow and head to the castle before then. The head secretary is always in the lobby during that time, so you just have to talk to her.”
Rarity’s ears fell at the news. “But… My train home leaves tomorrow evening! I would need to see Princess Denza just a few hours after I’ve made the appointment, and that’s practically impossible!”
“Why don’t you stay until Sunday, then? Your friend wouldn’t mind staying here another day, would she?”
As much as Rarity would have loved staying another day in Canterlot, she knew it was infeasible. “I can’t,” she said, shaking her head and sighing deeply. “I’m meeting with somepony back home on Sunday. It would be terribly rude of me to not show up to see her after I promised I would.” She groaned and put a hoof to her forehead. Organizing another trip to Canterlot would be a hassle, and it didn’t help that she’d already spent a great deal of money on… her broken camera.
“Don’t give up!” the guard said encouragingly, putting his helmet back on and winking. “Maybe luck will be on your side!”
“Am I to assume ‘Luck’ is your name?” Rarity asked with her most dazzling smile.
The stallion laughed and shook his head. “No, the name’s Rift Shield. But I’m sure it must mean luck in some language,” he insisted. “I do have to go now, though.” He then bowed to Rarity, eliciting another string of giggles from her, and started to trot away. “Next time we meet, I’ll be the one taking you to the princess, Miss Lost Visitor!”
“I do have a name, you know!” she called back.
“And I can’t wait to find out what it is!”
And with that, Rift Shield disappeared into an alley, missing Fluttershy by less than a minute. The ecstatic pegasus left her store carrying no fewer than three bags filled with all sorts of gardening tools, carefully putting them down on the ground next to the statue and counting the items inside.
Rarity waited until her friend was finished and all was in order to speak up. “Ready to go, darling?” They could go get that ice cream! And maybe stop by the theatre or go for a stroll through the park now that there would be no meeting Princess Denza that afternoon.
“Oh yes! I got everything I wanted,” Fluttershy exclaimed, smiling gratefully when Rarity picked up one of the smaller bags to carry. “I’m sorry I took so long! There were so many things, and the nice shopkeeper kept giving me tips for my gardening.”
“Not to worry, sweetheart! I had the most delightful chat with a rather fetching town guard. Now I understand why all those mares were practically fainting over those soldiers during the parade. And don’t give me that look, I wasn’t one of them!” she protested, huffing when Fluttershy playfully giggled at her. “Now then, let us be off before the line at the ice cream shop gets too long.”
“Shouldn’t we go to the castle first?” Fluttershy suggested, trotting next to Rarity and carefully tying the bags to her saddlebag. “That’s more important than ice cream, isn’t it?”
Rarity sighed theatrically, airily waving her hoof in a dismissive motion. “No castle today, it seems. The guard told me we’ve apparently missed the deadline to schedule an appointment, so I’ll have to go at around midday tomorrow. It’s cutting it a bit too close for my taste, but I really don’t wish to delay this further.”
“Do you want me to go with you?”
Rarity shook her head. “Not necessary, darling, but thank you for offering. It shouldn’t take me long, and I wouldn’t want you missing out on sightseeing because of me.”
It was just a simple procedure after all. Go in, make an appointment, pray that the princess’ schedule is magically free for the day, meet the princess, convince her of Princess Twilight’s existence, make a rescue plan, then go home and have a cup of tea.
What could go wrong, really?
The answer to her question was, unfortunately: Many things.
Just as Rift Shield advised, she headed to the castle before twelve, intent on getting her appointment as soon as possible. With confident steps, she followed the appropriate path until the main entrance loomed in the distance, two guards patrolling by the closed gate.
At the sight, her confidence waned and her steps became less pronounced, less hurried. Her speech, so clear in her mind not even five minutes before, now seemed lacking, faulty, and she couldn’t properly remember half of it. She stopped in her tracks and took out the pictures she’d brought. Though Princess Twilight’s “proper” photograph was inspiring, it was the absolutely ridiculous photo of her that really helped Rarity gain back some of her lost nerves. She put the pictures back in her saddlebag and went on her way, reinvigorated by the princess’ “elegant” expressions.
Unlike Rift Shield, the two guards by the door looked anything but friendly. Either guarding the door was a much less pleasant task than patrolling the city, or she had simply been in luck when she met Rift Shield.
“State your business,” the guard on the left commanded when she approached.
Odd, hadn’t Rift said it was a secretary who would be in charge of making the appointment? Did she have to pass a preliminary test in order to be able to actually have a chance at scheduling a meeting with Princess Denza?
“I’m seeking an audience with Princess Denza. I have… information that might help her with a long-standing… problem?”
“A long-standing problem?” the guard asked, raising an eyebrow.
Rarity didn’t immediately reply. “Er, well…” She realized how ridiculous she would sound if she stated the truth, but she hadn’t come prepared with a good enough lie that would get her the audience. She reached inside her saddlebag and pulled out the photos, glancing back and forth between them and the guard. “Well, I…”
The guard took one look at the photos and exhaled a long-suffering sigh. “Here we go again.” He rolled his eyes, and Rarity swore she could hear the other groan. The two shared a look and the one in front of Rarity asked, “Do you wanna take this one?”
“No way, it was your turn,” the other replied.
The guard let a sigh out and looked back at Rarity. “Come with me.” He led her down a hallway, through a series of doors, and into a room that was plastered with pictures. He pointed at the table and said, “Put ’em right over there.”
The pictures were a mockery of the ones she was holding onto; unfocused, badly printed pictures that could have been Bighoof just as soon as the princess. There were few where an actual mare could be seen, but it was painfully clear the wings they wore were, if not fake, then at least malformed. Just how many ponies had come claiming to have found the lost princesses? Had any of them actually been telling the truth, or had they been brushed aside just like Rarity herself was being brushed aside?
“But I have real evidence!” she protested.
The stallion snorted, rolling his eyes again. “I’m sure you do, Miss. Where’d you find her?” He took one of the pictures from the wall and rudely shoved it toward her. “In the basement of your house?” He put the picture on the table and took another one. “Or maybe she miraculously appeared to you in the bathtub? Or was she hiding under your bed all along? How about you wait for the next pony to stop by claiming she found one of the princesses and compare notes, huh?” He snorted again and shook his head. “Look, Miss, we don’t have time for this, and I can tell you right now that the princess doesn’t either. I’m not sure who you think we are, actually expecting us to belie—”
“I’m not making this up!” Rarity exclaimed, stamping her hoof against the floor. She took her photographs and showed them to him. “Do these look fake to you?! Why on Earth would I make this up?! What could I gain from it?!”
“Beats me,” he grumbled, taking the photos from her hooves and inspecting them. “These are pretty good, I’ll give you that. What’s this supposed to be? A library?” he asked, rifling through the photographs.
“An underground library,” she corrected. “In the middle of the Everfree Forest.”
“The Everfree Forest?! You’ve been wandering around that place? Geez, lady, you must have lost your mind,” he exclaimed, putting the pictures back on the table and snorting at her again. “Why would the princess be there of all places?! And what were you even doing there that you ‘found’ her?!”
Rarity didn’t know how much more she could take of his attitude. She could only hope he wouldn’t push her past her limit.
“An underground library, huh? How magical!” he said, smirking at her in a way she found unnecessarily condescending. “Bet you see her in your dreams, too, huh?” he continued, trotting toward the wall and ripping off a drawing. He shoved it at her, giving her a good view of the childlike crayon drawing of a smiling blue alicorn with a crescent moon cutie mark. “Does ‘Princess Wooona’ stop your nightmares too?”
Rarity bit her lip. Rise above it, Rarity. Rise. Above it. Despite the stallion’s incredibly rude behavior, it was not in her best interests to be uncourteous to him if she wanted his cooperation.
She smiled thinly and gently pushed his forehoof away. “I’m afraid not, but—”
Just as soon as his forearm had been lowered, he raised it again, still shoving the drawing toward her. “You know, this pony’s been sending us letters for years. Maybe we should give you her address so you can ‘find’ the other princesses, huh?” With every word, he took a step toward her, forcing her to backtrack. “Maybe you oughta start a princess-finding club together, hey?”
“Will you ple—”
“Stop bothering us instead? Wouldn’t that be fun?”
When Rarity hit the table, she had finally had enough. “Oh, will you stop that, you oaf?!” she snapped, shoving the guard away with enough force to cause him to tumble him to the floor, stomping her hoof on the drawing when it too fell. It wasn’t until he gave her an incredulous look from the ground that she realized exactly who she’d just assaulted.
The guard looked as though she’d just slapped him across the face, and all things considered, she might as well have. He stood up, tall and intimidating, and narrowed his eyes. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
Rarity backed away, ears clamped against her skull, heart beating in her chest, fear coursing through her veins. Now she’d done it.
…Then again, he had been extremely rude. Rarity stood her ground, gulping hard.
To her dismay, however, the stallion crossed the room and grabbed some black keys hanging from the wall. Oh no, she thought, panicking. He’s not planning on jailing me, is he?! Fluttershy will be waiting for me! She’ll be worried sick! She took several steps away from him, shaking her head pitifully. “Wait, please, let’s not be rash!”
“Should have thought about that before you attacked me, lady,” he barked, opening a drawer from a nearby table and taking out hoof-cuffs. “Maybe you’ll find another princess in the dungeons to keep you company.”
Journal Entry № 2,015
Rarity brought a very interesting device today. It is called an instant photographic camera, and it can make perfectly vivid and realistic illustrations of anything in less than a minute. They are, it seems, extremely costly, however. I disassembled Rarity’s device to further study its mechanics, but I fear Rarity was not too thrilled by my actions.
After that, she left to prepare to go to Canter Capital, which is now called Canterlot. The descendant of Shining Armor and Cadance currently resides there, and though I would have liked to ask Rarity to please bring a photograph, it seems that is now impossible.
Right now, I must fix her device. I need to see what the outside world looks like. Rarity herself seems normal, and she has not mentioned anything unusual concerning her world. The only way I am able to verify my assumptions based on the legend is to have facts, and Rarity is not reliable in this regard. It is not that I do not trust her judgment (though I do have some reservations; as much as it pleased me, I still cannot fathom why she would have returned after I hurled her against a bookcase), but she might be biased. After all, how would she be able to tell if her world is unusual when she might consider unusual events to be normal?
I am also pleased with the other items she brought. The time-keeping device and schedule she gave me have helped tremendously. I have already filled up the next two weeks with activities, and I hope this will help me become organized again. I need to re-organize the library to look for the map. I think I will look for ciphers, since I cannot remember the last time I did so. I will start by looking at the first letter of each paragraph of every book, and perhaps I will find the key. I should have enough time to do it before Rarity returns on Sunday.
The entire day is clear of activities so I can focus on her visit completely. I have several questions I would like to inquire on, and I found some books she might be interested in reading. I hope she will be. I am looking forward to her visit. It’s odd, but I do not remember the last time I looked forward to anything since Owlowiscious and his mate arrived at my library so long ago.
Yet, despite the amount of time I have, Rarity’s device should remain my top priority. I would like to make a few adjustments so it works better than before. I hope she will find them useful.
If there was one place in Canterlot that Rarity had never wanted to visit, let alone sleep in, it was the dark and grimy dungeons of the castle. Sweet heavens, they were so filthy, so cold, so dreary; it must be inequine to subject somepony to a night in such a ghastly place.
She paced around the room, her hoofsteps and mutterings echoing throughout the stone hallways. The mare standing guard kept throwing dirty glances at Rarity; she’d quickly discovered that shushing Rarity only resulted in the unicorn pacing even louder. Though she had the right to remain silent, she stoutly refused to do so.
How many hours had she been there?
It felt like an eternity, and judging by the darkening color of the sky visible beyond her barred window, she knew that it had to have been several hours already. The guards had at least been civil enough to contact Fluttershy to tell her Rarity would be indisposed until the next morning—which happened to be when she’d be let out. At least her friend had promised to sort out the whole affair with the mare from the market.
“Humiliating,” she muttered, gritting her teeth and coming to a stop. “That’s what it was. Humiliating.”
And yet, despite that, her only regret for her actions was that Fluttershy ended up alone in the big city for the night.
Her mind went back to the guard and her blood boiled. That wretched guard hadn’t even let her talk or explain her situation. She’d barely gotten a word in before he started his barrage of condescending assumptions. Who’d even let him be in charge of anything in the first place?
Most of all, more than humiliated and offended, she was frustrated. Just like when Fluttershy hadn’t believed her, but now the frustration was triple-fold. Was that how Princess Twilight had felt for a thousand years, trapped in her library, unable to do a thing to save herself? Or was it worse for Rarity since she had all the means to tell others, but nopony believed her?
Maybe that’s why nopony had ever “found” the princesses before. Had they been brushed away? Forced to give up on the princess they’d found? How horrible, to live with that knowledge for the rest of one’s life and be completely unable to do anything to help.
She sat down, buried her face in her hooves and sighed. “Why am I even doing this?”
That’s the million-bit question, isn’t it?
There in her prison with nothing else to do but get lost in her thoughts, her situation finally caught up to her. Less than a month ago, the idea of a lost princess inside a forest was a notion she would have immediately dismissed as a fairy tale and nothing more, yet today she had planned on convincing the ruler of Equestria that there was a princess inside a library in the Everfree Forest.
Had she let herself be swept up by the sense of adventure of it all? Had she let herself be tempted into lunacy by the idea of embarking on a grand fairy tale? Had Princess Twilight somehow bewitched her into helping?
Why was Rarity getting herself locked away in a dungeon all for the sake of a ghostly princess? A ghostly princess who’d attacked her and broken her expensive camera, no less! Who’d made her spend almost three hours lost in a maze…! Who’d apologized for attacking her… Who’d thanked Rarity for wanting to help… Who had actually stopped her, just so she could say goodbye…
Her mind went back to how charmingly curious the princess had been about the camera, and Rarity could hardly suppress a smile. Of course, the smile disappeared just as soon as it had arrived, vanishing at the thought of breaking her promise to Princess Twilight. The train had likely left already, and she sincerely doubted they’d be able to find seats on Sunday morning or even afternoon trains back to Ponyville.
“She won’t mind, will she?” Rarity whispered to herself, taking her hooves away and staring forlornly at the floor. No, of course she won’t mind. She’ll be so busy with her books and the camera, she’ll hardly notice I didn’t even come the day I promised!