“Shining Armor, is it true?! Are you ordering the soldiers back to the castle?! You can’t!”
“Cadance and I have no choice. You saw how the court reacted to the news! We can’t risk throwing the rest of the kingdom into a panic! We have to think of—”
“No! What about Princess Celestia and Luna?! What about Twilight?! They’re out there! You need to send more soldiers to the Ponyville Fore—”
“She’s not there! You told us yourself that she was gone!”
“I, I was wrong! We need to look again! She has to—”
“We’ve looked everywhere! Everypony thinks that he killed them!”
“They’re not dead! She’s not dead! Cadance, you—”
“We… I need to think of the kingdom. It’s useless. You know the curse he put on us prevents us from doing anything to find them! And we already said our foal is due in a few months and—”
“Your foal? Your foal?! You… You’re abandoning them for— You… You traitors! I’ll just find them myself! I don’t need neither you, nor your… foal!”
There was nothing that sparked Rarity’s creativity quite like incarceration. Maybe it was due to the fact that she had nothing to do, maybe it was because her inspiration shone brightest when plunged in darkness, or maybe it was simply that she needed any kind of distraction. It at least also kept her mind busy from the putrid smell of… whatever that black thing in the corner was.
To her great fortune, the tip of the spoon she’d used for her disgusting dinner worked as a stylus, leaving visible white scratch marks on the grey walls. The guard standing by the door would glance at Rarity every so often, grunting in annoyance but obviously not caring enough to stop the unicorn from drawing.
True, the jail-inspired dress design didn’t go well with the rude and explicit messages previous inhabitants of the cell had left, but the place could use some of her artistic décor. She ought to arrange another meeting with Princess Denza, if only to get her to redesign the dungeons. Honestly, they weren’t living in the Middle Ages anymore.
“The lieutenant is coming, Lock!” a voice yelled from outside the room, prompting Rarity’s guard to quickly straighten herself up.
The lieutenant? thought Rarity, briefly glancing toward the room’s entrance before looking away again. Just what she needed. Another guard to come scoff at her for what she’d done, no doubt. Why couldn’t she be left alone?
“Ah, Lieutenant Shield!”
Bracing herself, Rarity took a deep breath, turned to look at her newest visitor, and felt her heart drop. Though he was wearing arctic-blue armor now, Rarity still recognized her “Prince Charming” from the day before. Oh heavens, and that new armor somehow made him look even more handsome. How she wished now that there was a room she could flee to, hide from the inevitably awkward conversation with the soldier, but her jail cell proved very good at its job.
So much for a romantic second encounter…
“No incidents to report, sir!” the mare exclaimed proudly, throwing Rarity a dirty look before turning back to her superior. “Although she has been scribbling on the walls a fair deal.”
Rift Shield glanced at Rarity. It was just for a moment, but long enough to make her uncomfortable and look away. “Thank you, Lock Pin. Could you please open the door?” His voice rang, sounding much less pleasant and charming than it had the day before. “The prisoner is free to go.”
Rarity blinked, looking up and joining the guard in giving him an incredulous look. Maybe he was her Prince Charming yet…?
Lock Pin shifted uncomfortably. “L-lieutenant?” she asked, looking back and forth between Rarity and Rift. “Are you su—” A raised eyebrow from him quickly silenced her, prompting her to grab the keys hanging from the wall. “Er, I mean, yes, sir! Right away, sir!”
To the jangling of keys, the door swung open and the mare stepped back so Rarity could leave. Instead, the unicorn simply stood inside her cell, blinking at the exit. Where was the catch? There had to be a catch, hadn’t there?
“You may exit the cell now,” Rift prompted her after a moment. He then smiled at Rarity and continued, “Unless you’d like to stay another night? I can’t imagine it’s very comfortable in there, but if you’ve grown fond of the place…”
Dear stars, no thank you.
Rarity hurried out of the cell, not desiring in the least to stay another minute in there. A sigh of relief left her lips when the guard closed the door. She dusted herself off, trying to cleanse her coat of all the dirt, muck, and grime that was abundant in prison cells, but stopped when she noticed everypony staring at her. She opened her mouth to say something, but in the end found that she had nothing to say.
Rift smiled at the guard. “Thank you, Lock Pin.” He glanced at Rarity and nodded toward the door. “We’ll be leaving now.”
After the guard saluted him, he took off, not bothering to give Rarity a second look.
She followed him out of the room in silence, not daring to speak up for fear of getting thrown right back in. His stark change in attitude disconcerted her, but she didn’t have the luxury of going against her potential savior. They made their way through the castle, passing by several other guards who all saluted Rift but looked at Rarity suspiciously. It was as if they all knew she had assaulted one of their comrades. In fact, with how ponies loved rumors, she was certain they all knew who she was.
She tried to admire the castle’s interior as they were passing through a hallway filled with diamonds and mirrors, but found herself unable to focus on anything but Rift Shield. She had no idea where he was taking her, but hopefully it was either to the exit or to see Princess Denza.
Some time later, she got her answer in the shape of two large castle doors. She was quite upset to recognize the two stallions nearby, and she couldn’t help but slow her trot. Rift noticed and turned to offer her a reassuring smile.
“No need to be so quiet,” he said, looking back in front of him. “I’m not going to hold anything you say against you, you know?”
When they reached the two guards, his smile disappeared just as quickly as it had come. He took on a much more intimidating expression and looked at the two stallions, both of them now forlorn and embarrassed rather than intimidating and condescending. They glanced at Rarity before quickly saluting Rift. The soldier who’d jailed Rarity nevertheless did a good job of avoiding eye contact with his superior, his tail tucked between his hind legs.
“Lieutenant…” they said half-heartedly, wincing when Rift’s frown only deepened.
“Spades,” Rift said, briefly looking at Rarity’s jailer before turning to the other stallion. “As a guard, whose values do you and Clubs represent?”
“We represent Princess Cadenza’s values, sir!” Spades replied immediately, drawing himself upright and stomping his hoof against the floor. His words drew a smile out of Rift, but the same could not be said of Clubs, who looked more and more as if he wished he was anywhere else but there.
“Excellent, Spades,” Rift said, turning to look at Clubs. “Now tell me, is provoking ponies into attacking you and then jailing them for responding to said aggression one of Princess Cadenza’s values?”
“N-no, sir!” Spades replied, looking uncomfortably at his comrade.
“But, sir! The mare in her picture! She looks exactly like the statue. It’s impossible for that to really be—” Clubs interrupted, ears pressing against his head at the glare Rift gave him. He took a step back, lowering his head slightly. “Sorry, sir…” He magicked the door open, stepping aside to allow Rarity and Rift passage.
Without another word to the guards, Rift trotted outside. The second Rarity joined him and the doors closed behind the two ponies, he turned to look at her and grinned widely. “So, Miss Lost Visitor, was visiting Canterlot’s dungeons part of your planned tour?” he asked, acting much more like he had the day before. He playfully poked her with a hoof. “Gotta say I hadn’t expected our second meeting to go like this, Rarity.” When she threw him a questioning glance, he clarified: “The guards told me your name.”
Now this is more like it, she thought, following him down the path to the city. She smiled brilliantly at him, brushing a hoof in her mane. “But then you wouldn’t have been able to rescue me from that dreadful place!” she exclaimed, giggling at how Rift reacted by nodding effusively and puffing out his chest. “I am in your debt, Lieutenant Rift Shield.”
“Sorry. I have to go undercover sometimes,” he explained sheepishly, brushing the back of his neck. He looked down at his armor and banged his hoof against it. “This green thing isn’t the most… inconspicuous.”
Rarity laughed and withheld the urge to point out it was arctic blue, not green. “No, I suppose it isn’t.”
They trotted in silence for a bit, reaching the main gates and waiting for the guards to open them. Rarity expected Rift to bid her farewell at that point, but he only exchanged a few words with the guard before stepping out the gates and into the city. Rarity would be lying if she said she wasn’t rather delighted that she’d get to spend a bit more time with her knight in shining armor.
“So, Miss Rarity, considering you spent an entire day locked away, maybe a midnight tour of the city might cheer you up?” he offered, a grin gracing his face. He cleared his throat and took off his helmet, examining it with mild interest. “Not to brag, but I give the best tours in Canterlot.”
Rarity fluttered her eyelashes at him, and felt flutters of something else, somewhere else. “Is that true?”
He grinned. “Soldier’s honor!”
“In that case, I would be delighted.” It wasn’t until after she had impulsively agreed to a midnight tour courtesy of a handsome hunk that a thought occurred to her: Why hasn’t he asked me about Princess Twilight? He knew why she’d been imprisoned, didn’t he? Wasn’t he curious to hear her side of the story? Or was he planning on avoiding the topic altogether? Now, rather than excited, she felt worried again.
Rift was clearly oblivious to the sudden drop in enthusiasm from his companion. “Great!” he exclaimed. He put his helmet back on and looked around, eventually pointing toward a street further down the road. “Look, we can start there. That street leads straight to Moonlight Plaza.”
In the end, Rarity decided worrying served no purpose at that point, and Rift didn’t look at all like he had any ulterior motives except being perfectly nice. She took a deep breath, expelling all her worries, and affected her most dazzlingly charming smile.
“Well then, shall we?” she asked, taking a step in the appropriate direction.
Rift grinned. “Let’s.” He took the lead, trotting down the path before looking over at Rarity. “So, you say you found one of the lost princesses, huh?”
Despite the late hour, Rarity wasn’t surprised to see Canterlot ponies still out and about. Unlike Ponyville, Canterlot was a true beacon of good taste and knowledgeable ponies—idiotic accusatory guards notwithstanding. She let Rift Shield lead her past the many restaurants and socialite opportunities that the lady in her absolutely adored. Nevertheless, there were some things she wanted to—no, needed to—see. She silently bid farewell to one of the few chances she would have to mingle with the Canterlotian nightlife, and followed Rift toward a less-crowded street.
Truthfully, her focus on the ponies and shops was also partially due to the fact that Rift had been much less talkative since she’d finished her tale. She omitted some details, of course—Rift didn’t need to know that Twilight attacked her, for example—and tried to make her story sound more realistic for fear of receiving the same reaction she had before. If a mere guard could get her thrown in jail, she didn’t want to think about what a lieutenant could do.
“So,” he finally said, “the Everfree Forest, huh? Hmm…”
Rarity winced. “You don’t believe me either, do you?” she asked, letting out a long breath. With how things had been going, she didn’t know why she was disappointed.
“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” Rift said carefully, offering a tentative yet reassuring smile. He looked forward and rubbed the back of his neck, trying to find the right words to say. “It’s more that… Well…”
“But surely Princess Cadenza believes they’re real! She has those brut— guards posted to receive information on the princesses! Just because you don’t belie—”
“I never said I don’t believe they exist,” Rift interrupted, leading Rarity inside another small plaza. He trotted over toward a statue and sat down, taking off his helmet. “It’s more that… the Everfree Forest has been searched before. Way before our time, but it was searched by guards back then and… a friend of one of Princess Denza’s ancestors who spent a really, really long time looking in that forest. Yeah, we haven’t looked there in a really long time, but he and the guards would have found her.”
“Then come with me to the forest,” she continued, “and you can see her for yourself!”
If he actually met Princess Twilight, then there was no way in the whole of Equestria he’d refuse to take her to Denza directly. It was a foalproof plan.
“Pfft, come on, I can’t go with you to che— Don’t look at me like that!” he exclaimed. “I can’t just ditch my duties to go check every claim, you know! We’ve been getting claims like yours for years! Besides, I’d need more proof to even consider doing something or going to check.”
“What kind of proof do you need? I brought you photographs of her and the entire library!” Rarity exclaimed helplessly. What, did he want her to bring physical evidence? Maybe ask Princess Twilight to step out of the library and join her on a trip to Canterlot?
Rift looked uneasy for a moment. “Honestly? I… I don’t think anything but actually seeing one of the princesses would convince anyone in Canterlot except for very few ponies. Or perhaps something more tangible like…” He paused for a moment. “Like showing me the princess’ crown, or something like that.”
Rarity groaned, burying her face in her hooves. Bring the crown? How in Equestria was she supposed to do that? The thing was essentially part of Twilight! And even if it wasn’t ethereal, who was to say Twilight would let her take it? Rarity glanced away, distracting her increasingly frustrated thoughts by looking around the plaza.
The secluded square was completely empty, unlike the more popular streets of the city. The façades of the surrounding buildings were all decorated with a moon-and-stars motif, something she had the feeling Princess Twilight would have liked. A few drunken patrons stumbled out of the only open bar and wobbled themselves toward the nearest exit.
Her attention was drawn to the statue next to her, which vaguely reminded her of the statue she’d seen the day before.
Just like the statue of “the teacher,” this statue too depicted a beautiful alicorn princess and a small foal. The colt was lying down on the pedestal, soundly asleep with a smile on his face. The princess sat next to him, her wings spread apart in a circle as if protecting the young foal. All around the pedestal were markings of crescent moons. At least now she knew why the place was called “Moonlight Plaza.”
Just like with the other statue, there was a name engraved on the base.
The Dream Watcher
“You’ve never seen these statues before?” Rift suddenly asked. His brow was slightly furrowed and for a moment Rarity felt very much under some kind of police interrogation. “Really?”
“Never,” she replied, feeling nervous despite the innocent sounding question. “I told you, as much as I’d like, I don’t come to Canterlot often.”
He was silent for a moment, and his expression softened. “They’re in honor of the Legend of the Four Princesses,” he said, turning to the statue. “Or that’s what ponies like to say, at least. On the other hoof, some books on Canterlot history say they were just for decoration, and others say they were made in honor of alicorns who died in battle centuries ago.” He lifted his hoof and brushed it against the statue, narrowing his eyes. “Must be about seven or eight hundred years old.”
“My, quite the expert, aren’t we?”
Rift grinned at Rarity, taking his hoof back. “Told you. Best tour guide in Canterlot!” he exclaimed, pounding his hoof against his chest plate. He returned his gaze to the statue and continued, “There are four in total, actually. The city was supposedly built around them. There’s this one in the Moon Quarter, and this entire area is where all the late-night entertainment places are. Remember the statue from when we met? That’s the Sun Court, which is basically residential and marketplace areas. Then there’s another one inside the castle, and the last one is in the Knowledge District. The public library and schools are there.”
“Oh! I read something similar to that in a guidebook! They didn’t say anything about the statues, though,” she noted, trying to remember any detail her book might have mentioned. “Well, regardless, I think they’re lovely.”
“You know, I can tell you why Clubs reacted to you in the way he did; why he thought you were pulling his hind leg.”
“Clubs? You mean the guard? The very rude guard?” she asked, raising an eyebrow with skepticism. “Forgive me if I withhold my enthusiasm on the subject.”
Rift smiled cheekily at her before nodding toward the statue. “It was because of these.”
Rarity looked back and forth between the statue and Rift, initially not understanding how the guard and the statue were even remotely related. She then remembered the guard mentioning her pictures looked just like a statue. What, did he think she’d just copied the design off one of them? She looked at the statue again.
“Forgive me for saying, but the only similarities between my pictures and this statue are that both ponies have wings and a horn. Am I to believe I’m a sham just because my picture has an alicorn in it?”
Rift laughed and shook his head. “No, it’s not that.” He put his helmet on and trotted off toward one of the alleyways. “Look, it’ll be better if you see it for yourself. If we’re really lucky, maybe Dusty Pages hasn’t closed up the library yet.”
Rarity took one last look at the statue before following the stallion. They made their way through half a dozen more alleys, and Rarity was so preoccupied that she didn’t even notice the larger plaza until they trotted into it. Unlike the Moonlight Plaza, this one was quite a bit larger, and a lot more crowded. Several ponies were up and about, checking out the many shops that, even this late in the day, were still open and serving customers.
Although she had heard that Canterlot’s public library was nothing short of an architectural wonder, she had never seen it before. It had been one of the places she’d planned to visit with Fluttershy if not for her unfortunate incarceration. Now, standing in front of it, she wished her friend was there with her, to be awed by the building the same way Rarity was.
“Here we are!” Rift exclaimed, pointing at the entrance. “Canterlot City’s Public Library!”
The building boasted a classical architectural style and stretched out as far as an entire city block. Its exterior was made of what looked like marble, yet it didn’t so much have a scratch on it, despite the weather. Two stone statues of guards were posted at either side of the stairway leading to the entrance, and the façade of the building was engraved with depictions of scrolls and stars. What caught Rarity’s attention, however, wasn’t so much the building itself as what was literally sitting on top of it.
On the rooftop of the library was a stone statue of a very large dragon. The creature squatted on the roof, facing the street with its large wings half-splayed open. One of its claws gripped the edge of the roof and its tail hung off the edge, the spikes creating a makeshift ladder. Despite its imposing appearance, the dragon wore a peaceful expression, almost as if it was just watching over the plaza. What stuck out to Rarity the most was that it held an oval stone of sorts in its free claw. A gem, perhaps? Dragons loved gems, didn’t they? She remembered reading legends about their infamous hoards, some of which were said to be as large as the entirety of Ponyville.
She could scarcely imagine how long it had taken for the beast to be built, or why had it even been built there in the first place. Dragons were quite possibly the last thing that came to mind when she thought of books and libraries.
“Goodness, what is that doing on top of a library?” Rarity asked, still gawking at the sculpture. She almost wished she had wings so she could fly up and take a closer look at it. She could tell something was written under him on the building, and through squinted eyes read aloud: “‘Semper tē prōtegam.’”
“It roughly translates to: ‘I will always protect you,’” Rift explained, looking at the inscription. “The statue itself is called The Guardian. It was built around the same time as the others.”
Rarity nodded, intrigued by the stone it was holding and trying to figure out its significance. It certainly didn’t look like any important Equestrian symbol, and the other statues hadn’t been holding anything as far as she could recall.
“What is it guarding? The library, I suppose? Or the city?” she asked, picturing the fearsome beast coming to life and defending Canterlot from evil.
“You could say that, but according to some ponies, it’s actually protecting something inside the library.” Rift trotted up the stairs, signaling Rarity to follow him, but upon reaching the front doors and trying the handle, he let out a frustrated groan. “Damn it, Dusty,” he muttered, pressing his face against the smoky window and looking inside. “Nope, looks like she locked up early tonight.”
Rarity followed suit, pressing her own face against the window. Try as she might, it was far too dark inside the library to see anything except for shadows and what looked like the silhouette of a large object in the entrance. She squinted into the gloom… Another statue, maybe?
“Well, it seems like whatever book was supposed to explain your colleague’s behavior is out of our grasp,” she exclaimed, stepping away from the window since she wasn’t having much luck looking inside. Not that any book would have excused him. “I still don’t understand how in Equestria a grey statue of an alicorn could disprove my picture, but alas.” She waited for him to reply, but he simply kept staring into the library, his brow furrowed once more. “Rift?”
“I… I can’t tell if you’re being serious or not,” he said, lifting his forehead from the door and looking at her. Rarity wanted to indignantly ask what he meant by that, but he continued speaking before she could do so: “So, this princess of yours, does she have a name?”
“Twilight,” Rarity replied, thinking of the alicorn as she spoke her name. “Twilight Sparkle.”
What was Twilight doing at that moment, Rarity wondered. What would she do the day after, when Rarity didn’t arrive on time—if she even found a train to arrive home at all? She really, really hoped the princess wouldn’t mind too much…
“Twilight Sparkle?” Rift slowly repeated, falling silent for almost a minute afterward. He lifted his hoof and pressed it against the door. “I… All right, I’ll look into it,” he finally said, stepping away from the door and looking at Rarity. “I’ll help you and your princess.”
Rarity blinked at him.
“You… you will? You’ll help her?” she asked with disbelief, heart pounding in her chest and almost bursting out when he nodded with a smile. Before she could stop herself, she clapped her hooves with giddy pleasure. “Oh, Rift! I don’t know how to thank you! I’m sure Princess Denz—”
“Whoa, don’t get ahead of yourself!” he exclaimed, raising a hoof to halt any further speculation. “You’ll need way more than just photographs to make a case. We have at least a dozen photographs that look just as realistic as yours.”
“But— But you just said that you won’t accept anything but the princesses themselves on a silver platter with roses!” Rarity protested, stamping her hoof against the floor.
Rift raised an eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t say it exactly like that, but…” He sighed and rubbed his eye. “Look, if you’re really telling the truth, then you should be able to find something to convince me, right? More information on her, on the other princesses, I don’t know. I’m sure Princess Twilight would be glad to give you more info considering you’re helping her and the others escape, right?”
Rarity groaned softly, biting her lip.
Rift’s suggestion would be quite easy if only it didn’t mean admitting to Princess Twilight that she’d been doing exactly what Princess Twilight asked her not to do. Didn’t she want help? Didn’t she want to find the others? It baffled Rarity that anypony would want to spend the rest of their lives locked away in a library for all eternity.
“Very well,” she said at last. “I’ll gather evidence.” She left the entrance and trotted down the stairs, her body feeling heavier with every step and every troubled thought. Without the help of Princess Denza, finding the other princesses could take months or years. Maybe even decades. Was she really ready to potentially spend years of her life searching for lost books and alicorns?
She stepped out into the plaza and looked back up at the dragon. Wouldn’t it be easier if you just came to life and helped me look? she thought, wishing the beast would do something beyond just staring at her with impassive eyes. The longer she looked at it, however, the more she felt like the creature’s eyes and expression were pleading. Wonderful, now even statues are guilt-tripping me into helping Twilight.
“So, should we continue with our tour?”
Rarity looked away from the dragon and found Rift Shield standing next to her. She was tempted to say yes, but she was admittedly tired and disappointed by the outcome of her trip. There was also the fact that poor Fluttershy was waiting for her back at the hotel, and Rarity would be remiss to go out and have fun while her best friend was worrying herself sick over her.
“I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask for a rain check,” Rarity said, affecting an apologetic smile. “I’m rather tired, and my friend must still be waiting for me.” She turned around and looked in the general direction of the tourist area of the city before turning back to him and fluttering her eyelashes. “Would you mind terribly accompanying me to my hotel? I’m afraid I’m a bit lost.” She wasn’t being completely dishonest. She really only had a very vague idea of how to get back to her hotel, and she didn’t want to say goodbye to her handsome rescuer just yet.
Rift winked. “It’ll be my pleasure, Miss Lost Visitor.”
The next morning was an extremely busy one for Rarity. Between Fluttershy wanting to get some last-minute treats for her animal friends, and the fact that Rarity had to stand in line to acquire the tickets that would grant them passage back to Ponyville, there was barely enough time in the day.
Now, they were standing at the train station, surrounded by ponies rushing with their suitcases while lamenting the fact that she hadn’t been able to get a good look at the statue inside the library. Rift Shield’s allusions had made her curious. What was worse was that the trains were so chock-full of ponies that she had only been able to get tickets for the afternoon train, which made the hour of their arrival far too late to even think about venturing into the Everfree Forest.
Hopefully the princess wasn’t still waiting for her.
“Maybe she’s frightened of the Spirit?”
After Rarity had promised to see Rift again soon and then reunited with Fluttershy, the two mares spent the majority of the next day finishing their duties in Canterlot and discussing all the possible reasons why Princess Twilight would be against finding the others and being freed herself.
Rarity looked at Fluttershy from behind her sunglasses, raising an eyebrow. “The Spirit? The Spirit of Chaos, you mean?”
Fluttershy nodded. “Well… he is still out there, isn’t he? What if she’s afraid he’ll do something nasty to her if she comes out…? Or to the village?” she suggested, adjusting her saddlebag and glancing at the ponies passing by. How unaware they all were of the truth buried in the history of their kingdom. “What if he’s trapped other ponies already?”
“A possibility, I suppose,” Rarity admitted, turning back to the train they’d be departing on in a short few hours. If the Spirit truly had escaped, then she doubted he’d just quit his villainous ways. It felt somewhat anticlimactic for somepony to do, especially after they went through the trouble of physically incarcerating three alicorns.
“What if…” Fluttershy went silent for a moment. “What if he goes after you? After us? Because you’re trying to help Princess Twilight?”
Rarity didn’t reply immediately. The thought had never crossed her mind, in fact. If the Spirit truly was alive, what was stopping him from trying to stop Rarity from freeing the princess? Furthermore, who was to say the reason no one had helped the princesses before was because he was still out there, deterring all those who tried?
“Darling, right now, I believe I have other things I should be preoccupied with,” Rarity said, hoping to change the topic of conversation. She found thinking of her potential demise at the hooves of a miffed spirit of chaos was not a pleasant discussion. “Like, for example, what will I tell Princess Twilight? I can’t tell her I was jailed; that would imply telling her the reason why and admitting I went against her orders.” She glanced at a clock hanging from a nearby pole and looked back at the train. “And I sincerely doubt that she’ll accept ‘I was jailed because you look like a statue’ as a valid excuse.”
Maybe the guard actually believed that Canterlot’s interpretations of the princesses were the real deal, and he was angered that Princess Twilight looked nothing like the Canterlot version. Maybe she could use that as an excuse to give the princess some sort of a makeover. Heavens knew how many stunning manestyles one could do with a sparkling mane like Princess Twilight’s. Rarity bit down a smile at the thought.
“Oh! It’s you!”
The two friends turned toward the voice. To Rarity’s immense pleasure, she recognized the mare trotting toward them as the owner of the marketplace bookstand from the other day. The elder mare seemed to be slightly out of breath, a large saddlebag thumping against her body.
Rarity took off her sunglasses and waved at the elderly mare. “Ah, Miss Scroll Keeper! How lovely to see you!” she exclaimed when Scroll Keeper caught up to her and Fluttershy. She had assumed she’d never see her again, and the renewed hope of getting back one of the princess’ books cheered her up tremendously. “Fluttershy told me you were leaving today, so I thought we’d already missed you!”
Scroll Keeper shook her head. “Our train is leaving soon, in fact, but I saw you here and I had to come over! Your friend told me you had a bit of trouble yesterday?” she asked curiously.
“Ah…” Rarity cleared her throat, feeling her cheeks burning. “Yes!” she said, toying with her sunglasses and laughing nervously. “I’m afraid I was caught up in an unexpected situation, but I assure you it’s all cleared up now! Nothing to worry about!”
Scroll Keeper seemed pleased by the news, smiling warmly at the unicorn. “I’m glad to hear that, dear! Your friend seemed quite worried,” she said, making Fluttershy blush slightly. She turned to her saddlebag and opened it up, rummaging for something inside. “And I bring good news of my own regarding the books you wanted!”
“Y-you do?” Rarity asked, her voice taking on higher pitch due to sheer excitement.
Did she… Could it… Maybe?
Her questions were answered seconds later when the pegasus retrieved a blue leather-bound book from her saddlebag. For a split second, Rarity’s heart filled with joy, but the feeling immediately died when she took a closer look at the book. The rather lengthy tome looked to be in absolute perfect condition. Its design was certainly outdated, yes, but there was simply no way a book over a thousand years old could have been preserved so perfectly after getting passed around and used for centuries.
“Here we are!” Scroll Keeper exclaimed, completely oblivious to Rarity’s less than enthused expression. “Magical A to Better by Camellia the Coset Mage! It took a bit of searching and luck, but we had it amongst the books we brought for the trip! I’m afraid it’s a used book, however. I hope you don’t mind.”
She hoofed over the book to Rarity, who accepted it out of courtesy despite not wanting it anymore. She rubbed her hoof against the leather and, as she’d suspected, it was in near-perfect condition. Probably a new trend to make new books look old-fashioned or some such thing. Might as well glance inside, she thought dejectedly, opening up the book and stopping at the first page, her eyes widening.
Just as Scroll Keeper had said, the book indeed had a previous owner, and said owner had elegantly labeled the top of the page in lavender ink: Property of Twilight Sparkle. Rarity brushed her hoof against the name to check if she was seeing things, but no matter how many times she rubbed her hoof against the page, the name never disappeared.
“I stopped by the Canterlot Public Library yesterday to check something, and I found out that is indeed, as I suspected, a first edition of a thousand-year-old book!” Scroll Keeper declared, pausing briefly to give the two younger mares a cryptic smile.
“But how is that possible?” Fluttershy asked, gingerly taking the book from Rarity and giving it a look-over. “It seems new!”
Scroll Keeper’s cryptic smile only grew at Fluttershy’s remark. “But that’s because it seems to be a very special book,” she began, straightening herself as if wanting to—or rather, about to—give a lecture. “In olden times, books were just as valuable as gold and silver, even more so to some! Those ponies treasured knowledge above all else and owning a book was considered a source of great privilege! As such, some very powerful librarians and bookkeepers would do everything they could to ensure the protection of their books.”
She reached inside her saddlebag again, retrieved a bottle of water, and unscrewed the cap. “Look!”
Before either friend could stop the elder mare, Scroll Keeper poured water on top of Princess Twilight’s book. The water flowed down the bottle, but just as it was about to hit the book, a very thin layer of very light gold-colored magic appeared and repelled the liquid. As far as Rarity could recall, Princess Twilight’s magic was dark pink, not golden. Who had cast that spell?
“See?” Scroll Keeper said, closing the empty bottle and putting it back in her bag. “A protection spell! And a very strong one at that, if it’s managed to last for so long!” While Rarity and Fluttershy continued gawking at the book, the elder mare took out a small bitbag. “And now, if you’re still interested in buying the book…”
Rarity blinked. “Huh? Oh! Yes, yes I am! Very interested, indeed,” she quickly said, taking out her own bitbag and opening it up. She hadn’t brought her life savings, but hopefully she had enough to buy the book. It was a very rare edition, she supposed, but it couldn’t be that expensive. Besides, Scroll Keeper looked like a reasonable mare. “How much will it be?”
Scroll Keeper shook her head. “Well, dear, this is a very rare and magical book, so…” She cleared her throat and put her tucked her bitbag back away. “I’d like something other than bits in exchange for it.”
“Oh?” asked Rarity, her enthusiasm starting to wane. She didn’t have anything else to offer in exchange for the book. What was she supposed to do now?
Scroll Keeper nodded, lifting her hoof and tracing a circle on her chest. “The other day at the market, you were wearing the loveliest sapphire necklace…” she began, oblivious to Rarity’s growing look of comprehension and horror. “I’d gladly take it in exchange for the book!”
That was the first thing that came to Rarity’s mind at the thought of giving away her beloved necklace.
“Ah… My necklace? Well… Hmm…” she murmured, playing with a lock of her mane and trying to think of something else the mare might be interested in. There was simply no way she’d be giving her nec— “Ow!”
Fluttershy had not-so-subtly poked Rarity’s ribs, drawing the attention of the unicorn and giving her an expectant look. “Rarity…”
Rarity looked back indignantly. Oh, so now she wanted to get the book? When three days ago she didn’t even believe Princess Twilight was real? Did she even know how hard it had been for Rarity to find a sapphire of that size? Did she think they just grew on trees? Rarity had slaved over that sapphire! Spent at least an hour making it shine! Spent at least another hour finding the appropriate silver chain to hang it from!
Scroll Keeper took back the book, showing signs of putting it away. “Well, if you’d rather not, I’m afraid I must hurry along, dear! My husband is waiting for me, and our train back home is leaving soon.”
Rarity looked back and forth between her bag and the book, biting her lip. If she didn’t take the book now, she might never see it again. She couldn’t very well afford train tickets to all over Equestria whenever she pleased. But, on the other hoof, her sapphire was so ravishing and valuable and it went so well with Rarity’s coat and eyes…
“Oh… All right…” she relented, digging into her bag and taking out her beloved, cherished necklace. She took one last almost look at it before hoofing it over to the now ecstatic elder mare in exchange for the certainly less-lovely book.
Scroll Keeper immediately put on the necklace, her eyes shimmering with delight. The sight was almost enough for Rarity not to miss her necklace too much. Obviously too excited for formalities, she quickly thanked Rarity for her business and wobbled off, muttering something about showing her husband.
Rarity sighed theatrically and put Princess Twilight’s book away. “That’s that, I suppose…” she murmured, trying to find comfort in the fact that the book should at least cheer up Twilight tremendously. Rarity couldn’t recall seeing the princess smile about anything.
Once the book was safe in her bag, she looked back toward where Scroll Keeper had gone and saw her talking effusively to an elder stallion in the distance. To her surprise, the stallion looked… vaguely familiar. A dark cloak covering most of his body, a long beard… Where have I seen him…? After just few moments of thinking, her heart nearly stopped when she remembered who he was. She had, in fact, met him once already—on the very same night she’d met Princess Twilight.
“So you met the princess, did you?”
The Book Bringer.
She’d completely forgotten about his existence. It was like her mind had solely focused on the princess herself, but not on the other pony who’d coaxed Rarity into giving Princess Twilight a second chance.
“Rarity? Did you hear what I said?” Fluttershy asked, trying and failing to snap Rarity back into reality. She put a hoof on her friend’s shoulder and was promptly ignored as Rarity took a step toward the couple.
The sole pony besides Rarity who knew of Princess Twilight’s existence. The sole pony who could help her find the books. The sole pony who knew more than Rarity did. And he was standing on the other side of the station, about to get on a train and disappear entirely from her life.
She couldn’t allow it.
“Rarity! Where are you going?” Fluttershy asked, alarmed at seeing her friend suddenly rush off.
“Wait! Please!” Rarity called, maneuvering around the trotting ponies and suitcases littered on the ground as she practically galloped toward the other side of the station. The elder couple had already started to board, and she was dismayed to see they hadn’t heard her. “Scroll Keeper!” she called, louder now, and was again ignored.
By the time she reached the train doors, the couple was lost in the train, and the conductor inside was burly enough for Rarity to know pushing past him was not an option. She cantered alongside the length of the train, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Book Bringer and his wife next to one of the windows, but no such luck.
She eventually heard the conductor’s last call and the door of the train closed. What was she supposed to do now? Scroll Keeper said they were headed home, but… Rarity stepped away, looking at the dashboard hanging next to the train. There were only two scheduled stops, Neighagra Falls and Hollow Shades, and she knew neither place.
With a heavy heart, she watched the train leave the station, taking with it the only pony who could possibly help her find the princesses. She turned around and found Fluttershy staring at her in the distance, still apparently trying to figure out why her friend had run off like that. After quickly waving at Fluttershy to reassure her, Rarity took out Princess Twilight’s book and opened it to the first page. One last time, she brushed her hoof against the princess’ hoofwriting.
“One down, twenty-nine to go…”