Monday morning arrived to the sound of singing birds and… hooting owls?
Back at home, Rarity rolled over in her bed and stifled a yawn. She took off her sleeping mask and looked toward the window, her eyes adjusting to the rays of bright sunlight filtering in. To her surprise, she was met with the sight of a familiar white owl standing on the windowsill, who hooted twice when Rarity looked at her.
Elara? What’s she doing here? Never before had Elara actually traveled out beyond the forest entrance to fetch Rarity. Had something happened with Princess Twilight?
“Elara!” Rarity magicked the window open to allow the bird entry. “Good morning.”
Elara carefully flew into the room, glancing around and making sure to stay far away from the sleeping cat in the corner. She finally settled herself on top of the frame of the bed, blinking twice at Rarity.
“I’m terribly sorry, darling. I had an unexpected hold-up in Canterlot, and I was unfortunately unable to come back yesterday!” Rarity explained, receiving a relieved hoot in reply. She waited as Elara flew down onto the bed and then continued, “How is Princess Twilight?”
At the question, Elara looked down and clawed at the bedsheet without so much as a hoo. That didn’t bode well, did it?
“Is she upset?” Rarity ventured, hoping that wasn’t the case. However, to her chagrin, Elara looked up, hooting softly and nodding her head.
“I see.” Rarity sighed and got out of bed, taking a deep breath. She levitated the saddlebag she’d prepared the night before and put it on her back. “Well, not to worry. As long as she doesn’t hurl me against another bookcase, I’m sure it’s nothing I can’t fix.”
Elara hooted cheerfully, flying up and settling herself on Rarity’s back, safe from the claws of the rousing cat. As Rarity quickly brushed her mane and put on her makeup, she reflected on the owl’s attitude. If Princess Twilight truly was upset, then surely Elara wouldn’t be acting as carefree as she was, would she?
Making sure she hadn’t forgotten anything, Rarity headed for the forest, expecting a quick and uneventful trip.
And yet, even though she engaged the owl in a pleasant but certainly one-sided conversation along the way, something about that particular trot toward the library was disconcerting.
It wasn’t so much that the forest still scared Rarity. On the contrary, she had become accustomed to its… eerie beauty. She even recognized certain areas the owls took her through, meaning she’d hopefully one day be able to find the library by herself.
No, what made this particular trip disconcerting was the distinct impression something or somepony was following her. Unfortunately, with the sounds of forest animals filling the air, it was hard to tell if the hoofsteps she could swear she heard were real or not. For the umpteenth time, she stopped in her tracks and looked back into the darkness behind her, but again found nothing and nopony.
She looked up and noticed Elara was similarly staring out at the forest from her perch on a nearby branch, just as she’d been doing a lot during the trip. Surely if she’s stopping every minute to look back as well, it can’t be my imagination, can it?
“Hello?” Rarity called out tentatively. “You know, following somepony without their consent is generally considered a very rude thing to do!”
After her reminder of proper etiquette was answered with silence, she sighed and turned back, signaling to Elara that she was ready to continue. The owl flew up from the branch and continued guiding the unicorn through the forest until they finally reached the familiar oak tree.
Having successfully escorted the unicorn, Elara flew up to the branches of the tree and alighted on one, staring toward the forest and hooing. Rarity looked back briefly, hoping to catch sight of any potential follower, before jumping down into the hole. Once below, she trotted toward the trapdoor and descended into the library.
Here we go, then.
She lingered briefly right before the entrance, bracing herself to face the upset alicorn. Maybe Princess Twilight had gotten over it by now! In fact, Rarity was sure the princess wasn’t even the least bit upset anymore! It had just been one day, after all. It’s not like a whole entire month had gone by or anything.
She stepped inside and found the magic chandelier already in place near the ceiling, illuminating the entire room. The only change was that the light seemed… darker, somehow. Less inviting than the previous times she’d stopped by.
She hoped it was simply her imagination.
“Princess Twilight?” Rarity called, putting her saddlebag down on a table and trotting further into the room, getting lost in the rows of bookcases. “I’m terribly sorry for coming late! There was a hold up in Canterlot!”
She received no answer. Not a sound, not a breath, zilch, zip, nada. Odd, she thought, usually she’d be here by now. Maybe the princess was doing something in the maze? Busy finding a book and definitely not ignoring anypony. Definitely not being upset.
The library was unusually neat, no towers of books scattered about the place. The princess must have really meant it when she said she’d organize the library while Rarity was away. Rarity tentatively prodded at some of the books, hoping they would somehow work to summon the princess as they’d done before, but a few minutes of poking gave no results.
She looked around again. “Princess? Princess Twilight!”
She bit her lip. Nopony greeting her now was really no different than the other times, but… something felt different. The air felt colder, contributing to the already very unwelcoming atmosphere. It’s just my conscience, she reassured herself, continuing her search.
Some exploring later, she finally reached the desk where Twilight had placed all her new things. Unlike the rest of the place, the desk was a complete mess, parchments scattered about and a few books lying open.
She took a closer look at the parchments and found her camera drawn on one of them, as well as a smaller drawing of all its individual components. There were notes on how the pieces fit together, and several proposed new designs.
“Is she trying to fix it?” Rarity whispered, feeling somewhat heartwarmed by the possibility. It had been an expensive device, and the prospect of having it back was a pleasing one.
She glanced at the other parchment and saw her name written in the title. Closer inspection revealed it was a list of questions and concerns Twilight had for Rarity, ranging from personal questions about the unicorn to inquiries on the outside world: what did she like to do, where did she work, what was her position in society, et cetera… It had never occurred to Rarity that Twilight would also have questions for her, let alone questions about Rarity herself. She knew who Twilight was, but she realized that Twilight essentially had no idea who Rarity was, beyond “a pony who’d stumbled into the library.”
She looked up at the calendar and caught sight of the day that had been blank during her last visit. While all the other days were filled with activities, Sunday only had two words written on it…
She looked down at the parchment on the table, reading over the list of questions and pushing away the mental image of Princess Twilight waiting all day for her. There was nothing to worry about. If she hadn’t been able to answer them the day before, she’d be delighted to do so now if it would cheer up the princess. They still had a whole day ahead of them, and she intended to make it count.
Her first course of action was to take the parchment and read the questions over. Or, rather, she would have done so if the parchment hadn’t suddenly disappeared from sight. With a surprised “oh!”, Rarity took a step back and quickly looked around, finding no one in the hallway. Oh dear, had Princess Twilight gone back to her hide-and-seek ways? Should she count to ten out loud? Maybe that pentagram summoning spell wasn’t a bad idea after all.
“Princess Twilight?” Rarity ventured instead. She quickly looked around as she spoke, hoping to catch a glimpse of the princess but to no avail. Ugh. She really didn’t want to resort to throwing another stack of carefully ordered books to the ground, but as Sweetie would be quick to claim, sometimes making a mess was justified. Unfortunately, Twilight having cleaned the library meant there were no stacks of books lying around for Rarity’s easy access.
One day, Princess Twilight was going to scare Rarity to death.
The startled unicorn looked around and found the princess standing a few feet away. “O-oh, Princess! There you are!” she said, smiling nervously.
The princess certainly didn’t seem cheerful to see Rarity, but she didn’t seem angry or sad either. Just like Rarity, she appeared to be analyzing the situation—but specifically Rarity. Twilight took a step toward her, narrowing her eyes and looking her over.
“You didn’t come to visit yesterday,” she said at length, taking a step back. Her voice betrayed no hint at emotion, nor did her face. “I thought you might have been injured or attacked.” For a brief moment, her ears lowered. “I was con— Elara and Themis were concerned for your well-being.”
It wasn’t difficult for Rarity to guess the original sentence, but she decided not to act on it. Instead, she put a hoof on her chest. “Oh dear, were they? How kind!” She glanced around, pretending to look for the owls. “I’m terribly remiss to have worried them! It’s nothing to worry about, though! Just a little unexpected probl—”
“Did you bring the book you borrowed?” Twilight interrupted, dropping the temperature in the room by several degrees with her voice alone.
Rarity winced inwardly. That wasn’t a good sign at all.
“Er, yes!” she quickly said, looking into her saddlebag and hovering her hoof over the books, trying to decide which one was more favorable to present. She eventually picked up the book she had borrowed, hoping to save the recovered book as a last resort if the princess’ mood didn’t improve. “Here we are!”
Twilight took the book and magicked it away. No filling up the library card, no “thank you,” no anything. There was an awkward moment of silence afterwards in which neither pony seemed to know what to say. Was it going to be like this the entire time? The looming prospect was less than pleasant to the unicorn. She reached inside her saddlebag and made a move to retrieve the second book.
“Did you enjoy your trip?” Twilight suddenly asked.
“Oh, yes!” Rarity lied, taking her hoof back from her bag. “Very much so!”
In reality, Fluttershy’s presence had been the only enjoyable thing about the trip. She didn’t want Princess Twilight to find out about her time in jail, though, and there was no point in being honest about the trip’s outcome. If she had missed the meeting because of it, she might as well make it sound like it was worth it. “There were so many interesting things there! Like, for instance…”
Talking about Canterlot and the higher Equestrian society was something Rarity could do for hours on end. She could go on and on about the wonders of the capital, just as she was at that moment, embellishing every detail of her story and making Canterlot seem like the most wondrous of places. The glitz, the glam, the everything! She painted a picture of Canterlot Castle for the princess, as well—or rather, what she managed to see of it: the dungeons and a mirror and the crystal-filled hallway Rift had led her through.
She was so enraptured by her own vivid descriptions, she failed to notice the princess’ downcast eyes and drooping ears.
“I really do love Canterlot. You understand why I simply had to stay one day more, don’t you?” Rarity finished with a dreamy sigh, only then noticing Twilight’s shifted expression. “P-Princess?”
“I see,” Twilight whispered, pawing at the floor forlornly. “I always did love home, too.”
And with those six words, Rarity felt like a completely tactless and particularly insensitive foal.
“Oh goodness, Princess Twilight, I— I didn’t mean to— I—” Rarity stammered in a panicked frenzy, putting her hooves over her mouth and shaking her head. Now she’d really done it. And it was far too late to go back on what she’d said. “I’m so sorry! I don’t kno—”
“Do you need anything else?” Princess Twilight interrupted, looking up at the unicorn. “I was busy with something before you arrived.”
The princess lifted her hoof. “I understand. Why would you want to come back here? Canterlot is much nicer. I do not blame you for delaying your return; who would want to spend time with somepony who threw them against a bookcase?” she asked, her voice as cold and unforgiving as the Canterlot dungeons.
And yet, despite this, Princess Twilight’s face still betrayed one sole emotion: loneliness. A loneliness Rarity had never seen beset the alicorn before.
It was the type that hollows one out and leaves them an empty shell, still moving out of instinct, not desire to do so. How could Rarity hope to understand a type of loneliness she had never experienced? For now, though, she could feel fragments of it in Twilight’s actions, in her eyes, and in her words.
It was almost reminiscent of the day they first met, which already felt so long ago despite being so recent, when Twilight had begged for Rarity to stay. She’d shed all of her defenses, all of her royal persona, to reveal a terribly lonely mare asking for company because she had nothing left. Nothing left but books that couldn’t answer back and memories that had probably already faded away.
“If you do not need anything, Rarity,” Twilight continued, drawing herself up, “I will take my leave. You do not have to come back if you do not want to.”
The calendar, the notes, the questions… Guilt crashed through the unicorn.
Twilight had been waiting for Rarity because she was her only link to the outside, and Rarity hadn’t come. Now, thanks to running her mouth, Rarity had not only made Twilight feel completely unimportant, but that she’d been ignored in favor of everything she’d lost.
When Twilight turned to trot away, Rarity spoke up in an almost panicked voice: “I’m sorry, Princess Twilight! I really am!” In the face of such a mistake, there was only one thing Rarity could do: apologize, truly and sincerely. Apologize because in the end what mattered wasn’t why she hadn’t been able to keep her promise, but the fact that she hadn’t kept it. Twilight turned back to look at her, and Rarity felt reassured enough to continue. “I do like visiting you, Princess. More than you know, I really do. I apologize sincerely for not being here yesterday. I have no excuses to offer.”
The princess’ expression did not waver initially, and Rarity feared her words had little impact, until the lights in the room suddenly brightened. And, just as the lights had, so too did the alicorn’s face brighten ever so slightly, her ears perking up. The expression in her eyes changed from sadness to a feeling Rarity could only describe as… hope? Maybe even sincere belief in Rarity’s words?
Except then it changed again.
“Wait a moment…” Twilight said, narrowing her eyes. She took one step toward the unicorn and whispered: “You… You visited the castle?”
Rarity raised an eyebrow. Hadn’t she spent the entire past hour establishing just that? She was pretty sure she spent at least ten minutes speaking about the interior design of the ancient building. “Yes? Though I already sincerely apologized for delaying my return in favor of sightseeing…”
Twilight shook her head. “No, not that,” she replied, taking yet another step toward Rarity, seeming more imposing by the second. “You mentioned visiting the crystal hallway of the castle, didn’t you?”
“Yes…” Rarity replied carefully. “Well, I mean, it was a rather large hallway filled with mirrors that led from the…” She stopped herself, the word “dungeon” hanging from her lips, before clearing her throat and continuing, “Some part of the castle to the entrance.”
A book suddenly appeared next to her, opening up and flipping its pages as the alicorn spoke without actually looking at it. “Canterlot Castle had several large modifications made to it after the ascension of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza the First, following her role in the first Crystal Land dispute.” She seemed to be reciting a passage from memory. “A large hall was added to the original design, decorated with crystal and mirrors. It united the entrance of the castle with Princess Cadenza’s tower, the throne room, and the Canterlot dungeons.” The book pages suddenly stopped on a hoof-drawn illustration of the hallway Rift Shield had led Rarity through.
Rarity frowned, looking back and forth between Twilight and the illustration. “Princess, I don’t—”
“I am sure you noticed this hallway is not the main hallway, and it is not intended for ordinary visitors. As long as nothing has changed since my imprisonment, the only way an outsider of the castle could see this hallway is by either receiving an audience with Princess Cadance—or her descendants—or by going to the dungeons,” Twilight continued. “The only reason you could have seen that hallway is because you were seeking an audience with Princess Denza, which is exactly what I asked you not to do.”
The blood drained from Rarity’s face. “I… er… well…” she stammered, running her hoof through her mane. She needed to think of something to say and fast. After all, for every second of silence that ticked by, Twilight’s glare deepened and deepened. “I-it’s open to the public now!”
Twilight said nothing in reply. Not a sound, not a peep, not a single thing. She just narrowed her eyes even more, and Rarity felt like she was being completely and utterly examined by a ghostly gaze that peered right into her soul.
“All right, fine!” she exclaimed, clamping her ears against her skull. “I was jailed! I was thrown into the dungeons on Saturday and missed the train back home because I was getting intimately acquainted with the filth accumulating there for centuries! That’s why I saw the hallway, and that’s why I wasn’t able to keep my promise!”
Concern washed over Twilight’s face, her ears lowering slightly. “You were jailed?” she asked, her tone much softer than before. It was this very same concern that made Rarity wish, hope, plead, pray that Twilight’s next question wasn’t— “Why were you jailed?”
Two paths lay before the unicorn.
The easy path, which was creating yet another fantastical tale about intrigue and being involved in a theft in Canterlot, hopefully leaving Twilight impressed and reassured.
Or, the hard path, which was telling the absolute truth, cutting the delicate thread that kept her lies together, facing the anger of Princess Twilight, hoping she wouldn’t be thrown against a bookcase, and then figuring out her next step.
“Because the proof I brought of your existence wasn’t good enough to get me an audience with Princess Denza,” she said without—or with just a little bit—of hesitation, trying not to lose her cool as the concern vanished immediately from Princess Twilight’s face. She had made her bed, and now she had to lie in it. “Instead,” she continued, gulping down all desire to go back to option A, “it was taken as if I was playing a prank on the guards so they gave me a night in jail as a lesson.”
It was out in the open now, and all that remained was to face the alarmingly calm storm in the shape of a completely silent princess. Rarity stood as tall and proud as she could, trying not to be intimidated by the alicorn’s blank yet somehow still furious gaze. Rarity was fully prepared for the sure-to-come yelling, but was completely disarmed when Princess Twilight simply teleported away instead without another word, the open book falling to the floor.
Rarity didn’t quite know how to react, blinking at the spot where Twilight had once been. “Princess?” she ventured, receiving no reply. “Princess, please, I apologize for doing this without your permission! Can’t we talk about it, please?” After several more callings of the princess’ name, all of which went unanswered, Rarity sighed deeply and picked up the book with her magic. “Princess Twilight! You’re being ridi—”
“I told you I didn’t want you involved!” the princess’ voice boomed throughout the entire library, almost as if she was everywhere at once. She suddenly appeared atop the bookcase, wings flared and a scorching fire in her glare. “You can’t help me!”
“Why not?!” Rarity demanded, completely baffled by how adamantly Twilight was against receiving help. “You let me go out and find the books! Why can’t I seek informa—”
“Books don’t get you thrown into the dungeon!” Twilight interrupted, teleporting away and reappearing in front of Rarity, forcing the unicorn to backtrack several paces. “For all I know, he’s still out there! For all I know, the only reason nopony has helped me before is because he has trapped them or killed them!”
Rarity had no reply ready for that, but not because she thought the princess was right. If the Spirit was truly out there plotting against the escape of the princesses, then… why hadn’t he stopped Rarity from getting one of Twilight’s books? They were the key to Twilight’s escape, weren’t they?
“Don’t you see?!” Twilight continued, steadily becoming more and more riled. “The evidence you have wasn’t even enough to convince the Equestrian royalty of my existence!”
“Because you won’t let me get more proof!” Rarity snapped back, taking a step toward Twilight in an act of insolence she was sure would have gotten her thrown back into the dungeon, so she hoped the library didn’t have one. “How can I be expected to gather more evidence if you won’t tell me anything, let alone allow me to seek information on my own?!” It was clear the alicorn had not expected Rarity to fight back, ears flattening against her head as she stepped away. This, however, wasn’t enough to dissuade Rarity from speaking her mind. She took another step toward the princess, stamping her hoof against the floor. “Why won’t you let me help you?!”
“Because I don’t want anypony in danger because of me! I don’t want that! Not again!” Twilight shot back in reply, stamping her own hoof against the floor, her voice cracking ever so slightly. “Why do you even care?!”
And it was amusing, in hindsight, how Rarity had asked herself that same question before and struggled with the answer, but now it came to her so naturally and easily. “Because you’re my friend, Twilight!” she exclaimed with all the honesty she had lacked before. Because in the short weeks since she’d found the library, she hadn’t bothered to realize that she kept coming back not out of desire for adventure or intrigue, but because she’d found a curious friend in the alicorn.
“B-but, but—” Twilight stepped even further back, apprehension in her eyes replaced by sheer confusion. She opened and closed her mouth several times, her thoughts obviously going much faster than her mouth could keep up. When her mouth finally did catch up, she blurted out in a flabbergasted voice: “But I accused you of being the Spirit! And you only met me… five book-borrowings ago!”
“Princess, last I knew, friendships didn’t have a time condition over when they can start,” Rarity replied. The princess seemed as if she wanted to throw a retort, but couldn’t find one. Taking advantage of Twilight’s difficulties finding words to express herself, Rarity continued, “And I apologize for not keeping my promise as I should have, and for everything else I’ve done. That is not something friends do.”
Twilight kept quiet, looking as if she were trying to process Rarity’s words. “Thank you for apologizing,” she said finally.
“And please believe me when I say I really do want to help you,” Rarity continued, knowing she was again treading on thin ice. “Truly and sincerely.”
“I… don’t know,” Twilight said, getting up and pacing around, mumbling under her breath. It was a strange sight as she kept trotting through the bookcases, something which Rarity still wasn’t quite used to.
While Twilight lost herself in her own thoughts, Rarity looked at the book she’d picked up from the floor. To her immense surprise, the pony marked down as the author was the very same alicorn currently rambling about the dangers of adventuring throughout Equestria in search of long-lost princesses.
Her curiosity awakened, Rarity opened up the book and noticed it was completely hoof-written in elegant lavender calligraphy. She flipped through its pages, picking one at random. It held an illustration of a conference room with a title and description below.
The Garden of the Accord
Commissioned after the end of the First Chaos War, the Garden of the Accord was designed to serve as the meeting place for the four Princesses of Equestria and the Spirit of Chaos.
The meetings were held annually on the anniversary of the end of the First Chaos War. The princesses would offer a small, barren land on which the Spirit was allowed to create chaos, and in return he would act peacefully toward the rest of the Equestrian Kingdom. If he failed to keep his end of the bargain, the Elements of Harmony would be used to turn him to stone or worse.
Several tapestries hang from the marble walls of the room, depicting the events of the war: from the beginning to the defeat of the Spirit of Chaos and the ascension of Twilight Sparkle the unicorn as consequence of her pivotal actions in bringing about the end of the war. Due to a spell created in collaboration between Star Swirl the Bearded and Princess Sparkle, the walls of the room and indeed the entire castle have been imbued with a protective spell against chaos magic. This renders the Spirit’s magic completely ineffective within the castle walls, thus preventing him from attacking the princesses at any time during the Peace Meetings.
The Peace Meetings are no longer celebrated since the start of the Second Chaos Era, which began on the day of the Fifth Peace Meeting, when the Spirit’s request for something other than land was not granted.
“…the ascension of Twilight Sparkle the unicorn as consequence of her pivotal actions in bringing the end of the war.”
Her eyes lingered on that sentence, and Rarity realized she’d always assumed Princess Twilight had, well, always been an alicorn. Rarity turned to the book’s index page and read down the list of contents until she found one that interested her. “Second Chaos War, page four hundred thirteen.”
She flipped through the pages, reached the appropriate one, and gulped. What… What is this?
The words “your fault” had been written all over the page in capital letters. Did… did Twilight write this? But it didn’t look like her hoofwriting at all. She turned the page and found the rest of the chapter plastered with the same accusation over and over. She went back to the first page and tried to read the original text, but she was interrupted when Twilight stopped her pacing to confront her once more.
“Just because you found me does not mean finding the others will be easy!” Twilight pointed toward the calendar hanging above the desk. “It’s been over a thousand years! If even I don’t know where he could have trapped them, how are you supposed to find information as… as…” She took the book from Rarity’s magical grip, closing it and waving it around. “…As lost and irretrievable as my borrowed books!”
Rarity simply stared at Twilight, lowering her hoof; she’d been reaching to get the book back. As much as she wanted to laugh and pat the head of the blissfully ignorant alicorn, she settled instead on an innocent smile as her only response.
The princess seemed disconcerted. “Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked carefully.
“Oh, it’s nothing!” Rarity replied nonchalantly, running a hoof through her mane and then tapping it against her cheek. “I was simply mulling over whether I should put my bag down somewhere because the ‘lost and irretrievable’ book in my saddlebag is so terribly heavy.”
Princess Twilight did not reply initially, her eyes growing wide. “You… You found one?”
“Now, what was it called?” Rarity continued, lifting her hoof to admire the remnants of the hooficure from last week. “I think it was Magical A to Better by Camellia the Closet Mage?” She used her magic to take the book out of her bag, secretly delighting in the way Twilight’s mouth dropped open like a filly presented with an early birthday present. “Ah yes, it is!” She floated it toward the other mare, smiling her most charming smile. “For you, Princess.”
With how carefully Twilight took the book, one might think she had been given the most precious and fragile diamond in the kingdom. “This…” Her stammered words fell silent when she opened it to the front page and saw her own hoofwriting. She flipped through the pages and started muttering, as if entering a trance. “Maybe… Maybe this is why I can’t find the map? What if the lost books are the key to finding it?” Her questions seemed to be directed at herself, giving Rarity the distinct impression the alicorn had forgotten she was there.
Rarity was too occupied to care, though.
Map? What map? she thought, racking her memory. Neither the Book Bringer nor the legend had ever mentioned a map, but it had to be important if Twilight was looking for it—and even more so if it was related to the lost books. Her ears perked up when she realized that perhaps it was a map for finding the other alicorns.
“A map to find the others?” Rarity asked, taking a step forward to peer at the book, hoping the princess would feel more inclined to share information now that Rarity had given her the lost tome.
“No,” Twilight replied, not looking up from the book. “The map is to find—” To Rarity’s frustration, Twilight cut herself off and finally looked at the unicorn, closing the book and holding it against her chest. “…To help a friend,” she said with visible difficulty.
“You mean one of the princesses?” Rarity asked. After all, as horrid as it sounded, any other friend the princess had before must have already passed away.
Twilight winced. “…No, he’s a… he’s not one of the princesses.”
Though Rarity could tell Twilight did not want to delve further into the matter, her curiosity far outweighed her sense of tact. “You mean to say the Spirit trapped somepony else beside you and the other two princesses?” Now this was new and valuable information. “Who?”
Twilight closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “No, he didn’t— I’m not sure if he really— He said only the map would—” She groaned and looked away, gritting her teeth. “Will you… Can you please continue looking for my books?” Twilight asked, again with great difficulty. “And…” She took a deep breath of air. “Find information on the others? As long as you feel you are not in any danger?”
Rarity could barely hold in her delight, excitedly stomping her forehooves against the floor. “Princess, I’d be honored to help you. And I will most certainly keep returning your books,” she said, relieved that her part in the fairy tale adventure hadn’t been cut short. She then giggled and fluttered her eyelashes. “Good thing you don’t charge late fees, wouldn’t you say!”
Twilight narrowed her eyes, rubbing her hoof against her mouth. “…Don’t charge late fees?”
“Or at least don’t charge the delivery mare!” Rarity quickly said with a nervous laugh, taking several steps back, suddenly watching all her life’s savings poof away. “Right?”
Twilight didn’t reply, her eyes narrowing even further.
“Wait!” Rarity eeped, shaking her head. “Please don’t charge me with the late fees. I really don’t think there’s enough money in Equestria to even pay for them.”
Twilight rolled her eyes and Rarity could have sworn she saw an amused smile. “I wouldn’t charge you with the late fees, Rarity. You didn’t borrow them,” she said as if it were obvious, teleporting the book away. “It would be unfair for me to do that.”
“Thank goodness,” Rarity said, relaxing visibly. “I’m afraid I’m a little low on funds since buying my new camera.” It wasn’t until after the words had left her lips that she remembered who she was speaking to and about what. “Not that I’m still upset with you, of course!” she quickly added.
Twilight didn’t seem fazed. “Why would you be upset? I fixed your photographic device.”
That was certainly a pleasant surprise, even if she somehow doubted the princess would be able to really fix a camera without any apparent knowledge of how it worked. But then again, beggars couldn’t be choosers, could they? Especially not those without a single bit left.
Twilight nodded. “I have a few minor adjustments to make, but I should not be too long.”
“Oh, well, I have nothing planned so I don’t mind wai—” Her sentence stopped when Twilight’s horn glowed and suddenly Rarity found both of them teleported to the lower floor, standing next to a desk right in front of the maze’s entrance. Chills ran down her spine at the rather bizarre sensation of being teleported. “This works too.”
She noticed her camera sitting on the desk, but as she had anticipated, it didn’t quite look like its original design. Several stray pieces of machinery were lying next to it, and she withheld the need to point out that the device probably wouldn’t work if it wasn’t complete.
“I used spells to modify some of the components. The photographs should be of a much higher quality than they were before,” Twilight began, levitating the camera into the air and giving it to Rarity. She also floated over a piece of parchment listing several simple-enough looking spells. “I also adapted some coloring spells so you can change the chromatic base of the pictures.”
Rarity scanned the camera over before reading through the spells. Monochrome, warm, cool, dark; they all seemed like filters one could find in the new expensive magic cameras Rarity could only dream of affording. She poised the camera so as to take a picture of a nearby bookshelf, but stopped and looked at Twilight instead.
“Why don’t we take a picture together?” she suggested, waving the camera enthusiastically. Before Twilight could even object or agree, Rarity trotted over and stood next to the alicorn, shivering slightly at the abrupt cold that surrounded her. She pointed the camera lens toward them and through her wide grin asked, “Do I cast the spell now?”
“Er, no, after the picture has been taken,” Twilight replied, fidgeting next to Rarity. She lifted her hoof toward the camera. “Perhaps it would be better to take a picture of something else for the—”
“No, no!” Rarity scolded, swatting away Twilight’s forehoof. She cleared her throat and resumed her smiling position. “Very well, are you rea— Princess, you could at least try to look at the camera.”
To Rarity’s annoyance, Twilight was instead looking at the ceiling, eyes wide as saucers.
“There’s somepony else here,” she whispered slowly, moving away from the camera. “Upstairs.”
Rarity immediately looked up, squinting. “There is?” she asked in a hushed voice. “Wait, how do you know that? I haven’t heard a thing!”
Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “Enchantments on my books alert me when somepony is taking one,” she said. “That’s how I found out you were here the first time you came.” She closed her eyes, her ears completely alert. “They’re in the social sciences aisle.”
So I was being followed! Rarity thought, biting her lip. But who? And why?
“What do we do?” she whispered urgently. “Princess?” After half a minute of no reply, she looked around and found that Princess Twilight was gone. “Oh for pony’s sake…”
Honestly, she thought as she put the camera back on the desk and rushed over to the stairs, was it really necessary to leave me behind? These ponies could prove to be helpful, and knowing how the princess was prone to not-so-friendly greetings, it would have been a much better idea for Rarity to go find them. When she finally reached the upper floor, there wasn’t a sound to be heard, and the chandelier had been turned off. So much for trying not to scare them off.
As quietly as possible, Rarity trotted through the rows of bookcases, using light from her horn to keep a lookout for anypony. “Princess Twilight?”
What if it’s the Spirit? she suddenly thought, stopping in her tracks. Coming to stop me from helping Princess Twilight? She shook her head and continued her search. “No, Rarity, don’t be silly,” she scolded herself. “I’m sure he doesn’t even know about me, if he’s even still alive, that is…”
She stopped again. “But what if it is him? Oh goodness, what if the princess was right?! Maybe he let me find the book just so he’d be sure I was helping the princess, and now he’s come to end my life! Or maybe even worse! Though what would be wor—”
Rarity let out terrified gasp, slamming herself against the nearest bookcase and grabbing a book to use as an impromptu shield against certain chaotic death. She turned around and found nopony initially, until she looked up and saw the alicorn standing atop a bookcase. “Princess Twilight!” she hissed once she’d caught her breath. “Must you really do that every single time?!”
Twilight didn’t reply to the question, instead looking up at the ceiling. “The chandelier fail-safe activated, so it wasn’t Elara or Themis,” she informed.
“Star is set to turn off when a stranger enters the library,” Twilight explained before disappearing and reappearing atop a distant bookcase.
Rarity stared up at the ceiling, remembering the chandelier had not turned off when she’d entered the library earlier. Did that mean Twilight didn’t consider her a stranger anymore? She smiled slightly, pleased by the realization and momentarily forgetting why she’d gone up in the first place. She was abruptly reminded, however, when several crashing sounds and a scream near the entrance of the library nearly frightened the life out of her.
Twilight immediately teleported away while Rarity took the slower path, maneuvering through the bookcases. When she finally reached the entrance, she found Twilight standing in front of the exit tunnel, the magic candelabra floating next to her.
“They’re gone!” Twilight announced, still staring into the tunnel.
Rarity cantered past the princess and into the tunnel. “Maybe they’re still outside! I’ll be back as soon as I find them!”
“Oh, uhm, wait!” Princess Twilight called. When Rarity stopped, Twilight turned back toward the library and called to Themis. The little black owl appeared a moment later, circling the princess. “Please go with her, Themis,” she instructed before looking toward Rarity. “And, uh, please be careful…”
Rarity nodded. “Of course.”
She rushed up the stairs and out into the forest but found nopony inside the depression surrounding the tree. “Hello?!” she called out, trotting around the tree and again finding nothing. She climbed up out of the hole and moved further away. To her frustration, whoever had come seemed to be long gone. Looking up at the tree, she noticed Elara was gone as well. Had she chased after the intruder?
She looked around the area once more and, when it was clear the intruder would not be coming back, she made her way back to the tree. Trotting down the stairs, she saw the princess still waiting by the tunnel when she reached the last step.
“Did you see them?” Twilight called, moving her head as if trying to see somepony else next to or behind the unicorn.
“No, they were already gone, I’m afraid,” Rarity called back, cantering toward the alicorn. She stepped into the library and sighed. “Elara was absent, as well. Perhaps she followed after whomever came? I wonder wh— Princess… what did you…” Books upon books lay scattered in orderly towers all over the floor, their bookshelves completely empty. Rarity looked back and forth between the unconcerned alicorn and the mess. “Princess, what on Earth did you do this for? The library was absolutely spotless!”
“I have to verify if the new book can be linked to the map,” the princess explained, levitating several tomes over and opening them simultaneously. The book Rarity had brought appeared above Twilight, floating in the air as she started reading the other books. She seemed lost in a trance, until she looked at Rarity and acknowledged her presence once more.
If the princess would be doing research on the map, Rarity hardly expected she’d be included or asked to help. A bit awkwardly, she smiled at Twilight and asked, “Would you prefer I leave you be, then? I can take the camera and come back another day? With no day-long delays this time,” she added with an equally awkward laugh.
Twilight lowered her book, opening and closing her mouth several times. “I…”
“Or I can help rearrange the books after you’ve gone through them?” Rarity suggested, neatly ordering a nearby stack of books with her magic. “Elara hasn’t come back yet, I think, so why don’t we catch up on the time we lost due to my… er, imprisonment.”
Twilight looked back to her book for a minute before closing it and putting it on the floor. She then looked at the unicorn and nodded slowly. “All right.”
Rarity clapped her hooves enthusiastically. “All right, then!” she exclaimed, picking up the book and looking at the cover. “Astronomical Astrological Anomalies by Astronomic Astrology,” she read aloud. She trotted into the rows of bookcases, looking at the numbers, until she remembered her lack of knowledge of the Star Swirl Decimal Classification, backtracked into the lobby, and coughed with embarrassment. “Where does this go, exactly?”
“In the Astronomy section,” Twilight replied, only making Rarity’s blush become even more noticeable.
“And that is where…?”
“Class five hundred, division five hundred and twenty, row C, slot twenty-six.”
“Ah, yes! Right,” Rarity said as if she had known that, clearing her throat and looking up at the number on the nearest bookcase. She wondered if maybe the princess had some sort of cheat-sheet for the system or else she’d be there all night. “I’ll be right ba—”
Prompted by the sound of the familiar hooing, the two mares turned around to see Elara flying into the library before she touched down next to Twilight.
“Oh, Elara!” Rarity exclaimed. “Where did you go?”
“Elara, did you go after the intruder?” Twilight asked, receiving a hoot in reply. “Where did you lose them?” Elara hooted again and pointed at Rarity with her wing. Twilight furrowed her brow, looking at the unicorn. “Ponyville.”
Ponyville? But who? Only Fluttershy knows about Twilight, and she wouldn’t follow me into the forest like that.
“Are you going back to your home?” Twilight suddenly asked, snapping Rarity out of her thoughts. “Now that Elara has returned?”
Rarity floated the book back down, her ears lowering. “Oh… Oh, I suppose I should…” Truthfully, she wanted to stay longer, but the princess would be busy with her books, wouldn’t she?
As soon as Rarity finished speaking, Twilight immediately got back up and a book appeared beside her. “Oh, then I thought you might like to borro—” She cut herself off with visible difficulty, and the book disappeared immediately. She sat back down and returned to the other book she had been reading. “All right, then. Be careful on your way home.”
“Could I borrow a book, Princess?” Rarity asked, taking a step toward the alicorn. “I’d love to see the book you’d picked out for me!”
Twilight stared at her, apparently unsure of what to say. “O-oh, uhm… I…” The book reappeared, and she gingerly floated it toward Rarity. “It’s just a book on, uh, spells to be used in geology. You’ve mentioned you use gemstones frequently in your designs so I thought you might like this.” The book opened under the influence of Twilight’s magic, and Rarity found several markings had been made with one of the pencils Rarity had given Twilight. “I marked the interesting passages and spells for you. I was planning on showing them to you yesterday, but then you…” She drifted off.
“Then why not show them to me now?!” Rarity exclaimed, taking the book and settling herself next to the princess. “I don’t have to leave right this second, after all! Unless you’d like to keep working on your map, of course. I can always come back tomorrow?” she suggested, getting up again.
Twilight was silent, looking back from her old lost book to the one in Rarity’s hoof. “I…” Rarity was afraid Twilight would send her away, but her fears dissipated when Twilight put down her old book and, with a crack of magic, all the other books on the floor returned to their respective places. “I can show you now,” she offered quietly, taking the book and opening it up to a random page.
“Splendid!” Rarity exclaimed, sitting back down and scooching close to the alicorn. She bit her lip before taking the plunge and confiding, “If I’m honest, I didn’t really want to leave yet.”
Twilight didn’t reply, instead only glancing at the unicorn. She then looked back at the book and cleared her throat. “We should start with this spell,” she said finally, pointing to the illustration of a glowing gem. “It makes gems glow brightly and even allows the caster to spot them through solid rock.”
And as nice as the drawing looked, Rarity thought to herself that in that moment, nothing Twilight could show her in a book would be nicer than the fact that, even if tentatively, the two were now friends.