“Very well, Princess. I think I have all I need to be allowed into the castle.”
“You don’t know how long it will be until you return?”
“No, but you shouldn’t worry about that. There is no way to tell the time here, so just pretend it’ll just be a few hours!”
“I can’t do that…”
“You have to try. I have to go now. My brother is waiting for me, and we need to get there before sunset.”
“…Please be careful.”
“Princess, don’t look so distressed. It isn’t as though I’ll never return.”
The “maze” that Princess Twilight had so easily dismissed as a problem—of course it wouldn’t be for a spirit—turned out to be quite an obstacle for anypony who couldn’t walk through walls. And of course, during one of their first visits after meeting the princess, one of the first things Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle did was try to turn that obstacle into a game.
Unfortunately for Princess Twilight, they decided she would be the one to play that game with them, and as Rarity could attest, once the fillies got an idea into their heads, they would stop at nothing to get what they wanted.
Sitting atop the spiral staircase, the three older mares had a perfect view of the twists and turns that made up the maze. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were already inside it, exploring as they waited for their reluctant third player, who looked down at the maze with contempt.
The rules were simple, the game inspired by an idea they got after watching Twilight look for a book Fluttershy had requested: a section would be selected at random, and whoever found it first before the time limit ran out would be the winner.
“Come on, sis! Pick one already!”
Though it’d been a few months since she’d met the princess, Rarity had yet to bother learning the Star Swirl Decimal Classification System. She didn’t see the purpose of it when Twilight could teleport books to her instantly. Besides, it had probably changed in the thousand years Twilight had been trapped, so she assumed Twilight’s version of it was outdated.
As such, she ventured a predictable option.
“The fashion section!” she called out. It was perfect. Not only did it give them something to look for, but once they did, she could also ask them to bring her a book or two.
“The ‘fashion section’?” came Twilight’s skeptical voice, prompting Rarity to turn around to look at her. The alicorn had been scrutinizing a pair of flashlights Rarity had brought for her, but Rarity’s comment was enough to snap her out of her focused fascination.
“Of course! Who would think that a bad idea? Everypony has at least some interest in fashion, do they not?” Then again, remembering the portrait Twilight had shown her of Star Swirl the Bearded, perhaps the princess had inherited his sense of style. Which wasn’t much of a sense; that is to say, he didn’t wear anything that even remotely resembled something a mare—or perhaps anypony—should be wearing. She looked at Fluttershy and waited for her friend to nod. “Don’t they?”
Before Fluttershy could do anything of the sort, however, Twilight spoke up again.
“Rarity, there’s no such thing as a ‘fashion section,’” she clarified, raising an eyebrow. “If anything, you would be referring to ‘clothing and accessories,’ which is upstairs under number 604.”
“604 is for magical drawings and hazardous materials,” Fluttershy said softly from the side. “687 is clothing and accessories.”
Twilight regarded her with a hint of confusion before teleporting away in a flash of light. There wasn’t even enough time for Rarity to wonder where she had gone, before the princess returned, looking extremely sheepish. “Yes, yes… Number 687, that’s what I meant to say. I just… use number 604 a lot so I…” However, just as quickly as she’d teleported away, she cleared her throat and her expression became accusing as she turned to Rarity and said, “Well, see? Even Fluttershy knows that there is no fashion section! Not to mention that you’ve used the section so much, I even moved it upstairs for you.”
Rarity scoffed. “Well, I’d simply forgotten!”
That said, she looked down toward the two waiting fillies. She only had to venture another guess, and she’d probably be right. How did that saying go again? “Even a broken clock was right twice a day”? She cleared her throat and narrowed her eyes. “How about… etiquette!”
“That’s upstairs too,” Fluttershy said, giggling when Rarity let out a very frustrated sigh.
Honestly, if they knew so much about it, why didn’t they pick out the category? With a huff, she reminded herself that the third time was the charm. “Well, fine! Then how about ‘Equestrian literature’?” she asked, staring at Twilight and expecting the alicorn to correct her again.
“That is in there,” Twilight said.
Rarity blinked. “It is?” she asked, before quickly stomping her hoof against the floor. “Hah! Of course it is!” Satisfied, she turned back toward the fillies. “Equestrian literature! Number…” She turned toward the alicorn, who playfully rolled her eyes and whispered the reply. “Number 820!”
Their goal decided, the fillies settled themselves in distinct corners of the maze and… and waited quite still for a few moments until they turned to look at Princess Twilight expectantly, as did Fluttershy and Rarity.
“Come on, Princess Twilight!” Scootaloo called impatiently. “Don’t you want to play?”
Twilight winced, again staring down at the maze with a mixture of contempt and annoyance. “How can they find that irritating maze fun…?” Though Rarity could understand why the princess would reserve nothing but ill feelings for what the Spirit had done to her precious library, she also knew playing with the fillies might benefit her serious friend more than said friend knew.
“Twilight, you did promise,” she reminded, matching Twilight’s expression with a lightly scolding one. Before the mare could protest again, Rarity pointed toward the fillies. “Think about how excited they’ve been to come visit and spend time with you! And they did pool their allowances together to buy you that deluxe version of the Daring Do collection,” she reminded further, failing to mention that she and Fluttershy had “helped” the fillies with almost eighty-five percent of the cost.
Twilight looked back at her flashlights. “Why did you bring two? They’re identical,” she said, swiftly changing the topic in an unsubtle way. She turned one on and flashed it in her face, wincing slightly.
“So that you have something to go off of when you inevitably disassemble one of them without knowing how to repair it,” Rarity replied nonchalantly, raising her hoof to silence the suddenly indignant mare. “No, don’t look at me like that! Or shall I remind you of the formerly working sewing machine now lying in pieces on a desk upstairs?”
“But I did repair it!” Twilight protested, a very thin blush spreading on her cheeks.
“Oh? And what, pray tell, did your ‘repaired’ sewing machine accomplish, exactly?’”
Twilight looked mortified, pointing at Rarity with her hoof. “You should have told me paper-like material was included in the des—”
“Twilight, it doesn’t matter now,” Rarity said, taking both flashlights from Twilight and nodding toward the maze. Truthfully, she didn’t want to remember that event. A magical sewing machine that acted with a will of its own? Using whatever material it could find to recreate designs given to it? Those poor books. “Now stop stalling and go join the girls.”
The princess sighed in defeat. “All right, all right,” she conceded, teleporting away and reappearing in front of the maze entrance. She looked back toward Rarity, unsure, until a gesture from the unicorn prompted her inside the maze. Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle looked all but enthralled as the maze lifted and rearranged itself around them. To Rarity’s amusement, poor Twilight merely seemed annoyed by it all. Centuries upon centuries of having her books disorganized was understandably not her idea of fun.
“Readysetgo!” Scootaloo yelled the moment the maze set itself down, and she rushed into the fray, glancing at the numbers on the bookcases as she ran past them.
Sweetie Belle started the game with equal enthusiasm, yet Twilight only trotted along, occasionally stopping to take out a book and read a page or two.
“Have you told the princess about our trip to Hollow Shades?” Fluttershy asked Rarity, turning her eyes away from the maze.
“No, not yet. I tried, but she was too enthralled with her Daring Do books,” Rarity replied, thinking it had been a tremendously good idea to get her those books. Though Twilight didn’t look particularly happy right now, Rarity took it that reading them non-stop meant she enjoyed them. “It’s a shame she can’t meet this Professor Awe pony.”
Professor Brazened Awe.
Rarity had first discovered his existence while perusing a magazine at the spa. Rarity’s magazine choices weren’t always Science, Magic, & More!, but the cover had caught her attention—specifically the line claiming “Legends of Equestria explained!” Upon further reading, she had found that rather than actually explaining any legends, the small article was completely devoted to a stallion infamous for his so-called “expertise” on legends and myths. Months ago, Rarity would have been quick to roll her eyes at him, but now…
“I’ve never been to Hollow Shades before,” Fluttershy said. “Are you sure he still lives there?”
“I would certainly hope so. I don’t want to have planned a trip there just to come back empty-hooved,” Rarity replied, watching as Sweetie’s path was halted when a bookcase appeared in front of her. She then turned back to Fluttershy. “Though it makes perfect sense he’d take up residence there. You remember how disappointed Sweetie was she couldn’t go there for Seeking Night? The entire town is apparently quite taken by the whole legend of the four princ—”
She was interrupted by a loud shriek filling the library, followed by a loud and indignant filly’s voice. “Prince-ess! That’s cheating!”
The two mares looked down to find Twilight had just appeared out of a bookcase and scared the living daylights out of Rarity’s younger sister. Twilight started protesting, but both her defense and the game were cut short by Scootaloo.
“Found it!” she yelled victoriously, standing in front of what Rarity presumed was the Equestrian literature section. Her proclamation was met with clapping from Fluttershy and Rarity, but disappointment from Sweetie Belle.
Twilight, for her part, continued to wander around the maze, still looking through the occasional book. Rarity rolled her eyes, wishing the princess had at least pretended to play along. Oh well, maybe next time she’d be a bit more enthused.
“Well, I think we better leave for now. It’s nearly lunchtime,” Rarity said to Fluttershy before looking back down at the maze. “Come on, girls! Time to go!”
“Already?! But we just got here!” Scootaloo called back, her former joy at winning their game all but gone.
“And Princess Twilight promised to help us with our homework!” Sweetie Belle reminded her sister.
“Darling, you do realize that doing your homework for you is not the same thing as helping, don’t you? No, don’t give me that look! I already saw your completed math book!” Rarity said before Sweetie could respond.
“Maybe we could have a picnic outside?” Fluttershy suggested. Or suggested until she remembered outside was a terrifying forest, and thus amended her suggestion, “Or inside? The entrance of the library has a lot of space, doesn’t it?” Rarity bit her lip, unsure if she wanted to risk getting the library dirty, but Fluttershy spoke up again. “Please?”
“‘Please’?” Rarity repeated, raising her eyebrow. “You want to stay longer, too? My, when did Princess Twilight’s Library turn into the hippest place in town?” She fluttered her eyelashes and grinned at the pegasus. “Does somepony regret all the times she refused to accompany me into the forest? Hmmmm?” she said, widening her eyes accusingly.
Fluttershy laughed softly and rolled her eyes.
Her mood vastly improved by the success Twilight was with Fluttershy and the fillies, Rarity felt benevolent. “All right, I suppose you can stay a few more hours while I run some errands and go get us some lunch,” she called out, to the enthused yells of the fillies. She then turned to Fluttershy, gave her the flashlights, and added, “I’ll be back in two hours or so.”
She felt the impulse to add a “be careful,” never having left the girls or Fluttershy alone in the library, but then again, they were in the company of an immortal princess spirit. Rarity sighed and turned around, telling herself her fears were probably just leftover paranoia from the intrusion a few weeks ago.
If only she could figure out who or what it had been.
Ponyville’s marketplace was crowded as ever, not a surprising thing considering it was nearly lunchtime. Rarity was getting rather hungry, and though the sight of Themis pecking at insects on the ground repulsed her, it somehow also made her feel even hungrier. She reached into her saddlebag and took out her grocery list, scanning it for items still left to buy. She’d covered almost everything—all of them healthy and quick snacks—but she realized that she’d yet to buy anything for dessert. If I don’t bring them something sweet, Sweetie and Scootaloo won’t let me hear the end of it.
Apples struck her as a good choice; they were sweet, tasty, and healthy to boot! Once Themis had returned to his spot on her back, Rarity made her way into the bustling market, searching for Applejack or her brother. Her search was rewarded after a moment when she finally spotted them near the other fruit vendors.
The two siblings turned around, and Applejack waved at Rarity.
“Well, howdy, Rarity!” Applejack greeted, smiling widely at the unicorn. “What can I do ya for? Lookin’ to buy some apples?”
“Yes, indeed I am,” Rarity replied. “I’m having a picnic with my sister, and I thought she and her friends might like some apples for dessert.”
“Well, I’d love to sell ya some, but…” Applejack drifted off, glancing at what Rarity realized was an empty cart. “’Fraid we ran out. Sold the last dozen to Miss Cheerilee.”
“Oh, I see. That’s too bad,” Rarity said, rather disappointed. Some apples with chocolate syrup would have been a nice treat for Fluttershy and the girls, but she supposed she would have to look for something else. Was it strawberry season yet?
Her disappointment must have been noticeable, for Applejack quickly spoke up. “Though I was just gonna mosey back to the farm for more apples, so if you don’t mind waitin’ for a bit, I can bring you some,” Applejack suggested. “Or you could even come with me to the farm. Big Mac’s gotta wait here for Golden Orange, and I sure could use some help carrying all them apples!”
Rarity mulled it over. She did want some apples, and she wasn’t in a hurry to get back. The princess and Fluttershy weren’t going anywhere, and neither were the fillies—unless they wanted to experience the worst scolding of their thus far short little lives. Glancing at her back, she could see Themis was in no hurry to get home either, so she turned back to Applejack and smiled, accepting the offer with a nod.
As they made their way toward the farm, the two mares engaged in idle small talk. Truth be told, Rarity didn’t know the farmer all that well, and she doubted Applejack was interested in hearing the minutiae of her own fashionable life. She could always talk about her ghostly friend, but besides having the impression that Applejack wasn’t the type to believe in ghost stories, she didn’t really want to have yet another pony pin her as a crazy cat lady.
It was because of this that, as the farm loomed in the horizon, Applejack’s question threw Rarity off.
“Say, Rarity,” Applejack began, eyes on the winding road ahead, “do you believe in them tales? About a princess in the Everfree Forest? And others locked away in caves an’ mountains and such?”
“I— well, I don’t know,” Rarity hastily replied, wondering if perhaps her secret was out. Why else would Applejack of all ponies ask her such a question out of nowhere? “I suppose there’s some charm in believing such tales, isn’t there? Why do you ask?”
Applejack furrowed her brow. “I… It don’t matter none,” she said quickly, as if she’d changed her mind at the last second. “Jus’ wondering.” By this time, they’d almost reached the farm, and she came to a full stop, narrowing her eyes. “What in tarnation is that filly doin’ now?”
Rarity looked toward the farm and spotted Applejack’s sister, whom she recognized from Sweetie’s school. Apple Bloom, wasn’t it? Thinking back, hadn’t Scootaloo mentioned the filly took lessons of some sort with Zecora in the Everfree Forest?
Apple Bloom was standing outside the house, playing with a stick. When she noticed the two mares, however, she froze up, dropping her stick on the ground. As Rarity and Applejack approached her, Rarity got the odd impression that Apple Bloom was staring solely at her. Probably just my imagination.
“Apple Bloom!” Applejack scolded, suddenly looking quite cross at the filly. “I don’t know what you’re up to, but that doesn’t look like you cleaning out the pens!”
“I was just taking a break!” the filly protested, eyes still glued to Rarity and apparently unable to budge. It was starting to unnerve the unicorn, and the smile she offered did little to dissipate Apple Bloom’s strange behavior. Maybe she’d eaten a bad apple?
“No buts! You’re still grounded, missy! The piglets need a clean pen for this afternoon,” Applejack rebuked. She then turned to Rarity and nodded toward the house. “Granny Smith was makin’ some apples pies ’fore we left, and I’m sure she don’t mind partin’ with one. Bet your sister and her friend would like one too!”
“Oh, that would be splendid!” Rarity exclaimed. She watched as Themis flew off her back and settled on the roof of the house before following Applejack inside, trying hard not to feel Apple Bloom’s stare on her. What’s gotten into that filly? Wasn’t she taught that staring is rude?
Once inside, Applejack closed the door and sighed. “Sorry about that,” she said, guiding Rarity toward the living room. “Granny Smith shouldn’t be long.”
“Trouble with your little sister, I see?” Rarity asked, smiling sympathetically as she took a seat on the couch. “I know how that goes. Sweetie Belle is quite the hoof-full more often than not. She ruined some fabric of mine a few weeks ago, and heavens did I wish I could ground her for it.”
“I’m afraid Apple Bloom did something mighty worse than ruinin’ some fabrics, Rarity,” Applejack said, leaving the room for a moment and returning with two glasses of cider. She offered one to Rarity before sitting down and continuing. “Silly filly just near got herself killed in the Everfree Forest a few weeks back. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my big brother holler at somepony more in his entire life.”
“Oh dear, really?” Rarity asked, understanding why the stallion would have lost his temper. Rarity herself nearly had a heart attack when she thought it had been Sweetie Belle who’d followed her into the forest.
“Yeah, she’s been taking some potion-making lessons from Zecora for ’round a year now, after Miss Cheerilee assigned her some fancy ‘cultural friendship’ project,” Applejack explained. “So she’s been goin’ into the forest twice a week.”
“But I was under the impression Zecora still hadn’t returned to Ponyville?” Rarity asked, remembering how she’d never see the lights on in the zebra’s cottage when passing by. She hadn’t seen Zecora for weeks now—almost since Seeking Night, in fact. Where had the zebra gone?
“She’s been coming back for a few days at a time, but she’s been going to visit a friend of hers a lot. She left us the keys to her cottage so Apple Bloom could keep practicin’ her potion making. Usually, Big Mac and I go drop her off and then pick her up a few hours later, but…” Applejack frowned and glanced toward a nearby framed picture of the filly. “Few weeks back we found the cottage empty when we came back, so we had to go lookin’ for her. I’m tellin’ ya, Rarity, it was some of the worst hours of my life. We finally found her, and the filly was more terrified than a worm in an apple during cider season. Kept going on and on about the library and its princess.”
Rarity nearly choked on her cider. “She what?!” she blurted out, before quickly composing herself and clearing her throat. “Oh m-my, really? The library and a princess?”
Did that mean that the intruder from a few weeks ago was… Applejack’s little sister? If that was the case… how many times had she seen Rarity in the forest? Or even Fluttershy, or now Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo? More importantly, had she told anypony?
“You know, the one from them old pony tales? Seeking Night?” Applejack clarified, unaware of just how intimately Rarity knew the tale. “Said she’d found this underground library, and she saw a princess. I reckon she was so scared, her imagination must’a gone plumb wild.” She then paused and looked at Rarity, deep in thought before sighing and rolling her eyes. “Can you believe she even said she followed you there? Guess it must have really stuck with her, how you were in charge of Seekin’ Night this year an’ all. I mean, I don’t know you all that well, but I know ya ain’t foolish enough to wander alone in that forest if there’s no need for it.”
Well, that explained why she’d asked Rarity if she believed in the tale earlier.
Rarity’s fake laughter had never been more high-pitched. “Me?! Wandering into that awful forest? Darling, don’t be ridiculous!” she exclaimed, nervously shaking away Applejack’s words with her hoof. “That’s just silly! Laughable, really! Wh-what would I even do there? Imagine that! Me meeting up with a princess in a library! What would we even talk about? Fashion in the middle ages?” she continued, trying to forget the extensive debate she and Twilight had over that very topic. “What an adorable imagination she has!”
“It wasn’t my imagination!”
The two mares turned around to find Apple Bloom standing by the door, stamping her hoof against the floor.
“I saw the library!” she continued, turning her accusing—or desperate?—expression toward Rarity. “She went there! I followed her all the way into the library! I’m not lying, I swear!”
Rarity didn’t know what to do. She obviously couldn’t tell the truth, but she felt bad not doing so. After all, she knew from personal experience how awful and frustrating it was to be pegged as a liar or a crazy pony.
“Apple Bloom!” Applejack exclaimed, putting down her glass of cider. “I’m growin’ mighty tired of this! There ain’t no library in the Everfree Forest, and there sure as hay ain’t a princess, either! If you want to be treated like a big pony, then start actin’ like one!” She then pointed to Rarity. “And I want you to apologize to Rarity for telling all those lies about her!”
Apple Bloom hopelessly looked back and forth between the two mares. “But I wasn’t ly—”
“Now, Applejack, I don’t take it personally,” Rarity said, interrupting before an even angrier Applejack had the chance to. “I’m flattered Apple Bloom would associate me with the Princess in the Library. I am quite fond of her… Er, well, h-her legend, I mean!” She smiled amiably at the filly. “I’ll gladly accept an apology, but perhaps we could talk later? You do have chores to do!” she suggested, hoping the filly would get the hint.
Now that she knew Apple Bloom was in on the secret, she very well couldn’t let it slide without saying anything. The last thing she wanted was yet another filly wandering about the forest in the search of Twilight, especially one that didn’t have the guidance of Elara and Themis.
Apple Bloom sighed in frustration, pawing at the ground. “All right…”
Just as Apple Bloom had finished speaking, the door to the kitchen opened and out ambled Granny Smith. “What’s going on out here?” Granny Smith asked, before noticing Rarity. “Fiddlesticks! Applejack, why didn’t ya tell me we had visitors?!” she exclaimed, apparently unprepared for company. She then noticed Apple Bloom still in the room. “And what’re you doing here, young’un? Weren’t you cleanin’ the pens?”
“She should be, but instead she’s still going on about the Princess of Everfree Forest,” Applejack answered before the filly could offer an excuse, giving Apple Bloom another stern look.
“The Everfree Forest?!” the elderly mare exclaimed, throwing the filly a stern look of her own. “Don’tcha know how dangerous that there forest is?! Do you want to end up like Apple Crumble?!”
Apple Bloom looked mortified by the question. “N-no!”
A few moments passed in which Rarity watched the Apples silently, before finally asking with curious caution, “What happened to Apple Crumble?”
“Killed by timberwolves helping his brother Fritter Cobbler more than a thousand moons ago, that’s what!” Granny Smith began, gesturing wildly. “Went mad he did, that Fritter Cobbler, lookin’ for the lost library of the princess. Looked for her until one day, he just plumb gave up and left Ponyville. It didn’t help his brother died ’cause of it. My grandaddy used to say the princess cursed him for rousin’ her from her eternal slumber and stealing her books!”
“Oh, really?” Rarity asked, raising an eyebrow. She found it hard to believe Twilight would curse anypony for waking her up considering she couldn’t even sleep, but she’d easily believe her friend would curse somepony for stealing her books. If she could actually curse anypony, that was.
Applejack rolled her eyes. “Granny, there isn’t a lost princess. Fritter Cobbler was just a pony that went plain crazy, claimin’ the same things as this little one here,” she contended. “He even went as far as saying he was ‘friends’ with the princess an’ everything.”
“He did?” Rarity asked, furrowing her brow.
Twilight had never mentioned anypony else finding her save for the Spirit. The Book Bringer claimed he’d never talked to her, and she would have said if other ponies had befriended her, wouldn’t she? It felt like every time she thought she knew more about the princess, she found out she actually knew less.
“Listen here, you little whippersnapper! Fritter Cobbler may have been a no-good thievin’ scoundrel, but an Apple is never a liar!” Granny Smith snapped at her granddaughter before turning back toward Apple Bloom and Rarity. “He stumbled into her library, and he took two books from her.”
Two books were taken from the library? Rarity’s first impulse was to take out the library cards from her bag and immediately look for the name Fritter Cobbler, but she’d run the risk of revealing her secret. “And what happened to the books?” she asked, praying that by some sort of miracle, the elderly pony knew of their location. Two books in one go would be the luckiest day of her life.
“He lost one, didn’t he?” Apple Bloom said, having obviously heard the story before and promptly crushing Rarity’s hope—until the filly continued. “In a house in the forest!”
A house in the forest? Could she mean that decrepit house Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo found during Seeking Night? At least that would be less of a hassle than going through the dangerous forest with a fine tooth comb.
“And the other book?” Rarity prompted. “Surely that one couldn’t have been lost too?”
Granny Smith blinked. “What book?” she asked, before ambling into the kitchen, ranting on about her pies overcooking. She was soon gone, and Rarity made a move to get up, but Granny Smith re-emerged before she had a chance. With her was a pristine, heavy-looking book bound in yellow leather, which she showed to the unicorn. The Culture of Agriculture: Volume One by Summer Fields was written on it.
“This here is an Apple Family heirloom. Still looks brand new. Almost like magic!” Granny Smith said, carefully opening up the book and showing Rarity the first page. “See here?” she continued, throwing Applejack a nasty look. “Fritter Cobbler was no liar!”
And indeed he wasn’t, for written in a familiar and elegant calligraphy were the words Property of Princess Twilight Sparkle. To Rarity’s surprise, however, something else was written under Twilight’s name. It was in much less elegant calligraphy, to be sure, but Rarity could distinctly make out the words I’m sorry, Princess.
Had Fritter Cobbler written that? Maybe not. But if he had… why? What was he sorry for?
Out of instinct, Rarity reached over to take the immensely coveted book, but Granny Smith pulled it back before Rarity’s hooves even had a chance to brush against the object.
Precious family heirloom indeed. Now how in Equestria was she going to get that book? She couldn’t very well steal it, nor could she just “permanently” borrow it, could she? If anything, judging by how Granny Smith had reacted when Rarity tried to take the book, she didn’t even think the notion of lending the book out was conceivable to the elder mare.
Granny Smith gave Rarity a wary glance before continuing, “See?! Says it right here, Princess Twilight Sparkle!”
Applejack snorted. “That could be any princess, Granny. And even if it was the ‘princess from the library,’ that’s just fine and dandy, but I ain’t goin’ looking to return that book, an’ neither are you or Apple Bloom.” Applejack threw a pointed look at the filly, then sighed and looked back at her grandmother. “Come on, Granny, enough about that. Are the pies ready yet? I promised Rarity here we’d give her one, an’ I’m sure she has better things to do than sit here listening to us go on about fairy tale nonsense.”
It didn’t take much for Rarity to know the conversation was over, and she tried not to look too disheartened as Granny Smith and Twilight’s book disappeared into the kitchen. A few moments later, the elderly mare ambled back out with a freshly baked pie, the smell of which was enticing enough to dispel Rarity’s melancholy. Perhaps she could return for another pie one day, and by then she’d surely have a plan to get the book. Maybe Twilight had a copy in her library Rarity could switch it out for?
Once she had her apple pie and thanked the elder pony for it, Rarity followed Applejack and Apple Bloom outside. The tension between the two sisters was still palpable, but she knew better than to interfere.
“Listen, Bloom,” Applejack suddenly said, turning to look at her forlorn little sister. “I don’t like yellin’ at you, but I’m worried about you. That forest is dangerous—really dangerous—an’ I don’t want to lose you to some timberwolf ’cause you were out lookin’ for this Princess Twilight.”
Apple Bloom hung her head. “I know… I’m sorry, Sis…”
Applejack sighed. “It’s okay, s’long as you don’t do that ever again.” That said, she turned to Rarity and smiled. “Why don’t you wait here while I go get the apples? I won’t be long and that way somepony can apologize.”
Applejack trotted off, leaving Rarity and Apple Bloom behind. Left alone in such a position, Rarity turned to look at the filly, fully intent on saying something about the elephant in the… farm? As a big sister herself, she had half a mind to scold Apple Bloom. As a pony, she had another half a mind to tell her following other ponies, even into a dangerous forest, was not polite, but…
But Apple Bloom didn’t seem to be looking for a fight or an argument. In fact, with her ears all droopy and her tail between her legs, the filly looked more apologetic than anything. But rather than a “sorry,” the filly whispered, “I… I ain’t crazy, am I?” She looked up at Rarity, almost pleadingly so.
As much as Rarity felt the responsible thing to do would be to lie and confirm the filly’s fears, she still couldn’t shake off her empathy for Apple Bloom and her situation. “Your sister is right. You were very lucky that a timberwolf didn’t find you, or that I didn’t attack you thinking you were one. Do you not realize how dangerous that forest is?” She hesitated for a moment before adding, “From experience, I can assure you she would have attacked you had she felt threatened, and sneaking after ponies is certainly not innocent behavior.”
Apple Bloom shook her head, aghast at the implications, and was quick to defend herself. “But, I wasn’t— I only wanted to—” She fell silent, and her eyes widened. “Wait… She is real! Ah-hah! I knew it! And Applejack called me a liar!” She then glared at the mare. “Why didn’t you say anythin’?! You shoulda told my sis that—”
“That there’s a ghost in the Everfree Forest? Then I’d have yet another pony calling me crazy,” Rarity replied calmly. “Apple Bloom, also from experience, I can assure you no one would believe neither you nor me unless we dragged them into the library and had Twilight shake their hoof. And even then, anypony would be too terrified to even meet with her, especially considering she’s ‘a spooky cursed being.’”
Apple Bloom looked as if she wanted very much to protest but seemed to relent instead. As something else dawned on her, her eyes widened again, now more out of fear than victory. “She’s not going to curse me, is she?”
My, the Apples really were intent on believing Twilight cursed whoever stumbled into her library, weren’t they? While it was true that the day she’d met Twilight, Rarity would have been the first to assume the alicorn was capable of cursing somepony, the idea now seemed laughable. Fearsome Princess Twilight Sparkle, standing atop her bookcase, wings flared, and hexing the unfortunate mortals who dared tread into her abode and put her books back in the wrong place.
Though privately amused by the idea, Rarity knew she would do well to use it to her advantage. “Princess Twilight Sparkle is not in the habit of cursing little fillies, no,” she started, and before Apple Bloom could sigh with relief, she continued, “but she does not condone little fillies wandering around in a dangerous forest either, and I don’t think it would be wise to test your luck with an old spirit, wouldn’t you agree?”
The filly immediately shook her head to convey her understanding.
Not wanting to leave her with a terrifying impression of her friend, Rarity added, “Though I’m sure she will appreciate you believing in her.”
“Really?!” Apple Bloom asked, a twinkle in her eyes. “I wasn’t scared of her! When I saw her! Even with them wings an’ all!” she claimed proudly. “Can she fly? Or does she float around like the ghosts in Big Mac’s scary stories?!”
Rarity giggled. “Well, I don’t know your brother’s stories, but I… Actually, I don’t know if she flies,” Rarity admitted sheepishly. “She mostly just teleports around everywhere and walks through walls when she feels like it. She’s scared me more times than I’d care to remember that way.”
Apple Bloom giggled until her curiosity was drawn toward Themis, who had now returned to his place on Rarity’s back. She trotted over toward him, and in reply, he jumped up to her head, curiously batting at the bow in Apple Bloom’s mane with his wing.
“This is Themis,” Rarity explained, watching as the owl turned around to bat at Apple Bloom’s twitching ears. “He’s one of the owls the princess uses to guide me to her library.” It wasn’t until Apple Bloom’s eyes widened and she tried to look at the owl that Rarity realized that, rather than deterring the filly from going into the forest, she was actually doing the opposite and hastily added, “B-but they only take me there, I’m afraid.” She cleared her throat and gave the filly a stern look. “Apple Bloom, you really must promise you won’t go looking for the princess. I don’t know why you already did so, or how you even found me in there, but as I said, you were luck—”
“Well, you came to Zecora’s house!” Apple Bloom exclaimed almost immediately. “I was gonna answer and everything, and that’s when I saw you! You didn’t even hear me when I called you.”
Rarity’s mouth opened and closed several times, her brow furrowing. “I… what?” she asked, very distinctly remembering not having done that. She would remember if she’d gone to Zecora’s cottage that day, wouldn’t she? “Apple Bloom, darling, I’m afraid that now your imagination has run a little wild.”
“What?! No, it ain’t!” Apple Bloom protested, the shaking of her head almost toppling the poor owl off. “You came knockin’! I saw it! And then when I went outside an’ called, you were standing far away and jus’ started trotting into the forest.”
Though Rarity’s instinct was to once again shrug the claim off, something about it made her slow to do so. “Let me see if I understand correctly,” she said carefully. “You’re claiming that I went to Zecora’s hut, knocked on the door, lingered about, and when you came out to greet me, I was idling by until you called me, at which point I trotted off. Correct?”
“Yeah!” Apple Bloom said confidently, only for her confidence to wave moments later. “But I… You said that…”
“But I what?” Rarity prompted, finding herself afraid of the answer.
Apple Bloom winced, the words having difficulty to come out. “You jus’ said that the owls are with you, but… You didn’t have an owl—not at first, at least!”
“Not at first?”
Now more than ever did Apple Bloom look uncomfortable. She fidgeted around in place, as if she really didn’t want to answer the question. It wasn’t until Rarity asked it again that the filly relented, watching as Themis jumped from her head to Rarity’s back.
“You didn’t have an owl with you when you were at Zecora’s,” the filly repeated, “an’ I just followed you, but then a while later, you had an owl with you, and you weren’t all quiet anymore. Before that, you really didn’t talk at all, you just… walked. It was a bit scary.” For a second, it felt like Apple Bloom was talking to herself, as if trying to piece together the fragmented memories of what she’d seen. “And you were in front of me, but then I heard voices and I saw you in a different place with the owl, but I swear you were in front of me before that!”
There was a sinking feeling of dread inside Rarity’s chest. She knew for fact she couldn’t have been there, but Apple Bloom had no reason to lie. Worst of all, it didn’t feel like she was lying, so if she wasn’t…
The two ponies turned around and saw Applejack trotting toward them, pulling a cart filled with apples behind her. Her appearance also marked the end of Rarity’s conversation with Apple Bloom, as well as any hopes of finding out more about her supposed doppelgänger.
“Here you go,” Applejack said, taking out a small bag from the cart, filled with about a dozen or so apples. While Rarity took her bitbag from her saddlebag, Applejack turned to her little sister. “So, no more wanting to end up like ol’ Fritter Cobbler?”
Apple Bloom pawed at the ground. “No…”
“Say, Applejack,” Rarity said, taking out some coins from her bitbag and floating them over to the mare. “Out of curiosity, you say this Fritter Cobbler pony lost the other book inside a house in the forest?”
“Or so Granny says,” Applejack replied.
“Thank you,” Rarity said, smiling softly.
It seemed she’d have to make a quick stop at an abandoned house before going back to the library.
To her misfortune, Rarity couldn’t for the life of her remember where in the Everfree Forest she had found the house Sweetie and Scootaloo had hidden in during Seeking Night. She’d never bothered to go looking for it before, and in retrospect, she realized that it hadn’t been all that smart of her not to. Who knew what other important things might have been lying there besides the potential second volume?
Thankfully, even if she didn’t know where it was, she was friends with two owls who knew the forest intimately. It had only taken a quick detour request, and Themis seemed to like Rarity well enough to indulge her whim.
With a satisfied hoot, he landed on the roof of the familiar dilapidated house. The trek from the tree to the house had shown the unicorn that not only was the house actually not all that far away, but that it wasn’t the only house.
It was, in fact, the third abandoned house the owl had led her to, the previous two both equally close to the library. Though her quick searches inside them had proven unsuccessful, only turning up items and books that had fallen victim to the passage of time, it had served to strengthen Rarity’s developing theory that the original Ponyville had been built centered around the library.
The place was just as she—vaguely—remembered.
The door was still lying on the ground, torn off its hinges; the cracked window the fillies had peeked their heads out of looked even dirtier than before, and the tree that had grown out through the roof was still very much there. She stepped inside and found that the interior had also not changed much. She could see the wooden table was not faring well, and a single touch would send its rotting planks tumbling down. With extra care not to disturb it, she made her way toward the bookshelf that contained the remains of what she supposed were once books. She removed a tissue from her bag and used it to search through their remains. She found not a single thing.
So much for that, she thought, her hope deteriorating. Maybe there was a fourth house somewhere in the forest? She made her way toward the exit, but stopped when her forehoof landed on something hard on the floor. She looked down and noticed that whatever she’d stepped on had been hidden from view by a dirty rug. Oh please, Denza, please please please, she thought, moving the rug aside and slowly revealing an ethereal golden glow… the effect of a magic spell protecting a lost volume.
“Ah ha ha ha!” Rarity exclaimed, victoriously levitating the tome into the air. It looked to be in exactly the same condition as the one the Apples had, if not better, though that might have simply been in contrast with the other books in the decaying house. Oh, Twilight is going to be so pleased, she thought, opening the book to check the name.
Just as with the first volume, Twilight’s ownership had been clearly spelled out on the first page, but this one did not have a second cryptic apology. Instead, there was a carefully folded parchment that would have fallen out had Rarity not caught it in time. To her surprise, it was in pristine condition—no doubt having been protected by the same spell surrounding the book. Nevertheless, she was careful when she unfolded the parchment and read the message written inside.
I’ve gathered up enough evidence, and I believe I know enough to go visit Princess Cadance III. My family does not believe me and refuses to help me, but my brother has yet to lose faith in me. When we come back from Canter Capital in a week, I want to introduce him to Princess Twilight.
Princess Twilight seems enthused by the trip and hopes we will find answers. It pains me to lie to her—especially with how she enjoys my visits. We talk for what feels like endless hours, and her stories on the castle are always fascinating.
Will she be angered at me when she finds out it has not been a few months since her entrapment, but centuries? I could not bring myself to tell her the truth, but she will find out when I get the princess’s help. If she helps us. Her grandmother knew Princess Twilight, so surely she will provide assistance? Princess Twilight is her family after all.
And yet, the royal family has let what happened be forgotten. Why? Ponies have started making a mockery out of it, dressing up as the princesses and having foals look for them. It is like a game, and Princess Cadance III has done nothing to stop it. I want to believe she believes in the legend, but the fear of this being untrue claws at my heart whenever Princess Twilight speaks of her.
I remember the stories Grandfather Apple Crisp told me, of how his parents worked for the royal guard before becoming farmers. Of how he’d met Princess Twilight as a foal, before she was trapped, and before his home was surrounded by foul creatures and dark forest. In his last days, he rambled on about the fabled curse set upon Princess Cadance I; how it spread like a fatal illness throughout the land—even beyond her children—without a cause and without a cure. Was it truly a curse, or was that the name for the desperation Equestria felt at their inability to find the princesses?
Once I come back from the capital with answers, I will help Princess Twilight and the others. No matter the outcome of my trip, I will tell the princess of all my lies upon returning. She deserves my honesty if I want to keep deserving her trust. But I do not think I’ll come back empty-hooved. Princess Cadance III is kind and wise, and I will work with her to help restore our land to the glory Grandfather Fritter talked about.
I only hope the Spirit is not watching me yet.
The more Rarity read, the surer she was of its author. Just to be certain, she took out her library cards and looked through them, her suppositions validated upon seeing his name on the appropriate card.
So, Fritter Cobbler had gone out to seek the help of royalty too, had he? And unsuccessfully so, going by what Granny Smith had told her. At that point, the only one who could tell her more about him was the fabled Princess Twilight Sparkle herself, but despite the progress they had made, Rarity still felt Twilight had barely started to open up to her. By the looks of it, though, Twilight had opened up extensively to Fritter Cobbler. Had she really encouraged him to go meet with Princess Cadance III? Rarity was surprised to find herself a bit indignant at the memory of how reluctant Twilight was to let her investigate.
What did this Fritter Cobbler have that I don’t?
Her eyes focused on the very last line, and she repeated it under her breath. I only hope the Spirit is not watching me yet. Had the Spirit done something to Fritter Cobbler? Had it been as he’d feared, and maybe the Spirit was already watching him even as he’d written that message? It was terrifying to think about.
What if… what if she was being watched too? What if he followed everypony who befriended the princess so as to deter them from helping, or worse?
Oh, Denza. The more she thought about it, the more her hairs stood on end. Could Apple Bloom really have seen another Rarity? Another mysterious pony with no motives but conveniently there at the right time and place, just like Rarity’s encounter with the Book Bringer that fateful night? She’d seen him in Canterlot, but… had she really seen the real Book Bringer?
She thought back to Apple Bloom and despite herself, pictured the scene recounted to her. She could see it clearly: another “her” standing near Zecora’s cottage, her back to the filly. She could hear Apple Bloom’s voice as she called “her,” only for “her” to start walking away in silence, luring the filly away from the safety of the cottage. She could suddenly hear herself—the real her—talking to Elara in the distance. She could see Apple Bloom turning away from the Rarity standing several feet in front of her, and suddenly finding the real Rarity in another spot completely. Finally, with the same terror as if she’d been there, Rarity could perfectly imagine Apple Bloom looking back in front of her and finding—
Letting out a blood-curdling scream that probably reached the library, Rarity slammed herself against the bookcase, ready to meet her end at the hooves of her other self. To her immense relief, she found nopony there except for a familiar black owl on the opposite side of the room, the poor thing looking at Rarity with terrified wide eyes as if she’d completely lost her mind.
“Oh, Themis, for pony’s sake,” she muttered, burying her face in her hooves as she tried to steady her frantically beating heart. “There’s no one here,” she continued, trying to convince herself that there wasn’t a Rarity doppelgänger wandering about. The Spirit was gone, gone, gone, and he had no reason to follow her. More than a thousand years had passed since his wrongdoings, and it was ridiculous to assume an ancient spirit would be interested in her. Besides, he would have acted already, wouldn’t he? He would have never allowed Rarity to spend so much time with Twilight if he really was still lingering around the forest.
Rarity looked up to find the owl hovering near her, apparently trying to figure out what had made her scream like that. “I’m sorry, darling, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” Rarity said, folding up the parchment and putting it back inside the book. Once the book was safely inside her saddlebag, she took one last look around for anything she might have missed before exiting the house and following Themis back toward the tree.
When she descended into the tunnel, Rarity was surprised to see there was no light in the distance. She lit up her horn and made her way to the library, finding that Star had apparently changed back into a candelabra at some point during her absence. Perhaps everypony was still downstairs? She put her bag and the apple pie on top of a nearby table and then made her way toward the back of the room. She stopped when she noticed two flashing lights at the end of one of the rows of bookcases.
Quietly trotting forward, she made out two silhouettes: Twilight’s and… Scootaloo’s? The two lights turned off suddenly, and Rarity realized her as-of-yet un-disassembled flashlights were being put to good use. It figured the filly would find showing Twilight how to be scary more important than actually using the flashlights for their intended purpose.
Scootaloo’s flashlight turned on again. “See? You’re supposed to, like, be around a campfire, and then you put the flashlight like this,” the filly explained, demonstrating by lowering the flashlight and shining it upwards on her face, doing her best attempt at a spooky face.
With her back to Rarity, Twilight lit up her flashlight and copied the filly.
Scootaloo continued by putting on an “eerie” voice and saying, “Once upon a time, in an old spooky library…” Her story, however, was suddenly interrupted by Sweetie Belle’s voice, calling her friend to come join her on the floor below. “Oh, uhm, be right back!”
Scootaloo rushed off in Rarity’s direction, leaving the princess to continue turning the flashlight on and off. It wasn’t until Scootaloo was a few feet from Rarity that she noticed the unicorn, but her greeting never came since Rarity quickly gestured for her to be quiet. “Rarity? What’re you doing?” she whispered, confused by the devilish smirk on Rarity’s face.
Rarity merely gestured to the flashlight. “Let me have that for a moment, darling,” she said, levitating the flashlight out of Scootaloo’s hoof and taking a step toward the still-distracted alicorn. “As a ghost, I think that the princess would enjoy a practical demonstration on how to properly frighten ponies with this.” She stifled a giggle upon seeing Scootaloo’s delighted grin, and again gestured for quiet before stalking toward the spectral princess.
It would be harmless, fun revenge for all the times Twilight had very nearly scared Rarity into a heart attack. With every step she took, she developed the plan in her head, watching as Twilight’s flashlight kept flickering on and off. She’d stand behind her and wait ever so patiently, wait until the light disappeared and darkness engulfed the room, and then… Then, the second the light turned on again, she’d strike with a loud but innocent “Enjoying my present, are we?”
She finally reached the alicorn and, as planned, waited for the flashlight to flicker off. Oh, how delightfully amusing, is it not? For once the ghost will be the one to have the life—or, death?—scared out of her. Once the light disappeared, Rarity found containing her giggles was an arduous task. She waited for the light to turn back on. She waited, and waited, and waited, until she was actually starting to get a bit bored. It didn’t help that she couldn’t see anything, either.
Suddenly, the flashlight turned on again, but did not reveal Twilight’s back. The alicorn had turned around and was staring at Rarity with wide eyes, shining the flashlight in the exact way Scootaloo had shown her was perfect for spooky story-telling.
Rarity backed up against a nearby bookcase for the second time that day, her panicked screech drowning out Twilight’s greeting and Scootaloo’s distant laughter. “Twilight!” Rarity yelled, feeling as if her heart was about to beat out of her chest. “What was that for?! Does everypony want to give me a heart attack today?!”
“I don’t know what you mean, Rarity,” Twilight replied matter-of-factly, curiously glancing at the giggling Scootaloo. Once Scootaloo left, she looked back to the still-panting unicorn. “You were standing behind me for about a minute, so I don’t know how I frightened you.”
Rarity turned on her flashlight, pointing it accusingly at the alicorn. “Let’s not talk about this, shall we?” she grumbled, wishing she could erase the blush on her cheeks. “You wouldn’t frighten me so much if you didn’t stalk me around the library like a cat.” She turned around, pointing the flashlight toward the ceiling. A thought occurred to her, and she pointed the light at her friend again, smiling smugly. “In fact, I should bring you one of my cat’s bells so the chime lets me know where you are.”
“I am not a cat.”
“Aren’t you?” Rarity asked. “Sneaking around in the shadows, following ponies who dare trespass, walking atop the bookcases whilst surveying your territory, getting hissy when ponies touch your books… Goodness, you and Opal would be frightfully good friends!” She briefly entertained the idea of teasing Twilight further by asking if she purred or hissed, but settled instead with giggling at Twilight’s expression. Before her friend could again defend her equine nature, Rarity pointed the flashlight toward the ceiling. “Where is Star? I need proper lighting to show you something.”
At the spark of Twilight’s horn, Star finally made her—his? its?—reappearance on the other side of the library, floating up toward the ceiling and resuming the far more elegant chandelier form. The room lit up and Rarity made her way toward the library’s entrance, motioning for Twilight to follow.
Rarity levitated her bag toward herself, watching as Twilight observed with reserved curiosity—kind of like a cat, though Rarity withheld herself from casually commenting on the fact. “It’s something I think you’ll be very pleased to have back,” Rarity teased, eliciting a reaction from the alicorn much more reminiscent of an excited puppy than a reserved feline.
“Have back? You don’t mean…” Twilight faded out, taking several steps toward Rarity and the coveted saddlebag.
“Oh yes, I had quite the interesting chat with some local farmers,” Rarity continued, opening up her saddlebag and looking for the book amongst the foodstuffs and other objects. Upon finding it, she waited a few moments not only out of desire to create some suspense, but also because the book itself reminded her of a question she’d been wanting to ask. “Twilight,” she said, drawing Twilight’s eyes away from the bag and toward her, “does the name ‘Fritter Cobbler’ ring a bell? He had a brother called ‘Apple Crumble.’”
It must have, considering Twilight froze up completely at the name.
It took Rarity tentatively calling her name for Twilight to finally react. “Rarity…” she said carefully, not threateningly, but… It felt as if Rarity had just revealed she’d found out one of the alicorn’s deepest and darkest secrets, and considering the alicorn’s expression, she might have done just that. “How do you know about him?”
“Well, as I was saying, I was talking to the local farmers,” Rarity repeated, aware of Twilight’s penetrating stare, “and they told me the story of their ancestor, Fritter Cobbler, and how he’d happened upon two of your books. One of which was lost in an abandoned house in the Everfree Forest.” She reached into her bag and finally took out the book, watching as Twilight’s eyes grew large. “They mentioned he’d claimed to be a friend of the ‘fabled lost princess in the library’…”
She watched as Twilight carefully took the book, as if it was a sacred treasure. Twilight opened up the book, looking at her own hoofwriting, before flipping through the pages in silence and finding the parchment. “And there’s also that,” Rarity said, hoping the princess wouldn’t take offense to Rarity snooping into her friend’s business. “My curiosity admittedly got the best of me.”
Twilight wordlessly glanced at Rarity before opening the parchment and reading its contents. Rarity expected Twilight to keep her stoic facade throughout her reading, but to her surprise, the princess’s expression kept shifting between surprised and serious.
“Princess Cadance the Third? Centuries?” she whispered, ears flattening against her head. “Grandfather Fritter Apple? He said he was his… elder… cousin…” The words came through gritted teeth, but rather than similarly angering Rarity, they only confused her.
“At the risk of sounding insensitive, didn’t you… Well, didn’t you know?” Rarity asked, watching as Twilight kept reading and re-reading the letter. “Fritter Cobbler even says there that he’d come clean with the lies he’d told once he came back… Didn’t he?”
Twilight did not look up from the parchment, letting silence settle.
“Twilight…?” Rarity asked, worried by the implications of said silence. “Is ever—”
“He never came back,” Twilight replied, still staring at the parchment. “I never saw him again after he left for the capital.” Bitterness, resentment, and all manner of negative emotions soaked her words, just as they did her expression and the manner in which she coldly folded the parchment again.
He never came back?
“What do you mean ‘he never came back’?” Rarity asked, ears alert. That didn’t make sense, did it? Hadn’t Granny Smith said he spent the rest of his life talking about Twilight? It wasn’t as if he’d just stopped visiting after whatever happened with Cadance III, was it? And if he did… What in Equestria happened during that visit, then?
“I… don’t want to talk about it…” Twilight said softly, looking away from Rarity.
This time, Rarity wasn’t able to stifle her disappointed sigh. Could she be blamed? Every time she came close to Twilight opening up to her, the alicorn put up yet another defensive wall. Sometimes she felt like she’d gone so far in her friendship with Twilight, only to be reminded that she hadn’t really made progress at all.
“Well, that’s all right,” Rarity said, trying her best to sound nonchalant. She levitated the apple pie and her saddlebag into the air and trotted off, leaving Twilight behind to her thoughts. “I’m going to get a head start and start the picnic with the girls, yes?”
Surprisingly, Twilight didn’t linger at the table and instead quietly followed Rarity into the depths of the library. Rarity kept to the walls, wanting to quickly pass by Twilight’s main desk so as to admire the Arts & Craft project the fillies had made earlier. When she reached the desk a few moments later, she observed the large cork board that had been hung on the wall, next to the calendar and clock.
On it were several of hopefully dozens of photographs of Equestria that the fillies, Rarity, and Fluttershy would bring for Twilight to look at. For now, only seven pictures hung on the board, depicting out-of-frame and sometimes out-of-focus buildings and ponies from Ponyville, as well as a very nice picture Rarity had taken of Twilight with the fillies. There was also the very first photograph Rarity had taken of Twilight, which still remained the unicorn’s favorite if only for the absolutely silly expression on her friend’s face.
I’ll have to bring her some photos of Hollow Shades, Rarity thought, idly glancing at Twilight beside her. The alicorn was also looking at the photographs, but she had a rather undecipherable expression. Did she not like her first photograph? Honestly, it was cute and everypony had loved it when Rarity showed it to Fluttershy and the fillies.
“He never wanted to give me back my books,” Twilight said suddenly, still staring at the photographs. Rarity turned to look at her and found the princess looking… nostalgic? “It was his way of making sure I’d reappear when he came into the library.”
Rarity opened her mouth to speak up, but she found words to be scarce. It seemed like Twilight did in fact want to talk, and Rarity dared not speak—mostly for fear that the alicorn was talking to herself rather than Rarity, and the barrier between them would suddenly reappear if she pulled Twilight out of her thoughts. As such, she only listened quietly.
“I never hid from him,” Twilight continued, still staring somewhat vacantly at the photographs. “I thought… I thought I could still be saved and that… and that I wasn’t alone. And then, one day, he left for the capital and just never came back. I never found out what happened to him, and it seems I never will.” She had lost any sort of tone from her voice, as if she was reciting from a book. Was this her way of coping? Detaching herself completely?
Rarity wanted to tell Twilight that nothing had happened to him, but would it really help Twilight to know that Fritter Cobbler willingly chose to stop coming?
“Do you think it was my fault?” Twilight suddenly asked, and if she hadn’t briefly glanced at the unicorn, Rarity wouldn’t have been sure she’d been addressed. “I… I asked him to assist me. I asked him to go to the capital. Was this my fault too?”
“Wait a moment,” Rarity began before she could stop herself, starting to put together the pieces of the puzzle. “Is that why you didn’t want me to go to Canterlot? Why you didn’t want me to help you? Because you thought I’d never come back?” It made sense that way. Why Twilight had been so against Rarity helping, why she’d first asked if Rarity was all right when she finally returned.
Twilight didn’t reply at first, only looking down at the floor like a filly caught lying.
“I thought maybe Discord had gotten to him,” Twilight continued.
“Discord?” Rarity asked. She’d been told that everypony thought Fritter Cobbler had gone insane, but that was certainly an odd way to put it.
“Discord is the Spirit of Chaos,” Twilight clarified. She lifted her hoof and made it go through the table. “The reason I’m here. Maybe he attacked Fritter Cobbler as another way to get revenge against me, and I—”
“Revenge? Why?” Rarity asked, remembering the book with the words “your fault” scribbled over and over on the pages. What in Equestria could Twilight have done to bring such a terrible fate upon her?
There was a long silence after her question. Twilight was frowning, seeming to consider whether she should answer or not. She suddenly glanced at Rarity, and the unicorn felt very much intimidated, as if her very soul was being analyzed by the alicorn.
“I made a mistake, Rarity,” Twilight said, her voice as cold as it was calculating. She seemed to be inspecting Rarity for any reaction, and as such Rarity tried her best to look attentive. “I made a terrible mistake, and Discord is making me pay for it by harming everypony I—” She teleported herself on top of the nearby bookcase and looked out toward her library—her lonely kingdom. “I don’t think he’ll ever let me forget what I did. After Fritter left, I… I didn’t want other ponies to come to harm because of me, so I almost never appeared when somepony came into the library—not that it mattered since a few of them ran off if I appeared. In any case, I can’t get out, so there’s no sense in hurting more ponies.”
Rarity took a step toward the bookcase. “You mean there have been others?”
“Of course,” Twilight replied matter-of-factly. “What,” she said, raising her eyebrow, “you really didn’t think you were the first to find the library, did you?”
Rarity felt herself blush. “Well, if you must know, I… did,” she admitted, feeling much less special than she previously had. “Have there been many others?”
“I don’t know, really. I never counted, but it wasn’t many,” Twilight replied, looking back toward the rows of bookshelves. “You were the first pony to appear in the library ever since the Book Bringer started leaving books for me.”
“So… You talked to me because you thought I was the Book Bringer?” Rarity asked, privately thanking the heavens she wasn’t an old bearded stallion.
Twilight snorted at this. “I knew right away you weren’t him,” Twilight said, a small smirk on her face. “The Book Bringer wouldn’t be looking for geology books in the—”
“All right, all right!” Rarity interrupted, rolling her eyes. She now had half a mind to get herself a copy of the silly Decimal System just so Twilight would stop bothering her about it. Honestly, who even had the time to learn the entire thing? “So you talked to me because you wanted to rescue me from the towers of falling books?”
“Rarity, you really didn’t need rescuing from a pile of books falling on top of you,” Twilight pointed out. She then offered a small insolent smile and added, “If anything, the only reason I intervened is because I didn’t want my books to get damaged because somepony wasn’t watching where she was going.”
Rarity harrumphed, flipping her mane. “Well, how fortunate for them you cherish them so, Princess,” she said coldly, ignoring Twilight’s soft giggling. “I’m sure they can continue thinking you’re heroic now that I don’t.” When she turned to look at Twilight, she found the alicorn anew staring into the distance.
“I don’t know why I wanted to talk to you,” Twilight admitted, looking back to Rarity thoughtfully. “I don’t know what made you different than all the others that came after Fritter Cobbler.”
“You don’t?” Rarity asked, a bit disappointed.
“I suppose it was because you seemed kind. I saw how you were with Themis, and Discord would never treat my owls kindly,” Twilight ventured, furrowing her brow. “And you weren’t looking for me either, like the other ponies who came here. You were just… different.”
I was different…?
“Rarity! Princess Twilight!”
The two mares turned around to see Sweetie Belle running toward them. Twilight jumped down from the top of the bookcase, ending the conversation she and Rarity had been having. Rarity herself was still reeling with all the information she’d learned. Perhaps she hadn’t learned what Twilight’s so-called mistake was, but she had been allowed a glimpse into a part of Twilight she didn’t think she’d see for eons.
“Come on, what’re you doing?” Sweetie asked, her eyes immediately gluing themselves to the tasty-looking apple pie. “I’m huuuungry!”
“All right, all right, let’s go,” Rarity said, making a move to pick up the dessert from the desk.
“Oh, wait, wait! I wanna do it! Princess Twilight helped me with my magic earlier!” Sweetie Belle interrupted, placing herself in front of the desk as if her presence was a shield against Rarity’s magic. She then turned to the princess, nearly hopping in place. “Look, Princess Twilight, okay?!”
Twilight nodded, her ears standing straight and her attention fully focused on the filly. “Remember to focus and channel all your magic into the task,” she instructed.
Sweetie Belle nodded, turning to the pie and glaring at it. She stuck out her tongue, biting on it, and after a moment, several small sparks shot out from her horn before they petered out. “W-wait, I can do it!” she said, waving her hoof to maintain the mare’s attention. Groaning a little, several more sparks shot out from her horn and suddenly, the apple pie began to shakily float into the air. “I… I did it?” she asked before turning to Twilight. “I did it, Princess Twilight!”
Twilight’s reaction was immediate. She smiled and approached the filly. “That’s very good! See how it works when you focus and see the action in your mind?” she asked, watching as the shaky pie floated around. Unfortunately, as Sweetie Belle still had a ways to go, her magic suddenly stopped with a poof and the pie would have come crashing down if not for Twilight’s own magic catching it.
“Now, Sweetie, don’t look so disappointed,” Rarity said sympathetically. “That was very good!”
“Yes,” Princess Twilight reaffirmed. “You were doing very well, and further training will help you levitate for longer periods of time. I could help you more later, if you want.”
It seemed that Twilight’s words were more effective than Rarity’s, for the filly immediately cheered up after hearing them. “Really?!” she asked, before turning to her sister and offering a very smug smile. “Did you hear that? She’s gonna help me be even better than you at magic ’cause I’m her favorite!” she exclaimed. She then took Rarity’s saddlebag and rushed off. “Scootaloo! Guess what Princess Twilight said!”
“My favorite?” Twilight blinked at the spot where the filly had disappeared. “I never really said that, but…”
“Now, now,” Rarity said, sighing theatrically. “We all know your books are your favorite,” she teased, giggling when Twilight rolled her eyes. She took the apple pie and followed after her sister, Twilight trotting behind. “Come along. As fascinating as books are, one must mingle with the common ponies every so often, Princess.”
The two mares went down the stairs, finding that Fluttershy and the girls were already starting to unpack everything for the picnic. Rarity could feel her stomach grumbling, and the apple pie next to her had never smelled more delicious.
“Rarity?” Twilight said suddenly, stopping halfway down the stairs.
“Yes?” Rarity asked, stopping as well and turning back to look at her friend.
“Thank you for still coming back,” Twilight said softly, looking a bit embarrassed by the statement.
Rarity felt a warmth in her chest at the statement, and affection for the alicorn washed over her. “Darling, you couldn’t keep me out even if you wanted to,” Rarity replied, offering Twilight her most dazzling smile. It wasn’t a lie, after all. No Spirit or doppelgänger or anything would keep not only her from coming back, but she was also sure neither would Fluttershy and the fillies would stop visiting. “And thank you.”
“Me?” Twilight asked, raising her eyebrow. “What for?”
“For trusting me,” Rarity replied. “It must have been hard, but I’m glad you trust me enough to tell me all the things you did.”
“Well…” Twilight said carefully, as if weighing the meaning of her words, “that’s what friends do, isn’t it?”