“Yes, little one?”
“Are you scared of the Spirit?”
“Scared? There is not much more he can do to me now, is there?”
“He’s a big meanie for putting you… wherever you are!”
“Sometimes I fear I’d have become a more terrible creature if he’d not put me in here first.”
…Another busy day for Rarity, working away with her sewing machine inside Carousel Boutique. Ponyville could be awfully dull, but today at least she had three dresses to make that were keeping her occupied. Of course, she’d be far more focused if her dear little sister wasn’t interrupting her every five minutes to ask for help with her math homework, and chemistry homework, and dancing homework, and all kinds of other homework.
“Rarity, how would you kiss a ghost?”
Rarity stopped her sewing machine and turned to look at her sister, blinking behind her glasses. She wondered briefly if she had perhaps heard wrong, since that was certainly not a question one should have while reading a math book.
Taking off her glasses, she replied with the only thing she could say to such a bizarre question: “Pardon?”
Sweetie Belle looked up from her math book and, with all the honesty and bluntness of a filly, asked again, “How do you kiss a ghost?” She looked down at her book and tapped it with her pencil. “Wouldn’t it be weird? Like kissing air?” To further prove her point, she puckered her lips and, well, “kissed” the air in front of her.
Foals, Rarity thought, rolling her eyes and putting her glasses back on. Except… Except now the question was burned into her mind. How does one kiss a ghost? Could one kiss a ghost?
“Didn’t you have to go see Twilight?” Sweetie Belle asked, turning back to her math book and nonchalantly flipping the page.
Rarity blinked. “See Twilight?” she slowly repeated, remembering that she did, in fact, need to go see her friend. “Oh! Yes, of course!” She pulled the fabric from her sewing machine and took off her glasses. “It had completely slipped my mind.”
Sweetie Belle giggled. “That’s funny,” she said, smiling devilishly at her sister, as if she knew a very big secret of hers. “You’re always talking about her…”
Rarity shrugged, levitating her saddlebag from the nearby couch and putting it on. “Well, she’s my friend, darling. One is supposed to talk about one’s friends, don’t you think?” she asked, turning around and noticing Sweetie’s smile had only grown wider.
Sweetie narrowed her eyes and said in sing-song: “But you have a crus—”
“In any case,” Rarity interrupted abruptly, finding she didn’t want to hear the end of the sentence, “I have to go. Please do finish your homework, or else you know Mother and Father won’t let you come over anymore.”
“Okay,” Sweetie said, giggling again for good measure. “Have fun!”
Rarity trotted off toward the lobby, took her things, and finally left her boutique, pausing for a moment outside to breathe the fresh air. Would the library still be open to the public? It should only be a five-minute trot, and I know she should be waiting for me, she thought, opening her eyes and…
…and finding the oddest sight.
Further ahead, she saw a pony standing with their back to her, their entire body covered by a hooded cloak. Goodness, why would anypony want to wear such a thing? And in the blazing hot sun, no less? The pony took a step forward, and to Rarity’s shock, the lower bottom of the cloak hitched up and revealed their elegantly curled, purple tail.
That’s… That’s my style! she thought, indignant at the discovery someone had the gall to not only imitate the way she curled her tail, but the color of it, too! If they were going to steal her sense of style, they could at least flaunt it rather than hide it under that ill-fitting cloak.
Before she could say as much, the pony ran off.
“Wait!” she called out, giving chase. Something about them compelled her to follow—and it wasn’t their fabulous tail.
She turned a corner and was dismayed to find she’d completely lost track of them. Fortunately, she noticed Sugarcube Corner in the distance. Maybe they’d run off in there? She trotted toward the establishment, but just as she reached the entrance, she noticed a book lying on the ground. Curious, she picked it up and flipped it open. Every single page was blank, as was the cover.
She closed the book and then pushed open the doors to the establishment. The place was unusually empty, devoid of the hungry ponies that always seemed to be milling around, which made it easier for Rarity to look for her copycat. She saw Fluttershy sitting by the counter, waving at her, as well as the owner, but when Rarity looked for her target, it was just as she’d feared: the pony had gone somewhere else.
“Hiya, Rarity!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed, jumping up from behind the counter right next to Missus Cake. “What brings you here?”
“Food, I hope! Why don’t you take her order, Pinkie?” Missus Cake suggested, stepping away and trotting toward the kitchen door. “I need to finish cleaning the kitchen.”
“Okie-dokie-lokie!” Pinkie called, waiting for the mare to exit the room before turning back to Rarity. “So, whatcha want? We have cupcakes, or cakes, or cakes shaped like cupcakes, or cupcakes shaped like cake or— Wait, those are the same.” She paused and gasped, slamming her hoof against the counter. “Oh! You should get today’s special! The Lullaby Moonshake!”
“No, that’s all right, darling. I’m not very hungry,” Rarity said, turning back to look at the rest of the patrons.
“What’s that, Rarity?” Fluttershy asked, eyeing the book floating alongside Rarity. “Did you borrow a book from the library?”
“Hmm? Oh! No, I found it just outside here. I suspect somepony must have misplaced it,” she replied, giving the book to Fluttershy for her to inspect. “It’s blank, I’m afraid. I’ll take it to the library later. I’m sure Twilight will find some use for it.”
“I’ve never met her,” Pinkie said, turning toward the counter along the wall and assembling the ingredients for a milkshake. “She’s always cooped up in her library! It’s like she lives there!”
“She does live there, darling,” Rarity said with a giggle. “But I actually came here looking for somepony… Did you see somepony in a cloak come in just now?”
“Hmm…” Pinkie turned around, furrowing her brow and tapping a spoon against her cheek, leaving ice-cream marks on it in the process. “Nope! I don’t remember any mare with the same tail as you coming here! Sorry, Rarity!”
Rarity sighed. “No matter. I didn’t think you— Wait, how did you know she had the same tail as me?”
“There’s something missing.”
“Huh?” Rarity turned toward Fluttershy. She noticed her friend looking terribly concerned, the book opened to the first page in front of her. “Whatever do you mean, darling? I told you it was blank when I found it.”
“There’s something missing,” Fluttershy repeated, carefully brushing her hoof against the page.
“Fluttershy, what are you talking about?” Rarity asked, lifting the book and taking a closer look. How could there be anything missing when there hadn’t even been anything there to begin with?
“Rarity, there’s something missing,” Fluttershy repeated a third time, crossing her forehooves on the table and looking at the unicorn with a worried expression. “Can’t you tell?”
Rarity furrowed her brow, bringing the book closer to her face. “I…” She stared at it for a moment, and she was overcome by the impression that there was something missing. “You know, I think I should go see Twilight now.” She stashed the book in her saddlebag and trotted off, belatedly waving to her friends. “Goodbye!”
It took her what felt like no time at all to reach her destination, though that might have been because her mind was otherwise preoccupied with the unshakeable feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
Twilight’s Library, a great old oak tree, stood proudly in the middle of Ponyville, a symbol of the town’s love of knowledge. Rarity had seen the thing many times before, not surprising given that she’d befriended its librarian, but even the library seemed out of place for some reason.
Forcing the feeling away, Rarity knocked on the door before opening it and going inside. “Twilight?” she called out, closing the door behind her. “It’s Rarity!”
There was no reply.
She called out again to no avail. They had agreed on meeting up, and though the books strewn around meant Twilight had been there, Rarity found only silence greeting her. Twilight would have usually already come out or at least made some sound alerting Rarity to her presence, but… Maybe she’s in her study? If she was reading a new book or something of the sort, it made sense that she’d been far too entranced by it to hear Rarity calling.
“Twilight? Are you in here?” she called, opening the study door but finding it empty, too.
She stepped inside and noticed a lone piece of parchment on the otherwise perfectly uncluttered desk, but just as she got within a few steps of it, she heard a loud sound from back in the other room. She spun and returned, just in time to see the hooded pony opening the door to leave.
“Wait!” Rarity called, inadvertently making the pony rush out. She ran after them, but when she reached the door and stepped outside, the pony was again nowhere to be seen. “What’s going on?” she muttered, heart beating loudly in her chest. And where’s Twilight?
She went back inside the library and, to her surprise, something was different. An object was sitting right in the center of the room, and when Rarity lifted it up to inspect it, she realized it was a gold tiara with a magenta gem, cut in the shape of… Twilight’s cutie mark?
“When did Twili— Eek!”
Rarity’s sentence came to an abrupt end when, for no apparent reason, a crack appeared in the middle of the star and began to spread in every direction. She dropped the tiara and took a step back, watching the gem shatter. Once the tiara looked as if it would break no further, she carefully levitated back it up to examine it again.
“What in Equestria is going on?” she whispered, turning the tiara around and finding the words Princess Twilight Sparkle engraved on the back. “Princess Twilight Spar…
…rity, don’t play with your tiara like that!”
Rarity blinked, thrown off for a moment. “…Huh?” she asked, turning her gaze from the tiara to look at Fluttershy and realizing she was in the middle of a ballroom. She looked back at the tiara and found the words “Queen Rarity” inscribed on it, just as they always had been. “I… I’m sorry, darling, it seems I must have…” She shook her head and put her crown back on, the only jewelry fitting for a queen of her stature.
Rarity, Queen of Unicornia, wisest ruler of the lands that spread between heaven and earth, and widely regarded as the most beautiful unicorn of all time. She ruled with intelligence and grace, and there was not a single pony in her court who would deny her anything.
After single-hoofedly brokering a peace deal between her country of Unicornia and the griffons, who had offered only minor resistance to her charms, Queen Rarity finally had all she needed to unify the world under her rule and put an end to war, forever.
As such, she had thrown a great—no, magnificent—no, grandiose—gala to celebrate the momentous event. Noble ponies of all trots of life had come to attend the event, each offering the beautiful queen as many presents as could fill an entire spare ballroom.
“Oh, Rarity, this is wonderful!” Princess Fluttershy exclaimed, trotting next to Rarity past the dozens of dancing couples, most of whom stopped to greet their beautiful Queen.
“Isn’t it?” Rarity asked, repressing a giggle. Queens did not indulge in childish actions such as giggling, but she was in awe of how splendidly everything was going. It certainly helped that the beautiful music suffusing the air was played by Unicornia’s most famous pianist.
Rarity and Fluttershy turned around to find the royal advisor, Moonshine, rushing toward them, looking absolutely excited. Of course she was; the entire kingdom was rejoicing thanks to Rarity’s brilliant tactics, if she did say so herself.
“Ah! My dearest advisor!” Rarity greeted her with a dazzling smile. “Come to enjoy the festivities, have we? Tell me, has any stallion asked for your hoof in a dance yet?” she added with a wink.
Advisor Moonshine rolled her eyes. “Oh, Your Majesty, I am far too old for the likes of that,” she said, earning a giggle from the two younger mares. “But I bring great—nay, wonderful—news! After hearing about your dealings with the Griffon Kingdom, the Pegasi and Earth Kingdoms have asked, nay, begged to become client states subordinate to Unicornia!”
“Really? Heavens, that is wonderful!” Rarity exclaimed, taking a pause long enough so the entire room could cheer. She giggled and waved it off. “Hush, hush! There’s no need for that! I am merely doing my duty!” And very well indeed, it seemed!
Once the crowd had quieted down, Rarity and Fluttershy continued on their path, specifically toward the table with all the appetizers, managed by the kingdom’s top baker. The table, which stretched from one side of the room to the other, was filled with all kinds of delicious pastries, each more delicious and mouth-watering than the last.
“Hiya!” the baker greeted them, standing behind the table with a grin.
“Oh, hello, Pinkie Pie!” Rarity greeted back, taking in her hoof an absolutely scrumptious looking piece of deluxe banana cake, covered with chocolate ganache and ten small pistachio macaroons. “Everything looks absolutely delicious!”
“Oh yes,” Fluttershy agreed, taking a piece of carrot cake. “Did you make these all yourself?”
“Nope! My friend Lulla helped me, but she’s sick and couldn’t come to the party,” Pinkie explained, her cheery smile fading just a little.
Rarity finished eating her delicious carrot cake with vanilla frosting before glancing to either side conspiratorially. “So! Pinkie, darling, do tell. What’s the latest castle gossip?” she asked, taking a lavender cupcake topped with lemon buttercream and a candied mint leaf. “I never have the slightest idea as to what’s happening in my own castle!”
“Weeeeeeeell…” Pinkie narrowed her eyes, making sure nopony was listening, before answering, “You know the new librarian?”
Rarity furrowed her brow. “New librarian?”
Odd. She didn’t remember hiring a librarian.
Pinkie nodded. “Yep, her! Well… Apparently she’s super mysterious. They say ponies go into her library, and she appears behind them out of nowhere! Kinda like…” She lowered her voice. “A ghost!”
Fluttershy giggled. “Well, librarians are supposed to be quiet, aren’t they?”
“Not if it means they’re gonna be scary!” Pinkie protested. She then shook her head. “But that’s not the real gossip, sillies! A lot of the castle guards have been going to the library to see her, and apparently she’s suuuuper serious!” she continued, putting on her most serious face. “And all the guards are competing to see who can make her smile first ’cause they think she’s kinda cute!”
“Hm. Shame. They should be competing to make me smile,” Rarity said with a huff, finding herself more annoyed by the idea than a Queen should be. Though, oddly enough, she wasn’t upset with the librarian, but with the guards. And really, it wasn’t the fact that the guards weren’t trying to win her affections that bothered her the most, but rather that they were apparently flirting with… this librarian that was obviously important to her, even if she couldn’t remember what the mare was called.
Why did she care?
“Oh, I’ve heard so much about her,” Fluttershy said, taking her chance at another piece of mint cake. “She’s a bit of a legend, isn’t she?”
Rarity furrowed her brow, more and more interested by this librarian. If everypony thought her so charming, then it stood to reason that, as Queen, Rarity should meet her, didn’t it? She’d simply have to go to the library right away.
“Oh, Rarity, where are you going? We still have so much to do!” Fluttershy exclaimed as Rarity turned to leave, watching her friend trot off into the crowd. “Don’t you want more vanilla cake?”
Determined to meet the infamous librarian, Rarity trotted through the ballroom doors and… into the library, just like that. It had taken no time at all, really, not that she’d noticed since she was too busy wondering why the place was not only completely empty, but completely dark, too.
Some library! She would have expected it to be filled with ponies, especially since she had assumed her kingdom was academically inclined, but alas.
“Hello?” she called out, lighting her horn up to have at least some light to accompany her in the dreary room.
She made her way through the rows of bookcases, and realized that there wasn’t a single book in any one of them. What’s going on here? she thought, once more calling out but receiving no reply. She remembered what Pinkie had said about the librarian creeping up on ponies, and a chill ran down the unicorn’s spine. It didn’t help that she felt like she was being watched, either.
If this was somepony’s idea of a joke… Well, she just hoped they liked her idea of having them spend a night in the dungeons.
She heard a cracking sound and realized she’d stepped on something. She lowered her horn, illuminating the floor, and pulled her hoof back to see that she’d stepped on—and broken—what used to be… a magenta star pendant?
Why in Equestria would anypony ever leave such a splendid thing lying on the floor? She decided to take it, hoping it might still be repairable.
She made her way back to the entrance of the library, and to make matters more concerning, something had changed. A lone book was sitting in the middle of the floor, and looking around, whoever had set it there seemed to be long gone.
Rarity levitated the book to her. Strange, she thought, inspecting the cover, there’s no title or author. She opened it to the first page, hoping to find more information, but just like the cover, it was blank. Why… Why do I feel…She closed the book and opened it again, almost as if expecting something to have suddenly appeared, but—
“There’s something missing.”
Rarity turned around, uttering an eep! and taking a few steps back as she found herself facing an elderly, cloaked stallion sitting several feet away. The lack of a hood allowed her to take a good look at him, and he seemed vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place his visage.
“Is this book yours?” she asked, gulping when he smiled. “Wh-who are you?”
“I brought it for you. I bring books to those who seek them. It is what you seek, isn’t it?” he replied, before looking around the library. “There’s something missing.”
Rarity took another step back. “What I seek? I’m afraid you have the wrong pony. I do not seek”—she opened the book and flipped its pages, finding them all to be blank—“empty books.” She cleared her throat and repeated her question: “Who are you?”
“I don’t think you’ll find them,” the Book Bringer said, his already eerie smile only growing. “At least, not before he gets to her.”
“There’s something missing,” he repeated a third time, eyeing the book she’d picked up. “Can’t you tell?”
“I…” Rarity looked at the book, again opening it to the front page. There was something missing, but what? “I… A name, I think? I don’t know.” She looked back at him with a scowl. “There’s a lot of things missing from this library, including the books and the librarian!”
“The librarian? Oh, yes,” the Book Bringer said, scratching his beard and looking around. “She’s what’s missing, isn’t she? The poor dear.”
“Th-the poor dear?” Rarity asked, the blood draining from her face. “What do you mean by that?!” she demanded, taking a step toward him. “What… What have you done to her?!”
The stallion raised an eyebrow, placing his hoof over his chest. “Me?” he asked, clearly offended. His offense was short-lived, however, and his smile returned. “Why don’t you ask her?” he suggested, looking at something—or somepony—beyond Rarity.
Rarity turned around and found another pony sitting a few feet away from her. Like the stallion, she was also wearing a cloak, but a long hood covered her head. It failed to disguise the fabulous purple mane, and didn’t work on the solitary yellow eye that pierced Rarity’s heart with its cold maniacal glee.
“That poor librarian.” The stallion’s voice drifted from behind the paralyzed Rarity, sending chills down her spine, who could in turn only stare in fear at the mare before her. “Tell me, is she worth risking yourself over? Is she worth risking your friends over?”
“Or perhaps, are you worth risking the princess’s own life over?” The Book Bringer laughed and shook his head. “I wonder how long it will take you to regret following your sister into the Everfree Forest.”
Princess…? Everfree Forest…?
It was enough to snap Rarity out of her momentary stupor. She whirled on the spot to face the stallion once more and stepped forward with a glare that could melt ice. “If you think that I’ll let myself be threatened, then I fear you’re sorely mistaken. Speak up! Who is this ‘princess’?! What does this have to do with my friends?”
The stallion merely smiled and tipped his hat to her before getting up. “I’m afraid you’ll have to figure that out for yourself, Queen Rarity.” He bowed toward her and headed for the entrance to the library. “Have a pleasant Seeking Night.”
Oh no, you don’t.
“Stop right there! I’m not done with you yet!” Rarity growled when the stallion didn’t stop, starting after him. He didn’t move very fast and so she easily caught up, reaching out to stop him with a hoof. “I want to know…
…what you mean by…” Rarity blinked, finding herself inside Ponyville’s town hall, standing behind a pair of red curtains. Her hoof hovered close to them, right next to the excited Mayor Mare, who was dressed in a Princess Cadance costume.
The unicorn turned to the older mare. “Wh… What?”
“Ohhh, Rarity! You must be very excited!” Mayor Mare exclaimed, adjusting her pink wig and turning to face Rarity. “You’ve done such a wonderful job taking charge of Seeking Night! It might be the best one we’ve ever had!”
“O-oh, of course!” Rarity quickly said, offering a dazzling—if confused—smile. She cleared her throat and shook her head, the already vague impression of having been somewhere else moments ago vanishing completely.
Mayor Mare turned toward the curtains, peeking out and giggling. “Are the ‘princesses’ all in their places?”
Rarity nodded. “Yes. Princess Selene is near my boutique, Princess Sunny is near the eastern plaza, and Princess Booky is in her library,” she said, ticking off each position as she spoke. It was only belatedly that she realized her mistake. “Wait, no, not library! Near the marketplace.”
“Very well, then. If everypony is in place, I’ll start the event! Why don’t you go enjoy the festivities? You’ve earned it!”
“Yes! I’ll go check up on the stands outside, then…”
Rarity left the town hall through the back door and proceeded to make her way toward the plethora of food stands in the distance, barely cognizant of the screams of foals as Mayor Mare emerged from behind the curtains. What’s wrong with me tonight? she thought, rubbing a hoof against her forehead. Come now, Rarity, it’s not like you to be so nervous.
Rarity allowed her thoughts to wander, her senses lost amidst the wonderful smells coming from the stands. Maybe a few delicious snacks would help clear her mind, and then she could properly participate in the evening’s festivities.
Rarity turned around and saw Pinkie Pie flagging her down from her stand.
“Oh, hello, Pinkie Pie!” she greeted her friend upon reaching the stand, smiling widely. “Mmm! This all looks scrumptious, darling!”
“Thanks!” Pinkie Pie grinned, looking down at the counter. Dozens of dark blue cupcakes were lined up, each one carefully decorated with a crescent moon-shaped piece of fondant and countless sprinkles. “They’re suuuper good, I promise!”
“I don’t doubt it!” Rarity replied. They certainly looked so, and she couldn’t wait to try one.
“Why don’t you have one?” Pinkie replied, reaching beneath the counter and retrieving a plate with a lone cupcake on it.
Rarity took the plate and admired the cupcake. Unlike the others, this particular cupcake was lavender colored, and a magenta star made of fondant had been carefully placed on top of it. Something about it lessened the stress she’d been feeling and brought a smile to her lips. How pretty, she thought, finding she wasn’t so keen on taking a bite and ruining the design.
“Pinkie Pie, this is ve— oof!” Her praise was cut short when something—or somepony—slammed into her, causing her to drop the cupcake in the process. “Oh no!” she exclaimed, disheartened to see the fondant star broken to pieces. She turned around to find the guilty party, and came face to face with two fillies.
“Hi, Rarity!” Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle called.
“Uh, sorry about your cupcake,” Scootaloo added, glancing toward the crumbled cupcake on the floor.
Rarity sighed. “No matter, I’ll just get another one…” She looked back down at the star, and again a feeling of uneasiness made its way through her body.
“Did you two find lots of Elements?” Pinkie asked the fillies.
“Nope, we’re gonna find something even cooler!” Scootaloo replied. “We’re gonna go into the Everfree Forest to find Princess Booky!”
“Princess Booky?” Rarity slowly asked, thereafter snorting in a very unladylike way. She started to pick up the smashed pieces of the cupcake. “You both know Princess Booky isn’t real, and I know the two of you are smarter than to wander into the Everfree Forest alone.”
“We’re not going alone!” Sweetie protested, stamping her hoof against the ground. She pointed toward a nearby tree and said, “They’re taking us!”
“They?” Rarity looked toward the tree, and rather than finding two… somethings as she’d expected, she found a single black and white owl perched on a branch, blinking back at the four ponies.
The owl wasn’t all that interesting except for its peculiar coloring. She’d seen white owls, and she’d seen black owls, but the coloring on this one was a variety she’d certainly never seen before. It was as if someone had drawn a line down the middle of the owl, then painted one side completely black and the other completely white.
“Oooh, I want to go too!” Pinkie exclaimed, turning to the owl and waving at it. “Can I?!”
Rather than replying, the owl merely flew off toward the distant forest, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle rushing after it. With a call to wait for her, Pinkie was the next to follow, hopping away toward the Everfree Forest.
“W-wait, girls! It’s dangerous in there!” Rarity called, having no other choice but to rush after her friends and the owl. “Sweetie Belle!”
She called out several more times, but none of them paid attention to her, or even listened at all. She supposed she couldn’t really do anything about Pinkie Pie, but she’d have expected Sweetie Belle to at least turn around and acknowledge her—even if the filly had no intention of obeying.
After she’d entered the forest and run some distance, Rarity stopped and realized she had lost track of the others. The tall trees surrounded her, trapping her in a darkness so thick she felt like it was part of a nightmare.
“Girls?” she called out, worried to the point of nausea over her sister and friends. If something happened to them… If they were attacked by a timberwolf, or worse… Rarity would never forgive herself. “Scootaloo?! Pinkie Pie?!” She kept trotting in the same direction she hoped they went, and ended up tripping over a rock and falling on her face. She stood back up, rubbing her aching snout, and called out, “This isn’t funny!”
“We should go home, Rarity,” a voice said. When she turned around, she found Fluttershy behind her. The pegasus was looking out into the distance, her wings folded against her sides as she chewed on a strand of her mane. “Maybe the girls went back to Ponyville?”
“Ba… Back to Ponyville?” Rarity asked, taking a step toward the pegasus who… had always been there, hadn’t she? Whereas her best friend’s presence had always comforted her in the past, it now only added to Rarity’s growing distress. “I… Maybe…” She pressed her hoof against her forehead and closed her eyes, counting to ten and drawing in a deep breath.
“Is everything all right?” Fluttershy asked, turning toward Rarity. “I’m sure we’ll find them.”
“I know, darling, I know. I just…” Rarity drifted off, and looked away. This forest is just giving me the creeps… She started to trot again, gesturing for her friend to follow. “Come on, hopefully they’re somewhere nearby.”
Fluttershy nodded and followed after her.
As she trotted, Rarity had the impression that she knew where she was going, except she had no idea what “where” was. She didn’t know where her sister and Scootaloo were, but she knew that the path she was going on would lead her somewhere. It was almost as if something was calling to her, drawing her deeper into the forest.
“Sweetie Belle! Scootaloo! Pinkie Pie!” Rarity called as loudly as she possibly could, only belatedly having the impression of… having forgotten to call somepony.
“Not so loud!” Fluttershy whispered, catching up with Rarity and gesturing for her to quiet down. “A timberwolf might find us, and we won’t have anypony to help us…”
“Fluttershy, darling, if I don’t call their names, how do you expect them to hear us? Do you want us to just wander around aimlessly?” Rarity scolded, even if she privately held the same fear as her friend. She cleared her throat and called out Sweetie Belle’s name, a little quieter if only for the sake of her already cracked nerves.
And then she saw it.
A large oak tree, covered with vines and foliage, sitting right in the middle of a large circular depression. It was odd, but for some reason, Rarity knew that more than her sister and the others, this tree was what she’d been looking for. Looking at it, she was immediately flooded with… relief? Almost as if she’d reached a safe haven in the middle of the terrible forest she was lost in.
“Wh-where are you going?”
“I’m going to take a closer look, of course,” Rarity said, jumping down into the hole and trotting toward the tree. There was something odd about it, and she felt compelled to investigate.
As she got closer, the comfort the tree had previously afforded her began to wane. She realized she was sure something was wrong, even despite the fact that she had never seen the tree before. She looked up at it and found the bark was perfectly intact, with no holes or anything of the sort. Shouldn’t there be a window there…? No… No, of course not, why would there be a window in a tree?
And yet still the clawing, nagging, burning feeling that something was wrong remained—and, more than that, kept growing and growing. She inspected the tree at eye level and then, without a care for the mud and dirt on the bark, started to clean it off, looking for… something, because something was missing.
When she found nothing, she looked down at the ground and started searching for a… a trapdoor. Because she was sure there should be one, but the more dirt she kicked away, the more leaves she moved, the more she came to realize that there wasn’t, and the more terrified she felt.
She stepped away from the tree, frightened. What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel this way? Why did she feel like somepony was in terrible danger, even though she was sure it wasn’t Sweetie, nor Scootaloo, nor Pinkie Pie? Why did this place feel so familiar yet so horribly wrong?
“Fluttershy? Wasn’t there a trapdoor?” Rarity called, turning away from the tree. She found Fluttershy had left her spot, and looked around for her friend. “Fluttershy…?”
To Rarity’s horror, Fluttershy was gone without a word or sound. If the unicorn had been scared before, now she was absolutely terrified. She gulped in fear and took a step toward the edge of the depression. “Fluttershy? This isn’t funny, and I can’t believe that you of all ponies would think it is!” she said accusingly. “Fluttershy!”
She trotted away from the tree, but quickly stopped when her hoof landed on something hard and sturdy. She levitated the offending object up off the ground: a book.
What was it doing there?
The cover was devoid of title or author, and when she opened it up, she found every page was completely blank. Rarity flipped the pages back and lingered on the first page, feeling that, much like with the tree, something was missing from the book.
Rarity looked up and turned to the tree, hoping to see the owl from before. Instead, she found two owls—a white one and a black one—each perched on a branch on either side of the tree. She took a step toward them, drawn by their familiarity, but at that moment she heard a scream in the distance.
She turned toward it, and the two owls immediately sped off in that very same direction. Rarity dashed after them, the book floating behind her and her heart frantically thumping in her chest.
The leaves crackled beneath Rarity’s hooves as she galloped over them, her entire being now focused on finding the source of the familiar scream. Except… it hadn’t been Sweetie Belle or Scootaloo, nor Pinkie Pie or Fluttershy. She couldn’t place whom the scream belonged to, but she knew they were related to all the missing things from the tree, and to the sense of dread she’d felt building for hours. Puzzle pieces were missing, preventing her from understanding what exactly was wrong.
She came to a halt at a most peculiar but, like everything else, strangely familiar sight.
A small, dilapidated house stood in the middle of the forest, forgotten by ponies but not by time. She gave it a quick look-over, noticing the broken door and the tree growing up through the middle of the roof. Her eyes stopped when she reached the large, cracked window, and she felt for a moment as if her heart had stopped too.
There, on the other side of the window, a hooded pony looked at her. Rarity stood there, transfixed both by dread and fascination, trapped between the fear of staying there and the fear of never finding out what she was missing. She fell back and let out a muted scream when the hooded pony quite literally stepped right through the wall and stopped in front of her.
“You… What are you?” she asked when she somehow found the courage to do so. She took another step back but, despite her desire to run away, managed to stand her ground and grit her teeth at the pony. “What do you want with me?”
The pony did not answer, instead lifting their hoof toward the book floating above Rarity.
Rarity eyed them warily, lowering the book. “It’s blank,” she explained with frustration, taking another step back from the pony. “See for yourself.” She flipped the book open to show the pony as much, but froze when she saw a single sentence on the first page.
Property of Twilight Sparkle
In that moment, Rarity finally pieced together what the absent puzzle pieces were pointing to.
She looked up at the hooded pony, understanding as well just who they were, and why they instilled in Rarity a dread and fear unlike any other she’d ever felt. “It’s you,” she whispered, both awed and intimidated by the creature and her knowledge of its power. Yet there was another new feeling that arose within her: a feeling that completely overrode her fears and trepidations when she finally realized who had screamed.
Hatred at the knowledge of what it’d done. Hatred at the knowledge that it was after her and those she loved. Hatred when Rarity whispered Twilight’s name and the Spirit laughed in reply. Hatred when Rarity recognized the laugh, if only because it was the one voice that would follow her wherever she went.
“What did you do to her?” Rarity calmly asked, the hatred blazing inside her urging her to step forward. The Spirit only laughed, prompting Rarity to grit her teeth and continue: “Where is she?”
“The princess?” the Spirit asked joyfully, taking off the hood. Rarity gazed into a face she saw in the mirror each day, save for the burning yellow eyes that marked the only difference between her and it. “Oh, I’m dreadfully sorry, darling,” the Spirit said, running a hoof through her purple mane and sending chills down Rarity’s spine. “I fear that—” She giggled and smiled innocently. “Your beloved princess is permanently indisposed.”
Rarity didn’t bother to stay.
She didn’t bother to hurl some choice words at the Spirit, or even to throw the book in her face like she wanted—since, after all, it was a vicious crime that her image was being used by such a vile, loathsome creature. Instead, she acted on what really concerned her and galloped away back toward the oak tree.
She could hear the Spirit’s laugh echoing in the distance, flooding her mind with terrible images of Twilight in all sorts of horrific situations: Trapped under a destroyed library… Deprived of her magic on top of her body… Trapped there completely alone forever… She repelled each one as best she could, reminding herself over and over that Twilight would never let herself fall victim to the horrors of the Spirit ever again.
She finally saw the oak tree in the distance and galloped as fast as she could. She jumped down into the pit, rushed to the base of the tree and flung open the now-present trapdoor, heart beating thunderously in her chest. She rushed down the stairs and into the tunnel, hoping the fact that the library lights were turned off didn’t mean what she suspected.
“Twilight!” she called out desperately, rushing past the entrance. “Twi—! …li…ght…?” She drifted off, her quick pace coming to a halt as she found herself standing not in the foyer of the library, but of Carousel Boutique.
“What in Equestria…”
She heard a door slam behind her, loudly and threateningly, caging her in her own home. She turned around and her confusion quickly became anger when she saw her doppelgänger standing in front of the door, a detestably smug smile on her face.
“Welcome to Carousel Boutique!” the Spirit said in a sing-song voice, fluttering her eyelashes at Rarity while gesturing around the room as though it were truly her own. “Where everything is chic, unique, and horrifique! Oh, wait, no, that’s not it… It’s magnifique.” She put her hoof against her cheek and hummed thoughtfully. “Tsk, tsk, that’s a rather bold claim for you to make, isn’t it? Then again, false advertising is so dreadfully common amongst mediocre designers these days.”
Every word, every syllable that slithered from her mouth repulsed Rarity, disgusted her and made seething hatred poison her every thought, every breath, every move.
“Oh, you know what they say: we’re always our own worst critics,” Rarity hissed, taking a step toward the Spirit. “Where is she?” she asked, for once scarcely interested in discussing her own fashion designs. “I’m warning you, if you’ve done something to her…”
The Spirit rolled her eyes, mocking the unicorn with her every gesture. “Now, now, there’s no need for threats. Your precious princess is perfectly fine,” she said, waving her off with a hoof and yawning as though Rarity were a terribly boring adversary unworthy of her time. “Though…” She put her hoof back on her cheek and bit her lip with a concerned expression. “She won’t be for much longer, thanks to you, Rarity.”
“How dare you,” Rarity spat, blue eyes narrowing and burying themselves like daggers in the yellow ones before her. If only looks could kill. “I would never harm Twilight.”
“Oh, of course not! Not on purpose anyway,” the Spirit said patronizingly, staring down Rarity’s loathing with unrepentant condescension. She began to circle the unicorn, and left behind a perfect identical illusion of herself with every step she took, until Rarity felt like she was trapped in a room full of mirrors reflecting twisted versions of herself.
“You wanted to be the hero!” one of the illusions continued, all of them resuming their perfectly circular walk around the unicorn. Rarity could no longer tell which was the real Spirit, and so she focused on the one that spoke. “Thought you would be the one to save them all, didn’t you? Poor little Rarity, wanting so desperately to rescue the princesses and win Prince Charming’s heart. Oh, wait. There is no Prince Charming here! It’s Princess Charming!” She came to a stop and so the others followed suit. “My, my, what a delicious twist!” As soon as she’d finished speaking, the room filled with mocking giggles, enough to make Rarity sicker than she already felt.
“‘Oh, yes, Princess! I can save you! It’ll be so easy!’” another illusion imitated, flipping her mane and sighing theatrically. “Psh. Don’t make me laugh,” she sneered, turning away from Rarity and starting the circular walking anew. “What, you really thought you’d find the books so easily? That they’d fall into your hooves, no consequences, no threats, just a slightly more elaborate version of the Seeking Night Treasure Hunt?”
“Well, now you’re going to learn, darling,” another one began, and once more they all came to a halt, now looking more threatening and imposing than ever, simultaneously tilting their heads to the side, “what happens when little fillies play at being a hero.”
That did it.
In the back of her mind, Rarity knew she had no hope of defeating the Spirit, yet it wasn’t enough to stop her from trying. She lunged at the one who’d threatened her, set on inflicting any kind of damage, but instead went right through the illusion. Enraged, she turned around with the futile intent of trying again, but found all the illusions staring back at her, their mouths twisted into broad smiles, as if Rarity were a plaything for their amusement.
“You honestly think you can defeat me?” one of the illusions asked, all of them taking a step toward Rarity, forcing her to take one back. A bright yellow aura surrounded their horns, and their current leader took yet another step toward Rarity. “You really aren’t very smart at all, are you, Rare-it-ee?”
Before she could react, the illusions levitated her into the air, encased in their magic. She found she could barely breathe. In one swift motion, they hurled Rarity against a nearby bookcase, her body smashing against it with a heavy thud. She fell to the floor, tears filling her eyes as jolts of excruciating pain filled the rest of her body. She scrunched her eyes together, biting down on her lip in an attempt to stop the cries of pain that would only concede defeat to the Spirit.
“Ra-Rarity?! What’s going on?”
It felt like time came to a standstill.
She knew Twilight couldn’t be there even if that was her voice she’d just heard; she knew the alicorn was trapped in a library, and that no matter how desperately she wished it, Twilight simply couldn’t be there. And yet, just by hearing her voice, Rarity was clouded by an irrational hope that somehow, someway, she’d turn around to see her. And so she opened her eyes and painfully forced herself to look up—and her expression fell with her heart and the tears in her eyes as she found herself confronted not with Twilight Sparkle, but her forsaken doppelgänger staring her down with an almost maniacal grin.
“You poor thing,” the Spirit said, every word dripping with insincerity and false concern. “You really thought she was here, didn’t you? Did you wish your friend had somehow come to rescue you?” She giggled and tilted her head. “Oh, I almost pity you.”
It took Rarity a great deal of effort to stand up, biting down on her lip hard enough to draw blood with every agonizing jolt of pain. “How… How dare…” She cut herself off, gasping in pain and falling to the floor, gritting her teeth in frustration and agony. She heard the Spirit laugh at her, and once again forced her body up.
The Spirit looked impressed, stepping back with a smile. “Well, you certainly are determined, I’ll give you that.” She sighed and turned around, opening the front door with her magic and then yawning loudly for Rarity to hear. “But I’m growing dreadfully bored of you. I have somepony to take care of, and you have a floor to collapse on.”
Rarity knew trying to attack the Spirit again would be foolish, but she refused to let her get her way. She looked toward the door, staring at the freedom waiting beyond it. If she could suppress her body’s screaming desire to give up, she could still run off and get help or go to the library and warn Twilight.
She bolted as fast as her aching body permitted, but when she reached the door, something stopped her and threw her back against a nearby table. She groaned, ears ringing with the Spirit’s laughter, and opened her eyes in time to see a barrier blocking the exit—just like the one at the library.
“What the…” Her voice drifted off, her pain momentarily forgotten. How… How could that be? Why was there a barrier stopping her? Why hadn’t she been able to go past it?
It wasn’t until she tried getting up that she realized why the Spirit was still laughing maniacally. The barrier had launched her against the nearby coffee table, and yet…
And yet, Rarity only belatedly realized she had never felt the impact. The table had gone right through her now-incorporeal chest. She let out a terrified scream and backed against a bookcase, only to let out yet another scream when she realized she hadn’t backed against it, but through it.
“My, I spoke too quickly!” the Spirit exclaimed, shutting the door and clapping her hooves. “Things got interesting again!”
Rarity hadn’t even listened to what the Spirit had said, too disturbed and frightened by her new spectral condition. Her body, aware of its ethereal qualities, struggled to cope and understand what was happening, and spectacularly failed to do so. She tried to breathe, but she could pull forth no air, for how could she when she had no physical lungs? Frightened tears rolled down her cheeks and fell off her face, disappearing into thin air before they reached the ground.
“Now, darling, don’t look so glum!” the Spirit exclaimed, giggling when Rarity slowly turned to look at her with wide eyes. “You should be thanking me! Now you’ll always preserve your… er, rather lacking physi— Eek!” The Spirit ducked, missing the vase Rarity had hurled at her face by barely an inch. She watched as the vase shattered against the wall before turning to Rarity. “Temper, temper! Destroying such a lovely vase in a petty fit? And here I thought you were a lady!”
“Don’t worry, it was on sale,” Rarity snarled. Oh, how she wished Twilight were there, if only so she could make Rarity a list of every single synonym of the word “hate” so she could find which one best described her current state. “What do you want with me?!” she demanded, taking a step toward the Spirit. “Am I… Was I really that much of a threat to you?!”
Had she really been so close to saving Twilight that the Spirit felt the need to intervene?
The Spirit blinked. “A threat?” she asked slowly, processing the question before bursting out in laughter. “You?! A threat to me?! Oh, darling, please! Don’t flatter yourself!” the Spirit exclaimed mirthfully, eventually sighing and lifting a hoof to wipe off a tear. The joy quickly vanished from her expression, replaced by compassion. “No, no, you’re not a threat to me. Au contraire! You have been wonderful help! I should thank you.”
“Th-thank me?” Rarity asked, her heart sinking.
“But of course!” the Spirit insisted, once again starting to circle the unicorn. “You made her vulnerable again! Don’t you see how tremendous that is?! She’d locked herself away from the world! Promised herself that she would never let anypony get close to her ever again! And yet you managed to break down her defenses! Do you realize how deliciously betrayed she’ll feel now because of it? Oh, Rarity, you are smart, after all.”
“She doesn’t need me!” Rarity snapped back, even though the truth behind the statement hurt. Even if she could never see Twilight again, Rarity was not… the last resort. “She has others who will help her! She’s not alone anymore!”
The Spirit stopped, raising an eyebrow. “Doesn’t need you? But whyever would I let her befriend somepony else? Why bother when she already has me?” she asked, taking a step back and flipping her mane. “The lovely Rarity.”
And then Rarity understood.
She shook her head. “No…”
“Oh, yes.” The Spirit nodded, grinning wildly. “I didn’t trap you here because you were a threat. I just needed you out of the way.” She laughed and fluttered her eyelashes. “What, did you honestly think that was my plan? To trap you here, and then saunter off until somepony else found her again? Do you even realize how inefficient that is? No… It’s so much easier to continue on your path!”
“Don’t you dare! I won’t le—”
“Shush, darling!” the Spirit interrupted, shaking her head. “She won’t notice a thing, and I promise I’ll treat her wonderfully. In fact, considering I’m vastly more intelligent than you are, she’ll love me even more!” She giggled and closed her eyes. “Ah, I can see it now. Every day, I’ll visit her and oh, heavens, I’ll—or rather, you’ll—be everything she wants, and one by one, every last defense she has will fall.” She opened her eyes and offered Rarity a sympathetic look. “Isn’t this what you wanted, Rarity? I’ll make you so much a part of her life, she’ll actually believe that you’ll set her free. She will trust you, fully and absolutely, and when she does…”
She took a step toward Rarity, forcing the unicorn to take one back.
“I will break her,” she continued, her voice lowering to a whisper. “I will break her so completely that she will never trust anypony again.” She took another step, and so did Rarity. “She will never leave that prison, and for the rest of eternity, she…” Another step. “…will…” Step. “…blame…” One more, and Rarity was backed up against the wall, the Spirit inches away from her. “You.”
That was the unicorn’s sole reply.
Without warning, she lunged at the Spirit, but rather than stopping there, she galloped past her, headed toward the door. She heard the Spirit mock her, ask how she planned on getting past the barrier, but the truth of the matter was she had no intention of getting past it, or even making an attempt to do so. Instead, she stopped in front of the door, doing her best to use her aching body to block the exit.
“What are you doing?” the Spirit asked, snorting at the unicorn’s futile attempts to keep her trapped with her. “You do realize that I can just trot through you, don’t you?”
“Oh, I know…” Rarity replied, smiling sweetly and reinforcing her stance even if she knew it was futile. “But quite frankly, I don’t care.”
The Spirit trotted toward her, and once more several illusions appeared behind her. The Spirit stood before Rarity, the other illusions arrayed to the Spirit’s sides, their horns once more exuding a magical yellow aura.
“Is that so?” the Spirit asked with a smile, her horn also glowing. “How amusing.” She took another step toward the steadfast unicorn, horn beginning to spark. “But I think I’ve had enough of your interference.”
Rarity didn’t reply. She only took a deep breath and prepared herself for the oncoming attack, trying to remember that stopping the Spirit would not only save Twilight, but her sister and friends as well. Besides, there really wasn’t much the Spirit could do that would be worse than…
All at once, the illusions and the Spirit unleashed a magical spell at Rarity. She closed her eyes and turned her head away, never moving from her spot, but bracing herself as best she could. If this was to be the end of her, then she’d make sure she’d stand her ground until the end. A loud thunder crashed throughout the room, practically deafening her, and yet she felt no pain.
Rarity stood there for an eternity, silence falling around her. When she realized she was still standing, she finally opened her eyes—and whatever she had expected to see could not compare to the sight that greeted her.
If she had felt no pain, it was because the Spirit’s attack had never reached her, only the one protecting her. Either out of exhaustion, shock, confusion, or perhaps all three, Rarity collapsed to the floor and could only look up in awe at the dark blue alicorn standing between her and the Spirit, horn aglow and gaze fixed on the backtracking illusions.
Princess Selene was far more breathtaking than Rarity had ever imagined.
She stood imposingly, regally, seeming completely unaffected by the attack. Her mane, partially translucent, rippling and sparkling like Twilight’s, seemed to contain the night sky within itself. Her wings, splayed out protectively to either side, served as an additional shield to the unicorn. But, out of all the things that Rarity tried to process about her, the most dazing was her cutie mark.
A crescent moon.
“Wh-what?” the Spirit hissed, taking several steps back and turning around to find her illusions disappearing. For once, she looked frightened, unsure of what to do. “Who are— What are you doing here?!”
The princess took a step forward. “This is my realm,” she replied at length, apparently perfectly aware that the Spirit had taken Rarity’s form. “And I will protect anypony who believes in me from nightmares like you.”
Nightmares? Rarity thought, still staring at the princess. Does that mean I’m… dreaming?
She tried to get up, but grunted in the process and caught the princess’s attention. The princess turned away from the Spirit and finally looked down at Rarity.
Rarity noticed that the princess was wearing a black tiara identical to the one she’d found outside Twilight’s library, and more than that, she was wearing a pendant depicting a familiar symbol: three colored balloons.
Oddly enough, when their gazes met, the princess looked just as surprised as Rarity. “A mare?” she asked, taking a gentle step toward Rarity. She lit up her horn, and Rarity felt foreign magic surround her, but rather than attack her as the Spirit had, the princess instead helped her stand up. “You are the first adult mare to allow me entry into her dreams since…” She drifted off, lifting her hoof to thoughtfully play with her necklace. “Why?”
“You…” Rarity didn’t even know what to say, staring up at the princess like a starstruck filly. “You’re… You’re Princess Selene…”
The princess raised her eyebrows. “‘Princess Selene’? Is that the name you know me by?” She laughed softly, a distinctly sad smile appearing on her lips. “I see,” she said, turning around once more to face the Spirit.
“My sister would find that most amusing.”