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    Dreams were different for every pony. For some, it was terribly easy to figure out they were dreaming; for others, it felt like a reality where things weren’t quite right, but never wrong enough to alert them to something suspicious.

    Rarity was part of the latter group, always relishing her dreams as if they were reality. And yet, despite the fact that the scene unfolding before her couldn’t be anything but a dream, it certainly didn’t feel like one. It was as if she had been plunged into an odd mix of dream and reality. If the alicorn standing before her truly was the veritable Princess Selene, then that was exactly the case.

    Her eyes darted back and forth between the princess and the Spirit, finding herself reeling with adrenaline now that she was under the protection of Princess Selene.

    Or a dream version of her, at least.

    Princess Selene took a step toward the Spirit, as imposing as ever, and the Spirit took several steps back in return, baring her teeth.

    With thinly veiled fear, Rarity’s doppelgänger snapped, “You… You think you can stop me?!”

    “You… You are but fiction. I need only cast a spell to expunge you,” Selene said calmly, unfazed by the Spirit’s attitude. “It would be a most simple task.”

    And yet, despite this, Rarity had the distinct impression Princess Selene was stalling for time. She would have assumed the first thing to do would be to defeat the Spirit, wouldn’t it?

    Then why hasn’t she done as much?

    “Then why haven’t you done as much?!” the Spirit asked, in sync with Rarity’s own thoughts. Rarity couldn’t help a start and shudder at hearing her own thoughts voiced out loud—and by the Spirit, no less.

    The princess did not reply for what felt like the longest time.

    Finally, she spoke. “This creature…” she asked, glancing back at Rarity. “What is its true form?”

    If the princess’s tone of voice had been kind when she’d first addressed Rarity, it had now changed completely. The warmth was gone from her eyes, making Rarity feel very much as if now she were the evil doppelgänger.

    “It-its true form?” Rarity asked, having a hard time maintaining eye contact with the princess’s hard stare. “I… I don’t know…”

    The princess seemed unsatisfied by the answer, frowning slightly before turning back to the Spirit. Why was she upset? Had Rarity answered incorrectly? It wasn’t as if she could answer correctly when she’d never even met the Spirit in the first place!

    Or so she hoped.

    Princess Selene’s horn lit up, sending the Spirit several more steps back. “Show me its true form!” she demanded, stamping her hoof against the floor and sending sparks flying from her horn.

    “I don’t know its true form!” Rarity helplessly replied. “I’ve never seen…”

    Her voice drifted off just as the Spirit began to change. Rarity watched her doppelgänger carefully: how its eyes shifted, how its teeth grew large. Princess Selene stamped her hoof once more, and the Spirit shape-shifted into the Book Bringer, the sinister glare somehow more threatening coming from him.

    Princess Selene grunted, stamping her hoof against the floor again. The Spirit shape-shifted again, but rather than taking the shape of a pony, it turned into a huge white wall with the terrifying shadow Rarity had seen in Hollow Shades. Selene grumbled again, stomping her hoof several more times, the Spirit’s form shifting back and forth between the Book Bringer, the doppelgänger and the wall.

    Enough!” she exclaimed after the fifth repetitive cycle.

    A bright and blinding flash erupted from the princess’s horn, forcing Rarity to close her eyes and merely listen to the Spirit screeching around her. When she opened her eyes moments later, she was relieved to see the Spirit was gone.

    “I thought perhaps… if you believed in me then it meant you’d met him, but I can see I was mistaken.”

    The princess stepped forward into the room, inspecting it for any remnants of the nightmare before turning back toward Rarity. Though her expression had softened, Rarity could tell there was something bothering her.

    “Princess Selene? Is the Spirit gone?” Rarity asked, both to ease the tension and to be sure she was safe.

    “I told you, did I not? Dispelling nightmares is a simple task, particularly when foals here often have nightmares about him.” The princess looked back toward where the Spirit had been. “I have dispelled more interpretations of him than I care to count, but I suppose this cannot be helped when Hollow Shades thrives off my situation.”

    She turned to Rarity again. “You are an odd one, aren’t you?” she asked, and Rarity withheld an indignant expression. “You must truly believe in me if I was allowed entry into your slumbers… Who are you?” Princess Selene looked around the boutique. “This place. What is it? Where is it?”

    “This is my boutique in Ponyville,” Rarity hastily replied, not caring that the princess probably had no idea of what or where Ponyville was. Wait, that’s not right… Ponyville already existed when Twilight was free, didn’t it?

    Her question was answered by the princess.

    “Ponyville? A mare hailing from Ponyville who believes in me?” she asked, slowly and carefully. She regarded Rarity for a moment before looking away. “Curious. It’s been so long, I cannot find the strength within to raise my hopes.” Before Rarity could question her, the princess turned to her and asked in a low voice: “Did you find her?”

    “Yes,” Rarity replied instantly, the word rolling out of her mouth without having given her mind a moment to process or understand. She just knew what the princess meant, and who she was referring to.

    “Prove it.”

    “Twilight Sparkle,” Rarity replied. “That’s her name.”

    The princess raised an eyebrow. “Yes. And? Every child in Hollow Shades knows her true name, as they do mine. Luna.” She smiled. “Not Selene.”

    “B-but I did find her! I did!”

    Show me, then!”

    Just as Rarity was about to ask how, the princess slammed her hoof against the floor, sparks shooting out her horn. The room around them shifted, like ripples on the surface of a pond, but rather than changing, the ripples settled back to Carousel Boutique.

    “I see.” The princess’s expression hardened as she turned away. “I had not hoped for much, yet I still feel disappointed.”

    “No, wait!” Rarity blurted out, taking a step toward the princess. “I did find her!” She looked around the room, glaring at it, desperately willing it to shift into the library. This was her dream, wasn’t it? Why was it not working to her advant—

    The scenery changed, and Luna and Rarity found themselves inside the library.

    Rarity quickly turned around, thrilled by her dream finally obeying, and saw an alicorn sitting next to her, staring intently at something amidst the aisles of bookcases.

    Too bad it wasn’t Twilight.

    Rather than the bookish ghost she’d come to care for, Rarity was staring at the interpretation of “Princess Booky” that she’d seen during Seeking Night. Glasses, ponytail, shirt with pocket-protectors, nasal voice, the works.

    Princess Luna wasn’t impressed. “Ah.”

    Rarity almost felt like she’d wake up from shame.

    The princess sighed and looked away. “Well. There are other nightmares I must atte—” She stopped herself, looking back toward Booky.

    Booky looked very worried, standing up and taking a few steps back. The source of her discomfort was revealed a moment later when Rarity stepped out from the rows of bookcases, her eyes flashing yellow and her horn surrounded by some type of black magic.

    By this point, both Luna and Rarity were fixated upon the scene.

    Rarity watched, mesmerized, as her other self threatened Princess Booky, menacingly approaching her. It felt completely surreal, almost as though there was no real threat since Princess Booky looked, sounded, and spoke nothing like Twilight.

    “What’s the meaning of this?” Princess Booky asked, her rump colliding with the wall.

    Rather than replying, Rarity’s other self launched a magical attack. It was explosive; a cloud of thick dust burst from the wall when Booky smashed against it, hiding her from view.

    Luna reacted first. Her horn began to glow, no doubt preparing herself to end the resurrected nightmare, but just as she was about to launch her spell, something stopped her: Princess “Booky” calling out Rarity’s name. Her voice was different from before, and only when Rarity recognized it did the threat become real.

    Twilight Sparkle emerged from the dust, wheezing and heaving, her face and coat marred with dirt and scorch marks. In the time she’d known Twilight, Rarity had seen but a few expressions on the alicorn’s face. Anger, reserved happiness, confusion… She had never, however, seen Twilight’s expression filled with such sheer hatred.

    “Twilight?” Princess Luna asked, gawking at the alicorn she had not seen for thousands of years before turning to Rarity, comprehension dawning upon her. “You… You… That’s why…”

    Rarity couldn’t be bothered to listen.

    Rarity…” Twilight hissed, her wings flaring up. “I trusted you…”

    Even though Twilight’s hatred wasn’t truly for her, it felt like it was. It felt like she was the one who’d betrayed Twilight, and though she wanted to call out and say she hadn’t, she found her words were stuck in her throat.

    “I thought you were my friend,” Twilight continued, and Rarity had never been so miserable to hear her laugh. “I guess I was wrong.”

    The other Rarity simply smiled, her horn lighting up again. “Goodbye, Princess Twilight.”

    Rarity screamed for Twilight to move as she watched her doppelgänger unleash the attack. But rather than an explosion, she heard a very different sound. To her shock, cracks started appearing all over, as if the dream was quite literally shattering into pieces. Her focus, however, could not stray long from Twilight, who’d frozen in place, eyes still filled with unrelenting hate.

    “You are waking up!” Luna yelled, and Rarity finally reacted. “The dream is collapsing!”

    “But—! I—!” Rarity kept looking back to Twilight despite the sickness she felt at seeing her expression; a moth persistently and knowingly flying into a burning flame.

    “Listen to me!” Luna loudly commanded, teleporting herself in front of Rarity and blocking her view of Twilight. Beams of lights shot out of her horn and filled the cracks. “I— I am not able… to use my full powers from where I am. We have only minutes or even seconds before I am unable to keep this dream in motion! You must free her, at whatever cost!”

    “But what about you? How do—”

    “I do not matter! I don’t even know where I am!” Luna cut Rarity off, her voice louder still. “If you cannot free Twilight Sparkle, then there may be no hope for my sister, and if there is no hope for Twilight or Celestia, there is no hope for me!”

    “And what about the Spirit?!” Rarity asked, managing to see her frozen doppelgänger behind Luna. “If I do any more than I have, he might come after Twilight, or me, or my frie—”

    “Filly, we have been here for thousands of years, and are all still trapped! Do you not think there is a reason for that? If you have come as far as finding two of us, I’m shocked he has not dispatched you yet,” Luna said, only realizing how harsh her words were when Rarity backed away. As she did so, the entire room began to distort. With a softer voice, yet no less stern, she continued: “If you fear the consequences of your actions, and if you do not wish to be plagued by these nightmares, you must make a choice. Either choose to back out permanently while the Spirit has not yet attacked, or to help Twilight fully and completely, knowing that you may already be in danger.”

    “But when Twilight finds out he’s after me, she’ll forbid me from helping!” Rarity replied, gritting her teeth. “She doesn’t tell me anything, she didn’t want me to help initially—it’s like she doesn’t want to be freed!”

    It seemed like those words struck a chord with Luna, and for a moment, her spell faltered. When a new, much larger crack appeared, Luna flinched and strengthened her spell. “No. I can assure you she simply does not wish for you to be harmed. You must be close, I assume,” Luna said, wincing. She stepped away, allowing Rarity to see the now-distorted image of Twilight. “But if that is the case, then she too must choose. Either she puts all her faith in you and helps you, or you two will never be truly able to work together to free her, or any of us. But know that if you choose to help her, then we cannot meet again.”

    Luna’s spell finally gave in, and the cracks began anew, forming more frequently and in larger sizes.

    Even as the princess herself started to fade, she continued to speak: “The fact that you are here means the Spirit may not yet be aware that you have met me. Having met with you once, knowing you’ve found Twilight, is more than I ever hoped for, and… and meeting again would be tempting the Spirit and the luck I thought I did not have. I have already endangered Pinkie by allowing her to seek for the others… I cannot endanger another…”

    “W-wait!” Rarity pleaded, watching the entire room distort and blur out. “You can’t just leave!”

    Her plea, unfortunately, went unheard, for Luna had vanished before Rarity finished speaking. She called again and again, despite the entire world shifting and cracking around her, until suddenly, it stopped and her eyes flew open.

    Awake and covered in sweat, Rarity’s heart thumped loudly against her chest as she gasped for air. Her thoughts ran haywire, and it took her a moment to realize she was not in the library but her hotel room.

    “Rarity?”

    Turning, Rarity found Fluttershy standing next to her bed, wide awake and looking terribly concerned. Now that she’d been acknowledged, Fluttershy took a step closer to Rarity.

    “You were having a nightmare…”

    “Fl-Fluttershy,” Rarity said breathlessly, letting her guard down enough that the memories of the nightmare began to filter and dissipate. “I apologize, darling. Did I wake you up?”

    Fluttershy shook her head, smiling briefly with relief. “I’m just glad you’re all right now,” she said, lifting her hoof and carefully putting it on Rarity’s shoulder. “Do you want to talk about it?”

    Did she want to talk about it?

    She wanted to, of course, but was it truly the best of ideas to scare her friend by letting her know they most certainly were being stalked by a terrible creature?

    “I… I… No, I don’t think it’s necessary, dear,” she said—lied, rather. “Perhaps tomorrow after we’re both a little more rested?”

    Fluttershy didn’t look convinced, but did not press on. “All right.” She smiled at Rarity one last time before moving back to her bed to sleep.

    Rather than lying back down, Rarity simply sat on her bed, trying to steady her breathing. She had to tell Fluttershy, of course. Maybe not then, but the next day at the latest. If the Spirit was truly and honestly after them, Fluttershy had the right to know…

    And the right to refuse to continue helping.

    Her dream… Though it had started to fade into fragments that she had trouble remembering, there were parts she remembered vividly. Had that really been Princess Luna? It… it had to have been. What did she mean that there was no hope for her if Twilight wasn’t freed?

    It suddenly occurred to Rarity that she’d never really considered not every princess could be freed the same way, could they?

    Her mind flashed back to other parts of the dream… The threat that was very viable indeed. Even if Princess Luna hoped Rarity wasn’t being chased, Rarity was sure she was. Her mind inevitably led her to perhaps the most horrible part of the dream, and the one she remembered most vividly: Twilight’s look of betrayal.

    “Rarity… I trusted you… I thought you were my friend…”

    It made her sick not to be able to wipe the memory from her mind.

    She lay back down, closing her eyes to try and get some more sleep. She wished she could meet Princess Luna again, but… well, Luna had been very clear she wouldn’t. Her only other choice now was to wait to talk to Pinkie Pie.


    The next morning, after several more attempts at sleep, several more nightmares, and no Princess Luna, Rarity was forced to accept that either Luna’s appearance really had been Rarity’s own imagination, or the princess herself was intent on making sure no more contact was established. Honestly, it wasn’t as if the Spirit was monitoring Rarity’s every single dream and action, was he? It wouldn’t have been too bad if the princess allowed Rarity one more dream with her!

    In the end, the only thing Rarity had been able to do was write down what little she remembered from the dream. Most of it had faded away, except for the princess’s final warning and the fact that Rarity had to tell Twilight about the Spirit. Unfortunately, she remembered all the horribly terrifying bits as clear as crystal.

    She suddenly understood why Pinkie Pie kept dream journals.

    “How are you feeling, Rarity?” Fluttershy asked as they made their way toward Professor Awe’s house. The pegasus had been quite the trooper, patiently helping Rarity through her several nightmares, and never pressing when Rarity insisted they’d talk about it later—which they would; Rarity was going to make sure of it. It just didn’t have to be right that moment, did it?

    Rarity yawned, taking a sip of the coffee they’d bought. “Better. Though it might benefit me to take another nap, later on.” Hopefully one with fewer nightmares and more Princess Lunas.

    “Oh! We’re here!” Fluttershy exclaimed. “And Pinkie is, too?”

    Upon hearing Fluttershy’s comment, Rarity looked up and indeed found the pink pony lingering outside the professor’s house. She seemed preoccupied, idly batting a rock around with her hoof.

    What is she doing here? I thought she loathed him?

    “Pinkie Pie!” Rarity called out, waving to the mare and watching as Pinkie immediately brightened up. When they caught up to her, Rarity asked, “Whatever are you doing here? I thought we were supposed to meet up later in the day!”

    “I, uh, couldn’t wait to see you two again! I woke up at four in the morning to make my cupcakes and my cakes for the day, and then I came here just to wait for you!” she exclaimed earnestly, her slight hesitation betraying her. Pinkie stared at Rarity for a moment and, with genuine concern, asked: “Are you okay, Rarity? You look sorta tired.”

    “I feel tired, darling,” Rarity replied, stifling a yawn. In all honesty, she couldn’t even bring herself to be excited over meeting Professor Awe. She simply wanted to get it over with and go home; home being the library, since Twilight was who she really wanted to see. “Hopefully Professor Awe is home today.”

    “Oh, he is,” Pinkie replied, her enthusiasm visibly diminishing. “I heard him earlier while I was waiting.”

    “In that case, why don’t we meet up in a few hours?” Rarity suggested, smiling amiably. “It would be rather rude of us to make you wait out here for us to finish.”

    “Oh, uh, well… Actually, I wanted to go with you!” Pinkie exclaimed, her smile faltering slightly.

    Fluttershy and Rarity looked at each other.

    “Goodness, I thought you didn’t like him very much?” Fluttershy pointed out, earning a nervous laugh from the mare.

    “Oh. I don’t! He’s still a big meaniepants! I just…” She drifted off, her ears drooping. “You’re gonna talk about the princesses with him, aren’t you?”

    Suddenly, it felt like all of Rarity’s drowsiness was gone.

    “Yes, we are!” she said, trying not to sound too overeager. Figuring she might as well take the plunge, she casually asked, “Why do you ask?”

    Pinkie looked uncomfortable as she replied, “It’s just that… he might say some really silly stuff—the bad kind of silly—about the princesses, and I don’t want you to…”

    Rarity glanced toward the house. It was unlikely that the professor would suddenly leave, and they could afford a few minutes extra if it meant finally knowing the truth.

    From what she could gather, if she had indeed dreamed with the real Princess Luna, then the princess had yet to speak with Pinkie about Rarity. She would have imagined Pinkie would have bombarded her with questions otherwise.

    “Pinkie, there’s something I’ve been curious about,” Rarity said, cautiously picking her words and tone so as not to seem hostile. “Yesterday, Elder Moonshine told me a bit about Moonlight Lullaby…”

    Whatever cheerfulness remained in Pinkie’s expression vanished instantly. “Oh.” She laughed. A short, awkward, forced laugh. “She did? She promised she wouldn’t…”

    That wasn’t good.

    “Pinkie, darling,” Rarity continued, offering her warmest smile, “Elder Moonshine told us because she—” She might as well get to the point. “Moonlight Lullaby. She’s Princess Luna, isn’t she?”

    “Y-yes. Yes. But you two don’t think I’m making her up, right? You two believe me, right?” Pinkie asked, the smile on her face looking more terrified than happy. Before either Fluttershy or Rarity could reply, Pinkie took a step back, shaking her head. “I’m not making it up! I’m not, I promise!”

    Rarity kept smiling, trying to reassure the mare. “Pinkie Pie, I’m not saying we don’t believe you. We just want to know where Princess Luna is.”

    “I… I don’t know… She doesn’t know either, b-but I’m looking! I know it looks like I’m lying, but I’m not!” Pinkie didn’t listen to what Rarity said, instead rambling on and on. “Everypony thinks I am, but I’m not! Princess Luna isn’t my imaginary friend! Please…” She lowered her voice, her mane deflating. “I Pinkie promise…”

    “I believe you, dear,” Rarity said, genuine and earnest. “And I know you’re doing everything you can to find her.”

    “Mm-hm,” Fluttershy added, not missing a beat. “We both believe you. I’m sure Princess Se—Luna is very happy to have a friend like you.”

    Pinkie blinked at them, completely in disbelief. “You do?” she asked, and it broke Rarity’s heart to see tears of relief forming in the pink pony’s eyes as a large grin spread across her face. She immediately pulled Rarity in for a hug, giggling all the while. “I knew you believed in them!” Pinkie let go of Rarity and offered Fluttershy a much more reserved hug.

    “Does this mean you’ll help me find them?!” she asked, immediately starting to list out in extreme detail all the things they’d do on their adventure. “We can go to Canterlot! And then we can meet dragons! And we can visit the library in Trottingham—”

    “I think that we should first focus on the reason for our visit,” Rarity interrupted, finding her mood vastly improved thanks to Pinkie. She nodded toward the house and Pinkie frowned.

    “Oh, yeah…” She bit her lip. “Uhhhm… Before you talk to him, I… There’s something I wanna ask?”

    Rarity blinked. “Oh?”

    “Actually, I can ask later!” Pinkie said suddenly, as if having had second thoughts. “I just… wanted to say that I believe you too, Rarity. I… I wasn’t sure, but now I definitely am!”

    Believe me too?

    “What do you mean? Believe what?”

    Pinkie giggled. “That story you told me about your friend, Bookcase… You said you went to her library, right? Well… I know there isn’t a library in Ponyville! Soooo…”

    Oh?

    Oh.

    OH.

    Rarity’s eyes widened. “W-wait!” she blurted out. “I meant—”

    Pinkie Pie giggled again. “We can talk about it later!” she exclaimed, hopping past the panicked unicorn and knocking on the door three times.

    Moments later, the door swung open and the three mares came face to face with the infamous Professor Brazened Awe. Admittedly, Rarity had imagined him to look the part of a loony old coot, and as such was surprised to find a sharply dressed unicorn stallion. The term “mad professor” certainly didn’t apply, at least.

    When the professor simply stared at her, Rarity spoke up.

    “Hello! You must be Professor Awe! My name is Rarity! I’m, er, from Ponyville!” Rarity said, composing herself. “I happened to come across a rather intriguing article about you, and I’ve been dying to ask some questions, if that’s all right,” she said, relieved to see him smile.

    “Ah, yes, indeed, you’ve come to the right place!” he exclaimed, smiling politely. He glanced toward Fluttershy and nodded as he spoke, “It is not often that I’m visited by forei— Oh. It’s you. A pleasure seeing you again, Miss Pie,” he said upon noticing Pinkie, his tone screaming anything but pleasure.

    “Professor Meaniepants,” Pinkie replied in a comically serious voice.

    “Have you come to try and convince yet another pony that I’m deluded?” he asked.

    Pinkie nodded, smiling widely. “You betcha!”

    “Delightful.” He offered Rarity and Fluttershy a weary smile, stepping away so as to let them through. “Please, come in. Fair warning, I recently returned from a trip, so the place is a tad unkempt.”

    With grateful smiles, Rarity and Fluttershy stepped into the house, followed closely by Pinkie, who stuck her tongue out at the stallion. Looking around, Rarity thought that “a tad unkempt” had been a rather generous statement.

    Walls, tables, and even floors were decorated with all sorts of files and article clippings, all scribbled with writings and annotations. If the professor himself didn’t look like a conspiracy theorist, his abode certainly did a good job of it for him.

    “Oh, look!” Pinkie exclaimed suddenly, pointing toward the wall next to Rarity. “It’s Rainbow Dash!”

    “Ah yes. The elusive Ex-Captain of the Wonderbolts,” the professor said, walking past Rarity and toward the kitchen. “Allow me to get you something to drink.”

    Turning around, Rarity noticed several newspaper clippings on the wall, all linked together by tape. What caught her attention was the first page, boasting a photograph of a cyan mare with a rather… interesting rainbow-colored mane. Several other photographs had been pasted next to the article, all showing the mare in different places, apparently unaware that the photos were being taken: a cave, a gemstone mine, a forest.

    Her curiosity piqued, Rarity looked at the article, finding the professor had made several annotations in parentheses.

    WONDERBOLTS CAPTAIN CALLS IT QUITS?}

    To the disappointment of hordes of fans, it was announced during the Wonderbolts’ yearly press conference that Rainbow Dash, the current captain of the Royal Aerial Team, would be abandoning her post as captain until further notice! The pegasus, who was entering her fifth year as leader of the Wonderbolts, did not give much information on her decision. Captain Dash announced that her second-in-command, Spitfire, will take her place for the time being. Afterwards, she reassured her fans that Spitfire would be an “awesome” replacement (though not as awesome as she is, she insisted).

    It is currently unknown why she made this decision. However, according to an inside source, it might have to do with an old friend of the Captain.

    What a shock, indeed!

    Or is it?

    It’s no secret to Wonderbolt aficionados that the elusive captain has been absent from a great deal of smaller Wonderbolt events in the past year, something which she used to pride herself on attending when she started out. Who can forget her Delta Speed Maneuver during Tall Tale’s Second Annual Book-a-thon? (Who knew one could juggle so many books while flying at top speed?) Indeed, her last grand appearance was her heroic intervention when a dragon rampaged through Van Hoover.

    These events have only added fuel to the already rampant rumor that Captain Dash has been assigned to a top-secret mission, vital enough that she was forced to quit the team in order to completely focus on her task.

    If this was truly something in the works for a while now, we can only hope that the former Captain is happy with her decision, and that she won’t make her fans wait too long for her surely coveted return.

    While Rarity admittedly didn’t know much about the Wonderbolts, she had read about the dragon attacking Van Hoover, though that event had happened almost a year ago. Hopefully no dragons would rampage across Ponyville anytime in the near future.

    “Didja know the first Princess Cadance got the Wonderbolts together a thousand years ago so they could look for the princesses?” Pinkie asked, trotting next to Rarity and glancing over the article. “They’re having a teensy bit of trouble finding them, though…”

    “Well, that’s to be expected when there aren’t any lost princesses,” the professor said. He re-entered the room, four cups of tea floating behind him. “Here you are,” he said, levitating one toward Fluttershy and one toward Rarity. He then looked at Pinkie and said, “I’m afraid you finished my vanilla tea last time you were here. You’ll have to settle for black, Miss Pie.”

    “Awww… But you always give me vanilla, Professor Meaniepants…”

    “Uhm, Rarity,” Fluttershy whispered, taking a sip of her tea. “Doesn’t she dislike him? Why would she come drink tea with him?”

    “I haven’t the faintest,” Rarity replied, too preoccupied with something else to bother theorizing about Pinkie and Professor Awe’s relationship. “Wait a minute, Professor,” she said, putting down her cup of tea and frowning. “What do you mean, ‘there is no such thing as lost princesses?’ Pardon me if I’m mistaken, but I had the impression you were an expert on the Legend of the Four Princesses?”

    The professor smiled. “I am. You have to be an expert at something in order to disprove it, do you not?” he said, rolling his eyes when Pinkie Pie blew raspberries at him.

    Disprove it?” Rarity asked, glancing at Fluttershy. If Rarity had come all the way to Hollow Shades for nothing, she was… she was going to… “Why would you need to disprove it if you don’t believe that the princesses are real?”

    “Oh, don’t misunderstand me,” Professor Awe continued, sitting down on a floor cushion and gesturing for the three mares to do so as well. A spoon appeared in his teacup, which he used to stir the drink. “I do believe that there were once four alicorn princesses. There’s proof enough of it scattered throughout Equestria’s history books, if ponies bothered to do some research.” He took a sip of his tea. “Every myth in this world is based on reality. Tell me—I assume you’re not familiar with the Chaos War, are you?”

    “‘The’ Chaos War? There were two,” Rarity corrected immediately, remembering the book she’d found inside the library. “As I recall, when the first one ended, the princesses held yearly meetings with the Spirit so as to appease him, but during one of the meetings—”

    “—the Spirit refused the traditional offering of land, and when his new request was refused, he declared war upon Equestria, thus the Second Chaos War.” The professor seemed pleased, if somewhat surprised.

    “I bothered to do my research, you see,” Rarity said, smiling rather smugly for somepony who only remembered a few pages of a book.

    “So you have.” Professor Awe took another sip of tea and continued, “And then, according to legend, the princesses went looking for the scattered Elements of Harmony, after which the Spirit trapped three of them in caves, and cursed the last to pass away, neither her nor her kin able to find the other princesses. This is all according to myth, of course. I myself aim to prove that the myth is a cover-up.”

    Rarity blinked. “A cover-up? A cover-up of what?” she asked, noticing Pinkie’s suddenly grim expression.

    “Equestria’s single most successful round of royal assassinations,” he replied. “I believe that ‘trapped’ is synonymous with ‘killed’ in the legend.”

    Assassinations.

    Assassinated?” Fluttershy asked, holding her cup closer to her body.

    “You think he murdered them?” Rarity asked, skeptical if only because she knew for a fact that wasn’t true.

    The professor shook his head. “Not he. They. If my research on alicorns is accurate, then it’s impossible for a creature—God of Chaos or not—to dispose of three alicorns. He had help, and…” He smiled smugly. “…what better help than that of an alicorn herself.”

    Rarity’s eyes widened. “You… You can’t possibly be implying that—”

    “But I am,” he said, nodding his head, a glint in his eyes. “You can’t possibly tell me it never struck you as odd how three princesses were all struck with terrible fates, but one was let off nearly scot-free?”

    Now Rarity understood Pinkie Pie’s disdain for the professor. “Don’t be absurd!” she blurted out, flabbergasted. Not only was he trying to say somepony had wanted to assassinate Twilight, but that it had been Princess Cadance I who’d orchestrated it—with the Spirit?! That was almost as bad as accusing Princess Denza of being in cahoots with him! “Why would Princess Cadance have wanted to murder her… her friends?!”

    “Yeah!” Pinkie exclaimed, nodding her head.

    “To have her lineage be the only reigning alicorns, of course,” Professor Awe replied without missing a beat.

    “But—! But Princess Cadance didn’t get off ‘scot-free’! She was cursed by—”

    “Do you have any way of proving this curse is real?” he asked. His horn flashed, and several books appeared on the table. “Miss Rarity, I’ve read thousands upon thousands of variations of the legend. Though the vast majority agree that Princess Cadance was relatively lucky in her punishment, none can decide on this so-called curse.” He pointed to one book. “This one says it only affects her lineage.” He pointed to another. “This one says anypony who speaks her name is cursed as well.” He pointed toward two others. “Those two claim whoever works under her is affected for life.”

    He continued, “Think about it, Miss Rarity. How else could he have gotten ahold of the Elements of Harmony if not thanks to somepony who had unrestricted access to them? The only other possible explanation is that they had no Elements to begin with, in which case the first Chaos War would have never been brought to an end.”

    “I refuse to believe Princess Cadance would do such a thing,” Rarity said, pushing her cup away.

    Honestly, at that point, the only things stopping Rarity from forcing the professor all the way to the library wasn’t so much that Twilight had forbidden it, but that she didn’t want Twilight to know somepony had been foolish enough to claim Princess Cadance I had plotted her death.

    “Then tell me this! Why is it that not a single interpretation of the legend I’ve seen offers a solution on how to free them?”

    “But they do!” Rarity exclaimed. Granted, she’d been told… the solution, and by a sketchy source, but it counted regardless, didn’t it? “Princess Twilight can be freed by finding the lost books of her library.”

    The professor raised his eyebrows. “Really? How interesting! If that’s the case…” He got up unceremoniously and bowed his head. “Can you excuse me for a moment? I need to fetch something.” That said, he trotted off into another room.

    “Hey, wait! We’re not done with you!” Pinkie exclaimed, getting up and following after him.

    As soon as the professor was gone, Rarity stood up and looked around. “Well! Might as well find some information on our own before Professor Awe comes back to try and convince us that Princess Celestia was probably in on the plot, too.”

    “Huh? Rarity! What are you doing?” Fluttershy asked in a hushed whisper, glancing worriedly back and forth between the door Awe had disappeared behind and the stack of papers Rarity was currently snooping in.

    “Investigating, of course,” Rarity replied, moving away from the stack of useless papers and glancing at the ones lining the walls. She then turned to Fluttershy and rolled her eyes. “Fluttershy, instead of looking at me as though I were a criminal, could you please look at the other side of the room? I highly doubt Professor Awe would have left us alone if there was something he didn’t want us looking at.”

    “All right…” Fluttershy relented, getting up and moving toward the nearby wall, filled to the brim with papers, yellowing newspaper articles, and other memorabilia.

    Satisfied, Rarity went back to her snoopi— investigation. Honestly, she’d never read a single detective novel where Detective Saddle Shoes found a damning clue by sitting and waiting around.

    “Goodness, who knew there was such a thing as an Anagrams Olympics?” Rarity asked aloud, blinking at the diploma the professor had received in said Olympics.

    Rarity tried to imagine such a thing, but her attention was caught by several photos under the diploma, all of them portraying a wide array of subjects: Canterlot Castle, some admittedly hideous black bug-looking creatures, griffons, castle guards, and a photo of Canterlot’s Dragon Library.

    “Rarity!” Fluttershy exclaimed, blushing momentarily and sheepishly lowering her voice to add, “I found something! Come look!”

    Ooooh?” Rarity quickly made her way over to Fluttershy, where the pegasus was pointing at a newspaper on top of a stack of books. She levitated the front page article concerning Canterlot Castle’s new head librarian. “My, this is interesting.”

    There was a photograph at the beginning of the article, and though he looked much younger, Rarity immediately recognized a grinning Brazened Awe standing in front of the library. Beside him stood a plethora of guards and Princess Denza, who looked a tad too serious for such an event.

    “I suppose now we know how he was able to do all his research,” Rarity said, not bothering to read the article. “Judging by how quick he was to accuse the princess’s ancestor, one would think working for royalty would be the last thing on his mind.”

    “Look at the article,” Fluttershy whispered. “His name…”

    Rarity read aloud: “‘…where Princess Cadance Armor X attended the ceremony, welcoming the stallion Knowledge Quill as the head librarian of Canterlot’s Library.’”

    Knowledge Quill,” Fluttershy repeated. “Why would he change his name?”

    Rarity snorted. “Maybe he anagrammed his new one for extra luck in his little Olympics.”

    “Maybe he didn’t want anypony to find him?” Fluttershy suggested instead, taking the newspaper from Rarity. “What could have made him want to leave Canterlot?”

    Just as Rarity was about to reply, voices were heard in the other room. “Here they come!” she whispered, taking the newspaper back from Fluttershy, putting it back in its place and then rushing off to her former place at the table.

    “—Even if Princess Luna would love blueberry cupcakes, the fact that you make one every day for her is hardly evidence that she’s real, Miss Pie,” Professor Awe said, stepping into the room with three books floating behind him, and finding nothing strange in how intently Rarity and Fluttershy were staring at their cups of tea.

    “Yes, it is!” Pinkie protested, hopping into the room.

    “Rarity, I thought we weren’t doing anything wrong?” Fluttershy asked in a whisper, shaking her head when Rarity politely cleared her throat, catching the professor’s attention.

    “Sorry for the delay,” Professor Awe said. He cleared his throat and floated the books into view. “So, you were saying finding Princess Twilight’s lost books was the key to freeing her, if she did exist?”

    “Yes, they are,” Rarity replied.

    “Well, in that case…” The professor magically opened up the books to their first pages, and Rarity was shocked to see Twilight’s hoofwriting on all three. “I acquired these several years ago. Shall I get my explorer’s backpack and head onwards to adventure?”

    Rarity stared at the books as if they were diamonds. “I… Where… How…”

    Three books?! All at once?! It was almost too good to be true! “How did you find them?!” She reached out toward them, but the professor floated them away.

    “Terribly sorry, but those are not available to peruse,” he informed her, and Rarity had trouble withholding a disappointed whimper.

    It had been too good to be true.

    Professor Awe cleared his throat and continued, “In any case, there is one other theory about what happened, though one would have to assume the lost princesses are indeed ‘lost.’ If it wasn’t Princess Cadance I who worked with the Spirit to secure the throne, then it must have been her descendants.”

    Oh, please.

    Rarity could barely hide her skepticism. “Her descendants? But Princess Denza believes in the legend! She even has guards posted for the sole purpose of receiving information about them!” she protested, momentarily forgetting the books.

    “Yes, I’m sure those two guards are highly competent in Princess Searching,” Professor Awe dryly replied. “In fact…” He turned to Pinkie and smiled. “Remind me, Miss Pie, how many times have you been there to ‘prove’ the existence of Princess Luna? And how many times has anypony from the royal guard come to verify your claims? Zero?”

    Pinkie frowned. “That’s just ’cause they must be super busy!”

    He turned to Rarity. “Point proven.” A flash of his horn and an old, worn-out letter appeared, encased in a protective spell. He looked it over as he spoke. “This is the oldest document I have been able to find regarding the legend. It’s written by an apple farmer claiming to have found Princess Twilight.”

    Rarity’s heart skipped a beat. “An… apple farmer?”

    Fritter Cobbler…?

    “And all he does is ask Princess Cadance III why she’s stopped looking for the princesses after her grandmother devoted her life to it.”

    “So I see…” Rarity sighed. She then slightly narrowed her eyes and said, “I do have to wonder why you’re so insistent on the guilt of the royal family, Professor Awe.”

    “I am a stallion of facts, Miss Rarity. When one has read as much as I have, things tend to stick out. All the facts in our history point to foul play, so unless you can somehow provide—” He looked at Pinkie. “—tangible proof of the princesses’ existence, I stand by my statements.” He smiled and added, “Any more questions?”


    In the end, Rarity hadn’t thought of much else to ask, especially since her mood had dropped considerably following his real thoughts on the legend. It seemed like her entire trip had been for naught in the end.

    Well, no, that wasn’t quite true.

    She’d found three of Twilight’s books, though she had no idea how she was going to get them; she’d learned that there were ponies foolish enough to think ill of Princess Denza; and she’d… well, not found the location of Princess Luna, but found some form of her. And she’d also found out that she was being followed by the Spirit.

    Sunset found the three mares at the train station, surrounded by other ponies waiting for their trains back home.

    Though she was dying to get to Ponyville, Rarity still had so much to talk about with Pinkie, and her nap a few hours prior had once more failed to produce an alicorn princess.

    “Okay, so, I’m gonna look for more information on Princess Celestia,” Pinkie said, pocketing the piece of paper on which Rarity had written down her address. “And when I find any, I’ll write to you and we can meet up to go exploring!”

    “That would be the idea, yes,” Rarity said, looking toward the shop in the distance where Fluttershy was standing in line. She turned back to Pinkie, realizing she hadn’t mentioned finding information on Twilight, and then remembered just what exactly Pinkie had implied earlier. “Er, Pinkie, darling? There’s something I need to ask…”

    “Did you decide on staying for another night and need a place to stay?!”

    Rarity smiled sympathetically. “No. I’m terribly sorry, but Fluttershy and I do have to go back tonight. I have at least six dresses to make by the day after tomorrow.” She cleared her throat and said, “Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask… about… what you said before we spoke to Professor Awe.”

    Ever since they’d left Professor Awe’s house, Pinkie Pie had never once brought up her… revelation. Neither had Rarity, for that matter, but she’d only been waiting to see if Pinkie would.

    “About how Professor Meaniepants is a huge meaniepants?” Pinkie asked, frowning. “Wasn’t he super-duper rude?! Princess Cadance would have never been mean to the others! And neither would Princess Denza!”

    Rarity nodded. “Indeed. He certainly wasn’t what I had hoped. Who knows what other preposterous theories he’d have spouted if we’d stayed longer. Though that wasn’t what I was referring to…”

    “Ooooh. You mean about …” She leaned in closer, smiling with excitement. “…Princess Bookcase?”

    Rarity smiled awkwardly. “Pinkie Pie, I’m sorry to say that I haven’t…”

    Pinkie’s smile faltered. “Oh… I thought…” She narrowed her eyes, almost as if looking through Rarity. “Because you believed in me and…”

    Urgh.

    It felt wrong to try and say Twilight wasn’t real when Pinkie had confided in Rarity about Luna. Rarity certainly wouldn’t like it if somepony were keeping such vital information from her…

    “Pinkie. I believe I met Princess Luna in my dreams yesterday,” Rarity said.

    “You did?!” Pinkie gasped. “I—! When?! She didn’t tell me!”

    “Well, it was nearly dawn when I woke up. Didn’t you mention you were already up by then?”

    Pinkie’s ears fell. “Oh, right…”

    Rarity closed her eyes, trying to push away the memory of Twilight being attacked. “I admittedly don’t remember much, but… she said she couldn’t escape without Twilight first being freed… Is that true?”

    “That’s what she says. She says only Princess Twilight or Princess Celestia can help her,” Pinkie replied. “She doesn’t really tell me much… She only let me go and start investigating about a year ago ’cause she was scared the meanie Spirit would come after me. I wish I knew more so she’d have more faith, but…”

    Well… That did it. Twilight would understand.

    Rarity was quiet for a moment before asking, “Pinkie? How well do you know Professor Awe? Is there any way you can talk him into letting me borrow a few things?”

    “He’s a big meanie, but he sometimes asks me to come over ’cause I listen to his silly stories, and he listens to mine. He doesn’t believe me, but he never makes fun of me…” Pinkie said. “What do you want to borrow from him?”

    “If we want to rescue Twilight, we’re going to need her books, won’t we?” Rarity said, smiling brightly at the mare and her increasingly excited expression. “Twilight told me she has thirty missing books, and I’ve only found less than a dozen.”

    “I KNEW IT!” Pinkie exclaimed, hopping up in place before practically throwing herself over Rarity. “I knew you’d found her! I knew, I knew, I knew!”

    Rarity laughed, thanks to Pinkie’s contagious enthusiasm. “I’m afraid, however, that I can’t invite you to come visit her yet… I—”

    “That’s okay!” Pinkie exclaimed. “I only want to meet her when it’s okay with her! Ohmigosh, d’you think she’ll like me?!”

    Rarity’s reply was cut off by the sound of the conductor’s whistling, as well as Fluttershy’s voice.

    “I’m back!” Fluttershy exclaimed, a bit out of breath, carrying a cup of tea with her.

    “Does Fluttershy know Princess Twilight too?!” Pinkie asked, looking back and forth between the two mares.

    “Kn-know Princess Twilight?!” Fluttershy blurted out, giving Rarity a very confused and alarmed look.

    “She does,” Rarity said, before turning to Fluttershy. “Fluttershy, Pinkie will be helping us find Twilight’s books.”

    “Oh, that’s wonderful!” Fluttershy exclaimed, and Pinkie’s nodding was so effusive, Rarity was worried she’d nod her head off.

    The conductor’s whistle sounded again, and the three mares looked toward the nearby train.

    “This is it then,” Rarity said. “Fluttershy and I have a long train ride ahead, so we’d best be off.”

    A long ride indeed, especially now that she’d decided she’d tell Fluttershy everything on the way home—for better or worse.

    The two mares said goodbye to Pinkie, promising to wait for Pinkie’s letter with news of Celestia while Rarity busied herself with trying to find out more information about Twilight, the past, and the Spirit.

    Speaking of which…

    “Pinkie, I have another question,” Rarity said at the last minute, stepping down from the train after Fluttershy had already disappeared inside. If Pinkie knew Luna, then it stood to reason that the Spirit was after her as well, wasn’t it?

    “Hm? What’s wrong, Rarity?”

    “Pinkie… Aren’t you frightened?” Rarity asked, feeling suddenly anxious, almost afraid of the Spirit being nearby. “Of the Spirit, I mean. Doesn’t it frighten you that he might be… after you…?”

    “Uh-huh! I’m sometimes really scared of him!” Pinkie replied, nodding her head effusively. “I… I only saw him once when I was a little filly, in one of my dreams. He…” She shivered, trying to shake away a bad memory. “He was scary, but…”

    “…But?”

    “But Princess Luna being all alone is even scarier,” she continued, lifting her hoof to play with her necklace. “The Spirit might be a big meanie, but Princess Luna is my very best friend, and she’s worth fighting scary monsters over.”

    “She’s worth fighting the scary monsters over…” Rarity slowly repeated, unconsciously mimicking Pinkie and clutching her necklace as images of her nightmare flashed in her mind. Just as they did, however, they were replaced by her own real memories of Twilight, smiling and having fun in the library.

    “You must make a choice. Either choose to back out permanently while the Spirit has not yet attacked, or to help Twilight fully and completely, knowing that you may already be in danger.”

    Rarity decided Twilight was worth fighting scary monsters over, too.

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    1. cajeck9
      Dec 27, '23 at 1:25 pm

      “Disprove it?” Rarity asked, glancing at Fluttershy. If Rarity had come all the way to Hollow Shades for nothing, she was… she was going to…

      Not for nothing, Rares! You found a believer and made contact with Princess Luna, come on now…

      }

      So I noticed there’s this curly bracket after this article title, but when I cross-checked on FimFiction, I noticed it wasn’t there. Wasn’t sure if it was a typo from copying the story over or if some formatting code got broken or something, but just thought I’d let you know, just in case!

      “I am a stallion of facts, Miss Rarity. When one has read as much as I have, things tend to stick out. All the facts in our history point to foul play, so unless you can somehow provide—” He looked at Pinkie. “—tangible proof of the princesses’ existence, I stand by my statements.” He smiled and added, “Any more questions?”

      Geez. For a professor, he sure is putting a lot of faith in circumstantial evidence… He doesn’t have any concrete proof either, he has no business sounding so confident! I call shenanigans on his title. He must have bought his diploma from a website. (Okay, I’m being silly. But yikes, talk about taking a theory and running with it!)

      Rarity decided Twilight was worth fighting scary monsters over, too.

      Well, I knew she’d get there, but it’s still so nice to get there! 😀

      So Rainbow Dash mysteriously quit the Wonderbolts, huh? And their original purpose was to search for the princesses, hmmm?

      Dashie’s looking for Celestia! Ah I can see the threads coming together and it feels sooooo gooooooood. XD

      Last edited on Dec 27, '23 at 1:26 pm.
    2. A Deer
      Nov 22, '22 at 8:57 pm

      Professor Awe has been reading too much Game of Thrones. Also kept picturing Rarity grabbing Twilight and pushing her into Professor Awe’s face and saying “Is this real enough for you, darling” over and over. The professor not believing in the princesses and thinking it was an assassination cover up was not expected. Made things more interesting. And then the little hints on his background are intriguing. Something happened there but we have to wait to find out.

      Good ending for Act 1. Got to meet Luna. Rarity’s more compelled to fight on. There is good momentum going into Act 2 with the addition of Luna, the Spirit’s messing with Rarity and Professor Awe’s unexpected theory. Not to mention learning a bit about Rainbow Dash. A lot of questions in my head for the next Act that I look forward to getting answers about. Rainbow is the last main character to yet appear in a scene. Another part to look forward to. The pacing and build up of this first Act was well done! Felt well put together and rewarding as I read. I remember reading chapter after chapter at this point when I first read the story. Was so hard to put down. But who needed sleep?

      Like how the story is broken up into Acts. Makes me feel like I’m in the 1800s watching a play or opera. Dressed very fabulous and with a pair of those little glasses on a stick to see the actors closer. Since it’s intermission I think I’ll get some wine. Did they drink wine at operas back then? New tradition in the making then.

    3. Zanna Zannolin
      Sep 3, '22 at 8:28 pm

      YEAHHHH WOOOOO END OF ACT ONE!!!!! wait oh god end of act one. this is going by faster than i expected wait. oh no what happens when i run out??!?!?

      andhsfjs anyway. this chapter is so great <3 pinkie pie and professor awe's dynamic is one of my favorite things. it's so in-character for pinkie and just absolutely, delightfully absurd. it makes me smile. i love the thought of these two ponies who are totally at odds in their opinions still sitting together and drinking tea and swapping stories. "professor meaniepants" said with comical seriousness gets to me eeeevery time. they're SO <3

      also hmmmm something to be said about luna and twilight both thinking they can't be helped. maybe shouldn't be. something to be said about how no matter how much a person might need help or how much you might want to help them, they first have to want and accept that help. like it can't just be all on rarity to commit to helping twilight. twilight has to be willing to accept her help. and i think about that a LOT. it's interesting to see it come out in princess luna, believing that she can't be helped herself, wanting to put the others first because there's no help for her. is she afraid she'd be unable to free them on her own? does she think she's impossible to free without someone as powerful as them, or that she's the least powerful and therefore has the least powerful prison? does she want to be let out? is she afraid of what will happen if she is? <- my mind is going a BILLION miles a second. i cannot WAIT until celestia comes into play and we get another princess to add into the mental illness mix. what a cocktail.

      also rarity just being a snoop at heart omg girl you're a mess. i love her.

      "He continued, “Think about it, Miss Rarity. How else could he have gotten ahold of the Elements of Harmony if not thanks to somepony who had unrestricted access to them? The only other possible explanation is that they had no Elements to begin with, in which case the first Chaos War would have never been brought to an end.”" absolutely giggling like mad at this like awwww professor awe you sweet summer child just you wait!