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    “Crazy, ain’t it?”

    North Ridge looked up from the newspaper, his eyes set on the vendor stacking up merchandise.

    “Really? I’ve seen crazier things in the West!” he replied, smiling broadly. “A manticore terrified of a mouse, for one!”

    The vendor shook his head.

    “The Princess’s gone crazy. I always knew that Castle had secrets.”

    North intended on replying, but the words caught in his throat as he turned the page. There she was, his charming friend, the word MISSING above her smiling face.

    “Now, now!” he said, discreetly ripping out the page while the vendor looked away. “We all have secrets, don’t we?”

    Flowers of all colors covered two old yet pristine statues inside the Sparkle family mausoleum.

    They were arranged in all sorts of bouquets, droplets of clear water trickling down the petals and onto the cold marble. They were fresh, Twilight noticed, and though she was certain their presence was due to her sister-in-law, their beautiful arrangement was due to a certain artistically-inclined unicorn.

    Her eyes lingered on the carvings at the base of the statues. ‘Twilight Velvet and Night Light’ it said, and an inscription followed below each name.

    Gone, but never forgotten, said his.

    In dreams, we are reunited, said hers.

    And emblazoned beneath each promise was Twilight’s very own cutie mark.

    Twilight didn’t know what to say. Well, that wasn’t true. She had very many things she felt and wanted to say, but she didn’t feel the need to voice them. So much had happened in the past few days, so many emotions, that even if she was sad and would probably continue to be so for some time yet, she was relieved to feel she was getting better at keeping her emotions reigned in. Maybe it was because Cadance wasn’t there, or maybe it was because she knew they would want her to move on and keep going.

    Or, maybe it was because the company she kept made it hard not to feel better.

    “Thank you,” she said, finally, watching as Rarity’s magic interweaved with the flowers and rearranged them slightly.

    “It was the least I could do,” said Rarity brightly, followed by a quick frown when the bouquet she’d just finished arranging slid down again. She put it back in its place and nodded with satisfaction.

    “I didn’t mean just the flowers,” Twilight continued, and despite it all, a smile stole onto her lips at Rarity’s soft harrumph when the flowers fell again.

    “Darling, I’m the one grateful towards you,” Rarity replied, adjusting the flowers again. “It is my privilege and honor to be here with you, if only these damn flowers would—”

    Twilight laughed. “They don’t have to be perfect,” she said.

    Rarity stopped her fussing long enough to stare at the alicorn. “Who are you and what have you done with Twilight Sparkle?” When Twilight rolled her eyes, Rarity turned back to the flowers with a pronounced harrumph. “Not perfect, she says! I expect nothing less than perfection when it comes to my in-laws!”

    They don’t care,” Twilight continued, her wing splaying open under her cloak and enveloping the unicorn, coaxing her away from her task.

    “Well, care!” Rarity finished, adjusting the flowers one last time by arranging some nearby pebbles at the base of the flowers to keep them in place. She then finally relented and leaned against Twilight, accepting the embrace. “I care.”

    Twilight turned her sight back to the inscriptions on the statues, a sigh accompanying the action.

    In dreams, we are reunited.

    Gone, but never forgotten.

    Two inscriptions on two statues, all meant for her, and even if she had accepted it, it still hurt that they were.

    “In dreams, we are reunited,” Rarity recited softly. “They’re touching epitaphs.”

    “They should have been about them,” Twilight quietly replied, “not about me. Epitaphs are supposed to honor the deceased, not the living.”

    “Perhaps they knew you’d be here one day,” Rarity suggested after a moment’s thought, “and wanted to leave a message for you to read.”

    “Do you think so?”

    “I do,” she replied. “It’s what I would have done. A message only you would understand, carved in a beautiful marble tombstone decorated with dozens of bouquets. In fact, I just thought of the perfect one!” She extended her foreleg and waved it in a horizontal line. “For you, a thousand times over.”

    Twilight frowned, finding she did not actually want to think of anything involving Rarity and tombstones. “Well, that’s an epitaph I don’t ever want to read,” she grumbled, frowning slightly. “Or ever think about. Or, hopefully, it won’t ever be written.”

    Rarity giggled. “Oh? Would you prefer it if I just live forever and never die, then?” She leaned forward and planted a kiss on Twilight’s cheek. “I shall only do it if you promise to live forever with me!”

    Twilight wanted to laugh, say a smart and witty retort, but was instead struck by a very real realization.

    “I can die now,” she said, mostly to herself, but aloud nevertheless. She did not feel saddened, yet, or happy, either, but she was aware of it. Aware of it and all that it implied. “I’m going to die.”

    “Well, not soon, I would hope!” Rarity said, leaning further into the alicorn. “Hm. Now I see why you didn’t want to talk about this.”

    “But it’s going to happen,” Twilight continued, and it was… it was fascinating. It was oddly exhilarating, oddly marvelous the idea that for the first time in centuries, growing old was something she had to think about. She really was free, wasn’t she? She turned to Rarity, wings spreading out, her earlier sadness completely washed away. “I’m going to die, Rarity!”

    Rarity raised an eyebrow. “Yes, Twilight, that is an unfortunate inescapable reality of life. Everypony dies eventually.”

    “Actually, that’s not true,” she said matter-of-factly, always eager to teach new facts. “Not everypony. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are natural-born alicorns and are ageless. They can’t die unless they’re killed, and there is no known way to fully kill an ageless pony. Not even Discord can do it.”

    Rarity paused. “Not even Dis…” Her eyes grew wide. “Is that why he trapped them? That must be it! But…” She drifted off, frowning. “If he trapped them because they’re ageless…” Her eyes met Twilight’s. “Why did he trap you and Cadance? She isn’t a natural born alicorn, is she?”

    Twilight shook her head.

    “Then why didn’t he kill you?” Rarity asked, and Twilight flinched.

    “He would never do that,” she quickly defended, because Discord had done terrible things, objectively, but he would never kill. When Rarity raised an eyebrow, she continued her point. “He wouldn’t! He would never kill, he would just—”

    “Trap you in an underground library for a thousand years, taking away your physicality and right to a proper life?” Rarity said, cutting her off, unimpressed.

    Twilight looked away. “Well, if you put it like that…”

    “I’m putting it precisely as it happened, Twilight,” Rarity said without a beat. “If you are about to sit here and defend his actions, then let us lay them out exactly as they were.

    And to this, Twilight had nothing to say.

    Well, she did have things to say, just not about that very awkward topic she now wanted to desperately avoid.

    “We—Well, that still doesn’t explain why he trapped me and Cadance! Without Celestia and Luna, she and I couldn’t really fight him, anyway,” she continued. “There’s so much of what he does that doesn’t make sense… Why hasn’t he taken over Equestria? Why hasn’t he—” She stopped. “What if…” She licked her lips, careful with her phrasing. “What if he regrets what he did?”

    Rarity stared at her in complete silence.

    Simply stared at her.

    Her eyes narrowed slightly.

    “I’m not saying that to defend him!”

    “I should hope not, Twilight,” Rarity said coldly, turning away. “After everything he’s put us through. He could come beg at my hooves, and I would still be unable to find anything he’s responsible for even remotely worth forgiving him for.”

    A heavy silence filled the room, less jarring but as intense as the mood shift they’d gone through. It was frustrating, ultimately, to see the disconnect she still had not just with Rarity, but with anypony who’d ever interacted with Discord. It was difficult for her not to defend him when they were once friends, yet also know that he had done things beyond forgiveness.

    And yet.

    And yet, there was one thing she did thank him for.

    “I could,” she said. “I know something he’s responsible for that might make it worth forgiving him.”

    Rarity snorted in a very unladylike fashion, still seemingly fascinated by the building’s wall. “Surprise me.”

    “I’m not ageless like Princess Celestia or Princess Luna. I should have had a normal lifespan like any other pony,” she said.

    Rarity scoffed, turning her head ever so slightly. “Did you want to be immortal?”

    “No,” she replied, “but if I hadn’t been locked in that library for a thousand years, I wouldn’t have lived long enough to meet you.”

    Another long silence, Rarity’s head turned just enough that Twilight could see her subtly bite down on her lip.

    Touché?” Twilight ventured helpfully, finding it very difficult to suppress a giggle when Rarity’s lip bite turned much less delicate.

    “Curious,” she said, still cool, still collected, still looking away. “You never told me you spoke French.”

    Twilight perked up.

    “Well, technically speaking, I actually initially learned of the word during fencing classes back when I was studying under the Princess, as it was required of me as her personal student to be trained in one of the more prestigious physical activities taught in the capital,” she informed. “It was through your modern dictionary and idiom book that I learned it was used when you’d won, or in your case, lost at a verbal duel.” She took a breath of air and, then finally said, “Though I did spend a thousand years reading books in a library, including the entire language section, as well as all twenty-seven translated versions of Starswirl’s the Bearded Magical Compendium, so yes, I do know French, or an archaic version of it, at least.”

    She smiled smugly when Rarity finally turned to her, a playful grin on her lips.

    “Oh?” said her beloved, moving closer, teasing. “Prove it, then, ma chère.”

    Always one for challenges, Twilight smiled and recalled a recent poem she’d read while exploring Canterlot Castle’s library the night before.

    Mon âme a son secret, ma vie a son mystère, un amour éternel en un moment conçu,” she said in a flawless accent she’d learned from phonetic books and many centuries of practice. “Elle dira, lisant ces vers tout remplis d’elle, ‘quelle est donc cette jument?’ et ne comprendra pas.”

    By the time she’d finished, a little grin decorated her lips at Rarity’s wide eyes and lovely mouth curved into a perfect ‘o’. Twilight Sparkle knew she was impressive, but she still enjoyed the confirmation of the fact.

    “So,” Rarity said softly, lifting her hoof and idly playing with Twilight’s necklace, “what does it mean?”

    “It’s an excerpt from a poem about unrequited love,” Twilight explained, vividly aware of how close they were, how near their lips, and then asked, “What did you think?”

    Rarity hummed softly, admiring the pink crystal. “I think this visit has been lovely, but we really ought to be on our way.”

    “I—? What?” Twilight asked, thrown-off by the sudden change of topic. She felt the urge to pull back, and yet she was strangely held in place by Rarity’s hoof still on her chest. “Are we going to be late to meet the girls?”

    “If we leave now, we shall make it with time to spare, but, more than that…” Her eyes met Twilight’s, and she tilted her head to the side. “It would seem that your linguistic prowess has had quite the effect on me, and I really don’t think a passionate kiss would be appropriate behavior in front of your parents.”

    Twilight felt her cheeks burn up. “No, it would not.”

    Rarity giggled, leaning over and leaving a kiss on her lips. “A small one, then.” She then turned back to the statues and sobered up. “Any last things you’d like to say until our next visit, darling?”

    Twilight turned to her parent’s final resting place. There were many things she wanted to say, but she settled on the clearest and more concise.

    “I love you,” she said. “I promise I’ll make you proud.”

    “More than you already have, thank you very much,” Rarity added, and Twilight laughed.

    “More than I already have,” she repeated. She turned to her marefriend and, a bit awkwardly, asked, “Do you have anything to say?”

    Rarity mulled it over. “Nothing we didn’t already discuss extensively last time.”

    “Last time?” she asked, furrowing her brow. “You’ve been here before?”

    Time slowed down, as though Rarity were debating whether to answer or not, until finally she did with obvious care.

    “I have, yes,” she said, for the last time adjusting a stray petal here and there. “A few months after you’d… well, after your incident, Cadance suggested I come here to be with them. It was soothing to speak to somepony who…”


    Rarity leaned into Twilight, eyes still set on the tombs. “Who could relate.”

    “Relate?” Twilight asked, her wing adjusting around Rarity. “What do you mean?”

    The air seemed to shift, the tension in the air brushing against Twilight, as it always seemed to do whenever Rarity had something important—and, recently, painful—to say.

    “The epitaphs. Their epitaphs and tombs being their last message to you,” she said quietly. “‘For you, a thousand times over’ is not a sentence I just came up with.”

    Rarity fell silent and shifted against Twilight, gaze focused on the flowers. She was waiting, Twilight knew, for a reply or acknowledgement, and Twilight felt her anger rising at the idea that her own actions had caused Rarity to have to think about her epitaph.

    But being angry would do nothing for her, would it? All she could try to do was doing what she liked best: making Rarity smile.

    “That’s a shame,” she said finally, somberly, and before Rarity could say anything in reply, she continued. “Now you’ll have to use a less dramatic epitaph for your grave.”

    Rarity’s laughter filled the small room. “Awful, isn’t it? One spends so much time crafting the perfect sentence to leave as a legacy, and then you had to go and devastate my efforts by liberating yourself. Rude, is what it is! What a lack of consideration! Now I’ll have something dreadfully boring like…” She bit down on her lip and then moved her forehoof in a horizontal gesture. “Rarity the Unicorn, died as she lived, a deathly beauty.”

    Twilight snorted. “A deathly beauty?”

    “Hush you, it only needs a bit of work.”

    “Just a bit of work? Right,” she said, giggling when Rarity pulled herself away, flipping her mane and stomping off in a huff.

    “Well, here’s one for you, then!” she declared, turning around and shooting the Princess an awfully smug smirk. “Here lies Princess Twilight Sparkle, who made a dreadful habit out of this when she was alive, anyway!”

    “Hey!” Twilight protested, following after Rarity as the latter exited. “I wasn’t dead! I was displaced in time! There’s a difference!”

    Rarity’s laughter echoed into the mausoleum from outside, and Twilight allowed herself a playful roll of the eyes. She offered her parents one final silent goodbye before finally trotting out into the Resting Gardens, finding Cadance and a few guards waiting for her. A large trunk floated behind them.

    “Time to go?” asked Cadance, her smile not completely hiding the sadness behind it.

    “I’m afraid so, Princess,” said Rarity, apologetically. “The others must be waiting already, and we don’t want to be late.”

    “We’ll come back soon,” Twilight said quickly, for her and Cadance’s sake. Though she was about to see Luna, it still pained her to leave Cadance after such a short visit. She turned to Rarity for confirmation. “Can’t we?”

    “Darling, unless something monumental happens in the next few weeks, we can come whenever you’d like,” Rarity replied. “Or, rather, you can come whenever you’d like. Some of us have jobs, you know?”

    “If you promise not to take too long to visit, I’ll be happy,” Cadance told Twilight, her sad smile turning warm. “And don’t forget to write to say hello or if you have any news about Auntie Luna.”

    “I won’t!” Twilight said.

    Rarity cleared her throat, eyeing the trunk one of the guards was holding. “Princess, are those…?”

    Cadance nodded, and the guard stepped forward and placed the trunk before Twilight. Curious, the younger Princess opened it up and felt her heart skip a beat at the sight of the shattered remains of the three Element of Harmony orbs she remembered having seen through Rarity’s mind.

    There they were.

    The three rocks she hadn’t been able to find herself.

    The three rocks that might have prevented her… her mistake.

    “I thought you should have them,” Cadance said, levitating one of them and looking it over. “If anypony can figure out how to fix them, it’s you, Twilight.”

    Twilight levitated another in her magic, examining the cracks and grooves of a seemingly ordinary rock. “Are there any others? Is it just these?”

    “I don’t know,” Cadance replied, “but I don’t think there are.”

    She gestured to the chest, and Twilight noticed a large rolled-up scroll tied up with a ribbon.

    “I made a scroll for you with all the information we have about them. I had to read over nearly two hundred of my diaries, but everything I ever wrote down about them is in there.”

    “Thank you.”

    With care, Twilight returned the orb to the trunk, and after Cadance did the same, she closed it and took a breath. It felt like some sort of odd reprieve, to not have to see the symbols of past mistakes.

    Cadance turned to two of her guards. “Illumination, Sketch, please go with Princess Twilight and Lady Rarity and carry the trunk.” She then turned to Rift. “Rift, can you please tell Breeze that Twilight and the others will be leaving now?”

    Rift Shield faltered. “Er, yes, of course, Your Highness.”

    “Well then!” Rarity said, gesturing towards the distant castle gate. “Shall we be on our way?”

    Though Cadance nodded and she and the guards followed Rarity, Twilight’s attempt to do the same was cut short when Rift Shield cleared his throat.

    “Uh, Princess Twilight, a moment, please.”

    Twilight stopped, turning to the severe-looking guard. This was the first time she’d ever spoken with him privately, and she realized she did so with a certain amount of trepidation.


    Rift cleared his throat and took off his helmet, a gesture that only concerned Twilight all the more. “Princess, may I speak freely with you? I won’t be long,” he added when he saw her glance towards Rarity and the others in the distance.

    Cornered, she drew herself up. “Yes.”

    He paused for a moment, seemingly weighing his words. “Over the past two years, I’ve been helping Rarity and, well, growing close to her and… Princess Twilight, you are aware of my feelings for her, aren’t you?”

    Twilight froze. Of all the topics she wanted to avoid with him, that had been it. Apprehension clawed at her, and questions filled her mind. She had been under the impression that all he had harbored towards Rarity had been nothing more than a crush, but like many other things, it seemed that had changed too.

    “Princess,” he continued, “I wan—”

    “Did something happen between the two of you?” she blurted out, the most prominent question begging to be answered. Was he telling her this to assert his desire to fight for Rarity?

    Rift smiled, and Twilight’s worst fears were confirmed up until he spoke. “No,” he said, and Twilight felt what it was like to really truly be absolutely relieved. “Nothing happened between us. Rarity is as loyal to you, Princess, as Rainbow Dash is to Spike, and believe me when I say that’s saying something. There is only you,” he said, and his smile vanished entirely. “And that worries me, Princess.”

    “Why?” Twilight asked, even though she less and less felt like wanting to know the answer. But she pushed on, expression hardening. “There’s nothing wrong with that. I love her too. I would do anything for her.”

    “That’s the thing,” Rift said. “So would she.”

    And again, starting to feel unsettled and aggravated, towards him and the voices that hissed that she did not deserve Rarity’s devotion, Twilight repeated her statement. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

    As if having noticed he’d crossed a line, Rift stepped back. “Princess, I’m not trying to attack your relationship with her,” he said. “But you need to understand. You would do anything for her, and so would she, but… I spent almost two years getting to know her, and… I’m worried of what anything could be.”

    And now, Twilight’s perspective changed.

    “Oh,” she said, remembering very vividly that moment long ago where a unicorn swore to solely dedicate her life to finding a way to free Twilight.

    “Twilight! Rift Shield!”

    Twilight turned around to find Rarity waving at them, Cadance and the others waiting for them.

    “Are you two done raving on about how wonderful I am?” Rarity called out, completely unaware of how close her joke was to the truth. “We will be late!”

    She watched her, the unicorn who she would do anything for, who had time and time again proven to know the way back to her, and as her eyes landed on the glowing necklace on Rarity’s neck, the reply to Rift’s dilemma came to her without further thought.

    “I trust her,” she said to Rift with finality, lifting her hoof and putting it over her necklace. “No matter what anything is.”
    After a moment’s silence, he grinned and put on his helmet.

    “Guess that explains why she picked you,” he said. “Glad to see she’s in good hooves.”

    Glad to see I’m in good hooves?!”

    Echoing through Canterlot city, Rarity’s indignant remark drew the attention of several onlookers as she led Twilight towards the modern carriage station.

    “Rarity! I didn’t tell you so you would scream it to everypony!” Twilight whispered urgently, smiling awkwardly at the guards trailing behind. She then turned her flustered gaze back to her marefriend. “And he is right, you know.”

    “He’s right?!” Rarity gasped, turning to Twilight with a hoof on her chest. “What about, pray tell?! About me being a damsel in distress that needs to be in somepony’s good hooves? Twilight Sparkle, if you agree with that, you and I need to have a very long, very severe talk!”

    “I didn’t mean that part!” Twilight said. “I meant that he is right to worry about how, well, reckless you can be.”

    Rarity turned to her and fluttered her eyelashes. “I do believe the word you meant is dashingly heroic, not ‘reckless’.”

    “That’s two words,” Twilight pointed out, “and no, I did mean reckless. You once went into dragon-filled caves alone in the middle of the night!”

    “And I found Spike and ended up recovering stolen merchandise! Do find a better example, darling.”

    “All right,” Twilight said, keeping up pace with Rarity, “you then later confronted a dragon lord and then bluffed your way out by saying I would come for him!”

    “Bluffing implies I was lying,” Rarity replied nonchalantly, as she swung her tail to the side and captured Twilight’s in it. “If that awful dragon had eaten me, wouldn’t you have come looking for revenge?” At Twilight’s silence, she giggled. “Point proven.”

    Twilight furrowed her brow. “What about the timberwolf? When you went into the forest under the curse and…”

    And at that, Rarity faltered. “W-well! Well, it was a brave rescue attempt!” she defended, losing some of her earlier playfulness. “That doesn’t mean I’m reckless!”

    “No, but running away from your friends and going back in with an injured leg is,” Twilight shot back, drawing out an intense whine from her beloved.

    “Twilight! Really, it’s like you want me to feel bad about every decision I make!” she said, coming to a stop and glaring at the alicorn. “Don’t you think I haven’t ruminated on the consequences of my decisions enough already?”

    Twilight stopped, realizing perhaps she’d overstepped, and quickly tried to make amends. “I’m just worried…”

    Rarity offered a pained smile. “I know, my darling, but now that you’re here, I don’t have to be reckless, hm?” she said, using her forehoof to lift Twilight’s chin. “In fact,” she continued, moving her hoof away, “I do believe it’s my turn to swoon as you perform recklessly heroic deeds to impress me.”

    “Like what?” Twilight asked, raising an eyebrow.

    “Well, I don’t know, Princess! That’s up to you to figure out, and me to swoon over,” Rarity said, tapping Twilight’s nose before trotting off. “But…” She dropped the playfulness. “I promise I will try to be dashingly heroic in ways you approve of, all right?”

    Twilight smiled. “Thank you.” Feeling better, she looked towards the distant station. “Come on! We don’t want to miss the chariot.”

    “Chariot?” Rarity asked with a mischievous smile. “I do think you mean train.”

    “Train?!” gasped Twilight, her wings ruffling under her cloak. “Are we finally taking a train today?!”

    Rarity grinned. “I did promise we would, did I not?”

    A loud, booming distant whistle answered her question—a sound Twilight had never heard—and before Rarity could stop her, she had already galloped past the unicorn and towards the station Twilight had formerly assumed contained chariots.

    She galloped into the large building connected to the mountainside and found herself inside a building of unfamiliar design. In the vast hall salesponies stood behind stalls, calling out for travelers to buy snacks, drinks, and magazines to read; ponies of all ages and genders walked past the Princess, rushing off towards the different parts of the station or looking up at the massive board listing out destinations and times. Manehattan, Trottingham, Rainbow Falls, Ponyville, Dodge Junction, and Hollow Shades, among others. Places she’d known of since meeting Rarity, and places which she thought she would never be able to see for herself.

    “Hurry, children! Get in line, or we’ll miss the train!”

    She turned around, finding a mare rushing three fillies off towards these strange contraptions with turning bars guarded by ponies in red uniforms. She quickly followed after them all the way up until she was standing in line behind them, waiting for her turn to be allowed onto the platform. However, as their turn approached, she noticed ponies presenting a small paper she did not have. She turned around, hoping to find the source of the tickets. Instead, however, she found that about twelve ponies now stood behind her, all looking very rushed and very irritable and probably wouldn’t be willing to save her spot in line as she tried to get a ticket.

    The line moved again, and the uniformed pony threw a look their way, prompting the mare and her children to take out their tickets. He then turned to Twilight with a raised eyebrow that remained all the way up until it was her turn to cross the device.

    “Miss. Your ticket.”

    “Uhm.” When the gatekeeper’s brow furrowed and a stallion behind her grunted, Twilight grinned. “Where do I get tickets?” Ponies behind her groaned again, the gatekeeper gestured for her to leave, and she yelped in reply. “No, wait, wait!” she exclaimed, looking around and sighing with relief as the solution quite literally walked through the door.

    A hue of magic enveloped her horn, and not a second later, a shrill shriek echoed throughout the train station, drawing the attention of everypony towards the scandalized unicorn soaring through the air.

    “Twilight Sparkle! For Denza’s sake, will you stop doing this?!” Rarity yelled, finally huffing at Twilight when the alicorn stopped her unexpected flight right on top of the gatekeeper.

    “We need tickets,” Twilight said helpfully, looking up at her scowling marefriend, and she was pleased when, even if she did so with a loud huff, Rarity opened her saddlebag and retrieved two tickets. Twilight quickly took them in her magic, not bothering to put Rarity down, and then hoofed the tickets over to the gatekeeper. “Here you are, sir.”

    “…Go on,” he said after a moment’s inspection, his eyes fixed on the weary unicorn as she patiently waited for a fascinated Twilight to push her way past the odd device.

    “Rarity!” she exclaimed once she’d moved past. “What’s—”

    “A turnstile,” Rarity answered before she could finish, now holding onto her saddlebag as she floated sideways. “Darling, I don’t know if you’ve realized Princess Cadance’s trunk is still halfw—Well then,” she said, watching as Twilight effortlessly levitated the two guards and the trunk all the way over and past the turnstiles, much to the delight and surprise of the many ponies watching the casual display of magical prowess.

    “Wa-Wait, their tickets!” boomed the gatekeeper. “They need to present tickets! They need to present their tickets!”

    Ignoring Rarity’s immense sigh, Twilight carefully placed the guards on the other side of the gate, thanked them for their help and then went on her determined way, levitating the trunk and Rarity further into the station.

    It wasn’t until a few minutes later that the Princess finally reached her coveted destination in the shape of a fantastically huge vehicle called a train. Large carriages were linked together via metallic locks, every one decorated with several windows from which ponies peered outside at the platforms. How did it work? Was it being powered by steam? Or by fire? Or magic? Probably magic, as magic was clearly the most efficient source of energy, but—!

    Rarity!” she exclaimed, her mind already lining up the three dozen questions she wanted to ask. “Rarity, how—”

    A book interrupted her.

    Specifically, a book Rarity levitated before her, entitled The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in Equestria.

    “I don’t see the others,” Rarity said, using her unusual position as a good vantage point to scour the station, “which means they’re already inside the train and, if all went according to plan, secured you the half-hour long interview with the conductor of the train.” She then looked down towards the alicorn and fluttered her eyelashes. “Twilight, I know you’re excited, but it’s not becoming of a Princess to have her mouth hanging open like that.”

    Nearly an entire notebook.

    Nearly an entire notebook had been filled in with notes, quotes, remarks, sketches, and stray thoughts that Twilight had jotted down during the two hour long interview she’d had with the train’s elderly conductor, Steam Stack. After that, she’d spent another hour interviewing train passengers, visited the restaurant compartment, was dragged out of said compartment by Rarity, went back in with Ink and Pinkie, was allowed into the train’s engine room, remembered what it felt like to be burned by coals, made notes on the experience, went back to the restaurant… In fact, she had been so enthralled, so transfixed, and so taken by this entirely new marvelous world, she had forgotten all about the fact she was about to meet Princess Luna.

    Well, she forgot up until she stepped out of the train and into the shadowy train station of the hidden village.

    “We’re here! We’re here, we’re here, we’re here!”

    Pinkie’s voice boomed through the small station, every word accentuated with an enthused skip, hop and pirouette. She screeched to a halt in the middle of the platform, and Twilight couldn’t help but smile when the eager pink pony waved wildly at her, as though she’d been waiting on the platform rather than having taken the train with them.

    The first thing Twilight noticed were the surroundings. Tall, imposing trees rose above them, whatever shade they threw over the town paling in comparison to the one that Foal Mountain brought, looming over the town like an immutable protector. Twilight, in a way, was reminded of her own forest back home, and though it was a truthfully unpleasant initial thought, she also knew that Hollow Shades was not like the Everfree Forest. No scary spirit or prison-like library awaited her there.

    Next, as she walked towards Pinkie, trunk floating behind, she noticed the ponies walking about and, most of all, the black cloaks they wore. Another fascinating detail, she thought. Another perception shifted, as the symbol she had associated with Rarity’s scars and near-death was worn by these ponies as a sign of pride and communality.

    She turned back towards the train, watching as Rarity and Incantation descended moments later, the latter having spent the train ride transformed as an ochre-coated unicorn with a braided blue mane.

    “When is Spike arriving?” asked Twilight when the two mares joined Pinkie and her. “And the others?”

    “According to Rainbow, it should take them a week to get here, not including naps and pit-stops,” Rarity said. “Applejack and Fluttershy had to go back to their jobs in Ponyville, and the Professor will return whenever he’s done with his affairs in the castle.”

    “Come on! Why are you sillies talking here like sillies?!” Pinkie asked, bouncing towards the little group. “Princess Luna is waiting! Aren’t you excited to see Princess Luna, Princess Twilight?!”

    “I am!” Twilight replied, even if she later faltered. “And she’s excited to see me too…?”

    Pinkie stared at the alicorn as though she’d been slapped. “Is she excited to see you?! She’s TOTALLY super excited! It’s all she’s talked about the entire week!”

    Incantation snorted. “You haven’t talked to Princess Luna for more than a week, Chief.”

    Pinkie blew raspberries and then tapped Incantation on the nose. “I still know she’s been excited the entire week, you silly billy.”

    “There’s nothing to be worried about, dearest,” said Rarity to Twilight. “I can promise you that no matter how worried you are about Princess Luna, she’s just as worried. And, before I forget…” She turned her sights to the changeling, expression softening. “Come now, Ink. You know what you must do,” she said and immediately Incantation’s cheery disposition shifted into a fairly uncomfortable-looking one.

    “But… I mean… We just got here…” she said, grimacing like a filly ordered to take nasty medicine and stepping back. “Come on, Boss…”

    “Aw, Rarity,” Pinkie said, going to the changeling and throwing a foreleg around her. “Can’t she stay like this just a little bit?”

    Rarity winced. “Ink, darling, you know—”

    Ink interrupted. “Yeah, I know, Boss, but—”

    “Wait, wait!” Twilight interrupted, wanting to understand whatever unsaid conversation was happening right before her. “I don’t understand. What’s wrong with Incantation?”

    “I’m a changeling,” Ink said sourly, and Rarity frowned.

    “There’s nothing wrong with that, Incantation, and I would appreciate if you refrained from saying that at all.” She turned to Twilight and sighed. “As you know, Incantation is the first changeling to try and properly live amongst ponies. Well, that also implies living as a changeling, not masquerading as a pony.”

    Twilight’s eyes widened. “They know you’re a changeling?” she asked, and Ink nodded.

    “Yeah,” she said, “and they don’t like me.”

    “Yes, they do!” Pinkie protested, stamping her hoof against the floor. “Storytimes with Ink are the BEST nights of the week! Every foal comes for that!”

    “And every adult comes too, just to make sure the scary changeling doesn’t act out,” Ink replied flatly.

    Twilight felt her heart drop. “They’re afraid of you,” she said, a statement if only because no pony corrected her.

    “They don’t know better, darling,” Rarity interjected firmly. “Just like they don’t know better about Princess Luna.”

    Incantation’s ears dropped. “I know,” she said before shaking her head, taking a breath and grinning widely. “I’m fine now! Sorry, Bosses and Princess.” She then grinned at Rarity. “Let me stay like this until the shop, and I’ll do you the favor of organizing the wardrobes.”

    “Do me the favor?! I pay you to do it!” Rarity exclaimed as Pinkie and Incantation gave each other a conspiratorial glance before running away in a fit of giggles. “Incantation?! Incantation! Pinkie Pie, don’t encourage this, for pony’s sake!” However, they were soon out of sight, and her displeasure was not alleviated when Twilight leaned in to nuzzle her. “Those two will be the death of me.”

    “I like them,” said Twilight, walking in the direction the mares had gone off to. It wasn’t until Rarity was besides her that she spoke up again, tone more somber. “Are they really very afraid of her?”

    Rarity sighed. “Not at first. When she first arrived, everypony loved her. She tells stories, you know? With her imitation abilities and the like. You should see her, it’s really something. I keep telling her she should pursue acting.” She licked her lips. “Regardless, everything was going well, until, well… somepony read up on changelings. One pony, Twilight, one pony is all it took, and next thing you know, ‘Princess Denza’ had to come here to promise dozens of parents personally that Incantation wasn’t here to harm their children.”

    “That’s terrible…”

    “It is what it is, but Incantation is frightfully good at taking it in stride most of the time,” Rarity replied, “though now you see that there is so much more at stake than just freeing Princess Luna and the others.”

    As they continued their walk towards Rarity and Pinkie’s boutique, Twilight mostly entertained herself with admiring the village. The constellation designs on the homes were certainly very appealing, and despite the darkness the village was submerged in, the torches and friendly ponies brightened it up tremendously.

    And the foals, as well, who all seemed excessively fond of Rarity.

    As they walked on, many of the foals rushing around would stop and wave at them, saying hasty hellos before rushing off to continue their games. Some of them, even, seemed to stare at Twilight for a moment before giggling and running away.

    “You’re, uh, very popular with foals?”

    “Not to worry,” Rarity replied. “You’ll see why.”

    “See why?” Twilight asked, blinking when Rarity came to a stop and pointed to the horizon.

    “That is why.”

    A tall building came up before Twilight in the distance, different from the Hollow Shades aesthetic yet somehow perfectly fitting in. She had seen it before, in one of the framed photos back in Carousel Boutique, but to see it in person was another thing entirely. There it was, Lullaby’s Dreamland, looking as though Luna had whisked Carousel Boutique away and re-modeled it in her own image. Much like the other houses in the village, the building’s blue walls were decorated with bright yellow star designs. Fake clouds lined the building’s exterior, stars and moons hanging from them in perfectly even intervals.

    Finally, atop the large crystalline doors, was an oval painting depicting a very familiar lunar Princess.

    “It’s quite something, isn’t it?” Rarity asked, pride soaking her every word as she moved toward the building. “Come now, Pinkie and Incantation must be inside already.”

    Twilight followed, soaking up the design of the boutique up until they reached the crystal doors that barred them from the Dreamland. The first thing she noticed was the fact that there were two sets of crescent-moon shaped doorknobs, one at normal height and one at the exact height for a colt or filly to use.

    “After you, Princess,” said Rarity, stepping back and gesturing toward the doors.

    “Thank you,” Twilight said with a smile, intending on pushing open the doors had a deafening yell not interrupted her.


    Twilight turned around and saw a little pegasus filly in a blue dress rushing towards them, an older pegasus mare and a unicorn colt following behind.

    Rarity!” yelled the filly, practically tripping over herself and screeching to halt before the unicorn. “You’re back! You’re back!”

    “My, my, if it isn’t Princess Rhinestone!” Rarity exclaimed, bowing her head while Twilight set down the trunk with the elements. “Your Highness, what an honor to see you again. And, might I add, what a fabulous ensemble you’re wearing!” She fluttered her eyelashes. “You simply must tell me, Your Highness, who designed that fabulous dress?”

    Rhinestone giggled. “You did, silly!”

    Rarity gasped theatrically, lifting a hoof and placing not on her own chest, but Twilight’s. “Moooooooi?!I designed that marvel of a dress?! I simply can’t believe it! Did I truly?” She turned to Twilight. “Darling, look at it! I designed that! A dress for a princess!”

    The older mare started laughing. “It really is a beautiful dress, Rarity,” she said, looking down at her daughter fondly. “I don’t think Rhy will ever want to wear her cloak again!” She then turned back to Rarity, intent on speaking, but her eyes landed on Twilight instead and she smiled widely. “And if it isn’t Princess Twilight! Out of the library, I see?”

    Twilight stared at her. How did…? But…? What…?

    “Uh, hello,” eloquently said the Princess, throwing Rarity a concerned glance and instead finding the unicorn very quiet and very focused, her eyebrow slightly furrowed.

    “Mom!” chastised the colt, finally speaking up, rolling his eyes and groaning. “That’s not the real Princess Twilight!” He buried his face in his hooves. “Ugh.”

    The mare laughed. “Oh, Dusk, let me have fun!”

    “Actually…” Rarity drifted off, her brow furrowing further and her forehoof lifting to her necklace. She regarded Twilight thoughtfully for a moment before clearing her throat and flashing the mare and foals a brilliant smile. “Actually,” she said, “this is indeed Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

    Twilight’s eyes widened. “Rarity!” she whispered urgently. “I thought we weren’t going to…” She drifted off at the curious stares of the three strangers and resigned herself to giving her grinning marefriend a pointed stare.

    “Stop it, Ink!” Dusk said with a smile, trotting forward and tugging on Twilight’s cloak. “Come on! Show mom!”

    Twilight cleared her throat, unsure of how to act. “Well, uh…” Again, she threw Rarity a pained glance, who again only smiled cryptically in reply. “I’m not Incantation.”

    “Yes, you are!” said the colt.

    Rhy poked Twilight on the foreleg. “Stop being silly, Inky! Rarity told us that the real Princess Twilight is fighting monsters in her library!” she added, much to the delight of her mother.

    “Fighting monsters in her library?” said the mother, now leaning down to her kids. “With her big army of bunnies and owls!” She then looked up at Twilight and winked. “Isn’t that right, Princess?”

    “…Yes?” Twilight said, throwing Rarity another helpless pointed glance.

    Rarity cleared her throat, drawing the attention of everypony. “You don’t believe me?” She moved towards the boutique’s crystal doors, pushing them open and peering inside. “Incantaaaaation? Your presence is needed outside!”

    Moments later, the door swung open and Rarity stepped aside to let a familiar changeling through.

    “Oh! Rhy and Dusk! Always first in line for cupcakes. Pinkie just—What’s wrong?” she asked, following the two gawking foals line of sight and ending at Twilight herself. Her eyes flickered from the stunned foals, to Twilight, and to Rarity’s meaningful gaze and she quickly said, “Oh, Princess Twilight! Welcome to Lullaby’s Dreamland!”

    “Uh, thank you,” Twilight said.

    The mother frowned. “Oh, dear! Rarity, I…” She turned to Rarity and gave her a clearly pained smile. “I… You didn’t tell us we’d be having another… uh… special visitor!”

    “I’m not a changeling,” Twilight said before Rarity could do so.

    The mare laughed awkwardly, her gaze going to the still starry-eyed foals. “O-Of course you aren’t! You’re Princess Twilight!”

    It was Rhinestone who reacted first, her wide eyes now turning to suspicious slits. “If you’re really Princess Twilight,” she said, “where’s your crown?”

    “My crown?” Twilight asked, panic rising in her. She turned to Rarity, horrified. “Rarity! Where’s the Element of Harmony?! Do you still have it?! You still have it, don’t you? Tell me you—”

    “Yes, I have it,” Rarity replied, digging into her saddlebags and carefully extracting the golden tiara adorned with Twilight’s cutie mark, much to the Princess’s relief and to Rhinestone’s awed delight. Rarity levitated the crown down towards the filly who in turn seemed almost afraid to touch it.

    Her brother, however, had no such reservations.

    “Cooool!” he exclaimed, taking the crown in his hoof and immediately putting it on before beaming towards the others, the oversized crown lopsided atop his head. “It fits me!”

    “It does!” said the mother. “All you need is a suit, and you’ll be my handsome prince!”

    “Or a Princess!” Rhinestone interjected. “Princesses are cooler!”

    Dusk frowned and looked at Twilight. “Can I fight in a dress, Princess?”

    Twilight blinked. “I… It depends on the make of the dress? But you can, yes.”

    “Princess Twilight!” exclaimed Rhy, leaving her brother to muse on the art of the fashionable war and now tugged at Twilight’s cloak. “Why does your cloak have Rarity’s cutie mark?” She gasped and then pressed her hooves against her mouth, giggling as she eyed the two mares. “Do you… like-like her?”

    Incantation snickered. “She does way more than like-like her. She—mmph!”

    “Twilight,” Rarity quickly said, her magic proving to be an effective muzzle for the changeling. “Why not show them your wings?”

    Awkwardly, Twilight undid her cloak’s clasp and then took it off, allowing her long wings to stretch out, again to the delight of the foals.

    “Can I touch them?!” begged Rhinestone, already hoofing up at them and then gasping softly when Twilight acquiesced. “They’re so soft…”

    Twilight smiled proudly. “Rarity showed me a strange liquid called shampoo to help maintain them.”

    “Now, children, listen to me,” Rarity said suddenly, leaning down and speaking in a low hush. “Nopony knows Princess Twilight is here. This is our secret, understood?”

    The siblings nodded gravely.

    “Splendid!” exclaimed Rarity, drawing herself up. “Now, what can we do for you?”

    Rhinestone cleared her throat, stepping back. “Uhm. I wanted to… go somewhere.”

    “Me too,” said Dusk, similarly stepping back.

    “Bye!” they both yelled, running off into town.

    “Kids!” called the mother, stepping towards the foals.

    “Goodbye…?” Twilight called out before turning to Rarity. “Did I do something?”

    “Oh, don’t worry,” Rarity said, waving her off. “They’ll be back.”

    “And the rest of the town’s foals,” Incantation added.

    Twilight blinked. “Uh. All right, then,” she said, looking back towards the foals before yelping in horror. “Wait!” she gasped, running off in hot pursuit of the Element of Harmony currently rushing off towards the unknown. “WAIT! MY CROWN!”

    Once she returned, crown levitating behind her, she finally placed the Element on her head, feeling very much as though royalty had once again been imposed on her.

    “Well,” said the mother, smiling kindly at Twilight. “I’m sure that Rarity, er, discussed your visit with the Princess then?” She then turned to Incantation and quickly added, “Not that we mind, of course! The more the merrier!”

    Incantation smiled thinly. “Of course! Anyway, I need to go inside to finish stuff,” she said before retreating into the boutique, her smile disappearing as she did so.

    Once she was gone, Rarity turned to the mare. “Amethyst, Twilight here is a very real pony,” she explained carefully. “Incantation has been transforming as her.”

    Amethyst blinked. “Oh? Oh!” she said, and Twilight was upset on Ink’s behalf to find the mare looking visibly relieved at the fact that she was not a changeling. “Oh, in that case, welcome to Hollow Shades!” Her wings ruffled at her side. “I’ve never seen prosthetic wings like yours before. They actually look real!” Before Twilight could inform that they were real, the mare met her eyes. “Your name is…?”

    Twilight,” Twilight replied.

    “Really? Oh, you’ll fit right in here then! A lot of ponies here were also named after the Princesses, actually.” She giggled. “Dusk, for example was named after the original Princess Twilight. I assume you were too, then?”

    Twilight blinked. “…That would be technically accurate.”

    “Well, I’m sure Princess Twilight would be flattered! Dusk is very proud of his name, you know. And speaking of which…” She looked in the direction her children had run off to. “I better go after them.”

    “Well, Amethyst, it was lovely seeing you again,” Rarity said, bowing her head. “Pinkie and I are back from our little trip, so the shop shall be open until further notice.”

    “Oh, that’s great! I know several of my friends were starting to have cupcake-withdrawals.” Amethyst smiled and nodded to Twilight. “It was very nice to meet you…” She winked. “Princess Twilight.”

    Twilight smiled politely. “Of course. You have wonderful children,” she said, and then watched in silence as the mare trotted off, waiting until she was out of earshot to say, “Hm.”

    “Darliiiing.” Rarity lifted Twilight’s chin. “Did you think it would be easy? Ponies readily willing to believe ponytales are more than just ponytales?”

    “You did,” Twilight pointed out.

    “I did,” Rarity said, turning towards the doors, “and I also wasn’t under the influence of chaos magic my entire life, unlike every single resident of this town. You know very well what it can do, and more than that, what it convinces ponies they are seeing. I saw sinkholes and illusions littered throughout the Everfree Forest, and they… well…” She brushed her hoof across Twilight’s wings. “They see ‘prosthetic wings’. I could have you fly across town, and the magic will give them any justification to keep them from believing.”

    “What about Incantation? Changelings have nothing to do with Discord and they treat her like–“

    “Incantation knows this is a process that will take time and effort,” Rarity interrupted. She cleared her throat. “Now, shall we go inside? Nighttime is still hours away, so I do think a tour will be a splendid way to pass the time until your meeting with the Princess.”

    Twilight tore her eyes away from where Amethyst had gone off to and turned to the boutique, shaking off the bad sensations. Determined to not let her mood be ruined, she took hold of the doorknobs and pushed the doors open, making a big show out of cautiously stepping inside if only for Rarity’s enjoyment.

    Whatever discomfort she’d been feeling evaporated as she took in the entrance hall. Several doors could be found all around, as well as a grand staircase with two small Luna statues at the bottom of the railings. What interested Twilight, however, were the foyer’s navy walls, decorated with every little object that could be found in Princess Luna’s starry domain: planets and moons surrounded by innumerable stars and constellations.

    Twilight made her way toward the walls, surprised to see the positions of the stars were almost entirely accurate to the real ones. The only thing that stood out, actually, was a very foallike drawing of Pinkie Pie throwing a party on a planet.

    “Oh, dear, I forgot to erase that from last time,” Rarity murmured, having joined Twilight near the wall. She levitated over a rectangular wooden block with green fur on one side and then used it to erase the drawing, leaving only the image of the planet.

    “Did you do that?” Twilight asked, surprised. “The drawing?”

    “Me? Oh, goodness no, it’s the children who do.” She gestured towards a trunk filled with dozens of multicolored sticks. “Every inch of this place is coated with chalk-friendly material for the foals. We have a celest—lunar event every so often where the foals learn about astronomy and form constellations.” She giggled and gestured towards a constellation depicting a five-horned unicorn on the other side of the foyer. “They can be, er, quite creative.”

    A few feet to the left of the quinticorn, Twilight felt her heart skip a beat at the sight of closed yellow double-doors bearing Princess Celestia’s cutie mark. No sooner had she seen it was she already rushing to it.

    “What’s this room for?” she asked as she walked, looking back to the unicorn and then following her gesture towards an inscription atop the door.

    “…Princess Celestia’s Bakery?” Twilight asked, turning back to Rarity now with less wonder and more confusion.

    Rarity coughed politely, hanging her saddlebags on one of the foal-sized coat hangers. “According to Princess Luna, Princess Celestia spent her days, as she puts it, scavenging the castle’s larders. She was very insistent this be the room named after her.”

    Twilight rubbed a hoof on her forehead. Really, Princess Luna? Really?

    “Well? Go in!” Rarity prompted, walking towards her. “Let us not keep Pinkie waiting.”

    It was difficult to properly define the variety of smells that assaulted Twilight when she pushed the doors open. It was difficult to properly define them with any other word that wasn’t either heavenly or delectable or impossibly enticing. Rarity’s voice faded into the background, drowned out by Twilight’s gurgling stomach as it drove her across the room, past the small pink tables set around and to the counter at the end of the room where Pinkie awaited with a wide grin.

    A menu was placed on the counter, blocking Twilight’s view of the assorted pastries caged inside the transparent counter.

    “So, Princess Twilight,” asked Pinkie with a giggle. “What can I get you? Everything?”

    ‘Everything’ was Twilight’s first thought as well but, remembering Rarity was present, she smiled politely and gestured to the single most enticing cupcake she could see.

    “Just that one, please,” she said, ignoring her stomach’s scandalized protest in favor of basking in Rarity’s delighted smile.

    “Just one?” Pinkie asked with a gasp.

    “Just one,” Twilight replied.


    “Yes, just one please.”

    “But—! But—!” Pinkie turned her sights to Rarity, eyes narrowed as she simultaneously took out the single cupcake. “Oki-doki-loki.”

    “Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” Rarity said, rolling her eyes. She levitated a napkin from a nearby table over to Twilight before turning around. “Come on! The tour must go on!”

    Twilight’s gaze followed Rarity, and it wasn’t until the unicorn had left the room that she quickly turned back to Pinkie.

    “Pinkie, I—”

    “I’ll have one of everything on the menu waiting in your room for you,” she cut-off with a grin, lifting her hoof and tapping Twilight’s nose. “Plus a cup of hot cocoa with marshmallows.”

    Twilight’s heart and stomach soared. “But what about Ra—”

    Again, Pinkie cut her off. “Oh, you can eat them when Rarity’s taking her weekly three-hour long bath!”

    Three-hour long bath?!” Twilight gasped.

    Pinkie nodded. “Yep!” she exclaimed, looking over Twilight for signs of the unicorn before leaning in close to whisper. “Used to be five-and-a-half, but then we got our first water bill. She reeeeeeally didn’t like that.”

    A voice called from outside.

    Twiiiiiilight!” Rarity called. “When you’re done conspiring, shall we continue the tour?”

    After making her way to the foyer with an only mildly satisfied stomach and the insistence that she was not conspiring, Twilight joined her marefriend, who waited for her next to another set of double-doors. These, however, were painted pink and bore Cadance’s cutie mark.

    “Princess Cadance’s Theatre,” Twilight read aloud from the inscription above the doors.

    “I would love to show you inside,” Rarity said, patting on the doors, “but it would seem a certain changeling”—She turned towards the doors and raised her voice—”decided to be an utter slob while we were away!”

    I’m cleaning, I’m cleaning!”

    “What’s upstairs?” asked Twilight, moving away from the door and towards the grand staircases. She took a moment to inspect the statues before climbing up towards the second floor where she found two double-doors, one single door, and a spiral staircase going up.

    “That leads to the observatory,” Rarity pointed out, gesturing to the spiral staircase before grinning and gesturing towards lavender-colored double doors with Twilight’s cutie mark painted on them. “And that is Princess Twilight’s Library.”

    As it turned out, the name was indeed very accurate, and in ways that made Twilight’s heart both soar and whimper. She was, for all intents and purposes, staring into a much smaller version of her own library’s first floor. Nearby tables, she noticed, all had owl-shaped inkwells with matching quills. The bookcases were organized in distinctive patterns, and as she strode through them, she was delighted to find the books organized in the appropriate Starswirl the Bearded Decimal System, as well as several perches for owl to stand on.

    “We didn’t have floating chandeliers, but we tried our best,” Rarity said, drawing Twilight’s attention to the grand chandelier on the ceiling, which itself hung from what seemed to be several dozen nearly-transparent strings.

    The walls, Twilight noticed, had been decorated much like the foyer, but rather than stars and planets, it had been filled with owls and baby dragons, interspersed with quotes from books.

    When she finally returned to the entrance, tears sparkled in her eyes.

    “Twilight, what’s wrong?” Rarity asked with alarm, but Twilight simply shook her head and wiped away the tears.

    “Nothing’s wrong,” she said, looking back towards the library, a swirl of emotions running through her mind and body. The idea that the library that had for so long represented her prison was ultimately what others loved and associated with her in a positive way; she didn’t know how to feel about it, and so she decided not to dwell on it at all. “Uhm, wh-what’s next?”

    Though still clearly concerned, Rarity did not press the matter. “Errr, what’s next? Oh, I know!” she exclaimed, turning around and guiding Twilight out of the room

    They re-entered the hallway and Twilight followed Rarity towards an adjacent set of blue double-doors, sewing machines painted on them. Above the doors, in elegant white calligraphy, was the name The Royal Dressing Room.

    The doors swung open with Rarity’s magic and Twilight stepped into a place that could only be described as wonderfully Rarity. An organized chaos of fabrics strewn about, of sketches and designs pasted all over the walls, of racks and racks filled with all sorts of foal and adult sized clothes, and a platform in the middle for ponies to model on.

    More than the library room, she realized, that was the only room in the entire building that she felt completely familiar and comfortable in. The only room, perhaps, in which she felt safe to be herself.

    “It’s a bit of a mess,” said Rarity, picking up some envelopes from her desk and looking them over. “I always tell that filly to leave the mail downstairs and she always…” She drifted off, extracting an envelope decorated with an owl stamp and then placing the others back on the table.

    “And she always what?” Twilight asked.

    Rarity did not reply, instead opening the envelope and reading the letter inside. She mumbled under her breath as she did so and just as Twilight was about to inquire on it, a grand smile curved her lips.

    Twilight stepped forward, curious. “Is everything all right?”

    “Yes, it is! Just a message from a friend,” she said, slipping the letter back in the envelope and placing it with the others. She then turned back to Twilight. “In any case, this has been my workshop for a little over a year now.”

    “It’s very you,” Twilight replied, moving towards the unicorn to nuzzle her.

    “I do hope you mean that as a compliment.”

    “I do,” Twilight replied, placing her chin atop the unicorn’s head. “Mostly.”

    Mostly?” Rarity huffed theatrically. “Well then!”

    Twilight laughed, listening to Rarity’s grumbling as she again looked around the room, admiring the sketches on the walls. Or, she would have if she’d not noticed a single spot of the room that was decidedly un-Rarity-like.

    Inside an alcove at the end of the room was a large circular window, a ray of sunshine filtering in through it keeping warm the assortment of pillows and blankets at the bottom of the alcove. It beckoned to her, and she found herself moving away from Rarity and towards this spot that seemed to have been made just for her.

    “Is this where you sleep?” asked Twilight, approaching the alcove and finding that the inner walls of it doubled as bookshelves.

    “Oh, goodness, no,” replied Rarity, still watching from afar. “I only rarely sit there, I must confess. I have a hard time relaxing in the same place where I work.”

    Twilight jumped up on the sill and lay down, finding herself awash with an indescribable sense of comfort. It was ridiculously cozy, she thought, and more than that, it reminded her of what she loved to do most when she’d still been trapped in her library: listen to the low hum of Rarity’s sewing machine as she read.

    “Then why have this?” Twilight asked, grabbing a pillow and fluffing it, stopping only to frown at Rarity’s teasing expression. “What?”

    “Well,” Rarity began, carefully and slowly, “I recall a certain alicorn loved to read while I worked, and… And I suppose I never lost hope that she might one day visit.”

    Silence filled the room as Twilight put the pillow down, unsure of what to say or what to do.

    “Rarity, I…”

    “There’s not many books,” Rarity said, gesturing towards the shelves, “but I personally am rather fond of them.”

    Twilight looked towards the bookshelves, pleased to find she recognized some of them. She levitated one over and was surprised to see they looked brand new despite being books written in her own time period. It was oddly satisfying to know the knowledge from her own time was still valid in the present.

    “Oh, I really like these,” she said, turning back to Rarity with an eager smile. “Thank you.”

    “It’s my pleasure, Twilight,” Rarity said again, a soft smile on her lips. “They are yours, after all.”

    And, again, as Twilight’s eyes widened, so did silence fall over the room.

    She looked down at the book, an ancient book that looked brand new, and brushed her hoof against the cover, almost afraid to open it and find out. An eternity seemed to pass, Rarity waiting in silence, until finally she opened the cover and her own familiar calligraphy stared back at her.

    Property of Princess Twilight Sparkle

    She looked back up, back towards the arch, levitating a second book and opening it to find the sentence waiting for her again, and again in the third, and the fourth, and the fifth until fourteen books were spread before her, every single one bearing her name.

    All of them intact, all of them there, and Celestia’s spell still protecting them when teardrops fell upon them.

    “There’s two missing still,” Rarity continued. “I was ready to sell Carousel Boutique in order to pay what one pony was asking for one of them, but it was worth it if it meant freeing you.”

    “But… But why?” Twilight asked. “Discord said that—”

    “I know,” Rarity interrupted, finally moving towards her and sitting next to her on the floor, taking one of the books and brushing a hoof over the inscription. “I know he said these wouldn’t free you, but…” She turned back to Twilight, eyes meeting. “As I said, I never lost hope.”

    “I… I don’t know what to say.”

    Rarity leaned in and kissed the ever-willing alicorn. “I believe a simple ‘thank you’ will suffice,” she said when she pulled apart, afterwards moving in to cuddle the alicorn. “And moving aside, as well. This spot looks far too comfortable for you to have it all for yourself.”

    No sooner was Rarity comfortably propped against her, Twilight wasted no time putting the books away so she could focus on snuggling the unicorn, enveloping both her forelegs and wings around Rarity. Affection pulsed through her, like little jolts of electricity only to intensify when she breathed in the comforting scent of Rarity’s perfume. Rarity sighed next to her, safe and protected and back in her home that Twilight was quickly growing to love.

    “What… What would you have done?” Twilight asked, suddenly. “If you’d found all the books while I was still in the library?”

    “Oh, I don’t know,” Rarity said airily. “Cry, I think. Cry and then march straight into that tunnel, throw them at that damned barrier and hope for the best.”

    Twilight couldn’t help but laugh at the image of an irate Rarity chucking the books against the barrier. She snuggled closer to her, closing her eyes and sighing in contentment, feeling as though she could easily stay there for endless hours.

    “As comfortable as this may be, shall we continue with the tour?” Rarity asked, and Twilight replied not with words but actions, her horn glowing and the door in the distance closing and locking soon after.

    “Why, Princess Twilight Sparkle,” Rarity murmured, turning around to face Twilight with a sultry smile, her forehoof lazily brushing Twilight’s cheek. “I suppose that answers my question.”

    “I suppose it does,” Twilight replied with a grin, leaning into her marefriend and revelling in being so close against her. How fantastic, it was, how new and exciting it still was to be able to hold her, and kiss her, and love her, and equally be very thoroughly annoyed by the sudden knocking at the door, forcing her to pull away from Rarity and glare at the door.

    “Rarity?” Pinkie tentatively called from outside, and Twilight heard the unicorn beneath her hold her breath and keep quiet. Pinkie, however, was undeterred and she knocked even louder. “Rarity, we kiiiiinda need help with cleaning up downstairs ‘cause, uh, there’s a liiiiiittle line outside.”

    “Drat,” Rarity murmured. “I forgot.”

    Twilight bit down on her lip, her cheeks flushing. “Maybe we can, uh, postpone?” she suggested, even if it was the diametric opposite of what she felt like doing.

    “I’d have strong words for the pony responsible for this,” Rarity whispered, “if that pony wasn’t me.” Before Twilight could ask, Rarity let out a long sigh, leaning up to kiss Twilight before dropping down onto the pillows with a huff and finally calling out to Pinkie. “I’ll be down in a minute!”


    Once she heard Pinkie trot off, she turned to her marefriend with a raised eyebrow. “How are you responsible for this?”

    “If I’ve learned something in the year or so that I’ve had this shop, it’s that foals can’t be trusted to keep secrets,” Rarity said, gesturing for Twilight to look out the window. “And what did I tell Rhinestone and Dusk not to do?”

    Twilight peered out the window as she replied: “Tell anypony that I was—Oh my gosh!”

    There they were, the filly and colt from earlier, catching sight of her and waving furiously alongside more than three dozen other foals, all of them waving to her as excitedly as Rhinestone and Dusk, some of them even carrying hoof-made signs welcoming Twilight to town.

    “Well, well, well,” said Rarity, lifting her hoof to close Twilight’s half-open jaw. “Welcome to Hollow Shades indeed, Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

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    1. Zanna Zannolin
      Oct 16, 22 at 7:22 pm

      REGRETTABLY this comment is a day late because i had a terrible horrible no good very bad day yesterday and only made it halfway through this chapter before passing out but it’s okay nobody panic i’m back. and i love this chapter omg.

      the mausoleum…the entire epitaph disucssion is so important to me. just. we don’t know a lot about twilight’s parents, and they’ve barely been mentioned in this universe so far but it learn that they chose their epitaphs as a message to twilight….to think about how rarity had spent a lot of time there at cadance’s suggestion…that rarity cares so damn much about the flowers and also FUUUUCK YOUUUUU for rarity saying “for you a thousand times over” as an epitaph for her that hurt. do you HATE ME. do you WANT ME DEAD. i’m so upset <- said with delight.

      and oh my god just. everything about the train trip and rarity setting it up and giving her the book and getting her the interview without even having to be asked i'm just SO. those acts they are so full of love! i'm completely normal about this (lying blatantly). i love it so much.

      incantation :((((((((( stay behind me i'll fight them all for you ink….i will…..

      and uueuueue you are blessing me with the raritwi this chapter even if they got interrupted THEY ARE ! being so endearing and cute and ahhh the fluff the BOOKS. and okay tiny detail. but i'm obsessed. rarity correcting herself from "celestial" to "lunar" in the context of luna's insecurities about being forgotten and unimportant and celestia always being the brighter light and so the one that people attribute the heavens to when the stars are luna's domain….oh MAN that's such a fantastic little detail there and i love it so much!

    2. Anonymous Guest
      Sep 28, 22 at 6:08 pm

      I love your work keep up the great work!!

    3. AFanaticRabbit (Ashley)
      Mar 29, 22 at 3:18 pm

      Oh my goooooosh this chapter is so fluffy I’m gonna die