The sun had already set and by Rarity’s estimates, they were due to arrive very shortly at Ponyville station. The moon shone its silvery light over the landscape, the soft rays of light filtering through the window and into the small train cabin.
Rarity, sitting on the right side of the cabin, looked away from the window and toward the pegasus sitting opposite her.
Fluttershy stared out the window, deep in thought, and though she never did say much, she was even more quiet than usual. Her thoughts were a coveted mystery to the unicorn, and yet, it wasn’t difficult for Rarity to venture a guess at what they must be about. It wasn’t every day that a pony found out her best friend had seen princesses of ages past in her dreams, and it wasn’t every day that a pony found out that her best friend and perhaps even herself were the potential targets of a truly frightening creature.
Rarity returned her gaze to the outside scenery. Her eyes idly followed the moon across the sky, and her thoughts felt as scattered and plentiful as the stars in the sky.
She was tired. She was so very tired, but it wasn’t the exhaustion she was used to.
Rarity thrived off exhaustion, thrived off pressure and deadlines, dresses with their stitching finished under the light of morning’s first sunshine. But this exhaustion was not the exhaustion of productivity. Not just because of nightmares that kept her up; it was also because she was frightened. Frightened of what she’d learned, frightened of what Fluttershy must have been thinking, and most of all, frightened of telling Twilight everything, for better or worse.
If this were a book, Rarity thought, the heroine would be celebrating.
But in the book of Rarity’s life, the heroine didn’t feel like doing any such thing. She’d found Princess Luna, a wonderful, amazing feat. And yet the world had never seemed so dim.
An evil Spirit was after her, and if he hadn’t already planned her demise, it would only be a matter of time. Princess Luna had blocked off all contact just when Rarity needed it the most. And now…
Now the search party would be reduced to just… her.
“Fluttershy, I can’t ask you to help anymore,” Rarity said, still avoiding her friend’s gaze in favor of staring out at the stars. It was a reiteration of the thoughts that had been going through her mind for the last couple of hours, and she couldn’t help but vocalize them from time to time. If only to stop herself from going mad. “Not if it puts you in danger.”
Silence settled over them. Not the silence shared between two friends who needed no words, but rather the one thrust upon two individuals with a terrible decision before them.
“Are you sure he’s after you?” Fluttershy asked again, and Rarity was oddly grateful Fluttershy had not included herself in the group of those in danger.
“Well, if my doppelgänger is any indication, we know at the very least that he’s watching me,” Rarity said. “And if he’s watching me, I can’t risk him setting his sights on you too.”
“Hmm…” Fluttershy looked back toward the window.
“He’s already going to use me to attack Twilight,” Rarity continued, trying to convince Fluttershy of her decision. “I think that’s more than enough ponies my silly adventuring antics will harm.”
Fluttershy looked back toward Rarity. “But you said that was just a nightmare, Rarity.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s impossible.”
In a way, that was the scariest thing about the nightmare, and it was the thought that kept her up. It wasn’t so much the memory of the nightmare, though that was terrifying enough; it was the knowledge that it could come true should the Spirit decide. If he was already using Rarity’s image to trick ponies, what was stopping him from taking the next step?
“But what will you do?” Fluttershy asked, looking livelier than she had the entire trip. “You can’t stay with the princess forever.”
“If it comes to it, the only solution I can think of is simply not seeing Twilight at all. That way, she’ll know that if a ‘Rarity’ comes along, it isn’t me.”
All things said and done, it was a drastic measure to take, but Rarity couldn’t risk Twilight’s life like that. Or the life of anypony else, for that matter.
Fluttershy looked uncomfortable at the proposal, frowning and fidgeting in her seat. “But… how will we help her, then?”
“I don’t know how I’ll help her, but as I said, I can’t ask you to keep putting yourself in danger,” Rarity said, looking out the window and catching sight of Ponyville’s train station in the distance. “In fact,” she continued, turning to look at her friend, “I don’t want you helping anymore.”
Fluttershy looked taken aback. “You don’t?”
Rarity shook her head. “I don’t know if the Spirit is truly after me, but if he is… I simply cannot allow my best friend to risk her life because of something I started. If something were to happen to you, I’d…” She drifted off, finding she didn’t want to actually picture any of the things that could potentially happen to Fluttershy. “You do understand, don’t you?” she asked, even though it really wasn’t intended to be a question.
Fluttershy looked down at the floor, ears lowered. “I do, I suppose…”
Her sentence was cut short by the whistle of the train, signaling their arrival. It seemed like the interruption was enough to silence whatever Fluttershy had intended to say, and Rarity refrained from asking about it.
The two mares took their belongings, trotted out into the hallway, and exited the train.
When her hooves landed on the ground, Rarity initially felt relieved to be back home after a trip that had felt so very long. But her relief was short-lived as she remembered exactly what she had to do now that she was home.
They trotted away from the station in silence, once more lost in their thoughts as they headed toward the center of the town. Despite it still being relatively early at night, the streets of Ponyville were curiously empty, save for a few meandering ponies here and there.
“Do you have Princess Twilight’s necklace?” Fluttershy asked, breaking the silence between them.
“I do,” Rarity replied, feeling the weight of her saddlebag against her. She levitated her own necklace into her line of sight, and wished it actually was imbued with a Spirit-warding spell.
Fluttershy opened her mouth to speak, but suddenly stopped and stared in front of her. Rarity followed suit and noticed a black owl in the distance, hooting and flying in circles as if it were looking for something.
“Isn’t that Themis?” Fluttershy asked.
“Themis!” Rarity called out, drawing the attention of the owl.
At the sound of Rarity’s voice, he flew toward them, landing on Fluttershy’s outstretched forehoof and hooting at her several times.
Rarity frowned. “What’s he doing here? I told Twilight we’d be arriving home tomorrow afternoon.” She noticed Fluttershy looking very serious and asked, “Did something happen?”
“He’s not here for us,” Fluttershy replied. “Elara has been missing for a day now. He’s looking for her.”
“She’s been missing for a day?”
That did not bode well. Twilight was very attached to her owls, and if Elara had been missing for a full day, then the alicorn must be sick with worry—especially considering she couldn’t even go out to look for her pet.
“Themis, could you please take me to the library?” Rarity asked, readjusting her saddlebag across her back. She was getting tired of the weight, but going to her boutique, leaving her things, and then going to the Everfree Forest would be too much of a detour.
“You’re going to the library? Now?” Fluttershy asked, blinking at Rarity. “But it’s almost eight o’clock. It’s not safe to go into the forest at night!”
“Hush, it’s not that late in the evening,” Rarity said, brushing off Fluttershy’s concerns with a wave of her hoof. “I’ll be perfectly all right with Themis guiding me.”
Fluttershy gently shook her hoof, prompting Themis to fly back up into the air. She was quiet for a moment, and then asked: “You are going to tell the princess about the Spirit, aren’t you?”
Rarity thought about it for a minute before shaking her head. “No, I’m not. Not yet, at least. Tomorrow. After all, there’s no point in telling her now when I won’t be able to stay for very long. Goodness knows how she’ll take it, so I better adequately prepare.”
“…I guess you’re right,” Fluttershy relented, looking up at Themis flying around, still searching the vicinity for Elara. “Rarity, what if the princess doesn’t want you to help anymore?”
“Then I suppose I better make the most out of my visit tonight.”
Truthfully, Rarity wanted to delay the conversation about the Spirit because she was scared. Not tired, not unprepared, but terrified of the outcome she could already see coming. When Twilight found out the Spirit was after them, she would probably forbid Rarity from ever seeing her again.
It was curious, in a way, how Rarity was fully prepared to end her visits should it put Twilight’s life in danger, but the mere idea of Twilight being the one to cut Rarity off…
Perhaps the comparison wasn’t really adequate, but it made sense. After all, breakups—even of a platonic variety—were always easier when it was oneself who ended the relationship.
“I’d like to go with you,” Fluttershy said, hesitation in her voice despite the firm request.
“You want to go with me? But, Fluttershy, it’s so late to go out into the forest!” Rarity exclaimed, as if she hadn’t brushed off Fluttershy’s same concerns less than a moment ago.
“I know, but I still would like to go. If things don’t go well tomorrow, I—”
“I understand,” Rarity interrupted, smiling warmly at the pegasus. In the depths of her mind, Rarity understood Fluttershy wanted to say her potential farewells, and who was Rarity to deny her that? Twilight and Fluttershy were friends, and… it made Rarity feel even worse for having asked Fluttershy not to get involved anymore.
Maybe that’s why she needed a day—or night—to think. Maybe there was a better solution.
In retrospect, trotting through the forest with its constant reminders of her nightmare, Rarity realized it might have been a better idea to wait until the next day as originally planned. It wasn’t like Twilight could go anywhere, and Rarity could spend a full day with Twilight before telling her about the Spirit’s interference. She could still turn back and get a good night’s rest.
Even if they turned back and headed toward their respective homes, the anxiety would keep her awake—if the nightmares didn’t already. She couldn’t turn back because the more she thought about it, the more she realized she wanted to just get it over with and tell Twilight everything. The fear gripping her heart and mind, the anxiety and panic of anticipating Twilight’s reaction…
Or maybe she couldn’t turn back because she wanted to see Twilight already, for better or worse. With everything that happened, her trip to Hollow Shades had felt eternal, like chapters from her romance novels that dragged on and on, and she just wanted to get back to the part with the love inter—
She cut her thoughts off, rolling her eyes and ignoring the heat crawling up her cheeks. Goodness, Fluttershy and Pinkie really did get under my coat with their teasing, didn’t they?
Dispelling her thoughts, she looked up to find Themis flying in a distracted fashion, looking around into the depths of the forest and hooting occasionally. What could have happened to Elara?
She glanced at Fluttershy, wondering what she was thinking. Would she be able to act as if she knew nothing about the Spirit once they met with Twilight? It would be hard, yes, but for the sake of having a somewhat pleasant evening, she hoped her friend would be able to put on a happy front.
After a while, they finally reached their destination. The great old oak tree stood imposingly in the middle of its depression in the forest, and Rarity was overcome with a strange mixture of both relief and apprehension at the sight of the library—relief because she’d finally arrived, and apprehension because she was vividly reminded of her nightmare.
“Well, here we are!” she exclaimed, discreetly turning around to make sure no hooded doppelgänger was around before taking the initiative and jumping down into the depression.
She waited until Fluttershy did the same, then turned to Themis and thanked him for his help. The owl hooted twice in reply before flying off, presumably to keep searching for his companion. Once he was gone, Rarity and Fluttershy turned back toward the tree and made their way to the trapdoor. Upon reaching it, they found it opened and propped up against the tree; an odd and worrying sight, considering Rarity had made sure to close the door when she left several days ago, and she was positive an owl couldn’t possibly lift it.
“Hadn’t you closed the door when we left?” Fluttershy asked.
“Yes, I did.”
“I distinctly remember having left it clos— Fluttershy?” Rarity turned around, watching her friend practically galloping away from the tree. “Fluttershy! Come back here!”
“You-know-maybe-we-should-come-back-tomorrow!” Fluttershy rambled in a rapid, high-pitched voice. “When it’s daylight and there are no ghosts and no trapdoors and whe— Eek! Rarity!” she shrieked, in vain trying to fight the magic levitating her back to the tree.
Once she had been dragged back next to Rarity, she clutched onto the unicorn and whispered urgently, “What if it’s the Spirit?!”
“I can assure you it’s not the Spirit,” Rarity said, letting Fluttershy go. After receiving a pointedly panicked and skeptical look from Fluttershy, she amended her reply. “Well… I don’t know if it’s the Spirit, but— Fluttershy, will you stop that?!”
After finding herself forcefully levitated toward the tree again, Fluttershy said, “Maybe we can get everypony back home to come help us, and if we’re all together, then the Spirit can’t attack us?”
Rarity rolled her eyes, turning to look at her friend. “Fluttershy, sweetheart, as wonderful as that would be, we both know that’s not an option.” She looked back toward the trapdoor, peeking into the darkness below. “Themis is gone, and while I won’t allow you to wander back home alone, if the Spirit is in there, then Twilight is in danger, and I can’t just leave her all by herself.”
Rarity offered an encouraging smile. “Fluttershy, you can either wait here until I’m back, or you can come down with me, but you need to make up your mind now.”
Without waiting for a reply, Rarity lit up her horn and began her descent. To her relief, she could hear Fluttershy following behind, though she wished the pegasus wasn’t whimpering so much.
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Rarity stared into the tunnel, disconcerted by how dark it was. Ever since she’d started visiting, Twilight would always have the main room completely lit up, or would otherwise instruct Star to wait in front of the entrance. Tonight, there was no light or enchanted candelabra waiting for them.
She slowly made her way toward the end of the tunnel, Fluttershy sticking to her like panicked glue. Once they stepped into the library, Rarity looked around for the candelabra but failed to find it anywhere.
“Twilight!” she whispered as loudly as her own fear allowed.
She turned to Fluttershy and found the pegasus also calling out for the princess, save for the fact that no sound actually came out of her mouth.
Rarity called out several more times in vain, and eventually decided to keep moving on. They made their way into the depths of the library, through the aisles of bookcases, and then Rarity suddenly stopped, Fluttershy bumping into her and screeching in fright.
“Shhh!” Rarity said, gesturing for Fluttershy to be quiet before pointing toward what lay in front of her. “Look at all this!”
Blankets and pillows were spread in the middle of the aisle, some bunched up and others neatly placed. Where on earth had Twilight even gotten them? Surely they didn’t belong to the alicorn? Taking one of the pillows from the floor, Rarity could tell they definitely weren’t thousands of years old.
They were, however, filthy with dirt, dust, and even mud. Whoever had brought them had made sure they got a special taste of the Everfree Forest décor.
“These look just like the ones I have at home. They’re so expensive; I can’t believe somepony would treat them this way.”
“But who put this all here?” Fluttershy asked, her voice a bit louder now that her fear had been pushed to the back of her mind. “Look!” She stepped forward and moved a blanket to reveal several sheets of paper and colored pencils. She picked up one of the papers and showed it to Rarity.
It was filled with drawings, and by that point, Rarity was more confused than scared. She intensified the light of her horn, and upon closer examination, she sucked in air through her teeth.
“They” were the two familiar fillies in the drawings.
Fluttershy took another paper, depicting the two fillies fighting a creature of some sort. On top of the drawing, in a squiggly calligraphy, somepony had written “Evil Spirit Destroying Cutie Mark Crusaders.”
“Well, I suppose now we know why these pillows look just like mine,” Rarity said sweetly, caressing her hoof against the pillow and then lovingly placing it back on top of the blankets. “THESE ARE MY PILLOWS!”
She jumped over her poor mistreated pillows and rushed deeper into the library. “SWEETIE BELLE!”
“Wa-wait, Rarity!” Fluttershy called out, rushing after her friend. “What am I supposed to do?!”
“Look for them upstairs! I’ll go to the floor below!”
Rarity may have been scared before, but now she was furious. Not only had the fillies disobeyed her, but they’d also nearly given her a worry-induced heart attack by leaving the trapdoor open.
She made her way to the spiral staircases and traveled down to the lower floor.
Just like the upper floor, the entire room was pitch black, save for the glowing, moving maze and the three lights wandering inside it. Two she recognized as the glow a flashlight would emit, but the third pink-tinged light she recognized as unicorn—or in this case, alicorn—magic.
Before she could call out to them, a loud yell interrupted her.
“Star!” Sweetie yelled.
“Swirl!” Twilight replied seconds after, and it was only then that Rarity realized how relieved she was to hear the alicorn’s voice.
“Ooooh! Oh, she’s right near me!” Scootaloo called out in reply.
Rarity watched the beam of light from one flashlight hastening along while Twilight quickly moved in the opposite direction, away from Scootaloo. Was Twilight actually playing with them? Rarity distinctly remembered the alicorn finding games in the maze to be… anything but fun, didn’t she?
She buried her hooves in her face and let out a long sigh. She’d been honestly terrified only minutes ago, thinking the absolute worst had happened, only to find out it had just been because of a silly game.
Talk about a stark change of mood…
“Star!” Scootaloo called again, and suddenly three smaller lights appeared next to her and began circling her. “No, not you, Star! Shoo!”
“Swirl!” Twilight replied.
Moments later, several lights flashed next to her, which Rarity assumed to be the second magic candelabra.
As they kept playing their game, Rarity continued trotting down the stairs, only looking back to gesture to the newly arrived Fluttershy to keep quiet. Once she reached the bottom of the stairs, Rarity got a head start and looked for the entrance of the maze—a difficult task considering it kept moving around.
It took her a while, but she finally found the opening into the maze and trotted in. She began her exploration of the moving labyrinth, waiting for the next voice to call out and give her an idea of which direction to advance in.
“Princess Twilight!” Sweetie’s voice rang out, much closer to Rarity than she’d expected. “You promise you’re not walking through walls?!”
“I told you I’m not!” Twilight called back, the indignation in her voice nearly making Rarity laugh. Oh, she could just see Twilight’s miffed expression.
Rarity trotted several more minutes, listening to another few rounds of “Swirls!” and “Stars!” before she decided it was time to join in on the fun.
She stopped in place, cleared her throat, and then, in the single loveliest sing-song voice she could muster, called out: “Staaar!”
Silence fell in the library immediately after, and she couldn’t help but smile as she waited for her actions to take effect.
“…Which one of you said that?” Twilight asked, the amusement gone from her voice in time for Rarity’s smile to turn into a self-satisfied smirk.
“It… It was you, wasn’t it, Sweetie?” Scootaloo’s voice replied, giving the cue for Rarity to continue her trek down the moving hallways.
“It wasn’t me!” Sweetie called back, unwittingly aiding Rarity in tracking down her location.
“Well, it wasn’t me, either!”
“Well, it had to be you, ’cause it wasn’t me!”
“Girls, wait,” Twilight called out, in vain trying to stop the assaults of accusations the fillies hurled at each other. “Stop arguing!”
As the conversation between the three went on, Rarity continued her leisurely trot, mentally preparing the choice words she’d give Sweetie when she found the filly. She turned a corner and her smile vanished when she finally spotted her little sister in the distance, her back to Rarity as she continued debating with Scootaloo and Twilight.
“Sweetie Belle, stop lying!” Scootaloo called back. “Princess Twilight, tell her!”
Sweetie Belle gasped. “What if… What if it’s the ghost of Star Swirl the Bearded?!” she called out, completely unaware of the unicorn standing behind her, staring her down with punishment in her eyes.
“I highly doubt that,” Twilight replied flatly.
“Frankly, it’s a shame it isn’t him,” Rarity said, loudly and clearly for all to hear and fear, “because you two will need all the supernatural protection you can get to save you from the punishment you’ve earned for DISOBEYING ME!”
Sweetie Belle swirled around, flashing her flashlight at Rarity, her eyes filling with pure terror.
“Ra-Rarity?!” she shrieked, before making the incredibly unwise decision to turn around and run for her life, dropping her flashlight in the process.
“Sweetie Belle! You come back here this instant!” Rarity yelled, chasing after the filly.
In the distance, an also-panicked Scootaloo called out, “Rarity?! You said she wasn’t coming back until tomorrow afternoon!”
“Rarity’s back?” Twilight’s voice followed, the only one of the three to sound excited rather than terrified. “Swirl! Light, please!”
While the candelabra floated up to the ceiling to transform into a chandelier and light up the room, Rarity chased after Sweetie Belle, eventually cornering her into a dead end. The filly backed up against the wall until her rump hit the bookcase, forcing her to hide her head inside her forelegs and await Rarity’s scolding.
Or, she would have had Twilight not rushed through the wall and stood in front of her, facing Rarity.
“Rarity!” Twilight exclaimed enthusiastically. Moments later, after no doubt realizing she was perhaps showing a bit more excitement than she’d like, she cleared her throat and toned it down to a more dignified level. “You’re back early.”
Rather than reply, Rarity took a moment to gaze at Twilight, her expression softening almost entirely at seeing her after what felt like such a long time. She’d been relieved when she’d heard Twilight’s voice, but it could scarcely compare to the relief she experienced upon actually seeing Twilight. Seeing her was instant reassurance that no, she was not harmed, and no, there weren’t any evil Rarity doppelgängers threatening the alicorn.
Well, not yet, at least.
“Yes, I am,” Rarity replied.
“But how did you get here? Did Elara bring you?” Twilight asked, excitement rising in her voice as she looked up, eyes searching the room for the owl.
“No. Themis did,” Rarity replied.
Twilight’s ears flopped down. “Oh… I thought maybe…”
Rarity was about to ask about Elara, but she remembered the topic at hoof when her eyes landed on the filly still cowering behind Twilight. “And it’s a lucky thing he did, or else I would have missed out on this illicit slumber party.”
Twilight blinked. “Illicit slumber party…?” She turned around and noticed Sweetie Belle behind her. “Oh.” She turned back to Rarity, and any remaining excitement vanished, replaced instead with a horrified expression to match Sweetie’s. “Oh no.”
“Oh yes,” Rarity said, taking a step toward Twilight, who in turn took one back, flinching. If she had the time, Rarity would have taken a moment to laugh at the fact that Twilight, of all ponies, was afraid of Rarity.
“Wa-wait, Rarity,” Sweetie pleaded, her fear diminished now that she had a living—dead? spiritual?—shield in front of her. “It’s not what it looks like!”
“It’s exactly what it looks like!”
“Wait, Rarity,” Twilight interrupted, splaying a wing open so as to properly shield the filly. “Please. This is my fault, not theirs.”
Rarity raised her eyebrows. “Your fault? What? Did you call them here?” she asked, her initial surprise quickly giving way to anger. “Twilight! You should know better than to do something like that! They’re fillies! They shouldn’t be wandering the forest alone!”
“She didn’t bring us here! Princess Twilight only sent out Themis to find Elara, and we saw him, and we wanted to help!” Sweetie Belle protested, trotting next to Twilight, apparently feeling a bit braver.
“Y-yeah!” Scootaloo exclaimed, finally having caught up with the others. “Princess Twilight can’t go out and look for her, so we’re gonna do it! We were gonna go look for her now, but then Princess Twilight said we needed to play a game…”
“Play a game?” Rarity repeated, her anger momentarily subsiding. She turned to Twilight with a deadpan expression. “You suggested they play a game in the maze?” she asked, skepticism dripping off every syllable. “Really?”
“Well, I couldn’t very well let them go out alone into the forest this late,” Twilight blurted out in her own defense.
Though Rarity appreciated Twilight’s thoughtfulness, she did not relent in her scolding. She levitated Sweetie Belle and plopped her down next to Scootaloo, furrowing her brow at the two fillies with their heads hung low.
“Even if that’s the case, you two should have known better than to stay here until so late! If you knew I was getting home tomorrow, you could have waited so we could all look for her during the day!”
Rarity placed a hoof on her forehead and sighed. Wonderful, just wonderful. So much for spending some time with Twilight and talking about the nicer parts of her Hollow Shades trip. She supposed she ought to be relieved the fillies were all right, and though she was, she now found herself extremely irritated that her quality time with her friend was cut short.
“I had better take them back home,” she said at length, taking her hoof back and glaring at the fillies once more for good measure. She then turned to Twilight and smiled apologetically. “We’ll come back tomorrow and help look for Elara.”
“Oh,” Twilight replied, her ears flopping down. “All right…”
“Can’t we stay just a little longer?” Sweetie asked, giving her best attempt at her sister’s trademark puppy-dog eyes. “Why can’t we go out and look for her now?”
“No,” Rarity firmly replied, even if she herself probably wanted to stay ten times more than both of the fillies combined. “I’m going outside right this instant to call Themis back, and then I’m taking you two straight back home.”
Luckily for Rarity, Sweetie Belle’s puppy-dog eyes didn’t work on her. However, when Rarity turned to tell Twilight that they’d all be saying goodbye, she was surprised to find the alicorn had been subtly nodding her head alongside Sweetie Belle’s pleading, and it wasn’t until their eyes met that Twilight seemed to realize what she’d been doing, and quickly turned her nodding into a very stern shaking of her head.
“Rarity’s right, girls. It’ll be better to look for her tomorrow morning,” Twilight said, looking at the fillies and missing—ignoring?—Rarity’s playful eye roll.
“Well… On second thought, I do have to sort out the mess you two left upstairs,” Rarity relented before smiling cheekily at Twilight. “And it seems the princess has things she’d like to discuss.”
Her smile didn’t last long. “However, that doesn’t mean what you did was all right. Now, go find Fluttershy and let her know everything is okay, will you?”
Once they were gone, Rarity turned to Twilight, expression softening. “So. Elara is the source of all this, then, is she? Is this the first time she’s taken a while to come back?”
“No, but… She knows I don’t like it when she stays out for so long, and she was just supposed to go get ink. She always comes back, but I asked Themis to go out and look for her regardless… and, well, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo found him instead…”
Rarity bit her lip. “Twilight, if you’re worried, would you like for me to go look for her now? Themis might have more luck if he isn’t searching alone,” Rarity offered.
Twilight frowned, glancing in the direction the fillies had gone. “I…” Eventually, she turned back to Rarity and shook her head. “No… It is late out, and you told me that there are creatures out there in the forest. There’s no use having you go missing too.”
Rarity giggled. “Awww, you do care!” she said, fluttering her eyelashes. “I’m flattered!”
Twilight rolled her eyes playfully, then grew somber again. “Would you go looking for her tomorrow, though, please? I’d go if I could, but…”
Rarity smiled, waving off Twilight’s worries. “Twilight, you don’t have to ask for me to do that. I’ll go looking for her bright and early, and she’ll be back home before you know it.” Rarity said earnestly. “You have my word on that.”
It was a good thing she’d decided not to talk about the Spirit after all. Twilight was probably not in the mood for more bad news.
“Thank you,” Twilight replied, relaxing somewhat. “I appreciate it…”
“Now, how about we go upstairs and I tell you all about Hollow Shades, hm?”
After an extensive cleanup, the three older mares had successfully picked up most of the disaster left in the wake of the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ visit. The pillows were bundled up in blankets, waiting next to the exit to be taken home for a thorough cleaning, whereas the drawings had been placed on the table the three mares now sat around.
“The professor was useless?” Twilight asked, the blank scrolls she’d prepared to take notes on lying empty in front of her. “But you told me he was an expert on what happened to us.”
“He is, but…” Rarity faltered, looking down at the drawing she’d been working on and tapping a blue pencil against the paper. “I don’t know how to say this…”
“He doesn’t believe in us?” Twilight persisted, glancing back and forth between Rarity and Fluttershy, both of whom looked quite uncomfortable continuing.
“He believes the four of you existed,” Rarity clarified, looking up and carefully selecting her words, her hoof idly toying with the pencil. “It’s more that he doesn’t believe you were trapped somewhere so much as he believes you were…”
“…Yes?” Twilight pressed, leaning in and giving Rarity the uncomfortable sight of watching some of the alicorn’s chest go through the table.
“He believes you were assassinated.”
Twilight pulled back. “Oh.” She wrote down something on her scroll, apparently deep in thought, before looking back up with a frown on her face. “But Princess Celestia and Luna can’t be assassinated. Natural-born alicorns are immortal.”
“Only them?” Fluttershy chimed in, looking away from what Rarity was drawing. “You mean you weren’t born an alicorn, Princess Twilight?”
Twilight shook her head. “No. Princess Celestia ascended me sometime after Cadance, and ascended alicorns retain their mortal lifespan… except for…” she gestured at her own incorporeal form. “Well, this.”
“If that’s the case, then it makes sense the only way to defeat you was to trap you all somewhere,” Rarity said, exchanging the blue pencil for a black one.
“It makes sense for him to trap them, but not Cadance and me! A smarter plan would have been to trap Princess Celestia and Luna, and then let me reach the end of my mortal lifespan like he did with Cadance. With the princesses trapped, my freedom wouldn’t have managed to help Cadance defeat him. It doesn’t make sense that he trapped me…”
She buried her face in her hooves and groaned. “The way his planning works makes even less sense than the way his magic does. It gives me a headache, and I’m not sure spirits should even be able to get headaches.” She looked back at her scrolls, scribbling something down. “I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. Princess Celestia defeated him, so he’s gone.”
Her sentence was met with an audible clearing of the throat from Fluttershy, enough to make Rarity glare at her.
“In any case,” Rarity said, hoping to move the conversation far away from the Spirit, “the night before I met him, I had a dreadfully fascinating dream…”
Twilight didn’t reply and instead nodded absentmindedly, her mind still absorbed in the notes she was writing.
“Though nightmare might be a more apt description,” Rarity continued, smiling when one of Twilight’s ears twitched up, signaling she had caught some of her attention. “I had a ghastly nightmare, until somepony put an end to it.”
Twilight finally looked up, her expression indecipherable. “‘Somepony’?”
Rarity nodded. “You know, Princess Selene—or, Luna, rather—was far more different than I had always imagined her. It was quite the surprise to get to meet her personally.” She turned back to her drawing, taking a light blue pencil. “Although, I’m not sure… Does it really count as meeting her personally if it was in a dream?”
“You… You met Luna…?”
“Yes, I did. She told me that she didn’t know where she was, but that the only way to free her was by freeing you or Princess Celestia first.”
“How…” Twilight looked wary, as if trying to decode every word Rarity spoke. “How do you know it was her?” she asked. “You went to Hollow Shades hoping to find information on her whereabouts. What if you suggested yourself into dreaming about her?”
Rarity looked up. “Twilight, do you honestly think I’d be telling you this if I wasn’t one hundred percent sure?” When Twilight bowed her head and shook it, Rarity went back to her drawing. “I understand it might be a bit hard for you to believe, but if you had the dream I did, you’d be convinced, too.”
“But… don’t you have a dream photographic device?” Twilight asked. “Somepony must have invented one already! Haven’t they? And why are you drawing?! This is serious, Rarity!”
“Twilight, I’m merely doing the next best thing there is to having a dream camera, which, by the way, doesn’t exist,” Rarity said, unfazed by Twilight’s words. She put down the pencil, lifted the drawing she’d made of Princess Luna, and showed it to Twilight. “This is the alicorn that I saw in my dreams, give or take a few differences. It’s nothing like a photograph, but I think it works rather well.”
Rarity was no master artist, but she’d certainly done a good enough job if Twilight’s expression was anything to go by; the alicorn stared at the drawing, eyes wide, and got up to take a closer look.
“That… that does look just like her…” she whispered, taking the drawing from Rarity and practically shoving it against her own face. “This is the alicorn you saw?”
“Yes, it is,” Rarity replied. “And I’m not the only one who thinks she’s real. There’s a mare living in Hollow Shades who believes strongly enough in Princess Luna to travel across Equestria looking for you and Princess Celestia.”
“Where is she?” Twilight asked, moving the drawing aside just enough to look at Rarity. “Is she back in Ponyville? Why didn’t you bring her with you?”
“Why didn’t I bring her?” Rarity asked, not having expected that question. “Well, if you’ll remember, a certain somepony explicitly told me that I should bring no one to her library without her permission,” she said, raising an eyebrow. Hopefully now Twilight would realize how silly her rule was. “She left Hollow Shades yesterday to go look for information on Princess Celestia.”
“What?!” Twilight exclaimed, lowering the drawing down further and staring at Rarity as if she’d lost her mind. “That’s ridiculous! Why would you even listen to me?! How are we supposed to find her now?!” Without warning, Twilight began pacing around the table, the drawing floating behind her. “You might have actually found Luna, Rarity! This is the closest we’ve ever been and now this mare might be who-knows-where!”
Rarity rolled her eyes. “Twilight, I’m not daft enough to just let her leave like that. I had to tell her about you, and she offered to go look for clues about Princess Celestia while I stayed here in Ponyville with you and looked for your books.”
“Oh…” Twilight stopped her pacing. “So she doesn’t know anything about where Princess Celestia is?”
“I’m afraid she was as clueless as I was to anything that didn’t concern her Princess, so to speak,” Rarity replied. “And Princess Luna wasn’t much help either. I believe the Spirit might have confined her to dreams since that’s the only way to contact her.”
Twilight shook her head, finally returning to the table. “I doubt it. The ‘Luna’ you saw in your dreams was an illusion she creates of herself. She doesn’t literally transport her physical body into dreams. It’s more likely that her magic is strong enough to leave wherever she is and reach the town. Though… Though that means her barrier has different limitations than mine, since my magic can’t even cross my barrier.
“What about Luna? What else did she say? She has to know the way to break her barrier, doesn’t she?” Twilight picked up her quill again and watched Rarity attentively, ready to take notes. “And what about how she was trapped?”
Rarity faltered. “I…” She cleared her throat, arranging the colored pencils in an orderly fashion. “Well, I wasn’t able to ask her much else, you know. I woke up from my nightmare quite abruptly, and it was hard to fall asleep again. I don’t think I would have been able to manage anything other than a light nap after that.”
Twilight didn’t budge. “Luna can enter all phases of a pony’s sleep.” Her expression softened a bit. “I know you just came back, but you should go back to Hollow Shades and talk to her. Do you still have the questions I made for Professor Awe? I can add fifty more to help guide your dream with Luna.”
Rarity gulped. The conversation wasn’t going anywhere unless she told Twilight the reason she couldn’t visit Luna anymore, and that meant telling Twilight the Spirit may be after her, and… Urgh…
“Well, darling, you know, I think it would be best to wait for Pinkie Pie to send me a letter,” Rarity said, trying hard to ignore Fluttershy’s nervous stare. “Besides, Princess Luna guards the dreams of the Hollow Shades foals. She’s quite busy. I tried contacting her again, but I think she was still trying to…err… process everything!”
Twilight put her quill down.
“Rarity, it’s almost like you don’t want to see her again. Or, maybe…” She narrowed her eyes. “You can’t see her again, because she was just a dream your own subconscious created for you!” Twilight accused, standing up and staring Rarity down as if she’d just solved the crime of the century. “I knew it!”
“I did not make her up!” Rarity protested, similarly getting up and stamping her hoof against the table, unaware of Fluttershy’s increasingly uncomfortable expression.
“Then why wouldn’t she visit you again?” Twilight shot back. “And it can’t be because she was taking care of foals’ nightmares.”
“Well—! Well—!” Rarity faltered, unable to come up with an excuse. “She just didn’t…”
“She just didn’t what?” Twilight pressed.
“She didn’t want to talk to Rarity because the Spirit is after her!” Fluttershy blurted out, the sight of Twilight and Rarity starting to argue seeming too much for her. “And she didn’t want the Spirit to keep going after Rarity, so she thought it’d be safer if they didn’t talk at all until we freed you!”
“Fluttershy!” Rarity exclaimed, aghast by the betrayal. She turned to Twilight, saying “Please, Twilight, just listen for a moment—” but whatever damage Fluttershy’s interruption could do had already been done.
Twilight’s frustration had completely faded away, and instead, she merely stared at Fluttershy with a fittingly ghostly pale expression. Without a word, she took a step back, and it felt like an eternity passed before she finally turned to look at Rarity.
“Is that true?”
There was no use lying. No use in postponing the inevitable, and now that it had come, Rarity found she could see no other way but forward.
“Yes,” she said unceremoniously, with no “ifs” or “buts” or any string of words she could think of to lessen the impact. Twilight was always blunt when it mattered, and Rarity figured she’d appreciate if the topic at hoof was taken in the same way. “Yes, it is.”
Twilight sat down, though it had looked more as if she’d plopped down, like one would after receiving upsetting or surprising news. She lifted the quill with her magic, and slowly dipped it in ink. After the longest moment, Twilight took back the quill, levitated it over the parchment, and simply floated it there, several droplets of ink falling and splashing on the blank paper.
“Are you sure?” she asked, lowering the quill and starting to write at an equally slow pace.
“I’m… I’m nearly positive, yes,” Rarity confessed.
With hesitation, Rarity did as ordered.
She explained what she’d seen with the nightmare bomb: the terrifying shadow and the omen concerning Apple Bloom’s encounter in the Everfree Forest. Except, just as she was about to explain her nightmare, she found the proper words lacking in her mind. Probably because she didn’t want to talk about it. As she spoke, she kept rearranging the pencils in different orders, wishing she could do so as easily with the ideas rushing about her mind in a panicked fashion.
“I thought you said that the filly had been seeing things in the forest.”
“I said she was probably seeing things. And it doesn’t matter if she was or wasn’t, Twilight. Princess Luna was right; he’s bound to come after me eventually.”
Rarity looked up to find Twilight still writing, but her pace had increased exponentially, and she realized her friend wasn’t so much writing words as she was scrawling nonsense and squiggly lines.
There was a certain rhythm to her scrawling, as if she were in deep concentration, and Rarity wondered if she could just let Twilight write and write and write, never breaking her momentum and never facing what lay across the threshold of Twilight’s odd processing method.
Taking a deep breath, Rarity spoke: “Twilight? Are you—”
Her sentence was cut short by Twilight herself, who abruptly teleported away, quill and all.
Rarity withheld a groan, turning to look at her other friend, who could only meekly whisper an apology.
“It’s all right, Fluttershy. I suppose getting it over with sooner rather than later is for the best,” Rarity said, standing and looking toward the rows of bookcases. She offered an encouraging smile and nodded toward the end of the library. “Could you be a dear and check on the girls? I think it’d be best that they don’t interrupt us.”
Once Fluttershy nodded and took off, Rarity waited a few minutes before calling out.
There was no reply from or sign of Twilight. Rarity got up, calling Twilight’s name a few more times, and headed toward the rows of bookcases. She made her way through them, and opened her mouth to call out again, but stopped when Twilight suddenly trotted through a bookcase and into view, muttering under her breath.
And then disappeared through another bookcase.
Just as Rarity was about to keep trotting, Twilight trotted through another bookcase, made a sharp turn toward Rarity, and probably would have trotted right through the unicorn had she not stepped out of the way.
“Twilight! Will you stop, please?!” Rarity called out after her, rolling her eyes when Twilight made another sharp turn and disappeared into a third bookcase. It took at least five more appearing and disappearing acts for Rarity to finally give up on calling Twilight’s name, and she instead settled on waiting for Twilight to actually stop and talk to her.
With a surprised eek!, Rarity turned around to find Twilight standing behind her and looking oddly calm.
“Y-yes?” she asked, relieved that at least now they’d be able to talk.
“I have a plan,” Twilight replied, and then, without another word, teleported away.
“A plan? What plan?” Rarity called out, once more resuming her search for Twilight.
Thankfully, her search didn’t last long, as she found Twilight sitting down next to the table, looking over the scrolls and drawings. Rarity quickly made her way over to the alicorn.
“Everything is all right, Rarity,” Twilight interrupted, not turning to look at Rarity.
Rarity blinked, confused. “I… Whatever do you mean?”
“Everything is all right,” she repeated, a smile making its way onto her lips when she finally looked up at her friend. “I have a plan.”
“Yes, you keep saying that, dear,” Rarity asked, seating herself on the opposite side of the table and watching as Twilight neatly piled up her parchments. “You have a plan.”
“Yes,” Twilight replied, and with a spark of magic, her parchment disappeared, along with everything else that had been on the table. Looking like she’d thought of the single greatest idea to have ever been thought of, she explained: “You won’t help me find the others anymore.”
“It’s a great plan, Rarity!” Twilight continued, a glint in her eye unlike any Rarity had ever seen before. “If you’re not helping me anymore, then Discord has no reason to go after you, and you can keep coming without worrying about your safety, and everything will be all right, and perfect, and great.”
“But what about Princess Luna? We can’t just lea—”
“Luna can take care of herself,” Twilight forcefully interrupted, her tone rising ever so slightly. “I’m sure her friend will be able to help her, and we can just wait here where everything is safe and where Discord won’t bother us and—”
“Twilight, are you even listening to yourself?” Rarity asked, trying to keep her tone level. “The fact that he’s even after me means we’re on the right path! What good would it possibly do to back off now?!”
“Rarity, I can’t be saved! Don’t you see?!” Twilight exclaimed, standing up and slamming her hoof through the table. “If he’s really after you, that means Princess Celestia wasn’t able to stop him, and if she couldn’t stop him, then there’s nothing we can do! If you stop now, he can’t hurt you, and you can still keep visiting!”
“No, I can’t!” Rarity exclaimed, Twilight’s own attitude finally succeeding in blowing away all of her reservations about discussing her nightmare. If Twilight was going to take things to the extreme, it was only fair she did the same. “It’s already too late!”
“N-no, it isn’t! If you stop, you’ll be safe and—”
“But you won’t!” Rarity continued, irritated by Twilight’s utter lack of worry for herself. “He’s already taken my shape to trick ponies! What’s stopping him from turning into me to trick you?! Imagine something happens to me, and not because of him! Imagine one day I can’t come into the library again! What’s stopping him from just taking my place and parading in as me?!”
“He wouldn’t do that!” Twilight protested, indignant. “And even if he did, I’d be able to tell the difference!”
“And what if you couldn’t?”
Twilight looked taken aback. “I… I…”
“I’m the one who insisted on looking for the princesses! I’m the one who put both you and myself in danger, and goodness knows who else for that matter, and I won’t allow him to use my image to harm you!”
“Wh-what do you mean?” Twilight asked in a low tone, as if she sensed the impending ultimatum.
“I mean that as long as that possibility exists, then the only way to make sure you will be able to distinguish between us is by me promising right now to never step a hoof inside this library again. That way, if you ever see me again, you will know for a fact that it isn’t, well… me.”
When Rarity finished, her heart beating wildly in her chest, Twilight simply stared at her, quietly, carefully, her expression indecipherable.
What was going through her mind? Did she care? Did she mind? Of course she would care if somepony stopped visiting her, but would she care if it was Rarity who’d stop? Did it even matter?
These questions and more rushed through the unicorn’s mind as she waited for Twilight’s reply, waited for anything. A sign of understanding, of frustration, of— Of course, it was hard to figure somepony out when they teleported away out of the blue.
Rarity blinked at the spot where Twilight had been before she’d disappeared without a word. At least now Rarity knew for certain Twilight resorted to teleporting away when she was upset.
“Twilight?” she called out, trying not to sound too distressed as she stood up and looked around. “Twi… light…”
This time Twilight hadn’t gone too far away, and Rarity was surprised to find herself in an unexpected and altered reenactment of her nightmare.
Twilight was standing in front of the exit tunnel, wings splayed out and trying to cover as much of the exit as she could. Rarity wasn’t sure how to react, looking at the alicorn with a perplexed expression.
“What are you—?”
“You can’t leave,” Twilight said, and never had Rarity seen her look so serious. “I won’t let you.”
Rarity raised her eyebrows. “You won’t let me?”
“Not if you want to leave like this,” Twilight replied, a slight hint of desperation in her voice, which she tried to mask by reasserting her stance. Her stance, however, faltered when something rather unexpected happened. Her wings lowered and she asked, “What are you…?”
Rarity was giggling.
She couldn’t exactly explain why she was giggling. Maybe it was the belated realization of the extreme solutions both mares had thought of, or maybe it was the realization that, in a delightfully twisted way, her nightmare had been somewhat of a premonition.
Or, maybe, there was something else entirely that made her laugh.
“Twilight,” she said, clearing her throat in an attempt to retain some sort of seriousness. She smiled and pointed toward her friend. “You do realize I could just trot right through you, don’t you?” she asked, echoing the very same question the Spirit had asked in her nightmare.
“I know, but I don’t care,” Twilight replied, even though the hesitation and split-second embarrassed expression pointed to her having completely forgotten her ethereal properties. “If you don’t leave, then Discord can’t trick me by posing as you, and you only have to stay here until I find a way to protect you all from him.”
“I see!” Rarity replied, taking several more steps toward Twilight, each one making Twilight’s resolve falter. “Pray tell, do you have any food here? I realize you don’t eat, but surely you don’t intend on having Elara and Themis start food runs alongside their ink runs? And I sincerely hope you’re not expecting me to graze on the grass outside.”
“Alchemy,” Twilight replied almost instantly. “There’s at least five hundred books with a thousand spells each on how to alchemize food and other edible materials.”
“And you intend on extracting food from…? Wood? Thin air, perhaps?” Rarity asked, fluttering her eyelashes. “And do remember you’ll be serving for four considering the girls are all downstairs!”
Twilight narrowed her eyes and, with a spark of magic, a heavy alchemy tome appeared before her. She magicked it open and started reading, her face hidden behind the book.
Rarity trotted up to her. “Twilight, darling…”
She lifted her forehoof and pushed the book down, revealing Twilight’s face. It turned out that Twilight hadn’t even really been reading, and instead she stared at Rarity, looking and no doubt feeling absolutely powerless.
“He’s taken everything away from me, Rarity,” Twilight whispered, the words escaping her mouth with great difficulty. “My family… My brother and Cadance… Princess Celestia… Princess Luna… Spike… And now even Elara is gone…” She closed the book, letting it gently float down to the floor. “I won’t let him take you, too. I don’t want to lose somepony else…”
“I just need one week,” Twilight continued. “One week, and I will find a way to keep you and the others safe from him.”
“One week?” Rarity asked. That didn’t nearly feel like enough time to find a way to stop the Spirit of Chaos…
“I just need one week, Rarity,” Twilight insisted. “I promise this time I won’t let anypony down.”
Rarity smiled, relenting to Twilight’s request. “One week it is,” she said before looking past Twilight and toward the tunnel. “I do hope I’ll be allowed to leave now, at least?” she added cheekily. “I don’t want to have to trot through you.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “You wouldn’t do that,” she said, allowing herself a smirk as she added, “You’re too polite for that.”
“I’m too polite, am I?” Rarity turned around, gasping theatrically and placing a hoof on her forehead. “Alas! My obsession with good manners thwarts my escape yet again!” She turned back to Twilight, rubbing a hoof over her mouth. “Then again, I already did it once before, and it wasn’t that dreadful.”
Twilight took a step back, covering herself with a wing and narrowing her eyes. “You wouldn’t…”
Rarity giggled. “Come on, we have better things to do,” she said, turning around and heading toward the table. Now that the mood had lightened, she was eager to get back to happier topics, trying to forget the looming countdown now hanging over them. “I brought you some pictures I took in Hollow Shades, and I have a present for youuu!”
Once they reached the table, Twilight sat down next to Rarity, her eyes lingering on the necklace hanging around Rarity’s neck. In turn, Rarity reached into her saddlebag and took Twilight’s necklace.
“Voila!” she announced, levitating it toward Twilight. “A matching necklace just for you.”
“Oooh…” Twilight carefully took it in her magic and inspected it.
“The shopkeeper said it’s supposed to ward off the Spirit. Doesn’t work very well, it seems,” Rarity explained, looking back and forth between the necklace and Twilight. “Do you like it?”
Twilight nodded, smiling at Rarity. “I do, but…” She looked uncomfortable for a moment, as if about to make a shameful confession. “I can’t actually wear it.”
Rarity giggled. “I already know that, darling. I thought maybe you could use it as a bookmark for a spellbook or something.”
“Hm… Speaking of spellbooks, you don’t know how to teleport, do you?” Twilight asked suddenly, still looking at her necklace. “I’ll have to teach you.”
Rarity was taken aback. “Teach me? But teleporting requires a magic far more advanced than mine! It would take months or even years of training!”
Twilight narrowed her eyes, humming thoughtfully before looking back to her necklace and leaving the unicorn with the distinct impression that Twilight’s non-verbal reply didn’t bode well for her.
“What do you mean ‘hmmm’?” Rarity asked, alarmed.
“It means I have one week, Rarity,” Twilight replied at length, suddenly teleporting several heavy-looking tomes to her side. “Don’t I?”
“Yes…” Rarity replied, even though admittedly she knew she would probably allow Twilight as many weeks as they could get away with until Twilight found a solution.
Twilight nodded before opening up the nearest book and reading aloud: “Teleportation Spells.” She delicately placed her necklace inside the book and closed it, allowing the pendant to stick out the pages of the book. “There.” She looked up to Rarity and with a smile said: “It might be a good idea to go home soon, Rarity. You’ll need all your energy for what’s coming this week.”