“Rarity, we’ve been friends for many years, have we not?”
She laughed. “Three weeks hardly qualifies as many years, my dear.”
He grinned. “Ah, but is time not relative? For our wonderful friendship, maybe not! But.” He frowned. “For you and Princess Twilight, I’d imagine these three weeks have felt eternal.”
The warmth in her expression vanished. Quickly.
“…What are you saying, North Ridge?”
“I’m saying it seems you’ve taken to old bad habits. Remind me, how long did it take you to read that one letter?”
If this were Rarity, if it were her walking through that forest, she’d have a lot to say about it. She would say that the familiar path no longer brought her joy, but pain. She would say that the sounds of the forest, the howling timberwolves and echoing wind, no longer encouraged her but frightened her.
Or she might say that the stillness of the forest relaxed her, even despite what she’d been forced to endure inside of it. There she walked, boldly and proudly, the scar on her hindleg a symbol not of weakness, but survival.
To Rarity, the Everfree Forest was just that—a forest.
To Twilight Sparkle, however, as she walked through that forest with her friends, she could see it as nothing other than what it was.
Her prison—literally so.
Trees loomed over from the ground with the sole intent of keeping her hidden from anypony who’d ever want to find her.
Soldiers had died in that forest because of her. Cadance had told her so when she asked about the immediate aftermath of her imprisonment, and if Twilight had thought that tragic, the fact that Cadance had refuse to say how many died made it worse.
Just the thought that Rarity almost joined their ranks was…
“Darling,” Rarity said, her voice drawing Twilight’s gaze away from her scarred flank and towards her teasing eyes. “I know you enjoy the view, but might I suggest being more discreet?”
Trotting beside Rarity, Fluttershy couldn’t help but giggle, though it was unclear if she was laughing at Rarity’s comment or Twilight’s embarrassment.
“I wasn’t staring because of that!” protested the princess.
Though her two friends believed her and went back to their conversation without any other remark, Twilight couldn’t help the distress in her heart as she trailed along.
“Rarity,” she called out, and when the two mares stopped and looked back, she spoke up with pained severity. “I’m serious.”
“I know, dearest,” she said, smiling with sincere affection. “I only wanted to lighten up the mood. I know how hard this is for you.”
Twilight couldn’t help but return the smile and the tease.
“What is? Not staring at you?”
“Precisely!” Rarity exclaimed with a laugh, resuming her brisk trot. “Now, come along, you two, we’re almost there.”
They made their way through the forest, until finally they came to a stop in front of the massive oak tree Twilight had been in for so long. It was strange to see it there inside of a forest instead of in the middle of a valley. Maybe that was the very thing that made it feel like this place was no longer her home.
The anxiety she felt at seeing it also did little to help.
She thought she’d be able to go back in, but now that she was there before it, well…
“Where’s the book?” Fluttershy asked, heading towards the tree.
“Somewhere in the maze, I gather?” Rarity replied, already at the trap door. She looked over to Twilight for confirmation. “Isn’t that ri—” She frowned. “Twilight?”
Standing far, far away from the tree, Twilight returned the frown.
“What?” she asked, clearly not trying to stay away from the library. Clearly.
Rarity’s expression softened. “Darling…” She smiled gently and gestured to the spot next to her, her next words willing Twilight to approach her. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“We’re here with you, Princess Twilight,” said Fluttershy when Twilight passed her by, and received in reply a cross between a thankful hum and an anxious whine.
“Twilight,” Rarity said when the princess finally reached the trapdoor. “I know this is difficult f—”
“It is,” Twilight cut-off, not intending to be rude but wanting Rarity to really understand. Just looking at the trap-door, just thinking of the library was enough to make her feel sick.
“I know that, Twilight, I do,” Rarity said, her tone gentle but firm. She lifted her hoof and raised Twilight’s chin. “But that is precisely why you need to go down there and face this.”
Twilight half-smiled. “You sound like Princess Luna.”
Rarity fluttered her eyelashes. “You mean Princess Luna sounds like moi,” she said, proving once again that her charm was almost always enough to convince Twilight to take action. She stepped to the side, allowing Twilight her space, and gestured to the trapdoor. “After you, your highness?”
Invigorated, Twilight leaned in to nuzzle her before finally turning to the trapdoor. As long as Rarity was there with her, she could do what had to be done. Taking a breath, she opened the trapdoor with her magic and…
And felt her throat constrict at the sight of the dark tunnel she was expected to climb into. Whatever courage she’d gathered was now barely clinging to life.
“Twilight?” Rarity prompted.
“I’m fine,” Twilight replied forcefully, a lie meant to trick Rarity, if not herself.
She became aware of her body suddenly, of her hooves pressing against the ground, and the wind brushing through her coat, and she had to tell herself she would not lose this. She was just getting a book, that’s all. She would not lose her body anymore.
She took a step forward, lifting her hoof and lowering it into the tunnel.
Discord’s voice hissed in her mind.
“You deserved it.”
As soon as the thought finished, her hoof collided against the steel stair, and the sound it made, cold and metallic and loud, immediately sent her scrambling back, as if the chaos puppet was about to crawl out of the tunnel. Disregarding Rarity’s calls, she slammed the trapdoor shut with her magic and rushed away, ending up somewhere behind Fluttershy.
“Twilight!” Rarity called. “Twilig-!”
“I don’t want to!” Twilight called back, struggling to say the words, shame and horror and frustration burning her. She couldn’t go back to the place of her assault. She couldn’t. She didn’t want to. “I can’t!”
“Oh, princess,” Fluttershy said, and though she doubtless meant this with all the sincerity and affection in the world, it registered very differently to Twilight.
She forced herself to look away from Fluttershy, to push away her voice, and turned towards Rarity, finding the unicorn still standing by the trapdoor and still looking straight at her, expression indecipherable.
Neither said a word at first until Rarity’s horn lit up and careful magic opened the trapdoor again.
Twilight’s heart sped up.
The unicorn didn’t offer a smile or reassurance.
“I won’t be long, then,” she said instead, and though it was likely she did not mean it in this way, all Twilight could register in that sentence was something far worse than pity.
She watched, torn and hurt, as Rarity stepped down into the tunnel, and just as she was about to disappear into the depths of the ground, Twilight called out her name.
The surprised unicorn turned back towards Twilight.
“I…” Twilight faltered and made a choice. “I’m sorry.”
Rarity stared at her for a moment and then, without a word, disappeared into the tunnel.
“Great,” Twilight said.
She turned away from the library and walked towards the forest.
Great, great, great.
“Princess? Where are you going?” Fluttershy asked, alarmed.
“I need to clear my head,” she explained and hoped that would be enough.
Though she intended on reassuring Fluttershy she wouldn’t take long, and in fact managed to say half that sentence, she was interrupted by the ground violently and suddenly shaking, completely throwing her off her balance.
She tumbled to the ground, caught off-guard, and turned to Fluttershy when the pegasus let out a terrified yelp.
Strangely enough, the earthquake stopped just as fast as it had arrived. It couldn’t have lasted more than a couple of seconds, but what certainly lasted a while was the horror of what came next.
No sooner had the earthquake ended, a horrified shriek came from the library tunnel.
“Rarity?!” Fluttershy called out, standing up just as Twilight rushed past her.
“Rarity?!” Twilight called out next, only steps away from the tunnel now, and ready to jump down up until she actually got there and again the sight of the tunnel made her feel violently ill, jolting her away from it.
Her breath caught in her throat, her heart in her chest, and for what felt like forever, she struggled to breathe.
“Princess?!” Fluttershy called out, confused and desperate.
“I can’t,” Twilight croaked, even though she wanted to, she did. “Rarity?! Rarity, are you—”
Another shriek cut her off, but this one was distinctly not Rarity, and it was much less a shriek and so much more an enraged screech.
The earth trembled again, and she barely had enough time to scramble back when from the tunnel emerged a familiar monstrous creature, as angry and chaotic and Discord-looking as ever.
“No!” Twilight gasped. “No! You’re supposed to be gone!”
With little regard to what was supposed to be and what wasn’t, the puppet screeched at her and slammed its fists against the ground, sending vibrations through the earth and shaking off the branches of surrounding trees. The moment they fell to the ground, it screeched again and the branches floated up into the air, their shape shifting just as life was breathed into them.
Surrounded by timberwolves and faced off against a creature that wanted to either kill or possess her, Twilight Sparkle was more than a little at loss for what to do.
“Princess!” Fluttershy called, and when Twilight turned to her, Fluttershy looked at her with pleading, terrified eyes. “Princess, how did we get here?!”
“Wh… what? Fluttershy, what does that have to do with—?!”
“How did we get here?!” Fluttershy repeated. “Don’t you remember?!”
Twilight gawked at her friend, thrown off-balance by this completely arbitrary question, and yet suddenly nothing seemed more important than the answer to it if only because, try as she might, Twilight couldn’t find a reply.
She had no idea how they got there, and this fact was more harrowing than the chaos puppet itself.
Upset at being ignored, the creature howled viciously and caught Twilight’s attention, her mind struggling to decide what to focus on.
Something was wrong, something was very very wrong, and it wasn’t the puppet or Rarity, but how could she focus when the puppet’s hands had started to glow, summoning a fireball in its claws to throw at her.
Which it did.
It threw the fireball at her, fast and strong and doubtlessly hotter than lava, and she conjured up a shield to defend both herself and Fluttershy.
But the impact never came.
She cracked open an eye and looked up to find that not only had the fireball and puppet frozen in place, but so had Fluttershy been plagued by the same stillness.
“What…?” she asked, and her question was promptly answered when Princess Luna appeared beside her, looking quite unamused.
“I think we’ve had enough for today.”
Confusion came first, her beating heart trying to slow down. “Princess Luna?!” The tension in her body wore away and she fell onto her hindlegs, trying to catch her breath. “Oh, thank the stars. It was just a nightmare.”
And then, no sooner had she said that, her relief turned to horror.
“A nightmare?!” she gasped, and turned to the Princess. “No! Wait! But—! Enough?! I was about to figure out it was a dream! I was right there!”
The princess arched an eyebrow. “How many times have you said that already?”
“That doesn’t matter! This time was different!” she protested. “I thought something was wrong!”
“Thinking is not enough, Twilight Sparkle,” said the Princess gravely. “You must know. The only way to have lucid dreams is to be able to control them, and if you cannot do lucid dreaming, then controlling the dreams of others will be a nightmare in itself.“
“I know that,” Twilight murmured, bowing her head.
“You are not expected to master all of this in a few weeks,” she said. “It will take you time.”
“But we don’t have time,” Twilight retorted, frustration seeping out. “Seeking Night is in a few weeks! Everything Rarity’s been working on depends on me being able to do this, and we haven’t even started with dreamwalking and I’m already failing!”
“You are improving, Twilight. The last time you had this dream, you did not even try to go down into the library.”
Twilight laughed humorlessly. “And? The only reason I did it this time is because you were manipulating the Rarity construct. ‘You sound like Princess Luna’. How did I not see that?!”
“You are mistaken. Rarity and Fluttershy were both products of your own subconscious, not part of my design. That Fluttershy was you trying to remind yourself of the dream test,” the princess clarified. “As for Rarity…” There was a hint of a smile on her lips. “I’m sure she would be most pleased to see that even in dreams she pushes you to confront yourself.”
Well, what else would she do? Twilight wanted to say. She’d never known a Rarity that didn’t seem eager to have Twilight deal with the plethora of things that had to be dealt with.
“I wish it actually worked,” Twilight grumbled.
The princess was silent for a moment and then said, “Can you take me to Hollow Shades?”
Twilight blinked. “I… Outside? To the real Hollow Shades?”
“No,” Luna said. “Here. Take us from this forest to Hollow Shades.”
Realizing she was being tested, Twilight hesitantly looked around at the Everfree Forest, at this reality that was anything but, and she closed her eyes, trying to picture Hollow Shades. She pictured the houses with constellations on them, the tree houses littered with lanterns, the ponies walking about in cloaks.
I am in Hollow Shades, she told herself as her horn crackled with magic. I am in Hollow Shades.
“Open your eyes.”
And when she did, excitement burst through her, the scenery changed from the Everfree Forest to Hollow Shades, ghostly illusions of its inhabitants walking about and living their lives.
“You are capable, Twilight. You’ve just done what you could scarcely do even a few lessons back. You will be ready to dreamwalk soon.”
“I need to be ready now, Princess Luna,” Twilight said, the thrill she felt not enough to overpower the burden of what was expected of her. “Soon isn’t soon enough.”
“Perhaps it is time to test the age-old saying, then.”
“What age-old saying?”
“Practice makes perfect,” said Princess Luna, and at Twilight’s confused stare, she elaborated. “You will dreamwalk tonight.”
Twilight gawked at her. Had she heard right? “Dreamwalk? Tonight? “
“Yes, tonight. Brazened Awe should have brought my old books from the castle. I assume you’ve already read them?”
“Yes,” Twilight replied. “But what about lucid dreaming? I haven’t mastered that yet, and—”
“It is not required to dream walk. It makes it easier, yes, but it is not impossible to do it without it,” the Princess reassured. “Read the books again. Study them, and we will reconvene at midnight tonight.” Her horn flashed with magic and the world around them began to blur, the princess’s voice fading out as she woke Twilight up. “Have a pleasant day, Twilight.”
And just like that, without fanfare or a start, Twilight blinked awake.
Sunlight filtered in past the nearly-drawn drapes, only barely illuminating the clock on a nearby nightstand and informing Twilight that midday had passed half an hour ago. She groaned softly and rubbed her eyes, finding two owlets and their father huddled against her chest, all three fast asleep.
A soft hoot answered her unfinished question, and she turned around to find Elara and Ginny standing on a notebook on the nightdesk, the owlet holding a pen in her beak.
She took the notebook and recorded what she could remember of her now-fading dream. When she was done, she carefully sat up, the owls’ sleep thankfully undisturbed, and looked around at the books littered all over Rarity’s bedroom.
Studying, she decided, could wait until after she’d cleared her head.
With a yawn, she and the two owls now perched on her back stepped out of the room where their restful disposition was swiftly attacked by a horde of screaming foals stampeding towards them.
“Princess Twilight, you’re awake!” gasped a filly.
“Did you see Princess Luna?! Did you tell her I said hello?! Did she say hello back?!” demanded a colt.
“Can I use Ginny to play with my dolls?!” pleaded another, already reaching for the owlet.
“Elara, don’t peck her!”
“Is it true we’re seeing Princess Luna soon?!” another one asked, tugging at her forelegs. “Rarity said we’re going to help rescue her!”
“Yes!” Twilight exclaimed, using her magic to levitate the horde of foals up into the air and away from her—not that they cared, as floating around was fascinating for all of them. She put them down—far, far away from her—and continued. “I’m going to go see Rarity now and… plan our rescue.” She looked around, trying to find a distraction. “Meanwhile, why don’t you, er… ask… Pinkie? Ask Pinkie what she’s doing to help Princess Luna!”
Her idea was successful, and the stampede rushed down the stairs without much care for the princess. Relieved, and still in possession of her two owls, she intended on following them down up until a familiar filly tugged on her leg.
“Princess Twilight?” the filly said, her ears lowered. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course, Lemon Drop. What do you need to ask?”
Lemon looked at the ground, her brows knitted in concentration. “Uhm…” She looked back up. “Rough Nut said that, um, bad ponies can go to jail? Is that true?”
“Yes, that’s true… Or, now it is, at least. The law books Rarity gave me last year don’t mention dungeons anymore.” She sat down and inspected the filly. “Why do you ask?”
“And what does a bad pony have to do to go to jail?” Lemon asked, ignoring Twilight’s question.
“Er… It depends? There’s a lot of reasons you can go to jail, but essentially it means you broke the rules.”
Lemon’s eyes widened. “You go to jail for breaking the rules?!”
“Yes. Or, actually, you go to court first,” she said, realizing this was a great opportunity to revise what she knew of modern laws. “It’s actually very interesting! Before, it was the princess who held court and decided if a pony was guilty or not, but in modern times, there’s an entire new system for it! There’s a judge, who’s the really important pony that decides if you’re guilty or not, and then the defendant—that’s the bad pony—has another pony called a lawyer to help prove their innocence based on gathered evidence. It’s a lot more thorough than what we did in Canter Capitol, even though it still has flaws. In fact, this book Rarity gave me detailed a very interesting case where a pony was wrongly jailed for life because of a crime his twin brother committed!
“Isn’t that interesting?” she asked next, until she saw Lemon’s wide-eyed, open-mouthed expression and remembered she was talking to a foal. She smiled awkwardly. “…Let me start over.”
“No, no, it’s fine!” Lemon quickly said, her voice faltering slightly. However, before Twilight could comment or inquire, the filly rushed off and down the stairs. “Thank you, Princess Twilight!”
“Wait!” Twilight called out.
She followed after her, but the filly was already gone by the time she reached the lobby, no doubt joining the throng of foals visiting the Dreamland. She debated trying to find Lemon Drops, but the idea was pushed away when the door to Princess Cadance’s theatre slammed open and a stallion-shaped Rift Shield rushed out, laughing loudly.
“Awwwww, come on!” he called out, missing Twilight and turning back towards the theatre. “Get a sense of humor! It was funny”
“Funny?!” came Rarity’s screeching voice, followed by her screeching self as she stomped out into the foyer, her glasses perched up on her horn and a rolled up scroll floating above her. “Funny?! Let my scroll show you what’s funny!”
“Rares, please!” he begged, failing miserably at looking sincere instead of amused. “Have mercy!”
Though Twilight still admittedly battled with her feelings towards Rift, she’d grown to like him well enough to decide upon sparing him the wrath of her marefriend.
“Hello,” she said loudly, drawing their attention.
Now Rift’s amusement vanished, the changeling immediately standing to attention and saluting her.
“Princess Twilight! Good afternoon!” he said, nearly cracking a smile at Rarity’s harrumph.
“Well, well, well!” she exclaimed, walking towards Twilight in an exaggerated kind of way. “If it isn’t somepony who—” she looked over her wither to glare at Rift, ”—loves and respects me!”
“Unlike me,” Rift politely clarified.
“Yes, unlike you! And now stop fooling around and take things seriously, for goodness’ sake!”
“Yes ma’am!” he exclaimed, doing a mock salute and walking back into the theatre before the scroll could assault him.
After she was done rolling her eyes, Rarity put her glasses back on and examined Twilight.
“You’re up early,” she pointed out.
“Early? It’s twelve in the afternoon, Rarity.”
Rarity gave her a fixed stare. “Oh, ha ha. You know what I meant. Are you done with your lessons?”
“No. Well, yes for now.”
Rarity bit down on her lip.
“And how did it go? Did it go well? Whatever it was called? Vivid-dreaming?”
“Lucid-dreaming,” Twilight corrected. “And no, it didn’t go well.”
Rarity smiled sympathetically, patting Twilight’s cheek. “Well, don’t let it get to you, dear. I’m sure you’ll figure it out soon.”
“That doesn’t matter anymore,” Twilight replied, only slightly bitterly. “Princess Luna wants to start dreamwalking tonight. The actual thing.”
Rarity’s eyes widened. “Dreamwalking? Dreamwalking dreamwalking?” she asked, her voice marred with… concern? Did she too think Twilight wasn’t ready?
“Yes, dreamwalking dreamwalking,” Twilight repeated slowly. “Why? Isn’t that good?”
Rarity blinked at her, thrown. “Good? Yes, of course! Yes, yes… I… Well, I suppose I’m just a tad surprised since Princess Luna made it seem like it would take longer.” She cleared her throat and offered Twilight a winning smile. “Regardless, this is good!”
“What about you?” Twilight asked, looking over Rarity and towards Cadance’s theatre. “What’s going on?”
Rarity sighed, turning around and heading towards the theatre. “Same as yesterday, I’m afraid. Things are still going a little slower than I hoped.”
Intrigued, Twilight followed her and was immediately beset by a cacophony of noises and individuals all gathered together in different clusters. The entire place had been cleared out of floor cushions and plastic tables of varying sizes had replaced them, each occupied by ponies and changelings busy with assorted tasks.
The nearest tables, near the left side of the room, were occupied by a dozen chatting mares and stallions, each one busy with sewing different kinds of teddy bears while Fluttershy encouraged them. Further along to the right, Applejack and her brother were clustered around mock designs of the bookmaze, the former animatedly talking to a group of carpenters. Finally, all the way to the right, Twilight saw Rift Shield talking to not one, not two, not three, but eight Cadances—including one who looked thoroughly amused by her five horns.
“Rarity! What are you talking about? This isn’t slow at all!” Twilight exclaimed, following Rarity towards the stage.
This was progress! Actual real progress, which was much more than she could say about her own side of the bargain.
Rarity didn’t relent. “It’s something, I’ll give you that. It’s going faster now that Princess Cadance has sent more help, but there’s still a great deal of things to do.”
They walked up onto the stage where Rarity’s workstation was chock-full of designs, checklists and formal letters of request.
“Like what?” Twilight asked, levitating a checklist and looking it over.
“Well, let’s see,” Rarity said, grabbing a pen and taking Twilight’s checklist. “First, we still need Applejack and her brother to tell us what we’ll need to build the bookmaze; secondly, we still need Rainbow Dash to confirm with Cloudsdale if they can lend us a hoof with the waterfall; thirdly, Pinkie and I still have to sit down and somehow figure out how we’re going to turn this place into Cadance’s castle; and on top of all of that, I still need to somehow find the time to go to Trottingham for the books.”
Twilight’s ears twitched up. “The books?”
“Yes, for the bookmaze. I’ve recently befriended the librarian from Trottingham’s library, and he’s offered to lend us as many books as we need in exchange for a small fee and advertising his library.”
Twilight couldn’t believe it.
“Uhm, I have books,” she said with a frown. “I don’t mind if we use my books.”
“Twilight,” Rarity said. “I’m aware you have bo—”
“A lot of books.”
“Yes, I’m aware you have a lot of books, darling, but until recently, those books were not available to us, hmmmm? Although…” She tapped the tip of the pen against her chin. “The books are going to be outside all day, and your books do have that protection spell…”
She put the checklist down and grabbed her nearby agenda, flipping its pages over to the current date.
“Well, I still want to use some of Red Lining’s books since he was kind enough to offer them, so let’s schedule the entire thing for this weekend. We’ll go to the library…”
She drifted off, brow furrowing and ears dropping slightly.
Rarity snapped alert. “What? Oh! My apologies.” She cleared her throat, her cheeks red. “As I was saying, I’ll set up a date with him this coming Sunday in Trottingham, and then on Saturday, you and I can… can go to the library and pick out books.”
“Wait. You and I? As in I’m going with you to the library?”
“Yes, of course,” Rarity replied “If Princess Luna is all right with it, and she doesn’t mind your training interrupted, I don’t see why we shouldn’t go together.” At Twilight’s uncertain expression, she raised an eyebrow. “Or should there be…?”
“What? No, there isn’t! Why would there be? I’m excited to go with you!” Twilight said, pushing away the thought that having nightmares about the library was surely a bad sign. She would be fine, especially with Rarity coming with her. Unless… “Unless you have a problem with me going?”
“What? Me? Of course not! Why would I have a problem with that? I don’t.”
“Well, I don’t either.”
“And that’s great, darling.”
“It is great.”
A moment passed, the two mares definitely not engaged in a stand-off, until Rarity perched her glasses atop her horn and smiled.
“Darling, it’s understandable to be nervous about going back,” she said gently, lifting Twilight’s chin up when the alicorn bowed her head.
“Princess Luna told you about my nightmares?”
“Not at all,” Rarity said, lowering her hoof. She tilted her head and fluttered her eyelashes. “I just happen to know you very well, and… Well, as much as I would love for you to come with me, if you’re still struggling to face this, then perhaps it might be better to wait until you’re ready.”
The words tumbled out of Twilight’s mouth without permission.
“That’s not what you said in the dream.”
Rarity frowned. “I… What? What dream?”
Her mind finally catching up, Twilight tried to backtrack. “Oh, uh… In a dream I had, you… I mean, not you you, the dream you. She said the fact that it was hard was exactly why I should go.”
Rarity took this in. “…Did she? Interesting.” She put her glasses back on her nose and shrugged. “Regardless, darling, it’s up to you.”
“I’d like to go,” Twilight said with finality. “ I’ll be fine.”
If Rarity thought otherwise, she did not voice her concerns. “In that case, I shall make the necessary preparations.”
“So!” Twilight said, looking around the room in an attempt to move the conversation along. “What else do you have to do?”
Rarity similarly looked around and noticed a few mares trying to flag her down. “Assist my impressive new army of seamstresses, it would seem.” She looked at Twilight. “What are you going to do? Study for tonight?”
When Twilight nodded, Rarity’s brow furrowed again.
“Entering nightmares, then?”
“That’s the idea, yes.”
“I see! How interesting.” Rarity licked her lips. “Tonight, then.”
They both fell into an awkward silence, broken only when Twilight finally asked what was on her mind.
“…And do you still not want me to go into your dreams…?”
Rarity smiled painfully. “No. No, not yet, no, darling,” she said, and though Twilight didn’t question it, Rarity quickly defended her response as if she had. “Not because I don’t trust you! It’s just rather… It’s a bit too much, you know, with us having to get ready for Seeking Night, and…”
Twilight arched an eyebrow. “‘And I need time’?” she ventured, and Rarity winced.
“Twilight Sparkle! That’s not fair!” she whined. “I gave you about a year of time, Miss I-Don’t-Want-To-Talk-About-My-Dark-And-Broody-Feelings!”
Twilight grinned sheepishly. “Okay, okay! I understand.”
“I know you’re worried, darling, but don’t be. My nightmares are mine and mine alone to face, and I will.”
“Do you promise?”
“Yes, I promise,” Rarity said, lifting her hoof and placing it on Twilight’s chest, right on top of the glowing necklace. “In fact, I’ve already started.”
Dreamwalking was much like meditating.
All she’d needed was a quiet room, a comfy pillow to sit on for hours on end, an ancient rune from a book, and alicorn magic.
“Or is it more like a trance?” Twilight mused aloud, her eyes scanning the many doors spread throughout the dream realm.
“A trance would be incorrect,” replied the Princess sitting beside her. “We have not closed ourselves to the outside world, nor are we only half-conscious. Does this feel like a dream?”
“No,” Twilight replied.
“Administer the test, then, please.”
“The tes—? Oh.”
Twilight closed her eyes and focused.
“How did you get here?” Luna asked her.
“I woke up in the afternoon, went down to see Rarity, we talked about Seeking Night, we decided to go to the library to get my books, after that I went to see Pinkie and had lunch with her, then I went to see the Professor, after that I came back to study until midnight and then I entered the dream state, then I met you, then I fell out of the dream state, then I entered it again, and then we started to talk, and I remembered all of this so I’m not in a dream.” She took a deep breath and opened her eyes. “There!”
Pleased by her small success, Twilight was excited to see what new things she was about to learn. She glanced towards the dozens of doors, briefly looking for familiar ones, before turning back to Luna.
“Are you and Rarity truly going to your library?” the Princess asked.
“Yes, this weekend.”
“Both of you?”
Twilight blinked, confused by the line of questioning. “Yes?”
The Princess smiled. “I see”
“What? Why? Why ‘I see’?”
Luna shrugged, looking back to the endless doors. “Considering all your nightmares take place in the library, I’m surprised to see both of you going there regardless.”
Twilight swallowed. “I know, but it’ll be fine. I’ll be fine,” she said, determined, and yet her determination faded when she turned to Luna and saw the princess giving her an expectant stare.
The princess smiled and said nothing more.
“Princess Luna, why are you being so… so cryptic! Why is everypony being cryptic?! You, Rarity—!”
“I am not cryptic, Twilight Sparkle. I’m merely observant, something which it would seem you are not.” Before Twilight could protest, Luna stood up and moved forward. “Dream walking,” she said in a tone of voice that put an end to their previous conversation, “is not simply going into ponies dreams.”
“…It technically is,” Twilight noted, getting up to follow her teacher. “You just fix their nightmares, too.”
“Our job is not to fix ponies’ nightmares, Twilight Sparkle. Our job is to guide them through their fears, not save them.”
She came to a stop and stamped her hoof against the ground, and Twilight yelped and jumped back at the sight of a massive eight-legged beast covered in spikes materializing before them, its eight eyes fixed dangerously on the alicorns, though it did not move an inch.
“Nightmares are rooted in reality. In fears that we have.” The princess stamped her hoof again and the terrible beast howled and shrank until a teensy little spider blinked up at the alicorns. “Dream-walkers can dispel them, yes, but only the dreamer can truly banish them.”
Twilight nodded, jotting down notes on a quill and notebook she’d conjured up—not that she could bring it into the real world, but still.
Princess Luna added, “This is why we cannot emotionally engage with them.”
Twilight looked up, quickly following as Luna moved forward again. “What do you mean?”
“We are objective agents, Twilight. When in somepony else’s dreams, you are no longer Twilight Sparkle. You have her expertise, her knowledge, her thought process, her empathy, but the rest? The rest must be subdued and gone. Your priority will be their emotions, feelings and experiences, not yours.
“This is why we, as dreamwalkers, never enter the dreams and nightmares of our loved ones.”
Twilight hummed. “Right. You’ve said that to me already, but… I guess I don’t understand? Why not? We know the ponies we love. Who better to help them than us? I can be the objective factor that they need.”
The princess came to a stop and hummed thoughtfully.
“That seems easy, does it not? Simple even. But do you remember what else I told you?” She burned her gaze into Twilight’s. “Are you prepared to see your loved one’s darkest fears? Their darkest moments?”
Twilight thought of Rarity, and the answer was obvious.
“Yes, of course.” She stood up straight. “I love them. I would be there for them, no matter what it is.”
Princess Luna came to a full stop, turning to Twilight and fixing her with a severe stare.
“Do you remember what else I told you? What Pinkie told you?”
Twilight faltered. “Err…”
“Tell me, Twilight Sparkle, what if you are the source of your loved one’s nightmares? What if you find out that what afflicts your loved ones, what is hurting them and causing them unrest, is you?” Her expression softened slightly. “Knowing what you’ve gone through and what I’ve seen of your dreams, I am sure you have wondered that many, many times already.”
When Twilight did not answer, her mind caught in the implications of such an event, the Princess continued her walk.
“It is impossible to ask for the consent of everypony. Dreamwalking is, inherently, a violation of a pony’s most private space, which is why, as I said, we cannot be ourselves when we dreamwalk, and why it is always a risk to dreamwalk the dreams of those you know.”
“Because you risk becoming emotionally compromised yourself,” Twilight finished, feeling altogether less enthusiastic about dreamwalking than she felt when they’d begun.
“There are also nightmares that don’t require us,” the princess continued as she reached a door only softly darkening. She pressed a forehoof against it, magic pulsing out and into the door. She smiled to Twilight. “Silver Twist being afraid of spiders does not necessitate an intervention, as I am sure you can imagine.”
Not even a moment later, the door flashed white and returned to its normal color, a soft baby blue.
“Not to mention there isn’t time to go into every single nightmare. There are degrees of severity and priority. Back when I could enter the dreams of adults, I would say some ponies benefitted from a good scare now…” The princess’ brow furrowed, her eyes drifting towards something beyond Twilight “…and then.” She paused for a split second and then continued to speak as though she hadn’t. “For your first lesson—”
“What happened?” Twilight asked, the princess’ words going unheard as Twilight’s curiosity compelled her to look around. “What did you—Princess!”
To her great alarm, there in the distance, a white door pulsed and transformed, flashing back and forth between white and black. A nightmare, and judging by the intensity of black, a pretty bad one at that.
It was alarming, yes, but…
It was fascinating too.
Without asking or waiting for permission, Twilight sped towards the door, ignoring the princess calling her name. A horrible nightmare! She hated hers, but she had no problems whatsoever studying those of other ponies! Not that she wanted them to have nightmares, clearly not, but scientifically and even psychologically speaking, nothing was quite as complex and visceral as nightmares.
Princess Luna’s voice echoed throughout the void, her body materializing soon after and planting itself right in front of the flashing door, her wings splayed out like a barrier before it. The younger princess screeched to a halt, looking up at Princess Luna and offering an embarrassed smile.
“Sorry. I got excited.”
Princess Luna raised an eyebrow. “A pony suffering is not something to be excited about.”
“Well. No. But. From a research point of view—” The princess’s expression quickly silenced her, and she tried to recover, clearing her throat and standing tall and proud and definitely not excited. “Let’s go help them!”
Princess Luna did not budge, her eyes still fixed on Twilight. What she was thinking or doing, Twilight couldn’t rightly extrapolate or guess at, and her quick review of everything she said didn’t highlight any mistake, so she relaxed her stance and cleared her throat.
The princess, again, did not speak, but she did lower her wings and stepped to the side, revealing the three familiar blue diamonds adorning the door.
Then, and only then, did Twilight’s excitement truly die.
“Rarity?” she asked, surprised at first, like it had never dawned on her that Rarity could even have nightmares. The concern came next, propelling her forward to the door. “Rarity?! Why is she having a nightmare?!” Her hoof shot to the knob. “We have to—”
She stopped abruptly and forced herself to step back, gritting her teeth.
“I gather she has yet to give you permission to enter her dreams,” said the princess, the words forming a question but the tone stating a fact.
“Yes,” Twilight said, her ears dropping and her defenses as well. She glanced at the princess, whose narrowed eyes and tilted head Twilight processed as a judgement on her relationship with Rarity, and so did her defenses shoot back up. “I’m sure she has her reasons!”
“I’m sure,” said the princess.
She turned back, raising her hoof and pressing it against the door. It pulsed with magic, but rather than fixing the problem and restoring the door to its normal color, it did nothing at all. The door continued to flash white and black.
Princess Luna’s expression darkened.
“This one might need me to intervene.”
“What’s wrong?” Twilight asked, stepping forward and placing her own hoof on the door, as if she would somehow similarly extract information. “Is she okay?! What’s the nightmare about?!”
The princess stared at her, and Twilight backed away with a nervous smile.
“And you’re not going to tell me because that’s her private dreams and that’s fine.”
“Your learn quickly,” said the princess with a slight smile. She then looked around and gestured to a distant door that was only slightly darkening. “That door is Lemon Drop’s. Assist her with her nightmare while I take care of Rarity’s.”
“Wait? Alone?” Twilight asked, her nerves starting to climb. “You want me to fix—er, guide her dream alone?”
“It will be a simple dream, Twilight,” the princess reassured her. She gestured to Twilight’s construct notebook. “You already know how to create objects and situations, and I don’t think influencing a foal will be a challenging task for you.”
“You are very capable, Twilight,” the Princess said with a smile. “I’ve yet to meet a pony who doesn’t believe you are. You should believe in yourself too.”
Twilight took a breath and stood straight. “Right. I will.”
“Good. And remember, Twilight, we do not fix nightmares. We assist ponies in discovering why they’re having that nightmare.”
That said, she turned her attention to the door and opened it up wide enough that Twilight was able to catch a glimpse of what seemed to be a forest. However, before she could see more, the princess stepped into the dream and closed the door behind her, leaving Twilight outside.
“A forest?” she murmured, knitting her brows together.
What forest, though? Was it the Everfree Forest? Realization dawned on her. Of course! Rarity had to be dreaming of the day the timberwolf attacked her!
She looked back at the door, taking a step forward and once again pressing her hoof on the doorknob. It would be easy to go in. She wanted to go in, to in dreams rescue Rarity from the scars she’d not been able to rescue her from in reality. It would be simple to do it.
But she wouldn’t. And she didn’t.
Twilight stepped away from the door, throwing Rarity’s cutie mark a final, almost apologetic glance, and then turned around and rushed towards the door of a small filly who needed her.
She opened the door, and no sooner had she done so, she was assaulted by a cacophony of furious, indistinguishable yells. Following that, she stepped into the dream, the door fading behind her and leaving her to frown at the mob gathered inside of Hollow Shades’ town hall. Mares and stallions clustered together, their cries almost indistinguishable save for a few prominent claims being thrown around.
“Punish him!” some yelled, while others called for, “Justice! Justice!”, and a few even went as far as to demand, “Exile! Make him leave! Make him leave!”
“Make who leave? Punish who?” Twilight asked a nearby mare, and was promptly ignored in favor of more yelling.
Is this common practice in the future? Angry mobs were something Princess Celestia and Princess Luna had to deal with a thousand years ago, but she admittedly would have expected modern society to be more… well, she didn’t mean to sound like Rarity, but more well-behaved.
Further attempts to converse with the ponies yielded no results, so she pressed onwards, pushing her way through the crowd until she was at the front lines.
Though Twilight Sparkle had seen the princesses hold court, she had never seen a modern courtroom like this one before—not in person, at least. She’d only read about them in the law books and courtroom drama novels Rarity had lent her, but this was the very first time she was witnessing a modern trial.
Or an attempt at it, at least.
“A trial? Why a—” She cut herself off, her stomach dropping at the memory of her earlier conversation with the filly. Had she caused this?
“SILENCE!” boomed Elder Moonshine, startling Twilight. She was sitting atop an obscenely large chair at the back of the room and banging her gavel on the table. “Silence!”
Rather than obey, the crowd raised their voices even more, forcing Twilight’s ears to clamp against her skull. Eager to get out of there, she scanned the room and finally found Lemon Drop cowering behind a desk to the left.
“Lemon!” Twilight called out through the crowd, and what relief when the filly looked around and spotted her.
“Princess Twilight! Princess Twilight!” Lemon called, waving her hoof. “You’re here!”
And then, only then, did the crowd not only go quiet, but it also turned its sight on Twilight, dozens of eyes now burning into her.
“Oh-kay,” she said awkwardly, stepping forward and heading towards Lemon.
What was that about? she thought, glancing back to the silent crowd. Now they’re paying attention to me? Why? Was it because Lemon was aware of her now?
Was this what the princess meant by influencing the dream?
“Guards!” Elder Moonshine bellowed. She gestured to two cloaked ponies, their hoods lowered over their faces. “Bring in the defender!”
“The defender?” Twilight murmured. “Doesn’t she mean the defendant?”
“Princess!” Lemon called. “Hurry!”
Twilight hurried over to her and took her place behind the desk, conjuring a stool for the filly to sit on, rather than having to hide behind the desk.
“Where’s the lawyer?” Twilight asked next, looking around and failing to find such a pony. She turned to Lemon, and on seeing the filly staring up at her expectantly, she realized the role she was now meant to play. “Oh.”
“Silence!” Elder Moonshine boomed again. “The defender is here!”
The crowd in the stands gasped and whispered amongst themselves as the hooded ponies came back, a caged terrified colt floating behind them.
“Cinnamon!” Lemon called, horrified.
“Lemon Drop!” called the colt back, reaching out to her through the bars. “Help me!”
“Cinnamon Drop?!” gasped Twilight, the sight of a defenseless child inside a cage bringing back uncomfortable memories. “Why is he caged?!”
“He was naughty!” Elder Moonshine replied.
“And so he should be caged for it?!” Twilight shot back, indignant.
“Prin… Princess Twilight,” Lemon asked, tearing up. “Why are you yelling? They’ll be even more madder!”
Jarred back to reality, both by the tears and the grammar, Twilight pushed her emotions back. She was supposed to be an objective agent, someone to observe and not take control, and considering her new role in the dream, she’d already failed at one of those two things.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I…” She cleared her throat and turned back to Elder Moonshine. “The, er… The defense requests the defendant be allowed out of the cage!”
“The defender is in criminal time-out,” Elder Moonshine replied, slamming her gavel again.
“No pony gets out of time-out!” Lemon whispered to Twilight.
“But…” Twilight frowned, her eyes darting between the cage and Lemon Drop. If she wanted to influence the dream, she had to influence Lemon herself. She cleared her throat, grabbing a coloring book nearby and flipping through its pages. “True as that may be, it says here that, in accordance with the Fifth Law of Fair Time-Out And Other Punishments, a foal must be given fair seating in their trial.”
Elder Moonshine frowned. “Well…” She slammed her gavel and bellowed, “Accepted!” after which she turned to the guards and gestured to the cage. “Release the defender from the cage!”
“You mean sustained, but that’s fine,” Twilight said, mostly to herself.
The guards opened the cage and a sniffling Cinnamon trotted out, taking a seat on a little blue chair that appeared next to him.
“Thank you,” she said. “What exactly is my client being accused of?”
Elder Moonshine was clear.
“Breaking the rules!”
“…Yes. I gathered that. Thank you,” Twilight replied politely. “I meant to say, what rule did he break?”
Later on, in retrospect, Twilight admitted it was quite a sight to see the elderly mare, the highly respected matriarch and leader of Hollow Shades, take on a somber expression, narrow her eyes and ruthlessly declare:
“He ate all the cookies from the cookie jar.”
Silence beset the courtroom, broken only by gasps and murmurs from the crowd and then by Twilight Sparkle herself.
“No!” Cinnamon blubbered from his seat. “I didn’t eat the cookies! I promise!”
“Ate every last one, he did!” the Elder continued, drumming up a storm with her gavel. “Even the raisin ones!”
“He’s on trial for eating cookies?!” Twilight asked, flabbergasted. All this charade for… “Cookies?!”
Lemon grabbed Twilight’s foreleg and shook it.
“What?! What’s wrong?! Is he not supposed to be on trial?! Is he guilty?! Are ponies who eat cookies not ‘sposed to get trials?!”
Twilight turned to her, thrown.
“Wait, what? Where did you–”
Before she could say much else, the dream warped and changed, a metal clanging echoed through the room. To Twilight’s horror, Cinnamon was back in a cage, this one not only much smaller than the one from before, but also covered in chains.
“Guilty!” shrieked the elder, gaveling her desk to the point she must have made holes in it. “Guilty! Guilty!”
“Wait!” Twilight begged.
“No! I’m not guilty!” Cinnamon cried, his little hooves holding onto the bars. “I didn’t eat the cookies! I promise!”
“Stop lying!” the elder roared. “You’ve disappointed me, Cinnamon!” There was a flash, and suddenly a sobbing mare and stallion appeared in the courtroom, holding each other through their unbearable pain. “You’ve disappointed your parents!” Another flash, and now Princess Denza joined them, the mare weeping into a tissue. “You’ve disappointed the princess!”
“No!” cried out Lemon and Cinnamon.
Another flash and now Pinkie was in the courtroom, comically huge tears pouring out her wide eyes.
“You’ve disappointed Pinkie! And Incantation!” Flash, and there she was, the poor changeling looking towards Cinnamon with hurt in her eyes. “And Rarity!” Flash, and there she was, quiet and stoic and with the same expression Twilight had seen in her own nightmares.
“Stop!” Lemon cried, her eyes puffy and red. She rushed to Twilight and hugged her, burying her face in her coat. “Please! Make them… Make them stop!”
Twilight didn’t need to be told twice.
“Stop!” she commanded, getting up and slamming her own hoof on the table, much louder than any gavel. “Enough, Elder!”
Once the elder fell silent, Twilight tried to regain some modicum of control.
“I need a moment to think!” she informed, and when nopony spoke, she exhaled in relief. “Thank you.”
She turned back to comfort the crying filly while trying to decipher why in Equestria was all of that happening. Why would she be dreaming of her brother going to jail for eating cookies? In what world would that even be—
“Prin… Princess?” Lemon asked, looking up at Twilight.
“Hold on for a minute,” Twilight said kindly, waiting for the filly to detach herself before turning towards the elder. “Elder Moonshine! The defense would like to have a moment with the defendant’s sister!”
The elder slammed her gavel. “Accepted!”
“What are we gonna do?!” Lemon asked when Twilight turned to her.
Twilight glanced at the cage in the distance. “We need to prove Cinnamon innocent so he’s not unfairly punished.”
“And in order to do that, we need to present irrefutable—” At the filly’s expression, she started her sentence over. “We need to present, er, a very good reason for why he’s innocent.” She then knelt down, made sure to look the confident filly in the eyes, and asked, “Lemon. Do you have any reason to be sure Cinnamon didn’t eat the cookies?”
Lemon looked back at her, and without warning, her eyes filled with tears.
“I… Uhm… I…”
“Lemon,” Twilight said again, as kindly and patiently as she could. “Do you have any evidence that Cinnamon didn’t eat the cookies?”
Lemon shakily nodded.
“What is it?”
One, two, three seconds passed and the filly burst into tears.
“I’m sorry! I ate the cookies!!” she wailed, hiding her face in her hooves. “They were really—! Really tah-tasty, and I didn’t mean to eat all of them, I promise! And, and I don’t want Ci-Cinnamon to go to jail! And I don’t want to go to jail!”
She launched herself into Twilight forelegs and clung to her, her string of desperate apologies as incoherent as the last.
Twilight held her and was unable to repress a little victorious smile. She waited a moment until the wailing became sniffling and then firmly but kindly spoke up.
“Lemon,” she said, “no pony is going to jail.”
Lemon peered up at her. “But—! But bad ponies who break rules go to jail!”
“That’s true, but you’re not a bad pony. Jail is for really bad ponies, and you’re not going to jail for eating the cookies.”
Lemon stood back, rubbing her eyes. “You promise?”
The courtroom faded around them, Elder Moonshine and the rest of the ponies fading out from the dream until it was just Twilight and Lemon now inside of a kitchen.
“There is one thing, though,” Twilight continued, and she gave the filly a meaningful glance. “You have to tell your parents the truth.”
Lemon looked down and hoofed at the floor. “Even if they’re going to punish me?”
“Even if they’re going to punish you.” She lowered herself and grinned at Lemon. “Maybe next time don’t eat the cookies without permission, okay?”
“Okay!” Lemon nodded. A moment went by, the little filly deep in thought until she timidly looked back up at Twilight. “Princess Twilight? …You’re not disappointed in me?”
Twilight licked her lips, taking the question in and thinking back to her own nightmare, and the admittedly deep-rooted fear of somehow one day disappointing Rarity. She feared it, yes, but she now realized that she couldn’t hide from it forever.
“Well, I am a little bit disappointed.” At Lemon’s contrite expression, she lifted the filly’s chin with her hoof. “But I’m a thousand times more proud that you were brave and did the right thing in the end. You tried to be better and take responsibility,” she said with finality. “And that’s what a good pony does.”
“A good pony like you!” Lemon said, rushing over to hug Twilight and missing the alicorn’s eyes misting.
“A good pony like me,” she whispered.
“Strange,” a third voice said, “I recall my sister catching you in the larders many times, Twilight Sparkle.”
“Princess Luna!” the filly gasped, jumping off Twilight and going to the elder princess. “You’re here!”
“I am,” said the princess and then offered Twilight a meaningful glance. “The affair I was dealing with has been resolved.”
Relief washed over Twilight. Good.
“As for you, little filly,” the princess continued, levitating Lemon into the air. “I hope we have also learnt to cease eating sweets before bed so we don’t suffer from nightmares.”
“What about one sweet?!” Lemon asked, clapping her hooves together and jutting her lower lip out.
Princess Luna sighed heavily. “…One sweet is acceptable, I suppose, if your parents allow it.”
The princess put Lemon Drop down, just in time for Twilight’s horn to crackle with magic and the scenery to fade away from the kitchen and transform into an extravagant playground for the filly to play in.
“Impressive,” said Princess Luna, watching as Lemon rushed off to play.
Twilight allowed herself a smug smile.
“The advice you offered was impressive as well.”
“You should consider following it yourself.”
Twilight coughed, embarrassed. “Right. Well. I will.”
The princess laughed, sitting down and admiring the scenery. “You did very well, Twilight. Sister would be proud.”
“Yeah,” Twilight replied. She had done well, hadn’t she? Sure, some mistakes were made but all in all, it had gone well. She’d done things right! “I can’t wait to tell Rarity.” At that, she turned to the princess. “Is she doing better, then?”
“She is,” Princess Luna said carefully. “Though there is much she has to face, and…” She met Twilight’s gaze and drifted off.
“…And?” Twilight pressed.
The princess looked away.
“The influence of Discord’s actions… They’ve taken a toll on her, to extents I do not believe she’s yet realized.” She paused. “To extents even I had not anticipated.” She smiled mirthlessly. “It’s unfortunate but, even if not physically, she and you have traded places in more ways than one.”
“What can I do?” Twilight asked, her heart aching. “How can I help her? She’s doing so much already, and…” Anger bubbled at the surface, at the idea that Discord’s influence had taken Rarity. It sickened her to think Rarity’s life was being plagued by him. “I need to help her, Princess Luna. I can’t let him…”
Change her, she wanted to say. Change and hurt her more than he already had.
She couldn’t allow that to happen to Rarity anymore.
The princess was silent for what felt like an eternity.
Eventually, she spoke.
“You must work on yourself, Twilight. If you want to be there for her as she was for you, then you must continue to work on undoing the damage Discord did to you.”
“And that will help her?”
“Yes. Even dreamwalking itself will prepare you to help her when the time comes.”
Twilight looked away, setting her sights on the distant filly playing in a sandbox, and she wished life was that easy. She wished she could fix Rarity’s problem as easily as she had fixed Lemon’s. She wished, as well, she could blast Discord through the face, and was comforted by the idea that might be feasible.
“We will continue our lessons tomorrow,” Princess Luna said. Much like she did every lesson’s end, she nodded at Twilight, her horn glowed and she began to fade. “Sleep well, Twilight.”
And just like that, Twilight closed her eyes and focused her magic on waking up.
It took her a moment, but she succeeded eventually and fluttered her eyes open, taking in the sight of Rarity’s study. She stood and stretched, a loud yawn following after, and she rubbed the sleep off her eyes.
She wasn’t sure of what time it was, but whatever it was, she was more than ready to go to bed. After a quick visit to the pastry room, and after ignoring the hypocrisy of stealing two cupcakes for herself, she made her way upstairs and saw light filtering out of the bedroom door.
She opened the door and stepped in to find Rarity wide-awake and reading a book in bed.
“Oh, Twilight, darling!” she said, putting her book down and beckoning Twilight over. “Did something happen? Are you done with your lessons?”
“Yes, I just finished,” she said, climbing up on the bed and sitting down next to the unicorn, taking a moment to nuzzle her before continuing. “What about you? Why are you awake?”
Rarity laughed softly, sitting upright and brushing back Twilight’s bangs. “I’m sure you know why, dear.”
Twilight winced. “The nightmare? I didn’t go in!” she added quickly.
“I know you didn’t,” she said with a genuine smile. “And I appreciate that tremendously. I know it’s… I know it’s not easy for you that I’m… well, you know.”
“Oh, it’s fine,” Twilight said, choosing her next words carefully. “I’m going to continue to work on myself so I can help you,” she said tentatively.
“Good! As you should,” Rarity exclaimed with a brilliant smile. “As we both should.”
Taking Rarity’s positive reaction in stride, Twilight ventured another step.
“Do you want to talk about your nightmare?”
Rarity bit down on her lip, mulling it over, and finally put her book down. Twilight moved back slightly, trying to give her space and trying not to be too excited at what seemed to be potentially Rarity opening up.
“I… What if…” The words came out clipped, but they came. “I’m frightened that… What if Seeking Night doesn’t work?”
Remembering her lesson, Twilight tried to stay objective.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Rarity continued, frustration seeping into her tone. “What if… What if nothing works out? The event, the foals, everything? I… I’m frightened by all of it. What if we fail?”
The answer didn’t require thought.
“We won’t,” she said, sitting up straight. “We won’t fail.”
Rarity eyed her dubiously. “You can’t possibly know that.”
“I do. I do!” she insisted at Rarity’s raised eyebrow. She looked down at the sheets and collected her thoughts. “We’re doing everything we have to do. We have checklists, and plans, and dozens of ponies to help.” She looked back at Rarity. “It will work.” She strengthened her resolve. “Discord won’t ever hurt you again, Rarity.”
“Discord?” she whispered back, her eyes indecipherable, her mind doubtless lost in the pain he’d brought her.
“Yes. I won’t let him hurt you or me or anypony else anymore.”
Rarity peered at her, and not unlike Lemon Drop, she asked, “Do you promise?”
Twilight lifted her chin with a hoof. “I promise.”
A silence fell between them, Rarity’s lip curving into a loving smile.
“Why Twilight,” she whispered. Her loving smile turned into a smirk. “Stealing my moves, are we now?”
“What?!” Twilight exclaimed, taking her hoof back. “Rarity, I was being serious! Also, that’s not your move!”
Rarity’s laughter filled the room.
“Oh, don’t be a silly pony! I was only teasing you!” she said, using her magic to bring back the princess who’d indignantly scooched away.
“I’m not a silly pony,” Twilight grumbled as rude external forces coaxed her into cuddling.
Once Twilight had relented and allowed herself to be wrapped in a hug, Rarity continued. “Thank you, darling. I appreciate it, I do, and you’re right, things will be better now. So! Instead of pouting, why don’t you tell me about your session with the princess?”
“Okay, but… are you feeling better?”
“I am,” Rarity said, with what seemed like relief around the edges of her tone, “especially now that you’re here.”