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    “What do you think she’s doing down there?”

    “I haven’t the faintest idea.”

    In front of the spiral staircase, Rarity and Fluttershy observed the magical barrier cocooning the stairway entrance to the lower floor with curiosity. The barrier had been there since they’d first arrived, and it prevented them from investigating the loud sounds rattling downstairs.

    From what Twilight had said the day before, Rarity had been afraid she’d be the only applicant to an intense training regime, but it now seemed like Twilight’s solution had nothing to do with Rarity herself at all.

    “Well, whatever it is, I hope it’s better than her idea to keep us all encased in protective bubbles for the rest of our lives,” Rarity noted, turning away from stairs and trotting off.

    “Where are you going?” Fluttershy asked, quickly following behind her friend.

    We are going to find Elara, naturally,” Rarity replied at length. “With the explorer’s kit I brought, I’m sure we’ll find her in no time at all.”

    “I don’t know…” Fluttershy muttered, earning an eye roll from the unicorn.

    “Honestly, Fluttershy! Have a little faith in me, won’t you?” she said, reaching the library’s entrance and turning to her friend. “I’m practically an expert at defeating dastardly creatures by now.”

    She was becoming increasingly adept at dealing with odd creatures, even if technically it was Princess Luna who had stopped the evil doppelgänger, but details, details.

    “Rarity.”

    Rarity turned around, finding herself face to face with Twilight. “Ah! Here you are. I thought we’d have to leave without saying goodbye,” Rarity said, smiling at her friend. “What are you doing down there?”

    “Will you be careful in the forest?” Twilight asked, completely ignoring the inquiry. “You only have Themis to protect you…”

    Rarity scoffed, waving Twilight’s concerns away with a hoof. “‘Only have Themis’? Please, my survival kit is more than enough! It has everything necessary to deal with anything in that dreadful forest.”

    Twilight looked unconvinced, her brow furrowing. “Are you sure? Does it have a lava lamp? That might be useful against the creatures you say are out there, even if the lamp itself is dangerous.”

    Rarity blinked at everything wrong with that statement. How in Equestria was a lava lamp supposed to help them, and how could a lava lamp even be dangerous, and how did Twilight even know what a lava lamp was?

    “A lava lamp? Dangerous? Why would a—” She cut herself off, frowning for a split second. “Twilight?” she said, smiling sweetly. “Who told you what a lava lamp is?”

    “Scootaloo.”

    “And what exactly did she say a lava lamp is?”

    A scroll appeared in front of Twilight, which she then started to read. “It seems to be a mechanical object that extracts molten lava from under the ground, which is then stored in a special small device that is used for cooking, melting objects and shooting projectiles at high speeds,” Twilight recited.

    “Ah.” Rarity stared holes through the scroll. “Darling, may I take a look at that?”

    Once Twilight complied, further inspection of the scroll resulted in the fascinating discovery that, apparently, headphones were used for telepathic conversations, egg beaters were used to punish misbehaving foals by tickling them on the stomach, and microscopes were used to intimidate molecules into curing ponies of diseases like smallpox, the common cold, and the highly contagious cooties.

    “In any case,” Rarity said, giving the scroll back to Twilight and making a mental note to make several modifications to it later, “my kit has everything we need, as Fluttershy can attest to. Right, Fluttershy?” she asked, turning around to her friend.

    However, instead of nodding effusively, Fluttershy merely stared back at her before whispering, “…No…”

    Twilight’s concerned voice followed not a fraction of a second later. “Rarity…

    “Twilight! Stop that! We’ll be fine!” Rarity insisted, turning to Fluttershy and frowning at her. “I don’t need your approval to know I’ve come perfectly prepared, so unless either one of you has a better solution as to how to defend ourselves against creatures, my kit will have to— Twilight…?”

    Halfway through Rarity’s speech, Twilight had teleported a very hefty-looking book over, which she presented to the unicorn.

    “Twilight, this is not the time for me to borrow a book.”

    Twilight frowned. “I don’t want you to borrow it. It’s so you can use it in case you get attacked,” she said matter-of-factly. “I already wrote out five copies of it, so I can let you use this one.”

    “Oh?” Rarity said, smiling playfully at the alicorn. “I see! So if a manticore attacks me, shall I lecture it on the many uses of negative magic? Put it to sleep with a dissertation, maybe? Confuse it with a pop quiz? Honestly, that’s more your style, but I’m willing to try.”

    Twilight rolled her eyes, a light flush decorating her cheeks. “Rarity… My books have a protective field around them, so you can use this as a weapon if you need to,” she clarified. “A similar tome fell on Spi— a friend of mine, and he was unconscious for almost an hour.”

    Rarity giggled. “Well, though I do feel sorry for your friend, I really don’t think it will be necessary,” she said, wishing Fluttershy didn’t look so uncharacteristically intrigued by the idea of giving a whole new meaning to the term “book club.” “Now, it’s getting late, and I want to start the search sooner rather than later. Don’t you?”

    Twilight reluctantly teleported the book away. “All right… But… please be careful…”

    Rarity giggled again, heartwarmed. “Darling, don’t worry. I promise we’ll come back safe and sound.” She lifted her hoof with the intent of brushing back Twilight’s bangs reassuringly until she remembered Twilight was incorporeal. She quickly put down her hoof, clearing her throat and adding, “Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have a way to communicate from a distance, so you’ll have to be patient.”

    At this, Twilight furrowed her brow. “A way to communicate from a distance…”

    “In any case,” Rarity continued, levitating the bag she’d put her survival kit in, trotting toward the exit, and leaving Twilight to her thoughts. “Onwards to…!”


    The Everfree Forest.

    A place the entire population of Ponyville—almost—was too terrified to enter.

    All manner of horrifying creatures inhabited the forest, crawling and prowling around, waiting for their next foolish victim. Timberwolves, whose howls were enough to give full-grown ponies nightmares; manticores, whose sharp fangs could tear apart any flesh; cockatrices, whose slithering bodies were so silent that one would be miraculously lucky to avoid their stare; and Rarity, whose piercing shrieking voice was enough to scare off all of the above.

    Elaaaaaaaara!

    Rarity and Fluttershy had been looking for their missing friend for at least an hour now, to no avail. Truth be told, she hadn’t the faintest idea of how large the Everfree Forest was, but she felt as if she’d already searched all of it. Twice.

    “Rarity, are you sure that will work on timberwolves?” Fluttershy asked, staring at the can of pepper spray she was levitating around.

    “For the fiftieth time, of course it will!” Rarity exclaimed, offended.

    The pepper spray was part of the unicorn’s Forest Trekking Ensemble, which included but was not limited to: a stylish blue raincoat with extra pockets, an equally stylish waterproof chapeau, two pairs of black rubber boots to protect against the mud, a small saddlebag, a little first aid kit inside the saddlebag, and, of course, the multifunctional pepper spray.

    Rarity was armed and ready to fi— What was that noise?

    She heard rustling above, and looked up to find Themis flying amidst the trees.

    “Oh…” she said, sighing in relief. “Themis! Any sight of Elara?”

    Themis flew down and landed atop Rarity’s hat, hooting sadly in reply.

    “Where else can we look?” Rarity asked, turning to Fluttershy. “If she were really in the forest, she’d have heard us already. And she can’t be in Ponyville considering she knows where both of us live.”

    “Let’s keep looking,” Fluttershy said in an encouraging tone, no doubt because her love of animals outweighed her fear of the Everfree Forest. “Maybe she’s injured and resting somewhere. Animals usually hide and rest for several days when they’ve been hurt.”

    Rarity bit her lip. “I don’t think we’ve looked near Zecora’s cottage yet. Perhaps she flew in there for some reason, and now she can’t get out?” she ventured. “Zecora’s still out of town, isn’t she?”

    The two mares followed Themis deeper into the forest, hoping to find some clue to the other owl’s whereabouts. As they trotted, Rarity thought back to Twilight, waiting in the library with nothing to distract her but whatever she was doing on the lower floor—doubtless something concerning the Spirit, considering she’d gone as far as forbidding anypony else from going downstairs.

    It had only been a day, but Rarity found comfort in the fact that Twilight seemed to be trying quite hard to find a way to keep them all safe from the Spirit. She wished she could do something to help, but Rarity herself wasn’t nearly as skilled as Twilight when it came to magic and the like.

    And yet, even though Twilight was so powerful…

    Would she really be able to find a solution in just seven days? Wouldn’t it take much more than that? And how much could she even do considering she was a spir—

    Ow!

    Rarity’s train of thought came to a sudden and immediate halt, interrupted by Fluttershy’s sharp cry of pain.

    “Fluttershy! What happened?” she asked in alarm as she trotted toward her friend, who in turn was busy looking at the frog of her lifted forehoof. Biting her lip, Fluttershy showed Rarity her hoof, in which the unicorn could clearly see an embedded glass shard.

    “See?! I told you to wear boots!” Rarity scolded, magiking the shard out and using a hoofkerchief to wipe away the drop of blood that trickled down. Once she’d cleaned it off, she looked in her saddlebag for a small bandage and placed it over the cut. “There. All better.”

    “Thank you…” Fluttershy said, gingerly placing her hoof back on the ground, careful to avoid the spot where she’d stepped on the shard. “I don’t know why there was glass here…”

    Rarity herself had no desire to investigate, especially when the ground consisted of drying mud. She could even see the prints her boots were leaving. “Let it be, darling. I can see Zecora’s cottage from here,” she said, trotting off with Themis and leaving Fluttershy behind.

    “Wait, Rarity!” Fluttershy called out, alarmed. “Look! An inkwell!”

    Rarity turned back to her. An inkwell…?

    She quickly cantered back to Fluttershy, and after illuminating her horn, was aghast to discover the shattered remains of the owl-shaped inkwell.

    “Themis! Come look at this!” Rarity called, gesturing for the owl to fly down. He and Elara had spent many years carrying inkwells around; surely he recognized it, even if it was shattered into several large chunks of glass.

    Themis did as instructed, flying down and landing next to the inkwell for closer examination. As he poked it around with his wing, Rarity found herself very much hoping the owl wouldn’t recognize it. She really, really, really didn’t want to think about the circumstances that could have led to Elara dropping it and then disappearing.

    Unfortunately, Themis’s reaction was not the one she’d hoped for.

    After a moment’s inspection, the owl’s entire disposition changed, and he flew up into the air, hooting and flying around in a highly distressed fashion. Before Rarity could stop him, the owl was flying off toward Zecora’s cottage.

    Oh no…

    “Elara!” Rarity called out as loud as she could. “Elara! Where are you?!

    “Rarity, look!” Fluttershy called—and if previous experience was anything to go by, Rarity was almost afraid of seeing what her friend had discovered.

    Bracing herself, Rarity turned around and trotted to where Fluttershy was. On the ground, already dried out, were several large paw prints she was horrified to identify as belonging to a timberwolf.

    Oh no, no, no, no…

    “You… You don’t think she was…” Fluttershy drifted off, gulping.

    Rarity shook her head, trying to keep calm. “No, no. Elara is a smart owl, Fluttershy. You saw her fight off the timberwolf that attacked us all those months ago,” she said, trying to reassure both herself and her friend. “I’m sure it’s just like you said, and she’s resting somewhere on a tree until she feels better.”

    “B-but, if she’s not… What will we tell Princess Twilight…?”

    “Fluttershy, I’m telling you, Elara is fi…ine?”

    Rarity drifted off, something else on the ground catching her attention. There was no doubt that the footprints Fluttershy had found belonged to a large creature, but those Rarity had just found looked more like hoofprints.

    But whose…?

    Grrrrrrr…

    “Now, Fluttershy,” Rarity said, still inspecting the hoofprints. “I know you’re upset, but rather than growling, why don’t…”

    Why did she have the distinct impression she’d lived through this scenario before?

    Looking up, Rarity found Fluttershy paralyzed. She heard another growl, and now remembered why she felt such déjà vu. With as much courage as she could muster, she drew herself up and turned around, coming face to face with a putrid-smelling timberwolf.

    “Fluttershy, sweetheart,” Rarity whispered, taking a step back in unison with the pegasus away from the curious timberwolf, “this really needs to stop happening to us.”

    “Timberwolves aren’t supposed to live in this part of the forest,” Fluttershy squeaked.

    Rarity gulped, staring the creature down. It was because of this, in fact, that she noticed something very upsetting—even more than the creature itself.

    “Flu-Fluttershy! Look at its snout!”

    The timberwolf’s snout was covered in black marks that looked suspiciously similar to ink splotches. The realization of exactly what that timberwolf had been a part of was enough to quell some of Rarity’s terror, and instead fill it with anger.

    You… You…” Rarity said, bravely taking a step forward and ignoring Fluttershy’s frantic whispering of her name. “You MONSTER!

    Just as soon as she’d finished her insult, Rarity levitated the can of pepper spray, and with a war cry that would have done Scootaloo proud, proceeded to spray the timberwolf as if her very life depended on it—which it probably did.

    The creature growled and recoiled, shaking its great head. When the can emptied out after a few moments, Rarity stepped back, huffing and puffing.

    “Take THAT, you filthy beast!” Rarity said victoriously between heavy breaths. “That’ll teach you to attack my friends!”

    Except, rather than run away with its twig-tail between its legs, the timberwolf simply shook its head and acted as if nothing had happened. If anything, it looked angrier than before, taking another step toward them and growling again.

    “I thought you said it would work!” Fluttershy squeaked, her voice starting to crack.

    “N-now, Fluttershy, I didn’t lie to you,” Rarity said, wishing her voice didn’t sound as squeaky as Sweetie Belle’s. “This happens to be a multi-purpose pepper spray can.”

    “Mu-multi-purpose?”

    Rarity nodded, taking yet another step back. “Why, yes. Observe.” That said, Rarity let out yet another war cry, lifted the empty can with her magic and…

    SMACK!

    SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK!

    Over and over, a hysterically screaming Rarity smacked the timberwolf’s face with the empty can of pepper spray, as if it was the ugliest piñata she’d ever had the misfortune of encountering. She eventually stopped when the poor can had been compressed and distorted into something that could hardly be used as a weapon.

    While the actual spray hadn’t been effective in deterring the creature, Rarity’s valiant—and highly unladylike—violent efforts certainly had. The creature did not run away, but it did step back, collapsing to the floor and covering its head with its paws, groaning all the while.

    “You stay away from here, you horrid creature!” she finally exclaimed, hoping it was suffering a very painful headache.

    Rarity would have delighted in standing there gloating over the fact that the timberwolves didn’t scare her anymore, but she found she indeed still did fear them when the groaning timberwolf suddenly let out a strangled howl.

    Which made several other distant timberwolves howl back in reply.

    Oh, that’s not good, is it?

    “More are coming!” Rarity said, pulling Fluttershy out of her momentary stupor.

    After throwing the empty can at the timberwolf’s face for good measure, the two rushed off, Themis quickly joining them and guiding them to safety—away from the timberwolf and away from their clues to Elara’s whereabouts.

    A dozen minutes later found the two mares lying on Fluttershy’s couch, desperately trying to catch their breath despite the fillies demanding to know every detail of their terrifying encounter.

    “And then you beat it up with the can?! That’s so cool!”

    “No, it wasn’t cool,” Fluttershy interjected, lifting her head from the left headrest so as to look at the filly. “It was very, very, very scary…”

    On her side, Rarity closed her eyes and placed a hoof on her forehead. “I am never taking another step inside that forest again,” she declared, ready to stay on the couch and not move for hours on end.

    “Yes, you will, ’cause Princess Twilight is in the library,” Sweetie Belle said, a curiously teasing tone dripping from her matter-of-fact statement.

    “Well, I certainly won’t be trotting back into Twilight’s library unless it’s with Elara,” Rarity replied, sitting up straight and swinging her hindlegs over the couch with her hooves on the floor. “Fluttershy, are you coming, darling? We’ll only be searching Ponyville for now,” she specified when Fluttershy’s eyes went wide with panic.

    Fluttershy opened her mouth to reply, but she was cut short when there were four knocks at the door, followed by a voice.

    “Fluttershy? Anypony home?”

    Rarity raised her eyebrow and turned to the pegasus. “Applejack?”

    Fluttershy shrugged, apparently just as confused as Rarity herself. Still, it wasn’t polite to keep visitors waiting, so she got up from the couch and made her way to the door. Applejack was indeed standing on the other side, smiling cheerfully at the pegasus, but she wasn’t alone. Apple Bloom stood next to her, also smiling brightly, pulling a small wagon behind her, a blanket covering its contents. She noticed Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, and awkwardly waved at them.

    “Oh, hello, Applejack,” Fluttershy greeted her warmly. “And Apple Bloom!”

    “Howdy, Fluttershy!” Applejack replied, glancing behind the pegasus and nodding at Rarity and the others. “Hope we didn’t catch y’all at a bad time?”

    “Not at all.” Fluttershy stepped aside so as to let the two ponies in. “How can I help you?” she asked, glancing at the cart with curiosity, just as Rarity and the fillies were. “Is Winona all right?”

    Applejack waved away her worries. “Winona’s doin’ mighty fine, Fluttershy, though we’ve got another critter that ain’t doing so swell. We came by earlier, but you weren’t here.”

    “Oh, dear…” Fluttershy said, taking a step toward the wagon. She threw Applejack a pained look. “Yes, I only got back last night…”

    Knowing Fluttershy had to tend to the animal, Rarity decided she and the fillies might as well continue with their search and leave Fluttershy to work in peace.

    “In that case,” she said, clearing her throat politely and nodding toward Scootaloo and Sweetie, “we’d better continue with our job, hmm? I’m sure an injured animal would appreciate peace and quiet.”

    Fluttershy bit her lip, glancing back and forth between Rarity and the cart. “Oh… All right…”

    “Perhaps once you’re done, you can continue helping us,” Rarity added, the suggestion alleviating Fluttershy’s indecision. Once Fluttershy nodded, Rarity took several steps toward the door. “Come on, girls, before it gets dark.”

    To her mild annoyance, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were still looking at the wagon with interest.

    “What kinda animal is it?” Scootaloo asked, looking to Applejack. “What happened to it?”

    “It’s an owl, and a miracle, that’s what happened to it,” Applejack replied with a slight frown, unaware of Rarity’s piercing stare. “AB and I got attacked by a timberwolf, and the little thing saved us from it. I’m pretty sure a miracle’s what it’d take to peck at a timberwolf and get away with just injured wings and some scratches.”

    Rarity stared at Applejack. “An owl?” she asked, and as Applejack nodded, Rarity slowly directed her gaze to the wagon, already imagining Elara in at least five different terrible states. She felt her stomach drop. “Is… Is she dead…?”

    Applejack raised an eyebrow. “Dead? If it were dead, I wouldn’t be bringin’ it here, now would I?” she asked, shaking her head and glancing toward the cart. “It’s just resting. Timberwolf nearly bit off its wing. I’m not sure it’ll ever fly again, poor thing. But then, I ain’t a vet. That’s why we came to you,” she told Fluttershy.

    Oh…

    Just as Applejack finished the grim remark, Rarity saw Sweetie, Scootaloo, and Fluttershy all staring at the wagon with the same dread-filled expressions. Like her, they surely weren’t looking forward to uncovering the wagon and finding themselves confronted with a… mangled…

    She couldn’t even bear to think about it.

    “Let me take a look,” Fluttershy said finally, taking the plunge for everypony in the room. She trotted to the wagon, hurrying before Sweetie or Scootaloo could do the same. When she reached the wagon, she gulped audibly, and then slowly lifted the blanket with her hoof, unintentionally creating an atmosphere of horrific suspense as she finally removed it completely and revealed…

    An empty wagon.

    Silence settled in the room, all six ponies staring at the wagon. After a moment, Apple Bloom gulped, looking away from the cart and to her big sister, who in return treated her to a very pronounced frown.

    “Apple Bloom…”

    Rarity offered a polite smile. “Er… Where is she?”

    Apple Bloom blinked, looking to the wagon, to Rarity, to the wagon, to Applejack, to the wagon, to Rarity, and finally to Applejack again, regaling them all with the single most nervous smile a filly could muster.

    “Er, yeah. That’s another thing,” Applejack said, turning away from the cart and to Fluttershy, offering a smile. “It’s real fond of playing hide-and-seek with us… except without actually telling us we’re playing. She made it all the way downtown one time.”

    Rarity blinked at her. “Hide-and-seek…?

    Themis playing hide-and-seek while injured was something Rarity could maybe believe, but Elara? That didn’t sound like her at all.

    “Yep! Doesn’t even care its wing’s all bandaged up,” Applejack replied. She then frowned and added, “Also likes Apple Bloom’s inkpot something fierce. Keeps pushing it off the table and trying to take it outside. I thought she was gonna peck my hoof off when I took it back from her.” Applejack sighed, glancing toward her sister and completely missing Rarity’s mortified expression of realization. “Guess we’re gonna have to find it and come back later.”

    “Later?!” Rarity all but shrieked, startling Applejack and Apple Bloom. “Later is too late! We need to find her immediately! An owl of her size waddling around Ponyville?! Do you even realize how risky that is?!”

    What if a cart ran her over?! What if some foals used her as a plaything?! What if a dog ate her?! Or, worse, what if somepony who was in town for the day adopted her, and now they were on their way back home to some far-off province, where no one could reach them, and Themis and Twilight would be miserable, and Elara would be off living with some dreadful thieving pon—

    Well, perhaps that was a bit far-fetched.

    “I’m impressed, Rarity! I never knew you cared for animals so much,” Applejack said, giving Rarity a curious expression. “You’re actin’ almost as if it was your cat.”

    Rarity blushed. “Ah, well, one must always, er, look out for others, Applejack!” she said, waving her hoof as nonchalantly as she could. “I’m sure her owner must be terribly worried!”

    “Her owner?” Applejack asked, raising an eyebrow. “How d’you know she has an owner?”

    Rarity faltered. “I… I, er… I don’t…?”

    “Come on, let’s go! I’m gonna get a cutie mark in worrying if we stay here any longer,” Scootaloo interrupted, trotting toward the door and leaving the premises, inadvertently saving Rarity from the awkward conversation.

    “She’s right!” Rarity exclaimed, suppressing a sigh of relief and trotting after Scootaloo. Ignoring Applejack’s still questioning stare, she gestured to the door. “Shall we?”


    In order to search for the owl, the six ponies decided that the best course of action was to separate into two groups. Applejack had work to do at the farm, so Fluttershy would go back to Sweet Apple Acres with her and look in that general area. On the other hoof, Rarity, Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, and Apple Bloom would look in Ponyville.

    “She met Princess Twilight before us?!”

    “Technically speaking, she only saw Twilight before you did,” Rarity replied to her sister, absentmindedly glancing at the nearby stands as they made their way through the marketplace. “She hasn’t met her, and I intend to keep it that way. And she doesn’t know that you two know Twilight, or that you visit her frequently, so you absolutely cannot tell her.”

    “But why not?! We’d have found Elara, like, way way way waaaay faster if she knew what we knew!” Scootaloo pointed out, looking over at the filly in question, who was busy practically turning Ponyville on its head searching for Elara.

    Privately, Rarity was grateful for the determination Apple Bloom had for finding Elara, especially seeing as how Sweetie and Scootaloo seemed slightly more interested in Apple Bloom than searching every nook and cranny of the town.

    “Even if that’s true, I can’t risk having a third filly going into the forest,” Rarity replied, looking to the filly and frowning. “Just because I can defend myself from a timberwolf doesn’t mean you can, Scootaloo.”

    “Yes, I can! I’ll buy a can of pepper spray, and then I’ll—”

    “No, you will not,” Rarity interrupted, already regretting the example her earlier conversation had set for the filly. That was what she got for gloating over what she’d done, no matter how heroic it might have seemed. “In fact, until I’ve decided the forest is relatively safe again, neither one of you will be visiting the library.”

    “What?! But that’s not fair! What about my magic lessons?!” Sweetie protested, coming to a halt and stamping her hoof against the ground. “Princess Twilight was going to teach me to light up my horn!”

    “Your magic lessons will have to wait,” Rarity said firmly, coming to a stop as well. “I do believe your safety takes precedence over your magic lessons, Sweetie Belle.”

    “No, it doesn’t!” Sweetie shot back. “I’m telling Princess Twilight on you!”

    “Sweetie, how’re you even gonna tell Princess Twilight on her if we can’t, like, go to the forest anymore?”

    “Well—! Well, I’m gonna…”

    Rarity rolled her eyes and continued walking, ignoring the two fillies trailing behind her and arguing over whether it was possible to learn long-distance mind-communication in a day. That’s exactly why she was grateful that Apple Bloom wasn’t under her jurisdiction. Sweetie and Scootaloo were already enough of a hassle. As much as she wanted to protect them, Rarity felt like she couldn’t very well just forbid them from ever going back to the library, especially when Twilight herself was quite fond of them.

    On the other hoof, Rarity quite missed the days when it was just her and Twilight. She almost felt like she had the right to privacy with Twilight, especially since she was the one fighting to free her, and she’d found Twilight first so technically Twilight was her princ— friend.

    It’s not like I’m keeping her to myself, after all, she thought. I’ve practically tried taking all of Equestria to meet her!

    “Sis?”

    And I’m sure she enjoys the company of the others, but for all I know, there are things she hasn’t told me because of them! She trusts me, and I’m just helping so that she feels more at ease and less stressed without the fillies running around.

    “Rarity?”

    See! She needs peace and quiet to finish… whatever she’s doing in the library, and I—

    Rarity!

    Pulled back to reality, Rarity blinked and turned to the fillies. “Pardon?” When they blinked at her, Rarity felt something poking her from behind, and she turned around to find Apple Bloom had joined them. “Oh! Apple Bloom!” she exclaimed, turning around to face her. “What’s the matter? Did you recall something about where Elara might be?”

    Apple Bloom didn’t immediately reply, instead throwing Sweetie and Scootaloo a glance. “Can I tell you something over there?” she asked, gesturing to a little spot next to a stand in the distance.

    “Oh! Yes, of course,” Rarity replied, clearing her throat and turning to the other two fillies. “Wait here a moment, please,” she said before following Apple Bloom away from Sweetie and Scootaloo. Once they had moved a sufficient distance, Rarity asked: “What do you need to tell me?”

    Apple Bloom narrowed her eyes. “Does… Does the owl belong to Princess Twilight?”

    Rarity blinked, momentarily taken aback. “…Yes, she does,” Rarity replied, now understanding why Apple Bloom had seemed so desperate to find Elara.

    “Can… Can Princess Twilight curse ponies for losing her owls?” Apple Bloom then asked, her voice lowering to a worried whisper.

    “Of course not!” Rarity replied, shaking her head. “I told you as much last time. And I can assure you she won’t cur—”

    “It’s okay, Apple Bloom!” Scootaloo interrupted, peeking her head from behind Rarity. “Princess Twilight can’t curse ponies! She can only curse lamps and stuff into following you around all the time. She’s kinda lame like that.”

    “Princess Twilight isn’t lame!” Sweetie’s voice came, peeking from behind the other side of Rarity. She turned to Apple Bloom and insisted, “Don’t listen to her! She’s just jealous because Princess Twilight likes me better, and because I’m the one who asked her to join our club first!”

    “Girls! What did I tell you?!” Rarity exclaimed, not oblivious to Apple Bloom’s increasingly shocked expression. “Shoo!”

    “I’m not jealous!” Scootaloo protested, completely ignoring Rarity in favor of arguing with Sweetie. “You’re jealous ’cause she likes me best! She told me my scooter was awesome, and that she thought I was the coolest pony ever! Hah!”

    Sweetie Belle gasped, indignantly stomping her hoof against the ground. “That’s not true! Princess Twilight thinks Rarity’s the coolest pony ever!”

    That caught Rarity’s interest.

    “Really? That vocabulary’s a bit too modern for her… How do you know she thinks that?” Rarity asked, absentmindedly toying with her necklace and stopping only when she noticed Apple Bloom’s elated expression. “Wait, no, don’t listen to them!”

    Scootaloo stomped her own hoof on the ground. “Well, once we find Elara, she’ll take us to the library, and then we can ask Princess Twilight who the coolest pony ever is!”

    Before Rarity could tell them that nopony was going to the library under any circumstance whatsoever, Apple Bloom finally spoke up.

    “I wanna meet her too!” she blurted out, rushing forward and shaking Rarity’s foreleg. “Zecora taught me how to make lots of magic potions! Maybe Princess Twilight will like them?! Can I be in your club with the princess too?!”

    “Now, Apple Bloom, I’m sure Sweetie and Scootaloo would love to have you as a Cutie Mark Invader—”

    “Crusader!”

    Crusader, but I simply can’t allow you to go to the libra—”

    “Please let me meet her! Please, please, please, please, please!” Apple Bloom begged, emphasizing every “please” with a shake of Rarity’s foreleg.

    Her pleading chorus was soon joined by the other two fillies, who likewise held onto Rarity and begged to meet Twilight. Rarity would have gladly pointed out that they already met Twilight, but the fact that all three of them were shaking her like a maraca was starting to be very aggravating, and she was forced to brusquely push them all away with a strong jolt of magic.

    “Enough!” she yelled, jumping away from the three fillies, away from their grasps. “Nopony is going back to the library, or meeting Princess Twilight, or asking who’s the coolest until we find Elara, and that’s that!”

    Truthfully, she still intended on forbidding them entry to the forest until she thought it was safe, but she thought promising them an upcoming meeting would calm them down. To her dismay, however, rather than calm down and obey her, something much worse happened.

    The three fillies fell silent for a brief moment, before turning to look at each other in near perfect unison. If Rarity didn’t know better, she would have thought that their intense stares were some sort of telepathic communication. The smiles appearing on their faces certainly didn’t help comfort her, and she had the sinking suspicion that this little meeting would be the cause of a headache at some point in the future.

    Nevertheless, before she could do or prevent anything, the three fillies took off, ignoring Rarity’s calls for them to “come back right this instant, or I swear to Denza I’ll tell Princess Twilight, and Fluttershy, and Applejack, and Princess Luna, too, on… all of… you…”

    Suppressing a sigh, Rarity lifted her hoof and rubbed the side of her forehead. That was that, then; no use wasting time chasing after them. If anything, now she had to be the one to find Elara before they did, or else the poor owl would be forced to take them to the library in whatever horrible state she was in.

    If I was Elara, Rarity thought, closing her eyes, where would I go?

    The first option that came to mind was back home to the library, but then she’d have already reached the library, especially if she’d been running off as much as Applejack implied she was. So, why wouldn’t she want to go home yet?

    It also likes Apple Bloom’s inkpot something fierce. Keeps pushing it off the table and trying to take it outside.

    That was it! Rarity realized Elara probably didn’t want to go home without an inkwell to replace the one she’d lost during the timberwolf attack, and she felt oddly heart warmed by the extreme dedication the owl had for her duties to Twilight.

    With that in mind, she trotted off, headed toward the plaza housing Inky Owl’s Quills & Scrolls. Unless Elara was still intent on taking Apple Bloom’s inkwell, that was the only other place where she could get what she needed.

    It only took a short brisk trot for Rarity to reach the plaza, and she was relieved to see the shop was still open for business. She made her way toward it and, after looking around and failing to find a grounded owl anywhere, stepped inside the establishment.

    “Hello? Inky Owl?” she called out but received no reply. “Elara?” she called out next, hoping the owl might be lingering, trying to “borrow” another inkwell.

    Further exploration of the store brought her to the frustrating conclusion that though the entrance sign said “open,” the actual owner of the store wasn’t actually anywhere on the premises, nor was Elara. That could only mean that either the owl was back at Sweet Apple Acres, or she’d given up and gone back to the library.

    A little worried about leaving the shop unattended, Rarity exited the store and closed the door behind her, hoping Inky Owl would come back soon. She looked around the plaza one last time, then made her way toward one of several paths leading out. Stepping onto the nearest one, her thoughts of the owl were abruptly brought to a halt by a very frustrated exclamation.

    “You’re being ridiculous!” a voice said nearby. “You can’t possibly move that by yourself!”

    Her curiosity piqued, Rarity continued down the alley, turned at the corner, and was surprised to find Inky Owl looking quite upset. However, she didn’t see just who he was talking to, until she realized he was looking down at the ground. She followed his line of sight, and a great big wave of pure and utter relief washed over her.

    She beheld what could only be described as a snowball of bandages with a beak and two big eyes. Truth be told, it was a much more pleasant sight than what Rarity had imagined, even if she felt bad at how amusing she found the sight: poor Elara trying to use her heavily bandaged wings to protect her new inkwell as she glared at Inky Owl.

    Rarity made a move toward them, but stopped when Inky Owl spoke.

    “I’m sure your master would want me to help you!” he insisted loudly, lifting his hoof and reaching toward the inkwell, only to quickly take it away when Elara attempted to peck at it. “Come on!”

    “Hoo!” Elara replied in the most indignant way an owl could.

    “Fine! As I said, you’re being ridiculous, but I won’t stop you!” the shopkeeper shot back, stepping away and sitting on his rump, crossing his arm like a stubborn foal would do.

    The angry snowball stared at the stallion for a few moments, and after she seemed convinced that he’d stay put, Elara turned back to her inkwell. With great difficulty, she pushed it forward, and then waddled backward, no doubt to gain some momentum and push with an even greater force. Unfortunately, she rolled onto her back when she tripped on a stray bandage, landing with a pained hoot.

    At this point, Rarity concluded Elara was very frustrated, because she went off into what Rarity could only describe as a very noisy owl temper tantrum. She felt quite awful for finding the entire ordeal incredibly endearing. All right, I think I’ve seen enough, she thought with a smile, making her way toward the forlorn stallion and the owl currently trying to roll into a standing position.

    “See?!” Inky Owl exclaimed in turn, getting up to his forehooves. “You need help or— Don’t look at me like that!” he protested, stepping back when Elara stopped her hooting long enough to twist her head around in a very disturbing manner to glare at him, shooting another hoot at him for good measure.

    “Something the matter?”

    Inky Owl didn’t look at Rarity when he replied in a miffed voice, “Yes! This owl is incredibly stubborn!”

    The incredibly stubborn owl in question didn’t bother shooting him a glare, instead directing her attention to Rarity and staring at her with wide eyes.

    “Hello, darling,” Rarity greeted her warmly. “Need some assistance?”

    Elara stared at her for another moment before apparently giving up all hope of getting up, hooting pitifully at Rarity instead. At that, Rarity lifted her forehoof, ignoring Inky’s warnings, and gently pushed Elara back onto her feet, only for Elara to waddle two steps and fall onto her face, letting out a muffled hoot.

    Once she’d been again put back to a standing position, she waddled around the inkwell and started to push it toward Rarity. Taking the hint, Rarity lifted the inkwell with her magic and placed it inside her saddlebag.

    “How… How did you…” Inky stammered, looking back and forth between Rarity and Elara. He finally settled on narrowing his eyes at Rarity. “You must be a fabled owl whisperer.”

    Rarity snorted.

    “Hardly,” she replied, smiling at him. “I’m not even sure what an owl whisperer is.” She looked back to Elara, using her magic to carefully take off a few extra bandages, resulting in several grateful hoots as Elara walked around, no longer forced into a waddle.

    After a minute of stretching her legs, Elara made her way toward Inky Owl, gingerly using her better wing to pat his foreleg. She hooted softly, eliciting a delighted squeal from him, before returning to Rarity and being levitated onto the unicorn’s back.

    “I take it you’re friends with the elusive owner of the ink owls, are you?” Inky Owl asked, watching with envy as Elara snuggled into Rarity’s mane. “They must be very fond of you.”

    “Oh? What makes you say that?”

    “Owls have been coming here for years and years,” he said wistfully, “and not one has ever trusted me enough to let me touch it, let alone carry it. It must mean that they reciprocate the faith their master places on you. Pets usually mimic their masters’ feelings.”

    Rarity giggled, lifting her hoof to toy with her necklace. “Well, if that’s true, then the feeling is entirely mutual,” she said, nodding her head in farewell and trotting off, careful not to let Elara fall off her back.

    Once they were sufficiently far enough, Rarity spoke up: “You know, Twilight and Themis have been worried sick over you.” She received a hoo in reply. “As have Sweetie Belle, Fluttershy, and Scootaloo, not to mention the ponies you saved.”

    Another hoo, sounding much more tired than the last.

    “After Fluttershy takes a look at you, I’m taking you back home, all right?” Rarity said, but this time, she received no reply, and a glance at her reflection in a passing window revealed that Elara had already fallen prey to sleep.

    Rarity thought back to Twilight, hard at work on trying to find a way to protect Rarity from the Spirit. She thought about what Inky Owl said, and decided that if Elara’s trust in her echoed Twilight’s own trust in Rarity, then she in turn would make sure to keep earning that trust by protecting what Twilight held dear.


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    1. A Deer
      Dec 5, '22 at 2:05 am

      Rarity needs a flame thrower against the timber wolves. They’re made out of timber. Hence flammable. Actually a flame thrower would be effective against most enemies. Maybe if Twilight had a flame thrower she wouldn’t have been trapped by Discord. I’m sure he’s flammable. Maybe if Twilight had a can of mace Discord would’ve be defeated. But only if she knew of its multipurposeness.

      Really enjoyed the humor in this chapter. Especially Rarity’s multipurpose use of a can of mace. And Rarity’s POV in the prose was well done. Very entertaining to read her voice.

      Liked how the finding of Elara was lead to. Felt like a lot was shown through the journey to get there. Like how more was added to Rarity and Twilight’s relationship. More added onto Rarity’s resilience and Fluttershy’s reluctant courage. And the fact Twilight thinks Rarity is the coolest. I may be off but I think Twilight might like Rarity. Just a guess.

      1. A Deer
        @A DeerDec 9, '22 at 1:27 am

        Forgot the Everfree Forest – being a forest – is also made of timber. This ruins the flamethrower idea. Can of mace wins out again for self defence.

    2. Zanna Zannolin
      Sep 6, '22 at 7:06 pm

      this chapter really just once again drives home your ability to balance humor and plot. it’s got the crack treated seriously vibes of much of mlp:fim but without losing the urgency of the situation. it’s hilarious reading rarity whale on a timberwolf with a can of pepper spray, but it doesn’t detract from the overarching plot and the underlying worry of elara being missing. there’s a great sense of urgency in many of these chapters that aren’t focused on the A plot of the series, enough that everything that’s happening is clearly important and moving the story forward, but never feels like unnecessary filler. like yeah sure rarity isn’t out looking for princesses or twilight’s books rn but this is still important because it’s eventually leading up to the apples’ involvement, while also giving us a peek into twilight’s emotions without twilight’s actual pov, while ALSO providing comic relief and a break from the heaviness of the rest of the plot.

      tl;dr you have such a good grasp on plot structure i’m kind of obsessed. you have the A plot of the series, the B plots of stuff like this, and the runners of twilight jumpscaring rarity, fluttershy and rarity running into timberwolves, the cutie mark “invaders”—honestly it just works so well as a longform fic AND as an episodic series of chapters. it feels like i’m watching mlp:fim but with more plot and more depth than you generally get from a whole season. i loveeee it.

    3. VioletsInSpring
      Aug 21, '22 at 3:45 pm

      “Please let me meet her! Please, please, please, please, please!” Apple Bloom begged, emphasizing every “please” with a shake of Rarity’s foreleg. (Link)

      So many authors really don’t write children well. These kids feel like kids. I love it. Every time, I love it.