Things changed after that.
Well. Technically speaking, it had only been one day since she and Rarity went into the library. But in that little amount of time, things had changed. Maybe it was just Twilight. Maybe she was telling herself they did. Whatever it was, real or not, it was easier to breathe with a weight lifted off her shoulders.
It also made it easier to take life’s disappointments in stride.
Sitting at a picnic table outside one of Trottingham’s libraries, Twilight and Elara frowned at a magic lava lamp, watching a multicolored goopy liquid rise from the glowing base of its glass prison and float up to the top, staying there for a moment before gently sinking back to the bottom. They watched this happen for one, two, three cycles before Twilight turned to the unicorn sitting on the other side of the table.
“So, just to confirm, this doesn’t extract molten lava from the core of the earth and then store it for cooking, construction and/or military purposes?”
Rarity perched her sunglasses atop her horn and then smiled, sympathetic. “No.”
“I’m afraid I am, dear.” She failed miserably to suppress an amused smile. “Are you terribly disappointed?”
“No,” Twilight lied, adjusting her cloak in a way in a way she hoped seemed nonchalant.
Rarity hummed. “Well, certainly, it’s not as exciting as a lava-launching contraption, but it has some mesmerizing charm to it, I think,” she said, watching a wax bubble rise up. “Besides, you can’t deny it has kept you entertained while we wait.” That said, she tapped her hoof on the table several times and looked towards the library’s closed doors, muttering to herself. “Where is he? This isn’t like him at all.”
“What do you mean?”
“Hm? Oh, it’s just that I can’t for the life of me remember a time he’s opened the library so late,” Rarity said, turning her attention back to Twilight. “I got here at six in the morning one time, and Red Lining had already opened the library.”
“You come here often?” Twilight asked. She couldn’t remember Rarity ever mentioning Trottingham back before she’d been freed, so this must’ve been a recent event.
“I do! Not as often anymore, what with the Dreamland and all, but last year I came so often that the local hotel started giving me discounted prices.”
Rarity nodded. “Yes, I’d… Well, let’s say I’d developed an appreciation for literature and…” Her lips curved into a sheepish smile. “I suppose it made me feel at home.”
Twilight smiled widely. “But you had no one to pester you into practicing teleportation.”
Rarity laughed, folding her forelegs on the table. “I guess now you’re here to fix that, aren’t you?”
“Actually,” Twilight said, “I am. You were very out of breath yesterday when you teleported, which I know you think I didn’t notice, but I did. So! I was working on some new daily training drills on the train ride here while you were sleeping. It’s just twenty pages.”
Rarity fluttered her eyelashes. “Yes, darling, I’m sure you wrote twenty pages in the one hour I was asleep.” Her tune quickly changed, however, when Twilight blinked at her and a flash of her horn materialized twenty pages of notes onto the table. “Oh. Well. Right.” She cleared her throat. “Twilight, as you know, I strive to be a paragon of propriety at all times, but—” Her eyes drifted off towards something beyond Twilight and then widened just as a gasp left her mouth. “Dear stars! Princess Luna?!”
“Wait, what?” Twilight blurted out, immediately swirling around and… and finding no sign of Princess Luna. Funnily enough, when she turned back to Rarity, the unicorn was also gone, currently speeding away into the distance. “Wha—? Rarity! See! You could have at least teleported away to start practicing! Rarity!”
She watched as Rarity disappeared around the corner of the building and then playfully rolled her eyes, turning to her papers and gathering them up. They weren’t even complicated exercises, really! If she had been practicing, then they would be easier than sewing. Regardless, she thought as she took out a pencil from her bag and started to write, she was such a nice marefriend she would make it even simp—
Twilight yelped in fright and turned to find Rarity behind her, the unicorn failing rather miserably to hide her wheezing.
“So… So! Tell me, dear, do I… look… out of breath… now?”
Twilight couldn’t help a snort, telekinetically re-adjusting the crooked sunglasses on Rarity’s horn. “Would you like to try that again with less wheezing, maybe?”
“It’s not…! It’s not the teleportation!” Rarity protested, catching her breath before offering Twilight a sly look. “Clearly it’s you that leaves me breathless.”
Twilight nodded severely. “Right.” She then leaned in and smiled. “Just to be clear, you do realize you’re implying I’m causing you second-hoof asphyxiation, right?” she remarked, and at Rarity’s pronounced eye-roll, she laughed. “I’m not wrong!”
With a harrumph, Rarity put on her sunglasses and pointedly looked away, even when Twilight sidled up and nuzzled her. “No,” she said, “you’re a mood-killer, is what you are.” Despite herself, a smile crept up her lips. “Or would it be more accurate to say you’re a lady-killer?”
Twilight frowned. “A lady-killer flirts with multiple ponies, though. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say—” She grinned. “I’m a Rarity-killer?”
“Ooooooh.” Immediately, Rarity’s sunglasses came off so as to reveal her sparkling eyes. “A Rarity-killer, hmm?”
“Not just a Rarity-killer. The Rarity-killer.”
“The Rarity-killer! Yes!” She gestured to the distance and took on a grand tone. “Twilight Sparkle, Rarity-killer extraordinaire, reading books by day, seducing her marefriend’s breath away by night!”
“Seducing you every night? I think you might be overestimating me.”
“Am I?” Rarity put her glasses back on. “My, I would think last night begs to differ.”
“Last ni—” Twilight cut herself off with a choke, her face turning beet-red as she gasped, “Rarity, stop!”
“‘Rarity, stop’? But yesterday you were asking the oppo—mmph!” Though a mortified Twilight magically muzzled her, Rarity didn’t seem to care and instead fluttered her eyelashes at her, smiling as widely as she could.
“What is wrong with you?!”
Rarity tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Mmph mmph mmph~!”
“You’re not supposed to answer that!”
When Twilight finally let her go, she gave her marefriend a meaningful look. “Are you done?”
Rarity’s eyes flickered briefly towards something beyond Twilight, and she smiled politely. “For now, if only because we have company. Look over there.”
Twilight turned around, and lo and behold, she saw a stallion standing by the library, a line of colts and fillies waiting for him to open the two big glass doors.
“Right then,” Rarity said, gathering her things while Elara perched herself on Twilight’s back. “Shall we?”
According to Rarity, Trottingham Scriptorium was one of Equestria’s lesser known libraries, hidden away at the far end of Pembrook Park and mostly visited by either the elderly ponies from the nearby retirement homes, or the colts and fillies who routinely played in the park.
The scent of books and fresh ink filled Twilight’s nose as they stepped inside, vaguely reminding her of her own library. Unlike her home, however, there were no magical chandeliers floating by the ceiling. Instead, there were wisps of light, dozens upon dozens of softly glowing spheres that floated all over and followed patrons much like Star and Swirl might.
“What are these?” Twilight asked, watching with awe as three wisps chased after laughing foals running past her. “I’ve never encountered this kind of magic before!”
“Helpers,” Rarity elaborated. “Or, rather, that’s what Red calls them. He made them, you know? He’s a very gifted alchemist.”
“He made these?” Twilight asked, and she cleared her throat uncomfortably. “But he’s…. Well. An earth pony?”
She wasn’t trying to be rude, really, but back in her time, at least, magic in all forms was reserved for unicorns exclusively. Not that she didn’t think earth ponies couldn’t do magic, which she obviously knew they could, but maybe not as well as unicorns, but—
“He is an earth pony,” Rarity said, interrupting Twilight’s thoughts, smiling widely with what seemed to be a hint of dreamy pride coating her words, “which is why I think he’s terribly impressive, don’t you agree?” No sooner had she said that, however, a flicker of something crossed her eyes and she quickly added, “Not as impressive as you, obviously.”
It took Twilight a moment, but she raised an eyebrow and smiled. “I’m not jealous, Rarity, if that’s what you’re worried about. This is impressive.”
Rarity laughed. “Well, I can’t say I wouldn’t be jealous if you went around calling other designers impressive, but I’m glad you’re more mature than I am.” She leaned in to briefly kiss Twilight before stepping away. “Be a dear and look around while I go fetch Red.”
Twilight moved forward. “I can go with you.”
“No, no!” Rarity insisted. “Really, dear. He’ll need time to, well…” She licked her lips. “…prepare.”
“Prepare? What do you mean? I thought he knew I was coming?” she asked, disconcerted. “Does he not believe in me, or—”
“No, no, he does. He does believe in you, but he’s well… Well, he’s a bit of a fanboy, shall we say.”
Rarity laughed. “You’ll see. Now, go!” She shooed Twilight away before taking a few steps back herself. “Go look around and I’ll fetch you when he’s ready!”
Disconcerted but willing to trust her partner, Twilight watched Rarity leave before setting off to explore the library herself, a few wisps materializing and following her around as she did so, much to the displeasure of Elara—who was apparently somewhat upset they weren’t edible.
“This is a nice library,” Twilight said to her owl and the wisps, presuming they were even sentient. The books were well taken care of, and the sight of ponies walking around or sitting on cushions reading was a welcome but strange sight in a sad sort of way.
Her own library was better, she thought, but it was also much, much lonelier.
“We should open a new library in Ponyville,” she said to Elara. “One that isn’t hidden and where Rarity and other ponies can come to read.” When three loud fillies ran by and Elara threw them a chastising look, she laughed and added, “Well-behaved ponies, at least.”
She continued her exploration, yet to call it an exploration of the library would be inaccurate. It was more an exploration of the future, of this new idea, this grand fantastic library she could look forward to creating. It was… It was exciting, really, to think of a future after all of this, and more exciting than that was the idea that she could actually think about one now.
“We can have a room for Rarity, too,” she added. “One on the second floor, next to the owl hatchery. Or even a workshop for her clothes! Then again, why would she need a room of her own if my room is there? Unless she wants a room of her own. We should also have a room for the princesses!”
Much like her future library, her excitement grew and grew with every new idea, every new room. This feeling, this drive to work towards a future dream… It was something she wanted for Luna. Something she wanted for Cadance, and then for Princess Celestia, and then for Spike and everypony that had ever been hurt by Discord.
In that day, in that moment, it wasn’t guilt driving her. It was hope. Hope that had come out of nowhere, maybe, or perhaps she was still riding the high of having finally helped Rarity, but whatever it was, it was there.
And she wanted it to stay.
“Red, you look fine, really.”
Rarity’s voice caught her attention, the only thing interesting enough to entice her away from her designs. She quietly followed after it, peering around a bookcase and finding her target. There was Rarity, smiling sympathetically at the stallion from earlier, who’d now changed into a fitted suit and was adjusting the purple bowtie around his neck.
“I’m overdressed, aren’t I?” he said, now frantically combing his mane. “I shouldn’t have worn clothes. She’s not wearing clothes. Why do ponies even need clothes?”
“Darling, don’t insult me, please.”
“Sorry. I don’t understand why I’m so nervous. Probably because the dry cleaners opened late today. Did she mind waiting? She minded, didn’t she? Oooooooh.” He took a breath. “I’m fine. I’m fine.” He paused and then whispered despairingly, “What if she doesn’t like me?! What if she doesn’t like my library?! Can she revoke my librarian’s license?!”
Rarity raised an eyebrow. “…You need a license?”
Twilight rolled her eyes at her marefriend, whispering what Red gasped, “Of course you need a license for a private library!”
“Goodness, you roll your eyes just like her. You two will be frightful friends,” Rarity noted, looking around just in time to see Twilight step forward. “Oh, Twilight, darling, there you are! Come here.” She gestured to the stallion, who suddenly looked so confident and carefree that he might have fooled her had she not seen him be a nervous wreck not ten seconds ago. “Twilight, this is Red Lining. Red, this is—”
“Princess Scriptoria!” he exclaimed with a sudden childlike glee before clearing his throat, composing himself and bowing. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Princess Scriptoria?” Twilight asked. “Is that the name Trottingham has for me?”
Red nodded. “It is! Trottingham’s legends pinned you down as an archivist, you know? It was changed to Princess Scribe for a few centuries, but Scriptoria was brought back by popular demand about two hundred years ago.” He cleared his throat and smiled nervously. ”I do hope you like it.”
Twilight nodded. “I do!” She gave Rarity a pointed stare. “Better than Princess Booky, at least.”
“Why are you saying that to me?! I’m not the one who came up with it!”
“Well,” Twilight said, giving her marefriend reprieve and turning to Red again, “thank you for helping us, Red Lining. And, uh, believing in us.”
“Princess, any historian or archivist worth their diploma knows you and the other princesses existed at one point in time. There’s too much evidence pointing towards it.” He grinned. “Besides, Rarity has kept me up countless nights talking about you all. At least, she did back when she used to accept my invitations to stay at my family cottage.”
“Darling, that’s not fair!” she protested. “I’ve been busy! I’ve an entire daycare, bakery, toymaker, and rescue plan to take care of! Does it look like I have the time to run away to a seaside cottage and sit there and do nothing?”
Twilight frowned. Seaside cottage? Huh.
“Maybe I’ll invite the princess instead,” he threatened before actually turning to her, eyes sparkling. “Actually, would you like that? You’re more than welcome to! I would love for you to come. Please do come.”
“Oooooh! I would!” Twilight replied and then added, “After we rescue the others. You’re lending us books to use, right?”
Red nodded. “I am. I’ve already hired carriages to help transport the books to Hollow Shades in time for Seeking Night.” He turned to Rarity. “I imagine you’re nearly done getting ready for the event?”
Rarity coughed. “…Oh yes. Nearly done.”
“Good!” he said. “In that case, Rarity, why don’t you lead the princess to my office while I go get us all some tea?”
The moment he was gone, Rarity turned to Twilight. “Very well, let’s—” And cut herself short at the sight of Twilight grinning madly at her, her tail swishing behind her back. “…Something on your mind, dear?”
Twilight raised an eyebrow, playfully tilting her head. “Trips to his seaside cottage?”
Immediately, concern washed over Rarity’s face. “Are you implying something, Twilight? Because if you are, I can assure you it was a friendly outing, nothing more. Need I remind you he just invited you, as well?”
Twilight laughed. “Rarity. I’m just teasing you. I told you I’m not jealous. Besides.” She leaned in slightly. “I am the Rarity-killer, right?”
Rarity relaxed, rolling her eyes. “By giving me heart-attacks, you are,” she murmured, before noticing Twilight was still watching her, a big grin on her face. “What? Is something else on your mind?”
“Yes,” Twilight said, ready to tell Rarity all about her plans for a new library up until she cut herself off. Should she tell Rarity, or might it be better to keep it a surprise? Hide it away, and once everypony is freed, she can present the idea to Rarity! The cherry on top of the proverbial princess-freeing cake!
Rarity coughed politely. “…And do you intend on telling me, or…?”
“I… Well…” She swallowed down the excitement and instead presented determination. “I can’t wait to free Princess Luna and the others, no matter what it takes.”
Rarity laughed somewhat nervously. “No matter what it takes? My! That is quite a bold statement, isn’t it?”
Twilight laughed. “Yes, but we’re ready, aren’t we?”
Rarity snorted. “Are we? I’m glad one of us believes that because frankly, I was lying to Red Lining when I told him we were.”
Twilight’s expression softened, faced again with Rarity’s insecurities. “Rarity… We will be ready,” she assured sincerely and was rewarded with her marefriend’s smile. “Trust me.”
“…You’re right! We will be ready. It’ll be fine. We’re still missing a few things here and there, but nothing that can’t be done in time!” She nodded her head, assured. “I’ll be ready.”
“Seeking Night is tomorrow!” Rarity screeched, bursting into the Dreamland’s bakery. “And I’m not ready! Nopony is ready!”
That announced, she made a beeline towards the counter and levitated three cupcakes from the display rack.
Pinkie peeked her head out from the kitchen. “Wha—Rarity! Stop eating the cupcakes! Those are for the foals!”
“The foals aren’t the ones paying you to make these, so I’ll do whatever I damn well—Hey!” At the sight of her cupcakes being forcibly floated away from her, she whipped around and found the offending alicorn, all dressed up in her regalia and crown. “Twilight! That’s my comfort food you’re floating away!”
Twilight smiled. “We’re all waiting for you two.”
“I am well aware of that, Twilight Sparkle. Why, pray tell, do you think I’m hiding here? And give me my cupcakes!”
“They’re all waiting?!” Pinkie gasped, practically jumping over the counter. “Hurry, Rarity!”
“Pinkie, no!” she blurted out, trying and failing to grab Pinkie before she could rush out. “If you go, then I have to go!” When Pinkie failed to wait and left the room, she turned to Twilight. “The show must go on?”
“The show must go on.”
Twilight rolled her eyes as Rarity heaved herself off the counter with an unnecessarily theatrical sigh and then followed her out of Celestia’s bakery, into the lobby, and finally into Cadance’s Theatre.
As they stepped in, Twilight’s eyes drifted over the dozens of ponies and changelings gathered around, their loud conversations falling to a hush. Rarity faltered at the sight of it, but a quick nudge from Twilight set her back on track towards the stage where Pinkie was already waiting.
Rarity stepped up first, taking center stage while Twilight placed herself a few feet behind her, unable to suppress a grin at all the familiar faces—The Cutie Mark Crusaders waving at her from the front lines, Rift and Incantation with the changelings near the back, Professor Awe and Fluttershy watching as Applejack shushed Rainbow Dash.
The whispers died as soon as Rarity spoke up, which made for an embarrassing silence when she didn’t immediately know what else to say.
She cleared her throat. “Right.”
Another silence followed, until…
“Nice pep talk, Rares!” Rainbow Dash yelled, grinning when the room erupted in laughter.
“Alright, alright, settle down!” Rarity said, trying to sound stern despite the smile on her face. She waited until the crowd was quiet before continuing. “Now, you’ll all have to excuse me, Twilight insisted I write down my speech for you all, but I didn’t have time for that—”
A speech materialized before her.
“…But apparently Twilight did!” She threw the grinning alicorn A Look, before taking it in her magic and reading it over. “Let’s see… Gathered here… Long journey… Page one of fourteen?!”
Politely, she rolled it up and then fluttered her eyelashes at Twilight.
“You know, I’ve always excelled at improvisation.”
Twilight snorted. “If you say so, Rarity,” she teased, having been under no illusions Rarity would even read her speech.
After blowing her marefriend a kiss, Rarity cleared her throat and turned back to her audience.
“Seeking Night is finally here! The foals are coming tomorrow, with their parents’ signed permission slips detailing the full-event—not that they believed it, but regardless!” She took a breath. “For some of you, this has been only a journey of a few weeks. For others, a few months. For me, exactly three years ago tomorrow, when I first met Twilight. And for Twilight herself—” She glanced at her briefly ”—this has been a thousand year journey.
“Though how long you’ve been on this journey hardly matters,” she continued. “What matters is that all of you are here now, and you should all be proud of the part you’ve played to make tomorrow possible.”
Twilight stepped forward, drawing the attention to herself.
“And for believing in us,” she said. “I… I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for ponies like you, like Pinkie, and Rarity, and everypony else, who believe in me and the others.” She grinned. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all of you who didn’t think Rarity’d gone crazy when talking about me.”
More laughter filled the room, intensifying when Rift called out, “Just because we believed her doesn’t mean we don’t think she’s crazy!”
When everyone settled down again, Twilight continued.
“We have to do this,” she said, stepping forward, meaning every word. “No matter what happens, no matter what can go wrong, we have to do this. Not just for Princess Luna, or me, but for everypony that Discord’s hurt. For everypony that he can hurt, wherever he is.”
She looked at Rarity and Pinkie.
“No matter what.”
Pinkie nodded. “No matter what!”
“No matter what!” the others echoed.
And finally, when all eyes were on Rarity, she said, almost quietly, her expression certainly not one of excitement, “No matter what.” However, whatever was wrong, if there indeed was something wrong, didn’t last long, for before Twilight could register or worry, she shook her head and slammed her hoof on the floor, finally driven with the same determination as the others. “We will free Princess Luna, no matter how long it takes! So, with that in mind…”
“Break a leg, everypony!”