Princess Twilight Time.
The three hours a week the Cutie Mark Crusaders dragged Rarity to the library for their lessons with Twilight, after they’d hassled her into going back on her “no visiting Twilight” rule.
Then again, “dragged her to the library” wasn’t the right phrase, was it? That would imply Rarity didn’t really want to go, when the truth was that any excuse to go to the library was one she’d take.
That was, until Twilight had become convinced that Rarity could learn teleportation in a fortnight.
The unicorn stopped her sewing machine and changed fabrics, idly glancing at the three fillies scattered around the library’s main entrance, all getting ready for Rarity’s trip to Rainbow Falls. Though they wouldn’t be going with her, they’d convinced the unicorn to take some of their belongings to the Traders Exchange.
The Traders Exchange was a yearly event held in Rainbow Falls, where one could trade practically anything for anything else. Rarity herself had attended once as a filly, and she’d be attending once again at Pinkie Pie’s request. Perhaps Twilight’s books might be scattered in the trove of things to trade, the mare had suggested in her letter.
Sweetie Belle, sitting next to a table, was desperately trying to imbue life into a candelabra while Elara watched her sorrowful attempts. The filly had become convinced that a pet candelabra would guarantee anything she wanted from Rainbow Falls. Next to her, Scootaloo busily polished the helmet she wanted Rarity to take, which honestly made her wish Scootaloo had at least used real polish and not spit. Finally, Apple Bloom sat at the other table, immersed in a potions book, vaguely reminding Rarity of Twilight.
In the short time she’d known the princess, Apple Bloom had been quickly taken by the alicorn, trailing behind her constantly. It had become so commonplace, in fact, that Rarity even joked about it, giggling at the filly’s blush when she’d asked her to “please give Princess Twilight some space, dear.”
Except then Sweetie Belle had agreed, saying that Rarity couldn’t trail after Twilight if Apple Bloom was doing the same, and then it stopped being funny.
Speaking of Twilight…
“Wait, where did Twilight go?” she asked, looking around toward the bookcases and finding nopony walking through them.
She could neither hear nor feel loud slams from the lower floor, so it meant that Twilight had at least given up on… whatever she was still trying to achieve with the maze. But, if she wasn’t in the maze, and she wasn’t with the girls, and she wasn’t reading a book nearby, then—
Without another word, Rarity quickly looked back to her sewing machine, turned it on, and kept working on her cape, trying to look as busy as possible before—poof!—Twilight appeared next to her. From the corner of her eye, Rarity saw a detestably familiar book floating next to Twilight, prompting her to try and look even busier.
Rarity didn’t look. “Twilight.”
“What are you doing…?”
“Making a cape, darling!” she said, cheerfully ignoring the real reason Twilight was there and instead focusing on her absolutely lovely cape. “I do have a job, you know, and I really must finish before my train leaves in the afternoon. Nopony will want to trade me anything for something half-done.”
“What about your training?” Twilight asked gravely.
Rarity frowned. “Twilight, I already told you I can’t do it. We’ve been at it for weeks, and I’m already behind enough as it is, so that’s that.”
“But I found a simpler spell!” Twilight protested. “Even you have to be able to do this one!”
“Some other time, Twilight,” Rarity replied, trying hard to ignore the implications of Twilight’s comment.
“At least read it once!”
“Twilight, I need to focu— eeek!”
Rarity stepped back, quickly switching the machine off as the alicorn quite literally made herself at home by sitting right in the middle of it, a blank expression on her face.
“Twilight Sparkle!” Rarity shrieked, her voice drowning out the fillies’ snickering. She shook her hoof, trying to rid herself of the creepy-crawly feeling overtaking her. “You know how much I despise you doing that!”
Twilight blinked, her ears lowering ever so slightly. Good, Rarity thought. She should feel bad for interrupting me like that.
Except then Twilight simply tilted her head to the side and with the smuggest of smiles said, “Oh, I know, which I presume is why it’s very effective in getting your attention.”
“You know, Twilight, you’ve become very smug as of late, and I’m not quite sure I approve. And will you please get out from in there!” Rarity snapped, turning away and harrumphing for good measure.
Twilight teleported in front of her friend. “Rarity…”
“No! I am putting an end to this ridiculous charade!” Rarity insisted, stamping her hoof against the ground. “If I have to glare at a wall for another hour again, I’m going to scream, Twilight! Scream!”
“It’s just one spell!” Twilight said, doing that detestably adorable gesture where her ears lowered and eyes widened, and Rarity was practically at her beck and call. “Please?”
Rarity puffed out her cheeks, making a show of her displeasure for a moment. “Does it really mean that much to you?”
Twilight nodded. “Until I can find a way to harness Discord’s magic, I want you to have some way to protect yourself.”
There was a moment of silence before Rarity finally relented. “All right. Since it means that much to you… But just one spell and that’s it!” She took the book from Twilight’s magic grasp with her own and flipped through the pages. “What page is it?”
Rarity looked up. “Chapter 21? As in, the entire chapter?”
Twilight nodded. “You… do have to read a few more things, as well, in preparation for casting the spell. It’s not too much, I promise!” she added upon receiving a very unimpressed stare. “Think of it as light reading.”
Come on, Rarity, you can read it on the train, and it’ll make her happy, she told herself, holding back a sigh and nodding. “Light reading it is, then…” She looked back to her cape-in-progress. “After I finish my work, so until then, you’re welcome to sit there, outside of the sewing machine, and wait.”
Truthfully, Rarity said that expecting Twilight to leave and help the fillies. Instead, the alicorn did indeed sit there, and decided it was the best time to give Rarity her bi-hourly lecture on the uses of teleportation in daily life.
It was surprisingly effective in helping Rarity finish faster, and an hour of lecture later, she’d completed her sewing, packed her things, and now waited for the fillies to finish their own packing.
“Hurry up, girls! I don’t want to miss my train,” Rarity called, standing near the exit tunnel, a large saddlebag floating next to her. It turned out that she’d slightly miscalculated how much her bag would weigh once she’d added in everypony’s belongings. She still wasn’t sure what magic Twilight had used to somehow fit the helmet inside the bag.
“Here you go, Rarity,” Twilight said, teleporting next to Rarity, a large heart-shaped emerald floating beside her. “This should work.”
Rarity’s eyes widened, carefully taking the jewel in her hoof. “Darling, where did you get this?” she asked, awed. The emerald was easily larger than any Rarity had ever seen before, and she could scarcely imagine how much it was worth.
“A friend left jewels in the library before I was imprisoned. I didn’t want to… have to use any of them, but I need my books, so I hope he’ll understand that I don’t have a choice,” Twilight explained, regretfully looking at the emerald. “If not, at least I still have all his other jewels to return to him.”
He? Rarity thought, furrowing her brow at her reflection on the jewel. It was a grim thought, but he—whoever that was—probably wouldn’t mind, considering no non-cursed pony Rarity knew of could live for a thousand years.
“I’m sure he won’t be upset,” Rarity said, playing along with Twilight’s decision to pretend time did not influence ponies. Still, it was a shame they’d have to trade such a dazzling rock for a book. Maybe Rarity could use her charms to get books in exchange for her lesser sapphires.
“And please be careful about the dragons,” Twilight added, summoning Rarity’s camera to tinker with. “The migratory path of dragonkind is a very fascinating sight in itself, and I wish I could ask you to make a natural observation and its corresponding field report, but if they see the gem, they might…”
“Might what? Eat me? Pfft,” Rarity said, playfully waving her hoof dismissively. “They’re dragons, Twilight. I’m sure they’ve hoarded gems worth far more than this one—no offense to your friend.”
Pinkie Pie’s letter had mentioned the dragon migration would be passing by the northern town, and Rarity hadn’t been in the least worried. After all: “I have no intention whatsoever of meeting any of them. What vicious creatures. Did you know one of them attacked Trottingham recently?”
“Not all dragons are inherently vicious, Rarity,” Twilight replied, her fiddling with the camera slowing. Something in her tone was different, as if she were suddenly on edge. “Some can be very docile and kind, if raised under the right conditions.”
Rarity hummed in thought. “Even so, I’ve never met one personally, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
For a second, it seemed like Twilight intended to say something else, but instead she gave Rarity a rather strange look and turned back to her camera. Rarity stared at her, thrown off by the… sadness her friend had just regarded her with. What was that about?
Rarity turned to the library to find the three fillies rushing toward them, Themis flying behind. One by one, the fillies said goodbye to the princess, promising to practice all they’d learned for the next Princess Twilight Time, and asking Rarity to please not take forever to say goodbye to Twilight like always.
“Fluttershy should be visiting tomorrow, I believe,” Rarity said, watching the girls disappear into the dark tunnel. She turned back to Twilight and let out a giggle.
“What?” Twilight asked, obviously failing to see what was so funny.
“Nothing,” Rarity replied in a sing-song tone. She lifted her hoof, meaning to brush away Twilight’s bangs, but refrained upon remembering Twilight’s etherealness. Instead, she placed it over her necklace and said, “I was simply thinking how lovely it is to see everypony so excited to see you. Fluttershy doesn’t even need me to drag her here anymore!” She let out a theatrical sigh. “Soon, you shan’t even need me anymore!”
Twilight shook her head playfully. “Come on. You’re going to miss your carriag— er, train,” she said, gesturing toward the exit.
“See! You’re booting me out already! The scandal!” Rarity gasped, looking away and pretending to have been terribly wounded. Her faux tantrum was short lived, though, ending alongside Twilight’s soft laughter. She looked back toward her friend, and smiled. “Well, Princess, anything else you’d like to discuss before I take my leave?”
Twilight shook her head.
“I don’t think so,” she said, levitating the camera and hanging the strap around Rarity’s neck.
“In that case, I’ll be back in five days,” Rarity replied, making a move to turn toward the tunnel but suddenly coming to a stop. The words I’ll miss you hung on her lips, and she wondered if she dared utter them. She glanced back at Twilight, her mouth slightly open, and…
Oh, come now, Rarity! It wasn’t like she’d never said she missed someone before! She said it all the time, and it was perfectly normal between friends. Why, she’d said it to Fluttershy herself that same morning after their usual weekly get-together. Why would it be any different with Twilight?
“Is something wrong?” Twilight asked, raising her eyebrow.
“No, no!” Rarity quickly exclaimed, regaining her composure. “I was only going to say that…” She drifted off for a second before continuing, trying to sound nonchalant as she charmingly confessed, “I’m going to miss you.”
If her remark had any effect on Twilight, she was doing a very good job at hiding it from her expectant friend. Twilight blinked once, twice, thrice before smiling. “It’s just five days, Rarity,” said the alicorn who had once complained at Rarity not visiting for one whole day. She flapped her wings before adding, “Don’t forget to look for my books! Goodbye!”
And poof, just like that, she was gone, leaving Rarity staring into the empty space she’d left.
Well, that had been rather anticlimactic.
Swallowing her pride, Rarity resolved to look past it and leave the library… but not before a well-deserved imitation of the alicorn.
“Why, thank you, Rarity! I’m going to miss you too!” she mimicked in a high-pitched tone, pressing her hoof against her chest. “Who else will bring me things to disassemble? Who else will answer my mental messages at four in the morning and hear me go on and on about the histo—”
“Oh, Rarity, wait!”
Rarity eeped herself into silence, turning around to look at the freshly reappeared alicorn. “Oh, Tw-Twilight! Er, forget something, darling?” she asked, feeling her cheeks grow hot. She really, really hoped the alicorn hadn’t seen her little display.
Twilight fidgeted for a moment, looking somewhat flustered. “I’m going to miss you too.”
Rarity felt her heart beat faster against her chest, and her stomach was invaded by a swarm of butterflies—not that Twilight would ever know, of course.
“Awww! Thank you, darling! I can’t blame you, really,” she said, letting out a haughty laugh as she brushed a hoof through her mane. “I’d miss me too if I were leaving.”
Twilight snorted, rolling her eyes playfully. “Goodbye, Rarity,” she said finally. “Be safe, and don’t forget your reading.”
“Oh, wait!” Rarity said before Twilight could teleport away. “You never told me what the extra pages I need to read are.”
“Oh! Well, it’s not much. It’s just…” Twilight drifted off and straightened herself, a terribly concealed sheepish smile decorating her lips. “You just have to read chapters one through twenty-one!”
“Chapters one through… Twilight, that’s the entire book!” Rarity exclaimed.
“I know! Goodbye! Don’t forget to do the quiz I left in the back!” Twilight quickly replied before teleporting away just as fast.
“Twilight Sparkle! That is not light reading, and you know it!”
It was already afternoon by the time Rainbow Falls station appeared on the horizon.
Rarity stepped out onto the platform and looked around. The entire place was littered with ponies and the plethora of objects they had brought to trade. With the Exchange beginning earlier that morning, Rarity felt some relief at seeing she wasn’t the only one just arriving.
First things first, I need to find the hotel, she thought, retrieving Pinkie’s letter from her saddlebag. She read it over, skimming through Pinkie’s long greeting to Twilight, spending a minute rereading the newest happenings with Princess Luna, and then finally finding the directions to where they’d be staying.
As she made her way through Rainbow Falls, Rarity kept her idle gaze on the posters posted throughout the town’s walls. Most of them were related to the Traders Exchange, but she noticed that a number of them depicted large dragons and warnings to avoid the mountainside. So there really is a dragon migration, then…
When she finally reached the address, all the way on the outskirts of the town near the cliffs and mountain range, Rarity was relieved to see Pinkie standing in front of a downtrodden, large blue house. Was that where they’d be staying? It certainly looked nothing like any hotel she’d ever seen. There were no other houses nearby and they were so close to the mountainside, in fact, that Rarity could see the entrance to the caves leading inside Yaket Range.
“Pinkie!” she called out, putting the letter away and quickening her pace.
“Rarity! You’re here!” Pinkie exclaimed, enveloping the mare in a hug the moment Rarity was close enough. “I’ve been waiting here for you aaaaaall morning!”
Rarity laughed. “I hope that’s a lie, darling, or else I’ll feel horrid for taking the afternoon train,” she said, placing her suitcases down. “Why didn’t you wait for me inside…” she drifted off, glancing at the house behind Pinkie. “…the hotel?”
Pinkie’s ears jolted upwards. “The hotel?” She looked back toward the house before exclaiming, “Oh, that’s not a hotel, silly! The hotel is in the southeast part of town, but I always stay here when I come!”
Taking one of Rarity’s heavy suitcases and dragging it along on the ground, Pinkie made her way to the door, the suitcase banging loudly against the three steps. Finally, she released it and knocked on the door thrice, Rarity quickly joining her on the porch.
Nothing happened at first, and Rarity was about to suggest knocking again when she finally heard some commotion inside the house. She quickly straightened herself up when the knob began to turn and she was surprised to see a familiar stallion as the door swung open.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” Professor Brazened Awe said, narrowing his eyes at the grinning Pinkie Pie. “I should be surprised, but I’m not.”
“Hi, Professor Meaniepants!” Pinkie exclaimed with great cheer. “Did ya miss me?”
“Like a stallion misses his mother-in-law,” he replied with as much enthusiasm as a rock. “Miss Pie, as flattered as I am by your frankly impressive stalking prowess, I have told you a thousand times that there is a perfectly decent hotel on the other side of town!”
“The hotel doesn’t let me bake cupcakes in their kitchen, silly!” Pinkie replied, picking up Rarity’s suitcase. “Come on, Rarity! You can put your stuff upstairs while I take my cupcakes out of the oven. I already put my stuff in our room.”
“You what?!” Professor Awe exclaimed, moving aside so as to let Pinkie in before following her, leaving Rarity alone. “That is breaking and entering!”
“Then why d’you always leave the key under the rug, huuuuh?”
“Th-that’s completely irrelevant!”
For her part, Rarity looked back and forth between the remaining suitcases and the hallway. She tapped her hoof against her mouth, unsure what to do. She didn’t particularly feel comfortable staying somewhere she hadn’t been invited. And didn’t Pinkie and Awe dislike each other? Immensely?
Eventually, the professor returned with the sound of heavy hoofsteps, and stared down at the unicorn.
“Ah, Professor Awe!” Rarity offered him her most charming smile.
Seconds of silence later, an increasingly awkward Rarity cleared her throat. “Shall I perhaps persuade Pinkie that the hotel is the best choice then, Professor…?”
The professor frowned, mulling it over. “Frankly, she’s done this so many times, I can’t bring myself to care anymore,” he finally said, moving aside to clear the path. “Make yourself at home. Just please make sure she doesn’t interrupt me while I’m working.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Rarity said, levitating her suitcases and stepping inside.
After closing the door, Professor Awe led Rarity to the staircase. As she made her way up, she noticed several certificates and diplomas framed on the wall, all celebrating the curator of Canterlot’s private library: Knowledge Quill.
That’s right! He changed his name!
That was the question that roamed Rarity’s head as she left her things in one of the upper floor’s rooms, and continued to plague her even when she descended a dozen minutes later, carrying with her all the items she’d be looking to trade.
The smell of pastries filled her nose, and she followed it all the way into the living room. Much like Hollow Shades, the walls were decorated with notes, plastered newspaper cutouts, and a plethora of books scattered about. Rarity remembered Awe had three of Twilight’s books, so it turned out to be a lucky coincidence she’d be spending time with him. Maybe he too would be interested in a trade?
“I’m ready!” she called out to Pinkie, receiving an “I’m almost done!” in reply.
Rarity took the brief moment of peace to look around, making her way toward the piles of books until her attention was drawn toward a large, odd-looking device in the corner.
A closer look revealed the grey machine was some sort of measuring device. Long sheets of paper trailed down from a tray, filled with all sorts of complex-looking data. The top was adorned with several red light bulbs, and a round receptor of some sort stood in the middle. The front of the machine was branded with the words “Magic Analyzer Device.”
Rarity took her camera from the stack of objects she’d brought down, deciding that Twilight would probably be thrilled to have a picture of it. Once the picture popped out of the tray, she looked around again while waiting for it to develop. Her eyes landed on some stapled papers, the words “CHAOS MAGIC” written on the first in bold big letters, which she lifted to read.
MAGIC THEORY #25
CHAOS AND DISHARMONY
Magic is all around us.
It resides in the earth, the plants, and in Equestria’s populace. Though earth ponies and pegasi have their own individual “magic essence,” magic as we’ve come to know it only resides in the unicorn and alicorn races.
Though my many years as head librarian have allowed me to understand magic to its very core, there are still many types of magic currently unknown to ponykind. Changeling magic, for one, is rooted in a very different organic component than ours. While our own magic is mostly limitless, and does not influence our other body parts, a changeling’s magic is powered by the extraction of social bonds, and the lack of such magic can result in the death of the host.
There is also the matter of CHAOS MAGIC, a type of magic still unresearchable despite its remaining presence scattered throughout the Kingdom of Equestria. Though we refer to it as Chaos Magic, we currently have no way to verify that it truly is just that, but there is enough evidence to confirm my theory.
There is, of course, its presence in the inner levels of Canterlot Castle, where Princess Denza and potentially the Spirit reside. Hollow Shades, too, is full of it. Then, there is the Everfree Forest. Though I am still unable to fully verify its correlation to the magic aura in the castle, it is indisputable that a strikingly similar magic layer permeates the forest.
More to the point, the location of this forest matches the exact location of Princess Twilight Sparkle I’s last confirmed dwelling. Our research on the topic has long marked the princess as deeply involved in magical arts, so it is only logical that an unearthly amount of magic must have been used to bring her down.
The lingering Chaos Magic permeating the forest is nothing more than the gravestone marking the princess’s final resting place.
Our third proof is…
That oaf! He really does believe Cadance assassinated Twilight! And the idea of the Spirit even living in Canterlot Cas─
“I see you’ve found my papers.”
Startled, Rarity quickly turned to find Professor Awe in the room, staring at her with a quizzical expression. Cheeks flushing, she put the paper back in its place and stepped away from the machine.
“Oh, er, I─! I was only interested by this device you have. I thought those might be the instructions.”
The professor shook his head. “No, the only instructions for that machine are in my head,” he said, stepping forward to it while his magic promptly took care of moving his notes away from prying eyes. “It’s a magic analyzer. All one has to do is put a magic-infused receptacle in there, and it will tell you what kind of magic it is, the complexity of the spell, and what the caster’s strengths and weaknesses in magic use are. I’m afraid it’s not working at the moment, though.” He tinkered with the machine for a moment before clearing his throat. “So! Since you’ve been so kind as to read my private notes, may I ask what you thought?”
“What I thought?” Rarity asked, cheeks flushing again.
“Yes. I gathered from our last conversation that you were well-versed in the history of the Chaos Wars.”
Rarity blinked. “Ah! Well, I thought it was quite the interesting theory, Professor. I… admittedly almost never go into the Everfree Forest, but I can’t deny there’s something quite unnatural about the place. However, I do have my doubts.” She raised an eyebrow. “You think the Spirit lives in the castle?”
“I do,” he replied flatly.
“But, Professor! You can’t really think Princess Denza of all ponies is working together with the Spirit! It’s ridiculous!” Rarity exclaimed. “And that her family line assassinated the princesses?!”
“Miss Rarity, the fact remains that I see no three extra alicorns ruling Equestria, so there’s simply no other explanation. Don’t give me that look!” he added when Rarity threw him a pointed stare. “You can’t honestly believe that the princesses are trap—” He cut himself off and sighed, rubbing his temple. “Look. Even if the princesses were trapped throughout Equestria, the fact remains that our kingdom isn’t sunk in chaos. Do you have an explanation for this that isn’t the royal family working together with the Spirit?”
And at this, Rarity stayed silent.
She had no explanation, even if she firmly believed that Princess Denza would never work together with the Spirit… but… the professor’s reasoning created cracks of doubt in her own theory, and now more than ever, she wished she could confer with Twilight. Then again, if any pony would believe in Cadance and Denza no matter what, it would be Twilight.
“I am willing to listen to theories, Miss Rarity, and though I may not agree, I still give weight to Miss Pie’s arguments. On this matter, however, I am resolute. Whatever happened in that war, the Spirit had inside help.”
“But you served Princess Denza! You were the head librarian of Canterlot, for pony’s sake! It says so on your certificates!” Rarity retorted, unable to understand how somepony could have turned against their superior in such a ridiculously exaggerated way.
“Precisely,” he replied simply. “I was one of the few ponies allowed into the inner workings of that castle, Miss Rarity, and the things I saw in there… I may not be powerful enough to harness Chaos Magic into a receptacle so I may study it, but I can at least tell when something reeks of unnatural forces. I am very well aware of the gravity of what I’m proposing, so I can assure you I wouldn’t be doing so unless I was certain.”
Rarity wanted to say something else, to object but… what could she even say?
And so, the conversation came to an end with Pinkie’s excited exclamation as she bounded into the room with several baskets of cookies and cupcakes. She failed to notice the tenseness in the air, going straight for the professor with a cheerful smile.
“Here you go, Professor Meaniepants! Chocolate and walnut cookies!” she said, offering him the smallest of the baskets. “Thanks for letting us stay!”
“Ooooh, my favorite!” the professor exclaimed, his composure dropping in favor of becoming a foal in a candy store.
“What about you, Rarity? Ready to go?” Pinkie asked. “It’s getting late! We’re gonna miss all the good stuff!”
As much as the unicorn wanted to continue her discussion, Pinkie Pie was right. The more time they spent in the house, the more they were allowing somepony else to make off with what they wanted.
Reluctantly, she smiled and nodded toward her items, all piled up on the couch. “I was just waiting for you, Pinkie.”
“Great! Let’s go!”
Rarity watched Pinkie skip out of the room, and it wasn’t until she was gone that Rarity looked to the professor, his face covered in crumbs.
“May we continue our discussion later tonight?”
Professor Awe cleared his throat, stashing away the remaining cookies and nodding. “If you wish. I stand by what I said, though. I know foul play when I see it.”
The trot to the Exchange went by quickly enough, with the two mares wrapped up in getting one another up to date on the latest happenings. Just as she’d mentioned in her letter, Pinkie had yet to find any information on Princess Celestia, and Rarity herself hadn’t had much luck with the books. She’d hoped that Apple Bloom’s friendship with the girls might do something for getting Twilight’s book from the Apples, but it was starting to seem like achieving that goal would mean getting help from Applejack herself.
Nevertheless, Pinkie Pie didn’t seem at all discouraged by the lack of progress. There was, after all, one particular event that excited Pinkie so much, Rarity might as well have told her she’d freed all three princesses at once.
“And the best part is you bought them from Hollow Shades! The day we met! Eek! It’s like I’m connected to her, too! Are you suuuure I can’t talk to her?!”
Pinkie Pie hopped along the aisles of stands, the necklace bouncing off her chest as she pushed around her trolley of cupcakes and cookies. Ever since Rarity had revealed her new communication accessory to the pink mare, it had been the only thing Pinkie could talk or ask about.
“I’m quite sure,” Rarity replied sympathetically, glancing behind at the little red cart she’d borrowed for all her things. “You’d need to be able to cast magic.”
Pinkie came to a stop, brow furrowing. “Nu-uh! Professor Awe says that earth ponies have a magic of their own!” she exclaimed, closing her eyes, pressing the crystal against her chest and making a ridiculous humming sound.
While Pinkie tried contacting Twilight through earth pony magic, Rarity used the moment’s reprieve to look over her cart and review what she needed to look out for at the Exchange. Let’s see, she thought. I have…
…a helmet to exchange for a Wonderbolt’s autograph; a—non-magical—candelabra to exchange for a musical instrument; three lovely designs to exchange for rare and exotic fabrics; and one large emerald plus several sapphires to exchange for ancient books.
Everything seemed to be in order, save for Scootaloo’s request. Though she knew the Wonderbolts would be monitoring the event as extra security against the dragon migration, it worried her that they might be too busy to, well, give out autographs ─ not to mention she wasn’t sure they’d want a helmet in exchange for one.
When Rarity looked back, Pinkie was still “communicating” with Twilight, prompting the unicorn to politely clear her throat and then quickly step back when Pinkie startled her with a very loud gasp.
“Rarity!” Pinkie exclaimed, dropping the necklace and clapping her hooves together. “I talked to her! I talked to her!”
Rarity playfully raised her eyebrow. “Did you, now?”
“Mh-hm! And you know what she said?” Pinkie looked from side to side conspiratorially, signaling for Rarity to come closer. And closer. And closer. And closer still, until a disconcerted Rarity had her cheek pressed against Pinkie’s. “She said that I’m her best friend!” Pinkie finally revealed, giggling as Rarity scoffed loudly.
“Excuse me, but I am the rightful owner of that title,” Rarity protested playfully, levitating her necklace off Pinkie and slipping it on. Or, at least, I hope I am. I probably am. “Besides, you’re already best friends with a princess of your own!”
Pinkie nodded, resuming their path by pushing the trolley along. “Yep! Being super best friends with a princess is fun, isn’t it?” she asked cheerfully, only for her mirth to evaporate only a second later. “Except they’re trapped in dumb places. That’s not fun at all.”
“Don’t think about that, Pinkie. Just think that they’re only trapped for now, but soon enough, they’ll be out and about,” Rarity replied, letting her gaze wander over the passing stands. “Just think about it! Aren’t you excited to hug Princess Luna?”
“Uh-huh! And you with Princess Twilight!” Pinkie replied and, her tone now distinctly teasing, added, “Except, you don’t wanna hug her, you’re gonna want to kiiiiiis—mmph!”
Despite the flustered Rarity immediately magicking her mouth shut, Pinkie’s teasing giggles still resonated, which Rarity decided to ignore. She had known she’d regret admitting her crush to Pinkie, but it wasn’t her fault the mare was so… so nice and fun. And who else besides Fluttershy would take her seriously if she said she had a crush on an ancient alicorn spirit? She just hoped Pinkie wouldn’t tell Princess Luna, since that might make for an awkward reunion.
“It’ll all be very fun,” Rarity finished, eventually letting go of Pinkie’s mouth if only because the sound of a shrill scream distracted her instead.
The two mares looked around and found a little frightened filly rushing toward a mare near the stands.
“Mamma! Mamma!” the filly called, nearly throwing herself at her mother, clutching her mother’s foreleg and then pointing her hoof toward something in the distance. “Dragons, mamma! Don’t let them eat me!”
“Dragons?” Rarity said aloud, ears flickering down. Though perhaps she wasn’t as terrified as the foal, she still admitted the idea of meeting a dragon did frighten her a bit—or a lot. “But, aren’t the Wonderbolts supposed to be in cha─ Pinkie?” She looked around and only just caught a glimpse of her friend pushing her trolley in the direction the filly had pointed. “Pinkie!”
Rarity followed after the mare, until she came to a large crowd of ponies gathered on the outskirts of the market. She could see Pinkie’s curly mane sticking out from the crowd, and after pushing her way through, she reached the front of the crowd, where the Wonderbolts acted as the only barrier between the crowd and three angry-looking dragons, all as big as a small carriage.
“I already told you, this is pony territory!” the Wonderbolts leader said, taking a step toward the dragons. “You’re not allowed here!”
Luckily for her, Scootaloo’s brief lesson in Wonderbolt’s history had served her well, and Rarity instantly recognized the orange mare as Spitfire, current captain of the team. Flanking her, if she wasn’t mistaken, were Soarin and Fleetfoot.
The larger dragon, a blue lizard with small red wings and horns all over his back, stepped up toward Spitfire, grinning maliciously. “Whaaaaaaat? Why not? We only want to trade with you!” he said, fluttering his eyelashes and looking back toward the other two nodding dragons. “Ain’t that right, boys? We’re innocent!”
“Would you look at them?” Rarity whispered, glaring at the creatures. “Who are they trying to kid? Even Fluttershy is a better actor than they are.”
“This is your last warning,” Spitfire continued, taking yet another step forward, voice leveled. “We don’t want any trouble, so you better go back to the mountains.”
The dragon took another step forward, eyes slitting. “Really? Well, pony, if you don’t let us in, you’re gonna get lots and lo—”
“Pfft! You three?! Don’t make me laugh!”
Simultaneously, the crowd looked around and made space for the newcomer, a cyan-colored pegasus with a rather… interesting rainbow-colored mane. She made her way toward the dragons, and the Wonderbolts stepped aside as she did so.
“Rainbow Dash!” Spitfire exclaimed. “What are you doing here? I thought you were in Tall Tale!”
Rainbow Dash? Of course, the ex-captain! Rarity thought, having found the mare familiar. She didn’t just remember her from Scootaloo’s insistence over getting her autograph, but from the news article at Awe’s house in Hollow Shades as well.
“Nah. Figured I’d come visit you guys, and you’re lucky I did,” Rainbow Dash said, her stare still set on the dragons. “So, what are you pipsqueaks doing here? Don’t you have some sleeping to do in your cave?”
The leader hissed at her, baring his teeth. “Pipsqueak?”
“Yeah! I mean, what are you like, twelve?” Dash continued, flying up into the air above the dragons, disregarding the crowd’s horrified gasp. “You’re just a bunch of teenagers.” She scoffed and landed back on the ground. “I’ve seen real dragons before, and they’re way scarier than the three of you put together.”
“W-well, we’re not scared of you either, pony! Any of you!” the dragon retorted, scratching his claws against the ground. “We know who you are. You’re that pansy team of ponies that obeys that even pansier pony princess. It ain’t gonna look very good if she finds out you offended the dragon race, so you better let us in, or else.”
Rainbow Dash laughed—loudly. “Or else you’re gonna run to Princess Denza? Pfft! I’d like to see you even try to get past the city gates! I’ll bring the popcorn!” When she was met with silence from the dragons, Rainbow Dash replied by taking a step further. “That’s what I thought. Now get lost! I need to find a chain for a necklace, and I’m wasting time here!”
The leader finally stepped back, and scurried away with his friends, but not before issuing a final warning: “We’ll be back! This isn’t the last you’ve seen of us, pony!”
“Great! I haven’t kicked flank for a while, and it’ll be a great workout before dinner!” Once the dragon had left, Rainbow Dash looked back toward Spitfire and said something to her before trotting off.
The crowd began to disperse, leaving Rarity and Pinkie standing there alone.
“Well, that was certainly eventful,” Rarity said, looking toward where the dragons had left and wishing she’d taken a moment to snap a picture. Twilight would have been thrilled by it. “I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to talk down dragons like that.”
Rarity looked to Pinkie. “Yes?”
“Didn’t you want Rainbow Dash’s autograph, silly?”
“I did? Oh goodness, I did! WAIT!” she called out, rushing away from Pinkie and in the direction Rainbow Dash had left. She’d already made it halfway through the market before she had to come back and sheepishly take the helmet she’d forgotten.
She spent a good twenty minutes scouring the marketplace to no avail. It seemed the pegasus had disappeared as swiftly as she’d arrived, and to make matters worse, Rarity’s carelessness had cost her the chance of getting autographs from the other three Wonderbolts, as well. She did, however, find all the things that Sweetie and Apple Bloom had wanted, which only made her feel worse about Scootaloo.
“Well, there’s no need to panic yet,” Rarity said, mostly to herself, idly examining some antique jewels at a stand. “The Traders Exchange will still be open tomorrow, and I still haven’t had any luck with Twilight’s books either, so I shan’t lose hope yet.”
“Maybe we’ll be lucky, and more dragons will come tomorrow!” Pinkie suggested.
“Dragons! Bah! Filthy creatures. Can’t stand ’em.”
Rarity looked up from the stand and turned toward the source of the voice. To her surprise, the apparent dragon-hater was a pegasus stallion running what looked very much like a dragon merchandise stand, complete with dragon felt dolls, dragon-shaped cards, jewels of all sorts, and books presumably all about dragons.
Somepony is swimming very deep in the rivers of denial, I see.
“Sure you can!” Pinkie exclaimed, trotting toward the stand with Rarity following soon after. “You love dragons! You have so many cute plushies!”
The stallion snorted. “No. I hate dragons. Most ponies love them, so I trade stuff about them. Why? You want something?” he asked, stepping back and rearranging some jewels on the table. “I got dragon dolls, dragons cards, dragon sweets, dragon books, and jewels that dragons love to eat.”
Considering Rarity didn’t remember any of Twilight’s missing books having to do with dragons, she disregarded them and instead examined the jewelry. Emeralds, rubies, and sapphires of all shapes were neatly displayed, and though she wasn’t interested in trading for them, she could at least appreciate them.
“Wait a second,” Pinkie’s voice came. “This book isn’t about dragons!”
“No, but it was stolen from a dragon,” the shopkeeper replied.
“That’s not nice! What if the dragon really needed to study for an… aerial thermodynamics exam?!”
Rarity looked up briefly, watching her friend poking at a blue tome, before directing her attention toward the felt dolls. She couldn’t deny the craftsmanship was exquisite, and there wasn’t a single stitch out of place. The felt jewels each dragon carried were very well made, too.
“Bah! Dragons can’t study. All they can do is come here every year and bother everypony,” the shopkeeper said, harrumphing for good measure. “And even if they could study, stealing from a thief doesn’t count as stealing.”
“What d’you mean?” Pinkie asked, Rarity only half-listening to the conversation.
“The dragon who had that book stole it from a pony. It says her name right on the first page. Twinkle Sparkles.”
Now that caught Rarity’s attention.
“Twilight Sparkle,” she said immediately, looking up to the shopkeeper.
“Bah! Same thing,” he replied huffily. “Wait, how’d you know that?”
Without waiting for Rarity to reply, Pinkie quickly took the book and opened it up. “Rarity! Rarity, look, look!” she exclaimed, nearly throwing the book in the unicorn’s face so she could see the familiar hoofwriting at the top of the page.
There, in beautiful calligraphy, was Twilight’s name, and Rarity impulsively reached out to her necklace, on the verge of calling her friend just to tell her the news.
“Pinkie! This is wonderful!” Rarity replied, letting go of the necklace and taking the book in her magic. “What would you like in exchange for this? I notice you seem to be quite the jewel collector!” She smiled and fluttered her eyelashes, levitating her sapphires and the large gemstone. “Perhaps I may interest you in these jewels?”
The shopkeeper looked unimpressed. “Lady, I already have enough jewels,” he replied, and an indignant Rarity thought to herself that there was no such thing as too many jewels. “You want that book? You got a dragon scale to trade?”
“A dragon scale?”
“Yep. Those things are sharp like a knife and are worth more bits than all these jewels put together,” the shopkeeper said. “Rare, too. Very few ponies have taken a scale from a dragon and lived to tell it.”
“And you want one of those?”
“Yep. So, you want this book, you better bring me one.”
Rarity stared at him, incredulous. Was he serious? What, did he expect her to walk up to a dragon, wave hello, bat her eyelashes and say, “Excuse me, kind sir, may I rip off one of your scales?”
“But, sir, are you quite sure you wouldn’t want anything else?” Rarity persisted, fluttering her eyelashes and levitating the jewels again.
“Nope. I want the scale, lady,” the stallion said, resolute, taking the book back from Rarity. “I was supposed to take a scale from that dragon, and instead all I got was this lousy book. So, if you want to trade your jewels, you’re welcome to pick anything else, but if you want this book, you know the price.”
Rarity refrained from sighing, instead stepping back and forcing a smile. “Very well! I shall get you your scale, then,” she said, just as resolute as he was, despite lacking any idea whatsoever about how to acquire said scale. “Is there anything you’d like, Pinkie?”
Pinkie shook her head. “Nope! Just the book, like you!” she exclaimed, taking hold of her trolley and starting to push it away. “Come on, Rarity!”
Rarity gave the shopkeeper one last cordial smile before trotting after her friend, her mind already reeling with the options they had.
“So, where do you think the dragons are? I’ll bring them cookies, and I’m sure they’ll give us lots of scales!”
“That will not be necessary, dear,” Rarity said, looking around the market, at the dozens of ponies walking around with all sorts of things to trade. “We’re in the Traders Exchange, remember? I’m sure somepony here must have a dragon scale. We just have to find it.”
Of course, much as things had gone earlier, luck was not on Rarity’s side, and hours later, their day ended with no scale, no Wonderbolts autograph, and no daylight to continue looking. It was frustrating, to say the least, and as they made their way home Rarity started to think that they might actually have to seek out a dragon.
Maybe Twilight will know what to do, she thought, idly staring down at the unwinding path, her hornlight illuminating the way. She felt her necklace thumping against her chest, almost like a clock ticking away the seconds they had left to do the nearly impossible. I’ll call her when we’re back home.
Rarity’s thoughts clouded her mind, and her pace was slow, resulting in Pinkie leaving her behind, too distracted by her own story to realize Rarity wasn’t following or listening. When she eventually looked up, it was with great relief as she saw Professor Awe’s house in the distance. Pinkie too had seen it, judging by the fact that she’d doubled her pace. Lots of cookies and cupcakes to bake for tomorrow, Rarity supposed.
As they trotted on, Rarity moved her gaze toward the mountainside, eyes grazing the narrow paths leading to the large caves decorating Yaket Range. Were those the paths leading to dragon dens, perhaps? Would she have to make her way through them? Even if she’d ventured into caves before while diamond hunting, the biggest threat to her had always been bats, and truth be told, she wasn’t sure she really wanted to face off with a dragon.
After all, those dragons from earlier had seemed enormous to her, and they were just teenagers! If teenagers were so large, she could scarcely imagine what a full-grown dragon looked like. Well, that wasn’t completely true. She could imagine one, considering she’d seen a massive dragon statue back in Canterlot, but… the idea of being in the presence of such a huge creature… massive… just like the one staring back at her from one of the caves…
Rarity came to a complete stop, her heart beating thunderously in her chest. She was nearly at Awe’s house, but the desire to go inside had completely faded, replaced instead with panicked curiosity directed toward the large dragon standing at the entrance of one of the distant caves. Though night had fallen and her eyesight wasn’t as discerning as she’d like, she could make out the figure of the creature, and more than that, she could plainly see it staring right back at her.
She felt much like the mice Opalescence hunted, waiting for the predator to make the first move before she did. Except, unlike Opalescence, the wingless dragon didn’t look as if it was readying itself for an attack.
It was at that moment that Rarity remembered the gemstones in her bag, and a terribly brave but potentially profoundly reckless idea occurred to her. Perhaps… the dragon would be interested in a trade? She remembered Twilight’s words, that not all dragons were vicious, and the thought inspired Rarity to trust her friend and take a step toward the dragon.
“Rarity! Come on!”
Startled, Rarity looked around and saw Pinkie standing by the distant open door, waving at her.
“Just a minute!” Rarity called back, turning away from Pinkie and toward the now-empty cave. “Wait! Come back!” she called, trotting toward the opening, but eventually slowing down her pace, her bravery waning. “Drat.”
“What’s wrong?” Pinkie called, and finally Rarity turned toward her.
“Nothing! I’m coming!” she called back, trotting toward the house, her eyes still lingering on the cave the dragon had disappeared into.
Maybe, if she was lucky, Pinkie would be right and they’d run into dragons again the next day.