A dragon scale.
If Rarity were an alicorn like Twilight Sparkle, she supposed getting one would be a fairly easy task. A quickly cast barrier, a few dizzying spells, maybe some teleporting around for added confusion, and she’d be trotting out of the cave with a scale before one could say “advanced teleportation.”
Sadly though, Rarity wasn’t an all-mighty, powerful alicorn, and although she liked to consider herself quite the fighter, her brief lessons in self-defense as a filly could only do so much. Maybe she should have listened to Sweetie when she suggested an industrial-sized pepper spray can. If it worked on timberwolves, it should work on dragons, right?
“Miss Rarity, will you pay attention, please?”
Rarity blinked once, twice, thrice, and she realized she’d zoned out halfway through Professor Awe’s speech. They’d spent most of the past two hours debating the Spirit’s alleged involvement with Princess Denza, but this was hard to do when one pony had no real evidence, while the other side refused to come clean about her little alicorn secret.
“I’m terribly sorry, Professor. Please continue,” she said, clearing her throat and straightening herself up on the sofa, trying to force away her worries over acquiring the book and the scale.
The professor furrowed his brow. “It doesn’t matter anymore. I think it’s safe to assume you won’t believe my evidence until you see it for yourself, and since I cannot give you a free pass into Canterlot Castle…” He put his papers down on the nearby desk. “Maybe we should both retire for the night. Miss Pie rises at a ridiculous hour to make her pastries, so I’d suggest you get some sleep before she wakes you up at the crack of dawn.”
“I suppose so,” Rarity reluctantly agreed, putting away the quill she had borrowed and folding her sheet of paper. She’d made a few notes, mostly reminding herself to ask Twilight about Chaos Magic, but nothing terribly interesting beyond that.
The professor wasted no time saying good night, leaving Rarity alone in the messy living room with her thoughts. Her first concern was finding a scale, or at least something the salespony might want instead. With a theatrical sigh, she lay down on the couch, idly playing with her brightly glowing necklace, mulling over her situa—
Brightly glowing necklace?
“Oh! Oh, wait!” she blurted out, forgetting Twilight couldn’t actually hear her. She sat back up, closed her eyes, and cast the communication spell, excitement bubbling up in her chest.
She and Twilight had tested the range throughout Ponyville and it worked just fine, but this would be the first attempt over such a large distance.
Nothing happened at first, which was the norm. In the times they’d tested the spell, there was always a small moment where their minds needed to acclimate, or so Twilight had explained. Finally, a thought occurred to Rarity, an intense desire to… recite everything she’d learned on teleportation, and to write an entire dissertation on it.
If her eyes weren’t closed, she’d be rolling them.
It seemed she didn’t have to, though, for as soon as she felt the desire to do so, her thoughts immediately shifted into listing all the reasons why teleportation is nothing to roll your eyes at, Rarity!
That was another thing they’d achieved after several uses of the spell.
It had eventually become unnecessary to cast the spell in turns; rather, one simply needed to have more intensity in her thoughts to take control of the “conversation.” As such, Rarity focused completely and utterly on the idea that she had something vitally important to tell Twilight, and mere moments later, she could no longer feel any intruding thoughts.
Thank you, Twilight.
Taking a deep breath, she thought of the matter at hoof, which was her pressing concerns about Chaos Magic. As the concept began to materialize in her mind, new information flooded her. Chaos Magic could do a wide array of things, but it mostly had two purposes: creating chaos and creating disharmony.
Images of the moving library maze flooded Rarity’s mind; she could nearly hear Twilight’s voice, her thoughts showing the chaotic side of magic. However, rather than instill curiosity in Rarity about the magic, another question flowed into her mind, overpowering her completely.
What does the Spirit look like?
The images stopped, as if Twilight herself had been brought to a halt, and suddenly everything shifted, Twilight’s grip on the conversation coming back, but with an added sense of urgency and anxiety.
She—Rarity or Twilight, or perhaps both at the same time—was in the library, but she felt as if she didn’t want to be there. No, it wasn’t that she felt like that; it was more like she was certain she didn’t want to be there. She wanted to expel the memory and the bizarre anxiety it was instilling in her, but she couldn’t.
Though she was aware she was seeing into Twilight’s mind, Rarity felt very much like she forced it upon Twilight, like this was something the alicorn was showing her not because she wanted to, but because the memory had been dragged into the light.
An intense terror gripped Rarity, the feeling that she lost control of her body, like she’d been turned into a ghost, and just as she understood what she was witnessing, the memory shifted and a creature appeared in front of her.
A long, snake-like being floated in front of her, its lips twisted into a wicked smile. It was unlike anything Rarity had seen before, but Twilight had, and now so had Rarity. A draconequus: the Spirit of Disharmony, an amalgamation of all kinds of beasts.
“Listen well, my little pony. I’ve hidden a coded map somewhere in the bowels of your precious library and if you step out of here even once without it…” He laughed, a loud joyful laugh, before bending down and hissing, “It will vanish and you shall never see your friend again.”
With a sudden jolt, the vision was cut off, and the magic spell stopped completely. Startled, Rarity opened her eyes, gasping and pressing her hoof against her thunderously beating heart, barely cognizant of her newly formed headache.
Whatever had happened, it hadn’t affected the baseline connection, judging by the necklace’s still-present pink glow. Thank goodness, she thought, letting go of the necklace and taking a deep breath, trying to steady her heart.
Twilight probably stopped the terrible memory herself, and Rarity couldn’t honestly blame her. She felt the impulse to call her again and make sure she was all right, but refrained, thinking the alicorn probably needed some time alone after that.
I’ll just have to call her tomorrow morning, she thought, lying back down on the couch, closing her eyes, and rubbing her hoof against her throbbing head.
In a way, it was frightening to think she now had an image of the Spirit. She wanted to feel relieved knowing what he looked like, but… but knowing what he looked like made him all the more real and threatening. Her only relief was that, as far as she could remember—and she was certain she’d remember such a beast—she hadn’t seen the Spirit in his true form, yet.
The more she thought about it, the more uneasy she felt. Maybe she ought to go back to the problem at hoof, but finding a dragon scale felt just as daunting as learning to teleport.
But I need it and sitting around here isn’t getting me anywhere close to one, is it?
Her mind went back to Twilight’s memory, and the fear she felt when she saw the Spirit. She hadn’t lost her body, but she certainly felt Twilight’s horror at losing hers, and… did Twilight still feel that way, even centuries after? Just the thought of it…
It’s just a dragon, Rarity. Twilight herself said they’re not all inherently vicious, a voice chimed in her head, prodding her on.
And yet she still refused. Just a dragon? What if she found herself at home inside the stomach of “just a dragon”? Who would be rescuing her then, hm? Hmmmmmm?
Why, Rarity! Why would we need rescuing? Why can’t we be the dashing rescuers for once? Oh, just imagine it…
And imagine she did, picturing herself trotting toward the salespony, batting her eyelashes and presenting him with a magnificent dragon scale—a scale that shone like a diamond, no less! Ah, his look of shock! She would revel in it, bask in it, mock it as she walked away with the book and a second dragon scale, because she’d show him she could get more than he ever could!
But that would just be the beginning!
The real fun would be when she’d trot back into the library, the book floating behind her and a lovely scale complementing her necklace. “Oh, Rarity!” Twilight would say, her eyes sparkling. “Wherever did you get that?!” And oh, how surprised, how completely enamored she’d be upon finding out Rarity fought a dragon—no, two dragons! No, three! Full grown too! ─ for her sake! She’d be so taken, in fact, that she’d rush into Rarity’s forelegs and…
And rush through her, actually, but that was beside the point, because the point was that Rarity would get a dragon scale, and it would be…
Invigorated by her own fantasies of grandeur, Rarity jumped to her hooves, feeling as if she had practically vanquished the dragon already. She made her way to the exit, took her saddlebag, flung open the door, and stepped out into the dark.
The night sky loomed over her, thanks to her very late adventuring. In the distance, she saw the main streets of Rainbow Falls, several houses still lit up and even more ponies trotting around despite the hour. Some late-night preparations for the second day of the Exchange?
But ponies weren’t what she was interested in, anyway.
Dragons were what she wanted, except she found no dragon gallivanting around the cave entrances. Well, no matter, she’d just have to find them herself!
Unfortunately, that was far easier said than done, and the closer she got to the caves, the more her bravery and enthusiasm waned. On second thought, convincing the shopkeeper to take the jewel in exchange for the book couldn’t be that ha─
“No! Twilight is counting on me!” Rarity chastised herself.
Filled with determination, she trotted toward the cave entrance she had seen the dragon disappear into, lighting up her horn as she stepped inside. The ceiling, or what she could see of it at least, was remarkably high up, and she reasoned that this meant her encounters might not be limited to just small drakes.
Making her way into the tunnels, the cave entrance disappeared behind her, and she was very aware of the eerie silence and the endless darkness that surrounded her. For all she knew, a dragon—or any beast for that matter—could be watching her from the shadows.
She trotted in a single direction for an eternity, prolonged even further by her mild fear, until she reached a fork in the road.
“Oh dear,” she murmured, the sound of her voice giving her some comfort as she stared at the three paths awaiting her. Now what? she thought, looking back in the direction she came from.
She obviously couldn’t be truly sure how long she’d been trotting, but she found herself equal parts relieved and annoyed that no dragon had made an appearance. The place should have been crawling with them, what with the dragon migration the next cave over. Frankly, it was actually rather rude of them! She was interrupting her beauty sleep schedule for this; the least they could do was be decent and show up.
Maybe they were deeper in the caves, deeper in the mountain? Would it have killed them to leave a path or trail or something for her to follow?
She briefly entertained calling Twilight for help, but while she toyed with her glowing necklace a better idea came to mind.
Gems were a dragon’s best friend, were they not?
She doused the light of her horn, and as darkness surrounded her, she cast a different spell. Her horn emitted a faint glow, and she felt her magic pulling her toward the left path and toward what she hoped might be a dragon’s hoard.
And yet, the more she followed her horn, the more she felt as if the distant gem was moving away from her, and as far as she knew, gems didn’t move of their own free will. And suddenly, the gem stopped moving away—or whatever was carrying it, at least—and instead, it started moving toward her!
Part of her urged her to continue her path and meet it, but the other part was too paralyzed by fear, wondering just what was coming toward her along with the gem. And now, in the distance she could hear…
Boom! Boom! Boom!
The cave shook beneath her hooves and the sound of footsteps echoed against the walls, louder and louder as the seconds passed. Frozen in place, Rarity illuminated her horn and levitated Twilight’s heavy book out of her bag.
If this was to be her last moment, then she’d be damn sure she went out like Twilight would have wanted.
By putting her book to good use.
Finally, when the steps grew loud enough, Rarity waited for the dragon to make its appearance. And she waited. And waited. And waited, and waited, until nothing appeared, so she lowered the book, relaxed her muscles… and a deep voice behind her said:
“Are you done following me?”
Well, if a can worked on a timberwolf…
Letting out a shrill scream, Rarity turned around and flung the book toward what awaited her.
To her horror, she felt her magic aura negated when the creature caught the book in its claw. She quickly stepped back, finding the shadowed figure of a dragon looming over her, its closed claw hovering in the air and the darkness preventing her from making out anything but its shape and eyes.
Without a word to the panicked mare, the dragon opened its claw and squinted its eyes to look at the offending object, “Huh. That’s one way of hitting the books.” He let out a chuckle, obviously pleased by his own joke, but blinked when the paralyzed Rarity failed to do the same. “What? It was funny.” When again Rarity failed to even smile, he frowned, dropped the book in front of her and then muttered: “Well, she would have found it funny.”
Immediately, Rarity grabbed the book, pressing it against her chest and backtracking. “J-just you try eating me, and I swear I’ll—”
The dragon observed Rarity for a moment when her voice faltered. “Eat you?” he asked, lowering his head and narrowing his eyes. “Is that what you think I want to do?”
Rarity took another step back, her rump colliding against the wall, trying hard to stare back into his large eyes. “I-I’m warning you! I am a select high-quality unicorn, and if you want to eat me, you’ll have a hard time doing so!”
The dragon got closer, its breath splashing over Rarity, frightening her into losing control of her lighting spell; her horn winked out. “Select pony? That does sound good, and you are a very pretty pony, lady,” he commented, and only then did Rarity realize her self-esteem was hindering her for once. “Too bad for me then. I don’t eat ponies.” Her brief relief ended as quickly as his eyes turned to slits. “But I don’t like it when ponies follow me. I know unicorn magic when I see it, and my gemstone reeked of it.”
Ah. So that’s why it was moving.
“I-I wasn’t interested in you,” Rarity harrumphed, trying to sound indignant despite the fear crowding her mind. “If you must know, I was seeking out gems, and my spell happened to pick up on your gemstone.”
The dragon drew back, allowing Rarity to let out the breath she’d been holding and relight her horn.
“Well, you aren’t getting my gemstone. I already ate it, so you better look somewhere else,” the dragon said. “And you shouldn’t use books to whack strangers. That’s no way to treat a book.”
Rarity blinked, unsure of how to proceed. Of all the possible conversations she had ever imagined having with a dragon, this certainly wasn’t it.
“It’s not mine,” she said without thinking. “It belongs to a friend.”
The dragon snorted, loudly. “That’s how you treat things belonging to your friends? Gee, lady, I wouldn’t want to be your friend,” he said. “I know somepony who’d whack you herself for treating books like that.”
“W-well, luckily for me she isn’t here, then,” Rarity said, having a hard time imagining a dragon interested in books. Then again, the shopkeeper stole books from a dragon, so maybe they weren’t as barbaric as she imagined? “Or… is she?”
The dragon frowned. “No. I haven’t seen her in a real long time,” he replied, looking back toward the caves. Then, without another word, he began to walk away, his massive tail nearly knocking Rarity down as he passed her.
“Wait! Where are you going?” she called out, putting the book back in her saddlebag and trotting after him. She still needed a scale, and that dragon was the only shot she had at getting one.
“I need to go check on some things,” the dragon replied, not bothering to wait for Rarity. Or so she thought, until he looked over his shoulder to see if she was still there. “Actually, you can help me. Come on.”
“Help you?” Rarity asked, gulping. Oh dear, did she really want to find out what that entailed? What if he meant helping himself to her? Or what if he—
The dragon turned left, tail once more nearly throwing Rarity to the ground. “You’ll see when we get there. Besides, you don’t really have a choice. There’re other dragons here who would love to eat select pretty ponies like you, so you’re safer with me.”
“That’s quite nice of you,” Rarity said carefully, wishing she knew if his kindness was genuine or fake. Was she being led toward the exit or toward a trap? “I was under the impression that dragons loathed ponies.”
“Well, this dragon doesn’t,” he replied. “Just because ponies hate us doesn’t mean we all hate you back.”
They made their way through the caves in silence, only interrupted whenever the dragon looked back, checking to make sure Rarity was still following and warning her to keep close. As he’d said earlier, it wasn’t as though she had a choice, especially when she had absolutely no idea how to get back outside.
“Here we are.”
Finally, Rarity saw a dim flickering light in the distance, and they stepped into a large cavern decorated with several torches and campfires. After a moment, she realized her initial assumption—that they belonged to the dragon—couldn’t be right: they were pony-sized.
“You live here?”
“For now, yeah,” the dragon replied, moving deeper into the cavern toward a dark area in the distance. “I move around, but this is where I keep my stuff.”
Rarity wandered around, unsure of what, exactly, was happening. She approached the largest campfire and found several saddlebags no bigger than her very own. That, the torchlight, and the campfires only served to confirm her suspicion that some pony was roommates with Mister Dragon there.
“So, what’s your name?”
Rarity looked back toward the dragon, and before she replied, he made the most uncouth gargling noise before spitting out a fireball. The fireball shot toward a dark corner of the cavern, set alight a series of torches, and illuminated a very large hoard of gemstones which Rarity could only gawk at.
She trotted toward it in a daze, her mind reeling, his question forgotten. Sapphires, rubies, pearls, amethysts, emeralds, and dozens of other gemstones in all shapes and sizes, that could decorate more dresses she’d ever dreamed of, buy more fabrics than she’d ever been able to afford, buy Twilight more books than the alicorn ever owned.
“Oh my…” she said, taking a large ruby in her hoof, her eyes sparkling nearly as much as the gem itself.
The dragon snorted. “That’s a funny name for a pony,” he remarked, moving toward the hoard. “Don’t get excited, Oh My. Those belong in my stomach.”
Rarity was too mesmerized by the gems to bother correcting the dragon, and instead she continued looking over the hoard, trying to find the largest one. Instead of the largest, though, she felt drawn toward one gemstone in particular: a heart-shaped ruby, nearly identical in shape to the emerald Twilight had given her.
She trotted to it and noticed a perfectly round hole carved on the tip from where a small, broken chain hung. She lifted her hoof toward it, and—
“Don’t touch that,” the dragon spoke up immediately, now next to Rarity. All the warmth was gone from his voice, and for the first time, he sounded how Rarity expected terrifying dragons to sound.
She quickly backtracked, her heart thumping in her chest. “O-oh, I apologize, I…” she said, watching as his large claw reached into the hoard and took the gem. “I saw your chain was broken and I…” she faltered, unable to keep up with her excuse.
“I’m getting a new one,” the dragon replied, his voice still cold, still distant as he placed the gemstone far away from Rarity. Without giving her time to reply, he moved past her and continued to speak. “Look. I need your help with these.”
Rarity trotted to him, right next to a small hoard separated from the rest. It was much, much, much smaller than the gem hoard, and more than that, the gems were mixed up with all kinds of assorted objects, amongst them several familiar dragon-shaped objects.
“Wait a moment, these…” She took one of the dragon dolls in her hoof. “Where did…”
“Some dragons from the northern tribe,” the dragon explained. “You ponies never take good care of your stuff, so they went looting. I stopped them and managed to get some of it back, so now you can go and give it to the owners.”
Rarity blinked, looking back and forth between the items and the dragon. “I see.”
“Great! You’ll do it, then?” the dragon asked.
“Before I answer, let me get my facts in order.” She cleared her throat and said, “Dragons stole these things from the ponies, and you, a dragon, stole them back from the other dragons and now you want to return them to the ponies?”
The dragon nodded.
“I see,” Rarity repeated, looking back to the hoard. “And what, may I ask, is the catch?”
“The catch?” he asked, blinking. “What do you— Oh. Oh, come on! It can’t be that hard to believe I want to give them back!”
“Well, a dragon not eating a pony I’ll buy, but a dragon stealing from other dragons and returning gems to ponies is frankly a bit of a stretch.”
“No, it’s not! I mean, look at them! They’re tiny! They’re not even big enough to be a snack! And have you looked at my hoard?!” He sighed and rubbed his claw against his eyes. “Look, I’d ask somepony else, but she isn’t coming back until tomorrow, and I’d go and do it myself, but—” He gestured to himself and his large body, giving Rarity a pointed stare.
Rarity bit down a giggle. “Yes, I can imagine you wouldn’t be well received. You’re quite the odd dragon, aren’t you?” she asked, now that she had confirmation another pony was friends with him.
“So, you’ll do it?” he asked again.
“I suppose I will,” Rarity said, finally. As ridiculous as it sounded, the dragon seemed trustworthy, and actually… if she returned all these stolen things to the dragon merchant… he’d no doubt be so immensely grateful, he’d give Rarity the book for free!
Though, from what I gather, I wouldn’t be surprised if he still demands the scale in return.
“I’ll take them back,” Rarity repeated, turning to the dragon and smiling, “in exchange for one of your scales.”
The dragon blinked. “A scale? Why’d you want one of my scales?”
Rarity coughed. “I… I want a book from somepony at the exchange, but they asked for a scale in exchange, and I saw a dragon in these caves yesterday so…”
The dragon leaned down, his face a few feet away from Rarity, eyes inquisitive. “You came into the caves looking for a dragon’s scale? And if you hadn’t run into me, were you going to fight them for it, or what? Smack them with the book until they gave in?”
Rarity cleared her throat, cheeks heating up. “If you must know! …That was my plan, yes.”
“Heh. I like you.” He leaned back, smiling widely. “But, what do I get from giving you a scale?”
“I’m already taking these things back for you! Isn’t that enough?”
“Oh. I guess so.” He shrugged. “But I could also just leave them here. Their return doesn’t really affect me anyway.”
“Hrmmm. Fine! Fine. Hold on.” She opened her saddlebag and took out Twilight’s gemstone, levitating it toward the dragon. “I have this to offer in exchange for it.”
The dragon took Twilight’s emerald, moving it right up to his face, his eyebrow furrowing. “This… This…” he said, Rarity watching him with bated breath. “It…” His inscrutable expression turned into a smirk. “Eh, it’s baby dragon’s food,” he declared, throwing the gem back at Rarity.
“Oh, come on! You’re covered in scales! Can’t you part with one?!” Rarity whined. “Pleeeeeeease?”
The dragon frowned, mulling it over. “Fine. Just take these things back, and I’ll ask my friend to bring you a scale,” he offered instead. “She’ll be back early in the morning.”
“…And that’s all you want?” Rarity asked, and upon receiving confirmation with a nod, she smiled. “Very well, I shall!” she exclaimed, levitating the hoard into the air. “Tell your friend to look for Rarity. I’ll be waiting for her near the dragon merchant stand.”
“Rarity,” he repeated. “Thanks for helping me.”
Rarity fluttered her eyelashes. “Thank you for not eating me,” she replied, earning a chuckle from the dragon. She turned around, took several steps, then stopped and realized… “Er, how do I get out of here…?”
The dragon snorted.
Some time later, Professor Awe’s front door opened and in trotted Rarity, a large bundle of objects floating behind her. Once she’d fit them all inside the hallway, she closed the door and covered a yawn with her hoof.
“I’m back!” she announced, belatedly realizing that shouting her return was hardly a clever thing to do at… two? three? in the morning. “Er, I’m back…” she whispered with a giggle, more to herself than anypony else.
She made her way toward the living room, and after clearing some space on one of the tables, carefully placed the stolen items on it. The entire dragon ordeal had tired her out, and she decided to rest a moment before heading toward the local police station. The owners could deal without their belongings for an hour, couldn’t they? They must be asleep now anyway.
She reached the couch, lying down and closing her eyes, idly toying with her necklace. She thought back to her “conversation” with Twilight, and decided to check up on her crush. It wouldn’t take long, and it would just be to make sure she was doing okay after the… memory of her past.
The magic spell shot out from her horn, and she watched the glowing necklace, waiting for the link to open. She waited quite a while, too, until it became increasingly clear that Twilight wasn’t going to answer, so she ended the spell and furrowed her brow. Perhaps Twilight didn’t want to talk?
Don’t be silly, Rarity. Twilight can’t carry the necklace around, so she must have left it somewhere in the library. You can’t expect her to always be waiting for you to call.
She let go of the necklace and sighed.
I wish Twilight were he—
Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard the front door slamming open, followed by an anxious and familiar voice.
“She was here! But then I came down and she wasn’t, so the dragons must have taken her!” Pinkie was saying as she barged into the living room, followed by a mare in a Wonderbolts uniform. “And if the dragon took her, then maybe he ate her, and if he ate—” Her eyes landed on Rarity, and she cut herself off for an instant, before tearing up and throwing herself at the unicorn. “RARITY! YOU’RE ALIIIIIVE!”
“Darling, why wouldn’t I be?” Rarity asked, awkwardly patting Pinkie’s back. “I apologize for leaving without telling you, but—”
“There’s been a dragon attack, ma’am,” the Wonderbolt explained, lifting her goggles up onto her head. “They looted the Exchange’s warehouse, and your friend here thought they might have attacked you.”
“I was SO worried, Rarity!” Pinkie continued, still holding onto Rarity. “I thought you tried fighting them for the scale, but they won, and then they took you to their cave, and I’d never see you again, and if I never saw you again, then I’d be super sad, and then—” She threw the Wonderbolt a cautious glance before continuing in a loud whisper, “And then you-know-who would never see you again, and she’d be so sad she’d use all of her books as tissue to wipe her tears and—”
“D-darling, I’m fine, really,” Rarity said, trying to hush her friend. Now that a Wonderbolt was there, it was the perfect opportunity to return the stolen objects and be done with it. “Now if you don’t mind terribly, I need to ta—”
“And then your sister would cry too, and I wouldn’t even be able to help her and Princess Twilight because I don’t KNOW where the library is, and then Luna would be sad and—”
“Pinkie, please! Enough! You’re stain—”
“What are these?”
The two mares fell silent, and turned their gazes toward the Wonderbolt, busy inspecting the collection of stolen items.
Rarity sat up, toppling Pinkie down to the floor in the process. “O-oh! Those are—”
“These things—” The Wonderbolt reached into a small pouch on her uniform and took out a piece of paper, which she unfolded and skimmed. “I knew it! These match the description of the stolen objects!” She turned to Rarity and waved the list in the air. “These are all here on my list! The items that ‘dragons’ were accused of taking!”
“Rarity! You’re a dragon?!” Pinkie gasped, hooves flying to her mouth. She paused and lowered them. “Wait, that’s not right.”
“Wait, it’s not how it looks!” Rarity blurted out, looking past Pinkie’s remark and jumping onto her hooves.
“Oh no? Then why do you have these things, and why were you gone from your house at the same time the warehouse was being looted?” she asked. “Miss, how long did you say your friend here was missing? An hour or two?”
Pinkie, apparently having realized what was going on, quickly jumped to her feet. “Ye-yeah, but she was doing super fun and not-stealy stuff!” she exclaimed, standing between Rarity and the Wonderbolt. “Right, Rarity?!”
“Then how’d you get all these things?”
“I can tell you for a fact I didn’t steal them,” Rarity replied, trying to keep calm and collected. “It was a…” And Rarity faltered, only just realizing that the absurd truth was more likely to get her incriminated than absolved. A dragon returning stolen items? “I-I f… found… I found them!”
“I… I don’t know! There!” Rarity said, gesturing with her hoof. “I was trotting through town, and I found them on the way, so I brought them home!”
“The reserves scanned the perimeter an hour ago, and they warned everypony of what happened.” The Wonderbolt took a step toward Rarity. “Why didn’t you tell them immediately what you found? Why didn’t you get official help?”
The answer, of course, was that she’d missed the warning because she was deep inside Yaket Range, but she couldn’t confess to that, could she?
“I was taking a stroll outside of town! I found them out there, and since I knew they were stolen from the exchange, I was planning on returning them! I just came home for a minute beforehoof, and then you came in, and now I’m being accused of theft!” Rarity exclaimed, indignant.
This is what she got for trying to assist others!
Somewhere she was sure the Spirit was reveling in this, wasn’t he? It was all his fault for locking Twilight away in the first place! “And besides, do I look like I’m enough of a half-wit to leave all the evidence lying around in plain sight?! I mean, honestly!”
“And you didn’t talk to anypony after you found these?”
Rarity felt uneasy, but nodded her head. “Yes, that is correct.”
“Then the only way you could have known they were stolen is because you stole them yourself,” she replied, stashing the paper into her bag and putting her goggles back on. “Come on. You and these stolen goods are coming back with me to the Captain.”
“But—! I promise I didn’t!”
“Ma’am…” the mare said, looking ill-at-ease. “Don’t make this harder on yourself.”
Resisting the urge to shriek herself into frustrated oblivion, Rarity took a deep breath. Rise above it, darling, rise above it.
“Very well, then. This isn’t the first time I’ve been unfairly sent to jail, but if that’s what it takes to prove my innocence, so be it.”
“Rarity?! You’ve been to jail before?! What’s it like?!”
“My dearest Twilight. I find myself writing this letter to you on account of a terrible tragedy. Though I know this will pain you in ways you did not know were possible, I regret to tell you that I, Rarity, have been jailed—again.”
Rarity’s voice wafted into the air, one more added to the multitude of sounds permeating the now-active Traders Exchange, dozens of ponies showing up to see what the fuss was all about.
“You’ll be glad to know, however, that this time, my jail is not a dungeon filled with dirt, dust, and goodness knows what other centuries-old diseases. Can you imagine the irreparable damage to my coat had I stayed there for another night?” she asked, admiring her hoof. She then lifted her gaze toward her “jail,” which in fact consisted of four Wonderbolt reserves posted around her in a square formation. “No. This time, I can at least gaze into the night sky and its eternal starry blanket.
“As I write this letter, Twilight, I truly must ponder the absurdity of the situation. What did they expect me to do? Waltz into the dark streets of this unfamiliar town, where I know nothing of where anything is, and then start screaming at three in the morning? Perhaps an ‘Oh Missus Wonderboooolt! Yoohooo! Where are youuuu?’ would have sufficed?” she continued, ignoring the uncomfortable glances her jailers were giving her. “But alas, darling, it seems that the innocent continue to be”—she glared at the pegasi—“FALSELY IMPRISONED, though you know me: I have risen far above the petty act of holding grudges, as I’m sure you would have wanted. The key to that, of course, is patience. Extraordinary amounts of it, too.
“Sadly, I must end this letter with a hope to see you soon, and if not, a request to start training the owls as carrier birds. Yours sincerely, Rarity.”
“Oh! Oh! Add me, too!”
“P.S.—Pinkie Pie sends her regards as well,” Rarity finished, using her hoof to sign her name in the air, and then turning around to look at her companion, also stuck in the makeshift jail. “Thoughts?”
“I liked it!” Pinkie said with a giggle. “Now we just have to find a way to write it!”
“Pinkie, darling,” Rarity said, stifling a yawn, “It’s late. Why don’t you go home?”
Pinkie frowned. “And leave you here? Don’t be silly! If you’re going to jail, then I’m going to jail with you!”
Rarity smiled, grateful for Pinkie’s presence. A full hour had gone by since she’d been accused of theft, and she could feel the weight of the evening pulling her down. Though she tried to hide it, sleep was clawing its way up her skin, and she was worried she might fall asleep then and there if things didn’t move along soon.
Which, to her relief, might be sooner than expected, if Spitfire trotting toward her was any indication.
“Here we go,” she whispered, straightening herself and taking a deep breath.
“Okay, newbies! Move out!” Spitfire commanded, and at once the four ponies moved to the side, giving Rarity and Pinkie some room to move. “Rarity? Come with me.”
Rarity and Pinkie followed Spitfire across the market and past the bunches of nosy ponies, their eyes fixed on Rarity as she trotted by, their barely concealed gossiping whispers permeating the air. As was expected, Rarity didn’t let them bother her, because she was completely, utterly, and fabulously innocent.
Let them gossip! she thought, because she didn’t care. In fact, she held her head higher up, walked slower, smiled sweetly, because she wasn’t bothered at all by the completely unfounded and mistaken gossip no doubt rushing through the place like fire in a forest.
And yet, she could feel the stares, the judgment, so much so she wasn’t able to distinguish if she was perhaps seeing things that weren’t there. It was getting under her skin, and the more she tried convincing herself that she didn’t care, the more she did, and the more she realized how she hated that stare. She hated it because it was so familiar, narrowed eyes filled with skepticism and disbelief.
“There is no such thing as lost princesses.”
“There is no such thing as the lost library.”
“It’s okay, Rarity,” Pinkie whispered, and only then did Rarity realize she’d been frowning as she trotted by. “Everypony here knows you’re innocent!”
Rarity offered a pained smile. “Thank you, darling.”
They finally reached the end of the line: a small opening in the middle of the marketplace, where several angry ponies argued with some Wonderbolts. Judging by the fact that the dragon merchant was among them, Rarity decided they were the victims of the raid.
Their arguing stopped, however, the moment Rarity made her appearance. One by one, the victims threw her all sorts of glances, but none was warier than that of the dragon merchant himself.
There was a table placed in the middle, all the stolen items neatly stacked on it. Spitfire led Rarity right up to it. She then gestured to the other ponies, and they all trotted up to the table.
“This is Rarity,” Spitfire said, pointing to the unicorn before addressing her. “Is this everything you found?”
Rarity nodded, relieved by Spitfire’s approach. Finally, somepony not jumping to conclusions.
“Where’d you find them?!” a mare asked. “Are you sure that’s everything?! Why don’t you go back and look again?!”
“Yes, maybe you missed something,” an older stallion continued.
“Or maybe the rest is at your house,” a stallion accused.
“Rarity didn’t take your dumb stuff!” Pinkie protested.
“It’s all right, Pinkie,” Rarity quickly said, offering the earth pony a grateful smile before turning to the others. “I can assure you that the rest of your items are not at my home, and there is no point in going back to look where I found them because that’s all there was.”
“Bah!” the dragon merchant said, eyes narrowed. “If you didn’t take anything, then why do you care if we go look? If you’re innocent, we won’t find anything at your house, will we?” His words stung Rarity’s pride, and though she would have delighted in putting him in his place, he said something that shut her up quite quickly. “And it’s convenient, ain’t it?”
“What is, pray tell?”
“Hey! Stop that!” Spitfire said, stamping her hoof against the floor. “We’re not here to get in a fight, got it?”
The merchant looked toward Spitfire. “Bah! I’m not getting in a fight! I just think it’s pretty funny how this mare came to my stand yesterday wanting to trade for a book!”
How funny! I thought that was the purpose of the Traders Exchange! Silly me!
Spitfire frowned. “And? What’s your point?”
The merchant looked back to Rarity. “I’m just saying that it’s mighty funny that she says this here is all there is, and funny enough, the book she wanted isn’t here.”
Time came to a screeching halt.
“You… What do you mean the book isn’t there?!” Rarity all but gasped, looking down at the table and starting to rummage through the objects. “Where is it?!”
“Why are you asking me?!” he shot back, using his hooves to gather up all his things, pulling them away from Rarity. “You should know! You stole them!”
Rarity stepped back, the accusation flying unnoticed right over her head.
The book was gone. The book had been stolen, and if it wasn’t with the objects the dragon recovered, then it meant that Twilight’s book was now in possession of…
Rarity laughed. A small, choked laugh because of course the book was gone. Of course it would have been one of the objects the dragon didn’t recover, because of course nothing could be easy and simple and—
“How did you know they were stolen?” Spitfire asked, suddenly. “Swift Sketch said that’s why she took you in.”
For a moment, Rarity intended on keeping up with her tangled web of lies, but at this point, now that the forsaken book was with dragons, there was nothing to lose, was there? She might as well come out with the truth.
“I know that because I didn’t find them. I lied. Somepony asked me to return them,” she confessed, trying hard to ignore the immediately suspicious looks everypony threw her way—which she admittedly deserved.
“See?!” the merchant exclaimed. “She did it!”
“Lying about something like this is very serious,” Spitfire said, harshly.
“Don’t you think I know that?! But I didn’t have a choice!” Rarity protested. “Had I told you the truth, you wouldn’t have believed me!”
Spitfire frowned. “Try me.”
“You know, you should have kept lying, ma’am,” was the captain’s reply once Rarity finished telling the absolute truth.
“A dragon?! Returning stolen objects?! Who does she take us for?!” the dragon merchant spat, slamming his hoof against the desk. “Bah!”
“It’s the truth!” Rarity helplessly replied. “Why would I make that up?! Even I know it sounds absolutely ridiculous, which is why I lied in the first place!”
“Lied about what?”
Rarity turned around to find that another Wonderbolt had joined the scene, specifically the mare who’d chased away those dragons during the Exchange.
Rainbow blinked at Rarity. “Are you the pony Swift was talking about? Aw man, I thought you’d look more like the bad guys from Daring Do.” She looked to Spitfire. “Did I miss the fun stuff?”
Spitfire frowned, looking at Rarity. “I don’t know if what she’s saying is fun. She says that ‘a dragon’ took these back from ‘other dragons’ and asked her to return them.”
“Ha-ha! That’s a lau…” The mirth faded from her face, and her eyes widened, fixed on Rarity. “Wait, what? Are you for real?”
Rarity rolled her eyes. “Yes, I am ‘for real.’ As I told them, I went into the mountains because”—she gestured to the merchant—“he asked for a dragon scale in exchange for the book, and I ran into a dragon who asked me to return these things for him!”
“What did he look like?” Rainbow asked, her eyes still fixed on her.
“I don’t know! He was large? Those caves are pitch black! I could barely see even with my hornlight!”
“And his name?”
“I don’t know.”
“What about wings? Did he have wings?”
“I don’t know!”
Rainbow groaned. “Don’t you know anything?”
“What did you expect me to do?! Conduct an interview?” Rarity shot back, throwing her hooves in the air. “I was terrified, and excuse me if I didn’t want to sit down for tea and crumpets!” When Rainbow recoiled, Rarity took a deep breath. Raising her voice was going to get her nowhere fast. “If I could bring him here, I would, but…”
And suddenly, she remembered the dragon wasn’t alone.
“Wait! He has a friend!” she blurted out. “A pony lives with him! She was supposed to bring me one of his scales if I returned the things! We just have to find her, and she’ll clear my name!”
And just like that, Rainbow smirked. “Oh?”
“That’s ridiculous!” the dragon merchant spoke up, harrumphing. “A dragon?! Friends with a pony?! Dragons are filthy creatures, good-for-nothing animals! They—”
“Hey! Don’t talk about them like that!” Rainbow interrupted, the smirk gone from her face, replaced instead by an angry scowl. “I owe my life to a dragon!” She then stepped closer to Rarity. “I believe her!”
Rarity blinked. “You do?” she asked, finding herself unable to stop a smile when the pegasus firmly nodded. If an ex-Wonderbolt captain believes me, then maybe the rest—
“Well, that’s good and all, but our things are still missing!” one of the ponies said, his statement met with nods from the other victims. “You’re the Wonderbolts! You should protect us! If she doesn’t have them, then those dragons do! Why can’t you go get our things?!”
“The Northern dragon tribe is one of the most vicious tribes in Equestria,” Spitfire said. “Even if your things got stolen, I can’t risk the safety of my team members by sending them to get them back, because you might not get them back, and the Wonderbolts might lose a member—permanently.”
“What, so we’re just supposed to let them keep our things?” the merchant asked. “That’s my life’s work!”
Silence fell, and all ponies present turned their stare toward Rarity.
She wasn’t quite sure what possessed her to speak up, whether it was her burgeoning offense at everything she’d just gone through, or the knowledge that she needed that book no matter what.
“That place is incredibly dangerous,” Spitfire said, taking off her sunglasses. “I can’t allow you to go there alone.”
“She’s not alone!” Pinkie chimed in, standing up tall. “I’m going with her!”
“I told you, I can’t allow it,” Spitfire repeated, stern and imposing. “I can’t let civilians risk their lives like that. I’m sorry, but you don’t have what it takes.”
“Sure they do!” Rainbow exclaimed, flying up into the air and putting her goggles on. “’Cause I’m going with them!”
“You are?” Rarity and Spitfire asked in unison.
“Yep! It’s gonna be a cinch!” the pegasus continued. She turned to the mares and stallions, waving them off. “There you go! You’re gonna have all your stuff back tomorrow!”
“You’re crazy, Dash,” Spitfire said, rubbing her forehead with a hoof and shaking her head. She then looked back to the ponies and shooed them off. “Come on, get moving! Nothing to see here anymore!”
Once they were alone, Rainbow turned back to Rarity. “Let’s meet back here in fifteen minutes! I’m gonna go get my stuff, and you can get whatever you need,” she instructed before speeding off.
Rarity watched her go, in complete and utter silence, and didn’t get up until everypony save for a few Wonderbolts had finally left. Without a word to Pinkie Pie, she trotted off toward a nearby building, turning the corner, making sure nopony save for Pinkie was there and…
“WHAT HAVE I DONE?!” she wailed theatrically, placing a hoof on her head and leaning against the wall. “I’m doomed! Doomed, I tell you! Dead!”
Pinkie, startled, stepped back. “Wh-what’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong? What’s wrong?! Pinkie! I can’t face off against dragons! Look at me, for pony’s sake! I could barely hold my own against a timberwolf, and you expect me to trot up to Denza knows how many vicious dragons?! What if they love to eat mares?! What if they already ate the book?!” She paused. “Do dragons eat books? WHAT IF THEY ATE THE BOOK?!”
“Don’t be silly, Rarity! Only goats like to eat books!”
Rarity buried her face in her hooves and moaned. “And you’re going too! And if something happens to you, then I’ll—!” She looked back up. “I can’t do this, Pinkie!”
Pinkie nodded. “Yes, you can! Think of Twilight!”
Rarity pointed an accusing hoof at her. “No! Don’t use the Twilight card on me, Pinkie Pie! That is emotional manipulation! That is cheating!”
Pinkie furrowed her brow and shook her head. “It isn’t cheating, Rarity. It’s doing the right thing!” She stepped up and patted Rarity on the head. “Come on! Maybe Professor Awe has something we can use!”
Rarity watched her go. “But… But…”
She took a deep breath. You made your bed, Rarity, and now you must lie in it.
She lifted her hoof, taking hold of her necklace.
You’re going to be the death of me, Twilight Sparkle, and I care too much about you to do something about it.