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    Rarity was absolutely certain of three things.

    First, one of the books she needed was currently in the possession of one of the most vicious dragon tribes in Equestria. Second, without those books—and Rarity didn’t know where half of them even were—Twilight Sparkle could not be free.

    And third, she had gone unconditionally and irrevocably mad.

    Dawn’s first light shone over Yaket Range, slowly washing over the chasms and crevices. The vast majority of ponies were snug in their beds, snoring away their troubles and woes in the night’s embrace.

    Rarity, on the other hoof, found herself in the embrace of a different darkness—one that lacked blankets and pillows.

    “You’re super sure we’re not lost?” Pinkie asked, the lantern hanging from her neck offering much more light than Rarity’s horn could.

    Rainbow Dash, leading the way, stopped and turned around. “For the millionth time, yes, I’m sure,” she said, pointing to the distant light at the end of the tunnel. “We literally just came in!”

    “Don’t get anxious, darling. I’m sure Miss Dash knows where to go,” Rarity said, finding her mood vastly improved after a large cup of coffee at the professor’s house. Certainly, she would have preferred a chance at some much-needed beauty sleep, but some things just could not be.

    For now, she’d simply have to make the best of her situation.

    “So, Miss Dash, you owe your life to a dragon?” Rarity asked, trying to distract herself from the fear bubbling under the surface with idle talk and inquiries. Truth be told, she could scarcely imagine what the pegasus had done to warrant a dragon intervening, but at the very least it must have been quite the fascinating tale. “That is what you said earlier, isn’t it?”

    “Oh, uh, yeah,” Dash replied, with all the eloquence of somepony who’d not been expecting such a question. “I went exploring Smokey Mountain as a filly, and I got into a fight with some wolves.”

    “With wolves?” Pinkie asked, hurrying along to keep up with the conversation. “Wasn’t that scary? Why would you do that, silly?!”

    “Wolves don’t scare me!” Dash replied quickly. “I’m telling you, I was minding my own business exploring the mountains, and they attacked me for no reason!” She fluttered her left wing and continued, “Except my wing got hurt when I fell from— err, when I went exploring, so the wolves got the best of me and… I kinda have to admit I thought—like, just for a second—that I was done for, but then a dragon stepped in and, uh, helped me.” She flapped her wings and exhaled. “It was so awesome.

    “That does sound thrilling!” Rarity conceded.

    She’d never faced off against wolves made of flesh, but she’d be lying if she said that in retrospect she hadn’t felt a thrilling rush with the timberwolves—and all by her lonesome, too! Now that was impressive, if she said so herself.

    “I must say, Miss Dash,” she continued, “taking into account how quickly you jumped to my defense earlier, might I venture a guess and say that the dragon I met and the one that rescued you as a filly are one and the same? He did seem to have a pony friend, after all!”

    Rainbow’s sheepish expression said it all.

    “Wait, wait, wait!” Pinkie exclaimed, rushing past the two mares and coming to a stop squarely in front of Dash. “If you’re best friends with a dragon, why didn’t you ask him to come with?”

    “I couldn’t!” Dash protested. “I mean, okay, I could, but do you even know how bad a rep he’d get for it? Dragons helping ponies? Seeker’s strong enough to kick the flank of any dragon stupid enough to try anything, but I don’t want the entire Northern Tribe on his tail. Besides,” she added, puffing out her chest, “we don’t need his help.”

    Rarity looked back toward the path, hoping that they wouldn’t find themselves in any situation where Rainbow Dash had to retract that bold claim. They didn’t have much protection, and though she wouldn’t go down without a fight, she hardly believed the three of them would last long against a horde of vicious reptiles.

    The three mares continued their trek in relative silence, save for Pinkie Pie animatedly detailing a dream she once had where she met a dragon who became her second very best friend. Rarity, next to her, was busy with her gem-tracking spell, hoping it would lead them to the lair of the dragon leader.

    But rather than gems and dragons, it led them to something far more dangerous.

    “Hey, look at this!”

    Rarity looked back, noticing Pinkie had taken off the lantern around her neck to brighten the tunnel’s wall. Rarity dampened her gem spell in favor of an illumination one and she and Dash trotted toward Pinkie.

    “Oh my…”

    The light brought into view a mural-like image on the wall, drawn in a simple, child-like artistic style and depicting the citizens of Equestria stalked by all manner of creatures. Terrified mares, stallions, and foals ran from trees come to life and deformed animals with hideously long legs. Others appeared to be swimming for their lives in a brown river overlooked by pink clouds almost resembling… cotton candy?

    And the drawings themselves… Rarity had the eerie impression there was a slight glow, as if magic permeated every line of ink.

    “What is this?” she asked, not really expecting a reply.

    “More like who did this,” Rainbow said, stepping back and looking around. “Dragons can’t draw like that.”

    Rarity continued to inspect the drawings, attention faltering only when Pinkie suddenly latched onto her foreleg. Rarity turned to her, and was surprised to find the usually cheerful mare looking stricken.

    “Pinkie? Pinkie, darling, what’s wrong?” she asked, alarmed.

    “Ra-Rarity,” Pinkie whispered, voice trembling and eyes glued to the mural. “U-up there… It’s him…”

    Rarity looked back toward the drawing, heart thumping in her chest as she scanned it and found what she was looking for. Right above the drawing of the trees and animals, Rarity recognized a crude depiction of the Spirit of Chaos, laughing gleefully at the ponies’ misfortune.

    “Look! There’s more over here!”

    Rarity made her way over to Dash, Pinkie following close behind. More drawings decorated the walls, depicting a large bug-like creature with the most hideous crown leading an army of smaller yet equally hideous bug-like creatures. Unlike the first mural, a small portion of ponies were defended by three princesses in this one.

    “Look! Look! It’s the Four Princesses!” Pinkie exclaimed, her grim disposition all but vanishing at the sight of her favorite princess. “Well, no, just three princesses.”

    “Hah! Now I know for sure dragons didn’t draw this,” Rainbow said, still examining the drawing. “They hate ponies too much to know our history.”

    History?

    What a peculiar choice of words, Rarity thought. How interesting.

    She might have dwelled on it further, if not for noticing even more drawings as she trotted along. The next one in line depicted a large meadow, battlefield of a confrontation between Discord and the four princesses. The Spirit stood on one side, smiling gleefully, and on the other stood three alicorns and the last… wingless princess?

    That’s right! She wasn’t always an alicorn…

    A lack of wings, however, was not the only peculiar thing about the Twilight Sparkle on the wall. Her Element of Magic was glowing, and more than that, several black circles had been drawn around her, singling her out from everything else.

    “Oh, this is where Princess Twilight defeated the meanie Spirit!” Pinkie continued, joining Rarity.

    More steps along the way, and another drawing surfaced under the light—and a much more ominous one, at that. A now-alicornified Twilight cowered from a suspiciously friendly looking Discord, his hand extended to her in an apparent sign of goodwill.

    What does this mean? Rarity wondered, lifting her hoof to her necklace. Did she dare summon Twilight and ask? She kept trotting, eyes glued to the wall, and stopped when she collided with a hard object.

    “Ow!” she yelped with a step back, looking around and finding her aggressor: a floating rock oozing black-and-yellow magic that felt familiar to her somehow. And, more than that, she realized there were even more floating rocks further along the path.

    “Are you doing that?” Rainbow asked, glancing back and forth between Rarity’s glowing horn and the glowing rocks.

    “Miss Dash, I would hope you’d think I’m smart enough not to strike myself with a rock,” Rarity dryly remarked, turning to the pegasus with a raised eyebrow.

    Pinkie bounded up, having lingered back for a few moments, and furrowed her brow. “What rock?”

    “What rock?” Rarity asked. “This rock, of… course…?”

    To her surprise, when she turned around, Rarity did not find a floating rock, but a floating pumpkin, still surrounded by the odd multicolor magic.

    “A… pumpkin?”

    Poof! Before her very eyes, the pumpkin changed into a floating plate of gelatin.

    “What pumpkin?” Pinkie asked.

    Poof! And again, the pumpkin changed into an old smelly shoe, and then a lightbulb, then a plate, and by the ninth transformation Rarity and Dash had already stepped back several paces.

    “Rarity! I didn’t know you could change stuff!” Pinkie exclaimed, the only of the three to not have distanced herself. “Can you do me next?!”

    “Pinkie, I told you already that I’m not responsible for this!” she exclaimed, wishing very much that she knew who was indeed responsible, and why they were being so… irritating with their choice of magic.

    Irritating?

    The more she looked at the upside-down cuckoo clock, the more she realized that though it wasn’t any unicorn magic she recognized, it did remind her of the magic surrounding Twilight’s library maze.

    So, this is chaos magic, isn’t it? But, if there’s chaos magic here, then… then the Spirit must be…

    Rarity took a deep breath, every hair on her coat standing on edge. She reached for her necklace, and carefully stepped further away from the trumpet. She needed to keep calm under this situation, lest she provoke the Spirit into attacking or, worse, alarming the dragons. As much as she wanted that book, she wasn’t about to put the lives of others at risk—especially when she didn’t know exactly what was going on.

    “I think… I think it might be best if we go back and ask for the help of your friend, Miss Dash,” she suggested in a hushed voice.

    “What? Why? You can’t tell me you’re afraid of these silly rock things? What’s the worst they could do? Turn into pie and smash into your face?” Rainbow Dash asked.

    “If you must know,” Rarity continued, “I have a strong suspicion that this might be related to the Spirit from the legend.”

    Before Rainbow could question that, Rarity’s worst fear came true in the sound of Pinkie’s panicked voice.

    “WHAT?! HE’S HERE?!” she shrieked with a jump, throwing her hooves to her face and loudly declaring that she had so much to live for! And she was going to meet Lulu, and she was supposed to give her a cupcake, but if she’s DEAD, how can she give her a cupcake and—

    “Quiet!” Dash interrupted, her own voice anything but quiet as she desperately tried to muzzle Pinkie with her hooves. “Forget the Spirit, you’re going to turn us into dragon food by screaming like that!”

    And so the two mares went back and forth, completely ignoring Rarity’s attempts at shushing both of them. They didn’t need panic and screams, they needed help, but the dragon who could help them was Denza knows where and Twilight—

    Twilight!

    Twilight Sparkle was infinitely better than nothing, and if anypony knew a way to stop or defend the others against the Spirit, it had to be her. Turning her back to the two other mares, Rarity closed her eyes, cast the spell and waited, and waited, and waited, until finally a ping alerted her to the successful connection.

    Rarity was quick to mentally go through what had happened, hoping it would be enough of an explanation for Twilight. She thought about the book she needed which some fearsome dragons had, and—

    “Rarity, WHAT are you doing?! We need to get Pinkie to stop screaming! Pinkie Pie!”

    Rarity ignored her, instead thinking about the floating objects, and how they had changed shape, and how they reminded her of the maze and—

    “I CAN’T DIE HERE!” Pinkie continued, rushing to Rarity and latching onto her. “Rarity, I don’t want to be a ghost! I’d be scared of myself, and I—”

    “Pinkie, please!” an exasperated Rarity exclaimed, opening her eyes and turning to the mare. “I’m trying to… to…”

    Rarity’s voice drifted off, eyes fixed on Pinkie Pie, and the earth pony finally understood and saw what Rarity had been doing.

    Pinkie’s widening eyes lowered, landed on the glowing necklace, and just as quickly rushed back to meet Rarity’s own eyes. “Rarity—! Your eyes—! They’re all glowy like a firefly! Does that mean—” She stepped back, her hooves covering her elated smile and the whisper that followed: “Can she see me?”

    Seeing didn’t even begin to describe it.

    What a contradictory sensation, how her eyes were fixed, frozen, completely glued to Pinkie, and yet her mind was analyzing all the information that flooded her at a trillion miles per hour. Though, it wasn’t her own mind going on a frenzy, was it? No, it was Twilight’s.

    No, that wasn’t right either.

    It was both of them.

    “What?” Rainbow asked, rushing up to inspect Rarity. “What’s the deal with her eyes? Is this weird unicorn magic again? I kne—mmph!”

    Pinkie’s hoof on Dash’s mouth proved an effective muffler for the pegasus, and the two mares watched as Rarity blinked once, twice, thrice, and finally looked around.

    It was unlike anything she’d ever felt before, as if she were seeing everything for the very first time, and she couldn’t help but feel fascinated, elated even. She took a step forward, and her gaze dropped to the floor because it was tangible. She raised her hoof again and slammed it against the ground, again, again, and again, and it made her giddy and it made her giggle that the ground stopped her hoof.

    For once it didn’t go through.

    She could no longer tell what part of her was Twilight, what part of her was Rarity, or whether her own mind was creating the illusion of feeling what Twilight would feel if she could be alive again, but whatever it was, it was leaving her breathless.

    “Are you okay?” Pinkie asked, stepping toward Rarity, and when she placed her hoof on Rarity’s shoulder, the unicorn jolted away.

    I felt that.

    A statement that wasn’t untrue for either side, was it? Twilight, granted a glimpse of something now lost, and Rarity, whose senses were heightened as a result of the connection. She looked down at her forehooves, and with childlike fascination joined them together, and it was so easy…

    It was so easy to imagine, to pretend, to wish that the two hooves didn’t belong to the unicorn, but to both Rarity and Twilight, and the more she thought about it, the more she—no, they—wanted it to be real. Rarity could feel Twilight’s endless longing for her physical state, for physical contact with others, and yet it wasn’t just Twilight’s yearning because Rarity and Twilight’s desire were one and the same. Rarity had always wanted to bring Twilight back to reality, but never before had she wanted it more than in that moment.

    “That’s it,” Rainbow’s voice came, drawing the attention of the unicorn. “She’s lost it.”

    “Shhhhhh!”

    Rarity looked away from the mares and turned her gaze to her surroundings, taking in a sharp breath of air because heavens, breathing felt so nice, to fill in her lungs, to not do it out of habit anymore but of actual necessity.

    Her attention landed on the floating rock next, and all her elation disappeared in the blink of an eye as she stepped back.

    If anything, that gut reaction affirmed Rarity’s deduction that chaos magic was present in the room, but… as quick as the fear came, so it too vanished and she felt compelled to investigate the rock.

    She circled it, admiring it as though it were a mannequin with her dress, and carefully scanned it over as though it were an age-old spell.

    “It’s remnant chaos magic. Unicorn and alicorn magic can be separate from the caster, though only in small amounts, whereas chaos magic is entirely fueled by improbability, allowing it to act as an entity entirely separate from the caster,” she said quite naturally, the words flowing out her mouth in an effortless recitation. “Chaos itself is neither good nor bad; it simply obeys its need to create disarray, though disarray is most often caused through what are considered negative actions, giving life to the discordant side of chaos magic.”

    “Whoa, I didn’t take you for such an egghead,” Dash said.

    Rarity couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh, frankly, me neither!” she exclaimed, and again the contradictory feeling as herself—Rarity—was delighted by the remark while some part of her—the alicorn part—took deep offense.

    Hush, darling, Rarity thought, you wouldn’t even know what an egghead is if we weren’t connected.

    Rarity looked back to the morphing object, and though she probably could have spent hours reciting facts about it, the socially adept side of her realized that the room had become eerily silent.

    She turned around to a deathly quiet Pinkie and Dash, both backing away from her and regarding her with shock.

    “What’s wrong?” Rarity asked, and she wondered if perhaps her connection with Twilight had gone too far? She looked herself over and found that no wings had sprouted and she still looked essentially the same.

    “Ra-Ra-Rarity,” Pinkie stammered, lifting her hoof and pointing to the wall. “Th-the dr-drawing.”

    Filled with an impending sense of doom, Rarity turned around and every part of her—Twilight and Rarity and the both of them—filled with dread at the sight of a massive drawing of Discord staring right at her with piercing glowing eyes and a wicked smile that stretched from one ear to the other.

    It’s just the chaos magic, Rarity thought to herself, though she could not tell if it was Twilight stating a fact or her own self desperately trying to convince herself they were safe. Maybe both.

    To the horror of all four mares, Discord lifted his paw, snapped his fingers, and though no sound was made a second drawing of him appeared next to the first, also staring right back at the unicorn. And then another appeared, and then another, until there were Discords surrounding them on both sides of the cavern, all of them grinning at the unicorn.

    Rarity couldn’t help but screech, rushing toward the two mares, and with horror she saw the Discords on the walls follow her, eyes still set on her.

    “Wait! Wait, he’s really here?!” Rainbow Dash blurted out, wings flaring. “Where?! I’ll kick his flank! I’ve been waiting so long for this!”

    “He’s not here! It’s just his magic!” Rarity replied, eyes still fixed on the drawings. “It seems to… only be after me?”

    But why?

    Nothing leapt to mind, which likely meant that Twilight was as baffled as she was. Rarity was no different from Rainbow and Pinkie, save for having magic. Was the Spirit interested in unicorns?

    “What do you want with me?!”

    The Discords blinked, their smiles vanishing for a brief second. The original one once again snapped his fingers, and one by one, a glowing pink necklace appeared around the neck of each drawing.

    It knew.

    It knew Rarity and Twilight were communicating, and a terrible thought overcame Rarity.

    What if it wanted to hurt Twilight?

    The fear underlying that question didn’t really feel like it belonged to Twilight. Perhaps it was, to some extent, Twilight’s own fear, but more than anything, it was Rarity’s, and as fast as the thought arrived, as fast as she realized she might be used as a tool against the alicorn…

    Ping!

    She cut the connection, and almost collapsed from dizziness as her mind tried to adjust to its normal state. When she opened her eyes, she was greeted by the same plethora of Spirits of Chaos, all now sporting disappointed frowns. One by one, they disappeared until only the original remained, his arms crossed as another sign of his discontent.

    “Well, that was something,” Dash said, snapping the unicorn back to reality.

    “That was scary! But kinda fun! But mostly scary,” Pinkie added, carefully trotting toward the drawing and waving her hoof near it.

    “I… I think it’s harmless,” Rarity continued, making a point to ignore the drawing’s terrified look as its arms disappeared.

    “She said harmless, silly! Not armless!”

    Rarity also ignored that exchange, too busy dealing with the fact that she’d already started to lose memory of all the chaos magic information she’d known not even five minutes ago. It was a shame she couldn’t seem to keep the bulk of Twilight’s knowledge.

    “I don’t care what it is, but we better keep moving,” Dash urged, looking toward the winding path and the transforming objects littering it. “If we stay here too long, a dragon is going to find us. Come on!”

    Rarity reluctantly followed after Rainbow and Pinkie, only to find Discord still floating along the wall next to her.

    “Oh! Oh, it’s following us!” Pinkie exclaimed, sounding far too happy about it. “Can we keep it? Let’s call him Big Dumb Meanie!”

    Rarity frowned, looking away and toward the tunnel. Maybe if she ignored it, it would go away? “It could have been worse,” she muttered, trying to add some humor to the situation. “It could have made me over like that one time Sweetie did my makeup.”

    She shook her head, deciding that dwelling on the matter wouldn’t do her any good.

    “Miss Dash?” she asked, trotting to catch up with the pegasus. The pegasus had yet to deny or protest any of Rarity’s claims regarding the Spirit’s existence, and her earlier comment about wanting to beat him had raised several questions which she now intended to clear up. “May I have a word?”

    Rainbow Dash looked back toward her. “Depends. Are you going to…” Rainbow drifted off, coming to a full stop, and after a moment, she bit down on her lip, obviously trying to stop herself from laughing. “Uhm… Rarity…”

    “What?” Rarity asked, raising an eyebrow.

    “There’s something on your face,” Dash replied, pointing at something beyond Rarity and barely suppressing a snort.

    Rarity turned around again, and she gave a deep, deep, very deep sigh when faced with a life-sized, grinning drawing of her wearing as much makeup as a clown.

    Oh, for goodness’ sake…


    Rarity wished she knew how much time had gone by since their little incident. They had yet to find any dragons, and moreover, that blasted chaos magic was still following them like an unwanted pest.

    Her only distraction so far had been the pegasus herself.

    “But it doesn’t make sense! How would you know what chaos magic even looks like?” Dash asked.

    “I read it in a book,” Rarity replied, which wasn’t untrue. Twilight had read it—probably even written a book on it—and by proxy so had Rarity for a brief moment in time. Not to mention the fact that she’d read Professor Awe’s research on it.

    They probably should have woken him up, all things considered.

    “The study of foreign magic isn’t something new. There are all types of magic from all types of species around Equestria,” she added.

    Rainbow Dash came to a stop, squinting her eyes at the moving drawing, which had now taken the form of Discord resting on a beach lounge chair, a parasol shading him from the crudely drawn sun shining overhead.

    “Ugh, whatever. It’s just creeping me out,” Rainbow said, rubbing her forehead. “Where are those dragons, anyway? We’ve been walking for, like, fifty years!”

    Though Rarity was certain they hadn’t been walking for fifty years, she was also certain that the cave was getting hotter somehow. One of her favorite adventure novels was set in a mountain harboring an underground molten lava river, and she wondered if she’d stumbled upon something of the ilk? Or was it perhaps the dragons?

    “Dragons breathe fire, right? So we must be close to them!” Pinkie exclaimed. “’Cause it’s so hooooot!”

    “Oh, heavens, I thought that was only me!” Rarity exclaimed, laughing haughtily at her own joke. “Though, I must agree it’s gotten quite warm in the past minute. Not much fresh air makes its way into these caves, does it?” she added, turning toward the wall and noticing Discord looking right at her.

    For a moment, she wanted to tell it that it was rude to stare, but before she could, Discord raised his paw and snapped his fingers. Rarity stepped back, expecting something to happen, but the walls remained the same. She relaxed for a moment, right up until she shivered with cold, as if the room’s temperature had dropped several degrees, and her eyes widened when a single snowflake landed on the tip of her nose.

    The three mares looked up, and to Pinkie’s delight, a tiny grey cloud now floated above Rarity, sprinkling snowflakes atop her.

    “Oh, har, har, har,” she said, brushing away the snow from her face. Her reply seemed to have triggered something within the cloud, for it stopped snowing and then, without warning, dumped a large pile of snow right on top of her.

    “Will you stop that?!” she snapped at the drawing, which replied by snapping its fingers and drinking from the juice that appeared in its paw. The cloud, fortunately, disappeared from the ceiling along with the pile of snow, and Rarity was allowed a breath of relief.

    She finally understood why Twilight detested the chaos maze plaguing her library.

    “So, you believe in the legend, right?” a hopeful Pinkie asked Dash. “That’s why you want to teach him a lesson, right?!”

    “Uh… Well…” Rainbow Dash seemed hesitant to reply. “Look, it’s complicated.”

    “I do!” Pinkie continued, oblivious to the pegasus’ attitude. “And I’m gonna rescue all of them!”

    Unlike Pinkie, Rarity wasn’t so quick to reveal her belief in the myth. All things said and done, Wonderbolts technically worked for Princess Denza, and she remembered very well the attitude of the princess’ guards vis-à-vis the legend of the princesses. It would be wiser not to reveal her cards until she was sure the pegasus was on her side.

    “Pinkie? Didn’t you mention back in Hollow Shades that the Wonderbolts were rumored to have been created to help find the lost princesses?” Rarity asked, glancing from Pinkie to Dash. “Is this true?”

    “Like I said, it’s complicated,” Rainbow repeated. “A really long time ago, like a really long time, Wonderbolts used to go on scouting missions for them, but they just kept turning out to be false leads, and other more important stuff was going on so they dropped the search squad thing and turned into a real deal aerial team. That’s what we’re told, anyway.”

    “Yes, but, what do you think really happened?” Rarity pressed. “There’s proof enough scattered throughout Equestria that the princesses existed at one point in time, but the question is what happened? Do you too believe they’re still trapped or…” She measured her next words carefully, knowing full well Pinkie wouldn’t like them regardless. “Do you believe they were assassinated?”

    Pinkie was aghast. “Rarity!

    Assassinated?” Rainbow asked, furrowing her brow. “Nah, that didn’t happen.”

    “That is impossible for you to know unless you’ve actually met one,” Rarity asserted. She then stepped back, tilted her head, and with a smile asked, “Have you? Pardon me for assuming, but it’s rather curious how you’ve had no qualms discussing this ‘legend’ as though it’s—how did you put it—our history?”

    “Like you said, there’s proof enough they existed a really long time ago,” Dash countered. “Why would you think they’d been assassinated, anyway? That’s insane!”

    “Oh, I agree completely, but a, err, reputed scientist seems to believe that Princess Cadance I had them assassinated so she and the Spirit could reign together.”

    “But Princess Cadance would have never done that!” Pinkie blurted out, throwing Rarity a miffed glare for sharing the professor’s absurd theory. “Princess Cadance spent her entire life looking for the others, and—”

    “HAH!”

    Rainbow Dash came to a full stop, staring at Pinkie as though she’d just spouted something even more barbaric than Brazened Awe’s assassination theory.

    “Princess Cadance spent her entire life looking for them?! Give me a break!” she snapped, her wings flaring.

    “Yes, she did!” Pinkie protested. “And Princess Denza is loo—”

    Princess Denza?” Dash said, and her voice dripped with contempt. “Princess Denza would rather sit on her throne and wave than do anything to help the princesses!” She scoffed and went on her way. “Princess Denza helping! Hah!!”

    “Rarity! Say something!” Pinkie pleaded, and though Rarity wanted to defend her sovereign ruler, the more she thought about it, the more…

    If Princess Denza believed in the legend, why… why was her only attempt at finding them two guards who’d sneer at any evidence brought to them?

    There had to be a reasonable explanation! Princess Denza would never try and harm anypony, nor would she allow the princesses to be locked away forever! If only she’d been able to speak to her when she went to Canterlot…

    Her thoughts were interrupted by a thunderous roar, and the three mares jolted toward the nearby wall—even the drawing had been surprised, its drink and popcorn falling to the ground.

    “We must be close!” Dash exclaimed, looking far more excited about dragons than any reasonable pony should. It didn’t help, either, that Pinkie’s elated smile meant she shared in that excitement.

    “Maybe it’s a friendly dragon!” the mare suggested, bouncing up and down in place. “Let’s go say hello!”

    “Pinkie, no!” Rarity whispered, signaling for the mare to come near. “We should stay close together, or else we run the risk of—”

    Her breath caught as she noticed the ground beneath Rainbow and Pinkie was now seething with chaos magic.

    “Wait, no!” she blurted out, but before her warning could do any good, the ground beneath the two mares turned into a layer of jelly through which Rainbow and Pinkie fell with surprised screams.

    Rarity rushed to the edge of the hole left in their wake, and, peering down, she was immensely relieved to see they had simply fallen into another tunnel immediately below.

    “Girls?! Are you all right?!” she asked, watching as Rainbow Dash picked up the fallen lantern, illuminating the lower tunnel.

    “We’re fine! I think…” Dash got up and looked around. “We’re in another tunnel! Pinkie, can you get up?”

    “What should I do?” Rarity called back. “Should I jump down there with you?”

    “No, no!” Dash replied. “I’ll fly us back up there! Just give me a sec to—”

    Rarity never heard the end of the sentence, for as soon as Rainbow had suggested flying back up, the chaos magic reverted the ground to its original rocky state.

    “No! Rainbow Dash?! Pinkie Pie?!” Rarity shrieked, heart thundering in her chest as she stamped her hoof against the ground and the magic as hard as she could. “Stop it! Bring them back!” She gritted her teeth and turned to the wall, finding Discord waving cheerfully at her. “You—! You know what? I am not going to give you the satisfaction of allowing this to bother me! Hah!”

    And so, she trotted off, trying to focus on what really mattered, which was finding the others. Dragons were lurking nearby, and she worried for herself and the two mares. What if their lantern ran out and they were left completely in the dark? And what about herself? If she ran into a vicious dragon, it would be far more difficult to overcome it all by her lonesome.

    She glanced toward the side, noticing Discord was now floating along the wall, lounging about on a poorly drawn cloud. “If this is going to be my only company, I’d honestly rather be alone,” she muttered.

    In reply, Discord got up from the cloud and snapped his fingers. Before her eyes, the drawing wiped its shape away, and Rarity found herself staring at a detailed life-sized reproduction of Twilight Sparkle. Such was the likeness that Rarity found herself momentarily mesmerized by it, and only reacted when a glowing necklace appeared around “Twilight’s” neck, which the drawing promptly pointed at.

    Rarity blinked and looked down at her own necklace, which now glowed brightly.

    “Oh!”

    Rarity’s first reaction would have been to answer, but the sight of “Twilight” on the wall made her think differently.

    “Hah! You’d like it if I answered, wouldn’t you?!” she said to the drawing, who replied by nodding his—her?—head. “Well, tough!”

    Truth be told, Rarity would have loved nothing more than to be in contact with Twilight again, especially now that she was technically alone, but she refused to somehow put the alicorn in danger.

    “And will you cease imitating her?!” she hissed, stamping her hoof against the floor. “After everything you, or rather your master, has done to her, you have some nerve taking her appearance!”

    Rarity’s harsh words apparently wounded “Twilight,” which she demonstrated by lowering her ears and pawing at the ground, comically large tears rolling down her cheeks. A large red heart appeared above her, only for it to crack into pieces and rain down upon the desolate illustration.

    And ponies called Rarity dramatic.

    “Oh, please,” she muttered, harrumphing for good measure and continuing on her way, determined not to be bothered by the drawing again. She had half a mind to tell it she’d be delighted to come back with a can of paint thinner, but decided that it would be better to completely stop engaging with him at all.

    She was doing a fine job ignoring him, actually, and even managed to concentrate on trying to listen for the girls, until she came to a halt upon noticing a bright yellow arrow painted on the floor, pointing right.

    “What…”

    She looked right, and immediately loathed herself for it. The drawing of Twilight was still there on the wall, except now not only was she was surrounded by dozens of red hearts, but she was also staring at Rarity with a lovesick expression the real Twilight probably wouldn’t be caught dead—or, in her case, alive—making.

    “FOR THE LAST TIME, WILL YOU STOP?!” a flustered Rarity shrieked, turning around and stomping far, far, far away from the chaos magic because she wouldn’t just stand there and be mocked by some ridiculous sentient magic!

    “Quick! I heard something over here!” a gruff voice came from nearby.

    Dragons! Rarity thought, taking several steps back.

    She turned to the wall, finding “Twilight” looking quite afraid. “Look at what you’ve done! This is your fault!” she accused, only to watch the drawing wave goodbye at her and fly far away within the wall. “Wait! Come back! Don’t you dare leave me here! You come back here this instant and face this with me!”

    “There it is! A pony!”

    Rarity turned around and felt her stomach drop at the sight of not one but two dragons rushing toward her. Fear paralyzed her, preventing her from running away or hiding.

    This was it, wasn’t it? The end of the line, the last stretch, and now judgement day had come crawling down upon her to bestow its fiery sentence. Her only saving grace was that she’d refused to answer Twilight’s call, so at least the alicorn wouldn’t have to witness—and live through—her horrid demise.

    “This is the last one, isn’t it?” one of the dragons said, looking Rarity over when they reached her. “They said they were just three?”

    Oh dear, does that mean that Rainbow and Pinkie have been discovered as well?

    “Hey! Pony!” the second one snapped, drawing the unicorn out of her stupor. “Anyone else with you?! You better not be hidin’ anyone, ’cause if you are…” She smiled, offering Rarity a very clear and terrifying view of her many sharp—and frankly horrifyingly yellow—teeth.

    Rarity smiled nervously. “My, that certainly is quite impressive! I find myself envious of your pearly whites!” she said, hoping her charms might delay any intended pony-eating.

    The dragon was thrown off for a moment. “Uh, thanks.” She shook her head and growled. “Flattery won’t get you anywhere! You’re coming with us!” That said, she turned around and walked off. “Watch the back, Chrome!”

    “And don’t try any of your weird pony magic, got it?!” the first dragon hissed. “Turn off your light!”

    Reluctantly, Rarity did as ordered, cutting off her illumination spell and drenching herself in darkness. She initially expected the dragon to bark another order at her, but instead, it blinked several times.

    “Oh, wait, actually, that was kinda helpful…” he murmured. “Pony! Do it again! Now! And don’t try anything funny, or else…”

    Rarity was not one for comedy, so she had every intention of following through with the order, but got struck with a much better idea. “Ah, yes, give me a moment,” she murmured, closing her eyes and casting the communication spell instead.

    Come on, answer, answer, answe—

    Ping!

    As soon as it went through, Rarity opened her eyes and she felt surprise at the dragon peering at her. No, it wasn’t surprise, it was more… anger… worry…? toward herself, and tangential thoughts rushed through her mind at a million miles an hour. Why hadn’t she left? Why was she still going after that book?! What if they ate her, or WORSE, what if they imprisoned her forever, and then if she was imprisoned, Twilight would never see her again and if Twilight never saw her again, she’d—

    “That’s not the same spell!” the dragon growled, taking a step back, its eyes turning to slits. “I told you that if you—”

    “It’s a softer illumination spell! It’s…” She drifted off, suddenly unsure of where to go with her excuse until, just as before, the answer was quite literally transferred over to her. “Dragons in general have been observed to react positively toward natural sunlight, and less so toward artificial lighting. My illumination spell can only produce artificial light, which is why I thought it might be better for you if I used a softer spell.” That said, Rarity let out a theatrical sniffle, placing a hoof on her chest and dejectedly looking away. “I was only trying to be helpful, really…”

    “Oh… Well, come on! Move it!” the dragon relented, pointing toward the end of the tunnel.

    “All right…” Rarity softly whispered, only for her to turn around and allow a childish grin to decorate her face.

    Hah! Scared? She wasn’t scared! She’d just tricked a dragon into believing what she said! She could do anything! Why, she could probably outwit the thousands of dragons inside Yaket Range! Except, technically and realistically speaking, there couldn’t be a thousand dragons inside Yaket Range, because that would mean that for every five cubic yards, there would be at least—

    The point was that she could best any dragon now.

    The dragons led Rarity further into the mountain, deeper and deeper, so much so that it felt as though there would never be an end to it. It seemed she had regained control of her own musings, considering no more intrusive thoughts made their way into her mind. She briefly glanced down at her necklace, letting out a relieved breath of air at the confirmation it was still glowing.

    Looking back up, in the distance, finally, she saw… light?

    Light at the end of the tunnel, and oh, she dearly tried not to think of what that sentence usually implied. The two dragons didn’t seem preoccupied, however, leading her to accept that while neither Elysium nor Tartarus awaited her at the end of the tunnel, it certainly didn’t guarantee she’d be spared from visiting those places anytime soon.

    The dragons picked up the pace, and Rarity found herself at the source of the light sooner than she’d hoped.

    To her surprise, the tunnel opened into a gargantuan cavern with a large circular rock platform in the middle and dozens of dragons scattered all over the place: clinging to the walls, covering the floor, everywhere they could fit, all their gazes fixed on Rarity and the other two dragons.

    As for the cavern itself, several massive holes dotted the ceiling, allowing sunlight to filter in and confirm Rarity’s impression they’d been traveling up within the mountain. The holes didn’t look naturally formed, but rather like they’d been blasted into existence. Even the walls of the cavern, on closer inspection, were covered with signs of … scorched residue.

    It reminded her, in fact, of the same explosion marks decorating some of the library’s walls, and as soon as she made the connection, Twilight’s own assessments infiltrated her mind.

    Of course they would look similar, since both were made by alicorns during a battle. But, then…

    Rarity felt her heart drop, though it was entirely possible Twilight’s own feelings were simply reinforcing hers. Besides the explosions, chaos magic permeated the walls of the cavern, and such an abundance of chaos magic made it easy to guess who the mysterious alicorn had fought. Though, the question remained…

    Which princess had fought the Spirit here?

    “Lord Taegar, we found the other pony!”

    Rarity looked away from the walls, redirecting her gaze toward the middle of the room and then biting down a scream. Standing on the platform was the largest red dragon Rarity had ever had the misfortune of seeing.

    His face and body had been permanently disfigured with a myriad of hideous scars, and his sickly yellow eyes betrayed no emotion. Red spikes lined his spine, reaching all the way down to the tip of his tail. His wings were blacker than the darkness of the caves, and Rarity was horrified to see the lower portion of the left outstretched wing had been ripped, or even shredded.

    And it was curious, but she had the distinct impression she—or rather, Twilight—had met him before. A long long time ago, a moment in time that she could not clearly recall no matter how hard she tried to unearth memories that did not belong to her.

    The dragons led her all the way to this Taegar dragon, and pure, blissful relief flooded her upon seeing Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash standing in front of the dragon, no doubt having been ambushed as well.

    “Rarity!” Pinkie exclaimed, looking similarly relieved. “You weren’t eaten! Oh! And your eyes—!”

    “Shut up, pony!” a dragon near her spat. “I didn’t say you could talk!”

    Though her ears clamped against her skull, and her mane deflated a bit, Pinkie did not silence herself without first sticking her tongue out at the dragon, an action that endeared her all the more to the unicorn.

    Lord Taegar lowered his head, regarding the three mares with contempt. “You three. What is your business with dragons?” he asked, and now even his rough, raspy voice felt familiar to Rarity, only strengthening her impression of having seen him before.

    “We’re here to recover some items,” Rarity replied, standing as tall and proud as she could when faced with such a beast. She made sure to keep her voice at a respectful tone, lest she risk somehow offending Lord Taegar.

    “Items that you stole!” Rainbow snapped, promptly ignoring Rarity’s frantic shushing gesture.

    “Because you’re meanies!” Pinkie added, because obviously neither she nor Rainbow Dash had any concern for their own lives, or the lives of other present unicorns.

    Lord Taegar laughed. “I don’t control what my dragons do!” He lowered his head further, close enough that Rarity could feel and smell his atrocious breath in her face. “How do we even know it’s yours? It’s dragon property now.”

    “Actually,” Rarity said, smiling politely, “there’s a book in there that has my friend’s name in it.”

    “Oh? This should be interesting,” Taegar said, drawing back and looking toward a group of dragons. “Bring me the book! Now!”

    Moments later, a dragon emerged whom Rarity recognized as one of the teenaged dragons from the Trader’s Exchange. He looked bitter and upset as he reluctantly handed the book to Taegar.

    “This is it?” Taegar said, taking the small book in between his massive claws. “Tell your friend that her book has sadly burned to a crisp!” Without bothering to verify Rarity’s claim, he took in a deep breath, threw the book into the air, and spewed fire all over it.

    “No! We needed that!” Pinkie screamed, clamping her hooves against the sides of her face. “Without it, we can’t—! Rarity!”

    Rarity turned to Pinkie with nothing but a patient smile on her lips. Truth be told, the only reaction Taegar’s action had inspired in the unicorn was irritation. Half of her felt irritated at the way the book had been treated, while the other side felt more irritated at so uselessly wasting time.

    Taegar had yet to stop his flame-spewing when an object fell to the ground with a loud thump. To everypony’s surprise but Rarity’s, the book was completely intact, having been protected by its golden barrier spell.

    What did surprise Rarity, however, was the reaction. Not from Taegar, not from the dragons, and not from Pinkie or Dash.

    It was from the chaos magic scattered around the walls.

    As fast as the barrier had appeared around the book, so did the chaos magic begin to go out of control, crackling and hissing. From every corner of the room, it launched an attack on the book: pies, smoke bombs, rocks, magic beams. A futile and desperate attempt to destroy an indestructible book.

    “Wh-what’s going on?!” a dragon shouted.

    Rarity stepped back, and everything clicked in her mind. Of course! The chaos magic had detected her earlier connection with Twilight, and now that it was faced with the remains of actual alicorn magic, it must be confused into thinking that it was the real deal.

    But who’d cast that protect—

    Celestia.

    The name came naturally into Rarity’s mind, though she belatedly realized it was not a coincidence. Twilight’s consciousness had fallen silent for a while now, so much so she’d even forgotten they were still connected.

    Enough!” Taegar roared, and everyone in the room fell silent, including the rampant chaos magic. Once there was not a sound to be heard, Taegar looked back down toward the mares, an amused smile deforming his face. He took the book in his claws and looked it over before casually throwing it over to a pile of gems in the distance. “This will make a rare treasure for my personal hoard.”

    “But, er, Lord Taegar, pardon my transgression, but I assume your hoard must already be of immeasurable worth,” Rarity said, taking a cautious step toward Taegar only to retreat when a dragon hissed at her. “Surely it couldn’t be such a monumental loss to return those items, now could it?”

    “Listen to this pony!” Lord Taegar replied, turning to look at his dragons. “As if losing the puny belongings would take away from our glorious treasures! They’d be more useful as target practice for my flame!” Still laughing, he turned back to Rarity and shook his head. “A dragon, little pony, would never help or return things to the likes of your kind.”

    “Yes, they would!” Pinkie protested, glaring at Taegar. “There are dragons out there who are nice to ponies!”

    Now this—this made the dragons laugh. The entire room filled with the roaring laughter of Lord Taegar and his minions. Something about it bothered Rarity terribly, as if someone dear to her had just been personally insulted.

    “Dragons?! Being nice to ponies?! No dragon worth his skin would see you as more than a meal!” he roared, slamming his claw against the ground and provoking slight tremors. He then lifted his claw and hissed, “Bring me a dragon like this, and I will shred away his kindness with my very own claw.”

    Suddenly, Rarity understood why Rainbow’s friend had refused to go with them.

    “It’s true!” Pinkie continued undeterred, the only sign of fear being the slight lowering of her ears.

    “Oh, you are a funny pony. Look, my dragons! Look at these three creatures, how they come in here talking about dragons and ponies who are friends! Isn’t it funny?!” He turned back to Rarity and the others, once again lowering his face nearer than it had ever been before. “Tell me, do you know what happened to the last dragon who was ‘friends’ with ponies?”

    As soon as he’d finished the questions, the entire room filled with hissing and growling. The dragons certainly knew, but all three mares had no idea… Or rather, Rarity thought she didn’t know, but the dragons’ reaction unlocked something inside her. A terrible sense of dread, and since she had no memories to elicit such a sensation, it could only mean one thing.

    Twilight knew.

    “The last time a dragon was nice to your kind, you tried to use him to save your coats against the Lord of Chaos,” Lord Taegar said, narrowing his eyes. “But no. No, it wasn’t just that.” He drew back again, imposing, angry, threatening. “Because a dragon was friends with ponykind, the entire dragon race was dragged into the war between Equestria and the Lord of Chaos.”

    And then it happened. It was brief, very brief, but a memory forced itself into Rarity’s mind, a memory that did not belong to her and had no doubt resurfaced unwillingly from Twilight’s mind. For brief seconds, she remembered—or saw—herself in Canterlot’s throne room, facing down dozens of furious dragons led by a much younger version of Taegar.

    “Attack one of us, attack all of us! Choose wisely, princesses, because you might be free from the wrath of the Lord of Chaos, but you will be faced with the scorching wrath of dragons!”

    Rarity stepped back, heart beating thunderously in her chest.

    What… What just…

    “The Lord of Chaos?” Rainbow asked, and Taegar interrupted before she could proceed.

    “Don’t act like you don’t know!” Taegar said, leaning back. “It’s the most famous myth of ponykind! The three princesses who stupidly lost their lives when they tried to deceive the Lord of Chaos!”

    Rarity stepped forward. “But, what does that have to—” Rarity’s question about dragons fell silent, interrupted not by Taegar, or anypony else, but by a visceral incapacity to proceed. It was as if her entire rationale was pleading, begging her to ask no further, to please beg Taegar to shut up, please, please, please. A war raged inside her, Twilight’s consciousness consuming the connection with a panic of… Rarity knowing more…

    “But… But…” The words stammered out of Rarity’s mouth, her own consciousness struggling to regain control because she wanted to know, she needed to know, please, they’d come so far, she just wanted to understand Twilight more.

    Didn’t Twilight trust her?

    “But what about dragons?!” Rarity finally blurted out, screamed almost, as if the words had come out of her mouth unbidden. Her eyes grew wide and she stepped back, chest heaving with every breath. The fear remained, but it was subdued now, it had relented, and when Rarity looked down to her necklace, relief flooded her at seeing it still glowed pink.

    “But what does that have to do with dragons?” she asked again, at a much more decent volume, yet still loud and clear for everyone in the room to hear—Twilight included.

    Taegar laughed again, but it was a very bitter laugh. “Of course you wouldn’t know. It shouldn’t surprise me that ponykind rewrites their history for their own benefit. Tell me, pony,” he implored, tilting his head, “why did the Lord of Chaos go after the four princesses? Why did he declare war on them again?”

    Rarity could feel the fear in her resurging, but she bravely ploughed on. “They… They broke the peace treaty they had with him when they refused to give him the land he asked for?”

    Land? That’s what you think he asked for? You’re not too far off, pony. He was always given land the first few years. They even tried to give him the domain of our western tribe once! Ponies thinking they own everything!” His declaration was met with roars from the other dragons. “But no, that’s not what he asked for.”

    He continued, “I was there, you know. I was there when it happened. The first time ponykind was ‘gracious’ enough to allow us entry into their pretty little castle. And not just us! Every race! Even that village of disgusting changeling creatures. Dragons forced to sit next to such a traitorous species.”

    And again, more flashes of memory resurfaced unbidden, and Rarity could see it. See all kinds of species, from zebras, to changelings, to manticores… All ushered in by Discord, a delighted grin plastered all over his face.

    “The princesses invited them?” Pinkie asked. “Isn’t that good?”

    “No,” Rarity said, and she couldn’t pinpoint exactly whether the vision had allowed her to deduce it, or if Twilight was voicing the message. “It was him.”

    He wanted witnesses.

    But, why?

    “But… That war! That was between us and him!” Rainbow pointed out. “Why the heck would he want other races there?! It wasn’t their business!”

    “That’s what we thought,” Taegar replied, lowering himself again. “That’s what we all thought, every single race! But what your race has never seen and will never understand is that we are never free of all your damned wars. Whether we want to or not, you will always drag us in.” He stood back, poisonous hatred lacing every syllable that left his mouth. “I remember the war before your ‘peace’ treaties! I remember Discord creating havoc in my land, frightening my dragons with the help of that changeling queen. And even after all he’d done, those princesses still gave him the easy punishment!”

    Guilt.

    A wave of guilt plagued Rarity, and still she knew it was not hers, but she could feel it, melding with the latent desire for Taegar to stop talking, to stop divulging, please.

    “You haven’t answered my question, Lord Taegar,” Rarity said persistently. “Why were dragons involved?”

    “He was so happy,” Taegar replied. “He was happy, and I should have known something was wrong.” He sounded remorseful, angry at himself, his teeth bared. “Even your princesses—the way they looked at us. They knew something was wrong. He didn’t want land.”

    And again, as soon as he’d finished, it wasn’t a visual memory that arose in Rarity’s mind, but a voice. A sickeningly happy voice which she could hear as clear as if its owner were there.

    Honestly, I’m growing dreadfully tired of land! It’s so terribly lonely ruling alone… This time, I want something else! I’m sure you’ll agree!

    Rarity’s anxiety grew, almost as wildly as before, and once more she could feel, hear, sense Twilight wanting it to stop, please, but it was far too late now to stop, the dam had been broken and all that was left was to swim or drown.

    Rarity chose to swim, even if Twilight preferred to drown.

    “What did he ask for, then?” Rarity asked, again stepping forward.

    “He was looking at my brothers and me when he did it,” Taegar said, breathing heavily, fumes leaking out the sides of his mouth. “He snapped his fingers and a filthy, tiny cage appeared next to him, and you know what was inside? A terrified baby dragon calling out to those princesses for help!”

    “Tw-Twilight! Princess Celestia!”

    “No! No, Discord, what are you doing?!”

    “Dragons live so long! I just want a companion forever!”

    “A dragon?! N-no, that’s impossible!” Rainbow snarled, looking more agitated than she had the entire time. “That can’t be right! They asked for land! …Didn’t they?” She stepped back, looking down at the ground with wide eyes, no longer seeming angry but confused.

    “But why?” Pinkie asked. “Why a poor baby dragon?!”

    Why?! Because he was a friend of theirs!” he roared, slamming his claw down against the ground. Everything shook under Rarity’s hooves, and the chaos magic swirling over the walls became restless again. “Because he associated with them, and what was his reward?! A CAGE!”

    Despite the necklace still glowing, it was as if Twilight’s presence had left. As if the revelation had been too terrible to bear, and she’d repressed herself willingly, become a quiet spectator. But Rarity didn’t need her.

    Rarity didn’t need her because she could put the pieces together by herself now. It all clicked, dominoes falling one by one. She remembered the greyscale painting of a baby dragon inside the library, she remembered Twilight’s assertions that not all dragons were bad, and she remembered the legend that spoke of a lonely princess and her fearsome companion that was loyal above all. She remembered this Spike creature who Twilight was afraid of mentioning, whose name slipped between the seams of unguarded conversations.

    She realized just what species he was.

    “But… But he can’t—!” Rainbow protested. “There must have been a law against it or something, I don’t know!”

    A law? Rarity thought, lifting her hoof to hold onto the necklace. Why would he obey laws?

    “You think a law would matter anything to him?! He’s the Lord of Chaos! A law is a dragon’s plaything for him! A law! Creatures like him have no morals or principles! Even dragons have those! But you know, ponies don’t have them either.” He gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes, lowering himself again. “The life of a dragon was used as a bargaining chip in a pony war, and you know how ponykind reacted?

    “They called for his LIFE! All around us, you ponies begged your leaders to accept, to allow that monster to take an innocent dragon as his ‘companion’ in exchange for a year of peace?! They were willing to give him away!”

    Taegar was furious, angered beyond comprehension, and Rarity understood. She understood because she could hear the chanting in her head, calling for the princesses to agree, and though she could no longer tell if it was Twilight’s memories or her own imagination, it no longer mattered. She could hear them calling for the dragon’s sacrifice.

    Because that’s what it was, wasn’t it?

    “And that’s not the worst of it,” Taegar viciously continued. “They poisoned him! Those ponies with their screams! They poisoned him so that even HE called for his own life, even he was ready and willing to give his life away to the Lord of Chaos just to save ponies from their own war! But it was never going to be his choice in the first place, was it?”

    No.

    No, it was the princesses’ choice. It was up to the four of them to decide whether they went to war or not.

    A terrible, impossible decision where they would go to war no matter what, be it against dragons or Discord, and it dawned on Rarity that Discord’s intent was just that. War no matter the cost.

    Rarity didn’t have to ask to know what the princesses said. Nopony in that room had to, because they all knew, all had grown up with the legend, and all understood finally.

    “The princesses refused,” Rarity said, not really talking to Taegar anymore, but to herself and the alicorn listening in, “and Equestria went to war against Discord.”

    But it wasn’t the princesses, not all four of them… was it?

    Rarity knew, whether because Twilight knew or because it was all clear now, that the choice had never even been up to the four princesses simply because Discord hadn’t picked just any dragon. It hadn’t been all four of them who made the final decision, who went against the wishes of their citizens and plunged the kingdom into a war that would ultimately result with the eternal imprisonment of three princesses.

    It was Twilight who’d made the choice.

    And now Twilight came back, her essence, her despair, and more than anything, her guilt overcoming Rarity. It was asphyxiating, suffocating, the guilt because she said no. She plunged Equestria into war, she put Spike in danger by simply knowing him. It was her fault. Her fault, because the unicorn could no longer tell if it was hers or Twilight’s, because it felt like hers. Tears bordered Rarity’s eyes, and she could feel her knees buckling under the weight of understanding Twilight in such a terrible way.

    My fault.

    The familiar two words seeped into the mare’s mind, and Rarity could only struggle to keep her presence, to differentiate herself from Twilight because it hurt her so viscerally to know the pain Twilight had gone through by having been given an impossible choice.

    Again, a terrible flash, a voice, and how she hated it, how she wanted to suffocate it, make it stop.

    Now, Princess! Don’t worry! I’ll take good care of them! Princess Luna, Princess Celestia, and now you! You did bring this upon yourself, Twilight! If only you hadn’t been so foolish to trick me like that…

    And a final image tore into her mind. A meadow, and Rarity was in it, facing Discord down, and she could hear her voice—Twilight’s or Rarity’s, it no longer mattered—her voice loud and clear.

    “This is it, Discord! I’m ending this war now!”

    CRACK!

    The connection cut off suddenly, and Rarity was thrown off, desperately trying to steady her breathing and the beating of her heart. She knew she wasn’t casting the spell any longer, and when she looked down, she saw a large crack running down her crystal necklace. It hadn’t reverted to its crystal clear color, though, providing some hope that it still worked. Sadly, Rarity did not find much relief in this, as her head felt like it had also cracked apart, overwhelming her with a searing, throbbing pain.

    “Rarity? Are you okay?!”

    Rarity looked around and realized Pinkie was next to her, terribly concerned. Rainbow Dash, on her other side, had apparently failed to notice anything, still carrying on the conversation with the dragon.

    “You just stopped! And I got worried so…”

    “I…I…”

    What could she even say?

    “Y-your eyes! And the crystal!” Pinkie urgently whispered. “R-Rarity…”

    “And we came here with their sun princess to fight him,” Taegar was saying, gesturing to the cavern. “Look at it! Our dens reek with his magic, with the marks their battle left here!”

    “Wh-where is she then?” Rarity asked, gasped almost, struggling to catch up, to reassess the situation, grateful when Pinkie leaned next to her for support. Her headache was growing worse and worse, and it was hard to think. “Where is she? Where is Princess Celestia?”

    “They left,” Taegar replied. “She and he both left, and when they did, our allegiance to ponykind ended. This is the only thing she left here,” he said, and he moved enough to dig his claw into a nearby gem hoard, only to pull it out again and throw a golden crown at Rarity’s feet.

    “This… This is why dragons aren’t nice to ponies.”


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    1. A Deer
      Dec 17, '22 at 2:04 am

      This was one of the chapters I remember most vividly from my first read. A lot of tension in the last part. And it was mixed well between the tension of Rarity and Twilight and the tension of the history between the dragons and ponies. The way the tension elevated from beginning to end was well done. The chaos magic acted a bit like a misdirection as it was coming off like the main obstacle to overcome. But it was about confronting parts of Twilight’s past and facing an intimidating leader that also experienced that past. Very well done!

      The way this chapter ends is great. The dramatic reveal of the crown and the Dragon Lord’s words as the last line are very propelling. Really pushes the story forward and deepens it. Then there are questions about Rarity’s necklace. The necklace was a win for Twilight and Rarity in more than one way. And now it may be in jeopardy. This story does a great job of answering questions as it progresses and then adding new ones.

      I like the portrayal of the dragons. Their anger and distrust have a strong reason for existing. It makes their actions and words hold a deep meaning. And this building of their history and anger from that made the reveal of the crown and the Dragon Lord’s last words more impactful.

      Also what if Celestia used her protection magic on Twilight instead of the books? Like a protective bubble. Twilight the bubble pony.

    2. Zanna Zannolin
      Sep 11, '22 at 9:25 pm

      this chapter is genuinely one of my favorites. like i can never get enough of it. there’s SO much going on. you get so many massive reveals, domino after domino after domino, and it just keeps GOING. i’m a really big fan of how whimsically and humorously you write the chaos magic here. it’s a dizzyingly fun contrast to what we saw in the last interlude and most of rarity’s own experiences with chaos magic. paired with twilight’s comments about how chaos magic isn’t inherently bad, it really makes you go “hmmm” and i like how it adds layers and complexity to the issue! so much dimension. also it’s just plain funny i agree with pinkie can we adopt big dumb meanie.

      also i love the blend of rarity’s narration with twilight’s. we’ve never seen twilight’s pov before but you can tell it’s distinctly her in the way you write it; the blurred lines between rarity and twilight are so fascinating to see. twilight’s and rarity’s consciousnesses sort of battling for dominance when twilight wants to withhold information is sooooo spicy and fun, and the way twilight seems to almost let go in shock long enough to let rarity get her question out when rarity thinks “doesn’t twilight trust me??” is soooooooo. yeah i’m gonna be not normal about this one.

      ALSO i really REALLY like the commentary on ponies rewriting history and dragging other nations into their wars. idk as someone who has grown up in america and had to try to relearn a lot of history from non-american perspectives, it kind of resonates. there’s always more sides to the issue than you think. growing up i remember hearing the phrase “there’s three sides to every story—yours, mine, and the truth” a lot and it definitely applies to stuff like this. it’s so valuable to get a pov on the chaos wars/etc that’s NOT from a legend which can be rewritten or a biased source like twilight who has thousands of years’ worth of pent-up guilt. it gives this whole other dimension to the story when you realize it’s not JUST about ponies here. there’s a bigger world! help i sound like i’m writing notes for a research paper or something idk i just really REALLY love this chapter.

    3. TGM
      Sep 11, '22 at 2:12 am

      I really don’t know what to even say.

      Honestly, I’m lost for words. I got hooked in wondering about what Twilight ‘did’ and was so desperately trying to hide, and this earth-shattering revelation was so beautifully done it absolutely blew my expectations out of the water. Like, physically, I got chills.

      This ‘reveal’ was so huge and brought so many things into light and focus like, I’m so absolutely blown away. Still a bit confused on how Twilight ‘tricked’ Discord but I assume that explanation comes later.

      For the moment all I can really say is just….wow. very well done. Nothing short of incredible.

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