“It’s very interesting, Fluttershy! This particular breed of daisies seem to have evolved from the ones present in my own time, which means that—”
“Uhm… Princess Twilight?”
“—using these flowers, and my Flower Genome Study book, we can potentially extract the very basic—”
“Princess Twilight, your necklace…”
“Your necklace. The one Rarity gave you. It’s glowing?”
“It is?! It is!”
Rarity’s headache wouldn’t let her think straight, though now was the moment to do so. She stepped back, eyes fixed on the crown on the floor, and even with the massive dragon staring her down, all she could think about was how desperately she wanted to be back home in the library. She wanted to lie down on a cushion, close her eyes and be lulled away into blissful sleep by the sound of book pages turning and Twilight’s quill scratching against parchment.
“Wh… Why did you break your alliance with her?” she asked, struggling to keep herself lucid despite her pounding head. “She… They chose the dragon over ponies. Why desert…” She groaned, lifting her hoof to her forehead.
“I told you. Your princess took the Spirit somewhere else to fight with him. What, did she expect us to follow her when she didn’t even care to tell us where she went?” Taegar replied, glaring. “We waited for her here, longer than she deserved, but we are not your pets. A dragon’s loyalty isn’t eternal, pony.” He lifted his claw, pointing it toward the crown on the floor. “If she sunk low enough to reject her own crown, maybe she didn’t want to be followed.”
Rarity took the crown in her hoof gingerly, not wanting to strain herself. The crown had clearly seen better days: its golden exterior was blemished with scratch marks, and something had been removed from it—a gem, no doubt—leaving behind a diamond-shaped indent. Why would Celestia have done that?
Rarity nearly felt grateful Twilight was no longer there to see.
“You amuse me, little ponies,” Taegar said. Then for what was probably the very first time, he smiled at them, displaying his broken, blackened, sharp teeth. “Any other pony would be in our bellies by now, but you… you’re not like other ponies.” He looked back toward his dragons. “Chrome! Bring me this pony’s belongings!”
“But, Lord Taegar!” the dragon protested, his gasp echoing that of several dozen other dragons. “Those are our belo—”
“Now!” Taegar roared, and the dragon winced, bowing down and slithering away.
For all intents and purposes, it seemed Taegar might have had a change of heart, and yet Rarity refused to believe it yet.
“What about you?” Taegar asked, drawing Rarity’s attention from the spot the dragon had disappeared into. “What do we get in return?”
“What do you get?!” Rainbow Dash asked, indignantly stamping her hoof on the ground, once more carelessly risking their chances at success. “You want us to give you something for giving us back what you stole from us?!”
“Now, Miss Dash, don’t be silly. Finders keepers, as they say, and ponies really should take better care of their affairs!” Rarity quickly interrupted, doing her best to mask the forcefulness in her voice with good-natured amusement. She could see outrage at her words in the pegasus’s gaze, which she tried to ignore as she continued with her speech, offering Taegar a graceful smile. “The Trader’s Exchange is supposed to celebrate the trade of knowledge between creatures of all walks of life! Who are we to deny dragons from participating in such an event?”
Taegar’s smile widened. “You like talking your way out of things, don’t you, pony?”
“I try, my Lord,” she said, still smiling at the dragon and tilting her throbbing head to the side. “Dare I venture to say it seems to be working?”
“Lord Taegar! I’m back!”
The dragon from before returned, carrying with him all the stolen objects.
“Well, pony. What are you waiting for?” Taegar asked, extending his claw. “What do we get?”
Rarity faltered. “Err… Yes… Give me a moment…”
She turned to Dash and Pinkie, and neither one had anything the dragons might find to be of value. Rarity doubted they’d be interested in an old, rusty lantern, after all. As for herself, Rarity had Twilight’s book—which was out of the question—and… and the emerald.
But it was so small! If Seeker had rejected it, then Taegar would as well!
She reached into her saddlebag, finding she had nothing better to give. Just as she opened it, however, she noticed her cracked necklace flashing brightly. Did that mean it still worked?! Relief poured over her at the thought. Was Twilight worried?
“Well? Do you have anything?” Taegar asked again.
“Oh, er, yes, yes!” Rarity quickly said, reluctantly accepting she couldn’t answer the call just yet. Twilight would have to wait. Instead, she reached inside the saddlebag and took out the emerald. “I have this.” Powering through an ever-growing headache, she used her magic to levitate the gemstone toward Taegar. “It’s old, but in excellent condition.”
Taegar narrowed his eyes, taking the gemstone in his claw and looking it over. Rarity waited patiently, already trying to think of something else to exchange when he inevitably rejected the gemstone, but to her surprise, he tossed it over to his hoard.
“Give them to her,” Taegar said to the dragon, “and give her the book.”
The dragon obeyed, walking over to Rarity and dumping the objects in front of her with a visible scowl. He then made his way toward the large gem hoard to retrieve the book.
Goodness… That was unexpected…
“Hey, Rarity,” Rainbow Dash whispered, watching as the dragon took the book. “Wasn’t that too easy?”
Book in claw, the dragon returned to Rarity. Once in front of her, he lifted it up high in the air, and still scowling, dropped it with the apparent intention of damaging it with the fall.
Luckily, Rarity acted first, and though it seared her head, she cast a quick levitation spell and gently placed the book on the floor. The last thing she wanted was the magic barrier to activate, and the chaos magic to go berserk and start pelleting attacks at her.
“Well then! Isn’t it wonderful when everything works out for everypony?” Rarity said with a nervous smile, quickly gathering up the objects with her magic. “It was a pleasure meeting you, my Lord. We’ll take our leave now and shan’t bother you further.”
Taegar laughed. “Who said you were leaving?”
As soon as his sentence finished, the dragons all around the cave smiled wickedly, some even starting to crawl down walls and toward the mares. They came closer and closer, claws scratching against the ground. A series of terribly unladylike expletives rushed through Rarity’s mind, followed by a desperate attempt to formulate some kind of plan.
“I knew it was too easy,” Rainbow Dash growled, still standing fierce despite the approaching dragons. “Why didn’t I ask Seeker to come?!”
Rarity didn’t much care anymore. Lamenting bad decisions would get them nowhere. If they got eaten then and there, it would be all over. Not just for them, but for Twilight and Luna as well, and possibly even Celestia herself. Nopony would believe in Luna, and as for Twilight, the two books Rarity had would be lost forever, and she’d never be free…
Quickly, she looked up and saw it. The drawing of Discord, watching from the ceilings with a delighted smile and a tub of popcorn. Even then it delighted in her misery, did it not? Maybe all was not lost yet.
“OUR LAST REQUEST!” Rarity cried, and the dragons paused. “Please, wait, stop, stop! We’re owed a last request!”
Taegar frowned. “A last request?”
“Yes, a last request!” Rarity insisted, summoning up all the courage within to step toward the dragon lord. “Dragons are noble, proud creatures, aren’t they? Well, any race worth its salt would offer its victims one last request! How could you ever have demanded tradition and respect from ponies, yet not be willing to offer the same?!”
“Well played, pony,” Taegar said with a smile. He turned to the dragons and called, “Let us return the favor!” He turned to Rarity again. “What is your last request, pony?”
Rarity stepped back, placing the objects on the floor and staring at the book. “I…” With the headache she had, she wouldn’t be able to sustain a call with Twilight, so she could only pray her plan worked. “The book. I want you to read the name on the first page.”
“What?! Are you crazy?!” Rainbow Dash hissed. “How’s that supposed to help us?!”
“Shhhh! Rarity knows what she’s doing, silly!” Pinkie whispered, frowning at the pegasus. She then faltered, glanced at Rarity, and asked, “You do, don’t you?”
“Yes, please, just trust me,” Rarity whispered back, eyes now set on the Discord drawing that watched them intensely. She cleared her throat and turned to Taegar, levitating the book to him. “If I am to die for that book, I’d like for you to at least know the name of its owner.”
Rarity was about to risk their lives on the hope that she could predict chaotic behavior. If it didn’t work…
Taegar lifted his claw and took the tiny book, all eyes set on him. Even the chaos drawing was watching him with narrowed eyes and furrowed brow. Rarity held her breath as Taegar lifted the open book up close to his squinted eyes.
“Property of Prin— What?!” He looked to Rarity, book still in claw. “This—! This book—! Her?!”
“Yes, her,” Rarity replied, smiling as charmingly as she could, glancing back and forth between the Discord drawing and the dragon lord. “Take a closer look, my Lord.”
“But—! But that means you—!” He drifted off, nearly pressing the book against his face.
“What would I gain from making this up, Lord Taegar?” she asked, and praying she wouldn’t be wrong, carefully added, “As such, I really must implore you to take care of it. She explicitly told me that if so much as a drop of water falls on it, what follows would prove to be quite an unpleasant experience for me.”
And then, the drawing smiled.
Rarity watched as the chaos drawing snapped away its popcorn and slithered up the walls, right until it was directly above Taegar and the book. Rarity stepped back, urging the others to do the same, and before her very eyes, a small drawing of a waterfall appeared over the dragon, and from it poured down very real water, soaking both Taegar and the book.
When the water stopped, Taegar looked up to the ceiling. “Wh-what?!”
Rarity, on her side, didn’t care for the drawing. She only cared for the book, which now glowed golden with Celestia’s protection spell. Please… Plea—
The walls began to crackle and hiss, even worse than the first time, and before Taegar could react, he found himself the victim of an all-out frenzied attack. It seemed the chaos magic resented not destroying the book the first time, for now it had abandoned its milder attacks in favor of booming explosives, massive rocks, and astronomical magic beams—every single desperate attack striking the dragon.
His pained roars filled the room, and the tighter he clutched the book, the stronger Celestia’s spell resisted and the fiercer did the attack continue.
“Lord Ta-Taegar! The book! Leave the book!” a dragon called, and Taegar obeyed, launching the book away.
As it flew through the air, the attack followed it, and in a burst of adrenaline, Rarity caught it in her magic grip. She turned to the other dragons with a vicious glare, brandishing the book toward them like a weapon until every dragon was cowering.
“Lord Taegar!” she called out, loud and strong, and as she did, the chaos magic came to a halt. Rarity levitated the book high in the air for all to see and then frowned. “Oh dear. I really wish it hadn’t come to this.”
“You… You… Pony…”
Taegar merely watched her, both shocked and angered, and Rarity forced a smile despite the fear consuming her.
“My name is Rarity, my Lord, and I’d appreciate it if you remembered it,” she replied, taking a step toward him, noticing other dragons stepping back. “You were right! I am no ordinary pony, and this book… I’m glad you remember the princess’s name. She remembers you quite clearly, in fact. Of course, you were younger and your wings weren’t a sorry mangled affair, but alas.”
“Rarity, what’s going on?!”
Taegar growled, smashing his claw against the floor. “But—! That’s impossible!”
“Oh no, no, no! Look! Haven’t you noticed, my Lord, how intent the chaos magic is on stopping me? Or annoying me? That’s because it knows I’ve found her.” She looked down to her necklace, no longer flashing. For a second, the thought of Twilight almost made her lose her nerve, but she held strong. “Why, I could easily call her, you know!”
No sooner she’d finished her sentence that the Discord drawing multiplied, dozens of them decorating the wall and staring intently at Rarity, much to the displeasure of the dragons, who hissed and stepped away from the walls in reply.
“If you think I’m the one in danger here, then you’re sorely mistaken, my Lord.”
Taegar was enraged. “You?! Dragons fear you?!”
“Me? Oh, heavens, no,” Rarity interrupted. “We’ll certainly put up a fight, but we’re no match for you. It’s her you should fear. I mean, after all, this book of hers is, what, a thousand years old?” She lowered the book, enough to magically flip through its pages but keep it in sight of everyone. “And the spell protecting it might be even older, but not a single scratch on it! It was burned, soaked, exploded, and it’s as good as new! If this is only a small fraction of her power, doesn’t it frighten you to think of what the real article can do? And even more so after a thousand years of practicing her magic?”
“But she’s trapped! He trapped them! All of them!”
“But Princess Twilight has been found,” Rarity replied.
“And Princess Luna, too!” Pinkie added, stamping her hoof against the floor.
“What?!” Rainbow Dash gasped, looking back and forth between the two mares.
Rarity continued. “Princess Luna was found by Pinkie, and Princess Twilight by myself and others who are not present. And she knows I’m here.” She stepped toward him again. “If I fail to return to the princess, she will know that my final breath was at your claws. And someday soon, she will be free of her prison, and she will come here. If you’ve moved, well, knowing how frightfully smart she is, you won’t evade her for long, and when you meet her again…” She took another step forward, smiling brightly. “You will find she will no longer be inclined to spare dragons again.
“So, with that said,” Rarity continued, stepping back, “I will politely ask you to please tell your dragons to step away from the entrance so my friends and I may leave your domains and bother you no further, yes?”
Taegar gritted his teeth. “You…” He looked past her, toward the dragons near the entrance. “Let them leave!”
And the relief that flooded Rarity nearly drowned her. She would have shown as much, had she not wanted to hold her ground until the moment her hoof stepped outside.
“Thank you, my Lord.”
“You are not safe yet, pony,” Taegar growled, stepping back. “If you’ve really associated yourself with the princess, then nothing I do can compare to what the Spirit of Chaos will do to you.”
Rarity smiled. “How generous of you to let us go, then.”
She levitated the objects once more, turned around, and quickly made her way toward the exit with Dash and Pinkie following behind.
“Is she worth it?”
Rarity turned around and saw Taegar looking at her.
“First that baby dragon and now you, risking yourselves over her,” he asked, leaning in as if expecting to peer inside Rarity’s soul. “Is this princess worth it?”
Rarity didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely.”
Again, she turned around, intent on leaving, but before she stepped into the tunnel, an idea occurred to her.
“Oh, Lord Taegar, I do have another request, actually!” she said, looking back to him. “We really don’t want ponies harboring further grudges against dragons, now do we?”
Rarity tried not to push her luck.
She had known that the fact that she stepped out of that cave alive was more than a miracle, and even then she was shocked by the fact she’d held her ground. Nevertheless, if she’d gone that far, then she’d damn well make sure she’d finish the story properly.
It was nearly midday when she stepped into the Trader’s Exchange, and though she pretended the reason ponies gasped and stared was because of her ferocious gaze, she knew it was because of the fearsome black and white dragon following behind her, tail between his legs.
The dragon had kindly offered to carry the stolen objects, save for the book which Rarity floated high above her head where he could see it.
They made their way through the market, in the direction Rainbow had pointed, and oh, Rarity felt some deep satisfaction at the look on Spitfire’s face when she and the dragon stood in front of her.
“Uh.” Spitfire took off her glasses and looked at the dragon, to Rarity, to Dash. “Wow.”
Rainbow nodded. “Yep.”
“Captain Spitfire? Here. Pinkie Pie has graciously offered to help return these to their owners, even though she has no obligation to do so.” Rarity levitated most of the objects out of the dragon’s claws and neatly placed them in front of the pegasus. “Next time, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t accuse me of being a thief. Thank you.”
She looked toward Pinkie.
“Darling, I shall see you later?” When Pinkie nodded, Rarity trotted off, gesturing to the dragon. “Come along, sir.”
She traveled deeper into the market, still ignoring the shocked ponies, and it wasn’t until she saw the dragon merchant’s stand that she wiped away her current expression and replaced it with an utterly charming one.
If she’d felt satisfaction with Spitfire, it simply could not compare to the satisfaction she felt at seeing the merchant blanch upon spotting her. Oh, Twilight wouldn’t approve, but she didn’t care.
“Good afternoon,” she said with a smile when reaching the stand. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
The merchant said nothing, his terrified eyes fixed on the dragon.
“This lovely dragon has come to return your things,” she continued, levitating the remaining objects and placing them in front of the stallion. She then took the book and deposited it at the top of the stack. “Mustn’t forget the book!”
Again, the stallion said nothing.
“I’d like to trade for a diamond.” Rarity looked over his wares, eyes landing on a rather big one. “That one! Can I interest you in a scarf in exchange?” she asked, taking out a scarf she’d packed away in her saddlebag. When the stallion simply gulped and nodded, Rarity’s smile widened. “Splendid! Your taste is truly unmatched.”
She dropped the scarf atop the mound of objects, took the diamond and then turned to the dragon.
“I didn’t quite catch your name?”
The dragon blinked. “Uh…”
“Lovely name. So!” She lifted the diamond and showed it to him. “I’d like to trade this for one of your scales, if you please. After that, you’re free to go.”
The dragon gulped, eyeing the book. “I… One scale?”
“One scale, and that’s it, yes.”
The dragon narrowed his eyes, reaching for the gem which Rarity promptly levitated away.
“Scale first, please.”
The dragon gritted his teeth, lifting his arm and hissing painfully at ripping off a large black scale. Rarity nearly snatched it from his claws, but forced herself to continue smiling and wait until he offered it. Once he did, she gave him the diamond in return and the second he had it in his claws, he quickly stepped back, extended his wings and took off.
“Do give my regards to Lord Taegar!” she called, waving to him.
When he was but a speck in the sky, she turned to the shopkeeper. She lifted the scale, making sure he could see it, and then delicately placed it on top of the scarf before taking the book.
“Your scale, plus every single one of your stolen items. Do we have a trade?” she asked, her icy tone making it clear a negative answer would be most disagreeable.
He only nodded in reply.
Rarity smiled, eyelashes fluttering. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
She placed the book in her bag, turned and walked away, the enchanting smile vanishing from her face. Ponies still kept away from her, and it came as little surprise, considering she made no attempt to hide her scowl.
There was also the fact that she looked positively, hideously tired.
Now that the adrenaline had worn off, her headache had returned, with a throbbing, constant pounding. It matched her quick hoofsteps, a constant drumming to set her pace as she trotted out of the Trader’s Exchange and back to Professor Awe’s house.
She wondered, for a brief moment, if she ought to go back for Pinkie, but the thought was suffocated by her headache. Pinkie would find her, and by the time she did, hopefully Rarity would have slept a few hours. She needed rest if she wanted to properly deal with Pinkie and Rainbow Dash, who now knew everything.
She also wanted a very heartfelt apology from Captain Spitfire, while they were at it.
Eventually, walking proved its purpose and she saw the professor’s house in the distance, a beam of light in the midst of an awful grey day. She glanced toward the spot at the mountain’s base where she’d seen Seeker—or who she assumed to be Seeker—and saw no one there. What if they had died? Would he have waited for Rainbow Dash forever?
Would he have avenged her?
I could have died.
The thought struck her out of nowhere, and only then did she realize the gravity of the situation she’d been in.
She and Pinkie could have died, and in a single swipe so would have Princess Luna’s and Twilight’s chances to leave their prisons. Twilight would have known what killed Rarity, but Luna? She’d have continued her ageless eternity without ever knowing what happened to Pinkie Pie.
It was a scary thought, wasn’t it?
The door of the house was unlocked, and it swung closed once Rarity stepped inside. Almost mechanically, she made her way through the hallway and into the main room, still littered with papers and devices of all kinds. The curtains were still drawn shut, and she found the darkness inviting, soothing to her aching head.
“My goodness,” Professor Awe’s voice said, “what happened to you?”
Before she could turn to see him, the blinds opened and the rapid flood of light forced Rarity to close her eyes, a hoof pressed against her forehead.
“It’s been a long night,” Rarity murmured, not feeling eloquent enough to truly explain what had gone on. Not that he’d believe her, regardless.
“I won’t ask, then.” He trotted toward a desk and opened the top drawer. “Here. This does wonders for headaches and hangovers.”
“I am not drunk,” Rarity muttered, taking the pill he floated her way. “And thank you.”
“I never said you were, Miss Rarity.”
Rarity excused herself, trotting up the stairs and into her room. It was nicely quiet, but far too bright. After putting her bag on the desk, she closed the blinds and reveled in the darkness they granted. She could scarcely see the bed at the end of the room, but even so, it beckoned her.
Soon, my darling, she thought, making her way to the bathroom.
Even in the darkness, she could make out her reflection in the mirror. She closed her eyes and turned on the light, and when she’d adjusted, she opened them up and gazed—or rather, grimaced—at herself. There were bags under her eyes, her mane was a scandal, and… and her heart fell when her eyes landed on the large crack splitting her pink necklace.
She brushed her hoof against it. Twilight had stopped trying to contact her, it seemed. Maybe Rarity would try to call her after a much-needed nap.
She filled a little cup with water and took the medicine before turning off the lights and heading toward the bed. She fell on it with a great big thud, not even bothering to slip under the covers.
Closing her eyes was bliss, and even her headache began to fade now that she was hopefully allowed to rest. It didn’t take long for her to doze off, but she didn’t manage to sleep for long. Not even four hours had passed when her groggy eyes fluttered open, and only knowing that she needed to take a train later that night willed her out of bed.
The pocket watch she’d brought marked five o’clock when she looked at it, giving her plenty of time to prepare for her night train back home. She made up her mane, applied some sorely needed makeup, and only descended when she felt like herself again. Her body still yearned for sleep, but it would at least be enough to sustain her until the train ride.
“What’s taking her so long?!”
Stepping into the living room, she found visitors in the good professor’s home. Pinkie Pie, currently seated on a couch and gobbling away at cupcakes from a bowl, and Rainbow Dash, currently trotting in hasty circles.
“Taking whom so long?” Rarity asked, even though she was well aware to whom Rainbow referred.
Rainbow stopped mid-pacing, her eyes setting on Rarity for a second before zooming down to the necklace.
“Is it true…?” Rainbow asked, carefully. “Can you really talk to her with that thing?”
Rarity hesitated, her eyes searching Pinkie’s. “I…”
“It’s okay, Rarity!” Pinkie said, crumbs of cupcake falling from her mouth as she spoke, putting her bowl down on the floor. “I told her eeeeeeeeverything about eeeeeeeeverything! Well, not really, because I don’t know everything about Princess Twilight, but I do know a lot about Luna!”
Rarity wasn’t entirely confident in the situation, more so because she hadn’t been expecting to talk to Rainbow Dash about the topic so soon.
“Well? Can you?” Rainbow asked again.
“I can, yes,” Rarity said, trotting over to Pinkie and taking a seat next to her. She lifted her hoof and brushed it against the crystal. “It unfortunately cracked earlier, and I’m not sure it still works as before.”
Rainbow furrowed her brow. “Where does she live, then?”
Pinkie giggled. “I already told you that, silly.”
When Rainbow threw her a pointed stare, Rarity replied.
“She lives in an underground library deep in the Everfree Forest.”
Rainbow shook her head. “That’s impossible! That place was literally searched for, like, centuries!”
Rarity crossed her forelegs and raised an eyebrow. “Well, considering there’s been at least two ponies who have found her before me, clearly the ponies you’re referring to didn’t search too thoroughly. The Spirit didn’t hide her very well.”
Rainbow Dash glared. “Because she wasn’t there! The Spirit took her library from the forest and moved her somewhere else! And there’s no way anypony would have missed the library if it hadn’t been taken away!”
“How exactly do you suggest the library was taken away?” Rarity asked. “It’s an enormous old oak tree. And what would the Spirit even do with it, for that matter?”
“I don’t know! You saw what his magic did inside Yaket Range! He could totally just move a library around and put it somewhere where she couldn’t be found!” Rainbow protested. “That place is filled with sinkholes, anyway!”
Rarity fell silent.
Everything Rainbow Dash said was impossible, unless there was another lost princess living inside an underground library, which was highly unlikely. Even so, Rarity didn’t feel it was right to immediately brush off the pegasus’s claims. How could she herself ever hope for ponies to give her the benefit of the doubt regarding her princess if she wasn’t willing to do the same for Rainbow?
“It seems that we’re at an impasse, then, Miss Dash,” Rarity carefully said. “I have my story and you your own.”
Rainbow Dash backtracked, pushing a hoof through her mane. “But it makes no sense!” She turned to Pinkie. “You want me to believe you see her in dreams?! That’s ridiculous! Then why can’t we all see her in dreams? How do you know you’re not making her up?”
Pinkie was aghast. “I didn’t make Luna up! Only good ponies who believe in her and behave can see her!”
“Princess Luna used to watch over dreams and nightmares, if you remember the legend,” Rarity added in. “Furthermore, though I’m sure that being well behaved is not a requirement to see her, it makes sense that only ponies who believe in the legend can. The Spirit wanted to trap her, and I’m sure you can agree with me that not everypony is easily ready to believe her fairy tale is real.”
“But…” Rainbow gritted her teeth. “I mean, I’m not saying the princess isn’t real, but that sounds ridiculous.”
Rarity smiled. “Even so, why in Equestria would we lie about it? We stand to gain nothing by lying, and in fact, the only thing it’s accomplished so far is ponies thinking we’ve gone mad. Even the Canterlot Castle staff treated me like an absolute charlatan.”
Rainbow Dash froze at this, eyes darting back and forth between the two mares.
“You… You guys went to the castle for this?”
“Yeah, and they’re a bunch of meanies! I go there every year, and every year they’re all ‘ohhh we don’t know about any princesses because we’re meanies ohhh,’” Pinkie said, crossing her arms and pouting. “I don’t like them. I don’t like them one bit—and I like bits, ’cause one bit gets me a chocolate!”
“I traveled to Canterlot a few weeks after meeting Twilight, and the guards were lovely enough to throw me into the dungeons on the basis of lying and providing forged evidence. The only reason I didn’t spend the entire night there was because a stallion believed me. The captain of the guard, I think?”
Rainbow Dash’s eyes widened. “Wait a sec.” She took a step toward Rarity. “Who was it? What was he wearing? Please tell me he wasn’t wearing green armor.”
Rarity frowned. “Green? Don’t be ridiculous, his armor was hardly green.” She rolled her eyes. “It was a moderate arctic blue.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever! What about his name?! Was it Tilt Shield?”
Rainbow Dash groaned, burying her face in her hooves. “He’s even worse than Tilt Design!” A series of rather rude expletives left her mouth as she paced in circles, again bringing forth thoughts of Twilight. “If he believed you, then that means you…” She turned back to Rarity. “Fine! I believe you too, but… you’re probably being watched.”
“‘Watched’? Whoever by? The guards?” Rarity asked, skeptical. “They don’t even care! Not to mention that was months ago. I sincerely doubt they’re that dedicated to the cause.”
“Not them! Denza’s guards!” Rainbow clarified. “Rift Shield is one of them and if he or his buddies are following you…” She shook her head. “I don’t want to deal with them unless I’m a hundred percent sure of what I’m doing.”
“But we’re not lying!” Pinkie repeated for the umpteenth time. “Why doesn’t anypony believe us?!”
“Because,” Dash said, “we’ve believed ponies before, and it’s always false leads! Every single time!” She sighed and rubbed her forehead. “Look, Seeker and I have been looking for these princesses too, but we’re sick of gettin’ nowhere, and I’m not going to be responsible for that again.”
“My train back home leaves tonight,” Rarity said. “Why not come with me and see her for yourself?”
In fact, she ought to just bring all of Equestria to Twilight’s library and be done with it. Of course, if she did that, then the library would constantly be crowded, and… and that was perfectly all right because she had no interest whatsoever in keeping her lovely princess all to herself.
That could wait until she was free, regardless.
Rainbow snorted. “What, and ditch all my duties for the month? I’m not the Wonderbolts captain anymore, but I’m still their awesomest member! If I go around canceling and trailing after you, that’s basically like shouting to Denza and her crew that something’s up!”
“And why is that so wrong?” Rarity asked, words laced with irritation. Princess Denza’s help would be most welcome, and Rainbow’s incredibly disrespectful attitude vis-à-vis Equestria’s ruler was not something Rarity approved of. “Why is everypony so convinced Princess Denza doesn’t want to help? You, Professor Awe…! Honestly!”
“Is it because she’s cursed?” Pinkie asked. She prodded at Rarity, no doubt trying to assuage the unicorn’s anger. “Remember she was cursed! She can’t look for them!”
Rainbow snorted. “Cursed? There isn’t any curse! That’s just some phony excuse they made up so they wouldn’t look bad not doing anything while others did the job for her.”
“How are you so sure about all this, Miss Dash?” Rarity asked. “All these claims you’re making, and all this information…” Rarity knew somepony hiding information when she saw them. “Seeing as Pinkie and I have told you a great deal about our own sources, it’s only fair you tell us who yours is. Did you perhaps find the other lost princess?”
And at this, Rainbow faltered, her eyes widening as she stepped back. “I…”
“You DID?!” Pinkie all but gasped, jumping out of her seat on the couch. “Who?! Princess Celestia?! Where is she?!”
“Wh-what?! I-I didn’t find any princess!” Rainbow quickly shot back. “Look, I just know these things, okay?! And even if I did know somepony, I told you I’m not bringing them in until I’m a hundred percent sure of this. How would your princesses feel if you told them, I don’t know, that you found out how to free them, and then they got all happy and excited, except it turned out you were wrong?! How would you feel, especially if it’s like the fiftieth time it’s happened?! Horrible, that’s how!”
“When can you come, then?” Rarity asked. She wanted to meet Rainbow Dash’s informant, and sooner rather than later.
“A month,” Dash replied. “No, wait, a month and a half! I have a thing with Spitfire in Hollow Shades at the end of the month, and after that I’ll get her to organize an event or something in Ponyville so it won’t look suspicious. Just make sure that you two and the princesses don’t go anywhere.”
Pinkie frowned, plopping herself back down on the couch. “I wish they could go somewhere…”
“You know what I meant!”
Rarity sighed. “Very well, but I’m not going to idle in Ponyville the entire time. I do have a life beyond Twilight Sparkle, and I have several commissions out of town that will require me leaving Ponyville.”
The sound of an opening door interrupted her, followed in short order by Professor Awe entering the room, his face stuck inside a book and a cup of coffee floating behind. When he looked up, he found the three mares giving him pointed stares.
He did nothing at first, merely taking a long sip of coffee before clearing his throat and asking, “What have I interrupted? Is Miss Pie trying to convince somepony else of the existence of Princess Luna?”
“I’M NOT LYING! I’m not!” Pinkie protested when Rainbow Dash gave her a questioning glance.
“Of course not,” Awe replied, looking back to his book and heading toward the kitchen.
Rarity cleared her throat.
This conversation was not one she wished to have with the professor just yet, and the last thing she wanted was for him to go off about his ridiculous theories on assassinations and Princess Denza being the Spirit’s accomplice. “A month and a half it is, then, Miss Dash?”
“Yeah. A month and a half,” she replied, catching on to the fact that the conversation had come to an end.
“Is there anything else you’d like to ask about?”
Rainbow shook her head. “Nah. I won’t get my answers until I go to your place anyway,” she said, trotting over to the nearby table and taking her saddlebag. “I need to ditch this place. Seeker’s scared that the dragons are going to be extra annoying after what we did, so he wants to move out before tomorrow. Oh, by the way…” She reached into her saddlebag and took out a small purple scale, flinging it at Rarity. “I know it’s worth nothing now, but hey, a promise is a promise.”
Rarity caught the scale in her magic, examining it with a smile. She liked it. It would be a nice reminder of the one time she completely lost her mind and managed to best an ancient dragon and his minions.
Maybe she could give it to Twilight as a keepsake.
Once her saddlebag was firmly over her back, Rainbow Dash made a mocking salute. “Try not to mess with dragons or anything for a month, ’kay?”
Pinkie saluted back. “Yepperooni! I mean, noperooni! Or is it yepperooni?”
Rarity fluttered her eyelashes. “I’ll try, but danger loves coming to me.”
Rainbow Dash laughed, trotting toward the exit hallway. “See ya!”
Rarity waited until the front door slammed to a close before leaning back on the couch, hoof traveling up to her necklace. “Well, that’s that, I suppose. Nothing to do but wait for a month.”
Pinkie leaned back as well, reaching over to take another cupcake from her plate. “She was nice, though! Your friend will be super happy with her autograph!”
Rarity gasped. “The autograph!” she blurted out, nearly tripping over herself as she jumped off the couch and galloped toward the exit. “Wait, Rainbow Dash!”
The rest of the day went by rather uneventfully for Rarity.
No revengeful dragons attacked Rainbow Falls, as Rarity had privately feared they might, and she’d managed to get mostly everything she’d been asked for. She even got some nice new fabrics, and six new books for Twilight—including the one from the dragon merchant.
Rainbow Falls’ train station was filled with a plethora of ponies who, just like Rarity, were taking night trains home after the Trader’s Exchange. The event had gone off without a hitch, save for a few details, which was a relief considering Princess Denza had turned out to be too busy to attend the closing ceremony.
Despite Rainbow’s claims, Rarity still saw the best in her monarch. If offered, she’d gladly take the chance to see her and relay everything she’d discovered about Twilight and Luna. It felt simply ridiculous to believe Princess Denza would want anything but the freedom of the age-old alicorns.
“I’m sad that you’re leaving,” Pinkie said, looking toward the passing ponies, her ears swiveling down. “Why can’t my best friends live somewhere I can always be with them?”
Rarity smiled sadly, brushing back Pinkie’s mane. “Now, now, darling. We’ll see each other again soon if all goes well with Rainbow Dash.”
“But that’s soooooo far away! You’re going to find all the books by the time I get to see you again!” Pinkie whined, pawing at the floor. “Except that’d be good because then Princess Twilight would be free and if she’s free then she can come with us and I’ll get to meet her and—”
“Pinkie, I don’t think I’ll find all her books in just a month,” Rarity said with a laugh. As amazing as that would be, it would take an incredibly momentous miracle for that to happen. “Though…”
She looked around, eyes settling on a large calendar posted on the train station’s wall. She trotted toward it, flipping the page over to the next month, and smiled.
“You know, the twenty-sixth is a long weekend for Sweetie Belle and her little friends, and they want to organize a sleepover at Twilight’s library,” Rarity said at length, letting go of the calendar page and turning to Pinkie.
“Ohhh, that sounds like super fun!” Pinkie exclaimed, clapping her hooves. “I wish I could go…”
“Why don’t you?” Rarity asked, smiling brightly at the mare. “I’m sure Twilight would love to have you! She’s quite keen on meeting you.”
Pinkie’s reaction was immediate, her eyes widening and her mouth falling open. “You… I… I can?! Really?!” she exclaimed, jumping up and down, and then tapping her hooves against the floor. “Really, really, really, really, really, super really for realsies really?!”
Rarity laughed. “Yes, really.”
Pinkie was nearly beside herself, clapping her hooves together. “Ohmigosh! Ohmigosh, ohmigosh, ohmigosh! Can I throw her a party?! Does she like parties?! It’ll be the best party I’ve ever made! And I’ll even make her a special cupcake like I do for Lulla, and—! And now waiting for the sleepover is going to be even LONGER than waiting for Rainbow Dash!” She groaned, burying her face in her hooves. “Why can’t I make time go faster?”
The sound of the train whistle interrupted her rhetorical question.
“It’ll go faster than you realize,” Rarity insisted sympathetically, readjusting her saddlebag in preparation for boarding the train.
She hugged Pinkie goodbye, promising to send a letter soon, and finally boarded the train. It wasn’t as crowded as she’d expected, and it seemed that not many ponies were headed to Ponyville like her. Happily, this meant she should be able to secure a cabin just for herself, so she could lie down on the seats and sleep in private until morning arrived, bringing Ponyville with it.
She settled down in the cabin, levitating her luggage up behind the railing, and then patiently waited for the train to set off. When it did, and nopony had come in to sit with her, she took the liberty of closing the sliding door and relaxing.
The moon shone brightly in the sky, its beams of light filtering in through the half-closed curtains. Rarity wasn’t against sleeping under the moonlight, but trains had never been her preferred place to sleep, so perhaps absolute darkness would help lull her.
She closed the blinds with her magic, reveling in the darkness before laying herself down on the seat and closing her eyes. She must have stayed that way for quite a while, unable to find sleep. Eventually, after her attempts proved unsuccessful, she opened her eyes again, the black darkness hugging her with its pink hues, like a…
She looked down to find her necklace flashing again. She lifted the necklace in her hoof, admiring its soft pink glow. It seemed Twilight wanted to talk, and now free from danger, Rarity wanted to talk, too. Besides, danger or not, she’d ignored the call several times already and doing so again would simply be rude.
Rarity closed her eyes and cast the spell, and after the familiar ping, there was silence. Stillness in her mind, at first, peaceful and serene, until an uncomfortable anxiety crawled its way up her chest. Never in her life had she been so worried about her own self, and it took a moment to register it was Twilight’s worry.
“Is she… Is she okay?”
No sooner had the thought entered her mind that she opened her eyes, and yet it wasn’t Rarity who’d done it, but Twilight. Rarity could feel herself lying on the train seat, and yet she could clearly see the library, feel the library, as if her mind was a camera lens. She was sitting at a round table, Twilight’s favorite one, and opposite her was Fluttershy, looking paler than usual. Rarity couldn’t think at all, as though her mind had gone blank, like all thought process had left and only Twilight’s thoughts remained.
She—no, Twilight—blinked once, twice, thrice and then the other necklace floated in front of her, wrapped in raspberry-colored magic.
Rarity’s first thought was realizing it wasn’t broken.
“It’s not broken.”
Fluttershy blinked at Twilight’s statement.
“Of course it’s not broken, because I wasn’t the one casting the spell when the mind link broke.”
Twilight gasped. Or maybe Rarity did, or maybe both as the alicorn realized the connection was working. Twilight’s relief surged through Rarity, but worried panic did too, and the shock of it forced the unicorn’s eyes open just as she had started to settle into Twilight’s sight. For a second, or perhaps even less, nothing happened as Rarity’s own eyes adjusted to the darkness of the train compartment while her mind projected the library.
And then, she wasn’t able to take the simultaneous information.
If her headache from earlier that day had been intense, this one was utterly agonizing. Both their eyes slammed shut as Rarity buried her head in her hooves, her groaning indistinguishable from Twilight’s.
“Princess Twilight?! Wh-what’s wrong?”
“Headache—! I can feel pain again! I can… This is fascinating, though… I forgot… it hurts… so much…”
Rarity groaned again and turned around in her seat, all but ready to terminate the spell, until she—or Twilight, or whoever, she didn’t much care—cast another. It was a healing spell she’d never heard of before, but as the seconds passed, it felt like she’d always known it, and as they both cast it the headache waned and the drowsiness set in full force.
“Are you okay?! Is Rarity hurt?”
Again, Twilight’s eyes opened, and the sight of a stricken Fluttershy greeted her.
“I… I’m sleepy… I’m actually sleepy! Or she is? We are? Is this what drowsiness feels like? I can’t remember anymore, but it’s not letting me think straight. Is sleep always this botherso— Or is sleep a sign of weakness?!”
Twilight closed her eyes, and it was bizarre for Rarity to feel herself both lying on the seat and burying her face in her hooves at a table. Rarity didn’t quite know what to expect at first, but her mind soon focused on… on the memories of Discord, of the exchange, of everything they had in unison both revealed and found out.
A thought arose because of it, that maybe it was time for a long-overdue talk on dragons, and treaties, and secrets and guilt that had been carried for far too long.
Twilight’s fear gripped her again, and Rarity’s consciousness took control, soothing, gentle. Not every secret had to come out. Not yet, but maybe baby steps weren’t necessary anymore, were they?
“Princess? Is she okay? Are you?”
Sleep took over Rarity, pulling her away from Twilight, the magic in her horn slipping from her grasp as her mind took in the last fragment of a distant conversation.
“Yes. We’ll be okay.”