Sleep was neither kind nor unkind to Rarity. She managed to get almost four full hours of it, but her dreams were plagued with dragons, and princesses, and Spirits of Chaos. In one dream, she was there with Twilight and her dragon friend during that ill-fated day. In another, she was chatting with Rainbow and Pinkie outside the Trader’s Exchange. But in the one that finally woke her, she found herself trying to go back home but painfully unable to locate the library.
She spent the rest of the trip looking out the window, her thoughts drifting toward Fritter Cobbler. What happened to him, really? Why hadn’t he been able to find Twilight’s library again? Or, had he given up on her and simply pretended to not be able to find her?
It would at least explain the ominous apology he left behind.
Ponyville appeared in the distance, growing larger and larger as the train rapidly approached. It was a heavenly sight—one that Rarity might not have lived to see again. It seemed so normal and peaceful, so stable and without risk, and she, for once, was delighted to return to the safe and sound normal routine of everyday life. Well, as normal as friendship with a ghost could be.
The train pulled up at the platform, and Rarity’s eyes scanned the crowd. Most ponies were simply waiting to board the train when it emptied out, but she saw several brandishing signs with names on them. Maybe one of them had her name, and it would turn out that Princess Denza was summoning her to her castle!
Of course, that was entirely impossible, but she did see several familiar and worried faces amongst the crowd. Fluttershy, the Cutie Mark Crusaders—and Applejack—were waiting on the platform, brows furrowed as they scanned the train’s windows.
What on earth is going on?
What would warrant such looks? For a brief second, Rarity’s mind wandered into dangerous territory, and she felt her breath hitch at the thought that something might have happened to Twilight. It was the only idea she could conjure up that would justify all of them being here to get her.
When the train came to a full stop, she gathered her many suitcases and trotted out onto the platform.
“My, my, what a reception!” Rarity exclaimed, though the cheer in her voice did not linger long.
What a reception, indeed: the expressions on those familiar faces were about as varied as the ponies who had come from all around to attend the Trader’s Exchange. Apple Bloom and Applejack seemed relieved, the latter taking off her hat and wiping her brow; Scootaloo, too, looked relieved for a split-second before breaking into an excited grin; Fluttershy buried her face in her hooves; and a tear-stricken Sweetie Belle rushed to Rarity, throwing herself at her elder sister.
“Sw-Sweetie, whatever’s the matt—”
“You’re alive!” Sweetie shrieked, holding onto the mare with surprising force, drawing the attention of nearby commuters who stared at Rarity as if they expected to find something wrong with her at a glance. “I thought you were dead, but you’re alive!”
Rarity held her sister, awkwardly smiling at the staring ponies before looking up to Fluttershy for some sort of explanation. “Ah… yes, I am…?”
“Rarity!” Scootaloo blurted out, rushing to the unicorn and jumping up and down in place. “Is it true?! Did you really meet the dragon boss?! How did you escape?! Did you beat them up?!” She circled the unicorn. “Did you get any cool scars?! Princess Twilight said the dragon boss was, like, HUGE!”
Rarity stumbled over her words, wholly unsure of what exactly to say. She had many questions, ranging from when had Twilight divulged Rarity’s adventure to the Cutie Mark Crusaders, why had she told mere fillies that Rarity had nearly been eaten by dragons, and most importantly, why were they freely discussing the subject in front of Applejack.
“Applejack could stop dragons too!” Apple Bloom quickly said, tugging on her sister’s foreleg. “Right?!”
Applejack laughed good-naturedly, brushing a hoof on her sister’s head. “I figure it can’t be harder than wrangling a herd of timberwolves.”
“Are you sure they’re not coming back to eat you?!” Sweetie asked, pulling on her sister’s forelegs too. “What if they come back, and they find you, and then they go into the library, and then you’re a ghost like Princess Twilight, and then—”
“Sweetie Belle, darling, I would never let anything like that happen to me,” Rarity murmured, nuzzling her little sister. “You and I still have many things to do together, after all!”
Sweetie Belle sniffled. “Fluttershy told us this morning, and I was really scared… I don’t want you to turn into a ghost…”
“Rarity won’t turn into a ghost,” Fluttershy said, finally speaking up as she drew her face from her hooves, looking much more relaxed.
“’Sides, wasn’t Princess Twilight cursed by this Discord feller?” Applejack asked, and even more questions arose inside Rarity’s mind. “I think getting eaten by a dragon ain’t turning you into a ghost anytime soon.”
“Pardon me for interrupting,” Rarity loudly said, gathering everyone’s attention, “but…” She looked at Applejack. “…Princess Twilight?”
Applejack frowned, glancing at her companions. “That’s her name, ain’t it?” she asked, and only after a moment did she seem to understand the underlying meaning of Rarity’s question. “Oh! Oh, I know now. I haven’t met her, but I know ’bout her. Finally found out who’s been givin’ Apple Bloom potions homework too.” She frowned playfully at her sister. “Zecora’s assistant, huh?”
“Well, you didn’t believe me before…” Apple Bloom murmured.
Applejack’s ears lowered. “Apple Bloom…”
“I told her,” Fluttershy spoke up, her ears pressed against her head as her eyes avoided Rarity’s, like a child forced to confess to a misdeed. “Princess Twilight said she lost contact with you when you were with the dragons, and you didn’t say anything for almost a whole day, and I…” Her voice softened. “I thought you might not come back. I didn’t know who else could help me…”
Rarity felt a knot form in her throat.
She had failed to consider what effect her messages had on the others. She hadn’t found it necessary to call Twilight back after her battle, especially when she herself knew she was alive, but it wasn’t until that moment that she realized how terrible it must have been for Twilight, Fluttershy, and the fillies when she kept them in the dark for so long.
“I… I’m sorry, I hadn’t…” Her ears flattened and she offered a meek bow of her head. “It was extraordinarily inconsiderate of me to not have reported back sooner, and I apologize for worrying all of you like that.”
“You should have seen Princess Twilight! It was awesome!” Scootaloo exclaimed. It seemed she had been the least worried of the group. “She tried exploding her way out of the library, and she had these super cool laser beams, and she almost destroyed the library, and—”
Rarity was aghast. “What?!”
Scootaloo trotted a few steps back. “Err… well, that’s what Fluttershy said she did, but I bet it was SUPER AWESOME.”
“She was, uhm, very worried,” Fluttershy quickly elaborated, though it wasn’t much of an elaboration at all. Rarity could only hope the filly had grossly exaggerated what she’d been told.
Rarity bit her lip. She’d admittedly wanted to go home for a few hours and rest, but it seemed like it would be best to go and meet with Twilight first. She much preferred making sure the alicorn was doing well, and she could always just rest inside Twilight’s library.
“In that case, I—”
“We have to go see her!” Sweetie interrupted, her earlier worry having faded.
“‘We’?” Rarity asked, unable to stop the question from leaving her lips.
Her eyes darted back and forth between the ponies. Selfish as it may have been, she didn’t want them to go with her. She wanted alone time with her princess, and other ponies being around meant she couldn’t… well, it wasn’t that she couldn’t be herself when others were there, but she couldn’t act a bit more…
No, Rarity. They don’t deserve to be pushed away, especially after what you’ve put them through with your thoughtlessness.
“Ah… Yes! Yes, we should,” Rarity finally said with a smile, hoping it didn’t look even the teensiest bit disappointed. She glanced over at her suitcases, and faltered. “But…”
Applejack smiled. “Maybe it’d be a mite better to go after you’ve taken everything you own back home.”
Applejack was being terribly silent.
The sounds of the forest were overlaid with the chattering of the three fillies asking Fluttershy and Rarity questions about dragons, but Applejack hardly said a word the entire time. She stuck next to Rarity at the head of the group, frequently looking back toward her sister and frowning. A large lasso hung from her back, granting Rarity the amusing mental image of Applejack wrangling a timberwolf.
She probably could, too.
“A bit for your thoughts, Applejack?” Rarity asked, hoping to draw some sort of conversation out of the mare. “Is everything all right?”
“I’m thinkin’ about how Apple Bloom’s been travelin’ so far into the forest without tellin’ us,” she said, and the accusatory tone in her voice was not lost on Rarity. “And I ain’t sure I want to be there when Big Mac finds out.”
“Ah…” Rarity said, gulping and looking away toward Elara flying overhead, shame burning through her. If she had been in Applejack’s position, the farmer would have never heard the end of it.
“At least she goes with you an’ Fluttershy,” Applejack continued, expression loosening slightly. “Knowin’ her, she might have gone by herself anyway.”
“Yes, it seems Princess Twilight is quite the irresistible attraction,” Rarity conceded. “I hope you’re looking forward to meeting her at least?”
Applejack frowned. “I don’t know.”
“I don’t like thinkin’ Apple Bloom’s a liar. We Apples ain’t liars,” Applejack continued. “But if Princess Booky ain’t pony tales, then that means the family’s been accusing old Fritter Cobbler of being a liar for centuries, and that just don’t sit right with me.”
Rarity looked back toward the winding path, mulling it over. Well, all things said and done, there really wasn’t anything to mull over since she knew beyond a doubt that Twilight was real, but she could also understand why ponies would believe Fritter Cobbler was lying, especially considering he never actually returned to Twilight.
Did she not have owls back then?
“Then perhaps you and Apple Bloom might redeem him?” Rarity offered, glancing at the mare with a smile. “The fact that your ancestors branded Fritter Cobbler a liar does not mean you must continue to do so. In fact, I’m sure he would have wanted you to meet Twilight.”
“Yeah! Princess Twi’s really gonna like you!” Apple Bloom added in, joining the conversation. “She’s mighty nice, and she knows plenty of magic, and she says she really misses the jam that Gran-gran-gran-gran-gran-gran—” She took a deep breath. “—gran-gran-granny Heart Core used t’ make!”
The trek through the forest continued with much more lighthearted chatter. Apple Bloom’s idea of “Princess-Endorsed jam” proved to be a great way to distract Applejack from the prospect of finding timberwolves or any other forest creatures.
Eventually, the familiar old oak tree appeared in the distance, and Rarity’s entire disposition shifted. Oh heavens, she’d missed it. It was curious, wasn’t it? Every time she came to the library after being away for days, she always missed it and she was always surprised that she did. The feeling was far more intense this time, though she assumed it was because she’d been momentarily faced with the prospect of never seeing it—or anything else—ever again.
“This is it?”
Applejack’s voice roused Rarity’s attention.
She was looking up at the tree, an undecipherable expression masking her face. In a curious gesture, she took off her hat as a sign of… what? Awe? Respect? Rarity really didn’t know, but she liked it. Twilight Sparkle and her tree should be treated with the respect they deserved.
Applejack put her hat back on after a moment, trotted toward the edge of the hole surrounding the tree, and peered down. “What’s this here for? Don’t look natural,” she noted, looking back toward Rarity, and for a moment glancing at the fillies as they rushed past her and jumped below.
Rarity trotted past her and joined the fillies down in the hole. “I haven’t the faintest,” she replied, looking around at the walls of the hole. “The library was like this when I first found it. I suppose Twilight must have done this thousands of years ago.”
The fillies were already crowded around the trapdoor, which reminded her of a rather important detail. Though she had no qualms with everypony visiting the library at that exact moment, she did want to at the very least prepare Twilight for Applejack’s arrival. It was never polite to bring a guest uninvited, and it just so happened it would give Rarity a few minutes alone with the princess, which was all a very nice coincidence and in no way meant that she just wanted an excuse to be alone with Twilight.
“Now, girls, why don’t you wait here outside with Applejack while I fetch Twilight?” Rarity suggested, using her magic to levitate the Crusaders away from the trapdoor. She ignored their plaintive whines and gently plopped them several feet away from the tree.
Before they could protest, Rarity opened the trapdoor and stepped inside with a last promise to be quick. Once the trapdoor closed above her, she sighed, bringing about a short-lived relief that quickly turned into excitement at the reminder that she’d be seeing Twilight again.
With the help of an illumination spell, she descended the spiral stairs and looked into the depths of the tunnel. She could see the illuminated library in the distance, and more than that, she saw Twilight sitting right on the other side, inches away from the barrier and facing the tunnel, her eyes lowered toward a floating open book.
It seemed Twilight hadn’t noticed or heard Rarity’s arrival. For a moment, Rarity considered calling out to her, but a much better idea quickly presented itself. As silently as possible, she traveled the length of the tunnel until she was directly in front of Twilight.
Twilight, immersed in her research on Daring Do, was surrounded by a plethora of neatly stacked books. Her clock had been taken from its usual spot atop her desk and now sat on top of one of the book towers.
Had she been waiting for Rarity? Judging by the amount of books, it seemed she’d been intent on waiting for quite a while.
A smitten grin pushed its way onto Rarity’s lips. She daintily sat down, and after a moment, let out a polite little cough.
Twilight looked up with a furrowed brow, certainly annoyed at having her activity interrupted. Her annoyance faded out, though, as she blinked once, twice, thrice, and then her eyes widened.
“Rarity!” she exclaimed, dropping the book—carefully—and very nearly leaping at the unicorn. She would have been more successful if the barrier hadn’t immediately materialized and pushed her back several feet, with an “oof!”, a blush, and a nasty glare for the magical force field.
Rarity couldn’t help but laugh apologetically. She hadn’t expected Twilight would try to hug her.
“Twilight, goodness, I’m excited to see you too! A shame this pesky barrier is such a nuisance, is it not?” She finally stepped into the library, and then tilted her head and innocently fluttered her eyelashes. “If you’d like, I can cast the necklace spell and hug myself?”
Twilight frowned, almost as if she were considering the offer, until her blush increased ten-fold. “You’re so full of yourself.”
“Darling! Putting that idioms book I bought you to good use, I see! I knew it was a smart choice.”
Twilight smiled playfully, straightening herself. “I had to read something while you were gone.” Her smile did not last long, though, and her eyes darted down, examining Rarity. …Was she looking for injuries?
“I see…” Rarity drifted off, trying to find her next words. “I must say, judging by the reception I had earlier, I thought you’d be a bit more… how shall I say? Worried upon meeting me.” She turned toward the tunnel’s wall. “Fluttershy said that my incident drew out quite the reaction from…”
While the exit wall had been decorated with faded explosion marks before, now Rarity realized that Scootaloo had not been exaggerating when she claimed Twilight Sparkle had tried blasting her way out of the library. The floor was littered with rubble from the enlarged holes dotting the walls.
Rarity knew this meant she’d worried Twilight to an excessive degree, but she’d be lying if she did not admit she was secretly thrilled that all that had been done for her sake. Not that she’d ever tell Twilight that.
“Twilight.” She turned back to the alicorn. “Care to explain?”
Twilight’s eyes shot back and forth between Rarity and the damaged wall. “I… I… Well! What did you want me to do?!” she blurted out, cheeks flushing in full splendor. “You weren’t answering! And you were inside a dragon cave, and Fluttershy was here, and”—a chalkboard appeared next to her, full of mathematical equations—“the odds of you learning teleportation or any other means of defense in fewer than ten minutes were impossible, and if you died then I’d never—”
“But I didn’t,” Rarity interrupted. “And it’s all thanks to you.” She lifted her hoof and toyed with her necklace, smiling brightly. “They weren’t so keen on eating me once I told them they’d invoke the wrath of an ages-old alicorn princess. Especially…” Rarity paused, the words lingering on her lips. She was about to tread dangerous waters. “Especially one that long-ago chose them over her kingdom.”
The effect of her words was immediate.
“Oh.” Twilight stepped back, ears flattened against her head, and though she did not need oxygen, it seemed the habit of breathing heavily when stressed was hard to break. “Oh… Uhm… I… Aaaah…” She closed her eyes, and Rarity could easily imagine the internal struggle she’d sparked in Twilight with those words.
Rarity herself had literally lived it through Twilight, after all.
A large scroll appeared next to Twilight, which she looked over with a troubled expression. “This wasn’t supposed to go like this. This conversation is not at the top of my to-do list, and if I go out of order now, then I won’t be able—”
“In that case,” Rarity gently interrupted, “why don’t we finish all the tasks on your list until we get to this conversation, hm? Two ponies are faster than one, no?”
Twilight looked back and forth between Rarity and the scroll. “Not really. It depends on the average speed of each pony both in their usual tasks as well as with the assigned task. A pegasus can excel at quick aerodynamic activities, but they can’t finish physical tasks nearly as fast as an earth pony, whereas unic—”
“You’re rambling, darling.”
Twilight closed her eyes, ears still flattened against her skull. “You can’t help me finish the tasks I have before the conversation.”
Rarity raised an eyebrow. “And why not?”
“…Because I don’t want to put it on my to-do list…”
Rarity sighed. “Twilight… I realize this is difficult, but perhaps the time has come to be open and honest?”
Twilight bit her lip, grumbling slightly. A quill appeared next to her, which she begrudgingly used to write something at the very bottom of the scroll. Once she’d finished, both quill and scroll disappeared in a burst of magic.
Rarity clapped her hooves together. “Wonderful! Thank you, Twilight,” she said. “Though I must inform you that your to-do list won’t be useful today, as Apple Bloom’s sister is here to visit.”
Twilight perked up immediately. “What? She is? But you said she didn’t believe in me!”
“She had a change of heart, it seems. She’s actually quite eager to meet you,” Rarity replied. “And she—”
“Rarity! Come on!” Sweetie’s voice called in the distance. “Can we come down yet?!”
“Speak of the devil.” Rarity turned toward the tunnel. “Yes, come down! And be careful going down the stairs!”
As they patiently waited for the others to arrive, Twilight wasted no time in bombarding Rarity with a plethora of questions. What should she do? What did Applejack know about her? Did Rarity think that Applejack would be interested in talking about the growth of agriculture in the past millennia? No, it was not a boring topic! Apple Bloom was very interested, Rarity, and no, she wasn’t just “pretending” to be interested!
“Or was she…?” Twilight murmured, looking down and rubbing her mouth with a hoof.
“Don’t open your eyes yet!”
Apple Bloom was in the lead, looking terribly excited. Applejack meeting Twilight was an event she’d talked about ceaselessly throughout the past weeks, and it was expected she’d be over the moon about it.
Applejack’s eyes were indeed shut as she tentatively stepped inside the library, her brow furrowed.
As instructed, Applejack opened her eyes, which widened as her mouth fell half-open. A natural reaction considering the unnatural circumstances.
Twilight, on her side, seemed to have completely discarded her trepidation from moments before, and her reaction was leagues different from the one she’d had with Rarity. While before she’d retreated to distance and suspicion, now she greeted them with all the class expected of a princess. She stood up straight, tall yet not imposing, and her wings half-splayed apart, further driving the point that she was indeed a bona fide alicorn of olde, not some silly pony tale.
Silence settled itself, almost at the risk of becoming awkward, as everypony waited with bated breath for Applejack’s reaction.
Like before, she took off her hat, but rather than addressing Twilight, she turned to her little sister.
“I’m sorry I didn’t believe you, Apple Bloom,” she said. “I shoulda trusted you.”
Apple Bloom looked embarrassed for a moment, rubbing a hoof behind her head. “Aw… It’s okay, Sis, I know it sounded somethin’ crazy, but look!” She rushed over to Twilight, bursting with excitement. “Show her your ghost thing, Princess Twi!”
Twilight blinked. “My what?”
“You know!” Scootaloo chimed in. “When you, like, go through bookcases and tables and stuff!”
Twilight’s ears perked up. “Oh! Uhm…”
She looked around. There were no walls nearby, and though she had stacks of books beside her, she chose an altogether very different target for her practical demonstration. Without warning, and with all the grace of a rock, she lifted her hoof and waved it around inside of Rarity.
“Twilight Sparkle!” Rarity shrieked, uselessly trying to cover herself from Twilight’s actions.
“Wh-what?” Twilight asked, startled enough to stop the waving, but not enough to actually retract her foreleg. “They asked me to do it!”
“And would you throw a pie in my face because Scootaloo asked?! Honestly, where are your manners?!” Rarity shot back, stepping back so as to personally remove Twilight’s ethereal foreleg from her chest. She’d be lying if she said she wouldn’t like to be a bit closer to Twilight, but certainly not like that!
“I’m seein’ it, and I’m still not believin’ it,” Applejack said.
Fluttershy softly laughed. “I understand what that feels like.”
Clearing her throat, Twilight adjusted her wings and offered Applejack a smile. Again, the little gestures stuck out to Rarity, reminding her of the progress Twilight had made in the past months. Hadn’t it taken Rarity weeks to get Twilight to smile at her? And here she’d smiled at Applejack mere minutes after meeting her.
She was about to speak, but Scootaloo interrupted instead.
“Come on, talking is boring! Let’s go play in the maze!” she exclaimed, rushing off, with Sweetie Belle following behind.
“Oh, wait!” Fluttershy blurted out, rushing after the two fillies while the rest lingered behind. “It might still be dangerous!”
“You are also a descendant of Fritter Cobbler, then?” Twilight asked, unaware of the weight Applejack earlier confessed to carrying regarding her ancestor.
Applejack faltered, toying with her hat. “That I sure am, Princess. Not directly, ’cause he never had any kids for himself, but he’s family,” she said. She paused for a moment before continuing, “He really believed in you, Princess. Never stopped lookin’ for you his entire life.”
Twilight’s expression fell for a moment. “Oh… Yes, Apple Bloom told me. He was a good friend.”
Nopony said anything for a moment. It seemed they were all lost in thought. Rarity’s mind kept going to Fritter Cobbler, and she wondered how terrible he must have felt. Maybe not so much over ponies calling him a liar, but more over Twilight and the fact that she’d never be freed. Or, rather, that’s what Rarity would be worried about had she ever been in his position.
“His granpappy Apple Crisp told him about you!” Apple Bloom said, looking to Twilight with excitement. “Is it true you met him?!”
“Apple Crisp…?” Twilight’s expression somehow fell further, though a sad smile decorated her lips. “He was the son of Captain Iron Cobbler. They were like my family before I was…” She drifted off, her eyes going over the piles of books. “I had promised to read him a bedtime story before it happened.”
“It’s all right, Princess Twi!” Apple Bloom continued, stamping her hoof against the floor. “You can tell it to us when we have the sleepover! It’ll be just like telling it to him ’cause Granny Smith says that the ponies we love are always watchin’ over us!”
“I’m sure he’d like that plenty, Princess Twilight,” Applejack added, putting her hat back on. “Both him an’ Fritter Cobbler.”
“See, darling?” Rarity said, feeling relieved by the lighter direction the conversation had taken. “I told you the sleepover would be a wonderful idea! And I’m sure Pinkie being here will make it that much more fun.”
Twilight turned to Rarity with a gasp, eyes widening. “Pinkie? As in the pony who knows where Princess Luna is?” Her tail practically wagged with excitement. “She’s coming?!”
“Oh! Goodness, I didn’t actually tell you, did I?” Rarity said, biting her lip. “She is indeed coming! I know you’ve been wanting to meet her, so I invited her to the sleepover. She’s such a sweetheart; she was so excited, I almost worried she’d start crying.”
“Wait a minute here,” Applejack interrupted, frowning. “‘Princess Luna’?”
“Yeah!” Apple Bloom exclaimed, pulling on Applejack’s foreleg. “Princess Selene’s real name is Luna! Ain’t that neat?! And Princess Sunshine’s name is actually Celestia!”
Applejack turned to Rarity and Twilight. “Y’all mean to tell me that you already found Princess Selene too?” She adjusted her hat and raised an eyebrow at Rarity. “Hoo-wee, Rarity. Apple Bloom told me you’d been travelin’ ’round Equestria lookin’ for these princesses, but I didn’t think you’d be so good at it.”
Rarity laughed haughtily, examining her hoof. “Ah, I don’t mean to brag, but I am quite the princess magnet, it seems. I’ll no doubt find Celestia just as quickly!” She turned to Twilight and grinned. “Aren’t you terribly fortunate to have me and my excelling finding skills?”
Twilight snorted. “Right. You can’t even find your way here without Themis or Elara.”
“What?! Yes, I can! I’ll prove it right now!”
“So this is where y’all been runnin’ off to?” Applejack asked, stepping past the two mares and halting a prospective game of find-the-library. She looked around for a moment and then turned her attention to Twilight. “And you really can’t get out?”
Twilight shook her head. “No. Discord left a barrier that stops me from leaving, and my magic can’t counteract chaos magic.”
Applejack didn’t reply initially, instead looking over to the exit tunnel with a pensive expression. After a moment, she turned her attention back to the library’s interior, looking up at the chandelier.
“Things musta changed a whole lot in them thousand years,” she remarked, now gazing at the paintings on the wall.
“Oh, yes!” Twilight said, a welcome cheer in her voice despite the rather somber remark. “Judging by the books and magazines Rarity has given me for my research, as well as the photographic evidence she’s collected, I now have a primary assessment of how much Equestria has changed since my imprisonment. In fact…” A scroll appeared next to her, which she perused. “I have a few questions for you on the development of agriculture and its socio-economic effects in the past millennia!”
That was her cue to take her leave, and judging by her expression, Apple Bloom thought the same. As riveting as it would be to listen to such a conversation, Rarity would be lying if she said she didn’t have better things to do. She did! She had to talk to Fluttershy and Sweetie Belle, who certainly had less thrilling conversations than the farming history of Equestria.
“Very well, I shall leave you two to talk, then,” she said, and for a brief moment, Twilight frowned at the exclamation.
“Oh…” She looked back to her scroll. “Hmm… What should we start with…”
“Would you like to join me, Apple Bloom?” Rarity asked, a proposal which the filly wasted no time in accepting before running off to join her friends.
“Don’t get too excited, Apple Bloom!” Applejack called out. “You ain’t getting out of baking apple pies with Granny an’ me! This won’t take more than an hour!”
Rarity nearly laughed at that.
An hour! She’d be lucky if Twilight was done in a week.
Sitting next to a table, Rarity gazed over at the magic maze. It was calm, still, quiet, as it usually was whenever Twilight wasn’t around. The voices of the three fillies could be heard from within it, playing another round of their little maze games.
Actually, it had been quite some time since Rarity last saw Twilight trying to subdue the magic bookshelves. Had she perhaps given up on whatever she’d been trying to achieve? Yes, a magic maze could be annoying, but it was relatively harmless, was it not? After all, the only pony the maze attacked could not be harmed—literally.
She turned back to Fluttershy, who was staring down at her folded hooves on the table. Their conversation had not gone quite as Rarity had expected. The revelation that she had learned what “Twilight did” had dragged forth many questions from Fluttershy and few answers.
Worst of all, Rarity wasn’t entirely sure how much she should truly divulge to her friend.
“You think she’s wrong?” Fluttershy finally asked, looking up to Rarity.
Rarity sighed, lifting a quill from the table and toying with it. “I don’t know,” she replied. “Objectively, I’d say she is. The Spirit gave her a nearly impossible choice, and not even that, it was a…” She faltered, unsure of how exactly to phrase it. “It was a… ‘legally impossible’ choice.”
Rarity nodded. “Yes. I don’t know where she put it, but there’s a book in here that states that the Spirit could only request land in exchange for peace, and he asked for a living being.”
“A-a living being? Oh dear…”
“You can imagine how this entire ordeal only unearthed unpleasant memories for Twilight.”
Fluttershy looked back down to the table. “I didn’t know…”
Rarity sighed, turning to watch the maze again.
She hadn’t told Fluttershy just who Discord had asked for, and what it meant for Twilight; that detail was perhaps better kept private until she’d discussed it with the princess herself. Rarity was determined to lovingly but sternly make Twilight realize how silly she’d been, blaming herself for something that was in no way her fault.
If only she actually wanted to talk about it.
“I think she’s doing better.”
Rarity turned back to Fluttershy, finding her smiling ever so slightly, and she was right to do so! There was no use in dwelling on past mistakes when Twilight had already done that for far too long. Today was the time to celebrate her progress.
“She is, isn’t she!” Rarity agreed, lightening up. “I was thinking the very same thing earlier. We’ve come very far from how she was months ago.” She giggled and added, “I can’t say I terribly miss ‘Princess Frowns-A-Lot.’”
“And she cares a lot about you.”
Rarity blinked before allowing a smile to push its way onto her lips. Now that was a statement she was exceedingly pleased with.
“I can tell by the blast marks all over the exit wall!” she exclaimed, fluttering her eyelashes and brushing her mane back with a hoof. “Then again, I nearly got myself eaten by dragons for her, so I wager that I’d win the ‘who cares about who more’ contest!”
Fluttershy didn’t say anything, instead furrowing her brow and humming thoughtfully.
Rarity gasped theatrically. “Darling! Are you jealous?”
Fluttershy blushed. “O-oh! No, I—” She drifted off, turning around as if to make sure they were alone, before gulping. “Sweetie Belle… uhm… don’t be upset at her…”
Rarity sighed. “Oh dear, what did she do?”
It took some prodding, but eventually Fluttershy confessed with a whispered, “She told Applejack that you…” She faltered. “Really like Princess Twilight.”
Oh, for pony’s sake.
That filly needed a serious lesson on discretion, and fast.
Rarity sighed, admittedly a bit relieved. She’d expected something worse, and though she’d have preferred knowledge of her feelings be restricted to Fluttershy, she was confident enough that Applejack was much more discreet than her little sister—if she even believed Sweetie Belle, that is.
“It’s all right, darling,” Rarity said, waving it off. “Frankly, after what I went through with the dragons, a little rumor is nothing I can’t deal with.”
“About that…” Fluttershy said. “I know we all want to help the princesses, but… please be more careful…”
Rarity fidgeted a bit. “Ah, well, I can assure you that was an experience I do not intend on repeating anytime soon.”
All in all, it seemed like Fluttershy had grown as well. To think that months ago she’d been so visibly against Rarity embarking on her quest, and yet now she supported her as much as she was able. Things seemed to be turning around for the better in every way, and if Rarity had a say in it, so too would Twilight’s entire perspective on her past actions change for the better.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of distant voices, and she looked up to find Applejack and Twilight descending the stairs. How long had they been talking? It felt to Rarity like she’d been with Fluttershy for at least a couple hours.
“And what happened afterward? And what were the exact repercussions in the socio-economic dynamics of Ponyville, taking into account the recent devaluation of the bit mentioned in…” Twilight, reaching Rarity’s table, summoned one of Sweetie’s history books. “…oh, wait, the great bit depression was a century before this.”
“Well, o’ course the entire darn farm gettin’ eaten by parasprites wasn’t the best thing for Ponyville. No Zap Apple Jam that season, and you oughta seen Filthy Rich. Thought he was gonna kick the bucket right there and then,” Applejack said, coming to a stop next to Rarity and looking around. “Where’s AB? We better be headin’ home if we’re going to finish the apple pies for Cheerilee.”
Twilight frowned. “Oh… I suppose I have enough information now to update my research.” A new scroll appeared next to her, on which she wrote something down. “And I finished all my questions.”
Rarity turned to Applejack. “I trust you had a nice chat with the princess, then?”
Applejack nodded, glancing at Twilight with a smile. “Mighty fine princess Ponyville has! She knows what’s real important here.” She then faltered and added, “Still, might take a bit more time gettin’ used to her… ‘ghost thing.’”
Twilight didn’t say anything, lost in her scroll, but Rarity was very pleased by the reply. More and more ponies were meeting Twilight, and every single meeting had gone off without a hitch. It was sincerely encouraging.
“Apple Bloom! We’re leaving!” Applejack called, drawing out a very disappointed groan from within the maze.
“This is perfect timing, actually,” Rarity said. “Twilight and I have some pending matters to discuss, so why not have Fluttershy and the girls go back with you?”
Now Twilight reacted, looking up at Rarity.
Rarity smiled sweetly. “Why yes! It’s even on your very important to-do list, is it not?”
Twilight blinked once, twice, thrice. “Wa-wait, Applejack!” she blurted out, giving her scroll another look over. “Actually, I still have a few questions left, apparently! Such as—”
Twilight looked at Applejack and pointed to the rope hanging on her back. “What’s that for?!”
“Twilight Sparkle, that is a rope, and you know very well what that’s for,” Rarity answered.
“I use it for wrangling,” Applejack explained, whirling her rope in the air. “Brought it along in case any timberwolves got any ideas.”
“Wrangling?” Twilight murmured, a dictionary appearing in front of her.
“Yessir! I can make even the rowdiest of cows behave with this. Won myself first prize at the Appleloosa rodeo for it.”
Twilight looked back up at Applejack, her brow furrowing. “Would you be able to subdue an inanimate object? A bookshelf?”
Applejack blinked. “A bookshelf? I reckon I could, but why the hay would you want to wrangle a bookcase in the first place?”
Rarity raised an eyebrow. She had a terrible feeling that she knew where Twilight’s train of thought was headed.
“Darling, I sincerely hope you’re not thinking of asking what I think you’re thinking of asking,” she said.
Half an hour later, Rarity could honestly say that, from experience, she failed to see the appeal of running and jumping atop bookcases. Never mind the vertigo it filled her with—it was dangerous. Worse still, they weren’t simply dealing with a normal bookcase, but one that was actively fighting against them.
She and Applejack each stood atop a bookcase in the maze, both holding a lasso and trying to find the rogue bookcase that housed the Spirit’s left-over chaos magic. After attempting to run away from them, it now resorted to blending in with the others.
Rarity ran across her row of bookcases, rope floating behind her, and she jumped to where Applejack stood.
“Applejack! I thought you were an expert at this!” Rarity said, looking back to the glowing bookcases.
“Beg pardon, Rarity, but crazy bookcases ain’t my usual targets,” Applejack retorted, glaring down at the maze. “Princess Twi?! You see anything?!”
For once, Twilight Sparkle was the only pony who couldn’t prowl atop the maze, the chaos magic keeping her forcibly grounded. As such, she was lost within the labyrinth, and no matter how far Rarity stretched her neck, she could not see her.
“It’s close!” Twilight’s voice called out. “Once the magic activates again, wait for the one that glows yellow!”
“Princess, they all glow yellow!”
“Actually, it’s more of a golden hue with black streaks—” Rarity fell silent at Applejack’s pointed stare and cleared her throat. “Twilight! What is the point of this, anyway?! The maze isn’t that bad!”
Before the princess could speak, the maze reacted, brightly glowing as it prepared to rearrange itself. Rarity scanned the entire thing for something that looked off, but they all glowed in the same hue! It was impossible to tell which one was the right one.
“Twilight, this is ridiculous! Isn’t there an easier way to find it than hide-and-seek?”
Applejack coughed. “Er… Rarity.”
Rarity turned to Applejack, but rather than looking at her, Applejack was staring at the unicorn’s hooves. Confused, Rarity looked down and realized the bookshelf she was standing on was enveloped in crackling magic of a golden hue with black streaks.
Without warning, the bookshelf flew up into the air and zipped in crazy circles, nearly launching the shrieking Rarity off it. She clung to the top of the whirling furniture with all her might, mustering barely enough control to messily lasso her rope around it.
“Rarity!” Fluttershy gasped from outside the maze now that her friend was in her view.
“Rarity!” Applejack called out. “Don’t let go, you hear?!”
Rarity would have thrown her a very pointed look had she not been otherwise occupied. “I’m trying, but it’s not as easy as you’d think, I’ll have you know!”
Applejack snorted. “Sure it is! This bookcase ain’t nothing like the bull at last year’s rodeo! Thing shook harder than Granny Smith’s hip, I thought for sure it was going to throw me right into Dodge Junction!”
And then, the bookcase stopped.
Stopped right in the middle of the air, for no reason at all, while Rarity continued clinging to it for dear life. For a moment, confusion filled her mind, trying to understand this strange event, and she wondered if the chaos magic had…
And now memories leaked into her mind of a certain chaotic drawing and its love of taking things to literal extremes.
“No,” she said, panic rising in her chest as she tripled her efforts to hold on to the piece of furniture. “No, no, no, WAIT, WAIT—!”
Her sentence was interrupted by her own shrieks when the bookcase took Applejack’s dare to heart and started to shake, thrash, and twirl around with all the strength of an angered bull desperately trying to shake off a cowpony rider.
Finally, the chaos magic’s effort came to fruition as Rarity lost her grip and flew toward the maze at a speed she was sure would kill her. She had gone up against dragons, against nightmares, against brutish guards, against timberwolves, and yet her untimely demise would come at the hooves of a bookcase.
She closed her eyes, awaiting the painful impact, and waited, and waited, and waited, and it wasn’t until several moments of not dying had passed that she realized she wasn’t actually moving at all. Carefully, she opened her eyes, praying she would not find the white abyss of the afterlife, and was instead met with a far more heavenly sight.
Twilight Sparkle looked at her with a relieved expression, her horn aglow with the magic she’d used to catch and levitate Rarity before she could become intimately acquainted with the entire thirty volumes of Dusty Hooves’ Architectural Designs Throughout Equestria.
Her first thought was just how much she loved Twilight. The alicorn was looking her over, giving Rarity a chance to catch her breath and calm down. Granted, it would have been nice if Twilight would actually set her down on the ground, but she supposed levitation worked too.
“Rarity!” Fluttershy’s voice called out. “Are you all right?!”
“I’m fine, sweetie! Twilight caught me!”
“That was close,” Twilight said, glancing at the bookcase.
“Alarmingly so, yes,” Rarity replied, and before she could stop herself, a smirk decorated her lips. “Couldn’t let the maze outdo you, could we now?”
Twilight flushed a deep red, her concern turning into indignation. “Remind me to find my scrolls on memory altering spells…”
Rarity laughed. “Twilight, dearest, I was only teasing. You must admit, however, it’s quite the twist to have the princess-in-distress doing the rescuing around here, no?” she asked, offering her most charming smile and fluttering her eyelashes. “I’ll have you know I don’t literally fall for just anypony, you lucky thing you.”
Twilight giggled at this, cheeks turning pink and slightly tilting her head. “Right.”
A loud clearing of the throat distracted them, and the unicorn looked up to find Applejack standing atop the bookcase she’d nearly slammed into.
“If y’all are done flirting, I reckon we oughta get back to wranglin’ this crazy bookcase,” she said with a deadpan expression, which contrasted with Rarity’s mortified one.
“Pardon me, but that was friendly banter!”
Twilight blinked. “Flirting?” Her modern dictionary once more appeared next to her, which she promptly opened and read through before Rarity could stop her. After a moment, the blush on her cheeks intensified and she looked to Rarity with raised eyebrows, placing the unicorn on the floor. “You’re trying to attract me without serious intentions?”
Rarity wished she were back with the dragons.
“Applejack!” she quickly called out, hoping to entirely avoid that conversation. “Do you see the bookcase?!”
Applejack looked over the maze. “No! It went back to hiding now!”
Rarity sighed and trotted off, Twilight and Applejack following behind. “Honestly, why can’t you just hold it still with your magic?” she asked, her annoyance trumping her earlier embarrassment as she took a left turn into the maze. “It can’t be that hard for you to do it.”
“I already told you that chaos magic works differently than normal pony magic,” Twilight said, and Rarity was relieved that the flirting issue had been skirted for now. “It doesn’t follow the same rules we do, and I don’t know what effect it could have on me. The chaos barrier magic upstairs is the only thing I can technically touch, which means it’s incredibly power…”
“Powerful magic?” Rarity filled in after Twilight drifted off.
She turned around to look at Twilight, but rather than return her gaze, the alicorn was staring at a completely normal-looking bookcase with a large rope tied around it.
Silence fell over the room, Twilight staring the bookcase down while Rarity looked up to Applejack, who’d already started readying her lasso. Applejack jumped down to where they were and took out several books from at least two of the lower shelves of a nearby bookcase.
“Y’all can fix this if it breaks, right? The wood, I mean.”
Twilight blinked. “I… In theory, yes?”
Before she could be questioned, Applejack gave two strong kicks and left two large holes at the back of the shelves.
“There!” she announced, nodding with satisfaction and missing Twilight’s horrified expression. She trotted over to the loose rope, prodded at it with her hoof, and when nothing happened, she quickly took it in her mouth and trotted to the other bookcase.
A few moments later, her hoofwork was complete and the two bookcases were linked by the single rope.
“Great!” she exclaimed, turning to Rarity and Twilight. “Now we wait for this thing to start swappin’ again, and when the bookcase tries to leave, I reckon the other one’ll be strong enough to keep it from flyin’ off. How long ’til it swaps?”
“Around twenty minutes,” Twilight sadly replied, still lamenting her damaged bookcase.
“Oh.” Applejack fidgeted. “Err… Got any more questions about farming?”
Rarity repressed a sigh when Twilight’s face lit up. Oh dear.
After twenty of the longest minutes of her life, in which she’d learned more information on the creation of compost that she’d ever wanted to know, Rarity was delighted to see it was nearly time for the maze magic to reactivate.
The three mares got ready: Applejack tied her own rope to the second bookcase, Rarity stood by in case her magic was needed, and Twilight simply waited to do… whatever it is she wanted to do. The minutes were counting down, and as minutes turned to seconds, Applejack patted the second bookcase and asked:
“This bookcase is nailed to the floor, right?”
Twilight blanched. “Oh. No.”
Applejack hummed. “Would have been a mighty fine idea to tell me that earlier, Princess.”
Rarity wearily rubbed her eyes. “Oh, for heaven’s sake.”
It all went by rapidly. First, the chaos bookcase shot up like a crazed animal; in turn, the second bookcase followed it into the air, nearly smacking Rarity in the face with the dozens of books that spilled from its shelves; and Applejack followed suit, pulled into the air with a yelp, until all three floating objects strained to a halt as Rarity used every ounce of magic within her to try and pull Applejack back down.
Knowing she really would not be able to hold much longer, she turned to Twilight and… and found the alicorn deeply preoccupied with her books, floating them down and ever so lovingly scanning them for any type of injury, as if nothing else mattered but them.
Twilight frowned. “Rarity, give me a moment.”
“Oh, yes. Yes, by all means do continue inspecting your books, please. We can wait. Terribly sorry to bother.”
“Thank you,” Twilight replied. “Though, it seems they’re mostly fine. Princess Celestia’s spell is very effective, after all, and—”
“Twilight, darling, dearest, sweetheart,” Rarity said, and when finally Twilight turned, she smiled sweetly. “I say this with love, but there are other things you should give priority to other than your books, don’t you think?”
“Can’t say I disagree with Rarity,” Applejack called down, struggling not to have her foreleg pulled apart by the bookcases.
“OH!” Twilight put the books down, looking back and forth between the two mares with an embarrassed expression. “Sorry! Sorry, sorry!” she blurted out, flying up into the air. “Uhhhhhh, right, right, right!”
Her horn flickered with magic, and Rarity watched her necklace disappear from around her neck and reappear in front of Twilight.
Twilight promptly ignored Rarity’s protests and continued further up until she was right beside the wildly thrashing bookcase. A book appeared next to her, which she opened and read from, and without bothering to explain what she was planning, she discarded the book and turned to her victim. Her horn glowed brightly, hiding the necklace inside an opaque magic sphere the size of her hoof before smashing it against the cursed piece of furniture.
The chaos magic began to crackle and hiss, much like it had back in the dragon caves, but Twilight’s concentration did not falter. She stayed there for about a minute, murmuring under her breath and keeping the sphere connected to the bookcase before finally ending the spell and extracting the necklace from the sphere.
Another crackle of magic, and the rope holding the levitating furniture came undone. Twilight caught the second bookcase in her own magic before floating it down as Rarity did the same with Applejack.
The chaos bookshelf shook several times, as if it were screaming at Twilight, before flying off and hiding in a different section of the labyrinth. By that point, Rarity wasn’t remotely interested in the pesky bookcase; she simply wanted her necklace back. She felt oddly unprotected without it, and since it was already cracked, she worried Twilight might have damaged it even more.
“Hoo-wee! I thought for a minute there that I’d lose my hoof,” Applejack said, wiping her brow and exhaling. “Y’all done with this thing, Princess?”
Twilight didn’t reply, and instead quickly took off through the maze. Rarity and Applejack followed her out, which took longer than Rarity would have liked, since neither Rarity or Applejack could walk through walls. Once outside, Twilight silently walked away from the labyrinth before coming to a complete stop and turning toward the maze.
“Twilight! What was the point of all that?!” Rarity asked as she and the others joined the annoyingly silent alicorn.
Twilight merely levitated the necklaces into the air, and their usual pink glow filled Rarity with relief. Her necklace was still cracked, though it thankfully hadn’t acquired any additional damage. Without any explanation, Twilight slowly levitated the necklaces toward the maze, and just as they were about a foot away, both necklaces flashed and the pink hue turned bright green.
“It works!” Twilight excitedly gasped.
“What? What works?” Rarity pressed. “Did you ruin the spell? Twilight, if you ruined the spe—”
“No, no! Look!” Twilight interrupted, levitating the necklaces toward her and demonstrating how they returned to their pink glow the second they were far from the maze.
Rarity’s heart slowed. “It… it can sense the chaos magic?”
“Exactly! If my hypothesis is correct, you can test it in the forest outside, as it should activate the spell and give off a low-intensity light since the forest was created by Discord,” Twilight said, her hooves phasing together as she clapped. “This is what I’ve been trying to do ever since you came back from Hollow Shades! It took me… a bit longer than a week, but now you’ll be safe because you’ll know if he’s close!”
Rarity gasped. This was exciting! It was great, even! With this, she’d never have to worry about that awful Spirit following her in the shadows!
“Is it true?”
Rarity turned around and found Applejack looking rather grim.
“Is what true?”
Applejack stood up straight, adjusting her hat. “That the Spirit is out there. The girls told me he is, an’ Fluttershy seemed mighty convinced of it.”
Rarity and Twilight looked at each other before Rarity finally replied.
“We believe so, yes,” she said, dearly hoping honesty would not result in Applejack and Apple Bloom never coming back to the library. “Admittedly, I have yet to meet him personally, but we have evidence to suggest he might still be around. I do not know if he’s aware of us, however,” she quickly added, “but it is a necessary risk if we hope to free the princesses. Isn’t that right, Twilight?”
Twilight gulped, taking a step back. “Errr…” She drifted off, floating the necklace back to Rarity. “Well… I…”
“We could certainly use your help, Applejack,” Rarity continued in earnest, hearing Twilight’s sigh of relief. “The more ponies there are, the more chance we stand against him or whatever we need to face. I understand you might not want to, but—”
“Not want to help? What d’you take me for?” Applejack asked, raising an eyebrow. “I’m not going to turn my back on the princess. Ponies’ve been doing that for long enough, and Apple Bloom really wants Princess Twi to be at the Cider Festival next year. ’Sides,” she said, flashing a smile, “I reckon’ I can take on any old Spirit, right, Princess?”
Twilight blinked, looking at a loss for words. “Are you sure?”
Applejack snorted. “Sure I’m sure! You said yourself that the Apples used to be like your family, and as far as I see it, once a part of the Apple family, always a part of the Apple family! Granny’s goin’ to love you, just you wait.”
Rarity beamed at Applejack. Goodness, she should have brought her along ages ago. “See, Twilight?” she said, turning to the princess. “I told you that…”
Twilight was smiling at Applejack, but what caught Rarity’s attention was the twinkle of unshed tears in her eyes. “Thank you.”
Applejack winked. “You can thank me over a nice cup of cider at the festival next year. You an’ Rarity.”
A dozen minutes later, stepping out into the forest, Rarity couldn’t have been more pleased. Though she’d technically accomplished nothing of what she initially wanted to do, she had to admit that what actually happened was just as good. She knew Applejack’s duties at Sweet Apple Acres would make it difficult for the farmer to actually go out and assist Rarity, but it was an incredible source of relief that there was another mare in Ponyville who believed her.
And especially Applejack! If she told anyone that Twilight was real, they’d surely believe her, wouldn’t they?
“So this Pinkie Pie pony is comin’ soon?”
Rarity turned to Applejack. “If all goes as planned, then yes, she should be,” she replied. “I do hope you’re planning on attending too, Applejack. Apple Bloom is terribly excited for it.”
Applejack frowned. “I’m still not sure I like trottin’ ’round this forest willy-nilly, but Apple Bloom ain’t never gonna forget it if I make her miss it. I’ll ask Granny Smith to help make some pies so we can eat somethin’ with the girls.”
“Oh! Rarity, look!”
Fluttershy’s voice distracted her, and Rarity turned to find the pegasus pointing at Rarity’s necklace. She looked down at it to find that its usual pink glow had lessened, mixing in with a green glow.
“Oh! It works!”
The glow wasn’t nearly as intense as when Twilight had placed the necklace next to the maze, leading Rarity to realize that Twilight’s theory was indeed correct. It seemed that the brighter it glowed, the stronger the chaos magic was.
“I wouldn’t be so happy,” Applejack noted. “Having a thing let me know if I’m being watched by the Spirit? Wouldn’t be able to stop looking at the necklace every minute.”
Rarity opened and closed her mouth several times. Her eyes fell back on the necklace, and now, rather than a source of excitement, it was a source of the teensiest bit of dread.
“That may be so…” she said carefully, letting the necklace drop and fall back to her chest, “but one simply cannot live in constant fear. Besides, the princess owes me a conversation that I believe will finally blow away some of the haze surrounding the Spirit and the legend.”
Applejack nodded. “I hope so, sugarcube. You going to talk to her tomorrow?”
Rarity shook her head. “In a week, I should think. Enough time to prepare my arguments.”
And, she thought, enough time for Twilight Sparkle to stop avoiding it.