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    An entire week went by before Twilight agreed to talk.

    An endless number of tasks kept appearing on the checklist, kept moving up the list of priorities, and Rarity allowed them to.

    It had been over a week, yes, but even so, she could still vividly picture the memories Twilight had inadvertently shared, as well as the fear and guilt that had accompanied them and briefly plagued Rarity. In that moment, Twilight Sparkle’s carefully constructed barriers had been ripped away, and it was only polite for Rarity to be patient with what came next.

    The breeze caressed Rarity’s mane, taking with it the breath she exhaled. It brushed the lids of her closed eyes, her sensitive ears flicking with the sound of the life that filled Ponyville. Her town, and if all went well, Twilight’s future town as well.

    Rarity was running late, but she thought what came next might be enough to excuse her tardiness.

    Magic pooled in her horn, and the casting of the spell was accompanied by a welcome chime. She waited for her princess to answer, and when she did, a longing sensation swept over her.

    She smiled, as if it could be seen by Twilight, and thought, Hello, Princess.

    And she opened her eyes, taking in the sight of not dragons nor caves nor any such fantastic things. She took in the simple sight of a town going about its usual routine, and yet she could feel fascination bubbling within her. Hers and Twilight’s; both were the same, were they not?

    She looked back toward her boutique, and she could feel the desire to go back, to explore it in the same way she’d once explored the library, but she resisted the pull and went about her way. We’ll explore that one day, she thought, but with both of us here.

    As Rarity trotted through town, the two souls marveled over walking, breathing, over the ponies rushing by and the voices of those Twilight Sparkle could not yet reach, this wonderfully bizarre way of being. Eventually, a thought pushed itself into Rarity’s mind.

    Why are we doing this?

    And the answer was as obvious to Rarity as it would be to Twilight mere moments later. Because, why not? Why not stop to smell these roses, and why not take the long way through the market rather than the direct route to the forest, because why not show you our world?


    Rarity turned away from the rose she’d been observing and toward a mare looking right at her.


    Rose laughed. “You’ve been staring at that flower with a silly grin for the past five minutes,” she pointed out. “If you want it so badly, I can give you a discount for it.”

    Rarity turned to the flower and brushed her hoof against it, biting down a smile. “No, that’s all right, darling,” she replied, willing herself away from the flower stand. “I’d honestly love to stay here all day, but I’m meeting with a very dear friend of mine.”

    It felt, for a moment, as if her own heart had skipped a beat at that last part of her sentence, but she did not dwell on it and instead focused on the mare. After a normally uneventful talk, which was rendered eventful by Twilight’s extreme interest in Rose’s every word, Rarity went on her way.

    And yet, the closer she got toward the Everfree Forest, the stronger did Twilight’s psyche seem to pull her away from it. Why go to the forest, she seemed to be saying, when the building over there is fascinating? Why go to the library when Sweetie Belle and her little friends can tell Twilight about the new Daring book? But it was silly, Rarity’s own psyche insisted, since Twilight Sparkle had spoken to them the day before when they all went over to prepare the very same meeting Twilight was avoiding.

    Because that was what she was doing, and Rarity couldn’t tell for certain if she’d realized it on her own or if Twilight’s own mind had betrayed her.

    Rarity came to a stop and closed her eyes.

    Twilight. It’s been a week. Postponing important meetings is unbecoming of royalty.

    There was no reply that Rarity could tell, no foreign thought or sensation overcoming her. There was silence until a familiar ping abruptly put the mind-meld to an end. Rarity sighed and opened her eyes, rubbing a hoof over her necklace. Undeterred, she continued on the path toward the Everfree Forest, her mind long ago having been made up, whether Twilight Sparkle wanted it or not.

    “It wasn’t your fault,” Rarity said to the princess over an empty plate that sat atop a table for two.

    Empty, for one could not eat and the other was not hungry in the least.

    What a funny display, Rarity had thought earlier when she finally arrived, to see a table perfectly set for dinner inside of the library. Two plates, two glasses of water, perfect cutlery, and all of this under the dim light of an immaculate chandelier. The silly doing of two fillies who’d terribly misinterpreted Rarity’s idle comment from the day before of having a very important date with Twilight.

    A very earnest and heartwarming attempt, Rarity thought, though it was a shame that the forthcoming conversation would be anything but romantic.

    “It wasn’t your fault.”

    The statement Rarity chose to begin with.

    It was simple and short, yet very effective, if Twilight’s ensuing silence was any indication. Rarity would have loved to tiptoe around it, perhaps lighten the mood, but she could not delay further. It had been delayed enough, had it not? Nearly a thousand years, in fact.

    Twilight did not reply, her eyes fixed on the damaged golden crown in the middle of the table. Her brow was furrowed, preoccupied as always, and her horn flickered to life so as to straighten a crooked fork on the table. She was lovely, Rarity thought privately, as she waited for the tainted rose to shed her thorns.

    “Princess Celestia…” Twilight drifted off, frowning deeper as she did when sentences got away from her.

    “Princess Celestia,” Rarity echoed, and Twilight looked up. “You never talk about her.”

    Twilight pursed her lips. “I try not to,” she said, and her frown disappeared. “It hurts. It’s easier to think when I only have to worry about myself. It used to be unbearable, like somepony was stabbing at my chest all the time, except I’m not technically supposed to feel pain in my chest anymore. Does that make sense? I’m not sure. I think it does.”

    “You know, I believe there’s an actual term for that sort of sensation. The feeling of pain in limbs one no longer has. ‘Phantom pains.’” Rarity crossed her forehooves on the table. “Accurate, no?”

    Twilight softly laughed. “Are you serious?”

    Rarity leaned in and smiled. “Deadly.”

    Twilight’s smile faded, her gaze lowering. “Then it stopped hurting. Everything did, and it didn’t really matter. I’m not sure how long it didn’t matter, but…” Her eyes flickered down. “I’ve started feeling the pains in my chest again.”

    “You have? Why? What made it hurt again?”

    Twilight looked up. “You did.”

    There was no tone of resentment or accusation in Twilight’s voice, but Rarity couldn’t help but lean back, her playfulness vanishing into smoke.

    “I apologize, Twilight,” she said, carefully. “If I had known it would unearth these feelings, I wouldn’t have used the necklaces.”

    Twilight shook her head. “No, it wasn’t that. What happened with the necklaces had nothing to do with it. It was…” She trailed off, and gritted her teeth. “It’s hard to explain.”

    Or perhaps, Rarity thought, you don’t want to explain.

    Rarity hummed, storing that thought for a later moment. “Tell me about Princess Celestia.”

    Even if it hurts, she wanted to add.

    What was that saying? “It hurts because it mattered”? Things that mattered deserved to be spoken about, did they not?

    “She was beautiful,” Twilight said.

    Rarity raised an eyebrow. “Why, Twilight, trying to make me jealous?”

    Twilight giggled, rolling her eyes. “Not like that,” she said with the hint of a flush. She gestured with her hoof, trying to elaborate, to find the exact words. “I mean, yes, like that, but so was Princess Luna. But Princess Celestia… She knew everything. She knew how to fix everything.” A smile graced her lips. “She made me feel like she trusted me. Like I could do anything because she’d be right behind to help. I wanted to be just like her. She was my teacher ever since I was a filly.”

    Rarity giggled affectionately. “Poor Princess Celestia. You must have been one of those foals who questioned everything.” She cleared her throat and mimicked Twilight. “Princess, why is the sun yellow? Why is it called yellow? What makes the colors? Can I read it in a book? What is a book?”

    Twilight snorted. “I wasn’t like that.” She paused, and amended. “Not always, at least.”

    “The dragons had her crown,” Rarity said, information Twilight already knew, but information that would at least get the conversation going. “And judging by the state of the caves and the fear the chaos magic had of her own magic, we can safely assume she did not go easy on Discord.”

    Twilight let out a breath of air, almost ragged, like she’d forced it out. Her ears lowered as well, and she looked away. “Yeah.”

    “It wasn’t your fault, Twilight,” Rarity repeated. She’d become adept at recognizing the little signs that betrayed Twilight’s real emotions. Maybe it was a lingering after-effect of the mind melding, or maybe it was simply the fact that Twilight could so easily enrapture her attention.

    Maybe both.

    “Discord tricked you. He broke the rules,” Rarity continued, and Twilight flinched, tensed as though to run away. “The book you wrote. It stated specifically that he could only ask for land, and that is not what he did.” She faltered. “I simply don’t…” She faltered yet again, finding that the conversation was hard for her as well. “Twilight, I do not intend to sound accusing and I sincerely hope you know that, but you had no reason to comply, darling, and even if he disagreed, it was as simple as stopping him again.”

    “We couldn’t,” Twilight said.

    “You couldn’t?”

    Of course! The legend itself stated as much.

    “Because Discord stole the Elements,” Rarity amended herself. “Is that right?”

    Twilight didn’t immediately reply. She simply stared at Rarity, that penetrating stare she used whenever she was deep in thought, and finally said, “You don’t understand, Rarity. I made a mistake.”

    “Twilight, that wasn’t a mistake, and even less was it a mistake you did.”

    Twilight shook her head. “No, no! You don’t understand,” she insisted, and her ears pressed flat against her head. “Spike… The Peace Meeting wasn’t… Discord didn’t ask for Spike out of nowhere, Rarity. Something else happened that…” She cut herself off, and closed her eyes. Repressed memories leaking out, no doubt, but conversations such as these were like peeling off bandages. The longer you take, the longer it hurts.

    “What happened?” Rarity asked. Her tone was forceful, and after clearing her throat, she asked in a gentler voice, “Why do you say that? I want to help you, Twilight.”

    It was a sincere statement, after all.

    “I’m scared,” Twilight replied.

    “Of what, sweetheart?”

    Twilight gritted her teeth, and replied in a demure voice. “Of what you’ll think of me.”

    The statement left in its wake a deafening silence. Twilight Sparkle looked to Rarity, and for a moment she seemed to regress, return to the silent princess who refused to betray her emotions. She stared at Rarity with flat eyes, like she expected Rarity to be angry, or perhaps even return Twilight’s cold stare.

    Such a solemn stare for such a silly statement.

    How blind was Twilight to Rarity’s feelings? She could understand Twilight not catching on to her romantic antics, but to so bluntly miss Rarity’s general affections?

    “Twilight, must I remind you what I’ve done to get your books? To free you?” Rarity said, picking up her fork and idly toying with it. “I can assure you that nothing you tell me now will change my opinion of you, and knowing you, I’m positive your worries are baseless.”

    Twilight winced, her wings rustling. “But—”

    “The only creature I hold disdain toward is Discord,” Rarity continued, putting the fork back down, “and that’s because he’s an absolutely vile monster.”

    “No,” Twilight said at once, ears pressing flatter and eyes shutting altogether. She shook her head and it looked for a moment as though she intended on burying her face in her forehooves. “No, he’s not. Not always.”

    Now Rarity lost her gentleness, sitting up straight and frowning.

    “Twilight. Twilight. Yes. He. Is,” she said, emphasizing every word, because the last thing on this earth she would accept was Twilight justifying him. Dear princess, how deeply had the Spirit damaged her that she couldn’t see the harm he’d done? “You can’t look me in the eyes and tell me he’s not a monster after what he’s done to you! To Princess Luna, and Princess Celestia! He’s the Spirit of Chaos, for goodness’ sake! Evil is practically his definition!”

    Twilight summoned the dictionary, opening it up and going through the pages.

    “Chaos stands for disorder, Rarity,” she replied, and for a second the scholarly alicorn returned. “Chaos isn’t inherently evil, and it’s not inherently good, either,” she added when Rarity opened her mouth to protest. “If Discord were to make a chariot filled with sweets crash, the ensuing chaos would be terrible for the owner of the chariot, but great for the foals sitting nearby. Discord loved chaos on massive scales, which was bad for us ponies, but… his reign of floating objects, daytimes and nighttimes, and chocolate milk rain was more a nuisance than it was truly evil.”

    She put the dictionary back down with a final thud, as if she expected the conversation to be over.

    “Well, I’m expecting something must have changed then, because what he did to you isn’t a nuisance, it’s downright cruel, Twilight,” Rarity said, ignoring Twilight’s frustration at finding out she was wrong. “And besides, isn’t he supposed to be the Spirit of disharmony, as well? If my definition of the term is correct, and I do believe it is, he’ll make the cart crash, but also make sure the foals will start fighting over the candy. I read it in Professor Awe’s own notes about chaos magic, and—”

    Twilight frowned. “I know that, Rarity, but…” She stopped, gesturing with her hoof for a moment. “What if I made it worse? What if I made his… ‘evil’ worse?”

    Rarity blinked. “Made it worse?”

    “I made a mistake. What he did with Spike, that was meant to hurt me,” Twilight replied, slowly, carefully. “The princesses had to fix it for me, but you can’t fix what I did, Rarity. I…” She looked down, and now she buried her face in her hooves. “Please. Please, don’t make me talk about it. I don’t care whether he was always evil or not, I still made it worse.”

    Rarity gritted her teeth, frustrated not at Twilight but at herself. “Darling, you can’t avoid it forever. The checklist has to end eventually.”

    Silence fell.

    “I tricked him. I tricked him into reforming,” she clarified when Rarity shot her a confused expression. “I tricked him, and he believed me, but everypony always treated him badly, and I never did anything to try and make him fit in better, so when he found it had been a trick…”

    “But what did yo—”

    “Does it matter?” Twilight asked, and it felt like the room got colder. “It’s done, Rarity. It’s done, and I can’t change it, or fix it, so what’s the point of talking about it?”

    “What about Spike?” Rarity asked. “What happened to him? The legend doesn’t mention him, and he lived with you, didn’t he? Isn’t that basket lying around here his?” She gestured to the portrait of a baby dragon hanging on the wall. “It matters to talk about, Twilight, because it can help others. It can help you.

    “Discord took Spike,” Twilight replied, and it seemed like she was trying hard to stay calm. “He told me himself, at least.”

    Rarity raised an eyebrow. “And you really want me to believe he’s not evil…?”

    Twilight winced. “Again, that doesn’t matter at this point. He told me that he took Spike because I didn’t give him up, and the only way I could help him or the others was by finding a map in the library, but I’ve looked for a map, and I can’t find it and… and my only hope is the books you keep bringing back, and he said that if I leave here without it, it’ll be gone forever.”

    That’s why you want me to find the books?” Rarity asked, startled. “Because you want to help Spike?” She bit her lip, trying to gather her thoughts. Besides the fact that Twilight still cared little about her own freedom, Rarity couldn’t help but think: “But, Twilight, what if he’s lying? He is the Spirit of Chaos!”

    “What if he isn’t?” Twilight asked in return.

    “And what if the books don’t have this ‘map’?” Rarity asked, starting to find herself irritated by Twilight’s assertions. “Have you thought about that? I gather them all, you’re free but you’ll lock yourself here another millennium more because of a map that may or may not exist? Listen to yourself!” A thought occurred to her. “What if he’s free out there? For all you know, he might be living in some cave in Equestria! Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash was acquainted with a dragon! Maybe he knows Spike! Maybe he is Spike! That scale I gave you earlier; you yourself said it was similar in coloring to his!”

    “Spike isn’t the only purple-colored dragon in Equestria, Rarity.”

    “But what if it is him?! What if he’s really out there, free of any curse, and yet you want to risk another millennium here for a map?!”

    “Where is he, then?” Twilight asked, her voice on edge. She stood up, wings half-splayed. “If Spike really is out there, why hasn’t he come to the library? Only he, the princesses, and the Apple family knew I was staying here, so why isn’t he here?”

    Rarity threw her hooves in the air. “I don’t know! Maybe he simply hasn’t found you yet!”

    Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Hasn’t found me yet? If my calculations and your history books are accurate, then I’ve been inside this library for nearly one thousand and eighteen years, Rarity, and if your geographical books are accurate, then the Everfree Forest is ninety percent the size of Canterlot Mountain’s base. He’s had a thousand years to find me, and the only other explanation I can think of is that”—her voice lowered, and her frosty expression melted away—“he doesn’t want to find me.”

    Rarity didn’t know what to say.

    How terrible, she thought, that Twilight would rather spend her existence in the library than find out if…

    “Oh, Twilight…” she murmured, and she reached out to the alicorn before she remembered they couldn’t touch, settling for placing her hoof near Twilight’s on the table instead.

    Twilight looked away. “Can we move on to the next topic on the checklist?”

    “But, Twilight—”

    Please, Rarity,” Twilight whined. “Just for today,” she insisted, teleporting the dictionary out of sight.

    Rarity sighed.

    “Very well.” Though she would have loved to keep the conversation going, it seemed like she’d grilled Twilight enough, and the last thing she wanted was to breach the trust between them. She looked to the plate and pushed a smile. “I’d suggest we eat, but it seems our delightful hosts forgot to leave any food for us.”

    “Maybe they remembered I can’t eat,” Twilight suggested, and for a fraction of a second her smile returned.

    Rarity sighed theatrically. “Alas, royalty always takes precedence over us mere mortals.”

    “It was kind of Sweetie and Apple Bloom to arrange a formal dinner for us, though,” Twilight said, straightening up. “Many of the important discussions back at Canter Capital were held over formal dinners.”

    Rarity hummed and took a sip of water. True as that may be, she was rather sure that a formal dinner to discuss historical events wasn’t what Sweetie Belle had in mind. But there was always the next time, wasn’t there?

    An awkward silence followed now that the topic of conversation had been so unceremoniously cut short. Rarity put down her glass, her eyes roaming over the distant bookcase, and she thought that now might be the perfect time to divulge her future traveling plans to the princess. It had been another topic she’d wanted to discuss, after all.

    “You know, I think I might travel away from Ponyville for a few days. About two, I expect,” she said, crossing her forelegs on the table.

    “Leave?! Again?” Twilight blurted out. Her calendar appeared next to her, the days clearly crossed out, and colored in during the days Rarity had been in Rainbow Falls. “But it’s only been a week since you came back!”

    Rarity raised an eyebrow. “My, my, Twilight! I do have a life outside Ponyville and your library, you know?” she teased, fluttering her eyelashes.

    “I know that, but…” Twilight gesticulated with her foreleg. “But I barely see you to begin with, and—”

    Rarity laughed, delighted. “Barely see me? Twilight Sparkle, I come to the library nearly every other day! I’d wager if it were up to you, you’d want me here every day!” She bit her lip and rubbed her mouth. “In fact, it might do you well to learn to be apart from me for a while.”

    Twilight blanched. “What is that supposed to mean?”

    Rarity leaned back with a sigh. “Now, I know there truly is no such thing as life without moi, but I think I shall start staying more at Ponyville. How does a month sound?”

    “A month?” Twilight gasped.

    Oh, she looked absolutely horrified and Rarity loved every second of it. How awful of her, truly.

    “Maybe two,” Rarity added, because Twilight’s expression was worth every moment of being awful. However, it did not last long, and her dramatics turned into a smitten giggle as she noted, “You’re rather gullible, aren’t you, darling?”

    Twilight relaxed immediately, slouching as she sighed. “That isn’t funny, Rarity.”

    “No, but you can’t deny that only two days without me is vastly better than an entire month, no?”

    Twilight seemed to want to protest, her eyebrows scrunched down. “Where are you going?”

    “As you know, I have several commissions out of town, and one of them happens to be for a mare in Heart’s Haven. It’s a quaint little village near the edge of Galloping Gorge,” she said, turning back and reaching for her saddlebag a few feet away. “Well, I tasked myself with studying the library cards of the books we’ve yet to find in case one of them was there, and…” She took out one of the worn-out library cards from her bag and placed it on the table. “Voila! Look at the address of the pony who took it.”

    Twilight took the card with her magic and examined it.

    “Twist Design, living in…” Her expression hardened. “Sanctum Village.”

    “Sanctum Village!” Rarity repeated. She reached into her saddlebag again and extracted the history book she’d been lugging around. She opened it up and turned the pages, eventually reaching the right one and placing her hoof over the appropriate paragraph. “It says here that, five hundred years ago, Sanctum Village changed its name to Heart’s Haven!”

    Rarity finished with aplomb, expecting Twilight to be immediately enthused about the upcoming trip. And yet, the alicorn continued to stare at the card with furrowed brows, and rather than reply, she teleported two maps to the table. The first one, in perfect condition, was the updated map of Equestria Rarity had given Twilight. The second, faded and torn, looked like a map of the Equestria of olde, and in it Rarity could see her target town drawn right next to Galloping Gorge, the name “Sanctum Village” written in impeccable calligraphy above it.

    “You could be a bit more excited,” Rarity noted, watching as Twilight compared the two maps.

    Yes, all right, she realized it might be a bit of a stretch to assume descendants of Twist Design still lived in the village, or even had the book, but it was a possibility, and it was certainly better than doing nothing!

    “Are they a pony?”

    Rarity blinked, disarmed by Twilight’s odd question. “Pardon?”

    “Your client,” Twilight elaborated, looking up from the map. “Are they a pony?”

    “I should dearly hope so,” Rarity replied. “If not, then it was the most convincing disguise of a mare I’ve ever seen. Why do you ask?”

    Twilight looked back to the map, seemingly lost in thought.

    “Cadance founded Sanctum Village,” Twilight said matter-of-factly, effortlessly slipping back into the learned persona Rarity was used to. “It was a refugee village she founded a year after the first war.”

    “Refugee?” Rarity asked. “But, didn’t the war happen in Equestria? Why would there be pony refugees?”

    Twilight shook her head. “Not ponies. Changelings.”

    Faced with Rarity’s perplexed expression, Twilight summoned an old scroll, unfurled it and showed it to her. On it was a faded-out drawing of a hideous bug-like creature with arctic blue wings and holes all over their body, as if somepony had attacked them with a large hole-puncher. She vaguely remembered seeing similar creatures before.

    Actually, weren’t they in one of those cave drawings in Rainbow Falls?

    “I can assure you that Taffy Scratch looked nothing even remotely similar to that,” Rarity said, offended on her client’s behalf. She personally wouldn’t like it if somepony mistook her for that thing. “I think I’d remember if I ever met a creature like it.”

    “No, you wouldn’t. Changelings are shape-shifters,” Twilight replied. “They can change their physical appearance into practically any existing species, and you would never be able to tell. You might have already met one, and had no idea they weren’t really a pony.” She rolled the scroll back up and teleported it away, bringing a large book in its stead and opening it to a page with even more illustrations of the creatures. “It’s actually very fascinating! It’s how they infiltrated Equestria during the first war. With Discord turning Equestria into chaos, it was easy for Chrysalis and her changelings to turn into ponies and offer to help us.”

    Infiltrate? What an interesting word choice.

    “Ah…” Rarity eyed the book with casual interest. “Yes, I suppose they’d have to hide their true shape. It would be hard to prove one’s goodwill when one looks like the lovechild of an insect and swiss cheese. Although… Wait a moment, I was under the impression they were working with Discord, not against him.”

    “They were,” Twilight replied, turning the page of the book and showing Rarity a new illustration. “They just didn’t act like it.”

    It was of two mares cuddled together. One of them—the changeling, no doubt—looked perfectly healthy and happy, while the other looked anything but healthy. The unicorn looked utterly exhausted, bags under her glazed-over eyes, and a weary smile. The illustrator had added some sort of magic aura around her, which the healthy pony seemed to… consume?

    Rarity frowned. “What is it doing? Is it draining her of her energy?”

    Twilight shook her head. “Close! It’s feeding off her love, actually.”

    There was a moment of silence as Rarity stared at Twilight.

    “Creatures that feed off somepony’s love? Heavens, and Sweetie says my romance novels are too cheesy,” Rarity remarked. She wanted to tease Twilight and ask if she too was a changeling draining Rarity’s affections, but decided it wiser to hold her tongue.

    Twilight rolled her eyes. “It’s their nature. Without it, they constantly feel like they’re starving to death, so they have no choice.” She took the book and closed it. “Changelings used to be led by a hive queen who wanted to take over Equestria. She took advantage of the chaos Discord caused to have her subjects turn into ponies and associate with us, and because of the alliance with Discord, he didn’t interfere with changelings, so ponies grew to trust and be friendly with ponies who were ‘magically’ unaffected. They drained us of our love, and in turn we were too weak to actually do anything about Discord. Eventually, the princesses managed to defeat the changeling queen, but several of her subjects stayed in Equestria as refugees because they genuinely grew to like ponies.”

    “And you let them live in Equestria and continue feeding off ponies?” Rarity asked, her hoof flying up to her chest. “I know you said it’s their nature, but Twilight, that’s terrible!”

    “Of course we didn’t!” Twilight replied, frowning. “Cadance infused a crystal with a spell that amplified and broadcasted her feelings of friendship and benevolence to the changelings. That way, they could feed off it without harming anybody, and that’s how they could live in Equestria safely.”

    “Oh.” Rarity drew back, feeling far more relieved.

    That was leagues better than having those creatures feed off ponies, but the idea of them living amongst ponies was certainly an unsettling one.

    “You don’t suppose they’re still alive, do you?” Rarity asked. “Or that there are still some of them out there?”

    Twilight shrugged. “I don’t know, but… if you’re really planning on going there, we should make sure you’re prepared in case they’re still there and are no longer ‘reformed.’ We can’t take any more risks.”

    Rarity flipped her hair back. “Risks? I’m practically fearless now!” she exclaimed, melting into giggles when Twilight replied with a skeptical stare. “All right, fine. What are you planning? Do you have any anti-changeling spells?”

    “I have something better,” Twilight announced with a smile. Her horn crackled, and a dreadfully familiar book on teleportation appeared on the table. “Where did we leave off?”

    Rarity buried her face in her hooves, letting out a very unladylike groan. “Twilight…” She looked back up. “Honestly! What is this obsession of yours with me learning teleportation?! There are far more useful spells I could be learning!”

    “Hey! Teleportation is very useful!” Twilight shot back, indignant. “Just because you don’t do your daily exercises doesn’t make it any less so!”

    Rarity mulled it over. Twilight had indulged her desire to know more about the past, so she supposed it was only fair for Rarity to indulge her crush’s intense desire to flirt with futility.

    With an overly expressive sigh, she stood up from the table. “If we’re really going to do this, I at least deserve a proper meal,” Rarity said, taking her saddlebag from the cushion on the floor. “I refuse to go through your drill sergeant routine on an empty stomach.”

    Twilight nodded. “All right. I’ll start writing up your exercise routine,” she replied, teleporting a scroll and quill and jotting several things down. Rarity nearly made it to the exit before Twilight spoke up again. “Oh, Rarity, wait!”

    Rarity turned around. “Mm?”

    “Uhm…” Twilight’s ears lowered for a moment. “When I said that you, er, ‘made it hurt again,’ I probably didn’t explain myself correctly. I meant that…” She drifted off, furrowing her brow. “I didn’t really… uhm…”

    “If I may venture a guess,” Rarity interrupted with a smile. “Memories of those we’ve lost hurt again when we have something else we fear we might lose, don’t they?”

    Twilight fell silent, but the blush on her face said far more than words could. Endeared, Rarity smiled at her princess and continued on toward the tunnel.

    “Don’t worry, darling,” she called out, “I always find my way back, don’t I?”

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    1. A Deer
      Jan 13, '23 at 3:41 am

      Guilt is a destructive force. More when it’s toxic guilt. Twilight may be justified in placing blame on herself. But is she placing too much blame? Is she allowing herself to take on guilt for things she shouldn’t? Then she holds guilt over others that tried helping her too. And that magnifies it. It can turn into a form of self hatred and devaluing. And this seeps into so many parts of life. It erodes enthusiasm for bettering ourself and enjoyment of many things. It can be hard to get close to others when fear of them finding the source of the guilt is there. The fear then becomes if they will judge us as harshly as we judge ourselves for our mistakes – whether real or exaggerated mistakes. Mistakes that follow become catastrophes while good things are minimized. Twilight’s guilt feels like it amplifies itself because she can’t stop dwelling on it. It’s a poison. And Rarity may be the cure.

      Really like the way you do backstory. It doesn’t feel like lecture or stops the flow of the story. It moves the plot forward. The placement of the backstory works well because we are learning it along with Rarity. It is presented in a natural way. I guess that’s the trick – adding backstory and details like that throughout the story in enough amounts that we get info we need. But not so much it pulls us from the story.

      Also enjoyed how Rarity approached the conversation. It shows how in tune she is with the emotions of others – Twilight in this case. She sees the subtle signs and makes adjustments in her interaction with Twilight. I wonder if that’s why she helps Twilight through the past like she does. She has that finesse touch.

      Alright that’s enough time for one night thinking hard about the psychological state of purple ponies. Purple is a great color though. One of my favorites! Along with all the other colors.

    2. Zanna Zannolin
      Sep 14, '22 at 9:10 pm

      i do so love the chapters that give more backstory about the equestria this is set in. the stuff like heart’s haven and rarity’s travels and the stuff about the changelings and the crystal spell cadance made…like it’s just so fascinating!!! i love it a lot. it’s not only really fascinating with the whole backstory about how the changelings helped discord but just fun in general (i am a lover of worldbuilding).

      big fan of how rarity’s outsider pov is really kicking in like….twilight what the hell moments lol. discord wasn’t kidding when he said obsession would be your prison twilight! you are your own worst enemy! rarity like bro what if the dragon i met was spike lol and twilights like nooooo that’s impossible vs me sitting here like *skull emoji* it’s just SO FUNNY.

      the scene with rarity trotting through ponyville in mind meld mode is so precious to me. it’s just…there’s so much love there, in that simple action. and rarity wanting to save the boutique for when twilight can see it herself, not have to witness it through rarity’s own eyes and thoughts and memories. how she’s showing twilight the outside world but still giving her a chance of learning things for herself someday. it’s like a promise and i love it.

      and the LAYERS here the layers of what happened with discord. like on the one hand is it really reformation if you have no choice? if it’s a matter of survival? but there’s truly potential for fun and good in discord. it’s been many a year since i properly watched the show but i’ve never forgotten the unexpected depth to discord as a character and i hope we’ll get to see some of that here (but also he’s very fun when he’s being malicious and terrible so i mean, win-win for me either way). but it’s interesting that twilight admits everyone was terrible to discord and she did nothing about it. like she’s wrong that it would justify discord’s treatment of her and the princesses, but it’s good that she’s like, owning up to that and it’s such a sign of trust that she’s telling it all to rarity outright. and “because i’m afraid of what you’ll think of me” literally just shoot me mono that would hurt less.

      god we’re really hitting the point where my memories are patchy as hell so i’m just on the edge of my seat for each chapter and it’s DELIGHTFUL.