The party that came after Princess Luna’s liberation was one unlike Hollow Shades had ever seen.
No matter where you were, inside or out, you could hear it. The laughter, the dancing, the celebration of a cursed town that was cursed no more. It invited you to join, drew you in with the infectious cheers, and you would be remiss to not attend.
Unless you were Princess Twilight Sparkle, and you were too busy debating whether you should take apart an Element of Harmony or not.
Destroying a camera was forgivable. Probably. This, not so much.
Inside Rarity’s now sound-proofed workshop, Twilight frowned at the brand new Element necklace floating before her. A moment later, her crown floated up from the table and joined Pinkie’s necklace as her family of owls watched.
With great care, she made the two objects clink together, and then again when nothing happened, and then several more times with growing frustration when still nothing happened.
“I don’t understand!” she exclaimed, putting the elements down and resting her chin on the table. “Urgh. Do they work now? How am I even supposed to know if they work now? Do I still need the others? This is useless!” She looked towards the three owlets blinking at her. “You agree that taking them apart might be useful, right?”
All three hooted cheerfully.
Elara and Themis, however, hooted in disapproval.
“…You’re only saying that because Rarity told you to say that! Look. It’ll be fine! I’m sure I can fix it if something goes wrong.” She picked them up again and narrowed her eyes, her horn crackling with magic, and when her owls hooted again, she spoke: “I don’t care! I’m going to figure this out even if it takes me all night.”
Startled, Twilight looked around and yelped at the sight of Rainbow Dash hovering outside the now open window, her forelegs crossed.
“What!” Twilight exclaimed, shoving the elements under the table. “I wasn’t doing anything! I wasn’t!” she insisted when Spike’s head appeared behind Rainbow Dash and frowned at her as well.
Rainbow gestured to the outside.
“Come on, Princess! The elements aren’t going anywhere!”
Twilight looked back and forth between Rainbow and the Elements before finally and reluctantly putting the elements inside a saddlebag and tying that to her back. She then made her way towards the window, only to once again be faced with the disapproving Rainbow and Spike, both now accompanied by the entire owl family.
They, too, looked disapproving.
Rainbow gestured to her bag. “Take them out.”
“But—! What if something happens? Or they activate? I won’t take them out unless something happens, I promise!”
“Twi,” Spike said, “Rarity said to make sure you left them here.”
“Rarity won’t know I took them out because I’m not taking them out of the bag. Unless they activate, in which case she’ll see I was justified!”
At their raised eyebrows, she cleared her throat, flew outside and moved the conversation along.
“Look. It’ll be fine. Okay?” She turned to Spike.“Any news from Princess Celestia?”
Spike shook his head. “No, not yet.”
Her brow furrowed. “Oh.”
That was disappointing to hear. She’d sent a letter to Princess Celestia about Princess Luna over an hour ago, and even though the princess hadn’t replied to any of the letters Twilight’d sent since Canterlot Castle, she still would have expected Princess Luna’s liberation to warrant some sort of reply.
“It’s only been, like, an hour, Princess,” Rainbow added. “Come on! Let’s go party, and I bet she’ll answer before you know it.” She turned to Spike. “We’ll go ahead, ‘kay?”
At Spike’s nod, the two ponies and the owls set off further into Hollow Shades, straight for the bustling main plaza. The entire town was still out and about, celebrating long into the night. The two mares landed next to a campfire where an elderly mare was in the middle of telling foals the dreams she remembered of Princess Luna.
Truthfully, It was nice to see. It was really nice to see, actually, and hear how the way the adults spoke about Luna had changed. Gone was the noticeable teasing tone when speaking of Princess Luna and the legend, replaced instead with the same enthusiasm and earnestness that always dwelled within the foals.
For that night, and hopefully more to come, everypony in Hollow Shades was a foal once again.
She turned around and saw Professor Awe walking towards them, accompanied by a unicorn mare and earth pony stallion—both whom Twilight recognized as the parents of one of the foals.
“Hello!” she greeted. “Here for the party?”
The professor hummed. “Party? You mean, having Princess Luna and Miss Pie gloat to my face about how wrong I was?” He grinned. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Twilight laughed. “Right.”
“On that note, I’m going to run along if you don’t mind. I don’t think I’ve eaten since yesterday.” He bowed his head to Twilight and then nodded towards Rainbow and the couple. “I shall see you all later, then.”
After watching him leave, Twilight turned to the couple and gave them once over. “How are you feeling?”
“We’re doing alright, Twilight!” the stallion replied, smiling widely. “Glad to be awake.”
“Very glad,” added the mare.
“Oh, good. I was worried that the chaos magic might have left some impact on everypony, but I’m glad to see that isn’t the case.” She paused to give them space to talk, but when they instead awkwardly stared at her, she cleared her throat. “Er. Is there anything you wanted to ask me?”
They fidgeted slightly, and though they struggled to find what to say, their glances towards Twilight’s wings provided an obvious hint of what they wanted.
Rainbow Dash understood.
“Did you, like, want to touch her wings or something?” she asked, bluntly, the couple’s awkward fidgeting increasing.
“Touch the wings? Ehm.”
“If it’s okay?”
Twilight extended her wings with a laugh. “I don’t mind. Go ahead.”
Like foals in a toy store, the two ponies stepped forward and delicately brushed their hooves against the feathers.
“They really are real,” whispered the mare, enthralled. She brushed her hoof along the length of the wing, clearly trying to feel out for anything mechanical, but when she found nothing of the sort, she took back her hoof and gawked at Twilight. “You really are an alicorn.”
The stallion similarly observed the wings. “They looked so fake before! This is… I was going to say ‘the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen’, but we were all just trapped inside dreams.” He looked up towards her horn. “Wings and a horn! I’ve never seen an alicorn horn before. Is it different? Is that why it’s longer than my wife’s? Can I touch it?”
“Honey!” the mare gasped. “You can’t just ask to touch her horn!”
The mare looked at Twilight. “…But can we?”
Now, it was Twilight’s turn to fidget uncomfortably. “Er. I… I guess?”
It was a little weird, but if it was in the spirit of discovery, then she could sort of understand. A little embarrassed, she leaned down and allowed the couple to delicately poke at her horn…
Or, well, she did right up until Rarity walked by laden with platters and gave her significant other a very intrigued stare.
“Anyway!” Twilight blurted out, straightening herself up and clearing her throat. “I’m glad you know the truth now.”
At her statement, the two ponies’ expressions dampened. Their ears folded down and they tucked their tails in between their legs.
“We’re sorry we didn’t believe you, Twili—Princess Twilight,” said the mare. Her ears folded even more. “And Rarity, too. And Princess Luna. And Incantation. And Pinkie.” She pressed a hoof against her face. “Oh gosh, Pinkie.” She looked to her husband. “Do you think she’ll accept an apology dinner invitation?”
The stallion laughed, sympathetically putting a hoof over his wife. “Well, we’ll have to get in line because Sunrise Storm and his husband already invited her and Princess Luna to one.”
“Drat.” She turned to Twilight and put a hoof on her shoulder. “Has anyone asked you and Rarity yet? If not, we want to be the first! What day works for you?” She then noticed Rainbow Dash watching blankly. “…You can come, too!”
“Oh, sweet! I love free food.”
“It’s the best kind of food,” agreed the husband.
“Well, we won’t keep you two any longer,” the mare said, smiling at Twilight. “I’ll come by the Dreamland tomorrow, and we can set something up!”
After goodbyes were exchanged and the couple was off, Twilight, Rainbow Dash, and the owls went on their way. Twilight was in the lead, which generally meant trying to find Rarity and figure out what she was up to. It was just a lucky coincidence that this also happened to be on the way to the food stands ponies had set up, all of them serving up sweet treats fried at least five times.
A crowd had gathered in the area, and though she initially chalked it up to the food, the reason quickly revealed itself to be Princess Luna and Pinkie Pie talking to at least a dozen other ponies, including Applejack and Fluttershy.
“Princess! Rainbow!” Applejack exclaimed, flagging over Rainbow Dash, Twilight, and the three slices of pie she’d accepted from a merchant only because it would have been rude to refuse, really. “What’ve y’all been up to? Hope you weren’t fiddling with the elements again like Rarity asked you not to, Princess.”
“We were just lookin’ around,” Rainbow Dash said, covering for the alicorn currently eating like she hadn’t in days. “No biggie.”
“Where’s Rarity?” Twilight asked before starting with her second pie. “I saw her walking this way? Have you seen her?”
“Last we saw her, she was helping Incantation,” Applejack replied.
“She should be somewhere around here,” Fluttershy noted, now a perch for the little owl family.
“Ah, Twilight!” exclaimed Princess Luna, having seen the younger alicorn. “There you are. Have you tried some of the treats Molasses has prepared for us?”
Twilight nodded eagerly, finishing up the second slice.
“Princess!” Molasses exclaimed, approaching her with three slices of pie on a plate. “More pie? You’ve only had one!”
The princess smiled amiably. “No, thank you, Molasses. I am quite full.”
“Full? With just one slice?!” Rainbow Dash asked, startled. “But, like, I thought you alicorns had to eat a ton?”
“Yeah!” Pinkie agreed, frowning deeply. “‘Cause you need it to make up for all the energy your magic uses up, right?!”
Princess Luna blinked. “…No. Alicorn magic doesn’t expend energy resources, and even if it did, the energy produced by food intake has nothing to do with our magic. If anything, eating in great quantities would only make me lethargic.” She turned to Twilight. “Twilight Sparkle, I would’ve thought blaming your new body for your gluttony was a habit you’d have left in the past.”
“I didn’t use to eat like this before I was an alicorn!” Twilight protested, putting down her third slice. At her friends’ laughs, she doubled down. “I didn’t!”
“Now, don’t let them make you feel bad, y’hear?” Applejack said earnestly, patting the shamed alicorn on the back. “Ain’t nothing wrong with loving food.”
“Wait, are we talking about food? I love food!”
They turned around to find Incantation walking towards them. She sat down next to Twilight and eyed the slice of pie the alicorn had left.
“Mmm.” Ink licked her lips. “I could go for some food now.”
“Awh, are you hungry, Inky?” Pinkie giggled, jumping up and rushing to the changeling to envelop her in a hug. “Eat up!” she exclaimed, rubbing their cheeks together. “Muah, muah, muah!”
“I, uhm, meant pony food, but this works too, Chief!” Ink replied with a laugh, delighting in the affection.
It was an endearing sight, so much so that Twilight had the urge to nuzzle her marefriend—if only her marefriend was actually there.
Princess Luna, it seemed, was thinking the same thing.
“Where is Rarity, Incantation? Was she not with you?” asked the older princess once Pinkie’s loving assault was done.
“Oh! She was, but we split up a little while ago because she had to go take care of something. She said she’d catch up to us later.”
The conversation moved along after that, a Hollow Shades pony approaching to speak with Pinkie and Princess Luna. Twilight, meanwhile, couldn’t help but wonder what Rarity was doing. Did she need help? Mmm.
“Are you going to look for Rarity, Princess?” asked Fluttershy, noticing Twilight getting up.
Applejack grinned. “‘Course she is. Even when they had their britches in a bunch, they still trailed after each other all the time. Ain’t that right, Princess?”
“No, we didn’t!“ Twilight said, a pink tinge coloring her cheeks when Fluttershy laughed. She sat down on her hindlegs and smiled politely. “I don’t trail after Rarity. See? I’m staying here.”
After a half-second of Applejack and Fluttershy staring at her expectantly, Twilight got up again.
“Fine,” she conceded, her embarrassed defeat only increasing when her two friends laughed again. “But we don’t always trail after each other!”
“Of course not,” Fluttershy offered, innocently.
“Don’t take too long, y’hear?” Applejack called out as Twilight walked off.
“Trailing after her. I’m not trailing after her,” Twilight muttered, maneuvering through the crowd while doing exactly that.
She asked around for a bit and was finally directed towards a small alley somepony had seen Rarity wander into. She made her way along the dark street, eventually stepping out into a small empty plaza with a fountain in the middle.
The princess’ most beloved pony was there, as well, sitting down by the fountain and peering into the water, her ears folded down and her tail curled around her body.
With a small degree of concern, Twilight walked over to Rarity and gently nuzzled and kissed the back of her head. She heard Rarity sigh contentedly, her eyes closing as she leaned into Twilight when the alicorn sat down and pulled her into a winged hug.
“Well, well,” she said, eyes still closed, “if it isn’t the princess herself.”
“You didn’t even open your eyes to check it was me,” Twilight noted playfully. “That’s awfully confident of you.”
Rarity finally opened her eyes, if only to flutter them at her significant other. “Ah, yes. Because so many ponies are dying to nuzzle me in empty plazas in the middle of the night.” She gestured to the empty plaza. “Better stay away, you thirsty fiends, lest Princess Twilight Sparkle shoo you off with a stick!”
Twilight frowned. “Thirsty? Why would they be thirsty? Because of the fountain?”
Rarity giggled. “Oh, yes. Let’s go with that.”
Twilight sighed theatrically. “Oooh. I see.” She pulled the giggling unicorn further into the hug. “This is another modern usage for a word that I don’t get because I’m… how did you put it?”
“Right. Because I’m “positively ancient”, and you’re making fun of me because of it.”
“Aw, dearest, I only do it because I love you,” she promised, leaving little apologetic kisses on Twilight’s jaw.
“Right. What are you doing here, anyway?”
“I was testing something!” Rarity exclaimed, brightly.
“Yes, and I must thank you, Twilight. You’ve just confirmed my hypothesis.”
“I did? What hypothesis?”
“That if I went and waited in an empty plaza, I wouldn’t have to wait long before you inevitably came trailing after me because you simply can’t resist me!”
Twilight whined, breaking off the hug.
“I don’t trail after you! I don’t!” she replied, the severity of her tone faltering when Rarity offered a silly smile.
“Don’t be cross, dear. I trail after you, too.”
“Hm.” Twilight looked away. “And here I thought you’d left for some important reason like, I don’t know, checking up on the event, or—”
Rarity hummed. “Or going to the Dreamland to check you didn’t take the Elements that aren’t in your saddlebag right now, I’m sure.” She gasped. “Oh my! You’ve gone all red suddenly.” She leaned in with a smirk. “I wonder why.”
Twilight cleared her throat and her guilty blush. “Anyway.”
Rarity leaned against her, delighted. “Anyhow.”
Twilight playfully raised an eyebrow. “Oooh, really digging into the mental thesaurus, are we?”
“Perchance.” Rarity giggled, kissing her. “Anyway,” she said, imitating Twilight, and then turning back to the fountain to look down at her reflection. “I didn’t actually come here to see if you’d follow me. I just wanted to step away from the party for a moment and gather myself.”
“Why? Is everything alright?”
“Oh, yes, yes. I’m just… It’s a lot. All of it. In a good way, certainly, but… I suppose I feel how I did when you were freed. In a good way,” she repeated at Twilight’s expression. “I suppose that I…” She looked around at the town. “Freeing Princess Luna has been my life for two years. Just like you were. And, well, now that it’s done, I’m not entirely sure what comes next.”
“Right. First things first, then.” Twilight playfully raised her eyebrows. “It seems to me you need to learn how to delegate your time instead of throwing yourself into one big project and nothing else.”
Rarity scoffed in faux offense. “Are you actually suggesting I be reasonable? Unthinkable! What next? Are you going to ask me to actually take a vacation instead of rushing headfirst into saving the others?”
“Do you want a vacation?”
Rarity rubbed her chin. “I could be persuaded. Mmm, actually!” She sat up straight, her playfulness replaced with genuine eagerness. “I was rather thinking that maybe we could have a home vacation. Just stay at home. A staycation is what they’re called, I think.”
Rarity nodded her head. “Mhm. We can, oh, I don’t know, pretend you just got freed so clearly we have to stay home cuddling in bed for five days straight.” She gave Twilight her most dashing smile. “Does that not sound agreeable?”
“I would love that, Rarity,” Twilight said before giggling. “I juuust don’t know how much of a vacation we’ll get at home with dozens of foals running around the Dreamland all the time.”
“Ah! Yes… The Dreamland…”
Rarity fell silent after this, lost in thought, her eyes falling to Twilight’s necklace as her hoof reached for her own.
“Rarity?” Twilight prompted.
Rarity’s gaze met Twilight’s briefly before flitting back down to the necklace. She bit down on her lip hesitantly and then spoke up.
“Twilight. If I may be so bold, what are your plans after all of this is over?”
Twilight frowned. “You mean after the party? Sleep, I hope.”
“No, you silly pony. I mean after everything is done. All of it. Princess Celestia, Cadance, and when, if the stars allow it, Discord is dealt with too. When all of that is done, what do you intend to do then?” She paused again. “For example, have you thought about where you’d like to live?”
Twilight faltered. “I… I’m not sure.”
She looked back towards her reflection in the fountain, deep in thought. That wasn’t necessarily true, was it? There were a lot of things she was unsure of concerning the future, but she still remembered the little idea back when they visited Trottingham.
“I think… I’m going to live in a library.”
“In a library?!” Rarity gasped. “Twilight Sparkle, I didn’t get my flank permanently scarred and you possessed so you could go back and coop yourself up inside the library the second this is done!”
“Not the old library, Rarity! A new one.” She jumped on top of the fountain’s edge, which was large enough to stand on. She stood up straight and proudly declared, “It’ll be the greatest library Equestria has ever seen.”
Rarity laughed. “The greatest library Equestria has ever seen? My, my. Will this one be haunted, too?”
“Oh. I don’t want it, then,” Rarity said, waving her off. “Moving on!”
“Are you sure?” Twilight asked, leaning down a little. “You really don’t want to know?”
“Weeeell… I suppose I could be persuaded to hear more about this library.”
An idea suddenly occurred to the alicorn, and her excitement tripled. Her nerves, too, but it would be okay.
“I could also do more than just tell you about it…” Her lips curled into a smile just as her horn lit up, her necklace flashed, and a familiar ‘ping!’ filled the air. “I could show you?”
Rarity was immediately alert.
“The necklaces?” she asked, perhaps a bit too eagerly for her liking at first, considering how quickly she cleared her throat and composed herself. A visible hint of nervousness tinged her voice. “I mean, I would love too, darling, but… are you sure? This would be the first time we do it since, ah, well… it’s all come out and all…”
Twilight jumped off the fountain wall and stopped in front of Rarity, her expression gentle.
“I’m ready if you are. I won’t go where you don’t want me to go.”
“Silly little princess,” Rarity said affectionately, her horn lighting up. “Thinking there’s places I don’t want her to go to.” She exhaled one last breath and then let out a nervous giggle. “Alright. Shall we then?”
They closed their eyes, and finally a second ‘ping!’ rang out. Like the times before, nothing happened at first. There was just silence and darkness, right up until a single sensation cut through Twilight.
Not hers, though, but Rarity’s. An anxiety Twilight was not wholly unfamiliar with, as it was the one she’d had when all her darkest, deepest secrets had been exposed. The fear of being judged, of being rejected.
For a moment, Twilight—or, well, the Twilight part of this shared connection—worried that the connection would be severed, or that a path would be blocked, especially so when she physically felt Rarity press a hoof against her, as if grabbing her tight.
But the path wasn’t blocked, nor was the connection severed. These were certainly hard thoughts they were having, but Rarity was allowing them to exist. To be shared.
Twilight felt them as if they were hers, all these negative emotions that Rarity once had, that she still feared would affect their relationship. The grief at losing Twilight, the fact that she’d been so afraid to communicate, all these emotions she’d bottled up.
As said before, they were familiar. This was exactly and precisely how Twilight herself had felt when she faced Rarity again in the library right after she’d been freed.
And how lucky Twilight felt to be able to say back to Rarity what the unicorn had once said to her.
“Rarity,” Twilight whispered, because, sure, it was silly to voice it when they both knew what came next, but some things had to be said aloud. “Do you really think I love you so little that pushing me away would ever make a difference?”
It was relief that Twilight felt next. Rarity’s relief, boundless and immense and all-encompassing, but not like a dam bursting open or a door opening wide. It was like hugging someone and not wanting to let go, only to realize they didn’t intend on letting go anytime soon. It was warm. She felt it, Rarity’s burning affection intermingling with hers, and when Rarity’s eyes teared up, she felt that, too.
“Princess Twilight Sparkle,” playfully whined the second heart the princess owned, “don’t you think we’ve all cried enough for one night?”
Twilight laughed after that, or it might have been Rarity, or it was probably both. They dissolved into silly little loving giggles, Twilight opening her eyes so as to kiss Rarity. When she pulled away, she cleared her throat and stepped back, taking a moment to admire the flushed unicorn sitting in front of her, eyes still shut.
“Are you going to actually tell me about this library of yours, or do you intend on staring at me for the rest of the night?” Rarity asked, her gentle flush becoming more pronounced when Twilight thought to herself that she’d gladly stare at Rarity all day long.
“Alright, alright,” Twilight conceded, jumping back up onto the fountain’s rim. She took a big breath and began to walk on the edge of the fountain, careful to maintain her balance—except for that one moment where she nearly slipped and both she and Rarity yelped in fright, but nevermind that.
“So! It’s going to be two stories high,” Twilight began. “No, wait, three.”
Though she was staring at the ground as she walked, she could clearly see the building in her head as she spoke. A large grey building like she’d seen in Trottingham, which she thought looked fine right up until the Rarity part of her mind politely made design suggestions such as give it blue accents and some more modern marble columns at its sides.
Actually, some oval windows would look very aesthetic as well, and some alicorn statues overlooking from the ceiling and maybe—
“Sorry! Go on.”
Twilight continued on her path, focusing on her forehooves stepping one in front of the other, while continuing to picture the library. She wasn’t entirely sure how she wanted the interior to look, but she knew exactly what she wanted it to feel like.
She wanted it to feel like home. She could see them, vividly picture the dozens of bookcase aisles, the dozens of candelabras guiding delighted patrons around while Star and Swirl illuminated the entire thing as magnificent chandeliers.
As she pictured it, she could feel Rarity’s consciousness working alongside her, adding flourishes and ideas here and there. Statues of the princesses, silk fluffy cushions with ponies relaxing on them, beautiful wooden desks with carved patterns and designs.
“I want an owl hatchery, too,” Twilight mused aloud, and immediately Rarity’s designs pushed into her mind, and when Twilight thought of a room for Spike, so did Rarity’s mind comply, shifting their joined perspective into picturing a truly massive room where Spike could stay after walking in through equally immense crystal doors.
“What about the third floor?” Rarity asked, a giddy timbre to her voice, and Twilight could feel herself suddenly picturing a large observatory. “Somewhere to look at the stars, perhaps?”
“Actually, that would be the living quarters,” Twilight told her, and the design Rarity was weaving of the observatory immediately stopped.
In fact, Twilight noticed, nearly all of Rarity’s input stopped.
“So, the living quarters, then?” Rarity prompted, moving it along and not commenting on the obvious mental freeze that just happened.
Twilight cleared her throat. “Right. Er…”
She began to picture several rooms she’d like to have. A little study for herself, which she essentially modeled after Rarity’s workshop from the Dreamland, with space for sewing machines and closets, and a little desk for studying and reading; a nice comfortable kitchen, like the one from Carousel Boutique; a little guest room, like Sweetie’s room also in Carousel Boutique; and finally, Twilight’s bedroom with a big bed for whenever Rarity stayed the night.
“And there!” she declared proudly, ending the magical connection between them with a ‘ping’. “The greatest library in Equestria.”
And it was great, if she said so, herself. More things could be added to it later on, but that seemed to be a good foundation.
“I see!” Rarity exclaimed, something a little off about her tone. She licked her lips. “And where exactly would you like this library to be? There’s so many places in Equestria that need libraries! Appleloosa, Fillydelphia… Ponyville? Perhaps?”
“Actually, I was thinking putting it here in Hollow Shades. Next to the Dreamland,” the princess said.
Rarity faltered. “O-Oh?”
“It’s more convenient that way. If it’s next to your home, you can visit me often.” She frowned suddenly. “Oh, but then that makes it easier for you to go home instead of, uhm, spending the night with me.”
Rarity faltered, a slight blush on her face. “Darling, if me not sleeping over often is a concern, we could also simply just, ah, well… You know. We could make it a more—” She gestured rather aimlessly—” permanent thing, as it were.”
“Wait. As in live together?” A heavy blush washed over Twilight’s face, her ears alert and her wings tight against her body. “As in together together? As in share our lives and belongings in equal measure?”
“…Perhaps not as formally as that, dear, but yes. That’s what I’m suggesting ” Rarity continued, tentatively. “If anything, we’ve practically already been living together for a while now, and I don’t know about you, but I rather think it’s worked out well for us! So it makes perfect sense we just make it official, no?”
“That does make sense,” Twilight replied, slowly. “Is, uh, that all we’d do…?”
“…Yes? What else is there to do?” Rarity asked. Her cheeks tinted slightly. “Unless you mean, ah, the more personal things couples do while living together….which we already do…?”
“Not that, Rarity,” Twilight whispered, flustered.
“Nothing,” Twilight said, quickly, looking away. “Forget it. Nothing important. It’s just an old outdated tradition, I guess.”
“Wait, no, no, now you have to tell me,” Rarity said, immediately jumping up onto the fountain and walking up to Twilight. “Do what?”
“It’s not important, really!” Twilight insisted, backtracking slightly, becoming really rather flustered. Which did not go unnoticed. “It’s really not interesting.”
“It clearly is if you’re redder than my fainting couch, your highness! Tell meeeeee, Twilight!”
“Rarity, it’s just—”
Her sentence quickly became a yelp when she lost her footing, tumbling down into the fountain with a big splash that was promptly followed by Rarity’s screech as she crouched out of the water’s way.
“Twilight!” she called out afterwards, leaning over the edge of the fountain and doing a frankly miserable job at not laughing when Twilight emerged, completely soaked. “Look at what you’ve done!”
“What I’ve done?! Look at what you’ve done! You made me fall in!” Twilight protested, shivering. “You should be in here with me!”
“Why, Twilight! I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Rarity said, innocently trotting around the fountain’s edge. “And even if I did, I can assure you I would never be so clumsy as to fall in!”
“You’re right, Rarity,” Twilight said, solemnly. “And I’m sorry.”
Rarity stopped. “You’re sorry? You’re sorry for what?”
Twilight’s horn lit up with magic.
“Twilight Sparkle!” Rarity gasped furiously when she emerged from the water. “What is your problem?!”
“Why, Rarity! I’m sure I don’t know what you mean!” Twilight innocently said between laughs, only to yelp when Rarity started making her way towards her.
“You stop swimming away this instant, Twilight! Twilight!” Twilight eventually allowed herself to be caught, giggling when this resulted in Rarity splashing water at her. “Take that! And that!”
“Stop! Stop, please!”
“There is no mercy for those who dare ruin my mascara!” Rarity shot back, trying to sound infuriated despite her smile. “Take this! And this!”
“Oh? If this is how it’s going to be, then…”
Her horn lit up, the equivalent of a bucketful of water floated up into the air. Rarity immediately backtracked.
“Wait!” she yelped, raising her hoof. “N-Now, darling, let us not be rash, shall we? We’re all rational mature adults. Revenge isn’t becoming of a princess!”
Twilight smiled politely. “So then, how about a three second head start?”
Honestly, Twilight was impressed by how loudly Rarity could scream.
By the time the two mares had found a campfire to huddle around, the majority of the townsponies had finally gone home. Twilight’s friends were all still awake, however, and soon enough had joined the two mares around the crackling fire.
Nopony said much at first, allowing the fire to speak for them all while they settled into place, Princess Luna’s stars and moon shining above.
“So,” Rainbow Dash said, breaking the silence after a moment, “now what?”
Everyone turned to look at the pegasus lazily wrapped over Spike’s tail.
“What do you mean ‘now what’?” asked Twilight.
“…I mean, Princess Luna is free, so now what’s the plan? We go for the other two, obviously, but, like, what’s our plan? Princess Cadence is in her castle and Princess Celestia still who-knows-where.”
Rarity raised an eyebrow. “Rainbow, we only just freed Princess Luna today, and you think any of us has a plan?” She cuddled up next to Twilight. “I plan to sleep is what I plan. I’ll think about rescuing alicorns tomorrow, thank you very much.”
“I must go to Canterlot to see Cadance,” Princess Luna said, Pinkie sitting on her back. “Preferably sooner rather than later. Afterwards, I believe my sister should have priority in our search efforts.” She looked towards Spike. “Has she replied to the letter?” When he shook his head, a great frown marred her face. “Hm.”
“I hope she’s okay,” Fluttershy said, seated next to Applejack. “And that Discord hasn’t gotten to her…”
“He hasn’t,” Princess Luna replied. “My sister is not so easily defeated.”
Twilight nodded. “Besides, if he had, we’d already know. Discord wouldn’t miss a chance to gloat.”
“But how are we going to find Princess Celestia if she doesn’t answer our letters?” Pinkie asked, standing on her hindlegs on top of Luna’s back and putting her forehooves on the princess’s head. “Do you know how many waterfalls there’s in Equestria?! A bajillion!”
“We’ll just have to start without her help,” Princess Luna said. “Tomorrow, if we must.”
“Tomorrow?!” Pinkie gasped. “But—! But we just finished rescuing you! And what about all the fun stuff we were going to do when you got freed?! We’re going to make you an honorary member of the Dreamland family! And you can live with Rarity and Inky and Princess Twilight in the Dreamland! You’ll help us with the kids, and then in the mornings when Rarity is cranky and yells at us, and all that stuff! And maybe I’ll move in, too! It’ll be so much fun!”
“There is no time for fun, little one. I was in that cave doing nothing for a thousand years. I do believe that is enough resting to last me a lifetime.”
As soon as Princess Luna finished, Twilight felt Rarity fidget against her, and when she glanced towards her marefriend, it was obvious on the unicorn’s face that she seemed to disagree with that statement.
A tacit message was spoken between them when their eyes met, and Twilight turned back towards the others.
“Princess Luna, if I may, I think tomorrow is too soon. I know you just got freed, and you want to do something. I felt the same, but… I can’t speak for everypony, but honestly, I’m tired. I’m not ready to go back into it so fast.” She gestured to her friends. “I don’t think any of us are. We need a vacation, even if it’s a small one.” Twilight smiled. “You’ve seen our dreams. Do you think we’re all ready to go? Why don’t we see Cadance, take some time, and then get back to it? Like we said, Princess Celestia must be fine for now, and it isn’t smart to let ourselves burn out.”
The princess pouted slightly. “…That is wasting time, Twilight Sparkle.”
Though Twilight opened her mouth to reply, Rarity was faster.
“Princess… I’m tired.” There was something pleading about her tone. Tired, for sure, but pleading. Her ears folded back slightly, and she subconsciously grabbed Twilight’s hoof as she carefully spoke, her eyes fixed on the campfire flames. “I want to go home.”
Immediately, Princess Luna’s expression changed. Her aggravation was gone, replaced instead with the analytical expression she often wore when dreamwalking. Similarly, a few other ponies reacted the same way—namely, Applejack and Fluttershy.
Princess Luna straightened up. “I see. The time has come, then..”
“You want to go home?” Pinkie asked, concerned. “Why didn’t you say so earlier, silly? You didn’t have to stay here so late!”
“I can go back with you, Boss!” Incantation quickly chimed in, seated next to Professor Awe. “And don’t even worry about the foals tomorrow! I’ll handle it, and I’ll even handle it when you’re all out finding Princess Celestia.”
Rarity winced. “No, darlings,” she said with visible difficulty. “I didn’t mean the Dreamland. Or Hollow Shades.” Her voice caught in her throat, but she recovered and continued: “I meant it’s time for me to go back to Ponyville.”
And there it was. And Twilight realized now that it made sense.
Princess Luna was free. The deed was done. This long, long arc was finished, and now Rarity wanted to go home to Ponyville.
Pinkie paused a second before laughing nervously. “Oh! You mean going back for a vacation? That’s fine, we can handle it until you’re gone!”
“Wait, wait, no, boss,” Ink interrupted, alert. “You don’t mean you’re moving back to Ponyville, right? Right? Boss?”
When Rarity simply smiled sympathetically, two thirds of the Dreamland team gasped, one standing up in horror and the other falling off Princess Luna’s back.
“You’re leaving Hollow Shades?!” Incantation exclaimed. “Boss! You can’t!”
Rarity didn’t relent. “Come now. You both always knew I had to go home at some point.”
Pinkie climbed back on top of Princess Luna. “But Hollow Shades is your home!”
“No.” When Rarity’s hoof tightened around Twilight’s, the alicorn tightened her winged embrace. “Ponyville is my home.”
Incantation fell down onto her haunches, tearing up. “But, Boss…”
“Wh-What about Princess Twilight?!” Pinkie protested, wiping at her eyes. “She doesn’t want to move back to Ponyville!” She turned to Twilight. “Right, Princess? Rarity would never go anywhere you aren’t!”
Rarity’s expression softened. “Pinkie…”
Pinkie ignored her, eyes still set on Twilight. “Right, Princess?”
Twilight hesitated, honestly unsure of what to say. Truthfully, she felt sad. She’d been in Hollow Shades for what felt so long now, she’d basically considered it her new home, and until moments ago, she thought Rarity did too.
She’d never even considered the fact that they’d have to go back.
But Hollow Shades wasn’t her home, was it? And neither was Ponyville, really. Her home was where her heart was, and her heart was wherever Rarity went.
So the choice was obvious.
“I’d like to go back to Ponyville, too,” she said, decisively. “I was thinking I could open a library there. One that isn’t inside the Everfree Forest.” She looked to Rarity warmly. “Do you think there’s space next to your boutique?”
Rarity teared up, relief evident in her eyes. “I’m certain we can figure something out.”
“What about us?” Incantation pleaded. “What are we supposed to do without you? What if we miss you?!”
Pinkie furiously nodded along. “We already miss you!”
Rarity laughed. “You say that as if you’re never going to see me again. I can visit, you know.”
“That’s not the same!” both Incantation and Pinkie protested.
“And how am I supposed to run the Dreamland without a co-owner?” Pinkie added, miserably.
“You won’t,” Rarity replied. She paused a moment and then carefully said, “I already have a successor in mind, in fact. I’ve had them in mind for a while now.”
“You have?” Pinkie asked. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”
“Frankly, darling, because I thought freeing Princess Luna would take several more years. I didn’t think I’d be resigning this soon.”
“…Well! Who is it?” pressed Incantation, leaning in. “Do I know them? Do I like them? If you’re leaving me, boss, it better be for someone I like, too!”
“Oh? In that case, I suppose it’s a good thing you seem to like yourself quite a lot, don’t you, Incantation?”
Ink frowned. “What? Why?” She narrowed her eyes. “Is it because I’ll dislike them so much that I’ll need my own love to feed?”
Twilight snorted at that, which the changeling thankfully didn’t notice on account of Rarity giving her A Look.
Ink leaned back. “What?”
Dash spoke up: “Preeetty sure she means you, Ink.”
“What? No, she doesn’t.” She turned to Rarity for confirmation, but when Rarity simply fluttered her eyelashes, Ink practically choked on her saliva. “Wait, what?!” She stood up again, flabbergasted. “Me?! You want me to replace you as the owner?!”
“Yes,” Rarity replied, emotion filling her eyes. “As of whenever I leave, you shall own half of Princess Luna’s Dreamland.”
“I reckon’ that’s a great idea!” Applejack exclaimed. “‘Bout time a changeling owned a business without having to hide who they are!”
“That’s true!” Twilight added. “This would be a great first step for Changeling-Pony relations.”
“Y-Yeah!” Pinkie added. “And I’d take nopony else as my business partner!”
Incantation turned to her, overwhelmed with tears. “Chief…” She turned back to Rarity. “But—! I can’t! I’ll never be as good as you!”
Rarity grinned. “No. You shall be better. In fact, you already are. And you deserve this. I’m very proud of how far you’ve come, Incantation. I hope you know that. Or, rather, in your case, I hope you can feel it.”
Incantation laid down on the ground, sniffling as the professor patted her back sympathetically.
“I’ve never been so miserable to be so loved,” she sniffled, unable to stop herself from smiling when everyone laughed.
“When are you planning on moving back, Rarity?” Fluttershy asked next, the excitement in her voice rather evident despite her best attempts.
“I don’t know. Soon, I expect. We’ll sort out the details later. I don’t have to take all my belongings back to Ponyville yet, so perhaps I’ll just do a trial run of sorts.”
“To see if you realize you miss us too much and then you come back?” Pinkie asked, hopefully.
“Darling, Pinkie,” Rarity said, smiling affectionately. “I already miss you. And besides,” she added, teasing, “It’s not as though I’ll leave without saying goodbye properly.”
The conversation moved along after that, focused mostly on Princess Luna answering questions about her past and about old Equestria. Twilight, on her side, was more interested in the mare cuddled next to her, the both of them sharing a comfortable silence as they listened to the others.
This went on for about an hour, and by the end of it, almost everypony had left and only Rarity, Twilight and Princess Luna remained, all three waiting for Pinkie to come back from closing up the Dreamland.
“How are you feeling, Princess?” Twilight asked.
“I’m all right, Twilight. I feel more alive than I ever have… perhaps even before my incarceration.” She folded her legs in front of her and looked up towards the sky. “I confess I keep expecting to wake up as though this were a dream.” When she lowered her gaze, her eyes settled on the younger mares. She smiled. “I notice you two have been particularly affectionate towards each other tonight. I assume you’ve talked things out, then?”
Rarity laughed, turning to Twilight and brushing back her bangs with her magic. “That’s one way of putting it, yes.”
The princess nodded. “That is good to hear. I assume Twilight will be staying at your house in Ponyville until she finds a more permanent accommodation?”
“Oh! Well, actually, I’ve asked Twilight to move in with me,” Rarity said, both her and Twilight’s cheeks tinting red.
Princess Luna raised an eyebrow. “Move in with you?” Her eyes drifted towards Twilight, and Twilight felt her blush increase at Princess Luna’s smirk. “Interesting.” She turned back to Rarity. “Is moving in together the only thing you plan to do?”
Rarity faltered, her now suspicious gaze flickering briefly towards Twilight. “I… Yes? What else would we do?”
“Oh, nothing. I merely ask out of curiosity. You see, back before we were imprisoned, asking somepony to move in with you carried more archaic connotations,” she explained, politely ignoring Twilight discreetly shaking her head. “In our times, that was akin to a marriage proposal. Isn’t that right, Twilight?”
“…Yes,” Twilight replied, only slightly glaring at the grinning princess.
“Oh!” Rarity exclaimed. “Oh. Oh.” She turned to Twilight and gave her an amused pointed stare. “My, my! That certainly explains somepony’s earlier reaction.” She tilted her head to the side. “Alas! Too bad that tradition is long gone, no?”
“‘Too bad’?,” said Princess Luna, gravely. “I’m confused. Do you wish it were still akin to asking Twilight to wed you? Rarity, if that is what you want, you can just ask her to marry you. I hope you realize that.”
“Don’t be silly,” Rarity replied, amused, and yet when Princess Luna continued to stare in a very un-silly way, Rarity’s good-natured laugh stopped. “…You don’t think I actually want to marry Twilight, do you?”
“Wait.” Twilight pressed a hoof against her necklace, feigning hurt. “You don’t want to marry me?”
“What?!” Rarity blurted out, flustered. “That’s not what I said either!”
“That’s exactly what you said!” Twilight exclaimed.
“It is what you said,” Princess Luna added.
“I know it’s what I said!” Rarity threw them both glares. “But you know what I mean! Of course I want to marry Twilight!” she protested, right up until she noticed Twilight’s absolutely delighted expression and she turned yet another shade of red—that, too, was delightful. “But not right now, obviously! Maybe after we’ve saved all the princesses, and Discord is defeated, and if we’re still together!”
Twilight’s amusement vanished. “What do you mean ‘if’ we’re still together?!”
Rarity threw a hoof up in the air. “Darling! A few months ago I thought you were dead! Who knows what will happen in the next six months! Maybe I’ll be dead next!”
“She does have a point, Twilight,” Princess Luna noted, watching as a flustered Rarity settled back next to Twilight. “Though it would be appreciated if you avoided perishing, Rarity.”
“Very appreciated,” Twilight added with a giggle, wrapping a wing around Rarity and pulling her close for a nuzzle. “And don’t worry. I don’t want to marry you yet, either.”
“I should hope not! That would have been the single most unfabulous accidental proposal I’d ever seen. No, thank you. Imagine proposing so casually.”
“What if I propose casually?” Twilight teased. “Would you say no?”
“…No, but you’d have a very underwhelmed fiancé.”
Twilight looked up to see Pinkie trotting towards them, a spring in her step.
She waved at Twilight. “Hi, Princess Twilight!” She waved at Princess Luna. “Hi, Princess Luna!” She turned to Rarity, and rather than waving, opened her eyes wide, actually teared up, and contorted her quivering lips into a cartoonishly sad face. “Hi, Rarity…”
“Pinkie, are you going to do that every time you look at me?”
“Maybe.” Her lips contorted down even more, which Twilight found heartwarming and disturbing in equal measure. Did she not have bones or face muscles, or…? “Unless it’s upsetting you.”
Rarity hummed. “Somewhat, yes.”
Immediately, Pinkie’s face snapped back to normal, her tears gone as if they’d never been there. “Oh no! I don’t want to upset you!” She climbed back on top of Princess Luna’s back and poked her head out. “Can I cry for real the day you leave?”
“Pinkie, if you don’t cry me a river deep enough I can swim in it the day I leave, I will be more than cross.” She then lifted her hoof and covered her mouth as she yawned. “Goodness. I want to keep talking, but I can barely keep my eyes open.”
“Do you want to go to bed?” Twilight asked, focusing away from the discussion Pinkie and Luna had started.
“No, I’ll be alright,” Rarity replied, snuggling up against her significant other and closing her eyes. “I just need to rest my eyes, unfortunately, but it’s not a problem.” She then opened them briefly. “Though… you don’t need to rest your eyes, do you?”
Twilight couldn’t help an affectionate smile.
“No.” Her horn lit up, and to a soft ping, their necklaces glowed. “I don’t.”
Another ping rang out, and as before, and hopefully every time moving forward, the two minds intertwined felt as though all was right.
Because it was.
Twilight turned away from Rarity and towards Pinkie and Princess Luna, finding both of them staring at her curiously.
Princess Luna’s eyes flickered back and forth between Twilight and Rarity’s resting body. This was the first time she was seeing the spell in action, which was likely the reason she asked:
“What happens now?”
What happens now. A question both Twilight and Rarity had asked themselves many times before in many different situations. A question that was so often tangled in a web of apprehension, and fear, and nerves.
A question whose answer was still the same.
“We don’t know,” Rarity replied, and when she smiled, so did Twilight in perfect unison, seamlessly finishing the sentence her other half had begun. “But we’re excited to find out.”