“Oh, Rarity, it’s lovely!”
Inside Carousel Boutique, Rarity smiled at her customer and adjusted her glasses. She took the dress she’d spent all morning working on and made a few last-second adjustments.
“Yes, it’s quite the design, if I do say so myself!” she agreed, carefully folding the dress and setting it inside its box. “I’m terribly sorry I took so long with it, Spring, but I’ve been traveling quite a lot as of late.”
Spring Showers shook her head. “Oh, it’s all right. I always figured this little town wasn’t enough for you,” she said with a wink. “You better run off to Manehattan before you meet Prince Charming and he keeps you here!”
Rarity masqueraded an embarrassed cough as a laugh. “Don’t be silly, darling! No ‘Prince Charming’ will keep me here,” she replied. After all, Princess Charming has had me running across the country like a madmare looking for her books.
Spring giggled. “Well, good for me, ’cause who’d make my dresses if you left?” she asked, trotting toward the door. “See you later, Rarity! Thanks again!”
“Thank you for the patronage!”
Rarity waited for the doorbell to chime before relaxing and letting out a yawn. Heavens, she really needed to stop pulling all-nighters the same nights she returned from trips. The train back home had arrived earlier than expected, but the lack of anxious ponies waiting to greet her made her feel comfortable enough to go home and work on pending commissions. Maybe Twilight hadn’t been too worried about the loss of contact?
Speaking of which, her nerves had considerably eased when a quick trek near the Everfree Forest made her necklace fragments light up green. Though the communication spell was sadly done for, she felt much happier knowing she still had a way of detecting Discord.
A meow interrupted her train of thought, and Rarity looked down to find Opalescence underhoof. She took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. Maybe I ought to take a vacation from all this book-finding before I lose all my customers.
Another meow, and Rarity found Opal disdainfully sniffing the book on the chair, no doubt because the thing still smelled of Heart’s Haven’s inhabitants. Before the cat tried anything, Rarity levitated the book and unceremoniously dropped it into her saddlebag. It had been given to her by the mayor after she pointed out she did have the library card and was actively looking for it, though she strongly suspected he’d given it over in the hopes that the gesture of goodwill would keep her silent regarding her “discovery.”
Rarity turned toward the window and found a familiar black owl waiting by the windowsill, his gaze glued on the now-hostile cat. Well, somepony’s impatient, she thought, biting down a smile and pressing a hoof to the spot where her necklace would be… if the thing hadn’t given out on her.
She took her saddlebag and within minutes found herself following Themis toward the library. Or, rather, she led the way while Themis rested on her back and listened to her recount the changeling adventure. Truthfully, she could largely find the library without help now. The owls were merely a formality by this point. Or, more likely, Twilight’s way of pressuring the unicorn into visiting sooner.
Eventually, the library came into view, and just as she was about to jump down into the depression, Rarity stopped. Themis flew up, confused by the unicorn’s actions, and subsequently let out a surprised hoot when Rarity teleported herself down.
“Hah!” she exclaimed, a bit out of breath. It seemed like she still couldn’t teleport as easily as Twilight, but at least small distances worked for her, and she was sure Twilight would be delighted regardless.
Excitement doubled, Rarity hurried toward the tree, descending the stairs and trotting through the tunnel. Unlike a few weeks ago, Twilight wasn’t waiting for her at the end, and a cursory inspection of the wall revealed there had been no recent panicked explosions.
“Twilight?” she called out, taking several tentative steps further inside the library. “Twilight, darling! I’m back!”
A familiar crackle of magic sounded behind her, and Rarity turned around to find the Princess of the Library looking quite at ease.
“Oh! Rarity, you’re back!” she exclaimed, for a brief moment looking Rarity over. Checking for injuries, perhaps?
“I am! And you seem remarkably calm. Didn’t try to explode your way out of the library this time, then?” she teased, making a show of looking around for new scorch marks and then giggling at Twilight’s flushed expression.
“No. I trusted you to be fine,” Twilight replied flatly. Her eyes then lowered to Rarity’s neck, her ears lowering in unison. “The necklace broke, didn’t it?”
Rarity didn’t immediately reply, levitating the necklace’s remains from inside her saddlebag. Augury and Effigy had retrieved the other pieces from the basement, but even then she could tell that no amount of potential repair would restore it to its previous splendor.
“I’m afraid so,” she said, watching as Twilight’s own magic overtook the shards. “It would seem our little experiment proved to be too much for it.”
“Oh… I suppose you didn’t manage to teleport then…” Twilight furrowed her brow as she inspected the damaged necklace closely.
“The tracking spell still works, however,” Rarity quickly announced. “I tested it in the forest again with the leftover chaos magic there.”
Twilight didn’t look pleased by the news. “I don’t like that he’s following you, because that is what he’s doing.”
Rarity tried to smile. “But doesn’t that mean I’m heading down the right path?”
“I don’t know if that’s good, either,” Twilight murmured. “I think we could still try and cast the communication spell again, but it might be better to wait until we have a new receptacle. Meanwhile, you can still use your necklace to be on the lookout for him.”
“I didn’t expect him to be there,” Rarity continued. “I’m rather upset at seeing how woefully unprepared I was at the prospect of… well… facing him. Though, if I may say so, I did well with the changelings, all things considered!”
Before Rarity could ask, Twilight trotted off toward a distant table.
Rarity levitated her saddlebag toward the entrance before following after Twilight. Once she arrived, Twilight had already sat down and magicked several blank scrolls, as well as fresh ink and a quill, onto the table.
“What’s all this for?” she asked, tentatively sitting opposite Twilight. Twilight’s sudden smile was disconcerting.
“Even though our minds were connected, I wasn’t able to gather as much information as I wanted about your trip, so!” Another scroll appeared, filled to the brim with question after question. Twilight lifted her quill, and continued, “I wrote down five hundred questions that should give me a good idea of Heart’s Haven and its social dynamics, as well as your escape.”
Rarity giggled, shaking her head. “Oh goodness, you really are incorrigible, aren’t you?” she said, laughing even more at Twilight’s completely indignant expression. “Isn’t five hundred questions overdoing it just a tad?”
“But—! But it’s been a thousand years! A lot has changed!” Twilight protested, whining piteously. “I only have notes on changeling behavior when they were starting to meld into pony society! I don’t have notes on what they’re like after a thousand years of social and geographical adaption!”
Rarity snorted. “For starters, I can assure you they’ve done a rather poor job at the social adaptation aspect. My sister is a better actress than the entire populace of Heart’s Haven combined.”
Twilight nodded gravely, jotting down notes on her empty scroll. “What about eating habits? Have they found a way to sustain themselves through organic feeding instead of magic extraction?”
“Actually, they still feed off love,” Rarity said, preferring the shorter term. “Your niece apparently powers up the crystal heart every so often.”
“Really?!” Twilight asked, ears perking up. She jotted something down on her scroll again. “Interesting! I thought the heart was specifically tied to Cadance, but it must have been altered after my imprisonment to work with her descendants’ magic roots. I have a book about the subject, but—” She cut herself off, looking back up at Rarity. “Did you… Did you get the book?”
Rarity hummed. “Your book?”
Rarity hummed again, suppressing a devilish smile. “I did, but… silly me, I left my bag all the way over there at the entrance! Give me a moment, will you?” Rarity said, with a nonchalance that would give changelings a run for their money. Standing up before Twilight could teleport the bag over, she took a quick deep breath before lighting up her horn and—
Rarity endured a moment of absolute darkness as she teleported to the door. While completely on target, this time it felt similar to her first unaided teleport back in Heart’s Haven. Rarity caught her breath, picked up the saddlebag and, although her better sense advised against it, teleported again. She didn’t manage to make it all the way back to the table, instead reappearing halfway between the two points, feeling even more winded than the first time. After catching her breath, she quickly trotted toward the table and settled herself down, making it a point to avoid looking at the suspiciously silent alicorn.
“Terribly sorry, my teleportation still isn’t as perfect as I’d hoped,” she said, looking inside her saddlebag. She produced the book moments later, and finally turned to Twilight, gracing the alicorn with her best smile. “Voila.”
Rather than take the book, or even notice it at all, Twilight stared at Rarity, her lips curved in the shape of a perfectly adorable O. Her eyes darted back and forth between the entrance and Rarity, apparently at a loss for what to say.
“Something the matter, Twilight?” Rarity asked, fluttering her eyelashes.
“You… You teleported,” Twilight whispered.
Rarity placed her elbows on the table and rested her chin against her hooves, barely able to keep her smile at a dignified width. “I did, yes!”
“You teleported,” Twilight repeated, lifting her hooves to her mouth, and oh, the elation on her face made Rarity’s heart flutter. After a second, she jumped up and exclaimed, “You did it!” She teleported to Rarity’s left. “Rarity, you did it!” And now she teleported to Rarity’s other side, and even levitated a little. “You did it! Oh my gosh, you actually did it!”
Rarity couldn’t help but laugh, watching as Twilight teleported herself around, repeating the same thing over and over with varying degrees of shock. Goodness, she was adorable. If the necklace cracking resulted in such a delighted Twilight, Rarity would gladly crack a thousand more.
“Quick!” Twilight blurted out, teleporting herself atop one of the distant bookcases. “Teleport here! No, wait!” She teleported herself further away. “Here! Wait, no.” She teleported a teensy bit closer. “Here! We need to test your range, and then your speed, and then—”
“Twilight, sweetheart, calm down,” Rarity said, stifling her giggling. “I’m not nearly that advanced yet!”
Twilight teleported back and sat down at her spot on the other side of the table, bright smile still plastered on her face. “I knew you could do it!” she continued, clapping her hooves excitedly. She then cleared her throat and matter-of-factly added, “I mean, technically, you cheated because I jumpstarted the process, but! But the reason you can keep doing it is because you already know the basics, see! And—” Her smile became extraordinarily smug. “And you said all our teleportation exercises weren’t going to work for anything.”
Rarity sighed theatrically. “I know, I’ve been so terribly daft! One way or another, I will just simply have to accept that you’re always right, Twilight,” she finished with a dazzling smile.
“Yes, I am,” Twilight promptly replied, before realizing she’d done so and allowed a blush to crawl over her face. “Well, no, I’m not always right. Just… Always. Mostly. Anyway! Rarity, this is great! Do you know what this means?! You have a means of escape now! And, if you learned teleportation, this means that in theory, we could move onto complex magical transmuta—”
“Don’t even think about it.”
Rarity’s near-threat was met with a few moments of silence, ending when Twilight giggled and rolled her eyes.
“Fine,” Twilight said with finality. “We can leave that for later, I guess.”
Rarity raised an eyebrow. “Much later,” she replied, and Twilight’s still-exhilarated grin proved to be terribly infectious, coaxing the unicorn into laughing softly as she folded her forelegs on the table.
Another moment of silence lingered, but it did not intrude or bother; it was comforting to take just a moment to look at each other, to truly absorb what was going on, and, in Rarity’s case, to appreciate Twilight’s heavenly grin.
“You did it,” Twilight said again, eyes sparkling.
“We did it,” Rarity corrected. “Together.”
“Together,” Twilight repeated, softly now, her smile waning a little as if in awe of the fact.
They did it. Not Rarity, and not Twilight, but both together—as they’d decided to look for the books, as they’d faced down the dragons, and as they would face whatever the future held in store.
“But,” Rarity said, and her excited smile returned, “that’s not the end of the good news.”
Twilight’s ears shot up. “It’s not?”
Rarity planted an elbow on the table, resting her chin on her hoof, and smiled at Twilight in a positively devilish fashion. “It’s not, and I should inform you it is far better than the teleporting. I happened to meet a royal guard during my trip in Heart’s Haven and…” She fluttered her eyelashes. “Guess who has an official appointment to meet with Princess Cadenza Armor the Tenth, more commonly known as the lovely Princess Denza?”
Again, just like before, Twilight shot up to a standing position. “You do?!”
Rarity kept smiling. “Would I ever lie about something like this?”
“Rarity, this is—! Do you—! You’re going to—!” She cut herself off, unceremoniously falling down to her hindquarters, looking as if it had all become a bit too much for her to process. Eventually, she managed a “When?”
“In about two weeks, I expect! Rift Shield said he’d be sending me the official letter sometime this week, which gives us ample time to have Pinkie Pie’s upcoming visit, and then I can safely leave for Canterlot!” She giggled at Twilight’s stunned expression. “I told you I was well on my way to freeing you, did I not?”
Twilight gawked at her. “I… I… Can you—” She teleported away for a second, and when she returned, a firmly sealed scroll floated next to her.
“I…” She held the letter against her chest in a curiously reserved motion, clearly something dear to her. “It’s a letter Cadance wrote to me,” she elaborated, gently placing it on the table. “It’s the last one she sent before Discord trapped me here. I remember you said the guards at the castle didn’t believe you, but I’ve been thinking about it, and if you give that to Denza, I’m sure she will believe you. Cadance’s official seal and signature are a little worn out, but I used a restoration spell and they should be clear enough.”
Rarity carefully took the letter, her hoof brushing against the ancient parchment. “Twilight…”
She felt the urge to tug on the firmly knotted lace holding it together, curious to read the letter from the princess of old, but it was evident that the letter meant a great deal to the alicorn, and it would not do to disrespect it.
“I will make sure she gets it then,” Rarity promptly said, placing the scroll back on the table. She then winked and added, “And I promise I shall resist all temptation to read it.”
Twilight opened her mouth to reply, no doubt to scold Rarity, but instead, something far different came out instead: a smile. It was a rather foalish smile that went along nicely with the soft yet intense gaze she directed at Rarity. It was the kind of look Rarity herself constantly threw Twilight, that smitten love-struck gaze, and to suddenly feel herself become the target of such a stare—and from her crush, no less—well…
“Is something wrong, Twilight?” Rarity asked, feeling her cheeks grow hot and the butterflies in her stomach grow wild.
Twilight slowly shook her head. “I was just thinking that… I feel like maybe you really might be able to get me out of here.”
Rarity gasped theatrically. “‘Might’? Really, Twilight dearest, I didn’t realize you had that little faith in me!”
Twilight quickly shook her head. “What? No! I just meant tha—”
A sudden deafening explosion sounded from the floor below, interrupting Twilight and shaking the entire library like an earthquake, frightening the life out of Rarity in the process as she tumbled to the floor. Whatever it had been, the tremor didn’t last long, and after a few moments of complete paralysis, Rarity turned to Twilight.
“Rarity?! Are you okay?!” Twilight asked, rushing to the unicorn and using her magic to help her up.
Rarity gulped, breathing quickly. “Twilight!” she sputtered. “What on earth was that?!”
Twilight stepped back, ears flat against her head. “I’ll go down and—”
Again the sound rocked them, but to Rarity’s horror, it seemed like Twilight wouldn’t need to go down, as the problem had literally come up to meet them. The two mares screeched and jumped back as crackling yellow magic surged across the floor in front of them.
Twilight gasped. “The maze’s chaos magic!”
“What is it doing up here?!” Rarity asked, staring, eyes flicking back and forth between it and Twilight. “I thought it could only stay in the maze!”
“I don’t know! This has never happened before!” Twilight said, for once looking at a complete loss.
Before either could say or do anything, a hideous gurgling sound erupted from the chaos magic, and Rarity shrieked when it pulsed and shot out a wave of energy that skimmed out across the entire floor, prompting her to jump onto the table.
She watched as the magic reached the entrance to the library, and the usually transparent barrier stuttered into existence, colored an unnatural yellow-black. After one last flash, the chaos magic let out a low rumble, almost like a growl, and Rarity turned just in time to see it rise up into the shape of the ghastly Spirit of Chaos—a distorted figure formed of magic.
“Twilight?! Is that him?!”
“No! No, it’s not!” Twilight yelled back, her eyes fixed on the magic puppet. It continued to growl as it writhed in apparent pain, trying to finish materializing. “It’s just his magic! Chaos magic can follow the will of Discord even if he’s not here!”
Letting out a final groan, the puppet achieved its desired shape, two black dots appearing on its face. The puppet looked to Twilight first and stamped its feet against the floor with a hiss, giving off the impression that it was throwing some kind of temper tantrum. Rarity might have found it amusing were she not scared out of her wits.
Eventually, giving the floor a final stomp, the puppet turned around and the second its eyes landed on Rarity, it became far less comical. Its entire being flared up, like fire from a stove, and it roared at her, looking absolutely and positively enraged.
If looks could kill, well…
Rarity instinctively stepped back, watching with horror as the puppet lifted its paw and a crackling ball of magic materialized in its palm. Her entire body froze in fear, and she could do nothing but stare and await certain death as the puppet hurled the ball straight at her, only missing by an inch because Twilight Sparkle quite literally flipped the table over with her magic, throwing Rarity off it.
Rarity fell to the floor with a painful thud and scrambled away just in time to see magic engulf the table and turn it into a vat of gooey green gelatin. She stared at it, once again petrified, and only reacted when the chaos magic roared angrily at being thwarted. Again, it stamped a foot against the floor, and now turned its rage to Twilight, taking several slow steps toward her.
“Rarity! Get out of here!” the princess commanded, eyes fixed on the puppet, standing tall with her wings flared even though the thing was forcing her to step back. And yet… And yet, despite the fact she was trying to be brave, Rarity could hear the crack in her voice. “Now, Rarity!”
Rarity got up, horrified. “What?! But, Twilight, I can’t just leave you he—!”
Rarity stepped back, fear still gripping her but no longer paralyzing her. She couldn’t just leave! She watched as the puppet roared again, continuing its path toward its retreating target, and with every second that passed, the more sure she was. Even Twilight looked terrified, and how could she not? How could she not when it was that same magic that had trapped her here in the first place?
Finally, Twilight Sparkle reached the wall, and the barrier—which Rarity realized must of course extend along the library’s entire footprint—prevented her from backing up further. She made an attempt to run, but the puppet hurled a magic ball right next to her and she froze on the spot.
“Twilight! Twilight, run!” Rarity yelled to no avail. “Run!”
Twilight simply stood there, immobile, making no sign of having heard Rarity. She stared at the puppet with wide, terrified eyes. The puppet let out a burst of ghastly laughter, and summoned not one but two crackling spheres.
This sight was what broke through the fear holding Rarity back. She’d never let that thing hurt Twilight again. She looked around, her eyes landing on nearby books scattered on the floor, and knew what to do.
The puppet, meanwhile, grew tired of toying with Twilight and, with a small wave to the alicorn, let out another laugh and launched the two spheres right at her. Except, just as before, they missed their target when Rarity jumped in front of the petrified alicorn and blocked the attack with a shield made entirely out of a dozen books cobbled together. The chaos magic slammed against it, pushing her back, but as she’d expected, the protection spell immediately activated and disintegrated the spheres.
“Like hell you will,” she snarled, adrenaline rushing through her body while she held the makeshift shield high in the air and threw the puppet a murderous glare.
The puppet hissed at the books, recoiling from Celestia’s magic just as the chaos magic from the dragon caves had, and even more so when Rarity swung the books at it like dozens of swords. It snarled in pain when one of the books touched and disintegrated part of its body, and then it ultimately conceded defeat by sticking out its tongue and descending back to the lower floor.
When it was clear the chaos magic would not be returning, Rarity’s magic ceased and the books fell to the floor as she let herself drop down onto her hindquarters, heart beating thunderously in her chest.
That was close.
She breathed in and out, in and out, her mind desperately trying to assimilate what had just happened. Once her breath settled a few moments later, she turned around to make absolutely sure Twilight was perfectly unharmed.
And indeed she was, though much like Rarity, she too looked shaken. She was still sitting on the floor, staring at the other mare with the same blank expression she’d directed at the chaos magic puppet.
“Twilight, darling?” Rarity asked, tentatively. “Are you all right?”
Twilight blinked once, twice, thrice before jumping up, wings splaying out. “Rarity, are you CRAZY?!”
Rarity blinked as well before jumping up too, indignant. “What? Excuse me?!”
“That thing could have killed you, Rarity!” Twilight exclaimed, looking at Rarity as if she’d lost her mind. “What were you even thinking?!”
Rarity stared at her, flabbergasted. “It was about to attack you, Twilight!”
“So?!” Twilight shot back. “What could chaos magic even do to me that’s worse than what I already am?! But you! It could kill you, or worse, and you just jump in front of it?!”
Well, now, this was unacceptable.
“Oh. Oh, I see,” Rarity said, raising an eyebrow. “What did you expect me to do?! I didn’t have time to think whether or not I should intervene! So do forgive me for not simply sitting there and watching as some monster attacks the pony I love! Terribly sorry, Princess Twilight!” she snapped, irate.
“Well, even so! I don’t know, Rarity, you could have done something that isn’t getting yourself killed!” Twilight shot back, before groaning and burying her face in her hooves.
Annoyed, Rarity whirled around in place, huffing for good measure.
The nerve of her!
Then again, arguing about it wasn’t terribly smart at that point, and their time would be much better served actually figuring out what in Equestria had happened rather than arguing over who was allowed to die for whom. Letting out a deep sigh, Rarity turned around again.
“Twilight, I understand you’re upset about it, but nothing happened, and…” She drifted off, frowning slightly. “Twilight?”
Twilight’s face was no longer buried in her hooves; she peeked over them at Rarity, a noticeable blush on her cheeks.
“What?” Rarity asked, disconcerted. She turned around, but when she found nothing behind her, returned to Twilight. “What is it? Why are you looking at me like that?”
Twilight closed and opened her mouth several times, her cheeks flushing even more when she lowered her hooves and asked: “…Attacks the pony you love?”
To say Rarity’s cheeks went up in flames would be a gross understatement. She usually prided herself on her ability to keep her emotions in check, but her body betrayed her.
“You… You…” Twilight stood up, mouth again opening and closing, like her brain was having a hard time processing the implications.
“Twilight,” Rarity carefully said, attempting some amount of damage control, “Twilight, I didn’t mean it that way! Love is a very, er, adaptable word and I simply care abo—”
“Wait! Applejack!” Twilight interrupted, a dictionary appearing next to her, which she leafed through. “She said you were flirting with me! And… And… you had serious intentions… and ‘flirting’ comes up again in my list of new words!”
The book disappeared and instead a scroll took its place, which Rarity recognized as the scroll Sweetie had filled with modern terms for Twilight to learn. She quickly unfurled it, read it over and after a moment, stared at Rarity with a mix of both awe and shock.
“You love me…?”
Rarity stared at her, at a loss of what to say. There, it had been said, despite her loud heartbeat nearly drowning out every sound, because Twilight knew. She knew, she knew, oh dear heavens, she kne—
Truth be told, had this happened at any other time, it would have been fine! Perfect, even! Really! Maybe not the lovely little fantasy she held where her confession would come after Twilight’s liberation and they could actually do something about it, but she could adapt to any situation. Except, it was rather hard to feel encouraged to be bold and unravel Twilight’s feelings when they’d just avoided death by remnant chaos magic.
“Twilight Sparkle, this is not the moment to worry about my feelings for you, for goodness’ sake! We have to deal with your rampaging chaos magic—which, may I remind you, tried to kill us both!” Rarity said, trying to sound as stern as she could despite her intense desire to bury her face in her hooves. “Honestly, Twilight, where are your priorities?!”
Thankfully, that seemed to work, and Twilight’s wings spread out, her scroll disappearing.
“Uhhhhhhh, yes! Right, yes, yes, yes, okay, yes!” she blurted out, ending her own rambling by teleporting away just like that.
Rarity sighed, rubbing a hoof against her forehead.
Well, I suppose that could have gone worse, she thought.
Immediately after, however, a large smile spread across lips, and her other hoof rose up to shield her face. It didn’t go worse, did it? Twilight hadn’t reacted negatively yet, and… and…
A loud sound again erupted from below. Startled, she rushed across the floor and descended the spiral staircase, finding Twilight standing in front of the maze, a chalkboard next to her. When Rarity reached her, the alicorn was busy mumbling under her breath, writing down complex equations onto the chalkboard.
Twilight didn’t reply, instead looking up at the floating chandelier. “Swirl! Levitation of sections seven hundred through eight hundred!”
Swirl’s candles flashed once, and Rarity watched as dozens of beams of magic shot out from the chandelier toward the bookcases on the walls, removing rows and rows of books and presenting them to Twilight. Twilight nodded her head, satisfied.
“Sextuple square grid formation!” Twilight called out, and immediately the books were arranged in several six-by-six squares. Twilight nodded again. “Return to position!” she called out, and all the books did as instructed.
Rarity looked up at the chandelier. “What… What was that about?”
“Before Owlowiscious found my library, I used Star and Swirl to get books and materials.” Twilight trotted back toward the chalkboard and jotted down more equations. “Theoretically speaking, I could have them imitate your defense mechanism and summon the books to create shields if the chaos maze acts up.”
“But what caused all this?” Rarity asked, watching the maze warily. “How can it be you’ve been here more than a thousand years and this is the first time it’s reacted this way? What’s different now?”
Twilight pensively looked to the maze. “What changed?” After a moment, she turned to Rarity and her prominent blush returned full force. “…You. You’re what’s different.”
“Me?” Rarity said, taken aback.
“Yes? I mean, I don’t know, Rarity!” Twilight stammered, talking fast. “I haven’t really had time to analyze, and you’re the only thing that’s changed for me in a thousand years, and I—!” She cut herself off, returning to her chalkboard and writing quick equations. “Because you’re an independent variable, and so in theory, I think that maybe you… you…” She drifted off, the chalk levitating down just in time for Twilight to stand completely still, her back to Rarity, and then lift her hooves to her face to quietly say, “Oh my gosh.”
“Twilight Sparkle, if you’re going to have a blushing meltdown every time I speak to you from now on, this will make things somewhat difficult.”
Twilight immediately spun around, mortified. “I am not having a blushing meltdown!”
Unable to stop herself, Rarity said, “Yes, and I didn’t accidentally confess I love you.”
“R-Rarity!” Twilight all but gasped, turning at least thirty different shades of red before returning to face her chalkboard.
Oh dear, she was adorable, wasn’t she?
Too bad it was rendering her completely nonfunctional. Rarity realized that until they properly talked out the accidental confession, they simply weren’t going to get anywhere. A faint blush graced her own cheeks, but she took a deep breath and summoned up her courage, ready for whatever might happen.
It seemed as if she would have to nip the potential romance in the bud.
For now, at least.
Carefully, she trotted over to the alicorn and cleared her throat. Twilight jumped up like a startled animal and stared at the unicorn.
Rarity gently smiled, trying to fight the blush that rose to her cheeks. “Twilight, may I see your checklist, please?”
Twilight shifted her eyes. “My checklist…?”
“Yes! You know the one,” Rarity continued. “The checklist where you put all the important affairs to deal with? The one from some time ago.”
“Oh!” Twilight’s ears flipped up in recognition before immediately lowering. “…Why?”
Twilight immediately teleported her lengthy checklist, which Rarity gratefully took and unfurled. To her relief, there was still a decent amount of space at the bottom. Perfect.
“Now, as far as I understand, everything on this checklist is what matters, yes?” Rarity said, looking it over. “Everything written here must be done and discussed with utmost priority?”
Rarity nodded, satisfied. “Fabulous! And, following that same train of thought, we can safely say that everything not on this list is as irrelevant as if it had never happened or mattered, yes?”
Rarity cleared her throat. “Be a darling and fetch me a quill, please? Thank you!” Rarity folded the scroll, preparing the quill Twilight brought her, and then carefully wrote down, “Talk about Maze and Discord,” drawing a small empty check box next to it.
“What did you write?” Twilight asked, teleporting behind Rarity and trying to read over her shoulder.
Rarity waited for Twilight to read before announcing, “There! Our little talk regarding the maze is now in our very important to-do list! And now, remember the little revelation I made upstairs?”
“Err, well, uhm—”
Twilight shook her head, making it a point to look at anything but Rarity. “Yes, I remember.”
Rarity turned back to the checklist. She opened her mouth to speak, but hesitated briefly. That… really wasn’t at all the way she would have liked for any of that to happen, but if she wanted to make progress and reassure the alicorn, she would need to play Twilight’s game. Though she was well aware Twilight was very fond of her, she didn’t want to have Twilight feel like she’d been cornered into a spot she perhaps didn’t want to be in.
“Well, that conversation—” She very reluctantly rolled up the scroll. “—my confession, and any related talk, will not go on this scroll. Therefore it does not matter or exist, and we can focus on other things, all right?”
That’s that, I suppose.
“But I want to put it on the checklist,” Twilight immediately said, as if she were firmly stating a fact.
Rarity blinked, her heart speeding up. “You… You do?”
And then did Twilight realize what she’d accidentally implied, jumping away from Rarity, cheeks flaring up.
“Yes? Maybe? I don’t know!” she blurted out, trotting off in quick circles. “I hadn’t really thought about any of this too much? I mean, maybe I have, especially after we first tried the necklace, and I’d never really felt that way before toward somepony! And the magazines you left here talk about it a bit, but they don’t really go into as much depth as I wanted, so I didn’t have a proper guide! And I’ve had other things to worry about like Discord, and the princesses, and I’m displaced in time, so I didn’t think a lot about it, because I wanted to analyze it after I was freed since the logical thing is to be freed first and then I could read books on the subject and make a plan and I don’t know!”
She stopped pacing, finally, and shot back to her chalkboard, again going over her equations while Rarity could only sit there, suppressing an absolutely smitten grin.
Well, well, well.
“Twilight? I have another idea.”
Twilight stopped her equations and turned to Rarity, still looking very much flustered.
Rarity giggled, taking the checklist and unfurling. “Come here, darling,” she asked, and when Twilight did as much, she took the quill and cleared her throat. “Very well, then! Let’s see…”
With her absolute best calligraphy, she drew two more empty check boxes. For the first one, she wrote: “Free Princess Twilight Sparkle.” And then, for the check box below, and unable to stop herself from giggling, wrote: “Talk about our feelings for each other.”
“There!” she said, looking to Twilight. “Are we feeling more at ease now?”
Twilight nodded, biting down a smile.
“Now may we go back to the very urgent matter at hoof?”
“Uhm, yes!” Twilight said, and the embarrassed cough that followed made Rarity’s heart flip. “Let’s.”
Carefully, Twilight approached the maze, which brought back Rarity’s worries.
“Darling,” Rarity said, taking a few steps toward the alicorn and the maze. “Isn’t there another way to—”
Rarity’s sentence came to a stop when raspberry magic surrounded her and levitated her away from the maze. “Twilight!”
Twilight did not reply, and stepped closer to the maze despite Rarity’s protests. Her horn glowed brighter, and several scrolls appeared next to her, as well as the chalkboard from before.
“Twilight, can’t you at least stand away from it?!” Rarity called out, still held back by Twilight’s magic. “What if it attacks you again?!”
Twilight turned to Rarity. “I can’t study it if I’m not near it, Rarity,” she pointed out matter-of-factly before returning her gaze to the labyrinth. She lifted her hoof and inched it forward, ears pressed against her head—though whether it was out of fear or due to Rarity’s own protests, it was impossible to tell.
With Twilight’s touch, the magic activated and the maze moved around at a much more volatile pace. Twilight quickly teleported next to Rarity, ignoring the unicorn’s attempt to somehow grab her before she could teleport away again, and both watched as the bookcases flew up into the air and almost angrily rearranged themselves.
That done, Twilight dropped Rarity, levitated her chalkboard over, and wrote down a series of complex calculations. Rarity patiently waited the lengthy span of three minutes before prodding her crush.
“Twilight, this is getting us nowhere! We need to find out what triggered it!” Rarity whined. “Something we said or did caused this!”
Twilight turned to her and frowned. “You told me about the changelings, then how you cheated your way into telepor—Don’t look at me that way! You did!”
Rarity rolled her eyes. “I told you about the changelings and then my teleporting, yes, then I told you I’d be visiting Princess Denza, and how I got one of your books and…” She stopped. “What if it’s the books?”
“Well, yes! It makes sense, doesn’t it? The more we find, the closer we are to freeing you, and I doubt Discord would be happy about that.”
That would somewhat explain why the puppet had looked specifically furious at her, especially considering she was the one bringing the books back.
Twilight nodded slowly. “I suppose that could be the reason? But it still doesn’t explain why it didn’t attack before… You’ve been bringing books back for nearly ten months now.”
“Maybe it didn’t think I’d be able to find so many? It didn’t believe in me?” Rarity suggested, before fluttering her eyelashes. “Just like a certain somepony else, Miss-Maybe-You-Will-Free-Me.”
Twilight playfully rolled her eyes. “Right.”
“And besides,” Rarity continued, “Pinkie might have answers. There’s a chance she might have dealt with chaos magic outbursts before, especially considering she’s been with Luna for nearly all her life.”
Twilight teleported the device away and, after giving the maze one last dirty look, trotted toward Rarity. Rarity lifted her hoof to cover a yawn, and realized it was probably getting quite late. It wouldn’t be terribly wise to wander the Everfree Forest alone at night, especially when she no longer had a way to instantaneously communicate with Twilight.
“You have to go home?” Twilight asked, ears dropping slightly.
“I’m afraid that would be a wise choice, yes, sweetheart,” Rarity replied, offering an apologetic smile. “Don’t want to be out and about too late.”
A few minutes later, the two mares found themselves at the library’s entrance, and it was clear that neither of them really wanted Rarity to leave.
“Well, I suppose I shall be going now,” Rarity said for the fifth time, determined not to have her farewell extended any longer. The longer she delayed it, the less she wanted to leave. She adjusted her saddlebag and turned to the uninviting tunnel. “See you tomorrow, then!”
“Oh, Rarity, wait!”
Rarity turned around. “Mm?”
Twilight cleared her throat, looking a bit flustered. “I… umm…”
Rarity raised an eyebrow. “…Yes? You ‘ummm’…?”
The question only seemed to fluster Twilight more, whose attempts to look strong and proud were greatly diminished by the way she was pawing at the floor with her hoof.
“I… errr… uh, yes,” she said with finality.
Rarity giggled. “I ‘uh yes’ you too, darling.”
Twilight snorted, playfully rolling her eyes. “Ha ha, very funny.”
“Oh hush, Twilight,” Rarity said, brimming with confidence, “you know you love me.”
Though Rarity meant it, she’d only said it to tease the alicorn and get another reaction out of her, but what she didn’t expect was what happened next.
Without missing a beat, Twilight laughed softly and said, “Yeah.”
Of course, not even a second later she processed her own words and then did Rarity get the flustered reaction she’d aimed for as Twilight nearly jumped back. “Wait, I mean, no! Maybe! I don’t know!” she quickly blurted out before teleporting away just as fast.
One, two, three seconds went by before she teleported back, looking extremely embarrassed. “Forget I did that.”
Rarity couldn’t help a laugh. “I’ll try, but I can’t promise anything!” she said, stepping into the tunnel and trotting off, butterflies stirring up a hurricane in her stomach.
She’d trotted the colossal distance of an entire five steps when she stopped and turned around. “On second thought.”
Twilight, still standing by the entrance, perked up. “On second thought?”
Rarity trotted back.
“On second thought, you know, I just simply don’t feel comfortable leaving you here alone after that thing tried attacking you,” she said, stepping back into the library. Granted, there was nothing she could do against it that Twilight couldn’t with Star and Swirl now, but still. “And I’ve finished all my commissions for now, so there’s really no harm in me staying over.”
“Sweetie Belle’s sleepover mattress is here,” Twilight quickly added. “It’s already late, and it’s a better idea for you to leave tomorrow morning.”
“Yes! And you know, I didn’t finish telling you about Heart’s Haven! See, all the more reason to stay,” she added, nodding in unison with Twilight. Noticing this, she stopped nodding and smiled widely. “Besides, let’s face it, you’re absolutely hopeless without me. I did have to rescue you from that awful thing, after all.”
Twilight snorted, trotting alongside Rarity deeper into the library. “Me? What about you? I’m the one who had to get you off that table before you were turned into green goo!”
Rarity sighed theatrically. “Oh dear, you did save me, did you not? I suppose that means we’ll just have to be each other’s heroes then, won’t we?”
Twilight laughed, looking happier than Rarity had ever seen her.
“That sounds great.”