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    Dreams plagued Rarity’s nights, like an illness she could not recover from. She dreamt of a strange mare stealing her princess away, she dreamt of her life before finding the library, and ever since Twilight’s last letter, dreams featuring the alicorn had stopped being pleasant.

    Her life seemed like a dream, truth be told. Passing inconsequentially, day after day. Her actions did not matter, because Twilight was gone.

    Nearly an entire week had gone by since her second incident in the Everfree Forest, and in that time she had not thought of Twilight; she did not allow herself to think of the alicorn because she would see her soon, not because it hurt too much or any such thing.

    She did not think of Twilight because she did not miss her at all.

    Missing was for the hopeless, for those who’d given up and resigned themselves to their terrible fate. Rarity did not miss Twilight Sparkle, for Rarity would soon be in the library back where she belonged.

    “Come on, Rares. Stop moping.”

    Rarity tore her eyes away from the cabin window and directed them to the pegasus lying on the opposite seat, forehooves tucked behind her neck as she took up the entire bench. Rainbow was grinning at her; that detestably encouraging grin that seemed permanently plastered on her face ever since the intervention.

    “I am not moping,” Rarity insisted, covering her wounds with her cloak. They’d started to finally scar, which meant she didn’t need those bandages anymore. She went back to glaring at the scenery. Much like missing, moping was also something reserved for the hopeless and resigned, and she was anything but.

    She was, however, irritated.

    She was irritated at Rainbow Dash, and Applejack, and Fluttershy, all of whom had unanimously agreed to force Rarity to leave Ponyville “for her own benefit” under the pretense of escorting Apple Bloom to Canterlot. Hah! To stay in Ponyville and find Twilight was to Rarity’s benefit, not having all her supposed friends rudely shove her into a train to Canterlot.

    The only reason she hadn’t accused them all of kidnapping was because she was very much looking forward to marching up to the throne room and regaling Denza with several choice words.

    “I would be much happier, mind you, if we were going someplace useful,” she added dryly, turning to Rainbow Dash.

    “There’s the royal library,” Rainbow replied. “You might find something on the legend, or how to break the curse, in case what’s-his-face doesn’t have anything that helps.”

    “Of course! I’m sure the castle staff have yet to find the one book detailing how to break the curse in the thousands of years they’ve been living there!” When Rainbow simply rolled her eyes, Rarity continued, “Canterlot will be no help at all, can’t you see?! If we just went to Hollow Shades—”

    Rainbow Dash sighed. “We can’t.”

    “But Princess Luna can help us!” Rarity protested. “Pinkie doesn’t even have to know we’re cursed! She’ll be fine!”

    “And if she isn’t? What if this curse spreads to her somehow? You really wanna risk it without even knowing anything?” Rainbow asked, and when Rarity fell silent, she snorted once more. “Yeah. That’s what I thought.”

    “Oh, please. How can you act so high and mighty when you’re just parroting everything Applejack said!”

    Rainbow shrugged. “So what if I am? She’s still right.”

    When Rarity huffed and went back to sulking against the window, Rainbow sighed and continued: “Applejack said she and Fluttershy would figure something out while we’re away, so just chill, all right? Read a magazine or take a nap or something. We’ll figure it out.”

    Rarity gritted her teeth. We? Hah! That wasn’t fair. That wasn’t right. She was the one who’d been doing all the hard work for the past year! She was the one finding the books, and she was the one who’d promised to free Twilight! And now they were taking over for her without her consent? It was scandalous! Infuriating!

    And! And she didn’t have any magazines to read, so there! And napping was out of the question when it constantly resulted in nightmares about that Amethyst Wind mare. Even her subconscious was torturing her.

    The door to the cabin opened and in came Apple Bloom, apparently tired of exploring the train. Despite her earlier excitement at the prospect of seeing her mentor again, she now looked concerned with other matters.

    “What’s up, pipsqueak?” Rainbow asked. “Missed the V.I.P. room too much?”

    Apple Bloom half-smiled. “Somethin’ like that, I guess,” she replied, climbing up on the seat next to Rarity and looking at the floor. While Rainbow Dash went back to her attempts at napping, Rarity knew enough about children to realize something wasn’t quite right.

    “Dear, is something wrong?” she asked, putting aside her own annoyances for the moment and assuming a concerned expression.

    Apple Bloom smiled awkwardly. “No, I just…” She pointedly avoided Rarity’s gaze, as if she were guilty of some yet unconfessed deed. “There was a lady with some pet birds an’ an owl sure looked like Elara an’… you know…”

    Oh.

    “Yes, I know,” Rarity said, and though she tried to sound sympathetic, she could not withhold the edge in her voice as she glanced to Rainbow Dash.

    “But maybe they’re already back! They wouldn’t leave us like that, no matter what the princess says!” Apple Bloom quickly added, no doubt trying to lighten the mood she’d inadvertently soured—not that it had been light to begin with.

    Rarity simply smiled. “Let’s hope so, darling.”

    With that, she turned back to the window and took a deep breath. After a moment, she glanced at her saddlebags where Twilight’s last letter lay buried. She hadn’t been able to finish it, either. She’d barely touched the thing since that first time, and whenever she tried to read it, a sickening sensation overcame her and forced her to put it back.

    Why did you do this, Twilight? she thought, as if Twilight could hear her. Why? I thought you…

    She gritted her teeth.

    When she found her way back into the library in a few weeks, she would tell Princess Twilight Sparkle exactly everything she thought about her asinine actions.

    If you find your way back, a little voice whispered, which she promptly smothered.

    “Maybe Zecora knows somethin’?” Apple Bloom suggested, drawing the unicorn’s attention. She looked back and forth between the two mares, nodding eagerly. “She lives in the forest, so she knows it real well! If we go an’ tell her about Princess Twi, she’ll get us there with her lickety-split!”

    “And what are we going to tell her when she asks why we aren’t going with her?”

    Apple Bloom fell silent. “I… I don’t know…”

    Rarity sighed, rubbing her hoof against the bridge of her nose. Everything felt hopeless, didn’t it? She supposed that such a feeling of despair meant the Spirit’s plan had worked splendidly. Their hooves were tied no matter what they did. If they encouraged others to search, they might risk cursing them. If they sat by and simply prodded ponies toward the right path, it could take months or years before any progress was achieved.

    As much as she loathed admitting it, she now understood why the guards at the castle did nothing to help the princesses.

    “I’ll go with her,” Rarity thought out loud. “If she goes into the forest, and I follow her rather than leading, we’ll find the library, I’m sure.”

    “But if you confuse her too? And you find another…” Apple Bloom asked, and Rarity noticed the filly’s eyes lowering toward the area of her hind legs covered with the cloak.

    “I’m not afraid of timberwolves,” Rarity replied, and she meant it. Her leg would heal eventually, and when it did, she would march right back into that forsaken forest and try again.


    Rather than rooming at the castle like she expected, since she was travelling with the ex-captain of the royal aerial team, they put themselves up in Spitfire’s apartment. An offer the pegasus had graciously made since it would be coincidentally empty as she coincidentally had a weeklong event in Cloudsdale. Coincidentally.

    “I still don’t see why we couldn’t simply stay at the castle,” Rarity complained for the third time, fiddling with the broken necklace hanging from her neck. It wasn’t that she enjoyed wearing broken jewelry, but she was determined to never again fall for that spineless lizard’s tricks. “Wonderbolts and their guests traditionally stay at the castle, as far as I know.”

    Rainbow laughed. “Well, I mean, I totally could have scored us a room there, yeah, but then you’d have snuck out first chance to go and give Princess Denza a piece of your mind.”

    “Pardon me?! That is not true in the least,” she protested without a hint of irony. She would have waited until nighttime to sneak out, not immediately after arrival like some sort of amateur.

    Waiting for Zecora outside Spitfire’s apartment complex, Rarity observed Canterlot’s morning life in action. The apartment complex was in one of the trendier districts of the city, and though it was barely past eleven o’clock, ponies were out and about, attending to their daily affairs. It was almost demeaning to see them so happy and carefree, utterly unaware of the secrets Equestria hid.

    “Look, look! It’s Zecora!” Apple Bloom exclaimed, waving at the distance. “Zecora! Over here!”

    Rarity looked around and indeed, Zecora was trotting toward them. Saddlebags hung on the zebra’s back, and she waved to Rarity and the others with enthusiasm. Ponyvillians usually treated her with disdain, but Canterlot saw so many foreign ponies day in and out that a zebra didn’t seem to faze them.

    Rarity stood taller, ears perking up. This would be the first time she’d be able to speak with Zecora in over a year, and internally, she was dying to share information on the princess. Surely Zecora of all ponies would believe in the tale! Maybe she even knew how to break the curse!

    Except…

    Rarity’s heart fell, as did her ears. She couldn’t actually talk about the princess, could she? Not without knowing how the curse spread or… or… Blast! Rainbow Dash was right, and Rarity was loath to admit it. She truly was tongue-tied until they knew how the hay the curse worked or spread or anything!

    “Apple Bloom! My, how you have grown!” Zecora exclaimed, then smiled at Rarity and Rainbow Dash. “I’m glad to see you are not alone!”

    “Zecora! It’s such a pleasure seeing you again,” Rarity said, smiling brightly. She cleared her throat and gestured to Rainbow Dash, “This is my friend, Rai—”

    Zecora smiled. “Ah, Rainbow Dash, if I were to guess,” she said. “Your Seeking Night performance did impress!”

    Rainbow stood up straight. “Course it did! It was awesome!”

    “Do tell us, how has your trip been so far?” Rarity asked, hoping Zecora would announce she’d be going back to Ponyville soon. “It was certainly longer than a week!”

    “Finding the information I needed was unusually tough. A week of time was not enough,” Zecora replied. She turned to Apple Bloom and affectionately patted her on the head. “But with little Apple Bloom in Canterlot under my care, what I have learned I can eagerly share.”

    Apple Bloom jumped in place. “I wanna show you stuff, too! I’ve been doin’ all my exercises, and practicin’ my potion brewin’ with Prince—” She cut herself off, right before Rarity almost magicked her mouth shut. “Wi-with Princess… Rarity…?”

    Zecora blinked. “Rarity? A princess? How very strange! What has happened to cause this change?”

    “Now, Zecora! You know I’ve always been quite regal! You can’t blame Apple Bloom for thinking of me as a princess!” she offered, laughing rather loudly and nervously. “In any case, look at us dawdling here. What are your plans?” she asked, looking back and forth between Apple Bloom and Zecora.

    Zecora hummed. “Apple Bloom and I will go to the Canterlot Bazaar. They have many treasures from places afar. The books Apple Bloom needs are indeed quite rare, so I hope that they will be there.”

    “That sounds lovely!” Rarity exclaimed, sighing rather theatrically afterwards. “We’d love to come along with you, though Rainbow and I must unfortunately see to some affairs at the castle. Perhaps we can all meet up later tonight back at the apartment?”

    The time and place set, the group divided and parted ways. Apple Bloom had earlier mentioned wanting to go with Rarity and Rainbow to the castle, and as such, Rarity was immensely grateful the filly had forgotten all about it in favor of spending time with her teacher.

    Twilight would like Zecora, she idly thought, belatedly snuffing the life out of that thought before it led to more about Twilight.

    She and Rainbow conversed about many things while they walked the streets of the city, and yet she kept getting distracted by other ponies. Every so often, one or two would stare at her as she passed by, and every time she told herself it was because she was a sight to behold, and not because of her limp.

    “Don’t worry,” Dash had said, smiling at the indiscreet equines. “They’re staring because of me.”

    “Mommy, why’s that pony walking funny?” a foal asked moments later, effectively wiping away the smile that had begun to form on Rarity’s lips.

    Honestly, don’t ponies have manners anymore?

    Their walk to the castle eventually led them to the Knowledge District, where the dragon statue was thankfully more fascinating to ponies than Rarity’s limp. She, too, felt her heart constrict at the sight of it, though probably for considerably different reasons than the gawking tourists.

    “Isn’t it awesome?” Rainbow Dash said, coming to a stop, her ears flicking up and wings spreading out, almost mimicking the dragon’s. “It’s, like, the coolest statue in all of Canterlot.”

    Rarity could hardly agree, her eyes fixed on the distant glass door that hid the true finest statue in the capital.

    For a moment, for just a single moment, Rarity wanted to go into the library. She wanted to step through the doors and look at Twilight, see her reading a book with that silly grin of hers, to pretend for a moment she was really there in front of Rarity, to—

    “You’ll be careful in Canterlot?”

    “Of course, my darling.”

    “Hey, are you okay?” Rainbow asked, waving a hoof in front of the mare. “Rarity? Are you crying?”

    Rarity blinked, raising her hoof and wiping away tears she had not realized were there. “I… Well, darling! I’m a patron of the arts! Such a beautiful statue; how do you expect me to withhold my awe?” she said, laughing awkwardly. She cleared her throat and trotted off, smothering the desire to go and see the statue. “Shall we, then?”

    They continued on toward the castle, eventually reaching the gates. Rather than stopping to speak with the guards, they instead trotted right past them, mixing in with the small crowd going in and out of the castle.

    Once inside, she asked for the main office and the two mares followed the given directions, eventually entering a room large enough to host the several ponies lined up in front of a desk, all waiting for a meeting with Denza.

    Rainbow flew up into the air. “Come on, I don’t have to wait in line like the rest,” she said, flying over the line. Or, she would have if Rarity hadn’t magically forced her back.

    “Now, now, darling! I thought you used to be the captain of the Wonderbolts! I hope you didn’t get there with this complete disregard for protocol, hmmm?” she chastised, stepping behind the last pony in line.

    “Of course not! I’m the best at protocol, but—! I’m not Captain anymore, and—! Ugh. Fine,” Rainbow muttered, hanging in mid-air like an unmotivated bullet. “Everywhere else I get to skip lines…”

    One, two, three ponies went by, and Rarity ignored Rainbow’s pointed stare. Four, five, six, and seven came next, and finally it was Rarity’s turn. With a winning smile, she stepped up to the desk and smiled at the secretary, an older unicorn mare who looked like she hadn’t taken a vacation in years.

    “Welcome to Canterlot Castle, where we care for your cares,” she droned, a rehearsed speech Rarity had already heard seven times. She lifted her pen and asked, “How can I help you? If you’re here to schedule an audience with the princess, the next available slot is in three weeks.”

    “Three weeks?!” Dash exclaimed before Rarity could so much as say a word. “No offense, but don’t you know who I am?”

    The mare stared at her for three whole seconds. “No,” she flatly replied, ignoring Rainbow’s indignant gasp, and then turned to Rarity. “How can I help you?”

    Rarity brushed her mane back. “Hello! My name is Rarity, and I am here to see Lieutenant Rift Shield regarding Princess Denza’s curse!”

    “…Can you please repeat that?” the mare said behind her desk, staring at Rarity with narrowed eyes, her pen still floating in mid-air.

    “Of course!” Rarity cleared her throat and fluttered her eyelashes. “My name is Rarity, and I am here to see Lieutenant Rift Shield regarding Princess Denza’s curse!”

    The mare finally put her pen down, and turned to a guard posted on the other side of the room.

    “Silent Arrow!” she called to him. “Please tell Lieutenant Shield that Miss Rarity and Miss Rainbow Dash are here to speak with him.”

    “I knew you know who I am!”

    After the stallion saluted and trotted off, the secretary turned back to the mares and gestured toward some nearby chairs. “Please take a seat.”

    Rarity smiled politely and did as instructed, sitting on the chair closest to the door, while Rainbow plopped herself down on the chair next to her and crossed her forelegs. Rarity noticed that her seat gave whoever came in a perfect view of her scarred hind leg, and though she initially made a move to make sure it was covered, a different idea sprouted in her mind.

    Despite her vanity protesting her actions, she sat up straight and lifted her cloak back enough to display her scarring for all to see. Once she was satisfied, she turned back to Rainbow and found the mare staring at her, eyebrow raised.

    “It’s just a little something to give Lieutenant Shield an incentive to be as helpful as possible, darling,” she replied, smiling when Dash smirked lightly. “He was the one to suggest I go into the forest.”

    A dozen minutes went by, Rainbow distracting Rarity with stories of her “epic quests” while they waited for Rift to arrive. The pegasus was just in the middle of detailing a confrontation she had with an Ursa Major when she stopped, her delighted expression fading as her eyes fixed on a point beyond Rarity.

    Rarity took a moment to prepare before turning around, smiling brightly. “Oh, Rift! How lovely; you’re finally here!” she exclaimed, finding his eyes glued to her abhorrent scars. She gasped and quickly covered herself. “Oh dear, I’m terribly sorry! This silly cloak is simply useless!” She sighed theatrically, playing with her necklace. “Timberwolves, such nasty beasts… Shame I went into the forest so woefully unprepared…”

    She cleared her throat and stood up, Rainbow following suit. “I hope we’re not intruding? I’d like to speak to you, please.”

    “Not at all,” Rift said, smiling politely. “Please follow me.”

    Rarity stood first, nodding politely at the secretary before trotting toward Rift. Rainbow came next, not bothering with the mare and instead going straight for the stallion.

    “Lieutenant Shield,” Rainbow said, though it was clear that there was no respect to be found in her words.

    “Rainbow Dash,” Rift Shield said, still smiling politely. “How’s retirement working for you?”

    “Great, actually! Except everything I’ve been doing is useless thanks to you guys,” Rainbow said cheerfully, following him and Rarity out of the room. “Not gonna lie, I thought you guys were bad, but this is on a whole new level.”

    “You chose to believe what you wanted to believe,” Rift Shield replied, leading them into a nearby corridor. “Glad you guys left White Tail Woods, finally. We’ve already had dozens of complaints from locals.”

    “Geez, you’re still spying on us?” Rainbow snorted. “What? The princess doesn’t have anything better to do?”

    “Keeping watch over you is more accurate, but again, believe what you want, Rainbow,” Rift said, coming to a stop in front of two large doors, both boasting an insignia of a sun. He cleared his throat and smiled widely at Rarity, opening the door and gesturing inside. “After you, Rarity.”

    Rarity trotted in, finding herself inside a large conference room. Bookcases were mounted all over the walls, showcasing a vast collection of ancient tomes, and Rarity briefly wondered if she ought to take a moment to see if any of Twilight’s books were here.

    She turned to the table and found a plethora of items on it. Papers, photographs, letters and more, and upon closer inspection, she realized they all had to do with the legend—or rather, evidence of it. Even Pinkie Pie’s drawings were there.

    “What’s all this?” she asked, lifting a photograph of the Everfree Forest.

    Rift sighed, taking off his helmet and setting it on the table. “Even though some ponies think we don’t do anything, some of us try and get information,” he said. “Why don’t you sit down?”

    The moment Rarity was comfortably seated, she crossed her forelegs on the table and asked about the only thing she was interested in: “How do I break the curse?”

    Rift blinked at her, and then frowned. “I told you already; we don’t know how to break the curse. Don’t you think we’d have broken it already? We only have…” He faltered, sighed and continued, “We only have a few ideas on how it spreads.”

    “Do tell.”

    Rift brushed his mane with his hoof. “Look, it’s not an exact science or anything, but we think there’s two ways. We know for a fact that meeting Princess Cadance or any of her descendants will get you instantly cursed. It wa—”

    “Wait, wait a sec!” Rainbow interrupted, wings splaying half apart. “Is that why me and the Wonderbolts have never met the princess?”

    Rift sighed. “Yes. It’s not because she’s ‘too prissy to meet you,’” he dryly replied.

    “Now, stop there a moment!” Rarity exclaimed, fixing the two of them a startled stare. “You mean to tell me the Wonderbolts have never met Princess Denza?! But, they’re the royal aerial team!” She balked at Rainbow. “You never questioned this?! You were their captain, for goodness’s sake!”

    Rainbow faltered. “Errr…”

    “The princess didn’t want to meet them either,” Rift interrupted, trying to save face for Rainbow Dash. “You think cursing the Wonderbolts is what she wants? And then, she can’t even say anything about it—”

    “That doesn’t make sense, then!” Rainbow Dash interrupted again, feathers ruffling and her hoof banging against the table. “If I’ve never met Princess Denza, why did I have such a hard time finding Princess Twilight?! Rarity and the others didn’t tell me anything about the curse until after I spent half a week beating up timberwolves!”

    Rift glanced uneasily at Rarity. “That’s when the timberwolves…?”

    “Yes,” Rarity replied, moving to adjust her cloak again. She then turned back to Rift, folding her forelegs on the table. “It seems the curse leads us in circles or to timberwolves, not the princess.”

    Rift frowned. “Yeah, that’s what our records say about—”

    “Hey, hey! What about me?!” Rainbow interrupted, waving her hoof toward Rift. “You haven’t answered my question!”

    Rift frowned for a moment, seemingly aggravated. “What did Rarity and others tell you?” he asked, glancing briefly at Rarity. “You said they didn’t say anything about the curse, right? So what did they say, then?”

    Rainbow frowned. “What does that have to do with anything?”

    “Look, like I told you, it’s not like we’re one hundred percent sure, okay?” Rift sighed, grabbing one of the scrolls from the table and opening it up. “But we think that asking for help in finding the princesses is what passes on the curse from pony to pony. I know it sounds ridiculous, but records of older soldiers and what the Spirit said to Princess Cadance basically confirm it.”

    “But—! What about when you and I met?!” Rarity exclaimed. “Why didn’t you curse me then?!”

    Rift smiled. “I never once asked you to help me find any princess,” he said, rolling up the scroll and tapping the table with it. “You’re the one who was asking for my help. I just asked for proof of their existence.”

    “But that’s stupid!” Rainbow protested. “Seeker has met with the princess, and he told me there is no curse!”

    Rift Shield rolled his eyes. “Because I’m sure he’d have loved getting you cursed,” he replied flatly. “I don’t care what he tells himself; he knows the curse is real! Has he found any of the princesses? No! And more than that, has he asked you to help him find the princesses? Think about it! Has he?!”

    Rainbow winced. “N-no, but… But that’s because he has a rep to maintain! You think he goes around asking for help?! He’s the coolest dragon around! And okay! Fine! He never asked me for help! Then who cursed me?! Huh?!” she asked, puffing out her chest and hitting the desk with her hoof. “Come on!”

    “I don’t know!” Rift exclaimed, slamming his own hoof against the table. “I told you, this is all speculation and—!”

    Rarity lifted her hooves to her mouth, having realized—or rather remembered—something altogether horrifying. If something as simple as asking somepony else to help could curse them, then…

    “Wait.”

    Rift Shield and Rainbow’s argument came to a stop, both of them turning to Rarity.

    “What? What’s wrong?” Rainbow asked, the fire in her eyes dying.

    Rarity turned to her and feeling faint, whispered: “I did.”

    Rainbow leaned back. “Huh? Did what?”

    “At the hospital,” Rarity said, and it felt for a moment like she’d gotten cursed all over again. Despite the fact that she very dearly did not wish to proceed, she cleared her throat and continued, “At the hospital, I asked you to help find the princesses.”

    There was a moment of silence.

    “Well, there you go,” Rift said with a long-suffering sigh. “Mystery solved, I guess.”

    Rainbow Dash, on the other hoof, simply fixed the increasingly uncomfortable unicorn with an absolutely undecipherable stare. Was she angry? Shocked? Neither? Both? Rarity couldn’t tell for a minute until the pegasus exploded, flying up into the air.

    “You what?!” she thundered, and it felt like she’d summon rainclouds so as to bolt Rarity into oblivion. “Why would you do that?! What is wrong with you?!”

    “I didn’t know!” Rarity shot back, jumping up and slamming her hoof against the floor. “How in Equestria was I supposed to know it would spread like that?! I was in the hospital! Please forgive me for not taking a moment to analyze my every action while I recovered from a timberwolf attack!”

    Rainbow’s anger faded slightly. “But—! Okay, yes, but—! But this is stupid!” she shot, now directing her anger toward the stallion and pointing her hoof toward him. “This curse is stupid!”

    “I’m not the one who made the rules!” Rift shot back.

    “And?! It’s still stupid! Asking for help with the princesses?! What was the Spirit even thinking?! The only reason Rarity asked for my help was because she knew I believed in them! If she’d asked anypony else, they’d have called her crazy!”

    “But isn’t that exactly what he’d want?” Rarity interjected. “He’s basically ensuring anypony who believes will get cursed! Yes, it’s a ridiculously specific and absurd method, but it’s working!”

    “You two aren’t getting it,” Rift said suddenly. “Of course it sounds ridiculous to you, but that’s because this curse wasn’t meant for you!”

    Rainbow hovered in mid-air, matching Rarity’s confused expression.

    “Pardon?”

    “This curse wasn’t meant for us. Yes, we got it, but that’s an afterthought. This curse was meant for Princess Cadance and the ponies from a thousand years ago,” he explained, again banging his hoof against the table to emphasize his point. “And a thousand years ago, everypony believed there were four princesses!”

    Rarity’s anger dissipated completely, her heart beating rapidly in her chest. “I’d never thought of that…”

    “The Spirit told Princess Cadance where the other princesses were! He gloated about it; that’s why it’s in the legend! And come on! Think! If you were just told the locations of where your friends are, and you didn’t know you were cursed, and you were in charge of an entire kingdom, what would you do?!”

    Rarity’s eyes grew wide. “I’d ask everypony to help…”

    “Exactly,” Rift said. He sighed and brushed his hoof through his mane. He then tapped his hoof on the table, scanning over the objects strewn about, and reached for what looked like an aged notebook of sorts. The moment he touched it, a burst of magic sprouted from the book, similar to the magic enveloping Twilight’s books. “Here.”

    Rarity took the book, Rainbow landing next to her and looking over her shoulder. “What is this?” she asked, brushing her hoof across the cover. She opened it, and found the owner’s name written neatly in the top left corner. “‘Princess Mi Amore Cadenza’?” Realization dawned upon her, and she looked to Rift, eyes wide. “This is…”

    “That’s Princess Cadance’s diary. The one from the legend. Open it up at the blue bookmark.”

    “But how did you get this?” Rarity asked, looking back to the book and hesitating whether to flip through the pages or not.

    “Princess Denza gave it to me,” he replied. He gestured to the papers on the table. “What, you thought this was all lying here waiting until you came? The princess has had me working on this ever since what happened with you guys.” He frowned. “She’s not very happy about me, quote, ‘working behind her back,’ unquote.”

    “That’s exactly what you were doing,” Rarity pointed out.

    “She’s right.”

    A heavy blush decorated Rift’s cheeks. “Hey! I was trying to protect her! You know how many false leads she’s been presented with?!” He pointed an accusing hoof to Rainbow. “You of all ponies should relate!”

    “Because of Spike?”

    Rainbow Dash’s reply was cut short before it could even be voiced, her eyes landing on Rarity, who was idly reading a page from the princess’s diary. “Wh-what?”

    “Seeker is Spike, isn’t he?” Rarity continued nonchalantly, still reading over Princess Cadance’s diary. “He’s Twilight’s dragon friend. That’s why you believe in the legend, why Princess Denza is keeping watch over you, why you’ve neglected to mention why he isn’t here.” Rarity closed the book and turned to Rainbow Dash. “He doesn’t know anything about this, does he?”

    Rainbow Dash moved back, wings flaring. “No, but what would even be the point of telling him?! What’s the point of telling him I found Princess Twilight if I can’t even take him there anymore because of you, huh?! You know how many false leads he’s followed? A jillion more than Rift! I’m not going to be the one sending him rampaging through another forest!”

    “So then he is Spike!” Rarity shot back. “When were you planning on telling me this?! Do you know what Twilight could have done with that information?! Or me?! I am tired, Rainbow Dash, I am so very tired of ponies keeping information from me! I have tried to be honest with everypony, and in return, I’m only being kept in the dark!” She turned to Rift. “And that goes for you, too!”

    Rainbow gasped, indignant. “But—! But…” she drifted off, cheeks reddening and turning her head away. “Yeah, sorry, whatever.”

    Rarity lifted the diary again, opening it again to the page she’d previously only glanced at. “This is where she speaks of the curse?”

    “No, but it talks about how it spread,” Rift replied.

    Rarity read in silence, Rainbow Dash again peering over her shoulder.

    …Spike barely sleeps.

    I’m glad Shiny convinced him to come home for a few weeks, but it pains me terribly that I can’t offer comfort. He spends his days in Twilight’s room, trying to continue her research on the missing Elements, and no matter what we or Shining tell him, his mood sours day by day. I don’t blame him.

    I hoped Discord’s taunts would prove unfounded, but with each passing day my hope wavers. I haven’t received news from Auntie Luna in over a month, and Twilight… Twilight is gone.

    The nobles of the provinces are coming tomorrow, and we hope we’ll be able to give them more information, even though we have so little. Discord seems to have moved the library, or so he told Spike. Shining doesn’t believe he could do such a thing, but he’ll be going to investigate once the situation in Canterlot eases.

    I can’t stop thinking about what happened in court. It was a nightmare. I don’t think I can go through that again, and Shining agrees. Tomorrow, we will only ask the nobles to help us and round up the ponies from their provinces. Nothing more, nothing less.

    “Even ponies who aren’t cursed can be affected by a cursed pony,” Rift said. “We have the diary of one of the original ponies who lived with Princess Twilight, and though his diary never makes mention of any curse, he does mention the castle guards leading him to timberwolves.”

    Rarity frowned. Well, that explains the owls…

    “What about this part?” Rarity asked, turning to Rainbow. “Discord ‘moved’ the library? You mentioned this in Rainbow Falls as well.”

    “Yeah. I told you, that’s what the Spirit told him,” she replied. “And he said the princess’s library wasn’t where it usually was.”

    “But it’s there! Discord was lying!” Rarity protested. “How would you even move a tree of that size?”

    “Why are you asking me? He’s the one who said it!” Rainbow replied.

    “If he’s cursed, then the curse must have worked to make him believe that,” Rift suggested, taking Princess Cadance’s diary and putting it away. “Princess Cadance’s records suggest that Spike searched the Everfree Forest for a long time and found nothing. It’s why Prince Shining Armor called off the search there.”

    “But have you seen the size of him?!” Rarity protested. “How can he not have found it! He can tear down trees!”

    “Why would he do that if he thinks she’s not there?!” Rainbow interjected. “Maybe now that we know she’s there he’ll do it, but he didn’t have any leads until now! And, I mean, I’m sure he’s tried before, but…” She crossed her arms and groaned. “Ugh. Okay. I’ll get him to talk to you, but you’re the one who’s going to tell him you got me cursed.”

    “I shall!” Rarity said, stamping her hoof against the ground. “And after I’m done, we’ll find that cursed library and draw a map so this never… never…” she drifted off, eyes going wide and hoof going to her necklace.

    The map.

    “What?” asked Rainbow Dash, brow furrowing.

    “The map,” Rarity whispered, seconds before she smiled for the first time in ages. She lifted her hooves to her mouth, staying like that for a moment, before nearly jumping off her chair. “There is no map! Spike is free! Discord didn’t trap him, which means that I was right! I knew it!”

    “Right? Right about what?” Rift asked.

    Rarity was giddy. For once in weeks, she was ecstatic! Hope had risen within her, slowly but surely filling in the gaps the curse had left in her heart.

    “Twilight—! Discord told her he’d hidden a map in her library, and if she left without having found it, it would disappear and she would never see Spike again! She’s so obsessed with the thing, she wouldn’t even leave if she could! But he lied! Spike is fine, so there is no map!” Rarity explained, very nearly jumping up and down in place.

    Twilight would be free! Once Rarity took Spike to her, she’d have no reason to be afraid!

    “All I have to do is find the rest of the books, and—!”

    Rift interrupted. “The books? What books?”

    Immediately, Rarity’s momentum stopped. She frowned at Rift. What did he mean “what books”?

    “Twilight’s borrowed books, of course,” she replied matter-of-factly, raising an eyebrow. “The ones that will set her free.”

    “Wait, wait, wait!” Rift exclaimed, leaning in. “Books that will set her free?! How do you know that will free her?! Did she tell you that?”

    Rarity blinked. “No, it was…” She faltered, closing her mouth. She hadn’t been going after the books because Twilight had said so, or because a book had instructed, but because a, in retrospect, fairly sketchy stallion in the forest had said so, and she couldn’t exactly say that. “A stallion did! One who knows of Princess Twilight and the legend.”

    “What?! How come you never told me about him before?” Rainbow asked immediately. “Where is he?! Was he that one guy you were staying with in Rainbow Falls?”

    “Him? Oh, goodness no! It was…” Again, she faltered until she remembered something from a trip long ago. “He and his wife sell books at the Canterlot Market! They even had one of Twilight’s books, in fact!”

    “Wait, if this couple has known of Princess Twilight, why did they get you to look for the books? Why haven’t they done anything?”

    Rarity opened her mouth to reply, but no words came to her aid. Truth be told, she didn’t know why they’d never done anything about it. The Book Bringer had mentioned being too old for it, but… why would his wife sell one of Twilight’s books to an unknown mare?

    “I—! We’ll simply have to go to the market and ask them ourselves!” she suggested, trying not to dwell too much on her newfound concerns.

    “You two will,” Rift said, leaning back and reaching for his helmet. “I’ve got things to do in the castle, and the princess isn’t exactly happy with me. Just saying I’ve never heard of that version, but it might be worth asking her about it.” He got up. “Anything else you girls want to know?”

    “There is…” Rarity bit her lip. “There is something that doesn’t make sense at all.”

    Rift frowned. “What?”

    “The Spirit!” Rarity exclaimed. She gestured toward the window, where the calm city could be seen. “Look at Canterlot! Look at Equestria! Why isn’t it all plagued with chaos magic if he’s out and about?”

    “Yeah, she’s right!” Rainbow added, turning to Rift. “What’s the deal with that, huh?”

    Rift flinched. “Hey, relax! How am I supposed to know what he’s planning? It’s not like we sit down for tea and talk, you know?” He sighed. “The only pony I know who has more information on everything than us is Knowledge Quill, the old head librarian of Canterlot Library.”

    “And where is he?” Rainbow asked. “Maybe he’ll actually be better than you guys at helping us how to figure out the curse!”

    “He changed his name and moved to Rainbow Falls,” Rift said. “But he’s been staying at Hollow Shades for about three years now. Keeps going back and forth.”

    “Hollow Shades?” Rarity asked. “You mean the professor? Professor Brazened Awe? But he doesn’t believe in the legend!”

    “But he knows everything about it,” Rift replied. “He accidentally saw one of the chaos bubbles, and it set him off. The only reason we haven’t done anything about how he slanders the princess is because of everything he’s been finding out for us.”

    “What are we waiting for, then?” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, turning to Rarity. “We just have to wait for him to go back to Rainbow Falls, and once he’s away from Pinkie, we can ask him to—”

    “Help you?” Rift interrupted. “Come on, Dash. Weren’t you paying attention? That’ll get him cursed in three seconds, and I didn’t go through years of making sure he never met Princess Denza just so you’d throw away our only promising lead left.” He brushed his mane back and put on his helmet. “I hate to say it, but the Spirit really did a good job with this curse.”


    Canterlot Market was as crowded as ever, but Rarity valiantly trotted through the crowds and the stares, determined on finding the Book Bringer and his wife.

    “Geez, Rarity, I know you’re embarrassed about your scars, but aren’t you dying under that cloak?” Rainbow asked, flying above the mare. “Just looking at you is giving me heat stroke.”

    “Perhaps look for the book seller, then, darling,” Rarity reprimanded, glancing up at Rainbow Dash.

    “Yeah, yeah,” Rainbow said, flying up higher and narrowing her eyes. “Maybe I’ll find Apple Bloom and Zecora.”

    Rarity rolled her eyes. So much for Rainbow scouting out the Book Bringer. Well, no matter! She was in much higher spirits, especially after figuring out the truth about the map, and she did not mind doing the searching herself.

    She had a plan, too! She was sure she would be able to extract the required information without ever asking for help regarding the princesses.

    She turned the corner of a large food stall and, finally, like a ray of sun on a stormy day, saw the familiar stand in the distance—except, instead of finding the mare from before, she saw the Book Bringer himself, waving away a little foal carrying a book.

    “It’s him!” Rarity exclaimed, thrilled and waving to Rainbow Dash. “It’s him, it’s him! It really is him!”

    She looked up, but rather than finding the pegasus, she found the sky. She looked around and saw that Rainbow had stopped to greet some fans, and though she was tempted to go and drag her away, she shook her head and instead rushed toward the Book Bringer.

    The elderly stallion did not notice the mare running toward him, too dedicated to rearranging his books. He was smiling widely, no doubt pleased with his recent transaction, and it wasn’t until Rarity quite nearly screeched to a halt in front of him that he looked up.

    “Why, hello, young lady!” he exclaimed, sitting up straight. “Have my books caught your gaze? Are you looking for anything in particular? A particular author you might like?”

    Rarity smiled broadly at him. “Hello again,” she said, barely able to suppress her glee as she awaited his inevitable look of recognition.

    And yet, it never came.

    The stallion blinked. “Oh dear, have we met before? I usually remember my customers…”

    Rarity was taken aback for a moment, but quickly smiled again. Oh goodness, the poor dear, his old age must be getting to him!

    “Don’t you remember me?” she asked again, her hopeful smile faltering at his obvious confusion, unless… unless he was simply acting like he didn’t know her! Surely he was simply trying to keep the princess a secret! She smiled again, more forcefully this time. “We met in Ponyville during last Seeking Night!”

    He cleared his throat in an embarrassed way. “My dear,” he said, “I’m very sorry, but you really do have me mistaken! I didn’t spend my last Seeking Night in Ponyville, but here in Canterlot.”

    “Rarity!” Rainbow Dash called, catching up to the unicorn. “What’s going on? Is this the gu—”

    Rarity’s raised hoof silenced her.

    “Whatever do you mean you weren’t in Ponyville?” Rarity asked, trying to keep her tone polite even despite the sinking feeling clawing at her heart. “We met inside—” She stopped herself, remembering the curse. Curses! She couldn’t mention Twilight, could she? She cleared her throat. “We met inside the Everfree Forest! In front of the library…? Remember?” she continued, gesturing with her hoof because please, Princesses, he had to remember.

    And suddenly, his confusion vanished.

    “The library…?”

    “Yes…? Yes, yes!” Rarity exclaimed, hope returning as her gestures became all the more enthusiastic. “The underground library! Surrounded by a sinkhole! That library! You and your family have been leaving books there for her for centuries!”

    “Her…?” he asked, and the somber expression on his face did away with what little reassurance Rarity had regained.

    “Yes, her! You know who I’m talking about!” Rarity insisted, her patience wearing dangerously thin. “You told me how to free her!”

    “Come on,” Rainbow exclaimed. “There’s no point in hiding what you—” She stopped for a moment when he lifted his hoof, before going off again. “Hey! Why does everypony keep shutting me up?!”

    “My dear ladies!” he exclaimed loudly, almost a bit too loudly, followed by a mirthful laugh. “These are wonderful stories, and I love stories more than anything! Might I suggest we continue a bit more privately?” he asked, and only then Rarity noticed the curious eyes of ponies passing by.

    Rarity laughed nervously. “Oh, heavens, yes! How rude of us!” she continued, gesturing for Rainbow Dash to come down here, for goodness’ sake. Once the pegasus was beside her, she scooted closer to the stallion and whispered, “So you do know her!”

    “My dear lady, I have never once met the ghost of the Everfree,” he whispered, and Rarity could detect no hesitation in his statement. “A close friend and I discovered the library decades ago, and she has forbidden me from going further than three steps in. The books I leave are only to prove the existence of the princess.”

    “But…! But…!” Rarity drifted off, coming to a realization.

    Of course! Twilight can’t measure the passage of time! She wouldn’t know how long it would have been except… except it wasn’t Twilight who said they’d been coming for centuries, but the Book Bringer himself.

    And if it wasn’t this stallion she’d met on Seeking Night, and seeing as her necklace was not glowing green at that moment, then… then… then she could feel herself growing faint as a very terrible thought dawned upon her.

    The fake Rift leading her to Princess Denza, the fake Rarity leading Apple Bloom to the library, and finally, the fake Book Bringer…

    Rarity’s horrified gasp was cut off by Rainbow Dash.

    “What, you really want us to believe you didn’t go inside? That’s insane! The first thing you do when you find a secret library is go inside! Duh!”

    “I was warned against going inside,” he replied severely. “My friend is the shaman living in the Everfree Forest.”

    Rarity’s heart skipped a beat. “Shaman? You mean Zecora?”

    His eyes lit up. “Yes, that’s her! She came to visit my wife and I during Seeking Night, and she can attest to that! I can tell her to seek you out, if you’d like!”

    “I’m very grateful, but that won’t be necessary. You see, fate has it we’re supposed to meet with her later today, isn’t that right, Rainbow?” Rarity said, smiling amiably and bowing her head. “Though I fear we now must leave post-haste! Our conversation with her cannot be delayed anymore.”

    “But wait, please!” he exclaimed, getting up and stretching out his hoof toward her. “You must tell me about the princess! I’ve longed all my life to meet her!”

    Rarity offered a painful smile. “If that’s the case, and I mean this with all the best intent, but you would be wise not to speak to me further.”

    The stallion blinked, lowering his hoof. “But…”

    Rarity bowed her head again. “Thank you, truly. It was a pleasure meeting you,” she said before turning around. “Let’s go, Rainbow.”

    “But, Rarity!” Rainbow exclaimed, looking back to the stallion. “We haven’t even—! What about—!”

    Please,” Rarity insisted, and now she walked away, head held high.

    Once they were far away enough, Rainbow Dash blocked her path by landing right in front of her. “Hey! What’s the big idea?! We haven’t finished questioning him!”

    Rarity did not stop. “Darling, there’s no point in questioning him if he doesn’t remember me,” she said, scanning the area for either Apple Bloom or Zecora.

    “But Rarity—!”

    Now Rarity stopped, turning to Rainbow Dash and frowning slightly. “Rainbow Dash, think for a moment about what we know. I know I saw him in the Everfree Forest during Seeking Night, and he seemed very confident about never having met me before. What can we conclude?”

    Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Duh! He’s senile!”

    Rarity slapped her hoof against her face. “No! He’s—! Oh, never mind,” she said, taking a deep breath. It might be better to confirm what he said about Zecora before even explaining properly. “Please, trust me and help me find Zecora and Apple Bloom. I give you my word we will glean more information from her than we would him.”

    Rainbow clearly wasn’t pleased by the idea, but she did not protest further. “Fine, whatever,” she said. “But I’m sick of going at like one mile per hour because of you. You go back to the apartment and I’ll find them.”

    “What?! Why can’t I help too?!” Rarity protested, indignant. See! There they went again, trying to keep her out of the way as though she were useless! “And pardon me, I’m just as quick as I was before my injuries!”

    “Look, what if they’re already there, huh?” Rainbow shot back, and that silenced Rarity. “This market’s, like, tiny. We don’t need to both look for them! I can have this place scouted in three seconds flat.”

    “Rainbow Dash, there’s over a hundred stands.”

    “See! Even more reason why I should do it alone! By the time you look at, like, five stands, it’ll be next week!”

    Rarity opened her mouth to keep protesting, but stopped to think for a moment. There was a chance that Zecora and Apple Bloom had already returned, and frankly it seemed like Rainbow Dash wouldn’t be wavering any time soon…

    “All right,” she relented, though she harrumphed for good measure.

    “Great! I’ll see you in a flash!” Rainbow exclaimed, saluting to the unicorn before speeding off.

    Rarity watched her go before reluctantly making her way back toward the apartment. She tried her best to keep a lookout for her friends, and yet… and yet she kept getting distracted by the rampant thoughts in her head.

    If the pony she’d met nearly a year ago truly was the Spirit, then nothing he did made sense! Rarity had had no intention of ever going back into the forest after Twilight attacked her, and wasn’t that what he wanted? Why lead her in?! Why give her a reason to keep coming back?!

    “Nothing makes sense,” she muttered, stepping into the Canterlot Library plaza. She looked around and, much like before, her eyes lingered on the distant massive building. She felt a tug on her heart, her desire to see Twilight pulling her toward the statue hidden away.

    Surely one quick glance won’t hurt…?

    Rarity made her way toward the library, past the tourists and locals, up the stairs and then… she paused moments from the door. Was it dread she felt? A curious fear of stepping further in and glimpsing the heaven she’d now been barred entry from?

    But that was silly, was it not? Why should she be afraid? It wasn’t as if she wouldn’t see Twilight again, was it? She would find a way to overcome the curse soon enough, and all that would be left was to find the remaining books!

    She took a deep breath and valiantly pushed on, pulling the door with her magic only to lose her breath when her eyes set on the statue of Twilight Sparkle.

    There she was, a cold and heartless statue smiling at a stone book.

    There she was, so close and yet farther away than she’d ever been.

    There she was, the princess who’d… who’d given up on Rarity after months of enchanting her, entrancing her, dragging her into an enamoring fairy tale that only now revealed itself as the nightmare it truly was.

    Rarity’s heart constricted tighter with every passing second, and for a moment, for a single second in what had seemed the longest days of her entire life, her attitude changed and showed its true form: a perfectly crafted illusion where a single terrible thought was forbidden.

    I might never see her again.

    The sting of tears blurred her eyes, and feeling them roll down her cheeks was enough to pull her from her trance. She stepped back, inhaling deeply for the air she’d momentarily lost, and then quickly wiped away the silly tears a silly thought had brought forth.

    Enough, she thought, to herself and to Twilight. She’d stayed too long, far far too long, and now she had to leave because it was getting late, and not because it was simply too much to bear.

    “Ah, Rarity! There you are!”

    Rarity turned around, finding the Book Bringer trotting toward her with a bright smile on his face. Her thoughts of Twilight were blissfully dispelled, allowing a wonderfully distracting confusion to settle in its place.

    “Oh, hello…?” Rarity smiled at the elderly stallion.

    “I’ve been looking all over for you!” he exclaimed, and indeed looked out of breath, panting heavily. It was so pronounced, actually, that it seemed like an act, and her previous melancholy was replaced with anger bubbling at the surface.

    “Have you?” she asked, wondering what was the best way to look down at her necklace without appearing suspicious. “I must admit I’m surprised you found me so fast!”

    The stallion smiled. “Ah, my dear, I am full of surprises!” he exclaimed, letting out a hearty chuckle.

    “Oh, I’m well aware,” Rarity replied sweetly, fluttering her eyelashes. “What can I do for you?”

    “Ah…” He frowned for a moment, like he was assessing her as much as she was him, before continuing with a smile, “You know, I’ve found you are full of surprises too, Miss Rarity! How delightfully curious! But don’t let an old fool like me ramble, no matter how fun it is! I have…” He looked to each side in a conspiratorial fashion, like a foal ready to tell a secret. “…something very important to tell you, my dear.”

    “…Important, you say?”

    “Of course! I’m the one saying it!” he exclaimed, laughing loudly at his own joke.

    Rarity wasn’t impressed, though she kept the smile. “Ah, yes! You mentioned you were interested in sharing the recipe of your family’s traditional apple stew?”

    The stallion stared for a second before continuing enthusiastically. “Oh heavens, yes! But I must do it in secret lest the missus finds out. She can be quite prissy when it comes to our family secrets!” He cleared his throat again. “But that’s not quite what I had in mind. I have something to tell you regarding the princesses, but this might not be the place for it! You might need to remind me what we talked about, too! The missus is making me senile, I tell you.” He smiled and gestured toward the door. “Shall we?”

    “Oh dear…” Rarity sighed, thoughtfully looking down at her brightly glowing green necklace. Oh dear, dear, dear indeed. “A walk?” She hummed and looked up, trying to quickly assess her situation. There were no fillies with her, no friends or family to be endangered by her actions.

    But there was a book on a nearby table, and it was big and old and certainly heavy enough to knock anypony out if Rarity really put her all into it.

    “Is something wrong?” he suddenly asked, and it felt like his smile was just as fake as hers. How dare that beast ask her such a thing?! Oh, she imagined it must have given him deep pleasure to do so, too!

    “I’ve had a long month,” she replied at length, levitating the book in her magic. “I was hoping to do some light reading to get my mind off things. I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying ‘hitting the books,’ have you not?!”

    She punctuated the question by launching the book at the stallion, who jumped out of the way only moments before he could be crushed by knowledge.

    The Book Bringer looked from the book to Rarity, and though his eyes flashed yellow for a moment, his smile only widened.

    Discord,” Rarity hissed, and though she knew it to be rather unrefined, she did not hesitate as she prepared to launch herself at him.

    Or would have done so if a nearby librarian hadn’t intervened.

    “Excuse me!” he bellowed, looking ready to throw Rarity out of the library. He grabbed the book and flared his nostrils at her. “This is a library, and these books are centuries old! Please stop damaging our property, or you’ll have to move your lover’s spat to the street!”

    Rarity nearly gagged. Lover’s spat?!

    The librarian harrumphed and stalked away, allowing Rarity to turn her murderous gaze to the now delighted-looking Discord.

    “My, my, my! Rarity! You’ve just met me and already we’re lovers?” He stroked his long beard and sighed. “Well, I’m not surprised! I already knew you were a graverobber!”

    “I’d rather make out with garbage!” she hissed.

    Discord frowned, shaking his head. “Now, now, that’s no way to talk about poor Twilight.”

    Oh dear, forget the book, she was going to hurl an entire bookcase at his face. And she would have, had the librarian not been staring at them like a hawk.

    You… You… You…

    Words failed to come to her, such was her rage. There he was, the creature who’d brought so much misery to so many, and there she was, utterly helpless to do anything.

    “Me, me, me!” he said, and he offered a mocking bow of his head. “It is a pleasure, Rarity! To finally speak with you face to face, I never thought the day would come! It’s very lonely being the winner when you have nopony to listen to how you won, you know?”

    “Winner?! You’re not the winner!” Rarity snapped. “You never took over Equestria! Princess Denza is at the throne!”

    And Discord simply smiled. “Exactly. I won.”

    Rarity stepped back, and she felt faint. “Wh-what…?”

    Discord fluttered his eyelashes and when he raised his foreleg, a menu appeared in his hoof, from a restaurant called L’Éternel Protecteur.

    “How about dinner at eight?” he asked, and when she blinked at him, he cleared his throat and looked over the menu. “You have questions, don’t you? And I have answers! And I think you’ll love this restaurant! I’ll even come pick you up!”

    “You expect me to believe you—”

    “You don’t have to go,” he interrupted, and the menu flashed away. He observed his hoof, seemingly uninterested. “I do have better things to do than entertain you if you’re going to so rudely reject my help.”

    Help?! From you?!

    He didn’t look up. “I do love how you know how to break the curse,” he said, and oh, that did a nice job at keeping her mouth shut. “Come now, darling. What do you have to lose? Though there is, however, one condition.” He glanced up at her. “No pony can know about this. If they do, and I will know, then our dinner is off. I don’t want that pest of a pegasus meddling.”

    Rarity gritted her teeth. “Why?”

    He looked up properly now, and his lips turned into a twisted smile. “She wasn’t part of the bet!” he exclaimed. “And with those parting words, I take my leave!”

    “No!” Rarity exclaimed, watching as he disappeared into thin air, apparently unseen by anypony else but her. “You come back here! What does that mean?!”

    His laugh echoed through the library’s foyer. “Now, now, my dear! You’ll find out soon enough! Besides… at least you’re not hanging from a literal cliff!”


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    1. A Deer
      Mar 2, 23 at 4:33 am

      Enjoyed the deeper look into the curse and back story with Cadence. This chapter felt like it moved the plot forward well. A few reveals. Especially Discord showing up. Kind of glad to see Rarity take the Mike Tyson approach to Discord and punch him in, well, throw a book at, his face. Maybe not the smartest approach. But a rather satisfying one given events.

      I also like the struggle going on in this last act. Feels like a back and forth for Rarity. It really shows her strengths and her weaknesses. I like how her friends help with the weaknesses. For instance I also would want to go in the forest and look with every moment. But it’s careless and shortsighted with current circumstances. Her friends help with that by not letting her go.

      The cliffhanger cliffhanger is very Discord. The whole exchange with Rarity was great.

    2. Zanna Zannolin
      Sep 22, 22 at 9:45 pm

      GUESS WHAT i’ve had a bad day so it’s a TWO CHAPTER TWO COMMENT NIGHT *airhorns blowing* no really i should probably be asleep right now cause i have a massive amount of spanish homework to do and also i work tomorrow but this fic is genuinely one of the things that makes me happiest right now so i decided a little extra can’t hurt 🙂

      and BOY. this chapter is such a wild ride like it is a rollercoaster. so many ups and downs and right when you think it’s calming down NOPE YOU’RE UPSIDE DOWN NOW. i love it so much. the plot goes WILD. finding out the books were most likely a macguffin in this chapter is literally such a huge moment. you mean this thing rarity has spent a YEAR of her LIFE on ISN’T EVEN THE WAY TO FREE TWILIGHT? <- and okay i already knew this. but that doesn't stop me from screaming about it anyway. it's such a delightfully fun reveal. i'm very iffy about macguffin plots in media but you execute it so well and so satsifyingly that you as a reader can't help but love it.

      the spike reveal was very fun. like okay i already knew about it (even before i KNEW about it i'd guessed, reading this the first time) but sometimes seeing a twist coming just makes it better. you get all the satisfaction of being right and all the hair-tearing frustration of BUT RARITY CAN'T TELL TWILIGHT! NOOOOO! it is the perfect place for this drop and i admire your story structure skills. holy shit.

      the way the curse works, btw, is devilishly clever. i don't think i've given you enough credit for coming up with that. it's fucking fantastic, the way it would have worked a thousand years ago and the way it works NOW. it's absolutely incredible and your brain, mono, your brain is massive.

      AND IN COMES THE BOOK BRINGER REVEAL WITH A STEEL CHAIR! which we already knew about and ALREADY suspected from how rarity's vision of the spirit manifested to include him WAY back in hollow shades but listen i'm excited i love a good reveal. i love rarity learning she's been manipulated from the start. it just makes the story so much deeper like….WHAT IS UP WITH DISCORD! WHY IS HE DOING THIS! i want to study him under a microscope he is SO FASCINATING your plot man…your PLOT. also the zecora reveal is WILDIN like WHHAAAATTT <- i had completely forgotten about this part and my jaw actually dropped.

      and when you think it's done…ENCORE, DISCORD'S HERE! i am delighted by his flirty banter with rarity and how she's like i am literally going to murder you it's SO fun and very in-character. have i praised your character voices lately? doing it again. rainbow dash is excellent (her calling rarity "rares" is a great little touch that really lends to writing her well i think) and discord! DISCORD! the way he shifts from the book bringer into discord in full…it is incredible to read and i can just hear him in my head as i read. and BET? WHAT BET? DISCORD WHO DO YOU HAVE A BET WITH GET BACK HERE *rattling him like a maraca* i'm literally obsessed.