Rarity returned to Spitfire’s apartment with a knot in her stomach, twisting and twisting and twisting some more. Threads of hope kept together her will to fight, but even then she knew they were frayed and might give in at any moment. So much of her had come undone already, it was hard to think it could get any worse.
For now, she clung to one belief.
There was no map. Therefore, finding all the books would free Twilight, once and for all.
But… but Discord had returned.
He’d chosen to reveal himself now, of all times, and the implications haunted Rarity. Everything she knew to be true had been turned on its head, and yet… and yet everything Discord said had proven to be accurate, had it not?
But why would he help? It was that question that burned her, giving her a headache she wasn’t sure would go away anytime soon.
Rainbow’s suggestion proved to be true, and Rarity found Zecora and Apple Bloom already inside the apartment, going over the filly’s new books. Small talk ensued, discussing topics the unicorn found no interest in. She debated speaking about Twilight—a fragment of her conscience warning she should wait for Rainbow—but she restrained herself, and only gave in when she sat down and Zecora caught sight of her scars.
“I’d recognize this magic from anywhere. The forest has made me deal with it more times than I’d care,” Zecora said, her hoof hovering in circles over the scars. She mumbled something in her native language, and Rarity was shocked to feel the pain in her leg subsiding.
“The pain in your leg should be at an end,” the zebra continued. “The scars, however, I cannot mend.” Once she was done, she retrieved her hoof and stepped back. “Stand for me, Miss Rarity.”
When Rarity did as told, her shock renewed at how easy it had been, and she couldn’t stop herself from slamming her hind hoof against the floor, feeling perfectly healthy. “Zecora!” she exclaimed, quite literally hopping in joy. “Oh, how can I ever thank you?!”
Zecora shook her head. “Your gratitude I will not heed. Your well-being is the only reward I need.” Her job done, she took a seat on the couch. “But why would you enter the Everfree, if you did not go there to come see me?”
Rarity faltered. While moments ago she’d been quite ready to share, now the thought of the curse stopped her. “Ah, well, you see… I…”
“You visit Everfree often, as Apple Bloom has said, but her interest in the topic has recently fled. She acts like she’s hiding a secret she told,” Zecora continued, and the warmth in her face briefly vanished. “Have you perhaps found a spirit of old…?”
“N-no! We haven’t found no spirit!” Apple Bloom interjected, seemingly unaware of the accidental confession that accompanied her quick denial.
“I… I…” Rarity gritted her teeth. She didn’t know what to say or how to say it. Did revealing she knew of the princess count as asking for help? She cleared her throat and smiled. “Now Zecora! I don’t believe in such things. The forest is simply rich in ores I can dig up for my dresses. Besides, you know the Legend of the Four Princesses is only a foal’s tale.”
“Unless my memory is starting to fail, I never mentioned that particular tale,” Zecora replied. She turned to Apple Bloom. “Deep within the Everfree, there is an ancient library beneath a tree. A great evil surrounds the site.” She glanced at Rarity, and again her expression hardened. “It would be surprising not to sense its blight.”
“There is no great evil!” Rarity protested immediately, before realizing what she’d said and adjusting her wording. “The legend says the princesses were kind, not that they turned evil.”
“Terrible magic dwells in that place. Tricks for fun and games aren’t all you’d face. If you’ve read the tale, it’s eager to tell: the Spirit is not just chaos, but disharmony as well.”
Rarity bit down on her lip. Zecora must have been referring to the chaos magic from the maze. The puppet creature that attacked them certainly fit the definition of evil to a tee. Ugh! This… This not being able to talk about Twilight despite knowing very well Zecora understood… It was downright aggravating!
“But, if you’ve, er, supposedly known of this lost princess for years now, why haven’t you told anypony?” Rarity asked, hoping that didn’t qualify as cursing the zebra.
Zecora smiled thinly. “When most ponies are so suspicious of me, why would they believe the strange things I see?” She then looked to Apple Bloom, patting the filly on the head. “I have a surprise for you, dear Apple Bloom. Why don’t you look for it in your room?”
“Really?!” the filly exclaimed, jumping down from the couch and running off.
The moment she was gone, Zecora returned her attention to Rarity.
“I had a dream once, when I was a foal,” Zecora said, “of the library and its princess that shook my soul. A terrible magic possessed your ruler, corrupting her thoughts to be wicked and crueler. When she turned to me, it was a terrible sight: her eyes were as black as a starless night. Within this dream I was a unicorn mare, and it’s for this detail I have decided to share.”
Rarity gulped, and for a moment, she pictured it. Twilight Sparkle gone and replaced with a monster of chaos, looking at her with… with a blank expression and eyes as black as the Spirit’s soul.
“Only now do I see the familiarity of yourself and the mare in my dream, Rarity. I would suggest that you take my advice: never go back, and do not think twice.”
Apple Bloom came back moments later and, feeling perturbed, Rarity excused herself, saying it had been a long day. She retired to her room, unceremoniously throwing herself on the bed and closing her eyes. She did not want to sleep, for sleep only brought about troubling dreams.
So instead, she allowed herself to think of Twilight.
Her Twilight. The real Twilight, not the Twilight Sparkle of dreams and nightmares.
Her hoof brushed against the necklace. What was Twilight doing back in the library? Was she all right? Rarity had given her the entire Daring Do series before she had left for Canterlot the first time. That should keep her entertained until Rarity returned.
If she hasn’t read them all in a single day, that is, she thought, and a smile pushed its way onto her lips. It’s Twilight. Of course she’s read them all in a single day.
And then, just as the thought finished, the little terrible voice inside her whispered: wasn’t it a shame, it said, that she’d never be able to bring new books to Twilight ever again? Rarity forced herself to think of something else before tears stung at her eyes.
Why do I torture myself like this?
Through the window, she noticed night was fast approaching, and so her thoughts turned back to Discord. It seemed so… surreal to think she’d met him. At the moment, she’d been overcome with anger. But as of a few hours ago, it was now disbelief that consumed her. She’d finally met the creature who’d brought endless suffering to the most important pony in her life, and what had he done?
Asked her out to dinner.
It was as ridiculous as it was perplexing, and it screamed “danger.”
Her conscience clawed at her, remembering his last words. If she went out to meet with him, no pony could know. She could always try and convince Rainbow Dash not to follow her, but what if the Spirit found out? What if he…
She rolled around on her bed, opening her eyes and frowning.
Well, it wasn’t like he could do anything to her, was it? He’d succeeded in doing the worst possible thing that could ever happen, so anything he did or told her might actually give her hope instead of whatever he was trying to achieve with his games.
One, two, three hours went by, and when her eyes fluttered open and a yawn left her mouth, it took her a moment to realize she’d fallen asleep.
She sat up with a jolt, gasping. “What time is it?!” she shrieked, turning toward the bedside table and levitating the clock. A surge of relief coursed through her at finding it was only a quarter to eight. She debated resting a few more minutes but resisted the temptation, not wanting to risk falling asleep again.
She left the room, discovering Zecora had departed and Rainbow had returned. The pegasus was lying on the couch, apparently fast asleep. Rarity felt tempted to wake her, but decided otherwise, instead making her way to the front window. She pressed her muzzle against it and squinted her eyes, trying to catch sight of Discord.
“If you’re looking for Zecora, she left like an hour ago.”
Rarity let out a muffled shriek. Rainbow Dash sat next to her, wide awake, with her muzzle pressed against the window too.
Before Rarity could say anything, Rainbow glanced her way and assessed her hind leg. “Hey! You really can move around now! Now you can go back to walking at one mile per hour instead of zero!”
Rarity playfully rolled her eyes, turning her attention back to the street.
“Did she tell you anything useful?” Rarity asked.
Rainbow blew a raspberry. “Nah. She did tell me she liked the Las Pegasus show a lot, so at least we know she’s trustworthy. Anyway, I’m really hopin’ we didn’t curse her because doesn’t she, like, live in the forest?” She ran a hoof through her mane. “How about you? Anything useful?”
“I fear I did not fare much better,” she replied, frowning lightly. “It seems she can sense the chaos magic inside the library. It’s why she told the Book Bringer not to go in.” She paused for a moment. “By the way, would you happen to know the location of a restaurant called L’Éternel Protecteur?”
Rainbow turned to her, frowning. “Yeah… Who told you about it?”
Rarity blinked at this. “Does it matter? I was simply curious. I’m supposed to meet an acquaintance there for dinner.”
“It’s a place at the east end of the city. It was Spike’s favorite joint before he, uh, got too big to be able to eat there,” Rainbow said, turning back to the window. She paused for a moment. “It was also Princess Twilight’s favorite place.”
Rarity’s heart skipped a beat. “It was?”
“Yeah,” Rainbow said, still looking out the window. “Spike says she used to spend all day there before the war. The owner loved to read or something. Anyway, it’s a good place.”
Anger flared inside of Rarity. So that was why Discord had chosen that restaurant. Rub salt in the wound, would he?
“So, who’s your friend?” Rainbow turned toward Rarity and frowned. “You didn’t call Pinkie Pie here, did you?”
“No!” Rarity exclaimed, indignant. “Frankly, it’s none of…” She drifted off, her eyes landing on a familiar stallion approaching the building.
“Hey, look! It’s what’s-his-face!” Rainbow exclaimed, pressing her muzzle and her hooves against the window. “Quick! Let’s go talk with him! Maybe he has new stuff to tell us!”
“Rainbow, wait, wait!” Rarity exclaimed, stopping Rainbow with her magic before the pegasus could fly off. Think, Rarity! “I… err, I must confess that’s who I’m having dinner with.”
“What? He is?!” Rainbow asked, stomping her hoof against the floor. “Why didn’t you want to tell me? I want to talk with him too!”
Rarity hesitated. “Yes, I know, but… when I, er, well, when I went back to talk with him, he seemed much more at ease without you there! As you said, his old age has caught up to him, and frankly, being in the presence of an esteemed pony such as yourself was simply too much for an old stallion’s nerves. And—! And, if there are two of us, there’s a higher chance we might accidentally curse him, if we haven’t already! Please allow me to take care of this.”
Rainbow frowned. “…Yeah, okay, fine, I guess… But!” She poked a hoof against Rarity’s chest. “But if you’re not back before twelve, I’m goin’ out looking for you! I still don’t trust you not to go running to Hollow Shades.”
Though she wanted to voice it, Rarity withheld the indignant scoff. Truth be told, that worked for her rather than against her. If she didn’t return before midnight, it meant that monster had done something to her, and it was comforting to know Rainbow Dash would seek out and help her; probably chastise her for hours on end as well, but alas, not every plan could be completely perfect.
“I’ll be fine, darling,” she said, turning away from the window while Rainbow continued looking down at the stallion.
She took her things and, with a final farewell, left the apartment. Every step she took as she descended the stairs felt heavier than the last, and her heart seemed like it would beat right out of her chest.
And yet, she wasn’t afraid.
Well, perhaps she was a bit afraid. But so far, Discord was the only source of information she had, and the thought helped keep her apprehension to a point where it would not hinder her.
When she finally left the building and stepped out into the street, the stallion grinned widely and waved with unrestrained enthusiasm.
Dear princesses, was everything a game to him?
“Ah, Rarity! I’m delighted to see you!” he exclaimed, and a quick glance at her necklace verified his identity. He looked up and waved just as enthusiastically at Rainbow Dash, who unwittingly waved back from behind the window, thankfully unable to see the necklace from such a distance. “I see you kept your end of the bargain!”
“What do you want, Discord?” Rarity asked, having no desire whatsoever to humor him.
“Me? Why, only to walk with you! It’s been quite some time since I last admired this horrid place!” He stroked his beard and looked at the ponies walking past. “It’s especially nice to do so when ponies aren’t looking at you like you’re a monster!”
“You are a monster,” Rarity spat.
Discord gasped theatrically, pressing his hoof against his chest. “Moi? Excuse me, but I am an exemplary specimen of a draconequus! But… if you’d like for me to go under another form…” He looked to the sides conspiratorially and then trotted off without a word.
Rarity narrowed her eyes and cautiously followed him, away from Spitfire’s apartment and toward a smaller street, hidden from Rainbow Dash’s view. Once there, he stopped and waited until Rarity joined him before doing an odd gesture with his hoof.
Rarity stepped back and stared at him, expecting something to happen. But moments passed and he remained as he was, the smug smile broadening. Disconcerted, Rarity opened her mouth to ask what exactly he changed, but a voice behind her interrupted.
“Maybe this would be better?” she asked, and Rarity felt faint at recognizing the voice. It pierced through her, and the only thing halting her unrestrained anger was the suffocating fear of turning around.
But turn around she did, and indeed did she almost faint at the terrible sight of a pegasus Twilight Sparkle standing behind her, smiling just as smugly as Discord. It was like time had come to a standstill, her brain rationalizing and telling her that wasn’t Twilight, but her heart…
She whirled in place, holding back tears because she’d be damned if she let him see he was getting to her. “Take another form,” she hissed. “Now. Now!”
Disc… Twilight Discord…? Twicord gasped in mock offense, and Rarity hated that just the sound of Twilight’s voice immediately drew her in. “Now, Rarity, why are you mad at me?” she said, shaking her head. “I’m being nice to you! Don’t you miss her? And here I am, giving you the illusion of a date with your precious princess! Frankly, you should be grateful!”
“Grateful?!” Rarity all but shrieked, rage building and building up inside her. “You did this! It’s your fault, and you want me to—?!”
“Rarity, really!” Discord began, the one disguised as the Book Bringer, and now Rarity turned her ire to him. “I’m only spurring you on! Seeing Twilight again should drive you forward!”
“Come now,” Twicord said, trotting past Rarity and heading toward a nearby street. “Don’t want to be late to our date, hmm? Princess Twilight Sparkle despises tardiness!”
Discord went after her, and it wasn’t until he called to Rarity that she reluctantly followed him. She focused on him, for glancing at the other Discord was too much for her to take. She desperately wished the necklace worked, because then she could summon Twilight and borrow her magic to blast both Discords into the next century.
They made their way through the bustling streets of the city. Ponies stared at them, and initially she assumed it was because of her unabashed scowl, but she soon realized ponies were staring at Twi—at the Discord disguised as Twilight. She didn’t understand why, at first, since they didn’t know what Twilight even looked like, but then she realized… they did, didn’t they?
The statue they passed by each time they went into the library.
It was a unicorn filly who finally gathered the courage to trot up to Twicord, prompting Rarity to quickly run up to them before he got any ideas.
“Uhm, Miss?” the filly asked, and in her eyes Rarity saw admiration. “You look just like the statue of the princess!” She reached out, intending to stroke Twicord’s wings, but the pegasus withdrew before she could. Nevertheless, this did not deter the filly. “Your wings are pretty!”
Twicord smiled. “Thank you!” she exclaimed, splaying them out and admiring them. “Much prettier than the original’s, don’t you think? It’s a shame she didn’t actually do anything to earn them. Nothing but a consolation prize.”
The filly blinked, confused, oblivious to the murderous stare Rarity shot Twicord.
“Move along, ladies!” Discord called. “We’re almost there!”
After enduring Discord quite literally talking to himself for another ten minutes, they finally arrived at the infamous restaurant. Rarity tried to focus on the idea that it was Twilight’s favorite, as if the alicorn’s presence somehow permeated the grounds and would protect her from whatever Discord was planning.
The building reminded Rarity of Twilight’s books: thousands of years old, yet looking brand new. There was a statue atop the restaurant—an almost identical replica of the dragon statue from the Canterlot Library.
Twicord took the lead into the restaurant, followed by Discord and Rarity. The place was filled with ponies, and Rarity had to admit she was relieved there was no Twilight statue to be found. She did, however, notice a plaque near the entrance, detailing the history of the place.
“Rarityyyy!” Twicord called, pulling Rarity away before she could read.
The unicorn gritted her teeth, and when she rolled her eyes, she noticed something quite peculiar. There, floating high above the ceiling, was a magic chandelier almost identical to Star and Swirl, and Rarity recognized the raspberry-colored magic powering it.
The sight of that chandelier was in many ways much more painful than a statue could ever be. There it was, more real than granite, proof that Twilight Sparkle was real. Proof that ages ago, an alicorn sat in that restaurant and tinkered with a way to offer perpetual light to a beloved place.
Affection washed over her, and she wished intensely that maybe one day she might be able to bring Twilight here. Sadness quickly followed, but she tried to push it away. Of course she’d bring Twilight here again one day.
Of course, of course, of course.
She forced herself to move on, her chest starting to constrict, and eventually she found the two Discords already seated at a table, both staring at her with their asinine grins.
Once she reluctantly sat down, Twicord clapped her hooves with glee. “Isn’t this perfect for a date?”
Frankly, Rarity would have rather gone on a date with a rock, and Discord laughed when she said as much. “Now, now, my dear, that can be arranged! Though I’m afraid you’re far below Tom’s standards.”
Rarity sucked in air through her teeth, directing her irritation at the patrons sitting at the other tables. How horrible, she thought, that to anypony else the three of them looked like normal ponies having dinner. If only they knew! Ignorance truly was bliss, wasn’t it?
She turned back to them—him?
“Why are you doing this?” she asked, or rather hissed, narrowing her eyes. “What do you want?”
“Why, I’d like to have dinner. I didn’t know it was a crime!” Twicord exclaimed. She then smiled wickedly and leaned in, adding, “Then again, it’s clear you could stand to be less generous with your intake.”
Rarity’s cheeks burned. She knew that it wasn’t Twilight, but still… “Oh? Can’t come up with anything more clever than insulting my figure?”
Twicord leaned back. “Hm, yes, I suppose this is a bit beneath you, isn’t it? You are a smart little pony, Rarity! Too bad you’ve made some delightfully silly mistakes, like following suspicious ponies into dark tunnels!” She leaned in again and fluttered her eyelashes. “How’s the curse going, by the way?”
A waiter approached to take their order before Rarity could bark a reply.
“I’m not hungry, thank you,” Rarity said curtly, glaring daggers at the two Discords.
Discord’s eyes never left Rarity’s as he smiled and said, “Oh, do give us ten more minutes, please. Unicorns can be so terribly indecisive.” When the waiter left, he tilted his head to the side and furrowed his brow. “You know, Rarity, I must confess I’m actually quite disappointed! You were doing so well; I thought you’d have broken the curse by now! A shame I overestimated you.”
Twicord sighed. “Thank Celestia we didn’t bet for her!”
There it was again!
“Bet?!” Rarity snapped, barely able to stop herself from getting up and slamming her hoof against the table. Control, Rarity, control. “Is this nothing but a game to you?! To bring suffering as a way to pass the time?! Is that it?!”
“But, games are fun!” Discord exclaimed, clapping his hooves together. “Don’t you like games, Rarity? Magic caves!”
“Magic labyrinths!” Twicord added.
“Aaaah, that was the best one!” Discord replied, nodding his head with foalish excitement. “Her face! I simply can’t remember laughing so much in the last thousand years! And remember when she went through the bookcase? It was like she’d seen a ghost!”
Both Discord and Twicord sighed fondly. “Ahhh, fun times indeed.”
“Why are you doing this?!” Rarity repeated, beside herself with fury. How could they?! How could a creature be so vile?! “Why curse me?! Why even tell me to go back to Twilight?! I was going to leave after she attacked me! I was never going to go back, and you made me go back! Why do that if I would become such a threat you had to curse me?!”
Discord laughed heartily. “You? A threat?!”
“Please,” Twicord added, wiping a tear from her eye. She cleared her throat and donned a pitiful expression. “Rarity, I was only trying to be nice and give her a friend! Is this what happens when you try to do ponies a favor? You get accused of being a monster?”
“You are a monster!” she spat, no longer caring about the patrons staring their way. “Why did you want me to meet Twilight?! Why would you lie about the bo…”
She stopped herself mid-sentence, realizing how that spur-of-the-moment accusation was going to end, and finding she was too afraid to voice it. She was too afraid because voicing it meant the potential confirmation that… that everything she’d done for the past year had been for nothing.
But both Discords leaned in, lips twisting into wicked smiles. “Yessssss?”
Rarity didn’t want to say it. Every inch of her mind fought against it, but she forced the words out regardless.
“It means… the books… won’t… free…”
“Ding-ding-ding! Bravo, Rarity!” Discord exclaimed. “Honestly, I’m surprised you didn’t figure it out earlier.”
Twicord snorted. “Believing anything a sketchy stranger says in the middle of the forest? Really, Rarity, I thought you were supposed to be smart. That was just a thing I made up off the cuff, as it were!”
Rarity felt faint, bracing against the table for support. The books… But I’ve spent… Pain plagued her now, her chest compressing under the weight of the implications.
“But… But, it can’t be!” she protested, because princesses, please, it just couldn’t.
“It can’t?” Discord asked, still smiling, still leaning over.
It couldn’t! If the books weren’t the key, then why did the maze attack her?! She tried to go back, tried to think of that moment, truly ascertain what had caused the chaos magic to act out. They talked about Princess Denza, about the books, and about how…
Rarity felt the blood drain from her face, her eyes growing wide.
About how Twilight wanted to leave.
Her breathing slowed and slowed, as did her heart, because for a second, for a moment in time, the realization dawning upon her felt like it would kill her. She lifted her hooves to her mouth and looked at the Twilight in front of her as if she were the real thing, because heavens, now more than ever, she wanted to ask the real Twilight…
“She… She’s keeping herself trapped…?” she whispered, and every word felt like a dagger plunged into her chest. Twilight forbidding Rarity from helping. Twilight and her guilt trances. Twilight and the barrier keeping her trapped; the barrier that wasn’t the color of chaos magic, but the color of a familiar raspberry one.
For a thousand years, Twilight Sparkle had… she’d…
“Oh, no, no, no!” Discord said, as both he and Twicord leaned back in unison. “Don’t take credit away from me, now! The magic in my maze is making sure she stays there, of course, but…” His vile smile returned, and he stroked his beard with pride. “She’s doing a wonderful job at powering it.”
“All that guilt!” Twicord continued. “It’s like vanilla cake for my magic! Cotton candy and chocolate milk!” She licked her lips. “Deeeeelicious!”
“And now her only friends are gone forever! Poor little princess,” Discord said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that barrier’s turned pitch black.”
Rarity was shaking, though she could not tell if it was with rage, shock, sadness or all three. That—! That—! There wasn’t even a term that accurately described how she felt about Discord now.
The waiter arrived again, interrupting whatever Rarity could have said.
“Are you ready to order?” he asked, but Rarity didn’t reply. She simply continued sitting there, unmoving, unfeeling.
“Dearest?” Twicord asked, and only then did Rarity stand up, taking her bitbag, opening it and forcefully placing several coins on the table.
The waiter blinked. “Er, miss?”
“Your tip,” she said, and then, without another word, turned around and walked away.
It wasn’t until she was out of the sun-forsaken restaurant that she allowed tears to brim in her eyes. She headed to the nearest street, nearly empty due to the late hour, and once she was well and truly alone, she screamed. She screamed in anger and frustration, and a defenseless garbage can was lifted into the air, ready to be slammed against the wall, and yet…
And yet she put it back down, because a lady did not lose her temper—especially less so when she didn’t have the energy to do much more than put the bin back on the ground and fall to her haunches.
She felt numb now, actually.
She felt like everything she’d learned couldn’t be true, and thus she couldn’t process it, because it was too much, too much, too much, and she’d already had enough in these past weeks to last her a lifetime.
“Rarity! Why did you run away? I had to pay the bill!”
And just like that, the numbness died, went up in flames that ignited her rage once again. She got up and whirled around, facing her damning date.
“What do you want from me?!” she demanded, and she no longer cared to hide her tears. To her surprise, however, she was not confronted with a stallion or a pegasus.
No, this time, the terrible Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony chose to finally take on his original form. A slithering amalgamation of beasts, flying up in the air and staring her down, almost shocked from her outburst.
“Pinkie isn’t cursed,” she hissed, every syllable laced with unrelenting and unrestrained hatred. “She’ll find Twilight and free her.”
“Pinkie Pie? Really?” Discord snorted, a poofy mane appearing round his head. “I suppose she could! Though I can’t wait to see what you’ll tell her when she asks why you don’t visit your little princess anymore!” The poofy mane disappeared and he lied down on thin air, resting his chin on his crossed arms. “Doesn’t it burn you, Rarity?” He lowered himself, and for a moment, he was close enough Rarity considered slapping him. “Doesn’t it sting?”
He jumped into an upright position, still floating in the air, and when he snapped his fingers, miniature puppets of her friends appeared next to him, all of them crowding a similar figurine of Twilight.
“Look at them!” he exclaimed, idly poking at the Applejack figurine, tripping her with his fingers. “All of them! Hanging from your tail!” Another snap of his fingers and finally the Rarity figurine appeared, but she was encased in a glass bubble, kept away from the others. “You did all the hard work, and now somepony else will get the credit!” He snapped his fingers, and Applejack and Rainbow Dash disappeared. “The fame!”
“I don’t care about that!” Rarity indignantly protested, stamping her hoof against the ground.
“Oh?” Discord looked unimpressed, barely glancing at Rarity before looking back to his figurines and purposefully tripping Pinkie Pie now. “You don’t care about fame? Glory? Then you won’t mind if somepony else gets—” He snapped his fingers, and now only the Twilight figurine remained. “—the mare.”
Rarity nearly growled at him, but ah, memories of her recent nightmares of another pony taking Twilight away held her back.
“Honestly, this should be everything you wanted!” he exclaimed, and the Rarity figurine banged her hooves against her glass prison. He looked at the real Rarity now, and smiled widely. “Your own tragic fairy tale! And it’s not even an unrequited romance!”
“I didn’t want this!” Rarity shrieked, tears of anger rolling down her cheeks. “You did this! You cursed me!”
“Meeeeeee?!” Discord gasped, and with a final snap of his fingers, the figures disappeared, prevented from ever reuniting. He snorted and crossed his arms, raising an eyebrow at the mare. “Now, Rarity, you were bound to get cursed eventually! You know your precious guard wasn’t planning on taking you to the princess! And what would you have done then? Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have forced your way to her!” When Rarity failed to reply, and instead gritted her teeth at him, he smiled victoriously and leaned in. “Quite the obsession Princess Twilight is for you, isn’t she?”
“How dare you—!”
“You should be thanking me! I’m helping you free them!” Discord interrupted, crossing his arms.
“Helping us?! You’ve cursed us! Tell me how to break the curse then!” she demanded, stomping her hoof against the floor. “Come now!”
Discord blinked. “Now, Rarity! That would be too easy! And you don’t need things to be easier! Look at you! In a year, you’ve done more to free them than ponykind has done in a thousand!” He looked to the side and rolled his eyes. “Then again, with that bore of a princess ruling…”
Even despite it all, Rarity found it in herself to be indignant on the princess’s behalf. “And to think ponies accuse Princess Denza of working alongside such a brute like you!” she exclaimed, and Discord choked for a moment.
“Me?! Work with her?!” he scoffed, looking away and pouting, vaguely reminding her of the chaos puppet. “Bah! The imagination of ponies is admirable. What will they say next? That she’s secretly the Changeling Queen come back to life?” He stopped for a second, and stroked his beard. “Well, technically speaking…”
“Then if you’re not working with her, why haven’t you taken over Equestria?!” Rarity demanded.
Discord stared at her for a moment before sighing. “Well, if you must know, there’s no fun in ruling a kingdom where the only ponies smart enough to actually be miserable are trapped in different places. It was fun when Chryssi was around for the first war, but then Princess Cadenza did away with her, and honestly, it’s not fun anymore. Complacent kingdoms are the worst.”
“How could you…?” Rarity whispered hatefully. “You brought misery to so many ponies, and Twilight could have defeated you permanently! Instead, she gave you a second chance and this is how you repay her?!”
And everything changed.
Discord stared at her, mouth ajar, and his momentary shock was quickly replaced with a fury Rarity had mirrored minutes earlier.
“She gave me a second chance?!” he hissed, and the skeptical laugh that followed echoed throughout the city. “Oh, that’s rich! My dear girl, is that what she told you?! Princess Twilight Sparkle, the benevolent pony?! Hah! HAH!” He slammed his paw against his chest. “I am the victim! I am the innocent! She and the others brought this upon themselves!”
“You were her friend!” Rarity shot back, matching the intensity of his words and expression.
“No!” Discord shot in return. “I was never her friend! But she was mine, and she betrayed me!”
And Rarity snapped.
“You trapped her in a library for a thousand years!” she yelled, and now the trashcan came flying at Discord, narrowly missing him. “You took everything away from her! She has done nothing to deserve—!”
“Then free her if you care so much, Rarity!” Discord replied, lowering himself until his face was merely inches away from hers. His voice lowered to a threatening whisper. “You talk big, don’t you, oh heroine?” He drew back and smiled, his ire fading. “What will it be, Rare-it-ee? Be the first pony to break the curse, or do nothing and go mad while your precious princess waits for a unicorn that will never come back?” He smiled and shrugged. “Either way, it’s still fun for me!”
That said, he let out an echoing laugh, and before Rarity could call to him or protest, he vanished out of sight.
“No! COME BACK, YOU COWARD!” she screamed, yet he did not do as she demanded. Instead, he left her to stand there, her chest heaving with every breath and with nothing more to do but reflect on the terrible things she’d learned.
After minutes went by, and she resigned herself to the fact that he would not return, she finally made her way back to the apartment.
The lights were turned on, and she found Rainbow Dash wide awake, apparently waiting for her. Rarity wanted to go to her bedroom; she did not want to talk or discuss or do anything, but she was allowed no such luxury.
“Rarity!” Rainbow exclaimed, jumping off the couch, and though she’d seemed initially filled with enthusiasm, it quickly faded after a closer glance at the unicorn. “Wh… what’s wrong? What did the Book Bringer tell you?”
Rarity stared at her. She felt tired. She felt so very tired.
“It was Discord I met in the Everfree Forest,” she said.
Rainbow Dash looked taken aback. “Yeah, you said… I mean, but, are you sure? Like, maybe he’s just—”
“That wasn’t the Book Bringer waiting for me downstairs,” Rarity interrupted, and it surprised her how casually it came out. It was like she was discussing the weather. Yes, it’s a balmy Sunday afternoon, and I’ve gone not to square one, but to something in the negative numbers.
“What?! But—!” Rainbow looked Rarity over in a panicked frenzy. “Are you okay?! What did he say?!”
“There is no way of freeing Twilight unless I break this curse, and the books are useless, and I’m as far away from Twilight as I will ever be,” she replied. “It’s been a long day. I’d like to go to sleep now. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss before I do so?”
Rainbow, for once, had nothing to say.
“Good night, then,” Rarity replied, turning around and trotting to her bedroom.
Once inside, she put her saddlebags on a chair, cleaned off her makeup, brushed her teeth, and got into bed, grabbing a nearby pillow and hugging it tightly to herself.
She’d thought for weeks now that no night would ever feel longer than the night she spent inside the train coming back from Canterlot.
It seemed she’d thought wrong.
That night, Rarity dreamt of Amethyst Wind one last time.
Two times she’d dreamt of her, of this fictional mare living a very real future, and two times had Rarity woken up with a dull pain in her chest. When she would, eventually, wake from that third and final dream, a simple ache wouldn’t be what she’d feel.
In her dream, the sun had just risen over Ponyville, bringing with it a summer day like any other, like all the ones Rarity had lived through in her years after going to the castle, without Twilight.
One would think that she’d make an exception for such a special day. That she wouldn’t bother with going through her entire routine. But she went through it regardless, her little way of honoring the days when her younger self had spent hours working on her appearance in the hopes of Princess Twilight commenting on it.
Settled down in front of her bathroom mirror, the elder pony combed her grey mane, put on her best eyeliner and eyeshadow, curled her eyelashes, and powdered her nose. She was not the stunning sight of her youth, no, but she was still quite something to behold. Her face, thinned with age, bore few wrinkles; she still had a full mane, and her coat retained its healthy sheen.
She stared at her reflection, her eyes dropping and lingering on her chest. She pressed her hoof on the spot where decades ago a pink necklace had hung. After a minute, her hoof fell and her eyes rose back to her face.
She asked herself if she was ready.
Yesterday, when the news had arrived, she had thought she was. But now, hours or even minutes away from meeting Princess Twilight Sparkle again, she realized that perhaps she was not ready at all.
“Rarity! It’s time!”
Rarity turned around and saw Amethyst peeking her head into the bathroom. She looked ecstatic, her eyes twinkling and Rarity’s old necklace hanging from her neck. She looked so happy, so terribly happy, and Rarity smiled in an attempt to be just as happy.
“It’s time!” she echoed, shooting one last glance at the mirror before turning to Amethyst with a bright smile.
“Are you still nervous?”
“Nervous?” Rarity asked. “Darling, I was never nervous.”
“Sure,” Amethyst said with a giggle. “And you totally didn’t try getting on the first train to Hollow Shades, either.”
Rarity gasped. “I did not!”
“Come on! She’s waiting in your studio!” Amethyst giggled again and disappeared into the hallway.
It took Rarity a moment, but eventually, she got up and followed after the younger mare. She descended slowly, carefully, every step heavier than the last, and though she told herself it was simply because of old age, she knew she was stalling for time.
But she did eventually reach her studio. As she’d learned with the passing of years, time was not kind to those who suffered, and it did not delay pain when it was due. She stood in the hallway for what seemed an eternity, heart beating right out of her chest, before finally going in and…
And finding nopony.
Irritation coursed through her. “Amethyst!” she called out, stepping into the room, grabbing a stray scrap of fabric off the floor and brusquely throwing it onto a nearby chair. “I don’t find this amusing at all!”
When no reply came, she huffed and walked over to her sewing machine, deciding she might as well work on her latest dress until such time Amethyst and… Twilight decided to be polite and give Rarity a minute of their time.
She levitated her glasses and put them on before adjusting the dress under the needle and—
There it was.
The voice of a lost legend, of times torn away from her, of a princess who haunted her every waking and sleeping moment. A voice Rarity hadn’t truly and fully realized how much she’d missed until that very moment.
She took a deep breath, reminded herself that she was over Twilight Sparkle, and then turned around.
Turns out, Rarity thought, I’m not ready at all.
There she stood, like a gift from the heavens, looking just as she had a long time ago.
There she stood, as real as she’d ever be.
There stood Princess Twilight Sparkle, finally free yet across an abyss carved between them, and how beautiful she looked. She was a vision, standing in silence under the frame of the door, her crown still gracing her head and her violet eyes penetrating to Rarity’s very soul.
What was she thinking? Was she shocked? Disappointed? Awed? They stared at each other across the threshold, as if once more a younger Rarity had been rescued from a tower of books and met the pony who’d damned her by saving her.
Twilight spoke first, if it could even be considered speaking. “I… I…”
“Might like tea?” Rarity ventured with a smile, knowing full well that was not what Twilight was thinking. “I might need some to soothe the shock out of me.”
And Princess Twilight Sparkle smiled.
Hours later, the princess stood in the corner of Rarity’s studio, and what a sight she still was, Rarity thought. An entire lifetime had passed since last they’d seen each other, and there was a certain melancholic pleasure at realizing the alicorn still took her breath away.
The princess—as she tended to call her ever since meeting Amethyst—breathed in and out, her curious eyes fixed on the sewing machine in front of her. Had things been different, had circumstance and destiny not gotten in the way, perhaps that scene would have come to be decades ago. Perhaps a younger Rarity would be standing beside her, teasingly pointing out that it won’t bite you, my darling.
But things were not different.
Twilight’s ears flicked, and she frowned lightly. That look of concentration Rarity had sorely missed, and wasn’t it incredible how so little had changed in so many years? Twilight took another deep breath and finally lifted her hoof, moving it toward the machine. Rarity watched in silence, lips brushing the rim of the teacup she held in her magic, and though she expected Twilight to touch the sewing machine, she lowered her hoof and took a dress in her hooves instead.
It did not go through her.
It was… it was surreal, really, to see Twilight play with the fabric, run her hooves over it. In the hours since they’d been reunited, Rarity had not approached Twilight closely enough for tact to play a part. No hoofshakes, or hugs, or…
She cleared her throat.
“What do you think?” she asked, stepping toward Twilight. “It’s my latest design!”
Twilight’s wings ruffled, and when she turned to Rarity, her eyes widened and her ears lifted. She’d done that several times now, as if her brain ground to a halt whenever she looked at the unicorn. But then she caught herself, and quickly looked back to the dress, the frown returning.
“Er… It’s very…”
“Goodness, am I such a jarring sight to behold you can’t stand to look at me for more than a second?” Rarity teased, even if her mock-offense wasn’t entirely false.
Immediately did Twilight turn back to her, a bright indignant blush burning up her cheeks. “What? No!” she blurted out, pressing the dress against her chest. “I just—!” She faltered and looked down. “It’s… It’s…”
Rarity laughed softly, placing her cup on a nearby table and catching Twilight’s attention once again. “I know, darling. I was only teasing. ’Tis a shame not all of us were blessed with eternal enchanting looks, hm?”
And finally, a sight for the sorest of eyes, Twilight offered an embarrassed smile.
She placed the dress back on the table and walked over to Rarity, finally taking a seat next to her. The distance between them was small, quite small, but to Rarity, it felt endless.
Three words hung on her lips. Not the three words everypony jumped to at the end of her romance novels, however, for she had long ago lost the privilege to even think of saying such a thing to Twilight.
I’ve missed you, is what she truly wanted to say, but she did not.
“Is it strange?” Rarity asked instead, because some words were better left unsaid. “To be…” She paused and a mischievous smile decorated her face. “To be alive again?”
The reaction was immediate.
“I wasn’t dead!” Twilight protested. “I—!”
“You were displaced in time,” Rarity finished, her delighted smile only deepening Twilight’s frown. The unicorn sighed and leaned back, levitating her teacup as if to take a sip. “I must confess that will never get old.”
Twilight laughed, and how Rarity had missed her laugh. “So, have you been practicing teleportation?” she asked, drawing a smile from the unicorn. “You must be an expert by now, right?”
Rarity sighed theatrically. “I fear I haven’t practiced teleporting in decades.”
“You haven’t?” Twilight asked, her brow furrowing, like time had rewound and they were back in the library so long ago. “Why not?”
Rarity smiled again.
“Isn’t it obvious, my darling?” She lifted her hoof and, without hesitation, brushed Twilight’s bangs back, allowing her hoof to later travel down the length of Twilight’s face and caress her cheek. She was soft. Princesses, she was softer than Rarity had ever dreamed she’d be.
“Is it?” Twilight asked, and though she tried to look stern, she sounded subdued, closing her eyes and leaning into Rarity’s touch, relishing it, the coveted first contact they had once dreamt of.
“What was the point of practicing teleportation,” Rarity whispered, “if you weren’t there to be impressed with my progress?”
There was a moment of silence.
Twilight opened her eyes, now twinkling with unshed tears. She let out a long breath she discovered she’d been holding, and Rarity wondered if she’d been waiting for that. The tacit confirmation that love had not died even then, and probably never would.
“Silly,” she whispered, lifting her hoof and pressing it against Rarity’s own. “That’s no reason to have stopped.”
“Now, now, Twilight. It’s unbecoming of a princess to cry,” Rarity whispered, tears bordering her own eyes as she slipped her hoof from under Twilight’s and then used it to cup the princess’s chin. “You’ve got an entire new life ahead of you now.”
“And you?” Twilight whispered back, and the words cut into Rarity’s heart like knives. How dare she, Rarity wanted to say, how dare she still have such a grip on her heart?
“Not quite as much as you do,” she replied, trying so terribly hard to sound nonchalant, like they were discussing the weather and nothing more. “But now that you’re out, I shall try and make the best of it, won’t I?”
Twilight’s eyes darkened and she looked away. “It hurts,” she said, and before Rarity could reply, she continued, “but it won’t hurt anymore if I never let anypony come close again, will it?”
Rarity stepped back. “Wh-what do you mean?” she asked, and she knew, deep down, something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong.
“You promised,” Twilight whispered. “You promised you’d come back. I guess you’re a liar too.”
And then, the dream shifted. It cracked, literally, into a thousand pieces, as if reality were a mirror shattering before her. The room blurred, and only Twilight was crystal clear, her eyes still distant, still dark. Before Rarity knew what had happened, Carousel Boutique and Twilight Sparkle were gone, and now she stood alone inside the library.
No, not inside the library. She stood inside the tunnel, and though she’d resumed her usual youthful appearance, she was too preoccupied with other matters to care. There, on the other side, she could see the library. She galloped toward it, and her attempt to call out Twilight’s name came to a strangled stop when she collided with the barrier.
Thrown back, she landed onto her haunches and stared, her heart beating frenetically in her chest.
“No,” she whispered, before getting up and colliding against the barrier again, and again, again. “No!” she yelled each time, until she found herself slamming her hooves against it. “Twilight?! Twilight, please! I’m here! Twilight!”
And with a crackle of magic, Princess Twilight Sparkle reappeared before her, sitting down on the other side of the barrier, and oh… oh, she looked different. The creature before her was not the smiling alicorn she’d talked to during their sleepover, but the distant spirit that had greeted her nearly a year ago.
“Twilight!” Rarity exclaimed nonetheless, her hooves pressed against the translucent barrier. So close, yet so far, so far, so far. “I can’t come in—! I don’t—!”
“Rarity isn’t coming back, is she?” Twilight said, and though it was phrased as a question, there was no uncertainty in it.
“What?! No! I’m here!” Rarity protested, banging her hooves against the barrier again and again and again. “Twilight!”
But Twilight did not see her. She saw right through her, right past her, because Rarity was nothing but a dream, it seemed, a ghost of the past. Elara arrived, sitting down next to her master, and the owl too looked into the tunnel and through the desperate unicorn.
Twilight laughed suddenly. A soft laugh, more like a chuckle, but there was no joy there. There was bitterness, and resignation, and… and disappointment.
“I should have known,” she said, and with a spark of magic, her necklace appeared before her. She stared at it for one, two, three seconds before unceremoniously tossing it into the darkness of the tunnel. “Maybe it’ll be better if no one can ever come back at all.”
Her horn lit up, and Rarity didn’t realize what she was doing until a bookcase in the distance levitated into the air, revealing behind it the creeping figure of the chaos puppet. Twilight Sparkle did not listen to Rarity’s desperate warnings as she levitated the bookcase all the way to the tunnel and then stepped back.
“Goodbye, Rarity,” she whispered, and for a split second she seemed to look at Rarity rather than through her, before finally dropping the bookcase in front of the tunnel.
“No!” Rarity screamed, and now the barrier turned pitch black as she banged her hooves against it. “Please! What are you doing?! Twilight! Don’t do this! Please! You’re better than this!” Rarity slammed herself against the barrier one last time before sliding down against it, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Please… Twilight…” she begged, but her pleading went unheard and unanswered, for she had caused this. She’d caused this, she had, she had. She had gone and cursed herself, and now Twilight Sparkle was paying the price, and it was all too much to bear.
And Rarity woke up.
She woke up inside her room in Canterlot, tears running down her face, an agonizing pain in her chest, and Discord’s words hissing in her mind.
“And now her only friends are gone forever! Poor little princess. I wouldn’t be surprised if that barrier’s turned pitch black.”
She buried her face in her hooves, trying to calm herself, trying to hold onto a rationality that was quickly slipping away. Hope was dying, coming undone, and in its wake so would she.
She needed to break the curse.
She needed to break the curse, or else it would consume her whole if it hadn’t already.
And so she would.
She got up from the bed, stumbling around and finding the light switch. Her breathing was erratic now, wild and unsteady, and it felt like she was fighting to breathe, to live. She scanned the room and saw her saddlebags.
She stared at them for a few seconds and then, only barely aware of the effort involved, her belongings levitated into the air and went straight for her saddlebags. Once the room was as empty as her mind, she grabbed them, put them on and went out.
She made it all the way to the darkness of the living room, but much like with Twilight in the dream, she was stopped right when she was closest. A pony came smashing against her, nearly tumbling her to the floor.
“Rarity?” Rainbow Dash’s urgent voice came. “Why are you up? Wait, never mind, tell me after I go to the bathroom because I’m like three seconds from… yeah…” Before Rarity could reply, Rainbow dashed away and turned on the lights. Her expression shifted the moment she saw saddlebags on the unicorn. “Rarity?! What—?! What do you think you’re doing?!”
Rarity stared at her.
And then she smiled.
“Rainbow, darling!” she exclaimed enthusiastically, because madmares were always quite cheerful, were they not? “Going to Hollow Shades to see Professor Awe, of course! Isn’t it obvious? He is my only hope at this point!”
Rainbow blanched. “Great, you’ve lost it.” She bit her lip, throwing the hallway to the bathroom a needy glance before turning to Rarity again. “Loo— Wait, you’ve been crying, too?” She rubbed her hoof against her forehead, for once looking at a complete loss. “Uhm, okay. Okay! Just…” She stepped forward, carefully grabbing Rarity’s saddlebags and putting them on the floor. “Don’t worry, Rares! I just—! Really need to go to the bathroom and then we’re going to Ponyville, and we’ll figure something out! Nopony has to go to Hollow Shades yet, okay? Okay! Awesome!”
Though Rarity did not protest, her smile did fade, and Rainbow seemed to take notice, now looking considerably more nervous.
“Look, just, come with me,” she continued, taking Rarity’s hoof and leading her away from the door and deeper into the apartment. Once they reached the bathroom door, Rainbow turned to Rarity. “Stay here and don’t do anything until I’m done, got it?”
Rainbow backtracked, still looking at the unicorn, and then carefully opened the bathroom door. Once she’d managed to go inside without losing sight of Rarity, she took a deep breath and smiled before closing the door and warning: “Stay. There. ’Cause I’m fast and you’re not, so I’m gonna catch up.”
Not even a minute had gone by since the door closed that Rainbow’s voice returned: “You’re still there, right?!”
“Yes,” came the toneless reply.
“Okay, keep staying there!”
And Rarity did indeed stay still.
But that wasn’t accurate, was it? How could Rarity stay there when Rarity wasn’t even there? Because the pony sitting there was somepony else, somepony else, somepony else, and the real Rarity—the adventurous one, the noble one—was in the library in the Everfree Forest.
She’d realized something, actually! In the midst of such madness and despair, who knew a clever thought could emerge! Because Discord hadn’t cursed her a month ago, oh no no no! She’d been cursed long before that day; it had been when she first stepped into the library.
Only now did she realize that while the library was Twilight’s physical prison, it had slowly but surely become her mental one as well. Because Twilight Sparkle lived consumed by obsession, and now Rarity too lived the same way. Because now, well and truly, she’d become as mad as Fritter Cobbler.
If a thread of sanity still held her together, it was fraying quickly now, and its damning moment came when her eyes landed on the single key inserted into the lock of an adjacent door. She stared at it for what felt eons, and then, in one swift motion, used her magic to take it out.
The key floated in mid-air.
Rarity stared at it, silently, quietly, the last shred of sanity in her begging her to reconsider.
And then the key floated toward the bathroom door’s lock, and Rarity’s morality fought harder and harder as the key slid into the lock with ease. Time came to a standstill. Her breathing slowed, her thoughts stopped, and everything hung in the balance of a single movement.
What would Twilight think of her?
What would she say if she could see her now?
And a memory resurged.
And the key moved with a click as the last thread in Rarity snapped.
There was a moment of silence, Rarity staring at the key in shock until Rainbow Dash spoke up.
“Rarity? What was that?!” Silence and then sound as Rainbow Dash tried in vain to open the door. “No! No, Rarity! Rarity, open the door! Open it!”
Rarity simply kept staring. It felt like an illusion. Like she was dreaming. Like a living nightmare, and surely she would wake up soon, wouldn’t she?
“Rarity!” Rainbow continued, sounding desperate now, her calls accompanied by pounding on the door. “Rarity! Why are you doing this?! Don’t! You’re better than this! I know you’re better than this, please!” How curious it was, to hear her nightmare in the flesh, but to be on the other side of the barrier. “Rarity!”
Rarity did nothing.
“Rarity! I’ll break the door down, I swear!” Rainbow threatened, and Rarity idly thought to herself that breaking such a thick mahogany door from inside such a small bathroom would be quite the feat. “Rarity, please! PLEASE! YOU’RE BETTER THAN THIS!”
And Rainbow was right.
Rarity was better than this, but Rarity was gone. She was gone, gone, gone and another mare stood in her place. Rainbow kept calling to her, and now to Apple Bloom, and in reply Rarity simply stood up. She stood up, slowly, quietly, terribly, and walked all the way to the living room, past Apple Bloom’s closed door, and once she was in the foyer, she put on her cloak, took her saddlebags, and walked out the front door.
What luck she had, to be in Canterlot! What luck, that trains departed every hour!
The train station was empty when she arrived, save for a few meandering ponies and employees. She approached the booth and smiled widely at the mare selling tickets. She reached into her bitbag, but as she did, she caught sight of her necklace.
For a moment, she hesitated.
For a moment, she told herself to reconsider.
For a moment, shame burned her.
And then the hesitation and the shame were smothered, and she took out her bitbag to pay for a single express train ticket to Hollow Shades.
She arrived an hour or so later, and here she saw ponies walking about, carrying lanterns and wearing cloaks. Off they went on their business, with their chores, these ponies that like the rest of Equestria were so blissfully and painfully unaware.
She looked up at the sky where moonlight shone down, and she thought of Pinkie Pie. She wouldn’t curse Pinkie Pie. She wouldn’t! Everything would be fine, and nopony would suffer anymore.
Rarity turned around, and her momentary panic was assuaged when she saw Elder Moonshine trotting toward her.
“My dear child, it’s nearly four in the morning! What are you doing here?” the elder asked, tapping her cane against the ground, as if she weren’t wandering around before dawn either. Another judge ready to condemn her actions, no doubt! “Pinkie didn’t tell me you were visiting at these hours.”
“I’m not!” Rarity quickly exclaimed, eager to get the conversation over with because she had very important matters to attend to. “I’m not here to see Pinkie at all, in fact! Terribly busy with other affairs.”
The elder furrowed her brow. “You seem troubled. Is everything all right? Should I get Pin—”
“Troubled? Oh goodness, no,” Rarity replied calmly because everything was fine! Fine, fine, fine, fine, fine! “I’m perfectly fine, never felt better! However, I must leave post-haste! So many things to do!”
Without allowing the elder to stop or continue questioning her, Rarity trotted off and made her way to the professor’s house. Upon arriving, hope rose within her at the sight of a few lights upstairs. She rushed to the door and knocked several times.
“Professor!” she called out. “Professor Awe!”
When no answer came, she stepped back and looked toward the upstairs rooms. She levitated a nearby broken branch and used it to knock on one of the lit windows.
“Professor! Wake up!”
The window eventually opened and Professor Awe’s head poked out, looking down at Rarity.
“Ah, Professor!” Rarity exclaimed with delight. “Good morning! May I come in?”
The professor stared at her for a moment before disappearing back into his apartment, leaving the window wide open. Rarity immediately rushed to the door and impatiently waited for it to open. She looked down to her necklace as she did so, and it was then that she noticed a most peculiar thing.
It was lightly glowing green, as it would in the Everfree Forest.
However, before she could dwell much on it, the door opened and revealed the professor, now sporting a very pronounced frown.
“Miss Rarity,” he said, and behind him floated a clock. “It’s four in the morning.”
Rarity laughed. “Oh goodness, is it? Time does fly by, does it not?” She cleared her throat and looked inside the house. “Might I come in, Professor? I must speak with you about an urgent matter.”
“Well, I’ll be glad to receive you tomorrow—er, today—at a normal hour. Good night,” he said, but his attempts to close the door were thwarted when Rarity used her magic to keep it firmly open. “Miss Rarity, this is—!”
“Professor.” Rarity smiled, and my, my, she struggled to keep her tone polite and kind. “Please.”
The professor groaned and pointedly rolled his eyes. “Very well,” he muttered, stepping away so Rarity could come in.
Without bothering to wait for him to lead her or offer anything to drink, Rarity rushed into his study, looking around at the papers and newspaper cut-outs plastered on the wall, trying to find anything that might help her.
“Well, what is this urgent matter that warrants such an early hour?” the professor asked, sitting down at the center table and staring Rarity down.
Rarity quickly sat opposite him, feeling so much more relieved. Finally, finally, she would end this curse! Surely!
“Well, you see, you are the expert on the Legend of the Four Princesses, and I need to know as much information as I can on how to break the curse,” Rarity asked, smiling brightly at him. She took a book from a nearby stack and began flipping through it. “You must have something!”
“The curse?” he asked. “You mean Princess Cadance’s Curse?”
Rarity nodded eagerly. “Yes! That one, exactly!” she said, closing the book and putting it aside.
The professor stared. “Well, for starters, Miss Rarity,” he began, sitting up straight, “it’s fake. It was merely a construct devised by Princess Cadance with the intention of covering the assassinations and having an excuse to be useless in ‘finding the princesses.’”
Rarity kept smiling, ignoring his forsaken theories. “I see,” she replied rather curtly. “But, hypothetically speaking of course, how would one go about breaking it if it were real?”
And again, the professor simply stared. “There is no ‘hypothetically,’ Miss Rarity. There is no way to break a curse that doesn’t exist. There’s nothing else to it.”
And Rarity’s smile faltered for a moment as she quietly dragged her hoof on the ground, like a cat dragging its claws on wood. Patience, Rarity, patience. “I understand that, Professor,” she repeated, and ah, she had to take a deep breath lest she break composure. “But, again, hypothetically speaking, how would one break it?”
“Humor me, Professor Awe,” she interrupted, barely withholding the desire to slam her hoof against the ground. She then smiled, because oh dear dear dear, a lady did not act out, did she? “Surely a stallion of your intelligence can play pretend, can he not?”
The professor grunted. “There is information on how the curse might spread. For example, a bo—”
“Yes, yes, I don’t care about that,” Rarity interrupted. “I’m interested in how to break it.”
The professor grunted again, clearly displeased at the interruption. “Miss Rarity, no books explain how to break this curse, just as no books explain how to ‘hypothetically’ free these princesses. I did, admittedly, make some notes and theories on the subject a few years ago, but I hope you understand I’m not going to turn my house upside down at this hour for something like that.”
Rarity forced a smile. Deep breaths, now, darling.
“Well, I shall come tomorrow, then. At a more reasonable hour,” she relented, because yes, she could wait a few more hours! What were three or four hours to a lifetime? Nothing! Nothing at all! “I’m sure eight o’clock will be an agreeable time!”
“You may come at whatever hour you like, Miss Rarity, but you will leave empty-hooved,” the professor replied, raising an eyebrow. “All my notes on the curse, if I still have them, are at my home in Rainbow Falls, not here.”
Rarity gritted her teeth. “Professor.” She forced herself to smile again. “That won’t be an issue, of course! We can go to Rainbow Falls tomorrow! I shall even pay for your ticket!”
And at this, the professor snorted. “Miss Rarity, I don’t know what is your obsession with this fake curse, but I am not going to go anywhere! I have things to do—things, might I add, that I could be doing now—and if you want any information on a fictional curse, you’ll have to wait until next month when I’ve gone back to Rainbow Falls!”
She blinked at him because he was joking, was he not? He was joking, he was delusional, he was cruel if he thought she should wait another month. This past month had felt like years to her, and now he wanted her to wait another?
“I can’t afford to wait a month!” Rarity snapped, her patience having worn out. “I need to know how to break it now!”
And the professor stood up. “There is no curse! And if there is, then there is simply no way to break it! And now, I insist you—!”
“I AM cursed, Professor!” Rarity interrupted, loudly, clearly, angrily, now broken beyond repair, standing up and slamming her hoof against the table. Every word that came out of his mouth now felt like an attack, like somepony else telling her to stop, to calm down, and so help her, if he dared say the curse was fake one more time… “Princess Denza cursed me! And you will help me find a way out of it, and I don’t care if you think it’s fake or not!”
“But there is no cur—!”
That did it. The final button pressed, the last cable cut, and the ticking time bomb inside Rarity reached the end of its counter.
“Yes, there IS!” she roared, grabbing him with her magic and slamming him against the nearest wall. She was gone now, and she knew this fact, yet she could not bring herself to care. She had been driven to this point, pushed past her limit, and if the world was intent on crushing her, she would not go down without a fight.
“Wh-what is wrong with you?!” Professor Awe demanded, trying in vain to free himself of Rarity’s magic grip. “This is una—”
“Unacceptable?! I will tell you what’s unacceptable because I am the one threatening you now, Professor!” Rarity snapped, pushing him as much as she could against the wall and then coming closer so she was right in front of him. “I found Princess Twilight Sparkle months ago, and now I cannot find her again because the Spirit tricked me into getting cursed!”
“Listen to yourself!” he protested. “You’ve gone mad!”
And Rarity laughed, and indeed did she laugh like the madmare she was. “Oh, my dear professor, I do not contest that! And now, you too are cursed!” The manic glee disappeared from her face, and her threat continued. “So listen carefully to me now, yes? You will take the next train to Rainbow Falls with me, and you will help me break this forsaken curse, or so help me I’ll—”
Her sentence cut-off when she felt somepony grab hold of her, hugging her in a desperate attempt to get her away from the professor.
“Rarity! Please, stop!”
Rarity’s entire world indeed came to a stop. It came crashing down on her, tearing her open with nothing but the sound of Pinkie Pie’s voice. That was not the calm before the storm. It was the calm after the storm that had left destruction in its wake.
Rarity turned around and there she saw Pinkie Pie, her eyes filled with tears and something else, something much worse. Rarity saw fear. A fear that was caused by and directed at herself, and it was only until that terrible moment that reality caught up to the unicorn.
She wasn’t having a nightmare.
Everything was real, and everything hurt, and she was the monster now.
She turned to the professor, and he was still in her grip, and the sight of her own magic holding him terrified her, shocked her into letting go. She stepped back, afraid of herself, and her hoof flew to her mouth. No. No, she hadn’t meant for this to happen. Please, she hadn’t, please.
And again she turned to Pinkie Pie, the one pony who’d been saved from the curse, the one pony who could have helped, and now Rarity had… had…
“I’m sorry,” Rarity whispered, tears stinging at her eyes, and she apologized again though she knew no amount of apologies would help or fix what she’d done. She turned to the professor, who was only now standing up, and she stepped back, back, back, back until she collided against the table, and she realized it was all too terrible to bear.
So she fled.
She ran, out the room, out the door, out into the somber town. She ran toward something or nothing, toward a place that would make it all stop, that would end the nightmare she could not wake from and she had herself brought forth.
When she ran out of breath and energy, she looked up to see where she was, and realized destiny was not done with her yet when her eyes landed on the statue of Princess Luna.
She fell to her haunches in front of it, staring up at the lonely princess, beseeching her for answers, for forgiveness. She pressed a foreleg against the statue, and stared at her own hoof, the feeling of the cool marble showing her that this was no dream. She really had attacked the professor, she really had come to Hollow Shades, she really had been attacked by timberwolves, and she really would never see…
She turned around to see Pinkie running toward her, carrying Rarity’s saddlebags with her, and oh, how Rarity wanted to scream. How she wanted to tell her to leave, leave, leave. Let me be, she thought, let me be, please.
“Rarity…?” Pinkie said when she’d arrived, and though the fear was gone, the sadness remained.
“I miss Twilight,” Rarity whispered.
The three words she’d been avoiding for weeks now, because the implications of them were too much.
But she’d said them now, and she buried her face in her hooves. She missed Twilight. She missed her so much and so viscerally, it was like raging fire in her chest, like water drowning her lungs, like a dagger through her chest that she’d tried and tried to ignore even though it was killing her.
She missed her, and she would never see her again.
Some way or another, amidst the pretense of duties and adventures, of doing it for the greater good, Rarity had let herself need Twilight just as—or perhaps more than—Twilight needed her.
“Ra-Rarity, we’ll figure something out!” Pinkie said, still trying to be cheerful, be optimistic despite the odds. “It-It’s okay! We’ll figu—!”
“No, it’s not okay,” Rarity choked out, face still in her hooves, because it wasn’t okay, because it would never be okay, because now she understood far too late that it would never be over.
There was no moving on from this. There was no licking her wounds and finding a new path, because for the rest of her life, Rarity would live every day knowing Twilight was still trapped in the library. For the rest of her life, she would wake every day with the knowledge that she had lost Twilight to a forest, and to that same lost princess she’d lost her heart, wholly and completely.
“I wish I’d never found her.”
The whispered words came unbidden from her mouth; the terrible, terrible confession.
“No, you don’t!” Pinkie immediately gasped, but Rarity nodded her head because yes she did.
“I wish I’d never met her,” she repeated, because it was too much, too much, and she hadn’t wanted that. Because that wasn’t a fairy tale anymore, that wasn’t a happy ending, that was cruel.
“No, you don’t,” Pinkie repeated, softer now.
There was a second of silence, before Rarity whispered into her hooves: “No, I don’t.”
No, she did not regret anything. She did not regret a single decision, not a day she had spent with Twilight Sparkle, and even if it was a pain that would follow her eternal, she would never wish Princess Twilight Sparkle hadn’t stolen her life away.
If she could do it all again knowing this was the only fate she could achieve, she would not even hesitate.
“You wanna know a secret?”
Rarity looked up at Pinkie through her puffy, reddened eyes, for a blissful moment pulled away from her pain. “Wh-what?”
Pinkie Pie sat down on her haunches, her smile fading. “I don’t think I’m going to get to see Princess Luna be free.”
When Rarity did nothing but stare in disbelief, because how could Pinkie of all ponies think that, the pink mare continued, pawing at the ground. “I don’t have any books, and I don’t even know where Princess Luna is. But…” She sat up straight, her ears flipping up, and she smiled. “Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, right? Don’t you want Princess Twilight to be free, even if it isn’t because of you?”
“Of course I do,” Rarity whispered, because how could she not? How could she not want Twilight free and happy?
“Then we have to keep looking!” Pinkie continued, hopping up. “We need to get aaaaaaall the information we can, and then other ponies can use it to find the princesses!”
“But we can’t,” Rarity weakly protested. “I’ve cursed you now, and… and you’ll never see…” She buried her face in her hooves. “I’m sorry…”
Pinkie blew raspberries. “Pshhh, a silly curse won’t keep me away from Princess Luna, silly, just like a silly curse won’t keep you away from Princess Twi,” she exclaimed, trotting over and plopping herself down next to Rarity. She yawned and cuddled up to the unicorn. “I’m gonna ask her to do something really special just for you, ’kay?”
Rarity offered a half-smile. “Oh? Shall I be prepared for the princess to smite me?” she asked, but the reply she received was a soft snore. She blinked at the pink mare before letting out a long sigh and looking up to the sky, where the stars twinkled all over.
What a beautiful night, she thought, for such a terrible day.
She looked down, into the town, and in the distance she saw a couple trot by, snuggled together with their tails intertwined. She followed them with her eyes, watched as they laughed, and it was sad, wasn’t it? Sad that months ago, such a sight would have filled Rarity with hope for a similar future, and now…
She didn’t know how to break the curse. She didn’t know if it could even be broken.
She might never see Twilight again.
When the couple disappeared, off to their happy ending, Rarity looked up at the sky again. Twilight deserved a future like that. She remembered Twilight smiling in the library, laughing without restraint, and for once, free from her demons.
More than her own happiness, Rarity realized, she wanted Twilight’s, who… who had been left to suffer for far too long. She wanted the alicorn to have days in the sun again, to discover the marvels of the world, be it with Rarity or…
Tears bordered her eyes anew, a common occurrence nowadays. There truly would be no moving on from this, would there? It would haunt her every day. Her personal demon, her Amethyst Wind, and yet… and yet Twilight had been fighting for much longer, hadn’t she?
For the sake of Twilight’s happiness, Rarity would fight her own demons, if only so that one day, in the near or distant future, Twilight could leave hers behind.
The minutes went by, Rarity left to her thoughts, until a third pony arrived in the shape of a very out-of-breath Rainbow Dash landing in front of her.
“Rarity! There you are!” she said between breaths. Her nostrils flared and she stamped a hoof against the ground. “I had to fly Apple Bloom here with me! Do you even know how much she weighs?! And I have to get Spitfire a new door now, because… because…” She drifted off, and it seemed like only now had she taken a good look at the unicorn. Her anger faded, as did her ears lower. “…Are you okay?”
Rarity smiled. “Do I look okay?”
“You look terrible.”
“Do I?” Rarity asked, offering a bright grin and running a hoof through her mane. “Why, thank you! It’s my latest creation: the ‘Absolute Meltdown’! I’m trying to stay ahead of the trends, you see.”
“Yeah, I see.” Rainbow glanced at Pinkie Pie. “Is she like… you know…”
“I don’t know,” Rarity said, and her smile vanished. “I suppose we shall find out when she wakes up.” She lowered her gaze and brushed the hair out of Pinkie’s face. “I’ve really done it now, haven’t I? I can’t even begin to think how I’ll make up for this.”
“You got that right,” Rainbow said sternly, until finally her ears lowered and she looked away. “But… I guess we could have done more stuff to make you feel like we do care. Sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too.”
Rainbow trotted over toward the unicorn and sat on the opposite side of where Pinkie was. “Now what?”
Rarity sighed. “We wait for her to wake up, and after that… I don’t know.”
“Don’t know? Don’t know what?” Pinkie asked, blinking at Rarity. She sat up, let out a loud yawn and then gasped. “Oh! It’s Rainbow Dash! Hiiiii!” Her smile faded. “Why’re you lookin’ at me like that?” she asked when Rarity and Rainbow simply stared at her with expectant eyes. “Oh. Oh!” She clapped her hooves together. “I got to see Princess Luna! She says hi,” she said with all the nonchalance in the world.
Rainbow’s sigh of relief matched Rarity’s, the two of them leaning against the statue. Oh, thank goodness, Rarity thought. Thank goodness, thank goodness, thank goodness.
“Sillies,” Pinkie said, suddenly. “I thought you guys didn’t want to be my friends, anymore. I was really sad.” She stuck out her tongue. “But you should know no dumb curse is going to stop me, anyways!”
“See, Rarity? You can want to beat this curse and not be a drama queen about it,” Rainbow playfully noted, grinning when Rarity rolled her eyes.
“Hardy har har,” she muttered. She and the others stayed in silence for a few minutes before she finally took her saddlebags from the floor and levitated them over. “Very well, the show must go on. I have to go back to the professor’s house and…” She rubbed a hoof against her face. Oh dear, that was going to be a very difficult apology. On the bright side, maybe now he’d actually help.
She made a move to stand up, but when she levitated the saddlebags higher, the scroll tucked away at the top fell out and landed in front of her, sending a jolt through her heart. She lowered her things and carefully took Twilight’s letter into her hooves.
The time had come, it seemed.
“What’s that?” Pinkie asked with interest. “Who’s it from?!”
“Twilight,” Rarity replied. “I…” She faltered. “I haven’t read it.”
“What?! Are you kidding me?!” Rainbow blurted, standing up. “Rarity, if that thing has a way to stop the curse, I’m going to kill you!”
Shame burned Rarity, and though she wanted to protest, she couldn’t. If that letter did indeed have the key to ending the curse, she’d be elated and then Rainbow could forget about killing her because she’d do it herself.
“Well, come on!” Rainbow pressed, and Rarity bit her lip.
The show must go on, she told herself, unfurling the scroll and beginning to read.
I’m not sure how to say this, and I don’t want to, but this is probably the last time I’ll be writing to you.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. I’ve written fifteen drafts of this letter.
Did you know my chest hurts? It’s actually fascinating! I didn’t know it could hurt like this. I think it’s what you explained once. Phantom pains? I wrote a small research paper about it between the sixth and seventh draft of the letter. It’s only thirty pages long, which is pretty poor for a first draft, I think, but I’m sure it’ll increase with revisions.
I don’t know how to break your curse. I’ve read all the books I have on the matter, and I can’t find anything that might help. I tried trapping the chaos magic from the maze again, but it’s even more volatile. I think it knows. It probably knows. I wrote a research paper on that too, which I’ll try sending to you if this isn’t my last letter.
You haven’t written to me yet. Of course you haven’t! You can’t! Fluttershy said in her letter that you were in a medical facility, and then I told the owls to stop guiding you to the library. Are you angry at me? They are, at least. Themis ignored me for… Well, I don’t know how long, since my clock and calendar had an accident I’d rather not discuss, but it felt like a long time. And Elara didn’t clean up my papers. I didn’t even realize I had so many of them lying around until now.
I think I’m scared of getting a letter from you. Not because I don’t want to! I miss you. I really miss you. I just worry one day you’ll stop sending letters, just like I always worry one day you’ll stop coming. And now you did. And so one day you’ll stop sending letters.
I’m going to try to find a way to break the curse, or at least, I’m going to wait for you. I’m not going to give up. You promised you’d come back, and I trust you.
I don’t need to send letters anymore, because I know I’ll tell you anything else I have to say when you come back.
“‘I don’t need to send letters anymore,’” Rarity read aloud, eyes sparkling with tears and a smile gracing her lips, “‘because I know I’ll tell you anything else I have to say when you come back.’”
A moment of silence followed as Rarity folded the scroll, and though she opened her mouth to speak, Pinkie was faster.
“Princess Twilight is so silly!” she said, crossing her forelegs and frowning. “Couldn’t she have started the letter with that?!”
Another brief silence before, for the first time in what felt ages, Rarity giggled, and what a heavenly feeling it was. She’d missed it so, so, so much.
“Hey, this isn’t all on Princess Twilight!” Rainbow shot back, but she too was smiling. “Rarity could have actually read the entire thing, too, y’know!”
And Rarity’s giggling turned to laughter, pressing the letter against her chest, and for the first time in forever, the thought of Twilight wasn’t a painful one.
Her silly little princess who she’d fight for, come what may.
“Oh dear, we truly are a match made in heaven, aren’t we?” she asked, and her cheeks hurt from smiling, because how she’d missed smiling and laughing and feeling that things might turn out all right after all.
Rainbow Dash stood up, finally, and she too looked better than she had in weeks. “Come on! This curse ain’t going to break itself if we just sit here laughing.” She flew up into the air. “I’ll see you at the hotel!”
Rarity and Pinkie watched her go, and once she’d disappeared from sight, Pinkie jumped up.
“Come on, Rarity!” she said, offering her hoof to the unicorn. “We’ve gotta help rescue the princesses, even if…”
Rarity didn’t reply, holding the letter close to her chest.
“Come on…” Pinkie encouraged with a smile. “Even if…”
“Even if it might not happen in our lifetimes,” Rarity said, though she felt no pain in such a statement anymore, for she had a promise she intended on keeping. She took Pinkie’s hoof, stood up, and then took a deep breath.
“Now we just gotta figure out what to do!” Pinkie exclaimed, trotting off into the town. “Any ideas?”
Rarity glanced back at the statue of Princess Luna, before following Pinkie Pie into whatever awaited them.
Perhaps, she thought, feeling sincerely hopeful for the first time in ages, my glowing green necklace might be a good place to start.