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    “Pinkie, you’re positive you’ll be fine without me?”

    Seeking Night would grace Hollow Shades in about a week, which gave Rarity and Pinkie only about that long to bring the tentatively named Princess Luna Confidence Project, a very long-term plan to slowly but surely combat the chaos magic plaguing Hollow Shades, to fruition.

    Their current base of operations, also known as Professor Awe’s house, was filled with presents of all kinds: teddy bears, toy cars, dolls, balls, and balloons—anything a colt or filly would love to have.

    “Rarityyyyy,” Pinkie said, rolling her eyes at the unicorn sitting on the other side of the table, “you already asked me that like a jillion times already, silly! I’ll be fiiiiine!”

    “Yes, yes, but let’s just go over it one last time, shall we? You know just how horribly Discord has affected the lives of Luna and Twilight, and if we don’t make sure everything we do is perfect…” She drifted off, moving a doll from atop a notebook filled with enough checklists to make Twilight proud.

    Goodness, she thought, pressing a hoof against her necklace, I miss Twilight.

    “Now!” She cleared her throat, took a pen and underlined key words for the umpteenth time. “We know that the chaos magic affects ponies’ belief in Princess Luna, and it seems to have the most effect on ponies who’ve lived here their entire lives.”

    “Uh-huh.”

    “This of course means that our plan of attack—or, rather, generosity—will involve the foals of Hollow Shades. We don’t know yet if the influence of chaos magic can be reversed, but we can try and stall it for as long as we can.”

    Pinkie nodded eagerly. “Yup! You said it.”

    Rarity paused. “Pinkie,” she said at length. “What was the last thing I said?”

    Pinkie blinked and a rosy hue tinted her cheeks. “Uhm. I wasn’t listening because I already know all this, but I know you’re repeating for yourself, and I didn’t want to make you feel like it’s not important, because it toootally is, but the teddy bear over there is super cute, and I know just who I’m—”

    “Pinkie!” Rarity reprimanded. “I’m not doing this for myself!” She frowned and pointed the tip of her pen at the pony. “All right, then, Missy, what will be your tasks?”

    “Oh, oh, I know this!” she exclaimed before sitting up straight and clearing her throat. “Princess Luna’s going to tell aaaaaall the foals in Hollow Shades that her super special helper—that’s me!—is going to give them all a super special present that’s made just for them!”

    Rarity hummed. “And how will you know what present is the right one for each foal?”

    Pinkie waved her off. “Princess Luna’s going to tell me what they like in their dreams, silly!” She giggled and took a pen herself, waving it at Rarity. “See! Pinkie knows her stuff!”

    “Yes, all right, all right.” Rarity turned the page of her notebook and tapped the pen against her chin. “You also must make sure the professor continues his research. I still suspect the chaos magic is, well…” She waved her hoof in the air. “…tampering with the minds of ponies, so any insight on how to protect ponies from it will be tremendous.”

    “What about you?” Pinkie asked, a note of seriousness entering her tone. “Are you ready for Ponyville?”

    Rarity thought about her answer for a moment. That was quite the question indeed. In the time since her… little moment of weakness… she’d only returned to Ponyville once, and only for a few hours at that. She’d fully immersed herself in Hollow Shades and Princess Luna’s predicament, and though she was loath to admit it, she knew it was partially to keep her thoughts from wandering toward Twilight.

    Which, unfortunately, was very difficult since not only was Twilight always at the forefront of her mind, but the… revelation Princess Luna had bestowed upon her had only made it harder for the unicorn to not dwell on her beloved.

    Now that she truly understood why Twilight was the way she was and why she’d pushed herself into inner seclusion? Rarity had notebooks and notebooks filled with dozens of different ways of somehow helping Twilight move past her demons.

    But, for that to happen, she needed to go back to Pony—

    “Rarity?” Pinkie asked, waving her hoof in front of the unicorn. “You there?”

    Rarity blinked. “Oh! Terribly sorry, darling, I was just thinking thoughts.” She cleared her throat. “In any case, I am indeed ready to go back to Ponyville. Besides, I don’t quite have a choice now that you-know-who is arriving.”

    “I know!” Pinkie exclaimed, pressing her chin against the table and pouting. “You’re so lucky! I want to meet him too! I’ve never met a dragon before…except the ones who tried to eat us…”

    Rarity arched an eyebrow. “Pinkie Pie, you’re meeting him tomorrow morning.”

    “Oh!” Pinkie sat up again. “I am!” She then placed her chin on the table again. “But I want to meet him now!”

    Rarity smiled good-naturedly. “Now, Pinkie, everything in due time. Princess Luna is relying on you to convey several messages to Spike, and you can’t convey them if you don’t know them yet, can you?”

    “I gueeeeess…”

    Satisfied, Rarity got up and glanced at the clock. Her train would be departing soon, so she might as well set off to the station early—especially if she wanted to stop by Elder Moonshine’s house and wish her an early happy Seeking Night. After all, it seemed like her future time would be shared between Hollow Shades and Ponyville, so she might as well start networking with the locals.

    “Very well, then, darling,” she said, taking her cloak from the nearby rack and putting it on before making her way toward the entrance. “Please send Princess Luna my regards, and for pony’s sake, tell her she simply must stop teasing Professor Awe! He’s complained to me three times this week already!”

    Pinkie giggled. “Okie-dokie-lokie! Have fun!”


    As it turned out, despite her bravado, going back to Ponyville hadn’t been as easy as she’d expected.

    When her train arrived, she found an enthusiastic group consisting of three fillies and two mares holding “welcome” and “we missed you” signs, and she was instantly overcome with guilt. Just because she’d been deprived of Twilight didn’t mean she had to avoid her family and friends, did it?

    “Rarity!” Sweetie Belle exclaimed, rushing toward the welcoming forelegs of her elder sister. “You’re not going back to Hollow Shades today, are you?”

    “Oh, stars, no. Not for some time, I expect,” she reassured, disentangling herself from her little sister so as to embrace Fluttershy and Applejack.

    She faltered for a moment when she noticed both ponies were sporting rather pronounced eye bags. Late nights in Ponyville, it seemed? Regardless, it wasn’t appropriate to point this out in public, so she ignored the matter for now and quickly hugged them.

    “And you won’t have a total meltdown and throw ponies against walls?!” Scootaloo asked, though her tone of voice made it sound like she was more disappointed by the fact than concerned.

    Rumors certainly traveled quickly. Definitely faster than she would prefer right this moment.

    “I think I’ve had enough meltdowns to last me a lifetime,” she replied, feeling her cheeks heat up. “And I certainly won’t be able to help Twilight if I’m not doing well myself, now will I? Can’t find her library without a clear head.”

    “Well, it’s mighty nice to have you back, Rarity,” Applejack said, trotting over and taking one of the unicorn’s suitcases. “I think we all had our apples in a bunch for a while there.”

    The group made their way out of the station, and as they walked toward Carousel Boutique, Fluttershy and Applejack filled Rarity in on everything that had happened while she was gone.

    “’Fraid the princess hasn’t sent us any letters,” Applejack said, looking toward the general direction of the Everfree Forest. “Reckon she really has a whole lot of faith we’ll find a way back to the library.”

    “And have you made any progress in that respect…?” Rarity ventured.

    “Well, we haven’t found the library, but… we found something I think might tickle your fancy,” Applejack replied. “It’ll be easier showin’ you rather than explainin’, though.”

    “Applejack and I thought we could leave your things at home, and then, when night falls, we could take you to the Everfree Forest,” Fluttershy said with a surprising amount of enthusiasm which, considering it was Fluttershy and the Everfree Forest, meant that whatever they’d found must have been very promising.

    “At nightfall? But it’s only midday!” Rarity said, her excitement getting the best of her. “Why not go now? Rainbow Dash isn’t due to arrive for a few hours, and—”

    “Because what we want to show you only works when it’s dark, sugarcube,” Applejack interrupted. “Though…” She stopped and nodded toward the forest. “There’s something we might be able to do. Just a lil’ detour.”

    Intrigued by whatever was going on, Rarity followed the group toward the border of the Everfree Forest. Once there, she watched with interest as Applejack reached into her saddlebag and took out a timberwolf’s paw, claws and all.

    “Applejack!” she gasped, somewhat alarmed. “How did you—?!”

    “You don’t want to know,” Applejack cut off, giving the claw to Rarity. “Take a gander.”

    With some amounts of hesitation, Rarity indeed took a gander even though she… didn’t quite exactly know what she should be gandering at? She narrowed her eyes, inspecting the claw, and it wasn’t until a moment passed that she finally noticed something quite peculiar: the paw was enveloped in a very faint green magic, almost identical in color to her necklace.

    “Chaos magic!” she exclaimed, excitement bubbling inside her. Of course! Timberwolves had been created by Discord, hadn’t they? But… She raised an eyebrow. “I’m not quite clear on how this will help us find Twilight…?”

    Applejack pointed at one of the claws. “Use one of those and…” She lifted her hoof and tapped it against a nearby Everfree Forest tree. “Write your name here.”

    Rarity blinked. “Pardon?”

    “Do it, Rarity!” Apple Bloom exclaimed, jumping up in place.

    When the others nodded in agreement, Rarity did as told, scratching the claw against the tree.

    “It’s not working!” she exclaimed, unable to so much as leave a dent on the tree. “I can’t write anything!”

    “Don’t matter none,” Applejack said. “You just write your name.”

    Really, I don’t see what they’re trying to achieve with this, Rarity thought, humoring her companions and “writing” her name on the bark of the tree. Once she was done, she stepped back and returned the claw to Applejack.

    “Well, that’s that, I suppose,” she said, staring at them expectantly. “Now what?”

    “And now we wait for nightfall!” Applejack confirmed, trotting away with the rest of the group and ignoring Rarity’s complaints.

    Honestly, acting all mysterious wasn’t becoming of any of them! What, would her name magically appear on the tree at night? Actually, that would be pretty useful. Was that why they all looked so tired?

    But then again, it was chaos magic, so the magic markings would be far too obvious. Though, if it wasn’t that, what was it? Oh goodness, what if the tree screamed her name? Could trees even scream? …All right, that was ridiculous, but… what if it did?!

    Rarity shook her head. Enough, I shan’t concern myself with this until nightfall.

    Hours later, having finally arrived home and settled down, Rarity promptly ignored Fluttershy’s advice to relax and instead distracted herself with her actual day job. All the adventuring and princess-rescuing had moderately impacted her career, and the last thing she wanted was to lose any more of her clientele.

    Maybe I ought to open a shop in Hollow Shades, she thought as she cut the patterns for a dress. There’s only one shop in that town that sells cloaks, and I wager I could give them a run for their money. I should consider visiting Mayor Mare, as well. Perhaps she hasn’t commissioned anypony to make the costumes for Seeking Night? It would be incredibly short notice, but I know she loved the ones I made last year and… and…

    Last year.

    In a week, one entire year will have gone by since she met Twilight, and rather than excite her, the thought only weighed her down. Twilight would spend their one-year anniversary all alone, sitting inside the library like she had for the past thousand years.

    Rarity gritted her teeth, finding that her creative inspiration had quickly withered. She put her materials away and tried to focus on something else, but the harder she tried, the harder she had to fight the urge to storm out of the boutique and into the Everfree Forest.

    Now she remembered why she’d avoided coming back to Ponyville.

    Nevertheless, she took a deep breath. She was a changed mare, and she knew better now than to follow her impulses! She didn’t need to rush or hurry or be hasty! Rainbow Dash would soon be arriving and until that moment, she would be calm and collected and—!

    Three knocks at the door interrupted her train of thought. See! she thought. Good things come to those who wait.

    And indeed good things had come when she found Rainbow Dash on the other side of the door, smiling brightly at her.

    “Rainbow Dash!” she greeted her, moving forward to hug the pegasi. “Is it time…?”

    “To meet the awesomest lizard in Equestria?” Rainbow asked, her smile widening. “You bet it is. You ready?”

    Immediately did Rarity’s heart accelerate. “Yes, yes! Let me gather my things!”

    She hurried back inside, taking a moment to breathe. This was it. She was about to meet—well, technically, meet again—the only other living being besides Luna who knew Twilight a thousand years ago. And now that she truly understood the role he had in the wars of ages past…

    She grabbed the saddlebag she’d prepared earlier and then quickly returned to the entrance, exiting her boutique and stopping short, surprised to find Captain Spitfire and two Wonderbolt recruits standing next to a chariot.

    “Oh, Captain Spitfire! How lovely to see you!” she said, smiling at the pegasus and then throwing a confused glance at Rainbow and the chariot. “Are we travelling somewhere? I was under the impression we’d be meeting Spike on the outskirts of town? It’s not that far a walk.”

    “Oh, I know, I know,” Rainbow Dash said, waving Rarity’s concerns away. “But there’s something I want to show you, so we’re taking a different route.” She gestured toward the chariot. “Hop on!” Once Rarity was settled inside the cart, she turned to Spitfire. “We’re all ready, right, Spits?”

    Spitfire let out a long-suffering sigh. “Yeah, yeah. All one hundred and fifty of us.”

    Rarity blinked. All one hundred and fifty of us…?

    Rainbow nodded. “Awesome! Let’s do it!”

    She sped off into the sky, followed in short order by Spitfire and then the chariot. Rarity held on, watching as Ponyville grew farther and farther away, until finally the chariot was high above the town. In the distance, she could see the valley where Spike was supposed to be waiting, but she failed to find any dragon or pegasi near it.

    “Rainbow Dash?” she called out, still squinting at the same spot. “I can’t see Spike! Are we going to cut him off?”

    Rainbow flew down next to the chariot. “Cut him off?”

    “Well, yes,” Rarity said. “He doesn’t have wings, so I’m assuming he’s making his way here from Smoky Mountain by land, isn’t he? That’s why you asked for two weeks?”

    “What? Oh, no way!” Rainbow Dash said, shaking her head. She grinned at Rarity and pointed at something behind her. “I asked for two weeks so I could organize that.”

    Rarity turned around to see, her eyes growing wide and a hoof flying to her mouth. “Oh, my stars.”

    A hundred uniformed pegasi and more were advancing toward them, flying in a perfect square formation. Each and every one of them had a chain looped around their body, with the other end bolted to a massive square platform. What shocked Rarity wasn’t so much that, however, as it was the large purple dragon lying on top of it.

    The chariot flew toward him, and the closer they got, the more Rarity realized that Spike seemed either utterly terrified or utterly nauseous—both, perhaps.

    “Hey, cadets!” Rainbow Dash called out. “What’s it like to be the first pegasi ever to transport a live dragon?! Isn’t it awesome?! Talk about endurance training!” When a cheer erupted from the pegasi, Rainbow turned to Spitfire. “And you said this wasn’t a good idea.”

    Spitfire didn’t bat an eyelid. “It isn’t.”

    “Goodness, is he all right?” Rarity asked, watching as Spike closed his eyes and took a rather deep breath.

    Rainbow Dash waved her off with a gesture. “He’s cool. It’s just that he was, like, a baby dragon or something the last time he flew anywhere.” She flew down toward him. “Hey, loser! How’s the air sickness?!”

    Spike finally opened his eyes and threw a scowl at her. “Come down here and I’ll spray it over you!”

    Rainbow laughed. “Oh, yeah? Maybe I ought to switch this to a free-fall training session?”

    Wait, wait, wait!

    Rainbow Dash flew back up toward the chariot. “Just chill and hang on, ’kay?! We’re like five minutes away!”

    Indeed, just as she’d said, the chariot landed in the valley several minutes later, followed by the careful delivery of the ancient reptile. Rarity stepped out of the chariot and watched as Spike practically bolted off the platform, not willing to risk it lifting off again, then laid down and sighed while Rainbow and Spitfire gave orders to the recruits.

    This is it, Rarity thought, carefully approaching him. The single most important remaining link to Twilight.

    Once the cadets had flown off, Rainbow Dash landed next to Spike and gave him a friendly pat. “See? I told you it’d be fine!”

    Spike didn’t immediately reply, and instead he sat up on his hind legs and then, without warning, pressed his enormous claw down on Rainbow Dash, hiding her from sight.

    “H-hey!” Rainbow Dash’s muffled voice called out. “Spike! Lemme go!”

    “Huh. Weird,” Spike said, looking around in confusion. “That sounds like somepony who threatened to drop me.”

    I was kidding! Geeeez!” Rainbow protested. “Come on, stop! I’m not a kid anymore!” When Spike relented and released her, Rainbow stood up and playfully punched him. “Jerk.”

    Rarity blinked, uncertain of how to feel. There was the dragon of legend, and there was Rainbow Dash, exchanging playful remarks as if he were nothing but a simple friend. It was… it was shocking, really, and she had to wonder if that was how Pinkie had felt at seeing Rarity treat Twilight as a friend rather than a living legend.

    Eventually, Rainbow recaptured her attention, flying up and landing next to her.

    “Here you are, Rares,” she said, patting Rarity on the back. “Spike the dragon, just like I promised.”

    Rarity stepped forward, intent on introducing herself, but found herself intimidated into silence when the ancient dragon raised himself up and narrowed his eyes at her, his long tail swishing behind him. To think that such a massive beast had once been the absolutely terrified caged baby dragon she’d seen in her dreams…

    “Where is Princess Twilight Sparkle?” he asked.

    Straight to the point.

    Rarity blinked. “The Everfree Forest,” she replied, and almost shrieked when he pushed himself onto all four legs and stretched his neck so his face would be right in front of her. She froze in place while he simply sized her up.

    He sniffed once, twice, thrice and hummed. “You don’t smell like you’re lying.”

    Rarity, still very much petrified, cleared her throat. “I rather think it wouldn’t be in my best interest to lie to a dragon the size of my house.”

    Spike stared at her for a moment before grinning widely, giving her a very good view of his many sharp teeth. He leaned back, once again sitting on his hind legs and crossed his arms.

    “I knew I liked you for a reason back in Rainbow Falls,” he said.

    “Right?!” Rainbow exclaimed, flapping her wings. “I told you she was the real deal!”

    And at this statement, Spike raised an eyebrow. “She did lie, though. She doesn’t know where Twilight is.”

    “What?! Yes, I do!” Rarity protested, indignant. “She’s in the Eve—”

    “If I asked you to go to her library right now, would you be able to do it?” he interrupted, and when she was unable to reply, he hummed again. “Then you don’t know where she is, and you’re another false lead.” He looked around and licked his lips. “I’m going to go look for some caves. I hear there’s tons of gemstones around here.”

    Well, Rarity thought, less than impressed. This is not what I expected would happen.

    “Hey! Wait a second, pal! You aren’t going anywhere!” Rainbow interjected, flying up into the air and practically smushing herself against his unimpressed face. “I didn’t haul you all the way here from Smoky Mountain just so you could blow her off in three seconds! She’s met Princess Twilight! She has phot—”

    Spike arched an eyebrow. “And?”

    Rainbow faltered at this. “A-and—! And you should help her break the curse! You’re the one who knows the most about it, and—”

    “And I’m going to help her break the curse that I haven’t been able to break in a thousand years despite a thousand years of trying. Right.”

    “Spike, what is your deal?!” Rainbow demanded, landing on his muzzle and stamping her hoof down on it. “What?! If she wasn’t cursed, then you’d—!”

    “Pardon me!”

    Both dragon and pegasus looked down at Rarity, who quite frankly was growing a bit tired of the entire affair, thank you very much. She was smart enough to see that it was going nowhere, and she certainly wasn’t going to have her time wasted, nor anypony else’s.

    “Rainbow, though I appreciate the effort tremendously, I really insist you allow this fine dragon to do as he wishes,” she said.

    “But, Rar—!”

    “Mister Spike,” Rarity continued, smiling brilliantly at him. “Regardless of whether I was able to be of help to you or not, it was a profound honor to meet you again. Princess Twilight always spoke highly of you, and I do hope our paths will cross again. For now, I must thank you for your time and take my leave. Twilight is waiting for me, you see.”

    That said, she bowed her head, turned around and trotted off, head held high.

    “Hey, wait!” Spike called out to her.

    Rarity stopped, allowing a vulpine smile to grace her lips before she quickly did away with it and turned around, offering the dragon an innocent expression. “Yes?

    “What do you mean Twilight is waiting for you?” he asked. “You don’t know where she is.”

    Rarity fluttered her eyelashes. “Rest assured, that is only a temporary inconvenience. I gave Twilight my word that I would return to her, and I certainly don’t intend on having some curse stop me from keeping my promise.”

    Spike immediately broke into a grin and pointed at Rarity. “See, now that’s not a lie!” he exclaimed to Rainbow Dash before turning to Rarity again. “What do you want to know?”

    Rarity pressed a hoof to her chest, ignoring Rainbow’s intensely perplexed expression. “Why, Spike! I am so delighted you asked.”


    In the several hours they’d been talking while Rainbow Dash was off looking for a gemstone cave, Rarity had found Spike was a lovely conversationalist. They’d settled down in the valley, the dragon curling up into a ball and allowing Rarity to sit on the tip of his tail.

    “But that’s impossible!” Rarity exclaimed. “How can you be unable to cut them down?!”

    “I know it sounds ridiculous, but there’s no way to cut the Everfree Forest down,” Spike replied. “Or burn it down, or freeze it, or anything. Discord’s magic can’t be beaten.”

    “There must be a way!” Rarity insisted. “I remember that following my instincts led me to timberwolves, so obviously if I go in what I feel is the wrong way, I’ll find the library.”

    Spike frowned. “And you think I didn’t try that a zillion times as a kid? I’ve been cursed for a thousand years. There’s nothing you can suggest that I haven’t already tried. And it wasn’t just me. Royal guards tried too, and dozens of ’em.”

    “And you’re positive you can’t just tear down the forest? Look at you, for pony’s sake!” she exclaimed, gesturing at him. “You could easily destroy an entire house with a flick of your wrist!”

    “Heh, probably,” he agreed, and suddenly Rarity could see where Rainbow Dash got her confidence from. He then shook his head. “But not that forest!”

    Rarity sighed theatrically. “Well, then what? If you can’t help me, what else can I do? Shall I go back to Princess Denza and insist…” She drifted off, lifting her hoof and pressing it against her mouth. “Wait a moment. You… Surely Princess Denza knows of you! You could ask her to—”

    “No,” he interrupted almost immediately. “I have had nothing to do with the royal family for nearly six hundred years, and I plan on keeping it that way for the foreseeable future.”

    “But why?” she asked. “Is it because of the curse?”

    “I have my reasons,” he replied curtly, signaling he would not be offering any more information on the subject.

    “Very well, then,” she said with a sigh. “However, and I apologize for saying so, but I’m having a hard time believing you didn’t find the library if you spent as much time as you say you did inside the Everfree Forest.”

    Spike clearly did not like the remark, his eyes narrowing ever so slightly. However, rather than telling her off, he softened his gaze and said, “It was because of Discord. He told me he moved the library away from the Everfree Forest and trapped Twilight somewhere else in Equestria.”

    Rarity let out an unladylike snort. “Come now, Spike, really. That’s impossible!”

    “That’s what I said, too,” he replied. “I don’t know if it was the curse, or the forest, or what, but it wasn’t there anymore. It was like he ripped the entire tree from the ground and planted it Celestia knows where.”

    “‘Celestia knows where’ indeed…” she repeated, sighing and rubbing her forehead. Moments later, a smile formed on her lips. “Twilight says that, as well, you know.”

    Spike blinked. “Says what?”

    Celestia knows where,” she replied. “I always notice it. It’s a rather uncommon expression, as you can imagine.”

    Spike smiled. “She would,” he said. “Old habits just die hard with us, I guess.”

    Rarity fell silent, lifting her hoof and playing with her necklace. “Do…” She looked up at him. “Do you remember much of your childhood? Of her?”

    Spike didn’t immediately reply. It seemed he was lost in thought, his brow furrowing until a moment later he simply replied, “No.”

    Rarity held onto the necklace. “Oh… That’s unfortunate.”

    “I mean, I remember some things. General stuff, but… most of the good stuff kinda fades away with time. The only thing that’s stuck with me is the bad stuff. You’d think it’d be the opposite, but…” He fell silent again. “I don’t remember her voice, or anything like that, but… But I remember I love her. That’s never left me.” He paused a third time and grinned. “And the Star Swirl Decimal System. She drilled that into me good.”

    “Oh my stars, you too?” Rarity exclaimed, playfully rolling her eyes. “I once made a mistake with one of the classes, and you’d think I’d slapped her twice! And don’t even get me started on the teleportation!”

    “No, wait, get started!” Spike exclaimed, now staring at Rarity with rapt attention.

    “Well, several months ago, she was suddenly Tartarus-bent on having me learn teleportation, and you’d think I’d wandered into a drill camp!” she said. “Just because she’d mastered it in two weeks or so, she expected me to do it as well!”

    What?! She said that?!” Spike exclaimed, snorting loudly. “Look, I don’t remember much, but Twi did not master teleportation in two weeks. I don’t think she even really mastered it for like three months.”

    Rarity arched an eyebrow. “Well, well, well, Princess Twilight Sparkle, you devious little liar!” she murmured, playing with her necklace. “That will be an interesting conversation, indeed.”

    “What’s that necklace on your neck, by the way?” he asked. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed it’s broken.”

    Rarity coughed, her cheeks tinting red. “Oh, dear! Yes, it is. Quite unfortunate.”

    “You grab it when you talk about Twilight. I noticed,” he continued, eyes fixed on the broken transparent crystal. “You’ve been doing it this entire time. It’s kind of distracting.”

    The faint blush on Rarity’s cheeks grew. “I hadn’t even realized!” she confessed, suddenly feeling quite self-conscious. “Though I’m not surprised. It used to be enchanted into allowing me to, err, mentally communicate with her. She has an identical one back in the library.”

    Spike frowned. “Wait. Wait, I remember that! That was one of the spells she was working on! I know because we couldn’t get it to work with me because I didn’t have pony magic.” He then stopped and leaned back a little, as if he were seeing Rarity in an entirely new light. “Wow. She must really like you.”

    Rarity played with a curl of her mane. “Ah… I suppose so, yes,” she said evasively. She cleared her throat and continued, “Unfortunately, as you can see, it broke a while back, the spell severed, and we very foolishly never replaced it.” She looked down at the necklace and felt a tug at her heart. “It’s the only thing I have left of her.”

    “Yeah,” Spike said, oddly subdued. “I know that feeling. I—”

    “Rarity!”

    She turned around, seeing Applejack in the distance, waving at her. She looked up at the sky, only then noticing it was going to be dark soon.

    “Oh dear, it’s almost nightfall! Where did time slip off to?” she exclaimed, looking back toward Applejack and waving in reply. “I’m afraid I have to go. That’s my frie—”

    “AJ, right? Rainbow told me about your friends,” Spike said, looking beyond Rarity and at the earth pony waiting in the distance. “They’re helping you find Twilight again, right?”

    Rarity smiled brightly. “They are, indeed!” she exclaimed, jumping down from his tail. “We’re all in this together, are we not?”

    Spike grinned at her. “Yeah. I’ll wait here for Rainbow. Just don’t forget to come back and get me if you find Twilight tonight, huh?”

    “Of course,” she replied, bowing her head before trotting off toward Applejack. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

    As she approached Applejack, she couldn’t help but notice the absence of Fluttershy. Wasn’t the pegasus supposed to come with them on their task? Or was she already waiting by the Everfree Forest?

    “Applejack! Ready to go, are we?”

    Applejack offered a toothy grin, a lantern hanging from her neck. “Just waitin’ for you, sugarcube,” she said. “Big feller, that dragon. Is he really…?”

    “The dragon from the legend?” Rarity nodded. “Perhaps tomorrow you might join me in visiting him? He’s awfully nice, and I’m sure he’d love to meet you.”

    “Sounds good to me.” She cleared her throat and turned around, leading the way toward the forest. “Anyway, one of Fluttershy’s lil’ critters got mighty sick, so she ain’t comin’ with us tonight.”

    “Oh, that’s unfortunate…”

    At any other time, she’d have offered to wait until tomorrow so Fluttershy could join them, but her desire to see what they’d been planning was too overpowering. As such, she and Applejack continued on their way to the forest, exchanging idle chit-chat as they did so.

    “And the amount of tourist traps! They should be ashamed of themselves, profiting off Prince—”

    “Rarity, that’s mighty interesting,” Applejack interrupted, obviously not interested at all. “But you might want to look over there.”

    Rarity looked in front of her, realizing they’d already nearly reached the forest. However, if there was something interesting to be found, she was definitely not seeing it. She did faintly recognize the tree she’d “written” on earlier, though. She trotted toward it and it wasn’t until she was several feet away that her heart sped up at seeing her name glowing on the tree.

    “I was right!” she exclaimed with pleased delight, rushing to the tree and observing the phenomenon.

    “A timberwolf attacked me last week while I was searchin’ for the library,” Applejack explained, taking the timberwolf claw from out of her saddlebag. “Thing scratched a tree instead of me, and left big glowing marks on it, and that’s where we got the idea.” She used one of the claws to draw a line on the tree. “Nothing else seems to work against the trees except for this.”

    “Yes, Spike said no magic or force could damage the forest,” Rarity said. A devilish smile spread across her face. “But it seems the Spirit hadn’t thought of his own magic being used against him, did he?”

    “Filly, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” Applejack said with a smile, putting the claw away, adjusting her hat, and trotting the length of the forest. “Hurry up, now! Harry’s waitin’ for us.”

    They trotted for about ten more minutes, when Rarity noticed a bear lingering outside the forest, busily digging in the beehive nestled in his arm. Isn’t that Fluttershy’s animal friend?

    “Harry!” Applejack called, and immediately the bear looked up, growling loudly and making his way toward them. “Rarity, this here’s Harry,” she continued, gesturing toward the bear. “He’s been coming with us into the forest for the past few weeks. Timberwolves ain’t so excited about seeing him, I can tell you that.”

    “Well! It’s a pleasure having you with us, Harry,” Rarity said, admittedly feeling much more at ease about going into the forest now. She then turned to Applejack, eager to get started with… whatever they were supposed to get started with. “What is our plan of attack, darling?”

    Applejack nodded toward a tree. “Look over there.”

    Rarity did as told, walking toward the tree and noticing a glowing inscription. The number one had been marked down, along with an arrow pointing inside the forest. “Wait a second…” She stepped past the tree and realized the next one over had been marked with the number two, along with an arrow pointing to tree number three, and then four, five, six…

    “You…” She turned back to Applejack, her heart practically beating right out of her chest. “You’ve been…”

    “We’re up to our five hundredth tree,” Applejack said, taking the timberwolf claw out again. “Fluttershy and I have been taking turns every night. It might take us a long time, but we figure this might be easier than trying to stumble into the library.” She hoofed it over to Rarity, who felt like her hoof was shaking as she took it. “Why don’t you take the lead?”

    Rarity nodded dumbly, a giddy smile spreading across her lips as she turned back toward the tree and tried not to gallop as she followed the markings. She rushed past the hundreds, past the two hundreds, past dozens of trees and numbers. As she did so, the familiar sickness from before came and went, but she made an effort to ignore it, to follow what was real and steady and the only actual string of hope she’d had in months.

    Unfortunately, by the time she actually caught up to where Fluttershy and Applejack had left off, she felt like she’d never be able to walk again.

    “I told you to slow down, for pony’s sake,” Applejack scolded, watching Rarity leaning against a tree, trying to catch some of her breath.

    Stars above, you have to do this every night?” she asked, moving away from the tree and trying to shake away the exhaustion from her legs. “At this rate, it’d be more efficient to just bring a tent and sleep here!”

    “Well, we ain’t gonna mark more trees if you just stand there whining,” Applejack pointed out with a smile. “Up and at ’em!”

    “Excuse me, I am not whining! I am simply pointing out more reasonable solutions!” she said, indignant.

    She marched her way toward the next tree and continued the work, trying not to think too much about the fact that the Everfree Forest must be made up of thousands upon thousands of trees. It didn’t help that they hadn’t found anything else yet, as Rarity had hoped. Running into one of the abandoned houses would have meant they were somewhat close, after all.

    However, after a couple hours, a few hundred trees, and two frightening occasions where Harry had bitten half the wood off two timberwolves, she encountered something definitely bizarre, to say the least.

    “What is this?”

    There, in front of her, was what could only be described as an enormous and seemingly endless sinkhole. She trotted toward it and carefully peered over the edge. Applejack did the same, and illuminating it with her lantern revealed that the thing must go on for at least a mile.

    “The Everfree Forest sinkholes,” Applejack said, stepping back. “Fritter Cobbler talked about them in his diaries.”

    “How far down do you think it goes?” Rarity asked.

    Applejack looked around, grabbed a nearby rock from the ground and flung it into the hole, both of them watching as the rock faded out of sight.

    “I’d say it goes down deep enough I don’t feel comfortable being so close to the edge,” Applejack remarked. After a few moments of waiting for the sound of the rock hitting bottom—which never came—she looked around and trotted toward the next unmarked tree. “Well, let’s keep goin’! These trees ain’t going to mark themselves!”

    Rarity, however, was still too entranced by the sinkhole. Why in Equestria is this here? She trotted around it, and the more she observed it, the more unsettled she felt. It didn’t even look naturally formed. It was as if somepony had carved a perfectly circular hole and pulled out the ground.

    “Applejack,” she called, looking to the mare. “You said Fritter Cobbler saw this before?”

    Applejack nodded. “Sure did. He said in his diaries that he saw dozens of ’em all over the forest.”

    Rarity frowned and bit her lip. Dozens of them? But that makes no sense! She’d travelled the forest a thousand times, and this was the first time she was seeing something like this! Why, she practically spent an entire day looking for Elara in the forest before she’d been curs…

    She stepped back, her eyes growing wide.

    “Applejack, another question,” she said carefully, trying to steady her breathing. “These sinkholes. Does he mention them before or after he’d been cursed?”

    “After,” Applejack replied, stepping toward Rarity, apparently intrigued. “…Why?”

    Rarity’s heart felt like it’d gone haywire, slamming against her ribs. Her earlier conversation with Spike came rushing back.

    “It was because of Discord. He told me he moved the library away from the Everfree Forest… I don’t know if it was the curse, or the forest, or what, but it wasn’t there anymore. It was like he ripped the entire tree from the ground and planted it Celestia knows where.”

    And wasn’t the library sitting right in the middle of a perfectly circular depression?

    The claw fell to the ground, Rarity stepping back several paces.

    “Rarity?” Applejack asked, sounding alarmed. “What’s wrong? What is it?”

    It felt like her mind had gone numb. It was an illusion. She stared at it, right at the middle, knowing there was a very real possibility that she was standing in front of the library. And so she stepped back again, and again, and again, and then, without warning, galloped forward.

    Rarity!” Applejack yelled, reaching for her lasso. “What are you doing?!

    Rarity reached the edge of the sinkhole and, without hesitation, jumped toward the middle, ignoring Applejack’s and even Harry’s horrified calls. She went forehooves first into the hole, dropping past ground level, and then landed on thin air with a thud, Applejack’s lasso loosely wrapping itself around her torso.

    “Well,” Applejack said, stopping and staring. “I’ll be.”

    Rarity, on her side, was too entranced by the fact that the lower half of her body looked like it had quite literally faded out of existence. She shook free of the lasso and then, slowly and carefully, lifted her hoof and made her way toward the center of the sinkhole.

    Except, to her despair, she made it all the way to the other side without bumping into anything.

    “It’s not here,” she whispered. She turned to Applejack and Harry. “Quickly!”

    She climbed onto the surface, looking around and rushing toward where she’d dropped the timberwolf claw. Once she had it, she ran to the next tree and marked it, and then on with the next, and the next, and the next, her body pushed forward by the adrenaline rushing through it.

    Eventually, though they reached another sinkhole, Rarity didn’t immediately jump in.

    “What’s wrong?” Applejack asked, noticing Rarity’s hesitation. “You think this might be a real one?”

    Rarity shook her head. “No, this must be another illusion.” She looked at her friend. “Do you feel sick?”

    Applejack arched an eyebrow. “Sick? I feel as fine as a fresh app—Oh.”

    Rarity ran past the sinkhole and onto the next unmarked tree. “Hurry!”

    She didn’t know how much time went by, or how many more trees she marked down, but she didn’t quite care as long as nighttime didn’t run out on her yet. Finally, the strange sense of sickness began to take over her, and her hope tripled when she saw a sinkhole in the distance. She stopped marking trees and went to it, her gut instinct waging a peculiar battle between feeling she was both going the right way and going the absolute wrong way.

    “This is it,” she said when she reached the edge, heart hammering in her chest again and the distinct desire to turn around and leave overpowering her senses. She walked in circles around it, eyes glued to the center. “I’m sure of it, this is it.”

    Applejack took out her lasso again, untied it and threw it to Rarity. “Put this on. We ain’t takin’ any risks.”

    Rarity did as instructed, firmly tying the rope around her body before trotting toward the edge of the sinkhole. It felt like her entire body was shaking, and though she’d jumped into the other sinkhole without a shred of hesitation, now…

    If she was right…

    But if she was wrong about these sinkholes…

    She took a deep breath. Both she and Twilight had waited long enough, hadn’t they?

    She took several steps back, gratefully accepting the encouraging smile Applejack offered, and then galloped forward, jumped and, like before, landed on thin air. However, the moment her hooves touched the ground, an agonizing headache forced her to her knees.

    “Rarity! What’s wrong?!”

    Rarity buried her head in her hooves, eyes shut and a most unladylike groan forcing its way past her lips. After a moment, she heaved herself into a standing position, opening her eyes and immediately letting out a terrified shriek at the sight of dozens of timberwolves surrounding the sinkhole.

    “Applejack?!” she called out, finding the mare nowhere in sight. It didn’t help that her head still felt like it was splitting apart and she couldn’t see or feel the lasso around her body. “A-Applejack, where are you?!”

    “Where am I? What in tarnation are you talkin’ about?!” Applejack’s voice came from somewhere. “You’re lookin’ right at me!”

    Hallucinations!

    “I’m—! I’m hallucinating! Just… Give me a moment!” Rarity explained. She turned around, focusing her sights on the center of the sinkhole. She lifted her hoof again, and took a step forward, but as soon as she did, the headache somehow worsened. She fell to her knees again, biting down on her lip and feeling tears roll down her cheeks.

    “Rarity.”

    Her eyes shot open, and she looked up, finding the timberwolves were gone and now Princess Twilight Sparkle stood on the edge of the hole, staring Rarity down with an impassive expression.

    “Rarity,” she said again. “Why are you doing this? I don’t want to be saved.”

    Rarity let out a choked laugh. “A-ah, Princess… L-lying isn’t becoming of…” She groaned. “L-lying isn’t becoming of you.”

    “And what makes you think delusions of heroism are becoming of you?” Twilight, or the illusion of her, asked. “What makes you think you can save me?”

    With every ounce of willpower inside her, Rarity stood back up. Oh, darling, she thought, lifting her hoof and taking another step forward. You’re quite mistaken. You’re going to save yourself, not I.

    Twilight frowned, her wings flaring as she slammed her hoof against the ground. “I told you! I don’t want to be saved!”

    Rarity gritted her teeth, taking another step forward.

    Maybe you don’t want that, but the real Twilight does.

    Gathering all her strength, Rarity broke into gallop, ignoring Twilight’s protests and the timberwolves’ howls filling the air. She galloped and galloped until she slammed against something and violently rolled back onto the ground.

    She lay on the ground for a moment, winded, and trying to regain some sort of composure. The sound of Applejack’s voice roused her into action, as well as the fact that her headache had almost completely disappeared.

    Did that mean…?

    Time felt like it had come to a stop. The headache was gone. The hallucinations were gone. But what if she turned around and the tree wasn’t there?

    “Rari—?”

    “Yes! I’m fine!” Rarity called out, getting up on her hooves. “Give me a moment, I…”

    She drifted off, her eyes fixed on the now-visible ground. Her breathing hitched, and her eyes filled with tears when she lifted her gaze and found the large oak tree she’d thought she’d never see again. It felt like a dream, nearly, and she’d soon wake up and find herself back in Hollow Shades.

    But, if that was a dream, then she wanted to finish it before she woke up.

    Driven by this sole desire, Rarity tore the trapdoor open, shrugged off the lasso, and rushed down the stairs, ignoring Applejack’s calls all the while. When she set hoof in the tunnel, she froze at the sight of not only the illuminated library entrance in the distance but, just like so many times before, the sight of Princess Twilight Sparkle standing at the barrier, ears perked up.

    Neither said a word.

    They stared at each other across the distance, and in the back of her mind, Rarity wondered if Twilight too was half-expecting it all to be a dream, an illusion that was bound to shatter and be proven untrue.

    Rarity willed herself forward, every step as slow and measured as the last, until something shattered under her hoof. She looked away from Twilight and toward the ground, finding the remains of the clock and the calendar Twilight had been using to mark the passage of time. Almost unconsciously, she picked up the discarded items with her magic and neatly pushed them to the side before returning her gaze to the alicorn and continuing on her path.

    It wasn’t until she was at the barrier that Twilight backtracked, allowing Rarity to be bathed with the light of the chandelier and the relief—the infinite relief—of being back home. The two mares stared at each other, the rest of the world having faded into a blur.

    “I’m sorry, Twilight,” Rarity whispered with an apologetic smile, tears bordering her eyes. “Were you waiting long?”

    Like Rarity’s, the princess’s eyes filled with tears, her ears folding back.

    “How…” She looked at Rarity’s necklace. “How long have you…”

    “Just a few months. The longest months of my life,” Rarity replied, and even she could see the relief in Twilight’s eyes. Three months was nothing compared to years, or more.

    Except… except the relief in Twilight’s eyes was short-lived and the tears and sadness in her eyes returned and increased, her gaze still fixed on Rarity’s necklace as she stepped back.

    “Twilight…”

    “I…” Twilight paused and finally lifted her gaze. “I can’t hold you,” she whispered helplessly, and what a silly statement it was, Rarity thought, because Princess Twilight Sparkle already held in her hooves everything Rarity was and would ever be.

    “Oh, my darling, I know,” Rarity replied, stepping forward and lifting her hoof, tracing with it the air next to Twilight’s cheek.

    It seared her. It seared her because Rarity too wanted to throw herself at Twilight, to hold and hug and kiss her and know without the shadow of a doubt that the nightmare was over, and she couldn’t.

    “Rarity, I don’t…” Twilight choked on her words, visibly trying to steady her breathing. “I don’t—”

    “Twilight, the communication spell,” Rarity softly interrupted, pressing a forehoof to her necklace. “We could try the communication spell. Do you have your necklace?”

    Twilight’s eyes widened, and after a shaky nod, she teleported away and returned mere seconds later, her necklace floating beside her. “D-do you remember h-how to—” She cut herself off when Rarity nodded, her magic already enveloping the crystal hanging from her neck.

    Heart hammering in her chest, Rarity waited for Twilight to count down to three before casting the initial communication spell. She followed the spell’s rules, allowing herself to be completely lost in thoughts about Twilight, and how much she’d missed her, and how—

    Ping!

    Her eyes flew open and a shaky laugh left her lips at the sight of her brightly colored pink necklace. It worked!

    There was a moment of silence until finally Twilight spoke with quiet care:

    “Rarity, not fixing the spell the second it severed was one of the stupidest things we’ve ever done.”

    “Absolutely,” Rarity blurted out. “Yes. I agree. Yes. That was very thoughtless of us, yes.”

    “Incredibly thoughtless.”

    “Well, love does make one act like an idiot, does it not?” Rarity offered, and when Twilight couldn’t help a laugh, Rarity felt a crashing relief flood her.

    Stars, the nightmare really was over, wasn’t it?

    “Hoo-wee!”

    She turned around and a winded Applejack walked into the library, falling onto her haunches and sighing.

    “If I never see those hallucinations ever again, I’ll die a darn happy mare,” she said, taking her hat off and wiping her brow. She then looked up and nearly jumped up at the sight of the gawking alicorn. “Princess Twilight!”

    “A-Applejack…”

    “Princess, if you weren’t a ghost, I’d hug you. I can’t tell yo— Actually, you know what? I don’t even care,” Applejack said, moving forward and hugging Twilight, her forelegs going through the alicorn’s chest. “It’s mighty good to see you.”

    Applejack’s remark stirred a thought in Rarity.

    “I have to go,” she said, stepping back.

    Twilight’s reaction was immediate, her expression going from delighted to horrified.

    What?! But you just came back!” she gasped, and suddenly enveloped Rarity’s entire body with her magic, fixing her into place. “You can’t leave me again! I’ve been waiting—!”

    “I know, darling, I know, I know,” Rarity interrupted, trying to gesture in a soothing motion. “But, don’t you think Spike has been waiting even longer to see you…?”

    Twilight’s eyes widened, her magic fading out as she whispered, “…What?”

    Rarity turned to Applejack. “Applejack, I need—”

    “Don’tcha worry none, Rarity,” Applejack said, putting her hat back on. “I’ll stay here with the princess.”

    With nothing but a nod and a smile, Rarity turned and ran through the tunnel, practically flew up the stairs, and rushed toward the edge of the depression, but stopped immediately when a loud hoot sounded off. She turned around and a smile swept across her face at the sight of two familiar owls sitting atop Harry the bear and staring at her with wide eyes.

    Themis reacted first, shooting toward her and greeting her by wrapping her entire face in a feathery hug.

    “Themis, darling, I’m thrilled to see you too, but I can’t see!” she exclaimed, using her magic to extract herself from his wings. She found Elara flying above her, waiting patiently for a prompting.

    “Please!” she called out to her. “I need to go back to Ponyville!”

    Elara hooted and Rarity ran after her, Themis, and Harry, the necklace bouncing against her chest. An eternity later, she finally reached the town, only just starting to wake up with the rising sun. Shopkeepers mounting their stands greeted her as she galloped past them, her mind too focused on casting the communication spell, and it wasn’t until she reached the valley that the familiar ping sounded off.

    She came to a stop, taking a lungful of air as she tried to cope with the mindmeld after so long. Thoughts rushed around in her head, both hers and Twilight’s, but they both ceased once her eyes landed on the distant dragon.

    She started walking again, and yet, it didn’t quite feel like it was Rarity moving her legs forward. She’d willingly repressed herself, silently following the latent desires of her other half. The closer she got, the more she could make out in the darkness, and though Spike…

    Spike.

    Though the dragon seemed to be asleep, she saw Rainbow Dash sitting by a nearby campfire, apparently wide awake, and in turn the pegasus noticed her.

    “Rarity? Rarity!” Rainbow called, getting up and trotting toward her, and how odd it was to wonder who Rainbow was for a split-second.

    “Rarity, I’ve got a bone to pick with you!” Rainbow said upon reaching the mare, jabbing a hoof on Rarity’s chest. “You’ve got some nerve! I literally flew a forty-foot dragon here for you, and you can’t even, like, wait two hours for me to come back before running off to—” She stopped and stepped back, furrowing her brow. “Wait, are you crying? Why are—” She stopped again, her eyes landing on the glowing necklace. “Oh.”

    Rarity blinked at her before silently moving her gaze toward the dragon.

    Rainbow looked back at Spike. “Oh.” Then back at Rarity. “Spike. Spike. Spike!” she yelled, running toward the dragon and pounding her forehooves on him. “Spike, wake up! Wake up!

    The dragon groaned, rolling onto his other side and nearly squashing Rainbow Dash in the process. His frowning face, however, was now clearly visible, and he swatted away at something.

    “No, I don’t want to read more books, Twilight,” he sleepily mumbled. “I want to eat more cake…”

    Rarity fell down to her haunches, her forehooves flying to her mouth as her eyes again welled up with tears. The shock Twilight felt was very much hers now, and she felt no desire to make it go away because she wanted this to happen as much as Twilight did.

    “Spike! Spike, wake up!” Rainbow insisted, flying up into the air and landing on his head. “Twilight is here! Or Rarity, actually? I don’t even know, but just wake up, you sleeping lazy sack of scales, or I’ll—!”

    Another groan interrupted her, and finally did Spike’s eyes flutter open. He lifted his claw and grabbed Rainbow Dash, ignoring her surprised yelp.

    “Rainbow,” he murmured, placing the pegasus back on the ground and lifting his head to glare at her. “It’s not even morning.” His eyes then landed on Rarity, who was still sitting on the ground gawking at him, and then he seemed to properly wake up, stretching his face out to her and squinting. “Rarity…?”

    She lowered her forehooves, stood up, and slowly walked toward him. She stopped a few feet away from his face, and then, almost cautiously, lifted her hoof and stroked the tip of his muzzle. No sooner had she done so did she step back, her breath catching in her throat and a choked sob leaving her mouth.

    Spike stared at her, at a loss of what was going on. “Er…”

    “The necklace, Spike!” Rainbow blurted out, flying up and landing on his head. “The necklace, it’s glowing!”

    He immediately sat up straight, staring at Rarity as though she were a ghost. His eyes flickered back and forth between Rarity and Rainbow. “She’s… You… Can she hear…?”

    Rarity nodded.

    “Yes,” she replied, lifting her hoof and pressing it against the necklace. “She can see and hear you.”

    Spike faltered for a moment before looking toward the campfire and grabbing a saddlebag. “Rainbow, where’s—?!” He practically tore it apart, its contents littering onto the ground, when finally he dropped the entire thing and grabbed something from the bunch. In a very child-like way, he pressed his balled up claw against his chest before dropping a heart-shaped emerald at her hooves.

    Which both sides of Rarity recognized.

    “That… Discord gave me that a long time ago. It’s the last thing I have of Twilight,” he explained, his voice leveled. “Tell me something only she’d know about it. Please.”

    Rarity took the gemstone in her hoof, carefully looking it over and remembering what it was—not that Twilight had ever forgotten, of course. A smile spread across her face, she looked up at Spike with twinkling eyes, and exclaimed, “Why, I do believe this is her favorite Hearth’s Warming present she’s ever received. You gave it to her when you spent the holidays in Trottingham, didn’t you?”

    What a sight it was, to see a thousand-year-old dragon cry.

    Large tears formed under his eyes, rolling down his cheeks and falling to the ground. He gulped, his mouth opening and closing several times, and for a moment, it felt like Twilight’s consciousness had retreated, waited patiently for his reaction.

    “Spike?” Rainbow prompted after a moment of silence. “Are you ok— Woah!

    Spike had fallen on all fours, bowing his head to Rarity, eyes scrunched close. “I’m sorry,” he said, and his voice sounded so childlike. “Please, tell her I’m sorry.”

    Rarity stepped back, ears folding back. “Sorry?” she asked, both parts of her horrified by the statement. “Spike, whatever for?!”

    “I’m sorry,” he repeated, still refusing to look up, still subdued. “Isn’t she… Isn’t she mad at me for not having found her? I failed!”

    Two hearts broke at the statement, which only intensified the feeling overcoming both Rarity and Twilight. However, before either one could react, Rainbow landed in front of her, looking absolutely mortified.

    “No, no, no! Don’t listen to him!” she blurted out, grabbing Rarity by the shoulder and shaking her. “Rarity, Princess Twilight, whoever, please, you need to listen to me! He’s never stopped looking, ever, I promise! Even when I was a kid, he—! You’ve heard of the growing trees of Whitetail Woods, haven’t you?! How trees were uprooted for no reason and then replanted and nopony knew what was going on?!” She pointed at Spike with her hoof, tears in her eyes. “That was him! Looking for the library underground! He’s never stopped looking for her! He’s the reason I joined the Wonderbolts! He’s why I killed myself trying to be the youngest captain! So I could help him!” She turned toward him and slammed her hoof against the ground. “You are not a failure! You’re my hero, and you should be Princess Twilight’s too!”

    Without a word to Rainbow, Rarity walked forward, past the pegasus and straight to Spike, once again brushing her hoof against his muzzle. “Oh, sweetheart,” she whispered, and Spike opened his reddened-eyes. “She’s not mad at you. She loves you more than you can possibly imagine.”

    As though he’d reverted to being a baby dragon, he tearfully whispered, “…I love her, too.”

    Rarity laughed, wiping away her tears. “She knows, and…” She stepped back, raising a foreleg. “If you’d be willing, she’d really love a hug from you.”

    Not a moment passed before Spike’s claw wrapped itself around Rarity, allowing her to hug what she could of his muzzle, her—and Twilight’s—tears falling onto his scales.

    In the back of her mind, Rarity knew there was still much to be done, and the hardest battle had perhaps yet to arrive, but for now? For now she was content with the heavenly knowledge that the nightmare she’d been in was finally well and truly over.


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    1. Zanna Zannolin
      Sep 30, 22 at 9:58 pm

      okay i just had the LONGEST day imaginable and got off work a little while ago and this took me way longer to read than normal because my favorite day of the week, Feeling Vaguely Sick Friday is back, but OHMY GODDDDD ITS THIS CHAPTER HUH WE’RE DOING THIS NOW. GLORIOUS FRIDAY. THE CURSE IS BROKEN!

      i really really love how it’s broken too like it’s so fun! using discord’s magic against him is fucking brilliant and i love how clever the characters are about it. like. look i’m not a dumb person. supposedly i’m pretty smart. but would *i* think to take a timberwolf claw and mark up the entire everfree forest to find the library? fucking NO lol they’re absolutely brilliant for this. and the way it all just comes together….and rarity finds the library….after a THOUSAND YEARS, rarity breaks the curse….and her powering through the hallucinations of twilight wow that fucking hurt. she’s going to save herself…. :(( you can really see how rarity has grown these last few chapters/months, how she’s stopped fixating on saving twilight as being all about herself and instead all about twilight and healing. the maturity! the growth! i’m so proud of her.

      “i can’t hold you” do you want me dead. literally what the fuck i am DISTRAUGHT and that’s not to mention spike like. just. “she loves you more than you can imagine” and the line about the thousand year old dragon crying….literally do you want me dead. that hurts so much and i LOVE it not to mention rarity’s immediate instinct upon finding the library is “twilight NEEDS to see spike” IM JUST SOOOOOO. also thank god they have the necklace repaired they were killing me fr with that.