It was strange that, for once, Rarity was the one impatiently waiting for somepony else at the train station. A large cup of coffee floated beside her, which she’d bought on account of not sleeping since her reunion with Spike a few hours back. Then again, it wasn’t as though she really needed the coffee, since she felt very much awake.
She’d had a busy early morning, after all: going to Cheerilee’s house and insisting that Scootaloo, Sweetie, and Apple Bloom were needed at home due to private matters; waking up Fluttershy, insisting she not ask questions and instead go get the Cutie Mark Crusaders together then wait for her by the edge of the forest; and, finally, going to the station and waiting for Pinkie’s morning train.
Eventually, a giddy smile swept over her face at the sight of a distant train rolling toward the station. Earlier, she’d hidden her necklace when fetching Fluttershy, but now she quickly took it out of her saddlebag and put it on. She then watched as the train came to a stop and found an equally giddy pink pony waving at her, face comically pressed against the window.
“Hi, Rarity!” Pinkie exclaimed, jumping off the train, her saddlebags thumping against her body. “Did you meet Spike?!”
“Indeed I did!” Rarity said, smiling brightly and puffing out her chest in an attempt to give her necklace more prominence. “And good morning! Did you sleep well?”
Pinkie shook her head. “Not reeeeeally. Writing down all of Princess Luna’s questions took waaaay longer than I thought, even after Princess Luna made Professor Awe help me!” She giggled, glanced left and right as if to make sure nopony was eavesdropping, then leaned in to whisper, “She said she’ll stop visiting his dreams if he didn’t help.” She bounced up and began to hop away. “So! Are we going to see Spike now?!”
“Yes, we are, but only briefly, I fear,” Rarity answered, pulling Pinkie back with her magic and plopping her back in front of her. “There’s somepony else we must visit.”
Pinkie’s ears dropped. “But, Rarityyyyy! I’ve been waiting aaaaaall of yesterday! Can’t they come with us, and then… and then…” She drifted off, her eyes gluing themselves to the grinning unicorn’s necklace. Slowly, she leaned down so that the tip of her nose poked the necklace before suddenly jolting straight up, sitting right next to Rarity and loudly whispering, “Rarity?”
“Yes, darling?” Rarity said, barely able to maintain her composure.
“Uhm, there’s something you really need to know,” Pinkie continued, throwing passing ponies suspicious glances. “Your necklace is glowing pink again.”
“Oh! It completely slipped my mind!” Rarity exclaimed with innocence. “Yes, Twilight and I restored the communication spell earlier today in the library.”
“Oh, okay,” Pinkie said, still whispering loudly. A second of silence passed, then she nearly bowled Rarity over but restrained herself at the last moment. “WHAT?!” She jumped back, stamping her forehooves against the floor. “Does that mean you—?!”
“Broke the curse?” Rarity asked, nodding her head, unable to hold back her wonderfully smug smile. “Yes, I did.”
“Ohmigosh, Rarity! You did it! You broke it!” Pinkie exclaimed, hopping up and down like a foal who’d had excessive amounts of sugar. “But wait!” She stopped and narrowed her eyes. “That was fast. Too fast. In my books, bad stuff happens when you do stuff too fast. Oh no!” She gasped and jumped back, looking horrified. “What if you broke it so fast because we’re all going to celebrate only for something even WORSE to happen and then you’ll be separated from Twilight AGAIN!”
“Pinkie, Pinkie, darling, calm down!” Rarity interrupted, playfully rolling her eyes. “After what we’ve gone through, I hardly think there could even be something worse.”
Pinkie narrowed her eyes. “That’s what they all say in the books, Rarity…”
Rarity shook her head and trotted off. “Pinkie, the only way I’d ever be separated from Twilight again is if she kept me out.” She cleared her throat and gestured for the mare to follow. “In any case, let us press on. It won’t do to keep Spike and the others waiting.”
When they reached the outskirts of the forest, Rarity was very pleased to see everypony did as instructed. Rainbow Dash waved to them, while Fluttershy, Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom gawked at Spike, and Scootaloo gawked at Rainbow.
“Hello, everypony!” Rarity exclaimed, grabbing the attention of everypony save the Crusaders, who were still gawking at Spike. “Are we all set?”
“Y-yes,” Fluttershy replied. “I’m not sure for what, though…”
“OhmiGOSH!” Pinkie gasped, rushing over to Spike and practically climbing on top of him. “You’re so big! I have so many questions! Is it true you used to wear aprons when you were a baby?!”
“Pinkie, now’s not the time for embarrassing questions! I’ve been waiting my entire life for this moment!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, lifting off into the air and gesturing toward the forest. “Let’s go!”
“Go?” Scootaloo said, tearing her gaze away from Rainbow and toward Rarity. “Go where? I thought you wanted us to meet Rainbow Dash!”
“Or Mister Spike,” Sweetie Belle said, gingerly approaching him and poking the bottom of his claw. “Coooool.”
Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “The dragon’s okay, but Rarity wanted us to meet Rainbow because she’s cooler,” she said, completely missing Spike’s thinly veiled snort.
“It’s true! I’m so awesome, Spike here asks me to hang out with him all the time so I can teach him everything I know,” Rainbow replied, flying down and condescendingly patting the dragon on the head. “Right?”
“No,” Spike replied, grinning widely at her. “I let you hang out with me because somepony who thinks pegasi medicine will help a dragon grow wings clearly needs a lot of help.”
“Hey!” Rainbow blurted, a fierce blush decorating her cheeks. “I was a kid, okay?! Let it go!”
“But wait,” Apple Bloom asked, turning to Rarity. “If y’all didn’t want us meetin’ Mister Spike, why’d you get us out of school?”
Rarity opened her mouth to reply, but a softer voice interrupted.
“Rarity…?” Fluttershy said, and Rarity couldn’t hold back the grin at realizing Fluttershy had finally noticed the glowing necklace. “Your necklace… You… Princess…”
There was a second of silence when the three fillies turned to Rarity wide-eyed before simultaneously throwing themselves at her, nearly toppling her over and drowning her in a barrage of demands to know if Rarity had really found her, how did Rarity break the curse, did breaking the curse hurt, where was Princess Twilight, was she alive or was she still dead, did she miss them, could they see her, and so on and so forth.
“Yes, yes! We’re all going to see her!” she reassured, using her magic to pull the fillies away. She glanced at Spike and faltered. “Well, perhaps not all of us… Are you quite sure there’s no way for you to somehow come with us?”
Spike sighed. “No. There’s no way I can fit inside the forest, and like I said, these trees aren’t going to go down no matter what I do.” He smiled at Rarity hopefully. “But you’re going to come back later and let me talk to her with your necklace, right?”
“Of course she will!” Pinkie exclaimed, now sitting atop his head. “She’s going to let you talk to Princess Twilight until you can’t talk anymore, even if it means being here for days, and months, and years, and—”
“Now, let’s not get carried away!” Rarity quickly exclaimed. “I do have a life beyond being a highly sophisticated messenger!” She cleared her throat and gestured toward the forest. “Shall we?”
Despite the fact she’d broken the curse on herself, she wasn’t altogether sure that she’d be able to guide the others to the library. Elara and Themis hadn’t been able to, after all. However, since nighttime wouldn’t be due for a very long time, the markings would be of no help.
Which is why she’d stopped by a local shop and bought the longest rope they had available. If she tied it to herself and kept away from the others, surely she wouldn’t be in the curse’s sphere of influence. Rainbow Dash’s presence brought her great relief as well, since she was quite confident the pegasus would be enough to help her fight off any timberwolves bold enough to attack the group.
Once she began guiding them through the forest, it wasn’t until she’d been subjected to a fiftieth “are we there yet?” that her heart soared at the sight of the distant oak tree.
Oh, thank goodness, she thought, doubling her pace. I didn’t get cursed again! Perhaps it’s like the chicken pox and you can only catch it once?
“This way!” she exclaimed, breaking into a sprint toward the depression.
Upon reaching the edge, she gleefully jumped into it, only to hear the horrified shrieks of her companions, followed by Rainbow Dash brusquely grabbing her and flying her up.
“Rarity, what the hay is wrong with you?!” the pegasus yelled, holding onto her for dear life before dropping Rarity back with the others. The second she did, though, she fell to the ground on one knee, looking positively sick.
“Wh-what’s wrong?” Scootaloo asked, alarmed.
“Those…” She made a gurgling noise. “Those sinkholes… There’s a bunch of ’em… I saw them last time, and they… just going near them makes me dizzy. I almost fell into one last time…”
Rarity’s heart skipped a beat. Is that how the curse affects pegasi…?
“Rarity, what the hay?!” she said again, standing up and gulping. “Do you want to get killed or something?! This place is already making me feel sick enough without you suddenly wanting to practice your free-diving!”
“Heavens, no! That’s the curse! The tree is there!” she explained, pointing toward it. When the pegasus gave her a pointed stare, Rarity sighed and wrapped her in magic, ignoring her protests and whisking her over the “sinkhole” until she was pressed against the tree.
“Oh,” Rainbow said, knocking her hooves against its rough bark. “Look at that.”
Fluttershy reacted next, flying up and hovering near the edge of the depression until Rainbow Dash flew over and then practically dragged her to the tree. When she came in contact with it, she blinked several times and then gasped audibly, landing on the ground and falling onto her haunches.
“Ooooh, me next!” Pinkie exclaimed, rushing forward and jumping into the depression. However, as soon as her hooves touched the ground, she fell to the ground and groaned. “Ohhhhh, me not next…”
“Pinkie!” Rarity shouted, jumping after her and helping her friend up. “Darling, it’s all right, it’s the curse—”
“No!” Pinkie shrieked suddenly, eyes wide open and hooves clutching the unicorn, her gaze directed at some trees in the distance. “Wh-what do you mean you don’t want me to sleep anymore?! If I can’t sleep, I won’t see you!” Her eyes began to fill with tears. “You d-don’t want to see me anymore?! But, Princess Lu—”
“No, Pinkie, it’s not real!” Rarity said, and, without wasting a second, enveloped Pinkie in her magic, quickly levitating the horrified mare and pressing her against the tree.
“Oh! Oh, it’s the tree!” Pinkie gasped, her previous horror all but forgotten. She spread her forelegs and hugged the oak. “Oh, tree, I missed you!”
Once she’d put the mare down, she noticed the three fillies hovering by the edge, and rather than have them go through any dreadful hallucinations, she picked them up in her magic and took them through the same process, placing the ecstatic fillies on the ground next to Fluttershy—without letting them go, of course.
“Come on, Rarity!” Sweetie shrieked, trying to wiggle herself out of her sister’s magic grip. “I want to see the princess!”
Rarity ignored Sweetie Belle, trotting toward the trapdoor and only letting her sister free once she’d gone into the tunnel before the filly. She wasn’t trying to be cruel, of course; she simply wanted to make sure she witnessed the upcoming reunions.
When she hopped off the last step, she lit her horn and couldn’t help but smile at the sight of Applejack and Princess Twilight Sparkle, both of them staring into the tunnel like an overexcited puppy.
“Rarity…? Rarity!” Twilight exclaimed, slamming herself against the barrier and nearly collapsing. “Rarity, it’s you!”
“See? Didn’t I tell you she’d be back?” Applejack said, waving at the unicorn.
Three fillies and a pink mare sped past Rarity, who lost her balance and nearly fell to the floor.
Rarity rushed forward, stepping into the library and feeling her eyes tear up at the sight of the three fillies and Pinkie trying to hug the deliriously happy alicorn, millions of questions bursting out of their mouths.
Rarity sat down next to Applejack, both of them sharing a smile, before Fluttershy trotted in next, catching the attention of not only Twilight, but the two owls that immediately appeared from within the library and launched themselves at her.
“Fluttershy!” Twilight tearfully exclaimed, teleporting in front of her, clearly torn between wanting to hug her and knowing she couldn’t.
“Princess Twilight,” Fluttershy said, her own eyes watering with tears. “It is so lovely seeing you again.”
“Oh. My. Gosh.”
Rarity turned back and giggled at the sight of Rainbow Dash standing by the entrance, eyes fixed on Twilight.
“Hi!” Twilight greeted the pegasus brightly. “You must be Rainbow Dash?”
“Oh my GOSH!” Rainbow exclaimed, practically zooming toward Twilight. “Oh my gosh, Princess Twilight, I have been waiting for this, like, my entire LIFE. I have so many questions, you don’t even know! Okay, okay, okay!” She took a deep breath, and said nothing for almost an entire minute.
Twilight blinked, still smiling. “…Yes?”
“Okay,” Rainbow Dash blurted out, “so, like, are you dead?”
Rarity’s hoof went to her face. Oh, for pony’s sake, can’t anypony ask something else?!
Twilight frowned. “No, I’m… Actually! You know what? I don’t care anymore!” she exclaimed with a grin. After clearing her throat and, barely able to suppress her giggling, Twilight intoned, “Yes. Yes, I am dead.”
“I knew it!” Scootaloo gasped.
“That’s so awesome!” Rainbow exclaimed, flying up into the air for a moment. “Wait, wait, wait!” She landed in front of Twilight again and stepped back. “Can you, like, walk through me?”
Twilight giggled. “Would you like that…?”
“Of course I would!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed.
“Of course she would…” Rarity sighed, playfully rolling her eyes.
Twilight stepped back, positioning herself, and then promptly trotted toward and through Rainbow Dash, smile turning into a grin at Rainbow’s gasp of excitement.
Finally, she came to a stop right in front of Rarity and giggled. “Hi.”
Rarity smiled brightly. “Hello, my darling,” she replied, tilting her head to the side, watching the fillies inspect Rainbow Dash post-ghost walk-through. “I must say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you quite this happy.” She winked. “I shall take the liberty of pretending it’s because of me, hmm?”
“It is because of you,” Twilight replied, and Rarity could hardly stop several smitten giggles from leaving her lips.
“Hey, wait! Where’s the maze?!” Rainbow exclaimed, flying up and gathering everypony’s attention. “I want to see it! It sounds insane!”
“This way!” Scootaloo exclaimed, she and the other Crusaders rushing into the rows of bookcases and toward the end of the library, Rainbow Dash flying after them.
“Hey, wait!” Applejack called, running after them. “That thing ain’t safe! Apple Bloom! Apple Bloom, get back here!”
“Oh my gosh, Princess Twilight, we have SO much to tell you!” Pinkie exclaimed, stamping her hooves against the floor. “And you too, Fluttershy! And you, Rarity! …Wait, you already know what there is to tell.” She gasped in horror. “Did you already tell her about Princess Luna?! I wanted to tell them!”
“Princess Luna?” Twilight asked, ears perking up. “What about her?! Is she all right? Did you find a way to free her?!”
Rarity smiled, standing up straight and grinning. “I think we might have, yes.”
Rarity didn’t know what time it was when she got back to the library that evening, nor did she care. She’d talked extensively with Twilight about the chaos magic in Hollow Shades, she’d watched the others spend time with Twilight, and then she’d gone out to find Spike and made sure he talked with Twilight for several hours. By the end of it, though the dragon could have gone for hours on end, Rarity felt she’d finally earned some private time with the princess.
Though she did not immediately find Twilight upon stepping into the library, she did find that a comfortable-looking bed of pillows had been prepared for her. It wasn’t her queen-sized bed in Carousel Boutique, and she was certain the pillowcases here hadn’t been washed for months, but oh goodness, she wouldn’t trade being back home for anything in the world.
Her saddlebags weighed her down, carrying within them everything she’d need for an extended stay in the library. After dropping it off at a nearby table and taking off her cloak, she made her way to the bundle of pillows and unceremoniously dropped herself on it, closing her eyes and exhaling a contented sigh.
After a minute, her ears flicked when she heard the familiar crackle of teleportation, and a smile swept across her face. She waited for Twilight to speak up, but instead, she felt the distinct sensation of a tendril of magic brushing against her scars. She opened her eyes and looked back, noticing Twilight standing by the pillows, her brow furrowed and her gaze fixed on the unicorn’s disfigured cutie mark.
“Sweetheart, don’t look at those,” Rarity quickly said, belatedly chastising herself for having taken off her cloak.
Twilight glanced at her, and her ears bent backward and her gaze saddened. “Fluttershy told me about the timberwolf,” she said, returning her gaze to the scars, her magic still brushing against them. “It’s chaos magic, so I can’t fix them.”
“You don’t have to fix anything, Twilight,” Rarity said, trying to beckon the alicorn toward her. “I have it on Rainbow Dash’s authority that scars are, as she says, hardcore. It means I’m quite daring,” she elaborated when Twilight arched an eyebrow at the slang.
“I’m not sure if almost getting killed by a timberwolf is daring,” Twilight pointed out.
Rarity sighed theatrically. “You know, this usually would be the part where you swoon over me rather than chastise me for events already past.” She rolled onto her back, placing a hoof on her forehead and lamenting, “Alas, now that I’ve mastered the Star Swirl Decimal System, you shan’t be impressed by anything else I do!”
When she cracked an eye open moments later, she found Twilight intently watching her, and my, Rarity had forgotten how intense Twilight’s gaze could be.
“Something wrong?” she asked, tilting her head. “Was my assertion shockingly accurate?”
“Oh, no.” A smug smile swept across Twilight’s lips. “I’m just concerned that you don’t know what ‘mastering’ something means. It means you’re a skilled practitioner at a specific art or activity, just so you know,” she explained, her smile turning playful when she caught the pillow that flew her way.
“We haven’t even been reunited for a day, and already you’re attacking me!” Rarity whined, watching as Twilight levitated the pillow back to the bunch. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t leave.”
Twilight didn’t hesitate. “Because I missed you.”
Rarity could feel her lips curving into a smitten smile, but she quickly did away with it, and half-heartedly slammed her hoof against a pillow. “Drat. Now you’ve said that, I have no choice but to stay here the rest of my life.” She lifted her other forehoof, beckoning Twilight toward her. “How dreadful for you.”
Twilight giggled, walking to her and then bending her head down, and if circumstances were different, their lips would brush together. “Awful,” she whispered, closing her eyes and, like Rarity no doubt, pretending things were different. “Just awful.”
“So, do tell,” Rarity said when Twilight leaned back, “are you happy?”
Twilight eagerly nodded. “It’s a long-term plan, of course, but your idea for Hollow Shades sounds really good.”
“Of course it does! I came up with it, after all!” Rarity said, laughing haughtily. “Princess Luna will be so pleased, she’ll never let me have nightmares like the ones from a month ago.”
Concern flashed through Twilight’s eyes. “You had nightmares?”
“Oh, Twilight, they were dreadful!” Rarity exclaimed. “I had some horrific dreams where another mare found you while I was cursed, and you two were keen on each other, and honestly, I was terribly offended.”
A blush tinted Twilight’s cheeks. “I’m sorry?”
Rarity eagerly nodded. “And you should be, but not because you were keen on her! You know what you did? I finally met up with you as an old mare, decades into a no-doubt lavish and fabulous life, and the only thing that occurs to you to ask me is whether I’d practiced my teleportation or not!”
“And did you practice your teleportation?” Twilight asked, arching an eyebrow.
Rarity faltered. “Obviously not, but I did have an incredibly romantic reply, so honestly that makes up for it. It does!” she defended when Twilight rolled her eyes. “You even cried!”
“Well, when you find the last book and free me, I promise my first question won’t be about teleportation,” Twilight said, and immediately did Rarity’s heart sink.
“Ah yes…” she said, taking a nearby pillow and pressing it against her chest, failing at her attempt to nonchalantly look away. She suddenly wasn’t quite sure she was ready for that conversation. “The books…”
“What?” Twilight asked, teleporting to the other side of bed, furrowing her brow. “Did something happen with the books?”
Rarity hummed and looked to the other side. “Did something happen with the books? That certainly is a question that begets an answer, is it not? But what is an answer, all things said and done?”
The alicorn teleported back to the other side. “Rarity, what happened with the books?” she asked again, using her magic to grab Rarity’s chin before the unicorn could look away.
“Why, Twilight!” she exclaimed, fluttering her eyelashes. “And you said you couldn’t hold me!”
“All right, all right!” Rarity huffed, batting Twilight’s magic away with a hoof. She sat up straight, the pillow falling to the ground, and then she took a deep breath followed by a piteous whine. “Twilight, you must understand that…” She faltered, looking up at the chandelier above and biting her lip. “There’s really no easy way to say this, and—”
“Finding all the books won’t free you!” she said, finally, trying to maintain eye-contact with Twilight, who in turn backed away, irritation and, frankly, any emotion at all draining from her face.
“…What?” she whispered before standing straight and practically burning holes into Rarity with her stare. “How do you know that?”
Rarity laughed nervously, idly toying with her necklace as she considered her words. “How do I know that? Well! Apparently, and I am willing to admit that, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have so blindly believed everything a hooded stranger told me, but… you remember how I told you the Book Bringer told me that the books would free you?”
“Well,” Rarity said, letting go of the necklace and looking at Twilight, “I’ve been informed that was actually Discord.”
“What?!” Twilight gasped, backtracking again, mouth agape. “Discord isn’t the Book Bringer! That’s ridiculous! Why would Discord bring me books?!”
“Twilight, I’m not saying the Book Bringer is Discord!” Rarity exclaimed. “Well, I am, but that’s because the Book Bringer I met was Discord posing as him!”
“Who told you that?!” Twilight asked, stamping her hoof against the ground. “The only possible way somepony could even know that was Discord would be… Discord… himself…”
Realization dawned upon her, and now Rarity remembered she was faced not with some common pony, but an ancient alicorn spirit. Twilight’s eyes turned to slits, her wings splayed out, and the chandelier hanging above flickered ominously.
Rarity moved back on her pillows, grabbing one and pressing it to her chest as though it were a shield. “Twilight, before you overreact, allow me to explain what happe—”
“It’s okay! You don’t have to tell me,” Twilight replied, sitting down and, after a crackle of magic, her necklace floated behind her. “You can show me.”
Rarity backed up farther and clutched the faux-shield closer against her chest and necklace. “Show you? Re-really? But, you know, it’ll be much better if I explain it,” she blurted out, knowing very well that the past three months had been anything but exemplary for her. The last thing she wanted was Twilight witnessing her utterly losing her marbles and then some!
“If we use the communication spell, I’ll know everything you know, Rarity,” Twilight insisted, her narrowed eyes clearly stating Rarity would not be winning the argument so long as she had a say in it. “Civilizations used the art of writing to perfectly preserve events as they happened, because oral transmission is one of the most unreliable forms of storytelling since the storyteller can willfully omit details. You can’t omit details if your mind is my mind, too.”
Rarity bit her lip until, finally, she relented. “Very well, then…” she said, dropping the pillow. “But it’s…” A blush crossed her cheeks. “It’s not the best side of me, and I don’t want you to think badly of me…”
Twilight frowned. “I would never think badly of you, Rarity,” she said matter-of-factly. “No matter what you did, but”—her necklace disappeared—“we don’t have to use the necklaces if you don’t want to, then.”
“No, no, wait!” Rarity blurted out, before swallowing, sitting up straight and lighting up her horn and necklace. “It’s all right. We can use the necklaces. I trust you to take this in stride.”
Twilight blinked. “…Are you sure?”
“Yes, yes!” she insisted, lying down on the pillows and closing her eyes, intent on at least being comfortable for the act. “Come now.”
Besides, if anything, Twilight would at least witness firsthoof the extent of Rarity’s devotion to her.
“All right, then,” Twilight said, a familiar crackle of magic sounding off moments afterwards.
Still with her eyes closed, Rarity waited, and waited, and waited until two pings echoed in the room, and she was again overcome with the now-familiar sensation of new thoughts entering her head.
She lingered on this sensation, fascinated by having thoughts quite literally inserted into her mind, and she could have stayed there for quite some time if an image of Canterlot Castle hadn’t been forcibly brought to the foreground. Yes, yes, I can take a hint, thank you very much, she thought, wishing she could open her eyes just to roll them.
And so, Rarity went over the worst three months of her life, starting at Rift Shield’s invitation to see the princess while at Heart’s Haven. She felt compelled to explain to herself who he was, and was later surprised to feel a rather intense satisfaction at her rejection of his advances.
Her memories then jumped to the impostor she met in Canterlot Castle, and she had to re-experience the shame at having fallen for Discord’s trap. Oddly enough, she couldn’t quite feel any other emotion, which meant that Twilight was willingly watching her chastise herself! Honestly, where was the sympa—!
With a last mental harrumph, Rarity went on with the mental journey, passing through the tunnel with the bizarre bubbles which were, in fact, chaos quarantine bubbles that Princess Celestia brought to life using a combination of—
“Well, well! Now who’s rambling!”
Of course, she wasn’t rambling, because Rarity had automatically known all those details, so really, technically speaking, it meant that she was doing it again. She shook her head and forced herself to think about the Princesses’ Hallway, which sent a wave of… homesickness coursing through her, and the more she thought about it, the more she wanted to advance with the memory.
Oh, drat, what happened next?
She’d explored the castle with the others, seen Princess Cadance’s room, and a warm sensation washed over her at the sight of the foal toys and crib scattered around. After that, she’d seen that statue of Shining Armor, and… and tears formed in her eyes, alongside an overwhelming and crushing heartache which was immediately pushed away and aside and she really simply wanted to know what happened next, thank you.
As such, she decided to just skip over to Princess Denza in the throne room, to the moment when she was looking over the evidence Rarity had brought, and though she couldn’t very much remember the conversation, she… she was overcome suddenly, the more she visualized the princess, with the sensation that… that something wasn’t…
Rarity opened her eyes, her mind jolting back to reality at the communication spell having stopped. “What happened? Did you— Twilight?” She sat up straight, her face awash with concern. “Twilight, what’s wrong?”
Twilight was standing up and staring at her, ears pinned back, looking very much like she’d seen a ghost. It wasn’t until Rarity physically got up from the pillows and sat in front of her that she reacted by flinching back, whatever train of thought she’d been having interrupted.
“H-huh?” she blurted, looking visibly shaken.
“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?” Rarity pressed beseechingly. She wished she could take Twilight’s hooves in hers. “What did you see? What was wrong with Princess Denza? I felt there was something off with her, but—”
Twilight immediately jumped back. “There was nothing wrong with Princess Denza!” she replied, ears shooting upwards, wings flaring, and Rarity recoiled in reply. At the sight, Twilight’s wings lowered and she lifted her hoof, torn between approaching or staying away. “I…” she said, finally, lowering her hoof and shaking her head. “Nothing’s wrong, I just…” She looked at Rarity apologetically, ears flopping down. “I’m sorry, we shouldn’t have used the spell. I should trust your own memory.”
“It’s perfectly all right, Twilight,” Rarity said, repressing the urge to ask about Princess Denza again. All in due time, Rarity. All in due time, and for now, she was more concerned with Twilight. “Are you all right?”
Twilight relaxed somewhat, sitting back down on the floor. “Yes, I’m fine.”
Rarity cleared her throat and pressed a hoof against her necklace. Perhaps more information on Twilight’s little incident could be gleaned from sharing minds. “Shall we continue…?”
And yet, Twilight shook her head and offered an apologetic smile. “Maybe without the necklaces? We don’t really need them since you’re not hiding anything from me.”
Rarity sighed. A shame somepony else isn’t quite as transparent. Metaphorically speaking, at least.
“If you insist,” she relented. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and went over what was left to say. If anything, she might as well take advantage of the fact that she could gloss over her questionable acts.
“In any case, after we got cursed, I spent a few weeks searching for the library in the forest, and after the…” She cleared her throat. “…incident with the timberwolf, I decided I might be able to glean more information from Rift Shield and the princess. Applejack and the others wanted me to stay in Ponyville, but I insisted Canterlot was where the answer awaited!”
“And were they?” Twilight asked, ears perked up.
“No,” Rarity replied. “Not at first. Rift Shield hardly said anything useful, but I did meet with the Book Bringer.”
“The Book Bringer?” Twilight asked, excitement ringing in her voice. “Wait.” She narrowed her eyes. “The real Book Bringer? Or…”
“The real one!” she replied. “And you can imagine my surprise when he hadn’t the faintest idea who I was. I was thoroughly vexed, so I went off on a little walk, and who would stop me but the Book Bringer himself! I thought he was going to tell me he remembered me, but then I noticed your chaos magic tracking spell had activated and, well…”
“Well…?” Twilight asked, making a “keep going” gesture with her hoof.
“Well, I unmasked him as Discord, of course, after which he did the obvious thing on such an occasion and asked me out on a date.”
Twilight nearly choked. “He what?!” she sputtered, practically falling onto her back before jumping to a standing position, wings flared and fire in her eyes. Honestly, Rarity was flattered.
“Oh, you heard me. And that’s not even the worst part of it,” she replied.
“Rarity, what could be worse than that?!” Twilight asked, clearly never having read a book in her life where a character asked that very same question.
“Well, he brought a plus one on the date,” she elaborated. “Which was him posing as you.”
Twilight didn’t immediately reply.
In fact, Rarity didn’t get to see whatever reply she had, for the alicorn teleported away nearly instantly after she’d finished her sentence. However, she did hear somepony in the floor below shout quite the expletive, followed by a loud crash she dearly hoped wasn’t Twilight smashing one of her own bookcases.
After a minute, Twilight returned, looking wonderfully calm and composed. Rarity didn’t dare ask what the source of the noise had been, and instead waited for the alicorn to take the lead.
“Sorry,” Twilight said, sitting back down and folding her wings against her body. “You were saying?”
“Discord took me ‘on a date,’ so to speak, and he…” She drifted off, once again having reached the part of the conversation which promised to become very uncomfortable very fast. “He revealed he’d been the one I spoke with nearly a year ago, and if that stands true, then…” She took a deep breath. “Then it stands to reason that he was no doubt lying about the books being a key to freeing you.”
“So,” Twilight said, and how somber her voice sounded, her ears pinned back and her eyes betraying no emotion, “there’s no way to free me.”
“No, that is not true! That is not what I said at all!” Rarity quickly interjected. “This only means that the books aren’t the solution, not that there is no solution!”
“How do you know that?” Twilight asked, staring Rarity down. “I’ve been here a thousand years, and you said that until the books, nopony had ever heard of a way of freeing me. Maybe I can’t be freed.”
Rarity arched an eyebrow. “Oh? Then, I suppose we shouldn’t try exploiting our discovery in Hollow Shades because clearly you all can’t be freed.”
“That’s different! That’s for Princess Luna!” Twilight protested, again stamping her hoof against the floor. “There’s an obvious influence there!”
Rarity gawked at Twilight. “And there isn’t one here?! One that, may I remind you, personally attacked us?!”
Twilight frowned. “The maze…? You think the maze is keeping me trapped here?! Rarity, that’s ridiculous!” she exclaimed. “That’s only here to annoy me! I don’t—!”
“I don’t mean the maze! I mean the chaos magic! Discord said as much!” Rarity interrupted, getting up on the pillows, not intending to go down without a fight. “He said you’re powering it! And did it not attack us when you expressed the desire to leave?!” She trotted toward the alicorn, and shoved her hoof against—or rather, through—Twilight’s chest. “You can’t deny the evidence, Twilight!”
Twilight stood up perfectly straight, almost unnaturally so, and opened and closed her mouth several times. Eventually, she let out a long-suffering sigh and spoke in a measured tone which Rarity hardly appreciated.
“Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying because I don’t think you understand what you’re saying,” she said matter-of-factly, and at least Rarity had the decency to withhold her exasperated sigh. “According to you and Discord, who may or may not be lying, the chaos magic from the maze is keeping me here because I’m powering it?”
Well, if you put it like that.
Before Rarity could reply, Twilight continued.
“Why? Why would I do that?” she asked. “It makes no sense! I don’t want to be here, but the barrier is still there!” She stopped herself and deadpanned. “All right, fine.” She teleported next to the exit tunnel. “I want to be freed,” she declared monotonously, and after she lifted her hoof toward the exit and the raspberry-colored barrier pushed it back, she threw Rarity a pointed stare.
“Well, of course it’s not going to do anything if you say it like that!” Rarity protested, rolling her eyes. “That was the least convincing statement I’ve heard in my life!”
Twilight teleported back to her. “That’s because there is no way to free me! Why wouldn’t I want to be free?! Spike is fine now, and Princess Luna will be fine, and I’m sure you’ll find Princess Celestia and…” She faltered for a moment. “And Cadance and Shining Armor’s descendants are fine, and everypony is fine!”
“I don’t know, Twilight, but it’s honestly like you don’t even want to figure out a way to free yourself!” Rarity said, harrumphing and looking away.
“I want to figure it out for myself! I don’t want anypony helping me!” Twilight replied, teleporting in front of Rarity and forcing the unicorn to look at her. “Princess Luna and Princess Celestia are where they are because of me, and I’m not going to waste our time helping them by trying to find a way out of here!”
“Oh? You don’t want anypony helping you?” Rarity asked, each syllable icier than the one before. Well, then, Princess Twilight Sparkle. Well then. “I see.” She stood up and trotted toward the table where her things were. “If that’s the case, then let me not further waste my time or yours.”
“Wait!” Twilight teleported in front of her, her magic levitating Rarity’s bags out of reach. “Wait, where are you going?! I just got you back!”
The ghost of a smile wanted to creep up Rarity’s lips, but she held her ground. “I wasn’t leaving, Twilight. I intend on staying here as long as you want my presence, but—!” She snatched her bags back with her own magic, making the alicorn flinch and step back like a child caught misbehaving. “Since you, and I quote, find helping you a ‘waste of time,’ then I will do useful things with my hours and try to work on Princess Luna’s predicament. I gather you don’t object, do you, Princess?”
“…No,” Twilight said lamely, looking away and falling to her haunches.
Rarity promptly trotted off, head held high even though her irritation had already melted away, replaced instead with aggravation. Of all the possible things she wanted to do with Twilight, arguing was the very last on the list. However, she’d not even taken ten steps before raspberry magic held all four of her hooves in place.
She looked over her shoulder and raised an eyebrow at the forlorn alicorn, who meekly looked back at her, ears pinned back.
“…Are you mad?” she softly asked, her gaze piercing Rarity and melting her heart. Curse her! What gave her the right to have perfect puppy-dog eyes?!
Rarity sighed audibly, looking away and wishing her hoof was free to rub the bridge of her nose.
“That depends entirely on what you mean by that,” she said, looking back at Twilight and mimicking the alicorn’s trademark matter-of-fact stare. “Are you asking if I’m mad at you, or if I’m mad about you? Because, frankly, I’m both, so you can imagine the predicament I’m in.”
Like a shining light, a small pleased smile swept across Twilight’s face, her cheeks turning a lovely rosy hue. It did not last long, however, and soon did it disappear, as did her magic grip on Rarity’s hooves. A crackle of magic sounded off, and suddenly she’d teleported next to the unicorn.
“I’m sorry,” she said, bowing her head.
A pang of guilt shot through Rarity’s heart at the sight and she put her saddlebags down. Princesses, hadn’t Twilight been sorry for long enough? Why should Rarity add another shackle to the chains weighing her beloved down?
“Twilight?” she whispered softly, and when the alicorn looked up, she offered a smile, wishing she could actually physically comfort her. “You have nothing to be sorry about. I simply…” She sighed and waved her hoof in a circle. “I simply don’t understand your reasoning. Haven’t you considered that if you’re free, it will be that much easier for us to help the others?”
“But Discord said the books don’t work,” Twilight weakly protested, her eyes watering. “I can’t be freed.”
“Yes, you can, Twilight. No, don’t look away! Look at me, Twilight,” she insisted, and when Twilight did as much, she stamped her hoof against the ground. “Twilight Sparkle, mark my words, there is a way to free you, and we will work together to find it.”
Twilight looked uncomfortable now, chewing on her lip. “But what if…?” She sighed and stood up straight. “What if I mess up?” she asked severely, eyes fixed on Rarity. “What if that’s why Discord suddenly helped you? Why he supposedly told you how to free me? What if it’s because he knows I’ll make a mistake again?”
Rarity stamped her hoof again. “First of all, Twilight, you’ve done nothing wrong! Secondly, you—”
“Yes, I have!” Twilight interrupted, but immediately she tapered off, groaning and pressing her hooves to her face. “You don’t know what— You don’t get it, Rarity.”
Rarity sighed. If there was ever a moment to let the cat out of the bag, it seemed as though it had finally arrived.
“I do get it, Twilight,” she said, bracing herself for whatever consequence her confession would bring. “Princess Luna told me about what happened a thousand years ago, from how you—” She paused. “All four princesses fooled him into thinking they’d won, how he supposedly reformed, all the way up to the fifth Peace Treaty.”
Rarity felt very much as though her heart had been stabbed at the sight of Twilight’s reaction. The alicorn stepped back, a single hoof hovering over her open mouth. To say she looked as if she’d been slapped twice would be putting it mildly.
“…She told you…?”
“Yes, but it’s all right, Twilight!” Rarity reassured, taking a step toward her. “It’s all right, and I’m glad she did because now I’m even more driven to find Discord and give him a piece of my mind for everything he did!”
Twilight shook her head, still gaping at Rarity. “No, yo-you don’t understand! I did it! I messed up for everypony! It’s my fault that everypony is trapped somewhere except for Cadance and Shining Armor, and now that you know you think that too and you’ll probably never come to the library again, and that’s why you came here because you wanted to say goodbye before you left forever and—”
At the sound of Rarity’s voice, Twilight teleported away, leaving Rarity to do nothing but sigh a very deep sigh.
Come, Rarity, put yourself in her shoes.
“Twilight,” she said, looking around for the alicorn. “Twilight, please come back. I give you my word I am not planning on leaving the library forever.”
A moment of silence followed, after which Twilight teleported back in front of Rarity, teeth gritted and tears wetting her eyes.
“Twilight,” Rarity began, “you can’t just tele—”
“Rarity, why can’t we just be happy you’re here? What’s the point of talking about this? Or you knowing? It’s over. It already happened. Princess Luna shouldn’t have told you.”
“She told me because it’s haunting you, Twilight,” Rarity insisted, practically pleading, stepping forward and reaching out a hoof. “Maybe that’s why you can’t—”
“Please,” Twilight whispered, peering back at Rarity. “Not now. Please.”
Finally, if begrudgingly, Rarity relented. “All right, then. I won’t press the issue today,” she said, picking her saddlebags up from the floor and trotting toward the bed of pillows. “But we will talk about this, sooner or later.”
She stopped and looked back, finding the alicorn looking at her much like before. Forlorn, meek, apologetic. It only made Rarity want to find Discord and blast the living daylights out of him even more.
“What Princess Luna told you… You don’t think I’m a…” She petered out.
“I would never hold you accountable for a choice—not a mistake, Twilight, a choice—you were forced to make because of horrible external circumstances,” Rarity firmly replied.
She waited a moment for Twilight to reply, but when Twilight did not, she exhaled and continued toward her bed. She dropped the saddlebags next to it, intending to devise more ideas on how to free Luna, but the moment her body hit the pillows, the exhaustion of not having slept for two days washed over her.
Oh dear, maybe she ought to worry about Luna after a long sleep.
Suppressing a yawn, she looked up and found Twilight standing beside the pillows. “Yes?”
“Can you bring Princess Denza here?” Twilight asked.
Rarity stared at her. “Pardon?”
“Can you bring Princess Denza here?” Twilight repeated, because clearly fetching the monarch of Equestria and bringing her to a library inside a crazed forest was a thing ponies often requested.
“No, dearest, I heard what you said. I’m just not certain you heard what you said,” Rarity replied, sitting up. “You want me to bring Princess Denza here?” When Twilight nodded, she hummed and wished she knew what in Equestria had brought that about. “I suppose I could? I have done away with her curse, after all, and now she’d have no excuse whatsoever to not come and see you. I’ll try to arrange it for next week.”
“Can you do it sooner?” Twilight asked. “This week.”
“This week? But, Twilight, Seeking Night is in less than six days, and a trip to Canterlot would take me at least two days! Especially if you want me to get Princess Denza here! Why do you suddenly want to see her?” She narrowed her eyes. “Is it because of what you saw in my memories?”
“I didn’t see anything!” Twilight said quickly, too quickly. She pouted for a moment, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. “I think she can help with Princess Luna, but I need to talk with her myself. Please?”
Rarity hummed. “Only if you tell me the real reason.”
“Rarity! That is the real reason!” Twilight protested, ears flicking in irritation.
“…Darling. I do love you, but lying is not your strong suit.”
Twilight grimaced. “Rarity… I… Please. I promise I’ll explain after you’ve gone to see her. It might be nothing, and I’d rather not have to think about it until I have to think about it. Okay?”
Rarity frowned but decided to let it go. The last thing she wanted was to make Twilight even more uncomfortable or further spoil their time together. Twilight would tell her in due time.
“Well, all right. I’ll do what I can to go see her,” she said, taking a blanket out of her saddlebag before lying back down on the pillows, covering herself and closing her eyes. “But I shan’t concern myself with that until I’ve actually had some amount of beauty sleep.”
Truthfully, she also wanted to see the princess. With her and the royal guard, freeing Princess Luna and finding Princess Celestia would take no time at all.
Maybe then she’d have time to focus on Twilight’s own prison.
“Star!” Twilight called out, and a pleased smile graced Rarity’s lips when she felt the light dim.
Unfortunately, the smile left rapidly once she opened her eyes and saw Twilight reading at a table that was offensively far away. It wasn’t that Rarity had anything against tables or the like, not at all, but for months now, whenever she went to sleep in the library, Twilight always lied down and read next to her.
Well, it seemed as though she’d have to take some initiative, then.
Twilight looked up, ears perked. “…Yes?”
“Would you mind ever so terribly reading next to me?” she asked, moving a few pillows away and patting the ground beside her. “Please?”
“Uhm…” Twilight hesitated before eventually levitating her book and walked toward Rarity, doing a poor job at hiding her reluctance. When she reached her and without a word to Rarity, she lied down and stared intently at her book.
Rarity hummed. “Shall I venture a guess and say you’re still upset about what Princess Luna did?”
A telling silence followed in which Twilight’s ears folded back.
Rarity hummed again, positioning herself so she’d be facing Twilight. “Shall I venture another guess and say you’re still concerned over what I think of you?”
“Weren’t you going to bed?” Twilight asked, and when Rarity giggled, she looked up, irritated. “What?”
“You are a rather silly pony, aren’t you?” she asked, delighting at Twilight’s positively outraged expression.
“I am not!” Twilight protested.
“May I ask a favor of you?” She levitated Twilight’s necklace, dropped it on top of the book, and after a spark of magic, Twilight’s necklace began to flash.
Twilight’s eyes darted back and forth between the necklaces, and though she opened her mouth to no doubt protest, Rarity was faster.
“I won’t go anywhere you don’t want me to,” she assured. “I only want to show you something. As you said earlier, this is the best way of doing it without omitting or tampering with a single detail.”
Though she gave Rarity a concerned look, Twilight closed her eyes and cast the spell. As soon as the connection was established, Rarity felt a certain amount of foreign trepidation, but she quickly did away with it and simply contented herself with gazing at Twilight.
Nothing more, nothing less.
No thoughts of Discord, or princesses and choices made thousands of years ago. She simply focused on the alicorn before her, and the more she looked at her, the more she wanted to look at her, because goodness, she’d missed her. Her and her silly habit of teleporting away, her endless insistence on Rarity learning everything, her little ways of thinking she was so discreet when sneaking glances, and how she’d so easily stolen Rarity’s heart.
Thought after thought coursed through Rarity’s mind, and she could hardly stop the endlessly smitten grin at the sight of the fierce blush crawling its way up on Twilight’s face, and how fascinating it was to actually feel Twilight’s shamefully pleased embarrassment.
And she honestly thought that Rarity’s opinion of her had changed.
It was as though Rarity hadn’t spent the past months completely focused on finding Twilight again!
“Okay, okay! Stop!” Twilight squeaked, burying her flushed face through her hooves, and Rarity valiantly fought the alicorn’s urge for her to look away. “I get it! I get it!”
“Why, Twilight! Stop what? Am I not allowed to look at you?” Rarity asked ever so innocently.
Unfortunately, as much as she delighted in teasing Twilight, sleep came knocking back, ready to take her within its embrace.
“Go to sleep,” Twilight said, her flush fading. “You’re barely…” Both ponies yawned. “Holding on…”
For a moment, Rarity considered complying with her other self’s desire to end the spell, but instead…
“In a minute…”
She closed her eyes, snuggled up against the pillows and then, still maintaining the spell, placed one of her forehooves on top of the other. She vividly felt it, her own soft touch, and a warm splash of affection washed over her, which she knew wasn’t entirely hers.
It seemed Twilight Sparkle did not really need her body back to hold Rarity, now did she?