The days went by faster than Rarity had expected, and soon enough she found herself hours away from her trip to Canterlot. Was it some sort of aftermath of her time spent cursed? Or was it because days without Twilight felt endless compared to those with her?
Rarity had barely left the library since her return to Ponyville. Spike had not spoken with Twilight again, as he’d gone back to Smoky Mountain to retrieve all his many possessions and bring them to his new permanent home. Thankfully, like Rarity, he too would be home in time for Seeking Night.
“Did you make sure you have everything?”
Rarity looked up from her notebook and fixed her gaze on the worried alicorn sitting opposite her. She understood Twilight was nervous about the trip, but honestly, that was the twelfth time she’d asked the question in the past hour.
“Twilight, it’s as though you think I secretly unpack things when you’re not looking,” she said, turning her attention back to the notebook and finishing the sentence she’d been writing. “Besides, I don’t have many things to bring.”
The moment Rarity finished writing, Twilight levitated the notebook toward her and gave it a look-over. “You won’t forget to cast the spell, will you?”
“Are you quite certain you want me to? They will notice, you know. The spell isn’t exactly discreet,” she replied, her observation drawing out a crease on Twilight’s brow. “I don’t think they’ll very much allow me to cast a spell they don’t know—especially less so during an audience with the princess.”
Twilight chewed on her lip, mulling over Rarity’s statement. “A protection spell,” she said eventually, lifting her gaze. “She cursed you once, so you’re taking the necessary precautions so it won’t happen again.”
“You… You don’t suppose she can curse me again, do you?” Rarity asked, lifting her hoof and playing with the necklace. Just the idea of being separated from Twilight again… It was enough to make her want to cancel the trip or send somepony else.
Twilight hummed, closing the notebook with her magic. “I don’t think so. Talking to the others didn’t curse you, and even if she does, you know how to break it.”
“True… Well, in that case, I suppose I ought to leave now,” Rarity murmured, her thoughts a bit distracted. She wished she wasn’t going alone, but if something bad was to happen, she’d rather it happen to her than to her and somepony else. No matter what awaited her, she wanted to make sure Twilight would never be alone again.
She stood up and put on her saddlebags, smiling gratefully when Twilight used her magic to adjust them on her back. A silly gesture, perhaps, but Rarity liked it. It reminded her of when her mother would fix her father’s scarves during the winter. To fuss over somepony is to care about them, isn’t it? Maybe one day she’d be able to fuss over Twilight, too.
Her steps felt heavier and heavier the more she thought about it. Twilight had stoutly refused and evaded any conversation on her… extraordinary self-esteem hiccups, and it was becoming more and more frustrating for Rarity to feel so helpless.
Or, maybe, her steps felt heavy because she just simply didn’t want to go, nothing more or less to it.
When she reached the entrance tunnel, she stared at it for an entire second before turning on her hooves and pouting at the alicorn behind her.
“Twilight,” she whined, sitting on her haunches. “I’ve only just got you back, and already you’re sending me away! This is completely unfair. Why can’t this trip to Canterlot wait another week?”
“Because you already bought your tickets,” Twilight replied matter-of-factly, levitating Rarity back into a standing position. “And I would never send you away, Rarity.”
“Did you ask me to go to Canterlot to fetch Princess Denza?” Rarity asked.
Twilight arched an eyebrow. “Yes.”
“Then you’re sending me away!”
Twilight let out an exasperated sigh. “Rarity… I don’t want this any more than you do, but…” She looked away, chewing on both her lips and an answer. “I… I need to know something, and I can’t know without Princess Denza.”
Rarity hummed, scrunching her eyes. “Does it involve you-know-what?”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Yes.”
Ah, now that changed matters.
“Very well, then!” she exclaimed, turning around and facing the entrance. If this would get her that much closer to Twilight’s liberation, then she would not delay it further.
“Talk to you later, then?” Twilight asked.
Rarity looked over her shoulder and flashed a winning smile. “Absolutely.”
It was strange to think that, once upon a time, maybe a year ago or so, the idea of traveling to Canterlot would be one of endless excitement for Rarity. The glamour, the sophistication! Things she cared for once, and things that had slowly but surely been… Well, “ripped away” wasn’t quite the accurate term, was it? Other ideas and desires had simply taken their place.
But she thought it was still sad and a bit odd that stepping into Canterlot City now filled her with dread and trepidation. The shining beacon of Equestrian society now felt like a terrible omen in itself. After all, the last two times she’d set hoof in Canterlot had proven to be very terrible days for her.
Twilight’s attitude certainly hadn’t helped in that respect, either.
What had she seen during the communication session? Curiosity burned Rarity, and she wished Twilight hadn’t ended the spell before Rarity could pry into her mind for answers.
I’ll know soon enough, I suppose.
Though it was early morning, the city was filled with ponies trotting about their daily routines. She’d taken the night train with the intent of having an entire day to ensure a meeting with the princess, and she was quite confident she’d get it quickly enough. Other ponies would have to wait weeks or months for a chance, but she’d earned her easy access, especially if Rift Shield was around.
The look on his face when she’d tell him she broke the curse! She couldn’t wait to revel in it and, though it was not very ladylike to boast, she couldn’t wait to do that, too! She wished she’d brought her camera.
She made her way to the castle, and it wasn’t until she reached it that she remembered her promise to Twilight. She crossed the gates, smiling amiably at the two guards, before ultimately coming to a stop in front of the main doors and lighting up her horn. Twilight hadn’t specified exactly when she wanted Rarity to cast the spell, so she saw no harm in being safer than sorry and casting it then.
The necklace shone, and one, two, three seconds passed before finally the familiar ping filled the air and her mind seemed to shift. She shook her head, rubbing a hoof against her eyes, and when she opened them and looked up again, an overwhelming homesickness and wonder washed over her.
Her previous trepidation toward Canterlot had all but vanished now, replaced instead with a similar feeling to the one she—Rarity, at least—had experienced upon finding the library again.
Two guards trotted past her, and the sight of them brought her back to reality and the purpose of her trip. She focused on the guards, intending to follow them inside the castle, but no sooner had she mentalized that purpose that another idea was pushed into her mind.
No… No, going through the castle wasn’t what she—they?—wanted. She wanted to go through the secret entrance to the royal chambers. The desire consumed her.
But it’s so filthy! she thought in protest. And dusty, and frankly, it brings me awful memories.
But, ponies couldn’t hide things from her if they didn’t know she was coming, could they?
“My, my!” she murmured, trotting away from the doors and around the castle, now much more willing to go on with the plan. “Quite devious today, are we not?”
Unfortunately, to their conjoined irritation, a guard was pacing near the secret entrance. Had the princess ordered this to prevent any more “incidents”?
“Well, now what do you suggest?” Rarity muttered to herself, and no sooner had she done so that an admittedly predictable answer filtered into her mind.
If they hadn’t been mindmelding, Rarity would have pointed out that teleportation can’t be your solution to everything, Twilight. But, in that moment, she felt quite clever about having thought it up, and wasn’t she so lucky that Twilight had been so dedicated to teaching her because if she hadn’t then—
“All right, all right!” she muttered, forcing the intruding—and, frankly, a bit pompous—thoughts away.
She trotted as closely as she could to the guard and the entrance, smiling brightly and waving at him when he glanced her way. She pretended to admire the castle’s décor, her mind filling up with, or rather remembering, details of its construction, and when she was halfway through remembering the fifth grand restoration of the east wing the guard finally looked away, distracted by a passing stallion.
She focused her magic, closed her eyes, visualized the tunnel and crack! Not even a second later did she find herself inside the dreary hidden tunnel. A satisfied smile swept over her lips at the distant sound of a guard talking, unaware of her presence, and she proceeded into the tunnel. Much like the last time, a row of torches flickered to life and illuminated the winding path.
As she walked through the tunnel, memories filled her mind. What could only be described as a lecture began, details on the pathway’s use and purpose filtering into her thoughts. It had originally been designed as a private, protected entry and exit-way for the princesses, but had later been rendered useless when Discord discovered it following a picni—
And, suddenly, the thought brusquely cut itself off and the non-Rarity part of her mind was suddenly intensely fascinated by the sound of her hooves clopping against the cement. The Rarity part of her mind, however, was very distinctly irritated by that wholly unsubtle change of topic.
Her irritation remained for another moment, as did her silly fascination with inane details, and it wasn’t until they reached a familiar door that both sides of her became wholly in sync again. She pushed it open, her sights setting on the chaos bubbles still floating about.
Though Rarity knew she and Twilight were bonded together by so many wonderful things, she was thoroughly pleased that immense irritation toward Discord was one of them. Hatred of the same being truly did bond ponies together, it seemed.
She trotted along the path, making it a point to ignore the bubbles, as she thought Discord would enjoy the idea of distracting her from her mission. Eventually, she reached the hallway door, and carefully cracked it open, peering inside and feeling immensely relieved when she saw nopony waiting there.
It seemed the guards had thought one guard posted outside would be enough.
Much like the sight of the castle, so too did the sight of the now-familiar hallway wash her with sadness. What an odd feeling that, to want to hug and comfort herself. She looked around, trying to ascertain her next step, until her eyes set on the statue in the alcove.
Then did she realize the “sadness” she felt before could hardly hope to compare to what she felt now. In that moment, Rarity knew who that stallion was. She knew the sound of his voice, his thoughts, his aspirations, his affection and love for his family, and he was gone, and it seared her. Tears brimmed around her eyes, and she could not tell whether they belonged to her or Twilight. They belonged to both, she concluded.
She trotted toward it, once more reading the inscription on the base.
I will find you again, in this life or the next.
It was too much.
A will different from her own forced Rarity away from the statue, because it simply hurt too much. She wanted to think about it, though. She could feel it, feel Twilight’s intense desire to mourn, but the alicorn refused to surrender to that feeling.
It’s over now, a thought all but forced itself into her mind. He and Cadance lived happily. He and Cadance lived happily until they died, and it’s over. It’s done.
The thoughts circling her mind, she made her way across the hallway, her eyes landing on the door bearing Princess Cadance’s cutie mark. She very vaguely remembered it. The pristine room that looked more like a nursery than a dormitory, filled with dusty foal’s toys and an unused crib.
She halted, her thoughts lingering on that memory, but again she felt the urge to move, to not dwell too much on such things, and she relented.
She heard voices in the distance, shadows filtering under the crack of the hallway door. Guards were posted there, and now she wanted to go to them, to knock on the door and have them open it. That would surely get her an immediate audience with Princess Denza, would it not?
But ten steps forward and she stopped again, joy and excitement filling her at the sight of her—er, Twilight’s—cutie mark on a door. A thrilled noise left her mouth, and she convinced herself that really, a quick look inside the room wasn’t going to hurt anypony, would it? No, of course it wouldn’t, Rarity.
It was like a foal had been set loose inside a candy store.
It was her room.
Rarity rushed in, driven now by the peaking excitement in her chest, finding she recognized every object in the room. Every telescope, every painting, every nook and cranny; they were as much hers now as they were Twilight’s. On the walls she saw the posters she now recognized as Twilight’s research into the Elements of Harmony! And on the bed, she saw the device she’d built to detect magic surges! And on the table, she saw the cracked remains of three Element of Harmony orbs! And on the chair, she—
All her thoughts ground to a halt.
There, on the table, were three of the lost Element of Harmony orbs.
Three of them.
Just like that.
She made her way to the table, mouth parted, and by this point, it felt as though it was Twilight driving her on. She levitated one of them, and moments later put it back down, her mental processes starting up again at a thousand miles per hour.
She knew everything about the Elements now, or everything Twilight knew, at least. A memory resurged, crisp and blurry simultaneously, of a large wilted tree inside a cavern. She saw herself as Twilight, digging with her hooves and finding a dirty stone orb. She saw herself wrapping it in magic, a white wisp of magic shooting out of it and into Twilight, only for the orb to transform into a distinctly familiar crown.
“Wait!” Rarity blurted out, to herself and to Twilight. “I saw that!”
She’d seen that wisp before, the white string of magic, shooting out of one of the broken orbs and into… her saddlebag?
She stepped back, her eyes growing large. “No, but… That’s…” And so she began to pace in circles around the room, both sides of her trying to somehow make sense of what it all meant.
What did it mean?! Did that mean the Element of whatever that Element is had bonded with her? But, it went into her bag? Did that count? If it had, why didn’t it transform? Unless it didn’t count? And why, out of all ponies, would it pick Rarity?! …Well, excuse herself, why wouldn’t it pick her?! She was wonderful! Fabulous! She could damn well be an Element of Harmony, thank you very much!
But her?! Really?! another voice protested.
If it had selected her, then that would mean the Elements weren’t attached to alicorns, and the entirety of Twilight’s research was wrong! Unless…
Rarity stopped, a hoof flying to her mouth and a giddy wonder filling her heart. “I’m secretly an alicorn…?”
She resumed her pacing. No, that’s ridiculous! She stopped. Or is it? She resumed her trot again. Yes, it is! And again she stopped. But maybe it isn’t! We—I mean, you—weren’t an alicorn before it bonded with you, and look at you now, Princess Twilight Sparkle!
No intruding thoughts came after that.
“Well, well!” Rarity exclaimed, flipping her mane. “Touché, I see!”
And, immediately after, she realized she was having a very silly conversation, which, incidentally, she had not yet won, thank you very much. Rather than sit there arguing over potential alicorns, their time would be better used finding out by whom, how, and when were the Element orbs found.
Driven by the thought, she levitated the Element orb fragments into the air and made her way out of the room, back into the hallway. She trotted toward the door, trying to come up with a proper way to meet Princess Denza, but as soon as the thought formed, and as soon as she was one knock away from alerting the guards of her presence, the sudden and forceful impulse to go look at the other rooms overtook her.
It was as though the drive she’d had not even a few minutes ago had left, and now she really didn’t want to meet Princess Denza. Now she really wanted to go look at the other rooms, because surely they were nicer, and surely they would be much more interesting, and Rarity realized her other self was… stalling for time?
It was that realization that led Rarity to knock on the door before somepony else could stop her, and when she did, she froze at the sound of the guards outside ceasing their conversation. She couldn’t quite accurately tell who had frozen, whether it was her or Twilight or maybe both, but she elected to believe it had been Twilight.
Steeling herself, and trying to take control of the situation, she knocked twice in a row, and it seemed that now Twilight had reduced her presence, waiting like Rarity to see the reaction, and what a reaction indeed.
The door slowly opened, two blinking guards peering in and subsequently jumping away in shock at the sight of a grinning unicorn.
“Lovely morning, isn’t it?” she said. “Your security isn’t very effective. Might be a good idea to improve it, hm?”
“Yo-you again?!” one of the guards blurted out, his lance pointed at Rarity. She wasn’t altogether afraid of it, but she was quite pleased by the sudden burst of foreign indignation and defensiveness that pushed into her mind.
“How did you get in here?! Why are you carrying those orb things?!” the other demanded, his lance pointed at her too. He then nodded his head toward her horn, and reasserted his stance. “And what’s that spell you’re casting?!”
“A protection spell!” Rarity replied, the words practically being fed into her brain. “Just a simple thing, nothing to worry your pretty little selves about. It’s casting a transparent shield around my body, creating an immunity against that pesky curse Princess Denza infected me with last time.” She stood on the tip of her hooves and looked beyond the guards, into the hallway. “Is the princess in, by the by? I really must see her at once. It’s about these ‘orb things,’ as you so smartly called them.”
The two guards merely stared at her.
“Come now!” she exclaimed, gesturing with her hoof. “Off you go, and I will follow!”
And indeed one of them did leave, stepping back a few paces before rushing off while the other barked for Rarity to stay put, which left both sides of her quite unimpressed.
Minutes later, the stallion returned, and with him came a certain lieutenant, which paradoxically both pleased and annoyed her.
“I can’t believe this,” Rift Shield said, gawking at the mare. “I really can’t.”
“Rift!” she exclaimed, smiling brightly at him. “How nice to see you again!”
“Rarity,” he asked, taking off his helmet. “What are you—”
“I broke the curse,” she cut in, still holding the smile in place, and reveling in the silence she created. “Though I’m still going to continue casting my protection spell. Can’t take any risks!”
“You heard me, Rift,” she said, and she wasn’t able to stop herself from adding, “I broke the curse that, apparently, the royal guard could not break in a thousand years. Fancy that.”
Much like the guards before, he simply stared at her, so she continued speaking, finding she rather wanted to get somewhere with it all.
“I was telling your guards, who, may I point out, have yet to lower their lances, that I need to meet with Princess Denza post-haste,” she explained, harrumphing when the two soldiers quickly put their weapon away.
“Now?” he asked, flabbergasted. “You want to meet with her now?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Now.”
Rift looked very uncomfortable by the situation, stepping back. “Okay, look, just, put those down and we can figure this out?” he said, gesturing for Rarity to lower the Elemental Stones. “Before we even think of the princess, why don’t we talk about it first? I’ll organize it and you can talk to her tomorrow, or even later tonight, okay?”
“No. It has to be right this instant,” Rarity repeated, unwavering. “Or have you perhaps forgotten what happened the last time you didn’t instantly take me to her?” She paused for a second, and remembering Twilight’s motivation for using the tunnel, narrowed her eyes and asked, “Or is the princess hiding something, perhaps?”
“No,” he replied, almost immediately, standing straighter. “Absolutely not.”
Rarity smiled thinly. “Then, why not take me to her now? I’m sure that my reason for being here is monumental enough she can make a little time for me, don’t you agree?”
“Fine,” he muttered, eyebrows furrowed. He gestured to the two guards, and made a move to leave. “I’ll take you to the princess.”
Though she trotted after him with her head held high, she couldn’t feel more unsure than she did now. It wasn’t because she did not think she could handle the princess—she could—but because Twilight had gone, well, silent. She couldn’t feel any other presence within her, and the only way she could describe it was as though Twilight were blocking her thoughts from Rarity.
As such, she turned her attention to Rift, noticing he looked nothing but ill at ease. A pronounced frown marred his forehead, his eyes were narrowed, and he walked in short, loud steps. It was clear he did not like what was going on, and Rarity was all but too eager to find out why.
They turned a corner, and whether out of excitement or anxiety, her heart thundered in her chest at the sight of the throne room doors at the end of the hall. The guards on either side threw Rift what could only be described as bewildered looks when they reached the door, but he promptly ignored them and knocked on the door: three times at first, and after a pause, two times.
It certainly felt that way.
However, before she could ponder it more, the doors opened, he stepped to the side, and with odd gravity said, “After you, Rarity.”
With a polite nod to him, she walked into the throne room as she had done once before, on what could be aptly described as one of the worst days of her life.
Like the time before, the throne room was dimly lit, most of the curtains drawn to keep away the sunlight. She hadn’t thought much about it the first time, but now? Now it screamed at her, called for her attention, like she was forced into noticing these things now.
Or was it Twilight?
She forced herself to look away and kept her sights on the alicorn at the end of the room. It was a whole new feeling, seeing her while communicating with Twilight. There she stood, the last living relative of the two ponies who…
Who she hadn’t…
The thought was crushed away, snatched away by the alicorn before Rarity could finish thinking it, but it was not entirely difficult to guess how it was going to end.
Princess Denza was, like before, standing in front of her throne and behind her desk. She looked surprised by Rarity’s presence, her ears perked up, and her eyes… her eyes bored into Rarity, into her very soul it felt like, and Rarity feared for a moment she might see Twilight in them.
And she looked… She looked so much like Princess Cadance. It was nearly as painful as looking at the statue of Shining Armor.
And so Rarity looked away, because something—or somepony—compelled her to look away from those eyes and instead look at everything else, even despite the pain. The green aura still enveloped the princess, still faintly there, still hard to see due to poor light, but…but it felt like there was something more, something she was missing.
She was so similar to Cadance, and a thought shoved itself into her mind.
Perhaps she was a bit too similar.
“Bah! The imagination of ponies is admirable. What will they say next? That she’s secretly the Changeling Queen come back to life? Well, technically speaking…”
Rarity held her breath. No.
Rift Shield cleared his throat. “Your Highness,” he said. “Rarity of Ponyville is here to see you. It’s an emergency.”
Princess Denza’s eyes darted from Rarity to Rift. “Emergency?”
“Your Highness,” Rarity said, nearly forcing the words out, because Twilight Sparkle was getting at something, and Rarity wasn’t sure she wanted to accept it. Twilight was grasping at straws that weren’t even there.
Or was she…?
“Your Highness!” she repeated again, forcefully now, levitating the Elemental Stones and putting them on the table. “These orbs. Do you know what they are?”
“Yes,” Princess Denza replied. “Do you? I feel like you do.”
“These are Elemental Stones, aren’t they?” Rarity asked. “The ones Princess Twilight was searching for before and after the war, aren’t they?”
Princess Denza looked at the orbs. “Yes, they are.” Her gaze turned to Rarity. “But these stones aren’t why you’re here, are they?”
“The curse. I’ve broken the curse.”
The princess’s eyes widened. “You… You what…?”
“If I’m not mistaken, the Spirit of Chaos told ponies long ago that he’d moved Princess Twilight’s tree from the Everfree Forest, leaving an endless sinkhole in its place,” she said. “It was an illusion. The curse makes you feel a sort of misleading sickness when you’re close by, and the tree itself is sunk into the earth, and that’s how he kept tricking ponies.”
It was deafening and endless in its briefness, the princess quietly watching her. Sizing her up, perhaps?
“What…” She stood up a bit straighter. “What evidence do you have of your claims? You brought evidence last time. The crowns and the photographs. Did you bring more to prove you’ve broken the curse?”
Rarity swallowed. “I have witnesses,” she said. “My companions back home, and a dragon. I am friends with the retired Wonderbolts captain, as I’m sure you know, and she introduced me to her dragon companion. I believe you know him as well.”
Princess Denza did not speak up, but her eyes? Her eyes and their stare said much more than words could possibly express. Rarity had rendered the Princess of Equestria speechless, and yet, she did not feel inclined to celebrate the fact.
The sinking feeling that something was wrong remained, but she pressed on, for hadn’t she made a promise to Twilight?
“But I have a proposal, Princess,” she said, and she forced a smile.
“A proposal?” the princess softly asked, her eyes seeming cautious rather than suspicious.
“If I may be so bold, Princess Denza, I’d like for you to come with me to Ponyville,” she said, and did not know how to feel when the princess betrayed no emotion. “I can break the curse on you. I’ve broken it on my companions, and I’m sure we can break it on you and your guard. The search for the lost princesses will go much faster with your assistance, I believe. Can—”
She faltered, like fear had gripped her for a moment, but the fear wasn’t hers.
She continued, nonetheless.
“Can you come?” she asked, resolute. “Now?”
Ages passed in the time it took the princess to reply. Rarity’s heart hammered in her chest, like something terrible hinged on the reply she—they—awaited. Twilight’s consciousness had gone silent, but it was still there, it was still clawing at Rarity.
“Yes,” Princess Denza finally replied. “I can come now.”
Surprise washed over Rarity, momentarily distracting her from the anxiety creeping up her heart. “You can?”
“I can, yes,” Princess Denza repeated, and Rarity was shocked by the fact that she seemed to sincerely mean it.
…But why wouldn’t she mean it?
“I will need to prepare, but my guard and I can meet you at the gates in about half an hour,” she continued, her wings ruffling against her. She turned to Rift and nodded to the door. “Please make the arrangements, won’t you, Shield?”
“Yes, Your Highness!” he replied at once, stamping a hoof on the floor.
He then gestured for Rarity to follow, and though she turned around to do as much, she didn’t even take one step before she felt compelled to stop.
“Is something wrong?” came Princess Denza’s voice.
Rarity didn’t immediately reply. Not because she didn’t want to, mind, but because she was struggling to understand the request she was being asked to fulfill; the question being burned into her; the need to know…
“Princess Denza?” she said, turning around. “Can you take a closer look at the orbs, please?”
The princess blinked in confusion, but she complied with the request, levitating the orbs toward her and studying them closely. After a minute, she put them back down on the table.
“I’m not sure exactly what I’m supposed to see?” she asked.
Truthfully, Rarity didn’t quite know either. Twilight was not giving her answers, just orders without explanations or context.
And yet, she’d felt it. In that moment, she had felt something was strange, something was off.
Why had that felt off? She thought back to the day of the communication spell, to the moment where Twilight had stopped the mind-link. It had been the princess, in that same throne room, inspecting the evidence. But why…? Why would that make Twilight falter? Why would it make her want to…
And she realized.
And in that moment, she understood Twilight’s fear.
In that moment, she understood why she’d wanted Rarity to go.
In that moment, Rarity was too afraid to find out, but…
But a coward she was not.
“Princess Denza,” she asked, and it felt like her voice trembled, the name sticking to the back of her throat. “Please, can you inspect the orbs again? I think you might be missing something rather vital.”
Princess Denza’s ears flicked back. “I… All right,” she said, once more levitating the orbs and giving them a much closer look, so much so that she was nearly pressing them against her nose. After a minute, she put them back down and helplessly declared, “I don’t understand what you want me to see. They look like stones.”
Rarity gulped, trying to smile, her body starting to feel faint. “Princess, please, can you pick them up again?”
“Why?” the princess asked, frowning. “Can’t you just tell me what—”
“Please, Princess Denza,” Rarity asked, and the princess complied again, her magic enveloping the orbs.
“No,” Rarity said, and now she could feel Twilight’s presence crushing her. “Not with magic. Take them with your hooves.”
The princess betrayed no emotion. “…Excuse-me?”
“The last time we met,” Rarity said, her voice trembling slightly. “The last time we met, when you inspected the items I brought, you…you only used your magic to touch them. Why?”
Princess Denza smiled. “Did I? I hadn’t even noticed! It must be because I’m so used to magic!” She placed a hoof on her mouth and giggled. “And I can admit I’m a biiiiit lazy.”
Rarity did not laugh, and she noticed that neither did the guards.
“Princess, do you know why that strikes me as odd?” Rarity said, and now it was as much her speaking as it was Twilight. They both knew what they were getting at, after all. “It strikes me as odd because I only know of one other pony who solely uses magic in everything she does, and that’s because she physically can’t use her body.”
Princess Denza’s smile vanished. “Oh?”
“Yes,” Rarity said, and how hard it was to keep her cool when it felt as though the world of two ponies were crashing around her. “And it’s odd, isn’t it? How both times you’ve stood in front of your throne rather than on it?”
“I can see what you’re getting at, Rarity,” Princess Denza said. “And it’s certainly imaginative, but I’m afraid it’s also untrue.”
“If it is, Princess, and you cannot possibly understand how desperately I want it to be so, I ask of you again.” With her magic, she moved the orbs closer to Princess Denza, a fear unlike any she’d ever had gripping her heart. “Please take these orbs with your hooves.”
“Now, really!” Princess Denza exclaimed, clearly agitated. “This is completely ridi—”
“NOW, PRINCESS CADANCE!” Rarity shrieked, tears that were not hers brimming her eyes as she enveloped one of the guard’s helmets in her magic and threw it straight at the crown princess.
And what a silence followed.
What a deadly, piercing silence followed, broken only by the sounds of the helmet crashing against the throne, and then by Rarity herself, falling onto her haunches, her hooves at her mouth.
Something broke apart at her core. No, that wasn’t accurate, was it? Something broke inside of Princess Twilight Sparkle, and Rarity could feel it, as if the thread keeping her sanity together had been cut, like her very soul had shattered irreparably.
She’d thought the phrase on Shining Armor’s statue was referencing Twilight, but it wasn’t.
Even Cadance and Shining Armor, a voice as hollow as death whispered in her head. Even Cadance and Shining Armor suffered because of me.
And then the communication spell stopped, and reality crashed down upon Rarity because there were thousands and thousands of different versions of the Legend of the Four Princesses, and they all had one thing wrong.
It hadn’t been only three princesses that were cursed to be spirits.
It had been all four.
“No,” Rarity whispered, shaking her head because it was too much, it was far too much, and Twilight was gone now, and it was simply too terrible to bear.
Princess Denza said nothing.
She just stared.
“No, that’s impossible!” Rarity exclaimed, getting up on her hooves and stepping back. “I’ve seen you in papers, travelling around Equestria! I saw you nearly a year ago during the Princess Parade, laughing and hugging Prince Silver Lance! How would that be possi…”
She stepped back again, Discord’s words rushing to her, and she stepped back again, remembering the one species in Equestria whose lives depended on Princess Cadance.
“Rift…” she whispered, and then she turned around, tears in her eyes, and faced the stallion who now cowered before her.
“Ra-Rarity, please, let us explain, we—”
He’d been at the village. They had called for him.
“Are you a pony?” she whispered, and then she stepped forward, an almost primal fear and terror driving her. “Are you a pony?! Answer me, Rift Shield! ANSWER ME!”
And he answered, but not with words, for moments later, Rarity stepped back in horror, the stallion before her now a shamed changeling.
And the princess continued to watch in silence.
“Please,” he begged, stepping toward Rarity, “we only want to help! We’ve only ever helped Princess Cadance! Please!”
His pleas went unheard and uncared for. She felt dizzy now, so dizzy, like the world was spinning and crashing around her. Her entire life had been a lie. The entire kingdom had been a lie.
She turned to the other guards, because, please, Princesses, please, it couldn’t be true, but her fears were confirmed when one by one, the room was filled with changelings.
Finally, she turned to Princess Cadance the First and the Only.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered through the hoof pressed against her mouth, tears streaming down her face. “Princess Cadance, I’m so sorry.”
Princess Cadance smiled kindly, a very kind but very weary smile. “Why?” she asked. “This is the first time I’ve had hope in a very long time.”