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    You’ve got it all
    You lost your mind in the sound
    There’s so much more, you can reclaim your crown
    You’re in control
    Rid of the monsters inside your head
    Put all your faults to bed
    You can be King again.

    King by Lauren Aquilina



    Deep in the Everfree Forest, past the timberwolves and the thorn bushes, past the overgrown houses and the numbered trees that glowed when nighttime arrived, was an ancient oak sitting in the midst of a perfectly circular hole.

    To any pony passing by, it would be nothing more than just another curio in the ill-famed forest. They might shrug it off and go on their way or, if they bothered to look closer, they’d realize something wasn’t quite right.

    If they trotted closer to the edge of the hole, they would notice a window in the oak’s trunk. If they reached the oak, they’d find a trapdoor in the ground and if they followed the stairs down, they’d enter a most peculiar tunnel.

    Drawings were pasted on its walls. Dozens and dozens of old drawings and messages of support, some of them clearly drawn and written by fillies, others most definitely drawn by older ponies. They lined the walls, all the way up to the black glowing wall that blocked any further exploration.

    The messages on the wall wouldn’t be the only thing to find, however.

    Dozens of dusty inkwells would be lined up against the walls, some of them dried up a long time ago, left there for no apparent reason, doing nothing more than creating a small trail toward the last curious object.

    A neatly folded cloak near the tunnel’s end, bearing three blue diamonds alongside a note neatly pinned onto it with a message for somepony.

    For you, a thousand times over.


    Sitting inside the library, an alicorn with eyes as black as the night idly watched as books floated about. She’d tried, or rather the magic inside her had tried, to turn them into an assorted variety of objects, but had been thoroughly unable to bypass the protection spell the books were enchanted with.

    Things were, to say the least, boring, and had been for a very long time.

    The princess had yet to fight for her body. It wasn’t as though she could win, but the fact that she’d never even tried was disappointing. Such pitiful resignation from such a pitiful creature. It wasn’t fun, but it made sense, didn’t it?

    Silly little princess.

    Nobody loved her. Nobody wanted her. Even she knew it, deep down. She deserved this. The truth of the matter was that she wanted this. Rarity was gone, safe from her and the misery she brought, and nothing else mattered. It was better this way. No more mistakes. Nopony else getting hurt because of her. No reason to try and gain control of her body when it would only mean pain for her.

    “Tsk, tsk, tsk.”

    Her ears twitched, a frown creased her face. She looked around but saw no pony.

    “Do you even know how much time you’ve been standing there since the last time I stopped by?”

    She turned back to her books.

    “What a pathetic sight.”

    A poof of magic, and she watched with dull surprise as a draconequus materialized in front of her. The princess’ consciousness was watching, but even so she did not stir. Even so she did not fight.

    She turned away from him, back to her books, back to trying to make them turn into goo or something of that ilk. Maybe that would get a reaction from the princess.

    “Really? You won’t even attack me?” Discord asked, floating in front of her. He seemed much more irritated with her than bored. He snapped his fingers in front of her eyes. “Rarity’s back!”

    Her ears twitched, and she blinked.

    “Goodness, not even for her?” he muttered, floating back and crossing his arms. He looked away, as though there were somepony else in the room, and said, “This is a setback, isn’t it?”

    She got up and trotted off, making her way through the aisles of bookcases, past pillows on the floor, and toward a desk littered with objects. Maybe something there could be fun. She hadn’t bothered poking around that area before.

    “You’re going to ignore me?” he asked, following after her. “I can understand you ignoring me before, but there’s part of me in you now! And you don’t even have to bother with silly little pony things like eating or drinking! You should be thanking me! Frankly, I’m a bit hurt!”

    She did not reply, shuffling through the papers on the desk and finding… photographs? She took a closer look, staring at a picture of two ponies sleeping, their bodies covered with scribbles. There was a pink pony that looked vaguely interesting, but her attention was caught by the white unicorn sleeping next to her.

    She knew who that was.

    Something stirred inside her.

    A dull pain she hadn’t felt for a long time. The little princess knew who they were, these ponies she drove away.

    “You know, this is your fault,” Discord continued, sounding aggravated. “Both of you—Twilight and my magic. I was making great progress, and then she has a meltdown, and you possess her! Then again, one of you is already used to ruining things.”

    She did not reply, instead putting the photograph down and shuffling more papers. Another photograph appeared, again of that unicorn and those three fillies, all of them dressed up as the princess.

    Something stirred again, and the pain grew stronger. The little princess wanted to look away, bury painful memories she’d caused. And yet, the alicorn did not look away from the photographs. Silly little princesses weren’t supposed to get what they wanted, after all.

    “Well, I’m bored now,” he announced. “I don’t know what Rarity ever saw in you.”

    Her ears twitched, and as the pain turned to anger, she frowned.

    He hummed. “Then again, somepony as superficial as her was probably only interested in the glory. And you, you poor lonely thing, she baited you and you took it, hook, line, and sink—eek!” He jumped to the side, narrowly avoiding the blast of magic that had been hurled his way.

    Her hoof came slamming down on the desk, a groan leaving her mouth, her eyes scrunched up. She struggled to keep control, struggled as her head slowly turned toward him, her teeth gritted together.

    Dis…cord…

    “Twilight!” he exclaimed, delighted. “There you are! You do care about her! How heartwarming!”

    Princess Twilight Sparkle groaned again, her mind coming undone at the seams and her sanity slipping into the chaos magic’s waiting claws. An image of Rarity clung to her consciousness, but the magic around her body pulsed, and memories resurfaced.

    “I was fine before you came into my life!”

    Another pulse, and it was as though the claws were shredding her mind.

    “Discord’s revenge was making you come back for me!”

    She groaned again, wishing the memories would go away because they hurt too much, and she wanted to sleep again; she wanted to sleep and sleep and sleep, because she’d hurt Rarity and no forgiveness could ever be earned for that.

    “Now, now! Let her go! I actually do need to speak with her!”

    Another pulse of magic overflowed her before it suddenly shot out of her body, the impulse sending her tumbling forward and through the desk, a yelp escaping her mouth.

    “Welcome back to the world of the non-possessed!” Discord exclaimed, now floating above her. “How does it fee—eek!” He avoided another blast of magic from the now-standing alicorn. “Really! Can’t a draconequus taunt an alicorn in peace?!”

    “What do you want from me, Discord?” she snarled, enraged. “What else could you possibly want from me?!”

    Want from you?” He blinked. “You have nothing for me to even take, my dear princess.”

    “Because of you!”

    Meeeeee?! After all the hard work I’ve done?!” Discord exclaimed, pressing a paw against his chest. “I did nothing! As usual, I’m innocent! You’re the one who banished her from the library! Or have you forgotten?”

    Twilight fell silent.

    No.

    No, she hadn’t. His magic hadn’t been kind enough to fully subdue her consciousness during the possession.

    He smiled. “That’s what I thought.” He leaned back, shaking his head as he crossed his arms and sighed. “Oh, you poor thing, Rarity hasn’t set hoof in this library for a very long time, but that too you know, don’t you?”

    Twilight kept silent.

    Rarity was gone, just like Twilight had wanted and implied when the last thing she ever said to the unicorn was that meeting her was a more terrible fate than being trapped in a library for a thousand years.

    It was over, wasn’t it?

    Just like that. Just like she’d wanted. Just like she was always afraid would happen: that Rarity wouldn’t be driven away by a curse or an external factor, but by Twilight herself.

    Self-fulfilling prophecy, indeed.

    “Why are you here?” she asked, bitterness coating every word now, and pain as well. She missed Rarity terribly. She’d missed her every second she’d been possessed, and she wanted her now and she was gone.

    “You won, Discord,” she said, getting up and trotting away, further into her prison of books and bookcases. “Go away.”

    “That’s it?” he exclaimed, still floating behind her. “You’re just as apathetic as when you had my magic! Are you sure you’re still not under my control? I can work with many things, Twilight, but apathy is not one of them!”

    Twilight frowned, his words meaningless to her. It was all a game, it seemed, had always been a game, and she had stupidly played it with him.

    “It’s just sad to see you like this, Twilight!” he continued. “Even after all the hard work she went through to try and get you out of here!”

    “She was wr—” She cut herself off, because now that she had nopony but herself and her demon, now Twilight truly lacked the energy to keep up a tired game. “It doesn’t matter now.”

    “Poor, poor Rarity,” Discord crooned, following her around the library. “She loved you, and what did you do? Pushed her away and away and away. She would have gone to Tartarus and back for you. In fact!” He snapped his fingers, and a puppet of Rarity appeared, her leg caught in the jaws of a timberwolf puppet. “She almost did.

    She stood up, her wings flaring to life. “That will never happen again,” she hissed, tears stinging at her eyes. “Rarity is safe now. I locked her out to keep her safe. Safe from you, from me, from this nightmare, and she’s never going to be hurt again for the rest of her life. Nopony will ever be hurt again.”

    He smiled. “Oh? Is that what you think?”

    “No! Discord?! Leave them alone!” she yelled when he disappeared out of sight. “Discord! Don’t you dare!

    “Twilight, Twilight, Twilight!” his voice erupted from all over, filling the room. “I’m not going to hurt them! In fact, I just want to help you!”

    “I don’t want your help!” she replied, teleporting atop a bookcase, trying to spot him. “I don’t want anything from you!”

    And then he appeared in front of her, his face inches away from hers. “You love her, don’t you?”

    Twilight stepped back, gritting her teeth, her horn lighting up. “Stay away from—

    “I was thinking about it, you know! Oh, the star-crossed lovers!” he interrupted, floating back and sighing wistfully. “An idiotic ghost princess with a crippling hero complex and her lover, a commoner unicorn with delusions of heroism and grandeur! What a tale!”

    He effortlessly avoided a blast of magic.

    “And then I realized something tragic, Twilight!” he continued, pressing both hands against his chest. “You’re too busy wallowing in self-pity to get out of here before she dies! What kind of an ending is that?!” He clapped his hands together. “And that’s when it hit me!” His lips twisted into a lupine smile. “Tell me, Princess, have you heard of the legend of the Seamstress in the Boutique?”

    Twilight’s eyes widened. “No.

    “Oh, yes.”

    No! Please!” she yelled, begged, rushing forward and trying to catch him in her hooves, and watching in horror as he disappeared before she could do so. “DISCORD, NO!

    “Goodbye, Twilight!” he said, reappearing on the other side of the black barrier and waving. “I’ll tell Rarity you can’t wait to meet with her whenever one of you is freed!”

    No!

    She teleported herself to the barrier, slamming her hooves against it, thrown back again and again.

    No! Leave her alone! Discord?! Discord!

    She stepped back, an agonizing pain shooting through her chest. She couldn’t leave. She couldn’t break the barrier. She didn’t know how, but if she didn’t do something, the worst nightmare she never knew she had would come true.

    She felt sick. She didn’t even know she could still feel sick, but she felt sicker than she’d felt in her entire life. Rarity was going to be trapped as a spirit for the rest of eternity, and it would all be her fau—

    No.

    Not anymore.

    She turned around, looking into the library, her mind reeling at a thousand miles per hour. Maybe she couldn’t break the barrier, maybe she couldn’t free herself, but if she could somehow send a messa…

    The necklace.

    She still had that option left if Rarity still cared about her, which, princesses, she hoped she did—for both their sakes.

    She rushed into the bookcase aisles, trying to put together the fragmented memories of her time under possession. One by one, bookcases were lifted into the air, her frown deepening when nothing showed up beneath them.

    “No, no, no, no!” she exclaimed, coming to a full stop and in a single effort, levitating all the bookcases up into the air until finally she saw a soft pink glow in the distance.

    They were still connected, even after…

    She summoned the necklace over to her and cast the communication spell, the bookcases dropping to the floor, books scattering all over.

    “Answer, answer, answer, answer,” she whispered over and over, a painful eternity flowing past with no unicorn answering her call. She threw the necklace to the floor, stepping back, her chest heaving as mounting dread clouded her thoughts.

    Well then.

    If Rarity wasn’t going to save herself, Twilight would just have to go and do it for her.

    She ran through the toppled bookcases, all the way to the entrance of the library and then jumped, landing near a toppled table.

    “Right! Right!” she exclaimed, trotting around in a large, quick circle. “Fact number one. Rarity isn’t answering the mental link, so either she’s dealing with Discord or she misplaced the necklace somewhere. Fact number two. Rarity said Discord said I’m powering the barrier. Scientific investigation has proven that screaming at it isn’t the key to breaking it. Fact number three. The barrier wasn’t black before I was possessed, therefore it’s powered by the chaos magic from the maze and Rarity was right. Fact number four. The chaos puppet appeared when I told Rarity I wanted to be free and when I was overwhelmed with guilt, therefore it acts on my emotions. Fact number five. Taking into acco—”

    She stopped, having finally noticed the dried inky hoofprints on the floor.

    She looked down at her hoof, finding both it and her forelegs stained with ink.

    Oh.

    “Fact number five. Possession by the chaos magic restored my body to its proper timestream.” She smiled. “Solution?”

    CRACK!

    “Hey maze!” she called out, having teleported to the floor below and now flying above Discord’s labyrinth. “Was that really the best you could do?!”

    Beneath her, the maze hissed to life, yellow magic engulfing it as the bookcases flew up and then slammed down into the floor.

    “Moving bookcases around? Really? According to Rarity, the chaos magic in Rainbow Falls could summon a waterfall! And the one in Hollow Shades influenced an entire town for centuries!” Twilight taunted, crossing her forelegs and arching an eyebrow. “But you? You possessed me, and yet you can’t even turn some dumb books into goo! No wonder Discord was bored!”

    An explosion rang out, just as she’d hoped, and her smile widened when the chaos magic began to converge, the chaos puppet hissing and gurgling as it formed below her, finally looking up and growling at her.

    Her horn flashed and the entire Daring Do collection appeared before her, some of the very few books in her library to not be under Princess Celestia’s protective spell.

    “Oh, by the way.”

    Another flash of her horn, and all five books turned to green goo, pouring onto the chaos puppet who let out a piercing, enraged shriek in reply before lunging at her.

    CRACK!

    She appeared before the barrier and, as she’d suspected, it was cracking and bursting with magic. Another loud tremor shook the library, and she turned around to see the chaos puppet emerging from the floor, murderously glaring at her, and yet it did not attack.

    Was it waiting for her next move?

    And at that, her bravado began to falter.

    Discord wouldn’t be coming back after this. No pony would come back and free her from the possession. If she was wrong, like she’d been with the Elements, like she’d been with tricking Discord, like she…

    She gritted her teeth. If she was wrong…

    It was a risk she was willing to take.

    She flared her horn to life, teleporting her necklace to her, and Twilight cast the communication spell again as the chaos puppet screeched in anger and lunged at her, seeping into her very core, sending her flying against the barrier.

    It was agony.

    No other word could describe the sensation of her soul being smothered like it was, her every conscious thought desperately fighting another being from taking over her body. Everything was dragged away from her, every thought, every intention, every shred of herself, and a thought pushed itself into her head.

    I deserve this.

    Another pulse of magic, and she tried to hold on to something, but all she could do was to continue powering the communication spell.

    I can’t save her. I can’t save anypony. I can’t even save myself.

    Another wave, and the pain faded away, her own thoughts fading along with it, because she was right, because it had been all her fault, because she’d been wrong again, and she’d never see the princesses again, or the fillies, or her friends, or Spike, or Rarity.

    Rarity.

    Another jolt of pain rushed through her, and all she could think of was Rarity, and how sorry she was, how desperately she wanted her to be safe, and so, with the last of her will, she held onto the communication spell, even as she faded into sleep and the chaos magic took ho—

    Ping!

    Twilight’s eyes flew open, a wave of foreign thoughts crashing into her, flooding her with panic, confusion, and relief all at the same time.

    “Ra-Rarity?! What’s wrong?! Professor, help me!”

    “Ra…” Another jolt of agony, and Twilight doubled over. “Rarity… I can’t… I’m sorry…”

    And then, it happened.

    It was energy, there was no other way to describe it. Rushing, overflowing, indignant, furious, boundless energy filled her, and before she could even properly register what was going on, she—no, Rarity—slammed her hoof against the floor and began to stand.

    No.

    The chaos magic pulsed inside her, and despite the extra energy, she doubled over in pain, falling to the floor again. And then, just like on a faraway day that felt so close, where Rarity was lying on a bed of pillows and giggling at her, emotions and memories poured into Twilight.

    Rarity filled with awe at the strange alicorn inside a library. Rarity’s elation at showing Twilight a camera, and her subsequent horror at finding it broken. Rarity giggling all the way back home after the first time Twilight smiled at her. Rarity missing Twilight constantly during her trip to Hollow Shades. Their joy when she managed to teleport. Rarity accidentally confessing her love for Twilight. Rarity accepting Twilight, regardless of her past.

    Another memory pushed itself into her mind, and she saw herself outside the tree, looking up at the hallucination the chaos magic had forced onto Rarity.

    What makes you think you can save me?!” the hallucination screamed, and so too did Twilight hear Rarity’s reply.

    Oh, darling. You’re quite mistaken. You’re going to save yourself, not I.

    Twilight groaned in pain, another pulse of magic shooting up her body, and another memory pushed itself into her mind in reply.

    She was inside the tunnel now, on the coveted other side, her forehead pressed against a black barrier.

    Twilight? Twilight, darling, I don’t know if you can hear me, but I’m leaving. I can’t stay here anymore,” Rarity’s defeated voice spoke. “Pinkie and Princess Luna need me, and I…” She faltered. “I will always be here for you, but only you can save yourself. As much as I may want to, I can’t fight this battle for you…

    And the memory stopped, Twilight’s grip on the spell having run out. The chaos magic intensified inside her, eager to take over now that Rarity was gone, but Twilight clung to Rarity’s words and then slowly and with every ounce of will within her, stood up.

    She rushed forward, slamming herself against the barrier, which began to hiss and crackle, resonating with the magic inside her. The barrier pulsed and threw her back, rolling onto the floor, and though the pain remained, she stood back up and rushed forward again, because Princess Luna needed her.

    And again, because Princess Celestia needed her.

    And again, because Cadance needed her.

    And again, because her past choices would not haunt her anymore.

    And again, because even if they were mistakes, she could try her hardest to do better next time.

    And again, because Rarity was willing to risk everything for Twilight, and so would Twilight in return.

    She pushed, and pushed, and pushed against it, until the library and the earth shook beneath her hooves, and the foreign magic in her body pulsed one last time before disappearing. As the barrier vanished and the library was engulfed in darkness, Princess Twilight Sparkle flew into the tunnel, rolling and crashing against the stairs on the other end.

    It was painful, to say the least, though perhaps not as painful as what she’d been subjected to not even five minutes ago.

    The first thing she did after opening her eyes was breathe. Not a small breath, like the ones ponies took without thinking, but more like a gasp of air, as though her lungs were desperately trying to fill themselves with a thousand years’ worth of oxygen.

    She collapsed against the wall, and the very next thing she felt was water dampening her fur. No, not water, she realized as she looked around, still breathing heavily. It was ink, all over, spilling over from the remains of dozens of inkwells scattered across the floor, the scent practically overpowering her nose.

    She was back, truly and fully, back in her own timestream.

    Her crown fell to the ground, landing atop the folded cloak bearing Rarity’s cutie mark, and the shock of it all finally dispersed as she remembered whose life was at stake. There it lay, the object that had caused everything, and there it lay, the symbol of the one who’d pulled her out of the abyss. She put the crown back on and then rushed up the stairs, vividly aware of the sensation of cement brushing against the bottom of her hooves and the sound of the trapdoor slamming open when she pushed past it.

    Time, again, came to a standstill, her heart falling. A forest surrounded her, massive and daunting, sunlight barely filtering in through the trees, and for the first time she truly felt the crushing realization of just how long she’d been inside the library.

    That was not the Ponyville she knew.

    She tried to move forward but instead fell to the ground, exhaustion washing over her as her body tried to cope with existing again. She closed her eyes, breathing in and out, in and—

    “Hoo?”

    She looked up and found three grey baby owls standing in front of her, looking back at her with wide, curious eyes. She blinked back at them, rising to a stand, until she was thrown back to the ground when a white owl lunged at her and attached itself to her face for a moment before starting to fly in circles around her, hooting frenetically.

    Elara!” Twilight gasped, tears filling her eyes as she extended her forelegs and swept Elara into a hug, only interrupted by a black owl slamming himself against her, being swept up into the hug as well. “Oh, you’re alive, you’re alive, you’re alive, you’re alive!

    When they finally flew apart, Twilight stood up, pooling her energy and flaring her wings. “Please! Take me to Ponyville!”

    The two owls hooted, and after their chicks joined them in the air, they flew off, Twilight galloping after them, up out of the depression and into the Everfree Forest. Discord still hadn’t gotten to Rarity; there was still time to save her so long as Twilight’s body held out for a bit longer.

    Eventually, she saw a town in the distance, and she doubled her speed, galloping into a Ponyville that was much different than the one she’d left behind a thousand years ago. Colorful houses surrounded her, just like she’d seen in Rarity’s photos and magazines, but dread filled her at the fact that there wasn’t a single soul in sight.

    Not a filly, colt, stallion, or mare could be seen wandering around, and even the owls were surprised, flapping their wings in place and hooting in confusion.

    Had Discord…?

    “Please, no,” Twilight whispered, and when she pressed a hoof to her chest, she realized she didn’t have the necklace with her.

    She swallowed and kept galloping further into the town, desperately trying to catch sight of somepony, anyponyplease, until she reached the main square and came to a grinding halt at the sight of dozens and dozens of ponies, all of them looking at the older mare talking from atop a podium.

    “Now, calm down, everypony!” the smartly dressed mare was saying, adjusting her glasses and then gesturing down with her hoof. “I know earthquakes aren’t common in this area, but I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about! You can all go back to your… day…?”

    The mare drifted off, blinking from behind her glasses and staring right at Twilight. A moment passed, and then, one by one, ponies began to look around, their eyes fixed on the slightly perplexed alicorn, her wings splayed out to her sides.

    It was a foal who spoke first, gasping and tugging on her mother’s foreleg. “Mommy! Mommy, look!” she exclaimed, pointing to Twilight. “Mommy, it’s Princess Booky!”

    Twilight blinked, thrown for a loop. “Uh…”

    “Princess Booky?” the mare from the podium exclaimed, grabbing a sheet of paper and looking it over. “Ebon Quill!” She turned to a unicorn standing several feet away from her. “I know you’re excited about hosting Seeking Night, and I am impressed, but we’re still nearly two months away!”

    “Bu-but, Mayor Mare!”

    Princess Twilight…?

    Twilight looked around, and her heart jumped in her chest at the sight of a yellow pegasus pony stepping away from the crowd and toward her, staring at her as though she was seeing a ghost.

    “Fluttershy?” Twilight whispered, her eyes watering again and a smile parting her lips because Fluttershy was safe, and alive, and there, like no time had gone by, and—

    “Well, I’ll be,” Applejack said, trotting out from the crowd next, gawking at the alicorn. “I’ve heard of earthquakes snuffin’ the life outta ponies, but this is new.”

    “Princess Twilight?” Three familiar fillies’ heads poked out from behind the pegasus, blinking at her for a second before all three gasped in surprise. “Princess Twilight!

    They practically rocketed toward her, Twilight barely having time to extend her forelegs before Sweetie Belle knocked her mane over tail, hugging her face, and then Scootaloo latched onto her barrel, and Apple Bloom to her legs.

    “You’re back!” they chanted, hugging her as if their very lives depended on it, their coats now tainted with ink while their tears of joy dampened the alicorn’s own coat.

    Twilight used her magic to lift them up and, like with the owls before, swept them in a tearful hug.

    “Oh, girls,” she whispered, shaky laughs leaving her lips, trying to take as many eyefuls of them as she could. “I’m back, I’m back, I’m never leaving again, I promise.” When they pulled back, Sweetie Belle lifting her hoof to wipe Twilight’s tears away, she looked around, not bothering to concern herself with the ponies staring. She only cared for one thing. “Where’s Rarity?”

    “Rarity?” Sweetie Belle asked, and her joyful expression faltered as Fluttershy and Applejack joined them. Her ears fell and she looked down, piteously pawing at Twilight’s peytral. “Uhm…”

    And ah, there was the dread coming back full-force.

    Twilight took hold of Sweetie’s shoulder. “Sweetie? Sweetie, where’s Rarity?” she asked, her voice cracking as she tried to keep her calm. She looked up to Applejack and Fluttershy, beseeching them with terrified eyes. “Where is she?”

    “She’s gone, Princess Twi,” Applejack said, and Twilight felt like the life had again been taken out of her. “She moved to Hollow Shades ’bout a year ago. She comes back every so often to, well, check up on you, but she moved her entire business there now.”

    Twilight’s joy faded nearly completely. “A… A year ago?” she whispered, her ears drooping, and she finally asked the question she should have from the beginning. “How long have I…?”

    “Almost two years, Princess…” Fluttershy replied.

    Two years…?” Twilight whispered, her hoof sliding off Sweetie’s shoulder and falling to the ground.

    All things considered, two years was foal’s play compared to a thousand, but in the lives of everyday ponies, two years could be a lifetime. Rarity had only known Twilight for a year, and look at how that had changed her entire life.

    “But she did tons of things!” Sweetie Belle quickly said, grabbing onto Twilight. “I promise! It’s not ’cause she didn’t want to help!”

    “Yeah!” Apple Bloom added. “She opened a shop in Hollow Shades, and she has tons of ponies working to help Princess Luna, and everypony in Hollow Shades loves her, and Princess Cadance is helping!”

    “You’d be proud, Princess,” Applejack added. “Pretty sure that mare crammed five years of work into one.”

    “Princess Booky!” a voice suddenly boomed, echoing from all directions and startling Twilight back into a standing position, her wings splaying apart, her horn flaring, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders toppling to the ground. “Here you are!”

    Discord?!

    High above the air, a massive megaphone appeared, Discord’s voice blaring out of it and forcing ponies’ ears to clamp against their heads.

    Hello, hello, Po-ny-ville!” his voice exclaimed. “It seems that, for the first time in a thousand years, the Legend of the Four Princesses has received an extraordinary update!

    “Is that him?! Is that the Spirit?” Fluttershy asked, the blood draining from her face. She turned to Twilight. “Princess, what do we do?!”

    But, ah, what a tragic update indeed!” Discord continued before Twilight could reply or offer a solution. “Princess Booky is free, and the heroine responsible for it isn’t even here to see it! But don’t worry!” The megaphone disappeared, and Discord himself took its place, confetti spilling all over him. “All applause can proceed to me, the Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony!”

    “Why, Ebon Quill!” Mayor Mare exclaimed, her and the rest of Ponyville enthusiastically clapping their hooves as Discord bowed several times. “This is outstanding! Is that an illusion spell? I can’t wait to see what you’ll do for the actual event!”

    Twilight balked. “You have got to be kidding me.”

    Applejack snorted. “Princess, I wish I could tell you we are, but the—” She stopped, brow furrowing. “Wait.”

    Twilight blinked, her heart hammering in her chest. “What? What’s wrong?”

    “Don’t you feel it?” Fluttershy said, her eyes downcast. “The ground.”

    Twilight stood completely still, and indeed she felt very faint tremors under her hoof. One after another, like hoofsteps almost, growing stronger and faster with every passing second until her attention was taken from it when a green fireball flew through the air, narrowly missing the draconequus.

    DISCOOOOOOORD!

    Twilight looked around, and though most of Ponyville now panicked and ran off, she felt her heart somersault at the sight of an enraged purple dragon stomping his way toward them.

    Spike!” she exclaimed, flying up into the air, and for a second he faltered before doubling his stamping. “SPIKE!

    TWILIGHT!

    The impact of his hand against her body was painful, but she couldn’t bring herself to care in the slightest, too busy being held in his claws, her body pressed against his muzzle, her tears laughable in size compared to his.

    “Oh, Spike,” she whispered, feeling as though she could hold onto his muzzle for hours on end and laughed with delight. “Look at you! You’re safe and—! And you’re huge! You’re practically the size of the castle’s east tower!”

    “And you’re so small! Were you always this small?!” he asked, before closing his eyes and sighing, trying to nuzzle against her. “I’ve waited so long, Twilight. I’ve waited so, so long.”

    “Well, isn’t this a gooey display of affection?” Discord said, appearing right next to them and fluttering his eyelashes. “Careful, you might start leaking sap!”

    There was a moment of silence, after which Twilight’s eyes narrowed along with Spike’s.

    “You know what, Twilight?” he said, his voice lowering to a near-growl. “There’s something I’ve been waiting to do for even longer than seeing you again.”

    “Really?” she replied, magic engulfing her horn. “Me too, Spike.”

    In an instant, she boosted herself away from Spike and shot a blast of magic at Discord, who promptly levitated out of the way with a yelp, and then again when a fireball nearly grazed him.

    He disappeared in a puff of colorful smoke and reappeared on the ground next to Fluttershy, who shrieked in horror and practically toppled over trying to get away from him.

    “Goodness! You two have awful aim! I actually feel sorry!” he exclaimed, arms crossed. He snapped his fingers and a circular target appeared over his head. “Look! I’m making it easy for you! Here it is!” His smile turned wicked. “The second chance you’ve been waiting a thousand years for.”

    Rage like no other engulfed Twilight at his words, and as her horn crackled to life, so too did the star on her crown begin to glow and without giving herself time to think things through, a beam of magic shot from her horn, headed straight for the laughing draconequus.

    A loud explosion shook the town square, the Spirit engulfed in a plume of magic, and his laughter silenced. Her chest heaved, her teeth gritted, and yet, surprise filled her when the smoke cloud dispersed and she found Discord on his knees, a paw pressed on his chest and the other on the ground, a pained groan leaving his mouth.

    “I… I did it?” she asked, her anger all but fading as she simply blinked at him.

    “Yo… You!” he roared, looking up, his eyes turning to slits. “How did—?! Tha— That’s impossible!” He groaned, inhaling sharply before looking back up. “I’m not even—!” He stopped himself, and an irritated smile marred his face, followed by a low chuckle. “Ah. I see. Playing dirty, aren’t we, dear princess?”

    “I’m not afraid of you, Discord! Not anymore!” Twilight exclaimed, her horn lighting up again. “We’ll free the other princesses, and stop this! It’s over!”

    And Discord laughed. “Over?” he asked, standing up and grinning at her. “Oh, my dear Twilight Sparkle, it’s only just begun.”

    And, just like that, he vanished.

    Gone.

    “Discord?!” Twilight called, but her gut instinct told her he would not be coming back. Her chest heaved again and she flew down, landing on the ground and then sitting down, out of breath.

    “Princess?” Fluttershy asked, trotting toward her and carefully placing a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. She quickly withdrew it, a gasp escaping her lips, and then placed the hoof back where it was, a bit more firmly. “Are you all right?”

    Twilight breathed, in and out, in and out.

    It was over, wasn’t it? It was over, well and truly, but it didn’t quite feel like it. Something was missing, somepony actually, and Twilight could feel the weight in her heart. Discord’s words rang in her ears, because yes, even though she’d freed herself, the heroine of the story was still absent.

    Princess Twilight Sparkle sat there, surrounded by loved ones, finally free, and the one pony who’d fought for her to have that moment wasn’t there for it.

    “Where’s Hollow Shades?” she asked urgently, getting up to her hooves and letting her wings unfurl. “I need to make sure Rarity’s safe.”

    “H-hey, look!” Scootaloo said, and when Twilight’s gaze lifted, she found out that maybe fate had taken to being kind to her for once.

    A cyan pegasus soared through the sky, headed toward the Everfree Forest, pulling behind her a small chariot.

    And Twilight knew.

    She took one step toward the forest, her heart hammering in her chest and a knot forming in her throat. “I…” She looked back, toward Applejack and Fluttershy, toward Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo and Apple Bloom, and finally toward Spike. “I have to…”

    “Go on, sugarcube,” Applejack said, taking off her hat and smiling at the alicorn. “But I want the two of you trottin’ back home, y’hear? I don’t think that mare can take to losin’ you a third time.”

    Twilight’s eyes filled with tears, and she shook her head, determined. “She won’t. Never again.”

    She stepped back, looking at them one last time, before turning around and rushing off, calling for her two owls. In the back of her mind, she realized she could teleport to the forest, but she wanted to run there.

    She wanted to feel the earth under her hooves, the wind in her mane, the loud beating of her heart matching the sound of her hoofsteps, of Ponyville’s clear ground and then the Everfree Forest’s leaves crackling under her hooves because it wasn’t a dream, was it? It was real, and there was only one pony left who could confirm it without the shadow of a doubt.

    The oak tree eventually appeared in the distance, and it felt like her entire body had gone numb, like nothing was real and yet it was at the same time. Time slowed to a crawl and her running slowed with it, from gallop, to canter, to trot, to walk, ending at the edge of the depression, her eyes set on the chariot inside it.

    She was here.

    Her ears twitched at a sound, and she held her breath when a pony emerged from inside the trapdoor, and only released it when she recognized Rainbow Dash, who sat on the ground and breathed heavily.

    “Geez, I feel like my muscles are screaming in pain,” she said rather loudly, obviously speaking to somepony coming after her. “I should tell Spitfire to make this a training exercise…” She took a deep breath, and at last looked up. “Come on! Maybe she’s in Pony…” she drifted off, her eyes landing on the alicorn who’d just jumped into the hole.

    Rainbow stared at her, getting up and taking several steps toward Twilight.

    “Pri… Princess Twilight?” she asked, before soaring up into the air, clapping her hooves together and flying in quick circles around the alicorn. “Princess Twilight! You’re alive! Ohmigosh! Wait, wait, wait, you need to—! Wait.” She hovered in the air. “Please,” she said, slowly, almost afraid. “Please tell me I didn’t miss your reunion with Spike. Please.

    Twilight faltered. “Uhm.…”

    “Are you kidding me?!” she exclaimed, landing and burying her face in her hooves. “Two years, and this happens the one week I’m not in Ponyville?! And all because of that dumb boutique?! And I bet Discord was here and I missed out on beating his face into next Tuesday too, probably!”

    Twilight didn’t reply.

    “…Really?! Come on!” She got up and turned toward the tree. “Rarity, I’m going to kill you!

    Another sound, Twilight’s heart again nearly coming to a stop, and a second pony emerged, calling out to Rainbow Dash.

    “Dashie, wait for me! I want to…” Much like Rainbow Dash before her, Pinkie Pie drifted into a silent stare when her eyes met Twilight’s. Her mouth hanging half-open, she took several slow steps past Rainbow Dash and toward Twilight, until finally she was standing right in front of her. She closed and opened her mouth, but rather than immediately speak, she carefully lifted her hoof and pressed it against the tip of Twilight’s nose.

    “Boop.”

    And she fell back on her haunches, her eyes filling with tears and her hooves going to her mouth, barely hiding her shocked smile.

    “Hi, Princess Twilight,” she whispered eventually, breaking into giggles. “I booped your nose.” Her eyes widened and her giggling suddenly stopped. “Rarity.” She jumped to her hooves, a gasp following shortly after, and she gestured toward the tree. “Rarity’s there! Rarity! Rarityrarityrarityrarityrarity!”

    Twilight didn’t say anything, she barely felt herself nodding her head before she trotted past Pinkie Pie, past Rainbow, and toward the trapdoor leading to the library where a unicorn awaited, and yet…

    And yet when she reached the trapdoor, when she looked down into the abyss, she instinctively stepped back, ears flattening against her head and a jolt of primal fear coursing through her body.

    She’d have to go back into the library.

    She’d have to go back into her prison, and just the thought of it, of trotting down the stairs and into the tunnel, twisted not only her heart, but her very soul. Every rational part of her brain and body begged against it. Better that she travel down into the pits of Tartarus itself than go back in there.

    But hadn’t Rarity been willing to do that very same thing for her?

    Twilight moved forward, descending the stairs, every step weighing on her soul and clawing at her fears. She reached the bottom and looked into the tunnel, a pitch black darkness awaiting her at the end. It disconcerted her for a moment—why would the light be turned off?—until she remembered the surge of power when she escaped had taken Star with it.

    She made her way through the tunnel, her heart beating loudly in her chest, until she reached the edge and stopped again. The fear was there, consuming her body, begging her to turn back, to leave, to go outside, but… but her heart pulled her forward, and so she obeyed, stepping through the hole where a barrier once stood and into her library.

    She could see nothing at first, such was the darkness inside the room, until a soft light appeared, almost as though it were floating in the air. Her breath caught at the dim sight of somepony trotting along the top of a leaning bookcase, two pink glowing necklaces hanging on her chest.

    The figure trotted the length of the bookcase, her horn barely illuminating her face, but nevertheless allowing Twilight to see her eyes, narrowed as though she too were trying to make out the shape of the alicorn.

    Twilight’s horn flashed with magic, the pony stepping back in surprise only for a clanging noise to ring through the space and a glowing candelabra to float into the air, rising above the pony and toward the ceiling.

    Somepony spoke, but it wasn’t Twilight.

    “Star,” Rarity said, and Twilight felt her heart skip a beat. “Light, please.”

    The candelabra continued its path toward the ceiling before transforming into a chandelier and illuminating the library in its entirety.

    There were many things Twilight could have looked at, all of which made it hard to breathe. Her books and their respective bookcases littered about, the tables overturned by the chaos magic, and the life she’d known for a thousand years in disarray.

    Of course, nothing in the library was nearly as breathtaking as the mare standing atop the bookcase, and how different she looked from the day they’d met. Twilight Sparkle remembered the terrified mare lying on the library floor who could do nothing but gawk at her, but now?

    Rarity stood atop the bookcase, sizing Twilight up through expressionless eyes, standing tall and proud and terrifying, this mare who’d faced off against dragons, and timberwolves, and Spirits of Chaos; who’d gone above and beyond the call of duty and love and earned in return three scars that disfigured her cutie mark but displayed the extent of her devotion.

    There they stood, Princess Twilight Sparkle and Rarity the unicorn, as they had long ago on the fateful night they met and, just like then, one of them was deeply awed by the other.

    The silence between them was crushing, Twilight felt. Though she said naught with words, Rarity’s stare was very telling, her lack of words a confirmation of Twilight’s fears. The memories of their fight came rushing back, every single hurtful word she’d directed at the mare now screaming in her head because Rarity loved—or perhaps had loved Twilight, she no longer knew—and Twilight had told her that meeting her was a fate worse than being trapped inside the library.

    She couldn’t take the silence anymore.

    “I’m sorry, Rarity,” she said, looking down, looking away, tears stinging at her eyes, and her heart thumping painfully within her chest. “I’m sorry about all the things I said.” The words tumbled out of her mouth, because the more she talked, the less space Rarity had to confirm her fears. “I don’t expect you to forgive me, but I promise I-I didn’t mean them, I was angry, and scared because of Cadance and my brother, and then your scars, and how you almost died, and it terrified me because I—” She gritted her teeth, because princesses, it was hard, it was so hard to speak, with all her choices and guilts and fears coming back, but she held her ground and finished her thought.

    “I love you.”

    Twilight stared at the floor, her tears dripping down, waiting for Rarity’s reply, but it didn’t come. It didn’t come and that in itself was somehow more devastating to her than anything Discord had ever done. She wanted to speak up again, to continue defending her actions, to justify them and earn forgiveness, but she held her tongue for there was nothing left to say that was more sincere than the three words she’d offered for Rarity to take or reject.

    And yet, her ears twitched and she looked up in time to see Rarity teleport down from atop the bookcase. The unicorn blinked at the floor for a moment before looking at Twilight again and slowly, agonizingly slowly, walking toward her while Twilight could do nothing but fight the urge to step away.

    No.

    Not anymore.

    No more running away.

    Rarity stopped in front of her, and though she was looking toward Twilight, it didn’t feel like she was looking at her. Twilight waited for her to say something, anything, even anger would be welcome, because silence allowed her inner fears to be loud, so so loud.

    Instead, Rarity lifted her forehoof toward Twilight’s face and she flinched in reply. It was quick, but noticeable and Rarity’s hoof faltered for a second, her eyes finally meeting Twilight’s and her brow furrowing.

    Twilight’s chest ached, worried she’d made things worse. “I-I’m sor—”

    Oh, she thought, frozen into silence by the heavenly sensation of Rarity’s hoof slowly caressing her cheek with much more tenderness and softness that she’d been expecting.

    Her eyes closed without asking her permission, and she could do nothing but simply stand there, unable to stop herself from nuzzling against Rarity’s hoof because stars, she’d longed for that moment for so long and it was so warm and so, so nice.

    When Rarity took her hoof away and the warmth vanished, Twilight opened her eyes and nearly asked why she’d stopped. Instead, she quietly watched as Rarity pressed her hoof against her chest, the frown all but gone.

    “Goodness,” Rarity whispered, “you’re much softer than I ever dreamed you’d be.” She lowered her gaze. “And you’re covered in ink.”

    Twilight blinked at her, her eloquence long gone. She’d might have imagined many things Rarity could have said, but that definitely wasn’t one of them.

    “I…” She faltered, and again the fear returned. She swallowed, and forced the question out. “Don’t you hate me?”

    “Hate you?” Rarity asked, her hoof dropping to the floor and ears folding. “Whyever would I hate you?”

    Twilight’s ears pinned back, tears wetting her eyes. “Because I told you that meeting you was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”

    Rarity hummed, levitating Twilight’s necklace off and then placing it around the alicorn’s neck. “I can’t say I disagree. Look at you, forced to accept you’re so very loved and the victim of terrible circumstances. Truly horrid what I’ve done to you, yes.”

    Despite the smile on Rarity’s lips, despite how much Twilight wanted to smile back, she didn’t.

    She couldn’t, and Rarity’s smile vanished.

    “I won’t deny I’m hurt and saddened still, but…” The smile returned, and she lifted her hoof to tenderly brush back Twilight’s bangs. “Do you honestly think I love you so little that pushing me away would make a difference?”

    Twilight’s heart caught in her chest, but still the fear remained.

    “Yes,” Twilight weakly replied, closing her eyes, ears still pinned back. “Because it’s been two years, and I said all those horrible things, and you’re probably just being ni—”

    Twilight fell silent, words interrupted by lips pressed against her own, and it was nothing like she’d ever imagined it would be. Every single sense was set aflame alongside the dizzying warmth running through her chest. The tart sweetness of Rarity’s lips and the scent of her perfume, each mingled with their salty tears; the softness of her lips, the impossible touch of her hoof pressing against Twilight’s chest; and, finally, the pounding pulse of her frenetic heart.

    As she leaned into it, her own hoof finding its place atop Rarity’s, she felt like she could melt into it, as if she could stand never to breathe again if it meant she’d be able to kiss Rarity for as long as she wanted.

    Was it terrible, she thought, that such a kiss had made those thousand years worth it?

    When they finally separated, Twilight opened her eyes and locked them with Rarity’s tear-filled ones, who in turn closed the distance between their lips again for a painfully brief moment before sighing and resting her forehead against Twilight’s.

    “Oh, Princess Twilight Sparkle, I have missed you and your neuroses terribly,” said the pony who’d stumbled not only into her library but into her heart as well. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll care about what you told me, and we will fight and argue, but all I care about now is that you’re here, and I desperately want to hold you, if you’ll allow me.”

    Only then did the weight of it all come crashing down on her and, with a shaky nod, tears streaming down her face, Twilight pressed herself against Rarity, so hard they both nearly fell over. She buried her face in the crook of Rarity’s neck and could do nothing else but weep because it was over.

    It was finally over.

    “Oh, my darling,” Rarity whispered lovingly, her forelegs wrapping around Twilight and her lips leaving kisses on the top of Twilight’s head. “It’s all right. I’ll make sure no pony ever hurts you or anypony you love ever again.”

    Twilight tried to speak, tried to nod, tried to say anything in reply, but she could only hold onto the unicorn, nuzzle against her until a great exhaustion washed over her and, finally nestled in her beloved’s embrace, Princess Twilight Sparkle fell asleep for the first time in over a thousand years.


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    1. TGM
      Sep 12, 2022, 10:17 pm

      This was a powerful ending, looking forward to reading the next (and final) chapter and more after that!