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    Princess Rarity was planning the single most important birthday in all of the soon-to-be-hers kingdom of Equestria. No, it wasn’t her own birthday, for her own birthday would never ever ever be planned by her. It would be planned by the entire kingdom, would be attended by the entire kingdom, and would be the talk of the entire kingdom.

    Twilight Sparkle’s birthday, however, could not be interrupted by the entire kingdom. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel every mare, stallion, colt, and filly should scream praises to the single most beautiful, most admirable, most valiant mare in all of Equestria, buuuut…

    Princess Rarity, ever the generous mare, wanted to be the sole center of Twilight’s attention that day.

    And yet, a voice said within her, I already am the center of her attention at all times. It’s explicitly stated in her job description, as a matter of fact.

    Of course, Rarity didn’t mean it like that! She wanted to be the center of Twilight’s attention in the same way Twilight was the center of Rarity’s attention. She wanted to be the receiver of Twilight’s smitten stares, smitten giggles, smitten everythings.

    “I have it all planned out.”

    Rarity smiled softly, forcefully stroking her irate cat lying on her round desk, her best attempt at imitating those dastardly villains in her scandalously romantic thriller novels. Twilight had once said that stroking Opalescence in such a way was not advisable, but Twilight lacked her flair for showmareship anyway.

    “You do?”

    On the other side of the table, Lady Fluttershy giggled softly, trying quite hard to ignore her friend’s mistreatment of the cat.

    “I do.”

    Rarity looked around her room, immaculate in its decor, pristine in its state, and most of all, secluded from anypony. It was the Princess’s haven, where she could shed her royal regalia but not her royal disposition, and where only her closest of friends could come in. Truthfully speaking, at any other time Rarity would have noted that somepony vital was missing, but this time, their absence was a painful necessity.

    Fluttershy waited for Rarity to continue, but when the unicorn did not, instead simply gazing at the pegasus with an air of secrecy, she decided on moving the conversation along.

    “I got her a book,” she said, reaching beside her and placing a blue leather-bound tome on the table.

    “Fluttershy! You were supposed to ask what I had planned!” Rarity exclaimed, rolling her eyes and taking her hoof away from Opalescence.

    “It’s a book I know she’ll love,” Fluttershy continued without missing a beat. “Or, at least, I hope she will.”

    Despite her outward annoyance, Rarity actually delighted in Fluttershy getting along with Twilight. She did not tolerate how elder nobles and aristocrats treated the bodyguard, and as such, she would only pleasantly associate with ponies who treated her bodyguard as they would any other decent pony.

    Besides, how could ponies even treat Twilight as anything less than a delight when she was so breathtakingly enchanting? So much so that though Rarity had never been to her home, she was sure it was an enchanting house fit for an enchanting unicorn.

    “Well, what is it, then?” Rarity asked.

    Fluttershy straightened herself up and announced, “A first edition copy of ‘The Art of Astrology’ by Comet Gazer. I asked Applejack to find out if she had it already, and it seems she doesn’t.”

    “Ohhhh, darling! What an excellent choice! I’m sure she’ll be delighted,” Rarity said, taking the book in her hoof and leafing through it. After a moment or so, she put it back down and looked back to her friend, crossing her hooves and smiling.

    An eternity seemed to pass before Rarity politely cleared her throat and Fluttershy giggled.

    “What did you get her?” she asked in rehearsed curiosity, and Rarity all but gasped.

    “Fluttershy! I’m so glad you asked!” she exclaimed, running a hoof through her mane and fluttering her eyelashes, as she tended to do when she’d been terribly smart. Not that she wasn’t always terribly smart, but this time she didn’t want to be so modest about it. “Well, as you know, Thursday morning I’m supposed to have a dreadfully dull breakfast with Father and his stuffy friends in Trottingham.”

    She paused, waiting for Fluttershy to show a sign of recognition, but when she did not, Rarity continued.

    “Poor Twilight has to go through the ordeal with me, but luckily for her, Trottingham has something much more interesting than dreadfully dull breakfasts with stuffy old cucumber sandwiches,” she finished, gesturing with her hoof for Fluttershy to finally put two and two together.

    “Oh!” Fluttershy exclaimed, eyes widening. “The Mareford Sacrosanct Archives!”

    The Mareford Sacrosanct Archives.

    Built by King Sapphire Sceptre after the end of the Thestral Wars, the Mareford Archives were the single most exclusive trove of information in all of Equestria. Its three circular buildings contained within them a copy of every book and scroll known to ponykind, and only the royal family and the highest of scholars were allowed to enter the nearly-sacred grounds.

    A garden lay hidden in the middle of the three buildings too, known as the Ethereal Garden. It was of an unearthly beauty, intensified by the light magic barrier it exuded which protected the Archives from any entity that would wish to harm it.

    Rarity herself had only been there once as a young filly, and though she admittedly hadn’t been so taken by the archives’ knowledge, the garden itself had forever been imprinted in her mind as the most romantic spot she’d ever set sight on.

    “Exactly!” Rarity said, leaning back with a giddy smile. “All I have to do is tell Father that I oh so terribly would like to go there, and once he agrees, which he will, Twilight and I will spend the entire day there. I’ve even planned in advance and sent the Head Librarian a formal letter of request to allow Twilight access to any book she wants. It’ll be like her own personal heaven!”

    Heaven because Rarity would be there, obviously. The books were just an added plus.

    Fluttershy couldn’t hide her grin. “Oh, Rarity, she’ll be so happy!”

    Rarity nodded like an eager child. “Aaaand that’s not the end of it!” Her horn lit up with magic, and she levitated a light blue colored scroll towards Fluttershy. “This is a fine silk scroll I’ve been saving ever since my trip to Saddle Arabia last year. Once night has fallen, I’ll take Twilight to the Ethereal Garden and present her with a letter.”

    “A letter?” Fluttershy asked, and immediately did her cheeks redden. “Wait, you don’t mean a… a love letter, do you? Rarity!” she gasped when the Princess nodded. “You can’t!”

    “Why not?” Rarity asked, raising an eyebrow. “Because it’s forbidden? Because Twilight isn’t worthy of me? Because she’s not a duke, or prince, or of any blue blood everypony says I should marry? Well, tough! My heart chose her, and as future queen of Equestria, I’ll be able to get away with whatever I want!”

    “I just don’t want you or Twilight to get into trouble, Rarity,” Fluttershy said. “I… I don’t know what I’d do if something happened, but as long as you keep it secret until you’re queen…”

    Rarity sighed.

    Perhaps they’d have to keep it hush for now, their secret little torrid romance hidden from the constant gazes of the monarchy, but one day, Rarity would sit at the highest throne in Equestria, and… and there wouldn’t be a king besides her, but—

    …A second queen?

    What would Twilight’s title be in that case? Would she be a queen or a princess? Drat. Twilight would know the answer, but asking her now might be too risky. Maybe she’d ask her in the garden, and… and that’s how she’d set the mood for the letter!

    Three knocks at the door brought her back to reality.

    “Your Highness?” came the melodious voice of her favorite unicorn in the entire world. “May we come in? Lady Fluttershy will be late for her meeting!”

    The countess in question eeped. “Oh dear, what time is it?”

    “Come in, Twilight!” Rarity called, taking Fluttershy’s book in her magic and quickly burying it inside Fluttershy’s saddlebag. “We’re done!”

    The door opened and in marched Applejack, her body armor clunking as she moved, and behind her stepped in the sight for the sorest of azure eyes. While Rarity stayed in place, smiling at the two guards, Fluttershy rose up at once.

    “Oh dear, I’m sorry, Applejack; I didn’t realize it was late,” she offered, hurriedly putting on her saddlebag.

    “No need to apologize, my Lady,” Applejack said, smiling at her charge. “Your meeting ain’t actually for another thirty minutes, but I know you like takin’ your sweet time in the gardens.”

    Fluttershy’s blush deepened. “Oh, well, uhm…”

    “It’s okay, Lady Fluttershy, it could be worse,” Twilight said, taking off her helmet and placing it on the table as she stood next to Rarity. “We have to leave for meetings at least an hour early because somepony needs to stop for five minutes in front of anything that works as a mirror.”

    Rarity gasped. “Twilight! That was completely uncalled for!”

    Twilight giggled, raising her eyebrow. “Your Highness, I can ask any other of your personal guards if you’d like.”

    “I never said you weren’t right, just that it was uncalled for,” Rarity clarified, harrumphing and looking away. “And it’s three minutes, not five, by the way.

    Applejack laughed, taking Fluttershy’s bag and slinging it across her back. “Look at you two, actin’ like an old married couple,” she said, shaking her head and missing the flushed expression that shot through the Princess and her bodyguard.

    “Well, in any case,” Rarity said, eager to move the conversation away from that topic, “I suppose I’ll see you later tonight at dinner, sweetheart?”

    Fluttershy nodded. “Oh yes. My meeting shouldn’t be too long.” She followed her bodyguard out of the room, belatedly waving goodbye at her friends. “Goodbye!”

    Rarity watched her go and waited until the door was closed to turn to Twilight. The unicorn was busy stretching out her muscles, and if Rarity were anything less than the model example of a lady, she might have stared and swooned.

    Thank goodness she was a lady.

    She tore her eyes away from Twilight and towards the grandfather clock at the end of the room, and with immense displeasure she asked, “Dear lord, it’s nearly eleven o’clock. Remind me again why I’m awake at such an ungodly hour?”

    Twilight raised an eyebrow at her. “You’re awake at this ‘ungodly’ hour, Your Highness, so you won’t be late for your incredibly important five-hour spa session.”

    Rarity sighed. “Ah, yes, wouldn’t want to miss that. Though, don’t think I didn’t notice you shortening it nearly two hours, and no, don’t roll your eyes at me!”

    Twilight did so anyway. “I apologize, Your Highness! What was I thinking? Because two hours less from a seven hour spa session will ruin your entire appearance!”

    “I know, darling! I’ll look simply dreadful!”

    “Awful,” Twilight replied, and it wasn’t until Rarity giggled that she did so as well. She sighed, in that adorable way she did when Rarity was having her way, and continued, “Your Highness, you don’t need seven hours. You don’t even need five! This is why we’re always late to everything!”

    Rarity fluttered her eyelashes. “I thought that was because of my pointless vanity forcing me to stare into anything resembling a mirror,” she said, before noticing the scroll for her scandalous love letter on the table. With carefully calculated nonchalance, she said, “You know, darling, I’ve been thinking about next Thursday.”

    Immediately did Twilight’s expression change, her ears perking up and her attention fully set on the Princess. “Next Thursday? What about it…?”

    Rarity sighed, placing her chin on her hoof and lazily brushing the rim of her teacup with the other. “Something important is happening on Thursday, isn’t it? Perhaps the most important event of my entire month, I can feel it. What was it?” she asked, turning to look at her bodyguard and biting down on her lip, their gazes fixed on each other as Twilight said absolutely nothing, waiting on bated breath for…

    “Ah-hah! That breakfast in Trottingham with Father and Duke Victory Founds!” the Princess exclaimed triumphantly. She rolled up the scroll and placed it on a nearby desk, not missing Twilight’s expectant expression. “Mustn’t be late for that.”

    “That’s it…?” Twilight asked, and oh, the disappointment in her voice seared the Princess, but any pain Twilight had now would be soothed, kissed away tenfold on Thursday when Rarity gave her the surprise of a lifetime.

    Patience, my darling. Patience.

    “I believe so, yes.”

    Twilight forced a smile. “Princess, isn’t something else happening that day?”

    Rarity hummed. “Mm, you know, you’re right! There wasn’t but now there is! Be a darling, and squeeze in another spa session in my schedule Thursday, won’t you?”

    Twilight didn’t say anything, and instead took her helmet and put it back on. “We should get going, Your Highness. We wouldn’t want to forget your current seven hour long spa session.”

    Rarity bit down on her lip, swallowing the urge to tell Twilight she’d been lying. This was going to result in a distraught bodyguard for the rest of the day, but as long as she thought of the payoff and how thrilled Twilight would be, it would all be worth it.

    “Onwards, then!”

    Rarity got up, in time for Twilight to trot towards the closed door, open it and come face to face with her older brother.

    “Shining Armor?” she asked, stepping back as he stepped in. “What are you doing here?”

    “Hey, Twily!” he greeted, playfully patting her helmet, later trotting past her and towards the Princess, bowing down. “Your Highness.”

    “Ah, General Armor,” Rarity greeted, feeling just as confused as Twilight looked. “Is something amiss…?”

    Shining Armor frowned, taking his helmet off. “For the kingdom, yes, Your Highness.”

    Rarity held her breath, but before she could come up with at least ten different catastrophic scenarios, she noticed Twilight immediately stepping over towards her, magic brushing the hilt of her sword, and it touched Rarity that even subconsciously she was Twilight’s top priority.

    “O-Oh?” Rarity asked, placing a hoof on Twilight’s armor, seeking some support for what augured to be terrible news.

    He cracked a smile and announced, “It’s my week off! But don’t worry, I’m pretty sure the kingdom isn’t going to go to war in the next week. I asked permission from the King himself, and now I’m here to get your permission!”

    Rarity laughed nervously, taking her hoof back. “Oh! Oh, goodness, General, I don’t have any objections, of course. I wasn’t even aware that you needed my permission, but now you have it,” she said.

    Shining shook his head. “Oh, no, no! I didn’t come here for me!” he clarified, gesturing towards his little sister. “I came to ask permission for Twilight to have the week off, too!”

    “What?” the two mares asked in perfect horrified unison.

    “This week?” Twilight asked.

    “As in ‘this week’ this week?” Rarity asked to clarify, her hoof shooting back to its place on Twilight’s armor.

    “Yep! This week,” Shining confirmed. “I thought it might be nice for my parents if the two of us went home for a while! I already asked the King permission for Twilight, and he said that as long as you were okay with it, then we’re clear to go!”

    “But—! But, I can’t!” Twilight protested, stepping forwards. “I have my duties, and no one can fill in for me, and it would take me at least five days to find somepony who can replace me, and then another five to make sure he learns the Princess’s schedule and her habits and every defense plan and—”

    Shining Armor lifted his hoof, silencing his sister’s protests. “You can come in!”

    Soon after, two burly guards trotted into the room, taking out their swords and bowing down to the Princess.

    “Your Highness! It would be our honor to protect you!”

    No pony could deny they didn’t look fit for the job, what with the hideous scars and hard expressions, but the more she looked at them, the more she realized just how lucky she was to have Twilight. These guards certainly looked like they could guard, but she doubted they could act as her personal advisor slash assistant slash alarm clock slash bodyguard slash everything.

    Rarity smiled awkwardly. “Oh, goodness, you seem quite, er, fit for the job, indeed!”

    “But, Your Highness!” Twilight protested, looking both appalled and offended.

    “They’re the best guards I’ve got!” Shining insisted, slamming his hoof down on one of the guards’ armor. “Silver Sword and Frozen Shield will get the Princess anywhere she needs to be without a scratch on her coat!” His smile faded and he took a step towards Rarity. “Please, Princess. My parents would really love to spend the week with her. It’s her birthday on Thursday, you know?”

    Before Rarity could reply, Twilight whispered in a hurt voice, stepping away from the Princess and forcing her hoof away, “No, she didn’t.”

    Rarity stepped back, blinking in disbelief at Twilight’s remark. Did… Did Twilight honestly think she would have forgotten her birthday? Did she honestly think she mattered that little to her? Really?

    “Come on, Princess! When was the last time you gave Twily some vacations?” Shining insisted, drowning out Rarity’s attempt to say she hadn’t forgotten, thank you very much. “Wouldn’t you like this, Twilight?”

    All eyes were set on the unicorn, and Rarity didn’t need to ask to know the answer. Twilight’s entire disposition, from the furrowed brow to the lowered ears clearly expressed that she did not want to take this silly vacati—

    “I would, actually,” she said, drawing herself up.

    What? Twilight!” Rarity blurted out, stamping her hoof on the floor at seeing her plans crumbling before her very eyes. “Of course you don’t! Don’t be sill—”

    “My brother is right. I haven’t been home since I began working for you, and if he’s already gotten the approval of King Belle, then I would like to take his offer to go home,” she said, even though Rarity knew that they both knew that was the last thing Twilight wanted.

    Ah. So that’s how it’s going to be, is it?

    Rarity had half a mind to point out that being petty and throwing temper tantrums was quite unbecoming for somepony who wasn’t her, but if Twilight wanted to bite her nose off to spite her own face, then Rarity would gladly play her petty game.

    “I see,” she icily said, stepping away and raising an eyebrow. Without wasting time, she unfurled the fine silk scroll and used her best calligraphy to write not the love letter she’d planned, but a curt formal permission form for Twilight to go off for a week and sulk or whatever she wants, not that I even care!

    Once it was done and her signature decorated the bottom, she rolled it up and presented it to Shining Armor with the loveliest of smiles.

    “Great!” Shining said, taking the scroll and turning to Twilight. “Why don’t you go pack, then? Silver and Frozen are ready to take over, and that way we can surprise Mom and Dad tonight!” He bowed down to Rarity before trotting off, leaving disaster in his wake. “See you by the gates at five!”

    Silence followed his departure, and Rarity found herself torn between being pleased and being horribly upset at seeing Twilight share her disillusion with the turn of events. If she regretted this nearly as much as Rarity did, and if her pride was half as large as Rarity’s, their chances at changing their situation had gone up in smoke.

    “Your Highness!” Silver Sword, or Frozen Shield for all she knew or cared, spoke up, sheathing his sword. “We’ll be outside if you need us! You are in no safer hooves than ours!”

    I’d beg to differ, Rarity thought, smiling politely when he bowed at her and made his exit out the open door. The other guard similarly bowed down, but when he turned and reached the door, rather than posting himself outside like his companion, he threw Twilight a pointed look, reminding the Princess that Twilight constantly being inside her personal chambers was the exception, not the norm.

    Twilight looked similarly taken aback. “Oh, uh…” She turned to the Princess and bowed down to her for the first time in quite some time. “Farewell, Your Highness…”

    Once she stood up, she made her way towards the door without a glance back, and despite herself, Rarity forced herself to speak up.

    “Wait, Twilight!” she called, and when Twilight turned, she forced out a smile. “Happy early birthday, and have a nice vacation…”

    Twilight’s ears lowered. “Thank you, Your Highness. Have a nice time in Trottingham,” she replied, bowing her head before exiting and closing the door behind her, leaving the dismayed Princess to wonder if she could extend her spa session until the end of the next week.

    Princess Rarity missed her bodyguard terribly.

    She missed her to lengths she wasn’t aware she could miss somepony, and she didn’t doubt it was because Twilight’s absence had been a stark reminder of just how intrinsic she’d become to the Princess’s daily life.

    Rarity stalked into her room that Thursday afternoon with the heaviest of hearts, barely acknowledging her bodyguards save for a muttered “thank you” and a half-hearted gesture of her hoof. Once they left, she made her way to her bed and fell upon it with uninspired grace, burying her face in her pillow.

    What was Twilight doing, she wondered. Was she having fun without her? Getting ready to enjoy a lovely soiree with her family while Rarity herself had been roped into another unbearable dinner with her father and his dull friends? Was Twilight relieved she no longer had to pick up after the silly Princess of Equestria who was so utterly lost without her? Or was she also lost, miserable without Rarity there beside her?

    Even though her wounded pride wanted the latter, her love for Twilight hoped for the former.

    Three knocks at the door.

    “Your Highness?” said a burly voice that certainly did not belong to her favorite pony in the world. “You have visitors! Countess Fluttershy of Ponyville says she has business with you!”

    Rarity furrowed her brow. Fluttershy had ‘business’ with her? What a way to put it.

    “Let her in, please!” she called out, lifting her face long enough from the pillow to make sure she’d been heard. She waited until the doors creaked open before burying herself back in her fluffy escape. “Before you ask, my day’s been dreadful,” she said once the doors closed.

    “Oh… I’m sorry to hear that,” Fluttershy’s voice came, and to Rarity’s surprise, it sounded much more subdued than usual.

    Rarity sat up, and when she turned to her friend, she was surprised to find the pegasus all by her lonesome. Twilight and Applejack were good friends, so at any other time Rarity wouldn’t have questioned the bodyguard’s absence, but she hardly believed Applejack was friends with Burly #1 and Burly #2.

    “Darling, where’s Applejack?”

    Fluttershy’s ears dropped. “Oh, uhm… your guards…”

    Rarity sighed. Oh, how I miss Twilight, she thought, getting off her bed, making her way towards the door and opening it to find a rather miffed bodyguard in the hallway.

    “I’m tellin’ ya, the Princess don’t min—” Immediately Applejack quieted down, throwing Rarity a pained look. “Ah, Your Highness…”

    Rarity smiled politely at the guards. “Would be you be so kind as to let her in?” she asked, though it was merely for the sake of appearances and not because she actually sought their approval. She waited until the guards allowed Applejack entry before closing the door with a, “That will be all, thank you.”

    The second the door was closed, her polite smile vanished and she stalked past her friends and back to her bed.

    “Hoo-wee, those two sure are somethin’ else,” Applejack said.

    “It’s terrible!” Rarity shrieked theatrically, rolling on her back and letting out a piteous whine. “They’re so…! So…! So not Twilight! I didn’t even realize how many things she did for me until now!” She sat up and pressed her hoof against her chest. “I have to keep track of my own schedule now! I have to tell myself to go to bed early, and I can’t leave the window open anymore because they won’t come in and close it for me! And you think they keep me updated on all the happenings in the castle?! Or discuss books with me, or know how I like my tea, or anything?! No! They just sit there and… guard!”

    “So, they’re plain ol’ bodyguards and not all your staff in one pony?” Applejack asked with a raised eyebrow, eliciting a giggle from her ward.

    “No, of course not! The difference between her and them is that Twilight isn’t simply my bodyguard, she’s my friend!” Rarity protested, indignant.

    But even that wasn’t quite true, because Twilight wasn’t just her friend, she was so much more than that! She was her confidant; she was the sole pony save for Fluttershy that she trusted wholly and completely, and she was beautiful, and smart and… and…

    Rarity let out a long sigh.

    “Well, Your Highness, with all due respect, I reckon it might do you better not to forget her birthday next time,” Applejack replied.

    “Applejack!” Fluttershy scolded, frowning at her bodyguard. “That’s not a nice thing to say. You know Rarity just wanted to keep it a surprise!”

    “But she’s right!” Rarity wailed, throwing herself back on her bed and clutching her pillow. “I had it all planned! I was going to make all her dreams come true, and she was going to be beyond herself with delight, and then I ruined it with my theatrics, and now poor Twilight will be spending the day without me! The poor thing must be just miserable!”

    “Isn’t that a mighty bit of a stretch, Your Highness?”


    “Oh, Rarity…” Fluttershy murmured, showing Rarity that at least somepony sympathized with her plight.

    Rarity heard hoofsteps coming towards her, and soon afterward a large hoof patted her down.

    “Now listen here, Your Highness, beatin’ yourself up about it ain’t helping, and I’m sure Twilight wouldn’t want you to be like this on her birthday. Why don’t you just calm down and come with me and Lady Fluttershy to the gard—”

    “You’re absolutely right, Applejack!” Rarity exclaimed, jumping up on her bed. Applejack’s words had breathed new life into her, invigorated her into pursuing her true heart’s desire. She was a princess! She was royalty! She would get what she wanted, and nopony would stop her! “Twilight wouldn’t want me to sit and mope about! She’d want me to take action! If she won’t come to me, then I’ll have to go to her!”

    Applejack blinked. “What? No!”

    “Yes!” Rarity shrieked, jumping off to the bed. “Fluttershy, you’re coming with me!”

    Heck no!” Applejack exclaimed, jumping next to the pegasus and stamping her hoof on the floor. “Lady Fluttershy ain’t going nowhere, and you’ve plumb lost it if you believe for a second you’re leavin’ too! What, you think Silver and Frozen are gonna let you out walk out of the castle and into town all willy-nilly? And don’t you have that fancy dinner with His Majesty and them dukes? You can’t just not show up!”

    “Yes, I can! Twilight Sparkle is vastly more important than those dim-witted nobles that are only interested in getting into Father’s good graces either through lies or through courting me! So, you shall tell me what’s better! Celebrating my friend’s birthday, or having my flank stared at by greedy snobs!”

    Now did Applejack falter. “I… I, well, those guards ain’t gonna let you leave, Your Highness, and I sure as heck hope you don’t think I’m gonna let you climb out the window like the mares in your stories!”

    Rarity scoffed, positively outraged. Her?! Jump out the window?! What did Applejack even take her for? A barbarian? She’d never been so insulted! The gall!

    “Of course not!” she said, rolling her eyes at the mare’s total ignorance. “If you must know, every single royal bedroom has a hidden passageway out in case of emergencies.”

    Applejack deadpanned. “Emergencies.”


    “Like this one.”

    “Yes, like this one! And before you say anything else, that’s my final decision!”

    She turned to Fluttershy, affecting an enthused smile before trotting off towards a large wooden bookcase on the northern wall of the room. The shelves were all filled with romance novels she’d gathered throughout her lifetime, as well as books on politics and other such things she’d need to know for the future. The two bottom shelves, however, belonged to Twilight and all her own books.

    “It’s behind this bookcase,” Rarity announced with a smile.

    The room fell into silence. Applejack and Fluttershy stared at the Princess expectantly, and it wasn’t until Rarity pointedly glanced back and forth between Applejack and the bookcase that the bodyguard finally understood.


    With a sigh Rarity thought entirely unnecessary, Applejack trotted towards the side of the bookcase and pushed it, revealing a small tunnel. It was clear that it hadn’t been used in quite some time, if the cobwebs, dirt and dust littering the entrance were anything to go by.

    Rarity stepped back, repulsed. “Goodness, doesn’t anypony ever clean these things? I don’t even want to think about the diseases one could catch by being even a minute in there!”

    Applejack smiled. “Guess I better close this off, then, Your High—”

    “No!” Rarity exclaimed, stepping in between Applejack and the bookcase. “We’re going in there, and that’s that!”

    She turned back to the obscure tunnel, expression hardening as the tip of her horn began to glow brightly. True, nopony had traveled the tunnel in decades, and though she wouldn’t be surprised to find dead… things in there, Rarity was not one to be defeated easily! She would gladly face cobwebs, dirt, dust and all manner of abhorrent things for her Twilight!

    Applejack, still clearly unconvinced by it all, turned to her ward. “Lady Fluttershy, surely you can’t think this is a good idea!”

    Rarity turned around to her friend, finding the pegasus stepping back, ears lowering. Fluttershy knew how important this was to Rarity, didn’t she? She knew more than anypony else just how deeply the Princess cared for her bodyguard, didn’t she?

    Taking a deep breath, Fluttershy drew herself up and trotted towards a nearby desk, taking a candelabra in her hoof. “I… I think we should go with her to see Twilight.”

    Applejack knew when she’d lost the battle. “Fine, fine. If y’all want to get in trouble, then I ain’t stoppin’ ya,” she relented, taking the candelabra from Fluttershy and waiting for Rarity to light it with a spell.

    Applejack went in first at Rarity’s insistence, followed by Fluttershy and then the crown princess herself. The dark tunnel seemed to go on forever, their hoofsteps echoing as they walked, and they had yet to find anything dead and rotting, which was honestly quite the achievement in Rarity’s opinion. It was clear by the smell that it hadn’t been cleaned in ages, and Rarity didn’t want to think too much about the black goop staining the walls.

    Instead, she talked to keep herself distracted, and it wasn’t until she was halfway through her detailing on the castle’s latest gossip that Applejack finally stopped in front of a dead end.

    “Everypony stay back!” she warned, giving Fluttershy the candelabra and waiting until the two mares had stepped back to finally inspect the wall.

    It took a minute, but she exclaimed victoriously, pressing on a rock button and quickly joining the others as the wall shook and then moved, revealing what seemed to be a dimly lit hallway. Rarity immediately recognized it as one of the paths leading to the dungeons, and privately she felt that a tunnel leading to the castle’s underground wasn’t a smart choice as far as escape routes went.

    Applejack stepped out first, and then when she followed, Rarity was surprised to hear snoring. She looked around and blinked at the source of the sound: Rainbow Dash slumped against the wall, sleeping her worries away while cuddling the large rolled-up scroll in between her hooves.

    “Rainbow Dash? What’s she doin’ here?” Applejack asked, looking around. “Ain’t like her to hang around the dungeons.”

    “Nevermind that! The real question here is why in Equestria is she sleeping on the floor?” Rarity asked, unimpressed by the pegasus’s lack of finesse. She supposed much more couldn’t be expected of one of the Wonderbolt mercenaries, but wasn’t it uncomfortable? “You keep the oddest of friends, Fluttershy…”

    Fluttershy furrowed her brow. “Rainbow Dash?” she called, stepping up to her friend and delicately rubbing her shoulder. “Rainbow Dash, please wake up.”

    The pegasus didn’t stir, clutching the scroll tighter and mumbling under her breath. “Mmm… I don’t… want to take care… of your dumb princess… no, you do it…”

    Rarity wasn’t impressed, and her expression must have shown as much judging by Fluttershy’s panicked ‘eep’.

    “Rainbow Dash! Wake up!” Fluttershy continued, tugging on her friend a bit more forcefully, and finally rousing the pegasus.

    Rainbow’s eyes fluttered open. “Fluttershy…? What’re… OH!” She all but shot up into a standing position, wings splaying open as her gaze went back and forth between Rarity and the open tunnel. “Wait a sec, what’re you doing?”

    “What are we doing? What are you doing?” Rarity asked.

    Rainbow Dash stepped back. “Me? Twilight bribed me with—I mean, she asked me”—she quickly amended at the sight of Rarity’s raised eyebrow—”to watch over this exit. That’s it!”

    “By hittin’ the hay?” Applejack asked. “I’m sure Twi’s mighty proud of your hard work.”

    “Hey! It isn’t my fault, okay?!” Rainbow Dash protested, waving around the scroll. “You’d fall asleep too if you had to read her bazillion instructions!”

    Rarity cleared her throat, garnering the attention of all present. “Miss Dash, just because you are good friends with Fluttershy does not mean it’s wise for you to so boldly display just how little interest you have in my safety.” She waited until Rainbow’s bravado lowered in unison with her ears, and before the pegasus could defend herself, she cleared her throat and politely extended her hoof.

    Cheeks tinted red, Rainbow Dash hoofed the scroll over to the Princess.

    Rarity intended on unfurling just to further prove the pegasus’s excessive claims wrong. However, it seemed she was the one proven wrong when the scroll turned out to be at least seven feet long.

    “See?! Look at this!” Rainbow exclaimed, moving so as not to step on the scroll. “It’s insane!”

    “It is a bit… exaggerated, though I’d hardly call this insane, Miss Dash,” Rarity said, eager to defend her bodyguard’s action. “It’s unnecessary, is what it is! Why would Twilight… ah… ‘hire’ you to protect me when I have two replacement bodyguards that her own brother personally picked?”

    Rainbow Dash’s anger faded away, replaced by skepticism. “Really? You’re really asking that? Wow, okay, no offence, Your Highness, but you really don’t know Twilight at all then. Like, you could have fifty bodyguards and she’d still be hiring me to stand guard—and look, she doesn’t even really trust me!” she added, gesturing to the scroll.

    “She’s got a point, Your Highness,” Applejack said. “You’re the only thing that matters to that mare. I reckon she’d only feel better if she’d left you with copies of herself.”

    Rarity looked back to the scroll, her eyes scanning over Twilight’s elegant calligraphy, heart thumping in her chest. It was true, wasn’t it? She was Twilight’s topmost priority, not just because of her job, but because she too was hopelessly smitten with Rarity—really, who wouldn’t be?—and only she knew how to best protect her precious princess.

    “Why’d you bail through here, anyways? Where are you going?” Rainbow asked, poking her head inside the tunnel. “Did you find any dead stuff?”

    “If you must know,” Rarity said, flipping her mane, “we’re going to the outskirts of the castle town to see Twilight for her birthday.”

    And at this, Rainbow guffawed.

    “See Twilight? Hah! That’s rich!” she exclaimed, turning to the Princess with a condescending expression. “Your Royal Highness didn’t even remember her birthday was coming up.”

    Even though every fibre of her wanted to snap at the pegasus, the Princess did as expected of somepony of her stature and offered the pegasus a curt smile. “If that’s what you’d like to believe, I will not stop you from doing so.”

    “What I’d ‘like’ to believe?” Dash asked, raising an eyebrow. “I’d like to believe you cared enough not to forget it, but your bodyguard herself told me you remembered to schedule a spa instead of her birthday.”

    I see, Rarity thought, realizing her patience had run out. I see indeed.

    “Of course I remembered her birthday! Who do you take me for?!” she barked, stepping forwards and forcing the pegasus back several paces. “I had everything planned for today! I was going to make sure her birthday would be extraordinary! I was going to take her to Mareford Archives and—”

    “Oh! That library in Trottingham. Yeah, she was real excited about that!” Dash rebutted. “Funny you didn’t say anything about it when Shining came for her, then!”

    “I couldn’t! Her family wanted to be with her, and she expressed the desire to go there!” Rarity replied, finding it difficult to keep her temper in check. “What, should I have taken away her liberty of making her own choices? A choice she made because of a terrible misunderstanding that yes, fine, I had a part in, but even so, I still have every intention of being with her today! And if you continue with your outrageously insolent accusations, I will personally escort you down to the dungeons! Have I made myself clear?!”

    Rainbow raised her hoof defensively. “Woah, woah! Chill, Your Highness! I didn’t mean it!”

    “No, I will not ‘chill’! I’ve been nearly a week without her, and I can barely stand how much I miss her, and I want to see her already!” she said, only belatedly processing her own words until it was far too late and the three other mares were already staring at her in stunned silence.

    “In any case!” she continued, stomping off to hide the heated blush crawling up her cheeks, “I’m leaving, and you are all free to come with me or stay here! Come on, Fluttershy!”

    “Wait, wait, Princess Rarity!” Dash called, flying to stop the Princess in her tracks. “Look, I’m sorry! I’ll go with you, but you can’t just, like, leave! Haven’t you ever left a castle in secret before? Geez!”

    “Well, since you seem to know so much about the subject, how do you propose we do it, then?” Rarity asked, sitting down and crossing her forelegs. “Come on! Don’t hold your breath!”

    Rainbow Dash landed in front of her, rubbing her hooves together. “Okay, right! Twilight and I mapped out every secret tunnel here years ago, and there’s one in the West Hall we can use. The guards there are my pals, and I can get them to leave the hall long enough for us to open it and ditch this joint. We’re also gonna have to—” She cut herself off, narrowing her eyes at Rarity. “You need to dump your fancy stuff, too. Get rid of the crown, and you definitely gotta wear one of the cloaks the night guards use.”

    Rarity was aghast. “What?! Have you completely lost your mind?! I’m not wearing one of those… overgrown rags! Not only are they entirely unseemly, but the last time I came near one… the smell nearly made me gag!”

    Just thinking about it made every hair on her coat stand on end! She’d been meaning to suggest they were all destroyed, especially when she was certain that they weren’t originally brown. She was also certain she didn’t want to know what had turned them brown in the first place.

    “Well, you gotta wear something, Princess! You’re the Princess! If you go around town with nothing hiding you, everypony and their brother is gonna see you and we won’t even make it halfway across town before your guards are dragging you back.”

    Rarity whined. “But…”

    Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Princess, you want to see Twilight or not?”

    Of course she did! But…

    “Very well,” she relented, getting up and letting out a long-suffering sigh. “If that’s what it takes, then I suppose I have no choice but to… ‘blend in’ with the commoners, as it were.”

    “The what now?” Applejack asked with a grunt.

    “But I refuse to wear the night guard’s outfit! There must be something else in my closet that… Well, no, not in my closet, of course; I’d never have anything even remotely hideous, but…” She furrowed her brow, rubbing a hoof against her mouth. “Twilight did leave that cloak she uses during our nightly outings in my room.”

    “Great! That works, I guess,” Dash said, flying back up into the air.

    “Oh, but, wait!” Fluttershy chimed in. “Rarity, your dinner… won’t the guards know you’re gone when they come get you? And they still think Applejack and I are in there?”

    Rarity bit down on her lip. “I…”

    That was indeed a problem. Well, Fluttershy and Applejack not so much, they could simply leave the room, but Rarity herself… Unless… She remembered that time a few months ago when she’d been allowed to sit out a dinner on account of being terribly ill.

    “Rainbow Dash!” she said, looking up to the mercenary. “Would you happen to know a passageway leading to the East Tower? I think it might be useful to pay Sweetie a short visit.”

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