Chapter 1: ~01~ The Library in The Forest
The Enchanted Library
Part One - Secrets in Books
Chapter 1 - The Library in the Forest
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Rarity did not believe in fairytales.
As much as she loved reading them, she knew no dashing saviour would come and woo her off her hooves, she knew no dragons guarded kidnapped damsels-in-distress, and she was positive the tale of The Princess in the Library was nothing but a myth.
Her younger sister, however, begged to differ.
"Once upon a time, in the distant past of Equestria, there were four princesses, instead of just one boring princess." Sweetie Belle's voice drifted up from the floor below, speaking in what she must have considered to be the appropriate volume for such a mystical legend. "The four princesses ruled over the land, and they reigned over all the earth with wisdom, compassion, and boundless love."
Ever since she was a much younger filly, Sweetie Belle had been an avid lover of adventures and fairy tales. Rarity had nearly lost count of all the times Sweetie and her best friend, a pegasus named Scootaloo, had trashed her boutique trying to get their cutie marks in adventuring.
As she walked down the stairs of her home-slash-workplace, Rarity reflected on how she had heard the myth so many times she could practically recite it from memory. It wasn't just because Sweetie was once again telling it to Fluttershy, Rarity’s best friend, but because the myth of the four princesses had once been her absolute favorite fairytale as a filly.
"The two eldest princesses, sisters as beautiful and immortal as the sun and the moon which they raised, ruled over the kingdom in unison."
Rarity could just picture them...
With a coat of pale pink and a rainbow-colored mane, the eldest sister ruled over the sun. She raised it every morning, bringing forth the day for her ponies to play and bask in its light. She encouraged learning and teaching above all else, hoping to inspire her ponies to strive for greatness.
"The younger sister ruled over the moon," Sweetie continued. "She brought forth a night as blue as her coat and painted stars to watch over her ponies. Her task was to care for the ponies as they slept and guard their dreams from frightening nightmares."
"Wasn't the moon princess the older one?" came Fluttershy's voice.
"No…? Your version must be out-dated, Fluttershy," Sweetie replied.
Rarity could practically see the filly's eyes rolling. When she finally reached the kitchen and peeked inside, she found her sister reading from a book on the kitchen table, Fluttershy beside her.
Sweetie cleared her throat. "The third princess was a mare who ruled over the fields of crystal. She had a love for her ponies so deep it nurtured the land, blossoming joy and warmth into the hearts of even the coldest of beings. You know, some versions say she was actually Princess Denza’s ancestor," she added. "Anyway, the best part..."
Rarity smiled when Sweetie Belle paused for effect. It seemed somepony was learning from her big sister's flair for dramatics.
"The Princess in the Library.
"The fourth and youngest princess, though not as skilled in governing as the others, possessed magical skills unmatched throughout the kingdom and a love for knowledge that was more boundless than all the questions held by the universe. Even long into the late hours of the night, while all other souls slept, the sound of her quill scratching against her scrolls was the endless melody that permeated the castle’s library.
"Her only companion, besides her beloved books, was rumored to be a fearsome creature who loved her greatly and was greatly loved in return."
However, Rarity recited to herself in unison with her sister, the world strives towards balance: for everything good in the world, there must be an evil...
There lived in Equestria a Spirit of Disharmony who sought to remake the world into his very own playground. He cared for nopony but himself, and the only laughter he brought forth was his own as he turned ponies into twisted versions of themselves.
At one point, the princesses worked together, and managed, through discourse and diplomacy, to tame this wild monster. They made peace, and the Spirit of Disharmony was appeased for a time.
Life went on. The four princesses ruled in peace and harmony, and the Spirit was allowed some mischief as long as nopony was harmed. That was until, one terrible day, a great offense was made towards the Spirit of Disharmony and calamity befell the land.
“Sweetie, that’s a nice story, but we really have to start getting ready,” Fluttershy softly reminded the filly.
“But the part where he traps them is coming up now! I always feel really bad for the little princess, though. Having a forest grown around her and trapped in a library… FOREVER?!” Sweetie Belle stomped her hoof on the table for emphasis, startling the yellow pegasus pony on the other side of the kitchen table. “And you know what they say about her?” she continued, lowering her voice and glancing conspiratorially from side to side.
“I-I think I’d rather not…”
“They say that if you press your head against a certain tree in the Everfree Forest…” Sweetie Belle climbed on top of the table. She slowly moved towards Fluttershy, maneuvering around the fabrics and ending up standing directly in front of the pegasus. “If you listen veeeeery carefully, you might be able to hear…” Without warning, she stomped both forehooves on the table loudly. “...HER SHRIEKS OF DESPAIR!”
“Sweetie Belle! Get off of the table this instant!” Standing under the frame of the kitchen door, Rarity scowled at her younger sister and her atrocious lack of manners. It didn’t help that Sweetie Belle was standing all over the fabrics Rarity needed for her upcoming spring line. “Honestly, even Opalescence behaves better than you do!”
The filly, miffed at having her storytelling interrupted, climbed down from the table.
Fluttershy bit down on her lip and watched as Rarity sat next to her. “Rarity, you're sure that the search won't be in the forest, right?” she asked, ears flattening against her head. "I don't want to have to protect the children from… shrieking ponies..."
“Come now, darling, it’s just a fairytale. You don’t really believe there’s a ghost under a tree in the Everfree Forest, now do you?” Rarity asked with slight amusment, while ignoring Sweetie – who lifted her hooves to her face in imitation of a shrieking, tortured soul. When Fluttershy replied with a very subtle nod, Rarity shook her head and focused on gathering up the cloths on the table. “Well, I certainly don’t believe it, but nonetheless, I promise you that nopony will be hiding in the forest this year.”
"Aw… This is why you shouldn't have organized Princess Seeking Night this year. You’re no fun at all..." Sweetie Belle lamented, resting her chin on her hooves. “Why couldn’t I live in Hollow Shades? They always have theirs in the forest.”
“That’s because Hollow Shades doesn’t have timberwolves living in their forest,” Rarity pointed out, floating a quill and notebook over from the kitchen counter. She then pointed the tip of the quill towards her sister. “Would you like to be chased by timberwolves on Seeking Night?”
Sweetie Belle looked away, mumbling under her breath. “I’d like seeing you chased by tim—”
“Rarity is right, Sweetie Belle,” Fluttershy chimed in, trying to appease the tension between the two sisters. “It’s much safer to organize the search in town, and it is so much more fun. Remember the time the Apple family organized it?”
“But I want to look in the Everfree Forest! I told Scootaloo you’d organize the search there!” Sweetie Belle protested, banging her hooves against the table. “What if the reason no one has ever found the library princess is because everypony’s too afraid to look in the Everfree Forest?”
Sweetie Belle banged her hooves against the table once more. “I’m serious! Think about it! Ponyville doesn’t have a proper library! We just have the books we can borrow from Town Hall. What if the Princess’ library was our library, but we lost it because the Spirit grew Everfree around her?! Huuuuuuh?!”
“I really don’t have the time for this,” Rarity said, writing down a list in the notebook. After a minute, she glanced up at a clock hanging from the wall and gasped at the hands pointing directly downwards. “It’s six already?!” She quickly got up from the table and trotted towards the kitchen’s exit, her notepad floating behind her. “Fluttershy, darling, I have to check the rest of the preparations. Please have your group waiting outside the town hall at seven o’clock sharp! And make sure Sweetie Belle and her friends don’t canter off into the forest!”
“You’re no fun, Rarity!”
Nopony knows for certain what brought such anger to the Spirit of Disharmony. Some legends say he wished to take over the kingdom, while others claim his peace treaty with the princesses was broken when they denied him a simple request. After his initial anger had subsided, he apologized to them, claiming his intent to overlook the transgression he felt had transpired. The princesses, clever and wise as they were, doubted his sincerity and tasked themselves with retrieving the only magical weapons that could defeat him.
However, when they reached the hiding place of the magical gems, they discovered they had been stolen by the Spirit. He scattered the precious gems across the land, leaving them only the one that rested inside the crown of the youngest princess.
The kingdom in peril, the four princesses devised a plan to find the stolen gems and defeat the villainous Spirit of Disharmony. The princess of love and kindness was to stay in the capital's castle, ruling in the other's stead and preventing fear and discord from entering the hearts of ponies. The other three princesses set off on a journey to retrieve what had been lost, traveling in three different directions around the kingdom.
Unbeknownst to the three princesses, he followed them during their quest and plotted against them.
Rarity made her way towards the front door and stepped out of her boutique, taking in a deep breath at the sight of the setting sun. Time was running short. She only had one hour to make sure the preparations for the yearly celebration were in order, and she’d be damned if she let all her hard work go down the drain. It wasn’t every year that she was selected to organize Seeking Night, after all.
Ponyville was not the trendiest of Equestria’s towns, and Rarity was determined to change that. Preparations had gone quite smoothly, at least. The couple in charge of the local bakery had been in charge of the food for after the event and had somehow finished it all in time despite being only the two of them. The weather was perfect for the event, even if Diamond Dusk, the local weather pegasus, hadn’t cleared the clouds as fast as he said he could. She knew nopony in Equestria could possibly clear the sky in “ten seconds flat, Rarity!”
Trotting through the town, she was pleased to see all the decorations were already in place. Strings of purple and orange lights decorated the walls, as well as paper lanterns bearing four cutie marks: a full moon, a sun partially covered by a cloud, a ruby heart, and a book. It was impossible to know the cutie marks of the four princesses of legend, so every Equestrian town had come up with their own interpretations.
Turning around, Rarity noticed a light pink unicorn galloping towards her. A crown and rainbow wig were bouncing on the mare’s head, and Rarity was aghast to see the yellow cape she’d made being dragged on the dirty floor.
“Spring!” Rarity exclaimed, waiting until Spring Showers caught up before starting her scolding. “Darling, honestly, you need to be careful with the costume! The bottom is dirty now.” She lit up her horn and used a spell to clean the bottom of the cape while Spring awkwardly watched. She also took a minute to re-adjust Spring’s collar and the silver horseshoes she was wearing. The shoes were embedded with several circular yellow gemstones Rarity had found herself.
“Ah, sorry, Rarity. I’m a bit nervous and forgot to be careful,” she admitted, adjusting the crown and wig. She then glanced towards the sun-and-cloud-shaped cutie mark on her cape and gulped down. “I’m hiding between the music shop and the grocery store, right?”
“Correct!” Rarity said, levitating a satchel filled with gems from her saddlebag to give to Spring Showers. “And don’t forget your ‘Elements of Harmony’.”
Spring took them and nodded. After a moment of silence, she spoke up again. “You know, I’ve wanted to be the sun princess ever since I was a filly.”
Rarity smiled. “I’m sure you’ll be a fetching Princess Sunny.”
The first to succumb to the Spirit’s ploy was the elder sister, the strongest one.
He knew she’d have to be the first one he’d need to take down. The Sun Princess valiantly fought against the Spirit from dawn until dusk, ultimately letting her guard down when the Spirit lied and said he’d already gotten to her sister. Her brief moment of weakness allowed him to trap her in a cave near a raging waterfall, cursed to live for eternity as a spirit in a place none were ever to find. In her rage, however, she was able to bring him harm.
Yet it wasn’t enough to stop him.
At the sound of the voice, the two mares turned around and saw a pink earth pony mare hopping joyfully towards them. Rarity had never seen her before, and she was certain she’d remember somepony with such a… poofy manestyle, but it seemed Spring knew her, judging by her waving.
“Her name is Celestia,” the pink pony continued, stopping next to Spring and admiring the cape. “Or, at least that’s what we call her back home.”
Ah yes. Just as the cutie marks of the Princesses were left to the imagination of each city, so were their names. Truth be told, Rarity thought ’Princess Celestia’ was much more regal sounding than ’Princess Sunny’, but who was she to change a Ponyville tradition? It could be worse, I suppose. I could live in Fillydelphia and have to call her ’Princess Sunshiney’. Brr.
“Pinkie Pie!” Spring exclaimed, smiling broadly at the mare. “I didn’t know you were staying in Ponyville to see the celebration! I thought you went back home to Hollow Shades yesterday.”
Pinkie shook her head, giggling. “Nope! I’m staying for a few more weeks,” she explained before turning to Rarity and sticking out her hoof. “Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie, and you must be Rarity! Springy told me all about you and the super hard work you’ve been doing with the celebration!”
Rarity smiled amiably, lifted her hoof, and was treated to the most effusive hoof-shake she’d had in several weeks. “A pleasure to meet you, Pinkie Pie. I’m delighted you’re staying in Ponyville for the festivity! The more the merrier, as they say.”
As she greeted her, Rarity noticed Pinkie wearing something around her neck. Hanging from a silver chain was a black circular pendant with a crescent moon painted in the center. How pretty, she thought, remembering having heard that the residents of Hollow Shades were not only quite fond of the Tale of the Four Princesses, but that they were also especially fond of the Moon Princess.
“Pinkie’s a travelling party organizer and baker. She has this cute stand that she wheels around all over Equestria with her supplies,” Spring explained. She smacked her lips together and added, “She’ll throw you a massive party and make you the best cake in all of Equestria while she's at it.”
Pinkie hopped in place several times, nodding earnestly. “You should stop by later! I’ll be at the fair next to the apple bobbing! Fish an apple and I’ll make a cupcake with it!”
“I’ll be sure to stop by,” Rarity replied, turning to her saddlebag and taking out her notebook. “For now, I must press on. I still have to check up on the other two princesses and the Spirit.” She glanced at Spring. “Please don’t forget that you need to be in your hiding place at eight o’clock on the dot.” Once Spring nodded, Rarity smiled at the two mares. “I’ll see you after the event, then.”
She turned around and trotted off, becoming lost in her thoughts. Had she brought enough emeralds? If not, she could always… tearfully sacrifice a few gems from her personal collection.
It wasn’t until five minutes had passed that she realized Pinkie Pie was trotting next to her, a big smile on her face. When Pinkie noticed Rarity watching her, her eyes lit up. “So! How does Seeking Night work here?” she asked.
“‘How does it work here’? I assumed the festivity was the same everywhere?” Rarity asked, keeping a lookout for the princesses or spirit.
Pinkie rolled her eyes with a giggle and shook her head. “Well, we won’t know that until you tell me, silly!”
Rarity laughed. “Yes, I suppose not. The whole thing is actually quite simple. The foals are separated into several groups, and then they have to go ‘find the three lost princesses’. Once they’ve found one, she is to give them two gemstones, and the first group to collect all six gemstones from the three princesses must go to the town hall and give them to the last princess,” she elaborated. “However, if a group runs into the spirit and are unable to solve his riddle, they lose two gemstones.”
“Ooooh! Then it is like back home!” Pinkie exclaimed, apparently pleased. “My best friend Lullaby says that everypony is really awful at finding the princesses, so I’ve been doing my best to find them just to prove her wrong!”
“‘You’ve been doing your best to find them’? Surely you don’t think they’re real, do you?” Rarity asked rather skeptically, reminded suddenly of her young sister. How many ponies really believed there were princesses locked away all over Equestria?
“Of course they’re real! If Lullaby didn’t have to stay back home, she’d help look for the princesses, too.” Pinkie shrugged and sighed sadly for a moment. Before Rarity could question her, the sad expression was wiped away, and her chipper disposition returned. “Still, it’ll be fun! Last year, in Fillydelphia, one of the fake princesses brought along three puddi—”
Rarity turned away from Pinkie and saw Snowy Cinder, a blue pegasus mare, waving at her in the distance. She was wearing a fake white horn over her dark blue mane, a dark blue cape bearing the cutie mark of the Moon Princess and silver horseshoes embedded with circular blue gemstones. An elegant black silver collar decorated her neck as well.
"Ah, finally," Rarity said, waving back at the mare. "Here comes Princess Selene."
The younger sister was the next to fall victim to the Spirit's ploy. With but a spark of her horn, a mountain was born. She took refuge in a cave within her mountain, waiting for nightfall so as to contact her sister through dreams. Unwittingly, she allowed the Spirit to attack her in the dark. He cast a curse on her and trapped her forevermore in the cave as a spirit.
This was the first night ponies learned about true nightmares.
"Princess Luna!" Pinkie exclaimed, clapping her hooves excitedly when the mare joined them. She trotted in circles around Snowy, nodding her approval at the costume, then stopped and pressed her forehoof to the necklace's pendant. "Oooh, Lullaby would love this!" She turned to the seamstress. "Did you make this one too, Rarity?"
"But of course! I made all of the costumes, except for Booky. Cheerilee and the children took care of that," Rarity said while making last minute adjustments to Snowy's costume.
’Booky’ was Ponyville's name for the princess trapped inside the underground library. It was tradition for her costume to be designed by school foals, much to Rarity's dismay.
Thick square glasses, a plaid skirt decorated with books, a white dress shirt with a pocket protector, a bowtie, and a bag full of mathematical books; if the Princess of Knowledge was actually real, one could scarcely imagine how horrified she'd be at the fashion disaster they called her costume.
Rarity certainly was.
She took two satchels out of her bag — a purple one and a white one — and floated them over to Snowy. "Here you go, darling. The white one is yours, and since you'll be near Sunset Twinkle, could you give her the purple one?"
"Sweet Denza, her costume is really something else." Snowy giggled, taking the two satchels before sighing wistfully. "I don't think Smoky Cinder and I have laughed that much since Mayor Mare tripped on her way to the podium during last week's town assembly."
"Oh, if you're going to see her, can I come with you?” Pinkie asked, letting go of her necklace. “I like seeing all the costumes!" Snowy nodded in reply and Pinkie grinned.
“In that case, I better meet up with Mayor Mare." Time was running out, and Rarity still had to make sure the politician was all dressed up and ready to go. “The event is about to start, and it won’t be long before the children are all gathered around Town Hall.”
Hopefully, that included Sweetie Belle and her little friend. Rarity was quite fond of Scootaloo, but she… was sometimes a bit too supportive of Sweetie Belle’s ideas. Nevertheless, as excited as the filly had been to ‘look’ for Princess Booky, Rarity knew her sister would never be brave or foolish enough to actually wander into the Everfree Forest with her friend.
The youngest princess sought out the answers in the pages of her beloved books. She hid herself in a secret library of her own design, buried underneath a growing oak tree in a barren land betwixt a small village and a mountain. However, mere days before she left on her quest, a nearby villager revealed her location to the Spirit, who had been disguised as a travelling pony.
Thirty minutes later found half of Ponyville gathered in front of Town Hall, where Rarity watched from behind the curtains as ‘Princess Cadance’, also know as Mayor Mare, greeted the groups of foals all raring to get started. A little further away from the crowd, she could see older ponies touring the different little stands that had been mounted earlier that day. All kinds of treats, souvenirs, and games were available to those who were no longer old enough to partake in the festivity. The smell of cotton candy, roasted chestnut, and other sweet delicacies wafted through the air. Laughter and shushes came from the crowd, mixing in with the music a local DJ was providing.
A little further south and she spotted a quaint stand next to the apple bobbing. She couldn’t help but be impressed by how fast Pinkie took out tray after tray of cupcakes, brownies, and cookies from under her stand. The number of ponies waiting in line for her treats, however, was somehow even more impressive. Maybe the Cakes should consider asking her to work at Sugarcube Corner.
“Now, as you all know, if the Spirit catches your group, he’ll take away two Elements, and you’ll have to go get them again,” Mayor Mare explained, pointing to the white stallion next to her, who was wearing a fake claw and fake paws on either forehoof respectively. Mayor Mare adjusted the pink wig on her head before asking, “Any questions?”
While the mayor answered some of the questions asked by the foals, Rarity took a moment to search for the group Fluttershy would be supervising. She could hardly wait to see the excitement in Sweetie Belle’s face at the surprises Rarity had prepared for the event. She scanned the crowd and finally found her dearest friend Fluttershy looking… unusually excited?
The yellow pegasus was jittering in spot, barely paying any attention to the foals gathered in a circle around her. She absentmindedly played with her mane and kept glancing towards the market behind her, seemingly searching for somepony. If Rarity didn’t know Fluttershy so well, she would have shrugged off the mare’s odd behaviour and moved on with the event — except she knew her friend as well as the bottom of her hoof.
And that behaviour could mean only one possible thing.
Rarity immediately turned her gaze to the foals crowded around Fluttershy. Every group was supposed to consist of nine foals and one pony. Through narrowed eyes and with growing anger, she counted: one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven. ”Oh, that filly’s never going to hear the end of it,” she hissed, using every ounce of willpower in her not to scream out Sweetie Belle’s name loudly enough for all of Equestria to hear.
If those fillies went into the Everfree Forest…
Rarity didn’t even want to think about what that could mean. Timberwolves, manticores, cockatrices; she was starting to regret having asked Fluttershy what creatures could be found in the forest. Maybe she’s stuffing her mouth with cupcakes. Yes, that had to be it. Sweetie Belle had a sweet tooth unrivaled in Ponyville, and she was most certainly sitting somewhere with a rightly earned stomachache.
With as much discretion as possible, she left her spot behind the curtain and trotted down the podium towards Fluttershy, ignoring the questioning look the crowd gave her. If it were possible, Rarity had no doubt her friend would have shrunk to the size of a mouse the second she saw the unicorn trotting towards her.
Fluttershy’s voice was barely above a whisper when the mare reached her. “R-Rarity, I—”
“Not now, darling.” She pulled Fluttershy away from the crowd of foals so as to talk in private with the pegasus. Thankfully, the foals were too occupied listening to the mayor to notice anything. “Let’s find them first, then we’ll talk.” As heartfelt as they’d be, there was no time to stand there listening to Fluttershy’s apologies. “When was the last time you saw Sweetie?”
“A little before the ceremony started. She and Scootaloo said they only wanted to get a quick snack, and they seemed so hungry. Diamond Dusk has been helping me look for them but...” she drifted off, lowering her ears. She bowed her head and said, “I’m so sorry, Rarity. I shouldn’t have—”
“Fluttershy, darling, it’s not your fault. You are not her nanny, and if Sweetie Belle decided to disobey and run off, there’s nothing you could have done to stop her. Trust me.” She looked back towards the podium and was relieved to see the mayor still rambling on about the legend of old, meaning they still had a few minutes left before things got too complicated to talk. She sighed and rubbed her forehead with a hoof. “I’ll look through the stands firs—”
The two mares turned around and saw a blue stallion galloping towards them. “I looked everywhere,” he said through heaves and huffs, trying to catch his breath once he finally caught up to the mares. He noticed Rarity and his face fell. “Oh. H-Hi, Rarity…”
Rarity sighed. “Hello, Dusk. Fluttershy's just finished giving me the low-down, and I’m very grateful you’re helping us find my sister and her friend.”
Dusk swallowed hard. “I looked in the marketplace and there was no sign of them. I also went into town, stopped by your boutique, and then asked around and…” He went silent, ears lowering as he avoided Rarity’s gaze.
“And…” she prompted.
“And… last time somepony saw them, they were headed towards Fluttershy’s cottage saying something about…” He looked up at Rarity. “... the Everfree Forest…”
Fluttershy placed her forehooves over her mouth, eyes growing wide. “Oh no!”
Rarity felt herself go weak at the knees. Sweetie Belle was in the Everfree Forest, completely alone save for Scootaloo. Sweetie Belle barely had the magic to lift a broom; if something attacked them, they wouldn’t stand a chance. “Zecora… Has anypony seen Zecora?” she asked, trying to keep her breathing steady and calm. “She always arrives late to the festivities. Perhaps she’s still in the forest and found the girls.”
“I think she’s still in the forest!” Fluttershy chimed in, a little more hopeful now that Rarity had reminded her of the herbalist's existence.
Rarity nodded. If Zecora had found them, then everything would be fine. “Right, then. I’m going to go look for them before something terrible happens.” She turned to Fluttershy. “Fluttershy, please discreetly explain the situation to the mayor and keep an eye out in case the fillies return.”
Dusk took a step towards her. “Rarity, wait. I’ll go with you. It's not safe there.”
“No, don't. Please take this,” Fluttershy interrupted before he could say more, giving him the little satchel where she and her group of foals were supposed to store the gems they received. “I should go with her. I-It’s my fault they ran off, so it’s only right. Can you please take my place in the event?”
Dusk nodded and took the satchel.
“Fluttershy, are you sure?” Rarity asked, receiving a firm nod in reply.
“Of course.” She paused. “I think.”
Wicked as he was, the Spirit entered the unguarded library and attacked the young princess, taking away her physical form and leaving her to eternally watch over the books she so loved. Not yet satisfied with what he’d done, he stood next to the tree and transformed the barren land about it, destroying the small village in the process.
He raised his left claw and summoned a dangerous forest to hide the oak tree, hoping to plunge the mare into darkness and despair. He raised his right paw and imbued life into the fallen branches, creating howling beasts of wood and fright to deter wandering ponies from venturing into the forest and finding the princess.
The Everfree Forest was perhaps one of the most frightening places Rarity, or any Ponyvillian, ever had the misfortune of going into. It would require a drastically important reason for anypony to step hoof in there, such as visiting the local herbalist – or finding two lost fillies.
Her saddlebag thumped against her as she and a terrified Fluttershy trekked across the forest, trying quite hard not to think of the distant howling. Beams of moonlight filtered in through the trees, creating disconcerting shadows all around them. The smell of musty leaves and rotten wood permeated the air, and the ground discolored her once pristine white hooves with mud and twigs. Oh, how she wished she had brought boots. If it dried up, the mud would be an absolute nightmare to take off.
Did mud leave stains? She hoped not.
Part of her felt guilty for worrying about such frivolous things considering the circumstances, but idle, frivolous thoughts kept her mind occupied and away from painting terrible scenarios of what harms could befall her sister. She glanced besides her and realized Fluttershy was trotting very closely to her, the pegasus’ eyes jumping from one thing to the next like a critter frightened by its own shadow. Nevertheless, Rarity was impressed by her friend, all things said and done; they’d been walking through the forest for at least forty minutes now, and the timid mare was holding up pretty well. If only she didn’t wince and shush Rarity whenever she called out her sister’s name.
“Not so loud!” Fluttershy whispered, frantically waving her hoof in a quieting motion. “The timberwolves mig—”
“Fluttershy, if I don’t call their names, they’re never going to hear us, and we’ll just be wandering around aimlessly,” Rarity scolded, rolling her eyes. Clearing her throat, she called out Sweetie Belle’s name again, a little quieter if only for the sake of Fluttershy’s already cracking nerves.
“W-What if they’re already back in Ponyville?” Fluttershy continued, maneuvering around the rocks and questionable mounds of dirt. “Maybe we should go back and che—”
“Diamond Dusk already promised to come look for us if they came back,” Rarity pointed out, looking at the distance through the seemingly endless rows and rows of trees, and hoping to catch a glimpse of light gray or orange — or both at the same time, preferably. She was so busy looking to either side, in fact, that she failed to notice she was headed straight for a large hole in the ground.
“What if he gets lost trying to find us?” Fluttershy pressed on, looking to her sides and also failing to notice the absence of ground several meters away.
Rarity sighed. “Fluttershy, you really are not helpi—” Her words turned into a panicked screech the second she stepped on air and fell down inside the hole, landing on her rump one meter below.
“Rarity!” Fluttershy gasped, standing over the edge of the hole and looking down at her friend with horror. “Are you okay?! Rarity?!”
With some difficulty, Rarity got up from the hard ground, grinding her teeth in pain. “I’m alright, darling. I think...” she said after a moment, standing and using her hoof to dust herself off. Some night I’m having…
Looking around at the hole, it was as if somepony had pushed down on the ground and formed a perfectly circular depression. She turned away from Fluttershy and was greeted by an immense oak tree, covered with vines and foliage, sitting in the middle of the hole.
“What did this?” Fluttershy asked, staring up at the oak tree and then down at the hole it was surrounded by. “Or who? This isn’t natural, is it?”
“I haven’t the faintest,” Rarity murmured, trotting towards the tree and then around it, trying to figure out the hole’s dimensions. Finally, when she reached the other side of the tree, directly opposite where she’d fallen, she concluded it to be around twenty meters wide and one meter deep, the tree standing perfectly in the center. How bizarre… She looked up at the tree and saw… A window?
To her surprise, there was what seemed to be a small, half-open oval window near the top of the tree. Why was there a window there? How could there be a window there? She took another step towards the tree but quickly backed away when her hoof landed on something sharp and pointy. She immediately looked down and levitated the offending object: a tarnished metallic black tiara.
“R-Rarity?” a voice called out from the other side of the tree.
“Just a moment!” she called back, turning around the tiara and inspecting it more closely. What in Equestria was tha— Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard two very familiar screeches in the distance. She dropped the tiara and ran towards the source. “Was that the girls?!”
“I think so!”
With Fluttershy’s help, she climbed out of the hole and they both rushed off, headed towards the location of the shrill screams. Please be safe, please be safe, please be safe, she thought over and over, her heart about to beat right out of her chest. A few minutes of running, and they came to a halt upon reaching a small, dilapidated house. The door had been torn off its hinges, and a tree had grown out in the middle, pushing through half of the roof in the process. There was a single rectangular window, cracks and holes spread throughout the dirty glass.
Why on earth was it there in the middle of the forest?
“Go away!” a small voice called from inside the house. “There aren’t any ponies in here!”
“Y-Yeah! And besides, ponies aren’t tasty to timberwolves! They t-taste super yucky!” another trembling voice added.
Rarity took a step towards the house. “Timberwolves?”
There was a moment of silence, and suddenly a single orange face appeared in the window, staring out with wide-eyes. “Oh, it’s not timberwolves!” Scootaloo exclaimed, pressing her face against the window and looking visibly relaxed. “It’s just Fluttershy and Rarity!”
“Rarity?!” A second face appeared on the other side of the window, took a look at Rarity and screamed, quickly hiding again. “That’s even worse than timberwolves!”
“Oh, you bet it is,” Rarity hissed, stomping her way to the house while Fluttershy stayed behind. She walked through the the door and into the one-room house, finding two cowering fillies on the other side. She trotted towards them, avoided a rotting wooden table, and used her magic to lift the two fillies by the scruff of their necks. “Do you two realize how worried we were?! Oh, just you wait until Mother and Father hear about this…”
“We’re sorry!” Sweetie Belle helplessly exclaimed, defensively crossing her hooves in front of her chest. “Please! We just wanted to look for the princess so we’d get our cutie marks in princess finding, and then we found this house, and we were investigating, but then there was a scream, and then we thou—”
“I’m not even remotely interested in your excuses!” Rarity hissed, turning around and trotting off, the fillies levitating around her.
While the two friends continued throwing excuse after excuse, Rarity took a moment to look around the place. Papers, ripped fabrics, and all kinds of rudimentary-looking objects were strewn across the floor. Contrary to the mess, two plates and glasses filled with dirty water were neatly set on the table, and the linen on the single bed was perfectly intact, as if someone had made that bed earlier that day. Old books were orderly lined in a nearby bookshelf, and worn-out paintings hung on the walls. It felt to Rarity as if the inhabitants of the mysterious house had just up and left one day without taking any of their belongings with them.
She exited the house and unceremoniously plopped her two forlorn prisoners down on the ground. “Fluttershy had been looking forward all year to being group leader, and you two went and ruined it for her!”
“Oh, well, I wasn’t that exci—”
“Ruined it!” Rarity reaffirmed, stomping her hoof and silencing her protesting friend. She then glared at Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, and pointed her hoof at Fluttershy. “Apologize this instant!”
The two fillies turned to Fluttershy and bowed their heads. “Sorry, Fluttershy…” They turned to Rarity. “Sorry, Rarity…”
Rarity merely hmph’d in reply whereas Fluttershy smiled kindly at them. “I’m just glad we found you safe and sound,” she reassured, patting both their heads affectionately. She then turned around and brightly exclaimed, “Now we can go back!”
Rarity was about to agree with the idea, but images of the window in the tree and the odd tiara flashed through her mind. Her curiosity had been piqued, and now that they had come all this way, surely it wouldn’t hurt to quickly go back and take the tiara, right? A good thorough cleaning should have it looking brand new.
“Wait a bit. There’s still something I’d like to go see,” Rarity said. She looked around and saw a light in the distance. Perfect. “Look, Zecora’s hut is over there, and she seems to be home. Why don’t you and the girls head back to Ponyville, while I go fetch Zecora once I’m finished with what I have to do?”
“But, what do you have to do?” Fluttershy asked, her previous chirpy disposition all but gone. “Rarity, I don’t like this. Please, let’s go back together…”
Rarity smiled at her. “Fluttershy, darling, I won’t be long. Really. Besides, there are some things I need to discuss with Zecora, and I’m not sure how long it’ll take so I’d rather you return home so Mayor Mare won’t be too worried.” She turned to the two fillies, who looked back at her with twinkling eyes and ecstatic smiles. “And before you ask, no, you cannot stay with me.”
With reluctance, the pegasus and fillies trotted off towards the town. Fluttershy kept looking back, biting down on her lip and throwing Rarity a sad expression, as if pleading her to reconsider. Instead, Rarity only smiled and waved her off before turning back and trying to retrace the path towards the great oak tree.
It took her a good ten minutes, but she managed to find it again. Cautiously, she dropped down into the hole and trotted around the tree until she reached the side with the window. To her surprise, when she looked up, she found a small black owl sitting on the windowsill.
It looked back down at her curiously, tilting its head to the side, and hooted several times. It was odd, but the owl’s presence gave her some comfort. Rarity smiled at it before resuming her search, and after a minute, she let out a small ‘ah-hah!’ as she found the tiara once again.
“Hello, lovely,” she purred, taking a hoofkerchief from her saddlebag and using it to wipe the dirt off the tiara. “Wait until you’re all cleaned up! You’re going to look fabulous with the ensemble I’m planning.” Another hoot from the owl distracted her and she looked up at it, reminded of the other thing she was curious about.
Her eyes traveled down the bark of the tree, hoping to find another window or clue to the tree’s odd nature. Finally, near the bottom of the tree, she noticed a rectangular object stuck to the bark. After putting the tiara inside her saddlebag, she made her way to the tree, the owl watching silently from above. She realized there was some sort of metal commemorative plaque nailed into the tree, but the inscription was hidden beneath a few layers of dirt, dust, and mud. Since her hoofkerchief was dirty already, Rarity used it to carefully wipe away the filth, and after a few delicate strokes, the words on the plaque became visible. When she squinted her eyes to read them, she felt her heart skip a beat.
PONYVILLE PUBLIC LIBRARY
Donated by Princess Twilight Sparkle
Sweetie Belle’s earlier words echoed in her mind: “Think about it! Ponyville doesn’t have a library! We just have the books we can borrow from Town Hall. What if the Princess’ library was our library, but we lost it because the Spirit grew Everfree around her?!”
“That… That’s impossible…”
With the three princesses trapped throughout the land, and the elements to defeat him lost forever more, the Spirit returned to the kingdom's castle and told the last princess of the terrible fate that had befallen her beloved friends. As his final act of villainy, he cast a curse upon her, proclaiming that neither she nor any of her bloodline would be able to find the trapped princesses – and even if they were indeed found by another, the princesses would never be freed from their prisons.
Once the Spirit left the land in a whisk of smoke, the princess ordered the knights of the kingdom to search for the missing princesses and spread word of the tale, for hope remained as long as the sun and the moon rose and fell with each passing day.
It couldn’t be real, but at the same time, it made sense. She looked towards the house, abandoned as though nopony had bothered to take their things… or maybe they simply didn’t have time to take them.
Could the old legends be true? She looked down at the ground, her heart beating thunderously in her chest. Was… Was she truly standing atop a lost library, forgotten to the ages? But where was the entrance? And… did she want to go in? Did she even dare?
What if there really is the ghost of a princess waiting inside? She shook her head. No. Don’t be silly, Rarity. There’s no such things as ghosts trapped in libraries, or evil spirits. I’m sure there must be a logical and reasonable explanation for this. She knocked her hoof against the tree to check if it was hollow, but it didn’t seem to be.
So, where was the entrance?
With a few steps to the side, the ground beneath her hooves changed from soft dirt to… wood? She looked down and, brushing loose dirt away with her hoof, realized she was standing on top of what seemed to be a worn-out wooden trap door. She took several steps back and stared at the spot, her mind a complete blank. After a minute, it felt to her as if some external force had taken over her body and now coaxed her into using her magic to swing the trapdoor open, its hinges creaking after appearing not to have been used in... months? Years? Maybe even centuries?
She rested the door against the tree, looked down the newly opened path, and saw a spiral staircase descending and fading into the darkness. Throwing one last look back at the light behind her, she took a deep breath and started down the staircase, trotting for at least five minutes before reaching the entrance to a pitch black tunnel. The only source of light down here was a circular beam coming down from the ceiling and, when she stepped beneath it, she looked up and found that a smaller opening had been hollowed out in the ground and the oak tree. From the end of the small upwards opening, the owl looked back down at her, hooting several times.
“Ah, we meet again,” she replied, watching as the owl jumped out the window and into the opening. Once out, it flew in circles above Rarity for a moment before landing on her back and hooting once more. “Well, as they say, the more the merrier!” Rarity exclaimed, turning back towards the end of the tunnel and feeling much more confident with a companion, albeit a curious one, now preening its wings on her back.
She lit up her horn to illuminate the path down the tunnel, eventually stepping out into a pitch black room, and as she entered, the scent of ink and old books filled her nose. Trotting around the room, she illuminated a couple of desks with several books lying on them, some open and some closed. There was a quill dipped inside an owl-shaped inkwell filled with fresh ink and next to it lay an open parchment where somepony hadn’t finished writing what appeared to be a dissertation on magic telekinesis. Where had the ink even come from?
She moved away from the tables and deeper into the room, coming face to face with several rows of bookcases.
“It’s real,” she whispered, mostly to herself but nonetheless receiving a hoot in reply from her companion. Of course, there was no way of knowing if this was the library from the fairy tale, but there was no question that she had indeed found a secret library. “Sweetie Belle was right…”
How big was the library? What lay hidden under the darkness surrounding her? How she wished her horn could illuminate the entire room. Judging by how long it had taken her to reach the bottom of the stairs, it was safe to say the room must have been of a tremendous size.
She trotted to the wall, and when she illuminated it, she saw the wall had a large black mark, almost as if someone had thrown a bomb at it. Not only that, but it was pockmarked with scorched holes and scars. On a nearby table, there sat a lone dark blue candlestick holder with four branches. The candles inside each branch were in immaculate condition, as if they had never been lit or had never fallen victim to the passing of time. Rarity was tempted to light them, but refrained. The longer she looked at it, the more she was taken over by a growing sense of unease. She couldn’t help thinking it was ridiculous, but it felt to her as if the candelabra was somehow watching her.
Perhaps it’d be best to move along, Rarity.
She turned away from the table and continued exploring what she could see of the library. In front of one of the rows of bookcases, she found a large basket, a pillow and folded blanket inside it. She didn’t give it much thought, however, and instead proceeded into one of the rows of bookcases. Once inside, she squinted at the books, trying to read the names on the spines. It was admittedly difficult with the meagre light her horn produced, and it didn’t help that some of the books were so old that the words on the spines had started to fade. She stopped and picked a book at random, opening it to the front page.
“’A Study of Dreams and Magic: Volume Nine’,” she read aloud to the owl, who simply hopped up onto her head and curiously peered down at the book. She rifled through the pages for a minute, reading a few sentences here and there. “I wonder if there’s any books on gemstones,” she thought aloud. It wasn’t too much of a stretch to assume there must be exceedingly rare and valuable books hidden away in the library. Perhaps she could borrow one? “Come on,” she said, putting the book back in its place. “Let’s try and find some.”
And that’s when she felt it.
It was like a prickling sensation at the back of her neck, and with the sensation, she could feel her heartbeat accelerate exponentially. In that moment, hoof still resting on the spine of the book she had just pushed into the bookcase, Rarity had the very strong impression that she was being watched by something other than the owl on her head. Despite her best intentions, she thought back on Sweetie Belle’s impression of a shrieking, tortured soul. In that moment, she was too scared to even blink, staring at the book in front of her and vividly aware of the owl’s claws on her head and the prickling sensation on her neck.
She had to look.
Before she could even take a deep breath, Rarity zoomed herself around and looked out into the dark hallway, relieved to find nothing. She looked to the other side and was equally greeted by pure, ghostless darkness. She took the withheld deep breath and exhaled it slowly. “The Tale of the Four Princesses isn’t real, Rarity,” she whispered to herself over and over as she continued her path down the hallway of bookcases. Every few seconds, she’d stop and look around, and after making sure that there was still no princess to be found, went on her way.
The owl had hopped back down onto her back and now entertained itself by playing with the strap of her saddlebag or hiding inside Rarity's curly tail and allowing itself to be carried around by the mare. Rarity found herself slightly less scared and very grateful that the small owl was still with her. Surely, if there was really a ghost, the owl would have already fled. Unless…
Unless the princess had taught the owl to lure unsuspecting ponies into her library of terror. She lifted her tail and looked back at the creature trapped within her curls. The owl blinked twice and hooted at her before trying to escape its confinement. Rarity smiled and rolled her eyes. She shook her tail slightly to help the owl free itself, and once it was out, it quickly took back its spot atop her head.
Rarity walked for several more minutes before stopping again to look at the books. “Let’s see… What would a book about gemstones even be called?” she wondered aloud, tracing her hoof along the spines of the books. She leaned in to better illuminate them with her horn, but again it was little help to her, and she muttered to herself regrettably, “I can barely see a thing. Why didn’t I take that candelabra?”
The moment she finished speaking, the owl flew off her back and up toward the ceiling, disappearing in the darkness. “Wait, come back!” she called out, wishing that she had Fluttershy’s ability to communicate with animals. “Shoot…”
She turned back to the books but froze in place when she heard a loud sound from the other side of the room. Another hoot sounded, followed by the strong flapping of wings. Rarity looked up and, after a moment, the black owl appeared from the darkness, struggling with the candlestick holder in its claws.
“Why, thank you!” Rarity exclaimed, grateful to see her new friend once more.
The owl flew over top of Rarity, and without warning, let go of the candelabra. Before Rarity could catch it and prevent it from hitting the floor and breaking, the candelabra stopped in mid-air, a raspberry-colored aura surrounding it.
The candelabra, which was floating sideways, now straightened itself, and one by one, the four candles lit up. It floated down to where Rarity was and set itself next to the book she had been looking at. The owl flew back down and sat on Rarity’s back while she stared at the levitating object with horror.
How was it doing that? It was obvious that somepony was levitating it, but there was no one there save for her, and she highly doubted the owl could do any magic. Her thoughts went back to the princess of legend, and she felt the prickling sensation in her neck anew. Deciding that perhaps mysterious floating candlestick holders was where she drew the line, Rarity began to back away from it, but for every step she took, the candelabra got closer, as if it were following her.
“Shoo!” she hissed, waving it off with her hoof. As she trotted backwards, she glared at the candelabra, almost as if trying to convince whoever was levitating it — and herself — that she was not afraid of or intimidated by it. Of course, all of her built up courage went down the drain the moment her rump collided against a table and the dusty vase on it came tumbling down to the floor with a great big thud.
The unicorn let out a shrill scream and ran off into the maze of bookcases, frenetically trying to find the exit and spurred into running faster by the fact that the candelabra was still floating after her. It certainly didn’t help that, when she looked to the bookcases as she ran, she had the misfortune of seeing somepony on the other side through the gaps in the books, running at the same speed as her. For a brief moment, the figure had turned around to look at Rarity and left imprinted in the unicorn’s memory the image of two penetrating violet eyes.
Finally, after a long five minutes of running and screaming, she saw the entrance of the library in the distance. The only thing standing in her way to freedom were three towers of books stacked directly in her path to the door. Fortunately, it was only a matter of quickly maneuvering around them and running into the tunnel. Unfortunately, she couldn’t see a thing in the dark, such as the owl flying besides her or the books on the floor. With a yelp, she tripped over the large tomes a meter away from the towers of books and rolled forwards until she collided with the large stacks. Her saddlebag opened during the impact, and its contents — a fashion magazine, some makeup, loose sheets of paper, and the tiara — came flying out.
Before she could react, the three towers tilted towards her, and she could only cover her head and wait for the inevitable rain of dictionaries, encyclopedias, and textbooks.
And waited some more until at least a minute had gone by — though it felt like an eternity—, and she had yet to be mercilessly pummeled into unconsciousness by an army of knowledge. She opened one eye and looked up to find the books floating in the air, each one enveloped in the same magical aura as the candelabra — which was apparently still quite taken by Rarity judging by how it circled her. It wasn’t until Rarity looked away from the books that she finally saw her.
She was a mare standing on top of a bookcase, staring intently at the floating books. It was still too dark for Rarity to make out much more than the fact that she seemed to have wings, a luminous horn, a glittering mane, glowing violet eyes, and what seemed to be a tiara atop her head.
“Star," she said. "Light, please.”
Rarity had been so transfixed by the sight, she almost didn’t realize the mare had spoken. The candelabra circling Rarity floated up towards the ceiling and came to a stop right on top of the maze of bookcases. There was a bright flash of light and a wide-eyed Rarity watched as the candelabra transformed itself into an enormous chandelier. One by one, each candle ignited itself until a hundred lit candles illuminated the ceiling. Then, the magical aura surrounding the chandelier blinked twice, and the light coming from the candles intensified and filled the entire room with light.
Rarity could only look around in awe.
Rows and rows of bookcases were spread out in front of her. At the end of the room, she could see a silver spiral staircase, leading to a floor below where there were presumably even more books. Some walls were lined with additional bookcases, reaching all the way up to the ceiling, which must have been at least fifteen meters tall. The walls that weren’t covered with bookcases were decorated with beautiful paintings depicting all kinds of things: a castle that looked a lot like the one in Canterlot; the sun; the moon; and a guard of the royal army. There were also several grayscale paintings, including one of a baby dragon sleeping, and one of the library itself.
Of course, nothing in the library was nearly as stunning as the mare living in it.
The Princess in the Library.
An ethereal aura surrounded her pale lavender-colored coat, which had a sheen that rivaled that of Rarity’s own coat after a full day at the spa. To Rarity’s envy, her sapphire blue tail and mane with violet and rose streaks not only quite literally flowed with magic, but also seemed to be sparkling. Her wings were now tucked neatly to her sides, she wore a gold collar, gold horseshoes, and on her head rested a gold crown studded with sapphires and a magenta star-shaped gem that looked exactly like the cutie mark on her haunch. It was only when Rarity saw the princess’ cutie mark that she looked further down and realized she was floating over the bookcase, and not standing on it.
The small black owl landed on the bookcase, right next to the princess, and hooted twice at her. A spark of magic shot out from her horn, and the books floating above Rarity zoomed away and disappeared inside the maze of bookcases. Rarity could only guess they had been put back in their respective places. Once the books were gone, the Princess blinked twice, and after the second blink, her eyes returned to normal.
And so, as years and then centuries passed, the words of the Spirit rang true and the princesses were never found, their tale becoming lost to the ages and nothing more than a bedtime story for foals. There are those who still believe in the tale, however, and beg for all to listen closely to the sounds of the forest.
Perhaps, if one does, the sound of quill scratching against paper will be heard from inside a hollow tree, the youngest princess still inside, waiting to be found.
And Rarity did indeed find her.
And when the Princess in the Library turned to look at her with a wary but inquisitive gaze, and when the Princess with naught but her gaze ensnared Rarity into the twists and turns that made up her dark past...
Then Rarity believed in fairy tales.
Chapter 2: ~ Interlude I ~ A Research Log ~
Interlude I - A Research Log
* * * * * *
”Tell me, wandering traveler, what do you seek?
A roof over your head or a friend to converse with?
We have naught but a few houses and a dozen apple trees,
but you are welcome to our homes and our food.”
"I seek the Princess of Knowledge. I have heard rumors that she has a
library around these parts. I bring information on the one she seeks."
"The Princess of Knowledge? You are mistaken, wandering traveler.
No princess of any kind has set hoof in our town for a very long time."
"Oh? Perhaps, this crown might change your mind.
It was given to me as a way to prove my good will."
"...Her library is under our great oak tree.
May you help the Princess, wandering traveler, for all our sakes."
"Oh, I most certainly will."
Journal Entry n. 413
I do not know how long it has been since I have been here.
Maybe a week or two, but it feels like an eternity. I have not slept since he left, and I have yet to feel any hunger. I wonder if breathing is still a necessity. Am I stuck in a loop between life and death? When I leave, will I go back to normal? Or will I remain in this way? Will I ever find out?
Not without the map.
I have been searching for it everywhere. I looked through every book in the first floor, and every book in the second floor. What if Discord was lying when he said the map was hidden here? If I don’t find that map, I may never see Spike again.
But, if he was lying, then why has Spike not come back? He would never leave me here unless there was a reason he couldn’t come. He would never leave me here alone unless Discord really did...
None of the villagers have come down either, and the earthquake I felt right after he left leads me to believe there indeed may be a forest around my tree — just like he said there would be. Are the villagers all right? Did they escape in time? Do they hear me when I call out? Does anypony hear me?
I still cannot get out. I tried the exit again a few hours — or days — ago, but his translucent black barrier stopped me again. I’m afraid of approaching it to examine it. I’m afraid that it might be gone, and I might cross without the map. I wanted to try and see if I could levitate objects across, so as to ascertain whether the barrier blocks only my body, but I’m worried that my magic is included in his warning. If I leave here without the map and it really disappears, then…
I keep thinking back to the tiara. I was wary when he said it belonged to Princess Luna, but the more I think about it, the more I believe it was really hers. What did he do to her? Was he lying? I find comfort in the knowledge that he will be stopped by Princess Celestia. He cannot defeat her. She will come to find me, won't she?
He also took my emerald. The one Spike offered me during my annual celebration. That was the only thing I had of Spike, and he took it from me as “punishment for single-hoofedly being responsible for the downfall of Equestria”.
It is not my fault. Even if he says it is, none of this is my fault.
I couldn’t say yes. I couldn’t just give
It does not matter.
I have started assembling my books on ciphers and riddles. The map may be hidden in the words of the books, coded into the lines and paragraphs. I need to find the map. I need to find the map. I need to find the map.
“Obsession can be your own prison.”
That was what he said, and that must be the clue to the riddle. I need to find the map, and then leave and use it to find Spike. I miss him.
Forgive me, Spike.
This is all my fault.
Chapter 3: ~ Act I ~ 02 ~ The Princess in the Library ~
The Princess in the Library
An eternity seemed to pass by for Rarity as she and the Princess engaged in an impromptu staring contest, the little owl looking back and forth between the two mares.
“Are you the Book Bringer?” the Princess asked, receiving no answer from the shocked unicorn.
Things were not going the way Rarity had imagined they would. Granted, she had never actually planned on meeting the spirit of an Equestrian princess, but she would have expected more… screaming and soul-banishing to be taking place. At least she could relax a bit seeing that the Princess’ stare was not one of hatred or anger.
It was more a look of curiosity and a smidge of... annoyance? It seemed to Rarity that the alicorn was assessing the situation, which, all things considered, was thus far much better than she'd envisioned it being while running from the Princess. Her soul could have been banished to the pits of Tartarus for trespassing, or she could have been turned into a spirit herself, but so far so good.
“No, you can't be. You were in the cosmology section, and he would never be looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place,” the Princess finally said, changing the topic of conversation in a matter-of-fact tone. She paused for a moment, as if waiting for a sign of Rarity’s understanding, but when the confused mare failed to offer such a sign, the Princess elaborated: “You were searching for a book on geology in the cosmology section.”
Those were some of the first words the Princess said to her, and to possibly anypony else in several centuries. One might have thought she would have gone for ‘who are you?’, or ‘what are you doing here?’, or the ever popular ‘how dare you intrude on my place of eternal slumber, foolish mortal?! Begone!’’.
Instead, she had opted for…
“—and the books on gemstones are in the geology section, which is the five-hundred-fifty-first class under the Starswirl Decimal Classification, whereas cosmology is the one-hundred-thirteenth class.”
...a scolding lecture on the Starswirl Decimal Classification, apparently.
Rarity wasn't sure how exactly she was supposed to react, or what to say, or what to do. Thankfully, she didn't have to think too much about it; just as the Princess finished her speech, the owl flew over to Rarity, took its favorite spot atop her head, and curiously tapped her ear with its wing.
"Themis!" the Princess exclaimed indignantly, floating down onto the bookcase and stomping her hoof against it. "You're not supposed to get friendly with intruders until I've finished questioning them!" She turned to Rarity and asked again, “You aren't the Book Bringer, are you?"
It took Rarity a bit to process that she was being addressed by the Princess, especially when she was still processing everything else about the situation. “Th-The Book Bringer?”
Who was that?
When Rarity shook her head, the Princess narrowed her eyes. “Then why have you come here?”
Rarity opened and closed her mouth several times. Wasn't that the million bit question? Why had she been compelled to go down into the tree and see whatever it contained? Curiosity had been a large part of it, yes, but there had been something else. The Tale of the Four Princesses had once been the bedtime story Rarity would fall asleep to every night as a filly. Perhaps it wasn't so much curiosity as it was that the little filly inside her who fervently wanted to rescue the princesses had never truly left.
The Princess furrowed her brow and lifted her hoof, as if to stamp it against the top of the bookcase again. "For me?!" she exclaimed in a deeply shocked and angered voice. But then, her anger faded and made way for a surprised expression. "...Me," she repeated softly, lowering both her hoof and her ears. She sat down on her hind legs and blinked at Rarity. "Me?" she whispered, putting a forehoof on her muzzle and frowning. "Nopony’s ever come back for me... Except for Disc—"
Rarity never heard the end of the sentence; the Princess quickly stood back up and flared her wings, gritting her teeth and glaring. "Why me?" she asked in a cold and defensive voice, her horn starting to glow. "What more do you want with me? How can you be back?! You were defeated!"
"B-Be back?! D-Defeated?" Rarity backed up several steps over the spilled contents of her saddlebag, levitating the magazine from the floor to use as a makeshift shield. She was too young and beautiful to be blown to smithereens by an angered spirit! "I-I’ve never in my life been here before! I was only looking for my younger sister in the Everfree Forest, and I stumbled into your library!"
“Liar!” the Princess snapped, the glow of her magic intensifying. It was then that she looked down at the crown lying next to Rarity, and when she looked to the unicorn again, it was as if her fury had somehow tripled. "Where did you get that?! It is you!"
“No! I found it next to the tree!” Rarity pleaded, shaking her head and Themis, who’d still been standing by her ear. “I give you my word! I was just curious!” Her justification, however, went very much unheard or uncared for.
The furious princess stamped her hoof against the top of the bookcase. "Stop lying to me!" she demanded, picking Rarity up with her magic and slamming her into the nearest bookcase as if though the unicorn were nothing more than a ragdoll. The bookcase groaned and swayed with the impact, and if Rarity hitting the bookcase full-force and face-first wasn't enough, the impact loosened a hail of volumes atop her.
Rarity’s landing came with a loud thud, dust poofing out from in-between the books, and she coughed and wheezed as the dust settled around her. Trying to move her left foreleg brought with it shooting pain, suddenly and sharply enough to cause her eyes to tear up.
At the sound of the Princess' voice, Rarity's eyes flew open and she held her breath, her thoughts running at thousand miles a minute as she tried to think of a way out, away from the incensed alicorn spirit. She could run to the exit and possibly provoke another attack, or she could remain motionless and hope for the Princess’ rage to subside. Neither option sounded particularly appealing, but before she could make her decision, the voice came again.
"Why aren't you defending yourself? Is this another trick?"
Despite her fear, Rarity finally — and painfully — turned around to look at the Princess. The mare stared back at Rarity, her ears and wings strong and flared, but with a hint of hesitation in her eyes.
“W-What?” was all Rarity managed — dared — to get out.
“Why are you here?!” The Princess asked. Her voice made it clear that she brooked no argument, but the murderous rage had faded from her posture. "Who are you?”
“R-Rarity!” Rarity blurted out. “My name is Rarity, a-and I came here because I was curious!” Curiously crazy, more like it.
The Princess took a step back on the bookcase, wings lowering slowly. “You’re not Dis—? I-I…”
Rarity glanced from the Princess to the exit, wondering if she could make it before the Princess figured out what was going on. Considering her currently distracted look, it seemed that this would be the only chance Rarity would get if she wanted to get out alive. And though having a twisted ankle wasn’t ideal for running away – not to mention her now throbbing headache – fear outweighed the pain, and Rarity decided she’d rather risk another attack than stay in the library for another second. She got up and, biting down a gasp at the pain in her foreleg, made a dash for the exit.
Four steps from the tunnel out, the Princess’ voice caught up with her, followed in short order by the rest of her, which teleported in front of the exit. Rarity’s path to freedom was blocked, but she wouldn’t give up that easily. Taking a deep breath, she summoned what magical strength she had; likely it wouldn’t do much to a spirit princess, but it could at least give her the opening she needed. Barely cognisant of the fact that she stepped over her discarded items, Rarity focused her magic into a concussive blast that hit the princess square in the face.
As expected, the spell did little more than unbalance the alicorn slightly. That, however, was enough. Rarity inhaled a deep breath of air, heart beating thunderously in her chest, and rushed through the opening the Princess’ uncertain steps had left. She trotted towards the stairs as fast as her injured hoof would allow, but just a few meters away from the stairs, the Princess’ voice reached her.
”Wait! Please don’t go!”
Rarity stopped dead in her tracks. Unable to help herself, she looked back and saw the Princess standing on the other end of the tunnel. The Princess raised her hoof, almost as if to try to step through the tunnel, but when she did, a translucent pink barrier crackled into existence and forced her to step back, and her ears fell as she did so.
“Please.. I’m sorry. Please don’t go,” the Princess spoke to her — pleaded with her — voice cracking.
Rather than respond, however, Rarity turned away. She climbed the stairs two steps at a time, and soon enough saw the light of day... freedom.
She let out a long breath of air as soon as she jumped out of the hole in the ground. She had no idea what she had done to provoke the spirit to attack her, but she didn’t care. Her wits and strength had been enough.
Knowing she would never again have to go through any of that was more than enough to make up for the pain in her leg. I’ll be safe at home in fewer than twenty minutes, she thought, trotting towards Ponyville and already visualizing the safe comfort of Carousel Boutique. And the Princess can attack whomever else she so likes, and stay in that library alone for… the rest of eternity…
Despite her best efforts to forget the entire affair, she couldn’t stop picturing the forlorn princess, nor could she stop hearing her pleas to not be left alone. She came to a halt and looked back to the trapdoor, ears pressed against her head and biting down on her lip.
It… didn’t make sense, did it?
If the Princess had wanted to kill her, wouldn’t she have done so the moment she saw Rarity? Moreover, why would the Princess have saved her from the towers of falling books? There had been enough encyclopedias to knock Rarity out, and it would have been much easier to get rid of her when she was helpless to defend herself.
Why hadn’t she attacked sooner?
“So you met the spirit of the Princess, did you?”
Rarity turned back to the hatch and found a stallion standing nearby. He wore a dark cloak with a cowl that covered most of his face, revealing only a warm, yet weary smile. What little she could see of his coat was more grey than the ocher yellow it must have been in his youth. Combined with the long luxurious beard, it seemed like he was far past his prime, but still light on his feet, given how far the nearest home was.
Rarity took a fearful step back, prompting the old stallion to raise his hoof. “Don’t be afraid, please! I mean no harm. I often take walks through this forest, and I was merely curious by your presence considering not many ponies dare wander near here.”
“W-Who are you?” Rarity asked, taking another step back. What was it with the Everfree Forest and ponies that seemed to have been plucked straight out of fairy tales — literally? Something about the stallion made her think of the Princess’ question. “Are you the Book Bringer?” she asked.
The stallion laughed. “Is that what she calls me?” He stroked his beard, smiling softly. “How delightfully fitting! My ancestors and I must have brought her thousands of books already! And if these old bones don’t give up on me, I may still bring hundreds more!”
Hundreds of books? That meant the Book Bringer and apparently his entire family must have been coming for centuries already, yet… “How is it possible she’s never seen you? It was no fewer than ten minutes before she was following me around.”
The Book Bringer tilted his head. “Ah, but you touched her books, didn’t you? You could have wandered around inside the library for weeks, and she wouldn’t have noticed your presence until you disturbed her books,” he replied. He looked past Rarity and to the trapdoor. “I’m not surprised, however! Living in that library for centuries and centuries with nothing but those books to keep her company? They are as much a part of her as she is a part of them.
“Are you injured?” he asked, glancing at Rarity’s hoof when she hissed upon stepping forward. He shook his head and sighed. “Tsk, tsk. Still so quick to judge, aren't we, Princess Twilight? I suppose that’s another reason I’ve delayed meeting her. I daresay I would have much more than an injured hoof if she thought I was him.”
“Him?” Rarity asked, curiosity about who the Princess had mistaken her for piqued now that she was out of harm’s way.
The Book Bringer blinked at her. “Haven’t you figured it out yet?” He stroked his beard again and furrowed his brow. “Now, how did that section go?” Eyes widening, he smiled victoriously. “Ah-hah!” He straightened himself up, cleared his throat and recited: “‘The youngest princess hid herself in a secret library of her own design, buried underneath a growing oak tree. However, mere days before she left on her quest, a nearby villager revealed her location to the Spirit, who had been disguised as a travelling pony.’”
Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of him? Rarity asked herself. All of the Princess’ accusations and reactions made sense now.
“What a terrible fate to be met with,” he went on. “Trapped in a library alone for the rest of eternity? No way out, and no one to talk with but two owls who can’t answer back? Is that any different from talking to oneself, I wonder? And now the poor filly’s fears have scared off yet another pony.” He sighed again, shaking his head. “What a lonely existence.”
The more the stallion said, the more Rarity felt sorry for… Princess Twilight. Could she be blamed for acting so harshly when she thought Rarity was the Spirit? And after that, how contrite she had looked over attacking her.
“Yet you’re still here.”
The Book Bringer’s sorrowful expression had vanished, replaced with an amused one. “Delightful, aren’t they, life’s coincidences? For you to have met Princess Twilight on Seeking Night of all nights? It almost feels like a fairy tale!” His smile grew. “Your very own fairy tale!”
Goodness, that did sound enticing, didn’t it? Her own personal adventure, right out of a novel. Rarity bit down on her lip and glanced towards the tree. “But…” She looked back to the Book Bringer. “The fairy tale… It doesn’t say a thing about how to free them – the princesses.”
“‘What the Spirit did not know, however,’” the old stallion began to recite. “‘Was that, when the lost heirlooms of the Princess of Magic were returned to their rightful place in the depths of the library tree, the spell keeping the Princess trapped would be broken, and peace would be restored to the land.’”
Rarity frowned, opening and closing her mouth several times. “B-But… I’ve never heard of that part before,” she murmured. “That can’t be right!”
The Book Bringer chuckled. “Ponies, I’m afraid, are rather forgetful creatures, and it has been perhaps more than a thousand years since the events of the tale took place. Things become lost with time, amongst them the truth of what truly happened so long ago. I might venture to say that there must be at least more than fifty different versions of the tale, if not hundreds more!”
“But then which one is the right one?” Rarity asked, taking a step towards the stallion.
He merely laughed in return. “Why ask me? I wasn’t alive when it happened! I realize I don’t look fairly young, but I can assure you I’m not that old, filly!” he replied, grinning when Rarity quickly said she didn’t mean to imply he was several centuries old. “However, I luckily happen to know a regretful princess who could tell you what really happened!” He smiled and pointed down at the ground below Rarity. “I doubt she’s forgotten what led to her imprisonment, don’t you?”
He cleared his throat and adjusted his cape. “I must be off now, however. It’s getting late, and the missus has a ghastly temper when I stay out too late! I often worry she’d like nothing more than to blast the living daylights out of me!” he added with a wink. He cleared his throat again and turned around. “Well, then! Farew—”
“B-But wait!” Rarity called out. "If you know all this, why haven't you tried looking for these lost heirlooms?"
The Book Bringer laughed. "Oh, I've tried! Without much luck, unfortunately. But you..." He smiled and stroked his beard. "I have a tingly feeling you might succeed where I failed, my little pony."
“But how do you know all this? Why haven’t you eve—”
“Now, now, there’ll be time for that later!” he interrupted, nodding towards the tree. “So long as you continue coming here, then we will see each other again! If not, then I suppose Princess Twilight will simply have to wait for another to help her, won’t she?”
With that, he trotted off, leaving Rarity alone with her thoughts and his parting words. She could leave now and go home to Ponyville, but… She wasn’t so sure she wanted to leave anymore. Could she even leave now, knowing what she knew? She turned towards the trapdoor and stared at it for what felt like the longest time.
”Please don’t go.”
She couldn’t stop hearing it. What if… What if Princess Twilight was still sitting there, waiting for her to come back? Finally, sighing and being sure that she must have lost her mind, Rarity used her magic to open the trapdoor and then stepped inside.
Crazy, she thought, going down the stairs as fast as her injured hoof would permit. Delirious, she continued, trotting towards the light at the end of the tunnel. She tried not to think too much of what that expression usually implied.
When she reached the end of the tunnel, she waved her hoof near the entrance and, once no barrier appeared, carefully peeked inside. She found Princess Twilight sitting next to a table in the distance, the owl — Themis, was it? — hopping around and looking at the magazine with interest. All of Rarity’s other items had been picked up and put on the table, as well.
Princess Twilight sighed and levitated Rarity’s magazine, squinting at the cover. “I wonder what a ‘Manehattanite’ is?” she pondered aloud, putting the magazine down to look at Themis, who simply hooted in reply. The Princess stared at him for a minute before she took back the magazine and, without warning, flung it towards the wall with a frustrated breath.
But just as the magazine was about to land against a bookcase, Princess Twilight stopped it and slowly brought it back to the table, bowing her head and sighing at the same time. Rarity almost felt offended that a magazine was being treated better than she had been – but then again, it was a twenty-five bit magazine, and maybe she was actually grateful Princess Twilight hadn’t allowed it to be damaged.
“It’s a city,” Rarity said, surprising both the Princess and herself with the statement.
The Princess and Themis both turned and stared at Rarity as if she were the ghost in the room. “You’re... still here?” the Princess asked, standing and walking towards Rarity. She opened and closed her mouth several times, apparently at a loss for words.
Rarity cleared her throat. “Ah, yes…” She took a tentative step inside the room, wincing as she stepped on her injured hoof. She noticed Princess Twilight winced as well – hopefully feeling some regret for what she’d done. “I… It’s not every night one meets a… princess!” Rarity continued, hoping her laugh didn’t sound as nervous to Princess Twilight as it did to her.
Princess Twilight merely stared with a blank expression.
Deciding to ignore the Princess’ apparent shock, Rarity pointed towards her issue of 'Manehattanite Style: Fashion Week Collection' resting on the table. “A ‘Manehattanite’ is somepony who lives in the City of Manehattan,” she elaborated, taking a step back when the alicorn took one towards her. The action did not go unnoticed by the alicorn, who quickly backtracked. After a moment, Rarity continued, “That’s the city’s bi-monthly fashion magazine.”
That seemed to be enough to snap the alicorn out of her trance. Her ears perked up almost immediately at this piece of new information. “Magazine?” She looked down at the magazine and opened it, leafing through the pages with interest. As she did so, Rarity stood around awkwardly for a minute or so until Princess Twilight started speaking again.
“I’ve never seen a book like this one! Where does the word magazine come from? And these illustrations are so vivid. Do your artists use magic to replicate life so well? Is it very advanced magic?” She picked up the magazine and tapped the cover. “What kind of parchment is this made with?" Suddenly, she teleported next to Rarity, nearly scaring her half to death, and opened the magazine again. She showed Rarity a picture of a model posing and pointed at the camera hanging from the model’s neck. "What is this?"
"Er, that's a photographic camera," Rarity stammered, suddenly vividly aware of the fact that it had gotten very cold with the Princess next to her. “Those ‘illustrations’ are photographs taken with the camera.” She couldn't help throwing sideway glances at the inquisitive pony, admittedly still not completely used to Princess Twilight’s sudden and drastic change in attitude. Perhaps drastic mood swings was something that came included with the whole ghost-princess package.
Does she still count as a princess if she’s been… dead for centuries? Does being transformed into a spirit count as dying? Princess Twilight certainly didn’t look dead. Weren’t ghosts supposed to be somewhat transparent and deathly pale? Rarity was tempted to raise her hoof and see if it went through the alicorn, but she restrained the impulse to act on her unladylike and curious desire. She looked up at the Princess' face and realized the royal mare looked… oddly cute as she tried deciphering what a camera was.
Princess Twilight nodded slowly. “Photographic camera.” She teleported back to her previous spot next to the table, sat down and then looked back towards the rows and rows of bookcases. “Elara, please bring me fresh parchment!” she called out before returning to the magazine, a large book suddenly appearing next to her on the table.
Before Rarity could even ask herself who this ‘Elara’ pony was, her answer came in the form of a loud hoot. Another small owl — a white one, this time — flew up the staircase spiralling up from the floor below, carrying in her claws a worn-out bag with branches sticking out its opening. How in the heavens was that supposed to be fresh parchment?
Once Elara was close enough, Princess Twilight levitated the branches out of the bag, and with a spark of her horn, turned them into three sheets of parchment. She leafed through the pages of Rarity’s magazine and took notes, every once in a while opening her own book to apparently get a reference. She was completely lost in her own world and only occasionally made some comments to Themis and Elara. The latter had landed on the table and now busied herself with taking loose sheets in her beak and piling them together in a neat bunch.
With Princess Twilight completely ignoring her, Rarity took the time to properly look around now that the library was well-lit. She was curious about the floor below and wondered just how deep the library actually went. How many floors filled with books and secrets lay buried beneath the ground?
And yet, she felt it would be wrong to explore the library without Princess Twilight’s consent. It was, for all intents and purposes, the Princess' home, and snooping around somepony’s home without their permission was generally considered a rude thing to do.
“Princess Twilight?” she called, trying to rouse the pony from her expedition into the world of modern fashion. Her attempt was to no avail as the Princess was too busy writing down something she had read in the magazine. After a minute passed in which Rarity received no answer or sign of having being heard, she raised her voice a bit and called again, “Er, Princess Twilight?”
Like something out of a horror movie, Princess Twilight and her two owls turned to look at her with completely blank expressions. Immediately regretting having interrupted them and fighting the urge to leave right that moment, Rarity tried to clear her throat and asked: "I was wondering if I may take a look around? I'll be sure not to move anything."
Princess Twilight looked to the library and then to Rarity. "I… You may," she replied finally, putting down the quill she had been writing with.
"Then, please don't let me bother you further," Rarity quickly said. The Princess had been pretty enraptured in whatever she had been writing, and Rarity didn't want to be an annoyance that could be swiftly thrown against a bookcase again. She felt some modicum of relief when the Princess turned back to the table and picked up the quill, but the relief quickly vanished when the Princess looked at her again, apparently at a loss of what to do.
"Enjoy the magazine," Rarity continued, hoping that would be enough to solve Princess Twilight's dilemma. She looked around and caught a glimpse of the staircases at the end of the row of bookcases. That was the place she wanted to look at first. Her curiosity piqued, she trotted off — or would have, if she hadn't been reminded of her injured hoof. The second she trotted off, she felt the sharp pain go up her foreleg and let out a simultaneously surprised and pained gasp.
This was enough for the alicorn to put her quill down. She teleported over to Rarity, too busy looking at the injured hoof to notice the fear that flashed briefly across the unicorn's eyes. "Does it hurt much?" Princess Twilight asked, looking up at Rarity with an impassive expression, almost bordering on concerned.
"Not at all!" Rarity lied, and badly at that considering she kept wincing when she trotted around in circles to demonstrate how definitely not painful it was to do so. When she stopped, she turned to the Princess and laughed nervously as Princess Twilight raised her eyebrow, unimpressed by Rarity's acting skills.
A book appeared next to Princess Twilight and as it floated next to her, she used her magic to quickly leaf through the pages. "There's a healing spell here that should eliminate the pain," she explained. She finally stopped at a page and squinted her eyes to read the fine print. "Please stay still." She turned to look at Rarity and her horn started glowing.
Rarity wanted to stop herself, but the second she saw Princess Twilight's horn light up, she was helpless to keep from closing her eyes and desperately crossing her forelegs in front of herself. "No, no, no! Please, no! I'm fine, please, don't use your magic, please!" she helplessly pleaded, backtracking despite the pain of doing so.
When she finally looked again, regret washed over her. Whereas Rarity had tried to hide her pain moments ago, Princess Twilight was unable to do so. Her ears were pressed against her skull, and more than outrage or confusion at Rarity's reaction, there was hurt.
"P-Princess Twilight, I… I didn't..."
Just like that, every ounce of emotion vanished from her face. "I apologize," she continued, the floating book closing instantly and disappearing. Without another word, she teleported back to the table, took the pen and started writing. Or started pretending to write, at least, considering she hadn't dipped the quill in ink even once during the five minutes that passed afterwards.
Rarity felt absolutely awful. The Princess had only tried to help, and what had she done? Recoiled like a terrified filly. If she left right now, Princess Twilight probably wouldn't even try to stop her.
"Princess Twilight?" she finally called out. She swallowed hard when the alicorn suddenly stopped writing but continued to stare at her parchment. "I didn't mean to act that way, especially when you were kind enough to offer that healing spell."
"It was my fault."
That was the answer the Princess finally gave, and Rarity only felt worse. The idea that she was now defending the action of the Princess slamming her against a bookcase was a bit ridiculous, but she felt compelled to do so. "Princess, please, I rea—"
"It was my fault." The Princess was still looking down at her parchment and the quill was still floating in the air. "It was my fault," she repeated again, giving Rarity the distinct impression that Princess Twilight was not only talking to herself, but that she was no longer referring to what she'd done to Rarity. Once more, the four words were repeated in a whisper, again and again and again.
Rarity couldn't bear it.
"No," she said, loudly and clearly enough that she broke the Princess from whatever trance she was trapped in. "It wasn't your fault."
Princess Twilight turned to look at her and asked in a curiously quiet voice: "Wasn’t it?" She turned back to the parchment and was quiet for about a minute until she finally put down the quill. "A trade," she said.
Princess Twilight looked at Rarity. "You… were looking for a book on gemstones." She turned back to the magazine. "Wait here."
She teleported away, and Rarity could hear noises coming from the other side of the room. In the meanwhile, the two owls flew over to her and each perched themselves on her head on either side of her horn. Since when was her head all the rage with owls? Before she could answer her own question, the Princess reappeared a few meters away from Rarity. A single thick book floated next to her, which she promptly placed besides Rarity.
“That is the only copy available of ’The Complete Encyclopedia of Precious Rocks’. It is the best book on gemstones I have,” she explained. Her horn glowed and a small wooden box filled with cards appeared on the floor.
Upon closer inspection, Rarity noticed the cards were filled with all kind of information on books. Books that had been borrowed centuries ago, boasting name of ponies, addresses, borrow dates, but not a single one had a return date marked down. Does that mean those books are still out there? She suddenly remembered what the Book Bringer had said.
“What the Spirit did not know, however, was that, when the lost heirlooms of the Princess of Magic were returned to their rightful place in the depths of the library tree, the spell keeping the Princess trapped would be broken, and peace would be restored to the land."
Were… Were those books the lost heirlooms that held the key to the Princess' release?
"The library doesn't lend books anymore. I used to let ponies take them, but I don't think they'll ever bring them back, and my books are the only thi—" She paused. "They're important to me. But," she looked at the book she'd left besides Rarity, "I can let you borrow that one, and I will borrow your bo— 'magazine.'"
Rarity nodded, even though she had barely paid attention to a word the Princess had said. There are at least twenty cards in there! Twenty books scattered around Equestria, or even beyond that! How am I expected to fi— Since when had she even decided she'd go looking for them?
“Good," Princess Twilight continued. "You still need to fill out a library card, just to make it official.” A new blank card suddenly appeared, as well as a quill. She looked down at the card and started to write. “Your name is Rarity, correct?” There was a moment of silence until she looked up from the card and found Rarity still staring quite intently at the contents of the wooden box.
The unicorn had been devoid of thought for at least two minutes by now, but a peck from one of the owls quickly brought her back to reality. Reality, in this case, being engaging in conversation with a spirit princess. “Oh! Uhm, yes,” she replied, watching as the mare nodded curtly and got back to writing.
“Rarity,” she slowly repeated as she wrote. “Residence?”
Another peck to the head screeched Rarity’s train of thoughts to a halt. “P-Pardon?”
“Residence,” the Princess repeated tonelessly, raising an eyebrow at Rarity.
The Princess’ expression hardened. “Real residence, please.”
“Th-That is my rea—”
“Ponyville was destroyed a long time ago and several kind families were left without a home, or, considering that none ever came back for me, I assume worse,” the Princess interrupted, an edge to her voice that was sharp enough to make Rarity take a step back. The Princess seemed to notice this, and her expression softened a bit. She sighed and jotted down on the card. “What lunar month and celestial year is it?”
“’Lunar month’ and ’celestial year’?” Rarity asked. Which calendar was that? Rarity tried thinking back and remembered learning in school once that the Equestrian calendar had gone by a different name over a thousand years ago or so. “We… only have months and... ’equestrian’ years,” she corrected nervously.
“You… changed that? Why would... Oh.“ The Princess went silent, watching the quill and card floating down. Without looking up, she quietly said: “What happened to Prin—” She stopped and shook her head.
"What happened to who?" Rarity prompted nevertheless.
Princess Twilight looked up. “Who raises the sun and the moon every day?”
“Raise the sun and moon?” What did that have to do with— Rarity’s train of thoughts came to a halt yet again as she remembered the fairy tale of olden times.
The eldest princesses, two sisters as beautiful and immortal as the sun and the moon which they raised, ruled over the kingdom in unison.
Rarity realized that Princess Twilight probably had no idea of what had happened after her imprisonment. She didn't know the Spirit had fled the land, nor that the other Princesses were… trapped somewhere in Equestria. All she had to go on were whatever books the Book Bringer had brought.
What did Princess Twilight know? What else didn't she know? And, perhaps most importantly, why hadn't she asked about the outside already?
"Does somepony raise the sun and moon?" Princess Twilight asked, snapping Rarity out of her thoughts.
“Princess Denza,” Rarity replied, hoping the Princess' next question had to do with what happened centuries ago. “She raises both the moon and the sun.”
The Princess looked surprised by this revelation. “Princess Denza?”
Rarity nodded slowly. “Princess Cadenza Armor X. She and the rest of the Armor family have been our monarchs for centuries, and they’ve raised the moon and sun with each generation,” she elaborated. It was tradition that the new ruling princess would lower the sun and raise the moon for the first time during her coronation.
Princess Cadenza Armor the ninth had died around twenty years ago, and it was then that Princess Cadenza the tenth (or Princess Denza, as she liked being called), had become ruling princess. Rarity had been only a filly when it happened, so to her great regret, she had not been able to attend the event.
“...Armor?” the Princess repeated slowly. “So Cadance and Shining Armor did manage to...” Her ears fell, and there was something in her expression…
Sadness and pain unlike Rarity had ever imagined somepony could hold in their gaze – moreso even than when she had refused the Princess’ healing spell. In that moment, Rarity’s curiosity over the fairy tale was washed away and forgotten. The Princess’ gaze had become lost, unfocused, distant, but to Rarity, it was clear. Her eyes were windows leading to the soul of a pony forgotten by the ages, and Rarity could only watch and let herself be overwhelmed by an inexplicable and suffocating desire to comfort the alicorn.
But she couldn’t.
“I… I…” Princess Twilight took another step back, blinking three times.
Was she blinking back tears?
The cards and quill were teleported away and landed on a far-off table, while the Princess kept taking steps back. “I… I have to leave," she stammered, closing her eyes and taking deep breaths. "The return date is in seven days."
For the first time that night, Rarity wasn't happy to see the Princess back away from her. "Yes, but, Prince—"
"Will you come back?" she interrupted, opening her eyes to look at Rarity. Much like hours before, she seemed to be pleading.
Rarity paused for a moment. "I-I promise, but—"
The Princess never heard the end of that sentence, having teleported away the moment after she had her answer, and in doing so, she had left and taken with her all the answers Rarity sought. Left before Rarity could even ask what was wrong, or try and make sense of things.
The two owls flew away and into the depths of the library, no doubt going after their master. Seconds after they left, the magic chandelier floating above flickered and everything around Rarity turned dark. She watched as the lone candelabra quickly floated down and near the ground, illuminating the book Princess Twilight had left. She lifted it with her magic and trotted towards the door, the candelabra floating behind her and lighting her way.
She stopped, turned and headed for the table where Princess Twilight had left the library cards. The candelabra illuminated the table, allowing her to take the cards and go through them, reading through the names. She finally landed on a card about a book on weather patterns borrowed by a certain Bitterwind Cinder who lived in the… eastern port town? Her memories of school geography were admittedly not very good, but wasn't the area surrounding Fillydelphia once considered one of Equestria's major ports several centuries ago?
And hadn't Snowy Cinder, this year's Seeking Night's Princess Selene, moved from Fillydelphia to Ponyville several years ago?
She put the book down, took a blank card, and wrote down the information on the card. It wasn't until she had a perfect copy of the library card that she stopped to think a bit about what she had done and what it meant. Was she really ready to find those books? Could they even be found? And, most importantly, did she even want to find them?
"So long as you continue coming here, then we will see each other again! If not, then I suppose Princess Twilight will simply have to wait for another to help her, won’t she?”
What if no pony ever came to help Princess Twilight? It was these doubts that ultimately forced Rarity to take her new library card and put it in her saddlebag, along with the rest of its contents save for her magazine and the crown. Those, she left on the desk for the alicorn. She instead levitated her newly borrowed book and finally trotted off towards the exit tunnel again, the candelabra following behind.
She stepped into the tunnel and made her way through it until several thuds and the sudden absence of light made her come to a stop. She looked around and saw the candelabra floating on the other side of the entrance. It made a move to go to her, but to her shock, the same barrier that had stopped the Princess appeared and did the same to the candelabra. Rarity watched as the candelabra tried again, and again, and again to leave the library only for the barrier to stop it again, and again, and again.
Why hadn't the barrier stopped her, too?
Rarity finally turned away, lighting up her horn and trotting off until the thuds in the distance stopped. She went up the spiral staircase and out of the tree, closing the trap door behind her. It felt to her like she spent at least five minutes staring at the trap door before looking up at the plaque hammered on the tree.
Donated by Princess Twilight Sparkle
She lifted her right forehoof and brushed it against the name of the princess, but her thoughts were interrupted and her ears perked up as she heard somepony calling her name in the distance. Hoof still on the plaque, she looked back towards the general direction of the sound. How long had she been gone?
How long would it be until she was back?
Would she even be back?
She let her hoof fall to the ground and turned away from the tree, trotting towards the edge of the hole and climbing out with some difficulty. She cantered towards the direction of the distant calling of her name, ignoring the inner voice that seemed to tell her to go back to the tree, down the stairs and towards the lost library and its lonely princess.
Memories of the Princess kept floating around in her mind. From how she saved Rarity, to how she pleaded for her to stay, to the offer of the trade, and finally to that final expression that not only betrayed what might have been centuries and centuries of sadness, but also a loneliness the likes of which Rarity had never seen before.
A loneliness that would haunt her thoughts when she’d go back home with Fluttershy and Diamond Dusk. A loneliness that would haunt her dreams that night, beckoning her to return to the library. A loneliness that would haunt her to the very core and would take the shape of a promise to return and a single name she’d never be able to forget.
The Princess in the Library.
Chapter 4: ~ Act I ~ 03 ~ The Questions in the Labyrinth
"Twilight, how are we supposed to live here?"
"The Princess will help me build a library here, Spike. I need to be able to have my books nearby during my research if we want to find a weapon to stop him."
"But... how are we supposed to hide from him with a library here? He will find it! It isn't as if we can build a secret library under the tree..."
"...You just gave me an idea, Spike."
The history of the Everfree Forest was shrouded in as much mystery as the story of the Princess living in its midst. For how long had those trees been the guardians of the library, and how long would it take for the Princess’ past to finish seeping out of her words like amber from the forest trees? It had been only two days, but questions howled in Rarity’s mind over and over, like timberwolves never giving up their chase for their prey — or, in her case, answers. Thousands of answers that lay buried within the lost library, and thousands of answers Rarity would soon acquire…
If only I could actually find the blasted library in the first place!
“Rarity, this is the third time we’ve seen this tree…”
"Don't be silly! We haven't been near this tree three times," Rarity insisted. She was technically correct as well, they hadn't passed that tree with a hollow hole three times, but four— which, incidentally, was likely the number of hours they'd spent searching for Princess Twilight's library.
It was destiny, wasn't it? Fate deciding that, now that Rarity was prepared, finding the library was suddenly akin to trying to find a discount Saddle Arabian fabric during the last day of a Bloominghooves' sale. Her boots were completely covered in mud, her manestyle was starting to lose its luster, the assorted items in her saddlebag were starting to feel heavier and heavier, and her best friend was beginning to think she was off her rocker, if she hadn’t been thinking that since Rarity had gone to her with her proposal.
She isn’t, surely?
"Fluttershy, you saw the tree!" she exclaimed helplessly, stopping in her tracks and turning to the pegasus. When her friend bit down on her lip and looked down at the ground, Rarity stamped her hoof on the ground. "And that abandoned house where the girls were hiding in? It makes sense! Honestly, what possible reason would I have for making any of this up? I know I have a cat, but that doesn’t make me a crazy old cat lady!"
Fluttershy's ears clamped down against her head, and she finally yet reluctantly looked up towards the irate unicorn. “Rarity… can we just go home? Please?” she pleaded. Her apprehension was understandable, considering she had spent two hours lost in the Everfree Forest during Seeking Night after Rarity had sent her and the fillies back to Ponyville.
Though Rarity felt guilty that her curiosity allowed Fluttershy to wander off completely alone with two fillies, that same guilt could easily be applied towards the lonely princess. She couldn’t just give up on finding her again, could she? Even if she’d wanted to, she found it impossible to move on. Pretending that Princess Twilight didn’t exist was something she simply couldn’t do. It flowed through her head constantly. Every book she saw, every accidental glance towards the forest, every mention of the royal family…
All of those things would forever be reminders of the secrets she had discovered beneath that hollow oak.
Rarity looked away from Fluttershy’s accusatory gaze. “You… don’t believe me, do you?” she asked quietly, her resignation sounding much more like a hurt accusation. She expected that from anypony else, especially considering Diamond Dusk’s reaction to what she told them, but to see Fluttershy doubt her words... She would be lying if she said it didn’t sting that her most trusted confidant no longer seemed that earnest in holding said position.
“Do you share Dusk’s belief that I must have suffered fear-induced hallucinations? I see.”
Her words were much sharper than Fluttershy deserved, and though she immediately regretted them, her frustration far outweighed her instinct to apologize. It didn’t make sense, not a single bit, how difficult it was to find the library. It didn’t help that, for every step they took, for every minute that ticked by, her understanding of why her friend might think she’d lost her mind grew.
“That’s not fair,” Fluttershy replied, her voice loud and clear if a bit hesitant. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe you.”
Rarity looked back at her friend, grinding her teeth and flattening her ears against her head. For Fluttershy to have felt the need to say that, she must have been harsher than she intended. “I apologize, Fluttershy,” she said finally, frustration and helplessness dripping in every syllable. She lifted her hoof and rubbed it against her forehead, letting out a drawn out sigh. “I just… You saw the book, and I— I give you my word I’m not lyi—”
“Let’s look around one more time,” Fluttershy interrupted her softly, an encouraging smile on her lips. She looked around and gulped. “If... if we don’t find it, we can always look again tomorrow, right? Princess…”
“Right,” Fluttershy continued with a nod. “Princess Twilight isn’t going anywhere, is she?” she added with a soft giggle that was fortunately contagious.
Rarity smiled and shook her head. “No, I suppose she isn’t,” she said, giggling as well. “Onwards, then!” More marching through the dark and dismal forest followed her enthusiastic declaration, her eyes scouring the forest for the tree like a hawk. It wasn’t until they reached Zecora’s hut that she stopped briefly to rest.
Not a single light shone inside the herbalist’s house, which was not that surprising considering Zecora had left Ponyville for a week after Seeking Night. It wasn’t unusual for the zebra to leave for weeks on end, but she always made sure to attend important events in the nearby town if only to help her public image. Rarity visited her often for help with spells, but she was well aware that most of Ponyville’s inhabitants were still wary of the zebra.
“I don’t understand! The tree should be right near here!” Rarity exclaimed, turning away from the window and towards the forest. “Or the house, at the very least! We could see Zecora’s house from there, couldn’t we?”
Fluttershy looked around for a bit before turning to Rarity. “I… I don’t know?” she admitted. She looked towards the forest again, and rubbed her hoof against her mouth. “You just said that the light we saw was Zecora’s house, but the girls and I never actually saw if it was.”
“But it was!” Rarity insisted, even though she herself never went to Zecora’s house that night. “... Wasn’t it? I mean, what else could it have been?” She very much doubted anypony else lived in the Everfree Forest, and unless manticores or other beasts traveled with torches, there wasn’t much else the light could have been. “You’ll see. That house must be nearby,” she insisted, once more trotting off with Fluttershy close behind.
And, as the increasingly aggravating twists of fate would have it, the abandoned house was nowhere to be found. They went back and forth for at least twenty more minutes, and for a moment Rarity worried that maybe she had hallucinated the entire ordeal. She came to a halt and let out a frustrated and unladylike growl, picking up a stray branch with her magic and throwing it against a nearby tree. Well, fine! she thought, throwing the distant darkness a sullen glare. If she doesn’t want to be found, then so be it! I have much better things to do than play hide-and-seek with an oak tree all night.
A low growl pulled her out of her thoughts, and her ears flicked up, suddenly alert. Goodness, she knew they hadn’t had lunch nor dinner yet, but that was no reason for Fluttershy to act like that. It was most unbecoming.
“Yes, alright, let’s go home,” Rarity sighed, finally giving in to her friend’s wishes. She turned towards Fluttershy and scolded, “There’s no need to make those noi— Fluttershy?”
Something was wrong. All color had drained from Fluttershy's face, and her wide eyes were fixed intently on the worried unicorn.
“F-Fluttershy?” she whispered, her own heartbeat accelerating exponentially. “W-What’s wrong?”
“R-R-Rarity, d-don’t l-loo—”
Fluttershy’s stammered warning never reached its conclusion for she suddenly closed her mouth and let out a small, terrified squeak. It was, however, not difficult for Rarity to guess what the rest of her warning was meant to convey. Every single hair on her coat stood on its end, her breathing became quick and shallow, and she slowly turned around to see whatever had made that unearthly sound.
In the distance, several meters away, two narrowed glowing green eyes stared back at her. She’d never had the privilege of seeing a timberwolf up close, and she immediately wished it had stayed that way. The wooden wolf-like creature exhumed green and putrid-smelling fumes from between its bared sharp fangs, and the twigs and leaves that made up its body were dripping with mud and all manner of repulsively dirty substances.
Rarity carefully took a step away from the timberwolf, not once breaking eye contact with it. “Fluttershy, darling?” she asked, trying to appear more calm and collected than she actually felt. She received a barely audible squeak in reply. “You remember when Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo roped us into playing hide-and-seek with them? How we had to carefully sneak around the house so they wouldn’t find us?” Another squeak. “Follow my lead, then.”
In perfect terrified synchronization, the two mares stepped back, prompting the timberwolf to give a low growl and take a step towards them. They managed to step back the tremendously high amount of five steps, but to their misfortune, stepping and cracking a branch was the trigger that fired up the timberwolf. Letting out a loud howl, the beast jumped towards them, and they could do nothing but—
Without wasting a second, Rarity ran after Fluttershy, losing themselves deeper and deeper into the frightening forest and losing all sense of direction. It felt like they’d been running for hours, and Rarity’s legs were starting to burn with exhaustion, but the looming threat of being eaten was a surprisingly effective incentive to keep going.
Eventually, it sounded as if the howling was getting farther and farther away. She focused on the pony running in front of her, and failed to notice the small hole she was running towards. With a high-pitched ‘eek!’, Rarity fell into the hole and landed on her right hoof.
Her hoof, still not completely recovered from the ordeals Princess Twilight had imposed on it, was not in the most healthy of states; so when she landed on it and twisted it completely, she could only let out an agonized shriek at the stinging pain that shot up her foreleg. She collapsed to the floor, tears running down the sides of her face, and then looked up to Fluttershy.
“R-Rarity!” Fluttershy exclaimed, trotting toward her. She tried helping the unicorn back on her feet, but stopped in fright when the timberwolf appeared once more from the trees.
Rarity looked at it, and then turned to Fluttershy and tried pushing her away, already assuming herself dead. “Go! Run!” she yelled, not wanting for her friend to die in such a miserable state and place as well. She was very moved when Fluttershy replied by clinging to her in what seemed to be an awkwardly made attempt at protection. Looking back to the fearsome beast that stalked closer. Rarity thought of Princess Twilight and desperately wished she were here to blast the timberwolf away.
And that’s when she heard the hoot of an owl.
Before the timberwolf could turn them into its evening feast, a familiar black owl flew down from the branches of a tree and started pecking away at the timberwolf’s face. The valiant attack was enough to distract the beast from the two mares, turning its attention away from them and towards the small owl.
Had… Had the Princess sent her familiar to save them?
Themis continued pecking at the timberwolf, flapping his wings wildly and eventually resorting to scratching at its green eyes with his sharp claws; giving Fluttershy enough time to help Rarity up, while the timberwolf viciously snapped and swatted at Themis.
Though the bird was quick, he wasn’t quick enough. Much to the horror of the two mares, the timberwolf’s frenzied swatting finally paid off, and Themis was hurled towards the bark of a tree. He slammed against it with a thud, falling to the ground and lying motionless at the base of the tree.
Oh no! Rarity thought helplessly, is he…?
Anger boiled up inside of her, and she suddenly felt willing to take on the timberwolf – but her plans were preempted by a second hoot, much angrier than the first. Seconds later, a white owl shot out from another tree and began to viciously peck at the timberwolf. The timberwolf tried the same tactic that had worked so well on the black owl, but the white one was much faster, noisily flapping her wings and flying in circles around it.
Without warning, the owl took off into the forest and the timberwolf chased after her. It wasn’t until the growling faded away completely that Fluttershy went back to helping Rarity stand up. Despite the intense pain when she stepped on her hoof, she was more concerned with other things. Fluttershy, too, seemed to be concerned with the same thing; a little owl that was groggily stumbling about. Once he had regained some amount of balance, he flew up a few meters, fell down, successfully tried again, and slowly and unsteadily flew off into the depths of the forest.
“W-Wait!” called Rarity, trying to run after him but not getting very far with her injured hoof. He was probably going back to the library, and that might be the only chance she had of ever finding the place again. She turned back to Fluttershy. “Come on! We might still be able to catch him!” Her ears dropped when Fluttershy made no move to follow. “Fluttershy? Those are the Princess’ owls! We need to—”
“Fluttershy!” she half exclaimed half whined, looking back and forth between the long-gone owl and her friend, gesturing wildly at the same time. “But—! You—! The owl—! And the Princess—! What do you mean ‘no’?!” she demanded, receiving a meek but firm ‘no’ in reply again. “Fluttershy!” she screeched, forgetting about her injured hoof until the moment she unconsciously slammed it against the ground in annoyance and then gave out a pained yelp.
Of all the times for Fluttershy to be assertive, why did it have to be then?! Rarity might have been proud of her friend if only she didn’t want stomp off in a huff and follow the owl herself. “But, Fluttershy, he’s injured! Even if we don’t find the Princess, we can’t just let him fly around like that!” she shot back, stomping her healthy hoof on the floor for emphasis.
Fluttershy winced slightly, her ears lowering. “He’s injured because of us, and because we didn’t leave before the timberwolf found us,” she pointed out. “I… I don’t like leaving the little owl injured like that, but it’s night already, and you’re injured too.”
Fluttershy merely sighed and offered a small smile. “Let’s go home, please?” she said, still phrasing it as a question with an option even after everything Rarity had put her through. “We’ll try again when you’re better.”
Rarity observed her for a moment, part of her still deeply wanting to go after the owl, but she eventually relented and nodded her head. With a few shaky and painful steps, she went towards her friend and followed her home.
Without looking back, Rarity took a deep breath and told herself that she didn’t have to see Princess Twilight again.
Days later, she would miserably realize she had been technically right. It wasn’t that she wanted to see Princess Twilight again, it was that she needed — and that was a very strong needed — to see her again.
The constant sound of her hooves against wood served as the clock ticking down her descent into madness as she paced around her workroom for yet another hour. Her physical appearance did wonders accentuating the frazzled state of her mind; disheveled mane with strands of hair sticking out, constant chewing on her lip when she wasn’t busy mumbling, and the little twitch her eyes did whenever she stepped with her bandaged hoof.
Rarity was losing it, and she was well aware of that fact. Even other ponies were quite curious about the entire affair. Gossips and rumors spread like wildfire, and the entire town knew Rarity had gone into Everfree Forest during Seeking Night. There was also the fact that even though he hadn’t said what she’d rambled about, Diamond Dusk had mentioned to three dozen ponies that Rarity had been acting ‘odd’ after they found her.
She wasn’t surprised the entire town was dying to know what had she seen in that forest, but if even Fluttershy didn’t seem to believe her, then she couldn’t possibly expect other ponies to do so.
“I need to see her again, Opal. I fear that I’ll go mad if I don’t.”
For the Persian cat curled up on her master’s chaise longue, the constant pacing might have been a rather soothing and a perfect hypnosis into dream land, but it was difficult to doze off when Rarity kept talking out-loud to herself. Opal meowed out in reply, stretching herself for a minute before curling back up into a ball. While her meow was more a yawn than an answer, ponies sadly did not excel in understanding the intricate language of cats, and Rarity was free to interpret the answer as she wished.
“I’m not crazy, Opalescence!” she shrieked, stamping her good hoof against the floor and glaring at her pet, who replied by flattening her ears against her head and hissing at the unicorn’s shrill shrieks. Rarity harrumphed and went back to her definitely not delirious mumbling. “I don’t need to see her again!” she claimed. “I do need to see her again,” she confessed. “No, I don’t!” she exclaimed.
Did someone care about Princess Twilight? Not her, that’s for sure.
She didn’t care when she went back with Fluttershy, nor did she care the other six times she tried sneaking back into the forest. ‘Tried’ being the key word because it was rather difficult to actually get in the forest when Fluttershy kept dropping by to check in on her. She knew Fluttershy wanted her to rest, but honestly, couldn't a mare be left to sneak out of her house in peace?
Princess Twilight Sparkle didn’t matter. She most certainly wasn’t a thought that never went away and made it difficult to think of something else, because how can one think of something else if the thought never pauses and goes away like a fast paced sentence with almost no type of punctuation whatsoever, just word after word that consumes thoughts and doesn’t let one breathe and—
“Her book!” she retorted to an unasked question, levitating the weighty tome she had borrowed and showing the first page to her thoroughly uninterested feline. “It says ‘Property of Twilight Sparkle’! See?!” She put the book down on the couch and levitated Opalescence over to her, pressing the cat against her chest. “They think I’ve lost my sanity, but they’re wrong!" She pulled Opalescence back and lifted her, their faces so close together that Opalescence could easily take a swipe at her. “You believe me, don’t you, darling?! Don’t you?!”
When her beloved cat and sole true friend in that dark and dreary world of despair and distrust merely yowled at her, a realization came crashing down upon Rarity with the force of a thousand scratching and sharpened claws.
Oh my stars, I really am turning into a crazy cat lady!
And if that was to be her destiny, then she’d embrace it.
“If Princess Twilight is to be my madness, then so be it!” she proclaimed, throwing her poor cat back onto the fainting couch. It didn’t matter that her cat fled the room, or that there was no cheering audience to feel inspired by her declarations; all that mattered was that her mind was set, and she’d find that forsaken Princess even if she had to fight another timberwolf.
And then, once the Princess was found, all Rarity would need was a instant camera for instant proof of her permanent sanity. Ah, Rarity, you are a genius; misunderstood in your time. With a dazzling picture of the Princess, no one would be able to refute her claims! Plus, she'd had plans to go to Canterlot in a fortnight so she could take them to Princess Denza herself! It was a fool-proof plan!
Chuckling to herself over what was a brilliant plan, if she did say so herself, she rushed into the foyer and donned her saddlebag. With a spark of magic, Princess Twilight’s book appeared in front of her and she quickly stuffed it inside the bag. I’ll buy a camera, then go and find the Princess, return her book and take the pictures, she told herself, trotting out of her boutique.
It was only midday, and a quick trip to Ponyville’s shopping area would land her in Flitter Shutter’s shop where she’d purchase the best instant camera available. Could cameras even take pictures of ghosts? She didn’t suppose there was such a thing as a guide on how to take paranormal pictures, was there? Maybe Flitter might have something of the sort.
So lost was she in her fantasy of being lauded as the ‘mare who found Princess Twilight’, that she failed to notice the odd looks ponies gave her as she passed by them on her way to the shopping area. Their whispers went unheard, drowned out by the sound of fast-paced trotting and her own loud thoughts. She could already see her beautiful vintage camera—
— and the pictures of Princess Twilight. Speaking of Princess Twilight, Rarity wondered what she would look like with her mane tied up, she imagined the princess would look rather fetching. Was it even possible to tie her mane up? Surely some kind of make-over could be done. After that, she'd take zillion of photographs, one for every resident of Equestria so then everypony would know without a shadow of a doubt that Rarity wasn't off her rocke—
"H-Huh?" She turned around, snapped out of her thoughts, and saw an orange mare right behind her. "O-Oh, Applejack!"
The earth pony and her family were Ponyville's resident farmers. Granny Smith, Applejack’s grandmother, was long rumored to be the oldest inhabitant of Ponyville. Though Rarity and Applejack did not share much in common, they got along well enough.
Applejack smiled and shook her head. "Land sakes, Rarity, I've been hollerin' at you for at least five minutes. I was about ready to give up!"
"Oh? Have you?" Rarity felt her cheeks grow hot. She cleared her throat and adjusted her saddlebag.
"Sure as sugar." Applejack adjusted her hat and smiled. "Been meaning to talk to ya, but I couldn't find the time... 'till now, that is. I’ve… been hearin' some things about ya."
Rarity held her breath. "O-Oh? Have you now?" she asked as nonchalantly as she could, which turned out to be not at all. "Good things, I hope?"
Applejack's smile turned sheepish and she rubbed the back of her neck with a hoof. "Well, not as such... A lot about what happened to ya on Seekin' Night... I just wanted ta say tha—"
Sweet heavens above, did everypony believe she'd gone crazy?! She knew that she hadn't been herself lately, but this was ridiculous! Oh, she couldn’t wait until she had those pictures to throw them at all their disbelieving faces!
"Applejack," she interrupted, smiling thinly and taking a deep breath. "I don't know what Diamond Dusk has gone around saying about me, but I insist you hear my version before believing his. Honestly, the Everfree Forest is a terrifying place, maybe he’s the one who got hypnotized, hm? And you know how he loves gossip, he might as well join the local gossip club!”
"Whoa there, sugarcube," Applejack said, holding up a hoof to forestall any more ranting. "I was just gonna say I thought it was very brave that you went into Everfree all by your lonesome, especially to save your sister." She looked to her left where the gloom of the forest loomed on the horizon. "Apples've been here since the town was founded, and in all that time, as many ponies dared go into that forest as I've got hooves. So..." She looked back and grinned. "Yer either brave or foolhardy, but I like that."
Rarity smiled, drawing herself up a bit taller. She had been rather courageous, had she not? "Ah, yes, well I couldn't just leav— Wait," she interrupted herself, and tilted her head. "You… Your family! They’ve been here since Ponyville’s founding?” she asked, excitement bubbling up inside her. If that was true, then it would mean that one of Applejack’s ancestors must have met Princess Twilight and her library before she was trapped!
“Sure as sugar!” Applejack replied cheerfully. “Granny Smith’s grandaddy’s papa founded Ponyville, as a matter of fact!”
Rarity’s heart started beating wildly in her chest. This… This meant that the Apple Family must have had books, scrolls, information about Equestria before Twilight was trapped, all of it hidden away in their barn! Perhaps even a clue as to how to find the library again!
“Yep,” Applejack continued proudly, seemingly lost in the story of her family’s role in the founding of the town. “He moved here with his lil’ struggling family, and since nopony had built anythin’ near the Everfree Forest, he decided to build his barn, and then other travelers settled in, and—”
Wait a second.
The Everfree Forest?
That couldn’t be right! The legend said the Spirit grew Everfree Forest around Princess Twilight’s library! Even that house with that tree growing through it confirmed it! Didn’t it?
“Stop, stop, darling!” Rarity interrupted hastily, trying to keep her breathing steady. “You… You mean to tell me that the Everfree Forest was already there before Ponyville’s founding?” she said carefully, articulating every word as if talking to a foal.
Applejack nodded. “My great-great-grandaddy discovered the secret to Zap Apple Jam and figured he’d build the farm near the forest.”
“A-And did he build houses inside the forest?! Surely he must have!” Rarity said, her voice becoming increasingly desperate with every answered question. “A library, perhaps?”
Applejack merely snorted at that. “Don’t talk nonsense! Why would he — or anypony — want to live in the Everfree Forest?” she asked, shaking her head. She then took on a much less amused expression and continued, “That place ain’t safe, Rarity. My great-great uncle Apple Crumble got himself killed by Timberwolves. Then there’s all kinds of dangerous critters, not to mention that endless sinkhole. That pla—”
“No!” Rarity exclaimed, stamping her hoof against the ground. “No, no, no, no! It doesn’t make sense!” Without warning, she started trotting in circles around Applejack, rambling on relentlessly. "He couldn’t have built it after the Everfree Forest! Don’t you see?! The plaque on the library! It said ‘Ponyville Public Library’!” She stopped and turned to Applejack, breathing heavily. “How do you explain the plaque?! How?!”
Applejack looked completely at a loss for words. “Rarity, you ain’t making a lick of sen—”
“Applejack, I’m not crazy! I saw the tree, I saw the plaque!” she insisted helplessly, covering her face with her hooves and groaning with frustration. After a moment, she took back her hooves, sighing as she looked up and… found a small white owl flying in circles above them, carrying something in its claws.
“Elara…?” she whispered, her eyes going wide and her heart starting to beat at what was certainly an unhealthy rate. Oddly enough, it also felt as if though time had stopped while her eyes stuck to Elara as if she was a ghost. She survived the timberwolf attack! But... had she come looking for Rarity? Had Princess Twilight sent her? Did this mean Rarity could find the library again?
Applejack looked up as well. “Would’ja look at that! I thought owls were night critters, but this one’s out in plain daylight!” she exclaimed, following Elara’s flight pattern with her eyes. She narrowed her eyes. “What’s it carrying?”
Before either of them could hope to figure out what Elara had, the owl suddenly looked down at Rarity and flew off towards the distance. Rarity panicked at the sight, realizing the only other creature in Ponyville who’d seen Princess Twilight was getting away. Without another word to Applejack, she ran off after Elara, pain shooting up her leg every time she stepped on it.
“Ra-Rarity?!” Applejack called, prompting the unicorn to glance back.
“Stay there, Applejack! I’ll be back! We need to talk!"
That said, Rarity looked back towards Elara, who made a sudden sharp turn and disappeared around the corner of a house. Oh no you don’t, Rarity thought, chasing after the owl through town, avoiding ponies as she ran. Rarity had never realized how surprisingly big Ponyville was until that moment, already running after Elara for at least fifteen minutes.
Every so often, the owl would turn back for a moment, almost as if making sure Rarity was following. After the third or fifth turn, she suddenly sped up tremendously, and Rarity panicked when she lost sight of her completely. Turning around the corner of a house, Rarity reached a small commercial plaza with a fountain in the middle. Some ponies were trotting around, talking and eating, and others were looking at the displays of the many shops in the plaza. To Rarity's great dismay, Elara was nowhere to be seen. She had been so close, and now her only chance to find Princess Twilight had literally flown away — possibly forever.
She looked around at the shops, hoping to find the owl perched on one of the buildings. She trotted past the fabric's shop, the food store, the home items store, and finally stopped in front of Inky Owl's Quills & Scrolls. The outside of the shop was decorated with an owl motif, the wooden frame of the door carved with drawings of different kinds of night birds. On the other side of the window was a display of multicolored quills, as well as a large assortment of crystal inkwells shaped like owls.
Exactly like the one she'd seen in Princess Twilight's library.
On the outside of the shop was a large blue cauldron filled almost to the brim with some sort of black liquid, and upon closer inspection she realized it was black ink. Not only that, but placed right besides the cauldron was a single owl-shaped inkwell. Unlike the ones inside the shop, this one looked old and dirty, traces of ink still present inside it. The glass had scratch-marks, as well. Is this what Elara was carrying? she thought, gingerly taking the inkwell in her hoof to take a closer look.
"Put that back!" a voice suddenly hissed at her. "Put it back, I said!"
Rarity immediately looked around and noticed a black unicorn stallion standing under the frame of the shop door, frantically waving down with his hoof. His foreleg had been replaced with a pegleg, and Rarity wasn't sure she wanted to know what accident had made that necessary. "Oh, excuse me!" she said, quickly putting the inkwell back on the ground. "I thought..."
He harrumphed and trotted towards her, levitating the inkwell and taking out the cork. He then carefully dipped it inside the cauldron and filled it up with ink. Once filled, he cleaned it up, put the cork back on, and returned it to its former place on the ground. "Those owls have been coming for centuries, and I'm not letting a nosy mare be the first one to stop them," he said, turning around and going back inside his shop, leaving Rarity alone with the inkwell. Did that mean it really did belong to Prince—
"Don't even think about it!" Inky Owl warned less than a minute later, peeking his head out the door again and glaring at Rarity. He then retreated back into his shop, grumbling under his breath.
Rarity looked from the inkwell to the shop, eyes wide. They've been coming for centuries?! Centuries worth of owls… doing heavens knows what, and he's never questioned it? Never wondered where or why they were coming?! Or… Or was she perhaps not the only one who knew of Princess Twilight's existence?
"Wait a minute, please!" she called, rushing inside the shop.
Dimly lit magical light-bulbs illuminated the sombre-looking shop, the scent of ink and parchment filled her nose, and the entire wooden owl-themed decor made for quite the sight. Small cauldrons filled with ink of all colors were scattered around, and Rarity couldn't help but think that all it needed was a cat for the place to look like a witch’s house. As she made her way towards the end of the shop, she passed by shelves and shelves of assorted calligraphy items: fountain pens, quills, inkwells, parchment of all colors — some of them boasting prices that were almost absurd.
She finally found Inky Owl bending down behind a wooden black counter, looking for something at his hooves. On the wall behind him hung a frame, and inside it was what looked like an elegant yet minimalistic drawing of a baby dragon. The parchment inside the frame was old and worn-out, and had small rips here and there. The word 'Solar' was written on top of the dragon.
"What do you need?" Inky Owl asked, straightening up and placing a jar filled with chestnuts on the table. He tapped his forehoof impatiently against the counter, not bothering to hide Rarity's unwanted presence. "Be quick, it'll be back for the ink soon."
"'It' will be back for ink'?" Rarity asked. "The owl, you mean? And they've been coming for centuries?"
Inky Owl nodded and flashed a proud smile. "They've been coming ever since my great-grandfather started his business. Very first day, a brown owl landed on that very cauldron outside and my great-grandfather gave it his very first owl-shaped inkwell for good luck. Ever since then, owls have been coming to get ink and leaving a chestnut as payment." He gave the jar a fond look. "My father used to say we were blessed by the owls."
...Blessed by the owls? Really?
"But, don't you know where they're taking the ink? Or who's sending them? Or why?" Rarity asked, not understanding how Inky Owl or any of his ancestors hadn't asked themselves those questions before. "Haven't you tried following them before?"
Inky Owl smiled thinly. "Oh, of course I've tried following them. All the way into the Everfree Forest, as a matter of fact." He lifted his peg leg and it landed on the table with a thud. "The timberwolves weren't so happy to see me there, though. Must admit the only reason I'm alive is those owls found me and started pecking at the beast.
"I suspect they must keep coming out of habit," he continued, looking towards the wall and using his magic to float down the framed illustration. He carefully took the parchment out of the frame and presented it to Rarity. "The first owl brought several of these to my great-grandfather, but this one is the only one that's left thanks to a preservation spell. According to my grandfather, every one of the messages was just a drawing and a title, probably done by the owner of the owls. I assume they must have passed away since the messages stopped coming one day."
Rarity inspected the drawing, though it was a bit difficult to properly look under the bad lighting.
If Princess Twilight had sent those messages after her imprisonment, their content didn't make sense. Why not send a message for help? Why just… drawings? She turned it around and found the other side equally empty of any clues.
"Now, if you'll excuse me..." Inky Owl took the jar with his magic, trotting away from the counter and towards the entrance. "It's already been three weeks I've missed it, and the poor thing left a mess trying to fill up its inkpot by itself."
Rarity watched him go before turning back to the parchment. She squinted her eyes, trying to find some other type of clue to no avail. If only the light were better. She looked around and saw a lit candle on top of one the stands. She levitated the candle off the stand, brought it over to the drawing, and just as she started illuminating it with the candlelight… it changed?
One by one, letters started appearing on the parchment until a shocked Rarity was left staring at what seemed to be a string of assorted random glowing letters. "A… code?"
Wanting to take a better look, she put the candle on the table, but the second the flame was moved away from the parchment, the letters immediately disappeared. "What in heavens is..." She blinked and moved the candle back towards the parchment, watching as the letters immediately reappeared. After repeating the actions several times, she felt her heart beat wildly in her chest. Princess Twilight had hidden a message in her letters, after all!
But why code them?
Rarity looked around the counter for parchment and a quill, but just as she found them and started writing down the code, the illustration disappeared from her hooves. "Wh-What?! Wait, where did it—"
"Leave the drawing alone and hurry! It's back, it's back!" Inky Owl called, his face pressed against the shop window and the dragon illustration floating next to him. When Rarity joined him, pressing her face against the window, he continued, "See? The chestnut!"
Elara had returned and now stood on the ground next to the cauldron, pushing a chestnut towards next to the inkwell.
"They never stay," Inky Owl continued in a hushed voice. "They just pick up the inkwell, leave the nut, and then take off. If I try going outside, they fly away immediately."
Rarity bit her lip. She wanted to go out, but if that meant the owl would fly away, then…
All of a sudden, Elara looked up at the two ponies staring at her on the other side of the window. Her gaze rested on Inky Owl for a few seconds, and she then turned to look at Rarity. She flapped her wings and flew up into the air, digging one claw in the cork of the inkwell and using the other one to grab the glass.
Rarity took a step towards the door, watching the owl carefully.
Once the inkwell was secure in her claws, Elara flew in front of Rarity on the other side of the window. Inky Owl's surprised gasp went unheard by the unicorn, her mind completely focused on the owl. They stared at each other for a moment before Elara finally hooted loudly and took off.
It was apparent she wanted Rarity to follow her, but did the unicorn dare? Did she dare give in to the the curiosity – or was it dark desire she had been suppressing for over a week? Because that's what it was; a dark, irrational desire to go back and see this ghost that consumed her thoughts and her dreams. Her curiosity was leading her straight into the mouth of the timberwolf and she…
And she rushed out of the shop and galloped after Elara, not bothering to say goodbye to the shocked shopkeeper, ignoring the throbbing pain in her forehoof, ignoring the fact she didn't have the camera, and leaving what would have been a life of peace and quiet had she instead stayed in the shop.
JOURNAL ENTRY n. 23
I have finally found a lead, and I cannot wait to show it to Princess Celestia. I have already talked with my brother and Cadance, and they're a bit worried, but I think they'll always be worried about me — especially Shining Armor. He still treats me as if I were a filly!
I found an old oak tree in a valley, and I think that might be the best place to build my library and start my research. With Princess Celestia's assistance, it shouldn't be too difficult to build the library under it, and hopefully he won't find it. I am also a bit worried about some villagers living near the tree. They seem to be farmers, and I don't want to alarm them of my presence.
Spike will be coming with me, as I hoped. He seems to be a little bit too excited about the prospect of 'adventure'. "Twilight Sparkle the unicorn and Spike the dragon against the god of chaos!" he said. I think he is so happy because he doesn't know yet that most of the adventure will be reading books. I can't wait to see his face when he realizes life will be no different than back at the castle!
I will miss Canter Capitol, though. My new library won't be nearly as vast as the one in the castle, and I won't have anypony to talk to except for Spike. I am not sure how much more he can take of my lectures on magical astrology! Although, if my suspicions are proven to be right, I won't be away from home for much longer.
Spike and I met with the cryptographer Mister Vigenere a few hours ago. He has recently invented a cipher and taught it to Spike and me. It is a fascinating process, involving a key code and an alphabetical chart. Spike found it somewhat complicated, however. In any case, I do not doubt somedraconequus will try to read our letters and messages, so I believe we should have a way to make it more difficult for that to happen. I will also make sure to find a way so that only Spike can read the messages.
Princess Celestia believes that I can help stop Discord, and I refuse to let her down. She, Princess Luna, Cadance, Shining Armor... everypony is counting on me.
I will not let them down.
The dead leaves cracked under her hooves, her ears reacted repeatedly to the distant howling of timberwolves, and her heart pounded against her chest in sync with her trotting as she followed the owl through the forest. This is crazy, she thought over and over, crazily enough still not having the slightest desire to turn back towards Ponyville.
She noticed Elara flew at a constant pace, never stopping to look at where she was or take a break. She would only stop every so often to look around and make sure Rarity was still following, before hooting and continuing on her path. Elara seemed to know perfectly where she was, whereas Rarity was sure she’d be lost for days if she lost sight of the owl.
Fifteen minutes in, Rarity heard a nearby growl, and she froze up immediately. Another timberwolf! she thought, panicking. Elara, however, didn’t seem fazed one bit by the nearby presence of the creature, even after what had happened a few days ago. She quickly flew over to Rarity, placed the inkwell at Rarity’s hooves and then perched herself on the pony’s muzzle, using her wing to cover Rarity’s mouth. Does she want me to be quiet?
Her question was soon answered when Elara quickly flew back up and into the forest, hooting loudly. Rarity almost ran after her, but stopped when she heard the timberwolf running away in the same direction as the distant hooting. Minutes later, when the forest had grown quiet and Rarity’s terror had tripled, she heard a blissful hoot and saw Elara flying towards her.
“Oh, thank goodness, you’re back!” Rarity exclaimed, receiving another hoot in reply.
Elara took back the inkwell and then soared back up into the air, hooting a third time at Rarity and flying off. Some time later along with more twists and turns, and finally they reached their coveted destination.
When Rarity saw the great oak tree in the distance, she fell short of breath. Elara went ahead of her and towards the open window, taking with her the inkwell while Rarity dropped down into the hole and stared at the daunting old oak.
She wasn’t crazy! She almost wanted to scream in joy, and rush back to Ponyville to rub it in all their faces.
Taking a deep breath, she trotted towards the trapdoor and magicked it open, peering down the staircase. Carefully, she stepped inside and made her way down, illuminating her way with a wisp from her horn. She stopped right before the entrance, remembering the barrier that had appeared before. She waved a tentative hoof across the door, and when no barrier appeared, she trotted inside the pitch black room.
Elara was nowhere to be seen, and Rarity assumed she was probably with the Princess. Her mind drifted towards Themis, and how he’d been so brutally attacked by the timberwolf. Had he survived?
"Princess?" she called out with hesitation, trying to catch wisp of the alicorn amidst the darkness. How was one even supposed to summon a ghost? Lay down books and candles in the shape of pentagram while chanting the Starswirl Decimal System?
Rarity looked around and noticed a familiar blue candelabra on a nearby table. She made her way over and noticed it still had the same raspberry glow. "Er… Pardon me?" she asked, feeling very silly talking to a candelabra.
Awoken from its slumber, the four candles lit up and the candlestick holder floated up and began circling her. It almost reminded her of an excited puppy. Still, as much as having a candelabra helped her search, she would no doubt find the princess faster if the entire room was illuminated. What did she say to get it to transform?
"Starlight, please?" she ventured, only for the candelabra to stop for a brief moment before resuming its neverending circling. A few more tries to no avail and she decided she might as well continue her search.
She went up and down the hallways of bookcases to no avail. Am I really this keen on finding her? Maybe this is destiny telling me I should go back home? Rarity let out a frustrated sigh. Had she truly come all that way to go back home just like that? Was she not destined to partake in a glorious adventure like Daring Do?
"Well, fine!" she exclaimed indignantly, flipping her mane and stomping her hoof against the floor. What, now that Rarity actually came back again out of her own free will, suddenly the Princess was too busy with ghostly affairs to stalk her around the library? Well, maybe Rarity didn't actually want to see her, either! Hmph!
"Some ghost," she muttered, sitting down and scowling at the candelabra and its increasingly annoying floating. She noticed a small stack of books nearby and in her frustration whacked them with her hoof, watching the books clatter to the floor and glaring at them for a minute until she decided perhaps it was time to go. She flipped her mane, stood up, turned around, came face to face with an equally scowling princess, screeched out loud, and fell backwards on her rump.
After an entire week of being consumed with the need to see the Princess again, Rarity found that perhaps she shouldn't have been quite that eager in the end. Princess Twilight looked down at her with a very unimpressed expression, which looked quite terrifying under the light of the candelabra.
This is how I die, Rarity thought, swallowing hard.
One day, centuries in the future, somepony would find the library and the unicorn's wilted body. It would be a handsome and incredibly intelligent detective from Manehattan, wearing a trenchcoat and a grey fedora. After a thrilling and suspenseful investigation, he'd find out who killed her and then dramatically declare: 'It was Princess Twilight Sparkle in the enchanted library with the extended edition of Starswirl the Bearded's Memoirs!'
"Those were in alphabetical order," Princess Twilight pointed out, waking Rarity from her pre-mortem reveries.
“I… I… Apologize… I...” Rarity squeaked.
The Princess trotted past Rarity and used her magic to re-organize the books that had been unceremoniously thrown to the ground. Once the deed was done, she turned back to the unicorn, opening her mouth to presumably continue her scolding.
But it never came.
She stared at Rarity for moment, closing her jaw and suddenly trotting very closely to her in what was surely a violation of the personal space a ghost should give a living being.
"It's you again…” Her expression had softened quite a bit, and her tone was not one of anger or irritation, but disbelief. She looked baffled by Rarity's mere presence.
Princess Twilight took a few steps back, allowing Rarity to nervously get up under her careful gaze.
Rarity laughed nervously, dusting herself off. "Ah, yes! It is me again," she stammered, smiling and hoping her frantically beating heart would calm down soon. "I was the pony who stayed, and now I'm the pony who came back. Fancy that!"
Princess Twilight turned to the candelabra, still hovering around Rarity. "Star, stop that and go up." At her command, the candelabra floated up to the ceiling and transformed into a chandelier. Once the room was lit, Princess Twilight turned back to Rarity.
The two mares stared at each other in complete silence. As the seconds passed and Rarity realized she didn't know what to say, the silence settling between them felt even more awkward than ever before.
"Did you bring my book?" Princess Twilight asked, impassive.
"Oh!" Rarity quickly opened her saddlebag and took out the book on gemstones. "As promised, Princess," she said, hoofing over the book.
Princess Twilight's eyes widened, and Rarity could have sworn she saw the ghost of a smile for the briefest of seconds. She gingerly took the book with her magic and stared at it with wonder. "You… You did bring it back…"
"Why wouldn't I?" Rarity asked, closing her saddlebag and smiling at Princess Twilight. "Library books should be returned, should they not?"
Twilight stared at Rarity as if suddenly Rarity were the supernatural being. She then nodded quickly in agreement, bearing the striking resemblance of an excited foal. A spark of magic shot out from her horn, and the box with library cards appeared next to her. A quill followed soon after, and Princess Twilight levitated the library card pertaining to Rarity's book and wrote something down.
"Thank you for returning it," Princess Twilight said, the cards and book disappearing with another spark of magic. "I..." She looked back towards the end of the hallway of bookcases. "I took good care of your bo—" She shook her head. “Magazine.” She paused and she suddenly looked somewhat distressed when she turned back to Rarity. "Did you come to take it back already?"
"Oh, well, I…"
Princess Twilight didn't even wait for a reply and trotted off. "It's over this way."
Rarity followed after her amidst the rows and rows of bookcases, the silence no longer awkward but still present. Thousands of questions raced through her mind, but there was no proper way to ask them. She couldn't very well just ask 'so, Princess Twilight, how did you end up here forever?', could she? She remembered the Princess implying she thought the Spirit had been defeated. What did she think was going on outside her library? Why wasn't she asking Rarity questions? Wasn't she curious? The more Rarity thought about it, the more questions surfaced, but she still did not have the courage to just up and ask them.
Eventually, they reached the entrance of the library and Princess Twilight headed towards one of the tables scattered about. Rarity followed behind and saw her magazine opened on the table, lying next to a parchment with an unfinished text. Several old books on fashion were scattered on the table, as well. Had Princess Twilight been comparing the fashion from her time to the modern one? That would actually be quite a fascinating analysis to read.
Before Rarity could sneak a peek at the scroll, Princess Twilight rolled it up and put it next to one of her books. She then took Rarity's magazine and levitated it over to the unicorn. "I didn't have time to finish making notes about it," she admitted, looking at the magazine with a bit of regret.
"... Was a week not enough time?" Rarity would have thought that judging by how eager the Princess had been to read it a week ago, she would have read it forwards and backwards fifty times by then.
"It would have, but..." She glanced towards the table where her scroll was and looked somewhat embarrassed. "I... assumed you would not be coming back so I thought I had more time to finish."
Rarity sat down and took the magazine between her forehooves. "Oh, well, do you think you'll need much more time?" she asked, riffling through the pages. "If not, I don't mind at all letting you borrow it for a few more hours."
Not only would the Princess be happy, but that would mean Rarity had a few extra hours to finish exploring the library. She was still curious about what could be found on the floor below, and possibly even below that. She waited for the Princess to reply, but when no answer came, she looked up.
To her surprise, Princess Twilight looked uncomfortable. No, that's not it. She looks… guilty? Her ears were pressed against her skull, and following her line of sight, Rarity realized the Princess was staring at her bandaged hoof.
"Oh! Princess, that's not because of you..."
"I apologize..." Princess Twilight said, looking at Rarity remorsefully. "I can… If you want…"
Rarity smiled kindly, taking back her hoof. Though she now doubted the Princess would actually attack her, she wasn't sure she wanted to come in contact with the Princess' magic just yet. "There's no nee--"
Rarity turned around and felt immense relief at seeing Themis waddling over to them, his left wing completely wrapped with a cloth that came more and more undone with each step. The small owl seemed excited to see Rarity, hooting several times in her direction.
"Themisto!" Princess Twilight scolded, levitating the little owl and putting him on the table. She used her magic to re-adjust the cloth. When she finished and Themis hooted joyfully, she sighed and sternly shook her head. "You can't move around until your wing is better. What if you get injured again? I won't be able to go out and help you."
Rarity suddenly felt terribly guilty. The way Princess Twilight looked at Themis, how she'd been excited to share the magazine with Elara… Those owls were her only friends, and Rarity nearly got them both killed because of her actions. Her guilt only doubled when Themis disobeyed the Princess and flew up to its favorite spot on Rarity's head, stumbling about and holding onto her horn for support.
"Themis, stop that," Princess Twilight scolded, levitating him down to the floor. "Go to your nest, or I'll have Elara make you stay there." Once he’d hooted his disappointment and waddled off, Princess she turned to Rarity. “... Did my book help you?” she asked, and seemed pleased when Rarity nodded. Honestly, she just didn’t have the heart to tell the Princess she hadn’t gotten past the first page. “Would you like to borrow another one?”
Before Rarity could even open her mouth, the Princess answered for her. “Would you be interested in a book on personal appearance?”
Rarity blinked. “On fashion, you mean? If you’ll let me borrow one, I can’t say I’d be against it.”
Princess Twilight nodded. “Please wait a moment, then. I have to go get them downstai—”
“Downstairs?” Rarity interrupted almost immediately, smiling widely. Finally! The perfect excuse to take a look at the floor below. “May I come with you? I’d like to see what other books you have!”
Princess Twilight suddenly seemed a bit hesitant. “I… Downstairs? I suppose it would be alright, but… it is—” She paused and bit down on her lip “ — a bit of a mess.”
“Oh, I don’t mind in the slightest!” Rarity insisted, smiling brightly.
Princess Twilight observed her for a moment before turning towards the stairs in the distance. “Alright…”
Admittedly, the floor below wasn’t all that impressive considering she couldn’t see a single thing. She followed Twilight down the spiral staircases, reaching a barely illuminated balcony overlooking the second floor.
Should we have brought the candelabra? Rarity wondered, looking down from the balcony into the darkness below.
“Swirl!” Princess Twilight called. “Light, please!”
All of a sudden, Rarity noticed a dim light flicker below. After a minute, the light got closer and closer until she could make out the shape of one of Twilight’s apparently many enchanted candelabras. Unlike the one in the floor above, this one wasn’t remotely interested in Rarity and instead kept floating up towards the ceiling. Once there, it transformed into a beautiful chandelier.
Now that the entire room was lit, Rarity looked down at the floor below and felt her jaw go slack. As she imagined, there were indeed several dozen bookcases, but instead of being arranged in orderly rows like on the first floor, they had been shaped into an enormous and complicated circular maze. Though it was quite the impressive design, it certainly didn’t look practical at all.
“Why did you chose that design for your bookcases, Princess?”
Princess Twilight snorted. “Me? I’m not responsible for that,” she corrected, throwing the maze a dirty look before going down the stairs again.
Odd. If she hadn’t done it, then…
“Was it the Spirit?” Rarity pressed, remembering that the legend mentioned he liked making a mess out of things. "The Spirit of Chaos, I mean."
Princess Twilight stopped in her tracks and glanced over her shoulder at Rarity, eyes half-narrowed. “‘The Spirit of Chaos’?”
Rarity raised her eyebrow. “Well, yes,” she said as if it were obvious, which it was. How could Princess Twilight not know who the Spirit was? “The Spirit who… forced you to stay here,” she elaborated, feeling that was a much nicer way to put it rather than ‘imprisoned you here for eternity’.
Princess Twilight merely stared at Rarity for another minute and then continued her descent down the stairs without another word. Rarity quickly followed behind, realizing she had probably prodded at a sore spot for the Princess. Where is your tact? she scolded herself, well aware that she wasn’t going to get in the Princess’ good graces like that.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Princess Twilight quietly led Rarity around the outer wall of the maze until they finally reached the single entrance. The Princess took a deep breath and glanced back and forth between the maze and Rarity. “Are you sure you want to go inside? I can find the books you need.”
Rarity nodded. “Quite sure.”
Twilight looked back towards the entrance of the maze. “You were right. The Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony turned the bookcases on this floor into a maze."
"I can see why that would be a drag."
Princess Twilight shook her head. "Oh, he did much more than just turn it into a maze. If you are sure you want to look for the book inside, I'd recommend you step inside before I do."
Rarity furrowed her brow and cautiously did as told. Once inside, she held her breath in anticipation, but when nothing happened, she gave Princess Twilight a questioning look. Princess Twilight only took a deep breath, and when she trotted inside the maze, the ground started shaking.
A light yellow magic enveloped the maze, and the bookcases floated up off the ground. Princess Twilight looked more annoyed than anything, whereas Rarity stared in awe as the bookshelves started rearranging themselves. Books floated from out of the shelves and inserted themselves in different ones, and a bookcase appeared in the spot from where'd they come in, effectively trapping them inside the maze.
After a moment, when the magic dissipated and the bookcases returned to the ground, Princess Twilight took a deep breath. "We have approximately twenty minutes to find the section we want, get the book, and exit the maze," she instructed, trotting off towards the left and looking at the numbers on the bookcases. "We need to get to find the social sciences classification, so please look for the number three-hundred-and-ninety."
"How will we know how much time we have left?" Rarity asked, trotting behind the Princess and reading the numbers. It seemed like finding the correct section would be an arduous task considering section seven-hundred-forty was in between sections one-hundred-twenty and five-hundred-fifty.
"I've been counting the seconds since we entered the maze," Princess Twilight replied. She turned on the the first left corner she saw, and continued, "My magic is blocked in here, so I am unable to teleport or summon the book." She took a turn on the first right. "How do you know so much about me?"
The question caught Rarity off guard. "Wh-What?" she asked, looking away from the bookcases and trotting next to the Princess. "What do you mean?"
"You seem — four — to know — three — why — two — I'm here. One." She came to a halt and raised her hoof. "Stop, please." Rarity did as instructed just in time for the ground to shake again, and several bookcases disappeared and opened new paths as consequence. "Seventeen minutes left," Princess Twilight announced, starting along one of the paths. "You have yet to ask me why I am here, because you already know..." She stopped and turned to Rarity, eyes narrowed. "Don't you?"
"I— Well, you see—"
The Princess took another step towards Rarity, who stepped back in turn. "And the only one who could know about that is the Spirit of Chaos himself." Another step. "And you too, it seems."
Rarity shook her head, backtracking against the wall of the maze. "Pr-Princess, I'm not him! I can expl—"
"I never said you were," Princess Twilight interrupted, drawing herself up and turning around to continue her path. "Not this time. Sixteen minutes."
They kept trotting for a minute until a bookcase suddenly appeared in front of them, blocking their path. Or, blocking Rarity's path, since Princess Twilight trotted right through the bookcase, separating the two of them.
Rarity pressed her hooves against the bookcase, trying to get it to move to no avail. "Er, Princess Twilight?" she called, and when she received no reply, turned back to find another way to the Princess. Several more minutes went by, Rarity trying to find her way back towards the Princess.
"What is the 'Tale of the Four Princesses'?"
Rarity stopped and looked around, but found nopony in sight.
"The first time you came to my library, you said, 'The Tale of the Four Princesses is not real'. What is it?" The Princess' voice carried clearly throughout the room, despite sounding as if she was on the other side of the maze already. "What is the tale about?"
"It's about four princesses who lived long ago," Rarity loudly explained, coming to a dead-end and turning back, using the Princess' voice as a guide. "They got into battle with a Spirit of Chaos, and he scattered the weapons able to defeat him. Three of the princesses went out to look for the weapons but… he trapped them."
"Ten minutes," announced the Princess in the distance. "Where? Where did he trap them?"
A bookcase next to Rarity disappeared, and she stepped into another area of the maze. "He trapped the Sun Princess near a waterfall, the Princess of the Moon inside a mountain, and the Princess of Wisdom inside a..." Another bookcase next to her disappeared again, but this time she found Princess Twilight in the adjacent hallway.
The Princess looked ahead, totally ignoring Rarity. "An underground library," she completed with a hollow voice. She looked at Rarity and asked: "They lived long ago? How long ago?"
Rarity looked up, trying to remember an exact number. "The legend is over a thousand years old, Princess..." she said, watching as Princess Twilight's ears fell and her eyes widened.
"Over a thousand years old?" the alicorn softly asked, looking down at the floor.
How terrible it must have been, to realize everything she’d ever known and loved had been long buried with the passing of time. Rarity couldn’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like. She felt the need to console the disheartened alicorn and made a move to cross over to the other hallway.
Before Rarity could reach her however, the bookcase reappeared and hid the Princess from sight. “Shoot,” she muttered, stamping her hoof against the floor and trotting off towards the right. Why did it feel like the Princess was purposefully avoiding her?
Once more, Rarity was completely alone in the seemingly undecipherable labyrinth. She started to tire of all the dead-ends, of the changing bookcases, and of feeling so lost when it came to the Princess.
“What about the Spirit?” Princess Twilight asked, her voice echoing through the room. The hints of hurt and sadness in her voice had vanished, replaced instead with a cold tone. “He was defeated, correct?”
Rarity made a right, then trotted several meters and made a left, trying to stall having to answer the question. “No,” she finally said, for once glad she couldn’t see the Princess; see her find out the one responsible for her fate was never punished. “According to the legend, he trapped the Princess of the Sun, then the Princess of the Moon, then… then you, and after that, he left Equestria.”
As if reacting to Princess Twilight’s outburst, the entire maze lifted itself in the air half a meter and came crashing back down with a loud boom. Several bookcases then lifted themselves at least five meters in the air, creating a hallway of sorts from where Rarity could see the Princess on the other side of the labyrinth.
“He ’left’ Equestria?!” Princess Twilight asked, stomping her hoof on the floor. “Impossible! He was defeated! He had to have been. He didn’t have the power to defeat the Princess!” The bookcases fell to the floor again, but Princess Twilight’s voice only grew louder. “It’s all wrong. Your ancestors didn’t do a very good job passing down Equestria’s history.”
Sounds like Somepony is in denial.
“Princess— Twilight, I mean no offense,” Rarity said carefully, knowing it was law that what followed would certainly offend, “But you’ve made it clear that you had no idea what happened after your imprisonment. You have no way of knowing if what the legend says is wrong.”
A silence that ironically screamed in Rarity’s ears as, for what felt like the longest time, Princess Twilight simply didn’t reply. How many minutes went by? Rarity slowed her pace until she came to a full stop, her heart beating rapidly in her chest. Had she crossed the line?
“Do you have nightmares?” the Princess asked at length.
“Nightmares? Of course,” Rarity replied in confusion. “Everypony has nightmares.”
She’d actually had at least three nightmares in the past week, and they all involved her being trapped as a spirit for eternity inside Carousel Boutique.
“In the past... before I was trapped in here, nightmares did not exist,” Princess Twilight continued. As she spoke, her voice seemed to move along the room, and Rarity once again started her search. “Luna...” Her voice halted for a moment. “I mean, the Princess of the Moon, would enter dreams and make sure nopony woke up unless they were well-rested and content. Before my imprisonment, I had only ever had one nightmare.” A pause. “The night before I would never be able to sleep again.”
“Do you have somepony you care for like a brother or sister?” Princess Twilight asked, swiftly changing the topic of conversation.
“I have a younger sister,” Rarity replied, coming to a stop in front of yet another dead-end. She thought of Sweetie, and how thrilled the filly would be at knowing the Princess was real. “Sweetie Belle.”
“What if your first nightmare was seeing Sweetie Belle attacked, and you were helpless to stop it?” Twilight continued. Rarity didn’t even want to think about it, but Princess Twilight seemed intent on creating the visual image. “What if that was to be your last dream? Seeing somepony you cared about being hurt by a monster, every second of the dream haunting your every waking moment thereafter?”
“Luna was like a sister to me. She cared for me, and I cared for her in return, even when she thought her own real sister didn’t.” Silence settled itself again. All of a sudden, Princess Twilight trotted right in front of Rarity, not bothering to turn to look at the unicorn as she passed through another bookcase. “In my nightmare, he did to me what I had planned on doing to him. He turned me to stone; punishment for what I had done.”
“Punishment for what you did?” Rarity asked, looking back at the numbers on the bookcases. She might as well try and actually find the books they needed before time ran out. She didn’t exactly know how much time was left and she didn’t dare ask the Princess.
Princess Twilight reappeared again, and she started trotting down a path where the living could follow. Rarity sped up her pace and trotted alongside the Princess, watching her carefully while avoiding smashing into the labyrinth’s walls when the Princess made sharp turns.
The alicorn still stubbornly kept her gaze away from Rarity as she spoke. “He attacked her, and I couldn’t do anything but watch from my granite prison. I… Being turned to stone...” She stopped trotting and looked up. “I wonder sometimes if being trapped in the library isn’t almost the same in some ways.”
“Princess…” Rarity lifted her hoof, intending on offering a comforting pat on the shoulder. It wasn’t until the chilling moment in which her hoof went right through the Princess that she was brought back to the reality she had briefly forgotten. She quickly took her hoof back and pressed it against her chest, her coat standing on end.
Princess Twilight closed her eyes, gritted her teeth and walked right into one of the bookcases, leaving Rarity all alone again.
“Wait, Princess!” Rarity said despairingly, regretting her actions. “I didn’t mean to…” She let out a frustrated sigh and buried her face in her hooves. Why is this so difficult?
“Then I woke up.”
Rarity uncovered her face, her ears flicking up.
“I told myself Luna must have been hiding, that she couldn’t watch over dreams that night. I told myself that we had hidden ourselves well and he would never find us. Even I didn’t know where the others where. I lied to myself because the idea that… that something had gone wrong… I had already hurt so many and… as long as there was no tangible, real proof that she had been attacked, I believed myself. But then he came the next day”— her voice had taken on a bitterly angry tone —“wearing Luna’s tiara on his head while taunting me with its ‘delightful’ qualities.”
Rarity’s eyes widened. “Black tiara…?” Her mind went back to Seeking Night, and the dirty rusty tiara she’d found discarded next to the tree. No wonder she thought I was the Spirit when she saw me with the crown!
“That is why I know the story you told me is wrong.”
Rarity turned around to find Princess Twilight sitting behind her, her sight fixated on the books neatly arranged in front of her.
“He got to her first, then he came for me… and he must have gone down with Princess Cele…” She closed her eyes and let out a long, weary sigh. “Zero.”
Once more, the yellow magic permeated every single bookcase and rearranged the maze into a new design. Unlike the last time, Rarity couldn’t be bothered to stand around and watch because she was too busy looking at the Princess.
Princess Twilight had finally turned to look at Rarity, and though her expression was impassive, her eyes showed a range of wholly different emotions: desolation and resignation. Once the maze finished moving around, she looked at the bookcase behind Rarity and said: “Oh. The ‘costume and personal appearance’ section. ”
Rarity glanced around and noticed the number three-hundred-ninety-one marked on the bookcase behind her. Her eyes briefly traveled down the books until she realized she didn’t care about them one bit. “But, Princess Twilight, they’re out there—”
“If they are really trapped somewhere out there, there is nothing that can be done about it,” Princess Twilight said, clamping her ears against her head. “I can’t help them, or find them, because I’m trapped here.”
The Princess had barely finished her sentence before Rarity spoke up, “But I am not.”
Two pairs of eyes widened as both mares realized the underlying implication in Rarity’s words. Had she just offered to do what she’d just offered to do?
Princess Twilight shook her head. “No, you can’t. If he really did trap the others, then I doubt his intention was for anypony to find them.”
“Yet here I am, aren’t I?” Rarity replied. “I found you. Twice, as a matter of fact. Perhaps I’ll have similar luck with the other princesses.”
“But…” Princess Twilight looked completely baffled. “But you— But— You want to find— Why?” she stammered, blinking at Rarity. “Why would you want to…?”
“Well, why not?” Rarity continued, finding it hard to stop now that the idea had been put on the table, even if part of her protested going on a glorified treasure hunt. She ran her hoof through her mane and frowned. “It’s not entirely unreasonable, really, particularly now that you can assist me from here. And somepony must have found the other princesses, too. Actually...” She bit down on her lip. “Fluttershy and I are going to Canterlot in a few weeks, and we could ask Princess Denza for assistance!”
Of course! If she took the pictures of Princess Twilight, she could take them to the Princess herself! And hadn’t Princess Twilight hinted at Denza being a descendant of the original fourth princess? Surely, Denza didn’t believe the tale was fictional, did she?
Awoken from her thoughts, Rarity blinked at the Princess. “...No?”
Princess Twilight sighed and looked away. “I… I don’t want more innocent ponies getting in danger because of… this. If there truly was a way to free us, somepony would have found it much sooner.” She turned back to Rarity and her expression softened. “I… I already got more than I asked for with you having come back here.”
Rarity opened and closed her mouth several times. That’s it? She’s giving up that easily? Why? she asked herself, feeling as if the Princess was hiding something from her. But, then again, there were probably millions of things the Princess had no intention on divulging.
“If you say so,” she relented, albeit reluctantly.
Princess Twilight relaxed visibly and nodded. “I think you should pick the book you would like to take,” she suggested, looking towards the bookcase behind Rarity. “We don't have much time to find our way out of here before the maze rearranges itself.”
Considering Rarity had taken fifteen minutes deciding what book she wanted, and Princess Twilight had spent another fifteen explaining why another book was a much better choice, the two mares had unwittingly triggered another maze rearrangement and actually left the maze much later than intended. Even so, Rarity had no desire to leave.
Instead, she'd settled herself down next to one of the main entrance tables to read while the Princess finished writing her analysis on the magazine. By that time, Rarity felt much more at ease in the library, and she admittedly enjoyed answering all of the Princess’ questions.
It wasn’t until two more hours and at least sixty question had gone by that Rarity finally decided to take her leave.
“Right then, I ought to go home before Fluttershy has an entire armada of animals searching for me,” she said, closing her book on ancient fashion and returning it to saddlebag. “I’ll leave my magazine with you, then?”
Princess Twilight looked up from the magazine, nodded, and then added, “And please remember return date is in five days.”
“Five days it is! That should be enough time,” she said. Enough time to buy an instant camera, as well as some other supplies she realized the Princess sorely needed. She'd also bring along her own copy of the fairytale, just as the Princess had quietly asked for after they'd exited the maze.
She’d also need a map of Equestria, and more information on the legend if she wanted to have a chance at finding the two lost princesses, as well as the lost books. Since The Princess couldn’t leave the library, she would never find out Rarity had lied, right? Just because the Princess had given up so easily didn’t mean that she would do the same.
How could she, anyway? How could she live with herself knowing there were two other ponies helplessly trapped alone somewhere? It would be outright cruel to just pretend she didn’t know of their existence, let alone not rescue them.
Rarity turned towards the table. “Farew—”
She drifted off, discovering Princess Twilight had already left. She shook her head and continued towards the tunnel. Perhaps I should bring her a book on proper etiquette while I’m at it.
Rarity came to a stop right in front of the tunnel. She turned around and found the Princess standing a few meters behind her, looking unsure of herself.
“When you offered to look for the others. Whether you meant it or not, I wanted to say…” She paused for a moment before looking at Rarity straight in the eyes. “Thank you.”
Rarity gave the Princess her most dazzling smile. “You are welcome, Princess Twilight.”
The Princess nodded and once more poofed away. Rarity stared for a minute at the spot where the Princess had been before, still smiling, then turned around and stepped through the tunnel.
It’ll be my pleasure finding them.
Chapter 5: ~ Act I ~ 04 ~ The Princess Parade ~
"Shining Armor, I… I don't think he will surrender peacefully…"
"Princess Celestia would not do it if she didn't think it would work, Twilight."
"But… I'm afraid... If it doesn't work, Princess Celestia told me I will have to...
What if I can't stop him? What if I can't wield the eleme—"
"Twily, if it comes to that, you will be able to stop him.
And remember, Cadance and I will be here to help you always."
Rarity smiled and nodded, levitating the camera in the air for Twilight to look at. "A Spectral System Go-Pro, to be exact," Rarity recited, quoting the salespony she’d bought it from.
Twilight didn’t seem nearly as excited as Rarity felt. Judging by how she’d backtracked several steps, it quickly became apparent she was actually wary of the foreign object. The way her ears perked up, and the way she tilted her head, on the other hoof, were clear signs of the fascination and curiosity that the small device evoked.
Just a few snaps and Rarity would have undeniable, irrevocable, and unquestionable proof that Princess Twilight was not a figment of her imagination, thank you very much. Proof tangible enough that she could take it to Princess Denza herself. After all, the trip to Canterlot she and Fluttershy had been planning for weeks was just a few days away, and it would be the perfect chance to get the Princess’ help.
She lowered the camera and delicately brushed her hoof against it as though it were the finest Saddle Arabian silk. Honestly, with how much it had cost, it might as well have been.
She floated her saddlebag over, took out the camera’s instruction manual, and flipped through its pages. "I was assured it is the best available model, and that it will take pictures of —" She looked at Twilight and smiled deviously. "— absolutely anything."
Her sentence barely finished, the instruction manual vanished from her magical hold and reappeared in front of the Princess. The parchment she’d been using for unknown words from Rarity's magazines appeared as well, which the Princess added to as she read.
Rarity decided she might as well test the camera out now that her ghostly model was engrossed in her reading. She pointed the lense towards Twilight, looked into the viewfinder and… saw nopony?
"Princess?" she asked, looking up and finding the Princess gone. However, after a quick glance around, she spotted Princess Twilight standing next to a wall, wings flared up and staring at Rarity wide-eyed. "O-Oh, I beg your pardon, I didn't mean to frighten you!"
The camera's lense quickly lowered, and Rarity coughed awkwardly. Perhaps pointing unknown objects at an easily excitable alicorn prone to throwing ponies against bookcases was not the brightest idea she’d ever had.
The manual appeared once more besides the Princess. "... Does it hurt?" she asked, glancing back and forth between the camera and the booklet
Though Rarity understood why the Princess would ask that, it was hard to stifle her amused giggle. "Not in the least!" she exclaimed brightly, pointing the lense at herself, smiling and almost snapping another picture. It wasn't that she was opposed to preserving photographs of her youthful self, but she had a much better idea. "Why don't you try, Princess Twilight?" She turned to the alicorn and levitated the camera towards her. "Now that you've read the theory, perhaps practice will be more interesting?"
Twilight's expression lightened up, and she carefully took the camera within her magical grasp. The fascination with which she looked at the instant camera was something Rarity had an easy time finding absolutely adorable, and she would have said as much if she knew the Princess better. Twilight, still oblivious to Rarity's amused gaze, studied the instructions before pointing the camera towards a nearby desk.
To the clicking of a button, the photograph ejected itself from the camera and into Twilight’s hoof. She stared at the picture, her eyes wide, for about thirty seconds. “This…” she drifted off and turned towards Rarity, flipping the picture around to show a black square. “Nothing is happening.” She levitated the instructions again and read, her brow furrowed. “Why is it not working?”
Rarity bit down on her lip, giggling when the Princess gave her a helpless glance. Goodness, it was cute seeing the Princess be baffled by modern technology, wasn’t it? “Be patient, Princess, it’s not truly instantaneous. Why not give it a little shake?” she advised, doing a similar motion with her hoof.
Twilight didn’t seem convinced, but she nevertheless gently shook the picture before drawing it close to her face, eyebrows scrunched up. As the seconds passed, Rarity’s smile grew as the Princess’ eyes widened and her mouth took the shape of an ‘o’.
“This is— How did— What magic—” Twilight stumbled on her own words, her thoughts obviously flying at a pace her mouth couldn’t follow. She teleported next to Rarity and showed her the photograph of the desk, still rambling on stunned, incomplete sentences.
“Oh! What a lovely picture of the desk,” Rarity exclaimed, taking it with her hoof to have a closer look. In reality, the desk was parted in the middle, but an expert photographer wasn’t simply born as such, after all. “Would you like to take another one?”
Before she’d even finished her question, Twilight was already looking for the next subject of her photograph. “Uhm…” She looked at Rarity for a minute, and the unicorn couldn’t help but strike a dazzling pose. Twilight instead turned away, leaving a disappointed Rarity behind, and pointed the lens at Elara, who was resting on top of a desk.
No matter, I can take plenty of pictures of myself, Rarity thought theatrically, still smiling despite the little pang of disappointment. She watched as the Princess took a picture of Elara, and couldn’t stifle a laugh when Princess Twilight furiously shook the picture in an attempt to develop it faster.
The second it did, the Princess once again rushed to get Rarity’s ‘expert’ assessment.
“My, how pretty!” she exclaimed, admiring the photograph of a perplexed Elara staring back at the camera. Now that Princess Twilight seemed thrilled by the concept of photographs, Rarity wondered if she ought to finally see about getting a picture of the royal herself. “Princess Twilight, would you like me to take your photograph?” she asked, carefully grasping the camera with her hooves and watching as Princess Twilight’s magical aura dissipated.
Rarity took several steps back, putting some space between them and pointing the camera at the Princess. Looking through the viewfinder presented Rarity with an amusing sight: Twilight’s entire body was visibly stiff as she stood, her ears were pressed against her head, and she had one eye closed while the other remained open.
A laugh escaped Rarity and she smiled sheepishly when Twilight glared at her. “Sorry, Princess. Now, relax; I promise you that this won’t hurt one bit.”
Despite her reassurances, the Princess still seemed uncomfortable. Ears flattened against her skull, half hiding behind her mane, half ready to flee at the first sign of trouble. Rarity had a more firm hold on the second laugh that bubbled up from within. Whoever didn’t think I was crazy before will most certainly think that I am when I tell them an incredibly powerful spirit is afraid of a camera, she thought with a smile.
“Now, say ‘cheese’, Princess.”
The flash went off and the picture that came out of the camera was nothing short of comical. There she was: Princess Twilight Sparkle, the immortal, captive spirit of the tree library, looking as though there was a fly on her nose. Rarity bit her lip and showed the picture to the Princess, who immediately grabbed a hold of it, gazing at it intently for a moment before glaring at Rarity.
“I look ridiculous!” she said accusingly, flaring her wings in apparent agitation.
“I’m sorry, Princess,” Rarity replied, unable to help the few chuckles that came out of her mouth. “Would you... I mean... should I take a few more? I’m sure we’ll get better pictures once you get used to it.”
She was almost afraid that the Princess would say no after a minute of silence passed, during which the Princess frowned thoughtfully. “All right then, but if I look ridiculous again I will—”
“This time will be much better, Princess, I promise you. Just pretend as though this is for a highly important event, and you would like to present yourself in the best light.”
Rarity’s words had a stronger effect on the Princess than she expected them to. Gone was the awkward fear that had made the first picture into just a laugh-worthy experience. Twilight circled around on the spot a few times, trying several dozens of different poses for half a second each before changing her mind and moving again. She put one hoof in front of the others, flaring out her wings to their maximum length, and took a deep breath. “Right, this is... no, wait...” She flapped her wings twice, giving each of them a once-over before taking another deep breath. “All right... I’m ready.”
Rather than smile, she decided on a serene expression, face framed by her mane which seemed to make a conscious effort to do so. One lock of hair disagreed with the rest and came loose, hanging in front of her left eye.
Whatever Twilight’s intentions had been, Rarity was impressed. She’s quite stunning, isn’t she? It took a minute of gawking for Rarity to finally look into the viewfinder and snap two photographs. Once developed, she was pleased to see Twilight was just as impressive in them as she’d been when posing for them. It seemed the Princess, too, was satisfied with the picture she was given, nodding approvingly at it.
Pictures in tow, Twilight quickly trotted over to the table where she’d left the guide and continued reading, giving Rarity the much needed opportunity to hold her own photographic tour of the library.
“I’ll be right back, Princess,” Rarity announced, trotting off and leaving the alicorn to continue examining the pictures and reading.
If she was to prove to Princess Denza that Twilight was not a figment of her imagination, she’d need proof of not only the spirit, but of the library. Feeling much more confident about wandering the library by herself, she went on her own personal photographic tour: the maze, the floating chandeliers, every and anything she thought would help prove her case. By the time she had finished, Rarity ended up near a small desk hidden away on the first floor, parchments and quills scattered on it.
“Oh!” The Princess’s sudden appearance half-frightened Rarity to death, but she was able to collect herself quickly. She cleared her throat and smiled. “Yes, Princess?”
The Princess glanced at the camera. “May I borrow your device again?”
“Of course, Princess! Be my guest,” she said, hoofing the machine over to the Princess. “I’m delighted you like the camera so much.”
Twilight merely thanked her before teleporting away again, giving Rarity the opportunity to inspect the desk. On the wall hung a calendar and clock, both things Rarity had brought to help the Princess get organized and keep track of time. She was pleased to see the Princess had already filled in the following week with all sorts of tasks, but one whole day was curiously completely empty.
She lowered her gaze and found her very own copy of Legends and Myths of Equestria lying alongside several sheets of parchment. Despite Twilight’s negativity, she’d brought the book to the library regardless, hoping to coax the alicorn into releasing any helpful information. She looked towards the parchment and realized they were all annotations, corrections, and questions pertaining the legend.
In other words, just what she needed.
“Let’s see,” she muttered, squinting her eyes as she read. “Journal entry number one-thousand-six-hund—”
Practically jumping away from the table in fright, Rarity turned around and found Princess Twilight behind her again, a particularly unimpressed expression on her face. Oh dear, why did I have to look at her things? Wonderful job, Rarity, you've upset the spirit of an overpowered alicorn princess. Do put that in your resumé.
"Pr-Princess Twilight!” she exclaimed, looking from the research notes to the Princess. “I— H-Have you come to show me your pictures?”
Twilight briefly glanced at the desk before looking back to Rarity and shaking her head. “I…” She looked unsure of how to continue her sentence, and Rarity could have sworn she saw a blush grace the alicorn’s cheeks. “Will you be leaving soon?”
“Relatively soon, yes,” she replied, furrowing her brow. Had… she crossed a line somewhere? “Why? Would you like for me to leave now?”
Twilight shook her head. “No. I just… I don’t know if your camera will be ready by the time you leave.” She looked at the floor and frowned, seemingly upset. “I am having trouble reassembling it.”
Rarity raised her eyebrow. “Reassembling my camera?”
Twilight nodded quietly and signaled for Rarity to follow her. They made their way through the rows of bookcases until they reached at table at the main entrance, on which Elara occupied herself by rearranging the pieces of what thirty minutes ago had been Rarity’s new and expensive camera.
“I thought there would be assembly instructions in the book you provided, but…” She levitated the pieces and gave them a closer look.
“That’s…. That’s because… It’s not meant to be disassembled…” Rarity said quietly, watching as Princess Twilight put the pieces back on the table with a crestfallen ‘oh’.
If all her years of being in the fashion industry hadn’t helped her perfect the art of ‘the poker face’, Rarity might not have been able to mask her horror. She felt faint of heart, levitating the broken camera pieces and staring at them. If it hadn’t cost her a thousand bits, she’d have let the pieces fall to the ground, instead of slowly putting them back on the table.
“I… I…” She leaned back a bit, her knees faltering but not giving in solely because she did not have a chaise longue to actually faint on. Heaven knew how long the library had gone without a proper cleaning. She took a deep breath and rested her hoof on her cheek. The only possible comfort she found was that Princess Twilight hadn’t known better. Probably. “I suppose there's nothing to be done… Almost a thousand bits down the drain…”
“A thousand bits?!” the Princess asked in shock, glancing back and forth between the disassembled camera and Rarity with a look of complete and utter horror. She waved her hoof wildy in the air, as if trying to figure out what to say. "But you could purchase a… a small cottage near the castle with that!" she sputtered.
Rarity couldn't help but giggle at the Princess' horror even despite her own. "Not anymore you can't. I'm afraid the value of bits has greatly diminished in the last thousand years, Princess," she explained, throwing her camera one last sorrowful glance. It wouldn't be in her best interest to dwell on it too much, so she quickly moved on to other things.
Namely, her keys to freeing Princess Twilight.
"Right then, I'll take my cards and be on my way," she announced, grabbing a stack of thirty cards upon which she'd copied the information to all of Twilight's lost books. "It's already rather late, and I promised my mother I'd look after my sister Sweetie Belle tonight.” Since that usually included Scootaloo, it meant she would have less time to pack for the trip.
“Don’t forget my book!” Twilight quickly said, a large volume floating next to her as she trotted behind Rarity.
Rarity blinked. She’d completely forgotten about the book, mostly because it was Princess Twilight who had insisted she borrow it. “Princess, it’s kind of you to allow me to take out so many books, but I’ll be busy packing so I don—”
“Return date is in four days,” Twilight interrupted, forcefully pushing the book against Rarity’s saddlebag. Why was she so insistent on it? And why did the number of days keep shortening? Honestly, considering Rarity had already safely returned two books, one would think the Princess would trust her enough to let her keep them more days, not fewer. “You will be back from your trip by then, won’t you?”
Rarity nodded, putting the book inside her saddlebag and stopping right in front of the exit tunnel. “I will! Saturday night, to be exact. I promise I’ll make sure to stop by first thing Sunday morning, if that’s all right with you.”
Twilight nodded several times before trotting back towards the table where the camera’s remains were. Rarity watched her levitate all the camera pieces and in a flash, they and the Princess disappeared. She'd already become accustomed to the Princess never saying goodbye, so she simply shrugged it off and stepped into the tunnel.
“Oh, Rarity, wait!”
Rarity stopped in her tracks and looked back into the library, finding the Princess standing several meters behind.
Twilight shifted awkwardly for a moment. “Oh, uh… farewell.”
Rarity couldn’t stop herself from giggling. “Farewell, Princess Twilight,” she said, bowing down slightly for good measure.
That said, Twilight nodded and teleported away, prompting Rarity to playfully shake her head and continue down the tunnel.
Sunday it is.
The city of Canterlot was quite possibly one of Rarity’s favorite places, if only because of how dearly she longed to live within its white walls.
Sophisticated theatre, exciting races, extravagantly elegant shops, architecturally magnificent restaurants, beautiful gardens, and the top ponies could all be found in Equestria’s capital. Not to mention all the hours of shopping, hours of visiting museums, and hours of just trotting around the city feeling like the crème de la crème. In many ways, being in Canterlot felt like a fairy tale to her, and considering her new purpose behind the trip, she might as well consider herself the protagonist of Equestria’s newest fairy tale.
And that particular fairy tale would begin, like all good stories should, with an audience with royalty.
Three princesses lost to the ages were locked away around the kingdom. Legend told that the princess of the sun was near a raging waterfall, the princess of the moon was trapped inside her very own mountain, and the last princess was locked away inside an underground library. For now, however, sightseeing was Rarity’s top priority.
Even if she was going to go look for them, her entire existence would not revolve around the princesses. She had a life to keep up with, and as horrid as it sounded, the princesses weren’t going anywhere. She and Fluttershy had a very busy schedule ahead, and she had no intentions on spoiling a nice trip with her best friend.
“Oh, Fluttershy! Look at this necklace!” Rarity gasped, pointing excitedly at emerald necklace on display on one of the stands in Canterlot’s largest flea market.
Rows and rows of stands offering all kinds of objects were spread throughout an enormous plaza. With how crowded the place was, it would take at least several hours to get through them all— not that Rarity minded the crowd, of course. She had brought her best sapphire necklace from back home just for the occasion, and she couldn’t say she didn’t delight in all the mares gawking at it — which she knew they would. Just because she was from Ponyville didn't mean she couldn't dress like she was from Canterlot, no?
“Oh, and look at this one!” she continued, pointing at a ruby necklace on display. Nothing like the ones she’d found, but very pretty nevertheless.
When the only reply she received was a giggle, she glanced around and noticed Fluttershy looking at one of the pictures from the library. The pegasus’ giggling made it easy to guess which photograph it was.
“A most graceful princess, isn’t she?” Rarity asked with a laugh, turning back towards the stand. While she couldn’t show that particular picture to Princess Denza for obvious reasons, it didn’t mean she couldn’t keep it for herself. A nice and comedic way to remember the beginning of… my... friendship? with Princess Twilight. Funny, who’d have ever thought I’d call a ghost my friend one day.
Fluttershy nodded, giggling softly. “Very graceful.”
The train ride from Ponyville to Canterlot had been spent subjecting Fluttershy to even more stories about the Princess, as well as Rarity’s decision to seek out the other two alicorns. She hadn’t been surprised at her friend’s reluctance at the idea of her travelling through Equestria on a potentially dangerous mission, but the pictures of Princess Twilight had shifted Fluttershy’s apprehension somewhat. As Rarity had hoped, offering real, tangible proof of Princess Twilight seemed to be working wonders on making other ponies believe her tale.
“After this, we’re going to Floral Faune’s, right?” Fluttershy asked, trotting over and hoofing the photographs back to Rarity. Floral Faune’s, a store that specialized in the care of wild flowers, had been the only visiting request of the pegasus. Considering their schedule was practically packed with things Rarity needed to do, she’d be remiss to deny her friend’s sole request.
“Of course, darling! And after that, we must stop by that quaint ice cream shop down by Fifth Avenue. I’ve heard the ice cream they make is simply divine,” Rarity said, looking away from the necklaces and continuing on her path.
It was then that she noticed books being sold at a stand further away. Perhaps, if she was very lucky, she’d find one of Princess Twilight’s books!
“I’m going ahead, Fluttershy!” she called back, cantering towards the stand.
The stand, boasting a sign decorated with the title “Winter & Spring’s Travelling Books”, was managed by an elderly pegasus mare. Despite her age, she still retained a vibrant ochre-colored coat, and the glasses she wore gave off an elegant intellectual appearance. The stand itself was simple, which was understandable considering they had to be set up and torn down quickly.
“Oh my, what a stunning necklace!” the mare exclaimed, clapping her hooves together and squinting her eyes to take a closer look at Rarity’s sapphire necklace. “I’ve never seen any like it!”
“It's quite unique, isn't it?” Rarity replied, absentmindedly stroking her necklace while taking a look at the stand’s goods.
At least thirty old looking books were neatly placed on the stand. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they all somehow turned to be Princess Twilight’s lost books? Rarity took out her stack of cards and started looking through them, trying to find a matching title with the books on the stand.
“Can I help you, dear?” the mare asked, rearranging the books to help Rarity go through them faster.
“Ah, thank you!” Rarity replied, acknowledging the gesture by smiling quickly at the mare before going back to her cross-checking. “And that’s kind of you to offer, but it’s quite all right. I…” She put down her cards with a crestfallen sigh. “I’m afraid you don’t have any of the books I’m looking for.”
In a way, she couldn’t say she was completely devastated, as it would have been far too much coincidence for a book over a thousand years old to be— A thousand years old? She looked at the book on the stands: worn-out, the leather they had been bound in falling to pieces, the pages stained from use. It had only just occurred to her that there was no feasible way Princess Twilight’s books had survived the passing of time. Even more so if they were spread across the land instead of being carefully preserved.
Rarity’s heart fell. Does… Does that mean she can’t be freed?
“Oh dear, I understand the pain of not finding a book you want, but there’s no need for that sad face! Come, come, let me look at your cards,” she asked, gesturing with her hoof. When a dismayed Rarity did as instructed, the elder mare inspected the cards through squinted eyes. “I’m sorry, dear, I don’t recognize most of these titles,” she said after a minute, but before Rarity’s dramatic sigh left her lips, she continued: “There is one that seem familiar, however!”
The mare nodded, jotting down the title from the card on a stray piece of paper. “Why don't you come back next Friday? My husband and I will be leaving town soon, but if I find it, I could bring it here when the market returns.”
“Oh, that would be splendid!” Rarity exclaimed, immediately cheering up. “Though unfortunately I don't live here. I’m visiting from Ponyville.”
The mare smiled at that. “Ponyville, you say? My husband is very fond of Ponyville,” she said, returning the cards to Rarity. “He goes there once a year to visit. I often wonder if I should go with him since he somehow always leaves a book while he’s there! I sometimes think he's just giving them away,” she added, shaking her head playfully. “As for the book, I might be able to meet with you tomorrow afternoon, if you'd like. We'd have to set up a date and place.”
“Oh, thank you! How kind of you!” Rarity exclaimed, trying not to keep her hopes up too much. She'd get excited once she saw the book, not before.
Minutes later, once the information had been exchanged and a meeting time arranged, Rarity and Fluttershy went on their way. Or would have gone on their way had they not been interrupted by the sound of distant trumpets. Ponies around them gasped in surprise and quickly hurried off, leaving Rarity and Fluttershy to look around in confusion.
"Ah, sounds like the Princess is back from her visit to Saddle Arabia!" the elder mare exclaimed. "You better hurry along if you want a chance to see her!"
Before Fluttershy could even express her excitement, Rarity took her by the hoof and galloped away, thanking the elder mare in the process. She had thought the Princess would be back already, but there was simply no way she would miss seeing the opportunity to see the Princess now that it had... fallen into her lap, as it were.
The two mares made their way through the crowds of tourists and locals, all clamoring to get a glimpse of the event. The distant sound of the marching band only got louder and louder the closer they got, drowning out the noise of the excited ponies and Fluttershy’s hasty apologies as Rarity relentlessly pushed her way through the crowd. When they finally reached the edge of the sidewalk, where colts and fillies sat down, the two mares carefully maneuvered around them and watched.
Colts and fillies climbed up on their parents to get a better view of the spectacle, mares swooned and giggled at the dashing soldiers, elder ponies grumbled about the monarchy being turned into an excessively loud entertainment show; the excitement of the crowd was contagious to Rarity. All of it seemed to add to her already fervent desire to be a part of that world of show and prestige, glamour and glitz.
Soldiers of all ranks and types marched down the streets in orderly lines, lead by the blaring trumpets of the royal marching band. All the costumes and uniforms, perfectly crafted, perfectly combined and perfectly designed; how she envied the pony in charge of the royal wardrobe. Her heart seemed to beat to the rhythm of the soldier’s loud hoofsteps, her eyes glued to corner of the street in hopes of catching the first glimpse of the royal chariot.
And, with some surprise afterwards, she caught herself wishing Princess Twilight could be there to see.
Her thoughts were dispelled, however, by the sound of another loud trumpet and the effusive screams of the crowd, signaling the arrival of the royal couple.
Princess Cadenza Armor the tenth and her husband Prince Silver Lance entered the street sitting on a beautiful golden chariot. Prince Silver Lance, a magnificent unicorn with a lovely blue coat and a pearl white mane, raised his forehoof, his cape falling off his shoulder as he did so. The crowd immediately fell silent in reply, every single eye staring down the couple.
Once all was quiet, Princess Denza stood up on the chariot, and Rarity felt her heart skip a beat. Though Princess Twilight was, well, a princess, she didn’t send chills down Rarity’s spine for the same reason Princess Denza did. She was the princess Rarity had heard of her entire life, the one she had dreamed of meeting and, heavens allow it, work for in the castle, days upon days designing elegant gowns for Equestria’s beloved princess.
“She’s soooo pretty,” sighed a filly sitting by Rarity’s hooves, gawking up at Denza as if she were a porcelain doll.
The Princess had inherited her pale pink coat from her mother, and her grandmother before that. It seemed to glisten under the sunlight, complemented perfectly by the silver silk cape that hung on her body and covered her cutie mark. Her violet mane was tied up in a complicated-looking bun, hiding away the pink streaks that decorated her mane and were only visible on the rare occasions she let it down in public.
Princess Denza smiled brilliantly and waved, cheers of admiration erupting from the enthusiastic crowd — amongst which were Rarity and Fluttershy. The Princess and Prince waved with all the grace and finesse expected of them. Prince Silver Lance leaned in to whisper something to his wife, and she laughed, nuzzling against him for a second. Oh, how perfect they were, the royal couple.
She would never admit it, of course, but Rarity was oh so envious of them. In a way, wasn’t that the dream of so many mares? How she wished to be in that golden chariot, sitting alongside a handsome prince — the love of her life — waving away at an adoring crowd. How she dreamt of having her prince whisper things in her ears, making her laugh and feel blissful in every sense of the word, in every aspect of her life.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful?
She woke up from her daydream to the sound of a trumpet and watched as the chariot and soldiers continued on their path. Her eyes were still glued to the Princess all the way up until the chariot disappeared around the corner of the street. The crowds started to disperse now that the Princess and Prince were gone. Most wouldn’t see them until the next parade, but Rarity?
Rarity would see them very soon.
Right after visiting Fluttershy’s shop, of course.
“I think we should be close to the plaza the guard mentioned,” Fluttershy announced, leading Rarity inside one of Canterlot’s many alleys. A guard had told them the shop could be found near the statue of ‘The Teacher’, but they hadn’t had much luck yet. “He said the statue wouldn’t be difficult to recognize.”
Admittedly, Rarity was not being much help. Her mind kept wandering back to Princess Denza, rehearsing over and over the eloquent speech with which she was going to convince the Princess to help… the other Princess. Did Princess Denza believe in the fairy tale? She was a descendant of one of the princesses, was she not? She of all ponies had to be a believer.
“Oh, there it is!”
Fluttershy’s voice snapped Rarity out of her thoughts. She saw they had arrived at a small plaza with a large statue sitting in the middle. The place was oddly empty considering it was tourist season for Canterlot, but Rarity wasn’t complaining. Well, maybe a little, considering it meant nopony could admire her necklace.
Fluttershy immediately sped off towards the shop, leaving Rarity behind. Wild flowers weren’t really her area of expertise, so she decided to take a closer look of the magnificent marble statue. As she got closer to it, she noticed a faint blue magical aura permeating the statue, no doubt to preserve it from any kind of damage.
The statue depicted a beautiful alicorn princess and a small filly. The princess, sitting down on her hind legs, looked down at the filly with a kind smile, her wing carefully draped around the younger pony. Though it was marble, the alicorn princess looked as if though she would come to life at any moment.
The unicorn filly herself was looking up at the princess with a bright smile. Curious… She seems vaguely familiar… Rarity thought, tilting her head and squinting her eyes. If it weren’t for the lack of wings, absent cutie mark, and the fact that the filly was actually smiling, she’d have thought she had a striking resemblance to Princess Twilight. Perhaps the Princess’ manecut was all the rage in olden times. The base of the statues was decorated with several carvings of the sun. There was an inscription on it, as well.
"Nice statues, aren’t they?"
Rarity turned around to find a pegasus guard standing next to her. Where had he come from? “Oh, uhm, yes! They are quite nice indeed.”
When their eyes met, he took off his helmet to reveal a dark blue mane that went wonderfully with his white coat. “You must be from outta town. You and your friend seemed kinda lost earlier. You passed by my patrol station twice,” he explained, grinning cheekily. “Three times and I’d have stopped you to ask if you needed help.”
Rarity’s cheeks turned red. Great, she’d acted like a clueless tourist in front of an attractive guard. She certainly was on the right path to meeting Prince Charming.
“Oh, well, it’s been some time since I was here last,” she said, laughing nervously and playing with her mane. “But we found it eventually! No rescuing necessary!” When the guard grinned at her, she turned to the statue before her cheeks became even redder. “The teacher and her student, I suppose. It’s rare to see a statue of an alicorn that isn’t Princess Denza.”
“There’s two more alicorn statues, actually. The ‘Dream Watcher’ is near here. It’s my favorite.” He paused and nodded towards one of the exit alleys. “I could take you to see it, if you want! And your friend too, of course,” he quickly added.
My, my! Rarity, perhaps you might find your Prince Charming yet!
Rarity raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Oh dear, but didn’t you say you were on patrol? I certainly wouldn’t want to get you into any trouble!”
The guard blushed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Right… I guess my offer could take place after my shift ends?” he asked, receiving only a giggle in reply. He cleared his throat and played around with his helmet. “So, what brings you to the capital?”
Rarity straightened herself up. “Well, if you must know, my best friend and I had been planning to come for a while now,” she explained. She paused for dramatic effect and added, “And I’m hoping to be granted an audience with Princess Denza.”
His expression shifted into a serious one. “Oh? At what time? I’ll be on guest escort duty tonight.”
“Oh, er, well… I don’t have an appointment scheduled as of yet,” she admitted, shifting uncomfortably when he raised his eyebrows.
“You don’t?” he asked, surprised. “What, were you planning on walking right up to the castle, use your bewitching looks and charm to get yourself an audience with Princess Denza?” he teased, a grin returning to his face.
Rarity giggled foalishly at the subtle compliment. “Perhaps…” she admitted. Truth be told, she had considered taking it to the royal court, but she wasn’t sure she’d like talking about Princess Twilight in front of so many ponies. It would probably be Sunday by the time she’d finished showing the pictures to everypony in the room. “Would you know where and when I may schedule an appointment for today?”
The stallion shook his head and sucked his teeth. “I’m sorry to say it’s too late for today. You can only schedule an appointment at noon. I would suggest you wait until tomorrow and head to the castle before then. The head secretary is always in the lobby during that time, so you just have to talk to her.”
Rarity’s ears fell at the news. “But… My train home leaves tomorrow evening! I would need to be able to see Princess Denza just a few hours after I’ve made the appointment, and that’s practically impossible!”
“Why don’t you stay until Sunday, then? Your friend wouldn’t mind staying here another day, would she?”
As much as Rarity would have loved staying another day in Canterlot, she knew it was infeasible. “I can’t,” she said, shaking her head and sighing deeply. “I’m meeting with somepony back home on Sunday. It would be terribly rude of me to not show up to see her after I promised I would.” She groaned and put a hoof to her forehead. Organizing another trip to Canterlot would be a hassle, and it didn’t help that she’d already spent a great deal of money on… her broken camera.
“Don’t give up!” the guard said encouragingly, putting his helmet back on and winking. “Maybe luck will be on your side!”
“Am I to assume ‘Luck’ is your name?” Rarity asked with her most dazzling smile.
The stallion laughed and shook his head. “No, the name’s Rift Shield. But I’m sure it must mean luck in some language,” he insisted. “I do have to go now, though.” He then bowed down to Rarity, eliciting another string of giggles from her, and started to trot away. “Next time we meet, I’ll be the one taking you to the Princess, Miss Lost Visitor!”
“I do have a name, you know!” she called back.
“And I can’t wait to find out what it is!”
And with that, Rift Shield disappeared into an alley, missing Fluttershy by less than a minute. The ecstatic pegasus left the store carrying no fewer than three bags filled with all sort of gardening tools, carefully putting them down on the floor next to the statue and counting the items inside. Now that Fluttershy had finished, they could go get that ice cream! And maybe stop by the theatre or go for a stroll through the park now that there would be no meeting Princess Denza that afternoon.
Rarity waited until her friend was finished and all was in order to speak up, “Ready to go, darling?”
“Oh yes! I got everything I wanted,” Fluttershy exclaimed, smiling gratefully when Rarity picked up one of the smaller bags to carry. “I’m sorry I took so long! There were so many things, and the nice shopkeeper kept giving me tips for my gardening.”
“Not to worry, sweetheart! I had the most delightful chat with a rather fetching town guard. Now I understand why all those mares were practically fainting over those soldiers during the parade. And don’t give me that look, I wasn’t one of them!” she protested, huffing when Fluttershy playfully giggled at her. “Now then, let us be off before the line at the ice cream shop gets too long.”
“Shouldn’t we go to the castle first?” Fluttershy suggested, trotting next to Rarity and carefully tying the bags to her saddlebag. “That’s more important than ice cream, isn’t it?”
Rarity sighed theatrically, airily waving her hoof in a dismissive motion. “No castle today, it seems. The guard told me we’ve apparently missed the deadline to schedule an appointment, so I’ll have to go at around midday tomorrow. It’s cutting it a bit too close for my taste, but I really don’t wish to delay this further.”
“Do you want me to go with you?”
Rarity shook her head. “Not necessary, darling, but thank you for offering. It shouldn’t take me long, and I wouldn't want you missing out on sightseeing because of me.”
It was just a simple procedure after all. Go in, make an appointment, pray that the Princess’ schedule is magically free for the day, meet the Princess, convince her of Princess Twilight’s existence, make a rescue plan, then go home and have a cup of tea.
What could go wrong, really?
The answer to her question was unfortunately: Many things.
Just as Rift Shield advised, she headed to the castle before twelve, intent on getting her appointment as soon as possible. With confident steps, she followed the appropriate path until the main entrance loomed in the distance, two guards patrolling by the closed gate.
At the sight, her confidence waned and her steps became less pronounced, less hurried. Her speech, so clear in her mind not even five minutes before, now seemed lacking, faulty, and she couldn't properly remember half of it. She stopped in her tracks and took out the pictures she'd brought. Though Princess Twilight's 'proper' photograph was inspiring, it was the first one that really helped Rarity gain back some of her lost nerves. She put the pictures back in her saddlebag and went on her way, reinvigorated by the Princess' 'elegant' expressions.
Unlike Rift Shield, the two guards by the door looked anything but friendly. Either guarding the door was a much less pleasant task than patrolling the city, or she had simply been in luck when she met Rift Shield.
“State your business,” the guard on the left commanded when she approached.
Odd, hadn't Rift said it was a secretary who would be in charge of making the appointment? Did she have to pass a preliminary test in order to be able to actually have a chance at scheduling a meeting with Princess Denza?
“I’m seeking an audience with Princess Denza. I have... information that might help her in a longstanding... problem?”
"A longstanding problem?" the guard asked, raising an eyebrow.
Rarity didn't immediately reply. "Er, well..." She realized how ridiculous she would sound if she stated the truth, but she hadn't come prepared with a good enough lie that would get her the audience. She reached inside her saddlebag and pulled out the photos, glancing back and forth between them and the guard. "Well, I..."
The guard took one look at the photos and exhaled a long-suffering sigh. "Here we go again." He rolled his eyes, and Rarity swore she could hear the other groan. The two shared a look and the one in front of Rarity asked, “Do you wanna take this one?”
“No way, it was your turn,” the other replied.
The guard let a sigh out and looked back at Rarity. “Come with me.” He led her down a hallway, through a series of doors, and into a room that was plastered with pictures. He pointed at the table and said, “Put ‘em right over there.”
The pictures were a mockery of the ones she was holding onto; unfocused, badly printed pictures that could have been Bighoof just as soon as the Princess. There were few where an actual mare could be seen, but it was painfully clear the wings they wore were, if not fake, then at least malformed. Just how many ponies had come claiming to have found the lost princesses? Had any of them actually been telling the truth, or had they been brushed aside just like Rarity herself was being brushed aside?
“But I have real evidence!” she protested.
The stallion snorted, rolling his eyes again. "I'm sure you do, Miss. Where'd you find her?" He took one of the pictures from the wall and rudely shoved it towards her. "In the basement of your house?" He put the picture on the table and took another one. "Or maybe she miraculously appeared to you in the bathtub? Or was she hiding under your bed all along? How about you wait for the next pony to stop by claiming she found one of the princesses and compare notes, huh?" He snorted again and shook his head. "Look, Miss, we don't have time for this, and I can tell you right now that the Princess doesn’t either. I'm not sure who you think we are, actually expecting us to belie—"
"I'm not making this up!"Rarity exclaimed, stamping her hoof against the floor. She took her photographs and showed them to him. "Do these look fake to you?! Why on earth would I make this up?! What could I gain from it?!"
"Beats me," he grumbled, taking the photos from her hooves and inspecting them. "These are pretty good, I'll give you that. What's this supposed to be? A library?" he asked, riffling through the photographs.
"An underground library," she corrected. "In the middle of the Everfree Forest."
"The Everfree Forest?! You've been wandering around that place? Geez, lady, you must have lost your mind," he exclaimed, putting the pictures back on the table and snorting at her again. "Why would the Princess be there of all places?! And what were you even doing there that you 'found' her?!"
Rarity didn't know how much more she could take of his attitude. She could only hope he wouldn't push her past her limit.
"An underground library, huh? How magical!" he said, smirking at her in a way she found unnecessarily condescending. "Bet you see her in your dreams, too, huh?" he continued, trotting towards the wall and ripping off a drawing. He shoved it at her, giving her a good view of the childlike crayon drawing of a smiling blue alicorn with a crescent moon cutie mark. "Does 'Princess Wooona' stop your nightmares too?"
Rarity bit down on her lip. Rise above it, Rarity. Rise above it. Despite the stallion's incredibly rude behavior, it was not in her best interests to be uncourteous to him if she wanted his cooperation.
She smiled thinly and gently pushed his forehoof away. "I'm afraid not, but—"
Just as soon as his forearm had been lowered, he raised it again, still shoving the drawing toward her. "You know, this pony's been sending us letters for years. Maybe we should give you her address so you can 'find' the other princesses, huh?" With every word, he took a step towards her, forcing her to backtrack. "Maybe you oughta start a princess finding club together, hey?"
"Will you ple—"
"Stop bothering us instead? Wouldn't that be fun?"
When Rarity hit the table, she had finally had enough. "Oh, will you stop that, you oaf?!" she snapped, shoving the guard away with enough force to cause him to tumble him down to the floor, stomping her hoof on the drawing when it too fell. It wasn't until he gave her an incredulous look from the ground that she realized exactly who she'd just assaulted.
The guard looked as if though she'd just slapped him across the face, and all things considered, she might as well have. He stood up, tall and intimidating, and narrowed his eyes. "You shouldn't have done that."
Rarity backed away, ears clamped against her skull, heart beating in her chest, fear coursing through her veins. Now she'd done it.
...Then again, he had been extremely rude. Rarity stood her ground, gulping down hard.
To her dismay, however, the stallion crossed the room and grabbed some black keys hanging from the wall. Oh no, she thought, panicking. He's not planning on jailing me is he?! Fluttershy will be waiting for me! She'll be worried sick! She took several steps away from him, shaking her head pitifully. "Wait, please, let's not be rash!"
"Should have thought about that before you attacked me, lady," he barked, opening a drawer from a nearby table and taking out hoof-cuffs. "Maybe you'll find another princess in the dungeons to keep you company."
Journal Entry n.2015
Rarity brought a very interesting device today. It is called an instant photographic camera and it can make perfectly vivid and realistic illustrations of anything in less than a minute. They are, it seems, extremely costly, however. I disassembled Rarity's device to further study its mechanics, but I fear Rarity was not too thrilled by my actions.
After that, she left to prepare to go to Canter Capitol, which is now called Canterlot. The descendant of Shining Armor and Cadance currently resides there, and though I would have liked to ask Rarity to please bring a photograph, it seems that is now impossible.
Right now, I must fix her device. I need to see what the the outside world looks like. Rarity herself seems normal, and she has not mentioned anything unusual concerning her world. The only way I am able to verify my assumptions on the legend is to have facts, and Rarity is not reliable in this regard. It is not that I do not trust her judgement (though I do have some reservations; as much as it pleased me, I still cannot fathom why she would have returned after I hurled her against a bookcase), but she might be biased. After all, how would she be able to tell if her world is unusual when she might consider unusual events to be normal?
I am also pleased with the other items she brought. The time-keeping device and schedule she gave me have helped tremendously. I have already filled up the next two weeks with activities, and I hope this will help me to become organized again. I need to re-organize the library to look for the map. I think I will look for ciphers, since I cannot remember the last time I did so. I will start by looking at the first letter of each paragraph of every book, and perhaps I will find the key. I should have enough time to do it before Rarity returns on Sunday.
The entire day is clear of activities so I can focus on her visit completely. I have several questions I would like to inquire on, and I found some books she might be interested in reading. I hope she will be. I am looking forward to her visit. It's odd, but I do not remember the last time I looked forward to anything since Owlowiscious and his mate arrived to my library so long ago.
Yet, despite the amount of time I have, Rarity's device should remain my top priority. I would like to make a few adjustments so it works better than before. I hope she will find them useful.
If there was one place in Canterlot that Rarity had never wanted to visit, let alone sleep in, it was the dark and grimy dungeons of the castle. Sweet heavens, they were so filthy, so cold, so dreary, it had to be inequine to subject somepony to spending the night in such a ghastly place.
She paced around the room, her hoofsteps and mutterings echoing throughout the stone hallways. The mare standing guard kept throwing dirty glances at Rarity now that she'd been proven several times that shushing Rarity only resulted in the unicorn pacing at a somehow louder volume. Though she had the right to remain silent, she stoutly refused to do so.
How many hours had she been there?
It felt like an eternity, and judging by the darkening color of the sky visible beyond her barred window, she knew that it had to have been several hours already. The guards had at least been civil enough to contact Fluttershy to tell her Rarity would be indisposed until the next morning — which happened to be when she'd be let out. At least her friend had promised to sort out the whole affair with the mare from the market.
"Humiliating," she muttered, gritting her teeth and coming to a stop. Humiliatingly was the way she'd been treated. "That's what it was." The only reason she regretted her action was because she'd left Fluttershy alone.
Her mind went back to the guard and her blood boiled. That wretched guard hadn't even let her talk or explain her situation. She'd barely gotten a word in before he started his barrage of condescending assumptions. Who'd even let him be in charge of anything in the first place?
Most of all, more than humiliated and offended, she was frustrated. Just like when Fluttershy hadn't believed her, but now the frustration was triple-fold. Was that how Princess Twilight had felt for a thousand years, trapped in her library, being unable to do a thing to save herself? Or was it worse for Rarity since she had all the means to tell others, but nopony believed her?
Maybe that's why nopony had ever 'found' the princesses before. Had they been brushed away? Given up on the princess they'd found? How horrible, to live with that knowledge for the rest of one's life and be completely unable to do anything to help.
She sat down, buried her face in her hooves and sighed. "Why am I even doing this?"
That’s the million bit question, isn’t it?
There in her prison with nothing else to do but get lost in her thoughts, her situation finally caught up to her. Less than a month ago, the idea of a lost princess inside a forest was a notion she would have immediately brushed away as a fairy tale and nothing more, yet today she had planned on convincing the ruler of Equestria that there was a princess inside a library in the Everfree Forest.
Had she let herself be swept up by the sense of adventure of it all? Had she let herself be tempted into lunacy by the idea of partaking in a grand fairy tale? Had Princess Twilight somehow bewitched her into helping?
Why was Rarity getting herself locked away in a dungeon all for the sake of a ghostly princess? A ghostly princess who'd attacked her and broken her expensive camera, no less! Who'd made her spend almost three hours lost in a maze!... Who'd apologized for attacking her… Who’d thanked Rarity for wanting to help… Who had actually stopped her, just so she could say goodbye...
Her mind went back to how charmingly curious the Princess had been about the camera, and Rarity could hardly bite down a smile. Of course, the smile disappeared just as soon as it had arrived, vanishing at the thought of breaking her promise to Princess Twilight. The train had likely left already, and she sincerely doubted they'd be able to find seats for Sunday morning or even afternoon trains back to Ponyville.
"She won't mind, will she?" Rarity whispered to herself, taking her hooves away and staring forlornly at the floor. No, of course she won't mind. She'll be so busy with her books and the camera, she'll hardly notice I didn't even come the day I promised!
Chapter 6: ~ Act I ~ 05 ~ The Dragon Library ~
“Shining Armor, is it true?! Are you ordering the soldiers back to the castle?! You can’t!”
“Cadance and I have no choice. You saw how the court reacted to the news! We can’t risk throwing the rest of the kingdom into a panic! We have to think of—”
“No! What about Princess Celestia and Luna?! What about Twilight?! They’re out there! You need to send more soldiers to the Ponyville Fore—”
“She’s not there! You told us yourself that she was gone!”
“I-I was wrong! We need to look again! She has to—”
“We’ve looked everywhere! Even ponies think that he killed them!”
“They’re not dead! She’s not dead! Cadance, you—”
“We... I need to think of the kingdom. It's useless. You know the curse he put on us prevents us from doing anything to find them! And we already said our foal is due in a few months and—”
“...Your foal? Your foal?! You… You’re abandoning them for— You… You traitors! I’ll just find them myself! I don’t need neither you, nor your… foal!”
There was nothing that sparked Rarity’s creativity quite like being incarcerated. Maybe it was due to the fact that she had nothing to do, maybe it was because her inspiration shone brightest when plunged in darkness, or perhaps it was simply that she needed any kind of distraction. It at least also kept her mind busy from the putrid smell of... whatever that black thing in the corner was.
To her great fortune, the tip of the spoon she’d used for her disgusting dinner worked as a pen, leaving visible white scratch marks on the grey walls. The guard standing by the door would glance at Rarity every so often, grunting in annoyance but obviously not caring enough to stop the unicorn from drawing.
True, the jail-inspired dress design didn’t go well with the rude and explicit messages previous inhabitants of the cell had left, but the place could use some of her artistic décor. She ought to arrange another meeting with Princess Denza, if only to get her to redesign the dungeons. Honestly, they weren’t living in the middle ages anymore.
“The lieutenant is coming, Lock!” a voice yelled from outside the room, prompting Rarity’s guard to quickly straighten herself up.
The lieutenant? thought Rarity, briefly glancing towards the room’s entrance before looking away again. Just what she needed. Another guard to come scoff at her for what she’d done, no doubt. Why couldn’t she be left alone?
“Ah, Lieutenant Shield!”
Bracing herself, Rarity took a deep breath, turned to look at her newest visitor, and felt her heart drop. Though he was wearing an arctic blue colored armor now, Rarity still recognized her ‘prince charming’ from the day before. Oh heavens, and that new armor somehow made him look even more handsome. How she wished now that there was a room she could flee to, hide from the inevitably awkward conversation with the soldier, but her jail cell proved very good at its job.
So much for a romantic second encounter…
"No incidents to report, Sir!" the mare exclaimed proudly, throwing Rarity a dirty look before turning back to her superior. “Although she has been scribbling on the walls a fair deal.”
Rift Shield glanced at Rarity. It was just for a moment, but long enough to make her uncomfortable and look away. “Thank you, Lock Pin. Could you please open the door?” his voice rang, sounding much less pleasant and charming than it had the day before. "The prisoner is free to go."
Rarity blinked, looking up and joining the guard in giving him an incredulous look. Maybe he was her prince charming yet...?
Lock Pin shifted uncomfortably. "L-Lieutenant?" she asked, looking back and forth between Rarity and Rift. "Are you su—" A raised eyebrow from him quickly silenced her, prompting her to grab the keys hanging from the wall. "Er, I mean, yes, sir! Right away, sir!"
To the jangling of keys, the door swung open and the mare stepped back so Rarity could leave. Instead, the unicorn simply stood inside her cell, blinking at the exit. Where was the catch? There had to be a catch, hadn't there?
"You may exit the cell now," Rift prompted her after a moment. He then smiled at Rarity and continued, "Unless you'd like to stay another night? I can't imagine it's very comfortable in there, but if you’ve grown fond of the place..."
Dear lord, no thank you.
Rarity hurriedly trotted out of the cell, not desiring in the least to stay another minute in there. A sigh of relief left her lips when the guard closed the door. She dusted herself off, trying to cleanse her coat of all the dirt, muck, and grime that was abundant in prison cells, but stopped when she noticed everypony staring at her. She opened her mouth to say something, but in the end found that she had nothing to say.
Rift smiled at the guard. "Thank you, Lock Pin." He glanced at Rarity and nodded towards the door. "We'll be leaving now."
After the guard saluted him, he took off, not bothering to give Rarity a second look.
She followed him out of the room in silence, not daring to speak up for fear of getting thrown right back in. His stark change in attitude disconcerted her, but she didn't have the luxury of going against her potential savior. They made their way through the castle, passing by several other guards who all saluted Rift but looked at Rarity suspiciously. It was as if they all knew she had assaulted one of their comrades. In fact, with how ponies loved rumors, she was certain they all knew who she was.
She tried to admire the castle's interior as they were passing through a hallway filled with diamonds and mirrors, but found herself unable to focus on anything but Rift Shield. She had no idea where he was taking her, but hopefully it was either to the exit or to see Princess Denza.
Some time later, she got her answer in the shape of the two large castle doors. She was quite upset to see she recognized the two stallions near the entrance, and she couldn't help but trot at a slower rate. It seemed like Rift noticed this, seeing as he turned around to offer her a reassuring smile.
“No need to be so quiet,” he said, looking back in front of him. “I’m not going to hold anything you say against you, you know?”
When they reached the two guards, his smile disappeared just as soon as it had come. He took on a much more intimidating expression and looked at the two stallions, both of them now looking forlorn and embarrassed rather than intimidating and condescending. They glanced at Rarity before quickly saluting Rift. The soldier who'd jailed Rarity nevertheless did a good job at avoiding eye contact with his superior, his tail hanging between his hind legs.
"Lieutenant..." they said half-heartedly, wincing when Rift's frown only deepened.
"Spades," Rift said, briefly looking at Rarity's jailer before turning to the other stallion. "As a guard, whose values do you and Clubs represent?"
"We represent Princess Cadenza's values, sir!" Spades replied immediately, drawing himself upright and stomping his hoof against the floor. His words drew a smile out of Rift, but the same could not be said of Clubs, who looked more and more as if he wished he was anywhere else but there.
"Excellent, Spades," Rift said, turning to look at Clubs. "Now tell me, is provoking ponies into attacking you and then jailing them for responding to said aggression one of Princess Cadenza's values?"
"N-No, sir!" Spades replied, looking uncomfortably at his comrade.
"But, sir! The mare in her picture! She looks exactly like the statue. It’s impossible for that to really be—" Clubs interrupted, ears pressing against his head at the glare Rift gave him. He took a step back, lowering his head slightly. "Sorry, sir..." He magicked the door open, stepping aside to allow Rarity and Rift passage.
Without another word to the guards, Rift trotted outside. The second Rarity joined him and the doors closed behind the two ponies, he turned to look at her and grinned widely. "So, Miss Lost Visitor, was visiting Canterlot's dungeons part of your planned tour?" he asked, acting much more like he had the day before. He playfully poked her with a hoof. "Gotta say I hadn’t expected our second meeting to go like this, Rarity.” When she threw him a questioning glance, he clarified: “The guards told me your name.”
Now this is more like it, she thought, following him down the path to the city. She smiled brilliantly at him, brushing a hoof in her mane. "But then you wouldn't have been able to rescue me from that dreadful place!" she exclaimed, giggling at how Rift reacted by nodding effusively and puffing out his chest. "I am in your debt, Lieutenant Rift Shield."
"Sorry. I have to go undercover sometimes," he explained sheepishly, brushing the back of his neck. He looked down at his armor and banged his hoof against it. "This green thing isn't the most… inconspicuous."
Rarity laughed, and withheld the urge to point out it was arctic blue, not green. "No, I suppose it isn't."
They trotted in silence for a bit, reaching the main gates and waiting for the guards to open them. Rarity expected Rift to bid her farewell at that point, but he only exchanged a few words with the guard before stepping out the gates and into the city. Rarity would be lying if she said she wasn't rather delighted that she'd get to spend a bit more time with her knight in shining armor.
"So, Miss Rarity, considering you spent an entire day locked away, maybe a midnight tour of the city might cheer you up?" he offered, a charmingly attractive grin gracing his face. He cleared his throat and took off his helmet, examining it with mild interest. "Not to brag, but I give the best tours in Canterlot.
Rarity fluttered her eyelashes at him, and felt flutters of something else, somewhere else. “Is that true?”
He grinned. “Soldier's honor!"
“In that case, I would be delighted.” It wasn’t until after she had impulsively agreed to a midnight tour courtesy of a handsome hunk that a thought occurred to her: Why hasn’t he asked me about Princess Twilight? He knew why she’d been imprisoned, didn’t he? Wasn’t he curious to hear her side of the story? Or was he planning on avoiding the topic altogether? Now, rather than excited, she felt worried again.
Rift was clearly oblivious to the sudden drop in enthusiasm in his companion. “Great!” he exclaimed, pleased by the positive reaction to his suggestion. He put his helmet back on and looked around, eventually pointing towards a street further down the road. “Look, we can start there. That street leads straight to Moonlight Plaza.”
In the end, Rarity decided worrying served no purpose at that point, and Rift didn’t look at all like he had any ulterior motives except being perfectly nice. She took a deep breath, expelling all her worries and affected her most dazzlingly charming smile.
“Well then, shall we?” she asked, taking a step in the appropriate direction.
Rift grinned. “Let’s.” He took the lead, trotting down the path before looking over at Rarity. “So, you say you found one of the lost princesses, huh?”
Despite the late hour, Rarity wasn’t surprised to see Canterlot ponies still out and about. Unlike Ponyville, Canterlot was a true beacon of good taste and knowledgeable ponies—idiotic accusatory guard notwithstanding. She let Rift Shield lead her past the many restaurants and socialite opportunities that the lady in her absolutely adored. Nevertheless, there were some things she wanted to— no, needed to see. She silently bid farewell to one of the few chances she would have to mingle with the Canterlotian nightlife, and followed Rift towards a less crowded street.
Truthfully, her focus on the ponies and shops was also partially due to the fact that Rift had been much less talkative since she’d finished her tale. She omitted some details, of course — Rift didn’t need to know that Twilight attacked her for example — and tried to make her story sound more realistic for fear of receiving the same reaction she had before. If a mere guard could get her thrown in jail, she didn’t want to think about what a lieutenant could do.
"So," he finally said, "the Everfree Forest, huh? Hmm..."
Rarity winced. "You don't believe me either, do you?" she asked, letting out a long breath. With how things had been going, she didn't know why she was disappointed.
"It's not that I don't believe you," Rift said carefully, offering a tentative yet reassuring smile. He looked forward and rubbed the back of his neck, seemingly trying to find the right words to say. "It's more that… Well…"
"But surely Princess Cadenza believes they're real! She has those brut— guards posted to receive information on the princesses! Just because you don't belie—"
"I never said I don't believe they exist," Rift interrupted, leading Rarity inside another small plaza. He trotted over towards a statue and sat down, taking off his helmet. "It's more that… the Everfree Forest has been searched before. Way before our time, but it was searched by guards back then and… a friend of one of Princess Denza's ancestors who spent a really, really long time looking in that forest. Yeah, we haven't looked there in a really long time, but he and the guards would have found her."
"Then come with me to the forest," she continued, “and you can see her for yourself!”
If he actually met Princess Twilight, then there was no way in the whole of Equestria he'd refuse to take her to Denza directly. It was a foal proof plan.
"Pft, come on, I can't go with you to che— Don't look at me like that!" he exclaimed. "I can't just ditch my duties to go check every claim, you know! We've been getting claims like yours for years! Besides, I'd need more proof to even consider doing something or going to check."
"What kind of proof do you need? I brought you photographs of her and the entire library!" Rarity exclaimed helplessly. What, did he want her to bring physical evidence? Maybe ask Princess Twilight to step out of the library and join her on a trip to Canterlot?
Rift looked uneasy for a moment. "Honestly? I… I don't think anything but actually seeing one of the princesses would convince anyone in Canterlot except for very few ponies. Or perhaps something more tangible like...” he paused for a moment. “Like showing me the princess' crown, or something like that."
Rarity groaned, burying her face in her hooves. Bring the crown? How in Equestria was she supposed to do that? The thing was practically part of Twilight! And even if it wasn't ethereal, who was to say Twilight would let her take it? Rarity glanced away, distracting her increasingly frustrated thoughts by looking around the plaza.
The secluded square was completely empty, unlike the more popular streets of the city. The façades of the surrounding buildings were all decorated with a moon and stars motif, something she had the feeling Princess Twilight would have liked. A few drunken patrons stumbled out of the only open bar and wobbled themselves towards the nearest exit.
Her attention was drawn to the statue next to her, which vaguely reminded her of the statue she'd seen the day before.
Just like the statue of 'the teacher', this statue too depicted a beautiful alicorn princess and a small foal. The colt was lying down on the pedestal, soundly asleep with a smile on his face. The Princess sat next to him, her wings spread apart in a circle as if protecting the young foal. All around the pedestal were markings of crescent moons. At least now she knew why the place was called “Moonlight Plaza”.
Just like with the other statue, there was a name engraved on the base.
The Dream Watcher
“You’ve never seen these statues before?” Rift suddenly asked. His brow was slightly furrowed and for a moment Rarity felt very much under some kind of police interrogation. “Really?”
“Never,” she replied, feeling nervous despite just the innocent sounding question. “I told you, as much as I’d like, I don’t come to Canterlot often.”
He was silent for a moment and his expression softened. “They’re in honor of the legend of the Four Princesses,” he said, turning to the statue. “Or that’s what ponies like to say, at least. On the other hoof, some books on Canterlot history say they were just for decoration, and others say they were made in honor of alicorns who died in battle centuries ago.” He lifted his hoof and brushed it against the statue, narrowing his eyes. “Must be about seven or eight hundred years old.”
“My, quite the expert, aren’t we?”
Rift grinned at Rarity, taking his hoof back. “Told you. Best tour guide in Canterlot!” he exclaimed, pounding his hoof against his chest plate. He then looked back at the statue and continued, “There are four in total, actually. The city supposedly kinda grew around them. There's this one in the Moon Quarter, and this entire area is where all the late night entertainment places are. Remember the statue from when we met? That's the Sun Court, which is basically residential and market place areas. Then there's another one inside the castle, and the last one is in the Knowledge District. The public library and schools are there."
"Oh! I read something similar to that in a guide book! They didn't say anything about the statues, though," she noted, trying to remember any detail her book might have mentioned. “Well, regardless, I think they’re lovely."
“You know, I can tell you why Clubs reacted to you in the way he did; why he thought you were pulling his hind leg.”
“Clubs? You mean the guard? The very rude guard?” she asked, raising an eyebrow with skepticism. “Forgive me if I withhold my enthusiasm on the subject.”
Rift smiled cheekily at her before nodding towards the statue. “It was because of these.”
Rarity looked back and forth between the statue and Rift, initially not understanding how the guard and the statue were even remotely related. She then remembered the guard mentioning her pictures looked just like a statue. What, did he think she’d just copied the design off one of them? She looked at the statue again.
“Forgive me for saying, but the only similarities between my pictures and this statue are that both ponies have wings and a horn. Am I to believe I’m a sham just because my picture has an alicorn in it?”
Rift laughed and shook his head. “No, it’s not that.” He put his helmet on and trotted off towards one of the alleyways. “Look, it’ll be better if you see it for yourself. If we’re really lucky, maybe Dusty Pages hasn’t closed up the library yet.”
Rarity took one last look at the statue before following the stallion. They made their way through half a dozen more alleys, and Rarity was so preoccupied that she didn’t even notice the larger plaza until they trotted into it. Unlike the Moonlight Plaza, this one was quite a bit larger, and a lot more crowded. Several ponies were up and about, checking out the many shops that, even this late in the day, were still open and serving customers.
Although she had heard that Canterlot’s public library was nothing short of an architectural wonder, she had never seen it before. It had been one of the things she had wanted to do with Fluttershy if not for her unfortunate incarceration. Now, standing in front of it, she wished her friend were there with her, to be awed by the building the same way Rarity was.
“Here we are!” Rift exclaimed, pointing at the entrance. “Canterlot City’s Public Library!”
The building boasted a classical architectural style and stretched out as far as an entire city block. Its exterior was made of what looked like marble, yet it didn’t so much have a scratch on it, despite the weather. Two stone guards were posted at either side of the stairway leading to the entrance, and the façade of the building was engraved with depictions of scrolls and stars. What caught Rarity’s attention, however, wasn’t so much the building itself as what was literally sitting on top of it.
On the rooftop of the library was a stone statue of a very large dragon. The creature squatted on the roof, facing the street with its large wings half-splayed open. One of its claws gripped the edge of the roof and its tail hung off the edge, the spikes creating a makeshift ladder. Despite its imposing appearance, the dragon wore a peaceful expression, almost as if it was just watching over the plaza. What stuck out to Rarity the most was that it seemed to be holding an oval stone of sorts in its free claw. A gem, perhaps? Dragons loved gems, didn’t they? She remembered reading legends about their infamous hoards, some of which were said to be as large as the entirety of Ponyville.
She could scarcely imagine how long it had taken for the beast to be built, or why had it even been built there in the first place. Dragons were quite possibly the last thing that came to mind when she thought of books and libraries.
“Goodness, what is that doing on top of a library?” Rarity asked, still gawking at the sculpture. She almost wished she had wings so she could fly up and take a closer look at it. She could tell something was written under him on the building, and through squinted eyes read aloud: "'Semper tē prōtegam'."
"'It roughly translates into: 'I will always protect you'," Rift explained, looking at the inscription. "The statue itself is called 'The Guardian'. It was built around the same time as the others."
Rarity nodded, intrigued by the stone it was holding and trying to figure out its significance. It certainly didn't look like any important Equestrian symbol, and the other statues hadn't been holding anything as far as she could recall.
"What is it guarding? The library, I suppose? Or the city?" she asked, picturing the fearsome beast coming to life and defending the city from evil.
"You could say that, but according to some ponies it's actually protecting something inside the library." Rift trotted up the stairs, signaling Rarity to follow him, but upon reaching the front doors and trying the handle, he let out a frustrated groan. "Damn it, Dusty," he muttered, pressing his face against the smoky window and looking inside. "Nope, looks like she locked up early tonight."
Rarity followed suit, pressing her own face against the window. Try as she might, it was far too dark inside the library to see anything except for shadows and what looked like the silhouette of a large object in the entrance. She narrowed her eyes and… another statue, maybe?
"Well, it seems like whatever book was supposed to explain your colleague's behavior is out of our grasp," she exclaimed, stepping away from the window since she wasn't having much luck looking inside. Not that any book would have excused him. "I still don't understand how in Equestria a gray statue of an alicorn could disprove my picture, but alas." She waited for him to reply, but he simply kept staring into the library, his brow furrowed once more. "Rift?"
"I... I can't tell if you're being serious or not," he said, lifting his forehead from the door and looking at her. Rarity wanted to indignantly ask what he meant by that, but he continued speaking before she could do so: "So, this princess of yours, does she have a name?"
"Twilight," Rarity replied, thinking of the alicorn as she spoke her name. "Twilight Sparkle."
What was Twilight doing at that moment, Rarity wondered. What would she do the day after, when Rarity didn't arrive on time – if she even found a train to arrive home at all? She really, really hoped the Princess wouldn't mind too much...
"Twilight Sparkle?" Rift slowly repeated, falling silent for almost a minute afterwards. He lifted his hoof and pressed it against the door. “I… All right, I’ll look into it,” he finally said, stepping away from the door and looking at Rarity. “I’ll help you and your princess.”
Rarity blinked at him.
“You… you will? You’ll help her?” she asked with disbelief, heart pounding in her chest and almost bursting out when he nodded with a smile. Before she could stop herself, she clapped her hooves with giddy pleasure. “Oh, Rift! I don’t know how to thank you! I’m sure Princess Denz—”
"Whoa, don't get ahead of yourself!" he exclaimed, raising a hoof to halt any further speculation. "You'll need way more than just photographs to make a case. We have at least a dozen photographs that look just as realistic as yours."
“But— But you just said that you won’t accept anything but the princesses themselves on a silver platter with roses!” Rarity protested, stamping her hoof against the floor.
Rift raised an eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t say it exactly like that, but…” He sighed and rubbed his eye. “Look, if you’re really telling the truth, then you should be able to find something to convince me, right? More information on her, on the other princesses, I don’t know. I’m sure Princess Twilight would be glad to give you more info considering you’re helping her and the others escape, right?”
Rarity groaned softly, biting down on her lip.
Rift’s suggestion would be quite easy if only it didn’t mean admitting to Princess Twilight that she’d been doing exactly what Princess Twilight asked her not to do. Didn’t she want help? Didn’t she want to find the others? It baffled Rarity that anypony would want to spend the rest of their lives locked away in a library for all eternity.
“Very well,” she said at last, "I'll gather evidence." She left the entrance and trotted down the stairs, her body feeling heavier with every step and every troubled thought. Without the help of Princess Denza, finding the other princesses could take months or years. Maybe even decades. Was she really ready to potentially spend years of her life searching for lost books and alicorns?
She stepped out into the plaza and looked back up at the dragon. Wouldn't it be easier if you just came to life and helped me look? she thought, wishing the beast would do something else than simply stare at her with impassive eyes. The more she looked at it, however, the more she felt like the creature's eyes and expression turned into one of pleading. Great, now even statues are guilt tripping me into helping Twilight.
"So, should we continue with our tour?"
Rarity looked away from the dragon and found Rift Shield standing next to her. She was tempted to say yes, but she was admittedly tired and disappointed by the outcome of her trip. There was also the fact that poor Fluttershy was waiting for her back at the hotel, and Rarity would be remiss to go out and have fun while her best friend was worrying herself sick over her.
"I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask for a rain check," Rarity said, affecting an apologetic smile. "I'm rather tired, and my friend must still be waiting for me." She turned around and looked in the general direction of the tourist area of the city before turning back to him and fluttering her eyelashes. "Would you mind terribly accompanying me to my hotel? I'm afraid I'm a bit lost." She wasn't being completely dishonest. She really only had a very vague idea of how to get back to her hotel, and she didn't want to say goodbye to her handsome rescuer just yet.
Rift winked. "It'll be my pleasure, Miss Lost Visitor."
The next morning was an extremely busy one for Rarity. Between Fluttershy wanting to get some last minute treats for her animal friends, and the fact that Rarity had to stand in line to acquire the tickets that would grant them passage back to Ponyville, there was barely enough time in the day.
Now, they were standing at the train station, surrounded by ponies rushing with their suitcases while lamenting the fact that she hadn’t been able to get a good look at the statue inside the library. Rift Shield’s allusions had made her curious. What was worse, was that the trains were so chock full of ponies that she had only been able to get tickets for the afternoon train, which made the hour of their arrival far too late to even think about venturing into the Everfree Forest.
Hopefully the Princess wasn't still waiting for her.
"Maybe she's frightened of the Spirit?"
After Rarity had promised to see Rift again soon and then reunited with Fluttershy, the two mares spent the majority of the next day finishing their duties in Canterlot and discussing all the possible reasons why Princess Twilight would be against finding the others and being freed herself.
Rarity looked at Fluttershy from behind her sunglasses, raising an eyebrow. "The spirit? The Spirit of Chaos, you mean?"
Fluttershy nodded. "Well… he is still out there, isn't he? What if she's afraid he'll do something nasty to her if she comes out...? Or to the village?" she suggested, adjusting her saddlebag and glancing at the ponies passing by. How unaware they all were of the truth buried in the history of their kingdom. "What if he's trapped other ponies already?"
"A possibility, I suppose," Rarity admitted, turning back to the train they'd be departing on in a short few hours. If the spirit truly had escaped, then she doubted he'd just quit his villainous ways. It felt somewhat anti-climactic for somepony to do, especially after they went through the trouble of physically incarcerating three alicorns.
"What if…" Fluttershy went silent for a moment. "What if he goes after you? After us? Because you're trying to help Princess Twilight?"
Rarity didn't reply immediately. The thought had never crossed her mind, in fact. If the spirit truly was alive, what was stopping him from trying to stop Rarity from freeing the Princess? Furthermore, who was to say the reason no one had helped the princesses before was because he was still out there, deterring all those who tried?
"Darling, right now, I believe I have other things I should be preoccupied with," Rarity said, hoping to change the topic of conversation. She found thinking of her potential demise at the hooves of a miffed spirit of chaos was not a pleasant discussion. "Like, for example, what will I tell Princess Twilight? I can't tell her I was jailed; that would imply telling her the reason why and admitting I went against her orders." She glanced at the nearby clock hanging from a poll and looked back at the train. "And I sincerely doubt that she'll accept 'I was jailed because you look like a statue’' as a valid excuse."
Maybe the guard actually believed that Canterlot’s interpretations of the princesses were the real deal, and he was angered that Princess Twilight looked nothing like the Canterlot version. Maybe she could use that as an excuse to give the Princess some sort of a makeover. Heavens knew how many stunning manestyles one could do with a sparkling mane like Princess Twilight’s. Rarity bit down a smile at the thought.
“Oh! It’s you!”
The two friends turned around towards the voice. To Rarity’s immense pleasure, she recognized the mare trotting towards them as the owner of the marketplace bookstand from the other day. The elder mare seemed to be slightly out of breath, a large saddlebag thumping against her body.
Rarity took off her sunglasses and waved at the elderly mare. “Ah, Miss Scroll Keeper! How lovely to see you!” she exclaimed when Scroll Keeper caught up to her and Fluttershy. She had assumed she’d never see her again, and the renewed hope of getting back one of the Princess’ books cheered her up tremendously. “Fluttershy told me you were leaving today, so I thought we’d already missed you!”
Scroll Keeper shook her head. “Our train is leaving soon, in fact, but I saw you here and I had to come over! Your friend told me you had a bit of trouble yesterday?” she asked curiously.
“Ah...” Rarity cleared her throat, feeling her cheeks burning. “Yes!” she said, toying with her sunglasses and laughing nervously. “I’m afraid I was caught up in an unexpected situation, but I assure you it’s all cleared up now! Nothing to worry about!”
Scroll Keeper seemed pleased by the news, smiling warmly at the unicorn. “I’m glad to hear that, dear! Your friend seemed quite worried,” she said, making Fluttershy blush slightly. She turned to her saddlebag and opened it up, rummaging for something inside. “And I bring good news of my own regarding the books you wanted!”
“Y-You do?” Rarity asked, her voice taking on higher pitch due to sheer excitement.
Did she… Could it… Maybe?
Her questions were answered seconds later when the pegasus retrieved a blue leather-bound book from out of her saddlebag. For a split second, Rarity’s heart filled with joy, but the feeling immediately died when she took a closer look at the book. The rather lengthy tome looked to be in absolute perfect condition. Its design was certainly outdated, yes, but there was simply no way a book over a thousand years old could have been preserved so perfectly after being passed around and used for centuries.
“Here we are!” Scroll Keeper exclaimed, completely oblivious to Rarity’s less than enthused expression. “‘Magical A to Better’ by Camellia the Coset Mage! It took a bit of searching and luck, but we had it amongst the books we brought for the trip! I’m afraid it’s a used book, however. I hope you don’t mind.”
She hoofed over the book to Rarity, who accepted it out of courtesy despite not wanting it anymore. She rubbed her hoof against the leather and, as she’d suspected, it was in near perfect condition. Probably a new trend to make new books look old-fashioned or some such thing. Might as well glance inside, she thought dejectedly, opening up the book and stopping at the first page, her eyes widening.
Just as Scroll Keeper had said, the book indeed had a previous owner, and said owner had elegantly written down a message with lavender ink on the top of the page: ‘Property of Twilight Sparkle.’ Rarity brushed her hoof against the name to check if she was seeing things, but no matter how many times she rubbed her hoof against the page, the name never disappeared.
“I stopped by the Canterlot Public Library yesterday to check something, and I found out that is indeed, as I suspected, a first edition of a thousand-year-old book!" Scroll Keeper declared, pausing briefly to give the two younger mares a cryptic smile.
"But how is that possible?" Fluttershy asked, gingerly taking the book from Rarity and giving it a look-over. “It seems new!”
Scroll Keeper's cryptic smile only grew at Fluttershy’s remark. "But that's because it seems to be a very special book," she began, straightening herself as if wanting to — or rather, about to — give a lecture. "In olden times, books were just as valuable as gold and silver, even more so to some! Those ponies treasured knowledge above all else and owning a book was considered a source of great privilege! As such, some very powerful librarians and book keepers would do everything they could to ensure the protection of their books."
She reached inside her saddlebag again, retrieved a bottle of water, and unscrewed the cap. “Look!”
Before either friend could stop the elder mare, Scroll Keeper poured water on top of Princess Twilight’s book. The water flowed down the bottle, but just as it was about to hit the book, a very thin layer of very light gold-colored magic appeared and repelled the liquid. As far as Rarity could recall, Princess Twilight’s magic was dark pink, not golden. Who had cast that spell?
“See?” Scroll Keeper said, closing the empty bottle and putting it back in her bag. “A protection spell! And a very strong one at that, if it’s managed to last for so long!” While Rarity and Fluttershy continued gawking at the book, the elder mare took out a small bitpouch from her bag. “And now, if you’re still interested in buying the book…”
Rarity blinked. “Huh? Oh! Yes, yes I am! Very interested, indeed,” she quickly said, taking out her own bitpouch and opening it up. She hadn’t brought her life savings, but hopefully she had enough to buy the book. It was a very rare edition, she supposed, but it couldn’t be that expensive. Besides, Scroll Keeper looked like a reasonable mare. “How much will it be?”
Scroll Keeper shook her head. “Well, dear, this is a very rare and magical book, so…” She cleared her throat and put her bitpouch back into her bag. “I’d like something other than bits in exchange for it.”
“Oh?” asked Rarity, her enthusiasm starting to wane. She didn’t have anything else to offer in exchange for the book. What was she supposed to do now?
Scroll Keeper nodded, lifting her hoof and tracing a circle on her chest. “The other day at the market, you were wearing the loveliest sapphire necklace…” she began, oblivious to Rarity’s growing look of comprehension and horror. “I’d gladly take it in exchange for the book!”
That was the first thing that came to Rarity’s mind at the thought of giving away her beloved necklace.
“Ah… My necklace? Well… Hmm…” she murmured, playing with a lock of her mane and trying to think of something else the mare might be interested in. There was simply no way she’d be giving her nec— “Ow!”
Fluttershy had not-so-subtly poked Rarity’s ribs, drawing the attention of the unicorn and giving her an expectant look. “Rarity…”
Rarity looked back indignantly. Oh, so now she wanted to get the book? When three days ago she didn’t even believe Princess Twilight was real? Did she even know how hard it had been for Rarity to find a sapphire of that size? Did she think they just grew on trees? Rarity had slaved over that sapphire! Spent at least an hour making it shine! Spent at least another hour finding the appropriate silver chain to hang it from!
Scroll Keeper took back the book, showing signs of putting it away. “Well, if you’d rather not, I’m afraid I must hurry along, dear! My husband is waiting for me, and our train back home is leaving soon.”
Rarity looked back and forth between her bag and the book, biting down on her lip. If she didn’t take the book now, she might never see it again. She couldn’t very well afford train tickets to all over Equestria whenever she pleased. But, on the other hoof, her sapphire was so ravishing and valuable and it went so well with Rarity’s coat and eyes…
“Oh… All right…” she relented, digging into her bag and taking out her beloved, cherished necklace. She took one last almost look at it before hoofing it over to the now ecstatic elder mare in exchange for the certainly less lovely-looking book.
Scroll Keeper immediately put on the necklace, her eyes shimmering with delight. The sight was almost enough for Rarity not to miss her necklace too much. Obviously too excited for formalities, she quickly thanked Rarity for her business and wobbled off, muttering something about showing her husband.
Rarity sighed theatrically and put Princess Twilight’s book away. “That’s that, I suppose...” she murmured, trying to find comfort in the fact that the book should at least cheer up Twilight tremendously. Rarity couldn’t recall seeing the Princess smile about anything.
Once the book was safe in her bag, she looked back towards where Scroll Keeper had gone and saw her talking effusively to an elder stallion in the distance. To her surprise, the stallion looked… vaguely familiar. A dark cloak covering most of his body, a long beard… Where have I seen him…? It wasn’t until a few moments of thinking that she felt her heart nearly stop when she remembered who he was. She had, in fact, met him once already – on the very same night she’d met Princess Twilight.
“So you met the spirit of the Princess, did you?”
The Book Bringer.
She’d completely forgotten about his existence. It was like her mind had solely focused on the Princess herself, but not on the other pony who’d coaxed Rarity into giving Princess Twilight a second chance.
“Rarity? Did you hear what I said?” Fluttershy asked, trying and failing to snap Rarity back into reality. She put a hoof on her friend’s shoulder and was promptly ignored as Rarity took a step towards the couple.
The sole pony besides Rarity who knew of Princess Twilight’s existence. The sole pony who could help her find the books. The sole pony who knew more than Rarity did. And he was standing on the other side of the station, about to get on a train and disappear entirely from her life.
She couldn’t allow it.
“Rarity! Where are you going?” Fluttershy asked, alarmed at seeing her friend suddenly rush off.
“Wait! Please!” Rarity called, maneuvering around the trotting ponies and suitcases littered on the ground as she practically galloped towards the other side of the station. The elder couple had already started to board, and she was dismayed to see they hadn’t heard her. “Scroll Keeper!” she called, louder now, and was again ignored.
By the time she reached the train doors, the couple was lost inside the train, and the burly conductor inside was enough for Rarity to know pushing past him was not an option. She cantered alongside the length of the train, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Book Bringer and his wife next to one of the windows, but no such luck.
She eventually heard the conductor’s last call and the door of the train closed. What was she supposed to do now? Scroll Keeper said they were headed home, but… Rarity stepped away, looking at the dashboard hanging next to the train. There were only two scheduled stops, Neighagra Falls and Hollow Shades, and she knew neither place.
With a heavy heart, she watched the train leave the station, taking with it the only pony who could possibly help her find the princesses. She turned around and found Fluttershy staring at her in the distance, still apparently trying to figure out why her friend had run off like that. After quickly waving at Fluttershy to reassure her, Rarity took out Princess Twilight’s book and opened it to the first page. One last time, she brushed her hoof against the Princess’ hoofwriting.
“One down, twenty-nine to go…”
Monday morning arrived to the sound of singing birds and… hooting owls?
Back at home, Rarity rolled over in her bed and stifled a yawn. She took off her sleeping mask and looked toward the window, her eyes adjusting to the rays of bright sunlight filtering in. To her surprise, she was met with the sight of a familiar white owl standing on the windowsill, who hooted twice when Rarity looked at her.
Elara? What’s she doing here? Never before had Elara actually traveled out beyond the forest entrance to fetch Rarity. Had something happened with Princess Twilight?
“Elara!” Rarity magicked the window open to allow the bird entry. “Good morning.”
Elara carefully flew into the room, glancing around and making sure to stay far away from the sleeping cat in the corner. She finally settled herself on top of the frame of the bed, blinking twice at Rarity.
“I’m terribly sorry, darling. I had an unexpected hold-up in Canterlot, and I was unfortunately unable to come back yesterday!” Rarity explained, receiving a relieved hoot in reply. She waited as Elara flew down onto the bed and then continued, “How is Princess Twilight?”
At the question, Elara looked down and clawed at the bedsheet without so much as a hoo. That didn’t bode well, did it?
“Is she upset?” Rarity ventured, hoping that wasn’t the case. However, to her chagrin, Elara looked up, hooting softly and nodding her head.
“I see.” Rarity sighed and got out of bed, taking a deep breath. She levitated the saddlebag she’d prepared the night before and put it on her back. “Well, not to worry. As long as she doesn’t hurl me against another bookcase, I’m sure it’s nothing I can’t fix.”
Elara hooted cheerfully, flying up and settling herself on Rarity’s back, safe from the claws of the rousing cat. As Rarity quickly brushed her mane and put on her makeup, she reflected on the owl’s attitude. If Princess Twilight truly was upset, then surely Elara wouldn’t be acting as carefree as she was, would she?
Making sure she hadn’t forgotten anything, Rarity headed for the forest, expecting a quick and uneventful trip.
And yet, even though she engaged the owl in a pleasant but certainly one-sided conversation along the way, something about that particular trot toward the library was disconcerting.
It wasn’t so much that the forest still scared Rarity. On the contrary, she had become accustomed to its… eerie beauty. She even recognized certain areas the owls took her through, meaning she’d hopefully one day be able to find the library by herself.
No, what made this particular trip disconcerting was the distinct impression something or somepony was following her. Unfortunately, with the sounds of forest animals filling the air, it was hard to tell if the hoofsteps she could swear she heard were real or not. For the umpteenth time, she stopped in her tracks and looked back into the darkness behind her, but again found nothing and nopony.
She looked up and noticed Elara was similarly staring out at the forest from her perch on a nearby branch, just as she’d been doing a lot during the trip. Surely if she’s stopping every minute to look back as well, it can’t be my imagination, can it?
“Hello?” Rarity called out tentatively. “You know, following somepony without their consent is generally considered a very rude thing to do!”
After her reminder of proper etiquette was answered with silence, she sighed and turned back, signaling to Elara that she was ready to continue. The owl flew up from the branch and continued guiding the unicorn through the forest until they finally reached the familiar oak tree.
Having successfully escorted the unicorn, Elara flew up to the branches of the tree and alighted on one, staring toward the forest and hooing. Rarity looked back briefly, hoping to catch sight of any potential follower, before jumping down into the hole. Once below, she trotted toward the trapdoor and descended into the library.
Here we go, then.
She lingered briefly right before the entrance, bracing herself to face the upset alicorn. Maybe Princess Twilight had gotten over it by now! In fact, Rarity was sure the princess wasn’t even the least bit upset anymore! It had just been one day, after all. It’s not like a whole entire month had gone by or anything.
She stepped inside and found the magic chandelier already in place near the ceiling, illuminating the entire room. The only change was that the light seemed… darker, somehow. Less inviting than the previous times she’d stopped by.
She hoped it was simply her imagination.
“Princess Twilight?” Rarity called, putting her saddlebag down on a table and trotting further into the room, getting lost in the rows of bookcases. “I’m terribly sorry for coming late! There was a hold up in Canterlot!”
She received no answer. Not a sound, not a breath, zilch, zip, nada. Odd, she thought, usually she’d be here by now. Maybe the princess was doing something in the maze? Busy finding a book and definitely not ignoring anypony. Definitely not being upset.
The library was unusually neat, no towers of books scattered about the place. The princess must have really meant it when she said she’d organize the library while Rarity was away. Rarity tentatively prodded at some of the books, hoping they would somehow work to summon the princess as they’d done before, but a few minutes of poking gave no results.
She looked around again. “Princess? Princess Twilight!”
She bit her lip. Nopony greeting her now was really no different than the other times, but… something felt different. The air felt colder, contributing to the already very unwelcoming atmosphere. It’s just my conscience, she reassured herself, continuing her search.
Some exploring later, she finally reached the desk where Twilight had placed all her new things. Unlike the rest of the place, the desk was a complete mess, parchments scattered about and a few books lying open.
She took a closer look at the parchments and found her camera drawn on one of them, as well as a smaller drawing of all its individual components. There were notes on how the pieces fit together, and several proposed new designs.
“Is she trying to fix it?” Rarity whispered, feeling somewhat heartwarmed by the possibility. It had been an expensive device, and the prospect of having it back was a pleasing one.
She glanced at the other parchment and saw her name written in the title. Closer inspection revealed it was a list of questions and concerns Twilight had for Rarity, ranging from personal questions about the unicorn to inquiries on the outside world: what did she like to do, where did she work, what was her position in society, et cetera… It had never occurred to Rarity that Twilight would also have questions for her, let alone questions about Rarity herself. She knew who Twilight was, but she realized that Twilight essentially had no idea who Rarity was, beyond “a pony who’d stumbled into the library.”
She looked up at the calendar and caught sight of the day that had been blank during her last visit. While all the other days were filled with activities, Sunday only had two words written on it…
She looked down at the parchment on the table, reading over the list of questions and pushing away the mental image of Princess Twilight waiting all day for her. There was nothing to worry about. If she hadn’t been able to answer them the day before, she’d be delighted to do so now if it would cheer up the princess. They still had a whole day ahead of them, and she intended to make it count.
Her first course of action was to take the parchment and read the questions over. Or, rather, she would have done so if the parchment hadn’t suddenly disappeared from sight. With a surprised “oh!”, Rarity took a step back and quickly looked around, finding no one in the hallway. Oh dear, had Princess Twilight gone back to her hide-and-seek ways? Should she count to ten out loud? Maybe that pentagram summoning spell wasn’t a bad idea after all.
“Princess Twilight?” Rarity ventured instead. She quickly looked around as she spoke, hoping to catch a glimpse of the princess but to no avail. Ugh. She really didn’t want to resort to throwing another stack of carefully ordered books to the ground, but as Sweetie would be quick to claim, sometimes making a mess was justified. Unfortunately, Twilight having cleaned the library meant there were no stacks of books lying around for Rarity’s easy access.
One day, Princess Twilight was going to scare Rarity to death.
The startled unicorn looked around and found the princess standing a few feet away. “O-oh, Princess! There you are!” she said, smiling nervously.
The princess certainly didn’t seem cheerful to see Rarity, but she didn’t seem angry or sad either. Just like Rarity, she appeared to be analyzing the situation—but specifically Rarity. Twilight took a step toward her, narrowing her eyes and looking her over.
“You didn’t come to visit yesterday,” she said at length, taking a step back. Her voice betrayed no hint at emotion, nor did her face. “I thought you might have been injured or attacked.” For a brief moment, her ears lowered. “I was con— Elara and Themis were concerned for your well-being.”
It wasn’t difficult for Rarity to guess the original sentence, but she decided not to act on it. Instead, she put a hoof on her chest. “Oh dear, were they? How kind!” She glanced around, pretending to look for the owls. “I’m terribly remiss to have worried them! It’s nothing to worry about, though! Just a little unexpected probl—”
“Did you bring the book you borrowed?” Twilight interrupted, dropping the temperature in the room by several degrees with her voice alone.
Rarity winced inwardly. That wasn’t a good sign at all.
“Er, yes!” she quickly said, looking into her saddlebag and hovering her hoof over the books, trying to decide which one was more favorable to present. She eventually picked up the book she had borrowed, hoping to save the recovered book as a last resort if the princess’ mood didn’t improve. “Here we are!”
Twilight took the book and magicked it away. No filling up the library card, no “thank you,” no anything. There was an awkward moment of silence afterwards in which neither pony seemed to know what to say. Was it going to be like this the entire time? The looming prospect was less than pleasant to the unicorn. She reached inside her saddlebag and made a move to retrieve the second book.
“Did you enjoy your trip?” Twilight suddenly asked.
“Oh, yes!” Rarity lied, taking her hoof back from her bag. “Very much so!”
In reality, Fluttershy’s presence had been the only enjoyable thing about the trip. She didn’t want Princess Twilight to find out about her time in jail, though, and there was no point in being honest about the trip’s outcome. If she had missed the meeting because of it, she might as well make it sound like it was worth it. “There were so many interesting things there! Like, for instance…”
Talking about Canterlot and the higher Equestrian society was something Rarity could do for hours on end. She could go on and on about the wonders of the capital, just as she was at that moment, embellishing every detail of her story and making Canterlot seem like the most wondrous of places. The glitz, the glam, the everything! She painted a picture of Canterlot Castle for the princess, as well—or rather, what she managed to see of it: the dungeons and a mirror and the crystal-filled hallway Rift had led her through.
She was so enraptured by her own vivid descriptions, she failed to notice the princess’ downcast eyes and drooping ears.
“I really do love Canterlot. You understand why I simply had to stay one day more, don’t you?” Rarity finished with a dreamy sigh, only then noticing Twilight’s shifted expression. “P-Princess?”
“I see,” Twilight whispered, pawing at the floor forlornly. “I always did love home, too.”
And with those six words, Rarity felt like a completely tactless and particularly insensitive foal.
“Oh goodness, Princess Twilight, I— I didn’t mean to— I—” Rarity stammered in a panicked frenzy, putting her hooves over her mouth and shaking her head. Now she’d really done it. And it was far too late to go back on what she’d said. “I’m so sorry! I don’t kno—”
“Do you need anything else?” Princess Twilight interrupted, looking up at the unicorn. “I was busy with something before you arrived.”
The princess lifted her hoof. “I understand. Why would you want to come back here? Canterlot is much nicer. I do not blame you for delaying your return; who would want to spend time with somepony who threw them against a bookcase?” she asked, her voice as cold and unforgiving as the Canterlot dungeons.
And yet, despite this, Princess Twilight’s face still betrayed one sole emotion: loneliness. A loneliness Rarity had never seen beset the alicorn before.
It was the type that hollows one out and leaves them an empty shell, still moving out of instinct, not desire to do so. How could Rarity hope to understand a type of loneliness she had never experienced? For now, though, she could feel fragments of it in Twilight’s actions, in her eyes, and in her words.
It was almost reminiscent of the day they first met, which already felt so long ago despite being so recent, when Twilight had begged for Rarity to stay. She’d shed all of her defenses, all of her royal persona, to reveal a terribly lonely mare asking for company because she had nothing left. Nothing left but books that couldn’t answer back and memories that had probably already faded away.
“If you do not need anything, Rarity,” Twilight continued, drawing herself up, “I will take my leave. You do not have to come back if you do not want to.”
The calendar, the notes, the questions… Guilt crashed through the unicorn.
Twilight had been waiting for Rarity because she was her only link to the outside, and Rarity hadn’t come. Now, thanks to running her mouth, Rarity had not only made Twilight feel completely unimportant, but that she’d been ignored in favor of everything she’d lost.
When Twilight turned to trot away, Rarity spoke up in an almost panicked voice: “I’m sorry, Princess Twilight! I really am!” In the face of such a mistake, there was only one thing Rarity could do: apologize, truly and sincerely. Apologize because in the end what mattered wasn’t why she hadn’t been able to keep her promise, but the fact that she hadn’t kept it. Twilight turned back to look at her, and Rarity felt reassured enough to continue. “I do like visiting you, Princess. More than you know, I really do. I apologize sincerely for not being here yesterday. I have no excuses to offer.”
The princess’ expression did not waver initially, and Rarity feared her words had little impact, until the lights in the room suddenly brightened. And, just as the lights had, so too did the alicorn’s face brighten ever so slightly, her ears perking up. The expression in her eyes changed from sadness to a feeling Rarity could only describe as… hope? Maybe even sincere belief in Rarity’s words?
Except then it changed again.
“Wait a moment…” Twilight said, narrowing her eyes. She took one step toward the unicorn and whispered: “You… You visited the castle?”
Rarity raised an eyebrow. Hadn’t she spent the entire past hour establishing just that? She was pretty sure she spent at least ten minutes speaking about the interior design of the ancient building. “Yes? Though I already sincerely apologized for delaying my return in favor of sightseeing…”
Twilight shook her head. “No, not that,” she replied, taking yet another step toward Rarity, seeming more imposing by the second. “You mentioned visiting the crystal hallway of the castle, didn’t you?”
“Yes…” Rarity replied carefully. “Well, I mean, it was a rather large hallway filled with mirrors that led from the…” She stopped herself, the word “dungeon” hanging from her lips, before clearing her throat and continuing, “Some part of the castle to the entrance.”
A book suddenly appeared next to her, opening up and flipping its pages as the alicorn spoke without actually looking at it. “Canterlot Castle had several large modifications made to it after the ascension of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza the First, following her role in the first Crystal Land dispute.” She seemed to be reciting a passage from memory. “A large hall was added to the original design, decorated with crystal and mirrors. It united the entrance of the castle with Princess Cadenza’s tower, the throne room, and the Canterlot dungeons.” The book pages suddenly stopped on a hoof-drawn illustration of the hallway Rift Shield had led Rarity through.
Rarity frowned, looking back and forth between Twilight and the illustration. “Princess, I don’t—”
“I am sure you noticed this hallway is not the main hallway, and it is not intended for ordinary visitors. As long as nothing has changed since my imprisonment, the only way an outsider of the castle could see this hallway is by either receiving an audience with Princess Cadance—or her descendants—or by going to the dungeons,” Twilight continued. “The only reason you could have seen that hallway is because you were seeking an audience with Princess Denza, which is exactly what I asked you not to do.”
The blood drained from Rarity’s face. “I… er… well…” she stammered, running her hoof through her mane. She needed to think of something to say and fast. After all, for every second of silence that ticked by, Twilight’s glare deepened and deepened. “I-it’s open to the public now!”
Twilight said nothing in reply. Not a sound, not a peep, not a single thing. She just narrowed her eyes even more, and Rarity felt like she was being completely and utterly examined by a ghostly gaze that peered right into her soul.
“All right, fine!” she exclaimed, clamping her ears against her skull. “I was jailed! I was thrown into the dungeons on Saturday and missed the train back home because I was getting intimately acquainted with the filth accumulating there for centuries! That’s why I saw the hallway, and that’s why I wasn’t able to keep my promise!”
Concern washed over Twilight’s face, her ears lowering slightly. “You were jailed?” she asked, her tone much softer than before. It was this very same concern that made Rarity wish, hope, plead, pray that Twilight’s next question wasn’t— “Why were you jailed?”
Two paths lay before the unicorn.
The easy path, which was creating yet another fantastical tale about intrigue and being involved in a theft in Canterlot, hopefully leaving Twilight impressed and reassured.
Or, the hard path, which was telling the absolute truth, cutting the delicate thread that kept her lies together, facing the anger of Princess Twilight, hoping she wouldn’t be thrown against a bookcase, and then figuring out her next step.
“Because the proof I brought of your existence wasn’t good enough to get me an audience with Princess Denza,” she said without—or with just a little bit—of hesitation, trying not to lose her cool as the concern vanished immediately from Princess Twilight’s face. She had made her bed, and now she had to lie in it. “Instead,” she continued, gulping down all desire to go back to option A, “it was taken as if I was playing a prank on the guards so they gave me a night in jail as a lesson.”
It was out in the open now, and all that remained was to face the alarmingly calm storm in the shape of a completely silent princess. Rarity stood as tall and proud as she could, trying not to be intimidated by the alicorn’s blank yet somehow still furious gaze. Rarity was fully prepared for the sure-to-come yelling, but was completely disarmed when Princess Twilight simply teleported away instead without another word, the open book falling to the floor.
Rarity didn’t quite know how to react, blinking at the spot where Twilight had once been. “Princess?” she ventured, receiving no reply. “Princess, please, I apologize for doing this without your permission! Can’t we talk about it, please?” After several more callings of the princess’ name, all of which went unanswered, Rarity sighed deeply and picked up the book with her magic. “Princess Twilight! You’re being ridi—”
“I told you I didn’t want you involved!” the princess’ voice boomed throughout the entire library, almost as if she was everywhere at once. She suddenly appeared atop the bookcase, wings flared and a scorching fire in her glare. “You can’t help me!”
“Why not?!” Rarity demanded, completely baffled by how adamantly Twilight was against receiving help. “You let me go out and find the books! Why can’t I seek informa—”
“Books don’t get you thrown into the dungeon!” Twilight interrupted, teleporting away and reappearing in front of Rarity, forcing the unicorn to backtrack several paces. “For all I know, he’s still out there! For all I know, the only reason nopony has helped me before is because he has trapped them or killed them!”
Rarity had no reply ready for that, but not because she thought the princess was right. If the Spirit was truly out there plotting against the escape of the princesses, then… why hadn’t he stopped Rarity from getting one of Twilight’s books? They were the key to Twilight’s escape, weren’t they?
“Don’t you see?!” Twilight continued, steadily becoming more and more riled. “The evidence you have wasn’t even enough to convince the Equestrian royalty of my existence!”
“Because you won’t let me get more proof!” Rarity snapped back, taking a step toward Twilight in an act of insolence she was sure would have gotten her thrown back into the dungeon, so she hoped the library didn’t have one. “How can I be expected to gather more evidence if you won’t tell me anything, let alone allow me to seek information on my own?!” It was clear the alicorn had not expected Rarity to fight back, ears flattening against her head as she stepped away. This, however, wasn’t enough to dissuade Rarity from speaking her mind. She took another step toward the princess, stamping her hoof against the floor. “Why won’t you let me help you?!”
“Because I don’t want anypony in danger because of me! I don’t want that! Not again!” Twilight shot back in reply, stamping her own hoof against the floor, her voice cracking ever so slightly. “Why do you even care?!”
And it was amusing, in hindsight, how Rarity had asked herself that same question before and struggled with the answer, but now it came to her so naturally and easily. “Because you’re my friend, Twilight!” she exclaimed with all the honesty she had lacked before. Because in the short weeks since she’d found the library, she hadn’t bothered to realize that she kept coming back not out of desire for adventure or intrigue, but because she’d found a curious friend in the alicorn.
“B-but, but—” Twilight stepped even further back, apprehension in her eyes replaced by sheer confusion. She opened and closed her mouth several times, her thoughts obviously going much faster than her mouth could keep up. When her mouth finally did catch up, she blurted out in a flabbergasted voice: “But I accused you of being the Spirit! And you only met me… five book-borrowings ago!”
“Princess, last I knew, friendships didn’t have a time condition over when they can start,” Rarity replied. The princess seemed as if she wanted to throw a retort, but couldn’t find one. Taking advantage of Twilight’s difficulties finding words to express herself, Rarity continued, “And I apologize for not keeping my promise as I should have, and for everything else I’ve done. That is not something friends do.”
Twilight kept quiet, looking as if she were trying to process Rarity’s words. “Thank you for apologizing,” she said finally.
“And please believe me when I say I really do want to help you,” Rarity continued, knowing she was again treading on thin ice. “Truly and sincerely.”
“I… don’t know,” Twilight said, getting up and pacing around, mumbling under her breath. It was a strange sight as she kept trotting through the bookcases, something which Rarity still wasn’t quite used to.
While Twilight lost herself in her own thoughts, Rarity looked at the book she’d picked up from the floor. To her immense surprise, the pony marked down as the author was the very same alicorn currently rambling about the dangers of adventuring throughout Equestria in search of long-lost princesses.
Her curiosity awakened, Rarity opened up the book and noticed it was completely hoof-written in elegant lavender calligraphy. She flipped through its pages, picking one at random. It held an illustration of a conference room with a title and description below.
The Garden of the Accord
Commissioned after the end of the First Chaos War, the Garden of the Accord was designed to serve as the meeting place for the four Princesses of Equestria and the Spirit of Chaos.
The meetings were held annually on the anniversary of the end of the First Chaos War. The princesses would offer a small, barren land on which the Spirit was allowed to create chaos, and in return he would act peacefully toward the rest of the Equestrian Kingdom. If he failed to keep his end of the bargain, the Elements of Harmony would be used to turn him to stone or worse.
Several tapestries hang from the marble walls of the room, depicting the events of the war: from the beginning to the defeat of the Spirit of Chaos and the ascension of Twilight Sparkle the unicorn as consequence of her pivotal actions in bringing about the end of the war. Due to a spell created in collaboration between Star Swirl the Bearded and Princess Sparkle, the walls of the room and indeed the entire castle have been imbued with a protective spell against chaos magic. This renders the Spirit’s magic completely ineffective within the castle walls, thus preventing him from attacking the princesses at any time during the Peace Meetings.
The Peace Meetings are no longer celebrated since the start of the Second Chaos Era, which began on the day of the Fifth Peace Meeting, when the Spirit’s request for something other than land was not granted.
“…the ascension of Twilight Sparkle the unicorn as consequence of her pivotal actions in bringing the end of the war.”
Her eyes lingered on that sentence, and Rarity realized she’d always assumed Princess Twilight had, well, always been an alicorn. Rarity turned to the book’s index page and read down the list of contents until she found one that interested her. “Second Chaos War, page four hundred thirteen.”
She flipped through the pages, reached the appropriate one, and gulped. What… What is this?
The words “your fault” had been written all over the page in capital letters. Did… did Twilight write this? But it didn’t look like her hoofwriting at all. She turned the page and found the rest of the chapter plastered with the same accusation over and over. She went back to the first page and tried to read the original text, but she was interrupted when Twilight stopped her pacing to confront her once more.
“Just because you found me does not mean finding the others will be easy!” Twilight pointed toward the calendar hanging above the desk. “It’s been over a thousand years! If even I don’t know where he could have trapped them, how are you supposed to find information as… as…” She took the book from Rarity’s magical grip, closing it and waving it around. “…As lost and irretrievable as my borrowed books!”
Rarity simply stared at Twilight, lowering her hoof; she’d been reaching to get the book back. As much as she wanted to laugh and pat the head of the blissfully ignorant alicorn, she settled instead on an innocent smile as her only response.
The princess seemed disconcerted. “Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked carefully.
“Oh, it’s nothing!” Rarity replied nonchalantly, running a hoof through her mane and then tapping it against her cheek. “I was simply mulling over whether I should put my bag down somewhere because the ‘lost and irretrievable’ book in my saddlebag is so terribly heavy.”
Princess Twilight did not reply initially, her eyes growing wide. “You… You found one?”
“Now, what was it called?” Rarity continued, lifting her hoof to admire the remnants of the hooficure from last week. “I think it was Magical A to Better by Camellia the Closet Mage?” She used her magic to take the book out of her bag, secretly delighting in the way Twilight’s mouth dropped open like a filly presented with an early birthday present. “Ah yes, it is!” She floated it toward the other mare, smiling her most charming smile. “For you, Princess.”
With how carefully Twilight took the book, one might think she had been given the most precious and fragile diamond in the kingdom. “This…” Her stammered words fell silent when she opened it to the front page and saw her own hoofwriting. She flipped through the pages and started muttering, as if entering a trance. “Maybe… Maybe this is why I can’t find the map? What if the lost books are the key to finding it?” Her questions seemed to be directed at herself, giving Rarity the distinct impression the alicorn had forgotten she was there.
Rarity was too occupied to care, though.
Map? What map? she thought, racking her memory. Neither the Book Bringer nor the legend had ever mentioned a map, but it had to be important if Twilight was looking for it—and even more so if it was related to the lost books. Her ears perked up when she realized that perhaps it was a map for finding the other alicorns.
“A map to find the others?” Rarity asked, taking a step forward to peer at the book, hoping the princess would feel more inclined to share information now that Rarity had given her the lost tome.
“No,” Twilight replied, not looking up from the book. “The map is to find—” To Rarity’s frustration, Twilight cut herself off and finally looked at the unicorn, closing the book and holding it against her chest. “…To help a friend,” she said with visible difficulty.
“You mean one of the princesses?” Rarity asked. After all, as horrid as it sounded, any other friend the princess had before must have already passed away.
Twilight winced. “…No, he’s a… he’s not one of the princesses.”
Though Rarity could tell Twilight did not want to delve further into the matter, her curiosity far outweighed her sense of tact. “You mean to say the Spirit trapped somepony else beside you and the other two princesses?” Now this was new and valuable information. “Who?”
Twilight closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “No, he didn’t— I’m not sure if he really— He said only the map would—” She groaned and looked away, gritting her teeth. “Will you… Can you please continue looking for my books?” Twilight asked, again with great difficulty. “And…” She took a deep breath of air. “Find information on the others? As long as you feel you are not in any danger?”
Rarity could barely hold in her delight, excitedly stomping her forehooves against the floor. “Princess, I’d be honored to help you. And I will most certainly keep returning your books,” she said, relieved that her part in the fairy tale adventure hadn’t been cut short. She then giggled and fluttered her eyelashes. “Good thing you don’t charge late fees, wouldn’t you say!”
Twilight narrowed her eyes, rubbing her hoof against her mouth. “…Don’t charge late fees?”
“Or at least don’t charge the delivery mare!” Rarity quickly said with a nervous laugh, taking several steps back, suddenly watching all her life’s savings poof away. “Right?”
Twilight didn’t reply, her eyes narrowing even further.
“Wait!” Rarity eeped, shaking her head. “Please don’t charge me with the late fees. I really don’t think there’s enough money in Equestria to even pay for them.”
Twilight rolled her eyes and Rarity could have sworn she saw an amused smile. “I wouldn’t charge you with the late fees, Rarity. You didn’t borrow them,” she said as if it were obvious, teleporting the book away. “It would be unfair for me to do that.”
“Thank goodness,” Rarity said, relaxing visibly. “I’m afraid I’m a little low on funds since buying my new camera.” It wasn’t until after the words had left her lips that she remembered who she was speaking to and about what. “Not that I’m still upset with you, of course!” she quickly added.
Twilight didn’t seem fazed. “Why would you be upset? I fixed your photographic device.”
That was certainly a pleasant surprise, even if she somehow doubted the princess would be able to really fix a camera without any apparent knowledge of how it worked. But then again, beggars couldn’t be choosers, could they? Especially not those without a single bit left.
Twilight nodded. “I have a few minor adjustments to make, but I should not be too long.”
“Oh, well, I have nothing planned so I don’t mind wai—” Her sentence stopped when Twilight’s horn glowed and suddenly Rarity found both of them teleported to the lower floor, standing next to a desk right in front of the maze’s entrance. Chills ran down her spine at the rather bizarre sensation of being teleported. “This works too.”
She noticed her camera sitting on the desk, but as she had anticipated, it didn’t quite look like its original design. Several stray pieces of machinery were lying next to it, and she withheld the need to point out that the device probably wouldn’t work if it wasn’t complete.
“I used spells to modify some of the components. The photographs should be of a much higher quality than they were before,” Twilight began, levitating the camera into the air and giving it to Rarity. She also floated over a piece of parchment listing several simple-enough looking spells. “I also adapted some coloring spells so you can change the chromatic base of the pictures.”
Rarity scanned the camera over before reading through the spells. Monochrome, warm, cool, dark; they all seemed like filters one could find in the new expensive magic cameras Rarity could only dream of affording. She poised the camera so as to take a picture of a nearby bookshelf, but stopped and looked at Twilight instead.
“Why don’t we take a picture together?” she suggested, waving the camera enthusiastically. Before Twilight could even object or agree, Rarity trotted over and stood next to the alicorn, shivering slightly at the abrupt cold that surrounded her. She pointed the camera lens toward them and through her wide grin asked, “Do I cast the spell now?”
“Er, no, after the picture has been taken,” Twilight replied, fidgeting next to Rarity. She lifted her hoof toward the camera. “Perhaps it would be better to take a picture of something else for the—”
“No, no!” Rarity scolded, swatting away Twilight’s forehoof. She cleared her throat and resumed her smiling position. “Very well, are you rea— Princess, you could at least try to look at the camera.”
To Rarity’s annoyance, Twilight was instead looking at the ceiling, eyes wide as saucers.
“There’s somepony else here,” she whispered slowly, moving away from the camera. “Upstairs.”
Rarity immediately looked up, squinting. “There is?” she asked in a hushed voice. “Wait, how do you know that? I haven’t heard a thing!”
Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “Enchantments on my books alert me when somepony is taking one,” she said. “That’s how I found out you were here the first time you came.” She closed her eyes, her ears completely alert. “They’re in the social sciences aisle.”
So I was being followed! Rarity thought, biting her lip. But who? And why?
“What do we do?” she whispered urgently. “Princess?” After half a minute of no reply, she looked around and found that Princess Twilight was gone. “Oh for pony’s sake…”
Honestly, she thought as she put the camera back on the desk and rushed over to the stairs, was it really necessary to leave me behind? These ponies could prove to be helpful, and knowing how the princess was prone to not-so-friendly greetings, it would have been a much better idea for Rarity to go find them. When she finally reached the upper floor, there wasn’t a sound to be heard, and the chandelier had been turned off. So much for trying not to scare them off.
As quietly as possible, Rarity trotted through the rows of bookcases, using light from her horn to keep a lookout for anypony. “Princess Twilight?”
What if it’s the Spirit? she suddenly thought, stopping in her tracks. Coming to stop me from helping Princess Twilight? She shook her head and continued her search. “No, Rarity, don’t be silly,” she scolded herself. “I’m sure he doesn’t even know about me, if he’s even still alive, that is…”
She stopped again. “But what if it is him? Oh goodness, what if the princess was right?! Maybe he let me find the book just so he’d be sure I was helping the princess, and now he’s come to end my life! Or maybe even worse! Though what would be wor—”
Rarity let out terrified gasp, slamming herself against the nearest bookcase and grabbing a book to use as an impromptu shield against certain chaotic death. She turned around and found nopony initially, until she looked up and saw the alicorn standing atop a bookcase. “Princess Twilight!” she hissed once she’d caught her breath. “Must you really do that every single time?!”
Twilight didn’t reply to the question, instead looking up at the ceiling. “The chandelier fail-safe activated, so it wasn’t Elara or Themis,” she informed.
“Star is set to turn off when a stranger enters the library,” Twilight explained before disappearing and reappearing atop a distant bookcase.
Rarity stared up at the ceiling, remembering the chandelier had not turned off when she’d entered the library earlier. Did that mean Twilight didn’t consider her a stranger anymore? She smiled slightly, pleased by the realization and momentarily forgetting why she’d gone up in the first place. She was abruptly reminded, however, when several crashing sounds and a scream near the entrance of the library nearly frightened the life out of her.
Twilight immediately teleported away while Rarity took the slower path, maneuvering through the bookcases. When she finally reached the entrance, she found Twilight standing in front of the exit tunnel, the magic candelabra floating next to her.
“They’re gone!” Twilight announced, still staring into the tunnel.
Rarity cantered past the princess and into the tunnel. “Maybe they’re still outside! I’ll be back as soon as I find them!”
“Oh, uhm, wait!” Princess Twilight called. When Rarity stopped, Twilight turned back toward the library and called to Themis. The little black owl appeared a moment later, circling the princess. “Please go with her, Themis,” she instructed before looking toward Rarity. “And, uh, please be careful…”
Rarity nodded. “Of course.”
She rushed up the stairs and out into the forest but found nopony inside the depression surrounding the tree. “Hello?!” she called out, trotting around the tree and again finding nothing. She climbed up out of the hole and moved further away. To her frustration, whoever had come seemed to be long gone. Looking up at the tree, she noticed Elara was gone as well. Had she chased after the intruder?
She looked around the area once more and, when it was clear the intruder would not be coming back, she made her way back to the tree. Trotting down the stairs, she saw the princess still waiting by the tunnel when she reached the last step.
“Did you see them?” Twilight called, moving her head as if trying to see somepony else next to or behind the unicorn.
“No, they were already gone, I’m afraid,” Rarity called back, cantering toward the alicorn. She stepped into the library and sighed. “Elara was absent, as well. Perhaps she followed after whomever came? I wonder wh— Princess… what did you…” Books upon books lay scattered in orderly towers all over the floor, their bookshelves completely empty. Rarity looked back and forth between the unconcerned alicorn and the mess. “Princess, what on Earth did you do this for? The library was absolutely spotless!”
“I have to verify if the new book can be linked to the map,” the princess explained, levitating several tomes over and opening them simultaneously. The book Rarity had brought appeared above Twilight, floating in the air as she started reading the other books. She seemed lost in a trance, until she looked at Rarity and acknowledged her presence once more.
If the princess would be doing research on the map, Rarity hardly expected she’d be included or asked to help. A bit awkwardly, she smiled at Twilight and asked, “Would you prefer I leave you be, then? I can take the camera and come back another day? With no day-long delays this time,” she added with an equally awkward laugh.
Twilight lowered her book, opening and closing her mouth several times. “I…”
“Or I can help rearrange the books after you’ve gone through them?” Rarity suggested, neatly ordering a nearby stack of books with her magic. “Elara hasn’t come back yet, I think, so why don’t we catch up on the time we lost due to my… er, imprisonment.”
Twilight looked back to her book for a minute before closing it and putting it on the floor. She then looked at the unicorn and nodded slowly. “All right.”
Rarity clapped her hooves enthusiastically. “All right, then!” she exclaimed, picking up the book and looking at the cover. “Astronomical Astrological Anomalies by Astronomic Astrology,” she read aloud. She trotted into the rows of bookcases, looking at the numbers, until she remembered her lack of knowledge of the Star Swirl Decimal Classification, backtracked into the lobby, and coughed with embarrassment. “Where does this go, exactly?”
“In the Astronomy section,” Twilight replied, only making Rarity’s blush become even more noticeable.
“And that is where…?”
“Class five hundred, division five hundred and twenty, row C, slot twenty-six.”
“Ah, yes! Right,” Rarity said as if she had known that, clearing her throat and looking up at the number on the nearest bookcase. She wondered if maybe the princess had some sort of cheat-sheet for the system or else she’d be there all night. “I’ll be right ba—”
Prompted by the sound of the familiar hooing, the two mares turned around to see Elara flying into the library before she touched down next to Twilight.
“Oh, Elara!” Rarity exclaimed. “Where did you go?”
“Elara, did you go after the intruder?” Twilight asked, receiving a hoot in reply. “Where did you lose them?” Elara hooted again and pointed at Rarity with her wing. Twilight furrowed her brow, looking at the unicorn. “Ponyville.”
Ponyville? But who? Only Fluttershy knows about Twilight, and she wouldn’t follow me into the forest like that.
“Are you going back to your home?” Twilight suddenly asked, snapping Rarity out of her thoughts. “Now that Elara has returned?”
Rarity floated the book back down, her ears lowering. “Oh… Oh, I suppose I should…” Truthfully, she wanted to stay longer, but the princess would be busy with her books, wouldn’t she?
As soon as Rarity finished speaking, Twilight immediately got back up and a book appeared beside her. “Oh, then I thought you might like to borro—” She cut herself off with visible difficulty, and the book disappeared immediately. She sat back down and returned to the other book she had been reading. “All right, then. Be careful on your way home.”
“Could I borrow a book, Princess?” Rarity asked, taking a step toward the alicorn. “I’d love to see the book you’d picked out for me!”
Twilight stared at her, apparently unsure of what to say. “O-oh, uhm… I…” The book reappeared, and she gingerly floated it toward Rarity. “It’s just a book on, uh, spells to be used in geology. You’ve mentioned you use gemstones frequently in your designs so I thought you might like this.” The book opened under the influence of Twilight’s magic, and Rarity found several markings had been made with one of the pencils Rarity had given Twilight. “I marked the interesting passages and spells for you. I was planning on showing them to you yesterday, but then you…” She drifted off.
“Then why not show them to me now?!” Rarity exclaimed, taking the book and settling herself next to the princess. “I don’t have to leave right this second, after all! Unless you’d like to keep working on your map, of course. I can always come back tomorrow?” she suggested, getting up again.
Twilight was silent, looking back from her old lost book to the one in Rarity’s hoof. “I…” Rarity was afraid Twilight would send her away, but her fears dissipated when Twilight put down her old book and, with a crack of magic, all the other books on the floor returned to their respective places. “I can show you now,” she offered quietly, taking the book and opening it up to a random page.
“Splendid!” Rarity exclaimed, sitting back down and scooching close to the alicorn. She bit her lip before taking the plunge and confiding, “If I’m honest, I didn’t really want to leave yet.”
Twilight didn’t reply, instead only glancing at the unicorn. She then looked back at the book and cleared her throat. “We should start with this spell,” she said finally, pointing to the illustration of a glowing gem. “It makes gems glow brightly and even allows the caster to spot them through solid rock.”
And as nice as the drawing looked, Rarity thought to herself that in that moment, nothing Twilight could show her in a book would be nicer than the fact that, even if tentatively, the two were now friends.
Sorry for the mega delay... I should be posting a chapter daily or every other day for about a month or so until the story has been posted completely!
Thank you for reading!