Four Months After the Flames of Annihilation Incident
The reports that she had been reading were not that troubling, but they had come at an exceptionally bad time. With the exception of Spike, every single Knight of the Realm was currently undergoing harsh training (including Twilight, who had started only recently, and whose training consisted of surviving inside the Cage of Numeria) and Spike was already on a mission (giving help to the city of Pomares against a swarm of hydras).
Considering the fact that things didn't seem to be too dangerous, Celestia even thought of sending the newest Squires, the Cutie Mark Crusaders, to do it, but she decided against it because of the other matter that was currently causing stress to her, Warlock Sombra.
After the matter with Flames of Annihilation, Fluttershy had come to her with troubling news. Apparently she had understood why the recent Warrior Constructs they had seen were different from before, and the reason for that was that Sombra had modified them to be used to gather data on the Knights. She had even replicated what she had seen for Applejack to take a look with the Eyes of Truth (Soul Emulate was very versatile) and the farm pony had agreed with Fluttershy's conclusions.
Of course, the Knights would try to develop new abilities so that Sombra would still be surprised by some of it, but considering how smart he was, it was better to have a trump card on hoof. And the fact that the Cutie Mark Crusaders had never fought publically meant that they were perfect to serve the role of the trump card. And so, sending them on a mission at such a critical time would probably not be worth it.
Calling the Avatars was also a no go. Apparently, Cadance was creating her third one during that month, so her other two would be indisposed. And Luna's avatars were still tracking down the biggest conglomerations of Shards of Chaos around Equestria.
As such, Celestia eventually hit upon an unusual solution: She could send one of the Knights that were still training, and give long range support herself to help keep things under control.
This would be impossible for most of them, since their training wasn't the kind of thing that could be paused, but there was one Knight who could go on a mission without interrupting her training. And as luck had it, it was exactly the Knight she would have wanted for that kind of mission.
After all, who better to deal with artifacts than her?
Rarity's trial was one that would have destroyed a lesser pony before a single day had passed, much less the three months that she had already endured, but one would not know that just from observing her day to day life. In fact, she seemed to not be training at all, and only living her normal life and work.
However, that was only because they couldn't see the struggle that was going on in her mind. The Samsara of Ten Thousand Lives was considered one of the harshest trials a pony could be submitted to for a very good reason, and it was because it forced the pony to experience the lives of ten thousand versions of themselves, all at the same time.
Of course, it was more complicated than it seemed. Truly experiencing so much at the same time would crush the mind of anyone, so the Samsara acted as a medium to prevent such from ocurring. Rarity's perception of the alternate lives was in constant flux, some of them fading into the background, mere whispers of could be, while others came into stark relief, allowing Rarity to experience everything as if she was indeed living those lives.
Rarity was holding on to her routine because of that, because it served as a fixed point in the middle of the constant flux that threatened to tear away her very identity. But of course, that wasn't the only danger, or the Samsara of Ten Thousand Lives wouldn't be worthy of its reputation. The very routine that allowed Rarity to keep herself sane was also dangerous, because in the multitudes of alternate lives, there were many in which Rarity was doing the exact same things, and it would not take much for the unicorn to forget which self was her real one and be lost in the middle of the Samsara.
To deal with that, Rarity had taken to following in the footsteps of her mentor, and every night she weaved a complex pattern of fabric and held onto it while sleeping. After awakening, which was the most uncertain point of her identity, Rarity looked at the fabric, comparing it to what she had made in the night before, in order to determine which self was her real one and her real reality. And of course, similar selves weren't the only danger, for it could also come from the overwhelmingly different lives she was experiencing.
In one life, she was a wandering spirit in a world destroyed with miserable ponies and others that tried to eke out a living and avoid the notice of an all-powerful tyrant that wouldn't allow them to regain their footing, and she did her best to guide others in their decisions through whispering in their ears, just to help a little bit. In another life, she was an all-powerful tyrant, who had allowed herself to be overcome by the power of light magic to save the life of her sister and ended up turning the world into a dollhouse, trapping all beings and controlling every aspect of their lives, even their very forms.
Those strong feelings and identities threatened to overwhelm her, so Rarity had to focus on herself, had to believe that her own life, even the little things, was absolutely as important and magnificent as anything she saw on her alternates, it was a battle involving her very own sense of worth. And even that wasn't enough for some of the world she saw, perfect utopias who were so beautiful, it would be easy to lose herself in them, to forget about her own life and become merely an observer of an ideal.
To survive that, Rarity found herself holding onto an even bigger ideal: If those world were truly perfect, then it was only her duty to try and make her own world even a little bit more perfect, closer to the best state it could be, so that existence itself became just a little bit more beautiful. But even that had its own downsides. She could easily be overcome by the very ideal that she was using to hold onto herself, and subsequently change herself to try and force the world to achieve her ideal, becoming a fallen Knight in the process, a threat to the Equestria that she had sworn to protect.
And to fight against that, the only thing she could rely on were her friends and fellow Knights. Every night, she talked with Rainbow Dash, who crashed after doing her training and seemed to be a few steps away from having her conscience fly away into the endless flows of the weather. She could not disappoint her, and she hoped that her presence would strengthen Rainbow Dash as hers did for the unicorn.
In the same way, once in a while she visited Sunset, who always seemed like she should be in the critical session of the hospital, but looked like she did not care about her injuries, and the only thing that truly affected her was the meditation she did every day, in which it seemed like she was fighting to prevent her self from shrinking away and disappearing into nothingness. Sunset always looked somewhat reduced while doing so, as if any misstep would result in her simply ceasing to exist.
And of course, there were the others, whom she could not see because they were training in distant places, though sometimes she felt like she could feel the presence of her teacher in her dreams. Every single one of then was going through that to grow stronger, to prevent the possibility of losing any one of their companions, and that meant that Rarity would be betraying their bond were she to succumb, so she must not allow that.
And so the days passed. Rarity had already finished her Fire Ruler Sword, but after so long in the Samsara, her knowledge, experience and perception had all been increased, and she had started to realize how flawed her creations actually were, to the point where she destroyed her Fire Ruler Sword as soon as she made it, followed by destroying her other three Ruler Swords and even her armor, deciding to start over from the beginning and create new artifacts that would be more fitting. And she even had plans to replace the armor of her partners as well, considering that she already had to create new versions for Sunset and Rainbow who had lost their own in combat.
And there were also some other ideas for artifacts she had...
Her thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a letter from the princess.
Reading it, Rarity furrowed her brows.
"A mission, now?" She spoke in slight disbelief, then made up her mind "I guess Princess Celestia should know what she is doing, I'd better go there and see what's the situation..."
The letter had only said that she was being requested for a mission and more information would be given personally, so Rarity would have to teleport to Canterlot, but first she needed to make a few preparations.
Rarity had destroyed her Ruler Swords, but it would have been foolish to leave herself without any special means of defense in case of emergencies. She created the "Ruler Daggers", weaker versions of her Ruler Swords that she could use as mane decorations.
She did so, putting the four in a pretty arrangement and feeling their power, before teleporting to the Canterlot Castle.
It didn't take long for Rarity to speak with Princess Celestia, who told her that she had decided to send the unicorn because this mission didn't seem to be anything particularly dangerous.
"... But still, I think it would be best to check up on it sooner rather than later." Celestia finished her explanation.
"Okay. I understand that, but what exactly is it that you want me to investigate?"
"There are concerning reports about a group of thieves who are breaking into houses of rich ponies to steal valuables." Celestia answered "Usually, this would be a matter for the Guard, but those thieves have strange artifacts that have so far allowed them to deal with any guards who tried to stop them."
"Artifacts, huh... Now I know why you thought I would be perfect for this mission. In this case, you want me to not only stop the thieves, but also figure out where they got the artifacts and whether there is any danger of more of those things appearing to cause trouble."
"Exactly." Celestia nodded "Just to be safe, I will be providing long range support and will remain in contact with you at all times during the mission."
"Then I guess there is no reason to delay things... Where should I go to intercept the thieves?"
"According to our intelligence division, taking into consideration the pattern of their actions, their next crime should occur in one of three cities: Marelago, Otogena or Aranantes. I'd recommend you to go to Otogena, since it is located in the middle of the two other cities, and when I receive a report about their latest crime, I'll send a message with coordinates for you to teleport and intercept them." Celestia explained carefully.
Rarity nodded at that, and a quick look at a map gave her the coordinates of her initial destination. One long range teleport later, and Rarity was gone.
Otogena was a medium-sized city. It was not as big as Canterlot or Manehattan, but it was miles ahead of a place like Ponyville.
Rarity did not waste the opportunity of visiting such a city. She might be there on a mission, but it was a reactive style of mission, something that she had to wait for. In that case, there was nothing wrong with enjoying herself while she waited. Celestia, who was communicating with her via a magical connection, giggled when she saw Rarity check herself in a first class hotel, telling them to send the bill to Canterlot (since she was in a mission, it was allowed).
It was already time for lunch, so she ate a phenomenal hotel meal before leaving to tourist around. This was made easier by Princess Celestia, who was the best tour guide one could hope for. She had been present during the founding of the city and knew all sorts of little facts and anecdotes about the city and the ponies that had lived in it, as well as knowing about the most interesting spots to see.
Over the course of the day, Rarity ate some ice cream which had personally been recommended by Celestia and was appropriately delightful, went to a museum where she saw the greatest painting of Black Brush, the greatest cubist painter of all time (Celestia told her a funny history about how he had originally been a realist painter, who only did a cubist work due to losing a bet, but ended up changing focus after receiving acclaim for that painting), and took a relaxing boat trip through the peaceful river Mortis.
After a fun day, that Rarity managed to enjoy despite still having to deal with the Samsara, the Knight went back to the hotel for dinner and sleeping in a massively comfortable bed. She didn't forget to weave her newest configuration (she had taken supplies with her just for that purpose) before sleeping, and as she fell asleep, she thought that it wouldn't be bad if the thieves took two more days to appear (the maximum Celestia had thought it would take before their next crime).
Of course, things would not go as she hoped. And she was woken up in the middle of the night by Celestia's message:
"Rarity, wake up, they are here."
Rarity moaned as she got up and checked her work to make sure this was indeed the correct world.
"Agh, three in the morning... Why can't those thieves attack at a more reasonable time?" She checked the coordinates "At least I turned out to be in the right city."
Yawning, Rarity teleported away.