There was once a mare who did not believe in fairytales.
As much as she loved to read them, Rarity knew no dashing savior would come and sweep 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 Equestria's distant past, there were four princesses, not just one."
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 legend. "The four princesses ruled over the land with wisdom, compassion, and boundless love."
Just like her sister, Sweetie Belle was an avid lover of adventures and fairy tales. Rarity had lost count of all the times the filly and her best friend, a pegasus named Scootaloo, had trashed her boutique trying to get their cutie marks in adventuring.
Walking down the stairs of her home, Rarity reflected on how she'd heard the myth so many times she could practically recite it from memory. It had, after all, once been her absolute favorite fairy tale as a filly.
"The two eldest princesses, sisters as beautiful and immortal as the sun and moon which they raised, ruled the kingdom in unison. With a coat of pale pink and a rainbow-colored mane, the eldest sister governed 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 read on. "She brought forth a seemingly endless blue night, coated with stars that watched over her ponies. Her task was to care for them 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 wrong, Fluttershy," Sweetie replied, and Rarity didn't need to be there to 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, bringing joy and warmth to 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 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 filled 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 gently reminded.
“But the part where he traps them is coming up now! The poor princess, with a forest around her, and trapped in her library… FOREVER!” Sweetie Belle stomped her hoof on the table for emphasis, startling the yellow pegasus pony. “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 loudly stomped both forehooves on the table. “...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. “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 fairy tale. You don’t really believe there’s a ghost under a tree in the Everfree Forest, now do you?” Rarity asked, sitting next to Fluttershy and ignoring Sweetie, who'd 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 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 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 again. “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 time for this,” Rarity said, writing down a list in her notebook. After a moment, she glanced up at a clock hanging on 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 others’ 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 running 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 two of them. The weather, too, was perfect for the event, even if Diamond Dusk 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 auroral 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 from her saddlebag, filled with gems 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 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.
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 days,” 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. A black circular pendant hung from a silver chain, a crescent moon painted in its center. How pretty, she thought, remembering the residents of Hollow Shades were quite fond of the Tale of the Four Princesses, but most especially the Moon Princess.
“Pinkie’s a traveling 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.” When Spring nodded, Rarity smiled at the two mares. “I’ll see you after the event, then.”
She turned around and trotted off, now 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 several moments 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?”
“‘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. In Ponyville, we separate the foals 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... Surely you don’t think they’re real, do you?” a skeptical Rarity asked, 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 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 planned to leave on her quest, a nearby villager revealed her location to the Spirit, who had been disguised as a traveling 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 known as Mayor Mare, greeted the groups of foals all raring to get started. A little farther 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 young enough to partake in the festivity. The smell of cotton candy, roasted chestnuts, 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 farther south, 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 paw on either forehoof respectively. Mayor Mare adjusted the pink wig on her head before asking, “Any questions?”
While the mayor answered the foals’ questions, Rarity took a moment to search for the group Fluttershy would be supervising. She could hardly wait to see the excitement on 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 place, 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, seeming to search for somepony. If Rarity didn’t know Fluttershy so well, she would have shrugged off the mare’s odd behavior and moved on with the event — except she knew her friend as well as the bottom of her hoof.
And that behavior 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 rightfully 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 approaching 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, uh, 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.”
“Actually, I think she is 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, 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. It’s m-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 vitally 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.
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 beside 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.
“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 at her sides and also failing to notice the absence of ground several feets 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 a few feet 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, she realized it was not just any hole she'd fallen into, but a sinkhole.
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 sinkhole.
“What did this?” Fluttershy asked, staring up at the oak tree and then down at the hole it was surrounded by.
“I haven’t the faintest,” Rarity murmured, trotting towards the tree and then around it. Finally, when she reached the other side of the tree, directly opposite where she’d fallen, she concluded the sinkhole to be around fifty feet wide and a few feet 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!”
“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 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. In contrast 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 tidily lined on a nearby bookshelf, and faded 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 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 harrumphed 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. 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 for 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 onto it, 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 moment, 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 down for a while before reaching the entrance to a pitch black tunnel. The only source of light down there 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 upon illuminating 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 meager 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 to 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. It wouldn’t bode well for her mane, but she admittedly preferred the company over the manestyle.
She 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 into 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. 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 overtop 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 backward, 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.
Rarity 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 turned around to look at Rarity and left imprinted in the unicorn’s memory the image of two penetrating violet eyes.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity 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 beside her or the books on the floor. With a yelp, she tripped over the large tomes a few feet away from the towers of books and rolled forwards until she collided with one of them. 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 half 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 forty feets 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 Rarity’s own 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 and 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 a 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.