• Published 22nd Jul 2015
  • 2,609 Views, 217 Comments

The Diamond in the Stars - Distaff Pope



After a devastating year, Rarity decides to get away from it all and spend some time with her friend Twilight. As their friendship deepens, the two turn to rely on each other with problems both internal and external.

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2. Sanctuary

I sat next to Twilight’s fire, a blanket draped over me as I stared at the steaming glass of hot cocoa Twilight had prepared for me. “Honestly, dear, you didn’t have to go through all this trouble on my account. I’m fine,” I said, shivering and inching closer to the fire.

“Rarity, you showed up at my doorstep at one in the morning, completely soaked, and barely coherent,” Twilight said, taking a seat opposite me. “Now, tell me what’s wrong.”

I sighed and took a deep breath. “It’s nothing, really, I just… I’m terribly sorry for waking you.”

She kept her eyes locked on me. “You didn’t, actually; I was reading through the proof copy of Introduction to Magical Theory, Eighth Edition, and looking for any errors.” She smiled for a second. “They had the chapter on Starswirl’s Fifth Law of Magic before his Sixth Law of Magic. Can you believe it?”

“Actually, Twilight, I’m not sure what the problem with that is. It seems like six should logically follow five,” I said, trying to push the conversation away from my faux pas.

“I suppose somepony might think that, but really, when you’re learning the rules, the sixth law informs the fifth law. Without an understanding of magical entropy, then the importance of magic absorption is completely lost on the introductory student, and…” She trailed off and frowned, her eyes snapping back to me. “Wait! That’s not important – what am I saying? Of course it is – but it’s not the most important thing right now. So tell me, what’s going on?” Clever. Of course I couldn’t distract her for long. Not right now, at least. Not when I was still soaking-wet and shivering in her library.

“It’s silly, really,” I said, trying to give her a smile. “Just one of my overreactions. I saw Applejack and Rainbow Dash together, and suddenly, I couldn’t stand another second at the Boutique.”

“Uh-huh,” Twilight said, nodding. “So… if I were to send you back to the Boutique right now, you wouldn’t have a problem?”

Of course, I wouldn’t. It was just a house. A house filled with memories of my sister and my former lover. Why would I have a problem going back there? “I… I would prefer not to,” I said. Treacherous tongue. Was it that hard to tell a sweet lie for Twilight’s peace of mind? “But you really needn’t concern yourself, Twilight. Given time, I’ll be fine.”

“I’ve been giving you time,” Twilight said, “and on a scale of one to ten, how fine are things now? Look, I get that it takes time to recover, but… maybe locking yourself up in the Boutique and focusing on nothing but work isn’t the best way of coping? I’m not saying you need to act like everything’s fine, but... I’m here for you, so... please, tell me what happened.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Honestly, it was such a small thing…”

♦♦♦

And so I recounted everything that’d happened since I spoke with Twilight that morning. “It’s really funny,” I said with a small laugh. “I always imagined that – I mean, I’m…” The word “happy” caught in my throat. “...Pleased for Applejack and Rainbow Dash, of course. I just… I suppose I’d assumed the two of us would go back to dating once that silly two-year moratorium ended. I never thought she’d actually take my advice and find somepony else. Still, if they’re both content together, I wholeheartedly approve.”

“So… excuse me for asking, but why did you break up, exactly? I thought the constant fights had something to do with it, but at the same time, none of us really knew what happened. One day you were together, and the next you weren’t, and there wasn’t some big huge fight to end things like we were expecting. Pinkie and I had even planned out crisis-management teams for when you both did break up. Fluttershy and I would take care of you, while Pinkie and Rainbow Dash would work on Applejack. Of course, I’m happy it didn’t end in some huge fight, but… I’ve just always been curious, and now it sounds like you didn’t want to break up, but Applejack made it sound like it was your idea.” Twilight gave me a tiny smile and blushed. “Sorry, I shouldn’t pry.”

“It’s fine,” I said, taking a sip of my cocoa. It was still hot even after I told my story. Had Twilight enchanted her cups to retain heat? If so, I’d have to trouble her for the spell she used. “It was my idea, but I didn’t want to do it.” I took a breath. Not entirely true. “Objectively, I could see all the things wrong with our relationship, but I really only went through with it because Sweetie was entering into her troubles, and I thought that, perhaps, if I set a good example for her, she’d stop… I thought I could be a good role model for her, but it was too little too late. Then, she left, and I was completely alone.”

“You weren’t completely alone,” Twilight said, meeting my gaze. “You had me – us. You had the rest of the girls. You didn’t have to shut yourself up in the Boutique.”

“Yes, I did,” I said, breaking away from her eyes and looking at the crackling fire. “I ended things with Applejack. If one of us had to bow out of the group while things settled, it had to be me. It wouldn’t be fair to put that added strain on Applejack.”

“And what about us?” Twilight asked, a clip in her voice. I’d upset her. “We saw you hurting, and you wouldn’t let us help. Was it fair to us to put us all through that without asking?”

I shook my head and frowned, looking at her hooves. I knew the glare I’d see if I looked up, and it was something I’d prefer to avoid. Very much so. Tartarus hath no fury like an enraged Twilight Sparkle. The mare has battled gods and emerged victorious. If she ever put her mind to it, she could take over Equestria in a fortnight. Of course, she never would, not as long as Equestria was ruled by Celestia. “Perhaps, in hindsight, I can see how my actions would’ve been hurtful to you and the rest of the girls, but that wasn’t my intent, I just… I didn’t want to be selfish and hurt Applejack. If I needed to fall on my sword to help Sweetie, that was one thing, but to let that spill over and hurt the rest of you? That was unacceptable.”

Twilight sighed. “Well, anyways, I’m glad you’re here talking with me, instead of hiding in your boutique. You know, for a while, I thought I’d done something wrong and you were going out of your way to avoid me.” I looked to the castle’s ceiling to conceal my wince. There was, perhaps, more truth to her words than she realized. It wasn’t her fault, of course. Not her fault she got everything a mare as exceptional as her deserved. It was mine for being jealous. Would it kill me to be – Ugh! – happy when a friend achieves one of my dreams? Instead, I had that little nugget of resentment plop down in the pit of my stomach. Why does she get to be a princess and live in a castle? That’s your dream.

Such thoughts are, of course, completely unacceptable, and not feelings I should be harboring. “Rarity, what aren’t you saying right now?” Twilight asked, pulling me back to the mare sitting just a few hooves away from me. “You have that look in your eyes.”

“What look?” I asked, giving her my best innocent smile. “I was simply reflecting. Who was it that said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living?”

“True Knowing,” Twilight said without missing a beat. “And it’s the look in your eyes you get whenever you’re blaming yourself for something you shouldn’t.” Did I really have a tell for that? Of course, Twilight was naturally perceptive, but I thought I’d gotten better about masking my thoughts. “Also, you did wince when I said I thought you were deliberately avoiding me.” Yes, and there was that. The curses of having an observant friend.

“So I did,” I said, frowning and glancing at the fire. She hadn’t added a log since I started talking, but it was still crackling away. Another spell? Almost certainly; she is the princess of magic and friendship, after all. “It’s… I know it’s terribly petty and silly, and I wasn’t avoiding you because of it, I just – please don’t hate me for admitting this, Twilight, but I... in a way, I suppose I... resented you.”

“For what?” Twilight asked, looking at me like I’d just started speaking Prench. Actually, she’d probably understand Prench. Certainly, there must have been a few foreign language classes during her education at Princess Celestia’s Academy. “Did I do something, or...?”

“No, you were perfect. That’s why I didn’t speak with you as much as I used to. I didn’t want my own feelings to ruin our friendship, so I just sat on them and tried to work through them on my own. For a while, I’d be fine, but then I’d catch sight of your massive castle or some other thing, and be reminded of how you have everything I want,” I said, drowning my confession in apologies.

“You mean…” She sighed. “I didn’t want any of my friends to treat me differently because of the title. I thought we’d already gone over that.”

I tried to smile at her. “I know, Twilight. And I’ve been trying not to treat you differently, but you have to understand – growing up, being a princess/fashionista? That was my dream. Up until the Gala a few years ago, it was still a fantasy of mine, but then… Well, Blueblood rather thoroughly dashed those hopes, but even so, it hurt sometimes, seeing you living one of my dreams, even though nopony deserves it more than you do.”

Twilight gave a tiny laugh. “It’s really not all it’s cracked up to be. If I could choose, I’d definitely go back to being the town librarian, although flying is kind of nice. Unfortunately, there’s no historical precedent for an alicorn not being a ruler.”

That was her, wasn’t it? Power, prestige, fame, it meant nothing to her. Probably why she deserved her title. There was certainly no danger of her flying too close to the sun. “Well, like I said, I feel simply terrible for holding anything against you. I didn’t want to, but the heart is not a rational organ. If it were, Applejack and I wouldn’t have lasted a month.” My tiny smile vanished. “I hope you can forgive me.”

“It’s fine,” Twilight said. “I don’t like it, but it’s not like you acted on those thoughts. In fact, it was your desire not to act on those thoughts that almost strained our relationship…” She frowned. “You still want to be my friend, right?”

I nodded my head. “Very much so, Twilight. I was far more upset with myself for having these persistent feelings than I ever was with you.”

“Then I guess… Do you want to stay here for a few days?” She laughed. “One of the few perks of having a giant castle is that there are plenty of guest rooms. It could be like a giant sleepover. You’d get out of the Boutique for a few days, and maybe you’ll even get to see just how not worth it being a princess really is.”

I laughed at that last part. “I appreciate the offer, but I do have work to do. Plus, Opal’s probably already quite cross at me for not giving her her dinner. I can’t imagine she’d take well to me disappearing for a few days.”

“That’s easy enough to fix,” Twilight said. “We can move your dresses and Opal here. I’m sure Spike would love having the two of you around.” Well, he’d love having one of us around, and it wasn’t Opal.

“If you’re sure,” I said. “It would be pleasant to spend some time out of the house, and how could I pass up the opportunity to spend some time with you?”

“You mean that?” Twilight asked, her head perking up. “Even after you said you kind of resented me, you still want to spend time with you?”

“Of course,” I said, smiling tightly. “No matter what, you’re a dear friend, and perhaps spending some more time in each other’s company will help me move past those feelings.”

“Great,” Twilight said, getting up on her hooves. “Let me show you to your room, and I’ll get your stuff tomorrow morning. You just get some sleep, and when you wake up, everything will be here.”

“You don’t need to do that for me,” I said, floating the blanket off myself and getting up to follow Twilight. “I’m more than capable of taking care of it myself, and you’ve already been so kind, staying up to listen to my talking. I’m sure you’re exhausted.”

“Not really,” Twilight said, swinging the door to her study open. “It turns out that one of the other perks of being an alicorn is that I don’t need as much sleep. Three hours is enough to keep me rested for the rest of the day.” She smiled at me. “Anything more than that is just me being indulgent.”

“And I’m sure Spike is just thrilled about your new schedule,” I said as I followed her out the door and into the cavernous halls of her palace. “So, you really don’t like being a princess?”

She sighed and shook her head. “I like parts of it. I like being sent on our friendship missions, and I like having my own archives; but the palace is still so big, and I can’t go to Canterlot without having the nobility fawn over me, and I miss just being a librarian.” A pause. I could see in her eyes there was more she wanted to say, she just hadn't found the right words. I waited. "And Celestia just makes it all seem so natural." And there it was, complete with the unspoken fear that she wasn't living up to her idol's standard.

“Practice, I suppose,” I said, trotting to walk abreast with her. “And think, for a thousand years, she didn’t have a true confidant. You have us girls to lean on, if you so choose.”

“Careful,” Twilight said, looking back at me and smiling. “I might take you up on that offer.”

“And I’d honestly like nothing more,” I said. Well, reasonably. Of course, I’d like my sister’s safe return and to be back with Applejack more, but since both of those were off the table at the moment…

“Maybe tomorrow,” Twilight said, opening the door to a room that was roughly the size of my entire boutique, with a bed larger than my bedroom. A laugh of delight burst from my lips.

“Ah, Twilight, this is your guest room?” I asked. I could practically feel my eyes dilating as I took the sight in. “How come I didn’t see this when I was decorating?”

“You girls only decorated my quarters. You didn’t touch the main hall or the guest wing at all.” It was amazing how much space this castle was able to contain. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was bigger on the inside. Is that even possible? Probably. Twilight could almost certainly give me a lecture on creating a pocket dimension, or distorting space, or whatever you’d have to do to make the castle be possible.

“Well,” I said, making a circle around my room. “If you’d like, I can certainly be persuaded to decorate the rest of the castle. It would be a wonderful project to make this place look more cheerful and less… imposing.”

“It’s fine,” Twilight said, trotting into the room. “I never really go in here, so I’d hate for you to put all that effort into a part of the castle nopony’s ever going to see. You’ve already done more than enough to make the castle feel like home.”

“If you’re sure,” I said, moving to the bed large enough to sleep a whole household comfortably. “I’d love the challenge, though.” I floated the sheets back and gently eased myself into them. The second my fur touched the sheets’ soft silk, I yawned and my eyelids turned to lead. It wasn’t fair something could be so lusciously decadent.

“Maybe,” Twilight said as she moved back out of my room. “Sleep well, and I’ll see you in the morning, Rarity.”

♦♦♦

I opened my eyes, and had no idea what time it was. Apparently, the Tree of Harmony didn’t think guests needed windows. Or perhaps this was the room for “guests” who weren’t free to leave. I stretched, reveling in the sensation of my muscles tensing and relaxing one by one. Did Twilight know this was less a guest room and more a gilded cage? Probably not, but on the other hoof, considering my rather… erratic behavior last night, I couldn’t blame Twilight for sticking me in the deluxe prison suite. I suppose it all depended on whether or not she locked the door last night. Getting up on my hooves, I trotted to the door, pulled the handle, and…

The door swung wide open. Ignorance it was, then. Twilight really had no idea about the intrigue of royal life, did she? Perhaps I could loan her a few of my books. Not necessarily historically-accurate pieces of literature, but they’d at least give her an idea of the type of scheming other nobles might engage in. Several members of the nobility had already commissioned houses to be built around her castle, and it was only a matter of time until the net closed. As soon as they moved here, they’d demand she hold court for them to vent their petty complaints and try to win her favor. She’d need to know how to use all the tools at her disposal by then, otherwise the nobility would trample her into the ground in the pursuit of her favor.

I trotted down the empty hall, the sound of hooves on crystal echoing. Carpets. She definitely needed carpets. I made a little note on my head to send a letter to my carpet supplier asking for enough carpets to tastefully decorate a castle. Obviously, there would need to be some exceptions. Areas where it would pay to hear nobles skulking about. And if nobles were going to be here, she’d need guards to keep them out of her private quarters, and if there were guards, there’d need to be a barracks. The little note in my head grew into an entire checklist. First item on the agenda was to speak with Twilight about it. Actually, I suppose the first item was to find Twilight. I closed my eyes and tried to remember the route we took to get to my room last night. Take a left at the “T,” trot past the large door on your right, take the second right after that, and then my room was the third door on the left, so I’d need to take a right at the intersection if I wanted to get back to Twilight’s study.

The route back was easy enough, if a little long without Twilight’s company to keep me occupied, but soon enough I was knocking on the door. “You don’t need to knock, Rarity,” Twilight said, levitating the door open. True to her word, my mannequines from the shop now lined one wall of the study as Opalescence glared at me from her spot on my favorite chaise. Twilight had even brought that over for me? How dear of her. “Well, unless it’s the bathroom door, but anyplace else, you absolutely shouldn’t knock.” Twilight gave a squeal of delight. “These next few days are just going to be so fun. What do you want to do first?”

I smiled at her as the door thudded shut behind me. Did they have to be so loud? I suppose it was helpful in case of intruders, but ponies might also like a good night’s sleep now and then. “I’m quite amenable to whatever you have planned; I only ask that you give me some time to work on my commissions. Sapphire Shores waits for no mare.”

“Oh, right,” she said, the smile on her face evaporating. “That’s completely understandable. Is it okay if I stay here and read my reports while you work? Or would that bother you too much?”

“It’s fine,” I said, looking through the duffel bag of supplies Twilight had had the foresight to bring with her. If I wanted to do any real work here, I’d need to bring over my bolts of fabric and gems. On the other hoof, I had what I needed to make some modifications to Sapphire Shore’s commission. Redoing a dress just because it hung a twelfth of an inch too low might have been a slightly drastic reaction. I closed my eyes and imagined all the stitches and modifications I had to make. Yes, this could work. I levitated my pair of ruby-red glasses out of my duffel bag and started working.

“So,” I said as I started my stitching. “What are these reports about? Anything interesting?”

“I don’t know,” Twilight said. “Do you think reports on water usage in Appleloosa are interesting? Because if so, maybe I finally found somepony to talk about them with.”

“Twilight, dear, you can speak with me about anything,” I said, automatically making my modifications to the dress. Dedicate your entire life to something, and after a while, it gets easy. No, the trick is the envisioning, seeing exactly what the client wants and giving it to them before they even know it’s what they wanted. I glanced at Twilight. Even if what they wanted and what they thought they wanted were occasionally very different things. “Although, in some cases, you might need to slow down and explain things. I’m afraid my intellect is no match for yours.”

“You’re smart, Rarity,” Twilight said. No mention of me being as smart as her, just smart. Of course not; Twilight wasn’t a liar, and I had no delusions about being a prodigious intellect. Spending time with an actual prodigious intellect quickly puts to bed such notions. “You know way more about me than fashion and social stuff. If I had to go to one of those high-society things, or a fashion show, I’d definitely want you at my side.”

“You know,” I said, my needle diving in and out of Sapphire Shores’ dress, “you really shouldn’t be so aloof when it comes to those high-society ‘things’. You were born into nobility and only managed to go up from there.”

“But…” Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Twilight lift her head up from her reports. “Please don’t hate me for saying this, but I don’t really care about all that stuff.” She bit her lip. “I mean, I care about the fact that it’s important to you, because you’re my friend, and I get that it’s kind of useful; but at the same time, anytime I ever had to do that stuff, I just wished I was back in my room doing research.”

I tapped into the magnification spell woven into my glasses and the section of the dress I was looking at appeared to double in size. “I can certainly understand the desire, yes. There have been a few times I was trapped listening to a particularly tedious client when I wished I could be on a beach far away reading the latest pulp romance.” And she was responsible for one of those occasions. Not that I’d ever tell her that, of course; I just never wanted to hear a pony talk about the differences between canis major and minor ever again.

“But how do you like all that elbow rubbing? I can understand the dressmaking, it’s a creative passion. It’s your cutie mark. I might not personally enjoy it, but I can see the appeal, and the books I read on the history of dressmaking were really fascinating.”

“Twilight, have you ever read a book that wasn’t really fascinating?” I asked, looking up from my sewing to her.

“Probably,” she said quickly looking down at at the report at her desk. “I can’t think of an example off the top of my head, but–”

“What’s that report you’re reading right now about?” I asked, putting aside my stitching to engage in a little repartee. The opportunity for banter was sadly lacking at the Boutique.

“Uhmm… This one’s about aberrant water fluctuations in Appleloosa, and a request from the buffalo to engage in a traditional rain dance,” she said, lifting up the red book so I could get a better view of it.

“And if you were to describe it in a word, what would that word be?” I asked, a tiny grin playing on my lip.

She sighed and looked down. “Fascinating, but it really is fascinating. The idea that the buffalo might be able to channel some level of weather magic could open up a whole new field of magical study. We need to send thaumaturgists down there to check for shifts in the magical field when they perform the ritual.”

I nodded at her. “And, Twilight, was any of that magical theorycrafting supplied by the report, or did you just see those connections while reading your average weather report with an addendum attached about buffalo rituals?”

“The latter,” she said, pouting. “But I’m not reaching for straws here; if you look through all the bureaucratic language, there’s something–”

“Fascinating?” I asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Fine, I think everything I read is fascinating – but is that a bad thing? I like learning. I like drawing connections. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Twilight said, drawing the report back to her.

“No, there isn’t,” I said, nodding my head and smiling at her. “It’s one of your best traits. I was just wondering if you ever read something that didn’t fascinate you.”

“Not a book,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ve been getting a lot of requests for me to endorse somepony’s product, though. Those… aren’t a lot of fun to read through. Actually, most letters addressed to ‘Her Royal Excellency Princess Twilight Sparkle’ just go into the trash now.”

That could be problematic. While I could understand her frustration, certainly, the idea of Twilight shirking her duty was uncharacteristic of her. Something to be brought up later, at just the right time with just the right touch. “And just why are you getting reports from Appleloosa anyways?” I asked, fixing my eyes on her, while the magic from my horn automatically moved the needle.

Twilight bit her lower lip. A confession, then. “You’re going to be mad.”

“Last night, I told you I secretly resented you. It’s hard to imagine you having a more scandalous revelation than that,” I said, carefully measuring my voice. I had to be calm, supportive, and nurturing, not making her fear for our friendship. That was the fastest way to get Twilight to lie.

“Alright… I… I… uhmm… I might be helping Princess Celestia administer all lands south of Canterlot that fall between Smokey and Foal Mountain. It’s nothing big; they just send me all their reports, I help them find solutions to their problems, and oversee their taxes. Nothing, really,” she said, all of her attention suddenly directed to a very fascinating patch of floor.

I closed my eyes and took a breath as my grip on the needle faltered. Losing my composure now wouldn’t help either of us. “So, in other words,” I said, metering my words. “You’re in charge of a substantial portion of Equestria.”

“No no no,” she said, slamming her book shut. “No, Princess Celestia specifically said I wasn’t going to be in charge, she was just delegating all high-level royal decisions to me on the condition I keep writing her updates. Oh, I also need to set up a branch of the tax department to collect, process, and redistribute all taxes collected by the end of the year.”

“Yes,” I said, nodding my head as the picture snapped into place. Sometimes, Twilight was as gullible as she was brilliant. “Tell me, did Princess Celestia approach you with an offer to take a royal demesne of your own that you rebuffed before she made you this offer?”

“She did,” Twilight said, looking down at her desk and chewing on a bit of her cheek. “But I told her I wasn’t ready. Then a few weeks later, she asked if I could help her by managing a small portion of Equestria for her. She’s done so much for me, I couldn’t just say no to her, and all I had to do was administer the lands in her stead. She wasn’t giving me the land.”

“Mmhmm,” I said, nodding my head. “You’re completely right. On an unrelated note, how come I don’t need a visa to travel between the Crystal Empire and Ponyville?”

“Oh!” Twilight said, her eyes lighting up. “Well, it’s because even though Cadance has a large degree of autonomy, the lands are still technically Equestrian and subject to Princess Celestia’s rule. She just trusts Cadance to execute her duties responsib–” Her eyes shrunk to pinpoints as the bit dropped. “She tricked me! Why would she trick me?”

“Because she knows you’re a perfectly capable ruler who occasionally lets her anxiety get the best of her.” Said the mare who’d had a nervous breakdown in the last twenty-four hours. “Do you remember your first Winter Wrap-Up here?”

“I remember it,” she said. “I remember you kind of having a freak-out about that birdhouse I made.” She smiled. “It was pretty bad, wasn’t it?”

“I’ve seen worse pieces of work,” I said, returning her smile. Even if such creations were normally confined to my nightmares. “My point, though, is that you excel in managing ponies. We’ve wrapped up winter on time every year since you came to this town. If anypony can manage this demesne, it’s you.”

Her purple cheeks tinged a complimentary shade of red. Twilight’s blushes really were a thing of beauty. Of course, if such displays of vulnerability were made public knowledge… She’d have to ward the palace against paparazzi. Another reason she needed guards. “You really think so?”

“I do,” I said, glancing back at my dress. So far, so perfect, it was a delightfully ostentatious gem-studded thing of rubies, emeralds, and of course, sapphires. The trick was making sure the weight didn’t prove to be excessively encumbering, or cause the fabric to bunch up. “You can do anything you set your mind to, Twilight.”

“But what if I mess things up?” Twilight asked, before taking in a deep breath and going into her breathing exercises. Very good, Twilight, inhale, exhale. “If I make a mistake, I could destroy an entire town. No, I could destroy entire towns.”

And she was still sprinting towards the ‘tardy’ zone. She needed some reassuring that I couldn’t provide. “You mentioned writing reports to Celestia, Twilight. Has she written back?” She nodded. “And just what did she say?”

“That I’m… exceeding expectations,” Twilight said, breathing returning to normal. Almost there.

“So if Princess Celestia, who spent a thousand years as the sole ruler of Equestria, thinks you’re doing an exceptional job, perhaps your fears of destroying a substantial chunk of Equestria are unfounded.” She could do it, of course, but she wouldn’t. “It’s good that you’re worried about making a mistake – every artist worries about the quality of her work, and it’s a good fear for administrators to have, as well. It means you want to do the best job you possibly can. The problem is when that worry keeps you from doing your job. The painter who never paints for fear of making a bad portrait is no painter at all. Am I making any sense?” I asked, tilting my head at her.

She nodded. “You’re saying that if I try my best, and don’t let the pressure of running a huge part of Equestria get to me, then I’ll probably be fine?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m saying you’ll be fantastic, darling. Are you feeling better, now?”

“I am,” she said, giving me a smile. “Thanks for helping me out.”

“Any time, dear,” I said before using my horn to roll up one of her reports and smack her on the back of the head with it. “Now care to tell me just why you didn’t tell the rest of your friends about your newest project? What reason could you possibly have for not wanting to share this wonderful news with your friends?”

“I… I didn’t want to mess with our relationship anymore than I already had,” she said, rubbing the back of her head. “First I became a princess, and you were all okay with that eventually – but then I got this castle, and the map started giving us missions, and I’m worried that eventually, something will change and you’ll stop being my friends. What if all the royal duties keep me from being with you girls? And there’s still the aging issue that isn’t sorted out.” Tears welled up in her eyes. “I don’t want to wake up in seventy years and realize that the most important mares in my life are gone. I don’t want to wake up and think of all the time I didn’t spend with you because I was too busy with my paperwork.”

Before she could say another word, my hooves were wrapped around her, her tears sinking into my fur. “Twilight Sparkle, we will never stop being your friends. Yes, things might change –, they changed between me and Applejack, they changed between Applejack and Rainbow Dash, but we’re still friends, and no force in Equestria is going to change that. Even with things being somewhat strained between us, if Applejack came to me tomorrow, hat in hoof, begging for bits so she could marry Rainbow Dash, I’d give her whatever she needed, because that’s what friends do. No matter how big or famous you get, we’ll be right there with you, offering whatever help we can. As for the age issue, well… I can’t give you the answer there, but I know we’ll stay with you for as long as we can; and that even after we’re gone, you’ll still carry us with you, and see us in the world we made.”

I pulled her tighter against me. “But I don’t think that will happen, Twilight. I don’t know why – call it feminine intuition, perhaps – but something deep down in my soul tells me that’s not the way our story ends. Separating the Princess of Friendship from the friends who helped her earn that title just seems too a cruel fate to be imposed by the Tree of Harmony. Whatever happens, I think it will happen to all of us, together.”

Something between a sob and a laugh burst from Twilight’s throat. “You know,” she said when her fit had quieted down, “you don’t really sound like a pony who secretly resents me.”

I smiled as I broke our hug. “Twilight, I think you’re right.”

Our tender moment was interrupted by the sound of claws clacking on crystal. (What crystal composed the bulk of this castle? It was obviously a single gem, but what type? It wasn’t sapphire; too dark for that. Amethyst, possibly? Of course, the Tree could have made up an entirely new type of crystal to compose Twilight’s castle, but that seemed… Oh, if she could just give me a few cuts, I could make some simply marvelous dresses.)

“What are you two up to?” Spike asked as he came into the room, door slamming shut behind him. He narrowed his eyes as he saw the tear stains on both our coats. “Are you alright?”

“We are,” I said, smiling at him. “Just indulging in a bit of ‘mare talk’, that’s all. But it’s very dear of you to ask.” I trotted over and patted him on the head.

“Thanks,” he said, smiling at me. “How have you been? I haven’t seen you in forever. I thought maybe… How have you been?”

“Just fine, Spikey-wikey. Have you seen that little dragon friend of yours in Fillydelphia lately?”

“Mina? Yeah, she’s great. It’s a bit hard getting to see her, but Twilight gives me time off whenever I want it. Plus, if you’re a princess’ personal dragon, you’d be surprised how much stuff you can get for free if they think you’ll get the princess to endorse their whatever.”

“Spike!” Twilight yelled, swivelling her head around to glare at him. “Is that why I’ve been getting so many letters lately?” She shook her head. “Of course it is. You know, the reason you have a salary now is so you can pay for things, right?”

“Yeah,” he said, rolling his eyes. “But you also said I should save my bits up for something I really wanted. I was just following your advice.”

“I meant you should save your money up and be responsible. I didn’t mean you should use your connection to me to get free stuff,” Twilight said. “No more promising ponies my endorsement in exchange for free stuff.” Well, that, and the interests of the average Equestrian would naturally turn to their newest princess, especially when her story so readily captured the imagination: A normal mare who rose to save Equestria multiple times through the power of friendship, and ultimately achieved the highest position in the land. A powerful narrative, even if Twilight was never anywhere close to ordinary.

“Fine,” Spike said, giving us a groan. “In that case, can I have a raise?”

Twilight took a deep breath. “We can talk about that later. Right now, don’t you want to talk with Rarity?” Unusual. Not the deflection; that was classic Twilight, redirecting the conversation to a less volatile topic while she thought up a way to handle the more pressing issue. No, the strange thing was how readily that deflection was at hoof.

“Oh, yeah,” Spike said, looking from Twilight to me. I glanced at Opal, sleeping soundly on my chaise. How I envied her, sometimes. “How have you been, Rarity?”

“You already asked me that. Three times, actually,” I said, smiling at him as Twilight edged herself towards the door next to her desk. Yes, this was all planned. How much more obvious could the two of them be? Honestly, my senses of subtlety and guile were positively insulted. “What’s on your mind, Spike?”

He looked down at his feet. “Well, it’s just, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Fillydelphia with Mina lately, and… I kind of like her.” Ah, yes, his little dragon friend he met when he was helping Luna with something or another in Fillydelphia. I can’t remember what exactly it was, but… yes, there hadn’t been any big romantic gestures on his part since then.

“That’s wonderful news, Spike. So, do you need my advice on how to ask her out?” I asked, imagining an absolutely darling outfit for him to wear on his first date. “I’ll admit, my knowledge of dragon courtship rituals is rather lacking, but surely the language of love is universal. You both enjoy comics, correct?”

“Yeah, she actually manages the store. I guess that means she’s a few years older than me, but… wait, you’re okay with this? I thought you’d be upset or something,” he said, frowning at me. We’d gone off his script.

“Of course I am, Spikey-wikey,” I said, patting him on the head. “You’re a very dear friend, and your infatuation was flattering, but I always knew it wouldn’t last. I imagined, sometimes, if we could make our relationship work, but the issues overwhelmed those dreams. First, you’re… Well, you’re not quite young enough to be my son, I suppose, but shave off a few of your years and add in some some rather unfortunate teenaged indiscretions on my part, and the math would work.” I laughed. “And now I’m old enough to have a teenaged son. Delightful. Anyways, beyond that, there was the species difference, which… Well, I’m not sure how a dragon-equine relationship could work.”

“You’d have to stand on your back legs, wear a brace, and then, depending on my size, we’d either have to–”

“Yes, well, I’m glad you researched it, Spike.” Glad, horrified, what’s the difference? “What I was trying to say was that beyond those issues was the fact that you could conceivably live to be ten thousand years old, while I’ll be lucky if I hit a hundred. You deserve someone who can spend that entire time with you.” Two conversations about death and relationships before I even had breakfast? Hopefully the rest of the day would bring me some lighter fare. “It could never have worked out, as much as we might like to imagine otherwise, and I’m happy you found somepony else.” Even if it meant I was now the only single mare in the group, unless I was grossly mistaken about something. “Or, I suppose, somedragon else. Although I’m a little confused about how Fillydelphia has an entire dragon enclave, when they were supposed to be these elusive migratory creatures.”

“Well,” he said, shrugging, “technically, they’re only half-dragons. I’m not sure what the other half is – drake, maybe? Anyways, they’re not full dragons. They won’t grow up to be super huge like that one dragon you fought, and they don’t have our hoarding instincts, but they do look like a lot like adolescent dragons. It’ll probably be at least a couple of centuries before I get much bigger than them.” Then there were still some logistics issues, but at least… Well, it worked out neater this way.

“Anyways,” he asked, looking up at me. “we’re good? I mean, if you really wanted to go out with me, I guess I could be convinced, but Mina’s just so cool and funny and you should see the way she talks about Princess Luna and–”

“It’s fine, Spike,” I said, putting my hoof over his mouth. “I’m happy for the two of you, and if you ever want to go gem hunting with me, I’ll help you arrange a gem bouquet. Is that a proper dragon courtship gift? It seems like it would be.”

“Cool,” he said, licking his lips. “Do you think, maybe, we could arrange two bouquets? Or at least get enough material for two bouquets.”

“That sounds delightful,” I said, nodding my head and turning back to my dress. “Just tell me when you want to go, and we’ll make a day out of it.”

I heard the click-clack of his claws on the floor. “Sounds great,” he said, the clacking fading away. A moment later, I heard the thud of the door groaning shut.

“You can come in now, Twilight,” I said, glancing at the door Twilight trotted out of. Just as suspected, it was still cracked open, and I could see one eye staring out at me. “And please don’t insult me by pretending you weren’t listening in on our conversation.”

“How did you know?” Twilight asked, trotting into the room. “I thought I was pretty subtle.” I tried not to laugh.

“You weren’t entirely obvious, no. I didn’t know you were listening in until I heard Spike shut the door. The absence of the sound when you left the room is what gave you away,” I said, smiling at her as she shut the door. “Really, a mare as well-read as you should remember her Sherlock Pones.”

The Mystery of Silver Blaze,” Twilight said, shaking her head. “Right, the curious case of the dog in the nighttime. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. Wait, how did you think of that?”

I glared at her as the implications of her words caught up with her. “Really, Twilight, I’m not some mouth-breathing philistine. I’ve more than a passing familiarity with the Equestrian-literary canon, and I dare say, my love for a good mystery novel is second only to my love of a well-plotted romance.”

“Really?” Twilight asked, her ears perking up as she trotted to me, her stack of reports momentarily forgotten. “I didn’t know you liked mysteries. I thought you just read romance novels, and the two don’t really seem like they have a lot in common. One is about love and stuff, and the other is about mystery and deduction, about cutting through lies to reveal the truth.” And it didn’t take a great detective to reveal where her preference lay. I suppose some books were more fascinating than others.

“Oh, but they have everything in common,” I said, laughing as I took a step towards her. “At their core, both stories are about intimacy, about two minds intertwining before ultimately coming together. The detective pursues his quarry the same way the romantic pursues her love.” I traced a slow circle around Twilight. “They dance and weave around each other, slowly drawing closer. They seek an understanding of their partner so perfect that they can predict their movement, and in that moment of sublime understanding, they become forever enmeshed. The detective captures his criminal, and the lovers merge together. The realization of love is the greatest revelation of truth imaginable, Twilight.”

“Okay, good talk,” Twilight said, coat tinged red. “I… I need to… I need to read the romances you’re reading.” She laughed. “Do you think you could maybe write me up a list of romances you recommend? I think you gave me a fresh lens to view them from. An analysis comparing a romance’s structure and a mystery’s structure could be... really fun.”

“Of course, dear,” I said, smiling at her and floating a quill and paper off her desk. “Where would you like me to start?”

Author's Note:

New chapter titles blatantly stolen from suggested by EquesTRON.

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