• Published 19th Mar 2016
  • 5,447 Views, 186 Comments

Carousel - Thornquill

There is a part of Ponyville’s past its citizens forgot, a part that was left to rot... until Rarity encounters a dark power in Old Town Hall.

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Chapter 9 - Connections

Rarity woke the next morning as suddenly as if she had been slapped in the face. The room was cold, and she could barely see it from beneath the heavy blanket she had buried herself under. She couldn’t remember when she finally fell asleep, but the memory of what she had seen and done returned to her the instant her eyes were open.

For a moment, she didn’t move. She hardly dared to breathe. She felt a watchfulness all around her. A wave of pain washed through her chest as the irrational guilt and dread from the nightmare returned worse than ever. She pulled in a shaky breath as she held back a sudden sob. In her mind, she could see every stitch, every frayed fiber in the thread she had wielded as it passed through pale lips and came away red.

When she couldn’t stand it anymore, she pushed her covers away and slowly stood up, carefully examining the room around her. A weak, orange-red sun was rising, feebly cutting through the heavy clouds that worked to hide it. The light painted the room in fiery shades of copper and cast long, deformed shadows that seemed to stretch out towards her like long, thin limbs.

To get out of bed had taken all of her strength. She could barely imagine walking down the dark steps and into the dim showroom where her sewing table waited like the desk of a judge. The mirrors waited for her too, along with whatever they might reflect back at her. Would she even recognize herself if she were to look in one, or would she see someone who was capable of suffocating a foal?

She swallowed and walked reluctantly to the door. She brought the key over from her nightstand, fit it into the lock, and gently turned it. She thought she could hear the heavy click echo several times down the hall into the rooms below. She eased the door gently open and peered out into the hallway. It was dark, narrow, and empty.

From somewhere below, something made a metallic squeak followed by a clack, sending Rarity’s heart racing painfully and almost causing her to slam the door shut and flee back to her bed. The mail slot, she thought, forcing herself to breathe through her nose. It’s just the mail slot.

Taking another long breath, she made herself to walk down the hall. The sunlight’s red glow was just visible around the bend of the stairs, and for a moment, she imagined wildly that she had left the lamps on and set the lower floor on fire. But there were no flames when she descended the stairs and walked into the main room. Everything was perfectly still and quiet.

Her eyes darted around, looking for anything out of the ordinary or out of place. Nothing seemed amiss. Even so, she was struck with the impression that her home, her possessions, had somehow been violated; it was as if she had come home after a long trip and found her belongings rifled through and strewn about, and then heard something scrambling into hiding where it could wait for her. She couldn’t see into the left mirror on the dais, and she was overcome by a desire to cover it with something before she could come into its field of view.

Well, why not? She snagged the bits of discarded fabric lying around the room in her magic. In a few moments, she had hidden all of the mirrors around the dais and the ones above the vanities, even the one she had broken and never bothered to clean up. It did nothing to ease the tension she swore she could taste in the air. It almost seemed bitter, like a stringent strain of something left over from a bad chemistry experiment, but she could at least bear to walk into the room now.

I’ll go to the library, she thought. Ms. Dog-Ear will know where to find books on strange and lingering magics. She’ll be able to help. There’s not much I can tell her, but she won’t ask if she sees I don’t want to talk. I can figure this out.

As she approached the door, she saw the ivory sheets of the Ponyville Express splayed out on the carpet. Narrow black type cut across its surface and drank the sullen light. At the top, the huge, gaping slab letters of the headline seemed to leap out at her, and she felt her heart sink into her stomach in abject horror.

Beloved Librarian Passes Away

Ms. Dog-Ear was found to have passed away in her home Monday morning when concerned patrons were unable to access the library. Cause of death is currently believed to be asphyxiation by gas poisoning. Upon investigation, it was found that one of the gas valves for the library’s lighting system was left partially open without being ignited. It is believed that Ms. Dog-Ear, a mare who just recently celebrated her 64th birthday, forgot to check her lamps thoroughly before retiring for the night, as she was found in her bed with no signs of a struggle or other suspicious evidence.

“It’s a real tragedy,” Five Alarm, Chief of the Ponyville Fire Authority, told the Express. “The old gal was getting up there, so it’s easy to see her starting to forget little things like checking the lamps. Gas safety is something everypony has to take very seriously, and as always, we urge everypony to make sure their lighting systems are well-maintained and to always, always check your valves before going to bed.”

The incident has prompted many residents, most notably real estate agent Minimum Mortgage and business magnate Filthy Rich, to demand the mandatory introduction of thiol odorants into the Ponyville gas systems in the hope of preventing future poisoning accidents...

The article was printed alongside a smudgy photograph of Ms. Dog-Ear standing and smiling in front of the library tree. Rarity sat down hard and let the paper fall to the floor. She couldn’t imagine Ms. Dog-Ear suddenly gone forever. She had been the library’s guardian for as long as many of Ponyville’s residents had been alive. She was a fixture, an unmovable object. To think of her being gone was as unbelievable as the library tree itself vanishing.

Another realization struck her, and she snatched up the paper again, scanning through the dark lines. Her last hopes were finally crushed as she found the information she sought.

“The Ponyville Library will be closed until further notice, as no suitable staff has yet been located to maintain the collection. We will announce when information becomes available about the library’s reopening. Interested applicants are encouraged to inquire at City Hall.”

Any information the library might have held about what could be happening to her was now out of her reach. She wasn’t even sure where she would begin looking on her own.

Every time I find some kind of help, it gets taken away, she thought, her shoulders drooping. Or I drive it away myself. What did I do to deserve this?

She felt guilty for thinking of herself when Ms. Dog-Ear was dead, but she felt so utterly trapped and alone. Her shop had begun to feel like a prison, and now, with the shadow of Ms. Dog-Ear’s death, it felt eerily like a tomb.

I won’t make the spring deadline. I’ll be driven into debt for years to recover the cost of trying to start this business... I’ll need mother and father’s help, and then even they’ll be in debt. The shop would be abandoned once more. Her tools would rust and freeze up, and her rich wall hangings would be left to rot, hidden away from living eyes while everything she had tried to accomplish shriveled away into nothing but dust and mold.

Rarity blinked away the beginnings of tears, then glanced at the article again. One of the names had been familiar. She zeroed in on it, and allowed one small bit of hope to return to her. There was still one pony who had been friendly to her, one pony she hadn’t alienated or lost in some other way.

Minny. It was a slim chance, but she had to do something. She was beginning to feel like the longer she worked and waited in her shop, the less likely she was to come out again.

I can’t just wait inside anymore, hoping for things to get better. Without pausing to find any winter clothing, she opened the door and shut it behind herself without looking back.

The air was as frigid as if she had jumped into a frozen lake. Her hooves started to hurt from the cold almost as soon as she reached the main road, but she didn’t want to even think about turning around and going back into the shop. Something was in there, she was almost sure of it, but she didn’t have any way of dealing with it. Her only hope lay on the other side of the market square.

Still, the crisp, clear air smelled delicious after being cooped up inside so long, even if it did sting her nose. Ponies were already up and about, but Rarity thought they seemed a little more subdued than usual. As she entered into the market square, she realized most of them were talking about Ms. Dog-Ear, and another wave of grief washed over her. Ponyville won’t be the same again for a very long time.

She began to shiver nonstop, and her hooves had gone almost numb by the time she reached the center of the market. I wonder if it’s possible to freeze to death before crossing town?

“Hot cider!” called a voice that rose above the gentle murmur of the shoppers. “Limited supplies, get your hot cider here! Special Hearth’s Warming Reserve, specially aged since last harvest! Hot cider!”

Rarity turned and saw Applejack at her stand, which had been specially modified to serve the family’s legendary winter version of their signature cider. She must have only just opened, as there were only a few ponies gravitating towards her. With the cold and all that had happened, Rarity felt a special need for a hot treat. She approached the stand with a relieved smile, though her teeth were still chattering.

“There you go, Roseluck,” Applejack said, passing a thick wooden tankard over the counter. White steam billowed from the light, foamy surface, and Rarity could smell cloves and cinnamon behind the bittersweet fragrance of the fermented apples. “Don’t drink it too fast this time, y’hear?”

“Hello Applejack,” Rarity said, putting as much cheeriness as she could into her shivering words. Applejack turned, but her friendly expression had vanished in an instant. Rarity recoiled from the sudden glare she found directed at her. By comparison, the air suddenly didn’t seem half as cold.

“Rarity.” Applejack’s simple greeting carried an undercurrent of disgust.

“Is... is something wrong?” Rarity asked, her temper flaring slightly against the cold and her confusion.

“Wrong?” Applejack said, an expression of angry incredulity taking over her face. Then she turned away, inspecting various parts of her stand. “This ain't the time or place for it, and it ain't any of my business anyhow. Best just move along so we can both go about our day.”

“Well, I was planning on buying some—”

“Ain’t interested in selling to you,” Applejack said, cutting her off. She still wasn’t looking at her.

Rarity stared at her, indignation helping her anger to rise even further. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me. I ain’t interested in dealing with somepony who’s been going around spitting poison at everyone every chance she gets.”

The ponies in line behind Rarity shuffled away a little bit, and she could hear confused whispering. Her teeth stopped chattering as she clenched her jaw tight enough to hurt. She was cold, exhausted, and the last of her self-control had been left behind in her shop.

“Well, that’s odd. I don’t recall any dealings with the kind of backwater hayseeds you’d be used to fraternizing with.”

The muscles in Applejack's neck tightened, but she gave no other sign she had heard. “I ain’t dealing with somepony who’s been hurting my friends. It’s as simple as that, Rarity. Just go find what you need elsewhere.”

Rarity felt a sharp twinge of guilt and a fearful suspicion that Applejack somehow knew what had happened last night. Burying the idea, she drew on her anger instead and built it to a boiling tide of rage. “You know, this is precisely why I can’t stand to deal with ponies around here. I can’t imagine how anypony could have so little sense as to refuse service when she’s already too poor to put a stitch of proper clothing on her back! If that’s what your sister has to look forward to, well, I pity her all the more.”

Applejack’s head snapped up. Her eyes glinted like hard, fiery jade as they locked onto Rarity’s. As suddenly as if a string had been cut, Rarity’s anger vanished, to be replaced by a cold dread.

“You got some real nerve, don’t you?” Applejack said slowly. “So that’s how you look at me? At Pinkie Pie?”

“Pinkie Pie? What... what are you talking about?” Rarity asked. She tried to sound indignant, but Applejack was somehow pulling all the guilt she had been feeling back to the surface.

“You know Pinkie Pie lost her job because of you?” Applejack demanded. Rarity’s eyes widened as a stone seemed to settle in her stomach. “I don’t care what went wrong with your business. That pony’s a good mare, and sure, she made an honest mistake. But she didn’t deserve to be treated the way you treated her. She ain’t got no family here, and that job was all she had to live on!”

“Well, I didn’t mean for—”

“You didn’t mean for that to happen? Well, you didn’t think about that before you went and stomped all over her, did you?” Applejack replied. “But I saw you. You didn’t even care. I reckon you still don’t. From the moment I met you, I thought to myself, ‘there’s one of those prissy, city-pony types. You gotta watch yourself around that one, AJ.’ But you seemed nice enough, and I thought you might be able to bring some good business to this town. I thought you might be different. But you had me fooled real good, didn’t you Rarity?”

“Now see here,” Rarity said, finally summoning some energy to defend herself. “I—”

“Don’t even try,” Applejack cut her off, slamming a hoof on the ground. “See, even your little run-in with poor Pinkie might’ve been understandable. But how do you justify what you did to Fluttershy?”

“...Fluttershy?” Rarity’s voice was a broken whisper. What remained of her indignation vanished in an instant.

Applejack’s glare was fit to cow a Hydra. “Oh yeah. I talked to her the other day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that pony so upset. She said all she tried to do was cheer you up, and you ran her out like a rat! What do you have to say about that? Who in the hay even does something like that?”

Rarity could hear the whispering from the ponies around her turning angry. “That... that’s not what...”

“That ain’t what happened? What, so Fluttershy’s a liar now? Is that it, Rarity?”


“You listen to me,” Applejack continued, her voice going quiet and deadly. “Your family’s done well enough by everypony as long as y’all have lived here, but whatever you picked up at them fancy schools and big cities you went off to, it ain’t welcome in this town. Around here, we don’t take kindly to ponies treating others like they’re garbage. And as long as you’re doing business that way, you ain’t welcome here either.”

“I... I...” The whispers were louder now, voicing ominous agreement.

“I don’t want to hear it,” Applejack said. “Matter of fact, I don’t want to see your face around my stall again. And if I hear about you mistreating my friends again...” she drew in a long breath, looking askance at Rarity as if she could barely stand to be near her. “...well, I hope I don’t. Now get out of here.”

Rarity took a hesitant step back, acutely aware of the many ponies standing around, muttering and glaring at her.

“Go on, get!”

Rarity turned and ran, dodging between the bodies surrounding her, half expecting somepony to punch or trip her. But nopony stopped her, and she found herself alone, freezing, and muddy at the far edge of the market. She turned into a narrow lane and slumped against the wall. Only the shortness of her breath kept her from breaking into tears.

The worst of it was that she felt she deserved every single cutting word Applejack had thrown at her. She had tried not to think about Pinkie or Fluttershy, but now she could hear the words she had yelled at both of them echoing in her ears as if she had just shouted them.

She wanted to go home and hide forever in her dark shop. She wanted to never have to see any of those angry faces again. But going home meant seeing all those covered mirrors and feeling the strange, angry watchfulness that filled the place like poisonous fumes. Even cowering in the mud before Applejack, Rarity still hadn’t been as afraid as she was of the dark malevolence that seemed to bore into her from behind her back every moment she was in the shop.

Besides, she realized, I’d have to cross the market again to get back. It’s not going to be safe to go through for awhile, and I’ll freeze before I make it back if I go around. She was already fairly close to Minny’s office, so she decided she might as well try and do what she set out to do.

She emerged back into the side road and looked around with her ears back and her head down low. She half expected to see ponies all around her, glaring and whispering to each other, but she seemed to have left the angry faces behind. Those few she saw barely gave her a glance before continuing on their way. Still, she felt anxious and shrank back from anyone who drew too close. She made her slow way like that all the way to Minny’s office.

The “open” sign hanging in the window was the first bit of good news she had gotten all day. She pushed the door open and practically fell inside, her eyes watering and skin crawling a moment later as the intense heat washed over her. She had forgotten how unthinkably hot Minny kept her office. After being out in the cold for so long, Rarity almost felt like she was being burned. At the other end of the room, Minimum Mortgage herself sat behind the reception desk, squinting at several brown folders she held in front of her face. Her jaw dropped as she looked up and saw Rarity, dripping and muddy in the open doorway.

“My goodness, Rarity,” she said, dropping the folders and trotting out from behind the desk. “You look like you got caught in a stampede. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Minny,” Rarity managed, trying feebly to wipe her stinging hooves on the mat. “Though you’re not far off with that guess.”

“Here, there’s a washroom just down the hall. Please, come in and let’s get you taken care of,” Minny fussed, pulling Rarity into the room. Rarity protested, seeing the drops and specks of mud she was leaving behind, but Minny shushed her firmly and dragged her down the hall.

“Whatever were you thinking, coming out here dressed in... well, nothing at all! Here, there are some clean towels and water. You get yourself cleaned up now, and then we can talk. Oh don’t fuss about the towels dear, that’s what they’re for!”

She bustled off, saying something about a hot drink once Rarity was ready. Rarity stood there a moment, looking at the clear water rippling ever so slightly in the smooth, porcelain sinks and the white, fluffy towels folded beside them. She almost broke down crying all over again. She couldn’t remember the last time she had appreciated something so simplistically nice as clear water and thick towels so much.

She took longer than she meant to, having been unable to resist running the clean, stiff-bristled brushes on the counter through her mane, tail, and coat. When she emerged, she felt better than if she had just gotten a deluxe treatment at a spa. Minny was waiting for her in the front room, steaming cups on the table beside the snapping fireplace. Rarity sat down next to her and thanked her before picking up the heavy, hot mug with her tired hooves. Hot cocoa.

“Feeling better?” Minny asked, picking up her own cup.

“Much.” Rarity took a sip. “I really can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done.”

“Oh tish tosh,” Minny replied, blowing on her cocoa. “It’s nothing at all.”

For a moment, they sat there in silence, Rarity focusing on her drink and the heat of the fire. It felt pleasant and welcoming for the first time. Then Minny continued, “If you’re here about Pinkie Pie, you might be pleased to hear she’s no longer employed here.”

Rarity’s brief happiness vanished, and no cocoa or fire could heat the cold shame she felt inside. “Minny, about that... I was having a bad day, and it was just an... an honest mistake,” she said, hearing the echo of Applejack’s accusations. “I don’t want her fired, and I’d really prefer to hear that you brought her back on.”

“Oh. Well, that’s kind of you, dear. But I’m afraid it’s not possible anymore,” Minny replied. “As a matter of fact, I didn’t fire her; she resigned. She said she felt like she’d failed our most important client, and she shouldn’t be trusted to carry out business here anymore.” Minny grimaced a little as she took another sip. “I told her she was being foolish, but she was quite insistent.”

Rarity winced, her regret intensifying. “I shouldn’t have said those things to her. I was wrong. Do you know where she is? I’d like to apologize and maybe convince her to come back. I know what her work meant to you.”

“That’s the problem, dear. She’s gone home.”

“Home? You mean, with her... friends, here in town?”

“No, back to her family. They have a farm down south, I believe. She said it was time she paid them a visit, what with all that’s happened.”

“I see... Do you know when she’ll be coming back?”

“She didn’t say,” Minny said sadly. “I’m little worried she might not come back at all. But that’s not your fault, dear. It’s up to her where she goes and what she does from here. As for me,” she paused and looked at the cabinets of files, which had become noticeably more disheveled since Rarity’s last visit, “well, I’ll carry on. I’m sure I can find some more help soon. Now, enough about that.” She put down her cup and looked at Rarity through her thin, octagonal glasses. “What brings you here today? Is everything alright with the property?”

“Oh, it’s fine, it’s...” Rarity said, trying to smile, but her lips trembled as her feelings stirred. She broke off and hid behind her cup. The warm, thick, sweet cocoa filled her mouth. It reminded her of the cocoa in the library—the cocoa Ms. Dog-Ear had always kept ready and warm over the years for patrons who braved the weather to cross town and find a new book to pass the cold weeks of winter.

Thinking of the librarian and her sudden death pushed Rarity over the edge. A cruel heat rose in her throat and a stinging wetness clouded the edges of her eyes. She choked, trying to hold back a sob. Then it broke free anyway and she looked down, closing her eyes tight against the silent tears shaking her frame.

She felt a warm foreleg wrap around her shoulder. She wanted to run away, to keep from being seen in such a state. But then she heard Minny’s calm, warm voice.

“It’s ok, dear,” she said gently, pulling Rarity a little closer. “Just let it out.”

Rarity broke down. For a moment, all she could feel were her loud, escaping sobs before a soft, thin handkerchief was pressed into her hoof. She accepted it gratefully, all the weight of everything that had gone so wrong pounding through her as she just sat there and cried. Finally, she managed to rein it in, and the tears subsided as she took long, controlled breaths.

“I’m so sorry.” Her voice was weak and rasping. “I can’t imagine what you must think of me, coming in here like this and putting on such a display.”

“Nonsense,” Minny said, smiling gently. “We all need a chance to have a good cry sometimes. I expect you’ve been putting a lot onto yourself and bottling it all up.”

“Maybe.” Rarity returned the smile.

“I did hear about what happened with the Historical Society,” Minny said carefully. “Is that what’s been troubling you?”

“That’s certainly a huge part of it. It’s just... everything’s been going so wrong. I haven’t even been able to get the shop lit properly, my designs have been turning out wrong, and I’ve... I’ve been taking things out on my friends, and...” she looked down at the remnants of the cocoa. “...and now Ms. Dog-Ear’s gone... I just don’t know how much more I can take.”

Minny looked away sadly at the mention of Dog-Ear. “It’s too true. I think we’re all going to miss her terribly. Ponyville wouldn’t be here without good folk like that.” She turned back to Rarity. “But don’t you worry, dear. Whatever’s gone wrong with you and your friends, I’m sure they’ll understand if you let them know how things have been for you.”

“I doubt that,” Rarity hiccuped. “I’ve really made a royal mess of things.”

“They’re still your friends,” Minny said firmly. “It might be painful for you, but you can still make things right. And even if you can’t fix everything, you’ll all come away the better for having tried. But I think you might be surprised what a true, honest apology can do.”

“Maybe,” Rarity conceded, though she was unconvinced.

“And as for the historical grant,” Minny continued, straightening up and pushing her glasses up her muzzle, “I feel partially responsible for how that turned out for you. I’ll tell you what: you let me do some digging, and we’ll see if we can’t find some other avenues of scaring up that money.”

“I don’t know if I want to try any more tricks. They haven’t exactly turned out well for me.”

“Never underestimate the value of a good real estate agent on your side,” Minny reassured her confidently. “I’ve got some favors owed to me here and there. If I can’t get this straightened out, I’ll eat my roof. Which would really be a shame, I just had it re-thatched!”

Rarity couldn’t help but laugh. “I suppose it can’t hurt.”

“Don’t try to take everything on alone,” Minny told her, putting a hoof on top of Rarity’s own. “You’ve got friends and family all around you. In a town like this, we’re all each other has. The least we can do is look out each other.”

Rarity bit her lip, feeling the threat of tears returning to her eyes. She swallowed and blinked hard, nodding.

They returned to a comfortable silence as Rarity finished her cocoa. She looked at the dark stains at the bottom of the mug and cleared her throat before looking up at Minny.

“I did come here with a favor to ask,” she said, and Minny looked up again quizzically. “Before she... before she passed away, Ms. Dog-Ear was helping me with some research. I feel terrible to ask this, but I really must continue it if I can, and I was hoping...”

Minny leaned back, a skeptical frown on her face. “I do have access to the library while it’s unoccupied, yes,” she said carefully. “But I can’t just let anypony in there while there’s no one to staff it. I can’t tell you how many regulations that would be breaking.”

“Please, I don’t want to take anything out, I just need to go through some things,” Rarity pleaded, though she was unsure how it would even gain her anything. “Isn’t there any way I can get access soon? Celestia knows how long it will take them to hire somepony to work there.”

Minny pursed her lips and sighed through her nose, looking away and fidgeting uncomfortably. She tapped her hoof a few times against the chair, then shook her head.

“I still have some things to look over there myself,” she conceded. “Her effects will be evaluated by the solicitors, but I have to go through any documentation regarding the facility, and the property itself needs assessing. I suppose I can allow you to accompany me while I’m working there.”

Rarity smiled widely, jumping up and grasping Minny’s hoof with both of her own. “Oh, thank you, thank you! You don’t know how much this means to me!”

Minny just shook her head and stood up. “Perks of a tiny town. Just don’t get anything out of order. The last thing we need is old Dog-Ear coming after us from beyond the grave.”

* * *

Before leaving, Minny forced Rarity to accept a heavy coat and spare boots. Though they didn’t fit well, they made the journey across town far more bearable than Rarity’s first trek had been. Minny let them into the library and locked them both inside, where they doffed the protective gear respectfully by the doorstep. The interior was cold and dark, and most of the curtains had been drawn over the windows. It reminded Rarity disturbingly of her shop.

After another warning not to mess with things too much, Minny had left Rarity and gone upstairs to the library’s living quarters. Rarity shivered to think of it. She did not envy her friend the task of working in a room with an empty bed that had only recently been occupied by the still, cold remains of one of Ponyville’s best citizens. She walked slowly around the library, feeling oddly like a trespasser as she looked over the dark shelves. It had always been quiet in the library, but it had always been a warm silence, the kind where you always knew Ms. Dog-Ear was somewhere close by, and the only unexpected voices were those of the books one opened on a lazy afternoon. Now, even the books seemed to have fallen quieter than usual, as if some of the life had gone out of them with the passing of their librarian.

Rarity passed by the beverage cart, its abandoned containers full of cold and stale liquid. It made her sad just to look at it. She glanced at the mirror hanging above it, and was surprised to notice a small crack in the lower left corner, a wandering black line running from side to the bottom edge of the clean glass.

That’s odd. I don’t remember that being there.

She turned away, her mild puzzlement fading as she walked over to the desk. It was remarkably tidy. Rarity supposed that Ms. Dog-Ear had put everything into its proper place before going to bed for the last time. There was a small tray of loose papers, the topmost of which was a complicated order form of some sort. A box sitting on the floor by the chair had been opened, and Rarity saw with a pang that it was empty except for seven fashion catalogs from various companies across Equestria. Ms. Dog Ear had set them aside for Rarity when they came in, just like always.

Rarity wished she could take them, but she would have to arrange something later. She was about to turn away when she noticed a thick, brown envelope lying on one side of the desk’s mostly-empty surface. As she looked closer, she was surprised to recognize it as one of the microfiche envelopes from the basement. Rarity bent closer curiously, recalling that Ms. Dog-Ear had carried one of them out of the basement the day she had researched the history of the Old Town Hall.

Ponyvile Express, September, C.E. 966,” she read. Why did she bring this out here? The last issues I saw before the gallery closed were from August that year.

Puzzled, she lifted it, and spotted two other items beneath it. One was a battered envelope torn open along the top, addressed to Ms. Dog-Ear in chicken-scratch hoofwriting that was painful to look at. The other was an old photograph in badly faded monochrome. It showed two ponies standing outside what looked like the Old Town Hall. A sign was hung above the door with the words “Roola Gallery” painted in long, flowing letters. One of the ponies, an Earth Pony with thick, bushy locks of hair, was smiling and nuzzling into the neck of the other, A Pegasus who was laughing and hugging the first with one foreleg. The Pegasus had a riotous, unruly mane, and one of her ears was bent forward as she laughed with her friend.

“Ms. Dog-Ear?” Rarity said aloud incredulously. She bent closer to try to see the other mare, but the only thing she could make out clearly was that she probably had a mane and tail with several different colors, if the faded tones of the photo were anything to go by.

Rarity carefully carried everything over to one of the reading chairs and sat down. She laid the picture aside and picked up the archival envelope. Inside, she found a standard microfiche film, along with a piece of newspaper that had been carefully preserved and laminated. It was from an issue dated September 19, 966, and was a very short, informative piece. Rarity blinked at the headline in confusion.

“You said she left and closed up shop,” Rarity said, bending closer to make out the old print.

Local Artist Found Dead; Gallery to be Closed

Toola Roola, owner of the local art gallery, was found dead yesterday morning. Cause of death was ruled to be gas-poisoning, and the incident is being treated as a suicide.

“It’s a miracle the whole place didn’t go up,” Ponyville Fire Chief Four Alarm said in a statement. “She opened up every blasted gas valve in the house. Even the tiniest spark could have taken out the entire southern district.”

The fate of the property and funeral arrangements remain undecided pending notification of any kin.

Rarity laid the paper down, aghast at what she had read. Why did you lie to me? She thought, remembering the librarian carrying the folder and the final article about the home’s past out of sight. Why would you hide this? And why didn’t you tell me you knew her?

She looked at the photo again. She couldn’t imagine two ponies looking happier. She turned it over and saw something written in faded purple ink on the back. “June 7, 964.” Two years before Toola Roola would kill herself in her gallery.

“What the hay happened?” Rarity asked. Unfortunately, the only mare who could tell her had finally followed her friend in death. She turned to the envelope and pulled a single sheet of thin paper from it. The same crude writing covered the top portion, and she had to squint and tilt the paper to make out certain words.

Ms. Dog-Ear
Golden Oaks Library
41114 Flanagan Lane, Ponyville

Dear Ms. Dog-Ear,

I’m not sure I understood your questions regarding the old gallery. Sure, I took care of it for the town, but so far as I know, we never had any break-ins or vandalism. I definitely haven’t ever seen anypony wandering around inside or anything like that. I know there are rumors that I didn’t like working on it because strange things kept happening, but that’s just ponies wagging their tongues. The only truth behind that talk is that I always felt darn uneasy whenever I was around it. Always felt like somepony was in there watching me, you know? Ain’t nothing more to it than an old, empty building though, and I’m just glad it’s somepony else’s problem now. I wish them well.

If you have any sensible questions about it, we can talk when I get back from visiting the folks up in Canterlot. Otherwise, I hope you have a good day. Sincerely, Hayseed Turnip Truck.

P.S. If your questions are related to all those rumors, I’d appreciate it if you could quell a few. Ponies already think I’m a tad flighty from what little I’ve said about that place. Frankly, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were taking them too seriously yourself.

Rarity turned the envelope over. It was postmarked four days ago. After Rarity had visited, Dog-Ear had contacted the pony who worked on the gallery for years and asked if he had ever seen anything strange. The coincidence was something Rarity was not willing to ignore anymore. Ms. Dog-Ear... did you know something?

“How’s it going down there, Rarity?” Minny called down, stepping up to the stairs.

“Oh, um, just fine!” Rarity called back, startled. “I found a little of what I was looking for already. You aren’t ready to leave, are you?”

Minny shook her head. “No, I just need to check in every now and then. I’ll probably be a few hours with all that’s left here. Give a holler if you need anything, alright?”

“Of course!” Rarity said, and Minny vanished back into the upper bedroom. Rarity looked back down at the few documents she had found, frowning in fearful puzzlement. Dog-Ear had known Toola Roola—and quite well by the look of it—but she had completely failed to mention it when Rarity had come specifically asking about the gallery’s past. She had even lied when she said Toola Roola had left Ponyville.

Perhaps the subject was simply too painful to discuss. Looking at the photograph, Rarity could understand if that was case. But then why had she claimed Toola’s art was worthless?

There were still so many unanswered questions. Rarity stood and returned the paper, letter, and photograph to the desk, then began her search of the bookshelves for anything that might help her understand what was happening in her home.