• Published 3rd Jul 2012
  • 15,302 Views, 747 Comments

Of Age - paleowriter



Rarity is on a mission to learn more about dragons, stop a war, and discover her true feelings.

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Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The train ride to Canterlot seemed to stretch on much longer than usual. Rarity never allowed herself to slouch in public, but it was getting hard to stay upright. She'd had to wake up extra early to catch the first train out so that she could reach the palace by noon. Her eyelids drooped, and she could feel her shoulders threatening to go next.

Wake up, Rarity! Who knows who else is on this train right now? You aren't exactly traveling to Appleloosa. The unicorn nonchalantly glanced around the train, wondering if there was anypony important she could recognize by sight. Nopony stood out, but that didn't mean much. Rarity prided herself on knowing a great deal about the higher end of Canterlot society, but even she couldn't pick out a face to go with every famous name.

She stretched her front legs to get her blood flowing and wake up her tired brain. The train rounded a bend and it looked like they were finally arriving in Canterlot. Thank Celestia, Rarity thought, then smiled to herself. She could thank Celestia. She'd be meeting with her shortly. And then you find out what all this "stopping a war" business is about…Rarity's smile faltered a little. This was no social call.

The train pulled to a stop, and Rarity climbed off it into the bustling Canterlot crowds. She adjusted her saddlebag and then began her walk to the palace.

"Rarity!" a familiar voice called, before she'd even managed to take two steps.

Rarity turned, her mouth falling open. "Shining Armor?"

The Captain of the Royal Guard trotted towards her from farther down the walkway. "I'm so glad I found you. Princess Celestia's been waiting and I was worried I'd missed you getting off the train."

Waiting? "Oh no, I'm so sorry!" Rarity said. Celestia's been waiting? Her face paled at the thought. "I do hope I'm not late."

"You aren't," Shining Armor clarified. "But the train was. Do you know what's going on?"

"Going on?" Rarity asked. Shining Armor began to walk at a brisk pace, and Rarity had to trot to keep up. Most unladylike, but perhaps she made up for her rushed appearance by being in the company of the Captain of the Royal Guard and the newest member of the royal family.

"Yes," Shining Armor said. "Nopony here has any idea why the bridge over Bumblebee River has collapsed, or why the tracks out near Greenpalm Grove have been smashed up, but it's diverting all the trains through Canterlot and backing everything up."

"Oh my, that does explain why our little trip took extra long this morning," Rarity mused. "Though I can't say I have the faintest idea why there's been so much destruction in the east…" She looked away from Shining Armor, keeping her expression hidden for fear of betraying what her actual thoughts on the incidents were. So Celestia hasn't voiced her concerns even to her own nephew-in-law? Rarity filed that bit of information away, wondering just who Celestia had told about the brewing war.

They continued through Canterlot, approaching the castle grounds. "So what's my sister been up to in Ponyville? I haven't heard from her in a while," Shining Armor said, changing the subject.

"Twilight's been quite busy," Rarity explained for her friend. "I'm sure she wishes she could have more time to visit and write, but Princess Celestia's given her a large assignment that takes up nearly all of her time lately. She's been a little stressed out – "

"And I'm sure she's completely thrilled about it," Shining Armor laughed. "She's always happiest when she's got some huge deadline looming and too much work to do."

Rarity laughed in return. They passed through the castle gates. "That's Twilight, alright," she agreed. The guards gave Shining Armor a salute as he walked by.

"So what's she doing for the Princess?" he asked next.

"Some sort of scroll translation, from what I can tell. Something about ancient star alignments, or some such. It all seems very tedious," Rarity replied.

"Right up her alley." Shining Armor nodded.

"Indeed," Rarity agreed.

"And how's Spike? I felt bad that we never got much of a chance to talk at the wedding," Shining Armor said. "Little guy used to be my best bud around here. Always hangin' around Twilight and Princess Celestia, he didn't really have much of a father figure. He'd trail after me, though." The stallion chuckled to himself. "Always asking questions, wanting to see what he could help out with…"

Rarity couldn't help but smile at the mental image Shining Armor's words painted. "It's wonderful he had somepony like you to look out for him when he was young. He's doing well in Ponyville, I dare say. I don't think Twilight could do without him."

"I don't doubt that," Shining Armor said. They rounded the corner, heading up the castle stairs. "Does he ever get a chance to hang out with other ponies? Twilight was never very good about sharing his time after he became her assistant."

"Why, yes, sometimes," Rarity replied. They reached the castle doors, and the guards magicked them open. "He frequently visits me at my shop. And visits other ponies, too," she added quickly.

"Good, good," Shining Armor said thoughtfully.

They walked into the main hall. Princess Celestia sat at her throne at the far end, and Rarity had to admit she was a bit disappointed at the timing. She wondered if she could talk to Shining Armor some more later about Spike's early life in Canterlot. It was something she'd never heard much about…

"I'll leave you now," Shining Armor said, bowing to her and cutting off her train of thought.

"Please send my best wishes to Cadance," Rarity replied.

"I will."

"Welcome, Rarity," Princess Celestia called, her voice echoing in the large hall.

Rarity nodded a polite goodbye to Shining Armor, then turned and walked down the garishly bright red carpet towards the princess. "I do apologize for being late," Rarity said. "Thank you for your invitation, your Highness." She bowed low to the floor, averting her eyes from the overly dyed carpet.

"Please, Rarity, rise," Princess Celestia said. "You're a guest of honor here, as always."

Rarity stood up straight, looking at the princess and feeling a pang of jealousy for her fabulously flowing mane. No matter how stressed out Princess Celestia was, her mane was always perfect.

"There's no time to waste," the princess continued, rising up off her throne to her hooves. "We must speak at once. In private." She turned and walked down the stairs to the side of her throne.

And here we go, Rarity thought, setting her shoulders. I doubt whatever I'm about to hear will make it any easier to decline the princess's request. Rarity followed the princess into a small back room, keeping her head held high, despite her reservations about everything going on. An ornamental wooden table sat in the center, with an old map spread out over it. Rarity peered at it, curious.

Princess Celestia spun to face Rarity. "Rarity, before we speak of anything further, I must ask: just what would you be willing to do to stop a war?" Her eyebrows furrowed as she looked down at Rarity to await an answer.

Rarity bit her lower lip thoughtfully. It was a fairly loaded question. "Well…" Rarity began slowly. "…I would, of course, do everything I could. That is to say, everything I personally could. I'm not much of a soldier, so I wouldn't be interested in using physical violence or whatnot, as I'm sure there are far better candidates than me for that sort of thing, but if a war could be won with a finely sewn evening gown, I would of course be your mare. Though I know that's not at all what you're asking of me." Rarity paced across the room to give her nervous hooves something to do. "You wish for me to act as an ambassador of sorts, correct?" She looked up at the princess.

Princess Celestia nodded.

"If there truly is nopony else better suited to the task, then it would be most wrong of me to refuse the job," Rarity said, going back to her pacing. "Though if I would be gone for a considerable amount of time, I would need to close up my shop. It would make paying the bills a bit trickier, without a steady income from sales and consignments…but of course, these trifles would be nothing compared to those that a war would cause. I'm certain I could convince Fluttershy to watch Opal during my absence, and I would need to remind my parents that I would be out, so they would not send Sweetie Belle over – "

"So you would be willing to spend time away on a journey?" Princess Celestia asked carefully.

"Yes, mm-hmm." Rarity nodded. To that much, she could agree.

"What about participating in negotiations?"

That part was a little trickier. "I…I'm not certain," Rarity answered truthfully. She'd been thinking about it ever since she received the princess's letter. "I've never been trained in diplomacy, though I fancy myself a genteel enough pony to handle delicate situations. This situation, however…well, it's…well. You understand. It's much larger. I am honestly not sure how I will approach it, but I suppose I would be willing to try…"

"I would be greatly appreciative if you would try," Princess Celestia said. Her tone was grim. "There hasn't been a war on this scale in centuries, if it does indeed come to pass. Nopony would be prepared for the devastation. Nopony would be guaranteed safety. This war must be stopped."

Rarity blinked, unable to form a response. Nopony safe…Images of her friends and family surfaced in her mind. Sweetie Belle…Fluttershy…Pinkie Pie…Spike…

Celestia walked over to the map on the table. "You see, the sea serpents have control over the world's waterways, except for the few they've allowed for our use in Equestria and a handful of other nations. The dragons claim the land, save, once again, for the land various countries have negotiated from them. The sea serpents and dragons have a truce on grounds that are fifty yards from the water's edge. Both species share those regions, and have for nearly as far back as I can remember. But now, the dragons claim to have discovered an ancient scroll that deems the entirety of the land all the way to the water's edge as their property, and their property only. Nopony has yet to see this scroll, because each of my ambassadors have been rebuffed and sent away. Likewise, we have been unable to speak to the sea serpents to see if we can aid them in their talks with the dragons. They, too, seem to see little value in our offers of help. They've told us repeatedly that it's their problem to fix, and ponies should not get involved."

Princess Celestia traced out the run of Bumblebee River. "But their conflict is already encroaching upon our territory. We cannot stay out of this any longer. In my last correspondence with the sea serpents, they mentioned that there was one pony to whom with they would consider speaking."

Princess Celestia glanced over at Rarity.

"Me," Rarity whispered.

"Precisely," the princess said with a nod. "They say that your generosity and reasonability is legend, and that if anypony can help win their land back for them, it will be you."

Rarity stared at the map. Bumblebee River ran to the west. One of its tributaries ran in through the Everfree Forest, feeding the reservoir in Ponyville. "Why do they need the land?" she asked. "Do they not live in the water all the time?"

"Sea serpents must lay their eggs and hatch them on dry land," Princess Celestia explained. "I am uncertain as to how or why a deal would have been struck at any time in history that would force the sea serpents to give up their access to land. It is critical to their existence."

Rarity took in a deep breath. "Alright," she said, staring at the Ponyville reservoir on the map. "I'll go. I'll do what I can."

Princess Celestia's whole body relaxed in relief. "I was hoping you would agree. Thank you, Rarity."

"I shall go back to Ponyville and gather my things. Perhaps I could ask some of my friends to accompany me – "

Princess Celestia shook her head. "No friends. No other ponies."

"No other…?" Rarity stared up at the princess. No other ponies. And I suppose asking if Spike could come as my helper is out of the question, what with the sea serpents hating the dragons right now and everything. "Alright then." She regained her composure. "Then I expect you'll be selecting some guards to escort me – "

"Unfortunately, no," Princess Celestia interrupted again. "I wish I could, more than anything. But the sea serpents were very clear: only you."

Rarity's mouth fell open. Gaping like a school filly wasn't very becoming of a lady like herself, but she couldn't help it.

"I am truly, truly sorry." Princess Celestia's eyes swam with apologies. "I'll be sending a small group of guards to follow you at a distance, but that's the best I can do."

Rarity nodded slowly. "Alright."

"You're a brave mare, Rarity," Princess Celestia acknowledged. "Your courage will be rewarded. Now, please allow me to spend the rest of the day imparting to you as much information as I possibly can, and preparing you in the art of negotiation with these two cultures."

"Of course, Princess," Rarity agreed. What else could she say?


The train ride back to Ponyville took just as long as the ride out the day before. Rarity stumbled into her shop mid-afternoon, and collapsed on her sofa.

What have I gotten myself into?

She rolled over and stared up at the ceiling. The curtains were drawn, so there was only a faint, almost grey-ish light illuminating everything around her. She hadn't realized her blue curtains would result in such an awful hue when they blocked the sunlight. Rarity made a mental note to change them as soon as she got back from her trip.

She sighed and rolled back over on her side. After all that she'd gone through yesterday, she still had no answer from the princess about the way dragons age. You'll be seeing plenty of them soon enough, Rarity thought to herself, tracing one hoof along the sofa cushion. After you walk right into their warzone and try to talk some sense into the creatures, maybe one of them will be polite enough to answer your questions…?

Rarity groaned dramatically, burying her head under the sofa pillow. "Unlikely," she sniffed. "Spike is the only dragon I've ever seen who has any sense of propriety and kindness."

She allowed herself several more minutes of sulking, but then dragged herself back to her hooves to stand up. There was packing to do, after all.


"Oh hi, Rarity," Twilight said, answering the library door. Spike bolted upright from his seat at the kitchen table. He set down the series of parchments Twilight had given to him to alphabetize, hopped off his stool, and quickly made his way into the main library.

"Rarity!" he exclaimed, smiling wide. "Hi!"

Rarity nodded in his direction. "Hello, Spike," she said. She looked back and forth between him and Twilight. "I've just come by to let you both know that I'm going to be out of town for several days on business."

"Back to Canterlot like yesterday?" Twilight asked.

Rarity gone? For days? Spike's stomach sank, and he tried not to shuffle his feet too dejectedly as he walked over to Twilight's side.

"Er…no," Rarity said. "Somewhere else. Princess Celestia has asked for my help with something, but I'm not at liberty to say what exactly."

"Mysterious!" Twilight replied brightly. "But at least with you gone, Spike will actually be around here more, and can help me with the scroll translations the Princess entrusted to me." The purple unicorn winked down at Spike, and Spike raised an eyebrow.

"Scroll translations. Uh…goody?" he replied.

Both ponies laughed, and Spike felt his stomach lift back up again. Making Rarity smile had to be his favorite thing in the whole wide world.

"Anyhow, I just wanted to pass the word along," Rarity continued. "Opalescence is staying with Fluttershy, and Applejack's promised to keep an eye out for Sweetie Belle when my parents need a sitter."

"Can I do anything to help?" Spike asked, stepping forward.

"Yeah, please let us know if you need anything else taken care of," Twilight said.

"That's very generous of you both, but I think everything is all in order," Rarity replied. "Though, if you wouldn't mind, perhaps one of you might check in on the shop every few days? Just to make sure nothing's broken into or anything like that."

"Absolutely!" Spike agreed quickly. "I'm your guy, I'll stop by every morning and every night!"

Rarity looked down at him, her eyes softening. "Thank you, Spike."

Spike stared back up at her, swallowing his emotion. "Are you…are you going to be gone for very long?" he asked.

"I'm not sure," Rarity said in return, her eyebrows knitting together ever so slightly. "It may be quite a while."

How long is a while? Spike wondered.

"Honestly, it may be weeks. Or more," Rarity answered his unspoken question.

Weeks? To his horror, Spike felt tears spring to his eyes at that news. No crying! Oh, for Celestia's sake, Spike, keep it together!

Rarity's own eyes looked a little watery in turn. Spike wondered if he'd be allowed to give her a goodbye hug. If Twilight would only leave for just a moment…

"Well, good luck, Rarity," Twilight said. "We're going to really miss you around here. I hope you're able to come back soon."

"Absolutely," Rarity said, smiling at Twilight. "I will be back as soon as I can." She looked back at Spike.

There was silence for several moments. Spike continued to mentally will Twilight to leave, but she just stood there next to him. Come on, Twilight…he begged silently. Twilight clearly wasn't reading his mind like Rarity had.

Rarity opened her mouth, as if to say something else, but then closed it again.

"So are you going to say goodbye, or just stand there, Spike?" Twilight teased.

Spike flushed. "I'm going to say goodbye!" Spike insisted. "I just…well, that is…"

"Oh, Spike," Rarity laughed lightly. "You're too much sometimes. I'll miss you, you know."

"I'll miss you," he replied, looking up at Rarity. "Good luck on your trip."

"Thank you," she said. Then, after one more moment's hesitation, Rarity turned to leave. "I'll call on you both when I return," she told them as she walked away. Spike's lip trembled a bit.

"Okay, lover-boy." Twilight poked Spike in the side. "Don't get too crushed. She'll be back."

Spike swallowed, staring after Rarity's retreating form.

"Besides, she said she'll miss you." Twilight pointed out. "So I'm sure she'll think about you while she's gone."

Spike looked up at Twilight. "Really?" he asked. His frustration with her for not giving him and Rarity a moment alone disappeared rapidly. "You really think so?"

"Sure," Twilight replied. "I've known Rarity for a long time now. It's obvious she cares for you a great deal and values your friendship."

Spike looked back out the library door. Rarity was gone. "She cares for me," he repeated.

Twilight tugged on his shoulder. "So instead of wallowing in sadness, how about we go be productive? Those scrolls aren't going to translate themselves."

Spike shook his head, clearing it. "Right," he said, then followed Twilight back into the library.


"Whatcha packing for?"

Rarity jumped. She spun to the voice behind her. "Sweetie Belle!"

"Mom and Dad say you're going away for a while," the little filly said, trotting into Rarity's bedroom. "Where are you going?"

"You startled me!" Rarity exclaimed. "Please remember to knock in the future. At the front door," she stressed, to make it perfectly clear. "You can't just let yourself into somepony else's home."

"But you're my sister." Sweetie Belle cocked her head to one side.

"Yes, well…" Rarity trailed off, using her magic to recollect the blanket she'd dropped in the midst of folding. "All the more reason."

"That doesn't make any sense," Sweetie Belle pointed out. Then she walked over to Rarity's dresser, and Rarity had to dash over, snatching up the map that she'd had laying out next to her lantern.

"Some privacy, Sweetie Belle, please!" Rarity hastily shoved the map into her saddlebags, which sat on her bed half-packed.

"Why are you going to the eastern border?" Sweetie Belle asked.

Rarity shot her sister a glare. "Who told you that?"

The filly shrugged. "Your map."

Rarity groaned, tilting her head back in exasperation. "This. This is exactly why you need to be more respectful. My trip is none of your business, and I would appreciate it if you'd quit snooping."

Sweetie Belle blinked. "I wasn't snooping. Your map was out for anypony to see."

"No it wasn't," Rarity explained, magicking the folded blanket into her bag. "It was in my private bedroom, inside my private house."

"Sorry, Rarity."

Rarity narrowed her eyes at her sister. She didn't sound sorry.

Sweetie Belle trotted over to the bed next. "Can I help you pack?"

"No, thank you," Rarity replied. She didn't care how haughty her voice sounded. She was tired, stressed, and emotionally spent. "You should really be getting home. It's almost dark."

"I guess." Sweetie Belle kicked one hoof along the floor. Then her ears perked up and her eyes widened. "Oh! Oh! I could come back in the morning to help!"

"No," Rarity said firmly. Though it wouldn't matter if she did. I'll be gone by then. She planned on leaving under the cover of darkness, so nopony would see which way she was going. Most everypony assumed she was going back to Canterlot for business, and she didn't need anypony asking why she was heading south instead of north. Not to mention why she wasn't catching any train. "Just leave. Please."

"Aww," Sweetie Belle pouted. "Fine then. I just wanted to help."

"I know, Sweetie Belle," Rarity sighed, magically picking up her hairbrush and comb. "But there just won't be anything for you to do for me in the morning."

"Alright." Sweetie Belle slumped her shoulders, watching Rarity pack her brush and comb in the side pouch of her saddlebags. "I'll get going then. Hope you have a good trip." She dragged her hooves to the door, and it suddenly dawned on Rarity that this would be the last she'd see of her sister for some time. A war where nopony would be safe…the princess's words echoed in her mind.

"Sweetie Belle…wait!" Rarity called, trotting after her. Her sister turned, and Rarity pulled her in for a hug. "Be good while I'm away, alright? Don't give Mom and Dad too much trouble."

Sweetie Belle hugged her sister back. "Don't worry about me, Rarity. I'm a big filly. And you'll see, I'm going to prove to you just how mature and helpful I can be."


"Ow, that was my hoof!"

Spike sat up in bed, awakened by the voices outside.

"You sure she went this way?"

"Absolutely."

"Cutie Mark Crusaders, Pony Trackers!"

"Shhhh!"

This didn't sound good. It was one in the morning. What were those three doing up, much less wandering outside of the library at this hour?

"Twilight?" Spike called. His adoptive sister was fast asleep in her bed, zonked out after another night of scroll translation. He poked her a little. "Twilight, I'm going to go check on something outside, okay?"

"Wha – ?" Twilight asked, blinking a little. "Spike?"

"I'm going to go check on something outside, okay?" Spike repeated. "I thought I heard voices."

Twilight's eyes were already closed again. "That's nice, Spike. Let me know if Mars has set yet."

"Sure." Spike rolled his eyes a little. He pulled Twilight's blanket up over her more, tucking in the sides. There wasn't any time to waste beyond that. The fillies' voices were getting farther and farther away.

Spike jogged down the stairs and out the front door into the dark. Which way…?

A gaggle of giggles answered his question. He ran in its direction as fast as his little feet could carry him. For a while, he was worried he'd lost them, but then after what seemed like an eternity of running, another burst of giggles sounded, followed by an annoyed complaint.

"Will you two cut it out?"

Sweetie Belle. He knew that voice. Spike dashed along in the direction of the sounds, nearing the edge of Ponyville.

"You're going to give us away!" Sweetie Belle insisted.

"So where d'yah think yer sister's goin'?"

"No idea," Sweetie Belle replied. "But I knew she wasn't leaving in the morning. Rarity would never pack up her hairbrush a full night before starting a trip. Plus, her lantern was out on her table with that map."

"But why would she go into the Everfree Forest all alone at night?"

The Everfree Forest! Spike's eyes flew open wide. Rarity, no! Not at night!

"Yeah, I thought only Rainbow Dash was brave enough for that sort of thing."

"That's what I wanna find out," Sweetie Belle explained, her voice growing fainter.

Spike had to jog faster to keep up with them. How the three fillies were moving so quickly, he had no idea. All he knew was that he had to catch up and then…

Spike grimaced, racing past Fluttershy's cottage into the edges of the wild forest after the little ponies. I need to bring them home. But…that leaves Rarity all alone in the Everfree Forest…

He ran faster. I'll figure it out once I've caught up to them.

"Whoa!" Scootaloo yelled from ahead somewhere amidst the darkened trees. "HEY, LET US GO!"

Spike gasped. A huge winged creature rose up in the air over the tree line. From its claws, it dangled Scootaloo's scooter and wagon, with all three fillies hanging on desperately.

"HELP!"

Spike's heart stopped in his chest at the sound of their screams. "No!" he shouted.

But the creature was already flying away deep into the forest, with Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle in tow.