The Enchanted Kingdom

by Monochromatic

First published

As an ancient alicorn trapped inside a library, Princess Twilight spent many a century dreaming of being rescued from her prison. Now, finding herself in an entirely new Equestria, she realizes she'd never planned for somepony to actually succeed...

It's easy to think about fairytales when you’re an ancient alicorn trapped in a library for centuries on end. It's easy to wonder how one would go about rescuing you, to think and devise and plot out how to free you in a blaze of glory, intrigue, adventure, and romance.

Or, rather, it’s easy until suddenly it happens and you’re forced to ask yourself the one terrifying question you’d yet to consider.

Now what?


PATREON!
Original story inspired by an old oneshot.
Chapter Art by Arctic Waters and lilfunkman// Graphic Design and Typography by Swan Song.

~ Prologue ~ The Storyteller of Luna Bay ~

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On the northwestern-border of Equestria and The Undiscovered West, at the edge of Luna Bay, rested a small forgotten village by the name of Moon Shine. It did not feature on most maps as there was nothing remarkable about it beyond twenty houses, a run-down shop, a small school, a tiny post-office, and an inn older than all of the villagers combined.

If somepony had asked North Ridge when was the last time he'd stepped into an Equestrian town, the only truly accurate reply would be thirty-two years ago. Though he'd recently shaved his beard, the wrinkles on his face betrayed his age. Many would say that the earth pony was not elderly by any stretch of the imagination, and yet, he felt old.

Thirty-two years of travels had aged his soul.

Nighttime had fallen long ago, and the frigid wind and snow from the northern mountains fell down upon his dirty cloak and the sleeping village. He had hoped to find a settlement in daylight and ask for guidance, but life had taught him hopes were a bit a bushel.

It was odd to be back in Equestria, he thought as he walked the main street, looking for some sign of life. Had things changed? Or were they all the same as when he left? He yearned for familiarity, and yet the idea of nothing having changed was disappointing somehow. No last adventures, no secrets to be discovered.

Finally, he saw some promise in the distance, in the shape of what seemed to be an open establishment, lights shining out the windows. He could not see too clearly through the snowfall, but he'd travelled enough to recognize an inn when he saw one.

As he approached, the inn door swung open and out stumbled a young unicorn stallion. It seemed somepony had drank more than they could handle.

He trotted towards the stallion and waved.

"Excuse me!" he called, straining his voice so as to be heard despite the wind and snow. "Sir!"

The stallion blinked at him, and North's nose crinkled at the stench coming off him. "Huh? You're talking to me?" he asked, studying the older stallion with wary eyes.

"I am, yes!" North replied, finding himself happy to converse with a pony despite the circumstances. He looked around and asked, "Where are we? I've been travelling, and this place isn't on my map." He looked southward, where a shore was visible in the distance. "That is Luna Bay, isn't it?"

The stallion snorted. "Hah! Figures Moon Shine wouldn't be on any map. Nothin' good ever happens in this good-for-nothing place. Sick of it." He coughed once, twice, thrice, and rubbed his runny nose with a hoof. "You should go somewhere else."

North smiled sympathetically. "I suppose drinks don't heal all wounds."

The stallion grimaced. "I didn't go there to heal any wound, old-timer. I went in there for a nice time, and then the prettiest mare I've ever seen tells me to get lost when I asked her to join me, and then the innkeeper throws me out for that!" He stopped and groaned, rubbing his forehead. "Ugh." He looked back at North. "You're not from here. What's your deal?"

"I've been away from Equestria!" North exclaimed, standing up straighter. He was a remarkable traveler, if he said so himself. "And I've just come back after thirty-two years of travels! I'm heading to Canterlot. How is Princess Amore, if I may ask?"

"Deader than my chances with the mare from the pub," the stallion bluntly replied. "And her daughter's gone crazy. Bad time to come back, old-timer."

A pang shot through North's heart. Princess Amore was an older pony when he left Equestria, so it made sense that her child—Princess Denza, she liked to be called?—was now the ruling monarch.

"Crazy, you say?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "She always did seem a bit rebellious, I suppose. What did she do to make you say that?"

"Grab a newspaper, pops. You wouldn't believe me even if I told you," the stallion replied, walking away and rubbing his no doubt throbbing headache. "I just hope Seeking Night wasn't your favorite holiday 'cause we don't need it anymore."

North watched him go. Strange things said by a strange stallion, he thought before walking towards the inn.

A sign swung above the oak door, proclaiming the worn down building as The Moonlit Inn. What a delightful name! With renewed interest, he pushed the door open and stepped inside.

As to be expected from the late hour, the dimly-lit establishment was nearly empty save for a few patrons drinking the night away. He took his cloak off, put it on the nearby rack, and when he turned towards the bar, was surprised to see no innkeeper in sight. He approached the counter and rang the deskbell.

"Give me a minute!" a voice called from inside the kitchen.

"Of course!" he called back.

That done, he turned around to find a spot to sit and, if he was lucky, somepony to share a drink with. A stallion sat by the bar, his face resting against his crossed forelegs, and the snores coming from him quickly crossed him out as a viable option. He looked to the left, saw a couple snuggling their youth away at a booth, and an aching heart forced him to look away. Finally, upon glancing right, he found the ideal candidate.

A unicorn mare sat alone at a table in the corner of the bar, and though he'd long ago stopped caring for love, he could still appreciate her beauty despite the obscuring shadow of her chosen spot. The lights were off around her, and yet she did not seem to be bothered.

The first thing he saw was her well-kept indigo mane which fell over her face, as if hiding her away. His eyes traveled down her pale gray coat, searching for her cutie mark. The sight of it torn away by three jarring scars gave him a start.

Well, well, he thought, it seems I have found the infamous heartbreaker.

He saw no drinks on her table, and though he'd been interested in approaching, he now wondered if it that was a wise decision. The last thing he wanted was for her to assume he had ill intent. It seemed he would be drinking alone that night.

Or he thought he would, until she turned and looked straight at him, and he had the sense she'd known he'd been watching her. They stared at each other silently, both waiting for the other to react, and so did North approach her when she finally smiled at him.

"Hello!' he greeted brightly, nodding his head towards the spot opposite her. "Is this seat taken?"

The mare smiled. "That depends entirely on what you seek to gain from sitting there, sir," she said, voice melodious.

North chuckled. "I can promise you I don't seek what the stallion that just left was looking for," he assured. "I only want to hear a story I've never heard before, and you look like somepony who has interesting stories to tell!"

Her smile grew, apparently pleased by his statement. "You are a flatterer, aren't you? But you're also quite right. I have stories ponies would hardly believe." She tilted her head. "You seem interesting yourself, sir. Please, do sit down."

"I will, but first, a drink! It's been a long day," he said, having noticed the innkeeper’s return. "What will I be bringing you?"

"Nothing, I fear," she replied. "I don't have my bitbag with me at the moment."

North smiled. "You can repay me with a story, then," he said, and again asked, "What will I be bringing you?"

Finally, after a moment's hesitation, she accepted. "Whatever you're having will do."

Though the innkeeper had returned, his attention was hardly on his customers and more on the newspaper floating before him. The younger stallion's words echoed in North's mind, and he found himself trying to catch a glance at the front page, but only succeeded in reading as far as "Princess Cadenza Armor the Tenth's Shocking—"

"Evening," the stallion said, putting the newspaper away and giving North an expectant stare. "What can I get you?"

North hummed, looking upwards and scanning over the menu hanging on the wall. His first drink in Equestria! It had to be a very important and unique drink befitting such a momentous occasion.

"Black coffee, please!" he said, licking his lips. "Make that two of them. One for me and one for my new friend!"

The bartender's brow furrowed slightly, and North saw him glance at the mare for a moment. When she smiled, he replied.

"Black coffee it is," he said, finally. "Anything to eat?"

North hummed again. "A daffodil and daisy sandwich should do."

The bartender nodded and headed off towards the kitchen, giving North time to idle around. His new friend was still at her table, now entertained by examining her forehoof. What an intriguing mare, he thought. There was something about her, like she were trying to hide something away in that dark corner of the bar.

His mind wandered towards the newspaper again, and his curiosity clawed at him. He'd seen the innkeeper stash the newspaper away inside the counter, so… a quick peek at the front page surely wouldn't hurt? He'd once outrun feral lions; he could certainly read a newspaper before the owner came back.

He walked around the counter and spotted the stashed object. He inched towards it, taking a moment to inspect everything else behind the counter, and froze when his eyes met the wastebasket.

Inside it were a dozen or so scrunched up newspaper pages, and though that wasn't an altogether shocking sight, there happened to be a single page that had simply been thrown away rather than crumpled into a ball. It was because of this that he'd caught the word "MISSING" printed at the top in large red letters, and yet it was not that fact that caught his attention, but the photograph printed below it. Blinking, he grabbed the paper and found himself staring at a wrinkled photo of the very same mare still inspecting her hoof at her table.

At that moment, North Ridge learned three important details about his new friend.

One: Her name was Rarity.

Two: She had last been seen several days ago near a place called Dodge Junction which, if memory served, was entirely on the other side of Equestria.

Three: A mere two days ago, Princess Denza had launched a kingdom-wide search for her.

And yet there she sat, admiring her hooficure with unusual interest.

A sound came from the kitchen: hoofsteps drawing closer. North quickly threw away the page and returned to his spot in front of the counter. It had been quite some time since his heart had last beat as fast as it did now. There had only ever been one mare he'd found more fascinating than this Rarity, and that had been his own wife.

"Here you go," the innkeeper said, a tray with a plate and two cups of coffee floating behind him. "Enjoy."

"Th-Thank you!" North sputtered, trotting to the coat hanger and pulling his bitbag out the pocket of his cloak. "How much will that be?"

The bartender again glanced at Rarity before saying, "Don't mind that. It's on the house."

North blinked. "I—Really? Are you sure?"

"Yes," he said. "Just don't upset her, or I'll have to ask you to leave."

"Of course not," North said, bowing his head before taking the tray and walking back to his very interesting table companion.

"Here you are!" he exclaimed after setting down the tray, subsequently sitting across from the mare. "On the house, too! Lucky day for both of us!"

"Glass Drops has been quite kind to me," she replied, levitating the cup from the tray and placing it before her. She then fluttered her eyelashes and added, "Though I do appreciate your intention." She leaned back a bit and tilted her head. "So, Mister…"

"North Ridge," he filled in. "And you?"

"Princess Rarity the First," she replied simply.

North blinked, raising an eyebrow. "Really?" he asked, and so did she giggle.

"No, but you cannot deny me the simple pleasure of making a stranger believe I'm royalty," she replied. Her ears then flickered and her brow furrowed. "Then again," she continued, and she lifted her hoof for a moment as if to grasp the pink broken crystal hanging from her neck, until she stopped and lowered her hoof. "I was hoping to be princess-consort. Or I may yet still be. I'm not quite sure anymore."

Rarity fell silent, staring down at her coffee, lost in thought. What was she thinking, he wondered.

"So, North Ridge," she spoke up, lifting her gaze towards him. "What is your story?"

North grinned. "Miss Rarity, I asked you that first."

"Indeed you did," she replied, "but a lady does not divulge her secrets to just anypony."

"Fair enough," North said, taking a big gulp of his coffee. When he put the cup down, he rubbed a hoof against his muzzle, deep in thought. "I am a traveler, if that tells you anything. I left Equestria as a young stallion to explore the lands beyond the western border, and thirty-two years later, I've finally come back home."

"Well! That is quite the story, if a bit too brief," she said, but the smile she wore clearly showed she was pleased. She leaned in a bit, her ears perked towards him. "Thirty-two years is quite a long time. What brought you back to Equestria?"

He did not hesitate. "My wife, Frost Flower."

Her eyes suddenly sparkled with life. "Really? She sounds lovely," she exclaimed and then giggled. "I can imagine she'd be quite worried if you've been gone for thirty-two years."

His heart twisted a little, and though it was a subject he did not share with others, he felt inspired for once. "Those who are gone do not worry about the living, Miss Rarity," he said carefully, and felt somewhat bad when the sparkles in her eyes vanished. "She was my companion not just in life, but in travel. Sadly, she's gone now."

"Oh. My condolences."

He waved her off with a hoof. "It's all right. As they say, time will heal all wounds."

Again, she seemed lost in thought, staring at her coffee. "You must miss her terribly," she said.

"All the time," he admitted. "I thought it would ease with the years, but it hasn't. I see her everywhere. It's like she's haunting me."

Rarity looked up at him, suddenly amused. "Love makes ghosts of us all, it would seem."

"How about you?" he asked in return. "Do you have somepony you love?"

It was the right question to ask for the intensity of her sudden smile surprised him. The sparkle in her eyes returned, yet something else was there, something sad, he could tell. But that smile. It was not the largest smile he'd seen, yet it was by far one of the most sincere smiles he'd ever gotten from a stranger.

"I do," she replied, sitting up straight. "I do, and I'm embarrassed to think about just how madly in love I am with her. My only consolation is that I'm quite certain she's just as madly in love with me."

A grin pushed itself onto his lips. What a painful yet heartwarming sight. It made him think of his wife, and he wished she were there. He was sure Frost and Rarity would have been fast friends.

"What's her name, if I may ask?"

Without hesitation, and with a smile, she replied, "Twilight Sparkle."

He thought about remarking on what a lovely name that was, but another question drifted into his mind. Those missing posters clung in his memory, and so did the answers he sought, prompting him to carefully ask, "And does she know you're here?"

"If you ask because of the missing posters—yes, I saw you looking at them—then no, she does not know I'm here," she replied. Her eyes softened, and the sadness in them deepened—as if that very fact of keeping secrets from her beloved wounded her.

"Miss Rarity, if I promise to keep your secret, will you tell me the story behind that poster?" he asked, having found an entryway into what promised to be a tale to remember. "I won't be leaving for Canterlot until tomorrow, and it's been some time I've shared an Equestrian coffee with a friend."

She hummed, inspecting him with her gaze. "I won't be leaving for Ponyville until tomorrow night," she said eventually, and with a tilt of her head, agreed. "All right, then. Have you heard of the Myth of the Four Princesses?"

"When I was a foal," he replied. "Once upon a time lived four beautiful princesses who slighted a terrible beast, and as punishment, he trapped three of them throughout the land, doomed to live as spirits while the remaining princess and her descendants were cursed to never find the others."

"And which princess is your favorite?" she asked, and the sudden seriousness in her expression was jarring considering the foalishness of her line of questioning.

"Is that relevant?" he asked.

"Absolutely," she replied.

He chuckled. "Then I would say the answer to be Princess Dusty Scrolls. I don't know what name you know her by, but that was the name for her in my hometown."

She frowned. "Princess Dusty Scrolls? That's the youngest of the princesses! What wonderful taste you have!" She grinned at him for a moment and then hummed thoughtfully. "Hmm… That would mean you're from Tall Tales, are you not?" she ventured, and so did she give a winning smile when he nodded. "I'm from Ponyville! We refer to her as Princess Booky back home, and—yes, yes, I know it's not the most original of names, don't laugh!"

North grinned at her. "And what does Princess Booky have to do with your missing posters, then?"

"Why, everything," she replied, and then leaned in, looking to either side conspiratorially. "I found her," she said completely and utterly seriously. "I found the lost princess, North Ridge!"

He stared at her for quite some time.

"Did you now?" he asked, amused. He didn't know what Rarity was getting at, but he could admit it was entertaining.

"I did! It's true!" she insisted, nodding her head. "I found her inside the Everfree Forest, and she now walks upon Equestria, free of her forsaken library. We've become very close, you know."

"Are you now? I must say I've met and seen all manner of creatures and beings during my travels, but I've yet to befriend an ages-old lost princess," he admitted, delighting in playing her silly game. "You have to tell me, then, what is her real name?"

And again, without hesitation, and with an even broader smile, she replied, "Twilight Sparkle."

North Ridge stared at her for what felt like years. He lifted his cup of coffee and took a lengthy drink before putting it down and looking at her again.

"The very same Twilight Sparkle that you're madly in love with, and who is madly in love with you?"

Her grin widened. "The very same, yes."

"Miss Rarity," he said, leaning forwards, "the conviction with which you say these lies is very impressive."

"Now, North! We're such frightfully good friends, and yet you doubt me?" she asked with mock-offense. "What reason could I possibly have to lie to you about such things?"

He thought about his answer to that for quite some time, staring at her coffee and noting she'd been talking for so long, she had yet to have a single sip.

"To be honest," he finally said, "I can't think of any reason, and more than that, I think I actually want to believe your fantastic tale." He gestured for her to continue. "You found Princess Twilight Sparkle, a spirit of olde, and then you freed her from her prison?"

"Not at all," Rarity replied, and in her voice he detected a great deal of pride. "She freed herself. My beloved escaped her personal Tartarus by fighting the fiercest of her inner demons, and she came out all the stronger for it."

He hummed. "I've learned in my travels that the fiercest of creatures were often forged in the harshest of fires."

"Precisely," she replied. "And my privileged role was simply to light the flame."

North took his cup for the third time, and finished it off in one go. When he put it down again, he examined her with the same curiosity as she had earlier regarded him with.

"You tell interesting stories, Miss Rarity."

She fluttered her eyelashes. "We are all stories in the end, North. I will be a fairytale, just as you will one day. Better make them interesting fairytales, wouldn't you agree?"

"I do! Very much so! That same ideology is what drove me to explore the west!" He licked his lips, wondering how many more cups of coffee would he be drinking that night. "So then, our fairytale princess saved herself from her terrible demons? What happened next?"

Rarity's response was simple. "She fell asleep."

He blinked. "She fell asleep," he repeated. "And what happened next?"

Rarity giggled, raising an eyebrow. "Isn't it obvious?" she asked. "She woke up."


~ Act I ~ Chapter 1 ~ The Princess Awoken ~

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Once upon a time, nestled in a comfy bed and somepony's embrace, an alicorn stirred awake. A yawn escaped her lips, and upon opening her eyes, she saw the night sky beyond the bedroom window, filled with stars and constellations. They were distant and faded, beautiful and clear all at once, and she named each one in her head.

At the back of her mind, she thought the stars in her dreams had never been clearer.

She closed her eyes, a smile blooming on her lips, and it felt like the soft pillow under her head had drained her every thought and worry, lulling her away into a peaceful sleep. Her chest rose and fell with every breath, as it unnecessarily had for a thousand years now, simply out of mere habit.

If one actually stopped and considered the inherent nature of dreams, the one she was currently having was stunningly vivid. She missed having dreams. This was the first she'd had in such a long time, considering that being displaced in time made it impossible to sleep.

Silence reigned for a moment.

In the dead of the night, Princess Twilight Sparkle jerked up to a sitting position, wide-eyed and completely and utterly alert to what now revealed itself to be anything but a dream. Her chest heaved and heaved with every quick breath, and her eyes darted around the unfamiliar room.

Old carved desks, mirrors, bookcases filled not with books but stacks of fabrics, this and more filled the space around her. It all looked familiar, but she was certain she'd never stepped hoof in a room such as this one.

Before she could properly ascertain the situation, she was interrupted by something stirring beneath the covers and a pair of small hooves tugging at her barrel, trying to hug as much of her as they could. She carefully lifted the bedsheets and was surprised to find a familiar silver filly curled up against her, her pale coat now bearing the same ink splotches covering Twilight and the bedsheets.

Sweetie Belle?

Sweetie was fast asleep, nuzzling her face against Twilight, and so did Twilight's memories come rushing back. The chaos magic, the barrier breaking, Discord's now seemingly baseless threat, her freedom, the fact that she could breathe now, and…and Rarity in the library, and their kiss, and the heavenly sensation of falling asleep in her forelegs.

For a thousand years, Princess Twilight Sparkle had been trapped in a lost library.

For a thousand years, she had been nothing but a spirit, doomed to wander the same halls, read the same books for centuries and centuries to come.

For a thousand years, she had abandoned all hope to ever be free of her mental and physical prison.

And just like that, she was now free.

And now she realized she was in the room of the one pony who'd gone above and beyond for her, fought dragons, and curses, and timberwolves, and all manner of demons for her.

She quickly looked to the other side of the bed, and to her disappointment, found that no pony save for her and Sweetie Belle occupied it. Though the necklace hanging from her neck glowed a bright pink, a longing sensation now filled her chest, and she realized she needed more than a quick communication spell. The only thing she wanted now was to see Rarity again.

She carefully extracted herself from Sweetie's forelegs, slid off the bed, and then stopped when she felt something—or, rather, somepony—tug at her.

"Princess Twilight…?"

She turned around to find Sweetie Belle looking up at her with sleepy eyes, horn lit up and magic holding onto the alicorn.

"Princess Twilight," Sweetie continued in a mumble, a tiny yawn escaping her lips, "where are you going?"

"I…" Twilight faltered. She didn't actually know where to look for Rarity.

"Are you coming back?" Sweetie continued, and it was obvious she was struggling to keep her eyes open. "You won't leave again…?"

A pang shot through the alicorn's heart. A voice inside whispered a reminder of the pain she'd caused, but she smothered it and instead smiled warmly at the filly. "I'm just going to go find Rarity, okay?"

Sweetie nodded, a tired smile drawing on her lips as she closed her eyes, her magic spell fading out.

Twilight turned around again, trotting towards the closed door and then faltering before it. Her instinct had been to use her magic to turn the doorknob, but she licked her lips and lifted her hoof instead, her breath catching in her throat when it landed firmly on the silver handle. Slowly, she opened the door, her ears twitching at the creaking sound of the door opening wide and revealing a dimly lit hallway.

A delighted giggle left her lips, her heart now pounding against her ribcage.

It was over. It was really, really over.

She stepped out into the hallway, closing the door behind her and trying to decide on where to go. Closed doors were scattered along the length of the walls, and her curiosity drove her to them. The first one was locked, as was the second, and when she made to try the third, distant noises caught her attention.

As she approached, the sounds of hoofsteps drifted up from below. She reached the stairs and walked down, her attention now caught by the framed photographs hung on the wall. The first was a picture of Rarity and her family, and Twilight's eyes lingered on the older ponies. Would they like Twilight? Did they even know about her?

She continued down, and again paused at the next photograph, depicting several excited ponies posing in front of a dark blue building, its walls decorated with crescent moon windows and paintings of stars and constellations. An ornate sign hung atop the door, identifying the place as "Moonlight Lullaby's Dreamland" and below it stood Rarity and Pinkie Pie, both smiling widely.

Whatever that was, it had clearly happened after she'd… she'd…

She swallowed, creeping dark thoughts clawing at her mind, and she pushed on, taking in the sight of a third picture. A smile spread on her lips, observing a photograph of all her friends gathered around Spike, laughing and talking and being together while she was…

She looked away and closed her eyes, a lump forming in her throat. She'd been gone for nearly two years, hadn't she? It was what she'd been told, and it was jarring. She didn't feel like two years had gone by; she felt like she'd argued with Rarity only yesterday, and yet here was the evidence of that rift in time, showcased in memories formed without her.

Home is where the heart is and by that adage, she thought she was home in Rarity's embrace, but now? Only then and there did she realize that home might not be as she remembered it.

And if it wasn't, then what else did she have?

She took a deep breath and opened her eyes, stepping down the stairs and pointedly avoiding looking at the other photographs. She could look at them later, she told herself, ignoring the painful curiosity breathing down her neck.

When she finally reached the last step, her attention was caught by a brightly lit room, a wonderful smell wafting out of it. She walked towards it, drawn in by the smell, and her breath caught at the sight she found.

Rarity sat at the kitchen table, her chin pressed against a hoof, her gaze lost in the distance as her magic idly stirred the cup of tea in front of her. She’s beautiful, was Twilight’s first thought, and at the same time, she found herself intimidated by the mare.

Two years had gone by.

Ponies could change in two years. Nothing was constant in life, after all, and it concerned her to think she knew nothing of the unicorn she was helplessly taken by. Her eyes then landed on the three scars marking Rarity's flank, and so did a sharp pain cross her chest, pushing her back into the hallway.

Rarity was hurt, or rather, had been hurt. Physically and emotionally, and Twilight had been at the root of it all. Hadn't Rarity said as much in the library? That they would fight and argue, not then but eventually, and eventually was now, and… and just the thought of there being an issue between them was enough for her chest to ache.

She took a deep breath. She needed to fix it, whatever the problem was. Actually, technically speaking, there was a long list of things she had to fix, but Rarity was the closest and most important one, so fixing that issue would not only ease her chest pains, but also…

A blush decorated her cheeks.

Maybe then she'd be allowed to return a certain gesture.

She returned to the kitchen, forcing herself inside, and tentatively called out.

"Rarity?"

Though she did not raise her chin, Rarity shifted her gaze towards the alicorn, and so did Twilight's insecurities creep up as Rarity did and said nothing. She simply stared, her expression focused, no doubt deep in thought. As they looked at each other across the gaping threshold that stood between them, Twilight wished she knew what the other was thinking.

Was she mad? Happy? Regretful? These and more questions posed themselves to the alicorn awkwardly standing by, waiting for Rarity to do, well, something.

Finally, she did.

"Once upon a time," she said, her voice carrying out like a storyteller in front of an audience, a smile blooming on her lips, "there was a mare more beautiful than the sun and moon themselves."

A matching smile pushed itself onto Twilight's lips.

"Oh?" Twilight asked, her smile turning into a smirk, already predicting Rarity's reply. "And she lived in a boutique in Ponyville?"

Rarity fluttered her eyelashes and giggled, like no time had passed and they were back in the library. "Well, she lived in an ancient library, but darling, I'm flattered," she replied, and yet no sooner had she done so, her expression shifted from amused to pensive. She finally lifted her hoof towards Twilight, a silent beckoning motion, and so did Twilight assent. When she reached her, Rarity's hoof pressed against Twilight's cheek and she quietly asked, "How did you sleep?"

"I slept all right, I think," she replied, her eyes focused on Rarity, trying to stop herself from nuzzling into the unicorn's hoof. It was still electric, still fascinating, the mere idea and realization that they could touch now. She then belatedly asked, "And you?"

Rarity's hoof lowered, and she turned her sights to the teacup before her, her hooves wrapping around it. She chuckled. "I slept enough, all things considered." For a moment, her eyes darted back to Twilight. "I woke up several times throughout the night."

Twilight frowned. "That's weird. You always sleep soundly in the library," she noted. Had Rarity's sleeping patterns changed in the past years?

"I do! Or did, at least, but it's..." she drifted off, or cut herself off, more like.

"But?" Twilight pressed, her concern growing.

"But all this excitement is simply keeping my mind awake!" Rarity hastily replied, and Twilight knew that wasn't what she'd meant to say.

Her brow furrowed even more. "Are you sure?" she asked, and yet even as she did so, even after catching Rarity's split-second hesitation and knowing something had not been said, some part of her felt like the words unsaid were not words she wanted to hear.

Rarity smiled again, tilting her head to the side. "I am. Really. In any case, you've enough to worry about without me adding my silly sleeping troubles onto that, hmm?"

There was something wrong with that statement, which was the idea that Twilight would mind solving Rarity's troubles. It bothered her, in fact, that something was even troubling Rarity, but she did not press the issue for now.

"All right," she said, tearing her eyes away from the unicorn and looking around the room, her eyes dancing from object to object.

Some things she recognized as she walked to them, kitchen appliances that she knew from ages past, and others she had absolutely no idea what they were. She approached a white device with a whisk sticking out of it, her eyes drawn to the several buttons built into it.

She then looked up, at the cabinets and drawers, and her eyes landed on a clock, marking the time as half past six in the morning. Again, she thought it unusual for Rarity to be awake at such an hour, and though she again wanted to fix whatever issue plagued Rarity, she relented.

Her eyes continued, as did her steps, and so did she see a little porcelain salt shaker in the shape of… Cadance?

A gasp left her lips, and she levitated the object into the air. "Rarity!" she said, turning around and finding the unicorn had been silently watching her. She trotted towards her, levitating the salt shaker in front of Rarity. "Where's Cadance? And Spike? And Luna?! Can I see them?! Are they here?!"

Despite Twilight's flurry of questions, Rarity remained calm, her eyes following the salt shaker. "I imagine Spike is sleeping near the Everfree Forest. He was very intent on staying awake to greet you, but that dragon needs his twelve-hour nap, it seems! All he does is sleep; it's rather impressive. As for Princess Cadance," she continued, taking the salt shaker and setting it down on the table, "she is in Canterlot Castle! I didn't exactly know when you'd be joining the land of the awoken, so I booked train tickets for tomorrow instead of today."

"We're going to see her?!" Twilight asked, excitedly stamping her hooves against the floor.

"Yes, and afterwards we're going to Princess Luna," Rarity continued. She raised her cup and took a sip of her drink. "I don't think she, the girls, or the Professor took kindly to all of us just up and leaving home without any sort of explanation whatsoever."

There were several things that caught Twilight's attention in that sentence. She had no idea who 'the girls' were, and she assumed 'the Professor' referred to that stallion with absolutely ridiculous theories, but her mind, intent on pain as ever, clung to one word.

Home.

Though it had been nearly two years for Rarity, for Twilight it had been only a week since Rarity had returned to the library and she still remembered the way the unicorn had nonchalantly referred to the library as her home, and now…

Now, someplace else was home to her, because Twilight had pushed her away.

Dark thoughts rose in her mind, and the pains in her chest returned, amplified by the mere fact that physical pain had been foreign to her for such a long time. She'd hurt Rarity, one more pony to add to the list of mistakes she'd made, and a groan escaped her lips as she pressed her hoof against her forehead, wishing the intrusive thoughts would go far, far away.

Her actions did not go unnoticed by Rarity, however, and not a moment after she'd rubbed her forehead soothingly did her friend immediately rise up and rush to her.

"Twilight, what's wrong?" she asked urgently, her face marred by a concern Twilight immediately wished to fix.

"Oh, uh..." Though she wanted to, Twilight did not step back, and though she wanted to lie and say all was well, she forced herself to be honest. Hiding her feelings was what had caused such a mess in the first place, after all. "I..." She gulped down, shame burning her. "I was thinking about…" The words 'what I did' caught in her throat. Perhaps she could try to be more honest some other time. "Sorry. Bad thoughts."

Rarity's concern dissipated only slightly.

"I see," she said softly, and for a moment she lifted her hoof as if to touch Twilight, except she faltered and put it down on the floor in a noticeably forced way. "Thoughts can be terrible things, can they not?" Rarity continued, looking down at the floor, again lost in thought.

Twilight stood there, quite unsure of what to do. Well, no, that wasn't entirely correct. She knew she wanted to ask Rarity what was wrong, and if she was mad, but every answer her mind concocted again and again pinned herself as the terrible cause. Oh, it was tempting enough, to step back and run away, make a quick excuse and bury these obvious signs under tons of denial, but…

But she'd been freed under the promise to not run away again, and so she would not.

Or, rather, she could run in a different direction?

Gulping down whatever trepidation plagued her, she stepped forwards and nuzzled Rarity in a comforting gesture, not prodding at what was wrong but at least, well, trying to do something. Hadn't Rarity done that for her endless times before?

Though she did not protest, Rarity visibly held her breath for a moment, and yet Twilight soon realized she didn't actually care when faced with the staggering reality of Rarity being so so soft, and smelling so, so nice.

The softest pony in Equestria awkwardly cleared her throat, her hoof lifting and pressing against Twilight's chest. "Well, somepony's affectionate today, isn't she?" she asked, amused or surprised, Twilight didn't quite know or care because, oh Princess Celestia, she was so soft.

Twilight giggled at that. "Sorry," she said half-heartedly, and making absolutely no attempts to withdraw as she tried to decipher what scent Rarity was wearing, and how it was possible for her to be so warm to the touch.

Honestly, it demanded a dissertation at least twenty—no, thirty-six—pages long to be entitled "The Impossible Softness of Rarity's Coat: A Practical Study".

When she finally moved away, a somehow nicer surprise presented itself before her in the shape of a rather flustered Rarity, which did little to assuage the grin now plastered over Twilight's face. Just like that kiss, this too had made those thousand years worth something.

Maybe…a second kiss wasn't a bad idea…?

"Rarity?! Princess Twilight?!"

Twilight's musing on a second kiss was swiftly interrupted when Sweetie Belle barged into the kitchen.

"Sweetie Belle?" Rarity asked, moving away from Twilight. "Aren't you up early! It’s not even half past seven."

"Princess Twilight!" the filly exclaimed, ignoring her elder sister, shooting straight for the alicorn, tugging at the Princess's forelegs and blurting out a rapid-fire session of questions, including but not limited to: was she okay, how did she sleep, did she sleep at all, was she hungry, did she breathe, why was she so soft—

"Sweetie Belle, sweetest, you're not even giving her time to answer!" Rarity interrupted, halting the Q&A session with a loving and magical shut of Sweetie's mouth. "And, now that you’ve decided to wake up, it would do you well to take a bath. I'd rather not have to be scrubbing ink off my floor again."

"But Rarity..." Sweetie whined. "I want to show Princess Twi—"

"You'll show her after you're clean," Rarity interrupted, levitating her little sister out into the hallway. Once her sister was gone, she turned to Twilight and raised an eyebrow. “And you, Princess?

"Oh, uh, right," Twilight said, suddenly embarrassed and aware of just how much dry ink now stained her coat. She looked around, finding a large bowl, perfect for their current need, and levitated it over. She took it in her hooves and marveled for a moment at the fact she could hold it, and then asked, "Where's the well?"

Rarity blinked. "Pardon? The well?"

Twilight nodded. "Yes, the well. You know, where you get underground water from?" she elaborated, admittedly surprised to see Rarity didn't know what a well was. That was basic knowledge. "To fill the tub? Oh! Is your tub wooden or is it made out of marble? Not that I care! I know some of the higher classed ponies care, but marble is of a lower temperature than wood so I'll need to use a different parameter for the heating spell."

Rarity raised her eyebrow. "What do you even—? A wooden tub? Heating spells? Water from a well? Goodness, Twilight, where were you raised? The middle ages?" She paused. "Ah, you were, weren't you?"

"How do ponies in the future bathe, then?" Twilight asked with an embarrassment that only deepened when Rarity giggled in reply.

"Do you remember when you asked me quite some time ago what a shower was?" she said with a smile mixed between delighted and mischievous, trotting past Twilight and out of the kitchen. "Come along! And leave that bowl behind, we won't need it."


Despite her short time discovering it, Twilight found the future—present?—to be absolutely fascinating. The bathroom had been much more modern and efficient than she'd expected, even if Rarity got upset at her for trying to dismantle the 'sink' device and then the 'shower'. Regardless, she’d already read about Equestria’s many modern technologies, mostly through Rarity’s books and magazines, but to see them for herself was another more thrilling thing altogether.

Gathered inside Rarity’s workroom, Twilight watched with riveted interest as Sweetie Belle scribbled on a piece of paper with a fascinating portable quill-and-ink device called a pen. Apparently, even if they couldn’t be refilled, their stored ink pouch could last from a month up to an entire year! And not to mention how much time was saved by foregoing the constant dipping on the quill in ink!

“And anypony can buy these?” the Princess asked, taking the pen and writing her name down on the paper. She’d have assumed that such a useful device could only be purchased by wealthy ponies.

“Yep! You can buy one at Quills and Sofas, but it’s better to buy the boxes with ten of them,” Sweetie instructed. “And they come in different colors, too! I like the blue ones the best.”

Twilight hummed. It wasn’t quite as...comfortable and elegant as her quills, but... “I wouldn’t need ink anymore…”

“No, and Inky Owl would be bereft of his family’s most loyal customer,” a voice said, and Twilight turned around to find Rarity standing under the frame of the door. The unicorn trotted towards them, took a pen and signed her name next to Twilight’s. “And poor Themis and Elara would be out of a job.”

“Come on, Princess Twilight!” Sweetie said, trotting away from the desk and towards the door. “Let’s look at the kitchen next! Scoots and Apple Bloom are coming with Pinkie soon to tell you about our surprise!”

Twilight got up, intent on following Sweetie Belle, but watched instead as Rarity made her way towards a nearby couch and lied down on it, using her hoof to cover a yawn.

“Aren’t you coming?” Twilight asked, hesitantly. As much as she enjoyed Sweetie’s company and enthusiasm, the little filly didn’t know nearly as much as her sister did, and Twilight wasn’t nearly as eager to share her discoveries with her as she was with Rarity.

Rarity smiled. “I would, dear, but I must confess that my lack of sleep is starting to get me, and the kitchen is so very far away,” she replied, sighing theatrically.

“Oh…” Twilight’s ears dropped. “Hmm…”

“Of course,” Rarity continued, sighing somehow more theatrically, “if you really want me to be there, I suppose I could drag mys—eep!” Now floating in mid-air and enveloped in the alicorn’s magic, a scandalized Rarity frowned at her friend. “Tw-Twilight! Put me down!”

“Why? I thought you didn’t want to have to walk to the kitchen,” Twilight replied, turning around and promptly leaving the room. “This way you won’t get tired.”

“I wasn’t actually tired!” Rarity protested. “I was just being a bit drama—! Oh, never mind.”

When they finally reached their destination, Twilight’s attention was immediately drawn to the assortment of objects Sweetie managed to pick in such a short time, some of which she recognized from magazines and her friends’ descriptions.

“Sweetie Belle!” Rarity exclaimed, aghast. “Fluttershy and I spent half the night cleaning, and look at the mess you’ve made!”

Twilight approached the table and licked her lips.

“Oh! This is a blender, isn’t it?” she asked, picking up a large device with a transparent container and floating it up to the now upside-down Rarity. She then turned back to the table and levitated another large object with the whisk sticking out of it. “What’s this?”

“A mixer!” Sweetie replied enthusiastically.

“Oh! Look, Rarity!” Twilight exclaimed, levitating the object up towards Rarity. “A mixer!”

“Yes, darling, so it is!” Rarity replied sweetly, trying to somehow swim her way down through the magic to the surface. “It is also quite expensive, so please put it back down, and then be a dear and do the same with me, won’t you?”

Rather than obey Rarity, Twilight promptly ignored her in favor of examining the other objects, asking questions about each one to Sweetie, and then excitedly repeating said facts to Rarity while ignoring the unicorn’s progressively half-hearted attempts to be put back on the floor.

Eventually, several knocks at the front door interrupted her questioning.

The front door opened in the distance and voices flooded the house. The Cutie Mark Crusaders came first, rushing into the kitchen and nearly toppling Twilight. Moments later, Pinkie Pie, Themis, Elara, and their owlettes arrived, the pink mare also practically throwing herself at the princess.

“Princess Twilight! You're awake!” they exclaimed, coming to a screeching halt in front of the alicorn as the owl family perched themselves atop Rarity.

“Oh, uh, good morning, everypony!” Twilight hesitantly greeted, not having expected such a reception. It warmed her heart, but also gave her a slight headache when they all immediately set off into accosting her with a barrage of questions.

Or, they did until Rarity cleared her throat, and all three pony newcomers looked up towards the floating unicorn.

"Oh, hi, Rarity!" Pinkie greeted enthusiastically.

"What's up?" Scootaloo asked, blinking at the mare.

"Besides you an' half your kitchen," Apple Bloom added.

"Oh, not much! As you can see, Twilight’s inspired me to reach for the stars!” she exclaimed, unaware of the blush that crawled up the alicorn’s cheek in reply. “Or the ceiling, more accurately.”

“Oh! That looks fun!" Pinkie gasped. "Is it fun?! I bet it’s fun! Me next, me next!"

Rarity brushed a hoof through her upside-down mane. “Well, grandeur such as mine is quite a dizzying affair, as I’m sure you can imagine. Though it’s entirely possible that’s due to the blood rushing to my head.” It wasn’t until she threw Twilight a pointed stare that Twilight finally processed the situation.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, putting the unicorn down on the floor next to her. She coughed awkwardly and then turned to Pinkie and the crusaders. "Er… Where were we?"

No sooner had she spoken did the barrage of questions resume, followed by an extremely convoluted recap of the two years she’d been gone as told by the CMC and Pinkie Pie, all at the same time. She, unfortunately, understood nothing of it besides that Pinkie had graduated to the next class with Miss Cheerilee, the Cutie Mark Crusaders had opened up a shop with three baby owls in Hollow Shades, and Themis and Elara had hatched the new Daring Do book.

“Wait, wait, wait!” Twilight blurted out, overwhelmed. “One at a time!”

“If I may," Rarity interrupted, “before we do that, would you like to meet the babies?”

“The babies?” Twilight asked.. “Oh! Oh!” She turned towards Rarity, cooing at the three little baby owls blinking at her from atop the unicorn’s back.

“Come now, darlings,” Rarity said, glancing over her shoulder and levitating the chicklets onto the table.

The three owlettes hooted joyfully, Elara flying over to them and quickly preening their feathers into a presentable state.

“They’re so cute!” the Princess exclaimed, lifting her hoof and gently petting the nearest one. Once again, a pang of guilt shot through her at the knowledge that she’d missed their birth, but once again she forced herself to push past it and turned back to the others. “Have you named them? How old are they?”

“They're two months old! And look!” Rarity said, her horn lighting up, eliciting a unanimous coo from the entire room when the chicklets suddenly sported a bow tie and ribbons. “Aren’t they absolutely precious?” She then cleared her throat and pointed at the gray owlet with white tail feathers and blue bow tie. “Now, this handsome fellow is Metis.” When he hooted in reply, she pointed to the chicklet with a white tummy and red ribbon. “And this beautiful lady is Amalthea.”

Twilight gasped, stamping her hooves against the floor. “Those are celestial bodies! You followed my naming convention!”

Rarity giggled. “Why, Princess, did you expect anything less of me?”

“We named the last one!” Scootaloo exclaimed, rushing to the table where the last owlet, the one with a green ribbon, hooted in reply. “It’s the coolest name ever! Right, Rarity?”

Rarity balked. “Ah. Yes. Quite.” She cleared her throat, smiled and pointed towards the unnamed owlet. “Finally,” she said with enthusiasm, “this gorgeous darling is…” She paused and swallowed, hesitant to say what Twilight now assumed to be an interesting name. “…Ginny.”

Twilight blinked. “Ginny.”

Well, that wasn’t as bad as she’d expected.

“Rarity!” Sweetie scolded, frowning at her elder sister.

Rarity smiled awkwardly. “Terribly sorry! Nicknames are so much easier!” She smiled a forced smile, tilting her head to the side. “This gorgeous darling is… Regina!”

“Rarity!” Sweetie exclaimed again. “Come on!”

Rarity’s smile vanished. “Twilight,” she said, tonelessly. “I want you to know that I did not condone their choice.”

Twilight giggled, raising an eyebrow. “All right, then.”

Rarity sighed the longest sigh Twilight had ever heard her sigh. “And finally, this gorgeous darling is Dame—“

“Rarity!”

“All right, all right!” she whined. “Sir Reginald von Fluffykins The Third, Esquire. There!” She turned her head around with a huff. “Europa was so much nicer for her.”

“Do you like it, Princess Twi?” Apple Bloom asked, completely ignoring the unicorn’s remark. “We gave her a name all fancy like you!"

"I think it's great!" Pinkie added, nodding her head. "And Princess Luna, too! Well, I haven't asked her, but she'll definitely think it's cool when I tell her!"

Twilight lowered her muzzle and nuzzled the three owlettes. "They're all perfect," she said, leaning back and looking to the three fillies with a bright smile. "Though it is incorrect as it would require her to be the third in a generation to be called Reginald von Fluffykins the Third."

Rarity giggled at this. "You haven’t changed at all, have you?" she said, giving Twilight what the alicorn hoped was a fond look.

No, she hadn't changed, but she couldn't help and wonder if she was the only one to have stayed the same. Her unasked question was interrupted, however, by the sound of her stomach gurgling loudly, and for the first time in a thousand years, Princess Twilight remembered what it was like to be hungry.

“Oh! Oh! We have a surprise for that!" Pinkie immediately blurted out, practically rushing out of the room. "We baked you the biggest cake ever! Follow us!"

Before she could do as such, the front door of Rarity's home had already opened and closed, followed closely by the three crusaders chasing after the pink mare.

"Wait, Pinkie! We wanna show her too!"

She heard the door open and close again, and it wasn't until silence reigned in the room that Twilight turned around and found Rarity busy putting her cooking devices back in their proper places.

"Do you need help?" Twilight asked, trotting over and levitating a few things into the air, eager to assist Rarity in her home.

"No, no, that's quite all right, sweetheart," Rarity said, putting a steel device into a cupboard and closing it. She looked around and relieved Twilight of the objects she was holding, putting them on the counter and then sighing. "It would do Sweetie good to put this all back herself later tonight."

Twilight followed Rarity out of the kitchen, excitement flurrying within her. She trotted towards a window and peered out into the streets, seeing ponies going about their normal daily routines. What did it feel like to them? Was this world as mundane and uninteresting as the library had been to her after thousands of years in it?

"I retrieved this from the library yesterday. There's no use in it staying there anymore," Rarity said behind her. "I've washed most of the ink off, though I suppose black marks on a black cloak aren't really too tragic."

Twilight turned around, and her heart twisted at the sight of Rarity's black cloak. Her eyes were involuntarily drawn to the unicorn's scars, and shame burned her at the memories seeping into her mind.

“Look at your cloak! The one you’ve been wearing every day since you came back! Look at it!”

"Why do you care so damn much about my damn cloak?!”

“Because it’s a reminder that you almost died because of me.”

“His revenge was making you come back for me.”

Her head began to hurt, but she pushed the thought away, stored it deep within her consciousness to resolve at some other time.

"O-Oh! Will you be putting it on?" Twilight asked, every syllable coming out of her probably sounding as forced as the smile plastered on her face. "It looks good on you."

Rarity did not look up from the cloak. "Really? It's been some time, but I distinctly remember you were quite fiercely against me wearing it," she said, almost absentmindedly, until she looked up, and no doubt saw Twilight's stricken expression, and must have immediately regretted her words. "B-Because clearly any matter of clothes can't compare to my natural beauty!"

Twilight couldn't bring herself to smile, looking away. "Clearly."

"Twilight, I—" Rarity sighed and stepped forwards, the cloak floating besides her. "I apologize, Twilight. That was uncalled for, but… I suppose coping habits are hard to kill, are they not?" She paused. "… Are you mad?"

Twilight licked her lips. She didn't want to argue, and a little voice inside her whispered and whispered that she was simply reaping what she'd sowed.

"That depends. What do you mean exactly?" she said finally, looking up at Rarity with a smile mustered with every ounce of her willpower, "Am I mad at you, or mad about you?"

And Rarity smiled brilliantly, and what a welcomed sensation it brought forth in the princess. The unicorn giggled, tilting her head and brushing back Twilight's bangs, drawing a pleased hum from the alicorn.

"Both, I hope!" Rarity exclaimed, before frowning and correcting herself. "Well, no, preferably more the latter than the former." She then looked to the cloak and continued, "At any rate, I'm not the one who will be using this. You are."

No sooner said than done, Rarity levitated the cloak over Twilight in a sweeping motion, covering Twilight's back and wings.

"Why do I have to use it?" Twilight asked. As far as she had been told, the custom to wear cloaks was exclusive to Pinkie's town, not modern Ponyville.

"Oh, I simply thought it gave you a mysterious air befitting your quite mythical status," Rarity said, standing right in front of Twilight and fastening the cloak around her neck. "And I do believe that an alicorn trotting around town might arouse suspicions we aren't ready to deal with quite yet."

Rather than reply, Twilight simply nodded, watching and feeling Rarity carefully tying the cloak's strings around her neck. It was still so new, still so electric to feel Rarity's careful touch against her coat; to see the mare so intently focused on her, ears lowered, eyes narrowed; and her necklace glowing brightly against her chest, the irrefutable proof that Twilight's actions had not severed everything.

It felt right. It felt normal. It felt like what Twilight had always imagined life to be like with Rarity back when escaping her library was nothing but an impossible daydream.

"There!" Rarity said with finality, sliding Twilight's necklace under and over the knot.

She patted the necklace in an oddly satisfied gesture, and when she looked up, she and Twilight gazed at each other in silence, her hoof still on Twilight's chest. They stayed there for what seemed an eternity, until she noticed Rarity bite down on her lip, her cheeks turning a shade of red that surely matched Twilight's.

Twilight wanted to lean in.

She wanted to lean in and, for a moment, it seemed like Rarity intended on doing the same.

But instead, she let out a soft nervous laugh and patted Twilight's chest, moving away before Twilight could complain about it.

"Look at you," she said softly, a warm smile spreading on her lips, like all was right for that moment in time, "Princess Twilight Sparkle, free from her curse at last."

"Because of you," Twilight replied immediately.

Rarity shook her head. "Because of you, Twilight," she corrected. Her ears fell almost indistinguishably. Almost. "Not because of me."

"Rarity…"

Rarity smiled, lifting Twilight's chin. "Now, dearest, let us not dwell on the past, and instead focus on the future, hm?"

Before Twilight could say anything, Rarity moved towards the door, lifted her hoof, but rather than open it, she gestured towards the doorknob.

"Shall you do us the honors, Princess?" she asked, fluttering her eyelashes.

Giggling, Twilight stepped forward and took a deep breath to regain some modicum of severity. However, as she lifted her hoof, all attempts at seriousness were shaken by Rarity's infectious giggling and, as she placed said hoof on the doorknob, Rarity proceeded to gasp most theatrically, shattering her exaggerated seriousness into pieces.

"Twilight!" Rarity said, stamping her hooves against the floor. "Look at you! You're touching it!"

"I know, Rarity," Twilight replied, turning to the enthralled unicorn and raising an eyebrow. "Are you going to get excited every time my hoof doesn't go through something?"

"Oh, darling, absolutely," Rarity breathlessly replied, gesturing her hoof in a forwards circle. "Come now! Don't keep me in suspense!"

With one final breath, Twilight twisted the doorknob and pushed the door open, looking into Ponyville's streets and what promised to be a new beginning.

"So, Princess Twilight," Rarity said, bowing her head, "After you?"

A new beginning with some kinks and mistakes to fix, but…

"No," Twilight said, moving aside. "Together."

She couldn't wait for it to start.


"You just stared at her?" North Ridge asked, adjusting his cloak.

She sighed, her eyes fixed in the distance, seeking something and nothing. "I did. She simply stood there, under the frame of the kitchen door like a frightened animal, and all I could do was stare."

She paused, as though she were back in her kitchen and staring at the princess of old, and then she laughed.

"Even now when I think of it… She'd been dead, North. She was as good as dead to me and the world, and suddenly she'd come back to life out of thin air, and all I could think was what happens now, what do I do, until..."

When she faltered, he pressed. "Until…?"

"Until she stepped into the kitchen," she said, "and, even if our future frightened me, for a moment all that mattered was that she was beautiful. She was so beautiful, North… and so alive."


~ Act I ~ Chapter 2 ~ The New Ponyville ~

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Though it was North Ridge who'd agreed to travel with her to Ponyville, Rarity was the one to list three conditions for their travels. First, they were to travel only during the night, when all ponies slept; second, he was not to speak of her to anypony without her explicit permission; and third, they would travel alone without exception.

With little hesitation, he agreed.

How could he not, knowing what he knew?


The sun shone over a normal Saturday morning in Ponyville.

Ponies trotted along the streets, heading out of their homes to greet the new day. Shopkeepers arranged the items on their shelves, their best wares displayed for all to see; fillies and colts played in the parks, free of homework and studies for the week; and cloaked princesses jumped in circles around unicorns, exhilarated because Rarity, I can touch the ground! Rarity, I can breathe! Rarity, I can—No, I can not calm down!

Standing in front of Carousel Boutique, Princess Twilight Sparkle stopped skipping around Rarity long enough for her to close her eyes and take a deep breath of air. Not because she had to, mind, but because she could.

It also helped that she could savor Rarity’s perfume. Speaking of which…

Her ears twitched at the sound of Rarity's giggles. A warm smile spread across her lips, and so she indulged herself by turning around and taking in one of the few sights that never failed to make her heart race.

Neither spoke at first, content with saying or doing nothing beyond looking at each other. Rarity's mirthful smile had faded now, leaving her quite pensive as her ears lowered. However, though her eyes betrayed thousands of raging emotions Twilight couldn't quite figure out, even her own demons couldn’t deny that tenderness was still to be found in Rarity’s gaze.

"What are you thinking about?" Twilight inquired, as she often did when faced with the unfamiliar. She then smiled with more confidence that she thought she ought to, and added, "And you can't say me because you've already used that line before."

A fierce blush streaked Rarity's cheeks. "W-Well, well, well! Rather forward today, aren't we, Princess Twilight?"

Twilight made no effort to hide a cheeky smile. "So, you were thinking about me, then?"

Despite the flush on her face, Rarity flipped her mane indignantly. "I'll have you know I was simply thinking how unusual it is to see you without your regalia," she huffed for emphasis.

Though she initially planned to make another teasing remark, the princess’s thought processes screeched to a halt at the realization that she was, in fact, wearing neither her golden necklace nor her crown—also known as the Element of Magic.

Also known as The Mistake, but that was beside the point.

“W-Wait! Where’s my crown?!” she asked with alarm, already imagining the hundred and thirty seven different ways Discord might have already taken it, and would wreak hav—

“In my bag,” Rarity breezily interrupted, opening her bag with a wisp of magic and levitating the crown out. She smiled teasingly. “I do hope you think I’m smarter than to leave it lying around with Discord at large.”

With great relief and appreciation for her hopefully-still-significant other, Twilight took the crown in her magic and… and so did a sinking sensation overtake her, memories flooding her like tidal waves. The other elements must have been based off the remaining princesses, she’d said, and the visual representation of her mistake had been permanently affixed to her head for a thousand years as a result.

Her magic faltered as she closed her eyes and tried to repress a groan.

“Twilight?” Rarity asked, alarmed. “Twilight, what’s wrong?”

“Thoughts,” Twilight said. “Bad thoughts.”

She blinked several times, and though she offered Rarity a reassuring smile, she couldn’t bear to hold or see the crown for much longer. It felt like a cursed object, and in many ways, it was.

“Sorry! I’m fine now,” she said before Rarity could voice concern. “It was just… like nightmares in the middle of the day. But I’m fine. I’m fine.

Rarity looked as unconvinced as Twilight felt, but whatever reservations she held, she did not voice.

Twilight levitated the crown back towards Rarity, eager to move far away from the demons knocking at her door. “Here,” she said. “Can you…?”

Rarity took it in her grasp, and instead of putting it inside her bag, looked coyly at Twilight. Then, she placed it on her head and the sight was adorable enough that it was almost able to cleanse the crown of its past.

“Shall I be princess in your stead? Darling, I’m delighted you’re finally seeing me for what I truly deserve to be!”

“Good, because I don’t want to be one anymore,” Twilight replied with a smile, even if she wasn’t entirely joking.

Unfortunately, the sight of the crown, and even Rarity’s words, clawed at her, and she found she didn’t want to have to look at it any longer. So, for now, even though Rarity looked adorable in it…

Poof!

Twilight liked it better inside the bag.

“You’re being silly,” she noted.

Rarity harrumphed. “Nonsense! You’re simply jealous I wear it better!” she said, and privately, Twilight agreed. “But I suppose we should move on. Pinkie and the others have a surprise for you, and perhaps that might take my mind off my denied princesshood.”

"Oh! You’re right!” Twilight exclaimed, her stomach grumbling. Hadn’t Pinkie said something about food?

She cantered off into the street, urging Rarity to follow. Or, rather, urging her to follow until she realized she had no idea where she was going.

With her tail between her legs, she trotted back towards the amused unicorn and with eloquence befitting a princess said, "Uhm…"

“Hm.” Rarity lifted her hoof and tapped Twilight on the nose, fluttering her eyelashes. "Shall I lead the way, perhaps?"

"Perhaps."

However, before Rarity could do so, somepony else interrupted them.

“Oh! Rarity! Princess Booky!”

They turned around, and saw an earth pony mare trotting towards them. She was waving effusively at them, and the smile on her face was much broader than one Twilight expected to receive from a stranger. A little filly trotted behind her, doing a poor job at hiding behind the mare’s legs.

"I'm so glad we didn't miss you!" the mare said upon reaching them, the filly now clinging onto the mare's foreleg and looking up at Twilight with wide eyes. "After that show you put on yesterday, I'm surprised half the town isn't here!"

Twilight gave the mare an owlish stare, and then shot Rarity a helpless one; they had not discussed the protocol to follow in such a situation. It only just now occurred to Twilight that, well, there were other ponies beyond Rarity, the princesses, and her friends.

Rarity thankfully stepped forward, offering a hesitant smile at the new arrival. “Oh, Amber! How lovely to see you!” she said at length. “And little Ivory, too!”

“And you, Rarity! I thought you moved to Hollow Shades!” Amber replied, lifting her foreleg and stroking the filly's head, who now chose to awkwardly paw at the ground. "And Princess Booky! Hello, it’s nice to meet you!” she continued, giggling and winking. “I thought you were a fairytale, but here you are! Thank you for saving us from the terrible spirit yesterday! My daughter can’t stop talking about it, can you, Ivory?” She nudged the filly. “Say hello to Princess Booky, sweetie.”

The little filly looked at the ground. “H-Hi, Pr-Princess Booky.”

Twilight stared until a light jab at her side jolted her awake. “O-Oh, uh!” She cleared her throat and, though a baffled, lowered herself to be at Ivory’s height. “Hello, Ivory. I hope the Spirit didn’t scare you.”

Ivory shook her head. “I wasn’t scared! I knew you would stop him ‘cause you’re the best!”

“Ivy, didn’t you want to show Princess Booky your drawing?” Amber asked.

Twilight leaned back, watching as Amber took out a folded-out piece of paper from her saddlebag. She made a move to give it to Twilight, until the filly protested that she wanted to give the drawing to Princess Booky, Mommy!

After doing just that, Twilight carefully unfolded it, and so did her heart swell at the sight of a extremely inaccurate but no less heartwarming drawing of herself and Ivory inside what looked like a library with only two bookcases. Twilight was smiling brightly in the drawing, too, and she somberly thought that small fact was perhaps the most inaccurate detail of the piece.

“Awwwww,” Rarity said, peering at the drawing. "My, what skill! We have a very talented artist in our midst!"

“Do you like it, Princess?” Ivory asked, trying to stand up on the tips of her hooves. “I drew it for you!”

“I love it,” Twilight said, smiling at the filly, who let out a big sigh and then a grin. “Would it be all right if I keep it?”

Ivory nodded so effusively, Twilight was afraid she might hurt her neck. “Uh-huh, uh-huh!” She then rushed forwards and hugged Twilight’s leg. “Thank you for saving us!”

A terrible voice piped up in her mind, reminding the princess that it was only right for her to save them from something she herself caused.

Twilight leaned down and nuzzled her, tears stinging at her eyes. Out of gratitude or remorse, she couldn’t rightly tell. She told herself it was gratitude. “Thank you for believing in me.” She stood up, and smiled at the mare. “And you too.”

When Amber and her daughter finally left, Twilight wiped away her tears and folded the drawing. That hadn’t been something she’d been expecting, but it was certainly something she needed.

However, when she turned to Rarity, the mare again seemed lost in thought, her brow furrowed and her eyes fixed on the alicorn.

“What’s wrong?” Twilight asked.

Rarity said nothing. She seemed to be doing that a lot, little silences that said everything without uttering a single word. She said nothing, did not share with Twilight the rushing thoughts in her head, but she did smile. Belatedly, but she did it.

“Darling, might I suggest you let me put the drawing away? Don’t want it to get dirty or wrinkle up, do we?” she suggested, and Twilight knew she was asking questions so as to avoid answering others.

“Onwards, then!” Rarity exclaimed once the drawing had been stashed away in her bag, after which Twilight followed her. Not after Rarity but beside her.

Why didn’t she want to answer? What was wrong?

As they walked, thoughts swirled around in her head, as they often did, all the time, unstoppable and immovable and more often than not terrible.

Terrible, terrible thoughts that spiralled and looped and pirouetted her into… into places she didn’t want to go to anymore, and so she would not.

She forced her mind out from its dark mazes and onto the bright streets of Ponyville and its happy citizens. The grass was soft under her hoof, and her ears swivelled towards the sounds of lives being lived around her, and of unicorns being silent beside her.

It was strange, really, to see this town that was so different from the Ponyville she'd known. Four houses, two dozen apple trees and a royal captain who’d uprooted his life and family to protect a princess who’d exiled herself. It certainly brought things into perspective, to see so vividly that life thrived without exception, went on with or without her.

Just as Rarity had for two years.

Rarity. Rarity. Rarity...

It was disconcerting to see Rarity keeping things from her, to see the tables turned. Rarity almost never kept anything from her before. She was admittedly ashamed to realize that not long ago, she’d kept centuries of secrets and thoughts hidden from the unicorn, and yet the idea that Rarity would be keeping something from her was nigh unthinkable.

And yet there they were.

She wanted to look at Rarity. Was she so quiet because she too was consumed with thoughts of Twilight? Was she too disarmed by the sudden unfamiliarity they were now confronted with regarding each other? She wanted to look at Rarity, but she did not. Instead, she turned to other ponies and with surprise found herself the center of attention of several passerbys. Stallions and mares seemed to frown at her, not with ill-intent, but trying to figure out where they knew her from, while fillies and colts gawked at her and whispered to each other.

They stared at her, young and old, and her cruel psyche reminded her of another time ponies stared at her, but decidedly less to figure out who she was and much more to shame her into giving a dragon in exchange for a mockery of peace. She swallowed, suddenly very hot under her cloak, and forced herself to stare at the ground and analyse the texture of dirt.

Stop it, Twilight, she chastised herself. Stop it.

And yet, she couldn’t stop feeling their stares. In fact, the only ones not staring at her were a couple that were too busy sharing besotted smiles to concern themselves with an anxiety-ridden princess. Who could blame them? She too could spend hours looking at her special somepony.

Speaking of which...

She really wanted to look at Rarity. In fact, she was oddly grateful towards the couple for allowing her to distract herself with Rarity, and yet she was equally irritated by just how distracting Rarity was. Her cheeks grew hot, and she became vividly aware of her hooves if only because she now increasingly wished she were able to hold Rarity’s.

Which she couldn't, but not because she physically couldn't, as was the case for a long time, but because it would be difficult to walk. Not impossible, no, but difficult and highly impractical and they would no doubt trip.

But she still wanted that affection, and that weighed on her all the more by a thousand years of lack of intimacy. Her wings twitched under the cloak, demanding to unfurl and pull the unicorn close, but instead she forced the desire away.

No.

Not yet, not now, because maybe Rarity didn't want that. Maybe she wanted to talk. Talking was still nice and pleasant and would pull her away from other very distracting ideas.

With that in mind, she turned around and Rarity’s name collided with her own when both spoke up at the same time. They stopped, surprised, and Rarity’s cheeks weren’t the only ones turning red.

"Oh, sorry!" they blurted out at the same time, the intensity of their blush only deepening at the fact.

"Oh, you go first!" they again blurted out in unison, resulting in both of them giving up altogether and looking away, trotting through the street in embarrassed silence.

Despite the flush on her cheeks, a victorious smile pushed itself onto Twilight’s lips. So, Rarity had been thinking of her! Except she might have been thinking bad thoughts, which would not warrant a victorious smile, but Twilight chose to believe they were good thoughts.

Hopefully.

They settled into silence, and yet the silence between them was anything but quiet. Rarity glanced at her every so often, sizing up the situation, and every now and then, the unicorn's tail would swish a bit too much, brushing the black cloak, and so would Rarity's blush increase and the tail swiftly return to a near-static state.

Now more than ever did Twilight hate the pesky cloak, her wings twitching and twitching below it.

"Twilight, I do hope you realize hiding your wings with a cloak becomes a fruitless endeavor if you keep trying to unfurl them beneath it," Rarity noted. "Do you want to fly to Pinkie Pie’s?"

"No," Twilight replied immediately, not wanting to disclose her wings’s true ambitions. She clamped them against her body and then cleared her throat. "What did you want to tell me earlier?"

"Oh, nothing important!" Rarity quickly said. "Don't mind me. What did you want to tell me?"

Finding herself under the heat of Rarity's curious gaze, Twilight looked towards the winding path, embarrassed to realize she hadn't actually thought of anything to say.

"Nothing important, either," she echoed.

Rarity opened and closed her mouth several times, as if about to press the issue, and though Twilight half-expected her to, she did not.

"If you say so," she said, drifting off. Silence settled again for a moment before she smiled. "I suppose we just simply enjoy saying each other's name, then."

Twilight grinned. "Well, actually, I was hoping to come up with something to tell you, but it didn't go as planned," she confessed.

Rarity hummed. "It didn't go as planned," she murmured, like a thought accidentally said aloud. "I know that feeling all too well."

Twilight was thrown off by the comment, unsure of how to reply. What was that supposed to mean? Staring at Rarity with a severely concerned expression might be rude, so instead she decided to shift her concern towards the buildings they were passing by.

What didn't go as planned? Was it Twilight? Her return? Was that what was wrong? Taking into account how she came back, there was no logical way her return could have been planned, but that didn't necessarily mean it was a bad thing, was it?

"Are you sure there isn't something you want to tell me?" Twilight asked.

A pause followed. A short pause, but long enough to be noticed.

"Oh, as I said, it was nothing terribly important. I will be sure to tell you all about it when I remember." Rarity waved her hoof dismissively. "Besides, we're quite out of time. I can see Sugarcube Corner now!"

Twilight squinted and saw the most eccentric building she'd ever been confronted with in her life. It looked like somepony took a gingerbread house, covered it in frosting, and cast a magnification spell on it. She honestly wasn’t sure what to make of it. How was that even structurally sound?

"What is that?" she asked.

"A confectionary store!" Rarity replied. "A frightfully good one, at that. I spoke with the owners and they graciously allowed Pinkie to use their kitchen for the morning. She wanted to bake a surprise for you."

Twilight's stomach growled in delight. "Bake me one? She baked me something? Why?"

"Why? What a silly question!" Rarity chastised, playfully rolling her eyes. "Because your first meal in a thousand years should be special, of course! Judging by the description, it might be the tastiest cake she's ever made."

"Ooooh! Let's hurry!"

Twilight doubled her pace, Rarity trotting behind her, and the closer she got to the building, the more her nose was enticed with the scents of dozens of tasty treats held inside. Hunger now controlled her body, and she ignored Rarity's calls to slow down in favor of rushing to the door and—

SLAM!

Twilight tumbled back onto the ground, a sad side-effect of getting intimately acquainted with a thoroughly solid object. After a moment's disorientation and a painful groan, she glared at the door with teary eyes, her hoof rubbing her aching muzzle.

Stupid physical body.

"Twilight! Are you alright?!" Rarity exclaimed, rushing to her and looking her over for injuries. "What in Equestria happened?! Why did you—" She paused. "Twilight." She failed to hide an amused smile. "Twilight Sparkle, darling, dearest, sweetheart. Did you just actually try going through the door?"

Twilight's face burned. "No, I was interested in the construction materials used in modern Equestrian doors."

Rarity giggled, offering a hoof to Twilight and helping her up. "Of course you were," she said, fluttering her eyelashes. "Of course you were."

Twilight rolled her eyes. "Stop laughing, smartypants," she scolded, opening the door for Rarity with her magic.

A dozen patrons were inside the shop, most of them already seated and enjoying their mouth-watering pastries. Just like in the streets, it seemed a few of them recognized her, particularly the foals.

"Oh dear," Rarity said, coming to a stop and gesturing to a stallion reading a newspaper. "That explains things."

A photograph of Twilight fighting Discord was plastered all over the front page, below the headline "Seeking Night Preparations Come Early!”.

"Come along, we better hurry," Rarity continued, walking further inside the shop. "We can deal with that in a moment."

Twilight followed behind her, curious about the newspaper but not wanting to stay behind. Upon reaching the counter, an older mare greeted Rarity and 'Princess Booky', allowing them to walk behind the counter and into the kitchen area. Inside, they were greeted not only by the Cutie Mark Crusaders and Pinkie Pie, but by Applejack as well.

"Princess!" Applejack exclaimed, moving over to hug Twilight. "Am I glad to see you. Thought you'd be sleepin' longer than Granny Smith in the winter, the way you hit the hay yesterday. Surprised you didn't wake up. Took us a good while to get you off Rarity."

"More like get Rarity off the Princess," Sweetie Belle giggled.

"Oh?" Twilight asked, glancing over to Rarity who in turn quite decidedly glared at her sister.

Rarity cleared her throat. "Moving on from this fascinating conversation. Ladies, will you do us the honors?"

Applejack grunted. “Better be a mighty honorable cake, Pinkie, or I’ll never forgive myself for letting you get your way.”

Pinkie giggled. “Oh, come oooooon, Applejack! Princess Twilight can have one of your apple pies later!”

“Yeah, yeah. Just get it over with, filly.”

Pinkie cleared her throat. "Princess Twilight Sparkle!" she exclaimed, loudly enough that Twilight stepped back. She moved to the center table, and only then did Twilight notice something on top of it covered with a large box. "Princess of Books and… and…"

"Ghosts!" Scootaloo whispered.

"Princess of Books and Ghosts! We have brought you here for a sacred ritual, passed down for years and years since this morning to join us in being alive, if!" She paused. Her voice fell to a whisper. "If..."

"...If?" Twilight prompted.

"If you can eat your...first meal in a thousand years!" she exclaimed, gesturing rather dramatically towards the box, after which...

Nothing happened.

Twilight looked back and forth between the box and Pinkie, who incidentally was still dramatically pointing towards the box. "Uh…?"

"Sweetie!" Scootaloo whispered urgently. "This was your turn!"

"O-Oh, sorry!" the filly exclaimed, her horn lighting up and shakily levitating the box into the air.

"FIRSTMEALINATHOUSANDYEARS!" Pinkie exclaimed, again dramatically gesturing towards the box.

In all of her tumultuous life, Twilight had never seen a cake quite like that one, and that was considering her former teacher really loved them. Though the monstrous seven tier pastry towered before her, nothing was quite as impressive as the rumble her stomach let out in reply to it. The entire thing was decorated with what smelled like lavender frosting, and caramel jewels, topped with an edible marzipan figurine of Twilight herself.

"And ya gotta eat it in one whole sittin'!" Apple Bloom exclaimed.

"She has to eat all of that in a single sitting?!" Rarity asked, shocked. "That's ridiculous! Nopony can do that!"

Twilight stepped forward, running her tongue across her lips. The smell was calling her, more intoxicating than almost anything she'd ever come across. Her wings twitched besides her, and a predatory smile twisted her lips.

"Good thing I'm an alicorn, then."


Pain.

Pain like no other, crippling her body and her thoughts, and leaving her with nothing to support her but the table she was half lying on. Agony rippled through her body, leaving fire in its wake and a tummy ache for the ages.

She would have been fascinated by being able to reexperience pain if only she didn't feel like throwing up.

"Sweetheart, I'm sorry to say this, but I honestly don't know what you were expecting," Rarity said, leafing through the large medical book Mrs Cake had provided. "Perhaps had you not devoured it in three seconds like some sort of famished savage, you'd have given your stomach enough time to tell you it was full."

Twilight looked up, groaning some semblance of an intelligible reply.

"Now, Rarity," Applejack said, patting the groaning alicorn's back. "Ain't she in enough misery already? Poor thing was just tryin' to make up for all them years of not eatin'."

"Sis? Are you sure she'll be okay?" Apple Bloom asked. "She don't look good."

"Is she gonna die again?!" Scootaloo asked, staring at Twilight as though she expected it to happen at any moment. "We just brought her back! Like, yesterday! Literally!"

"She'll be fiiiiiine," Pinkie said, washing the remains of cake off the platter. She turned off the faucet and turned to the princess. "Besides, she loved it! Didn't you, Princess Twi?"

Though her body currently made it difficult to say anything more elaborate than a pained groan, she still put in the effort and nodded because oh Princesses, that had been so good. So, so, so good she'd eat three more of those cakes were they put in front of her.

"Well, the spell should take effect shortly. Regardless, we should head out now. Fluttershy must already be waiting for us with Spike and Rainbow,” Rarity said, closing the spell book and turning to Twilight. “Are you quite sure you’ll manage the walk to the valley?”

“Yes,” Twilight croaked. “Maybe. No. I don’t know.”

A bolt of pain shot through her body. Oh, to think the day would ever come she’d miss being displaced in time.

Stupid delicious cake.

Rarity levitated a newspaper and placed it on the table. "For now, I do believe there are much more pressing matters to discuss. Namely, the fact that the entire town saw you and Discord fighting."

"We tried telling everyone that it was real, but nopony believes us!" Scootaloo exclaimed, sticking a fork inside her piece of cake.

"Seems like the story folks are fine with believing that this is some sort of Seekin' Night joke. I reckon convincing them otherwise won't be a piece of pie, too," Applejack said. She gestured to Twilight's wings. "I was at the market earlier, and two mares kept talking about how realistic the Princess's fake wings were. One of them even wanted to find her to ask what spell she used!"

"Well, the foals certainly believe she's the veritable Princess Booky, and frankly, I think this works to our advantage until we talk with Princess Cadance," Rarity replied. "I wager she's not quite ready to deal with Equestria panicking not only over the princesses being real, but Discord as well.''

Rarity got up, putting the newspaper away in her bag and brushing a hoof through Twilight’s mane.

“Come now, Miss Gourmande. We shouldn’t keep the others waiting,” she said, and stepped away when Twilight heaved herself off the table. “Are you certain you feel well enough to walk there?”

“Yes, I am,” Twilight lied through her teeth. Every inch of her body protested movement, but unlike most other ponies, she was a prodigy at magic, and her body couldn’t protest levitation, now could it?

No.

No, it couldn’t, thank you very much.

Except that it could, actually, protest it. Thankfully, though, the kind owner of the pastry shop had no qualms with helping clean up the contents of Twilight’s stomach from her shop’s entrance, but that was entirely besides the point, and had never happened, ever, period.

Thankfully, Rarity wasn’t averse to levitating ill alicorns towards Spike’s valley.

As it turned out, Spike had not left Ponyville in the two years Twilight had been gone, making a home for himself in the valley adjacent to the White Tail forest, and even going as far as befriending the town itself. No wonder nopony was terrified by the ‘strange’ dragon barging into town yesterday.

Another in the line of life-changing events Twilight had missed.

As she floated above Rarity, Pinkie and Applejack, she watched them talk amongst each other, laugh and exchange pleasantries, saw them basking in a familiarity Twilight did not share, and it was admittedly making her sick. Or that might still be the cake. But still, it was enough for her to try to look away, and instead distract herself with the modern town.

Great, she thought bitterly, who needs Discord when I’m torturing myself just fine?

She looked down again, and her heart swelled at the sight of Rarity laughing at something Pinkie said. She allowed the unicorn to fill her vision, and the sounds of her laughter to counteract the noise in her head because, if anything, she was grateful she had her back.

As if summoned by Twilight’s thoughts, Rarity looked back towards her and smiled brilliantly, her tail swishing.

“Is our pampered princess feeling better or must she still be levitated about?” she asked. “We’re nearly at Spike’s.”

“Well, I was enjoying the sights,” Twilight replied, which wasn’t a lie if one considered Rarity a sight. Which she was. Scientifically proven.

“Yes, I gathered as much from how intently you were staring at me.”

In her mind, Twilight replied with something witty and crisp that would show Rarity she could not hope to best Twilight at a game of comebacks. In reality, she let out an embarrassed noise of alarm that did little more than widen Rarity’s victorious smile.

Rarity giggled. “Do keep up, dearest.”

Applejack cleared her throat. “If you’re done turning the poor Princess redder than an apple, we oughta hurry up.”

They stepped into a large clearing, and from her vantage point, Twilight saw her dear draconian friend in the distance, lying on the grass and apparently fast asleep. Two familiar pegasi flew above him, the yellow one seeming distressed at the blue one standing on him and, well, acquainting his face with her hindhooves. Repeatedly.

“Rainbow!” Twilight exclaimed, horrified. “Why is she kicking him?!”

“She’s not kicking him, silly!” Pinkie exclaimed, standing back as Rarity levitated Twilight down to the ground. “She’s waking him up!”

“By kicking him in the face?!”

“Now, now, Twilight! Rainbow may have, shall we say, unorthodox methods, but they are tried and true.”

Nevertheless, tried and true as they were, Twilight flew up into the air and watched as Rainbow smacked a hoof against Spike’s face and then landed on the ground, next to what seemed to be dozens of saddlebags. Relieved, Twilight began her descent towards the ground until Rainbow Dash extracted a heavy-looking tome from inside a saddlebag and—

DON’T HIT HIM WITH THE BOOK!” she shrieked, beelining towards the pegasus and practically ripping the object away from Rainbow’s forehoof. “Rainbow!”

Rainbow grinned. “Oh! Princess Twi! You’re awake!”

“Rainbow, what were you thinking?!” Twilight demanded. “You could have damaged something!”

Rainbow snorted. “What? Pfff, Spike will be fine.”

“I meant the book!”

“Oh. Pffffft, that’ll be fine too,” Rainbow said, flying up and landing on the dragon’s head. She smacked a nearby scale. “Come ON, you lazy sack of gems!”

“Princess Twilight!” Fluttershy said, landing next to the Princess and trying hard to ignore Rainbow’s duel with Spike’s head. “How did you sleep?”

“Oh, I slept well!” Twilight replied. No nightmares, no bad thoughts, just blissful sleep. “I really needed it.”

“That’s wonderful, Princess!” Fluttershy exclaimed, relieved. “I was worried it would be difficult after not sleeping for so long…”

Pinkie giggled, elbowing Rarity. “‘Specially when somepony was holding onto Princess Twi like frosting to a cupcake.”

Rarity coughed. “Curious. I don’t recall that at all,” she said nonchalantly.

Applejack smiled. “Sure ya don’t, Rares. Sure ya don’t.”

“I do not!” Rarity protested, her apparent irritation melting away when Twilight giggled. “Regardless! Rather than discussing such trivial matters—” She turned towards Spike and cleared her throat. “Spikey-wikey! Wake up, darling!”

A second of silence followed before Spike’s eyes fluttered open, a yawn escaping his lips.

“Mmm?”

“Seriously?!” Rainbow exclaimed, the second book she picked up and threw at him missing its mark only because Twilight caught it in her magic. “You wake up for her?!”

“Of course he does!” Rarity replied, flipping her mane.

Twilight watched as the dragon’s lethargic gaze traveled the length of their friends, only widening and practically sparkling when it settled on her. She impulsively smiled at him, her wings twitching at her sides, and yet before she was even able to greet him, a massive claw took hold off her. She yelped in surprise, and suddenly found herself cuddled—or smushed, rather—against his face.

Twilight laughed. “Sp-Spike!”

Spike ignored her protests, simply sighing and then nuzzling his muzzle against her entire body.

“It doesn’t feel entirely real, does it?” Rarity asked.

Spike shook his head, drawing giggles out of the poor alicorn being tickled all over.

“Wh-What doesn’t feel real?” Twilight asked, pushing Spike away with a hoof so as to try to have some space to breathe.

“You, sugarcube,” Applejack replied, taking off her hat. “You bein’ with us.”

Oh.

A knot formed in Twilight’s throat. Though Spike remained silent besides her, his grip tightened around her body, as if afraid she might disappear.

“Well,” she said after she regained her composure. She nuzzled Spike in return, a gesture of affection she sorely missed, and her voice fell to a whisper, “I’m back now.”

“Yeah,” Spike finally said, and opened his eyes, treating her to the toothiest grin she’d ever seen. He put her down on the ground before sitting up on his hindlegs and stretching out. “That was a good nap, but being awake’s better.”

Rainbow harrumphed, flying up into the air and playfully rolling her eyes. “Pft. You’re never that excited to see me.”

Pinkie giggled. “Awww, are you jealous, Dashy?”

Rainbow snorted, crossing her forelegs. “Yeah, right!” she exclaimed, only to yelp when Spike pulled her in for a sudden hug.

“Awww, I love you too, Rainbow,” he cooed, grinning when Twilight and the others laughed at the pegasus’s indignant protests of not wanting any of his dumb hugs, Spike!

It was strange to see all her friends talking and joking amongst each other. And yet, in that moment, it wasn’t strange in a hurtful way. In fact, a sudden sweeping wave of affection engulfed Twilight, and she felt being able to partake in their familiarity.

“Uhm, Rainbow?” Fluttershy asked once Rainbow had been released back into the air. She fidgeted slightly. "Shouldn't you tell them about the trip…?"

"The trip? What trip?" Twilight asked, ears perking up.

Rainbow blinked. "The trip to… Oh! Yeah! Princess Twilight!” She flew up close to her, clapping her hooves. “Okay, so, listen, Spike and I decided we’re gonna go to Canterlot too, so we’re leaving tomorrow morning and—”

Rarity gasped. “You are?!” She turned to look at the dragon. “Spike! Is this true?”

Spike crossed his arms, looking away. “Yeah, we are. I figure it’s been long enough and…”

He nodded towards Twilight.

Rarity stamped her hooves against the ground, her tail swishing behind her. “Darling! That’s tremendous news! Sensational, even!”

“Wait, what’s going on?” Twilight asked, wanting to share in the excitement. “Why wouldn’t you want to come in the first place, Spike?”

Spike grunted, still looking away. If Twilight didn’t know better, which she did, he looked just as he used to when she caught him misbehaving. “Long story, Twi. Don’t worry about it.”

“Well, I’d like to hear it anyway,” Twilight insisted, her curiosity melting into concern. Had something—Well, of course something must have happened in the thousand years she was gone, but what would drive Spike away from their true home? “This seems important.”

Rainbow landed in front of her. “It is! And you’ll hear all about it ‘cause it’ll take us like five days to get to Canterlot by hoof aaaaaand you’re coming with us!”

Twilight's ears perked up. “I am?”

Rarity frowned. “She is?”

Pinkie giggled. “Ooooooh, fun! Can I come too?!”

“No, no, no, wait!” Rarity interrupted. “Pardon me, darling, but she can’t go with you! If you’d taken the time to suggest this yesterday, then perhaps! But may I remind you I’ve already bought expensive train tickets for all of us?”

Rainbow waved her off. “Pshhhh, big deal, Rares. I’ll pay you back for the tickets, no biggie.”

“Rainbow, that’s not the point!” Rarity shot back.

Rainbow deadpanned her. “Rares. Trains are, like, total snooze-fests. Princess Twilight’s been stuck in a library for like a jillion years. The last thing she wants is to be stuck in a train for half a day! Besides, she definitely likes this idea better, right, Princess?”

Twilight faltered, chewing on her lip.

On one hoof, she badly wanted to see Cadance and be back home.

On the other hoof, she’d really missed Spike, and five days was barely enough—in fact, it was probably too little—time to catch up on whatever she needed to catch up on. Including his aversion towards Canterlot.

“Yes,” she finally said, determined.

“What? But, Twilight!” Rarity complained.

In return, Twilight smiled reassuringly. “It’s not a problem, Rarity. I’m sure Cadance can wait a few days so Spike can get there, and I’m sure we’ll have a good time, you’ll see.”

And to this, Rarity hesitated.

“We?” she asked, and so did Twilight’s heart drop.

Wait, what?

“What do you mean ‘we’?” Twilight asked at once, whatever excitement she’d held fading. “Yes, we. You’re coming with us! Aren’t you?” She turned to Rainbow. “Isn’t she?” Back to Rarity, who now looked away. “Rarity! But—!”

“I don’t know, Twilight,” she said, helplessly.

“What’d you mean you don’t know?” Rainbow asked. “Why wouldn’t you want to come?! I’m paying you back for your ticket, come on! It’ll be fun!”

“It’s not that!” Rarity whined with irritation, turning to the two mares. “I have commitments! I arranged to deliver a dress to a client in Canterlot tomorrow night, and it’s not as though I can deliver a letter rescheduling today! And, not only that, but it’s unfinished, and I was hoping to finish it on the train ride. I can’t do that if we’re traveling on hoof!”

“Psh, we can figure it out! Fluttershy has mad sewing skills!” Rainbow insisted. “And this is Twilight. I’m pretty sure your client will understand, and besides! All you have to do is pull one of your all-nighters again and finish it tonight, whatever. ”

“Rainbow, honestly, I barely slept last night! I’ll fall asleep halfway! And, once again, that’s not the point!”

Rainbow pouted. “Come ooooon! Stop making excuses!”

Rarity snapped.

“I’m not making excuses!” she said, a fire in her eyes that, admittedly, forced Twilight to step back. She stamped her hoof against the ground. “I can’t just drop things anymore for this! I have a business, and clients, and responsibilities to take care off! I can’t grind my plans and my life to a halt again!

And Rainbow didn’t reply.

In fact, no one else replied at first, and if they did, Twilight couldn’t hear them over the noise in her head. The noise drowning out everything but Rarity’s almost resentful words.

“Wow, Rarity,” Rainbow said, finally, stepping back. “Nopony said any of that. It’s just a trip. I… I just thought you’d like to come. Sorry…”

A wave of realization swept over Rarity, and now she stepped back as well, her eyes flitting between the almost shocked stares being directed at her. “I-I— I apologize, I didn’t—” She drifted off, frustrated.

“It’s fine.”

Twilight hadn’t processed the fact she’d spoken until everypony turned to her. But she’d said it. Because it was true. It was fine. Rarity didn’t want to spend time with her, or change her life for her, and it was fine, it was fine! It was fine.

It would be fine because Twilight would fix it.

Just like she’d fix everything else.

Rarity seemed taken aback. “Twilight?”

“It’s fine!” she repeated, forcing an almost manic smile. “I understand. You have your clients, and your life. You don’t have to come”— For a split-second, the words ‘if you don’t want to’ waited on her tongue, but she changed them. She wasn’t brave enough for that.—“If you can’t.”

“Twi’s right,” Applejack said. “Rarity’s business is important, and everypony knows customers tell one friend about the good apple they ate, but tell the entire village ‘bout the rotten apple they tasted.”

“Exactly,” Rarity said, though the intensity in her voice was long gone. An array of emotions again warred in her eyes, and Twilight could plainly see that the unicorn was avoiding meeting her gaze.

“Well.” Spike cleared his throat and clapped his hands. “I guess that’s settled…? So!” He got up. “I need to go get gems for the trip. Anypony coming with me?”

“Ye-Yeah!” Pinkie said, eager to get away from any discussions. She jumped up onto his tail and sat down. “Off we go!”

Rainbow, similarly, moved towards Spike after one last awkward apology to Rarity. She flew up into the air and settled herself atop his head, talking about a good gem spot she’d found.

Twilight herself didn’t quite know what to do.

“Why don’t you go with them, Twilight?” Rarity asked. She smiled apologetically. “I think my exhaustion might be getting to me, hm?”

“I… Okay,” Twilight relented.

“I’ll go with ya, Rarity,” Applejack said. “Been puttin’ off my chores at the farm long enough.” She rubbed her brow and moved in to embrace Twilight. “I’ll be seein’ you tomorrow, Princess!” She then hugged Fluttershy. “Don’t be out too long, you two.”

Rarity said nothing more beyond asking Fluttershy to take Twilight home later, and then offering the alicorn her crown back should it be needed. Once that was done, she merely smiled and trotted off, leaving Twilight to stand there and watch her go.

“She’ll be all right.”

Twilight looked to her side and found Fluttershy smiling warmly at her.

“And you’ll be all right too, won’t you?”

Twilight smiled. “I will.”

Sooner or later, she would fix everything. Sooner or later.


Night had fallen by the time she returned to Rarity’s house.

And an old feeling returned with it. Or was it new now, considering how much time has passed since she’d last felt it? Whatever the correct definition, Twilight was now feeling tired, her body heavy from all the movement during the day.

The day had gone by eventfully, or at least eventfully enough to keep her thoughts away from Rarity’s outburst. Pinkie had taken her to dinner at a lovely restaurant with the others, and she’d managed to confirm that yes, indeed, the entire population of Ponyville was convinced she was that good of an illusionist.

It was strange. All her life she’d hated her wings and the royal status they’d thrust upon her; now she was a bit disappointed ponies saw her as a pony and not a princess.

After dinner, they spent more time with Spike and Rainbow, as well as the Themis and Elara’s family who’d finally emerged with the sunset, and then she’d finally been escorted home by Fluttershy.

Elara, Themis and their owlets elected to sleep outside, and so silence greeted her when she stepped into Carousel Boutique. She closed the door behind her, and was reminded of how much she hated silence. The library had always been silent.

“I’m back!” she called, stepping further into the room, eager to talk to Rarity. Was she doing better? Maybe she’d changed her mind about the trip?

Silence again.

She pursed her lips, and trotted into the kitchen, finding it empty. Rarity’s workroom turned out to be devoid of Rarity too, and so did worried thoughts filter into her mind. Had… Surely, Discord hadn’t...

“Rarity?” she called out. “Rarity, I’m ba—!”

“Princess Twilight! You’re back!”

She turned around and saw Sweetie Belle rushing into the room.

“Oh, Sweetie!” she exclaimed. That was a relief.

“How’d gem-hunting go?!” Sweetie asked. “Is it true you’re going with Spike and Rainbow on a trip?!” She pouted and sat down on the floor, crossing her forelegs. “Rarity said I couldn’t go…”

“It is a long trip, Sweetie. And dangerous, too. She’s just looking out for you,” Twilight said, sympathetically. “Speaking of which, where is Rar—?”

Crack!

“Ah, Twilight, you’re back.”

Twilight yelped in surprise, turning around and tumbling down at Rarity’s sudden appearance. Her chest heaved, like her heart was about to leap right out of her chest, and yet Rarity had exactly no remorse for what she’d done. Instead, she simply stood there, smiling devilishly.

Rarity! You scared me!Twilight reprimanded, getting up and frowning at the unicorn. “That wasn’t funny.”

Sweetie Belle giggled. “It was a little funny.”

“I agree,” Rarity said.

“Well, I’m glad you can still teleport, at least,” Twilight said, her own frown turning into a smile. “I didn’t think you’d actually keep practicing with me gone.”

Rarity fluttered her eyelashes. “But of course! How else was I supposed to impress you with my progress once you returned, hm?”

Twilight blushed, leaning in. “Well, That’s ni—”

The sound of Sweetie clearing her throat interrupted her, and she quickly leaned back.

“Right!” Rarity exclaimed, clearly not blushing like Twilight. “It’s getting late, isn’t it?” She raised an eyebrow at Sweetie Belle. “And you should be in bed, young lady. Off you go!”

Once Sweetie begrudgingly left to get ready for the night, Rarity turned to Twilight. “And you too for that matter. At what time are you and the others supposed to be leaving for your little expedition?”

“Er... Seven in the morning."

“Seven? My stars, I barely slept! Do they want to kill me? Well, regardless, I talked with Applejack about it,” Rarity said. “She’s considering joining you all.”

“Really? That’s great!” Twilight said. If Applejack wanted to come, then maybe… “And you…?”

Rarity winced. “I… shan’t. I do have matters to attend to, darling, as I said earlier,” she said softly. “I do owe Rainbow an apology. I’m not sure what got over me. But...” She paused for a second, her brow creasing in thought.

“But…?”

“But it’s in the past now!” she said with finality. “And you need to get yourself to bed. Come along!”

Twilight followed Rarity upstairs, admittedly looking forward to sleeping again, but her path towards Rarity’s room was interrupted when Rarity stopped in front of Sweetie Belle’s room. With slight hesitation, Rarity peeked inside before turning to Twilight.

"I'm assuming you don't intend on sleeping in the library,” she said, “...So you're free to sleep in Sweetie’s room for the night.”

"Sleep in Sweetie’s room?" Twilight asked, frowning a bit.

Rarity nodded. “I’ll tell Sweetie to sleep in mine with me.”

Twilight didn’t reply. She didn’t want Sweetie to sleep in Rarity’s room. She wanted the filly to be able to sleep in her own room, while Twilight herself slept in Rari…

Her cheeks heated up.

What was the protocol for situations like these? Twilight had slept in Rarity’s room the night before, so it wasn’t wholly unreasonable for her to sleep there again, especially when Rarity was her… Well, right now, she wasn’t entirely sure they were officially anything, and if they were, Rarity wouldn’t be offering Sweetie’s room, so that…

Ugh.

"All right," she said finally, even though it wasn't what she wanted at all. "Thank you."

As it turned out, Sweetie Belle herself didn’t want to sleep in Rarity’s room either, but for wholly different reasons. She wanted to sleep wherever Princess Twilight was, and Twilight found some happiness in the fact that at least somepony in the house was thrilled with the arrangements.

It’ll be so much fun, Princess, she’d said as she snuggled under the covers next to Twilight. Rarity’s gonna be so jealous, she’d assured. Why don’t you tell me a bedtime story? she’d begged.

Ten minutes into the story, Twilight privately admitted she was impressed—and a bit offended—at how quickly she'd put Sweetie to sleep.

In the dead of the night, submerged in darkness and uneven snores, she stared at the ceiling and thought. She did that all the time, and more often than not, as they had in the last year, her thoughts meandered towards her.

She laid out the day in her mind, the many moments Rarity had held back, pushed something away from the light, signs that pointed towards something terrible, culminating in… the outburst, if that was an apt name for it.

How painfully fascinating that she'd literally been kept away from Rarity, and yet she’d never felt more distant than standing next to her during the confrontation.

Did Rarity not want to have anything to do with her anymore?

Did she not want to help? Was Twilight imposing on her? Or worse, had she… had she really stopped loving her in those two years…?

She thought back to the library. To that awful day, to… She hadn’t been there since reuniting with Rarity, and if she was honest with herself, she didn’t want to go back. She was afraid of it; it made her stomach churn, just the thought of… of what she’d become… and… it had been his fault. Discord had caused this. It had been all him.

Hadn’t it?

But then, memories resurfaced.

Nightmares in broad daylight, unbidden and unrelenting and excruciating.

Memories of the library, and yet...

And yet they were new, she thought at first. Unfamiliar, yet familiar. Memories of herself in the library, walking, feeling angry and bitter and resentful towards… Rarity? Towards herself? Towards everything?

The memories continued, like flashes, one after another, and yet she still couldn’t place the time until she saw splattered ink and black hoofsteps on the floor, and then she knew.

And then, like a dam had broken, more and more memories flooded her mind, of two years that seemed had not been fully suppressed. Her head began to ache, and so did a groan escape her lips.

She opened her eyes, trying to dispel the images, push them away, and though she succeeded, she feared closing her eyes would only bring them back. She wished she were able to fall asleep, but she was more awake than ever, and with the pain in her head and the ache in her chest, she resigned herself to a single fact.

She didn't want to sleep.

In fact, she knew very well what she wanted to do.

After several moments of consideration, she rose from the bed, careful not to wake Sweetie Belle as she made her way out of the room. She opened and then closed the door behind her, and exhaled a breath of relief when she was out in the hallway.

To her relief, light shone out of the unicorn's room, prompting her to tiptoe over and peek inside, finding Rarity lying on her bed, squinting at her sketchpad from behind her glasses.

For a moment, Twilight was perfectly content with simply watching her.

She’d hardly loved Rarity from the very beginning, but she had been fascinated by her from the start. The one element in her life she did not fully understand, the hurricane who'd stormed into a quiet desert, only to settle down and turn it into an oasis.

"Far be it from me to tell you what to do, as I too quite enjoy my own appearance, but might I suggest you admire me from a more comfortable location? You were walking around all day, after all," Rarity said, still drawing away on her sketchpad. Her eyes flickered towards Twilight, and she smiled. "I gather the sleepover isn't going too well?"

Oops.

Twilight walked into the room, smiling awkwardly. "Sweetie Belle fell asleep halfway through the bedtime story I was telling her."

Rarity raised an eyebrow, levitating her glasses on top of her head. "Really? That's not like her. Whatever were you telling her about?" She smiled mischievously. "The inner mechanics of thaumaturgic kinetics?"

"No, though that's a very interesting topic!" Twilight replied, standing in front of the bed. "I was explaining the architectural differences between modern Ponyville and the houses the Cobbler family built."

Rarity grinned. "Ah, mystery solved, then.” She gestured to the other side of the bed. "But, personally, I think that sounds fascinating! If you can bear a few minutes while I finish my design, I'd love to hear all about it once I'm done."

Twilight stamped her hooves on the floor. "Really?! I wanted to write a small dissertation on it; you can help me outline it, and—" She cut herself off. "And you won't fall asleep?"

"Twilight! Perish the thought!" Rarity gasped. "When have I ever been so impolite?"

"You fell asleep halfway through the foreword of Feyn Mane's Treatise on Quantized Enchantments."

Rarity coughed. "Well! Can you blame me? Who wouldn't be lulled to sleep with a voice as melodious as yours, hmm?"

Twilight giggled. "Right," she said, climbing up on the bed and lying down near Rarity. Not as close as she'd like, but not too far away either.

Even though she'd been wide awake and terrified of closing her eyes not even ten minutes ago, a sudden drowsiness overtook Twilight. She was comfortable now, like she was right where she needed to be, and the soft sound of Rarity's pencil scratching against paper was proving to be a soothing lullaby protecting her from ill thoughts.

If Rarity allowed her to sleep there yesterday, then perhaps she'd allow it again? It was a large bed, after all, and both of them and Sweetie apparently fit in it.

And if she pretended to have fallen asleep…

Determined to put her plan into motion, she paced her breath and cuddled into the bed, simulating the act of sleeping. Except she hadn't done that in a while. Could she even fake sleep anymore? Would pacing her breath be too obvious? But if it was too irregular, it would signal activity and unrest, and she couldn't pass it off as a dream since ponies only dreamt during the REM cycle of sleeping, which itself didn't start until ninet—

"Voila!" Rarity's voice chimed, jolting Twilight into a static position.

She heard Rarity putting the drawing on her nightstand, and for a moment she hoped the unicorn wouldn't get too close, as her own rapid heartbeat would no doubt betray her.

"Twilight?" Rarity asked after a while, and Twilight bit down on her lip. A few more seconds passed before Rarity's lovely voice sounded off again, the unicorn's hooves rubbing against her back. It was a heavenly sensation, and she was tempted to break her deception if only to hum in delight.

"Twilight, sweetheart? Did you fall asleep?" Another moment of silence before Rarity continued. "Well! I wish I could be cured of my insomnia that quickly. I suppose I have no choice but to let her sleep here, then."

If Twilight hadn't been so busy delighting over the fact that her plan apparently worked, she might have realized that was a very odd statement to say aloud. Instead, she allowed a satisfied smile to curve her lips and let out a content giggle—which she immediately tried to play off as a snore.

"Goodness," Rarity continued, tracing circles on Twilight's back, "that must have been the oddest snore I've ever heard! If I didn't know better, I'd have sworn Twilight just giggled! How truly fascinating."

Cursing herself, Twilight bit down on her lip even more, a desperate attempt to swallow down more of the giggles that wanted to come out. To her immediate horror, Rarity adjusted herself so as to brush back Twilight's mane and reveal her face.

"And look at this!" Rarity exclaimed. "She even blushes and smiles like a filly when she's asleep! This is absolutely remarkable!"

"All right, all right!" Twilight exclaimed, sitting up and puffing her cheeks out. So much for that plan.

Rarity, however, giggled with delight. "Awwww, is our silly princess pouting?" she said, imitating Twilight's expression, her ears lowering. "Might I venture she take acting classes elsewhere than with the Heart’s Haven changelings?"

"I don't need acting classes!" Twilight protested. "And I am not silly."

"Oh?" Rarity asked, lifting Twilight's chin with her hoof. "Now, now, you must admit you're a teensy bit silly, at the very least."

Twilight smiled. "Maybe a little."

A warm smile swept across Rarity's lips, and for a moment, like earlier that day, Twilight wanted to lean in to kiss her. However, before she could, Rarity looked away towards her desk.

"I..." She levitated a worn-out paper from her nightstand and then took it in her hooves, pressing the paper against her chest. "If it makes you feel any better, I have something very silly to show you. The little filly from this morning inspired me to look for it," she said, a blush creeping up her cheeks.

"What is it?" Twilight asked, ears perking up. This had her attention.

Rarity seemed hesitant. "You must promise you shan't laugh!"

Twilight shook her head. "I won't laugh, I promise."

Biting down on her lip, Rarity finally detached the paper from her chest and hoofed it over. Twilight turned it around and admired a very old drawing entitled 'The Princess and I', depicting an indigo maned filly having a costumed tea party with an ancient—and also extremely inaccurate—alicorn princess.

Even when the drawing inspired many emotions within her, Twilight didn’t initially know what to say.

"Do you like it?" Rarity hesitantly asked, and for a moment she reminded Twilight of the little filly from earlier, seeking approval from the one she so admired.

Twilight licked her lips and frowned. "I have some thoughts about it."

Rarity sat up straight, disconcerted. "...And those are?"

"There's at least fifteen things I can think of that are very wrong with having me wear a dress made out of book pages."

"Twilight! I was a filly! And what do you expect when you're called Princess Booky!" Rarity protested with a huff. "An 'oh, it's the most fabulous thing I've ever seen, Rarity,' would have sufficed."

Twilight laughed. "I think it's wonderful," she said, looking over the drawing with delight. When she put it down on the bed, she turned to Rarity and raised an eyebrow. "I guess meeting the real Princess Booky isn't something little Rarity was expecting."

Rarity hummed. "Oh? Dearest, you underestimate me."

"Do I?" Twilight asked, inching a bit closer to Rarity. "Maybe a little."

"Just a little," Rarity replied, and the way she smiled, soft and loving and playful, was enough to hitch Twilight's breath. "You honestly believe that I didn't plan all of this? That I didn't intend as a filly to grow up into the most beautiful mare in Equestria—"

"The most beautiful mare in Equestria. Right,” Twilight said with an insolent smile as she inched closer still.

Rarity fluttered her eyelashes. "The most, yes. I'm delighted you agree," she whispered, and she was so close now, all Twilight had to do was move just a bit more and lean in. "Grow up into the most beautiful mare in Equestria who would clearly meet and win the heart of the fabled princess."

"Clearly," Twilight replied, heart hammering in her chest as she moved closer one last time.

Bad thoughts rose in her mind, reminding her of Rarity's earlier unsettling actions, and yet...

And yet, at the same time, Rarity's mere presence acted as a barrier against them, kept Twilight safe from her own demons if only because their physical proximity forced other more heady thoughts into her mind.

"So…" Twilight said.

"So…?" Rarity replied, and for once, she leaned in slightly, so close their lips would touch if either one dared.

“So... you're responsible for all of this, huh?"

And then Rarity froze, her eyes widening.

And then she pulled back.

She pulled back, as if Twilight had struck her, and when she caught herself, she laughed nervously. "We-well, be that as it may," she stammered, her ears clamped against her head. "Be that as it may,” she repeated, looking around for the drawing and then levitating it back on the desk, "it is quite late, and you have to wake up early for your expedition!” She faltered. Briefly, but she did. “You should probably go back to your room."

To this, Twilight didn't know what to say.

She was sure that in ten minutes, her brain would torment her over it. She was sure that sleep would be hard to find that night, asking herself over and over what she did wrong, what was her mistake now, but in that moment, she did nothing but acquiesce.

"Yes, I probably should," she repeated without much emotion.

Without another word, but with a heavy heart, she got off the bed, and now did the questions burn her. Had she been too forward? Maybe Rarity didn't love her anymore? There it was again, plainly stated, the question she feared. She'd yet to say it, hadn’t she? Not once since they'd been reunited had Rarity uttered the three words, and perhaps now the unicorn had realized she didn't love Twilight anymore.

But, even so, Twilight couldn't help what she felt, and even at a cost, she didn't want to hide it either—not anymore.

She stopped, looked back, and spoke up.

"I love you.”

I love you, she’d said, and though this was and had always been very much true, even back when she didn’t realize it yet, it still hurt when Rarity hesitated in her reply, if she’d even planned one.

Finding she was too afraid to wait and see if Rarity was ever going to reply, Twilight spoke up again. "We-Well, good night. I'll see you tomorrow?"

Sitting on her bed, ears still lowered, Rarity's smile was much less bright than before.

"I would hope so.”

Twilight nodded, turning around to leave, and she wanted to, but…

But something was wrong. Something was wrong with Rarity, something Twilight didn't know about, and it would eat her alive. It would eat her alive because she couldn't fix a problem when she didn't know what the problem was.

Even if it scared her.

Even if there were a million other solutions she'd want to try rather than the most effective and terrifying one.

"Rarity?" she asked carefully, turning around to face the unicorn. "Is something wrong?"

Rarity sat up straight, pawing at the sheets. "Wh-Whatever do you mean?"

"Is it me?" Twilight asked, her voice steady. “Is it because I’m back?”

"No! No, no, no! Twilight, dearest, never, absolutely not!" Rarity said immediately, horrified. "Don't even think that!"

"Then what's wrong?" Twilight asked again, finding little relief in not being at fault.

"I..." Like a foal caught in her lies, Rarity looked down, away from the seeking stare. "I don't know."

I don't know.

Who knew these three little words could be akin to daggers?

Tears stung at Twilight's eyes, and she looked away. "You don't know," she repeated, slowly and painfully. "I can't fix this if I don't know what's wrong, Rarity."

Rarity's disposition changed. "Oh, sweetheart… Come here." She lifted her hoof, a beckoning gesture, and what could Twilight do but walk back to the bed and climb up right into Rarity's waiting embrace. Rarity nuzzled and held her close, her voice falling to a whisper. "Oh, my darling, you have nothing to fix, you silly pony."

"I am not a silly pony," Twilight half-heartedly mumbled against Rarity's coat.

Rarity chuckled sadly, stroking Twilight's mane. "No, you are not. I think I might be the silly one," she confessed.

When Twilight pulled back, a pained smile decorated Rarity's lips. She lifted her hoof and pressed it against Twilight's necklace, her eyes focused on the pendant.

"I think I need time," she murmured with finality. She looked up and wiped away Twilight's tears, letting her hoof rest on the alicorn's cheek. "Time to gather my thoughts and sort myself out. That forsaken magic made us wait two years, didn't it? So what's a little bit more waiting?"

"And then you'll tell me what's wrong?" Twilight asked.

Rarity nodded, looking solemn. "Yes. In fact, I shall make you an entire diagram explaining 'what's wrong', and afterwards, we shall sit together and write a dissertation on it to be entitled 'The Art of What's Wrong'. How does that sound, hmm?"

Twilight giggled at the stark contrast of emotion in Rarity’s voice and absurd content of her words. "Depends. How big are we planning on making it? I have a sixty page minimum."

Rarity grimaced. "Oh dear, I'm regretting my words."

"That's what I thought," Twilight replied, giggling and leaning in to nuzzle her again. When she pulled back, she licked her lips, happy that at least some of the weight on her heart was gone.

Rarity sighed. "Would you like to know why I didn't sleep at all? I kept waking up, expecting to be back in Hollow Shades and find out that this was all just a cruelly vivid dream." A sincere smile bloomed on her lips. "I'm surprised you didn't wake up considering how many times I kept tapping your shoulder to make sure you were actually there."

Twilight looked at her for a moment. "I… Can I stay here again tonight?"

Rarity didn't hesitate. "You are most welcome to do so."

Some time later, after the lights dimmed and two tired ponies lay under the covers, Twilight felt rather lonely until she took the plunge and scooted closer to Rarity, enveloping her in a timid hug. She feared Rarity would react aversely, push her away, but when the unicorn seemed to ease into her embrace, Twilight allowed herself a breath of relief.

She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath and the wonderful scent of Rarity's perfume. For a moment, she was scared she would never be able to let go. And as soon as the thought arose, so did the familiar insecurity, the guilt that plagued her for as long as she remembered.

I don't know, she'd said.

"Twilight?" Rarity asked, turning around to face Twilight.

Twilight's thoughts came to a screeching halt, but only for a moment before they came back at full-force. Her mind begged for her to do anything but to open her eyes. It begged to keep pretending to be in a wonderful illusion, to avoid what was certainly coming which was Rarity asking her to please move away, to please let go, to go back to Sweetie's room.

She willed her eyes open.

"Yes?" she asked, and when she did so, Rarity hesitated before leaning in, her forehoof resting on Twilight’s chest as she pressed their lips together in a gentle kiss.

Twilight’s heart leapt in her chest. It wasn’t a passionate kiss, yet this did not make it any less emotional. It was gentle, tender, and Twilight was endlessly content with following whatever pace Rarity wanted to take.

It was simple, and for now, that was enough.

When it broke off, their lips brushed together for a moment, shaky breaths intermingling before Rarity nuzzled Twilight's neck, allowing Twilight to wrap a wing and foreleg around her.

"I don't know what's wrong," she said, "but I do know that I love you, and… and I rather think that's a good place to start."

A wave of affection overwhelmed Twilight. She thought back to what Rarity said earlier. They'd waited two years, torn apart by internal and external forces, and in the end, the unicorn was right. What was waiting a little more compared to two years?

Twilight waited a thousand to be free of the library.

For Rarity, she’d wait a million.

~ Interlude I ~ A Near-Death Experience ~

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Face to face, he saw her only once.

In his dreams, however, he’d seen her nearly every other night; in dreams where his hindlegs still worked, still moved, where he was not crippled for life.



He was a painter by trade. Or had been, at least. He was more accurately a fool; a fool who’d embarked on an ill-fated journey to trap the world in paintings and now found himself trapped in the unforgiving claws of the forest.

He’d lost his supplies, lost his way, and he feared his very own life would soon follow. He’d scavenged whatever food he could find, whatever might feed him, and had been too blinded by hunger to realize he’d eaten a too generous hoof-full of poisonous duskshade berries.

The hallucinations, like nighttime, had descended upon him some time ago, but now he could barely walk, barely move as he pushed through the poison and deeper into the woods. Would he die alone?

He thought of his wife. He thought of his daughter, and his grandfoals.

The sound of a cascading, raging waterfall filled the dry air, intermingling with his ragged breaths. He reached a clearing and found before him a lake and waterfall larger than mountains themselves. He tried to make sense of it, tried to figure out where he could be, but the poison seeped into his mind and clouded his thoughts.

“He-Help…” he called out, to the night, to the stars, to whoever might listen. “He...Help! Please! Some...” He collapsed to the ground. “Somepony…”

...Little one...

He opened his eyes and looked up, a gentle voice whispering to him. Oh, he was hardly a foal, but he could not think to argue with a voice as motherly as that one. Was he dying? Had his mother come fetch him from beyond the stars and the earth?

...I am here, Little one...

“Whe…”

His voice drifted off, his eyes drawn towards the waterfall crashing down. He could see it; beyond the lake, there was a light. It called him, beckoned him, and his eyes widened when a faint golden magic enveloped the waterfall. He watched as it parted in two and revealed the entrance to a cave.

With whatever energy he could muster, he forced his body off the ground and walked towards the river. The water was as cold as the night air and yet, the more he stared at the light, the closer he swam towards it, the more a strange sort of warmth took over.

The more, it seemed, his pain faded away.

Perhaps he truly was dying.

Eventually, he reached the cave, climbing out from the river and into solid ground.

In the distance, where the light was, he saw the outline of a creature. He walked towards it—towards her. As he approached her, he could see the outline of a horn, and whatever spell she was casting was bright enough he could see her perfectly when standing before her.

He fell to his haunches and wondered if he was still hallucinating.

An alicorn sat before him.

An alicorn, tall and goddess-like and still as a statue. Her closed eyes betrayed no emotion, no sign of life, and her wings were firmly pressed against her body, nearly hiding the sun-shaped cutie mark she bore.

And her horn.

Her horn, he noticed with horror, was cracked, but it still glowed brightly enough he could see the tears rolling down her cheeks.

The beautiful creature was crying.

He stepped back, and a ripping sound on the floor caught his attention. Several dozen or more scrolls lay scattered all around, all of them in various stages of decay. He grabbed one and tried to decipher the faded out words, but it was hard. He was tired, and dying, and they were all written in big scrawling, desperate letters.

Pri c ss, it's me, Sp ke,

wh re are you??? ??

i c n’ find Twil g t, can t f nd prin ess Luna, Shin ng Ar or is g ne

plea e help us pl ase ple se pri ces wh re are y u

ple se an wer

“Is it commonplace now to read somepony else’s mail?”

Startled, he looked up towards the mare, and she looked exactly as she did before, save for the smile on her lips.

“Yo-Your horn,” he said, the only thing he could think to say. “It…”

“I am not in pain,” she replied in an almost heavenly voice, light and carefree and gentle. “Or, if I am, I’ve grown used to it.”

A sharp jolt of pain shot through his body, and he groaned.

“Are you dying?” he asked, when he managed to collect himself. He couldn’t rightly tell if it was meant for her or for him. Probably both.

“Am I dying? No, I no longer can,” she replied with shocking nonchalance. “In other circumstances, I would be able to, but it would take quite some time. My sister and I are ageless alicorns.” She paused, frowning. “My niece and my student aren't, however. I sometimes envied them for it.” She smiled. “It's all in the past now, isn't it? But now... time, life, and death are inconsequential for one in my current position.”

“Can you move?” he asked, even as his body began to fail him. “Can you heal?”

“I will never move again,” she replied. “But if I move and stop casting my spell, I could heal myself.”

“You...you must,” he said, suddenly clinging to the health of the alicorn. She needed to live, for he feared he would not, but if she survived death, maybe he too would be pulled from the brink. “Please… you need help…”

He collapsed onto the ground, the pain ripping him apart, and his vision blurring. He struggled to keep it focused on her.

“You are kind,” she replied, “but you were the one asking for help, weren’t you?”

Finally, she opened her eyes. She opened her eyes, and they were pitch-black. They were black, and sad, and she continued to cry. He wondered if he ought to be afraid of her, but realized he was afraid for her.

“Why are you dying?” she asked gently.

“Duskshade berries,” he said, his speech starting to slur.

“How long ago?”

“Time...is inconsequential...isn’t it?” he echoed, and found it in him to smile even through the agony. He thought about his family. “My wife, my daughter…”

She did not reply. He thought, for a moment, that she was waiting to watch him die. A weeping angel to look after him in his final moments. He thought of his daughter. He thought of his grandfoals.

“One pony.”

He looked up, confused by her words, and found her looking away. He realized she was not talking to him, but instead seemed to be talking to herself.

“One pony,” she said. “He is asking you for help, and you brought him here. One pony.”

She looked down at him, and the sadness in her eyes vanished. They were hard, and cold, and yet… kind at the same time. She was going to kill him, he thought. And he was too gone to fight it.

“Please stay completely still,” she instructed.

She took a breath, and when the spell stopped with a crackle of magic, she gasped in pain and nearly tumbled down. Before he could hope to try and offer help, she steadied herself and her horn glowed anew.

Except, now it was he who was enveloped in golden magic.

“Don’t speak,” she replied when he opened his mouth to do so. “We have little time.”

He did as told, and magic filled him with a burning heat, as though the sun itself pulsed through his veins. Except, though it burned, the other pain he felt began to fade, his limbs began to stir, and his vision clear. He realized that somehow, someway, she was burning the poison away.

And then, it happened.

A loud, deafening crack sounded off behind her in the darkness of the cave, and her eyes widened with unrestrained fear.

And a laugh.

Deep, raspy, terrifying.

“...hello, Princess...”

He saw them.

Two yellow terrifying eyes behind her.

“I am sorry, my little pony,” she said quickly, desperately, and before he could ask, she stopped the healing spell. Both she and him hissed in pain, but she quickly unleashed another spell. A barrier surrounded her, and again she sat completely still, her horn glowing and crackling.

“...oh, my dear, it’s too late now..."

She gritted her teeth and said nothing.

“...all this to save him? Threw it all away for a single pony? You really are a fool.”

The painter tried to speak, but his vision clouded again.

“I stopped the poison,” she said gently, and she continued to cry. “I stopped it, but I could not undo the damage to your legs. I am sorry. You must go. You…” She swallowed. “You have been here too long.” She smiled kindly. “Thank you. ‘Tis a long, long time since I’ve seen a pony.”

And before he could say much, before he could ask her name, her horn glowed as brightly as the sun itself, and with a final agonized groan, she cast a third spell.

When he opened his eyes, he found himself in an entirely different place. A road. He could see a town in the distance, and ponies moving about.

Exhaustion swept over him, and he tried to remember where he’d been, tried to remember what he’d seen, but the more he tried to do so, the more the details blurred away. By the time he fell asleep, by the time he was found, his memories of the past days had gone, and only her image remained.

The weeping princess who’d saved his life.

Her image, her voice, and those yellow eyes would haunt him until death.


~ Act I ~ Chapter 3 ~ The Boiling Point ~

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"A stallion asked for you earlier," North Ridge said, glancing towards the mare sitting beside him. "He saw us talking last night."

"Did he?" she asked, and a knowing smile graced her lips. "Thought you were my father again? Asked if he could meet me and woo me off my hooves?"

North let out a hearty laugh. "Indeed! You're quite the catch, Rarity!"

"And I am already caught," she replied. Her expression then shifted, turned somber. "Did you...?

And so did he lose his mirth. "I told him the same I tell the others. I am a traveler, and you were willing to give me brief directions."

"Thank you," she said with a smile. She then paused and looked away into the distance. "You know, I saw new missing posters. She's not giving up."

"You sound surprised," he replied.

"I'm not," she whispered. "It simply makes me miss her more."


From behind the window, she watched as night gave way to day, moonlight intermingling with dawning sunlight and creating a beautiful sight.

For the first time in over a thousand years, Twilight Sparkle appreciated her namesake. She lifted the mug she was holding and took a sip of her tea, the taste of berries and nuts warming both her body and soul.

She felt safe.

Hoofsteps behind her drew her attention. She tore her eyes away from the window and looked back into Rarity’s kitchen, watching as her sleepy significant other trotted in, covering a yawn with a hoof.

“Is everything okay?” Twilight asked, her eyes following Rarity.

“If you must know,” Rarity replied, “considering it’s half past six in the morning, I would probably feel better if my coffee machine wasn’t, shall we say, indisposed.”

A fierce blush bloomed on Twilight’s cheeks, and she forced herself not to look at the various machine parts scattered on the kitchen table. She was going to fix it! And it wasn’t even really her fault! Rarity should have known better than to ask her to use such a fascinating device!

“Ah. Right.”

Rarity sighed, boiling water in a kettle on the stove. She then made her way to Twilight, sitting down and leaning against her. Almost instinctively, Twilight’s wing unfurled and wrapped itself around the unicorn, eager to keep her close.

“Honestly, I don’t know what Rainbow was thinking having you all leave so early. There’s no rush to see Princess Cadance,” she whisрered, closing her eyes and snuggling to the alicorn. “It’s not as though she can even leave.”

Rarity!”

“Oh, Twilight, don’t be offended. If you think that’s bad, you should hear what she says about it,” Rarity teased, smiling wide. “Unlike you and Рrincess Luna, Princess Cadance actually developed a sense of humor regarding her situation.”

Twilight playfully rolled her eyes but said nothing in reply. Personally, she was glad that they were leaving as early as possible. Her heart ached to see her sister-in-law, and the sooner she was able to, the better.

And yet.

And yet, in the depths of her heart, fear and doubt lingered still. Was she truly ready to face Cadance again? Was she ready to face her old life again? Her parents… Shining...

The whistling of the kettle interrupted her stream of thoughts, and she heard Rarity sigh against her. What had she been thinking, Twilight wondered. Why did she sigh? And…

“Rarity?” Twilight asked when the unicorn finally tore herself away so as to go and silence the kettle. “Are you really not coming with us?”

Rarity lingered by the stove for a split-second before levitating a nearby mug and pouring water in it.

She looked at Twilight.

“Darling, you know that I…” She drifted off and placed the kettle on the stove. “I.. Do you want me to go?”

Yes, of course, Twilight wanted to reply, but what Rarity had said the day before still held true. Rarity had already done so much for her at the sake of her own life and career.

“I’m just worried,” she replied instead. “We don’t know where Discord is, and we don’t know what he plans on doing next. What if he goes after you?” Her eyes lowered towards the three scars on her marefriend's flank. "What if he tries to hurt you?"

“Then I shall simply have to deal with it,” Rarity replied. “We cannot let fear of him rule us, Twilight.”

Twilight wanted to protest, but a loud knock and the sound of the front door opening interrupted her.

“Rarity? Princess Twi? Y’all awake?”

“We’re in the kitchen, Applejack,” Rarity called, putting an end to their conversation.

Applejack trotted in, saddlebags hanging on her back, and to Twilight's surprise, Fluttershy followed behind her, carrying a large covered basket.

"Good morning," Fluttershy said, smiling brightly at both mares, but mostly at Twilight.

"Well, well, well, Twilight! Almost everypony's come to say goodbye," Rarity said, stirring her tea. "Except for a certain Miss Pie, who I presume is either fast asleep or baking."

"How did you sleep, Princess Twilight?" Fluttershy asked, taking a step toward her. Her eyes flickered to Rarity, enough that Twilight got the hint.

"I slept well," she replied, which wasn't exactly a lie. She slept little—most of her time occupied making sure the pony in her forelegs slept peacefully—but what little she slept went well enough.

"And you, Rares?" Applejack asked, helping herself to one of the apples on a nearby fruit basket.

For a moment, Rarity looked at Twilight.

"Oh, I slept wonderfully. Probably better than I have in quite some time," she said, a loving smile blooming on her lips. Twilight’s cheeks heated up, but before anypony could comment on it, Rarity continued. "So, then, will you be joining Twilight on her little expedition?"

"Sure am!" Applejack said. "Checked with Granny and Big Mac, and they can take care of things while I'm at Canterlot."

"Actually..."

Everypony turned to look at Twilight.

“Applejack, I think you should go with Rarity, please,” she said.

Applejack blinked. “I should?”

“She should?” Rarity asked, confused. “But, wh—” She paused, her brow furrowed, and Twilight knew she’d been caught. “Twilight…”

“If I can’t go with you…”

“Twilight!” Rarity exclaimed. “Applejack isn’t going to be my bodyguard! And I do not need one, for goodness’s sake!”

“But, Rari—!”

“Now, wait a darn minute here,” Applejack cut off, looking between the two mares. “What’s going on? Why’d you reckon’ Rarity needs herself a bodyguard?” She then paused and cautiously added, “You thinkin’ the Spirit’s going to come after her or somethin’?”

Before Twilight could speak, Rarity did.

“Applejack, Discord hasn’t done anything to us for two years! If anything, he’s more likely to go after Twilight! Which is why I asked you to keep Twilight safe first.”

Regardless of how heart-warmed she was by Rarity’s intentions, she was adamant about getting her way. She threw the mare a pointed-stare, something of a convincing mix between ‘I am a Princess, darn it, I have a higher rank than she does’ and ‘Pretty please’.

And yet, it wasn’t Applejack who spoke in reply.

“I’ll go with Twilight.”

All three mares turned to Fluttershy.

“You will?” Twilight asked, delighted. She very much enjoyed Fluttershy’s company. “That’s great!” She turned towards Rarity and Applejack. “See! Fluttershy can help protect me if Discord comes, can’t you, Fluttershy?”

Fluttershy hesitated for a moment and then nodded. “Mhm! I’ll certainly try my best.”

Rarity and Applejack stared at her.

Applejack cleared her throat. “Well, see, Princess, now I’m not saying that Fluttershy here ain’t…” She drifted off. “Hm.”

“Fluttershy, darling, you know I love you dearly as the sun itself,” Rarity said, clearly weighing her words, “but you are… well… now, let me be clear, when I say ‘you’re you’, I don’t mean this in a bad way, quite the con—”

Fluttershy giggled. “I know,” she said. “But we’ll be fine. Spike and Rainbow Dash are with us.”

“And I’m not helpless, Rarity!” Twilight sрoke uр again, stamping her hoof against the floor. “I can take on Discord! What’s the worst he could do to me?”

There was a pause.

“Twilight,” Rarity said, “I cannot believe that is a question you just asked right now.”

Twilight’s cheeks burned. “We-Well! That only means I’ve already gone through the worst he can do, so if it happens again, I’ll know what to do.”

Rarity stared at her. “Darling, for my own sanity, I’m going to pretend you did not say that.” She then sighed. “Would it really make you feel better if Applejack went with me?”

Twilight nodded. “Yes. It would.”

“Well, all right, then,” she relented, clearly unsure. “I can’t say no to that.”

“It won’t be long,” Fluttershy said. “Rainbow told me it would only be a three-day trip.”

“And we have the necklaces,” Twilight added, pressing a hoof against hers. “We can communicate whenever one ne—” She paused, realizing Rarity wasn’t actually wearing hers. “Where’s your necklace?”

“My necklace? Oh! I, er… I hadn’t even realized I hadn’t put it back on,” she said, pressing a hoof against her chest.

“Can’t blame you,” Applejack said. “Barely been wearing the thing for a year, after all. Reckon’ Pinkie’s more used to it than you are.”

Pinkie?” Twilight asked, thoroughly confused, her hoof pressing more against her necklace. “Why would Pinkie be used to it?”

Silence fell between all three Ponyville mares, which did little to alleviate Twilight’s confusion.

But before she could ask, or inquire, or prod, Rarity reacted. Her horn glowed, and the necklace now hung from her neck.

“Regardless! Here it is now,” she announced. Quickly. “So, I suppose we’re all set then, hm?”

Applejack looked at Twilight and Fluttershy. “You two shouldn’t be sticking ‘round here anymore. Rainbow’s not going to like it if you’re late,” she said, sitting down next at the table. “So, Rarity, what’s for breakfast?”

“Pardon me! Does it look like I’m running a diner here?!”

“Aw, I was just teasing,” Applejack said, grinning. She got up and trotted off into the foyer. “Come on! We’ll go to a real diner, and I’ll even treat you, Miss Prissy.”

Fluttershy trotted after her, followed by Twilight and Rarity. However, rather than following Applejack and Fluttershy into the streets, Twilight lingered behind with Rarity in the foyer.

“I prepared this for you,” Rarity said, levitating well-рacked saddlebags from a nearby chair. She waited until Twilight рut her cloak on before placing them on the alicorn’s back. “A few necessities for the road.”

“Necessities?”

“Oh, you know,” she replied, gesturing non-committally. “Snacks, a few gems for Spike, a blanket if you’re cold, aaaaaaaand…” She fluttered her eyelashes. “A notebook, and a new packet of ballpoint pens.”

Twilight gasped. “You mean the neverending-ink quills?! You know, I tested it, and you can save up to a minute on dipping with those.”

Rarity laughed. “Twilight, firstly, they don’t have neverending-ink, silly filly. But they are much less delicate than ink and quills. Wouldn’t want an inkwell to break inside the saddlebags, now would we?”

“I guess not, but… well, my calligraphy isn’t as neat with them. I wish I could combine the practicality of the ‘pen’ device with the nib of my quills…”

Rarity hummed thoughtfully, lifting her hoof and adjusting Twilight’s cloak. “You know...” she said slowly, “Just because I adore you, I will look into inventing such an object just for you.”

Twilight blinked. “You will…?”

Rarity smiled widely. “I will! I’ve decided it! I will invent an object that works like a pen and has the nib of a quill. You know, I’ve even come up with a name for it. I’ll call it…hmm… a fountain pen!”

“Oh! I like that!” Twilight exclaimed, stamping her hooves on the ground. “I can’t believe nopony’s invented it yet…”

“Alas! Not everypony is as clever as me!” she said, tapping Twilight on the nose. She then looked down and pulled Twilight’s necklace from under the cloak’s fastener, allowing it to be prominently displayed.

“Rarity?”

Rarity looked up. “Mm?”

Twilight swallowed. It was hard to communicate. It was hard to ask questions she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer to. But ask she must, and she looked straight at Rarity when she did.

“Why has Pinkie been wearing your necklace?”

Rarity didn’t freeze, not really. It seemed more like she paused, took a moment to think her answer over. She looked down, brushing her hoof against Twilight’s own necklace, before looking up.

“It’s… Well…” She paused and smiled, lifting her hoof to touch Twilight’s cheek. “As they say, a watched pot never boils.”

Twilight took a moment, allowed it to sink in, and then fixed Rarity with a blank stare.

“Yes, it does,” she said simply, thoroughly vexed by Rarity’s ridiculously inaccurate statement.

Rarity frowned. “Wha—? No, Twilight, sweetheart, that’s a say—”

“Water will boil whether or not you’re looking at it,” Twilight cut off. “If you’re referring to the ‘observer effect’ from the physics book you gave me, then that refers to examples where observing and or measuring something requires some sort of action that will by necessity alter the state of the object being observed.”

There was a long pause.

And then Rarity giggled.

“What?” Twilight asked, nervous. Had physics changed in the two years she’d been gone? “Why are you laughing?”

Rather than replying with words, Rarity leaned in and kissed her instead, which, granted, wasn’t something Twilight wanted to complain about.

When she pulled away, Rarity sighed fondly, lifting Twilight’s chin. “Goodness, I missed you.” She raised an eyebrow playfully. “And clearly somepony hasn’t been studying her idioms book recently.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “I’ll work on it.”

“You should!” Rarity exclaimed, moving back. “And once you know what that means, you might understand why Pinkie wore the necklace in my stead, hmm?”

“I would know if you told me now,” Twilight replied, leaning in and nearly kissing Rarity. “Hmmm?”

Rarity didn’t move, instead smiling brightly. “Hmmmmmmm…”

Hmmmmmmmm—”

“Will you two hummingbirds actually get on with it before Rainbow comes and gets y’all?” Applejack called from outside, briefly poking her head into the room.

“My stars, everypony’s a critic,” Rarity whispered, rolling her eyes. She closed the distance between their lips in a brief but wonderful kiss, and then leaned back and brushed Twilight’s bangs back. “Well then, dearest, anything else you’d like to tell me privately before you depart?”

Twilight licked her lips. “Do you… Do you still not know what’s wrong?”

“I’m working on it,” she said gently. “I have an inkling, but… I’ll think hard about it while we’re apart, all right?”

Twilight’s ears lowered. “You promise?”

“I promise, and you know I keep my promises,” Rarity said, moving in to nuzzle Twilight. When Twilight wrapped her wings around her, she let out a breath of air, followed by a characteristically cute whine. “You haven’t even left yet, and I miss you already.”

Well, if you went with—”

“I don’t miss you enough to change my mind,” Rarity replied.

Twilight’s eyebrows knitted together in a frown. “Fine.”

Rarity laughed. “Now, now, rather than pout, listen. I have the perfect idiom for this!”

“Distance makes the heart grow fonder?” Twilight ventured, and a smile pushed itself onto her lips when Rarity pulled back with a delighted grin.

“Twilight! You remembered!” She whined again, and her face puckered into a moue of quiet annoyance. “Drat. Now I miss you even more.”


The road to Canterlot Castle was a complicated one when it involved a fifty-foot dragon. There wasn’t a chariot that could sustain such a being, and Rainbow had assured Twilight that these ‘train-devices’ ponies regularly used did not transport massive dragons.

The group, or as Rainbow had dubbed them “Princess Twilight’s Rag-Tag Adventurers”, currently found themselves crossing Meadow Waters, the lake separating the Ponyville province from Canterlot Mountain. Rainbow Dash flew above them, while Twilight, Fluttershy, and five owls sat on Spike’s back.

Well, no. The baby owls and Themis all sat on Fluttershy, while Elara, ever her master’s pet, contented herself with perching herself on Twilight’s head.

“What exactly is Granite’s Rest?” Twilight asked, peering down at a map of the kingdom. So much had changed in a thousand years; she still felt like she’d stepped into a foreign land, not Equestria.

“It’s a ghost town at the base of Canterlot Mountain,” Spike said, only half-focused on safely crossing the river beneath him. “I found it a really long time ago."

"A ghost town?" Twilight asked. Had… Had Discord actually…?

"It means it's abandoned," Fluttershy elaborated.

A wave of immense relief flooded Twilight. "Oh…"

"It used to be a mining village," Spike continued. "At least, it was back when I first found it."

"And you say Rarity wanted me to see it?”

She couldn’t really think of any reason why Rarity would be interested in mining of all things. Unless it was to retrieve gems for her designs? In which case Twilight would make sure to bring her as many as possible.

“It’s not just Rarity!” Rainbow said, looking down at the Princess. “We’ve all been waiting for you to go!”

“But why?” Twilight asked. “Does this have to do with the Princesses? Or Discord?”

“Yes,” Fluttershy said, and continued before Twilight could ask, “but we think it’s better you see it for yourself rather than telling you what it is.”

“But why?” Twilight insisted.

“So I’m sure it’s what I think it is,” Spike replied. “There’s something I found there a really long time ago, and until now, the only other ponies who could actually tell me if I’m right or not were stuck in a library, a castle, and who knows where.”

“Yeah! So try not to think about it,” Rainbow said.

Regrettably, Twilight was not known for giving up easily.

“Is it something about Discord? Or Celestia? Is it about Princess Luna?” she continued. “It’s about Princess Luna, isn’t it?”

“Princess, we’re not going to tell you!” Rainbow exclaimed. “Quit askin’! Or ask about something else!”

“Uuuuuugh. Fine,” Twilight said, or grunted, rather, but a little smile pushed its way onto her lips when Spike laughed. She licked her lip, seeking a new topic, and settling on her favorite one.

“Did I tell you Rarity’s going to invent a device for me?” she asked, putting the map away in her bag. “She’s going to make a pen that has the functionality of modern Equestria’s pre-inked ones, but giving it a nib similar to my quills.”

Rainbow Dash landed in front of Twilight. “Rarity told you she’s going to invent that?”

Twilight nodded, her heart swelling with pride. “She’ll call them fountain pens.”

Rainbow snorted, crossing her forelegs. “Really? Wow! And what else did she tell you she’s going to ‘invent’, huh?”

“Nothing else yet, but I’m sure she’ll come up with something!” Twilight replied, trying to be cheerful. She was ecstatic Rainbow was impressed by Rarity so it was imperative she made sure Rainbow continued being so.

Dumb dresses in Canterlot.

“She also gave me a ‘notebook’ so I won’t have to alchemize scrolls anymore,” she continued, opening her saddlebag and retrieving the object in question. She flipped through the blank pages and smiled when Elara flew down onto her foreleg so as to inspect it.

“They’re not as nice as scrolls, though,” Fluttershy noted, her and the owls peering at the notebook.

Twilight huffed. Truthfully, a lot of things in modern Equestria were more practical but less aesthetically-appealing than their archaic versions. The only modern thing that was much more appealing than the ones from ages past was Rarity. Twilight had dated—long, long ago—but she’d never been as taken by somepony as she constantly was by Rarity.

Ugh. I miss her.

She was suddenly aware of her necklace rubbing against her chest and had to fight the desire to call the unicorn. Not that she couldn’t or there was something wrong, but… but something did feel wrong. She lifted her hoof and pressed it against the pendant, but as soon as she did, so did a thought enter her mind.

Rarity probably wasn’t nearly as concerned about Twilight as Twilight was over her.

Was she?

A watched pot never boils.

Why wouldn’t it boil?! Argh!

“Princess?”

Twilight blinked, realizing by Fluttershy’s expression that she’d gotten lost in her own swirling thoughts.

“Oh! Er, sorry,” she said quickly, her hoof shooting down from the necklace.

“Are you thinking about Princess Cadance?” Fluttershy asked carefully, and judging by Rainbow’s sudden intent stare, she realized that was a question everypony had on their mind.

“I…”

Well, she hadn’t been, but now she was.

“Hey, you don’t have to be nervous, Princess,” Rainbow Dash said, lifting a hoof and patting Twilight on the shoulder. “Princess Cadance is stoked to see you!”

“...Stoked…?”

Fluttershy giggled. “It means she’s excited,” she explained.

“Oh…” She looked down at the notebook, and then at the top of Spike’s head. “Have you seen her recently, Spike?”

A long silence followed.

“Spike?” she asked, her brow furrowing and her tone hardening. A thousand years could go by, and yet the dragon would still be her charge. “Spike, when was the last time you saw her?”

Another long silence, until he finally spoke up.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Spike!” she exclaimed, putting the notebook down and flying up in front of Spike, Elara practically tumbling off her. “You haven’t talked to her?! You promised you would!”

The dragon groaned, pointedly looking down at the river rushing through his feet. “Did I? Sorry. I promised that two years ago, and I have bad memory,” he said dismissively. Except, when he looked back up, Twilight’s burning stare forced him to continue defending himself. “What! It’s not that easy, Twilight! The last time I saw her was, what, like nearly seven-hundred years ago? And I was a teenager and I…” He drifted off. “Look, it—”

“And you what?” Twilight asked, finally set on gleaming from the dragon the answers she couldn’t get when she was trapped in the library.

Red splotches decorated his cheeks. “I wasn’t very… I was angry, and said angry stuff,” he said eloquently.

Twilight’s ears lowered. “Spike…”

“I’m not proud of it, okay?” he said, chastised. “At least I’m going now… Not that I can even see her, anyway. I can’t fit inside that castle.”

"It's not like Princess Cadance tried hard to see him, either!" Rainbow defended.

"She couldn't," Fluttershy spoke up, softly but sternly.

"She literally couldn't," Twilight added, still flying in front of the dragon. "And just because she didn't make the first step doesn't mean you shouldn't have done it, either."

"I'm doing it now!" he protested, his gait changing to stomping. "You weren't there, Twilight! You don't know how bad it got! We had the curse, and Shining was gone, and those dumb changelings didn't make things better, and then Celestia's letter, and—"

Twilight's pending lecture on the importance of apologies ground to a halt.

What?

"Wait, wait, wait!" she exclaimed, and so did Spike come to a stop. "Princess Celestia wrote you a letter? When?! Why did nopony tell me about this?!"

"Because it happened centuries ago, Twilight," he said. His expression darkened, and he resumed his path across the river. "I'd been sending her letters every week, every month, every day, and nothing for years until I told her Shining was… You know... and I asked her to please tell us what to do, to help us, and well, she replied, and…"

"And…?" she pressed.

"It wasn't what we needed to hear."

She paused in the air for a second before continuing to fly next to him, an impending sense of dread growing within her.

"...What do you mean? What did she say?"

"There is no hope for us," Rainbow Dash replied. "That's what she said, right, Spike?"

Twilight's heart tightened in her chest.

"...She… She said that?"

"There is no hope for us. Centuries of sending her letters, and she only sent back six words," Spike replied, a strange sort of bitterness lacing his words. He laughed. "That was a really bad day for Cadance and me. A really bad day."

"But… But that doesn't even make sense!" Twilight protested. "What does that even mean?! Who's 'us'? What did she mean there's no hope for us?! What?!"

"That's what we said," Spike replied, cracking a small smile. "I didn't understand anything, and then I found The Weeping Mare of Granite's Rest."

"Will you just tell me what it is already?!" Twilight demanded, flying down and landing on Spike's head. Her heart thumped against her chest, and she was less and less excited to reach this Granite's Rest place.

"It's something by a pony called Indigo Glen," Spike said. "Nopony knows when it was done, and we only know the name of the creator because they signed it."

"And what's this thing?" she asked.

"You'll see," he replied. "You'll see."

Twilight sighed, getting the hint at the conversation being over. "Fine," she murmured, jumping off his head and landing next to Fluttershy on his back.

And again, for the second time, her hoof found its place on her necklace, and she wished Rarity were there.

"I'm sure she misses you too," Fluttershy said, softly, her eyes lingering on Twilight's hoof.

Twilight smiled. She wanted to agree, wanted to say that of course Rarity missed her, but… but Rarity would probably be there with her if it wasn't for… the two years and… and…

"I miss her," she said instead, pushing the negative thoughts away. The unicorn's absence left a hollow spot in her heart, and if not missing Twilight meant Rarity wouldn't be afflicted with a sore heart, then she quietly wished Rarity didn't miss her.

"Well, anyway, as I was saying..." Rainbow said, drawing the topic and the alicorn's thoughts away from Rarity, which Twilight was grateful for.

It seemed like Rarity wasn't the only one who had some thinking to do.


Looking at it from afar, Granite’s Rest was, oddly, exactly as Twilight had imagined it.

Well, no, that wasn’t true. It was impossible for it to be exactly as she’d imagined it, but it was somewhat similar to the diagram in her mind, and that was good enough.

Unfortunately for her, nopony in her rag-tag group of adventurers even bothered to do research or learn the history of Equestria, so she had no information on the town save for the fact that it was a mining town, there were ‘a bunch of big flat rocks everywhere', and it was old.

She didn't want to say it, but she did anyway.

"Rarity would have had research for me," she mumbled dejectedly, jumping off Spike's back and looking at the distant small town at the base of Canterlot Mountain.

Fluttershy laughed softly. "We could always ask a guide, Princess."

"I guess..."

She missed Rarity.

They'd been traveling for two days now, and though her friends were all great distractions for her mind, the nights were especially difficult. They would all be asleep, and yet she would stay up and stare at the stars so as not to stare at her necklace, hoping it would suddenly flash.

"I can't go there," Spike said, for obvious reasons, which Twilight personally took offense to. Spike was a wonderful dragon, and honestly, who wouldn't want to engage in conversation with him? "But Fluttershy should be able to take you to it"

"Are we staying here tonight?" Fluttershy asked. "It's almost night."

"Nah," Rainbow replied, perched atop the dragon's head. "We're staying at the next town over. Well, you two are, at least. Spike and I are crashing outside, but there's some dinky motel there that you guys can pass out at." She paused and added, "Er... Are you sure you don't want me to go with you now, though?"

Fluttershy shook her head. "I think it would be better if it's just the Princess and me," she said softly, offering a smile at the curious alicorn.

"But, Shy—"

"It's okay, Rainbow," Spike said. "Fluttershy knows what she's saying. She's dealt with… well.. You-know-who's…yeah."

"What? Who's you-know-who?" Twilight asked, finding she wasn't altogether happy with the air of mystery being shared among her friends. "Deal with what?"

"Princess, what you're going to see..." She drifted off, frowning lightly.

"It might be a shock," Spike finished.

A shock?

Her heart compressed in her chest. It was a distressing sensation, and she was almost starting to miss her previously ethereal state of being. She lifted her hoof and pressed it against her chest, a small action which brought her a small degree of comfort.

She frowned. "Well, this isn't making me feel better, you know?"

"What?! But, it's cool, though!" Rainbow quickly said. "You'll see! It's super old and scary!"

"Twilight, just go," the dragon encouraged, and as he did, so did five owls fly over and perch themselves atop their master's back. "We'll be here waiting."





Granite's Rest was a small, somewhat gray town.

The modest houses scattered about looked old and decayed, and yet nopony seemed to be bothered by the fact. Did they not care? It certainly wasn't intelligent or safe to live in outdated edifications. Worn-out signs hung over doors, exposing them as stores, festive locales called 'saloons', banks, a single school, and lots and lots of odd visiting ponies.

Some of them were posing for photographic pictures, wearing what looked like modern mining outfits. Others went into the shops, going in and out with little bags filled with decoratives items.

For a ghost town, the place sure was lively. Wasn't it supposed to be abandoned? Ugh. So many things in the future were off. Abandoned towns were filled with ponies, water didn't boil… It's like they all wanted to be confusing!

In truth, that was perhaps the most irritating thing of it all.

She didn't understand so many things about this new world, even if she wanted. It might have been the apprehension thrust upon her by, well, her friends' urgent attitude, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized she was quite lost without Rarity there to guide her.

"Princess?"

Twilight jolted back to life, only then noticing she'd been caught up in her own mind. Fluttershy searched her, doubtless trying to decipher what she'd been thinking, and Twilight was embarrassed by the fact.

She forced a hasty smile.

"There's a lot of ponies," she stated.

"They're tourists," Fluttershy replied.

"What are they touring for?"

"They're visiting," Fluttershy replied, clearly amused. "Just seeing sights."

They continued on the path, maneuvering around the ponies who unhelpfully stood in the middle of the street until finally, she saw a large sign pointing the way towards the town's star attraction: The Weeping Mare.

The closer they got to it, the more ponies walked alongside them, prompting Twilight to walk closer to Fluttershy and hope her wings were properly concealed under her cloak. It didn't help she kept attracting attention to herself due to the five owls hooting cheerfully at whoever got close enough.

Eventually, the path led them outside the town and towards the base of the mountain, where a crowd of ponies had gathered around a large granite slab resting against the mountain, their eyes all set on the Weeping Mare herself.

Twilight suddenly understood why Spike had been cautious.

A painting towered on the granite slab before her, depicting a horrifyingly familiar pale alicorn.

My faithful student.

Princess Celestia, or this depiction of her, sat alone, surrounded by a darkness as black as her eyes and the tears that streamed from them.

"Look at her horn!" a nearby unicorn gasped, horrified. "It looks like it's about to break!"

A violent sickening sensation overcame Twilight when her gaze reached her mentor's horn. It was glowing softly, but it was cracked. And above her… Above her, in the darkness, glowing and menacing: a pair of yellow eyes.

She heard Fluttershy calling to her, and yet she could not properly register it. Her friend's voice seemed distant, faraway as her entire world numbed around her.

"They say it's one of the princesses," a nearby stallion remarked to his companion. "You know, the Seeking Night ones?"

"What do you think happened, mommy?" a colt whispered to a mare.

"Princess, I— I'm scared. Please… Please don't go."

"Twilight, we cannot let fear of him rule us."

"B-But, Prince— If something happens to y-you, or— or Princ—"

"Then you will carry on for us, Twilight. As long as hope survives, Discord cannot defeat us."

"Well, she didn't live long, then, huh?" another stallion said, and Twilight’s knees began to buckle under her. Is the Princess dead…? "Bet that's the Grim Reaper watching over her."

"There is no hope for us. That's what the letter said, didn't it?"

And the nightmares came all at once, one after another, merciless and all-destroying. She closed her eyes, feeling short of breath as she in vain tried to silence them. They whispered, hissed, screamed that everypony she loved, one way or another and without exception, everypony—

"What can you tell from the painting, Princess?"

Twilight's eyes opened, and when she turned to Fluttershy, found the pegasus looking at the painting. She wondered, for a second, if she'd imagined the question until Fluttershy repeated herself.

"Wh-What?" she stammered, dragged back to reality.

Her eyes flickered towards the strangers surrounding her, and yet none seem concerned with her. They were all still transfixed, enraptured by this seeming fantasy depiction, smiling and nodding appreciatively. It was jarring. It was, really, if she had to sit there and think it, it was crushing.

They didn't know.

She… Twilight herself and her universe, their pain and trials and anguish… What was her entire life to her, was nothing but a simple fairytale to them. Entertainment to laugh and discuss and buy souvenirs of.

"Princess Twilight, focus on me." Fluttershy’s voice was kind, yes, but it was sharp as well, and it cut through the haze that shrouded Twilight's thoughts. When Twilight looked at her, trembling, Fluttershy lifted a hoof and gently placed it on Twilight's. "I don't understand much of unicorn magic," she continued, all of a sudden as casual as if they were discussing the weather. And yet, something in her tone was measured. "How could a horn crack like that? Could you try and explain, please?"

And Twilight did.

"I-It depends on the ci-circumstances, but a unicorn or in th-this case, alico—" Her sentence was cut short by her own inability to think properly. It was hard. It was hard to think, to breathe, and princesses, for a dark moment, she wished to be back in her library.

Instinctively, she reached out and held her necklace.

"It's okay. We're here," Fluttershy continued, moving closer and sitting next to her. Her eyes then landed on Twilight’s hoof. She hesitated for a moment and asked, "Do you want to call Rarity?"

Yes.

Yes, she wanted to, desperately so, to have the unicorn take charge and help and explain and comfort her, but… but Rarity had elected to stay away. To go against the unicorn's wishes now of all times was akin to a cardinal sin.

Her entire body trembled when she shook her head. "N-No," she said with some attempt at determination. She did, however, continue holding the necklace, drawing strength from its rose-glow. "I'm fine."

Fluttershy presented her with a believing smile. With but a gesture of her hoof, three baby owls landed in front of Twilight and stared back at her with curious eyes.

"Can you continue explaining to us, please?"

Twilight nodded. "Ye-Yes."

Fluttershy hummed, looking back to the painting. "Maybe Princess Sunshine's horn was damaged in a fight?"

"N-No. Princess Sunshine's horn wasn't attacked," Twilight managed, the foreign name allowing her to distance herself enough to start to properly examine the situation. It helped that Ginny, Amalthea, and Metis were all completely focused on her. It was imperative they learned proper horn care. "The… The pattern on her horn, the cracks are clean and diagonal. They're following the grooves on her horn."

Fluttershy nodded seriously. "Mh-hm. What does that mean?"

"We-Well! Well, unicorn magic travels through the grooves, but it's actually luminescent enough that it creates the illusion of the entire horn glowing," she explained, and the more words came out, the easier it was. She was even able to briefly look at the painting again. "But magic still has a presence. So, for Princess Sunshine's horn to be cracked in that way, it means she had to be casting a spell long enough that the magic would not only continually wear away her horn and damage its bone structure, but also prevent her magic from naturally healing it."

A small voice chimed in.

"But why would she do that?"

Twilight looked around and found the colt from before peering up at her, seeming quite concerned.

"I… I don't know," Twilight confessed.

She looked back to the painting, stared deep into the black eyes, beseeching for an answer. Why would Princess Celestia have put herself at risk for so long? Why would she sacrifice the structure of her horn?

A small hoof tugged at her foreleg, followed by the gasp of a mare.

"Honeycrisp!" his mother whispered urgently, trying to pull back the colt who insistently tugged on Twilight's coat.

"Why are her eyes black, Miss?" he asked, carelessly ignoring his mother and her hasty apologies. "Is she bad?"

"No, of course not!"

The words left her mouth with urgent immediacy. Just the thought of it! Princess Celestia was a paragon of benevolence and kindness, the most powerful alicorn in the kingdom, but…

But…

What if that was his goal?

The Princess's charcoal gaze pierced down on Twilight, drawing her in and drawing out memories Twilight had tried to suffocate and bury. Twilight herself wasn't evil. Even in the pits of her self-disdain, she could not truly sit there and designate herself as an unkind pony—misguided, yes, very very misguided, but bad? No.

And yet.

She moved forward, pushed past the crowd, their chatter forgotten as another voice called in her mind, beckoning her.

What does he want, Princess?

The answer is in his very name, Twilight.

Discord?

Discord. Disagreement. Conflict. Ponies turned against each other creates disharmony, and where there is disharmony, chaos lurks nearby.

"Princess..." Twilight whispered, speaking to the portrait itself.

But the Princess of the Sun did not reply. She simply continued to stare, as she often did when waiting for Twilight to reach conclusions herself.

"She's possessed," Twilight said, aloud, and when she turned, she found the colt and Fluttershy had moved to the front of the now attentive crowd. Twilight indicated the black eyes, certain of the answer because she herself had lived it. "The Chaos Magic is possessing her."

"Chaos magic?" prompted a nearby stallion.

Twilight didn't reply, turning back to the painting. She remembered being consumed by the magic. She remembered it, the suppressed memories coming back to light. She remembered hate consuming her, anger and bitterness and resentment.

She realized, then and there, how easily she might have been used as a weapon.

And, if that was the case, did that mean…

Celestia was protecting herself?

"This… When was this made?" Twilight urgently asked, turning to the crowd.

Most of them offered her blank stares, until a mare stepped up, brandishing an informational pamphlet.

"I work here!” she quickly announced. She cleared her throat, and stated, “This is actually a restoration! It was done about three hundred years ago by the painter Ochre Oil and then reinforced with a preservation spell. However, no information is available on the age of the original, as this is the only signed work of the painter Indigo Glen.”

Twilight returned her gaze to the painting, moving forward to inspect it in as much detail as she possibly could. As she did so, a tendril of her magic wrapped itself around the guide’s pamphlet and she levitated it over, her mumbled thank you losing itself amidst the ponies chatter.

Her eyes scanned the information on the paper, the dates and descriptions, but nothing on it actually helped! She didn’t want to know what the composition of the painting was! She wanted to know what it was depicting, what place, what time, what! Honestly, what kind of an informational guide was that, anyway?

“Uhm… Princess?”

Twilight looked down at the fidgeting Fluttershy, who glanced uneasily at the many tourists now pointing their camera lenses at the alicorn. Initially, she wondered why they were photographing her. Then, she wondered why Fluttershy seemed smaller. Finally, noticing her cloak on the ground, she realized her desire for detail had quite literally taken flight.

“Mommy!” the colt whispered urgently. “Mommy! She’s flying but doing magic!”

The tour guide gawked for a split-second before turning to the crowd, taking a nearby empty box and put it down on the floor. “Ladies and gentlecolts! What a surprise! What thrills! An alicorn-lookalike unlike no other! Brought to you by Granite's Rest Tours!”

Immediately, the ponies nodded and hummed appreciatively, some putting bits into the empty box while others resumed their photographing. Twilight frowned at them from above. Considering what happened at Ponyville and now there, it was terribly encouraging to see that ponies would still look for the word gullible if told it was written on the ceiling.

I can’t think of this now.

She returned her scrutiny to the painting. “What are you doing…?” she asked again, her eyes burning into the Princess’s cracked horn, hoping her mind would present her with some sort of epiphany.

Was… Is she trying to contain the chaos magic? Is she fighting possession? And why is Discord there? Is he waiting? Did he give up?

Wait.

What if…

What if he gave up on trying to have Princess Celestia possessed?

What if he gave up, and tried a different approach, or… a different target!

“Fluttershy!” She landed in front of the pegasus, trotting forward as the pegasus stepped back. “Fluttershy, when was the last recorded sighting of Discord?! Not with Rarity, but before that! Before she met me.”

Her friend gave her a stare more owlish than that of the owls themselves. “Uhm… I… I don’t know, Princess,” she replied apologetically, ears folding. “I’m sorry…”

“What? No! Why are you sorry? Don’t you understand what that means?!” Twilight asked, a smile sweeping across her face.

“Uhm…”

Fluttershy looked lost, which was perfectly fine, because Twilight was going to explain in a moment, anyway.

“If Discord had appeared before Rarity met me, if he’d done anything, Equestria would know! Cadance would know! But he didn’t! And now he suddenly led Rarity to me so that we’d fight and the chaos magic would possess me!”

“But… But why wait until now?” Fluttershy asked, and to that, Twilight had no immediately smart reply.

Why wait until now?

“I… I…” The words tumbled out Twilight’s mouth, her brain trying to put together some sort of… something. “I don’t know,” she admitted, finally, despite herself. “Maybe he couldn’t…? Maybe something happened? Or maybe he never could until… until Rarity became an opportunity…?”

And to that, Fluttershy’s eyes widened.

“The Book Bringer… The real one!” She gasped, her hoof flying to her mouth. “Zecora told him to stay away from the library! She never let anypony near, not even herself!”

Twilight nodded, her heart hammering in her chest. “But nopony stopped Rarity!” she continued, and a viciously victorious smile plastered itself onto her face. “He tried to use her to get to me, but it didn’t work. His plan failed. He couldn’t control me, and instead, Rarity freed me.”

She indicated Princess Celestia’s painting, and she could have sworn it was smiling at her.

“And now we can free the Princess! We can free Princess Luna, and Cadance, and Princess Celestia! I can fix this, Fluttershy!”

The words again tumbled out her mouth, a nervous thrilled excitement to them because princesses, for once, something was going right. Because Discord had led Rarity there to try and use her against Twilight, but instead, his weapon had become Twilight’s saving grace. Because even after the chaos magic had possessed her, it was Rarity’s impact in her life that ultimately freed her from it.

Never had she been more acutely aware of the necklace brushing against her chest as she was in that moment. She pressed her hoof against it, biting down a smile. Maybe it was a good thing Rarity hadn’t come, or else…

A blush flashed across the alicorn’s cheeks.

Anyway,” she said, eager to move on from the topic in her mind. She picked up her cloak and put it back on, ignoring the tour guide collecting nearby monetary donations for the ‘Alicorn Programmed Event’. “We should go back.”

“Oh yes.” She cleared her throat, and so did the owls all return to their several positions on top of Twilight. “I’m sure Spike and Rainbow want to hear your thoughts on the matter so we know what to do next.”

“What to do next…?”

Though it was obvious Fluttershy had said that innocently—why shouldn’t she? It was logical to assume Twilight would explain all to Spike and Dash—it still managed to jolt the alicorn’s nightmares awake.

She remembered the last time ponies had listened and followed her theories, and she remembered very vividly living the consequences it brought.

“Not yet,” she said at once.

“Not yet?” Fluttershy asked, confused. She cocked her head to the side. “Why not?”

“I want to think it over more,” she explained, smiling apologetically. “Until Rarity and Cadance are there. We might get a better idea on how to proceed if we all talk about it together.”

Fluttershy, at least, seemed convinced. “All right.”

“Let’s go,” Twilight said, throwing the painting one last less-pained glance before trotting off, feeling much more relieved at the prospect of having more time to think and analyze about what came next.

And yet.

And yet, no sooner had they taken five steps that Twilight stopped, her eyes landing on a mare walking off with a souvenir bag.

“Could we stop to buy a souvenir?” she asked. “Maybe Rarity would like something.”

“Of course! Rarity will be very happy.”

Twilight licked her lips, and without a second thought, turned around and marched towards the tour guide.

“Excuse me, some of these are for me,” she said, nonchalantly levitating a hoof-full of bits from inside the now generously filled makeshift donation box. She counted twenty-five whole bits, before looking back into the box and taking five more, which she distributed equally among her owls. “Can’t keep paying with chestnuts.”

The tour guide gawked at her. "But—! But—!"

Twilight blinked at her. "You did say I was a professional alicorn lookalike brought by your company, didn't you?"

"Well, yes, but—!"

"Then it's only fair I get paid for my work!" Twilight replied, offering the tour guide a shamelessly innocent smile. “Thank you!”

With that, she trotted back towards Fluttershy.

“Now, we can go!”


The moonlight shone brightly that night, its soft silver glow draping itself atop the lone building waiting to greet exhausted travelers for a night’s rest. A large glowing sign—neon, Fluttershy explained—announced the place as Journey Repose.

Behind it, Twilight saw shadows of the trail leading up the mountain, all the way up to the golden city looking down on the Kingdom. Artificial golden light shone from Canterlot, illuminating its swirling towers and meshing with the moon’s own light.

For the first time in a thousand years, Twilight found herself a stone’s throw away from home.

A home that had long ago forgotten her, save for the Princess waiting in the topmost tower.

She wondered if she could even call it home anymore when everything she knew about it had vanished into fairytales.

“Princess Twi? You okay?”

The cold breeze and Rainbow Dash’s voice roused her from her thoughts. She’d been following her pegasi friends down the winding path, and only then did she realize she’d trailed behind.

She nodded, even if it wasn’t altogether the truth. She was fine, certainly and technically, but emotionally… It had been a long day to cap off two even longer days.

“I…”

“Princess Twilight…?” Fluttershy asked, catching the Princess’s eyes. A silent exchange passed between them, a quiet understanding akin to the one they had earlier shared with the painting, and Fluttershy nodded almost imperceptibly. “We’ll go ahead.”

Rainbow hesitated. “Well... If you're sure,” she said, later turning around and trotting off towards the motel.

Once their backs were turned and she was alone, her muscles loosened yet did not relax. Did that make sense? It was an odd sensation, to be clear. She didn’t relax as much as she resigned herself to…

To a search for home and a place in this new Equestria.

Another deep breath of air, the chilled air in her lungs awakening her body. She returned her gaze towards the motel and resumed her walk. Ponies lingered outside, some with bags and other affairs, and some sitting down by the dimly lit tables set outside. She noticed what looked like a couple sharing a meal together; a group of friends, their laughter and chatter filling the night air; a mare with a thin black cape, sketching or writing on something; and a few others, going about with their life.

She observed them for a moment, and her eyes lingered on the dark silhouette of the sketching mare, seemingly lost in her own world as she had often seen Rarity do when drafting out new designs.

A smitten smile made itself a home on her lips as she remembered her earlier realization and the wave of affection that had overtaken her. Once more, she was aware of the necklace on her chest, and yet—

“A watched pot never boils.”

She tore her eyes away from the couple, setting them instead on the pegasi disappearing in the distance. She broke into a gallop, catching up to the two mares and asking them to stop, her voice barely audible against the chatter of the group of friends nearby.

“What’s up, Princess?” Rainbow asked. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Twilight nodded. “I have a question,” she said, and yet when it came time to voice it, a jarring feeling visited her.

Rarity had deferred her necklace to Pinkie Pie, and now did Twilight question if she really wanted to know the motivation behind the action.

“...Okay?” Rainbow asked, blinking at the mare. “What’s the question?”

She tried to reply in some roundabout way, to pass off as unimportant what had for so long defined her relationship to Rarity, but she failed rather miserably. “Why has Pinkie been wearing Rarity’s necklace?”

The question rushed out of her mouth, and two different reactions to the question collided with each other. Rainbow replied with startled confusion, hastily asking how did Twilight even know that. Fluttershy, however, who’d been present to the scene from days before, replied with a sudden seriousness to her expression.

“I-I asked Rarity why, and she told me it was because a watched pot never boils,” she elaborated. “What did she mean by that?”

“It’s an idiom,” Fluttershy replied after a moment’s thought. “It’s referring to how something we’re impatiently waiting for seems to take a very long time.”

The Princess’s voice fell to a whisper. “Oh.”

That feeling, she understood very well. She’d been subjected to it during the harrowing weeks Rarity had been cursed; the phantom pains in her chest as she waited by the door for a unicorn that may or may not ever come back.

And she’d subjected Rarity to two years of that.

“But why was Pinkie wearing it?” Twilight asked again.

“Well... sometimes,” Fluttershy continued, “we’re waiting for that thing to happen so badly, we just wait for that and stop doing anything else.”

Oh.

Rainbow must have noticed Twilight’s expression at Fluttershy’s implication, because she swiftly stood by the Princess’s side, wrapping a foreleg around her.

“Hey, it’s okay, Princess!” she said, the encouragement in her voice appreciated even if it was doing little for Twilight’s spirit. “Don’t let it get you down! You’re here now, right? You’re not going anywhere again.”

Twilight met her and Fluttershy’s warm gazes, and even if it was more difficult than she imagined, returned their gestures with a grateful smile and a shake of her head.

“No,” she said firmly, to herself or to them, she didn’t really know. “I’m not.”

“That’s the attitude!” Rainbow exclaimed.

She lifted her hoof and presented it to Twilight, an action which honestly confused her somewhat. She stared at it for a second before awkwardly shaking the pegasus’s hoof, drawing a delighted giggle from Fluttershy.

“No, Princess, it’s a hoof-bump,” Rainbow said, shaking Twi’s hoof off and presenting her own again. “You have to, you know, bump your hoof against mine!”

“...Why?”

“Because that’s what cool ponies do when they’ve said something awesome!” Rainbow exclaimed. “You can do it! Just bump mine!” she insisted, and when Twilight gently bumped her hoof against hers, the pegasus grinned.

The future was so strange.

“We should hurry,” Fluttershy said, moving along. “It’s very late.”

They made their way towards the motel, stepping through the doors and into the brightly lit lobby. As with outside, a few ponies meandered about, and yet the one that caught her and her companion’s attention was the orange earth pony mare waving her hat at them from the front desk.

“Applejack?” they said in unison, and no sooner had the words left Twilight’s mouth did panic settle itself everywhere.

Why is Applejack here? she thought in a frenzy, followed by a much more terrifying question. Where’s Rarity?

“Howdy, y’all!” Applejack greeted when Twilight practically tripped over herself running to her. “Took you long enough to get here! ‘Fraid my hide was going to go sore from sittin’ here waiting for you.”

“Applejack, what are you doing here?” Rainbow asked. Her face twisted in horror. “Please don’t tell me Rarity actually sent you here to check that the Princess slept in a motel.”

Applejack waved her off. “Don’t be silly, filly. Rarity knew you’d keep your promise,” she said. “But don’t start getting ahead of me now.” She turned to Twilight, and her expression sobered. “How’re you holding up, Princess? You saw the painting today, didn’t you?”

“Where’s Rarity?” Twilight asked, determined on solving much more pressing matters before engaging in trivial conversation. “Is she all right? Why isn’t she here with you? I don’t see he—”

“Now, now, don’t get your apples in a bunch! Rarity’s fine an’ dandy,” Applejack said with a laugh. She put a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder and squeezed. “I promised you I’d keep her safe, and I ain’t breaking that promise anytime soon. We just came down here because she delivered her dresses on time and...” She cleared her throat. “Insisted we meet you halfway.”

Immeasurable relief pulsed through Twilight’s very being, so much so she might actually need to sit down just to sigh.

“She was waitin’ here with me about an hour ago, but I sent her off before she carved a darn groove in the floor,” she continued. “Told her I’d give her ten bits if she managed to draw the whole city before you came.”

Twilight’s heart jumped.

The mare sketching outside!

“So, you feelin’ all right?” Applejack repeated. “You know we’re here for you if you want to talk.”

“I am,” Twilight said, trying her best to focus on Applejack.

“That’s good!” Applejack replied. “Where’d you gals leave Spike and the owls?”

“Spike is going to sleep in the outskirts of town,” Twilight replied quickly. “The owls, as well.”

“Figures they would. Would’ve been mighty difficult to get a dragon to sleep here!” She laughed at her own remark and then continued. “So, what’d you think of Granite’s Rest? Lots of good folk running the place. Fun, wasn’t it? ”

Twilight stared. “It was all right.”

“Bit of tourist trap, though. Did you buy anything? Some souvenirs? They had nice keychains last time we went.”

“Uh-huh.”

Applejack nodded, rubbing her mouth. “You know, the mugs are good, too. Bought one for Granny Smith to use for cider season, and the darn thing hasn’t broken even after she’s—”

“Applejack?” Twilight cautiously interrupted.

Applejack blinked. “Huh? Yes, Princess?” Her eyebrows furrowed. “You want me to stop yammerin’ so you can go find your marefriend, don’t you?”

“Uhm.” A bright red tinge decorated Twilight’s cheeks. “Yes, please.”

Applejack rolled her eyes, smiling at the laughs of the two other mares. “Fine, fine. I swear, you and Rarity are like a couple of newlyweds.” She turned towards the nearby counter and gestured to a mug. “At least bring her some coffee. Don’t want her freezing her cutie mark right off .”

Levitating the mug into the air, Twilight thanked Applejack and the others before rushing off, heart hammering in her chest. She stepped outside and quietly walked towards the tables. She saw Rarity in the distance, a light shawl draped over her shoulders, still immersed in her drawing.

Twilight crept up behind her, careful not to be seen. She stood up on the tip of her hooves, admiring the hasty pencil sketch under the glow of a nearby candle. It was beautiful, Twilight thought, and in some strange way, it made her want to be home more than the sight of the actual city itself.

Without a word, she placed the mug on the table; action which Rarity did not seem to acknowledge until she spoke up.

“Thank you, Applejack,” she said, moving on to sketch out one of the castle’s east towers. She stopped briefly to adjust her shawl. “Goodness, it’s such a cold night. I hope Twilight is using the blankets I packed for her.”

She paused her drawing for a moment, tapping her pencil against her chin, still oblivious to the alicorn behind her.

“I still don’t know what I’m going to tell her! If they even get there that is,” she continued, returning to her task as quickly as the words left her mouth. “Maybe you were right! I made such a show out of not going with her, and now here I am, unable to stay away for even three days! Do you think Rainbow will come with her? I hope not. She’ll never let me live it down! I can hear her calling me needy already! And maybe I am!” A long theatric sigh followed, after which she levitated her drawing and turned around. “What do you thi—”

There they stood, gazing at each other, a mortified unicorn and an absolutely shamelessly delighted alicorn.

“Well,” Rarity said shortly. She put the drawing down. “Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

“Lady Rarity,” Twilight replied, the upwards curve of her lips almost villainous.

“Fancy meeting you here.”

“I could say the same.”

“So you could.” Rarity folded her hooves on the table. “Did you hear everything I said?”

“Every word, yes.”

“I see.” Rarity hummed. “And do tell, how are you? I trust the trip was pleasant?”

Twilight’s smile vanished. “Mostly. There was one problem.”

Sudden worry marred Rarity’s face. “There was?” She lifted her hoof, cautiously placing it on Twilight’s chest. “Darling... Was it the… Was it the painting?”

“No,” Twilight replied, and a very smitten smile decorated her face as she put her hoof on Rarity’s. “It was that you weren’t there.” She then giggled maliciously and leaned down. “Lucky for me you’re so needy.”

Rarity’s giggling matched Twilight’s, her eyes sparkling with what Twilight knew to be unrestrained adoration--if only because her own eyes mirrored the feeling.

“Oh, be quiet, Miss Smartypants,” Rarity chastised, leaning up and allowing their lips to meet in a longing kiss.

When they pulled apart, both mares sighed in much-needed relief, and Twilight settled herself next to Rarity, not caring if anypony saw her shamelessly nuzzling her significant other. She closed her eyes and, after making sure it was hidden under the cloak, unfurled a wing and wrapped it around Rarity, intent on keeping her close and warm.

“I missed you,” she said.

“I missed you, too,” Rarity echoed. She let out a soft laugh and craned her neck to kiss Twilight’s cheek. “I think I might have missed you a bit too much. It might be a problem.”

Twilight echoed her earlier words, injecting them with more intent than ever. “I’m here now,” she said, tightening her grip around Rarity. “I’m not going away.”

Gentle silence danced between them, both beginning to wander towards their different thoughts.

“Did you manage to deliver your dresses?” Twilight asked.

Rarity nodded, taking the pencil anew and tracing a few lines. “I did! Silver Heart was very pleased indeed, particularly seeing I was able to make some on-site adjustments.”

Twilight smiled, her tail swishing under her cloak. She shared in Rarity’s accomplishments, and it made her feel better about Rarity having gone to know it had been for the best.

Rarity fidgeted beside her. “Twilight, I…” Her statement cut off, drifting off into silence and meshing with the sound of charcoal scratching against the paper. Twilight was about to try and encourage Rarity to speak up but before she could do so, Rarity put the pencil down and leaned against her.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.”

“You needed time,” Twilight gently reminded.

The pencil levitated again, and a tower sharply began to gain color. “I know that, but…”

Again, she trailed off, and the pencil flipped upside-down, erasing the harsh lines before flipping again and filling the blank space with softer strokes.

She turned her head for a moment, enough that their eyes met.

“Are you all right? Was that… Was it her?”

Twilight nodded. “I’m nearly a hundred percent sure it was.”

Rarity looked crestfallen. “Oh, sweetest… I’m sorry...”

Twilight shook her head. “No! It’s not a bad thing. I mean, it is, but… but it’s something that can help us.” She leaned down and nuzzled Rarity again, wanting to relieve some of her worry. “I’m fine. I just need time to think and gather my thoughts.”

Rarity’s laugh filled the air. “Why! Doesn’t that sound familiar?”

“It does!” Twilight replied, and though she tried to join in on Rarity’s mirth, another thought forced itself way out. She needed to ask. “And did you? Gather any thoughts?”

She braced herself for Rarity to freeze up, as she had often before, but instead, the unicorn merely sighed dramatically.

“I did, yes,” she answered. “Not all thoughts, but some thoughts.”

Twilight nodded. “And…?”

“And I think, for now, I want us to be close,” she said, emphasizing her words by pressing her body against Twilight’s.

“Tired of waiting for the pot to boil?” Twilight ventured, and what a winning sensation enveloped her when Rarity snorted in a very unladylike manner, enough to set Twilight off in a string of giggles. She turned her body around enough that she could leave a kiss on the shorter unicorn’s head.

“Perhaps,” Rarity murmured in a musical voice. “Perhaps.”

Twilight turned her attention back to the drawing, and Rarity’s own gaze followed shortly after.

“I suppose there’s no point in finishing this now,” she remarked. “I won’t be winning ten bits anymore.”

“I want you to finish it. But before that…” Twilight said, opening her bag with a tendril of magic and taking out the souvenir she’d bought: a purple bitbag inlaid with several multicolored gemstones. “ Here. It’s for you.”

“Darling! This is adorable!” Rarity exclaimed, taking it in her hooves. “Wherever did you get this?”

“I bought it,” Twilight quickly said. “Do you like it?”

“I do, I do! But… You bought this? How? Don’t tell me somepony actually accepted Elara’s chestnuts as currency!”

“What? No!” Twilight exclaimed, aghast. “I paid for it with bits, silly!”

Rarity giggled. “Oh, good. We’ll have to pay Fluttershy back later, then.”

Twilight frowned. “Pay her back? Why? I paid for that with my earnings. I hope it’s okay I stored them in the bitbag for now.”

Rarity moved away so she might see Twilight. “Pardon me? Your earnings?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

Twilight grinned. “From my new job.”

“Your new job?!” she sputtered. “You have a job? Well! This is quite—! I mean—! I’m impressed! I’m glad you’ve been able to so quickly integrate yourself into the working forces, dearest. Are you going to invite me for a spot of tea at your brand new house next? I’m dying to find out how this all happened.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Pffft.” She moved down to kiss Rarity before taking the bitbag in her magic and opening it, taking out two five-bit coins and placing them on the table. “It’s a long story, and you have a drawing to finish.”

Rarity took the pencil. “How lucky for me that it’s a big castle, then.”

She settled herself comfortably in Twilight’s winged-embrace, and Twilight quietly watched her draw, as transfixed by the lines and the castle coming to life before her as she constantly was by Rarity herself. For the briefest moment, she glanced back up at Canterlot City, remembering her earlier sensation, her longing for a home.

“Well?” Rarity’s voice caressed her ears. “Your adoring crowd is waiting for a story, Your Highness.”

And as she began to talk, Twilight wondered if maybe home wasn’t so much a place as it was a pony to be with.