A Nightmare to Remember
By Cereal Velocity
An original story.
That's the thing with magic. You've got to know it's still here, all around us, or it just stays invisible for you.
Charles de Lint
Sometimes, Twilight Sparkle simply loved living in a library.
The purple pony looked around herself for the first time in what seemed like hours, and gazed at the absolute mess she had made. Abandoned, open books were piled as far as she could see, pages splayed open to whatever subject she had been perusing when another tome had caught her eye. The shelves of the library, lit only by several sputtering candles, were looking rather bare at this point.
This was one of her nightly rituals; once the sun had set and Luna had brought the moon to bear upon the landscape of Equestria, Twilight would retreat into her library home and unwind by locking her door and researching a subject that interested her. There was certainly no shortage of material- as small a town as Ponyville was, it still sported an impressively well-stocked selection of valuable references, something that had delighted Twilight when she had first arrived. It didn’t compare to the royal libraries in Canterlot, of course, but it made the town feel a little more like home.
The mare rubbed her eyes with an elbow. At the moment, she was hoof-deep in whatever books on magic she could find. Arcane studies was one of her favorite fallback topics. When she couldn’t find anything else interesting, she would read about unicorn magic. Sometimes her research would reveal an interesting tidbit to help her in her own magic use, or perhaps unfold a fantastic tale of the ancient magicians who had pioneered the art. She couldn’t get enough of it; it was her bread and butter.
The book currently occupying her attention was written in several languages, including some she didn’t recognize, but that didn’t stop her from trying to decipher it anyway. As far as she could tell, it was a spell book, probably copied from many old scrolls and bound together to make it easier to read. The worn leather cover was plain and black, with a gold leaf trim, and there was no title or other identifying information on the spine. She had fallen in love with the book as soon as she had found it in the endless stacks. It had a mysterious air about it, as if she were holding something extremely powerful. It even smelled good.
She had, after about an hour of trying to read the pages, found one that had begun to make sense to her tired eyes. It was definitely a page for a spell, but she couldn’t make out the title of it, and, unlike some of the others, there was no illustration. The procedure for casting it was also extremely long, and mostly incomprehensible. The one thing on the page that she did understand, and the part that captured her attention the most, was the spell’s result. It read:
Energies alternate and barriers are demolished. Living substance is rendered inconsequential. All besides is ravished by forces seemingly extradimensional and corporeally unknowable. Transposing this spell leaves the caster as a silent and solitary witness to forever.
Twilight’s heart pounded as she read the passage over and over, her imagination playing over what such an event would look like. Surely this spell would require a magician of great power to perform. She toyed with the idea of trying the incantation blindly, but stopped herself almost immediately. Such a thing was surely out of her abilities. And yet she couldn’t stop staring at the page, looking at the symbols of the ancient text, and letting her mind's eye run wild.
So enthralled she had been with the page, she hadn’t noticed how late it had become. Her candles had snuffed themselves out one by one as she read, and she was surprised when the last one went out, leaving her in total darkness, unable to see her book. She blinked a few times, and magically lit one of her lanterns. Maybe that was her cue to get some sleep.
She got up from her sitting position, stretched her legs, and started to head in the direction of her bed. She stopped, though, and looked at the open book on the floor, seemingly nestled in the countless other volumes. It seemed to stare back at her, inviting her to read more. After a moment, she decided to keep it where it was. In the morning, she said to herself, I will try to figure that spell out.
Twilight climbed her ladder, lifted the sheets aside, and crawled into bed, putting her head on the pillow with a contented sigh. Despite her mind still running wild with possibilities, she was asleep instantly.
The purple pony found herself high upon a castle rampart, looking out between stone murder holes upon a distant, rolling landscape. In the sky above her was neither sun nor moon, but a dusky haze of fiery, luminescent scarlet, casting the entire countryside in deep, bloody shadows. Far in the distance, as far as she could see, Twilight saw equine figures dressed in silver, glimmering armor, wielding steel lances and shields, doing battle against black, amorphous shapes that could only be said to vaguely resemble horses. Behind the armored ponies were lines of terrifying wooden siege artillery, sending their flaming ordnance crashing down upon the shapes that were unlucky enough to be in the line of fire. Beside the siege weapons were lines of pony sharpshooters, each wearing saddle-mounted archery equipment. They fired into the line of shapes along with the larger missiles beside them. Magician unicorns lay the furthest back; their horns alight with power as they tried to turn the tide of the battle.
Beside Twilight, similarly-equipped archery ponies were firing from the ramparts onto the battle below, trying to support the armored troops, seemingly oblivious to her presence. Despite their best efforts, the line of black shapes were slowly beating back the infantry and were advancing towards the artillery line, growing ever closer to the castle walls.
Where am I? What is this?
Twilight could only watch in horror at the scene before her, and did not notice at first when two ponies galloped to her side and yelled her name over the din of the battle. She turned to see Applejack and Fluttershy, both wearing similar armor, though theirs were scratched, dented, and stained with what looked like blood. One of Fluttershy’s wings was torn and held close to her side.
“Twilight!” Applejack yelled, panting. Her voice seemed oddly muffled. “We’re out of time! You need to use it!”
Use what? I don’t know what you’re talking about! You’re hurt- what happened? Are you okay? What’s going on?
“No!” she found herself yelling, for reasons that remained a mystery to her. “I can’t!” Her vision flashed, blurred, the very sound around her skipped a beat, and when she opened her eyes before her stood two new ponies- Rarity and Pinkie Pie, wearing the same armor and sporting the same horrific injuries as the other two.
“You have to!” Rarity shouted hoarsely. “They’re at the gates! You’re our last chance!”
I’m the last chance for what?!
“I can’t!” she found herself repeating. “I don’t know what will happen!” Another flash, another stutter in the world around her, and she saw before her Rainbow Dash, with a pleading, demanding look in her eyes.
“Then we’re all going to die!” she screamed.
Will somepony tell me what’s going on?!
Instead of responding like she wanted to, Twilight found her body turning towards the battle below the ramparts. It was as if she wasn’t in control of herself any longer, if she had ever been to begin with. In the briefest moment of her conversation, the battle lines had drawn impossibly close to the castle, with barely any armored troops left between the black shapes and the gates. She could feel the thundering vibrations of hooves and the clashing of lances below her in her very bones.
She closed her eyes and started incanting words she didn’t recognize, for reasons she didn’t understand. There was a precise sequence she was following, but whatever her mouth was doing, she didn’t know what it was. As she spoke, the sound around her dulled into nothing, but the vibrations remained, in an eerie reminder of what was occurring. She could feel her horn glowing with immense power, power she had never felt before. It coursed back from her horn through her body like waves of heat, and she timed her breathing to the pulses of energy as she spoke.
It took only a minute. As she spoke the last words, the vibrations ceased. The sound, which had long hinted at leaving, came to an end as well. The world became silent and still around her, and the only thing she could hear was her own breathing.
When she opened her eyes, she was no longer on the castle ramparts. She was in a world of inky black, facing one of the black pony shapes, who was a mere foot from her. Where a face should have occupied the head, there was nothing but a set of dead-looking eye sockets. It spoke.
You have done well.
Twilight’s eyes snapped open. She heaved a deep breath, but instantly recognized the library ceiling. She looked around herself, head whipping in all directions, eyes wide, heart beating like a jackhammer. The room was quiet, and it was still dark outside.
It took several minutes of tense observation to convince herself that everything was okay. She swallowed, allowing herself to breathe normally. A dream. A nightmare.
Once she knew she was safe, she moved with a purpose. She lit one of her candles, levitated it, and climbed back down her ladder. She quickly located the spell book she had left open in the middle of her pile. Lifting the book as well, she held the candle underneath the aged volume until it caught the flame. She watched as the dried pages slowly disintegrated into nothing. She returned to her bed only when she was sure there was nothing left of the book.
Some things should stay forgotten.
A Nightmare to Remember: Part II
By Cereal Velocity
An original story.
Logic only gives man what he needs. Magic gives him what he wants.
You have done well.
Twilight barely slept the rest of the night, try as she might. When she did manage to nod off, she was haunted by the face she had seen. By the way her friends had looked. By what she had supposedly done.
But, mostly, she remembered the words.
She was quite sure most of them were nonsense, but the thing that kept running circles around her mind was the phrase she had chanted in her dream. She recalled every word she had said in perfect detail, and couldn’t help but repeat them to herself as she tried to sleep. She wanted to forget them, of course, but they wouldn’t loosen their grip on her subconscious. She couldn’t stop feeling what she had felt when she had cast that spell; the empty world, the lack of sound. It frightened her.
She awoke at some point to the first rays of light coming through her observatory window. She couldn’t recall another time when she had been so grateful to see Celestia’s star, but she knew what she had to do.
The purple pony got up out of her bed, walked to a table with her rolls of parchment, levitated a quill, and quickly wrote the phrase down word-for-word. It took up almost the entire page when she was finished. She set the quill in the inkwell and took a long look at what she had written. It didn’t make sense- she wasn’t sure why she had assumed it would, but she had felt an intense need to put it down on paper, after…
She looked over her balcony at the small pile of ashes lying betwixt several of her books. She was surprised with herself, almost unduly so. Book burning wasn’t usually her style. This was a special case, she said to herself, feeling the need to justify her actions. Nopony has to know.
She looked back to the parchment she had written the phrase on. Magically, she rolled it up and carried it with her, suddenly unwilling to part with it, as she descended her ladder and began the long process of cleaning up after herself after last night. The ashes went into a wastebasket, the books to their shelves, and the stray bits of paper to their respective tables. All the while she carried the scroll with her, never setting it down. Finally, it was all she was left with. She hesitated, and set it down on the table. It seemed to look back up at her, with what expression she couldn’t say. She wasn’t even sure what she wanted to do with it now that she had it. It certainly hadn’t cleared her head like she thought it might.
She shook her head and forced herself to continue cleaning up. This needed to stop- Rarity would be here soon.
For the last several weeks, the unicorn designer had been mentoring under Twilight, interested in improving her grasp on magic. Rarity had said it was a purely academic curiosity she had in the arcane- “Darling, I don’t think you should be the only one to know these things!”- but Twilight wasn’t sure that was her real motivation. Maybe she was still embarrassed about the suit of armor business from a while back. Truthfully, though, she didn’t mind teaching magic. It was the one thing she was proud to know like the back of her hoof. She just hoped she’d be in the proper mood for it this morning. The first few weeks of her lessons had mostly consisted of magic theory, which a younger unicorn would have found quite boring, but Rarity had seemed to eat it up. Today was the first real lesson.
Twilight cleared a small space in the middle of the library, placing a small table, some books, and her bag next to it. She was halfway through setting up some tea cups when she heard the familiar knock on her door, which opened to reveal the white unicorn. She smoothed her already perfect mane with a hoof.
“Good morning, Twilight!” she said cheerily, but her expression softened when she saw the purple mare. “Goodness, dear, you look terrible.”
She supposed she did. She hadn’t had time to worry about her appearance. She smiled good-naturedly. “I didn’t get much sleep last night,” she admitted. Rarity lowered a brow.
“Perhaps we can do the lesson later? You look exhausted,” she said.
“No, no, it’s fine,” Twilight said quickly. She needed this. She needed something mindless to clear her head. Rarity gave her an odd look before giving in and entering the library, sitting down on one of the pillows Twilight had laid out. Twilight did the same, sitting down at the opposite side of the low table. She rummaged in her bag and retrieved a small metal puzzle. She placed it on the table.
“Did you read what I asked you to?” Twilight began.
“Every word,” Rarity said, looking down at the puzzle.
“Then let’s see how much you remember from last week,” she said. She nudged the bits of metal. Rarity took a critical look at it, and levitated it in front of her face, twirling it around and around to get a view of it from all sides. After half a minute, she began to magically manipulate the bits to form the desired shape. She closed her eyes as she worked. Twilight watched and waited. Rarity had a good deal of experience with controlling fine objects with her magic, so she had figured this would be a good place to start. She was right- in under a minute Rarity had completed the puzzle and set it down. She beamed with pride.
“Done,” she squeaked.
“Good!” Twilight praised, genuinely pleased. It was time for something more difficult for her, though. She levitated the tea kettle, full of water, and poured an amount into one of the cups in front of her. She set the cup in front of the white pony. “Freeze it,” she said simply. Rarity cocked a brow.
“Freeze it?” she asked, uncertain.
Twilight nodded. She knew the mare had no idea how to do this, but she wanted to see how she handled herself. “It’s a common spell for the weather ponies in Canterlot. Try it.”
Rarity concentrated on the water in the cup, and her horn glowed as she tried to do as she was told. The water bubbled a bit, but other than that, nothing happened for a long while. She closed her eyes again, trying to figure out how to perform the spell. Twilight waited a certain amount of time before speaking up softly with her planned lesson.
“The water moves, doesn’t it?” she asked.
Rarity opened her eyes reluctantly, her horn losing its glow. “Come again?”
“Can’t you feel it?” Twilight continued. “Try again.” Rarity looked at her with a lost expression. “Close your eyes, and try again,” she repeated. Rarity did as she was told, her horn lighting up.
“Even though it is still, the water moves,” Twilight said softly. “Not to your eyes, but to your magic, it is obvious. It’s almost unnoticeable, but if you go deep enough into the water, you can feel it. There is energy, a force that makes it so. Focus on the cup, and you will feel it,” she said. Rarity remained silent, taking all this in.
“Can you feel it?” Twilight asked.
Rarity hesitated. “Yes. Yes, I can. I think,” she said.
“Don’t think. Can you feel it?”
Another moment of hesitation, this one longer. “I can feel it.”
“Make it stop,” Twilight said. She could see the look of confusion on her face. “Make the motion stop. Take it away. Remove it.”
Rarity’s eyes shut a little tighter and her horn’s glow brightened a bit. In a far shorter time than Twilight had expected, the water in the cup frosted over, cracked, and froze. It hadn’t frozen to the center, but it was definitely mostly ice. Rarity opened her eyes and looked at what she had done with delight.
“I did it!” she exclaimed, stamping a hoof onto the ground. Twilight smiled at her success.
“So you did feel it,” she stated.
“Yes!’ Rarity said, still quite pleased with herself. “That was… exhilarating!”
“So, where did you put it?” Twilight asked. Rarity’s smile faded.
“What?” she asked. “Where did I put what?”
“The energy,” Twilight stated. “Where did you put the energy you took away?” Rarity looked rather puzzled at the question. She laughed uncertainly.
“I don’t know, darling,” she answered. Twilight shook her head.
“That’s the lesson for today. When you take something away from an object, you have to put it somewhere else. Our magic is powerful, but even we cannot destroy the building blocks of our world. Not even Celestia can do that.” Rarity suddenly didn’t look so proud of her cup of ice. She bit her lip with a slightly guilty look.
“So where did I put it?” she asked, looking back up.
“I dissipated it into the air for you while you worked,” Twilight said. “I made the room warmer.”
Rarity blinked. “That’s all? I didn’t feel anything.”
“It was only a cup of cold water,” Twilight pointed out lightly. Rarity’s features relaxed as she understood, but creased once more at the implications.
“What happens when you freeze something bigger?” she asked. “Like a lake?”
“You don’t do it all at once,” Twilight said off-handedly. “When’s the only time you freeze a lake?”
“What else can you do with water during the Winter Initiation?”
Rarity looked at her ice, thinking for a moment. “Clouds?” she guessed.
“Exactly,” Twilight said. “If you move the energy to the top of the lake, you boil that thin layer of water. If you do it right, you get vapor. The weather pegasus ponies take it from there. In Canterlot, anyway,” she amended. “I don’t know how they do it in Ponyville.”
Rarity sighed. “I really must visit my family in Canterlot some time. It’s been too long…” she trailed off. She looked back at Twilight with a sudden interest. “What about a pony?”
Twilight’s voice lost some of its luster as she guessed what the white mare was asking. “What about them?”
“What happens when… you do that to a pony?” Rarity clarified.
At that question, scenes from her dream flashed in front of Twilight’s eyes quicker than she could consciously identify them. The purple mare swallowed and her face turned deathly serious. She was sure that Rarity didn’t mean anything by her question; it was a logical next thing to ask. She had asked the same question herself when she learned that spell. That said, she wanted to leave the correct impression while she had the chance. “Why in Equestria would you want to do that?” she asked dryly, looking straight into her eyes. Rarity caught the hint and averted her gaze.
“Duly noted,” she said quietly.
An uncomfortable silence filled the air as neither pony said a word. After a moment, though, Twilight gave Rarity a soft smile. “You did well. Would you like some tea?”
“Yes, please,” Rarity said, returning her smile, seemingly grateful for the change of subject. Twilight got up, went to the kitchen, and came back with tea bags. The two chatted away the hours amiably about whatever was on their minds, and passed the morning with more magic. The sun was high in the sky when Rarity departed the library with one of Twilight’s books.
It wasn’t until many hours after that that Twilight realized her scroll was missing.
Rarity felt a little guilty about borrowing the scroll she had found on the adjacent table, but she couldn’t help herself. She had never seen magic like that before, but she knew that if she asked Twilight to explain it to her she’d get another lecture.
And yet she enjoyed the lectures. At least, she thought she did. Maybe she didn’t. She hated admitting it to herself, but she was jealous of the purple pony.
Ever since she had arrived in Ponyville on Celestia’ ticket, she had been jealous. She had enjoyed her position as one of the more powerful magic users in the town up until that point. Certainly, there were better magicians in Canterlot where she had grown up, but in this town she had been revered for her skill. If not her skill itself, then the products of her skill- the finest clothing this side of Hoofington. And then she had showed up, and ever since the incident with that braggart Trixie she had been the go-to pony for her skill with the arcane.
Rarity didn’t hate Twilight- far from it. She enjoyed the mare’s company. It wasn’t even a raging jealousy of her magic that she felt. The best way she could put it was… inadequacy. Embarrassment. She felt outdone and outperformed, though she knew that wasn’t Twilight’s intention. She wasn’t used to feeling like this. The uncertainly of the feeling was almost as bad as the feeling itself. Today’s lesson was the clincher, even though she had succeeded with the spell.
Rarity shook her head as she entered her shop, locking the door behind her. She wasn’t sure whether she had wanted to outdo or impress her fellow magician when she had asked for the lessons in the first place. Maybe she didn’t want to do either. What she was sure of was that her first real step was this. She was going to fix this.
She flattened the stolen scroll out on her table and peered over the words. Most of them she didn’t recognize, but she didn’t care. She didn’t know what this scroll did. She didn’t care about that either. She recalled Twilight’s lesson on incanting spells, and started to speak the words slowly and carefully. She felt her eyes getting heavier with each word, and her horn glowed slightly, casting a pale purple light on the scroll. When she reached the last few words, she relented, closing her eyes and reciting the last bits from memory. She wasn’t sure if she lost consciousness or not, but when she opened her eyes, she wasn’t in Equestria anymore.
She was at her home in Canterlot. In front of her was a table, with a single needle and a single strand of thread sitting on top of a sheet of fabric. At the other end of the table was her mother, though much younger than she was now. Her youthful face was bright with a smile as she motioned with her hoof towards Rarity.
“Go on, dear. What did you want to show mommy?”
Rarity looked at the thread before her, and without really thinking, tried to levitate the needle as she had done earlier. Nothing happened. She tried again. Nothing. She stared intently at the needle, willing it with all her might to move just a single inch. The metal pin remained stubbornly in place. Her mother frowned.
“What’s the matter, dear?”
Rarity looked up at her with a reassuring smile as she continued to try to move the needle. She became more and more frustrated the more she kept at it, as the seconds ticked agonizingly by. Why couldn’t she do it? This shouldn’t be happening. This was supposed to be easy! She practiced for hours! Her mother was waiting; she wanted so badly to impress her, just once; to be a great designer like her! She began to cry out of pure helplessness, at her own failure. No matter how hard she tried, the pin refused to budge. She turned her face upwards, tears in her eyes, to face her mother, and found something in her expression that made her break down completely.
She was back in that ancient ruined castle, facing down Nightmare Moon. She turned around to find her friends, but discovered she was the only one in the room. She steeled herself. It was up to her. She had to stop the god queen from bringing eternal night to Equestria.
Nightmare Moon laughed. “The hero! Is that what you fancy yourself as?” Her horn glowed a deep black and Rarity found herself lifted up into the air, unable to move. She laughed harder, almost a frenzied cackle. “Do you know what happens to heroes?!” her voice boomed.
She was at her workbench, staring at dozens of sketched designs over dozens of sheets of paper. Each one was rough, undetailed, and terrible. The floor of her shop was littered with tattered bits of fabrics, rolls of string, and discarded sewing implements.
She was in front of her shop now, but the building was decaying and most of the paint had been chipped away. Windows were broken. There was no one around her, and the sun was covered by thick, black, angry clouds. Rain poured incessantly down upon her coat.
Upon the door was a sign that said ‘Closed’.
She was in front of her friends, each one looking at her with an angry glare on their faces, as if she had mortally offended them. She wanted to say something, to say hello, or to ask what the matter was, but each of them turned away from her in turn. She tried to speak, and nothing came out of her mouth. One by one she was left behind, when at the end all that remained was Twilight Sparkle, who wore the grimmest expression of the five. She narrowed her eyes and spoke a word that had no sound.
She was in a grassy field, fully lit by Celestia’s bright summer sun. It wasn’t too hot, and there was a cooling breeze that sifted through the tall tufts of grass, making them sway with a comforting shuffling noise. The field was peppered by yellow flowers, and in the distance she just saw more rolling hills. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
She turned around as if by instinct. Behind her was a single apple tree, the only one she could see, with the shape of a pony underneath it. She trotted towards the tree curiously, trying to make out the shape. She was nearly upon the small figure when she recognized the white and purple mane.
“Sweetie Belle!” Rarity called out. The filly turned to look at her, a smile on her face.
“Hey, big sis! Come join me!” She did, closing the distance between them and sitting down in the shade of the tree. Her sister offered her an apple, which she took happily, munching on the snack. Neither spoke for several minutes, both admiring the scenery before them. Sweetie Belle broke the silence.
“You hate her,” she said simply.
Rarity looked at her, puzzled. “Who, dear?”
“Twilight. You hate her.”
“I don’t hate Twilight, Sweetie Belle,” Rarity said, surprised, though she didn’t completely believe her own words.
“That’s not true and you know it. You hate her.”
Rarity furrowed her brow and put down her apple. “Who told you-“
“You want her to die,” the filly said. “You want to kill her. You want to show everypony that you’re better than her.” She paused. “Look, there she is now.”
Rarity turned. A purple unicorn was standing not ten feet from them. Her mouth moved as if she was calling out Rarity’s name, but she could barely hear her. She turned back to her sister, who was looking at her with a deadpan expression.
“Prove to them,” she said. “I know you can do it.”
Rarity recoiled, getting to her hooves. She looked between her sister and Twilight, growing more frantic. “Sweetie Belle! What are you saying? What’s going on?!” She heard her name being called by Twilight again, but the sound still reached her as if from a great distance, though closer than last time. When she turned back to her sister, she was gone, replaced by a black, smoky shape that only vaguely resembled a pony. The shape spoke to her in Sweetie Belle’s voice.
“It’s what you want, isn’t it?”
“No!” Rarity shouted. She heard her name again over the silence.
“Why? What has she done for you besides humiliate you?”
“She has done no such thing! Twilight is my friend!” she cried, stamping her hoof.
The shape ignored her tone and spoke in the same deadpan droll. “No she’s not. Go on. No one will know.”
“Irrelevant. You’re not leaving this place until you do,” the shape concluded. Rarity’s name reached her ears, again, louder.
Rarity had never felt such rage in her life. Rage at things she couldn’t even remember, rage at the shape in front of her, and rage at her own helplessness. It all washed over her like a wave, and just as suddenly as it had come upon her, it was replaced by a single image: a small tea cup, filled with ice.
She looked the shape directly where its eyes should have been, and lit her horn with magical energy. She narrowed her eyes, delving deep into the shape and finding that core that she knew would exist. She tore, violently and as hard as she could, the core from the shape. The world around her flashed a brilliant white, the sound stopped, and she heard her name again, louder than ever before.
“Rarity!” Twilight shouted.
She opened her eyes to find the purple unicorn standing over her, with Sweetie Belle behind her, tears in her eyes. She blinked a few times to make sure her world was real. It was. She launched herself upwards and enveloped Twilight in a hug, squeezing her as tight as she could.
“I’m sorry!” she cried. “I’m so sorry!”
To be concluded.
A Nightmare to Remember: Part III
By Cereal Velocity
A nightmare to remember-
I’ll never be the same.
What began as laughter
So soon would turn to pain.
The sky was clear and frigid.
The air was thick and still.
Now I’m not one to soon forget,
And I bet I never will.
James LaBrie for Dream Theater, “A Nightmare to Remember”
Black Clouds and Silver Linings
There was a small, awkward pause as Rarity regained her composure and the adrenaline began to dissipate from her body. Twilight hadn’t moved; almost as if she didn’t know how to respond. Rarity let go of her neck and sank back down to the floor with a nervous laugh.
“Heh, hello,” she said lightly. Twilight gave her a look that was half confusion and half concern.
“Are you alright?” the lilac mare asked slowly. “Sweetie Belle came to get me when she couldn’t wake you up.” Rarity turned over and got to her hooves, dusting herself off and regaining her usual air of confidence. She looked around, discretely, for the scroll. Relieved to find it was still sitting on her desk she turned to Twilight, hoping her teacher wouldn’t see it.
“I’m just fine, dear,” she said through the gritted teeth of a, hopefully, convincing smile.
Twilight frowned. “Rarity, what happened?” Her tone was decidedly more serious.
“I haven’t the slightest idea what you mean,” Rarity responded, nonchalantly.
“Rarity, if there’s something you need to tell me…” Twilight began, before being cut off by her student.
“Twilight, darling...” Rarity’s gaze drifted around the room as she attempted to mollify the purple mare. As her focus wandered she came upon Sweetie Belle; the small unicorn looked just as unconvinced as the older pony. “I assure you there is nothing to worry about. I…” She paused for a moment, choosing her next words carefully. “...I had a small accident. I was working a little too hard and probably just fell asleep and hit my head,” she lied through her teeth. “I feel all right now, honest.” She gave Twilight her most disarming smile; the mare kept her frown.
“Where’s the scroll?” Twilight remarked flatly.
“Scroll?” Rarity asked innocently, glancing away from her teacher.
Twilight didn’t respond, looking past Rarity for the piece of parchment. It took no time at all for her to find it splayed open on the table behind the fidgeting white mare. Her mixed expression now shifted to one of shock.
“Rarity, this is dangerous magic!” she exclaimed, rolling the parchment up as she lifted it with her telekinesis. “You didn’t read this, did you?” The white unicorn, unsure of what else to say, swallowed nervously.
Her head hung slightly, “Twilight, I only-“
“What were you thinking?!” Twilight shouted, preparing for a tirade. “Actually, you weren’t thinking, were you?! You don’t know how these things work! You could have hurt yourself, or worse! What if-“
“Stop yelling at her!” Sweetie Belle interjected angrily. She glared at Twilight with the most damning expression she could muster. “She needs to see the nurse pony- you can lecture her later.”
Rarity made a mental note to thank her little sister. She made a show of putting a hoof to her forehead. “Yes, I think that would be best,” she said in a weary voice.
Twilight, her expression now a mix of anger and concern, pursed her lips and said nothing. Rarity was afraid she would continue her rant; however, after a momentary pause, she nodded slightly and sighed.
“She’s right. Let’s get you checked out,” she said under her breath. “This can wait.”
With that, the purple mare stuffed the scroll into her saddlebag and led the two white unicorns out of the workshop. Rarity followed her, genuinely grateful for a chance to at least be examined by a professional. Her skin still crawled as she recalled the images she had seen. She was still nervous and uneasy, but it had just been a dream. She could handle a dream; nevertheless…
As soon as the thought crossed her mind, her eyes fell over Twilight’s retreating shadow, cast by the afternoon sun. It could have been her state of mind, or a trick of the light, but the shadow seemed to twist unnaturally. It, for no more than an instant, resembled the spectre she had seen just minutes ago under the apple tree. She blinked her eyes, focusing once more on Twilight’s, now normal, shadow. Yeah, she thought to herself, I definitely need to see the nurse.
The rest of the day was a blur for Rarity.
The nurse pony had given her a clean bill of health, much to Twilight’s apparent relief. Truth be told, though, she didn’t really feel all that well. Every little thing around her seemed to remind her of the things she had seen in her nightmare. A lone apple bumped into her hoof as she made her way down Ponyville’s curiously empty streets. A cursory glance around did not reveal any possible owner for the offending fruit. All of the ponies that would normally have been crowding the midday streets were inside their homes and shops, silhouetted over their windows and doors. Off in the distance a dark storm cloud roiled and heaved. An oddity, as there was no scheduled storm for today, but the thunderhead loomed on. It unnerved her more than she wanted to admit, but she tried to put it out of her mind.
Turning her attention to more immediate concerns, Rarity had been fully expecting some kind of lecture or lesson from Twilight after she had left the hospital. However, to her surprise, the purple unicorn simply gave her a knowing look and departed for her library home after bidding her farewell.
The designer had mulled it over for the rest of the day. She didn’t remember sleeping that night, or even going to bed. She still had not reached a conclusion as she walked with her sister back to the workshop from the bakery the next afternoon, specifically avoiding Twilight’s library. Maybe Twilight thought she had learned her lesson proper and didn’t need it rubbed in anymore. But that was certainly out of character for her, she reasoned. This was, after all, the pony who gave impromptu lectures on anything to anypony who would pretend to listen.
Maybe, said the nasty little voice in the back of her head, she’s reveling in the fact that she was right. Maybe she loves the fact that she taught you something without even trying.
Rarity blinked. What a morbid thought, but what if it was true? Surely Twilight wouldn’t act like that, but who knew? Maybe that little episode was what she had been waiting for? Maybe Twilight had purposefully left the scroll where she knew she could find it. It wouldn’t be hard to guess that curiosity could get the better of her student. Maybe she had known exactly what would happen, and was waiting for Rarity to come crawling back to her with her tail between her legs because she knew she didn’t know how to deal with such a simple nightmare; if indeed that was all this was.
Rarity tried to swallow the growing lump in her throat. What if that was all there was to it? What if Twilight had found some horrible spell in a book somewhere and written it down just to show her exactly how incapable she was?
The words of the creature in her dream echoed through her head. What has she done for you besides humiliate you?
A loud thunk drew Rarity back to her senses. She was so lost in her musings that she hadn't paid attention to where she was going; the sound was her hoof hitting the door frame of her workshop forcefully. Sweetie Belle gave her an odd look, concern still evident on her face.
Rarity smiled at her quickly, “Lead hooves,” she said.
“You don’t look so good,” the diminutive unicorn responded. Rarity ignored her for a moment and walked the rest of the way into her workshop. She needed something familiar to clear her head, and she knew just the thing: Twilight herself had commissioned a dress from her about a week ago, and she had been meaning to work on it between her magic lessons. This was the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. She turned back to her sister, trying to avoid thinking about the dream segment that had featured her, and forced a smile.
“Just a little worn out,” she said soothingly. She levitated out a sketched design of a dress and some needles from the drawer next to her. “Do you want to help me with the new dress order?”
The unicorn kept her skeptical look. “Now I know you’re not okay. You never ask me to help.”
“I could use an extra hoof,” Rarity lied.
“I don’t remember any dress orders,” Sweetie Belle persisted.
“I’ve had it lying around for a while,” Rarity answered. The white unicorn looked at the sketched design; it had stars on the hem, and an ornate headpiece that ended with several graceful curves. The color guide suggested generous amounts of purple and dark blue fabric; it was obviously meant for a unicorn.
“It’s not for Twilight, is it?” the foal queried.
Rarity looked at the paper. “Is it too obvious?” she asked, worried. The paper suddenly seemed very unfamiliar to her, as if she drawn it while half asleep. “I could cut down on the stars…”
“Twilight doesn’t usually go around wearing dresses,” Sweetie Belle said slowly. “Actually, she’s never commissioned anything from you before.”
Rarity’s face fell and some of the enthusiasm left her voice as she put the design back on the table. “Sweetie, why does all this matter?”
“It’s just weird, is all,” the diminutive unicorn said neutrally. “Don’t you think?”
“No?” Rarity answered. A small nagging voice seemed to be just on the edge of her mind. Shaking her head, Rarity motioned Sweetie Belle toward one of the nearby tables. “Now, be a dear and grab me some of the lavender velvet and some white thread,” she asked, blinking her eyes in what she hoped was a pleading gesture. The filly complied after a moment, crossing the room to gather the supplies. Rarity turned back around and began to set up a mare mannequin. From across the room, Sweetie Belle spoke up.
“Are you going to kill her for this?” she asked.
Rarity’s blood turned to ice as her heart skipped a beat. Her head whipped around to face her sister. “What was that?” she squeaked.
The filly turned around, wearing a confused look. “I said, are you going to bill her for this? She did help me wake you; it might be nice if you didn’t.”
Rarity’s heart sat in her throat and her hooves felt numb. She swallowed hard, “Oh; oh, of course. I hadn’t thought of that.” She said, almost breathlessly. Her sister waited a beat with expectant eyes.
“So, are you?” she asked again.
Rarity blinked, “Oh! Oh,” she said, realizing she had forgotten to answer the question. “I suppose not.” She forced another smile, suddenly feeling very lightheaded. “Thank you, Sweetie.” The small unicorn kept her confused look.
“If you’re going to pass out again, let me know in advance,” she said lightly, putting on a small smirk.
I am not going back to her. I can handle this myself.
That was the mantra Rarity repeated silently to herself as she and her sister worked diligently on the dress. Truth be told, she didn’t remember much of the process; only that it wasn’t going very well, and the two had abandoned the project after about an hour of work. They had promised to pick it back up later, but that was halfhearted at best.
As Sweetie Belle retired to her room for a nap, Rarity couldn’t help but wonder if she was going crazy. She felt physically ill; whatever was going on here was clearly out of her control, which in turn made her angry with herself. I can handle this! And, yet, it appeared that she was completely incapable of such a feat. Helplessness dutifully added itself to her cocktail of emotions.
And yet, if she crawled back to that insufferable purple unicorn, she would just prove to her, much less to herself, that she wasn’t competent enough to wield the magic she had been born with.
She sat down in a nearby chair with a huff and tried to clear her head, standing up again almost instantly. She needed some tea; tea was always good for calming the nerves.
The white unicorn walked to the edge of the hallway, heading to the smallish kitchen directly adjacent to her workshop. She pulled the teabags out from a nearby cupboard and levitated her favorite tea kettle and cup from another. After filling the kettle with water, she set it up to boil on the stove. She took one of the tea bags out of the container and tore it open. Her comforting routine stopped for a moment as she looked at the tea bag still suspended in the air. She never usually thought about how she used her magic from day to day, and yet, here she was, doing something that any earth pony and any pegasus would give their left hoof to try, much less be able to do.
Maybe I don’t need to be the best.
As the thought settled, she calmed down for what seemed like the first time in a very long while. Perhaps it was the very novelty of such a thought that soothed her. She had within her a gift, and maybe, she thought to herself, I forget that sometimes.
The kettle let out a hiss, hot steam letting Rarity know the water was ready. She levitated the kettle, and poured a measured amount of the boiling water into her cup. With that she turned around to set the kettle aside. A gasp caught in her throat when she turned back to put the tea bag in the cup; the previously scolding water had turned to solid ice.
Out of instinct and shock more than anything else, Rarity lashed out with her magic, sending the teacup flying across the room and into the wall with a sharp telekinetic discharge. The porcelain shattered, splashing still steaming water along that side of the room.
Rarity stood motionless for many minutes. Her breathing was erratic and the calm feeling she had so briefly savored just a moment ago was but a fleeting memory. She stared at the remains of her favorite cup, desperately trying to convince herself that what she had seen was real. And yet, across the floor, the steam still rose from the water she herself had poured.
With a grim realization, Rarity knew what she had to do. She knew who she had to see, and it was a pony far more powerful than Twilight.
It wasn’t every day you got to see a monarch in person. Under normal circumstances such a thing would be impossible on such short notice, but these were not normal circumstances.
Upon her arrival at Canterlot’s royal court an hour later, Rarity had asked the gate guards for an audience with Luna. Maybe they recognized her as one of the bearers of the Elements of Harmony? Maybe Luna was more lenient with her visitors than Celestia. Whatever the case may have been, in under fifteen minutes she was waiting for the god queen in the royal library. Strangely, it was devoid of any other pony. The depository smelled faintly of dust and paper. The towering stacks of volumes around her were slightly intimidating; it had the air of a crypt, it was so quiet and still. Rarity much preferred the friendly atmosphere of Twilight’s library, but it was a little late to turn back now.
In what seemed like no time at all, Luna had entered the library and shut the door behind her. Rarity had expected to see guards outside the door before it closed, but there were none. The princess was wearing naught but her crown, but she was still an intimidating sight, even scaled down from Nightmare Moon as she was. She seemed even more daunting in the comparative darkness of the library than she ever did in Celestia’s daylight. Rarity swallowed, remembering the night she had helped redeem her. Maybe she could do the same for her.
The alicorn sat down next to Rarity quietly and fluffed her wings. “You said it was urgent,” she said in a neutral tone, inviting her to speak. Rarity did so, recounting everything that had happened after she had woken up from her spell-induced nightmare, including, somewhat to her embarrassment, her feelings of jealousy about Twilight. She had no idea what might be relevant, so she left nothing out. Luna listened quietly throughout her tale. At the end of her story, Luna sat for a moment, considering her words. She levitated a pitcher of pure water and poured a small goblet, offering it to Rarity. She took it gladly as Luna poured one for herself.
“Let me ask you something,” Luna began.
Rarity nodded. “Yes, princess?”
“How do you think you got here so easily?”
Rarity was confused by the question at first, and was about to respond in kind, but after thinking it over for a minute, she realized that her journey here had indeed been rather uneventful. Actually, now that she was trying to recall it, it slipped away from her.
Luna continued without letting her respond. “Twilight would never have let you leave that house in the first place. She would have felt too guilty about her scroll and what it might have done to you. Your sister would have been far more illogical than she was. She would have never thought to bring to you a nurse. She would have been driven to help you herself.”
Rarity was still trying to absorb Luna’s strange wording. “Her scroll?”
Luna put her own goblet down. “Think about it. Twilight’s most prized possessions are her books. All of her spells are in her books. She doesn’t keep scrolls, she keeps books. When was the last time you saw her use a scroll for a spell?”
Rarity tried to remember a single time in their lessons. She couldn’t.
“Was the scroll written in her hoofmanship?” Luna asked, with a hint of finality in her voice.
“Yes,” Rarity admitted slowly; it had been.
“She wrote that scroll herself,” Luna said, her tone keeping its certainty. She took a sip from her goblet before continuing her thought. “Does Twilight strike you as a competent enough magician to compose a scroll-long incantation by herself?”
Rarity hesitated, biting her lip.
“Don’t be afraid to answer honestly. Remember your time in Canterlot and Twilight’s lessons. Incantations are extensive and complicated affairs only done by classically trained arcane scholars. They are not things to be left lying around on library tables.”
Rarity sat stoic, unsure how to respond.
“Did Twilight write that spell herself?” Luna prodded.
“Probably not,” Rarity said, caving to Luna’s logic.
“Exactly,” the princess said. “She was, in all probability, experimenting with an existing spell. Your fears about any deception on her part are unwarranted; you were never meant to see that scroll. Therefore, whatever she wrote is almost certainly not having its desired effect on you. Whatever that effect might have been, I cannot say for certain.”
Rarity had finally connected the dots, but almost wished she hadn’t. Her heart jumped into her throat as her head whipped towards the princess. “I’m still asleep?”
Luna looked her calmly in the eyes for the first time. “It is a possibility.”
Rarity opened and shut her mouth several times, unable to think of anything to say. She looked around herself and realized that the library had shifted slightly from just moments ago, the minor changes now painfully obvious before this new realization. Some of the stacks had been shuffled slightly, leaving several of the books’ spine lettering changed. Though she couldn’t remember what they had originally said, she innately knew they were different. Tentatively, she gazed into her goblet; it was empty.
“Is it such a surprise?” Luna asked, her eyes not leaving her cup as she took a sip.
Rarity’s head swam as the world around her seemed to distort with her hyperventilation. “But… I…”
Luna looked up from her goblet. Her face did not belie any hint of emotion. “Calm yourself, Rarity, and think. I have given you no new information. Everything I told you just now you already know, had you been able to see it. Accept the thought that everything you’ve experienced in the last day or so was all in your head. It is quite probable that you are simply occupying a new layer of the spell now; loosened from it’s grasp, but still tethered. Your rebellion against the rogue magic in your system caused your ascension. There is nothing more going on here.”
Rarity could scarcely believe what she was hearing, and yet, beneath her panic, she realized Luna was making sense. She had been more lucid in the past twenty four hours than she had been since she cast the rogue spell, whatever lucidity counted for in this realm. The more she considered Luna’s words the more she realized the princess’s conclusion was the only correct one. She turned back to the god queen, trying to calm herself with more questions.
“So, if you’re not Luna, who are you?” Rarity queried.
“You,” Luna responded plainly. “Or, rather, your magic. Your subconscious is still mostly trapped beneath the layers of the rogue spell, despite the impressive damage you did to it.”
Rarity swallowed, accepting the vague compliment. She knew the answer to the next question, but had to ask it anyway. “So, can I wake up?”
“No. Not without my help,” Luna said. “That’s why I drew you to me.”
“But I came to you,” Rarity protested weakly.
“Remember that you’re still asleep,” Luna reminded her, looking away to take another sip from her goblet. “Your thoughts at this moment are only fragments that were able to free themselves from the lower layers of the spell; they have little basis in reality. I was able to connect them into something resembling consciousness so I could speak with you here. Hence, your increased lucidity within the past day or so; though in reality, much less time has passed. Twilight will surely be trying to wake you, as well. Whether she will be successful, I do not know.”
Rarity nudged her goblet with a hoof- a sweet smelling purple liquid sloshed inside the container. She should have been able to draw that conclusion. Perhaps she wasn’t as self-aware as she thought she was, whatever that meant. She took a long moment to mull over the situation. “How were you able to do all this?” she asked, finally.
“Magic works in mysterious ways,” Luna said simply. “Even your own, though you think it less powerful than you’d like it to be. Remember that.” At those words, the world around both of them shifted dramatically into a sunny beachfront. Rarity looked down in shock at the pillow she had been sitting on, now nothing more than a pile of sand. In the background she heard crashing waves, and seagull cries pierced the air in the distance. A beach ball now sat between them instead of a table.
Luna hummed as she took in the scene. “This layer is destabilizing,” she said in her unwavering tone. She turned towards the white unicorn. “Listen to me carefully, because I won’t be able to speak to you after this.”
Rarity nodded, trying to keep her breathing under control. “I’m listening.”
Luna pushed the beach ball away, deflating it in the process. “When you descend back into the lower layers, I’ll be with you. You need to find and confront the shadow again. The darkness is the source and the symptom of this invasion. No doubt you have already figured this out. What you don’t know, and therefore I do not know, is what the shade is a manifestation of; what it represents.”
Rarity rubbed a hoof on her face to make sure she was still there, still trying to take all this in. Her grip on the world seemed to be slipping away with each passing second. Parts of her body were becoming numb and it was growing more and more difficult to think. “How do you know it’s supposed to symbolize something?”
“Magic knows magic,” Luna said. Her crown was now a seagull. “It’s up to you to figure out what the purpose of the darkness is. I think that when you do, you’ll find your way out. With my help this time, of course,” she added. “I’m with you every step of the way. Okay?”
The world around Rarity buckled and heaved. “Okay!” she said with as much force as she could muster.
“Good,” Luna said, her voice seemed to resonate from all directions as the world faded. “Good luck.”
Rarity found herself on a cloud, and one that was pretty high up, by the looks of it. Her purple mane rippled in a gentle wind, and the sun shone vibrantly, but not terribly warmly, upon her. The town below her resembled a caricature of Ponyville more than real buildings. She couldn’t see any ponies in the streets, the roads seemed abandoned. The orange filly beside her sipped something from a delicately sculpted glass.
“You were saying?” Scootaloo asked.
Rarity looked back at the small pegasus. “Pardon?”
“About Celestia,” the foal clarified. “What were you saying?”
Stalling for a moment, Rarity looked at her own glass; an empty goblet stared back at her. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember,” she said after a moment.
Scootaloo swished the liquid in her glass. “That’s okay, I’ll pick it up; is Celestia a god?”
“Well, she’s a princess, and she can control the path of the sun…” Rarity trailed off.
“That’s not what I asked, though,” the filly said. “Is she a god?”
“I suppose so,” Rarity said slowly. “Her magic surpasses everypony else’s, and she was certainly powerful enough to banish Luna when the need arose.”
“Did she create Equestria?” Scootaloo prodded.
Rarity thought for a moment. “No.”
“Then who did?” the filly asked.
“Good question,” she hummed.
“So,” Scootaloo said, getting up from her sitting position and walking to the edge of the cloud, away from Rarity. She spread her wings and let the wind catch them, ruffling her feathers. “Who’s to say that she is a god?”
Rarity found herself amongst objects that reflected the light so violently that she had to shield her eyes for a moment. When she brought down her hooves, she saw around her a mountain of the most beautiful gems she had ever seen. Every color of the rainbow blanketed her in a wave of radiance that made her eyes sparkle with pure delight.
The ground beneath her rumbled. She heard a noise not unlike an earthquake behind her- whipping her head around, the last thing she saw was an enormous black and gold dragon, returning to protect his treasure.
The frenzied roar of the crowd could be heard through the thick red curtain separating Rarity from her destiny. She could feel the hot spotlights and the eyes of thousands of ponies anxiously awaiting her appearance. She looked down at herself; this was the most beautiful dress she had ever designed and it fit her curves perfectly. She had never looked more stunning in all her life, and now she was going to prove it. Brushing back her perfectly-groomed mane, she stepped out onto the runway.
Except there was no runway. There was no crowd. As her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting of the theater, Rarity realized that there was absolutely nopony there. The sounds that had previously deafened her faded away, as the spotlights faded to black.
The space around her was filled with an absolute darkness, making discerning her location an impossibility. In front of her was a mare with slate blue fur, and a duo-tone mane to match. She wore a purple cloak and a pointed hat with decorative stars embroidered on the fabric. Levitating in front of the cloaked pony, in a magical purple haze, was a single flower, with purple pedals. She looked at it with a neutral expression.
“It’s just a trick, you know; the flower,” the blue mare said softly. She levitated it towards Rarity. “Would you like it?”
Rarity gently plucked the flower out of the air with her mouth, unsure of what to say. The mare continued.
“It’s life that I’ve created,” she said. “Isn’t it? The flower is alive. And yet…” she trailed off, looking forlornly at her cloak. “… and yet, it’s still a trick.” The blue unicorn looked back up at Rarity. “Is it still life, if it’s all a trick?”
Rarity, still unsure of how to respond, gave the mare a comforting look. In response, she gave a small smile.
“I guess… if the ponies like it, what’s the difference?” she asked gently.
“You’re useless!” Twilight yelled, pushing the metal puzzle box and everything around it off the table. The mass hit the floor with a loud clatter, a heap of scrolls, books, and the remains of a teacup. Rarity opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off by a glare from the purple unicorn.
“Useless!” Twilight repeated, louder than before. “A foal could do that spell! You’ve been at this for an hour and you can’t do a simple levitation spell!“ She got up in a huff, and walked several paces away from the table, breathing heavily in frustration.
Rarity swallowed deeply. “I only…” she began.
Twilight twirled around, fire in her eyes. “You only what?! You’re an embarrassment!” she shouted. “It’s no wonder you left Canterlot! Obviously you weren’t good enough to stay there. That was pitiful!”
Rarity felt her composure slipping away from her. “If you-“
“And you call yourself a unicorn!” Twilight yelled. “You might as well get your horn removed. There’s nothing I can do with you. Get out of my house!” At that, Twilight turned back around, and began to pick up the items that she had prepared for that day’s lecture, the majority of which were now scattered on the floor.
Rarity watched her for a few moments before gathering the strength to speak again. She felt like she was at the edge of tears. “Please…” she said softly, trying to control her voice. “Give me another chance. I’ll do better. I promise.” Twilight turned around, an incredulous look on her face. Rarity cringed, expecting her to yell at her again.
“Another chance?” she said, with barely contained frustration. “Another chance? Okay, here’s your chance.” Twilight’s horn glowed a brilliant lavender, and Rarity felt her throat magically constrict. Her eyes opened wide as she gasped for breath around the crushing force.
Twilight’s face became impassive. “What are you waiting for?” she asked. “Stop me. Surely you can do that!”
Rarity brought her hooves to her throat and fell backwards off of her pillow in pure panic, all magical ability forgotten. Her heart raced in her chest as her view of the ceiling began to blur at the edges. Her back hooves kicked uselessly against the air and scuffed the floor of the library as she fought for even a single gasp of air. She heard Twilight’s tirade continue to echo across the room.
“Even when your life depends on it, you can’t save yourself!” she shouted. “You don’t deserve your magic! You don’t deserve your gift!”
Just when Rarity thought she might lose consciousness, the magical hold on her neck loosened and dissipated. She took a few choking, shuddering breaths, and her vision gradually returned to normal. In her thrashings, she had ended up looking at the door to the library. She thought she saw a face behind the frosted glass. She thought she heard knocking. She didn’t care. Getting to her hooves, she turned to face her teacher, who had a smug, satisfied look on her insufferable face.
“Go ahead,” Twilight said softly. “Do what you wish; I welcome it.”
Rarity’s face twisted into a snarl; she intended to. Lighting her horn with magic, she leveled it directly at the purple mare. She knew exactly what spell she was going to use. Before she could, though, she heard the door behind her open.
“Rarity, stop!” a familiar voice shouted from behind her.
She didn’t know what it was about the voice that caused her to pause, but she did. She kept her gaze on Twilight, who kept her arrogant expression, but otherwise made no move to challenge whoever had entered the library. A moment passed, then two. No pony in the room moved. The silence around them was stifling.
“Rarity, look at me,” the voice said.
Every fiber in her being was telling her to use her magic against her former friend. Her heart pounded in her chest, and she shook with the rage that she felt. Despite all that, despite what had happened just a moment ago, the voice behind her was like a crystal tone in her ears, lending clarity to her chaotic, strained thoughts. She still desperately wanted to tear the smirk from Twilight’s face, but…
Against her better judgment, Rarity turned around and leveled her horn at the newcomer instead. She recoiled instantly, the flare of magic dissipating from her horn before a blue pegasus. Standing before her, proudly displaying her feathers, was Rainbow Dash. Beyond the multicolored pony, through the door, was only pitch blackness. Where Ponyville should have proudly stood was naught but a void. The rainbow-maned pony’s expression shifted to one of determination as she levied her gaze on Twilight.
“Rarity, you’re going to do exactly what she wants you to do,” Rainbow Dash said. “Don’t! Just trust me. She learned from last time, and it’s what she’s counting on.”
Rarity wanted dreadfully to tell the mare exactly what had just happened; what Twilight had done, but as she was about to, she was cut off, as if Dash had read her thoughts.
“Look, that’s not Twilight,” Rainbow Dash said quickly, “It never was. Twilight would never do these things to you. Think! I can’t do this for you!”
Rarity furrowed her brow as she listened to the pegasus; she was saying absolute nonsense. This was clearly Twilight in front of her now; and yet, now that Dash had said it, Rarity started to notice that this situation wasn’t exactly normal- but not in so many words. It was strange in a way she couldn’t put her hoof on. She was still angry, but a new emotion was settling over her; one that she couldn’t identify. She was torn; she didn’t know what to think, and it frightened her.
Twilight spoke up from the opposite corner of the room. “Clearly, you are confused,” she said in a low, hauntingly familiar voice.
“You shut your mouth!” Dash snarled. “Rarity, listen to me-“
“Why should you?!” Twilight yelled, louder. “You know what you want to do. It’s what you’ve wanted to do for a very long time. So seize your chance! Do it!”
“Rarity, don’t!” Dash yelled.
If she had been torn before, Rarity had no idea what to think now. Would Twilight have done those things to her? Maybe she deserved it; maybe she deserved to be ridiculed. But what had she done? Maybe she hadn’t done anything? So why was Twilight so angry with her? All she wanted, all she ever wanted, was to impress her. As the questions fought for supremacy in her mind, her thoughts became a morass of emotion and helplessness that she couldn’t control, much less fight. She slowly sunk to her knees in defeat, and tears filled her eyes.
Rarity choked back a sob. “I give up,” she said, softly. “I can’t do this. I’m… I’m useless.”
“You are not useless!” Dash said. “I can’t name one other pony in Equestria who has stood by her friends like you have! Stood by me! Stood by everypony, even when things were at their worst!”
The words resonated in Rarity’s head the same way that Dash’s earlier ones had. As suddenly as they had come, the tears in her eyes dried. She turned her head towards the sky blue mare. On her face was nothing but admiration; she was telling the truth.
“Of course I’m telling the truth, feather-brain!” Dash spouted.
“She’s just telling you that to make you doubt yourself later,” Twilight shouted from across the room. Rarity whipped her head around to look at her once again. The fire in her eyes had returned. Twilight redoubled her efforts. “She’s manipulating you!”
Another voice came from behind Rarity. “You held your ground against the diamond dogs. I’m not sure I could have done that,” it said. Rarity turned once again. Standing behind Rainbow Dash were three other ponies; Fluttershy, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie. She recognized the voice as Applejack’s, who gave her a gleaming smile.
“They’re lying to you!” Twilight’s voice took on a grave quality, becoming louder. Her exclamation seemed to fill the room.
Fluttershy spread her wings with pride. “You helped us redeem Nightmare Moon!”
Pinkie Pie beamed her widest smile. “You helped me realize that I hadn’t actually lost something that I held dear to my heart.”
Twilight snarled behind her. “Do you think all of that redeems you?!” Again, Rarity turned towards her teacher. The purple mare pawed angrily at the ground, “Do you think any of those things matter?!”
“They matter to me,” came a soft voice said from behind her. When Rarity turned round to face this new voice, she saw a second Twilight; standing in the center of the group of ponies. Not an angry, vengeful Twilight, but one with the most tender of expressions and the most sincere of smiles.
“They matter to me, because you helped me realize you’re the best friend a pony could ever ask for,” she said.
The word rang like a bell through Rarity’s muddled thoughts. She gazed upon this new Twilight’s face, searching for any hint of deceit. She found none. All she saw in her friend’s face was happiness; no judgment, no anger, no hate. She looked at the rest of her friends, gathered around her, lending her support. They all wore the same warm expressions, silently standing behind Twilight’s words. They didn’t have to say anything. They all felt the same way, and Rarity knew it.
She knew, now. She knew how to leave this place, this plane of misery.
Rarity stood up and turned, one last time, to face the Twilight Sparkle she now knew wasn’t real. However, what stood in her place was a smoky, black, amorphous shape, with a unicorn’s horn and a pegasus’ wings. The creature’s eye sockets were filled with fire, which gave off embers that floated lazily into the air. Though it had no face, Rarity could feel the rage it held; the rage that she could now put a feeling to.
It was her own; her own rage, her own envy, her own blind, stubborn, jealousy for Twilight and for herself. With this realization came an overwhelming sense of calm; she knew what she had to do.
She walked, slowly and deliberately, towards the shape. On her way to the pedestal on which it stood, Rarity magically picked up the fallen puzzle pieces. The creature didn’t move an inch as she approached. When she was a mere step away from it, she stopped, staring it straight in the eyes.
“I know what you are,” she said calmly.
“You have accomplished nothing. You can’t kill me. I am a part of you,” the shape said, in a twisted and grotesque masquerade of Twilight’s own voice.
“I’m not going to kill you,” Rarity said simply. Releasing her magical hold on the puzzle pieces, she dropped them on the floor directly in front of the shade. She never broke her gaze with the fiery eyes. “Solve it,” she said forcefully.
The shade hesitated for the smallest of instants. “What game are you playing?”
Recognizing the shape’s refusal, Rarity again picked up the puzzle with her magic. Holding it directly between her and the abomination, she began to rotate the pieces, looking for their overall pattern. She fitted piece to piece, section to section, slot to slot in an attempt to solve it, as she had done in the real world not hours ago. The minutes seemed to drag on forever, but she refused to look anywhere else but at the face of the alicorn in front of her. As she got closer to completing the puzzle, the pieces changed slightly, refusing to let her continue. Determined, she rearranged the offending portions, but they changed shape once again. Every time they would do so, she would back up and resolve that part.
After what seemed an eternity, she was left with the best solution she could possibly derive- yet despite her confidence in it, there was a piece missing. A hole, directly in the center. Rarity could have sworn she saw the alicorn grin.
“You fight against something than cannot be defeated,” it said in a low voice. “If you truly know what I represent, you would not try.”
And just like that, the final piece of the metaphorical riddle clicked into place for Rarity.
She stared directly through the hole at the shape, and closed her eyes. Reaching out with her magic, she enclosed the shade with it, delving deep into the center of the mass, looking for the energy she knew existed. When she found it, she resisted the urge to do what she so desperately had wanted to do just moments ago. Instead, she took what she found and brought it out gently, fitting the energy into the last section of the now completed puzzle.
When she opened her eyes, the shape was no longer present. In the puzzles place, there now floated a solitary apple. Rarity laughed. It was over.
“You did it,” Luna said from beside her. They were back on the beach. She heard the gentle sound of waves lapping the shore, and the familiar cry of the seagulls.
Rarity smiled at her. “With your help,” she responded.
“I am you, remember?” Luna said playfully, nudging her with a hoof. Rarity positively beamed. “Never doubt yourself. You are stronger than you could ever imagine.”
Rarity swallowed, her smile fading. “Thank you; for teaching me that.”
Luna only motioned at the sun above them. “It is something that few ever learn. Go on, your friends are waiting.”
Rarity looked up to the sun, and the world faded again.
When she awoke, she found herself on a cot. She recognized the nurse pony’s office immediately. As she blinked the lights out of her eyes, she saw a number of faces standing over her, all wearing concerned expressions. She recognized them as well. Her friends, every one of them.
She heard one of them ask if she was okay, though it came through somewhat muffled. She turned her head slowly to locate the source of the question. Her eyes drifted towards a purple mare, Twilight, her eyes looked red, as if she had been crying. Rarity could only smile.
“Am I home?” she asked wearily.
Twilight’s eyes were flooded with tears as she returned her smile. “You’re home.”