The Tarnished Crown

by Amber Spark

Chapter 1: Troubled Hearts, Troubled Minds

Normally, Rarity adored every second she managed to steal Twilight Sparkle away from the world.

This was not one of those seconds.

Rarity looked over at the alicorn walking beside her and chewed her lower lip. It was a terrible habit, something she had struggled to break for quite some time. Yet, there was something about Twilight that often brought out the worrier in her. She supposed it could be a natural response to Twilight’s own tendencies toward worry.

More likely though, it was the simple fact that Rarity loathed seeing a frown on her marefriend’s beautiful face. Even though the Manehattan sky remained bright and cheerful, this terrible sight washed Rarity’s world in shades of grey.

Such a shining star of a pony should never be marred by something as mundane as a frown. The mere thought of it was an utter travesty. Twilight Sparkle was too good for frowns. Even if Twilight herself tended to disagree.

No matter Rarity’s feelings on the subject, a frown lingered upon the princess’s features. It had been there since lunch. She’d gone to powder her muzzle and returned to see the horrid thing plastered on Twilight’s beautiful face.

Rarity hadn’t been able to pry more than a few languid words out of her marefriend since.

“Frankly, my dear, a half-hour of brooding does not fit somepony of your station,” Rarity commented.

Twilight glanced up from her consideration of the concrete beneath their hooves as they wound their way through the Manehattan hooftraffic.

“Sorry, what?” Twilight looked at her, but Rarity knew that particular expression. Twilight barely even knew she was there.

Rarity did her best not to roll her eyes. “You are a princess, Twilight,” Rarity continued. “Seeing you moping about since lunch is simply unbecoming.”

To Rarity’s surprise, Twilight had actually flinched at the word ‘princess.’

Oh dear. I do hope she’s not galloping down those paths once more.

“I’m just distracted,” Twilight replied in a tone a bit too curt as they approached the hotel. “I have a lot on my mind.”

“Darling, this is supposed to be a weekend getaway,” Rarity chided. “Just for the two of us, remember?”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

The bellhop opened the doors for them and gave both mares a little bow. Rarity floated over a small jewel to him with an insincere smile. Twilight would likely have seen right through it—if she had been in a mind to—but it was enough for a casual exchange with a random pony.

However, Twilight was once again staring at her hooves, plodding toward the elevators and ignoring everypony around them. She gathered stares—and those were becoming somewhat worrisome—but Twilight seemed oblivious as Rarity caught up.

“Twilight, darling—” she began when a snobbish voice from her right caught her ear.

“—of course I’ve heard about her,” said a stallion. “Everypony’s heard about her. I just don’t know what the big deal is.”

“You idiot!” snapped another stallion as Rarity turned her eyes to the source of the voices. “She’s saved Equestria more times than I can count!”

“That doesn’t mean much coming from you,” the first stallion snarked. He looked rather well-to-do… despite his atrocious choice of words. “If that’s the case, what’s her official ‘thing?’ Celestia’s got the Sun. Luna’s got the Moon. Even that Cadance filly runs an entire empire! That one? She lives in a tree in the most podunk town—”

Rarity’s eyes slid to Twilight as the elevator chimed. Twilight almost looked the same. The same vague frown. The same slumped posture. The only difference was now the alicorn’s ears were all but plastered to her head.

Rarity had half a mind to go buck that stallion into next week, but even as Twilight stepped into the elevator—never looking up at her—she knew it wouldn’t help.

Well, it would definitely help Rarity. However, it wouldn’t help Twilight and Rarity knew which was more important.

With a suppressed sigh, she stepped into the car, tapped the button for the penthouse suite with a little push of magic and watched the doors close.

The elevator ride took several lifetimes. And the silence yawned wider with every floor. When they reached the top floor and the suite Twilight had arranged for them… the silence remained.

Twilight unlocked the oaken double doors, stepped inside and headed for the living room. With a flash of magic, she yanked the curtains closed on the enormous windows that looked out over the magnificent Manehattan skyline. Rarity followed and closed the doors, once again chewing on her lip. She had to flip on a few lights to see in the gloom.

“You’re chewing on your lip,” Twilight said listlessly without even glancing back. “So, what’s bothering you?”

Rarity stopped and stared at her marefriend. Granted, they’d been together for a little over six months. Granted, they were still at that stage where they were becoming acquainted on an entirely different level beyond friendship. Granted, their new relationship had created all sorts of issues that had required sorting out… and were still being sorted out.

But still…

“You must be joking.” Rarity stared at her. “You are joking, aren’t you?

Twilight shrugged and plopped down onto a couch. There was still enough light filtering through the skylights to give some texture to the room. The only exception was a single beam of weak sunlight shining down upon Twilight. Rarity had never seen anything as gloomy as the alicorn at that moment.

“I heard them, you know,” Rarity pointed out. “One of them tried to defend you.”

“I know. But that other one wasn’t exactly being subtle,” Twilight shrugged again and pulled a magazine off the coffee table. “Better than the half-dozen or so at the restaurant.”

“I see…” Rarity winced and glanced at the magazine. It was a tour guide of Manehattan. A rather dreadful one at that, if she remembered correctly. Still, Twilight flipped through the pages with tired eyes. Twilight wasn’t even reading it. She was just going through the motions. Trying to pretend she was fine.

Rarity knew better.

Twilight knew that Rarity knew better. She had to.

Yet Twilight persisted.

This is not what I had intended. The Equestria Games are over. The only thing that remains on her docket is the Maretonia visit in three weeks. This should be a time of relaxation… but I cannot recall the last occasion I have seen her so miserable.

“Twilight, please. Talk to me.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Twilight didn’t look up. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I’m getting used to it.”

“You’re ‘getting used to it?’” Rarity asked, still standing just inside the living room. “You’re ‘getting used to it’ and you’re asking me what’s wrong?”

Twilight glanced up at her. Her eyes looked a little dull, as if she was having trouble focusing on Rarity. That stung a little. Rarity prided herself on grabbing Twilight’s complete attention whenever she so desired.

“Rarity, it doesn’t matter what they think. Or even what they say. I’m still a princess.”

“Oh, really?” Rarity stalked up to her marefriend and glowered at her. “Then tell me something, princess. You’re the one who’s always got her head in a book. Please explain to me what happens to a group of ponies who don’t take their leaders seriously?”

Twilight shook her head and went back to flipping through the magazine. “Not the same thing. Equestria has Celestia and Luna. The Crystal Empire has Cadance. Ponies have their leaders.”

“And you?”

“I’m just there to smile and wave, Rarity.” She did both without a hint of joy. “The most important things I’ve done since becoming princess is infiltrating another world and performing—what did Rainbow call it—the Magic Starboom? Something like that.”

“We both know that is not true,” Rarity stomped her hoof on the ground. “Without your intervention, all of Equestria would have been consumed by Discord’s horrid plundervines.”

“That had nothing to do with me being a princess and we both know it.” Twilight looked up again. “Try again.”

Rarity opened her mouth to speak, searching for something else to say. Sadly… she came up blank. Then she slapped her hoof over her face.

“How about me?”

This time, Rarity had Twilight’s full attention.

“That’s not funny.”

Rarity blinked a few times before blushing at the implied comment. “No, darling. No, no no. Nothing like that. I mean us, Twilight. Us getting together.”

Twilight rolled her eyes, slipped back into the couch and buried herself in the magazine again.

This was not the reaction Rarity had anticipated.

“Rarity, don’t get me wrong,” Twilight said, her voice frosty. “I’m enjoying this new thing between us. But I couldn’t help but notice the timing of it.” She sighed and squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. “It would probably be a good idea if we stopped talking about this.”

“Timing…?” Rarity blinked a few times, staring at her marefriend. Despite Twilight’s warning, she still needed to understand. “You can’t possibly mean…”

The magic around the magazine flared with Twilight’s emotions, something Rarity had seen only a few times before. It was almost blinding. Then the magazine shot across the room, slamming into a wall and flopping down in a sad little heap a few feet away.

Rarity’s eyes shifted from the magazine to Twilight. She took a step backward. For a brief moment, she could have sworn flames danced in the alicorn’s eyes.

“I’m your backup plan, Rarity,” Twilight spat. Her body trembled with each word. “I have been from the beginning. You asked me out two weeks after Trenderhoof spurned you for Applejack. Two weeks. I’ve done the research. Everything I’ve read indicates your timing clearly falls within the ‘rebound window.’”

“The… rebound window…” Rarity repeated tonelessly. She felt strangely numb, as if she had just fallen through the ice on a frozen pond in the dead of winter. “You… you actually believe…”

“Yes, Rarity,” Twilight growled. “I do believe it. Because it’s true. You didn’t get the one you wanted, so you went with Plan B. Now, I happened to have actually liked you, so I was stupid enough to say yes.”

Rarity held a hoof to her chest. Sensation returned, but it was nothing pleasant. Something within her twisted upon itself, quickly approaching a breaking point. What lay beyond that point, Rarity wasn’t quite sure. She had no desire to find out.

“Twilight, I—” Rarity began, but apparently Twilight wasn’t done.

“No, I get it!” Twilight shoved herself to her hooves and stalked toward the unicorn, her wings flared. Rarity took a single step back. She knew enough about pegasi—and by association, alicorn—anatomy to know what that meant. “It’s the story of my life, Rarity. And all that’s happened in the last several months has shone this great wonderful light on exactly what I am to all of Equestria.”

Twilight’s horn ignited and a field of magic shimmered into existence beside her. It took a few moments, but images began to play out on the impromptu screen. Twilight’s eyes never left Rarity.

Rarity tried to match Twilight’s gaze… but found herself drawn to the images.

And the first was…

Sunset Shimmer?

“The great destiny Celestia had planned for me? It wasn’t originally for me! It was for somepony else. Her former student. One she never told me about. The one she loved like a daughter. I only ever got Celestia as a teacher.”

Bitterness tinged every word.

“Twilight,” Rarity mumbled, still trying to understand the change in her marefriend’s mood, “you can’t possibly believe that—”

“I was her backup plan. Have been from the start. The only reason I’m here is because Sunset got greedy and made a dumb mistake.” Once again, fire flashed in Twilight’s eyes. “Don’t you remember the first thing Celestia said after I came back?”

The screen shifted to Celestia’s concerned face.

“Sunset Shimmer, is she alright?”

The image froze.

“She didn’t ask about me. She asked about her.”

“You were there!” Rarity protested. “Sunset wasn’t! That’s all there is to it!”

“No,” Twilight spat. “No! Don’t you remember how pained she looked when she told us Sunset’s story? I’d never seen her like that before. Never about me. But, let’s not just stop there!” The bitterness in Twilight’s voice grew in a way Rarity didn’t like in the slightest. “The next part is even better.”

The image changed, showing Twilight’s point of view in the middle of the Everfree. Rarity could make out the plundervines on the screen and knew instantly what she was seeing.

Her heart sank even lower. She winced when Applejack appeared and began speaking.

“Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are gone. If somethin’ happened to you, I-I just don't think Equestria can risk losin’ another princess.”

Rarity could feel Twilight’s gaze harden even further as Rarity’s own voice floated out from the memory. Rarity’s mouth was dry. She tried to say something, but couldn’t force anything out.

“Applejack does make a valid point. Even if we manage to save the Tree of Harmony, it won't necessarily mean Princess Celestia and Princess Luna will return. Equestria will need somepony to lead in their absence.”

The image stopped, slightly washed out from what could only be tears… all of Twilight’s friends looking at her with expressions ranging from pity to worry.

“And once again, there I was, the second-rate backup. The one who would need to step into the shoes of Celestia and Luna. In case they didn’t come back.”

Rarity finally found her voice. “That’s not true, Twilight!” she cried. “I told you so myself! After we were foolish enough to send you away, I told you we were lost without you! We needed you to save the Tree of Harmony. If you hadn’t—”

Twilight shook her head. “I believed it then, Rarity. Not anymore. All you actually needed was my Element. If you had that, you could have easily saved the Tree yourself.”

“And what of the Tree itself?” Rarity demanded. “You said yourself that the symbol in the center was your own cutie mark!

Twilight waved a hoof as if to swat the words out of the air. “That was me deluding myself. It was a star, Rarity. It was just a star. It was only ever a star!”

She can’t be serious about this…

Twilight’s image flickered before showing a picture of Trenderhoof. He smiled once and then the entire projection shattered in an instant, fading into wisps of light.

“And don’t get me started on how you described him,” Twilight spat, stepping closer. “The whole dramatic fainting thing when first talking about him? How you almost ruined the entire festival because you were chasing him?”

Rarity retreated a few more steps and swallowed. Twilight advanced like an enraged timberwolf.

“I’m sick of being the replacement. The understudy. The backup plan. The ‘oh, you’re okay, but this pony’s so much better!’ I’m sick of it!

“Twilight, please!” Rarity bumped against a table, trying to get a grip on what had come over the mare. She’d seen Twilight angry before… but never bitter. “You can’t let these things twist you like this! You know Celestia and Luna are proud of you! You know how important you are to all of your friends! I admit… my timing in seeking your affections was… ill-advised, but that doesn’t mean—”

“I’m. Your. Back. Up. Plan.” Twilight hissed, each word coming out like a barb of ice. “Why did you ask me out, Rarity? Huh? Why?

Rarity struggled to keep up. Some rational part of her knew the snide comments Twilight had been hearing more and more lately about her importance—or lack thereof—as a member of Equestria’s royalty were simply overwhelming the alicorn. But there was another part of her that was getting quite tired of the barbs. Rarity did not appreciate being attacked on a personal level, even by her marefriend. Especially by her marefriend. A mare who should know her as well as anypony could know somepony else.

In a flash, her mind fled back to that moment after the Crystal Empire fiasco. The moment where she had learned Twilight had passed her test. The moment where she had felt that spark. The moment she had denied for over a year and a half until—

Yet now… she couldn’t help but wonder. Was it even that moment? Was it before? After?

Had that moment ever really happened at all?

The question jabbed at her. She tried to push it away and take solace in the memory, but it would not simply leave her be.

Finally, the Celestia-forsaken question forced itself to the front of her thoughts: Is Twilight right?

“I… I…” Rarity sputtered. She hadn’t seen any of this coming. This wasn’t supposed to happen this weekend! It was supposed to be a weekend for just the two of them, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city! “Because… because…”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed and cruel little smile appeared on her lips. Only once had Rarity ever seen this smile: when Twilight had confronted the false Cadance during that fateful wedding rehearsal. Finding herself the victim of that petty, spiteful little smile shriveled something inside Rarity.

“You don’t even know, do you?” Twilight said, her voice sounding for all the world like a viper. “In fact… you probably just wanted to ask me out when you realized I was your ticket to high society.”

“Twilight!” Rarity scoffed, rage finally coming to back her up. “How dare you!”

“How dare I?” Twilight shouted. “How dare I? Don’t play games with me, Rarity! Let’s go over the wonderful record of your love life, shall we? First of all, there was Blueblood.”

Rarity gaped at her. Twilight likely could not have gotten a stronger response if she actually struck her.

“But he ended up being a useless buffoon, didn’t he? I know you had a little crush on Fancy Pants, but he’s married, isn’t he?” Twilight’s eyes narrowed further. “We could go on a tangent and mention how you acted during my birthday in Canterlot a couple years ago, but let’s stay focused. Fancy Pants wasn’t available, so you changed tactics. Tried to approach it from the popularity side instead of the high society side. But Trenderhoof didn’t dance to your tune, did he? No, he shut you down harder than Applejack with Rainbow Dash after her sixth cider.”

Rarity took a deep breath. And then did it again. And again. Her hooves were shaking. Something in the back of her head screamed, demanding to get loose.

Twilight once again stalked forward until she was mere inches away. Under normal circumstances, Rarity would be delighted to have the mare so close. This was not normal circumstances.

“So, you probably took five minutes and realized maybe you needed somepony closer to home. Maybe somepony a bit naive. Somepony who you knew actually liked you. Somepony who enjoyed studying friendship and would likely jump at the chance to explore a whole new side of friendship? Somepony you could use to advance your little plans just like everypony else because nopony else wanted any—”

The hoof came from nowhere. Even Rarity was shocked. It had happened so fast, the only evidence of the strike was Twilight’s turned muzzle and Rarity’s aching hoof. She stared at the appendage as if it were a particularly horrid shoe. And then she looked back up into Twilight’s eyes.

Even on Twilight’s first day in Ponyville, Rarity had been able to at least glean some sort of insight into Twilight’s state of mind. She had never before seen a wall behind those eyes. Not as she did now. It was as solid as the stone beneath Canterlot.

“I’ve never meant anything to you, have I?” Twilight whispered. “You’re using me. You said it when I first showed up in Ponyville. You’ve been using me. Just like you wanted to use Blueblood. Just like you use everypony around you. Have you ever once thought about what your little games did to Spike? I’ve seen the way you flirt. You do it without thinking. Manipulate everypony around you into dancing to your little tune. Celestia… I can’t believe it took so long for me to see it. I am an idiot.

Rarity breathed. She closed her eyes, tried to find her calm center. In the last few months, that calm center had been in the general vicinity of her dear Twilight. But now when she looked, that center was no longer present.

“Twilight,” Rarity replied in a whisper of her own. It was a whisper of a mare enraged, but desperately holding onto the reins of said rage so she would not do something incredibly foolish. “I’m sure this has been building for some time. You’ve mentioned it on several occasions after your ascension. So, I am choosing to believe that these… these... words you are throwing at me are simply a sign you’ve been repressing yourself far too much. I do not believe you mean them.”

Then, Twilight’s face turned into something Rarity had never seen before. If she had thought a frown looked wrong upon Twilight’s muzzle… it was nothing compared to the sneer that now lay there. It was an ugly thing, full of loathing. Rarity couldn’t be sure if it was truly directed at her or at Twilight herself.

“Rarity, I am a pony of reason. Of science. Of logic. I create hypotheses, generate predictions, gather data and develop theories. At least, I normally am. And now, I find that I had suspended that methodology when accepting your proposal to transition our relationship from a state of friendship to a state of romance.”

“And because we are friends,” Rarity snapped, her ire rising in the face of that sneer. “I assumed you would know me better than this!”

“Well, we all know what a wonderful princess I’ve made. Just how useful I am in my position. Maybe I’m just that oblivious when it comes to the ponies who I thought were my friends too.”

Rarity would have taken another step back if she weren’t pressed up against the table. Those words… it was as if something had just been hollowed out inside of her. Losing Twilight in romance would be one thing… but losing her as a friend was unforgivable. Unacceptable. Something she would not stand for. She could not.

“You need to stop this, Twilight. You are letting this spiral out of control worse than the incident with your Smarty Pants doll.”

“No,” Twilight said. “I’m finally waking up to what I am. And the truth of those around me.”

Twilight turned away.

“I think you should leave, Rarity.”

Rarity took a step forward and steadied herself.

“I’m not leaving, Twilight. Not until we talk through this. You need to snap out of this.”

“I don’t need to snap out of anything.” Twilight’s wings were pressed to her sides, but they were trembling. She remained with her back to Rarity. “It’s called the truth, Rarity. Now get out.”

“No.” Rarity’s eyes narrowed. “You can’t make me leave, Twilight. Despite your extremely unkind words today, I am still very fond of you. I won’t abandon you.”

“Then you’re even more an idiot than I am,” Twilight growled. “Last chance. Get out.”

Rarity shook her head. “No.”

Twilight’s demeanor suddenly shifted and she whirled. “Fine. You want me to force the issue?”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

Twilight’s horn flared with power.

“I said get out!” Twilight roared.

Of all of her talents, Rarity knew battle magic was not among them. It didn’t stop her from trying to conjure a shield. However, even in her warped state of mind, Twilight Sparkle remained the embodiment of the Element of Magic.

Rarity didn’t stand a chance.

The world flashed a brilliant magenta. Next second, Rarity was in freefall. She let out a scream as she tried to gather her wits and discover where she was… only to find out when she slammed into the water.

Sputtering and coughing, she pushed herself to the surface. Ponies were staring at her. Fillies and colts in little floaties were playing around with their mothers and fathers on the other side of the pool. A few ponies in a nearby jacuzzi gaped at her.

She ignored them all, swam to the edge of the pool, climbed out and took a deep breath.

Her heart still trembled. The very core of her being trembled. But even through the rage and indignation, Rarity looked up at the false sky set into the ceiling above. Somewhere up there in the penthouse suite, Rarity knew that Twilight Sparkle was sobbing.

When a pony took as much time as Rarity did with her appearance, fixing said appearance became second nature. Rarity had learned to do this through all the various adventures she’d embarked upon with her friends. When she and her friends had plumbed the depths of the Everfree, or when she'd been stranded in the desert outside of Dodge Junction, she'd always been prepared. Rarity took pride in the fact that there was little that could defeat her repertoire of cosmetic spells and abilities.

As far as she was concerned, right now every one of those little talents could go throw themselves into the Manehattan Bay.

Rarity sat on a stool against the far wall of the hotel’s bar, staring at the flute of hard cider before her. Normally, she wouldn’t touch the stuff—save for Applejack’s special variety—but this hadn’t been a normal day. On the far side of the bar, tinted windows provided a panoramic view of the city. It was the same view Twilight had closed the curtains on just a few hours ago. Fitting, since she was only one floor below the penthouse suite. The sun had already set behind the skyline. The lights of Manehattan burned in the night, illuminating the massive city for all to see.

The city lights glittered in the amber liquid. Neither added any appeal to the other. Rarity sighed and prodded the flute with a hoof. Then she looked up.

The white-coated mare in the window looked miserable. Her false eyelashes were gone, washed away in her post-teleport soaking. There wasn’t a hint of mascara upon her face. Her mane hung limp around her head, still slightly damp in places. Even her tail dragged behind her like a burlap scarf.

She didn’t care.

She stared at her drink again.

A few minutes later, somepony on the other side of the bar pushed a mug of something over the shiny surface.

“I didn’t order anything else,” Rarity mumbled.

“Oh, I know,” said a mare’s warm yet quiet voice.

“If this is some foolish gesture by some mare or stallion in this establishment, thank them for their trouble and decline, please.”

“It might be foolish,” the voice replied. “But it would be a bit awkward to thank them for their trouble. After all, this is on the house.”

“Ah,” Rarity said in dawning comprehension. “Then a drink to get the poor unicorn mare back on her hooves?”

“After a fashion.”

Rarity shook her head, still not bothering to look up. “If you knew who I was dear, you would not be so careless with your words.”

“Oh, Miss Rarity, I know precisely who you are.”

Finally, Rarity glanced up. An orange unicorn mare stood behind the bar, smiling somewhat shyly. Bright green eyes shone behind a pair of black pince-nez glasses. She fiddled with a strand of her teal and purple mane and blushed a little.

“Then you have me at a disadvantage,” Rarity said with a raised eyebrow. “Miss…?”

“Amber Spark,” she replied and then nudged the mug with a hoof. “You really should try it. It’ll help.”

Rarity rolled her eyes. ‘Amber Spark’ had a familiar look in her eyes. One that showed quite clearly that she did not intend to take the hint and simply go away. Pinkie Pie often wore that expression. And when Pinkie wore that expression… Pinkie was usually right.

“What is it?” Rarity asked. The poor lighting in the lounge made the drink almost impossible to make out in the heavy mug.

“Something to wash away your troubles.”

“Darling, that may be one of the most cliché answers I’ve ever heard from a bartender.”

Amber just shrugged and smiled that shy little smile of hers.

“However, as I do not anticipate this evening becoming any better, I might as well,” Rarity sighed. She took the mug in her magic, swished it around and took a long pull. She smacked her lips a few times and frowned.

Then she slowly set the mug down and leveled a stare at Amber Spark.

“This is water.”

Amber nodded, looking rather pleased with herself.

Finally, Rarity just laughed. In truth, it was more of a bark than a real laugh. Maybe the sheer absurdity had finally caught up with her. An internal release valve blowing off just a bit of steam. Then, Rarity took the entire mug and downed it all.

“Again?” Amber asked.

Rarity nodded.

Amber refilled the mug from a glass bottle.

“Ah,” Rarity nodded, finally understanding. “This must be some sort of imported water, right? Likely from some place filled with harmony and tranquility?”

“Not really,” Amber said as she pushed the mug back in a field of teal magic. “Just filtered tap water. I think it tastes better coming out of a glass bottle.”

Rarity stared at Amber and lifted the mug, glancing between the mug and the mare.

“Then why the mug?”

“Because you needed to laugh, even if only for a really stupid reason.”

Rarity didn’t laugh this time, but she did give Amber a small smile. Ignoring the flute of hard cider, Rarity took another drink of the simple water.

“So, you know all about me, hm?” Rarity said. “Even in this wretched state? I almost feel as if I should be offended.”

Amber took a glass down from the bar and started polishing it. She did it oddly though. Rarity had the sense she did it because bartenders were expected to, and nothing more. The motions were jerky and erratic, as if she hadn’t done it before.

“If it’s any consolation, I’m fairly sure nopony else in here realizes who you are.”

Rarity glanced over the well-dressed and perfectly-groomed ponies in the bar and lounge. They all looked quite important. Probably some of the most powerful movers and shakers in all of Manehattan.

“I don’t really care.”

“Of course not.”

“So, then… what do you know about me?” Rarity asked. She found her curiosity about this other mare nice. A minor distraction, but it would suffice for the moment.

“That you once bore the Element of Generosity and have saved Equestria several times over.”

Since when do ponies know we gave back the Elements of Harmony? Rarity frowned faintly. Last time I saw that rumor was in the tabloids.

She shook her head, dismissing the random thought. “And here I thought nopony really cared about such things in this city. One would think saving Equestria would warrant getting a cab once in a while.”

“If it’s any consolation, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Princess Celestia have trouble getting cabs in this city.”

Rarity narrowed her eyes. “Why would Princess Celestia need a cab?”

Amber considered this for a few moments before shrugging. “There may be some deep philosophical meaning to that question, but really, I don’t have a clue.”

Rarity snorted.

“The other thing I know?” Amber said as she refilled Rarity’s water again. “You’re in love.”

Rarity tensed, waiting for the next line… that never came.


“And that’s it.” Amber smiled. “Oh, I’ve heard your name in regard to fashion, but I have to say I don’t pay a lot of attention to the latest trends. However, I do actually read the newspaper.”

“And the love part?” Rarity took a small sip of water.

This time, Amber did smile. It wasn’t a shy one, but a sympathetic one.

“Because that’s the only reason a pony like you could look so dejected right now. And because you didn’t outright disagree with me when I said it.”

Rarity felt like she should protest just for the principle of the matter, but really didn’t have it in her.

“She kicked me out,” Rarity said with a sigh. “She believes I am simply using her for her status.”

“Is it true?”

Rarity’s glare could have melted stone, but Amber went back to her shy little smile.

“No,” Rarity replied. “I… used to care about status far more than I do now. But… she’s right. I do have a somewhat bad track record with such matters.”

“But, I’m guessing that’s not the real problem, is it? Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be sitting here staring at hard ciders you’re not going to drink.”

“I just…” Rarity shook her head. “I wonder what I have to offer her. I want nothing more than to shake these poisonous thoughts from her mind, but I don’t know how. If I were a better pony, I could help her. She doubts herself. Her worth. Her gifts. Her importance. I fear that these doubts have already transformed into bitterness. And given time… bitterness can harden into something… dark.”

Rarity let out an enormous sigh and sniffled slightly, forcing back the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes.

“Well, what does she have to offer you?” Amber put down the glass she was polishing and picked up another. Both glass and rag still looked spotless.

Why is it that I’m the only one sitting at this bar, anyway? Where is everypony else?

Rarity glanced around, but nopony seemed to be interested in the bar. As if it didn’t even exist in their world.

“Why are you asking about what she has to offer? She’s… there are so many things I can’t begin to know where to start.”

“Because maybe she needs to hear them,” Amber pointed out.

“You can’t think it’s that simple.”

“No, of course not.” Amber giggled slightly. “From what I’m hearing… this mare is being chased by… let’s call them ‘demons.’ And those demons are eating away at her. About the things she loves. About if she’s worth loving. If she’s good enough. If she’s worth anything at all.” Amber raised an eyebrow. “Well… what do you think? Is she?”

“Of course she is!” Rarity cried. “How could you even—”

Amber lifted a hoof. “I don’t know this mare, remember?”

“Oh.” Rarity blushed a little. “Right. Yes. Forgive me, I…”

“You’re in love.”

Rarity sighed and put her head down on the bar. “Yes.”


“Because… I am.”

“Tell her that.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“It never is.”

“That won’t fix things!” Rarity shouted, knocking over the flute of hard cider. Amber’s teal magic caught it before it hit the bar. Not even a single drop was spilled. “She’s still going to have these doubts. There are still going to be ponies planting these poisonous seeds in her mind! And I can’t help her with it! I can’t fix it!

“It’s not about fixing things and you know it.” Amber smiled wanly, put Rarity’s flute out of reach and refilled her water. “It’s about being there. About making sure that she knows you’re there. And that you’re going to be there. She doesn’t doubt you, not really. She doubts herself.”

“So… how do I get through?” Rarity asked, leaning forward. She could hear the desperation in her own voice. “This mare— she’s been hurt by all the whispers she’s heard around her. About how others are so much better than her. And… those whispers aren’t going to stop. I can’t make them stop, even if I bucked every single pony who said something bad about her in the face—something I would dearly love to do, by the way. So, please… how do I help her?”

“I already told you. By being there.” Amber tossed the rag somewhere behind the bar. “Remind her who she is… and what she means. Not just to you. What she believes is what is. Show her that there are those who believe differently. Show her what she cares about is worthwhile. Show her that she is worthwhile. Even if the whole world says she’s not.”

Rarity stared at nothing for a time. The words tumbled over themselves in her head. They made sense… after a fashion. Despite everything, Rarity couldn’t help but feel she was missing something critical. Something necessary.

“I don’t know if it’ll be enough,” Rarity confessed. “She threw me out.”

“Sometimes, ponies push others away because they want to be alone. Sometimes… they do it because they want to see if you care enough to push back and tell them that the voices in their head are wrong.”

“Not the healthiest of habits,” Rarity commented.

“No,” Amber shrugged again. “But it’s still true. The question is… are you going to push back?”

In truth, she didn’t really need to pause to consider it. She knew the answer before the question had even been asked.

Yes… but not for myself.

Rarity set the mug down and glanced back at the reflection in the mirrored windows on the other side of the bar. A plain-looking white unicorn. Purple mane. No makeup. No frills. Nothing save for who she was. Nothing save for the heart that beat within her.

At the moment, it didn’t matter what she looked like.

She pushed herself to her hooves and glanced back at Amber Spark.

“You do this for all your customers?” Rarity asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Only the important ones,” Amber replied with that shy little smile.

Rarity giggled a little at that. Amber joined in. With one final nod, Rarity turned and trotted out the door. Then, curious, she stepped back inside and looked at the bar.

For some odd reason, Rarity wasn’t the slightest bit surprised to see nopony there.

“I shan't leave until you remove this forcefield, Twilight,” Rarity mumbled into the field of magenta magic for the eighteenth time. And just like every other time, there was no answer.

For all Rarity knew, Twilight could have placed a soundproofing charm on the shield. For all Rarity knew, Twilight could be halfway to Griffonstone by now. For all Rarity knew, Twilight could simply be asleep. It didn’t matter. She wasn’t leaving.

She knocked. She pounded. She kicked. Thankfully, the other penthouse suite was on the other side of the building, so nopony heard the shrieking tantrum she had sometime after midnight.

How long have I been here? Rarity wondered. Everything was a bit of a blur after landing in the pool. Wasn’t the sun still up then? But now, the clock over there says it’s just past one in the morning.

Rarity fought back a yawn. She couldn’t fall asleep. Not now. She needed to get through to Twilight. She had to ‘push back’ as that odd bartender had said. She had to get to Twilight before it was too late. Before poor Twilight’s own mind tore her to shreds as it had done so many times before. Rarity knew how painful that was. After all, she’d gone through it more than she cared to remember.

In fact, it was in this very hotel where she had done something all too similar a few months ago. But she had been forgiven. And that moment of forgiveness had shone as a beacon of light to another pony she now considered to be a dear friend. It had brought Coco Pommel back from the edge of giving into a dark and twisted view of the way the world worked.

She needed to do that again. She needed to do it for somepony far more important to her.

Rarity pulled her head back and stared at the shield. It thoroughly protected the entire doorframe, including the lock. There were no other entrances to the penthouse suite. However, Twilight had placed a shield only over the doors…

She hadn’t placed one over the wall around the doors.

Rarity stared at the wall. Then she stared at her hooves.

With my luck, I shall likely be arrested for this.

She took a few steps to the right, turned and planted her forehooves solidly on the plush velvet carpet.

“It’s a small price to pay,” Rarity mumbled to herself.

As an apology to Applejack after the Trenderhoof incident, Rarity had joined the farmer in a day’s worth of applebucking. In so doing, she had actually learned how to do the chore properly. It still wasn’t something she found remotely enjoyable. This fact did not dissuade her in the slightest.

She bucked the wall hard. The impact sent her sprawling to the ground, but she immediately got back up and surveyed the damage.

A small chip in the paint fell to the ground.

Rarity gritted her teeth and repeated the motion.

This time, three chips of paint fell.


Two that time.


Five! Progress!


With every buck, a crash echoed up and down the hallway that led to the staff elevator and a few other rooms. They could have been the security offices for the entire hotel. She didn’t care. She kept bucking. Her hooves ached with each impact. She didn’t stop. She nearly twisted an ankle at one point. But that was irrelevant. Rarity kept at it.

“Come!” Buck. “On!” Buck. “Twilight!” Buck. “Open!” Buck. “The!” Buck. Door!”


Rarity gasped for breath and stared at the wall. After a good fifteen minutes, there was a sizable crack. She’d even succeeded in making a small hole. However, the metal mesh beyond the hole revealed that simple force would not be enough to get through the wall.

As Rarity considered this new problem, the magenta barrier expanded to cover the entire wall.

“Twilight Sparkle!” Rarity shouted, racing forward and pounding on the shield with every iota of strength left in her body. “You let me in right this instant! Like me or not, we have been through far too much together for you to leave me out here alone!”

No answer.

“For the love of Celestia…” Rarity groaned as she slumped to her haunches. Her hooves ached. Her mane itched. Her coat remained scruffy. And all of it paled in comparison to the void in her chest where her heart had been.

Finally, Rarity looked up and gently pushed her horn against the barrier. She tried to channel magic into the shield. And putting her magic up against Twilight’s was like a candle going up against the sun. The magical feedback lashed at her like a live wire, but she refused to stop. She needed to get through to Twilight. And maybe finding some way to disrupt the spell might—

The forcefield doubled in strength.

The feedback quadrupled in strength.

The surge threw Rarity backward across the hallway. She smashed into a vase containing a large potted plant, sending ceramic chunks flying. Dirt and fern leaves scattered everywhere, though most of it ended up in Rarity’s already abused coat and mane.

She groaned and looked up. The shield spell remained intact.

Maybe I’ll just sleep here… Rarity thought woozily. The carpet’s nice…

A single sound echoed through the hallway like the crack of a whip. Or maybe it just echoed in Rarity’s head.

It was the sound of a bolt being drawn.

She stared at the untouched doors as one-half slowly creaked open. Beyond the shadow in the doorway lay only darkness.

Oh, Twilight… when will I be able to get you out of that head of yours…

“You’re going to hurt yourself,” Twilight mumbled. Her slumped form didn’t even look up. “You shouldn’t do that.”

Rarity forced herself to her hooves and stepped over to the doors, the shield still separating them.

“What was it you once said?” Rarity said with a wan smile, trying to force some measure of cheer into the looming shadows around Twilight Sparkle. “‘Friendship isn’t always easy, but there’s no doubt it’s worth fighting for?’”

“Friendship, maybe,” Twilight replied. “But some ponies aren’t worth saving.”

“That’s not true.” Rarity pressed her hoof against the shield. “And you know it.”

Twilight still didn’t look up. From what little she could see, Twilight looked just as bad as Rarity, if not worse. Rarity wanted nothing more than to reach out and hold the poor alicorn in her hooves.

“Twilight, please… let me in.”

“No,” Twilight mumbled, her voice remaining a chilling monotone. “I… I could have hurt you. I was so angry. So angry at you. Then… I just wanted you away. I could have just teleported you horizontally instead of vertically.”

Rarity sucked in a breath, but she didn’t remove her hoof from the forcefield.

“I don’t deserve these things,” Twilight continued, looking at her back and fluffing her bedraggled wings just a little. “I wonder… I wonder if Celestia can remove them?”

I could not have heard that right…

“Twilight… you can’t be—”

“I might not need Celestia. I might not even need the Elements, though they would likely be helpful. The Tree of Harmony could probably survive a little while without them. Then I’d go back to just being me. Everypony can forget about the whole thing. Pretend nothing ever happened.”

“Twilight, I refuse to—”

“I should probably at least start with Celestia.” Twilight didn’t appear to be listening. “If Celestia doesn’t know a spell, I’m sure I can develop one. After all, I finished Starswirl’s unfinished masterpiece.” She let out a hollow laugh. “You know… even now, I still don’t really understand what I did. I don’t know if that’ll make it easier or harder to undo it. It should be an interesting case study. Maybe it could be used in advanced transfiguration applications. Perhaps for ponies who have natural deficiencies in their racial magic.”

Rarity pounded on the shield. Twilight didn’t even seem to know she was there.

“Yes,” Twilight nodded to herself, unwilling—or unable—to hear Rarity’s increasingly frantic cries of protest. “I think I’ll start preliminary equations tonight. Maybe attempt some runic experiments. Who knows? If I’m lucky, by the time the sun rises, Equestria’s newest princess will be gone.”

Twilight moved to turn back into the suite.

Exhaustion fled from Rarity in an instant. She held no illusions that Twilight had the potential to do exactly what she said she was going to do. And in her state of mind… it would be a miracle if there was anything left of Twilight by the time the sun rose.

But how in Equestria could Rarity hope to stop her? She was an expert at telekinesis. Cosmetic spells. Some illusion. A few transfiguration spells here and there. Gem finding wouldn’t help one bit.

“Twilight!” Rarity shouted.

Twilight walked into the darkness.

Rarity did the only thing she could think of. She rammed her horn into Twilight’s shield once more and funneled as much magic as she could into it. She focused her entire being on that single point, trying to find a weakness. To pull apart a shield made by the very embodiment of magic itself in all the world.

Nausea overwhelmed her. Her eyes crossed. Her heart thudded in her chest. Breathing became increasingly difficult. Her vision started to blacken at the edges. But Rarity didn’t stop. She closed her eyes and pushed as hard as she could.

It was like trying to move the Pony of Liberty with her bare hooves.

She still didn’t stop.


“I… I refuse to stop…” Rarity growled through gritted teeth. “Until… you drop… this infernal shield!

“Rarity, you’re being silly. Nopony will ever care.”

Rarity’s eyes snapped open and she looked into the bloodshot violet eyes of a mare she was quite fond of.

“I care.”

Rarity bashed her horn into the shield again, pushing with all of her might.

“You’re going to hurt yourself.”

“I will not let you… ugh… do it.”

“You can’t stop me. You should just leave.”

“I’m. Not. Leaving.” Rarity shouted.

“You’re being stupid.”

“Love makes ponies do stupid things!”

The shield vanished.

Rarity fell face-first onto the floor. She lay there for a time as she waited until her heartbeat returned to something approaching normal. Then, she looked up.

Twilight was gone.

Rarity nearly stopped breathing until she looked deeper into the gloom of the penthouse suite and saw a shadow of movement.

Oh, thank Celestia…

Still, it took nearly five minutes for Rarity to find the strength to stand once more. She almost collapsed as dizziness washed over her, but she fought it back and stumbled inside. With a kick of a rather sore hoof, she closed the door.

A single beam of moonlight lanced through the suite’s skylight, landing on the same couch from earlier. Rarity ignored everything else and made her way toward that couch. Twilight sat there already, just outside of the pool of light, staring at nothing.

“Love?” Twilight murmured when Rarity sat down on the other side of the shaft of moonlight. “You’ve never used that word before. Not… like you just did. You can’t be serious.” She paused. “Were you serious?”

Rarity couldn’t look at the alicorn. “I think so.”

“Since when?”

Every part of Rarity ached. She wanted nothing more than to curl up and sleep for a week. But there were more important things to do right now.

Namely, save her friend.

“When you saved the Crystal Empire.”

“I didn’t save it—”

“No,” Rarity snapped. “That may be the story the Crystal Ponies know. That may be the story known to the rest of Equestria. But I know the truth. Just like your friends. And Celestia. And Cadance. And your brother and Luna. You found the Heart, Twilight. You saved that entire city from Sombra by sending Spike out with the Heart.”

“Doesn’t matter. I only passed that test because she took pity on me.”

“You passed Celestia’s test because you were willing to sacrifice everything. Because you knew what was most important,” Rarity replied, shaking her head in disbelief at the words coming from her friend. “With all due respect, Twilight… you may know magic, but I like to think I know generosity.”

“Sacrifice isn’t the same thing.” Twilight’s wings fluttered slightly.

“It’s close enough,” Rarity said. Finally, she looked up at Twilight, but Twilight didn’t meet her gaze. She was still staring at something only she could see. “That’s when I realized it, Twilight. I just didn’t want to face it.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Twilight asked in a tiny, sad voice. “Trenderhoof—”

Rarity burst into a bitter laugh before shaking her head. Twilight faced twisted in confusion.

“I had a plan, Twilight,” she said. “You of all ponies should appreciate that. I had a plan ever since I was a little filly sewing bits of glass into costumes by hoof. My whole life mapped out for me.”

“I… I don’t understand.”

Rarity smiled wanly. “I would have my own boutique, then my own fashion line. I would be popular, and successful, and meet the perfect stallion, and we’d make the perfect couple, and have the perfect foals. Everything would be… perfect. A perfect little fairy tale. My perfect little fairy tale.”

She swallowed, hating the sour taste in her mouth. Her eyes fell to her hooves once more, unable to look at Twilight. Part of her screamed she was a coward for that. Maybe that part was right.

“Then you just waltzed into my life. You couldn’t know what you were doing. I had the privilege of becoming your friend. I watched this amazing mare do amazing things, to become the very pinnacle of generosity I’ve always aspired to be. Slowly, my plan started to unravel. Then, after the Crystal Empire… I realized my grand tapestry had fallen apart. And it felt… different. In uncharted waters, so to speak.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Rarity saw Twilight’s expression shift once more. The alicorn’s bafflement would have been cute under different circumstances.

“Wait… are you… are you saying it’s because I’m a—”

Rarity chuckled. It was enough to stop Twilight’s train of thought. A piece of her heart twisted once more. Her Twilight—friend or otherwise—always the academic.

“No, darling. This has nothing to do with you being a mare. It just…” She paused, searching for the right words. “It just wasn’t part of my plan. Trenderhoof was the last test. Completely perfect, at least on paper. I even tried to be perfect for him. Tried quite a bit too hard, in fact.” Rarity shrugged. “But in the end, it didn’t matter. I never had half the admiration for him as I do for you. And not even a fraction of the affection.”

“Affection for what? Attraction to what? I’m nothing, Rarity. Every whisper I’ve heard tells me I’m nothing. I’m good for—”

“If the rest of Equestria cannot see your value, then they are fools of the highest order. And I will gladly take anypony to task for this. Anypony.”

Twilight shook her head, her tangled mane hanging limply over her face. “Rarity, the evidence is overwhelming. Since I became an alicorn, I have heard five hundred and thirty-two comments regarding my status. Your refusal to see it doesn’t change the fact that I am useless as a princess. And after what I did to you, I’m several orders of magnitude more useless as a friend. Nopony wants me. Nopony needs me. I might have once served some kind of purpose for Equestria… but not anymore. I could have… I could have… kil— hurt you! Seriously hurt you! I’m not even a good pony.

Rarity lacked the words to dig through the depression and bitterness blocking Twilight from the reality of the world. In the end… there was only one thing she could do.

“I was afraid.”

“So?” Twilight shrugged, completely unfazed by the change in topic. “I’m afraid all the time.”

“You don’t understand.” Rarity gritted her teeth and fiddled with a strand of her mane. “I was afraid of doing anything, Twilight. Even before Trenderhoof. He was just a desperate attempt at trying to stop myself from doing something that… that…” Rarity took a deep breath, “that could have serious consequences.”

“Consequences… such as making me realize the truth of what I actually am?”

“No, Twilight!” Rarity let out a little scream of frustration, but forced herself to remain in her seat. “Consequences like breaking the Elements of Harmony!

Finally, Twilight looked at her. Her jaw hung open. Moonlight glinted off her wide eyes.

Rarity turned away, unable to look Twilight in the eye as she spoke.

“After the return of the Crystal Empire… I realized two things. First of all, I may have developed a small crush on you. Yet, the second overwhelmed the first. What if I acted on my silly little crush… and something went wrong? What if I destroyed Equestria’s greatest defense… if I…” Rarity swallowed, “if I made a mistake and created a rift between us? We saw the result of that eventuality.”


Rarity felt the weight of Twilight’s stare.

“You didn’t act… because…” Twilight paused as she processed that. “So, what changed?”

Rarity swallowed hard, staring at her forehooves. She’d never seen them scuffed so much in all her life.

“Trenderhoof—as I said—was my last desperate attempt to stop myself from doing something foolish. When that… fell apart… I no longer had any excuses, save for ones that seemed more hollow with each passing day. Especially when I realized I’d been using those excuses long before Trenderhoof set hoof in Ponyville.”

Finally, something clicked inside of Rarity’s head and a small smile graced her lips. She looked up and met Twilight’s enormous eyes.

“You were my first choice, Twilight. Not my backup plan.”

“But Blueblood—”

“I was never interested in Blueblood himself,” Rarity snapped. “I was interested in the idea of him. And I admit… I still am. The idea of a gentle, kind pony, who loves me for me, who I could lose myself in…” Rarity went a little red. “That has not changed. I still want that. I still want you.”

“No,” Twilight’s head jerked back and forth. “No! You don’t! I’m nothing! I’m a joke! Nopony cares about me… or my title… or—”

“I don’t care about your title, Twilight,” Rarity replied softly. “I never have. I never will. You could be the Princess of Mop Buckets for all I care. I was yours long before you had a crown or wings.”

A tiny word escaped from Twilight. “Why?”

At last, a question Rarity could answer with confidence. “Because you are not only the embodiment of magic, you are the embodiment of every aspect of the Elements themselves.”

“That’s… not me. That’s the rest of you!”

“No, darling.” Rarity shook her head patiently. “You give of yourself in ways I have trouble imagining. You sacrificed your own future for the sake of the Crystal Ponies. That’s generosity. I’ve seen you take time for three rambunctious foals and you forgave them when they got lost in their own popularity. That’s kindness. Despite Rainbow herself giving up, you found a way for her to study for her Wonderbolt exam. That’s loyalty. You made sure that Luna enjoyed herself during her first Nightmare Night, despite the town’s less-than-enthusiastic attitude. That’s laughter. You stuck to your conviction Cadance was not herself despite us all being drawn in by Chrysalis. That’s honesty.”

With every word, Twilight’s eyes grew a little wider.

“And if I really must explain how you’re the embodiment of magic, then I fear we’ll be here all night.” Rarity chuckled. “How could I not fall for somepony who was the very soul of everything that makes ponies good? You’re adorable when you’re trying to figure something out… especially when it defies you. You never stop trying your best. And the Twilight I… I… love… never gives up.”

Twilight’s eyes dropped.

“Then I’m not her. You just saw. I’m done.”

“I saw you fall down, Twilight,” Rarity corrected gently. “Falling down is not giving up. It’s about getting back up. And sometimes, a pony needs help to get back up.”

Twilight continued to shake her head. “But… a princess… she needs to have the faith of her subjects…”

“And they will never have faith in her until she has faith in herself.”

The moonbeam had shifted slowly as they had spoken. It had been a subtle thing… but now, Twilight sat bathed in the moonlight. Rarity had never seen anything so beautiful in all her days.

“Doubt is fine, Twilight,” she whispered. “But you cannot let it rule you. Faith starts in your heart. And when that fails… it needs to come from those who love you most.”

Twilight turned away, but Rarity still heard the sniff. Moonlit diamonds fell from the mare’s muzzle as Twilight wept.

Slowly, Rarity moved. She crept up behind Twilight, careful not to startle her. Still, she made enough noise so Twilight would know she was there. Rarity refused to force herself upon her friend, even if her friend needed it.

There were limits to pushing back, after all.

But Twilight didn’t move away.

So, Rarity slowly shifted to wrap her hooves around the alicorn. Twilight’s head bowed as she burst into loud sobs. Each tear fell like a sparkling gemstone, but Rarity refused to let go.

“Rarity… w-what I said to you earlier…”

“Hush, darling,” Rarity said. “I already forgave you. You weren’t speaking from your heart, only your pain.”

Twilight’s breathing calmed just a fraction.

“I… I can still hear the whispers Rarity…” Twilight mumbled.

“I know,” Rarity said, her heart twisting once more… but not breaking. “I’ll always be here to help you fight them.”


“For as long as you’ll have me.”

Twilight’s posture relaxed a little and she leaned back into Rarity’s embrace. The tears still flowed, but Rarity felt a tiny shred of peace wash over the alicorn.

It would take time for these wounds to heal. It could take weeks, months… or even years.

Perhaps longer.

She couldn’t fix that. All she could do was be there and try to fan the spark of brilliance that was Twilight Sparkle. And at that moment, Rarity knew the spark within Twilight flickered once more.

That was enough for now. The rest would come with time.

“I’m thinking… pastels.”

Twilight rolled over in bed and stared at Rarity with a cocked eyebrow. Rarity shrugged off the look and scribbled something down on her sketchpad.

“You have to admit, Twilight,” Rarity said, gesturing to the vaulted crystalline ceilings with her quill. “This place… does leave something to be desired aesthetically.”

“Rarity, it’s one in the morning.” Twilight groaned. “Go to sleep.”

“Well, excuse me for being excited that you have your own magic castle of crystallized friendship!

Twilight rolled her eyes and then rolled back over. “It’s your castle too, you know. And everypony else’s.”

“That does not mean it isn’t in sore need of somepony with actual taste in interior design.”

Twilight huffed and buried her head under a pillow.

“Go to sleep, Rarity.”

“Just a moment, darling, a new idea has occurred to—”

A field of magenta magic ripped the pen and sketchpad from Rarity’s own magic. Rarity tried to grab at them, but after the flash of Twilight’s teleportation spell, they were no more.

“Well, that was just plain rude.”

“I’m tired,” Twilight grumbled beneath her pillow. “And you’ve been doing this every night since we moved in.”

“And you love me for it,” Rarity quipped in a little sing-song voice.

Twilight pulled the pillow off her head and tried to blast Rarity into slumber with the sheer force of her glare. At least, Rarity was pretty sure that’s what she was trying to do. Instead, Rarity just laughed.

“I love you for a great many reasons, Rarity. You’re generous, you’re talented, you’re a perfectionist, you’re kind and you make me feel like a princess in ways no title or crown could ever do.”

Rarity’s heart just about exploded in her chest from the sheer warmth at those words.

“That being said,” Twilight continued. “If you don’t turn off the lights, you’ll be sleeping on that horrible crystal couch we found two nights ago!”

“That tacky thing?” Rarity put a hoof to her chest. “You wouldn’t dare.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “Try me.”

Finally, Rarity surrendered. “As you wish, my dear Princess of Friendship.”

Twilight rolled her eyes yet again and sighed. “When are you going to get tired of calling me that?”

Rarity used her magic to snuff out the lights, leaving their bedroom in little more than shadows highlighted by a beam of moonlight gently washing over them from the window above.

“Never,” Rarity admitted as she slipped down under the covers and snuggled next to her princess. “I will never tire of it.”

Some time passed. Rarity wasn’t quite sure how much. In fact, she was almost asleep when Twilight’s voice roused her.

“I still hear them sometimes you know…” she said in a tiny whisper.

Rarity swallowed.

“Even now?”

“Even now. I overheard a few visitors from Canterlot touring the castle asking about it. If ‘Princess of Friendship’ was a real thing, especially considering titles like Princess Celestia’s or Cadance’s.”

“Does it still bother you?”

“A little.”

Rarity simply moved a little closer and wrapped her hooves around Twilight. She sighed and settled into Rarity’s embrace.

“You could just exile them,” Rarity pointed out. “Might be good for the general population.”

Rarity didn’t need to see Twilight to know she had rolled her eyes.

“You’ll always be my princess, Twilight,” Rarity whispered into Twilight’s ear. “But you know that. What does your heart say?”

“It hurts,” Twilight mumbled. “It’s tired of getting beaten on by those whispers.”


Twilight shifted a little. “It says… I am who I am. And… most of me is okay with that.”

“We’ll work on the rest tomorrow,” Rarity whispered.

“You promise?”

“I promise, my dear Princess of Friendship.”

Twilight giggled. It was like the chiming of bells. “And the next day?”

“And the next day.”


“And for however long you need me to be there, Twilight,” Rarity said soothingly, squeezing Twilight close under the moonlight. “I’ll always be there to help you fight to keep you you.”

Silence fell upon the room for a time.


“Yes, dear?”

“Have I told you today that I love you?”

“Nine times, I believe.”

“Make it ten, okay?”

“Ten it is,” Rarity giggled. “And I love you too, my dear Princess of Friendship.”

“Do me a favor?” Twilight mumbled as her body relaxed.


“Never ever stop calling me that.”

A little snore followed as Twilight finally surrendered to Luna’s peaceful embrace.

Rarity kissed the head of the pony she loved and snuggled close.

“Trust me, darling. I never will.”

Author's Notes:

Dedicated to one of the most brilliant writers I have the fortune to know. Someone I consider to be one of my closest friends, though we’ve only known one another a short time.

May this story help strengthen the bulwark against the demons that claw at your door.

You are not alone. Ever.

No long author's note this time, folks. This story is special. I'll tell you though... the hardest part of this fighting the demons in your head is letting others fuel you, equip you and prepare you. In the end, you have to walk through the door yourself... but you don't have to travel the road to the door alone. And you don't have to travel the road after the door alone.

Those who love you will be there, ready to help when you come through. Trust in them, be they across the street, an hour away or halfway around the world.

Terrible things happen to us when we get locked in our own heads. But if you let others in... it'll save you a lot of pain. Yeah, I know it's not easy. I know it's a nightmare. But it's something worth fighting for.

"Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."

Thank you for reading.


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