Chapter Seventeen - Rarity Takes Canterlot
After so many years, it was finally time to sit down and begin tackling the problem once more. There were four barriers to overcome: magnitude, density, resilience, and specificity. The first she’d solved. The second had proven intractable. The third yet remained a mystery. Perhaps the fourth, then, was the place to start.
Ponyville had, per capita, perhaps the busiest train station in Equestria. It sat comfortably atop the main artery of Equestria’s breadbasket just south of the capital. Most commercial traffic thundered by on the lines thankfully far removed from the village’s center, yet it remained unusually well connected to the rest of Equestria in spite of its modest size. A pony could purchase a ticket to anywhere in the country any time of day and expect to be able to leave within the hour.
Such was a major factor why Rarity, a high-end seamstress and designer, could operate out of a town that largely had no need for her services. She was mildly inconvenient to reach for her Canterlot clientele but just a bit out of the way for everypony else. It worked. Not ideally, of course, but she got by.
Rarity hummed a cheery song as she trotted into Ponyville’s train station with a spring in her step. Even at this early hour, the festival crowd going about their business had the platform packed. Luckily, she managed to buy passage to Canterlot and found an open seat on the very next train with plenty of room for all of her luggage. If she’d known she wouldn’t have to travel so lightly, she would have brought more than just the bare essentials!
“Hey, Rarity.” Rainbow Dash flew up to the seat across the aisle and flumped into it with her usual lack of refinement. “What’s up with all the stuff? You moving or something?”
“With just this?” The very thought of it! “No, I’m only visiting Canterlot for now. But soon, if all goes well.”
Surprise showed on Rainbow Dash’s face before it settled into a look of realization. “Oh yeah. The squirt told me Sweetie Belle got herself an apprenticeship from that Index mare. You finally taking custody?”
“Not exactly. It’s…” Rarity had the distinct impression that Twilight no longer cared if anypony knew Index’s true identity, but as she’d not been explicitly released from her vow of silence, she prevaricated. “–complicated.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.”
Rarity offered Rainbow Dash a sympathetic smile but, knowing how guarded and defensive she could be about her softer side, ended any pursuit of that conversation there. Instead, Rarity indulged a more polite curiosity. “Might I ask what business you have on a train?”
Rather than take any offense, Rainbow Dash had the self-awareness to explain. “I’m escorting Fluttershy. She’s got an interview with some hotshot zookeeper or something at the castle.”
“The castle!” Rarity cried in excitement. “Oh, you simply must tell me everything. Where is she?”
Nodding toward the back of the carriage, Rainbow Dash said, “We’re riding in the royal car.”
Rarity gasped. “The royal car?”
“Yeah, it’s, uh… It’s complicated. Wanna join us?”
As if one even needed to ask! Rarity would never turn down an invitation like that. After gathering her things into her magic, the pair headed back to the royal car.
Upon her entry, Rarity immediately set to inspecting the decor. While the sun motif was unmistakable, as Princess Celestia tended to prefer chariots to trains, the sofas and chairs were sized for a regular pony. At the back, one large cushion on the ground could double as either a bed or comfortable place of rest for the princess. The designers had made some concession to durability, but only the otherwise finest materials were used from the Somnambulan cotton curtains to the Saddle Arabian carpeting. Even the lampshades, though not currently in use, had exquisite embellishments fit for royalty.
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes from the sofa she’d reclined upon. “Yeah, yeah. It’s fancy. Aren’t you at least going to say hello?”
“Oh, how terribly rude of me. Fluttershy, dear, it’s good to see you out and about.”
Fluttershy offered a shy smile in return. “Good morning, Rarity.”
“So then,” Rarity began as she took her seat, “Rainbow Dash tells me you have some exciting news to share. She was a bit vague on the details, but it wouldn’t happen to involve Mr Greenhooves, would it?”
The light of recognition in Fluttershy’s eyes said everything for her.
“Oh my! I had heard he wanted to train his successor for when he retired, but darling, the caretaker of the royal menagerie! I don’t think there’s a more prestigious position in Equestria for animal care.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s not that important,” Fluttershy said.
“But it is!” Rarity insisted in perfect honesty. Nothing else even came close. Then remembering who exactly she was talking to, she added, “It may be a quiet job, but it’s very well respected. I simply cannot think of anypony more deserving, although I do wonder how Mr Greenhooves found you. You must admit you don’t like to make waves.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Rarity noticed Rainbow Dash biting on her lip and ever so slightly averting her gaze. Curious. She knows something. Something she’s ashamed of, perhaps? It couldn’t be so simple as dropping Fluttershy’s name, then. Hmm…
Meanwhile, Fluttershy replied, “I don’t know. I’m just happy to have the chance to meet all of the animals in the menagerie. I never thought I would.”
“So what are you headed to Canterlot for, Rarity?” It wasn’t the most elegant way to change the conversation, but social grace never had been one of Rainbow Dash’s strong points.
Well, I suppose this is a mystery for another time. It wouldn’t do to upset Fluttershy by pursuing whatever secret Rainbow Dash held just yet.
Thus Rarity settled in as the train finally departed to explain her own circumstances. While both Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash knew of her, delicately put, difficulties with her parents on some level, she gave them the full story. There would be no containing the gossip once Her Excellency Archmage Twilight Sparkle herself arrived to throw her weight around. She had many talents, but subtlety was not amongst them. As such, Rarity presumed it best they heard the truth of the matter straight from her rather than listen to whatever rumors surfaced around her family.
Then with the background information out of the way, Rarity shared her plans to move the Carousel Boutique to Canterlot so she could continue to look after Sweetie Belle. It did, of course, also line up with her own professional and personal interests, but such was a secondary consideration in the grand scheme of things – a perk, one might say. To do so, however, required her to first find the perfect place to operate out of.
Once she finished, Rainbow Dash had her own surprise to reveal. She, too, would leave Ponyville for Canterlot sometime in the coming summer. Between her, Fluttershy, and Twilight, Rarity would have two of her closest friends and one she hoped to get to know much better so near at hoof. How wonderful!
Even more good news followed. Scootaloo had an invitation to attend school in Canterlot as well, something Sweetie Belle had neglected to inform Rarity of if she knew. Having one of her best friends move with her should, with any luck, go a long way to easing their parents into accepting this change.
The trip between Ponyville and Canterlot passed in what felt like the blink of the eye. When they arrived, if felt like coming home at long last. Brilliant spires of marble and gold rose from the streets. All of the buildings were crafted of proper stone instead of wood and thatching. Gentle streams and well-maintained foliage decorated the city. Despite the passing centuries, tireless maintenance, and changing styles, Canterlot had managed to retain a certain je ne sais quoi from its construction in the early Solar Era. The only place in Equestria – no, the world – with even half of its magnificence would be Manehattan, and nowhere could compete with its artistic majesty.
A servant from the castle awaited Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash when they stepped off the train, offering to take their luggage for them. Fluttershy, sticking very close to Rainbow Dash, mutely nodded while the latter, as was her flighty nature, had brought nothing with her.
“Oh, yeah,” Rainbow Dash said. She whispered something to Fluttershy, receiving a nod in return. “Hey, Rarity. Want to crash at the castle with us?”
Rarity was very proud of herself for not fainting, but only just.
The trip to the castle passed quickly even if their assistant had a little trouble carrying their luggage. The guards posted at the gate let them pass without issue, and they were shown to a guest room easily large enough to accommodate all three of them. From what Rarity had heard, she assumed it was one of the nicer guest quarters available, perhaps only a single step removed from the ambassadorial suites. She had a sneaking suspicion that the generosity had something to do with whatever Rainbow Dash was hiding, but she again opted not to press while Fluttershy was around.
Speaking of whom, Rainbow Dash dragged Fluttershy off to the kitchens while muttering something about taking advantage of the opportunity. Rarity, still needing to unpack, remained behind. More importantly, she needed a proper dress or a few accessories in a pinch if she were to stay here. Had she known in advance, she would have made something special. Alas, she would just have to make do.
A knock came at the door while Rarity was making her final decision on which hat to wear. She quickly threw on the pink, floral one and called for her guest to enter.
“Oh, sorry, I think I have the wrong room.”
“Perhaps not, I…” When Rarity turned and realized who she was speaking to, she slipped into a bow as quickly as she could without any loss of grace. “Would you perchance be looking for Rainbow Dash, Your Highness?”
“Yes, actually,” Princess Mi Amore Cadenza replied. "The guard informed me of her arrival with Fluttershy…” She trailed off with an inquiring look.
“I’m Rarity. We bumped into each other on the train to Canterlot, and they invited me to stay with them tonight. I believe they’re currently in the kitchens.”
Princess Mi Amore Cadenza’s laughter had a lightness too it more often associated with a mare half her age. And now that Rarity stopped to look at her properly, she certainly looked more like a mare in her mid twenties rather than her early forties. Rarity had seen pictures of her before in the newspaper, of course, but photographers always tried to capture royalty in their best light. Seeing her in person was remarkably different.
“I should have expected something like that. Oh well, I can speak with her later. A pleasure to meet you, Rarity. I’m Princess Cadance.” Judging by the slight strain on the emphasis, it would seem that the rumors were true. Princess Cadance rather disliked her full name, which was understandable, really. It was quite a mouthful. “What brings you to Canterlot?”
“Business both personal and professional. Does the name Sweetie Belle mean anything to you yet?”
Princess Cadance’s eyes lit up in recognition. “My daughter and nephew’s pen pal. That would make you her…”
“Older sister. She and I will be moving here after the solstice, so I need to find a new building for my boutique.”
“Oh! Of course. You’re the fashion designer from Ponyville.”
Suppressing her glee to a more respectful and controlled smile, Rarity dipped into a brief bob with a bright, “At your service,” in acknowledgment of the recognition. She’d known she’d truly begun to attract attention in the industry, but to think royalty had heard of her!
“Why the move, if I may ask?”
With no interest in airing her family’s dirty laundry in front of a princess, Rarity merely replied with the heart of the matter. “Twilight decided to take my sister on as her protégé.”
Princess Cadance’s eyes went wide, but the words she tried to form never left her lips.
“As I understand it, the arrangement would be similar to the one she had with Princess Celestia.”
A dry snort met that. “She’s not trying to press you into the guard, is she?”
Rarity answered the question with an amused smile. “Not my calling, I’m afraid.” It might be best not to mention that she did possess some training in the martial arts to keep fit. “I do suspect she’s interested in employing me as her personal artificer, however. As concerns enchanted clothing, at least.”
“If I had a bit for every time she said she doesn’t have time for that…” Princess Cadance shook her head. “Well, Rarity, I think you and I should get to know one another better. Would you care for a tour of the castle?”
“I would love one, Your Highness, if I would not take time away from more important affairs.”
Princess Cadance waved the concern away with a wing. “Nonsense. If Twilight treats Sweetie Belle anything like how Aunt Celestia treated her, we’ll be as good as family before too long.” She turned and invited Rarity to follow her before pausing. “Oh, uh, just don’t marry Blueblood like Shining married me.”
Despite herself, Rarity snickered. There certainly was some history between him and Twilight. She must have heard at least a dozen different accounts of the story. Not that it was of any true concern. Prince Blueblood had already married years ago.
As they walked through the guest wing of the castle, Rarity snuck glance after glance before her curiosity fully overcame her. “Strictly between mares,” she began, “if we’re to be as good as family, how is it you look not a day over twenty-five?”
“Oh, my husband doesn’t allow me to age.”
Rarity had no idea how to respond to that.
A snicker escaped Princess Cadance a few seconds later. With the ruse broken, she explained in full. “I’m only half joking. It’s one of the perks of marrying into a family of extraordinarily gifted unicorns. Shining and I locked our physical ages years ago. If I recall correctly, Twilight mentioned doing the same herself sometime last year. I know she was badgering the educational department about it for a while before throwing her hooves up and storming out. The details are probably in her textbook, if you’ve ever heard of it, but to be honest, you’d be better off asking her if you want to know more. She’d probably be willing to cover you until Sweetie Belle can do it for you.”
“Hmm, perhaps I should have read that book myself before I gifted it to her.”
Princess Cadance laughed. “It is titled 103 Spells Every Unicorn Should Know.”
So it was. One might suppose it wise to listen to the archmage on matters of magic.
The tour Princess Cadance led Rarity on was everything she’d ever dreamt it would be and more. She got to see the throne room, the archives, the great hall, Twilight’s tower, and even the royal apartments, including both Princess Celestia’s personal study and the practically adjacent room where Twilight had grown up.
But then came the art gallery! On display was Princess Celestia’s personal collection from across the centuries. There were sculptures. There were paintings. There were brittle parchments bearing the original copies of poems. Oh, and the stained glass windows were simply to die for!
“Is that Nimble Hooves’s As the Sun Rises?” Rarity had never thought she’d get to see the priceless relic in person. “Oh, such bold strokes of the brush! And the colors! It truly captures the beauty of the dawn, and yet you can feel the conflicting sorrow and resolve underlaying the depiction of Princess Celestia.”
There was not enough time in the day to truly appreciate the history unfolding before Rarity’s eyes. Before she even had a chance to give voice to a few of her curiosities about the painting, her gaze landed onto another treasure. It was a more recent creation but would, she knew, be no less prized a few centuries down the line.
“The Faithful Students,” Princess Cadance stated. “Auntie says it’s not entirely accurate, but every one of her protégés from Sparkler and Twilight all the way to Twilight Sparkle is at least represented.”
Not quite able to peel her eyes off the painting, Rarity asked, “They wouldn’t happen to be her namesake, would they?”
Princess Cadance gave it some thought before replying. “I don’t believe she’s related to Sparkler in any significant manner. I’d have to check to be sure. But for what it’s worth, she is the matrilineal descendant of the original Twilight. The family passed the name down in an unbroken chain, which makes it extraordinarily easy to track through history. Even so, when you travel back so many generations, ancestry starts to lose any real meaning. Auntie didn’t even know until Twilight wrote a report about it.”
That certainly sounds like something she would do. “Do you know what the inaccuracies are?”
“What you expect, I imagine.” Princess Cadance pointed to the third student with one of her primaries. “Wrong eye color.” She moved to the sixth. “Wrong shade of coat.” Then the eighth. “Way too tall.” The fifteenth. “Wrong gender.”
“What?” How could somepony possibly get that wrong? Rarity did recall Twilight mentioning the possibilities of shapeshifting, but still.
Princess Cadance shrugged and merely said, “Don’t know the story myself,” before moving on to the next error. “Pegasus. Assassinated young and posthumously given a horn in most historical records despite Auntie’s wrath.”
Rarity flinched. Tribalism did tend to manifest most often in unicorns.
“There might be more, but I’m not an expert.” For a moment, Princess Cadance’s feather lingered on the space between Twilight and her direct predecessor centuries ago. “We should send this back to the painter for corrections.”
“Better while you can than having to explain for the rest of time,” Rarity offered. She imagined such problems haunted Princess Celestia like a gray hair.
Then Rarity’s eye fell onto one of the great stained glass windows spanning from the floor to the edge of the vaulted ceiling. It featured Twilight prominently in her battle against the Griffon Kingdom in a dazzling display of light and color.
“Auntie likes to commission these to commemorate the major events and triumphs of her reign.”
“And Twilight still doesn’t know this one exists,” a regal, new voice added. Both mirth and a touch of exasperation lived in it.
The moment Rarity saw who had joined them, she slipped into an even deeper bow than she’d given Princess Cadance. Before she could say anything, however, the princess commanded her to rise and carried on with her commentary.
“I meant it to be a surprise. Privately, I would have enjoyed her fluster when she noticed. But alas, my dear archmage has little appreciation for the arts.” Princess Celestia chuckled at some private joke before turning her full attention back onto Rarity. “Cadance?”
“Oh yes. This is Rarity.”
Princess Celestia’s eyes immediately lit up. “Sweetie Belle’s elder sister?”
In hindsight, of course Twilight had told her mentor she’d taken on a student of her own. She’d probably gone to Princess Celestia seeking advice. But that was neither here nor there. Rarity, however, was not the first to overcome her surprise.
“You knew?” Princess Cadance asked with a little stomp of her hoof. “Auntie, you have to tell me these things!”
Despite the almost sacrilegious demand, Princess Celestia offered a laughing apology. “Will you be in town tomorrow evening, Rarity?”
While she had made no plans to linger beyond however long it took her to find a new place of business, Rarity had no intention of turning down whatever royal invitation the question implied. “Yes, Your Highness.”
“Wonderful. In that case, could I impose upon you for dinner tomorrow?”
Was this really happening? It was! “It would be my pleasure.”
Princess Celestia nodded. “I recently organized for you and your sister’s apartment to be prepared. It may not be fully ready yet, but it should be available to you.”
Rarity bowed shortly as she shared her gratitude, after which Princess Celestia excused herself to return to the affairs of state.
“Fluttershy, dear, please pick up the pace.” Rarity could understand her discomfort with crowds, but really, it wasn’t like anypony here would even notice she existed unless she physically bumped into them. That was just how big cities were. “If we tarry, we’ll miss our chance to view the building I have my eye on.”
Lazily flying alongside them, Rainbow Dash added her two bits. “We wouldn’t be in a rush if you hadn’t spent four hours trying on dresses.”
Rarity scoffed. “Darling, one does not show up underdressed to dine with the princess. If I had only known or if I had more time, I would have brought one of my own designs appropriate to the occasion.” She sighed. Even with what she’d bought, she’d still need to perform some minor alterations herself to adjust the fit before this evening. “Desperate times calls for desperate measures.”
A whispered exchange between the two pegasi trailing behind resulted in a giggle and a groan. Rarity, however, paid the two no mind and pressed on toward the office building of her possible future landlord.
Not too long later, they were on the ground floor of what Rarity just knew would be her new Canterlot Carousel. It had all the floor space she needed, the perfect dais for private fashion shows, a private area well suited for fittings, and even an internal balcony between floors. The upper story she easily envisioned turning into a work room and storage. With her residence at the castle, there would be no danger of clutter. She would have to do a considerable amount of decorating, of course, but that had never been in question no matter where she went. Assuming the building came with no restrictions on repainting, she would take it.
Reading and signing the rental agreement took far less time than Rarity expected. The price was quite a bit higher than she was used to, but such was the nature of moving to the city. Ponyville didn’t exactly boast of its high property values. In time, perhaps she would simply offer to buy the building outright.
“Well?” Rainbow Dash asked when Rarity met her and Fluttershy back outside.
Rarity beamed. “Signed, sealed, and delivered. The Canterlot Carousel is one step closer to open for business.” Next, she needed to hire a team to pack, transport, and unload all of her equipment from Ponyville. Or maybe it would be best to paint first. Regardless, there was also the matter of what to do with the Carousel Boutique. She had so many fond memories there. Maybe she would simply retain ownership and repurpose it as a country retreat.
“Congratulations,” Fluttershy said. “I’m glad you finally have the chance to live your dream.”
“Thank you, dear. I hope I can say the same myself?”
“Oh my, yes. The menagerie isn’t quite the animal sanctuary I was hoping for, but it’s so peaceful and open. So free. Mr Greenhooves won’t make his final decision for a little while yet, but I think I made a good impression once I worked up my courage.”
Rarity, excited, swept forward and pulled Fluttershy into a hug. “Oh, darling, this is so wonderful. I don’t know what I would have done without my spa date.”
A long groan, clearly with as much boredom as a pony could put into it, emanated from above. “Yeah, yeah. Everypony’s happy. Can we go home now?”
Smirking, Rarity said, “You could, but I thought I’d treat you two to a bit of pampering. A mare has to look her best, especially before dining with royalty.”
Rarity and Fluttershy exchanged a look before breaking down into giggles.
“Perhaps I could offer to take Fluttershy off your hooves for today?” Rarity suggested. She would be heading back to Ponyville tomorrow unless something came up, and she did, after all, have her own apartment in the castle with a spare bedroom.
This, however, was not to be. “I’m sorry, Rarity, but I really should be getting back to Ponyville. Who knows what trouble my animal friends could have gotten into while I’ve been gone.”
That worry would certainly prevent Fluttershy from properly enjoying a trip to the spa. Rarity knew how she could get about her animals. Thus after she’d collected her things from the castle, they made their way toward Canterlot Central Station, where Rarity saw them off.
Alone now, Rarity asked around for a reputable salon. Despite her teasing, she didn’t need a full spa treatment to prepare for tonight, only a little touching up and some assistance with styling her mane. It only took her a few minutes to settle on what popular opinion suggested was her best option and even less time to get directions.
Upon her arrival, Rarity managed to talk her way into a quick session without an appointment. It might have involved a few tears, a dramatized retelling of her predicament, and a little outright bribery for the rush in the form of a tip, but she managed it. In a year or so, as it was in Ponyville at Aloe and Lotus’s spa, she would never have this problem again. She only needed to first establish her reputation and build some rapport within the beautician community in town.
It was not long after she sat down when the mare at the next station over spoke with the lingering hint of a Prench accent. “Dinner with Princess Celestia?”
Rarity kept her head still but shifted her gaze to the side. In the adjacent seat, she found a lovely unicorn mare. Her pure white coat matched the highlights in her soft pink mane. “Fleur? Oh my, it’s been moons. I trust you’ve been taking good care of my creations.”
“Of course. A fine dress should be as treasured as any work of art. But the princess?”
Humming to give herself a bit of time, Rarity considered how much she should say. There would be no hiding Sweetie Belle’s presence or purpose at the castle when the time came, of course, but a determined pony could discover the full truth before then if she shared any version of it. Twilight likely wouldn’t want that, even if most of the ponies she interacted with in Ponyville already knew Index’s true identity. Princess Cadance was one thing. She was Twilight’s family, and so Rarity had thought nothing of it. Fleur, on the other hoof, had no relation.
“The circumstances are not my secret to tell, I’m afraid. Suffice it to say that Her Highness wishes to speak with me about something on which I can offer a unique perspective.”
“Ooh, intrigue! Ah, but this will drive me mad. Might I at least have a clue?”
Rarity knew the pain of a secret dangled just out of reach, but she held fast. “My lips are sealed.”
“How cruel you are!” Fleur cried in mock accusation.
“If it helps,” Rarity began, “it won’t remain secret for long. Once it’s announced, the news will spread faster than gossip.”
A few moments passed before both mares broke into laughter with a few added snickers from their stylists who had, up until that point, politely worked in silence while they spoke.
“We must catch up while you’re in town,” Fleur firmly stated. “I lack the time today and tomorrow, but perhaps we could meet at the garden party the day after?”
In all the excitement since Twilight had come to Ponyville, Rarity had entirely forgotten the Canterlot Garden Party had drawn near. After the Grand Galloping Gala, it was the premier event amongst high society. And she’d just received an implicit invitation!
Rarity breathed both deeply and silently to retain her poise. It wouldn’t do to react too strongly. “To be honest, I hadn’t planned to stay so long, but I should be able to rearrange my schedule.” If nothing else, she could organize for her new boutique to be cleaned from top to bottom and then painted tomorrow while she waited. “Yes, I do believe I can make time.”
The moment had at last arrived. Rarity gave her dress one last look over in the mirror and flattened a wrinkle. She should have just asked Rainbow Dash to fly to Ponyville and back to retrieve one of her own designs. Her mane looked fine, however, as did her tail. So assured, she stepped out through the door of her apartment and followed the servant who’d been sent to retrieve her.
The princess’s private dining room was more modest than Rarity had expected. Whoever had arranged it had obviously done so with taste and care, of course, but the overall atmosphere was – how would one put it politely? – rather homely. The portraits, photos, and awards on display clearly held personal significance over anything else. One only needed a quick survey to know that. One photo had an exasperated Princess Celestia pulling a young, nonplussed Twilight out of a gelatin monster. Another depicted Princess Cadance and Twilight, both less than half their current age, napping together, manes askew, with the former drooling all over the pillow and the latter with her face buried in a book. That was prime blackmail material on both of them.
While Rarity was sure there was a story behind everything present, some of which she might very well hear soon enough, Princess Celestia entered the room and drew her attention away. She only made it halfway into a bow before the princess waved the formalities away and then invited her to sit. The table contained the veritable feast necessary for a pony of Princess Celestia’s stature, all placed in stasis until served unless she was much mistaken. While the presentation was unexpected, it did all appear positively scrumptious.
“I apologize if you were expecting a formal, full-course dinner, but even in casual conversation, this table often overhears sensitive information I would prefer not to risk becoming rumor amongst the castle staff. Or worse.”
“Perfectly understandable, Your Highness,” Rarity replied. She’d not thought of that, but considering who and what they were likely to discuss, it made sense. This was far closer to what she was used to anyway.
Once they were seated and had acquired what they wished to eat first, Rarity with a few tips and suggestions from Princess Celestia, conversation naturally began to flow.
“Please tell me about yourself, Rarity. I know a little about your sister, but Twilight only briefly mentioned commissioning you to make a dress for her.”
“Oh, well, it’s a set of magical robes, actually.”
Princess Celestia rolled her eyes, clearly feeling that she should have known better.
“I work as a fashion designer and seamstress out of Ponyville. Or I did, rather, what with the upcoming move to Canterlot. Regardless, when Twilight and I were first getting to know one another, our conversation drifted to the gala. I mentioned a few of the ensembles I’ve put together for it over the years, and she recalled the wardrobe I created for Octavia Melody.”
“Those dresses are your work?” Rarity nodded and nearly squealed and fainted when Princess Celestia added, “Very impressive. If their order of production is the same as their order of first appearance, your skills have only grown. In a decade’s time, you might very well have reached the top of your industry.”
“I – oh my! Thank you for the compliment, Your Highness. I hope I can live up to your praise. Twilight has opened a whole new world to me. I never knew I could literally sew magic into my work. The possibilities! The spell designs are beyond me” – at least for the moment – “but Twilight kindly offered to help with any reasonable project.”
The surprise showed clearly on Princess Celestia’s face. “Really? I knew she had an interest in the field, but she already has so many other commitments. Where she finds the time is one of life’s greatest mysteries.”
“Well, she did say she would leave the sewing to me.” And however disappointing, for Rarity had quite enjoyed working with Twilight on their test project where their passions intersected, that might be for the best. She had no training in the art nor any apparent natural talent for design.
Princess Celestia emitted a considering hum before nodding. “Yes, that would do it.” She paused for a spoonful of soup before changing the subject. “Twilight told me she met your sister after saving her life but neglected to mention how.”
“She and her friends were helping a friend of mine, and things got a little out of hoof as they usually do when those fillies get together. They accidentally caused a stampede that passed through town. While they were helping to control its direction, she stumbled, and Twilight pulled her out before she could be trampled.”
After a few moments of bemused silence, Princess Celestia hesitantly asked, “Are such things normal for Ponyville? You sound…unshaken.”
“Oh yes. It’s on the lighter side of things, really. We had a cockatrice wander into town only a few days ago, and there was the parasprite infestation before that. The vampire fruit bats. The ursa minor.”
Princess Celestia nearly choked on her soup.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes. Yes, just–” A brief application of magic cleared Princess Celestia’s throat. “My apologies. I never realized things were so bad. And Ponyville is so close to Canterlot.”
Rarity quickly absolved Princess Celestia of any blame. “Half of the incidents are our own fault. Besides, things usually resolve themselves on their own well enough.” In all honesty, she suspected some branch of the government was secretly operating in town to deal with the monster attacks and some of the village’s internal problems, but she’d never been able to determine exactly who was involved.
“I see…” After a few moments to mull over the information, Princess Celestia warily asked, “And how did you and Twilight meet?”
“Oh, nothing so dramatic,” Rarity said reassuringly. “I invited her to the spa to thank her for saving my sister.”
Princess Celestia’s eyes widened ever so slightly as though surprised Twilight had accepted. And when Rarity thought about it for a moment, she supposed in hindsight she was a bit surprised as well considering how busy Twilight usually kept herself.
“She enjoyed the experience, I believe, and we spoke of nothing for some time. Eventually, circumstances led her to accidentally reveal that she possesses regalia, and she ultimately revealed her identity to me when I pressed. We’ve spent some time together since, and I’ve much enjoyed her company. I realize her position keeps her busy, but I do hope she can set some more aside after the solstice for something even as simple as afternoon tea.”
Much to Rarity’s surprise, Princess Celestia brushed a tear from her eye.
“Oh, Princess, are you okay? Have I offended you or–”
Princess Celestia held up a hoof for silence. Then with a warm smile so much more genuine than her usual calm one, she said, “I never thought I would see Twilight making friends. Moon Dancer only has a tentative connection–”
Moon Dancer? It took a few moments for Rarity to recall the article in the newspaper about the mare nopony had ever heard of who’d stepped up to fill Twilight’s role in Equestria in her absence.
“–Sweetie Belle is yet only her student, and she sounded so unsure about Pinkie Pie. Please be patient with her after the solstice when she returns to her position. She has a lot of stress in her life, little time for herself, and often forgets that the world has more to offer than responsibilities and research.”
“Of course.” Being a workaholic herself at times, especially when her orders piled up, Rarity sympathized. She could barely imagine how consuming Twilight’s role in Equestria could be, and the added knowledge that the consequences, both good and ill, of her decisions could and often did ripple across the world would hardly ease the pressure. “But perhaps Princess Luna’s return will ease her burden. After some time to adjust to the modern era, of course.”
“Perhaps,” Princess Celestia allowed even if she gave no sign of believing it. “Speaking of little sisters, how is yours? Twilight has yet to ask me to help her, but my concerns remain. Generosity can be a heavy burden.”
Did that come from personal experience? It must, surely. Rarity only vaguely recalled Twilight mentioning getting her information from Princess Celestia, but Rarity did remember having that impression.
“At the risk of sounding… Hmm…” What word fit best? Careless? Neglectful? Neither were quite right. “Remiss, perhaps? Regardless, I’m somewhat glad Sweetie Belle bonded with Generosity before I could. As useful as telepathy is, the difficulty with crowds is something with which I would have no end of trouble. She only had it for a couple days before Twilight took her and the other bearers out of town, but she was practically drowning herself in a soothing tea Twilight recommended at the time.”
“The tea actually covers the taste of the potion involved,” Princess Celestia corrected. Naturally, she then added that it was a brew of her own design to help mitigate the negative effects of the Element. “But how curious. You could have borne Generosity?”
Rarity nodded. “Yes, we discovered that shortly after Twilight bonded Sweetie Belle with it. I would rather have taken the responsibility upon myself, but we make do with the cards life deals us. Twilight assures me she’ll be able to protect my sister should the worst come to pass, so…” She shrugged and took a sip from her drink. If the Archmage of Equestria couldn’t keep Sweetie Belle safe, she didn’t know who could.
“She’s said as much to me as well despite refusing to elaborate on the how. In my case, she made the claim about the entire world, but I have some confidence that encompasses your sister.”
Rarity smiled at the quip and fired one back. “Perhaps. My sister and her friends are such wandering bundles of chaos that I sometimes wonder. I don’t suppose Twilight mentioned the Crusaders to you?”
“Yes, actually. ‘Discord’s offspring’, I believe is the term she used.”
What more fitting description could there be? At Princess Celestia’s request, Rarity shared some of the Crusaders’ more memorable tales, most of which inevitably ended with them covered in tree sap regardless of what disasters followed in their wake. She asked in particular after the story behind their setting the lake on fire. That entire incident Ponyville tried to forget, but Rarity supposed it did a fine job exemplifying the Crusader’s knack for getting into trouble.
In exchange, Princess Celestia interwove her own stories of the antics Twilight got up to, both at the Crusaders’ age and as a grown mare. Rarity already knew about the more public ones, but she didn’t dismiss the opportunity for a firsthoof account. It wasn’t long before she wondered exactly what kind of influence Twilight would have upon her sister. Really, who used high-level magic to sneak past guards down to the kitchens for midnight snacks and a quick stop at the library?
Time passed in easy conversation as most of Rarity’s nervousness around the immortal ruler of Equestria faded into the background. If she were to be perfectly honest, it felt somewhat like talking to Applejack or Rainbow Dash. Although their circumstances differed, both intimately knew how tricky her relationship with Sweetie Belle could be. Neither entirely a mother nor entirely a sister, the nebulous role she filled at times left her adrift and uncertain of how to define its nature. She wondered what exactly Princess Celestia thought of her own relationship with Twilight, but Rarity didn’t inquire. It was too personal a question for a first meeting, she felt, but perhaps another time.
Once they began to run out of food and they’d swapped dozens of stories, Princess Celestia asked, “How have you found Canterlot during your stay?”
“Oh, I love it! And I arrived just in time. I intend to attend the theater tomorrow to catch The Phantom of the Opera, and Fleur de Lis invited me to attend the garden party the day after to catch up with one another.”
Rarity caught the spark of interest in Princess Celestia’s eye.
“I make a habit of knowing my clients to provide them with the attire best suited to them. Fleur has hired me to make several of her gala dresses, but until today, we’d not bumped into one another since I finished this year’s.”
With a hint of eagerness and a slight air of mystery, neither origin of which Rarity understood, Princess Celestia asked, “Do you have much business in Canterlot?”
Nodding, Rarity replied, “Quite a sizable fraction of my clientele lives here. When the gala approaches, it jumps to over half.”
“Mostly mares, I assume?”
“Yes. I’m known primarily for my dress designs, but I have some experience with male fashion.”
“Any names I might recognize?”
As none of her clients had ever asked for confidentiality outside of those looking for more intimate apparel that would never leave the bedroom, Rarity felt no hesitance in rattling off a list of names. Mostly she stuck to those mares who attended the gala and thus had a fair chance of encountering Princess Celestia while wearing the dress in question.
Princess Celestia had a thoughtful look about her. “I confess how well connected you are surprises me. Twilight has never, shall we say, meshed well with socialites.”
Thinking back to when they’d first met and the slight hostility which Rarity had politely ignored, she said, “Yes, I can imagine.”
“In truth, Twilight is largely isolated from that side of political life.
Now Rarity understood where Princess Celestia was going. “I could make a few introductions.” The difficult part would be deciding to who. As popular as she was with Equestria at large, Twilight possessed no love amongst the aristocracy.
The princess, it seemed, had other ideas. “I would not strain my burgeoning friendship with her on a doomed effort were I in your position. Her isolation is blithely self-imposed. But if you wanted to act on her behalf amongst such circles…”
It took Rarity a few seconds to find her voice. “Your Highness, are you asking me to spy for her?”
“Not exactly.” The smile fell from Princess Celestia’s face as she locked eyes with Rarity. “I shall be direct. It behooves me to prepare for the worst. Piece by piece, I have largely passed responsibility for the executive arm of Equestria’s government over to Twilight. Its loyalty to her is eclipsed only by the devotion it shows me. If my sister takes my place, Twilight will in all but name become the ruling princess of Equestria. The responsibility will be that much more difficult for her if she has no loyal friend able to move within the aristocracy’s ranks.”
“Oh. I – oh my.” That was a lot to take in.
Princess Celestia rose to her hooves. “You are under no obligation, but please take some time to think about it.” Sparing one last glance at the table now nearly stripped bare, she snared the last slice of cake in her magic. “Thank you for your company this evening, Rarity. It was a pleasure to meet one of Twilight’s friends.”
The Canterlot Garden Party was everything Rarity had imagined it could be. All of the most important ponies in Equestria had gathered from across the country. They spoke of everything of import with nothing left out. They spread the word of new additions to families through births, weddings, and engagements. They spoke of upcoming legislation, changes in policy, and economics. The more intellectually inclined discussed new advances in science or engaged in philosophical debate. Many had an active interest in fashion, but all were dressed in the most fabulous outfits, a few of Rarity’s own design.
It was paradise, and Rarity couldn’t be happier. The sun shone down upon her, and fortune smiled. Oh, how life had changed ever since Twilight had rescued Sweetie Belle!
As they moved about the gathering together, Fleur introduced Rarity to most of the ponies they met, including her ‘we’re certainly not married’ husband, Fancy Pants. Rarity was aware of a running wager on when they would finally tie the knot, but they both preferred to remain officially unattached for now. Fleur was, after all, the Prench ambassador to Equestria. Marrying an Equestrian duke so deeply involved in the government would present a potential conflict of interest neither wished to deal with just yet. So long as they maintained the status quo, both governments were content to overlook any indiscretions.
So it was that Rarity and Fleur, accompanied by Fancy Pants, approached a conversation already in progress.
“–the price of Somnambulan cotton is going to skyrocket. If I were you, I would buy all you can before the summer heat rolls in and exacerbates the drought when the local weather ponies can’t keep up.”
“Were I in your place,” Fancy Pants led, “I’d not attempt to corner the market. Droughts come and go, and sometimes they end without warning.”
The pony who had been speaking, a monocle wearing stallion who Rarity recognized as the industrialist, Laissez Faire, paused to reflect upon Fancy Pants’s remark. “You’re suggesting the princess might involve herself?”
With a nod, Fancy Pants said, “These last few summers have been hotter than usual and the winters warmer. If somepony pointed that out to Princess Celestia, I’m sure she would resolve the matter.”
The other pony present Rarity recognized as Golden Fleece. She sometimes purchased raw materials from the mare’s company. “Hmm… You may be right. With careful timing, it would even be possible to deliver a crippling blow to the competition.”
“Only if the matter resolved itself within the year,” Laissez Faire said, “which seems unlikely. The princess doesn’t have the same sense of time as we do. If you sit idle for too long, you’ll have no income yourself.”
Rarity cleared her throat, and all attention was directed toward her. She only knew enough about economics to run her own business, but she could point out the obvious that all three seemed to be forgetting. “What if another sorceress took matters into her own hooves?”
“They would need to pay for the magic and would still need to raise their prices to recoup their losses.” Laissez Faire hummed thoughtfully as he mulled the idea over. “Perhaps not as drastically, however, depending on how heavily the drought until then impacted their crops.”
“True,” Rarity admitted, “but there is one sorceress who performs such public services for free.”
Fleur caught on first. “The archmage, you mean. She has been sighted all over Equestria. If she wanders so far south as Somnambula, you may be right. The duty would otherwise fall to her regent, no?”
The idea proved unpopular. “Her Excellency,” Golden Fleece began, although she managed to make the style sound like an insult, “is in seclusion in the Frozen North. Her substitute is some nopony her ego approves of.”
Rarity could certainly see how somepony could reach that conclusion without the knowledge she possessed. That massive, unexplained explosion in the Frozen North did make one suspicious, and Moon Dancer did bear a striking resemblance to Twilight. But she was in anything but seclusion, and Rarity couldn’t imagine her asking somepony unqualified to fill in for her during her absence.
However, before Rarity could properly form a counterargument, Laissez Faire snorted. “Twilight Sparkle is effective, without question. It’s the one good thing she has going for her. Her regent doesn’t even have that.”
Rarity opened her mouth to rebuke these cads for their unwarranted words, but then even Fancy Pants had a go against poor Moon Dancer. “I must say I was disappointed with her response to the Macintosh Hills incident. The damage to Strawberry Point could have been avoided entirely with a more timely and measured plan. She could have at least taken care of it herself instead of deploying those ruffians the archmage keeps in her service.”
That was hardly fair, surely. Moon Dancer was new to the job, and short of Princess Celestia herself, who possessed even half of Twilight’s ability? And what ‘ruffians’ was Fancy Pants speaking of? Not the Evening Guard, certainly!
“At least they’re not skulking about the castle,” Golden Fleece added. “Well, most of them.”
Fleur’s attention suddenly shifted to some far off point beyond the crowd. Leaning into Fancy Pants and speaking softly, although loud enough to be heard by all, she said, “Do excuse me, mon chéri, but I just spotted a new arrival who would love to meet Rarity.”
With a farewell nuzzle from Fancy Pants and a brief exchange of pleasantries between him and Rarity, Fleur pulled them away from the conversation back into the crowd. When it became clear that they were headed nowhere in particular except away, Rarity breathed out her relief to have made a graceful exit rather than unleashing a scathing castigation upon such uncouth behavior.
“The archmage? You are a fan?” Fleur asked with only curiosity in her voice.
For a moment, Fleur paused in her stride. “Vraiment? Pardon, I did not believe she had friends.”
Rarity offered Fleur an understanding smile to show she’d taken no offense. From how Twilight had reacted to the offer of friendship she’d made a mere week ago, Fleur likely wasn’t far off from the truth. “I suspect she has more than even she believes, but I think I’m among the first to have her return the affection.”
“And how did you manage that?”
Rarity’s smile slipped into a mysterious smirk. “Fleur, darling, I do believe I told you my lips are sealed.” After the solstice, she could share what parts of the story weren’t classified. Until then, however, she had nothing to say.
“And you have grown no less cruel since, teasing a mare so. This answers one question but opens so many more. No wonder Princess Celestia wished to speak with you.”
Just for fun, Rarity said, “I can neither confirm nor deny the subject of our conversation was Twilight Sparkle.”
“Oh, you!” Fleur bumped Rarity with her shoulder as they walked. “Do forgive Fancy Pants for his words. He can be critical when those with power misstep. He may disagree with many of your friend’s methods and policies, but I assure you he has nothing but respect for her abilities, both magical and administrative.”
“Well, we all say things we don’t mean from time to time.”
Fleur thanked Rarity for her patience and consideration. “But it’s probably best not to discuss the archmage here. Fancy Pants’s opinion of her is… What’s the word…”
“Oui. Any mention of her is only likely to upset you.”
It was nothing Rarity hadn’t expected, but she still heaved a sigh. “And you?”
“Rarity, I’m Prench. I saw what she did to the griffons. She terrifies me.”
Rarity chuckled at Fleur’s blunt delivery. “Understandable.”
“For what it’s worth, on a personal level, I admire her dedication to her family.”
“Oh, yes. She’s so good with Sweetie Belle, and Celestia knows that filly can be difficult.” Rarity could only imagine Twilight was an equally wonderful mother and aunt despite all of the complications in her life.
Curious, Fleur asked, “Sweetie Belle? Your sister, no?” Rarity nodded, and she hummed as though she’d caught onto a secret, but when pressed, she said nothing. Instead, she asked, “Shall we retire for the evening? I feel we’ve hardly had time all afternoon to catch up.”
After considering the suggestion for a few seconds, Rarity agreed. That last conversation really had soured the party for her. She’d usually not let such boorish behavior get to her, but it brought Princess Celestia’s request back to the forefront of her mind. She needed some time to think.
Having bumped into Princess Cadance the next morning, Rarity mentioned the drought in Somnambula to her to pass the word on to whoever needed to know. Rarity received a thank you in return and a promise to speak with the archmage regent and those responsible for overseeing the weather in the very southernmost reaches of Equestria.
With that out of the way, Rarity spent the remainder of her day seeing to her own business’s needs. She’d managed to get the cleaning and painting scheduled the day before yesterday, but there were so many little things that still needed taking care of. She needed to advertise her move. She had to take measurements for when she went to decorate. She spent nearly an hour just filling out paperwork, nevermind how long she had to stand in line. She’d forgotten how much bureaucracy went into running a business.
So it was that Rarity walked into a cozy little pub just off the main streets of Canterlot after a long, tiring day. There were only a few other ponies present this early in the evening, and none of them particularly looked like they wished for company.
“What can I get you, Ma’am?”
“Oh, just something to take the edge off before I head home. Chardonneigh, if you have it.”
With a nod, the bartender retrieved a wineglass from beneath the counter and pulled the appropriate bottle from its shelf. He poured her a glass, and she tossed him back a gem with instructions to keep the change.
Hmm, not bad. Rarity took another sip of her wine and let it linger on her tongue. I’ve had better, but this is a little higher quality than I expected.
As she drank, Rarity surveyed the room. A unicorn held a cue in his magic as he practiced his billiards game. A pegasus sat at the public piano trailing out a slow, sad song that struck straight at the heart. In a corner, a unicorn mare with a loose braid sat hunched over with her head on her table and her tail held between her hooves, a near empty mug of cider nearby. On the other side of the room–
Rarity’s eyes snapped back to the mare in the corner. Is that… It is. Without hesitation, she rose to her hooves and found her way to the mare’s table. “Is this seat taken?”
It took a few seconds for Rarity to get a response. It came as a moan at first, but then the mare picked her head up off the table enough to get a look at her company. If there’d been any doubt before, there was none now. “Rarity?”
A panicked look settled onto Twilight’s face. “I – what are you – I’m – oh, forget it,” she stammered out in a drunken slur. “What does it matter anymore?” Resigned, she downed the last of her drink and called for another.
Rarity watched with a worried eye as the bartender fulfilled the request and Twilight immediately guzzled down a quarter of its contents. She held her tongue, however, as something was obviously wrong. “How is the cider?” It was a light question to test the waters.
“Horrid. I don’t know why anypony likes this swill.”
Oh dear. Judging by the wine, the cider was likely just as good. Growing up in the castle had likely given Twilight a discerning palate, but Rarity suspected something more worrying. “Is this your first time drinking?”
As expected, Twilight replied, “Yeah. Promised Celestia we’d get drunk and do something stupid when we beat the evil out of her sister. Figured now was as good a time as any to see how I tolerate alcohol.” She took another large gulp of her cider and for a moment looked about to expel the entire contents of her stomach. It passed, but she still carried a miserable air about her. “Ugh… Not well, it turns out.”
“Darling, perhaps you’ve had enough for tonight?”
“Probably.” But the admission didn’t stop her from reaching for her cider. Twilight paused when the mug reached her lips, and then out of nowhere, she asked, “Am I fun?”
Rarity cocked her head to the side, trying to understand where the question had come from. Before she could formulate an answer, however, Twilight continued on with wherever her impaired thoughts were taking her.
“Luna’s a fun drunk. Celestia probably is too.”
Rarity took in the sagging shoulders, the bloodshot eyes, and the matted hairs of Twilight’s coat which probably came from tears rather than stray cider. She couldn’t find it in herself to lie convincingly. Perhaps in better circumstances, but right now, Twilight Sparkle was not a ‘fun drunk’.
“Right,” Twilight said sullenly. “Another thing I got wrong.” She went for another drink, but Rarity pinned the mug to the table with her magic, and there it stayed. To her mild surprise, Twilight didn’t even try using her own magic and merely accepted defeat.
This was even worse than Rarity had thought. She rose from her seat and moved over to sit beside Twilight, where she pulled the poor mare into a comforting hug. Although neither said anything, Twilight leaned into the affection.
When Rarity released Twilight, she asked, “Is Sweetie Belle behaving?”
Twilight nodded wordlessly.
“Good. She can be a challenge at times. Is she doing well?”
This time Twilight bit her lip and averted her eyes. “Physically. But she’s blaming herself for something I told her wasn’t her fault and then explained in detail why it wasn’t.” She went for her cider again, but this time Rarity pulled it out of arm’s reach.
“What happened?” Rarity carefully kept her voice gentle and not in any way accusing.
The mere question broke Twilight. Tears formed in her eyes as she said, “I’m a failure is what happened!”
And ponies call me a drama queen! “There are many words to describe you, darling, not all of them good, but ‘failure’ is not one of them.”
“But I am!” Twilight insisted. “This was the one thing I was supposed to get right when Celestia took me on as a student, and I screwed everything up. I’m such a miserable failure that she gave up on me years before I even tried.”
So this was about the Elements, then. Rarity had suspected, but that little confession all but confirmed it. Thinking back on the conversation she’d had with the princess, never mind the final request made of her, she said, “Dear Twilight, I assure you, Princess Celestia cares for you far beyond your ability to, eh, ‘beat the evil out of her sister’.”
“Yeah, I know,” Twilight muttered. “Doesn’t change the facts.”
“Neither does drinking yourself into a stupor.” This time Rarity added a bit of reprimand into her voice, and Twilight flinched. They would likely be unneeded words when Twilight sobered, but seeing that they’d gotten through, her expression softened. “Will you tell me what really happened? A burden shared is a burden halved.”
Twilight mulled it over and dithered before she finally heaved a long sigh and met Rarity’s eye again. “You know the Great and Powerful Trixie? Turns out she’s Luna’s protégé.”
“I… What?” That didn’t make any sense. As far as Rarity knew, Trixie was a normal unicorn no older than herself. “How is that possible?”
It took a few seconds before Twilight’s confusion melted into understanding. “Oh, I only told Sweetie Belle the whole story. Right. So keep this to yourself, but…”
Twilight spun her story from discovering a storybook reference to Nightmare Moon by supposed chance all the way up to the fallout of her disastrous duel with Trixie. There were a few mistakes which she lingered over far longer than Rarity thought was warranted to berate herself, but for a mare stepping so far outside her comfort zone, Rarity felt it was largely a success story. If she could come so far in barely more than a moon, she could finish her mission in the remainder of the second one left to her.
“–and that’s why Trixie is off crying and sulking in Ponyville, Lyra is scared of both of us, and Sweetie Belle is depressed. Oh, and while I’m too drunk to deny it, that’s also how Luna has become one of my closest friends. Pathetic, isn’t it?”
“Hardly. A little unorthodox, perhaps, but tell me honestly how many true peers you feel you have.”
Twilight listed off, “Uh, Celestia, Luna, Sunset, maybe Trixie and Pinkie Pie. Moon Dancer and Lyra somewhat. And, um… Oh! Chrysalis!”
“She’s the queen of the changelings.”
Rarity blinked, and Twilight blinked back. She had no idea what a changeling was, and she suspected she wasn’t supposed to. So sidestepping that issue entirely, she concluded, “Is it any wonder then that you find Princess Luna so engaging and interesting?” That Twilight was actively trying to befriend one sister to save the other only made it more reasonable and likely a proposition.
“I…suppose not,” Twilight admitted.
That was one problem if not resolved then at least out of the way for now. “I will speak to Sweetie Belle tomorrow, and I’m sure Bon Bon will help Lyra.” True love conquered all, did it not? “Trixie will be more complicated, but I’m sure with everypony working together, we can bring her around.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Darling, have faith in yourself. For a mare who had no friends outside of her family only a moon ago, you’ve come a long way.”
Twilight opened her mouth, but no words came out. She drew inward, a thoughtful look growing on her face. Then, in time, she said, “You really mean that?”
A strange look settled onto Twilight’s face, one which she directed at Rarity. It only became more odd as the seconds passed. Then a decisive gleam entered into her eyes. On any other pony, Rarity would swear they were about to–
It was dreadfully inexperienced, wet, and Twilight’s breath reeked of alcohol, but it was certainly a kiss. Once the surprise died down, Rarity pushed Twilight away with a gentle hoof. She knew better than to take any meaning from a drunken kiss, especially from somepony who had no prior experience with alcohol or, most likely, the affairs of the heart.
“Twilight, dear, it’s not that I’m not flattered–”
“No, it’s fine. I didn’t really…” Words failing her, Twilight tried again. “It felt like the thing to do. Thought it’d be worth a try, but…meh. Never really had any interest. In anypony, not you specifically. I’m sure you’re worth the emotional upkeep for snuggles and companionship, and I’m just making this worse. Ugh… Sorry. I’m too drunk for this conversation. And sorry for not asking first.”
Rarity tittered as Twilight’s rambling apology came to a close. “Apology accepted.” Even if a little liquid courage had been involved, it was good she’d at least tried to step outside her comfort zone again. There was much work left for her to finish with the Elements and their bearers. After hearing her story, Rarity had been a bit worried she’d withdraw into herself and not come back out before it was too late.
“If it’s of any consolation, you can tell all your friends you were the archmage’s first kiss.”
Unable to resist teasing, Rarity replied, “Yes, I could tell.”
Twilight snorted, indignant, but couldn’t hide the smile poking at the corners of her lips.
“We should get you back to the castle for the night.”
“Psh. I’ll be fine the moment I undo my polymorph. Poof. No more alcohol.”
Now that Twilight mentioned it, that did line up with what she’d told Rarity about the spell. There was one complicating factor to consider, however. “Can you do that safely in your state?”
Twilight hesitated a moment that Rarity didn’t miss. “Of course I can. If Trixie can cast complex spells while four sheets to the wind, so can I.” She lit her horn but cried out in protest a moment later when Rarity flicked it with her own magic to dispel the building power.
“If it’s so important, we can do so in private with somepony qualified and sober casting the spell. You have nothing to prove.”
Although she huffed, Twilight acquiesced. “I’ll sleep it off.” Clearly, somepony was embarrassed to be caught drinking. “Can I at least finish my cider?”
“But I paid for it!” Rarity never thought she’d hear the Archmage of Equestria whine, but here they were.
“Darling, you have the entire treasury behind you. I think you can afford to waste a little drink you don’t even want.”
In a show of solidarity, Rarity pushed away what remained of her wine and rose to her hooves. She then helped Twilight up to hers, which went as poorly as expected. She could barely keep her balance, and walking without support was a nonstarter. As they had no other option, Rarity pulled Twilight’s arm up over her shoulders with some magical assistance. Seven legs proved to be the precise number Twilight needed to move about.
Once they were out on the streets of Canterlot, the sun having long set on them, Twilight said, “Hey, Rarity?”
“You’re a good friend.”
That drew a warm smile out of Rarity. It was always nice to feel appreciated.
“Remind me to give you an old book in the morning. I think you’ll like it.”
Rarity promised to make a note of it before she went to bed.
Rarity knocked on the door to the bedroom Twilight shared with Spike and Sweetie Belle. The former two were off with the other bearers, leaving her alone to speak with her sister.
The door opened to reveal Sweetie Belle standing just behind it. Although whatever surprise she’d experienced had long since faded thanks to Generosity’s early warning, she still had a bemused look about her. “Rarity? What are you doing here?”
Rarity blinked and then tore her eyes away from Generosity. “Oh, Twilight and I ran into each other in Canterlot. She really needed somepony to talk to, and I thought perhaps you might as well.”
A moment passed in silence. Then Sweetie Belle stepped aside and left the door wide open.
Rarity took the invitation for what it was and entered. As she expected for what was essentially a glorified camping trip, there wasn’t much inside: three clouds repurposed into beds, a foal-sized desk, a few books, some odds and ends, and everything a young filly needed to take notes. Even when things were at their most dark, there would always be homework.
Eying Twilight’s bed as having the most real estate to work with, Rarity cautiously approached it and poked it with a hoof. While hers went right through, Sweetie Belle climbed up onto it without hesitation, digging her hooves into the cloud and then finally throwing herself atop the covers. “The sheets are bespelled,” she said when she saw Rarity’s reluctance to follow.
The Crusaders had thankfully never acquired Rainbow Dash’s penchant for pranks, so Rarity slid onto the bed with only an appropriately mild level of caution. When it remained firm yet softer than fresh snow, she melted into it with a pleased moan. “Oh, I simply must have one of these.”
In a moment of marvelous inspiration, Sweetie Belle suggested, “You could sew a cloudwalking spell into a sheet.”
“My beloved Sweetie Belle, if I could feel my anything right now, I would hug you.” On her way out, Rarity would have to ask Twilight for the spell diagram. Now that she knew such luxury, how could she ever get her beauty sleep with anything less?
Moreover, if the magic wasn’t too time-consuming to turn into an artifact, Rarity could make a fortune just selling luxury bedclothes! She’d be able to pick and choose her clients entirely as she pleased to devote more time to becoming an artificer. She imagined all of the good she could do with a heavy purse added to all the other changes in her life.
And with such wealth, it would be that much easier to help her shadow princess rule Equestria should Princess Luna triumph.
At Sweetie Belle’s call, Rarity stirred from her musings. “My apologies. I got lost in thought. Now then, Twilight told me what happened from her perspective. Why don’t you tell me yours.”
She started slowly, but then the whole story came tumbling out from Sweetie Belle without filter. “I wanted to help Trixie and Archmage Twilight sort out their differences so they could be friends. When Apple Bloom and Scootaloo fight, I always step in and help them make peace. Trixie… She’s complicated. More than I thought. I’m still not sure I entirely understand her, even knowing that I don’t know her whole story. I managed to get her talking, and she was in a good mood. She, uh, likes attention.”
Rarity rolled her eyes. “You don’t say.” Anypony who’d been within a league of the Great and Powerful Trixie for any length of time would know that.
“Right, well, then Archmage Twilight came to fetch me for dinner. She was polite, and I fed Trixie’s ego to keep her…not happy, but not hostile. Everything was going well, and then I broached the subject of their relationship. I… Archmage Twilight told me it wasn’t the right time for it, but I thought I knew better, so I pressed, and then she told me about Trixie, and I got scared, and that set Trixie off, which made them fight, and now Lyra’s scared, Trixie left, Archmage Twilight doesn’t want to teach me anymore, and it’s all my fault!”
With that all coming out at once, Rarity pulled her now sobbing sister into her arms. She gently stroked Sweetie Belle’s mane as she processed everything she’d heard. Mentor and protégé, it seemed, were perhaps a little too well matched in their sense of responsibility. This mess wasn’t Sweetie Belle’s fault anymore than Twilight was a failure.
Well, might as well tackle what she’ll consider the most important one first. “Sweetie Belle, there are some things that we adults only talk about with each other. She may tell you this when you’re older and less likely to laugh at her, but Twilight wants to teach you so much that she’s been creating lesson plans in her dreams.”
Wet laughter emanated from Rarity’s soggy chest. Sweetie Belle sniffed and pulled her head back enough to look up at Rarity’s face. “Really?”
“Really.” If perhaps that had been in Twilight’s dreamscape, Sweetie Belle didn’t need to know. “Even having delegated most of her responsibilities until the solstice, she’s been” – the vivid memory of holding Twilight’s mane back as she vomited surfaced uninvited – “busy.” Rarity did also recall her mentioning undertaking the rather more morbid task of setting up some unspecified failsafe in case Princess Luna killed her. “You just have to be patient. This is new to both of you; it will take some time to adjust.”
Sweetie Belle, after thinking about it for a few seconds, said, “Okay,” and actually sounded like she believed it to some extent. Rarity would call that progress. Then surprisingly, she said, “She did say I’d need self-motivation studying under her. And that this would be different than school.”
That did line up with what Rarity knew of Twilight’s poorly documented education under Princess Celestia, and she told Sweetie Belle that and then explained what little she knew from snippets of gossip, the news, credible soources, and the few things Twilight herself had said. Sweetie Belle patiently listened to every word, and Rarity thanked Celestia for perhaps the thousandth time that her sister was the quiet, reflective type.
“So you see, Twilight is here to guide your studies. She certainly has several important lessons she wants to pass on to you. She can introduce you to new ideas and possibilities. She can even give you direction. But at the end of the day, you will only get out what you yourself put in.”
After a few moment’s thought, Sweetie Belle said, “A hundred time zero is still zero,” with a little nod to herself.
Seeing that the point had been made, Rarity set that topic aside. Sweetie Belle had for years demonstrated a consistent and sufficient level of self-motivation when it came to magic to make this odd arrangement work. She and Twilight would figure out the rest together until they found their own rhythm, Rarity was sure. And if they didn’t, Twilight had promised to provide a more structured learning environment. All would be well.
“Now then,” Rarity began, “I do believe there was another matter troubling you.”
Sweetie Belle flinched.
“Surely you must know Trixie’s, shall we say, outburst was inevitable.”
Nopony would accept that as a proper answer. “But…”
“It didn’t have to be this bad. I should have waited to act. I should have heard all of the facts first. I should have taken the time to digest them. I shouldn’t have reacted so badly. I–” Sweetie Belle’s voice finally cracked as she batted away tears with a fetlock. “I-I shouldn’t have stolen Generosity. From you.”
Rarity heaved a silent sigh. The downside of having an introspective little sister, despite how much easier it made life, came when she thought too deeply about things. “You did no such thing. In fact, Twilight told me she made the final decision to bond it to you.”
With the widening of Sweetie Belle’s eyes, Rarity noted that Twilight had neglected to tell her that. Not that it came as a surprise. It was a very minor detail to overlook when there were so many other larger events to dwell upon. But that knowledge alone banished the dark cloud hanging over her as the guilt she so obviously carried lifted. For the greater part, at least.
“Even if you had,” Rarity pressed on while Sweetie Belle remained receptive to her message, “Generosity is a responsibility, not some great prize. Put this worry from your mind. Twilight and I are friends without it, as you would still be her student should it have come to me instead.”
Rarity denied Sweetie Belle’s self-condemnation any chance to regain steam and spoke over her. “–is not your fault. You acted as a wonderful, kind, caring young lady should. You’re not to blame for Trixie’s boorish behavior.”
“But – but if I hadn’t meddled–”
“–then you would be going through this next week far too close to the solstice for comfort. You six have time to amend fences.”
“That’s…probably true,” Sweetie Belle admitted. “But that’s not how responsibility works.” That came off almost as a question. “Index, er, Archmage Twilight said it was her fault I stole Generosity from her. She said that when you’re walking the path of magic, you have to take responsibility for the consequences of your actions.”
Rarity heaved an exasperated sigh and made no secret of it this time. She pushed a little magic into her horn to massage her temples. While she knew little about magic and assumed whatever exact wording Twilight had used was correct and important, she strongly suspected Twilight had long forgotten what it was like to be a foal.
“Sweetie Belle, darling, this is a very complicated subject. Twilight is one of history’s greatest mages and one step removed from a princess. What’s true for her isn’t true for you. In time, perhaps, but right now, you’re responsible for nopony’s actions but your own. Okay?”
It came hesitantly, but Sweetie Belle nodded and said, “Okay.”
“Marvelous. Now let’s get a good look at you.” Rarity shifted back and used her hooves to inspecte her little sister’s face. “Oh, darling, you look awful!”
Sweetie Belle’s, “Gee, thanks,” went ignored.
“Let me take care of that for you. Hold still a moment. A lady must look her best.”
Rarity ran her magic over Sweetie Belle, cleaning her face of any mucus and removing the lingering traces of her tears. The bloodshot eyes were already returning to normal, so Rarity left them alone. Lastly, she summoned a tissue from the desk and instructed her sister to blow her nose.
When she finished all that, Rarity leaned back satisfied. “There. You need a good bath to truly fix your mane and bring your coat to a shine, but this” – though it killed her to say so of anything less than perfection – “shall do for now.”
Sweetie Belle didn’t offer her thanks, but she did smile just a little.
“Will you be okay here if I leave for home or would you like me to stay for the day?”
With a shake of her head, Sweetie Belle told Rarity she’d be fine on her own, so they made their way together back to the entrance hall. She tried to lead them down the wrong corridor once or twice, but Rarity kept them on the right path.
“How do you know your way around so well?” Sweetie Belle asked with a bit of a whine in her voice.
Rarity smirked and replied, “Darling, this is hardly my first time going spelunking.” The pout she got in return only made her laugh. Maybe someday she would teach Sweetie Belle her secrets.
Soon enough, the pair bumped into Twilight just outside the corridor leading to the test chambers and the teleport back to Ponyville. She offered to take Rarity back home herself, but it seemed an awful waste when there was a more convenient option waiting only a short walk away.
Rarity did, however, ask after and receive the spell diagram she’d have to decipher to stitch a cloudwalking enchantment into fabric. Regardless of whether she made a business of it, she must have one for herself. It also felt like an appropriate step up from the simple toy projects she’d worked on together with Twilight.
After bidding goodbye to her sister, Rarity left Sweetie Belle in Twilight’s capable hooves. She accepted the offer of a teleport straight to the test chambers rather than having to walk all the way there herself, and then she was back in Ponyville in the middle of Pinkie Pie’s room. She could get used to being able to move about Equestria so quickly, even if she felt a little nauseous for a few moments. It almost made her want to undergo the grueling grind necessary to build up the prerequisite magical stamina herself. Almost.
There was much to do, but Rarity decided to stop by Fluttershy’s cottage for a quick chat to catch up with one another first. She might even run into Rainbow Dash there as well. If not, who knew where that mare would be off to.
Not long after leaving Sugarcube Corner and a very confused Cake couple behind, a very unexpected voice called out, “Rarity!”
Rarity froze midstep. It couldn’t be. She turned woodenly in place to find that it was. “Mother. Father.” This was the last thing she needed right now with so much else she needed to do and think about.
Heedless to her distress, Hondo Flanks and Cookie Crumbles, her parents, approached. Her father was wearing that ratty sombrero of his and some tasteless shirt that had seen far too many years of use. Her mother was marginally better, but her fashion sense remained, as ever, thirty years out of date and not nearly ‘delightfully retro’ as Rarity strained herself to call it.
“Oh, Rarity, thank Celestia. With all the chaos of the festival, we were beginning to think we’d come home to the wrong place.”
Hondo Flanks nodded his agreement. “We hardly recognized Ponyville when we first arrived. Your friend, Fluttershy, told us you were in Canterlot, but she didn’t know when you’d be back.”
“Ah, yes, well, I just arrived, actually.” Rarity dreaded to ask, but she had to. “Did she mention why I was there?”
“Something about meeting with the princess for the festival,” Cookie Crumbles said, although she sounded a bit unsure.
Rarity sent her silent thanks out to Fluttershy with the promise of an all day spa trip in the future for letting her break the news in her own time. If at all possible, she wanted Twilight at her side when that happened lest it merely devolve into another argument.
“Speaking of which, did Sweetie Belle go with you? We haven’t seen her.”
“No, she’s off camping with a friend.” It wasn’t not the truth, and Rarity figured it would buy her enough time to bump into Twilight again. She’d just leave a note with Amethyst to give to Index. Twilight was still the Summer Sun Celebration’s overseer, after all. She’d have to come back at regular intervals for at least a check-in.
Meanwhile, however, Rarity needed to keep her parents distracted.
The end of the day came as a relief when Rarity finally managed to return home to her boutique. She habitually turned the sign from closed to open, realized her mistake, corrected it, and then finally removed the note saying she’d be out of town for a few days. She’d need to remember to make a new one as soon as her parents were sorted out to direct customers to her new address in Canterlot.
Rarity climbed the stairs up to her private residence. At the top, she eyed what luggage Twilight had brought back for her from her castle apartment. Did she really want to unpack right now? No. Certainly not. She was too tired for that. All she really wanted to do was curl up in bed with a good book, so that was precisely what she did.
A deep sigh escaped Rarity when she slipped under the covers of her regular spring bed. She’d experienced perfection, and now she had to suffer such primitive accommodations. “No wonder Rainbow Dash spends so much time napping on stray clouds.”
Without any other choice, however, Rarity resigned herself to the inevitable. She levitated the book Twilight had given her over from her nightstand, read the title and author with some surprise, and then finally cracked open Entering the Dream Realm.