51w, 5dTwilight's Library
Rainbow Dash eyed her newfound opponent’s ball with contempt. Sure, it was round, but that was about all it had going for it. Rarity’s ball was plain, boring, white, with only a single blue diamond to break up its boredom. Didn’t Rarity’s cutie mark have three blue diamonds? Clearly this was a rather substandard attempt at imitation. Her ball, by contrast, didn’t even bother trying to replicate her cutie mark, since clearly she was too awesome to be reduced into ball form. A darkish pink, dotted with brilliant white stars: the sky was the limit! If balls were pets, she’d have just won easily in the Style column. This contest, though, was all about Agility.
In front of them stood Twilight Sparkle, whom they had both agreed would make the best referee, plus the unicorn Colgate, who was serving as her second just in case either of the balls went wild in their trajectories and ended up incapacitating her. Twilight’s unicorn magic flipped through the pages of an enormous book called “Beachberry’s Boundless Beginners’ Ball-Bouncing Bible, Volume 1 of 4,” the cover of which had a complicated abstract picture that clearly had nothing to do with balls or bouncing at all. From time to time she would stop at one page or another and make an interested tutting sound, which never quite seemed to signal that she was done reading. Sweetie Belle and her parents were there as well, hidden beneath an enormous pink umbrella, and Pinkie and Fluttershy stood to the side, having some sort of animated discussion – well, animated for Fluttershy – though Rainbow Dash didn’t see Applejack anywhere. Probably she had chalked the whole contest up to foolishness. Heh, her loss!
“All right!” said Twilight an eternity later. “I guess I’m ready to get going! I hope I didn’t keep you girls waiting too long?”
Rarity gave her a simpering smile. “Oh, no,” she said. “We understand how important is that you know exactly what you’re doing, Twilight Sparkle. Our referee must be knowledgeable, after all, and observant, and wise, and…”
“And fair and unbiased, right, Rarity?” asked Rainbow Dash. She had talked to Scootaloo enough to know a suckup when she saw one.
Rarity gave a light cough. “Quite right. So, Twilight, shall we begin?”
Twilight smiled radiantly at them, seeming not to have noticed their little discussion at all. “Definitely! Let me just make sure we’re all on the same page first. So, girls, is this two simultaneous but discrete tries for the Equestrian record, or a more localized competition to be held between the two of you and judged independent of the more general record?”
Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to answer there was nothing discreet about it, but Rarity cut her off. “The latter,” she said. “I have no interest in the record itself, after all. I only want to show Rainbow Dash that she is being ridiculously arrogant.”
Twilight gave another smile, although this one looked somewhat faker. “Uh, okay then! The rules are actually quite simple… most of the book is about special cases, historical sidenotes, and lots and lots of illustrations. Basically, each ball must be bouncing continuously; whosever ball stops bouncing first loses. For the purposes of this contest, only the head is a valid surface for the ball to bounce against, defined as all areas above two inches below the neck, plus all of the mane.” She gave them an appraising look. “Rarity, your mane has much more body than Rainbow’s does, so you’ll probably have an advantage there.”
Rainbow Dash gave a short laugh. “Yeah, like that’ll make any difference. You can keep your mane, Rarity.”
“Thank you, Rainbow Dash,” said Rarity with a sniff. “I do believe I shall. Twilight, what about my horn? I notice poor Rainbow Dash does not have one, after all.”
Twilight flipped through several dozen pages. “Aha! Okay, Rarity, your horn does count as part of your head. However, you are not allowed to use your magic to move the ball, directly or indirectly. For example, summoning a light breeze to angle your ball towards your head would count as cheating, although you would be allowed to, for instance, summon a fireball to destroy something that your ball might land on instead of your head. Umm, allowed to in terms of the rules of the contest, I mean. There’s a pretty big disclaimer here that fireballs may cause property destruction which may be against Equestrian law, and something not being against contest rules doesn’t necessarily mean it’s legal.”
Fluttershy raised a timid yellow hoof. “Umm, Twilight?”
“What about Rainbow Dash’s wings?”
Twilight looked confused. “I don’t know if that’s strictly in here, but I’m pretty sure they’re not part of her head, no.”
“No, umm, I mean…” Fluttershy hesitated. “Can she use her wings to fly? To get herself in a better position to bounce the ball if it’s at a bad angle?”
“Oh!” Twilight looked relieved. “That makes much more sense. Uh, yes, she can, so long as her wings don’t actually touch the ball.”
“Ooh, ooh!” said Pinkie Pie, doing a serviceable imitation of a bouncing ball herself. “Can they help each other?”
“I’m not sure I understand…”
“Well,” said Pinkie, pointing to them each in turn, “Rarity’s Generosity and Dashie is Loyalty, right? So what if they wanted to get generous or loyal or something and help each other out? Like, could Rarity bounce Dashie’s ball on her head?”
Twilight’s head vanished into the depths of the book for several minutes, while Rainbow Dash felt herself growing increasingly bored. Did she have a weather meeting later? She suddenly thought that maybe she did. Hopefully Rarity wouldn’t put up too much of a fight after all these delays.
“Apparently,” said Twilight at last, “yes, that would be perfectly okay. All that’s important is that your ball bounces on a head or mane, not necessarily yours. So Rarity could bounce both of their balls at once, or Rainbow Dash could, either way.” She turned another page. “Likewise, you each – heads aside – count as illegal surfaces for your opponent’s ball, so for example, Rainbow Dash could cause Rarity to lose by flying under her ball mid-bounce so that it landed on Rainbow’s tail instead of Rarity’s head. The book says that this is ‘perfectly legal but incredibly unsporting.’ “
Still standing beside her, Colgate got a wicked grin on her face. “Hey, Twilight,” she said. “So if both their balls hit the ground at the same time, is that a tie?”
“Umm…” Twilight flipped back to the beginning of the book. “Yes!”
“But Rainbow Dash’s ball is pink, and Rarity’s is white.”
“So how are you going to account for the effects of redshift? And besides, to detect true simultaneity…”
As Twilight’s eyes went wide and she began hurriedly paging through the book, Rainbow Dash stomped an impatient hoof on the earth below her. “Oh, come on!” she said. “I’m pretty sure me and Rarity know what we’re doing, and if Twilight needs more time to figure out how to judge us, hey, she can do that while we bounce. Let’s do this thing, Rare’!”
Rarity gave a graceful nod. “Rainbow Dash, my dear: it is on.”
Two long-loved balls were tossed into the air. Two heads rose up to meet them on their descent. And things continued on from there without much change.
In her youth, Rainbow Dash had once spent a month-long winter’s break from flight school on top of a mountain, studying within the monastery of the Most Ancient Order of Bouncing Monks. The reclusive and graceful flutter ponies of the Order had taught her how to control her body in numerous nearly imperceptible ways, with far more delicacy than was needed for calming errant clouds or even most of her stunt flying moves. It was these teachings she was now putting to use: mere fractions of inches in the position and angle of her head could make for radically different bounces, and extreme caution was needed for calculating every impact. She had not practiced the Art of the Bounce in many months, and with both an audience and an opponent, failure was not an option.
Unfortunately, Rarity was proving surprisingly talented as well. After some initial shows of concentration, she seemed to have settled quite serenely into her own rhythm, her white ball bouncing regularly up and down without seeming to draw much effort from her at all. Rainbow Dash even cast a suspicious eye at the unicorn’s horn, but there was no sign of its magical glow. Apparently Rarity really was just that naturally graceful. Her ball rose and fell with scarcely a bit of variation from one bounce to the next, and Rainbow Dash could just make out the beginnings of a smug smile on her opponent’s face. She was going to have to step up her game. Or maybe… flap it up.
Giving her ball a mighty push upwards, Rainbow Dash took to the air. Her powerful blue wings beat slowly at her sides, synced up perfectly with the ball making its mostly regular impacts on her scalp. She began to circle the still-standing Rarity, her wings coming perilously close to brushing against her friend’s ball as it bounced in the air, although she made sure not really to touch it. As Twilight had said, that would have been incredibly unsporting. Better to frighten Rarity enough that she messed up all on her own.
“Sweetie Belle,” said Rarity without warning, “emergency measure 3S.”
Rainbow Dash turned to watch while Rarity’s younger sister searched through a large basket she’d had concealed beneath her umbrella. After a few moments, Sweetie Belle produced a pair of enormous sunglasses, which she trotted over to place on Rarity’s face.
“Thank you,” said Rarity. “Rainbow Dash, I hope you are not trying to distract me, because I suddenly can’t seem to see you at all.”
Rainbow Dash growled. “Hah, like I’d need to distract you to win this!” she said. “This contest is just way too stale, that’s all! What’s the fun in winning if all we’re going to do is stand here like a couple of dummies?”
Twilight frowned from behind her enormous book. “Rainbow,” she said, “you don’t get any points for style, you know. This contest is based solely on how long the ball goes without hitting anything besides your head.”
Rainbow Dash gave her most impressive mid-air shrug. “Yeah, well, winning isn’t everything. If you’re gonna win, you’ve gotta win big.”
She began a rapid ascent, her ball now bouncing against her upturned face rather than the top of her mane. The flutter ponies of the Order had taught her this particular move last of all, calling it the Kitchen Sink. Now several dozen feet above the treetops, she began a spiraling descent, the ball bounced continually just in front of her in an ever narrowing circle. As she reached the spiral’s center, she flew quickly up and gave the ball a powerful downward headbutt, sending it hurdling towards the ground below. Sparing a quick grin for her small audience, Rainbow Dash rotated herself downward and sped towards the earth, overtaking the ball’s trajectory in the nick of time. One quick angling motion before she hit dirt, and the ball was again bouncing regularly on her head, the velocity of their mad descent totally gone. She smiled as the tiny crowd broke into applause.
“There! Let’s see you top that, Rarity!” she said in triumph.
“Why?” asked Rarity with an infuriating calm. “Didn’t you hear what Twilight said, Rainbow Dash? Mad stunts are only going to decrease our chances of winning. They’re risky and tiring.”
“Sure, but…” Rainbow Dash struggled for a moment to think of what part of Rarity’s nature she could appeal to. She pointed wildly at their watchers. “But who do you think deserves to win more, huh? You, just standing there calmly without a worry in the world, or me, giving the audience something to see and really putting my back into the art? Pinkie? What do you think?”
If Pinkie Pie had stopped bouncing up and down since the contest began, Rainbow Dash had not noticed it. “Oh, you should definitely win, Dashie! I mean, just now you were all WHOOOOOOOSH, and then VROOM VROOM VROOM VROOM VROOM and EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEkaBOUNCE!” – she did a quite passable grounded reenactment of Rainbow Dash’s trick – “and Rarity’s just standing there all like actually I don’t know how to act out standing there because it’s really boring.”
The yellow pegasus looked obviously conflicted, but finally nodded. “Um, I agree with Pinkie,” she said. “So far you’re obviously putting a lot more into this contest, Rainbow Dash, and it would be much more emotionally satisfying if you won than if Rarity did. Um, sorry.”
“As your mutual friend and as the formal referee of this contest, it would be doubly wrong of me to express a particular favor to either one of you.”
“Right, okay.” Rainbow Dash sighed, suspecting that asking Rarity’s own family for their opinions might not be the best idea. “Come on, Rare, this isn’t like you. Imagine if you were making a dress! Would you just make the most boring dress you could possibly make, so long as it covered everything it was supposed to cover?” She pointed vaguely at various points on her body.
“No,” said Rarity, “I would make it a beautiful dress.”
“Even if you weren’t in competition with anypony and you were going to get paid no matter what you did?”
Rainbow Dash had a feeling she was winning, unless that was just the ball’s constantly knocking on her skull. “And why’s that, huh?”
Rarity gave a tremendous sigh that miraculously failed to affect her own ball in any way. “Because if a thing is worth doing… it is worth doing fabulously. Fine. Did you have anything in mind?”
“Of course!” Rainbow Dash lied. She thought quickly. “Okay, so, you’ll need to come on over to the dam.”
Twilight gasped and began paging frantically through her rulebook. “Wait!” she said. “The book is very clear that as referee, I am not allowed to leave this spot until the contest is complete!”
“Are we?” asked Rainbow Dash. “Like, as players, not as referees?”
“Well… I suppose so,” said Twilight. She scanned the page. “Um, yes, apparently. Because you might need to go retrieve your balls from a particularly difficult bounce or something like that.”
“Okay,” said Colgate, who Rainbow Dash had once more managed to forget was there. “So you have to stay here, but in the meantime the rest of us can go to the dam and can find out what Rainbow Dash has got planned.”
Twilight glared at her. “Whose side are you on?”
“As not the formal referee of this contest,” answered Colgate, “I get to do and say whatever I please.”
Rarity was not sure what she had expected for her challenge of style, but it had most definitely not been this.
Rainbow Dash had gone on ahead, her wings allowing her to reach the dam much more quickly than the rest of them even while bouncing a ball on top of her head. Along the way she had apparently enlisted two other pegasi who had helped her tie a rope across the dam. No, not across the dam – across the ravine just next to the dam, on the other side from the nice safe reservoir.
“So you just have to walk across it,” Rainbow Dash was explaining, “like a tightrope. Except obviously your ball has to keep bouncing the entire time!”
Rarity stared downwards, sickening flashbacks to the Best Young Flyer competition already entering her mind. “Tightropes usually have nets beneath them, Rainbow Dash,” she said, trying to hold her voice steady. “If I fall…”
Rainbow Dash pointed smugly at her two pegasus companions. “Then Thunderlane and Blossomforth here will fly down immediately to save you!” she said. “I mean, I’d do it myself, but I’ll still be bouncing and I don’t want to mess that up. Besides, if I save you from falling to certain death too many times, some ponies might start to get the wrong idea!”
“Celestia forbid,” Rarity said to herself darkly. She turned to her friends for help. “Fluttershy, dear, can I trust these two?”
“Hey!” said Blossomforth. “We’re right here.”
Fluttershy gave a small nod. “They’re both very fast,” she said. “Um, if Rainbow Dash thinks they can catch you, then I’m sure they can.”
“Fastest wings in the west!” said Thunderlane, his wing feathers rippling outwards.
“Yeah, in the west of your own house, maybe,” said Rainbow Dash. She laid a soft wing over Rarity’s back, once again just barely avoiding knocking Rarity’s ball off course as she did so. “Look, Rare, I promise you’ll be fine. I’ve worked with these two loads of times, and they really are quick. If they don’t catch you, I will, and you know how fast I am. Seriously, this is all about skill, not danger… if I wanted to get you killed, there’d be way easier ways I could find to do that.”
Rarity shuddered. “Thank you for those incredibly encouraging reassurances, Rainbow Dash,” she said. “..all right. Let’s continue this ridiculous competition.”
The tightrope that had looked terrifyingly thin at a distance looked even thinner up close, and the other side of the ravine even farther away. Nonetheless, Rarity brought herself to place one hoof onto it, and then another, and then another, until she was standing fully off the edge of the cliff, a single rope all that hung between her and needing to find out just how fast Thunderlane and Blossomforth really were. She took another step forward. The rope was rough, but that was good, because that made it easier to get a grip on. She stepped again, and again, all the while remembering to hold her gaze up, her expression firm, her head moving up and down to catch her fillyhood ball still bouncing on top of it.
The encouraging cheers from Rarity’s friends and family on the cliff behind her dwindled from her consciousness as she focused entirely on getting herself across the ravine and safely to the other side, where she could begin to find a way to have her revenge on Rainbow Dash. The pegasus could say what she liked about skill and danger, but Rarity had come near to death by falling from a great height twice already, and there was no way Rainbow Dash couldn’t realize how terrifying this would be to her… was there? For all she knew, maybe Rainbow Dash wasn’t even capable of seeing the open sky as anything other than a beautiful expanse of freedom. Either way, she needed to think of something that she would find beautiful but that Rainbow Dash would be afraid of… ah, of course. She had a plan; now she just had to get across the tightrope.
Hoof step, ball bounce, hoof step, ball bounce. She was maybe a third of the way across, if she still had any sense of distance. What was a tightrope, anyhow, besides an elaborate metaphor for… something? Well, whatever it was a metaphor for, she was quite certain she was an expert at walking it. She was, after all, a pony of two different worlds: the quaint rusticity of Ponyville on the one hoof, contrasted with the glamour and – admittedly – snobbery of Canterlot on the other. If that was not a tightrope that she walked, she didn’t know what was. None of her friends could understand what skill and dedication it took for such doubleness of one’s life… except perhaps Rainbow Dash. She was a creature of the sky, after all, though simultaneously a citizen of Ponyville. Perhaps the girl had a tightrope of her own to fly across? Hoof step, ball bounce, hoof stop, ball bounce…
“Hi Rarity! You’re doing super duper great so far!”
Rarity turned her head slowly to the left to confront the impossible. Pinkie Pie was standing there beside her, her face a radiant mask of support and good cheer. That in itself was not so very bad – Rarity had warmed to the party pony a little since Rainbow Dash had decided to strand them in the middle of the desert together – but the fact was that Pinkie Pie was standing there beside her.
“Pinkie, dear,” she said, “…what are you doing here?”
Pinkie Pie laughed. “Umm, duh! I thought you might want some encouragement, so I came over here to walk next to you!”
“Pinkie,” said Rarity, very slowly, “I’m on a tightrope. Halfway across a ravine. There is no ‘next to me.’ “
And then Rarity made the mistake of looking down to make sure she was right.
Four very predictable things happened all at about the same time. First Pinkie, who really truly wasn’t standing on anything, fell. Second, Rarity’s ball hit Rarity’s head, which was looking down into the ravine and not at all properly oriented for an optimal bouncing angle, and the ball fell. Third Rarity, through a combination of shock and disorientation, screamed and lost her footing and fell. And fourth, Blossomforth and Thunderlane leapt into the air and took off at top speed to save them.
For a brief few seconds, Rarity watched her life pass before her eyes for the third time in recent history. Then Thunderlane caught her. Nearby, Rarity could see Blossomforth struggle for a moment to lift Pinkie Pie, her wings struggling frantically against the earth pony’s weight, before finally beginning to climb upwards. She also saw her ball plummeting beneath them, and with it her chances of beating Rainbow Dash at her own game. One specific memory presented itself to her, a certain rather muddy lesson she’d received from Applejack one day, after she’d thoughtlessly accused her friend of being little more than an unskilled laborer…
“Mr. Thunderlane,” she told her rescuer, “I am about to use you in a very undignified manner, and I apologize.”
Rarity twisted in midair and climbed onto Thunderlane’s back. She knew a little of how pegasi’s wings worked from talking to Fluttershy. She knew a little about riding bulls from fighting with Applejack. And she knew a lot about how much she wanted her ball. Her kind dressmaker’s hooves grabbed Thunderlane’s body and wings roughly and pulled him into a steep dive towards the ravine’s bottom. She could only imagine her friends’ and family’s reactions just then, having tuned out all else but the relentless pursuit of the falling white sphere that had been her fillyhood companion. It was in front of them now, growing closer, closer, they were matching its speed, they were surpassing it, they were well beneath it now, without much more room to fly farther down…
Rarity pulled up on Thunderlane, hard. Together they shot upwards, seeking to intercept the ball. For a moment, Rarity thought they weren’t going to make it, she had miscalculated by just a little, it was too far away from her head to bounce off it – and then she remembered her mane. A flick of her head sent her solid purple curls whipping to her side, and the ball was hit and bouncing, up, up, up, until she and Thunderlane returned to the top of the ravine and she finally let him resume control of his own body. Slowly, probably somewhat painfully, they flew back down to the cliff to rejoin their waiting companions.
“Thank you, Thunderlane,” said Rarity as she disembarked to the welcome feeling of rocky ground beneath her hooves. She looked at him, head still nodding regularly to the sensation of the ball bouncing up and down above it. “You are a true gentlecolt.”
The dark-coated pegasus grinned awkwardly at her. “Lady,” he said, “you’re crazy, but you’re also pretty cool.”
“Oh, is she?”
Rarity turned to meet the other pegasus, Blossomforth, who was glaring pointedly at her. “Come on, Thunderlane,” she continued, “let’s get you home. You’ve had far too much excitement today. Remember your allergies!”
“Huh? Oh, uh, right.” Thunderlane scratched his snout experimentally. “Yeah, okay. Cya later, Rainbow Dash!”
Rarity watched the two of them go with some amusement. Ah, the thrill of the fight! Perhaps she needed more of that in her life. Although there was something to be said for the thrill of the flight as well… no, she thought, and shook her head. She had really better leave the pegasus duties to Rainbow Dash.
Fluttershy engulfed her in a hug. “Oh, Rarity, I’m so glad you’re all right!” she cried into her mane. “I was so scared, and you should really stop this awful contest, and, um, are Blossomforth and Thunderlane okay?”
Rarity smiled. “They’ll be fine, dear. I think Blossomforth is just a little jealous, that’s all.”
“Who cares?!” It was Rainbow Dash, hovering excitedly above them with her ball bouncing very erratically against her colorful mane. “Rarity, that was awesome! I’ve never seen anypony ride a pegasus before! That dive, that pull back up… I don’t know where you learned all that, but it was way better than my trick!”
Rarity stood calmly for a moment as the rest of her admirers, a safe and sound Pinkie Pie among them, ran up to sing her praises. Yes, she had done well. She had not actually made it across the tightrope, but she had managed something far more daring and skilled than her original task. So now…
“You’re right, Rainbow Dash,” she said. “It was quite awesome, wasn’t it? So I guess now it’s your turn to go up for a challenge, to see if you can get a little of your own back.”
Rainbow Dash appeared to hesitate for only a fraction of a second. “Suits me!” she said. “What did you have in mind? Something from Scoot’s catalog, like bungee jumping or fire breathing or trapeze swinging?” She hesitated again, this time for a little longer. “…bungee flaming trapeze swinging?”
“Well,” said Rarity, “you are clearly quite talented at physical activities. So I was thinking…” – she flashed her very most charming smile – “perhaps you ought to try staying still for a while.”
This sucked. This sucked royally. Rainbow Dash’s only consolation was that all their audience had gotten bored and gone home half an hour ago, so that only she and Rarity were witnessing this atrocity. Every nerve and instinct inside of her was beginning her to take off and fly somewhere far off, but she knew if she tried that, she’d probably get a lot of needles buried in her skin. Such was the life of a dressmaker’s dummy.
“Rainbow Dash,” said Rarity for the dozenth time, “please stop fidgeting.” A wealth of fabrics and small gemstones hung suspended in the air before her while she slowly circled Rainbow Dash, her ball still bouncing regularly on top of her.
“I can’t!” said Rainbow Dash. She tried to point to her head for a moment before realizing she was in no good position to move her hoof that much. “If I stop moving, I’ll lose my ball!” Her eyes narrowed. “Hey, you’re not going to make me wear a hat too, are you? That’d totally be cheating.”
Rarity looked genuinely offended. “Of course not! You have had numerous opportunities to cheat me of my victory, by knocking my ball away or kicking my head or other such things, and you’ve been a perfect gentlemare. I’m not going to make you lose by putting a hat on your head.”
“No,” said Rainbow Dash with a grumble, “you’re just going to make me lose by boring me to death.”
Rarity shrugged. “If you like. Personally I think you look marvelous.”
Rainbow Dash looked down at herself. Okay, being fair to Rarity… she really didn’t look all that bad. ‘Marvelous’ was a bit much, but her friend-turned-opponent-but-still-friend-on-the-inside was pretty good at what she did. Rainbow Dash knew talent and dedication when she saw them, and Rarity did have those, even if she was currently using them to try to drown her in ruffles. It was a strange feeling, practically doubling in size.
Her dress… well, it was definitely a dress. It was big and white and ruffly and also a dress. An enormous skirt stretched from her midsection to the floor, with several circles of rainbow-colored ruffles sewn onto it, and she wore enormous white boots on each hoof. Her cutie mark, invisible because of the skirt, had been recreated as a gem-encrusted pendant hanging around her neck by a dark blue ribbon. As she stood there, Rarity was busying herself in finding spots to attach further jewels to the outfit.
Rarity’s eyes looked curiously up at her, although her head remained mostly level, presumably so as to avoid puncturing her ball with her horn. “I said you looked marvelous. Surely by now you should be agreeing with me or else lavishing me with your witty comebacks.”
Right, the trouble with being a motormouth was that ponies got suspicious when you stopped talking. “Oh,” she said, “eh, it looks… okay, I guess.”
Rarity laughed mirthlessly. “Ah, my favorite response. By all means, Rainbow Dash, let’s do this again. No, the color’s fine, the shape’s fine, there’s just this third scale of dress quality that only I am privy to and I cannot possibly explain, and you, Rarity, will have to interpret it based on my utter lack of hints.”
Despite herself, Rainbow Dash felt a slight blush coming on. She probably really didn’t make the best model; it had been a long time since she had last thought clothes were especially cool. But Rarity clearly thought they were cool, and Rarity had just done such a bang-up job of being a pegasus earlier, maybe she should pretend to be a dressmaker for a little bit? That seemed the friendly thing to do. “No,” she said, “uh, the shape really isn’t fine.”
Rarity stopped and stared at her. For a moment it looked like she was going to lose control of her ball, but she made several desperate dives for it in quick succession until it had regained its regular bouncing rhythm. “I’m sorry?” she asked at last.
Rainbow Dash did her best to point at herself through her giant white boots. “This isn’t really a pegasus dress,” she explained. “You’re just doing your normal stuff for unicorns and all, but it doesn’t work on me. Like, I bet you’re all into your horn, right? For pegasi, it’s all about the wings. You need to be accenting… emfising… umm… my wings need to be more of the center of attention. Right now you’re doing all your work on my head and tail, but it’s the middle that really matters.”
Rarity continued to stare. “Rainbow Dash… that was…” she resumed pacing around in a circle, staring fixedly at Rainbow Dash’s wings. “That was… surprisingly astute. Why do you know these things?” She paused. “Why didn’t I know these things?”
Rainbow Dash cast around frantically for an explanation that wouldn’t make Rarity feel bad about her skills. “Uhh… probably your clients, I guess? How many pegasi do you really get in here, most days? Mostly you’ll just be talking to Fluttershy, who’s half earth pony anyway, and me, who…”
“Who has never deigned to tell me a word of helpful advice before today?”
“Uh, yeah, that thing.”
Rarity shook her head as much as she could without sending her ball drastically off course. “Well, whatever virus of helpfulness has infected you, I welcome it. More midsection. Anything else?”
Rainbow Dash shifted uncomfortably on her dais. “Umm… yeah. Less skirt.”
“It’s not aerodynamic at all! Besides, what the hay do you have against my tail? It’s like you’re always trying to cover it up with as much fabric as you can get your hooves on, while I’m trying to be perfectly awesome-looking all on my own. I need to be able to move, Rarity, and you keep making it harder.”
“We must all make sacrifices for the sake of fashion.”
“Maybe you must! I’m telling you, you’re just doing unicorn styles on everypony. You’ve never been in a real pegasus city.”
“Rainbow Dash, I can understand you might not want to be reminded of the event, but I have in fact visited Cloudsdale…”
“Yeah, but that’s Cloudsdale. It’s kind of the closest we’ve got to an earth city. Remember Commander Hurricane from that play we put on? A lot of us still have the proud warrior race bit going on, y’know, armor and stuff; ‘swhy we make such good guards. Speaking of, what’s with all the white? Can I get some gold plating on this?”
“I… certainly,” said Rarity. She had a very curious, appraising expression. “I just don’t understand. Wherever did you pick up so much about fashion?”
“Oh, heh, well.” Rainbow Dash gave a worried grin. “I, uh, might have been a bit more of a clotheshorse when I was small.” Her eyes went wide as she realized what she had just said out loud. “And you’re not going to tell anypony else about that, okay?!”
“You can count on me,” said Rarity. “I… Rainbow Dash, this has been quite the day. First I get to experience flying, and now you get to help design my dresses!” Rainbow Dash wasn’t sure that was quite what she was doing, but stayed quiet. “Would you care to step out for a bite to eat with me sometime? I would love to hear more about your pegasus culture.”
“Uh, sure, okay?” Rainbow Dash frowned. “Um, aren’t we kind of in the middle of a competition with each other, though?”
Rarity spared a glance upward at the star-studded ball still bouncing tiredly on Rainbow Dash’s head. “Yes,” she said, “I suppose we are. Though I will confess my heart is no longer in it. I was quite angry at you yesterday, and that spurred me into challenging you, but… I suppose I feel much better able to relate to you now. I apologize for my anger.”
“Aww, that’s cool,” said Rainbow Dash. Her eyes lit up. “Wait, so, are you forfeiting?!”
“Never!” Rarity drew herself upright. “I may apologize, but I never forfeit. Still, I am a creative pony, and I’m sure I can find a second option.” She appeared to think for a moment. “Sweetie Belle!” she cried. “Are you nearby?”
A few seconds later, Sweetie Belle trotted into the room, bits of her mane curiously singed. “Hi sis!” she said. “I’ve been making grated pasta with cherry sauce! Do you want any?”
“No,” said Rarity, “no thank you. Perhaps you could feed it to Spike. But Sweetie Belle, I need your help. Do you see this ball I am bouncing?” Sweetie Belle nodded. “I am getting quite tired of bouncing it, but I cannot let it touch the ground just yet. So you shall have to take over for me.”
Rainbow Dash stared, enraged, as Rarity passed her ball over to Sweetie Belle, who began bouncing it up and down on her own head with a look of confused excitement on her face. “You can’t do that!” she cried. “That’s cheating!”
“It most certainly is not,” said Rarity. “According to the rules Twilight read us, my ball only has to keep bouncing on somepony’s head or mane, but not necessarily mine.”
“Oh yeah?” Rainbow Dash glared, but when she thought about it, that was what Twilight had said. “Well, two can play at that game. Open the front door, will you?” Rarity obliged, and Rainbow Dash twisted her head carefully around to look outside. “Hey squirt! Come in here for a sec!”
An orange and purple blur shot out of one of the bushes in front of the Carousel Boutique and came skidding to a stop a few inches away from the dais. “Wow, Rainbow Dash!” cried Scootaloo. “How’d you know I was following you around this whole time?!”
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes upward. “It’s a knack, kid. Look, I need you to take this ball off my head for a while, okay?”
“Anything for you, Rainbow Dash!”
“That’s what I like to hear.”
A careful bounce later, and Scootaloo had joined Sweetie Belle in the ball-bouncing league, while both Rarity and Rainbow Dash were refreshingly free to move their heads around as they pleased. Rainbow Dash stretched luxuriously. “Oh, man, that’s better! Want to go get some food now, Rarity? We can finish your dress later or something.”
Rarity smiled. “That sounds lovely. Now, remember, you two,” she added, turning to the new bouncers, “those balls must keep bouncing until we get back. Specifically, they must touch nothing but head and mane. Is that clear?”
“You can count on us!” said Sweetie Belle. “You’re not going to lose this contest if I can help it!”
“Me neither!” said Scootaloo. “Your ball’s in good hooves, Rainbow Dash!”
“In fate’s hooves, maybe,” said Rarity, and turned to Rainbow Dash. “Come on, let me get you out of that dress.” She paused. “Wait, so, those little clothes I found in your house… were those yours?”
Rainbow Dash looked worriedly at Scootaloo. “Shh! I mean, yeah, I guess so, but not so loud.”
Rarity considerately began to whisper. “But those were all years old! You’re not giving me outdated advice, are you?”
“Nah. I mean, stunt flying has got fashions too, right? You’re not going to catch anypony seriously still doing the double inside-out loop anymore. I know what styles are.”