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Stanza’s irritation became more obvious as time drug on. They were nearing the fourth hour straight that Rarity had critiqued her plans, more and more details catching the alabaster mare’s eye. She simply could not leave the plans for the hearts and hooves festival as they were. Her lime green backup glasses were uncomfortable, digging in to the top of her snout distractingly. Shoving the glasses back onto her snout fussily, she briefly considered going back out to the hedge maze to locate her favorite, tomato-red pair she had misplaced, though memory of the debacle that followed her previous excursion through the maze quickly killed the notion.
“...ask her about the Sepulcher, little mare.” The recollection of Discord’s parting words picked at her concentration, dividing her thoughts. Annoyed at her own lack of attentiveness, Rarity flipped to a more recent page of the plans, trying to use the fresh material to regain her focus. The pink mare’s hearts and hooves festival plans read more like a battle strategy, extremely detailed movements for all key players, indicated by an hourly patrol-esque pattern for everypony from the guard patrols to Celestia herself. After a curt explanation from Stanza, Rarity was able to grasp the general shorthand of the plans, but as she analyzed the updated patterns there was a single symbol that remained foreign to her.
“Stan-ZA” Previously oblivious to the other mare’s annoyance, Rarity winced apologetically.
“Yes yes, my mistake. I really don’t do that intentionally, you know. But what is this single ‘x’ you have here?” Leaning over, Stanza repressed a sigh. The alabaster mare was just now getting to the movement plans for the night, which were easily the most detailed and extensive part of the portfolio, she leaned over... and frowned. Up to this point, Stanza had assumed that Rarity had been at least partially up to speed, but Celestia hadn’t even told her what part she would be playing in the festival?
“That’s the diversion” the resulting confused expression prompted Stanza to elaborate, “Well, it’s a more recent addition. The problem I kept seeing with any plan was that no matter how meticulous we were, somepony was going to eventually spot something. I mean, the second any noble-pony picks up on the slightest discrepancy in Celestia’s behavior...”
“It’ll spread like wildfire,” the alabaster mare finished slowly, concern growing at the realization of how juicy any gossip pertaining to either of the Royal Princesses tended to be.
“Right. So the strategy is to create that wildfire initially, completely focusing it on the pony nearest to the princess. If enough attention is drawn to her, than the diversion pony will effectively minimize attention to any mistakes the princess might make.” Rarity contemplated the idea, seeing the wisdom of it. Ponies could be extremely single-minded when it came to gossip: one slip, and a near obsession with the pony in question would develop. They would stare and wait intently as vultures, every small gesture having an increased potential to be read into or misinterpreted. More interesting than Stanza’s strategy, though, was it’s rather outlandish implication.
“How will a single pony manage to keep attention off of the princess the entire night? Standing next to the equestrian leader and icon, yet stealing the show? The distraction will have to be absolutely dazzling,” she gushed, excitement at the prospects in her voice. Stanza’s sigh was more of a hiss; Celestia’s stubborn insistence that Rarity had a vital role to play was beginning to make sense. Even in an area foreign to her, she adapted quickly, picking up knowledge as she went. Stanza had tried to censor the details Celestia had omitted through a general vagueness, but the alabaster unicorn had seen the hole in the plan, calling her on it almost instantly. Oh, why in the name of tartarus not? I won’t let the Princess get cold hooves now.
“The question you should be asking yourself is, ‘how will you keep attention off the princess all night?’” She stated it as nonchalantly as possibly, making her best effort not to laugh at the delayed reaction when Rarity finally caught the implication. She was the distraction. It wasn’t entirely meanspirited: as implied in the perks of her position, Stanza had decided the other mare had been kept out of the loop far too extensively. Surprise attacks were her forte, so why bother with a slower, less concise explanation? There would have been far more disclosed, if she had not already been sworn to secrecy.
“My..Matriarch take me-How in Equestria am I meant to do that? I’ve been planning on downplaying my appearance, and you- you-you-you you’re expecting me to upstage an alicorn? I… I may be at a bit of a loss on how to proceed…” Stanza’s immediate answer was a knowing smile.
“I have a few ideas, but it depends. How far are you willing to take this?”
Barely managing to get to the workroom before the panic got to her, Rarity took deep breaths, wrapping her forelegs over her head. This was obviously Stanza’s intention all along, and it had caught her completely off guard. This is wrong, it’s all wrong. Twisted as it was, the plan was solid, and as violently as she had argued against it she couldn’t come up with a better idea. Maybe I am just being selfish. Fear crept through her veins: She was sure that doing what Stanza had ‘suggested’ was completely impossible with the way things were now. She had yet to apologize to Celestia for the other night, after the previous distraction had thrown her off track. If she didn’t resolve things, this breach of trust would run the risk of ruining any chance they had in a future relationship. Would it be inappropriate to go see her now, so close to midnight? No! I need to figure out exactly where I stand first.
As if to deny that notion, there was a hurried knock at the door. Rarity opened it to find the pony she had just had in mind, anxiously pacing the hallway.
“It is not like my sister to make such a colossal lapse in judgment.” Celestia’s voice carried, filled to the brim with barely disguised ire. While she spoke, she flipped through Rarity’s most recent drawings with enough force that the seamstress was beginning to worry the papers might tear. It was the first time she had been alone in the alicorn’s presence since she had declined her advances, and the tension was nerve-racking. Focusing all her attention on Celestia would have been far too stressful, so Rarity contented herself to working and listening at the same time: the preliminary sketch of a ballroom dress she started had no real end result in mind, a product of toying with multiple concepts subconsciously.
“Princess, I get it. But Luna is under a lot of pressure. That’s not to say that you aren’t as well, but make sure you’re aware of how much she does on a daily basis.” Celestia clucked her tongue, pushing her mane out of her face.
“I see you picked up Aria’s love for all things Victuarian,” she said offhoofedly towards the sketch of a classic Sunday dress, more observation than criticism. Finally, she looked up “I am all too aware of how vital Luna is, which is why her absence has me in such a fit – and really Rarity? I’m ‘Princess’ now, while Luna is addressed by her first name? It is not in my habit to be a picky pony, but perhaps Luna has become more likable than me after all.” The joke fell flat: Rarity instantly saw past the jab, guilt hitting her as she recognized the wounded pony underneath.
“That’s not it,” she said carefully, “After the somewhat ambiguous events of the last few days, I did not want to come off as overly familiar.” a rubber eraser pegged her from across the room, bouncing harmlessly against her snout, but the distraction sent her pencil off course, leaving an awkward ‘check’ mark in the place of her typically straight lines. “How uncouth-“ her dismay was cut short by Celestia’s glare.
“Don’t do that.”
“Do what?” Celestia rolled her eyes at the denial.
“You know what I mean. Save the ‘politically correct Rarity’ voice for the masses.” They trailed off into silence for a time, both refocusing on their respective distractions far too intently. Desperate to salvage the conversation, Rarity went with the first thing that popped into her head.
“So… Princess Luna and Twilight Sparkle… I can’t say I expected that. Twilight said for certain that Luna is fully recovered?” Celestia picked up the next batch of sketches, gritting her teeth.
“Oh, I’d say she’s recovered alright. Twilight did not earn her favored status by being slow: she picked up on the early signs of acute mana exhaustion before she even got Luna to bed.” While magic had never been Rarity’s strong suit, ‘acute mana exhaustion’ was a condition she knew for a fact was not trivial. It often played the part of a boogeyman for arcane 101, to scare foals from using magic trivially, but the threat itself was real. It could take months for anypony to recover from the exhaustion, and last time Rarity checked, Luna needed to raise the sun and moon every day.
“Isn’t that… I don’t know… really really bad for us?”
“Well it would be… If dear Ms. Sparkle wasn’t such a bookworm. If you’ve read those
“The bond is real? They bonded???”
“O-hoh. I wasn’t expecting that you stooped to such lowbrow entertainment.”
It was a trending premise in trashy romance fiction: A young mare would be going about her life, unhappy, often an earth pony, almost always mundane and ordinary. Then, in an entirely ridiculous and nonsensical fashion, an alicorn would drop into the mare’s life, sending it reeling. Semantics of the plot would vary of course, but eventually the alicorn would realize that the mare’s inner magic was ‘unique,’ and somehow set her apart from everypony else. The normal mare would fall deeply in love, keeping her affections a secret just to maintain her relationship with the alicorn, while the alicorn would grow more and more attracted to this mare’s delicious inner mana. It would always end in the same way, with a magical bond in which the two’s magical energy would be joined, usually occurring simultaneously with other activities, at least in the steamier reads.
“You see why it’s problematic? I’m not upset because Luna had a moment of weakness and wanted to visit a friend…” seeing Rarity’s still baffled expression, Celestia sighed, not looking forward to the inherit awkwardness that would stem from the following explanation. “It’s nothing like that romance fiction horsefeathers. Firstly, the bond was always meant to be more of a symbol than an ‘act’ as it is so frequently depicted to be. The fact that it can transmit mana is rather moot when you consider that a typical alicorn has exponentially more mana than the average pony. Of course, Twilight’s the exception, but I’m talking in general here. Secondly, it doesn’t just transmit mana: thoughts, memories, feelings, fears, along with a host of other things can slip through during the process. That’s why it was most common in marriage, and hasn’t been practiced in over a thousand years. I only explained it a few centuries ago to a pony researching differences between the sub-species neurological processes… there’s an innate sensuality to it, of course, but it’s really more of an emotional bond.” the alicorn brought a hoof to her forehead unhappily, “I never expected it to be so thoroughly perverted…” She noticed, with no small amusement, that Rarity had become bright red, and was almost comically focused on her sketching. Pushing the steamier bits of her mind aside, Rarity wondered glumly if Twilight’s connection with Luna had revealed her own presence at the castle: If so, that was one explanation she wasn’t looking forward to, as it would likely involve feeding her dear friend yet another lie, one which would have to be much more convincing than the first.
“How much do you think she knows already?”
“Well, she certainly knows something’s amiss. Possibly that it’s something to do with me specifically, I could tell by the tone of the letter. I’d wager she hasn’t worked out the details yet, at least. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
“You’re not seeing the upside though, Celly.” The scratching of the pencil accelerated. Rarity was reaching the apex of her focus, strategizing and sketching in tandem.
“Tell me… I’d honestly take any good news right now.” Turning to look at the seamstress, Celestia found herself oddly captivated, though the mare didn’t pause once to make eye-contact.
“Under normal circumstances it would be a bad thing, sure. The favored student of Princess Celestia starts dating Princess Luna, the whole scenario screams ‘gossip magnet.’ It’s going to be even harder keeping it away from the press. So why bother hiding it at all?” The gears in her mind turned faster, an alternate version of Stanza’s hearts and hooves festival plans playing out in her head. “Why not have Luna bring Twilight as her date to the hearts and hooves festival? Formally recognize them as a couple. The problem I had with Stanza’s strategy was that it focused far too specifically on me. Am I capable of distracting and entertaining an audience? Of course. The problem lies in the fact that regardless of where I am, I will be close to you. If ponies are constantly looking at me, the probability that they will pick up on inconsistencies is high. However, if ponies are looking back and forth, between interactions of two very significant couples, and if Stanza and I can pull off some preliminary plans we made earlier this evening, let’s just say they won’t be nearly as focused on us.” Carefully completing the last stroke of the sketch, Rarity was began to rouse from the daze. She wasn’t happy with the plan; Using her friend, somepony already socially awkward, as the center of attention at a social event was not an idea she found pleasant, all to aware how unfair it was. She looked up at Celestia: She was staring at Rarity, as if seeing her in a different light for the first time.
Something the tone of Stanza’s work had changed Rarity’s perspective. Now that she had a better grasp of the pink mare’s personality, she began to realize the obsession of strategy in her work was not something that could be chalked up to ‘mere paranoia.’ It became painstakingly obvious that Stanza knew far more than she did about the current circumstances: whenever Rarity mentioned the possibility of failure, even partially, Stanza wasn’t even willing to consider it, that burden glittering darkly behind her eyes. Whatever the nature of Celestia’s peril, it was no trifling matter, thereby she could afford no mistakes. As curious as she was, she forced herself to accept that Celestia would tell her eventually, forcing all speculation from her mind. If it was enough for Stanza to be to be so overly concerned about, she would throw herself into it full force, even if that meant the possibility of putting her friend in a difficult position.
“So, we’re a couple now, are we? What happened to ‘keeping things professional?’” Rarity froze at the words, pencil falling to the floor with a clatter. Mind trapped in the details, her plan had neglected to address that little issue.
“Well I- Stanza suggested-” Celestia’s eyebrow shot up.
“So we’ll just be acting then. It's a little cold, but I… I'd be lying if I said it didn't make sense.” The alicorn looked away, and the awkward moment of silence seemed to stretch on for hours as Rarity was lost in reminiscence. There were so many good things: Celly’s hidden playfulness she’d come to adore, idle time spent in each other’s company, and the feeling of finally being appreciated and understood. All of which struggled against her fear of the unknown. For some reason, the long forgotten memory of Celestia’s words to her during their ‘escape’ from the gala came to mind. Love won’t last if it’s perfect. There has to be mutual sacrifice.
“I don’t want it to be an act.” The appearance of her own tears astounded her, as if suppressed reservoir of stress was finally escaping through the liquid. “I’ve spent my entire life looking for something safe, my ‘happily ever after.’ Somepony who will always be there for me. Maybe that was misguided, but more than that, I’ve been looking for a place to belong. I’ve stuck between worlds for as long as I can remember, hoping to, at best, be partially accepted into either of them.” Accepting a tissue Celestia had quietly levitated to her, Rarity dabbed her eyes, clearing her throat. Glimmers of moonlight shown through the open window; A gust of wind accompanying wind extinguished the lit chandelier, dousing the room in grey.
“If I admit I’ve found the place I’m meant to be, I have to accept that it’s temporary. On the other hoof, I can’t lose something I haven’t found: if it stays in my head, as something to abstract to be pursued, it never dies.” In response, Celestia turned away, a pained expression on her face. It was a fear she knew all too well.
“Time has always been a cruel mistress, indifferent to both those within it, and those outside of it. I don’t blame you for distrusting it.” She hadn’t heard Rarity stand up. A hoof guided her muzzle to the seamstress’, lips welcoming hers. When the initial surprise subdued, chills ran through her body as she wondered how many millennia it had been since the touch of a pony had affected her so deeply.
“You’re wrong, Celly. Time is a gift,” Belief in the words strengthened Rarity’s resolve. This was fate, her proper course, her design. This was what she was meant to do. “It’s only cruel if you let it control you.”
When Celestia spoke next, her voice was halting, forcefully devoid of eloquence. There was no mask, no hidden meanings, and an utter lack of false optimism. “You deserve to know- I want to tell you… everything, but now isn’t the time.” She looked down, discouraged “Dropping such an unfair burden on you only a few days before the festival…” the kiss that interrupted her had an edge of desperation to it that the previous one had lacked, tongue caressing hers aggressively, stealing her breath away before parting , nipping her lower lip painfully. Shut up, I get it already, it seemed to say.
“Then tell me, after.” Rarity’s gentle kisses on her neck, and mane made Celestia die a little inside, her self-loathing running rampant: What she was doing to this mare was so incredibly selfish, and what she was receiving in return was far better than she deserved. Her whisper was hoarse, impotent, and fraught with heartache.
“I’m sorry I can’t give you forever.”
“I don’t need it. We don’t need it”
AN: Well, as of today, every scene to the end has been completely plotted out, it’s just a matter of getting them written. Please take into consideration that I’ve put a lot of thought into the ending. If anything, my writing this has been therapeutic, a way for me to work through personal issues, so ending it in a pointless, or overly grim/dark manner would be counterproductive. I’ve been toying with the idea of two longer (5-10k words) chapters instead of 3-4 short ones to finish up, as the last few bits will not be appreciated if left as cliffhangers. I’m not sure yet. Feedback and constructive criticism is welcome, as always.