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The alabaster mare slipped behind the curtain out into the night and nearly stumbled, heart racing. Good, she hadn’t been followed. Wiping a bead of perspiration from her brow, she looked down at her dress and swore: so beautiful only hours ago, now it was almost as big of a mess as her special somepony for the night, the “illustrious” Prince Blueblood had turned out to be. This had officially been the WORST, NIGHT, EVER. It couldn’t possibly get any worse. She noticed a spot where the dirty slip had touched the pricey mauve fabric. Rubbing at it frantically with no avail, she swore again
“Oh For Celestia’s sake-!”
“I never really have understood why Ponies started saying that.” The voice was wistful, reminiscent, and entirely unmistakable.
Rarity froze. Apparently, this night COULD actually get worse. She looked up slowly: The alicorn’s back was to her, but the horn, wings, and shimmering mane was unmistakable. On the edge of the platform was the Pony whose name she had so thoughtlessly taken in vain. Kneeling, frustration and emotion over took her. “M-M-M-My sincerest apologies, Princess Celestia I-“
Celestia held up a hoof without turning, and the alabaster cut off in mid sentence, fearing the worse.
“Please- rise. Don’t ruin your dress on my account.”
Standing, Rarity looked down at the dress disdainfully
“It’s a bit late for that, I fear”
“Nonsense. And I came out here to escape the party myself, so it’s not like I stand in any position to judge you.” She said, absent-mindedly tossing what looked like a few pellets into the fountain. Curiously, she did it by hoof, rather than magic. She beckoned to the alabaster mare.
“Would you like to meet a dear old friend of mine?”
Intrigued, Rarity trotted forward, curious of what was in the water that held the Princess’ attention. The decorative pool shimmered, illuminating light. Shapes moved under the surface. An amusing, tiny scaled face surfaced, beady eyes with a wide open mouth, beckoning for food. It was decidedly not elegant. But as she had been so thoroughly reminded throughout night, sophistication was often overrated. She smiled in delight. “What a beautiful fish pond!”
“Her name is Persephone.” Celestia smiled, indicating a white and orange splotched Koi, “and today is her 176th birthday. Well, not her actual birthday of course. The anniversary of when she was presented to me as a gift, at a galloping gala not unlike this one.” Splitting the remaining pellets, she levitated half to Rarity.
Rarity’s jaw dropped. She had heard that certain types of fish could live for an extended period of time, but over a hundred years? Tossing a few pellets to the koi, she noticed how slow its reactions were. It was possibly the slowest fish she’d ever seen, and at least partially blind. She actually had to use a tiny bit of magic to push the pellet towards it before the smaller fish could snatch it away; It was probably nearing the end of its lifespan. Sadness struck her as she realized this silly little fish might be Celestia’s only living tie to a long forgotten era.
“What’s been bothering you tonight, my little pony?”
Celestia was now looking at her curiously, waiting for an answer. Rarity bit her, lip, she couldn’t possibly, but- suddenly all the frustration she felt from earlier welled back up, coming out in a torrent of words.
“I was so sure Prince Blueblood and I would be a match; we seemed so perfect for each other. I can’t get over how terribly wrong I was. I was so ready to be in love with him, with that-…” She trailed off, realizing that following the sentiment much further would be insulting to the Princess.
Celestia smiled, her eyes wrinkling merrily. “We’re not closely related you know. Not even slightly. Half the court refers to him as the ‘Royal Ass’ behind his back anyway.”
After a small fit of giggles, Celestia turned back to the pond, her expression indistinguishable. “I will tell you that in the handful of relationships I have indulged in the last millennium, two ponies being ‘perfect’ for each other is usually an excellent indication that a relationship will fail. There has to be some degree of contrast, a gap to bridge, if you will, that serves as a foundation for the relationship. If there is a mutual willingness to bond, sacrifice, to give up a part of yourself for the sake of another person without any guarantee of reciprocity, that’s when you know you have something worth holding on to.” The princess’ eyes had glazed over sadly, her words holding a wisp of untold tragedy.
Rarity was grateful for the surrounding darkness, because as Celestia had spoken something within her had begun to stir. It was confusing, a fire in her blood. A burning sensation in her chest that radiated outwards through the rest of her body. She tossed the last pellet in the pond, and Persephone accepted the offering gratefully. This was a part of Celestia she had never seen; the princess wasn’t addressing her as she would a student or a subject … with that overwhelming air of benevolent kindness. There was no mask at all. During that fleeting moment she seemed so much more real.
The alabaster mare awoke with a start, body glistening from perspiration. The sun had not yet come up. Celestia had not been joking about the room; she had layered as many blankets on top of herself as possible to fight off the cold, but naturally this was counter-productive, causing her to eventually overheat. She sighed, kicking them off. The memory came to her as a dream often, but always left her like this, awake and unrested. It was far too early, but she already wanted to go back to her work.
The first few days had gone by in an instant: Luna had allowed her into the royal armoire. Deceptively named, it was not so much a cabinet as it was a massive, banquet hall sized vault underground, protected by magic. Rows and rows of perfectly preserved royal clothing from the last 500 years, some even older. There were high quality dresses nearly as far as the eye could see. Luna introduced her to Jeb, the “keeper” of the armoire. He was an earth stallion, who despite his snobby disposition, handlebar mustache, and gender, somehow still reminded her eerily of Pinkie. This impression was further reinforced when she later called out a question to him from across the room, certain that she had seen him at his desk mere seconds before, and was rudely instructed from a voice directly behind her to “stop shouting in the armoire.” After that little incident, she decided he was creepy, but helpful. After a short time, she noticed that Luna had disappeared.
To be fair, Luna had not actually disappeared: Still in the room, the princess of the night had spied several scarves that looked suspiciously like blankets, and a jacket that looked suspiciously like a pillow. She did the only responsible thing she could: deciding to test these duplicitous objects for treachery in a nearby dimly lit corner, which bore an inexplicable resemblance to an excellent place for a nap. She would decide their fate when she was conscious again.
The walls were lined with mirrors, backed with ornate stained mahogany, but Rarity barely spared a glance in their direction. Not even the faint sound of snoring could distract her from this true bounty at hand, so many classics she had always wanted to see, complicated designs, beautiful gem work. Subconsciously she knew she’d probably been behaving like a filly in a candy shop, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.
Several dozen inspections later, a number of nagging questions were raised in the back of her head, though they did nothing to curb her elation. She found a section of the armoire that housed the most ‘modern’ of the dresses; styles she gauged were about 200 years old. But after that the designs just stopped. More intriguing was that a large number of the more recent selections appeared to have been designed by the same pony. She discovered the signature on the inseam; a tiny yellow circle, accompanied by the words ‘ab origne.’ She didn’t recognize the language, but discovered that almost all of the dresses in the more modern selection shared it. The signature definitely supported the theory that this portion of the armoire was done by a single designer.
‘But that can’t be right… there’s literally hundreds of designs, this would take decades…’ The realization was dizzying, emotional. She was looking at a single designer’s entire life’s work. Almost everything, if not everything she had ever created was lovingly stored, set apart from the rest in this section of the armoire. There was a chronology to it: designs increasing in complexity to the point of almost being too busy, until dropping off into a more minimalistic style. Whoever this designer was, Rarity would have very much liked to meet her. The work was gorgeous.
“I see you found Aria’s work.” A snobby voice said out of nowhere. Rarity started, she put a hoof to her chest for a moment, willing her heart to slow down while she glared at Jeb in irritation.
“Must you insist on doing that?” she asked, with no attempt to hide her annoyance
“Doing what?” he asked, rather clueless.
‘He really is like pinkie…’
“Just- Never mind. Since you’ve so flagrantly volunteered yourself, tell me about this designer.”
He flipped through the various designs, as if to insure they retained their proper order. “I can’t say I know much about her. The royal seamstress, held in high regard by the princesses. Hard as it may be for you to believe, there’s not much hearsay on a subject two centuries old.”
Rarity ignored the sarcasm. She had always assumed the princesses simply commissioned a designer when they needed something new. “I’ve never heard any mention of a Royal Seamstress at all, ever.”
He shrugged “Because she was the last. Her replacement was never appointed. Allegedly, Celestia refused to even consider looking for one.”
Sighing, he pushed his glasses up on his nose. “I hope you have the hooves to fill the horseshoes you’re stepping into.”
Years of training in manners were the only thing that kept her from flipping him an obscene hoof gesture. She was confused enough and still trying to sort things out, the last thing she needed was wanton advice from this buffoon. How lovely. If ever a pony the complete and polar opposite of Pinkie existed, she had managed to find it: The anti-Pinkie.
‘There’s over two weeks until the hearts and hooves festival. No pressure, no pressure at all’
Suddenly, she struck by a brilliant idea; a smile spread across her face, “I don’t have to fill her horseshoes, not at all.” She grabbed five different dresses off different sections of the rack, despite Jeb’s shrieking in protest, placing them on the ground. The styles were outdated, yes; practically speaking they would have been useless as reference to anyone else. But she felt a kinship with this ‘Aria.’ If the context of extra frills, high necks, and other oddities of the time period were subtracted, the composition process of the pieces were remarkably similar to her own: This was someone who gleaned inspiration from both her surroundings and client. Rarity saw classical parallels between at least a dozen of Aria’s early dresses to her own, as well as items from the middle of her career. Their progression was, in essence, extremely similar. She resisted the urge to cackle. It was almost like cheating fate: a borderline unfair looking glass she could use, potentially gaining an enormous amount of insight from Aria’s final works; Rarity’s magic manipulated a pen furiously against her sketchpad. Hours stretched on, and her horn began to hurt, but she paid it no heed. Time was irrelevant. She refused to let the feeling go, even for an instance, for fear it would escape her grasp
It was the exact same feeling she had as a filly, when she discovered the potential for gems in design. Several times she even heard someone approach, probably Jeb, and say something, but she paid no mind. For the moment, at least, she was no longer a member of the outside world. This was it, the elusive high that every artist strove for: Creative Epiphany.
Rarity was going to scorch the sun.
AN: Alright. The story is definitely picking up momentum now. And don’t worry, while this chapter was mostly character building for Rarity there will be a lot more Celestia stuff coming up soon. Also, I believe the idea of a narcoleptic Luna is beginning to grow on me. Definitely some editing and hopefully another chapter (maybe even 2!) coming up this weekend.