Rarity was trying to keep her calm, but this was going too far.
This young pony's enthusiasm was flattering, but it didn't quite make up for the chaos she caused in her boutique.
"Do you also have this one in pink? This color is UG-LY. Say, what's this... ?"
And off she went to the other side of the room, dropping the robe on the floor. A robe Rarity had been working on for weeks was now part of a bog of similar masterpieces scattered around on the floor, crumbled, dirty, perhaps ruined. And this bog was expanding with every minute.
"Wait for me, dearest. I'd like to put the outfits back into their proper places after you've... looked at them."
"No sweat. I wonder if these jewels come off..."
"Well, apparently, they do. It would have made me look fat anyway..."
The other pony was not fat. As a matter of fact, she was quite skinny and very, very young. Almost a filly. Though the word Rarity was thinking of started with "br" and ended with "at".
From what Rarity retained from the pony's uninterrupted monologue, she was looking for a dress for her birthday party the following weekend.
"Uh, I like this one... but the hat is ugly, maybe if we combine it with this one..."
"NO! I mean, I'd rather not have you modify my compositions, dear, I believe you can trust my professional opinion on th..."
"Green is not my color..."
Rarity did a few breathing exercises and tried to imagine the colors that would fit this young br... filly perfectly. She giggled. Yes, that would do the trick. She already felt a little better. At least in her head, Rarity could be quite naughty sometimes.
"Dear, would you mind if we settle down for a moment and think this over? I am sure I can find something that would fit you marvelously..."
"Time's a wastin' ! My party is in only a few days! It needs to be PER-FECT!"
To Rarity, it almost seemed like a miracle when the young pony finally stopped her rampage.
"Say... how much do you charge for these anyway?"
Rarity brought her a large, ornamented cardboard which had the price suggestions for different kinds of compositions written on it.
("It looks like a menu!", Pinkie Pie had exclaimed when she'd first laid her eyes on it. Rarity insisted that it did not look like a menu in any way. The mere thought of ponies chewing on her creations... And considering Pinkie Pie's track record, this outcome was far from impossible.
It made her shudder.)
The young girl studied the board and started to frown. The happy, carefree expression had disappeared. Now she almost looked... sad. And part of Rarity rejoiced at this.
"I... I guess I'll have to think about this. Can I get back to you?"
"But of course, dear."
And Rarity thought: That's right, young one - go home and ponder about the value of things. Maybe that will teach you some manners.
Rarity was a "neatfreak", as Applejack would have put it. Her dislike of chaos made her very good a cleaning, but that also meant that she spent about 20% more time on it than any other pony. She had not even quite finished cleaning up this particular mess when the young customer returned the following day.
"Hello... Ms Rarity?"
"Good day to you, dear. Have you come to a decision?"
"If you don't mind, I'd like to look around one more time..."
Rarity closed her eyes. She would have crossed her fingers, if she'd had any, when she finally said:
"Certainly, dear. Take your time..."
But this time the young pony was surprisingly well-behaved. Rarity was almost ready to forgive her. After a while, Rarity even felt safe enough to turn her back on her and continue working on another dress. There was a deadline coming up.
Later, Rarity would think that she should have been more suspicious. She should have asked the girl about the big, red bag she was carrying around on her back, a bag that she did not have with her the previous day. She should have asked more questions generally speaking. The outcome would have been very different. She was sure of it. But of course by then it was too late.
"Ms Rarity? I think I have found a dress I like."
Rarity was shocked. It wasn't just any dress - well, NONE of her dresses was just "any dress", but this one even... less.
"Are you sure? I am not convinced it would be quite fitting for you, and also... I am sorry, but I'm afraid I have to tell you that this is one of the most expensive compositions I've ever produced. Are you sure you can afford to spend this much money on a dress?"
"Oh, it's quite alright. It isn't actually that pricey..."
"Oh, haha... I can assure you it is."
"But look what it says on the cardboard!"
The "menu"- again, this horrible word - did not feature every composition in the boutique. Some had their own elaborate price tags so that customers would not nourish any illusions.
This price tag, however, didn't look quite right. The comma was completely misplaced, for instance. It looked as if it had been traced with a black permanent marker. It sure smelled that way.
Rarity told herself to relax. She was going to handle this like a lady.
"I am very sorry, but there must have been a mistake. This is not the right price."
"Well it's the price on the tag! How is that not the right price?"
"Miss, this is not the price I have put on display."
"What are you talking about? You say you charge "X", so I say you either stay true to your word or I'll have to assume this store isn't very customer-friendly... Highly misleading, that's what I think."
"Mhm, so this is what you think, yes? Tell me, dear, you would not happen to carry a black permanent marker with you?"
"May I take a look into your bag?"
"NO! You're creeping me out! If you come any closer..."
A couple which had just entered the boutique decided to leave as quickly and as discretely as possible.
Great. The first real customers of the day. And then the look on their faces... In this business, appearances were everything. Rarity could not afford to lose her face. 'The customer is king', right? Tyrant, even. She had to think of a compromise before this young pony would ruin her.
And of course the horrible brat knew that.
Oh Celestia, Rarity thought, give me strength.
"Listen, I tell you there has been a mistake. I am sorry I can't give you this dress, but I am sure we can figure something out. How about I give you a reduction on one of the other outfits...?"
"Forget it! If this is the way you treat your customers, fine. You've creeped me out. Out of here, to be precise. Good day."
And of course she had said that as loud as possible, chasing away another customer which had just entered the boutique.
Rarity did not bother to reply anything. She just wanted the young one to leave.
This nightmare is finally over, she thought.
Rarity was wrong on that account. Yes, quite wrong.
When the girl was halfway through the boutique, Rarity noticed two things.
One of the dress forms on display was disturbingly bare.
And the girl's bag looked quite stuffed now.
Rarity wasn't sure what happened next.
She would just remember that she felt an incredible RAGE looking at this brat's self-righteous expression as she tried to walk out of her boutique, stealing one of her best works... after insulting and humiliating her. She didn't look like a kid to her. She looked like vermin.
Before she knew it, this little round face was very close to her own, and the expression had changed quite a bit. Apparently, Rarity had knocked her on the ground. Good.
She had even brought the fabric she'd been working with and used it as a gag to silence the screams. Good.
The little pony struggled under her hooves. She was crying now. And that was good, too.
"How dare you... How DARE you... You little..."
Only that Rarity's voice was muffled. Because she had a scissor in her mouth. One of the big ones.
Rarity pulled the red bag out from under the shoplifter's back. She turned it around so that it would reveal its content.
It wasn't just one dress. It were two.
Crumbled as they had been stuffed inside in haste.
She looked at the other pony's face. The young one was terrified. Her face was covered in tears and snot. Even through the gag, Rarity could hear her sobbing.
These eyes. These big, blue eyes full of tears. They could have told Rarity everything she needed to know. They could have told her the story of a poor girl who'd never had nice things to call her own. The story of a girl who was becoming a young woman and who wanted to wear a dress, just this once. She was not a smart girl, and not a very honest one either, but she had a good heart. In her own, twisted way, she was actually innocent. And the other dress? This one was for her little sister. They even might have given these dresses back afterwards, not very likely, but at least possible.
Her eyes told the story of a girl who wanted to live a dream, for just one night, and who was willing to cheat for that. Thinking, as all kids do, that she wouldn't get caught.
But this was something Rarity would think about later.
What she did right now was to stab the young one in the chest.
The pony girl didn't even scream.
And she never would again.
She looked at Rarity, crying her last tears, unable to understand why things had gone so horribly wrong.
Bright eyes, How can you close and fail... how can the light that burned so brightly
Suddenly burn so pale...?
This was one of the many questions Rarity would ponder about for the rest of her life.
No other customer walked inside her shop while she was busy wrapping the body in fabric and pulling it down the trapdoor, into the basement. No one walked in when she was cleaning up. She had not bothered to close her boutique, but luck, some horrible, nightmarish form of luck, was on her side.
All this blood. The fabric was soaked in minutes. Rarity had seen blood before, tiny drops, nothing unusual in her profession where it was all about needles and scissors. But this was beyond anything her mind could handle. So it didn't: Rarities consciousness retreated to a tiny point floating just beneath the ceiling, looking down at this unicorn pony desperately trying to cover the ample evidence of what she had done.
It took her several hours, but Rarity worked without interruption, removed every last stain. She even cleaned the rest of the shop, as if the other pony had exploded instead of being sta... No, it was better to clean as much as possible. Clean was good. Cleaning was essential.
There were now several voices in Rarity's head. Some would accompany her permanently from now on.
Many of them were memories. Songs about dressmaking, friends and customers complimenting her on her work.
The voice of the young one, of course. The young one was with her all the time, repeating the things she had said to Rarity in an endless loop, but also starting to tell her story, her real story, the reason why she had stolen the dresses in the first place. Much of this would later be confirmed in Rarity's research, which didn't surprise her.
There was also a voice she called "Little Rarity".
"Little Rarity" lived in a big, dark place, probably an abandoned cathedral or a temple. She was wearing a black cloak and was walking in circles, and her voice resounded eerily from the architecture.
"We could have figured something out. She didn't need to steal the dresses. She didn't need to lie. She could have borrowed them for the weekend. No, I even would have given them to her for free! All the dresses she ever could have wanted... She was just a kid... just a kid... Down the river of Death... I didn't want to hurt her... I could have loved her like my own sister... Oh, why did she have to make me so angry! Why did I have to get so angry? Why did I allow myself to ki... to do this?
Why did this happen? With all the things that could have happened instead, all the wonderful things, why did it have to end like this?
We could have laughed it off. That's what Pinkie Pie would have done.
I could have given that girl a nice, healthy kick in the hindquarters. That's what Applejack would have done.
I could have reasoned with her, trying to teach her about morals and how stealing from others is not an answer. That's what Twilight Sparkle would have done.
I could have yelled at her and threatened her with telling the whole town that she was just a big fat shoplifter. That's what Rainbow Dash would have done.
Fluttershy... Well, no one would ever steal from Fluttershy in the first place. And even if they did, she would just look at them with her big, sad eyes and tell them they were hurting her feelings. Devastating.
But I am me. And I didn't do any of these things."
Oh, and there were many other voices. Her friends starting to notice that something bad had happened, someone discovering the body in her basement...
The horror and the disgust when they found out that Rarity was a monster...
And there was Big Voice. It was calm, noble, full of sympathy.
It was also the loudest and most terrifying.
It would say: Rarity... where is the young one?
"I know not", the voice she called "little Rarity" would reply, "Am I her keeper?"
And then the voice would say: Rarity, what have you done?
Everything came off. Everything was squeaky clean. As if nothing had happened.
In the heat of the murder, the girl had looked like dirt to her, and now, in the cold world after the incident, she was cleaning up... removing the dirt. Every last trace. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that anything could be so... mortal. That living, thinking creatures could vanish like this. Wasn't everypony just a bloody stain in the fabric of the cosmos?
Rarity wrapped the new inhabitant of her basement in another layer.
Then she went back to work. Made new dresses.
Piece by piece, snip by snip
Croup, dock, haunch, shoulders, hip
There were no more customers this day, and none the following day.
Ponies who had wanted to enter her shop changed their minds in the last minute, remembered important meetings, decided to spend the afternoon at home with a nice book or to go for a long walk. None of them would have admitted that it was a feeling of certain doom that repelled them at the doorstep.
Opal was a rather lazy cat and prefered to stay at the boutique rather than to stroll around, but when she heard her owner make strange noises downstairs, her instincts told her to see if she could spend some time at Fluttershy's place.
So she left the shop through an open window and went to Fluttershy's cottage. Though she had to discover, much to her dismay, that the aura of this familiar place was even worse.
Fluttershy would have wondered why Rarity didn't honor their weekly get-together at the spa, but while Rarity was lurking in the darkness of Carousel Boutique between freakish, half-finished dresses, and while Opal was standing in front of the door, trying to decide where she would go next, the yellow pegasus pony was lying in her cottage, her eyes wide open, but unable to move.
And she wasn't the only one from her circle of friends who had their own problems to worry about. Their own nightmares.
Sweetie Bell would certainly have noticed that something was wrong with her older sister, which she had always admired, but the little unicorn was spending the week at their parent's place.
Rarity tried to focus on her work, but everything she created looked positively awful. Like a monster.
And whenever she turned her head, she saw the bundle. Sometimes it was in a corner, sometimes it way lying in the middle of the room or under her table. Once, it was even stuck to the ceiling, like a giant cocoon. The wrapped body. The young one-burrito.
Sometimes it twitched.
She didn't want to stay in the basement. Rarity didn't blame her. That's not where she belonged anyway. Something had to be done.
So Rarity decided to make a new dress for her. The others were stained in blood, and that wouldn't do at all, now would it?
No, she made her the most beautiful dress she'd ever made for anyone. The young one would have loved it, Rarity was sure of it. Of course no one except her would ever see the girl in that dress, but it did count for something, didn't it?
She worked on it for two nights, working as fast as she could, knowing that she didn't have much time before the content of the burrito would start to rot beyond recognition.
It had already started, but luckily Rarity discovered a whole new way to use make-up. After she cleaned off the blood, of course. All that blood, friends and neighbors.
There she was, lying on her side in Rarity's basement. A butterfly hatched from her cocoon. Pale, but with stunning, colorful wings.
Rarity had done a good job. The young pony almost looked as if she was sleeping.
She looked so pretty. A real lady, all set for her last birthday as a child and her first birthday as a young woman.
Rarity started crying again. She still had a lot of tears in her. An entire ocean. She would never be able to shed them all.
There was no word for how sorry she was. But it didn't matter either way, did it?
Nothing would ever bring her back. And Rarity would never receive forgiveness.
It was almost dawn when Rarity left the boutique with the young one on her back. She didn't make any effort to conceal the body, but again, the putrid luck of a psychotic murderer was on her side. She was all alone. If you didn't count the young one.
If you did count her, of course, it would have been safe to say that in a way, Rarity would never be alone again.
When she arrived at Froggy Bottom Bog, there was still no light on the horizon.
She knew that there was one place where the swamp was much deeper than in the rest of the area. This is where she gently lowered the young one into the water.
And there she was, slowly sinking into the darkness, her lifeless body following the path her spirit had taken a bit earlier. The dress moving like the fins of a tropical fish.
And she was gone.
Only that she wasn't.
Rarity started to circle the bog. Restless. What else?
When she had watched the girl sink, she had almost felt at peace. No, not at peace, but at least it had seemed like the right thing to do. A proper... burial.
Now Rarity wasn't sure anymore.
Something was wrong.
There. She saw the face of the young one. Because it was illuminated by an unknown source of light. A light which had no buisness being there.
She was moving. Not the way inanimate things move peacefully in the water. She was being pulled.
This was wrong! This was not supposed to happen!
This was no bog.
Rarity saw the whole world fall apart around her. The plants and trees disappeared, were replaced by alien machinery. The grass and mud turned into white tiles. It wasn't fog that filled the air, it were clouds of disinfectant.
But Rarity didn't care about any of that. It was something happening in the corner of her eye. It was just a secondary nightmare.
Because Rarity focused on what was happening down in the water.
The young one was grabbed by something that looked like a black tentacle with searchlights, and was pulled into a hole that had opened at the bottom of the pool.
Rarity dived into the filthy water. It was burning in her eyes and on her skin, but she went deeper and deeper. Finally she managed to grab the young one's dress. She started kicking at the tentacle, but this was hard to do under water.
Everything was so slow, so confusing.
The tentacle seemed surprised at first, but then it pulled harder. The dress was torn to shreds.
NO! Rarity thought. You are not going to get her! Not you!
A second tentacle appeared, this one covered in needles.
Rarity felt how it was wrapping around her legs, and the pain was incredible. Yet she didn't give up. She would kick, and kick, and pull, and scream...And then the young one was sucked into the hole.
And then there was darkness.
Bubbles on the surface of the bog.