Combs teased out knots and tangles.
A cowlick sprang back, marring the perfection.
Agatha coughed as several pressurized cans sprayed a substance which solidified her mane into a style akin to one of the Zumzum Town Guard's helmets.
Rarity removed the last of the curlers, revealing a flowing cascade of curls which--
"Is that a Vohlman Class Three Resurrection Circuit?" Agatha asked
"Now just sit still," Rarity said, attaching several alligator clips, "while Spike plugs this into the lightning rod. We'll have the pegasi summon a teensy little lightning storm so this WILL NOT DEFEAT ME--"
Agatha had spent enough time around Sparks--and herself--to spot certain telltale warning signs.
Before her time with the circus, Agatha had never paid much attention to primping rituals. Cosmetics were verboten. Only the lowest class of jezebels would use such things, according to the rigid dictat of Lilith. Agatha herself was usually too busy rushing to class to do more than a token pass with the hair brush. Even her experience on stage had been with quick, deft applications of lip rouge and blush between scene changes. So lying on a fainting couch in the middle of the Carousel Boutique was rather decadent. Three of her hooves were immersed in green liquid, while Spike worked away at a fourth with a farrier's file. Lime wedges had been placed beneath each eye. Her mane and tail were bound up in towels. Her coat had been brushed into a lustrous gloss.
Rarity herself was in the midst of what she called Her Art. Bolts of fabric were draped over the dress dummy horses. Quill and parchment floated in mid-air as Rarity drew tens of sketches. It was very much like Agatha's own idle doodling at the start of a project. Nothing concrete. Nothing settled. Simply the brain buzzing on the cusp of the Madness Place, idly doodling out a gearbox design or steam-powered ballista. Rarity was quite like a Spark in that way. In others, too. Every so often she draw a cowlick being attacked by ever more emphatic methods of hairdressing--including sickles and axes--until a harrumph from Agatha derailed that train of thought. It appeared talking pony fashion designers had a certain obsessiveness shared with the mad rulers of Europa.
"Oh, I see several possibilities," Rarity said, floating a tape measure over. "Such a robust earth pony physique. Enough of a barrel to be substantial, with an underlying tone to your muscles to lend definition. It would be so boring if everyone was like moi."
"I had a determined personal trainer," Agatha said, submitting to the scrutiny of a floating tape measure. "And dodging rotary cannon fire burns off the calories."
"I've never heard of that exercise routine," Rarity said.
"For you, muted yet rich colours." Rarity whipped off the towels, revealing a mane and tail combed into flowing glory. "Magnifique! Yes, you are most definitely an autumn. Lawn green, perhaps we might risk a seafoam for formal outfits. Yet simple must be our watchword."
"You are very perceptive, Frau Rarity," Agatha said.
"It's your hooves," the unicorn explained. "You work with them. There's a--I hesitate to use the word, no offense intended--coarseness to them that is distinctive. It is common among earth ponies. Not that one must sacrifice sophistication over function!"
"I'm a mechanic," Agatha said. "Frills and such are dangerous when one is deep in the guts of a machine."
"With the--" Rarity's right eye twitched. "Grease. And oil. And--"
"Rarity? Deep calming breaths," Spike said.
"Of course." Rarity reared back. "I-DEEE-AAAAAH! Inspiration comes! Oh, you will adore it, darling.'
"You're quite good at that," Agatha said to the dragon. "Are you a trained minion?"
"Twilight'll love that. 'My number one minion'." Spike smiled ruefully. "She's my adoptive big sister and head librarian over at the Books and Branches. She can also get a little bit twitchy--"
"Say no more," Agatha said. "I've been a minion myself."
Head librarian? That would be most useful. Agatha had been musing about her predicament in between MEIN GOTT NAKED thoughts. What had happened to her was not possible even under the scope of SCIENCE! Transmission of consciousness across the barriers separating universes? Just on the edge of probability, given what she suspected may be the mechanism behind Lucrezia's summoning engine. Time was technically a dimension. But energy-to-matter transformation that could create a complex host body for that consciousness out of thin air? That had to be magic. At least, it was the most likely cause Agatha could think of. If magic were as studied here as SCIENCE! back home, then there was a chance she could return there.
If her friends weren't already dead or wasped or on the run--
Tarvek would have really liked Rarity.
A triumphant shout brought Agatha out of her funk. Rarity gestured at a carousel horse with the aplomb of Master Payne performing one of his grand tricks. Sweet lightning--in her own field, the elegant unicorn was a genius worthy of comparison with any great Spark. The outfit posed on the dummy had the slightly rough appearance of a prototype model. Yet it fulfilled the unicorn mare's promise of fashion and function. The green boiler suit offered coverage from the tops of her hindhooves to halfway down her forelegs. Dozens of pockets with flaps secured with snap-closures offered storage space without being safety risks. Integral bandoliers around chest and flanks and a belt around the midsection were hoofy places to keep tools for immediate use. What appeared to be leather patches were actually some sort of analogue that reinforced key areas. A matching flat cap with a trilobite badge embroidered in gold completed the ensemble.
"Ta-dah!" Rarity winked. "What do you think, darling?"
"Of course you're delighted," Rarity said. "Now, fabric choice will be a challenge. I've never worked in this area of design. Oh, this will be fun. There has to be a balance between strength, stain resistance, and freedom of movement. And it must breathe, you have such a lovely coat that it would be a crime for it to suffer a rash."
"I can't accept this, Frau Rarity," Agatha said. "I have no money."
"Tut! What is money when it comes to art?" Rarity flipped her mane. "I charge my elite customers many bits so that I may have the resources for those in need. Why, this might even be the start of entirely new line: Smart Clothes for The Working Pony!"
"Ooooo." Agatha's smiled of delight widened in a way that would have sent any of those who knew her scurrying for safety. "Do you do...labcoats?"
"I do now!" Rarity's grin widened in a way that definitely sent Spike backing away.
"We must start immediately," Agatha said, mind whirling at the potential intersection between textiles and chemistry. "Together, we shall shatter the bounds of fabric design. Nopony knows what will be wrought--"
"Pardon me, mail calleth." Rarity opened the door. "Why, Derpy, what have you brought me today?"
There was a brief scream as dozens of scrolls buried her alive.
"Rarity? Speak to me!" Spike frantically dug the unicorn free.
"Ptooo." Rarity spat out a rolled parchment. "Ah, it seems that I've solicited a few more commissions at the wedding last night than I expected."
Rarity's ears drooped as she took in the sheer number of orders, and the rough work awaiting her attention on the dress dummy.
"I can do this." Her voice lacked sparkle. "It make take some--oh, this is so much, Fancy Pants wants an entire ensemble for Fleur--"
"Not again," Spike said, wincing.
"It's fine, Rarity." Agatha laid a reassuring hoof on one pearl-grey shoulder. "Attend to your paying customers. My outfit can wait."
"I'd hate to disappoint you." Rarity's eyes had shrunk to pin-points. "I really really would."
"I came here nervous and terrified," Agatha said. "I'm leaving calmer than I've been in a long time. I'm leaving your shop having found a new friend."
Agatha studied the exterior of the Carousel Boutique as the sound of a sewing machine running at high speed came through the windows.
Sewing machines. Gears. Steam engines. Pascal's work on automated weaving machinery.
A complex hum escaped her lips.
"You were pretty good in there yourself," Spike said, interrupting her reverie. "Rarity's the most generous mare I know. That's got her in trouble at times when she promises too much."
"I've been known to do the same myself," Agatha said. "Perhaps you could assist me. Do you have any books in your archives on Equestrian textile technology?"
"Warp and Weft: A Loom Compendium," Spike replied a split second later. "I am Twilight Sparkle's number one minion. Any reference you need, I'm your dragon."
"Excellent," Agatha said. "Now, do you have any information on transdimensional harmonics and spontaneous teleportation in regards to aetheric manifold transforms?"
"Uh." Spike paused. "I might have to send out to Canterlot for an inter-library loan. Or check Twilight's personal collection--"
Dust rose several meters away. Out of it came an equine form with a polychromatic mane, ruffled wingfeathers, and a blackened left eye.
Oh, dear. It seemed Rainbow Dash and Gilda had decided to resolve their differences with what appeared to be an emphatic approach to reason and tolerance.
"HEY YOU!" The pegasus snorted and stomped her hooves. "Gilda's friend! I've got my eye on you too! Don't even think of trying anything in my town!"
Agatha had lived under a cloud for most of her life. Her reputation for clumsy ineptitude had been legendary at Transylvania Polygnostic. This was the first time that the cloud had been literal. Rainbow Dash followed them on a small cumulus that hovered a few meters above the rooftops. The suspicious pegasus had somehow found a pair of field glasses, and for some reason had applied brown-and-green streaks of war paint on her face. None of the other residents of Ponyville gave her antics much notice beyond a few puzzled glances. Agatha herself had earned some whispered comments of disapproval. Lovely. Gilda had not made many friends here.
"Will you do something evil already? I'm getting bored up here."
Note to self: develop anti-air cannon at earliest opportunity.
Her draconic guide seemed to take it all in stride. Either he was more trusting than the others, or Agatha's behavior towards Rarity had offset Rainbow Dash's accusation. He lead her to the library with no obvious concern. Up close, the Books and Branches was even more impressive. The tree-house's balconies and windows seemed to have been grown into place rather than added by saw and hammer. There were few examples of such exacting arboritecture in Europa. Magic must be especially suited for working with organic materials. Had an existing tree been reshaped? Or was this the work of decades of attention, growing it from an acorn?
Opening a door emblazoned with a lit candlestick, Spike ushered her into the main room of the library. Charming! The circular reading room occupied most of the space within the trunk. Shelves full of books lined every available wall-space; they clearly were part of the library's structure rather than hollowed out. Most of the furniture rose out of the wooden floor. A large over-sized knight's chess piece occupied pride of place at a table in the center. Stairs projecting from the inner surface of the trunk lead up to what seemed to be the librarian's personal quarters on the second floor.
"Warp and Weft," Spike said, climbing a ladder up to a high shelf. "We also have a copy of the Steers and Roebuck catalog in Circulars, if you want to order tools. I don't think Twilight will mind if you look at her scientific supplies catalog."
"Your mistress sounds like quite the intellectual," Agatha said. "Excuse me for asking, but why did she come to this village?"
"Oh, Princess Celestia ordered her," Spike said. "You probably heard the story of how they banished Night Mare Moon from Princess Luna. Part of the plan was for Twilight to study the magic of friendship. It's how she ended up meeting the others."
Agatha pondered this.
"It took a direct order from the sovereign of this country," Agatha finally said, "to conduct a formal scientific study of friendship for her to engage in social interaction?"
"Aheh." Spike ran claws through his spines. "Twilight's focused on her studies. Really, really focused."
"Mmmm. Like Rarity and tiny flaws?" Agatha regarded the books. "I see your mistress has everything carefully organized."
"Reshelving Day is the highlight of each month." Spike shook his head. "She's loosened up since she came here two years ago, though."
"I had a lot of trouble making friends," Agatha said. "In my case, we moved around a lot. And I was considered a freak and failure."
"Because you don't have a cutie mark?" Spike asked. "Ponies are usually friendly. They can get scared of the out-of-the-ordinary. Ask Zecora about that."
"My Equestrian is still limited." She hoped this would work. "Could you tell me what a cutie mark is?"
"I know there's words for it in Germane and Maregyar," Spike said, taken aback. "You know--the symbol that appears on a pony's flank whenever he or she finds out their special talent or passion?"
"Ah." Agatha touched the golden sigil at her throat. "Then this is where my 'cutie mark' appeared."
"It's a trilobite," Agatha explained. "It's the symbol of my family. It represents the legacy of my father and uncle. Everything I've suffered, and everything I will overcome."
"All that by one bug," Spike said, examining her mark with renewed interest. "By the way, are you going to be staying in Ponyville? It'd be great if Twilight had another school-pony to talk with."
"You're not concerned that I may be an agent," Agatha said, "of a devious plot by Gilda to take over Ponyville?"
"That's Dash for you. She can hold a grudge." Spike shrugged. "She's probably also keyed up from the fight against the alien horrors that tried to psychically eat Equestria-- Ooops, gotta go, I had to leave Fluttershy here when we brought her back."
Circulars was in a second room off the main chamber. Agatha flipped through stacks of back issues of the Ponyville Express. The most recent edition revealed that creatures called changelings had attempted an invasion at a royal wedding. Posed on the front page as the local heroes who had aided in the defense were six mares. Rainbow Dash posed self-importantly hovering above them, forelegs cocked to show off her muscles. Aggressive and a braggart, it seemed. But this Dash and her friends were clearly heroes. Flip. "Parasprite Invasion, Local Baker Saves Town with Music". Flip. "Local Mares Negotiate With Sleeping Dragon". Flip. "Discord Sealed Away by Elements of Harmony". Flip. Two things became clear. One, Twilight Sparkle and her circle were incredibly important. Two, she needed to add some defensive measures to the planned renovations of the Carousel Boutique.
Equestria was a bit more like home than she had thought.
Hooves clip-clopped down stairs. Agatha looked out through the doorway Spike was helping a much-worse-for-the-wear mare down from the bedroom at the library's second story. She was one of the ponies in the group picture--the one hiding behind her long mane. Red fire, she was the most adorable creature Agatha had ever seen. Her mane and tail were a pale pink, with her main coat the yellow of a buttercup. Three butterflies fluttered on her rear flanks. Ah--this must be "Fluttershy". Appropriate name. Agatha wondered what her talent was. Leptidopterist? Or was it metaphorical? Rarity's three diamonds hadn't steered her into a life as a jeweler.
The brave mare must have suffered a terrible shock in the--
"The song," she said in a voice barely louder than a butterfly's flapping wings. "I sang the song in front of everyone."
Limpid blue eyes suffused with existential horror gazed at Agatha.
"Even the verse with the platypus."
Fluttershy fell over on her right side, cataleptic, with a goat-like bleat.