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“You know dear, there’s much more to dress-making than the mechanics of putting needle to thread.”
“There is an elegance, a magnificent magic that must flow through you with each stitch. The vision of the final product that you must weave into being...”
“Sweetie Belle! Are you listening?”
She hadn’t been happy with them.
The dresses due that day, the fruit of a week’s unending labour, had been picked up early in the morning. A hefty price paid for the commission of her services, the gilded pockets of a Canterlot noble delivering a tidy sum of bits along with the removal of the beautiful gowns Rarity had sewn.
She hadn’t been happy with them.
Every creation was of course a new standard of beauty to be beholden to – each masterpiece must exceed the last, each facet of creativity and innovation must rival the brilliance of the sun’s illumination, striking out at the majesty of Celestia’s divine blessing with the audacity of their perfection. That is to say, in simpler terms, being ‘sufficient’ would not suffice. Rarity prided herself on her dresses. They were her livelihood, the craft that kept her boutique aloft in its reputation as the finest dress-making establishment in Ponyville, or in this half of Equestria for that matter. And yet...
She hadn’t been happy with them.
It was one thing to say that Rarity’s conceit in regards to her craft often led her to critique her own work to unreasonable standards. Every dress must be just so, if not perfect, then a thread`s width away. That the client was happy, yes, that was something, a noble aspiration for any crafts-pony – but what was the purpose of life and labour if not the pursuit of improvement?
Rhetoric. She had seen the flaws in each gown as they were carried out the door, the tiniest imperfections that kept them from the true beauty Rarity had envisioned as she crafted each one. Absolute perfection was of course ultimately unobtainable – to toil in the absurdity of such an aspiration would be foolishness, and Rarity was far from foolish. Pragmatic might be the best word in this case. Self-challenging. A holder of high standards.
Rarity cringed as her body’s weight lowered onto one hoof, sore and aching from a long night’s labour; a walk had seemed like such a good idea at the time.
She didn’t stop on the way home, forgoing the usual pauses normally in the sake of observing the lovely standard Ponyville scenery. The flowers especially, the way they grew.... there was something so sublime about the essence of their naturalism. The earth that birthed them could know nothing of their construction, yet yielded a swirling world of perfection in each delicate petal, enshrining the epicentre of the tiny flora’s existence, sprouting daintily from the dirt that it would eventually decompose to become. So pure, and such a reminder of nature’s irreverence for the toil of the ponies that lived along side.
Rarity did not stop that day, but as she passed the window, her eye caught the faintest shimmer of the delicate, sparkling fabric behind the shrouded panes of glass. A glimmer of the purest white, dotted with embroidery so reminiscent of flowers.
That day had been a turmoil. Guided by a force beyond her control, cresting hill and valley to the pinnacle of her destiny.
Her reaction had been unimpressed, to say the least.
But destiny had a mysterious way of playing its final hand, and before the next day’s end, a sparkling crest had appeared in its beset locale, catalyzing Rarity’s deepest desire into something tangible, a forever lasting mark in indication of her aspiration to perfection.
For weeks going forward, she saw the sparkles when she closed her eyes at night, before the dreams overtook her.
-“and here I thought you were interested and learning the art of dress-making, were you not?”
“No, I am sis, I’m sorry! I just got distracted by... something.”
“Well if a simple distraction is enough to keep your attention from the delicacy of such a divine craft, perhaps you’re not ready to learn after all.”
“No no no, I am, really! Please, teach me how, I want to learn, honest.”
“And why is it you wish to learn something so tedious? You are aware that many nights go by with your sister awake over a sewing machine, straining to fill yet another order.”
“Um... I don’t know.”
“If you have no purpose for your education then I see no reason for it to continue.”
“No! I mean... I wanna be like you, sis. I want to learn to make dresses just like you do.”
“Sweetie Belle, imitation is hardly due cause for taking up such an arduous pursuit. Do you have no further reasoning for your desire to learn?”
“Uh... um... I like... making pretty things?”
“Hardly more acceptable. Shall we conclude our lesson?”
“No! I, uh, I want to learn to make dresses so I can, uh... make lots of money-“
The impact of Rarity’s hoof on the work-table rang through the boutique, shaking the china on the shelves in the other room and the spools of thread in their sorted compartments.
“You do not understand! Dress making is not a job, nor is it a folly to be played at for your amusement! This is a craft, an art form! And if you cannot take it seriously, then it is not something I shall waste my time trying to teach you!”
Several seconds of silence passed, punctuated by Sweetie’s muffled sniffling. She managed to squeak a timid apology through the onset of tears.
“I’m... sorry... sis...”
Rarity felt herself swept over by a wave of context almost immediately.
“Oh dear... Sweetie, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean...”
The conclusion of the explanation was immaterial. Rarity wrapped her forelegs around her sister, stroking her mane and cooing softly to console her.
Rarity found herself compelled to another walk the next day. Though normally her opinion on any unnecessary amount of outdoor activity was middling at best, there was of course no harm in the occasional brisk constitutional. That, coupled with dietary guidelines, were the recipe for well-kept composure and finely modeled physique, after all.
The trek through town felt different this time, more focused. The path dictated by each subsequent hoofstep was guided around some kind of indiscernible center, like a singular influence of gravity guiding her every movement. The walk gave her time to think. Rumination on life in general, possibly, but more concretely, it gave her opportunity to worry. Instead of serving as a stress reliever, a way to escape the daily mental strain of operating her boutique, Rarity took her troubles with her – to battle with them in the confines of her mind, in the hopes that dealing with the demons of worry would make life easier on the other end of her exercise.
Rarity tried to spend less time remembering, and more time looking forward.
She did not recall with certainty, any longer, the day she had blossomed into her true talent. The ambience shone like a dim candle in the vast enterprise of her memories, but it was a flicker to be sought out only in the absolute darkness of remaining thoughts, an occasion than seldom arose – that, or to be called upon by request, like the time she had shared the tale with Sweetie Belle and her friends.
She did, occasionally, remember her dialogue with Sweetie. That was better to try and forget.
So as she walked, she worried. Another day, another set of concerns. More orders, more clients, more work. The customers that had come in earlier that day –
Welcome to Carousel Boutique, where everything is chic, unique, and magnifique!
The greeting had become subconscious by now. She caught herself half-way through saying hello to her friends under the guise of her customer-service oriented business mandate on occasion. Words said so often they had begun to lose meaning.
What did it mean, to aspire to that level of creativity? Every garment was unique, she said… the others were descriptors, adjectives mired in subjectivity, but that one stuck in her mind sometimes. So much work to put into every creation in the interest of weaving together something never before imagined, each gown tailored to the specific needs of a client’s request, sometimes one they were never aware they had made. She remembered the dresses she had sold that day.
She hadn’t been happy with them.
It was a prevailing thought. She was Rarity, however. The pinnacle of grace and poise in Ponyville, and, if her aspirations carried her to a point further, in all of Equestria going past, if only for now in her dreams. So to that end, she must try her hardest, to make every design perfect. Every dress must be perfect. Lines, stitches, seams, patterns – perfect.
She was not, however, unrealistic. Perfection was a standard to set high in hopes of one day reaching – it was not a bastion of sane expectations to withhold one’s self to in every instance. So, she permitted to accept; she was only one pony after all. No one could expect her to be without flaw.
Expectations have the nasty habit of affording themselves to be circumvented, however.
She paused in her briskly paced trotting when she noticed she had passed the same house four or five times in the course of a single circuit – how long had she been walking, exactly?
The glimmer caught her eye as soon as her hooves settled on the ground.
Rarity found herself drawn to the window like a young filly bemused by the allure of a candy shop – the simple glass portal was unassuming, and entirely inelegant. This was no store, no presentation warehouse, the least ideal circumstance for showing what sat behind the window to the outside world. It made the discovery seem that much more significant.
Rarity’s hooves left prints against the glass as she pressed herself up against the window, peering inside. There was no light within the nonchalantly located building – the exterior was so insubstantial as to be unnoticeable, blending into the scenery of a stroll through town like flowers in the background of a pastoral spring sunset.
The lone inhabitant of the almost dilapidated interior. Pristine, the purest white, stitched in the majesty of a bed of perfect flowers.
Rarity’s breath caught in her throat, barring for a moment the fog it bestowed to the glass in the cool night air. She had lost track of time, mired in thought, and now the sun had set, leaving the sky shrouded in silvery moonlit night.
The metallic glow caught the edge of the window as it beamed downward, and shone upon the pearlescent fabric – and so the fabric shone back, returning the gesture of attention in kind, and near blinding Rarity with the majesty of its perfection.
“I’m sorry, so sorry Sweetie, I don’t know what came over me!”
Sweetie Belle had sniffed meekly as she nuzzled her tear-stained face into her sister’s coat. Rarity’s hoof traced through the young filly’s candy coloured mane soothingly.
Between diminishing suppressions of the last of her tears, Sweetie Belle had attempted to apologize.
“I’m… sorry I don’t… understand… about dresses…”
Rarity cut her off almost immediately.
“No no no, dear, it’s not your fault. You have nothing to apologize for.”
Rarity’s eyes fell to the crystal-laden gown in the corner of the boutique as she comforted her sister, peering over her head and locking in place for a moment, first on the dress, then far off into the distance.
“Dress-making is a… complicated subject.”
“Are you feeling alright, Rarity?”
Rarity’s attention was not fixed in the present. The plate of leafy greens in front of her was untouched, saved for the occasional idle prodding from one of her hooves, nudging the delicately laid out pieces of vegetation back and forth from the center of the bowl.
The voice that broached the inquiry belonged to Twilight Sparkle, sitting alongside her friend at the table of a local dining establishment. Eating outside seemed the ideal choice, given the brilliance of the sun overhead, and the picturesque background of spring-time accompaniment. Twilight had paused after a bite of her sandwich, furrowing her brow in evident concern.
“You just look kind of out of it.” Twilight smiled and gave a slight giggle as she spoke, trying to wave away any seriousness in her questioning with a light-hearted tone. She was always concerned when her friends seemed ‘off’, but undue fixation and worry were best reserved for more pressing problems when they eventually arose.
Rarity stared back blankly for a moment, taking a moment to process the information before speaking, her voice leaping from the blankness of her distracted thought into the occupied present.
“Oh, I’m sorry dear. Thank you for asking, truly... I’ve just been a bit... distracted lately. With work and such. I’m sure you know how it is.”
Twilight nodded sympathetically, taking the lull in the conversation as an opportunity to steal another bite of her sandwich. Rarity returned her gaze to the salad in front of her, poking at one of the protruding leaves with her nose before grabbing it with her teeth, and chewing it up demurely. Regardless of the quality of the greens or the level of preparation given to the dish, she could barely taste the fragments of the morsel as she swallowed.
Beside the dining table, a group of flowers swayed lazily in the wind, their petals swaying sideways in a lethargic half-wave.
Even without the looming deadline of a mandated order, there was still work to be done if Rarity hoped to keep her boutique at such an elevated status in the world of fashion.
Late night dress-making was the hallmark of her toil now – selling the garments and dealing with the customers was entirely disconnected, more automation than anything. At night was the time work was truly done – fevered designs and ideas that begged for implementation, some of which were discarded and revised as soon as they had been created. The tick of the sewing machine or delicate slipping of a needle through a half-finished gown were the metronomes that kept Rarity’s heart beating at the steady pace which drove her work forward.
Tonight was a new idea. Something experimental, inspired by the pastoral scenes Rarity took in every day during the spring, in particular the colourful natural bouquets that were located everywhere around the idyllic scenery of Ponyville.
Rarity tucked a needle between her teeth as she worked the sewing machine, biting down on the cool metal absent-mindedly as the tick-tick of the churning mechanism imparted stitch after stitch on the piece of fabric she held between her hooves. White was too plain, she had deduced. More colour, more vibrancy – the dress had to pop out, like the most evocative of flora springing exuberantly from the waving patches of grass. She paused for a moment to assess her work. The flaws leaped out at her almost immediately.
Wrong, all wrong. The design she had envisioned and sketched out... nothing like this. Terrible, so far away from what she had imagined. The stitching was fine, lines were precise, but the glow she had dreamt of the night before, that had inspired the creation of the piece in front of her – that was all gone, whisked away on the wind of her consciousness and forever lost to the aether of her dreams.
She grit her teeth in frustration. All that work... and for what? Even beyond the fastidiousness of her normal standards of quality, this was an abomination... not one shred of the magic she had imagined was in the mangled patches of fabric in front of her. It wasn’t what she had dreamt at all, nothing like...
She couldn’t obsess over that again. Rarity shook her head in an attempt at clearing the image from her mind, but the white weaving glow persisted, tugging her eyelids closed and shimmering behind the curtain of her vision.
Her hoof flew to the table in frustration – followed by a sharp shout, the pitch of her yell crackling at the height of her vocal range.
She drew her hoof upward and gave a brief glance – a lone needle errantly placed was protruding from just a bit further upward along her leg. Wincing, her horn shone and withdrew the pointed piece of metal, and she rose the injured area to her mouth, sucking on it timidly in an attempt to ease the sting. Her eyes closed distractedly for a moment – when they opened, she was half way to the door.
The night air was cold and biting, a startling contrast to the warmth of the day-time atmosphere. A pony could bask in the glow of the sun for hours without a care in the world – but the unwelcoming iciness of the night’s breath seemed to be a reminder that life was not always so accommodating.
Her hooves moved fast, given purpose without thought. Her body knew where to take her, even if her mind tried to blur the thought out. She had to see, again, and hope it was still there...
Though her familiarity with the town was born only out of obligation to awareness of local business, along with her years of residence, she found the house quite rapidly. She had never noticed before, but now the bland browns and grays of the painted wood practically jumped out at her, even amidst the darkness of the clouded sky overhead. Brazenly, she approached the window again, pressing her face to the glass like a filly leering at the candy-store counter.
There was a second one.
There was no light inside, but even in the purest darkness she could have spotted it – the design gave off its own radiance, surpassing any flicker of illumination a conventional light-source could hope to conjure. Still, she wanted a better look. A brief spark shone into a timid beam of light from the tip of her horn, casting its way through the window and to the interior of the building. There was no furniture, save a single ornate fireplace against the wall – and the two dresses. Those two magnificent dresses.
The first needed no attention – from the moment she saw it, the floral patterns and brilliant white designs had been burned into her mind – but the second was more than even a parallel of the beauty of the first. It was dark, darker than the pitch-black sky above, and strands of silver were woven through the gentle curves that made up the frame of the gown. The material shimmered with a blanket of thin misty sheen, like a wavy coat of metallic clouds framing the moonlight on a perfect night.
In spite of herself, Rarity’s mouth hung agape in amazement.
How... and from whom? In all her life of working with dresses and fashion, Rarity had never seen a work so elegant, so... perfect. Her mind reeled in search of a possible creator, in the expansive catalogue of her knowledge, but found nothing.
She had to come back. She had to know who was responsible for the dresses that stole her dreams and crept into the every thought of her wakefulness. It would have been wonderful, to stay and gaze upon the perfection through the fogged glass... but she knew it must wait. No matter the level of beauty, the world could not stop turning for a single piece to be admired.
She would have her dreams, however.
Rarity paused the rapid-fire clunk of the sewing machine and cast a glance behind her. Standing in the door-frame was her little sister in the gently-knit pajamas Rarity had made for her, clutching a stuffed animal between her hooves along the ground.
“Yes Sweetie, what is it? I’m a tad busy at the moment, and your bed-time was almost an hour ago...”
Sweetie Belle traced the ground bashfully with one hoof around the head of her stuffed brown bear.
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t sleep. Could you read me a bed-time story?”
Rarity’s response tore in her mind half-way between irritation and sisterly sympathy, and settled on the latter. Her patience seemed more frayed than usual... but she couldn’t bring herself to lash out at the picture of youthful dependence and innocence in front of her.
The words echoed in her head for a moment, before she blinked and gave her head a slight shake.
Dress-making is a... complicated subject.
“Of course Sweetie, I’d be happy to. You go along to your room and I’ll meet you there in just a moment, alright?”
“Okay!” Sweetie Belle’s smile brightened her face as she bobbed to retrieve her bear from the floor, clutching it between her teeth as she ran off down the hall, the green patterned fabric of her sleep-wear becoming a mint-coloured blur as she dashed away. Rarity turned her attention back to the paper in front of her. Every page was littered with sketches, the majority of them scribbled out or blotted in apparent frustration.
She had given up replication, and perhaps even the aspiration to what she had seen through that window – the process of emulation was simply her natural reaction, and the designs that haunted her dreams needed at least an attempt to be brought to life in hopes of being rid of them. But now the concern was not with what she could never hope to recreate... it was with how those dresses had been brought to life in the first place. Who, in all of Equestria, could have composed such divine beauty through thread and fabric?
Rarity’s legs guided her towards Sweetie’s bedroom of their own accord, her thoughts drifting still elsewhere, but returning to an extent as soon as she entered the dimly lit sleeping quarters and spotted the wide-eyed filly tucked underneath her bright purple quilt. Rarity couldn’t help but smile – her sister was, sometimes, so perfectly adorable.
“So, a bed-time story then?” Sweetie Belle nodded enthusiastically as Rarity perused the book-self for a likely entry, before settling on a volume. “Ah, here we are...” she cleared her throat before continuing in a soothing and slightly elevated oration. “Howard the bear lived in a cottage at the edge of the forest-“
“Um, sis? If it’s okay, I was, um, wondering if you could read me one about a princess.”
Rarity glanced up questioningly over the glasses she wore for dress-work, but acquiesced almost immediately. With a warm smile, she placed the tale of Howard the bear back on the shelf, and selected another story – the same one she had been read so many times in her youth. The thin storybook shone with the glow of her magic as it settled in front of her, perched on the end of the bed. Again, she cleared her throat before beginning.
“Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess, the most beautiful in all of Equestria...”
Her thoughts went elsewhere as she narrated. The simple story of a princess, finding her prince... her match foretold by fate, perfect in every regard by virtue of existence. Two halves of an idyllic whole meeting together to form the most wonderful of unions.
Despite the aspirations that she had harboured since her earliest days, Rarity held no illusions about her significance in the world. She was no princess – a lady, to be certain, of well-refined culture and poise – but certainly not royalty. And in the storybooks, it was always the princess who got the prince.
Rarity was far from the paradigm of a ‘simple dressmaker’, sometimes whisked away by royalty in the occasional fairy tale. Perhaps it was her own fault for straddling the middle ground between the potential status divisions. She had no regrets for pursuing her dreams, nor for holding herself to the standard of etiquette befitting a proper lady. She certainly couldn’t see the sense in miring herself in poverty in hopes that one day her storybook saviour would swoop in and claim her from the never ending toil, whisking her away to a life of high-class and royalty the way she’d always dreamed. That was schoolgirl foolishness, and held no place in the real world.
She dreamed of him, sometimes. What her prince might be like. The affair with one ‘Prince’ Blueblood at the Grand Gala had left a sour taste for royalty in her mouth for some time – but the dreams persisted every now and then: a dashing stallion that would shield her from the harshness and uncouth nature of the world, and revel in her poise and beauty. The picture of composure and stately elegance, her perfect match in every way.
Lately, the dreams had been different. Rugged good looks had been replaced by timid shadowy proportions, hiding just away from the light. Instead of swooping into her dreamscape storefront and sweeping her off her feet, the mysterious gentleman had postulated from afar, begging her to come closer without using words, imparting her movement to meet him. A figure of simple and inelegant mystery, calling out to his princess. The thought made her heart ache more than anything before it.
The detail she knew – his hooves were toughened by work and dedication to his craft. They had seen countless swatches of fabric, guided endless needles, and woven thread after thread in pursuit of the beauty of his creations.
A simple dress-maker finding her love in another simple dress-maker. It was more wonderful in her mind now than any prince had ever been.
Two thirds through the story, Rarity took pause, noticing the soft snoring from the head of the bed. Sweetie’s head was nestled snugly against her lace-lined pillow. Her hooves still held the fluffy brown fuzz of her bear, bringing him close to her chest and nuzzling him with the tip of her nose as she slept.
Rarity smiled at the snoozing filly as she floated the storybook back into its place on the shelf, taking one last look at the cover before she did so. The picture depicted a majestic castle in the background, with two ponies in front – a beautiful princess alongside her prince.
The scene shifted as it slid back into the bookcase, grey stone replaced by brown wooden panels, castle walls morphing into a single fireplace and house-frame. The two dresses sparkled beside Rarity and her prince, both of them bathing in the beauty of their presence.
She had abandoned the pretence of working in the evenings now. Hours of toil only resulted in frustrated sketches and marred fabric lying in crumpled heaps throughout the boutique. Instead, work had been replaced by night time walks.
The dreams had been more insistent since the story – an ethereal voice calling out to her from the shadows of her subconscious. In the dreams she was weak, helpless, more than she had ever felt in reality, yearning for somepony to reach out and rescue her from the looming danger of the world – or from her own thoughts.
Everything had seemed pointless that past week. Dresses were flawed monstrosities, prompting worries for her own sanity – how had she put them out in the first place, hoping to beleaguer some poor unfortunate customer with the burden of wearing such a horrifying crime against fashion sensibility? She found herself talking ponies out of their purchases more often than not – Well, no, really, though I’m thrilled you find that particular garment to your liking, perhaps something more along these lines – though, this is a tad gauche, is it not? Maybe something more like this...
And so she found herself at the window of presentation to her would be prince.
There was a third dress today, upright on its stand alongside the other two. It was a perfect compliment to the set – the glimmer of white that had drawn her in, the veil of darkness that matched the pearly shimmer with a shroud of night – and now the third. A multi-hued crimson, arches and swirls of magenta in a painting brought to life, weaved together in an evening gown like dark red wine.
Rarity pictured herself in it – in each of them, though the majesty of the dresses was not in any desire to wear them. It was simply a fantasy – to be near to the apex of craftsmanship, and their creator as well. She would look at him, in any of the masterpieces he had created, and proffer her hoof timidly, not as a lady to be worshipped this time, but in a humble gesture of desire and acceptance – to let him know that she held him in the highest regard, and would offer her all to be near him. To see him at work, and bask in the radiance of his genius; her prince.
But fairy tales were never to be realized, were they?
The thought hit her hard, drawing breath away from the fogged pane of glass only inches away. Storybook romances, and dashing princes, no matter their nature – these were the vestiges of idealized times, imaginings that could never be real, lest the magic vanish completely. Could the suitor that had overtaken her dreams be only feet away, behind a door nearby his creations, waiting for her to throw herself to him and profess her undying love and admiration? In all likelihood…
Then what of her dreams? To discard a lifelong aspiration to be the perfect princess, found by her prince, throwing it all away in sight of the truest passion and admiration she had ever known, the highest standard of idolatry for this mysterious dress-maker – those too could be cast into nothingness, another idealized standard never to be brought to fruition? Could life be so cruel?
The first of several tears slowly made its way down Rarity’s cheek as she stared still longingly through the window.
Of course. How could I have been so foolish? I can picture the truth now…
A elderly mare, well into her golden years. Sitting with thread and needle, gown over her lap, rocking chair by the singular lonesome fireplace, swaying back and forth as she sewed by the firelight. A lifetime of experience and natural talented concentrated into her worn and gnarled hooves, creating perfect dresses never to be worn – that reminded her of her youth. The first the perfect purity and innocence of her first summer, brand new flowers springing from the earth and basking in the glory of their natural light. The second, the mystery of night, the dark alluring sky that beckoned to all beneath it, inviting them to adventure and mystery, the exploration of adolescence. And now the third, the sultry crimson of distinguished composure, storied through years of romance and passion to bloom in the matured beauty of rose-coloured satin.
Rarity’s heart broke a little… but the shards began to bloom just as quickly.
Reality was not ultimately cruel.
That notion – an aged and knowledgeable woman, distinguished and developed through a life’s trials and teachings, driven still to create through the glory of her calling. It was almost better.
Rarity had learned to cope with disappointment in the past, the most notable instance being the shattered expectations of the dashing stallion waiting for her on her ‘Best Night Ever’. She could meter her hopes here too – but along the way, turn them in something more realistic, and perhaps, more useful.
Her youthful aspirations – that was one thing, the lofty fantasy of true love, even in its newly permuted sense. But the opportunity to learn, and grow, and to better herself – that was the height of any aspiration.
The tears stopped as quickly as they had come. Rarity followed their departure, prying herself from the misty glass and beginning the walk back home. The moonlight sparkled at the edge of the glass. As it did so, the crest of violet gems on Rarity’s coat gleamed alongside.
Even Fluttershy’s yell was soft in nature, but Rarity managed to pick it out over the buzz of the crowd as she walked through town. She turned to face her friend with a greeting.
"Welcome to Carousel Bou- oh, dear. I’m sorry. Hello Fluttershy, how are you?"
"Rarity, I haven’t seen you in days. Are you feeling alright?" Past the normal aura of empathy the yellow Pegasus gave off, her face seemed additionally mired in concern, brow furrowing with worry as she questioned.
Rarity’s response was effusive and cagey, as her answer had been to all inquiries of recent on the state of her well-being.
"Oh, yes dear, I’m quite alright. Things have just been very busy at the shop, that’s all."
Fluttershy stepped closer, only inches away from her friend.
"Are you sure? You look so tired… please don’t overexert yourself."
"I’ll be fine, Fluttershy, really. Although…" Rarity gave a brief pause, and Fluttershy’s voice exploded with concern.
"Is there something else? You know you can talk to me about anything. I just want to make sure you’re doing alright."
The images that beset Rarity every night flashed through her mind. Those dresses. The featureless nouveau prince offering his hoof. The elderly and well-learned motherly figure beckoning her forward to an apprenticeship. Sparkles.
"Have you… have you ever dealt with bad dreams, Fluttershy?"
Fluttershy nodded sympathetically.
"Oh yes, all the time. When I was little I used to have nightmares about being chased by all sorts of monsters, or falling off clouds… I had trouble sleeping for the longest time."
The blandness of Fluttershy’s response reminded Rarity of the different nature of her particular night time visions.
"Er… yes. Something like that. I’m not sure if-"
"What I always found helped was having a nice warm glass of milk before bed. It also helps if you have something warm and snugly to cuddle up to – I have my forest friends, but a stuffed animal works just as well."
Not the advice she had been looking for, really.
"Mhm… thank you Fluttershy, truly. I do appreciate your concern."
"Not at all! You know you’re one of my dearest friends, Rarity. If there’s anything else you need, please don’t hesitate to come find me, okay?"
"Of course, dear"
The hustle and bustle of the crowd flowed like a river around the rock of the two pony conversation. Had she meant to go further… to confess her obsession to somepony finally offering understanding and solutions? And what would Fluttershy think, to be told she spent the nights she wasn’t tossing in a sleepless agony staring wide-eyed at the creations of a pony she had never met, but who haunted the dreams that came to her when slumber finally arrived?
"Warm milk. Yes, I’ll give that a try."
Fluttershy smiled brightly. Rarity’s attention was elsewhere, in place and time.
Hours later, her hooves pressed against a window again.
Welcome to Carousel Boutique, where everything –
Rarity jolted upward from her bed into wakefulness. The sun languished in the sky, rays stretching through her bedroom window, illuminating dust motes as they flickered lazily towards the ground. She blinked groggily. How long had she slept?
Too long. A glance at the clock on her bed-side table told her that much.
She leapt from her bed in a panic. Being beholden to a particular standard of beauty and poise in presentation while working meant a vigorous regiment of preparation before venturing forward into the day – not a simple process, and certainly not one that could be condensed into fifteen minutes. Rarity couldn’t remember sleeping through her alarm before… the only thing she could remember at all, for the moment, was the trio of garments that had danced across the last throes of her dream, with two leering faces behind them. She had reached to them, forelegs outstretched, begging to be grasped, to be taken away – but they had left her there, alone in the darkness.
A quick hair brushing and face wash would have to suffice. Rarity’s mane was dishevelled beyond any state should recall it being in – her normally perfect purple coiffure was frazzled, in semi-permanent disarray. She noticed as she splashed a drought of cold water on to her face in front of the mirror, the bags that had taken up residence under her eyes. Far from the perfect picture of fabulosity.
Sighing, Rarity tossed the hairbrush sideways with a simple levitation, before making her way to the store floor. Two minutes before opening time.
The bell on the door rang seconds after it was unlocked. Rarity’s mouthed moved subconsciously.
“Welcome to Carousel Boutique, where everything is chic, unique, and magnifique! How can I help you?”
The colt who made his way inside with the ringing of the door as it closed gave a glance around the storefront, his eyes lingering momentarily on Rarity as she glowed with a smile to the best of her abilities. Her appearance raised an eyebrow, but nothing more.
Underneath the linen cape upon his back, the colt was a simple brown. His coat seemed trimmed and well groomed, and in accompaniment to the cowl from his neck, a fashionable beret sat atop his head.
“Good day, miss. I’ve come to peruse your wares, as I imagine you assumed.”
Something about his tone rubbed Rarity the wrong way, but she beamed back at him as convincingly as possible before answering.
“Of course, sir. Is there anything I can help you find?”
A derisive sneer answered the question for her.
“From the look of your displays, most likely not. Tell me, who is the designer for the majority of these dresses?”
“I am, sir. Miss Rarity, at your service.” She ignored the blithe and scathing commentary – something she was partially used to from her cultural aspirations.
“Hm. You have my condolences.”
Rarity blinked slowly, cobwebs in her mind still lingering from her awakening only moments ago.
“I’m sorry… your condolences? Whatever for?”
“Well… it’s not exactly polite to explain, but… surely the designer that created these can’t be in her best health, mental or otherwise.”
Rarity was torn between furious outrage and the pang of guilt at the stranger’s identification. She resolved to settle on the former… to keep up appearances.
“I never! I will not have you slandering my work while you are in my boutique, monsieur! Find your way to the door this instant!”
The colt smirked at her, but did as he was told, ambling towards the shop’s exit grinning the whole way at Rarity’s half-hearted fuming. Coupled with the frazzled strands of her mane protruding and the weary look of sleep embedded in her eyes, she was the picture of disarray – the complete opposite of her normally composed self.
Before he left, the would be customer spoke once more.
“I wouldn’t have stopped by, but I did hear such good things about your work… apparently I was misinformed. I imagine that when I set up for business, your days in this tawdry little shack will be quite numbered.”
The door slammed behind the colt with a brilliant white flash, Rarity’s horn glowing furiously at the force of her spell.
“The nerve of some ponies…”
Rarity busied herself with tidying the shop, taking note of the fact that the past few weeks of her fixation had taken a very visible toll on the upkeep of the store – dust bunnies the size of their real life companions hopped out from behind units of shelving, and scattered sewing implements had made their way from the workspace into the store proper.
The door rang once more with a sharp chime, drawing Rarity’s attention.
“Greetings! Welcome to-
-Carousel Boutique, where everything is, um… unique, and mag…mag… um… looks good!
Rarity’s eyes crawled open groggily. The ringing of the bell in hear ears faded away with the sound of the door closing.
Had she heard…
“Um, yeah, I think that one’s pretty too.”
Sweetie Belle’s voice?
The sun beamed brightly in the nearby window.
Rarity turned onto her side, still tucked in the scattered blankets of her bedding.
That couldn’t be right…
With undue effort, she dragged herself out of the comfort of the sheets, rising shakily to a standing position.
“Sweetie?” she called out her sister’s name. Everything felt so immaterial… was she awake now? The time seemed impossible. Everything was blurry and insubstantial.
Sweetie Belle’s hooves skidded on the floor as she zoomed into her sister’s bedroom.
“Rarity, you’re awake! I tried so hard to get you up, but you kept shaking and yelling and then it was time for the store to open and there were people outside and I didn’t know what to do, and I had to let them in and try to sell them dresses like you do-“
“What? How… long have I been asleep?”
“It’s already the afternoon! I kept trying, but you wouldn’t get up, and I couldn’t leave because there were so many customers showing up…”
Rarity blinked. Hard. The world unblurred ever so slightly.
She couldn’t find the words. Sweetie Belle was in tears now, dredged up in the flurry of her panic. The two sisters stood next to each other, Sweetie consumed in her distress, and Rarity staring off into the distance in puzzlement, her brain still processing the situation.
The door-chime rang loudly in the background.
The greeting began to play in her head.
“I… don’t worry, I’ll deal with that customer Sweetie. I’m very sorry… I’ll be right back, alright?”
Sweetie Belle sniffed and nodded, rubbing her face with her hoof to clear one of several streaks the tears had left on her cheek. Rarity didn’t pause to consider her appearance – she knew she must look horrible. Given the circumstance, however...
“Welcome to Carousel Boutique-”
She had apologized profusely of course. It felt strange, to prostrate herself so to her sister, but it was what the situation called for undeniably.
The height of irresponsibility. She still couldn’t believe it… replaying the events in her head, it seemed impossible. She had woken, she remembered, and dealt with that objectionable fashionista of a colt, who had left her bitter with rage at his uncouth admonishments…
The days were blurring together now. When she had slept, when she had eaten – if she had done either of those was now unclear. The thoughts kept her awake, and the dreams threw her back from sleep if she managed to drift there – or to crawl agonizingly, more accurately. It was no wonder she had slept for so long when she got there – and still, she been haunted by unpleasant visions – just more concrete, in this instance.
She went for another walk that evening, finding no solace in anything back at the boutique. Sweetie had been spoiled after work with all manner of sweets for her hard work, in an attempt to amend the disaster caused by Rarity’s over-sleeping – she expected a contact from Sweetie’s teacher in the future, demanding an explanation for her absence. That could be dealt with when it came.
And the dream had given her another possibility.
What if, instead of the ideal gentlecolt and perfect craftsman... what if, instead of the elderly and world-learned motherly mare… what if instead of either of these benevolent fantasies, the one responsible for the dresses was from the other side of her sleep-visions? A snide and cock-sure designer set out to bide his time until the perfect moment, upon which he would sweep the last regard for Rarity’s fashion catalogue out the window and gain the adoration of every dress-wearing pony in town. Someone who would crush the final frustrated embers of her dream under his hoof, laughing all the while.
She couldn’t bear the thought, but her walk took her there regardless. The glass was slightly frosted this evening, a very brisk chill in the air a contrast to the still vibrant heat that bathed the spring day. She counted the three gowns, pausing on each one to admire its beauty, the divine inspired grace that still bedazzled her, locking her eyes in place and stealing her breath away, giving a moment’s reprieve to the misty window-pane.
The glow of her horn shone to the back of the room, irreverent of the occupant. She did assume, of course, that somepony must live there – the creator of the dresses in the first place. Regardless of the spartan decoration, there were back rooms, other avenues to facilitate a theoretical occupation – and it couldn’t be any other way, it just couldn’t. Inside that home was her prince, her matron, or the end of her dreams.
There was a fourth dress, just there in the back. The glow of her horn didn’t stretch quite far enough.
She willed it brighter, needing to see. The motion wasn’t even a thought, but an immediate impulse. The three pieces of divinity she had dreamt of so many nights – she couldn’t leave the fourth out of sight. And so her horn shone brighter.
But still, the dress was out of reach.
Her eyes were so narrow, delirious. She had to see. Had to know what was at the back of that darkened room, behind the glass that held her weight every night for so many weeks. Her face scrunched in concentration, willing the magic from her horn brighter and brighter still, blinding from its point of emanation
Still, too far.
This couldn’t be. Couldn’t be allowed. She had to see it, had to know. Before she saw it, the image in her mind – what could it be to realize? Beyond every expectation, this dress was perfect. It was perfection. The pinnacle of all craftsmanship that had come before it, every thread guided by needle through time culminating in its creation. The apex of inspiration, at the very end of her light.
And the pony who had made it.
The glass gave way under the pounding of her hooves with more ease than she would have guessed. The shattering sound was piercing, but it reminded her of something. The tinkling of a bell, chiming entry.
Welcome to Carousel Boutique-
She had to see. She could see it, and meet them. Him, her, the one behind the dresses that had guided her through the spiral of failure that had been the last three weeks. None of it mattered any more – the store, her passion, the art of her dress-making – immaterial, childish dreams to be discarded. There was a single, brilliant point of light burning ahead, not the spell-weaved beam that was cast from her horn, but the glory of possibility. The glory of realizing what she had dreamt of for so long into reality.
She heard his voice call to her, and reached out.
“Please, everything I’ve ever dreamed-“
Dress making is not a job
She saw her there by the fireplace, a welcoming smile greeting her student.
-nor is it a folly to be played at for your amusement-
She heard the biting laugh and felt the swallowing darkness of her final competitor.
-it is a craft, an artform-
There was too much light. Too hard to see. The blinding brightness refracted in every shard of glass that fell around her like sparkling rain. Her body followed them to the wooden floor, landing amidst the pile of splintered bits and expectations. Her head was spinning, the spell from her horn flickering, but the light still caught in the many fractured facets, encircling her. She could almost reach out and touch the hem of the first dress. The pristine whiteness-
The first gown tugged away.
The alluring night-
The second followed
The sultry crimson-
And she was alone. With all of her imaginings and obsessions, in a cold, dark, empty room, amidst the last pieces of the dreams that had brought her there.
The brightness eked away as her eyelids fell, legs outstretched in yearning, the final effort to the knowledge that drifted away on its last fluttering footsteps. Unconsciousness greeted her swiftly.
Dress-making is a… complicated subject.
With the glow of the morning sun, they found her there; scratched and bleeding in the pile of broken glass, but alive, though unconscious. She was immediately brought to the local nurse, who assessed the situation, disclosing the breadth of her fatigue to no one, but instructing her friends to take good care of her.
She was buffeted by concerns. It was hard to explain, so she opted not to. To let her friends expectations of her problems remain in their minds – that was the greater grace, and she carried it through with poise.
She had gone back, of course. The house had been empty. Only the tiniest pieces of powdered fragments left behind by the not so meticulous cleaning crew. A lonely fireplace. The dresses were gone - but the back room was open, no door barring the way beyond the threshold of her inner light’s farthest reach.
After some time, Rarity made her way back home.
Several days passed before the tinkling of the Carousel Boutique’s bell rang once more.
She did feel a pang of regret, of course. But the thought of walking beyond that room, and seeing what might lay in store was something she couldn’t bring herself to do any longer.
What she had built up in her mind… the dreams, the pining, the aspirations, grounded in realism, fantasy, or in between…
That was the problem. She had been too happy with them.
But that was the abstract. The imagined. This was the real. The now.
The door chimed as it opened.
“Welcome to Carousel Boutique-“
On that day so many years ago, the stars had sparkled brightly overheard as Rarity watched the first creations she had loved presented on stage for the adoring crowd. She had dreamed of this moment – of her lifelong aspiration finally coming to fruition. Her smile had glowed as bright as the stars.
And the crest of jewels on her coat had sparkled even brighter.
She had been happy with them.