“Tastes like…purple…window panes…” Rarity said in her asleep. Several more minutes of incoherent mumbling followed ranging from that daisies made the best muffins and the fashionable minotaurs wore dresses made of apples before the light of the rising sun woke Rarity. Ignorant of her own sleep talk Rarity yawned and stretched in her modest bed before she swung her hooves toward the edge of the bedside. Here she hesitated.
“Another day and so far not one step closer to saving Ponyville.” Rarity sighed, and played the events of last night in the Everfree Forest. Battling the shadow-demon and Twilight’s failed capture of the second shadow-demon followed by another two hours of waiting for Twilight to finish inspecting every inch of the area for ‘pan-dimensional resonance’. Rarity had returned to her quarters in the Temple of the Gods exhausted and disappointed. She had passed out immediately upon climbing into bed. This would be Twilight’s fourth day in Ponyville and they both were still no closer to discovering the reason why the shadow-demons were attacking Ponyville.
“Honestly, why do I feel so…hollow?” Rarity shook her head. She was awed by the magic that Twilight displayed, she controlled the energies of the dominion of magic so effortlessly it was in many ways breathtaking. Unicorns that were trained in the higher levels of magic needed time and preparation for complex spells but Twilight seemed to be able to use them with the barest of flickers of her horn. Rarity did not doubt Twilight’s Divine powers, but Rarity still felt as if there was some sort of gulf that had opened up within her over the last few days.
“I have been preparing for months for this. I’ve kept so many secrets from Fluttershy, Cheerilee, Sweetie Belle and so many others. I should be happy, but-” Rarity stopped her monologue when she heard a single knock on her door. At first confused at who would be calling upon her so early in the morning she was quickly not surprised to see the door open after the first knock revealing her sister, Sweetie Belle.
“Rarity! I’m coming in!” Sweetie Belle cheerfully shouted after she had already jumped into Rarity’s room. She looked at Rarity in her bed and her face frowned in disappointment. “You’re still in bed? WE have hospitium duty today and YOU said YOU would show ME how to do our duties!”
Rarity winced on the inside, she had completely forgotten she was to show Sweetie Belle how to administer to the wounded in the temple’s hospitium. As Sweetie’s Sister Superior it was Rarity’s duty to train the priests-in-training under Rarity’s wing. Rarity had made sure her afternoon and night duties had been shortened so that she could work with Twilight so she had overloaded her tasks to the morning shift. In particular she had switched hospitium duties with Fluttershy. Rarity surrendered and decided she had to put aside her worries about the shadow-demons for now.
“Sweetie Belle!” Rarity’s voice carried out into the hallway with mock mortification, “How many times have I told you that a priestess, and just as importantly a proper lady does not just barge into somepony else’s room uninvited? You must be courteous and who knows what you might see if you do not give a pony time to open the door for you.”
“Like what?” Sweetie Belle asked, but Rarity ignored her question and had already pushed off of the bed and closed the door behind Sweetie Belle. Rarity became a whirlwind as she dressed for the day, she did regret not properly combing her mane or putting on a facial mask the night before but Rarity had her ways of hiding how haggard she may appear to be.
“Again, a proper pony does not ask.” Rarity replied even as she combed her mane, “Where is Scootaloo? You both are attending the hospitium today.”
“Ohmygosh, I forgot to wake her up!” Sweetie Belle practically jumped in place before she streaked out of Rarity’s room. Rarity allowed herself to smile as she finished the last of her preparations and slipped into a fresh set of robes.
In a few minutes, Rarity had left her own quarters and collected both Sweetie Belle and her friend and fellow priestess-in-training, Scootaloo, from the dorms for neophytes. Rarity had pulled many strings to get Scootaloo accepted into the Temple of the Gods, the priesthood did not accept many initiates that were unsponsored (otherwise the priesthood would be straining to accommodate the orphans from the wars and shadow-demon attacks). Fortunately, Cheerilee was sympathetic and Rarity had arranged for a modest fund toward accepting Scootaloo as an initiate in the Temple of the Gods.
“Rarity! What are we going to do in the hospitium?” Sweetie’s voice echoed through the marble corridor even as its owner pranced around Rarity.
“Ooooo! What if we get to do surgery? I call dibs on the saw!” Scootaloo’s voiced joined with Sweetie’s, the filly dodging her friend as the both made completely opposite orbits around Rarity.
“Nuh uh! I want dibs!”
“Surgery? Really? Have we not been studying up on the roles and duties of a priest have we?” Rarity knew the answer to that questions already, but still the reaction from both fillies was priceless to watch.
Even Rarity was quietly shocked by both fillies stopping in front of her at the exact same moment, their faces turned toward her with genuine fear. A nagging part of her wondered if the two had choreographed it but their responses quickly washed away any thoughts in Rarity’s mind.
“Uuuuh…” both filies responses, looking at one another and back at Rarity.
“Ah, I see” Rarity responded, a slight smile on her lips as she continued down the corridor past both Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle, “Perhaps…perhaps I should mention to Cheerilee that you both could use some extra hours instructions…”
“Extra hours?!” Sweetie Belle gasped, “we can’t Rarity, after our daily duties we said we would meet Apple Bloom and-“Rarity’s younger sister was cut off by a swift elbow to her ribs by Scootaloo.
“-and help her buy some supplies in town!” Scootaloo finished for Sweetie Belle. Rarity did not need to look back to know both fillies were holding their breaths for Rarity’s next words. Do I doom them to a late afternoon of dictation and higher learning from Cheerilee or granting them freedom to play out their own agenda?
“Well…” Rarity paused for dramatic effect, during her own spare time after daily duties it would not be an uncommon sight to see her engrossed in a new novel that filled with drama, mystery and pregnant pauses, “I just may forget to talk to Cheerilee if you both pay attention and keep quiet while we are in the hospitium…”
“We will Rarity! Your, uh, Journeymare Priestessness!” Scootaloo was the first to chime up and catch up to Rarity’s walking pace. Sweetie Belle was a swift second.
“Scootaloo’s right! We’ll be pay so much attention you’ll never notice! We’ll be like…like…”
“Temple ninjas! That would be so rad! I bet we could make really cool throwing stars out of-”
“Girls! We are here! Look! Look!” Rarity hoped she didn’t sound too desperate to steer Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle from their current course of thinking, but if she used ANY of the past attempts by the two fillies to skirt their neophyte training or add ‘extra curricular’ training it would not end well. Rarity needed both fillies distracted and shooed any thoughts of being ‘Temple Ninjas’ into the forgotten corners of their filly minds. Rarity was still apologizing to June Bug for taking their talk of “Temple Torchbearers” less than seriously, even though Rarity went out of her way to compliment how well June Bug’s tail hair had grown back.
Fortunately, both Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle were immediately taken by the sight of the hospitium. It was one of the larger rooms within the Temple of the Gods but it did at times feel fairly cramped, much of the space within was taken up by row after row of cots and a few privacy screens. Rarity was thankful to see that the majority of the cots were unoccupied. Unbidden memories leapt up, shrieks of pain and shouts of terror always punctuated the by the sounds of soft sobbing and the final breath of-
“Rarity!” Sweetie Belle’s voice cut through Rarity’s thoughts, she shook her head and looked down at her sister.
“Yes, Sweetie? Did you say something?” Rarity softly loosened the grip on her sounding staff, she hadn’t notice how tight her grip had become.
“Aren’t we supposed to tend to the statue of Redheart, goddess of healing first?” Sweetie Belle asked.
“Normally, we would,” Rarity smiled and gestured toward the statue of Redheart. The statue itself was carved from a portion of the north wall but rose across the ceiling of the room, with her head leaning down and arms widespread she looked to be encompassing the entire room with her arms and every corner was within her soft gaze. “Different Divine have different preferences.”
“Like apples and oranges?”
“Birds and bees?”
“Red and blue?”
“Pronouncing ‘vase’ as ‘vah-se’ instead of ‘vay-se’?”
“Almost. It is very much linked to each individual Divine’s likes and tastes. Not just in preference of something so material as the object of sacrifice but the proper action. Orthopraxy. Redheart would be insulted if a ritual to her was completed before tending to the sick and wounded in her view.”
“Isn’t it hard to remember each and every single Divine’s likes and like-likes?” Scootaloo asked.
“Yes, it is for most ponies. That is why there is a Temple to the Gods, not every settlement has one but fortunately Ponyville is big enough. We enact a civic duty for the entire town! We make sure the Divine, if some pony is coarse or blundering enough to offend them, take their anger on that individual pony and not on the entire town.”
“We give praise to the Divine when there may not be a pony in Ponyville to do so. No matter the act be it to freshen up their shrine with newly cut flowers, tending to the sick, or…” Rarity murmured quietly to herself, “…going on nightly patrols of the Everfree…”
“Going on nightly patrols of the…?” Scootaloo asked.
“Patrols of the temple!” Rarity hurried forward before either Scootaloo or Sweetie Belle could continue with that particular line of questioning, “Watch and learn, girls.”
Taking several steps into the hospitium Rarity stopped in her tracks and closed her eyes for a moment. After several moments, a smile split her features, her eyes moments ago had looked tired and haggard with a lack of sleep but now they almost seemed to shine with a newfound energy. Rarity breathed in deeply and let it all out.
“Gooooood morning, my darlings!” Rarity’s voice echoed throughout the hospitium, more than enough for every and any pony to hear her she continued her voice laced with an easy cheer, almost teasing but in a good-natured way, “How are you my gentlecolts and lovely ladies doing this Divine given morning? Hmm?”
Dozens of worn out faces turned toward Rarity from across the room. Some were standing, but most had to lean up from or crane their heads on their cots to look in her direction. Some were in the hospitium because of sickness but most were for injuries sustained from the latest of the shadow-demon attack to mundane farming accidents. Most were there because either they had no home to stay in or family to take care of them. The mood in the room, formerly somber, immediately shifted as the ponies visibly perked up at the sound and sight of Rarity, that could have mumbled a broken chorus of good mornings, while others simply smiled and laid back down or went back to their previous conversations.
“A Divine once told me, at a friend’s birthday party, that a smile is more than enough to brighten up a day” Rarity turned to tell Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle before she was off toward the first few patients.
To a patient observer Rarity moved through the hospitium with the grace of a ribbon caught in a summer breeze. Graceful in her motions and a pleasantly surprising sight to see. One moment chatting, some may say gossiping, with an older mare who was too weak to get out of her cot, the next changing the bandages of a stallion and before you knew it she was taking the temperature of a mare while also subtly mentioning the stallion in the bandages always seemed to be looking the mare’s way with a blush. Always she would be thanked and always she would reply the same, “Think nothing of it dear, generosity is always in style.”
It was not long before Rarity, with Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle hurrying to keep up arrived at one particular cot whose occupant did not seem too pleased at all to be stuck in the cot. Besides the fact that she was tall enough that her hooves hung over the edge the occupant looked about ready to leap up and buck an apple tree.
“Ahh, Applejack. I see we are getting caught up on that rest the doctors recommended you take. Oh, wait my mistake dear, they didn’t recommend it but ordered it, did they not?”
“Phooey. I ain’t needin any bedrest! Just because I got my arm bite off by one of them shadow-varmits everypony thinks I need fifty winks every time I sneeze! I ain’t going to fall over in ah breeze!” Applejack grumbled from her cot, her one good eye staring out toward the ceiling, far away from Rarity’s unimpressed gaze. It was true that Applejack was, Rarity had admitted to herself on more than one occasion, impressively built. Standing at around 6’7ft Applejack was larger than most stallions with the particular exception of her brother, Big Macintosh. Even missing her right arm up to the shoulder Applejack was a powerful sight to behold, the bright pink-red scars that marked across her body and over her shut right eye only had added to what was a mountain of what Rarity considered ‘stubbornness in pony form’. Applejack had been so severely mauled by a shadow-demon that no one had expected her to recover, no pony else ever had, but after a month she had returned to her family farm as if nothing had changed.
Which at times was a problem.
“That may be true, you have already proven you have incredible stamina, but…” Rarity let her words fall, and her gaze travel toward the ceiling.
“…but what?” Applejack asked, Rarity did not even need to turn her head to know Applejack’s gaze had drifted down from the ceiling to her. When Rarity looked back at Applejack she had been 100% correct, even correctly guessing Applejack’s scrunched brow.
“Well, you were out for a month, darling. What if one of your wounds reopened and you were back here for another month or even a week or two? A night or two isn’t so bad compared to that is it?”
“I suppose…” Applejack’s stubbornly scrunched brow collapsed into one of worry. If Rarity was correct she was weighing the possibility of missing out more time at Sweet Apple Acres and how it would affect her family. Rarity could not have prayed to the Divine for better timing when a filly’s voice with a similar twang to Applejack’s began to shout in the hospitium.
“Sis! Sis! It’s me, Apple Bloom!” Applejack’s younger sister shouted as she sped between the cots of the hospitium before jumping on one cot to use it as a springboard to cross the aisle and land on top of Applejack.
“I heard yah, Apple Bloom. That shadow-varmit didn’t scramble my brains.” Applejack beamed at the sight of her sister and squeezed her tightly in a one-armed hug.
“Apple Bloom!” Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle chimed in from behind Rarity and were soon scrambling past Rarity to talk with their friend. Rarity noticed Applejack’s smile seemed to grow wider as she looked at her sister and friends talk among themselves. Applejack looked up at Rarity and winked.
“It’s good Apple Bloom has friends. With all this shadow-varmit hooey going on ‘am happy these three can find a way to have some fun.” Applejack whispered to Rarity. Applejack’s words made Rarity smile as well, not the cheerful smile she had worn since entering the hospitium but one that was less of a show for ponies who needed it and more genuine for just herself.
“I was ah little surprised to see you here today, Rarity. I thought Fluttershy was supposed to be makin the rounds?” Applejack asked. Rarity froze in place as Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle stopped and turned toward her.
“What about Fluttershy?” Apple Bloom asked.
“She did say she would be here the other day.” Scootaloo added.
“Yea, why wasn’t she here to teach us?” Sweetie Belle added.
“Ah, well you see girls…Fluttershy actually traded duties with me today…because she…she…”
“I bet it’s because she can’t stand the sight of blood.” Applejack interrupted, nodding her head but at the same time looking at Rarity knowingly. She was only a handful of ponies that knew Fluttershy very well…
“What, really?” Apple Bloom asked, looking between Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle.
“I remember! That one time a supplicant tripped and scraped their knee on the stairs REALLY badly. Blood was EVERYWHERE!” Scootaloo said, waving her hands to emphasize.
“It wasn’t THAT bad Scootaloo. Just a scrape, but you’re right. Fluttershy was there and she just kept staring at the blood. And shaking. I think by the time Cheerilee pulled her away she was sweating.” Sweetie Belle said.
“Kind of wimpy to want to pass out from seeing a little blood if you ask me” Scootaloo shrugged her shoulders.
“I thought you said it was EVERYWHERE, Scootaloo” Apple Bloom elbowed Scootaloo in the arm.
“It was! Everywhere, sure most of it was on the supplicant’s pants but-“ Scootaloo and her friends continued to argue among themselves about the definition of everywhere.
Thank the divine for small favors and how easily sidetracked these three can be! Rarity sighed in relief and turned to Applejack who hadn’t taken her eye off of Rarity.
“So, if you’re taking over for Fluttershy now I suppose that means you’ll be free in the evening, right?” Applejack asked. Rarity winced on the inside, Applejack despite being what Rarity considered a straightforward pony she was remarkably adept at telling bluffs and lies. If somepony was not being 100% truthful she knew. Rarity had to choose her words carefully.
“Yes, that’s right. I will be free this evening” Rarity replied curtly.
“Oh really? I hope you aren’t gettin into any…trouble.” Applejack leveled her gaze at Rarity.
“Trouble? Me? I don’t ‘gettin’ into any trouble, Applejack.” Rarity smirked and tossed her mane over her shoulder.
“Then what are you doin later then?” Applejack continued, she seemed unwilling to let Rarity go without a more solid answer.
“I’ll be heading to the plaza.” Rarity replied, which was true. Before Applejack could ask what she would be doing in the plaza Rarity knew she had to lead Applejack off. Fortunately, Rarity’s reputation as a hopeless flirt had persisted even from when they were fillies together. “Why do you ever ask, darling? Does big, strong Applejack need a little assistance from a priest’s…healing hands to get back to Sweet Apple Acres?”
Rarity had laced her words with such a sultry undertone her words may have come from a demon. The not-so-innocent giggle and flutter of her eyelashes were the icing on the performance, but it was more than enough. Applejack blushed and shook her head, scooting under the cot’s blankets a little more and even holding them up as if that would be enough to ward off Rarity.
“Nn-not at all! Like I said, I’m fit enough to wrestle a minotaur! I don’t know why you go to the plaza to stare at those dresses the merchants bring in. Seems like a waste of a good afternoon when you could be doing so much more and…” Applejack continued to talk about the fine work ethic of Earth Ponies, particularly the Apple Family, and Rarity knew she had been successful in keeping Applejack from prying too close.
What she was doing with Twilight Sparkle was dangerous, and she would not let either her family or friends to come to harm because of her responsibility…