It was barely noon and Rarity was already in the mood for indiscriminate murder. How did Celestia do this? she asked herself as she glanced at the commission report. She wasn’t even sure which commission report it was, she just knew that she had already reviewed eight reports just like this one today. Still, you can’t have ponies executed just because you had a bad day. Well, okay, you can, but you shouldn’t. Your approval rating is already fairly low. She allowed herself a light smirk. Almost as if I seized the throne by force and put the rulers of the land in stasis. “But that’s totally not what happened, right?” she asked Celestia.
Princess Celestia didn’t answer. To be fair, it would have been a shock if she had answered, given that she was perfectly immobile. The frozen Celestia was giving her a scolding look, having successfully denied Rarity the pleasure of witnessing a scream or any other sign of agony. Still, Rarity got the last laugh: Celestia was now wearing a rather gaudy hat. It was plaid and made her look stupid. So there.
“You have to unfreeze her before asking your question,” Kibitz reminded her drily, and Rarity let out an exasperated gasp.
“I know that,” she muttered. “I was monologuing.”
“Very good, then.”
I should’ve just forced that old geezer to retire, Rarity thought and rolled her eyes. Then again, ruling over Equestria without him would be an even bigger nightmare. Who’d have thought that being the ruler of the land would be so much work? Running Carousel Boutique was so much easier. Fewer pleas by townsponies. Fewer commission reports.
The main door of her throne room suddenly burst open, and a single pony rushed in, performing a diving somersault to avoid any potential attacks by her guards. “DIE, DICTATOR!” he screamed and raised one hoof at her, causing the crossbow attached to it to release an arrow.
Fewer ponies trying to murder me. Rarity grimaced even as she tapped into a tiny fraction of her godlike powers to stop the arrow inches from her face. By now, the guards were forcing her would-be assassin onto the floor. Of course, it would have been more useful to have somepony stop the arrow, but they get points for enthusiasm at least. “Please, gentlecolts, give our guest some room to breathe,” she said loudly and made her way over to the struggling group, letting the arrow float next to her. I should have worn the red dress for this, she scolded herself. Her light blue gown didn’t exactly scream torture and violence, but she loved it because it matched her eyeshadow in just the right way. Oh well, less violence and more cold ruthlessness, then. The guards dragged the young stallion to his feet. Rarity quickly searched her memory, but came up empty. Nopony I ever met. Maybe hired help from outside? Or somepony from the suburbs? She reached out with her magic, wrapping the stallion in a blue aura. “Hello, darling,” she said and gave him a fake smile.
“YOU MAY KILL ME, UNWORTHY DICTATOR, BUT THERE WILL BE DOZENS MORE TO TAKE MY PLA-MMMFFF!”
The stallion tried to open his mouth again, but her magic grip had become far too tight. “Okay, first of all, I am not Dictator Rarity. I am Queen Empress Rarity, and I would appreciate it if you called me that.” When the assassin gave her an incredulous look, she shrugged lightly. “It tested better with the focus groups,” she admitted. “Also, I do not appreciate ponies just bursting through my doors. I know it would be too much to ask you to make an appointment, but could you at least knock first?” She allowed him to consider her words while she gave the arrow a closer look. The tip had been coated in some sort of sticky liquid, and she nodded in approval. “Poison? Good, very thorough. Probably one that works quickly so that I’d be dead by the time my medical staff arrives.” She gave it another look. “This was expensive, wasn’t it? Finding and buying poison guaranteed to kill a pony in less than a minute or two can’t have been easy. And whoever had the funds and connections to buy it probably wasn’t dumb enough to carry out the deed personally.” She waved the arrow in front of his face and released her grip on his mouth. “Who sent you?”
“Go to Tartarus, you monster,” the assassin hissed. He also would have spat in her face, had she not clamped his muzzle shut again.
“I already did,” she told him and tapped the ruby attached to an intricate gold chain around her neck. “Where else would one find a Dominator Amulet?”
“Pah, I know about it,” the assassin sneered after she released his mouth again. “I know how it works. So now you’re going to be lazy and make a copy of it in order to enslave me and command me to talk?”
Her laughter caught him off guard. It wasn’t the cackling laugh of a megalomaniac dictator - which she wasn’t, of course - but rather the light-hearted laughter one would expect from a young noblemare. “Oh, goodness no! What makes you think I would do that?” Her smile turned into a cruel smirk. “Why would I waste my precious artifact on a worthless minion like you?” She held up a hoof, and the Captain of her Royal Guard approached. “Interrogation and torture may not work quite as quickly, but I’m not in a hurry to find out who sent you, so I can afford to be old-fashioned.” She turned to face her guard. “Shining Armor, I’ll leave him to you. Find out who sent him, then cut him into pieces and use them to spell out his boss’s name in the courtyard.”
The brief flash of revulsion on Shining Armor’s face reminded Rarity that he used to be Princess Celestia’s loyal guard. He’s a security risk. I should have jailed him. Or enslaved him. Should have brainwashed and turned him into a frantic pet. She licked her lips at the mental image. A guy like that could keep a girl like you busy for hours every night. But as usual, she banished the thought. No, no, no. You’re not going to do that. Shining Armor is technically loyal and useful to you with his mental faculties intact, even if he is just serving you so he can occasionally talk you out of leveling whatever neighboring country slighted you.
“Also, the amulet would clash badly with my mane color,” Shining Armor added.
“Yes, that, too,” Rarity admitted before blinking. “How-”
“You had that look again.” Her Captain was looking far too amused by her confusion. “You know. The one where you consider mind-controlling and then commanding me to boink you so hard that you forget Germaneigh is a country.”
“You’re lucky you’re useful.” She tried to project an aura of cold professionalism. “Speaking of which, why is this idiot not talking or dismembered yet?”
“Because I already know who sent him,” Shining Armor replied calmly, causing both Rarity and the assassin to give him looks of disbelief. The guard just shrugged. “He called you unworthy, and while your critics have found numerous ways to describe you, only one of them ever called you unworthy.”
Rarity narrowed her eyes and gave the assassin a glare. “Blueblood.” When the assassin merely lowered his eyes in defeat, she smirked. “Well, that saved us a lot of time. Any final words?” She held up the arrow for him to see. Poisoning somepony wasn’t quite as visually impressive as turning him into courtyard decoration, but why let a perfectly good arrow go to waste?
“Actually,” Shining Armor interrupted her in mid-stab by conjuring a shield between the arrow and its victim, “let’s keep him alive.”
It took a lot of willpower, but Rarity managed not to lash out at her guard. “You want to keep a guy alive who wanted to murder me?” She sighed. “Fine, I’ll give you a chance to state your reasoning, but if I don’t like your explanation, you’ll spend the foreseeable future chained to my bed post.”
Shining Armor pretended not to consider whether that was a threat or an invitation. “If we kill him, Blueblood will know he has given us a name. But if we keep him alive, he won’t be sure what else he may give us.”
Her eyes widened. “You want to make him nervous? Maybe in the hopes of luring him out, or to have him make a mistake? Yes... that might work...” She licked her lips. Blueblood was the reason why Rarity had taken over Equestria in the first place, and then he had had the audacity to flee into exile before she could exact her revenge on him. He called me unworthy of his attention! I came to him with nothing but unconditional love, and he laughed at me! Shot me down without even giving me another look! But then, when I obtained the power to prove myself worthy, when I proved I could take on Princess Celestia herself, when I was ready to be loved back, he RAN AWAY.
“Are you fantasizing again about what you will do to him?” Shining Armor asked after several seconds of silence.
“Not yet,” she snapped. “I was still in the flashback part.”
“Oh. Apologies.” He was smiling. Rarity tried to hate him for it.
“Never mind, darling. The moment’s passed.” She waved her hoof. “Drag him into a cell. Solitary. Yadda yadda, you know the drill.”
“Your wish is my command,” Shining Armor bowed dramatically and grabbed him with his own magic before making his exit, all the while ignoring the assassin’s accusations of him being a traitor.
Rarity allowed herself a smirk. “Well, that was amusing.” She incinerated the arrow with a thought before giving Kibitz a look. “Do we have anything left on our agenda?”
Much to his credit, her majordomo didn’t seem terribly bothered by the narrowly avoided regicide. The elderly unicorn had probably seen a lot of craziness in his time here. “Just a request by the Children of Ugolhotll to be officially recognized as a church.”
Rarity frowned. “Why does the name sound so familiar?”
Kibitz adjusted his glasses. “It’s young Miss Fluttershy’s cult.”
“Oh!” She sat upright. “Of course! Her little pet project to resurrect the entity she just calls Huggoth!” Talk about taking liberties in transcribing ancient runes.
“Indeed, that one.” He held up a form for her. “They are requesting to be recog-”
“Yes, yes, I heard you the first time...” She thought about it. “Hold on, is their request actually valid? I admit that I’m not familiar with the laws regarding how one establishes a church, but I doubt that anypony can just come up with one and have it officially recognized.”
Kibitz chuckled. “It used to be like that, actually! Ah, the good old times, when Princess Celestia tried to encourage spirituality and diversity of belief. She used to give just about anypony who filled out the forms her permission to call themselves priest of whatever church they had thought of. Of course, she quickly realized that most ponies just came up with their own churches to save on taxes, so she put a few rules in place. Nowadays, you must have at least fifty followers in your cult or church or whatever you want to call it. Once you got those, though, you can apply.”
Rarity tilted her head. “And Fluttershy’s little cult managed to get fifty ponies to sign up? Really?”
There was a pause as Kibitz pretended to consult his papers, and Rarity braced herself for the worst. “The Children of Ugolhotll currently have three thousand registered members, give or ta-”
“Three thousand members?” She did a double take. “THREE THOUSAND?”
“Give or take a few dozen, yes.”
The Queen Empress leaned back and cursed quietly. “But... how? There aren’t that many ponies in Ponyville...”
She gritted her teeth. “Don’t tell me she took her Elder God mumbo jumbo to the neighboring villages.”
“Miss Fluttershy set up her new base of operations here in Canterlot a few weeks ago, according to the documents she sent us.”
Rarity’s jaw dropped. “Fluttershy is here in Canterlot?” And she hasn’t even visited me? She knew that she had alienated her friends when she had gone on her little crusade to prove her worth to Blueblood, but that didn’t stop her from feeling mildly insulted. “So she is recruiting my citizens now?”
“You are the ruler over all of Equestria, so she has been recruiting your citizens since day one,” Kibitz reminded her, and she just waved her hoof impatiently.
“I still don’t understand it. This isn’t some established belief system that has been around for years. She only started her little cult weeks after my coronation.”
“Yes, it’s only a few months old. It appears that they have been recruiting in a more aggressive manner since moving here.”
“This is insanity,” Rarity whispered. “My friend is trying to summon an Elder God less than a mile away from the palace, and I only learn about this when they apply for-” She froze. “Wait, why are they even applying for this status? Are they forced to do so after reaching a certain size? Because if she succeeds, then tax benefits will be the least of Fluttershy’s worries.” Or mine.
For once, Kibitz was looking puzzled. “As a matter of fact... no, they don’t have to apply for anything. According to the laws, she could recruit everypony in Equestria without having to tell us.”
“So... just taxes and bragging rights, then?”
“I doubt one founds a church for bragging rights, Your Majesty.”
Rarity sighed. “You’re right. Especially not Fluttershy. Or at least not the Fluttershy I know. So why is she doing it? Why is she announcing her presence like-” She froze. “That’s it... she’s telling me she’s here.”
“Why would she want to tell you, though? From what I’ve heard, she is quite considerate, but isn’t her cause depending on you knowing as little as possible about it?”
“I don’t know.” She got up from her throne and started to pace until she was standing between two tall, frozen figures. “Do you have any ideas?” she asked Princess Celestia. She tended to ask Celestia out of reflex - the younger sister, the statue behind her, was also available, but she had only arrived in Canterlot a few months before Rarity had made her grand entrance.
“Again, you have to unfreeze-”
“STOP INTERRUPTING MY DRAMATIC MUSINGS!”
“Could you at least remove her hat? Last time somepony made her wear plaid, the cleaning staff had been busy for weeks.”
Relax, girl. Don’t toast him. Don’t give him the satisfaction. She took a deep breath. “Do we have anypony on the inside?”
“No, unfortunately.” Kibitz went through his papers. “We can probably get somepony in within a day, though. Miss Fluttershy was kind enough to fill in the address of her secret cult headquarter on the form.”
Rarity walked over to one of the windows overseeing Canterlot. “Talk to me,” she whispered, letting her head rest against the cool glass.
“The window is incapable of speech, and Miss Fluttershy probably can’t hear-” He stopped speaking to sidestep a chair Rarity had flung his way.
“Are you being contrary on purpose?” she snapped.
She blinked. “...yes?”
“Princess Celestia had a better sense of humor about it, I admit.” Kibitz sighed. “However, I know that with great power comes great potential for a disconnect from reality, so I make sure to establish the obvious in case my charge loses sight of things. Last time I failed to do so, Princess Celestia attempted to interrogate a sock for failing to address her properly.”
Rarity gave him a long look of disbelief. “Did you make this up?” she finally asked.
“Ha, I wish! Next time you think you have it rough, try to imagine arguing with somepony who insists that not only does her clothing communicate with her, but that it does so in a disrespectful way.”
“Wow, you are such a weirdo,” Rarity told the frozen princess with the gaudy hat before realizing the slight hypocrisy.
Kibitz opened his mouth.
“YES I KNOW I HAVE TO UNFREEZE HER FIRST, THANK YOU!”
“So, about infiltrating the cult,” he said after finally wiping the smirk off his face. “Should I send one of our agents?”
She glanced at the window again. Somewhere out there, her friend was preparing to summon an Elder God, and Rarity was not even quite sure why. “No,” she whispered. “I’ll do it myself.”
“Are we still talking about infiltration here?” Kibitz asked carefully after hesitating for a second. “Because as amusing as the results would be, it is my duty to remind you that Miss Fluttershy knows what you look like, and your Dominator Amulet is also somewhat conspicuous.”
“Duly noted, but worry not. I’ll look up a disguise spell to cast onto myself.”
“Such a spell usually does not cover any accessories, I think, so you would have to-”
“I won’t be wearing the Dominator Amulet.”
Neither pony spoke for several seconds as Kibitz considered the implications. “It’s a risk,” he finally said. “This is potentially hostile territory, and you want to go in alone and without your enhanced magic power?”
“I will be disguised.”
“It’s an enchantment, and enchantments can be dispelled.”
He’s right, this is madness, even by your standards. Breaking a spell is not too hard, if you can find a unicorn with a special talent for it or are simply willing to go through a few preparations in advance. If they are cautious, they might even hit any new member with one. And then what? You’ll be all alone, surrounded by possibly thousands of angry citizens, and with no way to defend yourself aside from your own magic. What are you going to do then? Sew them to death? She opened her mouth to agree. But... it’s Fluttershy. The kindest pony you know. Your friend... probably... Rarity thought back to the day she had shown Fluttershy what she had brought back from Tartarus. She had expected encouragement, but her friend had just been horrified. I pushed her away. I was right, but that doesn’t change what happened. “She deserves a chance to show me what she is up to without my armies breathing down her neck,” she finally decided.
“And what if her army starts breathing down yours?”
She turned to the door and motioned her guards to follow. “Then I probably deserve whatever I get,” she muttered.
It hadn’t taken her long to prepare. Two hours to look up a suitable disguise spell that altered her coat, mane, eye color and voice, another hour to select one of Princess Celestia’s numerous contingency personas, and then it was just a matter of lowering the sun, raising the moon and casting the spell.
Rarity nodded to herself. She was still a female unicorn, but her coat was now a vibrant turquoise, and her mane had straightened and changed to a warm red color. Finally, her cutie mark had turned into two outlined and interlinked hearts. “Hello, Limerence,” she whispered and blinked when she realized that her voice had turned into a seductive husk. “Perfect.”
She performed a quick gesture with her left hoof, causing a set of numbers to briefly flash up on it. Twelve hours until the disguise enchantment runs out of power. Good.
With her disguise set up, there was only one thing left to do. She reached behind her neck with her magic and opened the small clasp holding the Dominator Amulet. Then she took it off and reached for a specially prepared box on-
Rarity cried out when her entire godlike power was drained from her body in less than a second. For a moment, the only indicator that she still had any magic left was the fact that she was still holding the Dominator Amulet. No! NO! You weren’t this powerless before, were you? WERE YOU? She tried to reach out beyond the castle walls, but found that her magic barely even reached the door of her room. You can’t go ON like this you are NOTHING you are POWERLESS you are INSIGNIFICANT and HELPLESS and MORTAL and- She took a long, wheezing breath. Calm down, Rarity! Calm down! Just take a deep breath, put the amulet back on and- She stopped herself. No! The amulet stays off! You need to learn to live without its power. It’s just a few hours. She looked from the amulet to the box. It had been built to withstand more or less any magical or physical assault and would be locked by the specific signature of her magic. It’ll be safe. It’ll be waiting for you. No worries. But maybe put it back on for just a moment? Just a quick check to see that it’s still working? She hesitated. Nopony would know. Just a brief moment of weakness. Just a tiny admission that she had gotten addicted to this power. “No!” She stuffed the amulet into the box and sealed it. Strangely, the sound of bolts sliding into place made it easier for her to accept that it was out of reach.
She pushed the doors open - had they always been this heavy? - and marched past Shining Armor. It felt strange to meet him like this, when she had no direct power over him, but she knew that he’d stay loyal to her since the Dominator Amulet - now safely locked away - was the only thing that had the power to free the two alicorns in the throne room. “Ah, went with the Limerence ID?” he casually asked and sorted through a few files. “I would have guessed that you’d go with Elusive or-”
“Elusive was a stallion with my exact cutie mark and coat and mane colors,” she cut him off. “If I had gone with a gender-swapped Rarity, I might as well have announced my presence with fireworks and skywriting.”
“A fair point,” he admitted and chuckled. “Let’s get you briefed on Limerence’s background, then. I doubt you will be interrogated, but you still don’t want to hesitate when somepony asks you what you do for a living.”
“Well, make it quick. According to our sources, tonight’s meeting is bound to start soon.”
Rarity knocked on the door and tried not to think about how many lashes Shining Armor would receive for not telling her that Limerence would have to walk from a hidden exit of the castle to the meeting place. Not even a cart! I had to walk like a peasant! I mean, Limerence is one, but still! She took a deep breath and tried to smile when she heard somepony approaching the door.
“Yes?” came a gruff voice, and a small slit at eye level was opened from the inside. The pony on the other side gave her a look.
“I-” Rarity froze. Somehow, she had not thought about how to actually get into the secret cult. “I-...”
“I... seek guidance?”
“Tourist office is to your right, down the street.”
Rarity gritted her teeth, struggling to keep her smile in place. “I was thinking about something more... spiritual?”
“Church is about half a mile west from-” He jumped slightly when she slammed her front hooves against the door.
“I will see to it that you will be conscious while your flesh will be torn from your bones!” she hissed. “You will watch as I set fire to your muscles and grind your bones to dust. And only then will I show mercy and let you embrace death!”
He let her catch her breath. “Great, you’re in the spirit of things!” he finally cheered and opened the door for her. “Come in, sister!”
“Very good, thank you!” She nodded politely, as if nothing had happened. Okay, you got impossibly lucky there, but next time, just stick to the skywriting or simply wear a “Definitely not your Queen Empress out for blood” sign - that’d be more subtle.
“Just pick a robe from the box and tell me your name so I can tell the High Priestess that we got a new follower.” The bouncer - she could see now that he was a unicorn with a dull green coat, mauve mane and a cutie mark resembling a lamp of all things - picked up a clipboard and quill.
Rarity tried not to grimace when she looked at the dirty box filled with carelessly bundled up clothes. She gently lifted one out of the pile with her magic and noted that the maroon item was not even a proper robe, but just a cape with a hood attached. I pray that it has been washed at least once during the last few weeks... Still, complaining about fashion, clothing quality or cleanliness was something Rarity would do, and she wasn’t sure where other ponies would draw the line, so she decided to play it safe and put on the robe. But even as she fiddled with the clasp at her throat, she made a mental note to spend the rest of the night in a bath tub. “Limerence,” she finally replied and barely stopped herself from asking how the cult had managed to get robes that would make even the worst bargain bin clothes feel like fine silk. “It’s Limerence.”
“Neat, come along then.” He gestured her to follow and led her down a corridor.
While they were walking in silence, Rarity questioned the operational security of this cult. Really, they just let in anypony that can belt out a little rant? No questions, no background checks? I could have given this guy any name, and nopony would have ever known the difference! Oh, Fluttershy, you were always too trusting. You always tried to see the best in everypony, but what would you do if one of those ponies betrayed you?
The bouncer opened a large door and motioned her to walk past him. “Welcome to the Children of Ugolhotll, Limerence.”
Rarity looked through the door and barely held back a curse. Oh, right, she’d probably just ask her thousands of loyal followers to tear the traitor to shreds, she thought when she saw the large hall filled almost completely with robed ponies. This is an army. There is a resistance army gathering less than a mile from the castle, and we only learned about it because they sent us a polite form letter. She reached for her Dominator Amulet, only to remember that it was locked away in her room in the castle. Easy. Relax. Your disguise spell is going to last several hours. You’re perfectly safe. Nopony will know it’s really you. She glanced at the door frame. Well, unless the doorway somehow automatically dispels all enchantments. WHICH IT ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT DO BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE RIDICULOUS, HA HA HA.
“You going in?” the bouncer asked and gave her a strange look. “I gotta go back to the front door, and you still gotta meet the High Priestess.”
“Ha! Ha ha!” She gave him a nervous grin. “Of course!” Her hoof trembled as she forced it through the doorway and onto the floor on the other side. When her coat didn’t spontaneously change back to white, she let out a sigh of relief. “Awfully sorry, darling,” she purred, “just a slight... ah... door phobia.”
He frowned and glanced over his shoulder, where she had previously moved through a door with no apparent trouble. Then his frown deepened. “...darling?”
Rarity’s nervous grin froze. I did not just call him that, did I? While her duties as Queen Empress admittedly gave her fewer chances to use the word nowadays, “darling” had still become her unofficial trademark. Why did I even bother with the disguise? She could practically see the gears starting to turn in his head. Okay, you can still save this, even if it means channeling even more of your old habits. “Oh, darling, relax!” She winked seductively and used her magic to lift her robe, revealing her magically altered cutie mark (and her perfectly round flank, no magic enhancements necessary). “Everypony is my darling. After all, my special talent is-”
“I don’t care about your talent or cutie mark, missy,” he dismissed her attempt at lying. “I’m married, so go call somepony else ‘darling,’ okay?”
Ah. “Ah.” She giggled sheepishly, her act and real persona acting in perfect sync for once. “My bad! Let’s get going then. My kindest regards to Mrs. Doorstop! And hail Ugolhotll!”
“My name isn’t-”
“Of course it’s not, darling!” Rarity cut off his protest and hurried inside.
He huffed and motioned her to follow again. “Let’s just get this over with,” he muttered, and she let out a quiet sigh when he had his back turned to her.
Mr. Totally-Not-Doorstop led her through the sea of ponies with practiced ease. Everypony was very polite, stepping aside without being asked to, and Rarity briefly forgot that this was an evil cult with the goal to summon a horror from beyond the realms of sanity. Finally, they reached a small group of ponies wearing robes of better quality. “High Priestess, I bring you a new follower!” he announced and bowed slightly.
The pony in front slowly turned to her before lifting her hood. “Oh, how wonderful!” Fluttershy, High Priestess of the Children of Ugolhotll, exclaimed with a happy smile.
Rarity resisted the urge to pull her old friend into a tight hug and to tell her that everything would be okay. For one, Limerence had never met this pony, so she would have had to make up something about being overtly affectionate again. And more importantly, it would have been a lie. For this was not the Fluttershy she had known in Ponyville, just like she was not the Rarity from that time anymore. As she had learned after the fact, Fluttershy had left Ponyville shortly after the coronation and ventured deeper into the Everfree Forest than anypony had ever done. Weeks later, long after Ponyville had declared her dead, she had returned, perfectly at peace again and telling everypony that she had found god. Unfortunately, nopony had had the common sense to ask which god.
“High Priestess,” Rarity whispered and bowed deeply, her nose almost touching the dirty floor, “I humbly submit to your leadership and pledge allegiance to Ugolhotll!”
“Oh! Ah, please get up...” Fluttershy giggled sheepishly, and for a moment, Rarity wanted to believe that this was indeed her friend from the good old days. “Lord Huggoth does not care about displays of submission, He is happy with just your blood and immortal soul.”
“I... my... uh...” Rarity stood back up and tried not to make it too obvious that she was looking for the closest exit.
“Well, not right now, don’t worry.” Fluttershy laughed as if one of her cutesy animal companions had just done something silly. “The mass sacrifice will only be announced once we are ready. Lord Huggoth will be so pleased...”
The bouncer snickered when he saw Rarity’s shocked expression. “Well, you folks have fun, I gotta get back to the door.”
“Thank you, and peace be!” Fluttershy waved happily before focusing back on Rarity. “It is always a delight to meet new ponies! Are you from Canterlot? We have had quite a few new members since moving our temple here.”
Temple? It’s a community hall. Rarity wisely decided not to argue the point. “Indeed, I hail from Canterlot, and I have felt a certain... emptiness in my life ever since the tragic downfall of the two princesses.” She knew that she needed to play into Fluttershy’s expectations if she wanted to get more information. “It’s marvelous that you managed to get so many ponies to join you in such short time since leaving Ponyville!” Fluttershy’s eyes widened just a little bit, and Rarity knew that she had said too much. Nopony mentioned Ponyville or how long she has been here! This time, Rarity didn’t even bother to look for an exit - she was surrounded by hundreds of cult members, and she had little combat training and a spell selection focusing on handling needles and finding rare gems. Images of being tossed into some sort of sacrificial fire pit flashed before her eyes, and in a brief bout of insanity, she wondered if the disguise spell would still work on her charred corpse.
“I see you’ve read the backside of the flyer, too!” Fluttershy suddenly said, all traces of suspicion wiped from her face. “I knew it wasn’t a waste of money to print on both sides!”
“Ah-ha-ha-ha-yes!” Rarity nodded a little too eagerly, unable to contain her euphoria of somehow having gotten away again with a terribly botched lie. “Indeed, it was such a great read!”
Fluttershy nodded happily and turned to one of the robed ponies behind her. “See, I told you we should tell our story! You said it would be more cost-efficient to only print on one side, but look, our newest recruit appreciated our efforts!”
Like Fluttershy, this pony was wearing a fancier robe, and she also had a custom-made clasp holding it together. Rarity took a closer look at them and realized that the clasps were apparently small versions of their cutie marks: Fluttershy’s robe had a clasp with three butterflies, and this other pony had a clasp depicting a star surrounded by five smaller stars. The unicorn lifted her hood, revealing a mare with a lavender coat and a neatly cut dark blue mane with purple and reddish streaks. “Lord Ugolhotll truly is fortunate to have a wise High Priestess such as you,” she intoned with a faint smile and bowed lightly.
Fluttershy seemed to shrink a bit and fidgeted with her robe - Rarity allowed herself a smile when she realized that, High Priestess or not, there was still a bit of good old Fluttershy here. “Ah, um...” She coughed quietly and composed herself. “Limerence, I would like you to meet Twilight Sparkle. She is the one who convinced me to relocate the temple, and I credit her with boosting our membership growth. Twilight, meet Limerence, our newest member. She’s from Canterlot, just like you!”
“Pleased to meet you,” Twilight Sparkle said and smiled politely. “The High Priestess is being too kind - I am nothing but a faithful student under her.”
A student? Something about that sounded fishy, and Rarity made a mental note about it. “Pleasure is all mine, Miss Sparkle.”
“You can just call me Twilight if you like,” the supposed student said and smiled warmly.
“Thank you, Twilight. If it wasn’t for your efforts, I probably wouldn’t be here tonight.” Rarity bowed lightly.
“Indeed,” Twilight Sparkle simply said, her smile widening just a little bit as her eyes seemed to focus on the mare behind the disguise spell.
Rarity trembled and forced herself not to check if her disguise was still intact. Even without the elaborate introductions, Rarity would have had no doubt that this mare was the reason behind the cult’s growth rate - Twilight Sparkle was clearly blessed with intelligence, but there was something else about her that made Rarity nervous: a ruthless intensity that reminded Rarity of the day she had taken over Canterlot. She is playing her own game. This cult means nothing to her.
“High Priestess,” Twilight said without breaking eye contact, “I will show Limerence around.”
“Yes, please do give her a tour!” Fluttershy agreed, apparently not realizing that Twilight hadn’t been asking her for permission... or for her opinion.
She is dangerous. Fluttershy is being used, and she probably doesn’t even realize it. Rarity faked a smile and followed her, torn between making a break for it and finding out as much as she could. The big question is whether or not my cover has been blown. She frowned. Okay, it probably has been blown, so the big question probably is what she knows and what her plans are. Oh, and how I will get out alive.
Twilight led her through the great hall, pointing out little pieces of decor here and there, but Rarity wasn’t really listening. She did start paying attention when the cultist opened a side door, revealing a staircase that led to the basement. “Follow.”
Okay, this is the point where you leave and call in the guards. Or just go home, get the amulet and then use the power of the two deities you enslaved to level the building yourself. Rarity bit her lower lip. Twilight was already moving down the stairs; apparently, she was taking Rarity’s obedience for granted. Taking a deep breath, Rarity followed her lead.
The door closed behind her, and Rarity wasn’t sure if it was an automatic enchantment or if Twilight’s magic was able to reach across this distance. Torches illuminated their descent, and after about a minute, Rarity realized that they were still moving down in a straight line. This isn’t the basement of the meeting hall. It’s also not just the basement. We’re probably three floors below the ground by now. She nodded to herself. Even if my guards knew what to look for, they would have a hard time scanning this far down, not to mention that they’d have to scan pretty much the entire block. Then another thought occurred to her: If this is a trap, nopony will hear or sense your final struggle.
“This is my little workshop, so to speak,” Twilight Sparkle announced when they finally reached a room the size of a small Canterlot apartment.
Rarity nodded even while she took it all in. There were a table and a few book shelves in one corner. The books were looking arcane and obscure; Rarity likely would have needed outside help in determining what they were even about. Beyond that little corner, the room looked more like an evil lair than a library. Multiple blackboards filled with lists and illustrations had been arranged like a gallery to her left, and to her right was- “Um.”
“Oh!” Twilight laughed when she saw Rarity staring at the obsidian altar.
“Is this... is this for the mass sacrifice?” She tilted her head. The altar looked like a large table, except that it was a bit too tall. And except that it was made out of smooth stone. And except that there was a long chain with a heavy-looking steel cuff attached to each corner. And except for the smaller shackle attached to one end. Okay, let’s just forget that bit about the table.
Twilight thought about it. “Bit small for that, isn’t it? I mean, you can fit maybe two ponies on there if they sit... maybe three small ones...” She seemed to weigh her options before laughing at a joke only she knew about. “But no, it’s not for the mass sacrifice. It’s actually not related to Fluttershy’s whole Elder God business at all.”
Shouldn’t you at least pretend to take Fluttershy’s crazy cult seriously? Rarity refrained from asking the question out loud since she could feel a good villain monologue coming up and felt that it would be disrespectful to interrupt.
“You see, this thing is special,” Twilight immediately proved her right as she cozied up to it, placing her front hooves on its top. “I created the altar just for my special somepony.” She smiled and stroked it lovingly. “I’ll chain her up, and from there on, it’s hours of the most sensual torture imaginable. She’s going to love this. Might need a bit of a push, but so far, everything is going according to plan. I might even offer her to switch places for our anniversaries...”
Rarity blushed. Oh, wow... so she’s just having a bad case of mad love? Maybe she joined Fluttershy’s cult to be able to make the altar, or maybe she’s hoping to seduce one of the cultists? Maybe Mr. Doorstop? She frowned as she replayed Twilight’s words in her head, causing her blush to intensify. No, wait, she’s after a mare. Images of some helpless damsel chained up on this altar wormed their way into her head, and she couldn’t say that she disliked them. My, that’s one lucky mare she’s courting. I wonder who she is... She suddenly frowned. “...are you talking about chaining up Fluttershy?”
“Fluttershy!?” Twilight Sparkle’s eyes widened, and for a moment, Rarity felt ashamed for suggesting that the High Priestess and former friend was involved in some sort of depraved relationship with her student. But then, her usual smile returned. “Goodness, no! Our relationship is purely professional, based on our shared interest of making Equestria a better place. We worship together, but we don’t howl together.”
Rarity slowly tilted her head at that. “Ponies... don’t... howl...”
Twilight’s smile widened ever so slightly. “You clearly have not read ‘The Six Constellations of Enlightenment.’ Oh, the things it could teach you...”
“Are you talking about-...” Yes, she is. Her brain needed several attempts to resume working, but finally, it managed to parse the rest of Twilight’s words. “But wait! If you’re going to annihilate the entire pony race, then your whole anniversary idea falls through.” ...is this really the most coherent argument you are making when faced with an obviously insane cultist?
For long seconds, said insane cultist appeared to be genuinely puzzled by the question. “We’re not going to annihilate anything...”
“But you just said that-” Her eyes widened when Twilight’s magic wrapped itself around her muzzle and clamped it shut, just like she had done earlier with the assassin. Where is that strength coming from? She tried to fight the grip briefly, but gave up quickly. She is strong! A far cry from what I can do with the Dominator Amulet, but this is impressive for a mere unicorn with no discernible power amplifier.
“I said that Fluttershy and I will make Equestria a better place.” Twilight moved away from the altar and towards Rarity, who had no choice but to stand still. “A place that embraces life and love, not death and suffering. And this cult is our best shot at achieving this goal, even if it means performing the mass sacrifice to get there. The altar is just a welcome bonus.” Finally, she released her grip and beamed. “Come on, let’s go back up! You probably have more questions, but we’re on a schedule, so we’ll have to handle those on the way.”
Completely, freaking insane. Total nutcase. “Sure, sure.” Rarity gave the altar a last look and felt a shiver run down her spine. She was more into soft and comfortable furniture, but a sick part of her wanted to touch it, to pull on the chains. What would it feel like to lie on it, chained up and helpless while Twilight’s powerful magic grips me and pins me down before she- She gasped and quickly banished the thought. Why am I fantasizing about the insane cultist? I should just get out of here, summon the guards and stop thinking about writhing on the altar as Twilight- “HA, ANYWAY!” She giggled at her own, insane outburst. Just ask her anything before she thinks you’re crazier than she is! Keep her talking and then run! “So... um... once you remade Equestria in your image or whatever... who will rule over it?” Oh, as if that’s even up for debate. It’s going to be her.
Twilight gave her a knowing smile over her shoulder. “Why, Queen Empress Rarity, of course.” When she noticed Rarity’s wide-eyed stare, she giggled. “What, you thought we were plotting some violent coup? Please... let’s keep it at one per century or so.” Again, her smile widened. “Fluttershy and I will only act as advisors.”
Okay, didn’t see that coming. Though that doesn’t make her any less crazy, over-ambitious... or so damn confident! “What, no advisor post for your special somepony?” Yes, that’s a good angle. Keep her talking. The door to the great hall was in sight.
“Why would the Queen Empress be her own advisor? That doesn’t even make sense...”
Rarity tripped and had to grab the railing to avoid hitting the concrete stairs face-first. “WHAT?”
Twilight frowned, but it was just an act. “Oh, did I forget to mention that?”
“You want to seduce-” Me? “-Queen Empress Rarity?” And then chain me to an altar and do terrible, forbidden things to me? The thought was roughly shoved aside by her disbelief.
“Indeed. It’ll be great to be back to the castle!”
She’s been to the castle before? Rarity’s list of mental notes grew even longer. She decided to assert a bit control over the discussion again. “And how do you plan to do that? I doubt she even knows that either of us, or even this, ah, temple exists.”
Twilight wasn’t shaken. “Oh, she knows that the temple exists. After all, that’s why we sent a request to be formally recognized as a church.”
“...you sent a letter to the Queen just in order to meet her?” Rarity couldn’t help but laugh at this. “Really? That’s your great plan? Wait here until the Queen shows up and then hit on her?”
For a moment, Rarity could see the intent to kill in Twilight’s eyes, but then it was quickly replaced by her usual, smug attitude. “Of course not. My great plan is for her to arrest me tomorrow. By that time, she will already be unable to deny my power over her. Then I will finish my seduction while she interrogates me. Then... the altar.”
Rarity’s expression was frozen somewhere between a smirk and utter disbelief. She’s delusional. Utterly delusional. That plan has so many weak links it’s not even funny anymore. “Okay, let’s assume that she somehow gets the idea to arrest you tomorrow,” she tried to break things down enough to get to what she regarded as the biggest logical failure. “And let’s also assume that she doesn’t use her magic amulet to cut the interrogation short. And let’s even assume that you somehow convince her to assume a submissive role for you, which I quite frankly find ridiculous.” She took a deep breath. “Do you really think you could overpower her and chain her to an altar? Her magic is stronger than yours, thanks to the Dominator Amulet! Even if the chain for the horn somehow inhibits magic, I doubt it will be strong enough to suppress the combined might of two alicorns!”
They stopped at the door. Twilight gave her a patient look. “Are you done?” When Rarity only shrugged, she allowed herself a thin-lipped smile. “Good, then allow me to lay out a few predictions. One, she will arrest me tomorrow. I made sure of that. Two, she will use her amulet on me, and it won’t matter. Three, by the time she interrogates me, she will be curious to at least try submitting to me. Four, I won’t have to overpower her since she will get on the altar willingly. And finally, for number five, she won’t be wearing the Dominator Amulet then.”
Rarity tried to reply, but her throat was unusually dry. Probably a side effect of the heating system - it’s been getting awfully warm in here all of a sudden! She licked her lips. “B-but the amulet-”
“-can’t be removed by anypony except the one wearing it, yes, I know.” Twilight’s tone indicated that she was getting tired of having to explain her master plan in such detail. “She will take it off for me.” She suddenly took a half-step towards Rarity, almost making their noses touch. “Mark my words: Queen Empress Rarity will surrender to me, I will be her most faithful student, and Equestria will become a better place.”
“You’re completely insane.” The words were out before Rarity could hold them back. She wasn’t even sure if she meant them - they were a blunt, last-resort defense against Twilight’s surprisingly elaborate plan and sheer will. “You will not be arrested tomorrow, and then your entire plan is going to fall apart.”
She was sure that this was the point where Twilight would go on a loud rant about crushing those who dare challenge her superior intellect, followed by an unceremonious magical beatdown to teach the non-believer a lesson to remember. But instead, Twilight switched gears again and gave her a friendly smile that would have made Fluttershy proud. “Would you like to engage in a friendly bet, then? I wager one bit that the Queen Empress is going to arrest me tomorrow, just as planned.”
Rarity smirked. “If it makes you happy, sure.” She held up her right hoof. Twilight touched it with her own to shake.
Before she could even comprehend what was happening, a tiny spark had jumped over from Twilight’s hoof - she hadn’t paid attention to see if Twilight had used magic or if she had enchanted her horseshoe hours in advance - and sent a shiver down her spine. “Wha-” Something had gone horribly wrong, and she had a hunch what it was when she felt a mad buzzing at her left hoof. Without even thinking about it, she performed the gesture to bring up the remaining time of the disguise spell.
The timer was still sitting at a comfortable nine hours and eighteen minutes.
Oh, phew, I was afraid-
Nine hours and seventeen minutes.
-that something had gone wrong with-
Nine hours and sixteen minutes.
Nine hours and fifteen minutes.
Rarity blanched. She fudged with the spell! She watched as each second, the timer lost a full minute. I have less than ten minutes to get out of here! She looked up in horror. “What have you-”
Twilight moved in and pressed her muzzle against Rarity’s. The kiss was soft, but somehow also fierce, and it was over before Rarity could even think about fighting back. “All hail the Queen Empress,” Twilight whispered before pushing open the door and disappearing in the crowd.
What the HAY!? Rarity tried to steady herself. A part of her wanted to find Twilight and use her body as a sledgehammer to tear down this entire building. Another part wanted her to kiss her again. Okay, first things first! You have just a few minutes to get past all these cultists and then out of here. Twilight’s long gone, so ignore her for now. She entered the great hall and tried to find a good route to the exit that wasn’t completely blocked off by cultists. At the other end of the hall, Fluttershy was holding a speech, her soft voice amplified by some sort of spell. Focus, Rarity! You need to get out. No time to listen to some motivational speech.
“And please remember,” the High Priestess said, “that tomorrow is the big day!”
Big day? Now what? Rarity hesitated and slowly turned her head to see Fluttershy standing on a table, looking awfully happy. Twilight was standing next to her, looking directly at Rarity with a knowing smile.
“Tomorrow night, we shall commence with the mass sacrifice! Lord Huggoth will pull us into his loving embrace as his tentacles cleanse this world of all the ponies who look down on us!”
“HAIL UGOLHOTLL!” all assembled cultists shouted as one.
“Hail Lord Huggoth,” Fluttershy added happily and nodded at the ponies she would murder less than a day from now.
Rarity tossed the robe back into the box as she dashed to the front door. “Whoa, where’s the fire?” Mr. Doorstop gave her a startled look.
Everywhere soon if I don’t get this runaway cult under control! “Sorry, just remembered that I gotta feed my cat!” She shoved him aside and yanked the front door open.
“Yes, yes, yes, hail Hugthulhu, wonderful!” She practically threw herself through the door and made a mad dash down the road. Her mind was in perpetual deadlock as it tried to process all pieces of bad news simultaneously, especially since all of them somehow seemed connected to Twilight Sparkle, a mare she hadn’t even heard of an hour ago and who had suddenly established herself as the mastermind behind a plan that threatened to bathe her kingdom in blood within a day.
“Leaving so soon?” a stallion steering a carriage asked as he passed her.
For a terrifying moment, Rarity thought that Twilight had sent some cultist after her to bring her back in. “...Shining Armor!?” she asked when she finally dared to look up.
The Captain of the Royal Guards had traded his regular armor for a brown coat and floppy cap, and he was giving her his usual, charming smile. “Hop in, you seem to be in a hurry,” he invited her, and another guard popped open the door for her from inside the coach.
“Thank you!” she wheezed and climbed inside. The guard closed the door behind her and pulled the curtains to make sure nopony outside could see them. With a quick flick of the wrist, she brought up the timer. Less than two minutes remaining. “You were waiting for me? I thought this was supposed to be a solo scouting mission...”
“We always have contingency plans, Your Majesty,” the guard informed her.
“Especially when the original plan was unnecessarily risky!” Shining Armor added from the coach box, making Rarity roll her eyes.
“Fine, you can have a cookie once we get back,” she grumbled. “Speaking of which, be a dear and message the kitchen staff. I’ll require coffee.” She hesitated and narrowed her eyes. “And prepare a pot of tea. I’ll have to have a little chat with the sisters.”