Of course, the one thing that had worked out as intended had been the riskiest: Celestia and Nightmare Moon had not orchestrated any sort of rebellion or assassination attempt before being frozen again.
The rest had been a total failure: every time she had closed her eyes, Twilight and her cursed altar had been waiting for her. Twilight hadn’t even spoken a single word - she hadn’t had to. By the time Kibitz had come in to remind her to raise the sun, Rarity had been an emotional mess thanks to this enigmatic mare who had somehow planted horrible, amazing ideas in her mind.
She had replayed her encounter again and again, slowly realizing that she had fallen into Twilight’s trap long before putting on the disguise. There had been no coincidences, no strokes of luck. Everything had been carefully planned, and Rarity had played her part in this plan perfectly.
After raising the sun, she had finally caved in and asked Nightmare Moon for a spell that would allow her to sleep for at least eight hours without dreaming. Much to her credit, the former guardian of the night had only teased her a little bit before pointing her to the tome that contained such a spell.
Now it was early evening, but Rarity was feeling much more in control of the situation. She was well rested, Twilight’s kiss was a distant memory, and the presence of her troops reassured her that she was about to seize the initiative. And most importantly, she had put on a shorter, less frilly evening dress for the occasion, a daring combination of deep blue satin and charcoal accents.
Shining Armor gave her a look when he came in. “That’s what you’re going to wear for a raid while facing thousands of hostile cultists?”
“It’s tactical, darling,” Rarity told him as she was casting the time-freeze spell on the two sisters. This time, both were sitting perfectly still and smiling widely. “Besides, you will need more armor than I will - you’re going to fight the unwashed masses while I go for the leadership: Fluttershy has to be stopped from performing whatever ritual she thinks will summon her god, and Twilight Sparkle will-”
Rarity blinked slowly before turning around to face her guard. “...what was that?”
“Twily’s back in Canterlot?” Shining Armor was giving her a wide smile.
“Yes, little Miss Ambition is back.” She gave him a cautious look. “Is this going to be a problem for you?”
“Well...” He tilted his head. “I suppose there is a slight conflict of interest here, what with her being my sister and all that.”
“Wait, you waited this long to tell me she’s your SISTER?”
“Well, you just told me now that we’re doing this raid because of her!” Shining Armor snapped back. “Five minutes ago, I was convinced that she was still in the Crystal Empire, building snowponies with King Smoke-Monster!”
Rarity and Shining Armor exchanged angry looks for several seconds before the former held up a hoof. “Okay, we didn’t communicate properly, I suppose. Allow me to elaborate, then: your sister is supporting Fluttershy’s cult and may very well have caused it to reach critical mass faster than anypony would have thought. We need to neutralize it before it succeeds, and that includes your sister. If that is going to be a problem for you, then I must request that you sit this one out.”
He thought about it. “Well, if Twily’s involved, I’m actually not sure if we actually need heavy armaments. She’s not into murder or summoning things she can’t control.” He noticed her look and immediately held up a hoof. “Not saying we should abort, just pointing out that I’m a lot less worried about things right now. ...I presume she’s aiming to become your faithful student?”
“Yes,” Rarity replied, hoping that he wouldn’t notice her lie by omission.
Shining Armor sighed. “Well, that explains your behavior last night. She’s in scheming mode. You really should have debriefed with me.”
“Okay, so... we know what she wants. The bigger question is what you want.”
If I knew that, this would be a lot easier! I don’t even know her beyond vague promises to make me howl. She didn’t meet his eyes.
Her Captain chuckled quietly. “Don’t sweat it. More experienced rulers than you have been rendered speechless by her. But this development may be for the best, really - maybe she can help me to turn you into a less... trigger-happy ruler.” He ignored her annoyed huff. “So, you want me to stay here? You obviously got a lot on your mind, so I don’t want you to worry about a biased guard.”
It’s fine, probably. Neither of us wants to hurt her. But... “Actually... work with me here. We both agree that we’re not actually going to walk into a mass sacrifice, right?”
“I’d be extremely surprised, at least.”
“Yes... same here. She’s up to something, and I refuse to just follow her plan. We need to be one step ahead of her.” She tapped her hoof against the floor. “Yes... that’s it...” She smiled, feeling confident that she was about to catch Twilight Sparkle by surprise. “Captain, I have a special assignment for you...”
The raid, just like everything Rarity did, was a work of beauty. Guards rushed towards the so-called temple with carts along every road leading to it, erecting several blockades along the way to make sure that nopony would be able to flee the scene. Within a minute, the entire city block had been secured, and Rarity was leading the charge towards the front door.
“GO!” she shouted a moment before she blasted the door with a jolt of magic. Her guards were inside the corridor before the dust had settled, and she quickly made her way towards the main hall. “CEASE YOUR-”
The hall was empty.
Rarity scanned the interior and frowned. The tables and chairs were all standing neatly arranged, and the entire hall looked impeccably clean. They didn’t evacuate. This hall hasn’t been used today. “Search the building,” she instructed the closest guard. “Secure everything that doesn’t look like it belongs. Arrest anypony you find.” They’re not going to find anything. She glanced at the small door off to the side. At least not up here. “You, you and you,” she hissed and pointed at three random guards, “follow me. And bring the special cuffs, just in case.” If nothing else, we can at least secure the altar. For science. Not for forbidden fantasies. Just... research. Securing evidence. The works. Yes.
The stairway was illuminated by torches, just like it had been yesterday. Rarity allowed herself a smile as she realized that lit torches were a sign that somepony was still here. The door to Twilight’s little workshop was ajar, and Rarity kicked it open without even slowing down.
The workshop was almost completely empty.
“What the-” Rarity gawked when she realized that there wasn’t any furniture in the room anymore. Not to mention the altar! ...not that I particular care for it or anything, but that thing didn’t even look as if it’d fit through the door! How did she get it out of here? She forced herself to calm down - after all, while there was no furniture in the room anymore, it was not entirely deserted: “Hello, darling,” she purred at the lone hooded pony sitting in the center of the room.
Twilight Sparkle slowly lifted her hood and gave her a wide smile. “Good evening, Your Majesty.” Then her smile widened. “I believe you owe me money.”
Rarity’s smile turned into a forced smirk, and she ignored Twilight’s quiet laughter when she held up a single bit and tossed the coin her way. “Cuff her. She’s a powerful magic user, so fit her with the horn cuff first to cut her off.”
It took her guards a few minutes to catch up to her outside of the building, but eventually, they dragged Twilight Sparkle out. Aside from the horn cuff that inhibited her magic, the unicorn was weighed down by four steel cuffs for her hooves, plus a heavy steel collar. All items were connected by lengths of chain. “Very good so far,” Twilight quipped, not looking intimidated at all. “Would you like to interrogate me tonight, or would you like to let your fantasies consume you some more before we get to the good part tomorrow?”
Rarity magically pulled on the chains connecting her collar to the front hoof cuffs, causing Twilight to stumble. “You think you’re so clever, don’t you?” she sneered.
“Well... yes,” Twilight admitted after a brief pause.
Would it hurt her to show a little bit of modesty? “I’ll admit that it was a neat trick you pulled last night. You made Fluttershy make this large proclamation about the mass sacrifice right after sabotaging my disguise spell to send me running, and then you undoubtedly told them that there won’t be a mass sacrifice after all since that’s not even how you summon an Elder God. You get what you want, and Fluttershy can proceed with her little cult project on her own.”
Twilight slowly tilted her head. “You got some things right, but-”
“WELL, THE JOKE’S ON YOU!” Rarity snapped and used her magic to shoot a bright red light into the night sky before causing it to explode like fireworks. “Your little game ends tonight, Twilight Sparkle.” She yanked the cutie mark pin from Twilight’s robe, causing it to drop to the ground. She tried not to ogle her figure - the unicorn looked a few pounds lighter than Rarity, revealing a surprisingly athletic build. I suppose trekking around frozen wastelands tends to burn quite a few calories. Her gaze was drawn upwards when a green light exploded in the night sky. Excellent! “I know you probably imagined a long interrogation session where you can use your knowledge of the cult as leverage or even bait, but I’m smarter than you. You will rot in a cell, and by the time I grant you an audience, you will fall to your knees and apologize for your hubris.” She leaned in close enough to be able to smell Twilight’s perfume. It was a terrible choice, fitting for a unicorn who was not as smart as Rarity, nor as knowledgeable in the world of style and fashion. “And then you will beg me to chain you to the altar,” she whispered. Once I find it, at least...
Twilight didn’t tremble. In fact, she wasn’t looking concerned at all. “There is an envelope in my robe,” she finally said. “I want you to read the note inside when your plan falls through.”
“Ha!” She gave the closest guard a look. “Take her away. Maximum security cell, fully magic-resistant.” When she was sure that Twilight was out of earshot, she gave the robe a look and tossed the pin onto it. “Secure that. And bring the letter to my room. Scan it for magic, but don’t open it.” I’ll keep it around, and then I’ll slap her with it when she begs for mercy. This time, her smile was forced, and she had to fight the terrible feeling that she was still being played. “Let’s go.”
Back in the palace, Rarity only stopped to change into her scarlet evening dress. Imposing, threatening, but still a lady. Perfect! She tossed her mane to one side and winked at her reflection in the full-length mirror. Then she headed down into the less glamorous part of the castle.
“Good evening, Mr. Ramnared!” she greeted the green-coated unicorn with the mauve mane as she entered the interrogation room. The room was featureless aside from a small table in the center and a large one-way mirror covering one wall. “How are you tonight?”
Ingared Ramnared - or, as Rarity liked to call him, Mr. Doorstop - appeared to be torn between scowling and cowering, resulting in a look that resembled a cornered rat. “Your guards dragged me out of my home in the middle of the night without telling me what I did wrong,” he finally answered. “So I’m fine.”
“Oh, I think you know what you did wrong,” she told him and quietly placed the two items she had been carrying on the table, giving him a moment to look at them. “This,” she said and held up the first item, a steel collar, “is the Band Of The Liar. It detects muscle movements, sweat and subtle changes in your heart rate to determine when you are lying.” She held up the second item. “This is the Orb Of Torment. Right now it’s connected to the collar, and it will go off when the collar detects a lie.”
Ingared looked appropriately frightened. “Look, it’s fine, I’ll tell you everything you want to know!”
Rarity smiled, but there was no feeling of joy behind it. Then she snapped the collar around his neck and locked it. “Yes, you will.” Ignoring his whimpers, she adjusted the magic field of the orb. “I have set it to 10% power. It’ll zap you, but it should have no long-term effects. Go ahead, give it a try.”
“I’d rather not,” he whispered, fully aware that any lie was going to hurt him now.
Rarity’s hollow smile turned into a cruel grimace. “Lie for me, or I’ll increase the level to 15%.”
He gritted his teeth. “You are as wise as you are kind,” he finally hissed.
It took Rarity a moment to parse this. “Oh, very funny,” she finally muttered and picked up the orb.
“NO WAIT YOU’RE SANE AND-GYAHHHHHHHH!” The shock made him jump and curse. Rarity nodded to herself - it indeed looked like he was in tremendous pain. “Sweet Louise, was that the higher setting?”
“No,” she told him and smiled. “That was still 10%, darling. Now... I’ll keep it that way, and you will tell me the truth. Deal?”
He considered his reply, probably careful not to accidentally lie. “What do you want to know?”
“Well, let’s start by establishing a proper baseline.” Her horn lit up, and her appearance changed rapidly. Within moments, Limerence was giving the stallion a victorious smile. “Remember me?”
He frowned. “...no?”
Rarity mirrored his frown when he wasn’t zapped for that. “Let’s try that again.” She coughed and exaggerated her Limerence impression. “My name is Limerence, and everypony is my darling!”
Ingared slowly tilted his head in utter confusion. “...I have no idea what you’re talking about...”
...is this thing on? Rarity wondered and gave the orb a look before undoing the disguise spell. “Where were you last night, Mr. Ramnared?”
“At home. ...why?”
“Clever, very clever. I suppose you were indeed at home during some portion of last night, making your statement technically true.”
“I was at home all night,” he clarified.
“No, he wasn’t!” Rarity hissed at the orb before looking up. “You were the bouncer at Fluttershy’s so-called temple!” When he gave her an incredulous look, she groaned. “The Children of Ugolhotll, you finicky doorstop!”
“Um, I really think you have the wrong pony, ma’am.” Ingared Ramnared was looking genuinely sorry. “I never heard of the Children of... You-Go-Hot’l or whatever before tonight.”
For long seconds, Rarity just glared at him, breathing heavily. Then she pulled a folded page out from a hidden pocket of her dress. She rapidly unfolded it and placed it on the table between them. “This is part of the member list the Children of Ugolhotll attached to their request to be recognized as a church. It contains names, cutie marks and sign-up dates.” She tapped one entry. “According to this, you signed up two weeks ago. Is this your signature and your cutie mark?”
He inspected the document carefully. “That is my cutie mark, and that looks like my signature, but I don’t remember signing any list within the last couple of weeks.”
A horrible truth was starting to dawn on her. “And you don’t remember working as a bouncer for a cult?”
“No memories of a young pegasus High Priestess? No secret cult meeting last night?”
“Sorry, but no...”
His memory has been wiped. Aghast, Rarity took off his collar, making the unicorn sigh in relief. “Hold that thought.” She reached into her hidden pocket again and pulled out the sealed envelope that had been in Twilight’s robe. She opened it and pulled out the note inside.
If you are reading this, you realized that the bouncer knows nothing.
“NO!” she screamed, making Ingared jump. SHE KNEW! SHE SAW THIS COMING! Then she took a look at the rest of it.
Also, you just realized that I predicted that you’d capture him.
Rarity barely held back a curse, but she couldn’t stop herself from incinerating the note. “GUARDS!” The door to the interrogation room was opened immediately, and a guard in full armor stepped inside. “Escort Mr. Ramnared back to his home and compensate him for his troubles. Couple hundred bits, whatever’s handy.” She scowled. “And bring me Twilight Sparkle.”
Twilight walked into the room with the smug grin of a pony who had just bested her opponent from within her prison cell. Rarity noticed that the guards had not cuffed her, but that she was still wearing the magic-suppressing ring around her horn. “Good evening, Your-”
Rarity snapped the Band Of The Liar around Twilight’s neck and roughly dragged her to the opposite side of the table. “Sit,” she snarled.
“I presume that’s the Band Of The Liar? And ohhh, is that the Orb Of Torment? I read about that!”
“Calibration run. Lie for me.”
“Ah, you’re mad. I apologize. Please don’t take it personally, I have been told I can be a bit of a know-it-all, but-”
“LIE. FOR. ME.”
Twilight smiled sheepishly. “Before I do, may I ask how strong the jolt will be?”
“FIFTY?” Her prisoner blanched. “Do you even realize that the average pony loses bowel control at settings higher than forty?”
Rarity’s eyes flicked from Twilight to the orb, then back. “Fine,” she hissed and adjusted the orb’s settings. “It’s set to 25% now. But that’s my only concession. Now lie for me.”
Twilight took a deep breath. “My name is Princess Celest-” Her entire body convulsed; her mouth was wide open, but she couldn’t even produce a sound. After a full second, she collapsed, and Rarity could hear a quiet sob from under the table.
For a few moments, Rarity couldn’t move. She had thought that she wanted Twilight to suffer for all the headaches she had caused her, but actually seeing the other mare in such pain had shaken her. “A-are you all right, darling?” She finally leaned down.
Tears were running down Twilight’s cheek, and her right hind leg was twitching uselessly. “I-I’m fine, jus-” The collar picked up the lie, and Twilight’s body was once again twitching under the orb’s assault.
Without even thinking about maintaining her image as the tough interrogator, Rarity unlocked the collar and pulled it away, making Twilight gasp loudly in what she hoped was relief. Twilight’s lips were moving rapidly, and Rarity wasn’t entirely sure if it was a prayer or a long stream of curses. Damn it. This is not how this was supposed to go! She grabbed the orb and the collar. “GUARDS! MEDICS!” She tried to look in control when her staff arrived. “Give her something for the pain and make sure there won’t be any permanent or long-term effects.” She tossed the magic items at one of the guards. “And return those to the vault.”
Rarity didn’t even flinch when she saw Shining Armor standing in the observation room. The bulkier unicorn was staring through the one-way mirror, watching the medical team care for his sister. “This isn’t what I wanted,” she whispered.
“I know,” he muttered without looking at her. “And that’s the only reason why you’re still standing.”
On any other day, in any other situation, she would have scolded or even punished him for this, but tonight, she just sighed and nodded. The two unicorns stood side by side in silence for almost a minute. “She claims that she wants to seduce me. The sisters implied that that means she honestly wants me to be her beloved, going by her specific expectations of how romance works.“
He slowly turned his head to look at her. Then he made a show of looking at the medics treating his sister. “I presume you’re not interested.”
“This isn’t about my interests! It’s... it’s... you wouldn’t understand...” There was a long pause. He didn’t even bother to look at her. “I never had anypony who loved me,” she finally confessed. “Aside from my parents and sister, of course. I mean in a romantic sense.” Shining Armor gave her a quick sideways glance. “She’s... no prince in shining armor, if you’ll excuse the pun. Everything she did so far, she seemingly did to taunt me. I wanted to... I think I wanted to prove myself to her. Show her that I’m in charge. It broke my heart to see her on the floor, crying and in pain. She is smart and passionate, and I’m tempted to let her sweep me away, but... I’m not sure if I should let her. I’m not sure if I can let her.”
He stepped backwards and turned towards the door, grunting dismissively.
“Wait, please!” Rarity bit her lower lip. “Is... is this love? Do you think this could work? ...do you think I could make it work?”
He paused and half-turned towards her. She could see that he was at a loss for words. He finally shrugged before leaving the room.
Maybe I should’ve asked him that before tasering his sister. Rarity sighed and glanced through the one-way mirror. Twilight was back in a sitting position, and the medical staff was wrapping things up. She met them in the corridor and pointedly ignored their dirty looks, her Queen Empress mask firmly in place before her underlings. The door of the interrogation room clicked shut behind her, and the mask dropped. “Are you all right, darling?”
“Well, I can feel my legs again at least,” Twilight muttered and shook them experimentally. “Remind me to tell Princess Celestia that 25% is not ‘perfectly safe, albeit somewhat uncomfortable.’”
Rarity allowed herself a smirk. “Noted.” Her horn flashed up, and there was a slight hum coming from her Dominator Amulet as it produced a copy of itself. “Let’s try this on for size, shall we?”
“Oh no, I didn’t see this coming,” Twilight wailed mockingly before raising her chin. “Oh wait, I tota-” The golden chain wrapped itself around Twilight’s neck, and she wheezed slightly when she felt her willpower being overridden. “What a strange feeling...”
“I hereby compel you to tell me the full truth,” Rarity ordered, and she could see Twilight twitching slightly under the power of the amulet. “You can try to fight it, but not even the two princesses can resist this power.” Okay, not exactly true, but there is no need to tell her that those two are still openly mocking my power over them with their antics. “Let’s see if this works. Can you still tell a lie?”
“My name is Pri-... Priiiiiiuuuuhhhhh...” Twilight grimaced. “Priiiiii-” She took a deep breath. “Definitely feels weird... MY NAME IS PRRRRRR-TWILIGHT ASMODEUS SPARKLE.” She blinked.
Rarity did the same. “Twilight Asmodeus Sparkle?”
“My mother wanted a girl, my father wanted another boy. They decided to use both names, just in a gender-appropriate order.”
“...your father wanted to name his second son after a... what was it... a king of demons or something?”
“I know, right!?” Twilight was obviously happy that somepony shared her incredulity. “I’m not sure if that says more about my father or my brother, to be honest. I mean, Shining claims to be this icon of virtue, but by the time my parents had me, my father was ready to name me after a demon, so... yeah, no, not buying it.”
Rarity couldn’t help but smile at this. It was intriguing to see this mastermind suddenly be so... normal. “Well, if you play your cards well, you can ask him about this later. Until then, you will answer my questions.”
“You have questions?” Twilight immediately switched back into her cocky know-it-all mode. “And here I thought that you had managed to outwit me, and that I now had to beg you for the privilege of kissing your hooves.” She grinned. “Or did Ingared Ramnared somehow not tell you everything about my dastardly plans?”
Rarity’s smile froze. “You’re insufferable, you know that?”
“Yes, I do,” Twilight replied without hesitating, and Rarity wasn’t even sure if the Dominator Amulet had had to compel her. “I give you points for thinking far enough ahead to use the member list to your advantage. Did you also realize that the only real names on the list are Fluttershy’s, mine and his?” Her smile widened as Rarity’s vanished. “So you actually didn’t think to look for any other cutie marks aside from the one I delivered to you on a silver platter? That’s weak.”
Silver platter? What does she mean by-... Rarity’s eyes widened when she finally realized that she had only been able to take note of Mr. Doorstop’s cutie mark because he had been the only pony not wearing a robe for some reason. Also, the rest of the list is worthless. Thousands of cultists just slipped through my grasp unless I make her write down their names. ...although there is one pony left who might be more helpful... “Since you mentioned Fluttershy, darling... tell me where she’s hiding.” Twilight hesitated, undoubtedly trying to think of a way to dance around the question. Fortunately, Celestia and Nightmare Moon had pulled this trick so often on her that she recognized the tell-tale signs. “That’s a direct command. Answer the question.”
A shiver ran down the prisoner’s spine, and she gasped as the Dominator Amulet’s power surged through her mind. “I don’t know,” she finally wheezed.
“...what?” Rarity blinked and resisted the temptation to poke the amulet to check if it was broken.
Twilight laughed lightly. “I don’t know where she is. Told her to hide somewhere and not to tell me where to find her.”
“Because you anticipated that I’d use the amulet on you.” Heck, she had even told me as much last night. Well played, Twilight Sparkle...
“You know what’s really bad?” Twilight suddenly asked. “Being smart and not being challenged regularly. I think that’s the real reason why I keep gravitating towards ponies in power - you never run out of challenges when it comes to politics.” She shrugged. “Okay, and speaking of bad, there’s the issue where I had been looking for my special somepony, I suppose.” There was a pause, and Twilight was suddenly looking at something a hundred miles away. “I often cried myself to sleep. True loneliness is when you’re looking for your special somepony and know that all available candidates are just so... insignificant.” She looked down at the amulet. “Okay, wow, this enforced-truth thing is starting to become inconvenient...”
“Everything that happened so far had been part of your plan,” Rarity finally acknowledged the obvious truth, deciding to ignore Twilight’s sudden tangent.
“Well, aside from the Orb Of Torment part,” Twilight admitted. “I honestly didn’t see that one coming.”
“What about Fluttershy? Where does she fit into this?”
“Fluttershy is a wonderful pony who had somewhat eccentric visions for the future.” Twilight slowly tilted her head as she tried to put her feeling and experiences into just a few words. “She means well in the long run, but she was in desperate need of guidance when I ran into her. Stroke of luck, really. I had been on my way back here from the Crystal Empire when-” She stopped. “You know my backstory, right?”
“Celestia told me, yes.” She told me you pacified an immortal king while looking for a date.
“Ah, good! Well, I had been on my way back when I saw her handing out hoofwritten pamphlets inviting ponies to take part in blood sacrifice rituals. I was the first one who actually listened to her ramblings, and she showed me around. Can you imagine? She had actually drawn occult symbols on the floor of her cozy little cottage. Poor Angel bunny...”
Rarity gawked at that. “Fluttershy drew occult symbols with Angel’s blood?”
“What? No!” Twilight laughed lightly. “He was just trying to mop them up on his own because he at least had the common sense that you don’t sacrifice where you eat.”
“So you told her that-... no, wait. You didn’t tell her to organize a mass sacrifice because that’s not how it works.” She narrowed her eyes, trying to view all the events so far from the perspective of Twilight organizing a big show just for her. “The mass sacrifice was just a plan to force my hoof, wasn’t it?”
“Ah, it must be nice to have such limited vision...” Twilight blinked and looked down at the amulet. “Could you take this thing off? I’d like to be more subtle with my taunts.”
“You organized thousands of ponies into a cult and told them that there would be a mass sacrifice. You conned them. That is not limited vision, that’s just fact!”
“I didn’t con them. I conned you.”
“No,” Rarity hissed. “I knew a mass sacrifice would not summon Ugolhotll, I just didn’t know if you or Fluttershy were sane enough to know or care. I couldn’t risk you murdering the entire cult for nothing.”
“See?” Twilight beamed. “I conned you!”
“ARGH!” Rarity was sorely tempted to fling the table - or Twilight - across the room. “For the last time, you did not con me! I saw through it all, but for the sake of your cultists, I-”
“There are no cultists.”
“-couldn’t... risk... beg your pardon?”
“There are no cultists,” Twilight repeated patiently.
“...are you still compelled to tell the truth?”
“You ordered me to be, and there was no time limit, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t still be compelled. Then again, if I wasn’t, I could be lying right now, so-”
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, THERE ARE NO CULTISTS?”
“We made up the cult!” Twilight grinned, and Rarity briefly considered the possibility that either one of them was delusional. When Rarity didn’t say anything, she shrugged. “I convinced Fluttershy to seek a more... spiritual path to Ugolhotll. She’s a nice mare who still cares about you and all other ponies. So we decided to work together and reform the kingdom while at the same time getting me closer to you. All it took was one con, one false premise. You see, when I want to con you, I present you with the illusion of a choice, based on a premise. You make your decision based on that premise and hope you picked the right one. Should you raid the temple, just to be sure that the cultists are safe? Should you bet on Fluttershy not sending thousands of ponies into a senseless sacrifice? Or should you interrogate one of the guys you recognized and whose information you had thanks to the member list?” She got up and started to pace. “But you see, the truth about any good con is that the premise is already false. You fell for the con the moment you accepted that there is a cult to infiltrate and ponies to save.”
“But-” Rarity struggled to wrap her head around all of this. “But there were cultists!”
“There were ponies.”
“Ponies in cultist robes in the middle of the night, praising some stupid god and being told that there’d be a mass sacrifice!” Then she cringed. “Those were actors. You paid them to fool me.”
“Now you’re going in the right direction!” Twilight nodded happily. “But no, they were not actors. Actors need to be paid, money can be traced, and good luck finding that many passable actors in this town. Also, have you seen Fluttershy’s cottage? She’s not exactly rich. No, we leveraged a little bit of magic to find deeply religious ponies and then used a tiny hypnotic suggestion to redirect their devotion for a couple of hours.”
“You used mind-control on hundreds of ponies just to court me!?” I’m not even sure if I should feel flattered or weirded out.
Twilight hesitated. “Not... the way I would have put it, really...”
“So now there are hundreds of religious ponies who have to live with the memory of worshipping a false god?”
“No, no, that’s taken care of, don’t worry...” There was a slight edge in her voice; it was obvious that Twilight was becoming grumpy when others questioned her brilliance. “Their conversion of short-term to long-term memory was blocked.”
“...are you telling me that you not only mind-controlled, but also memory-wiped hundreds of ponies?”
“I didn’t wipe any memories! This is more like you telling Kibitz to take a note, and he plays along, but doesn’t actually do it.”
“You fudged with minds and memories of hundreds of ponies just to impress me? Darling, would you terribly mind if I suggested you take a remedial class in ethics?”
“Well, at least I didn’t travel to Tartarus to find a forbidden artifact in order to take over the entire-”
“Yes, yes, yes...” There was an awkward pause, and Rarity was starting to realize that Twilight’s script and plan seemed to have gotten weaker after the big reveal of her plans. Or maybe she just didn’t like being called out for messing with my subjects.
“Well then!” Twilight still seemed determined to play her part. “Shall we discuss the terms of your surrender?”
“My surrender?” Rarity smirked, unwilling to simply give up her position of power like that. “Darling, you are my prisoner, you just admitted that you have no cult to leverage against me, you have no magic, you are a slave to my commands... and you have not gotten into my head. I have a spell that lets me sleep without any silly dreams, and I can just let you rot in here until you accept who is in power here.” She held out a hoof, as if asking the other mare to kiss it.
There was a flicker of doubt in Twilight’s eyes, but it was quickly hidden behind a carefully neutral mask. “Oh, but you are wrong. I wield the most powerful magic of all!”
“Like what?” Rarity asked. “Friendship?”
“Oh, please...” Twilight once again moved in closer to bring her face close to Rarity’s. “The magic of love,” she finally whispered smiled warmly.
Rarity regretted her sharp laugh the moment it left her mouth. “The magic of love? Oh, darling!” She kept laughing even while her conscious mind was starting to realize that she was witnessing a defensive mechanism she hadn’t even known she possessed. “You executed a needlessly complicated plan, and this is the note you end it on? The magic of love?”
Twilight’s ears were pressed against her head, and Rarity could see that she had not just touched a nerve, but rammed a knife into it. “I-I thought-”
“Yes, wonderful.” Rarity turned to leave, ignoring the quiet voice inside her head that was begging her not to throw all of this away just because... Just because of what, actually? My fear of losing even the tiniest fraction of the power I have? I need to keep a cool head, and then we can talk this- “You think too much while some ponies here are quite busy doing things. But hey, maybe you can think of a way out of your cell.” -NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?
“No, wait! Please-”
Rarity slammed the door to the interrogation room shut behind her and instructed the guards to bring her to the most secure cell the palace had.
YOU... IDIOT! You power-hungry, self-obsessed, uncompromising IDIOT!
The voice was going to quiet down eventually. She was sure of it. Everything would be fine. “All hail the Queen Empress,” she whispered and wiped away a tear.