“Rarity! Awesome!” Rainbow's speedy entrance sounded like enormous thunderclaps in a small cave. She rocketed through an open window of Sugarcube Corner and skidded to a stop—just a few feet away from the bakery's counter where a certain Fashionista stood, finishing her order. “I'm so glad we finally ran into each other! I've been looking for you all day!”
“Mmmmm?” Rarity glanced over her shoulder. Upon seeing Rainbow Dash, her features paled twice over—if that was somehow possible. “Oh. Rainbow. It's you.” A prolonged exhale—she adjusted the weight of her saddlebags and looked over the counter. “But of course.”
“Soooooooooooo...?” Rainbow Dash leaned in, her meager eyelashes fluttering over a beaming grin. “Read any good books lately?”
“Yes... funny you should ask that,” Rarity droned.
“Huh?” Rainbow Dash blinked. “Funny?” She blinked again—harder this time. “How so?”
“Here ya go, Rarity!” Pinkie Pie shuffled up to the counter with a steaming mug. “Hot cocoa with extra marshmallows for the Marshmallow Mistress of our Marvelous Maretropolis!” Her bright blue eyes reflected a bright blue figure. “Oh hey Dashie!” It was her turn to waggle eyebrows. “How's our resident novelist doing today?”
“Yeah, about that...!” Rainbow fluttered her wings and strafed in mid-air to hover in front of Rarity's deadpan expression. “Well? How far did you get? What did you think? Should I publish now or wait until I put out a few short stories first?”
“Just—...!” Rarity closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then levitated her mug up from the counter. “...one thing at a time, Rainbow Dash.”
“Hey... uh... if this is a bad time or—?”
“No. The sooner we get this over with, the better.” Rarity delicately gestured across Sugarcube Corner and trotted towards a lone table. “Follow me, if you would.”
“Oh! Uhm... sure!”
“Anything I can get you, Dashie?” Pinkie Pie asked.
“Yeah!” Rainbow called over her flank as she flew after Rarity. “Strawberry smoothie! Extra whip cream!” She cracked the joints in her neck. “I'm feeling extra celebratory today!”
“Oki doki loki!” And Pinkie Pie went immediately to work.
With a long, feminine exhale, Rarity stripped off her backpack full of sewing supplies and slid into her seat.
Swoooosh! Rainbow Dash was squatting across from her in a blink. She had both forelimbs propping up her immortal grin.
“So...?” Rainbow's tail flicked left, right, left, right... “Where do you want to begin?”
“Hold that thought.” Rarity held the mug up to her muzzle and blew on the liquid's hot surfaces a few times. “A lady has her own ways of collecting her thoughts.”
“What's to think about?!” Rainbow grinned. “I'm betting that the words glued you to the pages with each paragraph! I mean... who else in the history of Equestrian literature has ever bothered to write something so... like... intense and real and awesome?!?”
“Rainbow Dash, darling...” Rarity looked up at her friend. “Have you ever heard of Stirrup's Law?”
Rainbow could only blink. “Huh?”
“One second.” Rarity took a dainty sip of her cocoa... followed by a second. “Mmmm...” A slight pause for an encouraging breath, and she leaned back in her seat. “Right. So... on to the novel...”
“Novella,” Rainbow corrected, winking. “See, that's fancy-speak for a mini-novel.” Her pegasus chest puffed out as she leaned back in her seat. “Can't sweep up all of Equestria by storm in my first publication, now can I?”
“Uhhhhhh huh...” Rarity's horn glowed as she levitated a relatively thin manuscript out of her saddlebag. Atop its front cover was a twelve-word title splayed out in grimy typewriter font, accompanied by Rainbow Dash's hoofprint signature. “Well, first off...”
“Lemme guess...!” Rainbow leaned forward. “You liked the main character?!” She leaned forward even more. “You liked the setting?!” She was practically drooling over Rarity's mug of cocoa. “You liked the colorful details?”
“... … ...” Rarity magically flipped through the entirety of the booklet floating in front of her. “... … ...the title... … ...”
“Yeah? Yeah?? Yeah???”
“It is quite honest.”
“I know, right?!”
A soft exhale of finality, and Rarity cut the magic field, dropping the manuscript like a paper anvil to the table top. “That's it.”
Rainbow Dash slumped back in her seat, blinking coldly. “... … ...that's it?”
“... … ...really?”
“Mmmhmm.” Rarity sipped from her mug again.
Rainbow Dash looked left. She looked right.
Rarity nibbled on a marshmallow, swallowed, and took another sip.
“How... uhm...” Rainbow rubbed the back of her head. “...how long did it take you to read?”
“I spent all of last week,” Rarity said. “Two reading sessions per day. Once in the morning and another at night.”
“You read twice a day for seven days.”
“That is right.”
“And after all that...” Rainbow's fuzzy blue face slowly formed a grimace. “...you only liked the title?”
Rarity wave a hoof. “Now I didn't say that.”
“But I thought—”
“I said the title was honest,” Rarity corrected. “That doesn't mean that it's necessarily a good thing.”
“But... like...” Rainbow's voice cracked as she shrugged dramatically. “H-how could it be a b-bad thing?!?”
“Because all you could ever get from the story is already declared in the title.”
“Simply put, it's a prolonged exercise in redundancy, darling...”
“But...” Rainbow Dash squeaked. “The story is actually about ponies being slowly eviscerated to death in a big rusty meat grinder!”
“Yes. As I said—an honest title—”
“Then what's the problem?”
Rarity huffed, trying her best not to roll her eyes. “Because I already knew going into the reading session precisely what I was going to experience. There was no room for surprise. No room for imagination. Virtually no room for deviation of any sort!”
“Okay. So... like...” Rainbow pointed. “What if I gave it an artsy-fartsy name? Like... Beloved or... Eat, Prance, Love?”
“The reading experience would still be an extraordinarily lengthy exercise in redundancy.”
“But... I-I thought the title was the big problem?”
“Oh no, dear, far from it.”
Rarity sipped from her mug and stared icily through the remaining vapors. “To put it bluntly, Rainbow Dash, your novella is a miserable experience.”
Rainbow winced. Hard.
“I'm sorry if that's not what you wanted to hear, darling, but I found it an absolute chore to keep reading—despite the strict regiment I gave myself.” Rarity's eyes traveled across the ceiling as she spoke. “Page after page after bloody page: detailing the horrific disembowelment of the main protagonist and her two foalhood friends after they've been collectively tossed into a torturous execution device by their wicked captors...”
“But...” Rainbow gulped, then put on a weak-yet-hopeful smile. “...what Merry Soup and her best friends experienced was—like—super sucky! I wanted the readers to feel that same misery with them! That was the whole point!”
Rarity nodded. “And I got that impression, Rainbow Dash. I did—”
“Wasn't I being very descriptive with the agony that they felt as their muscles and skin were peeled off?”
Rarity nodded again. “Yes. That you were...”
“And when they screamed for their mothers and fathers with what was left of their lungs—wasn't that pretty intense?”
Rarity sighed... and nodded once more. “No denial from me...”
“Then what's the big problem?” Rainbow's voice echoed raspily. “I-I was trying to capture the existential horror of facing a gruesome demise!”
“Of that I have no doubt—”
“Everypony is foaled into this world screaming and kicking and that's also the way we exit it!” Rainbow's eyes sparkled with an off-world onyx lustre. “There is no way to penetrate the opaque horror of the Great Unknown that awaits us all, and to make that departure in the most cruel and violent way possible is the epitome of suffering!”
“And I'm not debating any of that, Rainbow Dash...!” Rarity slapped her hoof against the resting manuscript a few times. “But there are far more artistic ways of conveying such messages!”
“Better than the way I did it?”
Rarity sighed. “The sequence of Merry Soup's best friend being grinded to a pulp lasts no less than thirty pages—”
“Just how many times are we given a description of her bones snapping? Hmmm?” Rarity opened to the middle of the draft where hoofwritten notches in red ink were practically drenching the sheets. “I took an official tally myself. I counted approximately six hundred instances where verbs, modifiers, and onomatopoeia implied the fracturing-and-or-shattering of the mare's bones.”
“Sounds about right!”
“... … ...Rainbow, there are only two hundred and five bones in a pony's body.”
“So? It's a giant rusty meat grinder!” Rainbow's forelimbs flailed before she casually leaned back. “It's not unrealistic for those same bones to snap twice!” A beat. She fidgeted slightly. “Or m-maybe three times...”
“And sound effects? Really?” Rarity gave her friend a dry glare. “Did you really have to apply a copious amount of comic book frivolities to an exercise in grim-dark prosaic literature?”
“Hey, I wanted to make the reader feel like they were really there!”
“Rainbow, darling, if you took out all of the annoying 'CRACKs' and 'CRUNCHes' and 'CRKKKKTSCHHHTs'...” Rarity's muzzle contorted to approximate each audible example. “Your second draft would be at least twenty percent shorter!” She blinked hard. Her pupils shrank as she slumped back in a moment of epiphany. “Oh dear Celestia, I think I've pierced reality.”
“Why would I wanna do that?!” Rainbow scoffed, forelimbs folded. “The more a pony has to read, the more they can glean from!”
“Sometimes, Rainbow Dash, brevity is the soul of wit.”
“That's Writing 101.” Rarity gestured. “The shorter the better. I know that you're rearing to become a budding young novelist. But... I do not believe that this is a particularly good start...”
“But...” Rainbow clenched her teeth, eyes sad and desperate. “...I really really really wanna write this moving story about Merry Soup and her exposure to existential horror!”
“Well...” Rarity calmly sipped the last of her cocoa. “...for that, you'd have to have a story, first.”
“You're telling me there's no story in my novella?!?”
Rarity gave Rainbow a dainty smile. “Edge for edge's sake isn't enough to cut it, darling.” She placed the mug down. “If you had tackled something like this in middle-school—like most ponies—then perhaps you would have learned that lesson ages ago. Alas, this is a new hobby. And new hobbies come with new lessons—most of them harsh.”
“For crying out loud,” Rainbow exhaled. Her mane became more and more frazzled. “I can't frickin' believe this!”
Pinkie Pie trotted up briskly with Rainbow's smoothie on a tray. “Here ya go, Dashie!” She slapped the glass down onto the table and hugged her tray to her fuzzy pink tummy, smiling proudly. “Don't sip it down too fast, though! Don't wanna freeze that super snazzy writer's brain of yours! Heeheehee!”
“Pinkie!” Rainbow spun in her seat to face Sugarcube's barista, smiling. “Help me out on this! Did you read my novella?”
“You mean your horrifically violent and disturbingly detailed exercise in snuff fetishization?”
“Uhhhhhhhhh...” Rainbow's eyes trailed, but she ultimately nodded. “Sure!”
“I did! Whew! So intense! Much sweats!” Pinkie swiped her brow with a wink. “Nothing like a good horror story to make one happy to be alive!”
“Hah!” Rainbow Dash slapped her hoof across the table. “That's more like it!” She threw Rarity a smug grin. “Whaddya know?! Second opinions are awesome!”
Pinkie Pie smiled to the walls of the room. “I especially liked the part where Merry Soup and her friends got horribly mangled to death in a giant meat grinder!”
“Tell me, Pinkie Pie...” Rarity slid her the empty mug. “...exactly where did that part take place?”
Pinkie took the mug, her muzzle drooping in thought. “Uhhhhhh...” She looked and looked and looked across Sugarcube Corner. “... … ...wasn't that all of it?”
Rarity leaned back. “Mmmhmmm.”
Rainbow bit her lip. “But... like...” She looked at Pinkie with round eyes. “...wasn't it awesome, at least?”
“Oh yeah! You bet! It served its purpose too!” Pinkie stood tall and proud. “At least three nights in a row—after a big dinner—Gummi and I read it in the bathroom while kneeling before a toilet so we could be hungry again for midnight snacks!”
“Ah jeez...” Rainbow leaned back, ears folded. “...Pinkie.”
“Ha ha ha! That was a bulimia joke!” Pinkie Pie leaned towards us, whispering. “Candle-stick head made him edit that out nine years ago.”
“But enough of that horse hockey!” Pinkie bounced merrily to the kitchen with Rarity's empty mug. “Here comes Fluttershy!”
The bell above the door rang as Fluttershy meekly entered the bakery. She carried a fluffy white bunny in the pocket of her saddlebag. “Okay, Angel. The coast is clear.” She crept slowly forward, as if crawling over broken glass. “Let's just get in, get our cupcakes, and get out before—”
“Fluttershy!” Rainbow dove from her seat and flew across the room. “Just the filly I wanted to see!”
“Oh no!” Fluttershy's everything drooped in the shadow of the incoming pegasus. “Oh no oh no oh no!” She clutched her skull. “It's too late! Run, Angel! Save yourself!!!”
With a prolonged scream, the bunny leapt out the nearest window and scampered for the hills.
Rainbow Dash slowed to a midair crawl, fidgeting above Fluttershy. “Let me guess...?”
“Okay okay okay...” Fluttershy collapsed to the floor, covering her sniffling face with her silky pink mane. “I tried, Rainbow Dash. I really tried...” She wept. “You're my friend and I love you and I want to see you succeed but... b-but I just couldn't make it through the first ten pages! I just couldn't!”
“Wait...” Rainbow's face morphed back into something crooked. “...you're telling me you couldn't even get through the first act?!”
“First?!?” Fluttershy blanched. “You mean there are more portions of the book where Merry Soup and her lovely friends get horribly mutilated?!?”
“I mean... yeah... there's like... five acts—”
“FIVE?!?” Fluttershy fell flat on her face, openly sobbing. “Ohhhhhhh the Equinity!!!” Tears formed a pool on the tile floor. “That poor... poor Merry Soup! She... she j-just wanted to go to a Daring Do convention!” More sobs—almost howling at this point. “Why did those big meanies have to coax her into a dark alley with the guise of taking a sample survey for the Wonderbolts fan club?”
“There there, Fluttershy, dear...” Rarity walked over and lovingly patted Fluttershy's withers. “It's just a first draft. First drafts cannot hurt you.”
“Easy f-for you to s-say!” Fluttershy sniffled, wiped her muzzle, and peeked up through her drooping bangs. “I was dry-heaving for hours in a row!” Hyperventilation. “Angel had to aim a fan at me and put an ice press to my forehead!” More panting. “I can't even look at a door handle without thinking about the rusty mechanisms and what they d-did to Merry Soup's poor friends!” She hugged Rarity close, shivering. “I spent a f-full day rambling to Discord about it. He said something about g-going to the deep web of the chaos realm to put a 'hit' on Rainbow Dash... whatever that means...”
Rarity sweated. “Uhm...”
“Oh Rainbow Dash...” Fluttershy cowered from the sight of the spectral pegasus. “Whatever could have made you write such a thing?!” Her pupils shrunk to horrified pinpricks. “Was it... … ...pinball games?!?”
“Cheese and crackers, Fluttershy!” Rainbow Dash shrugged. “I just wanted to... like... give everyone an artistic look at the horror of living!”
“I don't need a violent book telling me how horrible the world is!!!” Fluttershy bellowed, shoving her face into Rarity's shoulder. “I know how horrible the world is every daaa-aaa-aaaaaaaaaay...”
“Let it all out, dear...” Rarity nuzzle Fluttershy, smiling sweetly. “It's okay. No more proofreading for you.”
“This is insane...” Rainbow shook her head...
...just as a freckled figure trotted briskly into the room, carrying farm equipment over her shoulder. “Howdy, y'all!” She looked at Fluttershy's sobbing figure. “I see that Fluttershy's gripped in existential terror yet again.” She made a bee-line for the counter. “Anyways, fetch me a tall glass of ginger ale for the road! Extra bubbly!”
“You got it, duuuuude!” Pinkie Pie's voice echoed across the bakery.
“AJ!” Rainbow gasped.
The pegasus zooped over. “Please tell me you read my novella!”
“Afraid I can't do that, sugarcube.”
“Why not?” Rainbow blinked. “You... didn't read it?”
Applejack shook her head. “Eenope!”
“Did you at least try... ten pages?”
“... … ...not even one?”
“Did you even touch the stupid printout since I gave it to you?”
“Eenope! And dun care to, neither!”
“But...” Rainbow's everything drooped. “...why not?!?”
“Saw the title.” Applejack cracked her joints casually. “Didn't like it. Figured if the pages carried more of the same—then it'd be a heapin' waste of my time.” Pinkie slid her a cup of soda and she took a hearty sip. “Mmmmmm... sorry, Rainbow. But just t'ain't for me. Now...” She swiveled and smirked at her feathered friend. “...if you wrote somethin' more to the likes of 'The Apple Pilgrims and Their Bounty,' then I reckon I'd give that a gander. But until then... best of luck findin' yer muse!” She trotted briskly out the door—but not without reaching into her saddlebag and dropping a fruity morsel beside Fluttershy. “Here ya go, Fluttershy. Apple granola bar! Straight from Granny's kitchen!”
“Ooooooh!” Fluttershy sat up, beaming happily; all remnants of her sobfest had been obliterated by the freckled savior. “I absolutely adore Granny's apple granola bars!” She munched with rosy cheeks. “Mmmmm—thanks, Applejack! You're the best!”
“Darn tootin'.” And she was gone.
“Mmmmmmm... heeheeheee...” Fluttershy hugged the remains of the treat to her chest. “Life is gooooooooooooood...”
Rarity nodded at her. She slowly turned to face a dejected lump of blue fur in the corner of the bakery.
Rainbow Dash hung her head, sighing heavily every three seconds.
Rarity steeled herself, trotted over, and rested a hoof on Rainbow's shoulder. “Look, Rainbow, this is no reason to succumb to defeat. Especially over something as silly and drab as a first draft.”
“Writing... is a learning process.” Rarity gave a hopeful smile. “Much like sewing! You could slice a clean cut—the makings of the most geometrically acceptable dress, and still you won't manage to impress or inspire without exerting creativity, nuance, and improvisation. Your story is much like that! It's trying to accomplish something. But there's a difference between capturing a theme and sparking a concept! I know you've been very... spirited about this particular manuscript. But you won't achieve anything through cookie cutter simplicity. No, you must strive to be better... and that involves sacrifice. And sacrifice can hurt... especially if it means giving up what is—quite simply—a first, novice attempt. And yet... there's always room for improvement so long as you apply yourself again and again... yes?”
Rainbow Dash took one last deep breath. With a warm expression, she sat up and gazed skyward out the nearest window.
“Nah,” she said.
Rarity blinked. “Buh.”
“Writing sucks. I'm done with writing.” Rainbow Dash stood up, cracking her neck and wing muscles. “Think I'll take up drawing instead.”
“Uhm... are you sure of that?”
“Yeah! How hard can it be?! Just put a pen to paper and draw lines until they meet!” Rainbow turned around. “Just gotta find some clients who'll commission me...” She stared and stared out the bakery's front door—until at last she brightened. “Hey! Spike! Hold on a sec!” She flew out in a blue blur. “Tell me! Who would you like to see in a dress? Big Mac or Shining Armor?!”
Rarity stood in place, fanning herself. “Ah well... all the more work for moi to get done!” She trotted back to her table. “Oh, Pinkie Piiiiie!” she sing-songed. “Would you like to chat with me while I sew some mittens? Maybe share a plate of muffins?”
“Sure thing, Rarity!” Pinkie's voice called down—suddenly from upstairs. “I'll be hungry in a sec!”
Sugarcube Corner reverberated with the sound of a toilet flushing.