In her five hundred years of undeath, Rarity had developed an eye for beauty surpassing that of any mortal's.
As she flew above the streets of Manehattan, her elegant leathery wings flapping madly to keep her aloft, she glanced down with her supernaturally-enhanced sight, taking in each and every detail of the slums below. This was the Harbour District, a dirty, smelly place that Rarity's keen senses were unfortunately all-too-aware of. Of course, it was also a place where a lone bat flying above the ponies milling about wouldn't be noticed.
Still, she could see so much potential that she'd been blind to before her rebirth. The stallion toiling away at the forge could look every bit the noble with a good shave and a well-fitted suit.
The filly trying to sell the last of her family's daily catch would attract far more customers if she cleaned up just a skosh to reflect the quality of her wares.
And as for the mare of the night standing on the corner of Third and Meadowbrook... well, Rarity hadn't fed in quite a long while, and she was sorely tempted to mix business with pleasure and solicit her services for a few hours and a delectable meal. For a generous tip, of course.
Who knew, perhaps she would even learn something from her as well — even after all these centuries, Rarity was still always ready to improve her skills in all the crafts that interested her.
Still, the centuries had also taught her never to ignore a summons from a Pie. She shivered, remembering the time she'd put off reading a letter from Granite a hundred years ago, and woken up the next day with her lovely mansion ablaze and many angry ponies outside carrying pitchforks and stakes and attacking anything even vaguely batlike in the sky.
Her reverie was broken by her arrival at the dockyards. Rarity flew down behind a nearby building, dodging the plumes of toxic, sickening fumes belching from the rows of chimneys dotting its roof like pockmarks. This had once been a cozy little tavern, and had served the finest cod fritters. Though Rarity would never have admitted to tasting one, if she were in polite company.
Alas, like many things Rarity held dear, it was gone now, replaced with another sunforsaken factory producing more of those ghastly war machines that the ponies had recently become enamoured with.
Rarity shook her head as she landed. Ponies lived such short lives, and yet they were always inventing new ways to cut them even shorter. It was all so silly, and Rarity wanted no part of it.
She channelled her supernatural magic and felt her body return to its usual — and sharply dressed, of course — form. Taking a moment to brush out her stylish autumn dress, she strode forwards with purpose, heading for the one pier that wasn't housing any anchored ships at the moment. At least, no visible ships.
A few sailors shouted out catcalls at her, and Rarity considered taking a moment to teach them some manners. Still, the missive in her pocket — written with only a single colour of crayon instead of the whole rainbow, a true sign of the author's distress — urged her to ignore them and file the lessons on etiquette away for later. She walked up to the end of the pier and let her superior eyesight spot the tiny periscope extending out of the dark waters.
"Yoo-hoo! I'm here, Captain Pie, and I'm ready to dazzle your crew!"
She struck a pose, knowing that she was being watched. A moment later, the waters began to froth and roil as a sharp metal tip protruded from the surface, followed by a bulbous swirl of tempered steel spiralling outwards like icing on a cake.
The rest of the naval monstrosity rose up, revealing a large cylindrical body that, combined with the swirling top, looked almost like a giant metal pie topped with whipped cream. From what little Rarity knew of hydrodynamics, this shape was absolutely atrocious for any type of ship, even one that swam underwater, but then again, it did suit its captain well enough.
The sound of sliding metal filled the air as a hatch opened above her and a rope ladder was slung over the side. Rarity sighed and climbed up, trying not to think about when the ladder had last been cleaned, then jumped down the hatch and into the darkness within.
She landed with a dainty thud onto a giant plush cupcake, and looked around to see that things had not changed much since her last visit. Brass, iron, and steel mingled together in a cacophony of hissing boilers, valves, and pipes that formed a puzzle that Rarity could not even begin to unravel. Adding to the crimes against good taste was the captain's horrendous sense for interior decor, exemplified by the bright pink walls. This time, she had even added smiling faces to various surfaces in garish yellow paint.
Said captain was also offensively pink, waving at her with an exuberance normally found only in foals. Which was apt, Rarity supposed.
"Rarity!" Pinkie Pie exclaimed, pronking up to her. "How do you like the new look? I thought the Natilla needed a little cheering up after we had to save that white whale from that angry stallion with the harpoon and the peg leg."
"It's... thematically appropriate," Rarity replied politely, trying her very best not to actually look at the designs. "It's good to see you again, Pinkie." At least she could say those words with sincerity. The captain of the Natilla might have been an odd mare, but Rarity found her company delightfully entertaining, a fiery balm to soothe the boredom of her eternal existence.
"Aww, it's good to see you too, my little bloodsucker!" Without any trace of fear, Pinkie leapt at Rarity and trapped her in a crushing hug. Rarity savoured the sensation — as much as she enjoyed being the mysterious and dangerous lady who stalked in the shadows, it was good for the soul to have a friend who wasn't scared of her.
"So, what sort of dreadfully important information do you have to share with me?" Rarity asked when Pinkie finally released her. "You seemed quite distraught in your letter."
Pinkie frowned. "Oh, yeah," she said in what counted as a subdued tone for her. "I got a doozy this morning."
Rarity cocked her head to the side. "A doozy?"
"Twitchy tail, ear flop, leg cross, ear flop again, flank shivers." As she gave her explanation, Pinkie acted out the motions, a strange dance whose style Rarity had become familiar with.
"And what does that portend, pray tell?" she asked, not well-versed in the language of the Pinkie Sense.
"I have absolutely no idea," Pinkie replied with a shake of her head. "I just know something really, really, really big is coming, and it's going to change everything, and..." she trailed off, her frown deepening with a fear that Rarity had never seen before on the intrepid captain's face, not even in the face of certain death. "And I'm really worried, Rarity."
The dread in her chest lifted. "Oh, Pinkie," she said gently, raising up a hoof to stroke her cheek gently. It was the same comforting gesture she'd used when the captain had been just a silly little filly who loved spending time with her Auntie Rarity and was still scared of the dark. "One thing I've learned in my many centuries of existence is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There's no need to worry about the future, child. I'll still be here to give you fashion advice that you simply refuse to heed, just as I always have."
As she spoke, Rarity's ears perked up as her eyes saw a nearby towel sway back and forth all of a sudden. She scanned the room for an intruder but found nothing, even as her other senses screamed at her.
"It's different this time," Pinkie said quietly, unaware of the new presence in the room. "I know you've been around a long time and seen a lot, but the stuff we ran into when we sailed to the East..." she shook her head. "The creatures there are getting ready for war, and so are we. The factories aren't making fun things anymore, they're making things that explode in a bad way and shoot things that can hurt ponies. Even you."
"Ponies have been making weapons since the sun first rose." Rarity could see the dust on the floor swirl about as something unseen cut a path around Pinkie Pie. "And while I'm far from invincible, I've managed well enough until now."
Pinkie shook her head. "You didn't see the automated guns they were building. It's not something you can just run from or fly around."
A whisper of air passed across Rarity's fur, the only cue she had before something rushed past in an attempt to get behind her. Fortunately, it was the only cue she needed, as her hoof shot out with supernatural quickness, causing whatever it was to slam into her back leg and tumble to the ground.
Said prankster also suddenly became visible to Rarity's enhanced eyesight, as if she'd materialized from thin air. "Rainbow Dash," Rarity said primly to the pegasus mare lying on the ground with a scowl on her muzzle, "how kind of you to drop in. I presume that you were the one to deliver Pinkie's letter to me?"
Rainbow Dash nodded. "'Course it was me. Betcha didn't see me hanging around your place either, huh?" She beamed, her body continuing to vibrate and make her look almost transparent.
"I did not," Rarity said with genuine admiration. "A new trick, I presume?"
"Yup." Once again, Rainbow Dash vanished, no sign of her presence beyond the sound of her voice coming from every direction. "I figured out how to change how fast I vibrate, so that even you can't see where I am."
She materialized next to Pinkie Pie, who clapped her hooves together politely. "And I can slow down a bit too, so that normal ponies can finally see me. I'm only the Invisible Mare when I wanna be, now."
"My sincere congratulations." Rarity gave her an approving nod. "I take it your journeys with Captain Pie were fruitful, then?"
Rainbow Dash nodded in return. "Oh yeah. We got a ton of stories to tell you and a bottle of water from Shangri-Llama, where everyone living there is like hundreds of years old. Turns out it's just water, but hey, still pretty cool, huh?" Her expression grew sombre at that. "Not all our adventures were good, though. You should listen to the captain — we barely escaped with our lives way too many times for even my tastes."
"Really?" Admittedly, that was something concerning to Rarity. Though, with Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash, such a thing might only have been natural.
"I'm sure Pinkie can tell you all about their war machines." Dash shivered. "Don't wanna go up against one of those horseless iron carriages ever again, even if they're slow. Anyways, I gotta run. I heard that there's some giant wolf terrorizing the countryside, and I gotta make sure Fluttershy is okay."
"May Harmony protect you, Rainbow Dash." Rarity barely had the chance to finish speaking before a prismatic blur shot past her and out of the Natilla. She took a moment to suppress her annoyance before addressing Pinkie again. "You really are worried, aren't you?"
"My Pinkie Sense is never wrong," the captain replied quietly.
"Be that as it may, I highly doubt we're in any more danger than we've always been," Rarity replied. "And besides, I have you to keep me safe from any modern threats. After all, it was you who told me how to bypass the Flim-Flam brand bioelectric scanners on Blueblood's house last Nightmare Night. I'm certain that I can come to you for help if those ghastly war machines ever get pointed in my direction."
Before she could say any more, there was a knocking on the side of the ship, the metallic thud echoing through the room.
Pinkie perked up at that. "Oh, right!" she said, shaking her head. "I forgot I had somepony coming over for a pickup. Sorry, this'll just be a sec." She called out towards the hatch. "Come in! We're open for business!"
More thuds as someone climbed up the ladder. A moment later, Rarity heard a shrill cry as a unicorn mare fell awkwardly onto the cushions below.
In her mortal life, Rarity wouldn't have given the mare wearing a frumpy labcoat and looking like she hadn't groomed herself in weeks a second thought, but the perspectives of immortality had taught her to see beyond presentation and into what really mattered.
And this mystery mare was very much somepony to take notice of.
Rarity had known many scholars in her time. They were usually easy prey, what with their tendency to live alone, and also had the highest chance of providing her with an interesting conversational partner. She could see the scholar's glint in this mare's eyes, the hunger for knowledge that shone through as she devoured her surroundings with her mind, seeing so much more than even Rarity could.
Her absolute lack of embarrassment at her current state also told Rarity that she wasn't the type seeking glory or fame, that she didn't care how she appeared to those around her. Even if she couldn't understand not caring about how one looked, she could respect the dedication to the craft over the opinions of others.
Coupled with a body and face that could capture the eyes of a queen with the right ensemble, and Rarity quickly found herself very curious as to who this mare was.
"I think you forgot to put up the ladder on the other side again, Pinkie." She spoke with a cultured accent, even if her words were casual. A child of Upper Canterlot, no doubt, raised amongst the nobility.
"It's more fun this way, Twilight," Pinkie replied simply, as if that was the only reason she needed.
Rarity noted that Twilight didn't even bother to argue the point, simply sighing with a resignation that Rarity sympathized with. It was also at this point that the scholar seemed to notice her presence. "Oh, hello," she said, eyeing Rarity with an intense gaze that she had no doubt was normal for her. "I'm sorry, am I interrupting something?"
"Not at all," Rarity replied smoothly. "The captain and I were just engaging in some old-fashioned gossip." She curtsied towards the newcomer, every move elegant and practiced. "Lady Rarity of House Platinum, at your service."
"Doctor Twilight Sparkle," the mare replied. "I'm just here to pick up something from Captain Pie." She turned to face Pinkie. "Do you have the apparatus I mentioned?"
"Right here!" Pinkie Pie reached behind one of the many boilers and pulled out an intricate device made of copper and steel with wires spiralling out from various holes drilled into it. "I made a few teensy changes to the schematics you sent me to improve the sensitivity. Like, I changed the central conductor to be gold instead of copper and I twisted these wires together to reduce crosstalk."
"What an odd-looking contraption," Rarity noted as Doctor Sparkle eagerly took the device in her magic. "Whatever is it for?"
There was a pause as the scholar fixed Rarity with that analytic look once again. Likely trying to judge her knowledge of the sciences to determine how much detail to give.
Fortunately, Pinkie saved her the trouble. "It's a high-precision galvanometer!" she explained excitedly. "It uses a set of parallel cores to amplify the incoming current so that even the teensiest amount of electricity can be measured!"
Rarity let out an appreciative hum. "A clever use of the laws of electromagnetic induction."
Twilight Sparkle shot her a curious glance. "Are you also a scientist, Lady Rarity?" There was no surprise in her voice, only a simple desire to know if Rarity was like her.
Unfortunately, Rarity had to disappoint. "I'm afraid not, Doctor Sparkle. I have some knowledge of the fundamentals of natural philosophy, but I'm nowhere near being able to understand the processes that allow this remarkable vessel to function underwater for such extended periods of time. Why, I can't even imagine the engineering required to keep this marvel operational for a journey of twenty thousand leagues under the sea!"
Twilight Sparkle smiled. "It never ceases to amaze me that this ship operates entirely without magic. The science of Machinery has advanced so far since the time we were born."
"It certainly has," Rarity said with a knowing smile. "And Captain Pie possesses a mastery of the subject unlike anything I've ever seen."
A nod from Twilight. "When I first drafted up the schematics for this improved galvanometer, I knew that Pinkie Pie was the only one capable of creating something with this level of precision."
"Aww, I love you girls too!" Pinkie exclaimed, giving each of them a quick hug. "I'm so lucky to have friends like you."
"I am the one grateful to call you my friend," Rarity replied. She then turned to Twilight. "So, what do you need with such a sensitive instrument? It doesn't seem the type of device you'd attach to a kite in a thunderstorm."
"I hope to use it to better measure animal electricity," Twilight explained. "I believe that it will be the final key in unlocking the secrets of life and death."
Rarity raised an eyebrow at that. "How bold of you, Doctor. And just what makes you so certain that you will succeed where so many others have failed?"
"Well, for one, I have the shoulders of many giants to stand on. Each pony who failed before me still made valuable contributions to the scientific world, and now, finally, we're at the dawn of a new age." There was a fanatic's conviction in Twilight's voice as she spoke. "Science has advanced to the point where we have answered nearly every question known to ponykind. We understand the diffraction of light as a product of its wave nature. We understand the coupling of electricity and magnetism. And we've unified enchantment and illusion under a single set of principles."
She raised her nose smugly. "It's only a matter of time before we finally clean up the final loose ends like the photoelectric effect or X-rays. Really, the only grand mysteries left to solve are the origins of life and magic, and perhaps to reverse death with that knowledge."
Rarity laughed. She couldn't help it, even knowing how rude it was. "My, my, my. Spoken like a true alchemist of old, Doctor Sparkle. You seem very certain that there is no more on heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy."
Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes in response. "As I recall, Spear Shaker was talking about ghosts in the context of that line."
"And as I recall, science has yet to explain their existence." It was mean, but Rarity couldn't help it. It was far too much fun riling up the academic.
"Please don't tell me you're one of those ponies who believe in the supernatural," Twilight groaned, shaking her head. "I don't get why anyone still thinks that ghosts or werewolves or alicorns actually exist when time and time again all evidence in favour of their existence has been discredited."
It was actually adorable how fervent the doctor was acting. Rarity found her heart lightening as she was driven to continue goading her. "Perhaps some of us simply want to believe that there's more to the world than the mundane. That there's something special out there to spice up our boring, predictable lives and return to us the feeling of marvel and wonder at seeing something truly awe-inspiring. What say you to that, darling?"
"I say that ponies who think that what's already here is boring need to open up their eyes, since they're clearly blind. We're creating marvels every day without any paranormal help, using the power of science. Captain Pinkie Pie is a great example of that." With a passionate fire burning in her eyes, Twilight Sparkle gestured at Pinkie and their surroundings. "Look at where we're having this conversation. A metal ship built entirely using Earth Pony magic and nothing else, capable of sailing at unheard-of speeds while deep underwater. That is a true marvel for the ages."
Twilight's words were captivating, and Rarity couldn't tear her gaze away from Twilight as the doctor continued speaking. "Frankly, I think it's insulting to the hardworking scientists and artificers to claim that we need something beyond reality to make life interesting. To say that you need aliens to exist for the world to be interesting is to devalue Captain Pie's hard work and ingenuity."
For the first time in more years than she could remember, Rarity found herself struck speechless as she considered Twilight's words.
Even if Twilight was wrong about the nonexistence of the supernatural, it was true that Rarity often considered herself more special than "normal" ponies like Pinkie Pie because of her affliction. And yet, she had gained her abilities by simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Pinkie Pie, on the other hoof, had worked hard and leveraged that brilliant mind of hers to construct the Natilla.
In light of that, who was truly deserving of awe?
Intelligence, passion, and beauty were so rarely found together, and Twilight Sparkle had managed to change the way she saw her dearest friend while possessing all three, it seemed.
"I—I suppose you may have a point," she finally allowed once she regained her senses. "Still, you must admit that there are far too many accounts of things beyond our understanding to be dismissed."
"Actually, I think you'll find that we're constantly finding perfectly rational explanations for those phenomena. Swamp gas, illusion spells, mind-altering drugs, and just straight-up lying tend to cover most cases," Twilight replied.
"I dunno, Twilight," Pinkie Pie interjected, absently drawing a circle on the floor with her hoof. "I saw a lot of crazy things in the East. Like, there was this one mage, Sunset Shimmer. She's supposed to be over sixty years old, but she doesn't look a day over twenty-five. And when I looked at her reflection in the mirror, it looked really old, like she was sucking the age out of it."
"Glamour spells," Twilight said simply. "It's impossible for them to affect reflections. This Sunset Shimmer was just vain, not immortal."
"And what of the murders in the Rue Morgue over in Prance?" Rarity asked. "The poor victims were killed by some creature far stronger than any normal pony."
"Actually, I recently heard that the murderer in that case was apprehended. Turns out it was an orangutan that escaped from a local menagerie." A smug smirk formed on Twilight's muzzle. "What's next, are you going to tell me that cult leader — Starlight Glimmer, I think her name was — actually travelled to a future where ponies were divided into two castes, one of which were ravenous monsters, and that's why she's so set on trying to bring about equality now?"
"Admittedly, that one is rather far-fetched," Rarity allowed. Sensing that this conversation was rapidly losing its entertainment value, she decided to go for the kill, figuratively speaking. "What about vampires? What does your logic say about their existence?"
That one got a chuckle out of Twilight. "Well, that one's easy enough to understand. A seductive, bloodsucking creature of the night is an easy way to explain away infidelity and bite marks on the neck, which I'm given to understand are a byproduct of such encounters. From there, it's easy enough to see how a fantasy like that might appeal to lonely mares and stallions."
Rarity smiled as she made her eyes and voice smoulder. "And what about you, Doctor Sparkle?" she asked, letting her voice grow low and husky. "Do such fantasies entice your mind, or other parts of your physiology?"
"O-Of course not," Twilight Sparkle stammered, and Rarity decided to claim the trembling in her voice as a victory.
"Of course not," Rarity repeated, "you're a mare of science, after all."
"Yes," Twilight said, seeming to regain her composure. "And science will soon purge the world of silly superstitions. Besides, even if alicorns or vampires existed, I doubt they'd be much of a threat against modern technology."
"Oh?" Rarity perked up at that.
"I mean, as distasteful as I find the use of science to advance warfare, I have to admit that modern engineering has created weapons that far surpass anything our ancestors could have thought of when they first came up with such stories. I even have a few advanced electromagical security measures set up in my own home, and I dare any vampire to try to get through that." The smugness in Twilight's tone lit a fire in Rarity as it grated against her ears.
"Umm..." Pinkie said, glancing worriedly between them.
"Ah, yes, Pinkie," Rarity interrupted. "You were telling me all about these band new weapons being created by both Equestria and those brutes in the East, yes?"
"They're no joke, Rarity," Pinkie said. "Things are getting really hairy between the different countries, and I'm really worried about all of us. Especially those of us who are daring vampires to come eat them," she added, shooting a glance at Twilight.
"I prefer to worry about actual threats to Equestria." Twilight scoffed. "Like the arms race that Pinkie no doubt saw both sides of in her adventures. It's going to get ugly if a war breaks out, and I need to make sure my research pans out before that, so if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my lab."
She walked over to Pinkie and gave her a quick hug. "Thanks, Pinkie. I'll make sure to let you know how the galvanometer works out." She then turned to Rarity and gave her a polite nod. "Have a good evening, Lady Rarity."
"It was a pleasure speaking with you," Rarity replied with equal politeness. "I hope to have the opportunity to do so again soon."
Twilight didn't respond to that, instead taking her little instrument in her magic and climbing out of the Natilla.
"Well, she seems like a fine young mare," Rarity commented after she was left alone with Pinkie once again.
"She is!" Pinkie chirped helpfully. "We met at the World's Fair last year when I was showing off my new portable chocolate fudge pastries — you know, the Brownies — and she helped me adapt Mr. Bell's telephonic communications system for the Natilla after we watched The Great and Powerful Trixie's magic show together."
"I see." Rarity hiked up her dress and strode towards the exit. "Well, it's been lovely seeing you again, Pinkie, but I'm afraid I must also take my leave."
"Aww, but you just got here!" Pinkie whined. "I didn't even get yo tell you about our visit to the Opera Populaire!"
"I'd love to hear how the daroga's old nemesis is doing, but I haven't fed in quite a while, and I think your little scientist colleague just issued me a challenge."
"Rarity." Pinkie's eyes narrowed. "Twilight's a friend."
"I won't kill her, I swear." Rarity began making a familiar series of gestures. "Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye. I just want to expand her horizons and prove to both of you that all this newfangled technology doesn't hold a candle against the old powers."
A sigh issued forth from Pinkie's lips as she seemed to deflate. "Just don't eat her, okay?"
Fangs gleamed in the torchlight as Rarity smiled back. "No promises. She is quite fetching, after all."
With that, she channelled the unnatural magic coursing through her body into a simple, impossible spell and reshaped her form in a cloud of shadows. When she emerged, she was once again a bat flapping about within the hull of the Natilla.
She chirped at Pinkie, who waved back, still looking worried. "Be careful, Rarity. We still don't know what that doozy is about."
Another chirp from the bat, and then Rarity was flying out into the Manehattan night again.
The factories continued to belch their noxious fumes into the night as she took to the skies, scanning the streets until she found Twilight Sparkle trotting towards the Upper East side of Manehattan, in the same direction as her own manor. For a moment, she wondered if she lived alone — family would make things more complicated, but she could adapt. And if she had a lover waiting for her at home... well, she was adaptable in regards to such things as well.
On and on she travelled, not even bothering to spare a glance upwards. Typical unicorn behaviour. They thought that all threats would face them on an even battlefield, as honourable mares did.
Rarity was going to have so much fun educating the pretty little scientist.
Twilight Sparkle finally arrived at her home, which was located a scant fifteen minutes' trot from Rarity's own. Unlike the other houses on the street, which were lit only with magefire, this place was covered in wires attached to torches which glowed with a mixture of incandescent lights and magical flames.
The unicorn mare walked up to the front door and pressed her glowing horn against the lock. Then, to Rarity's surprise, she also placed her hoof against a metal panel on the side of the door. There was a whirring of clockwork and a pulse of magic followed by the opening of the entrance. As Twilight stepped inside, Rarity flew in circles above the manor, looking for another way in.
This wasn't her first rodeo, as an old friend of hers would've said, and she quickly found an open chimney to glide down. Keeping Twilight's words about security in mind, she focused on all of her senses, using her eye for detail to try and spot anything that might be out of the ordinary.
There, anchored against the interior of the shaft. A detection spell. Easy enough to dispel, but good for deterring pegasi who were trying to fly in.
Still, Rarity thought to herself as she quickly fired off the spell to disable it, it wasn't out of the question for a skilled unicorn to make it down here. The good doctor must have anticipated that as well. How did she account for... ah. So that's why the walls were lined with metal studs. Rarity could hear the hum of machinery behind them, and assumed that any amount of pressure placed against the studs would trigger a defence mechanism of some sort.
Fortunately, she was small enough to not have to worry about pressing against them. Twilight Sparkle may have been clever, but her belief in the limitations of ponies would ultimately be her undoing. Rarity's fangs already ached with the anticipation of biting into that sweet flesh and asserting her dominance over the sweet little scientist.
About halfway down, she discovered yet another security measure, this one consisting of a pair of enchanted mirrors. Rarity nearly laughed as she flew past the optical detectors without any issue, on account of not casting a reflection capable of triggering the detection spells woven into the silvered glass. This really was far too easy.
Of course, that was the very moment that Rarity was forced to eat her words.
A wave of magic far stronger than anything she had felt in at least fifty years slammed into her like a brick wall, and it was all she could do to resist its effects. Her magical strength had been average at best as a unicorn, but her transformation had given her access to unnaturally large thaumic reserves, which now strained to prevent the magic in the chimney from overwhelming her.
She was so focused on fighting back against the magical defences that she was completely unprepared for the electric current that suddenly coursed through the air — and her body. Rarity's whole world became pain as her entire body pulsed with invisible fire, blanking her mind and cutting off her spellcasting.
A second later, the magic consumed her, and Rarity fell into blessed unconsciousness.
"Subject was found inside the fireplace with no signs of life approximately ten minutes ago."
The analytic voice of Doctor Twilight Sparkle was the first thing Rarity heard when she regained consciousness. Keeping her eyes closed, she held herself perfectly still, trying to puzzle out what exactly was going on before she took any actions and revealed her alert state.
She could feel something hard and metallic wrapped around each of her hooves, as well as a magic-suppressing ring on her horn. Well, she didn't need magic to break these bonds.
"Despite appearing to have suffered no external signs of injury, a cursory analysis of the defensive measures indicates that the inductive field detector was triggered, though the magical wards were dispelled and the optical detector did not trigger despite still being active. The electromagical payload was delivered into the shaft of the chimney, but no electrical burns were found on the subject, though the intended restraints did manifest themselves onto her body."
There was a clacking followed by the sound of something metallic being picked up. "I will now begin the dissection with an incision across the—"
And that was Rarity's cue to end this lovely little charade. Her eyes shot open and took in the sight of Twilight Sparkle looking delightfully menacing with a scalpel held in her magical grip. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to put a stop to your fun, darling," she said pleasantly. "I'm usually not the one bleeding during these encounters."
The mortal unicorn's eyes widened. "You're alive!" she exclaimed. "You're alive!"
"About that." Rarity shot Twilight a predatory smile as she pulled against the cuffs and...
Rarity pulled again, but the chains held firm. She put all of her supernatural strength into her hoof as she yanked with full force and...
"How are you still alive?" Twilight asked, seemingly oblivious to her struggles. "You weren't breathing, and you had no pulse when the failsafe brought you here."
"If you'll just release me, I assure you I can explain everything." Technically, she wasn't lying. Rarity did intend to explain to Twilight what exactly she was; it was just that she believed in showing over telling.
Her captor raised an eyebrow. "Umm, you tried to break into my home," she said. "Medical mysteries aside, I don't think it would be very smart for me to let you go."
Rarity gave the chain she was attached to another tug. "My goodness, what are these made of? I can't even warp them when I pull!"
"It's a new alloy made with purified alum and cavarite, which is several times stronger than steel," Twilight explained. "Pinkie Pie was nice enough to share the recipe with me before her last trip."
"She's a dear," Rarity murmured, idly wondering if Pinkie had been aware of this alloy's ability to contain her when she'd told Twilight about it. That mare could be inscrutable even at the best of times, and Rarity suspected that she only knew a tenth of her motivations at any given time.
"She really is," Twilight agreed before her expression hardened. "So, Lady Rarity, would you mind telling me what exactly you were doing in my house and why you aren't dead right now?"
"And deprive you of the joy of uncovering my secrets for yourself?" Right now, Rarity needed to buy time, to find some way to escape from her current predicament. "I could never be so cruel, doctor. So, Twilight — may I call you Twilight? I feel as though being chained to a table in your home affords me a certain degree of intimacy that would allow us to ignore our respective titles."
They were in a lab of some kind. There were plenty of scientific instruments Rarity had seen Pinkie use before, and several more that were new to her. A mirror was set up behind Twilight, allowing her to see that the doctor had a whole cart filled with surgical tools. She could do a lot of damage with one of those, but her magic was still locked away by the ring placed on her horn. Curse this form's reliance on it to channel magic!
When Twilight didn't answer her question, Rarity continued speaking. "So, Twilight, you have quite the mystery on your hooves, n'est-ce pas? A mare with no external injuries who appeared to be deceased only moments ago. It's enough to make you consider answers beyond the realm of your sciences."
Twilight scoffed. "Please, Lady Rarity, you're not seriously saying that you're some kind of supernatural creature, are you? What, is this all a trick to make me believe in smoke and mirrors?"
"You checked my pulse yourself," Rarity pointed out, shifting her head slightly to test the horn ring. It wasn't secured very tightly — if she could dislodge it, then she'd have her magic back at the very least.
"There are plenty of drugs that can induce a death-like state," Twilight countered. "Spear Shaker himself used one as a plot device in one of his plays, as you may recall."
"Well, if you wanted to see if I've taken that particular poison, you could always take a page out of The Bard's playbook and see if there's any trace of it on my lips." Even in her current position, Rarity took pride in being able to make her voice smoulder. "A smart mare like you ought to recall how that particular test went."
"Lady Rarity!" Oh my, was that a blush forming on Twilight's cheeks? How adorable! "I am not going to kiss you!"
"Please, just Rarity will do."
"Rarity," Twilight said, exasperated. "I'm not going to kiss you."
Rarity sighed. "Well, one cannot blame a girl for trying." A smile tinged her lips as she figured out an opening she could use. "Too bad — if you had kissed me, you'd know my heart still wasn't beating."
Of course, Twilight was unconvinced. "I could just run a diagnostic spell on you from a distance, you know." Her horn glowed, and she frowned. "What?"
"Oh dear, are you having trouble, Twilight?"
Twilight groaned. "Will you please stop playing games with me and tell me how you're managing to feign death so well that you can fool a Triage spell?"
"Why, it's elementary, as an old rival of mine would say." Rarity's smile grew. "He also told me something else you may find quite useful. Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth."
"The Great Detective died when I was six," Twilight retorted. "There's no way you could have been rivals with him."
"How flattering of you to believe that!" It was a shame she was bound like this, or else Rarity would have struck a pose at those words. "A girl likes to be appreciated for the effort she puts into her appearance, after all. Still, there is one very simple explanation as to why your spell isn't returning any signs of life. You're a smart mare, Doctor Sparkle. You'll get there."
The doctor's eyes narrowed as she shook her head. "No."
Rarity nodded in reply. "I'm afraid that I am indeed dead. I have been for some time now, in fact."
"Oh?" Twilight raised an eyebrow. "And how is it that you're still walking around, then? Are you going to tell me that you don't show up in mirrors next, and that's how you managed to avoid the optical detec—" her words cut off as she glanced behind her, where there was in fact a mirror set up, one that provided a very good view of the operating table, and the lack of any visible mare on it.
This time, Rarity let her fangs show when she smiled. "So, Doctor Sparkle, any more rationalizations you want me to tear apart?"
This wasn't the first time she had revealed herself to a mare of science, of course. Rarity was continually amazed by their ability to come up with increasingly unlikely explanations for the impossibilities of her existence, but sooner or later they were forced to face the truth, and she relished the moment Twilight's mental defences would crumble and the fear would flare up in her eyes.
Except, instead of fear, Rarity saw unbridled glee in those deep purple eyes. "That mirror is enchanted to always reveal true forms. You couldn't possibly be maintaining a powerful enough glamour to defeat it."
Before Rarity could process the words, Twilight's horn glowed, and a spoon floated over, pressing itself against Rarity's belly.
Rarity screamed in agony as the silver burned her flesh worse than any ember.
Guilt immediately dampened the excitement on her expression as Twilight pulled the torture device away with a sheepish smile. "Sorry, I just had to perform one last verification."
"Well, are you quite satisfied now?" Rarity asked testily, wincing as she felt the burns heal.
"You have rapid cell restoration as well!" Twilight exclaimed. "That explains why I didn't find you with any visible injuries. You really are a creature of the kind that inspired the myths of the vampire!"
"I am a vampire," Rarity muttered, annoyed by Twilight's mangling of the language. "I possess all the abilities and traits of one, and if we define a vampire as a creature with the following traits, then it’s only logical that I must be one, in the same way that Gummy is an alligator because of his biology. Please stop trying to play such linguistic games with me — I ate the last academic who tried to argue the nature of semantics."
"Fine," Twilight said with a pout. "Assuming all of those conditions hold true, then you would indeed be classified as a vampire, and thus by extension would also provide a definition for undeath."
"Thank you." Rarity pulled at her bonds again. "So, will you let me go then?"
"Why would I do that?" Twilight asked. "You broke into my home, and I assume you intended to attack me. Also, you might be the final key I need to solve the mysteries of life and death! There's so much science for us to do!"
Oh dear. She had been hoping to play off of Twilight's fear to leverage an opportunity to escape, but it seemed she'd have to improvise. "Well, if you want to begin, I'd suggest starting by taking a horn sample to analyze the source of my unnatural magic."
"Oh, that's a great idea!" Lost in the throes of discovery, Twilight foolishly did exactly what Rarity wanted her to do. She leaned forward, her scalpel pressing against the base of Rarity's horn.
And Rarity jerked her head forwards, knocking the ring against the tool and sending it flying off her horn.
Magic flooded her senses once again as she immediately grabbed another knife from the tray and pressed it against Twilight's throat with blinding speed. "Now then, will you please release me?"
Twilight's eyes widened as reality came crashing down upon her, no doubt realizing that the scientific discovery she'd made was an actual pony with supernatural powers who was quite intent on freeing herself and was willing to harm those who stood in her way.
Still, Rarity admired how well she kept her composure despite the situation. "If I release you, you'll kill me," Twilight said, her voice steady despite the fear in it.
Rarity chuckled. "I have a knife at your throat right now, dear. I could kill you in a blink of an eye."
"You'd still be stuck in those chains, though," Twilight replied. "How long can vampires go without feeding?"
"I'm certain I can find a way out of these bonds with my magic eventually." To emphasize her point, Rarity made the blade drift a little closer to Twilight's throat, pressing lightly against her flesh. "I had quite the knack for creativity before my rebirth, and since then I've had five hundred years to learn how to be clever."
"Five hundred years? Really?" And there was that scholar's gleam in her eyes again. The poor dear really had no concept of priorities. "So is your body held in some kind of stasis or does the vampire magic just undo the effects of time in a similar fashion to your healing abilities?"
"Darling, I think you might not be focusing on the point at hoof," Rarity said dryly. "Pun intended, of course."
"Oh, right." Twilight gulped, and the blade pressed tighter as the muscles in her neck tensed. "I assume you came here to feed on me, right?"
"I wanted to prove to you that the advances of science were no match for the powers that still hide in the shadows." Rarity's fangs ached, pushing her to tell the whole truth. "And yes, I am also rather famished, and you seemed like a delectable morsel when last we met."
"So, back to my original point, if I release you, you're just going to kill me anyways," Twilight said nervously.
"Oh, heavens no," Rarity replied. "I made a Pinkie Promise to the captain that I wouldn't kill you, and Pinkie Pie would no doubt be quite cross with me if you were maimed or otherwise permanently injured. I simply wanted to teach you a lesson and top up for the week, as it were."
"Pinkie knows what you are?"
"Why, of course she does," Rarity said. "I've been a friend of her family for many generations, ever since Professor Van Piesing helped me out with a... personal problem, years ago. I'll also note that she'll be quite cross with you as well if harm were to befall me."
"Wait, if you Pinkie Promised not to hurt me, then your current threat holds no weight either," Twilight pointed out, and Rarity sighed in response.
"I suppose you have a point," Rarity allowed. "It seems we're at an impasse, then. Though, I could still knock you unconscious and try to find a way out myself."
"You couldn't bypass my security before," Twilight replied. "What makes you think you can figure out how to unlock those cuffs? We've already established that modern technology has rendered your abilities obsolete, and I doubt you'll be able to bypass the bioelectric scanner keeping the lock active."
"Not with my sort of magic, no," Rarity admitted, then smirked as she turned her head to see the control panel in question. "By the way, you didn't happen to get those sensors from Flim-Flam Corp, did you?"
"I did, why—" Twilight's words were cut off as the knife zipped away from her neck and plunged itself right into the activation circuit Pinkie Pie had told her about on this model.
The control panel crackled and smoked with errant magic and electric sparks, and a moment later Rarity was free. She leapt down to the floor, facing Twilight with a wicked grin. "Now then, where were we?" She stalked towards her prey, who stepped back with a familiar fear in her eyes. Oh, yes, this was how things were supposed to be.
"I'm sure we can still discuss this as calm, rational adults," Twilight said, backing up nervously from the vampire.
"Is that so?" Rarity pounced, her hoof batting at Twilight's glowing horn and interrupting whatever spell she was going to cast. Her fangs extended and pressed against the defenceless unicorn's carotid artery. "How's this for an opening statement?"
Twilight froze stock still and Rarity inhaled deeply, savouring the scent of warm, rich blood and feeling herself salivate. And yet, despite the temptation, her mind balked at the thought of piercing her flesh and drinking her fill. It felt... wrong, this victory. Hollow. Rarity should have been basking in the rush of another successful hunt, and yet...
She pulled away with a sigh. "I suppose, Doctor Sparkle, that you won in the end," she admitted, bowing her head. A lady knew how to be gracious in defeat, after all. "I could not best your security system, and ultimately only the engineering knowledge I gleaned from Pinkie Pie was able to grant me the means of my dominance."
Rarity turned from Twilight, wanting to leave with as much dignity as she could muster. "Goodbye, Twilight. I hope you enjoy your triumph of modern science over the supernatural."
Rarity slowed as Twilight called out to her. She turned her head and saw the scientist lifting a hoof up in a pleading gesture.
"Please don't leave."
A pang wracked Rarity's dead heart, but she forced herself to smile. "I'd love to stay, dear, but I'm afraid I still need to find my prey for tonight."
"You don't have to kill when you feed, right?" The question from Twilight stopped Rarity in her tracks. Was she actually worried about her hurting somepony? How cute!
"It's not necessary, no," Rarity replied, wondering where she was going with this. "I don't have to drain my meals dry, and generally prefer not to do so in order to avoid undue attention from meddling detectives. Your conscience can rest easy, doctor."
"Then feed on me." Twilight stood resolute, determination burning in her eyes as she spoke, despite the obvious fear in her expression. "Take my blood tonight, and stay."
"Excuse me?" Never in her five centuries of immortality had Rarity seen somepony offer themselves to her before.
"I've spent my whole life trying to determine the mechanical and magical nature of life." The passion in the scientist's voice was familiar to Rarity; she understood the relentless desires that drove one forward in life all too well. "For years, I've tried time and time again to determine the exact mechanisms that lead to life and consciousness, that allow for thought and respiration and the beating of the heart. I've made a lot of progress by the standards of scientific exploration, but I'm nowhere near having any of the answers I want."
She stepped closer, the fear burning away into pure ardour. "And now I've found you. Or you've found me. Anyways, you're a being that only fulfills some of the requirements to be considered a living creature, but you're capable of reasoning, which is the most important aspect of higher life, and despite not having a heartbeat or functioning respiratory system, you've managed to operate for longer than a pony's lifespan should allow.
"You are my best chance at solving the ultimate mystery of science." Twilight raised her head, exposing her lovely neck to Rarity, who had to remember to swallow lest she begin drooling at the sight. "And I'm willing to give you some of my blood for the chance to study you."
For a moment, Rarity couldn't say anything. Twice now, Twilight had managed to stun her, and once again she needed time to collect her thoughts.
It was ludicrously silly, what the scientist was proposing. Rarity wasn't some shiny new animal from the Zebra lands to be examined under a microscope. She was a Lady! She was an immortal terror of the night! Her pride wouldn't allow her to serve as a lab rat for a free meal.
And yet, she was also a connoisseur of the unusual. Eternity tended to make one prone to seeking out new ways to alleviate boredom. And Twilight Sparkle was a most unusual mare. Pretty, too, and she'd be positively ravishing if she'd properly groom herself and wear something remotely fashionable. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to stay awhile with this mysterious mare who had bested her.
Though, she'd only do so on her own terms. "I'm considering your proposal, Twilight Sparkle," Rarity said carefully, stalking forwards until she was a scant couple feet away from her former captor. "Tell me, how badly do you desire me?" She dropped her voice low as she asked the question.
"I... umm..." Twilight stammered and Rarity leaned closer, well into her scientist’s personal space.
"Your blood smells delicious," Rarity whispered seductively, her fangs grazing against Twilight's skin and making them both shiver. "But I want so much more from you, darling. You have no idea how beautiful you are, do you?"
At those words, Twilight stiffened even more. "If— if you desire my body, then you may have it as well."
Rarity pulled away with a playful grin. "Oh, no, Twilight Sparkle." She shook her head. "I don't simply want you to lie back and think of Equestria, and I would certainly never even think of taking a mare's virtue without her most enthusiastic consent. I want to know the depth and breadth of your passions."
"I'm a mare of science," Twilight replied flatly. "I don't have time for such diversions unless they would lead me closer to my goal."
"Are you certain of that?" Rarity teased, running a hoof over her own body to smooth out her coat and draw attention to her slim figure.
The blush she received in response answered that question, yet Twilight still chose to protest. "I would pay almost any price for the knowledge you possess, but I can't give you a passion I don't have."
"I highly doubt you lack that passion, doctor." Rarity's smile grew. "I'm sure in time I could redirect your scientific curiosity into something much more pleasurable."
"Well, if you wanted to do that, you'd have to stay with me, right?"
How was it that Twilight Sparkle could always throw a spanner in the machinations of Rarity's mind? She was supposed to be the socially experienced one here, and Twilight was offering her exactly what she wanted on a silver platter, but in such a way that it made Rarity seem like the one being manipulated!
Still, she wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. "I suppose I would," Rarity said. "So, do we have an agreement?"
Twilight nodded. "We do."
"Excellent!" Rarity slowly returned to pressing her fangs against Twilight's neck for the third time that night. This time, though, there was nothing stopping her from taking what she wanted. "I hope you enjoy this as much as I am about to, darling."
Rarity bit down, and ecstasy flooded her senses as she drank deep of the rich life essence of her prey. Her strength returned even stronger than before, and the raw magical power unlike anything she had ever tasted before in Twilight's blood gave her a rush that transcended euphoria. Distantly, she heard Twilight gasp, though she didn't know — and right now, in the throes of her feeding, didn't care — if it was in pleasure or pain.
It took monumental strength of will to pull back before doing any permanent harm to Twilight, but Rarity managed, her heart sighing in regret as she lifted her head to find two neat circular wounds on Twilight's neck. She had marked her, and soon she would have her completely.
"Was it as good for you as it was for me?" Rarity playfully asked as Twilight shook her head, her stupor fading.
"It was... an interesting experience," she replied as she floated over a handkerchief to clean the wound Rarity had left behind. "Remind me to apply some antiseptics to ensure the wound doesn't get contaminated while it heals."
"How fastidious of you," Rarity replied. "I like a mare with an eye for detail as good as my own."
"Well, if your eye for detail is that good, I could use some help," Twilight said. "My usual assistant stayed in Canterlot when I moved here, and the lack of another pair of hooves or claws has really slowed down my progress."
"I'm afraid menial labour is rather below me, dear." Perhaps it was a little rude to turn her nose up at the request, but Rarity wasn't about to submit to her new quarry so easily.
"Suit yourself," Twilight said with a shrug. Then, the previous gleam in her eyes returned as she summoned up a scroll and quill in her magic. "So, I have a number of questions to ask you to determine which tests I want to perform first."
Rarity sighed. "Very well, I suppose it's time I fulfilled my side of the bargain. Ask your questions, Doctor Sparkle."
Several hours later, Rarity found herself far more exhausted than she thought possible from just a simple conversation. Twilight Sparkle was nothing if not thorough, and had questioned Rarity on every minute detail of every one of her abilities, including asking her to demonstrate her transformation abilities and running a few preliminary tests to determine the sensitivity of her enhanced hearing and sight.
Still, Rarity had to admire her dedication, and she also had to admit that watching the mare jump up and down with childlike glee when she shifted into her bat form was downright adorable. Her intellect was far from childlike, though, and Rarity also had to admire the way she seemed to absorb every little detail Rarity told her, and caught the things she didn't say as well.
And so the questions continued, on and on and on, until Rarity was quite nearly dissociated from the entire experience.
"So, despite your circulatory and respiratory systems not functioning, you appear to still have nervous impulses — animal electricity that triggered the inductive field detectors in the security system," Twilight concluded after a particularly intimate discussion of Rarity's biology that had left her feeling quite exposed despite still wearing her dress.
"Is that what those bolts were?" she murmured, thinking back to her failed infiltration. "I thought they were pressure sensors."
A shake of the head from Twilight. "I wanted something that could detect a particularly skilled pegasus flying straight down without touching the sides."
"That will teach me to underestimate the power of science, I suppose." Rarity yawned. "Oh dear, I believe the sun is about to rise." She rose to her hooves. "I'm afraid I must take my leave, now."
"Wait!" Twilight said once again, reaching out for her. "I have an underground level in my lab for performing more energetic experiments. There's a bed in there you could use."
"Twilight Sparkle," Rarity chided. "You cannot possibly expect me to remain here exclusively. I have a life to live, you know, and as much as I've enjoyed our little tête-à-tête, I have plenty of dresses I need to finish for the ball that the Count of Mare Cristo is throwing." A thrill coursed down her spine at the thought. "I cannot wait to see what he has planned for his enemies this time."
"I know you can't stay here all the time, but I—" The hesitation in Twilight's voice was the first Rarity had seen since the interrogation had begun. "I've never had a friend over before, and I wanted to be a good host, and we were having so much fun that I didn't want you to leave just yet."
"Friends." Rarity stared at Twilight curiously. "Is that what we are?"
A blush crept along Twilight's cheeks. "I mean, if you wanted to be. I guess we could be colleagues too, but I don't have a lot of friends and you seem really nice when you're not trying to eat me and I was wondering if, maybe, if you wanted to—"
"I'd be honoured to be your friend, Twilight," Rarity said, deciding to show a bit of mercy. She yawned again. "Now, about that bed." The lethargy was already beginning to grip her mind, and she didn't want to collapse in front of her new friend. "I'd ask you to join me, but I'm afraid I'm in no state to sate your desires right now."
"It's fine, Rarity. I have enough data to begin some preliminary analysis." Was she really that naïve as to the meaning of her words, or did she play the game at a level far beyond what Rarity was expecting from her?
They began making their way towards the staircase in the corner of the lab. A few seconds later, Twilight broke the silence that had formed between them. "I can't believe I'm actually going to get to study an actual vampire!" she exclaimed giddily. "This morning, I still thought they were a fictional manifestation of ponykind's darkest sexual desires!"
"They still could be, if you wanted it." Rarity brushed against Twilight's as they walked, feeling her warmth through the fabric of her dress and Twilight's labcoat. Her attempts at seduction were, unfortunately, stymied by another yawn.
"You can try to get me into bed tomorrow night," Twilight promised, leading her down the stairs and into a stone basement covered with scorch marks and arcane runes.
"I shall," Rarity promised in return. An idle thought passed through her tired mind. "I wonder if this is what Pinkie predicted?"
"Hmm?" Twilight glanced over at her curiously.
"Pinkie Pie predicted that a 'doozy' of an event would happen soon," Rarity explained, hoping that Twilight would leave her questioning of the captain's precognition to another day. "She thought that we'd all be embroiled in some grand war or something of that sort, and had worried herself silly over my safety, but it seems that it was all for naught."
A chuckle escaped from her lips. "Two of her friends truly were in danger, I suppose, but it all worked out in the end, even if this isn't as much of a 'doozy' as Pinkie likely believed it would be."
"Mmm." Twilight gestured onto the modest cot set in the corner of the room, surrounded by a wall of curtains. "Well, I'll keep you safe from any war machine while you’re asleep. After all, nopony is better at science than I am." Somehow, Rarity actually did feel safer after hearing Twilight's promise. It was ridiculous, of course, but then again, this whole night had been ridiculous.
Rarity stepped through the curtains and heard Twilight close them behind her. "I'll give you some privacy to get ready for bed," she heard the other mare say. "Sleep well, Rarity."
"Thank you, Twilight."
With that, Rarity was left alone with the rising sun rapidly sapping her energy reserves. She barely had time to remove her dress before she nearly collapsed onto the bed, her eyes closing and welcoming the sweet darkness of slumber.
Tonight had certainly been an exciting night, and she couldn't wait to tell Pinkie what had happened, assuming that she didn't already know. Rarity wouldn't have put it past the surprisingly devious captain to have arranged this whole adventure as part of some greater plan that only she was privy to. Either way, Rarity found herself looking forward to waking up and spending more time with Twilight Sparkle. That mare was truly remarkable, and Rarity couldn't wait to have her for her own.
"I'll have you yet, Twilight Sparkle," she mumbled as she pressed her head against the pillow, unconsciousness finally taking over. "Body and mind. And then perhaps I'll prove to Pinkie Pier that her doozy is nothing more than a little tryst between her friends. A looming threat, pssh, how ridiculous."
The sun's rays shone down harshly against Applejack's back as she delivered another mighty kick against the tree behind her, sending a shower of apples down onto the bucket she had set down next to it.
She took a moment to take a swig from her water jug and wipe the sweat from her brows before moving on to the next tree. Harvest time at Sweet Apple Acres was a gruelling period for the whole family, but soon they'd be able to rest when the winter came. Until then, it was time for the Apple family's work ethic to shine brighter than the sun in the sky.
Before Applejack could deliver the next buck to the tree, she saw someone approaching from the direction of the farm's main entrance. She squinted at the newcomer until it took the shape of a unicorn mare, and sighed at the interruption to her routine.
Still, Ma and Pa hadn't raised no uncivil hosts, so she grit her teeth into a smile and walked over to meet the stranger halfway.
"Welcome to Sweet Apple Acres," she said politely, taking her hat off and giving a small nod of her head. "What can I do ya for?"
"Are you Applejack?" The mare asked with a refined accent. Canterlot, if she had to guess, and the more frou-frou part of it too. Those types were always trouble, and Applejack was sorely tempted to kick this mare out before she could bring her trouble to the quiet home that Applejack had chosen to return to.
Once again, however, civility won out, and Applejack nodded. "I am," she said curtly. "Why're you looking for me?" she asked suspiciously, taking a closer look at the mare. She didn't recognize her, but that didn't mean she couldn't figure out anything about her.
"Your country needs you once again, ma'am," the mare said. "My name is Raven Inkwell, and I've been sent by the Secret Service to ask you to help save Equestria from a grave threat."
Applejack snorted. "A grave threat, huh? What don't you just throw an alicorn at the problem and call it a day?"
Raven rolled her eyes. "Alicorns don't exist, Miss Applejack."
"Uh-huh." This was a waste of time. Applejack returned to kicking the tree in front of her as she asked, "I wonder how Celestia feels about not existing and all that."
A gasp reached her ears from the agent. "How did you—?"
"Guess your files on me had a few holes." Applejack shrugged as she loaded the filled basket onto her cart. "Now then, why don't you tell your employer that I'm done with serving my country, and if she thinks she can just send me out on some other expedition into the Badlands because I've got a few years left in me before I'm all old and useless, then you can tell her that I'm done with that bull manure."
"Your discovery of Queen Solomare's Mines ensured that Equestria had enough of a supply of high-quality gemstones to—"
"—to fuel all those war machines that're gonna turn Trottingham into paste any day now." Applejack spat on the ground. "I lost my Ma and Pa on that fool expedition so that some chalkhoof could combine unicorn magic with earth pony engineering and create freaks that would scare even the monsters from Apple Bloom's bedtime stories."
"I'm sorry for your loss. Bright Mac and Pear Butter were good ponies, from the accounts I read." They always used that same voice, and those same words, when they talked about her parents. Applejack was sick and tired of it.
"If you were really sorry you wouldn't be trying to make sure that the Apples lose another family member so that the high-falutin' nobles in Canterlot can keep playing their word games with those nobles in the East," she replied.
"Desperate times call for desperate measures," Raven said. "We aren't asking you to fight, Miss Applejack. Just to lead."
Applejack raised an eyebrow at that. "Oh? And who exactly would I be leading?"
"A special team." Raven pulled out a set of newspapers and handed it over to her. "We live in extraordinary times, and we need ponies who can thrive in them. Equestria needs your help recruiting and leading a team of ponies with unique abilities. A league of extraordinary gentlemares, if you will."
The newspapers were filled with stories of the incredible. A poltergeist haunting the headquarters of the Wonderbolts. A series of murders where the victims had been drained of their blood. A brand-new ship that was capable of sailing deep under the waves.
"Please, Miss Applejack, help us ensure a future for your family," Raven pleaded. "We want to stop this war before our hooves are forced, and you're the only one who can make sure Equestria remains a peaceful nation."
Applejack sighed. "One last time. But after this, Equestria can fend for herself. Now, what's your plan for finding all of these extraordinary gentlemares?"
Raven smiled. "Well, we know the location of the first one for sure. Captain Pinkie Pie is currently docked in Manehattan Harbour. If we can obtain her assistance, the rest of our mission should go much smoother. If that fails, we still have a rather shy werewolf to hunt down in the countryside and recruit to our cause."
"I'll get packing, then." After returning from the Badlands, Applejack had sworn never to leave her family again. It looked like she'd have to break her word for the second time in her life. Hopefully, the price she paid for this betrayal wouldn't be as high as the last one. "I assume you're staying at the Ponyville Inn?"
She waited for a confirming nod before continuing. "I'll meet you there tomorrow morning, then. But first, what's this threat you keep telling me about?"
"It's a long story," Raven said, handing her a folder. "This should catch you up. It's everything we know about the strange case of Princess Luna and Nightmare Moon." She bowed her head and gave her a grim look. "I'll take my leave now. Have a pleasant day, Miss Applejack, and may Harmony lead us to victory."