Flash bulbs flared like lightning and cracked like thunder. Rarity was the eye of a storm of attention, and the fashionista reveled in it. Dozens of camera lenses followed her, stamping her image onto film, freezing the moment in time, rendering her fabulous forever. As the light passed through those mechanical irises, she became more than a pony. Her gorgeous ensemble and graceful poise, imprinted in celluloid memory, made her an icon, one the fillies and colts of Equestria looked up to and aspired to be. She had the power to shape them into better ponies by paying her generosity forward. Being a decent role model, and in turn a decent pony. And for the rest of history, they would look to her as emblematic of the age.
Or so she dreamed, but such a dream let her sleep better at night, surely.
Her name became a chorus as photographers begged her to look their way, give them a smile, brighten up their night. As she walked down the red carpet, she obliged. She was a generous mare by nature, and her attention was free and always in demand. She waved to her fans pressing against the velvet ropes, basking in their adoration, before walking under the marquee announcing Rarefaction Fashion's upcoming spring line.
In the lobby, a mare turned to face Rarity. “Hello.”
Rarity's heart skipped a beat. She burst out giggling and embraced Twilight Sparkle. “I haven't seen you in ages! How have you been?!”
“Oh, you know. Same bookworm as always.”
The fashionista's eye for detail spied Twilight's sun-bleached mane and coat. “But a bookworm with a tan now. I do say it's an improvement. Glad to see you're getting outside for once. But come, darling, we can catch up in my private booth.”
As Twilight followed Rarity up the grand staircase, she asked, “Gee, how much did this place cost your company?”
“Psh, Rarefaction Fashions makes plenty. But enough about me. I demand to know every little detail about your past few years, starting with that tan.”
“Well, during my stay in Roan, a letter from Celestia arrived. She asked me to extend my gran tourismo - Hehe, that's Roanan for 'grand tour' - and be the Equestrian envoy to a Saddle Arabian archeological dig. Of course I chomped at the bit. Everypony and their mother have read the tomes in Roan. But those priceless Arabian scrolls, untouched for centuries! And I did the first translations!”
Throw wings on her and make her a princess, Rarity thought, but she's still the same old Twilight.
A bellhop pushed open her private booth's door. Rarity slid him a gem, a wink, and a request for the finest aged cider from the Apple Family Vineyards. The show started, but Rarity paid no mind to the ponies strutting the catwalk. She'd seen the dresses already. That was her busy, busy life: headhunting the brightest new talent, approving every design, shepherding them through production, going down to the floor to encourage her employees.
But Twilight had been gone for so long. Time Rarity remedied that. The cider bottle emptied, soon joined by another two, as the mares laughed merrily.
“....and Rainbow Dash," Rarity said, "tore big clumps of her mane out when the recruits followed Rumble and crashed into the bleachers! 'I didn't mean literally stay on the tail of the pony in front of you!' she called.”
Twilight snorted so loudly she drew looks from below. She clamped her hooves over her mouth, which only made her and Rarity laugh louder. After awhile, their gales petered out.
"I still can't believe Dash titled her autobiography Shameless," Twilight said. "Ironically, I mean."
"I know! She's the last pony I expected self-awareness from."
"Ha! Aw, I've missed so much. Don't get me wrong, it was amazing to travel. But when you travel you're a stranger. You feel life could go on without you. No one misses you if you leave.” She blushed and looked away. “Well, there may have been a stallion in Unicornia....”
“You didn't! Now, you simply must tell me, immediately!”
“Nah, there's nothing to tell.” Twilight rested her chin on the wooden railing. “We knew it wouldn't last. We had one language in common, and we read it better than we spoke it. We practically wrote each other love letters while sitting in the same room.”
“Do you....regret it?" Rarity asked, thinking of her own failed romances, sacrificed for her work.
“Ah, shoulda, coulda, woulda. No use thinking of what might've been.”
“Abol-sue-lutely,” Rarity said. She knocked the morose Twilight's side. “So go on, Miss Magic! Show me something you learned.” Her eyes widened. “Maybe an ancient magic spell from Saddle Arabia!” She waved her forelegs spookily. “Woo~oo~oo!”
Twilight shied away. “I really shouldn't. The Saddle Arabian Book of the Dead isn't something to treat lightly.”
“Come on,” Rarity said, stamping her hoof down. “It's my opening night, and I insist. Just a little trick? Please?”
“Alright.” Twilight sighed and pulled her saddlebag to the bench. “Just a little trick!” She pulled out photographs of ancient papyrus scrolls and sheaves of notes. “There's one somewhere in here for making a floral garland grow out of thin air, to ward off evil demons from Tartarus.”
Even in her cider-fueled haze, Rarity's imagination soared. It'd been so long since she came up with a design. Maybe she could make a line of ancient Saddle Arabian fashions, with Twilight as consultant, giving them ample time together.
Nah, she thought. Nice dream, but I'm simply much too busy running the company to spearhead a new line.
As Twilight rummaged, Rarity pulled a sheaf of notes over. 'In the name of traversing eternity, wanderer through this world,' she read, 'may you see mirages of a world without your sorrow'. Below, Twilight's neat writing said: 'Too literal. “Mirage”, without context, doesn't express the ancient Saddle Arabian belief in the world as an illusion of the senses.'
A life without sorrow, Rarity thought. I wish I'd had a spell like that sometimes.
But she was happy now, with her company, her fashion lines, her lifestyle. She ignited her horn, lifted her half-full glass of cider over, and sipped it, so happy. Wasn't she? True, she wished for more time to make dresses. But it was a small price to pay for success.
Her eyes went to Twilight's meticulous phonetic translation. Eyes and thoughts blurring, she squinted and haltingly read aloud, “Sha rhei paralavi bardo thodol mesh kada threipikal shanshun avaira.”
Twilight's face twisted in horror. “Rarity.”
“Yes, darling?” Rarity magically brought the glass to her lips. “You look like you've seen a ghost.”
“Your horn,” Twilight whispered.
Rarity's eyes swiveled to the hovering glass. Her horn had been ignited the whole time. But that spell was thousands of years old. She didn't even speak the language. There was no way she could trigger it, she told herself, not consciously. Until she felt a magical tug in her chest.
“Uh oh. Twilight, dear, what does that spell do?”
Twilight struggled to speak. “I don't know.”
“What does a mirage of a world without sorrows mean?”
“Uh, 'sorrow' is a literal translation of their word for 'life'.”
The air thinned as Rarity's head disconnected from the world. Everything grew hazy, and not just because of the cider. She was unmoored from the booth around her, the theater, her friend.
“Rarity,” Twilight said, horrified, “that spell was used by kings and queens on their way to the afterlife!”
“Make it stop,” Rarity whispered harshly, her voice breaking. “Please.”
“I don't know how. I haven't studied it well enough.”
A burst of static, like microphone feedback, ripped through Rarity's head, gouging furrows of pain through her brain. Her hooves went to her temples as her brain roasted. The world distended and rippled, coming undone before her eyes.
“Rarity!” Twilight's scream echoed from beyond time.
Behind the world was the void. But as Rarity fell into it, she was glad. At least the pain was going away.
Unfortunately, so was everything else.