A shaft of light came through the abandoned building's cracked ceiling and illuminated the brass statue holding Rarity's masterpiece. Its fabric, taken from the trash, painstakingly cleaned and made usable by pure talent, gleamed. She giggled, half-starved and half-mad. For three days, she'd subsisted on food from garbage cans. For three nights, she'd woken after an hour of sleep, terrified the police were closing in. But the creative will to transform discarded garbage into something divine honed her concentration into razor-sharp focus. Her hooves worked as if possessed, striving to grasp the archetype of generosity crouched just beyond the horizon. Her lodestar. Whenever she was cold and lonely, it shone through the seams of reality. Her destiny was to give that archetype shape. Bring it into the material world. Create beautiful things that revealed a deeper truth.
And as she surveyed her work, she saw it was good.
She also sensed she might be crazy from lack of sleep, but if she was, she was glad; she hadn't felt this alive in years. In the basement, a bowl caught water leaking from a pipe. She got to work making herself glow using nothing but nearly-empty tubes of beauty products lifted from the trash. As she cleaned herself up she stared at a flyer on the wall, taken from a construction site fence. Even this cold, uncaring Manehattan had its own sort of generosity.
The lights of the theater once owned by Rarity shined in the night like a temple. The bitter wind carried distant flash bulbs and cheering crowds. Rarity tightened her cloak – even now, she refused to reveal a masterpiece before its official unveiling – and dreamed of her old life. Now she crouched on a chilly rooftop, a fugitive with no identity . But she would make them remember her, even if she spent her life in prison. That was her gift of generosity. She'd give Manehattan one last dazzling display of talent.
A policepony soared past, keeping an eye on the checkpoint below. She waited until he flew over the roof, then magically ripped curtains off a window across the street, trussed him up tight, and finished with a fancy bow. She'd been practicing her combat dressmaking, and dared to say she was a deft hoof now. The pegasus rolled on the ground and struggled to shout through the fabric in his mouth.
As Rarity slipped past, she whispered, “Dreadfully sorry.”
Director Sparkle downed the last of her pills. She ran a hoof through her mane, only for clumps of it to fall out. She sighed. Not only was her hair falling out, she had a meeting with the mayor in an hour, which would ratchet up her stress even more. Sitting down heavily in her chair, her eyes went to the illuminated cityscape through the window. She wanted to bring out its best, but her effort was useless. The city resisted her attempts to creating harmony. She entertained thoughts about retiring. The 'princess' thing was getting to her. Maybe she'd work with her hooves at Sweet Apple Acres....
Clover burst into her office. “Twilight, checkpoint twenty-three just phoned in. An officer was incapacitated by being trussed up with a fancy bow.”
Twilight wanted to laugh at the absurdity of his words, but truthfully, she was too tired. “You think she's targeting Surrey Polomare's spring fashion expo?”
“It's packed with ponies.”
“Let's ride," Sparkle said.
As Rarity scarpered across the theater roof, police wagons rolled up the street and ponies in riot gear jumped out and shouted at each other. Airships lazily floated towards the building. She felt the dragnet closing in, but relished it. This was a one-way trip. Better to have them at her back, to drive her forward.
Sparkle stormed into the theater lobby, thinking how much of her career as a princess she could salvage from this as she led her officers upstairs.
“Fan out. Check the building from top to bottom.”
Rarity smashed a glass skylight. Airship spotlights swept across the roof behind her, poking and prodding every nook. She ducked down into the hole right before one illuminated her.
Sparkle strode into the auditorium. Repetitive music with heavy drumbeats and rumbling bass pounded her ears and made her temples throb. The upbeat warbeat got into her blood and made her restless and agitated. They didn't have time to evacuate all these ponies. They'd have to catch the fugitive in the act.
“If you see her,” she called over the noise, “take her down.”
As Rarity stalked the white hallways, the pulsing and lively music called to her. She lost herself in it until somepony shouted behind her. A policepony was framed by the doorway. She took off running and hooked around the first corner she saw, heading for the source of the music.
“They got her,” Clover said. “Upper hallways. Let's go.”
“No.” Sparkle gesturing to the crowd, all oblivious to the fugitive. “She's coming here.”
Rarity ran like she had wings, flying down corridors she knew from another Manehattan. The rational remnant of her mind said she was insane, but this whole city was insane, and going crazy in response seemed perfectly rational. She had nothing to lose, and the winds of destiny filled her sails and pushed her onward. All she could do was dream and dare, like when she was a young, unknown fashionista.
The door to the flies was just ahead. She barreled through it and onto the lighting catwalk, dogged by policeponies, but she used her magic to pull a stowed drop curtain off its pole and drape it over them. She paused at the railing, directly over the electric chandelier suspended by cables over the runway.
The policeponies pulled themselves out from under the curtain, shouting menacingly, and lunged for her.
She leapt over the railing. The chandelier swayed with her weight. She looked down, saw the runway was empty. Then she grinned madly up at the policeponies and, with a burst of magic, cut the chandelier's cables.
Nopony expected the chandelier to magically drop onto the runway, least of all the model ready to strut out onto it. But the audience, inured to attention-grabbing stunts, remained sitting. Only Director Sparkle knew what was happening. She spread her wings and launched herself into the air, then dived for the cloaked figure riding the chandelier.
Sorry to take you down like this, she thought, fixing the fugitive in her sights. But it's every pony for herself.
When the chandelier hit the stage, the cloaked pony declared, “I am Rarity, hear me roar!” With a graceful flourish, she ripped the cloak off and threw it into the air. “In an outfit that's too loud to ignore!”
And as Sparkle flew closer, the light played off the dress beautifully. The white dress, with intricate purple accents and ruffles, wasn't ostentatious, but its mediated perfection caught her eye. Its shape and form, complimented by the graceful mare, was magnificent. The work of a superior dressmaker. And in the dress, shimmering like a distant sun, Sparkle glimpsed something transcendent. She dropped to the floor in front of the stage and watched the mare poised atop the chandelier, transfixed. The archetype of generosity could be seen through the dress's artistry, like a tunnel out of reality, and nopony with evil intentions could imbue a dress with such splendor. The audience went breathless at the sight. Everything froze, because the moment was fragile and nopony dared to move for fear of shattering it.
Except one filly who, with trepidation, approached the stage. “Your dress is so beautiful.”
The silver mare hopped off the chandelier and walked to the stage's edge. From on high, she looked into the awed filly's eyes. To Director Sparkle, everything but those two ponies, and the archetype of generosity behind them, fell away, out of focus. She swayed, like in an electric trance. The air was pregnant, awaiting the spark that'd set the world back in motion.
Rarity looked down at the couture she wore, then swiftly pulled off the beautiful dress and tossed it to the filly. “It's yours.”
The mists of perception dissipated, and the world snapped into focus. Around Twilight, audience members roused and murmured. A photographer slowly lifted his camera up and snapped a photo, like he'd never done it before. Then he wound the film reel and snapped another, and another, coming out of his trance. More photographers snapped photos until the auditorium was alive with flashing bulbs and the whir of winding film reels.
“Rarity's done it again.” Hoity-Toity stomped the ground, and everypony else joined in applause. “Bravo! Good show!”
“That was amazing!” Twilight called.
Rarity looked down at her, frowning. “What happened to your uniform?”
Twilight cocked her head. “What uniform?”
“Your police uniform.”
Twilight narrowed her eyes. “I....don't have one?” But a memory gleamed in her mind's eye. Wasn't she just wearing a uniform? And wasn't Lucky Clover with her? She looked around, didn't see him, and wrote the memory off as a trick of the mind. It faded like a dream.
“Am I back?” Rarity whispered, her eyes wide, her voice strained.
“And better than ever, I say!” Hoity-Toity declared.
Rarity burst into squeals of insane laughter. She hopped off the stage and embraced Twilight, crying, “I missed you so much!”
“We just saw each other,” Twilight said, surprised. “We were talking about the Saddle Arabian Book of the Dead when you disappeared.”
“You got up and walked out all of a sudden. But I'm glad you didn't ruin this great surprise, Rarity!”
Rarity pulled away and looked at the chandelier resting on the stage, untold thoughts shining behind her eyes. “A stunt, yes. That's what it was.”
The filly clutching Rarity's dress trotted over. “Thank you so much! When I grow up, I wanna be a fashionista like you!”
Giggling, Rarity scooped her up and twirled around with her. "Don't be a fashionista like me. The hours are long and the work is boring. Be somepony who makes beautiful things, forever and ever." With a mysterious smile, she set the dizzy filly down and, her eyes dazzling, turned to the lobby doors. “Twilight, I have some dresses to make. Will you accompany me?”
“I'm not a good seamstress....”
Rarity offered her a warm smile, said, “As long as we're together, it doesn't matter,” and galloped out of the auditorium, ablaze with delight.
Twilight followed, struggling to shake off that dreaming feeling. But then, according to the ancient Saddle Arabians, all of life was a dream. An illusion pulled over a pony's eyes, occasionally allowing something divine to shine through.
Then Twilight turned her thoughts to life's other great mystery, even more unfathomable and bizarre: where the mind one of those crazy ponies she called friends was at. Breaking into a smile, she galloped to keep pace with Rarity, eager to find out where she was going.