• Published 18th Oct 2011
  • 29,538 Views, 356 Comments

The Monster Mash - FredMSloniker

Six characters. Six encounters with the supernatural. Happy Nightmare Night.

  • ...

Rarity: Blood and Water

Ponyville was silent tonight, as it was almost every night. Though some ponies were still up looking at the stars, reading a favorite book, or trying to get important work done before the morrow, as a whole the little ponies preferred to be in bed before midnight.

Which suited Count Drache perfectly. The stallion moved through the night like a shadow, his deep red coat and silver mane strangely hidden in the darkness. By his side, another earth pony moved, some commoner who'd tarried too long in the marketplace. He'd been simplicity itself to transfix with a gaze, and now he would serve the most important, and last, duty of his life: a first meal for Drache's chosen bride.

Drache's eyes saw better at night than they did in the day, easily picking out his target: the Ponyville Cemetery. It was a small plot, for Ponyville was a happy place seldom visited by the specter of death, and ill-fitting his treasure. Indeed, the entire town was entirely too provincial for his tastes, in more than one sense. No matter. Once his business was concluded, he and she would be far away from here, in much more fertile hunting grounds.

As he approached the grave in question, his sensitive ears could already hear the sound of hooves scrabbling, supernatural strength tearing apart oak like paper. The ground sank as dirt filled the coffin, shifted as the form beneath pushed through it as easily as water, surfacing at last to gaze on the world with hungry eyes. As she pulled the rest of her body free from the earth, he took a moment just to marvel at her transformation.

She was... perfect. Just as she had hoped. Even with the earth of the grave dusting her coat, her body was flawlessly radiant, shining like a jewel under the moonlit sky. Her violet mane, though disheveled and dirty, still managed to look better than that of any of the yokels she'd been wasting her beauty on in Ponyville. And her eyes! Blazing with hunger, yet still as gorgeous as when he first saw her. A stallion could die happy looking into those eyes.

Speaking of, she'd swiftly spotted his offering. Without a sound, she pounced, bearing the local to the ground, sinking her teeth into his broad neck. He whinnied once as Drache's hold broke, then fell silent as her own power washed over him. It was intoxicating to watch.

A pony cried, "Now!"

And night turned to day.

Roaring as the light of the sun reached over the mountains impossibly early, Drache looked around blindly for a moment, then turned to focus on the source of the voice. From behind a pile of stacked wood, a lavender unicorn emerged, gazing defiantly at him, her body tense with anger. His powers were greatly diminished during the day, but nonetheless he tried to grip her mind with his own eyes—only to slide uselessly off as he glimpsed the object she levitated before her.

Seriously? A framed portrait of Celestia was her holy symbol?

He turned to run, only to be confronted by another pony, this one an orange earth pony draped with long strands of garlic. She was watching him without meeting his gaze, a lasso already spinning, no doubt to pin him while the other struck. Two pegasi emerged to block the sky, not that he could reach it under this accursed light, one pushing a raincloud that sparkled in a way he didn't like the look of, the other meeting his gaze with one that forced him to turn away.

Backing up, he stumbled against the grave, finding his bride and her feast still locked together, ignorant of the danger. "Back!" he shouted. "Back, all of you, if you want your friend to survive this night!" He saw them stop advancing and permitted himself to preen. The situation was dangerous, yes, but he might still escape, returning to the relative safety of—

He never even saw the pink pony burst from the grave behind him, holding a wooden stake and an impossibly large mallet. He merely felt the sharp pain as the stake burst through his chest.

"Oh, horse—" was all he had time to say before he burned to ash.

The assembled ponies, and one other, gathered swiftly at the grave, Applejack pulling a dazed Big Macintosh away from an equally confused Rarity.

"Thank you, Princess Celestia," Twilight Sparkle said, a look of relief on her face. "I don't know if we could have done it without you."

"You're welcome, my faithful student," Celestia replied, her body relaxing as the sun reversed its motion and sank below the horizon again. "You know that I am there for you and all your friends... especially against such a vile creature." She stepped up to the pile of ash and kicked it, dispersing it further with a swift flutter of her wings.

"I just wish I'd believed you sooner," Twilight added, looking at Pinkie Pie and very carefully not thinking about how the pony had jumped out of Rarity's grave. "Maybe we could have avoided all this."

"It's okay, Twilight!" Pinkie said, cheery as usual. "I got to practice my staking technique. Rrr. Whack!" She drove her stake into thin air demonstratively.

"I knew that pony was no good the moment I saw him," Applejack spit, looking up from Big Macintosh, having satisfied herself that her brother would live through the experience, if weakened. "I never thought he'd be an actual bloodsucker, though. Why'd you have to get involved?" This last was directed at Big Macintosh, who was still too out of it to answer.

"I'm just glad all of this is over," Fluttershy murmured, hooves clasped in front of her in the air, while Rainbow Dash tried to figure out the proper way to dispose of a raincloud blessed by Celestia herself.

"I do hate to interrupt..."

All eyes turned to Rarity, who'd managed to regain her composure as much as possible under the circumstances. Running her tongue over her teeth wasn't the most elegant of gestures, but it served to illustrate her point... or rather, her points.

"...but it seems you all have neglected a small detail."

"Oh crud," Twilight said, speaking for all assembled.

Rarity's 'welcome back' party was much better received than her funeral.

Pinkie Pie, oddly enough, had planned both, and even reused some of the decorations. Black balloons dangled everywhere, along with black streamers, black-frosted cupcakes, and black punch. (Pinkie Pie insisted it was made from a secret blend of fruit juices, but Applejack had spilled some on the tablecloth and found the pattern bleached when she mopped it up. She was quietly staying away from the punch.) The only decoration that wasn't in some way black was a big white and purple banner that said 'NOT QUITE DEAD YET' in sloppy but legible letters.

Rarity, naturally, was the focus of conversation. In an elegant evening gown (which she'd made herself, equally naturally), she entertained the attentions of well-wishers, answered the questions of those curious about the experience, and treated her own fallibility with humorous grace.

"I don't know what I was thinking," she said to yet another pony. "I mean, 'Count Drache'? The way he always insisted on meeting at night? That cape? Oh, I should have known better, but... I suppose it was the allure of it all, that old-fashioned charm. And it could have turned out much worse, all things considered—"

"Hi, Rarity!" Pinkie Pie said, popping up next to her. "More punch?"

Rarity looked down at her own glass, shaped differently than every other cup at the party and filled with a deep red fluid. "—then again, it could have turned out better." She sipped ruefully at the beverage, which was at least tolerably warm. "No thank you, dear."

"Okay! You just lemme know!" Pinkie said, heading off to mingle. "There's plenty more where that came from!"

Very carefully not thinking about that, Rarity returned her attention to the guests, only to be interrupted again, this time by Twilight Sparkle.

"Hey, Rarity. Princess Celestia said the only thing she could do for you is... put you to rest. But she's going to have everything that might help me find a cure sent over as soon as possible. I'm sorry the whole killing the siring vampire thing didn't work out." She fidgeted nervously, and Rarity put on a smile to reassure her.

"It's quite all right, Twilight," she replied. "Without your efforts, I'm afraid Count Drache and I would be swept into the alleys of Manehatten, lurking like vultures and hurting who knows how many other ponies. You've done your very best."

Twilight didn't look entirely reassured. "Well, I promise to keep doing my best until you're back to normal," she said. Rarity inclined her head slowly, and Twilight mixed back into the crowd, only to be replaced by Spike.

"Rarity, I just want you to know, if there's anything you need, just—" he began, only to be levitated into the air by Twilight. "What? Hey! Twilight! I wasn't gonna let her suck my blood! Well, okay, maybe just a little, but—Twiliiiight!" Rarity watched as the baby dragon was dragged backward through the crowd, then sighed softly.

"So what's it like?" Rainbow Dash wondered, avoiding the assembled ponies by the simple expedient of hovering above them and dropping into place.

"Well, my senses are sharper," Rarity replied. "At night, at least. I feel stronger and faster, and my magic is more delicate than ever before. I've been having trouble staying up during the day, though. And while I can eat, well, it doesn't... satisfy." She looked at her 'punch' again, the glass held in magic that glowed a deeper, redder violet than she was used to, and took another sip. "And I've had to re-coordinate my entire wardrobe," she lamented. "Violet is hard enough to work with, but violet and red?" Her eyes lacked the glow of her first hunger, but they were still blood red, and her cutie mark had darkened and reddened as well. At least her coat was still pale and perfect, and her mane was, if anything, more lustrous than before.

"Um, don't forget Angel bunny," Fluttershy said, having somehow found a gap in the crowd to walk into. Rarity sighed.

"How can I forget? The little monst—uh, I mean, the poor thing was driven into a rage at the very sight of me!" Rarity said, absently touching her face with a hoof. The scratches had healed, but the memory lingered. "I don't think I'm going to be sitting for your animals any time soon."

"At least Winona still likes you," Applejack interjected, taking the spot Rainbow Dash had vacated as soon as Rarity started talking fashion. Rarity didn't quite have the heart to tell her that Winona had been just as vicious as Angel until she stared the dog down, and since then Winona had been almost embarrassingly glad to see her. She suspected she'd used some power over animals by accident.

Speaking of acting strange, Big Macintosh had come up beside his sister, and the look he was giving her was a touch more intense than she was used to getting from the seldom-spoken stallion. "Are you feeling all right, miss Rarity?" he said.

"Yes, of course," she said, tipping her head slightly. "I should be asking that of you, I think."

"I'm fine," he replied, reaching up to absently rub at a mark on the side of his neck. She hadn't been exactly graceful on her first feeding, but the wound had healed a lot better than it had any right to. "A big pony like me's got lotsa blood. You don't need to worry none; I know you didn't mean anything by it."

Rarity nodded. "That's very kind of you. Thank you." She made to turn to one of the other partygoers, but Big Macintosh's gaze never left her, and she was drawn back. "Is there something else?"

Big Macintosh fidgeted. "Uh. No, ma'am," he said, but he didn't look away.

Rarity raised an eyebrow. "Well, all right, then," she said, turning after a moment and walking away herself. She could feel his eyes on her as she lost herself in the crowd.

Rarity's awakening felt like a switch had been flipped. One second, she was off; the next, she was on, lifting her head from the table and looking about confusedly. Only when she looked out the window and saw the faint glow of the just-set sun did she realize what had happened.

"I slept again!" she groaned, hitting the table with both hooves. At first, she'd assumed that, as long as she turned in early, she'd get her sleep schedule back to normal; then, when that proved impossible, she'd tried staying up late to wear herself out. Neither had worked. She could be awake during the day, even if she felt somewhat... lessened... but she couldn't seem to stay awake for more than a few hours before falling nearly comatose, only the disappearance of Celestia's sun releasing her.

"This just can't go on," she said, sliding to a standing position and beginning to pace. Opalescence, who'd been entirely indifferent to her transformation, stretched briefly, then dozed back off, as she passed. "The whole point of having a boutique is that nothing is off the rack! I need to measure customers, spend time with them, discern that inner beauty that my designs can bring to life!" She glanced out the window again. "Maybe I can switch to night hours? No, that will never work. I must have somepony around during the day. An assistant? Oh, but who could I possibly get? Who else in Ponyville knows anything about..."

As she finished the sentence, Rarity trailed to a halt. "...sewing." After a moment, she started pacing again. "But that would never do. Fluttershy can't handle the demands of working with the public. If somepony were to be too loud, or worse, criticized her... Not to mention that she'd never leave her animals untended!"

She spun around suddenly. "Oh, but I simply must! She's the only pony with even half my talent! She can take measurements, and I can do design work at night. I'd miss seeing the finished effect... no, they can come by at sunset for their final fitting. Yes, that should work nicely. If only I can convince her!"

She paused again, thinking about it carefully. "Maybe I can get someone else to watch over her animals during the afternoon. But who? I'd need someone dependable, someone she can trust. Someone good with animals. Someone who owes me a favor—"

The sound of hoofsteps disrupted her train of thought. "Now who could that be?" she wondered, heading out of the back room and putting her best face forward. "Welcome to the Carousel Boutique, where—Big Macintosh?" He was quite possibly the last pony she expected to see here, just behind Rainbow Dash, but there he was, standing just inside the doorway.

"Eeyup," he replied, once more his usual taciturn self. Rarity raised an eyebrow.

"Well, not that you aren't welcome here, darling, but what brings you by?" she asked. Oddly, he didn't answer, just shuffling his hooves. She cast about for the reason he might be silent. "You needn't worry if it's anything... embarrassing. I can keep matters in the strictest of confidence." Still nothing. "Big Macintosh, I'm not a mind reader. Are you here to pick something up? I don't believe Applejack has placed any..."

Rarity trailed off, defeated by the silence. She could feel her temper growing; she was upset with herself at once again having failed to keep the shop open, and she was hungry to boot, as Twilight Sparkle had insisted she stay on a minimal diet while the studious unicorn tried different spells and potions over the last few days in an unsuccessful effort to rid her of her curse.

"Big Macintosh, look at me," she demanded, and the surprised stallion met her gaze. "I demand that you tell me what this is about this instant!"

"Well, I've been thinkin' about when we were in the graveyard and you bit me," he said, his voice his own yet somehow distant. "It hurt at first, but then it started feelin' really good. I know you've been gettin' blood from Pinkie Pie, but I reckon it ain't the same. So I thought maybe, if I hung around..."

Rarity looked shocked for multiple reasons. One was that she had a strong suspicion she knew what she had just done. Her novels had been far from silent on the compelling gaze of the vampire, and while Twilight's research had been focused on some way to undo the change without killing Rarity, she'd alluded to 'unique magical powers' in the middle of one of their sessions.

The other was that Big Macintosh was right. She could still enjoy a fine grape juice or a delicate biscuit, but they didn't satisfy her hunger. The blood that Pinkie Pie delivered from... someone or other, she'd never actually gotten the details... filled her belly, but it had a horrid chemical taste, and she could only get it lukewarm at best. Add to that her starvation at Twilight's hooves, and...

She ran her tongue over her lips absently. Big Macintosh seemed mesmerized by the sight. It would be so easy to—

No. She closed her eyes, shook her head, and heard him stumble back half a step. But the thought remained. "Big Macintosh," she said carefully, "you... you're only saying that because I'm... influencing you. It wouldn't be proper. I won't... I can't ask that of you."

The boutique was quiet for a long moment, the only sound in Rarity's mind the argument between selflessness and hunger. Then the stallion spoke again. "Yer right. You did do something to me, I think. But you're hurting right now, and... well, it just don't sit right with me, leaving you like that. You can do it without... y'know, anything permanent... can't you?"

Twilight Sparkle had very carefully measured her intake, and she'd seen a chart in Twilight's notes, the rate at which different ponies naturally replaced their blood. She didn't need much. A big, healthy stallion like Big Macintosh...

"Are you sure about this?" she asked. Silence answered her, and it occurred to her that, if he said no at this point, it would be very difficult to let him leave. She had to be strong, though, no matter how much it hurt. She couldn't be the element of Generosity if she were to greedily snatch at—


She wasn't sure she'd heard him correctly, but she risked opening her eyes, looking at him sideways so as to not risk doing what she'd done again. He looked nervous, even hesitant... but he took a step forward anyway.

"Well," she said, not sure what else to say. "Well. I suppose you'd better come in, then."

And so he did.

They'd had to tell Applejack, of course.

They'd worked out a plan, afterward, while he rested and she plied him with tea, feeling shame at her weakness, yet feeling alive in a way she hadn't since that dreadful night. In the afternoon, Big Macintosh would set off from the farm to Fluttershy's, and she would, in turn, come to the Boutique, taking measurements and careful notes on the customers' desires. She would be difficult to convince, but Rarity was certain that, in the end, Fluttershy would be unable to deny her need, and she would make it quite plain that anypony who gave Fluttershy the least bit of trouble would have to answer to her. Rarity could then spend the evening designing and tailoring, able to relax and enjoy herself fully for the first time in weeks.

No plan ever survives contact with the enemy. Applejack had been furious, both at Rarity and at Big Macintosh, when Rarity told her what the two had done. She'd only been more upset when Winona had taken Rarity's side, barking and growling at the earth pony when she threatened to run Rarity off the farm. Add to that Big Macintosh asking to take time off from farming to help Rarity, and the sometimes bristly earth pony had very nearly gotten violent with the both of them. Rarity could understand her concerns, but it hurt all the same.

It didn't help any to hear it all again from Twilight when she got back to Ponyville at the break of dawn, already beginning to feel the effects of the sun. At least Twilight had been easier to deal with. The studious unicorn felt too bad about her own failure to find a solution to dig too deeply into Rarity's hide, and at any rate her connection to the situation wasn't nearly so intimate. She'd also been intrigued by Rarity's confirmation of at least part of the lore she'd been studying, and shifted her focus from finding a cure to determining the extent of Rarity's powers and limitations.

Which was why Rarity was, at the moment, sitting in Twilight Sparkle's basement, enduring various indignities. She'd answered several questions more or less automatically over the past few weeks. Yes, she still had a reflection and a shadow. No, she didn't become grotesque when preparing to feed. Yes, the day weakened her, but no, she didn't go up in a bonfire in direct sunlight.

Twilight had many more questions where those came from, though. She'd had silver pressed against her skin (no effect), been force-fed garlic (vomiting, but no lingering damage), had holy symbols wielded against her (effective, but only when Twilight was actively using them to hold her at bay, and they didn't seem to work for any other pony), and been tested against running water, entering private residences, and even having rice flung at her feet (no effect, except an annoyed Twilight and an apologetic Pinkie Pie).

In return, her senses, at least at night, had become incredibly keen; she could hear tiny sounds without everything around her seeming like a roar, and even the faintest speck of light was enough for her to read easily. She'd lifted an entire bank of delicate measuring equipment without even breaking a sweat and snatched a bit off a table before Twilight saw her hoof move. She'd also known her magic had gained a new, more delicate touch, but how delicate she hadn't realized until she'd scratched her name in a copper plate in writing so small Twilight needed a magnifying glass to read it.

Twilight removed the hoof cuffs from Rarity's forelegs—had those really been necessary to study her horn?—and said, "Well, I can't think of anything else to test tonight." Twilight stifled a yawn. "We can look into transformations tomorrow."

"Transformations?" Rarity wondered, tilting her head just so. "You mean, turning into a wolf or a bat or some dreadful thing?"

Twilight shrugged. "You never know. You might need it someday. Besides, I thought you'd be interested in another chance to fly."

Rarity pondered that as she made her way out of the lab and library. Fluttering into the sky in the form of some leather-winged rodent was hardly the majestic ascent she'd been capable of in Cloudsdale. On the other hoof, that hubris had led to a quite literal fall from grace, and she hadn't even considered having the spell cast again since. This would be a more modest way to take to the skies... and there was a certain appeal to the idea.

She couldn't just wing off willy-nilly, though; she had work to do, work she'd been putting off to deal with Twilight's investigations, and by the time she'd finished with everything that needed doing, it was only an hour until dawn. She briefly considered waiting until the next night, but the idea had been gnawing at the back of her head for hours. She could at least test it. Yes, a quick loop around Ponyville, and then straight back to the shop to rest.

She stepped out onto the street in front of her shop, looked around, and pondered how exactly vampires went about transforming, presuming that wasn't an old mare's tale in the first place. Did she need to think batty thoughts? Was it a spell she should cast? Would jumping off of something give her extra motivation or just lead to an undignified flop on the ground?

She closed her eyes, attempting to meditate and simply will flight to happen, and after a moment she felt an odd rush of energy inside her. Could this be it? She struggled to hold herself in that state, to let the energy flow—

—and then the world turned into a blur of motion and sound.

She was flying, she vaguely realized, flying incredibly quickly, but she couldn't quite tell where. Her vision was blurred, images doubling despite her best efforts, colors and angles weird. Sounds pulsed at her head from all directions, and when she cried out that only made it worse, the echos seeming to rub against her as if she were actually hitting what they were echoing off of. Her body was all wrong, and if she tried to think too hard about it, she completely lost control, but if she didn't think about it she was only giving suggestions anyway.

She wondered vaguely if bats could vomit. Fluttershy would know. Oddly enough, she thought she could see something that resembled Fluttershy's cottage now, but she couldn't possibly have traveled that far that qui—

"Never again," Rarity snarled, stalking into the Carousel Boutique.

She'd learned several important lessons today, she reflected. One, a vampiric constitution was insufficient protection against ramming into the side of a building at Rainbow Dash's average cruising speed. Two, the break of day did not mean that she was forced into her natural form but that she was trapped in whatever form she had taken until sunset. Three, Fluttershy really did have an uncanny knack for understanding animal communication, even if the animal in question wasn't technically an animal at all. Four, that wouldn't stop Fluttershy from pampering her like any other injured animal for the entire morning. Angel's smugness had been palpable. For once, she'd been glad to doze off only partway through the day.

She'd learned something else important when she awoke that evening, with Big Macintosh having taken over for Fluttershy right on cue. Flying took a lot out of her, and the hunger that had gnawed at her all day roared to life, driving her to take him by the throat before she was even aware she'd changed back. When she'd been able to release him, she'd been horrified by the results; he was pale and cold, and she feared he might pass out or worse.

In desperation, she'd brought her hoof to her mouth, drawn her teeth across her fetlock, and cut herself badly, pressing the hoof to Big Macintosh's lips and forcing him to drink. The results were as immediate as they were gratifying; while he remained worryingly pale, drinking her blood swiftly returned his strength, and he'd looked almost normal by the time he finished.

She slumped on her bed, closing her eyes and sighing. So far being a vampire had entirely failed to live up to the romance and glamor she'd been promised. She missed being out and about in Ponyville during the day, listening to gossip or being roped into some adventure with her friends. She missed spending time with Sweetie Belle, who she now only saw awake for an hour or so in the morning and a few hours at night. She even missed Applejack; they'd never been close friends, precisely, but there was something about their friendship, something she was hard-pressed to define, that was important to her, and she felt its absence keenly.

A gentle nuzzling drew her from her self-pity, and she looked puzzledly up at Big Macintosh. She hadn't even realized he'd followed her home.

"If, uh, there's anything I can do to make you feel better... anything at all..." He let the statement hang, looking at her with the same dumb happiness she'd most recently seen in Winona's eyes.

She couldn't cope. She groaned, slid her forelegs over her head, and prayed she'd wake up and this would all be a horrible nightmare.

She hadn't woken up yet.

Applejack had been even more furious, at Rarity and at Big Macintosh, when she found out what had happened. She'd told her brother in no uncertain terms that Rarity was not welcome near her, the farm, or any of her clan, and that the only reason she wasn't kicking him out as well was that he was family. Then she'd thrown her hooves around him and cried herself sick.

Her other friends had been making an effort to make things easier for her, despite their reservations. Fluttershy had been looking after Sweetie Belle in the afternoon after school in addition to her duties as the Carousel Boutique's assistant manager. Rainbow Dash would stop by sometimes in the evenings to share news of the day (inevitably centered on her own exploits, but it was better than nothing). Pinkie Pie had come up with something she called a portable personal party package, which seemed to involve coming over, redecorating Rarity's bedroom in gaudy colors, setting out a tray of nocturnal-themed snacks, and talking her ear off in a rambling stream-of-consciousness session.

Only Twilight Sparkle declined to visit her, instead extending an open invitation to visit her at the library, stargazing or reading or 'whatever you like'. Rarity had taken her up on the offer a few times, but it had proven awkward. Twilight's increasing frustration at her inability to keep her promise kept distracting her, and she would inevitably wind up with her nose in yet another esoteric tome, searching for an answer. Rarity was starting to worry about her; the latest shipment of books from Canterlot had come with two royal guards posted in the basement, and Rarity hadn't liked the look of the books at all. Even if Twilight found an answer there, Rarity feared the price would be too high.

Rarity felt the weight of responsibility for Big Macintosh, and she was determined to treat him as well as possible. She'd been giving him a little of her own blood each night, and the effect on his health was remarkable. He'd doubled his productivity on the farm, and the last time she'd dared to ask, he'd rated Applejack's attitude toward the whole mess as 'hot as a stove when you've just done cooking', which she supposed was an improvement over 'madder than a chicken with her feathers plucked'.

Unfortunately, the process was not without side effects. The strange feelings she had awoken in him with her first feeding had only intensified when she'd let him taste her blood, and he'd begun treating her downright affectionately, finding excuses to linger at the boutique after her evening 'meal', listening raptly as she talked to him about the latest styles and her struggles with design, encouraging her to lean on him as she vented her frustrations. Much as she knew these feelings were a byproduct of her own power—or perhaps more accurately the direct result of them, with his increased health and strength a bonus—she had to admit, it felt good to be appreciated, even if he wasn't quite the stallion of her dreams.

"And look how well that went," she muttered, finishing a seam. Still, things were settling into a routine at last. Big Macintosh's increased strength and stamina let him get his daily chores done in the morning, leaving him free to relieve Fluttershy without regret. Fluttershy was handling working at the boutique better than Rarity had dared hope, and she was finally able to attend properly to her design work.

Lifting the dress from the sewing machine, she studied it carefully, then nodded, satisfied. Careful not to wake Sweetie Belle, she moved it to a mannequin, pulling gently on the fabric with her magic to arrange it just so, then imagining it over the customer's body. Perfect as always. She'd have Fluttershy let the customer know to come by tomorrow evening for the final fitting, and then—

There was a sharp rap on the door. "Now who could that be?" she grumbled, walking into the front of the store and opening the door. Then blinking and staring.

It was the most abysmally-dressed stallion she had ever seen. He was wearing some sort of wide-brimmed hat, a long cloak, and leggings that covered his entire belly, all made of pressed, waterproof wool of a dismal gray hue that largely hid his blue coat and brown mane. As if that weren't bad enough, he had a large, golden pendant around his neck that she found almost physically painful to look at for its gaudiness, and a broad band of—was that leather?—around his throat. For a moment, she felt like laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

"I'm sorry, sir, but much as you are in dire need of my services, you really should come by in the afternoon," she said.

The stallion snorted. "Actually, I was just hoping you might answer a question for me. Would you mind taking a look at this?" He raised one hoof, displaying a silver medallion with an unusual design.

"I'm a dress-maker, not an antique dealer," Rarity replied, but nonetheless reached out with her magic to take the medallion. "I'm not sure what you... want me to..."

She couldn't get a grip on it. Her magic was just sliding off...

...like it had when she'd attempted to take Twilight Sparkle's portrait of Celestia away. She looked up at the stallion, who was looking quite fiercely at her now, but not quite meeting her gaze.

"That's all I needed to know," he said, crouching, bringing the other foreleg up and revealing a strange device of wood and metal strapped to it. Ponies had little use for bows, but she'd read about them in novels of distant lands, and the device resembled a bow of sorts. Furthermore, it was armed with not an arrow but a short, broad stake, which he was pointing directly at her.

"You can't be serious," she said, voice calm despite her nerves, and reached out with her magic to disarm the contraption—only to find her power sliding off it, her gaze drawn to the pendant. Perhaps it wasn't simply unfashionable after all.

"You have terrorized this town for your last night, vampyri!" he declared, stepping forward as she began to scramble back from the door.

"I'm afraid you're terribly misinformed," Rarity began to babble, wondering if she could talk her way out of this. "You're the only one doing any terrorizing here, and I must insist you leave my shop at once!"

"Don't bother to deny your true nature, vampyri—"

"I do wish you would stop calling me that; it sounds rather vulgar—"

"—for what else..." he said, twisting his leg and exposing something on its underside, some sort of pipe with a tube running up into his outfit. For some reason, Rarity found herself thinking of Pinkie Pie.

"...would do this!" As he finished the sentence, the stallion slapped his chest with his other forehoof, and a spray of clear liquid shot out of the tube and hit Rarity in the face.

The scream echoed through all of Ponyville. Rarity flung herself away from the hunter, hooves beating uselessly against the floorboards as she fell on her side, legs moving too late to cover her head. It burnt like nothing she had felt before, like fire and acid and cold and knives all rolled into one concoction of hell.

As the pain began to fade, she realized she could hear Sweetie Belle crying out in her bedroom. "Oh no," she whispered, a terror greater than her fear for her own life rising in her heart. "Oh, Sweetie Belle, please don't come out, please, I don't want you to see this..."

She could hear the hunter approaching, tried to will away the pain and rise to her hooves, but she was too scared and too hurt to concentrate. All she could do was scrabble backwards, into the sewing room, the stallion relentlessly matching her pace, forcing her to retreat with his damnable holy symbol. As she backed up against the wall, she found herself staring at him as he moved stoically into place, refusing to meet her gaze, all of his attention focused on the point his stake-thrower was aiming at, filled with malice for someone he didn't even know.

"Time to rid the world of another monster," he said.

She blinked away tears of pain and sorrow, speaking her final words. "I only see one monster here."

He scowled, moving his forehoof to another spot on his chest. Rarity refused to look away.

Which is why she was the first to see the rope as it sailed over the hunter's head.

"What—?" he cried as it dropped over his neck, then tightened, yanking him back. His hoof hit his chest, but his aim was spoiled, the heavy bolt sinking into the door that had just begun to open behind her. Sweetie Belle screamed and slammed it.

"Y'all better back off afore I do some damage!" Applejack said, wrestling the stallion back into the main part of the shop. Glaring at her, he twisted and charged her, but she stepped aside—leaving Big Macintosh to fill the gap. He rose up on his hind legs and brought his hooves down, and while the hunter dodged that, he did it at the cost of giving up momentum, which gave Applejack the chance to take up the slack on her lasso. After that, it was all over but the shouting, as the two wrestled him to the ground, hogtying him before Rarity's disbelieving eyes.

"Fools! Imbeciles! Do you know what you're doing?" the hunter raved, thrashing uselessly against the ropes. "Do you know what manner of beast you harbor in your midst?" Lights were turning on now, ponies coming out into the street and wondering what the ruckus was about. His attention turned to Big Macintosh, and his eyes widened a little further. "Useless servants! Bound by blood! Your master cares not for you!"

The kick came not from Big Macintosh, but from Applejack. It hit the hunter in the chin, dazing him. "You hold on there a sec!" she said, glaring at him. "I ain't let a drop of her blood anywhere near my veins, and I'm standing up for her. Because she's my friend. Because she ain't never hurt a pony in her life, not and meant it. And because even if she does, she deserves better than the likes of you!"

Rarity staggered to her hooves, the pain forgotten, as the local constabulary turned up, stood and watched in shock as Applejack turned the raving madman over to them. Assault with a deadly weapon. Did it count as attempted murder if she was already dead? Nothing so serious had ever happened in Ponyville before; they'd have to take him out of town just to have a trial. That didn't really matter to her, though. Nothing mattered but the sight of Applejack standing in her store, waiting only long enough to be sure the hunter was being carted off safely before walking over to her.

"Why?" she said, her voice raw.

Applejack fidgeted a little. "...aw, shucks, Rarity. Y'heard why. I've been awful mad at you lately, and I can't say as I'm exactly offerin' a vein myself. But nopony deserves that, least of all you. You didn't try to hide what you were doing, and that's worth a lot. Plus you're... well, you're my friend. I may have lost sight of that, but it's still true."

Rarity blinked, feeling tears in her eyes again. "I mean... why are you here, at this time of night?"

Applejack looked up, then looked away. "I was just gonna... nah, it's not important now. Maybe you're lucky I got here when I did." Rarity sensed the double meaning and said nothing as Applejack started walking toward the door; Big Macintosh started walking past Applejack, headed toward her. Then Applejack paused, and Big Macintosh did too.

"Listen, Rarity," Applejack said, not looking back. "You, uh... you oughta drop by the house sometime. We're gonna be done with the harvesting soon, and I'll have some time to stay up and look at the stars. Maybe we can talk... y'know, about what you've been missing in town. I know how you like your gossip."

"I'd like that," Rarity said, closing her eyes. "I'd like that very much."

There was a moment's silence. "I gotta get back to the farm. Big Macintosh, you get back afore the rooster, okay? We've got another big day tomorrow."

"Yup," Big Macintosh replied, stepping quietly to Rarity's side, reaching up to rub the tears from her eyes. "I reckon we do."

The front door closed, and then the back door opened, and Rarity found herself overwhelmed by Sweetie Belle, who gasped when she saw the burns over her big sister's face and neck and forgot everything else, clutching her tight. Big Macintosh backed off to give her room, but stood close, watching over her.

"I must look awful," Rarity gasped.

"You've looked better," Big Macintosh allowed, and Rarity couldn't help but laugh. If he'd tried some corny line about her looking just the same to him, she'd have known she really had enslaved the poor fellow.

"It doesn't matter," she assured him, Sweetie Belle, and herself. "It's just skin. There are more important things in life."

There was a short, awkward silence.

"I wonder if masks will be in this season?" she added.

Big Macintosh and Sweetie Belle laughed, and Rarity laughed too, and when she cried the tears washed her pain away.