• Published 15th Aug 2015
  • 3,086 Views, 145 Comments

What is Left - OnionPie



Five years of cheap thrills in the big city has left Sweetie Belle in bad debt with dangerous ponies. Forced to pay up, she returns to Ponyville to seek money from an estranged sister she loathes with a passion.

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5. When One Withers

A cold wind blew against me as I walked through the glass door.

Rarity stood at the tip of a curving balcony overlooking the town square. A stone ceiling kept the balcony dry, the rain falling in a thin sheet just in front of her. White and blue flowers decorated the balustrade, the same kind as the one on the nightstand in her room.

The glass door clicked shut behind me.

Rarity turned her head, saw me in the corner of her eye, and looked back out at Ponyville’s carpet of light. “Your mane is wet.”

I looked up at the damp hair above my eyes. “I had to get something outside.” I squinted at the town's brightness as I approached Rarity. “What are you doing up here?”

“I need to water the plants,” Rarity said, pouring water from a can into one of the flowerpots. She had reapplied her makeup, all signs of runny mascara cleared away.

I stopped beside her and looked down over the balustrade. My stomach twisted at the height. The balcony was almost half as high as the clock tower, the marble steps sickeningly far below.

A mass of black umbrellas had gathered a short distance from our building, looking like a dark tumor against the colorful umbrellas moving around it.

“Place looks different,” I said.

“A lot can change in five years.” Rarity stepped to the side and watered the next flower on the balustrade.

“Don’t you have someone you pay to water your plants?”

“I did,” Rarity said. “Now I take care of them myself.”

I looked closer at one of the plants. They all had two flowerheads, one white and one blue, growing from the the same stem. “What are these anyway?”

Rarity let the water trickle over their leaves. “Lilium Somniorum.”

“Lismnu-what?”

“Dream lilies,” Rarity said.

“Like that stuff in all the billboard ads?”

“Perfumes, oils, lotions. Every scented beauty product you can imagine.” Rarity walked along the balustrade, turning leaves, inspecting them. “I also ship them in bulk to the highest bidders.”

I leaned in and sniffed a white flowerhead. “They don’t smell like anything.”

Rarity stopped by a bigger flower, twin-headed like the rest of them. “Come here.” Her magic wrapped around the stem and tore it in half. A translucent, blue liquid dripped from the broken stem.

“Doesn’t that kill it?” I asked.

“It’s dead already,” Rarity said. “Do you see the black spots?”

I squinted at the blue flowerhead. Its petals did look darker than the others lilies, parts of it smudged with black.

”When one head withers, the other follows,” Rarity said. “One half cannot live without the other.” She brought the broken stem closer to me. It was green on the outside, blue on the inside, with a drop pooling at the broken end. “Smell it.”

I leaned in and sniffed the stem. A sharp scent burned up my nostrils. I recoiled, wrinkling my nose. “That’s strong.”

Rarity stuffed the broken flower into a white sack and put it out of sight. “Now wait.”

“For what?”

“Be patient.”

I pursed my lips. “I don’t…” But then I smelled something. A light, sweet aroma lingering in the air, unlike anything I’d smelled before. Warm and pleasant, then cold, then warm again. I breathed it in. The scent grew thicker, more poignant, like an exotic fruit steaming in the sun.

Something tingled at the back of my mind. And somehow, the scent brought out the image of the moonlit lake in my mind’s eye. Not nearly as vividly as when I was on dust, but enough to bring back a mild sense of warmth and belonging.

“What... is that?” I asked as the memory faded.

Rarity smiled, and it didn’t look forced. “It’s the lilies.”

I looked at the white and blue flowers. “Really?”

Rarity touched the petals of a blue flowerhead. “They’re scentless at first. Invisible. Forgettable. If you found one in the wild, you would walk right by without giving it a thought. But their scent is always there, hidden away until you let their blood burn you.” She looked up. “It made you remember something, didn’t it?”

I nodded.

“Their scent enhances your memory for a short while,” Rarity said. “I don’t know how, but it’s truly remarkable. The locals up north even claim it has healing properties, but what it’s supposed to cure, I have no idea. I simply figured they’d make fantastic beauty products. Who wouldn’t want a secret scent that brought back memories of happier times?”

Thinking back to the moonlit lake made me uncomfortably aware of the tiny dust gem pressing at me from inside mom’s dress. The only time I ever truly remembered the lake was when I was on dust. I swallowed. “I bet you’ll make good money on them.”

“Yes.” Rarity’s smile fell. “Good money.” She looked out at the town. “I’ll be the richest mare in Equestria, won’t I?”

“You say it like it’s a bad thing.”

Rarity looked down at the lilies. A breeze rustled their leaves. She turned to me, her horn glowed, and I felt the touch of her magic on the top of my head.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Fixing your mane,” she said.

“My mane is fine.”

“Oh, Sweetie. How have you even survived on your own for so long? Here.” She pulled something silvery from a fold in her dress.

“Is that…? Why do you have a comb in your dress?”

“For emergencies,” she said. “Now hold still.”

She worked the comb through my curls, easing it through tangles, twisting it up and back with delicate skill. She stepped closer, tilting her head as she worked. It felt strange having her so close again, in a warm and comforting way. Her breath smelled like mint, her perfume like lavender. How could someone so beautiful be so sad?

“I said hold still,” Rarity said.

I flushed and looked down from her face. “When was the last time you did my mane?”

“When you were eleven,” she said. “I tried making it for your twelfth birthday, but you weren’t having any of it.”

“You remember that?”

“You’ve always been rather memorable,” she said. “But the dream lilies also help bring back things you thought you’d forgotten.”

She sprayed a mist of liquid on my mane from a pink bottle she had gotten from somewhere. It smelled sweet, though the rich scent of the lilies overshadowed it. I closed my eyes and found myself enjoying the comb brushing against my head, the warmth of Rarity’s breath against my cheek.

I breathed in the flower-scented air, and a fog of memories swirled in my mind: the smell of fabric in the old boutique, Mom and Dad visiting in summer, the sound of laughter of half-remembered friends. The memories made my heart ache.

I opened my eyes.

Rarity was still concentrated on my mane. She glanced at me, smiling when our eyes met. “It’s quite something, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” I looked at the lilies on the balustrade. “Quite something.”

“Do you remember their house?” Rarity asked.

“Mom and Dad’s?”

“Yes.” Rarity paused. “Do you miss it?”

“No,” I lied.

“Everything was so simple back then.”

“Since when do you like simple?” I asked.

“Since everything became so complicated.”

The image of a moonlit lake flashed in my mind again, and I felt nauseous. The gem in my dress was too hard to ignore. This dream lily stuff was just a painful tease; the dust did so much more than just make you remember.

“Where are your friends?” I asked. “I mean, if things are so complicated.”

“Oh, we still meet once a year or so to dress up and eat cake.” Rarity sighed. “But even the best of friends can drift apart.”

I looked down. “Yeah.”

Rarity kept working on my mane.

“But hasn’t anyone noticed?” I asked. “That you’re not doing so well?”

Rarity didn’t answer.

I looked up at her. “You hide it well, don’t you?”

“There,” Rarity said. “Much better.” She let go of my mane, and I felt a little sad that it was over. “You’re beautiful, Sweetie. It’s criminal not to let yourself glow.”

I touched the curls of my mane. It was softer, smoother, and with a bit of a shine to it. It even smelled nice. “Does this mean you’re okay with me being at your party?”

“You’ve made it quite clear you’re not going anywhere.” Rarity tucked the comb into her dress. “You might as well look presentable.”

I smiled.

Rarity still looked anxious.

“You know," I said, “if parties stress you out so much, you don’t have to throw them.”

“If only it were that simple.”

“I took care of the music for you, if that helps.”

“Telling the band what to play isn’t much to help with.”

“You’d be surprised,” I said, feeling the dust hunger subsiding for the moment.

Rarity leaned against the balustrade and looked out at the square. “You really want that money, don’t you?”

The change of topic threw me off. I looked away. “I wasn’t going to bring it up again for a while.”

She looked toward the dark horizon far, far away. “Did it… occur to you?”

“Did what occur to me?”

“My fortune,” she said, the cold wind stirring her perfect mane. “My supposed mountain of wealth. Where would it all have gone if I simply... went away?”

My stomach sank. I said nothing.

Rarity slowly put her forehooves on the balustrade, stood up on her hind legs, and leaned forward over empty space.

“Whoa,” I said. “What are you doing?”

She looked down over the edge. “You must have at least considered it, when you found me like that. Such a vast fortune, and no next of kin to inherit.” She looked sideways at me with blue, tired eyes. “No one but you.”

I felt a sick tingling in my gut. I opened my mouth to lie, but no words came. She was serious—I could see it in her eyes. She would fall if I let her.

“It’s what you want, isn’t it?” She leaned a little farther over the edge.

My body tensed, but I didn’t move.

The rain tickled the tip of her mane. Her eyes stayed on the hard steps far below. “It could all be yours, all that wealth, and all it would take is a little…” She made a low, falling whistle and popped her lips. “...drop.”

She teetered on the edge and slowly, slowly leaned forward.

“No!” I rushed forward and grabbed her waist, holding her back. “No,” I breathed. “No.”

She was trembling. No, I was the one trembling.

“Why?” she asked.

“I can’t,” I said. “I just can’t.” I clung to my sister, feeling her warmth through our mother’s dress.

“What if this is what I want?” Rarity asked. “What if it’s all I want?”

“I won’t let you.” I held her tighter. “I thought I didn’t care, but I do. I kept telling myself I could always turn my life around and make things right. But I didn’t. And now Mom and Dad are gone. You’re all I have left. If I lose you, too, I can’t..."

I listened to her breathing, felt the touch of her heartbeats between the hammering of my own.

“I’m hurting, Sweetie,” Rarity whispered against the wind. “I wish so much that it wasn’t too late.”

The clock tower boomed out a thunderous note. I startled with a gasp. Rarity didn’t move. The bell rang out again, and the mass of black umbrellas in front of the building stirred, a few stragglers starting up the marble steps, tiny, black figures on white.

“It’s beginning,” Rarity said. And just like that, she leaned back and stepped down to the balcony floor, forcing me to let go of her.

The bell rang out again and again, slow and deep, counting the hours.

Rarity straightened her mane. Her horn glowed, and the glass door swung open, curtains flowing out to the sides.

“Wait,” I said.

Rarity stopped in the open door.

“I don’t know why you’re like this... but I want to help you. I know you don’t believe me, but I’m really trying to be better.” I took a step forward. “I don’t want to leave again. I want to stay with you. I want… I want to try again, make things the way they were before it all fell apart.”

The tower’s bell rang for a tenth time, and fell silent.

“We’ll talk after the gathering,” Rarity said. She raised her chin, took a breath, and strode inside, leaving me alone on the balcony.

I looked back at the lilies, almost smiled, and followed her into the warmth of the building.