• Published 3rd May 2012
  • 30,739 Views, 2,123 Comments

The Powers of Harmony - CyborgSamurai



The Mane Six develop the powers of the Elements of Harmony and must use them to stop a new villain.

  • ...
46
 2,123
 30,739

Chapter 11: The Price of Freedom

Chapter 11:

The Price of Freedom

Meanwhile-

“There you are,” Ace said. “I’ve been looking for you.”

Piro was sitting on a pillow on the balcony of the second story house he and the other guards were staying in. He didn’t look up from the long piece of parchment in front of him as Ace approached.

“Congratulations, you found me,” Piro said. “What do you want?”

Ace bent his knees forward one by one and rolled his neck. “Wanna do a little swordplay? I’m feeling antsy.”

Piro snorted. “You must be desperate if you’re asking me. Where would we even do it?”

“In the backyard.” Ace jerked his head behind him. “We just throw up an Illusion and Silencing spell, and we can do whatever we want. I normally do a few rounds with Elo or Grovi, but they're out right now with their Bearer.”

Piro jotted something down on the parchment. “I’m not in the mood for bruises.”

“Oh, come on,” Ace said with a smirk. “I promise I’ll go easy on you! I’ll just give you a few pointers.”

Piro groaned at the terrible pun. “Let me know if you want to have a spellcasting spar instead. That I might take you up on.”

Yeah, right, and I’m not gonna spend the rest of the night smelling like burnt hair. Ace walked to the edge of the balcony, taking in the scene below. The town was alive with the comings and goings of ponies as they returned to their homes from work and various errands. A family of four walked by with the parents carrying bulging grocery bags on their backs. Their two foals, a filly and a colt, giggled and chased each other in circles. Across the street, a unicorn mare pushed a stroller. Ace could just make out a shock of dark blue against the white blankets as a newborn squirmed.

“I gotta do something.” Ace tapped a hoof against the railing. “I hate sitting around in this peaceful, dull little town! I wanna be out somewhere, doing something, anything! Just sitting around here and waiting for the Bearers to recover...”

Ace turned to Piro and shook his head. “It’s like waiting to die.”

Piro stopped his writing. He set his quill down and met Ace's eyes with a hawk-like stare.

“Interesting choice of words, there.”

A pit formed in Ace's stomach. There goes the hoof into the mouth. Why did I—okay, calm down, maybe there’s still a way out of this. Ace shook his head and waved a hoof. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

Piro raised an eyebrow, but spoke in a neutral tone. “Do you agree with Blair?”

Then again, maybe not. I know I said I wanted a workout, but this wasn't quite what I had in mind. Ace shrugged. “Why wouldn’t I? It matches up with what Celestia told us.”

“Still not thinking for yourself, I see.” Piro rolled up his parchment, his eyes still not leaving Ace’s. “Come on. We hunger, thirst, can feel pain, sleep, think, and feel emotion. We have all the things that real ponies have. Even with all of that, you still really believe we're not real?”

Ace straightened to his full height and looked down at Piro. “Are you really going to ask me about this? We all know how you feel.”

“I haven’t exactly kept my opinion a secret,” Piro said calmly. “You, on the other hoof, have been silent. I want to know what you think.”

Ace cocked his head. “Why do you care?”

Piro leaned forward and spoke forcefully. “Because I know you agree with me. Cancer valued life above else, and he never gave up on anything he believed in. You're honestly going to tell me you don't have his morals?”

Damn it, Piro, I don’t know what you’re looking for. It’s not that I don’t think for myself, I just don't know what to believe anymore. Ace sighed. His horn glowed, and another pillow hovered over from where they were stored in the corner. He lay down upon it and looked Piro in the eyes.

“Okay, you got me, but I don’t agree with you because of whatever logical, scientific Arcana jargon that you constantly fight about with Blair. It’s your conviction that’s swayed me. I heard that you went to Princess Celestia about this a few years ago—the smartest, most powerful spellcaster in the world, and even she couldn’t change your mind. If you still believe in this so strongly after talking to her, you either see something everypony else doesn’t, or you’re an idiot. And seeing as I’ve known you long enough to understand you’re a very intelligent individual, I’m forced to believe the former.”

Piro scratched his cheek as he looked at the ground as he considered Ace’s words. “For starters,” Piro said slowly, “the arguments with Blair and the one with Celestia weren’t over the same thing.”

Ace frowned. “They weren’t? I thought—“

Piro cleared his throat. “I’ll start with Blair. As a little background, life is defined as the capacity to do one of three things: feel, think, or interact with the world. Our ability to feel and interact comes from Horizon. On this, we all agree. We also agree that we’d cease to exist if we were ever separated from him. However, I argue that upon said separation, we’d still exist for a short time, and in that instant, still be capable of thought. This would thereby continue to meet the standards of life, even if it wasn’t sustainable, and disprove everything that is known to be fact. Blair, however, agrees with the initial theory, and thinks we’d be instantly destroyed. As there’s no desirable way to test this, we’ve agreed to disagree.”

Piro traced a groove in the balcony with his quill. “The argument with Celestia—well, it wasn’t really an argument, more like a very passionate discussion, but regardless, it was over whether or not we're self-aware. To put it simply, I said that because I was capable of having such a discussion with her in first place proved that we are. Celestia disagreed, she said that everything we are in terms of personality and memories comes from our predecessors, and since we aren’t them, we can’t be self-aware. My rebuttal was that while that may have been true at our creation, our newfound existence has now made us completely separate entities, but she replied with that the only deviation between us and them is the understanding that we’re their copies. Both of us felt that the other was arguing over semantics, so we agreed to disagree.”

Ace wrinkled his brow. “Celestia thinks we’re not self-aware?”

Piro’s usual lopsided smirk had a bitterness to it. “Not easy to hear, I know. It took me a few days to get my head around it.”

“Then what about Horizon?” Ace asked. “What does she think of him?”

“I believe her most sincere words were that he’s, ‘a victim of a most unfortunate circumstance,’” Piro curled his lip. “Ironic, isn’t it? We all agree that a vegetable who can only think on the most basic of levels is alive, and yet our own existence is questioned.”

“Horizon’s made of flesh and blood,” Ace pointed out. “We’re not.”

Piro gestured to an ancient elm just down the road. “What is ‘flesh and blood?’ The bark of a tree is the flesh, the sap is the blood. These are not the things a pony is made of, and yet we say they are both alive. Do you define life differently? Are there varying degrees, depending on the context? If so, do we fall into one of those categories?”

How does Blair put up a fight against this? Ace leaned away as the pit in his stomach began to tighten. “I didn’t realize you’d given this so much thought.”

Piro cracked his neck. “This was Scorpio’s forte. It's the equivalent of somepony coming up to you and arguing about the definition of art.”

Ace laughed. “When you put it that way, I can understand.”

Piro waggled his eyebrows, then picked up his parchment again, resuming as if he’d never been interrupted. Ace, however, stayed where he was as he watched Piro work.

“Still going over your plan?” he asked.

Piro nodded. “Manipulation is a delicate process. There are a lot of things to consider.”

Ace rubbed the back of his neck. “This is only a last resort, right? You’re not actually going to—“

“Did you not hear what I just said?!” Piro snapped. “Sheesh, you’re acting like I want to do this! I can’t predict whether or not Twilight’s going to take some initiative on her own, I have to wait and see!”

“Sorry,” Ace said quickly. “It’s just that, well… what you’re proposing, somepony could get hurt.”

“That’d be why I asked for your help.” Piro looked over at Ace’s hooves, taking note of the oddly-shaped splotches on the inside of his forelegs. “I’d have thought you’d be rooting for this to happen. It’ll at least give you something to do.”

Ace’s voice turned hard. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

“What did you mean, then?” Piro crossed his hooves. “You say in one breath that don’t like peace, and in the next you deny the alternative. You’re as wishy-washy as Cancer was, but the time’s coming fast where you’re going to have to make a decision. What will you do, Tendoncutter? Will you hide in the vagueness of neutrality? Or will you stallion up and do what you know needs to be done?”

Ace clicked his teeth as he felt his temper rise, but said nothing. He remembered what Blair had told him about trying with argue with Piro, and he realized that his energy was better spent in other ways... such as trying to grab the sun with his hooves. Instead, he played with a frayed edge of his pillow and changed the subject.

“Have you told Blair about this?”

Piro gave him a condescending look. “What do you think?”

Okay, stupid question, but he might listen if we approach him the right way. Ace looked up through his eyelashes. “Can you at least gauge his reaction? I really don’t wanna go behind his back like this.”

Piro frowned. “You forget how well I know him. I would’ve told him about this if I thought he'd go along with it.”

I’ll never understand how they can fight like cats and dogs half the time and still be best friends. Whatever, it’s not my place to judge. Ace got up and put his pillow away. “Can you just try?”

Piro hung his head. “Not going to let up on this, are you? It’ll be a waste of time, but fine. I’ll see what he thinks.”

Ace sighed in relief as the pit began to loosen and fade. “What'll you do if he agrees?”

Piro rolled his eyes. “Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

“Honestly, can’t you sit still and let me talk for five minutes?”

Rarity and Sweetie Belle made their way from Applejack's stand, maneuvering through the crowd as they headed back to Carousel Boutique. Rarity glared at Sweetie as they approached the end of the street and waited for a wagon to pass.

“I can’t help it!” Sweetie whined. “I’m hungry, and we’ve been running errands all afternoon!”

She's hungry again? Rarity shook her head. “We’ve only been out for a few hours, and if I didn’t have to constantly make sure you weren’t causing a mess, we would’ve been done by now!”

Sweetie stuck out her tongue. “Well, maybe if you weren't such a chatterbox, I wouldn't get so bored!”

“Sweetie!” Rarity admonished. “That's not how you talk to your big sister!”

Sweetie made a ‘hmph’ sound as she closed her eyes and raised her chin.

Rarity was about to continue reprimanding her, but she suddenly had to put a hoof to her mouth as she recognized her sister’s gesture as one she often did herself. It was both unbelievably amusing and adorable, and it was all Rarity could do to keep a straight face.

Sweetie heard a sound like suppressed laughter, and looked over at Rarity with furrowed eyebrows.

“What?”

“Nothing!” Rarity managed. “Nothing at all!”

Rarity checked her earrings as they continued back to the shop. Both Elo and Grovi were keeping pace behind her just within eyeshot, meandering here and there to make their shadowing inconspicuous. She’d fallen into the habit of checking their locations every ten minutes or so while she was out, and now found herself feeling an odd sense of comfort knowing that they were there.

I didn’t think I’d start to appreciate them like this. It’s not like anything’s going to happen, but still, a little security doesn’t hurt. Pity the spell only works for the pony who casts it, or I’d make a set for the others, too. Applejack would probably love something like this in particular, although she’d probably prefer something she could wear out in the fields, like a choker or a neck—

Rarity’s train of thought got caught on a loose end she'd been meaning to tie up.

“Sweetie, stop a moment.”

Sweetie looked up curiously at her. “What's wrong?”

Rarity turned and scanned the crowd for a grey stallion. “I need to speak with one of my guards.”

Sweetie groaned. “I'm never gonna get my coleslaw.”

Rarity concentrated on her right earring, and found that Grovi was twenty paces away, standing in line next to a carrot stand. She trotted over to him, but he pretended not to notice her until she cleared her throat.

Grovi turned to her with a feigned blank expression. “Yes?”

Rarity leaned in and whispered in his ear. “How's my necklace coming along?”

Grovi’s breath caught in his chest. He swallowed and replied in an undertone. “Sorry about that. I got a little ambitious with what I wanted to do, and it wound up taking longer than I thought.”

He said it'd only take him a few days! What in the world is he—oh, like you're one to talk. How many all-nighters have you pulled trying to meet your deadlines because you made promises you didn't know you could keep? He may be a professional, but he did say he hadn't worked with platinum in a while, so of course he wants to make sure he gets it right. Be happy he's volunteering to help you at all. Rarity relaxed. “There's no rush, dear. I just wanted to know how it was going.”

Grovi paused for a moment. “I can have it done by tonight if you want.”

Rarity nodded. “Only if you don't have to push yourself.”

“I was almost done anyway,” Grovi assured her. “I just have a tendency to fuss over finishing touches.”

You’re not alone on that one. Rarity hid a smile. “Could you drop it off then after six, then? I haven't told my parents about you or Elo, and I'd rather not deal with that tonight.”

Grovi stepped away and nodded slightly. Rarity returned the gesture, but then jumped as something sharp poked one of her back legs. She turned to see Sweetie behind her, her head lowered and looking mutinous.

I suppose I should tend to the little vacuum. Rarity rubbed her eyes and gestured towards home. “Come on.”

Rarity and Sweetie returned to Carousel Boutique and made dinner, which was the promised apple coleslaw along with hay dumplings. Rarity had by now gotten used to the sight of something half her size eat twice as much as her, and was only struck by the occasional pang of jealousy as she watched her sister inhale her food. Enjoy it while you can, Sweetie. Soon you’ll be fretting over dress sizes, and wondering which color makes you look the slimmest.

After dinner, the two of them cleaned up and settled down in the living room until their parents arrived. Sweetie had settled on the floor with a coloring book, and Rarity was on her favorite couch with the latest edition of Glamare Magazine. She browsed the table of contents, then flipped to the sneak peeks of the fall lineups and gave a silent exultation. Score another one for Rarity, dark colors are in! I had a feeling they would be, what with the return of Princess Luna and all. It’s surprising there haven’t been more lines with a nighttime theme in the past few decades. You’d think that ponies would be more attracted to the mystical when trying to find—

Rarity disturbed by a frustrated grunt. She looked over the top of her magazine to see Sweetie, staring cross-eyed at a blue crayon as she held her breath.

Rarity chuckled as she realized what Sweetie was trying to do. “You don't need to push yourself so hard. I couldn't use telekinesis until I was ten, and even then, I couldn’t move anything heavier than a thimble until my magical growth spurt.”

“I still... wanna… try!” Beads of sweat were forming on Sweetie’s brow, but the crayon remained defiantly still.

Rarity put down her magazine. “Did Mother tell you how to do it?”

Sweetie released her breath and panted as she rubbed her developing horn. “She said to look in my head for a spot that feels like a pool, and pull from it like sucking out of a straw.”

That's what she told me, too. It’s as good a way to describe it as any. Rarity nodded. “What else did she tell you?”

Sweetie rolled onto her back and stretched her legs. “She said to tell her right away if I do anything, because I could hurt myself.”

Mother must not think she’ll actually do anything yet if that’s all she said. Should I tell her more? I don’t want to frighten her, but she needs to know this sooner or later, and it’s for her own safety more than anything else. Rarity focused on a notebook on the stand beside her, and put it on the floor in front of Sweetie.

Sweetie craned her neck. “What’cha doing?”

“I’m going to show you something,” Rarity said. She willed the notebook to open, and drew a ‘U’ shape on a blank page.

“Unicorn magic comes from the ability to store energy in our bodies and focus it through our horns to cast spells, and the place where store that energy is called our magical font,” Rarity explained. “Where it is in your body feels different for every unicorn, but mine has always felt like its right about here.”

Rarity pointed to a spot right above her horn, then motioned to Sweetie. “Can you feel where yours is?”

Sweetie rolled back onto her stomach. She raised her eyes and lips to the ceiling for a moment, then pointed right in the center of her forehead.

“Here... I think.”

“Good.” Rarity then drew a dotted line in the halfway point of the ‘U’ on the page. “When you use your magic, your body has ways of letting you know how much you have left. When you’ve used up half the energy in your font, it’s called Magical Fatigue. It feels like a faint pressure building up behind your eyes, and it gets worse the more magic you do.”

Sweetie stared at the picture, then looked up at Rarity with scrunched eyebrows. “Is that why you're always rubbing your head?”

The crayon jerked. Rarity reflexively turned away from Sweetie’s curious eyes, but she forced herself to turn back. She's getting as shrewd as Mother. Oh well, it’s not like I was trying to hide it from her, I just didn’t think she’d understand. Not like I can deny it now, anyways.

Rarity sighed. “Yes, it is. My font never gets fully recharged because I don’t get enough sleep. I can’t even remember the last time it was above halfway.”

Sweetie cocked her head. “Isn't that bad?”

“Not necessarily. It just means I have to be careful.”

“Don’t you want your headaches to go away?” Sweetie pointed at the notebook. “You just said it make you feel worse the more you use your magic. What happens if you use it all?”

Rarity drew another dotted line near the bottom of the ‘U’. “There’s something else that happens before that. When you’ve used up almost all of your magic, the symptoms of Magical Fatigue get much, much worse. The headaches turn into migraines, you become sensitive to light and sound, it gets hard to concentrate and focus your eyes, and you can even get nosebleeds. We call this the Danger Zone, and it’s your body’s way of telling you to stop using magic.”

Sweetie shuffled as her sister spoke. “I-if it gets that bad and you haven’t even run out of magic, w-what happens when you do?”

Rarity took a deep breath, and drew a final line at the very bottom of the ‘U’. “That’s called Magical Exhaustion. Like I said, unicorn magic works by using the energy stored in your font, but when your font’s empty, you can still use magic. However, the energy will come from the rest of your body, instead.”

Sweetie stared wide eyed at Rarity. “The r-rest of my body?!”

“The energy that fuels our bodies is called our lifeforce,” Rarity said in a firm tone. “And as you might expect, we need it to live, but in the worst kinds of emergencies, you can use it to fuel a desperate spell… so long as you don’t use it all.”

Sweetie’s chin was trembling. “W-What happens if you do?

Rarity grimly stared at her sister. “You die.”

Sweetie flinched. “You can d-die from using too much magic?!”

“Yes,” Rarity said. “That’s why it’s so important that you know your limits.”

Sweetie was staring at the floor, rubbing one of her forehooves and shivering.

Rarity took pity on her and patted the side of the couch. “Come here.”

Sweetie obeyed. She hopped up next to Rarity, who had now summoned a brush from the end-table. “I’m not trying to scare you, dear. I suspect Mother was going to tell you this when you first managed to do magic, but I’d rather you know now just in case you’re at school or something and get curious.”

“I don’t wanna do magic anymore,” Sweetie mumbled.

Rarity laughed and began to brush Sweetie’s mane. “I’m pretty sure every unicorn thinks that at least once in their life, but magic is a part of who we are. There will always be a part of you that will want to use it, like an itch you can’t help but scratch.”

Sweetie rested her head on her hooves. “I didn’t know it was so dangerous.”

“Only if you don’t know what you’re doing.” Rarity patted her shoulder. “The more you know, the less of a chance there is of you hurting yourself.”

“Is there anything else I should know, then?” Sweetie asked.

Rarity paused for a moment as she rubbed her temples. “There are three things you need to know to avoid Magical Exhaustion: how big your font is, how much energy is currently in it, and how much energy it takes to cast the spells you want. Firstly, your font is like a muscle. It gets stronger and deeper the more you use it, but only if you let it recover. If you never give it the chance, it stays about the same. For example, mine has been the same size ever since I started the shop.”

“Really?” Sweetie turned to look up at her sister, and she did, Rarity accidentally brushed part of her mane into her face. She lowered her eyelids and blew it out of the way. “You use magic all the time, though.”

Rarity closed her eyes and beheld her own font, which stretched out before her like scintillating, cerulean pond. “I know, but my font never recovers because I don’t get enough sleep, so it never gets any bigger. I don’t know how many nights it would take for me for it to fully recharge, but it’s actually worked out for the better, because now I know exactly how big my font is, and how much magic I can have at most. It’s normally very difficult to figure that out, since your levels change so much.

“So once you’ve learned the size of your font, you can figure out where you’ll hit Magical Fatigue, the Danger Zone, and Magical Exhaustion,” Rarity said. “Does that make sense?”

“Yeah…” Sweetie said.

Rarity looked towards the living room door. “The last thing is the hardest to figure out. You need to learn how much magic it takes to cast your spells, and since some spells are easier to cast for some unicorns, it varies from pony to pony.”

“Why’s that?”

“Lots of reasons,” Rarity said, “but the biggest ones are your what special talent is, and your natural preference to one of the schools of Arcana.”

“Ooh, ooh!” Sweetie perked up. “We’re learning about those in school right now!”

They start this early now with Arcana education? What’s the point in that? I’ll bet not even half of the unicorns in her class can use magic yet! Rarity nodded. “Can you name them all?”

Sweetie squinted and thought for a moment. “We only just started talking about them this week, and they’re all really big words. Enchantment, Illusion, um… and the rest end in -ation.”

Rarity laughed. “Iced tea.”

Sweetie blinked. “What?”

Rarity rattled off the old anagram. “Illusion, Conjuration, Enchantment, Divination, Transmutation, Evocation, and Abjuration. You’ll never forget with that one.”

Sweetie’s eyes went wide. “That’s so cool! I’m gonna use that!”

“Feel free,” Rarity said with a smile. “Getting back on topic, though, talent with Divination spells runs in the family, so there’s a good chance you’ll follow suit.”

“That sounds fun!” Sweetie said. “So you only cast Divination spells, then?”

Rarity shook her head. “I can cast simple spells from all the schools, it just takes me less effort to do intermediate Divination spells. I’m very careful about it, though, especially when I’m trying something new. You’ve seen the spellbook I keep, right?”

Sweetie stiffened and looked away. “I haven’t looked in it!”

Rarity stopped brushing her sister’s mane and looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Sweetie?”

“Okay, I took a teensy-weensy peek,” Sweetie admitted,” but was all a bunch of weird words and numbers I didn’t understand, so I got bored and put it back.”

Note to self: keep personal items out of Inspiration Room when Sweetie is here. Rarity frowned. “I would’ve shown it to you if you’d just asked.”

Sweetie’s ears drooped. “Sorry.”

Rarity sighed and resumed her brushing. “Those ‘weird words and numbers’ were my notes on all the spells I know. How much energy they take, what it feels like to cast them, that sort of thing. I’ve also written down what my symptoms are like when I’m getting close to the Danger Zone, so if I ever start to experience those, I don’t cast any more spells for the day.”

Rarity put the brush away and admired Sweetie’s straightened mane. “So you see? There’s nothing to be afraid of about magic if you’re careful. All you need to know is what the rules are, and as long as you follow them, you’ll be safe.”

“I guess....” Sweetie rubbed her horn, and as she did, a tiny spark shot out and landed on her hoof.

“Ah!” She jerked and leapt off the couch in surprise.

“Sweetie!” Rarity rushed over to her. “Are you okay?!”

Sweetie vigorously shook her hoof. “What was that?! It felt like I got shocked!”

Rarity’s heart skipped a beat at the sight of the tiny black mark. “That was magic, Sweetie! You did it!”

“What? That was magic?” Sweetie stared the blemish. “That’s it?”

Rarity examined Sweetie’s hoof. “What did you expect, darling? A giant fireball, or something similarly spectacular?”

Sweetie looked at her hoof. “No, but I thought it would be more than that.

Rarity went back to the couch and returned to her magazine. “Don’t sell yourself short. Like I said, I couldn’t do any magic at all when I was your age. If you’re not satisfied with that, keep working on your telekinesis.”

Sweetie perked up. “Hey, yeah! Maybe I can do it now!” She went back over to the crayon and resumed staring at it.

Twenty minutes later, though, the crayon hadn't moved, and Sweetie was panting like she'd been running a marathon. Rarity was interested to see if Sweetie could do more, but she wasn’t about to let her knock herself out in the process.

Rarity put her magazine down as Sweetie stumbled and almost tripped over her own hooves. “That's enough, dear. You took a very big step today. You’ll get it eventually.”

Sweetie hesitated, then nodded. She gave the crayon one final, hate-filled glare, then turned to Rarity and the magazine beside her.

“You’re always looking at those,” Sweetie said. “Do you have a lot of them?”

Rarity hovered the magazine over to show to Sweetie. Inside were pictures of mares wearing all kinds of glamorous dresses, hats, scarves, and shoes. “I have to keep in touch with the goings-on of the fashion world if I’m going to stay competitive, so I keep subscriptions to just about all the fashion magazines.”

Sweetie shuffled back and forth. “I was wondering, could you show me some of them?”

“What for?”

Sweetie played with a lock of her mane. “I wanna be a fashionista like you when I grow up.”

Rarity let out a small gasp as giddy euphoria hit her like a tingling wave. “Oh, Sweetie, do you mean it? I'd absolutely love to show you! I keep them all in the bookshelf in my room. Let’s go!”

Rarity led Sweetie upstairs to her room and ushered her over to a bookshelf on the wall. The two middle shelves were an impressive collection of fashion magazines, and Rarity pulled down a few choice selections and showed them to Sweetie.

“Now, which one would you like to see? I have Cosmarepolitan, and this one is Alluring. Oh, and this one is marvelous, it's called IntoStyle, and they just finished their fall lineup—”

“What's that?”

Sweetie was pointing at the copy of Advanced Abjuration Application on the top shelf.

A slow smile formed on Rarity’s lips as she followed her sister’s gaze. “Twilight gave that to me. Do you remember her? She’s the lavender unicorn that stopped by a while ago.”

Sweetie nodded. “She’s pretty.”

She’d be even more so if she styled her mane like I’ve been telling her to. Rarity pulled the giant book down for Sweetie to see. “Twilight was a little... socially awkward when she first moved here, and didn’t know about my tastes. Fortunately, we’ve gotten to know each other better since then.”

Sweetie heaved open the massive spellbook to a random page. It was filled with arcane terminology and complex diagrams, and the text was tiny and written in Old Equestrian Grammar.

“Eww...”

Rarity laughed as she watched Sweetie curl her lip. “Pretty dry, isn't it? I don’t know if I even can cast any of the spells in there.”

“Why do you keep it?” Sweetie asked.

“Because it was a gift.” Rarity closed the book, put it back on the top shelf, then walked over to her bed with an assortment of magazines. “I may not have a use for it, but Twilight meant well, and that’s all that matters. Now, let’s start with Glamare. They just released their fall lineup, and I can use it to teach you about the fashion seasons.”

Sweetie climbed up on Rarity's bed and watched her flip through the magazine, listening to Rarity explain what was what on the pages.

“There are four main fashion seasons, but designers start making lineups for the upcoming season, so we're always ahead. Fashionistas right now are releasing their fall lineups, which means that they've been working on them all summer, if not earlier.”

“Mmhmm,” Sweetie said.

“The way we decide what to base our designs on is a process called fashion forecasting,” Rarity said. “We look at everything from current events, designs from previous years, the current styles that are preferred, and try to predict what will be the next big thing that will grab everypony’s attention. I was actually right for this season, as I had a feeling dark colors would be in…”

Sweetie yawned as the exertion from her attempts at using magic caught up with her. She tried to pay attention to what Rarity was saying, but the combination of a soothing voice and lying on a soft, cushy bed was a recipe for the inevitable. Sweetie leaned her head against Rarity's side, her eyelids drooping as she heard the slow, steady thumping of her sister’s heart.

Rarity held up a different magazine. “This one’s Chevogue. It focuses on fashion lines for teenage mares, and I used to draw a lot of inspiration from it. Not so much anymore, though, since I'm more interested in dressmaking now, and the only dresses they show in are for things like prom and—“

Rarity was interrupted by a gentle snoring. She stopped and looked down at Sweetie, whose lips were slightly parted and her eyes were closed.

Oh, you little show-off. Rarity rolled her eyes with a wistful smile, and put the old magazines away. Sweetie snuggled closer and fell deeper into peaceful slumber, and Rarity shifted slightly so that she was more comfortable. She then reopened her new magazine, and resumed her reading.

Rarity heard the jingling of the entrance bell an hour later. Not wanting to disturb Sweetie, she sat and waited, knowing that the newcomers would come to her. Sure enough, the shadows of two ponies appeared down the hall, and Rarity magically widened her bedroom door to alert them of her presence.

Rarity's parents, Garden Wishes and Blitz, poked their heads inside. They opened their mouths to speak, but Rarity quickly put a hoof to her lips and tilted her head at Sweetie.

Rarity’s parents gave affectionate smiles at the sight of the two of them, and Blitz walked up and gave Rarity a peck on the cheek.

“Heya, kiddo,” he whispered. “Did she wear you out?”

Rarity nuzzled him in return. “Hello, Father. She actually wore herself out this time.”

Blitz wrinkled his brow. “That's a first. How’d she manage that?”

“She was trying telekinesis for about a half-hour.”

Blitz looked down at Sweetie. “Did she get it?”

Rarity shook her head. “She did manage to make a spark, though.”

“Really?!” Blitz said in a loud voice. Sweetie twitched and muttered something in her sleep.

Rarity shushed him with a reproachful glare. She then nodded at Sweetie’s right forehoof, where the small black mark was still visible.

Blitz broke into a huge grin. “That’s my girl.” He picked up Sweetie in his magic and set her on his back. She hummed and grabbed onto his mane, scrunching it up like a pillow.

Garden walked over, planted a gentle kiss on Sweetie's forehead, then leaned over to Blitz’s ear and muttered something Rarity couldn't hear. Blitz looked at his wife for a moment, but then nodded.

“Sure, hon.”

Blitz turned back to Rarity, gave her a quick hug, then stepped away. “I'll see you next week, okay?”

He’s leaving already? He usually stays at least a few minutes to chat. Unless… Rarity cast a sidelong glance at her mother, who was wearing a familiar set of black saddlebags. “Oh, sure,” Rarity said.

Blitz walked out of Rarity’s room with Sweetie, and the door swung closed in a pearl aura. Garden walked forward, pulling a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff out of her bags.

“When was your last episode?” she asked.

An empty feeling formed in Rarity’s stomach. I knew it. So, running me through the wringer every week isn’t enough for you anymore, eh? Are you going to move your entire sleep study lab into the shop next?! Ugh, I have to be careful here, or she'll ask to see my sleep journal. Rarity sighed and got to her hooves, well familiar with the routine she was about to undergo. “A few nights ago.”

Her mother looked her over with a critical eye. “Same symptoms?”

“As always.”

Garden began to check her daughter’s vitals. “Are you recording the hours you sleep?”

“I keep forgetting to,” Rarity lied. “I just take the pills when it happens and go back to bed.”

Garden clucked her tongue. “If you’d just take them when you first lie down—“

“It doesn't happen every night,” Rarity insisted. “And I need—”

“Yes, yes, your dresses.” Garden pulled out a new instrument, which was comprised of a small rubber handle, two metal clamps on each side, and a meter just above the handle. “But how well can you act on those inspirations if your magic doesn't get recharged?”

Seriously, Mother? An Arcanometer? Rarity winced as her mother placed the instrument on her horn. The clamps tightly grasped the keratin and began to hum. “I know my limits,” she snapped. “I've known them for years.”

Garden gave a harsh laugh. “That’s impossible. The levels where you reach Magical Fatigue and Exhaustion are constantly in flux, depending on how much you exert yourself.”

“My font has been at fifty Hornpower since I started the shop,” Rarity said simply. “Believe me, I’ve kept a very close eye on it.”

Garden watched the instrument as it measured the current level of Rarity's font. The humming ceased, and the meter stopped between fifteen and twenty. “That's not normal. If that really is the case, it means your insomnia is affecting your font in a way we haven't seen. I should do a Cornuoscopy to—”

“No.” Rarity stepped back and took off the instrument. “I know what I'm doing. You can trust me, you know.”

Garden raised an eyebrow. “Can I?”

Rarity's temper began to fray. “I've been taking care of myself and helping you out with Sweetie for years, on top of running my own business. What more do you want?!”

Garden put her instruments back in her bag, her voice calm and level. “For you to stop running yourself into the ground.”

I need to end this quickly before I slip up. Rarity rubbed her forehead. “Look, I admit I’ve been slipping lately on taking the medicine, but I promise I'll start taking it more often, all right?”

“You should be taking it every night.”

“It's like slipping into a coma!” Rarity protested. “I can't remember a thing from my dreams afterwards! How can you expect me to do that when I've gotten two dozen orders for the one I made last week alone?!”

“I don't care if they're your bread and butter.” Garden’s voice softened. “You're hurting yourself by doing this.”

“It's what I have to do.” Rarity straightened and held up her chin. “All great artists have had to suffer for their craft. I’m no exception.”

Her mother’s eyes hardened. “Enough with the dramatics. I may have taught you how to act like a Lady, but that shouldn’t affect how you treat your family.”

And what kind of Lady are you?! Using your eight-year-old daughter as a pawn in your little game to spy on me! You're not following your own rules anymore, so why should I?! Rarity narrowed her eyes. “You're right. It doesn't.”

A moment of awkward silence passed as the two stared at each other, until Garden cleared her throat and looked away. “We've both had a long day. I think I should go.”

Rarity nodded stiffly. “That's probably best.”

Garden raised a hoof and stepped forward, but then reconsidered and backed away. She held Rarity’s gaze with an odd, pained look, but whatever was on her mind went unsaid.

“Take your pills.” Garden turned and walked out the door. “I'll see you next week.”

Rarity stood an hour later in the Inspiration Room, staring at the beautiful dream dress she’d finished a few days prior. The color shifted from deep blue to a faint violet, and flowed from the neck to the hem in waves. It was saturated with glittering, multicolored crushed gemstones that sparkled in the light, and the hem was made of translucent, molded silver. The orders that’d been placed already would be enough to sustain Rarity for three months, and while she wasn't hurting for bits, that money would help get her through the occasional slow times throughout the year.

How can she expect me to sacrifice these? Does she want me to waste my life away in mediocrity with the knowledge that I'm capable of something more, but it's just beyond my reach? This is what drives my business and sets me apart! I'd never be known outside of Ponyville if I took the pills every night! Besides, my dreams don’t just give me ideas for dresses. I swear, sometimes they feel almost like premon—

“Lady Rarity?”

Rarity's ears twitched. She focused on her right earring, and raised her voice. “I'm in here, Grovi.”

Grovi walked in with a pair of saddlebags. “I hope I’m not interrupting—“

His jaw went slack as he beheld the finished dream dress. He stared for a few seconds, then shook his head clear and stared at Rarity in awe. “You must be dying to showcase this!”

“I already have.” Rarity walked over to the dress and adjusted a wrinkle. “I'd originally planned on putting the necklace with the ensemble, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like it should be for something a little more special.”

"Great minds think alike, I see," Grovi said. “I was actually going to suggest that this design be kept one-of-a-kind, and only be worn by you.”

Rarity turned to him. “Why’s that?”

“Because of what I've done to it.” Grovi hovered out a small box from his saddlebags and gave it to her. Rarity opened it, and let out a gasp.

The necklace had been completely repaired, without even the thinnest of seams on the place where it had broken. It was sculpted and polished down to minute detail, it's every edge and corner catching the light and sparkling with brilliance. The pronged branches on both sides had been filed off to comfortable nubs, and two flawless sapphires had been set in the holes, their facets glittering and sparkling as they displayed her reflection.

Professional, indeed! This is better than I imagined! Now it was Rarity’s turn to stare at Grovi in awe. “It's beautiful.”

Grovi chuckled. “I haven't even shown you the best part yet.” The necklace hovered up in a gray aura, and Rarity now saw that it was attached to a fine silver chain.

“May I?” Grovi asked. Rarity nodded, and the necklace gently hovered forth and fastened itself around her neck. She walked over to a mirror, and saw that the color and facets of the jewelry complimented her coat, mane and eyes to an astounding degree.

“I placed three enchantments on the necklace,” Grovi said. “The first is an advanced Reinforcement spell, which has increased its durability exponentially. Its roughly now as hard as a diamond, maybe a little harder.”

Diamond?! That’s a bit overboard, isn’t it? How would I fix it if—wow, listen to me. That’s kind of the point, Rarity. She gave herself one last look in the mirror before turning back to Grovi.

“The second is a variation of the Scrying spell that you showed us.” Grovi concentrated, and Rarity felt a slight warmth as the framework of the necklace gave off a faint glint. “I've already attuned it to myself and Elo, and it’ll alert us if you ever go into Magical Exhaustion.”

Rarity raised her eyebrows. I haven’t met any other ponies aside from Twilight who could even cast that spell, let alone further modify it! Elo did say Grovi was a skilled Enchanter, but this is more than I expected.

Grovi paused for a moment. “The final spell was what took me so long, and it has to do with the sapphires.” He took a deep breath. “I transmuted each of them into Font Gems.”

Rarity fell onto her haunches. “You… what?”

He nodded slowly and spoke in a serious tone. “They’re attuned to you, and you alone. If you ever go into Magical Exhaustion, any spell you cast will draw from them instead of your lifeforce. Elo and I have already saturated them, and they each hold roughly enough energy for one intermediate-level spell.”

He can transmute Font Gems?! That's an extremely advanced art! Anypony that knows how to do that is set for life! Rarity took off the necklace, delicately placed it back in the box, and pushed it back to Grovi with a hoof. “I can’t accept this. I didn't think that you could—do you realize what you've done?! You’ve made this necklace priceless!”

Grovi gave her a warm smile and pushed the box back to her. “You're deserving of such a gift.”

Rarity blushed. “Why would you do so much for me?”

Grovi was silent at first. He walked over to the dream dress, tilting his head back and forth as he watched the colors move. “When last we spoke, you reminded us that we're under orders not to interfere with your life, which is true. However, those same orders are to protect you, even it's from yourself. I saw this as the best possible way to adhere to the requirements of both.”

Rarity felt a tightness in her chest as she realized the situation she’d put them in. I really have been an idiot, haven't I? Wearing the earrings and giving me my space is one thing, but did I really think they’d just sit back and do nothing while I put myself at risk? They’re charged with protecting my life, and now I have the gall to refuse this when Grovi’s put forth so much effort trying to compromise with me?

Rarity reopened the box, put on the necklace, and cleared her throat. “I believe I owe you and Elo an apology.”

Grovi turned and met her eyes. “What for?”

Rarity bowed her head. “I've been nothing but demanding and inconsiderate to the two of you ever since you arrived. I’ve thought of nothing but myself, and didn’t even consider how I might be making your job difficult. That's not how a Lady should act.”

Grovi shook his head. “There’s nothing you need to apologize for. It's not demanding or selfish to want live your life without constraint and demonstrate that you can be self-sufficient. Indeed, those are admirable traits.”

Rarity snorted and looked out the door. “Admirable, huh? Tell that to my mother.”

Grovi cocked his head. “Sorry?’

Rarity’s eyes widened and she put a hoof to her mouth. “Oh... I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to... forget I said anything.”

“You said that your parents were here earlier,” Grovi said. “Did you have an argument with them or something?”

Rarity chewed on her lip. Can I confide in him? I don't know what he'd say, but he did just do something very nice for me, and I've already put him through so much... Rarity rubbed her temples again. “I get along with my father just fine; it’s my mother that’s always been the problem. We try to keep things civil for Sweetie’s sake, but we don't have what you’d call a healthy relationship. Every time she comes over, it’s like stirring the coals of an old, smoldering fire, and today we had a bit of a flare-up.”

Rarity walked back over to the mirror and adjusted her mane. “As I told you and Elo before, my mother has always been on my case about my insomnia. I took my medication every night back when I lived at home, but only because she made me. That didn’t stop me from doing everything I could not to, though, and it led to a lot of arguments between us. We drifted apart over time because of it, and while our relationship is better than it once was, we still aren’t close. I thought I’d be free when I moved out, but then I needed to take out a loan to start the shop, and the only one who could co-sign for me was Mother. She did it, but her condition was that I had to take my pills every single night, and seeing as I didn’t have any other choice, I agreed.”

Rarity shuddered. “That first year was a nightmare. It felt like there was a block in my mind that was cutting me off from my muse, and even though I did everything I could think of to inspire myself, nothing I did worked. My designs were dull and unoriginal, and I was only making ends meet. Finally, my desire to create outgrew the feelings of guilt from upholding the deal I'd made with my mother, and I started taking the pills less and less. My creativity returned to me as I did, and I started making a profit every month. I made enough to pay back the loan three years after starting the shop, and my fashion lines are now starting to be picked up by some of the bigger department stores in Canterlot.”

Rarity stared at her reflection as she spoke. “I know that I need to take the pills every so often in order to get a full night's rest, and that’s usually what I’ve done, but lately, it fells like my muse has shifted into overdrive. My dreams have become more vivid, and stay longer in my memory. I’ve been getting great ideas, but they come so rapidly that I can barely keep up. And it hasn’t just been for dresses, either. Sometimes I’ll get an idea to make something random, like a picnic basket, a set of bedsheets, or a picture frame. I never have a use for what I’ve made when I get those urges, so I just wind up giving them away to my friends, but strangely enough, it turns out that that was exactly what they needed at the time.”

Grovi scratched his chin. “Does this happen even when you take your pills?”

“I don’t know,” Rarity admitted. “I haven't taken them in a month. It’s starting to wear on me, but I'm afraid I'll miss out on something amazing if I do.”

Grovi made a tsk-ing sound. “I imagine your mother doesn't know this.”

“Nopony does,” Rarity said. “You're the first I've told.”

“Then...” Grovi hesitated. “I don't think you're going to like what I have to say.”

I knew he'd side with her. Rarity turned away. “You're going to tell me I should take the pills, aren’t you.”

Grovi squinted, then smiled strangely. “Yea, but prawly nawt for the reasons you tink.”

Rarity stopped dead at the change in his voice. It‘d shifted from an eloquent, dulcet tone to a laid back, sing-song lilt that chewed on the vowels.

Grovi smirked as he watched Rarity whip around to him. “Didn' expect this, didja? This is the natural way I tawk. I figga you just told me a pretty big secret, so I should return the fava.”

Rarity stared at him like Grovi was an alien. “What happened to your—”

“Voice?” Grovi laughed. “Neva met anypawny from Manehatten, have ya? You prawly thawt I was a noble, a'somethin, didn’cha? Sorry to disappoint, but I ain't got a droppa noble blood in me. Now Elo, on the udda hoof...”

Rarity’s jaw was slack. “I don't even...”

Grovi snickered. “I think it's my turn to tell you a story.”

Rarity nodded dumbly.

Grovi winked, cleared his throat, and when he spoke again, his voice had gone back to ‘normal.’

“Once upon a time, there was a blacksmith who lived in Manehatten. He was a talented, hard-working sort, but the competition of the city was fierce. In order for a pony to set themselves apart, they either had to have the right connections, be in the right place at the right time, or sell their soul to unscrupulous individuals. The blacksmith didn't want that kind of life for himself or his family, so he decided to move to Canterlot.

“Now, this blacksmith had two children. The younger was a daughter, and the elder a son. The daughter was headstrong, beautiful, and had inherited her father's entrepreneurial spirit. The son had the family talent as well, but he’d no interest in the craft, for his ambitions were to become a noble. He saw the ponies of high-society as those who worked to make the world a better place, and he wanted to have the power and authority to perform great deeds.”

Grovi sat on his haunches as he continued his tale. “The family spent their first few years in Canterlot gathering their savings in order to move into a better part of the city, but one day, the father got an idea. If he used the money to instead enroll his children in the best magical school the city had to offer, they in turn could use the skills they learned in metalworking, and set the family business apart. The blacksmith knew his children were bright, and had confidence they could succeed if given the chance, and so that’s exactly what he did.”

“The children, not left with a choice in the matter, dutifully enrolled in Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, where they were immediately shunned and made miserable by their fellow classmates for their heritage, accents, and social standing. Both of them hated every day that they had to go, but feared the punishment they’d receive if they didn't, for their father made no secret the effort being put forth for their sake.”

A grin played on Grovi’s lips. “However, fate then took an unusual twist, for one day, the two children encountered an unusual stranger on the road. It was a colt about the son’s age, and a fight quickly broke out between them. No victor emerged, though, for they were evenly matched, and after the daughter got the two of them to talk, it became clear that they had no real quarrel. The daughter then inquired further, and after some gentle coaxing, the stranger confided in them as to who he was.

“The colt revealed himself to be the son of not one, but two noble houses of Canterlot,” Grovi said. “Such a thing was not done on purpose, and while his parents had married to save face, neither of them held any love for the child, and were going to give him up to an orphanage. Before they could, though, the heads of their houses discovered their plan, and forced them to keep the child, as well as give him a proper education. The parents agreed, and so the colt learned the ways of high-society, but he considered it all to be detached, snobby, shallow, vindictive, and subversive. He wanted a normal life, a normal family, and to see the rest of the city, and while realized that he couldn’t realistically obtain the first two goals, the third could be accomplished through stealth. And so he’d snuck out of his house, and had been traveling on his merry way until he ran into the brother and sister.”

Grovi’s eyes twinkled. “While the brother was never the cleverest of types, the sister could see that there was a deal to be made. She made a proposal, and after some thought, the noble agreed. He'd teach the brother and sister the ways of high-society so that they could fit in at school, and in return, they'd show him around the city, and give him a chance at a normal life.

“Over the next eight years, the three became inseparable. They were together so much that even the gritty blacksmith came to think of the noble as a second son, and under the noble’s tutelage, the brother and sister learned to hide their accents, became educated in proper etiquette, and were even given proper clothes by the noble as gifts. All was well for a time, but as the three came of age, problems began to rise. The noble heard strange mutterings and experienced acts of unwarranted hostility from his fellow family members, and so he set out to discover the reason why. It proved to be a difficult task, for there were those taking great pains to hide it from him, but eventually he learned the truth. A series of tragic deaths had struck the houses, leaving the noble as the primary successor to both, and if he claimed this right, the two houses would have to merge. This would result a financial nightmare that would take years to settle, and making matters worse would be greedy members on both sides, trying to stake claims on the wealth and assets of the other.”

Grovi pursed his lips. “Things were not much better for the brother and sister. While they’d both excelled in magic, the brother remembered the harshness and cruelty of Manehatten, and still aspired to make the world a better place. He’d thought that the answer lay in nobility, but after being passed off as the noble’s cousin to attend a few high-society events, he came to detest the lifestyle, as well. As for the sister, she wanted to succeed their father and run the family business, but he refused to let her, saying that such work was not fitting of a mare.

“On the day the noble discovered the secret his families had been keeping from him, the blacksmith's son overheard some classmates of his talking about joining the military. He found the idea appealing, as it was a place where he could achieve his goals, and his hard work could be recognized. But what of his family? They’d sacrificed so much for him to be even capable of having such thoughts. How could he abandon them?”

Grovi stared out the window with unfocused eyes. “It was then that the noble told him and his sister of his discovery, and his feelings of complete revulsion against it. In truth, he’d no desire to succeed either house, he wanted to be completely free from the shallow, vile hobnobs and their callous social circles. In fact, he planned to go to the heads of houses the next day, and tell them he relinquished his rights to succession. However, the noble was stopped by the sister, for she realized that nopony was aware of his feelings. Why else would they try to hide it from him? The years of education had only increased her powers of perception, and she could see that there was another deal to be made here, and this time, it was one that’d make everypony happy.”

The light returned to Grovi’s eyes as he looked back at Rarity. “The next day, the noble went to the heads of his houses, and told them that he would relinquish his rights to succession, but in exchange, he wanted two things: The first was the complete freedom to do what he wanted with his life, free from any obligation or association with either house, and the second was that both houses would henceforth declare the blacksmith and his family as the sole proprietors for any services they could provide. Not only would this elevate the family’s name to unprecedented heights, it would also ensure that they’d never be poor again. Meanwhile, the son and daughter went to their father and told him of the arrangement, but they too wanted something in exchange: The son would be allowed to join the military and become similarly free from the mold he was being forced into, and in his place, the daughter would inherit the family trade.”

Grovi gritted his teeth as he seemed to remember something unpleasant. “There was arguing on both sides as all three families protested and negotiated the details, but ultimately, the arrangement was made. The noble and the blacksmith’s son became free to do what they wanted with their lives, and the daughter was given the tools and opportunity to succeed. And while the three of them had to part ways in the end, they never forgot the time they spent together, or what they had to do to get what they wanted.

“So you see, Lady Rarity,” Grovi said, “you’re lucky, for you've been given freely the things that we had to fight so hard for. You don't realize how great of a blessing it is to have even one parent that cares for you, although I understand it's easy to take for granted if it's all you've ever known. You also have the freedom to pursue your own goals and be your own mare, with your parents supporting and condoning your actions. You may see their worrying as a stifling restriction, but it's one born only of love and concern. I've never even met them, and I can see that.”

Rarity regarded Grovi with a stoic expression as he finished his tale. “Is all of that true?”

Grovi nodded. “Every word.”

“Then I’ve a question.”

“Of course.”

Rarity glanced to the side. “You said Elo loathes high-society, so much so that he did everything he could to get rid of any and all ties to it. You also said that after he showed you what it was like, you came to dislike it, as well. But ever since you’ve arrived here, you’ve both been nothing but perfect, polite gentlestallions to me. I doubt I’d find a pony with better manners at the Grand Galloping Gala.”

Grovi shifted. “So what’s your question?”

Rarity stared at Grovi with unsure, inquisitive eyes. “Why have you both been acting like nobles if you hate them so much?”

Grovi shook his head. “You misunderstand. Elo and I don't hate the lifestyle of nobles, we hate the attitudes and dispositions that nobles tend to have. Specifically: Greed, selfishness, vindictive gossip, and condescension. Elo was constantly surrounded by it, and the few times he was able to show it to me was enough for me to make up my mind. It’s an unfortunate fact that these traits are common enough in the upper class that they're the norm, not the exception, and I’m ashamed to admit that we initially assumed you were just like the nobles we knew and despised. We figured you’d be more cooperative if we put on our old masks, but upon talking with you that very first day, we decided to wear them for a different reason: because you’re one of the very few that’s worthy of such treatment.”

Grovi’s slate-colored eyes became intense. “You hold yourself to the standards of a noble, but remain respectful to those who don’t. You take pride in your crafts and are no stranger to hard work, but you don't hesitate to help others, and give your crafts away. You desire to make a name for yourself, but want to accomplish it through your own two hooves and have a fierce streak of independence. And lastly, you haven’t said as much, but I can tell that if you ever do become rich and famous, you’ll use your gifts to help others in need.”

Grovi suddenly stepped forward and took Rarity’s hoof in his. Rarity’s breath became quick and shallow as the color rose in her cheeks, but she didn’t shy away.

“You truly are a Rarity.” Grovi’s voice was soft and earnest as he held her gaze. “A beautiful, priceless gem. In fact, there's only one other pony we’ve met with the same traits as you.”

Grovi eyes sparkled as he smiled with nostalgia. “And you remind us of her.”

Rarity blinked. 'Her?' Who—

Rarity realized Grovi wasn't looking at her at all. He was looking past her and out the window as his watery eyes unfocused again.

Rarity gasped. I thought he was… oh, goodness, I remind him of his—the poor dear! I wonder when he saw her last?

She took a step closer to him and patted his shoulder. “What's her name?”

Grovi sighed. “Crystal Song.”

“Is she doing well?”

“I haven't had a chance to see her in recent years,” Grovi admitted. “The life of a soldier is a very busy one. I might get a chance to see her here in a few months, though.”

Rarity clapped her hooves. “That should be fabulous for both of you! I imagine Elo will want to see her, as well.”

“We were planning on going together soon.” Grovi’s eyes flicked to the clock, and he put the necklace box on one of the sewing tables. “I won’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, but will you accept some advice?”

Rarity acquiesced. “I’ll consider it, at the very least.”

Grovi raised his chin and turned to her. “The trust you share with your family is like the necklace you now wear: Strong, beautiful, and something you can always rely on. However, unlike the necklace, once it’s broken, it can never be repaired.”

Grovi bowed and walked towards the door. “In my experience, it’s not worth the risk.”

Rarity was left alone in the Inspiration Room with her thoughts as she regarded both what he had—and hadn’t—said. She gave the dream dress a final glance and walked upstairs, planning on relaxing for the rest of the evening.

He may be right, but that trust has been damaged and chipped so much already, it may as well be broken. Mother may be only worried about my health, but taking the pills is hurting me in a different way. I can live with the fatigue and lack of magic so long as I’m careful, but I can’t live without my creativity.

Rarity opened her eyes to see that she hung in a void. She could see the features of her body clearly, but there was nothing beyond her save for an empty space that stretched on for as far as she could see. She tried to move, but found that her limbs wouldn’t obey her.

“What is this?!” Rarity yelled out into the emptiness.

The darkness pulsed in response. It thickened, forming into large, puffy clouds that roiled and slowly inched towards her. Colors began to flare inside as they approached, forming into coherent shapes and scenes that Rarity recognized. She looked on as they played before her eyes like a projector.

Applejack's farm. Ponies she knew were everywhere. She and her friends were dancing, singing, celebrating. Granny Smith was standing on a stage, wearing a dark green dress that reminded her of a late spring meadow.

Her room. Mother was staring in the doorway, a look of anguish and supreme reluctance on her face. She blinked, and a tear fell from her face.

“...I love you beyond words, and nothing, not you, not your obsessions, not even Celestia herself can change that...”

A river made of silver glass held at bay by a tall, impregnable dam. The waters of the river were restless and they churned and violently crashed against the obstruction, but it didn't give way. On the other side was a swirling, coiling darkness.

A multifaceted opaque sphere covered with cracks. Rarity could just make out a silhouette of a pony inside covered in multicolored lights, and echoing, bodiless voice came from beyond the darkness.

“You can't kill what was never alive…”

The sphere burst into flame. The hungry fires spread into the darkness, devouring the clouds like they were parchment. The searing blaze sped towards Rarity, and she let out a terrified scream.

Rarity awoke to the warm taste of iron. She ripped off her sleeping mask and smashed her bedside desk several times searching for the light, and when she finally found it, she tore off her blankets and bolted out of bed.

It felt like her entire body had been plugged into an outlet. Rarity whined and screamed as she dashed around the room, rolled on the floor, danced in place, anything to keep her moving. She finally stopped after the adrenaline rush had faded, and the whole ordeal left her winded and drained. She gingerly felt inside her mouth, and winced as she found the spot where she’d bit her tongue. She pulled out a tissue from her nightstand and wiped the blood out of her mouth, taking deep breaths as she did.

Calm down, it was just a bad dream. There's no void, there are no clouds, and you're not about to be burned to death. You’re safe in your home, and none of it was real. Everything’s fine.

Rarity threw the tissue in the wastebasket and looked at the clock—two fourty-four. She sighed, pulled out her dream journal, and recorded the various parts of the dream she remembered, as well as the amount of time she slept. After she finished, she began to head downstairs.

“You can trust me, you know.”

“Can I?”

“In my experience, it's not worth the risk.”

Rarity hesitated, considering the words as they echoed in her strained, sleep-deprived mind. After a moment, she hung her head and closed the door.

All right, all right. Rarity went to the top drawer of her dresser and pulled out an unopened pill bottle. She broke the seal, took two, and got back into bed.

Usually takes about a half-hour for them to kick in after I've had an episode. I'll need something to do until then. Rarity looked over at the bookshelf as she considered her options. In the middle shelves were her fashion magazines, but she wasn’t in the mood for that. I spent all evening reading those. I could keep looking at them, but I’m looking for something a little more… boring.

She lowered her eyes to her spellbooks on the bottom shelf, but she shook her head. Closer, but I might be tempted into practicing some of the spells in there. Celestia knows I could certainly use the work with Evocation.

Rarity’s gaze then drifted up to the copy of Advanced Abjuration Application, and she gave a sly smile.

“Why, Twilight.” Rarity hefted the book over in her magic. “I think I've found a use for your present, after all.”