• Published 19th Mar 2016
  • 5,434 Views, 186 Comments

Carousel - Thornquill

There is a part of Ponyville’s past its citizens forgot, a part that was left to rot... until Rarity encounters a dark power in Old Town Hall.

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Chapter 5 - Forms

When Rarity woke up the next morning, she was exhausted. The surreal dream still lingered on the edges of her mind, and the memory of the previous night cast an unsettling shadow she didn’t seem able to purge. As far as she knew, she had never sleepwalked in her life. Having spent most of it living with either her parents or roommates, she imagined it would have been revealed at some point if she had.

The way she remembered the dream disturbed her as well. Normally, she could never remember dreams as anything but formless impressions—evocative of things in the waking world, but unrecognizable after the fact. Yet she remembered every hoofstep she had taken, from leaving her bed to slipping through the narrow hall and down the coiled staircase into the showroom. She remembered moving toward that strange figure on the table. Worst of all, she remembered the malicious, aberrant intent that had steeped in her chest like a fiery venom.

Now, it filled her with a perplexing shame and regret. She wasn’t sure she had ever felt such a strong emotion in her life, and to have felt such deadly sentiment in her heart, even brought on by the delusion of a dream, made her feel as guilty as if she had snapped at Fluttershy or swatted somepony’s pet.

She shivered as she half-stepped, half-rolled out of bed. Perhaps it would be good to get outside again and try to take my mind off things. Pulling a fluffy, pink robe from the closet, she walked listlessly across the room to the windows. Weak, orange-red sunlight was managing to wheedle its way through the clouds and stain the room with restless shades of ocher. The streets below were dirty and encrusted with fresh sheets of ice, and Rarity pulled her robe closer against a chill that seemed to radiate from the glass.

Faced with that cold scene, going anywhere outside was quickly becoming the most unappealing thing in the world. When she imagined the pile of unfinished linens looming accusingly in the dark showroom below, she realized that she simply had more important things to do.

She yawned heavily as she walked downstairs. The meager energy she had felt on seeing the sunrise bled away into the empty stillness, and she looked with reluctant resignation on the sewing table. The low light made her want to just turn around, walk up the steps, and crawl back into bed for another hour—or another day.

Not time for that, she scolded herself halfheartedly. I’m going to get things done today even if I have to sew myself to the table to do it. There was no harm in taking some time to wake herself up though, so she trotted into the kitchen, pulled her long matches from a drawer, set the kettle on the stove, and lit the steady, blue flames beneath it with a gentle whoosh. While the water heated, she took the matches back into the showroom, still blinking heavily, and felt for the first lamp with a hoof while preparing the matches in her magic.

Her hoof thumped and slid against the cold wood for a few times, causing her to frown and look up at where she thought the lamp to be. She blinked twice as she saw that her hoof lay in the middle of an empty expanse of wood paneling. She looked around for the lamp she knew occupied the alcove. It provided the only light at the bottom of the stairs and the kitchen entrance, but she saw no sign of it in the gloom. She lowered her hoof with a baffled expression and turned in a slow circle, convinced she was somehow missing it and it would appear right under her nose.

Finally, she gave up with a confused shake of her head and went around the room, lighting the chandeliers and the rest of the lamps. She felt a little livelier as the warm light blossomed over the room, as if she were waking up along with the rest of the place. She slid the thin paper box of matches closed with a slight rasp and trotted away from the front of the room to check on her tea.

When she entered the alcove, however, she saw the lamp fixture exactly where she would have expected it to be. She stopped in her tracks and regarded it curiously. The light from the rest of the flames glinted from it in an almost ominous fashion, and she moved closer to light it. But when she reached for the valve, her hoof froze and her pupils shrank painfully in alarm as she realized the valve was already half-open. She could just hear the tiniest hiss of gas escaping from its unlit burner. The air smelled clear and cool, but she could clearly imagine the vapors building up and drifting into the showroom or kitchen where dozens of open flames were drinking in the clean air and pulling the flammable fumes towards them.

Her fatigue was sucked away as panic took its place. The matches fell to the floor as she seized the valve in her magic, firmly twisting it shut before racing into the kitchen to open the back windows. She then ran to the front door and opened it as well, pulling back from the draft with a shiver as she glanced back to the alcove. The line hadn’t been open for very long, so she doubted she needed to shut off the lamps. The draft would be enough to disperse it harmlessly, but it had still been a near thing.

I must have bumped it in the dark without realizing, she thought, taking several deep, relaxing breaths of the outside air. I’ll have to be careful of that one in the future if I can’t even see it before lighting the others.

* * *

Rarity stepped back from her table a few hours later and held up the next section of wall hangings with a tired smile. It was the first piece of what would eventually become a decorative canopy over the main display dais and easily one of the most complicated patterns she had worked out so far. There were two more sections to make before she could assemble the dais proper, but as she laid it aside and worked a kink out of her neck, she decided she had earned a break from stooping over a desk.

Pulling out a large sheet of paper, she unfolded it and trotted to the side of the room where the dais would soon be. The paper was heavily marked in pencil and laid out the showroom in meticulously-measured detail. As she scrutinized it, she brought several long measuring tapes over from the desk and started to lay them out on the floor around her.

“The base will go... here,” she muttered to herself, laying out the tapes in three lines reaching out from the wall and marking several points on the floor with white chalk. “The platform will extend to... here, and that leaves the mirrors there.” More lines and several X’s as the chalk continued to dart about. It left the floor and flew to the beams of the ceiling, where Rarity struck several more X’s into place where the hangings would be secured.

“I should make sure the height is correct,” she continued, glancing at the boxed mirrors lined up behind the ponnequins at the other end of the room. As her magic wound around and lifted the three largest boxes, she shuffled smaller ones aside as the others floated towards her, carefully held high above where the ponnequins stood facing the wall.

In unison, the protective packaging began to disassemble in midair, and the refuse fell away in bits and pieces as pristine full-length mirrors emerged. They stood freely on large bases of black iron and were framed in rings of bright gold. As Rarity settled them into place, she noticed with satisfaction that they didn’t wobble in the slightest, even when she prodded them gently. She would secure them to the floor just to be safe, but it was good to know that there were ponies out there who held their craft to the same standards she did.

As she peeled the protective coat from the oval surfaces, the whole of the showroom came into view behind her in the flawless silver of the glass. They were too tall at the moment, but once the dais was in place, ponies standing on it would be able to see whatever they were wearing from every possible angle. Rarity took quick note of the height of the mirrors and compared it to her diagram, nodding to herself as the numbers lined up.

“Perfect.” She whisked the tapes away back to the desk. She smiled as she looked at the reflections, even if the slightly disheveled state of her mane was painfully obvious to her. A moment later, though, the smile faded as a feeling of uncertainty overtook her. Something struck her as different from what she expected. She turned and looked behind her, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. There were the few decorations she had already placed, the ponnequins lined up facing the wall, the remaining boxes of mirrors, and the sewing table piled with fabric.

As she dismissed the idea and turned back to the mirror, however, the feeling returned. It was the same as when she had failed to find the lamp earlier. She had the notion that something wasn’t where it should be, but she couldn’t figure out why. She leaned this way and that, changing her view between the three mirrors, trying to figure out what was drawing her attention. She could see the windows at the far end and even a little of the quiet street outside, the closed front door. The lamps were burning brightly above the ponnequins as they looked blankly into the room, and a little of the alcove was even visible in the rightmost mirror.

Rarity shook her head and turned away, her eyes passing briefly over the empty, shallow eyes in the faces of the dress forms before she faced the room. She only took a few steps, however, and saw the backs of the dress forms turned to her. She came to a stop. Weren’t they facing the other way?

She blinked, frowning and glancing over her shoulder at the mirrors. Sure enough, all of the models were turned to face the wall, and she couldn’t see a single one of their faces. They were exactly where they had been since the delivery ponies had dropped them off. And yet, Rarity could have sworn she had been able to see their eyes when she looked in the mirrors. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more she was certain they had been turned fully towards her.

The idea sent a chill through her, and she turned back and forth several times, checking the reflection and what she could see of the room itself. Try as she might, though, she couldn’t replicate the discrepancy. The models continued to stare with inanimate resolution at the wall. With her narrowed eyes fixed doubtfully on the ponnequins, Rarity walked back to the desk, stepped around it, and stood to begin working on the next piece of the dais. After a final, skeptical glance, she took her eyes from the dress forms and started to feed the next bolt of fabric into the machine.

Try as she might, however, she couldn’t focus on it. The idea that the ponnequins had turned to look at her in the mirror kept intruding on her thoughts, and she very nearly ruined the hanging several times by imagining them doing so again whenever she was looking down at the fabric. This inevitably made her want to look up again, but she would resist—partly in the hopes that she would regain her focus, and partly because her heart would start to beat a little faster and her hooves tremble ever so slightly as she imagined what she might see when she did.

Then, when the contest grew to be too much, she would break down and glance up sharply, only to see that, of course, nothing had moved. Instead of feeling relieved, however, Rarity’s paranoia started to worsen.

Stop being silly, Rarity, she told herself. You’re acting like a filly and letting your imagination get the better of you. Of course they didn’t move. They can’t move.

Unless someone moved them, came the unbidden thought, which she crushed with the withering weight of her own disappointment.

“Fine, Rarity, what next?” she asked. “Maybe the decorations will hang themselves and the spring line will just sew itself up all nice and neat while you have a day off, wouldn’t that be lovely?”

She bent down to her work. But the familiar anxiety mounted as she imagined all those dress forms standing behind her and watching as she tried to work.

Moving up behind you while you’re not looking, she thought before she could stop herself. She finished the stitch and pulled the fabric up, inspecting it critically. Too short... ponyfeathers. She scowled and tossed it down. It was fixable, but she loathed the idea of putting up anything even slightly marred by a prior flaw. The decorations would be in the shop for years, after all.

“I think I really do need some fresh air,” she said, walking away and beginning to douse the lamps around the room. As she came around to the location of the dais, she stepped up to the mirrors with a defiant glare as she prepared to snuff the last lamps flanking them. As the lights faded and vanished, she inhaled a tiny whiff of the smoke. It smelled odd and tangy in a way that almost reminded her of tree sap. Then she looked in the mirror, a satisfied expression lingering for a single moment before it fell away in shock as she saw that the ponnequins were all facing her.

She yelped and spun around, snatching her scissors from across the room and sending them hurtling through the air in a red-and-silver arc to hover by her head. Breathing hard through her teeth, she stared wide-eyed at the motionless figures. They were facing the wall, their eyes completely hidden. Once again she stole a hasty glance back at the mirrors, and they showed exactly the same thing.

I saw... she thought, not lowering the scissors as she tried to understand. They moved. They had to have moved.

That’s absurd. You’re just... just...

She told herself that she hadn’t slept well and the light had played a trick on her, but the excuse sounded small and flimsy. She was afraid to turn back to the mirror again, afraid of what she would see if she kept looking. What if she looked and the models had turned again, or had somehow, inexplicably, started to move towards her?

“About that fresh air,” she murmured as if to convince someone else listening instead of herself. That was it—she had been cooped up indoors for days and was going a little stir-crazy. A walk in the park would do her good. Dropping the scissors, she trotted shakily across the room, keeping the line of dress forms in the corner of her eye at all times. Then she let herself out and shut the door firmly behind her.

As soon as she turned away and started down the road towards the park, she knew she had made the right decision. The air felt so light and clear. She felt like she had been breathing underwater for the past few days and only just come up to the surface. Even overcast and snowbound, she thought Ponyville looked brighter and friendlier than it had in years. It didn’t matter that the trees in the park were barren and the grass buried under a layer of what, by now, was probably compacted ice. What mattered was that it wasn’t filled with moving shadows cast by glaring, open fires or dim, stuffy halls. She couldn’t ask for more.

She lay down on a bench by the frozen fountain, and just allowed herself to stretch out and relax.

I really need to try to clear my mind more before I sleep, she thought as she watched the shadowy line of the Whitetail Woods shivering in the light breeze. Everything will get done on time, Rarity. It will. You can do it. They’ll all see what you can do. You’ll be the type of pony everypony wants to know.

A flash of color and movement broke her reverie and drew her attention to a figure walking down the path towards her. Two figures, she realized, and a smile broke out across her face a moment later as she recognized one of them as Fluttershy. Rarity waved and called to them as the two approached, and Fluttershy waved back. As they trotted closer, Rarity realized the other was Pinkie Pie. Her smile became a little more fixed.

“Hello Rarity,” Fluttershy said, her expression becoming concerned and surprised as she looked Rarity over. “Oh my, aren’t you cold? I can’t stand to go out in winter without at least something to keep away the chill.”

It was only then that Rarity remembered that she hadn’t bothered to put anything on before leaving the house. She had been so pleased to be out, she hadn’t noticed the cold in the slightest. “Oh, I’m alright darling, it’s really not that bad.”

“Really? Because I forgot my coat and boots at home too, and I’m fuh-reezing!” Pinkie exclaimed. She gave a shiver that was so theatrical, Rarity marveled that she didn’t fall over.

“What brings you out here anyway, Rarity?” Fluttershy asked. “I thought you would be hard at work all week getting your shop ready.”

Rarity felt a slight twinge of guilt, followed quickly by a small surge of anger. What, I’m not entitled to a break every now and then? She banished the thought immediately and explained, “Oh, just a short respite between patterns. Even I can only stare at stitching for so long before my eyes start to cross.”

“Maybe you need glasses!” Pinkie said before becoming distracted by her own mane.

“I’ve... never really thought about it,” Rarity said, looking at Pinkie in confusion. “Are you alright, darling?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah! I just got that weird, annoying feeling that I’ve forgotten something... did I leave my cannon at your place, Fluttershy?”

“Um... no? I don’t think you brought it this time... which I really appreciated by the way,” she added in an undertone.

“Really? Huh. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll think of it eventually!” Pinkie said happily. “I bet it’s because I didn’t add it to the filing system... if I don’t put something in the ‘to do’ pile right away, it just flies away! Huh, that’s really catchy... ‘file away or fly away!’ ”

“I’m surprised you two know each other,” Rarity said, hoping to keep the conversation itself from flying away.

“Of course!” Pinkie said. “Flutters here was one of the first ponies I met when I moved to Ponyville!”

“She helps with all my little animal friends’ birthdays,” Fluttershy chipped in. “As a matter of fact, Mrs. Ruby just had a litter of kittens, so we were having a little get-together to help her celebrate.”

“I had no idea,” Rarity said, looking back at Fluttershy. She really couldn’t imagine two such polar opposites getting along, but there were stranger things, she supposed. “So, you have newborn puppies and kittens in the cottage now?”

“That’s right.” The widest grin Rarity had ever seen was lighting up Fluttershy’s face.

“I imagine that must be quite a hoof-ful.”

“Oh, not really. The mothers know how to take care of them. I just help out wherever it’s needed.”

“So how’re you liking the new place, Rares?” Pinkie asked. “Everything ship-shape and hunky-dory?”

“Well, it’s... taking a bit of getting used to,” Rarity admitted. “It certainly has its own personality...”

“You get that with all the old houses. Just give it a few weeks and all those old creaks and groans will be as familiar to you as your own heartbeat!”

“No doubt,” Rarity asked. “Is that why you came by last week? Just to check in on things?”

Pinkie shook her head, her smile totally unaffected. “Nope, I’ve been practicing my baking at home every night! Auntie and Uncle Cake even said I can start helping out in the store soon. Well, they aren’t really my auntie and uncle, but they’re such good friends of the family, and they’ve been giving me a place to stay ever since I moved away from home so I could meet more ponies, and—”

“Oh, my mistake,” Rarity said warily, wondering how long of a sentence the pony could construct if left uninterrupted. “I thought I saw you outside the other night. Must have been somepony who resembles you.”

“Noperoni!” Pinkie tilted her head and looked into the distance, her grin diminishing to a contented smile as she contemplated something. “Huh. I wonder who it could’ve been. There aren’t many ponies in Ponyville who look like me, and I know everypony here in Ponyville... Maybe Amethyst, but she’s always playing games with Derpy and Dinky on Saturday nights. Or maybe Cheerilee, but she’s always grading papers at night... or maybe there’s somepony new in town!” She gave a sudden gasp that startled Rarity and made Fluttershy flinch. “I gotta go and check, bye Rarity, bye Fluttershy!”

“Ah... goodbye?” Rarity said to the suddenly empty space beside the bench. “Goodness. Dealing with that one is like trying to teach embroidery to a tomcolt.”

“Oh, she’s not so bad,” Fluttershy giggled. “She can be a bit overwhelming, but she’s always ever so nice.”

“I suppose.”

Perhaps noticing Rarity’s aloof manner, Fluttershy sat down next to her with a concerned frown and asked, “Are you alright, Rarity? You look a little tired.”

“Is it so obvious?” Rarity lamented. “Well, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I really haven’t been sleeping all that well lately.”

“Oh my, I’m sorry. Is it just the stress?”

“To a degree. And I’m really not used to being in a new place yet, as I’m sure you can imagine. It’s... unsettling.”

“Do you... I mean, is there anything wrong with it? You don’t dislike it, do you?”

“Oh no, nothing like that. It’s perfect, really. I couldn’t have asked for better.” Rarity smiled in an attempt to appear reassuring, but it faded a little as she thought. “It is a bit grim, I guess you could say. I’m really looking forward to getting it decorated. It’s almost... oppressive, in a way. You know, there’s even been a few times when I’ve stepped inside, and felt... unwelcome.”

She paused, about to mention the bizarre collection of art she had found in the basement and the way she suspected it was riling up her imagination. Yet when she looked up and noticed Fluttershy’s concerned frown, she put aside all thought of mentioning anything of an unsettling nature.

“Oh, I didn’t mean to go off like that,” she said instead, realizing how Fluttershy would probably react to a discussion of the strange paintings. “It will be wonderful when I get it all spruced up, I’m sure of it.”

“I hope so. If anypony can make that place feel like a home again, it’s you.” Fluttershy shivered. “Are you sure you aren’t cold, Rarity? I’d be happy to lend you my scarf if you want it.”

“...You know, I think I might just take you up on that,” Rarity conceded, and accepted the scarf as Fluttershy quickly unwrapped it from her neck. “I don’t know what I was thinking, coming out here like this. It just felt so good to get away from work for a little bit.”

“Well, I’m free this afternoon, if you’d like to spend a little more time together,” Fluttershy offered. “You know, I’ve always been meaning to try out this little spa in the west corner of the market. We could see what it’s like, if you want to.”

Rarity hesitated, thinking of all the work she had left behind and the list of priorities that only seemed to grow with every task she checked off. I really shouldn’t. I’ve wasted enough time as it is. She smiled tiredly. “Not that it doesn’t sound positively divine, Fluttershy, but I really have so much to do. I should get back.”

“Are you sure? You still have plenty of time. You need to take care of yourself.”

“Yes, Fluttershy,” Rarity said with a slight air of annoyance. She stood up and made to start back down the path towards town. “Opening day will be on me before I know it if I’m not careful.”

“Oh... okay. I’ll walk with you back to your shop, though. If you don’t mind, of course.”

“Of course not,” Rarity said as she started to head back into town. They walked for a few minutes in silence, simply taking in the scenery together as the afternoon wore on.

“I don’t think I’ve mentioned it, but I am really happy you decided to stay here in Ponyville,” Fluttershy said finally. “I wasn’t looking forward to seeing you leave.”

“Well, it’s not as though I’m settling down here permanently.” Rarity looked around her with a slightly distasteful expression. “I still have my sights set on Canterlot.”

“Oh... of course,” Fluttershy said, sounding slightly hurt. She looked away, and Rarity was about to ask if anything was the matter when they turned onto South Market Street, and she caught sight of the dark windows of the shop.

“Well, thank you for talking with me,” she said instead, smiling and pulling away slightly. “I’m sure you have things of your own to get back to, so I won’t keep you any longer.”

“It was no trouble at all, Rarity. It’s a quiet day for me,” Fluttershy replied, continuing to follow Rarity as she moved towards the shop. “I can stay and visit for a little while, if you still want some company.”

“No!” Rarity said, her mother’s last unending visit flashing through her mind. She really didn’t want anyone else spending time in the shop just then. She had spoken a little too quickly though, and she cringed guiltily as Fluttershy shrank back again. “Really, the place is a mess, and I couldn’t bear to have anyone see it just now. I just need to put in a good few days of work, and then things should be a little easier.”

Besides, she thought suddenly, remembering what had driven her outside in the first place, what if the dress forms look like they’ve been tampered with again? For a moment, she saw herself opening the door, Fluttershy right behind her, and then seeing the twelve faceless, lifeless ponies standing there, all turned to watch the door as Rarity and Fluttershy came in. She shuddered, trying and failing to push the thought out of her mind.

“It’s fine, really,” Rarity said, smiling again as she looked at her friend. “Tell you what, once I get things a little bit more in order, we’ll check out that spa together, yes?”

“Alright,” Fluttershy said, her tension seeming to dissipate a little as she returned the smile. “But really, you can come see me anytime you need to talk or anything.”

“I know. Thank you, Fluttershy. I’ll see you soon.” Rarity turned and hastily trotted away, hoping Fluttershy wouldn’t feel the need to follow. She stayed behind in the marketplace though, and Rarity was left alone as she walked up to the shop and fiddled with the handle. She paused as she imagined the dress forms inside once more, wondering what she would see when she opened the door. It was enough to make her stop and stand there for several seconds, the cold biting into her more and more.

Rubbish, she thought, lifting the latch. She had to go inside at some point or another. As she expected, however, the dress forms were exactly where she had left them, lined up and facing towards the wall. She let out a breath she didn’t remember holding, and locked herself in for the rest of the day. Nothing else was different from how she remembered it, so she set about relighting the lamps so she could get back to work. It was only then that she felt the gentle scratch of warm wool against her neck. She realized with a guilty pang that she had forgotten to return Fluttershy’s scarf.

I’ll get it back to her next time, she thought, taking it off and draping it next to the desk. She thought of what Fluttershy had said about staying in Ponyville and felt another stab of regret for her response. She hadn’t meant to put down Ponyville so much, especially when her friendship with Fluttershy had come to mean so much to both of them. But she couldn’t stay there forever. Indeed, even when the shop had seemed no less threatening than a risky business proposition, she had always had it in the back of her mind that it was just one more attempt to get out of town and to the high-class communities where she truly belonged.

I might be getting my start here, Rarity thought as she trotted up to the table and seized several lengths of fabric, but I can’t possibly stay here. It’s a stepping stone, nothing more. One day, there will be a shop in Canterlot with my name on it, and mine will be one of those case studies fashion students read about. “Rarity’s boutique sprang from the humblest of beginnings, starting with nothing but a dilapidated old shop in a country town. If she could do it, so can you.”

And then, I can finally leave this place behind.

And what about Fluttershy? she wondered as she started up her machine.

...No. I can’t let one friend hold me back. No friendship lasts forever. That’s just life.