• Published 31st Dec 2017
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Upside-Down Cake - Impossible Numbers



Derpy tries her best not to feel like a failure in the lead-up to Hearth's Warming. Intriguingly enough, so does Rarity.

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Upside-Down Cake, Part II - Rarity

Of course, Rarity did return home eventually. She had an early night that night; her schedule mandated a busy day tomorrow. Besides, her mane got soaked in the blizzard, a state of affairs too depressing to take whilst wide awake.

Come the lightening sunrise, Rarity pulled off her sleeping mask, opened the blinds, and was greeted by yet more blizzard. If anything, it looked colder, windier, and more vicious than yesterday’s.

One day, she knew, she was going to write a strongly worded letter of complaint to the Cloudsdale Weather Factory.

For now, she wrapped up warm: scarves, woolly hats, a thick anorak, and hoof-shoes so high off the ground that she felt giddy for a moment. That was after cooking and serving herself as many warm boiled eggs, warm toast slices, warm crumpets with melting butter, warm toasted muffins, and warm baked beans she could find. That way, she’d cover both her inside and her outside.

She thought warm thoughts, like sunbathing on the tropical beaches of the Eeyori’i Islands, or trekking over the scorching sands of Saddle Arabia. She jumped up and down on the spot, bent and unbent her legs, and generally did as many exercises as she could think of that didn’t look embarrassing for a lady to perform.

Then she went out.

It was like plunging into a sea. At once, the chill and the snowflakes swarmed over her outer layer, winds howled with otherworldly voices, and her heavily wrapped limbs moved through the drifts as urgently as a snow plough in a vat of molasses. She almost gasped with shock.

“Well, this is a f-f-f-fine st-st-start to the day,” she muttered. Icicles already clung to her eyelashes.

Navigating more by memory than by sight – every cottage was a ghostly hump in the blizzard – she made her way down the slope and along a narrow path. What should’ve been a few minutes of walking felt like an agonizingly endless trek through the Frozen North.

Finally, a door loomed up. She knocked hard.

Her mother answered the door. Wearing…What else…? The sort of woollen, hoof-knitted jumper that made even Derpy’s tackiest ensemble look like the work of high art.

“Oh hi, dear!” said her mother.

Here’sss the p-p-p-package.” Rarity levitated it from her back and thrust it through the door. “Assss p-p-p-promissssed.”

“My word, Rarity! You look like a walkin’ ice block. Come in and get some coffee in your system. You’ll freeze like one of them woollen mammoth things they dig up.”

Rarity winced. Which was odd, because when Applejack made her country-isms, it was water off a duck’s back to Rarity. Yet when her own mother did it, it was barbed wire dumped on a duck’s rump.

“N-N-No!” she managed to say. “Got ssssstuff to do! B-B-Busy!”

“Aw dearest, you work like a beaver family in flood season! Kick back for once, like your pa does. He’s sortin’ out the frozen plumbin’ stuff, you know.”

Rarity rolled her eyes, a sticky attempt in this weather. Her pa – erm, her father – had a certain unerring belief in his own ability to pick things up as he went along. Plumbing, roof repair, broken toasters: give him a new problem and he’d act like he could master it in five minutes, which given his ability to break things could keep him locked in a feedback loop for hours.

“Issss SSSSSweetie B-B-B-Belle h-home?” she said.

“Nah. You wanna try them carol singers up on the way. Reckon they’re meetin’ at the town hall right about now.” Elbowing Rarity, she giggled. “Hey, just between us: I’m cookin’ up somethin’ nice for our little sweetie-pie. Somethin’ special. A big surprise.”

Rarity sighed. “It’sssss f-f-fr-fruitcake.”

“Good guesstimate! How the heavens did ya guesstimate that one?”

Enough with the fancy words. You make fruitcake every year. And you always think it’s a surprise. And that it’s nice. That it’s special, I can’t deny: one could smash windows and hammer nails with it.

“Th-Th-Thank you.” Rarity gave a quick hug and left before her mother made any “helpful” suggestions.

The battle against the blizzard raged on. No doubt this was all because someone forgot to make it snow on Saturday, or something ridiculous like that. They were always doing this overcompensation trick with the rain during the springtime.

Under her thick army of hats, Rarity cocked an ear and listened. Howling winds. She waded through the drifts, and then heard scraping and stepped aside at once.

A wall of white rose up and tumbled over and over, resembling nothing less than a great white tsunami. Behind it, pushing a plough almost as big as him, was Big McIntosh, Ponyville’s one stallion who could clear a snowdrift with such easygoing steps. Rumour had it he’d once pulled a house down the street by accident.

At least the grass was clear now. Rarity watched him disappear into the mist, and then leaped for the cleared path and marched forwards. As she did so she heard the faint voices up ahead.

Carol singers. Wonderful!

Ghostly shapes moved in the mist of snow. Through the gauze of the world, Rarity saw heads bobbing and loose scarves flapping. Judging from their size, all but three of them were foals.

Then the school of Ponyville cleared the flurry of snowflakes.

Leading the march was Lyra Heartstrings: stiff-backed, strong-legged, and bellowing out a verse as though her life depended on the blizzard being deafened.

“THE FIRE OF FRIENDSHIP LIVES IN OUR HEARTS!” she screamed.

Dozens of little lips and cheeks struggled against the chill as they bellowed in kind, “AS LONG AS IT BURNS, WE CANNOT DRIFT APART!”

LOUDER AND JOLLIER! Hello, Rarity! Didn’t see you there!” Lyra beamed briefly before rounding on the foals. “RAISE THOSE SPIRITS, BLAST AND CONFOUND YOU! LOUDER! LOUDER!! LOUDER‼!

“THOUGH QUARRELS ARISE, THEIR NUMBERS ARE FEW!” bellowed the foals.

“Erm, ex-x-x-xcusssse m-m-me,” said Rarity, marvelling at how Lyra could keep going with only one hat and one scarf. “Issss SSSSSweetie B-B-B-Belle h-here?”

“LAUGHTER AND SINGING WILL SEE US THROUGH!” screamed Lyra in a paroxysm of seasonal cheer.

“WILL SEE US THROUGH!” chorused the foals.

DINKY! STRAIGHTEN UP THAT TIMING! PIÑA! ACCENT ON THE RIGHT SYLLABLES! COME ON, PEGASI, I WANT TO FEEL MY OWN EARDRUMS BLOW THEMSELVES OUT! DO YOUR DUTY, YOU MAGGOTS! Yeah, I think she’s near the back. Don’t keep her long, ma’am.” Lyra winked as she passed.

“WE ARE A CIRCLE OF PONY FRIENDS!” squealed the foals in her wake.

Cheerilee – Ponyville’s answer to the Wild West’s schoolmarm, and considerably less uptight about it – was the second adult, and a much more welcome sight could scarcely be imagined. Even the foals nearest her looked slightly less haggard, facing the blizzard with far less slump and far more stride.

Unlike Lyra, Cheerilee was wrapped in several layers – the Mark of the Sensible – and thus was one of the few ponies singing with a smile. As she passed, she nodded back to the rear of the group. Rarity nodded once to show she understood, and Cheerilee’s smile widened before they all exploded into the main verse again.

Lyra’s bellows echoed even through the muffling snow. Quite a dedicated mare for her music, that one, Rarity thought. Although a bit salty for someone leading foals.

Instantly, even over the scrambled syllables of small singing fillies, she heard Sweetie Belle’s tones. Yet nothing actually distinguished them from the rest, other than the fact that Rarity had heard those tones all her life.

Sweetie Belle herself traipsed at the rearguard, clearly not interested in any publicity.

“A CIRCLE OF FRIENDS WE’LL BE TO THE VERRRRRYYYYY EEEEEEEEEEEEENNNNNNNNDDDDDD!” cried her voice through the collective.

Rarity sighed and listened for a while. Hearing her sister singing was one of the privileges of life, provided Sweetie Belle wasn’t trying too hard.

Unfortunately, it was soon strangled out by another voice.

This voice… now this voice was technically singing. In the same way, a dazed, post-concussive stagger was technically dancing, and razor blades on glass were technically musical instruments. They worked through the same medium, they went places they shouldn’t go, they involved a certain degree of pain, and yet a small part of the mind insisted on watching because it couldn’t believe what was going on.

Derpy watched over the carol singers. She’d neglected a hat, but not the woolly Hearth’s Warming jumper, and had enough sense to put boots on, even if they were on the wrong feet. She belted out another verse with gusto. Fillies whimpered and rubbed their ears. Sweetie Belle clenched her teeth as though contemplating a root canal done with sledgehammers.

For the moment, morbid curiosity stayed Rarity. She kept pace with the herd.

Up ahead, ponies faded into view where the blizzard thinned. Some screamed and ran indoors. Some cringed and turned their muzzles aside. Some pulled hoods over their faces. Some stared at the group as though encountering creatures from a realm ponydom was not meant to know wot of, or something to that effect; they certainly gaped a lot.

A few misguided souls yelled back, but only managed to make a background muffling against the onslaught of peace and goodwill, which in any case was broken up only by Lyra’s demands for more of both in a higher pitch.

Rarity threw them pitying looks. At least they only had to wait for the procession to pass by. She endured the noise only to find out how long it would last. Currently, her brain was accusing her ears of misreporting. No one could make a noise like that, her brain was saying, and live.

After a while of this, most of the foals died down. Derpy’s voice staggered and threatened to topple, like a drunk zigzagging the road in search of her legs. Yet still she smiled while doing it.

By now, ponies up ahead were fleeing. Not even the curious ones were sticking around for long. Dogs howled. Cats screeched and scurried off. Clumps of snow slid off rooftops. Windows rattled, shaking loose icicles that shattered.

Shutters slammed. Locks clicked. Curtains were drawn. A couple of the more enterprising households banged saucepans or put on loud music to drown out the cacophony catastrophe crawling like a chthonic creature up the street.

Eventually, something cracked.

Lyra’s voice cut through the din. “WHOA, WHOA, WHOA! STOP! STOP! STOP!

“WE SHOULD BE SO HONOURED,” warbled Derpy’s voice, “THAT PRINCESS – Oh, I guess we’ve stopped. OK.”

Crunching snow and striding legs drew up close as Lyra frowned at her. “What was that!? We’re singing for charity money, not menaces money!”

“I’m singing,” said Derpy uncertainly. “We’re singing the Hearth’s Warming Pageant Carol, right?”

Lyra groaned into a hoof. “You’ve sung in crowds before. What’s going on now?”

“Huh?”

“I mean, what’s with the… the alto? The timing? The inflection?”

“Oh dear. Was I out of sync again? I thought I was out of sync again.” Derpy hovered overhead, a traditional pegasus sign of worry. “I could speed up my singing.”

Clearly, it was too early in the morning for Lyra to be dealing with this. “You mean you don’t know?

“Well, it’s Hearth’s Warming season. I thought I should go for the big jolly style. Listen: THE FIRES OF FRIENDSHIP –”

Lyra jumped. “NO!” she yelped. “Not that!”

Derpy clammed up at once, somewhat shocked. “Or… I could do it quietly? Only this time of year, I was hoping to bring some joy to pony homes.”

In more restrained tones, Lyra added, “No, thank you. I’ll, uh, I’ll… Look, thank you for volunteering and everything, but, uh, I’m, uh, not… quite sure this is the best thing for you right now. That’s just my opinion. Nothing personal. In fact, I love your commitment. And your enthusiasm. It’s just that I could just do with hearing… someone else’s…”

Blinking a few times, Derpy waited politely for the other shoe to drop.

Well, I’ve had my entertainment. Rarity stepped forwards smartly, and ignored the way Sweetie Belle sagged at the sight of her approaching.

“G-G-Good m-m-morning, D-D-Derpy. What a p-p-pleasant sssssurprisssse!” Rarity bowed her head respectfully, and then did the same to a suddenly uncertain Lyra. “M-M-May I b-b-borrow SSSSSSweetie B-B-Belle for a wh-while?”

“What, right now?” said Lyra.

“N-Naturally.”

“Can’t it wait? We’re carolling.”

Giving her smile the slight curl only a Canterlot pony could appreciate, Rarity added, in tones that would’ve been a lot silkier if her voice box hadn’t frozen stiff, “I’d alssssso like to b-b-borrow D-D-Derpy too. I, erm, have a little ffffffavour to asssssk.”

Both Lyra’s ears and Derpy’s ears rose up.

“You want me too?” said Derpy, and the old smile rose up again.

“Derpy too?” said Lyra.

“Uh huh,” said Rarity through a face rapidly numbing with ice. “For a while.”

“You want my help with something?” Derpy rose up where she was, airborne with hope.

“M-Maybe.”

“Let me be sure I got this,” said Lyra. Her lips struggled, either with the words or with encroaching chills. “This is simply for a while, right?”

“Y-Yes. M-Maybe longer.”

The fire of peace and goodwill blazed within Lyra’s eyes. At once, she turned to Derpy. “Fancy that! Looks like Rarity’s needs are greater than mine, eh!?”

“You don’t mind?” said Derpy, suddenly curling up with anxiety. “I wouldn’t want to run out on you when you were counting on me.”

“Don’t be silly! I’d rather you felt you were doing the best good possible. Who better to provide that than Miss Generosity herself?”

“Yeah, but still –”

“Go on. We’ll find a way. It’s…” Lyra’s lips trembled. She swallowed with the effort. “It’s… just… singing.”

And Rarity smiled all the more generously, for she knew she had done a good deed that day. Clearly, Lyra was a sensitive connoisseur of the melodic arts.

“Th-Thank you kindly,” said Rarity with another nod. “And SSSSSweetie B-Belle, of c-c-course.”

For the first time, Sweetie Belle stepped out of the gathered throng of little bodies. There was an unmistakeable scowl on her face. In some respects, or so Rarity reflected, she wasn’t quite the cheerful child of yore.

“Don’t I get a say in this?” said Sweetie Belle.

Rarity grimaced at the tone. Ah well, looks like I’ll have to use my deadliest weapon yet.

Wheedling.

She pouted, extra thick, and tried to will her eyes to be extra glisteny. “Aw, SSSSweetie B-Belle. I’m asssssking n-nicely. It’sssss only a widdle favour. That’sssss all. A widdle favour for your d-dear ssssssissssster.”

And… there it was: the flicker of uncertainty in Sweetie Belle’s face. A weakness, covered up and pretending to be a strength.

“Well,” said the little filly, looking over the assembled faces. “I guess if it’s only for a while…”

“Wonderful!” said Lyra, about-turning before anyone changed their minds. “All righty, troops! Now we’re going to sing ‘Good Princess of Equestria’, and this time I want you to sing it so ponies won’t be able to get it out of their heads for weeks! That’s extra angelic! No solos! I wanna see tears on every Ponyvillian face when we’re through, got it?”

“YESSIR!” said the class. Among the foals, Cheerilee shook her head at the theatricality of it all, and wow, did Rarity feel for that mare.

“O JUST GRANT ME A MARE, AND SHE’LL FIGHT ‘GAINST THY SUN,

O BUT GRANT ME THE FOAL, AND I’LL MAKE HER BUT ONE

OF THE MARES OF YOUR HIGHNESS: A MARE OF YOUR SUN.

O BUT GRANT ME THE FOAL, AND I’LL GRANT YOU THE MARE

WHO WILL GRANT YOU, YOUR HIGHNESS, YOUR TRIBUTE TO SHARE…”

For a while, Rarity watched the carollers march off. Over the howling winds, the words faded into the distance, which was probably just as well, as it sounded like the sort of carol invented before the age of democratic process.

Nearby, more snow tumbled down. Rarity led on wordlessly. Already, the heat of her breakfast must be dissipating. So long as the other two had the sense to follow without wasting time on questions, they could find somewhere nice and warm to discuss things.

In the meantime, she desperately tried to think up an excuse to give to Derpy. Not quite the master chess move she’d hoped for, but she’d do the best she could.