• Published 31st Dec 2017
  • 394 Views, 9 Comments

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 VII - Rarity

“…right smack in the middle of Hearth’s Warming season!” Filthy Rich took a deep breath before continuing, in the same outraged tones, “You assured me she was going to be no problem whatsoever!”

Behind the counter of Carousel Boutique, Rarity closed her eyes and tried to remain dignified, poised, and above all un-slighted in any way.

“I-I admit I hadn’t quite expected things to turn out…” She groped for the right words. “To turn out this way.”

Of all the times this could’ve happened, she thought. Until now, the morning had gone splendidly. Selling dresses, granting compliments, and seeing the light of surprised joy in a dozen faces: such were the makings of a perfect winter’s sale. She’d hoped for the trend to continue uninterrupted until lunch, and then to resume the pleasant duties post-nourishment. Naturally, during that free time, she’d intended to check on Filthy Rich – Mister Rich, as she was now thinking of him – to assure herself that the dear Derpy had caused – at worst – a miniscule amount of damage, and otherwise had passed through the experience unscathed and unscathing.

Minutes before closing time, however, Filthy Rich had barged in, if not red in the face then certainly with cheeks aspiring to crimson flame, and his slicked-down mane askew. She’d gathered from his preliminary remarks that he’d only recently disentangled himself from the construction crew’s proposed bill of charges. It being a long bill of charges, he’d explained, he hadn’t managed to disentangle himself sooner, hence the unscheduled visit before lunch commenced.

That was all the polite way of saying Filthy Rich was peeved off.

“My insurance, my profits, my boost over the winter season!” Filthy Rich broke off to bury his face in his hooves. “All gone!” he moaned between his hooves. “I might as well kiss it all goodbye! Barnyard Bargains’ll be flushed down the drain because of this!”

Unthinkingly, Rarity leaned forwards. “Is there anything I can do?”

Red-rimmed eyes pinned her down. For a moment, her heart poured forth with the cream of compassion. Whatever his failings as an exemplar of the refined rant, Filthy Rich was on the whole a blameless businesspony – give or take the potential oxymoronic conflict between those words – and certainly didn’t deserve this sort of thing.

“Just explain to me why you did it!” he said, settling for wails of profit-denied agony. “You know she’s a walking disaster area!”

“Mister Rich, please!” Rarity swallowed. “Yes, the fault lies with myself and my judgement, but come now. You’d want me to turn the poor dear down, after she’d tried so hard to do something good for Hearth’s Warming? And,” she continued, sensing from his stiffening that this had not gone over well, “do you believe I would have handed her over if I’d known this would be the result?”

He opened his mouth to protest, but then cut off the first gasp of breath. Thoughtful, he closed his mouth again.

“You were, after all, generous enough to permit her to volunteer,” said Rarity.

“Oh no,” he said, cheeks flaring up again. “You’re not pinning this on me, Miss Rarity. I took her on because I had it from your mouth that she would cause no trouble –”

“One moment!” she said, feeling her own cheeks sizzle and almost seeing their glow at the bottom of her vision. “Now look, Mister Rich, it pains me to see you this way, and I shall accept responsibility for my… for my error of judgement.”

“But what about my store?” he said, almost pleadingly. “It’ll be useless for a week!”

Rarity sighed. She knew the only ethical answer she could give, if only because anything else would be seen as wriggling out of a promise. And as being immature.

Curse it! If time travel were common currency, then for this I’d give a lot to go back and violently strangle my own idiotic past self!

“I will, of course, cover any damages you have suffered,” she said, and the words sounded horrifying out loud.

Filthy Rich blinked and gaped at her. “Cover them?”

“By way of saying sorry for the mess I’ve put you in,” said Rarity, horribly aware of her own heart pleading with her to back out of this nonsense while she still could.

“Well… and…” He swelled again, clearly not going to let a bit of goodwill ruin his mood. “And yes, I think it’s only right I demand compensation for this… for this insult on my grandpappy’s good name, ruining his store during the busiest time and losing sales –”

“I will also endeavour to persuade the construction team to complete the task ahead of schedule: within the next two days, if at all possible,” finished Rarity, now trying to distance herself from her own mouth.

This time, Filthy Rich’s gape almost hit the floor. “What? That’s flat-out impossible!”

“Nevertheless, I can do it.” By dishing out more cheques, knowing my bad luck. Rarity’s brain and the rest of her insides gave a low whimper.

Opposite, Filthy Rich paced up and down. She could guess his thinking. A Rich never took a knock on their pride, having in many respects the stubborn heart of a country worker and the unforgiving stomach of a businesspony. This most of all when denied a bite of the pie.

On the other hoof, his business stomach demanded compensation, and he was getting it and more, even if she’d piled it on with a bucket rather than let him dig it up for himself. He wasn’t about to start shouting like a loon when a friend of his had not only agreed with him, but doubled his demands for him. And even his stubborn heart had to admit that a mare with Rarity’s reputation was hardly a lady to send saboteurs over to spite him.

In fact, he went so far as to bow his head and start backing towards the door. “Well… Well, that’s mighty generous of you, Miss, um, Miss Rarity.”

“I’ll let everyone know you’ll be good as new again,” said Rarity. The rest of her had given up, now that it had all gone over the cliff and was noting with academic interest how far down the ground was.

“Good. Thank you, and glad you understand so well…”

“Mister Rich, all business ponies understand each other.” She nodded as graciously as she could.

“All right, then. I’ll be waiting.”

And finally, the door closed behind him and he was gone. She looked at the clock. Ten minutes into her lunch break.

Rarity groaned. The trouble with being a public benefactor, she thought, is that sooner or later, you have to benefact someone.

She felt as limp as a feather under a rainstorm. Letting go of yet more money, kissing goodbye to future dresses of wonder and fabulosity, having to be as stingy as a Snowfall Frost with gold fever until her finances built up again… Too heavy! The weight was just too much.

Someone threw back the dressing room curtains, hoofsteps ensued, and Rarity knew that both Lyra Heartstrings and Sweetie Belle had just emerged.

Rarity turned to face them. They were wearing dresses.

That was the prosaic description: in Rarity’s sight, Sweetie Belle resembled nothing less than a colour splurge, with bows and ribbons and socks and other things that stressed greens, reds, yellows, purples, and oranges, none of which liked the others and all of which she’d obviously scrounged from the storeroom at random. Meanwhile, Lyra had settled for a toga-inspired robe and a bronze imitation of a laurel wreath. Fine clothing for, say, the tropics.

“Whoa,” said Lyra, stretching her brow high in the common gesture of genial surprise. “Someone’s got the pip.”

“Did Derpy make a mess again?” said Sweetie Belle – so sadly that one might have thought she was at fault.

“It’ll sort itself out,” said Rarity with a weary sigh. “I am perfectly capable of bouncing back from this. Regardless, you do know we’re closed for lunch?”

“Rares, Rares, Rares!” Lyra skipped over to the counter. “Now more than ever, you need a chance to unwind! Come on, I’ll treat you to lunch at Twilight’s.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I was gonna meet Moondancer there anyway. Sounds tempting, huh? A nice hot cocoa, some cookies, Spike’s sandwiches, some idle chit-chat in the warm: you name it. After a rotten time like this, you deserve some friendly comfort. You know you do, huh? Huh?”

“Will you stop jabbing me in the ribs? All right.” Rarity summoned her parka, sparkling scarf, boots, and fluffy earmuffs; once again, she wondered why Lyra didn’t get frostbite from such a paltry ensemble. “I suppose I am due some relaxation. And where better than among friends?”

“Ooh, ooh, can I come too?” Sweetie Belle bounced over.

“I don’t see why –” Rarity began.

“Yeah, sure! The more the merrier!” said Lyra, beaming.

A moment later, Rarity locked up the shop and trudged through the patches of snow and grass, slowing down on the former, wincing at the oozing squishiness of the latter. Up ahead, Sweetie Belle bounced and splashed and crunched, giggling the whole way. Lyra joined in, soon synchronizing with Sweetie’s own thumping dance.

Unhappily, Rarity’s thoughts returned to the pangs of concern as an image of Filthy Rich ranted at length inside her head. The trouble these days was that she’d gone – in what felt like hardly any time at all – from a nobody dressmaker on the corner of Ponyville to an established franchise spanning the majestic cities of Canterlot and Manehattan. Admittedly, spanning only the majestic cities of Canterlot and Manehattan, and even then only certain streets, but that was enough.

That meant ponies heard the name “Rarity” and said things like “What a good pony”, or “She certainly has class”, or “She is a true businessmare.” And this worried her, because pedestals in Canterlot were built on shifting sands. Manehattan’s march of progress was quite ready to crush dressmakers underfoot if they didn’t keep pace.

Worst of all, that had all bled back into Ponyville. The humble days of hiding away and eating ice cream – waiting for any crisis to blow over – were done.

Now ponies expected a response. It was like being the Mayor, only more cutthroat because at least the Mayor could hang on until Election Day, and even then expect no worse than the time-honoured ribbing from pundits who’d staked their sides ahead of time anyway.

Compared to that chummy treatment, the fashion world was as touchy and painful as nitro-glycerine in a tap-dancing contest.

I don’t know. You give a few gems here, send a little money there, and before you know it, you can’t stop. Ponies start wondering why you aren’t giving more – I start wondering why I’m not giving more – and then this happens! Because of scruples! Wretched, dictator scruples that never let you have a day off, the monsters!

Yet she knew she’d never say no to Derpy, nor to anyone. Reputation-Rarity might need to balance on a tightrope over a bottomless pit, but the Real Rarity alone would want to do it, if she saw a pony on the other side.

Oh, why does being good have to be so hard!?

A whoosh: overhead, Cloudchaser and Bulk Biceps shouldered a bunch of clouds and forced them off the blue stage of the sky. Already, the intruding sunlight made Rarity’s parka itch in strange places.

Lyra and Sweetie Belle leaped and sang as they went. Rarity groaned. Such carefree souls. How she envied the simple life of a dilettante.

“Not that song again,” she said pleadingly. “I’ve had it etched into my head.”

“Don’t knock the classics!” yelled Lyra over her shoulder.

“Yeah, don’t knock ‘em,” said Sweetie Belle.

“That’s the way, Sweetie Belle! And a one, and a two, and a one, two, three…”

They launched into a duet, flowing and smooth and thus distressingly skilled at sneaking into the hindbrain and drowning all sense and hope. It was the classic “All I Want For Hearth’s Warming is…” and then an improvvisato, as Lyra put it, which basically involved making up one’s own list of wants. The duet swiftly became a contest.

“…and a kite,” Sweetie Belle sang, “and some hockey stuff, and a Power Ponies shirt, and a sewing machine of my own, and –”

“Now! Please!” said Rarity with the voice of ancient empresses. “All these songs drive me insane! I hear nothing else, and everyone sings them ad nauseum.

“Not this one,” piped up Lyra, leaping and getting slush on her toga. “This is Coloratura’s cover!”

“It’s the same song! Anyway, why doesn’t she make up her own songs instead of recycling Merry Carefree’s work? I’m sure Miss Coloratura is a talented enough pony.”

“Be nice. New talent, old classics. You don’t half talk like an old-school purist.”

“They’re not that old! ‘All I Want for Hearth’s Warming’ was roughly ten years ago! And it suggests modern talent can’t move on and create something truly inspiring and –”

“HERE WE ARE!” bellowed Sweetie Belle with a smile.

They all looked up to the heights of Twilight’s castle. Capped with snow, the peaks of the towers resembled a sparkly mountain range, albeit one tidied up and organized with slide-rules.

Lyra burst through the double doors and hopped across and up the grand staircase. Following her, Sweetie Belle scurried on her short legs, while Rarity maintained a graceful stride that nevertheless took several minutes to reach the corner at the top. Instantly burning up, she discarded her winter gear. Voices came from the throne room.

“Shh!” hissed a stranger from within. The voices died down. Rarity entered.

Sitting up to the main table, Twilight Sparkle and Moondancer were side-by-side. Both were reading tomes the size of bricks: the former on her own throne, the latter on Spike’s. Spike himself sat opposite, chortling at his comic book. A tiny flicker of reading against the empty cave of the hall. All in all, it was a fairly expensive place to set up a modest little reading club.

As promised, there was a tray brimming with cups and kettles and platefuls of cookies on the table. Occasionally, Twilight or Moondancer levitated something towards themselves, eating or drinking without once looking up. Spike had his own stash, because a baby dragon’s arms didn’t reach that far.

“My edition clearly states,” said Moondancer, still not looking up, “that sodium thiopental was the first of the so-called Truth Serums abandoned by the Abnormal Alchemists.”

“I obtained the most up-to-date edition,” said Twilight, likewise enthralled, “and it states that sodium thiopental was lumped in with the Truth Serums collectively – as Mind Serums – under Celestia’s Court of Pony Rights to Ensure the Dignity of Ponydom and the Freedom from Torture.”

“Granted. However, the Abnormal Alchemists retained the Serums’ use illegally after the Court was set up, and only abandoned them sequentially as each was revealed to be less reliable than the last. Sodium thiopental was the first to be thus discarded.”

To Rarity’s surprise, Twilight burst out laughing at this. Even Moondancer looked up, her face widening with shock.

“Silly me!” said Twilight, and she rolled her eyes. “I forgot the later editions revised the chapter on Abnormal Alchemists, because…” She almost choked under the hilarity of it. “Because the alchemists used a mind control spell on the publishers!”

For her part, Rarity had no idea what was so funny. The idea sounded ghastly to her. Yet Twilight thumped the throne in some intellectual paroxysm of laughter, and Moondancer began to snigger and hid this fact behind a hoof.

“Er…” said Rarity.

Sweetie Belle stood next to her. “I don’t get it.”

Twilight wiped a tear from her eye and looked up at last. “It’s irony. Of course, it wouldn’t be funny if it happened in modern times, and thank goodness it wouldn’t! But… still…” She devolved again into fits of chortles.

Opposite, Spike snorted and grinned at his comic. “Oh, that’s so Fili-Second.”

Lyra hopped to his side and read over his shoulder. “Oh yeah, that’s a good one!”

“What a zinger, huh?” he said without looking up.

Chuckling, Lyra snorted once or twice.

Starting to regret her decision, Rarity nonetheless forced herself to stride over to her own throne and quietly summoned a slice of chocolate gateau that, on closer inspection, was actually a chunk of Yew Tree Log. Hearth’s Warming got everywhere, like draughts under doors or like the common cold.

On the throne between herself and Twilight, she saw Sweetie Belle struggle to clamber up onto the empty seat. Then her sister stared at the tray.

She heard Twilight sigh. Preparing for a chocolate-saturated mouthful, she cocked an ear with interest. A nostalgic sigh: drawn-out, bright with pleasure, yet with the heavy finish of a heavy heart.

“This was just like old times,” said Twilight. “I still can’t believe how much has changed since Celestia’s School.”

“Yeah,” said Moondancer as if the words were being wrenched out of her. “The castle. Your own castle. And a throne. That’s a step-up. From your old library, I mean. In Canterlot.”

Twilight’s squirms were clear as a rustle of leaves amid the empty vastness. Despite herself, Rarity chewed on the words and on her cake. This mystery mare, this Moondancer, was about to reveal secrets. She could tell. Was it resentment? Envy? Doubt? Self-hatred? Some belief-shattering astonishment at how Twilight had changed?

Come on, Twilight. Your guest is distressed! Be a gracious host! You know how to do that! Tact! Awareness! Save her face! Be a true lady!

“When I think about it, it’s kind of scary,” said Twilight, and Rarity held her breath. “I almost wish I could go back to those old days by the lake.”

“Or in the library,” said Moondancer. “You never set foot in there now. Too busy being a Princess?”

Ooh, not good. There was some bite in that one. Your move, Twilight. Acknowledge the tooth marks, as we say, but don’t snap back.

Twilight looked up. “Princessing isn’t much different from studying under Celestia.”

“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never done either.”

Nearby, Spike lowered the comic. Lyra’s face was carefully blank. Nonetheless, Moondancer remained fixed on her book.

Perhaps a timely intervention would melt the ice. Rarity coughed as discreetly as a valet vouchsafing a cunning plan.

“Sweetie Belle,” she cooed, wiggling her eyebrows and hoping the message got through. “Tell Twilight what you did today. I’m sure she’d love to hear all about it.”

Then she watched Moondancer’s face carefully.

“Ooh, ooh!” said Sweetie Belle. “Lyra helped me refine my dramatic soprano. It’s a singing term. It means I can sing really loud without any wobbly notes.”

“Operatic voice types? Fascinating! You always were a wonder with music,” said Twilight. Rarity smiled at the warmth in her voice. Good old Twily.

Moondancer’s lips twitched.

Gently as she could, Twilight said, “What’s on your mind?”

“Oh, nothing much,” said Moondancer to her book, which started to tremble. “Just wondering why a world-famous Princess of Friendship who's read more books than I’ll ever know would want to spend any time with a nobody who's stuck in her own bubble, who can’t make new friends with a whole year to try it, who’s still stuck studying stuff for studying’s sake, who can’t match up to an alicorn –”

“Because under all that,” said Twilight, and her voice carried a poised calmness which cut through the near-wails like a candle in the dark, “she’s still Twilight from school.”

Moondancer’s frown creased and twitched, but she said no more. Not once had she looked up from her book, even now. Eventually, Twilight returned to hers.

Spike and Lyra opened their mouths. At once, Rarity shook her head warningly. As one, they clammed up and hid behind the comic.

“Er,” said Sweetie Belle. “Should I keep going?”

“Aren’t you warm in that getup?” said Rarity.

“No.” Sweetie Belle scuffed her legs rubbing against each other.

“Is it itchy?”

“It’s fine,” was the petulant response.

Rarity took another bite of the cake, whatever it was, and relish tickled her tongue. Sugar danced around her mouth. With a contented sigh, she sagged on her seat, pausing only to sip from a mug of still-warm cocoa. Ah yes, no superior pleasure to a spot of self-indulgence, all right…

Unexpectedly, Sweetie Belle scraped her chair. She was moving closer to Rarity. Intrigued, Rarity leaned forwards and raised an ear.

“Sis?” whispered Sweetie Belle, and she glanced over at Moondancer.

“Hm?” Rarity whispered back. “What is it?”

“Is she really from Twilight’s old school? She doesn’t like her very much.”

“Time changes us all, Sweetie Belle. I imagine back then, Twilight and her dear friend were on equal terms.”

“You mean before Twilight learned all those spells?”

“And moved here. And found new friends. And did all those amazing things. How would you feel if you’d never done any of those things, do you think?”

Sweetie Belle hummed the hum of one who rose with intrigue, stretched with uncertainty, and deepened with suspicion. It was a hum with a lot to say for itself, and Rarity had heard the like often enough.

“Sis?” Sweetie Belle whispered again.

“Yes, Sweetie Belle?”

Spike flicked a page over. Lyra murmured a smug “aha!” Twilight and Moondancer were statues before their pages.

“Is Moondancer a lower class pony? For Canterlot?”

“No one is lower class,” hissed Rarity.

This earned her a snort of doubt.

“No, really! I just have standards, and some ponies don’t.”

“Thought so,” said Sweetie Belle, voice stinging.

“I didn’t mean it like that!” Rarity glanced up in case she was disturbing anyone, and lowered her voice. “It’s style. Everyone has their own style. It’s what makes them them.”

“But Moondancer’s not a Princess, and Twilight is,” she persisted.

“So? They’re still friends, aren’t they?” Rarity was still wondering herself, but thought it best to be certain for the moment. Sweetie Belle had such a way of talking back.

“I guess. I dunno. It’s hard to tell.”

“I imagine they haven’t seen each other for a long time. Absence makes the heart go wander, after all. They’ve a lot of catching up and mutual acclimatizing to do, no doubt.”

“I thought it was ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’?”

“Whatever.” Rarity took another bite. She knew where she was with cake.

Comic pages rustled. Both Twilight and Moondancer flicked over to the next chapter. Sweetie Belle fidgeted on her seat.

“It’s not,” said Rarity carefully, “as if Twilight would leave an old school friend behind, merely because she wasn’t up to snuff. The very idea!”

If she’d expected this to be quiet, then she’d misjudged; Twilight definitely blushed.

“Ahem,” said Rarity even more carefully. “That is to say, snobbery is alien to Twilight’s nature. And may it remain so.”

“But…” Sweetie Belle spoke as though probing a loose tooth with her tongue. “They are different, aren’t they? There’s still really a class thing, because Twilight’s a Princess now.”

Against her own sense of decorum, Rarity sighed and gave a growl.

The interclass friendship. She wondered where Sweetie Belle had picked up what looked like such a charming idea at first glance: the stuck-up cosmopolitan lady and the common-as-muck country bumpkin, good friends and confidantes. Despite their social standing, at that. Very heartwarming, except for the “despite” part.

“Despite their social standing”, after all, still pointed out the fact that one could obtain a Cinnamon Chai delicacy of the highest calibre, and the other could get a cheap drink at Doughnut Joe’s. How could either do both? Really? It would be like birds swimming and fish flying.

Rarity had learned from Twilight that there were flying fish. Come to that, there were birds that swam. So…

No. Sweetie Belle had a point. It was no use going to Canterlot and pretending the distribution of tailcoats and summer hats were random. A pony wouldn’t get far without a keen sense of where a baron or an earl stood in relation to a duke or a mere lordship. She herself had always tried to absorb class, whether passively – letting it seep in – or actively – transporting it in.

Class wasn’t just about what you did, she’d decided. It was a state of mind.

And Twilight didn’t really have much of it. She merely wore her Princess-hood like an overcoat.

Sweetie Belle powered up the magic within her horn; a slice of cake answered, floated towards her for a moment, and then overloaded and crumbled.

Groaning, Sweetie Belle summoned a second one. It fell halfway. She picked it up again.

Rarity sighed. All this talk from her sister was a transparent cover, as plain as the horn on her head.

“You know,” she whispered. “If you are interested in going to Canterlot with me, the invitation is still open.”

Sweetie Belle bit the cake before she could drop it again. She munched. She swallowed. She took another bite.

“Hm,” she said. She munched and swallowed again. “Maybe I’ll think about it. Maybe.”

“Class or no class?” When Sweetie Belle groaned, she added, “I’m serious. There’s no point getting upset over the least interesting relationship between us, you understand? We’re sisters and friends, first and foremost.”

“Yeah, but what about when you actually get to Canterlot?”

“I won’t change a bit,” said Rarity, wondering if she actually would.

Finally, Moondancer met her gaze, and it was akin to being struck across the eyeballs by flint spearheads. “For Pete’s sake! Do you mind keeping it down? I can hear every word you say! Jeez!”

“Sor-ry,” said both sisters at once. Sullen, they went back to chewing. They knew where they were with cake.


Comments ( 7 )

8641803

Ha, I was wondering if that little reference would be noticed. And yes, yes it is, though I admit I prefer the book more.

Just curious, but how many chapters is this planned to be?
Because I have it in my read later list, but I'd rather not start reading it if it's almost finished.

9085078

Firstly, I apologize for the delay in replying. This is entirely on me, and there was no need for me to do it, so I'm sorry to keep you waiting.

More pertinently: Assuming I ever come back to this one, which to be frank is doubtful, and assuming you're still interested; the chapter count was planned to be at least 16, possibly 20, so this isn't even past the halfway mark. From that, you should be able to judge whether or not you want to read it.

9149145
Alright, thanks.

9149145
I guess at this point it's safe to consider this entirely dead?

10527776

:applejackunsure: Pretty much. I don't have any immediate plans to expand it. I might start changing my "Incomplete" fics to "Cancelled", actually. It'd be more accurate, and I suppose I could always change them back if I change my mind.

10529581
Yeah, probably for the best to do that

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