• Published 18th Jan 2020
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16 - AlwaysDressesInStyle



Five years ago, sixteen mares founded a hotel in New Jersey called the Mareiott. These are their stories.

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Act I: Diamond Rose


Canterlot: twelve years, zero months, and twenty-eight days ago

I had the house to myself. Not that there was anything abnormal about that. Daddy was at work and Mommy was out at some fundraiser or another. Of course, the staff was here, but they’re always here. And none of them would dare interrupt me lest I say something to Daddy.

Not that it really matters since they’re not allowed in the master bedroom unless one or both of my parents are home. Technically, neither am I, but nopony’s going to stop me. My destination is the oversized portrait of Mommy hanging on the wall over the bed. Anypony with even half a brain can figure out that it’s obviously masking a safe.

17 left. 26 right. 2 left. Daddy’s birthday, Mommy’s birthday, and mine. They don’t know that I know the combination, but it wasn’t my fault that Mommy mumbles the numbers whenever she opens the safe. Which she did frequently, since she keeps all her jewelry in there. All the shiny necklaces and rings and bracelets that I take out when they’re not home because they make me feel as pretty as Mommy whenever I put them on.

I opened the safe like normal, but much to my surprise, there were sparkly gems in there along with all the jewelry I was already familiar with. Playing dress-up was quickly forgotten as I pulled all the flawless diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls out of the safe and set them on the bed. Chilly to the touch, but with a surface as smooth as glass. I got goosebumps as I trailed my hoof along the cuts, admiring their precision as much as their beauty. The absolute best one was a massive pink diamond. A diamond that was pink like a rose. Could anything be more fitting for me? I clutched the massive stone to my barrel, hugging it.

I hopped up onto the bed. Normally I wore all the pretty jewelry, but there was no easy way to wear any of these gems. So I did the only thing I could do – I rolled on top of them. The cold touch of the gems on my coat, combined with their unique shapes and textures, made my body tingly. It was a unique sensation, and I couldn’t make up my mind if I liked it or not. But eventually I tired and rested there on my back, still laying on top of the gems. A flash of light brightened the room. At first I thought it might be a photographer, but the windows were all closed and the servants were all downstairs where they belonged.

That could only mean one thing. My cutie mark! I turned to look at it and my wave of exaltation quickly turned to dread as I realized the lavish pink diamond on my flank was identical to the one on the bed. There was no way anypony would believe it was a coincidence. Unless I could come up with a plan, and quick, I was busted.

Back when I was a foal, and too stupid to know that some things don’t belong in your mouth, the medicine cabinets were locked up. Now that I’m older, my parents don’t bother with the foalproof locks any more. I’m smart enough not to ingest anything I’m not supposed to. I wasn’t looking for medications anyway, but rather makeup, which Mom kept plenty of. More specifically, Mom kept some makeup specially made to blend in with my coat color, to cover up any blemishes or bruises I might have when I needed to put in an appearance at some social function or another. The ones where I’m to be seen and not heard. Never, ever heard. You’d never believe I was a filly, let alone a pegasus filly, by the way I’m never seen with any sort of scrape from a failed landing attempt or a bruise from roughhousing with my friends.

If I had friends, that is. Sure, there’s Lily, but she doesn’t count. Her mother’s on the staff here. She has to be my friend, though I don’t have to be hers. And I’m not. A pony of her station is beneath me, and not fit to be a friend of mine. There were so few ponies that were truly worthy to be my friend, so most of the time I just slummed it and played with Lily. I sighed as I applied a generous helping of makeup over my new cutie mark. It was such a shame to cover it up, gorgeous thing that it is. And it took a lot of makeup to cover it. Ugh, it’ll take forever to wash it all out.

It doesn’t matter. Right now, all that matters is that my newly-earned mark stays hidden. I just have to come up with a better way of hiding it. I used up most of the makeup, so I’m only getting away with this today and maybe tomorrow. I need an idea. C’mon, Diamond, think. What can I do?

When I was younger, I used to cut out pictures and tape them to my flanks to pretend I had my cutie mark. And it was all the better, because I often had two different cutie marks, making me twice as special as anypony else. Cutie marks don’t work that way, of course, but I could always pretend to go that route again. While doing that was normal for foals of the age I was back then, it would be considered extremely childish for a filly of my age. I’m grasping at straws here.

Oh well, I’ve got at least a day to figure it out. I’ll come up with something, or I’ll be grounded for an insanely long period of time…



Canterlot: twelve years, zero months, and twenty-seven days ago

I set my alarm for far earlier than normal to make sure I was up before either of my parents. Amazingly, my makeup job held up decently overnight. I only needed to do some slight touchups to it to hide my incredible cutie mark. Blah. I don’t want to keep doing this. The world needs to see the rose diamonds on Diamond Rose’s flanks.

I trudged down the stairs towards the kitchen. My plan to be awake before everypony else had worked, but it also left me feeling tired. I like my beauty sleep. Thankfully, the servants were already up for the day. That’s what Daddy pays them for. The instant they heard the clopping of my hooves on the stairs they’d started preparing my breakfast.

I sat at the table and a bowl of cereal appeared in front of me. All the cereal pieces had been picked out, leaving only the marshmallows swimming in a bowl of milk. Just the way I like it!

I still had almost an hour and a half until school started. Or should I say, before my tutor arrived for the day. I didn’t go to public school with the peasants, my parents hired the best teacher money can buy so I could have the absolute finest education.

I yawned and stretched, then trotted back up the stairs towards my bedroom. I laid down on my bed, careful not to rub any of the makeup off my flank. Who, what, where, when, why, & how. Obviously the answer to ‘who?’ was me. What? Making my cutie mark appear. Why? To avoid my parents finding out how it really happened. Where? Their bedroom. When? When they’ve got the safe open, preferably in the morning when they’re in too much of a rush to be paying attention. How? Beats me.

Scheming isn’t really my strong suit. I absentmindedly clicked a flashlight on and off with one of my wings as I sat there thinking. On. Off. On. Off. My inspiration is definitely ‘off’ right now.



Canterlot: twelve years, zero months, and twenty-four days ago

I continued getting up early the rest of the week, but my plans were officially spoiled now. I’d finally run out of makeup. Today, it’s do or die. I’d been studying the patterns of my parents each morning, and it’d be very easy for me to be underhoof while they’re getting ready for their respective days.

But first I had to scrub all the caked-on makeup off my flank. Rolling around in my sleep had done some of the work for me, but the rest took a while to clean off. My shower was exceptionally long as I scrubbed my flank nearly raw. But it was worth it – completely visible for the first time in days, my cutie mark once more greeted me!

I draped a towel over my flank as I trotted back to my room. My parents had their own private bathroom accessible from their room, while mine was located down the hall. Once safely back in my room I gathered the needed supplies. My brainstorming had been a light drizzle at best, but I was out of time. It was a simple solution, but that didn’t matter if it was successful. I prepped myself, then waited for the sound of water running from my parents’ bathroom. Daddy was always the first one to the shower, since he generally left the house earlier than Mommy. Though sometimes Mommy kicked me out of my bathroom if they both needed to be somewhere early in the morning. I hated those days. It meant I had to trot all the way to the downstairs bathroom just to relieve myself. Mommy can be so inconsiderate.

Showtime! Everything depended on my parents not paying much attention to me. As plans go, that was actually a fairly solid one in all honesty. There are days I think I could turn into a tiger and they wouldn’t even notice. They’d just say ‘that’s nice, dear’ while reading the stock market page of the newspaper. For once, I could use that to my advantage.

And I needed all the advantages I could get, since my plan left me with a critical liability: hampered mobility. I nudged the door to their room open with my nose, and looked around. Daddy was in the shower, as expected. Mommy was still in bed, and I crept into the room and laid down at the foot of the bed. Normally, I’d hop up and snuggle with Mommy, but there was no way I could do that without the crinkling of paper giving me away. That was my brilliant plan: hide my cutie mark under a few sheets of white paper. The perks of having a pure white coat meant ordinary paper would blend in under casual observation. Closer scrutiny would no doubt reveal the deception, but it was a risk I had to take. The irony wasn’t lost on me – younger me had paraded around the house wearing paper adorned with imaginary cutie marks, while present me was hiding my real cutie mark behind blank paper. Life’s funny like that sometimes.

The water stopped running, and Daddy returned to the bedroom. He didn’t even notice me as he rummaged in a dresser for a tie. Mommy got up and headed for the bathroom, while Dad passed me on his way downstairs.

“What are you doing up so early, princess?”

“Couldn’t sleep, Daddy.”

He nuzzled me. “How’s my pretty little princess going to stay my pretty little princess without her beauty sleep?” He kissed my forehead. “Come on, let’s get you some breakfast.” He patted me on my hindquarters, trying to herd me towards the staircase.

“I already ate.”

He felt my forehead with a hoof. “You must not be feeling well. I’ll send word to your tutor that her services won’t be needed today. Back to bed to rest.” He picked me up by the scruff of my neck like a kitten and returned me to my bedroom.

Well, that could’ve gone better. At least he didn’t notice the paper crinkling when he tucked me into bed. Once he’d gone downstairs for his own breakfast, I replaced the wrinkled blank papers with fresh sheets and returned to my parents’ room, just in time for the water to stop again. Last chance.

Mommy had a towel wrapped around her hair when she came back into the room. “17… 26… 2.”

She was opening the safe! Success! Well, for the first part of my plan, anyway. I still needed to pull off everything else. I needed my wings, so that meant I had to stash the items I’d tucked under them somewhere else. Fortunately, the maids had yet to make their bed, so I slipped them under the blanket.

“Mommy!” I fluttered through the room and landed on her back as she opened the safe. I nuzzled her. “I love you Mommy!”

“I love you too, sweetie. But Mommy’s trying to get ready to go out.”

Oh, believe me, I know. That’s the whole point. “Where are you going?”

“There’s a Habitat for Equinity fundraiser this morning.” She levitated a pair of necklaces in front of her, as she decided which one to wear for the day.

I pointed to the one on the left. “Wear that one, Mommy. It’s my favorite!” And it really is. I love wearing that one when she isn’t. Time to sink or swim. “Oh! What’s that?” I reached my hoof into the safe and retrieved the diamond that had so fascinated me the past few days. “So pretty!” I hopped off Mom’s back and fluttered to the bed.

“That’s the Rose of Cimarron. The world’s biggest pink diamond.”

“Oh! So it’s like me! A diamond named Rose!” I clutched the diamond to my barrel and waited for Mommy’s attention to drift elsewhere. When she reached down to put her necklace on, I grabbed the items I’d stashed under the covers, discreetly tucking them under my wings. I reached back with my primary feathers, subtly trying to undo the tape fastening the paper to my flank. The fatal flaw in my plan then revealed itself: I’d used so much tape to prevent the paper from rustling when I moved that I couldn’t quickly undo it. I gave up my efforts as Mom returned her attention to me.

“Sweetie, that’s worth a lot of bits. I need to put it back in the safe now.” I pouted, but it was all for naught as Mom snatched the diamond from my grasp and tucked it back into the safe.

I was so close. I slinked back to my room to sulk and think about why my scheme hadn’t worked. My plan was needlessly overcomplicated. Flashlights tucked under my wings to provide the flash of light that accompanied a cutie mark acquisition had hampered my mobility. The papers disguising my mark were necessarily taped securely to my flank, but unable to be torn off in a hurry. That was the point of failure.

I removed the papers from my flank and grabbed my crayons. I started sketching the diamond absently as I berated myself for blowing my only chance.

Mommy poked her head into my room. “Your father said you’re not feeling well…” She trailed off as she stared at my flank.

Horseapples. I turned my head to follow her gaze, knowing what I’d find. “A cutie mark. I got my cutie mark!” I hopped on the bed and fluttered into the air and did a loop. “I got my cutie mark!” Time to celebrate like I’d wanted to the other day but couldn’t! Will Mommy buy its authenticity?

Mom came into my room and stared at the papers I’d been drawing on. “I guess the Rose of Cimarron made an impression on you.” She kissed me on the cheek. “Congratulations. It’s a very fitting mark.”

After all that planning, for everything to end like this was both disappointing and relieving. But at least I don’t have to hide my cutie mark any more.



Baytona Beach: nine years, ten months, and six days ago

My parents had decided I was old enough to pick our vacation destination for the year, and I made a snap decision that I wanted to go to the beach. That blossomed into spending two weeks at ‘the world center of speed’ during the lead-up to the yearly Wonderbolts race, the Baytona 500. The first race of the Wonderbolts’ schedule, it was held in the middle of winter. Of course, winter was the best time to visit Baytona, as the temperature was more in line with late spring back home in Canterlot. From what I’d heard, it wasn’t a good place to visit during the summer due to the heat and humidity.

As I laid there on the warm white sand, I couldn’t think of a better place to go during the winter. I slathered sunscreen on myself and rolled onto my stomach. I pulled the latest Daring Do book out of my saddlebags and started reading until my eyelids felt heavy. Regardless of how exciting a book might be, there was something about reading in warm sunshine that made a pony tired, so I let sleep claim me, feeling the rays of Celestia’s sun warming my hide.

I awoke an hour or so later, stretched, and stood up. I can sleep at home. I looked at the ocean, a few yards away, and galloped straight into it. The water was colder than I anticipated, but not unpleasantly so. The salty sea spray stung my eyes as I waded out into the surf. After a few minutes, I returned to shore. Ultimately swimming in the ocean wasn’t nearly as good as swimming in our indoor pool back home. The pool is chlorinated and contains neither salt nor fish, and we don’t have crowds or rocks at home.

I packed everything back up, and Mom and I trotted back to the hotel. I grabbed a quick shower, then looked over the schedule of events at the track. There were a series of races all week, and the schedule indicated we were currently missing qualifying for Sunday’s big race. I read and reread the paragraph explaining the qualifying procedures. The words were the same the second time through – it really was that convoluted. The top two qualifiers would be locked into their spots for the race, while everypony else would have to race their way in via a pair of qualifying races. From thirty-first to fortieth were spots in the field reserved for anypony else who’d qualified well in time trials but choked during the qualifying races, then there was a pair of spots reserved for distinguished Wonderbolts who hadn’t made the field otherwise. I didn’t understand half of it, and I didn’t really care. All that meant was that there’d be more racing to watch, and I was perfectly okay with that.

The main draw for today was an exhibition race for the Wonderbolt cadets and reservists. The up and comers in the academy who had yet to realize their dreams and become a full-fledged ‘Bolt. The winner of the race would earn the forty-third and final starting spot in the big race. I briefly fantasized about being out there racing with all of them. Maybe someday.

“You want to go see some more racing?”

I nodded. “That’s what we’re here for.” Well, technically we were here mostly for the beach, but that wasn’t nearly as exciting as I’d originally expected it to be. I’m glad Dad decided to schedule our trip to coincide with the races after all.

Dad had, as usual, spared no expense. He’d rented one of the luxury skyboxes at the venue. That gave us access to all of the amenities of the track, including their five-star restaurant. As an added bonus, they had waiters who delivered the food right to the suite so nopony had to miss the racing action.

Mom had no real interest in the Wonderbolts, while Dad had skipped going to the beach with us so he could watch qualifying. Rather than ‘hello’, ‘hi’, or even ‘howdy’, he greeted us with, “Fleetfoot’s on the pole. Surprise will start second.”

Fleetfoot winning the pole wasn’t particularly surprising. She was a notoriously fast sprinter who struggled over longer distances. She’d earned the top qualifying spot for three of the last four Baytona 500s, but had yet to actually win the five-hundred-mile event. Two hundred grueling laps on the two-and-a-half mile trioval wore her out. Surprise, on the other hoof, was always a mystery. Sometimes she was fast, other times not, and she had an incredible ability to come out of nowhere in the closing laps.

There were a few hours to go before the exhibition race, and Dad led the way to a meet and greet with the racers. There was a small crowd of ponies, most of whom were gathered around a blue pegasus with rainbow hair sitting on the end. Since none of the other competitors had lines, we started on the opposite end with a black stallion with gray and blue hair. The placard in front of him indicated his name was Thunderlane.

“Well howdy there, little filly.”

I’m not little! I just turned eleven! “Hi.”

“You know; I’ve got a brother about your age. He really wanted to come down to Baytona with me, but he couldn’t because of school. He’s got his heart set on joining the Wonderbolts someday. You might just see him sitting here in another ten years or so. How about you? You planning on trying out for the team someday?”

Only in my dreams. “I hadn’t really thought of it. My flying’s pretty good, but it isn’t Wonderbolts quality.”

“She’s still working on her landings.”

Thanks, Mom. “Yeah, my landings need a little bit more work.”

He motioned me closer and bent down to whisper in my ear. “I’ll let you in on a secret. See that blue mare at the opposite end of the table? She needs to work on her landings too. We call her ‘Rainbow Crash’ behind her back. If you’re a good enough flyer, landings don’t matter.” He smiled and quickly autographed a photo of himself for me.

I snickered and thanked him. Then we moved on to the next pony in line, a purple mare with a spiky white and blue mane.

She’s got style. I looked to her nametag. “Hi Cloudchaser.”

“Hiyas!” She stamped her hoof down on a picture of herself, marking it with her autograph. “Who should I make this out to?”

“Diamond Rose.”

“Oh! What a pretty name!” She scribbled with the marker, and eventually passed the autograph to me.

A tawny mare with a black mane was next. We worked our way to the other end of the table, waiting in the long line for ‘Rainbow Crash’. I wondered what her real name was as we waited. Rainbow Flash? Rainbow Brite? The answer turned out to be Rainbow Dash, as I learned when we finally made it to the front of the line. Unlike the others sitting on her side of the table, Rainbow wasn’t content with merely signing autographs. She had a pony with a camera taking pictures of her posing with her fans.

I stood next to Rainbow and she wrapped a wing around me as the camera clicked. “There you go! A photo with tonight’s winner!” The photo printed out of the camera and she quickly stomped a hoof on it, signing it. And then she was off to greet her next fan, and my family and I were ushered toward the exit.

“What did you think, sweetie? Tomorrow’s ‘Bolts, today!”

“I think we’re going to see a good race tonight.”

We detoured to the restaurant while we awaited the start of the race, sitting down to enjoy a late lunch. I’d been expecting the track’s restaurant to serve carrot dogs, oat burgers, and hay fries, the kinds of food you’d expect to be served at a sporting event, but it turned out to be gourmet. I ordered lasagna, perhaps not the most exotic option, but I couldn’t pronounce most of the others. It was a safe option.

After eating we returned to our skybox, and we watched as the racers awaited the random draw for the starting grid. The dozen ponies I’d chatted with and gotten autographs from earlier were all hoping to get the pole position. “Wildfire.” The crowd cheered as the tawny pegasus mare took the inside line. “Cloudchaser.” The mare with the spiky mane I liked lined up alongside her. “Midnight Strike. Meadow Flower. Cloud Climber. Mercury. Island Delight. Rainbow Dash. Aurora Mist. Morning Monarch. Thunderlane. And last, but certainly not least, Star Flight.” It was obvious from the crowd reactions that Rainbow Dash was the favorite.

The green flag was dropped and the ponies took off in a flash. Rainbow Dash jumped out to a formidable lead, easily taking the inside lane despite starting much higher up the track. The rest of the field fell into line behind her, Wildfire having managed to hold onto second. From third on back it was a scoring nightmare.

It quickly became apparent this was a race for second. Each lap Rainbow increased her lead, and by the tenth lap she started lapping the backmarkers. By the end of the twentieth circuit she’d lapped everypony. She visibly started slowing down on the forty-seventh lap, but by then it was too late for the rest of the field to catch up. By the time she reached the finish line, she’d resorted to gliding, but it was enough to take the victory by more than a lap over second place Wildfire.


Baytona Beach: seven years, ten months, and eight days ago

I’d gone from being a casual fan of the Wonderbolts after my first Baytona 500 to being a rabid one. Two years prior, Surprise had finally crossed the Baytona 500 off her list of races she’d won, finally completing a career grand slam of the four major races: Cloudsdale, Baytona, Indianeighpolis, and Canterlot. In an emotional victory speech, she announced her retirement, effective immediately. As with everything concerning Surprise, it came as a shock to those of us listening. She’d obtained all her goals in racing and wanted to go out on top. She’d since gone on to start a family with her husband.

It had been a momentous occasion, and being there for it had no doubt cemented racing’s place in my life. But as special as the Baytona 500 was, my personal favorite was the up-and-comers race, the Newbie Clash. Most of the racers were friendlier than the veterans, not having had years of interacting with fans dull them to the experience. They still remembered when they were just star struck foals with the hope of joining their idols one day, even now that they were living that dream. Mostly though, I liked the Newbie Clash best because there were fewer demands on the cadets’ time, so it was easier to chat with them at the pre-race meet & greet.

As previously, one of the racers was attracting more attention than the others, so I started on the other end of the table they were all sitting at. A cream mare with a giant red bow in her hair enthusiastically greeted me.

“Hiyas!”

“Hi!”

“I’m Angel Wings. And you are?”

“Diamond Rose.”

“Nice to meet you!” She stamped her hoof on a photo of herself and gave it to me. I stashed it in a scrapbook I’d brought with me for the occasion – this might be the only time any of the cadets I’d meet today would be here. The Wonderbolts were exclusive and there were always more recruits than open positions.

“That bow has to hamper your aerodynamics.”

“About three tenths of a second each lap on the Wonderbolts course. Probably more than that here.” She scraped a hoof on the floor. “I might take it off for the race.”

I almost walked past the next cadet. He was barely tall enough to see over the table. “Oh wow! You must be a really good flyer if you’re trying out for the Wonderbolts at your age.”

“I’m twenty years old, stupid! I’m a fully-grown stallion!” I walked past the foul-tempered ‘adult’ and moved on to the next pony in line. “Hey! Don’t you want my autograph?”

“Maybe when you grow up.”

“I’m an adult!”

“Not what I meant.” I flicked my tail and addressed the next mare, Hyacinth Dawn. “Hi there!”

“Well howdy, miss. Don’t mind Short Fuse. He’s all bluster, but he’s not a bad colt. I mean stallion. He’s not a bad stallion.” Short Fuse screamed in frustration and Hyacinth winked at me. “It’s so easy to get his goat.”

“Seems like that would be a big disadvantage on race day.”

“I am literally still right here listening to you!”

We continued ignoring him, talking about him in front of his face. “He tried to buck the caterer because his sandwich had tomatoes in it. I think his legs almost made it up to the mare’s hocks.”

Short Fuse stomped off and we giggled at his antics. If I felt my collection absolutely needed his signature, I was confident my father could acquire it at a later date, but honestly I felt he was rather forgettable.

Rolling Thunder was the next mare, and she had the cocky attitude I expected from Wonderbolt hopefuls. She wasn’t shy like Angel Wings or angry like Short Fuse. She exuded confidence as she stamped a hoof onto her photo. “You’re quite the pretty little filly.” She kissed my cheek. “Look me up when you’re older.”

“Why?”

“You’ll figure it out.” She wiggled her eyebrows for some reason.

Eventually I reached the end of the table, where a mare and stallion sat next to each other. Vapor Trail didn’t attract much attention, but the stallion sitting next to her was the talk of the room. Sky Stinger was heavily favored to win, and he was soaking up the attention like the ponies on the nearby beach were soaking up the sun. I found him to be about as abrasive as the sand on that beach. Even Vapor Trail was making googly eyes at him.

I didn’t see what all the fuss was about, and he certainly wasn’t handsome enough to catch my eye. Maybe Vapor just has low standards. I cleared my throat and Vapor finally turned to acknowledge I was waiting for her. “You know, if you want his autograph that bad, we can switch places. You can wait in line and I’ll sign pictures.”

She blushed. “I’m sorry. It’s just Sky Stinger’s really special.”

“If you say so.”

“Just watch him in the race later! He’s going to win going away!”

“I’ve only been coming here for a few years, but shouldn’t you be bragging about how you’re going to win?”

“I, um, that is to say… that would be nice, but I’m a realist. I know when I’m outclassed.”

“Then he’s already beat you. Daddy says racing is almost as much mental as it is physical. If you think he’s better than you, he’s going to be better than you.”

“I’m okay with that.”

I rolled my eyes. I looked at the line for Sky Stinger and decided I’d rather hit the track’s upscale restaurant than wait around. Suffice it to say I wasn’t overly impressed with the year’s crop of rookies. Hyacinth Dawn was my favorite of the bunch. Unlike the rookies, the restaurant didn’t disappoint with their selections. I’d decided to be more adventurous and try something I’d never had before, Quiche au Camelbert.


By the time we were done eating, it was nearly race time. Daddy and I took seats as close to the window as possible, while Mom just relaxed in the opulent luxury of the skybox.

Much to my glee, Hyacinth Dawn had the pole position as they took the green flag, with Hippity Hop alongside, followed by Rolling Thunder, Loosey-Goosey, Sky Stinger, Twirlerina, Angel Wings, Daisy May, Short Fuse, Windy Wisp, Vapor Trail, and Mountain Haze bringing up the rear.

Sky Stinger dropped to the back at the start, allowing Vapor Trail to fall in line behind him. Slipstreaming together, they steadily moved their way forward in the field, taking the lead on lap eight. Rolling Thunder fell into line behind them. Angel Wings and Hyacinth Dawn had managed to catch their draft as they shuffled for position, and the five of them slipstreamed together, extending their advantage over the rest of the field until most of the others gathered in line behind Mountain Haze.

Lap after lap passed, with the ponies staying nose to tail. Watching through binoculars, I could plainly see Vapor Trail shifting her wings to give Sky Stinger periodic boosts. She’s not even trying to win. I groaned in frustration.

“What’s wrong, honey?”

“This is how they’re going to finish the race. Vapor doesn’t want to win.”

“Don’t be silly, sweetie. Everypony wants to win.”

“Dad, did you see her at the meet and greet earlier? She’s in love with Sky Stinger, and he’s too in love with himself to notice. She’s just going to keep following him and blocking the others.”

By lap twenty they’d started lapping the ponies who hadn’t lined up in one of the drafts. As they passed Short Fuse, he washed up the track from the turbulence. True to his nature he flipped out, flying off the course and out of the race, screaming and cussing the whole way.

They continued playing follow the leader for another twenty-nine boring laps. Vapor Trail might’ve been content to finish second, but Rolling Thunder definitely wasn’t. Halfway through the final lap, all Tartarus broke out. Rolling Thunder rolled up on Vapor Trail and goosed her. Vapor Trail lost her concentration and broke formation. Rolling Thunder went low to pass her, but Vapor wasn’t having any of that and deliberately crashed into her. They tumbled to the ground and Angel Wings and Hyacinth Dawn flew over them. Still drafting, the duo ganged up on Sky Stinger, blowing past him like he was standing still.

In the infield, Vapor and Rolling Thunder were rolling around on the ground beating the living daylights out of one another. Defeated, Sky Stinger banked and flew back to the fight while Angel Wings crossed the finish line first, ridiculously oversized bow and all, virtually ignored by the audience. Sky tried to break up the fight, pulling Vapor off Rolling Thunder, but then Rolling Thunder kicked him, and suddenly it was two on one.

By the time Mountain Haze’s group caught up to them, it was full pandemonium, and they scattered as they tried to avoid getting drawn into the fight, which had spilled out of the infield and back onto the track. Short Fuse had materialized from somewhere and had joined the fracas, teaming up with Rolling Thunder to make it two on two.

“Wow. That was unexpected.”

“It’s never over until the checkered flag, sweetie. Anything can happen on the last lap.”

“I didn’t think goosing was a legal move.”

“It isn’t. Neither is fighting. It remains to be seen, but I can almost guarantee they’re going to kick Rolling Thunder out of the Wonderbolts, they’ll probably get rid of Short Fuse, and there’s a chance they might get rid of Vapor Trail and Sky Stinger for fighting. It’ll probably depend on if the ‘Bolts consider it justified or not. I’d argue it was, personally. Rolling Thunder cost them a one-two finish.”

I shrugged. “I hate to say it, but Sky Stinger wouldn’t have done well in the 500 without Vapor Trail pushing him. I don’t know how good Angel’s going to do in the big race, but at least she’ll be more entertaining to watch.”



Baytona Beach: five years, ten months, and six days ago

Fleetfoot and Rainbow Dash had both learned to pace themselves, and had dominated the series in ensuing years, as much of the old guard retired. Spitfire called it a career, opting instead to focus entirely on managing the day-to-day operations of the team. Soarin’ was still racing, but it was obvious to those of us in the stands that he should’ve retired a few years ago. A number of the up-and-comers I’d seen in my first Speedweeks had gone on to become full-fledged Wonderbolts, including Wildfire, Cloudchaser, Thunderlane, and of course, Rainbow Dash.

We’d gone from renting one of the luxury skyboxes to Dad outright purchasing one. We hadn’t missed Speedweeks since.

I sat in the skybox, reading the latest Daring Do book while I waited for the exhibition race for up-and-coming Wonderbolt cadets and reservists to begin. Much to my shock, a former winner of the event sat down next to me.

“Hey.”

“Rainbow Dash? What are you doing here?”

“Your dad just hired me to be a spokesmare for his company. I’m not racing tonight, and this as good a place as any to watch the race from. Unless you object, of course.” She flashed her trademark cocky grin and I couldn’t help but grin back.

“Not at all.” I put my book down and she glanced at the cover.

“Daring Do fan? Me too!”

“I like the earlier books better. No offense to A. K. Yearling, but the Daring Do series has really gone downhill since she started working with Caballeron and Ahuizotl. The books just aren’t as exciting anymore. The three of them teamed up against a bunch of pirates just doesn’t have the same appeal as one pony on her own. When she was still solo, Yearling made Daring’s actions feel like they were her own. You could feel her danger, and that sense of wonder when she discovered an ancient artifact from a lost civilization. In this book, whenever she's trapped or cornered, she can count on one of the other two to rescue her. Every single time. No more death-defying escapes from traps. And somehow Ahuizotl knows how to read all of these lost ancient languages, so there are no more puzzles to figure out. Yawn.”

Rainbow’s grin faltered a bit. “I agree that they’re not as exciting as they used to be.” She sighed. “You can blame my friend Fluttershy for that.”

“How so?”

“She convinced Daring, I mean, Yearling, that working together was better than maintaining rivalries. And she’s right, you know. Sometimes it makes for a lousy story, like in the book you’re reading. Other times, it makes for a better one. For example, do you know who’s racing tonight?”

I listed off the names of the ponies I’d just met a few hours before. She stopped me when I got to Lightning Dust, the pony most were expecting to dominate the event in the way Rainbow had four years earlier.

“Lightning Dust was in the academy at the same time I was. Had everything worked out for the best back then, we would’ve duked it out for the win that year, and I honestly don’t know which of us would’ve taken the checkered flag. She’s good. Really good. But she’s reckless. She almost got my friends killed, and Spitfire kicked her out of the academy and banned her from the Wonderbolts for life. Once I made the team, I asked her to reconsider that. She reduced it to a three-year ban, and this is her first year of eligibility. She’s learned a lot in the years since.” She chuckled. “Breaking half the bones in her body in a stunt gone wrong probably helped knock the chip off her shoulder.” She told me about how Lightning had started a rival team, the Wash Outs, and how that’d backfired on her spectacularly. “As a Wonderbolt I’m not allowed to play favorites and cheer on any particular recruit over the others. But I really want to see Lightning win tonight. You’re not gonna tell anybody if I cheer her on, will you?”

I shook my head and she smiled.

“Awesome! I knew this would be the perfect place to watch the race from.” She reclined the chair she was sitting in and shut her eyes. “Wake me when it’s race time.”



Canterlot: four years, eleven months, and seven days ago

Light streamed through the cracks in the blinds and I opened one eye hesitantly. Most days it was a struggle to get out of bed, but today was different. I bounced up, ready to get a head start on the day. Happy birthday to me! Sweet sixteen!

My parents invited all my friends to attend my big party tonight, and I was admittedly anxious to meet them. I trotted down to the dining room, and was served my favorite breakfast. The cereal pieces had been picked out, as always, leaving just the marshmallows floating in sugary milk. I poked my head into the kitchen, to check on preparations for the party. A massive confetti cake shaped like the number 16 was being frosted. It looked delicious, and I sat there supervising for the next hour as it was completed.

From there I inspected the ballroom, and found the servants in the midst of decorating. Even Lily was helping her mother blow up balloons. Lily turned sixteen a few months ago, but she didn’t have a party. I guess she doesn’t have any friends. Well, aside from me, of course.

With preparations going well, I decided to go dress shopping. It wouldn’t do to be seen at my sweet sixteen in something I’d worn previously. And of course, you can’t go shopping without a gal pal. My choices were limited to Lily, Lily, or Lily, so I chose Lily Blossom to join me. It wasn’t like she could say ‘no’ after all. She was my favorite kind of audience: a captive one.

I flagged down a passing pegasus chariot, and we took it to Rarity’s Canterlot Carousel. I can’t think of a better way to spend my birthday than trying on dozens of new outfits. Lily just sat there and gave me a wing’s up or wing’s down depending on if she liked how it looked on me or not. Her sense of fashion is awful, so I went with my normal plan of buying anything she disapproved of. She really seems to hate ruffles and frills, but those never go out of style.

Eventually I whittled my selections down to my five favorites, coincidentally the ones Lily had the most adverse reactions to. As the boutique’s manager, Sassy Saddles, was ringing up my selections I noticed that Lily didn’t have a dress. As a guest of my party, I’d expect her to be dressed appropriately, and Lily hadn’t even bothered trying anything on the whole time I was shopping. Come to think of it, I’d never actually gotten her anything for her own sweet sixteen. Oh well, better late than never.

I quickly scanned the discount racks, looking for something without ruffles or frills. I wouldn’t want her to hate the dress, after all. Besides, it wouldn’t do for her to outshine the birthday filly.

“You’re looking through the clearance rack?”

“Yeah. Which one do you think looks best?”

She pointed to the one I’d expected her to pick. It was the one I liked the least. “Perfect.” I grabbed that one and added it to my purchases.

“You’re actually taking one of my suggestions?” She looked shocked. I suppose that was to be expected, being the first time and all.

I nodded and hoofed a stack of bits to Sassy. “You getting anything?”

She shook her head and followed us to the fitting room. Sassy measured me, then started altering each of the dresses to fit me. I intentionally buried that last selection under the rest. When she reached the plain, unadorned dress I stopped her. “It’s for her.”

Lily’s jaw dropped. She worked it open and closed a few times, finally sputtering out something vaguely resembling words. “But…but…but…”

“I’d prefer it if you walked in, but if you insist...” I complied with her ‘request’ by butting my head against her hindquarters, and shoved her into the fitting room in the process. Sassy didn’t waste time, quickly sizing Lily and altering the dress to fit her. “Happy really belated sweet sixteen.”

“Thank you.” We trotted home, each of us wearing a new dress, and Lily carrying the rest of my purchases in her saddlebags.

We’d spent more time at Canterlot Carousel than I’d thought. Already the sun was well past its zenith and nearing the horizon. I picked up the pace to a canter to make up for lost time. Evening traffic was thick with ponies heading home from work, so we took to the skies. With the benefit of hindsight, I really should’ve kept the chariot on retainer all day. Ugh, I’m going to get sweaty flying home. I really hope it doesn’t ruin this lovely new dress.

We arrived to my party fashionably late, or right about the time everypony else also showed up. All of the movers and shakers of Canterlot were there, including Prince Blueblood, the most eligible prince in all of Canterlot! Of course, he’s the only prince in Canterlot, but I digress. If I catch his fancy I could be a princess! My parents really do think of everything! So he’s double my age – so what? He’s a prince!

Even if things don’t work out with Bluey, oh, I sure hope he’ll let me call him Bluey, there are several other good candidates in attendance; eligible sons of nobleponies. Stop drooling, Diamond. Keep it together. Cool, calm, collected. You’ve got this.

Oh my gosh, Prince Blueblood. Yay! Best birthday gift ever! So he’s not wrapped up, I’m going to keep him, anyway. Giggling, I made a beeline for him. He kissed my hoof like a true gentlecolt. Squee! Should I go by Princess Diamond or Princess Rose? I suppose the latter sounds better…

My fantasies were interrupted by another mare, who practically shoved me out of the way to fawn all over Blueblood. She immediately got her comeuppance as another mare bumped her aside to get the prince’s attention. All of the single mares from my age bracket were jockeying for the best position to be Blueblood’s consort for the evening. It’s my birthday! He’s my gift, darn it! These are the ‘friends’ I’ve been waiting to meet?

“Consider him a distraction.” Lily Blossom appeared next to me and herded me in the direction of a number of stallions our age. “While they’re all gold-digging, here’s your chance to meet some single stallions.” I noticed her own eyes wandering the line of stallions. Well, if she wants second choice, I won’t stop her. Better her than those jerks swarming all over Blueblood.

Lily introduced me as the birthday girl, and the quartet of eligible bachelors introduced themselves. At length. The way they all talked about themselves, you’d think they were in charge of raising the sun every morning. It didn’t take long for Lily to lose interest, though it’s my birthday, and by golly, I’m going to dance with somepony. And it’s not going to be my father or Lily.

I grabbed the handsomest stallion and dragged him onto the dancefloor. The band started playing some sentimental ballad, and I danced as he stood stock still and droned on about how many homes his family owned, how much money they made last year, where all their properties were located… I don’t need to know all the details of his balance sheet. Or rather, his father’s balance sheet.

I yawned as I passed him off to another mare and grabbed the next stallion in line. It was more of the same. Ugh, no wonder stallions like these end up with gold-diggers. They have no romance, no passion. It’s all economics, all the time. Boring. I want to live my life, not spend it acquiring money so I can say I was the richest when I died. I mean, how would that even work? Come back as a ghost to rub it in on those still alive? Then they could rub in the fact that they’re still alive. Stupid.

With horror I realized I was likely destined to marry one of these wimps. Nope. Not happening. I crave excitement and adventure. I’m not going to get that with any of these colts playing dress-up. You can put a colt in a stallion’s suit, but that doesn’t make him a stud.

My thoughts were interrupted by my father clinking a spoon against a glass. “A toast to the birthday filly. My little princess is growing up. Happy sweet sixteen, sweetie.” He motioned to a table piled high with presents. “We all got you a little something.”

My train of thought completely derailed as I trotted over to the pile of gifts. Wrapping paper flew through the air as I shredded it. Jewelry, fancy gowns, gift certificates to the spa, etc. The one that stood out from the pack was some bright red, lacey lingerie. I made a conscious effort not to react to it, nor did I show it off. Instead I silently moved it to the pile of already opened presents and moved on to the next gift. Obviously it was from one of the stallions, one with high hopes and the wrong idea.

I finished opening the gifts, and the few ponies who were watching me returned to hobnobbing with the rest of the snobs who hadn’t even bothered paying attention to the birthday filly. Needless to say, I was unimpressed with the ‘friends’ that I hadn’t even known I had. As always, it was Daddy who saved the day. “One last gift, pumpkin.”

Unlike the others, it wasn’t wrapped. I lifted the lid off the box and was greeted with a glinting hunk of pink diamond. I blinked. “No way.”

“Way. It’s the Rose of Cimarron, and it’s all yours now, sweetie.”

Daddy nuzzled me, as I sat there staring at the diamond that had so infatuated me as a filly. Truth be told, I’d more-or-less forgotten about it in the ensuing years. But now, holding it in my hooves again, the memories came flooding back. Diamond Rose now owns the largest rose diamond in the world. Seems appropriate. The party faded to background noise as I stared at the gem. Best birthday gift ever!



Canterlot: three years, eight months, and four days ago

“You’re taking me to prom.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’ve made my decision. You’re taking me to prom.” There weren’t any truly good choices at the local school, but I’d made a chart correlating attractiveness to net worth, and picked the best stallion accordingly. Like me, most of the other nobles were privately tutored. And since none of us went to the public high school, none of us could go to the prom without an invitation from one of the attending students. He’d do for now. It’s only a dance – it’s not like I need to marry him.

“I have a marefriend.”

“So?”

He struggled for a reply to that. “So I like her?”

“That’s your problem right there. You only ‘like’ her; not ‘love’ her. You should leave her for somepony better. Like me.” And then you can go crawling back to her when I dump you immediately after prom. It’s not like I care what plebeians do.

He started sweating and stammering. I had him right where I wanted him. He’d crack quickly. I’m the prettiest mare in town, and one of the richest. I get what I want, and right now I want him to take me to the prom so I can get dressed up all fancy and dance the night away.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Of course Lily Blossom would show up.

“Arranging my date for the prom.” She looked at me like I’d just grown a horn. Maybe someday.

“You don’t even go to this school.”

I rolled my eyes. “I know, right? It’s so unfair. In order to attend prom, I need an invitation from one of the students here. I chose this guy.”

“That. Is. My. Coltfriend.”

“He is?” That certainly explained why I’d seen less of Lily Blossom the last few months. He was well above her station – good for her. I just want to borrow him for the night, she can have him after that. “He just told me he doesn’t love you.”

She whirled on him. “Is that true?”

“I… uh… I…”

“Oh, he likes you well enough. But he doesn’t love you.” I suppose this is the part where I’m supposed to add ‘you can do better’ or some other such nonsense, but she really can’t. This is the best she’s ever going to get. He comes from a nice middle class family – they’re not rich like me, but they’re not hurting for money, either. “What does love matter anyway? Ponies marry because they’re attracted to each other, or to improve their station in life. He’s fairly handsome, and he’s richer than you. He’s suitable. I just want him to escort me for the night. You go to the school; you can certainly invite somepony else if you so desire.”

Lily gave me the look she always gives me when I’m making sense and she doesn’t like what I’m saying. Then she glared at him. “Is what she said true?” He gulped and nodded.

She slapped him across the face with a hoof. I cringed. That’ll leave a mark for sure. Good thing prom’s still over a month away, that should be plenty of time for his face to heal. If not, I’m sure I can get some makeup to hide it. Lily looked at me and opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. She just growled in frustration, slapped her coltfriend again, and galloped off.

“Pick me up at six.” I batted my eyelashes at him. He just stood there, completely flabbergasted. I have that effect on stallions. He’s wrapped around my hooves already. I left him standing there.

I returned home, knowing Lily would already be there. Her mother lived with us since she was on call 24/7, and Lily shared a room with her. It wasn’t hard to find her. I knocked on the door to their room.

“Go away!”

I tried the handle, but it was locked. As if that could keep me out. I just grabbed the master key from the safe and opened it up. “Lily.”

She was lying face down on her bed, head buried in her pillow. When she looked up to speak, I could see the tears streaming down her cheeks. “What the hay, Diamond? I want to be alone. You just broke up my relationship. What more do you want from me?”

I waved a hoof, dismissively. “As your best friend, I couldn’t stand to see you distraught.”

“You’re not my best friend.”

“Pish-posh. Of course I am.”

She laughed at that. “I’m your best friend, but you’re not mine.”

I laughed back at her. “Oh, you’re not my best friend. I don’t even really consider you a friend. More like an acquaintance.”

“If not me, who do you consider your best friend?”

I paused, thinking. The only ponies I ever interacted with were my parents, the staff, and Lily. And Lily was the only one who was my age. We’d played together as foals. There was no one else. “I don’t know.”

“Face it, Diamond. Not only am I your best friend, I’m also your only friend.”

The words stung. I don’t have any friends. This must be what it feels like when I’m speaking the truth and Lily doesn’t like what I’m saying. Is this how she feels every time we talk? This... this hurts. “I’m sorry.” The word ‘sorry’ felt foreign to my tongue. I hadn’t apologized for anything since I broke a vase when I was a foal. The vase that Lily then claimed to break to save me from punishment. Horseapples. “I’m a horrible pony.”

“Well, at least you admit it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d really like to be alone right now. I just dumped my coltfriend because of you.”

I turned to leave, but then thought better of it. Instead I climbed into the bed behind her and wrapped my wings and legs around her in an embrace. She cried herself out that way, as I lay there holding her.



Canterlot: three years, seven months, and twenty-six days ago

Prom night. Most fillies fantasize about this night, hoping to spend it with the perfect stallion. Slight change of plans. Since Lily Blossom’s ex had evidently vacated Canterlot for parts unknown, he wasn’t going to be accompanying either one of us. I really need to ask Lily what his name is again.

We both dressed up in our fanciest attire, or should I say, we both dressed in my fanciest attire, and then spent the evening playing Crazy 8’s and Old Nag. I felt bad for wrecking Lily’s relationship – if I’d known that he was dating her, I never would’ve made a move on him. Of course, then Lily would never know how he really felt, and I guess that would’ve led to heartache and drama further down the line.

Lily is a good pony, and she deserves the best. She was also beating me in cards, badly. Our conversation last month had changed a lot of things between us. We’d started treating one another as friends, and that meant she’d stopped letting me win any time we played a game.

I’d spent my life up to now trapped in a box of my parents’ making. I was sheltered, and any exposure to the world beyond was measured and sanitized for my protection. But I had no one else to blame but myself for the superior attitude I’d developed along the way. We weren’t better than anypony else just because we were better off financially. Even though I’ll forever struggle with that concept doesn’t make it any less true.

Dad interrupted our game of cards and threw down the Canterlot Gazette. “I know you’re not one for keeping up with current events, but even you should read this. Every once in a while, something comes along and shakes everything up. This is one of those times.”

Chills ran up my spine as I read the lead headline: Parallel Universe Confirmed. Lily gasped as she read the words. It looks like Equestria’s best minds had known about this for the last four decades, but were only now getting around to announcing it. ‘Earth’ has been thoroughly researched, and contact made with the natives. Equestrians had been secretly living there for nearly forty years, but were recently revealed by the unexpected arrival of more ponies.

And now the Equestrian government was looking for ponies to go to Earth and settle there, and seeking volunteers to host the native species of that world, ‘humans’, here in Equestria. Dad was right – this changes everything. I’d been craving the excitement and adventure I’m missing out on sitting around on my hindquarters all day. It’s so far away my parents can’t overprotect me. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

“Ugh.”

I turned to Lily. “What?”

“Those human things are ugly. They don’t have much hair and their bare skin is showing over most of their bodies. And what are those weird things at the end of their forelegs? And how can they see anything with those ridiculously small eyes?”

Lily had a bit of a point – they were awkward looking, but no doubt they would say the same about us. The important part was the address to write to for more information on emigrating. There were a number of requirements that needed to be met, but there was also plenty of time to prepare since the departure date wasn’t for another three years. “I’m going.”

Lily snickered at my declaration. “So you finally admit you’re crazy?”

“Lily, this is just the thing I’ve been wanting since my birthday last year. All the ponies here are just stuck-up snobs. Their idea of an adventure is creative accounting.”

“If you want to meet real ponies, instead of snobs, you could hang out with my friends from school.”

“Do you go on adventures anywhere beyond the mall or ice cream shop?”

“Not exactly…”

“I’ve been to every mall in Canterlot. There’s nothing exciting there, sorry. It’s not like you have to come with me.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t.”



Ponyville: today

“Isn’t this exciting, Lily?” We were sitting at Sugarcube Corner, waiting for our chance to cross the portal to Earth.

“Not really.” Lily stifled a yawn.

“But we’re going to be some of the first ponies on Earth! And we’re eating breakfast at Sugarcube Corner! The heroes of Equestria have eaten here.”

“One of them even worked here.” The waitress had materialized out of nowhere. “Pinkie Pie was my babysitter. You know, when she wasn’t saving the world time after time with her friends. I’m Pumpkin Cake, what can I do you for?”

“A cup of tea and scones, please.”

“She likes her tea equal parts tea, milk, and sugar,” Lily helpfully added.

“And for you, miss?” Pumpkin turned to Lily.

“You’re way too chipper for this hour. I guess I’ll have a coffee.”

“Milk, sugar, or as black as your shriveled-up heart?” the unicorn asked with a wink.

“I’m not a morning pony,” Lily growled. “I don’t care what it is, just bring me something with lots of caffeine in it.”

“You got it, hon.” Pumpkin Cake roller skated back toward the kitchen to place our orders.

Once she was out of earshot I scolded Lily. “Take it easy on her, she’s just a filly.”

“She’s a teenager, only a few years younger than us. Stars, I hope I wasn’t that annoying when I was her age.”

“Trust me, you were.” I wasn’t though, I was a good filly.

She banged her head on the table. “It’s too early to be dealing with you or her, and I’m stuck with you. She’s optional. It was your idea to get breakfast. What’s with you? I’m not used to you getting up before noon. When we went to bed last night I thought I was going to have to drag you out of bed this morning to get to the portal on time. Instead you get me up two hours early.”

“I couldn’t sleep. I was too excited! And a little nervous.”

“If you’re that nervous, it’s not too late to turn back. All we have to do is return the stipends and we can go home.”

“Nope. My mind’s made up on this, Lily. I’m going to Earth. I’m not twisting your leg. You can go home if you want to. I’ll survive without you.”

Lily laughed so hard I thought she was going to choke.

“Oh! Somepony’s mood has improved!” Pumpkin Cake placed our orders in front of us. She’d also added a doughnut to Lily’s order, and she squirted whipped cream on it in the shape of a smiley face. “Now your doughnut is happy as you are!”

“I didn’t order this.”

“You ordered caffeine, and this is a triple chocolate doughnut. The whipped cream is just because you’re a grumpy meanie-pants and I can’t take you seriously if you’re licking whipped cream off your muzzle.”

Lily was blushing bright red. “I’m not really a meanie grumpy-pants, am I?”

Pumpkin shook her head. “No, you’re a grumpy meanie-pants, that’s totally different.”

Lily’s head hit the table again. “I’m going to need more caffeine.”

“Okie dokie lokie!” Pumpkin sashayed back to the kitchen.

“Wasn’t she wearing roller skates earlier?”

I nodded.

“She’s giving me a headache.”

I chuckled. “Logically, that’s probably from all the caffeine…”

“What in the wide world of Equestria…” Lily stared at her breakfast in shock. “The whipped cream eye just winked at me.”

“Don’t be silly, Lily. You’re just imagining things because you’re tired.” She pouted while I ate the last of my scones. She still hadn’t touched her doughnut, and she pushed it across the table to me. “I thought you said this had a smiley face on it?”

“It does.”

I looked at the dessert. It was definitely frowning. I shook my head. “Lily, a smile is when your lips curl up, like this.” I smiled at her to demonstrate the correct facial expression. “This doughnut is a frown. Sorta like your default expression.” Lily’s face twisted in response. “Hmn, no, that’s more of a scowl… Has anypony ever told you that you’re really bad at smiling?”

Lily got up and stomped outside. Poor Lily. She’s always unhappy. I should do something nice for her. I know!

I flagged down Pumpkin and ordered three of Lily’s favorite sandwich – that way she’d have something to eat on the other side, since I’d eaten her breakfast. While I waited for the sandwiches, I looked around the dining area. How many of these ponies are locals, and how many of them are on their way to Earth like me and Lily?

Lily returned, looking calmer than she had when she left. “Aren’t you done yet?”

I shook my head. “You were only gone for a few minutes. Sit down and finish your coffee. You’ll feel better once you wake up.”

She grumbled, but the cool morning air had robbed her eyes of the fire that had been burning inside them. She was no longer on edge, and that in turn made me relax. I know she doesn’t want to do this. Her nerves are shot. Even more than normal.

Pumpkin Cake materialized out of thin air, placing a rose in front of me. “My brother said to deliver this to the cute mare at this table.”

“Your brother thinks I’m cute?” My heartrate increased.

Pumpkin Cake shrugged. “He didn’t specify which one of you, so I’m guessing. Seems like a safe bet.” She stuck her tongue out at Lily.

“Easy there, Diamond, you don’t know what he looks like. For all you know, he may be her younger brother.”

“He is, by about twelve minutes. We’re twins.”

“Sweet Celestia, there’s two of them.” Lily’s head hit the table again.

“Literally.” Pumpkin giggled and pranced off to the next table.

“Diamond, promise me that when we come back from Earth, we’re not eating here.”

“But I like this place. Pumpkin’s got a great sense of humor.”

“Ah, yes, your favorite kind of jokes. She’s making fun of me.”

“To be fair you really are a grumpy meanie-pants, Lily.”

“I’m never going to hear the end of this, am I?”

“Nope!”

“Nope!” chorused Pumpkin from the kitchen.

“Let’s get out of here.” Lily’s eyes were on the door.

“I’m just waiting on one thing yet.”

“Not anymore!” Pumpkin once more appeared next to me with my to-go order. “Oh! And take this too.” She grabbed a portrait of a pegasus colt off the wall. “That’s my brother. You should totally take him with you to wherever it is you girls are going.”

He’s adorable. “We’re going to Earth, and they’re not currently letting colts or stallions through the portal.”

“Phooey.”

“Forgive my sister. I’m Pound Cake.” The colt from the photo had joined us – the photo was a few years out of date, and it was obvious the teenager’s voice was in the process of changing. He chuckled nervously. “Pumpkin and I had a fight last week and she’s been trying to get rid of me ever since. Yesterday she tried to get an elderly couple to adopt me. Last Friday, when she was still really angry, she tried convincing a griffin to eat me.”

“I was doing a pretty good job of it, too. I think if we’d had enough barbecue sauce on hoof you’d be nothing but a bad memory right now, bro.”

“You wish, sis.”

“You two should kiss and make up.”

The twins stopped fighting and turned to look at me, absolutely horrified by my suggestion. “Ewwww,” they said in unison.

“Look! You finally agreed on something. Now bump hooves and agree to disagree.”

“Fine.” Pumpkin held a hoof up to her brother.

He bumped the offered hoof. “Friends?”

Pumpkin rolled her eyes. “Don’t push your luck, bro. I’m still mad at you.”

“For how much longer?”

Pumpkin shrugged. “Dunno.” Her tail lashed. “But I promise to stop trying to give you away.”

“It’s a start.” I draped a foreleg over each of them, pulling them into a group hug.

Pumpkin shrugged my leg off and returned to the kitchen. I looked to Pound for an explanation.

The shy colt shuffled in place. “I suggested she tone down her interactions with the customers a teensy bit. She’s trying to be Pinkie Pie, but she isn’t Pinkie Pie.” He ran a hoof through his mane. “She’s costing us business. There are locals who won’t come in anymore.”

“Maybe you should try serving, and let her work in the kitchen,” Lily suggested.

He shook his head. “Pumpkin’s really good at what she does, and she’s way better than I am at waiting. She’s got that part of the job down pat. It’s her customer interactions that need some work.”

“I thought she was really funny.”

“I didn’t.”

Pound looked to both of us in turn. “She’s rather hit or miss. You either really like her, or really loathe her. There’s not much in between.”

We thanked him, and I paid for our meals. We still had plenty of time before the portal was set to open, and I really wanted to explore Ponyville, but Lily was in one of her moods, so instead we trotted into the Everfree Forest to take our place in line.

I had hoped my parents would have been able to see us off, but they had other obligations. Instead it was just Lily and I, and unlike others who were trying to be at the end of the line so they could spend a few last moments with loved ones, we had no qualms about walking right up to where the line was starting to form.

“Diamond Rose?”

I turned at the sound of my name. “Yes?” I asked the yellowish orange mare with a newspaper cutie mark.

“First Scoop with the Equestrian Press. Today’s a very important day in the history of two worlds, as I’m sure you well know. I’m covering the momentous occasion, and my employers have paid a large sum to ensure that the first pony trotting through the portal has a good story. Imagine my surprise seeing Shiny Diamond’s daughter in line. A multi-billionaire heiress going through is bound to make a splash in the headlines. The papers in Canterlot and Manehattan would eat it up, as would the tabloids. Of course, there’s a way to make that even better. How’d you like to go first, Diamond?”

“Sure! As long as Lily here can be the second pony through since we’re traveling together.”

“Oh, does the heiress have a secret lover? This story is getting juicier already!”

“Oh no, no, no, no. Lily Blossom is staff.” It wasn’t a lie, even though it had taken me way too long to realize she was more than just that. She’s my best friend. But the paper doesn’t need to know that. ‘Hoofmaiden’ has such negative connotations associated with it. “She’s my mare-in-waiting.” Much better. “I’m going to see the sights and she’s going to assist me along the way.”

“Beautiful, beautiful.” First Scoop ushered us into a prefab building. “I’m going to ask you some questions while security speaks with your traveling companion. Then you’ll switch places.”

Lily followed a Royal Guard into another room while First Scoop started her interview. She asked many of the same questions the guards had asked me when I’d applied to go to Earth. Then she asked more personal questions – if I had a coltfriend, if I’d been having any problems with my family, etc. I probably bored her with my responses, but there was no way I was revealing my ulterior motives to her so she could blab them to the world. Secrets like the precious gem in my saddlebags. No way was I leaving the Rose of Cimarron behind for five years.

The door to the other room opened, and Lily returned, meaning it was my turn to get hassled by the portal’s security.

“Do you have anything to declare?”

“Yes.” I started stacking gold bits on the table. “It seems I forgot to take all these solid gold bits out of my saddlebags before leaving home. Since I can’t take them through the portal with me, I’d be ever so grateful if you could find it in your heart to give them a good home. From one forgetful pony to another, if you just happen to forget to check my saddlebags I’m sure we could call it even.”

“I’ve got to at least look, miss. You know the humans will also be checking you on the other side, right?”

Horseapples. “No sir, I didn’t realize that.”

“Let me see just what you have in here…” He trailed off, whistling. “It’s not hazardous, so I’ll look the other way on this, but I can’t guarantee the humans will.”

“I’ll, uh, I guess I’ll take my chances.” I gulped. “Too late to do anything about it now.”

“If were you, I’d make up a story right quick. It matches your cutie mark, so roll with it. Say that without it, you’d lose your purpose in life, or something.”

“That’ll work?” I asked, incredulous.

“Probably not, but at least it gets your foot in the door so you can try bribing your way out of the situation.”

Lily looked uncomfortable when I returned, and it wasn’t hard to guess why from the snippet of conversation I heard before First Scoop clammed up. The reporter was pressing her for household gossip – anything that might make a good story.

“I didn’t miss anything important, did I?”

First Scoop cleared her throat. “I must commend you on your choice of staff, Miss Rose. I couldn’t get anything useful out of Miss Blossom.” She stood up. “The guards will escort you to the front of the line, and our staff photographer will be on hoof to take pictures of the event. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go get ready to interview the first human through the portal.”

The guards immediately marched us to the front of the line, and the pony who was standing there complained. She shut up when the guard reminded her that she’d declined to speak to the press, forfeiting her right to go first. I took note of her cherry pie cutie mark. Probably sour cherries.

The portal glowed in front of me, only a few yards away. I wouldn’t get the honor of truly going first – ponies and humans alike had been crossing from one side to the other for years. But those who’d gone to Earth before me had been instrumental in setting things up – politicians, diplomats, guards, architects, construction crews. A good mix of Equestria’s movers and shakers, and the ponies who actually got stuff done. I was in the former category, while Lily was definitely in the latter. Instead, I’d be the first pony to ‘officially’ cross the opened portal. But the first human would get to go first.

The first human to cross was female, tall like most members of her species – I’d say she was easily over five feet high. Unlike those in line behind me, I had no time to gawk at her. Instead it was my turn to be stared at on the other side of the portal. I took a step, dramatically pausing for the photographers, then crossed through. The disorientation lasted for a moment, and I found a Royal Guard on the other side helping me up and moving out of the way so the second human could go through.

I didn’t even get to wait for Lily Blossom before I was led to a wooden structure that looked like a military barracks. With as many soldiers as there are here, it probably is.

“Do you have anything to declare?”

I hoofed over my saddlebags. There was no sense forcing the issue. He was going to find the Rose of Cimarron one way or another, and doing things the easy way would put me in a better bargaining position. And to think, Dad doesn’t believe I pay attention to his business advice.

“That is one big hunk of diamond.”

“It’s really pretty, isn’t it?” I feigned ignorance, turning my flank toward him to present my cutie mark. “It’s the Rose of Cimarron. It means the world to me. It’s my most precious possession.”

“You can’t bring this to Earth.”

“I can’t leave it behind in Equestria. This is my source of identity.”

“Let’s say I believe that you don’t intend to sell this on the black market. I don’t by the way, but let’s pretend for a minute that I do. That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be stolen and sold off to the highest bidder. If enough rocks like this come through the portal, it could cause the world’s diamond markets to collapse.”

“I only have the one. I don’t really care about other gems as much, but I’m Diamond Rose.” I held up my passport. “This is Equestria’s largest pink diamond. It’s as much a part of me as my mane or tail. I’m not leaving here without it.” Time to put the ball in his court. Offering a bribe is a crime. Asking for one is also a crime. Smuggling is a crime, one I’m already guilty of. He knows I’m not going to rat him out. “What do I need to do to walk out of here with my diamond?”

“How did you get it past the Equestrian side?”

“I had a large pile of Equestrian bits with me. Which, apparently, also aren’t allowed on this side of the portal. The guard on my side was happy to, uh, watch them for me while I’m here on Earth. And if they should happen to get spent sometime during the next five years, I’m not going to be upset.”

“So you bribed him.”

“I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that I have a rather tidy sum of your currency in my saddlebags. I don’t need all of it. If some of it should be left here, say as a deposit to prove that I’ll be bringing the Rose of Cimarron home with me, I’m sure that could be arranged. And if it just so happens that you’re not here when I come back through the portal in five years, well, we ponies are firm believers that sharing is caring.”

He put his hand out.

Here goes nothing. This either ends with me trotting out of here with my favorite possession, or me in hoofcuffs and shipped back to Equestria in shame. I started giving him pieces of silly-looking green paper.

“Come on, a mare with a big gem like that can surely afford to pay a hardworking man such as myself a little more than that to ensure that your precious cargo gets labeled as ‘baggage’ and not ‘contraband’.

“I can’t give you all of it. I need to keep some of it for myself. It’s not like I can just get more money while I’m here.”

“You can when you sell that.”

“I’m not selling it.”

He shrugged, a gesture that looked odd on a human. “I don’t really care what you do with it, but if you want to leave here with it I need more than this. I’m sticking my neck out here for you, and I don’t have to. Make it worth my time.”

We agreed on him taking a quarter of my cash, leaving me with just $15,000 left of my stipend.

“Welcome to New Jersey. You already speak the interdimensional language, so I’m sure you’ll get further ahead than your little pony compatriots.”

“English?”

He laughed and pointed to the pile of cash. “Money.”

“They say it makes Equestria go ‘round.”

“Earth too.”

I trotted outside the barracks poorer, but still in possession of the Rose of Cimarron and my freedom.

“What kept you?” Lily Blossom was waiting under a tree.

“Just had to do a little negotiating.”

“What did you do, Rose?”

I opened my saddlebags. “I wasn’t leaving home without it.”

“I really don’t know if you’re crazy, stupid, or both. Let’s just get on the bus.”

We stepped aboard the bus. Even with my delay in security, being the first ponies through the portal meant there were still plenty of choices on where to sit. “I want a window seat!”

“No problem.”

I charged down the aisle and picked a seat at the very back of the bus. “What do you think? It’s pretty neat, right?”

“It’s just a transport. Like a pegasus chariot. But enclosed.” She shuddered at that.

I had to agree with her on that. Pegasi and confined spaces really didn’t mix well. To be fair, the bus was noisy, smelly, and cramped. Still, there was nothing like it in Equestria. We’re among the first ponies to ever ride a bus, and that’s exciting.

I felt my saddlebags to make sure my most prized possession was still safely inside. The Rose of Cimarron was still there. Thank goodness humans are just as easy to bribe as ponies. Who cares if I bring it with me, it’s not like I’d ever sell it.

“What do we do first?” Lily asked.

“I was thinking we’d get jobs.”

Lily blinked at me. “Come again?”

“We need to find employment. We can’t live off the paltry sum we got as a stipend to come here. Especially not with how much I already spent.” I'd only anticipated needing to bribe the Equestrian guards, so having to bribe both the ponies at the Equus checkpoint and the humans at the Earth checkpoint had cost a lot more than I’d planned.

“What about all that money your dad specifically had converted to dollars for you?”

“I may have intentionally left it sitting on my bed at home. I’m sure the bank will convert it back to bits for him.”

Lily looked panicked. “What? What?

“I want to make my own way, Lily. Everypony has done everything for me my whole life. And don’t get me wrong, that’s awesome, but there’s more to life than that. I’m my own mare, and I want to do things my way for once.”

I don’t think Lily’s jaw could drop any lower than that. “What happened to seeing the sights for the next five years? You know, living like the heiress you are?”

“I lied. That was never my plan, but there’s no way my parents would’ve let me come here if they’d known I was planning on doing something crazy like earning a living. If I’d tried this back in Canterlot, you know they’d have been checking up on me constantly. Besides, if I get desperate, I can always write home and I know he’ll send me the money if I ask him to. But the whole point of coming here was to do something with my life. Succeed or fail, I want to control my own destiny for once. Why’d you come with me anyway? You were dead set against the idea right from the start.” Lily choked on her reply. “Just wanted to see the sights? Live it up for five years on my Dad’s bits?”

Lily couldn’t meet my eyes and I chuckled. “Lily, it’s okay. Dad offered to pay your way because he wanted somepony here to watch out for me. He figured that the two of us together would be safer than me out on my own. And what could be safer than working some mundane nine-to-five?”

“You’re crazy. I mean, my respect for you just shot up a bunch of points, but Diamond, this is my life too. You’ve had your whole life to live it up and travel exotic places. This is the first vacation I’ve ever had. And now it turns out it’s not going to be a vacation at all.”

“It means a lot that you came with me. I promise we’ll take a vacation while we’re here. A different one every year! And I’ll even let you pick the first one! We just need to earn a little money first.”

“This is a lot to take in. I need a few minutes to think.” She got up from her seat and trotted toward the restroom at the back of the bus.

While she was gone, I occupied myself with taking in the sights of my new home. ‘New Jersey’, as the natives called it, seemed like an endless expanse of highway. Trees lined both sides of the road, but I could see buildings poking out from behind many of them. There were entire towns hiding back there, and I spied occasional glimpses of them through gaps in the foliage. According to the green signs, we were getting closer to one of the major urban areas. Lily plopped down on the seat next to me, and I turned to talk to her, only to discover a completely different pony. She looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t the place the face. There was no mistaking the Canterlot accent, though.

“Hi! I’m Snowcatcher. Some of the other mares and I are starting up an Equestrian style hotel here on Earth, and I was wondering if you’d be interested in joining us?”

I was an expert on hotels – I’d stayed at enough of them over the years. It would be a lot of hard work, but it would have its perks too. We’d be living there, so all the amenities, like the hot tub, would be available in our downtime. Sounds pretty good to me! “You’ve got my attention. I was planning on looking for a job anyway. What’s the catch?”

“We’d all be pooling our resources, so you’d have to give up your stipend in exchange for an ownership share in the newly formed hotel.”

“That’s a bit of a problem. I already spent some of mine. But I could convince my friend Lily to go in, too.”

“That would be great. I guess we could just dock your earnings for a while until you’ve bought your way into a full share.”

“That’s fair. I wouldn’t want any special treatment.” I smiled. For once, I’m going to be just one of the mares. So exciting! She smiled back and moved on to the next potential recruit. “I can’t wait to tell Lily! She’s going to be thrilled!”

Author's Note:

Chapter notes: https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/891849/story-notes-16-diamond-rose

Ask Diamond Rose questions related to the story: https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/961692/meet-the-mares-diamond-rose

Big thanks to RoyaleFanaticGal for the fanart of Diamond Rose & Lily Blossom!