By Saddlesoap Opera
Episode Five of the Pony Psychology Series
Rarity scowled at the Pony in front of her.
Such an awful sight!
That unhealthy physique, so lean the ribs nearly show. Those tired eyes, baggy and heavy-lidded. That dull, lifeless mane, hanging sadly like so many dark willow branches. Those hooves, as rough and worn as any Earth Pony's. And those shining, lovely Cutie Marks, mocking the whole with their perfection – the exception that proves the rule.
Terrible. Just terrible. You won't sell a thing looking like that.
She turned away from her bedroom mirror. Her horn ignited with purple-white energy as she magicked a hairbrush, makeup compact, powder puff, hoof file and polish, eyelash curler, hairspray bottle and perfume atomizer into the air.
As she worked on making the best of herself, Rarity noted that some of her cosmetics were starting to run low. They seemed to be running out faster and faster lately – it was taking more effort to maintain her striking looks. Soon it would be time for another shopping trip.
The thought – which once would have hummed in her mind like a cheerful song – now filled her with dread. What will I do then? she silently asked the room.
An hour later, she was back to the Unicorn her friends knew and loved: bright-eyed, curly-maned, gorgeous – and ready to spread fabulosity.
She trotted down the stairs, and into the kitchenette in the back of the Carousel Boutique. Carefully, methodically, she searched through every cupboard and shelf, on the off chance that she'd missed a small package of food during any of the previous searches. There was nothing.
She magicked open the icebox, and surveyed the frozen wasteland inside. More nothing, with the sole exception of a single stale muffin – the last remains of a client's somewhat feeble-minded attempt at barter. The bag of muffins had bought the grey Pegasus' daughter a party dress that could have sold for two hundred bits.
Rarity would have turned the offer down, but – well, no. She wouldn't have. And she didn't. She magicked the muffin in half, and floated one piece over to the table. She sat down glumly on the kitchenette's lone chair.
There's always a reason, she mused as she took a bite of the dry, chewy muffin. A bad harvest, a delayed repayment, a sick relative, or plain old poverty. How fabulous would I seem if I turned them down? How quickly would they turn on me? The pretty, talented Unicorn with the knack for fashion and the gem-sensing horn. How quickly would they realize how easy it is to hate me?
Her experience with the Diamond Dogs had driven that point home. Needy, whining, stuck-up, spoiled Ponies were a living Pony Hell, worth trading a mother lode of gems to escape from. She'd felt clever at the time…until she'd realized how close to her standard manner she'd been.
But what do I do now? She wondered. Bilking that Dragon didn't work. Banking on marrying rich didn't work. No Photo Finish-backed career. No Aerial Ballet contract in Cloudsdale. And soon, not even the tools to maintain my looks. What do I do when I run out of things to distract them all with?
She took another bite, and winced. Oh, how she was getting sick of the taste of muffins.
"I deserve this," she muttered.
She heard the sound of hoofsteps in her dress shop's entryway. Rarity quickly gulped down the rest of her breakfast in one dreadful swallow, and came trotting into the shop's main room. She readied her customary greeting:
"Hello and welcome to Carousel Boutique! How can I be of – oh! Good afternoon, ma'am. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"You know why I'm here, Rarity." The Mayor of Ponyville stood in the open doorway, backlit by the brighter light from outside. She stared over her gold-rimmed pince-nez at the white Unicorn.
Rarity swallowed. "Ah…yes. The matter of my taxes."
"Yes. In recognition of what you and your friends have done for Ponyville this past year, I have given you several extensions. But you can't ignore this any longer. I haven't seen a bit from you since before the last Winter Wrap-up. You need to pay what you owe."
Rarity's lower lip quivered. "B-but Mayor…! If I had the bits, I would have paid you already!"
The older Earth Pony scoffed. "Please, Rarity. Don't lie to an elected official. We have a keen sense for falsehood. Your work –" the Mayor gestured at the various complete and in-progress fashion masterpieces on display around the shop "– is some of the finest in Equestria! This is not exactly a flax-weaver's hovel, to say the least."
"But it's true!" Rarity's voice raised in pitch. "I can't afford to pay you, Miss Mayor! I can't!" She turned away.
The Mayor narrowed her eyes and frowned. "…I see. I suppose you wouldn't be the first wealthy Pony to be bad at holding onto her gold. And at this rate, you won't be the first to find that it cost them their property."
Rarity choked back a sob. "N-no…! Not my Boutique! Please!" She still couldn't bear to look the Mayor in the eye; it had taken a supreme effort just to voice her objection.
"Oh, now don't get upset…" The Mayor slowly grinned. "Perhaps there is some…other way you could settle your debts. I've had my eye on your…assets…for a long time, you know." The Mayor's tone was as sweet as fresh honey. She chuckled. "If you do me a little favour from time to time, I'll consider your taxes paid."
Rarity shuddered. So it had finally come to this. Her finances were all but gone, her debts were mounting, and she had nothing but half of a stale muffin left in the icebox – yet she had never even considered it.
A surge of outrage burned hot on Rarity's cheeks, but she forced it down. What will it be – your morals or your home? she asked herself. The rage slowly drained away, replaced with an empty, sinking feeling the likes of which she'd hadn't felt since she'd hung in midair above the Cloudaseum, the evaporated remnants of her temporary wings floating in the air like so much glitter.
I thought so. Rarity turned to face the grey-maned beige Earth Pony, willing her eyes to stay tear-free. Be brave, Rarity – the least you can do is try to take it like a mare.
The Mayor was loosening her cravat. Rarity let out a tiny whimper. Try harder! She mentally chided herself.
"If…if that's what it takes to keep my shop, M-Mayor," said Rarity at length, her voice trembling ever-so-slightly, "then I w-will do as you ask."
"Oh, I am glad to hear it," said the Mayor, letting her cravat and collar drop and stepping toward the pale Unicorn.
Rarity help up a warding hoof, and cowered. "Please…! Be gentle with me," she whispered, closing her eyes tightly.
If the Mayor heard her, she showed no sign of it. She had angled her approach to walk past Rarity, and she was now standing in front of one of the shop's tall mirrors. "Why don't we start with…something in silver and sapphires? I wear a 14 neck."
Rarity opened one eye, momentarily dumbstruck. Eventually, she spoke: "…Beg pardon?"
The Mayor gestured at her bare neck with a hoof. "A necklace. Size 14."
"Oh?…OH! Y-yes, of course, Mayor! S-sapphires…to go with your eyes! Just…just w-wait right there, and I'll get some beauties – I won't be a m-minute!" Rarity was shaking all over as she trotted into the shop's back room.
Once she was out of the Mayor's sight, she collapsed onto the plush carpet and curled up into a ball. She breathed in short, ragged gasps, trying to push down the adrenaline surging through her system. Her eyes were wide, staring at nothing.
Oh, Celestia! I thought she…I almost…I was going to…a brief surge of nausea threatened to cost Rarity her meager breakfast.
She gritted her teeth, rolled onto her knees, and then stood. She took a slow, deep breath.
"I deserve this," she whispered to the empty room.
The next afternoon, Fluttershy sat immersed up to her shoulders in the steamy water of the broad wooden hot-tub at Ponyville's finest and only spa, her long pink mane wrapped up in a soft white towel.
Rarity had planned to skip the costly outing this week, still shaken as she was from the encounter with the Mayor. But she just couldn't bring herself to deprive her friend of a treat
So, Rarity sat in the water opposite Fluttershy, similarly wrapped up and nodding absently while the yellow Pegasus continued her anxious, disturbing, meandering anecdote.
" – covered in horseshoe-shaped bruises from head to tail, and splattered with blood! I was horrified, just horrified! I knew something bad had happened to her when she didn't show up to our picnic! I knew it! She told me that she got tangled in ceiling garlands and crashed into Pinkie Pie while she was carrying an open box of horseshoes for a party game, and then tumbled down the stairs, taking the box with her. I trust Dash, but I don't know…something just felt wrong about that story..."
Aloe, one of the spa's graceful Earth Pony proprietors, trotted over with a small bowl of perfumed salts and dumped them into the tub.
More money I don't have, thought Rarity. One bit for the salts. Three bits for the tub time. Five for the facial. Six for the pedicure. Four for the sauna. Four for the mud-bath. Eight for the massage…oh, Celestia – what will I do next week?
Rarity snapped out of her reverie. "Yes, sorry. I'm listening. Do go on."
"I said, what do you think? I hate to sound suspicious, but I can't help but have my doubts. She just seemed so...distant." Fluttershy shifted uncomfortably on the submerged bench inside the tub. Her flanks were itching again.
Rarity frowned. "Well, there's only one other way to get covered in horseshoe-shaped bruises, now isn't there?"
Fluttershy gasped. "Y-you think somepony beat her up…? But who? And why wouldn't she tell me?"
"I'm sure I have no idea, dah-ling…" said Rarity, but her thoughts wandered back to a few days prior, when a certain rugged orange Earth Pony had stood in her store, shamefully blurting out a confession of love for Fluttershy's rainbow-maned fillyfriend. The echo of Applejack's steel-shod hooves stomping on her shop's floor rang in her ears.
Fluttershy's expression darkened. "You're lying."
Rarity's jaw dropped. "Wh-what?"
Fluttershy waded closer to the white Unicorn, narrowing her eyes. "You're lying. I know I'm not the most sociable Pony, but I'm not a foal. You look away when you lie. And your tone of voice was just like when you told me how happy you were that Photo Finish made me a model. You're hiding something. Don't lie to me, Rarity. What do you know? Who hurt Dash?"
Rarity started sweating – and not from the steaming-hot water. Her back was pressed into the hot-tub's wall; Fluttershy's nose was now an inch from hers.
"P-please, Fluttershy…! It's not that I…that is, I didn't actually…I mean…I promised not to say–"
"WHO DID IT?" Fluttershy's wings spread behind her, sending bathwater splashing in all directions. Her insistent, piercing stare filled Rarity's veins with ice.
"It was Applejack…!" Rarity squeaked, and plunged down under the water.
When she surfaced, the yellow Pegasus was nowhere to be found.
Rarity's pounding heart sank when she realized that she'd just sold out a good friend on nothing but a strong hunch; it sank still further when she realized that with Fluttershy gone she would have to put both of their makeovers on her already-sizeable tab, and Fluttershy wouldn't even be there to appreciate it.
She dragged herself out of the tub, and headed behind a changing screen to brush her mane.
Twilight Sparkle trotted around the main floor of her library home, magicking a broom to sweep in her wake and humming a little ditty that seemed to get stuck in her head every so often.
"Grr…can't a Dragon have a nice afternoon nap in peace?" groaned Spike from his basket-bed nearby. "I wish you'd never heard that song! Now I'll never get back to sleep." Spike rolled over, and quickly started snoring.
The purple Unicorn paused. "Now that you mention it, I have no idea where I first heard tha–"
A knock at the door cut her off. "Who could that be?" she wondered.
Twilight opened the door, and Rarity all but bowled her over in her haste to enter.
"It's a lovely day outside, isn't it?" asked Rarity, idly trotting around the library's main room and examining the occasional book cover.
Twilight regained her hoofing, and dusted herself off. "Um…yes, yes it is."
"I do so enjoy a sunny day," said Rarity, a faint sheen of sweat appearing on her brow.
"Me…too…?" Twilight raised an eyebrow.
"Those Pegasi do a fine job on the weather here." Rarity giggled anxiously.
"They sure do…?" Twilight tilted her head slightly, her brows knitting.
"Oh!" Rarity continued, finally noticing the magicked broom still following her fellow Unicorn. "I see I've caught you in the middle of some chores. Terribly sorry to bother you…I'd best be on my way." Her left eyelid twitched.
"It's fine," said Twilight, letting the broom come to rest. "Rarity…is there something you wanted to talk to me about?"
"No, no…! There's no need to put yourself out. I'm not worth it. Why don't I make you a new sunhat to apologize for wasting your time?" Rarity trotted toward the door, humming nervously.
Twilight magicked the door shut before Rarity could leave. "Wait! What did you just say?"
"…A new sunhat!" Rarity smiled too-widely. "A filly's got to take care to avoid sunburn–"
"Not that," said Twilight, frowning. "Before that."
"I…" Rarity sagged. "…I'm not worth it. I don't deserve your help." She turned away.
"Rarity…! Why would you ever think that? You're one of my best friends. Of course you deserve my help! Now tell me: what's wrong?" Twilight bore down on the cowering white Unicorn, her tone firm but her eyes full of sympathy.
Some floodgate inside of Rarity shattered and her miseries came flooding forth. She spoke faster and faster, until it was almost hard to follow her.
"Oh, Twilight…I don't know what to do! I'm beautiful and talented and cultured, and everypony despises me for it! I know they do! So I do my best to buy them off with scandalously low prices at my shop and luxurious outings, and it's costing a fortune! And the stress is just devastating me, and maintaining my fabulosity just costs more, but if I let myself go I'll be ugly as well as hated, and…and… and I'm ruined! I have so many debts, and I don't have two bits to rub together – at this rate, I'll be totally destitute within the week!" Rarity grimaced as if in pain, but forced a few more words out: "Please…I know I deserve this, but I want your help. I need your help! Oh, please! Please! PLEEEEEEEEZ!"
"You're…? But Rarity, you're one of Ponyville's liveliest lovers of luxury! You still smell of perfume from the spa! If you don't have any money, how are you–"
"All on credit!" she wailed. "Fluttershy loves to go to the spa, Pinkie Pie keeps holding birthday parties for Ponies we hardly know, Sparkler and I go shopping, Lyra looks forward to the symphony…I can't let them down. I can't! They'll turn on me!" A wave of dizziness passed through Rarity; she staggered.
"Rarity!" Twilight darted forward to support her falling friend. "Are you alright?"
Rarity shook her head. "I'm fine…fine. Just a little hungry, is all."
"You've even been skipping meals just so you can afford to indulge your friends?" Twilight's eyes shone with tears. "Rarity, that's terrible! You don't need to bribe your friends! We love you for you!"
"Sure you do…when I'm churning out dresses for you! But as soon as I want something for myself, you'll change your tune! If I'm not giving, I'm worthless to you!"
"Enough!"Twilight's horn glowed; a wave of magical force slapped Rarity across the face.
The white Unicorn stared in shock, gingerly rubbing her pink cheek with a hoof.
"Get a hold of yourself, Rarity! This isn't like you!"
"Well maybe I've just grown up," she whimpered. "Maybe I finally noticed everypony staring daggers at me whenever I live it up a little. I'm better off using my bits to make other Ponies happy." Rarity sighed.
"Nopony will be happy if you end up on the street, Rarity!"
"Then what can I do, Twilight? It's too late! I don't have the bits to buy hay!"
"Well, I can help you with that, at least. If you need money that badly, I know just what you should–" A crash from outside derailed Twilight's train of thought. "What the…?"
"…What?" begged Rarity. "What should I do? Please, Twilight!"
Twilight's attention snapped back to Rarity. "Right! You…you ought to–" More crashes rang out, followed by a chorus of shouts. Curiosity overwhelmed the purple Unicorn. "I'm sorry, Rarity. This will just take a second."
She magicked open the door…and then stared out in disbelief.
"Did you hear that?" Rainbow Dash trotted over to Pinkie Pie's bedroom window; she still limped slightly as she moved, and her body was covered in adhesive bandages. "It sounded like Applejack."
The damage to the room from Rainbow Dash and Applejack's fight was still only partially repaired. Pinkie Pie looked up from the delicate task of gluing a vase back together without the use of opposable digits. "I didn't hear any–uh-oh!" Pinkie's tail was shuddering back and forth. She raced over to join Rainbow Dash at the window.
In the distance, a blurry shape in the sky drew closer: it was a yellow Pegasus, struggling to carry a flailing orange Earth Pony. The breeze carried the faint sounds of the Earth Pony shouting, but neither Dash nor Pinkie could make out any words.
And then the Pegasus let the Earth Pony drop.
"Oh my gosh!" Rainbow Dash surged out of the open window, achingly taking to the air with far less than her usual speed and grace.
"Wait for me!" shouted Pinkie, galloping toward the stairs.
Applejack groaned, the smashed remains of the flower stand shifting around her as she struggled to get back to her hooves. Next to her, the stand's shocked Earth Pony proprietor put a hoof to her brow, and fainted. Applejack shakily looked upwards. "You crazy filly – you coulda killed me!"
Fluttershy alighted a few feet from the ruins of the stand. "I am not crazy. And maybe now you'll think twice about beating up innocent Pegasi next time."
Applejack scowled. "I told you – it weren't no beatin'! It was a fight! A real, two-sided hoof-em-up!"
"You hurt Rainbow Dash!"
"So you pick me up like some Griffon on the hunt and drop me over the middle o'town? I dragged your craven hind-end up a mountain backwards, you ungrateful little buzzard!"
Fluttershy gasped; a single tear slid down her cheek. Her wounded expression suddenly darkened, and without another word she lunged at the orange Earth Pony.
Twilight stared in frozen shock at the scene before her.
On the street in front of the library, Fluttershy and Applejack were pummeling each other while Rainbow Dash tried to pull Fluttershy away and Pinkie Pie tugged at Applejack. The dirt road was littered with the broken remains of a destroyed flower stand, several smashed window-boxes and an overturned display of liquid herbal soaps.
"You don't deserve her, ya lunatic!" shouted Applejack, pounding an elbow down between Fluttershy's wings.
"I am NOT CRAZY!" Fluttershy shouted back. She jabbed a hoof forward, striking Applejack in the gut.
"Stop it! Please! There's been enough fighting!" begged Pinkie pie around a mouthful of Applejack's blonde tail.
"You stay outta this!" Applejack lashed out with a back leg, shoving Pinkie Pie away. The rose-hued Earth Pony landed heavily on her side, and burst into tears.
"Fluttershy! Cut it out!" said Dash, the Pegasus' pale pink tail between her teeth.
Fluttershy turned to face the blue Pegasus. "You lied, Dash! I saved your life and you lied to me!"
Dash spit out Fluttershy's tail. "I only lied because I thought you'd go off your cloud - like you did at the Gala. And you did!" Dash shouted. "Why did you have to make everything so complicated?"
The deeper meaning behind Dash's words was plain. Fluttershy stared at her in frozen, wounded shock."Dash...! You...you don't..."
Applejack took the opportunity to tackle her.
"I need to know, Twilight!" said Rarity from behind Twilight, desperation colouring her every word. "I don't know how long jewelry will tide the Mayor over…"
"All of you, stop – that's enough!" cried Twilight, but the din of the shouting match outside drowned her out.
Applejack hefted a dazed Fluttershy above her with her front hooves, and turned toward one of the few undamaged kiosks left in the area. "Lessee how you like it!" she growled. "No - don't!" interjected Dash, but she held back from physically stopping the Earth Pony.
"Just a hint? Pleeeez!" Rarity was groveling on the floor right next to Twilight now.
Twilight gritted her teeth. Her horn ignited with the glow of magic. "I…said…that's…"
A blaze of light and a magical thunderclap emphasized the word as the deafening pronouncement echoed off the nearby houses. Windows in the closest buildings cracked from the noise.
Applejack let go of Fluttershy, and they, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie and Rarity silently fell onto bended knees, their eyes downcast.
Twilight Sparkle rubbed the back of her neck with a hoof. "Whoa…that was a lot louder than I expect–" she looked down, and noticed the long, regal shadow she was casting…and its wings.
The purple Unicorn pivoted in place, and looked up into the stern visage of the Royal Alicorn of the Dawn. She stood in the middle of the library's main room, backlit with majestic morning light. Her pastel-hued mane and tail flowed silently on invisible solar winds.
"Twilight Sparkle…" Celestia's tone was as hard as diamond. "What is the meaning of this shameful display?"
Twilight cringed. "Princess…I'm so sorry! My friends were…it was…they didn't…I tried to–" The Princess cut her off.
"I am shocked and appalled to see such chaos caused by the bearers of the Elements of Harmony. How dare you all make such a mockery of your duty?" The Princess stomped a gold-shod hoof, and thunder rumbled from the clear sky.
The Ponies cowered; Pinkie Pie wept. Fluttershy hid her face, trembling. Applejack, Rainbow Dash and Rarity turned away in shame.
Twilight Sparkle took a deep breath, and faced her teacher. She swallowed. "Princess Celestia…please don't blame them. I will take full responsibility for their actions."
The pale ghost of a smile seemed to cross the Princess' features, but it quickly disappeared. "…So be it, then. Twilight Sparkle – you will come with me. The rest of you Ponies – return to your homes at once!"
Princess Celestia's horn blazed white with magic as she spoke; in a blinding flash she and Twilight vanished, leaving the room dark and empty of life save for Rarity at the doorstep and Spike in his basket – sound asleep through the whole exchange.
As the glow of magic faded, Twilight found herself in Princess Celestia's private study in one of the tallest towers of Canterlot's Royal Palace. It was a round room, furnished with comfortable sitting pillows and lined with shelves of ancient tomes. The rear window afforded a beautiful view of the eastern skyline. The Princess was seated by that window, magicking a teapot to fill the shallow porcelain cup on the table beside her.
"Princess Celestia…I can't tell you how sorry I am…" Twilight looked away, and noticed that the door out of the room was flanked by a pair of Royal Guard Pegasi.
Princess Celestia magicked up the cup and took a slow, thoughtful sip of her tea. Her eyes were closed, her face a serene, unreadable mask. She set down the cup, turned toward the guards, opened her eyes, and softly said two words:
NEXT AND FINAL EPISODE:
TWILIGHT SPARKLE: SPELLBOUND