The Marshmallow Problem
"You know what I love most about my friends?" Twilight rambled idly as she helped Spike wash the dishes. "How well-adjusted they all are."
Spike raised an eyebrow skeptically, scratching off a particularly stubborn crumb. "Even Pinkie?"
"Well, in her own way, sure! Pinkie's friends with everypony! And Rarity's plugged into the, the 'scene,'" Twilight went on, levitating four knives to make air quote marks, "and knows all about how to behave in high society. Applejack and Rainbow Dash have a great time in their own elements, working alongside a pony or competing against one. And Fluttershy may kind of fall down with ponies, but when it comes to furry things and feathered things and even, eeck, scaled things, she's just the bee's knees."
Her dragon assistant snort-giggled. "You are the only pony I know who actually says that. Even for a librarian, that's lame."
She bonked him gently with a spoon. "Hush, you. The point is that I never would've learned to be a normal pony with friends without them! Everything I know about getting along with other ponies, I learned from them. Why, I shudder to think about how awkward Princess Celestia must have thought me back when I was just a shut-in who read books all the time."
"Instead of most of the time?"
"Repetitive sarcasm is demote-worthy offense, mister!"
"Psh, you're bluffing."
A ladylike rap on her door broke Twilight's mock-serious staring contest with her little foster brother. "Oh, Twilight dear?" Rarity called out, ever adept at making herself heard through umpteen inches of wood. "Are you in, darling?"
She had to stifle a grin at Spike already getting his characteristic 'Oh my gawsh, RAAARITYYYY' glazed expression as she trotted over to the door, absentmindedly stacking the plates and silverware behind her as she went. The Rarity she met at the door looked almost normal... but just enough off to make her suspicious. Something was a'kilter in the fashionista pony, no doubt about it. Those shifty eyes, the way her mane was only mostly gorgeous instead of absolutely one hundred percent so... why, there was even a smudge on one forehoof! Best not to point that out.
"Morning, Rarity, what brings you over so early today? Are you looking for a book?" She dared to hope!
"No, actually, I just wanted speak with you about a little trifling matter, that's all, aheh..."
Twilight tried not to deflate too much. "Oh, okay, that's fine too! Come on in, I'll fix us some tea. Spike!" she called, turning her head. "Could you get the kettle on?"
"You just had tea," Spike grumbled, but was obedient as always. Maybe even a little faster than usual, thanks to Rarity's presence.
"That's very kind of you, dear. However... I don't mean to be a great bother... but could we perhaps talk in private?" Rarity coughed delicately into a hoof.
"I won't tell anypony anything. You trust me, right Rarity?" Spike asked, making absolutely huge, dewy kitten-like eyes.
Twilight sighed in aggravation. "Spike, get!"
"Oh, how abominably rude of me! It's not that my little Spikey-wikey would ever go telling tales! Only that the matter I have to discuss with Twilight is a tad, well..." Rarity leaned down to Spike and stage-whispered in his ear. "Embarrassing. Lady matters, you know."
"Ohhhhhhh," Spike said with an understanding nod, backing away with care. "Well, I wouldn't want you to be embarrassed, Rarity. I'll go chill upstairs, okay Twi?"
"Okay, number one assistant." She smirked. "I'm counting on you to note listen at the door!"
"As if!" Spike huffed, looking far more offended by the accusation than he would have been had it only been the two of them in the room.
The room settled into quiet as the two ponies looked at each other, one curious, the other undeniably twitchy. Eventually, as it became clear that Spike was keeping to his word, Rarity started fussing about, complimenting and criticizing the decore with the expression of somepony who badly needed a distraction. Twilight tolerated it until the kettle started to whistle, causing Rarity to jump with a squeaking 'eep!' Smiling in what she hoped was a soothing manner, Twilight floated the kettle over along with some teabags and Rarity's favorite cups (the fanciest ones in the library, of course – a delicate silver filigree-rimmed set that had been a gift from Princess Celestia). The tea was only the finest quality, too, because her friends deserved nothing but the best – at least, those of her friends who actually gave a hoot about tea quality like a civilized pony would.
"So, Rarity," Twilight addressed her dear friend smilingly through the rising vapors of tea-infused water, "what's the problem? You've been acting stressed the whole time."
Rarity stilled herself and took a long breath, eyes closing and opening again in a way that was undoubtedly calculated to show off her (fake!) eyelashes. "Forgive me, Twilight, it's just that saying this is hard to say would be a rather drastic understatement. A recent... emergency of sorts... has arisen, and I'm really not quite sure what to do about it, so I turn to you, the wisest of my dear companions, for your characteristic sagacity and scientific know-how."
Twilight blushed despite herself at the flattery. "Oh, stop, I'm not that wise. Well, maybe a little. What's the emergency, exactly?"
"Well, it's really based on... on circumstances that have, shall we say, been present in a long term sense. It's really a bloodline issue, you understand," Rarity rambled, waving her front hooves in little circles around each other, eyes downcast. "And it was never really that much trouble until now, so I hope you can forgive me for not mentioning it prior to today. Why, the last thing I would ever want to do is be a burden on all of my friends due to my horrid... deficiency."
She stared in honest confusion that was quickly transmuting into dread. "Rarity, you don't have some kind of immune system problem, do you? Are you sick? A hemophiliac? Do you have a predisposition to bipolarism? Wait! It's albinism, isn't it? I should have seen it, all the signs are right there!"
"What? No no no no no no! Nothing like that at all, dear."
"Oh, okay." She relaxed.
"It's much worse than that."
She unrelaxed, starting to feel a bit jerked around. "Rarity. So help me upon my love for you as a friend, spill it before I go nuts and start trying to drink my tea while it's still weak!" There was nothing worse than that.
Rarity eyeballed the room one last time, eyes rolling at every possible angle before she leaned in over the teacups, snout to snout with her. "Twilight... I'm a marshmallow," she whispered in a sharp hiss.
Twilight stared, at a complete loss. "What," was finally what came out of her mouth, tone blanker than white paper.
"I'm a marshmallow, Twilight," Rarity said in at a still quiet but not whisper-level volume, backing away only an inch. Her eyes were wide and locked in place with something like desperate need. "My entire body from hoof to head is composed of gelatin and sugar. I am a living, breathing, speaking, and obviously fabulous food product."
Eyes went briefly to the roof, visualizing the heavens past them, praying to Celestia for a respite from silliness. "I know you're sad that you missed Nightmare Night, Rarity, but at least try to make your pranks believable." Without any further ado, she stood up, poured herself a mere medium-strength cup of tea and started to tromp upstairs with the drink, ready to call Spike back down. Really, Pinkie was just a bad influence on someponies.
"Twiliiiight! You must believe me!"
Twilight was unprepared for having her hind legs enthusiastically tackled, and nearly fell. "Rarity, honestly, stop being such a foal..."
"I was afraid it would come to this!" Rarity moaned loudly, heedless of the nearby (and probably deliberately listening) reptile. She tugged and tugged until Twilight had no choice but to halt her ascent and turn to glare. The fellow unicorn held up one white hoof. "Lick me."
She glared back narrowly. "You're being ridicul-"
"I am deadly serious, Twilight Sparkle. Lick. Me."
Ugh. She hoped Spike couldn't hear this, there was no way to tell how traumatized he'd be. Or maybe the opposite, which was arguably worse. "Fine, if it'll get you to stop being stupid..."
She flicked her tongue against the hoof, fully expecting to experience a faint taste of grass and dirt against firm keratin. Instead, to her shock, what met her taste buds was a firm but slightly yielding surface, undeniably sweet. Her mouth hung slack in shock for a long moment before she blinked and tried again. Surely that was her mind playing tricks on her, just a magician's parlor magic of getting the audience to anticipate something so badly they imagined it was real. No, there it was again! The texture, the flavor, all so... so very... marshmallowy. There was no mistaking it at all.
"What," she mumbled for the second time that meeting, floating her tea in front of her and draining the cup down to the last drop in a single gulp.
"Would you like to try the other hoof to make sure, dear? I know you're all about scientific analysis," Rarity said somewhat dryly, holding up the opposite hoof with a demonstrative wiggle. "I'm afraid that a lady must draw a line somewhere, though, and mine is just in front of toasting me with chocolate-infused crackers."
Hesitantly, cheeks red, Twilight poked at the proffered hoof. It yielded to the pressure to the exact extent that a marshmallow would have, and immediate expanded back as soon as the pressure was withdrawn. "Th-that's okay," she stammered, wondering at what point she had gone insane. Maybe she'd always been crazy and hadn't noticed until now. That would explain so much. "Y-you're serious, aren't you. You're really a... a..."
"Marshmallow," Rarity filled in levelly. "Yes. Come sit back down, would you? This is going to talk a while to explain."
"N-no kidding," Twilight said slowly, eyes darting all over Rarity and resisting the urge (barely) to poke her all over. "This is amazing, Rarity! Or horrible! Or, or, or... I don't know what, but it's a really big whatever it is! You're a unique life form! How are you even alive? You have to come into my basement so I can study you properly!"
"Aheh, I'm flattered, darling, but that musty underground atmosphere would do absolutely nothing for my complexion. I have trouble enough preventing myself from going stale as it is. Just come sit back down, will you? I'll start from the beginning."
Now that she was hooked, Twilight Sparkle was well and truly attentive and invested. She didn't bother wasting time with any silly old walking, and just teleported herself and Rarity back to the table. Placing her forehooves on the table perhaps a little more forcefully than necessary, she leaned up into Rarity, who leaned back with a bashful smile. "I have to know everything."
"Well, for a prologue, would it surprise you to know that I'm adopted?"
Twilight's eyes widened. "That explains why you have such a hard time getting along with Sweetie Belle! You've suppressed all your genealogical bewilderment by channeling it into your dressmaking career, leaving no room for familial self-identification, which is substituted for by broader-scaled societal tribalism! Of course your identity issues would make it impossible for you to connect to Sweetie Belle on an emotional level without experiencing significant backlash to the ego from your super-ego! It all makes sense now!"
"Err... yes, heheh," Rarity said with a nervous giggle, "that explains it, certainly. Yes, it's true, and a long-held secret of my dear parents – I am not a mere unicorn, but a marshmallow unicorn, a byproduct, if you will, of long-since forbidden arcane experiments conducted by flunked students of Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. When their filthy little secret of a laboratory was raided, they found the one and only Rarity, the darlingest thing you'd ever seen come out of a sugar-coated test tube, and a Ponyville couple so generously offered to adopt me. You see how truly becoming my name is, now, yes?"
"Yeah," Twilight said, trying to shake the dazed feeling out of her head. Never in her wildest imagination had she ever heard of anything like this, ever read anything like this. It was remarkable. Possibly unique. "Forgive me, Rarity, it's just so... so hard to believe..."
"Believe me, I know. Why do you think I've kept my tragic past concealed from common eyes for so long?" It didn't sound that tragic to Twilight, honestly, but she didn't dare interrupt the unicorn's... marshmallow's... train of thought, for fear of slowing down the learning process. "Oh, Ponyville, I adore it so, but they would never understand!" Rarity leaned back and placed a hoof dramatically to her forehead. "Can you imagine what it's like, Twilight, living every day worried that you'll melt in a little too much heat, or absorb an excess of dirt that will never come out of your sugary body, or even crystallize in cold weather?"
"Of course, of course! Even relatively durable food products like marshmallows are much more vulnerable to wear and tear than naturally self-repairing biological systems like the pony body!" Twilight burst out excitedly, almost dancing from the joy of piecing unrelated bits of data together to form a coherent whole. "And here I was thinking you were just obsessed with arbitrary standards of beauty the whole time!"
"Yes... heheheh... indeed," Rarity replied with a toothy grin. "Such is the life of a rare lady such as myself, I'm afraid. Ordinarily, you understand, I would never trouble any of my friends with this nonsense. After all, if Rainbow Dash was, say, made of cabbage, would anyone know or care?"
"I don't think cabbage is very aerodynamic," Twilight said, eyes going blind as she focused inwards, mental gearing turning, calculating the possibilities. A whole new world of strangeness was opening up before her. "Yes, it would definitely product too much drag given its predominantly spherical and bottom-heavy nature. On the other hand, spinach or even kale would-"
"It was just an example, dear! But to continue, I only present you with this revelation now because we seem to have developed an eensy-weensy problem. A proper dilemma, in fact. I daresay, even an emergency."
Twilight gasped, remembering the time she'd left a marshmallow bag open on the counter. "You didn't get an ant infestation did you? Those little black ones just keep coming back!"
"No, Twilight, my sugary confines have yet to be violated by vile insectile pincers! No, the problem is that... Pinkie knows."
She blinked. "How is that a problem? Pinkie loves sweets, she ought to like you even more, now."
"Rarity... you're not suggesting that Pinkie Pie would... eat you, right? I mean, she's your friend, she loves you! That would be like Spike eating a pony because dragons sometimes eat meat!"
"You think I wanted to believe it, Twilight Sparkle?" Rarity entreated her, dark eyes welling up with heartfelt tears. "We've known each other for years and grown into the best of bosom comrades! And yet... ever since that awful, terrible, no good day when Pinkie bumped facefirst into me, I've seen the way she looks at my body. Eying me like a predator stalking its prey, eyes glistening, wetting her lips with lick after lick. I can't take it anymore, I tell you! I know she wants to turn me into the main dish for a party, Twilight! You've got to help me!"
"Okay, okay! Jeez! Get a hold of yourself!" She shrugged off Rarity's grip and shook the unicorn by the shoulders until the 'getting a hold of yourself' appeared to be taking place. "We've got to think this through rationally and not panic."
"I agree. Perhaps if you consulted the Princess for advice..."
"What? No! I'm not telling her one of my friends is a marshmallow, she'll think I've studied my way out of sanity! She used to joke that I'd do that one day as it is!"
"Dear, she already knows," Rarity explained patiently. "It was in all the papers at the time, you know. My birth and subsequent adoption was quite the event. Unfortunately, most of the records were destroyed so that I could lead some semblance of a normal life, c'est la vie."
"W-well, still. There's no reason to bother the Princess with something that could just be a misunderstanding," Twilight went on, calming down somewhat. "The way you described Pinkie's behavior... this may sound weird, but maybe she just has a crush on you?" It would be strange for it to come out of nowhere just now, and certainly provide an awkward element to their group dynamic, but anything was better than what Rarity was assuming so rashly.
Rarity blinked the blink of someone taken quite off-guard. "Oh. Well, that would certainly be much less distressing and a tad flattering, if you held me at spear-point to confess. Anything's possible, I suppose."
"No kidding," Twilight said flatly. They looked at each other very seriously, and then burst into giggles simultaneously. "Oh my gosh, Rarity, I simply cannot believe this. Look, tell ya what. I'll go over to Pinkie's later today and try and get a motive out of her. Chances are she's not behaving the way she seems to be for the reasons you think she is. I'm sure we can clear all this up with a little talk, and you won't even have to put yourself out there in an awkward situation." Twilight then found herself in an suffocating hug that would have done Big Mac's physique proud, all the more remarkable a feat now that she knew of its unique composition. She cold feel Rarity's ribs. Rarity had ribs. Were they made out of stale marshmallow, or the normal calcium, sodium and whatnot of actual bones?
"Oh, Twilight! You are truly the most magical of friends! You come up with solutions to the most infernal dilemmas as easily as a magician yanking an adorable rabbit out of a top hat!"
No, she shouldn't.
She really, really shouldn't.
She did anyway.
"Twilight Sparkle!" Rarity squealed, absolutely scandalized, rearing the back of her neck away from Twilight's second taste test. It had been for science, darn it!
"SORRY SORRY sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry! I'm so sorry, I just... I, I had to be sure. Yep." Not some funny invisible concoction on the hooves, Rarity was marshmallow all over. At least as far as Twilight intended on testing that theory today, anyway. Wow. "And now I am. So we can not talk about this to anyone. Ever. Right?"
"We're in perfect accord on that, I'll say." Rarity huffed, and that sent Twilight's brain into a dizzying wonderment of how the girl's lungs worked. Hollow marshmallows? Was that even structurally possible, especially given the strain of repeated contraction and expansion that lungs necessitated? Since she was going to talk to Pinkie anyway, she'd just ask her. Pinkie was the only pony who'd be liable to know the answer to a sweets question that random. And then there was blood flow. Oh my GOSH, did Rarity have liquid marshmallow blood? What about the differences in melting points between the two substances? And if she remembered correctly, the melting point for marshmallows was slightly higher than a stable pony's body temperature anyway... what did that imply for when Rarity came down with a fever? "Um, Twilight? Twilight, dear." Rarity whistled and waved a hoof.
"Oh! Right. Sorry. I was just... thinking."
"I could tell. You were doing it out loud, you know. A lady should remember when to keep her thoughts delicately sequestered from the world, oui?"
"Yes, yes, I didn't mean to offend you, it's just..." Twilight let out a dreamy sigh, staring at her friend with the new-found appreciation of a prospective vivisectionist. "It's all so fascinating."
Rarity took a nervous step back. "Aheh, certainly. But, just so you know, I still have absolutely no intention of setting hoof in that dingy basement of yours."
It took significant effort to keep herself from pouting even in the face of her friend's obvious discomfort. Well, there went that opportunity of a lifetime. "Okay, I wouldn't want to pressure you or anything. Sigh," she added pointedly, taking Rarity's habit of saying the actual word instead of just sighing. Rarity just tittered behind one hoof. "So I'll go see Pinkie around lunchtime, say, and figure this thing between you two out. If it's anything other than something totally harmless, I'll let ya know, but otherwise, just try to relax, okay?"
"That sounds perfectly reasonable. And Twilight, you must know that I don't mean to impugn upon the wonderful bonds of friendship that bind us all together like the most delightfully-wrought golden chains, don't you? I mean, wouldn't you be a little nervous, in my hooves?"
"I'm sure I have no idea," Twilight said wryly, and after another quick hug, that was where the conversation ended.
Her eyes flew through the bookshelves with a passionate need to research, stopping between Steamsnout's Beginning of Races and Saddlesoap's Beleaguered and Singed: an Archaeologist's Guide to Spelunking Draconic Catacombs only once she remembered Spike. And how very loud the conversation had gotten. They'd started out quiet, sure... and she'd told him not to eavesdrop... which meant that he almost definitely had...
Best to check and make sure.
Peering in her bedroom, she found Spike pretending to thumb through a comic book, eyes locked into a mindless stare that was very creepily reminiscent of Gummy.
"Oh, hey, are you guys done with your tea and lady matters and junk?" Spike said with clearly affected boredom, turning a page the wrong direction.
"Spike," she said again, sitting down on the bed next to him and trying not to be unnerved by the Gummy-eyes that were still frozen in emptiness, "you didn't happen to... uh... hear anything, did you? Because if you did, I'm not mad."
"I wasn't eavesdropping," he said far too quickly, suddenly finding the comic's ad page about hypnotic spectacles very interesting.
"That's not what I said."
"Because," Twilight went on very carefully, well aware that this was one of those important growing up talks that could greatly impact a baby dragon's development, "there were some things that were said that could very easily be taken out of context and misinterpreted in ways that might hurt somepony's feelings..."
"Fine! I heard her ask you to lick her, and what was UP with that?" he burst out, throwing the comic aside and standing on the bed with claws gesticulating wildly and aimlessly. For her part, Twilight was relieved that his eyes had gone back to normal. "That's all you did, right?" he asked with all the suspicion of a dragon guarding his hoard. "Just a lick because she just spilled something delicious on herself or something."
"Yes, that's all I did! She didn't spill anything but it was... iiiiiiit, it was for science! Rarity's... well, I can't tell you, exactly, but just trust me, it was for a good reason between two friends and it will never, ever happen again."
"Promise," she agreed readily, miming out the Pinkie Promise routine. "Ow."
"You really need to remember to close your eyes when you do that."
She stuck her tongue out at him and he hissed out a snicker through fangs and forked tongue. "So we're..." What was it that hip ponies like Rainbow Dash would say? "...we're cool, right?"
"Right. But if I ever go see a therapist and sit on their couch, I'm gonna tell them that this is where all the trauma started. Just so ya know," he taunted with an impish grin.
"Really? This? Not the time I made you replace Rainbow Dash?"
"What about that thing where you got really big and greedy and kidnapped Rarity?"
"Not even the time you decided your native species's culture was inferior to pony culture? Because I thought for sure it'd be that. I was planning on writing a paper on it and everything."
He thought about it. "Nope. Still this."
"Okay, whatever makes you happy, loverboy." She grinned back and planted a kiss on the top of his head, which he was obligated to pretend he didn't appreciate.
Trying to get back on schedule was difficult when she had marshmallow on her brain. There were things she was supposed to be doing, check boxes to be checked, bookmarks to laminate, essays on the inappropriate trophic classification of the Everfree Forest's prolific tree mold Verticillium alboatrum to write. But her brain couldn't focus. She could practically still taste the dry sugariness still on her tongue. If marshmallow-based life forms were possible, yet forbidden, what else had the Princess quietly swept under the rugs throughout the centuries? Was scientific progress being stifled, or was it all for a good cause? Or both? She did want to ask the Princess directly, but it was just so madcap a scenario that she couldn't bring herself to even begin to formulate the right words, let alone dictate them to Spike. Spike probably shouldn't know anyway. Not ever. He had self-control problems as it was.
Ultimately, she gave up and went to see Pinkie a couple hours early. It was probably smart to talk to her before lunch anyway, when everypony would be rushing the shop for baked goods on their lunch breaks. Forty-five minutes before noon as she estimated by the sun's position, she walked into Sugarcube Corner and found Pinkie working the register, passing off a tray of double-stuffed strawberry crème cannolis. Twilight found herself licking her own lips and regretting a skimpy half-bowl of oatmeal for breakfast before she managed to avert her gaze on focus on the decidedly not-edible (unless you counted the smudge of frosting on her chin) Pinkie Pie as the lone customer trotted off.
"Oh, hi Twilight! So what can I do you for?" Pinkie bounced slightly with every word, although she had to lower the height a bit after catching her hair on a light fixture just after 'do.' "See, it's a grammar gag, because I switched the sentence placement of 'for' and 'you!' I thought you'd appreciate it."
"I do, thanks, Pinkie! I didn't come here to buy anything today though. Actually..." Twilight looked around to make sure there weren't any customers stuck between the muffin section and the trifle shelf, and walked up closer, lowering her voice. "I came because I wanted to talk to you about Rarity."
Pinkie blinked once, then screwed her head upside down. "Ohhhh?" upside-down Pinkie's head asked, mouth perfectly round. "What about her? Did she change her mind about making that chocolate glaze dress after all? I hope so! I kept telling her the ants would be no problem!" She beamed innocently, happily, and Twilight was sure that Rarity had gotten the wrong impression out of their crazy but lovable friend.
"Well, this is going to sound totally crazy, but she happened to mention that you accidentally fell on her, uhm, tongue-first, basically? And she just so happened to taste like a... a marshmallow. Leaving why that might be aside for the sake of argument-"
"But we're not arguing," Pinkie interrupted, turning her head right way up again. "At least, I don't think we're arguing. Are we doing one of those passive-aggressive things where we're really secretly arguing even though we act like we're not? Because I don't wanna argue with one of my best friends!"
"No! Bad Pinkie! No derail!" She bonked Pinkie's head gently with a hoof. "Leaving aside why that might be for the sake of furthering this conversation," she said very clearly and slowly, "Rarity now has this silly idea that you want to eat her, because she tastes like marshmallow."
Pinkie grinned, showing off teeth that were, against all odds, in spectacular condition. "But I do wanna eat her!"
Twilight paused to take in this statement, and decided she must have misheard. "What?"
"Not all of her, of course," Pinkie elaborated with a giggly snort. "Just a little bit. She doesn't need all of her hooves, does she? I mean, come on!"
"Pinkie. Rarity is your friend and a living, thinking pony. No matter what she might or might not be composed of! You cannot eat her!"
"Just a little biiiiit!" Pinkie whined, bouncing high again, getting her hair caught in the light fixture once more, and windmilling in midair for slightly longer than should have been possible before she managed to untangle herself. "Don't you wanna know what living marshmallow tastes like?" she said breathily, invading Twilight's personal space and locking her into a staring contest. "Maybe nopony's ever tasted it before. Somepony's got to be the first pony to do something, or else we'll never know what it's like! Especially with tasting stuff! That's just scientifical, like that time I tasted a rock to make sure it didn't really taste like rocky road!"
"Absolutely not, Pinkie! Just because you treat your body like a living gag reel doesn't mean the rest of us don't have any concept of personal space! And if you really did know about this for days, why didn't you tell me, anyway?" she insisted, feeling a little hurt that Pinkie had kept something so undeniably enormous from her.
Pinkie blinked. "I thought you knew, Twilight."
"You thought I knew that Rarity was a marshmallow? What could possibly lead you to believe that I would know that?"
"Well, you two did have that slumber party with Applejack, and I just thought it would've come out then. Besides, it's not like there's not plenty of other foodponies around, even if they're not as yummy sugary sweet!"
"Other foodponies," Twilight repeated, making a mental note to be more careful about conversations where she ended up repeating Pinkie verbatim out of shock. This was going to go in weird directions, she knew it, and the day was, quite frankly, already at about her weirdness limit.
"Well, of course! Don't you know the muffin man?"
"The muffin man?"
"The muffin man! He lives on Drury Lane," Pinkie added as an afterthought, while Twilight racked her brain trying to remember where in Ponyville that street was, if it was in Ponyville at all.
"So you're saying there's more than one pony made out of... of foodstuff," Twilight clarified with a suspicious glare. "And you never brought this up before becaaaauuse?"
"Like I said, I thought you knew this stuff already! I mean, you used to live in Canterlot, I'll bet you saw all kinds of strange things there."
Mostly books. Some strange books, to be sure, some of them written in arcane dialects the likes of which would make mountains shudder were anypony foolish enough to pronounce them aloud, but still. Books. And Spike. And the Princess. And Cadance. And her brother. Yeah, that had pretty much been her whole life and why was she feeling depressing when there was something as amazing as living ponies made out of food in the world?
"Alright, my brain can't... can't parse all of that right now."
"Parsley? I don't think we have parsley here, although we might have a sprig in the back for when the Cakes want to do their special romaaaantic dinners-"
"Parse, not parsley! Look, let's not make this complicated. Can I just get you to Pinkie Promise you won't eat Rarity? That's really all I came here to do."
"Awwww, oKAAAAYYYYYY, but I can still chew on her hoof trimmings and the hair she leaves in the shower drain, right?" Pinkie's expression was positively angelic.
"Ewww! Pinkie, no!" She grabbed a nearby loaf of bread stuffed with a complex spiral of caramelized sugar and sprinkles, whacking the pink pony on the head firmly. "Bad Pinkie, bad! There's a very minute difference between funny and creepy, and you just crossed it! Or lost it! Or something, just... no, okay?"
"Wow, you're a tough cookie, Twilight. Like, stale gingersnap tough! Fine, I won't even eat the bits of her that fall off! But you owe me for this, Twilight Sparkle. There will be parties." Pinkie leaned close with an intense expression, causing Twilight to lean back correspondingly while Pinkie's breath hissed razor-sharp through the minimal air between them. "Oh yes... there WILL be parties..."
Twilight swallowed and reminded herself that Pinkie was her friend. Her perfectly safe and sane friend. "Parties are fine, as long as Rarity's not part of the menu. So, tell me more about these other ponies who are also supposedly made of edible substances? Were they byproducts of the same lab student experimentation that created Rarity?"
"Just because I'm friends with everypony doesn't mean I know everypony's life story! I mean, I tried to get everypony to tell me their life stories once, but some of them were super sad so I started to make up happier plot twists so they could pretend they were in a romantic-comedy instead of an introspective gloomy drama, but they didn't like that. And I got into an argument about what the heck Dr. Whooves's genre is with Derpy and things got weird and we stayed up late comparing cliches and is it Whooves's with one or two 'S's when you say it like... hey, where're you goin', Twilight? Twilight? TWIIIIIILIIIIIIIII-"
Twilight let the door slam behind her with a relieved sigh. She'd read about aquatic mammals that could hold their breath in the depths for hours. Pinkie Pie undoubtedly could have competed with the best of them. Like the sweets she proffered, Pinkie was best enjoyed in small, manageable doses, and there was so much else to do today. In this crazy, madcap day where food that walked and talked like ponies existed. Trying to eke the desired information out of Pinkie Pie was more than her patience could handle at this point, so instead of Pinkie-wrangling, she'd try book wrangling!
But first, she had to stop by Rarity's and let her know that the crisis, such as it had been, was resolved. As usual, Rarity's passion for the dramatic had made things more difficult than they'd had to be, and it was all over now. She might even write a letter about it. Leaving out the marshmallow part, of course – even if the Princess did know, it just wasn't something that Twilight could envision conversing with her mentor with a straight face. No, she'd just delicately skirt around the subject as a personal matter and there would be a great big moral about how Rarity needed to learn to trust her friends instead of using her other friends to handle crises. Probably not phrased exactly that way, though, it was too clunky, and mildly redundant with past letters. Redundancy was a virtue in engineering but a sin in personal correspondence!
...today I learned that sometimes friends need to refrain from over complicating simple things...
No, no, that was far too generic.
...today I learned that friends need to trust each other not to resort to cannibalism...
No, no, NO, that was all wrong! Get your head in the game, Twilight Sparkle!
...today I learned that some ponies have really, really different ideas about what constitutes a violation of personal space...
There, that was passable for a mental rough draft, even if she'd need to flesh it out a bit later. Pity Spike had bullied her into stopping her written rough drafts for personal correspondence years ago, it screeched against her very soul every time she saw her number one assistance make a typo. But he meant well.
She slipped in to the Carousel Boutique and was promptly mummified in embroidery.
"Where are they? No, not there, not there either, OH MY SATURNINE-SILVER DUAL-FACETED PAILLETTES, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?"
"Err, is this a bad time?" Twilight asked, voice muffled by several layers of flowery silk and trying very hard not to correct Rarity's grammar, given that 'thou' was not pluralized appropriately. She was pretty sure the flowers were roses, although it was hard to tell with them smooshed right up against her face.
"Oh, Twilight? No no no no noooo, not a bad time at all, please come in-"
"I'm already in," Twilight noted mildly, stripping off the umpteen silken rectangles with care not to wrinkle them. "I just, uh, wanted to let you know that, uh, the... issue we discussed earlier is... totally resolved..." she said slowly, eyes flitting about with a bee's erraticism as they tried to track the fashionista's arbitrarily-targeted ransacking of her own shop. "Won't be a problem."
Rarity gasped so sharply it was practically an inverted whistle, but didn't falter for even a moment in her seemingly desperate search. "Oh, do you mean it, darling? What did Pinkie say? Was it all just a silly misunderstanding as you hoped?"
"Oh, yes, yes, just a silly misunderstanding," Twilight parroted, reminding herself that it was okay to fib in extreme circumstances like the very narrowly averted digestion of a friend's shower drain hair. It was better for their friendship if Rarity never knew the truth. "Pinkie will never try to eat you or any part of you, not even so much as a nibble, I promise."
"Well, how delightful! What a happy little ending all wrapped up just so. Perhaps you can write the Princess and tell her all about what a silly marshmallow pony I've been, eh?"
"Well, I was going to leave the marshmallow part out," Twilight confessed with a light blush. "Even if you said she knows all about it, some things are just too... weird. Oh, and did you know that there are other ponies made out of food? At least, that's what Pinkie says, and I trust her not to lie. When candy's not involved, anyway. Or roleplaying games. Or the mustache spell." Truth be told, now that it had time to percolate in the back of her mind for a spell, this fact interested Twilight substantially less now that she realized there was absolutely zero chance of being allowed to publish a paper on it or do experiments with it. Or even write one measly, stinkin' lil essay.
That did get Rarity to pause in her search ever so briefly, turning to meet Twilight's eyes with her purple mane uncharacteristically disheveled (but just the littlest bit, so delicately that Twilight suspected that she'd done it on purpose). Then Rarity blushed and dove back into a shelf, shifting around dresses and boxes of dressmaking materials with savage flicks of her horn.
"Did she now?" Rarity crooned with syrupy sweetness. "I suppose I shouldn't be shocked, but neither do I see any need to attach undue importance to it. After all, it's not what you're literally made of that counts. Perhaps adding that in your letter will bestow just the right levity to make the Princess chuckle over the concept should you bring it up, I'm sure she won't mind and neither shall I... and really, you do need to work on your authority issues with her, dear..."
"My what?" Twilight blinked, utterly confused, besides wondering why Rarity was being so insistent about the letter. "The Princess and I don't have issues."
"Of course not, dear," Rarity replied so dryly that Twilight's ears flicked back even with the white unicorn's head stuffed between two cases of rolled calico. Really, issues? This was just crazy talk. But then, what was another kernel of crazy on a cob of it, anyway? "Well, far be it from this pony to tell a friend what to talk to her mentor about! And as you can see, I'm so very busy trying to find these accursed sequins-"
Should she say it? Maybe it was better not to. But then if she got caught... well, it was best to just get on with it, anyway.
"You mean the ones over there?" Twilight asked meekly, pointing at a small box of grayish sequins in completely plain sight.
The silence was that of a tomb.
Rarity looked at the box, opened her mouth, and then closed it again. Twilight could swear she felt the temperature lower a degree or two.
"Thank you, Twilight. If you will excuse me," Rarity said with the absolutely perfect control of somepony who was teetering on the brink of utter madness. It reminded Twilight of herself for reasons she wasn't quite sure about.
Heaving a breath of relief, Twilight hastily left the poor fellow unicorn to her work.
What a day.
Okay, so she couldn't do anything fun to educate the world about this massive food pony conspiracy. But she could still educate herself, right? And that was almost as good as telling everypony else how to think about things! Yes, that was definitely how she would cope with this. Maybe the whole marshmallow lungs conundrum could be resolved if she just looked into the structural quirks of the marshmallow. Sugar and gelatin, right? Why, come to think of it, she didn't even know what gelatin was, and how silly was that? So much to learn and so little time to learn the learning in! This was an unforgivable hole in her education! Where would she look? Cookbooks might have explanatory text, but it would likely be scattered at random and difficult to ferret out of the pages. The library was home to plenty of literature about rural farming and gardening techniques, but industrial food processing was sparser. Maybe there would be something, though. And even if there wasn't, that just gave her a whole new section of books to order! Surely the Princess would be glad to temporarily increase her monthly stipend in the face of such a noble cause.
Gelatin, gelatin, what was gelatin? She should have asked Rarity earlier. Oh well. A book would know. Books knew everything and that was why she loved them so much.
Five hours later, Twilight was grinding her teeth in exasperation over books apparently not knowing everything after all. She'd searched the library top to bottom, paged through countless tomes and scrolled through nigh-infinite scrolls. Scavenged footnotes, raided glossaries, pried out the secrets of every index, and eaten her way through two and a half bags of marshmallows in hopes of the sugar being useful brain food. There was nothing about marshmallow production anywhere. Exasperated, her forehead met a table with a light whonk.
"Sooo... what're you lookin' for?" Spike dared to ask as she finally held in one place long enough to listen to her well-meaning but adorably useless assistance.
"I just want to know what gelatin iiiissss," she whined, reaching her tongue out to slurp in another marshmallow. It didn't console her very well.
"Have you tried the dictionary?"
Huh. So this was how Rarity'd felt when she'd pointed out the sequins earlier. So close to screaming her lungs out and yet so far.
"Spike," she told him with mature levity, carefully hoisting herself back up, "you are a genius." She trotted over to the reference section for the nth time to check on the one set of books she'd ignored, the Expanded Equestrian Dictionary v5. "Or I am an idiot. One or the other." G for gelatin. It looked so smug, just sitting there between the F and H editions, mocking her all this time!
"Well, ya never know, could be both."
She throw a marshmallow at him as hard as she could, and he used the velocity of the projectile to speed its way down his gullet.
It was too late to run now, though! The EED5.G readily yielded its juicy secrets unto her. There was even a picture of the stuff being made in some kind of vat, looking rather unappealingly yellowish. Commonly used ingredients in desserts, blah blah blah, semi-transparent and odorless, blah blah, rendered from boiled and then cooled-to-congealing animal collagen.
She'd known what collagen was since the age of five. A protein typically found in connective tissue for bones, skin, blood vessels and the like. Her mindless chewing on yet another marshmallow slowed gradually until the half-eaten white morsel fell damply out of her mouth. The sugariness had transformed into bone-dry distilled murder in her mouth.
There were, of course, acceptable sources for that kind of thing. Critters passed away from old age all the time. Did Fluttershy know? She'd seen Fluttershy drink cocoa with marshmallows last Winter Wrap Up! Fluttershy couldn't know, obviously. Many ponies didn't approve of non-vegetarian food sources, but that was undoubtedly why food manufacturers kept things like this so tightly under wraps. Nowhere had there been found a book explaining the exact grotesque process. Only the dictionary, where they had to explain, said anything about it at all, in passing, a sentence wedged between common household uses and flavoring, as if the writer had hoped everypony would just skim and neglect to see the terrible truth that Equestrian dictionary legal guidelines forced him to pen.
But worst of all was what it meant for Rarity.
Made of gelatin, which was in turn made from dead animals. Twilight had read up on her neighcromacy and she knew exactly what that entailed.
Rarity was one of the undead!
What was the appropriate technical term? Zombie? Ghoul? Ghast? Revenant? Golem, perhaps? A pony made up of the boiled bits of matter from other living things... all those times they'd hugged, and augh she'd licked Rarity! Her tongue burned with the memory of the sweetness, it had tasted good, and that made it all the more horrible.
She could be contaminated now! Some sort of, of virus or something, that was how undeath traditionally spread, wasn't it? Trying not to hork daisies all over her treacherous books that had not warned her of this horror until it was too late, she galloped down to the basement laboratory. After several hours filled with CAT scans, probes and minute cell-by-cell analyses of her entire bodily structure, Twilight decided that it was improbable that she was actually infected. However, improbable wasn't impossible, and there was always the possibility of a dormant stage. The possibility of a zombie apocalypse starting with her was too important for her to be able to just wait for science and self-observation to catch up with potentiality. There was nopony else she could turn to... except, well. The one pony she'd been trying to avoid talking to the marshmallow problem about.
Sighing in a slow breath through lazily-compressed lungs, she dragged herself back up the stairs and prepared to write a suitably elaborate letter to Princess Celestia, nothing left out.
Rainbow Dash pulled her eye back from the window it had been plastered against and flew to Sugarcube Corner like a bat out of Tartarus or whatever bat-substitute thing Tartarus had instead of actual bats. Today was a sad day for their savings, but on the other hoof, she couldn't help but admire anypony who'd actually been able to pull off what had just been pulled off. A few minutes later all the relevant ponies had been gathered together at one of Rainbow Dash's favorite food carts – the Lil Deep Hay Fried – and were munching on... well, okay, it was impossible to tell what the actual food was underneath all that crispy golden batter, but who cared? It was crunchtastic, as Pinkie said.
"So, girls? Might Rarity have her due adulation?"
"Okay, we admit it, you are totally the best prankster," Rainbow growled and Pinkie tittered whilst handing out way too many bits. "I can't believe you actually got her to write to the Princess that you're a marshmallow, even I can't top that!"
"I did my best at sabo-tagey without actually spilling the beans since that was against the rules and all, but Twilight just swallowed it up! She's way more gullible than I thought if she really believes there are all kinds of ponies made of food just walking around! I mean, if there were, I totally would've eaten them ages ago." Pinkie punctuated her declaration with a serious nod while the other three looked at her with mild nervousness.
"Of course, Trixie, here's your rightfully-earned share of the spoils. I have to confess that this entire scheme never would have been possible without your tactile-gustatory illusion."
"Such is the talent of a true mistress of the arcane to alter the very perception of the world on a whim!" Trixie tossed her head in self-satisfaction and started counting out the bits as though she expected the Element of Generosity to cheat her. "The infinite details of the governance of taste and touch are but mere playthings to the Deceptive and Subtle Trixie! She is glad that someponies are able to compensate her for her valuable time with an appropriately exorbitant exchange of wealth."
"Totally better than that foals' birthday party we snatched you from, huh?" Rainbow jabbed with a sharp grin, while Trixie lost her bluster in a blush and tried to cover it up with a fierce bite of her batter-fried-thing. "So, do ya have a plan for damage control? Because, don't get me wrong, this was totally worth it, but when the Princess says she has no idea what she's talking about, Twilight is gonna be so mad they'll have to make a new word for mad to describe how mad she is."
"You're the one who dared me to prove myself queen of pranksters, Rainbow Dash, I had just assumed you would have enough experience at such underhanded things to know what to do next! A lady like myself makes it a habit to typically avoid such deceitful and sneaky cretinism, after all!"
Rainbow leaned back in midair, held aloft by her wings, and shrugged apathetically. "Not a clue, you're on your own. Kinda glad she'll only be mad at you and Pinkie though!" Rarity and Pinkie glared at her while Trixie chortled.
Yawning her way through her fifth cup of coffee, Luna decided that it was definitely not worth pulling an all-dayer just to help her sister deal with a ridiculous little sociological study on public administrative assistants. Back in the good old days, ponies did what they were told, and trembled to defy a royal command even were it delivered second or thirdhoof! Yet now, for some reason, everypony was concerned about explaining things and, worse yet, writing those explanations down in tedious detail. She didn't like the way these... what were they called again, these theraponies kept on trying to get the royal family to elaborate on matters of a private and delicate nature, let alone encourage the simple task of royal decrees to be continuously backed up by time-wasting explanations about why things were decreed to be so. Nonsense, all of it.
The interminable was interrupted by a flicker of dragonfire and a scroll reconstituting itself in midair. Luna watched her sister's face immediately shift from weary to the typical anticipatory joy that she usually displayed in light of reading a fresh correspondence from her faithful student. But before the scroll could so much as be unrolled, one of the therapists used his own telekinesis to gently float it over to the other side of the table. Luna stifled a snicker – her sister looked like nothing so much as a puppy with a piece of bacon being dangled just out of its reach.
"Surely you recall, Princess, that during phase three of the examination, there can be absolutely no interruptions. We're behind schedule as it is. Why, we haven't even gotten to practical application of operant conditioning to the Royal Person!" Just A. Cigar wheezed through his wiry, tangled-together mustache-and-beard.
"Doctor Cigar, with all due respect to you and your fellows, I don't think it appropriate to leave a missive from my student completely unattended to for hours at a time. It could be an emergency, after all," Celestia wheedled with the poise of somepony who had done this for many, many years. And so Luna, who had been waiting for an excuse, any excuse, saw her escape route.
"Perhaps We could take a few moments to examine the letter and judge any appropriate response," Luna broke in, straining to contain her sheer joyful desperation. "After all, We are on familiar terms with Miss Twilight Sparkle, and surely anything she would entrust to Our sister could be entrusted to Us."
Celestia pouted, but the five theraponies seemed agreeable to the notion. "Capital idea, the bulk of the material was written with the Sun Princess in mind in any case," Doctor Fractured Rapture said with a nod, long yet ephemeral beard drifting with the motion like dandelion seeds in the wind.
"And, no disrespect intended, Princess Luna, but your schedule disruption appears to have enervated you past the point of being clinically acceptable for study at this point in time."
That made her sound like a dissected frog. A rejected dissected frog. Oh, in another time and place, heads would have rolled. Or at least been duly terrified. "You treat them like pets and you see what it gets us in return," she murmured in her sister's ear with a roll of royal eyes. "No disrespect is taken, of course," she added to the room in general at a louder volume, beaming with a monarch's benevolence. "We are sure that Twilight won't mind us responding to her letter just this once. Sister, doctors, We bid you a good day." She took the scroll triumphantly and fled the room with as measured a pace as she dared to enact, half-expecting her sister to assert her royal will in disagreement any moment. But no, she was allowed to flee in peace while the theraponies drifted back to discussing... dream interpretation, now, was it? Ridiculous ponies. Why such a ludicrous profession was even allowed to exist, Luna was sure she had no idea.
Reading as she walked blindly in the direction of her bedroom, Luna was delighted to find that Twilight Sparkle had cultivated a sense of humor. A sense for pranks, no less! Her sister had oft spoken of the lavender unicorn's wont to take things overly seriously, and Luna, for her part, had sympathized greatly with the student in that character flaw. Yet here the little filly was, making up utterly madcap tales about one of her friends being an undead marshmallow! It was so delightful that Luna could easily imagine it being turned into a playwright's plot, perhaps with an additional layering of biting social satire regarding food distribution as a metaphor for social classes. Truly, this letter was a pleasantly frivolous note to end the day on.
What was left of the caffeine in Luna's brain sputtered up enough of a spark to give her an idea. Why not prolong the farce with an addition of her own? Doubtless, her sister wouldn't mind... would even give her approval should she knew, having been attempting to get Luna to 'lighten up' for millennia now. She began to compose a reply in her head, wanting to get the wording just right before setting quill to parchment.
My faithful student,
First and foremost, I counsel you to avoid unnecessary panic-mongering from this revelation you've unwittingly stumbled upon. The true nature of a pony is always difficult to divine, but it's from such unexpected surprises that the world's ability to delight and amaze yet holds true, even for a pony as old as myself. I do confess that I'm not always as forthcoming with such facts as I could be, but you know that I would never withhold information from my people that could put them in peril. You needn't fear for any cascading wave of undead swarming the streets – indeed, the nature of the food pony has been in harmony with Equestria for longer than you could possibly know. In fact, were you aware that I, myself, am composed of a delicate constitution of crème brûlée about the body and Turkish delight about the mane and tail? Even my very own sister is predominately made of blueberries and pinot noir grapes. You may understandably be hesitant to believe such a thing, but the next time we meet, I invite you to give my mane a taste test and I think you'll find it to be quite enlightening...