“To the Manehattan Society of Couture,” I declared, as I raised my glass of honey-sweetened tea in a toast. “May you be condemned forever to where ponies wear spandex overalls and camisoles made of terrycloth!”
And with that blasphemous phrase uttered, I took a swallow which would have been considered gauche at any decent establishment. My horn glittered as I raised the cup again to follow up the first toast with a second one in tribute to my dear sister, Sweetie Belle. Whose oh-so-precious attempts to help had turned my first entry into the Society’s recent fashion contest into a shrunken mass of wool and ribbon!
Twilight had apologized, of course, for she had been taking time out of her schedule to teach Sweetie Belle and her two little friends for the past month. Sweetie had some small talent for magic, so she had tried a ‘dry cleaning’ spell at her mentor’s behest. And ruined my work yet again.
Of course, one must always be polite to royalty, even newly ascended princesses.
But oh, did it make me grit my teeth!
I mean, really, my second entry was good, of course, but not the equal of my best efforts. And my reward for all my labor? A letter, written in bland, politely encouraging words, telling me that my work was ‘promising’, but that the Society would ‘take a pass’. Certainly, the ponies there had lost their collective sense of taste.
I set my cup down and picked half-heartedly at the plate of petit-fours and tea sandwiches in front of me. I’d finally convinced the local restaurant to properly cut the crusts from the bread, but they still tended to overdo it on the daisies and daffodils. This was food for my artist’s palette, normally, but my appetite had gone south, along with my mood.
I trotted downstairs and looked about my studio. The same mannequin ponies stood up against the windows. The same shelves of fine fabrics carpeted the walls. I’d closed Carousel Boutique for the afternoon and shooed Sweetie Belle off to Sweet Apple Acres. I was determined to salvage the day, no matter what!
I regarded my latest creation as it hung, draped artfully over the dress mannequin’s body. A take on a classic blue cocktail dress, a bit fashion-forward, perhaps, but when accented with a pair of gold forehoof bracelets and a single blue diamond, it was gorgeous!
I considered a moment. Maybe some changes to where the satiny straps went over the shoulders. I jabbed a pin into place, marked a spot for later adjustment. A stray breeze caught the letter from Manehattan from where it sat discarded on a shelf, and it fell to the floor.
My first impulse was to crush it under hoof, but I simply nodded my horn at it and the vile thing flew into the rubbish bin I’d placed next to my sewing machine.
I forced myself to take a couple of yoga breaths. In with the good air and out with the bad karma, as Fluttershy once told me.
It helped, a little.
But that was not why I was so unhappy.
Let’s be perfectly honest here. I knew why.
You should too.
I’d sent my sister off to Applejack’s farm in a fit of anger, to be sure. It wasn’t the first time, I’m ashamed to say. But Sweetie Belle had a talent for making people happy, a talent to make wonderful memories. When we were together, on the rare occasions I had the time to give her, we were sisters, we were best friends, we were those kind of friends that made dreams take shape together.
What I would give, to be out there in the sunshine, enjoying the day with her?
But I had my art to attend to. Sweetie was only a child, of course, and wouldn’t understand…
My nose twitched.
The scent of something burning crinkled its way into my nostril. I tossed my mane, peeked out the window, saw nothing amiss. The scent grew stronger. The aroma of hot cinnamon, or smoke from an outdoor fire pit, perhaps.
A wisp of smoke danced above the terrazzo floor in the center of the room.
A sound like a heap of hundred-yard bolts of fabric tumbling to the floor in a soft, heavy POFF!
The blinding flare of a paparazzi’s camera flash.
Before me stood a striking white unicorn with a distinctive purple curl to her hair. Her eyes gleamed like sapphires, her expression was a cute pout, and she positively glowed with joie de vie. She wore the most fabulous outfit, a pink and red wraparound tube dress accented by a matching set of shoes, and a golden see-through visor that encircled her head. She regarded me with those radiant eyes, and a smile graced her lips.
My first thought?
It was me!
I, Rarity, in the flesh!
Now, I need to confess something terribly self-serving.
In a whisper, so only you and I will hear.
My second thought wasn’t ‘how could this be’? or ‘am I going insane?’
Actually, those were my third and fourth thoughts.
My second thought?
If this is indeed me, then my goodness, I look absolutely fabulous!
Horrible, just horrible, I know. Forgive me, even though it was true, I swear!
“Rarity, dear,” the mare said, in my voice, “I know what you’re thinking – and no, you haven’t gone ‘round the bend’. I’m you, but I’m from your future.”
“Me? From the future?” I hesitated. “I don’t know…”
“I can prove it! Ask me something that only you and I would know.”
I laughed at the sheer absurdity, the comedy of the situation! The mares in Manehattan would have been proud, for they had finally cracked my head open like a plate of raw eggs and sent me this attractive hallucination of myself.
“Fine,” I said, with a devil-may-care gesture, “Who is it that has a secret crush on moi?”
“Why, that would be our little Spikey-wikey, of course!”
My jaw dropped open in a most unladylike fashion. “But…that is a closely guarded secret! How could you…”
A shrug. “Have I proved myself?”
“I believe you! But how? Why? I mean, how is it that you are here now?”
“The ‘how’ shall wait. The ‘why’ shall not. I am here…because of this!” My other self stepped into one of the sunlit patches of the boutique and bright blue points of color leapt off her dress, all but blinding me.
“What in the world?” I gasped. “I…this is too much!”
She stepped back out of the light and the room darkened again. “I know, it seems a bit much, does it not?” She shook her head. “And this is going to quickly get confusing, for both of us. Since we need to talk together, just call me Rarity Two.”
I nodded, struck dumb.
“You said ‘what in the world’, and that’s just it!” Rarity Two said excitedly. “Sweetie Belle, our dear Sweetie Belle…she never could understand un tout petit peu about our art, but she does mean well. It was her work with Princess Twilight that opened up whole new horizons for us, for all ponykind.”
“You’re sure? Our Sweetie Belle? The one who we had to teach how to use napkins correctly?”
“The same! Once she earned her cutie mark, she developed a new kind of teleportation spell that allows any unicorn to travel instantly, across the length and breadth of Equestria! Even to the Dragon Lands…which is the only place that one can find the starfall sapphires on this dress.”
“Oh, my! And our little sister did this?”
“Absolutely! She’s asleep now in the other room…but she doesn’t know that I’ve been watching her. I found out that on all those long evenings, when I’d been out for fashion shows, meeting clients interested in our couture…that she’d created a magical amulet that lets one travel back in time!”
She touched a golden circlet of metal at her neck. I shook my head in wonderment.
“This is amazing! And you came back to tell me of these wonderful things, to let me know that I’m happy, just when I needed it most! But…Rarity ‘Two’, won’t your being here change the future? I mean, now that I know what is to be?”
“Well, I certainly hope so,” she said primly. “I remember my mind around this time. Unhappy, unsure, and too temptingly close to walking out on fashion altogether, over that snub from Manehattan. No, we shall never bring Sweetie Belle into our world – how could we, as she could not even master a simple spell to clean our creations without ruining them, no? But there is one more thing.”
“What you are creating, right now? Dear, you don’t need to be wasting your time creating these outdated designs! In the future, my dress is in vogue! If you make a dress like this when Sweetie first creates that spell to reach the Dragon Lands…”
My eyes lit up. I felt a wave of heat jolt up my spine with a tingle. “She who gets to the starfall sapphires first will be way ahead of the game, and can tell the Manehattan elites where to stick their noses!”
I let out a squeal of excitement. We embraced, and I felt the warmth of my sister-self surrounding me, making me feel like I’d discovered a new home, a new best friend who’d been right in front of me, unseen, the entire time.
Right then, my nose twitched again.
The same burning scent. This time, stronger. Bitter, acrid. The smell of burning rayon.
Another wisp of smoke curled into existence above the terrazzo floor.
Another soft, heavy POFF!
Another blinding flash of light.
A second striking unicorn mare blinked into existence before us. Again with my features. Her beauty intact, slight sag of skin around the neck. She wore chunky shoes, a veiled hat, and a string of jewels dangled from her neck. Her body was swathed in folds of indescribably rich tan and olive fabric, something that looked extravagant, exciting, worldly!
She took a step forward towards us, and the colors of her outfit shifted to match the multicolored bolts of cloth on the shelf to her side.
“Rarity!” she said, “I know that my prior self has convinced you already of what is going on, ça va? So call me Rarity Three, it will save us all time.”
“Ah…” Rarity Two and I said together, trying to understand this latest development.
“I am you, Rarity…but from a farther future. Though it pains me to say it, you cannot listen to my predecessor here. She means well, but she could not have seen what the fashion world would embrace in its totality, only slightly later. This dress is shift-fabric! It copies the colors and textures around it, making for the ultimate fashion statement!”
“Magnificent!” Rarity Two breathed. “But how? We could never have invented this.”
“You are so right,” Rarity Three replied. “We could not. But the Changelings could.”
“Changelings?” I said, astounded. “Those ruffians who tried to take over Equestria? The ones who invaded Canterlot like so many insects?”
“Surprising, yes? Our dear Sweetie Belle was the key to it all! Life is full of irony, you must admit. After all, she never was able to grasp the minutia of social graces that one must have when attending our more fashionable parties…”
“Still?” This from Rarity Two. “Oh, and after all those bits I spent on etiquette classes for her!”
“…but even if she never learned which plate was to be used for daisies, which for watercress, she must have learned something along the way,” Rarity Three continued. “It was Princess Celestia herself and our wonderful sister who made first contact with the changelings, those creatures that live beyond the Dragon Lands. With the help of Princess Luna and the Royal Guards, they vanquished the evil Queen Chrysalis and her armies. Only then did they finally sign a peace treaty between Equestria and the remaining changeling troops!”
Rarity Three continued speaking, trying to keep the excitement in her voice to acceptable levels. “You cannot go on to create the horribly kitschy tube-dress that my time-sister here is wearing. What you need to make is what I am wearing. The Changelings are primitive, barely intelligent, but they create this amazing material. All the fashion houses are craving it. Couture is nothing without shift-fabric. Rarity, you must be the one who brings this beauty to the world. Our name will be remembered in the same breath as Versace and Coco Pommel…”
All three of our noses twitched in unison.
The burning scent again. This time, even stronger. Like burning, melting plastic.
The hint of smoke and the heavy POFF!
We all knew to shield ourselves from the blinding flash of light now.
“Rarity!” the heavyset unicorn said, as she stepped toward us. “It’s me again, you know. Let’s call me Rarity Four this time. I’m from an even farther future of yours, and I have to warn you that you can’t listen to Rarity Three.”
“What?” Rarity Three protested, glancing at the newcomer with distaste, “I would think that you should. How could one simply give up shift-fabric?”
My sister-self from the even-farther-future let out a sigh. A ‘why must I put up with such childish nonsense’ sort of sound. The others might have had a point, though what her style lacked in sparkle, it made up in sheer edginess.
Rarity Four had heavier, stockier limbs than I did, but she wore a form-fitting bodysuit, one that glistened black, like a chunk of obsidian. A matching set of boots, dark glasses, and cape completed the outfit. Her purple hair had more than a few silver strands in it.
“What you don’t know,” Rarity Four began, “is that the Changelings only look like a cross between ponies and insects. They’re actually snakes! Filthy, filthy snakes! They launched a sneak attack on Cloudsdale for no good reason, and wiped that city out.”
“Good heavens!” my sister-selves cried.
“Not only that, in their next attack, we lost our third vacation home, the one with the perfect views from Canterlot’s towers…”
Rarity Three let out a cry of pain. “And I’d saved up for that place for months, too!”
“I know, trust me, I know,” her elder sister-self sympathized.
“But how?” I asked. “Without their queen, the Changelings are just…animals, aren’t they? How could they…”
“Somehow, even without the influence of Chrysalis, they managed to organize into a new horde of invaders. They’ve attacked us on several fronts now. But that only matters insofar as how it impacts the world of fashion, of course.”
“It does?” I said, skeptically.
“Without shift-fabric, and the war going on…everypony needs and wants something that reminds them of the sacrifices our mares and stallions in Celestia’s Army are making. We’re advancing on the Changelings on all fronts, and we shall win, my sisters of times past!”
Rarity Two and Three cheered.
On cue, the burning scent tickled our nostrils.
“Oh no,” I groaned, “not again.”
This time, the scent was the heaviest yet. A stench that made my stomach do its own belly-flop. Stench of the charnel house. Of charred flesh…
The horrible smell vanished with a whiff of smoke and the flashing POFF! of arrival.
If I’d gaped at seeing myself the first time, then my eyes would have popped out of their sockets this time, if it had been at all possible.
The unicorn who appeared before us was me, of course.
But it looked more like…well, like me than any of my other sisters!
Her hair matched my own, a dark violet spiral. Her figure was once again slender, and her four legs were toned, perfect as mine.
Rarity Three and Four let out a half-envious whistle of approval. I say half-envious, because it’s hard to be jealous of one’s self. As for me? I only noted my physical rejuvenation in passing. I was more interested in her clothes, her elegant, amazing clothes.
A take on a classic blue cocktail dress, a bit fashion-forward, perhaps, but accented with a pair of gold forehoof bracelets and a single blue diamond.
In fact, it was a twin to the outfit draped over my studio mannequin.
“Hail, sister-selves,” the unicorn said, in a voice that was calm, poised, and yet seasoned with a handful of grit. It made me sit up and take notice. I’d ended up aging well, amazingly well, but there was no doubt about the years that this mare had seen. “Please call me…Rarity Five,” she said. “And, as you might have guessed, I come from the farthest of all of our futures.”
“I certainly hope so,” Rarity Two said, with a sniff. “This is getting confusing.”
“Rarity,” our newest arrival said, “I think you know what I’m going to say, correct?”
“I can take a wild guess…that I shouldn’t listen to Rarity Four, because her style goes out of fashion?”
“Not quite. It’s just that your original designs…they’re what has made the name Rarity of Ponyville the most-loved fashion line of all time. They’re vintage. And, my dear Rarity, vintage is IN!”
“I should have known,” Rarity Four admitted. “We must have had a most glorious victory, then! Once a war is won, things always revert back to the classics, no?”
My farthest time-sister smiled faintly. “Had we lost, would I be here?”
“You speak the truth, dear sister!”
“There is something else; a more serious matter that I suspect is on all of our minds now,” Rarity Five said sternly. “Aren’t each of you wondering about the problems of time travel? That by talking with our earlier selves, we could create a paradox?”
I frowned, puzzled.
“Yes, it is curious,” Rarity Four admitted. “why do I not remember being visited in my past?”
“She has a point,” Rarity Three “I never really stopped to think about it much, but I don’t recall going back and talking with my own self more than once.”
“And I thought I came up with the idea myself,” Rarity Two concluded. “But…I’m guessing that our farthest-future time sister knows what this means?”
“I’m afraid I do,” Rarity Five said. “I spoke to our dear Sweetie Belle just a few minutes ago. And I’ve confirmed that our meddling, using her time-spell amulet, has caused enough chaos for even Discord to approve of. It’s the reason Sweetie Belle never used her time-travelling spell herself.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Sweetie Belle knew that using this amulet would cause the very chaos that we’re experiencing right now. When any of us acts to change the future, it could very well cause our existence – one of us, or all of us – to wink out like a candle flame in a strong breeze.”
A sharp intake of breath from Rarity Three. “How terrible! What do we do?”
“We cannot undo the damage that has already been done. All we can do is leave, immediately, and swear that we shall never use this device again. And Rarity, you will never have to deal with…well, ‘unexpected’ relatives showing up on your doorstep ever again.”
Nods of agreement from all around.
In spite of the strangeness of it all, I found myself moved. How can one convey this feeling? Of having found four best friends, all in one afternoon, only to lose them a few minutes later? It felt like tearing part of my soul out!
“Goodbye, everyone,” Rarity Two said, and the others followed suit. “I hate having to leave you, but she’s…I mean, I am right.”
“I always thought of us as the fashionably level-headed type,” Rarity Four added.
“See you…or should I say, be you soon!” Rarity Two added.
A triple series of POFFS! and my sister-selves vanished in clouds of smoke.
But not all of them.
Rarity Five remained, looking at me sadly, as if staring at a reflection in a mirror that was impossibly distant.
“Thank Celestia that they are gone,” she said, exhaling sadly. Her legs trembled. Before I could do anything, my farthest-distant-future sister fell to her knees, her breaths heaving, like she’d just run a marathon.
“Do you have anything to eat, to drink?” she asked faintly.
Grateful now for my lack of appetite, I dashed upstairs. In a twinkling, I brought back the unfinished cup of tea, as well as the plate of petit-fours and sandwiches. Rarity Five’s magic glowed weakly from her horn, and I had to use mine to assist her in getting a now-soggy sandwich to her mouth. She bit, chewed, swallowed. Then on her own, she lifted the cup of tea. Gingerly, as if she expected the liquid to scald her, she tipped the cup back and let the liquid slip into her mouth.
“So good…” she whispered. “No matter what else, I must thank Celestia for tasting that.”
I watched, silently, as my time-sister found her strength again. She gobbled down the rest of the sandwiches and the pastries, so fast that I doubt she even tasted them.
And then she did what I least expected.
She buried her face in her forehooves and let out a series of keening sobs. Only three or four, measured out like precious cups of an emotion in short supply. I pulled out a tissue from a nearby box and brought it over to her. She got to her feet again, stared at the soft paper for a moment, as if trying to remember its use, and then took it gratefully. Shaking, she had to steady her magic before she could dab at her eyes, and then spoke again.
“I am sorry for being so gauche, Rarity. That food, that wonderful food… To wallow in such decadence, such undeserved pleasure when all the ponies around me have been starving…my throat begins to choke up from all the feelings of guilt.”
“Starving?” A shiver ran down my spine.
“The others…they know nothing. Nothing!” she declared, with a firmness that only served to increase my alarm. “Much of what they think they know, it’s all lies.”
A chime rang in the air. I looked around, puzzled. Rarity Five touched one of her golden bracelets. It glowed green for a moment.
I gasped. For a split second, my elder time-sister looked impossibly gaunt, ivory skin draped over a pony skeleton. Horrid bags drooped from her eyes, her coat was dull, and her hooves were so badly chipped they looked as if she’d scalloped the edges.
A flicker of light, and she appeared as before. An almost perfect twin to myself.
“Now you see why I look as good as I do,” she said. “This bracelet is more than decorative, my dear. I learned from Sweetie Belle how to create this amulet, which projects illusions better than any in Equestria today. It also allowed me to cast a version of our sister’s time-spell. I only have a few more minutes to stay here, before I’m pulled back into the time stream. Back to where I came from. There’s a lot you need to know. Sit.”
In a flash, I slid my special ‘fainting couch’ from its place against the wall, settled into it, and looked her in the eye.
“Good. Here is the first truth I must share: There is no such thing as a time paradox. Because time fixes itself.”
I sat on my couch, blinking. “But…how…”
“Think back to just after we completed the Sisterhood Social, with Sweetie. Remember what we did with that stream, the one behind Sweet Apple Acres?”
“I remember,” I said, after a moment. “The three little ones, they thought it would be fun to block it up. The cry went up: Cutie Mark Dam Builders! Oh, how adorable they were. I was in the moment, I helped the little fillies dump rocks and mud into the water. Ruined a perfectly good dress, too. Oh, I was so put out about that!”
“What happened to the stream, when you saw it the next morning?”
“It was like we had never done anything at all. The stream kept flowing. It just went around my little dam like it wasn’t there.” I sat up, let out a breath. “And…that’s what time is like?”
“The time stream is more aptly named than you know,” my elder sister said gravely. “In your future, Twilight does a great deal of study involving time travel. She found out that it’s been invented thrice before. In each case, the creator went back into the past, did something stupid, and voila! They ceased to exist. But the time stream goes on. It is changed, but no one notices that their destinies have shifted. And that gives us a chance.”
“Yes. Listen to me. Sweetie Belle…she’s a genius. You know that, and you’ve been ignoring it the whole time.”
“But how could I ignore it?”
“Because I know how I was, when I was you! Nose-deep in haute couture, the way our Princess Twilight is nose-deep in her books all the time! Aren’t you aware that she has been teaching Sweetie, Apple Bloom, and Scootaloo?”
“Do you think an alicorn princess chooses to bestow her time upon those with no talent? When Celestia chose Twilight to be her apprentice, did she select some random filly or colt? No! She chose the three latest-blooming fillies in Ponyville precisely because she knew that those blossoms would become the brightest flowers!”
“But this magic…I thought that Sweetie Belle’s talent was music! I mean, it’s obvious as day to anypony, but she insists on trying other things…”
“That’s the second truth I must share with you, sister. Sweetie’s talent for music is what makes her the most powerful unicorn of her generation, just as Twilight was for ours. Because in Equestria, music and magic are one and the same. It is what binds this world together, just as the magic of friendship binds you to all five of your closest friends! And that magic is what you must master, Rarity.”
“How could I?” I objected. “I know design, colors, shapes. If Sweetie Belle knows magic like Twilight, then I could never hope to understand anything she could do.”
“But you can, Rarity! You know more spells than any unicorn in Ponyville, save for Twilight. You have the exact same mind that I do! I struggled through it, but I read all of Twilight’s books. I understand now what she and the other alicorn princesses did…even if it’s too late.”
“You keep making me shiver! Stop it! Tell me what the future holds!”
My elder sister drew in a deep breath, like a diver about to take the final plunge.
“Three months from now, it happens. Our little sister, Sweetie Belle, performs a spell that is as amazing, as Equestria-shattering as Rainbow Dash’s sonic rainboom. She manages to teleport father than any unicorn ever has, save for Celestia herself. She’s the one who makes the amulets that allows anypony to travel to the Dragon Lands. Or all the way to the Changeling Empire beyond.”
“The place where we finally brought the Changelings to heel.”
“Yes. And this is the final, horrible truth: that place was where we sowed the seeds of our own destruction.”
“What do you mean?”
“Rarity, what happened has been buried under so many layers of lies, that only a very few ponies have ever known about it. Sweetie Belle opened the door to the Changeling Empire, but when she was still a filly, too young to know better. Doors swing both ways, you know. As soon as the spell was cast, Celestia was called in. Before the Changeling Queen could muster her troops and invade.”
“I thought…didn’t she and Luna vanquish them?”
“That’s what the official histories say, dear. What they tend to leave out is that ‘vanquished’, in this case, meant ‘destroyed’. Whether by accident or not, Celestia had already been beaten once. She made sure that it wouldn’t happen again. This time, she had Luna there as well. And when their magic duel was done, Chrysalis was…well, no more.”
“But the peace treaties…”
“A farce, dear sister! The Changelings only bided their time until their other ruler returned from his magical banishment. The one we should have truly feared: King Sombra.”
“Sombra? That crass unicorn stallion was with Chrysalis all along?”
“Does it not make sense? A King and Queen of Darkness? Her changelings fed on the emotion of love. Now, if you recall, when King Sombra took over the Crystal Empire all those centuries ago…he did not destroy it, only enslaved it. Because he was the flip side of the Queen’s coin: he thrived on hatred and misery.”
I gasped. “Then when he retook the reins of the Changelings…”
“He altered their nature to suit his own purposes. They became a force more powerful than they ever could have been under their Queen. What do you think everypony felt, after each of their attacks? Love? No, with each battle, our hatred and misery fueled them, made them stronger. Cloudsdale has been obliterated. The Crystal Empire has been burnt to a cinder. Appleloosa and Los Pegasus are in ruins, Manehattan a shell of its former glory.”
“But the Princesses! Celestia would never allow-”
“Celestia is gone!” my sister cried. “She destroyed Sombra’s wife, do you think he would allow that? He spent a sea of Changelings in battle to fell her, but that he did. Gravely wounded she is…and because of that, Luna is gone too. She had no choice. She had to take her sister back to the cosmos to heal. Perhaps they shall return when all are ashes, if we are so lucky. Princesses Twilight and Cadence fight on, but it is all they can do to hold Canterlot’s walls. The Changelings press us on all sides, and they show no mercy.
“I returned to Ponyville to escape the worst of the attacks on Canterlot. But the Changelings have started their latest attack on us even here. Those they don’t kill are enslaved, mutated into something else, something part pony, part Changeling drone…
“It’ll be a kindness for most of us now. The war has ruined the past three harvests. In the last year, we’ve lived on dry grass, unripe corn, green apples, or worse. Mostly worse. We have a few candles left for lights in town, perhaps an hour at night. The rest is all in darkness. The one in ten ponies who come back from battle with the Changelings…most just go to sleep and choose not wake up.”
“Oh, Celestia…” I said, my voice breaking.
My elder time-sister put her hoof out. She touched me on the shoulder, held my eyes with a stare so powerful, so insistent, that I couldn’t pull away.
“You have to change this, Rarity. You’re the farthest back I could go. And when I saw the others arriving here, I knew. I knew this was the only time that you would be ready, mentally and emotionally, to listen to me. To change everything in the time stream, not just the world of high fashion.”
“Me?” I put one delicate hoof to my chest. “You overestimate me, dear sister! I have no understanding of how this magic works, no…”
“You do. I am living proof of it. You just need…to grow up a little bit more.”
I understood what she meant. I nodded agreement.
“I’ll go to Sweetie Belle, to Twilight. Even Celestia, if need be. I’ll tell them what I know.”
“No. I don’t think they will believe you. Right now you are Twilight’s friend, yes, but you are the Element of Generosity, not of Future-Sight. And you saw for yourself how Twilight’s attempt to change the future on her own failed. That time where all she got for her troubles was a patched eye and a stomachache for our Spikey dragon friend.”
“Then what can I do?”
“Be a sister to Sweetie Belle. One that is involved with her life, not just one who tolerates her, ships her off to Twilight for lessons, or to Applejack for weekends, or to her friends when you want the afternoons alone to design. Encourage her magic lessons and have her show you how they’re done. Then, when the time is right, you’ll be the one who can steer the contact with the Changelings a different way. Bring Twilight Sparkle, the most rational of our alicorn princesses, to meet with Chrysalis. Not a ruler with a grudge against the Queen who defeated her in front of her pony court!”
A second, more urgent chime. A shudder ran through my future-sister’s body.
“Time’s up,” she said, with a humorless laugh. “I’ll be going, now.”
“Wait! If I’m able to change things…won’t you…cease to exist too?”
She closed her eyes, contemplating my statement.
“Rarity,” she whispered, “That would be the greatest blessing…that I could ever hope for.”
With that, she winked out of existence with a POFF! and a flash of light.
I slid out of my chair. I hugged myself and just sat there, shivering, for a long while.
Everything was up to me, now.
In a strange sort of way, I knew that it always had been.
Dreamlike, I finally got up. Left the boutique, trotted down Ponyville’s sun-drenched streets and into the countryside towards Sweet Apple Acres. I found Applejack, Big Mac, and Pinkie Pie out in front of the barn, sipping mugs of early-crush apple cider. Up above in the hay loft came the sounds of little fillies laughing, playing. Pinkie Pie, of course, was the one talking as I approached.
“...and I said, oatmeal? Are you crazy?” She blinked as I cantered up. “Oh, hey Rarity! Isn’t this the most fantastic, awesomely awesome day? I was just telling Big Mac all about it!”
“E-yup,” Big Mac intoned thoughtfully.
Applejack frowned as she saw my face. “It’s good to see you, but what’s the problem, sugar-cube? Y’all look like somepony who just found half a worm in the apple she’s eating.”
“I suppose it’s something like that,” I said, trying (and failing) to come off as unconcerned. “Do you think I could talk to Sweetie Belle for a moment?”
“I’ll fetch her.”
Big Mac gave me a curious glance as Applejack left but thankfully he didn’t inquire further. Pinkie went on nattering about how she was cousins with some new family, but my attention was on other things. How she beat me at thirty-five games of tic-tac-toe I will never quite understand.
From up above, I heard darling Sweetie Belle’s voice crack as she said, “My sister’s here? Really? What does she want?”
A snort, and then Scootaloo’s voice. “She probably wants you to lug an entire wagonload of cloth to Fillydelphia for her again.”
Apple Bloom’s cute drawl replied, “Aw, be nice, Scoots. Rarity ain’t that bad.”
“Well, whatever it is, I think it’s serious as apple pie,” Applejack said. “Come along, Sweetie. Your sister’s waitin’.”
It only took a few moments before my sister appeared before me. Her little violet mane was a frightful tangle, shot through with bits of hay and straw and who knows what else, but I bit my lip and refused to let a comment escape my lips.
“Well, what do you want, sis?” Sweetie kept her voice carefully neutral, I noticed. “I thought you were off designing dresses for an ambassador from Saddle Arabia or something.”
“Or something.” I motioned to her to follow me. She fell in beside me as we walked through one of Applejack’s orchards. The smell of ripening apples filled the air with sweet promises. “Sweetie, since the Social you and I attended, I’ve slipped back into my old, bad habits. I’ve been a terrible sister, and I wanted to apologize.”
“You don’t have to,” she said softly. “It was my spell that ruined your Manehattan dress. I messed everything up.”
“But that’s okay, don’t you see?” I turned to look at her. “We can’t be afraid to fail. If we never try, we never fail, true, but we never succeed, either. A silly dress means nothing compared to your need to work your magic. To feel confident that no matter what, I love you and will be there for you. Just as you are there for me. I never realized that before today.”
“Really?” Her eyes looked hopeful, happy.
I smiled. “As one of Pinkie’s friends would say, ‘I swear on Camembert!’.”
She giggled at that and began to prance at my side. “I’m glad you had that realization, sis. I want to impress you, with my music, with my magic, you’ll see!”
“I know you will. We’re both going to become legends. Each in our own way. We have the chance to build quite the future together, you know.”
The chance to build a new future every day.
That's all any of us ever get to do, isn't it?
And I meant it. I’d be part of my sister’s new future.
For us, this time.
* * *
Bruised and battered, Rarity slumped to the iron-red ground. The wounds in her side finally penetrated the pain-numbing spell she’d cast upon herself. Around her, the ruins of the Carousel Boutique lay exploded outwards in crystalline shards and fragments. The sun, a cool dime-sized circle of light, shone weakly through the smoke of Ponyville’s burning houses. She was alone now. Those who could run had fled. Those who had stayed to fight were no more.
Rarity waited. Her slat-thin sides heaved, starved ribs poking up against her skin. Accepted what was to happen. Her old, tired limbs had given out. No more energy to run.
No more places to run, either.
One of her eyes had swollen shut. The other looked out to where an army of Changeling troopers, horrible crosses between ponies and armor-plated insects, shambled through the wreckage. They came for her, wings buzzing like a thousand angry wasps. She stared woodenly ahead as they stood over her. A hiss boiled out from the closest one’s mouth.
Their long fangs glinted like…
…like water in a stream.
The stream that had run behind the ruins of Sweet Apple Acres.
She blinked her one remaining eye. But the shimmer she’d seen didn’t go away. It intensified.
The troopers faded out. So did the flames. So did the burning buildings.
A distant hum of voices, like a faint radio station.
A station that was out of tune, but rapidly being dialed in.
Her pulse quickened.
A feeling of anticipation.
The feeling that something–
–something WONDERFUL was about to happen.
The familiar buildings of Ponyville shimmered into place around her. The houses, the gardens, neatly manicured lawns and fences and other artifacts that said: this is home.
She straightened up, ignored the pain in her side as she saw ponies reappear. Beautifully, elegantly dressed ponies going about their daily business. Walking, talking together. Working together. Young fillies and colts playing together.
One pair of ponies approached.
A mature mare and a younger, just-come-of-age filly by her side. Both had purple-colored manes, ivory-white skin, immaculately trimmed hooves and vivid cutie marks that spoke of happy, good living.
They looked familiar to her, so very familiar…
They walked towards her.
And she understood.
“Thank Celestia,” she whispered, with her last breath. “You did it, Rarity.”
A timeless moment.
A swirl of something in the rich fabric of the universe that could only be described as experience.
A moment of blackness, as if all the stars in the galaxy had blinked out for a second.
Like some cosmic power had tripped the RESET switch.
Stumbled, as I tripped over my own hooves!
“Easy there, sis!” Sweetie Belle said, as she halted to press her side against mine.
I leaned on her for a moment. Caught my breath. Sweetie Belle was my height now, and her cutie mark, a dark blue trio of grace notes, sparkled in the light.
“Just…just a moment,” I said. My head swirled, drowning in pure memory. My side ached with wounds that I’d never received. And in my mouth…I tasted the distinct sweetness of a cup of honey tea that I’d imbibed in my boutique, years before. “Heavens, that was…something.”
Sweetie Belle looked at me, concerned. “You look pale, Rarity. Like you’d seen a ghost.”
“You’d be surprised,” I said. “Go on ahead, I’ll catch up. I just remembered something I need to take care of.”
“Well, don’t take too long!” Sweetie’s smile gleamed. “Princess Twilight said that the Star Swirl the Bearded Traveling Museum is doing its last showing today, and I want to see it with you!”
“Go on, then!” I said, laughing. “I’ll be right along!”
I ignored her puzzled look as I ran back into my boutique.
I locked myself in the upstairs study. I needed silence, just while I committed this to something besides my own memory.
Writing things down, it does not take me as much time as it used to, thank Celestia!
But in that little blip? That little trip-and-nearly fall that I just had?
That was The Moment.
When all of what you’ve read finally came together in my head like puzzle pieces slipping into place.
Time fixes itself, my eldest sister-self said. I suppose that it did just that.
And I had better catch you up on things, shouldn’t I?
I was present the first time Sweetie Belle performed her teleportation spell, during her magic final exams. She brought half the examination room audience with her, all the way out to the cold reaches beyond the Dragon Lands! Of course, I happened to have my scarf packed. A smart filly always packs extra accessories.
Together, we met the Changelings. Rather than report what happened to Canterlot directly, I brought in Princess Twilight Sparkle, she of the element of magic, of friendship. She didn’t barge in like a conquering heroine, but somehow forged a wary understanding with the defeated Queen. The peace treaty that was signed has led to the age of plenty that we enjoy to this day.
So the fifth version of Rarity, my sister most tragique, never lay amidst the burning wreckage of our boutique. She never had reason to go back in time. Neither did I, thank goodness. Unlike my earlier sisters, I never did find where Sweetie Belle hid her magical time-travelling amulet. Perhaps, with me in her life more fully, she never got around to creating it in the first place.
And so I never could have met the Rarity of our doomed future, or any of my other time-sisters.
Yet I remember them.
Time fixes all things, I suppose. But just as a healed wound leaves a scar, so did the damage in time scar me in turn.
And with this diary entry, I’ve finally laid all their ghosts to rest.
Cold, chilly thoughts perhaps, but it is no matter.
I, Rarity of Ponyville, have no need to stay where it is cold. Not anymore.
You must excuse me, for this tale, it is done.
I’m off to go join my dear sister Sweetie Belle.
Off to enjoy the warmth of the afternoon sun.