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(Contains: sexual themes, strong language and ideologically sensitive material)


4 Months, 23 Days

"Are you sure?"
"I would not have asked if I was not sure."

I did not personally object to living at the boutique with Rarity. On the contrary, it was possibly the most appealing offer that I had ever received. It wasn't that I disliked the tavern near the Phoenix Feather fountain; by all means, it was a nice and comfortable inn that had served me well. The owner of the place was a kindly fellow who, given my extensive patronage, had effectively made concessions to make the place more like a home for me. He had moved me into the biggest room that they had available a couple of months ago - one with an en-suite bathroom - and I was allowed to roam the corridors freely without receiving odd glances. I had befriended his wife and his two young daughters as well, for they were fair and gentle sorts. His wife carried herself in an authoritative way, and at times I believed that she was the owner of the inn, such was her ability to make her husband do various jobs around the establishment. She was approachable to all patrons, although she came to know me by name and was especially friendly towards me. Their two fillies were twins, both of blonde hair and cream-tanned bodies, and they were every bit as adorable as one might imagine.

In comparison, Rarity's boutique was a big step-up. I would have access to my own kitchen and bedroom and would be closer to work, giving me more time in the mornings. More importantly, however, I would be closer to Rarity herself, which was of absolute importance. The bond between Rarity and I was special; no doubt fuelled by our already extensive interaction over the past few months, we had become incredibly close, and asking me to move in with her was the confirmation of that. My efforts in making her happy had achieved fruition. I found myself nodding in natural response to her request.

"I would love to, Rarity."

"You don't know how grateful I am to hear that," she replied. "You can have the spare room. It's small, but it at least has a bed in it. Normally it is used by guests, but you can be my live-in resident."

Things were moving incredibly fast, and as much as I did not wish to mention it, I felt as if soon we would need to be having another one of our 'relationship' talks. They weren't so much conversations as they were suggestions from me consecutively declined by Rarity. Any pony around town would assume that, by living together, we were an item, but Rarity had always insisted that this was not the case. She had no interest in romance, especially now that her business was really taking off. Time was not something that she possessed.

"Be aware that this is purely a business decision," Rarity said. "If I'm going to be making a lot of dresses I need somepony to run the boutique on a permanent basis. I cannot manage the shop and create at the same time."

I nodded, looking down at my hooves slightly. She must have realised this, as she made the decision to subsequently encourage me. "-It will also be rather nice to have company," the unicorn admitted, and this was enough to make me joyous towards the situation once more. She took me into the kitchen and opened a drawer, hoofing around inside for something. She smiled when her hoof eventually touched the sought-after metal object within, producing a key. She dropped it into my eager hooves.

"I get a key?" I questioned with wide eyes.

"I trust you with it. You will need to be able to enter the boutique when I am absent."

"Absent?"

She placed a hoof on my shoulder and looked at me for a few moments. "Do you have much to bring with you?" she asked. Truth be told, I had very few valuables with me in Ponyville. I rarely travelled with much, and this trip in particular had been a relatively empty-hoofed one. I shook my head and she seemed glad of this; Rarity was a rather picky individual, and should I have brought something into her home that she disliked she would have forced me to dispose of it. At least this way I would barely change the idyllic landscape of her home. The only change would be my continuous presence. For whatever reason, she now wanted me to stay closer than ever.

"So how do we proceed?" Rarity questioned.

"I'll go and let the innkeepers know that I'm leaving right away," I explained, and she jumped for joy, demonstrating excitement that one scarcely expected of Rarity. At times she was prone to extreme bouts of elation, and that day especially was one of the few circumstances where Rarity seemed truly happy. I kept to my word and left the boutique, trotting out into the cobbled street. The tavern near the Phoenix Feather fountain had been a terminal from which I would embark to greater places; as I entered I was greeted by friendly, rosy-cheeked faces. I explained to them Rarity's offer, taking a seat on a barstool.

"So you'll be leaving us soon?" I was asked by the keeper, and his noble wife inquired deeper.

"I'll be moving in at the boutique," I explained. "Rarity wants me to look after the shop for her."

"It'll be good if you're living there," he responded. "Miss Rarity has been looking awfully thin of late. Maybe you can get some colour and food back into her? She'll work herself to death one of these days."

"She has been busy. She has not found time to eat."

"-Are you lovers?" inquired his inquisitive wife. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. "Yes," I said, "sort of, at least."

"If it's complicated, I'll pressure you no more," she replied, and returned behind the bar, leaving me with the owner. He had a bill to work out; I had amassed quite a debt to this family. It was unfortunate that I had not moved out sooner. "It's not complicated," I said to myself quietly as he totalled up the debt that I owed. "I know where we are. Rarity just hasn't realised it yet."

"What are you doing?" the keeper questioned me, his eyes setting upon my own with fierce determination. He seemed to be judging me with his unusually cold stare.

I wondered what he meant. "In regards to Rarity?" I questioned dubiously.

He shook his head and pointed a hoof towards a bowl of nuts on the table before me that I had been helping myself to. "-Only current patrons can eat the nuts."

He must have been joking with me, but his wife took the nuts away from me all the same. When he showed me the bill it seemed unusually high. But maybe I had worked out my numbers wrong, so I didn't question it. I parted with my money and shook him by the hoof. He thanked me for my extended patronage and asked me to always remember my experience there. I asked to say goodbye to the children, but I was informed that both fillies were currently at school. They promised me that they would pass on my farewell, and I left the tavern in high spirits.

That night Rarity and I celebrated. She shouldn't have been taking time off from her work, but she told me that just this once we could throw caution to the wind and that she would catch up on things later. We ended up in her bedroom on the floor together, lying on our backs and staring up at the ceiling. She had been having a fit of giggles over something that wasn't even that funny; I had mentioned a pony with a ridiculous hat that I had seen on my trip back to the boutique, and apparently it was the funniest source of humour in the world, for Rarity could not stop herself from laughing. It wasn't the usual, refined laughter that she adopted when we were out at events such as the Symphony of Seven Paladins. Rather, this laughter resonated with childlike glee, reacquainting her with her younger years. When I commented on this, the conversation turned to her childhood.

"I never felt as if I truly belonged," Rarity explained, lying with her hooves pointing upwards. I turned to the side a little, watching her as she spoke. "I'm not saying that I dislike my family – I love them very much - but I just wished, as a filly, for the independence from them that I now have. Do you think that it is possible to love somepony and yet be without them?"

I thought about her words for a few moments. "I think that love is a feeling of security," I found myself saying. "It's not necessarily explicit. It's just something that you know. It's a conscious state of being aware that somepony genuinely cares for you. In that regard, being apart from somepony that you love doesn't change the way that you feel about them." I paused for a moment. "At least that's what I think."

Still lying on her back, she turned to face me, demonstrating a curious expression. "Do you think that love needs to be said, then?" she questioned. "Or if two ponies are in love, is it not something that is felt rather than spoken?"

She was not blinking.

"I think that's quite possible. Sometimes it's hard to find the words."

"Sometimes the words don't do the feeling justice," she replied, closing her eyes. She remained in that state for a little while. I reached a hoof out to nudge her slightly.

"Um...Rarity?" I queried in a whisper, clearing my throat. She opened a beautiful, blue eye and giggled again.

"I was just thinking," she mouthed, her breath brushing my face. "As a little filly, there was one thing that I always enjoyed doing with my family."

"What did you enjoy?"

"It's something in Manehattan," she said. "I shall keep it a secret for now, but it means a lot to me. It is one of the reasons why I became interested in fashion in the first place." She sniffed a little. "Would you consider going with me?"

As much as I disliked Manehattan, I was willing to return again for Rarity's sake. I had been spending too much time there recently, but fate would transpire to make me return at least one more time. For Rarity, I would walk through fire. I smiled and gave a little nod. "When were you thinking of going?"

"Sometime soon," she said. "I'll let you know and we'll make a day of it."

It was always lovely to arrange things with Rarity. She had such a knack for keeping everything excitingly secretive. It was a great talent of hers. She was very happy indeed that I had agreed to go, especially as she knew that I disliked Manehattan and thus valued my personal sacrifice in returning. She looked back up towards the ceiling and told me more about her family. She loved her mother and father very much, and her little sister certainly looked up to her. And yet, as she spoke, it was clear that she had no intention of seeing them any time soon, and that her presence in Ponyville was her greatest success in escapism. She explained to me how she had told her family that she would be busy for the next few months, and that they would only be able to see her when she had finished. I don't know what she was working on, but finishing it off was definitely at the front of her mind. I deduced from her words that her family were no longer a large part of her life. We had more in common than I would ever have at first perceived.

"Hang on a moment," she said quite suddenly during one of our slower conversations. She was frowning, and I wondered what the problem was. She pointed a hoof towards the ceiling. "There's a horrible spider up there!"

I squinted and noticed the creature; it was somewhat sizeable, fumbling around in its web. Her horn began to glow and a cupboard opened, a broom emerging from it laced in her familiar blue aura. Swiftly it was levitated towards the ceiling where it swept up both the spider and its web. Her mastery of the arcane allowed her to open her bedroom window, and she shook the broom outside to eliminate any trace of the spider. It was then returned to her cupboard, safe and sound.

"I cannot stand spiders," she said, letting out a breathy sigh. "They are a sign of unclean conditions. A home containing spiders is no home of mine."

I admired Rarity's resolve. We spent hours there together, getting up only when nature called. When she returned from the bathroom she was wearing a purple nightgown. "Let me show you to your room," she said, slipping away from the doorway and enticing me to follow. We passed a room on the way that I had been forbidden to enter since meeting her; her fabled Inspiration Room. I knew nothing of what existed within, only that it was out of bounds and her personal haven of reclusion. It was where she spent most of her time creating. She quickly hurried me along to our destination. My room was small but homely, and it was certainly big enough to contain me. "Alas, I lack any nightwear for stallions," she said with a little smirk as I approached the bed. "You'll have to make do without."

She hovered in the doorway for a moment. "I think that you should get some sleep," she said convincingly. "Tomorrow is a busy day."

"What's tomorrow?" I questioned.

"I begin preparations for Winter Wrap-up. I have an entire new line of winter-themed dresses to work on. This is a popular time of the year for fashion. Not to mention that I need to prove to my friends that I do, in fact, still exist by making them something lovely for the occasion." Rarity must have been feeling guilty about neglecting her friends lately. It must have been weeks since she had seen any of them, given the amount of time that she had been spending away from Ponyville.

"Then I guess tomorrow will be our first day of living together," I said, not wishing to dwell on the topic of her friends, and Rarity smiled in response. "-I am very glad that you are here," the beautiful unicorn said. She fell curiously silent and bit her bottom lip. She took a cautious step towards me and, with a modicum of hesitance, put her front hooves on my shoulders. My own hooves curled around her body, probing into her back. She was such a little thing; slight of frame and ever-so thin. It was a fleeting embrace, and she pulled away the moment that I began to squeeze too hard.

"Goodnight," she flustered, disappearing from sight.

She closed the door behind her, and I climbed into bed with misty thoughts. I listened carefully, but heard Rarity's delicate hooves only make their way halfway towards her room; the troubled floorboards of the old loom made secret navigation within difficult. She had stopped. I heard a click and a door shutting. I waited for a few minutes and then pulled myself up, hearing the sound of machines whirring in the back of my ears. I opened my bedroom door slightly and peered out. The light in Rarity's room was off, but I could see a golden glow through the slit beneath the door of the Inspiration Room. I peered back into my bedroom and checked the clock on the wall; it was approaching two in the morning. But it was not my place to be intrusive, and I returned to my bed, silently reclusive. But as I lay there in the dark, the innkeeper's words met their mark. They hung precariously upon my breath:

"She'll work herself to death."


1 Month, 9 Days

"Spend whatever time that Rarity has left hating her and causing her to hate you."
"Do your best to let her know that she is loved."

It's funny how such a simple decision can become complicated by factors beyond our control. I guess you could say that I had wanted Rarity to have a 'clean' death. When we first found out about the monster within, I designed a plan for the both of us. It was to make the last couple of months a time where Rarity would feel comfortable and loved. But I was only half successful, as much as it pains me to admit it. While she undoubtedly knew that I was there for her, there were times where she hated my presence. Too often I found myself shut out of her room, alienated behind a pane of thick glass, as the doctor inspected her body and evaluated her health. Just watching his hooves pressing into her soft form hurt me more than if he was inserting a needle directly into my spine. When he did that to Rarity, the howling was enough to steal sleep from beneath your very eyes. The pain that he unleashed upon her was his own personal medicine, delivered through silver wires until Rarity bled. I thought that he would kill her, such was the extent of his experimentation upon her body. The puncture wounds made her sick to the stomach and she vomited over herself like a poisoned dog. But he would always do his duty and clear the mess from her body before I was allowed back in.

What a delightful situation we now found ourselves in. I had become obsessed with the clock in the hallway just outside of Rarity's room. As odd as my request had apparently been, I had asked for a clock to be put up in our room. Why I had to personally request such a typical device was beyond me. To me, it was the most natural thing in the world to wish to have in one's impending crypt. What else were we doing but counting down time? I'd never really considered the passage of time prior to winding up in that ward, but sitting around for days on end opens up absurd new areas of interest. I had managed to time my own heart beat to the ticking of the clock hands. Each second resulted in a noticeable palpitation. Every minute on the minute I would freeze a moment in time, thinking back upon the minute that had just passed me by. It would usually be a disappointment, but there was always the hope that the following minute would receive rave reviews.

I don't really believe in time as a concept any more. What is the point in time? It allows one to quantify data – to order specific meeting times, for example – but its actual passage is anything but consistent. Yesterday I went to the bathroom and my trip took me four minutes and fifty-two seconds. I was counting, so I know that to be true. But earlier today when I had been sitting at the foot of Rarity's bed, I had closed my eyes for a moment, maybe two, and time had decided to ramble forwards by almost two hours. Clocks lie. They don't just sit on the wall and tick away without judgement; they observe our greatest insecurities, and when we are at our most vulnerable they slow down in order to make every agonising moment eat away at us like vultures upon carrion. It wasn't that Rarity and I had too little time left; it was that time was punishing us, forcing us to interact when all we wanted was to be buried together.

Any sensible pony requires control of a situation. Control allows us to plan out our days – ironically with the help of a clock – and to bring order to our otherwise chaotic decisions. But in Rarity's position, there was no certainty of anything. The doctor had spoken on several occasions of 'counting down time', but he was utterly unable to give us any degree of control. I could wake up tomorrow to find Rarity cold and stiff. The confusion, to me, stemmed from the inability of these doctors to offer us any degree of closure: if they could not predict when she would die, surely she could live another fifty years? If that was the case, being trapped in this place was the most unnecessary protocol imaginable.

When looking directly at Rarity, I did not see the signs of weakness and corrosion that the doctors spoke of. She was always pale; it was her natural colour. Her lack of muscle strength most likely came about from lying in bed for weeks on end. She had always been thin, bypassing meals in order to work extensively. If they would just allow her to get out of this place, to see the world on a beautiful, blossoming day and to witness the setting of the sun, I knew that it would invigorate her once again with life. Getting her out of there was the only real challenge. Security was strong.

I grew tired, eventually, of standing outside the room. I let myself in, as Rarity no longer had the desire to use her magic. She still could, I must add, she had just chosen not to. I imagine it was because magic is largely unnecessary: ponies of the earth and sky are able to function perfectly fine without the ability to use magic. Inside the room Rarity was lying in bed, staring blankly up at the ceiling. I joined her, expecting there to be something interesting up there. The most I saw was a cobweb.

"Do you want me to wipe the cobweb away?" I asked, walking towards her bed in order to reach up to the ceiling. She shook her head.

"No...I was watching a spider earlier," she responded in a slight voice, "but I can see him no longer."

I took a seat beside her bed, nodding. "Maybe he'll come back out again later."

"They're beautiful, aren't they?" the unicorn questioned me. I looked towards the web again, but saw not even the slightest black smudge of a spider up there.

"I've never really thought about spiders as being beautiful."

"It's the webs..." she said softly. "They are naturally born to make intricate designs that are impossible to mimic. I read once that no two spider webs are the same."

"I read something similar about snowflakes, once," I said. She gave me an odd look and I shrugged. "-It was a long time ago."

"Do you think that I was born to make beautiful things?" she asked, and I found myself nodding before her words had even fully processed in my head. "Yeah, I think you were."

I sat back in the chair, observing the monitor beeping beside her body. Its rhythm was consistent. In comparison to the clock on the wall, at least this device was dependable. Its pacing refused to change due to some omnipotent, perverse whim. I could always count on the monitor as a time-keeping object. Right now, it was 'Rarity's Still Breathing O'clock.' Rarity didn't say anything else for a little while. I sat there with my hooves crossed, shuffling to find a comfortable spot. It didn't help that these chairs were made of the most irritating, itchy material in existence. Thank goodness that the paper-beds were made of crisper stuff.

"My back is aching."

I leaned forwards, winding the metal dial on the side of her bed in order to lift the upper half. It gradually changed position to arch her back, allowing her to sit up with greater ease. It was, of course, howling like a silver banshee. I identified the problem as rust. Why they would not take better care of their appliances was something that I would have to ask the doctor during his next visiting hour. I could ask him while he next groped at Rarity, desperate to slide a quivering hoof inside of her.

*Why is it so hard to find a sign that reads, 'Reserved' that I could just dangle over her head? Ponies desperately wanted to fuck her. Even right now, with her unkempt mane and her vomit-stained sheets, and her blackened lips and sullen eyes, and her pained grimace and her dry throat, and her rigid stare and her filthy, piss-stained hooves, and her stiff limbs and rusted tongue they wanted to mount her and fuck her to death. Fuck her and leave her; animals catering to the ignoble whims of their biological desperations, indulging in their bohemian practices and satisfying their insatiable appetites to continue fucking. And it wasn't just enough to fuck her: they could not resist fucking her up as well. Ripping her apart just to acknowledge their own superiority, and throttling her with promises that could never be kept; consuming her with their Manehattanesque lies and twisting her mind into a sprawling, maggot-infested labyrinth which they would fuck and continue to fuck without warning, mercy or humility.

The doctor entered the room. He approached her and lifted the sheets from her body. "How are you feeling today, Rarity?" he asked; a simple formality that she would still make an effort to oblige despite its redundancy. His hooves pressed around her body and I cursed under my breath. He made noticeable impressions into her white flesh. Her blank body became muddied by his claws. He asked her if she had plans for the day, which was the most ridiculous question in existence. If her plans involved dying in a rusted tomb then I would reply in the affirmative.

"I'm going to bring by a slice of carrot cake later," he said as he probed at her back. Rarity beamed at the doctor and smiled graciously. "Do you think you could perhaps bring two pieces?" she inquired greedily. "-I always hunger for a second slice."

"I may be able to arrange that," he said with a charming laugh. "I'll see what I can do."

Where was good old humourless Chocolate Cake? She just came in, did her duty and left. She was exactly what we needed from a professional. Not this flirtatious prick. I watched as he made gooey eyes all over her for the remainder of their little exchange. When he finished he gave me a tertiary glance, as if to acknowledge that he had invaded our world and touched my possessions. He sauntered from the room, leaving me to pick up the pieces with a clearly distressed Rarity.

"I always like the carrot cake here," she said. "It tastes as if the Cake Family themselves are supplying them."

"What is the deal with that doctor, anyway?" I asked. "I hope that you're aware that he wishes to fu-"

Rarity quickly raised a hoof in objection and squinted her eyes, falling back into her pillow. "We have been over this..." she said in a desperate tone of voice. "Please...refrain from using that sort of language. It is uncouth..."

"I'm sorry," I said, realising my mistake. I should never have told her about the doctor's disgusting desires; she did not need to know about his depravity.

"He's just doing his job..." she said, sitting up in her bed once more. "He has a young colt. He is very much the family stallion, from what I have gathered."

"How do you even know that?"

"He told me," she explained, and I frowned in response.

"What else has he told you?"

"A lot of things..." Rarity sighed. "None of it is important."

"When did he tell you?"

Rarity did not appear to wish to answer me, but after further pressure I managed to get her to confess. "Four or five days ago," she said offhandedly. "You weren't here during the evening, as you said that you had some errands to run, correct?"

How much did she know?

"Correct."

"-Your errands must have taken quite some time as you did not return during the night. I assumed you slept back at the boutique as you do some days."

"Yes..." I said with a dry throat. "I slept at the boutique."

"During the night I woke up," she continued. "I was in a frightful state. I did not tell you sooner because I feared that it would worry you needlessly. A dream that I had been having scared me enough to force me to wake. Doctor Tawleed must have been passing by; he heard me and entered the room. He comforted me that night."

The bastard.

"What did he do?"

"He just held me and told me that it was a nightmare..." Rarity said, sounding like a guilty culprit. "It is so unlike me to have those nightmare things. In fact, I believe that it may have been my first ever. Nevertheless, Doctor Tawleed was professional and succeeded in calming me down. I thought that he was you at first."

"Had I known, I would have come straight here," I insisted, and she obliged me with a nod. "-It was resolved within minutes," she said, "and the doctor and I continued to talk for a while. That's when he told me about his family."

"Didn't he have other patients to see?" I asked angrily. Rarity shook her gentle head. "He had finished his shift and was heading home when he passed my door."

"When off-duty, it is no longer his job to care for you."

"I do not think that he considers caring for another pony to be a job."

I certainly did not regard looking after Rarity as being a taxing career choice. But this doctor, his name having slipped my mind once more, was a stranger to her once his uniform was off. Inviting himself into her room was despicable.

"-We both have a lot in common, so talking to him was easy," Rarity said quite suddenly, catching me off guard. This time, I had not pressured her to tell me more.

"As a youngster he was always a creative pony. He grew up near Ponyville and I sold dresses to his wife on two separate occasions without even realising it. He is a great appreciator of the arts: we had a lengthy discussion about baroque fashion."

"I enjoyed learning about that from your guide," I said excitedly, but she merely nodded and resumed. "He has been a great admirer of my work for some time. It is funny: he has treated my little sister, Sweetie Belle, before, as well."

I won't go into detail in regards to why Rarity had chosen to avoid telling her family about all of this. It was her decision, and one that I stuck by; a family would complicate things from my perspective. If she was content to be without them, so was I. I barely listened to her various reasons for why her and the doctor were the perfect couple; she was wrong and he had obviously worked quickly to corrupt her during my absence.

"That night, I also realised that I like carrot cake, which is interesting as I always hated it as a filly." She certainly seemed more lively at that moment than any other in recent memory. It was just a pity that it had been the doctor who had been there during her nightmare; from now on, I would not leave her beside. If, during the night, she had another terrible dream, I would be there to pick up the pieces. An indeterminate amount of time went by – the clock suggested about an hour and a half – and the doctor showed up once more, a plate balanced on a hoof and a newspaper held in his mouth. The plate had three slices of carrot cake on it, which had caused Rarity's eyes to widen.

"For me?" she mouthed, but the doctor shook his head, dropping the newspaper onto the bed in front of her. "Two are for you," he said, "the other is for your friend here. He has yet to try it."

They looked towards me in the most idiotic way. I ended up having a bite of the carrot cake and munched it down in front of their approving eyes. They spoke a little bit about his colt – why Rarity inquired about the unknown little pony I have no idea – and, before leaving, he pointed out that he had brought the newspaper so that she would have something to read. However, Rarity was more focused on eating her cake slices, and, upon watching the doctor retreat from the room, I asked if I could read the newspaper first. She seemed happy for me to do that, and I took it into my hooves. There was a printed photograph on the front of a burnt-out husk of a building. The title caption spoke of, 'new revelations at the Cross Manor'. I flipped to the relevant page and began to read the article.

"This is interesting," I commented, and Rarity made a muffled grunt, only partly acknowledging what I was saying. I guess that was for the best. "There's more information on that home that burnt down in Trottingham."

"Sadness and despair fill the hearts of many in Trottingham. Four days ago the people of the town had to hear that their beloved patron, Mrs. Florence Cross, had passed away in a terrible house fire that continued to burn for almost four hours after authorities showed up to put the fire out. Reportedly, the woodland area surrounding the manor also sustained damage. It has been impossible to reach Mr. Friesian Cross, but it is believed that he is currently grieving. There is no word yet in regards to his various business' around the city of Manehattan, although sources are suggesting that Mr. Cross will be taking some time off of work in order to come to terms with his loss."

"What information is that?" Rarity asked, and I shrugged. "-Just the grieving husband sad about his wife dying so far. It's understandable." I continued to read.

"Perhaps no pony is taking the news harder, however, than the Cross Family's young daughter, Miss Farleigh Cross, who has been described as 'visibly disturbed'. Much help has been offered to the young mare, but it is clear that this terrible circumstance has affected the lives of many."

The daughter's name was Farleigh, apparently. I had not been aware of that; the previous article that I had read in regards to the fire had merely referred to her as 'Miss Cross'. I had assumed that they wished to protect her identity to an extent, but apparently this was no longer the case.

"One concerned fire-fighting stallion who hurried to the scene of the fire reported that, "the flames had gone up so high that we could see them from the town centre. There was an orange blur in the distance and we could smell smoke from a mile away. Me and several others rushed to the manor in the hopes of helping, but while the daughter was safe, the mother was announced dead at the scene before efforts could be made to put out the fire."

I narrowed my eyes.

"The cause of death of Mrs. Florence Cross is under speculation. Until further evidence can be gathered, it is believed that she suffocated from the smoke within the home. There is no evidence to suggest that the fire was intentional. But what caused this terrible catastrophe? The head of the fire department in Trottingham gave this statement: "We have narrowed our findings down to suggest that the fire was caused by a stray ember or log in the living room of the Cross Manor. The fireplace guard, a metal barrier that is specially designed to avoid such disasters, is believed to have been left open overnight. An improperly extinguished log or ember reached the carpet and the fire spread quickly." It is furthermore believed that the Cross Family's use of outdated technology, such as oil lamps, allowed for the fire to spread in a way that would have been impossible otherwise, leading officials to suggest that the fire was permeated by the classical antiquity of Mr. Cross' livelihood."

"Anything else?" Rarity asked.

"It was an accident," I said quickly. "The family didn't properly close the fire guard or something."

"That is saddening..."

"Currently, there is no word on if the fireplace was left in its unadulterated state by Mrs. Florence Cross or her daughter, as Mr. Cross is believed to have been away that night on a business trip, and his alibi, one Miss A. Clemency, can be accounted for as being with him during the evening of the disaster. Further inquiries will be made and the investigation continues."

I placed the newspaper down on my lap. "Do you want me to read the article to you?" I asked, but she shook her head. "No, it sounds frightfully sad. My sympathies are with the family, though."

I flicked through the newspaper again, but it was all depressing stuff. Why did these journalists rarely report on anything positive? I sighed and put my head back against the chair. Rarity finished her carrot cake and placed the plate gently onto her bedside table. Some crumbs had fallen down her chest, but I wiped them away with a considerate hoof. "I think I'm going to get some sleep..." she said, and I gave a little nod.

"You should as well..." she yawned, curling up and turning towards me and the window.

I waited for her to fall asleep. There were two known rhythms in that room; the scraping of the clock and the beeping of the monitor. But there was a third rhythm that disturbed me more; it was the shaking of my hoof against the newspaper. My nerves had become convulsive, and I had to take a few deep inhales to calm myself. I turned back to the necessary page and fixed my eyes upon the article once more, reading the same line repeatedly.

"There is no evidence to suggest that the fire was intentional."
"There is no evidence to suggest that the fire was intentional."
"There is no evidence to suggest that the fire was intentional."
"There is no evidence to suggest that the fire was intentional."
"There is evidence to suggest that the fire was intentional."

I cast aside the paper and buried my head against her frail body. And while Rarity slept through my greatest admission I gripped tightly onto her outstretched hoof. I could not let go. I feared the worst. For in times of desperation we cater most to our wildest inhibitions, and cave to the chaotic mantra of unknowing. I finally feared the consequence of being without Rarity. Her body was thin and her mane was a mess; her fragrance less fragrant than I could physically stress. She was a bastardised impersonation of that which I loved. Things would only get harder, I finally understood.

We were on a downward spiral heading further downward.

Red crosses.

Rust.

Blood.
IX

The paragraph marked with a * contains adult themes, so viewer discretion is advised.

The ninth of a large ten-part series detailing both the formation and eventual deformation of a strong relationship between Rarity and a kind stranger with the time to give to her. The story focuses on Rarity's fashion career, her rapidly deteriorating lifestyle and the difficulty of looking after a loved one in poor health.

A large inspiration for this story comes from the album Hospice, by The Antlers. I recommend everyone go and listen to that album - it is an incredibly touching concept, and the above artwork is modeled on the album cover.

Artwork courtesy of *polar59
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:iconjundigon:
Jundigon Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2012  Student Writer
I applaud this incredibly gritty, rough and intimidating chapter.

To start off with, I found the innkeeper and his wife to be, well, to me, strange. They seemed to be rather nice and caring individuals from what the narrator described, but when they seemed to be rather harsh with the bowl of nuts, it made me think that there was something more to that, especially when it seemed like they not only overcharged him for the room, but he has given them a lot of business. That was my impression, at any rate.

Our narrator has sunk to perhaps his most vile and dark thoughts. It's now impossible for him to look upon others without downright despising them. Poor Dr. Tawleed is merely doing his job, but the narrator is firmly convinced that he is a despicable, dirty creature whose only goal is to have sex with Rarity. It's an incredibly sad sight to see him slip into this extremely negative state of mind. His feelings have most certainly twisted themselves and made him almost unrecognizable to the audience. That 'mature' paragraph you marked really drove that home when you hear how absolutely inflammatory his accusations are about . . . well, males in general, it would seem.

The moment with Rarity and the spider was very interesting, as it shows how much a person can change once they've undergone an experience that gives them a different perspective on life. How much one can learn to appreciate the little things, and I personally see a lot of symbolism with Rarity learning to admire that spider. In doing so, it can actually be argued that she has associated herself with the spider when she asks the narrator if she was meant to create beautiful things. Perhaps, she has come to think that, like the spider, she started off as nothing in particular, and as something that most people seem to overlook. Ultimately, it simply takes a person to actually notice the small things and appreciate its beauty. If we are to assume that, then we might also think that perhaps the spider scene was an allusion to how this whole story got started. :)

Seeing this narrative starting to draw to a close is very, very fun to read, as I can tell that word choices and descriptions are becoming more and more intertwined, such as your now more frequent use of words like 'rust,' and 'blood.' These sickening words serve to really grate against the mind as the audience reads over them, thus furthering our gloomy, negative outlook of the situation.

Also, as a side note, I find your name for the Cross' daughter to be intriguing. Farleigh has an interesting ring to it for me. Is that to be pronounced, "Far-lay?" I've seen so many names pronounced so many different ways over the years, if I see one that I'm not readily familiar with, I know nothing is for certain. ^^;

A great job as always! :D
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Cuddlepug Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2012
The innkeeper and his wife are certainly interesting, insofar as the narrator seems to have formed an opinion about them, but they don't seem to be of that same opinion. They are some of the only characters in the narrative who presumably spend a long time with the narrator, and it's interesting to see that they rip him off in spite of this. Despite not being named, they provide a good insight into how the narrator interacts with ponies that aren't a part of the core narrative.

The mature paragraph is certainly the most severe paragraph in the entire Hospice narrative in terms of its graphic description and excessive length. It's truly reflective of how far the narrator has descended into vile thoughts by this stage. There are quite a few references to sex throughout the narrative, most of them fairly subtle and symbolic, and the overall idea that we draw from them can be debated. This paragraph would certainly suggest that the narrator has a very critical opinion on sex, and that he fears that just about every stallion wishes to have sex with Rarity. The real question is, are his dark thoughts based on no evidence, or is he responding as a rightfully jealous lover?

The juxtaposition of the two spider scenes are definitely a point of observation; in the first instance she brushes the spider away, and in the second she takes the time to appreciate the web that it has made. Following her observation where she states:

"It's the webs..." she said softly. "They are naturally born to make intricate designs that are impossible to mimic. I read once that no two spider webs are the same."

It's clear that she's drawing a comparison between the webs and herself. The spider is capable of making beautiful things, as Rarity is naturally capable of doing so; furthermore, a spider creates a web by necessity, and Rarity had reached a stage where she couldn't bring herself to stop working. One of the biggest points of the narrative is how the narrator took the time to invest in Rarity - I can certainly see how the spider would link to the beginning of the narrative and how the narrator noticed her potential.

I'm glad that the language is noticeable to you. In the final chapter, especially the second part, almost every line has been meticulously worded to allude to previous chapters and greater meanings. It'll be fun to see what you can draw out of it. I look forward to seeing your opinion on the final part of Hospice!

As for Farleigh Cross, it's interesting that you aren't yet sure of how to pronounce the name, as neither is the narrator - he is seeing words on a page as well, rather than her name spoken out-loud. When she makes another appearance in the future, he himself will struggle with saying her name correctly. The pronunciation can either be 'Far-lee' or 'Far-lay'.
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:iconjundigon:
Jundigon Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2012  Student Writer
I think the narrator's opinion on sex is rather interesting, and I'm certainly of the opinion that, while his thoughts might not be totally unfounded, he's taken his paranoia too far. From my perspective, the narrator has become a control-freak that has gone beyond just being overprotective. Most of what he considers to be infallible facts about other stallions wanting to have sex with Rarity have been the mere result of rumors, or even attempts to get him rattled, such as when he was conversing with Gazette. After that, I feel that it was his own mind that twisted it into a much bigger situation than it really is, or ever was, for that matter. My reasoning is rather simple, and that's that the narrator would probably rejoice if Dr. Tawleed were to simply drop dead, as evidenced by his absolute, utmost disdain for the poor fellow, when there really isn't much evidence that the narrator would normally feel that way to a medicinal practitioner.

Ah, so I see the name Farleigh isn't even set in stone yet in the story. I'm going to have fun finding out the official pronunciation. It's just a thing I have with people; I want to make sure I can pronounce their names correctly. :)

I'm very excited to read the final chapter of Hospice! It's been a fantastic read so far, so I can't wait to see how it ends! :D
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Cuddlepug Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2012
The narrator's paranoia is certainly at the extreme end of the spectrum. He's very over-protective and seems to require Rarity, and he casts judgement against other ponies seemingly without evidence. And yet, if we piece bits together we can at least infer that something might be happening in the background; it has been mentioned that Mr. Orange's wife left him. Although we don't know why, if we couple this with the secretive letters that he's been sending to Rarity, it does in some way suggest that there may be more to their interaction than is apparent on the surface. You'll have to keep an eye out for his opinion on Tawleed - with any luck, it'll change before the end!

Farleigh is going to be an incredibly important character in the future, so it's definitely important to get her name correct. I plan, at some point, on doing an audio version of Hospice for people who deserve to listen to a story than read it. In that I'll be reading out the tale, hopefully, and so you'll hear official pronunciations there. I look forward to seeing you at the end of the narrative!
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:iconjundigon:
Jundigon Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2012  Student Writer
Ah, yes, it is rather confusing exactly how to acknowledge Mr. Orange. It had been said that he had a divorce due to a business disagreement, but how can anypony know that's not just your run-of-the-mill coverup? I enjoy the amount of mystery that pervades this narrative, and it's fun to speculate just what's going on, or what's going to happen. :)

Speaking of his opinion of Tawleed changing, I just finished the first half of the finale, so I'm going to talk about that in my specific comment on the installment. I will say this right now, though, I really liked it! :D

An audiobook of Hospice? I smell awesome. :D
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Cuddlepug Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2012
Indeed the 'business disagreement' could easily be a cover-up. It's unlikely that an important pony like Orange would announce his officials reasons for his divorce as being an affair, if that was indeed the case. Certainly, the ambiguity of it all opens up many potential avenues that are hinted at without being blatantly elaborated upon.

I shall check out your more extensive comment on the following chapter - needless to say, I'm glad that you liked it!
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:iconjundigon:
Jundigon Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2012  Student Writer
Of course, good sir! I'm very happy to have read this narrative.

I'm in the process of typing my review of the next chapter as we speak, and it shall be available shortly. :)
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:iconturkeysm:
TurkeySM Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Hmm, hmm...this was good. Like all your other chapters, this installment had its moments that reflect your creativity and capabilities as a writer. I will note right here and now that I did not find anything I found confusing or disagreeable; to me this installment was flawless. So, on to my list of things that I liked about this penultimate part:

I liked the innkeeper and his family, as I suspect that the husband and wife weren't as noble or kind as the narrator made them out to be. Those small conflicting details do bring me a sense of elation as I see discrepancies between what is seen and what is there.
The spider/spider web thing was lovely as well. Just as the pillow motif from the last part, this small detail that reflects Rarity's changing views is a lovely use of writing creativity. I found that the carrot cake was also a parallel to the spider/spider web, with Rarity not liking it in the past and then liking it in the present. Another nice little thing to notice.
Rarity herself was very much an interesting sight, being that we are looking at the narrator's view of her and not objectively. The overworking in the first half of the chapter that easily transitions to the dying condition in the second half, regardless of the months in-between, was a very interesting description to read. I could almost imagine a "breaking-down" montage of sorts with Rarity working herself to her collapse in the narrator's old neighborhood.
Dr. Tawleed is a wonderful character as always. He's very much the opposite of the innkeeper, being much more kind and concerned than the narrator gives him credit for. The narrator's insistence on demonizing the poor doctor is both humorous and a little concerning at the same time. Regardless, the idea of the discrepancy between a view and the reality is always interesting to see. And before I forget, I love how the narrator just cannot remember Tawleed's name, be it on purpose or just because he doesn't care for it; it's very amusing. I could almost see the scene differently if Tawleed was more of a sitcom arch nemesis where the narrator would hiss "Taawleeed" every time he met him.
Oh yes, there were the issues of time and control that the narrator brought up. I actually don't have much to say here thematically, I just like your wording in those paragraphs. In a sense, your wording is what made those two thematic items stand out.
And the narrator himself. I saved him for last of course, seeing as how he is the masterpiece of your work. One thing I found humorous was his admiration of Rarity's resolve when she had just removed the spider from her home. It wouldn't seem so out of place if he described her evicting the spider with the wording of a mock epic. But besides that small point, the narrator was annoying, jealous, and clingy to me before the hospitalization, and these aspects of his were portrayed realistically, making him very likable. However, his mental breakdown is far worse and much more noticeable than Rarity's physical collapse, and this irony is a very good example of your writing talent, at least in my humble opinion. The string of curses he imagines towards the doctor and apparently tells Rarity in unseen scenes shows how his jealousy is starting to grow to ridiculous lengths. I could imagine that if Tawleed wasn't a doctor for Rarity, the narrator would smother him with a pillow too. His panic regarding the idea of evidence after reading the newspaper is a good followup to last chapter's events, as his criminal's paranoia is starting to set in. The slightly scary thing about this degradation of his character is that, it too, is portrayed realistically, at least to me. I've never been in a situation like the narrator's, but I find that his mental instability does bring some disturbed emotion out of me, and I commend you for creating a work that touches its readers. Hmm, the narrator's description of Rarity at the end of the chapter was also very interesting. His view that she is but a mere impersonation at this point brings to mind that a corpse is in the bed rather than Rarity herself. Anyway, I cannot think of any more praises to sing at this point, so I will leave it at that. The narrator is excellent, in his own disturbing way, as always.
I have to apologize, the narrator actually wasn't the last thing I was going to bring up; I just remembered something. The "red crosses" line at the end...it makes me think of Mr. Cross. Perhaps his surname was chosen with much more thought and meaning than I once realized.

You've written beautifully once again! I have to apologize here again that I am rather late in reviewing your work. I have some aggravating exams coming up, so I've been a little distracted. Haha, work distracting me from enjoyment... Anyway, I commend you for your beautiful writing skill, and I trust that I will see it in work again in your final installment. Forgive me for my wording, but my expectations are very high in that you will outdo yourself in the last segment in a way that finishes the story with proper justice! As always, and not for the last time, I look forward to the next installment.
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Cuddlepug Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012
This is a mammoth of a comment! Thanks! Now to delve into it...

The presence of the innkeeper and his wife was to give us an insight into how the narrator sees strangers, as most of the time he only observes in detail those close to him. It's clear from the rather odd events - them taking nuts from him/overcharging him - that he is oblivious to their true feelings regarding him. The implication is also that the fillies may not even be at school, the parents might just be keeping them at bay from the narrator.

At this stage, we are finding more and more situations where Rarity is having juxtaposed feelings to emphasise how she is changing. So the web, for example, works insofar as she stops looking at the spider - the physical thing creating the design - and instead focuses on the design itself. This mirrors her, to an extent. Furthermore, the carrot cake suggests that Doctor Tawleed is a positive presence, and that in his company she can learn to like new things. With the narrator, it appears to be the other way around; she hates more and more.

Rarity having a breaking-down montage would be interesting to see; I'm glad that you could visualise such a situation even without being able to physically witness it. As for Tawleed, I'm glad that you like his characterisation: there is humour in the narrator's view of him - always presenting him in a negative way - but there's also that underlying sinister element to it. The narrator clearly hates Tawleed, despite the fact that he does nothing but care for Rarity. It's interesting to approach the narrative from the perspective of a sitcom; it would certainly be amusing indeed if he was a comical love-rival. I hadn't thought of that, but I can certainly see it as a compelling alternate-universe.

Calling the narrator the 'masterpiece' of the work is a great compliment, and I thank you for it immensely. Whilst the fiction is always described with Rarity in mind, the narrator is of equal importance, and, in many respects, greater importance to the narrative. It's interesting how you say that the narrator was likable despite being jealous and clingy. I'm curious: do you think that the narrator has any positive facets to his behaviour? If so, what do you consider them to be? I'm interested about how he works as a good character and a protagonist when he has done such terrible things.

That the narrator brings out disturbed emotions in you is great. The narrator's situation very much hangs on a thread by this point. The next story after Hospice will certainly make further emotional demands of the reader, so if you're willing to invest the time in it when it surfaces, I'm sure you'll find it to have just as much of an impact.

As for the 'red crosses' line, you are correct in thinking of Mr. Cross. If you look back to 'Hospice I', the beginning prologue speech makes mention of the red crosses: [Taken from the first paragraph of the narrative]


Before diving into this, I think some background would be useful. When she was young, she had dreams. Dreams of shining and of making others shine. She made herself and others look beautiful; for that initial interim she held high. When she fell (south of Ponyville, Old Manehattan-land) her dreams became nightmares, seizing her by the hoof and never letting go. She was taken and put into a bed of rust and red crosses. I was one of the few who had the time to give. She wanted me dead but it pained her to see me walk out those sliding doors.

Needless to say, the planning behind the narrative was extensive, and you've managed to pick out the precise details well. I'm extremely fortunate to have such a loyal and dedicated reader as yourself.

Good luck with your exams (if you haven't sat them already!) and I hope that the last part of Hospice will live up to expectations!
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:iconturkeysm:
TurkeySM Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Haha, your response is almost as mammoth-like as my comment! I thank you for your time in going through my ramblings. In exchange for your response, allow me to indulge in a little bit more rambling:
Hmm, you pretty much confirm my suspicions regarding the innkeeper and his wife; it's quite depressing to think that there are such people in the sugar bowl that is Ponyville.
Your words regarding Rarity's feelings and receptiveness to those around her does give me an idea of how poisonous of a friend/companion the narrator was. Conversely, it also allows me to see how good Tawleed is to Rarity.
I'm very pleased that you're complimented by my "masterpiece" remark. I really do think that the narrator is the central key to the story at this point. In my eyes, Rarity's active, direct significance to the plot lessened as she become more ill, and now that she's a rather immobile patient, she affects the story more as an artifact or some sort of coveted item. Now that I think of it, she is very much the One Ring that helps to drive the Gollum-like narrator go mad, though unintentionally I'm sure. And speaking of the narrator's crazed state, I think I shall directly answer your questions at this point.
I do think that the narrator did have one positive facet to his behavior in the first chronological half of the story. I think that his love for Rarity back when it was more pure was this single positive aspect of his character. As he degrades himself into a bottomless pit of jealousy and obsessive desire, his love for Rarity becomes more of a poison that feeds his terrible actions. In turn, he becomes the already mentioned poisonous companion who draws out Rarity's hatred. He works as a good character and protagonist even though he has done such terrible things because those terrible things show how flawed, broken, and demented he can be in his worst state. He is compelling is what I think I'm trying to say. And because his breakdown is presented rather realistically, he definitely becomes a character that is enjoyed in fiction, but is extremely undesirable in reality. He's almost like a realistic version of Darth Vader; starting out good but letting mishaps in love transform him into a villainous figure.
Moving away from the narrator, I'm glad that I was correct in referring to Mr. Cross. The paragraph you bring up does remind me of the foreshadowing you've been giving since the beginning. I really do like it when one has to remember back to see the importance of events.

I am very grateful and humbled by your praises regarding my loyalty and dedication. I feel that such things are natural when one who loves reading stumbles upon a masterpiece such as this. I also thank you for your good wishes regarding my exams. I have two more that are breathing down my neck, and I should be studying for them rather than responding to your response, but anyway...
I'm quite sure that the tenth part will be just as good as you say it will be, and I will definitely be there to see this story to its conclusion.

Oh yes, before I forget, I'm still open to any updates regarding your work for the visual novel. I'm interesting in seeing how that turns out as well.
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