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4 Months, 11 Days (Ibid.)

I was alone within the most private of all places. I had always been curious as to what may have existed behind that door, and finally the knowledge was mine for the taking; Rarity had allowed me into her Inspiration Room. She was still cleaning herself up in the bathroom, but I imagined that she would be quick – it was a bold move indeed to let me into the room without supervision, and I did not believe that she would allow me to have free-access to roam for long. For a little while, however, the interior of her world was mine to gaze upon, as long as I restrained myself from touching anything. Thankfully, I had received no warning about looking upon her great trove of treasured possessions, and I found myself doing just that.

It was truly mesmerising how organised chaos could be perceived. To me, the room was the direct antithesis to Rarity's normal argument of cleanliness; here she allowed materials to fall with reckless abandon, pooling in masses on the carpeted flooring. There were machines dotted about in no particular order; some for sewing, others for embroidering, and some devices that were entirely foreign to me. The machines were complicated and used only by those of a dexterous hoof. Comparatively, I knew very little of the textile trade. Quite amusing, given my state of employment for the last half a year or so. Nevertheless, one skill that I did possess – and had, in my mind, always possessed - was the ability to identify a true treasure worth protecting. Rarity's Inspiration Room, although distinctly disorganised, was the sort of haven where she could truly express herself without fear of external judgement, which indeed made it a place of unparalleled significance. I mused as I stood there in appreciative wonder, contemplating if I was the only pony other than herself that had ever entered such a place; and, although I may have been incorrect, it was an assumption that I felt comfort in entertaining.

I did not know where to begin, but found myself approaching a desk that had various charts and papers splayed out upon it. Rarity had been drawing out sketches of her various creations; I did not recognise what I saw as anything that had been available on the shop floor, and thus assumed that it formed part of a special order. There were other items on the desk – a small trinket box; a miniature potted plant – but I was drawn to a letter instead, for it was the only thing on the desk not in a state of disarray. It had been neatly placed in the center. I looked towards the window, as it was darker in that room than I would have assumed during the early morning; there was a blind, but by the looks of things it seemed to have been closed for some time – there was a thin coating of dust upon it - and I had read in the Guide to Baroque Attire that dresses could shrink in the sun. It was a bizarre notion, but I thought it best to avoid opening the blinds; for Rarity had clearly kept it shut by her own accord, and to do so would ruin the elusiveness of the room and open it up to external eyes.

Instead, I moved a hoof towards a lamp on the desk. It was an interesting sort of lamp that struck me as being particularly odd, as it was a dated contraption; it was very similar to the devices that had once been present at my estate in Trottingham, but I had replaced after being warned that they were commonly regarded as being a fire hazard. Oil lamps were dangerous, as the substance fuelling them was in itself highly flammable; a poor choice when lighting a flame. It seemed unusual for Rarity to have such an old and unsafe source of light in her most prized room, and I decided it would be best to let her know when the timing was right. Warning her might just one day save her life. It would, certainly, save her dresses from the potential fire that could start.

Having no other option of shedding light on the letter, however, I twisted the fragile dial on the outside of the lamp and allowed the oil to drip. I manoeuvred the filament within and flicked the small switch that created the necessary spark. It took a few attempts, but soon a healthy glow surrounded me, the heat from within pulsing comfortingly. I glanced over the letter: it had been written by Mr. Orange, as the signature at the bottom inferred. I read the first sentence or two, which amounted to a giant formality that provided little revelatory information. Before I had the chance to delve further, however, the knob of the door twisted behind me, and I knew that Rarity would be entering. I stood up to face her, turning towards the delightful mare. She had cleaned herself up – her hooves were no longer muddy – and she had decided to dress up for the occasion. Her dress was a dark-blue act of reserved extravagance; the sort that other ponies could in no way hope to wear without seeming garish, but one that inarguably suited Rarity. She looked at me timidly enough, brushing her front hoof back and forwards against the carpet.

"So...how do you like it?" she questioned me, her voice aching. I struggled to deduce if she was talking about her dress or the room itself. I resigned myself to the latter, looking around the room once again and taking in my immediate surroundings. It was still dark, but upon reflection I could see more of value within that room than upon her entire shop floor down below. "It's incredible," I answered in wide-eyed envy, doing my best to absorb everything for her sake. She smiled and raised a hoof to the wall, pressing a small button that had eluded me; the room lit up with a series of multi-coloured glass lights dotted about, rendering the oil lamp somewhat obsolete.

"Why not just use the light switch?" she grinned, hinting towards the oil lamp. I chuckled and turned the dial down, extinguishing the flame to the best of my ability. She watched my actions studiously, making sure that I correctly put the flame out. When she was satisfied she penetrated me with her seductive blue orbs. "I am very glad that you like my inspiration room," she said, taking a step towards me. She seemed oddly awkward in how she was carrying herself. "It is important to me that you like it."

"I do," I responded, gulping a little. There was suddenly a different mood between us both; it was as if she was hesitant to ask me something. She shuffled a little closer and I smiled, deciding to make the job easier for her. "Why not show me around?"

Well, she was incredibly elated that I had requested that. She took me by the hoof and pointed out all of the different styles of dress and materials that she had used. It was more than I could possibly understand and retain, but I did my best to nod along with her words and comment when it seemed appropriate to do so. "-Using gems in dresses is difficult," she said as she directed my gaze to a special gown laced with emeralds. "It can be difficult to incorporate them into a design without making the finished product look overly garish." I smiled, reaching out to touch the material. She batted my hoof away with her own, scolding me with a shake of her head. "Remember, you aren't to touch anything in here," she warned. "I am most certainly serious." I was concerned that it was something that I had done, but, as usual, she picked up on my sensitivity towards her comment and gave a little sigh. "It is nothing personal," she said, "I just have very specific rules that must be enforced. You know this of me by now."

It was true that I did know of Rarity's rules. She prided herself in the great clarity of such personal laws, and she broke them sparingly. She was to be adored and, at the same time, respected; but, on occasion, it was possible to find frustration in her meticulousness. Of course, it was not a quality that I could come to despise about her; the rules that she followed governed her every conscious movement and shaped the refined pony that she was. If she would lose her fortitude in enforcing such rules I would fail to give her the immense respect that she deserved; her perfect nature required perfection in every area relating to her.

"I do know it," I said, "and I apologise for breaking the rules."

I would be punished, one day. She spent a great deal of time showing me around the room, and I feared that she would run out of things to say. However, by the time she eventually declared her tour as over, it was lunch time and beyond as my stomach dictated. She took a seat at the desk and I upon the floor, looking up at her as we continued our conversation.

"You have a lot of designs here that I haven't seen," I said. "Are they prototypes?"

She shook her head, resting it against the back of the chair. "No, but most of them will be in circulation eventually. I am on the verge of signing contracts that prevent me from selling them in Ponyville."

"Who has instigated such contractual obligations?"

"The ponies that want to buy my talent," she said, sighing a little. I watched as her eyes closed, although there was no danger of her falling asleep.

"What's wrong?" I questioned.

"It is this business with Mr. Cross and Mr. Orange," she admitted. "I am struggling to reach a decision pertaining to them both."

"This is about who to work for, right?"

"To work with," she corrected me, raising an indignant hoof. "I would be working with them, not for them."

"I apologise."

"That is indeed the problem," she continued. "I cannot decide. My heart and mind want different things."

I blinked, sitting up a little. "What does your mind keep telling you?"

"To work for Mr. Orange," she mouthed. "It would be better for my career. Mass-production is an integral part of mass-popularity."

"Well, you wanted to be famous, didn't you?" I queried. She took a moment to respond with little more than a nod. "So what's the problem?"

"My heart."

"Your heart is telling you something else?"

"My heart is telling me that it would be a bad idea. My heart beats faster and puts me into a cold sweat when I hear of Mr. Orange's methods. My heart quivers when I think of other ponies replicating my designs. My heart is worried for the future."

I stood and approached her. There was a rule in place in the Inspiration Room, but it was a rule that I was not willing to follow any longer. I reached a hoof out to touch her, stroking it through her mane. She tensed but for a fleeting second, relaxing to my actions almost instantly, allowing me to smoothly brush her back. Given the contented sigh that followed, I deduced that I had successfully found the special point once again that relaxed her.

"What is your heart telling you, Rarity?" I whispered into her ear. She shuddered a little, pulling closer to my touch.

"I am not sure what to do," she spoke. "I am scared that either choice will ultimately be a bad one."

"Fearing the future is natural," I said. "Part of the future is acknowledging the mistakes that we will undoubtedly make. It doesn't matter which you choose, or if you decide to avoid signing any contract whatsoever."

"Why?" she asked, opening a single worried blue eye, watching me intently. I looked down upon her, standing beside her delicate form as the protecting guardian that I would always be.

"You have all the time in the world to make your decision," I explained. "If you make a mistake, it can be undone through time. The only way to succeed is to learn from the mistakes that you make."

"But what if I cannot afford to make this mistake?" she whimpered. "What if I only have one chance?"

I lowered my head to brush against her own. "If that's the case, then the most important thing, Rarity, is to remember the mantra of survival."

"Which is?"

"Life goes on."

A felt a tear roll from her cheek, for it brushed against my own. I gathered it up and used a free hoof to lightly draw circles upon her back. She exhaled deeply, turning towards the letter.

"Mr. Orange is requesting an immediate response," Rarity said. "I have been given a short amount of time to decide what I wish to do."

"Time is irrelevant," I said, glancing at the letter that was causing Rarity so much trouble. "Just this once, why not do what feels natural?"

"What is natural any more?" she questioned quizzically. "The lines have become blurred before me."

I placed a hoof on the letter, applying weight. She watched my actions with curious eyes, eager to see what I would do next. I placed my second hoof upon the letter and pulled them apart slowly, causing a tear to form at the top. She squealed a little, puffing out her bottom lip. "Do you want me to stop?" I asked, but she moved her head from side to side very slowly. I continued to pull both parts of the letter apart until there were two distinct strands. Beneath her desk was a small, otherwise empty bin which I dropped the pieces into. She watched them fall, closing her eyes tightly as they touched the base.

"That gives you a bit longer to think, doesn't it?"

"Yes..." she gulped, clearing her throat of uncleanliness. "He will be angry with me..."

"Anypony who would deprive you of time to evaluate your options and force you into making an incorrect decision doesn't deserve to remain in contact with you."

"What if he sends another?"

"There's nothing stopping you from doing the same thing."

She nodded slightly. "Would you do me a small favour?" she questioned. "Could you turn the lights off, please?"

I approached the door and did as she requested. The room sank into darkness, and she brought the oil lamp to life again to give her the modicum of light that she required from where she was perched. It was a dim glow with a minimal radius, but when I returned to sit at her side, it was wide enough for us both to sit within.

"I prefer working in the dark," she mouthed. "It allows me to think without distraction."

I nodded.

"Life goes on..." she mused to herself, and I frowned a little. "What did you say?"

"I was just coming to terms with what you said," she explained. "That no matter what happens, life will continue to go on. Ponies come and go, but at the end of it all, life continues its course, even when we ourselves are gone."

"That's right."

"This is an important decision for me," she said, turning to face me with absolute tenacity. Her eyes were penetrating. "I cannot put it off forever. I do not have the time that you have spoken of. I shall be making my choice, and I will be sticking to it."

I felt during that moment that something in Rarity had changed. Rather than her indecisiveness having deceived her, I had the impression put upon me that she had somehow made some form of resolve. Whether it was my words that caused it was difficult to establish, although often it was my voice that gave her own meaning. She had concerned me with her own concerns, but her insistence on denying the sins of procrastination any longer spoke volumes about her state of mind. To follow the heart is entirely wise, for the palpitation of truth is the grandest prize; and had I been the loving force that I claim to be, I would have put her out of her misery. But to give in now was her utmost frustration, for a charmed heart is prone to abortion; to dim the shine would betray the mind, and so to pursue her dream she was hopelessly resigned. Now that every choice in life has its price, her own decision would be her greatest sacrifice.

"I did not yet tell you why I call it my inspiration room," she said, breaking the morose tension that she had created. "It is because within this room I keep anything that inspires me."

"Like what?" I asked matter-of-factly, understanding that there was some revelation that she wished to impart. She paused for a moment and let out a deep breath.

"-Things that remind me of happy times," she said. "And a book of ideas like no other." She directed my eyes towards an unassuming tome among many larger, grander books. It was old, but well-read; the pages had been dampened with a faint yellow crust, but the words were of absolute importance. "This book was written many years ago by a relatively unknown pony," she explained, opening the pages and breathing in their spicy musk. "I have used it since I was little, making notes and annotations around the outside of my dreams. The author left blank pages at the back, but I quickly filled them in. Now I write around the borders and edges of the pages. It is where I keep my greatest ideas."

I looked upon a single page of the book, for Rarity was understandably possessive of it. It was, as she had implied, adorned with her own ideas for designs, all of which blew my mind, for none were available to ponies upon any market that I knew of, and each suggestion was the pure product of unadulterated inspiration. Such was the magnitude of what I saw, that she closed the book rather sharply, slotting it away once more. "Mr. Orange may have some sketches," she said softly, "but he will never have the mind that created them, even should I come to work with him. These ideas must stay here forever. And, should I lose sight of them, I entrust them to you." Her faith in me was well-decided, for I imprinted the location of the book on my mind, and said no more about it for a while, as I saw that Rarity was ready to show me more of the secrets of her room, and, at that moment in time, I had not yet understood the significance of the text, for my thoughts were directed towards other things.

She reached a hoof under the desk, using her magic to levitate a key towards her that had been looped around a nail on the wall. It was dark, but her magic kept everything suitably visible. She clicked the key into a deep drawer beneath the desk, opening it and digging her hoof inside. "Here is the issue of The Rococo Report that first featured me," she fumbled, "and tickets to the Symphony of Seven Paladins."

I had had no idea that she had kept all of these items. It was more than I had in my possession to remind me of her. She smiled when her hoof touched something in particular, bringing out a small box. It was familiar to me; a black casket with 'The Glass House' written upon it. I had thought that she had entirely forgotten about my gift to her on her birthday. In actuality, it seemed, she had been preserving it here the entire time. "I adore the sapphire tiara," she gulped. "I apologise if I have not shown you my true gratitude. I truly believe that it is too special to be worn. But it inspires me. Knowing that it is here, right beneath my eyes, reminds me of the effort that you went to in purchasing it for me."

I blinked as she opened the box, revealing that it was indeed the tiara that I had bought for her. "Forever it will remain with me here," she said, lifting her hoof to her heart. "Ever since you bought it for me my work has improved immeasurably, and all of the contacts that I have made have found immense satisfaction in it. I owe that to you."

I was somewhat speechless, for I had feared that my gift had been overshadowed by others. It had been wrong of me to doubt Rarity; she knew what was important and what truly mattered.

"It gets me thinking," she continued. "If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here now as I am." My eyes darted towards her, suddenly quite worried. The Rarity before me was beautiful but tired; she retained her natural flare, but she was working beyond her capacity. "I owe you everything to be here now," she said. "I would not change a thing."

And perhaps Rarity was in a state of chaos at that moment, but as she always insisted, chaos could be organised, and her maligned line of work would only be temporary. Everything that had happened was my doing, but it was because of me that Rarity's name was on the map. Ponies from far and wide now knew of her; the current state of affairs was a natural sacrifice that had to be made. "Thank you for spending this time with me," she sighed, but I knew that she was not speaking only of this day; I smiled graciously, for it was no great feat of charity by me that I had made such an investment.

She watched me for a moment too long. She had caught herself off guard and turned to her desk once more. "I have some things to finish," she explained. "Would you be so kind as to open up the shop?" She twisted the dial on the lamp to set the light into rhythm once again.

It may have been a fleeting moment, and the chance of me entering such a place again was scarce. Already I sensed that she wanted me gone, but not out of hatred. I turned to leave, elated that she had treasured memories regarding us both. Should I ever have doubted that she cared for me, I now knew exactly where to look.

"Be careful with that lamp," I said as I approached the door. "Those things can be dangerous when lit. Entire buildings can go up in flame."

"Thank you," she replied dubiously. I turned on the main system of lights, forcing her to turn off the dated contraption. She seemed to oblige this. "In a few days we'll go on our trip together," she smiled as I slipped through the doorway, leaving her Inspiration Room behind. "Just you and me."

Just me and her. As happy as could be.

0 Months, 22 Days

"Please...stop crying."

Stop.

If only we could govern our actions in such simple terms. To stop doing something – to cease to engage in a particular practice – is often a lot more difficult than it seems. We become addicted to certain rituals and practices that prevent us from backing out. I had read that this was explained in psychological terms through Models of Investment. When we are neutral towards something, we have the objective ability to either commit or to withdraw. There is no bias one way or the other; and when we encounter others, we can choose to let a meeting last a minute or an hour through conscious decisions that we have control over. If we choose to withdraw, life goes on much as it would in a separate course of actions; further events transpire and other ponies enter our lives. We can choose to associate with them and invest, or, as in the previous example, we can go on without concerning ourselves. However, if we choose to invest, then we move further up upon this Model of Investment. As we ascend higher, our ability to withdraw becomes stunted. It is far more difficult to walk out of something that one has invested greatly in; the consequences are too grave and colossal. Some choose, therefore, to avoid investing, as it prevents the inevitable backlash when investment fails. I had always viewed these types to be callous, but it turns out that Detachment and Wisdom are not too far apart from each other.

This model can be applied to almost any situation, although it works especially well for relationships where commitment and investment can be measured in how we feel about others. However, this is not to say that it is an exclusively relationship-based model. It is, in many cases, an applied business model as well. If we invest financially, or in terms of time and effort, in a particular business or career choice, then it becomes almost impossible to back out the further in one falls. Helping hooves may be outstretched from time to time in an attempt to help, but those ponies that are unable to stop even when they are urged to do so are proud and unable to accept advice. No matter how much we try and save them, some ponies don't want to be saved. No matter how much it hurts those around them, some ponies continue regardless. They cannot stop, and they never will stop. Not until there is nothing left.

This home is bereft. Every night I follow the same ritual. I go in, I sit, and I walk out. All the while I contemplate where exactly I exist on the Model of Investment. I first thought that I was quite high up, and for a brief while I believed that I had fallen down immeasurably. Recently I was on the rise again, until I walked out. Her words were spoken with such disdain earlier that day. She had said, "So go," in the fiercest refrain. It was painful to be in there when she was like that. But things had calmed now. The calm before the storm, I perceived it to be. I knew what would happen to Rarity. She was a ghost in a machine with a battery in her leg, impaled on an iron grate of shrapnel disguised as a bed. And I remember that last night vividly, for it was horrific and terrifying, and after it passed she was dead.

It was late, as I saw it, for the street lamps had been switched on. I had checked myself out and torn the band off of my hoof, for it was customary to do so and no longer appropriate for me to stay at the hospice. The machines had scared me away. I had gone back to Ponyville to check on the shop. All was fine as I saw it: no letters and no slices of birthday cake. But it was all so pale and alone. I had walked up the stairway slowly, shivering as I stepped upon the top floorboard. I must have been floating, for the first time to my knowledge it did not howl. I entered the Inspiration Room. It had not been used for some time. I approached the oil lamp, flicking at the dial. It would have been so easy to burn the place to the ground. I caressed it with my hoof until it burst into light, but my better judgement caused me to keep the flame at a reasonable size. I knew exactly where she kept the key, now, and I slipped it into the lock of the desk without trouble. I spent a while in the relative darkness, touching the various items in the drawer. It was a collection of memories. I felt the smoothness of the cover of The Rococo Report issue that had started it all. I lifted it to the desk and observed the front cover. There was a faceless being. It was unnerving. I flicked through and settled on the article regarding Rarity.

"Ponyville is home to lots of rural charm, but none is more charming than a small, unassuming building called Carousel Boutique. Within the four walls of this converted loom, one might stumble upon the humble beauty known as Rarity."

How outdated this edition now was. How their opinions had changed in less than a year. I continued.

"Who is Rarity, I hear you ask? Rarity is a generous and loving pony, who embraces friendship as much as fashion. She always has time for her friends, as close sources inform me. She spends much of her free time dressing to impress and fashioning wonderful dresses and scarves for her closest companions. There is no challenge too great for Rarity, and her talents are multi-faceted; she has a love for the arts, enjoying attending festivals and musicals, and is a talented singer. She is also incredibly close to her family, especially her younger sister, who both share a bond that holds no secrets. More-so, however, are her personal creations, with her dazzling dresses of ornate extravagance being utterly without peer. Have you ever heard of the saying that no two snowflakes are alike? If not, I tell you now that it is scientifically proven to be the case, and Miss Rarity's excellent works prove that originality prospers in Ponyville right now; you have honestly seen nothing like what awaits you there. Woven together like an artisan spider fashioning its web, there is a magic at work in these creations that has made Rarity of Ponyville the next big thing. Rarity's Radiant Rambunctiousness – the latter word coined by me; use it and you shall be sued – can be experienced by any pony with any sense of fashion and style. But don't just take my word for it! Go to Ponyville today, immediately, post-haste, and see what I mean. Bring bits; you won't be leaving without ponying up some cash and showering her with it.

Miss Rarity's designs on the Gazette-o-meter score an incredible *****/***** - SMOKING HOT!"


I turned up the oil lamp a little higher. The days spoken of in the article of many months ago now had faded into obscurity. Gazette's powerful prose had been suitably objective back then; how awful that he now wrote at the behest of one most lamentable. To think that I had purchased a gift for Rarity – the sapphire tiara in the drawer beneath my nose – from that foul Mr. Cross. He was the house that catered to the glass, and whatever sucker had made that tiara, it wasn't Rarity. Just looking at the box with the thick silver lettering made me nauseous, for there was nothing that I despised more than thinking of the stallion behind it. He was suffering, as the newspapers dictated, but he barely knew what suffering was; his daughter would be the one to pay for his crimes, haunted as she was by the ghost of her mare-mother.

There were newer items in the depths of that drawer: trains ticket stubs bound for Manehattan and a little diary, the last entry of which had a large tick drawn inside it beside the comment, 'All the way and back again'. For the longest time I had been curious about the white stick with the sweet aroma. I still could not pinpoint its relevance, for it was an event that I no longer had any memory of. Rarity had kept these items because, to her, they had a greater meaning. Now that she was without them it pained me, but she had not requested them, even when I had suggested it. She wanted them to stay within the old converted loom, alongside her special book, which she frequently inquired about the safety of. Treasured relics, she had said, were best left in captivity.

I missed her as I fumbled through our memories. Something compelled me to return to the hospice, for even then I knew that that night was significant. I never usually made two trips, but I guess you could say that I felt that something bizarre had overcome me that night. I am not one to believe in the supernatural, but I do now believe in at least minor forces that guide us to be at the right place at the right time. And time that night wanted me to be back at the hospice. It is a difficult notion to comprehend, and I in no way assume the role of divine providence. Neither do I truly believe that a message had been sent to me by a greater being. It was as if Rarity and I had our rhythm, two beats for two white bands, and that during that night the rhythm was inconsistent. I positioned the items back in the desk drawer, locking it tightly and placing the key back where it belonged. I wrapped myself up and departed for the hospice. I found myself running towards an empty hallway. The night-shift receptionist seemed curious that I had reappeared. She branded me with the white seal of visitation. It was almost entirely blank.

Rarity's room was empty, save for the magic-less unicorn fighting for air.

She was barely awake, but stirred as soon as I entered. "...You came back..." she said, gulping in disbelief. I stood there in the shaking doorway. "Stop crying," she added in an exhausted voice. "Don't...make me...send you away again."

I approached her, I sat, and I wiped my tears away.

I gripped her hoof tightly.

"You can't stop me from being here any more than you can stop me from crying," I stuttered. "We made it this far, Rarity. We can keep going."

She had survived longer than the doctors had predicted. There was no end in sight.

"I...am tired..." she spoke in a whisper, shaking her head slowly. "I am tired of...waking to the sound of dirt. I am asphyxiated by the pain in my throat brought about by suffocation. I...detest the emptiness in my stomach and the numbing of my hooves. I am nothing of what I once was..."

"Rarity-"

"-And when...you cry...it makes me follow your example. It...reminds me too vividly of what awaits me. When you cry, your tears become my own...but while you recover, my pain is set in stone. Please...stop crying. For my sake..."

"I can't," I said, trying my best to hold back those despised tears. "I can't stop what comes naturally."

"...Then...you should not be here...for the end."

"I can't stop what comes naturally," I repeated, "and what comes naturally to me is protecting you."

"The only thing...that I need protecting from..." she mouthed. "-Is you..."

Her words were vengeful.

"I am here...because of you..." she gasped. "I am here because...you said...I should follow my dreams. You promised me the world but gave me...only death."

I shook my head. "I didn't promise you anything!"

"If I had...not taken your advice..."

"You would be a pony with no name."

"I am a...pony with no name."

There were two ponies within that room who knew that I was the one to blame.

"What have...I got to show for anything?" she grunted. "I have...nothing. I have nothing left."

Her pillow was drenched as she tried to sit, staring directly into my eyes with her penetrative imposition. "You...took it all. My life...in Ponyville. My friends and family...my work...it is all gone...and so will you be soon..."

"You don't mean that."

"I...do..." she cried, her body shaking uncontrollably. "You...you have to leave me now."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"I...decided...that tonight would be my last..." she wept. "I was...ready to die. You weren't...supposed to come back."

"Rarity!" I shouted. "You can't give up on life!"

"...I have already given up on life...for it has given up on me..." she panted. "I knew...that if I closed my eyes and slept...by the morning I would have found peace. But you...want me to...suffer and prolong my...pain." She was aching to speak such words now. The pain was excruciating, so I had been told by Tawleed, and it was numbed only partially by all of the drugs that he could stuff down her throat.

"I want to prolong your life..." I explained.

"My life is now worthless..." she argued. "You...have to let me go..."

But it was an impossible request. To let go of her hoof was to allow her to die. I could not possibly allow it to happen; I would be murdering the pony that I loved. It was true that I was in love with her, and that I had been for many months; I was here now out of love and adoration, not out of spite and obsession. My bottom lip trembled. She was pulling away from me, weakly making her hoof retreat. I gripped tighter, hurting her. There was no more time to keep my teeth behind my tongue.

"Rarity...I..." I growled with determination, my breath clinging to her face.

"Don't..."

"Rarity!"

"Don't...say it..."

"I lov-"

"Stop!"

Her tears exploded from her weak blue orbs. She wailed and howled, lifting her free hoof up to catch the tears as they fell. "You cannot...say it..." she said aggressively - desperately - with new power in her voice. "Do you think that I do not already know?"

"Rarity..."

"You cannot say it," she repeated, gagging on her words. "It is too hard to hear it and to respond. I cannot do it to myself or to you. I cannot."

She was more frightened then than I had ever seen before.

"It isn't fair..." she wept. "It isn't fair for us to end like that. Our story...isn't ever going to be...what you want it to be. There is...no happy ending. And if you...say those words...we have lived...a tragedy."

She moved her hoof up to my face. She touched my cheek softly. Her hooves were numb and weak and thin, but her touch was still her own. I knew that behind it, for the first time since I could remember, was the real Rarity.

"I cannot...tarnish everything...by making it so. As things are now....we are two ponies...who met at a terminal...from which we would embark to greater places. We made one another shine in our own special way. Equestria...may not remember us when I am gone...but you will live on. And I...will die happy, forever in your memory."

"Rarity..."

"That is just how it has to be."

Her hoof touched my mouth. She stopped me from saying any other words. What she had said was a thin veil of sense and reason among a chaotic series of months, and as much as I wished to object, the strength to do so no longer existed within me. I released my firm grip on her hoof, but she kept it there now without force.

"Don't be...sad..." she said. "Don't...dwell on the past. What is done...is done. The past cannot catch up to us now."

"Letting you go is the hardest thing that I will ever have to do," I said. "Everything will be meaningless and empty without you. I can't go back to the boutique knowing that I won't see your face every time I hear the bell ring...or have you sneak around the back and surprise me...or hear the comforting sound of the floorboard at the top of the stairs to tell me that you're awake."

"Darling," she said, her voice fit to break. "You haven't heard those sounds...for months now. Your memories are confused. The present day...has been like this for as long as I can remember."

"Think back," the unicorn whispered. "Are things...really as good as you remember them to be? You recall the best memories...but it was not always so."

Perhaps demonising herself was the only way that she felt that she could ascertain the balance in our relationship once more. Maybe she just wanted to soften the blow.

"Every relationship that comes to an end, no matter what the circumstance, has its reasons," Rarity then spoke, deep in thought. "As much as we may regret the divorce, every decision is made by a benevolent force...and every outcome is mediated by everything before it...and every ending starts a new beginning...I am sure of it."

"Where did you hear that?"

"I learnt it over these past few months," she responded. "Death is not the end...but the natural terminal where we wait to board."

"And what comes after?"

"I don't know," Rarity whispered, closing her eyes for the last time. "But whatever it is, I await it. You'll live on, and so will I. We'll meet again in some shape or form....it's true." She paused. "Because you need me. And I...need you."

If it could have ended there, I would have captured that moment forever.

Maybe we would meet again in a new life, under different circumstances. Perhaps our end was the beginning of something else. But as I sat there with her, tracing lines of fortune across her hoof, I found myself wanting nothing more than to go with her. For the future is defined by uncertainty, and this extends to death as much as life. The greatest mystery is what lies beyond the unknown, in territory uncharted by mortal minds. Rarity was my special little pony, the likes of whom I adored and required. But as she lay there in her dying days, my faith in us expired. It had all been a dream; a dream that was crashing apart. And Rarity's pain existed between us both and the slowing of her heart. I tugged at her mane and bit into her skin, and cried my tears of missing her upon her ivory form. I heard the machine channel a beep, and another and one more. She lifted herself very slightly and hinted at her pillow. Beneath it was the note that she had written weeks before. She fell against me in defeat and the note floated to my hoof. Her last breathless words were that I read it just this once. Her body had had enough.

Doctors and nurses eulogized our tale on that day. I will not say that Dr. Tawleed did anything other than his most professional of duties; but his tears were real, and I knew that he loved her fiercely. He spoke a different language to me, one that I could not understand as I watched from the front-lines. It was a language of appliances and tools, medicines and machines. He nailed a mask across her face, which forced air down into her lungs. The machine was fit to explode, its cryptic message accelerating, speeding, racing, repeating. Tawleed continued when the others had given up, pressing her chest and screaming words of frustration; and I joined in, for our combined efforts would be enough to save her.

But the patient died before my eyes, and there's little more that I can say on that. Her hoof refused to let go, even when her white band had forsaken her and fallen to the floor. And when her body fell cold and I lost my mind, and cried inside her beneath the single-note siren-song, her hoof still remained there, reaching out to me, enticing me to a place that I could not yet follow. The terminal was vacant, with hundreds of seats for Rarity and me. And she would be smiling, always watching from those deep blue orbs, sailing ships with masts so tall.

Young meetings, early in the youth of it all.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


~Epilogue~

Recovery is an impossible demand. Some things are too important to overcome. Grieving for a loved one is not a stage that we go through, but a channel that carves itself into our hearts and minds. And although this channel can be filled, it never truly caves in. But let it be known that this was all a nightmare that I chose, and the weight of the damage that I carry with me is now the cross that I willingly bear. The day that I had heard the bell chime in the old loom for the first time, I brought it upon myself to face the burdens that we wove. I have been left with these burdens, but none are so grave as to make me regret what the both of us had together inside one another.

Love comes in many different forms, but as a beautiful unicorn once told me, true love is best left unsaid; it is the prolonged force that keeps us bound together and grounds our hooves in place. To be devoted to another is not the result of a particular combination of perfumed words, but the state of absolute being that we acquire when we find a commitment worth committing to. To this day, regardless of what I may come to tell you happened next, I never once allowed Rarity to leave my thoughts. When she strayed I feared and prayed, and only when she came back could I think, for her permanent mark on my world had been made with the darkest of ink.

Her ink had been used to write me a letter. She had to wait until the very end before I could see it, for it contained information that she would have been unable to approach. I shall say little about it, for it is not for the consumption of any ears other than my own. It revealed what she really thought of me – things that she had told the doctor when I had been absent – and it sought to leave me with the closure that I required during the healing process. It is of absolute importance that the letter was written evidence that Carousel Boutique now belonged to me, as well as everything that she had left behind. I had been chosen as her successor, and the old loom would linger on in my name.

Almost ten months had passed since we first met, and losing her was my heaviest-paid debt. But to those that think I was counting down to the death of my beloved, let it be known; to do so would make our narrative into a tragedy, and that was the last thing desired by my Rarity. It took me until the end to understand, but she had had no desire to make our tale a lover's demise. Her intention, out of perfection, was always to remember me for the good inside, and I, in her, saw her beauty amplified. For I was the pony that believed in dreams, and reached a hoof of guidance out to her; and she was the eager artist, desperate to please who never dared stop and fall. Let this be a lesson to all; to categorise ourselves as lovers is a coward's way of describing the weight and brevity of our feelings. We were something beyond a practice, and required one another. Our marriage of existence belied the title of 'lover'.

What I am now counting down to - what I was always, truly, waiting for - you may never know, but fruitless optimism decided the date that I set for us. Rarity was never to live to the end, but maybe I foolishly thought that if I went back and re-told the tale of our fortunes, I would have the power to grant her new life and stop what happened. I would have saved her if I could, but no matter what I gave and what actions I took, no investment was great enough to help her. When I tell this story again, I will seek to extend the date once more, for seeing our relationship on a page of increasing words somehow makes it seem as if we were together for a lifetime. But the age that I am now is not too different from that under which I first met her; and that I have already lost knowledge of her fragrance proves that I will forget her.

Life is a mystery, and without Rarity, I am left as a wanderer. The date by which I incited from the start may be one that I myself never reach; to set ourselves targets is to overachieve, and this is what took her from me, so I am resigned to believe. Contentment comes from finding order in chaos, wherever it may be; and true love exists without financial necessity. Whatever choices that I now come to make, do not judge me too severely; for I never contended to be anything but a pony with the time to give. For the ethos of life is to love and care, and through devotion and investment our story I share. I leave you now on a final thought, one that I pray you all observe. Rarity would have wanted it; it is what we both deserve.

As I once said to an old friend, now a pony with no name:

"Sometimes, just being there for somepony – giving without the necessity of getting something back – is worth more than money and fame."













Thus ends Hospice.

You may now remove your bands.
X
# II

The final part of the final chapter of a large 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. This chapter has been divided into separate sections due to its length.

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

Take care of yourselves, each and every one of you.
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:iconchupathingy98:
chupathingy98 Nov 10, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Saw this over a year ago, and finally got around to reading it.

This is art.

You have managed to create one of the best fan fictions I have ever read; your writing skill is nothing short of amazing, it reads more like an adult novel than a fan fiction, and it's a good story to boot. The narrator's decline along with Rarity's is just tragic to watch, and Rarity's spite towards him while in hospice provides for some incredibly emotional dialogue, to to the point where was I was cringing at her vitriol and was about to start sobbing during the last scene, right before her death. The whole thing is masterfully crafted, and one of the most heartfelt things I've ever read.

I'd like to tip my hat to you, and I apologize in advance for the rambling I just did. You've woven an excellent tale, and you should be proud of it.

Now, to contemplate on the white bands...
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:iconcuddlepug:
Thanks for the feedback. It's always a nice surprise when people stumble across these old pieces. It sounds as if this story had some sort of a profound effect on you. Thanks for taking the time to read it and to comment.

I don't know if this is how you read it, but for future reference here's the entire story in .pdf format: ponyfictionvault.net/ebooks/pd…
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:iconchupathingy98:
chupathingy98 Nov 16, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Eh, I actually read it in those .txt files you get off FimFiction. Speaking of which, any chance you'd upload the Orange Cross on that site?
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:iconcuddlepug:
The story is incomplete, so I'd hesitate to do so.
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:iconchupathingy98:
chupathingy98 Nov 24, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Welp, guess I'll wait.
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:iconcuddlepug:
It's unlikely that I'll be finishing it, but I appreciate your interest.
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:iconhalcyonnoctem:
HalcyonNoctem Mar 27, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I found this by chance..and began to read; interested in seeing where this went. Needless to say that I am choked up, and wiping away tears; the lump in my throat is painful, but I don't regret it. I don't get moments like this too often, but when I do, it relieves a lot of pent up stress, and emotions in the end. This story, in my opinion, was very beautifully written and I could imagine every detail like a movie playing in my mind. I will be watching you, and reading more of your work. I thank you.
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:iconcuddlepug:
Thanks, friend. I appreciate your feedback on this (rather old) piece of work. I actually started Hospice because one of my friends was complaining about how difficult it was to get a fanfiction onto Equestria Daily. I don't generally have an interest in fanfiction, but I wondered if what he was saying was correct. I set about writing this story to get it onto that site in order to see if he was right, and it got accepted the next day, so I assume it isn't all that difficult. While there are quite a few passages within this story that I now roll my eyes at, I'm glad you found it to be an enjoyable (if cathartic) experience. I'm glad you took the time to write this message. I would also like to thank you sincerely for the 600 points you donated to me.

If you are interested, there is a spiritual sequel to Hospice that got up to chapter 16 before I stuck it on hiatus. I should be resuming it again one day, but if you're interested in reading more work from me, there is that: [link]

In addition, if you're interested in creative writing, some of these might take your fancy: [link]

Take care, friend.
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:iconhalcyonnoctem:
HalcyonNoctem Mar 28, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
You are quite welcome for the points. You have a gift with writing. You keep the reader entertained, on the edge, and looking for more; waiting and dreading for that closure; not wanting it to end, but to continue and keep them wrapped around the stories imaginary finger. I sent the link to your story to a few friends to read, I do hope that was alright. I know they would feel the same as I did about it. I will def check out the sequel.

Take care as well sweetie.
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:iconcuddlepug:
Thanks for showing it to others. I believe that the .pdf is probably the best way to read it, rather than here on DeviantArt: [link]

The sequel is rather different from a thematic standpoint (dealing more with corruption and the manipulation of children, among other things) as I had no desire to write the same story twice. Hospice is very much the emotional fulcrum of what I have written.

Take care.
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