A curious mare, that one on the train. I suppose I may have come across as overly forward, inviting her as I did to visit me should she need anything in Ponyville. As far as I could see, I had basically welcomed a parasite to leech off of me. I got the feeling that she was running from something, and, had I been carrying out my duty as a responsible and concerned citizen, it's very possible that the right thing to do would have been to report her as a missing mare to the Manehattanite authorities. But I guess I just wasn't that concerned about her, after all; it's incredibly difficult to care about ponies that we meet during the terminal exchange. I can't even remember her face now, as striking as it had been when I first laid eyes upon her. And that toy that she had carried; a token of her innocence, wrapped within her golden mane. Or had she been a brunette?
I can't be dealing with this right now. I suppose you could say that I am stuck between a rock and a hard place, and that such an arduous and taxing business demands my full attention. Only, in this case, the rock isn't a rock, but rather a large, imposing - and metaphorical, I must add - mountain made up of many rocks. And the hard place isn't at all hard, unless you're observing the exterior structure of Carousel Boutique. Then I can say with a degree of certainty that, although the walls of the boutique are, in fact, hard, they are not the hardest that I have seen. Why, Old Manehattan is littered with buildings made of stronger stuff than whatever flimsy material that the old loom was originally built from. Whatever architect designed this place had probably intended for it to blow away in a storm. Well, there had been a storm in Ponyville recently, I should say, although it had now passed and the loom was still, surprisingly, standing. The tempest had shaken the rafters of the local community, forcing all residents to come to a grave realisation. I suppose that, during my time here in Ponyville, I have come to realise that the civilians have not been hardened by the weathering of the winds. They are a soft and supple folk, content to remain in ignorance so long as they can wake up in the morning and continue with their parish duties. What it would be to remain as blind as them; to shun the verisimilitude of life's explicit performance and to cling to unwavering innocence.
I should probably clarify just what the hell I am talking about and why I have become the habitual voyeur of Ponyville. After the storm, I lost sight of what I wanted to do with myself for a while. Money wasn't ever a concern for me I had inherited the wealth and property of a close Aunt after her untimely death and so I did not need to work for the sake of making a living. I had coin enough to be able to stay in Ponyville comfortably and for an indefinite period of time. Sadly, what use is money when there is nobody to spend it with or on? I once had friends here: a group of ponies who, by fortunate chance, were rather fond of me; and I, at first, was rather smitten with them, for they were kind and accepting and I was diligently desperate for their acceptance. But things began to break down when they first learnt of the coming of the storm. The prophetic weather control unit had predicted that it would pass at first, but as it loomed closer they could do little but give in and lie down like dogs. They took their punishment, for it was the wrath of a higher entity; and, in the wake of the destruction, they audaciously claimed that they were sorry, and that their tears were real. It was their fault for neglecting their role as blue-collared workers; and, more importantly, they had rejected the sanctity of friendship that they had once so resolutely spoken of.
Of course, the storm that I speak of was no natural raging of the winds. I am talking about something altogether unrelated; Ponyville still looks as it once did, and any manner of dissent, social or emotional, has mostly faded into the hushed whispers of the back-alleys. For when I walk the streets of Ponyville, tongues are held behind teeth for fear of saying something that would provoke me. The power that I hold over these ponies has been imposed by them; I never once suggested that I was their superior, except for the fact that I am, quite clearly, more capable than them at just about anything. When they were grieving, I was enterprising; when they took the week off of work, I could find myself doing nothing else but working, reading as many books as I could in order to educate myself on the fine art of fashion. I had always been a fast learner, capable of mastering all manner of the arts, even as a young colt. Of course, I did not wish to learn everything, and that is why I failed to grasp the basics of the oboe or the mandolin; it did not interest me to educate myself in their ways. Neither did the hammered dulcimer make much sense to me, for it is merely a harp turned on its back, plucked out of pretension by those who wish to emulate a bygone era.
This was the age of development, and I had committed myself to a progressive cause: the ideal that we, as ponies, should constantly be bettering ourselves and facing forwards, favouring temperance over indulgence and productivity over complacency. I was no great appreciator of the past of the land, for Old Equestria was now dead: long live the new regime! Of course, in order to ultimately benefit the world itself, I would need to pay my dues; I would continue to verse myself in the art of the dress and make the previous patron of this boutique proud. It was her legacy that I would be representing it would be the ultimate insult to fail her.
I suppose by now it would be fitting to explain what my difficult decision actually was, and why I decided the course of action that I ultimately chose to take. It is perfectly rational to me that I played into the corporate game, but I fear that others may judge me too harshly unless I take a moment or two to explain the finer details of the enterprise. After that event and the shedding of the band that went with it I was left in a complete bind; the good name of Rarity had been disgraced, and I imagined that I would be forced to close down the boutique out of ridicule and embarrassment. However, a curious thing happened when Rarity left the business. I first learned of the curious state of events when I took a chance trip to Manehattan in order to return a luxury item. I was truly in two minds about taking it back to the Glass House, the respectable jewellery company, for the item had, in a recent circumstance, been quite significant: a sapphire tiara that had once made an important pony very happy.
However, clinging onto relics is sentimental, and my greater sensibility was outweighed by rational thought; to hold onto the tiara would imply that it would be used again, and I would be ashamed to see another pony wear it high upon their head, as no pony would carry it as gracefully as her. And so, taking the item back had unfortunately put me in the place that I despised the most, for Manehattan was an amalgamated system of social vices and traitorous gossip. But this gossip proved useful, for the first time in recorded history, when I overheard a conversation between two excessively perfumed ponies, both of whom tripped every few moments over the ornate curtains that they appeared to wear; and they held proudly and problematically upon their heads curious hats twice the size of what was deemed respectable and which were humorously adorned with shrunken fruits!
"Have you heard?" asked the first excitedly. "Everypony is dying to get their hooves on them!"
"On what?" grunted the second, for she was struggling to keep her head up given the weight of her topical, tropical hat.
"These new dresses from Ponyville!" the first squealed.
"Darling, what dress is this, hrm? What dress, indeed?" the second pondered.
"Indeed, it is Miss Rarity's range!" I heard the first say, which caught my attention, naturally.
"Was Miss Rarity not recently involved in scandal?" came the response from the less-informed of the two. "I never thought much of her dresses."
"Yes, the scandal!" chided the first. "Which is precisely why they are popular! Everypony wishes to be involved in the controversy!"
"If they are popular, then I love them!" the second smiled.
"And now that Miss Rarity has left her company, they are sought after more; for they are limited stock, and we would be fools to fail to engage with this cultural phenomenon!"
"The richest commodity is reserved for the few," beamed the second foppishly. "-This new-fashion will signal big things for me and you."
They left on their merry way, and I was left feeling rather curiously disposed towards them both. For Rarity had been gaining public attention over the past year, not all of it positive, and I had no idea that her dresses were now considered to be rare and luxurious items. Their conversation was prophetic, for no sooner had I returned to the boutique in Ponyville were ponies queuing up outside, demanding that I sell the remaining stock. They had seen through the shop windows, and thus I could not pretend that there were no wears to sell. And so, reluctantly, I made the necessary sales, but cleverly neglected to mention the reserve stock in the back-room and the concepts in Rarity's Inspiration Room; these would perhaps be worth more, should I bide my time.
I thought, as one might in this sort of situation, that that would be everything required of me; it would soon spread that there were no more dresses, and it was common knowledge now that Rarity would not be activating the sewing machine again. But things have a habit of not going the way that we plan, and that is precisely how I became swept up in something far greater than I had initially imagined; my inability to control events had once again bound me to Ponyville. The next few days passed with little fanfare; a few more ponies from out of town showed up in an attempt to purchase some of Rarity's clothing, but I had taken to putting a sign on the outside of the door that simply read:
'Out of stock: stop inquiring'
This proved to be a natural deterrent to anybody who wished to bother me, and for the next small period of inactivity I was content to be alone with my thoughts. However, a knock on the door later in the week was different to the others, insofar as the perpetrator would not stop knocking. It was normal protocol to read the sign and leave; it was more audacious to read the sign, ignore its message and knock, to find that nobody would answer before leaving. It was utterly disrespectful for somebody to see the sign, observe its message, ignore its sacred text, knock on the door, continue knocking at the door, and then, rather than presuming that nobody was home, to do one's best to corrode the wood by knocking further. And, while I would normally simply ignore the sound, its repetitive rapping had become incredibly irritating. I decided that this pony would feel the firm strike of my hoof. I approached the door and pulled across the latch, which was enough to finally stop the pony from their assault upon the wood. Opening the door revealed an unfamiliar stallion, which was curious, for stallions were not at all interested in purchasing and wearing Rarity's dresses, unless they were the sort that hung around in the Burlesque Borough of Manehattan. This stallion did not strike me as one of them.
He was a large pony of little charisma; he was direct with his words and there was clearly a direction behind them.
"Can you come with me?" he asked, but it was a question only in form: his voice was forceful, and I had little chance to object. This was all rather strange for me, as you can imagine. I pressed the pony for his name but received little in the way of a response; I looked to his cutie mark for some degree of explanation, but I saw only three splints with what appeared to be fire coming off of them. I could have taken a guess at naming him from this small visual clue, but I feared saying something that might offend this righteous stallion; he was taller than me and very stocky, and his powerful hooves would not fail in pinning me down, should the opportunity call for it. He took me through the back-routes of Ponyville in order to avoid crowds until we were out in the fields. This was Apple Acres land, as far as I knew, although we seemed to a be a fair way away from the barn. It was only when we came to a river that he stopped marching me forwards. I was conscious of the swiftness of that river, for I could not shake the feeling that he was about to push me into it.
"Nice town, Ponyville," the stallion said gruffly, taking a few moments to look around. Save for the golden meadows of corn, we were alone. "I had a friend who grew up around here," the stallion continued. "Real nice guy."
"Whatever it is that you want, you can have it," I said nervously. "What do you want? Money? I have money."
He grinned and took a step closer to me. I stepped back, closing the distance between the river and myself.
"Don't be so nervous," he said. "As long as you listen to what I say, there won't be any trouble here. Do you understand?"
"Good," he nodded. "You're the owner of Carousel Boutique, yeah?"
I hesitated for a moment. "I run Carousel Boutique in the absence of the owner."
"You mean Miss Rarity?" he asked. "She's dead, so the news goes. Died of some illness. Her funeral was about a week ago. You didn't attend."
My efforts to avoid thinking about what had happened to Rarity had proven to be a failure; by avoiding the conversation of the masses, it had merely made ponies seek me out for the purpose of ridiculing me. I closed my eyes, letting out the usual sigh of irrepressible irritation. "Is this why you brought me out here?" I asked. "To mock me? To tell me something that I already know?"
"I work for somebody," he replied bluntly, caring little for my questions. "They're willing to make you an offer. I think you should take it."
"What offer is this?"
"After your nubile lover passed away, she left Carousel Boutique to you. One hundred per cent ownership, in fact, much to the surprise of the scorned family. Only, this doesn't quite sit right with my employer." He took another step closer to me. "This Rarity lass made a deal with him that she would supply dresses for wholesale. The plan was that she'd design the dresses, his workers would copy the style, and then we'd distribute them in mass. Sadly, she barely contributed anything before biting the bullet, and because my employer invested a lot of money in this mare's scheme, he's not exactly pleased with how things have turned out."
I deduced who he was talking about. When Rarity had become sick, she had been forced to pick between the employment offers of two businessponies: Mr. Orange and Mr. Cross, both of whom had shown a great interest in her work. The former was an influential textile trader from Manehattan, who was an incredibly wealthy pony indeed. The latter was an entirely different kettle of fish; a disgustingly brazen entrepreneur who had made his money out of many corrupt businesses. I had encountered them both before, in one form or another, both in connection to Rarity. They had wanted to keep her sweet in order to patent-protect her product, but in forcing her to choose between them they had worked her to death. I had already reaped my revenge upon Mr. Cross, but Mr. Orange and I had not crossed paths since several months ago when he had come to the boutique looking for Rarity. I had thought that our dealings were at their end; how wrong I was, for they were just beginning.
"I'm afraid I can't help you," I said. "The stock has sold. I worked at the boutique, but I'm no dress-maker. That title was reserved for Rarity, and, as you say...now she's gone."
"Do you know my employer?" he questioned.
"Do you work for Mr. Orange of Manehattan?"
He was probably surprised that I had worked that out as quickly as I had. However, his face was not the most expressive, and it was difficult to see any form of emotion behind those calculating eyes.
"Yes. Well, Mr. Orange had a few thoughts," he said after a moment. "Some of his more vengeful associates thought that the best option was to get you out of the picture entirely. And, while I'm very prepared to do that as an act of courtesy, Mr. Orange wasn't ecstatic about the idea. I suppose that two connected deaths in Ponyville in so short of a time would raise questions, and Mr. Orange is a merciful fellow, providing that he isn't crossed."
I stared back at him, wide-eyed and terrified. I had always envisioned Mr. Orange as a rational businesspony; to imagine that he knew ponies that had calculated murders made me nauseous.
"His second option was to buy you out entirely and force you to move," the stallion went on. "Unfortunately, to own a property with no production going on would be problematic."
"-So what's the final offer?" I questioned timidly, although I perceived that I was now out of the most dangerous part of this arrangement; Mr. Orange would not have me killed, and so whatever the offer was, I would be able to keep my head by taking him up on it.
"Easy," he said. "You work for Mr. Orange. Out of anybody, you've spent the most time with that floozy over the past year."
"Rarity wasn't a floozy," I found myself saying, holding back the usual spark of aggression that triggered within me whenever her name was disrespected. He smiled, shaking his head.
"Whatever," he continued. "You must have picked up some techniques and stuff. She gave some basic concepts and designs to Mr. Orange and his workers, but it's not enough; replicating her dresses ain't really possible without physical examples and some of the more complex patterns. What Mr. Orange's employees have made is an inferior product; a crap, bootleg example of what Rarity could have made. He needs you to learn to replicate perfectly what it was that she was doing."
I could have argued that he was asking the impossible. Rarity and I had spoken at length about her work, and she had never come across as anything less than a prodigy of the pattern-stitch. She was an artist without a sufficient contemporary, and I could not bring myself to defile her work with my own clumsy hooves. The practice that I had put into attempting to emulate her already, and the techniques that I had picked up while working with her, were not enough to make me even half as impressive as she was. Mr. Orange should have been hiring professionals for this matter.
"Why me?" I found the strength to ask. "Why can you not get other ponies to help in this?"
"Mr. Orange was told by Rarity herself that she would retain the rights to most of the product," the stallion responded. "Mr. Orange agreed to this, as the deal was that she would supply him over several years, during which time his employees would be able to learn Rarity's techniques. But now that she's gone, her side of production has entirely slowed down. Only you will have gained some of the knowledge that she had to impart; we are to believe that she had a special place where her creative mind was allowed to prosper. And, whether you know where that was or not, you're the best bet that we have. Right now, her dresses are selling like hot-cakes. When news of her death hit the streets, everybody wanted to know who she was and to buy into the fanfare surrounding her. Posthumous sales are always high. We have to seize the monopoly of this market now that an opportunity has presented itself to us and before the black market traders start copying it."
"Of course, you're free to decline," he added, laughing under his breath. "-Do you like swimming?"
I looked back at the river. I was not a good swimmer, and I had no idea where the river would lead. I also did not trust that this pony merely wanted me to take a swim; I perceived that he would drown me or, at the very least, watch me squirm until I begged for his hoof to help me out of my plight. This far away from Ponyville, it could all be explained as an unfortunate accident. He certainly did not strike me as the sort of pony who cared much for what the public thought. He noticed my hesitance and grinned. "So I trust we have a deal?" he questioned, and, given that I was in absolutely no position to object, I nodded in agreement.
"Somehow, I thought you'd say that," he commented, stepping back. I moved forwards in motion, away from the river. He clasped his hoof against my own in order to seal the deal. Mr. Orange certainly did not appear to be a pony who appreciated a deal being broken.
"What happens next?" I asked as he marched me back towards Ponyville, although he was less forceful on the return journey now that he had got from me what he had been sent to acquire.
"Mr. Orange will be paying you a visit soon," he said. "He'll explain the finer details of the arrangement then. I was merely sent to make sure that you were still in the area, and that you would cooperate."
He lit up a pipe as we walked, allowing it to hang from his bottom lip as he puffed away at the mouthpiece. I must admit that his action irritated me, for the smog of thick smoke that spewed out of the pipe created a dark cloud over the otherwise picturesque topography of Ponyville. As he engorged himself he grunted and coughed; I did wonder how anybody could enjoy such a polluting practice, for it was clearly hampering his ability to breathe. "You have to learn to enjoy the small things," he said idly. "This tobacco is excellent, but it's getting considerably rarer nowadays. Once it's gone, it's gone for good." He looked at me for a moment. "But that won't stop me from smoking, you understand? Just because one individual brand disappears, that doesn't stop us from replicating it in another form." As much as I disliked his analogy, I had to hand it to him; there was an irony in how he was killing himself by smoking his pipe while simultaneously talking about replacement. In his case, I hoped that he would drop dead soon; Mr. Orange's next lackey might be more tolerable.
He knocked upon the front door when he returned briefly to the boutique. Raising an eyebrow, he gathered up a nearby rock and set about chiselling a mark upon its lavender hue. When he had finished imparting his symbol he did it quickly, and so I assumed that this was standard practice for him he smiled and turned to leave. "Don't think about leaving Ponyville," he advised. "Mr. Orange wouldn't like it." He was gone soon after, although not before I gathered that the mark that he had left on the door of the boutique matched his cutie mark perfectly. It took me a few moments to regain my composure, but thankfully he wasn't coming back any time soon. I opened up the door, although not before dropping the keys; the entire ordeal had put me in a state of unease.