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Out of Time · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
The Time of Their Lives
It was a quiet Tuesday afternoon, and Princess Twilight Sparkle was halfway through a thick text on the thermodynamic effects of passive magic fields when Rainbow Dash came to tell her about the skeleton.

“Twilight!” The scratchy voice echoed around the castle’s entryway. “Twilight, are you home?”

Lunch was a happy memory of seared acorn squash, bought that morning from the fall market and prepared with just a hint of nutmeg. She kept a few leftover slices on a small plate beside her, and occasionally nibbled on them when reading a particularly intriguing passage from her book. A small cup of long-cooled sweet tea sat, ignored, beside the plate. Warm sunlight poured through the castle’s wide windows to form bright pools on the crystal floor, chasing away the autumnal chill, and she basked in them like a book-loving cat.

It was a perfect day for wasting with a curious volume of forgotten lore, in other words. Until Rainbow Dash showed up.

“In the library!” Twilight shouted back. Her mother would have scolded her for yelling instead of getting up to go speak with her guest, but this was her castle and she could yell inside if she wanted.

The clip-clop of hooves on crystal followed, and Rainbow Dash’s head poked through the library door. She peered around until she spotted Twilight reclining on a cushion in a sunlit pool and trotted over.

“Hey, uh, there’s a skeleton at the Hayburger,” she said.

Twilight blinked at her. “What?”

“The Hayburger, the place that sells those burgers you like? There’s a skeleton there.”

“Wait, like…” Twilight frowned. “You mean, somepony found a skeleton?”

Rainbow Dash shook her head. “No, it’s sitting at a table with a menu. I think it’s trying to order some food.”

“The skeleton? The skeleton is trying to order a meal?”

Rainbow Dash nodded. She shifted her weight between her hooves, and her wings fluttered nervously at her side.

Finally, realization struck. Twilight rolled her eyes and turned back to her book. “Nightmare Night was last week, Dash. You’re too late.”

“Huh?”

“For pranking. Or, if you’re going to try to prank somepony, it’s too late to use a skeleton.”

“What? No!” Dash’s wings flared out. “It’s not a prank! There’s a skeleton at the Hayburger.”

“Uh huh.” Twilight flipped the page. A new chapter on lesser field harmonics! She squealed a little inside.

“Hey!” A blue hoof planted itself on the page. “I’m not joking! There’s a skeleton and it’s really freaking ponies out!”

Twilight wrapped the pegasus in her magic and gently lifted her away, depositing her by the door. “Sorry, Dash, not buying it. Go try Applejack or Rarity.”

“Fine! I will!”

“Fine.” Twilight nibbled on a bit of squash. “You do that.”

“Fine!” Dash shouted one last time, then proceeded to stomp her way out of the castle. It wasn’t very impressive – pegasi can’t stomp all that well.



About twenty minutes later, Applejack showed up. She didn’t bother to knock or call out, she just walked into the library, found Twilight, and took a seat next to her.

“Hey sugar, you got a moment?” she said.

“Of course, Applejack.” Twilight closed her book and pushed it a few inches away. “What can I do for you?”

“There’s a skeleton at the Hayburger.”

Twilight pulled the book back. “Let me guess, you ran into Rainbow Dash?”

“Yup.”

“And she told you there was a skeleton at the Hayburger?”

“Yup.”

“And then she told you to come tell me?”

Applejack shook her head. “Nope, I told her she was gosh-darned fool trying to play a silly prank like that a week after Nightmare Night. Then she started yellin’ and cussin’ and dragged me to the Hayburger, and sure enough there was a skeleton there, sittin’ at one of the tables with a menu, tryin’ to make up its mind about what to order I guess. Big crowd of ponies, too, all starin’ at it.”

Twilight was quiet for a while.

Finally, hopefully, “Are you sure this isn’t a prank, Applejack? Did she get you in on it?”

“Sugar, when was the last time I ever played a prank on somepony?”

Twilight found she had no answer for that. She stood, floated her book over to a reshelving cart, and dusted off her belly. “Alright, let’s go meet this skeleton, I guess.”




There was a large crowd of ponies gathered outside the Hayburger. Pegasi perched on the eaves, leaning over to peer in the windows. A nervous acne-dappled teenage colt wearing a greasy apron stood guard at the door.

Rainbow Dash was waiting for them at the edge of the crowd. “Oh, oh, you believe her, huh? But not me?”

“Hush, missy,” Applejack said. “Okay, Twilight, go ahead. Make way, folks! Princess is here to help!”

As one, the crowd turned toward her. The excited babble fell into a hush, and a path opened toward the door. The pegasi on the roof burst into flight, swirling like a flock of garish starlings, then slowly settled down again to stare at her.

Twilight blinked at the assembled mass. “Uh…”

The teenage fry cook galloped up to her, a crumpled paper cap with the Hayburger logo squished between his hooves. “Oh, thank goodness you’re here, princess! It showed up an hour ago. I know we’re not supposed to discriminate against customers but it’s scaring everypony and I’d really like if you could make it go away. Or at least order carry-out instead of dining in.”

“Uh…” Twilight racked her brain for an intelligent response and found nothing. “Are you sure this isn’t a prank?”

“Huh?”

Twilight sighed. “Nevermind. Okay, let’s go see what this is about.”

She walked through the door, Applejack and Rainbow Dash a few steps behind her, and found the problem immediately. The skeleton was seated by itself at a table for four, a menu propped up in its hooves. It was still as a statue, and for a moment the resurgent hope that this was a prank – it’s just a prop someone brought in to fool us – kindled itself in Twilight’s mind. They would all laugh and slap each other on the back and go back to reading magical textbooks in their castles.

The skeleton flipped the menu over, scanning the drink list on the back. After a moment it nodded and, apparently satisfied, set the menu down and looked around expectantly.

Something poked Twilight in the flank. She jerked in surprise and looked back to see Rainbow Dash motioning her toward the skeleton.

Fine. Fine. This is nothing. Tirek was, like, a lot bigger and scarier than this. Steeling herself, she took a few quick breaths and trotted through the empty dining area toward the skeleton’s table, stopping a few steps away.

The skeleton was… traditional, Twilight supposed. Dry bones, scrimshaw-white, with only the barest of connective tissues remaining to hold it together. Female, if she had to guess, and an earth pony. There was no sense of magic around it, no glowing fields or unearthly chills. Just the quiet rasp of calcium grinding itself to powder, and a faint scent that reminded her of dust and stones and glaciers.

“Uh, hello,” Twilight said.

“Hi!” the skeleton chirped. Its voice was high and light and full of energy, and seemed to emerge from the dark space where a pony’s vocal chords would be. “I’d like the number three combo with extra crispy hayfries and a sarsaparilla soda, please.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Any surprise over hearing a skeleton speak so clearly was far outweighed by her fear of awkward social misunderstandings. “I’m actually not a waiter. I’m a princess.”

The skeleton gasped. “Oh my gosh! I’m sorry, I didn’t realize! Would you like to join me, princess?”

“Er, sure.” Twilight carefully slid out the chair across from the skeleton and sat down. She chanced a look over her shoulder to see Rainbow Dash and Applejack still keeping their distance, while back near the entrance the crowd had started to spill into the restaurant.

“The service here doesn’t seem to be very good,” the skeleton said. “Is there, like a counter we’re supposed to order at?”

“I think the waiter’s just busy,” Twilight said. “So, what’s your name?”

“Song Sparrow, just like my cutie mark!” She giggled and twisted, showing off her bare pelvic bones. “What’s yours?”

“Twilight Sparkle. So, if you don’t mind my asking, what are you doing here?”

“What do you mean? I just want a hayburger. And extra crispy fries.”

“No, what are you…” Twilight frowned and motioned toward Song Sparrow’s body. “Why are you, uh, up and about?”

“Well, it was lunch time, and this place seemed new. I figured I’d try it out.”

Time to stop beating around the bush. “But you’re dead.”

“What?” The skeleton drew back. “I am not.”

“Yes you are. You’re a skeleton.”

Song Sparrow looked down at her body. “I’ve lost a little weight, but that doesn’t mean you can say nasty things like that, princess or not! Apologize!”

Twilight frowned. “Look, I’m sorry, but you are dead and you are a skeleton. Isn’t she, Applejack?”

“Uh.” Applejack froze as all eyes turned to her. “Well, yeah, she kinda looks like a skeleton. No offense, ma’am.”

“I don’t believe this.” Song Sparrow slammed a hoof down on the table, raising a little puff of ivory dust. “All I want is a hayburger, and instead I get ponies telling me I’m dead! What kind of town is this?”

“Hey, this is a great town!” Rainbow Dash injected. “You take that back!”

“I will not!”

Twilight groaned. “Oh, for the love of… Listen, if you weren’t a skeleton, could I do this?” She snatched up a plastic spork with her magic, aimed carefully, and slid it through Song Sparrow’s ribs alongside her sternum. The plastic rattled against the bone, and when Twilight released her magic the spork fell into the skeleton’s rib cage, bounced off her pelvis, and tumbled to the floor with a clatter.

Silence. They all stared down at the spork.

“Er, sorry,” Twilight finally said. “That was uncalled for. I—”

“Urk!” Song Sparrow jerked to her feet, kicking the chair away. Her hooves rose to her breast to cover the ribs Twilight had just pierced. She swayed in place, teetered, tottered, and with a final clatter crashed to the ground like a slain xylophone. Hollow knocking echoes filled the restaurant as Twilight, her friends, and the dozens in the crowd stared in shock.

Silence reigned again.

Somepony in the back screamed. That broke the dam, and chaos overwhelmed the Hayburger. Ponies tried to escape. Ponies tried to crowd in. The roof rattled as a dozen pegasi took off and two dozen more landed.

“What the heck, Twilight?!” Applejack shouted.

“You killed her!” from Rainbow Dash.

“What? No, no!” Twilight gawked at the mess of bones strewn on the floor. “She just fell down!”

“Murder!” somepony screamed.

“No! No!” Twilight spun to the crowd to plead her case. “She was a skeleton! You can’t murder a skeleton!”

But it was not to be. The chaos continued until a burly stallion with a ten-gallon hat and a sheriff’s star pinned to his vest arrived.

“Princess Twilight Sparkle, you’re under arrest,” the sheriff said, clapping a set of manacles around Twilight’s forelegs. “Take her away, boys!”

“No! I’m innocent! Applejack, tell them I’m innocent! You can’t murder a skeleton!” She kept up her protestations as the posse dragged her through the door and to the Ponyville jail.

And that is how Twilight Sparkle was arrested for the second time in her life.




Song Sparrow was the first but not the last restless soul who took to wandering Ponyville’s streets. By that evening ghostly lights collected at the intersections, bobbing up and down in time with the wind. They whispered to each other, and ponies cast them wary glances as they passed.

By Wednesday morning over a dozen shamblers had risen from their graves. They moldered in various states of decay, from completely bare skeletons to dried, decomposing corpses. They moved with a surprising amount of vigor for the dead, and with their spectral companions began to haunt the town.

Mostly they went shopping. A good number organized sightseeing groups to tour Ponyville and its environs. They rented out every room in the Ponyville Deluxe Inn & Suites and provided a surprising autumn boost to the town’s economy.

Not everypony was happy to see the dead return. Aside from Twilight Sparkle, who ruminated bitterly over them in her cell, the other Elements of Harmony couldn’t help but be concerned.

Applejack felt the dead should stay dead as a general rule, and registered this opinion with a firmly worded letter to the editor of the Ponyville Gazette. The paper declined to publish her letter, fearing an advertising boycott from shops that did heavy business with the undead.

Rainbow Dash claimed the dead were “lame” and “slow” and promptly began challenging them to races, hoof-wrestling contests, hayburger-eating competitions, and everything else she could think of to establish the continuing superiority of the living over the dead. She won some of these, lost some, and generally was so occupied by the spirit of competition that she forgot to form any opinion on the presence of the undead one way or the other.

Pinkie Pie, alone among the six, was enthusiastic. She hosted the largest party in Ponyville history in the town cemetery, inviting the living and the dead. Every zombie, skeleton and ghost showed up, nearly three dozen in all, along with hundreds of living ponies, and they celebrated well into the morning hours.

Fluttershy locked herself in her cottage and so it is not entirely clear how she felt about matters.

Then, Rarity. Normally so generous, so welcoming, so appreciative of others, she found herself troubled by the town’s new additions. Ambivalent. She wanted to open her heart and her business to the dead, but every time they passed by she felt a chill travel down her back, like a drop of ice water crawling its way down her spine. She would shiver and cough and excuse herself from their presence, flustered, afraid, and at the same time mortified of her own fears.

It was Friday morning and Rarity was in the Boutique’s fabric room, cutting out patterns for her next dress, when the bell above the door rang. She set her glasses down on the work table, gave the mirror a quick glance to make sure she was presentable, and trotted out into the lobby.

“Welcome to Carousel Boutique, where every garment is chic, unique, aaaaaaannnnnd… ah, hello,” she said, stumbling to a clumsy stop.

“Good morning!” the ghostly unicorn standing in her shop replied. “Are you Miss Rarity? I was told you make the best dresses.”

Pride warred with fear and quickly won. “Why, yes I am.” She struck a pose, ignoring the chill wriggling its wormy way down her spine. “I dare say there’s no better boutique this side of Canterlot for the discerning mare.”

“Oh, wonderful!” The ghostly mare spun in place, floating a few inches off the floor in the process. Although her form was faint, and Rarity could easily see the far wall through her, there was a definite impression of a vermilion coat and lavender mane. “It feels like ages since I bought a new dress!”

“Yes, no doubt.” Rarity cleared her throat. “But, if I’m being honest, I’m not sure I’m the best, ah, pony to tailor something to your exact… specifications.”

“Oh.” The mare looked downcast for a moment, then brightened. Her horn flashed, and a large coin purse appeared on the counter beside them. It clinked loudly, and out spilled a mess of bits – hundreds of them, tarnished and weathered with age, crusted red and green with rust and verdigris, but still legal tender as far as any bank was concerned.

“Will these help?” the mare asked.

“Well.” Rarity nudged the bag with her hoof, then cast an appraising eye at the ghost. “They don’t hurt. What did you say your name was, darling?”

And so went the first week after the dead returned to Ponyville.




The dead did not stick around forever. Very quickly a pattern emerged.

Rarity saw it happen herself the next morning. She was shopping in the market, filling her wicker basket with celery and radishes and carrots, when a zombie bumped into her shoulder. They exchanged apologies and were about to go their separate ways when the zombie, an earth pony stallion about Rarity’s own age (so to speak) suddenly pointed at her basket and gasped.

“Those radishes!” he exclaimed. “Those are cherriette antiques! Wherever did you get them?”

“Hm?” Rarity peered down into her basket, where nestled between the carrots and iceberg lettuce were a bundle of bright, cherry red radishes. “Oh, June Bug sells those. She has a little stand across the square.”

He let out an airy gasp. “Show me?”

“Of course.” Rarity brushed a few flakes of decomposing skin off her coat and led the zombie to June Bug’s stand. The earth pony raised an eyebrow when she saw them approach but smiled nevertheless.

“Hello Rarity. Looking for more radishes?” she asked.

“Well, I—”

“Yes!” The zombie jumped forward, leaning over June Bug’s counter to ogle her produce. “Red Royals! Cherriettes! Pink Beauties and Amethysts! Oh, and are those White Icicles?”

“They certainly are, sir!” June Bug puffed out her chest. “I grow a dozen types of antique radishes!”

“Ah, you know, I used to grow radishes.” The zombie let out a long sigh. “In fact, I planted a fresh batch last winter, and I spent months tending to them. But when they were just about ready to harvest I got terribly sick, and then I woke up here.”

“You… woke up?” Rarity asked.

He nodded. “Indeed. This is a lovely town, of course, but I do so wish I could go back for those radishes.”

“Well.” Rarity glanced at the produce. “June Bug, do you suppose I could buy one more of those for my friend? One of those big ones there?”

“Sure! One White Icicle, coming up!” She plucked a long white radish and hoofed it over to the zombie.

“Oh, thank you!” He snapped the end off the radish in a single bite and and moaned. “Oh, this is wonderful! Better than I could have believed! Why, I could die happily right now!”

And with that he slumped to the ground in a boneless heap. The half-eaten radish rolled toward Rarity, who danced away with a yelp.

“Er…” June Bug leaned over the counter to stare at the lifeless corpse. “Did… did we kill him?”

Rarity waited for her racing heart to slow. “Ah, I… I’m not sure. Is he breathing?”

They stared at him for a few seconds. The wind stirred, and his body disintegrated before their eyes, blowing away in a sparkling cloud of glitter that stuck to Rarity’s coat and looked like it wouldn’t come out without a good shampooing.

“No, definitely not,” June Bug said. “Guess we made him happy, though!”

And that was good enough for Rarity.




Over the next few days, several other spirits and skeletons found their way to one epiphany or another, realizing their long-lost desires and fading away or collapsing into piles of dust. It was a bit harrowing to witness at first, but the ponies in question didn’t seem to mind, so after a week or so it became part of the normal routine. Almost like a foal getting her cutie mark, albeit a tad more macabre.

It was the Monday after the dead returned, and Rarity was in her workshop again. She had three orders to fill, two for living ponies and one for a ghost. The ghost was hard to measure, what with how the measuring tape kept falling through her, but after a bit of struggle she’d managed to get some approximate numbers and got to work. If worst came to worst, she could always alter the dress later.

The bell above her door rang, followed by the rapid clatter of foals’ hooves and a shouted voice from the entry. “Hi sis we’re back we’re just gonna get some food and then we’re gonna go to the clubhouse oh and Miss Cheerilee says she needs to meet with you something about my math grades but it doesn’t sound too important okay bye!”

“Wait!” Rarity stalked out into the kitchen, where she found Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, and a ghostly filly about their same age lurking around the refrigerator. “What was that about your math grades?”

“Uh…” Sweetie Belle’s eyes shifted to her friends, but finding no help there she returned to Rarity. “Miss Cheerilee says she needs to meet with you because they’re… so good! Yeah!”

Rarity let out a long sigh. “Of course they are. We’ll talk later. Now, then, who is your new friend here?” She smiled and lowered herself to her knees, putting her level with the ghostly filly’s head.

“This is Ginger Gypsy! Say ‘hi’ to Rarity, Ginger!” Apple Bloom pushed the ghost toward her without any effect.

“Oh, um, hello.” The ghost bit her lip and seemed to shrink. “It’s good to meet you.”

“Aw, aren’t you just adorable!” Rarity peered around at her flank. It was hard to tell, but it seemed to be a smooth apricot color, untouched by any mark. “Still waiting for your cutie mark, darling?”

Ginger blushed, glowing just a bit brighter, and nodded. “Uh huh. Sweetie Belle is going to help me.”

“Us too!” Scootaloo shouted, shoving her way over to wrap a leg around Ginger’s shoulder. It promptly fell through her, but the gesture seemed to be appreciated by the ghost, who returned the hug with a smile.

“We’re gonna go hunting for pirates!” Apple Bloom added.

“Uh huh.” Rarity made a mental note to check in with Applejack later. “Well, do be careful, girls. You just got your cutie marks, after all. Don’t go getting hurt at this point.”

“Us, hurt?” Scootaloo hopped into the air, her wings buzzing to keep her aloft for a few moments. “Never! Cutie Mark Crusaders Pirate Hunters, go!”

“Wooo!”

“Woooo!”

“OOOoooOOOooo!”

And with a clatter of hooves and just the faintest of ghostly chills, the three original and one new Crusader vanished out the door. Rarity watched them go with a tiny smile, and then went back to her dressmaking.




Two days later, Rarity decided to pay Twilight Sparkle a visit.

The Ponyville jail was a small affair, just an office for the deputy and a single jail cell adjoining. Turn Key, the officer responsible for guarding prisoners, was sitting at his desk reading the Gazette when Rarity walked in the door. He smiled at her and waved a hoof toward the cell.

Twilight Sparkle lay on her belly on the cot, a book held in the air before her. She set it down as Rarity approached, and offered her friend a weak smile. “Hi Rarity.”

“Hello Twilight.” Rarity took a seat next to the bars. “How are you doing?”

“Well, you know. Some days are better than others. At least I’ve got my books.” She motioned toward the cell wall, where a poor wood bookcase struggled under the weight of hundreds of tomes, piled atop each other with reckless abandon. Stacks of excess books lined the walls, filled the floors, flowed out from beneath the cot, and even grew down from the ceiling like stalactites, held in place with a faint lavender glow.

“So I see.” Rarity scooted a few inches away from the cell. “Any word on the charges, then?”

“I go before the magistrate next week,” Twilight said. She sniffed and let out a long, shaking breath. “I think… I think I’ll probably plead guilty.”

“Oh, Twilight.” Rarity reached a hoof through the bars toward her friend. “Are you sure?”

Twilight wrapped her hoof around Rarity’s and gave it a light squeeze. “I… I think so. They might go easier on me, and to be fair, I deserve whatever they give me.”

“Twilight, you’re a wonderful mare and you deserve a fair and impartial trial,” Rarity said firmly. “I won’t hear anypony say different, not even you. Do you understand?”

Twilight sniffed again. “Thank you, Rarity. You’re a good friend.”

“Well, I try.” Rarity gave the book mountains another searching glance. “Do you have anything besides these to keep you occupied, darling?”

“I have this,” Twilight said. Her horn glowed, and a small chrome harmonica floated into view. She held it before her mouth and breathed into it, filling the cell with a rippling melodic cry. She played a few chords of a broken blues scale before setting it back on her cot. “Applejack gave it to me. She said it’s an Apple Family traditional.”

“Odd, I’ve never seen her play the harmonica.”

“Oh, in jail,” Twilight corrected. “It’s a tradition in jail.”

“Ah.” Rarity felt herself frowning and forced a neutral expression. “Jail, jail, jail. I hate to keep thinking of you in here, Twilight, all by yourself. Would you like some lunch?”

Twilight’s ears perked up. “Yeah, that sounds nice.” She stood and pushed the cell door open, stepping out beside Rarity. “Mr. Turn Key? We’re going to get some lunch. Do you want anything?”

“Naw, I’m fine,” he replied. “Be back by closing time, you hear?”

“Yes sir. Hayburger sound good, Rarity?”

“That’s fine, darling. I’m paying. We can get some ice cream after!”

And that made Twilight Sparkle a happy princess pony.




By the end of the second week, nopony gave the dead a second glance. Their numbers had settled down to around a dozen or so, with new ones sometimes appearing to replace those who finally achieved their lost desires and faded into whatever afterlife awaited them.

Rarity found that business was brisk. The undead paid well and never complained about the garments she crafted for them. It was difficult to match their hues, sometimes, especially for the skeletons who were still convinced they had bright yellow coats with orange manes, when all Rarity could see were dusty bones the color of old milk, but she did her best to make every customer happy.

She was putting the final touches on a wedding dress for a young skeleton who had died before her marriage when the bell above her door rang.

“One moment!” she cried. She stabbed a pin in place to secure a fold and trotted out to meet her guest. “Welcome to Carousel Boutique, where every garment is chic, unique, and magnifique!”

“Hello!” A ghostly mare stood just inside the door. Her coat was sky blue, or perhaps that was just ectoplasm, and she smiled. “Are you Miss Rarity?”

“I certainly am, darling. It’s a pleasure to meet you, miss...”

“Autumn Sky,” the ghost replied. “And it’s an honor to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you!”

“Well, I daresay most ponies have.” Rarity preened for just a moment. “Now, are you in the market for a dress, Miss Sky?”

“Oh, not quite. I was actually hoping you could give me some advice, instead. You see, I’m a seamstress as well.” She spun, showing off the faint wavering image of a spool of thread on her flank. “And I have a dream, you see… Oh, but it’s so silly…”

Rarity walked over to the ghost and tried to rest a hoof on her shoulder. “No, darling, dreams are never silly! Out with it! Tell me how I can help.”

“Well… I’ve always wanted to start my own shop, you see, and sell dresses. But I never had the connections or the know-how, and then there was that carriage accident. But now that I’m here in this lovely town, I so desire to try again!”

Hmm. Rarity rubbed her chin with a hoof. There wasn’t really enough business in Ponyville to support two boutiques, even with all the new customers, but she could never deny someone their dream. Much less a fellow tailor! And besides, no doubt once this new business opened, Autumn Sky would find closure and fade away.

Yes. Rarity had to help.

“Well, darling, I dare say I know something about starting a business. A boutique, no less! Why, between the two of us we’ll start the best damn boutique in Ponyville! I can go down to Town Hall tomorrow and start the permit process, and we look for a building… why, there’s that empty space for lease just down the street! Oh, you do, ah, have some capital, I hope?”

There was a flash, and a huge sack of bits appeared on the floor between them. The moldering burlap parted under the strain of its own weight, spilling out a small fortune in ancient coins. “Will these do?” Autumn Sky asked.

Rarity smiled. “I believe they will.”

And that is how Rarity found her first dead business partner.




The next week was a hectic rush. Rarity and Autumn Sky resolved to open their new venture as rapidly as possible, to capture the Hearthswarming Holiday crowd. Rarity secured permits and leased the empty office just down the street, while Autumn Sky contracted to renovate the interior.

In only nine days, Autumn Sky’s dream went from vision to reality. On a foggy, cool morning, she stood outside her new store before a crowd of ponies, living and dead, with Rarity at her side. A wide ribbon was strung across the front door, and they held a pair of novelty oversize scissors (actually, Rarity held them, but Autumn Sky was standing next to her so that counted just as much).

“Mares and Gentlestallions!” Autumn Sky shouted. Her voice was a hollow echo, and the living ponies felt a chill when they heard it, but they stomped and cheered nevertheless because she seemed so happy. “Thank you all for coming to the grand opening of the Eidolon Boutique! Please, come in and shop!”

With that, Rarity closed the scissors, parting the wide red ribbon and officially opening Ponyville’s newest store.

It was a smashing success. Ponies mobbed the store, pulling dresses and suits off the displays as fast as Rarity and Autumn Sky (but mostly Rarity) could replace them. Orders were placed, bits were spent, and when the day finally ended a pair of exhausted seamstress ponies found themselves laughing in the Eidolon Boutique’s lobby.

“Well, that was an adventure!” Rarity said. She giggled and wiped a bit of sweat from her brow. Tomorrow would definitely be a spa day.

“It was! Thank you, Rarity.” Autumn attempted to hug Rarity, momentarily turning the sweat on Rarity’s coat into frost. “It was everything I dreamed of!”

“Yes, about that.” Rarity cleared her throat. “Do you feel any, ah… sensation? Like you’ve accomplished some important goal, and now your life is complete?”

“Hm... “ Autumn Sky thought for a moment. “Nope.”

Rarity blinked. “No?”

“Nope!”

“But… you opened your boutique! That was your dream!”

“Well… it was part of my dream.” Autumn Sky twisted a spectral hoof against the floor. “You see, ever since I was a filly, I dreamed of opening my own boutique, and then driving all the other boutiques in town out of business!”

“What?”

“Oh, I was a silly filly! I imagined how they would look, crawling to me on their hooves and knees, begging me not to undercut their prices! To let them stay open and feed their families! But, no. There can only be one boutique in each town, and it had to be mine.”

“That…” Rarity paused to collect her thoughts. “That’s a horrible dream! How could you do that?!”

“Hey! You said no dreams were silly!”

“That’s not silly, it’s terrible! I’m the only other pony who owns a boutique in this town! You want to drive me out of business?”

“Yes!” Autumn Sky glowed with happiness. “Oh, it will be wonderful!”

“I helped you!”

“Er, yes, and I do appreciate that.” Autumn Sky cleared her throat. “This is awkward, but, you know, if you could just be a little more helpful, it would make my dreams really come true.”

Rarity narrowed her eyes.

And then she went to see Twilight Sparkle.




It was after sunset when Rarity arrived at the jail. She breezed through the door, gave the deputy a curt nod, and settled down beside Twilight’s cell.

“Twilight, do you have a moment?” she asked.

“I have an unlimited number of moments, as it happens,” Twilight said. She set her harmonica down on a stack of books beside her cot. “But I think we’re about to close for the day. Can it wait?”

“I suppose.” She turned toward the clock above the deputy’s desk, which was just about to strike five. The minute hand finally ticked over, and a buzzing alarm sounded.

“Closing time!” The deputy stood from his desk and turned off the alarm. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Twilight.”

“Okay Mr. Turn Key,” Twilight said. She stood and stepped out of the cell, closing the barred door behind her. “Tell your wife I said ‘hello.’”

“Will do. You two stay safe, now.”

The walk back to Twilight's castle was quiet. Few ponies stayed out after dark at this time of year – it was simply too cold – and they had the streets to themselves.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” Twilight finally asked.

“Well, It’s about… I’m sorry, this may be uncomfortable, but it’s about the incident with Song Sparrow.”

“Oh.” Twilight swallowed and looked away. “Yes, that. It’s fine, Rarity. I’ve made up my mind and I’m going to plead guilty.”

“Yes, of course, darling. If that’s your desire I won’t stop you. But I wanted to talk about the actual, ah, event.”

“That’s right, you weren’t there. What about it?”

“Well…” Rarity licked her lips. “How did you, ah, kill her?”

Twilight was silent for a moment. “A spork.”

“A… spork?”

“Yes, a spork. I just slid it between her ribs, and she fell apart! That wasn’t supposed to happen!”

“I know, darling, I know.” Rarity patted her friend’s shoulder. “It was an accident. Now, this spork, it was just one of the plastic ones from the Hayburger?”

“Uh huh.” Twilight sniffed again. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, just, ah, you know. Research.”

“Oh.” Twilight’s ears perked up. “That makes sense.”

They reached the castle and exchanged a quick hug. Twilight invited her in for tea, but Rarity demurred.

“Sorry, darling, I have some errands to run. Perhaps tomorrow? I’ll bring the girls if I can.”

Twilight visibly brightened at that. “Okay, tomorrow then! Good night!”

And then Rarity went to the Hayburger, which was open until 7 p.m. on weeknights.




Rarity walked into the Eidolon Boutique early the next morning, moments after Autumn Sky flipped the ‘Closed’ sign over to ‘Open’.

“Good morning, Rarity!” Autumn Sky chirped. “How are you today?”

“Fine, fine.” She removed her saddlebags and set them on the counter with a quiet plasticky clink. “And yourself?”

“Good, thank you.” She sidled closer, raising Rarity’s hackles with the faint chill that always seemed to follow ghosts. “Have you given any thought to what we discussed?”

“In fact, I have.” Rarity unclasped the saddlebags and pulled out a sheaf of papers, along with a few plastic sporks, which she set to the side.

Autumn Sky tilted her head. “What are those?”

“Hm? Oh, those are sporks, darling. Don’t worry, they’re only here for back-up. These papers are what matter.”

“Yes!” Autumn Sky clapped her spectral hooves soundlessly. “What are the papers, Rarity?”

Rarity drew herself up. “Autumn Sky, I’ve decided it’s no use to keep my boutique open. There’s no way I can possibly compete with such a skillful business mare as yourself. That’s why I’ve decided sell it to you, for a nominal fee, of course.”

“Eeee! Yes!” Autumn leapt into the air, pirouetting several times before settling back down. “I’ve done it! I’ve won!”

She waved her hoof, and a flash stole Rarity’s vision. When her eyesight recovered, a fat sack of bits spilled open on the counter, filling the room with a golden sparkle. The ghost snatched the deed to the Carousel Boutique from Rarity’s hooves and hugged it against her chest.

“At last! At last, my dream has come true! I own the only boutique in Ponyville! I… I... ooh…” And with a last ghostly exhalation she faded away. The last Rarity saw of her was a small smile, and then the pages of the Carousel Boutique deed fluttered to the floor.

Silence returned. Rarity waited for the crest of joy and victory to reach her heart and set her hooves to dancing, but it never came.

Was this melancholy? She turned the emotion over, examining it from every angle. It was and yet it wasn’t. There was happiness mixed in there, and for a moment she saw her parents’ faces, streaked with tears but smiling, the day she moved out to live on her own. She gave herself a little shake, banishing the memories.

“Well, that’s that, then.” Rarity scooped up the deed and slid it back into her saddlebags. Then, with a grunt and a burst of magic, she lifted the bag of bits and set it on her back. “No sense in letting these go to waste, I suppose.”

She paused at the door on the way out, flipping the sign back to ‘Closed.’ With a final backward glance, she shut off the lights.

And that is how Rarity paid for Sweetie Belle’s college fund.




The whole town turned out for Twilight Sparkle’s trial. The living and the dead crowded into the gallery. Pegasi and ghosts floated above the crowd. It seemed everypony wanted to be there when Ponyville’s princess officially became a felon.

Rarity sat in the first row between Applejack and Pinkie Pie. At the table in front of them, Twilight Sparkle waited next to her court-appointed attorney. She sat with her back straight, her expression solemn, and moved not a muscle as the court waited to begin.

“All rise!” The bailiff shouted. “His honor Even Scales presiding!”

Everypony stood as the judge walked in. He adjusted his black robes and sat, followed by the rest of the court.

“Princess Twilight Sparkle,” he said. “I understand you wish to enter a plea?”

She stood. “I do, your honor. Guilty.”

A loud murmur filled the court, banished as the judge banged his gavel. “Quiet! Very well, princess. We accept your plea. Would you like to make a statement before sentencing, then?”

“I would.” She turned to face the crowd. “I learned something important earlier this month. I learned that just because you’re arguing with somepony who is obviously wrong, that doesn’t justify stabbing them. Even if you think it won’t hurt, it might, and then you’ll get arrested and go to jail and be charged with felony ponyslaughter. I hope my case will stand as a warning and an example to any young fillies and colts who might be tempted by the thought of using violence to solve their problems. Sporks are not toys, and even if their tines are small and made of plastic, they can still be used to kill skeletons.”

She turned back to the judge and wiped a tear from her cheek. “Thank you, your honor. That is all I have to say.”

He nodded and cleared his throat. Behind them, in the gallery, faint sobs and sniffles filled the air.

“That was very moving, princess. But we are a society of laws, and no matter what your rank or how sorry you feel afterward, you bear responsibility for your actions. Therefore, this court has no choice but to condemn you to the fullest extent of the law.” He banged his gavel again and looked her straight in the eye. “I sentence you to two weeks of community service and time served.”

Gasps filled the court. At her table, Twilight flinched and slowly lowered her head to the table. Somepony sobbed, and Rarity felt tears fill her eyes.

“Oh, heavens,” Rarity mumbled.

“He really threw the book at her,” Applejack said.

“Will… will she be alright?” Pinkie Pie asked.

“Why… of course she will!” Rarity said. She reached over the railing and set her hoof on Twilight’s back. “Twilight, listen to me! We’re here for you, and we will wait for you! When you get out, we will still be your friends! You can count on us! Right, girls?”

A chorus of affirmations filled the air, and as one they piled over the railing to wrap Twilight in their arms, and it took the bailiff several minutes to separate them and haul Twilight off to the Town Hall to set up a schedule for her community service.

And that is why Twilight Sparkle spent most of the Hearthswarming holidays shoveling snow outside the Ponyville hospital.
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