The Hide You Stole

by SaddlesoapOpera

Chapter 1: The Gift

“Rarity…?” The mare’s sharp, high voice carried across Canterlot Castle’s grand ballroom as she trotted over to join her near the blazing hearth and flashed a well practised smile. “It’s been a LONG time!”

Rarity’s finely lined and shadowed eyes narrowed very, very slightly as she matched the smile. “Oh, Suri! Yes, time does fly, doesn’t it?” She half-turned, letting the firelight play over the sparkling sequins on her midnight blue gown, and sipped from a flute of pear cordial magicked up from a low table near the hearth. “I didn’t expect to see you here. What have you been up to since we met last?” Her smile widened a little and spread to her eyes. “I haven’t heard a thing, I confess!” She tittered playfully but her gaze grazed Suri’s like a knife’s edge.

The pale pink Earth Pony shifted her stance to hide a ripple of tension. The delicate chiffon of her dress telegraphed the motion, however. “Oh, I’m not surprised,” she replied. “I’ve stayed busy, but with your hooves in all your retail outlets, you could be forgiven for letting networking slide, okay.” She flipped a petit-four on a nearby tray into the air with a deft flick of one hoof and then snapped it out of the air.

“Ah, my boutiques are all still bespoke or custom-fitted seasonal collections, not off-the-rack,” Rarity blithely corrected. “It’s a little extra work, but it’s easier than you might think to regularly release unique fashion creations.” She sipped again. “You should try it some time, darling.”

Suri’s tail gave a fraction of a flick, and she managed the flex of her ears by turning her head to one side and letting out a bright and cheery laugh. “It’s so true! You’ve built quite a legacy! I can only hope my career goes as smoothly ... when I’m your age.” She locked eyes with Rarity, full-on, and then tilted her head in a closed-eyed grin that put her mostly unlined features on full display.

“You’re too kind,” Rarity said. Her ears pinned back. She couldn’t stop them — the escalation had been drastic, even for a vicious sow like Polomare. She slugged down the last of her cordial and magicked down the flute, now with a hairline crack in its bell. She slowly, deeply inhaled while briskly composing a suitably corrosive riposte.

Before she could proceed, one of the soiree’s guests of honour swanned over from one side, and both mares were instantly the picture of professionalism.

“Oh! Good evening!” Suri said with a quick curtsey and a half-step toward heading Rarity off. “I’m Suri Polomare, with the Manehattan Clothiers and Fashion Designers Guild.”

The guest was closer to Princess Twilight’s height than the Ponies’, sleek and thin-limbed, with a dappled brown hide draped with gossamer vestments that shone like rainbow stained glass from some angles, and vanished to ghostly translucence from others. Branching, gold-bangled antlers swept back from the figure’s head. His cloven hooves were unshod, but his approach had made no sound at all.

“Noswaith dda,” he said in a soft, velvety voice. “Isiarll Hefin yw fy enw i.”

While Suri froze and stared, Rarity took a forward step of her own and moved alongside the stag. She craned her neck and brushed her cheek against his flank while presenting her own hindquarters for a gesture in kind, and gave a slow and carefully pronounced reply: “Hyfryd i gwrdd a chi! Rarity yw fy enw i.”

“Wh-When did you learn to speak Kai-roo?” Suri sputtered as the other two strode in a half-circle and then parted to stand face-to-face once more.

Rarity politely covered a small chuckle with a raised hoof. “Oh, it’s just something I happened to pick up ... over the years.” She mimicked Suri’s earlier tilt-headed grin.

The Earth Pony frowned head to tail. “Please excuse me.” She turned on her hooves and stalked away, grumbling.

The Deer, Hefin, had stood by all the while. He turned his attention back to Rarity, and asked in subtly accented Ponish: “The word she muttered as she departed … I am afraid I do not know it.”

Rarity rubbed the back of her neck with a hoof. “Ah … it’s difficult to translate.”

“She is your enemy,” he said with a nod. “I did not mean to intrude, but I sensed fury in the air, and approached now on the chance you would require a witness to your duel.”

A rosy blush put colour in Rarity’s cheeks. “I wouldn’t say enemy, as such. She’s simply a … I thought we’d been more …” She frowned. “You sensed that ugly business, from all the way across the grand hall?”

Faint twinkles of emerald magic played over the Deer’s decorated antlers. “The Mother Wood is generous with Her gifts.” His airy expression grew more serious. “But I sought you out for other reasons, besides. Like our Mother, the Ceirw always repay our debts.” He slid a front hoof forward and dipped into a courtly, Pony-style bow. “Your herd did a great service to us, and saved many lives, when you battled the Wrath Locusts. We would grant you a boon in kind.”

The Deer’s ghostly grace briefly caught Rarity up in daydreams of the wonders she could craft with such a body as her mannequin. Those eerie sylvan folk left their woods so rarely, and the best Pony scholars had more rumours than facts about their ways and their magics. Ah, the beauty she could put into the world, clothing a body like that!

After a moment she shook her head and covered another, more nervous chuckle while her blush brightened. “Please, Viscount. There is no debt. My friends and I only did what was right. And regardless, Princess Twilight did most of the wor-”

“If I may, your Princess shall receive a boon as well,” he cut in, “but I have been blessed with ensuring your remittance. I hope you find our gratitude sufficient.” His antlers shimmered, and a silvery, glossy stole whipped out impossibly from the folds of his diaphanous robes. It hovered between them, suspended in vivid green sparkles.

Rarity stared silently at the thing, and then gently took it up in her own magic. As the two auras briefly touched, she felt dream-echoes of the scent of evergreens and the buzz of dragonflies over still, crystal-clear ponds. “It’s … beautiful …” she breathed as she turned and examined the flawless mimicry of a furred pelt. Her own faux-fur efforts seemed positively clumsy in comparison to the brilliant work. She turned it further, and then stifled a scandalized gasp. Her eyes went wide as saucers.

“Is something wrong?” the Deer noble asked.

Rarity didn’t look up. Her stare was locked on the green gemstones that served as eyes in the preserved vulpine head at the end of the stole. “In Celestia’s name…!” she whispered. “Is … is this REAL fur?”

“Of course,” Hefin said. He sounded almost indignant. “As real as our debt. You saved countless lives, and so the Mother Wood has offered you a life entire, freely given. The blessings of our thanks are upon this pelt. It is a token of the depth of our bond, chosen by the wisdom of the Wood Herself.” Just for a moment, an edge of intricate, elegant menace rose into his words, like a filigreed razor. “Does it displease you?”

Rarity licked her lips as she took another, more thorough look at the piece. In all her years as a fashionista, she could count on her hooves the pieces of real furrier-craft she’d seen. It was exotic. Scandalous. Risqué. Equestrian law banned the craft and trade, but Deer and Griffons and Dragons and the like were not bound by those rules. The only way to get a piece of fur clothing was ... by receiving it as a gift. The emerald eyes stared up at her, empty perfect cabochons in a blank, lifeless face.

“On the contrary …” she said breathlessly. “It’s … incredible. Thank you so much!” She magicked off her own inferior counterfeit, bundled it into a coil, and set it down next to her cracked flute. She draped the forbidden fur, warm and heavy and tingling with a taboo thrill, around her shoulders.

The instant it settled in place, a thunderbolt shot through Rarity’s nerves. She stiffened from head to hooves. “U-Uuuhn…!”

Hefin slid forward to catch Rarity as she shuddered and swooned. Crackles of forest-green light played over her hide like static shocks and turned her eyes briefly, brightly green.

“What …” Rarity came to her senses and drew back from the Deer’s gracefully muscled side. “What was that?” She took a breath. Her lungs swelled in her chest, flanking her hammering heart. Every beat pulsed seething, frantic vitality through her nerves, like four shots of Puledrian espresso. Every sense tingled with keen awareness, offering the scents of distant dancers’ perfumes. Snatches of whispers twenty yards away. Glimpses of tiny details on jewelry still farther from where they stood. She touched a hoof to the fox-pelt’s head now sitting below her throat. “What is this?”

“As I said, it is the gratitude of the Mother Wood,” Hefin replied with an inscrutable half-smile. “You strode Her paths as you did battle, and so She knew you as She knows us all. In form and in function, this gift was chosen for you and you alone, precisely as it is. Do you accept it?”

Rarity took another full, giddy breath. She hadn’t felt so energized, so alive, in years — if ever. An outrageous, unique piece of flair, impossible to copy, blessed by the mysteries of Ceirw magic to replace what the years had been so rudely stealing from her. Was there even a question?

“… I accept it.”

• • • • •

The next morning, Rarity trotted Canterlot’s High Street like she’d raised the Sun herself. She swayed her hips and swung her coiled tail as she parted crowds with her upturned face and haughty smile and high-hooved dressage gait. She barely watched where she was going, but nopony ran into her. Everypony deferred and stepped aside. She pretended to ignore the awestruck faces dappled with sparkly reflections from the sequins on her dress, and the hushed, seething whispers in her wake.

She’d made the little midnight-purple number a dozen years ago, and time had taken it from her. She’d lost the youth and the … carriage … to wear it with confidence. But now, with the magical fox-fur draped over her shoulders, she casually unleashed attire better suited to an evening ball than a morning stroll, and she made it work.

A small lineup in front of an upscale fresh-fruit smoothie wagon dispersed as she made her way toward it, until only the current customer remained. Rarity smiled on sight of her. Perfect.

“Why, hello, Fleur!” Rarity said with a sincere smile. “How have you been?”

The taller, thinner, younger Unicorn mare turned to face Rarity, and promptly lost her magical grip on the smoothie she’d just bought. The cup crashed to the flagstones and spilled.

“R-Rarity…!” Fleur sputtered, the smoothie forgotten. “Goodness me, is that …?”

The fashionista mentally counted to three before reacting. “Hmm? Oh, this?” She brushed a hoof over the fox-head. The gem-eyes gleamed. “Yes, indeed! It’s Ceirw-crafted. Isn’t it delightful?” Rarity’s grin widened. What was REALLY delightful was the way a runway model and paramour of one of Equestria’s top movers and shakers was stammering and fumbling over her, like some filly at a concert.

Fleur cleared her throat. “Oh, yes, most delightful. But what I meant was … I wanted to ask …” She leaned in and lowered her voice while her lavender eyes flicked side to side. “Is that … a-authentic?”

Rarity spoke more softly, too, but only slightly. “Yes, I suppose it is. It was a gift, and I could scarcely refuse a Ceirw gift, now could I? They’re infamously formal about such things. So, I simply had to take it.” Rarity actually did drop to a whisper then, and shaded her words with a hoof. “Do me a favour, darling — keep this to yourself? I can only imagine the furor if everypony were to find out that I, Rarity, had gotten my hooves on a piece of real Deer-made fur!”

“Yes, yes of course,” Fleur said with a grave nod. “I understand completely!”

“Splendid!” Rarity straightened and then trotted up to the wagon. “Now, let me replace that drink for you, hmm?” She magicked a pair of coins onto the wagon’s counter and flashed the teen colt running it a coy wink that made the lad blush crimson.

Rarity hummed without a tune while she waited. In another day or so, every Pony of means in Canterlot would have heard the news about her new accessory — just as planned.

• • • • •

“ … And then I said, well, as long as you’re here, you might as well get some new shoes!” Rarity sipped an apple brandy on the rocks while basking in the wave of austere tittering her anecdote provoked. The soiree chez Fancy Pants was populated with the shining glaze upon the upper crust, and she delighted in her current spot as the cherry on top.

Rarity strode through the elites gathered in the great room, and then made her way out onto the back patio for some stargazing. Ever since Princess Twilight’s ascendance, the constellations stood out with textbook clarity in the finely ordered night sky, and it made for splendid viewing.

While she magicked her glass in brisk circles to better mingle it with the ice cubes, a tuxedo-clad blue Pegasus stallion a bit past her age — her true age — trotted over and gave her an appraising stare, top to bottom. His purple eyes lingered on the fur stole, of course.

“You look divine tonight, Miss Rarity,” he said with a nod that swayed his rakishly coiffed mauve mane. “And you wore that wonderfully exotic wrap. Again.”

Not a trace of tension broke Rarity’s flawless mask of cordiality. She allowed a ten-percent blush, turned half aside for a moment, and waved a hoof in an oh do go on gesture. “And you’re as handsome as ever, Early Rotten,” she replied. “Of all my younger sister’s stepmother-in-law’s unemployed siblings ... you’re definitely my favourite.” She sipped her brandy.

Early adjusted his wings and flicked his tail, and then craned his neck up at the night sky. “Aww, I hope I didn’t rub you the wrong way. That brandy Pantsy cracked open is quite the tongue-loosener, you see. I’m sure no one of sound mind would comment on you repeat-wearing one tiny little piece of flair.” He flicked his tail again. “... Out loud.”

"Quite. If you'll excuse me, I have a train to catch first thing in the morning." Rarity covered her exit from the conversation with a wide, genuine, insincere smile, and headed for the fence-gate to the alley beside the house. She paused on the way to dump her drink out in a decorative urn and leave the glass on its stone plinth. She’d suddenly lost her taste for sweetness.

• • • • •

There was keeping one’s mane from drying out from over-washing and then there was out-and-out slobbery. Rarity couldn’t delay it any longer.

While the gushing hot water stirred oils and essences into a frothy floral stew in her tub and steam put a haze in her lush bathroom and fog on its tiles, she magicked off her dress and peeled the stole from her shoulders. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and hissed in a breath.

“Celestia’s teats!” she swore through clenched teeth. Her aching joints shuddered, sliding her legs into a wider stance. Her sleek tummy sagged, her straight back dipped, her glossy mane dulled, and every sense was cluttered by the merciless crush of piled-up years. Vision dreary, hearing weak — even the scent of a hundred bits’ worth of bath-essence weakened.

She turned off the water and slowly, shakily climbed into the tub. The heat soothed her throbbing limbs, but the pain lingered. She sighed, and then magicked up the gem-eyed stole.

“Made for me and me alone, precisely as you are?” she muttered. “Some gift! How am I supposed to enjoy a second youth if it costs me my reputation as an artiste?” She turned the gorgeous thing over and around, studying its features.

The stitches were thinner than an eyelash, so fine as to be invisible without her spectacles. The fur remained immaculate, and those smooth emeralds still gleamed with a hint of wild mischief. She frowned.

“I’m not some lackadaisical harpy sneering at passersby,” she said, a bit louder. “I’m no slave to trends, I’m the one MAKING them! MY style is what plots the course of fashion two seasons in advance! That isn’t going to change just because a few measly years have passed!” She floated the fox-head closer until it was eye-to-eye with her. “So, I’m not going to give you up over a few jabs from some nasty trophy husband. I’m going to make you PROPERLY mine! A real Rarity original!”

She climbed out of the bath with a wild laugh and magicked up a fuzzy bathrobe on her way to her upstairs workshop. She’d finish washing her hair later. For now, inspiration called.

Outside, an unscheduled late-night cloud-cover smothered the stars, and as thunder rumbled above, raindrops pattered on the window that showed Rarity’s busy, lamp-lit silhouette.

• • • • •

The next day, at the stroke of noon, Rarity swept into the Ponyville Day Spa like she owned the place. Her habitual makeover partner, Fluttershy, let out a typically soft yelp of alarm at the shock of the doors swinging wide and crashing against the interior walls.

The Pegasus peeked from behind the cover of both pale-yellow wings. “R-Rarity …? Is that you?”

The years had been kind to Fluttershy. Clean living, a healthy diet, the weightless grace of her tribe and perhaps a few subtle tweaks to reality from the Spirit of Chaos had blessed her with beauty that lasted, untouched by time.

It gave Rarity a wicked thrill to see how completely, how absolutely, she put those good looks to shame, now.

The stole draped over her lean, toned shoulders sported faceted star sapphires in place of its emeralds, matching the blue of her own eyes. Tiny braided-in diamonds here and there made the thing glitter as if sprinkled with fresh snow, and subtle streaks of lavender tinted the silver fur to better match her mane and tail — both of which all but glowed with royal purple radiance, untouched by even a single strand of grey. The contrast with her marble-white hide was as stark as a desert horizon. Her dress was cut like a carefree summer piece, but the fabric was far too dark for the season. Daring. Bold. Rebellious.

“Why of COURSE, it is!” Rarity said through a delighted chuckle. “Whomever ELSE would it be?” She swanned deeper into the spa, head and hooves high, and whirled in a little hop to come to rest in the seat next to Fluttershy’s.

“Um … I … I dunno…” Fluttershy mumbled. She looked away, and her ears pinned back. She took a slow breath, and then forced herself to pipe up again. “You’re wearing fur.”

“Oh, you noticed?” Rarity gave the stole a magicked wiggle that made its fluffy tail-end wag. Her tail wagged in unison with it. “It was a gift from the Ceirw. It was already simply DIVINE, but once I put my own touches on it, well, now I can’t imagine anything finer!”

Fluttershy glanced back at Rarity over her shoulder, eyebrows rising. “You... changed... your gift?” She frowned. “They told me mine was made especially for me-”

Rarity sighed loudly. “Yes, yes, precisely whatnot, woods, bond, and so forth. Heavens, Fluttershy, it’s not like I made the thing into a dishrag!” She smirked. “I just … made a few improvements, that’s all!”

A silence yawned like a chasm between them before Fluttershy bridged it with a soft question: “What if you made a Rarity Original for somepony, and then later you saw they’d changed your design, and they kept talking about how much better it was, now...?”

Rarity’s innards clenched at the very idea. She put on a neutral, smiling mask, double-thick. “The customer is always right, darling. As long as they make it clear whatever fashion faux-pas they blunder into is their own doing, I wouldn’t be bothered at all.”

“Okay. So … what will YOU blunder into?”

The chasm became narrower than a needle in a split second. Rarity loomed over Fluttershy with her nose nearly touching the mare’s, boring into her with a coldly burning star-sapphire gaze. Her lips pulled back from her teeth. She wasn’t smiling. “I know what this is. You envy me.”

Fluttershy shrank down on the seat, wings drooping. “Wh-What…?”

“You heard me.” Rarity bit off the words like she was snapping loose threads. “Whatever they gave you, it’s CLEARLY not working as well as my gift is. I feel like a filly again, and I look even better. So don’t go blaming your crow’s-feet and dishwater mane on me! Take it up with those Deer, my dear!” By the time the tirade peaked, Rarity’s hackles were up, her shoulders hunched above her lowered head, and her voice had picked up a husky snarl that made the Pegasus flinch.

Tears welled up in Fluttershy’s eyes. She spoke without breath, below a whisper. “They … just gave me a dreamcatcher, to help me s-sleep…!” She turned and bolted out of the spa with sobs choking her breath.

Rarity huffed after her, flicked her tail, and then trotted a slow circle over both seats. She lounged sidelong across them, claiming new territory.

“Just a hooficure today, I think,” she called out to the spa worker who’d just trotted in from the back area. She spread out father and gestured down her perfected, youthful, elegantly muscled frame. “Doubtful you could improve on THIS.”

• • • • •

Despite the near-manic energy she’d enjoyed since she’d reinvented the stole, inspiration escaped Rarity throughout the afternoon. Rearranging her fabric stockpile lost its charm after an hour or two. Lounging with some ice cream and a romance novel followed suit.

She got up from her second-best divan and paced around her shop-space on the main floor. She cracked a smile at how easy trotting was, now. That cold, damp joint-ache seemed like a half-forgotten bad dream. She felt like she could win the Running of the Leaves. The leaves, yes. Outside.

She stopped by a window and looked out at nightfall. Within moments, she was out the door.

A vast, glorious moon was rising, and the early night sky was a blueprint of astronomical precision as always. Long shadows pulled and warped every shape and cast stripes of light and darkness across Rarity’s form as she took the air, trotting the streets of her hometown. Her place of power. Her territory.

The gift sharpening her senses laid the night’s secrets bare; she heard bedtime whispers, she saw the play of candle-lit shadows on closed drapes, and she smelled … everything. Trails of hoofprints marked whiffs of townsponies’ passage hours earlier, and she knew them all. Rose, the florist, soaked to the bone in petal perfume. Missus Cake, dusted with flour and sugar. Big Macintosh, hot and musky from a day’s honest hard work.

And an outsider. An enemy.

Rarity froze. Her mane and tail bristled. Her tension made the stole draped around her shoulders seem to squirm. The scent was faint, but unmistakable. Every breath brought painful, stressful, infuriating memories boiling up in her mind. Tiny traces of locomotives and smoke, of pizza and muddy cobblestones. Manehattan. And over that, fresher, a blend of fabric and thread choices as unique as a Cutie Mark, and a hint of a particular false, sneering, heartless mare overly spritzed with cheap, knockoff perfume. A low, throaty growl welled up in Rarity’s throat.

“Suri …”

She stalked the empty streets with a low, brisk gait, head down, eyes flashing, nose twitching, as she followed the trail. There were so many other scents. Stronger scents. She ignored them. Every breath, every stride, filled her head with Suri’s unctuous faux niceness, her backstabbing schemes, her annoying little vocal tic. Rarity muttered as she tracked.

“Rotten, two-faced nag … how dare you come back here? This isn’t your town, anymore. It’s mine. MINE...!”

Rarity’s long shadow lengthened and blurred. Her strides crunched and creaked on the soft-packed earth.

“All your fault, you and your low blows. Suri. Suri. Sssoooo-rrreeee…”

It was so close, now. Stronger. Rarity’s ears turned in different directions to catch the soft press of hooffalls nearby. Her sapphire eyes caught a glimpse of pink hide and purple tail rounding a corner two streets ahead.

Rarity broke into a sprint. Her pale, shaggy hide gleamed in the moonlight. Her burning-hot breath fogged around her muzzle. The prey was so close. She poured on the speed. Her silvery mane and tail shone. So did her fangs.

The offending pink, purple-haired mare in the tacky, repulsive dress didn’t even have time to turn around before Rarity clamped down on her neck and tackled her off the street and into a patch of brush. She started shaking. Heat gushed to drown the enemy scent. Pink turned red. Cloth turned red. Grass and bark turned red. The night turned red.

In time, red turned black.

• • • • •

Rarity awoke sprawled under her overturned, torn bed, hidden in the confines of a makeshift den. Beyond the soothing dimness, daylight blazed and burned through her room like a forest fire. She groaned and felt at her neck and shoulders.

“What …?”

Despite a pounding headache and a taste on her tongue like she’d been gargling copper halfbits, she felt incredible. Young and vibrant, fresh and rested, senses so sharp that the daylight dazzled her sensitive eyes.

But the stole was gone.

She cast about in her lean-to bed-den, searching this way and that. Nothing. She crept out into the blinding morning and fruitlessly searched the rest of her room. When she passed a mirror, she froze.

No longer youthful purple nor aging grey, Rarity’s mane and tail were a glossy deep lilac, mingling silver into her former shade. Her eyes were brighter blue than ever, the pupils down to slits in the brightness. On her flank, a long, snaking, stylized fox silhouette in silver now cradled the diamonds of her Cutie Mark.

“My word …!” Rarity whispered. She frowned with the effort of trying to recall what had happened last night. Everything was a smear of emotion and sensation, with precious little fine detail. She got nothing clearer than a few flickers of dark, delicious satisfaction before a knock at her front door snapped her from her reverie. An instant later, her sharp ears picked up voices outside:

“Miss Rarity!” Some nameless functionary called out. “Her Royal Highness, Princess Twilight Sparkle of Equestria, requires your presence!”

“You don’t have to do that every time, knocking is fine, really,” Twilight said to him, far more softly.

“Just a moment, please!” Rarity called out by her window. Her horn flashed. She magicked on a housecoat and hid her mane with a wrapped towel. A pair of sunglasses cut down on the day’s irksome glare. She cleared the stairs down in a single leap and then headed out the door to greet Twilight and her entourage with her mask of a smile at its absolute thickest.

“Twilight!” she chirped, as though the towering and loudly announced Alicorn’s presence was a surprise. “It’s been a while. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Worry wilted Twilight’s friendly smile. “Actually, I wanted to know if you’ve seen Starlight Glimmer recently.”

“Starlight?” Rarity’s head tilted. “I don’t believe so, no. Why?”

The Princess sighed. “I’m worried. She was supposed to meet me for a chat this morning, but she didn’t show up. It turns out nopony’s seen her since she and the students got back from the school trip to Manehattan.”

Brighter, clearer flickers crashed forth from Rarity’s fragmented memories. Torn cloth. Wet earth. Red.

Pink and purple.

Twilight frowned. “Rarity …?”


Return to Story Description


Login with