By Cereal Velocity
Completed as a request from Knigh/tg/uy.
In creating, the only hard thing is to begin: a grass blade's no easier to make than an oak.
James Russell Lowell
Rarity looked around her desk at the scribbled blueprints and crumbled-up pieces of parchment that had occupied her for most of the morning. She knew she was getting closer to a finished design, but with all good ideas it just needed to be teased onto paper. She wasn’t worried- she was too experienced to be worried- she’d just never done this before.
Ever since the near-fiasco-turned-success with the dress designs she had come up with for the Galloping Gala some weeks ago, Rarity had been getting commission requests from every corner of Equestria, including, to her surprise, the Court of Canterlot, who had requested banner designs for a formal event. She had had to sit down to read that particular letter. It was currently framed on her wall. Every new request that came in from Ponyville’s grey mailmare brought her new challenges and new work. She relished them. Finally, she was being properly appreciated.
Luck had caught up to her though, it seemed. Rarity looked tiredly back to the letter she had gotten three full days ago. It was perhaps unfair to say that it was giving her trouble, but it was without a doubt making her work for her bits. It certainly wasn’t what she had in mind when she woke up that morning.
She had read the letter dozens of times, but she found herself skimming it again; a fashionista from the pony city of Chicolto was hosting a fashion show and wanted a sort of faux honor guard to lead the procession. Therefore the curator had requested of her a suit of elegant but seemingly functional metal pony armor, to be delivered in one week’s time.
Rarity had needed to read that bit a few times. Armor? Functional, working armor? This seemed more like a job for an experienced blacksmith, or a forger. She had almost considered the fact that this had been delivered to the wrong address, but she had yet to see the diligent mail pony do any such thing. Besides, her name was on it. She was, it was safe to say, puzzled. Where did this pony get the audacious idea that she knew how to make such a thing? She worked in fabrics, for Celestia’s sake- the closest Rarity got to working with metal was the pins and sewing instruments she used to stitch her designs together with, and those hardly counted.
Still, she chided herself, an artist that always worked within her comfort zone was never going to get any better. So, progressively, she had begun to sketch and experiment with shapes on paper, using whatever she had on hand as references and inspiration. That didn’t account for much, though; war was almost a foreign concept in Equestria, due mostly in part to their ruling princess. If there were pony armies in service in the region, she wasn’t aware of them, and Ponyville had nothing like a regular police force. In short, there wasn’t a whole lot she could go on besides her imagination and what she had seen of the royal guards and chariot drivers for Princess Celestia. And of course, Rarity would never copy those. A designer of her stature, copying something? Absurdity.
For three days she worked, gradually neglecting her other commissions more and more as the work consumed her far more than would have expected. It was tiring and frustrating as she argued with herself over it, and yet she couldn’t stop. She ate little, rested less, and when she slept all she could see was parchment with new ideas. It had been some time since she had immersed herself in such a project, and she was innately pleased that she could still find something this enjoyable, as draining as it was. She was a masochist for this kind of thing, though she would never admit that to anyone. She doubted they would understand.
On the third day, however, she got stuck. Well, not stuck, exactly, but she had hit the inevitable wall. She had narrowed it down to three designs which she liked, but couldn’t choose between them. She had tried combining the best elements of each to make a better amalgamation, but nothing worked right. She was running out of time- one of these would have to do, but she couldn’t force herself to choose which. Every time she chose one, another one would call out to her, as if she were neglecting to feed a trio of hungry cats.
In her musings, in the back of her mind, a potential answer presented itself. At first she outright refused to acknowledge the idea. It had brought her nothing but pain in the past and she wasn’t eager to repeat it. Design by committee was something that sounded wonderful in theory, but, like a hollow cupcake, it just collapsed on itself when you put too much icing on it. She blinked at her second food metaphor of the day. That did it- she was both tired and hungry. She sighed. Maybe she was making a huge mistake, but this project had to be done on time, and she couldn’t fight her own obsessive-compulsive nature. She gritted her teeth. She couldn’t actually be considering this, but… she was.
She gathered her designs, walked out the door, and steeled herself to ask her friends for help.
“Oh, hi, Rarity!” Twilight Sparkle chirped as the white pony entered the library to find Twilight, predictably, reading something. Rarity spat out the rolled-up parchment she had in her mouth.
“Twilight Sparkle, I need your help,” she began flatly, trying to hide how difficult it was for her to say such a thing. She didn’t think she did a very good job, but the purple mare didn’t seem to notice. She closed up her book and trotted over to the papers.
“Sure, what is it?” she asked. Rarity levitated the three designs in front of Twilight, one beside the other and cleared her throat.
“I have been commissioned to make a set of armor. Fashionable armor, of course,” she added quickly. “I have three designs and I’m not sure which one to make. What do you think?” Twilight’s eyes lit up at the drawings.
“Ooh, these are wonderful!” she exclaimed. “I was just reading about the Providence Wars a few days ago, and they had a bunch of drawings of the armor the different factions used in the book.”
Rarity was afraid of where this was going already. She smiled good-naturedly. “I’m sure they were wonderful, darling, but I need-“
“Oh, no,” Twilight interrupted, “no, you need to see these! You’ll be so much better off! Er, I mean, your designs will!” she babbled as she turned around to search for the book in question in the stacks behind her. “Wonderful illustrations, very high quality- some are even colored!”
As the purple pony continued her excited rant, Rarity quietly gathered her scrolls and left the library with a deadpan expression. This is going to go well.
“Yeah, they’re great,” Rainbow Dash said, munching on an apple in between words, “but don’t you think you’re missing something?”
Rarity dropped an eyebrow. “Missing what?”
“Wing holes!” the blue pony said, spraying apple everywhere and pointing with a hoof at all three designs. “How is a pegasus supposed to wear that?”
“It’s not for a pegasus,” Rarity explained patiently.
“Good luck fighting any monsters with that, then,” Rainbow said dismissively.
“Well…” Fluttershy mumbled.
“Well?” Rarity prompted.
“I think they’re all just wonderful,” she said with a smile.
“Armor? Blech!” Pinkie Pie said, sticking out her tongue and looking at the ceiling. “Why would you want to make armor? It’s so... mean! What kind of impression do you think the pony wearing that is going to make? The other ponies are going to point at him and say, ‘that pony is so mysterious!’ Wait, hold on, that’s not what I was trying to say. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t think I would mind meeting a pony in armor. Unless he was trying to kill me, that might not be so fun. But if he were trying to protect me- ooh, just imagine that! A pony in shining armor, coming to save the day! He’d save the day, alright, he’d save it good. No one would dare oppose him! It’s almost romantic, don’t you think, Rarity?”
“I don’t know, sugarcube, I don’t think I like it.”
“Like which one?” Rarity asked worriedly. Applejack shook her head.
“Not the designs, the whole idea. It’s just too flashy.”
“It’s a fashion show, Applejack,” Rarity reminded her.
“Right, I don’t like the idea of armor in a fashion show. It’s so obtrusive, don’t you think? Like wearing your nice horseshoes to a rodeo.”
Rarity wasn’t about to point out the fact that that didn’t make sense. “It’s not my idea, I’m just getting paid to do it,” she clarified, feeling her patience draining out of her.
“Well, you’ll have to live with the fact you’re perpetuating this,” Applejack said. She paused. “Wait, how much?”
“Derpy, I…“ Rarity began. The grey pony just looked blankly at her, each eye facing a different wall, a letter in her mouth.
“Never mind,” Rarity said, shaking her head, turning and walking away.
Once she was sure Rarity was out of sight, Derpy took out her fake contact and resumed her rounds. She hated taking sides, really.
Rarity walked through the streets, having entirely expected that outcome. She was on her own, as usual. No matter, she could do this herself.
She walked through the sunbathed streets until she reached a squat wooden building with a large smokestack on the roof, bellowing thick black clouds into the air- Ponyville’s only metal workshop, tended to by its master blacksmith, Rhodium, who in turn tended to the city’s occasional need for metal objects, like farming equipment. She gently nudged open the door with her snout.
“Hello? Anyone here?” she called into the darkened shop. No one answered but the flickering of the forge fire. The blacksmith must be out to lunch, she thought. She couldn’t wait for him; she’d waited long enough and wasted enough time today. It was time to get to work.
The white pony walked into the shop and closed the door behind her, trying to avoid thinking about the fact that her clean hooves were now probably full of soot. Around her was a vast array of tools she’d never seen before, much less knew how to use. To her right, the foundry fire warmed the room considerably, and behind that was a stack of unused steel ingots. She briefly looked into the foundry cauldron to see if there was anything in it. There was: it was half-filled with melted steel. She didn’t know how hot it was, but it felt pretty warm on her face. She figured she’d need this stuff eventually, but she wasn’t sure how to go about using it.
First things first. She pulled out the three designs from her saddlebag and looked at them once more. She still couldn’t pick just one, but she was getting quite tired of this back-and-forth with herself. She closed her eyes, shuffled the designs in the air in front of her so she didn’t know which one was where, and flung two of them into the fire. She opened her eyes and saw the design that was left. I would have picked this one eventually, she lied to herself.
She carefully examined the paper, even though she had the design memorized. The blueprint’s biggest parts were several overlapping steel plates along the flanks in the shape of wings and a solid steel breastplate. She scowled. It occurred to her now, now that she had the means to do so, that she didn’t know exactly how to cast metal parts. She looked around, now lost among the shop, feeling a little overwhelmed. It had all seemed so simple back at her desk.
She forced herself to take a deep breath. Focus. She had molten steel; now she just needed a mold of some kind. What did you pour metal in? Something malleable, surely, but sturdy. She looked round the shop once more, looking for a clue among the unfamiliar environment. There was a table covered with remnants of blackened sand, topped by a square wooden support. Behind it was a large, open container of sand. Rarity caught the hint pretty quickly. She magically grabbed a quantity of sand and put it within the wooden supports, smoothing it out on the top so it was level. Keeping the design levitated off to one side, she began to slowly impress the sand mold so that it looked roughly like the reverse image of one of the flank plates. It was slow work; she was used to using her magic for fine, detailed work, but the slightest touch could ruin the soft sand around where she was working. After a painstaking half an hour, she thought she had a decent impression for a test run.
She levitated a ladle to the cauldron, carefully scooped some of the molten metal out, and brought it over to the sand mold. She paused, furrowing her brow- would the metal disperse the sand? She couldn’t risk that unless she wanted to start all over. Using more of her magic, she gently applied a force downward onto the sand to keep it in shape. What she wasn’t counting on, unfortunately, was the amount of pressure she needed to keep on the mold, and how little precision that left her. When she tried to pour the metal, a little too much came out at once, splashing onto not only the mold, but the wooden supports, charring them and spilling onto the table. Rarity yelped in surprise, backing away from the liquid steel, accidentally tilting the ladle even more, splashing a good quantity of the compound all over the floor, the nearby workbench, and into the cauldron fire. The table caught fire, the fire spit angry molten metal, and the floor started to smoke.
The white pony, forgetting her magic out of panic, dropped the ladle into the sand mold and frantically rushed forward to stamp her hoof on the table fire in an attempt to put it out. In a show of the most excellent timing ever witnessed in Equestria, Rhodium took that moment to return to his workshop, half a sandwich still in his mouth. The black pony stood frozen in the doorway at the scene before him.
“Don’t just stand there!” Rarity squeaked, still stamping at the fire. “Help!”
Rarity got back to her workshop just as the sun was setting below the horizon. She opened the door and dragged the wheeled cart containing her assembled armor on a plaster pony mannequin. It was a lot heavier than she imagined it would be.
After Rhodium had helped her put out the fires she had started, he had sat her down and explained the process she had so horribly mangled. Turns out you had to add glue to the sand before you started making a mold. Who would have thought? With his patient assistance, though, the pair had, with a little help from Rarity’s magic, managed to cast and weld together the intricate metal pieces that made up the suit. It had taken all of the afternoon and used up most of the spare steel that the blacksmith had lying around, but even he had admitted the end result was stunning, even if Rarity had almost burnt down his workshop making it.
Now that she had the completed armor in the bright lights of her house, she could really appreciate all the work they had both put into it. It looked fearsome, yet fashionable; sturdy yet maneuverable. She allowed herself a small moment of pride, trotting around the mannequin to see it from all angles. The commissioner would surely be pleased. Now all she needed to do was paint it.
She heard a knock at her door, and it opened to reveal Twilight Sparkle, looking curious as ever.
“Hi, Rarity! I don’t know where you went this morning, but- oooh!” she cooed, her eyes lighting up as she caught her first glimpse of the armor. “That came out really nice! Just like the pictures!”
Rarity smiled tiredly at the compliment. “Why, thank you, Twilight.” The purple pony did the same walk-around that Rarity herself had done moments before, admiring the armor. She turned to Rarity abruptly when she reached the headpiece.
“Can I try it on?” she asked, her eyes alight. Rarity was about to refuse, to say that it wasn’t finished yet, but she was overcome by her desire to see if her hard-won design worked on a living pony and not a model.
“Certainly!” she responded. The next ten minutes were spent attaching the plates to and fitting the undersuit to better match Twilight’s smaller frame. Twilight was having an absolute blast, and even Rarity found herself enjoying the process. For something she had never done before, this had come out quite nicely. A few mishaps, sure, but it all seemed to be coming together in the end. It was very affirming, in a way. She stepped away from the purple mare to admire her handiwork. Twilight struck a heroic-looking pose, bending her legs and dropping her head, looking like she was ready for battle.
“How do I look?” she asked excitedly.
“Scary,” Rarity answered truthfully, with a hint of playfulness in her voice. It was hardly an exaggeration; the way the plates overlapped and the way the pieces worked together combined to create a formidable image, even if the whole set was a little big on her. Twilight looked delighted to hear it, turning around to look at herself. The pieces gleamed in the light as she moved about. Watching her bemusedly, Rarity had an idea.
“Would you mind wearing it while I paint it, Twilight?” she asked. The pony turned back around to face Rarity and nodded quickly.
“Yes! I mean, no!” she responded. At that exact moment, though, a scream emanated from the darkened Ponyville streets through the windows. It was shortly followed by another, and another, layered with hoof beats, until it seemed every pony in the streets was running for their lives. Through the discordant yelling, Twilight and Rarity both heard the cause of the commotion as somepony yelled, “HYDRA!”
The two mares looked at each other. It couldn’t be the same one from the bog, could it? They both ran to the window to see for themselves. Sure enough, through the glass they both saw the four-headed mythical creature barreling through the streets of Ponyville, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. It smashed the sides of buildings to splinters with its tail, and snapped its jaws at any pony close enough to reach. It was offered no resistance whatsoever as the ponies in the street fled before the monster. It wasn’t far down the road from Rarity’s workshop, and it was getting closer every second.
Twilight’s eyes narrowed in uncharacteristic seriousness. Perhaps emboldened by her outfitting, she turned to Rarity. “I’ll take care of this,” she said without hesitation. Before Rarity could stop her, Twilight was out the door and running into the street, right into the path of the creature. The white pony could only watch, horrified, as Twilight put herself square in the center of the street.
“Hey! You!” Twilight yelled at the hydra, spreading and planting her hooves firmly into the dirt. The creature paid no attention to her. Twilight’s horn glowed with a brilliant purple light as one of the monster’s heads was whipped violently aside by an invisible force. All the heads focused on Twilight after that, letting out a deafening roar.
“I said, hey, you!” Twilight repeated, her horn alight with power. “You want to play in this town, you’ve gotta go through me!” The hydra let out another roar, and charged right for the much smaller pony. Twilight’s horn glowed again as it approached, but her magic was mistimed- one of the heads of the hydra whipped out and slapped Twilight aside with what looked like no effort at all. Rarity’s heart dropped into her stomach as the purple mare was sent flying into the side of a nearby building, hitting it with a metallic thud before crumpling to the ground. The hydra let out a triumphant roar as it closed in for the kill, but- and, to this day, Rarity could not believe her eyes- Twilight stood right back up, looking none the worse for wear, despite a bleeding cut on her forehead. And she looked angry.
“Is that all you’ve got?!” she shouted hoarsely at the hydra, her horn already sparkling with magic. The creature was stopped in its tracks as it was lifted into the air like a ragdoll, flailing its limbs helplessly, trying to grab onto something. It was a good dozen meters in the air before Twilight reversed her telekinesis, slamming the creature bodily into the ground with a sickening crunch. Not content with that result, Twilight lifted the creature into the air again, but sent it forward this time, into a large oak tree, bending the trunk with the impact. The monster, apparently getting the hint at this point, rapidly got to its feet and ran as fast as it could in the opposite direction of the sorcery, away from Ponyville.
Twilight stood her ground as it ran. “And stay out!” she screamed in its general direction.
At this point, Rarity wasn’t the only one watching from a window- all across the neighborhood, ponies wearing shocked expressions had all eyes on Twilight and her armor. Rarity didn’t think twice; she was out the door and helping Twilight back into the workshop before anyone else had a chance to react.
Once they were inside and the door was closed, Twilight collapsed into a sitting position, panting. Rarity frantically tried to remove the armor pieces, but Twilight waved her off with a hoof.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” she said, looking up at the white pony, the gash across her forehead still leaving small streaks of blood across her face.
“At least let me fix that cut, dear,” Rarity said, with worry in her voice. Twilight looked at her face.
“Oh. Didn’t notice that,” she said matter-of-factly. Despite the situation, this had both mares laughing hysterically, more out of released stress than the joke. Once the laughter had subsided, Twilight looked back down at the armor that had saved her life. Some of the plates on the side had been dented, the fine detail scratched and flattened by the impact with the building. She frowned.
“Sorry about that,” she said, ducking her head. Rarity shook her head.
“For what it’s worth, I think it looks even better now, darling,” she said with a smile. Despite everything that had occurred today, now that she was sure her friend was okay, she was filled with one emotion- pride, and maybe a little relief. She had put an end to days of constant work, and had even saved somepony’s life in the process. “I can always paint over it,” she added.
“I feel pretty obligated to help you with that, now,” Twilight noted wryly.
“Hm,” mumbled the fashion pony from Chicolto, examining the finished armor in front of Rarity. “This is almost perfect. It just needs more pizzazz. You know what I mean?”
And he was never heard from again.