- You have to dress well, dress grand, dress flashy
You must be a pony who's gorgeous and classy
Your clothing must stun... Be fun...
(Not too earthy)
And tell the world "This pony is sassy!"
Her work-reverie and song were interrupted by the jingle of the bell on the shop door. Without looking up from her task, Rarity called out "I'm so very sorry, but the shop is closed."
"Oh! I should probably come back some other time then. I saw the lights on and assumed..."
The voice was soft... gentle... familiar... but something about it made Rarity's mane fluff up a bit. She looked up at her visitor. A slender-horned slim unicorn stood before her, somewhat taller than herself, with an azure mane and dusky ultramarine blue coat. Wings were folded at her sides, and she wore a crescent-moon torc, a tiara and blue glass hoof-slippers. Recognition was immediate.
"Princess Luna!" Rarity hastily moved from behind the sewing machine to stand before Luna, and bowed deeply. As she did so, her work-glasses fell from her muzzle. Both Rarity and Luna showed a moment of embarrassed blush, though for different reasons.
"Please, we don't have to stand on ceremony here. I get that all the time at the palace. It's gotten to the point where I have to sneak out at night if I want to ditch the guards." Luna giggled, a very un-royal sound. Her horn glowed for a moment, and the eyeglasses hovered up and perched themselves back onto Rarity's nose. Rarity stood up from her bow, though not without a nervous shiver.
"I apologize that my store is not more... presentable. If I had known you were coming, I would have tidied up!" Rarity said. She looked around the workshop in dismay. Scraps of cloth, discarded design sketches and the tools of the trade were scattered about.
Luna shook her head and laughed. "If you could see the state of my quarters, you wouldn't be so worried. Celly... Celestia, that is... says that it looks like the Running of the Leaves had just been held in my room" Rarity suppressed a giggle at the 'Celly' nickname. Luna continued, "Besides, you're working, and that means clutter. I haven't interrupted anything vital, have I?"
"Oh, no, not at all," Rarity said, even as her horn glimmered for a moment and various bits and pieces were quickly piled up and swept aside. "I just have some particularly interesting projects, and I lost track of the time."
Luna paced slowly around the shop, examining the mannequins and the outfits they bore. There was not a gown or a ribbon to be seen. Ankle-bands with short, pyramidal spikes, short black skirts that called attention to what was normally both uncovered and ignored, mesh half-shirts, lacy garters... the word 'formal' applied to nothing in sight. "I'm going to guess these aren't for next year's Grand Gruesome Gala?"
Rarity's blush returned, more intensely. "Not exactly, Princess. An exclusive dance club, 'Dusk Til Dawn', has recently opened in Canterlot. Perhaps you've heard of it? The fashions there are heavily influenced by the elite Manehattan club culture. I've never been inside, but I've seen the ponies lined up in their nighttime best, and several of them have been kind enough to come to me for outfits. It's refreshing to design for, if I may say so. Very unorthodox, but very energetic!"
Luna nodded as she approached one of Rarity's works in progress, an aloof, aristocratic expression on her face. "Unorthodox." She indicated a shirt with artfully torn holes to make it look like the wearer had been through a battle. "Rebellious." She stepped over to another mannequin and nudged a glossy black boot with a dozen buckled straps that stretched from fetlock to knee. "Excessive." Luna then flicked one of the short skirts upwards with her horntip, baring black lace. She turned to face Rarity sternly. "Scandalous!"
Rarity covered her muzzle with her hoof, suppressing an 'eep!' better suited to Fluttershy than herself. She cringed as Luna approached her. Luna lowered her head to place her muzzle next to Rarity's ear, and half-whispered conspiratorially "And I want you to design me an outfit for that club."
Rarity's eyes widened. "Surely you can't mean... your Majesty, it's so noisy, so boisterous, so undisciplined! And you're a princess!"
Luna laughed, "Yes I do, yes it is, and so what! That's exactly what I want. Loud music, flirting ponies, flashing lights... it's everything that the palace isn't! Oh, don't give me that look," she said as Rarity's expression turned dubious. "I love being in Canterlot, I love living in the palace. But it can be so stuffy! Being a princess isn't all privilege and power. Duty, responsibility, schedules. And... I love Celly, really, I do, but she is not a party-pony. Sometimes... sometimes the palace feels like a straightjacket." She rolled her eyes in exasperation, momentarily reminding Rarity of Twilight Sparkle and her many frustrations. "Once in a while I need to get out, to be with ponies who know how to have a good time, who know how to live. I want to celebrate being with other ponies. I want to dance." She practically pranced in place, and gave Rarity an imploring look. "You understand, don't you?"
Rarity smiled, "I do. There are days this shop seems like a prison. It's work that I love, but... there have been weeks where I hardly had time to go outside or see my friends." Her horn glowed, and a measuring tape, a sketch pad and colorful markers levitated over to her. "This is such an honor! I've always wanted to design for royalty, though I never thought it could be anything other than a formal gown. Of course I'll help you, Princess!"
Luna moved to sit beside Rarity where she could see the sketchpad, and gleefully rubbed her hooves together. "Let's do this!"
A week had passed since the surprise visit. The summer nights were welcome relief from the heat, and Rarity had found herself keeping later hours to better enjoy the cool, starry evenings. Her workload had been as nightmarish as she'd imagined, but she had delivered on her promises to all of her customers... all except one, and she would be arriving tonight. Because there was no song, the music critic Opal had deigned to remain in the workshop, asleep atop an ironing board.
The largest of Rarity's mannequins, with wings set into sockets on its back, stood covered by a cloth sheet. Only the part Rarity was working on was exposed. The other mannequins held the beginnings of still more dance-club outfits, little more than mock-ups at this point. They could wait.
The last of the silver gem settings moved into place, the shank aligning with a neatly-punched tiny hole in the faux leather as the crimping tool floated over to the setting. An awl-punch hovered nearby, ready to expand the hole if needed. Rarity's brows furrowed in concentration as the crimper squeezed down, expanding the shank like a mashed rivet, securing it into place. A glittering, faceted jewel was levitated to the setting, then pushed into it. It clicked into the socket, the tiny prongs clamping the jewel snugly.
"Oh! Is that mine?"
Rarity almost jumped out of her skin, falling backwards as she tumbled into a pile of cloth-bolts. Once again she lost her glasses. The awl-punch shot upwards as if it had been fired from a bow to deeply embed itself in an overhead beam. The crimper fell to the floor with a clatter. Opal fastened herself to the top of a curtain with sixteen tiny, needle-sharp claws.
"P-princess! How long have you been there?" Rarity struggled to untangle herself from the cloth, then stood and bowed, a swath of deep blue silk still draped over her head. Glowing star-like sparkles outlined the cloth, and it was moved back and away from Rarity. Unobserved, Opal quietly climbed down the curtain and made her exit, having had her fill of silly ponies for the day.
"Not long," Luna said, then giggled as the star-sparkles faded from her horn. "You certainly become wrapped up in your work, though!"
Rarity rolled her eyes, but let it pass. Horrible puns were a royal prerogative, even when they had the subtlety of a brick through a plate glass window. She quickly regained her composure, however, as her favorite moment was at hand: the unveiling.
"You're just in time, Princess! Oh, I can't wait to see how this looks on you!" Rarity approached Luna, reaching up with her forehooves toward the insignia-torc on her chest, then paused. "...with your permission?"
Luna nodded, then laughed as Rarity removed Luna's torc and tiara. "I swear, I'll never get used to this sort of... pampering. It was never like this in the old days." She looked wistful for a moment, then glanced down at Rarity, who was removing Luna's glass boots. "Times change."
"For the better, Princess. After all... here you are!"
Luna smiled, then stood with her head up, hooves splayed.
Rarity quickly and efficiently transferred the outfit from the mannequin to its new owner, occasionally prompting Luna to furl a wing or lift a foot. She fussed over small details of fit, making lightning-quick alterations as she put Luna through the range of motion of all six limbs. Rarity shushed Luna's repeated protests of "it's fine!" politely and deftly, but with undeniable authority; Luna was a princess, but in the dressing room Rarity was queen. Luna eventually surrendered to the inevitable; princesses were smart enough to not fight a force of nature.
Immediately after the last piece went on, Rarity took up makeup, a brush and a can of mousse and set to work on Luna's hooves, mane and tail. Finally Luna could stand the primping no more. "Bring me a mirror or I swear, I will banish you to the sun!"
Rarity bowed gracefully, unfazed. "But of course, Your Majesty! Just please do it at night when it's cool there," she said sweetly. Luna snorted in mock indignation.
Rarity skipped over to a large floor-standing mirror covered with a purple silken cloth embroidered with the logo of Rarity's shop. She pushed it before the fidgeting princess, then with a flick of her horn dimmed the lights and brought up a single flood-lamp. Rarity stood next to the cloth, milking the moment for all it was worth. "Behold... SCANDALOUS!" She took the cloth covering the mirror in her teeth, and with a flourish jerked it aside.
Luna stared into the mirror for a long while, gaping open-mouthed. She slowly turned from left to right, then all the way around as she looked over her shoulder to see the 'rear view'.
Rarity had chosen a 'bad filly' motif. A jacket of soft black faux leather, textured and lovingly treated with saddle oil, was fitted to Luna's chest. The jacket had broad, exaggerated lapels, pockets with bold zippers, and ended in an integrated unbuckled belt just behind her wings, leaving her tummy, flanks and back bare. The sleeves reached just past the knee of her forelegs, flared a bit, and ended in unfastened cuffs. The edges of the jacket's lapels, collar, waistline and cuffs were set with sparking jewels in silvered settings; the jewels caught the light and gave it back in a thousand glimmering colors at Luna's slightest movement. A slick royal purple lining allowed the jacket to move smoothly against the wearer.
Under the jacket was a snug sleeveless shirt of silvery mesh. The shirt reached just beyond the beltline of the jacket. At Luna's waist, a black belt of the same material as the jacket wrapped loosely around her, the free end passing through a cinch-ring at her tailbase then dangling daringly down beside Luna's tail, halfway to her hocks. The belt was adorned along its full length with two rows of pyramidal steel studs, and at Luna's left forehoof, right hindhoof and tailbase there were cuffs of the same construction.
Accessorizing the outfit was a sturdy heavy ring of silver, perhaps three inches in diameter, which rested at the base of Luna's horn. From it, upon tiny chains, hung charms formed to resemble Luna's cutie mark.
Luna's mane and tail had been brushed into a windblown, slightly wild look, then captured in that look by the mane-mousse. A bit of glitter had been worked into Luna's hair, as well as sprinkled onto her wings. Her hooves had been polished to a lustrous black that had just enough purple in it to give the hooves a sense of glossy depth, and the front of each hoof had a single smoky faceted crystal affixed by a metallic black band that disappeared against the black hoof-lacquer.
It was Rarity's turn to fidget as she awaited judgment. Luna stood for a long while, then let out a squeal of joy and leaped over to hug Rarity with forelegs and wings. "It's PERFECT! Oh, wait 'til everyone sees me, they're going to just DIE!"
There was a muffled grunt from somewhere under Luna's wings. Luna let go of Rarity and stepped back. It took Rarity a few moments to regain her breath. For all of Luna's delicate appearance, she was an alicorn, and had surprising strength. "I'm going to go straight from here to the club, and I want you to come with me. I insist!"
Luna's enthusiasm and the rush that a customer's praise always instilled in Rarity made only one answer possible. "Of course, Princess! Just give me a moment to freshen myself up, and" Rarity stopped in mid-sentence, looking flustered. "Small problem... I can't fly. It would take me two hours to get there."
Luna laughed, "It would be a nice walk, under the stars. But don't you worry!" Her horn sparkled for a moment, then she grinned impishly at Rarity.
Rarity suddenly felt a tingle in her hooves, not unlike the 'leg gone to sleep' sensation. She looked down, and realized she was standing on a wispy patch of dark mist, through which stars could be seen. The mist-patch then zoomed about the room, carrying Rarity with it. She flinched, but only for a moment before regaining her composure and making the decision to give as good as she got.
"This is lovely! Almost as nice as the gossamer wings that"
The mist-cloud suddenly vanished, and Rarity dropped to the floor. She had been expecting something like that though, and she landed on her hooves gracefully, and nonchalantly fussed with her mane as if nothing had happened.
Luna laughed, "Oh, I do like you! It's so refreshing to find someone who isn't intimidated by a title or a little fun. So... shall we go?" Luna made another impatient little prancing-motion with her forehooves.
"I need just a teensy little moment to throw something on. What could I wear to... oh!" A sly look crossed Rarity's face. "I have just the thing." She trotted upstairs, calling after her "I won't be long, dear, I mean Your Highness!"
Luna and Rarity stood together in the line outside the 'Dusk Til Dawn'. Bands of neon lights flickered cyclically on the facade of the building, and small spotlights panned back and forth on the waiting crowd and cobblestoned walkway. Muffled rhythmic thumps became loud, upbeat electronic dance beats every time the club's door opened. The club's bouncer, a hulking blue earth-pony, had tried to usher them in as soon as Luna and her cloud-riding companion had landed, but Luna had insisted that they wait their turn with the rest of the ponies. "It's the right thing to do," she had whispered to Rarity. "Plus it gives people more time to admire us!" The ponies sharing the line, after the requisite bows and moments of surprise, chattered excitedly among themselves and stared at the audaciously-dressed princess. Rarity knew she was being overshadowed, but did not mind in the least; she was at least as excited as the rest of the crowd.
Indeed, word had gotten around. Photographers had appeared as if by magic, which in the case of the unicorn-paparazzi was probably literally true. Luna did her best to appear to ignore the presence of the newsponies, but Rarity's trained eye caught Luna striking poses to present the best angles. Rarity found herself also moving with a certain flair, a practiced drama. She just couldn't help herself.
When they had made their way to the front of the line the club's owner, an indigo-coated unicorn stallion with a deep purple mane and a cutie-mark of a disco ball, stepped out of the club. After bowing and introducing himself as 'Nightlife', he started to berate the bouncer for not immediately allowing the Princess in, but Luna hushed him. "No special favors," she said. "I wouldn't let him." She nodded to the bouncer, who blushed deeply, then allowed the owner to escort her and Rarity inside. The photographers were pointedly not allowed in; a smashed camera was displayed under glass in a cabinet next to the door as an exhibit of the club's policy on such things.
For a moment, Rarity was dazzled and disoriented. She was used to the bright lights and throbbing music of a fashion event, but this was far more chaotic and exuberant. Flashes of color fought with each other. Intense beams of light played across the crowd, some from small light fixtures, some from the horns of a pair of unicorns on balconies above the dance floor. A thin stage-mist filled the air, blown into little clouds by sky-dancing pegasus-ponies. Mirrors lined opposite walls to either side of the dance floor, creating an infinity of reflections of the dancing, brightly-colored ponies; elsewhere, the walls were hung with indigo velvet drapes. The dance floor seemed to be thick glass that took the hoof-falls of the ponies with only a slight 'clack' sound, and was smooth enough to allow easy turns and pirouettes. Oversized speakers, some at floor level, some on brackets hanging from the high truss-raftered ceiling, filled the room with music.
The ponies inside were a full spectrum of colors and styles. Unicorns, earth-ponies, pegasus-ponies, all were dancing together. To one side a group of fillies had dropped their small purses into a pile and were dancing around them as if they were some kind of totem. The clothing, on those who wore any, all sent messages of 'bad pony', 'living the crazy life', casting aside decorum and tradition in favor of pure joy. Rarity had squarely hit the mark.
The music was just short of painfully loud, and ponies had to almost shout to each other to be heard. As they entered, the blue-maned disc jockey leaned to her microphone and led the crowd in a chant. "PEACE! LOVE! UNIVERSAL RE-SPECT!" All eyes turned to Luna, and Luna was afraid they would stop dancing. But to her relief, most of them simply worked a deep head-bow toward Luna as their moves brought them to face her. Luna returned the bow with a lowering of her own head, then turned to Rarity and laughed. "Let's dance!"
Luna was indeed graceful, if unrestrained. Her hooves thumped a complex counter-rhythm to the music, and she tossed her head high at each downbeat. Her wings alternately splayed high up in full extension and dropped low and close. The lighting-unicorns picked up the rhythm of their honored guest's movements and pulsed the lights upon her; the gems in her jacket and the glitter in her feathers scattered the flashes all around to the rest of the club. She was unquestionably at ease with the other ponies, and happily flicked her wings and tail to touch them as they moved near. But she faced Rarity, dancing with her favored designer.
It took Rarity a few moments to orient herself. She knew this kind of music, having used it at exhibitions and presentations intended for ponies her age and younger. Usually she would sashay in time with the music's beat, strut, strike a pose. This was different, though. Well, perhaps not so different...
Rarity began to move, subtle pose to subtle pose, head and hindquarters bobbing and following the rhythm that filled the club. One-two-three-posture one-two-three-pose one-two-three-head-toss one-two-three-icy stare... her choice of outfit worked well with the dance-in-vogue. Rarity had selected a black satin tuxedo-jacket cut as short to the tummy as Luna's faux-leather hooligan jacket, also with broad, glossy lapels; the jacket had tapering tails that split to bracket Rarity's own tail. It was over a white collared shirt with purple buttons; a narrow red silk tie hung from the collar in a play on masculine style. The shirt's cuffs were exaggerated, with cufflinks that each were a single blue diamond-shaped jewel that evoked Rarity's cutie mark. She wore large sunglasses with a deep indigo sheen; in this light the sunglasses seemed very dark, though in truth they didn't block much light, and Rarity could certainly see well enough. A silvery coiled chain led from an earbud down into a pocket, parodying the earpiece that a stoic bodyguard of a self-important Manehattanite mogul might wear. Rarity had combed her mane back into an androgynous ponytail, and her tail's gentle curves had been given a few sharper sweeps, squaring off the curls and held with mane-mousse.
Back and forth Luna and Rarity danced as song blended into song. Each played off the other, the rebel and the secret agent, the renegade and the enforcer. Luna advanced with swaggering bravado, and Rarity retreated with cartoonish dignity. Luna's horn dipped and lightly struck Rarity's, creating an intense flash and sending tingling jolts down both of their spines as the 'free spirit' defeated the 'defender of the System'. Rarity then marched imperiously towards Luna, a stern authority figure, and Luna skittered backwards, wings hiding her face in mock submission, but hooves always in sync with the sound. Rarity reared up before Luna, bringing their heads level with each other. Clack! Rarity struck her horn to Luna's, sparking brilliantly as the 'lawgiver' taught the 'anarchist' the error of her ways. Luna dipped her head in surrender, and her silver horn-ring slid down to encircle Rarity's own horn.
And so it went. Back and forth, sometimes improvising a little play-act in the dance, sometimes just kicking up their hooves, sometimes with each other, sometimes pairing briefly with whichever pony was nearby and interested. It could have been minutes or hours, but it just didn't seem to matter.
Eventually both needed to rest, having worked themselves into panting, giddy exhaustion. They made their way to the bar opposite the dance floor as ponies hoof-clopped their approval before returning to their own dances. They made quick work of huge glasses of sparkling water. Luna caught her breath, beaming her joy to Rarity.
"This, this is just the best ever! This is the kind of night I've dreamed of..." Luna looked about at all the brashly-dressed ponies freely mixing with the unclothed ones. "I was afraid that ponies would treat me as if I didn't belong here, as if I were slumming or something like that, or be afraid of me... but you've made me fit in so well!"
Rarity blushed, covering her pleased embarrassment by levitating her sunglasses into a pocket and loosening her tie. "It's the least I could do, Princess. I never would have had the nerve to come inside here, much less dance, without your invitation. Thank you!"
Luna recovered her breath quickly. She was soon ready to return to the dance floor, but Rarity demurred. "You go, Princess. I'm new to this, and don't want to overdo it..." Luna pouted for a moment, but Rarity wasn't fazed for a even an instant. She had long since mastered the art of the petulant pout, and was immune to its effects. "Besides," Rarity added, "I'll bet there are dozens of ponies here that would give their left hooves just to dance with you once. It would be unseemly of me to be greedy, after all."
Luna giggled, and horntapped Rarity again, dizzying the smaller unicorn with the spark. "You give so much of yourself."
Rarity averted her eyes in modesty, but she was almost aglow with the praise. "Perhaps, but I always receive more in return than I give."
Rarity awoke to Opal sitting on her chest and meowing indignantly, undoubtedly demanding breakfast. Her legs were a little sore, and she was disoriented for a moment. Memories returned... had she really danced the whole night through? It came back to her then. The club finally closing for the evening, the hug from Luna that came with the promise of another dance outfit commission soon, Luna flitting away in a panic about being late to lower the moon to prepare for dawn, the ride back to Ponyville in Luna's royal chariot during which she had almost dozed off. She had made it into bed before sunrise, though, that had to count for something...
She donned her bathrobe as her brush worked its way through her tail. "Just a moment, Opal dear, and we'll both have our... lunch?" A wall clock chimed noon, and Rarity laughed. "Lunch. Well, you needed to lose weight anyway!" Opal hissed at Rarity then stalked out of the room. Hell hath no fury like a cat unfed.
Rarity started down the steps toward her workroom, her mane-brush still hovering and following her. A cup of black tea, double-strong, double-sugar, was just what she wanted, and she kept her teapot in the workroom for long nights on deadline. She cast aside the curtains at the bottom of the stairs and
Her heart almost stopped. In the center of the workshop was Princess Celestia. Rarity realized she'd never changed the shop sign to 'closed' or locked the door after she'd returned, and it was certainly in the middle of business hours. The princess was moving from mannequin to mannequin, inspecting the clothing. Expressions of bemusement and bafflement took their turns on Celestia's face. "How unorthodox..." Celestia mused.
Rarity's brush fell to the floor with a clatter.
"Y-your Majesty! This is an unexpected, um, wonderful surprise!"
Celestia turned towards Rarity, who was bowing deeply. She gave no sign that she noticed how disheveled Rarity was, and smiled to her. "Good morning! I hope I didn't wake you?"
"Not at all, Your Majesty! I was just... experimenting with a new mane-style! All the ponies are wearing their tails and manes um, long and informal..." Rarity gave her best 'please believe me' smile, which Celestia gracefully accepted. "To what do I owe the honor of your visit?"
"Oh, I'm merely doing Luna a favor. She may have left something in your shop. I'm sure she would come herself, but the poor dear is so tired. She said something about a fitting before going to bed this morning."
Rarity looked about, puzzled for a moment, then her eyes lit upon Luna's tiara and torc, half concealed under a scrap of cloth. Of course Celestia would have noticed their absence! She dashed the cloth aside and magicked the jewelry up, bowing again as she did so. "My fault, Your Majesty, I should have remembered"
Celestia laughed, "No, not at all. Luna is forgetful sometimes. Thank you." She made a gesture with her horn, and Luna's royal finery floated out of the shop's door. Rarity could see a pair of gold-armored guards outside, who took possession of the jewelry and placed it in Celestia's waiting chariot. "But now I'm curious. She must have been here for a new dress."
Rarity swallowed nervously. "She I mean, Princess Luna she was interested in newer fashion trends, Your Majesty..." She fidgeted as Celestia again looked about the shop, holding her breath as she noticed the rough sketches she had made of Luna's design in a pile to one side. Fortunately, Celestia did not seem to pay them any mind.
"That would be so like her," Celestia said. "Are any of these designs intended for her?"
"Oh! No, Your Majesty, these are just ideas," Rarity hastily said... the literal truth. "We discussed, um, different concepts."
"Ah. Well, just be forewarned, knowing Luna she will want something..." Celestia leaned forward and whispered "...scannndalous."
Rarity's heart leaped into her throat. A moment later, though, Celestia winked then turned to go. "Duty calls, I'm afraid I must be going. Good luck with your coiffure! I'm sure it will go well with your new accessory."
Rarity knelt as the Princess took her leave, then heaved a sigh of relief as she heard the chariot's wheels clatter down the street then go silent as it became airborne. "Accessory..?" she asked herself. She shook her head, then felt something move on her forehead.
She dashed to the mirror and stared in mortified disbelief. Around her horn was the ring she had made for Luna and had 'captured' in the dance club, charms and all. Surely Celestia had noticed the designs! But... no, she hadn't said anything. Rarity counted herself lucky.
"Well," she said as Opal stalked into the showroom to remind Rarity of the unfinished business of lunch. "I'll just have to return it to her when she comes for her new outfit. Now what could possibly top my last masterpiece..." She pondered as she set out a saucer of milk as a peace-offering. She considered the various bolts and scraps of material in her workshop, her eyes finally coming to rest on a sheet of red lace draped over a bolt of black silk. Then Celestia's words returned to her.