The familiar tinkle of a shop bell was heard when the pink pony entered. She didn’t pause to take in the overly red and pink decor that the owner had insisted upon, but instead walked to the counter looking bright and hopeful.
“Oh, hi! I’m here to pick up my order.” She said; far too cheerful for a Tuesday morning. The clerk behind the counter looked at her uninterested and said nothing, waiting for her to give more information.
“Don’t you remember me? I came in about a month ago to order that custom made quill and scroll set.”
The clerk set down his necessary cup of coffee begrudgingly and opened the cabinets behind the counter where personal orders were stored. He sifted through boxes and gifts ordered for the holiday, but found no custom quill set. With a heavy sigh, he reached for a clipboard beside the counter instead. The custom order pages it held were thick this time of year, ponies desperate to find something unique for their loved ones was a boom for business. The only quill and ink set recorded, however, was at the bottom of the page indicating that it was the next order to be completed. He showed her the order, making sure it was indeed her own.
“The one with the ebony inlays with the box set. Yes, I wanted that one specifically. I know that it would have taken you awhile to make it, but it’s Hearts and Hooves Day.”
The clerk pointed to the paper again, indicating the approximate completion time being ten minutes from now.
“Oh? You need a bit longer? Well, I guess I can wait. Though, please do try to hurry up.”
Ten more minutes with this highly-too-chipper pony was not exactly how the clerk wanted to spend his morning, but he figured that it was his duty to keep the customers happy. He decided to engage in small talk, asking about the stallion who would receive this expensive gift.
“Who’s the lucky stallion? Heh, well, she. She’s still at work and I wanted to surprise her with this set. You know, since it’s such a special day. Everypony makes such a big deal out of today, but really, isn’t every day supposed to be like that? She works so hard for us. Long, hard days at work… So she’s been stressed and a bit out of it. I just thought for once I wanted to spoil her. I mean, she takes care of me. She’s done so much for me, I can’t seem to keep track of it all. I was able to finally focus on my writing because of her, live out my dream, and I just… She really is my whole world… and I’m her Little Bird. That’s what she calls me anyways. I wouldn’t be where I am now, if not for her.”
Something in the way she talked about this mare struck a chord in the clerk. He couldn’t quite put a hoof on it though, like a double meaning behind her words.
“I had a little set aside… for a rainy day. Well, a lot aside. I was planning a trip… but I decided I would do this instead. She doesn’t even know that I’m going to surprise her with this. I had just promised a nice meal, you know, quiet, quaint dinner with candles for Hearts and Hooves Day. But this! I’m so excited, I can’t wait to see the look on her face when she sees this. She’s going to be over the moon about it, I just know it. I mean, who wouldn’t love a set like this right? Heh, Right. This is going to be perfect.”
That same undertone she had when she spoke about her supposed ‘true love’ was leaking through her words again and it piqued the clerk’s curiosity. He opened his mouth to ask for more details when another pony pushed open a door beside him coming from the back room with this mare’s order in hoof. He smiled and placed the box on the counter, delighting in the way the mare brightened when she saw it.
“Oh! Yes, thank you. This looks just… exquisite! She’s going to love this! Thank you so much for finishing this!”
The pink mare hurried out of the shop with a smile on her face and skip in her step.
Magpie grimaced as she felt the pressure of an unknown time limit that was sure to expire soon. The house needed to be spotless, the meal still unfinished, and the present was sitting unwrapped on the table. She scurried around trying to multitask while keeping an eye on the clock and fighting the nerves that threatened to take over her senses. Her heart dropped when she heard the key in the lock of the front door. She hurriedly placed a bow on the present and stood motionless awaiting the arrival of her love.
“Oh! You’re home early! I-I didn’t think you would be home this soon. I still had a lot to finish up. Like cooking up-” she started, but was cut off by the unhappy mare who pointed at the gift and sneered. She asked what it was sternly as she hung up the scarf she had been wearing in the cold.
“That’s your hearts and hooves day present. I-I wanted to get you something… nice. I had some extra funds stored away and I wanted to surprise you with-” Magpie started; the nerves she had fought back were now present in her voice and she regretted the decision to have the quill and ink set made in the first place. Her marefriend examined the box without touching it and accused Magpie of hiding the funds she’d used to purchase the gift.
“No, I wasn’t hiding it from you. I just had it stored for-”
The Mare raged, continuing her accusations of bits that Magpie had hidden, which could have been spent on more productive products.
“I just wanted to get you a new quill and scroll set. You’ve used that other one for so long, it looked worn down, and I just thought-”
Once again Magpie was cut off by her marefriend’s temper. She backed away, sensing the rage and the actions that might soon follow. When she spoke again, it was only in whispers.
“No… I wasn’t thinking. I should have told you about that money. I’m sorry. Ink, I didn’t mean to upset you, I just… I wanted to do something special for you. Ink, please, I didn’t mean to make you mad. It was just a gift!”
As harmless as her words may have seemed, they only provoked her marefriend further, who now lifted the gift off the table. She gave the indication that she intended to smash the gift which lit a panic in Magpie.
“Ink, what are you doing? No, put that down!”
Instinctively, Magpie’s reaction was to use her magic, something that her marefriend had expressly forbidden. She wasn’t sure if it was because she was an earth pony and therefore jealous, or if she simply wanted to maintain control of every aspect of Magpie’s life and magic was the one thing she couldn't. The gift now laid on the floor in the middle of the room, completely destroyed from the sheer force of the throw. Realizing her mistake, Magpie degraded into whimpers, sobs, and pleas for mercy.
“I’m sorry! I-I didn’t mean to use my magic here. I know you said to never use it, I just-”
Magpie was cut off by the strike of a hoof across her face. She stumbled to the ground, holding the cheek that stung with the hit. Her marefriend eyes shone with hatred as she lifted her hoof again to bear down another blow. Her image began shifting, oozing like ink blots that hadn’t fully dried dripping around Magpie and encasing her in darkness.
“I’m sorry! Please Ink Dye, don’t!”
“Mag...? Mag, what’s wrong?” Curse Word asked, shaking her Beloved as she writhed in agony from some unknown nightmare.
“No, Ink Dye, please stop...” Mag muttered; her voice laced with pure terror causing Curse Word to shake her a little harder and break the dream.
Magpie gasped, bolting up from her sleep while beads of sweat trickled down her pale cheeks. She panted, letting her eyes and her mind adjust to her surroundings. It didn’t take long to realize she was safe and with a very concerned marefriend at her side.
“I… I’m sorry…” She stammered.
“It’s ok, Love. Was… it another nightmare?” Curse asked, rubbing her back as added comfort.
“... Yeah. It was.” Magpie said. Her whole body was still shaking. Curse Word took immediate notice.
“Hey, hey, come here. Well guess what? It was just a nightmare. But I’m here. And I’m not going anywhere.” she said, cuddling into her Beloved who snuggled back happily.
“Yeah, you are here, huh?” Magpie said with a small smile.
“I mean, where else would I be?” Curse Word replied with a half laugh. The smile on her face lowered as she continued. “But you were talking in your sleep this time though.”
Magpie suddenly became rigid, wondering what horrors might have slipped past her lips in her sleep. She’d worked so hard to keep her past a secret, thinking that would make it disappear. Curse Word knew nothing of the reality she lived before she had wandered into that town.
“O-Oh? What was I saying?” Magpie said, trying to sound innocently curious and failing miserably.
“Something about ink dye. That you wanted it to stop. Who or what is Ink Dye?” Curse Word asked.
“It’s no pony.” Magpie said dismissively, immediately regretting the revelation that Ink Dye was a pony. She turned over under the covers and curled into herself. Curse Word wrapped around her body, spooning her.
“You sure-” She started, to which Magpie immediately responded.
“Yes. I’m sure. I promise.”
Curse Word sighed, knowing that Magpie wouldn’t give up more information than that.
“Alright. How about we try to sleep, ok? I’ve got something big planned for tomorrow, considering it’s Hearts and Hooves’ Day.”
Grateful for the subject change, Magpie responded slyly.
“Oh, do you now?”
The two mares began to giggle and talk amongst themselves as their conversation became nothing more than a mere memory to the lone mare standing in the murky darkness. Her eyes shimmered with unshed tears as she remembered that night, those nightmares. No matter how much she tried, she could never escape those horrors; a haunting echo of a past life she wanted to forget, but there was a silver lining to it. She would always wake up next to Curse Word, and those illusions would fade to the back of her mind, as Curse would comfort and console her.
At least until the next night, where it would happen again. Many restless nights would repeat over and over, but each time, Curse would always be there next to her, ready to fight off any nightmares that would occur, holding her tight to remind her she was safe.
How long had it been since Magpie had been able to even touch her Love? She tried not to mentally grasp the literal time frame as she sighed, sitting down in the darkness. There wasn’t much to do here, well, except “guiding” those damned souls. But in this moment, all she wanted to do was reminisce of a long, isolated past that seemed almost unreal. There was no going back to a time where her only worry were those nightmares.
A faint light began to bleed into the blackness. She glanced up, having to shield her eyes, adjusting to the brightness. It was there; within the flood of light that her heart began to flutter, knowing the chance she was given again. The dark began to dissipate more and more, allowing Magpie to see the scene before her.
Within the moonlight, Curse Word stood, draped in the same tattered cloak Magpie had seen her wear for so many years now. A shadow downcast upon her face as she stared out into the distance; those crimson red eyes glistening from under her hood. Her eyes narrowed as she walked forward slowly. From the limited view of the surroundings, Magpie couldn’t make out where exactly Curse was. This did not look familiar to the traveler trails she had watched Curse journey down before. It was then that Magpie saw it.
A town. That was what Curse was approaching. Strewn about this little town were red balloons and hearts of all shapes and sizes. Though the town was bathed only in moonlight, their presence was a stark reminder of the day to come.
Magpie stood helplessly as her valentine glowered at the symbols of love with nothing but bitterness left in her heart.