And when the darkness comes around

by Cackling Moron

Blood to walk

The next day, bright and early-ish, Eric was at the post office. He had a catalogue.

Regular paint was easy to come by. Specialist paint - such as, say, extra-special glow-in-the-dark paint - was somewhat trickier, something he didn’t often keep to hand, and something which required sending out for. But that was fine, Eric knew guys who knew guys.

And he got trade prices, too.

So he was there, double-checking that he’d filled out the order form correctly, squinting at reference numbers and trying to read his handwriting. Then he tried to second-guess whether someone else would be able to read his handwriting.

“Sod it,” he said once he realised worrying about it would get him nowhere. Whacking it into an envelope he slapped on some stamps and sent it on its way. Cash on delivery, delivery in three to four working days following receipt of order - what a time to be alive!

Once the order had been placed he hung around the post office for a bit, because he was playing Uno with the pleasant, cock-eyed girl that worked there, who apparently didn’t have anything better to be doing? Slow day, she said. Lovely girl. No idea how to play Uno but kept beating Eric anyway, much to his continued amazement.

“Again? Blow me down. You know, it’d be polite to let me win at least one round,” he said, staring down at the pile of cards before him, his hand and her lack of a hand.

“Oh, sorry! I didn’t know,” she said with sincerity, mortified at having not been polite.

Realising that perhaps she was coming at the conversation from a different angle than himself Eric quickly moved to reset the balance, giving her hair a quick ruffle before picking up and shuffling the cards.

“Just pulling your leg! Don’t worry about it. Let’s go again, eh? Pretty sure I’ve worked out your devious ways now, this round’s my round!”

She looked down at her leg for a second, confused, but then looked back up smiling, worries forgotten. She also reset the hat that had been upset into its proper position by his ruffle, managing to unstraighten it again.

“Okay!” She said.

Continued rounds showed no difference in outcome.  It was uncanny.

“Statistically speaking this is, well, I’d say it was just unfair, really,” Eric said, once more looking out across another loss.

“Am I good?” She asked, one bright eye on him, the other somewhere else entirely, bobbing in midair behind the counter on which they were playing.

“Good? You’re outstanding! Some kind of prodigy. It’s like you’re channeling an outside force. I am impressed.”

Ecstatic at this assessment the blonde pony squealed with glee and dropped like a stone, her concentration taking a hit and her hovering suffering as a result. She landed out of sight with a thump, and several things fell over, at least one of them landing on top of her.

“Oh dear!” Eric said, leaning over the counter to check if she was alright. “Are you okay?”

Dazed but in one piece the girl rubbed her head, eyes very briefly operating in tandem, but this passed and normal service resumed. Peering up at Eric she smiled, happy as anything.

“Yay! I’m outstanding!” She said, hooves waving. Eric gave her another ruffle.

“That you are,” he said.

It was then that the bell above the door rung.

Eric, thinking quickly, hoisted the mailmare up and plopped her on the counter, figuring that if anyone was coming in they were coming in for post-related reasons and that she should therefore be present. He was merely a bystander.

Who was coming through the door turned out to be a purple pony. A unicorn, no less. With wings too! Wait, there was a special name for those ones. What was it again? An alicorn, Eric recalled after a moment’s thought. His welcome brochure had mentioned them.

The newcomer did not appear especially certain they were in the right place - despite their saddlebags, which may or may not have contained things they wanted to post - and looked about, eyes alighting on Eric, who she approached.

“I was looking for you,” said the purple alicorn brightly. Eric gave a small bow.

“You did well to find me, I don’t stick out,” he said. If alicorns tracking him down struck him as unusual he gave no outward sign. Just another thing to roll with. Batponies, bloodletting, losing at Uno - every day something new around here.

Eric had delivered this with such flatness and sincerity that the purple alicorn was wrong-footed, if only for a second. This was long enough for Eric to capitalise.

“You’re the princess, aren’t you? Local lass? Don’t tell me! Starlight or something?” He said, hazarding a guess. He was wrong.

“Twilight,” said Twilight.

Eric hissed, wounded by his failure.

“Right, knew there was a ‘light’ in there somewhere. Sorry, terrible with names.”

That sort of thing could probably have upset someone back home. Here, the locals were a little more relaxed. Or just more willing to give Eric leeway, one or the other. Twilight just smiled at him.

“That’s okay,” she said.

“Ooh! And you’re the one who wrote the welcome package, weren’t you? Good stuff, that, really set me up.”

She went just the tiniest bit pink around the ears at the mention of this. Twilight had indeed put together the welcome package, top to bottom and cover to cover. She’d been very pleased with the results, if she could say so herself. This was her first bit of recognition for it.

“Oh, it was pretty basic,” she said lightly, waving him off with a hoof. But Eric insisted.

“Basic is good! I needed basic. Solid foundations, Twilight! Really got me grounded. Very handy. And simple enough even I could grasp it! That’s tricky to pull off. Good on you.”

“Aw, well, I’m glad you think so.”

Always nice to be told of a job well done.

She then shook her head. They were getting off-topic. She had tracked him down for a reason.

“Eric,” she said. “Do you paint portraits?”

Ah, this sounded like business. Eric put on his business face.

“Do I paint portraits? Hmm,” he said, stroking his chin, casting his mind back.

He had in his time, once or twice, as one did. Not for a while though. Had he lost the knack, or would he just be rusty? Perhaps hedging his bets and giving a safe answer would be best.

“I could paint portraits,” he said. Technically speaking anyone could.

Twilight took his copping out for an emphatic yes, however, and beamed ear to ear.

“Great! Could you paint a portrait of Rarity? It’s for her birthday.”

The name rung a bell. Eric squinted, the better to sharpen his memory,

“Rarity? Rarity...ah yes, local lass, runs the dress shop? She’s lovely,” he said.

Not that ‘lovely’ narrowed it down much around here by Eric’s standards.

“Not just dresses but yes, Rarity,” Twilight said.

“Right, right. And a present you say? That’s pressure, that is. Right! I can live up to that, I’m sure. This isn’t something you need by the weekend, is it?”

“Oh no, her birthday isn’t for four months.”

This was an oddly specific length of time, but was still long enough for Eric to immediately relax.

“Wonderful, plenty of time - someone gets it,” he said.

There were other issues besides the time involved, of course, but the terrifying prospect of being expected to turn something out in a handful of days had been enough to freeze Eric’s blood. He did so hate to disappoint.

“So is she going to come to to arrange a time to sit down or - ?” He asked.

“Oh, ah, I should probably mention that this is meant to be a surprise for her,” Twilight said, sheepishly.

Eric digested this.

“A surprise portrait?”


First time he’d heard of that, but there was always a first time for everything so what of it. Stranger things had happened, albeit not often.

He was vaguely aware of what this Rarity girl looked like having had a natter with her once or twice, but doing a picture of her from memory might have been just a tiny bit beyond his abilities. Or, at least, doing a good picture of her from memory.

“You know, commonly with these sorts of things you have your subject sat in front of you, at least for a little bit. With this being a surprise and all do you want me to just, you know, kind of shadow her and hope she doesn’t notice me?” Eric asked.

Possible, but difficult. Eric was rather easy to spot coming. Especially if he had an easel with him. Even a sketchpad might give him away,.

“I have pictures,” Twilight said, flipping open a saddlebag and floating over a folder which Eric took.


It was a hefty folder, not to mention meticulously organised. Twilight had collected and collated just about every useful or possibly useful picture of Rarity she had been able to lay her hooves on. At first it was impressive, but the further on Eric went through the folder it actually just started getting a little worrying.

“This is extensive,” he said, moving away from group shots and onto photos that just contained Rarity. That there even needed to be this stark a distinction struck him as perhaps unusual.

“She’s not averse to having her picture taken,” Twilight said.

“Obviously not…”

A good number of the individual pictures appeared to be professional glamour shots, presumably ones that Rarity had paid to have done herself. Some were even boudoir shots, which caught Eric off-guard.

“You do you, girl,” he said, nodding to himself and continuing to flick through. “How did you get these ones, just to ask?”

“She gave them to me. To all of us. As presents.”

It had been an odd year, that one.

“Memorable, at least. And nice to know she’s thinking of you. Though thinking what we can only guess,” Eric said, slipping the photos back and closing the folder. He’d seen quite enough. More than enough angles for him to hash it out. He could give it a damn good shot with the folder in hand. He could work with this.

“I can work with this,” he said.

“Great! Do I pay you now or half now and half later or - “

“Don’t worry about that right this second. I’ll go away and then come find you and we can work it out. You live in that, uh, the crystal palace, right?”

Twilight was about to tell him what it was actually called when she thought better of it and bit her tongue. He knew the important details about the place, why muddle things?

“Yes,” she said instead.

“Good stuff. I only hope I can live up to your expectations!”

“I’m sure you will, everypony says you’re good.”

Such unabashed flattery was uncalled for.

“Ah, they’re too kind. I’m adequate at best,” he said. THen on reflection felt the need to add: “The present will be above adequate though, of course. The portrait will be tops. Assuming I think I can manage it at all. I’ll get back to you on that sharpish.”

“Alright,” she said, smiling pleasantly.

Then, finally, her eyes just flicked down. The smile went away.

“Is your neck okay?” She asked and Eric fought the urge to groan.

“You know, I might start wearing a ruff if people don’t stop asking me about my neck. Honestly, it’s fine. Doesn’t hurt or anything. I think it gives me some character,” he said instead.

“Sorry. It’s just I heard you had a batpony living with you now and you were letting her feed on you daily,” Twilight said and Eric couldn’t help but scoff.

“Daily? Who told you that? Tsch, someone’s been telling porkies. Hardly daily. Couple times in a couple weeks, if that.”

To Eric this was not a lot. To Twilight, who had never had her blood sucked, it sounded like a lot.

“Having her feeding on you so much might be, ah, bad for you,” she said.

“I know I know, she told me just as much herself. She still goes out to find people to ask. I’m just there if things get tough. It’s fine.”

He gave a brief jig, finishing up with jazz hands for emphasis.

“See? Fit as anything.”

“If you’re sure…”


Twilight appreciated his choice of word.

“Okay, well. You know where I am so if you think you can do it come and find me. And, uh, if you think you can’t also come and find me.”

“Aye aye,” Eric said, giving her a nod.

And with that, business concluded. Twilight flipped her saddlebag closed and exited, bell jangling again.

“Can’t move in this town without someone throwing work at me,” Eric said, turning back to the mailmare who had - inexplicably - built a house of cards from the Uno deck on the countertop while he and Twilight had been talking.

Eric stood, agog.

“How?” He asked. “How?!”

Now that someone else could see it, the house immediately collapsed.


Later, back home, Eric was sat on his sofa sorting through the profusion of pictures Twilight had provided, picking out the ones most useful to him for the task ahead. He had been doing this for some time - long enough for Lamia to finally wake up and come downstairs with him still at it.

He was so involved he didn’t even hear her approach. HIs first indication she was there at all was when she leapt on him from behind, flapping up behind the sofa and wrapping her forelegs around his neck, snuggling in.

“Hello to you too,” he said, reaching up to give her a quick scratch behind the ears with the hand not holding a picture.

Lamia nuzzled and snuggled into him happily for a second or so before noticing what it was he was doing. Noticing and understanding were two different things.

“Who’s that?” She asked.

“Ah yes. My subject! Was asked to do a portrait of her but it’s a surprise, hence all these pictures. The idea being I won’t need her to sit in front of me if I have all these, see?”

“Oh, right,” Lamia said, sort of getting it.

Disengaging form around his neck she dropped behind the sofa and then trotted around, avoiding flying lest her flapping disturbed his obviously carefully arranged sorting system. Very considerate of her.

Picking a spot on the sofa unoccupied by pictures of Rarity, Lamia hopped up. Eric continued sorting, knowing that the sooner he finished the sooner he could do something else.

For this reason things got very quiet for a little while, Eric too absorbed to talk and Lamia too busy waiting for Eric to say something to talk.

Finally, Eric felt he’d done enough. Tossing the final picture into the final pile he sat back and stretched, reaching up above his head, various parts of him cracking. That had taken longer than he’d expected.

He’d also had an idea.

“Hey Lamia, I had a favour to ask. Would-” Eric said but he got no further as Lamia instantly replied with:


She was absolutely one hundred percent deadly serious. So serious Eric couldn’t help but chuckle and give her a scratch, into which she melted, pouting when his hand moved away again.

“Heh, hold on there you don’t even know what I was going to ask!”

“Anything. Anything you want,” she said, again with deadly seriousness. This time Eric was a little perturbed with such a willingness to commit herself without full grasp of the facts.

“Steady on there, Lamia,” he said.

He then experienced a moment of hypocrisy-induced vertigo at the thought that while he was perfectly allowed to immediately and without hesitation agree to help out anybody in whatever capacity they might require he was opposed to anyone else doing the same for him.

This vertigo rolled over Eric, dissipated, and was gone. He could live with it.

“At least let me fill you in first, eh?”

“Okay,” Lamia conceded, though neither looked nor sounded happy about it.

“Alright. Now, I’ve been approached about doing a portrait of someone for their birthday. Rather nice, I thought, but then I would think that. First hitch: the portrait is a surprise so I can’t have them sit down. That’s fine though, I got enough reference material.”

He patted the folder.

“Second: it’s been a little while now since I’d done anything much like this and I feel I might be out of practise. So what I was going to ask you was, well, I kind of wanted to try and get back into the headspace and stretch my muscles - so to speak - so, yeah, was wondering if you wouldn’t me doing you once or twice.”

She blinked at him.


“Painting. Like, just smaller portraits of you. To get my eye in, yeah?”

“Oh,” she said, blushing at something that Eric had missed and then, once she grasped what it was he asking about anyway, blushing deeper still. “O-oh. Me? Really?”

“Well I haven’t got anyone else around I can just ask. And I think you’d a good subject. You’re photogenic! Portraitogenic? You got a good look, is what I’m saying.”

Somehow, Lamia turned an even more luminescent shade of bright red and thoroughly hid behind her mane.

“No I don’t…” She said before just parting the curtain of hair enough for the merest hint of one eye to peek out. “Do I?”

Shaking his head and smiling at her Eric reached out a hand and gently tucked her mane back behind her ears. Lamia did not resist this, though she still had trouble looking him in the face, and was still extremely red.

“I think so. And I got a yen for this sort of thing! Artistic sensibilities, eh?” He said, tapping his nose.

“S-so I just sit and you...paint me?” She asked. Eric nodded.

“Pretty much. Nothing major or fancy, just little ones like I say. And if they turn out horrendous then my chances of producing something birthday present-worthy using nothing but reference material seem kind of slim to me. That’s my logic and I’m sticking to it. Though, you seen some of these pictures? Look at this.”

He dug through for one of the boudoir pictures and brought it out for inspection. Impressively, Lamia’s eyes got even wider. Eric was just frowning at the picture though and so did not notice her expression of, well, something. Shock, maybe?

“I mean don’t get me wrong it’s a quality picture - the setup is great - I’m just kind of weirded out she gave these to her friends. Look! It’s even got a caption! ‘The Gift of Me’. That’s ballsy, actually. Eh, to each their own, I suppose. If we all liked the same thing and all that! Now, do you mind getting started now? Or later? Or tomorrow? Whatever works for you, Lamia.”

With effort she tore her eyes away, finally managing to look Eric in the face and even managing a smile as she did it.

“Let’s start now,” she said.

Eric smiled too.

“That’s what I like to hear.”