The Many Uses of a Brush

by Crimson Brush

Fashionable Brushes

The Many Uses of a Brush
Chapter 1: Fashionable Brushes

As the unicorn fashionista wandered into the newly-opened store, her eyes roamed over the many shelves, all lined with custom designs. She walked down a few of the aisles, occasionally picking up a brush or two from the shelves and eying the detailed craftsmanship. The first thing she noticed was that most of the brushes had very detailed handles, obviously magically-carved to perfection, making a sharp contrast to the overly-smooth flat backings which, while still expertly painted, lacked any cuts or grooves. Even though this didn’t detract in the slightest from the brush’s overall beauty, it did strike her as an unusual design choice.

As she flipped one particular brush over to examine the bristles, she noticed something even more peculiar. The bristles were very cheap, and firm. Despite the obvious detail put into the wood, the actual functioning end of the brush would hardly seem suitable for a mare’s mane, especially one so fabulous as herself.

Just as she was about to move to another aisle, she spotted the owner at the counter and stopped in her tracks, unable to remove her eyes from the impossible sight before her. Standing behind the register, wearing a warm, sincere smile, stood what at first glance appeared to simply be a foreign unicorn with a deep-purple coat. Her smooth, well-kept black mane was tied into a tight bun with a single long red ribbon falling down across her cheek, and her tail had been done up in a similar fashion with its own ribbon, the loose end flowing along with her tail as it idly swished back and forth behind her.

But none of that was what caused the ivory unicorn to stare. Rather, it was the shopkeeper’s purple coat, which was decorated with what could only be zebra stripes. Lavender-colored stripes, to be sure, but undeniably a zebra pattern. It had long been known that zebras and ponies were compatible as mates, and were perfectly capable of interbreeding – but in almost every case, or at least every case she had ever heard of, the offspring always inherited either the traits of the zebra (most often) or pony parent alone, without any mixing between them. She had never seen, or even heard of, one taking on the traits of both.

“It’s a rare mutation, my dear.”

Rarity was blasted from her thoughts as a voice that could only be described as motherly floated into her ears. She blinked and looked around for the owner of the voice, realizing quickly that it could only have come from the shopkeeper she’d just been staring at. “I... I do sincerely apologize. I didn’t mean to stare!” Rarity stammered, apologizing hastily for her rudeness. “But I must say I... Forgive me, it’s just that I truly have never seen the like in all my life, or in any book, and... oh dear, I do apologize, that didn’t come out right at all.”

The shop’s owner smiled and nodded with understanding. “It’s perfectly fine, my dear. My father was a zebra, and my mother was a unicorn – and I assure you, my dear, you are hardly the first to have been confused by my appearance. I’m quite used to it. As I said, it’s a very rare mutation,” she explained with a soft chuckle, waving Rarity’s flustered apologies aside with a hoof. “No offense taken.”

“Oh, I see,” Rarity said, still a bit embarrassed. “Still, it was rude of me to stare, and I do apologize.”

“Ahh, and where are my manners?” the owner asked, clearly amused by the situation. “My first customer, and I haven’t even greeted her properly!” She assumed a slightly more formal stance, bowing her head slightly for a moment. “I am Crimson Brush, and I humbly welcome you to my shop. Is there anything I can help you with, my dear?”

Rarity walked towards the counter in order to converse with the shopkeeper face-to-face, and in a more normal volume. “Well... I must say, I’m not entirely sure,” she said. “I came inside because I seem to have so much trouble finding the right kind of brushes to keep my fabulous mane styled just so,” she said, giving her head a quick toss to make her stylish purple locks bounce in a manner that was clearly meant to draw attention to them, “and I thought perhaps an establishment which specializes in mane brushes might have something a bit more suitable for such an exacting task...”

Crimson smiled warmly, not at all fazed by Rarity’s obvious self-compliment. Some might have considered the ivory unicorn mare to be insufferably vain and narcissistic for saying such things about herself, seemingly without a hint of modesty – but like any good businessmare, Crimson had learned a fair bit about how to read other ponies’ personalities, especially if the pony in question was a potential customer, and felt fairly sure she knew the true reasons behind the unicorn’s flair and self-adoration. “It is a truly beautiful style, my dear. You must take great pride in your appearance.”

Rarity smiled proudly and nodded. “Well, of course, darling. Fashion is my passion, and I can hardly expect to help others look beautiful if I can’t do the same for myself, now can I?”

Crimson nodded in agreement. “Of course. Your customers need to see you looking fabulous, in order to believe you can make them look equally fabulous, yes?”

“Exactly!” Rarity gave a genuinely warm smile this time, pleased that her fellow businessmare understood.

“Well, you came to the right place, my dear. But I sense you have a problem? You said you weren’t sure of something...?”

Rarity bit her lip as she considered how to answer that question. Crimson noticed her hesitation, and smiled kindly at her. “Please, feel free to be honest,” she said. “The truth is always welcome, even when it is not always what we expect. And as we both know, the customer is always right, yes?”

Rarity nodded. “Very well. It’s just that... Your designs are most appealing to the eyes, darling, but I can’t help noticing the bristle choice is very rough and, forgive me for saying so, but... well... rather cheap. There’s no way I could ever let such crude bristles come near my delicate mane!”

Crimson blinked a bit, surprised by the rude yet somehow still polite reply. Well, I did ask her to be honest! she thought to herself, unable to suppress a slight giggle at the thought. Rarity, in turn, was surprised to see that not only did Crimson not seem to be offended by what she’d said, but was actually nodding in agreement with her.

“Ah, now I understand your concerns,” Crimson said. “I must apologize, my dear – I’ve only just opened for business this morning, and I haven’t finished putting out all of the displays and signs yet. Those brushes,” she explained, waving a hoof towards the ones Rarity had been examining, “are merely display models. Every brush I sell is custom-made and crafted to each individual customer’s expectations – including their choice of bristle types, of course. Those display models are just copies of ones I’ve made for others in the past, to give new customers an idea of what is available and help them decide what they might want for their own. They are good for demonstrations as well, of course.”

Rarity looked a bit confused at that last statement, but shook it off and offered an apologetic smile as Crimson finished her explanation. “Oh! That does make much more sense!” she said. “Then let me be the first to say, you do wonderful work. The handles are simply beautiful, clearly the work of a skilled artisan with an eye for detail... which is why the low-quality bristles seemed so peculiar to me,” she added with a wry chuckle. “I think I owe you an apology as well, then; I should have realized they were just display samples, not meant for sale. Do you mind if I look around a bit more?”

Crimson smiled warmly and nodded. “Of course, my dear, take all the time you need. If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to help.”

Rarity gave a polite nod and began walking down the aisles once more, with a new appreciation for the work on each brush. She picked up one in particular, a large oval-backed brush with a lovely pink-and-white coloring in a pattern that reminded her of cotton candy. For some reason her mind wandered to her little sister, and she couldn’t help but smile.

“I made that one for a parent. She said it would help her daughter ‘keep it straight’, I believe were her exact words,” Crimson spoke up from behind her with a soft chuckle.

Rarity turned around to see the owner placing a few more brushes down at the end of the shelves. Seeing Crimson on this side of the counter allowed Rarity to get a better look at her cutie mark. The zebracorn’s flank was decorated by a red Neighsian-designed hairbrush with the bristle side facing upwards, rather than bristle-side down as one would expect for coat-grooming – a fact which Rarity noted with mild interest, but attached no particular significance to since it was, after all, hardly the only oddity in the zebra-striped unicorn’s appearance. The fact that she had a hairbrush for a cutie mark in the first place was far more interesting.

“So tell me, darling – if you don’t mind my asking, however did you come to such a peculiarly unique ‘special talent’ as brush design?” Rarity asked curiously.

Crimson smiled fondly as she thought back to when she got her own cutie mark...

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It had been a normal day like any other, when she’d arrived home from school. But Crimson knew it wouldn’t be a good day for her once she got home. She’d gotten into another fight at school...

Some kids had picked on her for her odd markings, and one of the meaner colts had shoved her into a puddle. She’d gotten up and tried to brush the mud from her coat with a hoof, to the amusement of the crowd of foals around her. She’d glared at the colt with eyes that could kill, but he hadn’t been impressed. “Oh! I’m so scared! The zebra-corn’s gonna curse me with her widdle horn!” he’d cried, mocking her, before bursting into laughter. “Oh wait! She can’t! Her horn doesn’t even work!” This had set the rest of the crowd laughing at her as well. She’d gritted her teeth together, trying to ignore them – but he just kept taunting and mocking her, encouraging the other foals to do the same, and finally she’d had enough. She’d spun around and bucked him, knocking the wind out of her tormenter as she caught him by surprise. She’d managed to get a few more licks in, before one of the teachers had pulled them apart and sent her home early with a red note attached to her saddlebag.

She sighed. Her mother wouldn’t be home for a few more hours, but she had no doubt what would be coming her way. Resigned to her fate, she walked into her room and pulled open the top drawer of her desk. Her worn and well-used mane-brush lay inside. She frowned as she picked it up in her hoof and carried it to her bed.

She thought back to the events that had brought her to this point, as she held the brush in front of her. She knew she was wrong for retaliating, and it certainly wasn’t like her. She’d been made fun of every day at school, practically. True, this was the first time someone had physically attacked her at school, instead of just throwing insults. But still, she knew that was a thin excuse for her actions. Brought out of her thoughts by the sound of something falling she looked up at her desk and saw her magic textbook on the floor. It must have fallen when I opened the drawer, she thought to herself. She placed the brush on the bed and picked up the book, bringing it back with her. Might as well study while I’m waiting...

As she read through the first few chapters on telekinesis, she tried to get her horn to work by doing what the book said; but as usual, it barely made a spark, and the objects she tried focusing on stubbornly refused to move. After several frustrating attempts, she gave up and closed the book, placing it on her pillow, then picked up her brush in her hooves to examine it closely. The wooden body had splintered in a few places, but her mother had shaved it enough that it wouldn’t be dangerous. The wood was stained, but mostly light and faded. She’d had this brush for longer than she could remember. A gift from one of her first birthdays.

As she ran her hoof over the backing, she felt a few indentations left over from splinters that had been removed. With a sigh, she got up from the bed and walked over to her desk, pulling a straightedge from her work box as she sat down. With slow, careful strokes of the tool, she began whittling a few of the bigger holes down to a smoother edge. As she worked, she couldn’t help thinking about all the memories this brush had made for her. She actually smiled a bit as she remembered all the care and love her mother gave her after her father had... left.

A thought flashed in her mind, and she looked back down at the brush and blade in her hoof. She began working the knife into the wood, following the image that had suddenly formed in her head. It wasn’t until she heard the door open downstairs that she snapped out of her thoughts and looked down at the brush once more, not realizing she had been working subconsciously the entire time. The brush before her was a sight to behold in itself, the newly-carved design blending so seamlessly with the old cracks and indentations that those signs of wear now looked as if they’d been meant to be there all along – but what truly caught her eye was the woodworking blade floating in the air just above it. She was doing it! She had worked the blade with so much precision and skill – and she’d done it all with her horn!

As her door opened to her mother the blade fell to the desk, and her mother gasped. Crimson looked up and then to where her mother’s eyes were staring in such excitement. There on her flank sat her cutie mark. As she looked at it in wonder, one thought crept into her mind...

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“Red... how fitting...”

“Sorry...? What was that, darling?” Rarity asked at the confusing reply to her question.

Crimson blinked and looked up at the unicorn before her, then shook her head to clear it, shaking off the memory. “I’m sorry... what was the question again, my dear?”

Rarity chuckled softly at Crimson’s look of dazed remembrance. “It must be a lovely memory. I asked how you found your special talent?”

Crimson looked at her own cutie mark for a few moments, letting her thoughts drift a moment or two longer, then turned her attention back to Rarity to answer the unicorn’s question with a smile that spoke of years of fond memories. “Accepting what you are – and the mistakes you’ve made – can teach you many things, my dear.”

Though her question was still unanswered, Rarity simply nodded and decided not to pursue the subject. While most ponies enjoyed sharing their cutie-mark stories, there were some ponies, she knew, who preferred to keep them a more private matter, something special to be shared only with close friends and family. Or maybe Crimson, like another certain zebra of Rarity’s acquaintance, just enjoyed being mysterious and enigmatic. Either way, it wouldn’t be ladylike to pry further. She went back to looking at the brush before her, levitating it in her magic to get a closer look at it from all angles. That swirled cotton-candy pattern really did remind her so much of her little sister...

“How long does a custom order normally take?” Rarity asked without looking up.

“Oh! Well, it usually takes three to four days, depending on what you want. But if I have the materials in stock, I can do a rush order in one day for only a few bits more, if you need it right away,” Crimson said.

Rarity nodded. “Why do you not carve the backs of the brushes? I’ve looked at quite a few of them, and the handles are very exquisite, but the backs all seem to be smooth and flat?” she asked curiously.

Crimson nodded. “True. I do sometimes carve them if a customer really wants it that way... but personally, I’ve found that carvings on the back of a brush tend to limit its usefulness and lifespan.”

Rarity quirked an eyebrow at the odd choice of words, then shrugged and placed the brush down as she continued down the aisle. As she reached the end and began to turn around, she noticed two doors beside the counter, one on each side. The door on the left read Demonstrations and Product Testing, while the one on the right said No Admittance Without Owner’s Permission. Her curiosity aroused, she turned towards Crimson again. “Why would you need a back room for showing off a hairbrush? And whatever is that room for?” she asked, nodding towards the doors.

Crimson chuckled at the unicorn’s curiosity as she walked toward the counter, smiling warmly. “Well, my dear... mother always taught me there were two uses for a good hairbrush. And the back rooms are for just that. As for that door,” she said, motioning towards the locked room on the right, “that’s for my more... exotic works, shall we say. Nothing a regal mare such as yourself would be interested in. It’s more for the... odd tastes of some customers, for lack of a better term.”

Rarity blinked as she looked at the zebracorn mare quizzically, wondering whether she should ask her to elaborate on that. “‘A good hairbrush has two uses’...?” she asked, repeating Crimson’s earlier words. “What did your mother mean by that?” That seemed like a safer question.

Crimson turned to look at Rarity, raising a brow as if the answer was obvious. “Do you have children, my dear?”

Rarity shook her head. “Oh, no... although as much time as my darling little sister spends at my place, it certainly does seem like it sometimes! She can be quite a hoof-full,” she said, with a smile that was a mixture of fondness and wry amusement. “Not that she’s a bad filly, mind you, she’s just... high-spirited, and a bit over-eager at times, if you take my meaning.”

Crimson nodded sagely. “Yes, even the sweetest foal can have their moments. I take it her colors match that brush you were so enthralled with, my dear?”

Rarity nodded in reply. “Well, not so much the color itself, but the pattern reminds me very much of the way she likes to wear her mane, with all those cotton-candy swirls,” she explained.

“And what do you do when she gets out of hoof, my dear?” Crimson asked with a warm smile.

“Well... I hate to admit it,” Rarity said, a bit reluctantly, “but... we tend to fight. Rather a lot, I’m afraid. But we always make up!” she added hastily. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my little sister dearly... but she does tend to act without thinking things through, and her and her friends are just too much for me to handle, sometimes.”

Crimson nodded in understanding. “I see... and have you tried disciplining her?”

Rarity blinked again, a bit taken aback by the question. “I usually just send her to her room,” she said. “And I know my parents just let her run wild when she’s home...”

Crimson nodded again. “I don’t mean to overstep my boundaries, my dear... but have you ever disciplined her physically?”

Rarity’s eyes widened as the pieces suddenly fell together. “You don’t sell these brushes for a mare’s coat alone, do you, darling?” she said slowly, her voice almost accusing, but thoughtful at the same time.

“Of course not, my dear,” Crimson said with a chuckle, not at all upset by the implied accusation in the unicorn’s voice. It was the truth, after all. “All of my designs are built both to appeal to the eyes, and to be sturdy enough for a parent’s care to their child. Whether that care is to their mane, or...”

Leaving Rarity to finish that thought on her own, Crimson walked over and picked up one of the brushes from the shelf, levitating it with her unicorn magic, turning it over to run her hoof over the smooth wood backing while she spoke. Rarity listened intently as she watched the mare play with the brush.

“My mother cared for me so very much when I was a filly,” Crimson began. “My father left for war when I was very young, so it was up to Mother to take care of me and... teach me. I wasn’t an overly bad child, mind you, but I certainly had my moments.” She chuckled softly at the memories of days gone by. “Anytime I was in trouble, she’d tell me to fetch my hairbrush from my desk. We’d have a long talk about my actions, and what I could have done better. And she always made sure that I completely understood what I had done wrong, so that by the time I went over her lap, I was in full acceptance of what was to come. Not that I was happy about it as a filly, of course,” she added with a wry chuckle of her own, “but growing up, I now know she was right all along. And I hope to pass on that wisdom with my own special touch.”

Rarity stood in thought for a good while, pondering that, before she finally spoke. “I see,” she said quietly, still thinking it through. “I can tell you love your Mother very much, darling. And I can’t honestly say I’ve never considered... spanking. My parents were always pretty aloof and forgiving of anything I did when I was young. I turned out all right, or at least I like to think so, but... I can’t really give any credit to them, I’m afraid. I love them, to be sure, but I...” She paused for a moment, then sighed. “I always wished they would take more of an interest in me, as a filly. And I’m afraid they’re raising my little sister the same way, even though...”

Rarity looked back at the shelf where the brush that had caught her eye rested, considering. She’d turned out all right, she knew, because she’d developed her own sense of self-discipline at an early age despite – or perhaps because of – her parents’ rather lax attitudes on the subject. I suppose I was always a little more self-disciplined than most fillies my age, wasn’t I, she found herself thinking. Sweetie Belle, though, was far more high-spirited and excitable than she’d been at that age. And between those equally high-spirited friends of hers, and our parents just letting her do whatever she wants... when they even notice she’s around at all...

Finally, she reached a decision. “I think I would like to purchase two brushes from you, if that wouldn’t be too much trouble?”

Crimson Brush smiled and nodded happily. “Of course, dear. No trouble at all. In fact... since you are my very first customer at this shop, I’ll even waive the one-day rush fee, and have them both ready for you by tomorrow afternoon. If you’d like, you can even bring your little sister by when you pick them up,” Crimson said, giving Rarity a knowing wink as she walked behind the counter. She picked up a pair of order forms, then laid them on the counter along with a writing quill. “Here you go. Simply describe what you wish here, as best you can – and don’t forget to detail exactly what kind of bristles you want, my dear,” she added with a teasing grin.

Rarity smiled and nodded as she picked up the quill. In her profession, she was used to having to make quick sketches for prospective clients to look at, so it only took her a few minutes to fill out both forms with her desired specifications for each brush. “Thank you so much, darling! I will most definitely be back tomorrow. How much do I owe you?”

Crimson looked down at the forms, admiring the unicorn’s neatly detailed sketchwork even as she tallied up the cost of materials and work in her head. “Hmmmm... twenty-five bits for this one... and I believe I can do the other one for fifteen.”

Rarity nodded approvingly. “That’ll be fine. Do you need the money now, or...?” she asked, as she started to reach for the bits in her saddlebag.

Crimson shook her head and smiled. “Not for these, my dear. Payment on delivery, once we’re both satisfied that you’re satisfied that the product is exactly what you wanted.”

Rarity smiled and let the flap on her saddlebag fall closed again. “I’m certain they will be,” she said. “And may I say, it was a joy to meet you, Crimson Brush. I’ll be back tomorrow at around... four P.M.? Will that do?”

“That will be fine, my dear, and it was a pleasure meeting you as well, Rarity.”

Rarity waved as she walked out of the shop, with a bit of a pep visibly in her step as she headed back to her home. “Ohhh, Sweetie Belle...!” Crimson heard the slightly sinister note in the unicorn mare’s joyful call as she turned the corner and disappeared out of Crimson’s sight. She smiled to herself, then turned away to head for her back room to begin work on her first sale, in her new home.