Lyra would always remember being born: gravity pinning her to the hard kitchen floor, acrid smells from spent spell ingredients burning her eyes, and chilly midnight air sapping heat away from her damp coat. Bon Bon lay on the opposite side of the room, splayed on the floor like a rag doll and staring at Lyra with the same wonder and fear that she herself felt overcome with.
Most of all, she’d remember Candy Heart’s screaming. Her hooded form had crashed around the room, kicking over the steaming cauldron in the middle of the floor, tearing down the crystal charms suspended from the ceiling, and running her hooves across the suddenly bare spot on her forehead.
For nearly ten seconds Lyra remembered the full incantation, the unholy mixture of Zebra potion craft and unicorn spell wizardry that was responsible for her life, for Bon Bon’s, and for Candy Heart’s missing horn. And then she fell asleep for the first time.
Lyra woke in the late morning. A strong breeze was whipping through the streets outside, rhythmically opening and slamming the unbolted side door. Candy Heart probably broke the hinge when she ran off into the night. At least, that’s where Lyra assumed she’d gone. At the moment she didn’t care.
She rolled onto her back and gave the kitchen a thorough examination. Everything looked so funny from down here with her mane against the floor. The massive twelve-burner stove sitting against the opposite wall almost looked like one of those magic chariots that pegasi sometimes pulled through the skies. She held up her hooves and squinted until the illusion was complete. She was floating up in the sky, miles above the ceiling-turned-ground, and the boring old stove was a magnificent metal chariot waiting to take her on a wild adventure. She laughed at the thought and turned her attention to the giant metal door directly behind her.
It wasn’t just a walk-in freezer, not for her. Just behind that door was a magical world where ponies did nothing but eat ice cream and dance. Or something like that. Lyra rolled onto her stomach and felt the drabness of the kitchen, its utter familiarity, tear at her mind. She couldn’t just sit here all day, not when she had a whole house to explore.
She stood, stretched her legs, and took one last moment to listen. The kitchen was deathly silent, but she could hear a faint scrubbing sound coming from the storefront. Maybe that other new pony she’d seen last night, the one with the light tan coat, was cleaning up. Maybe that’s why the kitchen floor wasn’t a mess like it’d been last night. That was nice of her.
The front of the shop was boring, though. There was nothing out there except dusty countertops, dustier floors, and filthy display cases. Maybe they wouldn’t stay filthy, assuming that other new pony really was cleaning or something. Just so long as Lyra didn’t have to do it.
Lyra headed through the other door instead, the one that led to the house’s front room. She started her examination with the line of pictures perched over the fireplace. In the first one she saw good ol’ Mom and Dad on either side of a barely-walking Candy Heart, still young and innocent. She moved down the line of pictures, watching time take its course. Each picture immortalized a moment on that little filly’s journey to adulthood: playing with blocks here, baking cookies with Mom there, learning to count with Dad, and so on. The only constants were her steady march towards maturity and her parents’ decline into old age. They were all wrinkles by the time she was a teenager, but still looked so proud.
By the next to last picture, she was fully grown and endowed with an X-shaped cutie mark formed by two candy canes. Her expression had changed, too. The youthful enthusiasm from the earlier photos, the can-do-anything attitude that’d earned her A’s in school and the attention of prestigious universities, had morphed into something else. What was it, exactly?
Lyra checked her own reflection in frame’s glass covering. Try as she might, she couldn’t match Candy Heart’s eerie smile; she just couldn’t get the right mix of almost-malice and definite-arrogance. Instead, she crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue. “Nyaah!”
Her own voice made her giggle. She’d never heard it before. It wasn’t as harsh as Candy Heart’s. She was a much nicer color, too: a light greenish blue (or was that bluish green?) and a mane with white highlights. That was so much nicer than mean old Candy Heart’s dark green coat and stark-white mane.
Mom and Dad weren’t even in the last picture. Was that before the funerals, or after? Lyra didn’t remember. Candy Heart was just standing there in front of the then-bustling candy shop, giving the camera a confident smile. This was the photo for the paper, wasn’t it? For that article about the much-beloved shop owners passing on the business to their only daughter. Lyra could guess Candy Heart’s thoughts through the photo, even if her facial expression didn’t match; she wasn’t happy about owning the shop, and never had been. Why bother keeping up the family business when she could board up the windows and work on her own freaky ideas? What ideas were they again? Candy Heart could keep all the scary memories for all Lyra cared.
Lyra’s own reflection caught her attention again. Her gaze drifted upward to the horn sticking out of her unkempt mane. “I got to keep it! I got the horn! I got the horn!”
She pranced around the room and dove into the nearest armchair. The armchair rocked back on two legs, prompting her to steady it with her magic. Her magic. It was her magic now. No more weird stuff from those ancient, falling-apart spell books. Now it was nothing but lounging around while she let her horn do all the tough stuff.
She pointed her foreleg at the kitchen. “Now go make me an ice cream sundae, magic horn!”
Her horn lit up, but that was all. The distant freezer door handle didn’t even rattle. Instead, sweat broke out on Lyra’s brow. Magic was harder than she’d expected, and a lot more tiring. How had Candy Heart gotten so good at it?
She scowled at the freezer. Ice cream could wait. She still had most of a house left to explore.
Lyra moved from room to room, interspersing moments of contemplation with general silliness. All of Candy Heart’s scary spell and potion stuff was tucked away in her room, thankfully. With the door shut, it’s like it wasn’t even there. Lyra didn’t need it, and if she couldn’t see it she didn’t need to worry about it. Besides, there were two perfectly usable guest bedrooms down the hall, complete with beds, blankets, and no Candy Heart memories. That weird pony never had guests, much less friends, anyway.
Far too quickly, Lyra found herself running out of house. She’d made faces in every shiny surface, decided on a new color for each wall (rainbow), and taken more than enough slides down the banister. She sat on the upper landing, watching bright afternoon sunlight make its slow procession across the floorboards. Her boredom was starting to get serious now, like an itch inside her head. Could she use her unicorn magic to scratch her own brain? That sounded too scary.
She looked up at the skylight and the sun perfectly framed within it. Looking directly at the sun hurt her eyes. Maybe if she squinted just right it wouldn’t, or maybe it’d hurt even more. She didn’t want her eyes to get burned out; being blind would be really sad and boring. She opted to check out the ceiling instead, and soon found something even Candy Heart had forgotten about. “The attic!”
At last she’d found something her magic was good for: grabbing the just-out-of-reach pull cord on the attic’s trap door. The door in the ceiling swung open, and a set of steps unfolded in front of her. Lyra took a deep breath of the musty air as she stared into the darkness above. What was up there? If Candy Heart didn’t even remember, then there couldn’t be any of her scary magic stuff, right? At least finding out would stave off boredom for a few minutes.
She took the steps one at a time, noting how some of them creaked noisily under her weight while others remained silent. The shapes of long-forgotten family heirlooms and childhood relics were barely visible in the attic’s dim light. Some ponies might’ve called the place spooky, but then again most ponies didn’t have Candy Heart’s memories in their heads. All of those cardboard boxes didn’t look like much fun, but at this point Lyra was desperate. Even leafing through an old photo album sounded better than trying to stare at the sun.
She left the stairs and paced through the attic. Boxes surrounded her on all sides, along with what looked like all the dust in the world. Every time she set down her hoof, a miniature explosion of grey nearly overtook her foreleg. Would stirring up enough dust to make her sneeze be fun? Definitely, but that could wait. She needed to savor this last room, this last bastion of newness. After this, she’d be stuck trying to entertain herself with all the stuff she’d found already or, worse still, help that other new pony clean.
A hefty wooden case became her first target. She leaned down, blew the dust off, and watched with delight as it shrouded another box in an indoor fog bank. Without its dusty blanket, the case looked downright fancy. Time couldn’t erase the lacquered wood, shiny metal hinges, or the carved insignia over the clasp. The lettering was almost too curvy and decorative to read. “Heart… Strings. Heart Strings.”
The name stirred something in her, something old. Lyra undid the clasp and lifted the heavy lid. She’d knocked over a vase on one of her earlier banister rides and hadn’t batted an eye when it shattered on the floor. Somehow this felt different. Was it the attic, the wooden case, or something within herself? She’d been breathing for less than twenty four hours, and yet her first wild imaginings in the kitchen seemed like a lifetime ago.
When the lyre caught the attic’s meagre light, Lyra started to cry. Childhood memories came flooding back, the kind that Candy Heart refused to revisit. She remembered the front room, decked out in balloons and streamers, and containing every filly in her class. She remembered winning Pin the Tail on the Pony, eating two slices of Peppermint Chocolate cake, and opening present after present after present. The dolls were nice, and so were the puzzle and toy train. The contents of the fancy wooden case at the bottom of the pile, the gift from Mom and Dad, was beyond imagining. “This was great grandma’s. Mom and Dad gave it as a birthday present… something challenging and different for their super-smart filly… something to help her find her special talent.”
Lyra’s hoof caressed the burnished metal and, after a moment’s hesitation, gently plucked the strings. The twanging notes were a revelation, a moment of enlightenment second only to being born. She remembered the whole story now. She remembered Candy Heart keeping the lyre on her nightstand so it’d never be out of sight. She remembered whole Saturdays spent practicing until her hooves chipped and her eyes couldn’t focus on the songbook. She remembered Dad paying the music tutor for the advanced lessons since she already knew the basics. Most of all, she remembered crying as she read the rejection letter from the Canterlot Academy of Music. She hadn’t gotten the scholarship, so she wasn’t going at all.
At least the dark days that followed earned Candy Heart her cutie mark. She realized she hadn’t loved the lyre, not really. What she actually loved was being the best, and if the lyre couldn’t give her that, then back in its case it would go. Everything that wouldn’t make her the best had to go, too; the lyre was just a big X on her list of possible life pursuits. And so she finally had her cutie mark: an X formed by candy canes to match her namesake and to sum up her conviction: she would be the absolute best at something, no matter what.
Except that was Candy Heart’s story. The mare currently plucking out chords was only a small part of her: the creative, free-spirited part. A tear disappeared in the dust covering the floor as Lyra hummed a nursery rhyme. Hours flew by as she extracted melodies first with her hoof and then with her magic. With the greatest reverence, she removed the instrument from its case and pressed it to her chest. “But I do love you, lyre, I really do… I’m calling myself Lyra! Lyra Heartstrings!”
A warmth rushed through her, all the way from her horn to her tail. All of her past antics, and her race against boredom, faded away in a glowing sense of completeness that lingered on her flanks. She’d found her passion, her talent, her purpose. She was here to inspire, to dream, and to create. Based on her new cutie mark, she planned on starting out with music.
Bon Bon’s eyes flew open. She studied the dim light illuminating the kitchen and how the sun was just barely peeking over the rooftops visible through the window. Was it five in the morning? Six? Seven? Candy Heart’s rampage last night included smashing the clock that normally sat on the countertop.
She pushed herself off the floor with her front hooves. “Need a new clock… Have to have a clock in the kitch—ugh!”
Last night’s nightmare, which began with her being called into existence and ended with Candy Heart storming through the side door in a rage, also included the kitchen being destroyed. The awful black cauldron where Candy Heart had mixed those foul-smelling ingredients was tipped over, and the green slop she’d brewed had spread out in a massive puddle. The other spell ingredients were here too: burnt phoenix feathers from the Everfree forest, dark crystals from the frozen north, exotic plants from the Trottingham mountains, and, assuming Bon Bon remembered the incantation correctly, a dragon’s claw procured at midnight.
All of it was charred black, and all of it had to go. Bon Bon ran to the broom closet in search of a mop, bucket, and a bottle of industrial strength disinfectant.
Bon Bon didn’t notice the other pony until she’d finished mopping. She was a ghastly shade of aquamarine, not too far removed from the color of the horrible stuff Bon Bon had just finished pouring down the drain. She leaned down and gave her a sniff. The pony didn’t smell bad, at least. Hopefully she was clean, and hopefully she’d wake up soon and be on her way.
The front of the shop came next. Nopony had been in here, to sell candy or to buy it, for years. What little light the boarded-up front windows would admit painted a scene almost as horrific as the kitchen. Dust. There was dust everywhere. The floor looked like it hadn’t been cleaned, or even stepped on, since Candy Heart shut down the shop and threw out whatever candy was left over.
Not that the display cases were fit to hold food anymore, of course. Just looking at the grime on the glass twisted Bon Bon’s stomach in knots. Getting this place back in working order would take hours, four of them, by her estimation.
Three and a quarter hours later, Bon Bon was once again dumping a final bucketful of filth down the drain. She watched the grey water spiral around in the sink on its way out of sight. “So much better… That’s so much better!”
Never had the display cases shined like they did now, not even when they were new. There wasn’t a single particle of dust to be found. Better still, the kitchen was even cleaner. Every countertop gleamed, and every floor tile sparkled. Even the stove and freezer door looked brand new. Not even a surgeon needed a room cleaner than this.
She trotted to the center of the kitchen and took a deep, satisfied breath. She had every reason to be happy. Never had the shop been in better shape. Mom and Dad would’ve been so proud.
Bon Bon’s smile faltered. Every way she turned she saw cleanliness, but somehow that wasn’t enough. She sat on the floor and ran her hooves through her mane. Her stomach was twisting into knots again, and her heart was pounding. Hopefully it was just a little panic attack, nothing too serious. Hopefully she wouldn’t throw up; although if she did, at least she’d get to mop the floor again.
Where was that other new pony with aquamarine coat? Maybe she knew what was wrong, maybe she could fix all of this. A gleeful scream, followed by the crash of an antique vase on a hardwood floor, echoed through a doorway. Maybe that other pony was nothing but trouble. At least she’d left the kitchen. Bon Bon didn’t care if she burned the rest of the building to the ground, so long as the kitchen and shop stayed the way they were supposed to.
What did ‘supposed to’ look like? If she figured that out, then maybe her breathing would slow down, not to mention her heart rate. Cleaning everything had felt so good, though! What else was there? She closed her eyes and rocked back and forth. “Cleaned everything… everything… everything. What’s next?”
Her mind swam with old memories. Candy Heart’s life was such an incoherent mess, the kind that a broom or a mop just couldn’t fix. “Mommy, if I help you do the dishes, can I help you make the candy? That sounds lovely, dear! Let’s make candy… candy… candy…”
Bon Bon sprang off the floor and ran to the cabinet closest to the shop, the one where Candy Heart’s mom kept her books, books that adult Candy Heart had never seen fit to move. Her hooves trembled as candy recipes, some in books and others on hoofwritten index cards, tumbled out of the cabinet and onto the floor. She took a glance at each one and tossed it aside. She’d made them all before, or at least Candy Heart had. Wasn’t that one of her happiest childhood achievements, memorizing all the family recipes?
That meant Bon Bon knew them all too, or so she hoped. The panic monster still had its claws wrapped around her neck. If she didn’t do something fast, if she didn’t make the kitchen feel right—whatever that meant—then her heart would burst out of her chest. And who’d clean up a mess like that? Definitely not Miss Aquamarine over in the front room, based on her success at keeping the family heirlooms intact.
The freezer was remarkably well-stocked, considering how long it’d been since Candy Heart cooked anything. All the basic ingredients were still here, and thanks to the miracle of refrigeration they were probably all still good. Bon Bon wrapped her foreleg around a package of frozen butter and dragged it into the warmth of the kitchen. Why did the other new pony get the horn? Why was she stuck doing all this work with nothing but hooves? Why didn’t that awful spell just make a horn for each of them?
At some point she’d have to clean out the pantry, too. Candy Heart’s potion supplies were lined up on the shelf right next to the confectioner’s sugar and condensed milk. That was a problem for later. Right now, Bon Bon needed to cook.
She snatched a mixing bowl out of a cabinet, set it on a scale, and started pouring in the sugar. “Three dozen bonbons needs a pound of sugar, half a pound of chocolate, one and a half—”
The scale’s needle jumped past the one pound mark, and yet Bon Bon didn’t stop. The bonbon recipe floating in her mind was joined by two others that required common dry ingredients. “That’s three dozen bonbons, two dozen caramels, and a dozen truffles… I’d better get the double boilers ready!”
The stove was a monstrous beast. Twelve burners, and just as many dials, were ready and waiting to handle everything a professional confectioner could possibly need. The instant Bon Bon twisted the nearest knob, jets of blue flame erupted under the corresponding burner amid the quiet hiss of gas. She turned the knob clockwise until the flames roared with the fury of a bonfire, and then counterclockwise until they were tiny glowing pinpoints. The finest clocks in Equestria couldn’t match this level of precision. Before her sat a fine-tuned instrument just waiting for skilled hooves like hers to make it sing.
Hours flew by, as did recipes. Dirty mixing bowls, whisks, pots, and spatulas first filled the sink and then began overtaking the neighboring counter. Bon Bon didn’t care about the mess, not anymore. Dirtying everything in the kitchen just meant she’d get to clean it all again. Besides, all of her effort wasn’t in vain. Tray after tray of candies, from caramel to toffee to chocolate, lay cooling on countertops. At this rate she’d run out of room in the kitchen and have to start using the shop’s display cases for their intended purpose.
Bon Bon studied the thermometer sticking out of the double boiler on the corner burner. The red liquid inside the glass vial was drawing ever closer to perfection, to the precise temperature at which she could turn off the heat. Why had Candy Heart hated the family business so much? Bon Bon could, and had, spent hours sitting here churning out sweets. The whole process was so perfect: a set of instructions that, if followed to the letter, yielded success. That’s all Bon Bon needed to survive. She needed order. She needed instructions. She’d cleaned the kitchen so she could start cooking, and she’d started cooking so she could make the little balls of sugar crowding up the countertops.
At long last, the candy thermometer gave Bon Bon its silent signal: the chocolate was ready. She turned off the heat and reached for the double boiler with gloved hooves. Steam poured out of the water-filled lower section as she hefted the chocolate-filled upper pot away. “Time to pour some more bonb—”
Her back legs gave out just as the pot left the stove. Gravity pulled her down, but her eyes never left the pot clutched between her forelegs. Molten chocolate sloshed over the pot’s rim, thankfully to the side and not towards her face, and splashed across the floor just as she hit the ground. The pot clanged against the floor and rolled away, spilling the last of its contents on the tile that she’d spent hours scrubbing.
She didn’t move for over a minute, during which time her gaze remained fixed on the ruined chocolate. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Pots didn’t belong on the ground, and chocolate definitely didn’t. That insides-twisting sense of panic came back at full force, this time accompanied by the sudden realization that her whole body was shaking. She’d felt cool a moment ago, and yet now she realized her mane was soaked through with sweat.
What was wrong now? Why did she suddenly feel so weak? Her body, new as it was, couldn’t be that different from the oven. It was just a machine, and machines only needed so many things to keep functioning properly. “Need something… but what? Have to clean up that chocolate…”
She reached a trembling hoof towards the mess and clawed helplessly against the floor. “Have to… I have to…”
And then the smell hit her. This whole time she’d been acting like she was manufacturing lug nuts, as opposed to sweet-smelling, delicious candy.
“I’m… I’m hungry!”
Saying it made it real. It took the notion out of the nebulous realm of thought and made it into a self-given command: eat something.
In her current state, she stood no chance of getting the freezer door open. Instead, she crawled over to the counter with her nose in the air. Everything smelled amazing! If she’d been any less desperate she’d never have been able to choose. Instead she forced herself into a standing position and wrapped her lips around the first morsel she saw. It was chocolate, smooth, rich, and slightly warm. A sweet nougat center hit her a moment later, and she sighed in contentment. At last she understood. She understood it all.
Bon Bon knew Mom’s pained realization when Candy Heart first asked her why all the candies in the shop tasted the same, and she knew Candy Heart’s mounting annoyance at having to make more of the stuff every day.
Once the learning was over, once she memorized every recipe, candy preparation was just a chore. Sweets did nothing for Candy Heart; she was tone-deaf to the symphony playing out on Bon Bon’s tongue. Why would she ever want to spend her life making sugar confections that tasted like wax? It wasn’t her fault there wasn’t anypony else to take over the family business, no matter how much the shop would be missed. Other ponies were as dull and useless as candy itself.
Not even the counseling after school helped. Not like Mom and Dad hoped, anyway. Those degreed and accredited ‘doctors’ might’ve thought they’d gotten through to her, that they’d shown her the value of friendship and empathy. All they’d really done is explain how normal ponies worked, how Candy Heart needed to treat them in order to get her way. It turned out that ponies weren’t any different from candy recipes or sheet music; she just had to learn to read them, to manipulate them, and, in time, to rise beyond their reach.
Bon Bon grabbed an entire tray and brought it with her to the floor. She lay there, blissfully consuming her hard work. “Candy Heart was just crazy… Even Mom and Dad knew that by the end. B-but not me! I’m not crazy! I’m a good little filly! I’ll carry on the family business, and I’ll love every second of it! Every sale, every dirty pot, and every—” she scarfed down another candy “—and every bonbon, because that’s me!”
Three wrapped candies appeared on her flank as she ate more.