The Many Uses of a Brush

by Crimson Brush

First published

A store that sells designer and custom hairbrushes opens in Ponyville with a very peculiar owner.

Crimson Brush opens her new store in the small town of Ponyville. Most ponies wouldn’t think there's anything unusual about a store that sells hairbrushes, but it doesn’t take long for some to find out that well-kept manes aren’t all Crimson is promising...

((Contains spanking and possibly explicit scenarios, but no actual sex.))

Note: As of 2013-06-19, chapters 1-6 have been edited and revamped by Triskelion. While the stories themselves are much the same, he has done wonderful work to fix mistakes, and make the stories a bit more engaging and insightful.

“I love how the use of spanking is more than a fetish and rather a conduit for ponies to get lacking discipline into their lives and feel better for it.” – J_Steelwing

Fashionable Brushes

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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...

\/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/

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...

\/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/

“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.

Belle Bottoms

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The Many Uses of a Brush
Chapter 2: Belle Bottoms

Crimson Brush had just finished her work on the second brush when she heard the bell ringing over the front door of her shop. She walked out of the back room and peered over the counter to see who it was, and smiled as she saw the familiar white unicorn mare from the day before, followed by what could only be her little sister. She waved the two over to the counter with a warm smile to the cute ball of fluff.

“Welcome back, my dear. And this cute little filly must be your sister,” she said in a mothering tone as she looked over the counter to the filly in question. “And what is your name, little one?”

“I’m Sweetie Belle! One of the founding members of the Cutie Mark Crusaders!!” The filly shouted the title loud enough to shake the counter, to the obviously-surprised look of the mare leaning upon it.

Crimson chuckled softly at the younger filly’s enthusiastic energy, as she looked back to Rarity with a knowing nod. “She certainly is a spirited little one, my dear. You two look very sweet together, if you don’t mind my saying so. It’s no surprise you wanted to get her something a bit special.”

Rarity smiled back and nodded as she reached over and rubbed her little sister’s head affectionately. “Yes, she is certainly a hoof-full. But she’s my precious little sister and I wouldn’t trade her for the world.”

“Awwww!” the filly giggled happily under the rubbing, with a soft adorable blush filling her pale cheeks. “I got the best big sister in the whole world!”

Crimson chuckled softly as well, before turning around to head back to her work room. “Just one moment, dear, and I’ll bring them right out.”

After Crimson left the room, Rarity bent down to eye level with her little charge, smiling warmly as as she gently brushed a stray hair from the filly’s face. “Now, Sweetie... I know I told you that I got something special for you. And I think you can guess what it is... but I want you to behave yourself while we’re here, okay sweetheart?” Sweetie Belle nodded in joyful agreement.

Crimson walked back out with two boxes floating before her, one made of white oak and the other made in a dark mahogany. She placed the side by side on the counter, just out of view of the little filly, as Rarity stood to look over them. “And here we are. Which would you like to see first my dear?”

Rarity gave her little sister’s head another soft, affectionate pat before turning her attention to the wooden boxes. “I think I’d like to see mine first, if you don’t mind. Since I believe Sweetie Belle will be having plenty of time with her own very soon.” Rarity said, the corner of her mouth quirking into a hint of a smile that spoke volumes to the zebracorn brush-maker.

Crimson returned the slight smile with an understanding nod. “Of course, my dear. I believe that would be best.”

She opened the dark-mahogany box and produced a glossy black-lacquered brush. The carved wooden handle was decorated in four parallel rows of light blue sapphires, their shape and color cut to match the ones that rode on the flank of the fashionista who’d ordered it. The large oval backing bore three more large sapphires arranged in a perfect mimic of Rarity’s own cutie mark, contrasting brilliantly with the black-lacquered wood. The ivory unicorn stood speechless, eyes wide with surprise at how perfectly the brush seemed to suit her. The sapphire stones almost seemed to glow with their own radiance, as if the jewels themselves were acknowledging her rightful place in society.

As Rarity took the brush from Crimson’s magical grasp, she turned it over and was amazed once more as she ran her hoof over the bristles. She could hardly believe how something so firm could feel so soft to the touch. She ran the brush through her mane once, and nearly dropped the brush in surprise at the sensations it produced. Each individual bristle seemed to gently massage her scalp, even as it moved and brushed each hair perfectly into place. Rarity could hardly believe something so... so perfect as this could have been made in only a day! Crimson Brush had taken her simple requests, and turned them into a work of art that was every bit as much a joy to use as it was to look at.

“Oh wow! That brush is beautiful, Rarity!” Sweetie Belle couldn’t help but stare in admiration at the brush as her sister ran it through her long purple locks a few more times, or giving a wistful sigh of disappointment at losing sight of it again when Rarity finally put the brush back on the counter.

Rarity took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, still savoring the delightful sensations the brush had produced in her mane from just those few strokes, then looked up at Crimson again with a more proper poise befitting somepony as herself. “Well, darling... I must say, never in my wildest dreams did I expect such exquisite work,” she said, bowing her head slightly in acknowledgment of the zebracorn mare’s skills, as one artisan showing respect to another. “I dare say the price you mentioned is a mere pittance for such quality. It is exactly what I requested, and so much more! Wherever did you find those bristles?”

Crimson chuckled softly at the unexpected praise from the fashionista. “I’m afraid that’s a trade secret, my dear. I can only tell you that they are not from my normal stock. I had them specially ordered from a particular supplier in Trottingham, just in case I needed something fit for a royal.”

Rarity chuckled and blushed a bit at the choice of words. “Oh, darling, you know flattery will get you everywhere,” she said. She placed the brush back in its dark-mahogany box, and turned her attention to the white-oak box next to it. “Is this hers? If it is even half as good as the one you made for me, I dare say it would be a crime not to promote your shop in my boutique.”

Crimson gave a polite bow at the implied compliments, then lifted the white box’s lid to reveal its contents, keeping the brush just outside of Sweetie Belle’s sight as she floated it over to her big sister. Unlike Rarity’s, this one’s handle was solid white and smooth, sculpted to be easy to hold onto with either hoof or magic, with a single pink jewel set into the end. The body of the brush was painted with swirled streaks of pale rosy-pink and mulberry-purple, colored to match the filly’s mane while giving the same cotton-candy effect that Rarity had so admired in the sample brush that had caught her eye the previous day. The only other embellishment was the gold lettering on the back. Rarity felt a tear form in her eyes as she turned to her little sister and held the brush out for her to see, turning it so that Sweetie Belle could see the writing on the back.

The filly looked up as the brush was brought into her view. For a brief moment, she looked disappointed at the relative plainness of the brush, at least as compared to the magnificent sapphire-studded brush her big sister had just gotten for herself. Then she saw the words engraved in gold, and her eyes grew large with amazement. “ ‘For my brightest, most precious gem. May her light never fade’,” the filly read, her voice shaking as tears formed in her eyes. She flung her forelegs around her sister, hugging tightly. “Oh my gosh! I love you, big sister!”

Rarity rubbed her sister’s head affectionately as she was was held by the little filly. She smiled warmly. “I love you too, little sister.”

When Sweetie Belle finally let go, Rarity handed her the brush so she could try it out for herself. Sweetie Belle’s face squinched up in concentration as she ran the brush through her mane as best she could with her limited magical control. Crimson had chosen to use bristles that were a bit firmer and less densely-spaced than Rarity’s brush, so as to be more helpful to a growing filly in coping with the multitude of knots and tangles common for one so young. Even so, Sweetie’s wide eyes and whispered “oh, my, gosh!” as she ran the brush over her curly mane told both of the older mares that the sensations were no less delightful to the young filly than Rarity’s brush had been for her. Sweetie Belle sighed and gave a happy smile as she floated the brush in front of her to admire it some more.

Crimson smiled as well as she watched the filly experience the wonders of a new hairbrush. “I’m glad you like it, Sweetie. I’m sure it’ll be with you for a very long time.”

Sweetie nodded at Crimson. “Thank you, ma’am. I’ll take good care of it!”

Rarity smiled and bent down once more to speak with her little sister at her eye level. She gently took the brush from her sister’s magic, eliciting a soft whine of disappointment from the little filly. Rarity bit her lip for a moment. “Now sweetheart,” she began, choosing her words carefully. “This brush is a gift... but it does come with a small price. I know we don’t always get along, and I’m truly sorry for that. I try to let you be your own filly as much as I can, but there are times when you make things... difficult. Do you know what I mean, Sweetie?"

Sweetie Belle blinked and looked at her sister curiously as she listened to her words. “Umm... I guess so?” she said, not entirely sure how to reply to that. She did know that she made things hard for her sister at times, especially when her fellow crusaders were involved, and she did feel bad about that. She didn’t mean to be a ‘pain in the flank’, as her sister often called her, but sometimes it seemed like she just couldn’t keep things from going horribly wrong even when she meant well. She wasn’t sure what any of that had to do with her new hairbrush, though...

Rarity smiled reassuringly at her little sister as she floated the brush between them, so that it rested in front of both of their eyes. “What I’m going to ask next, sweetheart, is not going to be easy for either of us. It’s something our parents have failed to do for either of us while we were growing up, unfortunately. But I want you to know that I love you, little sister, and I would never do anything to harm you. Do you understand?”

Sweetie Belle listened intently to Rarity’s words, her eyes glancing from her sister to the brush and back again, as she tried to work out what her sister was driving at. Her eyes widened as something Apple Bloom had said to her recently suddenly put a few of the pieces together in her mind. “Applejack really gave me a whoopin’ for that stunt we pulled on her last week... It really hurt! But... I know she only did it ‘cause she loves me,” she recalled the words of one of her best friends. “I knew better, an’ I know I deserved it, even if it did hurt like blazes at th’ time...

She recalled Apple Bloom’s words, and compared them to what Rarity was saying, and suddenly she knew for certain what her sister intended to do. A part of her was scared by the idea... but somewhere deep inside, she couldn’t help feeling that her sister was right. She remembered all the times she’d made a mess of Rarity’s hard work by not paying attention to what she was doing, even though she’d meant well; all the times she’d caused her big sister to lose her cool and scream at her because she’d pushed her too far; and all the times she’d gotten tree sap all over her sister’s floor after another one of her and her friends’ crazy Crusader stunts went wrong. She bit her lip as she looked up at her sister and waited for her to continue.

Crimson smiled to herself as she watched from behind the counter, the expressions on the young unicorn filly’s face reminding her of all the times she’d been in similar situations in her own youth. After a moment’s thought, she decided it would be best to give the two sisters a bit of space to finish their conversation, and quietly turned away to head into the Demonstration Room to get things ready.

Inside, she found that the room was a bit more disordered than she’d thought. I guess I never did get around to putting everything in place, did I? she mused thoughtfully to herself, chuckling at her own absent-mindedness as she began moving things into their rightful place. She had a feeling they would be needed soon.

Rarity smiled warmly and nodded at her precious little sister as she saw that Sweetie Belle had put the pieces together. She took a deep breath to steady herself, then continued. “I bought this brush for the both of us. It will give us a chance to spend a bit more time together, to talk while I fix your hair in the mornings and before bed, and to help me to help you grow to be that great young lady I know you will be, darling. But...” She sighed quietly. “Sweetie Belle, I know our parents have never really punished you for anything. They never really did for me, either. And up ‘til now, I’ve only grounded you, or given you time-outs in your room, because... well, because I didn’t think it was really my place to discipline you any more than that. I kept hoping that our parents would start paying more attention to you, Sweetie. But it seems that they either can’t, or won’t, give you the discipline you need, and if they won’t do it, then... I have to. Because I love you too much not to.”

Rarity started to stand up again, but was stopped as her little sister wrapped her hooves around her neck and hugged her tightly. Rarity couldn’t help being startled at first by Sweetie’s reaction; she had been expecting loud protests, and possibly a tantrum, not a loving embrace. Rarity’s eyes teared up a little as she reached out and caressed her sister’s head adoringly. “It’s not going to be easy, little sister, but we’ll get through it together. I’m sure you’ve already figured it out, but... Sweetie, from now on, I’m going to be using this brush on your flanks, as well as your mane, whenever you make it necessary. Do you understand?”

Sweetie released the hug and shuffled her hoof on the floor, nodding as she stared down at the floor, humbled and accepting. “I know I’ve been hard to deal with, Rarity...” she said. “I know I’m a pain in the flank sometimes... I don’t mean to be... I’m sorry. And... I love you, too.” Sweetie Belle looked up to see her favorite mare in the whole world looking down at her with happy tears in her eyes, and the two sisters smiled fondly at each other.

Rarity wrapped a hoof over her sister’s shoulder and led her to the room Crimson had gone into earlier. The young filly bit her lip a bit as she followed, still nervous about what was coming, but made no protest as she was led to the “Demonstration Room.”

As they went through the threshold, they were both amazed by what lay inside. The room itself was simple enough, just plain ivory-white walls and a dark hardwood floor, a couple of lamps on end tables, and a big ceiling fan hanging down in the middle. It was the way the room was furnished that made it so unusual. Up against one wall was a lovely pink bed, complete with a princess canopy and brass railings. Against the opposite wall was a old-style school desk, a simple square with a small basket on the side and a not-too-comfortable-looking wooden chair resting beneath it. In the middle of the room was a round stool with a pillowed top, and a bit to side of the stool was a long pillow with some obvious cylindrical indentations in four places, parallel to each other. Adjacent to the desk sat a lovely vanity complete with a mirror and what appeared to be a jewelry box. Beneath it rested another cushioned stool, a bit higher than the other.

Rarity looked around the room in awe before spotting Crimson as she tucked in the sheets on the bed. “Good heavens... I certainly didn’t expect all this, darling!” she said with a slight chuckle.

Crimson smiled warmly. “I tried to make accommodations for families that might have certain... traditions on how things are done in their households,” she explained. She turned to look at Sweetie Belle, noting with interest the look of wonder in the young filly’s eyes as Crimson brought herself down to Sweetie’s eye level for a moment as well. It was clear that Rarity’s little sister had already worked out exactly what this room and its furnishings were to be used for, yet she seemed surprisingly calm about it. More than few foals had barely been able to drag themselves a single step past the threshold at her old shop, but this one hadn’t hesitated to follow her big sister all the way inside. Such complete trust between the two sisters warmed Crimson’s heart considerably.

“I guess this will be a big day for you, little one,” Crimson said. “I’m glad to see you’re such a brave little filly.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.” Sweetie’s voice still carried a hint of nervousness, but she did her best to stay strong.

Crimson turned back to Rarity and smiled again. “I know it’s a first time for both of you, so I can stay to help if you need me to. Or if you would prefer privacy, I’ll leave you alone, and you can simply press the button by the door if you need assistance.”

Rarity looked at the button in question and then down to her little sister. “What do you think, Sweetie? Would you like Crimson to stay and help, or would you prefer it just be us for your first time?”

Sweetie gulped a bit, as if just now realizing exactly how close she was to what she knew was coming. She looked down at the floor and shuffled a hoof in thought, before looking up at her big sister. “I... I’d like it if... she can stay, please...” She wasn’t sure why she wanted Crimson Brush to stay and watch her punishment... it just felt right, somehow.

Rarity nodded as she gave Sweetie a reassuring smile and a soft pat on her head. “Of course, Sweetie. Crimson, darling,” she said, turning her attention back to the zebracorn mare, “as you so correctly note, I am a bit new to this sort of thing. I mean, I’ve seen it done in movies, of course, and Applejack has spanked her little sister in my presence more than once... but I must admit, I’m not sure how best to start, so any advice you care to give would be more than welcome.”

Crimson smiled in understanding. “Well... the easiest for her would probably be the pillow, my dear. In that position, she would have very little chance of moving or hurting herself. Though if you’d prefer, bending over the stool comes with much the same safety, but puts her in a position where she is required to keep her own place during the spanking, which is often a very effective way to remind a foal of the reason they are in their position to begin with.”

Rarity looked at both in quiet contemplation, considering exactly what each position would mean for Sweetie Belle. “I see... Well, I don’t have anything quite like that pillow at home, to be sure...” she said thoughtfully. “So I suspect we’ll be using a chair or stool at home. But she’s not in any real trouble this time, and I’d like this to be as easy for both of us as possible, I think. Well, as easy as such a thing can be, anyway,” she added with a wry chuckle, one shared by Crimson a moment later. “So... I think the pillow would be best, this time.”

Sweetie Belle was only half-listening to their exchange, lost in her own thoughts about what was to come, though she did smile a little at Rarity’s comment that she wasn’t in real trouble. While a part of her wanted to rebel against the idea of being punished if she hadn’t done anything to deserve it, another part of her felt, deep down inside, that in a way she did kind of deserve it, for all the times she’d been such a pain in her sister’s flank, and understood that this was to be both a bonding experience, and a lesson, for both of them. For her, it would be a lesson on how to behave and, more importantly, what she could expect to receive from now on when she didn’t behave; for her big sister, this would be a lesson on how to firmly, but lovingly correct her little sister in the way she so clearly needed.

But still, Sweetie couldn’t help trembling nervously as her sister considered the choices Crimson had suggested. She actually felt a sense of relief when Rarity chose the pillow – not that Sweetie had any illusions that what was coming next would hurt any less there than it would when bent over the stool, but at least it would be easier for her to take it like a brave little filly if she didn’t have to worry about moving out of place. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to keep from doing that on her own, especially not for her first time...

I’ve never even had so much as a hoof-swat on the flank before! she thought with a sudden surge of nervousness which she quickly pushed back, determined to face what was coming. What she had coming to her. Rarity’s right... no one’s ever really punished me for anything, even though... even when I really ought to have been...

Crimson nodded and pushed the stool aside to rest at the foot of the bed, then motioned with a hoof for Sweetie Belle to approach. “Come over here, little one, and I’ll show you the proper position.”

Sweetie jumped a bit as Crimson’s words snapped out of her own thoughts. It was too late to turn back now. A few tears begin to form in her eyes as she walked towards the violet zebracorn and the pillow.

Crimson gave her a warm, knowing smile as Sweetie approached, pleased to see that the young filly was still facing it with trust and bravery even though she was clearly dreading what was about to happen. “Kneel down with your back legs here, sweetheart,” she said, motioning towards the pillow. “Then stretch out your front legs all the way, so your head is resting on the pillow.” She gently helped guide the filly into position, adjusting her legs so that they fit into the indentations, then stepped back and nodded.

Sweetie Belle shivered a bit as she assumed her position on the pillow, intently aware of just how high her rump was raised. She moved her tail up and to the side without needing to be asked, earning a nod of approval from Crimson Brush. She took a deep breath and tried to turn her head to see her big sister, barely managing to catch a glimpse of her out of the corner of her eye as Rarity walked up beside her, floating the brush before her. Sweetie gulped audibly as she saw the smooth wood backing aimed menacingly towards its intended target.

Crimson couldn’t help but smile a bit to herself as she watched the filly in the all-too-familiar position. She moved to the stool and took a seat out of the way. She watched the little unicorn turn her head in an attempt to see what was coming, and shook her head. “Sweetheart,” she said, in a tone that was both soft and warm, yet with a firmness behind the words that demanded the filly’s obedience, “you need to keep your eyes in front. Seeing what’s coming will only make it even worse, little one, not easier.”

Sweetie jumped and squeaked at the voice, and bit her lip at Crimson’s words as she quickly moved her head back and rested it on the pillow once more, shivering a bit as she sensed her sister’s presence drawing ever closer.

Rarity took a deep breath to steel her nerves as she focused on her magic, her signature blue glow coiling around the handle of the brush as she raised it high... then brought it down and tapped it lightly, almost hesitantly, against her little sister’s flank.

It took everything Sweetie Belle had not to jump out of her skin when she felt the brush tap against her backside. She recovered quickly though as she realized it wasn’t a swat she felt, but merely a tap. She breathed in and out slowly as she tried to calm her nerves and prepare for the inevitable sting to come.

Rarity noticed her sister’s reaction and frowned. “Sweetie... are you sure you’re okay?”

“I... I’m fine, Rarity... Just nervous...” More than nervous, she was afraid... everything she’d ever heard about spankings told her that this was going to hurt, and it was going to hurt a lot!... but she kept her hindquarters raised as high and as still as she could, willing herself to be strong and to take her punishment like a young lady her sister could be proud of...

Crimson smiled at the two, enchanted by the situation. She could feel the love and trust between older and younger sister, despite their difficult relationship. The little filly was being so brave...

“All right then, Sweetie... the next one’s going to be for real,” Rarity said, speaking more to herself than to her sister as she pulled the brush back just a bit higher than before. She took another deep breath to steady herself... then swiftly brought the brush down across Sweetie Belle’s left flank with a soft clapping sound.

The swat itself was actually rather light, and the sound wasn’t really all that loud, but both still elicited a small squeak of startled fright from the young filly. Sweetie recovered quickly though, as she realized it hadn’t been nearly so bad as she’d been imagining. She began to wonder if that was all there was to a spanking, and if maybe Apple Bloom hadn’t exaggerated things just a teeny bit...?

Crimson coughed softly to get the ivory mare’s attention. “I know you’re new to this, my dear... but you mustn’t be afraid to put a bit of force behind the swats. It’s the only way she’ll learn.”

Rarity blinked and glanced from the source of the voice to her sister’s backside. There was no mark or change in color, as she was used to seeing when others received a spanking. She nodded to Crimson and bit her lip a bit as she pulled the brush back a bit further, then brought it down a bit harder than before across her sister’s right flank. Again, the swat produced another soft clap and a small, startled squeak... but nothing more.

Crimson smiled warmly as she stood up from her stool to walk over to the pair. “May I, dear?” she asked, nodding towards the brush as she began wrapping her own magic around its handle. After a moment, Rarity nodded and released her magic, giving Crimson full control over the brush. “Sweetie Belle... do you mind if I give you a spank or two... just to show your sister what to do?” She spoke with the warmth of a new mother as she smiled down at the little filly.

Sweetie Belle swallowed again, shaking a bit more noticeably. She could easily handle the sort of swats she had already received... but if those were wrong, she was certainly worried about what a skilled spanker could do to her exposed and vulnerable rump. It took a moment or two for her to gather herself together. “O... okay...” she whispered, trying to keep the fear and uncertainty out of her voice as much as she could.

Crimson nodded approvingly as she stood beside Rarity so the older unicorn mare could watch what she did. “Such a brave little filly. Your big sister should be very proud of you...” She moved the brush only about a couple hoof-widths away from her target, then rotated the brush’s backing further away without increasing the distance. Suddenly, the brush spun forward as it moved the small distance and gave a much more noticeable clap! as it connected to the center of the filly’s backside, leaving a small pink tinge visible beneath the short, pale fur of her coat.

Sweetie lurched forward and let out a soft “eep!” as she felt a stinging swat connect with her rump. Unlike the two before, this one left a definite warmth behind it. Only a mild tingle otherwise, but she instinctively knew that more like it would certainly leave a stinging reminder. A second clap! against her backside confirmed it; each swat like that would build on the ones before, and oh my gosh, Apple Bloom didn’t exaggerate it after all, this really is going to hurt, oh my gosh ohmygosh...

Rarity watched intently as the swats fell, paying careful attention to how Crimson rotated the brush for each one, amazed at such a dramatic result from so little movement. “That is certainly some skill you have, darling.”

Crimson passed the brush back into the unicorn’s magical grasp with a wry chuckle. “I learned from experience,” she said as she moved back over the stool to sit and watch once more.

Rarity gave a soft giggle at the obvious meaning, then focused once more on her little sister. She swished the brush through the air a few times, experimentally, trying to mimic what Crimson had done. While Rarity’s magic wasn’t the strongest in terms of sheer power, as she herself would be the first to admit, precision movements were a necessity in her line of work, and so she had developed her telekinesis to an extremely fine degree. With only a few practice swings, she had copied Crimson’s technique exactly, to the amazement of the onlooker. She positioned the brush just a couple of hoof-widths away from Sweetie Belle’s upturned rump... and in a flash, another resounding clap! filled the room as the brush connected once more with Sweetie’s left flank.

Sweetie bit her lip to try and stop another squeal as she felt another swat, only a tiny bit softer than the ones Crimson had given her. She tried her hardest to stay still for her big sister, knowing that the real spanking was about to begin. Oh my gosh this is gonna hurt Rarity I’m so sorry...

Rarity looked down at her little sister and smiled proudly at her. “She’s right, you know,” she said gently. “I am proud of you, my brave little sister. But we still have something to take care of. So be strong Sweetie... you know I love you very much.”

Before Sweetie even had a chance to respond, the brush clapped solidly against her hindquarters again... and again... and again, rising and falling in a slow, steady rhythm, alternating between her left and right flanks, with a few applied right in the center of her rump as well. She closed her muzzle tightly, making only the smallest of squeaks and squeals as each one landed, trying very hard to stay still, although she couldn’t help rocking forward a bit with each clap of the brush. She could feel a definite heat in her cheeks now, and a sting which built, and built, with each relentless clap! of the brush against her rump. She tried to distract herself by counting them... six... seven... I’m sorry, Rarity!... eight... nine... I’m sorry I’ve... ten... been such a... eleven... pain in the flank, and... twelve... I really, really promise I’ll... thirteen... try to do better!... fourteen... She wasn’t sure if it was helping, or just making it worse...

Finally, at the count of twenty swats, the brush landed with one last stinging clap! right square in the middle of her upraised rump, and all at once the spanking was over. She squeaked, then let out a soft, shivery sigh as Rarity pressed the back of the brush against her flanks to rub the cool wood softly, almost soothingly, over the lingering sting and heat back there. “Th-thank you,” she heard herself whispering, even though she couldn’t imagine why she was thanking her big sister for this...

Crimson nodded in approval as she watched the pair closely. She really was proud of the little filly. She remembered her own first dose of a brush against her flanks, and knew she’d been nowhere near as quiet or still as little Sweetie Belle had just been. The way Rarity was caressing her sister after the spanking, and the whispered thank-you from Sweetie Belle, just made Crimson feel even prouder of both of them, and of the bond they clearly shared despite whatever difficulties they’d caused each other in the past. But she knew this lesson wasn’t over just yet.

“Rarity dear,” she said, just loudly enough to get Rarity’s attention without startling the pair out of their bonding moment. “You did very well for your first time,” she continued once Rarity looked up. “But when the time comes, you’ll need to give a bit of focus to her thighs as well. Just below the crook of her flank is the most sensitive spot for a spanking. The effect will last far longer, and will have far more impact on her when she sits down.”

Both Rarity and Sweetie’s eyes went wide at those words. Sweetie, for fear of a spanking that would be even worse than what she’d already received, and Rarity, as if she thought Crimson’s suggestion seemed a bit harsh and unfeeling.

Crimson shook her head as she noticed Rarity’s expression, and smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry, my dear. It doesn’t need to be as hard, and should be only about a third of what you give the rest of her backside. But it is a most effective reminder to be on her best behavior as long as the soreness lasts, and helps insure the lesson won’t be quickly forgotten.”

Rarity thought about her words deeply before turning back to her little sister, nodding more to herself than anyone else. The zebracorn mare was right. Better that a few extra swats should cause the lesson to be remembered, than to have to repeat a lighter punishment that was too easily forgotten. That, after all, had been the problem all along; while occasional groundings and time-outs might have been all the discipline Rarity had needed when she was a filly, they were just too easily forgotten by her more high-spirited, over-eager little sister as soon as they were over. A firmer hoof was needed to teach her little sister that her actions had consequences, and if their parents wouldn’t do it, then as Sweetie’s big sister, it was up to her...

“Just a few more, Sweetie,” Rarity said in a tone which was loving, but firm enough that Sweetie knew she had no choice but to accept it. “But only a few, I promise. I think we’ve done enough for one day.”

Sweetie shook nervously at Rarity’s words. She was happy to know her spanking was almost finished, but scared at how much this new revelation might sting her already heated flanks. She wasn’t sure she could take much more. After a few moments to calm herself, she squeaked out a soft reply. “O-okay...”

Rarity found herself getting misty-eyed again as she heard her sister’s acceptance of her fate. No protests, no tantrums, no trying to argue her way out of it... Sweetie hadn’t even tried to lower her tail across her flanks to protect them. “I’m so proud of you, Sweetie...” she said quietly. “I’ll tell you what... you take these last few as bravely as you did before, like the young mare I know you are, and we’ll go get some ice cream afterwards. How does that sound?”

Sweetie actually smiled a little at those words. She was still afraid, deep inside, and didn’t dare raise her head or try to look back, but hearing her big sister say how proud she was of her helped to soothe the fear. The offer of ice cream helped too, of course, but not nearly so much as hearing those words of praise from the big sister she adored. “Okay...” she said. “I... I’m ready...”

Rarity nodded and smiled as she tapped the brush a couple times against the spots in question, glancing over quickly at Crimson to confirm that she was aiming correctly, then pulled the brush back into striking position again. She delivered two quick, sharp claps of the brush to each side, putting less force behind these than the spanks before – but still quite hard enough to get the point across.

Sweetie gasped and squeaked loudly as the swats landed, as much from surprise as from the actual pain. These swats were definitely a lot more potent than the earlier spankings, and each one stung furiously enough to bring a few tears to her eyes – but it was obvious, even to her, that they’d been held back a good bit. If that was holding back, though, she was quite certain she never wanted to feel one of those at full strength if she could help it!

This time, there was no soothing caress to ease the burn after the spanks, and it took a minute or two before the stinging died down enough for Sweetie to rise shakily from her position on the pillow. She reached a tentative hoof back to rub over her flank, and flinched a little at the touch, amazed at how warm her flanks felt just from those few swats. No wonder Apple Bloom was always on her best behavior for a few days afterwards whenever she’d been caught disobeying Applejack, or had finally pushed her luck too far! She didn’t even want to think about how hard that strong earth-pony farm-mare might be able to swing a brush against a misbehaving filly’s flanks... “Guess I’ll be eating my ice cream standing up,” she said with a weak chuckle as she turned to look up at her sister, humbled by the new experience.

Rarity noticed a few tears on Sweetie Belle’s cheeks, and reached out with a gentle hoof to brush them away before pulling her sister into a tight embrace. “I love you so much, precious gem,” she said quietly, nuzzling her little sister with all the love she could put into it.

Sweetie’s lip quivered at Rarity’s endearing nickname for her as she clung tightly to her big sister, returning the loving nuzzles. “I love you too. You’re the best big sister ever, and... I’m sorry...”

Crimson couldn’t help but shed a single tear of her own at the exchange. “And that, my little ones, is the most important part of a spanking,” she said, almost too quietly for either sister to hear. She stood up and silently left the room, leaving the two unicorns to share the moment in private as they continued to hug each other with the love and forgiveness of two sisters who have bonded closer than ever before. As she walked back behind her counter, she looked up at the sky and smiled. “You were right as always, Mother. There truly is no better form of love.”

After a few minutes the two released each other, and Rarity gave her sister a final nuzzle and a knowing smile as they both got to their hooves. “Come along, sweetheart. I need to pay for these brushes, and then we’ll go get you that ice cream.”

Sweetie hopped in place happily, as if completely forgetting the warmth in her backside. “Can I get a double scoop!?” she asked eagerly.

Rarity chuckled softly. “Well... I don’t know...” she said, pretending to think about it for a moment. To her pleasant surprise, Sweetie Belle didn’t immediately try to get her way by whining, or by turning on the quivering lip and “puppy-dog eyes”, as she usually did. Instead, she simply nodded, still humbled and accepting of whatever her big sister decided, without complaint. For the moment, anyway, Rarity thought to herself with a silent chuckle. “...I mean, I think my brave, precious gem has earned a triple, at least,” she finally said, giving her sister a playful wink that made her bust out in giggles.

They both walked out of the room together and made their way back to the counter. Rarity placed Sweetie Belle’s brush back in the white box, then closed both boxes and stacked them with the white one on top. She looked back at Crimson and smiled as she levitated forty bits out of her saddlebag, stacking them neatly on the counter. “I believe this was the price we agreed upon?”

Crimson nodded as she brushed the bits into a sturdy metal lockbox behind the counter. “Exactly right. I’m so happy you’re both pleased with your purchases, and I hope they stay with you for many years to come.”

“As do I.” Rarity then pulled out five more bits and placed them on the counter. “For all of your help. You’ve truly given us a wonderful gift. And you may be certain that Carousel Boutique will be sending more business your way; it will be a privilege to display and promote such exquisite work from a fellow artiste.” Before Crimson could reply, Rarity took her sister by the hoof and exited the shop, with the boxes floating in front of her.

Crimson looked down at the extra bits, then back up to the retreating mares, and smiled. She gave a soft chuckle at the rather obvious pink blush on the smaller one’s flanks, clearly visible through the filly’s pale coat. “Perhaps I should have suggested a cloak,” she said with a small laugh as she brushed the bits into the lockbox to join the rest.

She glanced up at the clock, and decided that it was near enough to closing time as to make no difference. It was unlikely that anyone would come rushing in needing to place a rush order in the next five minutes.

She walked to the door, preparing to lock it and flip the sign from ‘open’ to ‘closed’. But just as her horn began to light up to turn the sign, the door suddenly opened, revealing a lavender-colored unicorn mare, who immediately frowned. “Oh, I’m so sorry! Were you about to close?”

Twilight Spankle

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The Many Uses of a Brush
Chapter 3: Twilight Spankle

Just as Crimson Brush moved to flip the sign hanging on her door to ‘closed’ it burst open, revealing a lavender-purple unicorn. The unicorn took a couple of steps through the threshold, then halted with a frown of distress as she saw the sign still held halfway between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ in Crimson’s magic aura. “Oh! I’m sorry! Were you about to close for the day? I can come back...”

Crimson smiled warmly and shook her head. “It’s fine, my dear. I’m always happy to let in a new customer. Crimson Brush, at your service. Welcome to my store.”

The unicorn smiled back thankfully. “Oh, that’s good! I’m Twilight Sparkle. I run the library here in town. It’s the giant tree down the way. I heard about a new shop opening up and I was curious.”

“Well, this is it, my dear. My humble brush shop,” Crimson chuckled softly, as she waved a hoof towards the brushes hanging behind her.

“So it is!” Twilight chuckled as well. She glanced around the store for a moment before bringing her eyes back to Crimson. She looked her over curiously and let out a small gasp. “Wow! I’d heard the owner of this store was different, but... you’re amazing! Such a marvel of genetic mutation! I’ve read of zebras and ponies mating, but nowhere in any of my books have I heard of a pony-dominant offspring that still inherited zebra traits!”

Crimson blinked, a bit taken aback by the unicorn’s sudden rapid-fire enthusiasm. “Um... Yes. It’s a... rare mutation. I imagine it’s only happened a very few times before,” she said warily as she tried to brace herself for another sudden outburst.

“It must be incredibly rare if it’s never even been documented! I’m sure I’ve never come across any references anywhere to – ” Twilight suddenly stopped talking as she caught sight of Crimson Brush’s startled expression. “Oh... I’m so sorry,” she said, looking a bit shamefaced as she realized what she’d been doing. “It’s just that I just get so excited when I find new things. Especially something as fascinating as this. I mean, it goes against everything I’ve learned! And I really love learning new things, and sometimes I guess I get a bit carried away. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” she apologized.

Crimson relaxed a bit, and gave her new customer a warm smile to accept her apology. “It’s quite all right, my dear. Your enthusiasm just caught me by surprise, that’s all. I assure you, you’re not the first to be surprised by my appearance. Now... how may I help you?”

Twilight smiled back happily and nodded. “Well... I don’t really need a hairbrush at this time, but I am curious about what you offer. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t very curious about your story.”

Crimson chuckled softly and nodded. “Well, it’s definitely not good to lie, my dear,” she teased. “I can certainly say I learned that the hard way.” She waved a hoof as she walked to one side of the store, where a few chairs sat against a wall. She settled into one of the chairs, then motioned for the lavender unicorn to have a seat as well. “So... I suppose I can start with my store. As you can see, I make mane and coat brushes. I never sell the same brush twice; each brush is individually made to the customer’s exact wishes, and each is always one-of-a-kind, as unique as the pony who owns it. I do sometimes make copies for display – but only one copy of any particular brush, and always for display only, never for sale.”

She levitated one of her better designs over and laid it in front of Twilight for her to examine. The brush was a beautiful, smooth ivory. The handle was formed by interlocking hearts carved exquisitely out of fire rubies, and the backing was emblazoned with gold lettering expressing the customer’s love in no few words.

Twilight’s eyes widened as she took in the amazing sight before her. She had a few hairbrushes at home, of course, but they were all very plain and made for function rather than appearance. She couldn’t remember ever seeing a brush so beautiful before. She took a moment to glance around the shelves with a keener eye then before, and her jaw slowly dropped as every brush she saw was just as amazingly detailed, beautiful, and unique as the one Crimson was holding. She returned her gaze back to her new acquaintance and smiled brightly. “Your work is amazing!”

Crimson blushed a bit and shook her head modestly. “I do what I love, my dear, and it shows in my work. That is all.”

Twilight chuckled softly to herself. “And humble, too. You really are an amazing pony, Crimson Brush. You must give me your story! I just have to know about your life. It must have been fascinating, being so unique, and – ” Twilight caught herself in mid-sentence and blushed, covering her mouth with a hoof, shamefaced. “Oh my gosh, I’m sorry... I shouldn’t pry. I’m just so curious. Like I said, I love finding out new things. I’d do almost anything to hear your story, if you’d be willing to tell me!” Twilight smiled reassuringly, hoping the zebracorn mare wouldn’t think she was being crazy or rude for her outbursts.

Crimson raised a thoughtful brow as she regarded the unicorn mare for a moment, before letting out a soft chuckle of amusement. Twilight’s enthusiasm was infectious, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to cultivate some new friendships here. “Well, my dear, I would give my story freely... but since you offered, I could use a bit of a helping hoof, if you have the time. I need to test some of my more unique products, and my magic’s not really that easy to control when testing them.” She stopped for a moment and then bit her lip. “Although I’ll understand if you’d rather not... Not all ponies are accepting of the lifestyle I cater to.”

“Lifestyle?” Twilight asked, tilting her head curiously at the odd reaction. What could be so questionable about making hairbrushes? “I’m pretty sure everypony brushes their coats, silly!” she added with a small laugh.

“I don’t mean my brushes, dear,” Crimson said, shaking her head and chuckling a bit herself at the unicorn’s naivete. She smiled warmly, and held up the brush once more, running a hoof over its smooth back. “You see, I make sure all of my brushes are smooth on the back side, for a very specific purpose. I seek to help ponies show the love and care that my Mother always gave to me in the past.”

Twilight looked confused as she tried to fathom what purpose the zebracorn meant by that. She had thought it a bit odd that the backs of all the brushes she’d looked at were uncut and smooth, but had simply shrugged it off as just being something Crimson Brush had adopted as a signature style to make her work unique. That sort of thing was hardly uncommon among artisans who made hoofcrafted one-of-a-kind items, after all. But Crimson’s words seemed to suggest there was something more to it than that...

A small tug at her memory pulled her back to a few very old parenting books she had stashed away in the back of her library. She’d skimmed them a few times, and something about Crimson’s words sparked a thought. The books were all written by one pony and were actually more like notebooks or a list of guidelines written, not for professional sale, but rather given out to anyone who sought them. One phrase always stood out in them, though. “With love and caring discipline”...

Twilight’s eyes shot wide open once more at the sudden realization. “You mean spanking!

Crimson blinked at the sudden outburst after the thoughtful silence, then laughed a bit as she nodded affirmatively. “Of course that’s what I mean, my dear. I’m curious, though. The last unicorn that was here seemed to know very little about the practice when she first came in yesterday, but you seemed to make the connection right away. Were you disciplined by your parents as well, my dear?”

“What? Me? I... What? No!!” Twilight shook her head quickly, blushing an even darker shade of lavender than usual. “Um... I mean, no. My parents usually let me get away with anything. I can’t say I wasn’t quite the hoof-full sometimes, but... no. I mean... well... my big brother gave me a swat once... but it was really just to get my attention. No, it’s just that the words you used reminded me of an old parenting book I looked through once or twice. The author always referred to spankings as ‘loving and caring discipline’, and...” Twilight trailed off, still blushing a little.

“Ahhhh, that makes sense. You did say you worked in a library,” Crimson said, nodding in understanding. “I should have known you’d be well-read on many subjects.” She stood and walked to the locked door in the back of the shop, and slid a key into the lock. She clicked it open and turned the knob, then turned back to the unicorn. “Come on in, dear. I’ll show you what I’m testing. I promise I’ll give you my story, whether you decide to help or not.” She smiled warmly as she opened the door and walked inside. She flipped on the light as Twilight walked inside behind her.

Twilight was, once again, stunned at the sights before her. The room was very organized and neat, despite what was displayed on the hooks adorning the walls. In the center of the room was an odd device she could only imagine was meant to support a pony across its center. It had a padded bar at about waist height, and below that was another padded platform. It was easy enough to picture a pony resting across the bar, and she felt herself blushing a little as she realized that the resulting position would ensure that the pony’s hindquarters would be on open display – very open, and very vulnerably exposed, to anypony that cared to look.

Her eyes wandered to the hooks along the walls. Hanging from each hook was a different tool. Crops, canes, and even a few whips, of varying designs and extremes. One wall held a variety of belts of varying lengths and widths, some even adorned with metal studs, alongside shelves with an assortment of bottles with labels denoting various types of lotions. She gulped and blushed deeply as she took in the sight before her. “I... um... What is all this?!”

Crimson walked further inside, moving to stand next to the padded rack in the midst of the room before turning back to Twilight. “Well, some of my clients prefer a bit more um... ‘spice’ to their love lives, shall we say,” she explained, resting a hoof on the padded center bar. “I suppose that’s as good a way to put it as any. It’s not my primary business, of course, but I did find myself selling more than a few brushes to those who are interested in this sort of thing, so it only made sense to me to at least attempt to accommodate those with a broader love for this particular lifestyle. It’s surely not for everyone, though, so I will understand completely if you wouldn’t feel comfortable assisting me, my dear.”

Twilight listened intently to Crimson’s explanation, despite being taken aback by the surroundings, and nodded when she was done. “I... I see. I guess that... makes sense. It’s all just so new to me. I mean, I’ve read a couple of books on... umm... ‘alternate lifestyles’, but I’ve never really had someone to really, um... explain it, or... uh... experiment with...” she said, blushing deeply as the words left her mouth. A small part of her was screaming at her to run while she still could, but a much bigger part was still curious despite her worries. As always, the lure of knowledge, of learning something new, was irresistible to her, even if the subject was something so... unusual. Intimate? Forbidden? She wasn’t sure what to call it.

Crimson couldn’t help but smile at the adorableness of the naive unicorn. “A cute thing like yourself? I’m surprised,” she said with a soft chuckle, causing Twilight to blush even more.

“Th... thank you for saying that, but... I’m nothing special,” she said, shyly. “I spend so much time in my studies that I... I don’t really have time to go on dates, or anything. If it weren’t for Princess Celestia I’d probably still be alone, without any friends.”

“You know the Princess?” Crimson asked, raising a brow curiously at the mention of the Celestial Ruler of this land.

Twilight brightened up a bit and nodded enthusiastically. “I’m her protege. She’s been training me in magic since I was just a filly. She’s really amazing, though I guess if you asked her she’d say the same of me...” she said, stammering a bit and blushing at that last. “Not that I’m bragging or anything! I’m nothing special, really...”

Crimson shook her head and chuckled softly. “You really are amazing, my dear. You have so much to brag about, yet you stay so humble. Celestia and your parents must be so proud of you.”

Twilight lowered her head a bit at the praise, but gave a small nod in reply.

“Well, my dear. Have you decided?”

Twilight blinked and looked back up, before her eyes widened again at the change of subject. “Oh! Um... Sure, I’d be glad to help? I mean... maybe I learn about the lifestyle a bit more, as well as hear your story?” she said, blushing again. Now why in Equestria did I ask that?! she thought to herself with a small sigh. Her insatiable curiosity was always getting her into trouble...

If Crimson noticed, though, she didn’t comment on it. She simply smiled happily and motioned towards the wall on her right with a hoof. “Well then, my dear, go ahead and set your saddlebags down somewhere out of the way, then pick up that crop, there. You can look it over, and then we can begin.”

Twilight bit her lip a bit nervously as she used her magic to float the indicated implement over to her, unable to help examining it with a scientific curiosity despite herself. She noticed the rod was made of a thick but flexible rubber while the business end of the crop was, she was happy to note, made of a piece of synthetic leather, folded over once. Real leather was still used in some areas, usually in big cities and by the rich, but most ponies preferred to use a magically-synthesized substitute. Not as durable, but it served the same purpose, and was much less... disturbing. Even though such leathers, in modern Equestria, were only taken from already-deceased animals who had died of natural causes (hence its rarity and expense), the idea still made a lot of ponies, including Twilight, more than a bit squeamish. As if on autopilot, she gave the device a flick, noticing the slight bend of the rod and the swish it made through the air.

She moved her eyes from the crop back towards Crimson, only to blush even deeper than the shopkeeper’s namesake at the sight in front of her. The zebracorn had bent herself over the rack with her forehooves resting on the pad in front, her flanks raised and bared, with her tail lifted up and off to the side. Positioned this way, with her legs spread just enough for balance, nothing was hidden from the stunned librarian’s view.

“Wh...what a-are you d-doing!” she stammered.

Crimson looked back behind her as best she could from her position. “What’s wrong, my dear? I’m just getting ready for you to – ” Crimson suddenly realized her mistake, and laughed. “Oh! I am sorry, my dear... I suppose I should have explained exactly what I meant by ‘testing’. I need to be sure these devices are durable, and have the correct degree of flexibility, while still able to deliver the desired effect. I wouldn’t want anypony to be injured by a faulty product... and I’d hardly be a good salesmare if I wasn’t willing to test my own products. So, I am merely assuming the correct position, so that we might properly test the implements for suitability for their intended purposes, that’s all,” she said, intentionally giving her explanation in a more technical and businesslike fashion than before, figuring the studious unicorn mare might find such an approach a bit easier to cope with.

Twilight stared for a brief moment before the words even registered in her mind. She looked from the bared, vulnerable flanks before her, back to the crop still held in her magic... then back to Crimson’s flanks... then back to the crop...

Finally, it occurred to her that this might be a very good time to practice that deep-breathing technique Cadance had taught her. She took a deep breath as she moved a hoof up to her chest, then exhaled slowly as she swung that hoof outwards, focusing on the controlled motions to relax her nerves. Once she had calmed down from the initial shock and was able to think rationally about what Crimson had just said, she couldn’t help but nod in agreement at the obvious truth of the zebracorn’s words. “I guess that makes sense. But are you sure you want my help with this? I mean, I’ve never used any of these things before... I’ve never even seen most of them!”

“Well, I assure you, my dear, they’re not all that complicated,” Crimson said with a playful chuckle. “It doesn’t take much to learn. The crop is actually quite simple. A light flick towards the preferred target is enough to let the tool do all the work. Come stand behind me, dear, and just aim for the cutie mark,” she added, grinning playfully at her embarrassed student.

Twilight took another deep breath before finally moving towards her, taking up a position just a bit to the right of her flanks, then gave Crimson a final, hesitant glance, as if asking for permission she knew she already had. She raised the crop just a ways from Crimson’s right flank. She bit her lip and closed her eyes as she flicked the crop down across the red brush on her right. A small tinge of deeper violet appeared below Crimson’s fur for only a moment as the crop struck dead-center on its target – though of course, Twilight didn’t see it.

Crimson felt the flick of the crop across her right flank and let out a small breath. “That’s right, my dear. Give it a little more force, though...” She glanced back over her shoulder, and couldn’t help but laugh a little at the absurdness of it as she saw Twilight still had her eyes closed. “Go on, Twilight. I promise, it’s not going to grow fangs and bite you. Just give it a few good swipes.”

Twilight jumped a bit at the laugh and opened her eyes. She looked at Crimson’s amused face and then back to the area she’d struck with the crop, a little surprised to see no indication of the strike. She calmed herself once more, and nodded. “Okay... if you’re sure?” Crimson gave her an approving smile and a nod, and Twilight raised the crop once more. After a moment’s lip-biting hesitation, she brought the crop down a little more firmly, making sure to keep her eyes open this time. Three swipes above Crimson Brush’s cutie mark, and three more swipes below, studying the tinge of heated violet that appeared and vanished after each stroke.

Crimson took each strike with little more than a small hiss. After the sixth stroke, she nodded approvingly and gave her unicorn assistant a warm smile over her shoulder. “Very good, my dear. I think that’s enough testing for that one.”

Twilight nodded her understanding, but rather than moving the tool back to the wall she held it up before her once more. “Doesn’t... doesn’t this hurt?” she asked, a bit more loudly than she intended.

“Well, why don’t you try it yourself, my dear?”


Crimson couldn’t help but laugh at the alarmed reaction to her simple query. “On yourself, my dear. Just give it a light flick across your own flank.” She gave the unicorn a reassuring smile.

Twilight looked down at the implement held before her, then looked back at the six stars emblazoned on her own flank. With more than a little trepidation, she brought the crop back and aimed it squarely at the bright-violet star that dominated her cutie mark... hesitated for a moment... then delivered a similar swipe of the crop to her own backside. The crop fell from her magic grasp almost immediately, more from the shock of the impact than any real pain, as she quickly realized it didn’t hurt all that much. It stung a little, but the sensation was brief – although she could see how it could become considerably more intense if more force was put behind it, or if one struck the same area repeatedly for an extended period. That thought alone was sufficient to make her blush deeply, causing the store’s caretaker to giggle at her “student’s” reaction.

“Now you know why its so hard to test these things myself,” Crimson commented as she picked up the crop in her magic to float it back to its spot on the wall. “Especially since my magic isn’t quite as capable as a normal unicorn’s,” she added.

Twilight tilted her head curiously, her wonder causing her to completely forget the absurd situation for a moment, as she watched Crimson use her magic to tie a piece of green string around the crop’s handle. The zebracorn’s magic certainly seemed capable enough to her. “What do you mean?” she asked. “Were you not fully trained to use your horn because you were around zebras most of the time?”

Crimson smiled and shook her head. “Oh, no, not at all. My mother was a unicorn, and she was very patient with teaching me. I actually grew up in a pony village in northern Zebrica, and there were quite a few unicorns there. The settlement was started a long time ago, by some researchers who wished to learn how zebras were able to use magic without the use of a horn. Originally it was just a small camp, a wooden research hut and a few tents; but over time, as more researchers came to study zebra magic, and their use of plants and potions, it eventually grew into a modest village. Not quite as large as Ponyville, of course,” she added with a chuckle, “but comfortable.”

Twilight pulled a notebook and quill out of her saddlebags almost as soon as Crimson began speaking, jotting down everything that was said so she could study it later. Crimson chuckled a bit as she noticed her words were being taken very seriously by her studious, insatiably-curious unicorn assistant.

“I suppose you’ve earned a bit of my story.” The absurdity of telling her life story while straddling a bondage rack, with her hindquarters lifted up on very open display, was not lost on her, and she couldn’t help giggling slightly before continuing. “My mother wasn’t one of the scientists, though. She owned a shop in town which carried a variety of useful items. Sort of a general store, I suppose, although her stock was primarily tools, grooming supplies, toiletries, quills and paper, and so on. She met my father on one of her many walks through the woods. She liked nature hikes, and she also collected quite a few of the supplies for her store that way. A lot of the toiletries and grooming supplies she made herself, from the local plants, as well as ink for the quills, wood for the combs and brushes...

“Anyway, she told me the first time she saw my father, it was pretty absurd. He was picking bouquets of a strange blue flower and putting them in a basket, which in itself seemed like an odd activity for such a large stallion, but it was the glowing pink goo covering his hooves all the way to his body that made him look positively silly,” Crimson said, chuckling a bit at the image. “She said he was picking something called... poison joke, I think. And the goo was a magical remedy to prevent the flower from infecting him. But of course, she didn’t know any of that at the time, and she had no such protection – and worse, when he saw her, she had already walked right through a large patch of the flowers, and was standing right in the middle of them. To make a long story short, he snatched my mother up, threw her over his back, and carried her off, galloping as fast as he could go – and when she tried to cast a spell to get away from him, every spell she tried to cast just resulted in sparkly pink bubbles spraying from the tip of her horn, if you can believe it! Next thing she knew, she was sitting in his hut as he started tossing hoof-fulls of herbs into what seemed to be a bubble bath – but which, for all she knew, could just as easily have been a stew pot!” she said, laughing at the way her mother had described it.

Twilight chuckled heartily at that, as Crimson’s story reminded her of her own unfortunate experiences with the mischievously-magical flower in question. “Believe it or not, I had a similar encounter with our own resident zebra and a patch of that poison joke stuff, myself.”

Crimson looked up at her curiously. “Indeed? I had no idea they had migrated this far. Are there many in this area?”

“Oh, no, just the one,” Twilight said. “Her name’s Zecora, she lives out in the Everfree Forest. If you like, though, I can have her come visit you the next time she comes into town. She usually drops in every other week or so, now.” Now that everypony doesn’t barricade themselves behind their doors when they see her, anyway... Twilight decided there was no need to mention that part, though. It had all been a stupid misunderstanding, long forgiven and forgotten by both Zecora and the Ponyville residents alike.

“I’d like that, yes,” Crimson smiled. “So, where was I... oh, yes. After my father convinced my mother that she was not about to be eaten for supper, he managed to get her to climb into the bath, and he explained exactly what had happened. I guess the silliness of the whole situation helped bridge the gap between them, and after that they spent a lot of time together. He helped her find special herbs and spices, and they’d both tell stories about their encounters. They were wed a few years later... though I was already born a few months before that,” she said, chuckling to herself. “The zebra tribes are somewhat less formal about such matters. Sadly, when I was still very young, my father was called to return to his home village in the south. Apparently the griffons of south Zebrica had started a war with the zebra tribes. Our town mostly barricaded itself in during the war. Though as far north as we were, it never really reached us. My mother took care of me, with a firm hoof and a loving brush more often than I’d like to admit.” She gave the unicorn a knowing smile.

Twilight took in every word with childish wonder. She’d heard of the Seven Years’ War between the zebras and the griffons, but she hadn’t really studied it in much detail, having never been anywhere near Zebrica, nor having spent any time in the company of either of their kinds while in Canterlot. She chided herself a bit for that oversight, and resolved to read up on it later. All she really knew was the zebra clans had finally prevailed, and most of the griffon tribes had fled to the east. “So she... spanked you?”

Crimson smiled and nodded. “Quite regularly, actually. We had our own special brush just for those times. It was actually that brush which got me my cutie mark. That’s a bit later in the story, though. Now, go over there and grab that cane from the wall, please. The one with the yellow string tied on it.”

Twilight blinked a bit as she was suddenly reminded of her duty. She nodded and magically pulled the indicated cane from the wall. It was one of the larger ones, and she looked over it curiously as it floated in front of her, noting how the cane had been sanded and lacquered to a smooth, shiny finish all around. It actually looked extremely plain, but at the same time more than a little threatening. “Wh... what do I do with this?”

“Well, the cane is a bit harder to use, my dear,” Crimson explained, shifting a bit on the rack to get comfortably positioned again. “You’ll want to stand to my left, just a little behind me. Like the crop, the cane does most of the work with only a simple flick, but the rod will cross my entire backside... and it’s... well... quite a bit sharper, to say the least. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.”

Twilight nodded her understanding as she moved into the indicated position. She gulped a bit to herself, even as she moved the cane so it hung just behind Crimson’s upraised hindquarters. She gave it a soft flick, as if to test its properties, before attempting the same motion with a fair bit of force. She noticed the difference immediately as the rod bit in and bent around the flesh, leaving a visibly darkened line across both flanks which lasted noticeably longer than the crop’s marks had done.

Crimson bit her lip as she felt mild the tap, a small part of her mind approving of the unicorn’s inquisitive nature. She hissed sharply as the cane bit into her rump, but recovered quickly. “That was good, my dear... now try again, but aim a bit lower. The cane is more intended for the upper thighs,” she explained, chuckling to herself at the absurdity of giving Twilight advice on how to properly punish her with her own merchandise!

Twilight’s eyes were wide with wonder and worry, as she watched and heard the reaction to just one stroke of the cane. She could hardly believe it when she was asked to give another, and to a much more vulnerable area as well. She shook her head to clear her thoughts, and tried to remind herself that this was for Crimson’s work; strictly professional on the zebracorn’s part, and strictly a matter of academic interest on Twilight’s. With a deep breath, she moved the cane a bit further down so it hung just where thighs met flanks... and then, with a nod that was more for herself than anyone else, she flicked it straight towards the target she’d been given. It didn’t bite in as much this time, but it was obvious from Crimson’s reaction, a deep hiss and a small kick of one hoof, that it stung very painfully, and the darkened stripe across the top of her thighs lasted even longer than before. Twilight could only imagine how much it would hurt to receive more than one of those... and wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to imagine it.

Crimson took a deep breath herself and smiled weakly. “All right, my dear... I think that will be enough with that. They aren’t really that hard to make and perfect.” She relaxed across the rack as she watched Twilight move the cane back to the wall, then used her own magic to remove the yellow string and apply another green one. “Well... back to the story. After the war passed, we received a letter...”

She took another deep breath as she recalled reading it herself. “Father had gone missing in the final days of the war... They never found his body. Mother was distraught, but she knew she had to take care of me. After a year passed without any word, she decided to leave Zebrica and its painful memories. She sold the store, and between that and the money she had saved, she moved us back to her home country, to the city of Hoof Kong. Mother was very good with money, so we were able to get a nice house and reopen a new shop there in town. She enrolled me in school, and that was... a new experience, to say the least. Many of the ponies in Chineigh are, I’m afraid, far from accepting of new things. So I was picked on a lot, both for my looks, and for the fact that I had never been able to use my horn properly. Or at all, really.”

Twilight frowned in sympathy, feeling Crimson’s emotional pain as she described this less-than-happy part of her foalhood. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose anyone in her family. Even just almost losing her brother, during the Changeling invasion, had been a spike driven deep into her heart. If he had actually died...

And she knew only too well how bad bullying could get. Her own foalhood, with more than a few of her peers being jealous or resentful over Celestia’s choosing the studious, socially-awkward unicorn filly as her personal protege, hadn’t exactly been all daffodil sandwiches and sweet apple cider either. But Crimson must have had it even worse. She had heard that the Chineighse culture placed a high value on conformity, and could be very unforgiving of differences or imperfections.

Crimson sighed softly and steeled herself as she continued. “One day, I got into a fight at school... so I was sent home and had to wait for Mother to come home. Anytime I got in trouble, she would send me to my room to fetch my brush... and make me wait for her. Even though she wouldn’t be home for a few hours yet, I took out the brush and sat on my bed to wait, just like I did all those times before. The brush was very old and worn... so I decided to work a blade over it to smooth it out a bit. Before I knew it I had started carving a design into it... and subconsciously started using my magic to do it. It was the first time I had ever been able to use my telekinesis for anything... and I didn’t even realize I was doing it, until Mother walked in and saw me. When I realized what I had done, my Cutie mark appeared. I remember groaning to myself when I saw it was red... just like my flanks were soon to be,” she said, giggling softly to herself at the fond memory.

Twilight smiled warmly at the tale. She could only imagine how much love the two had. She chuckled along with her at the thought. “At least getting your cutie mark helped lessen the pain of being punished, right?”

“Oh, no... there was still plenty of pain in that brush that day!” Crimson replied with a merry laugh. “I know what you meant though, my dear, and yes, in that sense, it was a good day. I never resented any of my spankings, though. Celestia knows, I earned each and every one of them.” She squirmed a bit to relieve a bit of stiffness; her prolonged position across the rack was starting to get a bit taxing. “Alright, my dear... just a couple more things, and then we can finish the story. Take that belt down from the wall dear. Yes, that one, with the yellow string.” Crimson held a love for the belt that she didn’t really understand. It was not a fun thing to take across your rump, and yet, that was exactly what made it so deeply satisfying to her, even though she couldn’t have possibly explained why that was so.

She smiled as she saw the black belt float up behind her, grasped in Twilight’s magical glow. A small part of her hoped the bookish unicorn was gaining a deeper understanding of spankings. “Now, the belt is a bit harder to use, and requires quite a bit more effort from the wielder. It uses momentum to straighten out and strike with decent force... and it will leave a very definite mark on the target’s flanks. However, it’s much less likely to break the skin, unlike the cane and crop, so don’t be afraid of it.”

Twilight looked down at the belt. It was wide, but not very thick, and made of the same jet-black faux leather as the crop’s tip. She’d seen belts before, of course, as a part of dresses and saddlebags, and on those few ponies that liked to wear pants, but she’d never thought of using one to inflict pain. She could easily see what Crimson meant, though. She knew quite a bit about physics, and between that and her newly-acquired experience with the previous implements, it was already obvious to her how the belt needed to be swung. It was also clear to her what kind of effect that would have, and she bit her lip nervously. “Are you sure about this?”

Crimson looked back and nodded reassuringly. “Don’t worry, my dear... I’ve had much worse. And the belt is far harder to use on myself... so it’s nice to have help. You’re doing a fine job so far. You’d make a wonderful mother... or lover.” Crimson couldn’t help but chuckle as Twilight tried, and failed, to fight back the blush that blazed on her cheeks from that comment. “You’re a natural, my dear.”

Twilight gave a small nervous smile at the praise. She thought about Crimson’s words for a moment, pondering what they meant. She imagined herself as a mother, and couldn’t help but smile. “You really think I’d make a good mother?” she asked.

“Of course, my dear. Your care and compassion, as well as your knowledge and willingness to compromise and try new things, would make you a wonderful caregiver.”

“I guess so...” Twilight nodded, trying to accept Crimson’s words despite a bit of lingering disbelief on her part.

“Trust me, my dear. You would.”

Twilight found her smile growing wider and warmer. “Thank you. And... not just for what you said. This... um... has given me a lot to think about. I think I’m starting to understand, a little, how some ponies might... enjoy things like this,” she said, her cheeks still showing a warm blush as she spoke. She really wasn’t used to discussing things this... personal? Intimate? Especially on anything more than a strictly clinical, academic level, and this situation was anything but academic. “I mean, I can see how it takes a good deal of care not to injure someone with these things. And it does seem like there would have to be a tremendous level of trust between two ponies, to do this kind of thing... especially for the one on the receiving end of it...” she added thoughtfully.

“You have no idea, my dear,” Crimson agreed with an amused chuckle.

Twilight chuckled a bit as well, as she considered how much different it must be in Crimson’s place. To deliberately leave yourself so vulnerable, and trust another pony so completely that you would allow them to do something like this to you... She nodded, then lifted the belt before her. “Okay, so where should I aim with this?” she asked, with hardly any hesitation this time, gaining a bit of confidence from Crimson’s obvious trust in her.

“Wherever you like, my dear. One of the belt’s most wonderful features is its versatility. Just... try not to be too hard on me, please. It’s been a while.” She laughed a bit at herself as she settled back into position and closed her eyes, letting the deliciously fearful anticipation settle into her as she waited...

Twilight nodded as she pulled the belt back with her magic. She let out a slow breath, then brought it down solidly across the center of Crimson’s hindquarters. Her eyes widened as she saw the belt bite deep into Crimson’s flanks, flattening, bouncing, and leaving a wide, dark stripe in its wake as the skin turned blazing-hot red underneath the zebracorn’s grape-and-lavender fur.

Crimson sucked in a breath as she first stroke fell across her rear, savoring the familiar shock of impact and the intense, stinging warmth it left behind. She’s pretty good with that! she thought to herself with a bit of humor. She took a few breaths to settle herself before turning her head to glance back at Twilight. “Are you sure you haven’t done this before, my dear?”

Twilight blushed a bit and shook her head quickly. “No! I’ve never even considered it before!” she said hastily, a bit flustered, before she caught the twinkle in Crimson’s eye and realized she was just being teased. “But it’s mostly just physics, and... well, I am an avid reader!” she added with a little laugh.

“And a quick study, obviously,” Crimson said, sharing the small laugh before turning her head away and closing her eyes again. “Go ahead and give it a few quick swings, my dear. Don’t worry, I can take it.”

Twilight looked as if she’d just been given a live grenade. She could clearly see how the wide, dark stripe across Crimson’s upturned flanks still blazed beneath the short fur, and imagined that it must still hurt quite a bit. Despite Crimson’s obvious trust in her, it took her a few moments to work herself up to doing as she’d been asked.

Finally, she lifted the belt up once more. “If you’re sure...?”

Crimson gave a small nod. Twilight steeled herself, drew the belt back, then did a bit of math in her head as she delivered three firm, precisely-aimed stripes across her target. Each stroke landed just below the last, working down Crimson’s flanks, with the final crack landing just above the “sit spots” where thighs met rump. She could plainly see the skin blazing deep red underneath the fur when she was done, but was surprised by the lack of welts or semi-permanent markings, considering its seemingly much harsher impact compared to the other two implements before it.

Crimson, for her part, closed her eyes and accepted the first two across her flanks with only a slight hiss and clenching of her cheeks. When the final stroke landed on those most sensitive spots, though, she couldn’t help jerking forward slightly and letting out a small whinny of pain. A few small tears began to roll down her cheeks as she took a slow, careful breath, not so much from the pain itself, but from the memories brought to mind by the fondly-familiar warmth and soft throb in her backside.

Twilight’s expression turned to one of shock and concern as she noticed the tears on Crimson’s cheek. “Are you all right?!” she cried, worried she might have done something terrible, as she tossed the belt aside.

Crimson looked back at the worried unicorn and shook her head firmly. “I’m fine, my dear,” she said in a firm, but reassuring tone. “More than fine, in fact. You did admirably for your first time. I might have to hire you on full time!” She grinned back at the stunned look she was given. “Don’t worry, my dear. I promise, it wasn’t as bad as it probably looked. It’s just been a very long time since I’ve been given that feeling, and it reminded me of times long past, that’s all. I could definitely feel the love and caring in your strokes, my dear. And I stand firm in what I said before.”

“Oh.” Twilight said, relieved, even as she blushed once more as Crimson reminded her of her earlier praise. She carefully picked the belt up and placed it back on its hook. “Th... thank you. I guess... I could see how it would bring fond memories to you. You seem to have a lot of love for your Mom’s discipline and care,” she said, thinking it over.

“Yes, I do miss her greatly,” Crimson agreed. “I even miss that evil old hairbrush of hers,” she added with a wry chuckle.

Twilight giggled a bit and nodded as well. “Where did she go?” she asked, turning serious again.

Crimson carefully worked her way off of the rack and stretched out her legs, wincing a bit at the lingering tightness and heat in her flanks. She turned the rack around and sat down slowly, and very carefully, onto its cushioned bottom, then floated a chair over to Twilight. After both of them were seated, she continued her tale.

“When I grew up and was ready to help Mother with the store, she actually helped me set up a small area where I could work and make hairbrushes for the customers that needed them. It wasn’t long before I was making custom orders, and making a decent bit of bits. While the Chineighse might not have approved of me personally for my... differences, they do have a great love for art, and our neighbors were willing to overlook my being different, or at least tolerate it, once the word spread about my turning simple hairbrushes into works of art. The Chineighse culture also favors corporal punishment as a means of correction, so my brushes were in demand for that as well, to be sure,” she added wryly.

“So,” Crimson continued. “When Mother saw how well I was doing, she decided to help me make a name for myself. She gradually stopped selling most of her other stock, aside from a small hoof-full of specialty mane-grooming supplies made from the formulas she’d developed in Zebrica, and made my brushes the store’s primary business. Eventually, she even changed the name of the store and gave me full rights to it when I was old enough. She tried to refuse payment when I took over the store. But I wouldn’t let her.”

She took a deep breath before continuing. “Sadly, all good things come to an end. Mother fell very ill... a degenerative disease, and there wasn’t anything that could be done for her at the time. She passed away a few years later. When her will was read, I learned my Mother always had the last laugh.” Crimson wiped a tear from her eye, and gave a wistful smile. “It turned out she had taken every bit I’d given her as payment, and placed it in an investment account that was to be given to me when she passed. She hadn’t spent any of it. And she still had a more-than-comfortable amount in her own savings, which I inherited as well, so between them I had no worries for money.

“At first, I simply carried on with my business, as usual... but after a year of being alone in a house with so many memories, I decided it was time to leave. I sold the store, and moved across the sea to Equestria, which I had heard was far more accepting of different and unusual things. I lived in Fillydelphia for a time, but after a while, I realized I wasn’t happy there. The city itself was lovely, of course, but I just didn’t want to live in a big, crowded city anymore. So, I moved here to Ponyville. Close enough to Canterlot for the city to still be a market for my wares, but far enough away to have room to breathe,” she finished with a contented smile. “Though from what I hear, it’s not exactly a small town of nobodies. I’m told there are some real heroes here.”

Twilight bit her lip and glanced away for a moment at the mention of heroes, and nodded. “This town does have some wonderful ponies, that’s for sure,” she replied.

Crimson raised a brow at Twilight’s reaction, as something clicked in her mind. She felt Twilight was hiding something wonderful from her, but decided not to press. “Well, I’ve certainly met one of them today, my dear. I really do thank you for your help.”

Twilight finished her writing, and magically returned the notebook to its home in her saddlebag. “Oh, not at all. I should be thanking you, Crimson Brush. I’m sorry I made you relive all those unpleasant memories, but I really did learn a lot. Far more than I thought!” she added with an embarrassed little laugh as she nodded towards the collection of spanking implements along the walls.

“Maybe you’d like to buy something for a special somepony, then?” Crimson suggested with a teasing grin, sharing the small laugh with her guest.

Twilight gasped and shook her hooves in the air, blushing deeply. “Oh, no! I mean... I... I don’t have anyone... like that. I mean, there was a mare I kind of liked... that I kind of wanted to get to know, anyway, but... she ran away from town before I could really talk to her...” she finished with a wistful sigh.

“Oh, I see... Well, I’m sure you’ll find somepony soon, my dear. Perhaps she’ll come back to see you again? You truly are something special.”

Twilight’s gaze fell to the floor as she fiddled with her hooves a bit in embarrassment. “Now you’re just teasing me...”

“Not at all, my dear,” Crimson said kindly. “You’re much more than you give yourself credit for, Twilight Sparkle. Anypony would be lucky to have you for a lover... or even just as a friend.”

“Um...” Twilight bit her lip as she continued to scrape an embarrassed hoof against the floor.

Crimson could see that the awkward unicorn wanted very badly to ask something, but was too unsure of herself to come out and say it. “My dear... I would be pleased to call you my friend,” she said. “And as your friend... you can ask me anything. I promise, it won’t upset me.”

Twilight nodded and swallowed nervously, taking a deep breath to try to steady herself even as her nerves threatened to turn her inside out. “I... would you... I mean, could...” She gave a loud huff, then tried once more, speaking her request almost too rapidly to comprehend. “Wouldyoushowmehowitfeels?”

Crimson raised a brow curiously as she worked her mind around the unicorn’s words. Then her face lit up with realization as she worked out Twilight meant. “You want me to spank you, my dear?”

Twilight blushed furiously at the blunt question, turning the deepest, brightest shade Crimson had seen yet from her, but gave only a slight nod in reply.

Crimson smiled warmly as she stood up and walked over to the unicorn to wrap her forelegs around her, hugging her close. “I’d be honored to, Twilight.”

Twilight gasped softly at the contact, then looked up at the zebracorn mare that was now hugging her, and gave her a hesitant smile with a trembling lip as she awkwardly returned the hug. “Thank you... but... I’ve never been spanked before, so...”

Crimson stepped back as they slowly released each other from the embrace, and moved to put the rack back to its original position. “Don’t worry, my dear. I wouldn’t even think of starting you off with any of these for your first time,” she said, nodding towards the implements on the wall. “I’ll go fetch one of my brushes. And Twilight... I do understand how difficult it was for you to ask that. I promise, I’ll help you through it... and I will only give you as much as you ask for.” Her voice was warm and mothering as she walked out of the door to fetch a brush.

Twilight shivered a bit nervously as Crimson left her alone in the room. Those gentle, caring words had helped to calm her somewhat; it seemed to her that the zebracorn really did care about her, even if her method of showing it was a bit... unusual. She looked over to the rack with a small gulp. Oh, dear Celestia... She clapped her hooves a bit, as if to snap herself out of her own thoughts, then slowly approached the padded rack to lay herself across the top, just as she had seen Crimson do before. Okay... forelegs here on the pad, hindquarters up like so, spread your rear legs, lift your tail, and oh sun and moon Twilight what are you doing?! She felt the skin of her flanks tightening a bit from the position, and couldn’t help but feel very, very exposed, and more than a little helpless. Even though she knew she could get up at any time, there was just something about this position...

She took a few deep breaths as she waited for the owner to return, her thoughts racing with wonder, worry and more than a little excitement as she wondered just what she had gotten herself into. She flinched a little as she heard the door click closed behind her, and her breath caught in her throat as she had a sudden picture of exactly what she must look like, and how absolutely nothing would be hidden from Crimson’s gaze...

Crimson closed the door shut behind her, and smiled warmly at the sight of Twilight already laid out on the spanking rack. She hadn’t been sure if Twilight had wanted to go quite that far – but then again, it did seem as if the bookish unicorn rarely ever did anything by halves, so she supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised. Crimson walked towards the brave mare with a deliberate stride as she looked over Twilight’s bent-over form, approving of the way the unicorn had already positioned herself perfectly. She moved the chair aside with her magic, and took a position just behind Twilight’s flanks.

Twilight squeaked, startled out of her racing thoughts, as she heard the chair move, and looked back to see Crimson holding the same ivory brush she had shown off earlier. She bit her lip and turned her eyes back forward, suddenly feeling very sure she did not want to know exactly when it was coming...

Crimson stifled a chuckle at the cute little squeak, and ran a gentle, soothing hoof over Twilight’s withers and back to reassure her that she was safe, even as she tapped the brush lightly over the unicorn’s upturned backside to make her fully aware of what was about to happen. “Do you just want to feel what it’s like, sweetheart? Or were you wanting the full experience?”

Twilight startled and let out a few quick breaths as she felt the brush tapping across her flanks, then slowly relaxed as she realized it wasn’t actually striking her. Oh, sun and moon, what am I doing...? She thought about her answer to the question for a long time, as her mind fought itself. Crimson waited patiently, without pressing her to answer, for which Twilight was grateful.

Finally, Twilight shook her head as if to clear it, then looked back at Crimson with an expression of worry mixed with trust. “As if... as if I truly deserved it, ma’am...” she said quietly.

Crimson looked deep into the unicorn mare’s eyes as she gave her answer. A realization hit her, and she smiled warmly into that fearful, yet trusting gaze. “It takes great strength to realize what we need deep down, Twilight,” she replied in that gentle, motherly tone, holding the unicorn’s gaze with her own for a moment longer. Twilight nodded, just a little, then turned her head away to face forward once more, closing her eyes tightly as she braced herself for what was coming...

Crimson Brush nodded as well, then raised the brush to hover just a bit behind Twilight’s hindquarters. Resting her hoof on the unicorn’s back, she gave Twilight another soft, reassuring caress, just before the first swat came down across her left flank. The first was quickly followed by a second, and a third and a fourth and a fifth, falling again and again across Twilight’s upraised backside. Her pace stayed steady and focused, warming Twilight’s flanks with each impact, using no more force then was necessary to leave a lasting warmth behind each clap of wood across flesh, watching the unicorn’s rump turn a darker shade as the blood rushed to the skin underneath her lavender fur.

Twilight gasped and squeaked at the first few swats of the brush, then gradually fell quiet and accepting as the spanking continued, biting her lip softly as she felt the warm, light stinging begin to spread across her cheeks. She felt the hoof on her back, and welcomed its reassurance, squirming only a little bit under the skilled paddling. Each smack seemed to resonate through her ears and her body, as she tried to focus. Her mind began to wander back to her foalhood... to all the times her mother had scolded her for something, only to then simply hug her and let her run off... the times her father had just patted her head and called her a silly filly... Her breathing quickened a bit as time continued to pass, each new swat across her flank marking off the seconds like the tick of a clock.

She is taking this quite well for a newcomer, Crimson found herself thinking as she watched Twilight’s slow surrender to the firm, steady spanks warming her backside. I think she has a great deal more weighing on her mind than she wanted to say. Perhaps even more than she herself realizes... Whatever it is, I truly do hope this helps you, Twilight Sparkle. She began to move the brush lower so that it would target and warm Twilight’s upper thighs as well, while listening to the almost melodic sound of the wood as it struck again, and again, and again, the steady rhythm reminding her of all those times she’d been on the receiving end of a well-deserved spanking just like this...

Twilight hissed as the spanking moved to her more sensitive thighs, the sharper pain causing her mind to waver for a moment before the steady, relentless rhythm let her drift back into her memories. She couldn’t help thinking of all the times she’d gotten into trouble as a teenager, only for her brother to rush to her rescue and take the blame, protecting his little sister from her own mistakes. Her mind wandered to her time under Celestia’s tutelage, and a few tears welled up in her eyes as she recalled all the times – so many times – she had disappointed her mentor and let her down. All the times Celestia had told her it was okay, and that everypony made mistakes... even the time she’d nearly set an entire wing of the library on fire just from trying a simple light spell on a book. With each passing memory, the warmth slowly became a fiery heat in her backside, and the soft sting became a light throbbing as the firm paddling continued, steadily, inexorably, never ceasing or slowing... the slow burn in her flanks and thighs causing her to squirm and wriggle over the rack as the punishment went on, and on, until...

“S... Stop!!

Crimson immediately halted the brush in mid-swing as she heard the unicorn’s cry, and smiled warmly as she ran a comforting hoof over Twilight’s back and shoulders. She examined the hot reddish tinge underneath Twilight’s lavender-colored flanks and thighs to make sure she hadn’t suffered any accidental injury from the lengthy spanking, then looked to the unicorn’s face. “Had enough, sweetheart?” she asked softly.

Twilight shook her head as she wiped a stray tear from her eye. “N-No... ma’am.” It seemed odd, yet somehow proper, for her to use the honorific. “C... can you use something... more...?” she asked, her voice cracking even as the words left her mouth. She took a deep breath, and spoke with a bit more resolve. “Please?”

Crimson considered Twilight for a long moment, gazing deep into her eyes once more, then gave an understanding smile and a nod. She glanced up and looked along the walls for a few moments, considering each device in turn, then placed the brush on the chair as she floated a smaller but thicker belt over to her. “‘With love and caring discipline’, sweetheart,” she said gently, as she folded the belt over once in her magical grasp.

Twilight gulped once at the sight of the belt, then nodded her acceptance. “Yes, ma’am,” she said in a small voice.

“And I do care about you, Twilight. I hope you understand that, as I use this across your flanks.”

Twilight nodded again. “I know...” She turned her head back and closed her eyes, waiting.

Crimson readied the belt and lifted it into the air... And then, with no warning, she swung it down firmly across Twilight’s vulnerable hindquarters with a loud, painful crack!!

Twilight squealed loudly, then clamped her mouth shut and buried her head against the cushion in front of her. The belt was certainly different from the brush! She felt the lash bite down hard into her upraised rump, leaving a searing-hot stripe in its wake that lingered for a very long time before it slowly began to fade... and oh, sun and moon, it hurt! A part of her wanted to jump up and run as far away from this as she could... but instead, she braced her rear hooves on the floor and held her position, awaiting the next strike.

Crimson nodded as she gauged her charge’s reaction. She admired Twilight’s strength, and could only guess what was in the unicorn’s mind as she lifted the belt to deliver the next stroke. She brought her focus to the task alone as the belt cracked down a second time, only to rise and crack down again, and then again, each stroke falling just below the last. She kept the pace slow and even, giving Twilight a good half-minute between each stroke to insure that the unicorn felt each one to the fullest, and had plenty of time to anticipate the next one – or to cry for a halt, if it became more than she could take. As the strokes reached the top of Twilight’s upper thighs, Crimson reversed their direction, moving upwards again, laying down a second set of lashes on top of the first.

Twilight couldn’t help squealing in pain as the strokes continued to fall. It took everything she had just to keep her hooves on the floor and her tail safely out of harm’s way as the burning in her rear intensified with each stroke, pulsating and throbbing deeply, turning from a hot burn into a blazing, searing fire. Each new lash seemed to flow through her entire being, as if the belt were cracking against her memories as well as her sore flanks. Every moment flowed through her mind, one after another, as more tears fell from her eyes. Every disappointment to her mentor, her family, her friends... every act of thoughtlessness or disobedience... every time she’d been allowed to skate by for something that any other pony would’ve gotten in serious trouble for...

One last memory made its way into her mind. Her worst, most shameful memory, one that caused her to break out in loud sobs. The time she’d set the entire town against itself... all over something as trivial as being a little late in sending a friendship report to her mentor. She remembered wishing Celestia would chastise her and scold her. She wished Celestia had done something! Instead, her friends had jumped in to try to protect her and take the blame on themselves, and she’d been allowed to get away with it, without even a slap on the hoof... just like all the times before... I’m sorry... I’m so sorry... please forgive me, I screwed up so badly and I’m so... so... sorry... oh sun and moon I’m so SORRY!

Crimson listened with a deep understanding as Twilight’s squeals gave way to crying, and the crying turned into deep, shaking moans and sobs... until finally, the unicorn mare broke down completely. When Crimson heard that deep, anguished cry ring out, she knew it was time. She pulled the belt back and, after taking a moment to muster her calm, she delivered a single, solid, echoing CRACK! across Twilight’s burning flanks with all the strength she could put behind it.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIII’M SORRYYYYYY!!!” Twilight jerked and kicked, screaming out loud as the belt’s final stroke cracked all the way through the barriers she’d kept around her guilt and shame all this time, allowing her to finally let go of it all. She fell limp over the rack, crying her heart out, sobbing apologies to her friends and family, and begging Celestia’s forgiveness...

Crimson smiled warmly as Twilight began to relieve herself of all the guilt she had built up over the years. Poor dear... she’s kept this locked inside her for far too long, she thought to herself as she gave a soft touch of her hoof on the unicorn’s shaking withers, just to let her know she was there. “That’s it, my dear... let it all out...” she whispered, almost too softly for Twilight to hear. Then, she turned and quietly walked to the other side of the room, giving Twilight a few minutes of relative privacy to sob through her sins and apologies. It was enough that she was finally letting go of all that pain in her heart; no need for curious ears to listen in and pry into her transgressions.

She hung the belt on its hook, then made her way over to the shelf with all of her lotions and creams to pick out a clear glass bottle half-filled with a thick green liquid. She waited for Twilight’s deep, wrenching sobs of guilt and shame to subside, then silently walked back behind the unicorn and, without a word, poured a generous amount of the green liquid onto her burning flanks. Placing both hooves on Twilight’s hindquarters, she began to gently massage the substance into the fur, then through to the blazing-hot skin underneath, until it disappeared from sight. The bruised redness of the unicorn’s severely-punished flanks began to fade almost immediately.

Twilight was slowly coming back to herself before she felt an ice-cold substance on her backside. She squealed in surprise, not having expected the sensation, or the tingly feelings and gentle hoof-touches that followed. “Wh...what is that!?” But even as the words left her mouth, it became obvious, as each gentle rub of Crimson’s hooves seemed to wash away the fiery pain in her rear. Enough heat and sting remained that she would still feel those lingering reminders of her punishment for the next few hours, but the healing gel made it much more bearable for the relieved mare. “Th... Thank you, Ma’am,” she sighed. “For everything...”

“You’re more than welcome, my dear,” Crimson nodded as she corked the bottle and floated it back to its place. “I’m happy I could help...” She came around to stand in front of Twilight, and gave her tear-streaked face a warm, affectionate nuzzle. “...and I am truly honored, Twilight, that you trusted me enough to help you let go of all of that. You’ve needed that for a long time, I think.”

Twilight wiped the tears from her face with a shaky hoof, then nodded as she very carefully worked her way up and off the rack, wincing as the motions sparked a few more of those little reminders of heat and sting in her backside. Yes, she would definitely be feeling this for a while, she decided. And well you should be, Twilight Sparkle, she told herself firmly. In her heart, she knew Crimson Brush was right; she’d had that coming to her for a long, long time, and she’d deserved every single lick of it. Somehow, just admitting that to herself made her feel better. “I didn’t even realize how much I needed closure, until... I need to send a letter to Celestia as soon as I get home,” she said decisively. Although only the sun and moon know how I’m going to explain this to her! she added, with a silent mental laugh as she pictured Celestia reading this friendship report...

Crimson wrapped the unicorn in a warm hug once more, just holding her close for a time, letting Twilight feel loved and forgiven now that her punishment was done. That was, after all, just as important as the punishment itself, if not even more so...

“Thank you,” she heard Twilight whisper again.

Finally, the two mares relaxed their holds and let each other go. After a moment’s thought, Crimson smiled as an idea occurred to her, then floated the belt she had used for Twilight’s punishment back over again, holding it out in front of her to offer it to the unicorn mare. “Take it, my dear. You’ve earned it for your time and help. Perhaps it will help to remind you how special you really are.”

Twilight opened her mouth to protest, but closed it quickly and just smiled back as she caught the belt in her own magic. She carefully folded it up and stored it in a spare pouch of her saddlebags, then floated the bags up and across her back – being very careful not to let them touch her flanks, to both her and Crimson’s visible amusement. “Thank you, Crimson Brush. For your story, for the lesson, and... everything else,” she said, as she followed Crimson out of the back room and into the main store.

“You’re welcome, Twilight Sparkle. And thank you.” The two mares shared one last nuzzle, as new friends, and then Twilight turned and left for home, a very slight darkening still visible on the unicorn’s lavender hindquarters as she walked away. Although it would take a discerning eye such as Crimson Brush’s, who knew the telltale signs of a well-deserved spanking, to really notice it, or know what it meant.

Finally, Crimson was able to lock the front door of her shop and turn out the lights for the night. “This was a good move,” she mused to herself as she ascended the staircase leading to her home on the shop’s second floor. “I think I’m needed here.”

With that final thought, she laid down in her bed and went to sleep, feeling truly at home for the first time since moving to Ponyville.

Chicken Butt

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The Many Uses of a Brush
Chapter 4: Chicken Butt

The next few days passed with little event. Rarity had been true to her word and, thanks to her effusive praise of Crimson Brush’s wares, she had pending orders for several brushes. Some from the Ponyville locals, a few from Canterlot, and even one from a boutique in Manehattan. Aside from the brush orders, though, Crimson had more or less been left to her own devices. Not that she minded, since it at least gave her some time to finish arranging the shop displays and back rooms to her liking.

Of course, there had been that one rather interesting afternoon when an earth-pony couple had walked in and, after a few discreet words, had purchased one of her crops from the “special products” room. Amusingly enough, the very same crop Twilight Sparkle had helped her “test” a few nights earlier, though of course Crimson kept that bit of information to herself. She also couldn’t help but be amused at how the petite, cherry pie-colored mare very obviously wore the horseshoes in their relationship, as it were. The big red stallion had been very quiet and reserved, but she could tell he had a big, gentle heart.

Crimson was in her woodworking shop, working on that custom order from Manehattan, when the bell over her shop’s front door rang to tell her that someone had just walked in. She sighed softly, put down her tools, and walked out to the counter. “Welcome to Crimson’s Brushes, how may I help you?” she said warmly as she came out of the workshop, looking left and right for the customer who had just entered. After a few steps, though, she stopped in confusion, tilting her head curiously. Nopony seemed to be there. Could the wind have simply blown the door open for a moment and set off the bell by itself, perhaps?

Then she heard a soft cough coming from lower to the ground, on the other side of counter. She looked over the edge, and smiled as she saw the cute pegasus filly standing there. “Oh! There you are, little one,” she chuckled. “Welcome to my shop. Are you looking for something?”

The filly shuffled her hooves awkwardly for a moment, then rubbed a front hoof over her shoulder in obvious discomfort. Her wide, light-purple eyes looked as though she were on the verge of tears, as she tried to force herself to speak. “I... I heard you... um... make brushes for... stuff...”

Crimson walked around the counter and bent down to put herself the filly’s height so they could talk. “Well, yes, I do make custom hairbrushes, little one,” she said. “What’s your name, sweetie?” she asked, giving the filly a gentle, encouraging smile to try to put her more at ease. She had a feeling the little filly had gotten herself in some sort of trouble.

The filly blushed deeply as she was called ‘sweetie’. “Its... um... Scootaloo, but most people just call me Scoots,” she said.

“Well, ‘Scoots’,” Crimson said gently, placing her hoof onto one of Scootaloo’s, “did your mother send you here to pick out a brush?”

Scootaloo shook her head and looked down at the floor. “No ma’am. I... I wanted to get one myself. For my big sister.”

Crimson smiled as she began to understand the situation. The pegasus filly had obviously done something wrong, and was feeling very guilty. “Does your big sister care about you a whole lot, little one?”

Scootaloo started to nod, then stopped and bit her lip uncertainly. “I hope so... I’m not so sure anymore...”

“Oh, I’m sure she does, sweetie,” Crimson said, rubbing the filly’s head reassuringly. “I’m sure she couldn’t help but love such a sweet little filly.” Scootaloo glanced up and gave Crimson a weak smile, hoping her words were true. “You really love your big sister, don’t you, Scoots?” Crimson continued.

Scootaloo actually gave a small grin and an eager nod at that. “She’s the greatest! She’s been trying to teach me how to fly... though it isn’t going so well. But she rarely gets upset at me. I mean, I guess she does get kinda impatient at times, but she’s still the best!”

Crimson chuckled softly, happy to see a bit of life coming to the somber filly. “She sounds wonderful, sweetheart. So tell me, what can I do for you?”

Scootaloo looked up and bit her lip again. “I... I don’t have a lot of bits... just what I’ve been saving. But I really, really need a brush!” She reached into her small, worn saddlebag, pulled out an even smaller coin purse, and pulled it open to show Crimson Brush its contents. Six bits and a lollipop.

Crimson looked at the coins, and then back to the little filly, who once more seemed on the verge of tears. “I think six bits will be plenty, sweetheart. You can keep the lollipop,” she teased, trying to lighten the mood a bit. In truth, it was barely enough for what she would normally charge for even the simplest, plainest brush, but she couldn’t refuse the desperate look in the orange pegasus filly’s eyes. Whatever it was Scootaloo had done, it was clearly tearing her up inside. “What would you like on it, dear?”

Scootaloo’s mood seemed to lift immediately. Her eyes brightened, and she actually leaped up to hug the zebracorn tightly. “Ohmygosh thank you so much! I... um... just a... y’know, normal brush is fine,” she said, hesitantly. “Maybe, um... kinda like... that one?” she added, nodding towards a rectangular-bodied brush in the display counter. “But not, y’know... fancy or anything,” she added hastily. Scootaloo was young, but not naive; she knew that fancy hoof-made items like this didn’t come cheap. Crimson was obviously doing her a huge favor by letting her have what she needed for so little money, and the last thing Scootaloo wanted to do was press her luck by asking for too much. “But, um... can you... put a message on it? Please?”

Crimson was a bit taken by surprise at the hug, but smiled warmly and wrapped a hoof around the filly. “Of course, sweetheart. What would you like it to say?”

Scootaloo pulled herself in closer, to whisper into the older mare’s ear, before releasing her and stepping back. She blushed deeply and shuffled her hooves as Crimson jotted the message down on a piece of paper.

“Yes, I can do that for you,” Crimson said kindly. “Bring your big sister by in an couple hours, and I’ll have it ready for you. How does that sound?”

Scootaloo gulped nervously, having not really expected to have it so soon. But she gave a nod in agreement, then quickly fled from the shop.

Crimson shook her head and chuckled softly as she made her way back to her workshop. Such an adorable little filly, she thought to herself. I wonder what she did...? Poor dear obviously feels so terribly guilty about it, whatever it is... She couldn’t help but be amused by the situation, though. It was rare enough that a foal came in to pick out a spanking brush for themselves, unless their mother or father made them do it as a part of their punishment; she couldn’t recall a colt or filly ever having come to her to buy one on their own initiative before!

She moved her current project off to the side of the table, then took a moment to study the various brush blanks she already had made up. A particular piece caught her eye and, after tallying up the costs in her head, she decided she could afford to let the little filly have this one. Even though she knew Scootaloo would be every bit as grateful to get a brush made from one of the plainer, and much cheaper oak-wood blanks next to it, it went against Crimson Brush’s grain to do anything less than to give every customer a brush as unique as they were, even if that customer was a guilty young filly with only a few paltry bits to spend. And this particular piece would suit her so perfectly...

The decision made, she floated the wooden blank over to the bench, and began working on the new brush. She carved the wood into a simple broad, rectangular shape with a curved handle and rounded edges, shaped to fit comfortably into a hoof, then sanded and smoothed it down to a fine finish on all sides. Next, a light oil rub and a bit of magic, to bring out the purpleheart’s rich, deep natural color, only a few shades darker than the filly’s short, boyishly-cut mane. After that, a magically-sharpened cutting tool to engrave the words she’d been given into the backing, using simple block letters to make it look as though the words had been written by a school-age filly...

After a moment’s thought, she mixed up a bit of resin with some colored pigments, to match the filly’s candy-orange coat, then worked the resin into the engraved lettering. Another slight push of magic helped the resin to solidify nearly instantly, and she set about sanding the lettering down and applying layers of clear varnish on top, until not even the most sensitive hoof could detect the edges of the lettering against the wood. Mindful that the brush was probably going to be used by a pegasus, she added a removable synthetic-leather hoof-strap to make it easier to hold onto, then flipped the brush over to start working the bristles into the wood. “Her big sister must really mean a lot to her if she’s willing to do this,” she said to herself as she worked.

Finally, the brush was done. She looked up at the clock, and nodded in satisfaction as she saw that little more than an hour had passed since she’d started. She placed the brush in a plain pinewood box, then carried it back out to the front of the store to wait for Scootaloo’s return.

It wasn’t too long of a wait before she heard the familiar chiming of the front-door bells. She looked up with welcoming smile. “Welcome back, little filly,” she said warmly as she saw the same orange pegasus filly coming through the door. She looked behind her to see what she assumed was the filly’s big sister; a cyan pegasus whose mane and tail held the colors of the rainbow, looking around with a bemused expression as if she had no clue why she was here.

Crimson raised a brow at the older pegasus’ expression, then glanced back down to Scootaloo and saw that the younger filly was leading the rainbow-maned mare by the hoof, practically dragging her along. She also couldn’t help noticing the false smile on the filly’s face, or the way her worn saddlebag was hanging heavily to one side, clearly holding much more than just the few bits she’d been carrying earlier. She hasn’t told her what happened yet, Crimson Brush thought to herself with some concern. I hope you know what you’re doing, little one...

“I have your purchase right here, sweetheart,” she said, putting her warm smile back in place. “Or should I be giving this to your big sister?”

The cyan pegasus looked at her for the first time and grinned a bit. “Oh, we’re not really related. This little brat’s like, my number-one fan, or something,” she said, ruffling the filly’s mane affectionately. “Name’s Rainbow Dash! Fastest flyer in all of Equestria. Nice to meet ya!”

Crimson laughed a bit to herself as she considered this new pegasus. Not the humblest mare I’ve met, that much is certain! she thought to herself, even as she gave a small bow. But she does seem to have a reason for her confidence, if the filly is that enamored with her. Somehow, Scootaloo didn’t strike Crimson as the type to put up with unjustified arrogance in a pony, though she couldn’t quite put a hoof on what gave her that impression. “The pleasure’s mine, I’m sure.”

Scootaloo released Dash’s hoof and walked up to the counter, fishing her six bits out of her worn saddlebag and passing them over as Crimson gave her the pinewood box. “Thank you, ma’am,” she said politely, handing the box with care.

Crimson gave the filly a concerned, but warm smile as she gave her the package, then looked up at Rainbow Dash. “If you need some privacy, that room is available,” she said, waving a hoof toward the unlocked door to her right.

Rainbow looked from the owner to the door, tilting her head curiously, then looked down at Scootaloo and smiled with that same air of bemused impatience she always seemed to carry. “What’s this all about, squirt?”

Scootaloo tried her best to keep the smile on her face as she took the rainbow mare’s hoof once more, leading her towards the back room as she spoke. “C’mon, Rainbow Dash! There’s something I gotta show you.” Her voice seemed joyful to the untrained ear, but Crimson could hear the tension behind it.

Rainbow Dash, though, didn’t seem to notice anything amiss. She just chuckled at the little fuzzball and followed along. No idea where she gets her impatience, she thought to herself humorously, her curiosity growing as she walked through the door. As soon as she caught sight of the room’s contents, though, she stopped in her tracks, her face contorted in confusion at what she saw inside. She recognized the purpose of a few of the items displayed. Her parents had spanked her frequently as a little filly, and the pillow on the floor was all too familiar for her. “Uh... Scootaloo? What exactly are we doing here?”

Scootaloo’s face fell a bit, knowing she had no choice but to come clean now. She closed the door behind them, then walked in front of her idol, nervously fidgeting in place. “I... I need to... to tell you something...” she began, trying to keep the fear out of her voice.

Rainbow lifted a brow curiously at this sudden change in her “number-one fan’s” demeanor. This nervous, fearful fidgeting wasn’t like the daredevil tomboy filly’s usual attitude at all. “What’s up, squirt? If you did something, you should just let it out,” she said, trying to sound reassuring, but it still came out more impatiently than she’d intended.

Scootaloo squeaked a bit and nodded. She handed the cyan mare the pinewood box she’d bought outside, and waited for Dash to open it before saying anything more.

Rainbow opened the box curiously. Inside lay a rectangular mane-brush made of polished purpleheart wood, facing bristle-side up. Her eyes widened a bit as she saw the hoof-strap on the “wrong” side of the brush, and it quickly dawned on her exactly what it was for. She placed the box down beside her and looked back to Scootaloo, silently demanding an explanation as she regarded the orange filly with a steady gaze.

Scootaloo was too nervous to realize Rainbow hadn’t seen the writing on the back. She took a deep breath, then rushed into her explanation, her words coming out almost too fast for her mentor to comprehend. “I took it to get it polished, but then when it was done, I thought it’d be cool to wear it while I practiced my tricks, but then I took a really big fall! I was okay because I’m so used to falling and stuff, but...” Her voice trailed off into a small, fearful whisper as she reached into her worn saddlebag, and pulled out the object she’d been carrying. Or the remains of it, at least.

Rainbow Dash’s eyes grew as big as saucers as she saw what was being held in front of her. Right in front of her was the golden pendant she’d received at the Wonderbolt Academy. The one thing she treasured more than anything else she owned... broken into three pieces. Her mind raced as the room and the brush suddenly made perfect sense to her – but rather than understanding, her face was twisted in rage. If her eyes hadn’t already been a shade of red, they would have been, as she reached down and slipped her hoof into the strap on the brush. “And you think that I’ll just give you a few swats, and that will fix things?” she said, in a dangerously calm voice that was somehow more venomous than anything Scootaloo had ever heard.

Scootaloo’s eyes grew even wider than Dash’s as she heard the anger in her idol’s voice. Rainbow Dash angry with her? Yelling at her? That, she’d been prepared for. But that frighteningly-calm tone told the young filly that the older mare was more than just angry... she was furious. A part of her screamed that this wasn’t right, that she should try to hide or run away while she still had the chance. But she stood there anyway, tears filling her eyes, and accepted her idol’s rage. She had done something horrible to the one she cared about most, the one mare who was more important to her than anypony else, the one she looked up to and wanted to be like... the one who’d taken her under her wings, and whose approval meant everything to her. She knew, deep down, that she deserved Dash’s anger. She only gave a small nod in reply as she put the broken pendant back in her bag and stared down at the floor, humbled and afraid.

Dash didn’t seem to notice the filly’s fear, as her rage blinded her to anything else but the broken memento. “Fine. You want a spanking so bad... Bend your flanks over that stool. NOW!!” she said, shouting the last word in tone that left no room for questions.

Scootaloo jumped at the order, and ran immediately to do as she was told. It never even occurred to her to hesitate or disobey. She laid across the stool so her flanks were right at the edge, assuming the classic position every foal dreads as she wrapped her hooves around the legs of the stool to brace herself. She was too scared to even think of looking back at the one she had angered so much. She had been spanked before, though never more than a few swats, so she knew what was coming, and knew she deserved it... but that didn’t stop her insides from turning into a cold pit of fear as she heard her mentor’s hoof-falls behind her, coming closer. Her crushing guilt was the only thing keeping her in place as she slowly moved her tail to the side, leaving her flanks bared to whatever punishment her “big sister” felt she deserved.

Rainbow Dash seemed to be running on autopilot as she slowly walked toward the frightened young filly. All care gone from her eyes as she stood over the bared and vulnerable rear end bent over the stool. She stared down at the orange pegasus filly, then at the brush strapped to her hoof, still oblivious to what was engraved on the flat side. She raised the brush high into the air, then brought it down against Scootaloo’s left flank, swift and hard. The sound was like a thunderclap, echoing off the walls. The brush wasn’t large, but it was solid, easily covering one side of Scootaloo’s flanks as it flattened the cheek firmly under the blow. Purpleheart wood was dense and unyielding, and when Dash brought the brush up for another strike, there was already a pink glow visible underneath Scootaloo’s orange fur just from that one swat. She didn’t even notice, though, as she brought the brush down again and again with no less force. Her mind didn’t even comprehend what was happening, as she paddled the poor filly’s rump soundly.

Scootaloo cried out in pain as she felt the brush coming down on her upraised flanks so much harder than she’d ever been spanked before. She’d been in tears even before the first swat had fallen, but the fiery pain blossoming across her hindquarters with every clap of the hardwood brush had her crying openly by only the third swat... howling by the sixth... and sobbing by the tenth, her small body heaving with deep, wrenching sobs of pain and shame and guilt, hot tears dripping down her cheeks to the floor below, while she clutched the stool as if her life depended on it. The pain only served to further drive home just how upset her idol was with her, and how badly she’d hurt the cyan pegasus she adored, and that in turn only worked to further strengthen her guilty resolve as she tried her hardest to stay still for the punishment she knew she deserved. I deserve this... she thought to herself through her tears. I... I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Dash, I deserve this, I deserve every bit of it, I’m sorry, Dash, I’m...

“...SORRY, I’M SORRYYYYY!” she sobbed, trying to beg for her idol’s forgiveness in between her cries of pain as the brush set her rump on scorching, blazing, searing fire with every stroke.

Rainbow Dash could hear the filly’s cries and sobs, and almost stopped herself as she began to realize what she was doing. Something inside her at least managed to make her lessen the blows a bit, but she was still far too upset to just let it go. A small thought in one corner of her mind did scream at her to snap out of it, that Scootaloo had been punished more than enough... but it wasn’t enough to snap her out of her anger, and the brush continued to rain down its painful vengeance across those very sore flanks...

After nearly five minutes had passed without relief, Scootaloo lay spent and limp across the stool. No longer able to fight the throbbing, unbearably-intense pain in her backside, she just lay there and cried. Unable to form words, or even think about her own guilt anymore, she just lay there, accepting the pain of her mentor’s wrath... knowing deep in her heart that she deserved every last bit of the punishment she was receiving, and holding on to a small hope that her pain would somehow repair the damage she had done to their relationship with such a stupid, thoughtless stunt.

As Rainbow Dash raised the brush high, into the air for yet another thunderclap stroke, a small glint of light caught her eye. She blinked in confusion as she looked toward the source, and saw that the light had reflected off what appeared to be writing on the backside of the brush, just barely visible as she held it poised to strike Scootaloo’s burning-red flanks once more. Curiosity subsiding her anger for a moment, she turned the brush over to read what it said.

I’ve always been scared I could never live up to your name. Now, I only fear losing you.
Your Chicken, Scootaloo.

Dash’s eyes widened with realization, as memories struck her like a brick wall.

\/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/

It was her first training session with her “li’l sister”, the orange pegasus tomboy filly she’d taken under her wing. She’d brought Scootaloo up to a very high cloud and placed her on the edge, then hovered in the air next to it. “Go on kid,” she’d encouraged. “Just jump towards me! I’ll catch you if you fall. I am the fastest flyer in all of Equestria, after all!”

Scootaloo had peered over the edge of the cloud, then fallen down clutching the cloud like a lifeline. “I can’t!” she had screamed. “It’s too high!”

But Dash hadn’t really noticed her fear, and had only laughed it off with her usual boastfulness. “What are ya, a chicken?” she had teased.

The look she’d received from the pegasus filly that day was so fierce it had actually taken her aback. “I’m not a chicken!!” the little filly had screamed, and had actually leaped at her before realizing she was still in the air. The next thing either of them knew, Scootaloo was plummeting towards the ground, screaming for her life as she flapped her wings for everything she was worth in a futile effort to keep herself from falling. Rainbow Dash had instantly shot down like a rocket and caught her in her hooves, then taken the terrified little filly back down to earth.

“What was up with that, squirt?” she had asked, only a little concerned.

“I hate that name...” the little filly had finally managed to say, once she’d stopped shaking long enough to realize she was safely on the ground...

\/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/

As Rainbow Dash shook the memories away and looked back down at the brush, she realized just how much guilt the little filly must have felt to have come up with that, and just how much the little squirt must truly love her to call herself by that hated word. Her eyes teared up as she looked back down at her “li’l sister”, then widened in shock as she saw just how red Scootaloo’s flanks were. Her orange hindquarters had been turned a furious shade of deep scarlet, and the filly was just lying there limply across the padded stool, her small body shaking from the intense, throbbing pain in her backside as she sobbed and hiccuped brokenly, seemingly not even aware that the spanking had stopped.

I’ll catch you if you fall...

For a moment, Dash just stared at the brush in her hoof as though it were a venomous snake, as it finally began to sink into her what a big mistake she had just made. She threw the brush aside and quickly, but gently, picked the sobbing filly up into her hooves, squeezing Scootaloo tightly against her. “I’m so sorry, squirt... I’m so sorry...!” she repeated over and over, her breath catching raggedly as she began to cry along with the filly she held cradled in her forelegs.

Scootaloo squeaked in surprise as she felt herself being lifted up off the stool and into Rainbow Dash’s embrace, to be hugged so tightly. She could barely make out the words being spoken to her through her own broken, hiccuping sobs... but the feelings were there. She wrapped her hooves around Dash’s neck and hugged her as tight as she could, both of them sobbing their worries and guilt away in each others’ embrace...

“I’m so sorry, squirt...”

“I’m... s-sorry... hic... Rainbow... D-dash...”

A good half-hour passed before they both stopped crying enough to just lay there, hugging each other warm and close, with love and forgiveness...

“You forgive me, squirt?” Dash finally asked.

Scootaloo grinned up at her mentor, with a cocky look not unlike the the ones her mentor so often gave. “No problem... I can take it!”

They both shared a laugh together as they finally let each other go. It took everything Scootaloo had to keep from wincing or crying out when just the act of standing up on her hooves again reignited several fiery little jolts of pain in her burning-hot flanks, and Rainbow Dash felt a guilty twinge in her heart as she saw how much pain the pegasus filly was still feeling from the harsh spanking. Something in Scootaloo’s eyes, though, told Dash not to say anything. Right now, Scoots needed her idol to see that she was still the tough, fearless little tomboy she’d taken under her wing, and Dash couldn’t help sensing that it would hurt the filly’s pride far worse than the spanking had hurt her flanks if she thought Dash thought she wasn’t tough enough to take it...

Never let ‘em see you sweat, right, squirt? Rainbow Dash thought fondly, as she retrieved the brush from where she’d thrown it and put it back in its box. Okay, Scoots... I’ll pretend I don’t see you sweating, so my “li’l sister” can walk out with her head high. ‘Cause that’s what I’d want to do, too. Aw, Scoots... I’m sorry...

She started to pass the brush box over to Scootaloo, but the orange filly shook her head. “You keep it... you never know when I might need my ‘big sister’ to help me again,” she said with a wry, embarrassed giggle.

Dash laughed easily, and gave Scootaloo a warm smile and a nod as she tucked the box under her left foreleg. “Count on it, Scoots. Someone’s gotta keep my little sister in line, right?” she teased. “C’mon, kid. Hop on my back. I got some ice cream at home, and we’ll see if we can’t fix that pendant, huh?” Then she grinned and winked at the filly. “Plus, I can tell ya from experience...” she said in a softer tone, leaning in close, like one sister sharing a deep, dark secret with another, “A nice, soft, cool cloud under your butt will feel pretty sweet right now...” Chuckling at Scootaloo’s wide-eyed look of surprise, she added, “What? You think you’re the only filly who ever got her flanks scorched ‘cause she did something dumb?”

Scootaloo smiled hesitantly, then broke into giggles as her idol shared that memory with her. She leaped up on the older mare’s back, hugging her neck, grinning happily as Dash carried out of the store. “You really are the greatest big sister ever, Rainbow Dash!”

Crimson looked up from the counter as the two pegasus “sisters” came out of the back room and walked past her, giving her only a slight nod of acknowledgment as they left, already deep in their own conversation. She noticed the deep, burning-red glow from the filly’s backside, but she could feel the warmth and love that had grown between the two, and chuckled softly at Scootaloo’s last words as the pair flew off into the sky.

“Perhaps that mare isn’t the most ideal role model,” she said to herself, as she closed up shop for the night, “...but I think they’ll do just fine.”

Tracing Lines

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The Many Uses of a Brush
Chapter 5: Tracing Lines

The next few weeks passed by quickly. Crimson Brush found her store doing quite well, for being in such a small town. Of course, being fairly close to Canterlot helped, as did Rarity’s continued promotion of her wares via the customers who came to Carousel Boutique for makeovers. Not that Crimson needed the money, as such. Her investments and inheritance would actually have been quite enough to live quietly but comfortably on all by themselves, had she wished to. But she loved her work, and enjoyed the time with her customers.

Even Twilight Sparkle had come by again, to place an order for a hairbrush for herself. The studious unicorn mare’s obvious delight at the brush Crimson had made for her, with its arrangement of polished amethysts and mother-of-pearl inlays on the back in an exact replica of her distinctive cutie mark, had been a joy to see.

Crimson had just finished her last work order for the day when she heard the front door open. She made her way to the front counter, and smiled at the newcomer – an earth-pony mare whose beautiful azure-blue coat was complemented by a much paler-blue, and somewhat messy, mane and tail. She noticed with interest that the mare was fairly petite for an earth pony; she was only about the size of the average unicorn mare, just without the horn. A deep black cape covered her back and flanks.

“Welcome to Crimson’s Brushes. How may I assist you?”

The earth-pony mare walked up to the counter and gave the owner a disinterested stare. “The Great and Pow... I mean... The Great Tracy wishes to make a purchase at your little shop.”

Crimson tilted her head a bit, giving the mare a quizzical look as “Tracy” corrected herself in middle of her rather grandiose introduction. “Of course. What can I get for you, my dear?”

The mare grinned in an almost sinister fashion. “The Great, uh, Tracy wishes to know if you have a heavy crop for sale!” she said in a loud, theatrical voice, flourishing her hoof as if she were making an announcement of great importance.

Crimson could only wonder at why the mare insisted on speaking in third-person like that, especially since she was so obviously hiding her true name. Crimson shook her head and sighed softly to herself, before putting on a big smile once more. It takes all kinds, I suppose. “Of course, my dear,” she said. “Do you have any preferences as to color, or...”

“The Great... Tracy will be satisfied with the usual, as long as the crop is sturdy,” the blue mare replied, still affecting her air of self-importance combined with vague disinterest. “Tracy is given to understand that black is traditional; that will be sufficient for her needs.”

Crimson turned towards the normally-locked “special products” room on the left, rolling her eyes at the other mare’s behavior as she went inside to fetch a heavy crop from the wall. She swished it a couple of times in her magic to be sure it was sound, then brought it out and set it on the counter. “That will be fifty bits. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Tracy” picked up the crop in her muzzle and gave it a few test swings, then nodded as she began to count out the requested bits from her saddlebag, tossing them onto the counter somewhat carelessly. As she swung the crop, her cape shifted across her back, revealing her cutie mark for a brief moment. A wand, with a flowing arc of stars.

“Now that’s a rather unique cutie mark for an earth pony,” Crimson said curiously.

The mare’s face showed a split-second of worry, before resuming her usual airs. She dropped the crop back on the counter, and smiled brightly. “The Great Tri... Tracy is a stage performer! She does magic tricks that amaze and stupefy! And so her cutie mark reflects this, naturally!”

Crimson chuckled a bit. That explains the dramatics and the talking in third person, I suppose... but I still wonder why she’s hiding her name. “Naturally,” she agreed. “Still, you must be quite the special mare, to earn that cutie mark.”

“Tracy” nodded as if Crimson’s compliment were the most obvious news one could state. “Yes, well, enough about Tri... Tracy. Would you happen to have inhibitors on hand, by any chance?”

Crimson raised a brow at the unusual request, looking at the mare warily. “I do, my dear... But why would you need something like that?”

“Tracy wishes to have a bit of... fun, with a certain purple unicorn,” the mare replied, with a dismissive wave of her hoof and a smile which could only be described as “wicked.” She seemed to mean it in a playful manner, but her eyes hinted at something hidden deeper.

Crimson examined her face for a brief moment. I’ve seen that look in her eyes somewhere before, but I can’t quite place it. “I’m sorry, my dear, but I must inquire... Is this unicorn your mate, or..?”

A brief flash of a blush appeared on the azure mare’s cheeks before she quickly shook her head quickly. “N.. no! No, she’s just some pony Tri... Tracy needs to have a good, long talk with. We have quite the history together, and there are some things Tracy needs to get off her chest.”

“And you need a magic inhibitor for this?” Crimson asked in a doubtful tone.

“Tracy” huffed impatiently and nodded. “She’s not the easiest of mares to convince to listen, without blaming Tri... Tracy and trying to start a fight. Tracy does not want the situation to escalate into a battle if she loses her temper before Tri... Tracy has had a chance to speak her piece, that’s all.”

Crimson considered the mare’s words and curious actions thoughtfully for a minute or so, trying to decide whether selling “Tracy” what she’d asked for would be wise or not. She’s hiding something, she thought to herself. But then again, nopony’s used an inhibitor to harm another pony in ages. Such things simply weren’t done. With the three pony races at peace, earth ponies no longer had any need to use such things as weapons against the unicorns, and Princess Celestia herself had issued strict edicts about the permissible and forbidden uses of magic inhibitors (and flight inhibitors, for that matter) a long, long time ago.

These days, magic inhibitors were mostly used for medical purposes, to keep a unicorn who had lost control of their magic – due to delirium, sickness or senility, usually – from accidentally harming themselves or others, or to keep one who had cracked or damaged their horn from casting spells through it until it healed. Occasionally (and thankfully, rarely), law enforcement would use them if it was necessary to detain or incarcerate an uncooperative unicorn criminal, and no magic-proofed cell was available. But there were some unicorns who liked to use them as part of the “spicy” love lives Crimson catered to, as well; allowing your mate or lover to deliberately block off your magic could be a powerful act of trust and submission all by itself...

“Very well, dear. You will have to sign some papers before I can sell it to you, though. Celestia requires that all inhibitors be registered.” She placed the forms on the table, along with a quill, and waited expectantly. The mare looked mildly annoyed, but picked up the quill and began to fill out the forms. Crimson noticed that the mare signed them as “Tracy Lilac Moon”, clearly an alias, but it didn’t matter. “Tracy” either didn’t realize that these kinds of forms and quills were magically enchanted (by Princess Celestia herself, no less!) to make a positive record of the signers’ auras no matter what name they used; or, she just didn’t care.

Once the forms were signed, Crimson added her own signature as the seller of record, then put them away and pulled a small box out from under the counter. Her horn glowed a soft purple, as did the lock, and after a few moments the lock popped open. She raised the lid, revealing five rings of varying designs. Each ring opened at a clasp on one side, and each bore a string of small engraved runes along the outer edge. She had ordered these from Hoof Kong, in case they were ever requested. She picked one of the golden rings out of the box and placed it on the countertop, then locked the box and placed it back under the counter once more.

“Perfect!” the azure mare grinned as Crimson pushed the ring towards her. “Just what The Great Tri... Tracy needs!”

Crimson sighed softly to herself as, once again, she briefly questioned whether this was a good idea. But “Tracy” had filled out the forms, and her aura was on record now, so... “That will be one hundred and seventy-five bits, total. Fifty for the crop, and one hundred twenty-five for the inhibitor,” she said. “Will there be anything else, dear?” she added, rather hoping that there wouldn’t be.

“Tracy” blinked, clearly taken aback by the price. For a moment, Crimson thought she would balk at the price and just walk away, but after a moment the mare shook her head and grumbled something that sounded rather less than complimentary before grudgingly counting out a larger pile of bits onto the counter. “You’re just lucky The Great Tracy needs this very much. But Tracy will not be coming back with such outrageous prices!” She grabbed her crop as well as the ring, slid them into her saddlebag, then gave an irritated toss of her mane as she stormed out of the store in a huff.

“Well... that was an experience,” Crimson said to herself. Purple unicorn... I wonder if she meant Twilight? She shook the thought away. Twilight’s personal life was her own business, and even though Twilight had never come out and said as much herself, Crimson had been given to understand through various conversations with others that the studious unicorn librarian was one of the most powerful magic users in Ponyville. Of course, Princess Celestia would hardly have taken her as a personal student of magic if all she could do was make a few fizzy sparks! she thought to herself in amusement. She decided not to worry about it too much for the moment. Twilight could handle herself.

She locked up for the night and, as had become her habit over the last few weeks, stepped outside for a short walk around Ponyville to relax and stretch her legs after a long day’s work, giving polite smiles and casual greetings to the other ponies she saw out and about their own evening-time errands. Spotting the lights of Sugarcube Corner still open for business, she decided to wander over for a quick cup of tea, and maybe a spice muffin if they still had some left, before the bakery closed for the night. Those muffins really were exquisitely delicious, and the bouncy, bubblegum-pink earth-pony mare who always seemed to be working there always seemed to know just how to make another pony smile...

Three days passed without any further word about the strange visitor. Perhaps I was worrying over nothing, she decided.

\/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/

“Hey Spike! Come down here for a minute!”

The little dragon hopped down the stairs with a bit of impatience as he walked to see what Twilight wanted this time. “What’s up, Twilight?”

Twilight smiled happily at the little dragon. “Oh good, there you are. Rarity asked if I could send you over to her place tonight. You’ll be spending the night.”

“Really?” he said, tilting his head curiously. “Not that I’m complaining, Twilight, but this is the third night in row. Last time, she just needed someone to keep an eye on Sweetie Belle while she worked.”

“Well, you know how Rarity can be when she’s got a big project due,” she said, chuckling to herself as she thought of the white unicorn mare’s tendency for drama. “And Sweetie Belle can be a hoof-full, or so I’ve heard.”

“That’s true.” Spike agreed with a chuckle of his own. “Especially when she tries to be ‘helpful’...”

“Well, there you go. I’m sure Rarity just enjoys having her ‘Spikey Wikey’ around to help keep things under control,” she added, using the nickname Rarity had given him.

“Are you sure you don’t need me tonight?”

Twilight caught the worried note in Spike’s voice, and trotted over to give him a hug. “Oh, you know I’ll always need my number-one assistant, Spike,” she said, while gently brushing an affectionate hoof over the crest running down his head and back. “Always. But I know how much you like helping Rarity... and she is my friend too, you know!” she added, teasing him a little. “I’ll manage. There’s really not a lot left to do tonight, anyway; you’ve already done just about everything except the late-returns books, and there’s only a couple of those. Go on... ‘Spikey-Wikey.’ Rarity needs her number-one assistant’s help tonight.”

Spike relaxed within the reassuring embrace, smiling and nodding happily at the soft caress along his crest-scales. Though they rarely spoke openly of it, they both knew Spike’s deepest, darkest fear was that someday, Twilight might not need him or want him around anymore, and would send him away. It would never happen, of course, but it was still a fear he struggled with sometimes, and it always made him feel better to hear Twilight say she would always need him. “I guess so... Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then, Twi. Don’t forget to lock up!” he shouted as he ran out the door. Third night in a row? Maybe I’m finally getting to her! he thought excitedly.

Twilight shook her head and chuckled to herself. He’s so easy to read. It was pretty much an open secret in Ponyville that the baby dragon had a crush on Rarity. She turned away and started walking towards the stairs leading to her upper-floor bedroom, then sighed as she heard the door slam shut behind her. “Spike! What’d I tell you about slamming the...?”

She paused in mid-sentence as she turned around, only to see nopony there. Huh. Must’ve been the wind. She shrugged and started back towards the stairs... but she only made it a few steps before she heard, and felt, something click around her horn. “Hey! What the...!” Her eyes widened to the size of saucers as she saw a familiar blue unicorn standing before her, in her usual star-spangled cape and hat. “Trixie?!

Trixie grinned wickedly. “That’s ‘The Great and Powerful Trixie’ to you, Twilight Sprinkle!” she snapped haughtily. “And Trixie has been waiting a long time to get back at you for all you’ve done to her!” Trixie’s horn began to glow blue as she stared at her nemesis with evil eyes.

Twilight immediately tried to cast a shield spell – only to find that her horn wasn’t working! The magic was still there, but it was... stuck, somehow! Something was blocking it from getting out, like a clog blocking up a sink drain. She raised a hoof to whatever was attached to her horn, but before she could touch it, a blue ring of magic wrapped itself around her hoof and yanked it back to the floor. Her other hooves were quickly wrapped in similar fashion before she could react.

"Ohhhh, no no no, Twilight Stinkle. We don’t want that coming off until Trixie has had her fun, now do we,” Trixie sneered as she moved closer to the helpless unicorn.

"My name is Twilight Sparkle! Now let go of me!” Why is she doing this? And why does she only get my first name right?! she thought to herself, with a tinge of anger building.

“Now is that any way to talk to your superiors, Twilight Barkle? The Great and Powerful Trixie thinks you need to watch your tongue – or better yet, be quiet!” she snapped as she summoned a bit and bridle, fastening it to Twilight’s muzzle before the trapped unicorn mare could even try to stop it. Like many unicorns, Twilight was so used to having her magic to defend herself that by the time she remembered to try any sort of physical resistance, it was already several precious seconds too late.

Trixie buckled down the bit and bridle good and tight, making it quite impossible for the lavender unicorn to say a word, then spun Twilight around in her magical grip so that her backside was facing Trixie. “Yes, Trixie thinks that’s much better. Don’t you, Twilight Blinkle?” she cackled.

Hehh eehh hohh!” Twilight could only make incoherent sounds around the tightly-fitted bit gag as it pressed against her tongue, while the bridle straps prevented her from pushing it out or opening her mouth wide enough to relieve the pressure of the bit. She began to shiver with worry as she realized her helplessness. She tried to look over her shoulder, only to find her head forcibly turned back to face straight forward by even more magic. She struggled against the magical bonds to no avail, whimpering in anxiety over her situation as she realized she was utterly powerless to resist the web of blue magic lines ensnaring her, and completely at the mercy of the one casting them.

Trixie grinned malevolently as she slid a thick riding crop out of her saddlebag, suspending it in midair as she stepped up to stand just behind the trapped unicorn. “Hmm... Trixie thinks something’s not quite right here.” She summoned a bit more magic to tighten the web of magic still more, forcing Twilight’s head and forelegs to the ground, leaving her hindquarters raised up high in the air before her. “Yes, that’s much more to Trixie’s liking.”

Twilight felt her tail being brushed aside, exposing her flanks, and felt a sudden surge of the same fear and embarrassment she’d felt that night she’d placed herself over Crimson Brush’s spanking rack. Just like before, her bent-over position was placing her on full, open display, with absolutely nothing hidden from Trixie’s gaze... except that this time, she couldn’t get up from the position. She couldn’t even move so much as a hoof.

Trixie took in the sight before her with no small amount of pleasure as she lifted the crop, then brought the rod down with a firm lash across Twilight’s left flank, aimed directly at the center of her cutie mark. Twilight screamed loudly through the bit gag as she felt the crop bite deeply into her flank, a tear already forming in her eye from the vicious sting it left in its wake. Trixie had struck her far harder than Twilight had done while experimenting on herself that other night, and the blossoming pain was almost as bad as the belt Crimson had later punished her with. Not quite, but almost.

“You humiliated me, Twilight Crinkle!” Trixie snarled as she gave the helpless unicorn mare another firm lash of the crop, just below the first. “Trixie became the laughing stock of all Equestria because of you!” Another lash, to Twilight’s right flank this time. “Your friends heckled me when I was just trying to put on a show! And then they dared to challenge The Great and Powerful Trixie’s magic to try to make her look ridiculous! What did I ever do to them to deserve that? Then you banished that Ursa Minor, and everypony thought it was all my fault that thing got loose! Word got around, and Trixie couldn’t find work anywhere near Ponyville, or Canterlot, or anywhere else!!” she yelled, punctuating each statement with vicious swipes of the crop across Twilight’s flanks.

“And then that fiasco with the Alicorn Amulet! Trixie admits, that was partly her fault, but only because The Great and Powerful Trixie wanted to beat you herself! Trixie didn’t know what that amulet would do! Nopony ever said anything to Trixie about it being dangerous! Trixie was told it was just the opposite of an inhibitor, that it would boost her magic instead of blocking it! That’s all! But even after Trixie apologized to everypony and tried to help undo what she did, Trixie’s life was still ruined again! She had to go all the way to Trottingham before anypony would let her do so much as perform at a foal’s birthday party! Well, now Trixie has a chance to pay you back for all the wrongs you’ve caused her, Twilight Frazzle!” With that, she began bringing the crop down quickly and precisely, each stroke hitting a different part of Twilight’s upraised backside, covering her flanks in splotchy dark marks as the skin beneath the helpless mare’s lavender coat turned redder and redder under the skillfully-controlled cropping.

Even as Twilight cried out in pain under the punishing smacks, she found herself thinking about Trixie’s words and considering them honestly. Despite Trixie’s obvious anger and frustration, and the deep grudge she clearly carried, Twilight had to admit there was still some ring of truth to what the unfortunate magician mare had said. I had no idea... she’d had it so rough all this time... she didn’t deserve all of that... the Ursa wasn’t her fault, that was... Snips and Snails’ fault if it was anypony’s, and... the amulet wasn’t really... all her fault, either... Twilight’s thoughts were broken up by the growing pain in her flanks as each strike of the crop built on the previous one, just as she’d suspected it would that first time she’d struck herself with one... though considering the circumstances, she would have been happier to have had that particular theory proven wrong instead.

As the pain continued to build, Twilight tried to fight against the magical bonds holding her, but Trixie had her too tightly ensnared. She tried to beg for mercy, to offer Trixie her apologies, but the bit gag and bridle strapped around her muzzle turned her words into unintelligible moans and gasps. Even more embarrassing, she couldn’t even stop herself from drooling on the floor with her mouth forcibly held open like this. There was nothing she could do except squeal and cry out as the crop rained down without pause across her exposed and vulnerable rear, fresh pain blossoming under every stroke, until every inch of her flanks felt like it was on fire.

“Trixie hopes this hurts,” she heard a voice whispering viciously in her ear, as the cropping paused for a brief moment. “Trixie hopes this hurts a lot. Trixie hopes this hurts every bit as much as her life has hurt, every... single... day!!” Twilight howled as Trixie punctuated those words with swipes of the crop right at the most sensitive spots along the bottom edge of her rump, desperately trying once more to beg, to apologize, to tell Trixie that yes, it did hurt, and that she’d never meant things to happen the way they did, and she was so very, very sorry for everything Trixie had gone through... but nothing came out except garbled, incoherent sobs of pain as the crop seared her backside.

And then the crop shifted lower, taking aim at Twilight’s thighs, and the pain grew so very much worse, each stroke of the crop landing like the sting of a dozen angry hornets, driving all thoughts from her mind as she squealed and sobbed and fought to escape the pain with all her strength... until finally, spent and exhausted, she did the only thing she could do. She stopped struggling, stopped fighting and resisting, and just lay there, crying brokenly, accepting the punishment as it was delivered, stroke by painful stroke.

Trixie, meanwhile, could only grin triumphantly as the crop did its wonderful work on Twilight’s exposed flanks, slowly reducing her nemesis to a struggling, crying, drooling mess as the dark heat spread across the lavender unicorn’s burning hindquarters. She finally stopped when she realized Twilight was just lying there, sobbing and broken, no longer putting up any resistance, and leaned in a bit closer to study the lavender unicorn’s flanks with a critical eye to assess the damage. The crop’s strokes had been firm and harsh, but well-controlled; Twilight’s hindquarters were covered in blotchy dark patches of painful, burning red underneath the lavender fur, but Trixie’s precisely-targeted strokes hadn’t even left a visible welt, much less broken the skin.

“Be lucky The Great and Powerful Trixie is being soft on you,” she said mockingly as she let the crop fall to the ground. “Though Trixie doesn’t know what she’s so concerned about. You probably enjoyed every minute of it, Twilight Spankle!” She laughed uproariously at her own joke, then floated the unicorn up and turned her around in midair to face her. “Well, The Great and Powerful Trixie hopes you’ve finally learned your lesson, Twilight Sparkle...”

Trixie looked as if she was about to say something more, but the look on Twilight’s face gave her pause. She could see Twilight’s tears were genuine, as her face was contorted in pain... and to Trixie’s amusement, she looked for all the world like a humbled, woefully-sorry filly who’d just received a well-deserved spanking at the hooves of her mother, rather than a grown mare who’d suffered the painful revenge of an enemy who’d caught her by surprise. Trixie raised a brow as she studied that humbled expression on Twilight’s face, then slowly let her down and released her magical bonds from Twilight’s body – although she did hold on just enough to support the exhausted, still-crying unicorn mare as her shaking legs went out from under her, so that Twilight wouldn’t hurt herself with a bad fall as she slumped to the floor. The irony was not lost on Trixie, and she had to laugh at the thought as she waited for Twilight to pull herself back together.

“So, Twilight Sparkle... do you have anything you’d like to say to The Great and Merciful Trixie?” she asked as she removed the bit and bridle, smiling wickedly at her captive.

Twilight took a long while to recover before she could even attempt to speak. When her tears and sobs finally stopped, and she could start to think coherently again, she took some time to get her mind back in control as the vicious hornets’-nest stings in her rear slowly faded to a deep, throbbing burn. She released my hooves? That... that wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting... I mean, it was bad, oh sun and moon that was even worse than the belt, I think! But I really thought she’d do a lot worse to me than just... that... Wait... Did she just get my name right?! Twice?!

Finally, Twilight stood up on shaking legs, then looked up at Trixie. She opened her mouth, and spoke only one word.


Turnabout's Fireplay

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The Many Uses of a Brush
Chapter 6: Turnabout’s Fireplay

{ Three nights ago, at Crimson’s Brushes... }

Twilight Sparkle walked into Crimson Brush’s store just as the moon was breaking over the horizon. She spotted the zebracorn hybrid standing behind the counter, and gave her a wave of her hoof. “Hello, Crimson. Spike told me you wanted to talk to me?”

Crimson looked up from the counter and gave Twilight a warm smile. “Yes, my dear. Thank you for coming so soon. Lock the door behind you, please.” She waited for Twilight to turn the deadbolt lock’s handle, then motioned for the unicorn mare to follow her into her workroom. Twilight gave her a curious look, then shrugged and followed her into the back, looking around with interest at the half-finished projects on the workbench and the shelves stacked with the raw materials Crimson used in her trade. Crimson gave the ever-curious unicorn a moment to look around while she moved a couple of chairs to face each other, then motioned for Twilight to have a seat.

“Would you like some tea, my dear?” Crimson asked her guest once Twilight was settled. “I have some already made; I was just about to have a cup myself.”

“Oh! That’d be nice, thank you,” Twilight said with a smile. She waited patiently while Crimson poured out two cups and brought them over, floating one over to Twilight while keeping the other for herself. They sipped together, and Twilight’s face lit up with pleasure at the aroma and taste. Rich black tea, full of mouth-watering spices. “Oh, my. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and... something else?”

“Cardamom, my dear,” Crimson said with a pleased smile of her own. “Don’t tell me you’re an expert on tea blends, as well as all your other talents!” she added, unable to resist teasing the modest librarian unicorn a little.

“Oh, well...” Twilight blushed. “Not really, but I do like tea, and... well... I read a lot, remember?” They both chuckled at that, and sat back to share another few companionable sips. “It’s really good. Anyway, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?” she asked.

“Well, it might be nothing, Twilight, but I had a very... disturbing... visit earlier today.”

Twilight tilted her head, giving Crimson a curiously worried look. “What happened?”

Crimson took a breath as she considered how best to discuss things without alarming her friend. “A strange earth-pony mare came into my store today. She bought a crop... and a magic inhibitor,” she began.

“Oh? Well, earth ponies and unicorns date all the time,” Twilight said thoughtfully, “and I do recall one of those... um... ‘alternate lifestyle’ books mentioning something about using inhibitors to... um... ‘spice things up’...” Even though she’d grown a little more comfortable discussing such intimate subjects, at least in the privacy of Crimson’s back rooms, Twilight still blushed at the idea as she said it out loud, which Crimson couldn’t help but find endearing despite the circumstances. “ maybe she’s got a unicorn... um, lover, that enjoys that kind of thing?” she suggested, wondering just what this had to do with her.

Crimson nodded and took another sip of tea before continuing. “She specifically mentioned it was for a purple unicorn mare. And, well... you are the only pony that matches that description, that I’ve met, since coming to Ponyville...” she said, hoping she wasn’t about to pry into something personal. The last thing Crimson wanted to do was embarrass her unicorn friend by butting into her private life uninvited.

Twilight leaned forward a bit, her interest now piqued. “Well, I’m not the only purple unicorn mare around... well, more of a dark lavender, kind of mulberry-ish, technically,” she said, unable to resist the urge to make the correction, “but yes, I am the only one in Ponyville, as far as I know. Maybe she’s... dating someone in Canterlot? Or... was there something else?”

“I think there might be, yes,” Crimson said carefully. “She had a number of... unusual mannerisms, for one, and she was obviously hiding something. She lied about her name... very badly, I might add... and her behavior was just odd, overall. Granted, some ponies are a bit embarrassed about their liking for the wares I sell here,” she added, gently teasing Twilight again, “and can be nervous about asking for them... They’ll make up cover stories, pretend they’re buying it ‘for a friend’ – but I don’t think it was that. She didn’t seem like the shy, nervous type, and she certainly had no hesitation about asking for the items she wanted – she just very obviously didn’t want me to know her name. Her cutie mark was rather unusual for an earth pony, as well.”

“What did she look like?” Twilight asked. Crimson described the mare as best she could, gauging her unicorn friend’s reactions curiously as she spoke. Twilight didn’t seem too worried about it, until Crimson described the azure-blue mare’s stars-and-wand cutie mark. “Wait! ‘Unusual mannerisms’...? Like referring to herself in third person all the time?” she suddenly asked as the pieces clicked together in her mind. “That’s Trixie!”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” Crimson said, visibly surprised that Twilight had made that particular connection. “You know this earth pony, then?”

Twilight shook her head. “Well, yes... I mean, no...” She sighed softly and started over. “Trixie’s not an earth pony. She’s a unicorn, and she’s well-versed in illusion magic. She came to Ponyville a long time ago, as a traveling showmare... and thanks to some heckling from my friends, and a duo of... um, overly-impressionable and somewhat thoughtless colts who took her stage patter too seriously, she inadvertently caused an Ursa Minor to rampage through town. I managed to turn the Ursa back by lulling it to sleep, but she ran off before I could talk to her. The next time I saw her was about a year ago. She was under the influence of an ancient and, unfortunately, very dangerous magic amulet, and almost enslaved the whole town. She apologized for everything after I managed to get her away from its control... but then she ran off again. I didn’t think I’d ever see her again after that.”

Crimson listened intently, raising a curious brow as she noticed what appeared to be a slightly disappointed look in the unicorn mare’s eyes. “She sounds like quite the troublemaker.”

Twilight shook her head. “Not really. She’s very boastful and full of herself, but I don’t think she ever intended for anypony to be hurt. I honestly don’t think she even knew that amulet was dangerous. But she still thinks I intentionally upstaged her, and isn’t too happy about it. I thought, with her apology, all of that was behind us... but maybe not,” she finished with a heavy sigh.

Crimson bit her lip as her worries began to creep their way back into her mind. “I see... I’m sorry I sold the inhibitor to her, then.” She got up for a moment and made her way over to a small wooden cabinet. She used her horn to unlock one of the drawers, then lifted a small, round, glowing ball from it. A transparent-blue sphere about the size of her hoof, mounted in a wooden holder to keep it from rolling away. It could have been mistaken for a snow globe, aside from the fact that there was nothing inside it except for the soft glow.

Twilight, however, knew what it was immediately. She’d seen several of these at the Gifted Unicorns’ school in Canterlot, and more than a few in the various wings of the College of Magic’s Royal Library. “A spell crystal!” she said, her eyes widening in recognition.

Crimson chuckled softly as she sat back down and held the object in front of her. “Yes. A very special one that a friend gave me a few years ago. He’s not overly fond of inhibitors, so when I told him that I had purchased some, he sent me a couple of these, and told me they might come in handy,” she explained as she passed the orb over to Twilight. “It’s made to counter the effects of any inhibitor placed on the owner of the orb. Once it’s been activated by its owner, if a certain word chosen by the owner is spoken within a certain distance of it, the orb will instantly deactivate and shatter the inhibitor. This one hasn’t been activated yet. Simply focus on the orb and speak your chosen word, and it’ll be attuned to you. After that, as long as it’s within twenty feet of you, you can use it to break the inhibitor if she tries to put on you.”

Twilight studied the orb and its enchantment very closely, then nodded her understanding of the spell crystal and its purpose. “I see... Thank you very much, Crimson. I’ll be sure to give it back to you when I’m finished with it.”

“No need,” Crimson assured her. “As I said, my friend sent me more than one. I still have the other one, activated for myself. Although I’ve never actually needed to use it, thank Celestia.”

“Let’s hope I don’t have to, either,” Twilight said with a soft sigh. After a moment’s thought, she looked up again. “Can I purchase an inhibitor as well... just in case things get out of hoof?” she asked.

Crimson couldn’t help feeling a few misgivings about the idea, but nodded agreement. She trusted Twilight enough to take her at her word; she wouldn’t use it unless Trixie forced her to. “Come back out to the front, my dear.” She waited for Twilight to store the spell crystal in her saddlebag, then led her back out into the main storefront. As Celestia’s personal student, Twilight was already registered for the possession and use of controlled magic items, but she insisted on doing things by the book nonetheless, and filled out the necessary forms while Crimson lifted another of the rune-inscribed inhibitor bands out of the magically-locked box. “Here... and don’t worry about the price, my dear,” she said as she pushed the bright golden band across the counter. “It’s my fault Trixie has one in the first place.”

Twilight smiled, but shook her head. “Thanks, but please let me pay for it anyway. I’d feel bad if I took something this expensive for free. And please don’t worry about Trixie. It’s not your fault; you couldn’t have known. Now that I know she’s coming, I can handle her.”

Crimson sighed softly and shook her head. “That’s kind of you to say, my dear, but in hindsight, I really should have listened to my instincts when they told me something seemed ‘off’ about her.” After the money exchange and signing of the registry forms was finished, she couldn’t help but add, “You seem almost happy to have this chance, my dear.”

Twilight gave her a knowing grin. “Perhaps a little.” She left the zebracorn mare to ponder that, and went back home to have a little talk with Spike.

Crimson sat with a very confused look on her face, as she considered that last comment from Twilight. She had the same look in her eyes as Trixie...

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{ Present day, at Golden Oaks Library Tree... }


Trixie leaped back, startled and more than a little confused at Twilight’s shout. “What in the world is wrong with you, Twilight? Did the Great and Powerful Trixie break your brain, or – ”

A bright flash cut her off in mid-sentence, and her eyes went wide with shock at the sight of the inhibitor ring on Twilight’s horn shattering into a dozen fragments. Twilight scattered the fragments with a quick toss of her head, her horn already charging up with a deep-purple glow. Trixie quickly threw up a sky-blue shield spell around herself as she watched her nemesis warily. “What did you just do?!” she demanded.

Twilight chuckled softly and gave Trixie a grin that rivaled her own when she’d been the one in charge of the situation. “You’re right, Trixie. In a way, I did enjoy that... but not in the way you hoped, I’m sure. As for what happened to your inhibitor ring? I already knew you were coming, and I had some precautions set in place.”

What?! If you knew I was coming, then why did you let me capture you?! You even sent Spike away, and left yourself alone!” Trixie was very worried now. Clearly, she had miscalculated, and now Twilight was about to turn the tables on her... again. She began slowly backing her way to the door, keeping her shield raised in front of her.

“That’s right, I did,” Twilight said, nodding as she casually matched the blue unicorn step for step. “I didn’t want our meeting to be disturbed. I’ve been waiting for you to return, Trixie... though I had hoped it would be under better circumstances than this. But a part of me is still glad for how things turned out.”

Trixie was so surprised by that last statement that she actually stopped backing towards the door. “Wh... what do you mean?”

Twilight sighed softly as the magic glow faded from her horn – a sight which only further confused Trixie, who had assumed that the glow was the start of an attack, not realizing that all Twilight was doing was healing some of the damage to her backside so that it wouldn’t hurt so much. “Believe it or not, Trixie... I really did feel bad for what happened in the past. That first time you came to town... My friends were having an argument that day, I don’t even remember what it was about. I thought seeing a show might cheer them up and get them over it, so I brought them along. But the way you presented your show just rubbed them the wrong way, and... that’s why they went after you like that,” she said, shaking her head sadly. “I never meant to upstage you, and I was embarrassed that they were acting like that, which is why I made up that excuse to walk away. I wish it hadn’t happened like that... I really did want to see your show. I was never that good at illusion spells, myself, and your control over your magic really is very, very good. I would’ve liked to have seen more of what you could do, and maybe even have you teach me some of them. But then the Ursa happened, and you ran off before I had a chance to talk to you and apologize for my friends being so rude to you.”

Trixie quirked a brow in disbelief as she listened. “You... You wanted to apologize to Trixie? Even after what she did to you?”

Twilight simply gave her a warm smile and nodded. “Trixie, I never held any of it against you. I mean, okay, the Alicorn Amulet incident might have been a little your fault, although I do believe you when you say you honestly didn’t know the amulet was dangerous. But the Ursa Minor was not your fault; there was no way you could’ve known Snips and Snails would do something that... well, stupid. And you already apologized for the amulet. But if you mean what happened just now... I let that happen because I felt bad for having some part in all of it. I can’t help thinking if I’d just stood up to my friends and stopped them from heckling you, instead of keeping quiet and walking away... maybe none of the rest it would ever have happened, and it never would have come to this.”

Trixie just stared at Twilight for several long moments, completely taken aback by the seemingly honest words of apology from the pony she had only until recently despised with all her being. “I... Trixie... accepts your apology,” she finally said. “But... I still don’t understand why you let all this happen! Surely you don’t think your actions were completely at fault?” Her voice wavered a bit as she tried to process exactly what was happening. She had never expected a sincere apology from the unicorn. Why is she being so nice to me? After all the things I did to her and her friends...?

Twilight sighed softly and shook her head. “No... I don’t think my actions were completely at fault. Nor were my friends’ actions. In fact... I don’t even consider our actions to be of greater consequence then your own.”

This only served to make Trixie look even more confused than before. “Then why did you accept my retribution and let me punish you, if you felt I was the one in the wrong?”

Twilight couldn’t help smiling to herself as she noticed Trixie wasn’t referring to herself in third-person any more. “Simple, Trixie. I accepted your punishment for my part in all of this, because I was partly in the wrong... but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for your part in it,” she said, her expression turning to a sly grin.

Trixie began to shake noticeably as she took another step backwards towards the door. “What... what do you think you can do to The Great and Powerful Trixie?!” she said, trying to project her usual boastful confidence even as her voice cracked a little.

Twilight’s grin turned positively wicked as her horn lit up once more. “I intend to give her exactly what was given, of course,” she said. “I think that’s only fair. Don’t you?”

Trixie’s eyes shot wide open as she realized in a flash exactly what Twilight meant. She spun on her hooves and bolted for the door, only to be snatched into the air by a purple glow before she even made it a whole two steps. Just as she went to use her own magic to try and break free, she heard a distressingly-familiar click! as something attached itself to the base of her own horn, and felt a surge of raw fear as her own magic was instantly snuffed out and blocked. “You can’t do this to Trixie!” she cried.

Twilight turned her around and floated her closer so she could look into her eyes, just like Trixie had done to her earlier. “I’d rather this happen the easy way, Trixie,” she said evenly. “But if you insist on doing it the hard way, I can always send a letter to Princess Celestia. Misuse of a magic inhibitor? Assaulting Celestia’s personal protege? I don’t think she’ll take either of those too well, do you?” Though her words were threatening, she spoke rather softly, as if she honestly hoped Trixie wouldn’t force her hoof and make it come to that.

Trixie looked into the other unicorn’s eyes and gave a loud gulp as she contemplated her options. Not that she really had any, she realized with another surge of cold fear. She was in serious, serious trouble. Committing assault with a magic inhibitor was bad enough – how in Equestria could she have ever thought she’d get away with that? – but assaulting the Sun Princess’ personal student? She’d be lucky if she only spent the rest of her life breaking rocks... on the moon!

After a brief moment, Trixie deflated and nodded, realizing she truly had no choice but to do whatever Twilight Sparkle demanded. “Very well, Twilight... Trixie will submit. For now. But don’t expect The Great and Powerful Trixie to apologize!” she added, trying to at least make a show of bravado despite the hollow feeling in her stomach.

“I don’t expect anything, Trixie...” Twilight sighed, shaking her head. “...but a mare can hope,” she added, in a whisper just low enough for Trixie to be unable to hear it. “You don’t need to worry, though... I’m not evil. I don’t plan on torturing you. In fact, I don’t even plan on using that wicked crop you brought along. That thing really stings, I hope you know! Even with you going easy on me, that really, really hurt a lot!

Trixie blinked, then glared back at Twilight. “I did not go easy on you!”

“I won’t even make you wear that bit and bridle,” Twilight chuckled, deliberately not acknowledging Trixie’s outraged protest. “Though by rights, I probably should...”

Trixie eeped! and quickly shut up, not wanting to be humiliated even further than she was already about to be as she found herself being lowered to the floor and magically bound into the exact same position as she’d forced Twilight into. Immobilized, head and forelegs down, hindquarters up, hind legs spread, tail lifted... utterly helpless, and completely exposed. Although, as much as she hated to admit it, Twilight had been far gentler about it than she’d been; instead of simply wrenching her into position by force, the snares of purple magic lines had just applied slowly-increasing pressure against her body to gently, but firmly push her into place, and now they only caused her further discomfort if she moved. As long as she remained in the correct position, it was almost like being wrapped in a tight, warm, comfy blanket. Except that Trixie was all too aware that what was coming next was almost certainly going to be anything but “comfy”...

With another glow of magic, Twilight summoned the belt she’d been given by Crimson Brush. She couldn’t help smiling fondly at it, remembering how it had felt as it had given her the painful, but much-needed correction and closure she hadn’t even known she needed so badly until it had broken her. She hoped to give Trixie the same correction... and hopefully, the same release.

Trixie’s eyes widened in fear as she saw the menacing-looking leather belt appear in mid-air. She fought to break free of Twilight’s magical grasp, but without her horn’s magic to assist, she was every bit as helpless to escape as Twilight had been. “You can’t scare me, Twilight,” she said, still trying to put up a brave front, even as she felt her insides turning to jelly.

“I’m not trying to scare you, Trixie,” Twilight said with a gentle smile, although Trixie had already turned her head away before she could see it. “I just want us to get over this, once and for all... and maybe even be friends, afterwards. Someday.”

Trixie bit her lip at Twilight’s words, hardly able to believe what she’d heard. She wants to be friends? With me?!

Twilight waited for a moment, then sighed softly as Trixie seemed to refuse to acknowledge what she’d said. She was beginning to think her words would never reach the prideful showmare. Let’s get this over with, then, she thought sadly, as she raised the belt high over Trixie’s flanks. Trixie closed her eyes and trembled nervously as she sensed the belt coming into position... then jerked forward with a sharp gasp as the belt lashed down dead-center across her hindquarters, leaving an angry stripe of pain in its wake that took the azure unicorn’s breath away.

Still, a part of her wouldn’t let her give in, even though she knew this was barely the beginning of the punishment she was about to receive and that it was going to get a lot, lot worse. “Ha! Is that the best you’ve got, Twilight Sparkle?” she sneered, instantly regretting her choice of words even as she said them. You idiot, why did you say that?! she thought furiously to herself. She’s mad enough at you already, you –

The next lash of the belt, and the shock of pain that followed, knocked the rest of that thought out of her mind. The belt was unbelievably painful; how in the world could Twilight think that the crop was worse than – ! Another lash knocked that thought out of her mind as well. “All right, this has gone far enough, Twilight Sparkle, I insist that – !” Again, the belt silenced her attempt at defiance as the pain left her gasping for breath.

Hmm... how about that? She’s actually been using my right name for a while now, Twilight found herself thinking as she paused between strokes. And she’s not calling herself ‘Trixie’ and acting so full of herself anymore, either... She began to feel a small hope that maybe, just maybe, this dose of “caring discipline” would give the prideful azure showmare the same closure, and emotional release, that it had finally given to a guilt-ridden lavender unicorn...

Trixie threw out a few more defiant insults as the belt began to rise and fall with a steady rhythm across her backside, but it was clear that she was struggling to keep her composure. Little by little, the belt was breaking her, the pain and shame and humiliation cracking through the showmare’s bravado as each lash left a fresh stripe of fire across her hindquarters. Why is she doing this to me?! I don’t deserve this! ... Do I? “Cease... this attack... on Trixie... this instant!” she gasped out, making one last attempt at defiance, just before the next lash finally broke her composure and she dissolved into soft, pain-filled sobs. “Please! ... St... Stop!! PLEASE!!

Twilight slowed the pace of her strokes as Trixie broke down sobbing, but didn’t stop. I wish it hadn’t come to this, Trixie... I really do, she thought, her own flanks twitching in sympathy as she saw how red Trixie’s were turning under her azure coat, and how each lash of the belt was leaving an even darker, hotter stripe in its wake. You needed this, though, didn’t you... just like I did. It’s finally getting through to you. She took a deep breath to steady herself as she continued to spank the no-longer-prideful mare, giving Trixie plenty of time between each stroke to feel it to the fullest before the next one landed.

Trixie’s sobs grew deeper, shaking her body, making her hiccup for breath while tears of pain ran freely down her cheeks. Yet even through the pain and humiliation some part of her realized, somehow, that Twilight wasn’t being nearly as mean to her as she had been to Twilight. As bad as this was... and it hurt, oh dear Celestia, it hurt!!... what Trixie had done was worse. Trixie had done what she did solely for revenge, taking malicious pleasure in seeing her nemesis crying and howling in pain after having nursed that grudge against her for so long, but Twilight... Twilight was doing nothing more than applying correction and punishment. She wasn’t mocking Trixie, or taking pleasure in her suffering, she was just... chastising Trixie for her misdeeds. Maybe I... I was wrong... I... Was I really so... so bad? she thought as her control gradually slipped away, taking her boastful pride with it, leaving her feeling small and humbled and helpless...

...Yes. Yes you were. You made so many ponies suffer... and for what? Your own stupid pride? You nearly destroyed the town... ponies got hurt... and instead of facing the consequences like a grown mare, you ran away, blamed everything on Twilight, then came back here and assaulted her. She could have you banished to the dark side of the moon in a heartbeat, for what you did to her... and she still wants to be your friend? You stupid... stubborn... prideful... fool!...

And with that thought, Trixie broke down completely. She stopped struggling and just went limp, all resistance gone as she finally surrendered to the punishment, accepting it, admitting deep within in her heart that this was nothing compared to the suffering she’d inflicted on all those innocent ponies, all just to get even with a mare she’d unfairly blamed for everything just to save her own foolish pride. A mare who, against all reason, still seemed to care for Trixie and wanted to forgive her, even though Trixie had done nothing to deserve such caring from her, or from anypony... Nothing! I... don’t... deserve her friendship... I... deserve... this! Oh, Celestia forgive me, I deserve this! she told herself fiercely, struggling to form a coherent thought through the overwhelming pain and guilt and shame. I’ve been... so foolish... I was wrong... please... forgive...

“, please... forgive me!” she cried out, not even aware of herself saying the words out loud.

All that time, Twilight had watched Trixie carefully as the sobbing unicorn’s flanks turned redder and redder under her azure coat, waiting for the moment when she would finally break. When, at last, she heard Trixie’s pain- and tear-choked voice begging for forgiveness, Twilight knew the moment had arrived. She steeled herself, then raised the belt high and, with all the strength she could put into each one, brought Trixie’s punishment to an end with three solid, hard strokes, right across the most sensitive part of her blazing-hot backside.

Crack!! ... Crack!! ... CRACK!!

“I’M SORRY TWILIIIIIIIGHT!!!” Trixie howled, all the anger and guilt washing away at once in a flood of stinging tears and white-hot pain under the belt’s final strokes. “I’M SORRY!! PLEEEASE!! I’M SORRY, I’M SORRYYYYYY!!

Instantly, Twilight Sparkle was at her side, letting the belt fall to the ground while she pressed up against the sobbing unicorn mare, nuzzling her a little. “It’s all right, Trixie... let it out...” she whispered into her ear. “It’s all right...”

Trixie just lay there, sobbing brokenly, stripped of her pride, crying her desperate apologies and pleas for forgiveness over and over, begging for an end to her punishment, while Twilight stayed by her side, nuzzling her, comforting her, as she cried it all out. She barely even felt it as Twilight slowly released her magical hold, letting Trixie lean against her for support as she helped lower the azure unicorn’s shaking body to the floor, still nuzzling her while whispering into the humbled, broken showmare’s ear that it would be all right...

Finally, as Trixie’s deep, heaving sobs finally quieted to soft crying and whimpering, Twilight floated a bottle of aloe gel over to her and tipped it to let the gel slowly trickle out onto Trixie’s burning hindquarters. Trixie hissed sharply as the cooling liquid touched the searing heat in her flanks, then gave a sign of pure relief as Twilight used a gentle touch of magic to spread it all across her backside, soothing the fiery pain into something a little more bearable.

“I’m sorry, T-Twilight Sparkle...” she finally whispered, turning to look at Twilight Sparkle with tear-filled eyes. “I’m s-sorry... please f-forgive me... I’m so sorry...”

Twilight smiled warmly as she heard those genuine, heartfelt words of apology at last. She floated the aloe bottle away as she finished massaging the gel into Trixie’s punished flanks, then nuzzled her once more as she pressed in closer. “It’s okay, Trixie. It’s over,” she said in a soft, gentle tone. “I forgive you, Trixie... I forgive you.”

Trixie actually found a weak smile forming on her muzzle as the lavender unicorn pressed in closer and settled a foreleg around her withers, holding her close... caring for her, offering compassion and forgiveness. “Why... why do you care for Trixie so much, Twilight Sparkle?” she asked softly.

Twilight looked thoughtful for a moment as she considered her answer carefully. “You might think I’m crazy, Trixie, but... After you left the first time, I went looking for you. I wanted to be your friend, even then, and I hoped we could reconcile... but nopony seemed to know where you’d gone,” she explained. “It was always ‘oh, she was here, but she left’, or ‘no, never heard of her’, or ‘we heard about what she did in Ponyville, she won’t dare show her face around here again!’...” Trixie’s wince at that had nothing do with the still-burning pain in her flanks. “Anyway... when you came back and terrorized the town, under the control of the Alicorn Amulet, I was confused. It hurt me to see you being so mean and angry... and it hurt even more when it was directed at me. When I found out you were being manipulated by the amulet, and that you hadn’t truly been in your right mind when you’d done all those awful things to everypony, I was so relieved. But then you ran away again...”

Trixie leaned in against the warm body as she listened intently to Twilight’s words. She actually went looking for me? She really... didn’t blame me for all that happened? Her mind raced uncontrollably as she tried to put the pieces together.

“It wasn’t until I found out from Crimson Brush that you’d returned, that I realized why I felt that way.” Trixie looked up at the unicorn curiously, to see Twilight smiling back at her. “As crazy as it seems... I fell in love with you, Trixie. I don’t know why... but I did. Enough that I set all this up, and played along... even let you punish me... so we could put everything behind us, once and for all, and maybe then I could finally spend some time with you and learn about the real you.”

“The... real me?” Trixie asked uncertainly. “What is it... you want to know about Trixie?”

“Well... why did you become like you were? And I don’t mean all the boasting – I know that was just part of your stage persona. I mean the... the arrogance. The coldness. Like you didn’t even want to try to be friends with anypony, or stay anywhere long enough to get to know them. You weren’t always that way, surely. What happened to you?”

Trixie’s face fell at those words. Her heart, which had fluttered briefly at Twilight’s confession, stopped cold as she was asked a question she wasn’t sure she was willing to answer. “It’s... kind of a long story, Twilight...” she said as she looked away.

Twilight felt a bit saddened that her confession of love seemed to have been missed entirely, or ignored, but she hugged the showmare closer anyway. Give her a chance... she’s still overwhelmed, she told herself, reminding herself how she’d been more than a little muzzy-headed for a while as well after her own breakdown under the belt’s “caring discipline” had unleashed that flood of raw emotion she’d kept bottled inside for far too long. “That’s all right. I love a good story,” she said.

Trixie couldn’t help giggling softly at that. I should have expected that reply from her! she thought to herself. “I suppose... maybe it would be nice to get some things off my chest,” she finally decided.

She seems to fall back into normal speech patterns when she’s calm, Twilight thought to herself as she gave a quiet nod. I wonder if she started talking like that because she was alone all the time, with nopony else to talk to except herself? That might make sense. She must have been very lonely...

Trixie took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then began her story. “My parents died when I was very young. But in the short time I lived with them, they... they were never very supportive of me. My magic started to manifest at a very young age, and I showed great promise, but they never seemed to care. And when I told them I wanted to be a showmare... they all but threw me away,” she said in a quiet, flat tone, as if she was describing another pony’s life entirely, and Twilight sensed that these were very painful memories Trixie was sharing now. “It sounded so wonderful, to travel the world, make ponies laugh and smile and applaud. I couldn’t imagine anything better than to make other ponies smile, back then. But they said that was just a silly filly’s dream. I was a Lulamoon, and I was destined to be a great unicorn, not some cheap, common... entertainer.”

Twilight could hear the sneering mockery of those last words, even though Trixie had said them with hardly any more emotion than the rest, and couldn’t help frowning a little. How could a parent be so cold to their child...? she thought sadly. Wait... did she say ‘Lulamoon’? As in the Lulamoon unicorns that fought alongside Luna in the great war!? She shook her head to clear her thoughts, and focused on Trixie as she continued.

“The only pony that ever supported me was my uncle,” Trixie continued. “When my parents died – I was only about six years old – he took me in. I mostly grew up with him, and he helped me develop my magic skills, taught me how to control it so that I could cast more than one spell at a time, in order to sustain a continuous stage-illusion performance. He was a famous magician in Canterlot, so he knew all the tricks of the trade. His specialty was combining unicorn magic with optical illusions and sleight-of-hoof tricks to do things that seemed impossible unless you knew how they were done. Actually, he used to teach me some of those tricks even before my parents died. I think that was why they always hated when he came over. I think they figured he was the reason I ‘lost my way’,” she said, with a slight roll of her eyes.

“When I was thirteen, he brought me to one of his stage performances in Canterlot. He was going to be performing for Celestia herself. I was so happy to be with him, but I was worried. My parents had always told me Celestia was...”

She paused, clearly conflicted over whether she should say what her parents thought of Princess Celestia when it was the Princess’ own protege she was speaking to. “...that she was the one who was evil, rather than Luna. That she had banished their true princess over a petty squabble, then made up the whole Nightmare Moon story to keep other ponies from knowing the truth. You have to understand, Twilight,” she added hastily, trying to explain herself before Twilight could interrupt or take offense at what she’d just said. “Most of the Lulamoon families fought beside Luna against Celestia before she was banished to the moon, and afterwards, most of them were exiled from Equestria. As I understand it, my branch of the family was one of the few that was allowed to stay, as a sign of good faith, only because our particular line hadn’t fought directly in the actual war itself, even though we’d supported the Lulamoon cause in general. Now, my uncle held none of that hatred towards Celestia, and normally I always listened to him... but I’d had the story of ‘evil Celestia’ drilled into my head so often when I was too little to know any better, I wasn’t sure how to feel.”

Twilight bit her lip, looking a bit surprised, as her suspicions were confirmed. She couldn’t comprehend anypony hating the mentor that had been so very kind to her. She firmly put those thoughts aside and kept a sympathetic smile on her face, reminding herself to listen without judging until she knew the full story.

Trixie wiped a tear from her face before continuing. “He really surprised me when he called me up onto the stage. He wanted me to give him a light show for his finale. Fireworks and magic lights were always my forte. I’d been practicing some new spell combinations for weeks, and I’d finally come up with something really special. It had even dazzled my uncle when he saw it. He was so proud of me, and wanted everyone to see it...”

Trixie’s voice caught with a little sob, as the painful memory of what happened next hit her right in the heart. “But something... went wrong. I don’t know what happened... I don’t know if I just didn’t do it right, or if we accidentally got our spells crossed trying to cast at the same time, or if some heckler in the audience thought it’d be a funny prank to make the ‘silly filly’ mess up her spell in front of everypony... or if I just overdid it because I was so proud of my new trick and wanted to show off. All I know is, when I tried to unleash the final set of firework effects... I lost control of them.”

The pieces suddenly started falling together for Twilight. She’d heard of a theater that had burned down a few years ago, but she’d never known the whole story. “The Saddle Ridge Theater fire...?” she whispered, her eyes widening.

“Y-yes,” Trixie sobbed quietly, tears of pain and grief rolling down her cheeks again. “I was the one who caused that fire. It ki... killed so many ponies... I never meant for it to happen!”

Twilight tightened her hold a little, pressing herself close to Trixie, giving her a gentle nuzzle of support. “What did happen, Trixie?” she asked softly. “Please... tell me.”

“I... It...” Trixie swallowed and tried to collect herself. “My uncle... got trapped under a beam that was caught in the blaze, and I... I was surrounded by the fire. I thought... I thought I was going to die. The flames were everywhere, and the heat... it felt like I was burning alive, and the smoke was choking me... I couldn’t breathe. I started to pass out... and suddenly there was this glowing white light all around me, just for a second, before everything went black...

“When I came to, I was outside, and Celestia herself was standing over me. She’d saved my life... I learned that a few days later. But my uncle... didn’t make it. That falling beam had crushed his ribs, and he was dead before anyone could’ve gotten to him. Not even Celestia could’ve cast a spell fast enough to save him. I know that... now... but at the time, I... I didn’t understand. All I knew was, I’d lost the last of my family. The only one who’d ever really cared about me. For a long time, I hated Celestia, for not saving my uncle... and...” She paused and looked away, her eyes closing in shame. “And I... I hated myself, because... because I’d killed him. Sometimes I even wished I had died instead...”

Trixie broke down crying again, grieving for the memory of her beloved uncle, and the pain left behind by his loss. Twilight bit her lip and choked back her own sob. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to lose my whole family, she thought to herself. Sun and moon, I had no idea she’d suffered so much pain in her life... I don’t know if I could have forgiven Celestia either, if I’d been through all of that... “I’m so sorry, Trixie,” she said, nuzzling her again as she tried to comfort the weeping mare. “I’m so sorry...”

“Celestia never held it against me, though,” Trixie said shakily through her tears. “She even enrolled me in her school, saying I... I was gifted. She paid all my tuition... even provided for a dorm room. She took so much care of me... but all I could do was resent her. During my second year of school, I was one of the top students... but I didn’t care. I just wanted to get away. Away from her, away from Canterlot, away from everything. As soon as I was old enough, I dropped out, and just... left.

“I’d inherited a bit of money from my uncle – and his old traveling cart. When I left Ponyville that first time... I fell into a deep depression. Losing nearly all my possessions was bad enough, but that cart... I’d lost the last thing I had to remember him by, except for my cape and hat. It didn’t help that I couldn’t get work anywhere, once word got around that I had summoned an Ursa Minor onto Ponyville...”

“That’s not – ” Twilight started to say.

“It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t true, Twilight,” Trixie sighed heavily. “Everypony believed it was true. No matter where I went, the story was always there ahead of me, and nopony would listen to me. I spent months just wandering from town to town. Sometimes they’d just run me off on sight as soon as somepony recognized me as ‘that fraud who almost destroyed Ponyville’,” she said bitterly, “or sometimes, they might permit me to work the most menial and dirtiest job available, just for a mouthful to eat. I was filthy and about half-starved when I finally stumbled across the Pie family’s rock farm... and I guess they somehow hadn’t heard about me, because they took pity on me and took me in. They fed me, gave me a hot bath and a bed, let me rest to recover my strength, then gave me a job working for them in exchange for a place to stay until I got back on my hooves. They never even asked where I came from, or how I’d ended up in such a state.

“I took that time to think... and while part of me knew I couldn’t really blame you for what had happened, my...” Trixie paused and sighed again, looking away in shame once more. “My arrogance got the better of me. I couldn’t... I didn’t want to face the truth, that ‘The Great and Powerful Trixie’ had ruined her own life, with her own foolish choices and stubborn pride. That I was responsible for how my life had turned out. I needed someone to blame, so... well... you know the rest of the story. Mostly. But after you freed me from the amulet’s control, and forgave me again... I couldn’t get a hold of my emotions. I didn’t know what to think... and up until today, I thought I wanted revenge.

“But now... I don’t think I want that anymore,” she finished, as she turned to look at Twilight.

Twilight’s eyes widened as her heart began to beat hopefully in her chest.

Trixie smiled as she suddenly threw her hooves around Twilight, hugging her tightly, not caring about the pain her sudden movements triggered in her still-sore flanks as she clung to the lavender mare she no longer hated. “I think... I want you. I think that I... I love you too, Twilight Sparkle.”

The Other Side of the Spoon

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The Many Uses of a Brush
Chapter 7: The Other Side of the Spoon

A year had passed since Crimson Brush first opened her new shop in the little town of Ponyville. On the whole, her business had prospered; between local word-of-mouth from satisfied customers, and Rarity’s helpful cross-promotion of Crimson’s Brushes through Carousel Boutique, the zebracorn had soon found herself with as much work as she could handle and then some. There had even been a few times when she’d had to make customers wait longer than she would have liked, simply because she’d run out of stock of a particular type of wood, or she just wasn’t able to take yet another rush order on top of the half-dozen she already had.

Fortunately, most of her local customers had been fairly understanding of the occasional delays. One of the advantages of living in a smaller town like Ponyville was the slower pace of life; small-town ponies generally didn’t get too worked up about such things. After all, it was just a mane-brush, not a busted water pipe or a broken cider press. And small-town ponies were often self-employed artisans and small-business owners themselves, so they understood only too well what it could be like to have more work on your plate than you had hours in the day. If they had to wait a few days to get a mane brush, well, it wasn’t as if the roof would cave in because of it.

Filthy Rich had eventually taken notice of her shop’s success, and had paid her a visit, hoping to strike a deal with her to produce a line of brushes exclusively for Barnyard Bargains. The offer had been generous, but Crimson wasn’t interested in mass-producing a hoof-full of generic designs like that, and had politely tried to explain that the whole appeal of her brushes was that each was individually crafted as a unique piece of art. Selling the same design to multiple customers, she felt, would be missing the whole point of why ponies wanted her brushes in the first place.

Rich had tried to persuade her by increasing the offer, but after several attempts to sweeten the deal had failed to change her mind, he’d finally given up and left, and she hadn’t seen him since. She could tell he wasn’t used to being turned down, and didn’t quite understand why she wouldn’t take the offer – but she didn’t really expect him to. His business was all about supplying the largest number of ponies with as many of the things they needed as easily and inexpensively as possible, and he was used to dealing with ponies who wanted the same thing. Not that there was anything wrong with that – but it wasn’t what she wanted to do. She was an artisan, and she enjoyed being able to get to meet and know each customer as an individual, and then crafting each brush specifically to please them. Mass producing a few designs over and over, for a large number of anonymous customers she’d never even meet, might fill her saddlebags with bits more easily, but only at the cost of taking much of the joy out of her work.

One of Filthy Rich’s competitors, Dirt Cheap, had come to visit her not long afterwards, suggesting a similar deal – although his proposal had been more modest; he’d merely asked if she’d consider making some plainer brushes for him to carry in his convenience stores, and had offered to give her some preferred pricing on various supplies for her shop in return. She’d politely turned him down as well, giving him much the same explanation as she’d given Filthy Rich – and to his credit, she thought, he’d seemed to understand her rationale, and hadn’t pushed nearly as hard to get her to change her mind. She somewhat suspected that Dirt Cheap hadn’t really expected her to accept the offer, and that he’d only approached her about it because his competitor had; once he was convinced that she had no interest in mass-producing brushes at all, for him or for Rich, he’d dropped the issue entirely, while still offering her the preferred supply prices as long as she’d agree to buy them exclusively through him on a long-term contract. After some friendly haggling, they’d worked out a deal, and he’d bid her farewell and taken some business cards to display in his stores. They’d bumped into each other occasionally since then, out on the streets of Ponyville, and he’d always been cordial to her.

Eventually, business had settled down to a modest but steady flow. Between the local Ponyville business and the orders from specialty shops in Canterlot and Manehattan, Crimson had more than enough bits coming in to get by, and even enough to put some more away in her investment savings. She wasn’t getting wealthy, to be sure – but she had enough to be comfortable on, and bits weren’t everything. What mattered more to the zebracorn mare was the wonderful ponies she’d met, and the lives she’d changed, since coming to Ponyville.

Such as the lives of Twilight Sparkle and Trixie Lulamoon. Their new and much-improved relationship was going well, and the two mares had become not just frequent customers, always willing to try out new things, but dear friends of Crimson’s as well. Twilight had even coerced Trixie into purchasing a special brush of her own – a large, oval-shaped brush stained in azure-blue to match the showmare’s coat, with some swirls of glitter added to the clear varnish, and the words “The Consequences of My Actions” prominently engraved in silver script on the back. The brush also had the same “royal treatment” bristles as the sapphire-studded brush Crimson had made for Rarity, and she recalled with amusement how Trixie’s eyes had nearly popped out of her head at the discovery that her new brush could be a source of such exquisite pleasure as well as punishment.

“This side is for ‘good Trixie’,” Twilight had explained with a wicked grin as she’d run the brush through Trixie’s mane, producing an involuntary moan and shiver of pleasure from the azure unicorn as the soft bristles massaged her head and neck. “And this side is for ‘bad Trixie’,” she’d added as she suddenly brought the brush down swift and hard, right at the tenderest spot of her marefriend’s backside, making her gasp and squeal at the stinging pain. “Both of those will be the consequences of your actions, Trixie. Your behavior will decide which side of this brush I use on you. Remember that.” It was a firm, no-nonsense tone Crimson had rarely heard Twilight use, and Trixie had responded to it by simply nodding humbly, accepting Twilight’s domination of her, and even thanking her for it. Quite a change from the arrogant, boastful, and somewhat rude mare Crimson had first met – or from the awkward, bookish, insecure mare she’d first met Twilight as, for that matter. Crimson was happy for them both; they were clearly good for each other...

“...a little longer, Miss Brush?” a pleasant voice asked, breaking into her reminiscences. Crimson startled slightly and opened her eyes as she remembered where she was. The zebracorn was in a small room with rustic log-cabin walls, lit by several pleasantly-scented candles, with the relaxing sounds of wind chimes just barely audible somewhere outside... and submerged up to her neck in a sunken, brick-lined tub full of warm volcanic-ash mud. The voice belonged to the rust-brown earth-pony stallion who was taking care – very, very good care – of her spa treatments this morning.

Trixie and Twilight had insisted on showing their gratitude to her for helping them to overcome their problems and bringing them together, and had sent her on an all-expense-paid vacation to a spa and resort up in the northern Coltlorado mountains. She’d protested at first, feeling she hadn’t really done anything to deserve such an expensive gift, but they’d firmly refused to take “no” for an answer. Twilight, true to form, had even pulled out a book on social etiquette and pointed to a highlighted passage to bolster her case that, as it had been given voluntarily and not in association with any socially-dictated gift-giving occasions, the gift was deserved by definition, since in such cases a gift would only have been offered by the giver if they truly felt the recipient had merited the gift and wanted them to have it.

Rarity, who had been sharing lunch with them at the time, had chuckled and shaken her head. “Only you could turn an act of generosity into a doctoral thesis, Twilight,” she had teased. “If it helps, darling,” she’d added to Crimson, “I chipped in some as well, for what you did for me and Sweetie Belle. Our relationship has gotten so much better over this past year, thanks to you. We don’t get mad and frustrated with each other nearly so much anymore. Now, when she misbehaves, I discipline her – and that’s the end of the matter. We hug each other, she apologizes, I make sure she knows I still love her... and we put it behind us and move on, instead of letting all those little resentments and frustrations build up and boil over into fighting over everything because I never knew any other way to deal with her.” Crimson had smiled and nodded her understanding as Rarity described how taking a firmer hoof in giving her overly-excitable and somewhat headstrong little sister the firm but loving discipline that she needed, and which their parents had failed to provide for her, had helped to turn the sisters’ formerly strained, antagonistic relationship into the closer, more loving bond they now shared.

“So please, darling,” Rarity had added, “do accept this, from all of us. The Coltlorado mountains are gorgeous this time of year... and if a week at the Wellhouse Resort doesn’t leave you feeling like a whole new mare, I shall... dye my mane bright green for a month!”

Crimson had to admit, Rarity had been absolutely right. Only three days into her stay, and already she felt as if every care in the world had melted away. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so completely relaxed. Every inch of her body had been massaged, groomed, and pampered in every way possible; every meal had been exotic, plentiful, and mouth-wateringly delicious; the mountain vistas outside the windows were, indeed, gorgeous to look at; and several of the other spa guests had proven to be very pleasant company. And in a peaceful, quiet place like this, a full day’s walk away from everything, with the rush of the modern world kept well outside the hoof-hewn wooden fence-lines where it belonged, even a unicorn or a pegasus could sense a small taste of that special connection to nature and the earth that came so naturally to the earth ponies. Even this mud bath felt absolutely heavenly just now, surrounding and warming every inch of her as the thick mud pressed in gently on all sides, making her feel almost weightless within it...

“A few more minutes?” she asked the spa attendant hopefully.

“Of course, Miss Brush.”

\/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/

Crimson smiled to herself at the familiar sights of Ponyville coming into view as the train slowed to a halt at the station. The seven days she’d spent at the Wellhouse Resort had truly been heavenly – but like any artist, she was always happiest when she was creating, and with her mind and body relaxed and recharged, she was looking forward to getting back to work.

She caught up her luggage in her magic and settled it across her back, then strolled through the streets of Ponyville, nodding greetings at the other ponies she passed, and taking in the welcoming air which the town always seemed so happy to share with visitors and residents alike. Her shop came into view, and she increased her pace a little. It would be good to be home.

Pausing at the front door, she dug into her saddlebag for her keys and started to unlock the door – then froze as the act of merely sliding the key into the lock caused the door to move inward, as though it were already...

No... There’s no way I left the door unlocked... she thought to herself uneasily. I distinctly remember locking it when I left... I know I did...

Carefully, she set her luggage and saddlebags down on the ground, then slowly pushed the door open, ready to unleash her magic or bolt for safety if any threat remained inside. As the sunlight slowly illuminated the store, her eyes grew wide at the sight before her.

Her beloved shop was a disaster area.

Every shelving unit had been tipped over, and their former contents scattered all over. Many of her most prized designs lay broken or shattered on the floor. The walls and counter-top had been defaced with vulgar and insulting graffiti. Crimson took a few shaky steps into the wrecked showroom and raised the curtains, as if letting in more light would somehow cleanse the destruction and wake her from this nightmare, but there was no such blessing to be had. She stepped gingerly over the debris as she made her way to the back of the store, tears forming in her eyes as she passed each broken brush.

Who would do such a thing!? she thought in numb shock, biting her lip to fight back the tears brimming in her eyes as she continued her exploration. She took some small comfort in discovering that the back rooms, as well her workshop and the stairs leading to her living quarters upstairs, were still securely locked. Either the vandals had been interrupted before they could force their way into the other rooms, or they’d been content with wrecking the storefront itself and hadn’t bothered going any further. That was something, anyway. At least they hadn’t destroyed everything she had...

Her eye caught the shattered remains of one particular ivory brush lying near the counter, and her breath caught in her throat as she picked up the broken pieces in her magic. It was the very same brush that she’d used to help Twilight through the unicorn’s long-repressed guilt, all those months ago...

For some reason, seeing that particular brush ruined hit Crimson right in the heart. She fell to the ground, covering her eyes with her hooves as her body shook with deep, heartbroken sobs, surrounded by the wreckage of what had once been her joy and livelihood.

Nearly an hour passed before she finally cried herself out, and felt able to pull herself back together. She wiped the tears from her eyes, then slowly pushed herself back up to her hooves and forced herself to look around the wrecked showroom once more, letting out a heavy sigh as she took in the full extent of the damage. Now that the shock had worn off somewhat, she was able to tell herself that it wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed. Yes, there was a lot of damage, and it would take a lot of work to clean up – and yes, some of the brushes probably couldn’t be repaired. But it did look as if some of them could still be salvaged and, as she firmly reminded herself, the vandals hadn’t gotten to the other rooms, or to her home. She still had a place to live, she still had her workshop... she could always make more brushes. She could even make new replicas of the ruined ones, given time and materials.

It was a setback, but she’d been through worse. She’d just have to pick herself up and go on.

With another sigh, she fetched her luggage from outside and carried it into the workshop where it would be out of the way for now, then began using her magic to raise the shelving units back into their rightful places one by one. She had just finished putting the last one into place, and started picking up the shattered remains of the prized replica brushes from the floor, when she heard the familiar ding of the shop’s doorbell from behind her.

“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid the store is... closed until further notice...” she said without turning around, in as polite a tone as she could manage, trying not to choke on the words as she continued to pick up the broken brushes.

“I... I know, Ma’am,” a small, soft, hesitant voice said from behind her. “I... I was told to come talk to you. I... I don’t need a brush, Ma’am.”

Crimson huffed impatiently as she set down the brushes she was holding, then turned around to see who it was that couldn’t take the hint. It should be obvious to anypony, she thought, that she was busy cleaning up the damage to her home, and that she really wasn’t in the mood for conversation just now.

She blinked in surprise as she saw that the voice belonged to a small, pewter-grey filly with a lighter, silver-streaked grey mane and tail, wearing an expensive-looking pearl necklace and large glasses with mother-of-pearl frames that probably cost as much as the necklace did, if Crimson was any judge of such things. Her flanks bore a cutie mark in the shape of an elegant silver teaspoon with a pink heart inset into the handle, and her mane was worn in a single thick braid that fell to one side. The filly halted in mid-step as Crimson turned to look at her, then cautiously stepped all the way through the doorway and into the shop, flinching a bit as the door swung shut behind her.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart, but... I really am very busy at the moment,” Crimson said, trying to be polite as she gave the elegant-looking filly a weak smile. Something about her seemed familiar, but Crimson couldn’t quite place her... “Could you... come back another time, perhaps?”

The little filly glanced around at the destruction that littered the floor, and shuffled her hooves nervously. “I... um... no, Ma’am, it can’t wait. I... I really need to talk to you...” she said in a small, strained voice. Crimson couldn’t help noticing that the filly didn’t seem to want to look directly at her – a sure sign of a foal who was feeling very guilty about something.

Crimson took a deep breath and let it out slowly, to calm her nerves, then brought herself down to the filly’s eye level so they could talk. “Very well, my dear. If it’s that important... What’s your name, little one?”

“My... my name’s Silver Spoon, Ma’am,” the filly said, glancing hesitantly at Crimson. “And I... um... I know what... happened here...”

“Well, it’s not that hard to figure out, little one,” Crimson replied with a sigh, not yet making the connection between the filly’s words and her guilty behavior.

Silver Spoon flinched a bit at the zebracorn’s depressed tone, then shook her head. “No, I mean I... I know who... who did it, Ma’am,” she said.

This time, Crimson caught the guilt in the filly’s voice. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying, little one?” she asked, unable to keep the note of accusation out of her tone.

Silver Spoon swallowed nervously, then forced herself to look back at Crimson. “Yes, Ma’am. It... it was m-me. I... I did it.”

Crimson blinked as she looked over the filly once more. Wait a moment... she thought to herself. Now I remember where I’ve seen this foal before. She’s friends with Filthy Rich’s little... brat. Her face twisted through a series of emotions from rage, sorrow, confusion, and disbelief as she made the connection, and followed the filly’s words to their only logical conclusion. “If that’s true, little one...” she finally said, narrowing her eyes a little, “then why are you here? Did you come to gloat with your little friend?”

Silver Spoon flinched again at the obvious anger lacing Crimson’s soft voice and quickly looked away in shame, taking a deep breath to try to steady herself as she cautiously reached into her saddlebag. “M-my Daddy... s-sent me...” she said, as she took a note from her saddlebag and offered it to Crimson with a shaking hoof.

Crimson raised a brow as she caught up the note in her magic. Keeping a suspicious eye on Silver Spoon, she brought it closer, and read it carefully.

Dear Crimson Brush,

I wish this letter were under better circumstances. It has come to my attention that my daughter was involved in the very inappropriate vandalism of your store. I have not seen the destruction first-hoof, but I am told there was a great deal of damage, and I felt it was in our best interest to send my daughter to apologize for her actions.

I’m sorry to say, I have not taken a very active role in disciplining my daughter since her mother passed. For whatever it’s worth, I am very disappointed in her, and I thought I had raised her better than this. All I can say is that she took her mother’s death hard – we both did – and perhaps because of that, I’ve been too lenient with her these last couple of years, and let her get away with more than I should have.

Still, that is no excuse for her shameful behavior. As a father, I can’t help asking that you forgive my baby girl for her transgressions, of course – but at the same time, I know that a mere ‘sorry’ is insufficient for what she’s done. I’ve heard of your... assistance... in other matters of lesser scale, and since you are the one who has suffered injury due to her actions, I give you my full permission, if you feel it necessary, to discipline Silver Spoon as you see fit.

To our continued cooperation,

Dirt Cheap

Crimson sighed heavily as she read the note, and shook her head wearily. When will parents learn? she thought to herself with a mixture of sadness and irritation. You can’t force a foal to feel guilty for their actions. If an apology comes from the parent, it’s meaningless to both the victim and the foal. But I suppose as a fellow businesspony, I can’t really fault him for worrying that her behavior will reflect badly on him and make him lose my business, if nothing else...

“I’m sorry, little one,” she finally said, startling Silver Spoon as she looked up from the note to give the filly a withering look. “But I cannot accept your apology. Your actions were reprehensible... and while I might have been willing to accept a sincere apology, even under these circumstances, I’m not in the mood to deal with a filly who’s just going through the motions because her father forced her to. You can tell your father that this won’t affect our business together... but I don’t ever want to see you anywhere near my shop again. Is that understood?”

Silver Spoon winced and bit her lip at the zebracorn’s harsh tone, then huffed indignantly as Crimson simply turned her back on her and went back to cleaning up the debris littering the floor. How dare she! she thought to herself. I come here to apologize, and she ignores me? Who does she think she is? I don’t have to put up with –!

She opened her mouth to snap out a scornful reply, then quickly caught herself. That kind of attitude was what had gotten her in this mess to begin with. I guess if I were in her place... I probably wouldn’t believe me either, she thought, as her guilt won out over her indignation. My actions haven’t exactly been a shining example of a well-raised filly, after all...

“I didn’t have to come here, Ma’am,” she said quietly, almost too softly for the zebracorn to hear.

Crimson paused and turned to face the silver-maned foal once more. “What did you say, little one?”

“I said... I didn’t have to come here,” Silver repeated with a small sigh. “This... isn’t the first time my father’s sent me somewhere to apologize for something. But he never really checks up on me, so... I usually just toss the note in the trash somewhere...” Her voice carried a note of regret, almost as if she wished she couldn’t have gotten out of apologizing for things so easily...

“Then why are you here, little one?” Crimson snapped, a bit of her anger slipping through. “Why didn’t you just throw this note away, too? You obviously would’ve gotten away with it.”

Silver couldn’t help taking an involuntary step backwards as she heard the disapproval and dislike for her in Crimson’s voice. “B-because I... I r-really am sorry, M-Ma’am,” she stuttered, biting her lip as she forced herself not to run away from the zebracorn’s anger. “I... I know what I did was very w-wrong, and... and I wish I had never done it...” she said, her eyes starting to brim with tears behind her glasses.

“Well, you did, and it’s done!” Crimson shouted angrily, without thinking. “So why don’t you just go find your little friend and have a good laugh?!” She regretted the words immediately as she saw the tears in the filly’s eyes, but it was too late to take them back.

Silver Spoon backed away fearfully under the zebracorn’s sudden fury. “I’m sorry! You don’t have to yell at me!” she sobbed, hanging her head in shame as she stared down at the floor, trying to wipe the tears from her eyes. I just wanted to apologize! Why is she being so mean...?!

...I don’t know, Silver Spoon. Why were you so mean? Look at what you did, and tell yourself she doesn’t have a right to yell at you for it...

Crimson’s anger dissipated in an instant as she saw Silver Spoon starting to cry and tremble in fear of her. “I’m sorry, little one,” she said gently. “You’re right... I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I’m... still a little upset, that’s all. But I shouldn’t have yelled. I’m sorry.” She gave the filly a small smile as Silver risked a quick glance upwards, then motioned for Silver to follow her as she led the way over to a pair of chairs. “Come over here and have a seat, little one, and we’ll talk.”

Silver sniffled as she wiped the tears from her cheeks, and nodded. “O...okay...”

She followed Crimson on shaky legs, then settled into one of the two chairs as Crimson lifted them up in her magic and placed them facing each other. Crimson studied her for a few moments, noting the guilt and sorrow in her violet eyes. She doesn’t seem like a mean-spirited filly... she found herself thinking. Certainly not like that arrogant, stuck-up little friend of hers, anyway. So why would she have done all this? And why would she come back here and admit it, when she could’ve easily have gotten away with it? Something didn’t add up.

“Little one... You didn’t do this all by yourself, did you,” she finally said. It wasn’t a question.

Silver Spoon’s eyes widened as she fidgeted in her chair. Should I tell her? I don’t want to get Diamond Tiara in trouble too... “I... um... Yes, Ma’am. I did it,” she said in what she hoped was a convincing tone.

Crimson gave the little filly a warm, knowing smile. It was obvious by the way Silver Spoon had looked away as she’d said the words that they weren’t true, and that confirmed what the zebracorn had suspected. “It’s not good to lie, little one.”

“I’m not –!”

“Sweetheart, we both know that even as an earth pony, there’s no way you did this much damage on your own. And I don’t think you’re the kind of filly to do mean things when left to your own devices.” The expression on Silver Spoon’s face at that last comment spoke volumes to Crimson; the little filly was clearly all too used to everypony assuming the worst of her. She raised a thoughtful hoof to her chin as she considered something. “You care for Diamond Tiara, and don’t want her to get in trouble too, is that it, little one?”

“Wh... what’s she got to do with anything?!” Silver Spoon asked, just a little too quickly.

Crimson chuckled softly at the filly’s attempt to cover for her friend. “I’ve seen you hanging around with her on more than one occasion, my dear. And she would have reason to want to do something like this. After all, I insulted her father, by not accepting his generous offer. Isn’t that so?”

“You didn’t accept Daddy’s offer either,” Silver insisted stubbornly, still trying to keep up the facade. “So I have the same reasons.”

“That’s true,” Crimson agreed. “But there’s one difference. Your father understood my reasons, and took it quite well. And, we still struck a deal to do business together, even though I declined to make brushes for his shops.” She sighed softly, and decided to take a different approach. She was still upset about her store, but the guilty filly’s well-being was more important now. “Look sweetheart, I promise I won’t do anything to your friend. If she isn’t genuinely sorry for what she did, nothing I can do to her will change that anyway. I just want to know why the sweet filly who is sorry for what she did, and who did come to apologize, would have ever considered vandalizing my store like this in the first place.”

“You... You think I’m sweet?” Silver asked in disbelief. Me? Sweet? I’ve done nothing but terrorize and bully half the foals in town... and I wrecked her shop!

“Why wouldn’t I?” Crimson asked gently.

Silver stared at the zebracorn for a moment, then looked away in shame. “Because I... I’m just a bully...” she said, almost too softly to hear, as a few tears trickled down her cheeks once more.

“Now, I don’t believe that, little one...”

“But I am! And I... I wrecked your shop!” Silver Spoon insisted. “How... how can you say I’m sweet when I... I did all this?”

“Because I don’t believe, deep down, that you’re really as mean a foal as you pretend to be, little one,” Crimson said. “But Diamond is your friend, and you’re afraid she won’t like you anymore if you don’t do what she says... am I right?”

Silver bit her lip as Crimson seemed to read her like an open book. Nopony had ever seen through her facade so easily before, and she wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about that. “She... Diamond Tiara’s my only friend...” she finally admitted. “Our fathers know each other, since they’re both pretty rich businessponies. They go to a lot of the same parties and conventions and stuff...” She sighed and looked down at the floor again. “I... wasn’t very popular with the other foals, because of... well... my status, and my... my glasses,” she said, blushing as she remembered the constant teasing she used to receive before Diamond Tiara had taken her under her hoof and protected her. Her eyesight was so poor, she’d had to start wearing thick glasses before she was even old enough to start school, and the other foals had been all too quick to make fun of the clumsy “four-eyes” filly whose rich parents probably spoiled her rotten with everything she wanted. “She was the only one who ever talked to me like she actually wanted to be my friend...” Silver added with a helpless shrug.

Crimson nodded in understanding. I see now. She feels indebted to her friend. That’s a bit sweet in itself... Silver Spoon’s choice of friends could have been better, she thought – but then, it didn’t sound as if she’d had much choice of friends, if the other foals had ostracized her like that. “I think I understand, sweetheart. I’m sure she cares for you as well.”

“I guess...” Silver said uncertainly, as she found herself questioning if that were really true any more. Sure, she’s my friend... at least, she says she is... but it seems like she never really cares much about what I have to say, or what I want to do... and I’m not so sure a real friend would’ve dragged me into something like this. “I didn’t want to destroy your store, Ma’am,” she finally said, hanging her head in shame. “I just... didn’t want to lose my only friend. I... I’m sorry.”

Crimson nodded again and gave the filly a reassuring smile. “I understand, little one. Our friends are precious to us, and even if we don’t agree with them, we still want to please them. Thank you for being honest with me.”

Silver Spoon gave the mare a small, hopeful smile. “Um... does that mean... you accept my apology?” she asked hesitantly.

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple, little one,” Crimson said, kindly but firmly. “While I understand your reasons... your actions were still your own. And you need to accept the consequences those actions bring.”

Silver Spoon gulped and gave a small nod. The zebracorn brush-maker’s ideas on discipline were no big secret, after all, and Silver hadn’t had any illusions about what might happen if she came here, especially with a note from her father that explicitly gave Crimson a free hoof to punish her however she saw fit... but now that the moment was upon her, she felt a hollow, sick feeling growing inside. “I... I understand, Ma’am,” she said in a soft, nervous whimper.

Crimson gave the filly a caring smile as she reached out and lifted her chin. “I’m sorry I got angry with you earlier, dear. But now that I know the whole story...” I suppose I can’t really blame her too much, she thought sadly to herself. In some ways, the poor dear’s just a victim of her own circumstances. But still... in the end, it was her own choice to do what she did, and that is a lesson she needs to learn...

She raised her hoof, and pointed to the Demonstration Room. “I want you to go into that room there, little one. You’ll find a bed inside. You are to sit on that bed, and wait for me there, until I’m ready to speak with you,” she said as she floated the key over to the lock and unlocked the room for her to enter. “And while you’re there, I want you to think on what has happened here, and why you’re in trouble. Is that clear, little one?”

Silver Spoon swallowed nervously and nodded. “Y-yes, Ma’am,” she said, not trusting herself to say anything else as she slid off of the chair and slowly made her way across the shop to the opened door. She paused for a moment at the threshold, then forced herself to enter the room. Once she was all the way inside, the door closed behind her with a soft thump that sounded, to the nervous filly’s ears, like the sledgehammer of doom. Oh, Celestia, why... why did I do this...? she thought frantically to herself as she climbed up onto the bed to wait.

Crimson watched as Silver obeyed her instructions, then nodded to herself as she got up and went back to work cleaning up the mess. She was still more than a little upset over the senseless destruction of her shop, and she didn’t want to punish Silver Spoon until she’d had a little more time to cool down. Besides, it would do the filly good to wait, and to have some time alone to reflect on what she’d done and why she deserved what was coming to her.

Alone with her thoughts in the “demonstration room” (which Silver Spoon had no doubt of what it was actually used for, after seeing the furnishings; she’d never been placed on one of those spanking pillows herself, but it was all too obvious what the purpose of those four indentations were and what position it would put a kneeling foal in!), Silver began to cry softly to herself. Not just from fear of the punishment she was about to receive, but from shame as her guilty conscience began forcing her to think about the things she’d done. Wrecking Crimson Brush’s shop, just because Diamond Tiara didn’t like the zebracorn turning down her father’s business offer? That was way, way beyond schoolyard teasing. How could she have let Diamond push her into doing such an awful thing? Crimson hadn’t done anything to deserve that...

Some of those brushes really were beautiful, too, she thought guiltily. And now they’re all ruined... because of me... I never should have done it... Oh, Celestia, why did I do this...? Why...? With nothing but her own guilty thoughts for company, she found that she couldn’t stop thinking about how wrong she’d been to go along with Diamond Tiara’s petty revenge against the zebracorn brush-maker, and those thoughts inevitably led her to thinking about all the other times when she’d let Diamond pressure her into doing things she shouldn’t have done...

I’m a bully. She’d said it before, but here, alone with her thoughts, with the prospect of an unknown but undoubtedly painful punishment for her shameful actions hanging over her head, the words truly struck her in the heart. Just a mean, selfish bully. Do you... do you think Mother would be proud of you turning into this, Silver Spoon? Are you proud of what you are, now? Are you?

Silver Spoon had no answer for that, as the tears of shame and sorrow filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. All she could think of was how disappointed her mother would be now, if she were here to see the awful things her daughter had done...

It took Crimson a good half-hour or so to finish picking up the brushes scattered all over the floor, and deciding what to do with each one. Seeing so many of her brushes back in their proper places on the display racks had her feeling somewhat better; once she’d had a chance to properly inspect them all, it looked as if a little over half of her display samples had managed to escape the vandalism relatively undamaged. A bit of cleaning here, a little polish there, and they’d be presentable again. A fair number of the rest looked like they could be repaired, with some work. Alas, more than a few sad cases, including the shattered ivory brush, were beyond salvaging. She would either have to re-make all-new copies of them, or just let those particular ones go. She decided to leave that question for later.

With that task finished, she retrieved a broom and dustpan from her workshop, and swept the floors clean of the remaining debris, so that nopony would accidentally step on any bits of broken glass or splintered wood. When she was done, she had to admit things were looking decidedly better now. The walls and counter-top were still defaced with graffiti – everything needed a good, deep cleaning, really – and she would have to do a proper inventory to make sure nothing had been stolen. And get some better locks for the front door, too, she grumbled to herself. But those, too, could wait until later. Right now, there was a guilty young filly who needed to be dealt with, and Crimson figured she’d made Silver Spoon wait just about long enough.

Silver Spoon very nearly jumped out of her own fur as she heard the door click and creak open slowly. If the sound of the door closing behind her had been the hammer of doom, hearing it opening again was like hearing the end of the world. It had barely been an hour since she’d been sent inside this room to await her punishment, but every minute had felt like a lifetime to the ashamed, scared filly as she’d been left alone with her racing thoughts and guilt-ridden conscience. I wonder how hard she’s going to spank me...

And she was going to be spanked. Of that, she had no doubt whatsoever. She’d sealed her own fate the moment she’d stepped into Crimson Brush’s shop and passed over that note from her father. The only question left was just how how hard she’d be spanked, and how much it was going to hurt...

She shook the thought away as she looked up to see Crimson standing in front of her. She knew she couldn’t really expect lenience, but somehow, the look in the older mare’s eyes had a calming effect on her. Crimson was no longer looking down at her with anger or contempt; instead, she wore a look of motherly caring for a foal who had simply made a mistake, who had disobeyed, and simply needed to be corrected. Silver’s breath caught in her throat for a moment as that look reminded her so much of the times her mother had looked at her just the same way, making her feel so very small and ashamed of herself for behaving so badly...

Crimson smiled down at the grey filly sitting on the bed, and reached over to rub her head affectionately, tousling her mane a little. She could tell Silver had been crying off and on while she’d been waiting; the filly’s violet eyes were filled with fear and guilt, her cheeks and muzzle were wet with tears, and one of the bed’s pillows had a visible wet spot from where Silver Spoon had obviously been crying into it for quite some time. “I’m sorry it took me so long, sweetheart,” she said. “Now, little one... why are we here?”

Silver blinked a couple of times, confused by the question. Why is she asking me? Isn’t it obvious? “Because I... I’m being punished...?”

“That’s not quite what I meant, sweetheart,” Crimson said gently.

Silver Spoon’s mind raced as she searched for the answer she hoped would please her disciplinarian. “Because I... I destroyed your shop...?” she ventured hesitantly.

Crimson nodded. “Yes, that’s part of it, my dear. You also tried to lie about how it happened. You may have been trying to protect your friend, but there is never a good excuse to lie. Especially when you are already in so much trouble, little one.”

Silver whimpered softly as another transgression was added to what she was now certain was going to be a very harsh punishment. She brought a hoof to her mouth and nibbled on it nervously as she gave a humble nod. “Y...yes, Ma’am,” she said meekly.

“Now, again... why are we here, little one?”

Silver closed her eyes and looked away, her cheeks turning red with shame as Crimson forced her to spell out her sins in full. “I... we’re here because I... I helped m-my friend t-... to wreck your shop, and... b-because I... because...” She stopped and swallowed nervously, then tried again. “B-because I lied to you about h-how it happened, Ma’am.”

Crimson nodded again as she sat down on the edge of the bed. “And you knew it was wrong to do those things, didn’t you, little one.”

“Y-yes, Ma’am,” Silver Spoon said miserably. “I... I’m sorry, Ma’am. I’m s-sorry I wrecked your sh-shop, and I’m s-sorry I lied...” She knew the apology wouldn’t get her off the hook, but she hoped Crimson would at least believe she really, really did mean it...

Crimson smiled to herself as she heard Silver Spoon offer a sincere apology this time. She pulled Silver closer and gave her a hug, just holding the scared, guilty filly in a gentle, comforting embrace for a few moments. Silver let out a startled squeak and tensed up, not quite sure how to respond to the unexpected gesture of affection and comfort. Why is she being so... nice... to me? she thought, bewildered. I destroyed her stuff, and lied to her... why does she care how I feel? Hesitantly, she tried to let herself relax into the embrace, and wrapped her forelegs around Crimson to give her a weak hug in return. It was a strangely reassuring feeling, even with the fear of what she knew had to be coming next. The older mare was disappointed and upset with Silver Spoon for what she’d done, but she didn’t seem to hate her...

That thought made Silver Spoon feel a little better. Not much, but a little.

“Over you go, little one,” Crimson said, patting her lap as she released Silver from the comforting embrace. “I think we’ve waited long enough.”

Silver Spoon whimpered as she heard the words she’d been dreading. The time had come, and there was nothing she could do to stop it now. Not that she would have, even if she could. She had long since admitted to herself, while wrestling with her guilty conscience, that she deserved whatever punishment the zebracorn mare decided she deserved. There was no getting around it – she had done something very, very wrong. Destroying Crimson’s shop was wrong, and she’d known it was wrong, and she’d gone ahead and done it anyway because she’d been afraid to stand up to Diamond Tiara and say that it was wrong. And now, she had to pay the price for that. She had tarnished and shamed herself by her foolish actions; maybe, just maybe, accepting the punishment she’d earned would redeem her, even if only a little bit...

That thought didn’t exactly comfort Silver Spoon either, but it did help her to accept it as she obediently laid herself down across Crimson’s lap, positioning herself so that her rump was raised up just so. She hesitated for a moment, then reluctantly lifted her tail as high as she could, baring her flanks, blushing softly in embarrassment and shame as she settled into the position every foal instinctively dreads, trembling in fear as she waited for her punishment to begin.

Crimson raised a brow, noting with interest how Silver Spoon had automatically assumed just the right position, without having to be told to do so. This obviously wasn’t the first time she’d been spanked, then, even if her father had been somewhat lax in disciplining her lately...

She brushed Silver Spoon’s pale, silver-streaked tail aside with her left hoof, pinning it firmly against her back to secure both it and the filly herself in place, then tilted her head curiously as her hoof bumped up against a strap buckled around Silver’s body. Was she wearing that pack when she came in? she wondered. She supposed she must have been, and Crimson just hadn’t noticed. Carefully, she undid the buckle and removed the small pack with her magic, then rubbed her right hoof lightly over Silver’s raised hindquarters as she set the pack down on the bed, out of the way. “Are you comfortable, dear?”

Comfortable? How could I possibly be comfortable, when I’m about to have my flanks spanked... “Um... I guess so...” She startled a bit as she felt her pack being removed from around her waist. She’d almost forgotten she was still wearing it, and bit her lip slightly as she remembered exactly why she’d brought it. I wonder if I should –

Her thoughts were interrupted as Crimson suddenly raised her hoof and brought it down with a light swat to her right flank, then another to her left... then another to the right side, then to the left again, working her way into a quick but steady rhythm, alternating flanks with each clap of her hoof.

Silver jumped at the first swat, giving a soft whine as she felt the spanking begin. It took her a moment to realize the swats were actually rather light. Not that they didn’t hurt at all; each clap of the zebracorn’s hoof stung quite noticeably, and left a definite warmth in its wake, but it wasn’t anywhere nearly so bad as she’d been dreading. Is... is this all? she wondered, after several minutes of steady spanking had done nothing but gently warm her flanks and make her squirm across Crimson’s lap. The experience seemed more embarrassing than painful...

Just when she started thinking perhaps Crimson Brush was going to be lenient with her after all, though, any such hopes were quickly dashed by a much harder clap! of hoof against flank, and another, and another. The rhythm slowed, but the spanks were much harder now, and they hurt... oh, Celestia, they hurt! Silver Spoon realized with dismay that the light spanking had just been a warm-up, to make her hindquarters more sensitive, and now the real punishment had started. Each hoof-clap sent a fresh burst of stinging pain blossoming across her flanks, and each one built on the one before it, and each swat really, really hurt...

...of course they hurt, stupid. And you deserve it. You knew what you did was wrong! Mother would be so ashamed of you...

Silver Spoon bit her lip as she tried to fight back the pain, trying not to cry out loud as swat after swat after painful swat set her hindquarters on fire until her flanks were burning from dock to thigh, all the way out to her cutie marks. “Please... s-stop... I’m s-sorry...” she whimpered, tears spilling from her eyes and rolling down her cheeks again as her composure began to crack under the relentless punishment, every spank hurting worse than the one before as the spanking went on, and on, and on... “I’m... s-sorry... p-please!” She could feel herself breaking little by little with each swat, and she began to wriggle and squirm across Crimson’s lap in a vain attempt to shake off some of the pain.

“I know you are, little one,” Crimson said gently, without breaking the rhythm as her hoof clapped firmly and steadily against each flank in turn, making sure to spread the glow evenly as Silver Spoon’s hindquarters slowly turned redder and redder underneath the fur. Each swat cracked the filly’s will to resist a little more as stinging fire blossomed across her rump again and again... until finally, she broke down into guilt-ridden, hiccuping sobs as as her defenses crumbled under the relentless claps of Crimson’s strong hoof against her helpless, burning flanks.

“Please! I’m s-so sorry! I’ll neverhic! – do anything... so stupid ever again...! I – hic! – I promise! Please!! I’m sorry! I’M SORRY!!” she cried, lying weak and limp across the zebracorn’s lap as she buried her face against the mattress, sobbing in pain and shame. “Please, I – hic! – I’m so – hic! – sorry, I – hic!I’m S-SOR-RYYY!

Crimson stopped her hoof in mid-swing and brought it down gently, rubbing Silver Spoon’s red-hot flanks to soothe the pain a little as Silver hiccuped and sobbed her way through her apologies, then pulled the crying filly a little closer to rock her gently back and forth while making small, soft shushing noises to reassure her that she was still safe and secure... that she was still loved, and cared about, even though she’d done something so very wrong...

After a few minutes of helpless sobbing, Silver slowly began to pull herself back together, and cautiously reached up to wipe the tears from her eyes with a hoof. Risking a glance up and back towards her disciplinarian, she was surprised to see a look of caring and warmth in Crimson Brush’s eyes as they gazed into her own. That loving look, and the soft caresses and gentle rocking, reminded her so much of how her mother had cared for her when Silver had been in this very same position across her lap, so many times before... almost as if...

“Mom – hic!... Ma’am?”

Crimson couldn’t help smiling a little as she caught the slip before the filly corrected herself. You really do miss your mother, don’t you, little one... You even miss her discipline, I think. And your father never really filled that void when she was gone... Her father had probably thought he was being compassionate by letting Silver Spoon get away with bending or breaking the rules after her mother died, not realizing that the little filly had needed those rules more than ever. Foals want to know where the rules and boundaries are. Even when they try to test them or get around them, they still want to know the boundaries are there. And when your mother died, little one, the rules went away, and you were left without any guidance... Oh, my little one... how lost you must have felt...

She looked down at the little filly, feeling a deep sorrow as she imagined how much pain and confusion Silver Spoon must have been carrying deep inside her since then. “Yes, sweetheart?” she asked gently.

The humbled filly looked up at the older mare, and bit her lip as the nostalgia of the moment reminded her of what she had brought along in her saddlebag. A memento she’d stolen from her mother’s things before they were packed up or given away, so she would always have something special to remember the love and care they’d shared. She swallowed nervously, wondering if she really wanted to go through with this...

“In... – hic! – Look in my bag, Ma’am,” she said quietly, turning away from Crimson’s loving gaze to stare at the wooden floor once more, fighting back the tears as she took a deep, shuddering breath and held it for a few moments before letting it out slowly, trying to steady herself and stop the hiccups.

Crimson gave Silver Spoon a curious look, then shifted her hooves so she could stroke Silver’s mane reassuringly with one hoof while still keeping her held down with the other against her back, and turned her attention towards the saddlebag she’d set aside earlier. Catching it up in her magic, she carefully slid the zipper open, raising a brow as she saw the single item inside. She lifted the object from the saddlebag and floated it over to her, studying the long silver spoon with interest and no small bit of amusement as she saw how closely it resembled the mark on Silver Spoon’s flanks. It even had the pink heart inset into the top of the handle. But this large, nearly flat spoon was clearly meant for an entirely different purpose than stirring tea...

Her mother knew just how to care for her little filly, Crimson thought affectionately as the unusual, obviously custom-made spoon’s purpose became clear to her. I almost feel bad for touching something that must have so much special meaning to her. But if it’s what she truly feels she needs... “You really are a good filly, sweetheart,” she said, still stroking Silver’s mane, as she tapped the rounded side of the spoon lightly against the filly’s cutie marks. “I’m honored you would ask this of me. Are you sure this is what you want, little one?”

Silver Spoon flinched a little at the unexpected touch, tensing for a moment, then slowly relaxing as she felt the touch of her mother’s preferred implement tapping her cutie marks. It had been so long, she’d almost forgotten what it felt like, but those few taps were enough to bring the memories back. I miss you, Mommy... A few tears trickled down her cheeks as she braced herself, knowing only too well what was coming next. Just the sight of that wicked spoon had always been enough to humble her...

She wrapped her hooves tight around Crimson’s leg, inadvertently raising her flank a bit higher in the process. “Yes, Ma’am...” she whispered, biting her lip as she willed herself to take this part of her punishment with what little dignity she could. You earned this, Silver Spoon, she told herself firmly. What you did was wrong. You shamed yourself, and your family, and this is not the kind of filly your mother raised you to be! She could almost hear the words in her mother’s voice, gently but firmly scolding her daughter for doing something so very, very wrong... She had crossed a line that was absolutely not to be crossed, and she was about to receive a very painful lesson that would stay with her for a long, long time...

...and I deserve it. I... I let you down, Mommy. You... you taught me to be better than this... you must be so... so ashamed of me...

I’m sorry, Mommy... I’m so sorry...

Crimson smiled softly as Silver Spoon clutched herself tightly to her, raising her rump higher without having to be told. She kept stroking the filly’s mane with her hoof until Silver got herself settled, while she raised the spoon into position with her magic... and then, with no warning, she brought the spoon down onto Silver’s flanks, swift and hard.

Silver Spoon gasped sharply as the first swat landed. The spoon was far, far worse than even the hardest swats Crimson had given her by hoof alone; it felt like a dozen angry hornets had stung her all at once, right on that spot where the spoon had landed. And then another dozen hornets stung her on the opposite flank, and a dozen more, and a dozen more after that, as Crimson spanked her in a swift, steady rhythm, the swats coming so quickly after each other that Silver could hardly differentiate between them.

She gritted her teeth, trying to hold on to her dignity and take the punishment without complaint, but it was a losing battle, and she knew it. In less than a minute, the pain in her hindquarters went from a mere slow burn to a blazing, scalding fire, as though she were sitting in a pot of boiling water... and still the pain grew, as the spoon clapped against her flanks again and again...

Crimson watched her little charge intently as she spanked her with the precious silver spoon, adjusting the strength of the swats as she covered the filly’s backside several times over, until the rosy glow visible under her pewter-grey fur had turned to a furious, scalding-hot red. She could tell by the way Silver was hissing through her gritted teeth and involuntarily kicking out with her hind legs that the spoon was extremely painful for her, especially on top of the lengthy spanking she’d already taken so far – but she wasn’t fighting it, or pleading for mercy, or trying to get away from it, either. In truth, Crimson hadn’t originally intended to punish Silver Spoon quite this severely; had the filly not specifically asked her to use the spoon on her, she probably would have just finished off with some sharp hoof-claps to the “sit spots” and been done with it. But if this is what you truly feel you deserve, little one... then so be it.

The spoon clapped steadily and quickly against Silver’s flanks, on and on, until finally she broke down once more, burying her face into the bedcovers and sobbing brokenly as the pain overwhelmed her, driving every thought from her head except for the unbearable sense of shame and guilt as the spoon seared its corrective lesson into her backside. “I’m sorry! I’M SORRY!” she howled into the thick covers,

Crimson paused for just a moment, looking over the furious shade of red the spoon had brought out on Silver’s flanks, and decided enough was enough. It was time to end this. Silver Spoon had paid the price for her misbehavior, and now all that remained was to make sure the lesson wouldn’t be forgotten...

She rotated the spoon in her magic, aiming the spoon directly at the cleft between the filly’s flanks and thighs, then delivered a dozen solid strokes to each side. Silver’s head shot straight up at the first swat as the shock of pain hit her, leaving her breathless. Her glasses flew off and clattered to the floor, but she didn’t even notice it as she desperately tried to beg for forgiveness, in between her broken, hiccuping sobs and howls of pain, with every white-hot strike of the spoon against those most sensitive spots.

“AAAAHH!! I’M SORRY! PL –hic!– PLEASE!!! I’M –hic!– SORRY, MOMMY!! –hic!– I’M S-S-SORRYYYYYY!! –hic!– PLEEEEASE, –hic!– MOMMY!! I’M SORRY!

Crimson smiled with a mixture of tenderness and sadness as she heard the little filly crying out for her mother under the final swats of the spoon. Quietly, she slid the spoon back into Silver’s saddlebag, then pulled the sobbing filly close against her once more, stroking Silver’s mane while rocking her back and forth to comfort her while Silver cried herself out.

I’m so sorry, Mommy...! I never meant to hurt you...! I’m just so... lost without you! Silver’s thoughts raced as she buried her head back into the bedcovers and sobbed, not just from the awful pain of the spanking, but from the heartbreak of having done something so very wrong, something her mother would be so terribly disappointed in her daughter for doing. The thought of her mother looking down at her with such sadness, such disappointment and shame for her daughter’s misbehavior, hurt far worse than any spanking ever could...

“I’m s-sorry, Mommy, I’m –hic!– s-so sorry...” she whimpered, her voice muffled by the bedcovers. “Please –hic!– f-forgive me, Mommy... –hic!– please...”

Crimson just kept rocking the crying filly back and forth, gently stroking her mane while making soft little shushing noises, a few small tears running down her own cheeks as Silver Spoon continued to cry for her mother’s forgiveness. “That’s it, my little one... let it out,” she whispered quietly. “It’s all right... Just let it all out now, little one...” She knew only too well the kind of heartbreaking pain Silver Spoon must feel. Crimson had been a grown mare when she lost her own mother, and it had still been like a knife in her heart; to lose her mother as a young filly, right when she needed her love and guidance the most, must have seemed like the end of Silver’s whole world. You’ve been hurting every day since then, haven’t you, little one... not knowing what to do without her there to guide you...

Finally, Silver Spoon’s anguished, heartbroken sobs quieted down to soft whimpers, and Crimson stroked a gentle hoof over the filly’s cheeks as Silver slowly raised her head off of the bedcovers. “There now, my little one...” Crimson said, her voice soft and warm with sympathy and affection.

Silver’s eyes widened slightly at the older mare’s tone. She even talks like her... “Th... –hic!– Thank you, Ma’am. I –hic!– I’m so sorry...”

“It’s all right now, my little one,” Crimson said with a soft smile. “All is forgiven.”

Silver Spoon took a slow, deep breath as she released her hold on the older mare’s leg, looking up at her with an adoration she had only shared with her own mother until now. Crimson felt a few more small tears run down her own cheeks as she saw that look in the filly’s eyes, and carefully lifted Silver off of her lap to hug her tightly against her chest, trying to keep Silver’s backside from touching anything as she held her close, rocking her back and forth. “I love you, sweetheart,” she murmured into Silver’s ear as she gave her a soft, loving nuzzle. She really is a sweet foal. I wish I could do more for her...

Silver Spoon gasped softly, then melted into the embrace, weeping into the mare’s shoulder. Nopony had held her like this in so long... I miss you so much, Mommy... maybe if... if you were here... I wouldn’t be such a... such a rotten excuse for a filly...

Long minutes passed as the pair held each other close, neither wishing to end the embrace, as Silver Spoon finally cried herself out completely and settled into a warm, affectionate snuggling against the zebracorn mare who somehow seemed to care so much for her, despite the awful things Silver had done to her. “Thank you, Ma’am,” she finally whispered. “For... for everything...”

Crimson Brush felt her heart jump a little at that, and slowly the pair released each other from their embrace after a final nuzzle of affection. Without thinking, Silver Spoon leaned back and started to slide down to the floor, then gasped and winced as her rump protested every movement loudly and painfully. Crimson smiled and gave her a look of sympathy as she caught the filly in her magic and carefully lowered her to the floor, making sure Silver could stand on her own hooves. “Here, sweetheart,” she said, as she started to levitate a bottle of healing gel from the beside table. “This will help...”

To her surprise, Silver Spoon held up a hoof to stop her. “No, Ma’am, I...” She paused for a moment, surprising herself with what she said next. “I don’t... I mean... I deserved what I... what I got. All of it,” she said in a softer tone, clearly humbled by the whole experience.

Crimson shrugged and put the bottle back on the stand. “As you wish, little one,” she said agreeably. Normally, she felt that soothing some of the pain after a punishment was over helped the foal know they’d truly been forgiven... but if this was how Silver Spoon wanted it, she’d respect her choice.

Silver blinked, then squinted and frowned a bit, as if only just now realizing that she’d lost her glasses and the world was nothing but a blur around her now. “Um... did you happen to see where my glasses went, Ma’am?” she asked with an embarrassed little laugh, grateful for an excuse to change the subject.

Crimson glanced around the room, and saw the mother-of-pearl frames lying several feet away. Fortunately, they’d somehow managed to land right on top of the spanking pillow, so no damage had been done to them. With a soft chuckle of her own, she caught them up in her magic and floated them over, settling them back into place on Silver Spoon’s snout. “There you are, my little one. Better?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Silver said, blinking as the world came back into focus. She reached up for her pack, wincing as every moment ignited little sparks of pain in her flanks, and almost reconsidered asking for some of that soothing gel after all...

No. You earned this, Silver Spoon, and you deserved a lot worse than this for what you did, she told herself fiercely. And that’s not even counting all the other rotten things you’ve done...

Crimson was tempted to use her magic to fasten the saddlebags for her, as she saw how Silver Spoon was struggling to overcome the pain in her backside with every movement she made, but the look of determination in the filly’s violet eyes stopped her. She thought it over for a moment, then smiled as an idea occurred to her.

She bent down to Silver Spoon’s eye level again, and ran a hoof affectionately through the filly’s mane. “There’s still quite a bit of mess to clean up, sweetheart,” she said. “Would you like to help me?”

Silver Spoon smiled and nodded eagerly. She couldn’t undo the awful thing she’d done... but maybe she could help make up for it, a little. “I’d love to, Ma’am,” she said, trotting happily beside the zebracorn as they walked side-by-side to the doorway. Despite the fiery pain in her rump, and the lingering shame of her punishment for what she’d done, somehow she felt happy, in a way she hadn’t felt since her mother’s death.

Somepony cared.

\/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/

A few short hours later, the shop was nearly back to normal, thanks to the work of several pairs of industrious hooves plus the magic of three unicorns. (Or perhaps two-and-a-half, seeing as how one was just a filly whose magic was still somewhat limited.) Rarity and Sweetie Belle had dropped by to welcome Crimson home from her vacation not long after she and Silver Spoon had started the cleanup work, and both unicorns had gasped in shock when they’d seen the state of the place. Upon hearing what had happened, Rarity had immediately insisted on helping to put the shop back in order. The elegant ivory unicorn normally avoided getting her hooves dirty if she could help it, but Crimson was a friend, and it went against Rarity’s nature (not to mention her Element) to put her own comfort ahead of a friend so clearly in need of help. A little dirt and sweat was nothing that a nice, long soak in a hot bubble bath couldn’t cure, after all.

Sweetie Belle had rushed off, then returned in a flash with Scootaloo and Apple Bloom in tow, announcing themselves as “Cutie Mark Crusaders Cleanup Crew, YAY!” and setting to work with a will to help put the shop to rights under Rarity and Crimson’s supervision. To the two mares’ mutual amusement, unlike the “terrible trio’s” usual rambunctious and occasionally disaster-prone efforts at being “helpful”, the three eager fillies were all being extra-careful to carry out their assigned tasks exactly as they were told to do. Which was hardly surprising, really. They all knew what was in that one back room, after all, and none of them wanted to end up with their flanks as fiery-red as Silver Spoon’s...

Silver Spoon had cringed and tried to hide herself away when the Crusaders had arrived, blushing in mortified embarrassment at having her sworn enemies see her humbled like this, and the atmosphere in the shop had been fairly chilly for a while once everypony had learned that she’d been responsible for a share of the destruction. But to her relief, things had thawed a little once they’d heard how she’d willingly apologized and accepted her punishment for her part in it, and had seen the formerly-snobbish, prissy rich filly digging in, working up a sweat, and getting her hooves dirty trying to undo the damage she’d caused. The Crusaders trio hadn’t even made fun of her for the hot shade of red that had still showed all too clearly across her well-spanked hindquarters...

...well, not too much, anyway. She’d had to bite back the urge to snap out a “blank flank!” insult a few times in retaliation for the occasional bit of teasing and snickering, but bite them back she did. Being a bully was how she’d ended up here to begin with, she told herself firmly, so she could hardly blame them too much for enjoying seeing her get her painful comeuppance after all the rotten things she’d said and done to them. Plus, she had little doubt that starting a fight would earn her another trip to the back room, and that thought was more than enough to keep her humbled. Her flanks still stung too much to even think about sitting down as it was.

And oddly enough... she had to admit, it really didn’t seem like they were being mean about it. The occasional teasing seemed almost... friendly? As though they were trying to get her to laugh with them, rather than simply laughing at her?

Finally, as she found herself working in the same corner as Apple Bloom, she worked up the courage to ask why...

“Well... I s’pose I could say it’s ‘cause we ain’t bullies,” Apple Bloom said.

Silver Spoon winced and looked away. I guess I had that coming, she thought sadly.

“But...” Apple Bloom went on, softening her tone, “I reckon that’d be a pretty mean thing to say, too. So, how ‘bout we just say... we feel your pain, Silver.” Silver Spoon blinked and looked back up, tilting her head in confusion as she found Apple Bloom grinning at her with genuine humor. “I mean, it ain’t like you’re the only filly here that’s ever got her flanks spanked ‘cause she did somethin’ dumber’n a box of banana peels. Heck, you got off easy,” Apple Bloom giggled in a low, conspiratorial tone as she leaned in closer. “‘Least you didn’t hafta go out into the orchard an’ pick out the switch you were gonna get spanked with. That’ll make you think about your choices in life, let me tell ya!”

Silver Spoon’s eyes widened as Apple Bloom shared that embarrassing revelation with her – and surprised herself by actually giggling along with the pale-yellow farm-filly. “Well... no... but I did bring my own spoon...” she admitted.

Now it was Apple Bloom’s turn to look confused. “You brought a spoon?”

“The spoon my mo–... my mother... used to use,” Silver said, choking a bit as she looked away again to wipe away the small tears that tried to form in her eyes. A moment later, she let out a small gasp of surprise, as she felt the other filly’s hooves going around her neck and across her withers, drawing her closer for a soft, sympathetic hug.

“Hey... I miss my mama too, Silver,” Apple Bloom whispered. Her mother had died when she was so little, she only vaguely remembered her, really... but she still missed her.

Without thinking, Silver Spoon found herself returning the brief hug, taking comfort in the small gesture. Somehow, just for the moment, Apple Bloom no longer seemed so much like a sworn enemy... she was just another filly, one who understood what having that aching hole in your heart was like. Well... Diamond Tiara’s sworn enemy, really, she thought. Did I ever really have anything against her, or her friends? Or... do I just hate them because Diamond does? “Thanks,” she whispered back.

“Now, let me ask you a question, Silver,” Apple Bloom said as they separated. Silver Spoon hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “How come you let Diamond Tiara bully you into doin’ mean things all the time?”

Silver Spoon blinked, not having expected quite that particular question. “I...” she started to say, then stopped as she realized she didn’t really have an answer.

“I mean... you actually seem kinda okay when she’s not around,” Apple Bloom persisted. “You hardly ever start stuff with us when she ain’t with you. And seems to me if you were really as mean an’ nasty as you act, you wouldn’ta come back here an’ apologized to Miz Brush, an’ stuck around to help her clean up even after she spanked the tar outta you... an’ you ain’t even called us ‘blank flanks’ once, all afternoon. Heck, look at us right now! Here we are, just talkin’, like normal ponies, instead of rippin’ into each other. So... What gives, Silver?”

Silver Spoon thought it over, and realized she still didn’t really have an answer. “I... I don’t know,” she finally said with a helpless shrug. Hesitantly, she explained how Diamond Tiara had been the only one who had ever really offered any kind of friendship to her when the other foals had ostracized her for her clumsiness on the playground, her glasses, and her wealthy background. “She’s my only friend, Apple Bloom, and it’s just... easier to go along with whatever she wants, I guess. She has a way of making it seem like... like it’s okay to do it, if she wants to. I’m not sure how to explain it, but it just... didn’t seem wrong when she was convincing me to do all this,” she said, nodding towards the graffiti as she and Apple Bloom resumed scrubbing. “It wasn’t until after I got home afterward, that it hit me how wrong it was, and if... if I’d run into her on the way over here, she probably would’ve been able to talk me out of feeling guilty about it, and... I wouldn’t have come at all...” she admitted, her voice trailing off in shame.

“Sounds like a sociopath to me,” Scootaloo said from behind them. Both fillies startled and turned to look at her. “I’ve read about ponies like that... what? I read books!” the orange pegasus added defensively at their raised brows. “Reading’s cool. Rainbow Dash reads books...”

“I didn’t say nothin’, Scoots,” Apple Bloom chuckled.

“Anyway. That kind of pony’s very, um... cara... carriza...” Scootaloo stumbled over the word.

“Charismatic?” Sweetie Belle piped up as she trotted over, curious to see what her friends were talking about with Silver Spoon.

“Yeah, that. They can get ponies to do all kinds of crazy things and make it sound like a good idea at the time.”

Apple Bloom chuckled at that. “You mean like when ya talked us into goin’ zip-lining?”

Scootaloo blushed. “I still say that should’ve worked,” she grumbled. “No, I mean they do stuff like making up crazy lies, then believing their own lies and getting other ponies to believe ‘em too, so that they’ll do anything they say. Like this one I read about – there was this pony up in Vanhoofer, ‘bout a hundred years ago, who got a whole bunch of other ponies to believe he’d found the secret to making ponies live forever, like Princess Celestia. He got ‘em to give up everything and go out into the frozen north somewhere... ‘Bout three months later, a weather-patrol team in Whinnypeg rescued one survivor while they were out doing winter-flight training maneuvers somewhere, and found out what’d happened. The crazy pony had talked ‘em all into setting themselves on fire so they could be reborn from their ashes like a phoenix – and they’d done it, just ‘cause he said to!” The other three fillies gasped, horrified, and Scootaloo put a hoof over her heart. “True story, I swear! I’ll show you the book if you don’t believe me!”

“Dang, that musta been one gruesome book, Scoots,” Apple Bloom said with a shudder.

Silver Spoon shuddered as well, for a different reason. Hearing it put into words, it made more sense than she wanted to admit. Diamond Tiara certainly could be charismatic when she wanted to be, especially when she wanted somepony to do something...

“Yeah, well... I was kinda looking for a book of scary stories for our next camp-out, and that book wasn’t quite what I thought it was from what it said on the cover,” Scootaloo admitted, rubbing the back of her head with a hoof. “Anyway, ponies like that, they don’t have any conch... um...”

“Consciences?” Sweetie Belle said helpfully.

“Yeah, that. They don’t care if anypony gets hurt, as long as they get what they want. Remember the Gabby Gums thing? How Diamond Tiara had us feeling like it was all okay at first, then blackmailed us as soon as we started having second thoughts about it, and how she didn’t care a molted feather about how many ponies’ feelings got hurt by it? And when we all finally got in huge trouble for it, she acted like she hadn’t done anythi–”

The front door opened with a loud bang!, interrupting their conversation. “Silver Spoon! Are you in here?!” a small but arrogant voice yelled from the doorway. They all whirled around to see an all-too-familiar pink filly with a white-streaked, pale-lavender mane, wearing a fancy tiara that matched the cutie mark on her flanks, glaring angrily around the shop.

Silver Spoon gasped, and she quickly tried to hide behind the other three fillies. Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle exchanged surprised looks as Silver Spoon actually cringed behind them, staring at them with wide, worried eyes as if she were silently pleading with them to protect her. Even Scootaloo couldn’t find it in her heart to leave Silver to face Diamond’s wrath alone, after seeing that look of fear in her eyes, and with a quick, shared nod of determination, the trio quickly moved to put themselves between her and Diamond Tiara.

“There’s no need to shout, little one,” Crimson Brush said evenly as she, too, moved to keep Diamond Tiara from getting more than a few hoofsteps through the doorway. “We can all hear you just fine.”

Diamond Tiara just glared at the zebracorn mare as if she were beneath contempt. “Fine, whatever,” she snapped haughtily. “Now where’s Silver Spoon? I was told she was in here!” She glared around the room again, then stopped as she caught sight of her friend cowering behind the Cutie Mark Crusaders. “HEY! What do you think you’re doing, blank flanks? Get away from her!”

The Crusaders exchanged glances again as they looked back and forth between Silver Spoon’s wide-eyed, pleading expression and Diamond Tiara’s angry contempt... then lowered their heads and scuffed their hooves against the floor, glaring back at their tormentor as they kept Silver shielded behind them. “No. You stay away from her.” To everypony’s surprise, it was gentle Sweetie Belle who stepped forward to issue the challenge, with such unexpected steel in her soft voice that Apple Bloom and Scootaloo couldn’t help staring at her in astonishment for a moment.

Silver Spoon could hardly believe what was happening. Her former enemies, suddenly becoming her protectors? Why... why would they care what happens to me? Don’t they... don’t they hate me, too?

Rarity glanced over at Crimson Brush, raising a brow as if to ask whether they should intervene, as the angry fillies stared at each other across the shop. Crimson returned the look with slight shake of her head. Let them settle it themselves, she seemed to be saying with a look. She had a feeling that this showdown had been a long time in coming, and Crimson remembered her own foalhood well enough to know that if she or Rarity stepped in, it wouldn’t really solve the conflict, it would just postpone it until some other time when there weren’t any adults around to step in. As long as things didn’t turn violent, the best thing to do was to let the fillies have it out and settle it now, on their own.

Diamond Tiara glared at the trio with contempt as she started forward – then halted in her tracks as a light-green aura began to crackle around the unicorn filly’s horn. She didn’t think Sweetie Belle’s magic was strong enough to actually be useful in a fight, but... Stupid unicorns, she thought nastily to herself. “If you blank-flank losers so much as touch her,” she snarled threateningly.

“You’ll what?” Apple Bloom said. “Trash Carousel Boutique, too? Or set fire to our barn?”

Diamond’s eyes widened in shock, then blazed with anger as she realized that Apple Bloom’s statement, and the looks she was getting from everypony else in the room, must mean they all knew exactly what she and Silver Spoon had done. She took an involuntary step forward, and the Crusaders took one step forward as well. “You... you told them?” she said dangerously, turning her glare to the cowering Silver Spoon. “How could you –? What did you tell them? How much trouble did you get me in?! Did you try to blame it all on me? You did, didn’t you! How could you be so stupid, Silver! What did you tell them?!

And at that moment, something inside Silver Spoon just... snapped.

“I told them everything, Diamond!” Silver Spoon suddenly jumped up and stood on all four hooves, wincing at the pain in her still-sore flanks as she stepped forward. “I told them everything.”

“Stupid!” Diamond snapped, just before she saw the wince of pain on Silver’s face and the tinge of heated pink that still lingered under the fur on her flanks. “Hey! What did – what did they do to you?!” she yelled angrily.

“What I deserved, Diamond,” Silver said, her eyes brimming with tears at the prospect of losing her only friend, even as she stood her ground alongside her former enemies. “And they didn’t do it. She did,” she said, nodding towards Crimson Brush.

“That... that freak assaulted you?” Diamond said in disbelief and rage, clearly having forgotten that the “freak” in question was standing right next to her listening to every word.

“She’s not a freak,” Silver Spoon said quietly. “And she didn’t assault me. She disciplined me.” She caught a slight smile from Crimson Brush as she emphasized the difference, but kept her violet-eyed gaze squarely fixed on Diamond Tiara. “And I’m glad she did! Because what we did was wrong, Diamond! What I did was wrong, and I deserved to be punished for it. But I guess... I guess you can’t understand that, can you.”

“What are you saying, stupid? She deserved it, not you!”


“She insulted me! She turned down my Daddy!” Diamond snarled. “Nopony turns my Daddy’s business down!”

“And what are we going to do to the next pony you don’t like?” Silver asked sadly. “Dig up Miss Cheerilee’s garden because she gives us too much homework? Trash Sugarcube Corner because they didn’t get your birthday cake with exactly the right shade of pink icing on it? What awful thing are you going to make me do next, Diamond?!” she said, yelling the last question with such sudden, unexpected anger that even Diamond Tiara was taken aback by it. “How many more ponies are you going to – !”

She choked for a moment, and swallowed before continuing in a soft, sad voice once more. “How many more ponies are you going to make hate me, because of the things you make me do to them? How many times are you going to... m-make my mother ashamed of what I’ve turned into because of you?”

Diamond Tiara just stood there, seething. Her silent glare of rage told Silver Spoon everything she needed to know. Scootaloo had been right. Diamond simply didn’t care about any of that. She didn’t care how many ponies got hurt for her to get whatever she wanted. She didn’t even care if her supposed best friend got hurt, or got sent away to a youthful-offenders’ correctional school, or even went to jail, as long as she got her way. And if she didn’t get her way...

“Just go, Diamond,” she said sadly, looking away. “Just... go.”

Still boiling with anger at her former friend’s betrayal, Diamond Tiara took another step forward... then recoiled as a light-green blast of magic left a scorch mark on the floor not six inches in front of her. Instantly, all eyes were on Sweetie Belle.

“You heard her, Diamond Tiara,” Sweetie said, her soft voice still holding that hint of steel underneath it while her magic aura crackled ominously around her horn in the sudden silence. “Leave. Her. Alone.”

Even Diamond Tiara could see how this was going to go. Three against one, even if they were just “blank flanks”, weren’t exactly the most favorable odds for her, especially with one of them being an angry unicorn firing green lightning from her stupid horn. Horseapples! When did that useless blank flank figure out how to do that, anyway? Add two adult mares, including that zebra-striped freak who’d probably be all too happy to see Diamond get her flanks handed to her, and suddenly this confrontation didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.

“Have it your way, Silver Spoon,” she said. “But don’t think I’ll just forget this when you come crawling back to me.” Diamond turned to leave, and practically kicked the door open. Halfway through the door, she turned to look over her shoulder for one last parting shot. “And we both know you will, Silver. I’m the only friend you’ve got.” And then she was gone.

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo just stared, slack-jawed, at their unicorn friend as she stood there, absolutely rigid, her horn still crackling with magic. “That... was... totally awesome!” Scootaloo cried, clapping Sweetie Belle on the back with a wing. “You went, like, completely badass on her!”

“Dang... you sure showed her, Sweetie,” Apple Bloom said admiringly. “Wish I’d had a camera to catch the look on her stupid face when you shot that lightnin’ at her... Sweetie Belle?” she added cautiously, after Sweetie continued to just stand there, unmoving, staring blankly at the space where Diamond Tiara had been standing a moment ago. “Hello? Equestria to Sweetie Belle?” she asked, waving a hoof in front of her friend’s eyes. “Are you okay?”

“I... can’t... feel... my legs...” Sweetie Belle squeaked, just before the crackling aura around her horn suddenly fizzled out in a shower of sparks, her eyes rolled back, and she keeled over in a dead faint.

\/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/ * /\ * \/

A vial of smelling salts and a sheepish apology for the scorch mark on the floor later, the three friends plus one (former) enemy were finishing up on the last bits of graffiti staining the counter-top. Crimson Brush had allowed them into her workshop to start putting things away, with strict orders not to touch anything except the one closet where brooms, mops, rags, and cleaning supplies were stored. The fading, but still visible warmth on Silver Spoon’s flanks was more than enough to insure all four fillies obeyed without question, no matter how interesting the rest of the workshop looked.

“She’s wrong, you know,” Apple Bloom said as they put the last items away. “Diamond Tiara, I mean.”

“I know... we were wrong to –” Silver Spoon started to say.

“That’s not what I meant, Silver. I meant... she’s wrong about her bein’ the only friend you’ve got. And you’re wrong about that, too.” Silver Spoon blinked and looked up at Apple Bloom with wide eyes. “We could be your friends. If ya want to, that is.”

“But... even after I... I’ve been so mean to all of you?” Silver could hardly believe her ears.

“Well... look, I know there’s been a lotta rotten apples between us, but... that don’t mean we can’t at least try to give each other a second chance, does it?” She glanced over at Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle, raising a brow at Scootaloo in particular, knowing her pegasus friend had always been the most bitter about the teasing they’d taken from the two rich bullies – especially the way they’d always made a point to viciously mock her lack of flight skills whenever possible. “Right, girls?”

“Well...” Scootaloo rubbed the back of her head with a hoof, then shrugged. “Aw, why not. If we could forgive Babs for being a such a jerk, then... sure, okay.”

Sweetie Belle just gave a smile and a nod, as she put out her hoof. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo put their hooves against hers, and Apple Bloom gave Silver Spoon a smile of encouragement. “We’re willin’ to try bein’ friends if you are, Silver,” she said.

Silver Spoon hesitated for a moment, then slowly reached a hoof forward to touch the hooves of... her new friends. “I... I’m...” She bit her lip, then gave them a hesitant smile. “I’m sorry.”

Crimson Brush smiled as the four fillies trotted back into the main showroom. The happiness in Silver Spoon’s eyes and the renewed bounce in her step, so different now from the fearful, ashamed, and lonely filly who’d practically dragged herself into the shop only a few hours ago, warmed Crimson’s heart. “All finished, little ones?” she asked.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Silver Spoon said. “What do you need us to do next?”

Crimson made a show of looking around the room to inspect their work, then nodded in approval. “I think we’ve done everything we can for now, my dear. You and your friends can run along and play if you want to,” she said with a smile, gently emphasizing the word friends as she spoke. “Thank you all so much for your help, little ones. You all really did do a wonderful job.”

“YAY!” All three Crusaders quickly checked their flanks, then sighed. “Darn it. No cutie mark in cleanin’, neither,” Apple Bloom grumbled.

“Ahh, who’d want that as a special talent anyway?” Scootaloo scoffed. “So... milkshakes at Sugarcube Corner?”

“Sounds like a plan!” Apple Bloom said, her disappointment evaporating in a flash. “An’ after that – hey, Silver Spoon, we were gonna have a sleepover in our clubhouse tonight. Wanna come along?”

“R-really?” Silver Spoon asked with wide eyes. “You really want me to come to your sleepover?”

“Sure! You’re our friend, ain’tcha? It’ll be fun!”

“I’d love to!” My gosh... nopony’s ever invited me to a real sleepover!, she thought incredulously, as it suddenly hit her that in all the time they’d been friends, she and Diamond Tiara had rarely, if ever, actually slept over at each other’s houses. Just... one more sign that she meant more to me than I ever did to her, I guess... “But –” she paused and sighed heavily. “I don’t know if I can. Daddy’s probably still mad at me, and... well... I might be, um... kind of... grounded...” she said.

“Aw, really? Spanked and grounded? That’s rough,” Scootaloo said sympathetically.

Crimson Brush regarded the dejected fillies for a moment, then smiled to herself and caught up a quill in her magic to write out a note. “One moment, little ones...”

My dear Dirt Cheap:

Your daughter came to see me earlier this afternoon, and confessed everything to me. While her actions were indeed shameful, you may take some pride in knowing that she didn’t try to make any excuses for her misbehavior. She understood that her actions were very, very wrong, and she willingly accepted both responsibility and punishment for what she did. Afterwards, I put her to work helping to undo the damage she caused to the shop, and again, she did so willingly and without any complaint. (Indeed, she has spent the last several hours working very hard, and it’s possible the walls might be even cleaner now than they were when I first moved in!)

We spoke for some time, both before and after her punishment, and I do believe that she is truly sorry for doing what she did. I also believe that she was, at least in part, manipulated into doing it by a so-called “friend” who took advantage of their friendship for her own selfish reasons, and that Silver Spoon would not have done this were it not for this “friend’s” bad influence. Not that this excuses Silver Spoon, of course, but I bring it up simply to mention that Silver and this other filly confronted each other while Silver was helping me to clean up the shop, and while I see no reason to go into the details, suffice it to say that after that confrontation, I feel fairly confident that this now ex-friend won’t be exerting her bad influences on your daughter anymore. (I also won’t mention this other filly’s name, though I suspect you can figure out easily enough who she is.)

I do understand that you are probably still very disappointed in Silver Spoon – however, as far as I am concerned, the matter is now closed, and best put behind us. Silver Spoon made a mistake – a serious one, yes, but a mistake nonetheless, and every foal makes mistakes. Celestia knows I certainly made my share of foolish mistakes when I was a filly, and I doubt there’s anypony in Equestria who can’t say the same.

Again, Silver Spoon freely admitted her guilt, willingly accepted her punishment, and worked very hard to try to make it right. She is genuinely ashamed of and remorseful for her actions, and I am satisfied that she has truly learned her lesson. Therefore, I would ask that she not be punished any further for this unfortunate incident, and that you forgive her, as I have already done.

Your business partner, and friend,

Crimson Brush

Crimson folded up the note, then floated it over to Silver Spoon. “Give this to your father, my dear,” she said, giving the filly a wink as she slid it into her saddlebag. “I think he just might let you go on that sleepover after he’s read it.”

Silver Spoon smiled and rushed forward to hug the zebracorn tightly. “Thank you, Ma’am... for everything...” she whispered. “I’m sorry...”

“And I forgive you, little one,” Crimson whispered back. “Go on, now. Your friends are waiting for you.”

Crimson and Rarity watched, smiling fondly, as the four fillies hitched on their saddlebags, chattering happily amongst themselves as they made their plans. As they started to leave the store, Silver Spoon paused in the doorway at a sudden thought, bit her lip for a moment, then looked back over her shoulder.

“Ma’am?” she asked.

“Yes, little one?”

“Would it... be okay if I came back tomorrow afternoon and... um... helped you fix some of those?” she asked hesitantly, with a quick glance towards the brushes awaiting repair on the counter-top. “I know a little bit about silversmithing, and I saw the stuff for it back there in the workshop, and I... I’d like to learn more, if... I mean, if you wouldn’t mind teaching me...?”

“I’d like that very much, sweetheart,” Crimson said warmly. “Now go on, dear. Have fun with your new friends.”

“My goodness,” Rarity said from beside her, after the fillies had left. “I never thought I’d see the day when either of those two brats would come around...”

“Repentance and forgiveness can work wonders, my dear,” Crimson chuckled softly. “She just needed a firm hoof to put her back on the right path, that’s all. Much like a certain unicorn filly we both know, hm?”

Rarity laughed and nodded. “I suppose so, yes. Speaking of whom... I think perhaps I should have a word with Twilight about exactly what kind of spells she’s been teaching my little sister. I’m really not sure she should be teaching lightning spells to a filly who can barely manage to pour milk over cold cereal without burning it!”

The two mares shared a laugh at that. “Well, I think it was very brave of her, my dear,” Crimson said. “You should be proud of her.”

“Yes... she was, wasn’t she,” Rarity said fondly. “And I am. I always have been.” About time you stood up for yourself and kicked that rotten little bully’s plot, little sister, she thought to herself – though of course, she would never express such an unladylike sentiment out loud.

Instead, she turned, and placed a hoof on Crimson’s shoulder. “Will you be all right, darling?”

Crimson paused, and looked around her shop once more. It would still take some time, and a lot of work, before everything would be truly back to the way it was – but she still had her home and her livelihood, and friends to help her through the rough spots, and maybe... just maybe... she could even do a little more for Silver Spoon, after all. She could never take the place of the filly’s mother, of course... but maybe a friend and mentor would be good enough to help her become that fine young mare her mother would have been proud of.

“Yes, my dear,” she said. “I think I’ll be just fine.”