That morning Annie had made her way back to the farm before anyone had missed her and gotten to her chores with no problem, tending to the orchard and collecting the harvest for the coming months stock pile and days at market. She hadn't mentioned to her father where she'd been and thankfully he didn't ask, although she was fairly certain her mother already knew where she ran off to before anyone else got up on those days. Her mom was something Annie was endlessly grateful for; so understanding and caring and she didn't have any of the stubbornness or temper that her father and his daughter inherited. She was like a cool lake that no matter how much you splashed in it by the end of the day it would still look perfect and undisturbed. By that metaphor her father was the big black boulder at the bottom of it.
Black Smith was a stallion that could have given Tough Odds a run for his money when it came to size and stature. He was always a strong earth pony in his youth and it never seemed to lessen as he got older. The black coated stallion with the silver mane and the cutie mark of a plow was as respected around town as he was serious. His family being one of the original farmers to found Ponyville and always reliable in keeping the town fed and protected. The only chink in his iron clad armor of stern attitude being his wife and his children. When the young pegasus named Sky Dancer came to visit the farm to sample their wares it's said there was a spark that ignited almost instantly between the two. Some how or another he got the free spirited pegasus to settle down on the farm with him, producing their eldest daughter Annie and youngest son Arrow. So the simple story of the Smith family goes, and would continue to be that way if not for their kids always rocking the balance.
The family sat together at the dinner table this night like any other, mother dealing out the plates in front of them and father getting a few more minutes of reading out of the Equestria Daily paper before he'd get scolded for having it at the table. Arrow was tossing a spoon in the air and catching it on the end of his hoof, always finding new ways to do little tricks with amazing accuracy. Annie could tell he was destined for something greater than the farm, but since he was the only one of their children to inherit their mother's wings and absent-mindedness it seemed obvious to everyone but him. He stopped when mother gave him his plate and thanked her politely, all of them waiting for her to sit so they could begin eating.
Annie had been avoiding telling her parents what she planned to do tonight, and was even thinking of just sneaking out without getting noticed. She was sure Arrow would have seen her though and ratted her out, or her mother would notice and be worried. Besides she didn't want to lie about her relationship anymore than Knick did. So through spoon fulls of oats and apple bits she gathered the courage to finally speak up. "So ahm probably gonna be spendin the night at a friend's tonight." She tried to sound casual in the statement, aware of the stares she was getting all of a sudden.
"Hmmm." That tone, her father always used it before saying something she knew she didn't want to answer. "Who's house?" Annie tried to keep her cool on the inside so her words didn't sound nervous when answering.
"Oh ahm just spendin the night over at Knick's is all." There was a double click as her mother and father both put their spoons down at the same time, Annie mustering up her courage to look up at them.
"So yer spendin time with that colt again?" Her father posed it more as a statement than a question, getting a small rise out of her.
"Yes Papa, I ahm. In fact ah spend a lotta time with that colt." Arrow was looking between her and their father and Annie was already regretting the last part of the sentence.
"Ah see. Well... ah hope yer planning on helpin round the farm tomorrow mornin."
"Ah am." Annie answered curtly, not having touched her dinner since the conversation began. Her father was starting to eat slow and methodical giving the signal to everyone else it was okay to continue. "He's been havin trouble sleepin past few days. Ahm hoping I can help." Black Smith gave a little scoff under his breath and Annie was holding back an outburst at his unwarranted disapproval of their relationship.
"Is he doing alright?" Her mother Sky Dancer was kind enough to break the tension with her question and Annie was more than happy to soften her tone in response.
"He's been havin nightmares is all. Says it's been fer days now. Can't reckon what's causin 'em but he's havin trouble every night."
"What kinda nightmares?" Arrow finally spoke up since the conversation didn't seem tense anymore, Annie glad to reply.
"Don't rightly know. He didn't wanna talk none about them. Just said that every time he gets some shut eye he always ends up wakin before the hour passes."
"The poor dear, they must be awful if he can't even sleep a night." Her mother commented with some concern, her father didn't seem to share the same sentiment.
"So he's askin fer a mare to come solve his problems for 'em?" Annie grit her teeth. It was always like this, always having to try and defend Knick's masculinity before her father. She didn't like having to do it, and didn't think it was necessary to begin with. Just it was like this any time Knick Knack came up in conversation around her father.
"For tha record he didn't ask, I offered Papa." Annie put her spoon down on the plate and sat up, letting out a sigh. "Ahm done. Mama, thank ya for the grub. Luv ya'll, I'm heading out now."
"Annie wait, please." Her mother was asking and it nearly stopped her but Annie knew where this was going to lead. She didn't want to argue about her coltfriend anymore with her father, and the sooner he accepted him the better things would be for everyone. She tipped her hat to her family after putting it on and headed out the door into the night, traveling the familiar path to Ponyville. This late everyone was either getting dinner or retiring for the night, a few folks still awake here and there. She knew some would still be up having fun but others would be getting to sleep, and on this week day no one was out to keep her company. Except the mare in the moon.
"So, ya'll ever have trouble with yer family?" She asked up at the image in the sky, not getting a response of course. "Probably not. Though if ya did, whatever family a moon might have, hope it's gone better than with my own kin. I know they love me an all but... just plumb tired of all the arguing y'know?" Once again the mare had no response for Annie, but that was fine. It was nice to have someone to listen to you, even if she was just an old mare's tale. "You done have a good night yerself, see ya tomorrow." She smiled at the celestial being and finally entered the Curiosity Shop, unlocked for her as she expected. Soon she'd be upstairs, in bed snuggling to the stallion that had her heart. Dinner might not have gone that well but at least tonight would be enjoyable.
"Give them back... give them back to me..." Annie groaned awake hearing words repeated but not understanding them. "I can fix them... I'll fix them just please..." It occurred to her as she was slowly waking up that she'd been hearing them for a while, over and over again, spoken so lightly. "Just let me fix them... please give them back..." She rustled around under the blue and yellow blanket strewn over her, specially designed with a moon and stars all around it like a night sky. It was her favorite blanket not just due to the design but also that when she got to use it that meant she was staying over at Knick's house. Blinking a few times she started to make out that the voice she was hearing actually belonged to Knick. "Just give them back..."
"Hon?" She asked in a tired voice and turned to face him, seeing he was still asleep through the small amount of light the moon was providing through the window. She put her hoof on him and felt his body shivering, but not responding as he was obviously still asleep. She realized that he must have been having one of the nightmares that had been torturing him so. "Knick... hon wake up." She pushed him a few times with her hoof to rouse him from sleep but he just kept mumbling, eyes closed. Annie was getting worried as she'd never seen him behave this way in all the times she'd slept over at his home. Sliding her body up against his own she put her leg over his side and rubbed her head up and down against his neck, massaging it gently. After a few moments Knick finally began to taper off from his mumbling and groaned awake from the friction of her coat rubbing against his own. "Awake now hon?"
"Yeah... yeah... umm... yeah." It was all he could manage and she could tell from the sound of his voice he was crying lightly. She continued to massage her neck against his until he stopped breathing raggedly. "Thank you." He managed after a few moments, getting a kiss from his lover.
"No thanks needed, sugarcube. You had another one huh?" He wiped his eyes against the pillow and nodded into the dark. Annie would admit Knick Knack wasn't the bravest or strongest of ponies but she'd never seen him cry openly like this before. If anything he'd made it a matter of pride to keep himself together in nearly all situations. Now here he was reduced to tears from whatever horrible images he'd seen. "Did you wanna talk about it?" He was silent for a while before shaking his head in decline, making Annie sigh. She wanted to help.
"Sorry..." He was going to apologize again but she shushed him.
"None of that now... no need." She embraced her legs around him and he curled his hoof around hers in return, the two laying there in the dim moonlight. They embraced for some time as Annie fretted over how to take his mind away from those awful dreams. She nuzzled up to him and kissed his ear. "Ya know since we're probably gonna stay up tonight..." She suggested in a lower tone of voice. Knick laid still for a moment before turning to her and making contact with her eyes.
"Are you up for that?" He asked hesitantly. Maybe it was a strange lead in to offer such physical comfort after a nightmare, but Annie wanted to get his mind off of the dreams as fast as possible.
"Well tah answer yer question..." She kissed him. "Giddy up." Not like she wouldn't enjoy it too.
The couple trotted through the streets early the next morning. Knick had no problem rising with the sun alongside Annie since neither of them had slept very much the night before. A fact Knick seemed both worn out and pleased with considering he'd spent most of it with Annie, wearing a tired but happy expression. It was a pleasant little reminder that Annie was a hot slice of apple pie to her coltfriend. She gave him a small nuzzle across the face as they proceeded. "Havin a good morning there sugercube?" Knick's eyes had some heavy bags under them that worried Annie but he smiled at her reassuringly.
"Well your still at my side, I don't think it could be anything but good." He complimented her affectionately.
"All yer fancy sweet-talk wont get ya nowhere with me, but don't let that stop ya from doin it." The laughed a little together and saw their destination coming up.
"Isn't it kind of early to be asking her for help?" Knick commented a bit hesitantly but Annie didn't have any concerns.
"Nah, it's early enough that most pony-folk are out and about. I reckon she'll be ready fer us too." Knick let out a noise of concern and looked between her and the small fortune-teller's shop they were fast approaching. "Goodness, ya'll act like I'm takin ya to get a shot at old Doc Calcium's clinic." Knick gave her a side long glance then looked back at the door of Dreamer Dust's store. Even though it was advertised as a fortune-telling business it was more of a book store really. Ponyville didn't have a proper library so her business acted as a book rental as well as a place for 'mystic guidance'. Annie never believed much in that kinda of hooey but there was an advantage that Dreamer Dust had that no other Pony did in Ponyville. Knocking her hoof on the door there was a call of a female voice telling them to wait a moment and a long pause before the door finally opened.
"Hellooooo! Welcome to Dream Teller's where all your fantasies will be reve... oh! Annie, Knick! What a surprise!" The violet pony greeted them happily, opening the door wider for the couple. "Come in come in please! I wasn't expecting visitors so early so excuse the mess." She walked inside and moved a few odds and ends out of the way for them, her pink curled, styled mane bouncing along with her on each step. "Are you two doing peachy-keen?"
"Ahm doing just fine Dreamer, but ah wish ah could say the same fer Knick." Annie proceeded in with Knick following behind slowly and a bit hesitantly. Annie never really understood what Knick's problem was with Dreamer. Far as she could tell he didn't dislike her, and she certainly seemed to enjoy the company of every pony she came across. It was just when he was around her he acted differently than everyone else. She didn't think it could be for anything out of line like Dreamer's obvious difference from most the other ponies.
"Oh is he having trouble? Here let me get something to drink and we'll talk about it." The cups in the kitchen glowed with a magic light as Dreamer Dust floated them in with her unicorn magic. She was one of the few unicorns in all of Ponyville, which was an even rarer sight to see than a Pegasus in this little village. She'd moved to Ponyville not more than a few years ago and set up shop as Annie could recall. When she'd asked why Dreamer would come to such a small town when she seemed like she'd be more at home with a magical place like Canterlot, Dreamer just claimed that she was drawn here by something. Being one of the only unicorns in Ponyville and a pretty one at that she made a lot of friends and gained admirers quickly, even if her business was a bit unusual. "Is like coffee okay with you two? I just need it to keep myself going this early in the morning." She smiled at them with vivid energy, Annie noticed amusingly enough.
"Just fine by me." Annie agreed and the couple sat at her fortune telling table, complete with a crystal ball in the middle. Annie wondered if it was real or not but Dreamer never let on, wanting to keep some mystery about her profession. "Dreamer, we were wondering if maybe in all these books of yers that if there was anything fer treatin nightmares?" Knick silently but gratefully took the coffee, adding some sugar to sweeten the taste and gulping it down. This didn't escape the notice of the two mares as they watched him struggling to stay awake.
"Knick, honey, you look just awful." Dreamer said bluntly but with her uplifting tone. Walking around the table she put a hoof to his forehead making him blink in surprise and look to Annie as if to ask if the contact was okay? "You don't seem to be sick, or anything. How long has this been going on?"
"About four days..." Knick said aloud and stiff as a board with Dreamer's hooves on him.
"Five. Last night ya had one too, remember?" Annie corrected and Dreamer glanced her way with a more worried expression.
"That sounds pretty bad." She said finally dropping back onto all fours and looking at her book shelves. Annie put a hoof up onto Knick's back and rubbed it gently, the stallion closing his eyes and thankful for the comfort. "No... no... definantly not... no he's not having, like, THOSE kinds of dreams..." Annie raised an eyebrow wondering what exactly she kept books on with that tone. "Aha! Okay here we are, without a doubt." One of the books floated from the shelf and into the middle of the table, facing Dreamer's direction. "Okay so there are some treatments we can use, probably, with some spells that might clear this up, I'm sure."
"Your going to use magic on my dreams?" Knick asked a bit apprehensively but Dreamer wasn't daunted.
"Well yeah, if I need to. There's like a whole bunch of reasons a pony can have reoccurring nightmares. But we'll eliminate each possible cause, one by one, all scientifically before we resort to any big treatments, m'kay?" She smiled brightly at Knick and Annie was considering how many treatments would be needed or how long this could take.
"So what are ye gonna do fer this fancy scientifics of yers?" Science was a subject that was one of the least appealing to Annie. Right behind Mathematics and then all that spooky magical stuff. Come to think of it most of Dreamer's store was a shrine to everything the earth pony was uncomfortable with. But she knew that Knick needed help and any assistance a unicorn could provide that a regular earth pony couldn't she'd gladly take for him.
"Wellllll I dunno!" She spoke it cheerily but neither of the earth ponies seemed amused. "But I'll use the book to check them off, individually, one by one." Looking to her right she flipped over a chalk board she kept in her store to a blank side and floated a piece of chalk next to her head. "Okay then we'll go over possible causes, write them down, and see if anything more in depth is needed. Now have you been changing your diet, or something like eating later than usual?"
"Nope, we covered that one." Knick shook his head.
"Good, cause, we don't want you losing your good figure." Dreamer giggled a little at her own joke and Annie raised an eyebrow at her checking out Knick's "figure". Dreamer wrote "Food" down on the side of the board she was labeling as ruled out. "Have you been reading any kind of materials, that are unusual or weird, or been going through any sort of stress?"
"Well I've got a few mystery novels at my shop that I read from time to time but nothing new. Store has been operating just fine too." Dreamer wrote "Books" and "Business" on the board again.
"Have you drank anything different, or something else, like taking any kind of different medicine?" That actually sparked an idea in Annie's mind.
"You haven't been eatin them 'medicinal herbs' of yers again, have ya?" Knick had a sheepish grin about him remembering the "special herbs" she was referring to.
"Oh, you have more of those?" Dreamer's perked up inquiry made Annie's eyes raise in alarm and Knick gulped a bit.
"Ya been eatin those things with Dreamer!?" Annie spoke up a bit defensively and Knick raised his hooves in surrender quickly, acting a lot more awake when his marefriend was riled up. Even Dreamer looked a bit shocked at her outburst, the chalk she was holding with her magic hitting the ground with a click.
"No no! She just asked if I knew anyone that grew some and if I could get it for her. I just gave her what I had left." Annie was still giving him an evil eye and Knick was beginning to wish he was facing the nightmares instead of her right now. "The last time I even touched those was when I had them with you." Annie's eyes widened at that confession and she blushed a bit now exposed in front of Dreamer Dust, who was looking at her equally surprised.
"Annie Smith? You eat herbs too?" Dreamer was looking both surprised and delighted in the revelation and Annie was wishing she could crawl into her hat.
"Twas just the one time..." She sighed. Yeah, she'd eaten herbs before. Lots of ponies did but it wasn't the thing she liked to brag about (and her Papa woulda killed her).
"That was still some night huh?" Knick was laughing lightly in memory of it. He'd convinced her to give it a shot since he had enough for both of them. Hour passes and before she knew it the two of them were giggling together in his bedroom like a couple of school fillies over the stupidest things. They spent most the night like that until they got a case of the grazins, raiding Knick's pantry for everything it was worth. When they had cleaned that out they moved to the farm and through some miracle didn't get caught rooting through the barn for apples. The whole night ended with a literal roll through the hay for the both of them and a very stressful morning as Knick Knack tried to get off the farm without her father finding out. "Still can't believe we ate all of that food and had enough energy for..."
"Okay then that crosses that one off the list!" Annie shoved a hoof into Knick's mouth before he shared any more intimate details in front of their friend. "What else ya got?" Dreamer scratched beneath her chin with a comically ponderous face as she was considering what was next, looking at the book.
"Well that seems to cover, I think, most the basics. I mean if he can't think of anything then it's probably not something that simple right?" Knick just shrugged in a tired haze and Annie looked on worried. "I guess the next best thing, that I can think of, is to look at what these dreams are." Knick's eyes shot awake, looking at Dreamer frantic.
"Oh that's not needed!" He pushed the issue a little forcefully for him, seeming disturbed at the suggestion.
"Oh there's no need to worry, Knicky. I'll just take a quick little peek is all. It wont hurt you or me." She smiled vibrantly at him and Knick was looking between her and Annie as if asking for help.
"Knick uh... maybe you should let 'er have a looksie. I mean it can't hurt none, right?" Dreamer nodded to Annie in agreement and Knick just sighed, closing his eyes and finally agreeing with a nod.
"Fantastic! Okay so I'm just going to use a quick spell to take looky-looky in your head. Just hold still now." Knick didn't have any problem with that, sitting down and waving back and forth a little from how tired he was. Dreamer's horn began to glow and she closed her eyes and Annie could only assume she was seeing what he was. After a few moments it didn't seem like anything was happening and Annie was doubting if this was really going to help.
Then Dreamer screamed.
Annie rose up to her feet as the unicorn backed up and bumped into her chalk board, knocking it flat on the ground. Her eyes were distant and she was gasping from the sudden outburst. Annie ran up to her and put a leg around her back. "Dreamer! Easy now, easy." The two mares sat down as Dreamer was panting and trying to catch her breath, she tried to speak but was wincing her eyes closed.
"That's why I didn't want you to..." Knick muttered quietly from the table. He hadn't moved an inch, either not experiencing what Dreamer had seen or just used to it. Annie was looking on with a deeper concern now then ever before. What kind of horrors was he enduring?
"Oh Knick... oh Knick I'm so sorry..." Dreamer finally got herself back onto her feet and Annie rose with her, walking back over to the solemnly quiet pony. "It was so awful. You've been going through this for a week!?" He nodded just as quietly, and Dreamer turned to Annie with a now shared concern. "I'm glad you brought him to me."
"So ya know what tah do?" Annie asked and Dreamer picked her book up with her magic again, flipping through some pages.
"I think so. There's a spell here for these kinds of issues, close enough anyway, that might do the trick. I've never used it before, never had the chance, but I think it'll work." Dreamer's high energy and cheerful demeanor was reduced now after picturing what Knick had gone through. Annie wished in some odd way it had been her to share that pain instead of forcing it on poor innocent Dreamer Dust. She walked next to Knick and let him lean against her to provide what support she could.
"Okay, on the couch." Dreamer suddenly spoke up and the two looked around confused before she motioned for Knick to specifically get up on her couch. Rising slowly to his feet he wandered over to it and collapsed happily upon the soft cushions, leaning his head into one of the pillows in a cuddly way that Annie found adorable. "I've been wondering if I'd ever use this spell since I read about it." Dreamer seemed to perk up a little again now that she was getting to work. Using her magic she uncovered a cloth from the corner of the room and floated over a painting. It hovered above Knick before catching on the nail in the wall and resting above the couch. Annie and Knick were both looking over it with slightly confused expressions.
"What's all that supposed tah be now?" It was an unusual piece if Annie had ever seen one, but felt familiar somehow. A painting depicting two ponies, dressed like harlequins and flying through a night sky in opposite directions of each other. One was dressed in purple and white, the other in red and black. Dreamer smiled proudly at the painting.
"Wither made it for me, kind of insisted really, after he asked what I'd like a painting of." Well that explained why it felt familiar to her. "Isn't it neat!? It's of the travelers of dreams. See..." She walked up near the couch and put a hoof on the arm rest to lean upward. "The one here on the left is called NiGHTS! She's the traveler of dreams and guides ponies through the night, from the dreaming world to the waking one. Now this one..."
"How did you capitalize all the letters but the 'i' when you talked?" Knick asked through a tired haze and both mares looked on puzzled. "Sorry... never mind that." He shook his head as if to clear any sleepiness.
"Yes well... as I was saying..." Dreamer actually got down and walked to the other side of the couch to point at the only other figure in the painting. "This is Reala. He's the traveler of nightmares. His job is, in essence, the same as his sister but he guides ponies through their nightmares, as opposed to say their dreams. Each one watching over us every night."
"I think I'm seeing that red one a lot more lately." Knick had closed his eyes now and half paying attention. Annie was listening to Dreamer's lecture with some apprehension.
"So... what, yer gonna ask these here dream ponies to come on down and fix up Knick?" Annie couldn't hide the skepticism in her voice but Dreamer just smiled on like it didn't bother her.
"No, well, maybe if it might help. But I just put this picture up for me, as a sort of good luck charm while we work in hopes they'll give us their blessing. Besides I really like it, Wither outdid himself this time." Quality picture or not Annie was having her doubts about this whole thing. She'd come looking for a practical solution to Knick's dilemma. Not a bunch of spooky spirit stuff.
"Think ah'd be feeling more sure of mahself askin Celestia's blessin before some dreamed up ponies." She couldn't help but drop some kind of comment about her sudden lack of faith, stroking a hoof over Knick's brow to sooth him.
"Well I guess they are dreamed up, I mean they were made by the ruler of dreams himself." Annie rolled her eyes.
"Hoo boy. Dreamer ah kinda hate to break it to ya but there's only one ruler we should be askin for help. She moves tha sun and moon every day fer us." Annie spoke trying not to sound condescending but Dreamer's confidence seemed unwavering.
"Oh there's more than just Celestia. I mean sure, yeah, she's the Goddess we can see and talk to but there's always been more than her." Looking to her book shelf her horn glowed with magic and a book was floated over for all three of them to see, Knick setting himself up to be able to read along too. "I mean even considering her there's, like, her parents you have to consider. She is just the princess, but there's also the king, and the queen. And her sister Princess Luna and the Mare in the Moon."
"I always liked that story... about Princess Luna and the Mare in the Moon." Knick smiled a bit dreamily as Dreamer used her magic to flip through the pages for her examples, moving a little too fast for Annie to really pick up any of it.
"Right, yeah, it's not just a story. She's up there, like the legend says. But even above them are other deities that control forces of existence itself. There's one for Dreams, another for Death. There's one for Desire and Despair, Destruction and Delight. There's even one for Destiny."
"And all these "deities" of yers are ponies that control these things that are just occurring every day?" Annie still couldn't hide the skeptic in her voice, never having been one to go in with all these silly ghost stories. They were weird and creepy and she just didn't like them.
"Well they're not ponies, not really. But they can be if they want to appear before us. But that's kind of a big request just to help with, like, a treatment for nightmares so we'll just do this on our own." She smiled at Knick confidently. "Besides you have to be careful what you ask of who you want for help. There's also spirits out there who don't have names anymore. Those are the ones ponies used to know and worship, like forever ago, but they've been forgotten."
"So there are evil spirits floating around?" Knick asked observantly and Annie rolled her eyes.
"Well... maybe." Dreamer thought it over carefully, normally just blurting out thoughts that came to her. "They say some are evil, or good... or that you can't really call them one or the other. When it comes to ancient spirits things are a bit muddled. It's even said some just are what they are, existing without thought or reason. But ponies can't hope to really understand, like, what a deity does or thinks. It's way beyond us."
"Darn tootin." Annie mumbled and closed the book, reading the title "Spirits and Deities of Ages Past" on the cover. "So all this mumbo jumbo talk aside, you can help Knick ya think?"
"Sure! But I don't really know, like, how long this is going to take. Once I perform the spell he could be under its effects for a while."
"Sorry to be a burden." Knick finally chimed in looking more tired than ever, Annie walking up next to him and giving his face a nuzzle.
"Nah don't be talkin like that. Dreamer's a clever unicorn and she'll fix ya up good. So none of your apologizin for nuttin, kay?" Knick took the nuzzle happily and nodded to her. "Right then, guess ah best be runnin to the farm fer daddy raises a fuss. You take care of 'em now Dreamer."
"He's in good hands!" Dreamer nodded happily and Annie turned to exit the building.
"Annie, wait!" Knick rose his voice suddenly getting the whole room's attention. She turned back to see him sit himself upright. "I love you, Annie Smith." Annie stopped dead in her tracks, a blush creeping onto her light green face hearing the words spoke so openly in front of another person. "I just... I just felt like I should... say it." Knick lowered himself back on the couch, Annie nodding and adjusting her hat nervously.
"Gosh darn it... making me get all flustered." Annie couldn't suppress the smile brightening up her face. "I love you too Knick Knack. You come on by the farm right away when yer done, hear?" Knick smiled and Annie nodded reassured. "Right then. See you fer lunch." She waved a hoof to her coltfriend and unicorn friend before exiting the store to head back to the farm, an extra little boost in her step. It wasn't the first time he'd said those words, even around others in public. But something about that time felt so genuine to her that it just filled her heart up like a cup of delicious juice. She was parading herself back to the farm so happily she barely noticed the familiar duo heading her way.
"Hey it's Annie! Hey Annie!" The familiar cry of the green earth pony just cheered her up further as Wither Rose and Spring Shade approached her coming from the opposite way on the road. Spring had his stick with him still, leaning it against his shoulder as he walked (how he was holding it while on all fours Annie couldn't even begin to explain). Next to him was Wither looking a bit more dismal than usual.
"Howdy boys! Fine day isn't it?" She pushed her hat up a bit to greet them and Wither rolled his eyes.
"Fine if you like getting punched in the face." He was grumbling and Shade gave him a glance over.
"I apologized like fifteen times already for that before. This time I promise you'll be just fine, I practiced it on a tree stump and everything already." Annie raised an eyebrow but had an idea what it might be about. Shade was known for his tricks and his "martial arts" that no one really seemed to understand but him. Generally when he had a new technique he wanted to try there was only one pony willing to be the victim.
"Yeah sure, lets just make sure you remember the route to Doctor Calcium's clinic before we get started." Annie chuckled a little, boys were in rare form as always. "Oh I just remembered, Annie is Knick open already? I asked him if he could get some more paints for me a while back."
"I had a special order too!" Spring Shade spoke up proudly. "Knick found me a special weapon from another land he was able to get delivered. When that baby arrives I'll be a horseshoe in for Celestia's personal body guard." Spring had some pretty lofty aspirations, always talking about joining the royal guard as the most skilled and powerful warrior Canterlot would ever see. She didn't know how an earth pony was going to manage sticking with a flying, magical princess all the time as her personal body guard but might as well let him dream. Why did a goddess need so many guards anyway?
"Sorry to disappoint you boys but Knick's closed shop for the day." Annie replied much to their disappointment.
"Well that's no good, I was excited to see what colors he would have gotten for me." Wither sighed but recovered from the disappointment faster than Shade did. "Is he feeling alright? It's unusual for him to close his store even when sick."
"Actually he's been having some plumb awful nightmares. So dreadful he's barely gotten any sleep at all." Annie sighed relaying the depressing news once more.
"Nightmares huh?" Wither rubbed under his chin similar to how Dreamer had done but not quite as silly looking as when she did it. "I wonder if he'd want to share them? He might feel better if he talked about them."
"Wither you monster." Spring Shade chimed in with his general response to his best friend. "You just wanna listen in on his nightmares to make more of those creepy paintings you like so much."
"An artist gets his inspiration where he can." Wither retorted. "Besides if it helps him that's what really matters. Any side benefits from the exchange are unimportant enough to not be mentioned." Nice save, smarty hooves.
"Well ta be honest it shouldn't be much more of a problem." Annie corrected them. "He's gettin some treatment for 'em over at Dreamer Dusts' right bout now. She's got a spell she's cookin up ta try and tackle those pesky dreams." And he loved her. Okay that didn't have anything to do with the story but it still made her smile when she thought of it. It was during her little flash back to those kind words that she noticed the boys were giving each other an odd look. "What?"
"You uh... you left him with Dreamer Dust?" Wither asked hesitantly and Annie nodded in response. "And he's going to be there for how long getting this 'treatment' of hers?" Annie didn't like the way he was asking these questions.
"Don't rightly know. She said she'd never done that spell before, so ahm just waiting till she's done and he's gonna meet up with me back at tha farm." The boys exchanged another glance between them like before which dug under Annie's skin further. "Okay, what's this all about?"
"Nothing, nothing at all." Wither responded a little too quickly.
"But I thought Dreamer had the hots for Knick Knack?" Spring Shade blurted out the revelation and earned a glare from Wither in the process. "What!? Your the one that told it to me." Wither sighed and shook his head, Annie was looking between them a little more serious now.
"What's all this bout Knick and Dreamer yer yappin about?" She took her authoritative, motherly tone and it snapped the duo back to attention at the mare. Not even Spring Shade's little disappearing tricks would get him out of this one. Wither started up slowly trying to share his information as lightly as possible.
"Annie it's just a hunch but... haven't you ever seen the way Dreamer Dust looks at Knick? How super happy and cheerful she gets whenever he's around?" Yes... she had. But that didn't mean anything.
"Don't mean a thing." She corrected him and herself. "Dreamer's a friendly pony, she's made lots of friends since coming tah Ponyville and she's cheerful 'round everyone." Yeah, they were just seeing something there that wasn't. Like her book of spirit spooks that watch over every little old thing.
"Yeah but she gets really happy around Knick." Spring interjected. "She's in and out of his store almost as much as you are Annie. On top of that she usually doesn't come out for a lot of group things we do unless he's with us." That might be true. She did seem to order a lot of things out of his store... and she did always go out when ever they were all out together...
"Still don't mean nuttin. You two wanted tah go into his store today, don't mean yer interested in Knick." She reasoned to herself once more. "Sides we all like tah go out together. It's what friends do."
"I hope your right." Wither sighed in agreement, giving up on arguing it further.
"Cause she is really hot." Shade on the other hand didn't mind just keeping it going no matter how uncomfortable it was. "I mean not just hot, but she's really pretty and in really good shape. Plus she's a unicorn so... y'know..." Annie was glaring daggers at them now and the only one that seemed to notice was Wither Rose as he was putting a little distance between himself and Spring Shade.
"No. Ah don't know. Educate me." Annie spook clear and concisely through gritted teeth.
"Well she's one of the only unicorns in town, so she's really exotic!" Spring continued to recite his apparent list of attractive features about Dreamer Dust. "Then she's got that really pretty mane and tail, and that coat. She's in really fit too. Not too skinny or too thick." Annie took a break from trying to kill Spring Shade with a death glare to look over herself. She was in good shape... right? She worked on a farm all day so she had to be in good shape. She wasn't too muscly was she? "Her flanks are kinda small though, but they work for her. Not like Annie's flanks which are way more full." Annie's eyes widened and she looked back at her rear, trying to decide if "full flanks" was a compliment or not.
"Hey maybe we should get going to you beating me in the face with your insane new technique, Shade?" Wither tried to interject before Annie was about to beat them in the face with her traditional techniques but Spring Shade was on a roll.
"But it's true, we already talked about who had the best flanks and Annie was a clear winner, even if Dreamer's are hot. Why is it Knick gets all the hot fillies in town?" Shade was now complaining aloud and Annie was just too lost to even get upset anymore.
"Knick isn't getting all the hot fillies, he's getting two fillies, and he's only dating one of them." Wither tried to correct to hopefully calm Annie some and shut up his friend. "Pretty sure that's as far as that's going, everyone in town knows they're dating." He said blatantly for Annie to hear as well.
"Lolli Pop has some good flanks too, and she's cute." Shade continued to work down the list of attractive mares in town in his head. "There's also Cherry Turnover, and Diamond Tail, and then there's Autumn Leaf. Annie's mom is a pretty great MILF too what with those wings and how in shape she still is."
"Alrighty, this is now officially a conversation ah nevah wanted tah hear." Annie interrupted with a stern voice. "Just to put it clear to ya'll, Dreamer Dust is a good girl, an she wouldn't do a thang tah hurt me or Knick even if she did happen tah like my coltfriend." She nodded in agreement to herself, feeling convinced now that she didn't have to worry... even if Dreamer Dust was really pretty... and apparently exotic. "Further more ah know Knick would nevah do a thang tah hurt me! So I reckon there's no reason tah go worrying or sayin things that arn't true." Her lecture finally put a stop in Spring's ranting and Wither looked relieved to see it end there.
"Well I hope he's better by the end of it then." Wither commented and nudged his buddy. "C'mon, lets get this over with before I realize how stupid I am to agree to help you. Bye Annie." She nodded to the colt's as they wandered off, Spring inquiring if they remembered to bring any bandages just in case anything might go wrong with his totally safe and nothing to worry about technique. But you know... just in case. But don't worry.
Annie had been true to her word at arriving on time even with dropping Knick off at Dreamer's house. Although she had missed breakfast she made up for it by munching away on some apples as the day went on. Her father had been kind enough not to pester her about the night before and her mother didn't bring it up either. Arrow was lucky enough to miss a day of labor being that he had school to attend. So that just left her and Black Smith out in the orchard, Annie bucking the trees and filling the baskets while her father carted them back to the barn to be cleaned, stored and eventually sold.
It was still an hour off before lunch would be called and Annie was letting out little yawns between bucks as the last night's exercise was catching up to her this morning. Not that she would have had it any other way. Unfortunately her father happened to catch her yawning a few times and finally decided to speak up. "Get much sleep?" Annie was waiting for something like this, figuring he was probably implying... well what they actually did do. But best not to let it on.
"Got some, but Knick was still havin them nightmares and gettin woke up every now and then." Safe enough response, although it suggested they slept in the same room and possibly same bed. Still she wasn't a filly anymore and her father should respect that.
"Guess yer night over didn't help much huh?" Annie carried over some filled baskets to the cart, watching her words carefully. She didn't want to start up another argument over her coltfriend.
"Guess not." She replied calmly, loading them up on the back of his cart and heading back for another.
"What sorta nightmares is he havin?" Her father was speaking even toned and it was surprising for her. Normally any conversation about Knick ended in him complaining about the pony. Here he seemed genuinely curious.
"Can't rightly say, Knick didn't wanna talk about 'em even after we went by Dreamer's to see if she could help him out." At the mention of Dreamer Dust her father scoffed and for once Annie was inclined to agree. She never did think all that hocus pocus unicorn magic and talk about spirits had much merit. There was one goddess and she had a name and a face you could know. That's right... it wasn't because she was jealous.
"So he's goin there tah help with nightmares huh?" Her father seemed to be thinking kinda deeply on the subject. "What kinda method she got for treatin 'em anyway? Nothing weird or magical right?" Annie picked a basket up in her mouth to give herself some time to answer, carrying it over and setting it in the cart.
"It's Dreamer were talkin bout, Papa. With her it's always gonna be weird and magical." Her father had a concerned brow and she could recognize the disapproving look in his eyes. "Now ya arn't gonna go over there and start complainin bout her usin magic again are ya?"
"I only said somethin the one time. Ponies shouldn't use magic tah wrap up the seasons." Had that been a fiasco. You'd almost think she'd killed a pony the way the mayor and her father got on her case using magic to try and bring in the Spring season. Not like it mattered, they were late again anyway and as far as Annie cared letting her help her way to clear out Winter was just fine. "There's reasons tradition is respected ya know."
"Like getting a big, strong stallion to inherit the farm?" Maybe that was out of line but Annie was tired of defending things her friends did that her father didn't agree with.
"Annie, ya know why ah said what ah said. Ah just don't want ya gettin hurt." She dropped the basket she was picking up and turned to her father with a scowl.
"Gettin hurt? Papa that pony has treated me better than any other pony in this whole dang town! What is it, just cause he don't run a farm or fix buildins or carry the mail he's not better than any other stallion?" Her father unhitched himself from the cart, which was sign for any of the children they were about to get a lecture but Annie stood her ground on this one.
"He doesn't know what real workin is." Black Smith stated matter-of-factly, and that pushed her over the edge.
"Papa he's got his own store! He's got repeat customers, he's real popular in town with all the other ponies."
"He sells trinkets and bobbles. He's sellin distractions!" Annie grit her teeth. So he didn't build or farm or sell the kinda goods that her father approved. Apparently that made him unfit for her? She didn't think so. He loved her, he said so himself. She knew it in her heart and that's what actually mattered. "Ah just don't want you gettin saddled with a pony that don't know the value of real work."
"Papa you act like if ah don't find me some big, tall stallion to shoulder all mah burdens for me this farm'll fall apart. Ah don't need a caretaker! Heck, ah could tend this whole farm by mah lonesome!" So it wasn't just Knick that didn't meet his approval... his weak little girl wasn't the tough pony he felt was needed to keep this farm going. That's where all this was rooted, like some knotted tree. "Matter fact ya'll can take five if yah want to. I'll get this here cart AND I'll keep on buckin." Annie positioned herself to get hitched up and pull the cart on her own. Her father watched on helplessly. There was nothing on this earth that Black Smith felt his muscles and will couldn't put a stop to but when it came to his precious family it was always the hardest thing for him to deal with.
"Ya nevah answered me by the way." Annie stopped in her tracks and made eye contact again. "Bout how she's treatin 'em or with what methods?"
"Tell ya what Papa, ya'll get the chance to ask him directly. Ah told Knick Knack tah come on by the farm after he was all done with it." She gave a little tug with her hind legs to be sure she was hitched up properly before pulling the laden cart. "So please be nice when ya see 'em. I'll ask 'em to tell ya everything. Alright?" Her father was surprisingly silent on it, thinking about something that Annie was too annoyed to concern herself with right now. "Ahm sure after droppin 'em off this morning he'll come on by round lunch." Annie was done on this subject. She pulled the cart back towards the barn in her own little huff. She'd show her father how strong she was. Heck if Knick was feeling up to it he could spend the day with her on the farm and show her father how tough THEY were together. By the time afternoon would roll along Annie would have put all these problems to rest and she could carry on as strong as always.
It was unfortunate for everyone how wrong she would be.