Being in such an unusual predicament so far outside her comfort zone, it would have been expected for a pony such as Octavia to react with stammering exclamations and embarrassed chuckles. But if the sleepy brain was one thing, it was relaxed. When she awoke in an unfamiliar feeling bed, she simply yawned and tried to return to sleep. This pony’s hours were up though, and the longer she kept her eyes shut, the more they wanted to open. Her senses returned slowly, emerging from the deep, warm depths of sleep. Hearing, the sound of a busy city, tasting, a few stray hairs that made her scrunch her nose in disgust, smelling, sweat and spice and alcohol, touching, a large heat-pillow, seeing…
The white unicorn sleeping right next to her.
Octavia would remember the moment as being akin to seeing a spider skitter across the floor, complete with the impulse to jump back and scream and so forth, but the truth was a lot less terrifying.
“Oh dear,” she mumbled.
Vinyl’s glasses were askew, revealing her closed eyes for the second time in recent memory.
The events of last night came rushing back, bringing the cellist completely out of her sleepy daze.
Upon glancing at the unicorn with clear eyes, she couldn’t help but giggle at her friends dishevelled state. Sitting up, she reached out a hoof and tentatively brushed some of the DJ’s unruly blue mane out of her face. From a completely objective standpoint, Vinyl was really quite pretty.
In a moment of bravery, Octavia plucked the purple shades from the end of the white pony’s nose, leaving her face bare. Breathing softly, Vinyl projected an air of openness that the cellist had not been privy to before.
This was her.
In her own home, completely unguarded, with no acts or personas, no purple-tinted shades to hide behind.
Octavia’s breath hitched at the sight. If only she could draw, if only she could capture the image forever and ever. But part of her knew that to record such a moment would be to strip away everything that made it unique. Instead, the cellist did the next best thing: embrace it. She let the rush of emotions flow over her body and through the air around them. This was their moment, one that could never be taken from them or replaced. A single, defining, experience that-
“Oh for the love of-“ hissed Octavia, ripping her phone out from the pouch still strapped to her hips.
“Can’t I have just one moment of artistic reflection? Who is this? What do you want?”
“Is that how the university is teaching you to speak to your mother?”
Her face dropped and she quickly climbed over Vinyl and onto the floor. Remarkably, the DJ didn’t even stir. “M-mother? Uh, no, mother, I’m sorry. H-how are you?” Searching desperately, she scrambled about for her bowtie before remembering it was back in her dorm. Being completely unclothed and messy made her feel about as unprepared for a chat with her mother as possible.
“Spare me the inane pleasantries, Octavia. I think we both know why I’m calling.” The voice on the other end sounded just as stern and commanding as she remembered.
The cellist spared a glance for her sleeping friend, but there was no other option. This phone call would turn ugly if Vinyl woke up halfway through. “I-I’m afraid I don’t know why. Is something wrong?”
“Something is indeed wrong. I spoke to a friend of mine who works at the university. He’s a groundskeeper, a stout old chap.”
Slipping out the door and closing it softly behind her, Octavia quickly descended the stairs. “Well he certainly sounds very interesting, mother, but what does he have to do with me?”
“When you insisted on staying in one of those hovels, I knew I had to take a few precautions. You are still a little naïve and suggestible, for all your talent. The groundskeeper was acquired and given a new purpose: to make sure you got home every night.”
She shoved through the ground floor doors and glared at the first pedestrian she saw, a young schoolcolt who immediately changed course. “You’ve been spying on me?!” she exclaimed, scaring a mare waiting at a carriage stop.
“Don’t go making this bigger than it is. Mares your age can often get side-tracked by silly pursuits such as romance and friendship. Those things are merely tools that you can use to advance in the world, nothing more.”
Octavia started trotting faster in the direction of the university. A whole new appreciation for what Vinyl had to deal with every time she had a class began to form, but it was not enough to distract from her fury. “I can’t believe you! So that speech about independence and ‘standing on my own four hooves’ you gave me on the day I left was completely meaningless, wasn’t it?”
“Oh, here you are going off on one of your melodramatic tantrums and you wonder why I’m so protective. You’re not as capable as you seem to think, Octavia, and the call I received from the groundskeeper proves it. You didn’t make it home after your odd early-morning excursion.”
The cellist resisted the urge to scream. “He watches my dorm while I sleep?!”
“Of course not, don’t be silly. He merely checks the campus security camera footage every morning. Now, explain yourself. Did you spend the night in somepony else’s bed?” She could almost feel the intense stare through the phone.
There was a sense of sick desperation in her forced chuckle. “I-I don’t understand-“
“You understand perfectly well. Tell me the truth.”
“I… yes I did, but it’s not-“
“Octavia! After everything I’ve taught you, you do something like this after only five weeks!”
“I swear I didn’t… she’s my friend, I was helping her-“
“She?” The line went dangerously silent. Heavy breathing distorted her mother’s voice. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying, young lady?”
“She was drunk and lost in the city so I helped her get home and she let me stay at her place but we didn’t do anything I swear!” blurted Octavia, ignoring the looks from amused bystanders.
“Are you certain?”
“Yes I’m certain!”
“So you’re not a…”
“N-no! I swe- Believe me, I’m not!”
“Good. I taught you better than that, at least. But still, I’m very disappointed in you. Don’t risk your safety like that again, especially not for some low-life drunk,” spat the older mare.
“She’s not a low-life, mother. She’s my friend,” Octavia replied quietly, dangerously. “My first friend.”
The satisfaction of silence was short lived. “Bah. We’ll see how long that lasts. Be a good filly and go to class.”
Octavia quickly returned her phone to her pouch to avoid stomping it into the sidewalk. Every single conversation with that insufferable pony ended like this! Constant insults and belittlement, all shred of control and independence ripped away in a matter of minutes, leaving her feeling like a ridiculous little filly.
Tears threatened to spill down her cheeks as she waved a carriage over. When she climbed aboard, the first one dripped onto the wooden floor and she tried to rub them away.
The driver turned around and peeked into the carriage. It was a small one, only meant for two ponies, and it had no roof. “Where to, darlin’?” he drawled.
“West Manehattan University, please,” she sniffled quietly.
“Righto. Uh, is everything okay?” The concern in his voice made her heart warm. Not all ponies are bad, she had to remind herself.
Octavia gave him a weak smile. “I’ll be alright. But thank you for asking.”
He nodded and began to move. They rumbled down the road to the sound of city life, shouting and chatting, laughter and anger, and as she listened, the cellist felt her own sadness trickle away. There were so many other ponies around her, all with their own problems and worries, and all of them probably more serious than an argument with her mother. It was a rush of perspective, and it was exactly what she needed.
Taking a deep breath, she dabbed at her eyes and tried to fix her mane. She would need a shower and a proper grooming session once she got home, but for now it was acceptable. With a start, Octavia realised she didn’t have any bits on her.
“Sir? I’m sorry, but I forgot to bring any money,” she said guiltily.
The tiny carriage didn’t pause for a second. “Then yer lucky I’m a sucker for cryin’ mares. No charge.”
Now that surprised her. There was being a kind and chivalrous pony, and then there was purposely wasting time that could be used making money. “No, I can’t let you do that. Stop, I’ll walk the rest of the way.”
“Nope, yer gonna enjoy the free ride.”
“Are you sure? You could be taking somepony else right now.”
“Missy, if my carriage gets you away from the source o’ yer tears faster, it’ll be worth it.” His dark brown coat glistened with sweat.
“Thank you.” It was all she could say. Such random generosity had been absent from her life until that moment. He had nothing to gain from helping her, he wasn’t trying to buy, manipulate or otherwise benefit from it. He was simply acting out of the goodness in his heart.
Now that was something her mother had never taught her about.
Glorious, horrible pain.
Beams of light raked against her skull via her eyes, pounding and throbbing to the beat of consequence.
“Never again,” croaked the DJ.
She lay there, wrapped in a cocoon of misery, wishing for anything to end her suffering. As usual, the deities that were supposed to help hungover ponies were probably sleeping off their own intoxication, and thus had no time to ease her pain.
Part of her wanted to sit up and try to force her body to get over it through sheer willpower, but the feeling in her throat meant that would be a very short-lived attempt. It seems as though once again the only solution was to suffer.
In the midst of her sluggish mind, Vinyl wondered why she had never looked into finding a spell that got rid of (or prevented entirely) hangovers. The answer was as clear as it was frustrating. When she wasn’t hungover, she didn’t care.
And so she groaned and moaned and swore at the sun, rolling back and forth while trying to push herself deeper into the bed. An eternity later, she raised her head. A few more eternities later, she sat up completely, marvelling at the rotary capacity of her room. Eventually she slid from the bed and dropped to the ground.
The first thing she looked for was her glasses. They were tinted for a reason, after all, and when she put them on the light was dulled and her headache eased slightly. The shower was next, and she let the warm water wash away all the sweat and dirt that had somehow formed in her sleep. Even the purple shades got a nice clean, so when she stepped out and dried herself, they sparkled with a devilish flair that she loved.
Slowly, the world stopped being horrible, and a degree of normalcy returned.
Vinyl heard a faint buzzing sound, and cast her eyes around for the offending mobile. It was amongst the sheets, the cushioning muffling its message tone.
[3 NEW MESSAGES]
Being popular was hard work.
>Sorry for leaving, my mother called and I didn’t want to wake you up.
>Wake up, sleepy head! :)
>You’re going to miss your second lecture if you don’t hurry!
Lectures! University! Those things still existed despite her bad start to the day.
Wait, she wasn’t going to go to them anyway. She had something else to do…
Wait, Octavia had been here?!
Too much stuff! Shut up, brain!
The DJ attempted to organise her thoughts.
Where was she last night? Shady! She went drinking with Shady! Vinyl remembered arriving at a bar, laughing and dancing with a drink floating before her and the stallion’s hoof around her waist, but that was it. After that, there were just blurry images and sensations punctuated with an oddly serene voice. “Come on then, let’s get you out of here.”
She flicked through her phone, looking for the call history. As she suspected, a single call had been made at about three in the morning… to Octavia.
“Oh Celestia, please tell me I didn’t do anything stupid…” she whispered. Some part of Vinyl remembered the texts she had inspected moments ago.
The cellist didn’t seem angry… in fact, there was a smiley face in the second message. What did that mean? Had something… good happened?
Like what? her mind prompted.
She moved on, latching on to the next hazy memory.
The lectures! The plan! Everything was still salvageable, if she moved quickly. It was still mid-morning, so Octavia would be in her Music Theory lecture. That left about an hour for Vinyl to get all of her belongings to the campus and into her new room.
This was going to be close…
Checking her phone was becoming something of a nervous habit. It didn’t help that the lecturer, a pudgy mare with too much makeup on, seemed to be under the weather, accentuating each sentence with a wet, hacking cough. For once, the cellist regretted sitting at the front of her class. Not only was she in the germ-zone, but it made indulging her new habit feel that much more shameful.
Surely, Octavia thought, she must be considered quite a rude student, pulling her phone out every few seconds. Yes, the other students did it too, but they were all sitting at the back of the room, far out of the bespectacled mare’s sight.
All she wanted to see was the little flash of light and those big words telling her that-
The earth pony snatched her phone up almost violently.
>Hey, I’m awake. Sorry if I did anything dumb last night, I can’t remember much.
And with one text, the cellist’s worries were assuaged.
>Finally! You’re going to miss half of your lecture now. And don’t worry; you were no different than usual while intoxicated.
Finally, now I can focus on taking notes.
Picking up her pen between her teeth, she took a moment to peruse the mind-numbing paragraph-length dot points that were arrayed on the projector screen. This week they were apparently studying one of the greatest yet under-appreciated composers in history. Well, at least until they died.
Octavia found that a bit sad, that their worth wasn’t realised until it was gone forever, but also inspiring, that even if her own music wasn’t popular or liked during her life, there was still hope that some future classical music enthusiasts would see her merit.
As engaging as she found the idea, it was still incredibly boring to write about. Most of it she had known for years, and the notes she jotted down would never be read because of that. But she wrote them anyway, if only to distract her from other things. An idle mind can be quite a nuisance sometimes.
Another glance at her phone revealed that the lecture was drawing to a close anyway, so she started packing away her things in advance. As expected, the last couple of slides were just reiterating information she knew by heart. Yes, his first attempt at professional composing came out in that year. Obviously. Yes, he was publicly denounced by the musical associations of those times. Everypony knew that. The only thing Octavia didn’t know about this class was why it seemed to think she was a little filly picking up a bow for the first time. Honestly, if a pony made it to this class at all, it would be assumed that they’d know a little bit about musical theory and which prominent figures influenced the modern system.
Sighing with relief, Octavia slid out of her chair and took her leave as the lecturer coughed her way through a side door.
The smile that had been gracing her lips all day returned in full force. It had been a rather emotional few hours after that horrid call from her ghastly mother, and though the kindness of the carriage driver did much to ease her mind, there were always going to be thoughts and worries rattling around the back of her head like loose screws.
Thankfully, it was only a short trip to her dorm. They were like mini apartment buildings, two stories with six rooms on each, and two ponies to a room. In total, there could be a maximum of twenty-four students to each building, though there were only seventeen-or-so in hers currently.
Well, that was going to change soon! A roommate was going to be moving in any day now, for better or worse.
As she climbed the stairs, Octavia heard hushed voices in the hallway above. Before she could investigate, a light-blue pegasus dropped down in front of her, blocking the way up.
“Hello!” she said cheerfully.
“H-hello there.” The cellist felt rather awkward for a moment, but then her demeanour brightened. “Oh, are you my new roommate?”
“Nope! I’ve been here for ages.” Her ice-blue eyes sparkled with untempered happiness.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise. Um, do you think I could go past? It’s been a long day.” The grey mare made to step around the other pony, but was quickly blocked by a sidestep.
“Wait! I have to ask you something first.”
Raising a hoof to motion for her to go ahead, Octavia’s ears twitched at the sound of something heavy thudding on her floor. The absolute last thing she felt like doing was helping this mare with homework, but she forced herself to be patient.
“How do you spell ‘stalling’? It’s been bugging me all day.”
“S-t-a-l-l-i-n-g. Perhaps you should invest in a dictionary?” she answered, trying to step to the right of the blonde-maned pegasus, who darted in front of her once again.
“Thanks so much! What about ‘delaying’?” That smile was starting to get infuriating. Further thuds echoed from above, plucking at her curiosity chords.
“D-e-l-a-y-i-n-g! If you would excuse me-“
“I-m-p-e-d-i-n-g! I really must-“
“What about ‘hindering’?”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but these are questions that you could easily direct towards a book, which doesn’t need sleep. Let me past,” she ordered, pushing forward irritably.
With two flaps, the mare fluttered out of the way and let Octavia storm up the last few steps. Finally, she trotted down the hallway and pushed her door open, ignoring calls from behind asking her to stop.
A stack of cardboard boxes and a pile of technical equipment.
A computer sitting amongst a tangle of wires on the second desk.
A bootstrap mixing table set up in the centre of the room.
A white unicorn peeking sheepishly at her from inside a half-sealed cardboard box.
“Uh, hey roomie!”
Woops, went over the word quota again. Oh well.
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First person to spot the Fight Club reference gets a little cameo in the next chapter.