(Took longer than I intended but here we are... the sun's coming up... again... )
Life in Canterlot was a mixture of business and pleasure, though few ponies realised it. No matter what your chosen profession in life you had to try and sell your talents. Many ponies did this at dinner parties and extravagant balls, casually dropping hints of what they did and how successful they were at doing it at seemingly random intervals to the ponies they were discussing with. Many conversations were actually started in such a way, a method of breaking the ice which at the same time determined whether or not the pony that was being spoken to was worth investing time in them.
A part of being a successful businesspony was making friends in high places, and after a long days work many a pony would take their business associates for a drink to wind down and discuss the day. As a result of that, there were many high class establishments to cater to that purpose. Bars with expensive drinks on offer and a dignified atmosphere were commonplace, and many of them were very popular with the local inhabitants.
The bar that Vinyl Scratch was taking Octavia too, however, seemed to be avoiding such a reputation. They had been walking for a solid twenty minutes, Vinyl insisting on not telling Octavia where it was they were actually going. The cellist was conscious of the fact she was travelling to the less wealthy side of Canterlot, the side with smaller buildings and less extravagantly attired ponies. By the time they reached their destination the sun was well on its way to setting, a tranquil twilight illuminating the building they now stood before.
“You drink here?” Octavia asked, her eyes scanning over the building’s exterior. It was a small structure with a single floor, and with what appeared to be aging red bricks on the outside walls. It didn’t match any of Canterlot’s typical building style, and by the looks of the ponies going in and out of the building, its patrons didn’t match the usual crowd she drank with either. “It’s a working ponies bar...”
“I always drink here,” Vinyl explained, happily trotting onwards towards the entrance, her eagerness urging Octavia forwards to keep up with her. “I can drink and be left alone without having to worry about who’s watching me or make sure I don’t offend someone. And if I do offend someone and they start something I can just buck them in the face and no pictures end up in the newspaper.”
“Charming,” was all Octavia said in response and she rolled her eyes and followed along, not too subtly tightening the strap of her bag around her chest.
Three ponies stood outside of the bar, a unicorn stallion and two pegasus of each gender, and they watched as the two mares approached. Vinyl only nodded towards them as she passed and they carried on with their conversations, much to Octavia’s relief. She’d heard stories of confrontations with strange ponies who became hostile after a beverage or two. Although she tried not to look down on the common folk she knew that there was a rift between the classes, and alcohol tended to be a fuel for such altercations between them.
She didn’t make eye contact with them as she passed by, only catching snippets of conversation which seemed to be revolving around a recent Wonderbolts show. Ignoring them for the moment she entered the building, not wanting to lose sight of Vinyl and finding herself alone.
As she expected, the smell of spilt drinks and alcohol instantly assaulted her nostrils. The doors opened up to a large room, chairs and tables haphazardly positioned around the open space with rows of booths with benches along both sides of the building. There were a good few ponies already inside, sat in groups or by themselves, sipping on all manner of drinks from spirits to beers in the darkly lit room
They all kept to their own business, only occasionally glancing up at Octavia as she walked by. She in turn did the same, smiling politely at the few she thought were pleasant enough until she came up the bar, where Vinyl was currently ordering drinks. “I don’t like this place,” she quietly said to the DJ, the bartender unable to hear her over the banging of wood and pouring of drinks.
“Don’t worry about it, Octy, it’s a nice place really, you’ll get used to it.” Vinyl smiled, motioning for Octavia to take a seat next to her at the bar.
“Can we at least sit in one of the booths?” the cellist asked, noticing that they were all vacant and offered at least a small amount of privacy from the occupants of the building. The bartended caught her attention as he placed two flagons on the counter, each one full to the brim with a frothy liquid which smelled strongly of fermented apples.
“Four bits,” he said, his voice grating and his eyes darting back and forth between the two mares.
Vinyl was quick to comply, levitating five golden coins from her bag and dropping them on the counter. She then grinned at the bartender and picked up the two drinks in her magical aura. “Keep the change.”
He grunted a thanks before sweeping up the coins and trotting off to deposit them in the till whilst Vinyl walked away towards the side of the room, leaving Octavia to follow along behind. The booth was as poorly illuminated as the rest of the room, the high window in the wall letting in less and less of the sun as it slowly descended below the horizon whilst the lights inside the building burned a dull orange, as if they were not far off from going out themselves.
The bench was a ruby red colour, and much to Octavia’s displeasure had several holes in it, revealing the worn sponge beneath. But seeing Vinyl hop up onto the seat and sitting on her haunches with very little regard to what condition the seats were in Octavia had little choice but to join her.
Once Octavia was seated rather awkwardly across from her Vinyl nudged the cider towards the grey mare and took a large gulp from her own, leaving behind froth around her muzzle which was quickly licked away. “Drink up; it’s best when it’s still settling.”
Octavia eyed the beverage before her, the liquid beneath the off-white foam on its surface concealed behind the wooden container. “I don’t normally drink cider...,” she began, but trailed off when she saw that Vinyl was watching her expectantly. “But I suppose if I’m to fit in I can’t really complain.” With that she slid her hoof into the handle and brought the drink to her lips.
The taste was sharp and sweet, but left a bitter aftertaste in her mouth as it flowed over her tongue. She grimaced somewhat at the flavours before placing the flagon back down on the table, an amused expression on Vinyl’s face being the first thing that she then noticed. “What?”
“You’re showing your age,” the DJ chuckled, receiving a confused blink from Octavia. “You’ve got a white beard around your muzzle, gramps.”
“I’ll have you know I’m nowhere near that old,” Octavia quickly replied, a blush rising to her cheeks as she dabbed away with the back of her hoof and removing the frothy offender.
“Whatever you say, Octy,” Vinyl replied before taking another gulp from her own drink and then looking around the room once again. “It’s pretty empty tonight; there are usually a lot more ponies in here drinking. I guess it’s just one of those evenings.”
“I take it you’re a regular to notice such things,” Octavia asked, drawing Vinyl’s attention once more. “I know you said you drink here all the time but I didn’t think you actually meant all the time. Are you even in Canterlot that often?”
“Nah, not too often. But whenever I am I do choose to come here. I don’t really enjoy all the fancy drinks and haughty company that comes with this city so I tend to slum it a bit when I’m here.”
“You know I’m one of those fancy drink drinkers and haughty types you’re talking about, right?” Octavia challenged with an eye brow quirked, which soon vanished as she cringed once more after taking another sip from her drink.
“No you’re not, you’re different,” Vinyl laughed, clinking her flagon against Octavia’s. “You’re not afraid to fraternize with the enemy. There wasn’t a single pony at my gig last night that didn’t have a high class job or a second property in the countryside except for you.”
“Well I’ve been told I’m quite impressionable...” Octavia mumbled, but Vinyl continued.
“And since there’s an exception to every rule, you’re the exception that proves the rule that stuck up ponies don’t know how to have fun.”
Octavia smiled inwardly and ignored the fact the DJ has misused the expression - like so many other ponies - and carried on in spite of it. “Vinyl, there aren’t exceptions to every rule.”
“There are to my rules, how else would I get around them? It’d be pretty hypocritical of me of I broke my own rules. I mean come on, Octy, are you calling me a hypocrite?” Vinyl asked, and despite the serious look that adorned her face, Octavia knew she was joking.
“Of course not, Vinyl, you’re absolutely right.” Octavia chuckled, then realised just what it was that the DJ has said. “Wait... you think I’m stuck up?”
Vinyl sputtered and coughed on her cider as Octavia asked her question, her lips forming a hurt frown whilst her ears rested against her head. “No, of course not!” she quickly gasped out, her lungs heaving after trying to make sure she hadn’t inhaled her drink. “You’re not stuck up... you’re just uptight... well most of the time at least.”
“I am not uptight,” Octavia protested, her head turning to the side and nose pointing towards the ceiling with a snort.
“Suuure, you’re not uptight at all.” Octavia caught the sarcasm and was about to retort, until she realised her head was still upturned. “I mean look at you. We’re out for a drink and you’re sat like you’re having your portrait done. You’re back is straight, you’re legs are perfectly angled and your tail is perfectly curled around your front. You keep eyeing the ponies in this place as if they’re going to mug you and you’re sipping your drink as if it’s a fine wine. Loosen up a little, Octy.”
The cellist looked down at herself, and realised that Vinyl was right; though she didn’t want to admit it to her just yet. “It’s not my fault that I was educated well. This is how we were all taught to sit like when with company in an unknown setting, it’s the least likely to offend.”
“Well it can’t be comfortable. Why don’t you try slouching?”
“It’s bad for posture and can...” Octavia began but Vinyl’s look she gave her from over her glasses made her stop. With a sigh the cellist relented, leaning forwards a little more and allowing her forelegs to slacken a little. She had to admit that the loss of tension in her back did feel better. “Satisfied?”
“Not until you catch me up,” Vinyl then said before gulping down the rest of her flagon’s contents, a very slight trickle of the cider dribbling down the DJ’s chin until it was wiped away with a hoof and the container slammed down onto the table with a thud. A challenge if Octavia had ever seen one.
She looked down at her own drink, three quarters still full, and then back up towards Vinyl who wore the most contemptible grin she’d ever seen. “I will not be goaded into a drinking contest with you, Vinyl,” was all Octavia had to say on the matter, which only widened Vinyl’s smile.
“Well if you say so, Octy, I guess you just don’t have it in you to take me on. Lyra would have done it in a heartbeat; Lyrists must be made of sterner stuff.”
“That has nothing to do with it,” Octavia huffed, clearly irritated by the notion of such a comparison between musical professions, “drinking contests are just... just so uncouth.”
“I’ll tell you what, if you down that drink we can head out of here and you can choose a bar to drink in.”
“Oh really?” The bar was becoming busier, Octavia was finding it difficult to track the ponies that were entering and whether she should be worried about any of them. She knew full well she was probably being paranoid but she couldn’t help it; she rarely visited bars like the one she was seated in. “Any bar that I choose?”
“Any bar you choose, no matter how classy or fancy it may be... or wherever you’re willing to take me that won’t tarnish your reputation. Something tells me you don’t think I can pull the sophisticated mare type off.” The DJ grinned at her once more, pushing Octavia to take her up on her challenge.
The cellist stared back at the unicorn, neither one moving until her hoof reached for her drink and brought it to her mouth. She then proceeded to tilt it back along with her neck and in several long draughts she slammed it back down on the table. “Ok, I’m done. Let’s go.”
The earth pony made to remove herself from the table but Vinyl remained sat there and stared at her. “Hey, wait, that’s not fair!”
“And why isn’t it fair? I played your silly little game by your rules and now I get to change our venue,” Octavia stated with an expressionless face. “If you’re not happy with the outcome it’s not my fault, just-” the cellist paused as her stomach bubbled, the sound inaudible to those around her but she could feel it brewing. Before she could stop herself and with her hoof halfway towards her mouth, a large belch escaped her, a horrified expression quickly following.
Before Octavia realised it, Vinyl had fallen on to her side, laughing loudly across her seat whilst the few ponies that were nearby stared at them. As the laughter continued the rest of the occupants began to look too and Octavia felt like her face would combust with the heat she felt growing in it. “Vinyl, stop laughing!” she commanded, but it did little to dissuade the unicorn who continued to giggle and gasp for breath.
With a stomp of her hoof and an indignant snort the cellist quickly turned and stormed towards the exit, ignoring the eyes on her as she left. Once she’d exited the building Vinyl eventually managed to control herself, stumbling over her hooves as she made her way out of the booth to follow. “Hey, Octy, wait!” she called out, still chuckling as she cantered after her.
The VIP lounge of the Canterlot Music Association was as busy as it ever was during the evening. Dozens of ponies sat at tables on plush cushions and stood in groups around the room, discussing the current trends of music and which instruments were currently in and what was out. Almost all of them were accomplished musicians in their own rights, and the rest were either benefactors or wealthy enough to gain membership.
Sat at a table in the centre of the room, Octavia and Vinyl were sipping on their drinks; each had a glass of Berry Punch’s Finest on the cellist’s tab. The rich, sweet and smoky flavour was doing an excellent job of cleansing Octavia’s taste buds of the cider she’d been drinking not twenty or so minutes ago. Sat in an environment she was familiar with the grey mare could tolerate Vinyl’s constant quips, yet on the street as they were walking she’d almost lost her composure.
“You should try playing the tuba, you’ve definitely got the lungs for it,” Vinyl tried once more, attempting to get a rise from the cellist in front of her. Octavia had long gotten over her ill timed bodily function however, and just sipped at her glass, eyes closed in contemplation. “You’re boring when you’re with your own kind...”
“I’m not boring, I just know when to behave myself,” the cellist replied, earning a grumble from Vinyl. Satisfied that she’d lived down her embarrassment for the time being, Octavia began to enjoy her surroundings more. Soft music was being played from the few ponies positioned on a stage in the far corner, adding an ambience of calmness and serenity to the room. She soon found herself relaxing, until she heard the crack of glass.
Her eyes snapped open to behold the sight of Vinyl precariously holding her wine glass in her magical grip, the stem of which was bent slightly to the left and clearly no longer attached properly. “Oops...” was all Vinyl had to say, her head turning from her glass and back to Octavia. “I guess they’re not as strong as I thought.”
“Honestly, Vinyl, it’s just a wine glass, how much strength did you possibly think you needed to lift it?” The DJ just shrugged in response, bringing the glass to her lips and drinking deeply from it. “Do you do that with every drink? You’re meant to savour it.”
“I don’t drink wine, it doesn’t do much for me to sit and go over the taste on my palette and guess the age,” Vinyl replied, her head held upwards with a hoof over her chest. Her tone of voice was also deliberately obnoxious and Octavia guessed she was being made fun of.
“Fine, what do you want to drink; champagne, or how about a sherry?”
“Sherry?” Vinyl’s brow rose, her glasses glaring back at the mare in front of her. “What am I, an old maid?”
“Champagne then,” Octavia huffed.
“What are we celebrating?”
“Then we can’t have champagne.”
“Alright, whisky?” Octavia asked, and then frowned as she noticed the look of glee upon Vinyl’s face. “You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you?”
“Of course, how else am I going to entertain myself?” the unicorn asked, her tone giving the impression that her answer was obvious. “I’ll just have some more wine, until we go to a different place.”
“A different place?” Octavia glanced around the room, seemingly looking for the reason why Vinyl would want to leave. She then had a different notion strike her and she eyed the DJ carefully. “I thought we were just having a drink together, surely you don’t plan for this to go on all night?”
“Well you said yourself that you don’t have any plans for tomorrow, and I’m a night pony anyway.” The DJ shrugged, watching and then nodding as a passing pegasus mare working for the lounge offered to take Vinyl’s now empty and broken glass and replace it with a new and full one. “I mean don’t get me wrong, this place is nice and all but it’s not really what I was expecting when I wanted to go out on the town.”
“Well you said no clubs,” Octavia replied, taking her time with her own glass and enjoying another sip, “and I plan on holding you to that word. Besides, you can’t leave here until you complete a challenge set by me.”
“I’m still playing by your rules, Vinyl,” Octavia then continued, the slightest of smiles on her face that the DJ was beginning to get better and better at detecting. “You let me choose this establishment off the back of your crude drinking game so you can’t choose the next place for us to drink on your proposed bar hopping until you complete a challenge.”
“Alright, I’m game, what’s your challenge?”
“I need time to consider one; something tells me that a similar task to what you had me do won’t be much of a challenge to a mare such as yourself.” The pegasus returned with Vinyl’s drink just as Octavia drained the last of hers. With her glass now empty she ordered another glass to go along with Vinyl’s and the mare trotted off once more in the direction of the bar. “Though I don’t think it should involve drink,” she continued, “we’re having enough of that as it is.”
“This is nothing,” Vinyl smiled, taking her glass more gently in her magical grip than before and bringing it to her lips. “I used to drink lots when I first started out in my career... I guess I was taking advantage of all the bits I suddenly had, especially after struggling with it in college.”
“No, with bits, I’m not an alcoholic, Octy,” the unicorn laughed, causing Octavia to cough and mutter an apology. “Nah, Lyra and I had to pool our bits together to make sure we could afford to live and study. We still enjoyed ourselves though, we weren’t poor but we just needed to budget for things. Not having to worry about bits when I started DJing professionally just allowed me to splash out, I suppose.”
“I imagine it would have been an odd sensation...” Octavia couldn’t pretend to know how Vinyl had felt when she became successful. For her, bits had never been an issue. Her family was reasonably fortunate in their respective professions and her education had been paid for in full with accommodation and other expenses taken care of. When she’d joined the Canterlot Philharmonic Orchestra her successes just meant that she could stop relying on her parents’ wealth and pay her own way; her lifestyle had never changed much.
They remained in silence for a few moments as Octavia remained in thought. The pegasus once more came to their table and deposited a fresh glass of wine, and Octavia resumed sipping. She noticed that Vinyl was now doing the same, taking her time with her drink and keeping the same pace. The cellist could already feel the first signs of fuzziness clouding around the edges of her vision. She wasn’t drunk, but she was beginning to experience the alcohol’s effects and she wondered if despite all Vinyl’s bravado whether or not she was feeling the same.
“So, you live in Ponyville.” It was eventually said, breaking the quiet bubble that had descended upon them. “Were you born there or do you just live there? I don’t exactly know that much about you aside from the facts that you’re a DJ, you went to college with Lyra, and you’re not afraid to have breakfast with strangers.”
“Depends on how good a company the stranger is, so far you haven’t bored me to death.” Vinyl chuckled in response, raising her glasses so that they rested against her horn, allowing Octavia to make actual eye contact with her. “I’m a Ponyvillian born and raised. It’s a nice place, but you’ll see when you visit that it’s not really a place a pony can really make it big. It’s more of a tight knit community than an opportunistic city. I even had to go to a different city to get to college.”
“And Lyra went with you?”
“Well... we were kind of a... thing, would probably best describe it...” Vinyl mumbled, her eyes averting from Octavia’s to stare into her wineglass.
“A couple? I thought you were just really good friends, I hadn’t thought of you as a... well, you know.” It was then Octavia’s turn to inspect the scenery as Vinyl looked back up, eyes narrowed.
“A what, a fillyfooler?”
Octavia visibly winced. “That wasn’t the word I was going to use, and please, this is a sophisticated lounge, don’t use that word.” Vinyl’s ruby eyes remained fixed on her, a slight frown on her muzzle and Octavia felt the need to continue. “I mean no offense, Vinyl, it’s just Canterlot doesn’t see that much of it so it’s unusual for me to come across three mare’s all of the same persuasion.”
Vinyl continued to stare, making Octavia feel more uncomfortable by the second under the scrutiny. Eventually however, a grin broke on the DJ’s face and she giggled. “I know, I just wanted to see your face if you thought you’d really offended me.” She continued to giggle, until Octavia surreptitiously kicked her. The nearby ponies in the room turned to look as the unicorn yelped, but all they saw was Vinyl rubbing her front hooves over a spot on her knee and Octavia casually sipping her wine.
When everypony had returned to their conversations Octavia leaned in towards Vinyl. “You deserved that, it’s not nice to make other ponies feel bad. I’d thought I’d really offended you.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Vinyl grumbled, picking up her wineglass and downing the drink as she had done in the previous bar, much to Octavia’s distaste. “If you want to continue our conversation then we’re switching bars.”
“But I haven’t thought of a suitable challenge yet.”
“Alright, we can wait for that if you want to...” Vinyl trailed off, looking around the room before grinning as her eyes set upon a group of mares at a table on the other side of the room. “But whilst you do that I’m going to go and introduce myself to those ponies over there, see if I can get us a couple of dates.”
“Excuse me?” Octavia blinked, her head turning to where Vinyl was looking and then snapping back towards the unicorn. “No, you are not. I know those ponies; you’re going nowhere near them.”
“C’mon, what’s the worst that could happen? Of course if you don’t want me to we could always go someplace else... somewhere a bit livelier, maybe with music... and dancing?” the unicorn continued and gave a mischievous wink.
Octavia frowned deeply, but her attention kept darting back and forth from the ponies on the other table and the pony she was sharing a drink with. “I’m not looking for a date, especially with a mare and you promised me you weren’t going to take me to any clubs.” It was a hopeless argument, but she gambled that Vinyl would carry through with her promise if reminded.
“But I’m bored!” the unicorn exclaimed, hooves up in the air and drawing a few eyes before she sank back down and leant on the table. “As lovely as your company is, Octy, I need entertainment. I need beats, loud music, dancing. I love being a DJ but I don’t get to enjoy what the ponies I perform for enjoy. I’d have given anything to have been on the dance floor with you, Lyra and Bon-Bon last night.”
“But I-” the cellist began, wanting to argue. Without her glasses on, Vinyl could use her full facial expressions to her advantage. Her eyes were half open, looking down at her empty glass once more, which she toyed with between her hooves. A sad frown had replaced the usual smiles and grins that Octavia had come to expect from the unicorn, and her ears were flat against her head.
She took one last look at the mares in the group on the other table, in particular the pale blue coated and brown maned earth pony and the yellow coated and purple maned mare sat next to her; members of her ensemble, Beauty Brass and Symphony. She then sighed before looking back at Vinyl with a defeated expression. “Fine, let’s go.”
“Great!” came the exuberant and loud reply, catching Octavia off guard who frowned once more as Vinyl jumped to her hooves with her shades back down and a beaming smile. “You’re too easy, Octy.”
“I think I hate you,” was Octavia’s quick response with her head down, carefully trying to avoid making eye contact with the whole room which was once again staring at her. “Just hurry up and let’s go before-” she continued, but when she looked back up she could see that Vinyl was no longer with her. She looked towards the exit just in time to see a swish of an electric blue tail vanish out the doorway.
Faced with the prospect of being the centre of attention and not wanting to draw any more towards her, she quickly followed, nodding a goodbye towards the pegasus mare who had served them. “I’m never bringing her back here again,” she muttered under her breath as she quietly left the room.
Beauty Brass had watched her leave, as much confusion etched on to her face as there was on Symphony’s. The two mares eventually focused back on each other, as well as the two other mare’s that sat with them. “Who was that she was with?” the violinist began.
Beauty Brass simply shrugged. “No idea, but Octavia never comes here with anypony but us... you don’t think...”
“What?” Symphony pushed once Beauty had trailed off. “That she’s on a date?”
“Well she doesn’t really talk to anypony outside the orchestra, and we’ve known her for years. She’s never mentioned a special somepony before and now she’s drinking wine and acting all odd with a strange mare neither of us have seen before... never mind, it’s a silly thought without knowing all the facts, we’ll just ask her when we next see her.”
“Silly... but fun to imagine,” Symphony chuckled, shortly followed by Beauty who couldn’t help but agree before they all continued with their evening.