I recall equal parts blurred vision and smug satisfaction when I awoke. My first thought was to examine myself for injury. My second was to aim away from the bed as I vomited. My head ached, and despite however long I had been asleep, I was still drowsy.
I considered this a victory. As cruel as she was, my mother never lost control. I had to have hit a sore spot with her to make her knock me out that suddenly. My throat was aching and my head was pounding. I idly watched the clock while drifting in and out of sleep.
Orchestra practice was at six. Around five I was awake long enough to realize how hungry I had become. I did not look forward to making a trip to the kitchen. Once my body had recovered from the nausea, I got out of bed and approached the door. It creaked slightly as I pushed the door open enough to glance out into the hallway. My parents were not in sight, and my goal was to keep it that way. Quickly and quietly, I made my way to the kitchen.
Each short hallway felt like a trap, yet I managed to make it to the kitchen unnoticed. The chef was preparing some daisy sandwiches.
I approached him quietly and submissively. My hunger was too great to risk upsetting the stallion with half a dozen sandwiches in front of him. “May I?”
“Glad to see you up. Take as many as you want,” he said.
“Thanks.” I scooped up a few sandwiches. “You know, ponies aren’t usually nice to me. What’s your motive? What do you get out of it?”
He stood in silence for a moment, averting his gaze. “You remind me of somepony. I failed them, and have to live my life being reminded of that failure everyday. Helping you makes it feel better.”
I stood there in silence for a moment. “You know, I wish I had grown up with earth pony parents like you.” I turned and exited the kitchen.
It was a relief to make it back to my room and eat in peace. After finishing my meal, I saw I had about twenty minutes left to compose some music. A jubilant violin and cello duet was playing non-stop in my head. If there was time, I would have listened to the beautiful song all night. My mind needed to be clear to play my cello tonight, so I composed it and would enjoy the duet later.
I hastily scribbled the staccato eighth notes for the violin onto the page. Below them sat the whole and half notes of a harmonic chord on the cello. Pianissimo, then a crescendo into fortissimo, then a decrescendo back to pianissimo. The music was alive and wrote itself onto the page. The technical terms of my craft are meaningless to one who can feel the music flowing through their veins.
My hooves glided across the page until I heard a knocking at my door. I stopped scribing my work and felt twinges of pain shoot up from my hooves. Ignoring my urge to continue writing, I managed to pull my forelegs back under my control. I walked to the door expecting to find my mother, and was relieved to see the butler.
“It’s time for concert practice, m’lady,” he said flatly.
It tickled me each time he called me that. His professionalism truly knew no bounds. I’d often suspected that for all the occasions I had given him a hard time, he might have gone so far as to ask my father to punish me. He seemed neutral enough to dispel such notions.
I began to walk out the door and he stopped me. “Your cello.”
“I left it at the theater,” I replied.
“No, it is right there.” He pointed with a hoof to my cello stand.
“Oh.” Just as he had indicated, my maplewood cello sat neatly on its stand in the corner. I went over and placed it into its case and strapped it on my back. My mind must have been too focused on composing to realize it had been brought back by the butler.
“Very well, buttered toast, lead me to yon theater!” I marched out of the room, balancing the cello on my back. After the operant conditioning my parents used to train me to carry the bulky instrument, I never dropped it. I could still feel a twinge of pain when it cantered off balance towards my left side. Not even I could argue with the effectiveness of their technique.
My smile ceased and my expression went cold when I saw my parents waiting near the door. Neither of them spoke. Even though neither of them spoke, their message was clear. Don’t you dare run off again, you insolent brat.
It did not take long for me to reach the theater. Lyra seemed surprised to see me, and after the practice concluded, I found out why.
“Octavia! What happened to you?” Lyra asked.
“Huh? Do I have a bruise?” I looked myself over again, and noticed the bow tie. “Ugh, not this again.” I tore the bow tie off and threw it on the ground.
“What bruises? No, you missed practice yesterday! The night before that, you went home with Vinyl and were gone when she woke up.”
“Yeah, I was nervous when I woke up in bed with—wait, yesterday? What day is it?”
“It’s Wednesday. Are you feeling okay?” She placed a hoof on my forehead.
“Son of a . . . I was out cold for a whole day?”
“I figured it’d be worse than a cold.”
“Nevermind. I need a night off. Let’s go back to the nightclub!” I exclaimed.
“You sure? I know Vinyl and Bon Bon would like to see you’re okay. You’re just acting odd.”
“Odd? I uh. . . guess it would look that way. I mean, I did freak out a little when I woke up in Vinyl’s apartment.” I smiled weakly.
“When you woke up in her apartment, composed a symphony on napkins, pizza boxes, a few pieces of parchment, and a twelve-pack of beer, and then ran away? Yeah, just a little odd.”
“What can I say? Inspiration strikes in odd places. Now, I’d like to get out of here before the butler finds me. My parents don’t approve of fun and sent him to watch over me.”
“Heh,” Lyra chuckled. “I can understand that. I can’t imagine spending my whole life stuck behind a cello and a desk full of parchment.”
“Consider yourself lucky.”
“Considering all the drinking we’ve been doing, Vinyl and Bon Bon are at my apartment. We’re just going to relax tonight.”
“Alright,” I responded.
Lyra walked away from the downtown district that had become so familiar to me lately. We were somewhere East of the theater, between downtown and the noble district. The streets were packed with apartments and not much else. At least the roads and sidewalks were clean, and the planters had living flowers in them.
Lyra and Bon Bon lived in an apartment identical to the rest on the street. Each one had grey outer walls, windows evenly spaced in pairs, and a single door leading inside. Past a small atrium were stairs leading up to the various dwellings. Lyra’s room was number seven, which caused me to giggle. I thought a simple number could foreshadow my good fortune.
Upon entering her apartment, I was taken aback. It had the most amazing patterned carpeting, being grey with speckled brown and black spots throughout. Lyra’s simple brown sofas looked much more comfortable than the chesterfield with silver trim in my room. Vinyl gestured me over to the sofa.
I was sure my parents or the butler had some sort of trick up their sleeves. Perhaps they had let me sneak out again, and were devising some worse punishment. Hed the butler been instructed to follow me to Lyra’s apartment? Maybe they wanted to come and take my friends away.
I pushed the thought from my head. Tonight would be fun. If I didn’t die of embarrassment from how I ran off last night, I’d get to spend more time with Vinyl. Maybe she could tell me what it was like to live a wild life. Perhaps the partying, drinking, and sleeping with stallions and mares was a lifestyle worth envying.
It turned out to be Vinyl’s night off, so we had some time to chat. We sat on the couch with a couple of mixed drinks while Lyra and Bon Bon talked quietly in the chairs near their fireplace.
“Hey, Octy. Sorry about the whole apartment thing. You could barely walk and I had to levitate you back to my place,” Vinyl explained.
“Oh . . . thanks.” I blushed and felt a little relief.
“You had me worried when you vanished. Then I found the music you scribbled all over my stuff! I had no idea you could compose dubstep.”
“Yeah I get these urge—wait, what? What’s dubstep?”
Vinyl laughed and adjusted her sunglasses. “Funny. You were tagging music left and right in my apartment. Half of it had some pretty sick beats, the other half looked like boring classical stuff.”
“Vinyl, no. I thought I—I was composing a string quartet piece. . . I had to get the music out of my head, it was driving me crazy. Then the headache, and all that bright light—I heard you waking up and panicked. I thought we—I thought you and I. . . slept together.”
A short gasp escaped her lips. “Octy, I wouldn’t take advantage of you. You’re lucky to still be innocent, and that’s worth protecting. Stick with me and I’ll make sure nothing bad happens to you.”
“Thanks, I’d like that.” I had never been called innocent before. It was hard to believe there was innocence left after my cruel upbringing.
“So, what did mommy think of your drunken all-nighter?” Vinyl chuckled.
“What—” I was caught off guard. What should I say? ’Oh nothing much, Vinyl. She choked me out the instant she saw me. I told her I had slept with a mare, then I spat blood in her face. It’s all good, though. She only knocked me unconscious for a day and a half. The vomiting and drowsiness probably wasn’t a concussion.’
“She didn’t say anything,” I lied. “She was just glad you weren’t a drunk stallion.”
“Heh, at least they were cool about it.” Vinyl leaned forward and whispered. “So I suppose you just fell down the stairs onto your throat, and then missed band practice?”
I instinctively raised my hoof to my throat. My trachea was still sore, and I hadn’t taken a look at it. Had the bow tie been hiding a bruise? Did Vinyl know? My eyes darted around a bit, and I quickly drank the rest of whatever drink Bon Bon had mixed me.
“Calm down, it’s cool. I’m here, if you ever wanna talk about it.” Vinyl smiled warmly.
I nodded politely and sighed in relief. “Thanks. I uh—I’m curious about your eyes. Why wear sunglasses indoors?”
“Heh, well it’s all part of the DJ Pon3 persona. You’re alright, kid. I’ll let you in on a little secret.” Vinyl leaned forward and lifted the glasses up, revealing two red irises. “I’m a vampire.”
I had screamed before I realized what had happened. Vinyl’s eyes shot wide open and she put the shades back on, leaning back. Glancing around I saw Lyra and Bon Bon staring at me, and chuckled nervously. Vinyl joined in on the laughter.
“Whoa, Octy, I was just kidding. I wear sunglasses because red is such a rare eye color. Ponies used to tease me about it.”
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” I said. “I actually think they’re beautiful.”
“Thanks, and relax. We’re here to take it easy. Bon Bon, can you make screwdrivers please?”
“Sure thing,” she answered, smiling.
“What’s a screwdriver?”
“It’s what you use to drive screws around,” Vinyl replied.
“Oh, ok.” I smiled and leaned back into the sofa, relaxing.
Vinyl cocked her head to the side. “Lyra wasn’t kidding about you being sheltered. It’s orange juice and vodka. Figured I’d introduce you to the breakfast drink of champions. Well, it’s tied with bloody marys, actually.”
“That’s nice of you. There is one thing I’ve been wondering, Vinyl.”
“When I compose, I hear this music in my head that nopony else can hear. My mother says it’s my muse, but neither she nor Lyra have ever heard music in their head. Do you ever hear music that you have to play on stage?”
Vinyl shifted in place and began to bob her head. “Like the idea for a wicked bass line that you just keep thinking about until you find the right beat for it?”
“No, I literally hear it. It echoes off the walls. Sometimes it is above me, other times all around me. No matter where I go or what I do, I continue to hear the music. The only way to make it stop is to compose it. It is loud enough to keep me up at night.”
“Hmm,” Vinyl stopped imagining a new beat and looked back at me. “Well, Lyra says the stuff you write is amazing. I’m no expert, but that sounds like a decent trade-off for writing such awesome music.”
I blushed at the compliment. I had never considered just how long my music might outlive me. Would our grandchildren be playing my music? Would Celestia and Luna be hearing my song at a gala in a thousand years ?
Bon Bon came back with the drinks and left us to our private chat. I tried my screwdriver, and found it harsh but enjoyable. Thanks to Vinyl pacing me, I wasn’t worried about passing out and waking up in her bed again. I was enjoying this night out. There was some music annoying me, begging to be composed, but I tuned it out.
“So, Vinyl, what’s it like to do whatever you want all the time? No parents bossing you around, nopony controlling your every move?”
“Hmm, I never really thought about it. Being a DJ is my passion. The first time I heard electronic music was after sneaking into a nightclub. I wasn’t old enough to be there, but I knew after seeing the DJ table, speakers, wiring, and lights that I had to try it. That night after closing, I snuck back in to mess with it. That was when I discovered my cutie mark. I love what I do more than anything. Being free is just a part of growing up. You have to become an adult and leave your Parents’ house eventually.”
“That sounds nice. . .” I sipped my drink and imagined moving out of my Parents’ house. It’d take an act of Celestia, or their untimely deaths, to make that a reality.
“You do love music, right? And you plan to move out?” Vinyl inquired.
“I’m not sure I get to move out. My parents are very. . . strict. They built my whole life to turn me into an expert musician and composer. Heck, I don’t even know how I got my cuti—” I cut myself off and quickly guzzled my drink.
Vinyl mouthed a few words before speaking. “Wait, did you almost say you don’t know how you got your cutie mark?”
I laughed nervously for a moment. “Uh, not really. I sorta got hurt one day and woke up with a cutie mark and a cello. That was the first time I started hearing music, playing, composing. . . don’t get me wrong. I enjoy it. The only time I get to be alone is when I’m playing or composing. I lose myself in the music, forgetting about all the bad things in my life.”
I sighed and looked down at the grimy floor. Barely a few days had passed after getting out of the house and meeting other ponies. Already the stark contrast between their carefree lives and mine was crushing.
My train of thought was interrupted by a glint reflecting off something.
Vinyl began to speak again, but I couldn’t hear her. My attention had been captured by four strings dangling from a cross of wood in the air. A gentle breeze passed the strings, causing a sorrowful chord to play. At the end of each string hung a set of small metal hooks. I had enough experience by now to know they did not bode well.
I tried to recall why this was happening. It usually seemed to occur when I needed encouragement to compose or play music. Aside from a hastily composed duet earlier, I hadn’t composed for three days. Tonight at practice my cello parts had been unchallenging. All night long I played slow chords and whole notes.
Were they here, dangling in front of me, as a threat? I had to decide what I would do as they inched closer to us. I could make a scene and fight it, or I could go willingly. Would they release me this time? What infernal tormentor had sent them for me?
My distress must have been written on my face. I could feel my eyes widen and my heart pounding in my chest. My distress had to be easily visible to Vinyl.
“Octy, what’s wrong?” Genuine concern was apparent in her voice. “Ow!” she yelped when one of the hooks pricked her leg and then pulled out. The small nick caused Vinyl to look around in confusion.
“I need to get home now. Thank you, tonight was wonderful.”
I leaped off the sofa and ran out of the apartment. I turned to look behind me and saw the hooks jingling on the pavement in pursuit. “You want me to compose!” I shouted. “I’m going!”
In my confusion I nearly got lost in the unfamiliar district. I ran as quickly as I could, not looking back again. If I ran fast enough, I could beat the hooks home and convince my mother I had not gone out for drinks again. She’d likely punish me regardless, yet it was worth a shot.
The mansion came into view. The sense of dread from being chased by the entity had dissipated. Circling around to the Servants’ entrance to my estate, I finally slowed down. I knocked a few times, and after a couple minutes the chef came and opened the door.
“Thanks,” I whispered as I jogged past him and headed up to my room. I would have to calm down and wait for the music to return to me with something meaningful. There had only been bits and pieces of music all night, like a middle eight for a woodwind section, or a fanfare for the brass. In order to appease the ghastly puppeteer, I would have to compose an entire orchestral arrangement.
I turned on the lights to my room, moaning as my family portait came into view on the wall. It showed my parents dressed in their fancy suits. It showed me, cowering between them on my belly, with my ears lowered. As far as family portraits go, it could have been worse.
I walked over to my desk and remembered that I had left my cello and bow tie at the theater. The butler would have grabbed the cello, but I’d rather not get a surprise visit from my mother. I searched my closet until I found a discarded red bow tie. My hooves struggled with the fabric as I attached it to my neck. It was obvious from the large, loose knot that I had just put it on.
I sat at the desk and sighed, dipping a quill in ink. Perhaps one day I would make my parents proud enough to buy me a pen. I’d heard nothing but good things about them from the servants.
I felt the strings cross my back like a spider web, sending a chill down my spine. My body froze as I awaited a pin prick. Instead, I felt the bow tie fix itself. It almost looked normal, and just in time. My mother had chosen that moment to visit me.
She had been in the mood to sneak up on me lately. Luckily, the muse that supplied me with so much wonderful music had me covered. The sonata buzzing around my head turned into a dirge. The brass section began to carry the beat with a foreboding fanfare. I scribbled the notes down as quickly as I could. Perhaps I could present this composition to my mother as a birthday present. ’Here you go, Mother. This song is what I think of you. Notice how I still have enough talent to write good music. Do you remember what that feels like?’
“You look awfully happy. I’m glad you’re hard at work and not sneaking off to a bar. It is odd, though, that the butler carried in your cello. I’ve told you never let anypony else handle your cello,” Mother cooed.
I had become used to when she wanted to lull me into a false sense of security. She got bored of tormenting me, and liked to mix it up once in a while. I wiped the smug grin off my face and turned to face her.
“Hello, Mother. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Can’t I drop in to see my favorite little girl? I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to you if you keep sneaking out, so I’ve brought a little incentive.”
This was it, time to take a shot at her pride before she revealed her newest invention. “Indeed, I would hate to get knocked up by a unicorn and have a filthy unicorn foal.”
She was actually stunned speechless, mouth agape, for a moment. It had become a game between us. She would come and taunt me, I would make my quips, and she would punish me. The implications of what I had said caught her off guard, a rare victory.
I completely forgot I was poking a bear with a stick as my laughter echoed throughout the room. Mother jammed a cloth into my mouth and fastened it around my head, gagging me. “Mmph mmph,” I mumbled.
“It really is a shame, that filthy tongue of yours. Perhaps if I can’t cut it out I could just have you chew on a hot coal for a couple minutes? I heard the Gryphons did that to Pegasi prisoners of war.” She walked over to the hearth where the servants had started a fire to keep me warm.
She wouldn’t. . . there was no way. . .
“Sadly,” she whined, “I have been instructed not to do anything drastic, yet. Your father has a contingency plan, should you continue to rebel. For now, I’m just going to use the old-fashioned method to keep you from running away.”
She turned to stare at me, malice radiating from her like heat from the sun. I got up slowly and walked over to the bed. My hope was to placate her and give her a false sense of security. I had even put the damned bow tie on. I lay down on top of the covers and closed my eyes.
“Nice try, Octavia. You could lick my hooves clean and I still wouldn’t believe you’ve learned your lesson. How many times have you been to the bar?”
I rolled onto my belly as she approached me. She wasn’t the only one who could trick somepony, and I never did it the easy way. Now it was her turn.
“Three times. Three times you’ve run away after orchestra practice. Isn’t it enough we finally let you out of the house without us by your side? Must you act like an ignorant rock farmer? Must you confirm our beliefs that you are not worthy of the family name?”
She was in striking distance now. I tensed up my haunches and launched myself off the bed, tackling her. My hoof sailed towards her jaw, but she reacted quicker than I thought possible. She flung me off and pinned me by the neck using the bow tie.
It was much easier for a unicorn to use levitation to control inanimate objects than a living pony. I tried to rip off the bow tie so that she could not keep me pinned. My hoof finally found purchase, and the loosened tie flew off. In the few seconds I had to react, she brought a hoof down on my ribs, knocking the wind out of me.
“Animal!” she screamed. “If you want to act like a savage mud pony, then that is how I shall treat you from now on!”
Her saddlebag opened up as rope flew out. It quickly began wrapping around my legs, hogtying me in seconds. I began to grin.
“What’s so funny, pig?”
I smiled as I thought about how the hooks would arrive and free me. Where are they? Why aren't they here to help? I glanced over to the desk where I had been passionately composing. Of course. They only seem to appear when I need to compose or I’m ignoring the music. I grunted in anger.
“That's right, trussed up like a pig. I don’t know why your father doesn’t enjoy this as much as I do. I almost wish I could conceive another mud pony, so that I can punish it when you start behaving.”
I was floated up in the air by the ropes and ended up hanging upside down. I saw the window approaching as she opened it with her magic.
“Animals sleep outside, and if you’ve learned anything in the last eighteen years, you’ll stop fucking with me!” she screamed.
I was flung out the window, landing in a pile of mud. Of course, it had to rain today. Thank you, Celestia, this is just what I needed. The window slammed shut and I was left alone with only my rage to keep me warm. One day I would repay her a hundredfold for every time she had abused me.
I wished she were dead.
I squirmed around awhile, eventually giving up on getting free. The mud clung to the countless hairs in my coat and mane. After some careful wiggling, I reached the wall of the mansion. It took forever to reach the cold stonework, and the exertion didn’t help me get to sleep. I was so riled up, and the air was so chilly that night. The wall made a poor shelter, and I couldn’t tell if sleep ever came. I drifted through various states of awareness as the ropes dug into my legs, keeping me awake.
During the long night, I had plenty of time to think. It was as I lay there thinking that I began to realize something. I was doing this to myself. My mother was right.
I was acting uncivil, like an animal. All they had ever wanted was for me to play and compose music, which I could do. Why did I continue to provoke them? Why didn’t I just behave and make it all better? They may claim not to love me, but if that were true, why would they spend so much effort to correct my bad behavior?
I quivered in fear and sobbed under the new moon. The thoughts of defeat going through my head were unwelcome. No. They are the ones acting like animals. It’s not my fault. . . is it?
I awoke in my room the next morning untied and covered in dry mud. Somepony had carried, or perhaps thrown, me into my room. I lay in the middle of the floor. Stretching out my legs caused sore, tense muscles to protest. Tears fell from the pain of trying to close my jaw as my muscles fought to stay locked in place. Once enough of the stiffness had been relieved, I walked over to the bed. I didn’t want to get it covered in mud, that would make Mother unhappy. Crawling underneath it would provide enough peace of mind to fall asleep.
It was easy enough to slide underneath the oak bedframe. I had often slept under the bed as a filly. The carvings in the wooden frame were still visible. My favorite spot was near the wall, safe in the corner. I looked up upon reaching it and read the carving in the oak bed frame: Mommy loves me. I closed my eyes and waited to get some more sleep.
The next time I awoke was near noon. A servant had brought me some food and the aroma roused me from my sleep.
I crawled out from under my bed and was shocked at what had been set on my table. Fresh daffodil and rose salad, apple cider, and hay fries. It was my favorite meal, an incredibly rare occurrence. I walked around it, sniffing suspiciously. Punish bad behavior, reward good behavior, I recalled.
Memories of my childhood returned to me. I had been as unruly then as now. When the stick had failed, Father had convinced Mother to try the carrot. For a while my behavior had improved as I was rewarded. In my naivety I had believed my father loved me, for he had actually become kind. Then. . . I had gotten my cutie mark.
It wasn’t only me that had changed when I got the cutie mark. My mother had become more cruel, and my father more distant. I had never dared ask if they knew how I got my cutie mark. I was scared to know if they had heard the chanting too. Just recalling that awful night made the room feel twenty degrees colder.
This food was clearly another attempt to buy my good behavior. My stomach was growling. Screw it, just eat the salad! I shrugged and sat down to enjoy a meal. At least if I knew they were trying to condition me, I could resist it. Right?
After lunch I cleaned myself up properly in my bath, then hurried over to compose. My mind focused on scribing songs like a good pony. I thought of how I would pass the time and get to meet Lyra and Vinyl soon. The thought filled me with joy, causing more ideas to come to me. I began to scribe faster, becoming happier as the hours passed. Soon, I was hearing three songs at once. I wrote furiously, trying to keep up with the inspiration.
The more joy I felt, the harder it was to keep up. I slumped on the table in exhaustion after finishing a fourth composition. My jaw ached from clenching the thick quill and my eyes burned from hours of focusing on the parchment. I rolled my head over so I could see the clock. Practice was in thirty minutes!
I got up from the desk and began to ready my things: a cello, bow, case, and some sheet music. All I was missing was my bow tie. I checked my closet for one, only to find they had been moved. Their absence could only mean one thing: Mother would want to put it on personally before I left.
It was painful to sit there with the cello waiting for her. My hooves began to fidget as I chewed on my lip. I had every intention to go to the bar tonight. She was foolish to think a salad could win me over.
If I could just hold my tongue for thirty seconds, I’d be on the way to the theater. The door opened, and I bit into my cheek. A jolt of pain gave me something to focus on.
“Excellent, darling. I see you’ve decided not to act like swine anymore,” Mother observed. “If you’re back from practice by eight, I’ll let you sleep in the kennel instead of the mud tonight.”
Eight. . . nine. . .ten. . .eleven. . .
“Now hold still,” she ordered. I felt the bow tie fasten.
Fourteen. . . fifteen. . .
“There, just like when you were a filly. Tell mommy you love her.”
Twenty-one. . . . . . I can’t do it anymore. . .
“Octavia, that was not a suggestion.”
Tw—enty thr—ee. . . I was biting my lip so hard I tasted blood. Three little words and she would turn and leave, yet I could not, would not, say it.
I felt something prick my lips, startling me into opening my mouth. I saw two thin strands leading to the hooks in my lips, pulling them upward into a gentle smile.
The puppeteer guided my words. ”I love you, mommy.” If I could have curled up and died in revulsion at that statement I would have. The strings lowered my smile and let go. You’re welcome.
“Good girl.” She patted me on the head, turned, and walked out.
twen—ty ni—ne . . . . THIRTY! The door clicked closed behind her.
“Stupid fucking eggheads!” I swore at the top of my lungs, slamming a hoof into the ground. “Ugh, we’ll see who is laughing after I go to the bar, again.”
I stood up and walked to the door. I had done it: for thirty seconds I hadn’t insulted or attacked my mother. That had to be a new record. I would check the carvings under the bed later to verify that.
The butler was waiting outside the door to escort me to practice.
“M’lady,” he politely greeted me.
“Buttery,” I giggled.
“In a good mood, M’lady?” He closed the door for me once I had walked through with my cello.
“Hell no, but it doesn’t hurt to try.” I glanced around the vacant hallways.
“Shall we be going?”
“Yes.” I started walking to the front doors of the house with the butler following closely behind.
“Might I suggest you skip the bar for at least one night? They have been. . . speaking of how to deal with your next infraction, M’lady.”
“No you may not suggest it. Just keep being neutral. If you start being nice or mean, I’ll know that they’ve gotten to you.”
“As you wish, M’lady.”
We walked to the theater in silence. Maybe I’d talk to the chef later and see what he knew about the butler. Stranger things had happened than a unicorn butler being nice to a disobedient earth pony. I could only think of one, however. If the old mare’s tale of Nightmare Moon was true, perhaps a nice unicorn was possible too.
Orchestra practice passed swiftly. The trips to the bar had become the real reason I lugged a cello halfway across Canterlot. I stood up at the end and looked over at the butler. Our eyes met for a moment, and I put my cello down on the ground. He sighed, and nodded.
I headed over to find Lyra this time. “Let’s go,” I snapped and dragged her towards the exit, stopping only to drop off a certain red piece of fabric in the trash can.
“Slow down, Octavia,” Lyra begged. We had made it outside, and I realized she was still hopping along on three legs to keep up. I let go.
“Hey, you ok? Did you read a horror story or something. I did that once and didn’t get any sleep all night. That’s how you look.”
“Yes, I didn’t get any sleep, and what story?” I barked.
“See? Being all grumpy. Was it the story about the faceless creature under the bed?”
I glared at Lyra.
“Heh, fair enough. That one kept me up for four days. It was about a starving creature that stood upright like a diamond dog. He would swing from tree to tree through the forest until he spotted a pony. He would then dress up like one of the pony’s loved ones. At night he would sneak into their bedroom. He stood at the foot of their bed then he would rip the blankets off.
“The pony would wake up, startled, to see their loved one staring at them. Only, he had no eyes or face. As soon as the pony looked at that face, they lost a piece of their soul. From that moment onward, the abomination haunted every second of their lives. He would hide in the periphery of their vision, allowing them fleeting glimpses. Each glimpse stole part of their soul until they went insane.”
“Quite a horror story,” I mocked. “Remind me to tell you about my last birthday party, and we’ll see which one of us is up all night crying in fear.”
“Oh, cool. It must have been quite a good novel you got for your birthday.”
“Just. . . no.” I sped up to outpace the chatty unicorn.
“Is it one I’ve heard of? Lovecolt? R. L. Stallion? The Sparkle Zone?” Lyra continued to list off authors and novels as I tuned her out.
It was the horror story about a mother flogging her daughter for trying to run away. Spoilers: she couldn’t walk or sit for two weeks, I thought.
The “Blue Moon” nightclub was up ahead, and never had I been more relieved to see it. I would have a good night, chatting with Vinyl. My plan was to get as drunk as possible before I left. Mother would be furious and beat me, but I’d be too drunk to feel it. I’d wake up and deal with the hangover. I’d repeat the cycle after the next orchestra practice.
It was a flawless plan.
Once we were inside, I found Vinyl sitting at a booth. She got up and looked me once over, then allowed me to slide past her into the booth.
“Hey, Lyra, why don’t you find Bonnie? Have a few drinks, on me.” Vinyl levitated ten bits to her.
“Oh, thanks, Vinyl! And I’ll totally get you that fifty bits I owe you. We’re making truffles for the carnival in town next week,” Lyra promised.
Vinyl signaled a mare over and ordered herself some hard liquor and me some mixed concoction. I didn’t even notice she was talking to me at first—I was lost in my own world. She bopped me on the nose, waking me from my stupor.
“Octy, I asked if you trust me?”
“Sure,” I mumbled.
“Look, you must think I’m immature for being a DJ and partying every night. I’ve met a lot of ponies, seen a lot of things in the slums of this city. I need you to be honest with me.”
“Yeah yeah,” I replied. My mouth was still on autopilot as I fantasized about strangling my mother with a dozen red bow ties. Will her horn turn blue when she asphyxiates, or just her lips?
“Is. . . is your father beating you?” Vinyl asked.
My full attention turned to the DJ instantly. She wore a rather somber expression. I didn’t last two seconds before I burst out laughing.
“This is serious, Octy! You look like hell.”
I stopped laughing when I noticed I was drawing some attention. “Sorry, I uh. . .”
“Fell down some stairs?” Vinyl finished for me.
“Yes, and to your earlier question, no. My father doesn’t beat me.”
“Right, just the stairs,” Vinyl sighed. She reached out and lifted one of my hooves. “Do you not notice these rope burns? I’m surprised no one at the theater has asked you why you keep showing up with bruises.”
I yanked my hoof back. “It’s none of your business!” I hadn’t meant to shout, and yet I had.
“Octy, you said you trust me. Let me help you, let me protect you.”
“Protect me? From one of the richest noble families in Canterlot? Parents who think I’m just a worthless mud pony? Yeah, that would end well.”
“You can just leave. I’ve seen the shelter on third street. Run away and the cops will protect you.”
“Yeah, like the sheriff who plays poker with my father. Maybe it’ll be the first lieutenant that helps him pick the best vintages of wine. Oh, I know. Swift Script, judge at the courthouse! He and my father play shuffleboard every Tuesday.”
Vinyl slammed her hoof on the table. “This isn’t a damn joke! I’m not going to let some asshole abuse you! Who is it?!”
“And I told you, it’s none of your damn business!” I shoved Vinyl away. “Stop trying to help me! Nopony ever helps me!”
I sprinted out of the bar and ran blindly down a side street. My mind didn’t have time to figure out where I was or where I should go. I just wanted to hang out with Vinyl, not to see her hurt by my parents too. Why did she want to ruin everything by trying to take on my parents? It wasn’t fair. I just wanted to have some fun.
I continued to race up the street until I collided with somepony. I recovered quickly and stood back up to meet the stallion’s eyes.
“Hey, pretty, you lost?” he asked.
“Yes—I’m l-looking for the p-palace district,” I replied. My heart was beating quickly due to the jog.
I heard a pony behind me whistle. “Hear that, Hopper? Got us a lost noble.”
“Sure do. The palace district is right through this alley here.” He pointed down a narrow, dark alley. “Just turn left on the other side and head straight up the street.”
“Okay, thanks. I really appreciate it.” At least one thing was going right tonight.
I turned and walked into the alleyway. Halfway through, a shadow stepped out blocking the other end of the alley. I nervously turned around to go back, finding Hopper behind me.
“Looks like you picked the wrong night to get lost. How about we do this the easy way, and I won’t have to break that pretty mouth?”
“What do you want?” I glanced around anxiously. Only a few feet of free space were left. “I don’t have any money.”
“Heh,” he chuckled. “I don’t want money, I want payment for the drink I bought you. I want to ride you until the sun comes u—”
“Get the hell away from my friend!” Vinyl screamed.
I had never been so relieved in my life.
“Boulder, handle it,” Hopper ordered.
“Who do ya think you are? Come to join the party, little unicorn?” Boulder asked.
“No, I came to force-feed you your own hooves!”
The malice in her voice was making me cringe, and yet the stallions began to laugh.
“How about your last chance to get lost before we knock your teeth out and make you bl—” Boulder never finished the sentence.
The three stallions had overlooked one key detail. Vinyl was a unicorn. The earth ponies had strength, size, and speed. Not a single trait helped Boulder when a large rock smashed into his head, knocking him unconscious.
“Wrong answer,” Vinyl spat.
“Now wait you crazy bitch—” Hopper caught a trash can with his face. The full weight of the metal bin slammed down on him several times.
“Think you’re stallion enough for me still?” she taunted.
I heard panicked hooves behind me. I turned and saw the last stallion disappear behind the end of the alleyway.
“Octavia! Are you okay? What the hay were you thinking? Why’d you run off at night in the red light district?” She walked over to check on me.
“Oh, Vinyl!” I jumped on her, hugging her around the neck. “Thank Celestia. I got lost, and they tricked me! They were going to do horrible things.” I began to sob as the stress and fear were washed away.
“Hey now, I told you before. Stick with me and I’ll protect you. I wouldn’t let scum like them, or your father, hurt you. You just need to trust me.” Vinyl lifted me up off her neck and smiled.
“Thanks, I will. . .” I was choking back a flood of tears. “I. . . I do.”
“Hang in there, my apartment is not far.” She held me close with one hoof while walking me to her apartment.
It was a short walk, and I was grateful for that. I was barely keeping control of my composure. Once we were inside, she locked the door and quickly flung the cans and empty boxes off her sofa. She led me there and sat down next to me.
As I sank into the sofa, I let myself be vulnerable. Vinyl would protect me. I began crying uncontrollably, years of repressed emotions flowing out. I could hardly breathe through the sobs and the gasps. My tears could easily have been mistaken for a waterfall, and my running nose for a sink faucet.
I buried my muzzle into Vinyl’s side and cried for an eternity until exhausted. I was used to it though. With my mother around it was as common as a meal, but it was different with Vinyl.
I’d never had a shoulder to cry on. I always read about it and knew of the phrase, but only now did I realize how much it meant. VInyl wasn’t a pillow or a stuffed bear, she was a pony who truly cared about me.
That realization brought on another flood of tears. I thought that maybe all my crying might start annoying her, but the way she stroked my mane told me it didn’t. If anything, I think she was glad that I opened up to her.
“Octy?” Vinyl whispered.
“It’s m-my mother. Don’t make me go back,” I sobbed.
“I won’t, not ever. Do you want to tell me about it?”
At first, I didn’t want to talk about it. I wanted to forget all the horrible things Mother had done. Vinyl would understand, so I told her about the abuse.
“She loves t-to choke me, hit me, t-trick me into th-thinking she loves me. I have to either grovel o-or face her wr-wrath every day. If I don’t make e-enough music o-or—” I wept.
“It’s okay, we can go to the polic—”
“No!” I interjected. “I mean not. . . not tonight. Please, I j-just want to be with you. You’re the only pony that cares about me and isn’t just d-doing it because Father says to.”
“You’re right, Octy. You’re damn right I care about you.” She sniffled. I remember seeing her tears fall to the inside of her sunglasses. “If you want, you can live here with me.”
“You would really do that? I could stay here, forget about the cello, and they wouldn’t ever find me?”
“Something like that, yeah.”
There was something about the way she said it that shot my heart into space. It wasn’t poetic or romantic, all things considered. It was a simple statement, but in it was my hope. The hope that I’d never have to go back and that I could be happy for the rest of my life.
I still don’t know what I felt at that moment, but it was the greatest feeling in the world. My heart beat faster as my cheeks heated up. All I wanted was to spend that moment with Vinyl. Every other worry vanished from my mind.
She took her glasses off and tossed them across the room onto a chair. It was the first time I had seen her red eyes up close. I wouldn’t say they scared me, but I could see why somepony might have found them frightening. Yet the more I looked at them, the deeper I saw. Underneath her cool, collected veil was something beautiful. There was this twinkle, a deep passion for doing the right thing.
I could smell something faint, something vanilla. It was Vinyl’s scent, and I immediately sensualized it.
As we sat there staring at each other, there was a point in time where something shifted between us. I saw her lips quiver and inch closer. The music began to play, soft and gentle, but I knew where it had to go. This was the prelude to a piece that would be mine and Vinyl’s symphony.
Soon it exploded into everything from crying violins to tribal percussion.
My heart raced as I leaned in. I’d never kissed a pony before. My mind worked quickly to figure out how it was supposed to work. Before my brain could catch up to my heart, I had sealed my lips to Vinyl’s.
She pushed me away.
“Octy, you don’t know what yo—”
“Please, Vinyl. Let me do this,” I pleaded, trying to pull back in.
I clenched my eyes to keep the tears from surfacing. I didn’t want her to see how broken and desperate I was.
“I don’t care if I mess up. I just want to be happy. . .”
I never saw it coming, but that’s when the orchestra resumed its crescendo.
I felt a hoof wipe a few tears from my eye. As soon as I opened them, Vinyl had taken me and pressed her lips against mine. Closing my eyes, I let our burning passion push us closer.
We wrestled and maneuvered ourselves until she had me pinned to the couch, never letting ourselves separate for even a second. She pressed my hooves down on either side of me. As I lay there exposed to her, my heart was pounding in my chest. I was so open and vulnerable that I began to whimper and tremble beneath her.
She picked up on my nervousness and pressed her body against mine. I thought that she was experienced and that she’d be cool and collected, yet I felt her heart beat just as fast as mine.
I gasped into her mouth as she placed her hoof somewhere I had never been touched before. The bombastic musical piece in my head silenced, and I heard a single slow and mournful violin. I cried at it. The movement fit the contour so perfectly that I just wept and cried straight into her.
She didn’t stop. As the heat of her touch began to rise, so did the music. I could imagine just how silly I probably looked at the moment, but I didn’t care. I was happy.
“Octavia. . . I want you too,” she whispered passionately, suddenly dampening the music.
“I-I d-don’t know if I c-can. . .” I stammered.
Vinyl never planned to wait though. She took my hoof and moved it herself. At first I was scared to hurt her. She was so soft and delicate, but when her expression said otherwise, she let go of my hoof, and I continued.
The music picked back up as we embraced. Everything rose higher and higher: our heart rates, the temperature, the tempo of the music. This was our song, and we played it for hours.
Still, the finale came too soon. It was a final movement, a final push to resolve the piece that crashed inside my head. I—We wanted it to conclude. The symphony raged and built, working its way to the last resolution and movement. We worked so hard to compose the last piece, and just as I thought we would hear it, there was silence. A beautiful silence.
Euphoria surged through us. White hotness filled my mind as pure ecstasy. I saw Vinyl’s mouth move. I had to read her lips because I couldn’t hear.
‘I love you.’
‘I love you too.’
I found myself falling asleep as the silence offered me my first reprieve since my cutie mark had appeared. There were so many things I wanted to say as she held me, yet all I managed was, “thank you.”
I felt safe with her hooves wrapped around me. With no parents or music or strings to haunt me, I was quickly falling into a blissful sleep. I curled up and pressed myself into her.
“I’ll never leave you, Octy,” she cooed.
“I know,” I whispered. “You saved me.”
I fought my drowsiness as long as I could. Seconds stretched to minutes and felt like hours as I drifted to sleep. I wanted to hold on to those wonderful feelings forever. With a final yawn, I let go and fell asleep.
I was awoken in the morning by something pounding on the door. My body was more comfortable and relaxed than it had been my entire life. Stretching under the warm sheets, I opened my eyes, and memories flooded back to me. This was Vinyl’s apartment: safe, warm, and we had. . .
It was a night I would never forget. The pounding continued, and my weary ears thought they heard shouting. I felt Vinyl get up from behind me to answer the door. Moaning, I curled up and gathered all the blankets around me.
The banging continued “Dang it, hold your horses!” Vinyl shouted. I watched her stumble for her sunglasses and walk to the door.
“. . . the . . . . open. . . . door.” I couldn’t hear the whole conversation.
“Yeah right, if this is another joke—” As soon as Vinyl had unlocked the door, it flew open, flinging her back.
Several guards rushed in, complete with their golden armor.
“Octavia? Hey, sergeant, we found her!” he shouted into the hallway.
“Just who the hay do you think you are? Get outta my apartment!” Vinyl yelled.
“You’d be smart to shut up, or we can arrest you for obstruction of justice!” the guard barked.
“Vinyl? What’s going on?” I whined, clutching the blanket close for comfort.
“Octavia. We were sent by your father when you didn’t return home. We’re only here to bring you back to him. Your friend here won’t be charged with anything if she shuts up and stays out of our way.” The guard walked over and tried to get me out of bed.
“No! They beat me, I won’t go back!” I screamed right in his ear.
“Ugh, hey, Iron, Lance, Shield, come give me a hoof with her. Looks like she really is off her meds.”
“What? I don’t take medicine! Get off me!” I kicked out at the guard, tangling myself in the bedsheets. “Vinyl!”
I glanced over to see her being held back by the sergeant.
“Octy, don’t worry! I’ll come for you,” Vinyl exclaimed.
“Not if you’re smart,” the sergeant warned.
The four guards had used the bedsheet to their advantage. It was easier to just wrap it around me further than try to get me out and grab my legs. I found myself squeezed into a ridiculous ball of cotton and fur, being hauled out in the magical grip of a guard unicorn.
My eyes remained locked on Vinyl until they had carried me out into the hall. I had wanted to say something, anything, but with the guards here, nopony could save me now.
My struggling continued until I managed to pull my head inside the ruffled blanket. I didn’t want anypony to see me, especially my parents. Perhaps ponies would think I was just a ball of cotton being carried along the streets of Canterlot. Nothing to see here, ponies, move along. I laughed briefly at the thought of me as a ball of laundry.
It didn’t take nearly long enough to arrive at the mansion. I had hoped the guards would get lost, maybe accidentally ending up in the Gryphon kingdom. They unceremoniously dumped me out of the blanket onto the steps in front of my mansion.
I recalled the routine I had used during the two times I had tried, and failed, to run away. Meet butler at door? Check. Escorted to room? Check. Father walks in for staring contest? Check. Father leaves to let Mother do his dirty work? Check. Mother takes her anger at Father’s small manhood out on me? Check.
It began as I expected, with the butler at the front door. He did not meet my gaze once as he escorted me to my room. My father was not waiting there this time. He had sent my mother in first, abandoning all pretense at a guilt trip in lieu of physical violence.
I waited for Mother to speak first this time. I’d prepare a good retort before she cut me off with a bow tie.
I could see her wrinkled brow and trembling lips. Her angry grimace pulled her facial muscles taught. It was just me, her, and my cello.
“My cello?” I muttered in surprise. How does it keep coming back to me?
“Shut the fuck up!” she spat. “Twice in a row you stay out overnight! Twice after we covered for you so you could mope around in your bed for two days!”
“Mope around? You bashed me over the head, you wrinkled harpy!”
I believe I saw a capillary burst in her eye at that very moment. The distended veins on her neck and forehead bulged out against her furry skin. If only she could have an aneurysm or a stroke at this very instant. If only I could strike back at the witch.
“Bastard devil-spawn! Ten-thousand-to-one odds, and we still manage to have a worthless earth foal! I’d choke the life out of you, but it’d mean admitting defeat to his parents. Just because they said he shouldn’t marry me! They blame me, for you! Can you believe it!? You aren’t worthy to lick my horseshoes clean, bitch.”
After my night with Vinyl, I didn’t care for my mother’s games anymore. “Yeah, yeah. Hurry up and get this over with. I have some music to compose, though I guess you can’t relate. My music will live on for centuries. Your crayon-drawn scribbles will be forgotten inside a month. How long has it been since you composed something halfway decent? Four years? Five?”
Mother’s horn glowed and I heard rustling from a nearby bookshelf. I heard the projectile whistling through the air this time and ducked. I was only clipped by the book. It still hurt, but I stood my ground.
“We had this custom-made. Since you want to act like an animal, I’ll collar you like an animal.” She levitated the device out of her nearby saddlebag. “It’s a red bow tie, magically enchanted with a metal collar underneath the fabric. You can’t take it off and you will not run away again. If you do, I’ll track you down and drag you back here kicking and screaming.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” I shrieked, taking a step backwards.
The collar lunged forward for my neck in her magical grip. I fled for my bed and tried to dive under it. Her magic began to tear the tassels off from the drapes to use as improvised ropes. One of them reached me before I made it under the bed, fastening around my neck.
“Di—n—a fir—” I choked out. I kicked and clawed, slowly forcing my way under the bed as she assaulted me. I would not be collared like a dog.
“I’ve always wanted a pet. I wonder if you will appreciate me after I break you once and for all.” Mother laughed as she managed to drag me out from under the bed, towards the waiting collar.
I was floating in mid air, flailing, at this point. She could not get the bow tie around my neck due to my struggle. She hovered me closer and began raining blows down upon me instead. I refused to give up, making steady progress against her magic assault.
One of her blows missed its mark, nailing my left eye. It would doubtless leave a large black bruise, making it quite obvious to all what she had done here.
If only I could fight back, if only I could meet her blow for blow.
The music filled the room to deafening levels. This was the worst time for this to happen, I couldn’t compose now! I could barely fight the urge to lose consciousness!
It was at that moment my salvation came from the unlikely, yet most welcome, of places. The marionette strings and hooks shot down from the ceiling to my aid. The tassel around my neck was snagged and ripped effortlessly away. I gulped air into my lungs greedily, regaining my footing on the ground.
I looked up at my mother with a feral grin, showcasing my teeth. Unbridled fury filled my eyes as my pupils narrowed. I could feel the hooks attaching to my lower and upper legs, the strings that would guide me to my revenge.
I began to cackle at my mother, who was still standing there in shock as the strings bound the tassel and bow tie to the floor.
I leapt forward, guided by the strings. She instinctively let her magic run wild, flinging everything within reach at me in a maelstrom of fury. I dodged the projectiles effortlessly, closing the distance between us in a second.
She couldn’t even flinch before my hoof connected with her temple, throwing her back towards the door. She opened her mouth to scream before I brought my hooves down on her ribs, knocking the wind out of her.
I laughed as she gasped for air. The strings dragged the bow tie over, quickly cinching it down around my mother’s neck. She began to gasp for air. “What’s the matter? Too tight?” I mocked.
The strings lifted my legs up into the air for the final blow. I readied myself to trample that cursed face.
The door burst open as I brought my hooves down. The butler and my father rushed in. Before I could complete my vengeance, I was tackled to the floor. I stared upwards at my father. His hoof sailed through the air as he hit me for the first time.