The pony who called herself Octavia shivered.
It was winter in Canterlot. Early winter, yes, but still winter, nonetheless. The first snows of the year had already begun, and although they had been light and dusty, up to this point, Octavia knew that wouldn't last. It had been an unusually hot summer, and that was usually the precursor to a harsh winter. That was especially true in the wake of Princess Luna's return, as she seemed to have a particular fondness for snow, although nopony was really certain as to why. The weather patterns in places like Las Pegasus, Fillydelphia, and elsewhere in Equestria were regulated by teams of local pegasi, but the skies over Canterlot fell under the jurisdiction of the royal court, meaning that the Sisters themselves maintained direct control over them.
Unfortunately, after a thousand years of absence, it seemed that the lunar monarch's skills with the weather were a little rusty; the year she returned to the throne, during that first winter, she had all but buried Canterlot in snow. Traffic in the city ground to a standstill, and many businesses were forced to shut their doors, including the Canterlot Royal Symphony. The intervening winters hadn't been quite that severe—probably due to some chiding from Princess Celestia—but they hardly could have been called “mild.”
Octavia shivered again where she stood upon the train platform, both from the biting cold in the air around her, and from the memory of that titanic snowfall. Being forced to drag her heavy cello case through the snow with nothing more than her own teeth, her hooves slipping and sliding upon the ice with every step, had been bad enough, but being cooped up with Vinyl all winter, like a hibernating bear, had been even worse. It would have been almost tolerable, if not for her roommate's habit of playing that abominable music of hers at a volume that all but ensured they would both go deaf long before they were old mares, loud enough to make the entire apartment shake.
Not that it was all bad. Octavia was intrigued by electronic instruments; she could remember seeing electric keyboards and guitars in a window display during a trip to Manehattan, and her old coltfriend at university, like her, was a musician. He had been working with synthesizers when they were still new, still exotic, although she'd always had trouble wrapping her head around his technical explanations of how they worked. She preferred the simple elegance of string instruments, like her cello. However, she had to admit a certain attraction to what Vinyl called “techno." While she didn't care for its frenzied pace, she enjoyed the rhythms, the harmonies, and more than once, had found herself swaying to some catchy melody she'd heard escaping the confines of Vinyl's oversized headphones.
But then there was that “dubstep” garbage, a chaotic, incomprehensible mess of sound that she could only liken to hooves on a chalkboard. Octavia couldn't stand it, and being forced to listen to it day after day, for hours on end, had very nearly driven her mad. At the first sign of the spring thaw, when the snows melted, she had all but run screaming from the building, desperate to find a quiet place to lose herself in the peaceful, sublime mastery of Neightoven, or Oatzart.
Octavia sighed. The sound left her lips in a faint wisp of breath, one that hung, for a moment, in the frosty winter air, before drifting away upon a chill breeze that rustled the collar of her jacket and made her shudder. It was ironic that she should actually be wanting Vinyl's company now, particularly after that rather severe bout of cabin fever. The unicorn DJ had the unfortunate habit of being chronically late for her appointments, usually the result of staying up all night at some rave or other the night before. She was probably still at home, asleep upon the couch... or, more likely, hung over, as was so often the case. Octavia reminded herself that they needed to have a talk about the drinking, but right now, she wasn't in the mood to give a lecture. She'd be satisfied if Vinyl would just show up, sober or not. This wasn't just another gig in a nightclub that she could blow off because she overslept. If she missed the train...
Another shiver ran down Octavia's spine, one that had nothing to do with the cold. She spun about where she stood to face the train's conductor, who was standing a short distance away, at the door to the passenger car.
“Next stop, Ponyville, on the way to Las Pegasus!” he shouted.
“Wait, wait!” Octavia said. She almost stumbled over her own hooves as she rushed toward him. So much for all those lessons about etiquette and grace. “You can't leave!”
The conductor regarded Octavia with a surprised expression. He was an older stallion, an earth pony, bespectacled, with a white, bushy mustache, and eyebrows that were nearly as thick. He reminded Octavia of her grandfather. “And why is that, Miss?” he asked.
“I'm waiting on a friend of mine,” Octavia said. “She isn't here yet.”
The conductor gave an indignant snort. “Then she should have checked the time,” he gruffly replied. “We have a tight schedule to keep.”
“She'll be here!” Octavia cried. “I know she will!”
The stallion showed no sign of backing down. “I can't hold up the train for one passenger, ma'am,” he said.
“But you can't just leave without her!”
“We most certainly can,” the conductor stated, flatly. Octavia supposed that, given his line of work, he was probably used to hearing all sorts of excuses for ponies arriving late. “It wouldn't be the first time. If your friend can't be bothered to show up on time, then she can just catch the next train. The transit office will refund the price of her ticket.” He turned to walk away from her, but she lunged forward, wrapping her forelegs around one of his own.
“Wait!” she said. “Five minutes! Just give her five minutes, that's all I ask!”
The conductor rolled his eyes. “Miss...” he began.
“Please!” Octavia pleaded. “Please, I beg you! Don't make me leave her behind!”
The conductor tipped his head, looking down upon the mare who now lay prostrate before him. Octavia saw something in his expression soften. He drew in a long, deep breath, and then let it back out again in a weary sigh. “Five minutes?” he asked.
Octavia frantically nodded.
“Well,” the conductor grumbled, “I suppose I can have the boys check the brake lines again... make sure everything's in working order.” He dipped his head lower, narrowing his eyes at Octavia. “But in five minutes, this train is leaving the station, whether your friend is on it or not... understand?”
More furious nodding. “Yes, yes, I understand, thank you!”
The conductor gave a noncommittal harrumph, and gently shook his leg free of Octavia's grasp. “In the meantime,” he said, “I would suggest that you load your bags.”
Octavia nodded once more, and hurriedly made her way back to her hooves. She had no bags to speak of, only her cello in its case, the handle of which she now gripped between her teeth. Her cheeks burned as she dragged it along the ground. Grace and refinement notwithstanding, she still wasn't too proud to beg, apparently. But then, it wasn't the first time that she had found herself groveling before an ill-tempered conductor, either. This one simply wasn't holding a baton, that's all.
You had better appreciate this, Vinyl, she silently seethed.
The conductor had been joined by a porter, a hulking mountain of a stallion whose ash-gray hair made him look more like a great slab of chiseled rock than an earth pony. He took Octavia's cello from her; the case had been so heavy that she could barely lift it, but with a deft toss of his head, he flung it from his mouth and onto his back as if it were a colt's toy.
The conductor nodded in satisfaction. “All right, then. Take it to the baggage car, if you would, Slate.” The porter nodded mutely, and obediently made his way toward one of the cars further down the track. The conductor turned back to Octavia. “Five minutes,” he repeated, sternly. He then turned away from her, and began trotting further down the line, calling out, “All aboard, Ponyville to Las Pegasus!”
Octavia let out a relieved sigh; one crisis averted, at least. She leaned up against the side of the passenger car. The metallic surface had a chill to it, but one that was dulled by the material of her coat, and if nothing else, it provided a measure of shelter from the winter wind. She reached into her jacket pocket, fumbling around for the object that had brought her out here in the first place. When she found it, she carefully withdrew it, clutching it gingerly within her hoof. It had never been easy for her to hold things without using her mouth, but as an earth pony musician, she had learned a few things about the advantages of having a nimble touch.
The envelope itself was perfectly ordinary in every respect: plain, white, inscribed with a name and address, and stamped with a Ponyville postmark. The sheets of paper Octavia gently slid out of it were different; they were yellow and faded, even though the writing on them was plainly more recent. It was as if they had come from old stock that had sat upon some shelf for years, untouched, just gathering dust. The words themselves were written not in pen, but in pencil, in a messy, childlike hoof. In fact, if she didn't know better, she might have thought that it had been written by a child; there were messy erasure marks all over it, where the author had stopped and started, and the margins were filled with crude drawings made in neither pencil nor pen, but in crayon: brightly colored doodles of stars, and balloons, and a hot pink, smiling, stick-figure pony.
Just like she remembered.
If you are who I think you are, then please read this.
If you aren't who I think you are, then this letter isn't for you. But I think you are who I think you are. And if you aren't who I think I think you are, then who are you? ARE YOU A CHANGELING!? Somepony else, that's who. And if you are who I think you'd be if you aren't who I think you are, then you should stop reading this RIGHT NOW. It's not nice to read another pony's mail!
Octavia couldn't help but giggle. No matter how many times she read that part, it always made her smile.
I know we haven't talked to each other in a long time. I've been meaning to come see you for a while, but I was always just too busy. I'm really sorry! It seems like there's always something to do here in Ponyville, and always a reason to throw a party! That's why I like love living here so much!
Oh, you don't know what I do here, do you? Well, I work at a BAKERY! Can you believe it!? Remember how we would always make rock cupcakes and gravel muffins and mud pies, and Mom would always tell us how she had to lie down, because she had to wash the dishes again? Who ever thought that I'd be able to turn that into a career, huh? Also, I LIVE IN A GIANT CUPCAKE!!!
The ponies I live with are the Cakes! (Isn't that funny!?) They own the bakery, Sugarcube Corner! They're REALLY nice, and they let me do pretty much whatever I want in the kitchen after I promised not to bake anything with dynamite again! I was sure that Pinkie Pie's Dynamite Donuts (“They put a real BANG in dessert!”) would be a best-seller, but I guess they didn't think so...
Anyway, I recently found out that we actually have a large extended family! Isn't that GREAT!?!? It turns out that we're related to the Apples! They're a big, BIG family, with members living all over Equestria! You have a bunch of cousins and aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews and sisters that you never even knew about!!! They're all really nice, too! Applejack, who lives in Sweet Apple Acres, just outside Ponyville, is one of my best friends!
(She's also one of the Elements of Harmony, JUST LIKE ME, but that's a story that I just have to tell you in-pony!)
So, to celebrate, I'm putting together the biggest, bestest, most awesomest family reunion EVER! I want all the Apples and Pies to be there, so we can get to know each other, and tell stories, and play games, and make popcorn necklaces and macaroni pictures and popsicle-stick-sculptures and everything!
That's why I'm writing to you. A few weeks ago, I went back to the farm to see you and Blinkie and Mom and Dad, so we could start putting the party together, and draw up the invitations and stuff. They were happy to see me, but when I asked where you were, nopony would tell me. Dad said he didn't want to talk about it, and Mom just said that you weren't home. She had this really sad look on her face. Blinkie didn't say anything at all.
Later, when we were getting ready for bed (our old room is still the same... I even found all my toys!), Blinkie told me what happened. She told me that you and Dad had a big fight right after I moved to Ponyville, and that you left the farm, and that you never came back.
I can still remember the day you got your cutie mark. You loved music, even when you were just a filly. You were always playing around with those little triangles and drums and zilo zylo xylophones (I think that's how it's spelled...) and things. I also remember how none of us could figure out what your cutie mark was, and how we had to take you to the doctor, so he could tell us. We didn't know what a “treble clef” was either, so we had to look it up in a book. We were all so silly back then!
But I bet you didn't think it was silly. I bet you were probably embarrassed. I would have been, too, if it was me. I was lucky. Balloons are easy to figure out. That's why I like them so much.
Daddy isn't mad at you. Really, he isn't. I think he's mad at himself more than anything. He's very stubborn, you know that. But he's also very proud. None of us ever went to school, certainly not to a fancy music school. I guess he just didn't see the point in it. My friend Twilight told me that some ponies get big scholarships for being the first in their family to go to college. I hope you were able to get one for yourself!
“Yes,” Octavia said. “Top of my class.”
I grew up on the farm too, you know. I know what it's like not to have a lot of money, or new toys, or fancy clothes, or stuff like that. But one day, I realized that it was time for me to leave the farm, and go do what I was born to do, just like you did. I don't blame you for that. None of us does, not even Daddy. I think he just wants to see you his daughter again.
I wanted to find you, but Blinkie didn't know where you were. She gave me the name of the music school you attended in Canterlot, but when I wrote to them, they told me that they couldn't give me any information about you, because of “student confidentiality,” or some other dumb reason. I started to panic, but then I remembered something. I thought I saw you performing somewhere, a few years ago. But I couldn't remember where! So I put on my Thinking Cap (I never leave home without it!) and stayed up all night, thinking really hard, until it finally came to me.
It was the Gala. I saw you onstage at the Gala. I couldn't believe it.
At first, I didn't actually think it was you. That mare didn't really look much like you. She was all prim and proper, with her fancy hair, and her fancy bowtie, and her fancy violin.
“Cello,” Octavia murmured.
But even if her cutie mark hadn't given her away, there's something else that would have. Her eyes.
You always had beautiful eyes. You still do. I'd know them anywhere.
I'm sorry that we didn't get a chance to catch up on things. I meant to talk with you, but I just forgot. It was a really crazy night! Oh, did the rest of your concert go okay? I was just trying to have a little fun! I didn't get you in trouble, did I? If I did, I'm really, really sorry!!! :(
Twilight has good friends in Canterlot, and they were able to find out more about you. (She's also a princess, but that's another story!) That's how I was able to find out the name you're using.
Why did you decide to change your name, anyway? I always thought it was so pretty. Not all icky, like “Pinkamena.” I like “Diane” much better. Maybe that's why you decided to use your middle name, too. But why use just one? I guess that's okay, too. All the best ponies have only one name. Celestia, Luna, Cadance, Applejack, Fluttershy, Rarity, Gummy...
Oh, and Rainbow Dash. She has two names, and she's still great. And Twilight Sparkle. But Twilight is a princess, so technically, she has THREE names. So I guess maybe it doesn't matter, after all.
You have another name, too. And I know what it is, because it's my name, too.
I understand why you didn't want to speak to me that night. I understand why you left home. But does that mean I never get to see my big sister again?
Maybe you wanted to make a new life for yourself. Maybe you wanted to leave your old life behind. You're probably rich and stuff now, and I know that the Royal Canterlot Orchestra Canterlot Symphony Orchestra Canterlot Royal Symphony is a long way from the rock farm. Rarity told me once that Canterlot has a way of changing ponies, that high society makes them all stuffy and snooty and full of themselves. But I don't think that would happen to you. I know my sister, and I don't think you ever meant to turn your back on your family. If you did, I don't think you would have kept any part of your name at all. You would have just made up a new one, and then nopony would know who you really are.
“No. No, damn you,” Octavia hissed in a whisper, cursing herself under her unsteady breath. She was blinking back tears. “Not again. Not out here in public, where everypony can see you.”
Do you remember why I left the farm? I left because I wanted to make other ponies happy. I wanted to make them smile. I left because I thought I could do that better in Ponyville than I could back home. I hope I'm doing a good job. But I never forgot who I was, or where I came from. And I never, ever regretted being a Pie. Not even once.
Maybe things are different now. Maybe you aren't the same pony I grew up with. I hope you are Everypony changes. Ponies get older. They grow up. They put away their toys. And sometimes, even good friends can drift apart. But if I've learned anything in the last few weeks, it's that family is different. Family is forever. Family is together. Family is so much more.
You're my family, Inkie. You always have been, and you always will be. No matter where you live, no matter what you do, and no matter what you call yourself, you'll always be my big sister. And I'll always love you, no matter what.
Pinkie Promise! :)
I'll be staying at the farm while we work to set things up. But none of us is smiling. And we won't be, until you get here.
Please come back
I miss you so much
Please Please PLEASE
I miss you. Please come home. I'll be waiting for you.
Your baby sister,
Pinkamena Diane Pie
P.S. I picked up a bunch of your records. Gummy and I both really like your violin playing! If you can't make it to the party, would you mind if we played some of your music?
P.P.S. If you aren't who I think you are, then could you do me a favor, and please try to get this letter to my sister? It's super-duper-double important, and it would really mean a lot to me. You can even come to the party, if you want! She's the famous Canterlot musician, Octavia. I always called her “Inkie.”
Octavia squeezed her eyes shut.
She wanted to cry. Gods, she wanted to scream, to tear at her mane, and beat the ground with her hooves, and curse the stars above for her misfortune. But she didn't do any of those things. No, she was far too well-trained for that. Grace, dignity, and restraint were paramount. Stiff upper lip, and all that.
So instead, she did what she had been taught to do: she bit back her fury, and her anguish, and her astonishing self-loathing, and swallowed it, deep down into the pit of her stomach, where it could properly fester. Besides, she was afraid that if she sank down onto her hooves, as she wished to, then she might not be able to get back up.
Growing up on that rock farm, in the middle of nowhere, had been like a cruel joke, Fate—or perhaps Discord—amusing itself by watching her suffer. There had been no outlet for her creative talents, nothing but the rocks, stretching out in every direction, cold and desolate and barren... just like her future, if she'd remained there. She had to leave, just like Pinkie had. She had to get away, had to escape, and when she did, she vowed never to look back. It was a grotesque irony that she actually found herself longing to return there now, to return to a life that was familiar, and simple, and blissfully uncomplicated.
Rich. Famous. Not even if she were an alicorn. She could barely afford to pay her rent, let alone live the life of Canterlot high society that Pinkie seemed to think she did. Whenever she attended an upper-class social function or ritzy dinner, it was quite literally as background noise, not as a guest. Her work at the symphony paid virtually nothing, and embroiled her in a world of petty, scheming orchestra politics in which she had absolutely no interest. Her father had tried to warn her, had given her the starving artist lecture, all those years ago... and she, the naive, ungrateful foal that she was, had accused him of trying to crush her dreams. There was more to life than bits, after all.
She had left the farm convinced that he hated her. Now it turned out that had been a delusion, too, another fantasy to be yanked out from under her. But Pinkie Pie still loved her. And as far as she was concerned, that made her the wealthiest mare in all of Equestria. Maybe it really wasn't too late...
“Last call! Ponyville to Las Pegasus!”
The conductor's words abruptly jolted Octavia out of her funk of self-pity. She looked toward him with widened eyes, hurriedly placed the letter back in its envelope, and raced in his direction. “Wait!” she cried.
This time, the conductor would not be moved. When he spoke, his tone was firm. “Ma'am,” he said, “the train is now departing. Are you going to be on it, or not?”
Octavia's jaw went slack, and her eyes fell to the ground. At least Vinyl wouldn't be able to say that she hadn't tried. “Yes,” she muttered, defeated.
The conductor nodded. “Then I suggest you get aboard. We'll be leaving as soon as everypony is secure.”
Octavia sullenly nodded in kind, and turned toward the passenger car behind her. She cast a last, lingering look over the crowd of ponies assembled at the station, and then let out a sigh. She really should have known better.
She had already taken her first step off the platform when a voice called out, “Yo, wait up!”
Octavia snapped to attention. She turned about, her eyes darting across the crowd. A familiar white unicorn was forcing her way through the hubbub, rudely shoving ponies aside with her magic, causing more than one to cry out in protest. Her electric blue mane made her easy to spot.
“Yo, stop the train!” she yelled. “Stop the buckin' train, I said!”
“Vinyl!” Octavia nearly broke into a run toward her tardy friend, but screeched to a halt before she had taken two steps. The sudden flood of relief that had washed over her was replaced, just as rapidly, with righteous anger. “Vinyl Scratch!” She was almost shouting the words. “Where have you been!?”
If Vinyl Scratch was intimidated by Octavia's display, she certainly didn't show it; the pale unicorn merely grinned at her, her eyes hidden behind her trademark sunglasses. “Hey, babe,” she replied. “Sorry I'm late. Just had to pick up my bass. Learned a long time ago to never go anywhere without it. I ever tell you about that time I ran into The Whoof out in Baltimare? We had a jam session together, then we sat around and smoked weed the rest of the night.”
Vinyl tipped her sunglasses downward, looking over the rim of her shades at Octavia with scarlet eyes. “Tavi, I swear to you, I was so high, I could kiss the moon.”
Octavia gave a start. “Your bass?” she said. “You mean your stereo?”
Vinyl flinched. “Tavi, please!” The unicorn leaned over where she stood, lightly stroking a hoof against the massive, black, cubical crate that hovered at her side, levitated by the magic of her horn. “Calling this a stereo is like calling a diamond a shiny rock. It's a precision, high-tech musical instrument, and it's very sensitive!” She turned her attention more fully toward the black box, affectionately rubbing her cheek against its surface. “It's okay, sweetie,” she cooed, “she didn't mean it.”
Octavia's anger promptly drained out of her. The spike of rage she'd felt was quickly supplanted by mirth, bubbling up from within her, quietly, at first, before it squirmed past her lips in a giggle, despite her best attempts to stifle it. A moment later, she was doubled over where she stood, shaking with laughter, and clutching her hooves against her belly.
Vinyl, however, was not amused. “What? What's funny?” she deadpanned. “I'm not kiddin', this is serious stuff.”
Octavia straightened her posture, stepped forward, and gleefully flung her forelegs around her roommate's scarved neck, hugging her close. “Oh, I know, I know it is, I just...” Octavia sighed again, but this time, the sound was one of giddy pleasure. “I just can't stay mad at you, Vinyl. Thank you.”
The unicorn rubbed the edge of her muzzle against her counterpart's. “Heyyyy, my pleasure, babe.”
The sound of the conductor clearing his throat drew the attention of both musicians.
“Oh, right, right,” Vinyl said. The huge box within the grasp of her magic hovered over to the waiting earth pony porter. “Here you go, my good stallion,” she said, good-naturedly, before releasing the spell.
Octavia winced as the enormous stereo—er, enormous bass—fell upon Slate's broad back, causing his knees to buckle. She could almost swear that she heard his spine crack beneath its weight. “Well,” she said, "now that you're finally here, come on. We need to board, the train is about to leave.”
“Whoa, whoa, hold up,” Vinyl said. “Where are you takin' me, anyway? I know you said you wanted to go outta town, and I'm all for a road trip, but I'd at least like to know where we're headed. I might wanna score some X, or something.”
Octavia rolled her eyes. “Here,” she said, withdrawing the envelope from her pocket once more, holding it out toward the unicorn.
The glow of magic nimbly plucked the envelope from Octavia's grasp. “Huh? Whuzzis?” Vinyl glanced at the postmark. “Aw, Ponyville? Weak. No good booze there.” Her telekinetic touch easily slipped the letter free of its sleeve, unfolding it before her face. She peered over the edge of her glasses, crimson eyes briefly scanning the first few lines. “What is this, anyway? A fan letter?” She returned her attention to the envelope itself, squinting at the name on it. “Wait, it's addressed to 'Ingrid Pie'?” Vinyl stared at Octavia, blankly. “Who the hell is Ingrid Pie?”
Octavia grinned mischievously. “I'll tell you all about it on the way there. But right now, we have to go!” She turned toward the passenger car once more, reaching for the railing with a hoof.
“Go?” Vinyl asked. “Tavi, where are we going?”
Octavia looked back over her shoulder at her friend. Crystalline tears were glistening in her eyes, but she was still smiling.
“Home, Vinyl,” she said. “I'm going home!”