By Pen Stroke
Preread, Edited, and Reviewed By
Illustrious Q, Kirk Heller, JustAnotherTimeLord
It was a night of refuge. An evening where sensible ponies had slipped away to their home, closing doors and shuttering windows against the storm. The weather was scheduled. Canterlot was due for the rain, yet the storm had grown wild after being moved into place. The weather teams had tried to beat it back down to size, but after hours of struggling, the effort had proved fruitless. It was a thunderstorm, wet, wild, and unconquerable. It would not dissipate until it had rained itself out.
Octavia cursed her luck for being in the unfortunate situation of having to brave such a storm.
She was trotting down the street, back-strapped umbrella shielding most of her body from the pouring rain. It sounded like a company of tap dancing mice on top of her umbrella while the rain hitting the ground around her was the applauding audience. Boots kept her hooves dry, but even with protection above and below, Octavia could feel herself getting damper with each passing minute.
Like the flash of powerful camera trying to capture non-existent mice, lighting cut the sky and its thunder came soon after. Still, Octavia marched on, her cello case strapped to her body and rolling behind her by a few steps. When she took the commission to perform a few days prior, she knew of the storm. But there was no way to predict it would be so bad. She almost feared for Vinyl. Her roommate never checked the weather report and had likely gotten caught out with nothing but her sunglasses. She’d be a drowned pony by the time she got back to the apartment.
“She’ll probably catch a cold,” Octavia muttered to herself. “And then she’ll whine and moan tomorrow morning until I make her soup. Then, by the end of it all, when she’s feeling better, I’ll have caught her illness. Then I’ll have to suffer her health smoothie.” Octavia shivered, both at the thought of the horrible culinary concoction and the storm’s chill that was slowly setting in.
She came to a stop at a street lamp, looking to the number of the nearest home. She was in the oldest part of Canterlot. Manors in the neighborhood had stood for centuries. A few were even as old as the city itself. The number of the nearest manor to Octavia was twelve. The messenger that had come to commission her said the manor’s address was thirteen-fourteen.
“How can it be thirteen-fourteen?” Octavia muttered as she continued past the manor gate which bore the number twelve. Yet, as quickly as the question left Octavia’s mouth did the answer present itself to her. A flash of lightning cut the sky once more, and she saw what was the largest manor she had yet to pass. It was almost a castle in and off itself. It was the manor that capped the end of the street, and its impressive size must have earned it the right to occupy address numbers thirteen and fourteen.
Yet, looking upon the manor, Octavia found herself a bit disconcerted. She had been commissioned to perform with her cello, yet it looked like the manor had been closed up for the night. Was there supposed to be a party, and had it been cancelled? She could understand, considering the storm, but she would not lie to herself either. If she had just hiked through the rain for nothing, it was going to put her in a foul mood for the rest of the evening.
“Are you the cellist?”
Octavia jumped, taking a step back away from the manor’s outer gate and looking through the bars towards the source of the voice. On the far side stood a stallion, garbed in a coat and hat that were doing very little to ward off the rain and carrying a lantern on his back. He was a dark dingy color in coat and mane. The night was too dark for Octavia to really perceive what the color was precisely.
“Y-yes, I am,” she answered, quickly recovering from the shock of the stallion’s appearance. “I’m Octavia Melody. I was commissioned to perform this evening.”
“They’re expecting you up at the manor.” The stallion moved to the gate and fumbled with a key ring for a few moments. He then unlatched the gate from the inside and cracked open it just wide enough that Octavia would be able to step through. “Welcome to the Rose Estate.”
“The lady of the estate wants to apologize for drawing you out on such a ghastly evening, but is thankful you were able to make the journey. Please, allow me to tend to your umbrella and cello case.”
Octavia nodded and soon after saw the glow of magic dancing at the periphery of her vision. Her back-mounted umbrella was removed, neatly collapsed, and placed in a umbrella stand by the door. The unicorn butler who had greeted her at the door then took a rag from his jacket pocket and began using it to dry the water from her cello case. He was a stallion so similar in color pallet to her that one would almost think they were cousins.
“Please, feel free to leave your boots by the door. I’ll tend to them before departing.”
“You intend to depart? Are you only part of the day staff?” Octavia asked as she began to remove her boots, lining them up neatly near the front door.
“Yes, I do intend to depart, but I am not a permanent part of this estates staff. I am a temp hired just for this evening. I do not know why the regular staff was unable to attend to their duties. They certainly seemed capable considering how well maintained the manor is, but I am not paid to ask questions.”
Octavia removed her last boot as the stallion finished drying the cello case. He tucked the rag back into his suit jacket and then moved towards a coat rack near the door. “Then why were you hired?” she asked as the temporary butler slipped on a heavy coat, placed a hat on his head, and tightly wrapped his neck in a scarf.
“My tasks were simple. I was to light and place candelabra so a path to the drawing room would be clearly illuminated. I was then to wait for you to arrive. If you did not arrive in a timely manner, I was then to douse the candles and depart. If you did arrive, as you have, I was to speak to you and then depart.”
Octavia cocked an eyebrow as she watched the butler crack open the door, the raging storm trying to press into the manor the moment the opportunity presented itself. The wind was now beginning to howl, and the stallion had to brace himself against the storm to keep himself from sliding back. “Speak to me about what?” Octavia asked.
“About this,” he answered. “Everything I was asked to tell you has been told, and with that I bid you a good evening. I hope your performance is well received.”
“So I am still to perform?”
The butler stepped outside before turning to place his hoof on the door handle. “Yes, you will be performing in the drawing room. That is why I was asked to ensure your path there was well illuminated.” At that the stallion pulled the door closed, the latch clicking shut. Once more the cacophony of the unbridled storm outside was muffled, the only clear sound in the manor being the patter of the rain against the windows.
Octavia felt a chill on her spine and turned to look away from the door. The rest of the foyer was as the butler said it would be. There were several candelabra set about the room. They were like street lights, flanking either side of an obvious path that lead up a grand staircase to the manor’s second floor. Every other doorway she could think to go through was dark, and for a brief moment, Octavia felt like her hooves were trying to pull her back towards the entrance.
“Calm down,” she said to herself. “The storm just has you on edge. This pony paid for a performance, and you shall give it.” Octavia cracked open her cello case and looked inside. She saw her instrument, her bow, and all the materials she needed to maintain it. But she also saw a small crystal. It was little magic spell, one of the few Vinyl knew how to really cast. It was a shock spell, one that would keep someone away if they were trying to give her trouble.
For Vinyl, having such a thing was a necessity. Sometimes the parties where she was asked to DJ did happen to attract troublemakers. Octavia had personally never had a reason to use such a thing up to this point, but for this evening she felt just a little safer knowing the crystal was still in her cello case.
Closing the case back up, Octavia pulled it onto her back and ensured the strap was secure before looking back to the stairs. She began her ascent slowly, passing by the candelabra one by one. Her shadow danced and flickered in the many sorts of light, like dozens of copies of her self moving across the wall with differing levels of darkness.
And the movement left Octavia feeling just that much more on edge, as if she had a reason to fear her own shadow and what it might be hiding.
The departed butler had done his job well. Despite the unwelcome shadows they cast, the many candles provided a clear path through the manor. She carried her instrument upstairs and began navigating the hallway towards one door, which had been cracked open. Light poured from that door, and to Octavia, it seemed the only feasible candidate for being the manor’s drawing room.
It was a short walk from the main staircase to that door, but even that small distance gave Octavia a moment’s pause. The walls of the hallway were choked with portraits. Numerous oil paintings, each hung in an extravagant frame. No two portraits were alike, each depicting a unique pony. Were they all the different masters that had owned the manor over the years? It seemed impossible that the building had been around for so many generations. Maybe it was all the family members. Not just the lord or lady of the house, but their spouse and children as well. Though she noticed there were no portraits of children.
There were other consistencies that gave Octavia pause, and she stopped to inspect a few of the paintings more closely. All of the pictures were of young adults, ponies in the prime of their youth. Each one also had a bow tucked in their mane, as if a common family fashion statement.
Yet their eyes were troubling. Octavia felt a nagging unease in the pit of her stomach if she held eye contact with the paintings for too long. The eyes were old, and not in a physical way. No, the paint on that part of the canvas was the same age as the rest of the painting. It was the look in the eyes. It carried more weight than she’d expect, as if those eyes had seen several decades of life upon the earth.
A flash of lightning through one of the manor’s windows drew Octavia out of her thoughts. She glanced once more across the portraits, then shivered and resumed heading down the hallway. It took just a few moments more to reach the drawing room door. Once she was just outside, she extended a hoof and knocked politely, ignoring the fact the door was already cracked open.
“Please, come in.”
After pushing open the door, Octavia stepped into the well lit drawing room. It was a welcome change compared to the rest of the manor. Where the candelabra the butler had set had guided her way, their weak flames hadn’t done much to cut at the darkness of the manor’s hallways. But the drawing room was bright. A single chandelier, elegant and decorated with numerous small crystals, was the main source of light. Any dark corner it may have been insufficient to illuminate played home to more candelabra. The decorations of the room were all a mixture of gold and red in color. It was warm and welcoming while still maintaining its sense of elegance. There was a table for enjoying a private meal with guests, and a balcony which provided a sweeping view of Canterlot.
At the center of it all was a mare, aged and frail. Her mane was a spider web’s white, and her coat was a faded red. In youth it may have been as rich in color as the room’s furnishings, but now it was almost more gray than any other color. She was sitting in a chair pulled away from the room’s dining table. There was an empty seat next to hers, and standing near each seat was a music stand.
Lastly, in her hooves, the mare held a cello of her own.
“Good evening, ma’am,” Octavia said once she and her cello case were in the room. “I am Octavia Melody. Are you the one that commissioned me to perform this evening?”
The mare motioned to the empty seat next to her. “I am. You see, it’s something of a special day for me. It is an anniversary, and every year on this day I’ve played my cello with a dear friend. But this year that dear friend is away on business. I was just going to wait for her to come back, but these old bones of mine couldn’t help it. It didn’t feel right not playing today. So I do hope you’ll forgive this old mare drawing you out in such a horrible storm.”
“So all you would like me to do is to sit and play with you?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
Octavia came to a stop next to her seat, taking a glance at the sheet music resting on the stand. It didn’t look terribly complicated. She could possibly manage playing it correctly on the first try, though she was never a fan of impromptu performances with music she had never seen before. Still, the mare had paid the commission, and if this was all she wanted, Octavia saw no harm in obliging.
“Very well. Is this the song you’d like to play?” Octavia flipped open the clasps of her case before cracking open the lid. She took her own cello with a loving hoof, drawing it up out of its case. She knew what the obvious answer to her question was, but she also didn’t want to make any assumptions and displease the one mare she’d be performing for that evening.
“Yes, it’s a very sentimental piece. It’s a song that’s been in the family for generations,” the mare answered as she watched Octavia quietly.
“Is it alright with you if I stand? I’ve never enjoyed playing my cello sitting down.”
“I don't mind at all. I’d probably be standing as well if these old legs of mine were stronger.” The mare raised her bow to the strings. “Would you mind helping me tune? I don’t hear the notes like I used to.”
“Of course. Let’s start with the C string.” Octavia raised her own bow and played a single long note off just that particular string. She played the note until her bow reached the end of its length, and then she drew it back. On the return, she heard the other mare’s cello. Its pitch matched perfectly. In fact, to Octavia’s ear, it was her instrument that was out of tune.
They went through each string, and even through a few chords, and each instance was the same. At the end of each note Octavia was the one adjusting the tension on her strings, trying to match the tones of the other cello. It was simply beautiful, resounding and deep in its lows while light and uplifting in its highs. Eventually, she couldn’t help but say, “that is a beautiful instrument.”
“Thank you. It, like this manor, has been in the family for generations. It is a Stellar Variance.”
Octavia found herself almost go weak in the legs. A Stellar Variance, named after a mare of the same name. A mare whose skill in crafting instruments was unsurpassed, even centuries after her death. Most knew of her violins, valued in the tens of million of bits, but she crafted more than just violins. She made harps, guitars, mandolins, and even cellos.
And now she knew why her own instrument sounded out of key, no matter what she did.
“You play it beautifully, Miss... I’m sorry, I never caught your name.”
The elderly mare smiled gently. “Ruby Note, and you’re too kind. I’m sure a young pony like you would be able to do far better with this cello than I can right now.” Her smile widened a little, and she tilted the cello closer to Octavia. “Would you perhaps like to play it this evening? Its a shame to keep a Stellar Variance all to myself.”
“I... I would be honored,” Octavia answered. She and Ruby traded instruments, and even in touch Octavia felt something about the instrument. It felt finely crafted, as made just for her. Her hoof rested comfortably on the stem, and its weight was neither too much nor too little. It was simply perfect. She was earning a commission for this night, but she’d gladly have paid double just for this opportunity to play a Stellar Variance.
“Shall we begin?” Ruby asked, now holding Octavia’s old instrument.
“Yes, of course.” Octavia straightened her posture and looked to the sheet music. She raised her bow, and with the tapping of her hoof, she and Ruby began to play.
And the sound... oh, the sound coming from the cello was bringing her to tears.
An hour later Octavia and Ruby finished one more song, both smiling and glistening in their eyes. Yes, perhaps her own instrument could not compare to a Stellar Variance, but the duet they were achieving was no less moving. The up beat songs felt like laughter was being poured into her very soul. The sad and mournful felt as if her heart was being ripped from her chest. The cello in her hooves was like an angel, singing a chorus so moving that even the most hardened hearts would weep at the sound of its pristine voice.
“This has been so wonderful, Octavia. You’ve made this old mare very happy tonight.”
“The pleasure has been mine, Lady Ruby.”
“It has been enjoyable, but I’m afraid I’m starting to lose my vigor. I believe I only have the energy for one last song.” Ruby stood from her seat slowly, leaning Octavia’s cello against the seat before moving to the drawing room’s small dining table. From there she picked up a few pieces of sheet music before returning to her seat. “If you wouldn’t mind, could we make this the last song.”
Octavia took the music with one hoof and set it on the stand. She then began to look it over, her lips starting to turn into a frown. “This is very complicated. I can’t promise I’ll get it right on the first try.”
“I know it isn’t the easiest piece, but I’d be happy if you would give it your best shot.”
“Very well, if that is what you wish.”
Ruby Note nodded, and the pair prepared to play once more. Octavia let Ruby set the tempo, and it was fast. A brisk four-four time, which would make the complexity of the song that much more difficult. Still, they began, the driving music carrying a quality far different than any of the others she had played that evening.
It was dark and driving, like the marching of a thunder storm across the sky. It was unforgiving. It was rage written into melodies and crescendos. Octavia found herself starting to sweat just trying to keep up, but keep up she did. This piece was ambition. It was vengeance. It was raw murderous intent, like a dagger being struck in the back of a bitter rival. It was direct, unforgiving, and inescapable. Octavia felt as if she could kill with the melody alone.
It was also difficult. The cascading notes required deft skill Octavia would normally believe was beyond her capacity. Yet, she followed the musical score with pinpoint accuracy. Her playing was flawless, like her body knew the song already. As if the bow was pulling itself across the strings, and she was merely there to hold everything in place.
Darker and darker the melody became, and as Octavia continued to play, Ruby stopped. The old mare was fading, the strength leaving her limbs. First the bow fell from her hoof, then Octavia’s cello clattered to the ground. Yet, the mare made no effort to pick it up. She was just staring at Octavia, her lip quivering as if unsure whether it should be smiling or frowning.
“Thank you,” she said as a tear streaked down her weary, wrinkled face. “And I’m... sorry.”
With that last word the breath of life left the mare, her body crumpling like a deflated balloon. Yet Octavia continued to play, the melody moving faster. The notes grew harsher, and a wind itself began to billow inside the drawing room. The flickering flames of the candles and chandelier struggled, and one by one were slowly snuffed out by the indoor gale.
Still Octavia played, her eyes growing distant as the room grew darker bit by bit. Though she often held herself to proper standards like older ponies, Octavia’s eyes still held the glimmer of youth. The spark of ambition and hope that comes from a pony who still has so much of her life to look forward too. Yet with each phrase, each bar, and each beat of the music that glimmer seemed to fade.
Her eyes began to grow old as her face contorted with pain. Then came the screams, joining with the song like a horrible chorus to the murderous melody. Octavia began to writhe and struggle, trying to pull away from the cello, but her hooves would not release the bow nor the neck. She could only continue to play, driven on by the instrument she now looked to in dread instead of awe and admiration.
The song would be played, and Octavia would scream late into the night.
Yet, in the manor with only a dead mare for company, no pony would come to her aid.
There would be no rescue until it was already too late.
“Well, this place is all kinds of creepy.”
Vinyl Scratch looked up at the old manor where her roommate and friend, Octavia, had supposedly gone to the night before. She hadn’t shared much details about the performance. She never did after Vinyl crashed one of her concerts. But Octavia did always give some basics, in case something happened. Last night had been no exception.
“I have a performance at thirteen-fourteen Mountain View Street. It will last for a few hours and I should be back before you go to bed, but if I’m not, don’t wait up. I will most certainly be back by morning.”
It was now morning, and for the first time, Vinyl was living up to her and Octavia’s unspoken roommate code. If either one of them didn’t come home after going out at night, the other was to come and find them. There was no denying Vinyl was the one that always needed the help. Octavia had come out and pulled her out of more than a dozen after party comas, and it was nice to finally be able to return the favor.
Though Vinyl doubted she’d find Octavia passed out on pizza, rave music, and jello shots.
Vinyl had to smile. Now that had been a fun night.
Lingering in her memory for only a moment, Vinyl took a final few steps towards the manor’s front door and knocked. She then rocked on her hooves, let her head swing around to the left and right as she waited for somepony to answer the door. The manor, like the rest of the city, still looked drenched after the previous evening’s rain, and the storm still lingered. It was not raining, but the dark gray clouds that blanketed the sky looked ready to resume the downpour at any moment.
These thoughts and wanderings should have distracted Vinyl long enough for somepony to answer the door, yet as her mind returned to the task at hoof, she found the door before her still shut. “Hey, is anypony home?” she shouted. She knocked as firmly as she could three times then backed up from the door, turning her eyes to the home’s upper stories.
“I’m looking for my roommate, Tavi.” Yet the trick of calling Octavia by her nickname, which could normally summon the cellist with the reliability of a spell, was insufficient. There was no movement in any of the windows. There was no shout or sound of anypony from the ominous manor. A manor that now, from Vinyl’s current angle, looked like a squatting troll that wanted nothing more than to smash her with a club, like she was just a buzzing fly.
“What the heck, did somepony win the lottery and take them all to Las Pegasus?” Vinyl asked as she trotted back to the door to knock as loudly as she could against the sturdy wood. “Because if they did, Tavi, and you didn’t come to get me, I am so blasting my music in your ear the first morning you’re back.”
A gust of wind from the storm tickled at Vinyl’s mane, and for the first moment since she arrived, she heard something other than the sounds of nature and the distant city. She heard the thrumming hum of a cello. Immediately she turned her head to the right, ears turning in multiple directions as she tried to pinpoint the sound. Eventually she tilted her head up, to a high balcony where the adjoining door had been left cracked open. It was from there, the music was coming.
“Hey, Tavi, is that you?” Vinyl shouted up at the window. She couldn’t see much from her perspective but red curtains, but after moving a few steps closer to the window, Vinyl was able to confirm what she was hearing. It was a cello being played live, not a recording. That meant there was somepony there; they probably just couldn’t hear the shouts and knocking over their music.
That or they simply were choosing to ignore her.
“Okay, looks like we’re going to have to do this the hard way,” Vinyl said to herself, cracking her neck before quickly turning and trotting towards the entrance of the property. She then spun around again, locking her eyes on the door before scrapping her hoof on the ground. She then began sprinting towards the door, trying to build up as much momentum as she could as she shouted into the crisp morning air.
She hit the front door hard with the side of her body. The impact was hard, with a resonating smack, but the door did not budge an inch. Thus, after lingering against the door a moment, Vinyl began to prance on the tips of her hooves and sucked in a pained breath through her teeth. “Ooooowwwwww!”
Yet, despite her loud shout and the louder smack against the door, the pony playing the cello continued without missing a beat. Vinyl’s brow furrowed as she rubbed her shoulder, trying to ease away the pain. “I swear, if that’s you up there, Tavi, I am going to snap your bow for ignoring me.”
Turning her attention back to the door, Vinyl smiled as her horn began to alight with magic. There was more than one way to get around a locked door. She grasped the lock in her magic, leading the tendrils of mystical energy into the keyhole. She felt out the pins, and with a smile tried to apply the necessary pressure to get them to click into place. Yet, the pins did not move. Her magic slipped and slid off them like they were coated in magical butter.
The lock had its own protective magic charm, placed to prevent exactly what Vinyl was trying to do.
And through all of Vinyl’s failed effort, the cellist continued to play.
“You may think you're safe up there, whoever you are,” she shouted at the balcony. “And sure, you’ve got yourself a pretty fancy door. It’s thick, so I can’t break it down, and you’ve got your fancy lock so I can’t break in that way. So you know what, I won’t. I won’t break into your house through the door. Just remember, you asked for this.”
The sharp sound of shattering glass sliced the calm of the morning. It had taken time to find a suitable rock, but once Vinyl found it, she selected one of the first floor windows. That particular window was now spider webbed with cracks and bore a large hole where the rock had broken through. The room beyond looked to be the dining room, and that was the reason why Vinyl selected that particular window as her victim.
Stepping over the few bits of glass that fell in the flowerbeds outside, Vinyl peered in through the hole. With her magic, she first swept up all the glass to one side of the room, clearing a place for her to land. She then levitated one of the chairs from the dining room table.
She used the chair first as a bludgeon. She broke away more of the window and widened the hole large enough for her to climb through. After that, she levitated the chair through the hole and set it down in the soft dirt of the flowerbed. With the chair now serving as a step stool, it was easy enough for Vinyl to leap in through the dining room window, landing with a sharp thud against the dining room’s well polished wooden floor.
“What are you doing in my manor?”
Vinyl smiled, not bothering to look in the direction of the voice at first. She had to play it cool, not act like she was in any trouble. After all, she was just looking for her friend. The guard couldn’t arrest her for that. Or rather, Vinyl couldn’t let herself get arrested until she knew where Octavia was. How else would she get bailed out in time for her show tonight? “Looking for my roommate,” she answered as she shook her forelegs, ensuring there were no little shards of glass stuck to the bottom of her hooves.
“Yeah, that’s her,” Vinyl said. She finally turned to look at the voice, which had a familiar ring yet didn’t sound right. The mare was standing just inside the dining room door, a cello strapped to her back and bow string sticking out of her mane. Her coat was a faded red color, and her mane was mostly black with streaks of white. Yet, even with the change in her palette, Vinyl could recognize her roommate anywhere.
“Whoa, what happened to you last night?” Vinyl said, starting to trot towards Octavia. “I didn’t think parties at places like this ever got that crazy. So, how drunk did you get, who dared you to dye your mane, and what did you get out of it?”
“I beg your pardon?” Octavia asked, eyeing Vinyl as she continued to draw closer.
“Haven't you looked at yourself in the mirror? Oh, oh, this is going to priceless.” Already grinning at what was sure to come, Vinyl quickly searched the dining room for something reflective. Her target became a silver tea set. She quickly took everything off the serving tray, and levitated the polished, reflective tray up to Octavia’s face. “See, look?”
Octavia did look, but her face remained expressionless. She did not gasp or panic or even seem to care. She just looked at herself before her gaze shifted back to Vinyl. “I was told Octavia Melody had a roommate she bickered with, one that would surely not miss her absence for a day or two.”
“What?” Vinyl set down the silver tray and pushed up her sunglasses, looking at Octavia in confusion. “Is that why you didn’t come back? Because someone told you I wouldn’t come looking for you? Tavi, I owe this much. You’ve come and dragged my sorry flank back to our apartment so many times. Besides, we may bicker, but we’re friends.”
“Ah, I see, so I was misinformed. Very well, I suppose there is only one thing to do then. I’ll have to kill you.”
Normally, hearing Octavia say anything like that would have just made Vinyl laugh. Her roommate was many things, but she was not violent. She wouldn’t even squish bugs that got into their apartment. She grab them with a napkin and put them out the window instead. But this time, the words carried a very strange weight. Vinyl couldn’t help herself, and she took a step back from Octavia. “Tavi, I haven’t done anything... in two weeks to make you mad. You’re pulling my leg, right?”
“She might joke of such things, but I am not.” Octavia shifted the cello off her back and in a few moments was in playing position. She was balancing on her hind legs while her forehooves grasped the instrument and its bow.
The display, however, only made Vinyl snort. “Oh, what are you going to do? Music me to death?”
Octavia drew the bow across the cello’s strings, and it vibrated with a deep, resonating sound that seemed to grip the whole house. Everything seemed to shift suddenly, and Vinyl had to stumble and widen her stance to keep herself from falling over. “What was that, an earthquake?”
“No, it wasn’t,” Octavia answered. Her hoof began to move the bow, now playing a more complex melody. It was dark and driving, something that got into your blood and made you want to rise from your seat. Vinyl felt the driving urge to run as the song reached her ears and flowed down to her core, and apparently she wasn’t the only thing affected.
The squeak of wood against wood made Vinyl turn around, and she saw the dining room table and its chairs starting to move towards her. They were sliding across the floor, slowly gaining momentum. Vinyl jumped to the left to avoid one chair that raced passed her and then had to quickly leap again to avoid another. Then came the table, rushing towards her like a line of hoofball linebackers. She had to duck under the table, letting it zip on past and crash into the far wall.
“What the... Tavi? Are you doing this?”
Octavia paused from her playing, causing the table and chairs to stop moving as well. “I am doing this, but I am not your Octavia. I am Rose Note, mistress of this house, and the legacy of my house will continue. You are merely a loose end, and I’ll tie you up like so many others.”
She resumed playing, but the melody was different this time. To Vinyl’s ears it sounded eastern, like something a snake charmer would play. That one noticed similarity may have very well saved Vinyl, for it made her look back at the curtains, which had long decorative ropes. The ropes were reaching out for her, and Vinyl had to stumble a few steps away to get out of their reach.
Yet, the ropes’ reach was not remaining limited. They were growing longer, forcing Vinyl to stumble back towards the far wall of the room. She glanced at Octavia for just a moment. Something was wrong. She didn’t know what it was or why it was happening, but there was some next level magic going on, and she needed to get the heck out of dodge.
“Octavia, I’m going to go get you help. I promise, I’ll be right back.”
“My dear, desperate mare. How exactly do you think you’ll be going anywhere in your current predicament?” Octavia, or rather Rose Note, asked as she continued to play and the curtain ropes continued to reach for Vinyl.
“By... doing this!” Vinyl lit her horn, and with a flash of her magic, she yanked the bow out of Octavia’s hoof and tossed it across the room. The music died, and with its disappearance the ropes lost their blood lust. They flopped to the floor, and with a triumphant smile, Vinyl rushed towards the broken window. She used her magic to nudge one of the dining room chairs into position and used it as a springboard to get outside.
She landed in the flowerbeds and quickly broke into a gallop as she headed towards the front gate. Octavia had gone crazy with magical music, that much she was fairly certain of. For something like that she needed to get help. She’d go tell the guard, or maybe the princesses. Yeah, they knew her from the wedding reception. She cancelled another gig when Pinkie Pie specifically requested her, and she rocked the castle all night long. The princesses would surely listen to what she had to say, and then they could send their guards to investigate. Then—
Vinly was halfway down the manor’s front drive when she felt the splatter of water against her nose. The first drop was soon accompanied by others. The storm was kicking back up, ramping up to a near torrential rain in the span of a few seconds. Vinyl was soaked after just a few steps, but she kept running towards the gate. All she had to do was jump the gate, like she had done when she got here in the first place, and then continue running until she found a taxi or reached the royal castle.
That was the plan, anyway, until lightning started.
The first bolt struck the ground in front of her. Its bright flash of light might have blinded Vinyl if not for her sunglasses, but there was no protection from the sound. The crack of the thunder smacked into her chest like a firm punch, and the sound left her ears ringing. That first bolt was followed by a second just to her left, and a third shortly after hit the ground behind her. It was like the storm was aiming for her and being struck by lightning even once would be enough to kill. And if she didn’t die, she’d probably be an easy target as she lay convulsing on the ground.
It would also make climbing the wall nearly impossible.
So Vinyl did the only thing she could think off: she skidded on her hooves and began running back towards the manor. This had to be Rose Note’s, or Octavia’s, doing. She was driving the storm, that was the only explanation. And that meant Vinyl would have to figure out how to snap Octavia back to her senses without the help of the princesses or the guard. Something she’d have to do in a house that could come alive and kill her whenever Octavia or Rose Note played a song.
“Tavi, if I pull this off, you so can’t nag me about the trouble I get into at parties anymore,” Vinyl said as she charged towards the castle’s broken window. Jumping back into the dining room, where Octavia was waiting, would be a bad idea. But she wasn’t going to do that. What she wanted was the chair, the one she left sitting in the flowerbed. She grabbed it up in her levitation spell and continued running until she reached the edge of the house and ran around the corner.
Vinyl kept sprinting until she was at the back of the house, where the windows were smaller and the rooms looked to be the ones used by the estate’s staff. The lightning was getting closer to hitting her, and her ears were beginning to ache from the constant bombardment of the thunder. Still, she ran along the back side of the manor, focusing her gaze on one particular window. A window that had an old cart parked right next to it.
When she was close enough, Vinyl threw the chair at that window, breaking a gaping hole in the glass. She then leapt onto the cart, using it as a step before throwing herself through the window. She landed hard inside, rolling and cutting herself in the fragments of glass just as a final bolt of lightning lanced down from the sky. It struck the cart, leaving a gaping scorched hole where Vinyl had been standing just a few seconds before.
The smell of the burnt wood managed to waft inside as Vinyl pulled herself up from the glass, and it pulled and plagued at her mind.
If she had been just a bit slower, the smell in the air would have likely been that of burning flesh.
Vinyl picked a final piece of glass out of a cut as she pushed open the door to the hallway. She wasn’t going to bleed to death, but a few of the scratches would possibly need stitches. That and they hurt like a million, tiny, burning daggers. She’d never complain about a hangover again. Still, with blood dripping and staining her coat, Vinyl entered the hallway and let the door close behind her.
“Okay,” Vinyl said to herself as she flicked the bloodied shard against the far wall, not caring if it left a small splattered stain. “Tavi’s lost her mind. I need to drag her flank out of here, but can’t do it while she can chuck lightning at my flank. What I need to do is get her away from that instrument.”
Those words lingered in Vinyl’s head a moment before she groaned and slapped her forehead with a hoof. “And... I just did that. I just took her bow string away, and instead of taking the cello away I bolted for the window.” She smacked her head again before lowering her hoof and using her magic to lift up her sunglasses and rest them on her horn. “I really need to start listening to Tavi and think things through.
“Well, guess I know what I’m going to do when I find her again.” Vinyl lit her horn, letting its light slowly spread across the hallway. No candles were lit. The only place that might have been illuminated were the windows at the far end of the hallway. The windows, however, were as dark as night thanks to the storm outside. Only the occasional searing flash of lightning provided brief illumination beyond the glow of Vinyl’s horn. “Just need to find her first.”
Not knowing where she was in the manor, Vinyl glanced to either side before taking a step to her left, trying to head back towards the heart of the manor. She had last seen Octavia in the dining room, and she thought that was on the right side of the manor, which would now be her left because she leapt through a window in the back of the house. She could start there, and if Octavia had gone someplace else, she’d at least know of two broken windows she could use to escape.
“At least she can’t throw lightning in here.”
The moment the words slipped from Vinyl’s mouth, a low note filled the air. The house shook briefly, as it did in the dining room, and she felt the cold, icy dagger of dread starting to crawl up her spine. Octavia was beginning a song. Danger could come for literally anything around her. Each note was a tug on the strings. In the dining room it had been the decorative ropes on the curtain, but what would it be here? There were the paintings on the wall, numerous and creepily similar to one another. Would they jump down from their nails and start trying to surround her?
There were also the small decorative tables. Each was dotted with small decorations that could easily be flung at her like artillery. Everything in the hallway suddenly became a weapon. Everything became something to fear, and Vinyl couldn’t help but slowly spin on her hooves. She could hear the song progress, reverberating through the manor like a calling voice. Yet Vinyl saw no movement. She should have seen something by now. Was Octavia just messing with her? No, the Octavia, or rather Rose Note, she had seen in the dining room didn’t seem the kind to play games.
Something was coming to kill her. Something in the house would be given life with but a single purpose. It would draw her blood. It would steal her breath. It would silence the driving beat of her heart. Her only hope of surviving was to see it coming. Yet, still, she saw no movement.
She did feel it though.
The rug shifted beneath Vinyl’s hooves, making her jump and scramble off. She pressed herself against one of the walls, ensuring her hooves were on the wood flooring before she looked back. The long, red rug that ran the length of the hallway had tried to grasp her hooves. She could see the small circular mounds flattening back into the fabric. She almost dared to believe that was it, but the cello music still lingered in the air, rising to a crescendo as the rug rose from the floor.
It was not levitated. No, the rug was lifting itself up, and as it did it rolled itself along its length. It formed a single long tube, one that began to coil, shift, and writhe. The end of the rug was drawn close to where Vinyl was standing. The golden tassels that once accented the rug’s end now grew and interwove into a new shape.
The rug was forming into a fabric serpent, with the golden tassels forming the head. It was no small snake either. It was large enough to swallow her whole and longer than several parts placed end to end. The hallway was just big enough to be its burrow in comparison, and Vinyl was proportionally little more than a tasty mouse that had wandered into danger.
This was when the distant cello music made a tempo change, shifting from dark and rising to driving and dangerous.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Vinyl managed to spit out just as the rug turned to face her. It flicked its tongue out, then opened its mouth to reveal fangs like the reaper’s scythe.
“Tavi, when I wake you up, we’ve got to talk about this sick sense of humor. You don’t even like snakes!” Vinyl bellowed, feeling that even if she couldn’t see Octavia, her words would still be heard. She leapt away from the wall, just barely managing to escape the snake’s first lunge. She landed hard against the now-exposed wooden floor of the manor, knocking some of the air from her lungs. Still, she did not linger. She gathered herself up and jumped to avoid the snake’s second strike.
Vinyl tried to cast a spell, but it flickered and faltered as the magic failed to form. She scrambled back from another strike of the rug serpent before stopping and tapping on her horn with a forehoof. “Come on, I can cast this spell in a second flat when I’m dealing with idiots who got by the bouncer. Come on!” That final shout, and a firm strike of her hoof, appeared to sort out her magic. The glow of energy around her horn became steady, and a moment later a spherical barrier formed around Vinyl. She then smiled and pointed a defiant hoof at the snake. “Ha! Eat this!”
The snake flicked its tongue once at her and then lunged forward all the same. Its gaping maw plastered against the exterior, giving Vinyl a first hoof look at what had become of the rug’s interior. It was now dripping with liquid, and the tongue of lint and dust slathered against the exterior of the barrier. It was a disgusting sight, perhaps not the worst Vinyl had ever had to face, but there was no denying that it made her cringe.
Yet, she was safe. The barrier held. The snake was outside, she was inside, and for a brief moment Vinyl smiled. That moment, however, quickly disappeared as the snake began to press down on the barrier. Its lips then began to move. The widening jaw, hindered only by the fibers of the rug, began to encompass more and more of Vinyl’s barrier. It was taking her up on her challenge and was attempting to eat her along with her shield spell.
Once more, Vinyl’s magic flickered. She waved her forehead around in manic circles and tapped on her horn with her hoof. “Come on, bigger barrier. I need a bigger barrier.” She kept saying that over and over, as if pleading with her own magic while the snake's jaw spread further and further around the spell. It soon passed the halfway point, and speed was able to increase as its jaws began to close around the sphere.
With only fifteen percent of the shield left exposed, the snake began lifting Vinyl off the ground. The movement knocked Vinyl off her hooves, leaving her to slide around inside the barrier as she tried to convince her magic to work. When her magic continued to be defiant, she began beating on the spell, trying to break out of the one part the snake hadn’t yet eaten. That exposed portion, however, was shrinking quickly.
Vinyl managed a final shout and banged her hooves a few more times against the spell. But then the snake’s fabric lips were closed, and the sphere was slipping further down the serpent’s body, a giant lump that stretched the rug’s fabric to twice its regular size. Still, the serpent seemed content, its lint tongue flicking out as it began to slither forward, body undulating in the small expanse of the hallway.
The cello music had grew calm in the aftermath, becoming something of a funeral march. Long notes directed the snake but also seemed to mourn the passing of Vinyl at the same time. There were tremors in the notes, which only added to the beauty of the music as the snake was directed to the front foyer. It began to coil itself up there, to rest and sleep as the music gave it the ability to digest its meal into oblivion.
That was, until, a portion of the serpents body suddenly burst into shreds, causing both it and the cello music to abruptly cease to exist.
Vinyl stood at the center of the explosion. Her mane was blown back, and bits of her coat were singed by magic, but she was smiling like a mad-mare all the same. While she had been eaten, she had resumed her attempt to make the shield larger. When that continued to fail, in her panic she began to overcharge her shield. Eventually, it reached the point where the amount of magical energy was too much to be contained. The spell overloaded and burst, causing an outward explosion that ripped the serpent rug to shreds.
“Ha! That’s what you get!” Vinyl shouted at the lifeless head of the serpent. She even went over and began to jump up and down on it. The golden tassels lost their shape with each stomp, slowly becoming a simple tangle of fabric. “This DJ too big a meal for you!”
The adrenaline rush began to fade away, and as it did, Vinyl stopped stomping on the fabric-serpents head. She flopped onto the floor, lying on her back with her hooves in the air. A few laughs escaped her lips. She felt light headed but good all the same. It had been terrifying, but it had been such a rush. Though, the only reason she could even say that was because she was alive.
“You know, Tavi, if we get the crazy out of you and you can still do stuff like this, we should totally do a haunted house for Nightmare Night. It would be cool, and we’d make so much money.” Vinyl still believed that, wherever Octavia was in the house, she was listening. “That or you could probably do a stage show. Octavia and her Musical... Puppet... Thing.... I don’t know, we can work on the title.”
Vinyl let her eyes roll shut, recovering with the cool, wooden floor against her back. She laid there for a few seconds, her breathing returning to a normal tempo. But then she heard it and felt it. First it was a distant note, low and long. Then came the familiar shake. Octavia was exerting her will on the manor again. The fight wasn’t over.
Pulling herself from the floor, Vinyl didn’t wait to see what horror was being conjured. The previous two times Octavia had brought something to life to attack her it had taken time. It took time for the music to influence the manor, and it took time for the items to become dangerous. Lingering and waiting for whatever it was to attack was not the smart idea. She needed to move, to try and stay ahead of the music.
Or, at the very least, to put some distance between herself and whatever Octavia was conjuring.
So Vinyl turned and galloped to the nearest door, intending to search the entire bottom floor of the manor for her friend before returning to the foyer and moving up to the second floor.
Octavia was no where to be found on the first floor. Vinyl went room to room, even finding the dining room where she had first entered the cursed manor. Yet her roommate and friend was nowhere to be found, and the music never grew louder. It seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The woeful notes of the cello remained constant, and that itself made Vinyl worry.
She had not seen the manor changing. No rug was rising up to attack her. The tables and chairs she passed didn’t rush forward to bludgeon her. Everything was remaining where it was, yet the music continued. The notes slipped and wove through the air, always building, but they never reached a true crescendo. They never reached the climax that, in the hallway, drove the snake to attack.
It was like a thunder storm that rumbled and grew but refused to unleash its fury.
Now Vinyl found herself back in the foyer, walking slowly as she kept her guard up. With the ground floor searched, it was time to go up the staircase in the main foyer and to continue her search. And still, everything seemed to be in place. The room was just as she had left it. Even the tattered and stomped remains of the rug serpent still lay where she had left them. She wanted to go over and stomp the thing a few more times for good measure, but Vinyl kept her path directed towards the stairs.
And still the melody of the cello remained, dancing around her like a taunting ghost. It wouldn’t be there unless Octavia had something planned, but what was it? Vinyl kept questioning this of herself as she put a hoof on the stair’s first step. What danger hadn’t she seen? Could it be something waiting for her on the second floor? That would make sense. Octavia was building up something, trying to protect herself. It was, perhaps, just the flicker of hope Vinyl needed.
If Octavia, Rose Note, or whoever was trying to defend herself, then that meant she felt threatened. That meant there was still a chance to help Octavia. It was just a matter of...
On the tenth step of the staircase, Vinyl froze and turned her ears. A chill ran down her spine. Something was wrong. Something was missing. She took another ginger step up the staircase, looking back over her shoulder and all around as she did. The room looked the same. Nothing had visibly changed. Or, if it did, it was such a minute detail she couldn’t see it from her place halfway up the staircase.
There was no movement around her. Everything was still. Everything was silent.
Everything was silent.
The music was gone. That was what had changed. The cello’s notes had faded, leaving Vinyl with nothing but the subtle sound of her breathing for company. This had to mean something. Octavia had ended her previous song, one that had been comprised of nothing but a sense of building and anticipation. Octavia was ready, and that meant there was a trap waiting for Vinyl somewhere ahead.
One that could likely be triggered with the first note of Octavia’s next song.
To move blindly ahead was a death wish. Vinyl lifted her forehoof and began to take a step back down the stairs. She needed time to reconsider this, to make a plan. To figure out a way to defend herself, or at least find a weapon. Maybe a frying pan from the kitchen, or a table leg from the dining room. She just needed something large she could swing around with her magic, if only so its presence could give her courage to face the unknown of the second floor.
But Octavia didn’t give Vinyl that chance. With Vinyl’s second step back down the stairs, the music resumed. Like it was during Vinyl’s fight with the snake, the melody was dark, driving, and murderous. As if the bow had been used to slice someone’s throat and now was putting that death, violence, and blood into the cello’s strings. And with the music came a snap, loud and sharp. A snap that came from above Vinyl’s head.
Vinyl didn’t look. She just bolted. Putting all the strength she could into her legs, she rushed up the stairs. It proved to be the right decision. Something fell to the staircase behind her, the sound of splintering wood accenting the impact. Whatever it had been, it was heavy and large. Vinyl did not dare to look until she reached the top of the stairs.
And when she did look back, she felt her blood run cold.
It was the chandelier. What had once been a single, solid bit of metal was now a hive of tiny bits of metal moving and writhing as one. It had no true shape. It didn’t resemble a spider or a snake or anything Vinyl could recognize. But it formed legs to pick itself off the stairs, and every little bit of metal glinted with a sharp edge. It was a hay bale of razor blades that could walk.
It could also spit.
Vinyl saw the mass rearing back and had enough foresight to duck just as the chandelier surged forward. A gap formed in the swarming mass of metal, and several dagger-like pieces flew through the air. They zipped over Vinyl’s head, and with a thunk similar to an arrow, embedded themselves in the wall behind her.
There would be no attempt to kill her through slow digestion this time. The chandelier was simply going to rip her to shreds, in what was likely one of the most painful ways to die.
The lumbering mass extended a part of itself, growing a new leg just to take a step. It slammed it down on the staircase, and for a moment luck favored Vinyl. The staircase gave way, the collapse of one board sending the chandelier smashing into the staircase a second time. The second blow was more than the wood could bear, and the stairs collapsed.
A brief smile slipped onto Vinyl’s lips, but the music was still playing. From the hole the chandelier extended a writhing limb and began to carefully pull itself out. The collapse would slow it down, but would not stop it.
So Vinly galloped. She turned and galloped away from the staircase, magic glowing as she threw open every door she came across. She had to find Octavia, even as the cello music haunted her and the writhing sound of chandelier echoed through the halls. It was like a chorus of scissors opening and closing, which only put into Vinyl’s head the thoughts and images of her being sliced to bits.
It was in no way a pleasant thought.
The creature was quickly gaining the ground that it had lost, and Octavia’s playing was growing faster as well. The song was going to crescendo, to hit a single resounding climax as the melody outside had. She would be dead when the song reached that point, and Octavia wasn’t wasting any time. The tempo of the song was going up and the complexity of the notes was increasing. Quarter notes became eighth notes and then became sixteenth notes that seemed just as eager to stab Vinyl as the lumbering mass of metal she was trying to outrun.
Still, Vinyl opened door after door, looking and listening and praying that she would find Octavia. The melody was getting louder. Unlike the first floor, she felt like she was getting closer. Octavia was on this floor, but so was the chandelier. Vinyl caught a glimpse of it as it came up the stairs behind her, and she quickly ducked through the door she had already opened.
Octavia was not in the room, and now she was cornered. The near deafening sound of a thousand scissors was drawing near, and with it so did the song continue further towards its climax. Octavia and the beast knew where she was. They knew she was in this room. They were coming to finish it. To end what was perhaps the most pitiful rescue attempt she could muster. How was she supposed to beat this?
There... there was no beating this. She wouldn’t be able to reach Octavia. The creature would keep her away and, if not the chandelier, Octavia would surely be able to use her music to form some other defense. She couldn’t fight the music. She couldn’t hide from it. She couldn’t escape it.
The music was the real threat, and all she could do was try to beat it to the punch.
Rose Note sat in her drawing room, running the bow of her Stellar Variance across the strings. Though her eyes were closed, her music let her see everything to some degree. She was open to the sounds of her manor, to the sound of her chandelier marching towards the intruder. The mare’s intrusion had been a somewhat entertaining bother, but now it was time to end it. The crescendo would come soon, just eight more bars and—
The sound of breaking glass reached Rose Note’s ears, and her eyes cracked open as her playing paused. The crash was followed by a thud, and she almost didn’t dare to believe it was true. She rose from her seat, and with gentle care, strapped the cello to her back before placing the bow in her mane. She then walked through her silent manor, the only sound was of her hooves clicking against the floor. She reached the room where she had cornered the unicorn. Her chandelier, in its writhing mass, stood as a statue just outside the door. It had been moments away from crashing in and killing the unicorn.
She cracked the door open at first, and after scanning the room, she opened it all the way. The room in question was one of the manor’s guest bedrooms, a suitable place for a friend or family member to stay in moderate comfort. Yet, that comfort would be ruined by the window, which was now marred by a gaping hole.
Rose Note went to the edge of the window and peered outside towards the ground. There, the limp body of the unicorn lay spread across the ground. She had chosen to leap to her death rather than face the beast. “A less painful way to die,” Rose Note mused coldly, showing no remorse for the mare’s passing. “Though it certainly saves me the trouble of cleaning up the mess she would have made.”
Turning away from the window, Rose Note unshouldered her cello and drew the bow from her mane. She then balanced on her back hooves and began to play. It was a calming melody, one that began to set the manor right. The chandelier began to crawl back to the foyer, and the damage that had been done to the staircase began to mend. With but a song, Rose Note would undo all the damage the intruder had caused, and then she could properly begin the process of beginning life as a young mare once more.
Though even as she sat playing, a thought nagged at the back of her mind. For a moment she thought it was Octavia, some bit of the now suppressed mare struggling to free itself at the sight of the dead unicorn. But no, it wasn’t that. It was a bit of confusion. The more she thought about it, the more she felt something was wrong.
Was a two story fall really big enough to kill a mare?
Suddenly, her music was silenced. With a sharp snap the strings on her cello were cut, causing them to lash out. They snapped at her hoof, leaving deep cuts and making Rose Note drop the bow. She hissed through her teeth from the pain but could do little more as she felt the grasp of magic on her cello. It was ripped from her hooves and levitated into the air, its strings hanging limply where they had been cleanly cut.
“Hope you appreciate I just jumped out a freaking window for you, Octavia.”
The unicorn's red magical aura was wrapped around a chair that was now levitating just outside the broken window, and sitting in that chair was the unicorn herself. She was banged, bruised, and one of her hind legs was twisted in a way that was unnatural. She looked to be in a lot of pain, but she was alive and now had the upper hoof.
“And now, here’s what I think of all the music you’ve been playing!”
With that the unicorn raised the Stellar Variance cello up to the ceiling of the guest room before driving it down with her magic. Rose Note extended a hoof, reaching to save the instrument, but she could not. The cello smashed against the floor, the belly splitting and the neck cracking, and Rose Note screamed. She screamed as if every injury the cello took was a cut in her own body. But Vinyl did not relent. She raised the cello again and smashed it against the floor once more, destroying it even further.
Each blow left Rose Note screaming, and each blow brought back some of the natural gray color to Octavia’s coat. It took three tries, but on the last one, Vinyl smashed the cello so hard against the floor the neck snapped clean in two. With its destruction Rose Note gave forth one final scream. She then collapsed to the floor, the last tints of red leaving Octavia’s body and leaving only the mare’s natural color palette.
Vinyl panted and gritted her teeth through the pain as she levitated the chair in through the window. She set it down gently, and then let her magic fade. She panted and sweat dripped from her bow. She also gritted her teeth, as every little shift of her body sent pain shooting up her broken leg. Still, she smiled and looked at the smashed cello and back to Octavia. She then sat back in the chair, slowly letting her eyes slide shut.
“I think that makes up for all the times you’ve come to find my flank, Tavi. In fact, I think you may owe me a favor or two. But we can... talk about that after... you wake up, take me to the hospital, and convince the doctors to give me enough morphine for a horse... and a giraffe... at the same time.”
“A unicorn cellist from centuries ago casts a spell so her soul is bound to an instrument crafted by Stellar Variance, who was still alive at the time. She then passes the instrument down a line of victims by tempting them to play such a legendary instrument. Thus, she extends her life as mistress of her manor, hiring new staff with each change and leaving a detailed will to ensure no one would try to claim her fortune.”
Octavia opened the door to the hospital and then turned back to look at Vinyl. Her roommate was bandaged up to the point she was almost more bandage than pony. Her broken leg was bound in a cast that had some wheels, allowing her to sustain her mobility without having to hobble everywhere. “It sounds like a campfire story.”
Vinyl passed Octavia, moving through the door as she held it open. “Yeah, well, I lived it while you were in la-la land. So trust me, I know.”
“Being grumpy is not going to get the doctor to prescribe you stronger medication. She said we are to try this prescription out for the week. If you still feel the pain is too much after that, she’ll make it stronger.”
“That’s not it,” Vinyl said. Octavia let the door fall shut, and the pair of them began descending the hospital’s handicap ramp. “I exposed an evil, pony-possessing spirit and destroyed it. For that, I should get a reward. I mean, give me that manor. That place was pretty ritzy.”
“You would really want to live there after everything you’ve been through?”
“No, but I bet it would sell for a fortune.”
Octavia chuckled and shook her head. “Well, I wish you had saved me without destroying such a rare and beautiful instrument. Why don’t we just agree to be happy we both came out of it alive?”
Vinyl made a deep, throaty grumble but didn’t complain further as the pair reached the street. The storms that had been circling the city that night, likely summoned by Rose Note, were now gone, leaving only a serene blue sky.
“I do have one question. What made you think to jump out a window?”
For the first time that morning, Vinyl smiled. “Well, it was pretty genius. I realize I was going to be dead as soon as Rose Note reached the climax of her song. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t fight back. I thought that the only way to stop her from killing me was to kill myself, and that gave me the idea to fake my death.”
Octavia nodded. “Yes, I suppose it was a brilliant idea at the time. Still, you said you levitated yourself back up to the window using a chair.”
“Yeah. I never got the hang of levitating myself, so I cast the spell on the chair and sat on it.”
“Where did the chair come from?”
“Oh, the dining room. See, that was the chair I used to break open a window when the lightning was chasing me. I landed right near the same spot I entered the manor earlier. So I grabbed it out of the broken window that was there.”
“I see. So we were saved by your famous dumb luck.”
Vinyl stopped in the street a moment. “What? No? We were saved by my brilliance.”
Octavia slowed and stopped a few steps ahead of Vinyl before turning to look at her roommate. “If you fled into any other room on the second floor you wouldn’t have been close enough to that chair to use it. That means you leapt out the window with no idea how to get back up. Rose Note would have eventually killed you when you tried to hobble away with your broken leg.”
“I... My plan was... It would...” Vinyl struggled with her words before they all died in her throat, leaving the mare to curse. “I think I liked it better when you were possessed.”
“Oh, don’t pout. Let’s get back to the apartment and I’ll make you that dreadful health smoothy you like so much.”
“With extra asparagus?”
Octavia grimaced, but nodded all the same. “Yes, with extra asparagus.”
“Tavi, I think I love you.”
“And I think you’re delirious from your medication.”