• Published 19th Jul 2013
  • 805 Views, 32 Comments

Diminuendo - NCorven



They say we all wear masks. A thousand, million different faces shown to the world, disguises, tricks, and subterfuge, to protect us from the grinding, caustic assault of the world we live in. But who is Vinyl Scratch, behind the mask? Behind the gla

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Wasteland

WASTELAND

A single spotlight shone down on the stage. The rest of the concert hall was darkened, silent. None moved, save for the occasional adjusting in a seat, or occasional fidget. It was strange, really, to see that many ponies, just sitting, waiting. Especially considering the make-up of the room. They were Canterlot’s upper crust, the cream of the crop, the richest and most influential ponies in the city.

She would soon as play for gutter rats, if it meant she didn’t have to deal with them.

She repressed the urge to snort. Taking her bow in hoof, she planted her feet, adjusted her feet, and put her bow to the strings of her cello. She began to play.

It began softly.

Several strokes with her bow, carefully, deliberately, across the strings of the instrument, long, smooth notes to open the piece. The audience leaned forward, interested, some falling silent, some exclaiming quietly to friends and acquaintances.

And then abruptly, it changed.

Her strokes morphed into an uneven, discordant pattern, which pounded, over and over, hypnotically. The drums behind her beat softly, adding a line of the strength to the unorthodox piece. Then, just as her audience adapted to the pattern, it changed again, pulsing, singing, through the bow in her hooves. The orchestra behind her exploded into sound.

The piece ripped through thundering crescendos, in some places, fast-paced, in others, slow, smooth, but brutal strokes of musical fury. Her chest heaved, and her breathing quickened. It was a full orchestra, but there was no doubt who was in control of the music.

Her whole body ached with the strain of playing, both the weight of the cello, and the pure outpouring of sound and emotion.

Her throat burned, and her hoof cramped.

The music rose to new heights, rising ever higher in a few swift strokes of her bow. She jerked the bow back and forth furiously, the sharp, cutting sounds a perfect match to the violence of the piece.

Three.

Last.

Strokes.

Abruptly, it was over. The audience looked... apprehensive, almost as if they were unsure the piece was over. She pulled the bow back, resting one hoof at her side. The spotlight shut off. Soft, polite applause filled the concert hall, a light clopping of hooves on the floor. The curtains rolled in.

And then it was over.

She sank to the ground, and the bow clattered on the hard wooden floor. Octavia breathed heavily, sucking in massive quantities of air with every breath.

“You look like you could use a hand.”

She looked up and scowled immediately. A familiar visage filled her vision, sarcastic, and, as always, wearing that stupid, shit-eating grin.

“Harpo, you ass.”

He pondered, one hoof thoughtfully placed over his mouth.

“You know, Octavia, I know a few donkeys who might take offense to that.”

“Bite me, Harpo.”

“Do you want help or not?” he half-chuckled.

She grunted in affirmation, and he offered her a hoof. She got to her feet, and placed her cello carefully into its case.

“Thanks.”

“Oh, but Tavi, whatever would you do without me?”

She gave a noncommittal laugh. “You know, I’d probably be at least the littlest bit more sane, you know?”

He took the half-hearted insult in stride, as he always did.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. It’s not like I have other friends to hang out with.”

She laughed.

“But you don’t, that’s the problem.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “This is true.”

She swung the cello case onto her back, wincing at the weight.

“Come on, Harpo, let’s go find ourselves a drink.”

His face instantly brightened. “That sounds like a plan!”

They walked off the stage side-by-side, through a small side door leading into the dressing rooms.

“Harpo, please, never, ever smile like that. I can’t abide a pony who smiles too much.”

“It’s just my charming and dynamic personality, Octavia. You just can’t get enough!”

“One more word and I’m going to smack you.”

“Enough said.”

She was on her third glass of whiskey by now. Or maybe the fourth? She couldn't really remember. Not that it was important.
Harpo sat on the couch opposite her, also cradling a similar glass. He had a purple coat and teal hair, and wore a red bowtie. Her cello, in its case, leaned against the wall of her apartment.

“All I’m shaying is, Harpo, is that they don’t reaally appreciate what we’re doin’ out there? You know what I’m shaying?”

He nodded energetically. “Of courshe, Tavi. I mean, I put all thish work into writing these piecesh—Hell, you’re the only one who can play them, at leasht for now. And you know what?”

She nodded. “What?”

He gestured wildly with the glass. “All we get out there is shome polite applaushe, maybe shome shtupid article in the newshpaper. They don’t even know what itsh like to feel the music, to even know what it means. You know?”

“I hate it, Harpo, I really do. I can’t shtand it any more. Drivesh me to drink, it doesh.”

“Everything drivesh you to drink, Tavi,” he muttered.

She noticed her glass was empty, once again. She sighed, and untied her ubiquitous pink bowtie. The bottle lay on the couch next to her, and she uncorked it, with difficulty, and poured herself a glass.

“Harpo?”

“Yesh?”

“You want more?”

“Of coursh I do, you sherious right now?”

He sat back with a full glass.

“Anyway, Harpo, what I’m shayin is that these Canterlot socialitesh, the ones we play for, day in and day out? They don’t care about the music, not even a little bit. They like it ‘cause itsh trendy, and because itsh popular. It makesh me sick.”
She finished, maybe just a little bit proud of herself for spitting out that whole paragraph. She took a deep draught to congratulate herself.

Harpo nodded repetitively, bobbing his head back and forth in the way only a drunk could.

“Shometimes, I think we’re the only shane ones here, Tavi.”

“Thatsh for shure.”

She raised her glass.

“Cheers, Harpo. To ush!”

The glasses clinked messily, and they each gulped down the remainder.

“Another?”

“Of coursh!"

Harpo was long since asleep. About an hour before, he'd lapsed into a drunken stupor, and he snored softly on the couch. Octavia, on the other hand, remained awake. The liquor clouded her vision, sure, but she wasn't a lightweight like her teal-haired friend.

Time to get some fresh air.

She started to pour herself another glass, but eventually dismissed the idea, and grabbed the bottle instead. She took her feet, somewhat unsteadily, and walked out the door to the apartment, into the hall. She walked towards the double doors that led to the street, and looked to the side, towards the mail room. She should probably pick up her mail tomor—

"Oof!"

The breath left her body, but she remained standing, somehow. She had bumped into another mare, one entering the building. Her coat was a stark white, and she wore a black hooded jacket, which she had pulled up over her head. Her hair was a wild, electric blue, but the most unusual thing about her was her glasses. It was the middle of the night, yet she wore a pair of heavy, black-rimmed sunglasses, with large purple lenses.

Octavia was the first to speak up.

“I’m very sorry about that. I didn’t mean to bump into you.”

The other mare replied, speaking in a soft, weary voice.

“It’s ok. That was my fault. Wasn’t looking where I was going.”

“Well, all the same, I must apologize.”

“I appreciate it. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

And then she walked inside. Odd. Octavia had never seen her before, but apparently, they lived in the same apartment.

Huh. Well, you learn new things every day.

She continued on her walk down to the street, pausing, and leaning against the wall. She took a swig out of the bottle, and it burned her throat all the way down. One or two ponies hurried down the street in front of her.

Her apartment building wasn't exactly in the nicest part of town, relatively speaking. It was in one of the seedier districts of Canterlot, away from the shining towers and breathtaking beauty of the palace. Whatever. She snorted. Let the fools and the fat cats have the splendor and decadence of the so-called "high life." She'd be happy playing her cello on the street, if she could earn a living that way. Unfortunately, street musicians did not live prosperous lives. For once, she'd like to play music, just for the sake of playing it, not to please the uneducated, unconcerned masses of wealthy, stupid patrons. Or, you know, play music for people who really appreciated it. The rest of the nobles could go suck an egg. She shivered, and
decided it was probably a good idea to head back inside.

She began the long walk back upstairs, and, upon reaching her floor, she stepped inside and locked the door behind her. Harpo still slept on the couch, and she flopped down on the one opposite, too tired to walk to her room. She poured another glass, downed it, and laid back on the arm.

She was asleep in minutes.

The first thing Octavia noticed upon opening her eyes was the pain. Almost like a jackhammer pounding, over and over, behind her eyes. Every joint in her body was stiff and creaky, and even the barest cracks of light coming in through the closed blinds seemed overpowering.

“Ugh...”

She slid of the couch with a loud thump, impacting the floor heavily.

Hangovers sucked.

She heard a soft cough from the unexplored space in front of her, and looked up to see Harpo sleeping in an awkwardly bizarre fashion on the couch opposite her. Even in her current state, she had to stifle a laugh. One hind leg hung precariously over the edge of the armrest, the other splayed vertically up the side of the backrest. His head was stuffed in between the two cushions that made up the seat and his forelegs lay haphazardly alongside.

She got up, wincing, trying unsuccessfully to loosen her stiffened joints for the first few steps. And damn it. Her neck hurt!

“It’s what get for falling asleep on the couch again, I guess,” she muttered to herself.

She walked into the kitchen, making sure to keep as quiet as she could. Harpo wasn’t exactly a morning person anyway, even without having consumed copious amounts of alcohol the night before.

The kitchen was messy. She shoved aside empty cereal boxes and clean dishes, finally finding what she was looking for.

Hah! There it was! Coffee!

It probably would have been easier to just go out and buy coffee, or to use an espresso machine, but Octavia found a certain comfort in the daily routine of using the Prench press. It was almost calming, to grind the beans and pour the boiling water in.

Just a bit, little more than a few drops.

Wait sixty seconds.

Then the rest.

Let it sit.

Then press down, the plunger forcing all of the grounds to the bottom of the glass container.

And then?

Perfectly brewed coffee, just like magic. She poured it into two mugs, and carried them back into the living room, and placed one of them on the table, keeping the other for herself.

Harpo groaned. A long, drawn-out, pain-filled groan.

“Come on, Harpo! Rise and shiine!” she sang in a mocking falsetto.

He jerked his head out from between the cushions rapidly, if only to clap his hooves over his ears. He gave her a suffering look.

“Now, Octavia, that was just cruel. Plain and simple. Cruel and unusual punishment.”

“Oh, but I brought you coffee!”

His eyes lit up, almost like a kid on Hearth’s Warming. Two things happened at once.

He surged forward, gulping down a massive quantity of scalding coffee. And then, he jumped back just as abruptly, spitting out a few choice curses, miraculously, without spilling any of the precious liquid. Octavia laughed uproariously, gasping for breath as the purple-coated stallion tried to recover.

“You...Harpo...That never gets old!” She paused only to take breath, a tear rolling down her cheeks, her hangover forgotten.

He glared daggers at her. “You know, I really don’t think it’s that funny.”

“You should have seen the look on your face,” she said, finally having regained control of herself.

“Mhm. Laugh it up.”

He took another draught of the coffee, wincing both at the taste, and at the heat.

“This is horrible. I can’t say I’ve had worse coffee, ever.”

She raised an eyebrow. “And did you make it yourself?”

“Well, no—”

She harrumphed. “Well, then you really shouldn’t be complaining, then, now should you?”

“This is true.”

He took another cautious sip, and grimaced.

“Do you at least have like... cream and sugar, or something?”

“Oh, you wuss! It’s fine the way it is. Do you just want me to make you straight up hot chocolate, or something?”

“Actually, that sounds pretty—”

“I was being sarcastic, you dolt!”

Another few moments passed.

“I guess it’s fine the way it is,” he said meekly, and she nodded approvingly.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, each adapting to the stresses of the morning.

Eventually, upon draining his mug, Harpo got to his feet, clearing his throat.

"Well, Octavia, I've gotta get going. Thanks for letting me stay last night. I need to go home and get cleaned up for tonight. Concert number two, as it were."

She groaned. "Again? I forgot we had that one tonight."

He gave a weary nod. "Yup. Shouldn't be too bad, though. At least you don't have to get up in front of everyone though. Full orchestral piece, this time."

"Well, that's a relief. Still," she gave a half-hearted smile, "you think anyone would notice if I didn't show?"

He raised an eyebrow.

"Octavia, you're first string cellist. I think somepony might notice."

"Blast. Eh, well, I guess it was probably too much to expect. I'll see you there, Harpo."

"Likewise."

"You wanna grab a drink after?"

He laughed. "Sorry Tavi, not tonight. You know I can't take too many of those in a row."

She punched him playfully. "You wuss!"

His voice dripped with sarcasm. "Not all of us are as indestructible and perfect as you, Octavia."

She gave a wide smile. "Well, now Harpo, you got that right!"

He grunted in affirmation. She walked him to the door.

"See you later, Tavi."

"And you, Harpo."

Ten minutes later, she was in the shower. Steaming water poured down her body, washing away the grime that had accumulated over the course of the last day or so. She turned the heat up again. Her body burned, but it felt nice. Water ran down her face, jet-black mane across her eyes and nose.

She took a deep breath, gritted her teeth, and then turned the water to the coldest it would go.

It took all of her willpower to stay in one spot, to not jump in the air, scream like a filly, and run away. Gods, it hurt, but at the same time, it was nice. Right, really. The cold water helped to clear her head, to help wipe away the last shreds of sleepiness from her consciousness.

She turned off the water and stepped out of the shower, shaking herself dry.

Daily rituals. That was the key. Brushing her hair, a hundred strokes. The motion was calming. She looked in the mirror, and, finally deciding she was presentable, grabbed a clean bowtie off the counter. Practiced hooves tied it, and she dropped back to all fours.

Cello. Ready. Bow. Hoof. Deep breath? And play. It was a new piece, today. Sure, she'd studied it before, and it was fine, but there was something wrong with it. A little boring, really. Not like the piece last night. She managed to suppress a grin. That had been good work from Harpo, really, truly, good work. A musical masterpiece, by any standard, but totally unexpected, especially by the Canterlot elite. Turned them on their heels, really. It was almost fun to watch them squirm, sometimes. They'd never heard anything like it before, so naturally, they didn't know what to think. Therefore, they'd rely on the opinions of those around them, but the best part was, none of them knew anything about music.

"Lemmings. I'm surrounded by lemmings."

Aw, crud. She'd forgotten what she was supposed to be playing

She cracked an eye, to look back at the sheet music, chiding herself for not memorizing the part. No worries though, she reminded herself. This is why we practice, right? Practice makes perfect. Well, not that any of them would know the difference, but—

She shook her head, opened her eyes, and looked at the clock. She only had an hour or two before she needed to leave.
Taking a deep breath, she re-gripped her bow and began to play.

The light shone down on the whole orchestra. They began to play as one, with one loud, blaring note that almost blew back the audience with pure volume. Octavia resisted the urge to grin. Harpo would, of course. The piece shifted back to normality, soon after, and her part lapsed into an easy, recognizable pattern. Repeating, simple. Mindless. She played for a while, the memorized notes flowing out by rote alone.

It was odd. She was simply... detached. The notes played on, but she looked around, her eyes free to gaze on her friends and colleagues. Some sat quietly, playing, their eyes closed, faces calm. Some faces were screwed in concentration. Tongues protruded from mouths, eyebrows twitched. All cogs in the machine. Together they formed a seamless whole, a single, concentrated force of sound.

And before long, it was over. There was polite applause, just like the night before. Cue the curtain. Musicians packed up their instruments, just like the night before. Pathetic. Couldn't they all see it? The futility of it all? She lay her cello in the case none-too-gently, dropped it in her dressing room, and stalked out of the building angrily. She didn't think she'd want to practice very much tomorrow.

It had long been night before she finally reached home. It had a been a late concert, more so than usual. Octavia all but slammed the door behind her, and clomped into the living room. She took an angry swig out of the near-empty bottle of whiskey, and fell bodily onto the couch.

Was she a cynic? Jaded? Probably. Did it matter?

No.

She heaved the bottle at the wall, and it shattered into small pieces. Amber liquid dripped down the wall.

She sighed, and dropped her head into her hooves.

And then she walked to her room, climbed under the covers, and went to sleep.

It was probably for the best she didn't get drunk the night before, because the first thing she noticed upon being awoken was smoke, pouring into her room from the thin slits marking the edges of her door.

Sparked into motion instantly, she leapt out of bed, kicking free the covers. She opened the door, only to have a cloud of smoke envelop her. She coughed, almost retching out the contents of her stomach. She looked for something, anything, to cover her mouth with, and grabbed a bowtie from her beside table, doing her best not to breath in the toxic air. She sprinted through the house, eyes watering, towards the front door of her apartment. The door jiggled, but wouldn't unlock! Taking a deep breath and trying not to vomit, she turned around and bucked the door down. Perks of playing an instrument she was forced to support on her hind legs, she mused.

It was unusual, what you thought about when you were sure you were going to die.

She sprinted down the stairs, luckily, only one flight. Octavia all but body-slammed the double doors on the way out. A small crowd of ponies already stood in the street outside the building, some soot-covered, like her, some simply coming to watch.

A tear ran down her cheek.

Higher up, one of the floors sagged inwards, a gaping crater taking the place of the building's wall.

Her home was gone.

She realized she was crying.

It wasn't an altogether strange reaction, considering everything she knew, everything she owned, was burning to the ground.

Dammit!

All she had now was her... cello. She uncurled her hoof. A really beaten-up bowtie. Actually, maybe there were a few of those in the dressing room. But still.

How many times did her life need to be destroyed?

She went out, every day, and played music for those who didn't appreciate it. She catered and groveled, she bowed and scraped, and it made her sick! But that wasn't it, not anymore. That wasn't the real issue. Maybe it was part of it.

Sirens blared in the distance. Another tear rolled down her cheek, and she sniffed. She kicked away an empty bottle which lay at her feet.

No, that wasn't the real reason. Not really. She hung her head.

It didn't come to her in an earth-shattering moment of clarity, not in a lightning flash of revelation. She just realized she was tired.

She was tired of being angry. Tired of not caring, tired of the disconnect. But most of all, she was tired of being tired. Tired of being empty.

She could drown it in drink for as long as she liked, cover it up with sarcasm and caustic remarks, but she couldn't lie to herself. Not anymore.

She blinked away the tears.

What she needed to do was just exist, for a while. Take one day at a time. Have fun. Appreciate the simpler things in life.

She flopped down on the street bench, only to find the seat next to her already occupied.

She turned her head.

"Hey, I know you. You're the one I bumped into on my way out of the building last night!"

It was the same mare from last night. She looked a little worse for wear, but she was still wearing the hooded jacket, and those glasses, although both were slightly askew. The other mare turned to reply.

"That's right."

"I'm Octavia. It's nice to meet you."

"Likewise. I'm Vinyl."

"I take it you also lived in that apartment building?" Octavia pointed at the burning building.

Vinyl gave a weary nod. "That's right."

Octavia gave her a mischievous grin.

"Tell me, Vinyl, do you always respond with monosyllables?"

The blue-maned mare laughed.

"No, not always." Vinyl looked around, blinking. "Tell me, Octavia. Since it appears we don't exactly have anything else to do, do you want to go grab a coffee?"

Octavia glanced at the burning building and shrugged her shoulders.

"You know what, Vinyl, at this point, I'm pretty much open to anything."

"Shall we?"

"After you."