• Published 24th Jun 2018
  • 1,847 Views, 284 Comments

The Fishbowl - Shrink Laureate

Vinyl remembers the doll. It's unmistakably hers. Except it's in Octavia's closet. Why do they have the same doll – and the same memory?

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9. Watching the Sunrise

Vinyl walked.

She walked down streets and turned up alleyways. The town was quiet at night. She walked all the way to old Canterlot Town, then climbed to the top of nearby Foal Mount.

She paused in one of the old town’s countless charming little squares. This one had a balcony on one side, a viewing station sandwiched between two houses, with a bench overlooking irregular streets and roofs below stretching down to the river like a patchwork picnic cloth. It was presumably supposed to be beautiful or something.

How long had she been walking? Her shoes were liberally decked with dust, her legs ached, her feet stung, her mouth was dry. She looked up. The sun was barely starting to edge over the horizon.

The horizon that’s about ten miles that way, she thought. That’s what set this whole mess in motion. That’s what ruined Trixie’s memories, what made Tavi…

Except that’s not really true. Octavia found the courage to do exactly what she wanted to. Finding the horizon didn’t force her to do anything. How long has she felt this way? Days? Months? Years? Always? What does that mean for our friendship?

“You look lost, young lady.” The voice was of an old man, resting on the bench. He was so small that Vinyl hadn’t spotted him before. He sat hunched over so low that the tip of his beard nearly touched the walking cane on which he rested.

“I'm sorry, I didn't realise this spot was taken.”

“That's quite alright. I don't mind some company for once.”

Vinyl looked out over the dark rooftops, the first inklings of dawn beginning to creep over them. “I wasn't expecting to see anybody up this early.”

“Nor was I. I’m here every day, and rarely see a soul,” he said.

“To watch the sunrise?” she asked incredulously.

He nodded. “To watch the sunrise,” he repeated. “It reminds me of old friends. Friends and family.”

An old man’s old friends. Will Tavi and me still be friends in a few years? Decades? Or will this… change everything?

“You seem distracted,” he said. “Troubled, even.”

Vinyl coughed. “I guess.” She hadn't met his eyes, instead looking at the horizon, the rooftops, the ground, the flowerbeds, her hands, the bench.

He was watching her calmly, barely moving. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.

“What?” she asked, startled. “Talk about what?”

“It. Whatever it may be. There’s clearly an ‘it’. And when a person is haunted by an ‘it’, they often find relief in talking about it.”

Tell a complete stranger? About Octavia, about the kiss, about… Why does he want to know?

She took in the man’s tiny frame, his hunched back, dishevelled old coat and scuffed shoes, his elderly grey hair and beard, and the joyful twinkle in his golden eyes.

Stop being suspicious of everyone you meet, Vinyl. This isn’t his fault. He’s one of those rare people who’s actually nice. He’s offering to help.

What do I even say?

Vinyl sat down with a sigh. “All right. I’m… worried about a friend.”

He said nothing.

“No! No, this isn’t one of those ‘I’m just asking for a friend’ things that's clearly about me. It's not that.”

He laughed quietly but waited.

“She…” Vinyl paused to gather her words. She hunched over, looking down at the flower boxes at the base of the railings. “She cares about me more than I realised. A lot more. Last night she kissed me.” She glanced at the old man to see if he looked shocked or disapproving at all, but he wore the same quiet curiosity as before.

She continued, “I had no idea she felt like that. Which, I guess, just means I’m a complete idiot, right? No surprise there. I mean, normally I can read a room, you know? I can look at a crowd and know who fancies who, or who’s got a chip on their shoulder, or who’s had too much to drink already. It’s a big part of what I do. I have to get a feel for the crowd so I can guide it the right way.

“But I never had a clue what Tavi was thinking. I mean, in hindsight it’s obvious, you know? The signs were all there. Any old friend doesn’t just put up with the shit I’ve put her through.

“So when she did it, I just… froze. I had nothing. And now she thinks I hate her or something. I don’t want to lose her. We've been friends for, well forever. I want to make it right, but I don’t... know what right is. I keep trying words out, but no matter what I think of, they sound wrong.”

“That’s because words are lies,” said the old man with finality.

Vinyl looked at him in surprise. “What? No! I didn’t lie to her. At least… I didn’t mean to.”

He shook his head. “I don’t mean your words, or hers. All words. The very purpose of language is to deceive.”

Vinyl frowned. “That sounds kind of bitter.”

“Not at all,” said the old man. He took a deep breath, looking out over the rooftops dappled with silver dawn. “Long ago, in the dream time of the world, all of the creatures were mute.”

Okay, thought Vinyl, the old guy wants to tell a story. May as well let him. She sat back to listen.

“One day, on a cold winter’s morning, a pegasus and a gryphon met at a watering hole. They saw each other at the same moment, and in that moment both knew that they would have to fight to the death. The gryphon knew because her chicks were starving, and the meat of a pegasus just might see them through the winter. The pegasus knew because he didn’t wish to leave his own foals without a father. So tell me, what do you think happened next?”

Vinyl wasn’t expecting to be called on for answers. “Er… a pegasus is like a horse with wings, right? And a gryphon is half bird, half lion, so it has wings too?”

“That’s right,” said the old man.

“Only the gryphon has claws, while the pegasus only has its, er, hooves?”

“Yes, but don’t underestimate hooves. They pack quite a punch.”

Vinyl tried to work out the facts. “So… which of them could fly faster?”

“In a straight line, the pegasus could. But the gryphon is smart. She knows the pegasus likely has a family or friends nearby.”

“So the pegasus probably isn’t going to just fly away either, or else the gryphon will turn on his family. So he could stand his ground and fight, but in nature documentaries that usually doesn't work well for the prey. Or he could try and lead the gryphon away…”

The old man chuckled. “Don’t worry, there’s no right answer. The same scene played out countless times across unmeasured aeons. And the old god-kings in their towers across the ocean watched it repeat and repeat until one day, they decided they were bored. And so, with their fearsome magic, they gave the powers of comprehension and speech to all the creatures of the world.”

God-kings? Towers across the sea? This isn’t like any creation myth I’ve heard before.

“One day, not long afterwards, the same pegasus met the same gryphon at the same watering hole. They recognized each other, as they’d both barely survived their last fight, and each carried scars to prove it. Neither wanted to fight again, but both knew they had no choice. Just as they were about to start, the pegasus raised his hoof and shouted, ‘Stop!’”

The old man paused, his hand raised. Vinyl glanced down at his hand, dark red in colour and covered in spots and veins from age, then back up at his wrinkled face lit up with the joy of storytelling.

“The gryphon stopped. The pegasus said to her, ‘Further up the river you can find my brother. He is injured, and does not know to expect you. He has no foals of his own to look after. You can feed your chicks this day without a fight’.”

Vinyl asked, “Was he telling the truth? Selling out his own brother?”

The old man smiled. “Maybe he was. Maybe he just wanted a chance to escape. Maybe he was leading the gryphon into a trap.”

“So did the gryphon believe him or not?”

“How could she? The pegasus was her enemy, so of course he would lie. At the same time, if there was a chance she could feed her chicks through the winter without risking a dangerous fight, she couldn’t ignore that. The gryphon was not stupid, yet these words put her in a dilemma.”

Vinyl looked out over the rooftops. The golden dawn light washed over terracotta rooftops, evaporating dew and filling the air with scattered dusty scents. She took a deep breath.

“So you’re saying,” she started slowly, “I can’t find the right words to say because... there are no right words?”

He nodded. “No matter how well chosen, words alone will always ring of falsehood if that's what the one listening expects to hear. You would need to find some other way of conveying your meaning. Something that cannot be a lie.”

Vinyl looked at him. “What could that possibly be?”

“I cannot tell you that,” he answered kindly. “The answer is different for each person. But don’t worry, you will find an answer. Something that works just for the two of you.”

The old man got up to leave, slowly easing his cracking joints upright. He fumbled around before setting his hand on his walking stick.

Vinyl called “Hey, I never even caught your name?”

“I’m sorry, dear, I’d probably forget my own head if it wasn’t stitched on.” He frowned, paused, felt on top of his head, then carefully knelt down to reach under the bench, fumbled around for a few seconds and emerged with a battered old hat that he put on. “Much better. Where was I? Ah, yes, introductions.” He stuck his hand forward for her to shake. “Hello. My name’s Tirek.”

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