• Published 10th Apr 2020
  • 2,697 Views, 298 Comments

Hearts Beat - mushroompone



A chance encounter at a rave leads to Twilight making an unlikely friend

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Age

"I think I'm too old for this…"

"Twilight, we're the same age," Rainbow said, prodding me along like I was nothing other than distracted livestock.

I shuffled my hooves, marching in place, turning slowly from side to side. No, no, that sounds far too deliberate; it was more like I was tripping over my own hooves. I even stepped on my own tail once or twice, and that was all while trying to stand still!

Every few steps, Rainbow would jab me in the flank towards our destination. It was friendly, but only just.

I leaned backwards and dug my hooves into the pavement. "My teachers always said I was an old soul!"

"That's just a fancy way of saying that you bummed out all the other foals!" Rainbow said. She poked my flank again, and I jolted forward another step. "Look, you promised! You don't have to do anything other than just sit around."

"But I--"

"You can even read if you want, egghead!"

"In there?!" I said, pointing to our destination.

Rainbow glared at me with a gaze that could melt steel.

I looked ahead. Though it was night, you could have mistaken it for high noon on a clear day with all the light streaming out of the building ahead. Well... I suppose if you were entirely colorblind, you could have.

It looked like a prison. Just a dull, grey, concrete cube, covered in graffiti. Probably commissioned graffiti.

The front doors were propped open, though seemingly for no other reason than to torture the entire of downtown Ponyville. It was guarded by two massive unicorn stallions, seemingly enforcing some sort of fire code capacity limit on the place.

A line of ponies snaked around the building, held back by a velvet rope. There were easily enough to fill the club several times over. They were decked out in multicolored t-shirts, bracelets, headbands, and many other accessories I couldn't even name, some of them to the point where I may not have recognized them if I saw them on the street.

I whined and stomped my hooves some more, but Rainbow Dash was now using her head and shoulder to push me along, her wings fluttering fast enough to ruffle her own tail.

"Why couldn't Applejack do it?" I asked. The rumbling beat of the music was already shooting up through my hooves. "She always does this stuff with you!"

"Because Applejack is stuck in Appleloosa on a delivery!"

"And Pinkie Pie?" I asked. I could hear the lower tones now. They rattled my eardrums like the head of a snare. "This is kind of a party, right? Lots of… loud. Loudness. And colors. And ponies!"

Still yards away and I was already losing control of my words. How did anypony manage to think with all this noise?

Rainbow scoffed. "I already told you, Pinkie's in Manehattan for the pie-baking thing!"

"What about--"

"Twilight!" Rainbow stomped her hoof.

She stopped pushing. I stopped resisting. The music kept on pumping.

"I told you, everypony is busy!" Rainbow insisted. I'm not sure if she was yelling out of anger or yelling over the music. Maybe a bit of both. "I'm taking you because I asked you! And you agreed!"

I rubbed my foreleg with one hoof. "Well, maybe I was just feeling more adventurous the first time you asked…"

Rainbow flipped her bangs out of her eyes. "Right. More like not paying attention."

I opened my mouth to shoot back, but realized I had nothing, and instead hung my head in shame.

To be fair, I could only barely remember the question drifting into my mind underneath the prose of an engaging epic poem-- perhaps I hadn't thought about it as much as I should have. After all, anything sounds possible when you're reading an epic poem.

I hooked my hoof into the single blue glowstick around my neck. Its light was but a disappointing, sickly aura against my fur when compared to the electric strobing lights ahead of us. "Can't you just not drink tonight?"

"Well if I didn't have you sign up to be my designated flier, I wouldn't have had anything to drink," Rainbow said. She suddenly smiled and threw up a hoof, as if in celebration. "But you're here!"

I chuckled. "I'm here…"

"And so is Neon Lights!"

"Yeah... right…" I looked nervously at the door. "Neon Lights…"

"One night only!" Rainbow reminded me. She was starting to look antsy, too, her voice more pleading than anything.

I looked back at her. She looked… well. I don't wanna say desperate, but honestly that was it. She shuffled her hooves ever so slightly, like a filly running in place.

"Right," I agreed. "One night only..."

"I promise you'll have fun!" Rainbow saw her opening and gave me a playful punch on the shoulder. "Don't knock it 'til you try it, Twi! You like books so much… I mean-- I dunno. You can be artsy sometimes! This is an artsy thing. There's artsy ponies in there!"

I glanced towards the club's entrance. Bright, saturated colored lights were pouring from the inside, shifting slowly from one hue to the next. On major beats, the color would change rapidly. Even from the other side of the club's cinderblock wall, the music felt like a physical shockwave of sound which rippled my very skin.

That long, long line of ponies--most of already moderately buzzed or even outwardly tipsy--which we got to bypass due to Rainbow Dash's Wonderbolt status, and my princesshood. Lucky us.

It didn't seem all that artsy to me.

The whole club scene felt like an assault to the senses; blow out your ears with music, blind yourself with strobe lights, burn your throat with alcohol, tire yourself with dance… plug your nose so you don't have to smell the vomit.

"I dunno…" I shuffled my hooves.

"Well, there's only one way to know, egghead," Rainbow clapped me on the shoulder again, this time hard enough to cause me to stumble forward.

Rainbow belonged here. She looked like a member of the crowd, for sure: glowstick jewelry on every limb, her mane looking even spiker and somehow more vibrant than usual, stripes of rainbow-hued make-up under each eye like a pro hoofball player. One of the scary ones.

I, on the other hoof, did not fit in in the least. I looked exactly as I did every day, with the additional donated glowstick from Rainbow's collection. Before we left, I had debated packing some snacks, and perhaps grabbing a pair of eyeglasses to better appreciate the onstage performer from a greater distance.

We neared the prison-- I mean, the club. My hooves carried me forward all on their own now. My only instinct was to stay close to Rainbow Dash.

I could already feel the powerful waves of vertigo-inducing anxiety washing over me. Curse my inability to tear myself away from my book…

I always ended up in situations like this. Always agreeing to things I didn't mean to agree to, always dismissing things I shouldn't have dismissed. Despite it all, I found that my hooves were walking me forward, that the lights were wrapping me up in their entrancing glow, the music thundering through my very bones.

Stepping into the club was like stepping through the side of a bubble. If I'd thought things were overwhelming from the sidewalk, they were crippling from inside.

I looked over at Rainbow Dash. Her eyes were all lit up like a foal on her birthday.

She turned to me and shouted something, though I could only see her lips moving.

"WHAT?!" I shouted back.

Rainbow leaned in close to my ear and cupped her hoof in front of her snout. "FRONT?" She asked.

I looked towards the "front" of the crowd. A million--no, a billion! Two billion!--ponies all jumbled together, bouncing off one another like pinballs off bumpers, screaming and shouting and jumping up and down and--

I shook my head vigorously. Rainbow tossed her head back and laughed, loud enough that I could catch her highest squeals. She wrapped a leg around my shoulders and pointed me towards a darkened, empty corner. A red couch ran along the wall for a few yards. It looked… clean. And comfortable. And quiet.

Quieter, at least.

Rainbow pointed to the corner, then tapped my chest with her hoof. I looked up at her. She grinned.

I smiled back. Judging by Rainbow's reaction, it was not a convincing one.

She gave me another pat on the chest, I guess in an effort to calm me down, and began backing towards the stage. As she did so, she started monologuing. I imagined that she was saying something about the nature of art and experience, or about how this is what ponies thought of speakeasies in the old days, or maybe about how proud she was of me for being adventurous and trying something new. In reality, it was probably some specific instructions about what drinks were best at the bar.

Satisfied with her pep talk, Rainbow saluted me, then shot up over the crowd and dove into the very front, where it seemed the ponies were risking life and limb to… to what? To hear the music? The music that could be heard from low orbit?

Her head popped back up out of the crowd. She was beaming, loving the thrill of being thrown from sweaty pony to sweaty pony.

One of the lights swept over me, and I felt momentarily exposed. Like a filly at her first talent show, thrust into the too-hot spotlight, standing like an awkward ballerina and shivering uncontrollably.

But the light passed, and I was in the dark once more.

Just me and the music.

The horrible, teeth-shattering, ground-quaking, ear-bursting music.

I trudged over to the dark corner and flopped down on the couch. It was pretty comfortable, all things considered. I couldn't help but be fascinated by my inability to hear my own hoofsteps, or the sound of the couch cushions hissing as they settled.

I closed my eyes. The music was certainly more complicated up close, I could give it that. It wasn’t just the pulsing beat and single chords that seeped through the stone to the sidewalk. There were hints of melodies, little recurring themes that danced above the bottom line, a long and rising drone which built and built and built and--

A tap on the shoulder.

I nearly leapt out of my skin.

Beside me stood a unicorn.

She really split the difference between Rainbow and I, I thought. Her mane was spiked, and she was wearing purple-tinted shades, but not much else screamed 'club'. If I'd passed her on the street, I wouldn't have thought she was… well, anything, really.

And yet she seemed very comfortable here.

Not much more daring in her fashion than me, and yet so relaxed. So at home.

How could anypony be so unabashedly confident?

She held out her hoof. Or, I suppose, she had been holding out her hoof this whole time, and tried to direct my attention towards it with a little prodding motion.

In it were two small, orange pellets.

I recoiled and shook my head. “No!” I mouthed. “I don’t take recreational drugs!” I explained, over-enunciating every syllable.

She seemed to chuckle. Using her magic, she lifted one of the pellets and mimed putting it into her ear.

I blushed furiously. Earplugs, you dope.

The mare moved her hoof a little closer to my face, and I sheepishly took the plugs from her.

It was amazing. I forced the plug into my ear, and suddenly it was like all the world's sharp edges had melted. Had I not known better, I would have told you that the whole scene was playing off a radio, or perhaps from the neighbor's garage.

“Better?” the mare asked. Her voice was clear and sharp, if lower than the average mare's.

I breathed a sigh of relief. “I can hear!” I shouted. I put a hoof over my mouth, embarrassed by my volume.

The mare only laughed. “It’s a spell! Traces the source of a sound and muffles anything originating from further than a few yards.” She sat down next to me on the couch. “Neat, huh?”

I put a hoof up to my ear and felt around a bit. What I thought I would find, I have no idea. “Genius… ” I mumbled. "Why didn't I think of that?"

The mare smiled to herself, but did not respond. She instead took a seat beside me on the couch and looked out at the crowd. She took a deep, calm breath, and began to bob her head to the beat of the music. Though I couldn't see her eyes behind the shades, I felt certain that they were shut.

With her sitting so close, I could see the hint of an orange pellet deep in her own ear.

“You too?” I asked.

She paused her musical meditation, the tiniest bit of shock registering on her face, as if she hadn’t expected me to speak to her again. “Earplugs?" I nodded. "Yeah. These kinds of places are usually too much for me, but I like the music. Hence the shades.” She tapped the frames of her dark glasses. I imagined what it might be like to see this event through such heavily-tinted lenses. The lights softer, the colors muted.

“Huh,” I said. “Smart.”

“Surprised?”

“A little bit,” I mumbled. “Not that you're smart, I mean! That you-- well, you look-- well. You belong here, I guess. More than I do.” I looked down at my own sad, lonely glowstick necklace.

She shrugged. “It’s like research. I'm sure you get that. I'm here for research, not pleasure.” She peeked at me over her shades. Her eyes were a vibrant red. “I write music, you know.”

I had to suppress a snort of laughter. So cheesey… “Oh, do you?”

She pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose. “Yeah, y'know. A little here, a little there. If you wanna be at the cutting edge of the music scene, you come to a place like this.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Really?”

She nodded sincerely. “Oh, yeah.”

“Not, say, a school?” I pressed.

She scoffed. “Schools teach old stuff. Why would you go to a school for something new?”

I scowled at her. "I'm actually a firm believer in 'learn the rules before you break them.'"

I couldn't quite see her roll her eyes, but she rolled her head to make sure I didn't miss it. "That's so-- why would you do that? Learning the rules is still learning the rules! How can you do anything original if all your… I dunno, your creative space, I guess, is full of rules?"

"So you're a surrealist?" I asked.

"Don't--" she scoffed, shook her head. She kept sneaking little side glances at me, looking me up and down… I could just barely make out her pupils through the side of her glasses. "You're using fancy words to-- if you wanna learn something new, why would you ever learn the rules?"

A little giggle escaped. "Exactly. Surreal artists believe that creativity shouldn't be bound by any rules at all; you should write words just because they sound good together, make paintings to touch instead of look at… rethink the structure of art itself."

"Oh." The mare sat back. Her bottom lip stuck out a little bit, and she nodded herself. "Well, then, those guys must be really smart."

"Sure," I said. "Or crazy."

She thought about that, then laughed. "Maybe crazy."

We were quiet for a moment. The underlying drone of the music had risen to an almost unbearably high whine, finally sustaining… and suddenly diving back down to a powerful chord. Everything stopped. I'm sure not for long, but it felt like forever. When the music came back, it was softer. A sort of calm at the eye of the storm.

"I would think that, if you really wanted to hear something new, you'd want to go to a jazz club," I said.

She scoffed. "You sound like my marefriend."

"And what do you say to her?" I asked.

"That anypony can pluck a string and make a sound come out," she said. "But stuff like this… you have to know all the technology and the math and everything to make anything at all. It makes it… well, you have to think more about it than those guys who are just-- well, y'know!"

She made a grimace, hunched her shoulders, and began to mime playing the piano, mostly sweeping glissandos up and down the entirety of her invisible keyboard.

I laughed, perhaps a little too loud, and pressed a hoof over my mouth. It took me a moment to remember that nopony but my mystery mare could hear me over the ruckus.

Mystery mare stopped her miming and gave me a sideways smirk. Very subtle. Almost like she didn't want me to see it.

"I think you're underestimating jazz musicians," I finally managed to say, holding back laughter all the while.

She shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. All I know is that I let my marefriend try out my equipment and she could only make it sound like robots goin' at it." She paused her, flipped her mane, adjusted her glasses. "I, on the other hoof, nailed the opening to Crazy Train on her cello in under ten minutes."

"Tsk. Playing somepony else's song?" I playfully shook my head. "That sure sounds like playing by the rules to me."

"If you think Oxxy Oxbourne is playing by the rules, you have a lot to learn about music," she said, firm and serious as ever. "I should lend you a CD sometime, princess."

I smiled. "I'd like that."

She looked down at her hooves and laughed. I thought I detected the tiniest falter in her voice. "Alright, I-I'll hit you up sometime."

I didn't exactly know what to say to that. Everypony in Equestria knew where I lived, after all-- it seemed silly to tell her.

Our conversation ended there. We sat next to one another for a while longer-- maybe a few minutes, maybe an hour or two. I hate to admit it, but I was too distracted by the music to notice.

I wouldn't have said as much to Rainbow, but my mystery mare was right about the music: it was new, it was exciting, it was cutting edge. It was exciting every time, different around every turn. Even though it was the same stallion using the same machine, every song sounded different. Each minute was a new experience.

It wasn't entirely unlike magic, I decided. A crossing of science and art. Mathematics powered by emotion. Intention directed by creativity.

Still too loud for my taste, though.