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
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 glasses? Loner? Distant? Detached? And who is Octavia? Alcoholic? Apathetic? Abrasive? Only time will tell.
They spread out over the floor, a writhing, pounding, constantly moving sea of living beings, ponies, thrashing, dancing, moving. All different colours, shapes, sizes, all different walks of life. Yet one thing, and one thing only connected each and every one.
The beat was like a living creature, like an animal. It climbed, climbed higher than the highest mountains, and it fell, fell farther than the deepest abyss of the earth. It cut into their souls, into the deepest, most suppressed depths of their collective psyche. It brought out the animal inside, the shadow, the basest, the bestial core of all who listened. It resonated through the hearts and minds of the ponies of the dance floor, and it sung. It rose to roaring, dizzying heights, and then it was gone, leaving listeners to wonder where it had gone, wanting, craving, needing it to come back, to dance, to express the simple essence of motion.
The lights danced in tandem with the beat, huge, multi-coloured spotlights, spinning wildly in disorienting, mesmerizing patterns all across the room. It lent the room an ethereal, ghostlike quality, throwing lights and shadows in equal veracity across every corner of the building.
And the ponies. All of them danced, even the bartender, who, despite his best intentions, bobbed almost imperceptibly, unable to resist the animal attraction of it all. They were every colour under the sun, from red, pink, blue, to purple and a vivid, shocking green. They juked and bobbed, danced and shuffled, and above all, moved. Many didn’t even know their partners, but it didn’t matter. They were breathless, struck silent, too caught up in the constant beat to make any noise save panting and heavy, wanting breaths.
And above it all, in a heavy wire cage, sat one pony. For all the sweaty, animalistic displays of debauchery before her, she could have been unaware. She moved too, slightly, barely, to the ever-changing beat, electric-blue hair bobbing along in time. She was impassive, dead to the neon, fluid world around her, eyes concealed behind large purple sunglasses. Her coat was the palest white, almost seeming understated, invisible in the explosion of colour that surrounded her. She was constantly at work, hooves and horn flipping, changing records, spinning, grinding, and melding them together in a seamless harmony of discordant beats.
Above it all, there she stood.
It was always an eery feeling, when the music stopped. When the crowd was gone. It was almost like someone turning out the lights, except those were already off. Simply... the absence of life, where it had abounded before.
They were all gone.
Calmly, deliberately, she took her headphones off, setting them to the side of her station on a small table. Equidistant, symmetrical, exactly in the center of the table. She retrieved a hoodie from a small bin, pulling it around herself in one smooth motion, pulling the hood of the garment up around her head. She walked to the edge of the cage, and unlocked it, exiting the booth.
Why was there a wire cage? Ah, yes. To protect her from drunken or rowdy crowds, in case they threw bottles or rushed the stage. But why, why did she need one? She wrinkled her nose. Would they really do that? Probably, but still. It was her job to keep them satisfied, to keep them dancing, moving to her music. If she wasn’t doing her job, then shouldn’t she know about it?
The door shut behind her with a loud clang. She jumped, startled, swiveling her head back to look at the cage. Nothing. Of course.
The dance floor was... well, it was a dance floor. Empty bottles and cans littered the room at various intervals, and it smelled of vomit at more than one location. It smelled of sweat, of body odour, of alcohol, and above all, it smelled of life.
A stallion approached. His coat was a light blue, and his cutie mark was a microphone, flanked by two plugs. He approached her almost hesitantly, as if was going to ask her something, but already knew what the answer was.
“Hey, Vinyl, you want to join us for drinks? Neon and Drops want to go out to this new place down the road.”
“No thanks, Mic. Maybe another time.”
He nodded, seeming almost sad, almost accepting of an inevitability.
Of course he already knew the answer. She never went out with them for drinks. She had started working at the club a year or two before. Every night, she played her set, and then left, with only a word or two for any of the other staff.
She resumed her deliberate walk towards the door.
She paused, then turned her head back.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
She gave him a small smile.
“I’ll be here.”
And with that, she walked out. He shook his head.
“She’s an odd one, isn’t she.”
The street wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t crowded, either. Ponies, in varying states of intoxication, stumbled and strolled through the streets of Canterlot. They all went about their separate lives, working, playing, laughing, crying. All at once. Sometimes she wondered what they thought of her. What could they? A white-coated unicorn, walking through the street, a grey hoodie pulled up over her head.
She left the club behind, walking down the precise center of the sidewalk. Her apartment was coming up soon. She pushed open the door to the building, not quite looking. The linoleum was dirty, but—
She tumbled to the ground. She shook her head, disoriented, and then looked up to see a hoof offered in help. A grey-coated mare, with eyes of the purest violet. She wore a pink bowtie, hanging loose and unlaced around her neck, and cradled a half-full bottle of whiskey. Vinyl took the proffered hoof, pulling herself to her feet in smooth motion.
The other mare was first to speak.
“I’m very sorry about that. I didn’t mean to bump into you.”
“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.”
And that was that.
With steady hooves, Vinyl inserted the key into the lock. The rest of the trip had been uneventful. What remained of the daytime hustle and bustle had disappeared by the time she had reached her apartment, and she had seen nary a soul, save the mare she had bumped into. Even the drunks were home and asleep, passed out in whatever alcoholic fancies took their favour.
Only she wasn’t. Not yet, anyway.
Her apartment was... well, it was neat. That was a good word for it. Various shelves dotted the walls and rooms, filled with meticulously organized records. Records of all kinds, jazz, blues, dubtrot. Classical. Especially classical. All of the furniture was symmetrical, almost balanced in its very nature. She locked the door behind her, placing the key carefully into a small bowl on the table by the door. She shook off her hoodie, placing it on a coat-stand opposite the table.
She walked into the living room. A table sat between two couches. A bowl lay on the table, filled with those things that they sell at the store, balls made of interlaced wooden pieces. Knick-knacks? The things that are supposed to make your home look fancy and like some expensive designer planned out the room for you. She frowned. The knick-knacks were crooked. She plodded over and fixed them. There were four, with three on the bottom, and one sitting on top of the other three.
However, the one on top had fallen over, and it had pushed the whole arrangement out of alignment. She nudged it back into place, moved the bowl back to its original position. Exactly in the center of the table. Equidistant from every edge. That was better.
She walked back into the hall. To the bathroom. She brushed her teeth, making sure to find every nook and cranny of her teeth. She walked down the hallway again, to her bedroom. There were mirrors on the wall. Three on each side. She opened the door, stepped inside.
The lights turned off with a click. Her sunglasses took their place in the precise center of her bedside table. She slipped under the covers, gently, so as not to disturb the carefully made sheets.
And she slept.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
The clock continued to tick. It chimed softly to mark the passing of the hour. Vinyl rolled over. The clock read 9:00. A single ray of sunshine poked through the curtains. She frowned. One of them had slipped to the side during the night, drawn slightly open. The solitary ray streamed in desperately, attempting furiously, zealously, to claim a foothold in the obsessively neat room. She lit her horn, and moved the curtain back to its proper place. The light was gone. Blessed, blessed dark. Silence.
The eggs crackled in the pan. Loudly. Three of them. They made a misshapen glob of congealing matter. She broke the yolks, and stirred them around in the pan. Lately, it seemed like too much effort to cook them into nice yolk-y, over easy eggs. She could never get it just right. They always broke, just as soon as she tried to flip them over. Scrambling them was much easier.
The eggs were done. She clicked off the stove, wielding a spatula with her telekinesis, with which to serve the eggs. The toaster chimed, and she placed the toast on her plate too. A jar of orange juice flew out of the fridge, and poured itself into a glass, which rested beside the plate. A perfect breakfast.
The fork clinked softly against the plate as she shoveled bite after bite into her mouth. The plate was empty. She placed the fork on the table next to the plate, smoothing the placemat as she did.
The sink ran as she rinsed the dish, the rushing of the water unnaturally loud in the oppressive silence of the apartment.
Finally, blessedly, she was able to work. Her study, by her standards, was messy. Disgustingly so. For any other pony, it would have been immaculate.
It was a small room, dominated by a large desk, made of some dark wood. Sheet music lay in small, not-quite-neat piles on the large tabletop. On the left side, a spare quill lay, aligned with an inkwell. The trash can to her right was overflowing, crumpled balls of paper, rejected or deemed unsatisfactory by their author.
Vinyl, herself, was briefly lost in the moment. Composing, writing, hearing, seeing the music in her head. Long, gracefully curved lines turned into a swirl of slurs, notes, and musical notation. The music flowed out of her like water, as if it had a mind of its own. The sheer purity of it snaked out through her soul, through the essence of her psyche. Cautious and elegant strokes turned vicious and furious, transforming the blankness of the sheet into half, quarter, and full notes. Her hindhoof unconsciously tapped along to the beat of the symphony, the symphony only she could hear.
And then abruptly, it stopped. She closed her eyes, and then opened them a moment later. Half a dozen papers lay before her. She gathered them up into a sheaf of paper, sliding them into a folder, and tucked them into a desk drawer.
She looked at the clock. It read 8:00. Time to get ready for work. She stood up and walked out into the hall, towards the door. She grabbed her key, shrugged into her hoodie. Grabbed a small bag of bits. Coffee wasn’t free, after all.
The door jingled as she opened it and stepped inside. It looked like it might rain soon.
“Hey, Vinyl! How are you doing, kiddo?”
She pushed back her hood, and gave him a small smile. Mocha Swirl had run the coffee shop for as long as she could remember. He didn’t have many regulars coming in at eight’o’clock at night. And besides, her never forgot a face. Or so he said.
“Not bad at all, Mocha. How about yourself?”
He hustled back and forth, cleaning off tables with a small washcloth he kept slung across his body.
“The same, the same. You know. I run a coffee shop, after all. Plenty of business, and all that. You’ll have your regular?” She nodded in affirmation.
“Oi!” He shouted, “Java! Vinyl’s here! Large coffee, black! No, I don’t want any sugar, or cream, you idiot!”
She gave an amused smile.
He shook his head, laughing. “I swear, Vinyl, he gets even more absent-minded every day. This is what you get for hiring your son in the kitchen.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Mocha, I’m sure you were just as bad, back in your day.”
He frowned. “When exactly was that, Vinyl?”
“Oh, you know. Back in the Stone Age, you know?”
“Hah. Very funny.”
“Hey, you asked.”
He harrumphed, and grumbled something unintelligible under his breath. Java came out with the coffee, balanced on his back, the cup itself perched precariously on a green tray. He stumbled, and the whole arrangement began to fall—
Before Vinyl caught the cup with her magic, managing to bring the cup over without spilling a drop.
“Java, you idiot! Come on, I told you, just use the damn cart!” The absent-minded teen apologized profusely, backing away into another table, thankfully empty. Turning to address her, he continued. “You know, Vinyl, I have no idea how you just did that.”
“Mocha, I don’t mess around when coffee’s involved. You know that,” she deadpanned.
The aged stallion laughed heartily. She smiled.
“Mocha, don’t you have a business to run?”
“Sure, Vinyl, like you’ve never asked that before. I’m on break!”
She raised an eyebrow. “You’re on break? What? That’s not very responsible.”
He gave her an amused look. “Vinyl, do you know how many people come in for coffee at eight’o’clock at night? No one. Except for you, but you’re an odd one.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked sarcastically.
He grinned cheekily. “Oh. Nothing.”
“You,” she pointed a hoof at him, “are way too smug for your own good. It’s a wonder I even come here any more.”
“Oh, please. Like you’d go anywhere else, Vinyl. Remind me, how many times you’ve brought your friends around here for coffee.”
She frowned, unamused, and he nodded knowingly.
“Is this about my currently single romantic status?” She placed her mug down in the precise center of the table. He gave her that same cheeky grin. “Of course, Vinyl. Can’t have a wonderful young mare like yourself walking around without anypony.”
“Relax, Vinyl, I’m just messing around. Here, I’ll go get some coffee for me, and we’ll sit down for awhile. The late night crowd won’t be coming in for a long while yet, so I’ve got some time before business starts up again.”
Java walked away, this time with a cart, two empty mugs on top, trundling away to wash the dirty dishes. Vinyl and Mocha got up, the older stallion grimacing as he stretched his legs. He walked her to the door. She had one foot out the door before she realized he’d said something.
“Vinyl. Get over here, kiddo.”
She obliged sheepishly, walking over to the light-brown stallion.
“I don’t know why you wear those sunglasses, Vinyl, I honestly don’t. It’s dark out, you know. Anyway, get over here, gimme a hug.” She did, and he ruffled her hair.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Mocha.”
“Take care of yourself, kiddo.”
She stepped out into the street, pulling her hood up as she did so.
The crowd was... boisterous, tonight. It passed by in a blur of neon lights, earth-shattering bass, and partial deafness. Pretty much like usual. She fiddled with the records in hoof, spinning, combining, fluidly and wholeheartedly taking the music in any direction she chose.
Before long, it was over. Just the same as the night before. It was almost a shock, when it happened. One moment, she was spinning the disks, the crowd gyrating and thrashing for all they were worth. The next, Mic was banging on the cage, trying to get her attention, and all of the strobe lights were off, and the dance floor was empty. What a pity. It seemed like she was just getting into the swing of things.
“Vinyl! Vinyl! They’re all gone. You can stop playing now.”
She pushed the headphones down around her neck.
“Yeah, sure, Mic. Sorry”
“Alright, no problem. We’re getting out of here, you wanna come with us?”
“Nah. I’m alright, Mic.”
“Ok, then. Maybe another time.”
And that was that. She took off the headphones off, placing them down on the table once again. She didn’t like when other ponies used her equipment. When they were done, everything was so... messy. She picked up her hoodie and crossed the dance floor once again, knocking the door open with one shoulder.
The walk home had been uneventful. No strangers to knock her over as she walked into her apartment building, either. She smiled wryly. Shame. She’d lived in the building for years, yet had never met any of the other tenants. She entered her apartment, shrugged off her hoodie. Brushed her teeth. Glasses on the side table. Sheets. Sleep. She drifted off, dreams of symphonies, dreams of notes. Dreams of an empty page.
The smell of burning records—never a pleasant thing to wake up to. The odour drifted in her nostrils, the sharp, acrid taste of burning plastic irritating the inside of her nose and throat.
In an instant, she was abruptly awake, on her feet, tripping over her neatly organized covers into a sprawling heap on the floor.
Smoke. Coming from everywhere, covering the upper half of the room. She could smell burning, could hear the flames coming from somewhere nearby. Grabbing her glasses for the bedside table, she crammed them onto her face, sprinting out of her burning apartment, stopping only to grab her hoodie from the coat hook.
Strange, how that happened. It seemed like that kind of thing would be trivial, unimportant to the outsider, but at the time, it was the most important thing in the world. She shouldered open the door, coughing from the smoke, but thankfully, made it outside. Down the stairs. Smashed her way through the double doors. Collapsed outside on a street bench. Looked up at the building. It was on fire. It was on fire. A side of the building sagged, and then collapsed in on itself. With a chilling feeling, she realized she had gotten out just in time. Other ponies were out there too. Soot-stained and dirty, just like she was. Her home was on fire. Everything. Gone. Everything she owned. All except... well her sunglasses. And her hoodie. And that was about it. All of her records, all of her clothes, all of her everything, really, dammit! Her symphonies. They were gone. Gone!
She took a few calming breaths.
What was in a house, what was in a home?
Was that really the hardest part? Losing your possessions? Not really. Not really a big deal at all. What was important was inside, right? In the heart? No, that wasn’t right, either. To be honest—what attachment did she have to the apartment, anyway? A few knick-knacks? Some rotten decór that she really hadn’t even wanted anyway? Her meticulously organized, alphabetized records? Well, maybe. That was pretty bad.
But what makes a home? The people inside? The possessions? Because she was alive, and that was what mattered.
And then, she finally understood. With one moment of cruel, beautiful clarity, she realized the ugly truth behind it all. The paper-thin facade of her life, laid out before in brutal, incendiary lucidity.
It was gone. Not because of her possessions, or any sort of emotional attachment, but because it was her sanctuary. Her place, where she felt comfortable. Where she could control her life.
Finally, she understood. She understood why she couldn’t just let go, just sit back and let life happen.
Because she couldn’t control it.
And that scared her.
She closed her eyes. A single tear rolled down, fell to the ground.
But she could do it. She could go on, she could rebuild her life from the ashes and cinders it had become. Because it was worth it. Rebuild, because it was worth rebuilding. Live life, because it was worth living.
She couldn’t control life, and nor should she try.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.
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—
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.”
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.
She slid of the couch with a loud thump, impacting the floor heavily.
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.
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?”
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."
"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?
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.
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.
"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."
The door clanged against the wall as Vinyl swung it open for Octavia, who walked through into the coffee shop. The unicorn mare adjusted her glasses nervously as they entered. Mocha sat behind the counter polishing a mug with a surprisingly clean-looking rag. He looked up as they approached, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, Vinyl, it’s certainly early for you.” He cracked a smile. “What, are you sick or something? And who’s this?” He asked, gesturing towards Octavia.
“Oh, you know, she’s a friend. Octavia, meet Mocha Swirl.”
The aged stallion grinned cheekily. “Oh, just a friend, huh?”
The blue-maned DJ gave him a dirty look, but he simply shrugged. “For you information, Mocha, I just met her tonight.”
“Oh-ho, so she’s that kind of friend! Vinyl, I’m surprised at you!”
Octavia laughed, and held out a hoof.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mocha.”
“Likewise, Miss Octavia.”
“Please, don’t call me ‘Miss’.”
The aging stallion gave Vinyl a sidelong look, and grinned.
“Well, Vinyl she’s got better manners than you. And she knows how to take a joke, too. I guess you’re not my favorite anymore!”
“Yeah, yeah, funny. Now, can we please get some coffee? This is a coffee shop, right?”
He gave her a purposefully blank look. “No, we don’t serve that here.”
She rolled her eyes, looking to Octavia in her hopelessness, who simply grinned, and nodded to the barista.
“Could we get two coffees here, Mocha?”
He gave her a warm smile.
“Anything for you, Octavia.”
Vinyl rolled her eyes again, and then turned to the cellist.
“Well, would you like to sit down, Octavia?”
They did so, and settled down in one of the booths in the far corner of the shop.
“So, Vinyl, how do you know Mocha?”
She shrugged unconsciously, and then lowered her hood.
“I’ve known him since I was just a kid. He took me in off the streets, gave me a place to stay. He’s a good pony.”
Octavia nodded slowly.
“Not many are that generous.”
Vinyl’s face turned to a sardonic expression. “Especially in this city.”
Octavia gave a small laugh, and Vinyl continued.
“Still, I think he was just lonely, after his wife died. He’s still got his son, but I don’t know. He doesn’t talk about it much.”
There was an awkward silence for a moment or two, but soon, Mocha bustled out of the kitchen with a tray, three mugs on it.
“So, girls, how are you doing?”
They looked at each other and shrugged in an eerily identical gesture.
“Eh, we’re alright.”
After the fire, they’d walked the several blocks to the coffee shop, most of that time spent in introductions.
The stallion cleared his throat.
“So, Octavia, I noticed your cutie mark is also musically related. What do you do? Vinyl here,” he ruffled her hair,” is a DJ, and a damn good one at that.” She blushed.
Octavia nodded and smiled. “I’m well versed in all string instruments, but I prefer the cello.”
Vinyl nearly did a spit-take. “Wait, you’re that Octavia? As in, the Royal Conservatory Octavia?”
She returned a bitter smile. “The very same.”
“Well, you don’t sound very enthusiastic about it...” Vinyl trailed off, and the cellist shrugged absently.
“It isn’t as appealing as it once was.”
“And why’s that?”
She sighed, and shook her head unconsciously. “It’s beginning to wear on me, really. I just get the feeling I’m not really being appreciated anymore. Do you know what I mean?”
Vinyl grimaced in understanding, taking a sip of her coffee.
“I know what you mean, actually.” She sighed. “DJ’s work hard for their money too, you know. You tend to learn quickly that if the crowd isn’t happy, you’re not doing a good job. So you do what they want, you cater to them, and after a while, you aren’t playing music for the sake of playing music anymore. It’s all about pleasing somepony else, then.
Octavia nodded somberly. “That’s about right. Sometimes I wish I could just play for myself, you know?” She trailed off, but soon righted, and began to speak again. “Anyway, how do you know who I am, Vinyl?”
The alabaster unicorn shrugged, pushing her ever-present shades higher on her face. “I enjoy classical music too, you know. It’s not like I only appreciate electronica. I’m a composer myself, actually.”
Octavia nodded slowly. “Hmm. I didn’t expect that.”
The DJ opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by the door swinging wildly open, a frantically worried Harpo having charged through it.
“Octavia! Octavia! Are you here?”
The jet-maned cellist raised an eyebrow, and then replied.
“Yes, I’m right here, dummy.”
He turned around, breathing a sigh of relief.
“I was so worried, I woke up to the sirens, and then I ran over to the apartment, and it was on fire, and I couldn’t find you, and then somebody said they saw you, and then I ran over, and anyway—”
He stopped mid-explanation, suddenly noticing there were other ponies in the room. He flushed uncomfortably, stepping back and forth awkwardly on his hooves. Octavia gave him a questioning look.
“Everyone, this Harpo, in all of his dysfunctional glory.”
He gave an amused smile. “Heya. How ya doin’?” He turned to address the cellist. “Anyway, Octavia, you wanna introduce me to your new friends?”
She pointed in succession. “Harpo, meet Vinyl Scratch and Mocha Swirl.” Harpo gave an exaggerated bow.
“It’s nice to meet both of you.”
Vinyl raised an amused eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. Mocha, on the other hand, cleared his throat and spoke.
“I don’t mean to address the elephant in the room, but what’s this about your apartment being on fire, Vinyl? Octavia?”
Vinyl nodded slowly. “Yeah, the two of us barely got out in time. Fwoosh. All up in flames. That’s how we met, actually. Both sat down on the same street bench.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me?!”
She gave him an innocent grin. “Precisely. I’m a big kid now, you know.”
He gave her a wry grin. “Well, it’ll be good to have you living at home again.”
“Who says I’m staying with you?”
“You have any other options?”
Vinyl gave a wry smile, and sighed.
“Not really. Just thought I’d figure something out. I feel bad about taking advantage of you, Mocha.”
“No, no, don’t worry about it. I’ve got plenty of room here. And besides, every functioning adult needs to live with their parents at some point, it’s a rite of passage.” He smirked.
Vinyl raised an eyebrow, and pursed her lips. “Well, I guess if you insist, I’d love to.”
Mocha then turned to Octavia. “Normally, I wouldn’t offer this to just anyone, but I’d be happy to give you a place to stay as well, at least until you get back on your hooves again.”
The cellist blushed and shook her head. “No, there’s no way I could—”
The patron of the shop stopped her mid-sentence. “No, I insist. Don’t worry about it.”
She breathed a sigh of relief, and smiled. “Well, I guess that means I won’t have to stay with Harpo.”
“Hey, who says I would have offered!” he squawked, indignant.
“Me, you dope. Besides, you’re such a softy, of course you would have.”
He grumbled something unintelligible under his breath.
“Anyway, you wouldn’t happen to be the Harpo Nadermane, would you?” Vinyl asked.
“The one and only.” Harpo wore his signature grin, beaming at the blue-maned unicorn.
“I’m a fan of your work.”
“Alright, Octavia, you can keep her! She’s cool, and she appreciates my work.”
Octavia sighed. “Who says I don’t appreciate your pieces? I’m the one who has to play them, you moron.”
“Yeah, but... but... You’re you.”
“Wow, thanks for the stunning compliment, Harpo.”
“I was being... sarcasti—nevermind.”
Mocha finally spoke up, somewhat reserved in the face of the three musicians.
“So, again, to bring to light my ignorance, what exactly do you do, Harpo?”
“He’s a composer, Mocha. One of the more radical ones, actually. He’s been working at the Conservatory since graduation from Canterlot University.”
“Took the words right out of my mouth. Although, you did forget that I’ve currently been writing pieces, solo and otherwise, for Miss Octavia Philarmonica,” he gave an overstated bow, “prize cellist of the Royal Conservatory.”
She shot him a sidelong look. “Thanks, Harpo.”
“Ragh! Why do you keep doing that! I was being sarcastic. You know I was!”
He smiled his signature smile, and his friend huffed.
“And, of course, you can’t forget my irresistible charm!”
Octavia rolled her eyes, followed shortly after by Vinyl.
“Yeah, that’s exactly why I drag you around, Harpo.”
“I’m going to smack you.”
She turned to Mocha. “Do you think you could get Harpo a coffee too? He’ll probably want some kind of frilly bullshit in his or something. Just put it on my tab.”
The older pony laughed. “Nah, that won’t be necessary. Don’t worry about the money.” He turned to address Harpo. “Now, what would you like?”
His eyes sparkled. “A grande mocha double-shot cappuccino, caramel swirls at top and bottom, half lightly-whipped cream, half skim milk, extra dry.”
Vinyl raised an eyebrow, and Octavia burst out laughing, while Mocha went about his work, grumbling something unintelligible.
“Yeah, I don’t know how I put up with him.”
“Honestly, me neither.”
A moment of short silence followed, before the older stallion plunked down a truly feminine coffee in front of the composer, who licked his lips eagerly.
He sipped it gingerly, draining an infinitesimal amount of liquid from the whipped-cream-capped cup.
The composer set his mug down gently.
“That has to be the best coffee I’ve ever had. No offense, Octavia, but he beats you hands down.”
Vinyl nodded. “Mocha is a master of his trade. Not a better cup in all of Canterlot.”
The proprietor smiled a little at the praise, then stood up and began to wipe down some of the tables with his omnipresent rag.
He didn’t turn around, but cleared his throat and spoke.
“The regulars are probably gonna be coming in soon. If you all wanna go upstairs to the living room or something, be my guest. Vinyl, you can show Octavia her room.”
The DJ nodded in agreement and beckoned at the other two. Octavia shrugged.
You see, space is kind of a premium in Canterlot, it being on the side of a mountain and all. So most shop and business owners typically have living quarters on top of their respective establishments. All things considered, the Swirl household was fairly large size.
Octavia walked up the stairs into the living room. Harpo set his mug down gently on the table, then flopped on a nearby couch.
Vinyl looked rather bemused. “Make yourself at home, I guess. C’mon, Octavia, I’ll show you your bedroom.”
They walked to one of the side doors, which opened to a rather... er... cozy... looking room.
A bunk bed lined the wall on one side, and a desk on the other. And that was about it.
“Sorry,” Vinyl winced, “it’s a little bit tight in here. Java and I used to share this room. By the time I was ready to move out, he had already appropriated the guest room and I saw no point to changing this one.”
Octavia peered up at the walls and around the relatively small room.
“It’s better than sleeping at Harpo’s,” she laughed. “But really, just let me know if Mocha needs me to do anything to help out. It’s the least I can do, considering the fact you guys are giving me someplace to stay.”
Vinyl shook her head. “Nah, we’ll be okay. Stay as long as you want, I think Mocha could really use the extra company sometimes.”
“If you insist.”
Vinyl moved over to the bunk bed, clambering up to the top bunk.
“You cool with me having top bunk?”
“I’d prefer bottom anyway,” replied the cellist.
Vinyl pulled herself under the covers, careful not to ruffle the sheets. Octavia looked at her, a little bemused.
“Anyway,” the DJ said, “I have a concert tonight, so I’d actually like to get some sleep today. Tonight. Whatever.”
And with that, she put her head down and closed her eyes.
Octavia looked at the clock. Half past four. In the morning. Ouch.
She decided some rest wouldn’t be amiss, and flopped down on the bottom bunk. Adjusting the covers around her, she lay her head down on the pillow and closed her eyes.
Sleep came easily.
The room was half-dark when she finally drifted back into awareness. Cracks of amber light cascaded about the small space, revealing little trails of dust where they fell.
Octavia tossed the covers back, cracking her neck and legs after rolling off the bed. The DJ’s jacket and glasses were gone, and so was she. A note, written in thin, spidery script, lay on the desk, though.
Octavia, Show tonight. Gone until late tonight. Feel free to use the shower. See you later. Vinyl.
Octavia shrugged. She would have liked to use the time to get to know her new roommate, but no loss. She was a musician, too. She knew what it was like to have a nightly show.
She looked at the clock, and was startled to find out it was already the early evening. All things considered, though, she thought she deserved to sleep in.
She poked her head out the door of the room and walked down a nearby hallway to the bathroom. Turning on the shower, she stepped in, savouring the hot water. After a few minutes, she shut it off and stepped out, drying herself off with nearby towel.
Walking back to the room, finally clean and dry, she trod back to the room. What did she have to do tonight? No concert, and she didn’t think getting drunk in the Swirl residence was the kind of first impression she was looking for.
She examined her bowtie from the night before. It was crumpled, and smelled like smoke, but it would do, at least until she could get some more. Couldn’t go without her signature attire, after all! She smoothed it out and deftly affixed it around her neck. Her hair didn’t appear to be in too bad of shape, so she left that the way it was.
Ready to go.
Ready to go where, though? That was the question.
Well, downstairs was a good start.
She took the stairs one at a time on the way down, emerging from a small door to the side of the counter in the official shop.
Mocha stood behind the counter, offering a few friendly words to a customer, who left, a smile on his face, with a pastry and an insulated cup.
The older stallion cracked a smile as she approached.
“Well, look who’s finally awake, huh?”
Octavia raised an eyebrow. “You know, I think I was a little justified in my sleeping hours. So anyway, where’s Vinyl? And did Harpo get home okay last night?”
He sighed. “Straight to the point, I see. Your friend left a bit after you two turned in, and Vinyl? Well she’s setting up for her gig tonight at the club. It doesn’t start for another couple hours, but you know how she is.”
“Actually, I don’t. Enlighten me?”
“Well, with Vinyl, everything has to be... just right, do you know what I’m saying?”
It made a little bit of sense to her, oddly enough. The nearly geometric arrangement of the room, the very precise way the DJ had placed her glasses down the night before, carefully correcting them to be exactly in the center of the desk.
She cocked her head to the side.
“You know, I do kind of understand what you’re saying. Also—”
“Actually, Octavia, that does kind of feed into what I’m trying to get at, here. Do you mind sitting down to talk for a second?”
“Sure, anything you want.”
“Alright, just sit down at one of the tables over there,” he gestured with one hoof. His face brightened into a smile. “And I’ll bring some of those excellent mini quiches, I’m sure you’re hungry.” He turned around to face the kitchen. “Oi! Java! Man the register for a bit, will ya!”
Mocha joined her at one of the side tables, carrying a plate of small, pie shaped egg affairs, true to his word. Her stomach rumbled at the near-divine smell, and she did have to concede, she was famished.
He let her eat in silence for a few minutes, but did eventually open his mouth to speak.
“So, Octavia, I’m sure you’re at least a little curious as to why I offered to let you stay with us.”
She nodded in acknowledgement, mouth still full of quiche.
He sighed, and turned his head away.
“For as long as I’ve taken care of Vinyl, she’s never really been... close, to anyone. Never really had many friends, very introverted, you understand. She’s always been a little bit strange, which isn’t a bad thing, you know, but just always very quiet. And obviously, there’s the little bit of obsessive compulsiveness, which doesn’t exactly help. The reason I offered to let you stay here is that she brought you to see me, and while you may not exactly be friends, I hope one day that can be the case. It’s just,” he buried his head in his hooves. “I’m trying to look out for her, you know? No one should live their life alone, and I’m just trying to help her get out there.”
Octavia nodded slowly.
“I understand where you’re coming from, and I’ll do my best. Besides, I like Vinyl. She seems very nice, if a bit distant, and we have similar interests. And besides, its the least I can do. It’s refreshing to be around somepony who’s interested in music just for the sake of playing music. Where I come from,” she sighed, and gave a wistful look. “That’s not something that’s very common. Also, to be honest, I don’t exactly... have a lot of friends either. Harpo is there, obviously, and I give him a lot of crap, but he’s the only one who’s ever stuck with me.”
She exhaled a deep breath, closing her eyes. He gave an awkward smile.
“I’m sorry to dump all of this on you, Octavia. It’s the last thing I want to do right now. You just lost your home too. All I want to do is look out for Vinyl.” He seemed a little distant as he nearly echoed his last statement. “Anyway, I should probably get back behind the counter. Just let me know if you need anything.”
“Actually, I was wondering if you could tell me where Vinyl’s show was tonight.”
He looked a little bemused, but answered nonetheless. “It’s at the normal venue.” She raised an eyebrow. He went on to explain where that was. She listened as he gave her directions, idly toying with her bowtie.
The show didn’t start until later, so she still had time to kill. Upon reflection, she decided to get Harpo.
She knocked on the door.
“Come on, Harpo, drag your ass out here, we’re going to Vinyl’s show.”
“Octavia, you don’t even like electronic music, why would we—”
“I’m willing to bet there’s a bar there—”
There was a sudden impact to the door as the aforementioned stallion surged to it, forgetting to turn the doorknob in his haste. It subsequently opened, revealing a grinning Harpo.
“Ready when you are.”
She sighed, and clapped one hoof to her face.
“Take those absurd sunglass off, please.”
“I don’t know why you wouldn’t let me wear them!”
“Because they look ridiculous on you. And besides, we’re inside, in the middle of the night! Why would you wear them now?”
“Well, Vinyl wears hers during sets!”
“Yeah, but she’s a DJ!”
Octavia nodded to an absurdly jacked bouncer in passing, who appeared more a sentient slab of muscle than anything else, let alone a normally proportioned individual.
“What’s your point?”
“She’s cool. You’re not.”
He whistled. “Ouch, Octavia, that’s harsh.”
“I think you deserved it.”
“That may be so.”
They arrived in the club proper, and shortly after, Harpo made a beeline to the bar, muttering something about ‘getting trashed beyond comprehension.’
She made her way closer to the floor. The building appeared to be an old warehouse, the actual dance area formed by stacks of haphazardly placed crates, casting odd, disjointed shadows in the half-light.