by Pale Horse

First published

Octavia: Prodigy. Virtuoso. Artist. And, no matter how much she wants to deny it, Pie.

Octavia: Prodigy. Virtuoso. Artist.

And, no matter how much she wants to deny it, Pie.

I miss you. Please come home. I'll be waiting for you.

Originally written for Equestria Daily's Writer's Training Grounds #3.

Cover art swiped from Spittfire Art.


View Online

The pony who called herself Octavia shivered.

It was winter in Canterlot. Early winter, yes, but still winter, nonetheless. The first snows of the year had already begun, and although they had been light and dusty, up to this point, Octavia knew that wouldn't last. It had been an unusually hot summer, and that was usually the precursor to a harsh winter. That was especially true in the wake of Princess Luna's return, as she seemed to have a particular fondness for snow, although nopony was really certain as to why. The weather patterns in places like Las Pegasus, Fillydelphia, and elsewhere in Equestria were regulated by teams of local pegasi, but the skies over Canterlot fell under the jurisdiction of the royal court, meaning that the Sisters themselves maintained direct control over them.

Unfortunately, after a thousand years of absence, it seemed that the lunar monarch's skills with the weather were a little rusty; the year she returned to the throne, during that first winter, she had all but buried Canterlot in snow. Traffic in the city ground to a standstill, and many businesses were forced to shut their doors, including the Canterlot Royal Symphony. The intervening winters hadn't been quite that severe—probably due to some chiding from Princess Celestia—but they hardly could have been called “mild.”

Octavia shivered again where she stood upon the train platform, both from the biting cold in the air around her, and from the memory of that titanic snowfall. Being forced to drag her heavy cello case through the snow with nothing more than her own teeth, her hooves slipping and sliding upon the ice with every step, had been bad enough, but being cooped up with Vinyl all winter, like a hibernating bear, had been even worse. It would have been almost tolerable, if not for her roommate's habit of playing that abominable music of hers at a volume that all but ensured they would both go deaf long before they were old mares, loud enough to make the entire apartment shake.

Not that it was all bad. Octavia was intrigued by electronic instruments; she could remember seeing electric keyboards and guitars in a window display during a trip to Manehattan, and her old coltfriend at university, like her, was a musician. He had been working with synthesizers when they were still new, still exotic, although she'd always had trouble wrapping her head around his technical explanations of how they worked. She preferred the simple elegance of string instruments, like her cello. However, she had to admit a certain attraction to what Vinyl called “techno." While she didn't care for its frenzied pace, she enjoyed the rhythms, the harmonies, and more than once, had found herself swaying to some catchy melody she'd heard escaping the confines of Vinyl's oversized headphones.

But then there was that “dubstep” garbage, a chaotic, incomprehensible mess of sound that she could only liken to hooves on a chalkboard. Octavia couldn't stand it, and being forced to listen to it day after day, for hours on end, had very nearly driven her mad. At the first sign of the spring thaw, when the snows melted, she had all but run screaming from the building, desperate to find a quiet place to lose herself in the peaceful, sublime mastery of Neightoven, or Oatzart.

Octavia sighed. The sound left her lips in a faint wisp of breath, one that hung, for a moment, in the frosty winter air, before drifting away upon a chill breeze that rustled the collar of her jacket and made her shudder. It was ironic that she should actually be wanting Vinyl's company now, particularly after that rather severe bout of cabin fever. The unicorn DJ had the unfortunate habit of being chronically late for her appointments, usually the result of staying up all night at some rave or other the night before. She was probably still at home, asleep upon the couch... or, more likely, hung over, as was so often the case. Octavia reminded herself that they needed to have a talk about the drinking, but right now, she wasn't in the mood to give a lecture. She'd be satisfied if Vinyl would just show up, sober or not. This wasn't just another gig in a nightclub that she could blow off because she overslept. If she missed the train...

“All aboard!”

Another shiver ran down Octavia's spine, one that had nothing to do with the cold. She spun about where she stood to face the train's conductor, who was standing a short distance away, at the door to the passenger car.

“Next stop, Ponyville, on the way to Las Pegasus!” he shouted.

“Wait, wait!” Octavia said. She almost stumbled over her own hooves as she rushed toward him. So much for all those lessons about etiquette and grace. “You can't leave!”

The conductor regarded Octavia with a surprised expression. He was an older stallion, an earth pony, bespectacled, with a white, bushy mustache, and eyebrows that were nearly as thick. He reminded Octavia of her grandfather. “And why is that, Miss?” he asked.

“I'm waiting on a friend of mine,” Octavia said. “She isn't here yet.”

The conductor gave an indignant snort. “Then she should have checked the time,” he gruffly replied. “We have a tight schedule to keep.”

“She'll be here!” Octavia cried. “I know she will!”

The stallion showed no sign of backing down. “I can't hold up the train for one passenger, ma'am,” he said.

“But you can't just leave without her!”

“We most certainly can,” the conductor stated, flatly. Octavia supposed that, given his line of work, he was probably used to hearing all sorts of excuses for ponies arriving late. “It wouldn't be the first time. If your friend can't be bothered to show up on time, then she can just catch the next train. The transit office will refund the price of her ticket.” He turned to walk away from her, but she lunged forward, wrapping her forelegs around one of his own.

“Wait!” she said. “Five minutes! Just give her five minutes, that's all I ask!”

The conductor rolled his eyes. “Miss...” he began.

“Please!” Octavia pleaded. “Please, I beg you! Don't make me leave her behind!”

The conductor tipped his head, looking down upon the mare who now lay prostrate before him. Octavia saw something in his expression soften. He drew in a long, deep breath, and then let it back out again in a weary sigh. “Five minutes?” he asked.

Octavia frantically nodded.

“Well,” the conductor grumbled, “I suppose I can have the boys check the brake lines again... make sure everything's in working order.” He dipped his head lower, narrowing his eyes at Octavia. “But in five minutes, this train is leaving the station, whether your friend is on it or not... understand?”

More furious nodding. “Yes, yes, I understand, thank you!”

The conductor gave a noncommittal harrumph, and gently shook his leg free of Octavia's grasp. “In the meantime,” he said, “I would suggest that you load your bags.”

Octavia nodded once more, and hurriedly made her way back to her hooves. She had no bags to speak of, only her cello in its case, the handle of which she now gripped between her teeth. Her cheeks burned as she dragged it along the ground. Grace and refinement notwithstanding, she still wasn't too proud to beg, apparently. But then, it wasn't the first time that she had found herself groveling before an ill-tempered conductor, either. This one simply wasn't holding a baton, that's all.

You had better appreciate this, Vinyl, she silently seethed.

The conductor had been joined by a porter, a hulking mountain of a stallion whose ash-gray hair made him look more like a great slab of chiseled rock than an earth pony. He took Octavia's cello from her; the case had been so heavy that she could barely lift it, but with a deft toss of his head, he flung it from his mouth and onto his back as if it were a colt's toy.

The conductor nodded in satisfaction. “All right, then. Take it to the baggage car, if you would, Slate.” The porter nodded mutely, and obediently made his way toward one of the cars further down the track. The conductor turned back to Octavia. “Five minutes,” he repeated, sternly. He then turned away from her, and began trotting further down the line, calling out, “All aboard, Ponyville to Las Pegasus!”

Octavia let out a relieved sigh; one crisis averted, at least. She leaned up against the side of the passenger car. The metallic surface had a chill to it, but one that was dulled by the material of her coat, and if nothing else, it provided a measure of shelter from the winter wind. She reached into her jacket pocket, fumbling around for the object that had brought her out here in the first place. When she found it, she carefully withdrew it, clutching it gingerly within her hoof. It had never been easy for her to hold things without using her mouth, but as an earth pony musician, she had learned a few things about the advantages of having a nimble touch.

The envelope itself was perfectly ordinary in every respect: plain, white, inscribed with a name and address, and stamped with a Ponyville postmark. The sheets of paper Octavia gently slid out of it were different; they were yellow and faded, even though the writing on them was plainly more recent. It was as if they had come from old stock that had sat upon some shelf for years, untouched, just gathering dust. The words themselves were written not in pen, but in pencil, in a messy, childlike hoof. In fact, if she didn't know better, she might have thought that it had been written by a child; there were messy erasure marks all over it, where the author had stopped and started, and the margins were filled with crude drawings made in neither pencil nor pen, but in crayon: brightly colored doodles of stars, and balloons, and a hot pink, smiling, stick-figure pony.

Just like she remembered.

If you are who I think you are, then please read this.

If you aren't who I think you are, then this letter isn't for you. But I think you are who I think you are. And if you aren't who I think I think you are, then who are you? ARE YOU A CHANGELING!? Somepony else, that's who. And if you are who I think you'd be if you aren't who I think you are, then you should stop reading this RIGHT NOW. It's not nice to read another pony's mail!

Octavia couldn't help but giggle. No matter how many times she read that part, it always made her smile.

I know we haven't talked to each other in a long time. I've been meaning to come see you for a while, but I was always just too busy. I'm really sorry! It seems like there's always something to do here in Ponyville, and always a reason to throw a party! That's why I like love living here so much!

Oh, you don't know what I do here, do you? Well, I work at a BAKERY! Can you believe it!? Remember how we would always make rock cupcakes and gravel muffins and mud pies, and Mom would always tell us how she had to lie down, because she had to wash the dishes again? Who ever thought that I'd be able to turn that into a career, huh? Also, I LIVE IN A GIANT CUPCAKE!!!

The ponies I live with are the Cakes! (Isn't that funny!?) They own the bakery, Sugarcube Corner! They're REALLY nice, and they let me do pretty much whatever I want in the kitchen after I promised not to bake anything with dynamite again! I was sure that Pinkie Pie's Dynamite Donuts (“They put a real BANG in dessert!”) would be a best-seller, but I guess they didn't think so...

Anyway, I recently found out that we actually have a large extended family! Isn't that GREAT!?!? It turns out that we're related to the Apples! They're a big, BIG family, with members living all over Equestria! You have a bunch of cousins and aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews and sisters that you never even knew about!!! They're all really nice, too! Applejack, who lives in Sweet Apple Acres, just outside Ponyville, is one of my best friends!

(She's also one of the Elements of Harmony, JUST LIKE ME, but that's a story that I just have to tell you in-pony!)

So, to celebrate, I'm putting together the biggest, bestest, most awesomest family reunion EVER! I want all the Apples and Pies to be there, so we can get to know each other, and tell stories, and play games, and make popcorn necklaces and macaroni pictures and popsicle-stick-sculptures and everything!

That's why I'm writing to you. A few weeks ago, I went back to the farm to see you and Blinkie and Mom and Dad, so we could start putting the party together, and draw up the invitations and stuff. They were happy to see me, but when I asked where you were, nopony would tell me. Dad said he didn't want to talk about it, and Mom just said that you weren't home. She had this really sad look on her face. Blinkie didn't say anything at all.

Later, when we were getting ready for bed (our old room is still the same... I even found all my toys!), Blinkie told me what happened. She told me that you and Dad had a big fight right after I moved to Ponyville, and that you left the farm, and that you never came back.


I can still remember the day you got your cutie mark. You loved music, even when you were just a filly. You were always playing around with those little triangles and drums and zilo zylo xylophones (I think that's how it's spelled...) and things. I also remember how none of us could figure out what your cutie mark was, and how we had to take you to the doctor, so he could tell us. We didn't know what a “treble clef” was either, so we had to look it up in a book. We were all so silly back then!

But I bet you didn't think it was silly. I bet you were probably embarrassed. I would have been, too, if it was me. I was lucky. Balloons are easy to figure out. That's why I like them so much.

Daddy isn't mad at you. Really, he isn't. I think he's mad at himself more than anything. He's very stubborn, you know that. But he's also very proud. None of us ever went to school, certainly not to a fancy music school. I guess he just didn't see the point in it. My friend Twilight told me that some ponies get big scholarships for being the first in their family to go to college. I hope you were able to get one for yourself!

“Yes,” Octavia said. “Top of my class.”

I grew up on the farm too, you know. I know what it's like not to have a lot of money, or new toys, or fancy clothes, or stuff like that. But one day, I realized that it was time for me to leave the farm, and go do what I was born to do, just like you did. I don't blame you for that. None of us does, not even Daddy. I think he just wants to see you his daughter again.

I wanted to find you, but Blinkie didn't know where you were. She gave me the name of the music school you attended in Canterlot, but when I wrote to them, they told me that they couldn't give me any information about you, because of “student confidentiality,” or some other dumb reason. I started to panic, but then I remembered something. I thought I saw you performing somewhere, a few years ago. But I couldn't remember where! So I put on my Thinking Cap (I never leave home without it!) and stayed up all night, thinking really hard, until it finally came to me.

It was the Gala. I saw you onstage at the Gala. I couldn't believe it.

At first, I didn't actually think it was you. That mare didn't really look much like you. She was all prim and proper, with her fancy hair, and her fancy bowtie, and her fancy violin.

“Cello,” Octavia murmured.

But even if her cutie mark hadn't given her away, there's something else that would have. Her eyes.

You always had beautiful eyes. You still do. I'd know them anywhere.

I'm sorry that we didn't get a chance to catch up on things. I meant to talk with you, but I just forgot. It was a really crazy night! Oh, did the rest of your concert go okay? I was just trying to have a little fun! I didn't get you in trouble, did I? If I did, I'm really, really sorry!!! :(

Twilight has good friends in Canterlot, and they were able to find out more about you. (She's also a princess, but that's another story!) That's how I was able to find out the name you're using.

Why did you decide to change your name, anyway? I always thought it was so pretty. Not all icky, like “Pinkamena.” I like “Diane” much better. Maybe that's why you decided to use your middle name, too. But why use just one? I guess that's okay, too. All the best ponies have only one name. Celestia, Luna, Cadance, Applejack, Fluttershy, Rarity, Gummy...

Oh, and Rainbow Dash. She has two names, and she's still great. And Twilight Sparkle. But Twilight is a princess, so technically, she has THREE names. So I guess maybe it doesn't matter, after all.

You have another name, too. And I know what it is, because it's my name, too.

I understand why you didn't want to speak to me that night. I understand why you left home. But does that mean I never get to see my big sister again?

Maybe you wanted to make a new life for yourself. Maybe you wanted to leave your old life behind. You're probably rich and stuff now, and I know that the Royal Canterlot Orchestra Canterlot Symphony Orchestra Canterlot Royal Symphony is a long way from the rock farm. Rarity told me once that Canterlot has a way of changing ponies, that high society makes them all stuffy and snooty and full of themselves. But I don't think that would happen to you. I know my sister, and I don't think you ever meant to turn your back on your family. If you did, I don't think you would have kept any part of your name at all. You would have just made up a new one, and then nopony would know who you really are.

Except me.

“No. No, damn you,” Octavia hissed in a whisper, cursing herself under her unsteady breath. She was blinking back tears. “Not again. Not out here in public, where everypony can see you.”

Do you remember why I left the farm? I left because I wanted to make other ponies happy. I wanted to make them smile. I left because I thought I could do that better in Ponyville than I could back home. I hope I'm doing a good job. But I never forgot who I was, or where I came from. And I never, ever regretted being a Pie. Not even once.

Maybe things are different now. Maybe you aren't the same pony I grew up with. I hope you are Everypony changes. Ponies get older. They grow up. They put away their toys. And sometimes, even good friends can drift apart. But if I've learned anything in the last few weeks, it's that family is different. Family is forever. Family is together. Family is so much more.

You're my family, Inkie. You always have been, and you always will be. No matter where you live, no matter what you do, and no matter what you call yourself, you'll always be my big sister. And I'll always love you, no matter what.

Pinkie Promise! :)

I'll be staying at the farm while we work to set things up. But none of us is smiling. And we won't be, until you get here.

Please come back

I miss you so much

Please Please PLEASE

I miss you. Please come home. I'll be waiting for you.

Your baby sister,
Pinkamena Diane Pie

P.S. I picked up a bunch of your records. Gummy and I both really like your violin playing! If you can't make it to the party, would you mind if we played some of your music?

P.P.S. If you aren't who I think you are, then could you do me a favor, and please try to get this letter to my sister? It's super-duper-double important, and it would really mean a lot to me. You can even come to the party, if you want! She's the famous Canterlot musician, Octavia. I always called her “Inkie.”

Octavia squeezed her eyes shut.

She wanted to cry. Gods, she wanted to scream, to tear at her mane, and beat the ground with her hooves, and curse the stars above for her misfortune. But she didn't do any of those things. No, she was far too well-trained for that. Grace, dignity, and restraint were paramount. Stiff upper lip, and all that.

So instead, she did what she had been taught to do: she bit back her fury, and her anguish, and her astonishing self-loathing, and swallowed it, deep down into the pit of her stomach, where it could properly fester. Besides, she was afraid that if she sank down onto her hooves, as she wished to, then she might not be able to get back up.

Growing up on that rock farm, in the middle of nowhere, had been like a cruel joke, Fate—or perhaps Discord—amusing itself by watching her suffer. There had been no outlet for her creative talents, nothing but the rocks, stretching out in every direction, cold and desolate and barren... just like her future, if she'd remained there. She had to leave, just like Pinkie had. She had to get away, had to escape, and when she did, she vowed never to look back. It was a grotesque irony that she actually found herself longing to return there now, to return to a life that was familiar, and simple, and blissfully uncomplicated.

Rich. Famous. Not even if she were an alicorn. She could barely afford to pay her rent, let alone live the life of Canterlot high society that Pinkie seemed to think she did. Whenever she attended an upper-class social function or ritzy dinner, it was quite literally as background noise, not as a guest. Her work at the symphony paid virtually nothing, and embroiled her in a world of petty, scheming orchestra politics in which she had absolutely no interest. Her father had tried to warn her, had given her the starving artist lecture, all those years ago... and she, the naive, ungrateful foal that she was, had accused him of trying to crush her dreams. There was more to life than bits, after all.

She had left the farm convinced that he hated her. Now it turned out that had been a delusion, too, another fantasy to be yanked out from under her. But Pinkie Pie still loved her. And as far as she was concerned, that made her the wealthiest mare in all of Equestria. Maybe it really wasn't too late...

“Last call! Ponyville to Las Pegasus!”

The conductor's words abruptly jolted Octavia out of her funk of self-pity. She looked toward him with widened eyes, hurriedly placed the letter back in its envelope, and raced in his direction. “Wait!” she cried.

This time, the conductor would not be moved. When he spoke, his tone was firm. “Ma'am,” he said, “the train is now departing. Are you going to be on it, or not?”

Octavia's jaw went slack, and her eyes fell to the ground. At least Vinyl wouldn't be able to say that she hadn't tried. “Yes,” she muttered, defeated.

The conductor nodded. “Then I suggest you get aboard. We'll be leaving as soon as everypony is secure.”

Octavia sullenly nodded in kind, and turned toward the passenger car behind her. She cast a last, lingering look over the crowd of ponies assembled at the station, and then let out a sigh. She really should have known better.

She had already taken her first step off the platform when a voice called out, “Yo, wait up!”

Octavia snapped to attention. She turned about, her eyes darting across the crowd. A familiar white unicorn was forcing her way through the hubbub, rudely shoving ponies aside with her magic, causing more than one to cry out in protest. Her electric blue mane made her easy to spot.

“Yo, stop the train!” she yelled. “Stop the buckin' train, I said!”

“Vinyl!” Octavia nearly broke into a run toward her tardy friend, but screeched to a halt before she had taken two steps. The sudden flood of relief that had washed over her was replaced, just as rapidly, with righteous anger. “Vinyl Scratch!” She was almost shouting the words. “Where have you been!?”

If Vinyl Scratch was intimidated by Octavia's display, she certainly didn't show it; the pale unicorn merely grinned at her, her eyes hidden behind her trademark sunglasses. “Hey, babe,” she replied. “Sorry I'm late. Just had to pick up my bass. Learned a long time ago to never go anywhere without it. I ever tell you about that time I ran into The Whoof out in Baltimare? We had a jam session together, then we sat around and smoked weed the rest of the night.”

Vinyl tipped her sunglasses downward, looking over the rim of her shades at Octavia with scarlet eyes. “Tavi, I swear to you, I was so high, I could kiss the moon.”

Octavia gave a start. “Your bass?” she said. “You mean your stereo?”

Vinyl flinched. “Tavi, please!” The unicorn leaned over where she stood, lightly stroking a hoof against the massive, black, cubical crate that hovered at her side, levitated by the magic of her horn. “Calling this a stereo is like calling a diamond a shiny rock. It's a precision, high-tech musical instrument, and it's very sensitive!” She turned her attention more fully toward the black box, affectionately rubbing her cheek against its surface. “It's okay, sweetie,” she cooed, “she didn't mean it.”

Octavia's anger promptly drained out of her. The spike of rage she'd felt was quickly supplanted by mirth, bubbling up from within her, quietly, at first, before it squirmed past her lips in a giggle, despite her best attempts to stifle it. A moment later, she was doubled over where she stood, shaking with laughter, and clutching her hooves against her belly.

Vinyl, however, was not amused. “What? What's funny?” she deadpanned. “I'm not kiddin', this is serious stuff.”

Octavia straightened her posture, stepped forward, and gleefully flung her forelegs around her roommate's scarved neck, hugging her close. “Oh, I know, I know it is, I just...” Octavia sighed again, but this time, the sound was one of giddy pleasure. “I just can't stay mad at you, Vinyl. Thank you.”

The unicorn rubbed the edge of her muzzle against her counterpart's. “Heyyyy, my pleasure, babe.”


The sound of the conductor clearing his throat drew the attention of both musicians.

“Oh, right, right,” Vinyl said. The huge box within the grasp of her magic hovered over to the waiting earth pony porter. “Here you go, my good stallion,” she said, good-naturedly, before releasing the spell.

Octavia winced as the enormous stereo—er, enormous bass—fell upon Slate's broad back, causing his knees to buckle. She could almost swear that she heard his spine crack beneath its weight. “Well,” she said, "now that you're finally here, come on. We need to board, the train is about to leave.”

“Whoa, whoa, hold up,” Vinyl said. “Where are you takin' me, anyway? I know you said you wanted to go outta town, and I'm all for a road trip, but I'd at least like to know where we're headed. I might wanna score some X, or something.”

Octavia rolled her eyes. “Here,” she said, withdrawing the envelope from her pocket once more, holding it out toward the unicorn.

The glow of magic nimbly plucked the envelope from Octavia's grasp. “Huh? Whuzzis?” Vinyl glanced at the postmark. “Aw, Ponyville? Weak. No good booze there.” Her telekinetic touch easily slipped the letter free of its sleeve, unfolding it before her face. She peered over the edge of her glasses, crimson eyes briefly scanning the first few lines. “What is this, anyway? A fan letter?” She returned her attention to the envelope itself, squinting at the name on it. “Wait, it's addressed to 'Ingrid Pie'?” Vinyl stared at Octavia, blankly. “Who the hell is Ingrid Pie?

Octavia grinned mischievously. “I'll tell you all about it on the way there. But right now, we have to go!” She turned toward the passenger car once more, reaching for the railing with a hoof.

“Go?” Vinyl asked. “Tavi, where are we going?

Octavia looked back over her shoulder at her friend. Crystalline tears were glistening in her eyes, but she was still smiling.

“Home, Vinyl,” she said. “I'm going home!


View Online

“You've gotta be bucking kidding me.”

Vinyl Scratch lifted the dark lenses of her sunglasses, peering out at the world around her. The gesture probably wasn't worth the effort, in any case, because there was nothing to see.

Literally, this was what "nothing" looked like. There were no skyscrapers, no nightclubs, no street lights, no grass; just dirt and rocks, stretching for miles, as far as the eye could see. The few trees present had no leaves on them, their naked branches swaying in the breeze. Vinyl wasn't sure if they looked like that because it was winter, or because they always looked that way. The surrounding forest was healthier, and definitely greener, but it had receded, drawn away from this blighted plot of land like a great, graying wound upon the earth. She could see mountains, but they were distant, and far removed from this barren place. The sky was dull and overcast, with no hint of Celestia's light breaking through. While it was still early in the afternoon, the thick, hazy clouds made the hour seem much later, as if nightfall was fast approaching. They certainly weren't in Canterlot anymore.

Canterlot, at least, could be found on a map. The same could be said for Ponyville; even though it wasn't much more than a village, it still had its own train station, where she and Octavia had disembarked. It had also gained some measure of notoriety for being the home of Princess Twilight Sparkle, as well as for the string of unusual incidents—parasprite infestations, ursa attacks, and the return of Nightmare Moon, among other things—that had befallen the little town in recent years.

The rock farm, however, was not marked on any maps, and it was easy for Vinyl to see why: there was nothing to be marked. Writing the name of this place down in an atlas of Equestria—if it even had a name—would have been a waste of ink.

Most disconcerting of all was the lack of ponies. The last time they had seen somepony else was when they left Ponyville, where the road ended at the edge of town. They had come the rest of the way on hoof, trekking through the woods along an old stone pathway that had eventually given way to gravel, which had in turn given way to the grass, twigs, and bare dirt of the forest floor. Vinyl was convinced that if you didn't already know where this place was, you'd never know how to find it. But Octavia seemed to know exactly where she was going; there was no pause or hesitation in her gait as she moved. She appeared to be familiar with the route, which was more than Vinyl could say for herself, and so she had dutifully followed behind her companion, walking where she walked, stepping where she stepped, over the logs and rocks, through the shallow streams, and between the arching trees. Octavia expertly balanced her heavy cello case upon her back as she moved, while Vinyl's magic levitated the heft of her own bass behind her.

The journey itself had been mercifully uneventful, but along the way, they hadn't so much as glimpsed another living soul, without even a tumbleweed for company. Octavia, for her part, had remained completely silent. That wasn't entirely unusual—she'd always been the quiet type—but Vinyl would have been glad to hear something apart from the sound of her own hooves upon the snow-covered ground. Her headphones hung around her neck, unused. She wasn't in the mood for music, a strange mixture of anxiety and fascination swelling in her stomach. She had grown up in the city, and wasn't used to all this wilderness, but she had to admit to being curious about why Octavia had dragged her all the way out here... wherever "here" was.

“Where are we?” she said.

Octavia inhaled deeply, reacquainting herself with the scent of the place. “Home,” she breathed. “Be it ever so humble.”

“Home?” Vinyl repeated, dumbly. She looked upon the blasted landscape once more, as if she expected it to have somehow changed in the moments since she'd last gawked at it. "Humble" was a gross understatement; it seemed incomprehensible to her that anypony could settle here. The only buildings—if they could be called that—were a dilapidated little house, a tall, ramshackle silo, and a rusty old windpump that creaked in the breeze, the only signs that ponykind had ever set hoof in this place. All of it was circled by a rickety wooden fence that was literally falling apart. The two of them might as well have been standing on the surface of the moon. “You lived here?”

Octavia nodded. “For most of my life,” she said. “Until I was old enough to finally get away.”

“But it's so... empty.

Octavia let out a wry chuckle. “That's what my sister used to say,” she mused. “That's why she left... and why I had to follow her.” She looked around with an air of what could have been either nostalgia or disgust; Vinyl couldn't tell. “It's all just the way I remember it. Somehow, that doesn't surprise me.”

Octavia began to walk toward the house, her hooves crunching in the new-fallen snow with every step she took. Vinyl trailed after her, glancing left and right, in paranoid fashion. Something about the dreary farmstead gave her the creeps. If the weather had been warmer, she would have expected a great black raven—or maybe something worse—to come swooping out of the sky in pursuit of them.

“Damn, girl,” Vinyl muttered. “I know you said that you used to live in the middle of nowhere, but... damn.

“You don't know what damnation is, Vinyl,” Octavia coolly replied. “Hell isn't a mythical place of fire, smoke, and shadow. It's here, right in front of your eyes. It's a quaint little farm in a quiet corner of Equestria. For a filly who liked to play the cello, hell is a house with four white walls, a field full of rocks, and parents who thought that music was the work of Discord.”

Vinyl shifted uncomfortably upon her hooves. Although they had known each other for years, Octavia rarely talked about herself, and hadn't ever mentioned her family. Vinyl never knew that she had any siblings—never even knew her real name, for buck's sake—before reading that letter on the train. “Come on,” she lamely offered, “were they really all that bad?”

Octavia looked back over her shoulder. Maybe it was a trick of the light caused by the cloudy sky, but she looked tired, and her gray coat seemed even more dull than usual. “They raised me, didn't they?” There wasn't a trace of irony in her voice.

Vinyl winced. “Point taken,” she said. “At least now I know where you got the gray from. It's the same color as the sky... and the ground... and everything else around here.”

Octavia chuckled again. It was a mirthless sound. “That's why I like you, Vinyl,” she said. “You always did know how to make me laugh.”

“Glad I could help,” Vinyl deadpanned. “I think I need a drink.”

“My parents are teetotalers, so I'm afraid you're out of luck. But there's always Sweet Apple Acres, to the south. I hear they have the best cider on the continent.”

“No booze?” Vinyl grimaced. “Then what does your family drink?”

“Water from the pump, of course. You might try water sometime, Vinyl. I hear that it's good for you.”

“They drink water?” Vinyl's frown deepened, as if the very concept were alien to her. “Then what do they eat?

“Look around you,” Octavia said, gesturing with a hoof. “What do you think?

Vinyl looked. There were no crops in the fallow fields. No plants, no flowers, not even any weeds. Just rocks, rocks, and more rocks. Her scarlet eyes widened as realization dawned upon her. “No,” she said.

“They're actually quite versatile, you know,” Octavia said. “You can use them to make a variety of dishes. Rock salt, rock candy, rocky road...”

“No,” Vinyl repeated, accusingly pointing a hoof at the other mare. “You're just bucking with me.”

Octavia merely smiled. “Now, Vinyl, I think you know me better than that,” she said, serenely. “Besides, haven't you ever heard of getting more iron in your diet?”

Vinyl lifted a hoof from the snowy ground, pressing it against her lips. “Ugh, stop, stop,” she groaned. “I think I'm gonna hurl.” She was quiet, for a moment, then said, "Tell me something."


“How the hell do you grow rocks, anyway?”

“Remember when I asked you to tell me how magic worked, and you said that it was 'a unicorn thing,' and that I wouldn't understand?”


“It's an earth pony thing. You wouldn't understand.”

Vinyl slowly ran a hoof across her face. “Now I know I need a drink,” she grumbled.

They walked together in silence, for a time. Vinyl glanced upward at the towering, neglected silo as they passed it. It had clearly seen better days; years of exposure to the elements had left the metal exterior battered and dented, the chipped paint almost completely stripped away by the wind and rain. Vinyl assumed that it held some variety of grain, but she was afraid to ask, worried that she might not like the answer.

It was Octavia who spoke up. "Thank you for coming with me, Vinyl," she said. "It means a lot to me."

"Huh?" The sound of her friend's voice had promptly derailed Vinyl's train of thought. "Oh. Yeah, don't sweat it, Tavi. S'not like I had anything better to do. But it's no big deal, it's not like you couldn't have made the trip yourself, or anything."

"I wouldn't be so certain of that," Octavia replied. "I already ran away from this place once. There's no guarantee that I wouldn't do it again."

"Naaah," Vinyl said, dismissively. "You're a big girl, I'm sure you could handle it. Don't need me holding your hoof the whole way." The DJ's tone turned jestful. "Just tell me there's a place to plug in my amps. Or should I start learning how to play the banjo, instead?”

Octavia did not answer.

“Yo, Tavi, that was a joke. You said I make you laugh, remember?”

Again, Octavia did not reply.

“Tavi? Hey, Tavi?” The humor had vanished from Vinyl's voice, and was replaced by concern. “What is it? What's wrong?”

They had come to a halt a short distance from the farmhouse. The front door was only a few yards away. Octavia just stood there, staring at it, as if it were the gaping mouth of a dragon, ready to swallow her whole.

“This was a mistake, Vinyl,” she said. Vinyl could hear the fear in her voice. That surprised her; Octavia had always been the stoic, always firmly in control of her emotions. Vinyl supposed she had to be, considering the strain of her work as a concert cellist. She had never known Octavia to lose her temper, to say nothing of her nerve. “I shouldn't have come back here. I swore to myself, a long time ago, that I never would.”

“Aw, don't tell me you're getting cold hooves,” Vinyl said. For a moment, she considered making a crack about the cold weather, but then thought better of it. “Besides, you're here now, aren't you?”

Octavia said nothing. She was as stiff as a statue. If her ashen pelt had any hint of color to it, Vinyl would have sworn that she had gone pale.

“Look, so you don't get along with your parents. I get that, I really do. I didn't exactly see eye-to-eye with my folks either, y'know? Hell, you think it was easy to raise me? I drove them crazy, especially once I was old enough to do all that stuff they always told me not to. But that didn't mean that I stopped caring about them, or that I never wanted to see them again.”

Octavia remained silent.

Vinyl sighed, rubbing a hoof between her eyes. “Okay. Okay, let's say that we do this your way. Say that we turn around, right now, get back on the train, and go back to Canterlot. This 'Pinkie' of yours invited you out here in the first place. When you write her back, what are you going to say? That you made the trip down here, got all the way to the front door, and then turned back, because you were too scared to knock?

Octavia swallowed. “She understood me, Vinyl,” she said, her voice wavering. “She was the only one who ever did. If it wasn't for her, I'd still be trapped here, digging up stones during the day, and crying myself to sleep at night. I never had a chance to thank her for that."

“So thank her now,” Vinyl said. “You might not get another chance.”

Octavia turned to face her unicorn counterpart. “But what if she doesn't want to see me?”

“Would she have written you that letter if she didn't?”

Octavia looked back toward the farmhouse. It stood mute and foreboding, a dark shadow against the sunless sky. “And my parents?”

“If they really love you, then they'll be glad you're here. And if they aren't, then, well...” Vinyl shrugged. “... buck 'em. I love you. So does Pinkie, from the sound of it. That'll be enough.”

Octavia managed a smile. It was faint, but Vinyl was thankful for it, nonetheless. “You know,” Octavia murmured, “for a drunken layabout of a mare, you really are the smartest pony I know.”

Vinyl smiled back at her. “You always say the nicest things,” she replied. She gestured toward the door with a hoof. “Now go on. S'your house. Might as well say hello.”

The house itself was every bit as aged and decrepit as the other structures on the farm. The walls were dirty. The roof was some crude amalgam of mud and straw. A rough, lopsided chimney comprised of several different kinds of stone rose from within it, wisps of pale smoke drifting from the top, and into the cloudy sky. A tarnished metal plate on one side displayed the name "Pie," and what might have once been an address, but it was now smudged and illegible. Even the front door looked ancient. Its wooden surface was moldy and discolored, and it probably hadn't been replaced since the day the house was built. There was a vacant hole where the knob used to be; it had been replaced by a metallic knocker in the center of the door, a grotesque thing in the shape of a gargoyle's head.

Octavia looked back at Vinyl once more. The unicorn lifted a hoof in a pushing motion, silently urging her onward.

Octavia took a deep breath, to steel herself, and approached the entrance to the house. She lifted a foreleg to grasp the knocker, but hesitated; the knocker was old, iron, and just as rusty as the hinges upon which the door sat. It looked as if a stiff wind might very well cause it to fall off entirely, and she was afraid that if she knocked too hard, it might do just that. Instead, she rapped lightly upon the frame with her bare hoof, hoping that would suffice.

At first, there was no response, and she thought that perhaps she had not knocked loudly enough. Then she could hear hooves descending the stairs, and floorboards creaking beneath their weight. After all these years, her father still hadn't gotten around to fixing them.

There was the sound of a latch being undone. The door creaked open, slowly, and Octavia looked into the mirror.

The family resemblance was obvious. The other mare had the same long, straight mane that Octavia did, falling over her shoulders and down her back, soft and silky-smooth, shining in the warm candlelight that glowed somewhere within the house. Not at all like the last time she had seen it, so mussed and unruly, like a great cloud of cotton candy. They were both tall, and almost exactly the same height, although Octavia always seemed to think of her as being shorter... probably because she was so young when she'd left the farm, barely more than a filly. She had the same large, expressive eyes, the same delicate curve to her ears, the same posture, the same build, the same distinctive Pie breeding.

There were differences, of course. Whereas Octavia's coat was a subdued, muted gray, the other mare was hot pink, from head to hoof, as if she had been dipped in bubblegum. Her eyes were not violet, as Octavia's were, but were a lovely shade of blue, the color of the sky in better places than this, of the skies above Canterlot, and above Ponyville, where they had both fled in their youth. Big, beautiful eyes that were dulled now, devoid of the laughter they once shared with so many others, filled with sadness, and regret.

Just like Octavia.

“Pie residence,” the pink pony said. The greeting was more sighed than spoken, the words of a mare who had grown accustomed to having her doorstep darkened by disappointment. “Can I help... you...?”

The pink pony paused, canting her head to one side in quiet fascination. She squinted, carefully studying the mare who stood before her. Those blue eyes widened in recognition. “Inkie?” she whispered.

Octavia did not speak.

“Inkie?” the pink pony repeated, more loudly this time, with greater urgency. She leaned in closer to Octavia, gently cupping the gray mare's cheeks within her bubblegum hooves, closely scrutinizing her, as if she were a precious gem being inspected for flaws.

Octavia neither moved nor spoke, but a smile slowly began to spread across the pink pony's face, one that grew bigger, and bigger, until she was positively beaming from ear to ear.

The squeal of joy that erupted from her almost knocked Vinyl off her hooves.

“Inkie!!!” she shrieked, flinging her forelegs around Octavia's neck and nearly tackling her to the ground. Her rigidly straight mane all but exploded outward into a mess of thick, pink, poofy curls. “It's you! It's you! It's you it's you it's you it's you it's you!!!

Vinyl watched in utter astonishment. The transformation had been complete and immediate; the pink mare might as well have been another pony entirely. The sullen creature who had answered the door bore absolutely no resemblance to the exuberant bundle of energy who now hopped up and down where she stood, with Octavia still held firmly within her grasp, laughing and talking and apparently unable to stop doing either. The only thing moving faster than her bouncing hooves was her mouth.

“It's you! It's really you! Oh my gosh I can't believe you're really here does that mean you got my letter please tell me I'm not dreaming again but if I am don't wake me up oh I haven't seen you in so long I mean okay it hasn't really been that long but that was only for a few minutes and we didn't really get a chance to talk because I was busy with my friends and oh my gosh you have to meet my friends I mean that is if you haven't met them already I don't know I mean I think I would know if you hung out with my friends but it's not like I've been following you around or anything but that's not because I don't care it just means that I didn't know where to find you and I hope that doesn't sound creepy but I missed you so so so much and I'm sure you'll like them I mean I like them and they like me so that means they'll like you too because you're my sister and you're exactly like me I mean not exactly like me but we're family and that's what matters oh speaking of family I need to introduce you to my cousin Applejack which I guess makes her your cousin too or more like your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate but we can figure that out later there's also Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy and Rarity and Twilight Sparkle and the Cakes and the mayor and Joe at the donut shop and Gummy oh my gosh I have to show you Gummy he's the best pet ever some ponies think he's kind of weird but really he's just shy and they act like they've never seen an alligator before I mean Fluttershy keeps a freaking bear in her house but do you hear anypony complain no of course you don't what am I saying you don't even know her but none of that is important right now the important thing is that you're here, you're here, you're here!!!

This breathless exchange was punctuated by another wordless squeal of delight from the pink pony, who immediately dissolved into a fit of giggling laughter. Vinyl was sure that she looked familiar, but just couldn't put her hoof on where she had seen the manic mare before. She thought they might have met at that wedding gig she had DJ'ed in Canterlot a few years ago, but to be honest, she had gotten so drunk off her flank that night that her memories of the evening were foggy, at best; she was probably just lucky that she'd passed out at home, on the safety of her own couch, instead of wandering into the castle and throwing up all over a priceless work of art, or something.

At least, she didn't think she had.

Vinyl shook her head, clearing her mind of the admittedly bleary memories, and turned her attention back to the pink pony. She hadn't lost a step—or hop, as the case may be—and her mouth was still going a mile a minute.

“Now that you're here, we can really get to work on the family reunion! It's gonna be the biggest, bestest, most fantabulous party ever! Mommy and Daddy and Blinkie will be so excited! Oh, wait, I haven't told them you're here yet! They're gonna be so surprised, just like me! I mean, I always knew you'd come, but none of the others have seen you in a really long time, and they'll all be so happy to see you, especially Daddy! I know you probably think he's still mad at you, but he's really—Inkie?”

Throughout this hurricane of pink-maned enthusiasm, Octavia had remained stock-still. She hadn't moved a muscle, or said a single word. Now, for the first time, the pink pony finally seemed to notice. It was enough to give her pause, and she slowly floated down to the ground—exactly how she managed to do that, Vinyl hadn't the slightest idea—before taking a step back to look intently at the mare in front of her.

“Inkie? Are you okay? What's the matter?”

Grace, dignity, and restraint.

“Inkie, say something!”

Stiff upper lip.

“Inkie, please, you're scaring me!”

Oh, buck it!

It began as a soft whimper of a sound, somewhere in the back of Octavia's throat. One that made the pink pony's ears perk up, then abruptly flatten back, and caused her already wide eyes to grow even wider.

“Oh, no, no no no,” she began. “No, don't—”

Octavia trembled where she stood. Her whimpering grew louder. Her vision blurred, her breathing quickened, and her knees began to buckle beneath her.

“No, shh, it's all right, sis,” the pink pony continued. She was speaking in a whisper. “Really, it's all—”

Octavia collapsed. The case that housed her precious cello fell from her back, and was forgotten before it hit the ground. She surely would have joined it, had the pink pony not been there to catch her. As it was, she sank down upon her hooves, and knew, as she had at the train station, that she would be unable to get back up.

She did not cry. Crying was something that foals did when they skinned their knees, or refused to eat their oats at dinnertime. It was the act of a filly. But Ingrid Octavia Pie wasn't a filly anymore. She was a concert performer, and like any good performer, she didn't do anything small.

Octavia did not cry. She wept. The whimpering in her throat built into a loud, wailing moan, the sound only partially muffled by her baby sister's mane. Her gray body shook with the force of her desperate bawling, and tears flowed freely down both her cheeks. The walls that she had spent years building around her heart, trying so hard to block out the bitterness and resentment, shutting herself off from her emotions, had come crumbling down after only a few moments in her sister's arms, releasing a torrent of black, broken despair in the process. She wanted nothing more than to surrender to that terrible flood, and allow herself to at last be swept away.

But her sister's arms were still there, embracing her tightly, holding her head safely above the dark, raging waters of her soul.

“Shh, it's okay,” she crooned, lovingly stroking a hoof along the ebon strands of Octavia's mane. “Let it out. Let it alllll out.”

Octavia weakly clutched at her sibling with her own forelegs, crumpled into a heap upon the ground. “I'm sorry,” she sobbed, repeating the words over and over again in an anguished mantra. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry...”

Vinyl Scratch could only stare, numbly, at the tearful reunion that was taking place before her. She couldn't find her tongue to speak, and even if she did, she would have had no idea what to say. And so, she did the only thing she could: she knelt down and pressed against her friend from the opposite side, embracing her in kind. They held her together, allowing the years of pain, anger, and guilt to drain out of her, and back into the rough, rocky earth upon which she had been raised.

“It's okay,” the pink pony whispered. “Everything will be okay, you'll see. Pinkie Promise.”

She cradled Octavia's head in her hooves, and leaned forward, tenderly rubbing the tip of her muzzle into her sister's mane.

“Welcome home, Inkie,” she murmured. “Welcome home.”