The Things Tavi Says

by shortskirtsandexplosions

First published

Let me tell you a few things about my roommate, Octavia. After all, she saved my life.

My roommate's name is Octavia, or "Tavi" for short. She likes vintage red wine, soft pillows, and long walks on the beach. But, more than anything, she loves music. She loves it with a passion that radiates with every burning color of the spectrum.

Each day I spend with her... or without her, I learn a little bit more about life, about the sick beat to which we all dance, whether we know it or not. I hope you don't mind if I say a few things about her. Just a few things. One can learn a lot from Tavi.

After all, she saved my life.


Cover Art by Eztp

Playlist - Because Even Original Things Aren't Original

Fuzzy Things

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"Vinyl, have you seen Scribbler?"

Rich bands of shimmering violet flicker across the room, and that's how I know that Octavia's home. I pause the beat on my mixer and slip my headphones off, glancing her way.

She's pacing in circles again. A loose strand or two of hair have popped loose from her otherwise perfect mane. Her hard hoofsteps resonate with staccato bursts of red and brown.

"Honestly, I don't know where she's always running off to," she murmurs, and there's the violet again. An abrasive growl interrupts the usually velvet contours of her voice, and it tickles me. "I swear! That infernal creature was a limp ball of tame fuzz when I first chose to adopt the thing! Isn't it enough that I feed it the most exquisite feasts day in and day out?!"

She scuffles to a stop with crimson friction, fussing with a bowtie that refuses to be anything but stiff and tight.

"Bollocks!" A splash of purple. I've never known her to cuss around anypony else. "This is all Miss Fluttershy's fault. Such a kind, charming pony... but she could peddle a slug to a salt farmer, I swear to Celestia..."

I stare calmly at her. Then, adjusting my shades, I take a deep breath and peer across both halves of our makeshift studio/foyer. A bright sun pours in through the front windows, rich and green with the soft ambiance of Ponyville beyond. Somewhere, a neighbor's dog barks, and the jagged red bands briefly interrupt my concentration. Centering myself, I pivot in a full circle, listening intently. At last, I'm bathed in warm waves of undulating orange. They're resonating from the upper left corner of the room, atop one of my speakers.

I smile. True fans of bass are hard to find. I'm certainly not about to complain.

Concentrating, I reach out with magic and lift the kitten from her curled sleeping spot. The orange waves crash against pink bluffs as she mewls in protest, but she's far too tired to put up a fight.

"Ehh?" In a violet pulse, Octavia's voice hits a pleasant note. She swivels around in time to embrace the tiny tuxedo cat as it floats toward her. "You found her? Oh Scribbler, you elusive miscreant!" The more poetic Octavia's words get, the less angry, though I know she'll deny it. The eloquence is laced with a satin rich purple as she cuddles the kitten close, nuzzling it with a fuzzy smile. "You certainly adore high places, do you not?" Thin eyes drink in the fussy feline up close. "Would it truly suffer you to leave a note next time? Hmmm? You're certainly keen on leaving presents in the most inconvenient places, so I don't see why not."

Scribbler replies by not replying. All the while, her slitted eyes are locked on me, like a foal desiring the assistance of a gentler, more forgiving parent. I simply sit here, leaning casually against my turntable, until an errant sigh flies out of Octavia's mouth on indigo wings.

"Oh, I shan't be taking my frustrations out on the poor thing," she murmurs, placing the kitten down. With the flash of a white-tipped tail, it scurries around the corner, no doubt to scale the top of Octavia's oak dresser and resume snoozing. "I just... I just can't sit still, Vinyl!" Octavia resumes her frantic pacing. Rivulets of deep red echo across the apartment, and I'm sorely tempted to switch the electronic backbeat on and take notes. "I don't know how you do it! Aren't you just tearing apart on the inside with anticipation?"

I shrug. A yawn builds up in the back of my throat, but I momentarily fight it. I glance out the corner of my shades, finding nothing but empty plastic bottles within reach. My heart sinks. What I wouldn't give for a hearty swig of Dr. Pony right about now...

"How long has it been?" she continued, undaunted. "Six days? Seven?! I know that the Princess is a busy mare, but surely somepony in her employ would have updated us by now! I mean... take that infantile dragon of hers! What has the little whelp got to occupy his time with every day?"

Blinking, I look towards the corner of my instrument panel. I pluck an enchanted sound stone from its notch and hold it up to the light with a smile.

Octavia's glare is so sharp it could slice the diamond in two. "We will most certainly not be bribing the servantile creature," she drones. "Though I would be lying if I said I hadn't once considered the possibility."

I shrug and place the shard back down.

"And it is not as though I haven't got better prospects lying in wait—" Octavia's eyes bulge towards the end of her utterance, and she smiles nervously in my direction. "That is to say... we."

My smile is more than forgiving.

"But... it's just that this opportunity is so... convenient!" She resumes pacing, waving a hoof in the sunny air. "Not to mention local! For the first time in forever, our town has a truly legitimate reason to be placed on the map! We're suddenly more than a tiny marker, and yet it feels as though everything is slipping away! Oh Vinyl, I simply cannot bear it!"

She slumps down on her favorite cushion with a withering sigh. Her legs curl underneath her and an elegant tail wraps around to her tummy. I swear, in just a few seconds, she'll be purring with orange intensity.

Instead, she mutters, "I should really stop obsessing. But, I'm not getting any younger, Vine." I know it's serious when things become monosyllabic. "I once thought that having a chance to perform at the Grand Galloping Gala would ensure my spot as First Chair in the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra. But that came and went in a blur, and quite disastrously too. Now this... this opportunity rests within a stone's throw of our very apartment and it absolutely kills me to wait for an update with each passing day."

I listen and watch intently. I care for Tavi and everything she's confessing, but damn if this nebulously violet aura isn't intoxicating. I slip a hoof to the side while she isn't looking and sketch a few musical notes and refrains.

Her next words jostle me back into the moment: "That's it!" She tilts her chin up with a haughty pose, eyelids resting elegantly shut. "From now on, I, Octavia Melody, promise to no longer obsess over something so silly and trivial! I am a well-to-do mare with an agreeable fortune and a trustworthy roommate. That is surely nothing to complain about. Whatever the future is in store for me, I shall greet it with the utmost dignity, however distant it may be."

Fatefully, the doorbell rings right then and there. The suddenness of it makes me wince, but I endure the fountaining waves of bright gold with aplomb.

Just as the colors fade, however, I make out Octavia dashing towards the front entrance like a frantic filly with the need to pee.

"Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!" The purple radiance is so thick that I find it hard to focus, until at last her smile is shredding through it all like a crescent moon, gallant and glistening. "Vinyl, the mailmare! It's the mailmare, Vinyl!" She flings the door open to blinding light, and in the space of a half-second she's cleared her throat and put on gentle airs. "May I help you, Miss Hooves?"

"Huh? What for?" Derpy's voice billows into the apartment before her eyes do. From across the way, I see her gaze teetering in opposite directions, masked in panicked confusion. "Do I need help? This is the Scratch/Melody residence, is it not? Ohhhhh..." The pegasus shivers, clutching her mailbag while yellow strings emanate from her feeble voice box. "...I'm delivering to the bee hives again, aren't I?"

"No no, Miss Hooves, it's... uh... quite alright," Octavia stammers. From the guttural brown vibrations of her stomach, I can tell she's struggling to contain her excitement. "I see you have an envelope there. Is it postmarked for 483 Faust Street?"

"Uhhh... I-I think so—"

"Then relinquish it! Quickly!" Octavia stretches her hooves out, shivering slightly. "Erm... please?"

"Here you go, Miss Scratch!"

"I'm Miss Melody, my dear," Octavia says, nevertheless scooping up the envelope in her dainty fetlocks. "Vinyl Scratch is the one with the glossy shades."

I wave with a smile.

"Ohhhhhhh..." Derpy's eyes travel along the heels of her yellow voice. She smiles and waves back, though her aim is off by about thirty degrees. "Nice to meet you, Miss Scratch! I love your latest alb—"

THUD! Octavia slams the door shut with a crimson gunburst.

"Oh blessed Celestia, this is it, Vinyl!" she squeals, prancing in a gay circle. "It even has the royal font! Mmmmm! Can you believe it?" She grabs a pure silver letter opener from her half of the foyer and commits bloody murder on the envelope. "This is it! This is it! This is..." She slides the letter out, and her jaw drops. Just as quickly as it was birthed, her smile falls apart, melting in an instant.

I crane my neck, curiously arching an eyebrow above my shades.

Her sigh is long, anguished, a dull dead indigo. "How lucky for us," she mutters, waving the parchment in our direction. "We have been especially chosen for an extravagant sea voyage to the sandy shores of Dream Valley. Hmmmph... if we fill out a survey and mail it back to the sweepstakes offices in Canterlot, we just might have a one in six hundred thousand chance of winning ourselves a luxury cabin." She grumbles, tossing the crumpled letter into a waist-basket before slumping once again atop her velvety pillow. "That positively leaves me with a one in six million chance of earning that First Chair in the Orchestra."

My breath escapes me in humored bursts. I leave my table, trotting towards her with a sympathetic smile.

"Oh Vine, I simply am a hopeless wreck, aren't I?" She buries her muzzle in her hooves, groaning. "Imagine, a mare my age, acting like a spoiled teenage princess. If only Mother could see me now. She'd roll over in her... in her... well... wherever she might be laying, dead or alive." She looks up, gazing across the room with moist eyes. "You of all ponies deserve a better class of roommate."

I hate it when she says that. Squatting low, I bring two hooves together and flap them apart, mimicking pigeons in flight.

"Hmmmf? The park?" She fidgets atop her resting pillow. "I... I don't know. It's bad enough that you have to see me like this. But at this time of day, there are bound to be dozens of ponies there... if not more."

I shrug, adjusting my shades with a careless grin.

"Oh, Vinyl, you're right. You're always right." She sits up, straightening her mane. Her gaze and her bowtie match the royal velvet clinging to her vocal notes. "I'm a lucky pony... and an even luckier one to live in this town. So let's go out and enjoy it, yes?"

I nod.

"Just..." She stands up and trots briskly across the apartment. "Just let me make sure Scribbler's food bowl is filled first. The poor thing would be dead without us, after all."

I gaze after her, exhaling softly. I can already tell that the next hour or two will be filled with her rambling about the infinite struggle between dry cat food and soft cat food, including the philosophical merits of both.

But I can withstand it. I want to.

After all, Tavi saved my life.

Colorful Things

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"But if you ask me, I think that the dry food is better for Scribbler," Octavia says, curled up on the park bench to my right. "At least when it becomes time to clean up after her, it's... well... a lot easier to manage. I'm afraid that if we switch entirely to soft food, then it'll go straight through the poor thing and it'll come out like... pure liquid. Goddess, I shudder at the thought."

I nod, feeling the rattle of earphones around my neck. All around us, ponies chat merrily from hilltops and park benches, and it is all yellow. I suppose we each have a little bit of Derpy in us. Octavia's tongue, however, threads purple seams through the golden quilt and I wrap myself tight in it.

"And it's not as if she hasn't been housetrained," Octavia says. "Fluttershy was generous enough to take care of that little issue before we took the adorable thing in. Much rather, I think Scribbler is trying to give us a message. Maybe she wants attention, or she's feeling discomfort and has no other way of communicating it with us. I mean... perhaps you understand, Vinyl."

I turn and give her a long, dull glare through my shades.

She's already wincing. "Erm... not to suggest in any way that you desire to communicate through... ahem... random acts of rebellious defecation."

My shoulders quiver with a breathy chuckle. I stare out across the verdant lawn once again. Birds flitter overhead, their chirping beaks full of gold stripes and platinum bolts. They rain down on our heads like pixie dust and fade into the green hum of the world.

"In Trottingham, my father owned a Great Dane," Octavia says. "An enormous breed of canine. You have no earthly idea! It dwarfed me by almost threefold! Granted, I was quite the petite little filly, so even a dachshund would have been a formidable obstacle to contend with, but that's besides the point." A gust of wind disturbed a lock of her hair and she was quick to brush it back into satin straightness. "Father's trusted hound went on in years, and the summer after I got my cutie mark, it started leaving... erm... essences of itself around the house. Within a week, my father had the poor thing put down. I figured he knew that there was no recovering from that. Then again, my father has never been too keen on creatures he couldn't control. I should know a thing or two about that..."

I nod, then take a hearty glug from a half-full bottle of Dr. Pony. Octavia was gracious enough to let us stop by Sugarcube Corner on the way to the park. She's far more generous than she lets on.

And then the violet bands take on a dark, wavering hue. "Do you think Scribbler's time is up too? That... this 'problem' of hers is a sign? A dark sign this early on?"

I roll my eyes and shake my head with a warm smile.

"Yes, I do suppose I am being melodramatic." Octavia gulps. "Though she can be quite taxing at times, I do care for the little scoundrel, as do you, I imagine."

I nod. An inverted rainbow of yellow, red, and brown colors echoes from across the lawn. I look to my left to see an orange filly drawing two other blank flanks across the grass in a tiny wagon. Their laughter runs the gambit of the whole vomitous spectrum, and I struggle to find a delightful cadence from it all to take home with me to the studio. The one with a fluffy mane in particular is the most golden...

"Why do we take on pets, Vine?" Octavia muses. "They live such blissfully short lives, like sweet ballads that are melancholic in tone from the start. You'd think we would have better sense than to set ourselves up for such heartache, again and again."

I look towards her, shrug, and beat a pale hoof over my chest. A red cloud emanates between us, and once it dissolves I can see a tired smile hanging off her soft muzzle.

"You're right, I suppose," she murmurs, a dull, somber indigo. "It's what lets us remember that we have hearts to begin with."

Sure, that works.

I take another swig of Dr. Pony. Wiping my muzzle clean, I can feel a deep twitch in my fuzzy pony innards. The caffeine is kicking in, and suddenly every band of color has a persistent, quivering beat to it. I smile ravenously, alive in the ever-evolving delirium around us. My eyes dart left and right, imprisoned by their thick lenses. I pierce through the translucent bars and carve a cliff. The colors bunch up against the knifing edge, and I'm already sculpting the perfect bass drop in the churning surf beyond.

Octavia interrupts it, turning the rough tide into a satin pool of purple sheets. "I know that look on your face. You're crafting a new electronic masterpiece, aren't you, love?"

In truth, I held my concentration up until that very last word. It's always the most vibrant one in Tavi's vocabulary, like a kitchen drawer bursting with violet carving knives. They slice up the dance track just twenty beats before it's fully formulated, but somehow I don't feel like complaining.

"Well, if I stay out here any longer, I fear that I may perspire." She pats my shoulder before dismounting the bench with a supple stretch of her spine. She's more like a cat than the feline she delights in complaining about. "I'll leave you to your sugary beverage. Celestia knows, it only gives me..." She looks cautiously over her shoulder, as if worried that some other soul would be close enough to register her heinous confession. "...gives me gas."

I smirk, offering a casual salute in response.

"Now imported Red Wine," Tavi coos. "Especially of the midnight sarosian variety?" She's carried aloft by the purple cloud that is her sigh, and she shuffles off towards the east end of town. "I think I'll make a quick stop by the Boutique to see how my custom gown is fairing, and then I'll make my way back home. Be a dear, Vinyl, and use the back door if you're not back by sundown? The front hinges groan in such an awful way that they frighten poor Scribbler, and I could certainly do without her scampering frantically across my chest at night."

I simply nod, watching her leave, and the purple trails with her.

"I swear, it was you who insisted that we not de-claw her." And she's gone, leaving me with the faintest of fuzzy shadows.

I revel in it briefly, then exhale. The soda bottle is nearly empty. Might as well make the best of it. I take a sip, squint into the horizon, and allow the colors to resume their frenetic march. Then, with a courageous smirk, I venture upon braving the cliffs again.

Kind Things

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"Oh! Miss Scratch! There you are! Excuse me, girls. This will only take a moment."

Her voice is bright, pink, like her mane. One could fall asleep inside such supple softness if they're not careful.

I drop a few bits onto the counter and turn around, lowering my headphones. She gallops across Sugarcube Corner, though the liquid flounce in her mane almost makes it look like a glide. I bet she could be a great dancer if she wanted to, but we all know better.

"Uhm... I'm so sorry to bother you," Fluttershy says, cowering slightly behind the frame that masks her vocal chords. "But... uhm... the last time I spoke with your roommate, she mentioned that... that poor Scribbler was leaving some messes around the apartment?"

I nod.

"Well, I did some thinking, and I don't believe it's a problem with the food," she says. Her turquoise eyes pierce emphatically through the fuchsia salvos. "I think, perhaps, you should consider changing the contents of her litter."

I lean my head curiously aside.

"Leaving messes is often an expression of discomfort, since cats can't communicate like ponies can. Scribbler never had such a problem when she was growing up in my cottage, and I was filling her box with a very specific brand of soft, fine grain." She smiles gracefully. "If, perhaps, you've been buying her a different kind of litter, that might explain her uneasiness."

I smile, nodding.

"The brand I've been using isn't very expensive! Honest!" She gulps, squirming nervously. "And besides, I-I'm certain I have an extra bag or two still lying around in the closet. I could lend you some if you'd be willing to stop by later this afternoon. Perhaps that will solve yours and Miss Melody's problem."

Before I can register a response, a voice cracks from across the room, slick and black like volcanic glass: "Yo Fluttershy! Move your tail! Twilight's about to do her poetry reading! It's about Daring Do!"

She looks back at her friends. "I'll be there in a moment, Rainbow!" She turns back to face me. "Uhm... another thing you might want to do is consider buying a second litter box and filling both at once. Sometimes, when moving to a new location, a cat might feel cramped... or imposed by space. Doing something like that might make her feel like she has more breathing room. Uhm... just a suggestion."

I nod with a thankful grin.

"Here ya go, Miss Scratch!" Mrs. Cake arrives with a bag of cupcakes and two bottles of Dr. Pony. Her voice is pure, undistilled lavender. I'm nearly blinded. "My goodness, me! They don't call this place Sugarcube Corner for nothing, huh?!"

"Well... best of luck!" Fluttershy waves with a soft wing before trotting back to the far corner of the eatery. "Don't hesitate to knock on my front door if you need any more advice! Best wishes to Scribbler."

"Scribbler?" Mrs. Cake blinks at me. "Is that one of your DJ friends or something?"

I gesture a pair of cat ears over my head.

"Awwwwwww..." The baker nods. "Say, I love what you've done with your mane, Miss Scratch! Very New Wave... and shiny!"

I curtsy, take the goods, and trot away, slapping my headphones calmly over my ears.

I never, ever do anything with my mane. That's Tavi's department.

Sloppy Things

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"Oh yeah," Lyra Heartstrings says, grinning. "Oh yeah, girl!" She grins wider. "I'm loving it! Loving it real hard!"

I smirk proudly from where I sit across from her in the studio. A record player twirls between us, broadcasting my latest mix through a pair of crackling speakers. The air is an inside-out rainbow threatening to burst, held together by a tightly-woven rhythm. The beat picks up, interlaced with nondescript vocals that tantalize the tempo to zoom faster, faster.

"Just how long did you work on this?!"

I aim my horn at the table. Levitating a pen, I scratch seven hash-marks across a clipboard's paper sheet.

"Seven hours?"

I nod.

"Well, it shows!" she chirps, her golden voice lifting bravely against the waves of sonic color. It's a different kind of gold with Lyra, like a tapering amber, dying and living all at once. I'm almost as excited to hear it as she is to hear my newest mix. "Wow, this thing is tight! Are... are those actually my harp samples being used to introduce the second movement?"

I nod yet again. A smug grin.

"Wow..." She smooths her bangs back. "That's killer." She gulps hard, overcome by what I can only imagine is an air of unnecessary humility. "I never thought my own strings would be bracing the dance clubs of DJ-P0N3."

I roll my eyes, adjusting my shades before pointing at the speakers. At precisely that moment, the bass drops, and we're both deliciously assaulted by a playful tango of harpstrings and vocal samples, rising and falling against a backdrop of hard snares.

"Hooo-boy!" Lyra chuckles, nodding with approval. "Real sick!" A pale body flounces into the room, tidying things up. "Hey Bon Bon! You should give this thing a listen!"

"More of Vinyl's disco grooves, hmmm?"

"Dammit, Bon Bon, it's not disco!" Lyra wheezes, frowning. "This is Vinyl's latest mix! Listen! She's even got my harp samples used all throughout! Isn't that sweet?"

"So... it's Lyra flavored disco?" the earth pony remarks, tongue sticking out.

"Guhhh!" Lyra rolls her eyes, flopping back in her chair. "Darn it, Bon Bon! If you weren't my best friend..."

"Best maid is more like it," the mare grumbles, picking up random paper plates and empty soda cans. "I swear, if you lived on your own, this studio would be a landfill by now."

Lyra shrugs. "So I'm creatively chaotic... or is it chaotically creative?"

"Either way, it's a pain in the flank."

I whistle and point towards a blue receptacle where an empty bottle of Dr. Pony neatly rests.

"Well, Celestia's blessings, Vinyl," Bon Bon muses with a playful curtsy. "Nice to know that somepony here has a sophomoric grasp on politeness."

"Hey Bon Bon." Lyra smirks from across the room. "How did you enjoy cashing in those polite checks of mine at the bank yesterday afternoon?"

"Lyra, that's—" Bon Bon gnashes her teeth, shakes, then ends her momentary tantrum with two puffy cheeks. "That's unfair and you know it."

"Hah hah hah!"

"Ughhh..." Bon Bon rolls her eyes. Try as she might to look frustrated, her voice takes on a radiant hue of orange that snuffs out the crimson. It's like Scribbler's purring, only deeper... softer. It only happens when she and her best friend are in the same room together, or so I've noticed. "You two enjoy your discotheque demo-ing. I've got... stuff to do in the other room."

She marches off, and I swivel in my chair to glance at Lyra with raised eyebrows.

She sighs and nods, ignoring the mix at this point. She's not alone. "Okay, that wasn't too fair of me. Bon Bon does more than enough to carry her weight around here. After all, she works for... for..." Lyra's eyes go wide suddenly, and her amber voice cracks, shattering into white and gold bands. After a nervous fidget or two, she clears her throat and wheezes: "...for a v-very successful law firm."

I blink.

"But yeah, killer track, Vinyl!" She rolls her chair closer to the speakers. "This will be great for your next session. Where's it gonna be this month?"

I grab the clipboard again and draw a sketch of an overturned wagon caught on fire.

"Heh... Baltimare?"

I nod.

"Pffft. Good friggin' luck with that." She strokes her bangs back, leaning an ear towards the speakers once more. "But if anypony could calm the masses, it's you." Her brow furrows. "Seriously, though, it's the vocals that make this track so awesome. I... I can't quite put my hoof on it. Where did you get the samples from?"

I bite my lip. The speakers are resonating with a thick purple sheen, tapering off into scrumptious indigo fragments.

"Lemme guess... Manehattan Underground? Those archives run deep, girl."

I answer by not answering. Popping open a fresh bottle of Dr. Pony, I take a mighty swig and smile nervously in the unicorn's direction.

"Watch it, DJ. My best friend's fastidious and all, but Bon Bon doesn't clean up after drool."

Jealous Things

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"A second litter box? Hmmmm..." Octavia speaks over the burgundy bass reverberations of her cello strings. "I quite like that idea, actually. Sound advice. How fortunate that you would have run into Fluttershy this morning."

I nod, carefully packing away my turntable and clasping the metal trunk shut. I then turn towards another crate, sliding my instruments into their foam housing before closing it as well.

"I'll be sure to buy some new litter in addition," my roommate says. Her violet voice rolls over my shoulders like a gentle massage. "No sense in Miss Fluttershy getting rid of her own supply. Celestia knows if she might stumble upon more stray kittens like Scribbler in the future. Still, it was a nice gesture." She pauses, striking a complicated note on her instrument. I don't know how she can even converse and orchestrate at the same time. She's the talented one, not me. "Then again, everything to do with that mare is kind, don't you think?"

I float both containers towards the door where a suitcase on wheels is already resting. The day is dull and dim outside the windows, and the green hum of the world turns pale with the advent of night. I find it hard not to yawn.

"How long will you be in Baltimare, love?"

And just like that, I'm awake again. I pierce through the purple cloud and hold up two hooves.

"Two days?" She blinks, then squints at me. Somehow, she always looks five times more elegant when her eyes are thin. "Then again... eheheh..." She chuckles between the undulating bass notes. "It's hard to tell whether you're trying to say two or twenty." She glances down at her bow as she masterfully slices at the strings. "I swear, the stars should have granted us digits just for ponies like you."

I roll my eyes and trot across the room to the fridge.

"I hope you're not craving more of that accursed beverage," she grumbles, her voice rippling with a savage satin tear. "It's getting awfully late for caffeine. You need your sleep if you're to make the train tomorrow morning."

A bemused smile crosses my lips. I asked for a roommate, not a mother. With quiet grace, I open the fridge and pull out the makings for a lettuce sandwich.

"Hmmm." She sees it. She sees everything... that is, almost everything. "Very well. A full stomach would be good for a change," she murmurs. "You're an energetic pony, Vine, but you could stand to have more meat on your bones. Ermm... I-I mean that in the nicest way possible."

If you insist.

I decide to add a few carrot slices between the toasted slices of bread, if only to silence her nagging.

"I do hope the... you-know-what doesn't arrive while you're gone."

I pause, looking up at her with an arched eyebrow.

"Okay..." She groans, striking the wrong note. We both wince, and after a few breaths later she resumes: "So I admit it. I'm still impatient for a response. But I would enjoy it all the more if you were here to celebrate with me, assuming we were selected... in th-the end." She gulps. "But honestly, Vinyl, we submitted the application to Her Majesty's... erm... tree castle ages ago! It wouldn't be like Princess Twilight to ignore us." A long, dry pause. "Would it?"

I shrug and continue to fix my sandwich, adding a liberal amount of dressing.

"And... I don't suppose you... saw Her Highness this morning right after you ran into Fluttershy?"

My face tilts up to meet hers with a dull expression.

"Erm... right. I won't press the subject anymore." Tavi sighs. She stops playing, her limp figure slumping against the frame of her cello in an immortal symbol of ennui. I swear, they could make a poster of this image right here and now and it would send a dozen dreadnaughts off to war. "I... I-I don't mean to sound terribly jealous, love, but lately it feels like you've been stricken by glorious lightning bolts of inspiration, slapping together record after record, and here I am sitting on my worthless arse, soaking in your good bits while failing to have a single performance to show for myself!"

I bite my lip. My shaded eyes travel to a stack of freshly made records on my side of the foyer. Even now, I swear, they resonate with a trademark violet aura...

"Mmmm... just listen to me, Vine. I suppose it does no good for me to prattle on and on like a depressed widow." She looks at me with sleepy eyes, and the hint of a smile blossoms from underneath. "You're such a good friend. So patient and understanding. I... I promise..." She clenches her teeth, yet commits to the next delivery: "I promise that if I should receive a letter from the Princess, I shan't open it until you have returned safely so we can share together in the triumph." She gulps. "Or the defeat..."

In response, I smile. I daringly lower the shades and wink one eye in her direction. The gesture is heartfelt, but I nearly collapse from the dizzying effect it has on my nerves. Swift as lighting, I return the comfortingly dark shades to their normal resting spot and continue with my breaded masterpiece.

"But do be careful in Baltimare, darling," Octavia says. Her bass strings resume, carrying her purple voice towards me on gentle waves. "I do hear that the locals have been rather... urban as of late."

My stomach growls. It's the closest thing to a titter I have to offer.

They'd damn well better be urban.

Whizzing Things

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When things whizz past me, they leave trails. It's only when I have a steady beat playing that I can control those streams. I speak of moments such as right now, sitting in this train car, staring out the window as the world blows by, with the latest track by Chemical Colts blasting into my ears. I have to turn the volume all the way up, so that way even the back of my teeth feel it.

The trails blend into gently undulating bands, and I can tell the chromatic keys apart from one another when I squint. I'm sitting with my back facing the front of the train, which is perfect. Everything is like a rainbow music sheet, and the countrysides and fencelines and villages of Equestria morph into separate notes, pulsating with each delicious beat that these wonderful, wonderful artists were endowed with enough wizardry to conjure.

The life of a DJ is truly a fantastic one. It gives me the ability to worship as well as to create. Each session is a delicious dip into the fabric of Equestrian soundspace, where I exalt the masterpieces that others have made and blend them with my own humble offerings. In the end, ponies love me for both, or perhaps they—like me—simply love the moment. A moment much like the one that I am having right now, but very late tonight—in a closed off sanctuary of sonic proportions—I will likewise be sharing with them, through bright lights and bass salvos and every pulsing, booming thing that houses the nerve to jump, jump, jump.

I only wish that I could get Tavi to understand. But, then again, she belongs to a different world, a very soft, velvety world of such fastidious qualities that I feel strangely blessed to be an audience to it.

And yet here, staring out into a morphing kaleidoscope of carefully controlled madness, I breathe in between the beats, hoping, yearning, that some day I could share this world with her as well.

When the clerk's hoof waves in front of my shades, it disrupts the trails, churning the prismatic lightshow into a jigsaw assortment of madness. I become aware of just how insanely loud I've turned up my headphones. I turn towards him in a daze, noticing the mixture of alarm and stern reproach across his wrinkled muzzle. So I switch the music off, wincing, for I'd just have sooner slammed the brakes of this very train. My world is jostled no less, the colors all colliding with one another until bleeding into a crimson crucible in the shape of his muzzle.

"—ickets please?" he chirps, a little too snappish for his own good, or mine. "I do need to see your ticket, madame."

I nod, shuddering slightly. My heart is racing, but not in the good way. The world is suddenly a gray malaise with no soothing hint of violet... her violet. I hate it when I feel naked like this, a nudity that used to plague me all the time. Only these last few years have I been able to dress it all away with melody and noise. I couldn't have accomplished it alone.

My mind is so confuzzled that I don't realize how long I've taken to rummage through my backpack. I rattle my turntable case a little too many times for my own good, and it makes my teeth chatter harder, a nervous foalish sound accompanied by scurrying red doves pouring out the sides of my muzzle.

And then, like an idiot, I wake up. Using telekinesis, I reach through the panic and pull the desired slip of paper out from my saddlebag situated in the chair beside me. I hold up it up to him with an embarrassed smile.

He gazes past it with utter ambivalence, which is somehow worse than I expected. I'm always worried by ponies I meet who are as gray on the inside as they are in appearance.

"Much thanks, Madame," he drones, the deadest noise ever, and he clamps a hole-punch through the thing, assaulting my earbones with crimson scimitars. Needling trails of blood lick at his bony haunches as he saunters off down the crowded cars. "Tickets? Tickets, please!" Ponies aquiesce his request, thier thin golden voices merging to form a thinner golden haze, and I become aware of the train's own beat over the tracks, a very meager thing that thrumps half-heartedly through the tailbones of everyone pretending to not be bored with this cross-country lurch.

I attempt repeating the Chemical Colts track, but it's jarring now. Besides, as I look out the window, I see nothing but open pasture with no structural blemishes to excite my imagination, or my restless imagination-within-an-imagination. My eyes are starved for something, and my ears want to rip through my head and eat them. I can't remember a time when I felt this antsy. Things have felt very different, I suppose.

Very different since the wedding.

I need to calm down. I have a show to host tonight. Ponies from all trots of the Northeast Underground will be there to dance and buck and froth the midnight hour away to the beats that I have to deliver. I can't let them down. I can't forsake this moment, this moment that deserves to be shared, an unending pulse that leads me forward, twitching, onto the soundstage.

I consider doing something I'm not used to. After all, I'm not adverse to a little adventure. I do come from Ponyville, after all.

I close my eyes. This is harder to accomplish than one can imagine. One would think that such a place would be a sanctuary to me. But here, the colors have no anchor. When the music plays in utter darkness, I descend into a spiral, and I don't always like where it takes me.

But lately, especially these last few weeks, it hasn't felt quite so perilous. The fall is still there, yes. In a way, it feels like plummeting towards the center of the earth. But instead of shattering into bits, there's something gentle that catches me, a fabric, a hammock, a safety net that keeps me from falling too deep to a place where I might never return.

And the strings are colored with royal purple velvet.

I don't know if this smile means I'm thankful or if I'm delirious. Either way, I allow the hammock to carry me somewhere distant, somewhere safe, a place that smells like the past.

Yesterday has a fancy habit of getting me quicker to tomorrow.

Ceremonial Things

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"Do you ever think about getting married, Vinyl?"

A flash of purple, like a gunshot to the back of the neck, and I pause halfway towards the banquet table inside Town Hall. On the knifing edge, above dangling white table cloth, sits a dark brown bubbling bowl of punch, and the stuff looks suspiciously like Dr. Pony. Considering how swiftly Amethyst Star has thrown this wedding together, I really wouldn't doubt it. My tongue's already salivating wildly inside my mouth.

"Well?" Her violet voice anchors me in place. "Is that a 'no?'"

I sigh in defeat. Ears folded, I turn around, once again bearing witness to the festive half of the Town Hall interior. Much of the dancing and the flank-bumping has culminated, and the remaining crowd has gathered in a thick circle of chairs, in the center of which sit Cranky and Matilda opening one present of shiny giftwrap after another. I've lost count of all the picture frames and gift cards to Barns, Bridles, and Beyond they've received.

My DJ stand sits a few yards away, its blue speakers playing an antique record that I slapped on "repeat" three minutes ago. My limbs tingle from two and a half solid hours of live mixing, utilizing as many old fashioned swing band tunes to honor the flavor of the two nuptial donkeys, and a smidgen of "modern" dance hits from the past decade to keep the current generation of guests energized. I'm hot, sweaty, and my vision swirls from all the golden voices mixing into a joyous soup of social effluvia in the center of this domain.

I need a break. So does Octavia, but she doesn't show it. Throwing off the undeniable pains and aches of cello-hoof, she stands next to me with a delirious smile on her face. This is how I know she's about to get poetic.

"Because, when you look at it from a fundamentally practical perspective, stripping it of all the pomp and ceremony, it's simply nothing more than an exercise in social cooperation. The two partners are simply the surface of it. The rest is quantifiably bound by finances, legal contracts, parental obligations, the foaling of children... etc."

I really, really want to know where she's going with this. My lethargic expression shows it, even through my shades.

She blushes slightly, fluffing her mane with unnecessary fidgetry while casting rose-violet eyes on the scene of unwrapping. Her voice carries the same colored curtains, adding a poignant ripple to the air. "But with these two, it's quite different, yes? Neither of them are all too affluent. They left their energy and... erm... metabolism back in the past, say about thirty years ago or so, one might say. And yet, despite all of that, they're willing to go through all the pageantry, just to show everypony how committed they are. And—perhaps—to even show themselves. But to what end? Not to sound grim, but creatures their age surely haven't many decades left on this earth."

I shrug.

"Oh Vinyl, don't you see?" She sighs dreamily, and the purple darkens, collecting in a coiled indigo that clings ominously to the ceiling beams above us. "All of the artifice is gone. Age has drained the pretense from them, and all that's left is sincerity. That is a love worth waiting for."

I adjust my shades and look across the domain. Matilda drops one of the presents by accident. Cranky bends over to grab it, but falls awkwardly on the floor, his toupee gliding across the floor like a frightened tarantula. Several ponies giggle, rattling the windows with a blinding gold sheen. As it fades, I see Lyra levitating the hairpiece back to the donkey, and he bashfully accepts it.

I can only hope it was worth waiting for.

"Why, Vinyl, I'm surprised," Octavia gasps, and it makes for a stagnant gap in the river of violet. "A mare of your cultured standing? I'd imagine you would appreciate weddings a bit more!"

She can obviously see past my exterior. And yet, at the same time, she knows who I am and what I do. It just... takes a hoofful of seconds for her to admit it out loud. Make that four seconds. Three. Two. One.

"Erm... then again, somepony in your profession—who performs as DJ at more weddings than a dog has fleas—must also understandably feel a modicum of ennui." She coughs. "And for that, I am truly sorry, Vine. I can only imagine an event as humble and impromptu as this must feel like a pathetic drop in the bucket compared to epic galas like the Royal Wedding."

I blink at her.

Does she really think I'm that cold-hearted?

In fact... is she right? Am I actually that cold-hearted?

I turn to look at the gathering once again. All this time, my focus has been on Cranky and Matilda. I always told myself that I couldn't relate to them in their years, and I still hold true to that belief.

But these other ponies... these guests who have gathered here for no other reason than to bring joy and support to the donkeys of the day...

I know them. I feel them. Even in my sleep, I see and taste them—in spectral tributaries that dance and weave around the forest green hum of all things. Octavia's quite right: today is meant as an expression of commitment and union between these two loving hearts. But for the rest of Ponyville, for the rest of us, it means something else, something that can't quite be put into words or music.

It means that, at the end of all things, we are all destined to arrive someplace, a place of safety and security, a place where we can safely deposit the vestiges of our hearts, even if—or especially if—our hearts are no longer alone when we get there.

"I've long feared, Vine," Tavi speaks, and I listen. "That there was... something wrong about me... for not finding a stallion sooner. I mean, I know that I'm quite young in the grand scheme of things, and there's nothing unnatural about remaining a single mare. But, when I was a wee filly, I always assumed that I would be... with a special somepony at this age. And for the last few years, I must admit, it's troubled me. But now when I look at these two love birds, and when I see the gentle glowing fire in their eyes, I have faith, Vinyl. I have faith that patience is my greatest virtue, and that I'm wise for not having wasted my talents on useless, fruitless passion. Perhaps the same can be said of my music career, yes? Although... hmmmm... I suppose the analogy loses its romantic edge."

I look at her with a kind, sympathetic smile.

"Oh... of all the places to ramble off so." She shudders slightly. The purple streams shatter on brittle ends, and I see moisture collecting along her eyelids. She daintily dabs her face long before her makeup can run, and I hear her murmur: "I am a lucky pony, Vinyl." She turns towards me, her smile sappy and fragile. "And so are you, love. One day, we'll find a stallion for you too. One that—I trust—will not possess the need for a false mane. Now wouldn't that be fantastic?"

I've already jetted over to the banquet table, taking a huge swig from the punch bowl.

It is Dr. Pony. Praise Celestia.

Hopping Things

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"Let's give it out for Vinyl Scratch!!! DJ-P0N3 IN THE HOUSSSSSSSSE!!!"

Cheers. Doubling and quadrupling on top of one another.

My eyes snap back to the beating, throbbing moment, and it is full of sparkles. Colors swirl and shimmer around me, and I am in control of them... in control of the sound.

And then there's another sound, full of gold and saliva and joy.

I tilt my head up from the turntable, gazing at a dancing, bucking crowd of rowdy, raving ponies. All of Baltimare's youth have poured into the concert arena to worship music... my music, and I am worshipping it alongside them.

It's when I zone in and out of a killer session like this that I know... I know... that things are going righteously.

I smile. I kiss a pale hoof and fling it to the air. Cheers abound, and when my limb comes down, the bass drops with it, and an explosion of sonic orgasmia quivers underneath me, underneath all of us, bouncing us, throwing us skyward to the stars, stars, stars. My horn ignites a complex array of chrimastic strobe lights towering over my booth. Pixels dance like a computer's ghost, vomiting every shade of the rainbow through chirps, giggles, and glitch gurgles. And as the waves of light and color froth outward, the living surf of ponydom send it roaring back on a manic rip tide. It engulfs me, ignites deep in side of me. I spin around and scratch a record back and forth: my honeymoon yodeling with honey on top, glistening, oozing, spreading.

And then the next track hits like a sledgehammer, including the frozen gasp before the penultimate downswing. There's a sundered gap in every golden breath as all of Baltimare lingers on the dagger's tip. The green hum of the world bleeds in for a microsecond and then rockets back to the heavens at the speed of screams, for I've chased it away with bombs of deep bass badassedry, annihilating every fragile pulse obstinate enough to stand within the blast radius. The equine heart is stubborn. I can be stubborn too, only I have a catalogue of over two thousand dance tunes at my disposal, and only I and I alone am leading the charge uphill tonight. Everypony else is merely galloping up behind me, screaming into the flames and shell fragments.

If only Tavi could see me now. But that's okay. I've brought the next best thing.

"You're killing them, Vinyl!" my wing stallion shouts. He bounces constantly in place on the stage, holding a mic and a pair of saucer-wide eyes, both aimed at me. "You're murdering them!" Twitch. Twitch. Grin. "Now for the mercy blow!"

I nod and give him the signal.

At my command, he turns towards the crowd and hollers hot and loud, "Yo you—this is Roadie Beau Fo'Sho, and I've got an announcement to make! DJ P to the Zero to the N-E-THREE has a brand new mix to share with thee! So who here wants to melt in their mother buckin' horseshoes tonight?!?!"

The crowd explodes with platinum sparks. I swing back on a wave of red and brown, my mane tossing, and I prepare the next beat with a slap-tapping hoof. I whistle aside to Beau, my body strong enough to withstand the flood of blood over my shades in the wake of it. When everything fades, there he is—adrift in the shimmer—hollering once more like a banshee into the mic:

"Well, Baltimare, let it out and leak it loud for the brand new cool 'Strings in Fuzz Minorrrr!'" He points at me.

I point at eternity. A record just happens to spin in the ether between us, a brand new record, a cosmic infant unchained. And within seconds—waves of undulating purple velvet rolls over the crowd like a hypnotic tsunami. I know this, for I see a flood of eyes shutting already in delicious inebriation. Ponies drinking. Unicorns devouring. Pegasi and every other oats-munching thing in between drifting and swaying with the tantric trance swirls, until a certain musician's harpstrings build up from nothing, and everything coalesces into a rich violet refrain, exploding and sputtering outward in unintelligible audio ambrosia.

I already know five seconds in that the vocal samples have won them over. They don't understand a single utterance—for all is broken and indistinct—but they feel it. They live it. And I can only hope... I can only dream... that they relish it in even a fraction of the way that I do.

It matters much, and yet it matters little. I have them in the crook of my fetlock. And—like a good guardian angel—I protect them. I cherish them. I swing them to ecstasy with a rock of the beat, and by the time the suite has ended, so have their breaths...

For half of Baltimare, it's all down hill from here.

And, as always, you're welcome.

Blonde Things

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The session's long over. How long has it been? One hour? Two? It's awfully hard trying to quantify numbers in sweatspace. After spending the better part of forty minutes signing autographs, posing in photos, and listening to young upcoming wannabe DJs talk about all the dream projects that they'll never even remotely get started on, it's come time for me to pack up my things and head back to the hotel.

And just where did my agent say I'm staying again? Hayatt Regency Baltimare? Ugh... maybe I should just stay here and wait to be mugged to death.

Fatefully, this is when my good partner in crime, Beau, decides to trot up from the empty dance floor and tap me on the shoulder. "Yo! Vinyl! 'Sup?" We slap hooves with a flash of spherical crimson between us and the DJ booth. His voice is amber, like Lyra's, but not quite so soft. I find it endearing all the same, much like his smile. "Dirty sick track you ended the night on, girl! That number's gonna be your next hit, fo'sho, or else my name ain't Fo'Sho!" He chuckles.

I let loose a breathy giggle, sliding the last of my equipment into a foam-packed crate.

"Hey! Uh... I know it's late and all, Vinyl, but we've got a straggler here. A V.I.P member for tonight's gig." He waggles his eyebrows, a silent passcode between the two of us. "Y'know what that means."

I sigh, suddenly remembering my contractual obligations like an anvil drop to the skull. I know what's coming up next before Beau even has announce it—like the over-enthusiastic ringshow announcer that he truly, totally is.

I turn to face him and the inevitable guest with as warm a smile as I can muster. I've run out of Dr. Pony. This better not last long...

"Vinyl, I'm very proud to introduce you to the one... the only... Manehattan's very own editorial star... Trenderhoof!" He smiles. He blinks. He looks over at the lanky thing in plaid standing next to him. "It is Manehattan, right?"

"Eh heheh... close enough." A blonde thing with a blonde mane and a blonde tail trots up onto the stage and proceeds to be... blonde. "My my my, as I live and breathe! The very DJ-P0N3 herself!" The only thing that isn't blonde about him is his voice. His oil-slick words blurble with deathly streaks of mud brown, and I fear that worms will come crawling out of the soil between sentences, which is a shame because I can tell that the poor sap is trying very desperately to not sound... desperate. "In the flesh! And just as radiant as in the spotlight of neon sparkles!"

Uh huh...

I nod at him. I glance sickly at Beau. He stares back, fidgeting, and so I glance sickly back at Trender... Trender... Trenderhobbit? Goddess, I need a hotel room bed. Stat.

"I must say, it is an honor, Miss Scratch." He points at me, eyes leering from behind a sheet of glass lenses. I see the reflection of a trembling, sick mare in his glasses. It's a crying shame he can't. "May I call you 'Miss Scratch?'"

I shrug.

"Or perhaps you would prefer 'Vinyl?'"

I shrug again.

"I've listened to tracks of your live sessions over and over again. But being here? Listening to and experiencing the real deal?!" He chuckles and slides in close. "I've never felt so alive!" He explodes with brown sonic vibrations. "Honest!"

I believe him. With a slight shudder, I look to my left. Beau is a million miles away, chatting up some hot hairdresser stallion. Goddess, I envy the bastard.

"And yet, it's so thrilling to know that you've worked on some of Equestria's more... oh dear, how shall I put this... more classy venues!"

Oh?

He grins wide. "Like the Royal Wedding!"

Oh...

"Hah HAH! You know, I was there in pony myself. Simply to... y'know... gather visual information so that I could write a front page editorial on the local fashion statement. Little did I know it would turn into an honest-to-goddess changeling invasion! Ah! Can you believe it? Of course, I ended up winning several rewards for the article, what with my... eheheh... 'deep social commentary' on exquisite fashion under deep duress." He rolls his blue eyes and winks my way. "I'd suspect a mare of your standing would know a thing or two about how uppity the gossip mill can get when the littlest bit of drama rears its silly head. I mean, of course you can! You were there too! And—wowsers! You threw a party for the royals without sweating! I mean... talk about talent!"

I feel myself shaking, and yet I've got a smile on my face. Is this stallion actually making me want to laugh?

"Heh heh heh... That's... y'know... th-that's the one thing I absolutely admire about musicians. You all know how to keep your cool. None of those silly, pointless obstacles like writer's block and fashion disaster temper tantrums." He frames his hooves, his voice issuing through his fetlocks like a silk brown thread. "No, when you've got a problem, you fixate on a beat and you just... wing your way through... sort of like an air zeppelin pilot! Say... didn't you... y'know... once mention something like that?"

I blink awkwardly.

Come to think of it, I did. But... but that would mean...

"Okay." He holds a hoof over his chest, grinning coyly. "Guilty as charged. Eh-heh. I read your book. And I must say it is absolutely fascinating! I mean, for realsies! I especially liked the part halfway through where you wrote about the synthesis of magic and music as relayed upon the visual spectrum! I mean... pfft... sure, there have been popular DJs and synth-artists who took to the stage before you: Deadmar3, Barn Joxx, and let's not forget Kraftwhinny. But you?" He turns and wildly waves at the currently inert series of crystalline light projectors. "You turned this whole thing into a brand new artform! Like... on the visual spectrum! Nopony... and—heheh—I mean nopony could ever fall asleep when they're within a mile of your venues! It's just... pfft... scientifically impossible! And I've always... always longed for an opportunity to tell you that face to face. So... thank you, for being an inspiration."

I can't help but smile.

Yes, I know I'm being flattered to teetering Tartarus, but... what can I say?

This stallion's actually kind of sweet. Thoughtful, even.

"You really... really must teach me the tricks of the trade sometime!" Trenderhoof says, grinning wide. "I mean... just how do you do what you do? Er... n-not that I'd ever venture to steal your thunder. Eheheheh... I couldn't even come close to that even if I tried! Some of us are born with talent. The rest of us... well... we take up writing! Ah hah hah hah!"

I giggle breathily, careful not to let my lungs expel too much. My mind is teetering enough as it is without the crimson overload.

And yet, the blonde thing continues: "Really, though, how about it? I'm dying of thirst here! Spill the beans, girl!"

I calm down, smiling. I raise an eyebrow at him.

He raises an eyebrow at me, standing in place. His grin is an awkward thing, locked into an anxious shape, desperate to swing on its hinges. "Well? Cat got your tongue? Huh?"

I blink at him. Still, with a trailing smirk, I levitate a clipboard and pen over. I scribble a lengthy sentence and hold it out to him.

He responds within the space of two seconds. "You... you mean you're a mute?"

My shades rattle, which tells me how much that just made me reel. Funny... I've always heard that word. Just, in all these years, I've never heard it used as a noun. Guess it does take a writer...

And he continues to write. Spastically. Out loud. "You... you seriously can't... can't...?" Some invisible force pushes his pupils back into the deepest corners of his sockets. He gulps hard, something bitter, and the next breath that comes out of him is just as brown as before, the silken texture is gone. "I... I'm sorry," he sputters, smiling awkwardly.

For the briefest of moments, I'm confused.

Because I'm not.

"Well, uhm... I... erm..." He suddenly finds something very interesting about his hooves, at least interesting enough that he has to stare at them. Suddenly, his ears perk up, and they drag the rest of his body with a manic jolt. "Oh! Say... did you hear about the after-party banquet?"

I'm sure they're serving Dr. Pony there, but I don't particularly care at the moment. It's difficult to drink caffeinated soda when one's stomach is suddenly so full of bile.

"Well... uhm... lots of bright... shining stars should be there! Like... Shia Le Buck! He's cool, r-right?" He grins, grins some more. The crescent moon wanes, for he is backing off. Soon, he'll clear the edge of the stage. "Maybe... just maybe I'll run into you there!"

I nod.

"But it was truly a great... great pleasure meeting you just now!"

I sigh... and nod again.

"Well, good luck with your next gig!" That sounds awfully like parting words, and he knows it. "Erm... until next time!" And he's gone like a golden flame atop a mountain of mud.

I return to the stage I'm standing on. Remembering where I am only reminds me of how far away the hotel is. I sigh, then pivot the turntable crates onto their wheels. There's a record hiding deep inside, and I can still detect the slightest hint of velvet purple lingering in the air between me and two hours ago. It's a drop of sweet solace, and I drag it—along with the weight—out the hall and into the lobby beyond.

Lonely Things

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Ponies are weird ceatures.

For all of our colors, our social mirths and frailties, we enjoy sleeping alone... and yet we don't. We're such sickly sweet cantering conundrums, tender accidents that cling to cuddles, and yet we yearn for space and solitude.

Tonight, I've fallen into a sore spot nestled somewhere in between. I'd be selfish if I pretended to claim that I was alone in this. Every room on every floor of this hotel, there's a pony on the road, trying just as hard as I am to get some much-needed shuteye. And yet, against all the odds of exhaustion, they fail. I know this, for their bitter breaths filter out their muzzles and collect over the hotel roof in a brown cloud, only to settle in a filmy curtain of droll tan that drapes over every window and balcony overlooking Baltimare Harbor.

Tan. It's the color of loneliness. I hate it, and I exclude it from every one of my songs.

I used to know that color quite well. But that changed. So many things changed. I would like to say for the better, and judging from my day-to-day contentment, I'd concur that I've been absolutely right.

But it doesn't change the fact that some nights—many nights, as a matter of fact—have felt absolutely wrong.

Tavi doesn't know about this. I don't expect her to. After all, she has it as bad as I do. Sure, I recall the words she said at the wedding, but I see through a lot of it. I see through it with the same eyes and ears that register the tan tendrils rippling off the wings of her breath as she quietly trills herself through another tearful evening, alone with her dreaded thoughts. It's not just that she wants a stallion in her life. It's not just that she wants to hold hooves with a special somepony who will cherish and protect her. Tavi simply wants—like we all want—to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. That's why the two of us are musicians. That's why the two of us have moved in with one another. And that's also why—for better or for worse—we allow that to be as close as we'll ever get.

Because ponies need space to feel like they're part of something too, and individualism is as strong a ballad as any duet. Still, despite our friendship, despite the hurdles that we have jumped together—and most of them due to her strength more than mine—there has always been and will always be something lacking. It really can't be helped, though it hasn't stopped me from trying.

After all, I was the one who suggested that we adopt a kitten, even if Tavi forever insists that it was her idea. I made the connections with Fluttershy. I brought us to her cottage, opened the door, and crossed the threshold into feline felicity. I even chose the name "Scribbler." Why? Hell, you tell me.

And although, in the daytime, I can tell that Tavi adores the little varmint, once the sun goes down things take on a whole new light... a rich, resonating orange light—situated in my room. For some goddessawful reason, the kitten only likes sleeping in my bed. At first, I was bothered by it, and I'd put the poor mewling thing outside, where it performed soprano solos to the lonely hallways. The tan echoes murdered me, so I gave in, and I became one with the fuzzy bright orange, a strangely pastel purr that put me to sleep every night.

But that's not what I miss now. Scribbler isn't what I'm thinking of as I toss and turn in bed, struggling to keep my eyes shut and my ears plugged in order to shut out the tidal waves of tan... and failing.

No, I'm thinking of a different frequency, a different source of fountaining waves, cool, satin, velvet and purple. They collect a continent away, on Octavia's side of the apartment, and for as beautiful as it all sounds, I can't shake the gut-wrenching feeling that she drowns in it. And when you drown in something that's so exquisite... so soft... so cherishable, then what hope is there for you finding joy in anything else?

I know Tavi is stronger than that. I just... can't feel it. All I feel is the soft, squishy, overly-starched fabric of this hotel pillow that I am squeezing to absolute death between my limbs. I rub a hoof along it, and beads of moisture stab me with tan-tinted daggers.

There are a lot of things that etch permanent impressions in my mind. The one that cuts the deepest is tears.

I groan... and I groan again.

No way in Tartarus am I going to sleep now.

So, I kick the covers off with righteous anger. Blindly, I reach across the bedside table, my hoof performing bright red salvos against the wood finish. At last, I find my shades, and I slap them onto my face with a vengeance.

Damn Dr. Pony.

Yeah... that's it...

That's all that ever is.

So I get up. I grab my headphones. And I go out for a long trot on the beach.

After all, Tavi loves those... ... ...

... ... ...damn it.

Sandy Things

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A delicious melody of finely-crafted syntho-pop crackles into my ears. It gives the edge of the world a cool blue mellowness as I walk the beach of Baltimare. It's early. Deathly early. The birds haven't yet come out; the sandpipers are all hidden. A constant backdrop of roaring waves echo against the soothing beat, and I'm in heaven. A cold blue heaven—where even the colors surrender to the pure chill breaths that are tickling my ears.

One thing is for certain: I can always find ways to distract myself. At times, rapturously so.

The moon is a bright silver beacon, even into the liquid lengths of early morning. I stand to blame it for any bouts of mania this tour has wrought, but I'm not in the position to care right now. I gaze down at the soft sand, still moist from the rolling tide, and I see an ice cold shadow, a moon shadow. This far away, separated by the heavens, and still Luna's gift has found a way to kiss my forehead. I fall asleep, but only on the inside.

My eyes shut, and I keep the crashing of waves to my left as I trot south, shuffling past dune after dune, reveling in the cold salty breeze cascading all over me.

And then, out of nowhere, I stop. I stand against the morning wind, my short tail and mane fluttering like trails of sea foam green being billowed about by the waning cosmos above and around me.

I am here, and yet I am nowhere. I am a trailing thought, an abstract accident spawned within the plasma of a slowly dying star. I was dead long before I was born, and this waking dream has floundered my way, carrying with it soft textures, salt air, and the limp green haze of a coming day's blossoming penumbra.

The dawn is always the most exciting moment to be alive. It's the humid, bright afternoon that slaughters me, guts me like a fish and tosses me into the drink, where fears and doubts swarm in tight circles, craving. But that is far ahead of me and far behind me all the same. I teeter upon the crest of a dull blue marvel about to roll its way into the flames of passing. Agony and ecstasy, exhaustion and charisma. I know the refrains. They're built into my blood like song sheets, growing yellow and yellower with the passage of time—and yet—more pristine and valuable.

The sun will be coming up soon. It will bring with it a burning fire, consuming the moonshadow and all the other cool, comforting vestiges of this sacred moment. There was a time when this would bother me, but I'm starting to grow an affinity for the immolation of everyday things. If sleep is simply practicing for death, then I'm not ashamed to be lazy for once in my life.

I feel the first fingers of it as it spread over the horizon. Like an emerald dagger, it digs at my throat, and all that bleeds out is a sigh.

I'm about to do something that I don't normally do. For some reason, I'm not afraid. The sun this morning is laced with a purple sheen, a brief but palpable bubble of violet comfort that dissipates as soon as I contemplate it, a most charming idea, the feeling that I've indeed made a most daring masterpiece... and yet there are still more priceless ballads to come.

So long as they're laced with her, and the joy and class that she brings to this world, then it's a feeling that will never melt away, no matter how infernal the crest of this coming moment may be.

And so I do the impossible thing. I take my shades off. I keep my eyes closed—I'm no idiot. But with a tilted chin and a stupid smile, I pivot towards the precipice of everything. As the sun blossoms—its radiance covering my every contour—I am awash with green energy, bright and burning, rising and lowering in pitch until the frequency stretches out, rebirthing the endless hum of this foalish world that dares to twirl in the darkness.

And when the horizon is finally no longer blue, and the golden shrieks of seagulls echo overhead, I put my shades back, turn tail, and trot back to the hotel.

I think I can sleep now. Dreams can only be pale compared to this.

Rewarding Things

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"Train from Baltimare to Ponyville departing in ten minutes!" bellows a train conductor, his voice meandering between gold and amber strings. Errant gusts of steam vent from the engine ahead of him, slicing through his speech with crimson blades. "Ten minutes 'til the departure to Ponyville!"

I stand on the platform, observing closely while a group of unicorn workers levitate my expensive equipment up and into the open doors of the train's supply car. I crane my ear, listening for when they drop the items into storage. When they do, I experience resonating ripples of soft orange instead of red.

I exhale with relief, albeit softly. There's no need for collapse. Not yet.

"Guess this is it," chirps my good friend Beau. I follow the yellow strings to his voice, and his smile awaits me. "Personally, I'm surprised you're making it out of here without being smothered by a crazed mob." He chuckles in little golden salvos. "Remember Mareami?"

I smile and shake my head.

I try not to.

"Hey!" He sticks his hoof out, trembling with mock infirmities. "Guhhh... I've got a fever... and there's only one cure. Put her there, girl!"

I grasp his fetlock with his. We both grip tightly, then release with a roaring red pop!

"Tchhhhhhhhh...!" He exhales, leaning back in a cool gait, then tilts back forward, smiling. "Whew! I'm tellin' ya, Vinyl, that session you gave last night was absolutely sick! I'll bet a million friggin' bits that at least five of the audience members died from pure sonic awesomeness on the trot back home!"

I roll my eyes and adjust my shades.

"Ain't tryin' to say nothin' bad with that! It's just statistics, girl!" Beau trots to my side and wraps a hoof around my shoulder. "Please please please tell me you're gonna make an LP with that new track you made!"

With a grin, I nod calmly in his direction.

"Friggin' sweet!" He hops back, clapping his two front hooves. "That's gonna dominate the Manehattan Underground Scene fo'sho! Or else my name isn't... ehhhhhh..." He blows through wet lips and waves a lazy hoof. "I ain't gotta do that crud here."

I stifle a chuckling breath, teetering slightly.

"Say, did you get my letter about that record deal? You know, the one with Neigh York Golden Horseshoe? There are at least ten agents there vying for your attention. The top biller's offering ten million bits for a new album. Ten million, girl! It's the steal of the century!"

Squirming where I stand, I raise a hoof and twist it from side to side.

"Uhhhh... so did you get the letter or didn't you?"

I nod.

"Great!" Beau leans forward again, smiling. "And?"

I look at him. The green world pales around us, and I feel a jet black cloud billowing its way through. For once, the squirming stops, and I calmly shake my head.

"You... it..." Beau blinks and blinks some more. "No...?" He leans back, his muzzle twisting. "N-no...?"

I sigh and stand in place, waiting.

And I don't have to wait for long. "That's... that's the fourth epic offer you've turned down in a year. I mean... are... are you waiting for them to raise it even further? Cuz if that's it, Vinyl, I hate to break it to ya... but ten million is the mother buckin' ceiling, girl. Not even Sapphire Shores gets that much!"

I know that. I nod, making sure that he knows that I know that.

"Vinyl, I... you're... mmmfff..." He rests on his hind quarters, rubbing his forehead with an aching expression. I can sense it from a mile away: Beau's voice melts, and the golden shine gives way to a bronze rust. It's like leaves turning in autumn, only what comes out is an ugly brown, the sort of thing you wouldn't aim your camera at when capturing the moment. "Vinyl, one of these days, could you maybe explain why... I mean, just—... why, girl?" He looks up, and the muddy exhales are still framed with platinum edges, which is precisely why I never abandon him when this speech inevitably comes about. "You have talent. You're sincere about everything you do. Your visual style has practically reinvented the whole nature of the DJ scene. Everypony that is everypony talks about you, emulates you, wants to be you. But despite all of this, you give true fame and fortune up for... for..." His ears pull back. "...for a begging street performer's life in some backwater farm town!"

My brow furrows viciously. He sees it.

"I m-mean..." He leans back, biting his lip. "N-not that there's anything wrong with... with... Ponyton, was it? I mean, I've been through there once myself on my way to a Las Pegasus gig. It's a nice, relaxing place to be... but... maybe for a bed'n'breakfast stay. But to live there? I... I just don't get it, Vinyl. You're talented. You deserve more... so much more. Just... just what in Celestia's name is in that town that you're willing to give up so many bits? Is it the peace and quiet? The anonymity? I like to see you happy, but the music industry's a fickle mistress, and I hate to see you suddenly drowning with nowhere to float... y'know what I'm saying?"

I swallow a lump down my throat. My face turns toward the train. It hums with an orange pur, inviting me.

Beau's words gently shatter through it: "I can tell when you wanna make an exit. So I'll let you be on your way. Still, Vinyl, there are times when I wish... I dream of being inside that genius head of yours. But that wouldn't be fair. After all, a world as crazy as ours couldn't be lucky enough to have two of you. Still, I feel a rarity such as you deserves a reward. Don't you think?"

I nod.

I agree whole heartedly.

And so, I trot up into the passenger car and return to it.

Pondering Things

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"It's not that I haven't thought about it," Tavi says.

I turn to look at her, blinking curiously.

Somehow she notices. Only this mare can tell what my eyes are doing behind the shades.

"Moving back to Trottingham, that is." Her purple words dissipate momentarily. It takes a second or two for the redness fountaining from my chest to subside. "I mean, I would pursue a place of my own, of course... hypothetically speaking. Not that I would ever really do it. But... it has occurred to me... in casual ponderings, I do suppose"

I bite my lip. The wheels of my speakers bump into a rock. I fumble, but Octavia reaches over, helping me steady the machinery. I give her a thankful smile, and we continue our shuffling trot across town. The wedding's over, and everypony is walking home, retreating to their lovely little niches in this loveliest of towns.

At least, I do think it's lovely.

I'm not alone, am I?

"If you think about it... I mean really think about it, there are simply far more opportunities there. I have family there. Well... family besides my father, of course."

I gulp and nod.

"Not to mention several gracious acquaintances who would be more than happy to lend a hoof to me if I simply asked for it. I mean... I know enough ponies who know ponies who know other ponies that I'm quite certain I could land first chair in some respectful orchestra. Just... it wouldn't be Canterlot's Finest. And... and I would have live with the unmistakable feeling that I didn't earn it. But, then again, how many of us in life can be lucky enough to say that we have earned our lot with full confidence?"

I stare past her, past the cello resting on her flank. I see the newest addition to Ponyville, a glaring crystalline structure towering above all else. To everypony who sees it, it shimmers with reflective brilliance. To me, it's a jet black silhouette. I still can't stop myself from shuddering with even the most casual glance.

"I don't know, Vine," Tavi says. "I try not to compare myself to my father. I really do. It's just... I'm a great deal older than he was when he became successful, but what do I have to show for myself? I've done all I could to pursue a thriving musical career by my own means, and... and sometimes I wonder if it's even working. Maybe it is all luck and nothing more. Should I torture myself with this... boundless ambition that issues forth from my soul day in and day out? I mean, where do I draw the line and just... leap over to a smarter, better place of opportunity instead of stressing and toiling needlessly for so long?"

I can't remember when it began... this blissfully silent, precious pact between us. She who seeks answers and she who gives none—dwelling in harmony with one another.

Well, that's a lie. I do remember when. I just try not to dwell on it often. Things are agonizing enough as they are.

"I... I just need to put myself out there, Vinyl," Tavi murmurs. She's stopped in her tracks, so I stop pushing my speakers while I gaze at her. That's when I see it—a tan cloud encasing her, trapping the indigoes and violets deep within. It draws the rest of the world away on granite streams. "My music... my strings..." She shudders, eyes drifting up into the stars, getting lost in their twinkling dirge. "Father compares me to Mother a lot. He used to ramble incessantly about how we 'had the same faults.' Maybe she... wasn't as detestable a creature after all. Maybe she was forced into settling when her heart... her heart wanted more. Wanted something far more complex. Something invigorating. I... I'd almost have no reason to... to blame her... considering we both suffer from the same itch..."

I feel myself fumbling. Each exhale is a loose, frail thing, covered in brown hues. I feel sick, hollow, and suddenly there is only one cure.

But by the time I've reached daringly to remove my shades, I'm overwhelmed—as is Octavia—by a purring fountain of orange. I glance over, blinking in utter curiosity.

As the colors fade, I see a siamese cat having pawed its way out of its owner's lawn. It brushes past Octavia, rubbing against her legs, tickling her fetlocks with a flick of its tail.

"Why... hello hello!" Octavia chirps. The tan dissolves instantly, and the purple explodes in every direction at once, radiating, exultant. "Why, if you aren't the friendly type. I sure do hope you've had your shots."

The cat brushes past her three more times, meows, meows again... then promptly becomes bored. It stalks off to the far edge of the road, disappearing into the night.

The orange is gone, replaced by the tranquil green haze of Ponyvillean softness.

"Hmmmmfff..." Octavia exhales, and the indigo is still bright. "Well, that was quaint." She strolls ahead of me, and her gait is considerably more energetic. "This village never stops being full of surprises."

I look after her, then glance curiously in the direction of the feline. Crickets chirp, sparkling golden raindrops down on us, and I smile.

"Come along, Vinyl. No need to get condensation on your expensive equipment."

I jolt, obediently scurrying after her as we scale the remaining distance to our apartment.

"Now..." Octavia muses. "...just what were we talking about again?"

I try not to chuckle. It wouldn't be a good thing to faint this late in the evening.

"Eh... bollocks. I do hope I have some wine saved from last weekend. Have I mentioned how much I love this charming town?"

Life is full of nods.

Homely Things

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A crimson screech.

The rust red bolts of steel against steel.

Then, covering it all, a serene blue mist.

My eyes flutter awake in time to see the jostle of passengers all around me. The train has come to a complete stop.

"All clear!" spouts a conductor from outside. His voice is a mix of red urgency and gold mirth, blending in a beautiful amber that tickles my chin into smiling. "Welcome to Ponyville, folks."

Outside, the world moans with green. Birds streak through it in gold trails while platinum clouds hover over the thatched rooftops.

I sigh quietly, slowly, filling the air in front of me with a magenta mist.

Home.

With a grin, I gather my headphones. My aching body shuffles out of the warm seat and into the even warmer air. A blue haze issues outward from the train engine, kissing my fetlocks as I trot a straight line to the supply car. There, I am graciously hoofed my belongings by a depot operator. I offer the young stallion a tip, to which he responds with a yellow exhale and a tilt of his cap. I mirror his smile, turn about with my travelling cases enveloped in a magical tug, and set off for my long awaited stroll home.

Ponies call me a musician. Several of them even claim that I'm a good one. Little do they know that I'm just a single note tossing in the sheets of a beautiful symphony vibrating all around us. The world is a mess of ribbons, and my ears and eyes are the hooks that dig in and pull tender morsels loose to savor and sing. Wagons roll red across the emerald earth. Sprinklers tingle with cold blue percussion while age-old cottages settle into their foundations with an orange hush.

Nature is just a backdrop. Ponies are the greatest contributors of all; each forming a kaleidoscopic chorus of merry golds, contented ambers, violent reds, and mulling browns. It's an earthen collage made from earth ponies, and I roll right through it like a happy hog through mud.

And then I reach Ponyville's merchant district, where everything is happy and pink. The voices here are like flutes, harp strings, and honey. I feel a blade of lavender slicing through it all, and that's how I know that Miss Cheerilee is making her weekly waltz to the vegetable vendor. The only other time I bask in a voice so bright and colorful is when the Princess Herself pays a visit.

Winter Wrap-Up isn't the only day when this town sings. Every second spent here is a crash course down the rapids of inspiration, and I am the sponge that sings to the bottom of the riverbed, drowning in mirth.

I am a blessed pony to know this, and yet I am not alone. Everypony feels it, even if they don't sense it like I do. My hope is that I can share the lengths of this town—every beat, note, and refrain—through the samples I collect and the collages I make of them.

What results is my gift, my sessions, my manic celebrations of all things visible and invisible. So what if ponies want to pack that up and resell it like processed foods? I certainly can't blame them, and if it's a path towards a better quality of life, then I'm not one to throw a wrench into the works. But for me to get sick off of that? Like... disgustingly ginormously rich?

Some part of me would die. Some part of me would cease to dance upon these prismatic webs that I've been so awkwardly bestowed. The part of me who realizes how rich she already is would fall apart, decay, and bleed into something else... something less alive.

And considering who saved my life, and the things she's given up to save her own, I very much doubt I'd be willing to commit another needless sacrifice.

I turn the corner of Faust Street and I gaze ahead. There, our apartment lies. And, sure enough, one half of it lingers in a cold purple haze.

I smile.

She's home. And sleeping. I'd best be quiet then...

And thus, as fate would have it, the complete and cacophonous opposite drills itself into my ears.

"Stop this crazy thing, Scoots!"

"I'm tr-trying!"

"Well try harder!"

"Hit the brakes!"

"I-I can't! It's all that extra weight!"

"Just whose idea was it for us to get cutie marks in metalworks anyways?!"

"Ah jeez—Look out!"

"Get out of the way! We can't stop!"

I'm not a sluggish mare. By this time, I have turned around, spotted the runaway wagon with the three little bodies in it, and done my best to gallop out of the way. However—in my panic—I've left my super expensive and super fragile equipment behind in their transport cases. So, with a seething expression, I dash back and shove them out of the way.

As for myself...

"Aaaaaiiiieee—" Three voices converge on me—two golden and one an ocean blue. I think it's the sudden curious surprise at that last odd part of the chorus that anchors me. I linger for one second too late, and the three fillies collide with their inevitable target.

The flash of crimson is blinding. I lose count of how many times my body has toppeled over. I hear the breaths of the three fillies grunting with minimal pain, and that's my only source of relief as I slam on the ground with another red flash.

Everything turns violently dizzy, spinning me deep down the vomit green funnel of the world, and that's how I know that my shades have flown off my face.

I clench my eyes, shutting out the inevitable stab of hot white pain.

Awwwwwwwwwwwww crud.

Not again...

Kiddish Things

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Even in darkness, all is crimson cloud banks kissing my insides. I crawl through the deep trench, searching, wincing.

From across the rippling space, three bodies shuffle to a stop, and voices ripple my way on predominantly golden waves.

"Con sarn it! Now look what you done did, Scootaloo!"

"Like I said—I had no idea that the metal would weigh so much, Apple Bloom!"

"Well you shoulda thought harder!"

"If my wagon's busted, I swear to Goddes..."

"I dun think the wagon is what we should be worryin' about right now."

"Apple Bloom's right!" This voice—an electric blue—wafts closer, startling me and soothing me all at once. I pause in my fumblings, shivering slightly. "Ma'am? Are you right? I am so... sooooo sorry that we hit you out of nowhere! We were trying to steer clear of you and your stuff! Honest!"

I sit in place, eyes clenched, panting. I imagine that I must look like a complete wreck, but I don't care.

There's something about that voice. Something pristine, melodic, tranquil. I've heard it before... haven't I? I just can't tell right now...

One of the other two butts in, her breaths a hard amber. "What the hay is her problem anyway?"

"Scoots! That's no way to talk?"

"Ah jeez... we didn't hit her so hard she went blind, do you think?!"

"Calm down, Scootaloo..."

"Omigosh Omigosh Omigosh! My parents are gonna kill me!"

"Your parents?! Once Applejack finds out that we yanked all of these here metal thingamajiggers from the scrapyard—"

"Will you both calm down?" The cold blue returns. "I think she just needs her shades. See? They're over there by the bushes."

Soft hooves pad through the grass in tiny red bursts. They come nearer, and I feel a pair of familiar lenses placed in my grasp by tiny limbs.

"There ya go, Ma'am," chirps a golden voice. "We dun blame ya if yer mad at us."

I place the shades back on, take a deep breath, and open my eyes.

A filly with a red bow stands before me. I instantly recognize her as one of Applejack's kids. Or... wait... are they sisters? I've never quite figured that out...

"Can... can you see better?" the child asks, smiling nervously. Her eyes are the color of innocence and joy. I find it impossible to be mad. Besides, I hate being mad.

"I... uh..." Another shape shuffles in, bearing tiny wings trailing with amber hues. "I don't think she can talk either, Apple Bloom."

"Well, not like she's blind after all, Scoots!" Apple Bloom points at me. "Reckon she can... uhm... half-see."

"You suppose she can half-talk too?" "Scoots" asks, blinking. She grins, bright and hopeful. "Because I'd really like to know how a pony who half-sees and half-talks gets a cutie mark as awesome as hers!"

I smirk, but my eyes are still searching... searching.

Thankfully, my ears feel it—the voice—like blue ocean surf crashing over my flank and shoulders. "Looks like your stuff is in one piece, Miss."

I turn around, following the sapphire streams until I find her muzzle, her face, and her two-toned mane. She squirms slightly, overwhelmed by a pensive cloud the moment she senses my gaze upon her.

"I bet it's super important, isn't it?" She gulps, creating a slight fissure between the cyan plateaus of her voice. I wonder if she has any idea. Any clue. "Please, don't be mad at us for hitting you," she whimpers. "We can take you to Nurse Redheart if you like! Scootaloo, is the wagon still in one piece?"

"I don't think she can fit, Sweetie Belle."

"Scoots!"

"What?! I mean cuz of all the metal!"

"Well we'll dump the metal first, ya dodo!"

I'm waving my hooves emphatically by this point, combined with a shaking head. I stand up and gesture towards myself with a gentle smile.

"Are... are you sure, ma'am?" utters this "Sweetie Belle," like dewdrops in dawnlight. I'm almost blinded again.

I nod and wave towards the wagon before trotting back to my stuff. I sense the three fillies standing there, merely gawking at me. So I roll my shaded eyes and wave at them again.

"I... I-I think she's giving us a free pass," Scootaloo stammers.

"Well, let's not waste it!" Apple Bloom hops first into the wagon. "Come on, Crusaders!"

"You're... you're sure you're alright?" Sweetie Belle asks. Her concern for me is sweet. Her voice is intoxicating.

It's a full twenty seconds before I realize I haven't responded.

"Come on, Sweetie Belle!" Scootaloo's voice shatters the moment with grating amber. "It'll be getting dark soon! Are we gonna do some welding or not?"

"Oh... uhm... I guess..." Sweetie Belle crawls into the wagon behind her friend's scooter. She turns and waves back at me. "So long, ma'am! I... uh... I like the shades! Very chic!"

I wave back as the fillies roll across the village in a pastel trail.

"Chic..."

There's only one other pony in town who likes to use that word. And she's considerably older with the same colored coat...

Nahhhh...

My limbs ache slightly. I don't think there'll be any bruises, but I'll undoubtedly be feeling it tonight as I try to go to sleep.

But I can't dwell on that now.

That voice...

There's so much potential in it, locked away...

Like a pearl at the bottom of the ocean... just waiting to be plucked...

My mind is already reeling, imagining melodies, harmonies, instrumentals all woven around such succulent strings.

I don't even notice that I'm at our apartment door until I nearly bump into it. When I wake to the rippling world yet again, I fumble for the keys to open the threshhold. That's when I notice several an envelope half-embedded into the mail slot. I think of Miss Hooves, and I smile in mirth.

Pulling the envelope out for a better look, I freeze in place.

It's emblazoned with the Royal Seal... Princess Twilight Sparkle's Royal Seal.

An even dumber smile spreads across my pale muzzle.

Oh Tavi...

You'll want to break out the red wine for this one...

Joyous Things

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I open the door to our home, and immediately I am awash in orange mirth.

Something soft and fuzzy rubs against my fetlocks. The softest and the fuzziest.

Blinking, I look down. I smile. Squatting low, I nuzzle the kitten back, enjoying the ticklish brush of her whiskers against my muzzle. However, the front door is wide open, and part of me remembers that this little critter is a frisky rascal in disguise. So, I lift her up in a telekinetic hug and shut the door behind me with a hoof. I cradle Scribbler while dragging my equipment to my side of the foyer.

Placing the cat down atop a speaker, I pat it on the head a few times, then unload my instruments. By the time I have everything set up, Scribbler has hopped to the floor and resumed her desperate, circling meows. Curious, I shuffle into the kitchen, being followed swiftly by the little fuzzball. Her food dish is half-full. With a knowing glare, I turn towards the far end of the apartment, craning a twitching ear.

Octavia's aura is faint, slowly undulating in violet motions. The mare is far too ladylike to snore, but her purple breaths echo like the hum of mountains. No doubt she's been sleeping half the day away without me being here to keep things loud and hopping.

With a breathy chuckle of magenta breaths, I cross the kitchen floor, open the pantry, and pull out a bag of hard kitten treats. I give Scribbler a sample or two, as well as a new bowl of fresh water. Tavi can take care of the rest later.

To my frustration, Scribbler leaves the water bowl un-licked. She continues to brush up against my leg, practically blinding me with orange froth. I sigh, lift her off her paws, then plant her on my backside. Satisfied with her new pedestal, she sits atop my flank as I shuffle about the apartment, cleaning up things and getting re-settled.

At last, I pick up the royally sealed envelope that I found upon arriving. With a delightful smile, I approach the door to Tavi's room and prepare to knock on it.

And that is when I stop in my place altogether.

I gaze at Twilight Sparkle's royal seal. I then look at the doorknob to Octavia's room.

I linger in silence, slowly wading in the green hum of Ponyville and beyond.

Slowly, a playful smile crosses my lips.

I swiftly place Scribbler on the floor. She protests in auburn octaves, but I don't stick around for long. Rushing back to my equipment, I switch the machine on and set up a fresh new tape. Testing a microphone with a few hoof-taps, I prepare the apparatus for recording, then switch it back into demo mode. I throw on a record and play a soothing trance track at half-volume. The apartment swims in a swirling paint bucket of delicious noise, the signature of my arrival.

Octavia's eyes don't sense a thing, of course, but the musician's ears don't deceive her either. I sense a jolting vibration as it ripples through the purple aura, and it turns a sharp violet. She is awaking.

Even Tavi's grumbles are sickly sweet in her own way. Sometime, I should tell her about them. But that's not for now.

Seconds pass. Minutes. There's not a day when Octavia wakes up without brushing her mane at least fifty strokes. She knows I'm home as much as I know she's awake.

I feel my heart pumping as the door opens with a rattling red shudder. She steps out, and the only thing drooping on her is her eyelids. She teeters in the doorway, straightening a bow tie.

"Good afternoon, Vine," she murmurs, her voice a dull, drowsy indigo. "Nice to see you've made it safely home. But—honestly—has inspiration struck so terribly that you must play your synthesized melody at such a hair-raising volume?"

I smile and say nothing. My goggles glint in the afternoon light, reflecting the purple back at her.

"Eh... no matter. My dreams were rather dull anyways." Scribbler rubs up against her, and she shivers slightly, looking down. "Which is the same that can be said of just about everything else around—" Her eyes lock into place and her muzzle drops.

That's how I know she's seen the envelope that I left lying at her bedroom door. Scribbler steps over it a few times on clumsy paws, and yet still the mare is gawking. I sense the green in the air shifting. She's preparing to inhale... deeply.

With expert timing, I slap the switch on my microphone. I pivot it across the room towards her while lowering the volume of the trance track that I've been pretending to tweak.

And that's when Octavia explodes.

She explodes. Brilliant, violet fireworks. Chirping like songbirds during a Princess Coronation.

"It's here! It's here!" She hits high notes that only few angels can. "Oh Vine! Vine! Vine!" Her bowtie flounces with each foalish bounce. I didn't even know that was possible until now. I feel like giggling, but that would knock me over, and I don't want to risk missing this moment, this mania. "It's actually here! And it's from the Princess! Do you know what this means?"

I shake my head with a stupid smile. In my peripheral vision, I see the audio input bars fluctuating from the melodic frequency. I turn a knob or two right as Octavia trots closer.

"Okay... okay..." She takes a few deep breaths, and the bright violets drop down to mellow purples. She calms herself, putting on normal airs, which I can tell from the rippling reverberations is taking all of her well-mannered strength. "We mustn't... m-mustn't jump to conclusions. It could mean anything. A postponement. A rejection, even. After all... it wouldn't be the first time." She takes several deep breaths, fiddles with the envelope, then fiddles some more. A rosiness spreads across her cheeks, and she glances up at me with a deep indigo—both her eyes and her voice. "Vinyl... erm... if y-you wouldn't mind."

I nod politely, encasing a nearby letter opener with magic. I float the thing over while Scribbler watches innocently, his slitted eyes darting from afar. At last, the envelope is slashed open in the center of us girls. With a nervous jolt, Octavia yanks the royal parchment out. Her eyes roll and tumble across the page.

I lean my head to the side, anxious, curious. I turn the knobs again, pivoting the mic to face her. As the seconds limp by, I fear the worse. But that's when a second pur of bright orange fountains across the room, and the manner in which is morphs into burning violet almost sends me for a loop.

"Eeeeeeeeee!" Octavia's tone intensifies internally like an uncontrolled sarosian. She twirls once, twice, then faces me while her mane struggles to catch up. "I can't believe it, Vinyl! I just simply can't believe it!" She practically shoves the parchment in my face. I can't read the words quickly enough, but it doesn't matter. They're rolling out of my roommate's muzzle like flower petals on river rapids. "'Ms. Melody and Ms. Scratch are both cordially invited to the Royal Palace of the Princess of Friendship to audition for the roles of Castle Musicians!' Vinyl! An explosion of purple, and I am awash in the succulent sea. "Do you know what this means?! We're just one last step away from being actual royal minstrels!" She hugs the letter to her chest, spilling all over with violet satin. "Oh... to think that we can perform for ambassadors and dignitaries from all over Equestria and beyond! And, on top of that, we can earn the status as Princess Twilight's very own personal musicians! Eee-hee-hee!" She gasps, tossing her mane, her voice, her soul. "Celestia forgive me! I take back every insufferably trite thing I've ever said about the wedding we performed at! Because that had to have been how we were noticed to begin with! Don't you agree, Vinyl?"

I smile, nodding. I glance at my instrument, and the notes being captured are some of the most beautiful samples ever.

"This... this is... oh my..." Octavia fans herself, her gaze suddenly as crooked as her bowtie. "I... I-I do believe I am feeling faint!" She plops down on the sofa, her right rear leg twitching every two seconds or so, like a fuzzy gray puppy's. "All this excitement... all of this sudden incomprehensible opportunity! I-I mean... I had hope, Vinyl, but I never thought... never thought..." She glances at the letter again, and something inside her catches aflame once more. "Phweeee!" She hugs the parchment tight, smiling my way, eyes sparkling. "Oh Vinyl! I'm so insensitive! You must be absolutely beside yourself with joy too!"

I shrug.

"Oh, don't be so modest! You've seen me lose my nobler qualities. Certainly you could afford a little frothing at the muzzle as well!" She hears a mewling creature down below, and she hoists Scribbler up high, leaning forward to rub noses with the blinking thing. "Hmmmm... life is certainly most sweet when it desires to be." A gasp, and she explodes once again with delicious color. "I know! We should celebrate! Let's invite Lyra Heartstrings and Bon Bon over for a—" Her pupils shrink. "Oh, Goddess, no! Lyra sent in an application as well, yes? This might come across as shoving our invitation in her face. No, that wouldn't quite do. Uhm... Sugarcube Corner? Guh! No. I couldn't stand cupcakes right now. I would positively explode."

I wave at her. Once she looks my way, I charade a bottle being poured down my gullet.

"Oh ho ho ho ho Vinyl." She pets Scribbler and puts the cat down before reclining gracefully on the sofa. "Please..."

I smile, finally switching the instrument off.

She rolls her eyes and says, "As if I'm always looking for an excuse to pop open a bottle of Equestria's finest red wine..."

Waning Things

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"And suppose Miss Heartstrings did get selected for auditions as well?" Octavia murmurs, swirling the glass of red wine in her graceful hooves. "She might not possess quite the same elegance and grace as me—er... us..." She smiles awkwardly. "But still..."

I turn my head and squint at her through the thin bleeding light of the setting sun. A calm smile hangs on my face.

The two of us sit on the cushions of a large, swinging patio chair situated just outside our apartment's front door. The last waking birds of the day twitter and yelp above us in golden bursts, blending into the amber sunset. The green world gives way to a yawning turquoise while straggling ponies shuffle across the lazy lengths of our humble village with platinum laughter. Everything is warm, melting, and mellow.

Octavia is the first one to sigh. "Well..." She takes a dainty sip of her wineglass and peers a thousand miles away beyond the immediate horizon. "She has her gifts, indeed. What Miss Heartstrings lacks in style, she makes up for in finesse. I suppose if... if we were bested by her performance, then such would be perfectly acceptable. Part of me hopes, however, that my experience in various Canterlot tours will win the admiration of the Princess. Twilight's from there, you know. Canterlot, that is. She practically had a crib made out of pure magical starbeams—rocked by Princess Cadance herself! Or so I've been told."

I roll my eyes and pour my bottle of Dr. Pony down my muzzle... only for nothing to come out. I blink, shaking the plastic container upside down. It's completely empty, and my ears fold back with a shudder of defeat.

Tavi's purple voice lulls me back into a calm state. "Oh, who am I kidding, Vine? If my finer tastes in symphonic art doesn't win the princess, then surely your contemporary stylings will devour the attention of her esteemed colleagues." Stifling a violet giggle, she swings her head my way with a quiver of her bowtie. "Could you imagine? Your music and mine, hoof-and-hoof, bridging the gap between old culture and new culture?"

I nod with a nervous smile.

I can.

"Surely this all extends from the wedding," Octavia says. She takes a heartier sip of wine and exhales. Her breath is like grapes dipped in honey. "Spike—Twilight's draconian servant: surely he put in a good word about our performance. That has to be it. I'm telling you, it's all in the timing, love." The air fills with a purple cloud, and I'm stumbling dizzily to make out her next few words: "...been wanting to open up the castle here in Ponyville—make it into a true blue functioning bastion of friendship and diplomacy. And, if you ask me, it's high time that Equestria had a place that served such a function. Goddess knows we owe Princess Celestia and Luna the entire world over, but there's something about their royal headquarters that has always felt so... cold and abhorrently standoffish!" She shook her head. "But not this place! Twilight intends to open up the Royal Castle to everypony seeking her council! And—you and I, Vinyl! We could very well be standing upon the cusp of being the royal establishment's very first musical directors! Can you simply imagine?!"

I weather the violet waves issuing from her. Chuckling in a dull breath, I shake my head.

"No...?!?" Octavia frowns, a deliciously fuzzy thing, and she sips half of the remaining wine in one savage gulp. "Well!" She nearly belches, tilting up her chin with elegant consternation. "I, for one, have full faith in our abilities. It doesn't matter if we're competing against Lyra or any of the other musical talents of this village. You and I, my dear Vine, are the very definition of eclectic. Between my expertise and you being an undeniable prodigy, we will most surely leave the rest of the competition in the dust. Erm... w-without making a deplorable scene of it, of course."

I nod, staring off into the tranquil heights of this lulling village.

"I wonder..." Octavia smiles, despite the lilting indigo in her voice. "Could they even go so far as to let us move into the Castle? In... in one of th-the more unassuming wings, I mean."

I shrug, brushing a hoof through my mane.

"Oh, Vinyl, who am I kidding?" She sighs, nuzzling the edge of her glass and smiling contentedly. "....any place in this delightful little village is worth living in, regardless of status. Wouldn't you agree?"

I grin calmly.

Best thing I heard all day...

Okay, well... second best...

Sleepy Things

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"So, your session went swimmingly, then?" Octavia asks from where she squats on the living room sofa.

I nod from the kitchen, smiling. I continue to wash the last of the dishes, concentrating on her purple voice through the crimson barrage of sinkwater rushing between us.

"Well, I'm most delighted to—urp!—hear that," she slurs. A sharp violet hiccup emanates from her fuzzy throat—a trademark side effect of her ardent love for red wine. Tavi never gets drunk drunk, but every now and then she allows herself a tiny bit of celebratory inebriation. It only makes her purple voice silkier. I wish I had that much class. "You deserve no less than the best reception—urp!—Vinyl. After all, you work so hard."

I shake my head, dropping the last of the plates in the drainer and cutting the crimson fountain off.

"Oh, but you—urp!—do!" Her purple breaths roll towards me, clear and unfettered. An orange beacon purs from nearby, nestled against her rump as the mare and the cat share the comfiest spot in the whole house. "Whenever I play my cello, I at least have a bevy of strings and notes to make a semblance of order with. But you?! Urp! You have to create entirely new sounds! Dredging them up from the artificial well of synthesized cacophony—urp!—as t'were!"

Shuffling towards her, I come to a stop, then gesture towards my half of the foyer—chock full of hundreds upon hundreds of popular albums and records to pilfer samples from.

"Yes... well..." She rolls her purple eyes and squirms in tighter against the couch cushions, stifling a yawn. "Mmmmf... what you do, you do masterfully. You throw the competition deep into the—urp!—wake of your innate genius. I don't quite think there's another pony I know with your exceptional talents, Vinyl. I'm actually quite blessed... envious, even."

I pointed at her with a look of mock surprise.

"Heeheehee..." Sweet, undulating violets. "Alright, so I suppose I do carry a—urp!—thick head from time to time. And it can't be denied that I'm the best cellist in all of Equestria."

I smile, nodding proudly.

"But, let's face it, Vinyl... there's a far greater market for a mare with your kind of—urp!—talents than mine. I mean, I doubt many of the partying ruffians in Baltimare were hungry for cello renditions of Beehooven's finest suites. Urp!—and even if they were, they'd probably want it butchered with... w-with any and all sorts of garish samples ripped from Sapphire Shores, Trotter Swiftly, and the Stirrup Wars Official Soundtrack."

I roll my eyes.

"Ohhhh Vine..." She sighs, her eyes growing heavier and heavier as she cuddles her fuzzy cheek against the nearest cushion. "There no reason for me to act so daft. Urp! Your medium is a most delightful one, and I know..." She yawns. "I just know that we're going to..." She yawns again. "Mmmm... win the Princess of Twilight's favor. Can you imagine it? Our very own castle..."

A breathy chuckle escapes my throat. I'm already trotting towards the nearest closet, pulling out a blanket. By the time I've returned, my roommate's eyes have fully closed, and yet her lips move, spilling ambrosia across our plush carpet.

"I wish... I-I wish I could have gone with you to Baltimare," she murmurs, and is out like a light.

I drape the blanket over her figure with a quiet sigh.

You did...

I tuck the fabric gently around her body, and she curls up underneath it, trilling like the kitten seated beside her. Then—out of nowhere—my vision is overwhelmed with a violet tidal wave.

My legs stumble, and I nearly fall to the floor. Recovering, I look down to see that my hoof had just brushed past her twitching ear. I feel my heart pounding, and I bite my bottom lip hard. Nevertheless, with quiet grace, I lean forward and give her ear the lightest of touches again.

As soon as the fuzzy contact is made, I'm engulfed in that rich violet sea, and haunting sounds from the past ride the surf towards me. They sound an awful lot like a sobbing voice, a voice that I used to have, but was righteously melted away by one color and one color alone.

Hers.

A minute passes, and I shuffle backwards from the sleeping mare. She deserves her space, and I'm going to give it to her.

After all, who could deserve more reverence than the pony who saved my life?

Thus, it is with a melancholic sigh that I turn around, face the darker half of the house, and shuffle limply towards my bedroom. There, in the shadow of the once-green world, my magenta breaths threaten to drown me. I can only hope that sleep sweeps me away before I ingest too much of them.

Deathly Things

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Death is turquoise.

I found this out shortly after fate acquainted me with my... well... with my "gifts," and I've failed to lose sight of it ever since.

I believe it was at a funeral when the color first dawned on me. We were attending the wake for Octavia's ill-fated cousin, and a cloud of turquoise hung over the open coffin, devouring up the tans and blues and ambers from the mourning crowd in attendance.

It was later that I realized that I'd seen the color before. On long walks along the far end of Ponyville, I had spotted it. Hovering. Looming above the gravestones of the dearly departed. Turquoise loves to linger along the edges of cemeteries, hospitals, and the occasional run-down motel where I have to room while traveling on a lengthy tour.

It's a very passive color. Like a shadow, it clings to all of us. I normally don't sense it, because the green hum of the world drowns it out. But when night falls, and the world practices for death through sleep, I see it resonating beneath us all, behind every corner.

It's not even very melodic, really. There's no bass vibrations to it, no underlying tonal quality. Sometimes, I think it's not even a sound—not that it matters. I've long come to realize that my eyes and ears are sensitive to something that extends far beyond the limits of noise. Something deep inside me was irrecoverably changed, and I am forever in tune with the harmonies of this wild, chaotic domain.

I think this is why—perhaps—the tall, crystalline castle belonging to Princess Twilight is an all-absorbing black to me. I've experienced the same monochromia when wandering past the Royal Sisters' Palace in Canterlot. The least harmonic thing in this world is Harmony itself. It's a black mechanism, a dagger that slices necessary swaths across the cosmos in order to force chaos into hiding. I don't detest it, but I am a bit afraid of it. Power is black and impervious, as it should be.

But the only color that breaks through it is turquoise, though it doesn't do so maliciously. Like dust, it settles all over the spires of Twilight's castle. As I go on nightly walks, I see it, twinkling from the bowers, forming tiny soundless songs against the obsidian frame. Give it enough millennia, and I'm certain that it would melt away even the most harmonious of tools our culture clings to in solidarity.

I believe this because of what I see and what I hear, and I'm struggling with the greatest quest in my natural-born life—which is to be at peace with it.

Because when all is silent, and the rest of the world withdraws into its sleepy shells, and even the stars above have receded from their interstellar chorus as they're doing right now beyond the windows of my bedroom...

...the only thing that encompasses... the only aura that fills the gaps—the voids between voids—is turquoise. And it is a beautiful, mindless drift, carrying us all somewhere and nowhere at once.

Knowing this, I can't truly feel sorrowful about anything. The universe was over long before it began. I'm here to make music, and I think I feel another masterpiece blossoming in my mind.

Perhaps I'll compose in my dreams.

Nervous Things

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"I'm not nervous... I'm not nervous... I'm n-not nervous...!"

The purple salvos lift and echo all around us. It's almost too much. One has to love the acoustics of this place. Well... maybe when that one is me... and not Tavi... a mare who can't be made to sit still and relax even if her life depended on it. Then again, in her mind, it does.

Hoo boy.

"Honestly! I'm not nervous!" She paces and paces across the crystalline foyer of Princess Twilight's castle. "I just... I-I have indigestion! Yes!" She shudders, her hoofsteps making little crimson clops beneath a sudden curtain of amber hues running off the edges of her indigo utterances. "And... a touch of a hangover! It's all in the mind! Erm... or maybe in this case the body. But I've performed under even greater pressure before! It's nothing to be worried about!"

I sigh, glancing at her. She shuffles and circles with only our separate musical equipment to separate us. Beyond these familiar things, it's very... very dark in here. We've been sitting in the black heart of a black structure for about an hour now. Admittedly, I was a teensy bit nervous upon first arriving. But for the past few minutes—and right now—I'm just flippin' bored.

Leaning back, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and wait for the caffeine from the last bottle of Dr. Pony to kick in.

I'm woken back to the bleeding moment by a tsunami of purple: "After all, we're only going to rehearse for the one good musical opportunity that's come our way in years and if we fail this single performance then I shan't be coming any closer to achieving my dream spot in the first cellist chair of the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra in this lifetime!"

Whump!

Octavia slumps hard into the translucent blue chair next to me. She moans, hugs her self, and fights the trembles rippling through her fuzzy gray body. "Maybe... m-maybe my appearance will make up for any lukewarm performance!" She looks my way, fluffs her mane, and straightens her bowtie. "Well?" A crooked, psychotic smile. "How do I look?"

I gaze lethargically at her from an angle. My hoof mimics a zeppelin crashing and exploding into a mountain plateau.

"Ohhhhhhhhhh..." She buries her muzzle in her hooves. "I've had days to psych myself up for this. Days, Vine! Why am I always... always such a mental wreck before major events like this?!" Eventually, she looks up, eyelids heavy and vague. "I am a self-saboteur."

I chuckle breathily and shake my head.

"I live to destroy my own hopes and aspirations through my inexplicable awkwardness!"

I shake my head harder.

"It's the only possible explanation!" She brushes her bangs back and sighs. "I am a sick, masochistic individual, and instead of a superego my mind has constructed a mental artifice of shame and misfortune to make up for the shadow that my father used to cast on my well-being." A dull shudder. "Perhaps, if I play my cards right, Twilight will choose me simply through sympathy factor!"

I lower my shades slightly. Doing so blinds me, but it's worth it—if only to bestow upon Tavi the mother of all eye-rolls.

By the time I've slid my shades back and my vision comes into focus, I see her blushing, and she squats on the bench with her legs folded under her. That's how I know it's worked.

"You're right... you're right. I'm making yet another mountain out of a mole hill. There's a part of me that craves drama and another part of me that grovels for success and right now they are colliding most dreadfully with one another on the locomotive track." She gulps hard. "Let's face it, Vine. You and I deal with our successes and failures quite differently. You? You're quite readily established, but almost all of your venues are small, low-key, and humble. As for me? Mmmfff... I can only ever land myself a performance chair at major orchestral events, Canterlot Garden parties, extravagant Royal Galas. In many ways, I set myself up for epic things... and I only expect epic results."

I gaze at her, smiling calmly.

"That's it. That's the crux of the matter!" Octavia's voice takes on a royal purple as she sits up with a proud scowl across her soft features. "From now on, I, Octavia Melody, promise not to go overboard anymore! Come Tartarus or high water, I shall endure! And if this opportunity to become Princess Twilight's personal royal minstrel does not fall through, then it is far from the end of Equestria, and I can live on most charmingly... without shame, sadness, or regret."

The door to the foyer creaks open. A small, draconian figure waddles in, cradling a clipboard in his scaled claws.

"Uhhhhhhhhhhh... Octavia Melody—"

"Greetings!" Octavia's voice undulates in excessive violet. She practically launches off the bench, coming to a sliding stop before the Princess' apprentice. Her smile is as sharp as her tongue, and it rings almost as loudly. "Sir Spike, is it? I am most honored to meet you, good sir! This Palace is most radiant and splendid. By the Princess' grace, I am humbled to be so much as breathing here." She curtseys low... lower. "I can only hope to please Her Grace with my musical talents, for they have have been bequeathed by the equine goddesses themselves for this very purpose."

I face hoof. Hard.

Spike blinks. "Uhhhh..." He lifts a quill and says, "I was just gonna tell you and DJ-P0N3 that it's gonna be another two hours wait at least." He points. "In the meantime, down that hallway you can find refreshments... and the little filly's room."

"Oh..." Octavia blinks. "Oh, r-right." She smiles and blinks again. "Then you may inform Her Majesty Princess Sparkle that my musical companion and I are grateful for the opportunity to most humbly..." She gulps. "...make water?"

I barely peek past my fetlock.

"Uh... yeah." Spike salutes and backwaddles through the door. "I'll say half of that, at least."

SLAM!

Once the crimson clears, Octavia sighs, turns around, and smiles at me with folded ears.

"Was that not terribly subtle of me?"

Does Princess Celestia pee comet dust?

Introductory Things

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Two massive crystalline doors open. As Tavi and I walk through, we're greeted by the most fabulous room I have ever seen in my adult life. A round chamber lined with translucent blue crystal greets us with ethereal light. Straight above, the roots of a dead tree protrude from the ceiling, dangling with multi-colored gems and rubies. Right beneath it, a cylindrical table with a three dimensional see-through projection of the Equestrian landscape looms in the center of the room. Situated around this table are six large thrones and one smaller throne. I can tell that the chairs have been moved around; they face us, along with the ponies seated within.

“Oooh! Fuzzy pony!” Pinkie Pie bounces on the edge of her chair. Her voice is full of gold daggers practically vomiting my way. “And sparkly pony! Fuzzasparkles! Welcome! To the Throne Room of Tomorrrrowwww! Heeheehee!”

“Eheheh... pleased as ever,” Tavi murmurs out the side of her muzzle. She catches me out the corner of her eye, nods, then initiates what we've rehearsed for days. In careful, synchronized motion, we both bow low before the largest throne in the room. Upon it sits a petite, blinking alicorn with a sparkly crown. “Your Most Esteemed Royal Highness,” Octavia speaks, her voice full of purple eloquence. I find it hard to not fall over. “We are blessed to be in your presence, and it would fill us with great honor to perform for you today—or any other day.”

I hear an auburn chortle from the background, and my mouth thirsts for apples. Nevertheless—for Tavi's sake—I remain bowing.

“Awwwww...” Sugary pink. Fluttershy. “They've rehearsed this entirely for you, Twilight. I just know it.”

Dang. Octavia's gonna wince from that one.

“Please... you don't need to keep doing that,” Princess Twilight stammers. Her voice is a curious color: gray with a sprinkle of turquoise. I try and pretend to not know what that means. Certainly her friends don't. “Uhm... rise? My s-subjects?”

I wait for Octavia to stand up straight, and then I follow suit. We relax before the thrones, side by side.

“Really, we've all crossed paths before!” Twilight says with a nervous smile. There are red cloudbursts behind her vocal cords. I think she's just as anxious as we are, if not more so. “Why should a pair of alicorn wings make things awkward between us?”

And a crown,” cracks a black tone.

Twilight sighs. “Right... and a crown...”

And a big friggin' castle and a massive throne room.”

Twilight groans, ears folded. “Thank you... Rainbow Dash...”

“Just saying...”

Twilight clears her throat. “Spike? If you would... y'know... do the usual.”

The little whelp in question waddles up to the center of the room. All the while, I sense something rattling from the sidelines, like a bottle of glowing sapphires. Curious, my shaded eyes wander across the room. It's hard to do with so much blackness lingering on all corners.

Spike's voice snaps me back front and center. “Now presenting to her Royal Highness—in application for the positions of Royal Minstrels to the Princess of Friendship—DJ P0N3, otherwise known as Vinyl Scratch, and Octavia Melody, otherwise known as... erm... Octavia Melody!”

And Second Chair to the Trottingham Symphony Orchestra for thirty-six consecutive months!” Tavi blurts, smiling crookedly with violet vibrations. “Among... other accolades. Eheh...” Rivulets of sweat form along her brow.

I face-palm. Out of the corner of my vision, I sense the rattling sapphires once more. I glance about, muzzle scrunched. Where is that coming from?

“Well, that's just fine and dandy!” Rich country auburn. “Sorry for makin' y'all wait so long. The last audition took an awful long time, seein' as the musician kept... uhm... taken moments out of the music twangin' to fill us in on her personal conundrums of fine philosophizin'...”

Tavi and I exchange glances.

Lyra,” Tavi murmurs.

I shake my head, shrugging.

“Hey!” A black dagger, making me wince. Octavia and I look up to see Rainbow Dash no-longer-reclining lazily in her throne. Her ruby eyes blink, as if waking up from a deep, bored coma. “I know you! You're DJ-P0N3!”

Spike rolls his eyes. “That's what I just said—”

“Wow! Your beats are super sick!” She grins, a brilliant gold torch at the end of a dark, dark tunnel. “I swear! I must have bulleted my way through Ghastly Gorge to your wicked bass tracks at least—I dunno—a hundred times!”

“Yeah!” Pinkie giggle-snorts. “She's a real party animal! Remember at Shining Armor's wedding?”

“Oh!” Fluttershy exhales in pink beams. “I do remember. Oh my...” She glances aside at Applejack and Twilight. “We've crossed paths many times! It's a small Equestria, after all.”

“Pfft! That ain't the end of it!” Applejack smirks in the Princess' direction. “Twilight, didn't you and your other friends take on the sirens with a little help from—”

AHEM” Twilight flaps her wing in Applejack's direction, knocking her hat off kilter. With a nervous smile, she says: “Yes. It's wonderful to witness auditions from all trots of life! Famous as well as... up and coming! It is... certainly nice seeing you again, Ms. Scratch.”

“Yes... we do get around,” Octavia says with a violet chuckle. In her next exhale, her voice takes on an indigo hue. “Of course, some more than others.”

I arch an eyebrow in her direction.

Spike speaks up: “Okay... according to the program...” He scribbles off a few bullet points on his clipboard. “DJ-P0N3 performs a quick set. And then we have Octavia Melody with Marezart's Spring Suites No. 1 – 3 performed via cello. And then, time permitting, we have 'The Wedding Duet,' a recent piece worked on by... both mares?” He looks up, spines drooping. “A cellist and a DJ? Performing a duet? Really?”

“Shhhhh!” Twilight hisses in red slices. “Spiiike!” The Princess turns toward us with a soft smile. “We're more than happy to see every performance you have to offer.”

Every peformance?” Rainbow Dash groans.

“Yes. Every performance.”

“Unnnngh...” The pegasus slumps with a black exhale.

“It's quite important that we turn this Castle into a hospitable location for ponies—both visiting and local,” Twilight explains. “We've already had dignitaries visiting from all corners of Equestria. And just what have we had here to make them feel at home?” She shrugs her shoulders. “Pinkie Pie can't be the only caterer. And while all of us are gifted in music, we're too busy being ambassadors to actually put on a performance for those visiting and learning friendship. So... while I-I've been putting it off for a while, I think it's high time that this Castle got fully stocked with a working staff.” She smiles brightly. “And minstrels are my first choice.”

“And funnest choice!” Pinkie giggles.

“Mmmm... yes. That.”

Applejack raises her hoof. “Uhm... if I may?”

Twilight sighs. “Applejack, how often do we have to go through this? We're not in school. You don't have to raise your hoof in order to speak.”

“Are ya sure?”

“You've got a throne. That means you've got a tongue.” Twilight rolls her eyes and says, “What's on your mind?”

“A question.” The mare with an auburn voice looks my way. “Do ya take requests?”

I nod.

She smiles, full of freckles and delight. “Got any of them fancy re-mixin's of Whinny Nelson?”

I wince... but nod again.

“Ungh... AJ,” Rainbow wheezes. “Whinny Nelson?”

“What?” Applejack shrugs. “He does everythang! He's Whinny Nelson!”

Rainbow rolls her eyes. “Might as well play 'Leaps after Love' by Cheval.”

“Well, if it's fine by DJ P-Zero-N-Three here, then it's fine by everyone!” Applejack winks my way. “Ain't that right?”

I smile at her.

“... … ...you ain't much for talkin', are ya?”

I bite my lip.

“Uhm... it's quite alright,” Octavia speaks up, much to my relief. “She'd be more than happy to take requests, Miss Applejack.”

“How'd you know?”

“If she expresses disinterest, I would know,” Octavia says with a smile. “Trust me.”

“So... like... you speak for her n'stuff?” Rainbow Dash asks.

Octavia and I exchange glances. My roommate nods with a purple breath. “When it fits. Still, it would be most polite if you asked her directly and allowed me to intervene if Miss Scratch desires it.”

“Awwwww...” Fluttershy touches her hooves together. “That is so sweet of you!” She brushes her bangs aside while her muzzle drips with pink sincerity. “You must be very close friends.”

“Eheheh... well, yes...” Octavia nods. “We've been roommates for a while. Going on...” She glances at me, brow furrowed. “...seven years, is it?”

I shrug.

“Wowsies! That must be good luck!” Pinkie Pie points, sitting... upside down on her throne. “Cuz DJ-P0N3 has been famous for just about as long! Ain't that right, ya chatterbox?”

I grimace slightly. If not for Pinkie Pie, it's for the almost eye-shattering resonance of sapphire energy... … … where is that coming from?

“Rarity? Are ya alright, sugarcube?”

“Ohhhhh!” The jar of sapphires shatters completely, and the room fills with elegant teal. “I simply cannot hold it in any longer!” A white ghost of a mare leaps from her throne, crosses the distance... and curtseys directly before Octavia. “I am so... so wonderfully pleased to finally meet you in person, Miss Melody!”

“Oh?” Like that, Tavi's voice throttles from indigo to violet in a heartbeat. “Is that so?”

“Mmmm!” Rarity does a tiny-tiny jig in place, her cheeks puffing to the point of red cloudbursts. “I've listened to your Manehattan Studio Recordings Celestia-knows how many times! The elegance! The refinement! The professional classical renditions! Oh!” Rarity clasps the mare's front right hoof. “And your posture and your attention to etiquette! I d-don't care in the least what those gossip magazines say! I think you are the absolute epitome of Equestrian culture! And that bow-tie matches your eyes just so!”

“Oh! Why... thank you, Miss Rarity...!” Octavia gulps. “I-I had no idea from all of the times I've come to the Boutique for dresses—”

“AndI'vebeensohonoredtomakethem!” Rarity spits out in teal shockwaves. She inhales, shudders, and smiles again. “Anything to help further your climb towards the top of the elite! Only now... now that there's a ch-chance you could be a minstrel in the castle of my very own home town...”

“Heehee! Rarity's a big fan!” Pinkie chirps.

“Yes. Quite.” Octavia brushes her bangs back. “I've n-noticed.” She smiles my way and mouths: “Gossip magazines?”

I shrug with a helpless smile.

“Oh! My goodness!” Rarity backs up, wincing slightly. “I've overtrotted my bounds, haven't I?”

“No, it's quite alright. I just... wasn't aware that I had an appreciable audience this far from Trottingham.”

“Oh, darling...” Rarity waves a hoof with a coy smile. “Believe me. The country doesn't stay the country for long.”

“What in the hay is that supposed to even mean?!” Applejack cackles.

Rainbow Dash's chair explodes in black giggles.

“Uhhhhh...” Twilight looks my way. “Miss Scratch? Maybe you should go on ahead and get your session under way.”

I nod and shuffle up toward a DJ booth set up especially for me.

Might as well get this madness over with...

Bobbing Things

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Bobbing.

Bobbing.

Bobbing.

My blood is my beat is my heart is my heat.

I'm sweating. I'm always sweating. But if they see me sweating, then I'm doing it wrong. What they need is lights, and colors, and craziness for their craving. To live is to be distracted by the dizziness before the soft grave suckles us all into the Eversigh.

With a slap of the hoof, I cram one beat into another, bridging the epic gap between two spinning records. The mares probably think that we're in for a lull. They're damned wrong. I pound a round beat through a square hole and make it fit with savage record scratches, slicing the edges off so that they flitter away in off-melodic sprinkles of orange, red, and redder.

Somewhere, a glossy golden voice echoes. Maybe it's Pinkie Pie shouting her ears off. Maybe it's a continent full of hummingbirds having an orgasm overseas. I throw it all away and yank it back, popping the cork when the reverb reaches its peak, and then all is delicious bastard bedlam.

I spin one record and flip a new one into place. A clap of the hooves, and I twirl through the red cloud, hoofgliding down in time to catch the beat and synch them together, just for show. It's all for the damn show.

And I can't stop grinning.

Scratch and match. Scratch and match—segue into psychosis. Yes. Increase the bass. Yes. Shake the crystals loose. This castle came from nothing and it'll return to nothing with only this sonic sound to yodel the eulogy into scream dust. Awwww yes...

The sample gauntlet is coming up. Octavia might know it... or thinks she knows it. Odds are Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash think they know it as well. Nopony truly knows anything until they feel it, until the full length of the dagger's spectrum has bored the keyhole through their eyes and allowed decibels to set up camp and moon the enemy.

And just when the beat strips apart and allows a tonal crunch to ripple across the sea of strobes, I roll over to my sound board and hammer away at five... seven... nine alternating samples in a schizophrenic jigsaw jig. Only halfway through the cacophonous chorus does the semblance of harmony pour through, and it does so with the inky black grace of a submarine, laying sights on the Princess ears and firing all torpedoes. The explosion is immaculate, like giving birth to the ocean, and the adjoining tributaries are full of gold bands. Then—with an expert swing of the hoof—the amber gives way to melancholic blue. I scoop the mares up in a trance trowel and fling them before the flowers, and by the time they've inhaled the sweet fruits of melody, I've segued into the next track, and am now carrying us smoothly to the finale.

That's friggin' right. The finale.

I have a spare moment to breathe... to smell my own sweat. I look up, goggles glinting. Sure enough, I see Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash with muzzles dropped. But—to my infinite pleasure—Rarity and Fluttershy haven't fainted, but seem rather pleasantly tuned in to my frequency. Applejack and the Princess are a great deal harder to read, but they haven't galloped for the doors—so that's a good thing.

And there Tavi sits—along the fringes of the group—beside a claw-tapping dragon whelp.

And... of course... she has her hooves clamped over her ears. It wouldn't be Tavi if she didn't. Upon catching my gaze, she winces slightly—but not so hard as to relinquish her deafening gesture. She returns what I can only imagine is a dumb smile with a nervous one, and nods graciously for me to finish with my number.

And I do. Triumphantly so. Another roll through the samples and I surf on an orange wave until I crash against the Princess' crystalline shores. It ends with a dull bass vibration, and I'm already bowing.

Celestia help me. I can never seem to count the times that I've been momentarily deaf to my own applause.

I need new headphones.

Stringing Things

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One of my favorite things about being... well... me is that because of my shades, nopony knows when I have my eyes open or not.

And I like to keep it that way.

Much like this moment right here...

As I sit to the side of the audience...

With my eyes closed and my head rolling... tasting... soaking.

The Castle of Friendship has flooded with purple, and in the darkness I can see the violet and indigo streams alternating in counter-clockwise rotation. Nopony knows how to throw sound around like Tavi. I dive down the velvet throat of it, twirling slowly in molasses motion.

I could drown in this. I am drowning in this. I've experienced this blissful baptism far too many times to ever appropriately summarize the sensation. Even still, after seven odd years of rapturous exposure, I'm left breathless by the talent, the finesse, the brilliant burgundy bass of her elegant cello strings.

I can only imagine what it's doing to the palpitating cores of the Princess and her dear friends. But that's okay. Until the suite is over, I'll let my fantasies do the flailing.

It's a curious thing to be able to live again. Every moment is sweet... every heartbeat is delicious. The sunlight stabs brighter and the moonlight looms mellower, but everything is deliriously soft in between. I feel as though I'm one of the few to know this, to experience it, to dwell on it every morning and night.

But I'm something that's even more special than all of that combined.

I'm Octavia's friend.

Her suite culminates into a swift salvo of bass reverberations, reaching crescendo, then easing off with an almost anticlimactically knife-edged drop in noise. Only after two breaths have followed does everypony realize that their own riveting heartbeats are acting as the number's lasting percussion.

And that's when they start applauding.

I can't help but wince from the staccato crimson bursts. I squeeze one eye open, and then the other.

Pinkie Pie is the first thing I see, hopping in place with a bright grin. "Bravo! Bravo! It all sounded like a bunch of jumbled strings to me—but really really fun strings! Bravo!"

"Pinkie, honestly!" Rarity sniffs, and I can tell from the brief blue ripple in her voice that she's close to tears. "That was an utterly beautiful masterpiece! Well played, Miss Melody!"

"Darn pretty, I'd say!" Applejack adds.

"Very well done," Fluttershy says, smiling. "And... uhm... a lot... erm... calmer than Miss Scratch's performance."

Twilight and Pinkie Pie giggle.

"Eh... it was a'ight," stabs a black dagger.

I wince slightly, then peer towards the stage where a limp mare relaxes her tense muscles for the first time in months.

Octavia smiles, bowing gracefully at the group. She turns towards me, her eyes reflecting my visor from afar. Maybe she knows my eyes are open at this point, maybe she doesn't. It matters little, because we're us.

Her muzzle moves, a quiet whisper from afar. Thing is, I've heard it so many times that I know what she's saying by just reading the lip movement: "Another day, another chorus, love."

And it is full of violet, as is her smile. I'm drowning again, and I couldn't be any prouder.

Or happier.

Galvanizing Things

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"For our last act, as promised, we would like to treat you to a duet." The last few words dip into fractured indigo, and I can feel Tavi squirming from the opposite end of the stage. "Erm... well... eheh." A bolt of violet, and she smiles sheepishly towards the royal crowd seated before us. "I suppose calling this a 'duet' would be pushing it. In truth, it's... quite unlike anything else in the music industry, or at least anything the two of us have personally witnessed."

"Well, now if that isn't a riveting introduction!" Twilight Sparkle speaks, her gray voice shining as much as her eyes. For an Equestrian Princess, she can certainly broadcast foalish levels of pure adoracute. "And judging from your already stellar auditions, I'm certainly intrigued."

"I, for one, would like to see how the two of you combine your... erm... eclectic talents," Rarity says, leaning forward in her chair with genuine interest. "Because if the 'dropping of the bass' drowns out the heavenly cello strings... hrmmggghh... I swear..."

"Fear not, ma'am!" Tavi points with her bowstring, smiling. "Vinyl and I have practiced this sort of thing quite a lot. It comes naturally from... well... rooming with one another, sharing a studio, being exposed to one another's musical influences." She grins, her bright eyes reflecting the same mirth as her elegant bow tie. "Our first dual performance in public was at the wedding of Cranky and Matilda, as a matter of fact! I'd say that the audience was rather warm to our stylistic overtones." She glances at me in my booth. "Isn't that right, love?"

Before I can say anything—

"Awwwww..." Fluttershy coos, her voice like a sonic pink wave soaring straight to the face. "You two are adorable."

I blink at that. Within the next empty space of thought, I feel myself drowning in the blackness that holds this crystalline structure together over our heads.

"Just play the dang number already!" Rainbow groans, adding arrows to the darkness. "Dang..." Applejack's guffaw sprinkles a tiny bit of color to the room.

It's enough to wake me to Octavia's whispering voice. "Vine!" She stabs my ears with purple pellets. I do a double-take, glancing at her. I see that she's standing up against her cello, preparing to make the first note. "This is no time for dawdling! Stiff upper lip, darling! It's now or never!"

I nod nervously, composing myself with a swift swim through her violet tone. Reaching out, I grip one record and prepare a silent beat.

Octavia begins with gentle, swaying undulations of her bass strings. She hits the higher notes, deceiving the crowd into thinking that the upcoming number is going to be a slow, melancholic ballad at best.

It's about half-a-movement in that I hit a switch, making my beat audible to the crowd, matching Tavi's masterful tempo, slowly rising with her as we drag the curious, gaping ponies towards the surface of something they've never tasted before.

Another switch. I add snares to the beat, slapping them manually on my sound board. I ready the second record, keeping one ear trained to the birthing track and the other stuffed-full of Octavia's sonic velvet.

Suddenly, the fabric ripples, and those bass strings go deeper, more ardent, flooding the room with erratic waves of indigo. I keep up with the beat, manually, sweating. With a nervous biting of the lip, I glance Tavi's way.

She squints one eye open—something she rarely ever does while playing. My sessions are full of color and controlled chaos. Hers are always a blind drift across placid rivers of liquid symphony. But for this one moment, our eyes connect. We bridge the gap, join our muses in delicious fusion.

We take a breath as the strings take a breath.

And wham I thrust the second track into explosive kaleidoscopia. The record scratch is deliberate, daring, and—above all else—brief. Octavia's strings dip back into action, saving the symphony—just like she's saved my life—and together we leap forward into a musical overture, riding this second chance past the bastions of the Princess' comprehend.

And with looping salvos of epic sound, we proceed to blow her and her friends' minds.

Octavia's strings take on frenzied loops, shredding up and down the bass fiddle with wild abandon. I stable the edges in place with trance chimes and microtonal shifts, constantly opening gaps in the air so that Octavia can launch her cannonballs of cadence through, landing in violet splashes across everypony's ears. I see them exhale in sudden shudders, and the colors are stained with purple.

It's working.

By the third movement, I've taken charge, with Octavi's lulling strings occupying the background. We shift around each other, screaming around street corners made out of snares and synthesized cymbals. By the time that I've passed it back to her, we're now occupying the same volume of orgasmic earspace, throwing all we've got to the bowers of this lofty castle. And beneath it all, a fine rippling carpet of velvet, pooling up and around the mares' dumbfounded grins.

It's working.

I smile, but I have to keep my composure. I raise a hoof into the violet bands rippling overhead. One yanks me like a bungie cord. I twirl with it, then slap my hoof down, ending the epic track on the prolonged groan of a synthetic brass gong, and Octavia smoothes the brash exit with lulling strings, ushering the silence back so it could giggle gleefully at the lingering tinnitus.

But it doesn't linger for long, for soon the opposite end of the hall is awash in red cacophony.

I look towards Tavi and she looks towards me.

"See, Vine?" She salutes with her bowstring. "Applause."

I struggle not to giggle, or else I might collapse. I don't know what tickles me more, the fact that I do see, or the fact that she already knows it.

Only Tavi...

Misunderstood Things

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"Now I know what you're thinking..."

Spike lectures us while we're escorted out the front gates of the Castle.

"You—like every other pony who's auditioned today—wants to know how well you did, just how impressed the Princess and her friends are, whether or not they were just faking their enthusiasm during your performance, yadda yadda yadda..."

I... can't quite get a read on Spike's voice. I don't know if it's because he's a dragon or that he's super young or what. His jaws open up and... everything is everywhere all at once, like the clouds just vomited a rainbow through metal fan blades and chopped it all up at my hooves.

Hey. You can't figure them all out.

"Well, you're gonna have to wait, ya hear me?!" Spike frowns, pointing an accusatory claw. "Just like the rest of them! So, no jibber-jabbering to the rest of Ponyville about 'how likely' you are to have 'nailed it!' No stupid boasting, like: 'I just saw the inside of Twilight Sparkle's Castle! Omigoddess!' And definitely... definitely no attempts at bugging Princess Twilight for an update on the official minstrel selection process!"

"We wouldn't dare think of such a thing, my good sir," Octavia says with a calm smile. She curtseys, and I'm fumbling to follow suit. "You've been most gracious during out entire stay. My apologies if earlier I came across as frenzied, impatient, or obtuse in any fashion whatsoever."

"Huh..." Spike leans back, squinting at us with his tiny dragon arms folded. "Sincere respect. I like that." He rubbed just under his nostrils, sniffing. "I'm Spike, the official clerk to Her Royal Highness, Twilight Sparkle, and don't you forget it."

"Hmmmmm..." Octavia's muzzle curves as she suppresses a violet laugh. "We most certainly won't."

"We'll have your gear delivered promptly to your condo," Spike says, slipping somewhat "stealthily" back into the castle. "And remember! Don't contact us. We'll contact you." He tries to slam the massive doors shut with finality. It's only an orange ripple instead of a red clap.

But immediately afterwards, Octavia twirls towards me. She grins wide, wider, dimples about to burst in the glow of the Ponyvillean sunset. I can tell from the rising waves of violet that she's just seconds away from squealing.

So, with a smiling sigh, I brace myself and my shades—

"Squeeeeeeeee!" She hops around in a foalish little circle. "Oh Vine Vine Vine! We absolutely thrilled them, love!" Violet and violet waves. I'm practically getting seasick. "No, not just that, we killed them with our talent! I just know it!" Her pupils suddenly shrink, and she blushes. "Erm... well, perhaps that is not quite the right expression, seeing as it carries the implication of a royal assassination—"

I blow a few jagged bangs out from my face and smirk.

"Mmmm! It just went so... so swimmingly!" She rubs her two hooves together. "I... I can't believe I was so stressed and worked up about it for weeks! Months! Oh, Vine, we seized those minstrel positions for sure!"

I can only smile.

"This is a cause for celebration! Red wine! Euphoria! But mostly red wine! Awwwwwww blast..." To my quasi-surprise, she grabs... yanks at her bowtie, rips the thing clean loose, and prepares to toss it skyward like a graduation cap. "To Tartarus with prim and proper redundancies! Let us simply indulge in the frivolity of the moment—"

"Hey Octavia!" Lyra chirps, trotting up with Bon Bon. "Hey Vinyl!"

"Eeeep!" Octavia emits a burgundy cloudburst, and she shrinks to my side, hiding the stripped bowtie between us. "Oh... Miss Heartstrings! Miss Drops!" She gulps, fighting the inevitable beads of sweat. "What a... pleasant surprise meeting you here!"

"Oh wow! Did you just come back from auditioning for the Princess' royal minstrels?!" Bon Bon exclaims, bright-eyed. "I had no idea! That's so wonderful!"

"I bet you guys did wonderfully!" Lyra says with a kind wink. "We both heard the two of you throwing your talents together at Cranky and Matilda's wedding. Wowsers... if you could make a last-second masterpiece like that work, then you'll cream the competition here at the Castle for sure!"

"Oh... uhm..." Octavia gulps, then glances nervously at me. "That's... such a nice thing to say, Lyra. But... erm..."

I raise an eyebrow, listening. Always listening... witnessing... feeling...

Octavia winds up and pitches: "I... I-I'm sure that the Princess will weigh in all of the performances with the utmost patience and consideration, for they are among her most chief qualities. It goes without s-saying that each and every contestant has an equal shot at gracing the halls of this fine place behind us with their musical gifts."

"What... are you saying?" Bon Bon asks, squinting quizzically.

"Only that... th-that everypony is uniquely talented!" Octavia reaches up to adjust a bow-tie that isn't there, smiling with chattering teeth. "And just because... erm... some m-might stand to excel where others don't... uhhh... shouldn't be taken as a judgment on the less fortunate contestant's talent on the whole, but rather a reflection on the Princess' own subjective viewpoint on the spectrum of music—"

"Octavia," Lyra says, "I didn't enter."

"Huh?" Octavia blinks.

Lyra smiles. "I'm not participating in the competition here at the Castle."

"You're... you're n-not?" Octavia's eyes twitch.

I face hoof.

"Heehee... believe me, it sounds fun, but I like to stick to studio recordings. Being in front of a crowd?" She shudders. "Whew! It gives me the heebie jeebies!"

"Totally!" Bon Bon nods, leaning against her. "It gives her goosebumps all over. Even across her fuzzy green tummy!"

"She's right! Er... I-I mean..." Lyra blushes slightly. "I'm right. Eheh..." She reaches over, drawing Bon Bon closer into a side hug. "We're both right! Heheheh..."

"Oh... uhm... well then..." Octavia gives me a frazzled smile, then pivots it towards the two mares. "...who's for some celebratory wine?!"

Inebriated Things

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Lyra nearly chokes on her drink. She places her glass down, swallows the wine, then catches her breath while smiling across the restaurant patio table. "You let Vinyl perform first?!"

I look up from my bowl of hay alfredo, eyebrow raised. What in the buck is that supposed to mean?

"What in blazes is that supposed to mean?" Octavia blurts, brow furrowed. "We always have Vinyl perform at venues first. She knows how to warm up a crowd. And... besides..." With a bashful smile, she leans back, mixing her violet breath with her dark wine glass as she takes a sip. "I need the extra time to compose myself. To 'get in the zone,' as t'were."

"True, but... remember... Twilight Sparkle has both Fluttershy and Rarity as members of her Royal Council." Lyra smiles coyly. "And as long as I've known either of them, they've never struck me as fans of loud music."

"Oh, Vinyl's music isn't loud," Octavia says, smiling briefly at me. "It's simply..." She motions with a hoof. "...assertive."

Lyra giggles. "Then how come I'm always seeing you with your hooves over your ears whenever we both attend a DJ-P0N3 session?"

I let loose a humored squeak. My whole world burns in magenta, and Bon Bon has to reach over to steady me. No longer reeling in my seat, I grasp a glass of water from the table and wash the giggles down, meanwhile smiling in Octavia's direction.

She's red as a beet, and night couldn't be any happier. "Just because I appreciate the tonal qualities of my roommate's work does not mean that my eardrums have to drown in it just as liberally." She cleared her throat and leans back, swirling her wine glass. "And, if you must know, Fluttershy and Rarity enjoyed Vinyl's session just fine. Fluttershy is a doll, so you needn't fret about her. As for Rarity—I'm a continuous client of hers at the Carousel Boutique, and I happen to know that she thinks the world of me. So, even if she did harbor some secret distaste for Vinyl's... modern stylings, she's more than willing to weather the storm so that she might enjoy the full package."

"Or do you mean your package," Bon Bon adds with a wink.

Octavia rolls her eyes, then giggles in sweet violet volleys. "Well, yes, I must say... she and Fluttershy were rather smitten with my performance." She takes another dainty sip of wine and then adds: "But they were even more impressed by our duet in the end."

Bon Bon looks my way. "Vinyl, is this true?"

Tavi said it. Why wouldn't it be? Nevertheless, I nod.

"Wow..." Bon Bon leans back with a warm grin. "Sounds like you mares stole the show!"

"And we expected no less!" Octavia says. "Unless, of course... erm..." She bites on her lip, instantly regretting the path she has just steered the conversation.

Lyra doesn't. The unicorn laughs, smoothing her mane back with a smile. "Yes. I get it." She winks. "I would totally have given you girls the run for the bits. But... y'know... it just wouldn't be my bag."

"Being a royal minstrel is a stressful, weighty responsibility," Bon Bon adds.

"Though I'd be tickled pink to have won the respect of Twilight Sparkle and her Council... well..." Lyra squirms.

"She'd hate having to clean up the castle after herself," Bon Bon says, winking.

"B.B.!" Lyra protests, eyes rolling. "Must you in public?"

"Why not?" Bon Bon leans over to nuzzle her. "I do even worst in private."

"Guhhhhh—" Lyra quivers all over, her eyes wide. "Duaaaaaaah—" She looks over at Octavia and I with a dumb smile. "—so you guys think you smoked the competition, huh?!"

"Oh Lyra..." Octavia sighs, slumping slightly in her chair. "There's no doubt that Vinyl and I have unique talents... both mesmerizing and eclectic." She gulps. "But... only time will tell just how Twilight and her friends vote."

"Still, it would be a pretty good step up for the two of you," Bon Bon says.

"Hrmmm..." Octavia's jaw clenches as she stares lethargically at her wine glass. "Don't I know it?" She looks aside at me. "Not that Vinyl needs any more of a boost, of course."

"Yeah!" Lyra giggles. "She's only—what—the most famous DJ this side of Manehattan?"

I sigh through a tired smile. Ohhhhhhh Lyra, not this again...

"I swear, if anypony knew she actually lived here in Ponyville, there'd be a mob everyday for sure!"

"Really?!" Bon Bon's jaw gapes. "I didn't realize she was that big!" She instantly winces. "Erm... no offense, Vinyl."

"Are you kidding?" Lyra winks my way. "Lucky for Vinyl, her ally in the field—Roadie Beau—keeps his muzzle shut about Ponyville. Pffft... I'm not sure I'd have that much composure."

"If Vinyl wanted to soak in the adoration, I'm sure she could just trot on over to Canterlot and present herself in the middle of any random shopping district," Octavia says, taking a sip. "Either way, I'm immensely proud of her."

My world floods with deep purple, and I have to grip the edge of the table hard.

"Awwww... well of course you would be," Bon Bon says in a happy voice.

"Oh, it goes much deeper than that," Octavia says. "After all, Vinyl's always had an innate talent. She simply didn't unlock it until... until..." She pauses, blinking, then looks my way. Her features melt slightly, like a deer in headlights. "Mmmm... well... I-I suppose I've prattled on enough. The rest is up to Vinyl to share someday, if she so chooses."

I simply smile at her. It's true. Tavi's saved more than just my life..."

"Mmmm..." Octavia places the glass back down on the table. "I do believe that's enough wine for me tonight."

"Wow." Lyra does a double-take. "Never thought I'd hear that spoken out loud! And by you of all ponies!"

"Miss Heartstrings, please," Octavia gently chides. "Just because I love the quaff so, doesn't mean that I'm in the position to be carried home..."

"Yes, that would be quite embarrassing," Bon Bon says with a giggle.

I nod at her, then point at Octavia. Immediately afterwards, I gesture to my backside and nod again with a wink.

"You mean that happened once?!" Bon Bon blurts, then explodes in golden laughter. "Oh Celestia, that is toooo rich!"

"Hah hah hah!" Lyra joins in.

"Vine!" Octavia clenches her teeth, cheeks burning red. "I-I didn't go on and on about your past mistakes! Honestly..."

While our friends continue to giggle, I shrug at my roommate with a helpless grin.

"Mrmmff... to Tartarus with all of you." She swipes her glass back up from the table and takes a swig. "Urp!—if we land the minstrel positions, I'm ordering the royal guards to put your names on a list. I—Urp!—swear."

Feline Things

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"So long, ladies!" Lyra waves from a distance, teetering off into the cool blue evening with Bon Bon by her side. The unicorn teeters slightly, having to lean against her earthen marefriend. "Whoah—jeez! For crying out loud, Octavia, why can't you be as much—HIC—into Dr. Pony as your roommate?"

"Oh no..." Bon Bon rolls her eyes, giggling golden streams into the air. "This had better not be another all-nighter in front of the toilet."

"Don't be silly, B-Squared—HIC!—it's Octavia and Vinyl's time to celebrate! Not ours!"

"Hey!" Octavia reels in mid-trot, following me as we shuffle away from the restaurant. She turns and waves at the two mares. "It's not my fault that we're—ULP!—next in line for the most extravagant and enviable musical positions in all of—ULP!—Equestria!" She hiccups again, looking goofily my way. "Actually, we just auditioned and put all of our talents on the line, so maybe it—ULP!—is our faults."

Her voice is a tapering band between violet and indigo, laced with golden mirth. I roll my shaded eyes, then look across the road to share a knowing smirk with Bon Bon. We finally part ways, escorting our friends home.

"So long, Vinyl!" Bon Bon waves. "Best of luck with your latest gig!"

"Gig?" I hear Lyra slur from a distance, an amber beacon. "Silly Bon Bon. HIC! It's all about how terra bites these days! Hahaha... oh wait, earth ponies hate that joke."

Bon Bon sighs.

I wave, then help Octavia walk onto the sidewalk before she can ram into a lamppost.

"Vine, be honest with me," she murmurs, eyelids heavy. "Do I drink too much?"

I chew on my lip, glancing aside at the darklit road.

For how much Tavi loves red wine, this is what half a bottle of the stuff does to her. She's no Berry Punch.

Yes, I went there.

"Because... ULP!... that wouldn't be very ladylike of me," she murmurs, shambles, soaking in purple. "Even if, admittedly, most gifted artists are hounded by vices both addictive and eccentric." She smiles my way. "I heard that the infamous Ed Whinny loved to—ULP!—cross dress. Could you believe that?"

I sigh, smiling tiredly. I see our apartment up ahead.

"Not that I can blame a stallion, really. Who doesn't want to look or feel—ULP!—pretty? I certainly do... when I'm not looking or being pretty, that is. Otherwise why would somepony—ULP!—long for it?"

We reach the door. I fumble for my keys, unlock us, and practically drag Tavi inside. We're greeted by a fuzzy orange cloud, and I have to lift Octavia up with gentle telekinesis so that her hooves don't squash Scribbler on the way in.

"Heehee... weeeee..." Octavia giggles in mid-air. The sensation nearly makes me trip on the way to the sofa. "Oh, Vine... you know... I-I think you would—ULP!—look darling in blue satin! Just the shade to match your hair... and glossy enough to bring out the highlights!" She smiles crookedly as I drape her over her favorite couch cushions. "I mean it. All of the stallions would be scrambling all over themselves to so much as hold your hoof. You'd be the life of the Castle."

I arch an eyebrow.

"Assuming... we... we g-get into the Castle, of c-course..." She curls up on the couch, suddenly sniffling. "So close to First Chair, I swear." She bites her lip. "After all these years. I wonder, Vine..."

I cock my head aside, blinking curiously.

Octavia curls her legs towards her fuzzy chest. Her hair is oddly disheveled, and I see mist covering her purple eyes. It's far too vulnerable a look to my liking, and the indigo voice that sputters forth nearly kills me.

"...do you think Father would actually respect me enough to attend one of my performances, finally?" She sniffles. "He can be so damnably stubborn. I know I should be over him. But..." She gulps. "It would be a wonderful thing... a truly wonderful thing if he c-could show up... just one time..." Her voice wavers. Shadows hang off her muzzle.

I grimace, looking all around. I feel Scribbler rubbing up against me, and I lift the thing with magic. She protests with a brief hiss, but soon has nowhere to go...

...for the Octavia Kitten Trap has her engulfed in her cuddling hooves.

"Mmmmmmm..." Tavi nuzzles the kitten close, her drunken grimace replaced by a happy smile. The air fills with violet again. "How I wouldn't mind being a cat like you, Scribbler, darling. Life is best spent on cushions..." She yawns, then drifts off into delirious slumber. "...in the company of fuzz..."

Scribbler fusses... fusses... then surrenders. With sleepy eyes, she rests in Tavi's embrace, filling the air with a soft orange purr.

I exhale with relief, take a few steps back, and slump into a chair across from my two roommates. I should be taking a shower... brushing my teeth... going to bed.

Instead, for the time being, I think I'm just going to exist.

Dreamy Things

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I am asked by many ponies—or at least by ponies who are uniquely aware of my "condition"—whether or not I dream in color. The simple answer is, no, I don't. After all, most ponies don't.

Only, for me, the sudden plunge into a monochromatic worldscape is a bizarre sort of... wake-up call. The change is so jarring that—for the first two or three years—I was a virtual insomniac, because every time I started dreaming, I'd become uniquely lucid over my state of mind. Seeing that dreams are a time when a pony's mind should be recuperating, one can imagine how this would present several problems.

Eventually, I became used to the sensation. It takes several years of intense psychological conditioning to gain control of one's dreams. While most ponies would use this talent as a means of indulging in whatever lucid fantasy they could get their hooves on, for me it was simply a way in which I could... seize control and calm myself. Dreaming wasn't so important as simply sleeping, and—for the most part—I've found the whole matter to be altogether frustrating.

After all, what good is a dream—what is the joy or the artistic merit—when all it does is pale in comparison to the vividry one receives in real life?

I don't sense colors like other ponies do. Yes, I've had several doctors and physicians categorize it as "synesthesia" or "chromothesia" or several other remarkable terms. The truth of the matter is that I'm experiencing something so unique and curious that—quite frankly—modern medicine doesn't have an exact classification for it.

Years ago, my mind was opened up to a sense that very few unicorns have been blessed—or cursed—with experiencing. The rest of my neurological functions are simply attempting to... connect the dots, I suppose. It just so happens that sight and hearing are the most attuned to what my mind receives. It's like my nerves are wound tightly around a rod made up of magical leylines, and each time it vibrates with the rhythm of this waking world, my entire body—and soul—is set on fire.

So, indeed, dreams are like stale bread to me. But I'm quite fine with that. When I sleep, I occasionally twiddle my hooves, waiting through relaxing neutral dullscapes until the green hum of the world lulls me back to waking.

And once I'm back on my fetlocks again, that is when I can carve a dreamscape of my own, sharing it with everypony, giving them a slice of the chromatic-audio pie that I've been so richly served.

It's when I can take control of the colors that I feel truly empowered, and it's a far more relaxing thing than sleep. I prefer when my mind is mine to make my own magic with.

Or, on occasion, another pony's magic...

Morning Things

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With my dark shades, my "quiet" disposition, and my skills as a House DJ, it's easy for many ponies to think of me as a mare of the night. And while it's true that—yes—I do exemplify my talents best in the evening time, I don't really think I could be called a "night pony." After all, I enjoy seizing the moment at all times of the day.

Morning is no different.

Like right now, strolling through these country roads and side streets, with music roaring deliciously out my headphones...

The most I enjoy out of life is now. So, I suppose most ponies should be calling me a "now mare." But I doubt that'll ever happen. With my condition comes an unshakable air of mystery. And you know what? That's quite fine. I can live with it. I have lived with it, and I couldn't thank her any less for it.

And while I live in the moment... I don't always stay there. My mind wanders, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. More often than not, I find that inspiration comes out of unexpected places, like fuzzy shadows waiting for the right color of light to strike. I allow the bass beats and rolling rhythms of tracks—both original and otherwise—to illuminate the hidden patches of comprehension.

When I hear a sound—when I sense a vibration—it never shines the same part of the spectrum twice. Every morning walk, every stroll's soundtrack produces a completely different kaleidoscope, and I couldn't be more thankful for the spontaneity, the surprise, the sudden and unexpected inspiration.

I'm not so much a talented mare as I am a lucky one. It's taken me a while to grasp that. Even right now, as I trot over wet sidewalks and dewy grass blades in the early morning haze, I snatch tiny tapering bands of this blissfully bright world.

Sprinklers christen the lawns on either side of me in staccato red bursts. Wagons groan to life with brown and auburn waves, while old workstallions fight off delirium with orange yawns, preparing to deliver milk and newspapers and recycling now that dawn has finished its initial blink.

The world's green hum is briefly interrupted by amber vibrations: restaurants and cafes in the downtown district of Ponyville start their baking ovens and coffee makers. One by one, the households, hotels, and hovels of the village wake up with golden voices, mimicking the platinum ribbons issuing from the beaks of songbirds overhead.

I think I can understand why most ponies who discover that I live here find it an odd thing. After all, I was born in the city—raised there and everything. Urban life is more up to my speed. My mind is a complicated thing that's sculpted to mimic bright lights and restless souls earning bits.

But it's also a lot harder to concentrate in the city. Here, in Ponyville, a veritable farming maretropolis, I find the world has become a blank canvas. Upon these green sheets, I paint various landscapes in gold, orange, and red bands. It's all washed over in a thin veil of turquoise, with the occasional gray and black hash-marks. Then, to give it life, I slather purples and violets in between the spaces.

And the most charming thing about it all is that I don't have to lift a single paintbrush. These are all the untold siblings to sound, and simply by mimicking them at home—in my studio after a long and contemplative walk—I find that masterpieces simply lay themselves before me.

So, as I said, I'm quite lucky.

And as I see Mr. and Mrs. Cake opening up shop, smiling tiredly—but genuinely—towards me from the front entrance to Sugarcube Corner...

And as I see Derpy Hooves flying overhead with her bright-as-beacon grin...

And Filthy Rich and Big Macintosh pausing in the middle of a deep conversation to bow towards me with casual gentlecoltly mirth...

And the distant school bell ringing with sharp red salvos sung towards the warming air...

...I find myself not wanting to wake up anywhere else.

Well... nowhere that can't promise a violet pool to dive into when I come back home. That's the most important thing. Now... and forever.

Sugary Things

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"What can I getcha?" Miss Cake asks, her voice bordering on pink daggers.

I smile and point at a bottle behind her.

"Heheh... but of course!" She grabs the bottle of Dr. Pony while I drop a pair of coins onto the counter. "Sometimes, I swear, if it weren't for you, I wouldn't be shipped any more of these!"

I take the bottle, curtsey, and spin about. I spot my favorite table across Sugarcube Corner. Early dawnlight bathes the booth while a few yawning patrons dig into their morning pastries between here and there.

I briskly shuffle over, take a seat, and pop the bottle open. With a lazy sigh, I smile and open a newspaper right in front of me, perusing the entertainment section and scanning the page for the latest album reviews. The music in my headphones switches tracks, and that's when I hear a startlingly blue voice off to the side, accompanied by tongues with lesser shine.

"See? Every Tuesday morning, on the dot! Just like I told you!"

"I still think it's yer imagination, Sweetie Belle," replies a gold tone.

"Look for yourself!"

"I mean... just because our sisters stick to tight schedules don't mean everypony does."

"I'm telling you—she's like a machine! A really cool, glowy, super talented machine!"

An amber voice rolls between the blue and gold: "Maybe that explains why she can't talk."

"Shhhhh! Scootaloooo! Don't say that!"

"What?! It's true!"

"Pfft! No it's not! Who ever heard of a pony who couldn't talk?"

"My Uncle never talks! At least... not when he's around my mom."

"T'ain't the same thang! Maybe she's just a quiet pony!"

"But she's a musician! Who ever heard of a pony with a talent in music who doesn't... I dunno... at least sing?"

"Not everypony enjoys singing like you do, Sweetie Belle. I'm pretty sure some ponies just prefer letting their instruments do the talking."

"Now that's just silly. Since when could music replace a voice?"

"Maybe we should just ask her." Echoes of blue. "Unless... y'know... she's been listening to everything we've been saying."

"Pffft! With headphones that thick?!" An amber response. "She'd be lucky if she could hear a locomotive through those things!"

By now, I have folded the classifieds up into a paper airplane and casually thrown it. The thing glides through the air, does a loopty-loop, and then bonks off the soft muzzle of the orange member of the trio. "Ow!"

The other two giggle, casting gold and blue clouds into the air.

I turn and wave at the foals with a lazy smile.

The little pegasus rubs her nose and chuckles. "Heh..." Her wings flutter slightly. "Nice throw. You even have pilot goggles on."

"Dun be silly, Scoots. Them's regular sunglasses."

"They don't look like any sunglasses that I've seen. Also, remember, she's totally blind without them—"

"Scoots, can it!" Sweetie Belle hissed, nudging the foal. She looks over at me, and her pupils instantly shrink. "Oh... uhm... s-sorry that we were talking behind your back and all, Miss. I guess that was pretty rude of us."

I shrug casually.

"Well... uhm... now that we've got your attention..." Sweetie Belle fidgets, her blue voice turning bluer. My ears are instantly intoxicated. "...we were just wondering... I was just wondering."

"Sweetie Belle, don't—" Applejack's sister hisses, but it's too late.

"Are you not able to talk?" Sweetie Belle asks. "Or is it all an act?"

"Unnnngh..." the other two fillies collectively face-hoof.

In return, I smile... and give a shrug.

Sweetie Belle blinks. "... ... ...well that's a really weird answer."

"Well it was a stupid question!" The filly with a bow grumbles.

"Better she ask than me," Scootaloo muttered.

"Well, if you can't talk, then that's too bad, Miss," Sweetie Belle nevertheless continues, glancing across the space between our tables. "Because I was sorta hoping you could tell us who you were. I mean... there's just something so familiar about you."

"She's not wrong," Scootaloo added.

"But... I-I can't quite put my hoof on it."

"To make a long story short," Applejack's sister speaks, smiling politely my way. "Would you be so kind as to tell us yer name?"

I nod. I flip a few newspaper pages, squint, then pull out a seemingly random sheet. Using my magic, I rip an article loose from the rest of the page and float it over to the table.

Sweetie Belle grasps the clipping while the other two lean over her shoulders. Her eyes scan the pages. "Hmmm... let's see... 'Baltimare house club gets an earful of DJ-P0N3's latest soon-to-be-a-hit music mix—'" The air's saturated by a sapphire gasp, then explodes with blue mirth. "No way!" Sweetie Belle's voice cracks, and she gawks in my direction. "You're DJ-P0N3?! That's so cool—" She blinks. "Uhhh..."

At least, it was my direction. At some point during the newspaper scanning, the mare in question has disappeared, leaving three breathless fillies gazing at empty dawnlight.

"Whoah! Where'd she go?!"

"Jeez, did that even actually happen?!"

"Dun be silly, Scootaloo! She was right here!"

"Omigosh! DJ-P0N3 lives in Ponyville?! In our neighborhood?!"

"I dun get it. Is she supposed to be big or somethin'?"

"Big?! Are you kidding, Apple Bloom?! She's all the rage across Equestria! Omigosh! Omigosh! This is the greatest thing to ever happen to me since I got my training bridle!"

"Yeesh. Settle down, Sweetie Belle. It's only a musician."

"Scootaloo, she's the musician!" Blue and more blue. Blue everywhere. "She's the most popular dance mixer in every major city there is! And you ran her over with the Scooter the other day!"

"Hey! Not my fault she can't hear... er... I mean see! Er... I mean talk!"

"Scoots..."

"Whatever! I'm no celebrity killer!"

"Squeee!" Sweetie Belle hugs the clipping to her fuzzy white chest. "I can't wait to tell Rarity about this! She's always rubbing up to celebrities! Well, now I've got one over her!"

"How do ya know she hasn't met this Deejay-So-N-So already?"

"Pffft! What are the odds of that happening?" And Sweetie Belle dissolves into a series of giggles. For a brief moment, they almost reach a violet pitch.

It's enough to make me smile from where I stand outside, gazing through the window at the bouncy trio. With a shuffle of my shoulders, I slide the headphones back over my ears, take a sip of Dr. Pony, and continue on my musical way.

Vomitous Things

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"Vinyl, buddy, you're cool n'all, and I mean this with love..." Nevertheless, Lyra winces savagely as she leans far... far away from the mixing board, clutching her skull with gnashing teeth. "But what in the blue buck are you even doing?"

I hold a hoof up, otherwise ignoring her. Leaning forward, I adjust the bass and reverb of several overlapping samples that I've stretched to the crackling-tip-of-annihilation. I then play them back for the umpteenth time, punishing the unicorn's studio speakers with a goddessawful assortment of digital belches and elongated wails. The air of the room above us ripples with all sorts of schizoprhenic color, like spectral miasma swirling on the edge of a soapy bubble, catching the light in just the right way... or the wrong way... or both.

Fidgeting, fussing, I manipulate, warp, and mutilate the mixture until I've tickled every octave and pitch known to equine civilization.

"Just put the darn thing out of its misery, already!" Lyra gargles, wincing again. She rubs her temple and sighs. "When I invited you over to try and slap forth a new track, I didn't think we'd be performing an autopsy with a chainsaw!"

I sigh and glare at her with mild exasperation.

"Eh... an 'artist at work.' Yeah, I get it." She leans back, stifling a groan. "I'm sorry. I guess last night's wine... mrmmfff... didn't settle very well in my noggin'."

I slide to the left in my chair, turning several more knobs, manipulating the sound clip until it takes on more harmonic vibes, electrifying the air with gray and gold bands.

"And here's the thing I don't get. It was all Octavia's idea. But she barely had a single glass! And I'm sure I had three... or maybe three and a half. Meh... I dunno. But that roommate of yours is daintier than a Canterlot sunrise! Lemme tell ya!"

I smirk out the corner of my muzzle, then start altering the pitch again. The track hits a high note, then nearly blows out the speakers when it suddenly drops. Wincing, I lower the volume before both of us can drown in crimson madness.

"Eugh... Vinyl, since when did you switch bodies with Radiohay?" Lyra groans, smiling ever so slightly. "I'm sure somewhere at the bottom of that sonic well there's a sample of a cat meowing, but you've drowned that kitten five times over!"

"Did I come in on an unpleasant conversation?" Bon Bon says, trotting into the compartment with a tray covered in lemonade glasses. "My my, Miss Scratch." She smiles pleasantly. "You certainly have an ear for the avante garde. What's the name of this latest track? 'Epilepsy Locomotive?'"

"Don't bother, Bon Bon," Lyra sighs, grabbing the first glass she can and holding its cold surface to her forehead. "She just came in here and started disembowling my latest bucket of samples." She pouts. "And here I was hoping for some sweet new trance mix."

"Well, an artist is allowed to be unique and eclectic, don't you think?" Bon Bon places the tray down, takes a sip, and looks at my complicated hoofwork. "If nothing else, it'll surely keep her mind off the ever-present anxiety of waiting for the audition results from Twilight Sparkle's Castle."

My ears twitch and I grind my teeth slightly.

Lyra rolls her eyes. "Way to go, B-Squared. Why not toss her to the jaws of Tirek while you're at it?"

"Whoops! My bad!" Bon Bon winces cutely. "Say, that reminds me, has there ever been a concert held along the burning rim of Tartarus?"

"No, but we're close to having one here." Lyra winces yet again. "Say, Vinyl, I know you're in deep search of the lost chord, but could you not drag my speakers into oblivion while you're at it?"

"Ohhhhh Lyra..." Bon Bon leans over, nuzzling her best friend. "I'm sure she more than knows what she's doing."

"Easy for you to say," Lyra says, shivering slightly. "What if we got Pinkie Pie in here to bake her latest 'masterpiece' with your candy baking utensils?"

"I'd rather be crucified with barbed wire," Bon Bon immediately blurts in a low, bass tone—inspiring me.

"Pfft! What's the big deal?" Lyra rolls her eyes. "She's an 'expert' at baking!"

"Point taken. How about this for a solution?" Bon Bon rests a hoof on Lyra's shoulder, smiling. "Follow me outside and I'll show you the changes I have in store for the side lawn's garden."

"Awwwww... Bonnie..." Lyra's ears fold. "That's—like—super hot, sweaty, and boring."

"I know for a fact that you happen to like two of those things."

"Replace the consonant on one and I'd like three of them," Lyra jabs with a smirk.

"Pfffft..." Bon Bon rolls her eyes. "Please, Lyra. It'll help me get my tasks priorities... and it will get your mind off of mad melodies."

"Eh... you're right." Lyra scoots out of her chair beside me. "You're always right, Bon Bon."

She sips some lemonade. "Glad we can be on the same page about something."

"Yeah, so long as it doesn't give me a papercut." Lyra trots out with Bon Bon. "Okay, Vinyl. We're off to domesticate outside." She points a rigid hoof, connecting invisible dots between me and her hard gaze. "I'm watching you, Mister Missus! You'd better not cause this all to explode by the time I get back!"

I nod. I nod some more. I wave her off.

"Meh... I don't get it, Bon Bon, why can't I be a genius musician like the other ponies in this town?" Lyra mutters as they exit.

"Awwwww, Lyra..." Bon Bon nuzzles her. "You'll always be my favorite little idiot."

"Heeheehee... wait..."

They're both gone before I can make out any more... or want to. By now, I think I've finally found something. I stand up from my chair entirely, turning and twisting knobs with a combination of hooves and magic. At last, the semblance of ear-tantalizing harmony bleeds out of the numbers, codes, and waves... and it has a distinctive blue color to it.

I sigh.

It's not blue enough.

Tapping my chin, I throw in two other different vocal samples, giving the blue haze a golden background. It still doesn't recreate the sensation from earlier.

With a frustrated groan, I load a completely different track entirely. I slap the "play" button, and the room fills with delicious... delicious violet.

I slump back in the chair, closing my eyes, saturating myself in it.

Most music comes to me easily, experimental or otherwise.

The sounds that elude me, however, are the most juicy. And this pony thirsts. She thirsts something awful.

I reach out to my side, grasping a glass of Bon Bon's lemonade. I bring the straw to my lips and take a liberal slurp. I sit in place, inhaling, exhaling.

Then, with a twitch of my tail, I slap the console's nobs and press play.

The bluish noise ripples against the violet background, producing a static cloud of indigo in between.

I narrow my eyes, lean my twitching ears to the playback... then sigh. With a dull grin, I shut the samples off and erase everything I've made.

Sometimes you have to wade through a lot of vomit before you swim ashore to the drawing board.

I place the glass down, start over with a few new samples, and begin gorging my talent yet again...

Imaginative Things

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"So you've been quite the busy bee today, I take it," Tavi says. "How quaint." She sips some tea, quietly places the mug down onto a table, and resumes eking a new tune from her bowstrings. "You know, I don't say it often, Vine, but I find myself quite blessed to be sharing this abode with a roommate who's so well-rounded and diligent."

I smirk slightly, shuffling around my half of the foyer as I collect several records in a wave of magic. I shuffle each vinyl in their sleeves, arranging them alphabetically in the air before me. I lean against my turntable as I concentrate on the task—something rather difficult when I've got a small warm fuzzball rubbing against my legs and filling the air with a bright orange purr.

Thankfully, Octavia's words come bursting through in violet clarity, riding the purple velvet melody of her experimental cello strings. "I truly, truly mean it, love," she says, setting my half of the apartment aflame. "A member of the Melody family never tosses useless compliments. That'd be blowing hot air up your skirt, as t'were." She stops suddenly, her muzzle twisted in fuzzy contemplation. "Come to think of it, Vinyl, I don't quite recall ever seeing you in a dress."

I shrug, shuffling over to my full wall of shelved records. I carefully space them apart and slide my floating vinyls in one at a time, making sure to keep the order perfectly alphabetical and pristine.

"Anyways, where exactly am I going with these terribly prattling words?"

There are times when I think that Octavia would speak her thoughts out loud even if I wasn't around to hear them. Perhaps the best kind of friend the mare could ever want is one who doesn't have anything to say back, nor desires to. I'm strangely proud to fill both niches.

"Oh! Right..." She resumes her words just as she resumes her sound-sawing. The air gets purple and purpler. "...as one can guess, my mind simply cannot detach itself from Princess Twilight and her Castle. I mean—think about it—Vine. If you and I are truly the ones chosen to be the Royal Minstrels, then we just might find ourselves moving into that large, luxurious place. And although I desire that far less than the golden opportunity to win the attention and admiration of the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra, I most certainly wouldn't mind the fringe benefit. Surely even a remote part of you shares that sentiment with me."

I slide in the last of the sleeved vinyls, take a breath, and then start flipping through the top shelf—looking for a long-forgotten record that I've been itching to sample lately.

"But, just lately, it's occurred to me..." Octavia's breath shudders ever so slightly. "Such a move would mean abandoning this wonderful cottage of ours. And—suffice to say—I've grown immeasurably attached to it over the years."

With that, I pause, glancing up at the ceiling with a blank expression beneath my even blanker shades. I tongue the inside of my muzzle as I attempt to contemplate this—or rather—the sudden and inexplicable absence of this. This home. This smell. These blessed acoustics that have resonated with so much gold and violet over the years. And now orange. Orange.

For better or for worse, Octavia is already mirroring my muddled thoughts. "Good news, though, Vinyl! Scribbler is no longer leaving messes around the house! I daresay, Fluttershy's good advice is paying off! Not that I ever doubted the wise young mare, of course, but I suppose a part of me was ever-so-slightly doubtful that anything could reach through to the adorable kitten. But, alas, this bodes well, because it means that—if things go swimmingly—we could even take the lil' darling with us! Oh, wouldn't that be absolutely brilliant, Vine?"

I tap my chin, thinking.

Does Princess Twilight even let her friends stay at the Castle with her?

After all, they all have their own separate homes. I could see Rarity wanting to live in a place so... uh... pretty, I guess. But Pinkie Pie is already living with the Cakes. Fluttershy has her cottage full of animals. Applejack's got a family farm, and Rainbow Dash certainly isn't the type of pegasus to let anything keep her cooped up.

But, then again, Octavia's heard from the grape vine that Twilight Sparkle is trying to renovate Ponyville's new castle, turning it into a place befitting its royal status. That means lots of servants, guards, visitors, representatives of visitors, representatives of representatives of visitors, secretaries of representatives of representatives of visitors...

Oye...

Leaving this place would be one thing. But I'd rather sell my soul to diamond dogs than settle for a studio in a place that noisy and cramped. Maybe Lyra could let me produce new tracks at hers and Bon Bon's place, but I doubt it.

"I know what you're thinking, Vinyl, I'm getting an awful bit ahead of myself, aren't I?"

That's not what I was thinking, but it makes me smile anyways. I finally find the album that I'm looking for and I slip the record off the shelf.

"Then again..." Octavia lets loose an airy laugh, and it explodes with the color of her bowtie across the room. "Hmm-hmmm-hmmm... maybe Princess Twilight—in her infinite magic—can simply relocate our home inside her massive basement."

I don't know what's sillier, Octavia's imagination or the fact that I'm still standing from the magenta outburst of air from my lungs.

"Ah well." An indigo sigh. "I suppose we'll just have to let fate decide."

I nod. Standing up, I turn and reach across my studio—only to feel a purring fuzzball curled up atop my console. As soon as I make contact, the world turns orange and my eyes blink.

This is not my turntable.

Dependent Things

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"I must say: this snuck up on us rather suddenly."

"... ... ...?" I pause in packing my things to turn and look over my shoulder.

"Oh, well, I suppose it didn't quite sneak up on you, per se," Tavi says, clad in a soft burgundy bathrobe. She sits at the kitchen table with a mug of tea while early morning light wafts in through the windows. "I know how good you are at keeping to schedule, after all." She takes a dainty sip, then speaks in an even daintier voice. "How long will you be gone this time?"

I tap my chin and shrug. Using my magic, I levitate four paper clips in the air, then five, then four again.

"All the way to Sacramentoats and back," Tavi slurs, using every ounce of energy to fight a yawn. Her voice drips in lazy indigo. "I presume you'll have enough time for two shows."

I levitate three paper clips with a smirk, then slide them away into my saddlebag pocket.

"Three?" She leans back, blinking. "My my... aren't we raking in the bits."

I shrug again, trotting across the foyer to go over my equipment once more. It would appear as though I have everything in order. Still—regardless of Octavia's insistence—I truly am one for double-checking everything.

"It would be a terrible shame for us to receive the news of our audition results while you're away," Octavia says. "I mean, I would be more than happy to fill you in upon your return, but it just... seems the kind of thing you would want to be present for upon revealing."

I nod absent-mindedly, rolling my items over to the front door so that they'll be nearby for when it's time to catch the noon train out of Ponyville.

"Vinyl, I know it's... truly none of my business, but I can't help but wonder." She crosses her forelimbs beneath her chin, staring across the apartment at me with glossy purple eyes. "These so-called 'gigs' of yours... these shows on the road that you perform so often... they do pay you handsomely, yes?"

I turn and glance curiously at her.

"I mean, your kind-spirited companion, 'Roadie Beau' seems to live in the lap of luxury, and he's simply the voice of your performances. He's not even in charge of the actual talent or presentation. Please don't tell me that he gets a bigger cut of the paycheck than you!"

I smile, chuckling breathily. I shake my head through the crimson cloud. Once it clears, I see her sympathetic gaze waning.

"How curious." Tavi leans back in her seat, staring with sudden interest past the lid of her mug. After a breath or two, her lips part, murmuring the next few words out: "I just... get worried, sometimes, Vinyl. I mean... out there... you have so many ponies who... who just won't quite understand you. I mean, how can they? Nopony can read minds. This Roadie Beau seems to click with you, and that's a good thing. But who else do you have to speak with agents and with bookers and... and...?"

I arch an eyebrow over my shades.

She sighs, running a hoof across her otherwise immaculate bangs. Her next smile is a weak one, but still warm beyond the outermost layers. "I'm being melodramatic, of course. You're an adult mare. Naturally, you have the means to... to look after yourself and your bit bag." She gulps hard. "Probably even more than I do."

I give her a confused look.

"Oh, rest assured, though..." She chuckles slightly, waving a hoof through the violet streams. "I am nearly finished with my latest composition. Although I haven't... erm... performed a quarter of the shows that you have as of late, I'm certain I'll be raking in bits sooner than later. So don't you worry. I-I'll be paying for my half of the expenses—"

An amused smile crosses my face.

"And don't you give me that look, blast it!" She tilts her chin up. "You've pulled your weight around here quite enough, Vine! It's high time that I do my part! And... and I-I'm serious! I shouldn't have to be depending on you for anything!"

I take a shuddering breath, trotting over to dust off my remaining equipment.

If only she knew.

But she does know.

The way things are... the way they all came to be...

"...I just... hope that when I finally start landing performances of my own again, that I have nearly a fraction of the same intestinal fortitude as you do, Vinyl." The indigo in her voice is suddenly a thin, threadbare thing, encased in tan lines. "I honestly don't know how you manage those trips alone. Celestia knows that it's hard enough... right here..."

Every vein in my body goes cold.

With a violent shudder, I turn to look at her.

My worry instantly washes away. For an orange cloud has engulfed her, and it squeezes the violet out of the top of her lungs.

"Oh, goodness..." Tavi reaches down and picks Scribbler up, rubbing noses with the whiskery thing. A soft smile crosses her even softer features. "I never even contemplated. If we both go on separate tours, who's going to stay behind and take care of our newest roommate?"

I shrug with a smile.

"Bah..." She cradles the thing, leaning back in her chair with a violet sigh. "We'll manage." Her ears fold atop her head with velvet grace. "Somehow... we always do."

Pretentious Things

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My least favorite thing about music is when the tracks end and switch. There's this immersive breaking gap in sound, a veritable sonic abyss, a savage break in color. It jars me awake, rattling my otherwise relaxed mind to the ever pulsing present.

Like right now, as the train clears the tunnel. My eardrums pop and settle, and I blink to see the intestines of a city unravel before me. The track lifts—as it only ever does in the dense urban zones of Equestria—and we're lifted over the eastern stretches of Sacramentoats. Suddenly, I see the arteries and veins of this place displayed before me beyond the translucent glass veil. It is not a concrete carcass—as many environmentalist ponies are desperate to prove. A city like this is very much alive, and as the next track beats its way into a tempestuous tempo, the beast regains its pulse, and its muscles ripple all around me.

I see streets like vessels, throbbing with traffic. Bustling hooftraffic blankets the sidewalks, bathes the courtyards. The Equestrian flag ripples atop every apartment and rooftop, and the green hum becomes more and more vibrant, laced with golds and browns and reds like a fireworks display—all in time to the music crackling through my headphones.

But I can't drown in this. Not quite yet. The gasp of the last switch is still tugging at me, pulling the air out of my lungs, filling my cabin with magenta hues, clouding denser and denser.

Why do I do this? Why do I take these long exhausting sojourns to cities that I know only by name, that only know me by a fake name?

DJ-P0N3: it's a name that means much to me, but just as much as a glove means to protect my hooves from blisters when I do lawnwork. I can never be Vinyl Scratch before my audiences. I can never be the mare who lives in Ponyville, who delights in violet mirth, who pines for orange contentment and simplicity.

Why do I remove myself from all of that? Why do I dive out of the bubble, seeking money and majesty from the wasteland on all sides of me? Why do I dip myself so dastardly into the tan surf, bobbing for harmony in the brackish malaise of space and emptiness, when all that I need, all that I care for, all that makes me feel joy and comfort is back at home?

Accomplishment is a very nebulous thing, and it's only real for as long as you can hold it. I try to think about the ecstatic faces on my raving fans. I try to think about how their eyes light up when they hear my latest mixes. And they will explode tonight... and the two nights after this. I know that.

I also know that I will be on top of the world—of the universe—when that moment hits, and I drop, and we all plummet, only to rise again on the sparkling crest of my talent. For a few blissful hours, I will be a siren. I will be the siren, singing a city's underground into delicious delirium.

And yet, even immersed in so much bliss, all I will ever do is forget... forget that I am alone out here... and somepony else is alone in another place. And she too will be pondering, longing, striving to make sense out of the strange islands we artists carve for ourselves, when all along the turquoise tsunami waits in repose, its pale eyelids about to flutter open, waiting to wake up and and drop the final curtain.

To truly appreciate life, you have to die several times, inside and out, with ghostly gasps of silence as the punctuation to your woeful inquisitions before the dull green haze of the world. The absurdity of it all isn't lost to me. I feel it like thorns in my side with each shake and rattle of the train.

But then, I look out, and I see this city, and I see it animated with color and with coats and with a hundred thousand choral voices just waiting to burst, all gold and glorious. And for a brief moment I remember—if only to pretend to know—that something remains dancing to the tunes that I've etched into this ever expansive canvas, and long after I've shuffled off into the turquoise sea, it will be shuffling to the same sequence I've set, and it will do so without me. And even if that's nothing more than a lonesome limp, it will have some semblance of purpose to it, and that's something worth smiling about... if even for a little while.

The track reaches a crescendo, and the music dies again. I gasp once more, but my body has the strength to withstand the magenta breath this time. And before I've given it a second thought, my headphones roll on to the next mix, and it's almost as if there was never cause to blink in the first place.

Could life be even simpler if it tried?

Token Things

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The green hum all around parts ways, shredded by crimson scimitars swimming sharply across the central Sacramentoats park that lingers in the shadow of a tall hotel building. I look up from the bench where I sit, ears twitching.

I follow the red bands over the heads of families and tourists trotting about with their foals. I see a golden retriever pitter-pattering across the lawn, chasing a ball thrown by his owner. The canine retrieves the item, rushes back, and relishes in a hoof-pat on the head. Its next few barks are red as ever, but this time laced with an orange aura. It's almost even fuzzy.

I can't stop the magenta sigh coming out of my muzzle.

"Of course, I would have gotten here sooner if the taxi cabs weren't so crummy in this town," Beau grumbles as he settles down in the bench to my left. "I swear, the flankholes running these streets see a stallion with stripes and immediately think he's gonna rob them of their cab fare. Heh. Call me when we have a gig in Neigh Orleans. That crud never happens there."

I stare across the park. The canine and its owner shuffle off. The orange has completely faded, and the green clouds recede, filling up everything between errant chirps of gold mirth with a dull malaise. Sacramentoats is a great deal quieter than I imagined.

I guess it's a good thing we're here. The purveyors of bass.

A smile crosses my muzzle for the first time since I got off the train.

"I do hope I didn't make you wait too long, V," Beau mutters. His voice is a dying auburn when he's not in character. We've stayed in adjacent hotel rooms before, and his snores through the wall are laced with haunting amber cobwebs. "We've got a busy three days ahead of us, huh?"

I nod. I shrug. I exist.

"You wanna bet these cats are pumped?" He grins a crescent moon at me. "Word of your last show in Baltimare has spread far and wide. If DJ-P0N3's latest tracks are anywhere nearly as hot as what you cooked up for them, then we'll have Sacramentoats staining their saddles by Night Two!"

I look at him with a smile. I can tell by his expression that it's a rather weak one.

"Hey, V, ya mind if I ask somethin' a tad bit personal?"

I neither shake my head or nod. I know he'll just throw his thoughts into the echoing pot anyways.

"Is... everythang okay at home? I mean, I know ya don't want me speakin' the name of your village out loud. Super secret mare extraordinaire and all." He smirks, but then squints with a sympathetic gaze. "But I can't help but notice that you've got... this bluesy look all around you. I know... heh..." He smirks slyly. "Me preachin' to you about colors is dayum outrageous, huh? But Celestia help me; I get concerned about you, girl. Is everythang cool? For realsies?"

I let loose another sigh and give him a warm smile.

Perhaps a little too warm.

"Oh. Ohhhhh... I get it." He nods, leaning back. "Things are a bit toooo cool back at the pad." He winked. "S'all good, baby. Just be sure you're usin' protection."

The crimson cloud between us from the resulting swat to the shoulder only makes him laugh. For the first time in days, I'm once again christened by Roadie Beau's golden laughter.

"Heheheheh! I mean—I get it, V! Ain't nothin' that sucks harder than bein' away from the ones you care about. Road trips like this?" He shook his head. "Tch... can get to be a real bummer. I know that. Like, right now as we speak, it's been about five whole days since I last even set eyes on my prized sports wagons!"

I roll my eyes. The sun catches my shades at a direct angle, and my vision goes all purple for a second. It's both startling and comforting all at once. I almost don't make out Beau's next few words:

"For real, though, you oughta lighten up. Ain't like you're gone from Ponyv—... errrr... from your home town for two years or somethin', girl!"

I snicker breathily. I'm always pleasantly amused by Beau's emphatic desire to protect my feelings. If he's wanting to keep me in good spirits, he's doing a very good job of it.

But I doubt that it'll last long.

Something tells me he doubts it too, which is how I can predict the next movement in his speech before he rolls into it: "Y'know, there're a bunch of really hype artists in town during the last night of our tour. Simon Neighs. DJ Capricorn. Harmonicide. Ever heard of them? 'Course you have. All cool cats. Anyways, I've already bumped into a few of them, and they say that they're gonna be chillin' at the Fault Line Bar well past midnight. I know it might be scrapin' things close, but I think you should join me in sharin' a few drinks with them. Ya dun even have to dip into the cider, V. I'll order a whole mother-flippin' carton of Dr. Pony just for you. Now whaddya think of that?"

He winks at me, and I find it hard to resist.

I smile kindly, twirling a hoof in the air.

"Yeah. You think about it." He slouches back in the bench, basking in the soft sunlight. "Hell, mull it over while record spinnin'. You do your best thinking when you're in the middle of so much sound, don't you?"

I gaze off down the green hazy heights of this town.

He's right. Really, that can't be denied.

I have the wonderful habit of surrounding myself exclusively with ponies whose integrity I can trust.

Perhaps that's why I have so very few acquaintances.

And only one whom I'm blessed to live with.

Urban Things

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There's something incredibly relaxing about a city as it transitions into dusk...

At least for me...

Maretropolises are fickle, unpredictable things. They're filled with so much life, and yet are capable of much danger, dinginess, and filth. For every sparkly sight, there's a foul smell. For every bright light, a shady corner. The mix of delight and danger is part of the allure, I'm sure, but there's something more to it that draws me. It's hard to explain, which is why I don't bother much. Not like there'd even be a point in trying.

The way I feel about cities is how I suspect most ponies feel about me—or DJ-P0N3, to be more precise. The surfaces are blank, monochrome, and bedazzled with flashing lights. That's not to say that every district mimics the flare of Las Pegasus, but Sacramentoats has its own aesthetically-pleasing areas.

Like this courtyard that I'm traversing, situated around a narrow lake. The water's shallow, barely lapping up to the beams of the boardwalk that spans it. Obviously, this thing was artificially made, carved out of the earth and planted—like a foreign tree—just to attract attention to the retailers and businesses all lined up around it. It's as fake as fake can be, but I don't mind. It takes a city to turn artifice into something beautiful, and this place positively shines.

One by one—with the advent of night—the storefronts light up. Billboards hum with electric juice, attracting moths and flitting things to their buzzing bulbs. Neon bands flicker one after another, bathing concrete and asphalt with a spectral kaleidoscope of advertising. A line of shops at the base of the hotel where Beau and I are staying leave their doors wide open, teasing strollers and passerby's with delicious jets of air-conditioning. Somewhere, a cafe nestled deep in the urban framework churns its greasy way into the dinner hour, and the smell of fried foods wafts through the air, chasing off the ever-present whiff of mildew and moisture clinging to looming building faces.

And all around me, this city is alive. It's just as much awake and festive as it was during the day, only now—as darkness is cascading all around us—the bodies of ponies are somehow more noticeable, appearing and disappearing like spectral apparitions beneath the sporadic spotlights of lampposts.

This is a safe part of the city, for which I am thankful. Families gather here, both rich and poor. On one side of the artificial lake, there's the hotel district. On the other side? A series of apartments are stacked up on one another—and none of them too lavish. The ponies who dwell there likely make a living off of blue collar wagon work and factory labor. And yet, as the atmosphere cools and the flickering lights fill moist air with mirth, equines both wealthy and humble come here to mix—even if they're not here to mingle.

I see families huddled on the concrete steps of a desolate ampitheatre dangling on the lip of the lake. Ponies jogging in circles pause to smile and converse with familiar faces. I see foals chasing each other across sidewalks and grass lawn. A group of fillies play four-square on the concrete panels. Off in the distance, within earshot of a group of elders chatting over neighborhood gossip, an old stallion squats with a long pole, fishing for a bite that will never come, basking in the lazy blue malaise of the waters lapping before him.

There's music crackling through various speakers attached to the lampposts closest to the hotel. Even if the looping mix of decade-old pop songs could be heard, I'm oblivious to it. A salvo of deep bass synthesized sounds massage my ears as I shuffle along, and my hooves trot in time to the slouching beat. The neon lights glint off my shades, and I spot many eyes darting my way—if even for the briefest of moments. I have become a glint off the windows of these looming skyscrapers, a walking billboard, a brief flicker of color advertising nothing—everything—and then vanishing once again. That's how I know that the city has become me, and I have become it. We are all part of the same organism, engulfed in our sterile facade, but carrying so much warmth and equinity deep within ourselves, like tight egg-shaped spheres ready to burst.

As I shuffle counter-clockwise around the park, I see several young ponies who have already exploded. They gather in droves by the edge of the courtyard, a flat cardboard shingle and a boombox lying nearby as—one by one—they engage in a heated dance off. The air fills with laughter, cheers, jeers, and cat calls. Gladiators rise and fall, and battle is joined again. I give the teenage group a smile and shuffle on. Years ago, I would have lingered around something like this. I bet many ponies suspect it'd be criminal for DJ-P0N3 not to stop and observe. It's just that I've seen it all before. In a way, it lives inside me, the spark, the joyous sense of artistic competition and expressiveness and daring.

I've just learned to channel it into something deeper, heartier, and far more concentrated than anything I've grasped before. And when I'm far away from home, and a long distance from the purple streams that lull me into a place of focus and contentment, my only recourse is to cycle myself through the arteries of a living organism such as this city... and recharge. And one cannot do that standing still.

So, the beat goes on... as my hooves go on. I allow the synthesized movements to roll through me, wringing fresh new concepts out of my mind, encasing them in iron-tight bands colored with the sights, smells, and smiles populating the nightly vista around me. I have a tour to do, three sessions in a row starting tomorrow. But I needn't stress about that right now.

The city is a flashy concert all on its own. It's my turn to be the audience.

Remembering Things

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I am here.

And yet, I am not here.

The colors flow through me, illuminate me, set me on fire.

I've seen this assortment in my sleep. I know it. My arteries smell of it.

Am I planning? Or am I playing?

I can't tell. I'm asleep on my hooves, falling into place.

Maybe if I open my eyes...

I do so, and the colors multiply. Streams of gold, blue, pink—all criss-crossing, swishing around, swimming like dolphins over a delirious sea of muzzles, manes, muzzles, manes.

It's the Sacramentoats underground, several sizzling cycles after a bass drop, and I am rocking everypony daring to breathe here.

It's a silly, psychotic thing—how simple it is to get into the motions of a DJ Session. Every soul here is on the orgasmic cusp of sonic bliss. Me? I'm digesting last night's pizza.

A masterpiece is slightly less dazzling from the inside out, from deep within the opaque core of creative contemplation where all things are turned inside out and launched skyward via cannons of cocophany. A magician is rarely ever duped by herself, and it's hard to taste one's own spice beyond the stale walls of familiarity.

Nevertheless, I pump forth, and the music pulses ever endlessly, perilously hanging us all on the edge of the coming movement, eager to squeal, eager to release these deathly bubbles forming in our bloodstream. For a brief moment, I am part of the crowd, wading in it deep, a casual shark with a digital dorsal fin sticking out of the depths and hypnotizing.

Then bam.

I bait and switch. I throw in a sample that any pony within the house can instantly recognize—laugh, cheer, and chortle about—then collapse as the bass follows it with a machete, hacking up all branches so that the leftover rhythm's funneled down a microcosmic pinhole boring through everypony's brain stem.

It's all so very exciting, but it's not.

I've been here before.

I've yawned my way through grander epics of the ears.

What session is this, anyways?

Is it the second night? The first? The third?

I don't know. I'm not sure I want to know. The records spin and I'm standing still. I know I love this music, but I'm starting to think that music is rather indifferent to me, raveling off into the cosmic yonder in blacker and blacker bands, far too swiftly for me to catch it.

There are times when I wonder where the creativity ends and the artifice begins. What is righteous and what is riotous. When I am expressing myself and when I am exposing myself.

I try to solace myself with the fact that—for all the noise that I share with the audience—I never share any of the silence. Nopony hears the gasping lull between breaths, the miniscule mare hidden delicately between the palpitating beats of me.

She stands up high, somewhere lofty, lonely, and fraught with peril. The world is full of rain, roads, and wild whinnying. She looks out upon the malaise, her damaged eyes full of pain, fright, colors. She can't understand—these chaotic streams that fill her, that pollute her, that have robbed her of the gift she once cherished, that once made her something more than she was.

And below looms waters, firmaments, dark and devouring. Thirsting for her... thirsting for me.

And for a moment, I let go. My hooves drift away, and I plunge forward into tomorrow, a darkness unrelenting, where all that waits for me is a whimper, melancholic with magenta. An end after an end.

"Yo, V!"

I flash my eyes open, panting. Sweating. I jerk a look to my right.

Roadie Beau stands on the fringes of locked-lights. I see half a dozen still faces staring up at me, at my booth. Still bodies are not a good thing at a club.

A flood of amber spills out of his mouth. "You okay?"

I shudder. My ears twitch, and I realize that the walls are brimming with solid crimson bands. The same beat has been repetitiously looping for a good two minutes.

"You gonna switch soon, or—?"

A magenta cloud leaks out. I fling my hoof across the instruments like a playful pianist. The track switches, and I cover for the sudden movement with a bass salvo, like a computer vomiting its innards out, then peppering the sinew with kindergarten glitter.

It appears to work. A roar of golden cheers echoes from the crowd, then all is violet rain, collecting in purple puddles beneath us as I immediately sample the track that stole the hearts, brains, and ears of Baltimare.

"Heeeeeey!" Beau hops in place, grabbing his mic again as he bounces towards the edge of the stage. "Way to work it, girl! Give 'em what they want, yeah!"

As he shouts uproariously through the speakers, boldly declaring the hit sequence that's now starting, I hunch closer towards my instruments, struggling to catch my breath. My lungs expand and contract as I concentrate, nuzzling tight against the velvety currents of purple noise settling all around me, relaxing me, cherishing me... as she always does, whether she knows it or not...

Whether she knew it or not.

And by the time I'm ready for the next bass drop, the tears have already dried themselves.

Have I mention how much I love wearing shades?

Said Things

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I don't realize I'm shaking until I try screwing the cap back over my bottle of Dr. Pony.

A shudder flies through me, and I almost hunch over from where I sit on an equipment crate located to the side of my booth.

Most of the crowd has cleared away. Gray silence fills the room, broken occasionally by the random gold chirp of drunken ponies being escorted out of the dance hall by Sacramentoats' finest bouncers. I owe it all to Beau, however. As always, he's quick to form a one-zebra blockade against the waves of fans wanting to flounce my way on a night when I'm not feeling it.

And right now, I am definitely... definitely not feeling it.

Just what went wrong?

I zoned out completely. I never zone out. Not during a session.

I almost lost the beat entirely. It's like I'm a flailing amateur all over again.

Tartarus on fire, even my thoughts are blatantly egotistical.

I need an interruption. Not something purple and velvet. My ears still ring with it, but not in a joyful way. All I taste is strings of melancholy, thoughts that were hidden, but never forgotten. Things that I thought I could stave off with music... with more melodic things...

The things Tavi says.

I saver the succulent edges of her voice, until they fade away into her mind, leaving me with a tan breath strung between turquoise spheres. A bridge.

A chill runs through my spine, almost enough to pop loose a sob.

Praise Celestia that Beau decides to shuffle on up.

"Whew! Girl, I dunno what you're better at: knockin' 'em dead or knockin' 'em drunk!" He smirks, his voice a burning amber torch. It warms me, and I respond with a genuine smile. "Call that another tour in the bucket! Yeesh... is it just me, or did Baltimare smell a teensy bit better than this gravel pit?"

I shrug, gazing over at my equipment. Most of it is still unpacked. A magenta sigh escapes my lips.

"Hey! Dun worry about it!" Roadie Beau waves with a smirk. "I'll get my colts on it. I trust them stallions with my life, and you can trust them with yer stuff. Fo' sho."

I gulp, then nod his way.

"Hey..." He leans in, eyebrows wagging. Uh oh. "Remember what I mentioned to ya three days ago?"

A jolt runs through me upon hearing that. Have I done three sessions already? All the evenings feel as though they've congealed into a tan ball, running down hill and splashing into a red mess.

"Y'know... about the dinner party?" He grins wide. "There'll be tons of happenin' artists just dyin' to meet you. I may have... uhhh..." He coughs out the size of his muzzle. "...mentioned to at least half of 'em that you'd be in town. Would be a shame to disappoint a crowd of humble musicians who only wanna tell you in person just how much they not-so-secretly worship you and what you do."

I adjust my shades, glancing away from him and fidgeting. I think about Octavia. I imagine her curled up before the fireplace with Scribbler, awash in orange purrs and contented purple breaths. Then I remind myself that absolutely none of these things are guaranteed to be happening, and right now the only thing I want to do is return to my hotel room and take a long warm shower so that the world will dissolve into a fine red mist around me.

"Please, V! If not for them, do it for yourself!"

I tun towards him with an eyebrow sharply raised.

"Ya heard me!" Beau winks. "I can tell yer all outside on your insides. A lil' flank-over-elbow from bein' on tour for so long, huh? Well, I know it's a long train ride back home, so why not live it up a bit while you're here? It's not like there'll be zillions of ponies there, raving! I'm talkin' about a small, exclusive dinner party! You don't even have to be the center of attention! I'll be there to make sure everything's cool and cozy!"

I close my eyes, slowly shaking my head while waving a hoof at him.

"Awwwww... don't tell me you're that gassed."

My throat wrestles with a lump halfway down my neck. I visit a naked moment nearly an hour ago, when I stood like a prisoner behind my dj booth, deaf as well as mute, where only her rich, velvety voice could rescue me--and the dance hall in turn. Nothing can be a substitute. I know this too well. So why pretend otherwise?

"... ... ...there'll be plenty of Dr. Pony there," Beau adds.

My eyes fly open. I look at the empty bottle in my grasp. My ears twitch.

"Mmmmm...?" He tilts his head aside, smiling evilly. "Hook, line, and sinker?"

With a groan, I stand up, turning towards him and gesturing out the nearest door.

"Hah!" An auburn clap. "Gotcha! Let's make like the Stirropean Underground and burn, girl!"

I shrug, following him with an amused grin.

So long as there's Dr. Pony...

...I can deal with kidney stones when I'm dead.

Signing Things

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I'd say that the Fault Line Bar is aptly named—if only I can see through all the rivulets of color bubbling all around me. It's not quite as jarring or cacophonous as I expected. As Beau leads me deeper and deeper into the festive hovel, I find the voices curiously melodic, the laughter rich and silky, the music samples playing overhead soft and amber.

Every voice is like golden bells, set to a backdrop of blue hums. I can tell that only musicians congregate here. I peer through my visor, attempting to make out the place beyond the sonic tapestry, and I take notice of a solid dividing line in the center of the establishment. The bar is actually lower than the rest of the raised booths and chairs and seats, almost as if someone cut a trench through the middle of the dimly-lit place.

Ah. I get it now.

Fault line.

Before I even have an urge to laugh, I am encumbered by bursting clouds of red mist on all sides. At first, I wonder if a real earthquake is happening—or some other horrific event to make everypony gasp in alarm. Then I realize that the reactions are issuing out from me, and most heads are aimed in my direction.

"Fillies and gentlecolts, do give her space," Beau says, his voice alive and auburn with amusement. "Beneath the raging success of Equestria's most highly exalted DJ, she is still a pony, after all. And I reserve the right to germane suplex anypony who so much as brushes manes with her without asking."

The room fills with a chorus of golden laughter. Somehow, it doesn't give me a headache, even in such proximity. That's how I know that I'm strangely relaxed.

I blame Beau.

"DJ-P0N3! The living legend!" A stallion with headphones around his neck slouches my way. He keeps a humble distance, tapering off the shadow of Beau. "Wow, girl. Never thought I'd have the honor of meeting in person!" He gives a feeble wave. "Simon Neighs. I once shared a venue with you in Mareami a few years back. I was even twice the nopony then, but wowing the same crowd as you that night gave me the inspiration to carry on."

I smile and nod his way.

Simon Neighs...

I think I've listened to an album of his, once. Very jazzy. Utilization of a bunch of classy, old samples. Double-dippage into electroswing.

Yeesh, this guy looks up to me?

"And this—" Beau leads me further towards a booth in the corner of the room. "—is DJ Harmonicide. Sacramentoats' latest up and coming monstrosity!"

"Tart'rus, yeah!" A stallion slaps hooves with Beau and smiles at me, eyes twitching. His voice is a mess of grays and browns trying to be amber. I certainly hope his music is less desperate-sounding. "DJ-P0N3! Whew! Scratch that off the bucket list!" He raises a hoof, filling the air with crimson thunder. "Celestia praise the Purveyors of Wubs! Wooo! Yeah!"

Around me, ponies laugh. I gulp and nod with a frazzled smile.

"Wubs..."

Right... ... ...

"Yo, girl, your stuff is the sickest! I'm only a twinkle in the shadow of you, girl!" Harmonicide prattles on and on. I can instantly tell that he has no concept of a beat. Most likely, all of his music comprises of intense bass and sonic delirium. To each their own, I suppose. "But we be throttlin' the underground to a new tempo, girl! Neigh Jersey represent!"

"That'll do, colt." Beau pats his shoulder, smirking. "That'll do." A few chuckles ebb and fall as he turns about. "Say, where's all the Dr. Pony being stashed away in this place? We come to burp and pillage, yo!"

"Mrs. Scratch, I presume," murmurs a voice from behind.

I see Beau's shoulders flinch.

I turn around to see a unicorn mare seated casually at a booth. She sports a two-toned mane and a glossy black dress. I can't tell if she's trying to be goth, punk, or an amalgamation of both. As soon as she speaks again, I feel like I'm wafting in a satin sea of burgundy. It would be a bit unsettling, if not for the cool expression across her muzzle.

"Don't be alarmed. Not as though it's such a huge secret." She smiles, swirling a mixed drink. "It took you quite a few years to land with 'DJ-P0N3.' I rather like your given name. It's... poetic, much like your rhythms."

I smile pleasantly.

"Ahem..." Beau shuffles over while all eyes rest on the mare. "And this eloquent flatterer is none other than DJ Capricorn. No doubt you've totally heard her trance mixes on tour, V."

"And in the elevators of various psychological counselor centers far and wide, I'm sure," the mare says, rolling her eyes. More chuckles. She leans forward. "You know you've hit both the highs and the lows when your deepest, most earnest sound recordings get used as plastic fodder. But... who can honestly complain when the dollars roll in?" She smiles thinly. "Your illustrious partner in chime is quite correct. I am DJ Capricorn, and I am most honored to meet you at last, Miss Scratch."

I nod, then look over at Beau.

Beau reads the expression on my face, then smiles Capricorn's way. "She's super crazy flattered. Heheh... believe me."

"Oh, please..." Capricon rolls her eyes. "We shan't use you as a wooden puppet for the rest of the night! A moment like this calls for greater means of communication." She places her glass down and suddenly levitates two drinking straws. "Let's cut to the quick, shall we? Ahem." She then looks at me with firm eyes, and proceeds to swing and twirl the two straws in the air with rapid precision.

I'm so not used to the gesture that I actually flinch at first. Then, my heart skips, and dusty mechanisms hidden deep in my brain start moving again. I watch as the straws do their dance, and my mind instantly interprets: "You. Appear. Wonderful. This. Evening. I. Hope. These. Words. Are. Easy. To. Understand."

"Hah!" Harmonicide barks from behind, nearly splitting my skull in two. "She must be drunk! Capricorn's conducting to an invisible orchestra!"

"Dude, don't you know anything?" Simon Neighs exclaims as the crowd murmurs. "She's doing Blank Speak."

"Blank Flank What?"

"Not blank flank, ya mule! Blank Speak! It's a form of communication unicorns invented long ago for ponies who can't talk." Simon smiles. "It's an art that's super old. Super cool."

"You mean DJ P0N3 can't talk?" Harmonicide stammers. "I thought that was... y'know... just her cool gimmick n'stuff?"

The room is already flooded in brown and red from the resulting groan.

"Well, guess we know who's paying the tab now!" Beau exclaims, causing the place to fill with laughter once again.

Capricorn smiles at the group, the twirls her straws at me again: "They. Are. Very. Slow. Yes?"

I blink. I motion to Beau.

The zebra scoops up a pair of straws from the bar and tosses them my way.

I collect them in a magical field, face DJ Capricorn, and start twisting and turning them in mid-air, trying to keep it steady and slow: "No. Beat. Is. Too. Slow. That. You. Can't. Save. It."

Capricorn smiles. With a twinkle in her eye, she responds: "You. Would. Know. That. I. Believe?"

I nod back at her.

"Is... that a grin that I'm seeing, V?"

I snap out of it, glancing at my companion.

He chuckles. "Well, if you two are done with all the commotion, let's all sit down, relax, and have ourselves a crazy drunk time!" He pauses to wink my way. "Or, y'know, carbonated."

Cringey Things

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Simon Neighs takes a sip of his drink, smiles, then places the thing down on the counter. After swallowing, he wheezes, "My turn!" Adjusting the headphones around his neck, he leans forward and speaks above the table booth. "The most cringey fan moment I had was this one time in Salt Lick City."

"Oh, here we go," Beau coos, rolling his eyes.

"Nah, for real, though!" Simon smirks. "I had this Q&A session after the show, right? I mean... I'm not—like—super famous... yet. So I figure I can get up close and personal with my fans after each show, chew the fat, shoot the manure... that sort of thing."

I nod, swirling a can of Dr. Pony in my hooves, listening intently.

"And, naturally, a few of them want autographs. I mean... duh. That's to be expected, right?"

"Should I be afraid of where this is going?" asks DJ Capricorn.

"Shhhh!" Beau smiles. "Let the stallion finish!"

"Well, basically, this one dude rolls up with a big bulging saddlebag. And I'm like... oh jeez, this is gonna go south quick. Cuz I've heard horror stories of artists being begged by fans to check out and sample a gazillion of their amateur records, right? Well, this guy turns out to be... totally cool, really. We start talkin' left and right about how the two of us both think that Daft Pony is super overrated."

"Heh."

"And—then it comes. He asks for my autograph." Simon smirks. "Only, he asks if I can sign my name on his leg."

"Ohhhhhh..." Beau nods. "One of these scenarios."

Simon shrugs. "And I think to myself, 'Well, I'm no colt-cuddler, but this guy doesn't mean any harm. So, why not?' So I tell him 'Yeah, sure, dude!'" The stallion leans forward. And then he proceeds to take a leg out of his saddlebag."

I blink.

"Celestia almighty..." Capricorn's eyes narrow. "Surely you jest."

"Pffft. It was a prosthetic leg. Not like he chopped it off some dude."

"Wait..." Beau's muzzle scrunches, and he raises a hoof. "I thought you said..."

"Heheheh..." Simon is already chuckling. "Dude had all four of his limbs intact." He gulps. "So, like an idiot, I ask him, 'What's up with the prosthetic leg, bro?' He proceeds to go on this long magical tirade about how he keeps a bunch of ponyquins around his music studio, and he shows up at every tour, asking famous musicians and would-be-musicians to sign the various limbs. That way, he'll someday be surrounded by an audience of pure talent and mirth, and he wants to—like—osmotically consume the 'creative aura' so that it'll make manifest in his own music'n'crud!"

"Hoooooo boy..." Beau nearly collapses in his seat, overcome with crimson cackles.

"Inorite?!" Simon grins wide, his eyes sparkling in the neon glow of the bar. "I never wanted to gallop away from a Q&A session so badly!"

"Still..." DJ Capricorn takes a dainty sip of her drink and glances my way. "Not the strangest thing I've ever heard to come out of Salt Lick City."

I smile at her.

BANG! A hoof slaps over the table, nearly blinding me with its red salvo. "MY TURN!" DJ Harmonicide stands up, grinning drunkenly at the group. "And boy if your hearts won't handle this one!"

"Sure thing, bro..." Beau winces, rubbing one of his ears. "My eardrums are certainly getting a run for their money."

"So there I was, touring with Mareami Sound Machine..." Harmonicide grins and grins, the veins showing in his neck. "And we stop off at this dinky little sinkhole of a town in... in... I dunno. Gallopsville or something. I dunno. Wherever they've got the University of Fillyda crudheap. Anyways." He leans in. "I'm stumbling to and from this outhouse behind a rest stop, and I bump into this chick. Really feeble pegasus... th-thing. And she's like 'Oh, pardon me.' And I'm all 'Yo, babe, watcha want?' And do you know what she says?"

"By all means..." DJ Capricorn swirls her drink. "Do enlighten us."

Harmonicide's jaw hangs wide open. "...she tells me that she thinks my music is relaxing and that I'm a very nice stallion!"

Silence.

"That... sounds really nice, actually," Simon says—

"Dammit, I know!" Harmonicide slumps back into his seat, forelimbs crossed as he huffs. "The nerve of that bimbo! Doesn't she know who I am?!"

"Heh..." Beau rolls his eyes. "Obviously not."

"Dude, I'm like living lightning!" Harmonicide grins, teeth gnashing. "My music makes ears bleed as they rejoice at the dagger's kiss, yo!" He pumps his chest. "I ain't out to win no damsels, but make the cheerleaders pile all over themselves in fright. Y'hear what I'm saying?"

"Loud and clear, buddy." Smirking, Simon looks over at me. "What about you, P0N3? Ever had a laughably awkward moment with a fan?"

"Oh, several!" Beau says, cackling. He looks over at me, and his laughter stops. "Erm... not that it's my place to say—"

I simply smile at him, adjusting my shades.

"I suspect you cannot be blamed, Mr. Fo'Sho," DJ Capricorn remarks. "Something tells me that you're rather used to speaking for the illustrious Ms. Scratch."

"Well... eheh..." Beau rubs his monochromatic brush of a mane. "Totally! I mean... it's more or less my job." He gulps and glances my way. "Right, V?"

"Yo, why don't we hear from the Goddess of the Wubs herself?!" Harmonicide gargled. "I'm dyin' to know!"

"Hey! For once, the big lug's right!" Simon exclaims, stifling a chuckle. "We totally can hear from her." He looks at DJ Capricorn. "Yeah...?"

"Hmmmm..." Capricorn leans back, her bergundy voice tapering off as she glances my way. "Well, I suppose it depends." She lifts two straws with her magic and starts twirling them so I can see. "Are. You. Wanting. To. Tell. A. Story?"

I look at her. I look at Beau.

There's a soft twinkle in the zebra's eyes. I can tell when he's being mindful of my feelings—even if he can only read them half the time. Such a good friend, a stalwart knight.

With a breath, I motion for another can of Dr. Pony, then raise a pair of straws myself. Partially facing DJ Capricorn, I twirled the two "sticks" in the air.

"Hmmmm..." After "reading," Capricorn bears an elegant smile. She gives the table a side-ways glance. "I suspect this is going to be a long one..."

"Wooohooo!" Harmonicide nearly plops out of his chair.

Absurd Things

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This was a little while ago. A few years, think. Three. Two and a half, maybe? Ponies say that I'm very famous, but—truth is—DJ P0N3 didn't get really popular until just recently. Before then, I was the rave of the underground scene. Now, I'm becoming a household name, I guess. Almost like you, DJ Capricorn—they're starting to play samples of my music for advertisements and just—y'know—background noise.

Anyways, years ago, I was visiting Orlandoats. Harmonicide should find that interesting. There's a convention center not that far away from the major tourist attractions, and one weekend they had a trade show advertising Sonata Shelves turntables and other such recording equipment. It attracted musicians from far and wide. I was asked by Sonata Shelves execs if I could perform a sort of "mini-concert" at the actual show. Since it wasn't too terribly far from a tour Roadie Beau and I were doing in Mareami, we decided to hop on over and give our best to the convention.

I like doing that, by the way. Making appearances at smaller, more unassuming gigs makes me feel happy, for some reason. A lot of ponies wonder why I visit so few venues on my yearly tours compared to other musicians. It's not that I consider myself some elitist goddess of music and everypony "should be thanking their stars" whenever I so much as show up. It's just that I like having my schedule open enough for me to do things spontaneously. I'm sure that Beau feels the same way. What are good musicians if not flexible, y'know?

So we show up at this convention, and at first it seems... well... pretty okay. There're plenty of young ponies in attendance, probably because a lot of them found out at the last second that the two of us would be performing there. Oh, well, I guess that sounds kind of lame. I'm sure most of them were there to check out and sample the latest in recording and playback technology, so we can't chalk it all up to Beau and me.

Still, it made for a nice, active crowd. A lot of ponies looked surprised that we were there. So, I thought, "Great. I'm only making a small splash." So when asked if I was going to hang out between performances to give out autographs and meet fans face to face, I thought, "Well, sure!" Beau agreed. He felt that there weren't enough crazy ponies there, chomping at the bit to see me. So, we made up a booth at the last second and had sort of a chillaxed "hang out" session.

Blessed Celestia, were we mistaken. I mean, the fans were cool and all, but there was way more of them than Beau and I had guessed. What's more—despite the fact that the convention had asked us to show up at the last second—the ponies running the show simply did not have enough security to cover such a "concert," much less an autograph session right after. This is right after the representatives of Sonata Shelves had promised and reassured us that "It's Okay!" and "We've got it covered!" and "Knock yourselves out!" Well, Beau and I were starting to fear that we wouldn't have to knock ourselves out—the fans would do it for us! Before we knew it, things started to get rowdy. A bunch of Gallopex fans showed up, and you know how they can be.

We didn't want a stupid riot on our hooves, so I suggested to Beau that we delay the second concert until an hour or two later so that we could handle all of the ponies who had crowded together for the autograph session. I know that must sound really weird, and most self-respecting DJs would probably just want to get the buck out of there at the first sign of trouble. And, y'know, I don't blame them. But it became super obvious that the ponies running this convention didn't have any idea what they were doing, and if Beau and I skipped out and the crowd decided to go all diamond dogs on the convention hall, then the press was gonna fall back on the two of us—and by that, I mean just me. And I don't for a second believe what they say: about there being no such thing as "bad publicity." I was just a month away from releasing a new album and I didn't need a bad rap hovering over my head or else the record company's check my bounce, y'know what I'm saying?

So, like, we hung out there... and a two hour delay turned into a three hour one. On the opposite side of the convention hall, ponies were moaning and groaning cuz they were promised a second concert—but Beau and I were being held up by this other crowd. And even when we did toy with the idea of abandoning our table and skipping across the Convention Center, we just took one look at the whole two bouncers they had given us and figured out, "No. Not gonna happen."

And y'know, it wasn't too terribly bad, so long as you stared straight ahead and kept your tunnel vision on the friendly pony fan in front of you. None of the unruly members of the crowd seemed to find their way to our table for a heart-to-heart... at least until one guy showed up.

I could have sworn I saw this weirdo out of the corner of my shades, but I chalked it up to my imagination. Then he shows up at our table, and he's... like... his coat is all bleached white. I could tell he was a natural brown-hair, but he turned it all ghost pale. What's more, he colored his mane several tones of blue and spiked it. He also wore purple shades and... don't get me started on the fake unicorn horn he had on his forehead. In case you can't tell, he was a male earth pony trying his best to be... well... me.

Now, I'm all for cosplaying. I think it's a form of flattery both awesome and adorable. But this guy's style stopped as far as his getup threw him, and the rest was a rambling, stuttering, salivating mess. And this was stuff we observed before he began prattling off about how we were "soulmates" and "two sides of the same coin" and a whole bunch of other nonsense. I was getting a bit freaked out, to tell the truth, 'cuz I figured that this dude wanted a lot more than a simple autograph. But Beau?

Beau was just a snicker or two away from laughing his head off. He thought it was hilarious. And I thought it was hilarious because he thought it was hilarious. The day had gone so deep into the toilet because of one absurd incompetency after another that we both were nearly rolling with pent-up laughter. And neither of us is willing to let loose the first giggle because we swear that guy is gonna snap and turn all Normane Bates on us the very moment we so much as titter.

Call me a coward, but Beau was the first one to show some guts. This guy was going on, rambling and drooling up a storm for maybe ten minutes, and normally fans are only allowed to hang out with me for only two minutes at a time. And at some point, about the umpteenth time he's said that he and I are "mystical mirrors" of each other, Beau smiles and points and says something like "Yo, dawg, she can't even talk!" And he's like, "What?" And Beau says, "You can speak but she can't! So what are you even saying?"

And the guy gets super silent. And I can see his eyes twitching. And his voice turns from a melodic gold to a deep, sullen brown—well... I guess none of you can understand that. Let's just say that I knew... I knew he was about to show his true colors. Literally.

It about chilled my heart when I saw him smile. His voice turned to pure gold, which was the most frightening thing of all... because it was unexpected. He says, "It's okay! I can fix that too! I can fix anything!" And he grabs Beau's pen—the sharp fancy fountain one he carries with him on tour, and he starts jabbing it towards his own neck.

Now maybe I'm a bit more morbid then Beau, because the first thing I thought of is: "Holy Celestia on a bike, he's gonna stab his own vocal chords out!" So I make a mad dash with my horn, yanking his hooves in place so he can't—y'know—gash a hole in his own throat. Everypony else is just gawking at this, as if it's some crazy ballet that we've orchestrated to hype up the convention. Then, on top of all that, Beau goes all white knight and just... friggin' tackles the guy. Or at least he tries to. Poor meathead falls flat on his belly and rolls over the table. This, of course, breaks my concentration, and I lose grip of the crazy stallion's hooves. The pen goes flying. Everything is saliva and pandemonium. It's somewhere around this point that the two bouncers stop staring up the show mares and realize that Tartarus has broken loose, only they start stomping on this guy like he's on fire and they need to put him out.

And, y'know, I would have felt sorry for the guy, only the whole time—instead of yelping in pain—the guy's shouting: "Aim for the throat! Aim for my neck! I wanna become a cool mare!" And it's around this time I can't see, because that's what happens when I want to laugh. I can't see. I was blind as a bat in the middle of a mosh pit and all I felt like doing was laughing. Thankfully, Beau got hold of the situation, though I don't know how. Cuz he's braying like a zebra in heat. Still, he musters up the courage to drag us both out of there. The crowd's lost its mind laughing at the poor guy, and it's just the break we need to make our exit and leave everyone else in the dust. Gotta hoof it to Beau, there. I never seen a stallion move so fast, even with his tail caught on fire. I remember the two of us huddled in the elevator—we weren't going anywhere. We just sealed ourselves inside so we could lean against each other and collect our breaths. We were both grinning so hard that it nearly knocked me unconscious. Anyways, after a good ten minutes, we snuck out of the elevator and snuck our way to the opposite hall.

And we performed our concert, turned everypony's frowns upside down, got the heck out of Orlandoats and never ever went back.

Collapsing Things

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"Ho ho ho hooooo boyyyyy!" Simon Neighs reels in his seat, assaulting my side of the booth with wave after wave of crimson laughter. He gasps for breath, his headphones rattling around his neck. "Ah jeez, how did you guys even make it out of there in one piece?!"

Beau chuckles, smiling at me. "I'd say we managed pretty well."

"Yeah, but what about your sanity?!" Simon's eyes twitch. "Wow, I mean... I know I'm wanting to climb my way to the top of the popularity ladder, but if that is what I have to look forward to, then I-I think I'll just stick to making commercial jingles from the sidelines!"

"If I may be so bold, I'd venture to say that Miss Scratch and her companion have come out of the situation all the wiser," DJ Capricorn says, bearing a dainty smile. She watches as I place down my two straws and she takes a tiny sip of her drink. "The structured eloquence practically drips off her skills in Blank Speech." A wink. "Much like her musical gifts."

I bite my lip, feeling a warmth to my cheeks.

Then the world explodes with red clouds. "Hah hah hah!" A thoroughly inebriated Harmonicide belches and laughs at the same time. I didn't even know such was possible until now. "That's one heck of a story! And I loved the parts where you improvised, Cappy!"

"Erm..." Capricorn's eyes narrow as she speaks with sharp bergundy beams. "I assure you, it was all Miss Scratch."

"Yeah! Heheh! Sure!" With another burp, Harmonicide lumbers out of his seat. "Whew boy! I feel like I could gobble up the world! Who else wants another round?"

"I'm fine right here, big fella," Beau says, waving a dismissive hoof. "Not all of us are built with the liver of a whale."

"Don't I know it! Ha HAH!" Harmonicide grins, teeters, and grins some more. "Well, I'm going in!" He stumbles sideways, snickering. "Wish me luck, soldiers!" An echo of chuckles trail after him as he marches across the bar. "Friggin' lame-oh wanted to stab his own vocal chords out! CLASSIC!"

Capricorn shakes her head. "I would love to see him encounter such a fannatical lunatic at his next gig." She looks my way. "An ounce of fear could truly humble his demeanor. I wish I could say the same about his bassphelia."

"Heheheheh... yeah..." Simon Neighs rubs the back of his neck. "Glad I'm not the only one who thinks that Harmonicide's tracks are... heavyhoofed."

"Yo, I respect the fact that many ponies appreciate that style of migraine-inducing syntho-science, but would it kill him to put a little melody into his work every now and then?" Beau leaned in, murmuring. "I mean, dayum, son!"

The table laughs. I realize that I've joined them, for my vision clouds over with magenta. I teeter slightly, rubbing my head.

"Are you quite alright, Miss Scratch?" Carpicorn's voice gently entreats.

I rub my head and smile weakly at her. My shaded eyes catch Beau.

He glances back at me, smirking. "V's had a long three days. It's a dense tour. You know how it is."

"Oh, absolutely," Capricorn says with a nod. She looks my way again. "And so far from home, too, I imagine."

Beau blinks. "Uhhhhhhh..."

"Do not be alarmed," Capricorn remarks with a wave of the hoof. "Like every other artist who's in awe of the illustrious Ms. Scratch's work, I have no clue as to her true residence. What's more, I find myself that quite admirable."

"Yeah... and enviable!" Simon Neighs added with a smirk. "I mean... wow, girl... I sorta wish I could turn back time and erase the words that's come out of my mouth! I mean, as much as I love representing my home town—"

"It's super cool to remain anonymous." Beau smirks. "Y'know, it was always my suggestion." He nods my way. "I was half-surprised when V took me up on it. Which is cool. The girl knows when and when not to bask in the spotlight. Ain't that right, V?"

I nod with a calm breath. I raise the two straws and gesture in Capricorn's direction: "No. Amount. Of. Fame. Can. Replace. A. Good. Home."

"Uhhhh..." Simon looks at Capricorn. "What'd she say this time?"

"I whole-heartedly agree, Miss Scratch," Capricon says. "Although..." She raises her glass, as if toasting. "I think it's only healthy to take a piece of home with you, wherever you go."

I lean back, blinking at that. My shaded eyes wander the spectral bands filling the bar. I feel my heart thudding in my chest, and I realize that I haven't seen—nor thought of—the color purple in a long while. I'm not sure if I should be worried about that, but part of me is wondering suddenly why there's a lingering impulse to feel sad.

"You know, I've got to say... it's been a super crazy cool honor being able to see you in the flesh, DJ-PON3," Simon Neighs says. "Guhhhh... you t-too, Roadie Beau!"

"Hah!" The zebra brays, taking a sip of his drink. "Don't sweat, bro. I know how it is."

"For realsies!" Simon Neighs fidgets in his seat, blushing a bit. "And... uhm... I-I know it's probably super selfish of me... a-and maybe a bit awkward, considering what we just chatted about, but... b-but would it be too much to ask for an autograph... ... ... p-perhaps?"

Beau snickers, finishes his drink, then glances at me. 'Well, V? Whaddya say, girl?"

I'm already smiling and nodding.

"Oh!" Simon exhales, as is dropping the weight of the world from his shoulders. "Oh, wow! That's so awesome! Heheheh... uhm..." He picks up his headphones and hands them towards me, trembling slightly. "... if... if it's n-not too lame."

I smirk. I wave a hoof at Beau, and he hoofs me his trademark fountain pen. With careful magic, I lick my lips and autograph the band between his headphones' clamshells. I hold the thing up and towards the stallion for his approval.

"Sweet!" Simon's eyes light up, and the air fills with gold and pink mirth. "Aw dude..." He takes the headphones back, smiling from ear to ear. "...now there's a part of the bucket list I could burn to a crisp! Heheheh!"

"Hey, now!" Beau sticks his tongue out. "There's still a flammable scrap left!"

"Totally, bro!" Simon snickers and hoofs the item over to Beau. "See? She was super cool enough to leave room on the other side!"

"Yeah, she does that a lot." Beau adds with a wink. As he writes his name, he speaks over his shoulder. "Cappy? You want in on this fansqueeing?"

"Mmmmm..." The mare finishes another sip of her drink. "...now that you mention it, I do. However..." With a glowing horn, she reaches for a satchel lying against the edge of the booth. "...being a historian at heart, I prepared for this moment with a bit of extra gusto. I hope it doesn't seem too obtuse of me..."

"Heh... just spit it out, girl!"

Capricorn then proceeds to lift a square vinyl cover into view. The distinctive blue color of it immediately stabs my eyes through the shades, and the whole world around us instantly shrinks. I barely have the blood in my ears to register her next few words: "But I would absolutely adore it if I could have a signature from the most resplendent Cyan Sings..."

My breaths turn hollow, and I feel a cold sweat washing over me.

"Huh?" Simon Neighs blinks. "Cyan Who...?"

"Awwwwwwwww hell..." Beau lisps, ruining his autograph with a loose black line as he drops the pen. He swallows a deep lump down his throat. "Yo, Cappy... how... h-how on earth didja...?" He instantly snaps his head in my direction, ears folding. "Now, hold up, V..."

I'm hyperventilating. The room has become a cyclone of magenta. I squirm and flinch away from the table... the album... the electric blue like it's a live rattlesnake.

"I... I'm sorry..." A pair of beady eyes blink above Capricorn's gaping muzzle. "Oh my goodness, did... did I do something amiss?" She shakes her head. "I-I simply thought that—"

The magenta's blinding now. I'm panting, shivering. I stumble out of the booth on numb limbs.

"Whoah—!" Simon gasps, nearly falling out of his seat.

"Vinyl! Please!" Beau's voice flails in the mist, a thousand miles away. "I-I'm sure she didn't mean anythang by it! Just calm down—"

I can't see. Can't breathe. Can't speak.

Everything is flooding... drowning me. I need a purple line to stay afloat, but I can't feel it... I can't hear her.

I stifle a whimper before it can drain all the blood from inside me. Gnashing my teeth, I spin around and gallop towards the front entrance of the bar.

And that's when Harmonicide and his big lumbering body decides to return.

"Yo yo you! Who's ready to drink themselves stupid—?!" WHUMP! "Gah! What's the hurry, girl—?"

He holds onto his drinks. I go flying... falling.

I strike the floor with a clap of crimson...

...and my shades go flying off.

A foalish whimper thunders from everywhere at once, and my eye sockets burn with color. Every inch of the spectrum screams bloody murder into my brain, and I clutch my hooves over my face, trying not to scream, for I know what can and will kill me.

Oh goddess...

Please, Beau...

Please, Tavi...

Somepony get me out of here...

Idiotic Things

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This is not pain. This is something else, and I hate it.

I wander like an idiot in the darkness, fumbling, searching, doing everything but sobbing.

I don't want to be here. I don't want to be anywhere.

That vinyl...

That color...

Blue is a damning thing, but only one shade of it screams at me...

I flounder and fumble around for the better part of a minute before I feel a pair of hooves brushing against my fetlocks. My limbs feel the cold plastic chill of my shades, and I snatch them up in an instant, summoning an auburn gasp from a stallion in front of me.

"Whoah! Whoah! Take it easy, DJ-P0N3!" It's Simon Neighs. He's in front of me, and yet leagues and leagues away across a rippling red sea. "Are you okay? Do you need some water or—?"

Once I have the shades securely over my face, I jump to my hooves, turn completely around, and gallop straight for the exit. I practically shove my way past a still-stumbling Harmonicide.

"Hey! Jeez! Heh... who spit in her oatmeal?"

"Dude, put a damned sock in it!" I hear Beau growl. His crimson salvo is devoured in amber bells. "V! Yo, V! Wait up!"

"I... I'm so terribly sorry..." Trailing burgundy, fading. "I... I had no clue—"

"I don't get it though—" Simon starts to stammer, then there's a familiar auburn explosion.

"V!" Beau's hoofsteps pick up, but I'm miles ahead of him.

I scamper out of the bar and into the adjacent hallway. I stumble around the corner, offset by magenta breaths. Nevertheless, I make it to the far end of the corridor and slap my hoof over an elevator's console. I lean against the cold marble wall, panting, shivering. I sense tiny brown voices rippling in the distance. Wandering ponies are staring at this crazed mare beyond the midnight hour, murmuring, gossiping.

I try to shut them out. I clench my eyes shut and pretend I'm treading water in a purple, satin sea. Time and time again, I fail, and that's what nearly makes me sob.

There's the tell-tale golden ding of the elevator doors opening. With a jolt, I shuffle on through.

That's when a strong fetlock gracefully touches my shoulder. "Vinyl... hold up, girl—"

I hiss through my teeth. Magenta daggers glint between us, and I spin around with a slap of the hoof.

Beau takes it like a champ. He stands squarely in place, staring at me. I deserve to be frowned at, but he's a bigger... better pony. His expression is soft, sympathetic, and his orange voice even kinder.

"Vinyl, just chillax. She didn't know. Nopony knows, okay?"

I linger in the elevator's entrance, shivering in place.

"It's alright. Everythang's gonna be alright." The zebra smiles. He inches forward, reaching a hoof out. "Just stop runnin' like a crazy mule for one sec, a'ight? You know that never ever works out well for ya..."

With a shudder, I lower my head. My eyes clench shut, but it's not enough to shut the colors out. It's never enough.

The first whimper is like a gunshot. The magenta cloud nearly toppels me. Thankfully, Beau is there, and his hooves steady me... my shoulders.

"I know a lotta things really stink, girl. But you know as well as I do that they could be a lost worse. You've got friends. You've got me. You've got Tavi back home."

A sore lump forms in my throat.

"See? It ain't all that bad. And what's so cruddy about gainin' new friends, ya feel me?" His smile is a golden thing, even when I'm not looking at it. "DJ Capricorn's a cool cat. I'm sure she'll understand. Ya just gotta stop runnin' all the time. It's okay."

I breathe calmer... easier. My limbs grow more and more still.

"So... we good?" He leans in, nuzzling me gently. "We done bein' all crazy-like?"

I finally swallow the lump down my throat. I lean in, hugging him close. I share a gentle, friendly nuzzle... and then I shove off. Beau stumbles as I backtrot into the elevator and slap a hoof over the upper floor buttons. Ding!

"Awwwwwww, V..." His ears wilt as hard as his voice. "Dun be like th—" The doors shut.

I slump against the opposite wall, hugging myself as the car lifts up, up, up through a tunnel of voices. Golden voices. Brown voices. All of the time, voices. The entire esophagus of the world gurgles around me and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

Just as I think the hotel's about to swallow me whole, the doors open, and I stumble straight out in a shivering gait. I take two lefts, a right, and arrive at my hotel room door. After an extraordinary amount of fumbling, I open my room and throw myself in. It's pitch black dark, but it makes no difference to me. I make a bee-line for my belongings, nearly tripping over an open suitcase in the process.

I practically rip a bag open, shove my hooves in, and rummage around. At last, I find my music player, along with a rattling set of headphones. Tripping over myself, I finally fit the clamshells over my aching ears. I must drown everything away before I go under. I must...

It's a veritable century of struggling before I can get the mana-based contraption to function like I want it to. At last, I cycle through the available tracks, and I switch to an orchestral suite with a specific pony's name on it.

I plop down on the bed... shivering... quivering... needing...

And at last... at last the music plays, and I am serenaded by violet strings, rich and succulent, enriching... like her words... like her voice...

And even as my body calms down, and the haunting tan strings of the past dissolve, I can see through it all... feel through it all... and I know that it's all an artifice, just like everything I've ever made with my own hooves, my own horn...

For what it is all worth...

And that's what produces the first few sobs. I'm already dizzy, so I catch the nearest notes of purple music and hold on as the magenta cyclone spins me around, dragging me to an unconscious place where even my darkest fears are too nervous to follow.

And there I find a unicorn foal, curled up on a hospital bed with headphones, crying herself to sleep. I crawl over and join her, and everything is almost okay.

Almost.

Faded Things

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It's around the time that the train arrives at Ponyville Station, and the green hum tickles my ears, that my regret begins to outweigh my self-pity. If sighs didn't exist, then I would have fallen blissfully asleep long ago. Instead, I'm an exhaustingly wakeful pile of deflated baggage, and I pretend to stand up and limp out of the train car upon hearing the conductor's call.

Being outside doesn't warm me. My shades glint along with my gritting teeth, and it's as if I'm marching through a blizzard of numbing sensations, all clouded and complex. There are days when I cherish and savor each of the many individual slivers of the spectrum.

This is not one of those days.

I should have stopped and listened to Beau.

I should have gone back and apologized to all the musicians at the bar.

It was very foalish of me to have skipped out on all those ponies like I did.

And yet, I know... I can taste it—

That if everything was to fall into place again just as it did thirty-six hours ago, I would simply repeat history.

DJ Capricon likely had no idea what she was doing, but it doesn't matter. Nothing ever matters.

When will I stop being such a pathetic little foal?

When will I stop running away from everything that makes me feel uncomfortable?

Am I going to become DJ-P0N3 completely? With no room for Vinyl?

A deep shudder runs through my body. I take the side routes home, ducking in and out of the alleyways of Ponyville in an erratic attempt to void the eyes of anypony that might recognize me. I drag my equipment behind me like an undertaker's cart.

That color... that damnable color...

How did Capricorn even find it?

How does anypony ever find it? It's far more buried than I am right now. So what hope is there for avoiding this in the future?

I've been staring at the ground for a long time. I don't realize this until the grass gives way to mulch and gravel, painting the canvas of a familiar path.

I'm home. The front stoop looms before me. I am neither elated nor saddened.

I just simply am.

I can only hope that Octavia isn't home. The last thing she needs is to be burdened by a miserable equine such as myself.

As soon as I put the key in the door, I'm awash in purple and orange surf. For the first time in as long as I can remember, this disheartens me.

I try to carry at least a neutral expression on my muzzle as I slink inside.

"Well, good afternoon, Vine!" Octavia places Scribbler elsewhere on the couch and gets up from her favorite cushion. Her voice is the brightest shade of violet. "Fancy seeing you back so soon!"

Sweet Celestia, I'm going to implode.

I throw half-a-salute before about-facing. I pretend to struggle with my equipment as an excuse not to show her my face. She then reaches forth and helps me drag the cases through the door, which only makes me hate myself even harder.

"Had a safe trip to and from, I take it?" Her voice is a velvet cushion all around my head. She's in a terrifically good mood. Usually, this sets my senses on fire, but right now I'm on the virge of trembling. "No doubt raking in the bits, hmmm? Well... as much as the likes of us can afford, I bet." She follows this with a giggle. If it weren't for the weight of the lump in my throat, I'd teeter over entirely. "Well, it's been rather uneventful here in Ponyville."

Her voice ends, but her breath doesn't. She's clamping her muzzle shut, struggling not to burst with violet mirth. It's the first time since arriving that I've realized she's dying to make an announcement. If I provide any resistance, then she'll suspect something. So I tilt my ears towards her, and start listening.

And upon seeing my invitation, she allows the dams to burst. "Well... uneventful... save for the summons that we've gotten from Princess Twilight!" She bites her lip tightly, and even still the air twirls with violet and purple fireworks above us. "Oh Vine! Do you have any idea what this means?!" She clears her throat, pretending with mock eloquence to be the polar opposite of ecstatic. "Granted, it could mean anything. A royal rejection does have its own polite merit." And then she bubbles up again. "But something in my veins is telling me that this is it! This is it! Thisisit!" A deep gasp, and the next salvo of purple is a murderous one. "Can you believe it?"

I smile at her. Or at least I think I do. I open my mouth wide.

Tavi knows there's only one reason I would do that.

"Oh... yes... but of course." She leans back with a sly grin. "You must be exhausted from your tour. Do forgive me, but I just had to share my jubilation somehow." She waves a dainty hoof. "Don't bother with setting up your equipment so soon. By all means, head off to bed. I feel in the mood to cook us something tonight. Something celebratory."

The sight of her recedes, even as she picks up Scribbler and happily twirls her way into the kitchen like some enchanted princess. The violet notes paint the walls with joy, and I have to spin towards the doorframe of my room or else I'll suffocate.

I fling the door open and fling it shut—pausing just at the right moment to not produce a slam. When I throw myself atop my bed, it's with numb legs and even number limbs. Still, it doesn't stop the penetrating waves of magenta wafting out in every direction, pinning me in place by the tiny wheezes of my relentless sobs.

Everything is so beautiful

So simple... so beautiful...

Why do I let myself despair like this every so often?

She reminds me... she always reminds me...

I swear, Tavi deserves a better friend than this...

I have to make it up to her somehow...

For everything she's ever given me... that she continues to give me...

Maybe with this Royal Invite thingy... if it means what we think it means...

Maybe tomorrow...

Maybe...

And for the first time since my exhaustive trip began, I fall asleep...

...and it is with a delirious smile on my muzzle.

Rhetorical Things

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The only thing more anxious than Octavia's indigo strings are her eyes. She stares longingly out the window of our home—no difficult feat, considering the fact that she's positioned her cello so that she's directly facing out onto the front lawn. I know there's more to it than that. Every pony in town can attest to the fact that our home has a nearly uninterrupted view of the towering spires of Twilight's tree castle to the north.

"Do you suppose it gets lonesome, in there?" Tavi muses. She's not really playing music. She's just toying with her strings and summoning melancholic sounds from the ether. "I know that sounds a tad bit silly—what, with the most esteemed Twilight Sparkle being the Princess of Friendship and all. But it is an awfully large castle. From the inside, at least... even if I've only been inside once. Well... twice, if you count the moments directly after the defeat of that most dreadful Tirek."

I shuffle across the kitchen with a yawn. A tuxedo feline rubs up against me, filling the air with an orange purr. Using careful telekinesis, I prepare to fill his food dish, and the air gets even oranger.

Octavia's indigo melody slices through it. "I wonder if that's why she's hiring so many ponies to fill it up," she murmurs. "Because she's lonesome. I mean, when friendship becomes your job, then it must be terribly hard to divide what's leisurely from that which is habitual. Does that make any sense?" She rips and tears at the strings, then continues: "Take our talents, for instance. From a very young age, I was taught to practice the craft of music... without being told to follow the muse itself. My gift had been funneled down an avenue of necessity. What I did defined me, rather than myself defining the art. It's a very delicate balance, of course, but one can understand how it places a rather thick veil over the flame of inspiration."

I look up from pouring the cat food, eyebrow arched. Sometimes, I swear, Octavia sounds just as verbose as I probably would if I could speak. It's an amusing thing, but I dare not smile. Not at the moment. Not when Octavia is being... a philosopony.

"I mean, when was the last time you ever performed your music just for fun, Vine?"

I stand up. With her eyes on me, I march across the kitchen and slap my hoof over the calendar—specifically yesterday's date.

She rolls her purple eyes, smiling slightly. "Yes, but of course. You're always the joyous prodigy."

I bite my lip hard.

"I like to think that I'm a master of my craft. But that doesn't mean much on its own. Look at Twilight. The Princess has been awarded for her humble deeds with a castle, a tiara, and a royal title in her name! She's essentially achieved all she could ever hope to achieve, but has she given up? Has she packed up her things and called it a living? No! I'd say she's been emboldened to do more than ever before! And as such, she's an inspiration to us all. I mean... if only we could be so thoughtful and considerate when we've reached the top... or at least in such a manner that could rival her achievements."

I pour Scribbler a bowl of water and place it down by the dish where she's already munching away. Squatting low, I reach a hoof out and pet the scruff on the back of the feline's fluffy neck.

"Vinyl, love...?"

I turn to look at her.

Octavia's gazing out the window at the spires of the castle again. Her ears are drooping. Her mane and tail are silken thunderclouds. As always, my roommate looks like a living gray pillow, just begging to be cuddled, though she knows not by what.

"Do..." She gulps, practically hugging the cello to her fuzzy chest. "...do you think I'm far too obsessed with success?"

I blink, adjusting my shades. She's not looking my way, and I don't expect her to. I've long gotten used to being a second set of ears for Tavi's rhetorical statements. I'm not sure even she knows she's voicing them half the time.

"Assuming I... we get to the top, like Twilight has, will we find joy there? Or just lonesomeness?"

I bite my lip, shuffling where I stand.

She looks my way. Within a breath, her voice turns from indigo to purple—almost reaching a violet peak. "Ah... who am I kidding...?" Her smile is a lazy one, and it relaxes the room into cello sighs as she resumes her fiddling. "It's hard to imagine you or I as ever being lonesome."

Whether she's right or not, I don't give her any reason to doubt. I only give her a smile.

"Though I wouldn't terribly mind an opportunity to perform for Princess Celestia one day," Octavia muses. "That would do much to fill the confines of an invisible bucket, somewhere..."

True Things

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"So, you're going in tomorrow morning?" Lyra's amber voice wafts warmly through the night air. "To the castle, that is?"

"The invitation is set for the afternoon, actually," Octavia says from where she sits delicately on the bench in front of our apartment. She gazes upon Lyra and Bon Bon with an elegant smile. "Three o'clock, to be precise."

Lyra grins. "Well, that's a good sign if I ever heard one!"

"How do you mean?" Octavia asks.

Bon Bon clears her throat. "I think what Lyra's trying to say is that... if the Princess was summoning you two to inform that you had both been rejected, then she would have requested your presence earlier in the day. Like in the morning."

"She'd cycle through all of the entreants and save the congratulatory announcement for the true audition winners at the end of the day," Lyra says, smiling. "At least, that's how I'd do it. Knock all the meetings out between sunrise and sundown."

"Twilight Sparkle does like to be efficient," Bon Bon adds with a nod.

"Hmmm... I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought of that," Octavia lies. Her voice dips into indigo and undulates back to purple. I try not to snicker. "Even still, we must be prepared for anything."

"Well, if you ask us, I'd say prepare for the best!" Bon Bon winks, smiling brightly. "Twilight has just got to give the minstrel slots to you two! There simply isn't a better pair of musicians in all of Equestria!"

"Uhhhh..." Lyra glances over with a playful frown. "Hello?!"

Bon Bon giggles, then leans over to rub noses with the mare. "I didn't say solo artist..."

"Oh... uh... eheh..." Lyra blushes furiously, her voice taking on a golden glint. "Cool."

"I'm simply surprised at how swiftly all of this is unfolding," Octavia remarks. Her folded hooves squirm against her beloved cushion beneath her. "I come from Trottingham where nightmarish bureacracy forces even the simplest of regal exercises between mere dukes and archbishops to travail over several months. But here—in Ponyville—Princess Twilight Sparkle has managed to announce, audition, and hire for castle musicians within the space of a few weeks."

"Yeah, well..." Lyra shrugs. "She ain't exactly a one-pony-team. She's called the 'Princess of Friendship' for a reason."

"Yeah! Hehe!" Bon Bon grins. "She's got—like—a round table full of marefriends to help her get the job done."

"I... fail to see how the likes of Rainbow Dash or Pinkie Pie could accelerate the hiring process," Octavia says, glancing my way with an amused smile. "But, then again, she does have Ponyville's finest animal taxonomist and apple harvester on her side."

"Oh, and don't forget Rarity from Carousel Boutique!" Bon Bon remarks. "Doesn't she—like—absolutely adore you?"

"Oh my, yes!" Octavia purrs. "I swear, that mare is the most arduous fan—practically dripping with flattering compliments every time I show up to have a dress fixed at her establishment." Suddenly, Octavia's eyes shrink to pinpricks, and her whimpering voice thins to match it: "Oh my goodness..." She turns to gawk at me. "You don't suppose that's it, do you?"

"... ... ...?" I question mark.

"That my illustrious standing in Rarity's perspective forced her hoof and won us top votes after the audition?"

I shrug with a crooked smirk.

"I think you deserve all the praise you get, Tavi, but even that sounds a bit far-fetched," Bon Bon muses. "After all, Rarity only accounts for one-sixth of the entire Council of Friendship."

Octavia lets loose a frail sigh. "I suppose you're right. My talents do cater to... a rather niche crowd." Her voice playfully takes on a violet tone. "It's Vinyl here who has far more universal appeal. If anypony won the Castle over, it's her."

I wave a hoof, rolling my shaded eyes.

"I still think it's you two. The both of you." Lyra winks. "Whatever it is that makes you tick, it won over the wedding crowd. No doubt it grabbed the Castle crowd all the same. Y'know... hook, line, and plot!"

"Lyra!" Bon Bon swats her marefriend. "Goodness gracious!"

"Heeheehee..."

"Well, it's getting late. It was really nice running into you gals." Bon Bon waves. "Lyra and I have a lot of stuff to do tomorrow, but we'll be cheering for you two from the sidelines!"

I nod while Octavia waves a graceful hoof. "Your support is greatly appreciated."

"How about a victory breakfast tomorrow or the next day?" Lyra grins, pointing at her companion. "Bon Bon will cook!"

"Ugh."

Tavi chuckles, a deep purple thing. "Let's take this one step at a time, yes?"

"Yes yes yes..." Bon Bon takes Lyra by the hoof and escorts her away. "But, still, stiff upper lip."

"Among other things," Lyra adds with a giggle.

"Pffft! Honestly, Lyra, you're impossible."

"And you're an uptight fluffball."

"Says you."

"So, what of it?"

"Heheheh..."

I watch as the two mares trot off, giggling and talking amongst themselves. The air above them is a spectral cornucopia of pinks, golds, and blues—all awash in orange. It's a color I sense all too commonly when I wander past the honeymoon suites of the hotels I stay at while on tour.

If I could speak, then this would be the pattern that I would talk about the least.

"I know what you're thinking, Vine..."

The violet words jolt me out of the moment. I glance at my roommate.

She smiles, staring at the horizon beyond the bodies of our two retiring friends. "...will they ask us to perform at their wedding someday?" A tranquil sigh escapes her muzzle, and I'm not blind to the tan shadows trailing off it. "I certainly hope so, but one can never know."

I bite my lip, gazing to the floor.

You couldn't possibly know what I'm thinking.

Not this time...

"You know, Vine, despite whatever happens tomorrow, I feel that Bon Bon's statement rings true." She looks at me, eyes glossy and rich. "We truly are the two best musicians in all of Equestria. And though it may be simple flattery on her part, do you want to know why I think it's accurate?"

I cock my head slightly to the side.

Octavia smiles. "Because we are both very true to ourselves. Wouldn't you agree, hmm?"

With a magenta sigh, I nod.

Ever since a certain pony saved my life...

Congratulatory Things

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Twilight Sparkle hops onto her throne, turns around twice, and sits down with a pleasant smile. A pleasant smile aimed towards us.

"So then... this is how I propose we go about it." She clears the gray from her throat and speaks with finely crafted gold bands. "We'll give each of you a medallion. These will act as tokens... keys, really. Think of them as genuine bands of authenticity, giving you free access to the Castle grounds at all times. There are... uh... some places that will be off-limits, of course. Erm... for security reasons, mainly. I'm talking about the basement... the armory... the guards' quarters... uhm... just about everything above the third floor. You'll need to make a request of Spike or one of the newly hired Castle Guards before entering the throne room we're currently sitting in, too."

Twilight winces, gulping. A touch of delicate turquoise bubbles in the back of her throat, then is silenced by ardent gold.

"Okay... so a lot of places are kinda sorta off limits. But pl-please understand, this is a work in progress! Royal Palaces don't normally sprout up out of the ground overnight. Even Princess Celestia and Luna don't have a rudimentary procedure for this kind of a scenario. I guess you could say that I'm 'winging it' with this new refurbishment project, if you pardon the pun. Although, all things considered... eheh... I suppose it's contextually appropriate."

I nod, listening silently with a smile on my face. I'm trying my darnedest with every fiber of my being to ignore the pent-up bottle of purple vibrations that is my dear friend seated next to me. Even Princess Twilight can't be ignorant to the inevitable train wreck about to cascade all around us.

"But, truly, these medallions are a sign of our trust in you. Present them at the Castle Door, and you'll be allowed inside. My plan is to have guards and secretaries posted in the lower levels at all times of the day to take care of citizens' concerns from all corners of Equestria. So this will quite literally be... uh... the Palace that Never Sleeps! And once you have your equipment set up in our new guest hall, then you'll be sure to... uh... sure to... uhm..."

At last, the ice melts, and Twilight Sparkle squints curiously at the mare beside us.

"Miss Melody, are you alright?"

"Eeeee-eee-eeeeeee—" Octavia's teeth remain clenched and her cheeks are red, nearly bursting.

With a sigh, Twilight smiles and leans back. "It's okay, Octavia. You're the new royal cellist. You don't have to hold it in any longer—"

With a violet burst, Octavia leans forward in her seat, unleashing a deluge of joy and ecstasy. "Oh, Your Most Esteemed Royal Majesty, I am honored beyond compare to take part in this most auspicious opportunity! I promise with every fiber of my being that I shan't let you down! You can count on my finely-tuned talents—as well as that of my dear roommate! We shall be the absolute best minstrels this Palace—or any Palace—has ever seen! I promise you!"

"Heheheh..." Twilight Sparkle turns, looking slightly my way. A tender wink. "I've had no doubts whatsoever." She giggles in a genuine blue burst. "You both had pretty much won us over within the first few minutes of performing—"

"And we will not falter! Perish the thought!" Octavia then proceeds to squirm in little lady hops, rocking her seat. "Heeheehee!" Just then, she gasps, and all the purple air gets sucked in as she folds her forelimbs together and blushes deeply. "Erm..." Deep, deep indigo. "By your grace, Your Highness."

"Please..." Twilight waves a dainty hoof. "Just call me Twilight Sparkle. It's what you would have called me before the tiara. Which... by the way..." She points at her head. "...I'm not wearing at the moment."

"Why is that, Your Majesty?!" Octavia genuinely gasps. "Oh dear! Was it stolen?!"

Twilight chuckles again. "Guess again." She shifts in her seat. "I think you'll find that I'm a lot less... rigid in royal pleasantries, at least compared to Canterlot tradition."

"Oh," Octavia mutters, ears drooped slightly. She catches herself and stammers: "Oh! I mean... but of course! Eheheh...!"

Twilight smiles and turns towards me. "Do you have any questions, Miss Scratch?"

I barely register her. I'm too busy reeling from the violet outburst a few moments ago.

"Psssst!" Sharp, serrated, purple daggers. "Vine! The Princess is talking to you!"

I jolt in my seat and shake my head vigorously. A nervous smile crosses my muzzle.

"Very well then." Twilight levitates a stack of papers from the round table, splits them into two folders, and floats them over to us. "Here I have... uhm... a few procedures that I need you both two adhere to. Just a few... eheh..."

Octavia nearly falls forward from the weight of the papers in her grasp. Nevertheless, she gulps and bears a nervous smile. "Yes. Quite."

"Let's give you... about a week to look over them," Twilight said. "Then, come next weekend, you can both set up your equipment and... rehearse a performance for the girls and I. Sound good?" Twilight smiled. "More than anything, I want you both to feel at home here. I'd rather think of you as fellow neighbors than... y'know..." She waves a hoof. "Servants. Besides, I'll have plenty of those borrowed from Canterlot, at least until I get a feel for how things will operate."

"Do you intend to populate the staff with mostly Ponyvillean citizens?" Octavia asks. She grimaces slightly. "Erm... if it's n-not too forward of me to inquire."

"Oh, not at all!" Twilight shakes her head. "That more or less is the plan, yes. But, ultimately, a few of the ponies working here will be from Canterlot." She gazes off with a prolonged breath, and I detect a hint of orange to her voice. "Hmmmm... and abroad."

I raise an eyebrow.

Twilight snaps out of... something, then clears her throat. "Yes, well, be sure to look over the medical requirements. They're the sheets that are framed with yellow borders. Per Princess Celestia's request, I'm making it a requirement for all ponies who work here."

I do a double-take. Frantically, I rummage through the pages until I find the sheets in question. My body instantly freezes up.

"Again, it's for security purposes," Twilight explained. "Should be pretty short and simple. And any subsequent examinations that might be required will be fully funded by the Royal Treasury. So don't worry about that."

I grit my teeth to the point of producing sparks. I feel a fire building inside me, and I begin to raise my hoof.

Octavia senses it. She senses everything. In a heartbeat, she speaks over me, drawing the Princess' attention. "We thank you kindly, Your Highness. We'll attend to this right away."

I flash Tavi a wild look.

She smiles pleasantly at me, then looks at Twilight again. "You have our word."

"Splendid!" Twilight hops down. "So then... uh... how about I show you around a bit?" She smiles pleasantly as she opens the door to a black hallway full of crimson soundbursts. A company of guards outside are setting up equipment, filling the armory on the far wing of the Castle, and the Princess tries awkwardly to lift her voice over the red cloud. "Let's... uhm... try to trot around the workers, okay? Eheheh..."

"No problem whatsoever, Princess." Octavia hops down, balancing her folder of paper sheets on her flank. She gives me a noteworthy stare. "Right, Vinyl?"

With a magenta sigh, I find my balance and trot sullenly after her. The folder weighs a ton in my grasp, but I try not to show it before the Princess.

For Tavi's sake, at least.

Stealing Things

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"Vinyl, it's only a physical," Octavia murmurs, trying to solace me with satin circles of purple velvet. "You've had dozens of them over the past seven years! If not hundreds!"

It barely works. I lumber towards the front entrance of the Castle, staring limply through cold shades at the yellow-framed sheet of paper in the middle of the folder that Princess Twilight Sparkle has given me. I try not sigh, or else I might trip over myself. I'm only marginally successful.

"Besides, Her Majesty has made it abundantly clear," Octavia says. "This is a mandatory step in our hiring process. And can she really be blamed?" The mare tosses her mane back, trotting tall and proud as we make our way to the place's exit. Royal guards and servants continue rattling about in red gaggles on either side of us. "She's opening up her Palace—her very home to an entire cornucopia of humble pony workers. One if one of us secretly harbored some contagious illness? Her Majesty can't afford that! An examination is not only proper, but simply healthy! And what's more, she's promising to fund it completely!" She smiles my way. "When was the last time you had the luxury of that, huh?"

My ears only droop all the harder.

"Oh, love, please." That's enough to stab me, ripping me from my loathsome thoughts. "You're not a little foal anymore. If anything, you should be quite used to these sorts of medical trips. Why's it bothering you so?" She arches an eyebrow. "Because somepony other than me is making you go through with it?"

I bite my lip.

She smirks ever so slightly. "Would it make it easier if I went with you again? Like last time?"

I scuffle to a stop, shaking my head vigorously.

No...

I'm done with her hoof-holding me.

She shouldn't have to... I mean she doesn't deserve—

"Because I'm more than willing." She smiles. "I'll be undergoing a physical too, of course. It won't be out of the way."

I facehoof, shuddering.

"Awwwww... now don't be that way, darling." Octavia turns to face me. "Look."

I stare down at the floor.

"Vine, look at me."

I lift my head up, face long.

She smiles gently. "Even if the doctors don't have anything different to say than they have the past seven years, remember... you are strong." Deep, heavy purple. "You've overcome so much, and you've made a masterpiece of it all." She rests a soft hoof on my shoulder, speaking with an even softer tongue. "The masterpiece that is you... whom I'm so very proud to be associated with... even if I envy her talents from time to time." She finishes this with a well-meaning wink.

She deserves a smile. So I give her one.

"Yes... do rejoice..." She smiles. "It's just a physical. And besides!" She spins about and skips gleefully for the door, mane and tail flouncing. "We're royal minstrels now! Heeeee! Nothing can bring us down—"

Whud! Octavia bumps hard into a muscular chest.

She falls down. "Ooof!" As the red burst fades, she rubs her flank, wincing. "Ow... my goodness!"

I jolt, wincing all over. Before I can rush over to her, an outstretched wing of orange feathers blocks me.

"Whoah, there!" A voice. A very very... masculine voice. I'm too overcome by the absurd breathiness of it to even define a color. "Horseapples! Even in this place, I can't stop being a klutz!" He drops a heavy crate full of armor onto the crystalline floor with a red thud! "Miss, I am so... so sorry." He leans down, reaching a gentlecoltly orange hoof to help Octavia up. "Are you hurt?"

"No, I... I think I'm..." Octavia looks up. Then something happens that I haven't sensed... well... ever, actually. It's hard to describe, but it's almost as if her voice dips past purple... beneath indigo... and into a deep dark place too brackish to comprehend. The closest thing I have to compare it to is... is... cerulean? No, that's not it. I can't think right now, I can only hear Octavia's voice... her murmuring voice as she drips: "I'm the absolute best I've felt all day."

I lean my head at a crooked angle. I tilt my gaze towards the stallion.

He lifts Octavia briskly up to her hooves. His wings fold at his sides, and that's when I finally get a view of his angular muzzle poking out of a crystalline helmet. The colt... er... I mean stallion's coat is a bright orange, like Scribbler's purrs just before feeding time. It unnerves me.

"Well, that's good to know! I thought for a second there that I totally plowed you!" he says with a chuckle.

"Yes. Eheheheheheh..." Octavia's giggles dip and rise, dip and rise. She slowly tucks a lock of mahogany mane hair behind her ear. Uh oh. "Imagine that..."

"As a royal guard, it's my duty to protect the citizens and royal subjects who visit this castle," he says. "Not knock them into the ground!" He bows low. "I promise, it won't happen ever again."

"Oh, perish the thought!" Octavia says with a coy grin. "Then... uhm... you are one of the guards that the Princess hired to guard the Castle?"

"Eheheh..." A slight rosiness crosses the stallion's cheekbones. With a slight heave, he muscles the crate of armor back onto his supple flank. "I guess that's one way of putting it." He glances at our rear ends. A deep part of me twitches—until I realize he's studying our cutie marks. "Oh! Wow! You two must be the royal minstrels that Twi—er... that the Princess has hired!"

"Yes. As a matter of fact, that is quite true! Erm... as of today, that is!" Octavia curtsies with the most grace I've seen since her last concert performance. "I'm Vinyl Melody an this is my good friend Octavia Scratch... erm..." She winces. "What I mean is, we're Taviscratch—" She winces harder, the purple dipping, dissolving. "I-I mean—!"

He chuckles. "I think I get it. Well, hey! If we're both stationed here at the Castle, then we'll likely run into each other again! Er... well... heheh..." He winks. "You know what I mean."

"Yes. Uhm... quite."

The stallion glances down the hall at the source of much crimson clattering. "Well, I-I'd best be off. If I don't help set up the armory P.D.Q., my Captain is going to hang my flank from a flagpole for all of Ponyville to see."

"Mmmm... wouldn't that be a shame."

"Harmony's blessings!" He salutes, and trots firmly off.

Octavia turns her head and stares after him... and stares and stares and stares.

I look at her. I look at the distant stallion. I levitate my folder of sheets, pretend to shuffle them, and slap the thing shut with a crimson clap.

If I know Octavia, that's enough to snap her out of it. And I'm right. The mare jolts, looking my way. "Uhm... where were we, exactly?" She brightens, her violet voice returning, chasing the blush away. "Oh! But of course! I do believe a celebration is in order!" She trots gaily out the Palace entrance. The extra spring in her step is not lost to me. "I have a good mind to buy Scribbler a bag of treats! Heeee! Life is most certainly handsome—Good! 'Good' is what I meant..."

I shuffle after her, dragging my tail. I tongue the inside of my mouth in deep thought...

And then I find it... the color... the tone of his voice.

Brown. Deep, deep brown.

And, no, it's not mud...

Schoolfoalish Things

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We're only about ten feet from the front gates of the Palace when Octavia turns back to look at me. Her left eyebrow nearly rises to the stratosphere.

"What are you giving me that look for?"

I didn't even realize that I was giving her a look. I shake in place, my shades rattling.

"I know that silence gives you the license to ponder on many a thing, but honestly, Vine." She flicks a tail, sticking her nose up to the air. "I'd hope you would give me a great deal more faith than that!"

I bite my lip, squirming slightly. I try to trot forward, joining her in our mutual stroll past the royal guards' wagons and into Ponyville.

But she can't stop... stopping. "Okay!" She exhales in an indigo burst, then speaks in purple amusement through a lazy grin. "I know what you're thinking."

I scuffle to a stand-still, rolling my shaded eyes. Whenever Tavi claims to "know what I'm thinking," it only means that I'm about to become audience to a great deal of rambling pretense. Still, I pivot towards her with a patient smile.

"But, in truth, I am a lady... and a quite mannerly one, too." She adjusts her bow tie, standing with a stately poise. "After all, I needn't lecture you on the finer points of etiquette that I've mastered over the years... perfecting into a practical art!"

I nod vigorously.

No.

You needn't.

"And, furthemore, I'm simply not in the place nor the position to afford any sort of relationship with anypony, much less a ridiculously handsome stallion that I just suddenly met."

My muzzle grimaces.

Does she even hear herself?

Thankfully, Tavi does, and she knows it—out loud. "I mean... true, you and I just landed ourselves positions within the Royal Palace, something I've been anxiously anticipating for several, several restless nights, and it's quite easy to use my ardent enthusiasm as an unnecessary springboard into far less intelligent pursuits... but I'm beyond that! And you should believe it!" She punctuates this with an accusatory poke of my chest.

I weather the storm, stifling an honest snicker.

"So... d-don't even pretend to... assume... erm... that I would have completely swooned... if we h-had stayed within the presence of that inexplicably debonair... specimen for a few more minutes just now." The mare gulps, hard. "Despite how sweaty—er... polite! Despite how polite he was."

I stare at her.

She groans, her purple voice buckling. "Look, Vinyl, I've worked very... very hard for what's transpired today. I... I should remain focused! Just because we're over the hump—the neck of the woods, as t'were—doesn't mean I can afford myself any leisure trivialities! From now on, it's hard work, supreme concentration, and music... lots and lots and lots of music!" She flexed her forelimbs, fluffing her mane as she stared ahead. "Hmmmmm... I wonder, when we rehearse for the Princess and her Friendship Cabinet... will the guards be in attendance too?"

I facehoof heavily.

"Eh. No matter." She trots forward firmly. "Onward! To celebration! Excelsior! Heehee..." A dreamy sigh. "Oh, I do wonder if it would be a trifle bit too pestering to bring the news to Lyra and Bon Bon this evening..."

I shrug, turning to look over my shoulder.

I do a double-take.

Princess Twilight Sparkle stands on the northeast balcony of her Castle, gazing out onto Ponyville. Suddenly, an orange figure shuffles up, hooves clapping against the balcony's surface as he stands at attention.

Twilight Sparkle turns around, and her face explodes into a joyous grin. Her wings stretch out, feathers fluttering in the wind. Even from afar, I can detect no sign of gray or turquoise in her voice anymore. All is rich orange... and turning oranger as she drifts towards him.

The guard lowers his helmet, revealing a very familiar face and an even more familiar smile. Then he and the Princess do something I don't expect. They lean in and nuzzle one another... closely.

"Oh Viiiiine!" Happy violet tresses tug me away from the Castle. "Where'd you go? There's much to be done! The afternoon is young, after all! Heehee!"

I bite my lip, eyes locked on the scene atop the balcony. With a nervous shuffle, I turn and gallop swiftly after Tavi, promising myself not to speak a word of this.

After all, that shouldn't be too hard...

Grand Things

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"Our first performance will be this coming weekend," Octavia says, pausing to take a sip from a tall glass of water. She places it down, swallows, and smiles across the table. "The Princess describes it as a 'rehearsal.' To be honest, I think she just wants to get a feel for our musical range. From what I understand, the rest of the Council will be there."

Lyra cocks her head to the side. "You mean Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie Pie and the like?"

"Precisely." Octavia nods, straightening her bangs in the restaurant's light. "As royal minstrels, we'll be at the beck and call of all of Princess Twilight's close friends—as well as our beloved monarch herself. I suspect that they want to see just how well we perform to their preferred flavors."

"Wow." Bon Bon blinks. "That sounds like quite a workout you have in store!"

"Oh, I doubt it will be that much beyond our abilities." Octavia smiles, glancing aside at me. "I do believe that Rarity's and Fluttershy's tastes are of the same degree of refinement as my own. Applejack's country adoration for the banjo and fiddle is something I find rustically charming, so I'm sure I can conform quite comfortably. And, as blasphemous as it sounds, I find the Princess to be rather easy to please." Octavia pauses to let loose a deep purple chuckle. Then her voice sighs, dipping slightly into indigo. "It's Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie that I'll inevitably find some struggle in entertaining."

"Well, it's a good thing you've got Vinyl by your side!" Lyra says, winking in my direction. "Nothing better than the best party DJ for Ponyville's biggest party animals!"

"Yes... eheh..." Octavia glances at me with a velvety smile. "When you're a musician, it's best to keep in... eclectic company. Isn't that right, Vine?"

I nod and raise my cup of Dr. Pony in a toast.

Just call me Princess of Eclectic.

"I do believe that—with our musical gifts combined—we can fill in any discordant niche that presents itself." Tavi winces slightly at her own words. "I mean that figuratively. H-hopefully not literally..."

"Hah! You never know." Lyra grins. "Twilight is the Princess of Friendship, after all. You might be performing for sentient manticores by the month's end, at the rate she's doing her ambassadorial stuff."

"Well, I think it's all for the best!" Bon Bon insists. "And it's so nice to know that the two of you are at the helm now!"

"Goodness gracious, Bon Bon!" Tavi exclaims. Her violet voice dances across the walls of the finely lit establishment. "We're just royal musicians! It's not like we're official delegates for Her Highness!" She takes another sip of water. "Although... that would have a certain ring to it."

"You're gonna be sitting pretty in the Castle, representing all of Equestria through music," Lyra says. "Ha! Could anything ever be more envious?"

"Lyra, silly, if you wanted to apply—" Bon Bon begins.

"Pfft! And steal these girls' thunder?" Lyra rolls her eyes. "Face it. I hate crowds. But these two? They were built for the spotlight!" She claps her hooves together. "I'd say you deserve this more than anypony."

I wince slightly from the crimson clouds rolling from Lyra's forelimbs. Thankfully, Octavia's purple velvetiness disrupts the cascade. "We have certainly worked very hard, but the true challenge is up ahead. Waiting for us."

"Still, you can certainly rest on some laurels," Bon Bon says. "Right? You've got to step into a Royal Castle more times in a week than most ponies do in a life time!"

"Mmmmmm... quite true..." Octavia leans back in her chair, her eyes full of stars. "We've seen the throne room! The Royal Library! The crystalline chandelier of the foyer!" Just now, she gasps deeply, her breath taking on a triply melodic tone. "And then... after our briefing... the absolute most lovely thing happened on our way to the exit!"

I clench my teeth hard while my muscles tighten up.

"Oh yeah?" Lyra and Bon Bon lean forward. "What happened?"

I shut my eyes tight, gripping the table in anticipation—

"Princess Twilight took us on a tour of the upper floors! Isn't that amazing?"

I relax with a magenta exhale. Sweating, I take a swift swig of Dr Pony.

"We got to see the Royal Treasury and the Twilight Sparkle's study room! Oh, girls, I swear... it's positively majestic!"

"Well, that's a heck of a lot better than negatively moronic!" Lyra says with a giggle.

Bon Bon lightly swats her shoulder. "Goof-off..." She looks at Octavia with a smile. "How about some red wine to celebrate the occasion? Seems only fitting."

"Ohhhhh no no no no..." Octavia shakes her head and waves a hoof. "I can't. Thanks, but it just wouldn't be proper."

"Wouldn't be proper?!" Bon Bon gapes in my direction. "Vinyl, has a changeling replaced your roommate?"

"Normally, I would give in. However..." Octavia takes a deep breath. "...the times coming up will be most trying, and it's best that I keep myself in touch with my full faculties."

"Well, I guess that makes sense."

"Besides..." Octavia adds. "...I must be undergoing a physical this week, and it would be quite the disaster if I showed even the slightest sign of inebriation."

"Wait... you mean like a doctor's office physical?" Lyra asks.

"No, Lyra, she's opting out of trivia on a game show," Bon Bon says, rolling her eyes.

"Well, what's up with that?" Lyra cackles. "Why would they want their minstrels to get a checkup?"

"I can think of a lot of reasons," Bon Bon remarks. She looks Octavia's way. "They'll constantly be in the presence of Equestria's newest Princess. I can imagine the Royal Ministry wanting everypony to be in their best shape... sans contagious symptoms and the like."

"Ahhh. I guess that makes sense."

"And it's not nearly as discomforting as it sounds," Octavia says with a smile. "The Princess is fully funding it for us. She's even assigning us her royal physician!"

"H-hey! Free health insurance!" Bon Bon winks. "That's nothing to sneeze at whatsoever!"

"Oh yeah?" Lyra points across the table. "Then why's Vinyl looking less-than-pleased?"

I don't realize how heavily I'm scowling until I hear this. With a wince, I adjust my shades and look away from the table.

"Awwww... don't mind her," Octavia says, and I can sense her tail swishing behind her seat. "Sometimes, once a little filly, always a little filly."

"Yes, but... all things considered..." Lyra stops in mid-speech, tonguing the inside of her mouth. She decides to drop it, smiling in Octavia's direction instead. "Ah well. I'm so happy for you girls." She wraps an arm around Bon Bon's side. "We're so happy for you girls!"

"Yes, well, we aim to please," Octavia remarks, swirling her glass of water as if it was filled with something far redder. She looks my way with a sweet smile. "And now... we're about to be pleasing ponies' ears on a grand scale. Yes?"

The luxurious violet of her voice is just too much to resist. I grin back, sighing my concerns away on a magenta breeze.

Gigantic Things

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Nighttime.

I am awake.

When I'm not thinking about things that I'd rather not be thinking about, I'm thinking about the other things that I don't want to think about.

I wonder if Octavia has the same problem. But, then again, maybe I don't want to know the real answer to that.

I roll over in bed for the fiftieth time... and that's how I know that I'm truly doomed. I've been counting.

With a breathy groan, I stand up. Lurching through the magenta mists, I reach my hoof out, blindly fumbling around the bedside table. At last, I grasp my shades, slip them over my eyes, and shuffle out of bed.

I pass through the house in a daze, eyes glued to the floor carpet beneath my hooves. The carpet is so plush here. The couch... the cushions... the chairs. Everything is soft. That's the way Octavia likes it... and I like it when she likes things.

This day...

This day is the manifestation of her greatest dreams. Well, almost. If nothing else, it's the next best stepping stool to her dreams come true. I should be glad for her. I am glad for her.

But something is gnawing at me. Something I haven't felt since the first nights Beau and I went on tour. It's like nervousness, but a bit more rancid, painted with the nebulous colors of uncertainty.

Making it to the top only means it's a long way down once you fall. I think that the only reason DJ-P0N3 has remained so consistently famous over these past few years is that I haven't let that popularity get to my head. I've kept my real life hidden, tucked safely away here in Ponyville. I haven't flaunted myself and I haven't indulged in all the riches I could have. Because of that, my life has been a slow burn, instead of a brilliant, raging inferno. And, to be honest, I rather like it that way.

I'm not sure if Octavia does or not. Sure, she's achieved quite a lot in her life, but huge success... true success is something I don't think she's used to. I trust her wisdom and her judgment, but I've only known her as she has been. I wonder if I will have to start over getting used to Octavia—the "royal minstrel"—all over again.

This idea occupies me... drowns me as I shuffle into the front studio of our apartment. I wince at the thought, telling myself deep inside that Octavia has not given me any reason to doubt her. And—if nothing else—the exhilaration of being in a position of acclaim and popularity will only make her life more joyful.

And that's what I want, right?

So long as Octavia is happy, then that's all that matters.

I'll be happy for her too.

And if this royal minstrel thingy wins her the attention of some hoity-toity orchestra far... far away from Ponyville, then I'll... I'll just have to be...

I rub a hoof over my face, clenching my jaw muscles. I shake the fear loose, but it still lingers... if even at a distance.

The best medicine for anything is music. I feel in the mood for something retro. Maybe some Kraftwhinny.

So, I walk to my brilliant wall of records, fumble through the vinyl sleeves, and pick out a cover with four stallions wearing bright red shirts. I'm just about to levitate it over to my player and headphones when—

"Careful, love. I just had to clean up after Scribbler over in that spot."

If my bones could fly out of my skin, they would right about this point. I'm not so much startled by the sound and colors as I am by the sheer fact that I've ignored them so long. By them, I mean indigo and orange. My roommate is lying down on the front room couch with Scribbler snuggled up to her. I only ascertain this after the tenth second spent wrestling for balance. After an awkward ballet, I levitate the record evenly, slide it back onto its shelf and lean against the wall to catch my breath.

"Are you quite alright, Vine?" she murmurs, her voice lower than low.

I nod, gulping a lump down my throat as I nod adamantly.

"You are your worst enemy, you know," she says, her voice reaching the tiniest of purple peaks. "I don't care how bad you've got it, I still think it's a truly foolish thing to wear your shades around at night."

I gaze towards her. For a brief moment, I feel like frowning, and I hate myself for it. I fidget slightly, at a loss for words when I can't even say them.

Thankfully, Tavi speaks for me. She always does. "Oh... I can't rightly chastise you, Vinyl." A slow, lazy yawn. I can already she's lost somewhere deep between troubled and tired. "How can I even pretend to imagine the things that you go through?" She reaches through her bathrobe's sleeve, gently and lovingly stroking Scribbler's scruffy neck. "Or the amazing perspective it gives you?"

Arching an eyebrow, I slowly pad across the plush carpet and stand before her.

"Can't sleep," she lies. Or at least, I think she does. Her eyes are dull, slightly glazed. I can see my reflection six times in her jeweled pupils. "So many things... new, terribly exciting things." A deep gulp. "And please, don't be mad at Scribbler."

I'm not. I show her with a casual smile.

"I think... she just wants attention, is all." Octavia gulps hard. "She's only been here for so long, and she's so used to me being at home... erm... all the time. It must be horribly disconcerting for her to have an empty house while you and I are away at the Palace. I... I hope that doesn't become a regular thing, but... but I just don't know."

I don't know whether to shrug or nod, so I do neither.

"Maybe... Princess Twilight will find it in her heart to... let us bring her along?" Octavia strokes Scribbler's neck and whiskers, and the orange waves rise and fall. "After all, Fluttershy will be there too most of the time, and she can help us look after the dear thing as she sets out on paw. We could train her to be an outdoor and indoor cat. That way, she wouldn't have to feel so lonesome. Nopony... nothing should have to feel that way."

My eyes fall on the cat. Its eyes are closed shut with a look of fuzzy contentment. If it's not actually fallen asleep, the little furball is making a great show faking it.

"That's really what it's all about. Not feeling alone. Music is supposed to connect us... not isolate us. But... but it can do both... so easily..." She gulps, her eyes darting left and right as she looks past me... through me. "That's... that's why I couldn't perform in the way Father wanted me to... or the venues that he chose. I was only making the connections he wanted. Ms. Melody was being magnified while Octavia shrank. I... I could just never explain it to him... no matter how much I tried."

I bite my lip.

"Don't... don't bother with my ramblings, Vine..." She sighs, curling tighter against Scribbler as she sighs into the couch cushions. "...it's not even daytime. You deserve your rest too."

A tiny, bittersweet smile crosses my face.

Her eyes are shut at this point, but I still know she somehow sees it. "Some of the best things in this world are tiny... precious..." A soft hoof hooks around Scribbler. Octavia yawns, then murmurs: "I'm not sure how I can handle being so... so..." Her body softly deflates. "...gigantic..."

Her breath dissipates into an indigo sea. Soon, Scribbler's purrs lessen into a dull hume as well. The air around our house closes in, and I see tan and turquoise hues blending outside the windows.

With a dull shudder, I exit the room. A minute and a half later, I've returned, carrying a pillow and a blanket. The sheet, I lay over Octavia's curled figure. The pillow—I plant on the floor right before the couch, and that's where I choose to rest my head.

Until morning comes.

Colliding Things

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I take ten more steps and come to a shuffling stop at the edge of the sidewalk.

Muzzle grimacing, I look down at the medical sheets floating in my magic grasp. There's a doctor's name on it, along with a scheduled appointment for when he can be found at Ponyville Central.

Gulping, I tilt my head up and gaze across the road in the noon daylight.

The three-story hospital looms, its central structure and large wings aglow with soft beige colored siding. Parked outside, I see a carriage with Canterlot license plates.

There's no turning back now.

I'm dizzy enough as it is, and more sighing exhalations isn't going to help the situation any. After all, if the doctor reports me as being dead on my hooves, then Octavia's going to be completely alone on the royal stage, and we can't have that happen.

Okay, so maybe that's a tad bit melodramatic. But... Celestia-on-a-bike I hate this.

Nevertheless, I look both ways, then sluggishly cross the street. My ears twitch, hungry for a sound—any sound—that could distract me from the inevitable.

Somewhere, in the midst of my march, my mind latches onto one such distraction. And it's a hauntingly familiar one... at least until it isn't. My mind flickers back to a few nights ago in a bar full of tipsy musicians. Then—in one fell swoop—that entire cloudy memory evaporates. I feel elated, but soon I'm feling confused, for the familiar sound persists... along with its familiar color.

Blue.

I look to my right and I see nothing.

I look to my left...

...and have to leap forward to avoid being run over by a fatefully homicidal red wagon.

"Gaaah!" The tiny orange filly pulling the cart screeches her scooter to a sideways halt. She frowns up at me. "Hey! What are you, blind—Oh." She instantly winces, her ears folding beneath her scrappy pink mane. "Oh jeez..."

"Land's sakes, Scootaloo!" Applejack's sister pokes her head out from behind several tufts of tight yellow fabric. "Do ya think this mare has a death wish or somethin'?"

"I'm sorry—"

"This is the second time ya nearly killed her—!"

"Look, I'm sorry, Apple Bloom, okay!" Scootaloo's voice explodes in amber beams. She frowns back at her friend. "And I didn't almost kill her! I'm a bit more graceful than that!"

"Uh huh..."

Scootaloo sighs. She calms herself with a deep breath, then looks up at me with puppy dog eyes. "Sorry for almost killing you again, Miss."

Apple Bloom giggles, a delightfully golden thing.

"Mrmmfmf-mmfmff!" And there it is, the blue cloud from the back of the wagon, muffled... undulating. A pale unicorn pokes her pretty face through a stack of ribbon and twine. "What's going on, girls? Are we going to reach the hilltop or aren't we?"

"Sweetie Belle, your shortcut brought us by the hospital!" Scootaloo barks. "I could have run over a little old grandmother with a trotter by going this way!"

"Don't put the blame on Sweetie Belle!" Apple Bloom chides. "After all, if this here plan of hers works, then we'll be getting aviation cutie marks!" The farm filly squints. "Ain't that what you've always been wantin'?"

"Don't pretend like you know everything about me!"

"Nah, you just want Rainbow Dash to."

"Heeheeeeeee..." Scootaloo coos, her tiny wings buzzing. "That's exactly—Hey!"

Sweetie Belle rolls her eyes and smiles up at me. "Don't mind my friends here, Miss. They're just crazy excited, because this is a fool-proof plan!"

I simply stare at her.

She points at her blank flank and her voice reaches a sapphire-blue pitch. "To get our cutie marks, of course! What do we have more than anything? The sky, of course!" She giggles, and it sounds like diamonds raining down all around us. "And once we've mastered the sky, we can master anything!"

"All it takes is a little hoof and elbow grease!" Apple Bloom adds.

I glance at the materials gathered in their wagon: fabric, metal and wood reinforcement, string.

Kite flying?

Well... I guess somepony could call that "aviation."

In a foalish sense...

I smile and give them a mock salute.

They take it as well as kids can.

"Wooohoo! Thanks for the good luck, Miss!" Apple Bloom says. "Hop along, Scootaloo! The sky's awaitin'!"

"Don't have to tell me twice." Scootaloo kicks at the ground, shoving the scooter along. "So long, lady! And... y'know... would it kill ya to put a bell on?"

"Scootalooooo..." Sweetie Belle grumbles, and even still it has an ocean blue tone to it. She smiles at me and waves while she's dragged towards the hills outside of Ponyville. "Next time, we'll be seeing you from the skies! So... no running into you by accident! 'Kay? Byyyyye!"

The melody of her departure is practically giggle-inducing. I hold it in with a firm smile, waving back.

Then, the purpose of the day falls back on my shoulders, huge and heavy.

With a slumping sigh, I turn and resume my shuffle towards the hospital, dragging the appointment papers behind me.

Medical Things

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I only remember where I am once the door swings open. And now that the moment is upon me, I'm aware of how desperate I am for it to end.

I feast my eyes upon a criminally tiny examination room, complete with a cushioned recliner, wooden cabinets and counter tops, and several jars full of sterilized instruments.

The doctor strolls in with the usual stethoscope and clipboard. His labcoat bears a patch with the Canterlot City Crest. He takes one look at me and smiles. The stallion looks old and friendly. They always look old and friendly.

"Well well well, Ms. Scratch. You're the third patient I've had the good grace of examining today. You gotta hoof it to the Princess. The Royal Majesty's hiring of a staff for that palace of hers is certainly affording many ponies a healthy checkup. Heheheh..."

I smile, if only to make this whole thing go faster.

It barely works. "My name is Doctor Clark. Don't let my age fool you. I promise that you're in the hooves of one of the finest and most observant physicians in all of Canterlot. Spared no expense."

I'm sure...

"I've gone over the notes that Nurse Redheart has made of your previous visits," he says, squinting through his bifocals at a set of sheets dripping from his clipboard. "It would seem as though, over the past six or seven years, you've become quite the talk of the medical field here in Ponyville. Ah... yes... I do believe even I have heard of your case for quite some time." He looks up with a wrinkled smile. "It's a very rare thing for a pony to survive a run-in with Tier Three Manafeedback. You, my dear filly, are a living miracle."

I'm glad that he hasn't asked me to remove my shades, or else the rolling of my eyes would surely drag the rug out from under him.

"Hmmm... nothing you haven't heard before, I'm sure," he says. For once, he is right. "Let's see now..." He rolls a chair over and squats down in front of where I sit. Only now do I realize that he's simply an earth pony, and I'm legitimately impressed. "Eeeuhh... hmmm..." He taps his chin, reading over the copious sheets of notes and notes and notes. "'Acute Schism of the Inner Alicornia.' Sounds about right. That makes you the only pony in modern medical history to be able to walk—much less adequately function—with such a condition. According Nurse Red Heart, you displayed a three hundred and fifty percent improvement in your motor functions over the course of the first eight months alone. Tell me..." He looks up at me. "Have you had any trouble walking?"

I shake my head.

"Sitting down and getting back up?"

I shake my head.

"Eating or drinking?"

I shake my head.

"Reading?"

I... eventually shake my head.

Dr. Clark raises an eyebrow. "The shades..." He points at them, then at his own skull. "I am to assume that there is still a degree of chronic photosensitivity?"

With a sigh, I finally nod.

"Mmmm... that also checks out." He scribbled across one particular sheet with a pen. "Doesn't appear to be any sign of physical or neurological regression. We'll have to test all of that, of course."

I struggle not to groan.

"It... also says here..." He tongues the inside of his mouth, then glances up at me. "...that you haven't come to Nurse Redheart for a physical in over two and a half years." He folds his forelimbs together. "Is that a fact?"

Biting my lip, I hesitantly nod.

"Any particular reason?"

I stare at him.

He blinks, then chuckles. "Oh! Heheh... but of course. Ahem." Dr. Clark reaches deep into his lapcoat pocket and grabs a tiny notepad. He scoots forward in his chair and hoofs it to me—along with his pen. "By all means, dear..."

Casually, I grasp the pad and instrument with my telekinesis. I write and scribble on the sheet with ease, then display the answer to him.

"Hmmm... well, I'm glad that you're confident enough about your condition." He leans back. "Still, considering the... rare nature of your case, I would like to advise regular checkups after this one." He waves a hoof with a serene smile. "Now... I can't quite force that without the Princess' authority, but—as a learned physician—I can assure you that future visits here at the hospital would be in your best interest. I would especially suggest being consulted by Nurse Redheart. She seems to understand your case the best, after all, and I can think of no other pony in the field more equipped to document your progression."

I arch an eyebrow his way. Scribbling on the pad, I raise a series of words for him to read.

He shakes his head. "I'm not suggesting anything of the sort, ma'am! But... living miracles or not... we all grow old." He chuckles. "Trust me. I'd like nothing more than to see you enjoy good health for as long as you can."

I sigh, deflated. My head turns away from him.

There's nothing in any arsenal ever conceived that can naturally argue against that...

"I'm getting the distinct feeling you're not very fond of checkups, Ms. Scratch. Am I assuming that correctly?"

I drag three harsh letters across the pen pad and practically shove it in his face.

He laughs. "Yes, well..." With a muffled groan, the elder stallion gets up out of his chair. "...perhaps it's for the best that we get the most important part of this examination over with, hmmm? Only fitting—seeing as you haven't had one of such ilk for the past two years."

I nod, shuddering slightly.

"I must ask that you remove your shades for this, Miss Scratch," he says, shuffling over to the light switch. He turns the dial slowly, dimming the room. With a long face, he murmurs: "I... apologize in advance. But I will not be able to turn the light off completely, as I will be needing enough light to read my instruments. Sadly... eheh... there are no sarosians in this province with a medical degree, or else I would do more to make this next part less discomforting to you."

I'm sighing, for I've already expected this. I clench my eyes tightly shut, then remove my shades with telekinesis. I take one deep breath... two breaths... three...

...and I open my eyes.

I know that's dim enough for kindergartners to nap to... but it feels like I'm staring into white beach sand.

My eyes squint painfully the whole time, and the look is not lost to Dr. Clark.

"Please... try to relax..." He braces my shoulders as he sits on the stool in front of me again. "...I shall endeavor to make this happen as swiftly as possible."

I nod, gulping hard.

They all say that too...

Vocal Things

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"Now..."

Dr. Clark reaches into his other labcoat pocket. He keeps his eyes glued on my squinting vision.

"From what I hear, Mrs. Nurse Redheart likes to employ a xylophone from the pediatrics ward. However, when I first heard about this examination a few days in advance, I decided to implement my own... uh... method. I trust that you won't find it too terribly different from the norm." That said, he pulls out a tiny flute and holds it in his two hooves. "Do you have the notepad ready?"

I nod, wincing slightly from the dim alight above.

"Flip it to very back."

I do as he says. I notice several words scribbled on each page in black ink. I already see where this is going.

"Okay. I'm going to play a note, and I would like you to describe it with a corresponding color. It doesn't have to be exact to what you envision. There are only so many choices.." A tiny grin. "I'm no painter, after all." He nods. "You ready, Miss Scratch?"

I nod back.

"Very well. First..." He brings the flute to his mouth and repositions his hooves in order to produce a low note.

My ears twitch. The walls flicker green and brown, like an earthly hum. I flip through the pages and hold the notepad up sideways to him: "'Green.'"

"Very well." He scribbles down a few words on his clipboard and brings the flute to his muzzle again. "Next." He performs another note.

The brown in the air turns richer, darker. I have a flashback to a young guard's breathy voice in the Palace. I shudder, and let my wander more. Oddly enough, I start thinking about Trenderhoof, and it is... strangely relaxing. Realizing that the doctor is waiting, I fumble to produce a response: "'Brown.'"

"Good. Good. Next..."

He performs another note... and then another... and another. Slowly—yet obediently—I answer each one with a flash of the notepad sheets: "'Gold.' 'Tan.' 'Gray.' 'Pink.'" I wince. "'Red.'"

"Last but not least... erm... oh, right..." He struggles a bit to perform the last note that his aged mind can come up with.

I find it strangely chilling. I don't think even he knows the power of the sound he's producing. Most ponies don't.

I flip and flip through the available words. Eventually, my pained muzzle scrunches.

Seriously? There's no 'turquoise?'"

I sigh from within. Lazily, I flip to a random page and shove it in his face.

"Hmmm... 'black.' How curious." He makes a final note, then slides the flute back into place. "It all seems very... consistent with Nurse Redheart's data from the last few checkups." He smiles... but slowly that smile fades. "Okay, Miss Scratch. I... can only assume you know what's coming next."

I bite my lip, nodding slowly.

"It's important that we see if there's been any further recovery from Accute Schism of the Inner Alicornia over the past three years. So... take as much time as you need to prepare yourself."

I try to look brave, but I'm already shivering. The incessant pulse of my beating heart floods my eyes and ears with red and tan waves. I can barely see the room at this point, and it's not because of the light.

"Perhaps it would help you to lie back?"

He's right. I swing my legs up while he reclines the chair into a bed. My head rests back into a super soft cushion. I feel like this seat is swallowing me, and yet I know it's all that can stop the world from spinning for the moments to come.

I take several deep breaths, and already I feel like the dam is leaking. The waves of a magenta sea wash up all around me. I clench my teeth, weathering the storm.

"Have you gathered your breath...?"

I can never gather enough breath for this.

Nevertheless, I nod.

"Alright... now... be calm... concentrate..." I feel a cold cap of metal being placed over the tip of my horn. My eyes trail a series of wires dangling between me and a managuage in his hooves. He leans over me, his voice soft and his gaze attentive. "Slowly... and as succinctly as you can... pronounce words with the starting letters of the alphabet, starting from A and onward. I'm not asking you to reach Zed. Just speak as far as you're able, Miss Scratch, and I'll collect the readings I need."

I clench my eyes tight... tighter...

My muzzle opens...

...and in the ensuing vomit, I'm plummeting down an icy waterfall.

"A... A-apple..."

I collapse into magenta depths. My body rolls, writhes. I sputter for breath—and as the migraine clears, I'm summoning a brave breath... growing braver, hotter...

"Bunny..."

An iceberg plows through the ocean, spreading crimson froth in every direction. It slams right into me, knifing its way down my spine and back up in a pathetic whimper.

"C-c-cat..."

"That's right, Miss Scratch. A few more. You're doing good."

I seethe and seethe. I try to open my eyes, but the stars are all up in my face, burning into my retinae. I struggle for breath, but the flames are choking me, devouring every square inch of available air.

"D-dog...!"

I slip. His hoof grips mine. Dr. Clark is shaking all over the place, and that's how I know my body's been thrown into convulsions.

"Okay. That's quite enough, Miss Scratch." Somewhere in the distance, his guage is whining with crimson hysterics. "No need to speak any further. I've gotten my readings."

But I can't stop. The sea is carrying me somewhere bright and burning—a magenta whirlpool with endless fury. I fight the tears and the waves and the tempestuous noise. I need a way to stay afloat. I need a life preserver. I need...

"...T... Tavi..."

And in that gunshot, the seas deflate. The magenta currents dwindle into panting breaths, and I'm lying limp and loose—a tiny pony in an even tinier bed, with a stupidly goofy wire attached to my horn.

"Feeling better?" He grips my shoulder.

I nod shakily, releaved to be done with the ordeal.

"Good. Because I don't quite remember 'T' coming after 'D.'"

He smiles after saying this, or at least attempts to. I don't blame him for his desperate pull at humor. It took Nurse Redheart weeks to not sob in distress at the end of every session. She thought I couldn't hear her crying through the hospital walls. She was beautifully wrong.

"Again, I stand by what I said earlier, Miss Scratch," Dr. Clark says, shuffling to the far side of where I'm lying. "You are the living definition of a miracle." He slumps down in his stool, sighing yet again. "However... I must say I can already tell from these results that your condition... has not improved noticeably from the last time data was taken." He scribbles onto his clipboard. "Then again, it has been over two years since your last visit. Who knows what sort of progress could have been made since then if you had attended checkups regularly."

I have no response to him. Feverishly, I feel around for my shades.

He kindly hands it to me. However, his hoof takes a moment to gently grip mine. "I... would highly suggest you reconsider the frequency with which you've neglected these visits, Miss Scratch. If not for yourself, then perhaps for other ponies."

I hang my head to the floor with shrugged shoulders.

Ah yes...

Here it comes...

"While it's statistically improbable for somepony to produce a cure for Accute Schism of the Inner Alicornia in your lifetime, there's no telling what progress could be made for other patients suffering from it. You very well may be the key to Equestrian understanding of this unique neurological condition. Not everypony is... quite so fortunate, Miss Scratch. I know that must sound incredibly heartless of me to say, but what you have—however uncomfortable—could be used as a gift."

I nod limply, placing my shades on.

I know it's a gift...

...just not in the same way you know, Doc.

"Very well," he murmurs. "Enough lecturing." A wrinkle smile crosses his muzzle. "I'd say this ordeal won you a lollipop, wouldn't you?" He snickers.

I smirk... if only slightly.

Okay... that was kinda funny...

Crusading Things

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As I trot out of Ponyville Central Hospital, I'm actually... pleasantly surprised at how even my hoofing is.

I could have sworn—in the past, at least—that I've stumbled out of this place considerably less in control of my faculties. I even vividly remember three or four times when I needed Octavia's help in walking me home.

I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. From the way Doctor Clark made it sound, I haven't improved much over the last three years. Well, I guess I could have fooled... me?

This is why I hate checkups. I'm never the one giving the diagnostic.

Nevertheless, with an even breath, I shuffle on home. My path takes me down a hilly path and over a verdant stretch of park grass. As I pass a few tall trees, I catch a glimpse of the Ponvyillean rooftops rising over the distant shrubbery.

A soft smile graces my muzzle. I almost completely forget about the magenta drowning I endured earlier. There isn't much to fret about when you live in a town as quaint as this.

It truly is quaint—at least until ear-splitting screams shoot crimson rockets into my ears. I nearly trip over my hooves, wincing. I briefly wonder if there's some latent aftereffect of the examination assaulting my senses.

No, now I'm hearing hoofsteps... tiny, pitter-pattering hoofsteps. They rumble closer and closer, exploding on either side of me with a chorus of foalish squeaks.

"Up! Up!"

"Pull up!"

It's Scootaloo and Apple Bloom. They're both sharing a single breath—a very panicked one at that.

"Sweetie, trust me!" Scootaloo yelps. "You've gotta pull up! This isn't a joke! Stop veering all over the place, girl!"

"It's no use!" Apple Bloom's eyes are plastered to the sky. "She ain't gettin' no air!" She twirls around—then jerks back as if suddenly noticing me. "Oh! Oh my goodness!" She gulps. "Uh... hello there, Missy... uhhhh—"

"An adult unicorn!" Scootaloo barks. "Thank Celestia!" She gallops up to me, her amber voice taking on a pink tone. "Say... uh... would you be so kind as to use your mature telekinesis to stop our crazy friend from crashing into a bloody pulp?"

"... ... ...?!?!" Muzzle agape, I tilt my head towards the sky. I squint and I squint, and finally... finally I sense it—a blue on blue swath of color floating, streaming, screaming closer.

"Aaaaaaaaaaah! Aaaaaaaaaah!" A pale figure attached to a ramshackle assortment of wooden rods and fabric flies—more like flails overhead. Sweetie Belle's voice dances across all hues of the blue spectrum, flooding the air with an ocean of panicked shrieks. "Aaaa-haaaaa-you guysssss!"

"Just... stop... freaking out!" Scootaloo hollers. "Even it out along the horizon! Pretend you have wings!"

"Easy... for... you... to... say...!" Sweetie Belle manages between hyperventilating bursts. Her sapphire bursts stop as her glider—riiiiiiiip—gets punctured by an errant tree branch in mid-flight. If she was twirling about before, now she's practically spinning like a top at four stories from the earth. "Aaaa-AAA-aaa-AAAh! I dun wanna die! I dun wanna die!"

I grimace, dancing awkwardly in place as I feel the crimson pulse pounding in my ears.

"We only wanted to fetch ourselves cutie marks in aviation!" Apple Bloom whimpers. "Ohhhhh... my sister's gonna kill meeee!"

"Never mind that! We're all gonna share a grave with Sweetie Belle!" Scootaloo hops up onto a random park bench and cups her hooves over her muzzle. "Don't panic, Sweetie Belle! Try and aim for the water!"

"Huh?!"

"Aim for the water, I said!"

"What?!" Sweetie Belle does crazy-loopty-loops in the air. "You m-mean like a water tower or something—?"

"No—skkkt—ya stupid melon fudge!" Scootaloo growls. "Something that will make a splash!"

"How about this giant vat of green pudding?!"

"Uh... Sweetie Belle, that's the ground!"

"Omigosh! Omigosh!" Sweetie Belle clenches her eyes shut as her glider plummets directly earthward. "Tell Rumble I lovvvvvvve himmmmmm!"

"Seriously?" Scootaloo grimaces. "Rumble?! Ooof!"

Apple Bloom shoves Scootaloo over, sobbing. "Apple Bloom—!" A pale blur glides past the two fillies. They look up, blinking. "Whoah..."

Holding my breath, I jump high, grab onto the low hanging branch of a tree, then frantically glide my way up. Out of the corner of my shades, I see Sweetie Belle plunging, and I scurry in the opposite direction. Birds and squirrels scatter as I throw, climb, and swing my way up the branches. At last—about three stories high—I shimmy out onto a precariously dangling bow. I hang upside down, take a deep breath, and concentrate a burst of magic out my horn.

With miraculous luck, I stop the glider in mid-air. The thing freezes, dangling upside down, with a shivering Sweetie Belle clinging to it.

"Hnnnnnnghhhh..." The filly winces... winces... and finally opens her eyes. "...huh?" She looks all around, seeing her floating predicament. "Whoah! H-hey! If this is death, then sign me up!"

"Oh yeahhhhh!" Scootaloo and Apple Bloom jump up and down in place, cheering.

I grit my teeth, sweating profusely. It's taking every ounce of strength in my body to keep the filly and her stupid glider levitating in place.

She sees who her savior is, and she glances over with a bashful smile. "Eheheh..." A blue cloud wafts between us. "Thanks, Missy! You're one in a—" Scrkkkkk! The belt holding her in place rips loose, and her eyes bulge. "Uh oh." Fwooosh! She falls from the glider like a fluffy anvil.

"Oh no!" Scootaloo and Apple Bloom hug each other.

"... ... ...!!!!" Holding my breath, I do... something stupid. The wind gliding gold past my ears proves it—I've just thrown myself off the tree branch. I sail out into the air, grab the filly with all four legs, and spin around so that my body is facing the hard earth first.

She shrieks into my ear, such delicious blue waters.

And then I hit the ground. There's a brief flash of brilliant crimson, tempered slightly by a soft cyan gasp. I feel a safe twitch of her limbs before bitter cold numbness sets in.

And then all is turquoise.

Yesterday's Things

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"Cyan? Cyan Sings?"

I screwed the cap back onto a water bottle, wiped my muzzle clean, and looked across the backstage area. "Yes?" I asked with a bright smile.

"You're on in five!" exclaimed a stagehoof. She held a clipboard in front of her as she galloped swiftly between stallions carrying setpieces left and right. The bright gold bulbs of a makeup vanity glinted off the unicorn's teeth as she grimaced. "Ungh!" She flipped through the sheets of her program. "That Lulamoon magician is late again! I swear! Why does every pony from Whinniepeg think we abide by their schedule?!"

"What, does that mean you're one performance short, or—?" I asked.

"Make that three! The first act got stuck in Manehattan traffic and those Flim/Flam Singers from Fillydelphia had to pull double-time! Dang it!" The mare dodged a group of flashy-dressed dancers and growled towards the far end of the stage. "Y'know, this wouldn't happen if I had been hired as stage manager a year ago! Phil, I'm talking to you, Phil!"

I blinked. Out the corner of my ears, I heard a wave of applause and cheer. The latest act is ending. "Looks like I'm up."

"Cyan, I-I'm so sorry about how chaotic things have been!" The mare stares at me, eyes glossy. "It won't happen again! I swear!"

"Hehehe... lemme guess..." I smile. "I've gotta stall for time you can find another act to finish the show with."

"Uhhhh..." The mare squirmed in place. Her eyes shifted about. "I... uh... I-I think I can get the Buffalo Brothers back in to re-do their juggling act." She gulped hard. "The crowd seemed to love that."

"Or..." I adjust my sparkly blue dress. "I could... y'know... sing two more songs to keep the audience happy. It could easily close out tonight's performance."

"But, Cyan! Miss!" She trembled, hugging the clipboard close. "We're talking about twenty straight minutes! We... we only have you paid for less than ten! I don't think... I-I mean I can't quite get in touch with the financier this second! I—"

"Heehee..." I winked her way. "Don't worry. I won't have my agent bill you for more."

"You... you're sure of that?" The stagehoof shuddered. "Miss Sings, if it weren't for you, tonight's show wouldn't even have half its draw! I... I'm afraid our venue simply isn't used to—"

"Think nothing of it. Besides." I trotted over to a mirror and inspected my long, curled mane. "I love shows like this. Not too small and not too crowded."

"We... we can talk about a bonus afterwards!"

"Just let it be," I said with an amused smile. I fluffed my electric blue bangs until they shone in the light. "I've got a new album coming up, and this will be my chance to sample some of the ballads with middle-class Manehattanites." I looked towards her. "It's a win-win, ya see?" A melodic giggle. "So please. Relax! I've got this!"

"Oh Cyan..." The mare exhaled, smiling rosily. "You're too... too kind. I really wish there were more performers like you in the world."

"Pffft. I don't!" I trot away from the mirror with a smirk. "A girl needs to stand out, y'know?"

"Heheheh... sure!"

Another stagehoof rushed up, waving a hoof. "Three minutes until the next performance!"

"That's you, Cyan."

"Right." I took a deep breath, facing the brightly-lit stage just beyond the dangling curtains. "Normally, I'd knock 'em dead, but I want ponies to trot away from this alive so they can buy my album."

The immediate vicinity of the backstage around me filled with chuckles.

And then—from high above—I heard a frighteningly loud pop! There was a bright spark of cold blue light. Just as it cleared, all our ears were pierced by the wailing sound of a stagehoof falling from a breath hight.

I looked up in time to see his body streaking downwards. He ricocheted off the edge of a platform, toppeled, and landed roughly on his side. Painful shudders rolled through his battered body, but otherwise he laid dead still.

"Blessed Celestia!"

"Did you see—?!"

"Heads up!" another stallion shouted from up high.

I shrieked, jumping back as a black length of cable slinked down, collecting in a half-loop around the stallion. Magical sparks spilled loose from the severed ends, and we all had to squint to see through it.

"He's hurt! We gotta help—" A performer rushed forward.

"No!" The stallion from above shouted. "Don't!" He climbed a few platforms down, and it was then that I noticed a big black light fixture dangling loosely above him—also framed by sparkling cables. "That cord's snapped and it's spilling loose manaflow! It's enough to power the lights of this theatre and it'll fry a grown pony to a crisp!"

"Well, we can't just stand here! We have to help the guy!"

"What we need to do is get this place evacuated!" The stallion climbed down the rest of the way, panting. "It's just a matter of time before—"

"Oh goddess!" the mare beside me yelped.

I winced from the feel of a hot blaze to my left. Glancing aside, I gasped to see that the loose wire's sparks had ignited the setpieces behind the collapsed stallion. One inch per second, the fresh flame climbed up the backstage curtains. Smoke spread swiftly, and the audience outside were already starting to gasp and shriek in fright.

"We gotta go!" A stallion shouted behind me. "Everypony out! Move slowly and calmly! Through the exits!"

"But... what about... about—"

"We gotta thin the crowd! Now go!"

I gasped, feeling myself shoved straight forward. My mane flounced and my body jolted from bumping into one set of shoulders after another. As we were forced towards the exit, I turned and glanced over my flank.

The limp stallion still lay behind a mess of sparkling cables. Three other stagehooves crowded around him, struggling to find a safe way to get to the injured pony. There was one thing I noticed about them—about everypony around me.

None of them were unicorns.

"Hey...!" I yelped, reaching a hoof out. "Wait! Just lemme—Ungh!" I winced as the crowd jostled me more and more. Then, with an angry snarl, I fired a blast of telekinesis from my horn. Two dancers yelped as they were shoved to their flanks. "So sorry! Please... lemme through!" I shoved and hopped my way over them. Once I was in the clear, I galloped over to the scene.

CRASH! A burning chunk of wood fell beside me. Only once I had shuffled back to the scene did I realize how out-of-control the blaze was. Nevertheless, I crept forward, coughing my way through the surmounting smoke. For a brief moment, the haze cleared, and I saw the stallion in great clarity. Without hesitation, I concentrated a wave of magic.

The cables beside him moved aside. The other stagehooves gasped. They briefly glanced my way, and their eyes lit-up instantly.

"Go... get him...!" I wheezed, sweating heavily as I struggled with my delicate task. The cable in my magic grasp shook and wriggled like a snake. Sparks of magic flickered in my direction, and I could taste the rust of blood building up in the back of my mouth. "Quickly! Can't... hold this for much longer!"

They didn't waste any time. Rushing forward, the stallions gently lifted the injured stallion and carried his moaning figure towards the exit.

My eyes trailed after them as they rushed past me. Then—out of nowhere—I felt a fountain of blue light scream into my vision.

"Aaaugh!" I stumbled backwards, being baked by the flames. There was a loud groan from above, and then a rush of air. "Huh?" I looked straight up.

The light fixture came crashing straight down. As soon as it struck the backstage floor, it exploded. The manacore shattered completely, and with nowhere else to go—the enchanted energy flowed straight out the cables and swam down the leylines that were levitating them in place...

...which led the electrical juices straight into my horn.

I didn't see anything at first... but I heard it, like a bombastic salvo of every drum and every trumpet and every violin ever made, splitting my skull in half and exploding out my eyes.

And all I saw was magenta... the painting of my screams.

Waking Things

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I wince.

Then I wince harder.

The first hint that I'm still alive comes in a jolt of persistent pain shooting up through my right rear leg. I wriggle and squirm, and I feel my body encumbered by tight sheets and fabric.

The barest hint of a whimper escapes my throat, and the resulting tsunami of magenta nearly throttles me back to unconsciousness. My brow furrows, and I feel naked... cold. I reach a hoof out, blindly reaching for a nightstand, a table, anything and anywhere in search of a pair of shades.

It is then that I notice a strangely comforting sound. Streams of purple swim through the crimson currents of muffled pain. I flail slowly, helplessly—in search of the humming voice. But then the sound finds me before I find it, and I'm rewarded with a satin soft hoof reaching in and placing a pair of shades over my face.

With a gasp, I allow the article to fit over my eyes. Squinting, I blink over towards a violet cloud besides me.

Her outline comes into focus, led by a smile, framed by a bow tie, and followed by an elegant plume of charcoal mane hair. Her hoof finishes placing the shades over my eyes, and I watch—breathless—as she leans back in the bedside table. Her voice echoes melodically off the walls of a tiny hospital room.

"Welcome back, love." Rich, velvety violet.

I clench my teeth. I can't afford to cry right now. I might implode.

"First thing's first, you're quite alright," Tavi says. I spot a small stack of books by her chair. A tiny tea set. A pillow. How long has she been waiting here?

Come to think of it, how long have I been out?

"Second, the little filly is even more than alright," my roommate proclaims, and there's no avoiding the proud smile across her muzzle. "Looks like somepony fancies herself a hero."

I bite my lip. Struggling—wincing—I lean my head up to look down at my body. At least, I try to.

"Uh uh uh..." Tavi leans in, steadying me in the bed. It's then that I realize that my lower right leg is lifted up—hanging from a complicated pulley system. "Best to lie back, Vine. It's not broken. Well... not broken per se. The doctor says that there's a hairline fracture and several bruised tendons. You'll have to wear a brace for about a week or two. All things considered—if you ask me, at least—I find the whole matter to be blissfully miraculous." Again, that proud smile... that violet voice. "An incredibly fortunate thing that you were located so close to a hospital, yes?" She giggles.

The sound of her mirthful chuckling raises my heart out of bed. With the next few breaths, I feel like the rest of my body is lifting up after it. I smile, ears folding back as a toasty sensation bubbles across my reclined figure.

"I... uh..." She squirms in the chair, her legs kicking, flouncing against the hoof-rest. I watch as her purple eyes trace across the tile floor. "I was rather... alarmed when I first heard of what happened. It didn't help that the story came directly from the mouths of fillies, which afforded an inordinate amount of hyperbole." She clears her throat in a brief flash of indigo. "I... I must admit that I had assumed the worst for a while there, which is precisely why I committed to a full stay here while you recovered." She looks up, blinking brightly. "Do not worry, though. I have Bon Bon committed to feeding Scribbler in my absence."

I stare at her.

I'm... not worried about Scribbler.

"Truth is, I wouldn't wish to be anywhere else, Vine." She gulps hard. "You... never cease to amaze me. Do you know that?" She smiles delicately in my direction. "A gifted musician... a charitable friend... and now... heeheehee... a veritable savior of fillies. Sometimes, yes, I do believe I am the luckiest roommate in Equestria."

I lean back into my pillows, smiling dreamfully at her.

You should know a thing or two about being a savior...

Clinical Things

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"Oh, it was more than the mere application of telekinetic magic!" Octavia chimes, her voice an excited pitch of violet. She smirks across the hospital room at our visitors. "From the sound of things, Vine literally shimmied up the tree—like a squirrel—and launched herself horizontally through the air in time to intercept the foal's falling body!"

"Wow!" Lyra grins wide. "No kidding?" She winks over at Bon Bon. "No wonder Vinyl never talks! She's half-rodent!"

"Oh Lyra..." Bon Bon rolls her eyes. "I don't see what that has to do with anything. Honestly."

"Hehe! Still..." Lyra looks back at Tavi and I. "That's pretty wicked sweet! Way to throw yourself through the air like you just don't care!"

I smirk, munching on a bowl of oats. I dig my spoon in and take another bite. Somewhere between twelve and six hours ago, my body's become ravenously hungry. If it weren't for this cast that my leg's dangling in, I swear—I'd have galloped off to Sugarcube Corner and eaten the place clean of doughnuts.

"You know, she might have a tiny bit of pegasus in her," Bon Bon says. "My mother is about one-quarter pegasus. Every now and then, when something really scary or frightening happens, I find myself jumping—like—really high... like I'm supposed to have wings to carry me away from the place or situation. I like to blame it on my great-great grandmother whenever that happens."

"I'd... much rather chalk it up to Vinyl's innate selflessness in the face of adversity," Octavia muses.

"Oh, you'll get no argument from us!" Lyra nods, smirking. "I always knew there was an action hero deep inside the mare, desperate to get out. That's why she makes all the bass drops in her tracks! She's trying to contain the epicness! Isn't that right, Vinyl?"

I burp. The ensuing blast of magenta nearly topples me out of bed, but I hang onto Tavi's purple breaths in time to recover with a bashful smile.

"Well, there goes the rodent theory," Lyra drones. Bon Bon giggles.

There's a knock on the door.

"Do come in!" Octavia says, smiling.

The door opens, and I immediately detect Nurse Redheart's delicate pink voice. "The latest X-Rays are in," she says, shuffling into the room with the photographs in question. She places them against an illuminated board and shows us the faded fracture line of my right leg. "It would seem that Vinyl is making quite the recovery."

"Oh wow..." Bon Bon's jaw drops. "Is... is that even natural?"

Nurse Redheart merely smiles. "Unicorns have a habit of mending quickly from minor fractures. Vinyl is no exception."

"She's right, y'know." Lyra turns to smirk at the other mares. "It's all in the horn." She points at the tip of her skull. "This baby was able fake the flu enough times to give me a miniature vacation from eighth grade!" Bon Bon swats her shoulder. "Wh-what...?! I passed with flying colors!"

"Yes, and all of them black and blue," Bon Bon says, sticking her tongue out.

"This is delightful news, indeed," Octavia says, facing Redheart. "But... uhm... I-I don't suppose that my friend here will be well enough to get back on her hooves by this weekend? We... uhm..." She glances delicately at me. "...we have a somewhat pressing musical engagement at the Castle..."

I blink hard. I can't believe I almost forgot...

"Well... we'll see." Nurse Redheart taps her chin in thought. "So long as she gets plenty of rest and applies as little pressure as possible on her cast, she should be fine—in any case." She glances at Octavia. "Is... this engagement of yours going to be physically strenuous?"

"Uhhhhhh..." Tavi nervously squirms and sweats. "Eh heheheh... well..."

Just then, there's another knock on the door, followed by a silk smooth voice. "I am terribly sorry to be a bother, but... erm... by any chance have you introduced—"

"Oh! I almost forgot!" Redheart exclaims. "You... erm... appear to have a visitor?"

Octavia sighs. It is something mirthful, rather than exasperated. "I know that voice anywhere. Do let her in."

The mare in question bursts into the room regardless. She isn't alone. A veritable botanical garden of flowers, bouquets, and wreathes float in after her pale figure. The room is a fragrant mess of floral perfumes. I spot Lyra and Bon Bon in the corner nearly gagging.

"Oh, praise Celestia!" Rarity stammers. Even when floundering over herself, her voice carries a musical quality. The air sparkles around my ears as if aglow with diamonds and sapphires. "I'm so terribly glad that you're awake! I had feared the worst... prepared for the worst. And, in all sincerity..."

Octavia and I mutually wince as the mare slides in on her knees like a groveling canine.

"I am so... so... so exceedingly sorry for what's transpired! I take full responsibility for your injuries and any trauma that they may have induced!" She looks at Red Heart. "Is the good mare insured?"

"Uhhhhhhhhhh—"

"Doesn't matter! I shall tend to the mending of her injuries through my own bit bag!" Rarity tilts her chin back with a righteous frown. "A lady never goes back on her word!"

"Miss Rarity, you're far too kind," Tavi says with a frazzled smile. "But it isn't necessar—"

"Uh uh uh! Not a single ounce of protest!" Rarity waves a hoof. "You two are the new royal minstrels, after all! I see it fit to look after your health with the same sort of passion you would look after our mirth!"

"But we haven't even had a single opportunity to perfo—"

"Nevertheless! I stand firm by my conviction! You have saved something very precious to me, after all." She smiles and cups my hooves gently in her forelimbs. Her eyes are glossy, sparkling jewels. "So very... very precious." In an instant, the gloss melts away, replaced by an angry fire. "Speaking of which..." She spins towards the door and snarls: "Young lady? Come inside this instant!"

A blue whimper lights up the room. I feel my heart skip a beat. I glance over—and every other pony is similarly craning her neck.

Through the doorframe, the tiniest of pale faces peeks in. I see a sad frown beneath a limp fluff of two-toned mane hair.

"Sweetie Belle..." Rarity's voice coils back like a spring-loaded pistol.

An audible gulp, and the filly shuffles in, head hanging low. She marches across the room like the sole member of an invisible funeral dirge. When she reaches my bedside, she slumps in place, shoulders shaking.

"Now... like we discussed..." Rarity arches an eyebrow, looming above the foal. "...what do you have to say for yourself?"

"Miss... Miss Scratch?" Sweetie gulps again... then gulps even harder. "Miss Vinyl Scratch? I... uh..." She fidgets... fidgets... "I wanted to say that I was wrong for putting myself in so much danger like I did. Even though I was trying to get a cutie mark, it didn't excuse such a crazy risk."

"Aaaaaaaand...?" Rarity hums.

"And... and..." The filly shakes, sniffles, then throws herself onto my bedside, sobbing up a liquid blue storm. "I'm so sorry I nearly got you killlllledddddd! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!"

I wince. Octavia, Lyra, and Bon Bon likewise grimace.

"Yes, well..." Rarity blushes slightly, fluffing her own mane and giving us an awkward smile. "Admittedly, I inspired in her a spirit of humility, but I didn't quite ask for such theatrics—"

"I nearly murdered you! Oh goddess!" Sweetie Belle wailed and wailed. "Oh goddess, I'm so very sorrrrrry! Waaaaaaaaaah! I'm a bad filly! A bad bad filllyyyyyy!"

"There there, Sweetie Belle." Rarity pats her shoulder. "I do believe Miss Scratch has gotten the—"

"I dun deserve my cutie markkkkkk!" Sweetie sobs, sniffles, and buries her moaning face against my bed. "I dun deserve to livvvvve! Somepony feed me to the diamond dogs nowwwww!"

"Oh dear..." Octavia bites her lip, glancing aside. "Uhm..."

"Okay, Sweetie Belle. We're convinced of your sincerity!" Rarity grasps the filly's shoulders. "You needn't go on and on like—Aaah!" She falls to the floor as Sweetie Belle pounces on her.

"I love you, Rarityyyy. Pleeeeeease make it a quick execution! Pleeeeeease!" Sweetie Belle sobs into her white chest.

"My coat! Sweetie—you're getting your tears all over my coat!" Rarity moans, rolling her eyes. "Oh, for the love of Celestia..."

"Heh..." Lyra smirks. "And who said hospital visits were boring?" A peach hoof swats across her head again. "Ow!"

Generous Things

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"Miss Rarity, we're quite pleased with your sincerity and attention," Tavi says. The automatic front doors of the hospital swish open, exposing us to the refreshingly warm air of the outside world. "But you needn't go to all of this trouble and expense. Honestly..." A violet chuckle. "I'm more than capable of assisting my good friend during her return home."

"Uh uh uh!" Rarity chides. "Say no more! I must insist on getting you back to your apartment both comfortably and safely!" Her voice is like a bath of tiny diamonds cascading all over my shoulders. Nevertheless, I grip the hoof-rests of the wheelchair with a twinge of nervousness as she magically glides me across the lengths of Ponyville. "It's the least I can do, considering what lengths you and Miss Scratch have gone to ensure the well-beingness of my beloved yet foolish sister."

"Huh?" Again, Tavi giggles. She's terribly amused by this whole situation. I'm glad one of us is, at least. "Miss Rarity! It was Vinyl who saved Sweetie Belle! I wasn't even there! You owe me nothing!"

"Heroism by association, darling," Rarity sing-songs. With a voice like that, it's a wonder that Princess Twilight needs minstrels around the palace to begin with. "I truly mean it. You two are more than just professional composers. You are angels in disguise!"

"Rarity, if I may be so bold, I find your complimentary attitude to be rather... biased. I don't suppose that this had any bearing whatsoever on the fact that Vinyl and I were the ones chosen after all the auditions?"

I sense a cloud of magenta issuing outward from my hissing teeth. Don't push it, Tavi...

"Uh!" Rarity gasps, and I'm showered with sapphires. "My my, Miss Melody! What an audacious suggestion! I'll have you know that I threw my vote into the hat with the same equal vigor as the rest of my close companions. Rest assured, I did not curry any favors, no matter how much I think your music is the utter apex of musical elegance... nor how... ermmm... much I've relished your visits to the Boutique so that I could see true beauty modeling my exquisite gowns."

"Hah hah hah. What?"

"Oooh! Here we are!" Rarity hums again. "483 Faust Street, am I right?"

"Indeed. Allow me to open the door for you." Octavia skips ahead, fumbling with her keys. "Oh, it's a terribly good thing I cleaned the house earlier today. Vine, love, I hope you don't mind that I took the liberty of moving things around some."

"... ... ...!" My eyes are bulging beneath my shades by the time Rarity wheels me into the living room. I instantly crane my neck, my pulse racing. I look and look and...

...everything feels the same. Only once I'm ten feet deep into the living room do I notice that my turntable is situated a few measly centimeters to the right.

I slouch back in my chair, exhaling with relief. As the magenta clears, I feel a dumb smile lingering on my muzzle.

Celestia dang it, Tavi. Don't scare me like that...

"Ah! Here we are! And what a lovely abode, too!"

"Please, Miss Rarity," Tavi hums. "It's no Boutique... and it's certainly no Castle."

"Oh, don't be so humble! I find it... uhm... rustically charming!" Rarity fidgets, and I sense brown stains along the edges of her otherwise polished words. "I especially like how... how... dichotomously the foyer has been... erm... designed?"

"Yes, the two-toned colorization has always been a unique feature," Tavi returns with a volley of purple. "That's precisely why I selected... er, I mean, that's the reason why Vinyl ordered..." She stands in place, blinking confusedly. "Uhm, Vine?" She looks my way. "I'm having a terrible case of cerebral flatulence at the moment. Could you remind me who exactly decided upon this particularly avante-garde architecture?"

I fumble for worldess words.

"Well, a home is still a home, and I know my way around it. Please, Miss Scratch. Allow me." Before I can protest, Rarity is floating me—and my leg and my cast—gently across the room.

"Erm..." Tavi squirms. Tavi sweats. "Uhhhh... Rarity—?"

"Oh, don't be a fussbudget dear." The unicorn smiles, levitating me towards the sofa. "I know quite well how to take care of an infirmed pony. My father used to be quite the fan of pancakes, but his stomach never was, you see!" A flippant giggle.

"But I assure you, it's not..." Tavi gulps, then looks my way. "I mean, there's no need for... for..."

I shrug with a stupid smile as I'm floated over to a sofa. After laying me down, Rarity props my cast up on a stack of fluffy pillows and drapes a blanket over my body.

"I absolutely insist that I see to your courageous roommate's full recovery!" Rarity trots swiftly back and forth across the house, folding up the wheelchair and shoving my bag of things towards my side of the foyer. "And for the moments in the afternoon when I'll be busy dressmaking or assisting Princess Twilight, my sister will be here. I can assure you that she will likewise look after your friend's health with as dutiful a zeal!"

"Erm..." Tavi grimaces. "I... I'm rather flattered by the idea, but I'm not sure that—"

"Believe me. Sweetie Belle must learn a thing or two about responsibility. This will help her as much as it will help your friend. Besides, just grounding her is not enough, and I doubt she will be of much help to anypony at home alone." Rarity pauses to smile at us. "Do not worry. Although she's obviously rather precocious in her crusades to achieve a cutie mark, I assure you, she's quite useful when made to work on household cleaning tasks."

"Well... uh..." Octavia adjusts her bow tie. "I do suppose we could use an extra set of hooves around the house, cleaning out the gutters, looking after Scribbler—"

"Scribbler?"

"Our little feline pet, you see."

"Ah. Quite an... eloquent name for one too." Rarity smiles. "I also have a cat. She's named Opalescence, and Sweetie Belle is rather used to taking care of her. I'm certain my precious darling's temperament has made Sweetie more than prepared for whatever you and your good friend may have in store."

"Well, that is... very assuring?"

"Now! I do believe some food and drink is in order!" Rarity steps forward. "I can prepare anything from eggs to salad to a full-course pasta meal! Name it, Miss Scratch, and the dinner is yours!"

"Oh, Rarity, please—"

"Uh uh uh! I mean it! Money is no object! So, what will it be?"

I look at Tavi. With a smirk, I motioned "drinking" with my hoof.

"Hrmmmm..." Octavia rolls her purple eyes, then proceeds to roll her purple words even further. "I do believe my beloved friend is thirsting for Dr. Pony."

"Oh?" Rarity bites her lip suddenly. "I see. Is... uhm... she a wine maker? Perhaps I should go back to the hospital and inquire—?"

"No no no..." Tavi chuckles slightly. "You don't understand. It is the name of a soft drink."

"Ah. But of course."

"A quite caffeinated and disgustingly flavored one too," Tavi says. A fluffy pillow flies across the room collides with her left leg. She sighs. "But, to each their own."

"I see. Well..." Rarity clears her throat and canters out of the building. "I shall go and procure a large volume of said quaff forthwith! Fear not, Miss Scratch, for your thirst shall be quenched sooner than you can say... well... anything really! Ta!" And she hops out in a pale blur.

Tavi shakes her head, closing the door behind her. She leans against it, giggling, then smiles beautifully in my direction. "I have always admired that mare's delicate enthusiasm, but I'm not so certain I can handle that much of it for days! And so unfiltered too!"

I smirk at her.

"Granted, I suppose we should be thankful for her generosity," Tavi says, strolling across the room, unconsciously reorganizing the bits of things Rarity had just shuffled around upon entering. "It's not often that we're treated... well... that you're treated so luxuriously." She gulps, avoiding my gaze slightly. "How often I forget, Vine, that you did not come from the same sort of financially cushioned upbringing as I had. Being served hoof-and-fetlock must be quite a charmingly new sensation for you."

I shrug.

"Hmmm... best not to lose that air of humility," Tavi muses. "After all..." She points. "Once you've recovered and back on your hooves, we'll be the ones... performing like lowly servants for Her Highness and Rarity. I guess this is only... preemptive karma, yes?"

I nod, yawn, and lean back into the couch cushions.

It could be Tartarus for all I care...

...so long as I get my damned Dr. Pony.

Recuperating Things

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"Okay... okay... okay okay okay..."

Tavi shuffles. Tavi fumbles. Tavi licks her lips and carefully... very carefully slides the vinyl in question out of its sleeve. I watch from the couch as she stands before my turntable, holding the large disc before player.

"I've seen this done hundreds of times. It shan't be too hard." She nevertheless gnaws on her bottom lip. "There's no conceivable way I might inexplicably drop this and shatter your prized record into a million pieces."

For the first time since I've opened a can of Dr. Pony, I feel a bead of sweat along my brow. Remaining calm, I adjust my shades and watch Octavia as she nervously places the record down over the spindle.

"Alright... alright... uhm..." Her purple eyes trail almost as much as her voice does. At last, she sees a particular part of the instrument panel and grins wide. "Ah! The red switch!" She flashes a nervous look my way. "This red switch right here?"

I nod.

"Right, then." She flips it. The disc spins. "Hmmm... the disc is spinning, but the speakers aren't playing anything." She produces the most thunderous blink in her life, then rolls her eyes. "Oh, bollocks. How could I be such an amateur?" She places the needle down. Visciously.

The record scratches so hard that I swear the speakers will rip this apartment in two.

The air shakes with a high-pitched squeal as Octavia hops back, flinching from the machine as if it's going to explode her and everything. The world disappears beneath a magenta breath, and I struggle not to laugh myself into uconsciousness. Thankfully, I recover—just as Octavia does—in time for us to share a humored glance amidst the delightful crackle of expertly mixed synthopop.

"Don't! Seriously, Vine, do not laugh at me, love!"

I grin. Then I grin some more.

She sighs, picking up the needle and placing it down on the edge of the record. At last, the track begins like normal, and we're both serenaded by some of Equestria's finest musicsmithery. "It all looks so much easier on the other side of the recording booth. Are... are you certain I didn't damage it just now... erm... in some way?"

I shake my head and take another swig of Dr. Pony.

"Well, good." She hops down from the tiny platform and shuffles daintily my way. "I shudder to think you actually produce those ungodly scratching noises on purpose. But, then again, you are paid to do so." She sighs, hopping up on the couch across from me. "And it would be a shame to not live up to your popular monicker, yes?"

I shrug.

"Hmmmm..." Octavia turns around three times and then curls up atop her favorite cushion. She rests her chin on her forelimbs and cranes a fuzzy ear to the music. "It's... actually not too terribly grating to listen to." Her muzzle twists, and she gives me a suspicious squint. "Is that truly your favorite track, Vine? Don't tell me you chose it just to appease my ears."

I take another sip of my can.

"Ohhhhhhhhh Celestia," Octavia sighs. "Sometimes I think parts of you will forever remain a mystery to me, darling." Upon the last word uttered, she blinks at herself, then stifles an airy laugh. "Well, I must say, we got one good thing out of Rarity's unseemly visit!" She gestured towards the far end of the room. "Have you ever... ever seen our kitchen look so sparkly clean?"

I glance in the direction of her pointing. Indeed, the kitchen sink is blissfully empty. The countertops are spotless. Even the area around Scribbler's food dish is clean of all crumbs and cat hair.

"Of course, she did take it upon herself to haphazardly rearrange my spices collection from alphabetical order to sequence of darker to lighter colors... but still." Octavia shrugs. "It's free housecleaning, as far as I'm concerned. Seriously, Vine, with this on top of our new minstrel jobs, could we possibly be any luckier as of la—?" She freezes in mid-sentence, her eyes locked on my rear leg—propped up in its cast. "Oh. Right. Bother."

I simply smirk.

"Well, it's nice to know that we'll get some more help around here, at least," Octavia says. "True... Rarity's sister may indeed be... erm... the harbinger of your vanglorious injury, but I take Rarity's words quite seriously. If the little trouble-maker can be helpful around the house, then I'm certain we can benefit from it while helping her learn her lesson. We have been in sore need of a bit of dusting around here. Well... on somepony's half of the room, at least."

I look at my shelves and shelves full of vinyls, then back at my roommate. I have my eyebrow raised.

"Yes. That truly was a bold declaration on my part. But—face it, Vinyl—I rarely ever trespass upon that half of the foyer! Besides... I-I never trust myself around your equipment. Give me a good cello or violin anyday, but all of this... mana-powered gadgetry is far too complicated for my tastes! I mean, considering the source of all of the infernal contraption's power, I'm rather surprised that you... that you..." She bites her lip. "Oh dear, I wasn't... terribly thinking about what I was saying, was I?" The mare gulps. "My deepest apologies, love."

I shake my head. Smiling, I reach out to pat her shoulder.

And then—her hoof clasps with mine. Everything stops, and my heart is the first thing to freeze. The sheer contact with her feather-soft limb fills my vision with pure, undiluted purple, and her violet gaze pierces through, peering into me as she gives my fetlock a squeeze, emphasizing the words dripping out of her immaculate muzzle:

"What you did was a very brave thing, Vinyl. And... and while I'm glad that Sweetie Belle's life was spared the other day, would you... be ever so kind as to not travail upon doing something so risky and daredevilish again? I... I-I know it's terribly selfish of me to ask, and I can't very well set your life's path for you, but... it would mean a lot to me if you were more... careful in the future. After all, as undeniably daft as it sounds, I do care an awful lot about this selfless roommate who's supported me over the past seven years, and I would be terribly remiss if I were to let her... c-come so close to leaving this world again."

I stare and stare at her, muzzle agape.

She flinches. Sniffling once, she clears her throat, then puts on the saintliest of smiles. "Bah... listen to me carry on so melodramatically. Just what do I have to be concerned about? You are the talented one of this household, after all." She leans back, fighting a yawn. "Record scratching is your forte, so why shouldn't foal-saving fall into the same groove?" She stretches, stretches some more, and shudders. "Luna's belfry... I still smell all of those unsavory chemicals from the hospital in my mane. Do excuse me, love."

She hops down, shuddering slightly, then shuffles off towards the opposite end of the apartment.

"I do believe I am in sore need of a rinsing. Hmmm! Such is life..." She smiles over her shoulder. "A terribly trite, sneeze of an existence, but never too short that you can't fill it with delightfully warm, fragrant showers. Rest comfortably, Vine. I shall be back to prepare dessert shortly."

She trots off, and I'm left sitting alone on this couch. Somewhere, beyond the edges of the world, one of my favorite tracks is playing, but I barely notice it anymore. I stare at my fetlock, my mind still reeling from the softest, most friendly of embraces. A sigh rolls through my body...

And just as soon as the fuzziness clears, I feel a gnawing sensation rising up through my insides, turning into a persistent, knifing alarm.

Oh, for the love of oats... and she's taking a shower right now too...

Grimacing, I nevertheless fidget where I sit, struggling to cross my other leg over my cast.

Damn Dr. Pony...

Slipping Things

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I stumble across the ice.

Each step I take is perilous, and I nearly slip on the slick surface over two dozen times.

Gnashing my teeth, I struggle to keep my balance.

I pant with vaporous breaths, looking around in desperation for a shoreline.

All I see is monochromatic grayness.

A fog surrounds me on all sides.

Biting my lip, I pick a random direction and shuffle forward, piercing the white emptiness.

Once again, I slip, and I struggle to stay upright.

My knees wobble and I feel the cold biting its merciless way through my coat.

I fight to keep my shuddering breaths straight.

This is no place to collapse or faint.

And then... something parts the fog.

I look forward, blinking hard.

My shades are gone, and yet I can somehow see clearly.

On the far end of the mists, she stands, grasping her bowstring.

She's slicing at the lengths of her cello, but I cannot hear a single note.

I cannot see a single color.

Panicking, I wave my hooves, desperate to get her attention.

Her back is to me, and she can't see my manic motions.

Holding my breath, I fight the ice and elements, gliding forward as evenly as I can muster.

The vision of her draws closer and closer.

Once I'm within shouting distance, I try whistling... blowing... whimpering...

Anything.

At last, she turns and looks my way.

She smiles, but all the color is gone.

Her eyes and her bow-tie are encumbered in shadow.

It stretches high above her, surrounding, devouring.

I tilt my head up, my jaw agape.

I see the black arched outline... the support struts as it spans the river.

Somepony is staring back down, and I cannot bear to see the expression on her face.

I dare not feel that ever again.

Just then, the ice breaks.

I'm sinking.

A gasp escapes my lip—a magenta explosion that shatters the monochrome.

But as I descend into the depths, the waters are not freezing.

Instead, they are warm, delightfully soothing...

Colored with the deepest of blue hues.

"Vinyl...?"

A smooth pearlescent blue.

"Vinyl Scratch...?"

Blue like the sky on a spring afternoon.

"Uhmmmm" A tiny hoof shakes me harder and harder. "Miss Scratch?"

"...!" I snap awake, opening my eyes and instantly regretting it. A myriad of all the world's relentless colors stab me at once. Wincing, I flail against the couch cushions, then reach a hoof out to the table on my left.

"Whoops..." Once again, a fountain of blue—directly in front of me. "My bad. Uhm... do you need this?" I'm hoofed a pad of paper.

Gnashing my teeth, I toss the thing to the floor and continue fumbling around.

"Uhhh... oh! Oh jeez! I'm sorry!" At last, the tiny hoof drops a pair of shades into my grasp. "Here you g-go!"

In a flash, I slap the things over my eyes. I pant for breath, rising the magenta waves into an ocean of calm. Slowly, the colors stop swirling, and I become cognitive of the living room around me... and the tiny little unicorn standing in front of me, eyes blinking.

"Eheh..." Sweetie Belle bites her lip. "I can't even wake you up right."

I simply sit there, staring past my leg-cast at her.

"Oh! Uhm..." The blue undulates into a tender ripple as she draws back, squirming her hooves against the carpet. "Hi. I'm... uh... Sweetie Belle." She gulps. "I mean... of course you know I'm Sweetie Belle." She rolls her eyes at herself. "Anyways... I-I came here as soon as I could after school. Miss Melody was here when I showed up, and she had me work on cleaning the kitchen n'stuff. She... uh... had to go run an errand just now, and she asked me to look after you... since you were sleeping n'all. But then I realized that you hadn't eaten in a while and... uh... I-I was wondering if maybe you..." She grimaces, leaning away from me as if expecting my horn to zap her at any moment. "...wanted a sandwich?"

I blink. I look over my shoulder—then do a double take.

All of the drawers of the kitchen are hanging open and there is silverware piled up everywhere. I notice several boxes stacked up in the corner. I can't even pretend to fathom what they've been filled with or where they might have come from.

"My big sister tells me that the cleanest kitchen is a well-organized one!" Sweetie Belle says. Her voice hits a sapphire peak that matches her glinting grin. "So, I figured I'd go the extra mile and make everything extra neat for you!"

I bite my lip, not anticipating the indigo earthquake that's bound to transpire once Tavi gets back.

"So... uh... how about it, Miss Scratch?" Her tail flicks as she avoids my gaze. "Are you feeling famished? I mean... it's the least I can do."

I take a deep breath. Turning towards her, I sigh, bear a limp smile, the gesture as if I'm guzzling a tall soda can.

"Great!" Sweetie chirps, the canters off. "A sandwich it is!"

"...?!" I gawk at her, shaking my head and gesturing.

"Don't worry!" she hollers back, her voice bright and ocean blue. "I've eased off on the mayonnaise ever since that one time I made my dad pass out!"

Gnashing my teeth, I gaze down at the pad of paper on the floor. I struggle and strain to reach it without moving my injured leg. Naturally, it's a futile effort.

"Huh? What's the matter?" Sweetie Belle trots back. "Can I help you with—?" She pivots about and sees the object I'm reaching for. "Ah! Of course!" She picks it up.

I smile with relief.

And then she places it neatly on a tabletop several feet away on the opposite side of the foyer. "There! Nice and neat, just like I promised Miss Melody!" She trots gaily past me, giving a passing wink. "My big sis likes 'organized chaos,' but it's a good thing she's not taking care of you, huh?"

I face hoof hard.

"So... do you want lettuce or tomatoes on your sandwich?" her blue voice echoes. "How about one clop for lettuce and two clops for tomatoes?"

I stifle the heaviest sigh of my life. Slumping back in my couch, I raise a hoof and slap it twice... limply but firmly against the legrest.

"Oh? Double the lettuce? Coming right up!"

I cringe. Frowning, I aim my horn at the pad of paper across the way. But my magic hasn't been exercised in days, and I barely get the object to float an inch off the desktop.

"Whew!" The filly exclaims. "I really wish there was a better way we could speak to each other! Almost makes you wish that unicorns could read each other's thoughts, y'know?"

I slump back against the cushions again and close my eyes.

You really... really don't want to hear my thoughts right now, kid...

Humming Things

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For the first time since waking up, I can honestly say that I'm now feeling somewhat... comfortable.

Through a series of awkward mechanics, I've managed to position my wheelchair directly beneath the turntable on my side of the foyer. I prop the seat up as high as I can, and it almost feels like I can reach every piece of my instrument panel. I can't properly describe how deliciously stress-relieving it is to have music at my hooftips for the first time in days... so I'm not going to bother.

What I would like to do is unravel this tangled knot of creative dissonance that's swimming angry circles in my skull.

"How's it going over there, Miss Scratch?" Sweetie Belle asks, wrestling with an enormous feather duster.

I nod vaguely in her direction. Meanwhile, my hooves are fiddling with the turntables before me, trying to find a way to segue between two outdated funk tracks. I came here thinking I wanted to dabble with something retro, but now that I'm actually attempting it... I'm all sixes and sevens. A frustrated sigh escapes my nostrils, and I lean down to scratch my itchy coat just above my cast.

The housecleaning filly continues dusting circles around the room, blissfully ignorant. A few more seconds into my concentrated dabblings, I hear her mutter: "You still hungry? You want I should make you another sandwich?"

I lower one half of a set of headphones from my skull. I blink at her, then turn to look at a cup... full of bubbling black something-or-other that's resting on a table beside me.

"I'll put less mustard in it this time! I swear!"

Grimacing, I turn towards her and shake my head with a plastic smile.

"Well, alright! Just holler if you need anything! Erm..." Sweetie Belle blushes. "You know what I mean."

I nod, returning to my records with a cold shudder. I swivel the discs, seeking back and forth through the tracks for a semblance of structure. But I can't concentrate. I'm distracted for some reason.

Blue waves of mirth ripple my way. Sweetie Belle likes to hum when she's doing housework, and I find it damnably distracting. I have no means of snapping angrily at the filly—even if I wanted to. All in all, I just feel... lost.

There's nothing more that I hate than coming out of a hiatus with an absolute mental block to creativity.

So, sighing with magenta strings, I close my eyes beneath my shades. I try to relax... think of myself in a different place... with a different pony. I try to envision Octavia's voice... those eloquent bands of purple turning into curves that swish and swirl around me in fantastical fuzzy clouds... making everything meaningful and—

"Ooooh! Sapphire Shores!" Sweetie Belle's voice cracks.

The world around me shatters completely under a blue tidal wave. Wincing, I turn to look at her.

She's standing in front of my shelf full of vinyl records... hundreds upon hundreds of super rare... super fragile records. Right now, she's casually yanking one off its resting place and looking at the colorful-yet-faded label. "I know her! My big sister's designed dresses for her! More than once! Hehe!" She turns towards me, floating the record by her side. "One of these days, I'm gonna be brushing fetlocks with celebrities too! Wouldn't that be super cool?"

As she says this, the handle of her featherduster pivots, bumping into the rest of the records. I can see every sensitive disc rattling precariously on the shelf.

I hiss through clenched teeth, waving dramatically at her.

"What? Not a fan of Sapphire Shores?" Sweetie Belle's brow furrows. "So, how come you have her album?"

I sweat and shiver. I plant two of my hooves together in a "praying" gesture and then beg her to place the item back.

Sweetie Belle glances at me, at the vinyl, at me, then at the vinyl again. Somewhere far away, a butterfly flaps its wings. Seconds later, it clicks inside her fluffy skull, and her eyes widen. "Oh! Right! My bad!" She slides the vinyl back into place, putting the rest of the shelf back into balance.

I exhale with relief, slumping in my wheelchair.

"I'm so sorry, Miss Scratch. I'll just stick to dusting." She shuffles along the adjacent wall, murmuring in bright blue bursts. "Rarity's always telling me that I shouldn't go touching stuff that I don't understand. Everytime I share that with Dad, he just laughs and says 'Well, that's jumping the gun if I ever heard it! You're not even close to thirteen yet!' Whatever that means. Tchh. Dads are weird."

I nod, looking ahead. My body freezes, for suddenly I'm hearing the most delightful melody I've experienced in ages. The beatific harmonies of it nearly steal my breath away. Curious, I glance at my spinning records, then slam a hoof over the volume control. I raise the headphone's clamshell up to my ear, desperate to hear more of this hitherto forgotten part of the track.

Instead, an invasive set of brass instruments murder their way into my ear canal. That's how I realize that the harmony isn't coming from the old funk tracks that I am playing.

Curious, I swing a hoof over and stop the discs from spinning altogether. I lower the headphones from my ears, and I find the melody coming into clarity... crystal blue oceanic clarity.

"Hmmm-mmm-mmmmm..." Sweetie Belle carries an angel's chorus on her shoulders, shuffling about from shelf to shelf as she innocently redistributes the dust from one spot to another. Nevertheless, she smiles at her supposedly immaculate hoofwork, unaware that another set of ears is bearing witness to her unconscious serenade. "We are the cutie mark crusadersssss... on a quest to find out who we arrrrrre..."

I stare at her, ears twitching. I tap my chin with my hoof several times. Then, with a pounding heart, I quietly... stealthily reach for a microphone beneath my desk. With icy, graceful precision, I prop the microphone up on the turntable, pivot it around until it's facing the filly... and I slap the little orange button at its top. My shaded eyes dart towards an LED screen on my instrument panel, and I see blue waves bouncing back and forth in sequence with her voice.

"...and we will never stop the journeeeey... not until we find our cutie marrrrks..."

I fumble about slightly, grasping for a paper and pen. With quiet magic, I make note of the time, slashing tick marks at moments when her voice is most colorful—like liquid sapphires cascading across the room, forming a crystalline pool of soft melody and tranquil—

"Whatcha doin' there, Miss Scratch?"

"...!" I hide the pen and paper, smiling plastically in her direction.

She trots forward, her muzzle looming hilariously close to the mic. Ignorant, she speaks again, her voice reaching maximum volume on my instrument panel. "So many cool glowy buttons. Did you always know how to use a tummytable?"

I gawk at her for a few seconds, my mind processing that last term. Snapping out of it, I gulp and shake my head with a pleasant smile.

"Awwwwwwwww..." Her ears droop for some reason. "So, I'm guessing you didn't get your cutie mark in DJing?"

I shake my head.

"Well, it's a really cool cutie mark." She points. "It's two eighth notes, joined by a bridge, right?"

I blink. Hard. Yes, actually... well done, my little pony.

"I'm curious. Why are they all... like... backwards?"

"...?" I turn and glance down at my rump in the wheelchair.

"I mean... they are backwards, right?" Sweetie Belle cranes her neck. "Aren't the little circle parts supposed to swing the other way?"

I scratch my head, suddenly aloft in existential contemplation.

"Guess it means you like to do stuff unconventionally, right?" Sweetie Belle smiles. "Hehe... must be easy getting a cutie mark when you're that creative."

I stare at her, brow furrowed.

I... never thought of it that way, actually...

"I wouldn't mind getting a backwards cutie mark at this point. So long as it isn't a hippopotamus. Cuz nopony likes having a hippo back into you. I mean, have you even read the tabloids?"

I stare blankly at her.

"My sister reads the tabloids a lot. Sometimes she likes to share." She blinks. "I'm scared of hippos." She blinks again, then suddenly smiles. "Anyways! Time to feed Scribbler! Heehee! Fuzzy fuzzy fuzzball!" The filly skips off.

I watch after her. With a shrug, I nevertheless tilt the microphone in her direction, catching her just in time for when the blue hum resumes.

I hope Tavi forgives me if she comes home to the cat having blown up...

Conjuring Things

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"Ooooh...!" A felicitous bubble of indigo floats my way, then bursts with purple trails. "That's a new one, isn't it?"

I nod. I hear her, and yet I don't. I'm hunched over my turntable, frenziedly and persistently blurring my hooves across the console. The speakers crackle with the building blocks of a brand new track. I throw in samples, remove them, splice them, slow and speed them up, and gradually work towards building a new masterpiece. In repetitious fashion, the infantile techno piece grows from a seed, reaching about fifteen seconds before stumbling, lurching, then repeating. All the while, I struggle to segue it into a new movement, slowly creating a cohesively competent piece. I can only imagine how annoyingly repetitious it must sound to somepony else's ear.

Thankfully, Octavia is a great deal better than that.

"Those are some lovely samples you're utilizing, love." Her purple eyes narrow in my peripheral vision, and that's how I realize how closely she's standing to me. "That is the right term, yes? 'Samples?'"

I reply with yet another vague nod. Licking my lips, I drag another sample over from one track and fuse it with this one. I change the pitch, morph it, and then exhale with relief as it creates a bridge to another movement. I make sure it matches the beat, then work on integrating another record's track into the overlay.

"Hmmm..." Octavia squats in the starlight outside our apartment's windows. "...I'm trying to put my hoof on that... that voice." Her fuzzy muzzle scrunches. "It sounds dreadfully familiar. I mean that in a good way, of course. Sounds... almost like a child. Quite innocent and darling. This is a new medium for you, is it not?"

I shrug, sweating slightly as I fish through the other record for a good melody to fuse with this blossoming thing I've created. Having Tavi nearby is a blessing, of course, but sometimes when there's work to be done...

"You know, I feel the need to protest..."

My heart jolts. I briefly lose my concentration. My eyes dart towards her through the shades—and she knows it.

"What... with you sitting so uncomfortably in your wheelchair. It simply can't be putting any good pressure on your dear leg. Besides..." She tilts her head to the side. "...when was the last time you showered, love?"

I squirm in my seat, biting my lip. Can she really be serious? I'm... I'm so close to achieving something here, and...

The purple from her voice dissipates, and I see a smug grin. I want to hug her and punch her all the same.

"Then I realize..." She smiles. "...that exercising your musical talents truly is the best medicine for you, isn't it, Vine?"

I gaze at her. I smile awkwardly.

She pats my turntable and shuffles off with a dainty swish of her tail. "Do put your headphones on soon, dear. I think some shuteye is in order. For me, of course." Her voice ripples from the other room on purple streams. "Remember, tomorrow is our first scheduled rehearsal for Her Majesty."

I wince. Ah jeez... is that tomorrow already?

Goddess, how time flies...

"If you're unable to attend, I'm certain they will understand. But I know you, Vine. If you channel the same enthusiasm into tomorrow as you're focusing on that project right now... then not even an uncomfortable wheelchair can stop you."

I blink at the dim confines of our apartment. With a deep breath, I nod, then return to my work. I switch the audio channels to my headphones and hold one of the plastic clamshells up to my right ear.

She's right.

I've never felt more ready.

I spin the record and comb it for more samples.

However, one masterpiece at a time...

Learned Things

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"Vinyl, love, are you certain you do not wish to remain in the wheelchair?"

I wave her off gently. Nevertheless, my muzzle winces as I climb out of the apparatus in question. After several days of recuperating, my rear leg now rests in a new cast—one built to weather the outdoors. Or, in this case, indoors.

The crystalline foyer of the Princess of Friendship's castle stretches around us. Most of the pain in my body is gone, save for a slight ache when I flex the muscles in my fetlock. More than anything—as I shuffle into a standing position at the end of a long corridor—I'm concerned with scuffing up the otherwise immaculate polish of the floor.

"Well then..." Octavia stumbles back, blinking with legitimate surprise. She adjusts the weight of the cello case hanging on her flank. "You... appear to have everything together." A slight chuckle escapes her muzzle, encased in sweet violet. "I don't know why I ever doubted."

I smile crookedly at her, hobbling forward.

Yeah, I don't know why either.

"But the first moment you feel even the slightest bit of pain, you inform me, alright?" She maintains a pace slow enough to keep up with my limping trot. "Because if you put too much stress on your leg, you might re-injure it. And if you re-injure it, that might mean you're couch-ridden for even longer. And being couch-ridden for even longer means... erm... ehhhm..."

I glance aside at her, adjusting my shades with a knowing smirk.

"Don't give me that look!" She pouts, nevertheless avoiding my gaze. "I... erm... I-I happen to think that having the extra little hooves around the house to clean up the place and feed Scribbler is absolutely sublime! Why... all because of Sweetie Belle, I've been able to get some much-needed shopping done! It's just that... that..." She clears her throat, glancing aside at the tapestries hanging along the glossy walls. "...I... c-could most certainly do without the inexplicable burn marks... all over th-the kitchen. Ahem."

It's difficult to laugh when you know that the slightest vocal peep could make you faint. I express my hilarity through my smiling dimples. Tavi's gotten used to it. I imagine most ponies must think me a hysterical psychopath.

"But I'm not here to complain," Tavi says. "After all, Sweetie Belle's older sister Rarity will likely be here. Oh, Celestia, she obsesses over me enough as it is already! Now—just to think she's got a complex over you as well!"

I glance curiously at my roommate.

"Well, you did rescue her sibling from certain peril, Vine. I don't know how much you've thought about it, but Sweetie Belle could very well have died if it weren't for your intervention."

I scratch my chin in mid-limp and shrug.

"Oh, don't pretend to be so flippant about it! The fact of the matter is: Rarity is the sort of mare who looks for excuses to lavish praise and gifts on other ponies. And now that you've presented yourself as a veritable savior of her family member—"

I pause to gesture the "sweeping of a broom."

Tavi shakes her head. "Don't you understand? It doesn't matter that Sweetie Belle has already been a veritable house servant for us this week. Rarity is bound to dote on you all the same. I'm rather used to it, seeing as I'm one of her... erm... favorite customers. Ahem." She fluffs her mane and turns to me with a serious gaze. "If you want my advice, Vine, just take whatever she has to offer with humility and grace. I know that's rather hard for you, seeing as you're not the kind of mare who likes receiving gifts."

I blink.

I'm not?

Okay. Cool, I guess...

"And... erm... if you so happen to find her gifts a bit too flattering, you could always do something to humor her. Say... for instance..." She clears her throat and adjusts her collar, glancing down the opposite end of the hallway. "...specifically request a new purple bow-tie with silk stitches."

I smirk at her, eyebrow raised.

"Just... just a random suggestion."

I nod.

"Completely random."

I nod harder.

"Vine, st-stop it!" She playfully swats my shoulder, filling the air with delightfully violet giggles. "I'm a complete basket case right now! Can't you see where we are?! Everything we've worked so long for is actually happening! So what if I might feel a tad bit... mmmm... entitled?"

"Huh? What's this about 'titles?'" A familiar lavender shape trots around the corner, her voice glossy and gray. "Is somepony writing a book?"

"Your Majesty!" Tavi's voice cracks—like chiseled mahogany. She bows low... very low. "By your grace, it is an immense pleasure to be here."

I fidget. I bite my lip, wincing.

Awww crap...

I grimace and struggle, trying to slide my cast down so that my body can bend far enough to bow.

"No no no no! Please... none of that!" I'm encumbered in lavender streams. To my surprise, Twilight Sparkle lifts me back up to my hooves. The ease with which she lifts my entire body—and the gentle grace with which she settles me back down—is rather mind-blowing. I can only hope to master magic that powerful someday. "Especially not from you!" A nervous titter, and I spot a flushed expression to the alicorn's cheeks. "Please, you came to the aid of my best friend's sister. I wouldn't want you to hurt your leg just because you felt the need to bow."

"We m-mean no direspect, Your Majesty!" Tavi blurts, a trembling indigo.

"And please... please..." Twilight smiles, raising a hoof. "Just call me 'Twilight.' You used to call me that before, remember?"

"Erm... when was that, Your Hig—er... Your Majesty?"

She stares at Tavi. Blinking. "Uhm... in the streets of Ponyville?" She shrugs. "Sugarcube Corner?"

"Oh... oh yes, but of course..." Octavia chuckles in a thin voice. She looks at me, and I can practically see the bulbs of sweat being squeezed back into her pours.

I smile gently back at her.

It's okay, Tavi.

I don't remember Twilight Sparkle being a background pony either...

"So... uhm... you're here for the first rehearsals, huh?" Twilight remarked.

"Oh! Yes! Most definitely!" Octavia nods vehemently. "The date never removed itself from our calendars! Not once!"

"Wow! Uh..." Twilight blinks, smiling bashfully. "Nice to know you're so... uh... devoted." She gulps. "Unfortunately... some of my f-friends are just a teensy bit late. But don't worry. I have all of your equipment set up just like last time, and it shouldn't be that long of a wait for Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie to show up. I... uh... I'm sure they're just caught up with some pressing matters at the moment."

"Oh, we understand completely, Twilight." Octavia glances aside. "Isn't that right, Vinyl?"

Before I can even nod my head—

"Miss Scratch!" Twilight steps up to me. "Erm... Vinyl..." She smiled. "I stopped by the hospital the other day."

I bite my lip.

Oh boy, here we go...

"I had a talk with Nurse Redheart and Dr. Clark. Mostly to check up on how you were recovering from your fall." She waves a hoof, smiling dismissively. "Don't worry. The information shared between you and them is strictly confidential—save for anything that the Royal Physician deemed necessary knowledge for your safety here at the Palace."

"Is... is there something the matter?" Octavia asks.

"Not at all!" Twilight turns towards me again. "I just wanted to say that I've taken the liberty of having Spike order three dozen extra writing pads and twice as many pens." She winks. "That way, if you're ever having to convey something important to the rest of us, or if there's an emergency you need to alert us about, you can have access to written words in a jiffy! And... heehee... of course, if you just wish to talk..."

I nod with a calm smile.

"That's... quite thoughtful of you, Twilight," Octavia says. "But, you must understand... erm..." She glances again at me. "About Vinyl... she has always made it a habit to not obligate another pony into speaking."

"Well, I didn't wish to impose. I simply felt that I could facilitate communication should the need arise." Twilight suddenly beams—like a filly who has just captured a lizard and wants to show it off. "Speaking of which! I did a bit of research over the last two nights!" She levitates a pair of tiny sticks in the air beside her, their tips painted white.

"Wait..." Octavia squints, pointing. "Are... are those...?"

Ah jeez.

Here we go.

"Yes! I studied the art of Blank Speech! And—I must say—I find the entire process absolutely fascinating! Did you know that Blank Speech is over one thousand years old? It was invented by a unicorn turned Lunar Imperialist who later betrayed two provinces of the Solar Republic into the clutches of Nightmare Moon! She holed herself up behind the walls of Whinniepeg and didn't surrender until after two full months of siege!" Twilight giggled childishly. "Heeheehee! They interrogated her with molten silver! Isn't history cool?"

"Yes... erm... quite..." Octavia smiled crookedly.

"Still, it's nice to know that her one good invention has had a lasting effect on modern day." She turns towards me. "How about it, Miss Scratch?" She leans back, concentrates, and twirls the sticks in precise movements, pronouncing: "Ever die snorkling this after camel!"

"... ... ..." I blink at her.

She smiles and twirls the sticks some more: "Ocean bliss killed sugar votes carriage!" Her eyes glisten expectantly.

I lean back on my cast, wincing. I look aside at Tavi.

Tavi smiles nervously at me, eyebrow twitching.

Gulping, I turn back towards the princess and nod.

She cocks her head to the side, lips pursed. The sticks twirl: "Uterus left shoebox salt keep?"

"... ... ..." I nod again, smiling.

"Squee!" She hugs the sticks to herself, grinning ear to ear. "I knew it! Isn't communication so... so... communicative?" She twirls about and skips off. "Anyways, I bet you're dying to get to your instruments! Follow me!" She hums in an eggshell white tone.

Octavia exhales, slumping along after the Princess. "I seriously cannot wait to bend some strings..."

I follow her, limping.

Something's getting bent alright...

Rare Things

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"I think it sounds absolutely beautiful," Fluttershy says, her voice as pink and soft as her complexion. She stares up at Octavia's stage with glittering eyes. "Such soft, dulcet sounds."

Tavi giggles slightly. "Well, to tell the truth, Fluttershy, I'm simply tuning the instrument up right at this moment." Her purple voice swims through bands of discordant cello vibrations as she draws the bow randomly across her strings and does just as she says. "I imagine it must come across as quite unmelodic."

"Oh, I don't notice one bit," Fluttershy says, shaking her head. "Even when making random noises, it sounds so peaceful. I can already tell that when you actually perform on it, we'll be blessed with rich, meaninful harmony."

"Hmmmm..." Tavi smiles, gazing down at her own instrument as she digests Fluttershy's words. "My my... if you had a paler coat, I might have mistaken you for Rarity." She winks. "I'm not used to any other pony flattering me quite so."

"We both do share similar tastes, yes. But that's not the reason why." Fluttershy sits back on her haunches in the middle of the large palace ballroom. Her tiny voice echoes with fuchsia streams. "As a little filly, I was always scared of loud noises... deep noises... scary noises..."

Tavi arches an eyebrow. "Do I understand correctly that little Fluttershy once considered the cello to be... ... ... 'frightening?'"

Fluttershy gulped, trembling slightly. "I used to dislike anything with too much bass. Even certain types of trumpets and tubas used to sc-scare me. When I was a foal, my mind would dream up all sorts of nasty monsters and creatures to match the sounds."

"That's quite... unfortunate."

"Oh, don't worry! I've come a long way! And much of it is thanks to my friends. I'm so very glad to rediscover such wonderous works of talents that I used to cower away from. I... I don't know if you can relate... but it's an indescribably happy thing to embrace things that once bothered you... even unnecessarily."

"Hmmm... well it's a good thing you got over your—how should I put it?bass phobia." Octavia winks. "I mean, the cello is one thing." She looks over towards my stage. "But Vinyl's creative penchant for sound? Celestia alive, that would take some getting used to!"

"Hmmm..." Fluttershy leaned back, a hoof raised. "Heehee... I can't even imagine!"

"How about it, Vinyl, love?" Octavia called across the ballroom. "Have you prepared anything tame for today? Or are you still dabbling in scary bass?"

"Oh goodness..." Fluttershy coos.

I would like to answer.

I really would.

But—

"How about the 'Electric Ensemble?'" A pair of blue eyes glimmer with creative lustre. "It may be an avant-garde approach for somepony of my usually classical talents, but I could most definitely see myself experimenting with electric blue motifs. With silver sequines, of course. Oh, darling, they would complement your hairstyle so wonderously!"

I grimace, leaning in tighter and tighter to my dj booth, fumbling to set up a pair of record tracks so that I might start a session. The ache in my rear leg stars to fade from my mind, replaced instead by a relentless deluge of diamonds—all ringing like bells at the very end of her velvet tongue.

"Just think about it, Miss Scratch!" Rarity coos, having ascended yet another platform closer to me. "Wouldn't you look absolutely radiant if you performed one of your 'house sessions' while adorned in reflective silk? I could even construct a material that absorbs and reflects ultraviolet light! You wouldn't even need your mana-powered equipment to shine like a jewell! Don't you think that the underground music scene could use a certain degree of sophistication? You'd be the talk of the town! Outshining all of the competition! Why, you'd most certainly outshine those drab 'Black Eyed Ponies' that Sweetie Belle rambles oafishly about. Meh."

I do a double-take.

Wait, did she just—?

"Oh, Miss Scratch, you must let me assist you on your next tour!" She stifles a slight whimper. The mare is practically begging at this point. "Just a simple nod will do! I won't even have to make you wear anything if that makes you uncomfortable, dear. Why... I could come up with something absolutely dapper for the ravishing Roadie Beau! It so happens that I've been working on a special monochromatic pattern that would look quite spectacular on a zebra! True... I... erm... was initially stitching the pantsuit for Zecora... but... eh-hem... the mare requires a roomy enough outfit as it is, so..."

"Yes, Vine." Octavia winks from the adjacent stage. "I do believe that Beau would look wonderful in—snkkkt—a suit built for a forest shaman!" She and Fluttershy giggle.

I grit my teeth.

Not helping...

"I fail to see what's so hilarious!" Rarity fluffs her mane and sticks her nose up. "Is it so wrong that I wish to offer my talents free-of-charge to Miss Scratch, here?"

"Oh Rarity, there's nothing at all wrong with it," Fluttershy says, smiling warmly. "But a gift wouldn't be right if it was forced."

"In any case, do know that Vinyl and I are grateful for your flattering attention," Octavia says. "It's just that... well... as you can see... we have far more pressing concerns at the moment."

"We're all thankful for what Vinyl did for Sweetie Belle," Fluttershy says. "Risking her life for such an innocent foal without a moment's hesitation." She sniffles slightly with a brief wave of emotion, then continues smiling contentedly. "But surely she will be rewarded in time. There's no need to rush things."

"Mmmm... I suppose you're right, darling." Rarity sighs, then smiles calmly up at me. "Alas, thank Celestia for Fluttershy. Timid as she may be, she truly is the voice of reason."

I nod calmly with a smile.

"In fact, if it weren't for her, I can't honestly say where I would be. She's looked after me almost as much as I've kept an eye out for her. We live such terribly busy lives, it would be a shame for me to add more chaos to the mix with unwanton degrees of fashion mania—" Just now, Rarity's face explodes with a pale gasp. "Duaaaah! 'Post-Modern Pony Couture!' I'd fashion you a dress pinned full of glossy buttons displaying the two dimensional pastel busts of Celestia's most famous pop culture music icons of the last thirty years! Oh, Miss Scratch, you simply have to let me at least tackle that one!"

Octavia sighs. "Well, Miss Fluttershy, you tried."

"I only wish I had tried harder!"

I shrink away from the unicorn, hunched over my turntable as I weather the storm of her bejewelled voice.

"Oh! I know! How about... 'Generation Cross-Stitch!' The 'Cross' part would stand for an 'X.' It would make more sense on paper, darling. Would you like me to sketch it out for you?"

Fiddlin' Things

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"Well, reckon I consider myself somethin' of a fiddlin' pony myself," Applejack says, tilting the brim of her hat back. "By tradition, mind you—not by trade. Granny taught me how to play the violin back when I was just a lil' apple seed, and ever since—when the need calls, like every family reunion or wedding—I get to strummin' that thang somethin' fierce. Mmmm... I guess strummin' ain't exactly the way to describe it. But you catch my drift."

"Hmmm... indeed I do." Octavia smiles. Her cello is fully tuned at last. She squats on a chair in the middle of the stage, relaxing as she saws on the strings of her instrument with a graceful bow. "I've always admired the immortal nature of folk music—the way it's hoofed down from generation to generation n'such. A pony such as myself has had to practice for years and years to master the sort of skill I wield today. Although I'm proud of my talent, there are times when I feel as though it is all rather... forced. I envy ponies who inherit musical gifts as they do every other heirloom of the household. I imagine the violin in your posession is rather old."

"Darn tootin'!" Applejack leans back, smirking up at the stage. "Belonged to my great-grandpappy! And he was given them strings by his uncle! Why... I'd say that darn fiddle is older than even Ponyville itself!"

"That is something you must absolutely treasure," Tavi says, smiling warmly from above. "I know it sounds rather fanciful, but I've always seen musical instruments as the means by which we convey our souls. Your 'fiddle,' has—no doubt—inspired generations upon generations of ponies. It's a fine piece of your tradition."

"Well, that's one way of lookin' at it." Applejack shrugs. "I've always thought of it as sort of an ice breaker. Y'know... for when a hoedown is a mite bit sluggish and t'ain't nothin' else that can be done to pull the weeds out?"

"Mmmm... quite."

"But a cello? Whew!" Applejack shakes her head. "Reckon that's no walk in the park! Ain't like a jaw harp, banjo, or harmonica that you can just whip out at the drop of a hat."

"You're quite right, which is why I'm so incredibly blessed to have a venue the likes of which Her Majesty Twilight Sparkle has provided."

"Awwww..." Applejack smiles. "I bet you've performed at all the fancy schmancy places! Manehattan... Seaddle... Canterlot..."

"I have performed at Canterlot quite a few times," Tavi says. She stifles a sigh. "Although, only small venues."

"Ya sure 'bout that?" Applejack's green eyes squint in thought. "Coulda sworn... you've performed at the Grand Galloping Gala, haven't you?"

"Indeed."

"Hah!" Applejack smirks. "I knew there was somethin' familiar about seein' you standin' in such a lofty position! Pluckin' away at cello strings!"

"Although, in truth, I haven't attended another Gala since... erm... the one before last." She clears her throat. "I've stuck to simple garden parties at most over the past year and a half."

"Oh really? How come?"

"Oh..." Octavia sighs. "I've had my reasons. Still." She smiles. "A lot of nice opportunities have been opening up here in Ponyville—even before this remarkable Castle appeared."

"Well, that's just fine and dandy."

"It would seem as if Ponyville is rapidly becoming the new capital of Central Equestrian sophistication." Tavi winces slightly, pausing in her instrumentation. "Erm... no offense."

"Heh. Why should I be offended? I done noticed it too!" Applejack squirms where she sits. "All of these... turkey call contests have been growing less and less exciting with each passing year. At first, I thought it was cuz Big Macintosh was startin' to lose his stride. Then I plum realized: Ponyville ain't what it used to be. Everypony's fancier... wealthier... healthier. And—shucks—now that we've got a Princess with her very own Palace seated all nice'n'pretty in the heart of downtown, it's almost like we're becomin' a second Canterlot!"

"Well, I wouldn't go that far..."

"Trust me, sugarcube. There was a time when the most excitin' thang to happen in Ponyville was a broken wagon wheel. Several parasprites, ursa majors, and battles with evil centaurs later, and... well... I think everypony's jumpin' with joy to be alive. Everyone's got a second chance ever since Tirek rose and fell, so ponies left and right are fixin' to make their lives all that snazzier... to enjoy the moment, ya feel me?"

"It's certainly allowed them to enrich their day-to-day habits."

"Exactly! Why, Granny's even tryin' to talk me into erectin' an above-ground swimming pool between the house and the barn." Applejack rolls her eyes. "Cuz that's just what we need, right? Next year, when the vampire fruit bats show up, they'll have themselves a little swimmin' hole to relax in." The mare shuddered. "Y'know, for as much as Ponyville might change... the critters will stay the same. Especially this close to the Everfree Forest, dag nabbit."

"Well, let's not go inviting them to any of our royal balls, hmmm?" Octavia muses.

"Heh... no kiddin'." Applejack takes her hat and fans herself. "I ain't quite so sure how I should feel about that, yet."

"What, forest pets?"

"No, I mean all of this... royal etiquette nonsense." Applejack's brow furrowed as she slapped her hat back on. "I'm all for supportin' Twilight'n'all, but all of this 'diplomatic relations' stuff sure is sendin' my head for a spin."

"Who knows, Miss Applejack," Tavi remarks with a shrug. "Maybe you'll grow to appreciate a certain degree of high-class civility, no matter how contrived."

"Been there, done that, darlin'," Applejack says. "When I was tinier than tiny itself, I made a lone trek to Manehattan to be with my Aunt and Uncle."

"Oh?"

"I learned that I wasn't cut out for all them 'high manners' nonsense. It's one thang to be civil, but it's another thang to go overboard."

"Surely, for Twilight, you can make an exception."

"Pffft. You kiddin'? I'd put on a tutu and prance around for that mare! Do ya know just how many times she's saved my family from hellfire? This whole town, for that matter? Ponyville means everythang to the Apples, and Twilight's brought it back from the brink of destruction more times than I care to count!"

"Certainly Twilight won't press you to go too far."

"No, I suppose not." Applejack sighed. "Sometimes there's that part of me that's afraid that I might do somethin' to embarrass herself."

"A friend as close to you as Twilight? Hardly!"

"Point well made, darlin'. Golly... you sure do know how to help a fellow pony process her thoughts'n'feelings."

"Yes, well..." Octavia smiles coyly in my direction. "Let us simply say that I've learned from the best."

I'd return the smile, if only I wasn't leaning awkwardly against my DJ booth, my muzzle stuck in an incurable grimace.

"What?" Rarity coos, then leans even further with her measuring tape. "Oh, don't be so fussy, dear! I'm simply... mmm... innocently curious of your measurements." She smiles with bright blue eyes. "No reason!"

I hear Tavi's purple giggle in the background, and I sigh.

Looks like I'm getting no salvation today.

Just then, the wide doors to the ballroom creak open on the far side. The air fills with a gray voice.

Oh great! Twilight is here!

I smile, glancing Tavi's way. Almost immediately, my smile fades.

She's no longer playing her instrument. In fact, my gorgeously gifted roommate is suddenly hiding behind her cello, using it as an inexplicable shield to hide a furiously blushing face.

Huh?

"Oh, how delightful they look together," Rarity mumurs next to me, cooing in a breathy tone. "Royalty surely has brightened Twilight's life."

I gaze over in time to see two shapes trotting into the room—one lavender and the other orange. The guard says something with a rattle of his armor, and Twilight giggles.

A magenta groan escapes my nostrils, and I slump against my turntable while I weather the delirium with a frown.

Oh. Great...

Green Things

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The left record on my turntable spins and spins. The needle dangles off the end while my headphones fill with crackling static. It's been at least three long minutes since I last looked at my instrument panel.

I am, however, studying the movements of two amorous ponies across the ballroom in unnecessarily intense detail.

Clouds of glossy brown mirth hang over a veritable puddle of gray. The royal guard says something... and says something else. Grinning.

Twilight Sparkle leans away from him, giggles, and leans back. From the subtle sway of their bodies—standing side by side—it almost looks like a mutual dance. Almost. I can't help but feel as though the stallion is careening towards her like a dusty cyclone about to sidewind.

Another explosion of gray. Twilight's blushing so hard that I swear she could illuminate the entire Castle Interior. I wonder if anypony else takes notice of this.

I glance below my booth with a blink. Finally turning my head from the sappy scene causes no less than five stiff joints to pop.

Rarity and Fluttershy have trotted over to chat with Applejack. All three ponies are talking in a felicitous manner, no doubt discussing today's "musical" itinerary. The only thing I care to notice at the moment is how each of them have their flanks positioned curiously towards the Princess and her not-so-solitary entrance. It's as if that half of the Palace no longer exists, and I fear that there is some poisonously measurable meaning to the gesture.

And then my eyes wander towards a flighty plume of violet emanating off to my left. Octavia has abandoned the cello completely, choosing instead to throw her concentration muzzle-deep into a dense book full of even denser songsheets. She too has her flank aimed at the Princess and the... Princess' testosteronical satellite. However, I find that this is a poor mimic of the other mares' gesture, as belied by the furious blush practically dripping off her muzzle.

There are seldom times when I've observed my roommate to be this stupidly distracted, and each occasion has involved more than a little bit of bacchanalial inebriation.

My next breath is so fuming that I'm almost certain the magenta backblast will knock me on my haunches. Nevertheless, I swivel back to gaze at Twilight's side of the ballroom. It would appear as though I've missed the first half of a parting of ways. After sharing a soft nuzzle, the princess and the guard shuffle in opposite directions. They can't seem to stop finding excuses to wave at one another... again and again and again... blushing more and more with each increasing length of cold crystalline floorspace between them.

Egads. Puppies wish they could puke up something as bubbly and fragrant as this...

"It's super pathetic, right?" A voice rasps, and I am encumbered in jet-black inky coolness. "I mean... like... why doesn't she just carve a hole into his chest and live there for—like—a full winter?"

I nod—then jump with a startled jolt. I look over my shoulder, panting.

Rainbow Dash hovers, suddenly behind me. She glares in the same direction that I have been. "Just look at him. I bet Flash Sentry doesn't even know how friggin' lucky he is to get this cushy post. After all, the real action is far away in the Crystal Empire."

I blink at her, chewing on my bottom lip.

"Flash Sentry," huh...?"

I look over to the other stage left of me.

Octavia clears her throat, standing up prim and proper while Twilight makes a hasty entrance, greeting the rest of her friends.

My brow furrows.

Guess who just made the list...

Cracking Things

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"Okay, girls!" Twilight Sparkle speaks in an agonizingly sing-songy voice. She smiles at the group of us, takes a long, deep breath, and smiles even wider. Behind her, the far door to the ballroom shuts loudly while an orange body exits, and she pretends not to shudder. "What a great morning! Am I right?"

"Mmmm... I reckon."

"I see Pinkie Pie isn't here. Does anypony know where she is?"

"Does anypony ever?" Rarity drones.

"Good point. So! Let's begin!"

"Erm... before we do, Your Highness... erm... Twilight..." Octavia waves a hoof, speaking in a bashful tone. "Do you terribly mind if I present a few questions that I've been dying to ask about the notes you gave us?"

"Oh! Sure!" Twilight canters over. "By all means, Tavi!" Twilight giggles. "I can call you Tavi, can't I?"

"Eheheh... well, certainly!" Octavia glances over at me with a crooked smile. Pure violet drips: "So long as I can call you 'Twilight,' Your Majesty! Eh hee hee hee!"

"More like Her Sappiestly," Rainbow belches in a black cloud. I glance her way, and she blinks back at me. "Er..." Her voice cracks at a more melodic pitch, shooting off black bands in random directions. "Don't get me wrong! I'm glad that Twilight's found something... some pony thing to make her happny'n'stuff... it's just that... that..." She rolls her ruby eyes. "Eeeugh..." Her tongue dangles a full inch out the side of her muzzle. "...couldn't she have done better than that gloating tube of hairspray? I mean... wake up and smell the dewdrops, girl! Amirite?"

"... ... ..."

"Eh, whatever." Rainbow Dash looks directly at me and smiles. "I'm Rainbow Dash. Remember me? Most coolest awesomest pony who's ever lived?"

I fidget. With my magic, I reach out for a notepad—

"Anyways!" She floats past me, her wings knocking the paper from my grip. "Sorry for being late, but I was busy assembling a bunch of radical CDs that I wanted you to look at and see if you could make a mix out of them. I mean..." She winces slightly and pivots to face me again. "You are the royal minstrel. So you are paid to do whatever it is we ask for—musically—even if it might seem kinda lame or silly?"

I shift from one good leg to another. I glance at the sheets of paper lying scattered beneath my booth.

"Good! So... uh..." Rainbow looks left... then looks right. Once she's convinced that nopony else is looking, she hobbles up to me and unceremoniously dumps a thick stack of jewel cases at my hooves. "...take a good look at these. Try not to get too overwhelmed by the sheer epicness of my collection. I know it must be the chance of a lifetime to cram so much awesome into a single mix, but... mmmm... let's see what you can do, huh?" She leans in with a devilish smirk. "Or is your name not 'DJ-P0N3'?"

Curious, I magically lift the CDs, glancing at their labels one by one.

"Wonderbolts Airshow Suites 1 – 5." "Wonderbolts Airshow Suites 6 – 10." "Wonderbolts Airshow Suites 1 – 5: Remastered."

I flip to yet another album and my head jerks back.

"Daring Do Audio Books: Daring Do and the Ky Crystal."

"Yeah... uhhhh..." Rainbow Dash brushes the back of her head, smiling nervously. "I may have... k-kinda sorta... stuck twelve of those in there."

"... ... ..." I reluctantly lift the jewel cases in question, and that's how I discover that—holy cow—she's right.

"I especially like the Audio Book featuring Daring Do and the Grindy Gears. I bet you could make some really cool industrial crud out of the sound effects in that! Just skip to about forty-five minutes ahead and listen for the factory fight scene!"

I flip to another CD—and pause. Curious, I raise the album up and show its label to Rainbow Dash: "Pretty Princess Lullabyes Volume Twelve."

"Holy sh—!" Rainbow hisses, immediately batting the jewel case out of my hooves and hugging it nervously to her chest.

"Rainbow?" Rarity's voice calls from a distance. "Is that you?"

"Uhhh... uhhh..." Rainbow's voice cracks from where she hovers, sweating. "Pr-present!" She smiles plastically, then hovers down to my level, her voice hushed like a black mist. "You saw nothing, you understand? Nothing!"

I gulp and nod frantically.

"Then again... shouldn't be so hard for you!" She leans back, waving a hoof. "What, with you being blind and all. Wait." She rubs her chin hard, thinking harder. "Blind... deaf... mute... derp." She shrugs and flutters off. "Whatever. Lemme know how the mix is in about a week."

I gaze after her, then look at the mountain of random detritus to work with. Sighing, I bend over and heave with my magic, moving to drop the albums into my duffel bag—

"Sorryforbeinglate!" Pinkie Pie skids in out of nowhere and adds an even bigger mountain of records to the pile. "But I just had had had to beat Dashie to this super duper party mix commission slot and—" She freezes. She gawks at me, at the pile of CDs and vinyls between us. "... ... ...shoot!" She leans back, playfully toying with her fluffy mane as she casts me the most innocent puppy-dog-eyes imaginable. "Uhhhhh... week after next?"

Brown Things

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And with one last note of velvety violet richness, the bass ballad ends.

By the time Octavia is done exhaling, the ballroom has already filled with thunderous applause.

"Woohooo!" Pinkie pumps a hoof. "Way to work them strings, Tavi!"

"Well, that..." Rarity smiles, fluffing her mane from where she sits. "...is certainly a poetic response to classical Marezart."

"Actually, it's a bit of an alteration," Twilight Sparkle says, looking past Rainbow and Applejack from where they sit before the stage. "I've listened to Marezart's suites multiple times, and I detected some variation in the middle of Octavia's performance." She looks up at the stage. "Isn't that right, Miss Melody?"

"Indeed. You caught me." Octavia says with a smile. She places the bowstring down on a table and flexes her hoof with a slight wincing expression. "Mmmf... ever since you described the potential visit of diplomats from Griffonstone, I got to thinking about the landscape they come from. Due to the curvature of the mountains, the windy gusts causes a loud, deep roar to echo through the chasms adjacent to the griffon home. So, I figured that—if I'm to perform for them—then I should treat them to a familiar sound. So I played the middle parts of those suites noticeably lower, in an effort to accomplish just that."

"Well, it certainly worked!" Pinkie grins. "That's about as low as I've ever gone! And you're talking to a pony who's limbo'd with Discord! Hehehe—snkkt!"

"I found it particularly relaxing," Fluttershy says. "Like hibernating in a deep, comfy snow patch with a blizzard happening overhead."

"That's quite an imaginative description, dear," Rarity remarks.

"Well, it was a very provocative performance."

"And a very smart one," Twilight says. She smiles up at the stage. "Very well done, Octavia. For a moment there, I thought I was going to have to make a few suggestions about the peformance, but it seems like you've done some research and thought ahead."

"Oh, I do hope it wasn't too terribly forward of me," my roommate utters with a touch of indigo.

"Far from it!" Twilight smiles. "I'm glad you took the initiative! It cuts rehearsal time in half. And I'm quite proud to see that our very own minstrels are thinking about the future arriving diplomats so far ahead of time!"

"Well, we only wish to make the evening party as delightful for them as it should be for everypony else."

"Pfftchyeah..." Rainbow Dash rolls her eyes. "By making them crap on the floor."

"Buh?" Twilight jolts in place.

"Rainbow!" Rarity hisses. "Honestly!"

"What the hay do ya mean, sugarcube?" Applejack interjects.

"I mean—we're fine! Sure!" Rainbow Dash shrugs. "But that cello playing got really... really low. How do we know Octavia hasn't hit the brown noise!"

"Don't you mean Brown Note?" Twilight droned.

"Oh Dashie..." Pinkie giggles. "I think if Tavi-Tavi hit the Brown Note, we would know. Right, girls?"

Rarity blushes furiously. "How do our conversations always get so uncouth...?"

"What am I, stupid?" Rainbow Dash cackles. "I'm not talking about the pony Brown Noise... er... Note. I'm talking about the griffon Brown Note!"

"Wait..." Applejack's freckled muzzle scrunches. "There's a difference?"

"Not that I'm aware of," Fluttershy says. She looks at Rainbow. "Rainbow, how do you figure?"

"Well, Gilda and I used to hang out all the time, right?"

"We know, Rainbow, we know," Rarity sighs.

"Well, back in the day—and she's gonna totally kill me for saying this—we'd be practicing or playing right outside of flight school. And then this... like... really deep roar would come rumbling over the ivory beds of Cloudsdale. Super loud'n'stuff. Bwarrrrrrrrrrrr... y'know? And I'd be just fine, but every time—I swear to Celestia—Gilda would cross her legs, get all wide-eyed, and be like 'Excuse me for a sec!' before flying off to the nearest bathroom."

"What in Celestia's blue skies made that kind of a dreadful noise up in Cloudsdale?!" Rarity exclaims.

"Probably the thunder from the weather factories," Fluttershy remarks. "The domed enclosure allows for deep bass reverberations. Baby pegasi like Rainbow and I learned to sleep through it."

"Must have been really frightening for a little catbird like Gilda!" Pinkie chirps.

"Rainbow..." Fluttershy cocks her head to the side. "...do I remember right about you once telling me that Gilda had a terrible run-in with a brood of dragons during her zeppelin flight to Cloudsdale?"

"Yeah, so?" Rainbow shrugs. "She's a tough cookie."

"Well, she certainly is now. But do you remember how skittish she was before I met her. I mean, you've told me stories."

"Er... yeah... so?"

"Well, at high altitudes, dragon roars are known to sound super deep and..." Fluttershy pauses to gulp. "T-terrifying."

"The weather factories must have made a sound that frightened Gilda!" Twilight remarks. "That would explain why she used to turn tail and run!"

"Wait..." Rainbow blinks. "Are you telling me that Gilda kept crapping in the clouds cuz she thought a dragon was nearby?" She blinks harder. "Gilda's afraid of dragons?"

"Might explain why she didn't talk much to Spike during that one party Pinkie threw," Applejack adds.

"Then, like..." Rainbow Dash shrugs. "What's the griffon Brown Note? Now I'm curious!"

The group reverberates with mixed groans and giggles.

Twilight rolls her eyes and looks up at me. "Vinyl, would you terribly mind salvaging this situation with the track you've been working on?"

"Oh, yes!" Octavia smiles over from her stage. "She's been working on this all night!"

I nod, grinning.

"I dun get it," Applejack says. "How's techno music gonna make the griffons feel welcome?"

"Ohhhhhh believe me," Rainbow Dash says with a smirk. "Given the right circumstances, those catbirds love to party."

"Heehee! Yeah! When they're not being grumpy or dumpy!" Pinkie adds.

"Euugh..." Rarity rolls her eyes while Fluttershy giggles. "I think I've had about all I can take."

I'm about to solve that. I spin two discs for alternative backbeats while flipping a switch to start broadcasting the track I've worked on last night.

And—within seconds—the whole ballroom is silenced, serenaded by golden colors acting as the framework for various notes—all traversing the color blue. The polished sound is very relaxed, yet playful. It tickles my ear canals even after hours and hours of manipulating it into a final project. I can only hope that it's mesmerizing them.

"I... rather like that, actually," Rarity coos.

"Very peaceful," Fluttershy adds. "Perhaps... a bit t-too peaceful for griffons?"

"I dunno," Rainbow Dash says. "You guys may not believe it, but Gilda used to be pretty chillax. It sounds like a cloud after a storm feels, very cool and... wispy."

"I, for one, think it's the perfect background noise to have a conversation to," Twilight concludes. "Calm, non-threatening... which is just what I may need when having a pacifying conversation with the delegates from Griffonstone."

"I concur," Octavia says. "Though... uhm..." She hugs the cello with a blush. "I know it's not my place to judge."

"Heehee... but your input as a musician is greatly appreciated, Octavia."

"Funny..." Rarity tongues the inside of her muzzle. "There's something... strangely familiar about it."

I bite my lip.

"Really?" Fluttershy looks over. "Like what?"

Rarity squints up at me. "Did the elevators of Ponyville Central Hospital play something similar to this?"

I shrug.

"Right. Far be it from me to suggest you would plagiarize." She leans back with a warm sigh and an even warmer smile. "I approve whole-heartedly."

"Eeyup. Seems just fine." Applejack looks at a watch that isn't there. "We done here?"

"Oooh! Oooh!" Pinkie Pie hops up. "Who's for Sugarcube Corner?"

"Why, that sounds fantastic!" Twilight smiles. "I don't know about you, I'm famished!"

"Well, the doughnuts are on me!" Pinkie waves. "Come on! All eight of us!"

Octavia blinks. "All... eight...?"

"Why, of course!" Pinkie giggles. "You serenaded our ears! Let Auntie Pinkie serenade your stomachs!"

"Oh, what a wonderful idea." Fluttershy smiles with a nod. "You really should join us."

"We would love to... but..." Octavia glances at me, fidgeting. "Wouldn't... wouldn't it be out of place?"

"How?" Applejack blinks. "We're hangin' out just fine here, aren't we?"

"But... b-but... we're just the minstrels..."

"You're contributors to the Castle of Friendship," Twilight says. "That doesn't make you servants. It makes you friends."

Octavia exhales, her cheeks slightly rosy. "I... I-I don't know what to say..."

"Well, say it quickly, darlin'." Applejack scoots up out of her chair. "My stomach's tied itself into a knot! Whew!"

"Yeah! Let's eat!" FWOOSH! Rainbow soars towards the nearest exit. "Last one there doesn't get any sprinkles!"

"Thank you..." Octavia bows, smiling. "We're grateful for your hospitality... and friendship." She glances aside. "Isn't that right, Vinyl?"

I nod.

Doughnuts, shmouhnuts.

They'd better have Dr. Pony, or I will find the Brown Note.

And I flip the switch, shutting the track off.

Flashy Things

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"Is something the matter, Tavitavitavi?" Pinkie Pie sing-songs.

"Erm..." Octavia glances around while the gaggle of royal-and-not-royal ponies trots out of the gates of Twilight's Castle. "I just feel... very light all of the sudden."

"Is it because you left your cello behind with its case?" Fluttershy smiled. "Don't worry, Octavia. It's very much safe inside the Castle. Twilight has hired the best guards to patrol the new Palace."

"Oh, I have no doubt of that. It's just..." Octavia shudders slightly with a sheepish smile. "...I feel quite strange trotting across Ponyville without it." She gulps. "Or anywhere in Equestria, for that matter."

"Heehee! You're a royal minstrel now, silly filly!" Pinkie exclaims. "That means you do your music thang inside the Castle! But when you're outside... woohoo! It's off-the-clock party time!"

"Oh... uh... most certainly. I-I suppose."

"And I know the best way to celebrate a busy day of rehearsing!" Pinkie cartwheeled in the general direction of Sugarcube Corner across town. "Come on! I'll treat you to a Go-Nutz!"

"A... what...?" Tavi blinks.

"It's a doughnut! Only—like—it's sprinkled all over with honey-nut roasted almond flakes and a fine maple glaze! That's why I call it a 'Go Nutz Doughnut!' Heehee! Get it?"

"Indeed." Octavia smiles thinly. "Why didn't I think of it before?"

Applejack chuckled, trotting along Fluttershy and Octavia. "I'm afraid yer gonna have to get used to Pinkie's way of thinkin'. Ain't no manual for it."

"No. I imagine not." Octavia looks across the group at me. "Vinyl, love? Do you... uhm... need help over there—?"

"It's okay!" Rarity chimes. "I've got ittttt," she says almost musically.

The unicorn trots gracefully beside me, using her magical telekinesis to move me in my wheelchair. Although I'm slightly miffed at the extra cushy treatment, I can already feel the blissful relief in my injured leg.

"My gratitude is not simply extended through my sister," Rarity says with a proud smile. "When Rairty commits to a promise, she commits whole-heartedly." She tosses a wink at Octavia. "I shall be your lovely friend's chauffeur for the evening."

"Well... alright then," Octavia says with a chuckle. "So long as we're all... happy...?"

"You betcha!" Rainbow flies overhead, then calls over her shoulder. "Hey Twi! You coming?"

"Uhm... it will just be a second!" Twilight's voice ripples towards us from the Castle's entrance. "I'll catch up soon! I promise!"

"Alright, Twilight!" Fluttershy calls back.

"Ughhh..." Rainbow rolls her eyes, grumbling slightly in black flashing bolts. "Seriously? Again?" She darts forward in an angry blue blur.

"... ... ...?" I turn to look over my shoulder.

While Rarity glides me along, I barely take notice of Twilight at the Castle's entrance. She's currently engaged in a deep conversation with a familiar guard in a familiar shade of orange... inducing a familiar blushing smile across the mare's face.

"I trust that Sweetie Belle has been useful around the house?" Rarity's voice murmurs, tickling my ears with silken vibrations. "She's been coming home right around sunset each evening. I hope that means she's been finding a lot to assist you with, hmmm?"

I squint harder in time to see Twilight and the young stallion nuzzling each other. My lips grow tight.

"She speaks quite highly of you. Sweetie Belle describes you as 'kind, quiet, and agreeable.' The filly might be a bit foolish in her adventurous exploits, but I've always known her to be a good judge of character."

I stare and stare...

"... ... ...you do know, I hope, that the handsome stallion has been claimed already?"

I jolt, then glance at Rarity with a nervous grimace. I shake my head and gesture wildly with a hoof.

"Mmmm..." Rarity smirks smugly. "You can't fool a lady, dear. I know a jealous stare when I see one."

I face-hoof with a magenta sigh.

"Although... jealousy comes in many forms." Rarity's gaze lifts to the sky. "I have to say... Rainbow Dash hasn't quite been herself ever since... ever since..." She sighs. "Oh, it isn't right of me to spread unnecessary rumors. Besides..." She smiles at me again. "Rainbow's such a little darling... a loyal soul to the core. I think she just... doesn't know what to make of Flash Sentry. Not many of us have, really. Rainbow likely thinks it's a threat to our friendship with Twilight—and that's just silly, though I can't blame the mare for feeling so protective. It's a concern that the rest of us has shared." A dainty laugh. "You should have seen Applejack the first day Flash visited Ponyville. She was practically glaring daggers into his brow the entire time from across Sugarcube Corner."

I blink, feeling the chair wobble slightly as the unicorn pushing me laughs.

"Heeheehee... hmmm... but... she soon realized that Flash's only crime is... being a tad bit dense. While I think his handsomeness is a fine quality, I too share the belief that Twilight can do better, given a mare of her intelligence and expertise. But that's the crux of the matter. We're her friends, and while it's quite noble to look out for her... we should also have the werewithawal to trust her... and to respect her taste in a partner. And, so far..." Rarity shrugs. "Twilight appears healthy, happy, and completely devoid of regrets. And that's a good thing, right?"

I fidgeted in my chair.

"Mmmm... yes..." Rarity sighs. "It's a good thing, Rarity. It's a good thing it's a good thing it's a good thing," she repeats, her expression momentarily sullen. "Ooooh!" She brightens on a dime, smiling wide. "Sugarcube Corner! Here at last!" She pivots us both around and draws the wheelchair into the establishment backwards. "I do hope you're not terribly allergic to almonds, darling."

I get one last look of the Castle while gliding in reverse. I see an alicorn flying towards us, humming in a gray tone, her eyes as thin and rozy as her dreamy smile.

Sliced Things

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To be honest, the inside of Sugarcube Corner has always been very... very colorful.

I just haven't noticed until now.

Right now... as I sit with Octavia in the center of a gigglish maelstrom of voices, breaths, melodies-in-the-making.

Fluttershy's terry cloth pink and Twilight's wise gray and Applejack's countrified amber and Pinkie Pie's cheerful gold and Rainbow Dash's scratchy black...

And on top of it all, the merry percussion of diamonds, courtesy of Rarity, lifting the purple out of Tavi's lungs with salvo after salvo of silky-smooth flattery.

"Oh, but you must try it! With a mane that luscious, it would positively glitter, darling!"

"Oh, Rarity, I've considered it. Believe me, I have. But I'm afraid that I'm not entirely comfortable with other ponies touching my mane... or my hooves, for that matter."

Raspy black. "Hah! I knew there was a way she and I could connect! Brrrbrbrrrr... freakiest feeling in the world, girl!"

"I used to feel queesy about getting my mane done by another pony." Wispy pink. "For years, I just let one of my older siblings do it. But then Rarity talked me into making a trip to Aloe and Lotus' spa one day and... heehee... well, I guess you could call it a transformative experience!"

"She's been going with me at least once a week ever since! Octavia, darling, if Fluttershy was to go with us, would it make you more comfortable?"

"I... I really can't. I do apologize."

Chiming gold. "Princess Twilight could always order Octavia to go! A Pony Pedi Imperative by the Pony Pedi Princess!"

"No I wouldn't, Pinkie!" A gray giggle. "Honestly! Octavia is more than capable of... erm... keeping up appearance for royal functions. Besides... it's not like she even needs much work, quite frankly."

Black scratches. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Simply that our new fiddlin' gal pal has a natural beauty all on her own." Amber apple scents. "Quite frankly, Tavi, I find yer mane to be mighty purdy. It's like a fine gray smoke comin' out of the chimney on a toasty winter's evening."

"Heehee... why thank you, Miss Applejack. It's... not as easy to manage as it looks. I had the most infuriating curls as a little filly. Took me forever to master growing out."

"Hey!" A golden bell, muffled by doughnut crumbs. "Mmfff... what's wrong with curls?"

Gray, pink, and shiny laughter.

"Well, if you do not desire to spend a day at the spa, Miss Octavia, then I shan't force you." White diamonds. "It's just that... I look at a pony and I see something else. I see a fine, shimmering fabric that just deserves to be fashioned into something that sings proudly, boastfully, expressing the lengths of her beauty in every direction at all time!"

"Heehee! Well, she's one step ahead of you, Rare-Rare!" Platinum jingles. "She's already a singer!" Whispering, hissing now. "She sings through her cello..."

"Miss Pie has a good point. I do like to express myself through my musical abilities. But I also share your sentiment for elegance and refinery, Rarity. It's just that—and no offense intended—but I much prefer to present myself in as subtle a fashion as possible. It's not as important to look good doing something as it is to feel good doing something."

"Well, there's a reason to attend the spa right there, Octavia." Pink sheets. "Even if you're not expecting to have your mane or hooves done, then you can at least expect to feel very relaxed... pampered, even."

"A noble thought, Fluttershy. But... a glass of red wine and a soft sunset is all I need to accomplish that. Erm... aside from the sheer contentment of knowing that one has become a minstrel of Her Royal Majesty."

"Heehee!" Gray streaks. "Oh, Octavia. Haven't we been over this?"

"Over what, Your High—er... Twilight?"

"The name speaks for itself. When you perform inside the Castle—and outside it—you do so as a friend, not a servant."

"Oh, you are far too flattering."

"Am I? You're here with us! You're having doughnuts and pleasant conversation, aren't you? What could be friendlier than that?"

"I think what Twilight's trying to say is..." A fine black mist. "...you gals are cool in our book."

"And we wouldn't mind gettin' to know a bit about ya better." An amber hum. "Heck, might help us click better when it gets showtime when diplomats visit."

"That... that is... such a delightful notion."

"Hmmmm... quite!" Gemstones. "Only because you and your friend are such delightful mares!"

"Yeah!" Golden sugar. "Even if Missy Mysterious and Shady doesn't talk very much!"

"Eughhh..." Black charcoal. "Pinkie..."

"Oh! Don't worry!" A gray blur, and I sense Twilight levitating two straws from the tabletop. "I've got this. Ahem..." She concentrates, face tense: "Some oranges hate cooking art hats that ordain anarchy."

I roll my eyes... until they streak past the most colorful figure of all.

"Uhhh... Twi?" Rainbow Dash rasps blackly. "I... think your egghead's cracked."

"Why?" Gray blinks. "What's wrong?"

"You haven't entirely mastered Vinyl's second language, dear," Octavia says.

"Huh?"

Applejack cackles: "You look like a prayin' mantis on an airstrip tryin' to help elephants land on the runway!"

"Heeheehee!" Pinkie rolls over, enmeshed in golden song.

"I... I-I do not!"

Rarity sips from some tea. "Listen to your friends, dear."

"Vinyl! Seriously!" The Princess looks at me. "All this time, have I been making a complete fool out of—"

I nod.

"Oh come on!" She covers her face and headdesks while Rainbow and Applejack laugh.

"Haah haah haah!" Rainbow slaps Twilight's shoulder. "Good thing you weren't trying to negotiate with mute manticores or else we'd all be dying in a giant crater by now! Hahaha!"

"Oh dear..." Octavia covers her smiling muzzle. "I do believe we've made quite a splash."

"Eeuugh..." Twilight looks up, blushing furiously. "Live and learn, I guess."

Fluttershy coos: "I like praying mantises."

Velvet Things

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"Well, that was rather pleasant," Octavia coos. The cool breeze of our home's air conditioning greets us with a delightfully chilly embrace. She gently pushes me and my wheelchair into the domain, stopping several times so as to avoid running over a little fuzzball's tiny tail. "Wouldn't you agree, Vine?"

I barely register her purple words. An entire afternoon of estrogenical conversation and gossip has spun wild circles around my head. We must have been sitting and chatting inside that bakery for hours. As of right now, the sun has fallen, and the cool green hum of the world melts under the icy pressure of turquoise night.

I can barely keep my eyes open, and I think Octavia knows it.

"Heehee..." A pulse of violet, and she glides me towards the couch where my pillows and a length of bedsheets await me in unfolded laziness. "You were quite the good sport today, Vinyl. I know that you're... not too terribly fond of extraordinarily long conversations."

I sigh, smiling into the magenta cloud of my lethargy.

There are some things about me that Octavia will never understand.

I can't remember the last time I felt so peaceful.

"I just... feel so at peace with myself," Octavia slurs, startling me. "I mean... can you believe it? We just had doughnuts and conversation with the Princess and all her friends! Oh, certainly, Twilight had humble beginnings like you and... well... like most of us. But even still, it's enough of a blessing to be in her presence to begin with... to be minstrels in her Castle! But to be treated as her very own friends? And to get along so swimmingly?"

I yawn, blinking at a tuxedo blur as it hops up onto the couch's hoofrest. Orange purrs baptize my ears while I become the half-witting victim of a feline tail rub.

With light clacking noises, Octavia brakes the wheelchair in place and lends her hooves. "Let's face it. Things are looking up, Vine. We are practically living on the scale of Royalty now!" She sighs dreamily while helping me hobble over into the couch. "And to think... for so long I was simply obsessed with getting a boost to my career from this. After such lovely company... I swear... it almost feels like a fringe benefit!"

Wincing slightly, I flop onto the couch cushions. Any momentary discomfort is immediately dissolved by the delicious feeling of sinking into the sofa and its cold, comfy sheets. I can already feel my consciousness draining. I curl up into the back of the couch, smiling blissfully into the furthest shadows of the room.

I guess this day has worn me out more than I imagined.

Warm, soft hooves fold the sheets over me, tucking me in.

"Ohhhh... who am I kidding, Vine?" I open my eyes to see a goofy smile hanging off of Tavi's muzle. She sighs and strips off her bow-tie... which is how we both know she's "home" at last. "I'm still in this for the chance at first chair in the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra." She gazes off, smiling thinly as she reaches out to pet Scribbler. "Still, today was just so lovely. It... it almost makes me feel sad that... in all this time I... I haven't really bothered to have any... I mean to have myself a lot of..."

She winces, and I sense her shoulders shuddering, as if she's reticent to look my way.

"Of c-course I don't mean it that way, love. You're the best friend I've ever had, and I'm so delighted to share a living with you. But even you could attest to the fact that... I-I much prefer a simpler, introverted lifestyle. But... after today..." She shrugs. "...the other side of the equation doesn't feel quite so bad. I almost feel bad for Twilight, now. Rumor is, the Princess was quite antisocial before... eheh... becoming the Princess of Friendship. I wonder if she and I once had a lot in common."

Silence.

"Ah well... this afternoon has gotten the conversational circles in my head spinning." She reaches over to fluff my pillow once, twice, then slide it more comfortably under my head. "I do believe we're both exhausted. I shall let you have your rest, Vine. You deserve no less... especially after what you've been through as of late."

I shrug, yawn, and shrug again. I close my eyes, pull my shades off, and reach blindly for the table.

"Allow me..." And I feel the velvety softness of her fetlock as she grasps the shades from my hoof and places it on the table beside me. After the violet aura has cleared, I sense the crimson clops of her hoofsteps as she strolls into the kitchen to pour Scribbler a bowl of food. "It's strange. A shower almost feels redundant after a squeaky clean day like today." A brief pause, and her laugh ripples richly from the kitchen. "Oh, I kid, of course. I was born to take showers."

I curl tighter beneath the bedsheets, feeling the world drift away into a turquoise blur.

"Everything's coming together, Vine..." Her words grow more and more distant, a purple haze in the back of my mind, warming, comforting, supporting. Like her. "...truly blessed..." The voice fades, the meaning beyond the mirth becoming more and more indistinct. "... ... ...like fine wine... ... ...wholesome... ... ...beautiful... ... ..."

I've fallen truly deep now... deep into a place where the colors serve me. I try orchestrating something out of it, and my mind picks up on several delightfully blue notes that I've come to memorize as of late.

I'm so deeply enraptured in this silken slumber that the sudden cloud of violet brushes over me like a duvet. I shiver briefly, then give into its warm embrace.

"... ... ...and yours is the greatest blessing of all, love... ... ..."

It's a whisper... one that lingers in my ears... gliding over my cheeks like a velvet handkerchief.

A century later, my eyes flash open. The blinding pain only serves to wake me, and I see a dark foyer lit up by stars. Squinting, I bring a hoof to my cheek, rubbing the fuzz of my coat as I try to recreate the curious sensation.

And just like that, the violet in my ear fades, and I hear rushing water. Behind the couch—behind me—the door to the bathroom muffles the gentle roar of Octavia's shower.

I stare into darkness. For once, all other colors have frozen. When they cascade all over me again, I clench my eyes shut, curling away from the clouds of confusion as I drift once more into blissful slumber.

Polite Things

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Even now...

The violet velvet haunts me...

Trailing on the edges of my ears... itching... persisting...

While I repeat the same melodic loop over and over again, twenty seconds per twitch, trying in vain to find a way to segue into the next movement of the track.

My hoof taps against the edge of the turntable while I gaze at the blinking lights before me...

So many pieces of the spectrum and so few ways to share them...

I sigh, covering them all in magenta, and for a brief moment...

...everything is simple.

When the magenta fades, it's the color blue that takes its place. Oozing all over me like an ice cold bath.

I blink, narrow my shaded eyes, then switch the looping track off.

I slide the headphones off my ears, gazing across the foyer from where I sit in a wheelchair behind my turntable.

The source of the blue sound shuffles along the length of one of Octavia's bookshelves. She hums a folk hymn to herself, occasionally blurting a word or two out to fill the gaps in between a beautifully lazy chorus. I think it's something to do with Hearth's Warming.

Hearth's Warming in the summer...

Only this filly, I swear...

"Hmmm-hmm-hmmm..." Sweetie Belle smiles, turning around and wriggling her flank so that her fluffy-fluffy tail dusts off each book shelf, one after another. "...though quarrels arise, their numbers are few... hmmm-hmm-hmmm... will see us throughhhh..."

I stare at her.

Slowly—like a panther at prowl—I slink a hoof over to the microphone. I pivot it until it's facing the filly, then press my hoof to the record switch.

I pause.

My ears twitch.

Somewhere beyond the blue notes, I hear seven phantom voices—all giggling and chatting merrily around me. One of them resonates with the trickle of white diamonds.

I bite my lip, feeling as if some elegant pony is pushing me into someplace warm, someplace wholesome, someplace generous.

I remove my hoof from the switch.

I squirm and fidget in my seat.

Then... with a deep breath... I reach over with my magic and levitate a pad of paper.

Carefully, I scribble some notes on the page, glancing up every now and then at Sweetie Belle.

She continues her musically dutiful work: dusting a sun-lit spot of the living room... ... ...and then dusting it all over again.

Uh huh...

I finish what I'm writing, then tap a pen against the turntable.

Sweetie Belle continues humming. Dusting. Humming. Dusting.

I roll my shaded eyes. Clenching my jaw, I tap the pen harder... harder.

Crimson claps swim towards her in waves. At last, the filly stops in her tracks, turning towards me with a bright-eyed gaze.

"Oh! Uhm..." Sweetie Belle smiles sheepishly, suffering the faint fringes of a blush. "I hope you don't mind the... uh... tail-work." She points at her dust-laden posterior. "I find that it works a lot better than a normal duster. Plus, something about plucked feathers... sorta weirds me out." She briefly cringes. "D-don't tell Scootaloo."

I shrug, then waved the pad of paper around.

"Oooh!" A sapphire squeak, and she waddles towards me. "She speaks!" A giggle. "Er... well, you know what I mean, Miss Scratch." Clearing her throat, she stands on her hind legs and leans against the turntable like a happy feline. "What's up?"

I float the pad towards her.

She squints, cocking her head to the left, then to the right. "Huh... well..." She looks at me. "I guess I could stop dusting for a bit. Even though I'm not finished. But..." She smiles sheepishly. "So long as it's what you asked me to do, then Rarity can't possibly get mad at me, can she?"

I smile.

"Hehehe... so what task do you want me to work on next, Miss Scratch?" She shrugs. "Scrub the kitchen floor? Wash the dishes? Cook you another sandwich?"

I cringe.

"I actually kinda like doing housework, strangely enough. Makes me feel... accomplished. Almost like it's my... my..." Her pupils shrink. She suddenly looks at her flank, then frowns at the blankness. "Eh... never mind. Housework's still boring. Still!" Her voice cracks as she smiles nervously at me. "What would you like me to do?"

I'm already writing, scribbling, sketching.

With a calm breath, I raise the pad up to her so she can read it.

"Oh! Sure!" Sweetie Belle nods, nods, nods. "Just lemme get washed up! I do my best singing after a good hoof-scrubbing. Heeheehee—" Her eyes cross. "Wait, huh?" She squeaks again, blinking curiously at me. "That... th-that's not housework! That's... that's..."

I stare at her.

She stares back, and her face lights up. "That's totally cool!" A blue beam cracks out of her lungs, and she stifles a giggle. "Heehee—ahem... but..." She squints. "Seriously, though. Singing? How's that gonna help you? How's that gonna help anypony?"

I write on the pad, then hold it to her again.

She stares at it. She blushes. "No..." She looks at me, smirks. "Noooooo..." A half-giggle. "For real?" She holds a hoof over her fluffy chest. "Me?"

I nod.

"Eh... I dunno. I just enjoy singing." She shrugs. "Scootaloo says that you can't always be talented at what you enjoy doing. In some ways, that makes sense. But, then again, another part of me thinks that she's only saying that because she can't... she can't..." A grimace. "Well, you know."

I write some more and hold the pad up.

"Uhhhh... sure! I mean... if you think it'll help you get the creative juices flowing!" Sweetie shrugs again. "I mean... I-I don't know much about music, I swear. I just like singing, y'know?"

I write another line then hold it towards her.

She stares... blinks... then smiles. "Heheh... well... that's one nifty way of looking at it. Thanks, Miss Scratch."

I nod.

"So... uh..." She fidgets. Awkwardly. Cutely. "What first?"

Talented Things

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Sweetie Belle takes a deep breath, tenses her facial muscles, and leans in to the mic:

"Do – Re – Mi – Fa – Sol – La – Ti – Do!" She takes another breath, smiling this time, and reverses the pitch as she leans back. "Do – Re – Mi – Fa – Sol – La – Ti – Do!"

I nod, turning several dials while my shaded eyes study the frequency of my recorder. Just as soon as she finishes the second time, I wave a hoof in the air, spinning it in a "repeat!" motion.

She inhales again, then bellows: "Do – Re – Mi – Fa – Sol – La – Ti – Do!" Her bright eyes blink, and she leans against the mic. "Wait... is it 'Ti' or 'Si' near the end? I never did get that part of the solfeggio."

I wince, my microphone thundering with feedback from her fuzzy limbs rubbing up against the mic. My hoof gestures madly at her.

"Oh!" She leans back, blushing like a beet. "Whoops. Sorry."

I sigh, then give her a calm smile. With a bow of my head, I motion for her to proceed.

"What, again?" Her little muzzle scrunches. "No offense, Miss Scratch, but I just don't get what you're trying to do here. I mean... how is getting me to sing the same pitched notes over and over again supposed to accomplish anything?"

Levitating a pen, I scribble on a pad of paper and hold it before her.

"Yeah, but samples for what? I'm just making silly noises! I could do this in my sleep! In fact..." She squirms in place, wincing. "Rarity tells me that I sometimes do. I've woken up to three broken glasses of water by my bedside in just the last week alone."

I blink. I write three bold letters on the pad and hold it before her.

"Heehee... I know, right?" She smiles.

Clearing my throat with a magenta pulse, I gesture once more towards the mic—

"Wait..." She leans in, squinting. "Did you just... cough?"

I look at her curiously.

"You can make sounds?" Sweetie's voice cracks. "I mean, it sure sounded like there was something behind that throat just now?"

My muzzle goes crooked as I glare at her.

"Erm... I-I mean... don't get me wrong!" Sweetie waves her forelimbs. "If you're mute, you're mute! But I just..." She points at the mic. "Why aren't you doing this, then?"

I sigh and face-hoof, once again blinding myself with magenta.

"Cuz I always thought that was ironic, y'know? To not be able to talk but you can still make some really sweet music? I mean, sure, I've heard your stuff, but I'm not quite as ga-ga for it as—say—Scootaloo. She says that, aside from rock ballads, DJ-P0N3 tracks are the best thing to watch Rainbow Dash stuntfly to." Sweetie Belle almost instantly cringes. "Erm... n-not that Scootaloo has a habit of watching Rainbow Dash from the bushes or nothing. And if she did... erm... y-you didn't hear it from me."

I tap the edge of my turntable repeatedly, growing impatient.

"But still, I'm sure I could be doing much... much more useful stuff for you right now, Miss Scratch. Are you sure you don't want me to dust off your instrument panel? Or maybe make you a sandwich? Or—"

I flip off the microphone, throw a few switches, then unplug my headphones. Slapping my hoof over a button, I play an experimental track from the beginning.

Sweetie gasps, for her ears are drowning in blue—as mine are... as mine have been. Her eyes sparkle as she hears her sampled notes suddenly dancing all over the place, meandering around a frenetic back beat, undulating in pitch as the sound of her rides the crest of symphonic electronica, up and down, reaching a crescendo. About twenty seconds in, the little filly is giggling like mad.

"Oooh! Oooh! Heeheehee! Oh that's cool! That's so cool!" She smirks, dimples rosy, and points at the blaring speakers. "Is that really me?"

I nod, grinning at her.

"Heeheehee!" She greets the blue waves with blue waves, and the whole foyer is awash in sapphires. "Listen to that! I'm the next Daft Pony hit!"

I stifle a groan.

"Oh... sorry..." She blushes. "Bad nerve?"

I stop the music on a dime, hold a hoof up, then switch the tracks. She leans in, listening as I start playing: "Or maybe make you a sandwich?" I spin the table on the left, then swivel it back and forth. "Or-Or-Or maybe m-m-m-make you a—m-m-m-make you—ou—ou!"

"Ha ha ha ha!" She hugs herself, rolling over, awash in ocean blue mirth. "Heeheehee! Ohhhhhhh wow!" She wipes a tear away, grinning from ear to ear. "How can something be so silly and so awesome all at once?" She giggles some more, then finds an even breath. "Oh. I know. You made it awesome."

I shake my head and point at her.

"Huh? Pfft... please..." She kicks at the ground, her smile still trailing. "You can make anything sound good with that pew-pew machine stuff of yours. Even my voice."

I write on the pad, then levitate it in front of her.

She blinks. "You really think so?"

I nod, then write another phrase, showing it to her.

"Pffft..." Sweetie Belle rolls her eyes. "How could you 'know' so? I know what it's like to be flattered. That goofball Rumble says stuff like that to me in class all the time."

I blink.

"If I was actually good at singing, I'd have gotten a cutie mark for it ages ago." Sweetie Belle paces away, shrugging. "As it stands... it's just something that I do in my spare time to try and forget how silly and clumsy I am." She sighs, ears drooping. "And let's face it... I really am clumsy."

I bite my lip, glancing at my pen and paper. For once, I'm at a loss to write something.

"Well..." Violet fills the room. "...perhaps the key is throwing yourself into the thick of things, instead of just dipping your hoofsies, darling."

I look up—as does Sweetie Belle.

"Miss Melody!" Sweetie Belle squeaks. "I-I... I'm going to get right back to dusting and cleaning! I swear! I-I just got distracted, is all—"

"Mmm... indeed you did..." Octavia trots in from the open doorway. She closes it behind her and lays her cello case down against the edge of the sofa. "The question is..." She winks in my direction. "Just who was it who distracted you?"

I smile nervously.

"It won't happen again!" Sweetie yelps, rushing towards the nearest bookcase and sweeping her tail over it. "Honest—!"

Octavia gently places a hoof over the filly's tail. "But on the contrary..." Octavia squats low, placing a hoof gently over Sweetie's shoulder. "I believe it must happen again, and quite often too."

"Huh?" Sweetie blinks.

"Vinyl's quite right to recognize a unique talent in you, little one."

"She is?"

"Mmmm... yes." Octavia smirks my way again. "Although, I think a far more... traditional application is in order."

I face hoof with a sigh.

Oh here we go...

"Really?" Sweetie Belle squirms in place, blushing. "Ermm... like wh-what?"

"Tell me, Sweetie Belle..." Octavia trots over to her cello case and carefully unzips it. "...are you quite familiar with Trottingham chamber music?"

Eccentric Things

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"Ahhhhh—Look at all the lonely poniesssss." Sweetie Belle's body rocks from side to side as she tosses her melodic voice rapturously into the air. "Ahhhhh—Look at all the lonely poniessss!"

With intense velvet concentration etched into her brow, my roommate finishes the final strokes of her bow-string and brings the riveting ballad to an end. She allows a residual echo to fill the room, and she exhales, wiping her brow. "Hmmm... smashing."

"Heeheehee!" Sweetie bounces in a tiny circle, her eyes bright... turning brighter. Like her bold, blue voice. "I've always wanted to do that! Heehee! What a classic!"

"Yes... quite..." Octavia leans back, sighing. "Although... I don't think that Marecartney was ever as... erm... 'classic' as Marezart... but alas..." She smiles, tossing her mane back after the latest jam session's unraveling. "You were polite enough to sit through three renditions of Ave Mareia without any prior practice and..." She giggles slightly. "Well, I suppose you more than deserved it."

"Can we do Clop Together next?"

"No we shan't!" Octavia growls in a low indigo. She swiftly makes up for it by clearing her throat and smiling. "Besides, what you've done so far—you've done so swimmingly. I think a break is in order."

"Awwwwwww..."

"No now... Sweetie Belle..." Octavia waves the bowstring. "Prodigy or not, t'wouldn't be fair for us to stretch out your vocal cords too much in the first go! After all, this has been nothing more than a very merry, very impromptu experiment."

"Yeah!" Sweetie Belle grins. "But a smashing one, right?"

"The key to that word, my dear, is not to wear it out." She winks at the filly, then turns towards me. "Now... let's see how much of that our resident studio expert has captured in full clarity. Ahem... Vinyl?"

Silence.

Octavia raises an eyebrow. "Vine, love?"

That does it. I'm finally shaken out of my stupor... a near-coma caused by the nebulous cloud of spine-tingling purple and violet colors still swimming and undulating like cosmic dust in the air. Wincing, I fumble across the lengths of my wheelchair seat and slap a hoof over the recording. Stopping it quite belatedly.

"Oh dear..." Octavia face-hoofs. "Vine... Vine... Vine."

"Heehee!" More blue. "Whoops!" Sweetie Belle winks. "Guess she got some goofy up at the end there, huh?"

"Yes yes... but she's gifted enough to know when and where to cut it, right?" My best friend adds this with a burning glare.

I gulp, retreating from the indigo flame with a nervous nod and a grin.

"Mmmm... very well then." Octavia gently places her cello up against the sofa. "And if she can't, then surely Lyra can."

"Ahhhh... Lyra. Of course!" Sweetie's voice cracks. She blinks. "Wait... which one is Lyra again?"

"I'm curious, Sweetie, my dear..." Octavia trots over and squats before the little pony. "How come Rarity never told us that your voice was such pure ambrosia?"

"You really like it?"

"Absolutely, darling! Vinyl too, I would suffice to say!"

"Yeah... well..." Sweetie scuffs at the floor of our foyer, shrugging. "I guess... no matter how good or bad you sound... a distraction is still a distraction as far as Rarity is concerned."

"Oh... now that does not sound like her at all!" Octavia says with a frown.

"Oh, but it's the way she is!" Sweetie retorts, her tiny muzzle hung between a pout and a frown. "Whenever she has to work on her sewing and dressmaking, she needs absolute quiet so she can concentrate on her 'important, fabulous chic mystique'... or whatever she likes to call it. Bleahckk!"

Octavia giggles. "Oh, you adorable little bird. Even your vomitous sound effects have harmony to them."

"I know, right? Wish Rarity thought that way!" Sweetie Belle folds her forelimbs, cheeks red as she glares out the window. "You know what the funny thing is? She'll still listen to your beloved so-called 'chamber music' on a record or the radio while she's working. But she has to bite my head off when I so much as open my muzzle! And her workplace is a crazy mess and she wears measuring tape around her neck like an ugly scarf and—"

"Now now, dear..." Octavia pats Sweetie's shoulder. "Let us not put your workhardy sister before the firing range that quickly. There's something you should know about artists. They're quite precise with how they need things to be."

"They're quite stupid, you mean."

"I've seen the way Rarity dotes on you, Sweetie." Octavia smiles. "You can't pretend she doesn't love you with a good portion of her 'fabulous' heart."

"Mmmmmm..." Sweetie looks aside, blushing slightly. "Mmmmmyeahhh... but still..." She sighs with a whistling squeak. "I still don't see why she can't let me sing when I wanna."

"Well, there's a time and a place for such things, my dear." Octavia stands up, gesturing towards me with a smile. "Like just now! In our studio! Allowing us to record your dazzling performance!"

"Yeah, but you guys really like it! To Rarity... it's just a distracting bunch of noise!"

"Well, I think that Rarity has a forgivable habit of compartmentalizing what she defines as 'music,'" Octavia says. "And—if you allow my good friend Vinyl and I to extend this little 'experiment' of ours further, I think we might be able to make Rarity see the light... or in this case hear the bell... the Sweetie Belle." She covers her fuzzy muzzle to stifle a violet giggle.

"Really?" Sweetie Belle leans forward, jaw agape. "How?"

"Mmmm... with a bit of expertise... in places only few can hear... or see." Octavia glances my way. "How about it, love?"

I'm drifting back and forth... a limp smile hanging off my muzzle. The blue and violets have merged together in the center of my skull... melting into a thin sliver and caressing its way down my spine, creating goosebumps and—

"Vine!"

I wince, adjust my shades, and nod in agreement.

"Eeuughhh..." Octavia rolls her eyes, adjusts her bow-tie, and smiles over at Sweetie Belle. "...granted, true talent does come with a modicum of... eccentricity."

"Heehee!" Sweetie Belle cheers. "I love light bulbs!"

Fruitful Things

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"Oh my..." Rarity coos, leaning closer towards the spinning record in the corner of her Boutique. "Oh my... oh my." She smiles. She beams. "Why..." Turns and glances over at us. "This is positively delicious, darlings!"

Octavia and I exchange glances from where we stand. We smirk at one another, then glance at the squirmy little fluffball situated between us and the table.

"What do you like about it the best, Rarity?" Sweetie Belle asks, her voice notably playful and melodic. "Hmmm? Well?"

"Oh, is this turning into a critique on the spot?" Rarity bats her eyelashes coyly. "Why, I should have known." A dainty laugh, and then she clears her throat. She leans her ear to the crackling speakers once more, inhaling the lavender scents of her fabulous studio as she meditates on the sounds wafting around her... around us. "Well, as you would guess—Miss Melody—I am absolutely in love with the deep bass strings. Like little pieces of Marezart's suites floating out of the speakers and caressing my pretty pony ears."

Octavia giggles slightly, her violet mirth mixing with the artificial purple recreation. "Naturally..."

"And although I... am not initially a fan of the synthesized rendition—which I do believe is courtesy of our beloved Vinyl—I must admit..." Rarity's lips curve as she taps a hoof to the beat. "...I do find it quite invigorating."

"So what do you like the m-most? Huh?" Sweetie bounce again. Octavia steadies her with a stealthy hoof placed on the filly's shoulder.

"Well... to be perfectly honest—and without wishing to detract from the marvelous talents evident in both Octavia's cello and Vinyl's expert mixing... I must declare..." Rarity leans back, daintily fanning herself. "Those vocals are... positively rapturous!"

"Eeeeeeeee—!" Sweetie Belle has to clamp her smiling muzzle shut, all the while her tail flicks... wagging like a little fuzzy pooch's. I watch as a crackling voice bounces between the two siblings in a noticeable blue haze.

"Although, I am... having a hard time putting my hoof on the lyrics," Rarity says, blinking. "Is... is that ancient Equestrian Equine?"

"Mmmm... indeed." Octavia nods. "It was my idea when Vinyl and I wrote this... this piece." She smoothes her bangs back and smiles elegantly. "I feel that the utilization of the dead language carries with it a certain refinery. I've always respected lyrical antiquity. It carries... almost a religious significance."

"Oh, I most certainly agree!" Rarity exclaims. "And yet—the beat to which your charming roommate has put it to makes the whole composition positively contemporary!" She looks up at us, muzzle agape. "I swear—these vocals are the hook! Is that what you're expecting me to declare from all of this?" She giggles. "Because you've certainly won me over. Well done. Well done, girls, indeed!"

"Phweeeeeee!" Sweetie bounces in a gay circle, smiling from ear to ear. "She likes it she likes it she likes ittttt!"

"I..." Rarity winces slightly. "I-I seem to be at a loss..." She arches an eyebrow, smiling delicately. "There's some sort of catch here, isn't there?"

I nod, smirking.

"I suppose you could say that. Yes," Octavia remarks.

"Well, would you terribly mind coming out with it?" Rarity fluffs her mane and leans back in her chair. "I do relish the thought of being in on your scrumptious secret before you unleash this veritable masterpiece to the masses."

"A masterpiece?!" Sweetie Belle's jaw drops. "Reallllly?"

Octavia places her hoof on the filly's shoulder again. She smiles at Rarity. "How old would you say the vocalist is in those samples, Rarity?"

"Oh... I'd say rather young! A choir colt, if it's a male... although—with those high notes—I highly doubt even that is possible." The fashionista taps her chin, pale muzzle scrunched in deep thought. "No... I'm thinking a filly... a very young one. Perhaps pre-cutie mark, even... with a youthful vigor, a penchant for avant-garde expression, and yet a certain layer of... refinement... ... ..." Her words trail off. Her head tilts down. At last, the mare's gaze falls over Sweetie Belle's ridiculously grinning face. "... ... ...no..."

Octavia and I nod.

Rarity grins, blushing. "Noooooooo..." She leans forward. "Sweetie Belle? Is... is it truly you?"

"Squeee-eee-eee..." Sweetie Belle's chest puffs up until she resembles a marshmallow sea-urchin. "...maybe."

"Oh, darling, that's most magnificent!" Rarity scoops up the filly and nuzzles her close. "That... that just puts the icing on the cake! Celestia alive, I feel positively foolish for not realizing!"

"Yeah, it's a real surprise, huh?" Sweetie Belle sticks her tongue out.

"Only because I simply didn't comprehend the possibility, dear!" Rarity caresses Sweetie Belle's cheek. "I always knew that you had the talent to make gorgeous music, dear!"

"Yeah, that's—" Sweetie's eyes bulge. "Wait. You did?"

"Oh, darling, of course!" Rarity giggles elegantly. "It's one of the most charming qualities you hold!" She fluffed the little filly's mane. "Aside from a knack for immaculate presentation. But we... ahem... both know where you got that from. Eheehee..."

"But... b-but..." Sweetie Belle fidgeted, her squeaking voice struggling to carry itself higher than the blue vocals rippling towards her and her older sister. "...every time I practice singing... you're always barking at me to knock it off or take it elsewhere."

"Simply because there is a time and a place for things, darling," Rarity said, her eyes glossy. "It so happens that whenever you're visiting me here on this side of town, I'm usually set in the Boutique, working hard on one commission or another. I need my concentration, dear. You could be singing the most beautiful ballad ever, or simply hammering nails into the floorboard—and in either case I would still get distracted. My work is that delicate, after all." She sighed, patting the filly's shoulder. "I am so... so terribly sorry if I haven't explained myself better to you."

"So... so you mean all this time... you've actually felt my singing was good?"

"Sweetie Belle, it's more than good!" Rarity beamed. "It's fantastic! And I'm quite pleased that Miss Melody and Miss Scratch here have found a way to utilize your gift!"

"Oh wow..." Sweetie Belle trotted a few steps back, breathing heavily. "That just... wow!" She grins wide... and wider. "I... I always thought that I was just being a nuisance! But to actually think I'm good at singing! And in your eyes too?" She squeals again. "I... I've never felt so warm and toasty inside! Almost as if! As if..." Her right rear leg twitches, and she shivers all over. A deep gasp escapes her lungs. "Oh my goodness! My... my flank!" She turns to gawk at her rear end. "Is that... is that my—?!"

"Oh dear." Rarity rolls her eyes. "I swear, I'll be picking lint off the walls of this room for a week." With a glowing horn, she peels off a long string of fabric that had settled on Sweetie Belle's blank flank. "That's what I get for agreeing to sew five sweaters in a row. Still... they do look absolutely adorable on Fluttershy's pet bunny." Rarity giggles, then gets up from the chair. "Excuse me, for a moment." She trots off towards a wastebasket on the opposite end of the room, carrying the string of lint. "Let me just tidy up a bit, and then I propose some tea and cookies are in order."

"Tea and cookies?" Sweetie Belle blinks.

"Well, certainly! We must celebrate this occasion!" Rarity chimes merrily. "Octavia and Vinyl have made the most fabulous composition using your voice! If you ask me, that's a glorious trifecta that must not be ignored! Oh... what a lovely day! Heehee!"

Nevertheless, Sweetie Belle sighs. She looks bashfully up at us. "Well... I guess tea and cookies are almost as good as a cutie mark." She sighs, ears drooping. "Almost..."

"Cheer up, love," Octavia says.

I glance at her, blinking slightly. I watch as she kneels before the filly.

"It's best to celebrate what you know you're good at, regardless of what a cutie mark tells you," my roommate says. She pats the filly's little head with a smile. "Don't ever let anyone or anything force a talent on you. Go with where your heart leads you. I expect that you'll soon find yourself being rewarded with great fruit." She takes a deep breath. "And in the company of good ponies."

Sweetie Belle gulps. "You really know a thing or two about being talented."

"Yes." Octavia exhales. An indigo cloud, matching her briefly sullen expression. "All too well." She summons a smile. "And believe me, talent only goes so far. There's something that goes even further."

"Oh yeah? What?"

"I do believe you'll discover in due time," Octavia says, standing back up. "When you're much older."

"Awwwwwwwwwww..." Sweetie Belle pouts. "That's always the worse explanation."

"Heehee... I know..." Octavia turns to wink my way. "You'll absolutely adore the right to use it when the time comes."

"Pffft! Yeah... maybe."

Daily Things

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"Well, that was... wonderfully pleasant," Octavia's violet voice drips off the melting sunset. I relish the crisp air while my roommate pushes me in the wheelchair across Ponyville. "I daresay we made those sisters' day. Or their very week, for that matter?"

I nod absent-mindedly. My day is still swimming with purples and blues. A thought occurs to me that I haven't had a bottle of Dr. Pony to drink in several hours, and then I let that thought flutter off into the wind, lost to the green hum of the settling world.

Across the way, two ponies are trotting down the sidewalk. I instantly recognize them as members of the Harvest family—Applejack's rural neighbors. Upon glancing our way, both farmers wave and smile.

Octavia waves back before I can. I feel my insides curling in on themselves, for a curious thought ripples through my aching mind. There is something strangely delicious about being seen like this. It's not that I take any pride in my lower leg being in disrepair. But at least—for better or for worse—everypony sees and knows who my best friend is. It's a strangely toasty feeling, and the air fills with orange mirth, even though Scribbler is hundreds of feet away.

I sigh, leaning back in my moving seat and closing my eyes. I allow the moment to happen, carried aloft on violet sails.

"I do hope we weren't being too forward," she says. "After all, that was a rather conspiratorial way of getting Rarity to listen to her little sister's exquisite voice. True, it all worked out in the end, but still." Octavia sniffs. I can envision her adjusting her bow-tie without looking. Her other hoof rests against the back of my wheelchair as she pushes me around an intersection, mindful of a few straggling wagons while crossing. "Sometimes, as artists, I feel that we allow creative hubris to take control... maybe too much control."

I arch an eyebrow, glancing up through my shades at her fuzzy chin.

"And it wouldn't be right for us to take advantage of Rarity's generosity. She is—after all—smitten with you."

I let loose a magenta snicker.

"Platonically speaking, of course." And Octavia's voice dips back into purple. "Still, I suppose it is worth it to see Sweetie Belle realize her dreams more. Her musical dreams, that is. I spoke with Rarity momentarily before we left. She's given us her blessing to let Sweetie Belle show up at the apartment and record more. Maybe we can even put together a little record for her! That should make her parents proud! Assuming they're on board as well."

I nod, watching as our house appears in the distance. A tuxedo feline rests in the window. Its ears perk up on spotting our arriving figures, and it darts off in the direction of the front door.

"I have grown rather attached to the filly," Octavia admits, her voice taking on an indigo hue. "So nice to have an innocent soul around that you can teach... mentor." She takes a deep breath. "Sometimes... I think it would be heavenly to skip the whole courtship and marriage part and go straight to foal-raising."

I open my muzzle... why? To say something? That would knock me out?

And yet my mouth hangs open, and I flinch slightly.

"But... that's just me giving in to the whimsy of the moment, I suppose," she drones. "It truly had been a glorious day." Octavia sniffs. "A shame we won't be seeing the little filly that much anymore."

I blink, then tilt my head to gaze curiously at her.

"Why, you haven't forgotten, Vine! Have you?" Octavia smirks. "Assuming Nurse Redheart gives you a clean bill of health tomorrow, you'll be trotting evenly on all fours again! No need for a wheelchair anymore!"

I gaze ahead at the front door to our apartment as we approach it. I exhale with cold red realization.

"Things will be like normal again," Octavia murmurs, her purple voice ushering in the veil of evening. She fumbles for the keys and unlocks the doors. "I mean, in addition to us being royal minstrels, of course."

Of course.

"At least you'll be able to do your regular afternoon walks again," she says with a smile. "You do so love those."

I nod with a quiet sigh... and an even calmer smile.

She's right. I do.

Among other things.

She opens the door, and we are both bathed in delicous orange.

Empathetic Things

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What is it like to walk on four hooves again?

Well, rapturous, I do suppose.

That's the kind of word Tavi would say. I'm thinking about her now. I'm thinking about her all the time.

I think about her as I look across the park under the green hiss of noonday. Two ponies stand side by side on a low bridge spanning a babbling brook. The merry gold in their breaths dissipates for the brief time it takes for them to nuzzle. Their smiles are shiny things, and when their voices resume it's almost too blinding for me to stare.

I think about our home the other day when Sweetie Belle was visiting. The blue notes the little filly sang were gorgeous in their own right, but I was positively drowning in violet the whole time. Octavia was on top of the world. I should have realized she liked mentoring so damn much. I suppose, around me, she never really gets much of a chance to do just that. That's not to say that I'm somehow more talented than her, but rather we occupy schools of music that are so far apart from one another that the chasm in between is positively turquoise from the vacuum.

But when Sweetie Belle was around, the air sang with swishing velvet. I'm already concocting ways to bring the filly back, to allow such a beautiful spectrum to adorn our threshhold again. True, I want to see how far the likes of Tavi and I can springboard her talent, but it's more than that... something selfish... almost pathetic.

At times, I find it hard figuring out what makes Tavi happy. She deserves to be joyful so much. She brings mirth and sophistication and purpose to the household.

Oh, and she saved my life. I suppose there's that little nugget as well.

But I'm often finding myself at odds when it comes to making her nearly as cheerful as she makes me. It doesn't help that I can read her at any given time of day. Or perhaps it does help, but the whole experience is torture, for I imagine her being ignorantly blissful of me on her end of the spectrum. Not that she even remotely obsesses over it. She has a great deal more on her plate, after all.

Even lately with so many things falling neatly in order—the royal minstrel jobs, the opportunity for gaining Canterlot acclaim, owning a Celestia-damn cat—I feel as though the house drifts along currents of indigo more than any other color. It wafts out of her room while she sleeps, scratches against the lids of my eyes night after night. I've only observed it so much lately—I think—because my brief injury hasn't allowed me to leave the house.

And now that I'm walking again, and the emerald hills outside Ponyville are whistling in the wind, and a crimson cavalcade of techno tracks roll across my ears, I feel all of my thoughts unwind—especially the most anxious ones. Their colors unfold, weeks-old and faded, the pigments turned to ash along the borders of my mind. I should have done a better job preserving them, molding them, transfiguring them so that they could hold special meaning for others.

But, I've been too preoccupied lately. To an outsider, what I've been through might seem like a vacation. But I can't possibly interpret it that way. Something aches from deep inside, gnawing at me, stabbing at the center of my being far harder than the jagged black spires of the Castle I've been forced to enter time and time again.

I always feel like I'm trying to outrace something—be it the deathly tendrils of imperfection, or the acidic sinkhole of creative ennui. My piles upon piles of completed records don't amount to much against the dark, careening face of this monster, this beast built out of my doubts, desires, and delusions. I can be better. I can be so much better.

And yet, as much as I might push myself, goad myself, hate myself, I am convinced—by means of righteous intuition—that Octavia despises herself more, anguishes over herself more, strives to improve herself more. Though she might label it as severe motivation, I have my own theories, something born out of keen observation... and fermented in the deep pools of her indigo breaths. It's something that I blame her father for—though she rarely will. She approaches the very brink of divine anger, only to fall back on a slippery slope. Meanwhile, I have forged within myself many a serrated thing to say to the stallion if ever we were to meet—even if it would put me in a coma for a month to have it shouted at him, screamed at him, launched at him with a volley worth the weight of all of Octavia's collected tears and sighs over the past seven years.

With a shudder, I nearly trip over myself.

I hate anger. It's redder than blood, and when mixed with magenta it practically nauseates me.

So I find a place to sit down: a bench in the middle of middle itself. I switch my player to a brand new playlist, then flip to the last track. After a brief pause, my head fills with soothing violet and ecstatic blues.

I close my eyes, smiling as I allow myself to drink in the melody, the joy, the spontaneous rapture of what was discovered a few days ago by two mares and an angel. It brought a smile to Rarity's lips and made Sweetie Belle dance for joy. And—if even for a brief moment—the song gave me a window to look in on some of Octavia's most heartfelt dreams. I can only hope the same thing is a door for her, and she will trot on through, taking her life to far more violet pastures.

Even if they're not places where a mare like me could roam... what matters is... Tavi would be there.

I reopen my eyes, and the green world is blurry.

Yes...

I think the three of us made a masterpiece...

Dumb Things

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A particularly riveting Kraftwhinny track plays in my ears. Between the colorful ripples of Ponyville and the fickle breeze of the waning afternoon, I'm pondering the tenuous balance between classic works of electronica and modern house music.

Around the time my mind tickles with the idea of taking samples from Kraftwhinny to jazz up my latest remix of a Daft Pony track, my peace of mind is shattered by a wave of crimson noise soaring down from the apartment building immediately to my right.

A box rattles, rolls, and careens wildly down a steep set of stairs.

"Ah jeez!" A young voice rasps from above, followed by the flutter of wings. "Look out below!"

There's no risk of this thing hitting me—or anypony. So who's concerned and why? Nevertheless, I glance right. I see the package tumbling my way. On agile hooves, I dash over, aim my horn, and catch the cardboard container in a safe cushion of magic. The thing floats up to my face level—and it's around this moment that the lid-flaps open.

My eyes twitch beneath my shades. I reach a hoof up and pause my music player while I take a moment to gaze into the contents of the box.

Now I understand why the pony was so concerned. The box is full of fragile records—and really good ones, too. I spot vinyls labeled with Pink Filly, Radiohay, The Trotting Heads, Depeche Mane, Basement Joxxy—just to name a few. I'm actually quite impressed. Then, in the dusty corner of the box, I see one of Coltplay's latest albums and... ehhh... that's forgivable, I suppose. Nopony's perfect.

"Hey... is that...?" A stallion's voice echoes from above. "Oh my gosh! You caught them! Oh wow! Thanks! Thanks a ton! Heheheh! You're a life saver!"

I can't help but flip a few more vinyls, smiling as I see Nine Inch Neighs and Oats City among the list as well. They're eclectic. Gotta give 'em that.

I'm so engrossed in my observation that I don't notice the color of the speaker's voice until he scampers excitedly down the flight of stairs from the second-story apartment. "I really don't know what I'd do if that stuff bit the dust! They're the only things I could bring with me from the base and—" He gasps, freezing on the last few stairs. His lungs wind up, then deliver a cloud of brown haze straight at me. "Vinyl? Vinyl Scratch?"

I wince. Hard. It takes all of my concentration to not drop the box altogether.

I swivel towards him, wearing as plastic a smile as I can.

"It is you!" Flash Sentry smiles. "The Royal Minstrel! Hah! Imagine seeing you here! Well..." He glances aside, his mane blowing in the breeze. I realize that this is the first time I've seen him out of armor, and his hair is... is... just what kind of style is that? 'Grease Utopia?' "Of course you'd be here," he says with a chuckle. "The Princess has been hiring every 'royal servant' from Ponyville. With a few exceptions, of course."

My brow furrows in utter confusion.

He sees it. "When the Palace here sprouted up out of the ground, it didn't come with a barracks," he explained. "So, since the Mayor had just recently expanded the town to include these new cheap apartments here, Princess Twilight thought she might buy them out and lend them as room and board to her Royal Guard." He winks. "Purchased through the funds provided by her brother—the Prince of the Crystal Empire—of course." A brown chuckle.

My smile is a crooked one.

Of course...

"So, since I'm off duty for the first time since arriving here, I thought I'd move in proper." He grasps the box from me, examining each vinyl to make sure the records are undamaged. "Whew! Wow... I thought I had lost these for good! Thanks a ton, Miss Scratch! You're a life-saver!"

I nod, then swivel to face the street—

"Do you live by this side of town?"

"... ... ..." I swivel back towards him. With a genuine grin, I shake my head.

I don't want you knowing where I live.

"Ah, going for a walk, then?" Flash Sentry smirks. "Can't blame you. It really is very nice around here. Even if it's... well... a super tiny country town." He clears his throat. "Princess Twilight says you go on walks a lot. I guess that's just the mantra of a concentrating artist, huh?"

I blink beneath my shades.

Princess Twilight talks about me?

My jaws clench.

Princess Twilight talks about me to you?

"I... uh... hope you're not too ashamed of my musical collection... eheh..." He places the box full of alternative rock atop a nearby stack of similar looking boxes. "A bunch of recruits I used to hang with always gave me a hard time for the stuff that I once thought was... y'know... 'cool.'"

I shrug. It couldn't have been too bad...

He scratches his neck nervously. "...stuff like Nickelbuck... Smashmuzzle..."

I almost vomit into my mouth. Oh fudge.

"But hey... high school's gonna get high... ha! Get it?"

No, I don't.

"Eh... I'm sorry for keeping you. It's just that I always see you and the other servants when I'm on duty, and I don't get the chance to say... y'know..." Flash shrugs. "That the Princess is super happy to have you and your cellist friend livening things up in the Castle. We could definitely use more talented ponies like you mares, and I wish you the best in the future Friendship Assemblies."

I cock my head to the side.

That's... that's pretty swell of him, actually...

"Flash? Flaaaash?" Twilight Sparkle pokes her head out of the second story entrance to the apartment. "Why didn't you tell me we were running out of soap? Nnngh! Y'know, just 'cuz Shining bought out the apartment, doesn't mean I gotta keep making trips to the store for—" She freezes in place, her wings reaching for the sky at the sight of me. "Gaaaaah—I-I-I mean... AHEM..." She stands up straight, eyes thin and... princessy. "Ms. Scratch. How nice of you to... drop by while the royal guard is settling in."

I arch an eyebrow.

"Vinyl was just going for a walk, Your Highness," Flash said, his brown voice considerably less shaky than the alicorn's. "Doesn't that sound like a good idea? Going for a walk on such a beautiful, cool afternoon as this?"

"Flassssssh! Can it!—Erm... Yes! That... sounds like a truly wonderful... sp-splendid thing!" Twilight Sparkle flicks her tail, sweating, gazing off towards the horizon. "For... ponies who... are not encumbered with several royal tasks to do, of course!"

"But I thought you said you reviewed all of the official decrees of the day—"

"I-I just remembered some more! Gottagobye!" FWOOOSH! She soared skyward, arching towards a black splotch in the air.

"What about the soap?!" Flash called after her. "Could you at least tell me where the market is?!" He leaned back, muzzle scrunched. A charcoal sigh. "I did something dumb again, didn't I?" He shrugs, then smiles my way. "She's... uh... so thoughtful. Eheh..."

I bet.

I salute.

I turn around.

And I trot towards home... leaving his presence before I explode with giggles. The laughter would surely send me sprawling across the dirt, and I can think of a million ponies I'd much rather be rescuscitated by.

Sweating Things

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"Time certainly does sneak up on us, does it not?" Tavi says, her voice dipping into nervous pools of indigo. I sense her velvety limbs shuffling through our apartment in anxious little circles. "Just when you think you've rehearsed all that you need to, an event like this weekend's shows up and... well... it puts everything out of sort!"

I nod, only half listening... only half-seeing. I stand at my turntable, my ears encased in clamshell headphones, my head swimming with a repetitiously repeating sound track. I play the same sample over and over and over again, concentrating on a spot within the currently growing mix to slip it in. I cycle through the colors, textures, and goosebumps of the evolving ensemble. At last, I find a spot—the most perfect spot—and I slide it in after a brief moment of electronic wrestling. At last, I replay the most recent bit, and I sigh with magenta relief. Everything fits like a tolling bell. I can go on to the next movement.

Slipping one disc back into its jewel case, I place it down on a stack of previously-sampled music albums and continue forward with my hellishly dense project. I wonder if I'm the only pony who finds herself most adept when waiting until the last second to work on things, for better or for worse.

"Mmmmm...!" A thicker salvo of indigo. Octavia flounders on her end of the foyer. I almost sense her juggling with things in the corner of my peripheral. "Oh, blast, I just know I should have hit Rarity up for some fashionable upgrades when I was at her Boutique last! Celestia knows she would have obliged me, too!" She resorts to balancing an identical-looking article in each hoof. "Which one looks more decent, Vine?"

I sample the next disc, listening intently for a series of perfect sound effects to merge with my growing mix.

"Vine! This is serious! A matter of life or death!" She lingers closer, balancing the objects in my shades. "Which should I go with this weekend?!"

I lean back, snapping out of it. I adjust my shades and stare at... two completely identical bow-ties. I arch an eyebrow, then shrug at her.

"How could you be so ambivalent?!?" her voice cracks, and through the fissure an indigo angel weeps. "I'm going to be performing the cello in front of multiple griffon delegates! It's a common fact that—when griffons see the color red—they snap and fall back on their baser instincts!"

I simply stare at her.

"Or maybe that's manticores..." Octavia bites her lip, sweating. "Though manticores never attend dinner parties at royal castle ballrooms. Still... I should be cautious! You're good at colors, Vine! Tell me—which has less red in it? Hmmm? Can you tell?" She suddenly grimaces. "Oh Celestia, I'm perspiring again! This will be the fourth shower of the day! Egads, I'm a wreck!"

I raise a hoof and wave it lazily, meanwhile bearing a reassuring smile.

"How could you be so... so calm with the weekend looming around the corner?!" Octavia cackles. "It's going to be our first performance as royal minstrels, and we'll be surrounded by griffons! That means an entire crowd of half-avian sensibilities! What if our music ruffles their feathers?! What..." She hyperventilates slightly. "...wh-what if we underperform and Princess Twilight has to ask us to retire early for the evening and then she puts on a jazz record?!" Octavia winces heavily. "A jazz record!!!"

I shrug, then calmly return back to my mixing.

"Is... is that your commissioned project for Rainbow Dash?"

I nod, cycling through more sound effects I've ripped out of her Daring Do audio books.

"Oh, blessed Luna, I can't believe you're actually willing to go through with that!" Octavia gulps, leaning forward to examine my work. "Still, I do suppose a concentrated music project is a fine way to meditate and relax your nerves in lieu of the night after tomorrow."

I shrug, throwing sound clips and melodies at one another, coming up with ways to harmonize the audio diarrhea into something resembling a tune. So far, I have four minutes of dense material. Once I get to the five minute hump, I should be able to repeat various elements, tricking them up as the track progresses, creating the illusion of a lengthy and involved dance tune. If I can make it past ten minutes, then I bet it's something Rainbow Dash could dance to... or fly to. That's a flying mare, for sure.

"... ... ..."

Where did Octavia go?

In the corner of my vision, a gray figure blurs back into the room, dragging along a rather large bass fiddle that she's kept as reserve in her closet.

"Curse you to Tartarus, stagefright!" Octavia proclaims, her voice reaching purple heights. "I shall exorcise you with righteous melodies!" And she begins strumming away with a vengeance. The air shatters with grating strings that can't decide to be either violet or indigo. A staccato array of crimson bands explode in between each horrid excuse for a "note." "Exorsiiiize!" she hollers.

I'm wincing so hard that I'm certain my jaw will pop loose. I glare her way and wave a hoof dramatically.

"Can't hear you, Vine!" she hollers, taking her frustration out on the strings. "I must put myself in the zone, like you! Or else I will not survive the upcoming performance!"

At least tune up the stupid thing, damn!

Ughhhhh...

I sigh, gazing melancholically at my half-finished project.

Maybe I do need a break.

The jewel cases on my workbench rattle from the noise Tavi is making. "It's working! It's working! Hah! Excelsior!"

Celestia, help me. This is going to be a long weekend.

Partitioned Things

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A final click.

A lasting hiss.

After three hundred samples and thirteen hours of editing and re-editing...

Yes...

I am finally done with this track.

I slap a red button on the console, and what was once the working draft now records itself onto mana-crystals for digital distribution. It is a slow process, and it will probably take all night.

Which would have once meant something... considering that night started about four hours ago.

I sigh. Trotting aside, I become aware of how long I have been standing in one place—one position—one super studious stance. It re-agitates the pain in my right leg from the recent injury, and I wince, limping away from the turntable while the eleven minute music track for Rainbow Dash solidifies itself into audio permanence.

The foyer is a dark thing now, a cave where nothing lives, not even me. All colors are hidden in Octavia's side of the apartment—deep orange and violet. I guess Octavia forgot to close her bedroom door before Scribbler snuck in. I guess that goes to show how preoccupied her pretty head has been with the upcoming delegates dinner party at the Castle. I should have been more receptive to her, I suppose. But I recall hearing the shower running twice since she last performed the bass fiddle in my presence. That many showers in a small span of time usually means she's in a good mood. At least... I can assume so.

I drift past a window... and I linger.

The world outside is a turquoise sheen. I stare beyond the pane, squinting past the amber flicker of a street lamp as it strives to push the colors of death away. Night is the galloping pasture for artists, precisely because it is a graveyard for everypony else. Against that blackness, we throw our colors and notes, seeking to form a masterpiece, knowing how futile it is in the long run... but pursuing it with no less zeal.

It's times like these—when I've just finished my latest work, or any work for that matter—that I feel most ecstatic. A mania takes over me, and my ego grows tenfold. I am a veritable goddess, on top of the world, sprouting wings with no need for a tiara.

But right now...

With the dark world entombing me...

And everything else in my life shuffling into place so righteously...

I... can't seem to summon the revel in that very same accomplishment.

And it's not that I don't believe in the awesomeness of the track that I just made for Rainbow Dash.

Sure, it's not perfect, but I'm more than confident that it will suffice... that it will be digestible... that it will make her happy.

It's just that it's like every other track that I've made before. I make a living off of this... off of being DJ-P0N3. She's a very special part of me... but only a part.

And you can carry that part of yourself so high on your shoulders and for so long, but it can still leave the rest feeling... eerily vacant.

This didn't used to bother me. Then again, I used to be a lot younger. And now—more than ever—the turquoise looms like a shroud, and I feel less room to breathe.

And everything as of late has been shallow breaths. Even when I leapt out to grab Sweetie Belle's falling body, I was numb. Like my body had been suspended underwater.

And it's the rare and awkward accidents when I surface that I feel all of reality rushing in on me. The incurable nature of my condition. The strict regiment I've now hammered my life to as a royal minstrel. The fact that I haven't seen Roadie Beau in over a week, and I left him in Sacramentoats like a fool... like a jerk... like somepony who is the exact opposite of a good friend.

I remove my shades and rub my eyes with a sigh. I suffer the gamut of colors, and all of them jaded.

I really don't know how DJ-P0N3 makes music every night. Sometimes, I feel like I'm just as much an audience to her as everypony else. Only—now more than ever—every tune is starting to sound the same.

I barely scratch the surface of that thought before it sends me—lurching—back to my bedroom. I stand before my mattress, not moving, not living. I could fall asleep... but what's number than numb? How much does it take until another seven years has vanished and I find myself the same old fossil in want of the same old voice?

My ears twitch. Orange and violet streams ripple my way. I trot backwards until my flank strikes the bedroom wall. Octavia sleeps in the room on the other side, and her and Scribbler's breath are a cornucopia of colors, lulling me to someplace that feels faintly like home. I slump down and hug myself, allowing the vibrations to surround me, warm me like a womb.

This creature...

This delicate... holy creature...

She saved my life...

She saved all the parts of me... DJ-P0N3... Vinyl... "love"... the parts that have been and the parts that will ever be...

And if I don't owe it to myself to keep striving against that turquoise shroud...

...then at least I owe it to her.

It's the first time I've smiled all day... and it's already night.

That in and of itself is almost worth a laugh, but I'd rather not collapse that way.

Instead, I carry the headrush with me to a shower... for I surely need one. And... who knows... maybe somewhere between the suds and streams, I'll learn Octavia's secret.

I know I won't, but I douse myself anyways...

Lavish Things

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"Do you have all your things, Vine?"

I sigh. Smiling through the magenta cloud, I turn to gaze down the hallway leading away from our foyer. I give a reassuring nod towards the bathroom.

"Did you fill Scribbler's food dish with twice the regular amount?"

I nod again, stifling a yawn. I glance out the window. It's daylight, and the town is all abuzz. From the distance, several dark shapes form along the horizon. The townspeople gather in tight clusters on their doorstops to gaze at the curious objects:

Zeppelins. Chock full of Griffonstone ambassadors. All heading towards the Castle.

Well, this evening should be nifty, if nothing else.

"Oh! And that musical piece you made for Rainbow Dash! Better not forget that! She'll likely be the first pony we meet when we arrive!"

I nod. I'm already balancing the disc on my flank. My mane is as bright and spikey as ever. I'm ready. I've been ready.

Waiting on you, Tavi...

"It was a good thing they agreed to house our musical equipment in the ballroom prior to our arrival," Octavia's voice rattles across the apartment in purple echoes. "I seriously can't fathom trying to haul my cello case across town and maintain my appearance for such a special event! I mean... that would be a disaster waiting to happen! Not that... w-we're doomed in any particular faculty, just... erm... an anxious turn of phrase, I suppose."

I lean against the hallway's corner, my eyes blinking blearily. I remove my shades, rub my lids, and place the article back on. As my vision comes back into focus, an angelic shape materializes before me, flowing with creamy red silk.

I blink.

"Erm..." Octavia smiles bashfully. There's a rose in her upbraided mane, and her body's adorned in a plain crimson dress with a slit along the outer skirt. "I asked Rarity for something 'simple yet elegant,' and this is what she chose for me. I... I-I believe she has a far more severe definition of 'simple' than what's usually in my mind. Still... it's... not too attention-gathering, is it? I-I mean... I don't wish to out-do the Royal Princess or any members of her Friendship Council."

I blink again.

"... ... ...Vine?" She cranes her head aside. A thin charcoal strand of mane hair falls loose and she tucks it back in place. "Is everything okay, love?"

With a gulp, I perform a salute, smiling crookedly.

"So... you approve?"

I nod, my grin warm and friendly.

"Oh... oh g-good..." She exhales with shuddering indigo. "I certainly do not wish to over-do it. Still... this is a special event. It won't quite be a symphony performance, of course, but I like to stick to my lifelong motto: 'In all things, be classy.' It's helped me in every occasion I can think of."

I point at her dress, then stand up on my hindquarters. With careful precision, I charade waving a cape like a matadour.

"Huh...?" Octavia blinks at me. "You mean... whatever happened to my concern over griffons 'seeing red?'" She blushes slightly. "Well, yesterday, when I went to the Boutique... I presented the concern to Rarity. She swiftly dissuaded my fears, and that's how I came upon acquiring this." Her gray muzzle scrunches. "Hmmm... you don't suppose I should have asked Fluttershy instead?"

I facehoof.

"Eh... bollocks..." She checks her mane in the hallway mirror one last time. "Let's just go and see what becomes of everything. You only become a royal minstrel once, yes?"

I shrug, then trot my way towards the front door.

"Still, I must admit, I will look quite silly next to you."

I glance over my shoulder with a curious arch to my eyebrow.

"I mean... I know that elegant fashion isn't a requirement in your flavor of musical performance, but..." She stifles a violet giggle. "Oh dear. We almost look like I'm going to the prom and you're my chaperone." She laughs harder, her voice taking on a musical quality.

I catch my breath, opening the door.

There could be worse metaphors, I'm sure...

And just as I open the door, a royal guard in rattling armor glances our way. "Miladies..."

"Gaa-haa-haa!" Octavia leaps back. Her shriek startles me, and I briefly reel in a wave of indigo and crimson. "Erm... oh dear..." Octavia fans herself. "This is quite... unexpected..."

"My apologies for startling you, madame," the guard says, bowing. "We were simply waiting."

"Waiting...?" Octavia blinks. "Waiting for what? Ms. Scratch and I are scheduled to be at the Castle to set up for our performances within the hour." She gasps. "Oh my Celestia! We're not late, are we?"

"Not at all, ma'am." The guard smiles. "We were wondering if you wished us to take you to the Castle now."

"Take us to... erm... wh-what...?" Octavia pokes her head out of our apartment, along with me.

A carriage waits, surrounded by four guards. It's embossed in crystals and gold studs. Already, I can tell that several of the neighbors are being drawn to gawk at its shiny surfaces.

"Oh... my word..." Octavia cups her fuzzy face with a graceful hoof. "Do you mean... sh-she's sent... I-I-I mean Her Royal Highness Princess Twilight Sparkle has sent this... sent you... to... to..."

"Why, of course." The guard blinks. "You two are the royal minstrels. Her Majesty extends her services so that you may provide yours."

"But... I-I had no idea! I mean, did you, Vine?"

I shake my head.

"I mean... that's quite fantastic! But... you poor dears. I mean... the Castle is merely a few blocks away."

"My apologies." The guard bows, stepping backwards. "If you would prefer to trot the entire way—"

"Bloody Hell, we do!" Octavia practically snarls, taking me by the hoof. "Good stallions, thank you most kindly." A guard opens a side door in the carriage and the two of us climb aboard. "My sincerest apologies for the delay. Ever onwards, good chaps!"

"A pleasure, madame," the guard says with a smile. He shuts the door behind us and shouts to the two stallions up front.

Not wasting a moment, the guards draw the carriage away from our apartment stoop and across town. I spot the familiar storefronts of Ponyville whizzing by us.

"Wow... this was rather unexpected!" Octavia fidgets in her seat, trying not to wrinkle her dress as the carriage shakes around us. "I should have a word with Her Highness... let her know that these extraordinary lengths are not necessary."

I glare at her.

"She should... save such resources for if one of the arriving dignitaries needs transport!" She tilts her nose up. "It would only be proper."

I glare at her some more.

She blinks back. At last, a violet burst: "Oh, blast. Who am I kidding?" Grinning wide, she shivers in place and hugs herself. "Squeeee! This is so exciting! So exciting! Oh, blessed Luna, I am going to faint! Heeheehee!"

At last, I smirk, and all too soon we are both illuminated by the colorful manalight marking the front entrance to the Castle on this gala occasion...

Sneaky Things

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The colors here are far too vibrant. I suppose I should have anticipated this.

I'm normally okay in crowds... but the only reason for such is that—in almost every circumstance where I'm in a crowded place—I am usually the one directing the crowd, controlling them, electrifying them from my pulpit of musical mayhem. Right now, I'm just a floundering idiot, attempting to trot her way through a thickening group of ambassadors, dignitaries, and politicians. The sheer variation of passionate golds, laughable reds, adoring pinks, and blase browns is overwhelming.

It doesn't help that nearly half of the visitors congregating around the front entrance to the Castle are griffons. Nothing against the awesome cat-birds—it's just that I haven't ever gotten acquainted to their voices. My ears ache with what sounds like a chorus of ospreys and eagles growing louder, redder, and denser.

I can only imagine what it will be like inside the Castle, where the sheer blackness of the harmonic construct will reflect all of these strange new sounds back at me. Right now, I can scarcely concentrate. I need my music. I need my turntable. I need to be in control.

Thankfully... I have Tavi. She may be the daintier dressed of the two of us, but her hoof leads me strongly through the mess. I hear the rattle of guards' armor, a hint of brown, and then a rush of cool air. Suddenly, the bedlam melts away, and my vision returns—no longer clouded by the vomitous paint bucket of everything and everyone.

"Whew! If that's a preview to tonight's scene, then I'm positively enraptured!" I hear Octavia chirp in violet breaths... almost too violet. "Thank you most kindly..."

"Sentry. Flash Sentry." Oh Goddess. I sense him bowing in my peripheral. "And a pleasure, madame." He smiles. "Your places in the ballroom await."

"Are we late?" Octavia asks while I get my bearings in the main hall of the Castle.

"Heh... not at all," he says. "This is simply a big occasion! The first ever Gala at Her Majesty's new castle in Ponyville!"

"Wow... how positively exciting..." Octavia suppresses a foalish squeal. "I cannot wait to charm them with my muse!"

"Among other things." Muddy, earthen chuckles. "You look positively radiant tonight, madame."

"Oh... uh... uhhhhh..." More and more violets. "Ehhh hee-hee-hee-hee-hee..." I sense red, but I don't hear any thunder. I realize it's just Octavia's coat blushing until it matches the color of her gown. "Oh, much appreciated. Erm... Rarity chose it for me."

"Ah. That would make sense."

"Granted, for all of her affectionate generosity, she doesn't quite compliment as handsomely as—" Octavia yelps slightly, her voice dipping into indigo. It might possibly have something to do with my dragging her towards the opposite end of the Castle. "R-right! We must make haste! Much preparations to do!"

"Heh... very well. I'll keep an eye on the front door! Good luck with the performance!"

Several black chambers away, and we enter the ballroom. The walls are lined with long tables covered in white table-cloth and several curiously stacked platters. Caterers are still setting stuff around, and I spot a pink bouncing figure in the corner, directing them, directing everything. In truth, the place is remarkably underdressed, which—for an event like this—is probably for the best.

"Whew... thank you, Vine," Tavi says. "I cannot afford to be... ermmm... distracted right now." She fluffs her mane and re-adjusts the rose in her bangs. "No matter how delightfully..."

I sigh. I sense turquoise out of the corner of my vision. Curious, I tilt my gaze towards the right side of the room.

"Don't look," a voice rasps, black and scratchy. Rainbow Dash touches down. "And if you're feeling hungry, try sticking to the left side of the ballroom."

"Oh dear..." Octavia squirms where she stands. "Why is that?"

"Well... a bunch of griffons from Griffonstone are visiting..." Rainbow rolls her eyes. "And... ehhh... griffons are carnivores..."

"Eugh!" Octavia kicks her hooves and backtrots behind me, wincing. "You cannot be serious!"

"Hey. We're bridging cultural gaps here," Rainbow says with a shrug. "Besides... it's just dead field mice. Fluttershy said that was the closest thing to a kill we could get away with and not upset the balance of Equestrian wildlife or... whatever. Yadda-yadda. Anyways." She turns towards me, grinning. "Heeeey! Look at you! Not a frill or a sash or anything!"

"Erm..." Octavia tilts her head aside. "Is that a bad thing?"

"Pffft! As if!" Rainbow smirks. "It just means there's somepony else here just as underdressed as me! Awesome!" She holds a hoof up high. "Put 'er there, V.S.!"

I smirk and slap my hoof against hers. A red explosion blossoms between us, and Rainbow is suddenly leaning forward, murmuring, her voice taking on strangely pinkish decibels: "Did... did you finish... erm... you-know-what?"

"Hehe... funny you should ask that!" Tavi says. "Vinyl?"

I hold a hoof up. Calmly, I trot towards the floor just beneath my turntable. I levitate a disc player and a set of headphones over. I then put the commissioned track in, press play, and lay the headphones over Rainbow's fuzzy ears.

Her ruby eyes dart at me. But then—as the music begins—and the samples crack into her ears, she blinks... eyelids fluttering. She narrows her gaze across the ballroom, tail flicking... then flicking again. "Huh..." Her nose wriggles. "Mmmm..." Ears twitch. "Yeah..." A smile. "Heh... yeah!" A devilish grin. "Buck yeah!" She lets loose a brief giggle—curiously pink—and then the black raspiness returns. "Wow! This is killer! Totally killer stuff, Vinyl!"

I smirk.

"Then you like it?" Octavia asks.

"Like it? Girl, this kicks butt from here to Ragneihrak!" Rainbow Dash's wings flap and she twirls in the air. "Woohooo! How... uh..." She glances down at me with momentarily pensiveness. "How long is this?"

I levitate a pen and paper from my DJ booth, write on it, and hold it up to her.

"Wow! Over ten minutes! Heck yeah! I can totally do Wonderbolt exercises to this!" She twirls in the air. "Wooohooo! Thanks a ton, Vinyl! You're the absolute best! Yeah!" She zips around the ceiling, earning a chiding warning from Rarity, who has just arrived with an elaborate procession of servants bearing floral arrangements to add the finishing touches to the room.

"Well, that went even better than I imagined." Octavia looks over at me. "And you managed to make that track using only samples from Daring Do audio books?"

I glance to the left... then to the right...

I smirk.

She arches an eyebrow. "Vinyl... what did you do...?"

I clear my throat. I write on the pad, then levitate it before her.

She blinks. Then glances at me. "I... I did not know that they released a Pretty Princess Lullabyes Volume Thirteen."

I nod, smiling.

"Erm..." She leans in, suppressing a giggle. "...just how many samples did you sneak in?" she whispers.

I sketch a double-digit number and hold it up to her.

"Snkkkt!" Octavia flounces so hard, she nearly loses the rose in her mane. "Heeheeheehee!"

I grin, exhaling a few magenta chuckles.

"Whew...!" She fans herself, then slinks off for the stage opposite mine. "...I think I should start tuning up now. Goddess..."

Requested Things

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Octavia's music is being drowned out by the commotion of the party, to the point that it's almost indecipherable from the rest of the bedlam, and I couldn't be more proud of her.

Princess Twilight wanted us to keep this event feeling calm and manageable, and I can already tell that Tavi—at least—is accomplishing just that. Her purple strings roll soothingly through the crowd, falling on muzzles and beaks... ears and crests with just as much softness and grace as the feathers belonging to those who have blessed Ponyville with their patronage tonight.

I must admit, there's part of me that feels a bit uneasy... queasy, even. It's not that I've never seen a griffon before... it's just that I've never seen so many of them all in one place. And I do mean a lot of griffons... each with a differently shaped beak and a differently colored plumage. I suppose it's an easy sin of familiarity to assume that all griffons—far gone from equine features—would somehow look the same. I'm rather delighted to be so suddenly educated. I suppose that is the purpose of such a function as this.

My observation comes and goes—and for good reason, too. The task of providing background music has been given equally to the two of us. Octavia plays an instrumental on her cello, and then I play two songs... maybe three. I blend them together, mixing and merging tracks as is necessary, and then it's Tavi's turn again. The reason I perform for twice as long as she does is rather simple: it involves less effort on my behalf. Not even Octavia would deny that, and the poor mare needs her rest from all of that string-slicing. I also happen to know how much a venue stresses her out... much less her first venue in... in...

Dear Celestia, just how long has it been? I didn't think about it until now...

Octavia's purple strings come to a gentle conclusion. A brief lapse in music, and the entire room blushes red from a hooves and talons applauding. Then the golden voices begin once more, sprinkled with amber. I'm not quite certain how to describe the sound of griffons. Their voices are raspy, yet dignified. There's a bit of songbird in each of them, something immaculate and untainted despite the bloodied streaks of meat-scented time. Right now, if I was to pen it down, I'd say their voices spotted, like eggs.

I haven't much time to dwell on that. I see Octavia's grin from afar, and I realize it's my turn again. I'm actually quite excited to give the turntable another whirl. I try salvaging something from crystal pony lore, a track I recently made that borrows heavily from samples of northern percussion instruments and fluglehorns. If nothing else, it's guaranteed to be something that griffons haven't heard before. Already, I can see their feathered heads turning. I worry for a moment, for I don't want this to be too distracting. I soon realize I've got nothing to fear.

That's because the one center of attraction is Twilight Sparkle. I don't know who it was—Rarity, perhaps—but some interior decorator thought it was necessary to craft her a "throne" of sorts. As a result, she sits at the very... very far end of the great hall, smiling and waving and... smiling and waving at the mingling "party-goers."

At least she's not alone. I spot two elderly griffons seated next to her. Judging from the coloration of their headcrests, I suspect they're some... super important members of Griffonstone. I slip off my headphones and attempt craning an ear—past my music and past the myriad of conversations. At last, my eyes twitch to see the breaths trailing between Princess and her two esteemed guests. The elder griffons' voices are brown as a latrine, and even Twilight's gray voice dips its way into earthen tones.

Ah...

Political rhetoric...

But of course...

But then, about two-thirds of the way through my track, I notice a sudden spike—followed by a color shift. One of the griffons' vocalizations ripples with orange hues, then dips briefly into pink. The one beside her nods, joining in with a matching color. Twilight Sparkle reacts with a smile, then waves a hoof invitingly in Octavia's direction.

Huh...

The conversation continues, their voices like water drops in the bucket of this room. I see Twilight signal aside, and a pink figure zips in her direction. It's Pinkie Pie, and Twilight is whispering a special request into her ear.

The party planner nods, nods some more, then grins. She replies with something golden as the sun, then bounces her way across the room... and right towards Octavia's stage. My roommate is almost caught off guard, but soon she leans down to hear Pinkie Pie's words from the Princess. As Tavi listens, I see her eyes light up. I'm briefly concerned, until I denote the violet pitch in her voice. She nods, then stands up from her stool, picking her cello up again. A pair of eyes dart my way, followed by a nervous, cheekish grin.

Next thing I know, Pinkie Pie is signaling me as stealthily as possible. I nod back, then find a way to segue out of my track, even if the song isn't completely finished. I find a way to do so without too much awkwardness, and suddenly Pinkie Pie is mastering a microphone, her bubbly voice rocking the ballroom with golden vibrations.

"Fillies and Gentlecolts! Ladybirds and dudehawks!"

From across the room—a crimson moan, scarcely audible. It has to be Rarity.

Pinkie continues undaunted: "Please, enjoy the food and friendship! There's plenty more where that came from! But now, courtesy of Her Royal Highness, Twilight Sparkle, we would like to share with you tonight the special, classy—and did I mention classssssy—talent of the one and only Octavia Melody! Performing one of Equestria's finest works—Flight of the Windigos! Believe me—heeheehee—snkkkt—it's a doozy! But you don't have to take my whinny for it! Take it away, Tavi!" The microphone whines. She steps away. The spotlight falls on Tavi.

I lean forward against my turntable. I'm not the only one. Across the way, the two delegates next to Twilight Sparkle are on the edge of their seats, grinning beneath their beaks with anticipation.

I'm so busy observing this that I barely notice that Octavia has begun playing. This is precisely because I'm so used to her performing it from the comforting confines of our foyer's "studio." However, it hasn't occurred to me just how passionate, even violent the rendition is... perfect for meat eating cat birds, I suppose. This instrumental has been built into my bloodstream, and now the rest of the room is feeling it, and I'm not even sure what to think.

Instead, I focus on Tavi's strings, the indigo seriousness of the cello, the purple focus of her chords. Then—there are violet peaks—when she shows off, when she dives, when she comes back up again to swoop into our ears, much like a falcon. Half of the room has bled orange already, and it's the half that the feathers belong to. In the corner, there's a black squeal—Rainbow Dash is pumped, and I can only pray she doesn't knock over the punch bowl in her physical displays of appreciation.

But who can blame her? Octavia is losing it—in the best way possible. Her mane tosses in the air, and a sheen of sweat almost makes the straps of her gown slip. But she continues through, thrashing, gnawing her way. The cello weeps from its punishment, but the masterpiece must be finished. It knows this, and the next wave of notes are a deluge of mournful beauty, rocking every soul until even the equines amongst us have their breaths stolen away. And just when everyone thinks it's finish, Octavia shreds them apart—shredding her strings apart—daring to ride the crest once more. Her teeth are gnashing together, like a mother foaling, and when the snow is pierced, the lingering chill lulls us all back to gravity's tug. Her last few chords fall and drift like feathers, and she ends, panting, bowing, and smiling.

The resulting wave of crimson almost knocks me on my butt. There's a little bit of magenta in the middle of all that. I don't even know the word that I said, but I join the applause anyways. When the dizziness fades, I see Octavia standing and bowing again. Her eyes dart my way, a brief joining of purple locks, and she accidentally tugs at a distance—hooking me with a violet giggle, with glossy eyes.

I smile back at her, and that's enough to dry them. She sits down, catches her breath, and bows once more towards the far end of the ballroom.

The delegates seated next to Twilight return with stately salutes. The Princess smiles. She signals Pinkie who signals me, and it's my time to roll the musial credits to this climax. Which is perfectly fine.

Tavi's earned a century-long respite.

Repetitive Things

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A club session is pretty much the only exercise I ever need. I think I lose more sweat from bobbing my head and body here in my DJ booth than I do from all of my weekly walks combined. It's the only real way to get into my jams—to make sure the crowd gets into them too, so that we're both jiving, writhing together. To be on the same page, you gotta flip that page, and I do so with beats and bass drops, allowing the gasps and cheers to fall in between.

Oh, this evening is a great deal more subdued, of course. But now that it's late in the evening and the bulk of the ceremony has exhausted itself, I've been given the high sign by Pinkie Pie to... let loose a bit. So I do so with electronic aplomb, blasting forth on all channels. The room swirls in a crimson cyclone, and I'm delighted to see that the straggling partygoers are not only enjoying themselves—moving with the sway and swish of the track—but there are quite a few beaks and talons to be had between them. This can only be a good thing. I'm performing digital diplomacy with a turntable for a peace treaty.

I smile proudly. I think I can allow myself such a thing for the moment. I twirl, come to a stop, and slap my instrument panel. This sends the lights flashing across the thinning ballroom for the last throes of musical mayhem. And when everything ceases, it does so with a narrow hiss, crackling the last vestiges of the speakers until a breathless hush is left wanting in the sonic wave's absence.

And, with that, my first official performance at the Royal Castle comes to an end.

The ponies in the room applaud... all two dozen of them. It's an anticlimactically subtle reception, if it weren't for the fact that griffons don't exactly clap like ponies. They do something else... almost like purring. I don't know how to describe it, save for the fact that the air above them fills with dull orange vibrations, and that's enough for me to carry home with confidence.

"And that was DJ-P0N3, everypony! Performing regularly in venues all across Equestria!" Pinkie Pie shouts through a microphone. Does she ever get tired? "Thanks for giving her a hoof! And thanks for showing up at the first ever Royal Friendship Gathering! Woohooo!"

I dismount from the booth, trotting immediately towards a table lined with water bottles. I open one, take a massive swig, then relax my throbbing body as I feel the cool liquid running down my esophagus. Just taking so few steps was enough to send my tired legs aching. After a session like that, I can truly appreciate how fortunate I am to have Roadie Beau around to play "water duty."

Oh Beau...

I really should see you again...

Sometime before our next tour together. Life is so short, and I'm so stupid. You've been nothing but good to me... unwavering...

I swallow the bottom half of my water bottle's contents. It's quiet now in the ballroom, save for the occasional golden voices and crimson squawks. I'm strangely happy to have a moment to just... relax here... standing on all hooves... in open view of everyone still remaining in the ballroom. All things considered—in the realm of royal courts—I'm something of a nopony. This allows me something that I rarely experience, except when at home, and that's the peace of mind that comes with anonymity.

It allows me an opportunity to stare across the floor. I see Octavia seated with Rarity and Fluttershy. Tavi's session ended about forty minutes ago. She now chats with friends... new friends... genuine and royal all the same. Laughter and giggles float between them. I sense a shower of diamonds, and I can tell that Rarity is complimenting my roommate. Tavi replies with a voice that tries dipping into indigo, but is stuck to a violet ceiling. She smiles, swirling a glass of red wine. How she got that—I don't know. And I don't care. I don't think I remember the last time Tavi looked this happy, and it's not the drink. It's the aura that's still clinging to her, with a fine layer of whimsy and sweat, resonating with the performance she did earlier today. It fills her lungs with sparkles, and I can see how she's entrancing Fluttershy and Rarity with one fantastic anecdote after another, several that she has likely shared with me before.

I don't care. I would very much like hearing them again.

So, tossing the water bottle into a recycling bin, I make my way towards the table. It is around this point that I hear hushed breaths—yellow and amber, dipping into dull grays and blacks. I scuffle to a stop, blinking, concerned. It's a very alarming thing when voices start to match the color of this Castle.

I turn around, craning my ear towards a crystalline doorway.

I see a royal servant, her face and mane frazzled. She speaks in a hushed tone towards Flash Sentry.

"He's in there with her now. And he's v-very... very loud. I glanced in and... uhm... Her Highness gave me a look. I know this might be unorthodox... but I-I really think she needs assistance."

"Is the Princess in trouble?" Flash Sentry asked, his brown voice reaching an amber pitch that I've never seen before. "Does she require the Royal Guard?"

"I... uh... I think she requires you." The secretary gulps. "I-I'm sorry, Flash. Honestly, I'm kinda scared..."

"You did the right thing." Flash rests a hoof on her shoulder. "Go into the west wing. Find Rainbow Dash. Then return here and wait for us to fill you in."

"Thank you, Flash. I... I-I'm sorry to be a bother."

"It's my job. Now go." That said, they split ways, with Flash trotting swiftly—but cautiously—down a nearby corridor.

I stare after him, blinking. I take one more glance at Tavi, the others, the warm colors and conversation...

...and then I slither down the hall, tailing the young guard's hoof clops at a distance.

Patchwork Things

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Does this count as espionage?

I mean, it is my Princess' Castle... and I'm a royal servant to Her Majesty.

Still, I must admit a certain degree of apprehension as I do this... this waltz... a stealthy shuffle down the long crystalline hallway. I follow the dwindling hoofsteps of Flash Sentry, down the corridor and into the adjacent chamber.

The closer we... erm... I approach the heart of the Palace, the more the colors bend. They stretch from black to gray, and through the center of it all is a strange flicker, like a candle, burning hotter and hotter until it starts stabbing the leylines entangled around my horn. I wince, slightly dizzied from sensation. It's not so much a new color as it is a pattern, a scrap of patchwork, a fiberglass quilt of erratic designs—scraping across my brain. There's crimson in it... and brown... but it's almost like a brand new color strung tightly in between. I can't really describe it.

So I focus on the source of it instead, and it's just as equally grating. A hoarse voice, like gravel rattling at the bottom of a jar. But there's something drowning in the middle of it, gargling, struggling to be melodic and failing.

I'm so stuck on trying to figure out the texture of this vomitous voice that I scarcely notice the words being belched until I'm nearly at the door to Twilight Sparkle's throneroom.

"...this way for thousands and thousands of years! Your royal forbearers understood it! So why can't you, Your Highness?"

"Dear ambassador..." Twilight's gray voice, but rough around the edges, like a slab of pavement. "...must I remind you that I am the very first Princess of Friendship. This Castle did not exist here months ago. All things considered, I do not have any 'royal forbearers.' The closest thing would be Princess Celestia—my mentor. And although she is my superior—and the superior to all royal houses in Equestria proper—she has still officially decreed that the Royal House of Friendship is a unique and independent structure, one that is not restricted by the normal constraints of international boundaries. That being said—"

"Are you trying to tell me, Princess Sparkle, that the House of Ponyville is... s-somehow exempt from traditional laws of Patronage?"

"More to the point, ambassador, my Royal Estate is new and still freshly developing. When the Castle first appeared, it did so without a Royal entourage... without a Royal guard... and—most especially—without a Royal Treasury."

"Then how have you been able to afford this lavish ceremony tonight?!"

"Through direct support of Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, and the Canterlot Treasury. But that is of little importance to this matter. Need I remind you, Ambassador, that all matters of diplomatic negotiations are only to be conducted between myself and the Stewards of Griffonstone. I just got done speaking at long length to both of them, and they did not mention anything about a financial arrangement of any kind. Furthermore—"

"Bah! That's preposterous! Griffonstone wouldn't even come to this God-forsaken town if there wasn't some gold in it for us!"

"Furthermore, they conveyed to me a list of all of their official cabinet members, and your name—ambassador—was not on the list."

"Pffftchwaa! Not on the list?! I'm the most important duke in all of Griffonstone!"

"I am not arguing that. But until I am personally told by the two Stewards of Griffonstone that you speak for their Financial Cabinet, then I cannot in good faith promise any sort of trade accords. Besides, the Stewards have made it rather clear to me that they know my House utterly lacks a Treasury of any sort."

"Well, that's utterly ridiculous! I don't believe you one second! The griffons of Griffonstone have always... always operated under traditional patronage! An alliance like this—especially one so unexpected—does not happen without the transfer of gold!"

"If you've paid attention to the royal decrees of your own Stewards, you'll remember that this meeting was about friendship... not some sort of monetary political alliance."

"Don't tell me what I have or haven't paid attention to, you squishy lavender—"

A brown tempest rolls in, smoothely washing along the banks of the heated conversation. "Your Majesty... Ambassador Talonsmith..." Flash Sentry's voice is rather flighty. I can practically see his smug grin in the vocal reverberations. Nevertheless, the thing tightens like strong oak as he continues: "I do hope we are conducting everything here in the spirit of comraderie and friendship."

"Hrmmmff!" Again, that patchwork gravel. I reach the throneroom's door and peer in. A mottled gray thing with grayer eyes squawks in Flash's direction. "I don't see what concern it is for a grunt like you!"

"It is most definitely my concern," Flash says pleasantly... almost too pleasantly. "Seeing as I'm the acting Captain of the Guard here in Ponyville. If there's a problem that warrants an angry temper from one of our most esteemed guests, then it is my personal task to diffuse the situation before it goes out of hoof."

"It's quite fine, Captain," Twilight says, her voice nevertheless shaky. I see her trying to sit still on her throne. The tiara on her head is slightly crooked. "We have everything under control."

"Oh, do we?!" Talonsmith snarls up at the seat, his tail thrashing. "Don't think that you can ignore my words, Your Highness! Ponyville must pay Griffonstone in gold for the visit that's been conducted this evening! It's tradition!"

"Has Her Majesty given any indication that she wishes to pursue your demands?" Flash asked.

"No! That's just it! She keeps refusing!"

"Then, dear Ambassador, this conversation was over with long before I even arrived here." Flash Sentry held a hoof out. "If you would kindly come with me."

"Bah?! What for?"

"It is quite simple. I am escorting you from the premises."

"You're throwing me out?!"

"Her Majesty has made it abundantly clear that your demands hold no merit, and yet you continue to badger her. It is a gross violation of conduct, not to mention terribly rude, and you must leave."

"I apologize that we had to part on such unpleasant terms, ambassador," Twilight says, and her voice is a grayish-brown as she does so. "But if you truly feel that this... 'tradition of patronage' needs to be established with Griffonstone's relation to Ponyville, then I encourage you to bring it up with the Stewards of your kingdom. Then—if necessary—such negotiations can go through the official channels."

"Hrmmmf! I see how it is..." Talonsmith adusts a silk collar, dusting off his gold-embossed tunic. "You ponies talk about friendship and singing and holding hooves. But when it comes down to real tokens of respect, you cower away like dogs!" He turns to glare at the guard. "And then your gallant knight has to come in and rescue you!"

"Oh... I-I don't think that's really necessary," Flash Sentry says with an amber chuckle. "The Princess is many things—but she is foremost a master wizard. If she really wanted to, she could turn you into a parasprite, heat your blood up by three hundred degrees, then pulverize you with an icy mountaintop summoned from fifty miles away. Me? My strength doesn't even compare." He clears his throat. "If anything, Ambassador, I'm here to protect you."

Talonsmith glares at them both. He sneers at Twilight, but it's Fash Sentry's smug grin that finally makes him buckle. "Graahhgh!" he squawks, again assaulting my ears. "Stupid ponies... stupid pony town... I don't even know what the Stewards were thinking in bringing so much of our flock here..." He storms out of the throneroom. "Griffonstone doesn't need friendship... it needs gold!"

"Allow me to help you out, Ambassador—" Flash Sentry trotted towards him.

"I know the way out, ya hobby horse! I'm no mindless mule!" In exiting, he bumps fiercely against my shoulder. After the ensuing cloud of crimson fades, he glares at me. "And just what are you looking at, peasant?!"

I stare, deadpan. I raise an eyebrow.

"Hrmmmff... friggin' space goats..." He snorts and lurches off, tail flicking. "All of you... I swear..."

I adjust my shades with a shuddering sigh, then glance into the throneroom.

Twilight Sparkle's body has drooped. She rubs her forehead, wincing.

"Talk about having flown the coop!" Flash Sentry manages.

A brief, gray chuckle escapes Twilight's muzzle.

The guard trots up to the edge of the throne. "Are you alright?"

"Yes... ugh, yes..." Twilight rolls her eyes. "I figured that there would be one bad egg amongst the bunch, but—blessed Celestia—I at least thought they'd have brains!"

"Hah hah! I know, right?" Flash smirks. "Imagine guarding the throne room of the Crystal Empire on a regular basis."

"Oh wow. You must have to deal with the Yakyakistanians all the time."

"I don't even have to set my alarm on the days they show up. You can hear their incessant tantrums from miles away."

"Hahaha... I don't know how you even cope with that..."

"Well, usually Princess Cadance does. I just wait around until it's time to butt heads." He clears his throat. "Still, Your Majesty... Twilight... that was pretty good."

"Mmmmff... you think so?"

"I could tell you really had control of that argument from the start. That Talonsmith didn't have a leg to stand on... or a paw."

"I just... I don't get it. Why do they love gold so much? The rest of the delegates from Griffonstone were perfectly fine with the visit—at least from what I can tell! I just... don't understand the mindset of a soul that can't separate friendship from greed."

"Perhaps this will be a learning experience for all of us."

"Mmm... perhaps."

"Would you like me to stay, Your Highness? I'm... heheh... pretty good at standing around and doing nothing."

"Y'know... I don't think I'd mind that one bit."

"As you wish."

"Did Pinkie Pie finish with the ceremonies?"

"The ballroom is practically vacant at this point. Most of the guests have left for home."

"Hope they get there safely. Celestia promised Canterlot's best zeppelin pilots."

"Oh, I have no doubt."

"Say... heehee... did you see what the Second Steward was wearing?"

"Pfft! Boy, did I?! Hah! And to think you once loathed your 'big crown thingy.'"

"Heeheehee! And... and when I asked her about it, she told me—"

The voices fade.

I have walked away, returning towards the outer wing of the Castle.

After all, the "Espionage" is over with, and I don't think that's a conversation I would feel right listening in on...

Breakfast Things

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"Well..." Lyra takes a sip of some orange juice and places the glass down on the patio table. "...maybe this 'Talonsmith' dude once held political power in Griffonstone. And now that he's an old buzzard, he's getting his past mixed up with his present."

I scribble onto a napkin again and hold it up into the morning light.

"You honestly think so?" Bon Bon's face scrunches. She raises her voice to speak above the dining of the other breakfast patrons around us in the outdoor restaurant. "I mean, the fact that he badgered the Princess on his own—as in without the support of other griffons—why, I think that's some evidence right there that he's just some lone idiot." Bon Bon frowns. "And—really? This was all over some gold?"

"Well, he is a griffon," Lyra says with a smirk.

"Lyra!" Bon Bon hisses. "Must we focus on such outrageous stereotypes?" As Lyra chuckles, Bon Bon rolls her eyes. "If nothing else, we should be learning to be friends with the residents of Griffonstone. For a single moron to throw a wrench in all of that and set us back a hundred years in tolerance is absolutely outrageous."

"I'm just saying!" Lyra smirks, taking another sip of her orange juice. "Give him a golden egg to sit on and I bet he'd never come to Ponyville to bother Twilight again!"

"Eughhh..."

"Well, do you know what I think?" Octavia smiles, leaning forward from where she sits next to me. "I think that if this happened even a year ago, this 'Talonsmith' would be making all of Ponyville quiver in its horseshoes. A lot has changed since then, and a bully like this holds little weight."

"Oh, totally!" Lyra nods. "We've endured a lot of crazy crap over the last year or so."

"It's more than that," Octavia says. "A year ago, Twilight—blessed soul—would likely have trembled in fear and then written for the Princess to come and intervene. But... things are so much more different now. She's evolved in a lot of ways. She's grown confident... wise... and—to be perfectly honest—I've never felt so safe in my own town."

"Hear hear..." Bon Bon says, clapping. "I almost wish I was there to witness her tell that creep to buzz off."

"Pfft! Nuts to that!" Lyra grins wide. "I just wish I was invited to the gala period!" She winks. "If only to see a certain somepony rocking the entire place with her wicked cello!"

I grin, nodding vehemently.

"Oh yes..." Bon Bon smirks, leaning forward. "I've heard about it from at least three different ponies on the way here for breakfast. It's the talk of the town! Seems like you wowed everyone at the Castle with your savage talent, Octavia."

"And looked really sexy while doing it to boot!" Lyra adds with a nod.

"Erm... yes, well..." Tavi leans back, straightening her bangs. Violet makes for an interesting clash with rose. "I just happened to be in the zone at the precise moment that it was required of me." She takes a sip of cold orange juice, and flushes the flush in her cheeks away. "I don't mind the attention, of course, but only if it strikes the fancy of any musical recruiters from Canterlot."

"Oh, I just bet that there was a delegate or two there who has the right connections!" Bon Bon says. "And this was just your first performance as a royal minstrel!"

"Give it time, Tavi," Lyra purrs. "You'll move on up with the speed of a rocket."

"Mmmm... I can only hope."

"Vinyl, how did you do?" Bon Bon asks.

I shrug, smile, and wave a hoof from side to side.

She arches an eyebrow. "That well, huh?" A giggle. "You act as if last night's venue was just a casual thing."

"Well, in a way, it is," Octavia explains. "To her, at least. After all..." She sighs slightly, an indigo breath. "No rest for the weary. She'll be packing up for a trip tomorrow evening."

"Oh?" Lyra blinks. "She's going on tour again?" She looks at me. "Where to, Vinyl?"

I scribble onto the napkin once more. I hold it up.

"Hah..." Lyra grins. "Salt Lick City? Good luck with that."

"I don't get it," Bon Bon drones.

"Hope it's not too hard to remove the caffeine from your tracks."

"... ... ...I still don't get it."

"At least Vinyl has some new material to wow her roaring fans with," Tavi says. "Isn't that right, love?"

I nod, grinning.

"I take it, then, that there's some time between now and your next royal performance at the Castle?" Bon Bon remarks.

"Indeed. Although I'll be sure to commune with the Council of Friendship while Vinyl is gone."

"Wow."

"I'd like to be at the Castle as much as possible... more familiarize myself with the place. You know... start becoming a household name, even if it is a household made out of magic crystal.' Octavia smiles. "Become friendly with the other servants."

"And guards!" Lyra chirps.

My blood freezes over. I blink straight ahead.

"Eheheh..." Octavia rolls here eyes and fluffs her mane again. "One thing at a time, Lyra."

"Heeheehee!"

"Well, I'm happy for the both of you," Bon Bon says. "Seems like you've both got your work cut out for you."

"Mmmm... indeed. And once Vine gets back, we've planned to work on a duet of sorts."

"Oooh!" Bon Bon hops in her chair. "Like you worked on at the wedding!"

"Precisely. Only, this time, we hope to top ourselves." Octavia smiles aside at me. "Isn't that quite right, love?" Silence. She blinks. "Vinyl?" Her eyebrow arches. "Why do you look like you've seen a ghost?"

Fuzzheaded Things

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I shuffle off the train... step down onto the Salt Lick City station's platform... and I see him.

The blink that my eyes perform could nearly shatter my shades.

Instead, my vision refocuses, and he's still there. His black and white body hums with something greener than the high mountain air around us. He must have just arrived by zeppelin or something. Did he try beating me here?

I expect nothing and everything. Then he closes the distance between us. His smile his warm, and the amber streams from his muzzle are even warmer.

"Good to see ya, girl," Roadie Beau says, grinning. It is a soft smile. A soft friend.

I instantly feel a lump in my throat. I had expected to see him, but not so soon.

He knows this. He knows everything. "Somethin' wrong?" he asks, his eyebrow arching.

I hold a hoof up. Taking a deep breath, I reach back into my wheeled luggage. The hiss of a steam engine fills my eyes with a crimson cloud. I stay focused, and then I retrieve the item. Turning around, I put on a brave smile, then hand him an antique vinyl.

He blinks. I'm surprised that he's surprised. Nevertheless, he accepts the gift, turning it over and smirking.

"Hah... well, slap my saddle. 'Coltfriend'... and in mint condition, too."

I smile at him, squirming slightly.

He snickers. "It's a dayum good album, but... in all honesty, Vine..." Beau smirks up at me. "I kinda... st-stopped bein' such a big fan of Colt George a long time ago. I mean... y'know... after he did that... thing... with the dude... erm... from Norwhinny..."

I bite my lip.

"But, shoot, I've been wantin' to have a decent collection of mint condition classics. So who best than to get me started than you, eh, girl?" He tilts his head up and grins at me. A blink. "Wait... didja... ... ...?"

I flinch slightly, looking away from him.

"...didja get this for me 'cuz... cuz you thought I was somehow cross with ya?" He leans back, shaking his head. "Tch... girl, y'know I'm always gonna lurve ya like a brother!"

I look at him with what can only be a kindergarten pouty-face.

"Look... how long have we worked with one another, huh?" He leans in and winks. "I know perfectly well that ya dun have to have a singin' voice to be a diva." He sticks his tongue out. "Or a melodramatic one at that."

I smile back, blushing slightly.

"Besides... you've got a right to yer privacy. We all do. Just... y'know... dun leave me high-and-dry with a bunch of freeloadin' suckups the next time somepony accidentally crosses yer wires, ya feel me?"

A single burst of magenta breath leaves my smirking muzzle. I nod vehemently.

"Heheh... then it's a deal."

I nod some more. Then, sighing, I reach out and rub his fuzzy mohawk of a mane. The sensation sends orange bubbles flittering between us.

"Glad to have you back, girl." He motions with his head, then trots off. "Hotel's over there. Let the invasion of Salt Lick City begin! Haha! Woo!"

I linger behind him, fidgeting slightly.

He notices it, of course. I see him look behind his shoulder. "Everything cool, girl?"

I smile nervously. I lick my lips and smile again.

"Sorry." He shrugs. "I didn't bring any with me this time."

I stare at him. No Dr. Pony? What happened to our partnership?

"Pffft... dun give me that look!" He chuckles. "Dun you know what city we're in, girl?" He shrugs along. "Now come on. Let's mosey. Hotel's expecting."

I smirk.

That's very funny, Beau. Now where's the Dr. Pony?

He continues shuffling off.

My smile fades, and I feel the first of many... many trembles.

No...

Seriously...

Where is the Dr. Pony...?

Bottled Things

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"So tell me, Vine. What does it feel like to get somethin' done?" Roadie Beau smirks across the park bench at me. "Like.. somethin' really big?"

I rub my aching forehead. In my hoof is a bottle of seltzer water. I take another sip—and instantly regret it. I swear, I'm poisoning myself.

"Bet it feels really dayum great, huh?"

Dang it, I'm being rude.

I look up from where I sit. A magnificent green lawn stretches between our hotel and the neighboring plaza. In the distance—ever looming—are white capped mountains. I'm on the roof of the world with one of my best friends, surrounded by pristine beauty.

So what's a headache?

I smile and nod at him.

"I always knew you'd have what it takes to be royal minstrel material," he says. "But just knowin' that you're sittin' there, lookin' purdy in the Royal Ballroom... heh..." He sips some water and smiles again. "Kinda gives this lil' flutter to my stomach. Know what I'm sayin'?"

I nod. Reaching across the bench, I produce a pad of paper from my saddlebag and scribble across it. I hold the words out to him.

"Oh, you bet!" He nods vehemently. "I've listened to all of 'em! Dang if it isn't just... mesmerizing." He squints at me, his voice a cool amber. "Do you ever have a lemon in ya, girl?"

I snickered, reeling slightly from the magenta output.

"It's... uhm..." He takes another sip of his bottle. "...not the same source of samples, is it?"

I blink, fidgeting slightly.

"Only 'cuz I know a thang or two about vocals," he says, gesturing. "This one sounds a whole lot younger. And—if ya ask me—far more on key."

I arch an eyebrow at him.

"Pffft! Why are you givin' me that look?" He shrugs. "It's just samples!"

I gaze silently across the green park.

"Still, that's a lot of material. Not that I doubted yer abilities or anythang, but I didn't quite expect that much work to come out of your first week of performing at the Castle." He finishes the last of his water and slides it into his bag. "If I were you, I'd capitalize on it."

I tilt my head to the side.

"I mean makin' an album, girl!" He smirks. "Get that buddy of yers—Heartstrings—to help produce it again! You two make a great team in the studio, after all!"

I tap my chin in thought.

"I mean... whew... the dance scene? It's all yers! You practically own the Underground, Vinyl! But it's been—what—two years since you've produced a marketable album? I'd say: branch out! Seize the moment! There are plenty of ponies chompin' at the bit as it is. And now that you've got a place in Princess Twilight Sparkle's Castle, you could make yer name big! Heck... you could even become bigger than Sapphire Shores—!"

My glinting expression knifes across his face.

He blinks. "Or... y'know... you could just leave 'DJ-P0N3' as faceless and nebulous." He shrugs. "Heck, you could always do what Daft Pony does. I bet a helmet would really look good on you."

I sigh, taking another sip of seltzer water... cringing.

"I-I'm sorry, Vinyl. I mean... I ain't yer manager," Beau says. "It's just that... well... we only live once. And not to say I'm jealous of you or nothing, but if I had the sort of talent and goods that you did, I'd put myself to the very top! I wouldn't stop for nothin'! And... and it always feels to me that humility is yer greatest enemy."

I hug the water bottle to my chest.

"I know there are things in the past that you don't want Equestria remembering you for. But... you can't be running from that forever, y'know? And... And Tavi?" He smiles warmly. "Just imagine how proud she would be of you. Heck, if you shot your way to the very top, who knows what your connections could do? You could land Tavi that position she's always wanted! What was it...? First Chair in Equestria or something...?"

I bite my lip.

Octavia needs to earn what she admires the most.

I'm not about to take that from her.

"Eh... sometimes I think I'm just talking to myself."

I gaze over at him.

He stands up with a sighing breath. "You're just plain awesome, Vine. That's all that matters, huh? Bet you know that." He winks my way and smiles. "Well... for the time being... you ready to rock the socks off some of the locals?"

I nod. I glance once more at the bottle, raise to my lips, linger, then sigh. I place the cap on the thing and slide it away for good.

If making music is like making love, then I wonder if anger will help...

Professional Things

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Thumping.

Thundering.

Thumping and thundering.

Through the bodacious bedlam, I hear Beau announcing the next movement of the session.

There are times when I wonder how I can do this...

How I can single out his amber yodeling across the seas of sonic shrieks.

I suppose when one familiarizes herself so regularly with a specific canvas of noise, everything else stands out.

Like the pink chirps from the couple in the corner who are very likely going back to their hotel to make passionate love to each other with these bass beats throbbing in the back of their minds.

Or the tan sighs of the loner in the back of the dance hall, regretting having come here alone and regretting twice as hard that there's no alcohol to drown her regrets in.

Or maybe even the crimson barks of the group to my far right. They've chosen this particular venue to have a heated argument about something. Already I hear the red hoofsteps of the bouncer, followed by his brown voice as he meatedly escorts them out of the premises.

That's when I know that I have to heat things up. I swirl the colors of the canvas, flinging some of the hues in Beau's direction. He notices it—he notices everything.

"Whoah! What's this?! Curve ball, fillies and gentlecolts! Swerve ball! DJ-P0N3 is taking us for a ride!"

And I do, spinning the discs of my turntable like propellor blades. I throw in samples of the latest pop culture hits, just to grab their attention. Then I toss a blanket of bass of their skulls to blind them. When they're nearly stumbling, I turn on the lights—hot strobes of red and gold. It's a brand new track. Beau shouts its, and the dance club lives it. There's not a drop of Dr. Pony in this entire building, but nopony could be the wiser. Everyone's bouncing off the walls, and I'm in charge of the kinetic psychosis, swinging the maelstrom left and right as I guide our cycloning path down a canyon of noise, only to douse itself in a trance ocean.

The club calms down, finding its chance to breath, and it is here that I catch them... that I embrace them with cool blues and enchanting violets. They are most soft and vulnerable right now, and I go easy on them. I nuzzle them back to the land of smiles, ushered by blue vocals and violet strings. They don't know where they are being taken to until they get there, and it is a place filled with sighs.

With a pulse of mana through my horn, I control the lightshow, and the colors coordinate. For a brief moment, the crowd sees what I see. It overwhelms them. Hypnotizes them. I can feel their anxiety growing, wafting into the air on yellow and brown streams. I follow the contours, I string the music along side. Everything rises, writhes, and rolls until it ruptures. A staccato beat slices its way through, the tempo growing faster, more frenetic. And when everyone is upon the precipice of a bursting heart, I drop them to the floor and they burst through to find diamonds.

Then the blue returns, surfing the waves with violet sails unfurled, and I know that I can claim this night as my own, signing my name on every eardrum.

And that is how—for the space of two hours—I almost... almost forget the pain of caffeine withdrawal in my head.

There will be no sleep tonight.

Returning Things

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"Hahaha!" His voice is like gold fireworks when he's happy. And right now, he's truly... truly happy. "And you remember what he said when... wh-when we entered his record studio?" Roadie Beau smiles wide. "Wow, it's not everyday I get to see a 'married couple do this successfully in the industry!'"

I grin wide, struggling to contain my snickers so that I don't collapse in the center of the aisle between train seats. The green foliage of Equestria zooms past the windows of our coach.

"Whewwwwww boy!" Roadie Beau leans back in his seat, smirking. "Talk about bein' wrong and a half! Heck... I'd settle for just 'half wrong,' but there's nothing to prove that yer hidin' an acute case of Stripes Fever, now is there?"

I roll my eyes, adjust my shades, and smile at him.

"Guess I can see how folks would get it so messed up, what with how long we've worked with one another. But wow did that dude swallow his own hoof! I swear, he only let you sign the contract so quickly cuz he wanted us out of there so he could scream into his couch cushions." Beau winked. "Wanna bet he found three bits and a dead fly for his efforts?"

I snicker, reeling slightly from the magenta outburst.

Just then, a red hiss emanates from beyond the window. The green hum stretches away, and a pink voice ripples down the train cars:

"Now arriving! Ponyville Central Station! Stopping for disembarking passengers! Ponyville Central!"

Beau points. "That's yer stop, girl."

I nod. Once the train comes to a complete stop, I stand up and levitate my luggage down from the overhead compartment.

"An awful shame I ain't gettin' off with you too, but I have business to do in Trottingham. Whew... this has been fun!" He smirks up at me. "One of these days we should hang out someplace where we ain't tourin', y'know what I'm saying?"

I nod again, smiling. I point due east with an inquisitive expression.

"Hmmm?" He blinks, then jolts. "Oh! I... uh... I-I've got someone I've been meaning to see out there."

I mouth four syllables.

"Eh... it ain't for some... posh reason or nothing. Just... y'know..." He fidgets in place, and I detect a slight hint of rosiness between his black stripes. "A certain... stallion I've been writing to."

I arch an eyebrow and fold my forelimbs.

"Hey! Don't give me that look!" He sticks a tongue out. "I ain't the type to fall for some Neighgerian Prince! No matter the... uh... presumptions, if you know what I'm saying."

I grin, then lean forward with my forelimbs out.

We engulf each other into a hug. He pats my back and sighs.

"Don't worry, Vine. I know how to look after myself. It's just..." We part ways as he shrugs. "We don't live the same kind of lives, you and me. Yer always... wound up and goin' to far off, musical places in yer head. Me? When time slows down, it friggin' crawls... and things can get pretty lonesome. So, I guess a dude starts to get searchin' at this point in his life. I mean, not that I'd expect you to know." He chuckles. "Tch... after all, you've alway got T... T..."

I blink at him.

"Erm... you've got t-tons of thangs to preoccupy your time! Hahahah... hah..." Beau's smile turns into a nervous grimace. "...I just buried myself, didn't I?"

I nevertheless give him a smirk.

"You take care of yourself, girl." He playfully punches my shoulder. "Next town we hit? We're gonna decimate them!" His triumphant voice echoes, and he pauses to gulp and smile at a passing conductor. "With m-music! We're musicians, ya see?"

"Mmmmm... sure thing." The old stallion glances at me. "Need help with your bags, miss?"

I shake my head, levitate my gear, and give Beau one final wave.

He waves back. "Enjoy your time at home! And if you see the Princess...!" He winks. "...kiss her tiara for me!"

I smirk as I hop out of the train.

At least I'll know whose I'm kissing.

As soon as I'm out of the car, the crisp and clean smell of Ponyville greets me like a cool, tossed blanket. I wrap myself up with it and sigh.

Time to trot home.

I barely make four steps when something scratches my peripheral vision. I stop in place, jolting—almost. I turn to look over my shoulder.

The depot is flooded with steam and stomping hooves. All is crimson, and I can't make anything else out.

I blink left and right, fidgeting.

Funny...

Almost felt like something familiar...

Shrugging it off, I continue forward, stepping down the steps of the station and trotting towards the heart of town.

It's around the time that I reach Sugarcube Corner that my thoughts are interrupted. Visions of Tavi's purple voice and Scribbler's orange purrs break apart like gravel. I come to a stop, ears twitching backwards.

That's when I feel a streak of burgundy roll over the immediate sky above me, and my heart stops.

I spin around, jaw clenched.

A figure barely ducks out of the way. From behind the face of Sugarcube Corner, she sighs, and the burgundy becomes all the more clear.

"I suppose there is no sense in hiding it anymore..."

She steps out of the shadow and into sight, her calm eyes blinking with reserved elegance. Despite the nakedness of this moment, she dares to smile.

"My apologies in advance, Miss Scratch," DJ Capricorn says. "But I could not back away from this opportunity. I... I had to give you something to make up for all that's happened."

Venomous Things

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Very calmly, she pours herself a cup of tea.

Very calmly, she stirs it.

Very calmly, she lifts the thing up to her muzzle and takes a dainty sip. Her eyes are shut as she allows the warmth of the drink to flow through her. Then her shadowed lids lift.

Very calmly, I continue glaring at her. We sit at a booth at Sugarcube Corner. I'm not about to take this mare home.

With a burgundy sigh, DJ Capricorn levitates the cup by her side. "I do not blame you for being angry at me. All things considered, this is the very definition of stalking. But..." She leans bad in her seat, clearing her throat. "If it's any consolation, Miss Scratch, I had previously planned to approach you at Salt Lick City. But... considering our last... erm... debacle, I did not feel right with the idea of cornering you in public. It seemed awfully unfair. I judged you for a mare who likes to live in peaceful, countrified seclusion. So, when I saw the train you were departing on... well... I simply couldn't resist."

I raise an eyebrow.

"I must say, I am rather surprised. Ponyville is no longer the inconspicuous dot on the map that it used to be. The Friendship Castle has made short order of that. And—" She cuts herself off upon seeing the hardness of my leer. Sighing, she takes another sip and places her teacup down. "Yes, well. Rest assured. Your secret is safe with me."

Around this time, Mrs. Cake shows up, mane and cheeks flouncing happily. "And just can I getcha, Ms. Scratch?"

Without taking my shaded eyes off Capricorn, I point at a straw dispenser on the nearby table.

"Oh... uhm..." Mrs. Cake carries it over. "But... no Dr. Pony, though?"

With a hoof, I slam the dispenser, causing several straws to roll out onto the table top.

"Uhhh!" Mrs. Cake gulps and trots away briskly with a nervous smile. "Okie doke!"

Nostrils flaring, I levitate two straws, rip them loose from their paper sleeves, and geture in the air with curt, angry blank speech: "Why. Are. You. Even. Here?"

"To give you something, of course."

My blood runs cold.

"Because... you very well do need to receive it." Eyes trained on me, DJ Capricorn reaches into her saddlebag. "Trust me, I mulled and mulled over it for days. I considered giving it to Beau, but he's so protective of you, there's no telling where the vinyl may have been."

As soon as I see a hint of blue, I swing my head to the side, fuming.

The burgundy continues rolling across the table between us. "I considered destroying it. Such would have been a simple thing. But perhaps it also would have been what you wanted..."

I clench my eyes shut. I refuse to look at the bright pastel album cover. I refuse to look at the embossed gold trim. I refuse to look at the title words or the song list or the pale bright mare with a glamorous grin posing on the stage in a glittery diamond gown.

"...and then something became clear to me, a fact of life that is seldom well received." Her voice grows hard, like mahogany. "We hardly ever do that which is healthy for us. And artists—more than anypony—are helpless victims to their own creativity. Our muse is our poison, and without an antidote? Well..."

"... ... ..."

"Mrs. Scratch, please open your eyes."

There's no use in fighting. She'll only stay longer if I refuse. I'm not about to take this to Twilight or her guards—as if they could even do anything. There's no way I'm letting this get out.

I open my eyes... and a young mare smiles back at me from behind a photographed micorphone.

"You need to stop running from Cyan Sings," DJ Capricorn says. "There are so few of her records left. So few bits of evidence that such marvelous talent once graced the stage... the airwaves... the record business. And you, DJ-P0N3... a far more amazing product—for sure—can only benefit from... acknowledging the part of you that she is. It is not something to be sad about. It may not even be something to be proud of. But... to neglect something that's so deeply ingrained... so much a part of our own very essence? Well... is it not unlike chopping loose an arm or a limb... or a horn?" Her eyes narrow. "As a mare who can appreciate the finer challenges of triumphing over life's shortcomings, surely you must understand the value in—"

I swing my straws around, producing three short words in inquiry.

Capricorn blinks. With a sigh, she nods. "Yes. I am quite done... if that is how it must be." She nevertheless places the vinyl face-down on the table and slides it towards me. I recoil from it like it's on fire, and she notices it. "I'm not all that surprised, Miss Scratch, at your reaction to all of this. And whatever you do with the priceless specimen will be whatever you do with it. But please understand that I did not buy an expensive train ticket just to come out all the way here and harass you before going back into the woodwork from which I sprung."

She stands up, gathers her saddlebag, and tightens it. Before making an exit, she takes one last sip of the cup, then shuffles towards me. She lingers by the table, eyes dull and melancholic. The burgundy in her voice fades to black.

"You are an inspiration to me, Miss Scratch. And I hate to think that something is carving you hollow from the inside. It's okay to move on from the past, but please... do not forget that there are three sides to the bridge. There's Cyan on the far side, DJ-P0N3 in the present, and Vinyl Scratch in the center. You are the bridge, Miss Scratch. You are the substance that carries your genius into sound, and it would sadden me greatly to imagine all of that collapsing... and where you might be when it does. Is bitterness and regret enough to keep you afloat?"

I say nothing. I stare at the tabletop.

She exhales. "I may not have your success or notoriety... but I have many years under my saddle... and I have made many mistakes to cover them. Now, there are things forever buried that I would love more than song itself to recover. Don't let your accomplishments measure up to a mere funeral dirge, Miss Scratch. You are worth far more than that."

And with a swish of her tail, she's gone.

I sit... alone with the bright blue past. As I hear hoofteps, I sigh and slide the thing out of sight.

"Is... is everything alright, Miss Scratch?" Mrs. Cake nervously asks.

I fold my forelimbs, glaring ahead into the seat once occupied by Capricorn.

"Was... was that strange mare bothering you?"

I don't respond. Instead, I give Mrs. Cake my usual gestures, requesting two bottles of Dr. Pony. Soon, she returns, and I guzzle the lump in my throat away.

I've already had my fill of bridges...

Sullen Things

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I sit on a stool before my turntable, staring forward.

My hoof rubs deeply across my muzzle. Any harder, and I'd rip my lips off.

My head hurts. I know it's not caffeine withdrawal... not anymore. Maybe this is what happens to ponies when they glare for too long.

She stares back at me. Her eyes are radiant—a bold and dazzling magenta to rival the glitter of her gown. She likes blue. She loves blue. Even the spotlight from above colors her part of the stage like a glowing sapphire.

She leans towards the microphone with careless ease. Her muzzle is open, the darkness within briefly marred by the wear and tear of age on the cover.

There are no shades. No headphones. Now frizzled spikes to her mane or a turntable to hide behind.

There is no pretense.

Not all ponies are lucky enough to be so free. Even fewer of them are lucky to be so free for so long.

I sigh. And the dizziness nearly throws me off my stool. Have I forgotten that I have to control each of my breaths now? Even the slightest snort... the most miniscule whimper...

She leans towards the microphone as if she has control... as if she can control everything.

I hate it. I hate her. Her smile and her fashion and her mane.

Every color—pale, blue, and red—mixed into a shadow that forever lurches after me.

I run a hoof over my face, sighing.

I should go to the police or something.

Press charges on Capricorn for her damnable stalking.

Use Princess Twilight as leverage or something.

Beau? No, I shouldn't bring him into this. Sure, he has experience with freaky ponies doing freaky things around a celebrity like me, but I don't want him to be in this any deeper.

I don't want him to know.

But then again, Capricorn knows, and if I make a big show of it...

Then everyone...

I grit my teeth.

My hoof lowers and I peak at the elegant mare on the vinyl cover again.

I wonder what it would be like to have that confidence again. To be the source of the light, instead of just a sponge that soaks up all the color.

I don't even know how long I've been sitting here, staring at this thing.

I should get rid of it. Toss it away. Throw it in the shredder. At least I would be showing more courage than DJ Capricorn ever could.

And I do have more courage than her...

...right?

She stares back at me. She knows nothing of how much I'm broiling inside over this. I only hate her more.

I hate her... and that's a strength few ponies will ever have... or will ever bother to.

At last, my glare ends. I know what I need to do. I always know.

Lifting the vinyl and its cover up with my magic, I trot over to the very... very end of my shelf full of albums. I slide it up against the wall. I know it's out of order—and that it destroys the entire pattern of my sample collection—but I don't care. It's where it belongs, deep in the recesses of all the tools I'll ever have to be great.

And yet, as I trot away from it, I can't shake the fact that I know...

I know it's there. Lingering like an infection, a cyan cockroach in the corner of my mind—and now my home.

Our home.

A shiver runs through me, and I turn to face the velvety end of the foyer.

To my relief, Tavi isn't here. She mustn't see this. She won't see this. She never trots on my side of the living room anyways. Odds are, she won't even know that anything's been added to my collection... which is the way it should be.

She saved my life. She doesn't need to be concerned with the fossils of pathetic prehistory.

It's around this time that I realize I'm pacing and pacing.

I need to get my mind off of things.

I could use a Dr. Pony... but I had two bottles of the stuff earlier at Sugarcube Corner.

I could go for a walk... but I'm exhausted by the trip back from Salt Lick City.

I could take a nap... but the caffeine—

Celestia!

I shudder and scuffle to a stop. I clutch my head, teeth gnashing. The green hum of the world spills into my ears—a high pitched whine that I can only remember when the turquoise beyond everything doubles the pressure. There's no escaping it, and I'm the one fortunate soul in all of Ponyville to be reminded on a regular basis. Usually I can shake it off. Usually, I'm able to take the ringing noise, stretch it out, and reshape it into music.

But now...?

I can't stand still. I can't linger in the spotlight. Not like her. Her damnable smile...

It doesn't occur to me that I'm panting until I exit the apartment in a blur. It's so bright, and the magenta bursts aren't helping. I need to calm down. I need to be someplace that's safe... comforting. Someplace where I can be engaged. Where I can be useful. Where I can be DJ-P0N3.

There's a black shard in my peripheral vision, and my heart skips a beat.

Yes. Princesses. Always a blessing.

I lurch towards Twilight's Castle with something like a smile. It'll have to do.

Pretending Things

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"By the way—and I do hope this isn't too bold of me to ask—but do any of you ponies know where the Princess has been as of late?"

Violet. Glorious, glorious violet.

I hear it while shuffling up to the outer lip of the ballroom entrance. I hear the erratic indigo strings of Octavia tuning up her cello from within, followed by Rarity's elegant voice.

"It's not bold at all, darling. Twilight's our friend. It's quite alright to express concern about her."

"Ah. Right. Eheh..." A purple drop. "I just didn't want to come across as nosy."

"Hardly. Come to think of it... I haven't seen Twilight for the past few days either. Or Spike for that matter."

"Is that normal? I-I mean..." Octavia chuckles softly. "I'm sure they have every right to go wherever they please. It's not as though a Princess must be tracked at all times of the day or week."

"I couldn't agree more," Rainbow's voice scratches my ears from beyond the wall. I've come to a stop just outside the ballroom. For some reason, I can't proceed any further. "But even still, I s-sorta wish she'd... y'know... warn us before galloping off to Celestia-knows where like this."

"Well, it's not too terribly strange, Rainbow. She and Spike have done it before."

"I just don't understand!" Octavia remarks, her voice lifting and falling across purple ripples. "I've asked the guards, and none of them have seen her leave the Castle. I mean... where would she and her apprentice even go?"

"Ermmmmmm..." Rainbow's voice squeaks, lingers, and fades off into black obscurity.

"Hmmm?"

"They... find places, Miss Melody," Rarity says. "Believe me."

"Well, so long as you're not worried, then I'm quite fine with it too."

"If there's anything you can learn about Twilight," Rainbow says. I hear a swoosh of wingfeathers, and I can just imagine her twirling in the air with a show of bravado. "It's that she's a really capable mare... for an egghead. Pffft! She gets it from hanging out with me for so long. That girl can totally take care of herself now."

"Isn't that a grand feeling?"

"Huh?"

"Oh, I just meant... erm... never mind." The cello strings pluck with errant red splashes.

"No, do go on, darling. We're your friends. You can say what's on your mind."

"It's... it's just that you girls must care a great deal about Twilight."

"Pffft! Totally!"

"And so... to see her achieve such great heights... and to do so in such a capable manner must be heartwarming."

"Yeah, I guess."

Rattling diamonds: "Do you speak from experience?"

The ensuing pause is deathly.

At last, Tavi speaks, restarting my aching heart: "Not all coronations involve tiaras. I've seen beauty and talent blossom in the darkest of places. I don't know about you, but I for one find things to be proud of everyday... and thankful."

"Well, then, darling, I'd say you will fit right in here."

"Pride and friendship run hoof-in-hoof in this Castle!" A black giggle. "Heck, in the whole dang town!"

"Heeheehee... I always wanted to have first chair... just didn't know it'd be in a place this welcoming."

"So far, I'd say you fit the gown like a glove."

"Hmmmm... quite so. Would you like to hear the latest instrumental I've been working on?"

"Oooh! Now this a treat!"

"Lay it on us, girl!"

"This one came to me two nights ago. I was... erm... dwelling on past adventures in friendship, I guess you could say."

"Sounds like a good introduction to me. Let's hear it."

And they do hear it... but I don't. I've trotted away, and swiftly too. Once I've reached the far end of the castle, I find a bench to sit on. I slump there, remove my shades, and rub a hoof over my aching eyes. The magenta outbursts are torturous by now, and I summon all my strength to hold them at bay—along with the salty moisture that accompanies them.

I'm okay... and yet I'm not. It's a very familiar feeling, like indigestion. Tavi's words haunt me as much as they caress me, and I shuffle away from them, huddling into a dark corner within myself where I struggle with happy and sad... ultimately pretending to be neither.

And that's where I find myself again.

Gifted Things

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Sweetie Belle pants and pants...

Swiping her brow, she spins away from the microphone and stares through the glass at Lyra and me.

"Didja get that?" her voice crackles.

I smile. I can't help it. Even when shuffling between breaths, the little filly is a blue melody unraveling itself.

"We got that and a half!" Lyra says, her hoof on the red intercom button. "Drink some water and take a breather, Sweetie. We can move onto the next song if you've still got some energy in ya!"

"Are you kidding?" her voice cracks from within the sound booth. "I could do this all night!"

"Heheheh..." Lyra switches the intercom off and makes a note at the most recent time marker. "If she hear herself say some of those golden nuggets ten years older..."

"Yeah, and?" Bon Bon strolls in with a plate of celery snacks.

"Erm..." Lyra bites her lip. "N-Nothing, BB!"

"Hmmmf... that's what I thought." Putting on a pleasant smile, Bon Bon trots over to the furthest chair behind the booth. "Enjoying your sister's show, Rarity?"

"And how!" Rarity levitates a morsel and nibbles daintily on the end of it. "Mmmff... I always knew she was talented, but just seeing her shine like this!"

"Heehee..." Bon Bon giggles. "Can a musician shine through her voice?"

"Just ask Vine here." Lyra gestures my way.

I roll my shaded eyes and continue processing the recording.

"Well, you know what I mean," Rarity says with a slight blush. "I feel as if the goddesses of creativity sprinkled their muses over the two of us in completely different directions."

"Oh?" Bon Bon leans against a wall, munching on her own celery. "How so?"

"Well, I've always been blessed with making fabulous gowns that appeal to the naked eye," Rarity muses. "It would seem as if my sister has been bestowed the auditory half of the family talent!"

"Heh..." Lyra munches on some celery herself. "That's a really fruity way of looking at it."

"Lyra!" Bon Bon scowls, frowning.

"Mrmmmf—lemme explain before you chop off the balls that I don't even have, girl!" Lyra takes the time to finish her bite and then exclaims: "True talent, I believe, comes from practice and compassion and commitment. No doubt Sweetie Belle was born with the right stuff... but to turn the right stuff into righteous stuff takes time! It's not all conception... erm... if you know what I mean."

"But even still, surely you must agree that there are some ponies simply born with their gifts!" Rarity gestures towards my half of the room. "Why, take Vinyl for example."

My hoof fumbles, slipping off the instrument panel.

"Surely she knows a thing or two about innate gifts!"

"Uhhhhhh... eheh..." Lyra fidgets, glancing nervously at me.

Rarity blinks. "... ... ...did I say something amiss?"

"Oh! No... I mean... not really... it's just that—"

"Sometimes it takes more than gifts to become legendary," Bon Bon suddenly says, nibbling some more. She avoids my gaze. "Sometimes it takes a certain degree of fortune... mmm... although it depends on how you see it... or choose to see it."

"And... a-and we see it as really good luck!" Lyra smiles crookedly, then jerks her head in my direction. "Don't we, Vinyl?"

A magenta sigh. Gradually, I nod, smiling politely.

"I... didn't mean to pry in any way," Rarity remarks.

"Oh no. No prying," Lyra says. "Sometimes, the best kept secrets must stay... the best kept secrets."

"True that." Rarity points, smiling. "I most certainly wouldn't want anypony copying my fashionable talents... especially after that... nnnghhh... ghastly Polomare fiasco."

"Polo-who?" Bon Bon blinks.

"Precisely!" Rarity smiles. "Cheating renders no fame or fortune!" She winks my way. "Good to know you've made it to the top, Miss Scratch! For it means you got there legitimately!"

I nod, although my eyes linger along the dusty edge of the platform. I suddenly feel very exhausted. I wonder if Octavia plans to be practicing her cello tonight. For once, I think a turquoise bed of silence would be somewhat welcoming.

"Hey, uhm..." Sweetie Belle's blue voice crackles through the speaker. "Can we do that thingy where you record me covering that one song by Canter Rae Jepsen?"

Lyra's hoof thunderously lands on the intercom switch. "No we canNOT."

"Awwwww..."

Spiked Things

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Crimson gunshots.

I wince.

Again... like red meteorites against the apartment's foundation.

I grumble and turn over, exhaling my magenta frustrations into the bedcovers.

At last, I sit up, rubbing my head and horn.

There's somepony... someone knocking at the front door.

What time is it?

I reach out to my bedside table, fumble around, then grasp my shades. Slipping them over my head, I limp and shuffle my way out of my bedroom and into the foyer. The crimson echoes are definitely emanating from the front door. There's no question at this point. I try to detect the voice from the other end... the breaths of the one responsible for this kaizo midnight craziness.

"Vinyl Scratch? Are you in there? Please, open the door. Uhm... emergency royal business!"

Huh...

Well that was unexpected...

I don't recognize the voice. It's not a guard. It's not brown enough to be... ... ...him.

Then just who in Equestria...?

More thudding knocks.

"Please, Vinyl. This is super important. Twilight sent me here to get you! Super important!"

At last, I grasp the doorknob with my magic and yank it open. A tiny dragon whelp gasps, falling forward as he attempts to knock into nothing.

I breathe a sigh of relief, smiling slightly.

Oh, it's just Spike.

I blink. Hard.

Wait, Spike???

"Oh, g-good!" He gets up, smiling dizzily. "You're up!"

I still haven't quite gotten a good fix on his voice. Maybe it's because he's not a pony. My senses don't work quite so instantly on non-equines. Although Talonsmith was something of an exception. And then there was that sea serpent at the wedding... and....

Uhm...

What in Tartarus is even going on here?

"Please! You have to come to the Castle! Super quick!"

I teeter sleepily. I pivot to the side, my shades reflecting cold blue moonlight from beyond the windows.

"Yeah. Yeah! I know it's super late! But it's not my choice! Honest!" Spike gulped, pacing back and forth as he wrings his little-little claws. "It's Twilight! She sent me to get you! And only you!"

I arch an eyebrow.

"She says this is an important mission that requires a pony of your specific talents! She didn't explain to me why, or what's at stake. Only that she 'needed Vinyl Scratch right away' and 'not to tell anypony else!' You've gotta believe me!"

I bit my lip, fidgeting slightly.

"Come on! Please, Vinyl! As... as a Royal Minstrel to Her Highness, Princess Twilight, you're bound to serve her in any degree! That includes life and limb... of m-music! Music peril! Y'know!"

I trot a few steps forward. I crane an ear towards him, twitching it upright as I gaze into abject nothingness.

"What... uh..." He flinches away from me, squirming slightly. "Wh-what exactly are you doing?"

My forehead scrunches.

No.

Not a changeling.

I lean back with a sigh.

Changelings almost always emit a distinct copper buzzing. I was a real treat a year ago at Canterlot Castle.

"So... uhm... will you come help Twilight with... er... her thing?"

Before I can so much as lift a hoof...

"Vine...?" Indigo ripples drift my way.

"Oh jeez! Miss Melody!" Spike winces, biting the edges of his claws. "I'm s-so sorry about this!"

Wincing, I spin around.

A tired lump of velvet floof leans against the doorframe to her bedroom. She cradles a feline source of orange vibrations in her forelimbs. "Is... mmmm... everything okay, love?"

I nod vehemently, gesturing for her to trot back to bed.

"Mmmmff... okay then..." Tavi rubs her eyes, yawns gorgeously, and slumps back towards her domain. "...be sure to... feed the porpoises... with cycloptic squirrel feed... mmmff..."

A stupid smile briefly flashes across my muzzle.

"Uhm... what's with her calling you 'love' all the time?"

I shove Spike out of the house.

"Gah!" He falls on his tail with a red burst.

I storm out and slam the door shut behind me. With a heavy exhale, I yank him back onto his feet and point angrily at the Castle.

"Erm... right! No time to waste!" And he waddles off.

I sigh, shuffling tiredly after him, leaving a cloud of delightful purple snores far behind me.

Midnight Things

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I lurch forward under a creaking sound.

For the moment, I lose track of Spike's voice... his tiny red claw scrapes and frail breaths.

Why's it blacker than black? Have I been asleep all this time?

Oh wait. The Palace, of course. Sonuva...

I find myself trudging down the main foyer of the Princess of Friendship's Castle. Everything here is supremely dark, a reverse canvas upon which my magenta sighs melt, turning to dim ashes. Spike's ahead of me. He's a living pin drop in the middle of empty mindlessness.

Yeesh, no wonder Princess Twilight didn't like moving into this place, according to Rarity at least...

In truth, though, the silence is quite unnerving. I look left and right, gazing into desolate rooms with nary a soul to be seen or heard shuffling.

Where are all the guards? Everypony is gone. Even...

I crane my head to the side, tilting an ear towards the ceiling.

Nope. No brown here. He must be retiring to his bunk this evening.

What could have Twilight Sparkle all up in a tizzy? And in such a manner to demand an empty castle devoid of her Royal Protectors?

Not even the Elements of Harmony are here. Unless Spike counts. Wait... is Spike an Element? If so, then Harmony's super big on Gem-Eating and nopony has known it until now. Not even Princess Celestia...

"Miss Scratch! Snap out of it!" Spike hisses.

I wince. My eyes blink open just milliseconds before I risk trotting straight into a crystal column. Teetering to the right, I reorient myself, trailing after Spike's wiggling tail. I watch as he scampers on ahead, opens one of two double doors, and exposes a crystalline set of stairs leading down... down... down into further darkness.

Whoah... this place has a dungeon?

... ... ...and why are we headed there?

"Look, Miss Scratch, I know all of this must seem terribly... terribly rude," Spike says. "Freaky, even. But trust me..." He points down the stairs. "Princess Twilight needs your help. She's waiting down there right now. Just one flight down. I told her I'd fetch you super-quick, and here we are."

I cock my head aside. Gazing at him, I point curiously down the stairs.

"No, she... uh... she didn't ask for my help. Not this time." He leans back, wringing his claws. "She... uh... wants me staying here to look out for the Castle... to distract anypony who shows up until the two of you are done."

My lips purse slightly.

"Yeah. It's that serious. Just..." He waves a hand at the stairs. "Just go and talk to her. I'd do what she says if I were you. Not that... uhm... she'd do anything mean or cruel if you refused. I mean... I guess Equestrian law is pretty lenient on treason these days..."

I arch an eyebrow.

"Look, will you stop standing there?!" He huffs, puffs, and gives me a tiny shove. "I've done my part! Now you do yours!"

I wince, stumbling slightly as I find myself standing at the top of the stairs. The door closes behind me with a crimson clap of thunder. Rivulets of color echo outward, outlining the curved steps leading down in a spiraling arc. In return, a gray voice wafts up, once more outlining the steps for me.

"Spike?" Snowy, foggy breaths, sprinkled with panic urgency. "Spiiiiiiiiike?! Is that you?! Did you go get Miss Scratch yet? Is she home?"

Now I'm truly... seriously concerned.

With sudden wakefulness, I trot briskly down the stairs. I pause once or twice to adjust my shades. At last, with a flounce of my spiky mane, I clear the first flight. I level out on the first basement level. There, I see the Princess' soft outline in a cloud of black energy, like eerily backlit smoke.

"Vinyl Scratch!" She gasps, her gray voice issuing outward from the murky black haze above and behind her. "Oh, praise Celestia!" She rests a hoof over her chest, heaving. "For a second there, I thought you might refuse my request. Not that I would blame you, I suppose, at this hour and... c-considering how little a time you've been my minstrel..."

I blink. I point up the stairs.

But your little fire lizard summon made it sound like I'd lose my head...

"Spike isn't very graceful at what he does, but I'm proud of him for getting your attention right away by any means." Twilight proceeds to gallop back and forth between mana-powered instrument panels. "This is a matter of utmost important! A spontaneous friendship mission!" I can see now that he's a sweaty, frazzled mess. "And I'd be failing in my duties as a Princess if I let it fall apart! What's more... I'd be a really... really rotten pony!"

I glance to the side. I see two sets of saddlebags and... trenchcoats? I don't get it. Those outfits are so friggin' huge, they'd fit towering diamond dogs, not ponies. What in the hay is going on here?

"I know it's asking a lot of you, Vinyl, but I need to know whether or not you're one hundred percent committed to this..."

I glance awkwardly at her.

Committed to what?

"I've chosen you because... b-because of your unique senses, Miss Scratch," Twilight says. "But, it's m-more than that. You see, I went to the other side to check on my friends... erm... my other friends... and I discovered something very startling. I don't have the conventional magic to find all the clues I need. But you? You might stand a chance to help me snoop out the latest problem and get to the bottom of things! And... and..."

She scuffles to a stop. She turns to face me, and I see a confused pale unicorn's vexed expression reflected in her eyes.

"...the long and short of it is this." She marches firmly in my direction, powered by a panting, gray voice. "This isn't just any friendship mission. It's a mission to save someone whom I owe a lot to. A pony who helped me and my friends out when we desperately needed. And in the end, I think you'll find that you'll have saved yourself. Erm... eheheh..." She tries to smile, but her gnashing teeth makes it look like she's foaling a child. "It... it will make sense. Just trust me. Please." Gulping, she leans forward with sparkling eyes. "Can I have your helping hoof in this?"

I gaze at her. My eyes sweep across the basement interior, the blackness stretching beyond and above me. I suddenly want to be anywhere but here.

I don't realize I'm nodding until I hear her exhalation of relief.

"Oh, thank you... thank you, Vinyl. For the trouble... I-I promise to reward you handsomely. If... if that makes you feel any better."

I don't know what to feel.

"Alright. There's very little time, so I can't go over every single detail just yet." She trots across the room, approaching a tall black thing covered in an even blacker tarp. Only when she gets close to it do my eyes start to detect the contours of the obscuring fabric. "First and foremost, I need you to promise me one thing."

"...?"

"I need you to promise not to panic." That said, she yanks the tarp off, and I find myself... looking at myself.

My muzzle twists.

What does my reflection have to do with anything...?

And that's when she cranks a lever. I watch as a magical tome lights up with electrical energy, igniting a glowing frame around the tall, tall mirror.

... ... ...huh...

Equestrian Things

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"Okay, so let's go over this one more time." Twilight paces left and right in front of me. With telekinesis, she straps the saddlebag tightly to her body. "Take even breaths... then walk forward... and go through the mirror." She gulps. "The sensation that follows will be... freaky, to say the least. You'll be subjected to a myriad awkward stimuli, which is more or less what happens when your magical essence is ribboned across the fragmented leylines of two adjoining alternate universes locked in enchanted quantum entanglement." She scuffles to a stop, winces, and glances at me.

I stare at her. Deadpan.

"Uhm... I-I'd advise keeping your eyes shut. Which—in your specific case—may be for the best. The whole ordeal will be over with sooner than you know it. Even still, just wait for my word before you open your eyes. So long as you stick close to me, I promise that nothing bad will happen to you, no matter how scary, strange, or awkward it might feel on the way to the other side... or even once you're there. But you're going to have to trust me, okay?"

I stare at her frazzled features. Her gray words are suddenly laced with pink. There's a sincerity in Twilight's breaths... tempered by a show of compassion and friendly concern. She doesn't enjoy what she's about to do... or what she's about to put me through. Somehow, I'm more relieved than scared by that.

I nod.

"Oh. Okay. Okay good." She exhales, shuddering. "I... uhm..." She gulps. "Maybe I should go first. Just so you can watch me enter. The rest should come easy for you... I hope."

I glance at the mirror... at the glowing book positioned atop its frame. I chew on my bottom lip.

"And once we're both on the other side, we'll go about the mission. Remember. Follow me. Don't wander off... though... eheh... I doubt you could if you wanted to, at least at first."

What.

"Hmmmm... judging by the chronoton acceleration of the activation procedure, I'm expecting a time dilation of about seven hours. Though it's nighttime here, it will likely be early morning over there. Hopefully we won't be spontaneously shoved into a classroom by the faculty after they mistake us for regular students."

... ... What.

"Alright. Here goes. I'll see you on the other side, Vinyl. And Miss Scratch?" She looks back, exhaling one last time. A heavy breath. "Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Thanks."

I nod nervously.

She looks forward, wings coiled at her side. Then—one brave hoof after the other—she strolls straight ahead... and enters the mirror like a duck might dive into a pond. Only... she doesn't come back from the other side. The blue "glass" surface ripples slightly... and then normalizes. All is still. I seen no more sign of lavender or gray.

Biting my lip, I turn and look behind me. A black staircase leads up the black height of a black castle in my vision.

I could easily walk away from this...

I could go back home... sleep... pretend that none of this had ever happened.

What is the Princess really going to do? I know enough about Twilight to realize that she doesn't have the strength or cruelty to imprison me. Besides, it seems rather obvious by her secrecy that she has an awful lot to keep secret about this... this... whatever this is.

What's she expecting from me anyways? The Princess has barely told me anything. Would she willfully put me in danger? And what for? What exactly is at stake? And why me of all ponies? Why not someone awesome like Rainbow Dash or someone versatile like Rarity or someone courageous like Flash Sentry?

Hell... Why not bring best pony?

I stand in place for a few seconds, pondering that.

No. Come to think of it, Applejack wouldn't stand for such secrecy.

I sigh, realizing that there is only one clear choice... and it's an unclear direction. I feel myself trotting forward despite my better judgment. As soon as I touch the glass, I shiver all over. It's deathly cold... but not turquoise... more like the color behind the veil of turquoise, something bright and all-encompassing.

And endless ocean of white. I've never witnessed it before, and it chills me to the bone.

Nevertheless, the Princess is waiting for me, and apparently somepony else that needs my help.

So, with a deep breath, I plunge forward at full force.

And I instantly discover why Twilight insisted I close my eyes. The white shreds apart, and a million colors that I am not meant to see scream at me from all directions. I would clutch my head in pain... if I still had a head left. I let loose a breathless gasp, for my body has dissolved, and yet it's still there... waiting for me... on the other side.

The other side of what?

I'd contemplate this... if only I wasn't too busy eating concrete.

"... ... ...!" It's my magenta outburst of pain that shocks me more than anything. In the resulting dizziness, I roll over onto my flank, kicking my hooves at layers upon layers of blinding shapes.

"Vinyl! Shhhh! Vinyl, it's okay!"

It's Twilight's voice, but there are tiny tendrils clasping my front legs, like insectoid feelers coming from ten different directions.

I fight and I thrash, feeling baked by sunlight, serenaded by blood. The world is a crimson crucible of bedlam—a trillion strange noises that I can't decipher. All of them echo across treetops... building faces... asphalt.

Yes, asphalt.

Are we... in a city?

It certainly doesn't sound like Manehattan. There are no clopping hooves. No grinding of wooden wagon wheels. Instead, I hear dull, dreadful vibrations, rippling red and brown across an unfamiliar soundscape.

I'm losing it. Seething and gnashing my teeth.

Twilight knows, and she leans forward. I smell a curious fragrance with every exhalation.

"Shhh... breathe calmly. Focus on my voice. It's me. Your Princess. Your friend. It's me, Vinyl. It's Twilight. You're not alone here. Just... just try to calm down..."

I inhale and exhale. My magenta essence snakes around her gray core, and somehow that is enough to balance me... to tether me.

For once, I stop trembling. I feel the tug of many tiny things pulling me up by my fetlocks. But... something is wrong. My body isn't used to bending like this.

Oh Celestia...

Did I land on my back?

Did my spine snap in two?

But, if that's true, then how am I still... still...?

"Okay... you're okay, Vinyl. Now..." An audible gulp. "...open your eyes."

I bite my lip.

"Vinyl, you're going to have to open your eyes at some point or another if you wish to help me. Now please... I'm right here. Your shades are on. Everything's going to be alright."

I exhale slowly. Then, right eye before the left, I comply with my Princess' wishes.

I see a street... a sidewalk... a courtyard lined with grass and concrete panels. I see a statue of a majestic horse, kicking its hooves in the crisp, cool air.

"Are... are you able to see just fine?" her voice wafts past my ear. "The colors... does every sound still have a color?"

Something whizzes down the road, dragging red clouds. Birds fling golden bands down at us from the sky. The green hum coalesces, coming into clarity.

I nod. A gulp. I nod again.

"Okay... okay!" She almost giggles, her voice taking on a yellow tint. "Good! That means you can help me find you... I-I mean her... I mean..."

I jolt, for I feel something crawling up my fetlock. I look at my forelimb and sigh with relief. It's just a ladybug crawling across one of the five split ends of my hoof.

... ... ...wait.

My shades rattle as I look at my other hoof—or, in this case, the mutated furless appendage that's inexplicably replaced it.

... ...wait wait wait...

"Now Vinyl, just try and relax—"

Hyperventilating, I touch the two crazy things together—horrified to feel their fleshy tendrils making contact. I try to scoot away, only to stumble. I look down to see a white jacket and neon violet leggings covering... a thing. A narrow... thick... thicknarrow meaty slab of a thing protruding from the base of the neck.

Waitwaitwaitwaitwaitwait—

"Vinyl! It's okay! See?" And right then and there, a giant lavender monkey face with even more enormous eyes smiles at me. A tiny stub of a muzzle exhales above a grinning, furless mouth. "We look the same! Isn't that... uhm... nifty?"

OH GODDESS!

I buck the monster away. Two rubbery soles make contact, and the thing falls back on the ground, grunting with Twilight's voice. "Owie!"

Panting, I stand up on all fours and gallop away. Only... something's off... and that something is my balance. I tumble, I roll, I collapse against a steep set of stairs. As the pained stars drag out of my eyes, I see a group of clothed primates on stilts glancing down at me as they trot out the glass entrance to a building on their hind quarters.

"Whoah! Nice tangle-foot, Vinyl!" One of the its speaks with Lyra's voice. "Woke up without the Dr. Pepper this morning, huh? Heehee!"

"Oh my gosh..." Another it leans down. Her mane is a two-tone thing crowning a cream-colored head. "Vinyl, you look horrible! Is everything okay?"

I grimace, my ears echoing with Bon Bon's trailing voice. I curl up into a ball, discovering my mutated limbs amazing ability for hugging myself.

"Wowsers, you're a real mess, girl!" The Lyra-thing cranes her neck to the side. "Where've you been lately?"

"Yeah. We've been worried."

"No no no no!" Twilight's voice warbles my way. The lavender monkey has returned... and she's wearing one hell of a short skirt. Jeez. "Nothing to be worried about! Vinyl's just been... uh... working!"

"Twilight! Wow! It's been a while!"

"It totally h-has, huh?"

"So nice to see you!"

"But what's all this about Vinyl working? Is she joining the Rainbooms or something?"

"Uhhhm... Yeah!" A lavender limb reaches down and yanks me up... straight up. I feel like I'm on a ladder, and I wobble back and forth in Twilight's awkward grip. "She's completing her latest homebrewed music remix of our winning songs at the Battle of the Bands! Y'know... DJ stuff! Pew pew! Bass droppings and... uhm... influences from Daft Pony?"

"Don't you mean 'Daft Punk?'"

"Sure!"

"Hey!" The 'Lyra' smiles. She's wearing... something. I've never seen so much color on her in my life. "A new album! Killer!"

"But still..." The 'Bon Bon' frowns. "To miss so many days of school for it? I mean, a creative muse is a wonderful thing, but let's not forget priorities."

"Nope! I sure haven't!" Twilight spins us around, a very unwieldy thing. "Whelp! Time to go!"

"Awwww... already?"

"Everybody's missed you, Twilight!"

"We've missed you both!"

"Won't you hang out and chat? It's lunch period!"

Lunch period?

The heck is this... the gorilla school dimension?

"Oh! No thanks!" Twilight's voice squeaks. "I'm dieting!"

"But what about—"

"We're... dieting! It's our new health kick! Together! As friends! Kick friends, heehee!"

"Uhhh..." Lyra scrunches her... not-nose. "Oh! I get it!" She points at us with... a thing. Huh? "You two are getting an early start on exercising!"

"Exercising...?"

"For the upcoming Friendship Games, of course!"

"Yeah! You and Vinyl should totally enter!"

Twilight's enormous violets blink. "Oh! Right! The Friendship Games! Of course! How silly of me! How could I possibly forget something so important... and friendship related!"

"You should go talk to Rainbow Dash about signing up! And, of course..." Bon Bon's eye... hair thingies waggle. "...you can bet your puffy shoulders that you'll see a name on the list belonging to a certain Flas—"

"OkayGottaGoByeeee!" Twilight drags me away with amazing speed for suddenly being... a two-legged homunculus. In the distance, I scarcely recognize Lyra's trailing amber voice:

"Huh... is it just me? Or did Vinyl somehow seem... ... ...fuzzier than normal?"

Primate Things

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Colors... shapes... smells...

There are simply far too many for my brain to contemplate... which is made even more alarming now that I get the distinct impression that my brain—my skull is a lot larger than it's supposed to be...

Before I know it, a pair of doors have creaked open and shut. I blink—the world around me no longer a blur. I see that I am inside a large supply room of sorts. It's filled to the brim with soccer balls, stacked gym mats, and all manner of sports equipment.

"Okay... we should be fine in here," Twilight's voice says from behind us. "At least for a while. There isn't a P.E. class until next period."

P.E. class...?

Is she for real?

"This should give us time. Time for me to fill you in on what's going on and time for you to adjust to—" Twilight spins around, and her eyes blink. "Oh! Hey! You're standing already!"

I am?

I look down, and the floor is a million miles away.

Oh Celestia...

The floor flies up to my face.

"Gah!" Twilight jerks forward, her forelimbs catching me by the super-bendy waist. I dangle like a mess of hair and noodles in her grip. "M-my bad! Uhm... I know! Maybe if you sat down..."

I wince as she ushers me over to a folding chair.

"Easy... easy... just let gravity take hold..."

At last, I plop down, rocking slightly. It's the weirdest sensation in a world. My body is bent at ninety degrees... and yet it feels fine. Natural, even. Just what the heck am I?

"Okay... try and... erm... feel around." She stands back a few meters, and I find it hard to look at her with a straight muzz-er... face. It's still the Princess, but in place of lavender fur Twilight has... lavender skin?

No, she has hair. I can see that now. Even on my own limbs, I can feel some strands of fur... only they're super thin and super long. What kind of a creature would stand to be this naked? I mean, besides mole rats...

"Just breathe easy. Your lungs aren't exactly in the same place. Also, your ribs are positioned towards the front of your torso instead of towards the side. Your spine is arranged for bipedal movement and you haven't got a tail—"

"...!!!" I spin, gawking at my flank. I feel around the folds of my jacket. Sure enough, there's no hole situated around my posterior.

"It's okay! It's okay, Vinyl!" Twilight places the ends of her limbs on my shoulders. "It's not permanent, alright?! It's only for when you're over here! The first moment you return to Equestria, you'll become a pony again. Okay?"

I shudder, calming slightly.

"That make you feel better?"

I gulp and nod. I adjust my shades and stare at her.

"Okay. Now... uh... look at me and I'll show you the basics." She stands again at a slight distance and wriggles the appendages at the ends of her limbs. "These? These are fingers. You have five of them for each hand? See?" She takes turns pointing with each body part in question. "Just like Spike's got. Only they're made of mammalian skin instead of draconian scales. Also, there are fingernails instead of claws. This is the palm... and this is the back of the hand. Careful, the fingers only bend so far back... see?"

I'm looking at my own hands. I bend each finger, one after another. I feel the bile rising up in the back of my throat from the alien sensation, and my face grimaces severely.

"Yeah. I know. A little scary at first, but they're perfectly natural." Twilight lifts one of her rear legs and points at an article covering the end of it. "This is a foot. It's a lot like a hand, only it's made specifically for standing on. On this side of the mirror, you only walk on two of your limbs. The foot has five digits too, just like fingers, only made for standing and walking. They're inside your shoe—which people here use for protection, cuz feet aren't as tough as hooves. You can move the toes... erm... the digits at the end of your feet almost as much as your fingers, but not quite so much. Go on ahead and give them a wriggle."

I fidget nervously. I stretch one leg out... then flex the muscles inside. I feel a bunch of tiny things squirming around inside one shoe, like beetles crawling all over my hoof. I shudder, but eventually nod.

"Now... a person's body has a different center of gravity than a pony's. Long ago, their physiology evolved so that they could stand upright. I know it might seem impossible, but you've got the ability to stand upright. That's how human beings go about their daily lives." Quietly, Twilight approaches me, both hooves... I mean hands outstretched. "Try it. Just... bend your knees... and lift your body with your legs. You can use your hand against the back of your chair to steady yourself if you need to."

I hesitate, but Twilight insists. At last, taking a deep breath, I throw myself forward. My skull flies towards the floor of the supply room again, but she catches me in the nick of time. Then, with her assistance, I bend my body upwards until my head raises to the ceiling. I feel the world spinning beneath me, and a sudden fear of heights that I never knew I had haunts me from all angles. I teeter, nearly topple, but—miraculously enough—I found a magical sweet spot where I'm... okay.

The resulting blink is so intense that it nearly pops my shades off. I stretch my arms out, feeling as Twilight slowly lessens her grip. At last, she lets go of me altogether, and I'm actually standing on my own.

And it's absolutely crazy. What kind of creature would want to do this to itself? Hell, even giraffes have the good sense to walk on four limbs.

Why the blood isn't draining from my skull is beyond me...

"See? It's perfectly natural!" Twilight squee's. It's so horselike that it instantly puts me at ease. "Look around from that vantage point. You should be able to see the room better."

I look to the left and to the right. Twilight makes a good point. I can see better now.

I wonder if I can see my feet. I look down, but they elude me. I can't even see my shoes, for there's a whole bunch of me in the way. Is my jacket straight? I tug on the thing, but the lumps refuse to move. So I try pushing them both in—only to wince in mixed pain and surprise. The Hell are these things?

"Uhhhh... no. No no..." She grabs my hands and lowers them to my sides. "You don't wanna do that. Trust me."

I frown at her.

"Yeah. I know." She sighs, leaning back. "I'm not a big fan of them either."

I reach my hands up. Fidgeting, I rub the top my head. These "fingers" are super sensitive, and for the first time in my life I feel pain from the prick of my spiked mane. Still, I feel around, in search of my ears. To my horror, I have to drag my hands down... until I find these super fragile, paper-thin things sticking out the sides of my skull. Ugh... I hear through these?

"Here..." Twilight walks up with a pen in one hand and a pad of paper in the other. "This might help in communication for a bit. I know you must have a ton of questions." She places the pen between two of my fingers, then holds the pad up. "Give it a try."

I stare at the pen dangling between two of my digits. I tilt my head up, glaring at her.

"Oh... erm..." Twilight blushes. She plucks the pen from my hand, twirls it around, and holds it nervously at chin level.

I instantly lean in, clamp the item between my teeth, and write as neatly as I can across the sheet of paper.

"You can ask anything," Twilight says, smiling sympathetically. "Anything you want."

I finish writing, then wave my forelimbs at her.

She turns the paper around, blinks, then reads the words out loud: "'Why... is... your skirt so... frigging short?'" She glances down at her legs, then at me.

I fold my arms and squint at her.

"Hooo boy..." She fans herself with the pad of paper. "This is gonna take longer than I thought..."

Dazzling Things

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Twilight opens a metal door to a lengthy corridor lined with lockers and trophy cases. She looks left, then right, then exhales. "'Kay. Coast is clear." She motions with her lavender hand. "This way. Stick close to me," her voice is a low murmur. "Classes are still in session. We should be able to get the studio with relative ease."

Easy for her to say...

I trot... er... walk forward, one lumbering limb after another. I feel the world wobbling and shaking around me. One teeter too much—and I plummet once again.

"Ghhhgh!" She catches me, her gray voice billowing between us as she struggles to keep me upright. Seriously... does she realize how damn skinny she is in this universe? "Honestly, Vinyl, I know this is all very disorienting, but I figured you would catch your balance faster than I originally did!"

I let loose a magenta sigh through frowning teeth. Where are a pair of straws when you need them? I'm sure these stupid "finger" thingies could manage a sharp word or two...

"Alright, this way!" she hisses, leading me by hand. "And I'll try once more to fill you in."

She takes a deep breath as we pass by multiple classrooms filled with muddled voices, brown and amber.

"So... there's a group of siblings... evil sisters called 'The Dazzlings,'" she explains. "Adagio Dazzle... along with Aria Blaze and Sonata Dusk."

My pale brow furrows above my shades.

What.

"They like to control ponies with their singing voices... or at least they used to, that is, before a few months ago when I last came here and assisted my friends—my other friends in human form—along with the other you—the human you—in a super radical Battle of the Bands concert where we defeated them with musical rainbows and laser beams."

...What.

"Because—you see—the Dazzlings were originally a trio of demented sea sirens who mind-controlled innocent ponies in ancient Equestrian pre-history until Starswirl the Bearded banished them to this world and they've been hiding out here ever since..."

... ... ...WHAT.

"But, anyways, like I said..." Twilight leads us around a corner, peers around, and then heads for a series of doors. "...we defeated the Dazzlings—me and my human friends. The jewels that contained both their magic and their singing talents shattered during the Battle of the Bands. Since then, they ran off, hiding in obscurity... or so I thought. I made a trip back here just the other day, to visit my other friends, and that's when I found out that you had gone missing... erm... the other you."

She twirls around and faces me with a worried look on her face.

"And that's when I was given... when I was given..." She fumbles, licking her lips as she digs both hands deep beneath her blouse. "Mfffnngh... hold on a second. This world's Zecora taught me this trick—Ah!" She finally yanks out a slip of paper with crazily pasted letters from random magazine clippings. "THIS. Apparently this world's Applejack found it hidden beneath the lid of her locker. It's the first thing she showed me upon arriving."

Blinking, I take the thing awkwardly between two digits and hold it before my shades.

In crooked, uneven font, the note reads:

TO my NEMESES, the RaiNbOOMs,

MY siSTers aNd I haVe CaPTURed YOUr pRECiouS mUte FRIend, ViNYl ScRAtCH. You ONCE usEd HER to BOOST yOUr HarMOnic MAGic iN thIS WorLd, NoW hEr TALent Shall SerVe US! Do NoT MaKe AnY aTTempT to Save heR or WE will DESTroY hEr anD Eat HeR SOUL! If YoU ThiNK wE aRe BLUffInG, ThEN asK YoUR spEcIaL FRIEND from EqUEsTRIA, TwiliGHT SpARkLE, anD shE WILL vouCh FoR OUR beAStLY WaYs.

SINCeRely,

ADaGio DazzlE.

I blink, turning the paper around in my grasp.

Talk about a massacre of magazines...

Oh... and I suppose that "other me" is in trouble too...

"I took this note back with me to the Palace in Equestria," Twilight explains. "Spike and I did a mana-analysis. There's no doubt in my mind. Adagio Dazzle's leyline signature is all over this leaflet. She is, in fact, the one who prepared this note and left it for Applejack to see."

I cock my head to the side, looking confused.

"I know." She nods. "It begs the question. Why would they leave a note in the first place? Well, Adagio knows that I would stop at nothing to save a friend of my friends, and—with the power of mind-controlling song gone from their jewels—there's no telling just how crazed and desperate they are. Even still..." She sighs, leaning up against a doorframe with a sad expression. "My magic isn't of much use in this world. I can channel harmony—sure—but only with the help of the rest of my human friends. However..." She frowns with determination. "It's my fault that they got involved like this to begin with. I should have gone after the Dazzlings right after the Battle of the Bands, to finish what was started by bringing them to justice. But... b-but I got distracted, and I allowed my naivete in this world to take control of me. And now, you're suffering for it. I mean... you're other you... Unnngh..." She buries her face in her hands.

I reach a limb out to comfort her... but I suddenly don't know what is safe to touch and what isn't. So, I sigh and let my arms hang by my sides.

"I... I-I can't let my friends in this world get involved," she says in a muffled tone. "Magic is still something very new to them, and Adagio has made it clear that if she notices we're coming after her, then she'll lash out at Vinyl... or even more ponies... I-I mean humans." A deep, gray breath, and she finally opens the door in front of us. "But that's when I had a brilliant idea. Quick. Come inside."

I nod, shuffling into the dimly-lit room. She closes the door behind us and hits a switch. I squint as overhead lights buzz into existence. I see the setup for a drum-kit and several guitar stands. There's even a recording booth against the far end of the chamber.

Huh... not bad...

Twilight continues: "You see, even if magic doesn't quite function the same in this world as it does in Equestria, the very essence of it transfers over along with the soul who possesses it. That's why I've been able to wield the Elements of Harmony on occasion over here. Tell me, Vinyl..." She scribbles on a notepad and hooves... I mean hands it my way. "Since you've arrived, have you still been able to see colors from the sensory elements around us?"

I don't even need a pen to answer. Still, for Twilight's sake, I scribble a three letter word with my teeth and twirl the pad around to her.

"Hah!" A gray burst, and she smirks. "I knew it! That means your acute senses, for better or for worse, still work on this side!" She paces across the studio, approaching a series of locked cabinets on the far side. "I have a theory: Adagio Dazzle can't be too far from here. If it's true that she's got the other Vinyl kidnapped and is trying to force her to help restore her and her sisters' musical abilities, then they need a proper facility to do that, and there isn't much outside the nearby cities that can help in that area."

I pivot the pen in my teeth and scribble across the notepad again. Once done, I hold the sentence up to Twilight.

"Exactly!" She snaps two fingers, producing a red burst. Wow... that's a cool trick. "Who better knows Vinyl Scratch than Vinyl Scratch? You have a skill and a mind like no other, Vinyl. If anypony can find your other you—wherever she's hidden—it's... well... you!" She gestures at a cabinet in front of her. "And the search starts right here!"

Squinting, I lean forward, then shuffle the rest of the way until I'm crouching before the closed panel. There's a combination lock holding it in place.

"It's embarrassing, I know, but... I-I can't get it open," Twilight says, her lavender skin blushing slightly. "None of us can. I even had this world's Pinkie Pie try it. No party cannon or mallet seems to do the trick. Principal Celestia hired some dang good contractors when they built this school."

Principal Celestia...?

Oye...

"So I figured maybe you might have an idea of how to open it. If you need some time to get into a homo sapien doppelganger's headspace, I understand—"

I grasp the lock's dial in two fingers, spin left, then right, then left again, then right one last time. Click! The lock pops loose, and I slide the cabinet open.

"... ... ..." Twilight Sparkles blinks. "Orrrrrrrrr you could just knock it out in one swift go. Eheheheh..." She rubs the back of her mane, wincing. "Well, there's two Hamiltons I owe Rainbow Dash here."

I glance back at her, eyebrow raised.

"Eh... don't ask."

With a shrug, I reach in and pull out two things. One is a turntable inside its case... which turns out to be really heavy to lift without telekinesis. Dayum. The other thing is... is...

I stand up straight, turning over a tiny white rectangular solid in my hand. It's strangely heavy, and there's a glass panel right above a plastic dial. The Hell is this thing?

"Oh... uh... it's for playing music!"

I squint at her. I hold the thing up while making a crooked face.

"Yes! On this side of the mirror, they don't need to spin records or harness manacrystals. Here! I'll show you!" She opens another cabinet drawer and grabs a pair of dangling cords that she fastens into my primate ears. "And then you stick this part into the player and you press this button here..."

I do so, fumbling. The glass panel lights up, and I see a tracklist consisting of an assortment of hauntingly familiar names.

"Recognize the songs?"

I hesitantly nod.

"You should, I bet." She smiles. "This is Vinyl's favorite iPod. An 'older generation,' whatever that means. Rarity says she's an 'audiophile purist,' and she likes to put all of her latest mixes on this. That includes the stuff that she writes. And—as you can already tell—you both have a lot of the same tracks under your belt. Well... I guess it's just this Vinyl's 'belt,' considering that she's usually the one wearing clothes and you're usually one who's... phweeeee... the horse..."

I'm too busy flipping through the various tracks with the dark highlight. There are so many songs here—written by another me. And what intrigues and scares me all at once is that more than half of them—I know—are Tavi influenced.

So there's an Octavia on this side of the mirror as well?

Good Goddess... do I even want to see her without fur?

A shudder rolls through my body. I try to distract myself by flipping to another page of tracks. I blink hard... for I suddenly see a lot of songs that... I've never ever heard of.

"See a bunch of stuff you don't recognize?"

I nod.

"Fluttershy... erm... this world's Fluttershy has told me that Vinyl was working on a brand new album immediately following the Battle of the Bands," Twilight explains. "In Equestria, there was no musical duel between the Rainbooms and the Dazzlings. So it's logical to expect that this world's Vinyl got influenced to make a bunch of different songs that you didn't."

I exhale in magenta contemplation.

I bet the other Vinyl never got to incorporate some true blue vocals into her work.

Heh... poor her...

The device's highlight rests on a single title. My brow furrows in curiosity, and I lean Twilight's way, pointing at the thing.

"Huh?" Twilight glances over my shoulder at the name of the track: "'Bacon Hair Sunrise?'" She shrugs. "Your guess is as good as mine."

I scratch my head. Then, throwing caution to the wind, I slap my monkey finger over "play."

Almost instantly, my whole world explodes with vocal streams of gold, red, and orange—coming together in a pulsating, orgasmic focal point of brilliant platinum. I'm so gloriously thrown out of whack that Twilight has to help me down onto a piano bench behind us.

"Vinyl! Vinyl!" She yanks the earbuds out and grasps my shoulders. "Ohmigosh! Are you okay?"

I pant... pant... pant... then gaze up at her. My nod is a sweaty, crazed thing.

"You gave me quite a scare!" Pouting, she stands back up and walks towards the far end of the room. "Anyways... get an ear for your other self's handiwork. It just might give us... or you a 'scent' we can follow. You catch my drift?"

I nod, swallowing a dry lump down my throat.

Yeah. Sure.

Save my other self from dangerous short-skirted she-sirens. Whatever.

With fumbling limbs, I shove the earbuds back in and coast along with the second half of the track. I close my eyes with a delicious smile.

I've no friggin' clue where the other Vinyl got these vocals...

...but Luna help me if I don't kidnap her myself to find out.

Squeeee...

Technological Things

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Interesting...

Very very interesting...

Cool, even...

I lean forward in the studio, playing the latest track by... erm... my other self. I'm so engrossed in the process that I've long forgotten about the difficulty of trying to stand upright in this... goofy excuse for a bipedal body.

This world's Vinyl Scratch is pretty darn talented. She... relies on bass drops a bit too excessively, for my taste, but I'm guessing that's just a matter of the local flavor, so to speak.

I brush my hands across her turntable, feeling the knobs and buttons along the instrument panel.

I can see how... easy it is to operate all of this with these so-called fingers. It's a poor substitute for magic, of course, but it allows for its own dexterous interface. I stumble to imagine how one might be pyschologically molded by purely manual application. I remember when Roadie Beau has tried his hoof at music mixing. His stuff is pretty darn good, amazing, even, but it's so far removed from the kind of stuff that I make.

There was a time when I thought it took a unicorn's touch to truly exploit the intricacies of music theory and apply it to a digestible medium. Later, I came to realize that unicorn music isn't better than earth pony or zebra... it's just different.

Human music—it would seem—is different too, and for the first time since arriving here I am actually intrigued by what this place has to offer... by what this other me has up her sleeves.

Oh, my own touches are there in her work, for sure. But it's just an underlying pattern that connects us, nothing more. There's a lot of extra padding where I normally wouldn't put it, and there's also a lot that's... lacking.

For one, I hear little to no ounce of purple or violet in all of the vocal samples.

Where is she in this universe?

Does... does she even exist?

"How..." Twilight stifles a yawn. "...is it coming along?"

The Princess has been waiting so patiently on me. How long have I been standing here, sampling my doppelganger's music? An hour? Two hours?

I know I'm here for an important reason. I fumble to bring a pen to my mouth and a pad of paper to my hands.

Smiling tiredly, Twilight simply hands me two drumsticks. "Here... maybe it'll be faster to go about Blank Speech."

I hold the items in my palms, fidgeting slightly.

"Think you've got the hang of it by now?"

Gulping, I struggle a bit, but then find that I can move, pivot, and twirl the sticks in just the right way to convey my words to her. Twilight reads carefully, and I'm actually impressed by how swiftly she's learned to understand my second language.

Heck, if she can catch on like that, then so can I. You'd think that human fingers could get the job done twice as fast. They're so... slender and pointy, after all...

At last, Twilight responds: "Now the real question is: do you think you would recognize your own music styles if you heard them at random?"

I nod.

"Even if you were forced into making a new song for the Dazzlings?"

With a frown, I twirl and rotate the drumsticks.

She shakes her head. "No. I don't think it'll work in Adagio's favor. But still..." She shrugs. "Those sirens are desperate and starving without their magics. What they request of the other Vinyl doesn't have to make sense for them to demand it anyways."

Curious, I twirled the sticks some more.

"I don't doubt they would do harmful things to her," Twilight says. She sighs. "The Dazzlings have never... treated ponies as anything more than something to feed off of. If they can't get anything out of their magical essences... th-then I fear for Vinyl's physical condition."

I rub my chin in thought. Then, brightening, I gesture in her direction once more.

She blinks. "What do you mean... a 'secret message?'"

I roll forth more and more blank speech.

"I see..." She paces about. "...so, in the event that you yourself were captured... you would try and make your presence known? Like... how? Through secret messages?"

I shake my head, then point at the turntable.

She blinks. "Musical messages?"

I nod.

She smiles slightly. "See! This is exactly why I brought you over to this side! You're a genius, Vinyl!" Clearing her throat, she leans in closer. "Now... tell me... just how do you think you would make these messages?"

I shrug, then gesture some more.

"Mmm... unfortunately that's not going to work in this world," she mutters. "Humans aren't innately magical. Even my friends over here were dormant on their own. The only reason they were able to cast any sort of Harmonic spell on this side was because the crown got dragged through the mirror and imbued them Equestrian magic." She shakes her head. "So, long story short, I'm pretty sure Vinyl Scratch can't send any rhythmic patterns through the nearby leylines for us to pick up... which we... uh... wouldn't be able to in this form anyways."

I run a hand over my spiked mane, staring at the sunlit windows flanking the studio. Then, with a grin, I point at Twilight and twirl the sticks some more.

She blinks. "Well... yes. What humans lack in magic, they make up for in technology. I'm talking leaps and bounds above Equestrian engineering. It's really quite fascinating, and totally deserving of an in-depth scientific exploration to see if we can maybe emulate what they've—"

I wave a stick in her face and gesture some more.

"Hmmm... I do suppose that... if Vinyl Scratch was given access to some crucial gadgetry in order to fashion music for the Dazzlings... she might just be able to broadcast something. If not through human radio than through the World Wide Web."

I stare at her, mouthing the three words in a dumb stupor.

"I know. Sounds weird. Think of it as Luna's dreamtrotting, only available to every human everywhere." She smiles. "Except for a price." She gulps. "Aaaaaaand maybe in only some parts of China."

I scratch my head.

"But..." Twilight paces around, skirt flouncing, as she thinks out loud: "...if Vinyl really was able to get a message sent out..." She turns towards me. "I bet you could totally detect it!"

I grin.

"I... I'm afraid I'm not adept at ascertaining all of the technological materials here. But I think I know of somepo—erm... somebody who can," Twilight says. "Over in the Audio/Visual club!"

I blink crookedly at her.

"I know where it is! Let's go there right away!" She grabs me by the hand and practically charges out of the room. "We can't waste anymore time—"

No sooner are we out in the hallway when a brown... brown voice gasps, rolling off the cinderblock walls and anchoring Twilight in her shoes.

"Whoah! Twilight?" Jubilant, breathy. "Twilight Sparkle!"

She winces, her lavender skin paling. "Ahhhh jeez..."

"... ... ...?" I turn and look over my shoulder. At a flash of blue hair, I do a double-take.

"Omigosh! Twilight!" He drops his backpack in a slump and altogether abandons his locker. The hallway is crowded with students, shuffling to and from class, and he beelines through them, his eyes sparkling. "I can't believe it's you! How've you been?"

"Oh... uhhhh..." She spins around, red as a beet, twirling a lock of purple mane hair. "...just... erm... p-peachy keen, Flash!"

I feel invisible pony ears twitching above my skull.

Ah jeez...

Useless Things

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"I haven't see you in forever!" Flash Sentry says, his vibrant blue eyes alive with very real joy. There's a gold sheen to his brown voice, like glittering comet tails across the school hallway. "Like, literally! Months!"

He pivots towards me with a smile.

"Heya, Vinyl!" He holds his palm up high. "'Sup?"

"... ... ...?" I stare at it. I stare at him.

"O—kay!" Smiling nervously, he smoothes back his blue bangs and blushes a bit. "So... uh... are you two putting the band back together or what?"

"Actually... we're... uhm..." Twilight fidgets. Just then, her violet eyes blink wide. "...Yes! That's precisely it! The Rainbooms and I are... putting the band back together!"

"I knew it! H-hey!" He chuckles. "That's awesome! Ever since the Battle of the Bands, the entire school has been itching for an encore! At least... eheheh... a performance that doesn't involve a bunch of nasty monsters from another world preying on us."

"Heh... I know, right?"

"And with you doing lead vocals..." Flash Sentry winks. The monkey's skin practically glitters. What the buck...? "...I'm sure every listening person alive would be hypnotized. I mean... eheh... in a good way."

"Ehhh... eh hee hee hee hee hee..." Twilight Sparkle stands pigeon-toed, twirling and toying with her mane hair. There is no word in the dictionary to properly describe the precise saturation of severe redness burning through her facial muscles. And this is me narrating. "Yes, well... uhhhh... I-I guess I've b-been practicing in the sh-shower." She gulps. Hard. "Singing, that is."

"Hah... sure thing. Say..." Flash leans forward and I'm almost surprised that Twilight hasn't melted then and there. "...last period will be over in the next fifty minutes. Would you like to hang out at Sugarcube Cafe later? Like old times?"

Old... times...?

"I've been dying to catch up with how you've been doing lately," he says, gesturing. "Seems like every time I see you, you're having to rush off and deal with one magical threat or another."

"Yes... well... uhm..." She fumbles. She squeaks: "As much as I'd love to, Flash, I-I'm afraid I've already promised Applejack, Rainbow Dash and the others that I'd... y'know..." She points at me, then at herself, then at... the sky? I dunno. "Getting the band back together! Eheheh!'

"Oh. Oh... uh... s-sure!" He smiles, his voice turning browner, fractured and blue along the edges. The lump in his throat resonates like an iron meteor from afar. Nevertheless, he hides it all behind a suave grin. "Hey, a promise is a promise, right! And after all... I'm... uh... a guy who appreciates commitment!" He winks and snaps a finger. "Heheheh... am I-I right?"

"Yup. Sure thing. Okay. Bye!" And Twilight gallops... runs off, dragging me by a hand.

I see a little silhouette of a man, wilting. His voice is warm, but the lungs frigid. "Alright... uhm... so long, Twilight." This is followed by a deep blue sigh, and I almost feel sorry for him.

Almost.

Two hallways down, and Twilight's scamper turns into a swift march. I shuffle behind her, gazing at the back of her head.

Sighing, she glances over her shoulder—then winces upon receiving my shaded glare. She tries to look ahead, to ignore the burning sensation in her upper spine. At last, she shuffles to a slow limp, muttering to the lockers so that her gray voice echoes back towards me:

"Okay, look. It's not what you think."

I arch an eyebrow.

"Ugh... fine. It is what you think, but not as bad."

I tilt my head to the side.

"When I first came here, I bumped into the guy... literally... more than once. And there's just something so... so sweet and warm about him." She gulps dryly. "When I was feeling very lost and out of sorts, just him offering a kind hand to help me back to my feet made a whole world of a difference. I started to gain my balance, and each time I saw him after that... I... I-I felt this joyous sensation come over me. And I could see it in him too... like a spark in his eyes. A different kind of spark and—"

I cough, reeling slightly from the magenta outburst. It's worth it to keep from gagging.

"Eugh!" She twirls to face me. "Vinyl, whatever you're thinking, just... get it out of your head!" She folds her arms with a frown. "It's not like that whatsoever. Honest! He might think it is, but it's not. After all..." She hugs herself tighter, turning to face the lockers with a nervous shudder. "...back in Equestria, I've got Flash. The Flash." She gulps. "The only Flash that matters. This one? Here in this world?" She shakes her head. "Impossible. Simply... can't happen. And I'd be fooling myself to think... to th-think that..."

I squint at her.

She sighs, her voice taking on a tan color, as if it's always hidden behind the gray dam of her royal pretense and wisdom. "Anyways, that's not what we're here for. The other Vinyl is in trouble, and I've got no time to waste on... useless things." She frowns. "Let's get to the audio visual club on the double!" And she tugs me by my hand. "Quick! It's this way!"

I stumble after her. With a quiet breath, I turn and look over my shoulder, gazing down the empty lengths of the school hallways... imagining them feeling even emptier.

Vehicular Things

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I stand outside the door to the "Audio / Visual" Room. Through the walls, I sense the gray streaks of Twilight Sparkle's voice. The bands grow thinner... sharper whenever she's panicking, and the Princess panics a lot, I've noticed. Whatever the... "Techies" (as she calls them) are telling her inside, it can't be very pleasant. I wonder if we're taking more steps backwards than we are forward.

Just relax.

Stay calm.

Breathe in and out through your... super weird, upright lungs.

I spend the first few minutes examining the fingers... the knuckles... the wrists of this body. All in all, they aren't so bad once you get used to them. Still, I would much rather have my horn and hooves any day.

My mind wanders, and in many crazy circles, too. Just how is it that I'm incapable of speaking here? I think Twilight said something about residual magic following "my essence" through the mirror. And my condition is because of screwed up leylines, so...

But is the other Vinyl... the human Vinyl mute too? Did something happen to her that keeps her from being able to speak? Just how similar are these two universe to one another? Could things have happened in a similar way?

Does she also... have a best friend?

My teeth clench, and I rub my head. Goddess, this melon is so big. Why would nature put something so heavy at the very top of something that stands upright?

Bodies wander by... students... faculty. Several of them smile at me, waving, saying my name. A few of them hold their fists out. I glance awkwardly at them, then repeat the same gesture—only to have them bump their knuckles to mine.

Okay...

I smirk.

That's kinda cool.

Guess this Vinyl had no problem letting the DJ-P0N3 out in the open. Although, in this place, she wouldn't be much of a P0N3, would she? What would it be? Something like H0M4N? P3RS0N? GR34T4P3?

Meh...

It's haunting how familiar a bunch of these faces are. Instead of trademark coat colors, there are flesh tones. And yet... it somehow works. I see Miss Cheerilee carrying a bunch of books with her fuchsia mane flouncing behind her pleasant expression. I spot Derpy wearing a backpack with... muffin patches on it? That can't be a coincidence.

"Bake sale!" A blue, blue voice. I'm shaken out of the moment and lulled into exhaling all the same. I look to my right, then tilt my head down.

A pale face smiles up at me. A tweenster in a red blouse and light-colored skirt hands me a flier. Her Glazed green eyes glisten as she speaks with Sweetie Belle's voice:

"Bake sale after school Friday! We'd all love it if you showed up, Vinyl!" She smirks, waving. "Bring the boom box!"

I nod, waving back. I turn the flier around in my hands, observing several familiar names being listed.

Is it just me, or is everyone here either... a lot younger than normal or a lot older than normal? This isn't just an alternate universe, it's an alternate timeline. Or maybe a timeline that's been crunched and turned inside out... I dunno...

And just how many times has Twilight been here? Or maybe she's not been here that often at all, but there's an alternate version of her that goes to this school? And... just why is it a school? Do towns in Equestria equate to schools in this place?

If so, then 'Trottingham Academy' must be where I'd find—

The door opens to my side.

I turn to see Twilight shuffle out, and she's more than a little bit frazzled.

"Okay..." She wheezes through a crooked smile. "It's not too crazy of a situation. I think we can still find the other you."

I reach into my jacket's pocket, pull out a pen, and write on the back of Sweetie Belle's flier. I hold my written inquiry out to Twilight.

"Well, to make a long story short..." She fiddles with her fingers, squirming anxiously. "The techies don't have the proper tools to triangulate on Vinyl, assuming she's crafty enough to broadcast anything—a signal or a message or anything. But they did say that you... er... the other you possesses some far better gadgetry on board Wub Wheels."

I don't know whether to belch or vomit or both. I produce a single word with my mouth.

"Wub Wheels. It's... It's..." Twilight fidgets. "Well, you'll see. But first we need to make a stop by your... her locker. If you can figure out the combination, then we can get what we need to open up Wub Wheels and get access to Vinyl's tech."

With a magenta sigh, I shrug, and gesture for her to lead the way.

"Can you walk on your own now?"

I nod.

"Oh! Good! This shouldn't take any time at all!"

And it doesn't. We make a zig-zagging path through the school, with Twilight leading. Before too long, we arrive at a series of metal containers. Twilight points at one particular door. I fiddle with the combination, and it takes me three tries before I can actually open the thing. So she likes to use my favorite number from five years ago. Interesting...

"I think I can find what I'm looking for," Twilight remarks, fishing her hands through the mess of random bags and belongings. "According to one the Techies, Whiz Kid, Vinyl likes to hang out with the Audio / Visual Club a lot. They're great friends, and he says that she likes to keep some spare keys in her locker."

I nod listlessly, my gaze falling on a series of albums leaning against one another at the bottom of the locker. While Twilight rummages through the container, I squat down and flip through the records, reading the artists and their names.

Kraftwerk... Daft Punk... Basement Jaxx... Skrillex... Crystal Castles... Royksopp...

I raise an eyebrow.

Why the Hell are they all spelled wrong in this dimension? And so weirdly too?

"Ah-HAH!" A gray explosion, laced with gold. I hear the platinum jingle of keys, along with a plastic switch. Twilight smiles victoriously at me. "This is it! Now we're cooking!"

I stand up, grab two pens from the locker, and sign in blank speech: "What now?"

Within two minutes, we're outside of the school, marching aimlessly through an asphalt sprawl of aluminum and glass... things. Twilight says it's called a "Parking Lot" and that these weird, enclosed metal wagons are "cars."

Sure. Why not.

"Okay... somewhere... around here..." Twilight licks her lip while she reaches the keys straight out. Her fingers repeatedly press a green button in the center of the black plastic card. "Darn it... you'd think I'd remember what it looks like! It was pretty much the deus ex machina that we used to defeat the Dazzlings. Besides Sunset, of course."

You know, if I was any other random pony grabbed from Equestria for this adventure, I'd think the Princess was crazier than an outhouse rat...

The air suddenly chirps with a dull red beep.

"Got it!" Twilight points towards a quartet of flashing lights.

I squint.

Resting between a pair of painted white lines is a sleek blue-and-white mechanism with four black wheels and a thick pale tarp for a roof. A rich purple prancing pony rests on the hood as an ornament, matching the harp-shaped rims of the wheels.

Twilight poses like a giddy supermodel in front of it. "Wub Wheels!"

I sigh, then shrug.

She rolls her eyes, then presses a flashy button on the keycard. "How about..."

Whurrrrrrrrr-Ch-CHTUNG! The vehicle expands, its panels separating mechanically and revealing an elaborate sound system with gigantic speakers and flashing LED lights.

"...now?" Twilight smirks slyly at me.

I blink.

Oh hey...

Wub Wheels...

A crooked smile.

Cool...

Computer Things

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With dull red thuds, the doors close on either side of us, locking Twilight and I inside this strange glossy capsule of glass and metal.

Yeesh, it's hot in here.

"So..." Twilight exhales through a thin smile. She sits in the plush seat to my left, blinking. "...any clue how any of this works?"

I squint at her through my shades. My shoulder bumps into something on the right. I look to see a clip of metal hanging from a canvas strap. I pull the thing, release, then watch as the strap zips back into place. Huh...

"I... do believe it's a restraint of some sort," the princess explains. "To protect us in the event of a sudden cessation of forward momentum." She bites her lip. "I... uh... was told that I had to use one while riding in the back of the 'miniature van' belonging to Pinkie's family."

I nod listlessly, gazing across an assortment of consoles and contraptions. In front of Twilight is a wheel, and to the right of it is some metal incision in the shape of the other Vinyl's key. I'm quick to point at it.

"Oh! Right! I almost forgot!" Twilight fumbles through her skirt's pocket and pulls out the item in question. She sticks the key into the slot. "Now... uhm... what did Mrs. Pie do...?" She pushed on the key... tugged... then twisted it to the right.

I'm almost blinded by the resulting waves of crimson flying at me from directly in front of us. I wince visibly, scrunching up in my seat. Eventually, the noise settles into a blood red purr, and my aching head adjusts to the vibrations.

"Hey! That wasn't so bad, right?" She smiles at me. "Who says these humans were complicated creatures?! Ahem..." She grips the wheel and leans forward, looking across the consoles. "So... from what Whizz Kid and the Techies described to me, Vinyl Scratch has an onboard computer built into this car. She basically... rolls the thing into her garage which doubles as a mixing studio and she makes her song tracks from there. Isn't that nifty?"

I give a limp nod. I'd admit it was cool if I understood a single thing.

"So... the question remains." Twilight's mouth twists. "How exactly do we turn it on?" She looks at me. "Because if there's a way this thing can detect any of Vinyl's broadcasted signals—"

I stare at her crookedly.

"Don't give me that look!" Twilight's voice cracks. "Think positively for a change!" She tilts her chin up. "The Vinyl of this world is no less a genius than you are. I'm still willing to bet that—the moment she got abducted by the Rainbooms' former nemeses—she immediately realized that help would be coming from Equestria to save her. She must have figured out I'd be arriving with her doppelganger to snoop out where the Dazzlings have hidden her! I mean... wouldn't you expect the same?"

I sigh.

Yes, I would...

...IF I had prior knowledge of the other world existing in the first place.

You could tell them about Equestria... but you couldn't tell Equestria about this place?

Or maybe I just haven't had the good grace to know until now...

"Anyways, enough chat. Let's figure out a way to turn on this computer dashboard thingy." Twilight rubs her chin. "Hmmm..." She reaches out with her poofy shoulders. "I know! I bet I just haven't turned it on all the way—"

She twists the key right again—

BRKKKK! An even redder explosion bathes my eyes.

"Whoops! Eheheh..." Twilight sweats nervously. "Th-that's not it!"

I wave and motion for her to quit it. Then, with a sullen sigh, I fumble about, dragging my freakish fingers across the console, feeling for a button, feeling for anything—

Beep! A golden chime. As soon as my hands brush across a glass panel, the entire thing lights up, emitting platinum bands. I'm startled to hear a voice...

A very purple voice.

"Fingerpint. Identified. Good. Afternoon. Miss. Scratch."

I do a double-take.

What.

"Is..." Twilight blinks. "...is that who I think it is?"

"Please. Select. Today's. Task. Travel? Creativity? Leisure?"

Oh Goddess... never before in my life have I loved the word "leisure" as I do now...

"Uhm... hello?" Twilight leans in towards the computer panel. "Is there something on this that detects broadcast signals?" Silence. She looks at me. "It doesn't appear to be voice operated."

I gulp.

Well, that basically says it all...

"I think it's waiting for a tactile response, Vinyl," the Princess says. She wriggles a thumb. "Your finger?"

I reach out, hovering my hand above "Travel"... then above "Creativity"... and then...

Hmmmm...

I find that my eyes are being drawn towards a blinking yellow icon. I narrow my gaze at it. I see an envelope illuminated before a red overlay. The number "32" lingers before it.

"Oh! Oh!" Twilight's gray voice chirps. "I-I recognize that! That's the same sort of thing humans have on their cell phones!"

Cell-what-now...?

"It's how they communicate! Text-based signals sent through invisible airstreams! All very technological and science-based." She coos. "Isn't it exciting over here?"

Whatever.

I slap my thumb over the thing.

The panel flickers to a series of text, separated by subject lines.

"You. Have. Thirty. Two. Messages." Purple and purpler.

"Uhm... scroll to the top," Twilight says. "Look for the latest one."

I look curiously at her and mouth the word "scroll?"

With a sigh, she gracefully takes my wrist and presses my own finger to the screen, dragging it down. I watch as the subject bars rotate in and out of existence, coming to a stop. Several of them appear to come from the same sender. I see the name "FirstChairDreamStringer," along with several bits of worried text: "where r u, love?", "been thinking of contacting police, but Rainbow Dash tells me to wait," "word is that Twilight's coming," "Vinyl r u there?"

My lips purse.

Wait...

These are...

"Hey!" Twilight gasps, pointing. "Look at that one!"

I see a string of numerical digits, separated by periods.

"It's... it's a radio frequency!" Twilight remarks. "I remember Sunset teaching me about them the last time I visited! Humans have technology that can broadcast messages at different radio waves and... and..." She gulps. "Quick! A scanner! See if there's something resembling a receiver of sorts on this!"

I tap my chin in thought. I don't see what she's talking about. However, on the computer screen, I do see the icon of what looks to be a metal antenna. I point at it.

"Yeah! Yeah! That!"

I tap it with my finger.

The screen full of messages goes away, and suddenly I see a brightly-lit interface with a numberpad and multiple digits to input.

"Now... put in the frequency number that we just saw in the message!"

I do as the Princess commands. My eyes dart left and right. I spot a green "button" icon, and I press it.

Suddenly, the speakers crackle to life. Most of it is nonsense... a garbled mess of white noise. I can even sense Twilight cringing beside me.

"Eeeeugh..." Twilight clenches her hands over her ears. "Okay... so maybe this was a bit of a long shot."

I hold a finger up, silencing her.

No...

My brow furrows.

I hear something...

A smirk crosses my face.

There's a melody in there somewhere. Somepony... someone is broadcasting something on this frequency... and it sounds ever so remotely like a song.

"You... you hear something, Vinyl?"

I nod.

"Oh! Praise Celestia for those wonderful, wonderful ears of yours!" She grins a crescent moon. "I knew you could do it!"

I shrug and wave my hand from side to side.

"It's... it's pretty faint, though, isn't it?"

I nod.

"Well... that's fine! That's okay!" She grips the wheel. "We just need to... uhm... get closer to it! Triangulate its source, as we planned!"

I bite my lip.

"Please select 'travel,' Vinyl."

I reach to the screen and select the option in question.

Purple: "Travel. Selected."

"Alright... humans have this thing called a global positioning system that allows them to retrace their steps... or in this case wheel-tracks."

I turn to grimace at her.

"Yes... I am serious." She clenches her jaw. "Now. Put on your restraints."

Shivering, I nervously do so.

"And don't be afraid. I've seen both the Mrs. Pie and the Big Macintosh of this world do this. I mean... it's just simple physics, right? Plus the application of fossil fuels? Pfft... what's there to worry about?" She smiles sideways at me. "These machines drive themselves, after all. It's not like we need wagon licenses like we do back at home."

I nod.

Guess she has a point there.

"Okay... here goes nothing!" She takes a stick and shoves it to the letter "R." "There! 'Rapid!' That makes us go fast, right?"

I shrug. Then my body jolts.

"Uhhhh..." Twilight looks behind her. "Why are we going backwards...?"

Signaled Things

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*SCREECH*

"Sorry!"

*SCREECH*

"Sorry!"

*SCREECH*

"S-sorry!"

*SCREECH*

"So sorry!"

"Heeeeeey!" *HONK HONK* "If you can't drive that thing, then get off the road!"

"I-I'm sorry!" Twilight whimpers, yanking left and right at the wheel as we brake-and-lurch-brake-and-lurch-brake-and-lurch across town. "I'm not usually this clumsy! I promise!"

"Well at least learn to indicate! Damn!"

"Indicate?" She bites her lip, looking at me. "Indicate?? Indicate what?? Th-that we're off on a quest to save the other Vinyl? But if we let anyone in on what we're doing, we might tip off the Dazzlings and—"

I motion viciously between the other metal monstrosities honking behind us and the "parking lot" looming just to our right.

"The light's green! Go!" *HONKKKK*

"Oh, is that what it means?" Twilight exhales, turning us into bumpily into the lot. "I-I thought it meant they were serving salad at the adjacent establishments—"

VRMMMMM! Traffic roars by us within seconds of our rolling over the curve.

"Hmmmphh..." Twilight frowns. "And I thought the ponies of Manehattan were rude." She looks over at me. "And why was that school bus driver yelling when we passed? I mean... the flashing red signs told me it was stopping. What else could he have wanted from us?"

I rub my head, wincing from all of the skull-splitting noises and fossil fuel fumes.

"I guess we'd better check on our progress. Just where are we? Some sort of snack store?" She squints out the driver's side window. "Wow, humans aren't very imaginative. Who names a store after two randon numbers? Anyways... uhm... now to make the car stay put." She yanks the stick. "There! 'N' for 'Neutralize!'"

We glide ever so slightly forward.

"I... I don't get it! Why haven't we stopped?"

I point a savage finger at the letter "P."

"Oh please, Vinyl..." Twilight rolls her eyes. "We're in no position to 'Prance' right now."

Gritting my teeth, I reach over and shove stick into the appropriate position.

We lurch to a final stop.

"Ohhhhh... I get it!" She grins. "'P' for 'Planted!' Heehee... humans are so silly..."

I sigh, then tap my finger across the computer screen.

"How's the signal?" Twilight leans forward. "Is it any clearer?"

I play the radio frequency's broadcast across the speakers. The sound system crackles with a more distinct harmony. It has many layers to it, like that of a mellow trance track... something that I might make in my spare time to fill an elevator for waiting ponies.

But beneath it is something else... a signature...

It's something that I've used several times in my own work... almost as a personal scavenger hunt to myself when I go back to sound edit.

It's one of the first melodies I ever heard... dating back to when I first got my cutie mark. It was an evening that I would never forget. There I was... standing atop my older sister's shoulders inside a high school hoofball stadium... and out of nowhere comes this killer stallion with a blue mane, riding a badflank float like a gallant knight... and instead of a lance he has a keytar... and he's just wailing his soul out with such crazy and wild passion that I felt my destiny unfurling before m—

"Shhhh!" Twilight rests a hand on my shoulder. "Listen! You hear that?"

Indeed, something has changed. Though it's hidden behind crackling layers of white noise, the melody suddenly stops. And a velvety voice takes over, a murderous mixture of vomit green and mud brown:

"No. No. No! That's the same damnable track as before! Stop refusing to make changes when I ask you to! Do you want to see your friends and fellow schoolmates ever again? Huh? Then create something that will help the Dazzlings and I unlock our hidden potential! I just know that we have some residual magic left! And we need your melody to retrieve! So quit stalling and get to work!"

After that, it's all static and hissing.

Then, with limping quality, the music repeats... slightly augmented now, but not without the hidden melody that only my ears can hear.

"No doubt about it," Twilight grumbles. "That was Adagio Dazzle." She looks at me with a frown. "Even without her gift of mind-bending song, she sounds as contemptuous as ever."

I pull out two pens and gesture.

"But... you're sure that's you performing?"

I nod at her.

"Well... the signal's clearer than it has been the last two times we checked." Twilight gulps. "We must be getting closer. A little further north?"

I smirk.

"Great!" She switches the gear back into drive. "Hold on, other Vinyl! Your friends are coming to get you!"

I grip the edges of my seat.

Aaaaaaand...

*SCREECH*

"Sorry!"

*SCREECH*

"S-sorry!"

*SCREECH*

"So sorry!"

Prepared Things

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"You... uhhhh..." Twilight's fingers dance along the curve of the wheel in front of her. "...you sure it's coming from in there?"

I gaze at her. I point out the window, then at the computer panel. The signal is coming in the clearest we've witnessed it.

"Mmmhmmmm..." Twilight exhales. Nervously, she sits up... stands up. She leans her head out the open window of the car and squints past the scant length of foliage overshading us.

Just a dozen meters away, there looms a run-down warehouse, right on the other side of a crooked chain-linked fence. There are sets of wires running from the main street towards it, and Twilight is quick to point it out.

"I guess that's how it's getting electricity," she says. "It's possible that they could have set up a makeshift sound recording studio in there. I mean... if the other you is nearly as resourceful as you you... then anything's possible, right?"

I rub my chin, gazing at the computer console.

I know we're right on the virge of rescuing the other Vinyl Scratch and all... but...

All I can think of right now is just how did they get Tavi's voice into this stupid contraption?

...and how can I do it at home?

"Vinyl?"

I jolt in my seat, staring aside at Twilight with a nervous grin.

"There's no turning back now," the Princess says. "If that's really where they're holding her... then it's likely a trap. Never mind us... this world's Vinyl stands to be put in a great deal of danger if we don't take the next step right."

I shrug. I twirl loose two pens and gesture in blank speech.

"Mmmmmfff... you're right. If we go charging in there, all is lost. But..." She strokes her chin in thought. I see the slow birth of a mischievous grin. "...if we take a page out of generosity's book... and appeal to their needy side..."

"... ... ...?" I raise an eyebrow.

"I mean, think about it, Vinyl! These are sirens that we're dealing with. Ever since the Battle of the Bands, they've been starving... empty. Without their music, they're nothing, and their only hope for getting ahead is through the use of the biggest musical prodigy this part of the human world has to offer!" She winks at me. "Imagine what they would do for gaining Equestria's finest?"

I can see the reflection of my grimace in her eyes.

"Don't be afraid, Vinyl," the Princess says. "I'm not about to risk your life today." She nevertheless smirks. "Not necessarily. You did the hard part—which was getting me to find your other you. Right now? It's time to show my other hand... since I have one in this place. Heehee! Get it?"

I'm already shaking my head.

She sighs. "Watch and learn what a special brand of magic can do. I'm going to need you to trust me. But... first thing's first..." She tapped her fingers on the console. "Help me bring up the messaging thingy again..."

I nod and assist her.

Whatever you say, Princess...

Revved Things

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I shuffle.

I fumble.

At last—with Twilight's help, hoisting me up from outside—I slither through the warehouse window. I swing my body around, planting my shoes down on the top of a stacked tower of wooden crates. Reaching out, I grab Twilight by her thin wrists and pull her inside as well.

Soon, the two of us are descending from the monolithic columns of crates. We land on the hard concrete floor and crouch low, shuffling towards a collection of rusty barrels.

The vast interior is dim—save for a lone bulb dangling above the door to an office room closed off from the rest of the complex. I hear a melody rumbling from deep within, and it matches that which we had caught over the radio frequency that led us here.

I know where the other me is, but there's still an obstacle... or two... or three...

"Say, Aria," squeaks an uncharacteristically chirpy voice. I see a flash of blue skin and even bluer hair shifting in the corner, followed by blinking red eyes. "Did you hear something just now? Like... from that end of the room?"

"Grnnngh..." A rust red voice (and twice as jagged) replies. "Stop freaking out over every little rat the scurries across this goddess-forsaken junk heap, Sonata."

"But... what if it wasn't a rat this time?" The figure shrugs, coming closer to the light. "I mean, I suppose if it was a rat and we just ignored it, then that'd be blatantly ironic, seeing how it's your and my job to keep an eye out for anyone trying to sneak in and free Vinyl Scratch—"

"If you want to go check it out, then fine!" From the other end of the room, some grumpy teen with pink skin sits lazily at a table. She shakes her head, swaying with sinfully long ponytails. "Just stop talking your mouth off, already! Your off-key voice is giving me a headache!"

"Plblblbllbb!" The other teen raspberries. "News alert, Aria! You're off-key now too!"

"Don't... start..."

"Heehee... ahem..." The cheery siren's footsteps grow louder.

Twilight and I exchange nodding expressions.

"Okay, Vinyl..." She pats my shoulder. "Go on. Just like we practiced." She takes a deep breath. "I'll take care of the other one."

I nod back. Then, after a deep breath, I stand up and walk calmly towards the light.

I arrive there right around the same time the siren does. Sonata Dust lets loose a tainted blue yelp, stumbling backwards in bright-eyed shock. "Whoah! How did you get out of your music booth-room-thingy?" She points at my wrists. "And the handcuffs! Are you some kind of wizard?"

I shrug, waving with a mute grin.

"What are you babbling on about now?!" The rust red voice echoes from the sidelines.

"It's Vinnie Skunk!"

"Vinyl Scratch...?"

"Yeah! She just... walked out of her prison'n'stuff."

"What?!"

"I'm looking at her right now!"

"Well... put her back in, Sonata!"

"Okie Dokie!" She walks forward and grabs my wrist. "Uhm... you don't have to quake'n'fear and all, yet. Save it for when Adagio Dazzle shows up. She likes it when people quake in fear before her."

I stupidly stumble after her. She leads us both to the door, then fumbles through her skirt's pocket for a set of keys.

"Okay... which one is... is... Here we go!" She sticks the key into the knob and turns. "Dunno how you got out of your room, Miss Slippery, but we need you to get back in there and finish your little..." The door opens. She blinks. "...masterpiece?"

A second Vinyl Scratch lifts her head up, cradling a pair of headphones to her ears. She gazes over a series of computers and turntables, blinking from behind a thick pair of shades.

"Uhhhhhhhhh..." Sonata Dusk squirms. "Weird." She looks at me. "Are you a time traveler too? Cuz if so, screw the music! Adagio could totally use your..."

Gritting my teeth, I kick her roughly in the stomach.

She lands hard against the floor. "Fappo!"

Meanwhile, I've grabbed her keys as she fell. Rummaging through them, I dash into the room and squat right down next to... uhm... me. I fumble through the keys to find the one that can unlock her handcuffs.

A pale finger grabs my attention. I watch as the other Vinyl gestures a "key" with two fingers, then draws a "triangle" in the air.

I nod back, reading my... her mind. I flip through the keys until I spot one with a triangle symbol on it.

She does a thumb's up in my peripheral vision as I stick the key into her handcuffs and unlock them. In a blink, she's standing on her feet, disentangling herself from the sound equipment. I give her a shoulder to lean on, and together we hobble out of the room.

"Aria! Aria, quick!" Sonata flails on the ground like an overturned turtle in a miniskirt. "Vinyl's getting away with... Vinyl...!"

"Rrrghhh! A little... mrmmff... busy here..."

I and the other Vinyl look towards the source of the grunting sounds.

Twilight Sparkle has tackled the other siren-person... person-siren? Together, they wrestle on the floor with Twilight on top.

"I've got her, Vinyl... and Vinyl!" Twilight exclaims. "Just give me a second to... to... quit horsing around, you!"

"You're one to talk!" Aria Blaze growls. "You came a long way to get your head knocked off, Princess!" She reaches beneath the table and grabs a rusted wrench. "Hope you read up on concussions because I'm about to—"

I hear a magenta whistle to my right. I look at Vinyl, and she's already throwing her weight around me. I gasp as the two of us spin from her initiative. Right as I lose my balance, Vinyl swings her body off of me and launches herself across the room. She slides across the warehouse concrete with her right leg outstretched. This is precisely the limb that goes slamming hard into Aria Blaze's ribcage with the force of a jackhammer.

"Ooooomffff..." Aria exhales the full content of her lungs. She curls up, rolling out from beneath Twilight's position. "Grkkk... nofairyouhadadeejay..."

"Whew!" Twilight hops up to her feet, helping the other Vinyl up. "Way to go, Vinyl! Er..." She squints suddenly. "Are you... my Vinyl or my other Vinyl?"

I clap my hands together with red bursts and point towards the front door.

"Right! Let's go!" The three of us make a mad dash for the exit. "Then we'll contact the police and have them clean up this—"

"Clean up what?" A body in a purple dress with a flouncing mountain of orange hair drops down, blocking our path. I watch as two intoxicating red eyes pierce us from afar, stopping us in our place. Her voice is like bloodied mud, dripping off velvet fabric. "Your entrails once I've finished with the two-and-a-half of you?"

Twilight skids to a stop, and so does Vinyl and... I. "Ah jeez. I knew you'd show up sooner than later."

"And I can say the same, Twilight Sparkle. Or is that Princess Twilight Sparkle?" Adagio Dazzle shuffles menacingly towards us, grinning with the severity of a switch-blade. "Having Vinyl as an ace up my sleeve is one thing. I never actually thought that she would find a song that would magically fix our tone-deaf voices... voices that were ruined thanks to you!"

She scuffles to a stop, as do two other bodies. We're surrounded by the siren sisters, including a very aching... very angry Aria Blaze. The three of them close in with icy precision.

"But now that I have an actual Equestrian Princess in my possession, the game has changed." Adagio Blaze's teeth glint in the dim electric light. "It's the one bargaining chip I need to get us back into our homeland. For the first time in ages, the seas will be ours to dominate once again. And soon the land of the sun-and-moon loving ponies..."

"If you think anypony from my side will ever consider letting you back in—" Twilight growls.

"Uhhhh... Adagio's delivering the monologue!" Sonata sing-songs. "Not you!"

"That's right." Adagio shakes her head. "This situation is no longer in your court, princess. You're here alone... without magic... without might. What hope do you stand against the likes of three battle-hardened sirens?"

Twilight and I exchange glances. She smiles at Adagio. "I've got a lot of hope, actually!"

"Pffft—mwahahahahaha!" Even her laughter is a villainous corpse-brown. "Did you honestly think that two horse girls and a weak prisoner could take on the ancient trio that imprisoned over half of Equestria?!"

Twilight winks. "Nope!" She lifts her head up and shouts in a large gray burst. "NOW!"

Vrmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm—!

"Huh?" Adagio turns around—

POWWW! The small door to the warehouse blows off its hinges, followed by petite figure riding a blue-painted motorbike.

—"OOMF!" Adagio's body flies back from the loosely thrown door.

"Wooohoooooo!" Human Rainbow Dash's voice fills the room with a black cloud. She spins it around like a mahogany cyclone. I spot a dumb grin beneath the visor as she streaks by, leaning over in time to knock Sonata off her feet. "Take that, ya siren sissy sucker!"

"Aaaackies!" Sonata rolls across the concrete, cowering.

The Vinyl leaning against Twilight grins as the motorcycle spins around us, screeching to a stop.

Rainbow revs the engine, leaning forward with a hiss. "That all you brought, Adagio?" Rainbow snarls. "Or you want some more?"

"Idiots!" Adagio sputters as Aria lifts her up. The two stand facing us, fists raised. "Even with your sports-nut on a bike, you're still no match for—"

VRMMMMMMMM! A second motorcycle roars in through the entrance Rainbow made, knocking both Adagio and Aria to the ground.

"Gaaaugh!"

"Ooomf!"

The bike zooms in a vicious circle, streaking red and yellow and orange. "I've got them, Rainbow Dash! Go in for the finish!"

"Roger that, Sunset!" Rainbow revs the engine one more time. "And a one and a two and a—"

"Go! Go, Dashie!" I jump at the golden voice, then glance towards the doorway to see a bipedal Pinkie Pie peering in, along with a Fluttershy and a Rarity and an Applejack. "Teach them a lesson with Rated TV-PG violence!"

"Woohoooo!" With a black explosion, Rainbow rolls forward.

Sunset Shimmer veers out of the way, exposing the two sisters like bowling pins. "Aaaaaaaaaa—"

Twilight, Vinyl and I wince. When we look back, the two would-be-sirens are littered across the floor, groaning into unconsciousness.

Across the way, Sonata blinks. "Uhhhhm..." She smiles sheepisly up at us. "Well played! Uhm... Jee-Jee!" And shes raises her own fist and punches herself. "Ooomf! Guhhhh..." Thump.

"Yeeeeha!"

"Smashing, darling!"

"Woohoo!"

"Yaaaaay..."

Sunset and Rainbow skid their bikes to a stop alongside each other. The girls strip their helmets off, smile, and exchange a slap of their palms.

"Yeah! Awesome!" Rainbow pumps a fist. "Best DJ rescue ever!"

Sunset smirks over in our direction. "Good call, Twilight. Getting us to help out was the best possible decision."

I look over at the Princess.

She smiles back at me. "Goes to show that this place has taught me a valuable lesson after all these visits." She twirls with a strand of violet hair. "The only thing more magical than friendship... is friendship on motorcycles... eheheheh..."

Different Things

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"Awwwwwwwwwww..." Pinkie Pie... or at least a two legged bipedal version of her pouts. "But you just got here! And you brought a friendsy toosy!"

"I know... I know," Twilight says with a gray sigh. "But I have many... uh... important princess things to do on the other side. My entire visit here was... well... 'impromptu' to say the least."

The two of us stand along with her friends... her other friends upon the fringes of the abandoned warehouse. A bunch of police vehicles have gathered, flickering with hypnotic red and blue lights. From a distance we watch as Adagio and her two sisters are handcuffed and packed away into the back of a van.

"Well, impromptu or not, you surely came here in the knick of time!" Applejack pumps her arms, smirking my way. "And great thinkin', Twilight, in gettin' yer Vinyl Scratch in on this."

"Yes, well..." Twilight turns to smirk in my direction. "The Vinyl from my home has some... uhhh... gifts that the Vinyl from Canterlot High sorta lacks. Eheheh..."

"Is that a fact?" Rainbow takes her motorcycle helmet off and shuffles towards me. "It's hard to imagine there being an even cooler Vinyl Scratch in any universe, much less Twilight's."

I shrug. Then, with a pair of pens, I gesture multiple words in quick sequence.

The teenage girls stare in a blank stupor.

"Uhm..." Fluttershy hugs her far arm. "Wh-what is she doing exactly?"

I let loose a magenta sigh—

"It's blank speech," a womany voice explains. "She pretty much just said 'To each their own. Your Vinyl probably has talents that I don't.'"

Both Twilight and I turn to look.

Sunset Shimmer glances back at us. "What?" She shrugs with her motorcycle helmet. "Did... did I lose a few things in translation?"

"Not at all!" Twilight remarks. "You know blank speech?"

"Erm... yeah." Sunset shrugs again. "I studied while I was Princess Celestia's pupil. Didn't you know it?"

"Erm... eheheh..." Twilight blushes.

A pale figure walks up to us. I turn in time to see the other Vinyl Scratch smiling at me. Suddenly, with swift motions, she gestures several dozen things with her hands and fingers. Her lips move in the process, smiling between every "phrase."

"And our Vinyl says that 'It was very nice of you to come save me... AND my vehicle,'" Rarity spontaneously translates. "The so-called Wub Wheels, I presume." She smiles at our gawking expressions. "What? I have to take two language courses to earn my scholarship and Latin is soooooo last millennium."

"This world never ceases to surprise me," Twilight says. "The immensity... the complexity to it."

"You could always come stay for a while, Twilight," Sunset says. "Y'know... when there isn't any horrible threat to harmony or friendship."

"Though I'm all for you fetching us to kick some major tail on motorcycles!" Rainbow Dash rasps, and she proceeds to perform several punches and high-kicks through the black cloud of her voice. "Hyaaa! Wa-taaa! Hoooooo..."

"It really would be nice for you to just stay and chat with us," Fluttershy says with a smile. "That way we can catch up."

"We can even find out about pony Vinyl Scratch!" Rarity exclaims, suppressing a giggle. "I bet she's got the softest, cuddliest white fur where she's from!"

Hey now...

"Yeah!" Pinkie Pie scuffles up, grinning a crescent moon. "And if you stay just long enough, Twilight, maybe you and Flash can finally hook u—"

"Ah jeez! Look at that!" Twilight chuckles nervously, pointing at the horizon. "Sun's going down! I think it's time to go!"

"Huh..." Pinkie rubs her chin. "Funny. Last time I suggested that, you had to gallop away immediately too—"

"Life of a princess!" Twilight says, dragging me away from the parking lot. "Busy busy busy! Heheh! Isn't that right, Vinyl?"

I squint at her.

Seriously... what's the hurry?

Are these your friends or aren't they?

"I'll hold the fort here, Twilight," Sunset says, waving a hand. "You don't have to worry about the Dazzlings, either. I'll make sure they harm nobody anymore."

"That's really nice to know, Sunset," Twilight replies. "And you always know how to reach me."

"Heh. You're right. I do—"

Suddenly...

A ringing sound...

A bicycle bell?

Someone's pedaling up towards the warehouse, breaching the police line before any of the officers can catch her. I'm worried... until I notice that nobody is making a move to stop her.

And then...

She speaks.

"Let me through! Please! You shan't keep me away no longer!"

That... that purple. Dipping into rich indigo... so deep and desperate.

She skims by us, her mane billowing charcoal and pristine. Her blouse is as violet as the most beautiful laughter in the world. A cop or two rushes towards her, but I spot Rainbow and Sunset waving assuring hands, smiling as they let the teenager by.

"Vinyl?! Vine?!" She hops off the bike and huffs/puffs the rest of the way. "Are you okay, love?! Please tell me they got you out of that wretched place, safe and sound!"

"Uhhhhhh..." Twilight's sweating bullets now. "Okay, Vinyl. Time to go." She tugs and she tugs on me.

Wait...

I sandbag her, standing in place. Watching with lips pursed.

What's going on here—?

Twilight pulls on me harder. "No. Really. There's nothing here that pertains to you in this world—"

I don't listen to her. I look.

And I see...

...Octavia running up to Vinyl. And—without hesitation—she leaps into Vinyl's arms. The other me cradles the other her, and the two spin with happy sobs. Once the twirling is finished, they stare at one another... and their lips connect.

I blink.

They kiss for the full extent of twenty seconds. In the distance, Fluttershy and Rarity are cooing, which only makes this scene all that much more damnably rosy. The air fills with indigo weeping, framed in magenta sighs. When the gesture is over with, Octavia buries her head in Vinyl's neck, and Vinyl holds her close, stroking her hair and caressing the cellist's face.

"I was so worried, love... so dreadfully worried. Please... oh goddess, please... let us never lose sight of each other again..."

Vinyl takes her shades off. I see moist red eyes. She leans down, christening her lover's forehead with tears between each savoring kiss. There are smiles in between them... and warmth... and goosebumps.

I'm trembling at this point. A sour lump forms in my throat, bottling up the mother of all confused expressions. The numbness spreads through me... so that I'm helpless to Twilight's tugging limbs as she finally... finally pulls me out of eyeshot of the two girlfriends...

...and back to the rippling mirror between worlds.

Lovely Things

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It takes me five minutes to get used to... walking on all fours again.

Then another five minutes to get a read on Princess Twilight Sparkle.

Since emerging through the portal, she's been pacing wildly back and forth before the mirror. Her eyes are distant, her ears folded back under a cloud of anxiety.

At last, after gulping a lump down her throat, she turns towards me.

I blink behind my shades.

She shuffles closer, plops down on her haunches, and speaks to me in a quiet tone. "You have to understand, Vinyl. What you saw over there... what happened between the... the other Vinyl and the other Octavia. Well..." She grimaces slightly, then recomposes herself. "It's a completely different universe. It's not a mirror. I mean... we took a mirror to get there, but that doesn't mean that every single thing that happens in that universe is an exactly duplicate of what happens here... or even wh-what's possible here! After all, that dimension is just as old as ours, if not older, and even Starswirl made visits to it and... and..."

I gaze at her, shivering slightly. It's getting harder and harder to contain my own breaths.

She sees it... and she sighs. "Are you familiar with the butterfly effect? Even the smallest variations in causality—Vinyl—expand exponentially to create dramatically different results. Who knows what actually happened to that Vinyl in the past to have affected her life in such a way to... to..."

I raise an eyebrow.

She bites her lip, then hangs her head. "... ... ...I'm... I'm sorry that I had to throw you into a place that was so strange and overwhelming, Vinyl. It's just that... I-I'm so powerless in that universe, and I didn't know of a better... or a faster way of saving the other you. And as soon as I hypothesized that your abilities would function on the other side of the mirror, I knew you would be perfect for saving your doppelganger. And you were, Vinyl! You saved her... you saved the day!" She smiles... but then that smile dissipates. "But you have to understand that what happens on that side must stay on that side. It would be presumptuous to assume that anything in this realm could be recreate—"

Using telekinesis for the first time since returning, I lift two pens out of my saddlebag and immediately twirl them in the air: "Then. Why. Do. You. Recreate. Him?"

Twilight blinks. Her lips move, as if to retort, but the Princess has nothing. She slumps down on folded knees, shuddering a bit. Her vacant eyes stare into the crystalline floor of the palace's basement.

"You... you h-have to understand," she murmurs, her voice tiny... vulnerable... like a foal's. "The first time I arrived on that side. I was so lost. So confused. Everything was riding on me and my ability to retrieve the crown. And—out of nowhere—he showed up to help me. His fingers gently clapsed mine, and... and it felt like everything made sense. It was something special... something different than friendship. Not better—but magical in its own right." She gulps. "And... and it g-gave me strength, Vinyl. It gave me confidence in myself. And... and even now, as I think about it, I-I just feel an abundance of warmth and... and meaning." She looks up at me. "And when I met this world's Flash, we just... we just connected, you know? Everything about us and who we are and what we do just... just feels so—"

My pens twirl: "But. It. Did. Not. Start. With. Him."

Twilight gapes. She bites her lip, glancing aside.

I stare at her in quiet sympathy.

She sniffles, rubbing a hoof across her eyelids. "I... I-I've faced Nightmare Moon. And monsters." She gulps. "A changeling queen and a centaur bent on world domination. And even still... after all of those crises... nothing frightens me... nothing makes me feel more anxious than when I'm in the presence of him on that side." She stifles a whimper. "I no longer feel the magic... or the charm. Just this... deep... bone-chilling sense of unease. And the worst part is, Vinyl, is that I know..." She closes her eyes. "I know that it's all my fault... for setting it all up for a collapse. But the worst of it is..." She gazes over at me again, eyes moist. "...just who will it collapse on?"

I exhale with a magenta sigh and gesture: "You. Should. Tell. Him."

She bites her lip. Eventually, she nods. Her next breath is a wilting one: "And I suppose you sh-should tell her... too, Vinyl."

I feel my blood freezing over.

Twilight stands up, shivering slightly. "I... uhm..." A gulp. "Anything, Vinyl. Just... just anything. And it will be yours. As best as I can make it happen. But even more importantly than that..." She shuffles over, and I gasp to find myself on the receiving end of a hug. "You have my deepest... deepest gratitude. And I-I hope you still respect me enough to be a friend."

I grimace slightly at that, then usher it away with a genuine smile. I hug her back, easing her shivers slightly. Sometime, several meandering thoughts later, I look past her shoulder at the mirror from which we came.

The ripples in the portal make it impossible to see myself with any clarity. Perhaps... just maybe... that's the way it's always been.

Precarious Things

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The reality of the moment haunts me.

This village...

This burningly bright sky...

Even as I shuffle towards the otherwise familiar sight of my apartment's front entrance, I feel my insides shifting, quivering. Every time I blink or close my eyes, I feel like I'm seated on a boat rocking in the middle of a tempestuous sea. I know that this is my home and that I belong here, but the sheer intensity of the events that I've been through make me feel as if I'm shaking loose the fresh tatters of a queer dream.

I just finished being a walking mutated biped version of myself over the course of several hours. There were ponies... people there that I recognized, and yet they were as mysterious to me as the dark side of the moon. Twilight Sparkle was there. But, for an anchor, she was a very fragile.. anxious one. Her distress was my distress, and now we're both lost in the wake of something far more confusing than triumphant.

And at the tail end of it all... something glorious... a beautiful display and a venomous show all at once.

Right now, as I reach for the doorknob with fingers that aren't there, I hear her melodiously happy voice... her tearful strings of violet and indigo as she clings to Vinyl... her Vinyl.

Her Vinyl...

Goddess help me. I've never wanted to crawl into a dark hole so badly in my life.

I open the front door. I instantly love and regret it.

Cello strings bleed off into phantom echoes, and her violet voice fills the void—along with her violet eyes. She's the absolute best and worst that she can be right now: happy.

"Oh! Vine! There you are!" She grins. Scribbler cuddles up on the cushions next to where she stands, and the orange backdrop only highlights the twinkle in her violet eyes all the more. "Just where have you been off to all morning?"

I gesture something... anything... and nothing. I hope she overlooks it and simply rides the crest of her joy elsewhere.

To my relief, she does just that. "You'll never guessed what I found out! Seems as though the Royal Castle of Friendship here in Ponyville is going to be hosting a brand new event! They call it the 'Friendship Gala.' Rarity let the information slip while I was visiting her, trying on some new dresses. Heehee... I swear, that mare is always reduced to putty whenever I'm in the same room as her."

I nod. I shuffle. I limp towards my bedroom.

"Still, they're trying to keep it super secret until they hear back from Princess Celestia. I mean, it's not like they're wanting to step on any of Canterlot's fetlocks, but Rarity did say they're establishing it in order to stave off some of the hype and over-abundance of attendees at the Grand Galloping Gala. Personally, I'm quite ecstatic! We'll get to perform for dignitaries from all across Equestria soon enough, Vine! Isn't that absolutely spectacular, love?"

I wince. I turn, giving her my best smile.

And that's when I see her. That tranquil smile. That ever-flowing drift to her mane. Her voice is on fire, like her smile. I couldn't imagine an even better encapsulation of an angel... an angel that once saved me.

That beauty hurts. And I can't show her that it hurts. It'll ruin everything.

"You look exhausted, Vine. Is everything okay?"

I nod—a very difficult thing to do with the weight of the lump in my throat. Saluting, I smile, and shuffle off towards my bedroom.

"Well, do get some rest. Me? I have lots of practice to do, but I promise to take it outside. Heehee... the whole town deserves to hear this! That first chair in the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra is mine already! I can just feel it!"

I wish I could feel it for her too.

All I can feel right now is...

The door shuts behind me. I slump into the bed, surrounded by tan shadows.

I curl up into a little white ball beneath the covers. I don't remove my shades. There's a reason for that.

The sobs come quickly, dizzying me with magenta layers of nausea.

I cling to the mattress like a castaway lost to the waves.

I'm not sure when the storm ends. Maybe it never ends. But I'm thrown into exhausting unconsciousness all the same.

With one final thought... painted violet... lingering constantly on a precipice...

Finished Things

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"Wow, Vinyl. That's... that's really nice."

"... ... ...?" I look down from where I stand at my DJ booth inside Twilight's Castle Ballroom. I'm maybe two hours into working on a new mix. Although the speakers are booming, the volume's still at a very moderate level. The crystalline walls of the chamber are enough to provide reverberating acoustics.

It happens to be Fluttershy who's standing beneath me. Her ears twitch to the beat, and she smiles up at my booth. "I think it's sounding very serene... and yet not overtly joyful. Almost like something you'd listen to while it's raining outside. Just... soft and... nice."

I arch an eyebrow.

"What she means to say is that it's very mellow," Rainbow Dash says, gliding in with Rarity trotting not too far behind. "Perfect for her, of course."

"Uhm..." Fluttershy droops slightly. "Is... is that a bad thing?"

"Pfft. Not at all!" Rainbow sticks her tongue out. "If you're into computerized blues!" She gives me a cockeyed glance. "Why the sudden shift in style, Vinyl?"

I shrug, blinking behind my shades.

"We don't need sad-sounding trance! We need... like... uppity... bouncy stuff! Y'know... really rock it out!" She smirks. "We're gonna have a Gala here, after all! And—I swear—it ain't gonna be like any of that stuffy orchestral stuff that they force us to listen to at Canterlot's party!"

"Don't forget, Rainbow," Rarity speaks. "Octavia Melody is the other half of our hired muses, and she does her things far more traditionally than Vinyl." She trots past the booth, carrying a saddlebag full of paper and pens. "We'll undoubtedly have to make some concessions, especially since we'll be inviting dignitaries from all across Equestria and they'll be used to the norm. Musically, that is."

"Euuughh..." Rainbow Dash slumps off her flapping wings. "Fiiiine..." She nevertheless squints at me. "But still, you should be working on more awesome stuff, ya feel me? At least mix it up some!"

I nod.

"I, for one, welcome a change in style," Rarity says with a smile. "Allow Ms. Scratch to experiment. An artist should be... artistic, after all. Yes?"

"Mrmmff... sure thing. I just don't want DJ-P0N3's music turning into DJ-P4TH3T1C."

"Uhm..." Fluttershy lingers beneath my booth. She leans up on flapping wings. "If you finish this... this... whatever you're working on... you'll let me hear a sample, yes?" She fidgets. "I-I mean... if that's not too much to ask for and you don't mind sharing..."

I exhale, then nod with a calm smile.

"Oh! Oh good..." She giggles slightly, her cheeks rosy. "I've been needing new tunes for cleaning the animal cages to."

"Come quickly, Fluttershy!" Rarity remarks, her voice like a rattling jar of pearls. "We have much to discuss if we're to organize the Friendship Gala without a hitch!"

"Oh... uhm... c-coming, Rarity!" Fluttershy scurries over.

I hear Rainbow's raspy black voice from the hallway past the nearest door. "So, we're gonna start throwing all of our ideas into the pot and see which one sets off a spark first?"

"That's one way of putting it, darling," Rarity replies. "Just as soon as Applejack and Pinkie Pie arrive."

"So... uh... why isn't Twilight joining us? Organizing and planning is—like—totally her bag."

"I'm afraid Twilight is indisposed at the moment, dear."

"Oh no..." Fluttershy coos. "Is she okay? She's not feeling sick, is she?"

"Oh, I highly doubt that. A princess is a busy thing to be, after all. She's most likely off on a special meeting with Princess Celestia or Luna. We'll be sure to compile her notes so we can share them with her when she returns."

"Say... you think Twilight would mind if we raided the royal pantry?" Rainbow's voice cracks. "I'm starving for some hay fries or something."

"I'm sure Pinkie will bring something. She's always resourceful in that matter."

"Oh! That reminds me! Rarity, we need to discuss how we should go about catering for the Friendship Gala. This is supposed to be considerably less formal than Canterlot affairs. Perhaps we should hire in someone to assist Pinkie Pie in the planning?"

Fluttershy's and the others' voices grow more and more distant, and here I am alone with my looping music tracks, attempting to form a mix out of inert noise. At first, I was just fiddling around with various samples. But now that I've drawn Fluttershy's attention, I feel pressured to come up with something thematically decent, based on the material I already have.

Usually, this isn't such a big deal. I adore chances to challenge myself and show off.

But right now? And especially today?

I just... don't feel quite like a royal minstrel. When is this Friendship Gala thing? I hope it isn't in a week or two.

With a sigh, I rotate the track back to the beginning, press some headphones to my ears, and throw myself skull-deep into the rhythm.

Just keep creating.

You don't have to focus on breathing or living.

Just... create.

It'll all work itself out into a final product.

At least some things in this world get finished...

Transparent Things

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“I've got just one question,” Bon Bon says. She sips from her glass and places it down on the restaurant's table. “Exactly who is invited to this 'Friendship Gala?'”

Octavia answers, and the air is saturated with sweet, sweet purple. “Well—I suppose—everypony, conceivably.”

Everypony?” Bon Bon blinks in the afternoon light.

“You mean even ponies like Bon-Squared and I can cut a rug at this gig?” Lyra's voice cracks.

“Erm... eheh...” Octavia brushes her mahogany strands back. “I can't promise that there'll be much... erm... rug cutting.”

Bon Bon rolls her eyes and nudges Lyra. “It's a figure of speech, Tavi.”

“Mmm. Of course.” Tavi holds her hooves delicately together. “In truth, I don't think Princess Twilight precisely knows what the rules of the Friendship Gala will entail.”

“For real?”

“It's supposed to be far less formal than Canterlot's Grand Galloping Gala. That's as much as we've been told. I... erm... h-haven't had much of an opportunity to question Her Majesty about it. Princess Twilight has been... indisposed these past few days.”

“No doubt preparing all of the paperwork for the invitations.” Bon Bon stifles a giggle. “I bet she's having the time of her life with that.”

“Hmmm... quite so.” Octavia smiles. “Still, I'm rather excited for the prospect. And the other members of the Council of Friendship have stated that invitations are going out to all ponies—dignitaries or not. So... who knows?” She shrugs. “Perhaps you and Lyra could be there in the ballroom, listening to us perform!”

“So you are going to be minstrel-ing it up, huh?” Lyra beams.

“You bet your bloody horseshoes we will!” Octavia swirls a glass and takes a sip, smiling. “If you... forgive the crude affirmation.”

“Heheheh...”

“Hee hee hee...”

“Wow... our very own Gala,” Bon Bon muses. “It's strange to think that—just a few years ago—this place was nothing more than a mere sneeze on the map. But now? We're having our own prestigious event!”

“Even if it's trying to set itself as anti-prestige,” Lyra says with a smirk. “I like it. It's new... fresh... and bold. Too bad—ten to twenty years from now—it'll likely evolve into some sort of elitist garbage that popular culture will adore and sane ponies will hate.”

“Eugh... Lyra...” Bon Bon rolls her eyes with a smirk. “Must you?”

“Come on, Bon Bon! You know the way of all things!”

“No.” Bon Bon winks, leaning in to nuzzle the mare. “I just know the way of all adorable pessimists.”

“Ughhh... sap-mancer!”

“Mmmmm... heehee... you look like a sunburnt lime whenever you blush.”

“I am not blushing!”

“Heeheehee!”

Around this time, I've begun to tremble. A nauseous wave bubbles up from my core, and the proximity of Octavia's giggles isn't helping any.

I swallow a half-glass of Dr. Pony, then levitate a pen. Scribbling on a napkin, I hold the thing up before the other three mares.

Bon Bon blinks. “You've got to go?”

“Awwwwww...” Lyra pouts. “But we all just got here!”

“What's the matter, Vine?” Octavia looks up. “Are you not feeling alright, love?”

That word... that damned word.

I try to smile. It comes out as a grimace. As I shuffle out of my chair, I inadvertently knock the table with my leg, causing the silverware to rattle with such volume that it attracts the nearest patrons' blinking attention. I bow apologetically, drop a few bits on Octavia's side of the table, and wave.

“Hmmm... well...” Octavia nods slowly. “If you really must...”

I can scarcely look at her. The knot in my stomach intensifies, reaching a magenta breaking point upon each echo of her violet voice.

That doesn't stop her. “Perhaps you would be so kind as to grab some treats for Scribbler on the way home?” A soft, velvety smile. Even through the back of my skull, I can feel it burning into me. I tremble all over. “We're running out, and I don't want the little furball to think we've grown less fond of her.”

I wave... then wave again.

At last, I'm trotting off... a brisk retreat.

It isn't brisk enough. I'm barely out the door when I can hear Lyra's voice squeaking from a distance: “I wonder what's been gnawing at her—”

I cross the streets of Ponyville, almost galloping. I'm sweaty and breathless. I can barely stand upright. The violet is so heavy. It tugs at my bones and boils at the meat in between.

I can't chase it away. Not with music. Not with sighs. Not even with anger.

I need a change of scenery. Maybe Beau can save me. Beau always saves me. But I haven't got a tour to do in ages. What excuse can I use?

I'm running out of holes to leap through, and everything leaks out, submerging me in a voice I used to love to love, but now it suffocates me.

I can't handle it. I simply can't.

Octavia. It was always nothing. So why can't I accept that? Would you even be able to help me?

No, I mustn't put this on her...

I mustn't put this on anyone...

I'm a stumbling mess. Anypony can see it. I seethe at the thought of what they must be thinking... saying...

A million voices—brown and gold and pink and blue—and I can't for the life of me interpret them anymore.

If there's anything I hate more in life, it's being transparent. I shouldn't be outside like this. I'm falling apart with each second of exposure.

And yet...

I shuffle my way to the store, my mind set on cat treats.

After all... it's the friendly thing to do.

Breaking Things

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I'm two whole blocks from home when I hear it...

...and my entire world freezes over.

I stop in my tracks, hooves digging into the dirt road beneath the afternoon sun.

I hold my breath, cutting off the magenta streams so that I can concentrate... focus. I hope against hope that I'm imagining the colors rippling across my eyes.

I'm wrong. For there they are. They rip right through me... setting me on fire.

Such blue... vibrant, sparkling bands of blue.

I tilt my head to the left... and then to the right.

I can no longer doubt it. The sound is—in fact—coming from our apartment. Even from this distance, I squint and see a sapphire blue aura emanating from beyond the window panes.

Gnashing my teeth, I bolt forward. The bag of store-bought cat treats falls from my flank and spills out onto the middle of the road. I completely ignore it.

Galloping, I rush to the front door. It's slightly ajar.

I burst it open, and my ears implode from the full weight of a melancholic ballad.

I jerk to the right—staring straight at my half of the foyer.

Three little fillies are seated around my record player. One of them perks up at the sight of me.

"Oh! Hey! She's here!" Sweetie Belle's voice chirps just a few blue octaves below the voice coming out of the speakers. "Oh... uh... you look surprised to see me. Eheh... Miss Melody gave me some spare house keys so I could continue cleaning for a few extra bits. But then I found this record while I was dusting things off today and—"

"Will ya just listen to that?!" Apple Bloom beams. "You sound just like an angel, Miss Scratch!"

"Heehee! Yeah!" Scootaloo smirks. "Or should we say 'Cyan Sings?'"

I'm blinded by a magenta cloud of my own hyperventilating. My shaded gaze sweeps the room, and I see the glittery vinyl cover leaning against the record player between them.

"I-I hope you don't mind." Sweetie Belle grins from beyond the kaleidoscopic implosion. "As soon as I heard your super gorgeous singing voice, I just had to let the others hear!"

"It's super awesome!" Scootaloo exclaims. "I bet you'd give Fluttershy a run for the money!"

"How come yer always hidin' behind a turntable when you can let loose like this?"

"Heehee... Apple Bloom." Sweetie Belle waves a hoof. "Don't you know anything? Miss Scratch is—"

I cross the distance between myself and the damnable sound. With a wave of my hoof, I knock the needle off, spilling a discordant crimson screech through the speakers.

Scootaloo winces. "Owwww..." She rubs her ears.

"Huh?" Sweetie Belle blinks, standing up straight. "Miss Scratch! What gives?"

"It was just gettin' to the sweet part again!" Apple Bloom stammers.

I lean in a slump, hunched over against the record player, seething. My teeth clench, visible, glistening like dagger tips.

"Uhhhh..." Sweetie Belle leans her head to the side. "Miss Scratch? Is something wrong?"

"Wuh oh..." Apple Bloom gulps. "I think you dun goof'd, Sweetie."

"But... but her voice was so awesome! Why wouldn't she want to share it with—?"

I face her. My glare must be a venomous one; the filly gasps so hard that she stumbles backwards three steps.

"Miss Scratch...?"

I point a hoof viciously at the door.

"Uhm..." Scootaloo starts shuffling away. "I-I think she wants us to leave."

"Right..." Apple Bloom sidesteps. "Sweetie Belle?"

"I... I didn't mean anything by it, honest!" Sweetie Belle squeaks, fidgeting in place. "I-I'm sorry. I should have asked before invitin' the other Crusaders over, but... but..." She nods at the record player. "That's one of the best albums I've ever heard! Why, I bet if Rarity and her friends heard it, they'd be moved to—"

I lean forward, pointing at the door with greater... angrier emphasis.

"But... but Miss Scratch, could you at least explain why—?"

The world explodes in a magenta shroud. Somepony is hissing. At the end of a massive spin, I feel the crimson gunshot of a record being smashed against the wall.

Sweetie Belle shrieks. Three sets of hooves scamper towards the door... but one of them lingers.

When my vision returns, I see cracked bits of black vinyl lingering on the carpet. I glance towards the side.

Sweetie Belle's silhouette lingers in the sunlight. The edges of her eyelids glisten, and yet she's frowning. "You know..." She sniffles, muzzle quivering. "...some of us are lucky to have a talent worth being proud of."

I simply glare at her.

"You are so... so amazing... and Cyan Sings is too." She fights back a sob. "If you can't believe in yourself... then did you ever actually believe in me?"

I have no response to that. I don't need to.

Squeaking under her breath, Sweetie Belle turns and outruns her tears. She's gone in a blink, leaving me and the crackling white noise of the emptily spinning record player.

It's not enough punctuation for this train wreck to be over.

Another magenta outburst, and I'm unleashing the rest of the deluge. I shove my record player over, and it lands in a red cacophony. I march over the debris and grab the album sleeve. An elegant unicorn in a glittery blue dress smiles at me—but not for long.

I rip straight through the spotlight, shredding the sleeve to bits. And yet—several sweaty breaths into the massacre—the many lacerated bits of garbage still shimmer with more blue than my rancid, useless voice ever will.

It's enough to deflate a living pony entirely... and it does just that right now.

I collapse with my back to my turntable. It anchors me, and that's what hurts the most. Pretty soon, I'm weeping—something I'm not allowed to do either, for the thunderous magenta salvos of each outburst pull me harder and heavier to the ground, until I'm awash in a sea of it... adrift above the void lingering below, soundless and colorless, a shade even more haunting than turquoise.

And it's a place that's invited me before... only now, the violet harnesses are starting to fray. It's my lasting thought as I dwindle upon the edge of unconsciousness, hoping for a reprieve... but receiving one.

Saving Things

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I spend all evening cleaning my half of the foyer. It's a very sluggish process... slow and glacial... like molasses.

And yet it's right as I finish sweeping away the last shredded bits of Cyan Sings that I hear it...

The sweet octaves of undulating purple.

There is much violet and indigo in there... erratic... unpredictable.

That's how I know that Tavi is drunk off her flank. Oh goddess...

I swivel towards the front door in time to see her clumsy entrance. Her bow tie is crooked... and her eyes are even crookeder. She hiccups—a staccato red flash in the midst of a purple tide.

"Vine! Love! Excelsior all around, mare-ship! Hic!" She giggles... wriggles... flounders her way towards her favorite cushion. She collapses about two steps before the sofa altogether. "Oh bollocks! Heehee... blessed Celestia... Lyra and Bon Bon are absolutely smashing company, are they not?"

I clench my jaw, hobbling over towards her as I give her a gentle tug with my telekinesis.

"Mrmmff... no. Please, Vinyl. You do too much for me as it is. I can help myself." She fusses with her bow tie and mane hair... only making it all worse. "How do I look?"

A slight smirk crosses my muzzle.

There are times when I'm glad I can't respond.

Very few times indeed...

"Ohhhh I must look absolutely horrid," she says in an indigo surge, sniffling. "I... I just couldn't help myself. We three started talking about musical pursuits, and then we got into a drinking game of 'I never.' Only in the context of musical venues, Vine, I assure you. It was a great deal more challenging than I thought, and—HIC!—I really had to stretch my memory at moments. But... I swear... as Luna is my witness... Lyra took—HIC!—far more shots than I did! Hah!" At last, with my help, she flops onto the couch. "Smashing good fun!"

I lean back from her with a sigh. Facing the kitchen, I get up, preparing to fetch some coffee—

"No. No." She waves a hoof at me. "Please. I... I-I did this to myself." A tiny giggle. "Hehehe—HIC! I deserve to... f-feel the long tug as I limp my way back to sobriety." She inhaled heavily. "Mrmmmfff... good thing there's no rehearsing at the Castle tomorrow. Could you imagine the look on Twilight's face if I showed up all pissed?"

I wryly stare at her, squinting through my shades.

"I know I know... I should give up on wine. But... but could you—HIC!—imagine giving up on Dr. Pony?"

I shake my head.

"At least your muse leaves you in full possession of your faculties. Eheheheh... though there is something... urp... slightly liberating about a modicum of inebriation." She hiccups, then rolls her eyes at herself. "A 'modicum' she says..."

By now, I've squatted down on all fours, sitting beside my roommate on the couch.

"It's... it's healthy. I... I assure you..." She smiles. "Simply drinking in the company of friends... in celebration. Because... b-b-because, Vinyl, let me tell you..." She attempts to wave, instead slapping my shoulder lightly several times. "...I am so... sooooo lucky right now." She gulps. "I mean it! Pure fffffortune. You as well! We both are! The we of us! I mean the us of both! I mean... HIC!"

I fight a magenta chuckle. It ends as soon as it begins, for I see the beginning of a scowl across my friend's muzzle.

"I... didn't always drink to celebrate." She gulps hard. "Before you, I mean. Believe it or not, I wasn't always a... cheerful mare, Vinyl..."

I nod.

I know, Tavi.

I know...

"Mrmmfff... used to be that I did it just to get back at father," she murmurs. "Among other things. I mean... why not? He always had his eye on me... judging me. And when he wasn't judging, he was... was..." She clenches her jaw shut. "... ... ...those words. Mrmmmfff... I swear. It all began as an attempt to drown them out of my ears. Absolute—HIC—anti-music. And the way he would speak of mother..."

I stare at her silently.

She's looking at me... through me. Those purple mirrors turn glossy. Like rain trickling down the north windows of our apartment. "He won't be proud of me. Even now." She gulps. "With the bloody minstrel position and everything. It just isn't enough. And I know it shouldn't bother me. But... but..." She shakes... writhes...

Here it comes...

She curls up against her favorite cushion, hiding her fuzzy muzzle behind her forelimbs. "Mmmm..." A trilling sound, and then the squeaks burst with tears. "...I'm such a lucky... lucky mare. Why isn't it enough, Vine? I wish the music could carry me away like it used to. But each time I so m-much as scratch a string... I think of him. Of the cold lessons and the c-colder stare. You c-can never rip the monster from the muse, I swear."

My ears fold as I exhale. I reach a hoof out, caressing her mane.

That helps... or maybe it doesn't. She's sobbing at this point, and it's all anypony could hear.

"How I wish... how I-I wish everypony was more like you, Vine," she murmurs. "Including myself..."

I clench my eyes shut.

I love it when Tavi finds strength...

...but I hate it when she says that.

"So strong... so understanding..." She whimpers, her voice growing more and more breathy, submerging into the warm pools of unconsciousness. "...and so v-very forgiving."

I bite my lip, glancing behind me at the freshly-swept foyer.

"Forgive... forgiving..." Her lips move slower and slower as she cuddles up against my forelimb. "Please... f-forgive me, Father..." A gulp. "Vinyl..." And then, she's drifting away, one dried tear at a time.

I've stripped my shades off by now. I curl up on the floor against the couch, staring into my forelimbs.

Tavi...

Oh Tavi...

I wish I was a stronger... braver pony...

...that I could save you too.

Friendly Things

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I think I'm starting to rethink my stance on the Royal Castle of Friendship.

It's dark in here at midnight. Bleak, even.

And yet...

That dreadful blackness is a wonderful canvas against which to sculpt music... paint melodies.

I stand here late at night in the dark, dim, unlit ballroom.

The only light is the strobing show coming from my DJ booth.

I am one with these shapes and patterns.

Swaying.

Swinging.

Surging.

As the tones shifts, so do I, experimenting with refrains and tempo changes.

I'm not sure what I'm making. Maybe it's a masterpiece... or a massacre... or both.

What matters is that I'm creating.

Anywhere else... I just exist.

And existence is boring.

I'm so entranced with the process of being entranced that I hardly notice her shuffling steps and gray voice until it suddenly sneaks up on me and my instrumental. Funny... it's almost as if she owns the place or something.

"I knew I heard something down here..."

I grimace. With a wave of my hoof, I slap the turntable still, then turn the melody off with a beam of magic.

I swivel to the side, spotting her.

Twilight Sparkle teeters below me, balancing several books on her backside. Stifling a yawn, the princess mutters: "Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining." The faintest hint of a smile. "I did give you and Octavia keys to the castle, after all."

I bite my lip, nevertheless.

"Is it something new you're working on?" she asks, strolling closer. "A brand new album?"

I shrug.

"New material wouldn't hurt, I suppose," she rambles, her gray tone dipping into blue melancholy. I'm suddenly paying very, very close attention. "What—with the Friendship Gala coming up, I wouldn't mind having new tunes to wow the audience." She puts on a dull smile. "We should be attracting a crowd of younger, more contemporary ponies. I suspect many of them will be more familiar with your work. So... no harm in you indulging a bit, DJ-P0N3."

I stare at her. I smile awkwardly.

"What you have is a great gift, you know," she says, then clarifies: "Being able to create. I mean... that's how you think, isn't it, Vinyl?"

I nod slowly. It occurs to me that this is the first time I've seen the Princess in days. She looks somewhat... frazzled, to say the least. Any part of her that isn't limp or tired is simply drooping.

"Whenever I'm feeling thoughtful," she murmurs, "I go into my library and gather books to read. See?" She slumps down besides my booth, balancing the tomes in her hooves. "So many things that I've read already too. Hrmmff. And—if I haven't read them more than once, then I still know how they end even before I begin. It's like... drinking watered-down soup. And yet I feel compelled to do it or else the broth will go bad without me."

I listen to her in silence. I'm always listening.

"There was a time when I loved reading more than anything. It never once occurred to me that there could be something greater than books." Twilight sighs, lips curved. "But then... I discovered friendship. And that... just filled me with so much warmth and purpose." Her violet eyes dart up. "I had found my calling. Something I could explore... and grow into. Until... until friendship was all that ever mattered to me."

I lean my head to the side, waiting for further revelation.

It comes soon enough. "Then one day... not that long ago... I had an epiphany... a silly, fleeting thought." She gulps. "What if there was even more to life than friendship? Something better... warmer... more fulfilling than having friends? I mean... it seems antithetical to who and what I am to contemplate that. As the Princess of Friendship, I should be focused on one major element... just as Princess Cadance is... f-focused on hers. And... and yet..." She clears her throat. "At one time, books was all that mattered to me. And yet I grew beyond that. So... how silly would it be to expect another evolution?"

I feel a hard lump forming in my throat. Quietly, I pretend not to know why...

She sighs heavily. "Yes... well... even Starswirl the Bearded reached his limits, hmmm?" She gazes at me with heavy eyelids. "I wish I was artistic like you, Vinyl. There's so much... freedom in creating things." She gulped heavily. "I created something once. The one time in my life where I was creative. And it got me these." She outstretched her wings, then folded them back up. "It's a blessing. It really is. But... but is it really so silly that I want to think beyond friendship from time to time? Just so I can have something to myself that is both dangerous and daring? A bit selfish... but still special?"

Silence.

"Well... it's my own fault for experimenting too hard... too broadly," she mutters, nostrils flaring. She shuffles the books on her back. "Good thing about reading—it doesn't hurt anypony. Heh..." She wipes her muzzle, then blinks at me. Rapidly. "I am so... so very fortunate to know ponies like you, Vinyl. Please... I-I hope you know that." She swallows. "I h-hope you know how much you bless me... inspire me."

And yet, even as she says this, I'm reaching into my saddlebag that's slumped over a chair. I levitate two pens out into the open and gestured in blank speech.

She "reads" me, then replies: "I took your advice, Vinyl. And it's all for the best." Then, with a sad shuffle, she trots off with her books. "Now... to keep the broth from getting spoiled."

Direct Things

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I'm exhausted, and yet I'm not. A full night of jamming away inside the Royal Castle ballroom hasn't produced much, but at least I feel the juices flowing in my mind. With enough of a current, I just might be able to sail a new symphony down these waters.

I'm so distracted with... being distracted, that I scarcely notice the hoofsteps of several ponies until they're clopping across the ballroom floor. I look up from where I'm packing up my records and turntable.

"...that's precisely why I think we should have whoopie cushions at the Gala!" Pinkie Pie insists, pouting. "Every time a patron sits down, they'll hear the raspberry noise and they'll be forced back to their hooves! Don't you get it?! It'll be crowd control!"

"Can't we just... I dunno..." Applejack shrugs. "Ask the ponies nicely to stand around and mingle and not hog the seats?"

"I like my whoopie cushion idea!" Pinkie grins wide, followed by Fluttershy and Rarity. "Come onnnnn! It'll be festive! Heehee!"

Fluttershy flaps her wings just long enough to raise a hoof. "Uhm... I-I vote for doing the nice things."

"Seems like yer bein' outmatched, Pinkie," Applejack says with a grin.

"Oh yeah?" Pinkie bounces ahead, nose tilted up. "We'll just see what final vote gets cast at the big meeting! Harumph!" She blinks. "Heehee! I like the sound of that! HARUMPH! What pony can possibly say that and still be mad?! Harumph! Harumph! Harrrrrrrumph!"

I wave casually.

Applejack only now sees me. "Oh, hey there, Miss Scratch!" She tips her hat. "Fancy meetin' you here so early."

"Were you really practicing music in the ballroom overnight?" Fluttershy asks.

I nod, throwing my turntable over my shoulder and balancing it on my flank.

"Whew! Talk about dedication!" Applejack smiles. "Whelp... another day... another Friendship Gala planning meeting! See ya at the rehearsals, sugarcube!"

I follow loosely behind, watching as Fluttershy drifts into the hallway after Applejack. "Do... do you think that Twilight's gonna be showing up for this meeting?"

"I dunno, Fluttershy. Reckon she's mighty stressed about this whole Friendship Gala thang. No doubt she's busy making a gazillion notecards to help her review the notes we took from last time."

"What if... what if there's something else?" Fluttershy gulps. "And our best friend isn't feeling very well."

"Awww shoot, Fluttershy. I wouldn't be too worried! After all, if somethin' was botherin' Twilight, I'm certain she'd tell us."

"Yes. I suppose that's true—"

All of the sudden, the crystalline double doors to the hallway close in front of me with a solid thud.

I jolt to a stop, blinking.

After adjusting my shades, I notice that a fine white aura of energy has encased the doorframe. It fades—just as an elegant unicorn stops aiming her horn.

"We need to talk," Rarity says, her voice like fine sand—coarse and unmelodic. She twirls around, her diamond-eyes slicing the room. Slicing me. "Right now, before things crumble any further."

I blink, frozen in place. I'm overcome with sudden, frigid uncertainty. It crawls through my muscles with each cold step Rarity takes torwards me, glaring.

"You know, she cried all night and into the next morning, my little sister." Her eyes narrow like dagger tips. "My beloved Sweetie Belle—who, admittedly, I feel like strangling at times. And yet... I always forgive her, because her antics—albeit annoying—are still tolerable. Because I know that she is a child. We were all... once children, Miss Scratch. Although..." She comes to a stop, nostrils flaring. "...some of us have more trouble than others in adjusting to the demands of time."

I bite my lip.

"Miss Scratch, I don't know you, and you don't know me. We are mild... lukewarm accomplices at best. And yet—as an artist and a purveyor of creative perfection—I can detect the torment of an inspired soul from miles away. Granted, I just don't have the good sense to prophesy the texture of such anguish... including when it's most toxic."

She paces around me, her voice forming icicles in my ears.

"But something is gnawing at you. I can tell. There are times when that something has gnawed at me. Why... just a few weeks ago, I had something of an existential career crisis when I first opened the Canterlot Boutique, only to see my delicate profession mutate into an abominably mundane industry. The whole experience carried with it shades of an ordeal I went through over a year ago, when Twilight Sparkle first graced me with her presence. I was tasked with designing the Gala gowns for each of my friends—when the best laid plans inexplicably went sour. I was so incredibly vexxed and frustrated with myself that I wept unendingly to the point that I considered moving away from Ponyville altogether."

She scuffles to a stop with a frown that could melt mountains.

"But never in all of my melodramatic episodes did I ever... ever take my frustrations out on a poor, innocent child... least of all a foal as endearing and naive as Sweetie Belle."

I swallow a lump down my throat. In utter futility, I attempt charading something with my hooves—

"You threw a record at her?!" Rarity snarls. "You resorted to violence as an answer to her precociousness?"

My brow furrows. I shake my head vehemently.

"Even if you had no intention to harm her, Miss Scratch, do you honestly not have it within yourself to hold back such a brazen temper? What you had was an opportunity to calmly correct the mistakes those foals had made, and instead you turned into... into..." Her voice hisses. "I don't even know what to make out of Sweetie Belle's description! Truthfully, a child is prone to exagerration, but her and her two friends detail the same horrid account..."

With a magenta exhale, I slump over, facehoofing.

All is silent for a while.

"You are a trusted... gifted... honored minstrel to Her Royal Majesty, Miss Scratch." Rarity takes a deep breath. "And it is because of my close friendship with Twilight and the others that I shan't do anything to affect that. Nevertheless... I want to make one thing perfectly clear." She leans in to me. "You are to never... ever... be in the company of my little sister ever again. If I even hear that you're so much as writing to Sweetie Belle, I shall inform the Princess of this incident and it will be up to her and her impartial judgment to decide what to do with such blatant disharmony in her own castle. Do you understand me?"

Very limply, I nod. It's not really a matter of understanding.

"I'm sorry that she overstepped her bounds when your roommate gave her access to your apartment. But for Celestia's sake, Miss Scratch..." Rarity's jaw drops. "A modicum of sanity goes a long way! Surely, as an adult, you can grasp this."

I'm frowing at this point. So I answer with a lethargic sigh.

"Well, for your sake, I hope you do. Before somepony close to you suffers the bitter end of your frustrations." She opens the doors and shuffles off, tail swishing. "And on a loosely related note, I have a dress for Octavia to try on for the Friendship Gala. You can tell her that. However... if you plan to accompany her to the Boutique, I would greatly desire to be forwarned... so that I can properly relocate my sibling."

Creeaak.

Thud!

And just like that...

The deep waters of my mind are stagnant again.

Genuine Things

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There are times when the colors and sounds of this world completely overwhelm me.

Then there are times like right now...

Now... as I sit on this park bench, my head leaning back, my limbs draped over the edge...

And I lose myself in the hum... the green reverberations of all things that are.

And beyond the green, there is my friend, turquoise. And everything in between is filled with everyone's neighbor, tan.

And in a way... it's comforting.

It's comforting to know... and to feel.

But the colors are just the surface. Flismy wrapping to the real nuggets of emotion hidden beneath.

There are things that I'm guilty of. Then there are things that other ponies are guilty of. What's it matter if I owe them or if they owe me? Strife or peace... anger or kindness... either way it's a musical masterpiece... a tapestry of colors.

The only thing that bothers me is that I used to conduct the kaleidoscope.

Lately, the collage has been consuming me. And I can't help but feel as though the colors could have swirled in a different way.

Is it a matter of trying harder?

Of putting my heart and soul into things?

I have passion, yes...

But passion...

Well...

It has given me this. A world where I refuse to go home... because the sweetest things in life are that which currently haunt me.

When did it all change?

Has it been a matter of change?

If so... if not...

...is there a way that I can change it back?

I let loose a sigh, cutting a swath through the green with my magenta breath. Through the fresh slit, I hear the golden giggles of ponies in the park.

My heart jolts. My eyes open with a bit of fright.

But then—as I focus on the foals' voices—I realize that none of them are blue.

I glance across the lawn regardless.

I see the fillies and colts dribbling a hoofball across the emerald landscape. One colt threads through the needle, slides, and kicks the ball up high. It arcs through the air, twirls, then lands in the crook of a tall tree's upper branches.

The children scuffle to a stop, their wining voices filling the air with dirty yellow waves.

"Awwwwwwww..."

"Really?"

"Meh. What are the odds?"

"Uhhh... wanna play jumprope instead?"

"Ew. No."

"Why'd you have to be so good at kicking?"

I'm almost leaning forward to pick the ball up for them with my telekinesis... but somepony beats me to it.

I watch as an orange set of wingfeathers streak into view. With lithe forelimbs, a familiar stallion grasps the ball, then floats down to the foals' level.

"Here ya go, sport," Flash Sentry smiles, tossing the ball towards a gaping colt. "Nice kick! Bet you'll be in the pros before long." He winks with a salute.

"Jee! Thanks, Mister!" The colt salutes back and dribbles the ball back downhill. "You're awesome!"

"So I've been told," Flash says, chuckling.

The foals run after the colt, clambering for the ball as they scamper down towards a lower level of the park.

Flash watches them for a small space in time. Then, with a sigh, he turns around to resume his leisurely stroll across the park. In so doing, his gaze sweeps across me. He does a double-take, blinking.

I stare back through my shades.

A slight twitch, and he smiles. Then waves.

I gulp... then wave back.

He turns around and trots down the path. He makes it only five or six paces before he lingers to a stop. I see the quivers of hesitation rolling through him. His ears twitch, and his jaw muscles clench. Nevertheless—after much fidgeting—he turns around and slowly... quietly shuffles back towards me.

I blink.

He takes a deep breath... then says, "I heard about... uhm... a certain adventure that you undertook with Twi..." He gulps. "With Her Royal Majesty. And I just want to say... uh... thanks, you know?" He produces a genuine... albeit weak smile. "She entrusted a lot to you, and you fell through for her... especially when it wasn't very easy or familiar. I... uh..." He cleared his throat. "I think the Princess is very lucky to have such good friends. Ponies whom she can trust. So... for what it's worth... thank you. Thank you for helping her... for protecting her. It's... well... it's what I shou—... would have done." He punctuates with a nervous chuckle.

I can only nod. There's something mesmerizing about his speech. It takes me a few seconds to ascertain why.

The brown is all gone. Instead... it's a very deep... very breathy yellow... not quite gold, but an earnest recreation. Sincere.

He leaves me to be in peace before I can even contemplate the matter further...

Blocked Things

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I have a back beat.

I have the skeletal makings of a rhythm in mind.

But each time I attempt slathering together the first layer of a melodic section...

...I fumble.

All I can do is repeat and repeat, listening to the same bland beat rolling over itself, producing nothing.

I scroll through my samples. I try a little bit of this and a little bit of that. But there's nothing good to paint with. The masterpiece remains unfinished—a watery soup of misdirection and emptiness at best.

Nothing comes to me. Either the genius is gone or the drive or...

The inspiration. Without that I'm just a pale bum in shades.

Slumping, I lean back from my turntable in the middle of the apartment's foyer. Afternoon sunlight drips in through the window, magnifying all the dust around me. I tilt my head to the left and all I see are albums... albums... albums...

What is there to create that's new?

Better yet... what's there to create that can trick ponies into thinking it's new?

In less than a week, I have to get a musical session prepared for the attendees of Twilight Sparkle's Friendship Gala. I can't just be re-hashing old material. I need to have something unique... something new...

...right?

I mean... it's all about the friendship, not the music. Who am I trying to impress here?

Who am I ever trying to impress?

And, hell's bells, as prophecy would have it...

"I know! Isn't it positively hilarious?!" Her violet voice drips in first, followed by her body, her eyes, her velvet. Octavia fumbles through the door, and she's not alone. Bon Bon trots up close behind. The latter assists my roommate in placing down a set of neatly-ribboned pink packages. "And to think that—months ago—she used to be terribly obsessed with that stallion!"

"Heehee... I know, right?" Bon Bon smirks, standing besides the front door. "Could you imagine if Rarity actually got to start dating him? Her heart would be soooo crushed!"

"That's why you should never court a celebrity," Octavia says, carrying the packages to her bedroom. Scribbler hops up on the kitchen table, purring with maddeningly orange vibrance. "I should know. I've had several renown artists hit on me back in Trottingham. I rebuffed them, of course, and it was all for the better." She puts the items away, closes the bedroom door, and returns. "Most of them ended up with their legacies blemished by one scandal or another... many of them far worse than what Trenderhoof is going through."

"Worse than Trenderhoof? Pffft!" Bon Bon waves a hoof. "Oh Tavi. Get out of town."

"Heehee..." Octavia stands in the kitchen and pets Scribbler amicably. "Let me put it this way. Trenderhoof is lucky he was only caught sampling parasprite dust... instead of trafficking it."

"Hah! I almost want to go to Trottingham now!"

"That's what many ponies once thought," Octavia remarks with a nod. "Until they brushed paths with the Trotland Yard."

"Hiya, Vinyl," Bon Bon says with a wave. "Working hard? Or hardly working? Heehee!"

I wave back with a limp forelimb.

"Did you feed Scribbler this afternoon, Vine?" Tavi asks.

I nod.

"Mmmm... best roommate is indeed best roommate." Tavi shuffles around the kitchen counter with the cat following. "Still, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to give him a treat or two."

"We just came by to drop off Octavia's new dress that Rarity made," Bon Bon explains. "It looks absolutely gorgeous on her. You have no idea!"

My lips curve slightly.

"When are you going to get your dress for the Gala, Vinyl?"

"Oh Bon Bon, don't be so silly," Octavia says with chiding purple. She drops a few tender nuggets of cat dessert into the half-full dish for Scribbler to gorge on. "It simply isn't Vinyl's style to go all elegant and formal. And the way the Council of Friendship has described it—this Gala is going to be even less strict in terms of dress code than the last event held at the Castle. And Vinyl didn't dress up for that."

"That true?" Bon Bon asks.

I nod.

"Awwww... well, if that's the way you prefer it." Bon Bon smiles. "Still, I'd bet you'd look ravishing in something shiny—like your shades! A flowy red to match your eyes, perhaps. Or shimmering blue."

I bite my lip, glancing into the corner of my shelves where the space for a missing album lingers.

"Oh! Vine, love..." Octavia trots back towards my side of the foyer. "Where are my manners? Bon Bon and I are going to join the others at Sugarcube Corner. It'd be absolutely smashing if you came and dined with us."

"I've always wanted to hang out with the Princess and her friends more!" Bon Bon chirps with a smile.

I look at Octavia and I mouth: "Others?"

"Mmmm—indeed. Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy..." She grins. "It's Rarity's invite!"

My ears fold back.

"She has this delicious gossip to share about the... errr... former editor-in-chief, Trenderhoof. Isn't that right, Bon Bon?"

"Heeheehee-yeah!"

I exhale with a sigh, then shake my head.

"Awwww..." Bon Bon pouts. "No?"

I shake my head again and wave with a smile.

"Well, if you insist. We'd love to have you with us sometime. Feels like you've been such a stranger lately, Vinyl."

"Mmmmm... yes. Quite." Octavia clears her throat, and I'm only partially surprised to hear it taking on an indigo quality. "Say, Bon Bon, I feel positively dusty from that walk across town. I think I'll freshen up a bit before going to Sugarcube Corner. Would you a dear and let the others know that I'll be about fifteen minutes late?"

"Mmmm... fashionably late." Bon Bon winks. "I do think Rarity will understand that."

"Heehee... indeed."

"I got ya covered, Tavi." Bon Bon waves, then trots off. "See ya, Vinyl! Heehee... see ya, Scribbler!"

There's an orange chime in response.

Then Octavia closes the door. She leans on it for a few breathy seconds, then turns toward her. Her voice is calm, subdued... like the dimness in her eyes. "Vine... is everything quite alright?"

The ghostly question marks above my head are practically opaque.

"I mean... I-I don't intend to come across as some pretentious nuisance... b-but I feel... I-I almost feel as if you've been purposefully making yourself absent from most social gatherings as of late. I mean... I-I know that you need your space and all, but this is... rather alarming." She gulps. "Even for you." She takes a few steps forward, and it's all I can do to keep from imploding from my pounding chest. "If... if something was troubling you, Vinyl, you would... trust me with the ability to help you through it, yes?"

I look at her.

I look at her and I nod.

"Then..." She chews on her bottom lip, her voice scraping the darkest indigo. "Then you are alright?"

I point at my turntable, and then I motion my hoof in the general direction of the Castle.

She exhales, and almost immediately her breath lifts back into violet. My heart returns to normal.

"So... just caught up in your work, huh?"

I have no voice to turn brown. So I merely smile.

"Hmmmff... I can understand that." She gazes aside. "In truth, I haven't made any new symphony for the gala. But that's primarily because I do believe I've had my time to shine at the Castle. My talents will prove their worth at another performance, most certainly. If anything... this should be your time to take the spotlight. And I'm quite glad to know that you're working to take advantage of just that."

I clench my teeth, nodding again.

"Well... best of luck to you and your musical endeavors. But... then again..." She chuckles slightly, shuffling towards the door with a smile. "...we both know that I needn't wish that upon a living miracle, right?"

She leaves with a wave.

I hang my head.

Right...

Nocturnal Things

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The Castle of Friendship towers above me... above all of us.

There was a time when it... bothered me...

When it got under my skin.

Lately, with each passing day, I find a strange... meditative comfort with it. And with being in it. It's more than the blank, black canvas that the harmonic walls of crystal afford me. There's something about its opaque surfaces that bring solace to me. Especially when I stand alone in the ballroom—as I've retreated to as of late—to compose music... sometimes music that's never even there.

The Castle of Friendship hides me from the rest of the world. I'm pretty sure that such was... never the structure's true intent. But when is Friendship ever something we mean it to be?

It's late at night. It's always late at night. I'm walking for the tenth... twelfth... maybe fifteenth lap around the base of the Castle in cold starlight. The guards minding the upper bastions of the palace would think something was amiss—if they weren't so used to me engaging in this cyclical habit these past few evenings. Perhaps they believe it's how a royal minstrel like myself chooses to think... to contemplate all of the symphonic masterpieces she's working on.

I wonder if they'd be alarmed to find the same blank canvas on the inside as there is on the outside.

I sigh, strafing left and right in my stroll. The Friendship Gala is only a few days away now, and the area immediately surrounding the castle is covered in tents, supply shacks, and stacks upon stacks of crates. Everything is only partially unloaded, and I know that in just a day or two this entire place will carry with it an epic spectacle worthy of outshining Canterlot or Manehattan. Everypony in Ponyville is excited about it—or at least I can assume so. I've turned nocturnal over the past week. It's a potentially catastrophic thing—considering that I need to be fully awake to perform my musical sessions for the Gala proper when it transpires. Maybe I can binge through some Dr. Pony a few hours previous. Yeesh, as if I don't use the royal lavatory enough...

Part of me looks forward to the event. Another part of me is afraid of it—only because I'm not entirely sure what lies behind it. It's been a long while since I planned for anything beyond a month in advance. Even when I was touring, I left all of the gruntwork to Beau.

But now—after this Friendship Gala has come and gone—I'm not entirely sure where to take my talents. Certainly any place in Equestria would be happy to have DJ-P0N3 host an event. But I'm feeling more and more distant from her, almost as if the black edges of this sharp castle have sliced the layers off of me, peeling loose a wispy ghost underneath. That phantom seeks a body to return to, but we both know she's gone. The shredded bits of a record cover were the only remaining effigy. Now all is emptiness and starlight, and these wayward hooves, circling... shuffling... but going nowhere.

My teeth grit and I feel my breaths coming out in magenta shudders. I barely have anything for the Gala's musical session. At this point, I may be forced to improv most of my materials into a digestible mix. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem for someone like DJ-P0N3. But things have been far from normal lately.

I shuffle to a stop somewhere near the Castle's entrance. It suddenly occurs to me that I've been wearing headphones throughout the entirety of this midnight stroll... but no music's been playing. The last track I had selected ended countless minutes ago, and I've been just listening to the muddled echoes of my own heartbeat in my ears ever since.

A sigh escapes my lips. I look skyward, my shaded eyes traveling up the black summits of harmonic spires.

What died first?

Inspiration?

Or the desire to be inspired?

The contemplation is jarring enough to end my walk. I shuffle back through the gates to engage in yet another fruitless session...

Wondering...

Do we ever die as artists?

...or perish multiple times in a single life as our own audience?

Unceremonious Things

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I've given up on sleeping by the time that I hear Octavia's violet voice surrounded with tapering bands of amber and gold. Two other mares are in our apartment, giggling and squeeing with glee. I instantly recognize the voices as belonging to Lyra and Bon Bon. If I had a guess—I'd say that they've been invited to the Friendship Gala too. Just when did that happen? Have I not been paying attention?

I want to think that I've been super busy with preparing the latest mix, but I know better.

I sit up in my bed with a sigh. I gaze towards my window, squinting. The world outside is ablaze with gold. Hundreds upon hundreds of voices are jubilantly greeting the advent of evening. After days and days, the time has come. How many hours until festivities begin? Ten? Twelve? I swear, the collective cacophony outside is ten times louder than normal. No wonder I can't get any rest.

Yes. That's a good excuse.

The three mares' voices shuffle towards Octavia's bedroom. I can only guess they're trying on dresses. There's a festivity to life... a spontaneous embrace of cheer and reverie that I've apparently forgotten. But—then again—I was never that big on looking pretty. That was Cyan's bag.

And I know mine.

I weather a magenta sigh.

There's no time like the present.

I roll out of bed. I slip on a saddle bag. I shuffle out of the room.

When I reach my foyer—where my packed instruments are—I am alone. Scribbler sits on a table, staring at me with slitted eye. I pet his head a few times, then glance towards the far end of the house. Violet and amber currents ripple across the floor and walls of the home. They're all tasting of giggles and smiles. No sense in disrupting that.

I write a hasty note and plaster it to the kitchen counter. That way, Tavi will know where I am. She won't have to worry.

Then, giving Scribbler a final nuzzle, I grab my things and roll it after me as I exit the apartment.

It's violently loud outside. I can barely trot a straight line across the kaleidoscope of colliding auras. Nevertheless, I keep the sharp black spires of the Castle of Friendship in my vision and I head towards it. On either side of me, Ponyvilleans and villagers alike are greeting each other, smiling, chatting-and-squealing in excitement over the unprecedented event taking place tonight. Even though the colors of their voices are a random assortment of hues, I feel all of them surging in the same direction, filling in the blank lines. It's almost eerie in a way. Perhaps once upon a time I would have been excited for them.

Right now, all I want to do is get this night over with. Afterwards, I can plan my next leg of tours across Equestria. That'll be a good thing. I think I could use the "me" time on the road...

I skirt past a final line of buildings, and I see the edge of the gala event. All of the tents have been erected, full of refreshment tables, outside bars, and gathering places for attendees of all ages. A huge group has already gathered. I'm actually quite surprised. It appears to be just as well organized as the last meeting Twilight Sparkle hosted, only this time there's a huge slew of exterior activities set up. I feel as though half of the Gala is being held outside the Castle just as much as inside.

And in the center of this growingly crowded event is Pinkie Pie. She's already wearing a dress—a bright pink, flouncing affair—and she zips from tent to tent, checking up on every bit of catering on the royal property.

And yet, despite all of her work, all of the ponies that she's taking care of, all of the excitement boiling around us...

She notices me like a burning candle across the lawn.

"Oh hey! Vinyl! Viney-Viney-Viney-Vineyyyyyyy!" She dishes out a pie, skips over a snack table, and skids to a stop in front of me. "Hi there!" A voice as shiny as her teeth. "Wowsers! You sure are early!"

I cock my head to the side. I point at her.

"Me? Pffft..." She rolls her eyes and giggles. There's a little pink hat on her mane and it nearly falls off with each bob of her head. "I can't possibly wait around like the other girls! So while Fluttershy, Rarity, and the others spruce themselves up, I'm here making sure all of the pre-Gala ponies are being served! Nothing screams 'friendship' like a good sugar cookie or lump of gelatin! AAAAH! Heeheehee-snrkk! Get it?"

I smile slightly. With a shrug, I trot towards the Castle behind her.

"Oh... whoah, hey! Vinyl!" She blinks after me, ears folding. "You... uh... you're here early too?"

I turn. I nod at her.

"Oh. Uhm... huh..." She fidgets in place, eyes darting left and right. "Just... well... Twilight was gonna send a stagecoach for you and Tavi. Y'know, like last time! Heehee! Octavia even said she had two friends tagging along! Figured it would be fun-fun-fun!"

I shrug again.

"You... you really don't wanna wait back there for the stagecoach?" She blinks, pouting slightly. "And go with Tavi and your other buddies? I mean, it's not like you gotta get all dressy-dressed for it or—"

I point at the instrument case, then at the Castle.

"Oh! Yes! Guess you gotta get... jazzed up!" She giggles, waving pleasantly. "Best of luck, Viney! I look forward to introducing you when it's your time to shine tonight!"

I nod. Then, briskly, I turn and shuffle the rest of the way to the Castle.

I hear Pinkie Pie bouncing off with a golden cadence. "Hold up over there! Pumpkin pies coming right upppp!"

I greet the guards and they let me inside the dark abode—past the gathered delegates, celebrities, and news reporters.

And it's only once I'm surrounded in blackness that a thought occurs to me...

A chilling thought... but somehow not as chilling as I've expected...

For a Friendship Gala, I seem to be running out of them really quick...

I make my way swiftly to the ballroom. I set my things up so I can test my instruments before my mind can even bother to contemplate that.

Groovin' Things

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It's still a few hours before the Gala begins proper.

I've actually found a soothing way to prepare for it... and that's not to prepare for it.

Since arriving, I've hooked my turntable up to the sound system and I've been playing a constantly-evolving funk mix live at a low volume. The speakers crackle forth a back beat overlaid with harmonic salvos of groovy samples and sporadic percussion. It isn't exactly stellar material, and the tempo's pretty laid back. Still—as I occasionally glance across the ballroom at the servants and caterers setting things up at the last second—I'm made aware of more than a few casual smiles and grins.

I smirk back, wave my hoof in the air, and really jazz it up, almost as if it's a real live dance party. The mix takes on a crazy new life, and I even start sweating a bit. Sometimes—I think—the best way to be an awesome performer is to do an even awesomer pre-show performance that next to nopony will hear.

Or so I think...

His hoofsteps follow his voice—echoing with delicious clarity. By the golden strings of his outburst, I can instantly tell that he's impressed.

"Whoah! Girl! Girl! Hold your horses! Party ain't startin' in almost two hours!"

I look up in a flash, raising my shades. Despite the blinding array of colors, I squint out across the ballroom I see his stripes slicing a path straight towards me. And he's not alone.

Son of a gun...

"There she is! There she is!" Roadie Beau scuffles to a stop below my DJ booth. "Mare of the hour right here, y'all! I dun care if there's a lavender princess up in this biz! Ha HA!"

"Wow, darling, she's just as electric as you've described." There's a dreadfully handsome creature clinging to him. At first, I think the stallion at my friend's side is an alicorn, until I realize that's just neon-feathery fluff hanging off the unicorn's dance vest. "Absolutely smashing, doll. The real DJ-P0N3 as I live and breathe."

"Viiiiiiiine, girl!" Beau waves, grinning wide. "I want you to be the first to meet Merriweather, right here. He's Trottingham's fastest up-and-coming blogger of the Equestrian night scene!"

"Charmed," Merriweather says. He bows, flouncing a pink mane that matches his vest. "Positively. It's a real honor meeting you, Miss P0N3. You literally have no idea." He giggles. "The boys back at Sherwhinny Soiree Publishings simply won't believe anything that's happening here tonight. So... good on us to enjoy the moment and sucks to be those blokes, eh?"

Beau's eyes brighten as he looks at me and jubilantly mouths: "He is the one."

I wink, lower my shades, and perform a swift salute.

"Ah!" Merriweather shudders. "It's just like in the photographs! The new Ponyville Gala is one thing, but this just wins it!"

"Yeah..." Beau nods with a chuckle. "She's one in a million." He leans in and nuzzles the stallion as they both smile proudly my way. "Guess who got VIP passessssss..."

I smirk, nodding. I wonder if this is Pinkie Pie's work. If so... damn nice job!

"Technically, we're here so that Merriweather can get first dibs on a cultural report blog, but still—I've always wanted to attend a party where I got to just... y'know..." Beau waves a hoof, smiling. "Hear you do your thang without havin' to be shouting it out to everypony. Is that selfish of me?"

I shake my head, spinning the turntables.

"My goddess...!" Merriweather coos. "Is she makin' music this entire time we've been yammering in her ear?"

"'Fraid so. She's that talented."

"Pffft... don't know why I ever doubted." Merriweather rolls his eyes and giggles. "I've heard sooooo many stories told about you and your tours ever since Baby-Beau here showed up in Trottingham. I think it's the bees knees."

I turn towards Beau, mouthing those three silly syllables.

"Erm... y-yeah." Beau gulps, blushing beneath his stripes. "Hey, Merri. You've been wondering where the punch is at." He points at a table across the way. "Feast your eyes."

"Ah! So it is!" The unicorn levitates a camera from beneath his vest and smirks. "You two darlings catch up. This will only be a second."

Beau leans in, kissing Merriweather on the cheek. "Try not to drown."

"Pffft. Same to you, ya slimy newspaper!" Merriweather slaps his tail against Beau's fetlock before trotting off.

"Guh!" Beau chuckles, shaking his head. He watches Merriweather go to take his photographs while strolling closer to the DJ Booth. "Mmmmm yeah... so... uh... that's him." He gulps and looks up at me. "Whaddya think? Too fast?"

I shake my head and smile.

"Whew..." Beau brushes a hoof over his mohawk. "I've been in this industry for far too long. Sometimes it feels criminal to be happy. But it shouldn't be, y'know?"

I bite my lip.

"So... this is it, huh? The big times?" He looks up at me with pride. "Awww... who am I kiddin'? There's no stoppin' yer climb to the top, is there, girl?"

I shrug, spinning the music into another jazzy section.

He sighs gently, staring at me with a calm smile. "It's really nice to be here, Vine. I don't know about you, but I think that... I-I feel that everything is just comin' together all beautiful-like. You and the Castle... me and Merri." He chuckles. "All that's left is for Tavi to get that sweet-ass chair in the Symphony Orchestra that she's always wanted! Hah HA!"

I nod, gazing at the black walls of the crystalline ballroom.

"But... forget about tomorrow," he says with a shrug. "Forget about yesterday. Right now... things are great. And you?" He winks, waving. "I think you're the shiniest you've ever been, girl. Go knock 'em dead tonight."

I salute back, then break into another beat with a chillaxed sigh.

For you, Beau, I'll be on top of a million worlds...

Mahogany Things

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There are many times when a party "starts."

If you're a DJ like me, then you know to take that vague number and multiply it by one hundred. When the sonic keys to the dance hall have been hoofed to you, then it's your job to make the whole place bouncing for each minute... for each second... for each instant that a new pony strolls into the place. Every partygoer deserves an entrance. The night is theirs as much as yours, if not more so. Best to treat them all like royalty... pamper their ear lobes but burn their eardrums. Everything will work out in between... and explosively so.

I haven't even begun my pre-planned number yet. I'm just filling the ballroom with digital adrenaline. Frenetic beats pick up, wind down, and then repeat the psychotic cyclone. I can see the impact I'm having in the twitch of hundreds of eyes, and I'm tugging them left and right with the sway of the samples.

Stallions... mares... old and young... some dressed casually, others in formal silks. It's my job to keep each of them occupied... to electrify their brain spaces with beautiful bedlam. All the while, I keep an ambient hiss rolling up and down in the background, like a satin sea of skull massaging sorcery. The lights aren't quite so severe at the moment, but Princess Twilight has been faithful enough to lend me some control. I allow aquatic bands of blue and silver to ripple across the ballroom... keeping things lively and exciting—but not cheesy. This may be a less formal affair, but it still has to feel fresh and new. I allow the colors to crash across the crowd, then retreat, like sea foam.

And it works. I see it across dozens upon dozens of faces. Ponies are smiling. Stallions are swaying to the beat while mares coo and giggle with glee. The older dignitaries are looking remarkably relaxed, even if the majority of them are gathered along the sidelines, being perfect wallflowers. I spend a full ten minutes cycling in samples of classical instruments, and somehow that diffuses the clusters, making the elders mill about and disperse across the rest of the crowd until everything is gray and homogenous and glorious.

And then the really famous ponies show up. I know this because they're being ushered in by the best of the best—the Council of Friendship. First, of course, is Rarity. She strolls into the room like a shining diamond, and I lower the hum of the speakers so her gem-rattling voice steals the show for a brief moment. I can't even tell from this distance just what she is wearing—only that it positively shines and every voice in the room with a Canterlot accent is being drawn towards it with gasps and cheers.

It takes me a moment to realize that Fluttershy has strolled in as well. She keeps close to Rarity, happily occupying the penumbra of the elegant fashionista's shadow. Because of this, I can't tell until much later that Fluttershy is wearing a loose flowy number with many shades of emerald and pink. She smiles nervously at several ponies—chatting ponies, laughing ponies, dancing ponies. All the while, Rarity sticks close to the shy mare's side... like a protective sister. I feel a lump in my throat and I continue with my introductory session.

Pinkie Pie enters the room next—and that's when the place really explodes. I pump up the volume, increase the tempo, and scroll through several of my pink and red colored lights. The ballroom burns as if illuminated by a lava lamp. Eyes follow Pinkie as she flounces about, entertaining one guest after another. This is the moment that the Gala truly blossoms. Dozens of celebrities follow in the wake of Pinkie's ice breaking. I spot faces I haven't seen in a while: Sapphire Shores, Hoity Toity, Inspector Harshwhinny. Inspector Friggin' Harshwhinny...

I guess Twilight Sparkle didn't miss a beat.

Speaking of which—this is where things start getting difficult. The Gala is in full swing, which means tons of ponies are marching in, filling up the Dance Floor from wall to wall. It's a moment like now that shows me just how much this is Her Majesty's night and not mine. This event is far from a normal DJ Session. I'm not the center of attention, but rather an accomplice to the night scene. If everypony was simultaneously focused on my music—as well as dancing to it—then it might be easier to control things. Instead, it's almost like I'm preaching to the choir, and I'm having to dig through a kaleidoscopic wave of vomitous voices and sounds to keep track of my beat and maintain a competent instrumental. And it certainly doesn't help when my ears catch wind of familiar voices—causing stray colors to splash across my visors. I see Fluttershy's pink... Rarity's radiance... Applejack's amber and Pinkie Pie's gold. I almost lose my place when Rainbow Dash's black scratches across my eyeballs. The air roars from her flapping wings as she soars in, followed by random members of the Wonderbolts. With a raspy giggle, the mare shows off, then gives the other flight ponies a grand tour of the Castle and its upper ceiling.

All in all, I do feel as though I'm in control of things. I sense the gray streaks of Twilight Sparkle's voice. Curious, I turn and gaze at the far end of the ballroom where a makeshift bunch of thrones have been erected. I spot a flash of gold. Flash Sentry is here tonight, and he's keeping a trained eye on the crowd while issuing commands to his fellow soldiers. His face is straight... bland... serious. It's the perfect canvas against which to paint a bevy of familiar colors. Within seconds, I see Bon Bon and Lyra strolling in. They're both wearing complementary shades of pink, gold, and blue. Well of course they are. The mares take one beaming look at the dance hall, smile at one another, then pierce the sea of blushes to hold each other hoof-in-hoof. In such adorable precision, they stroll out into the Gala...

And they are followed by a goddess.

A record scratches. Grimacing, I cover for it by doing several more scratches—purposeful this time—before transitioning into a smoother, more trance-like track. It rattles a few of the older guests while the younger ones laugh and cheer. Pinkie Pie glances my way and pumps a hoof in the air, cheering. She thinks I meant to do the whole thing. Good enough.

Exhaling, I take the time to recover, and then I stare back across the dance floor. I'm more fit to handle it now... to handle her now. Last time, Octavia was clad in crimson. Right now, she's a mahogany princess, her velvet figure tied in countless silk circles of jet black gloss. I've lost track of the tiny, delicate ribbons rippling from her rear right leg to her front left forelimb... like an inverse milky way of obsidian starlight. The asymmetry is counter-balanced by soft satin studs of ink-black rose buds, including several in her braided mane. A modicum of dark eyeshadow completes the "gothic" look, and she gazes across the floor just as she trots... with confidence and icy grace. There's a diamond-splitting squeal from across the room, and my ears sing with the sound of Rarity's beaming smile.

It's not just the roommate in me who imagines it; there is literally a hush that divides the room in half upon her entrance. I raise the tempo of the music so as not to make things too awkward for her. She hears it... she knows it... and her smoky eyes sweep my way with a merciful smile.

I smile back, holding a hoof out from afar. For the first time since Twilight dragged me through the human world and back, I miss not being able to have a thumb to point "up."

The crowd gawks and gawks. I hear a few ponies with foreign accents adorably mistaking her for a certain alicorn. There are hundreds of strangers between where she trots and her destination on the tiny stage parallel to me. All of the sudden, Flash Sentry strolls in, escorting her kindly. I've never felt so grateful for his presence than I do now. I glance out the side of my shades as Octavia is assisted to her stage. There, with a delicate sway of her skirts, she sits daintily down on a stool and unpacks her cello.

And now... at last...

I can breathe easily.

Epic Things

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"...so who's ready for a hip-hoppin', cork poppin', rider's croppin' good time?!?!" Pinkie Pie's voice bounces off the ballroom walls like a million golden tennis balls.

The crowd cheers in response, carried predominantly by the youthful members of the assembly. The older ponies shake their heads and smirk, more intrigued by the unique proceedings than motivated to join in. All in all, I can very easily tell that almost everypony is on board with the Friendship Gala—even those who are here simply to observe the birth of a new tradition.

"Woohoo! Welcome to the first ever Friendship Gala!" Pinkie Pie chortles loudly. The speakers reverberate with her mirth, outmatched only by the sheer glint of her pearly whites from atop the stage next to Octavia. "I'd love to give a shout-out to the two ponies making this night's Gala move'n'groove! Our very own Royal Minstrels!" She gestures across the way to where my DJ booth looms. "Give it up for DJ-P0N3!"

Hooves clap and thud against the ballroom floor. Rainbow Dash's raspy voice morphs into a battle cry. From afar, I can hear the melodic cadence of both Beau and Merriweather cheering and whooping.

With a smirk, I wave my hoof, salute, and scratch the records a few times in response.

As the applause dies down, Pinkie giggle-snorts and then rests a hoof on Octavia's delicate shoulder. "And, of course, here we have the totally ravishing, totally talented, totally total-package, Octavia Melody! Say hello, Tavi!" She holds the mic over to my best friend.

"'Hello, Tavi,'" Octavia says with a smug grin.

Laughter erupts across the ballroom. Just as it dies down, there's a psuedo-elegant voice suddenly yelling with the grace of rattling jewels: "That's an amazing dress, Miss Melody!"

"Oh hush, Rarity!" Pinkie pouts, glaring into the crowd. "They can see it!"

Another round of laughter. Rosiness spreads across Octavia's velvet cheeks as she smiles.

"And as proud as I am to be here," Pinkie coos into the mic. "As well as to introduce tonight's musical entertainment... I have to say... none of this would be even possible if it weren't for her Royal Majesty, the one and only, the Showstopper, the Main Event..." She cartwheels off the stage, lands on her knees in a slide, and flings both hooves towards the miniature throne far across the ballroom. "The Princess of Friendship, Twilight Sparkle!"

The Gala's applause is its loudest yet. The spotlight falls on a lavender shape, perched in her throne. Despite the glitter and glamour of everypony's attention, I can't help but notice a slathering of tan shadows clinging to the alicorn's muzzle. Nevertheless, Twilight waits until the spotlight catches an array of sparkle from her glittery gown, and she waves with as gentle a smile she can summon.

I squint towards her from afar. As the clapping continues, I glance across the hall. Flash Sentry stands at attention along with multiple other guards. His face is deadpan, serious, observant.

I bite my lip.

"And without much further ado..." Pinkie Pie twirls and aims the mic at me. "Let's get this party st-st-st-startedddd!"

I nod. I'm about to kick the session into ignition—when I feel my ears being scratched by a hauntingly familiar sensation. I flinch, briefly glancing over my shoulder. It's almost as if something coarse has brushed past the hairs on my flank. A voice... a breath with calico patchwork. Like burlap.

Ponies whoop and holler. They're waiting for me. No need to delay things.

So, with a firm breath, I spin the records and roll into the first instrumental of the session. The lights go biserk, following my coordinated chaos. Soon enough, the entire hall is bouncing to my rhythm. I glance to the side in time to spot Octavia leaning against her cello, smiling proudly my way.

I smile back, suddenly given the energy to survive this crazy night. And that's when the speakers righteously explode—and I proceed to own the crowd.

Uncontrollable Things

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Three movements in, all full of sweat and strobes, and I wonder why Twilight or Pinkie Pie haven't bothered to restrain me yet. This night is intense, even for me. I have every pony by the scruff of their neck, and instead of kicking and thrashing they are all bouncing. Jumping. Jiving.

This is the absolute best session I could have asked for, which is precisely what concerns me. Nevertheless, I throw the fear into the wind as I twirl and go to town on the turntable, shifting a song to a faster tempo in mid-track, accelerating the black heart of this harmonic echo chamber into overdrive.

Perhaps the real reason everypony is on board is because this night... this dance... this musical moment of mayhem is a beautiful catastrophe. Nopony has ever truly known what to make of Princess Twilight's brand new Friendship Gala. So, it more or less has to present itself, to evolve before the public eye.

I am the mutation. The spark of such melodic evolution. I lunge onto land and toss my gills before the fire. It's a beautiful explosion of light, sound, color. I reach deep into the schish of my mind and pull out an entangled cornucopia of shimmering ear flavors. Maybe most of the crowd can't comprehend it. They don't have to. They just have to writhe, dance, die to their inhibitions.

With a spin of a record, I shoot us over a crest of sonic vibrations and coast us down a hill of trance. From the deepest, darkest depths I raise the next movement. It is a rich, undulating, catastrophic thing, with muffled explosions growing louder and louder in pitch, accompanied by vibrant splashes of red and gold. Cymbals and snares join in, magnifying the penultimate thrust in each heartbeat of every listener. And then—when the world appears to have reached a momentary hush, I shatter it... shatter the club with bass.

And... what the hay... I go for broke. I slam the speakers into full blast, and now the whole castle is shaking with steady booms. The floor vibrates from everypony leaping in time with the shotgun salvos. It's so intense that it nearly dismantles my shaking booth from under me.

Across the way, something with stripes is whooping his head off. Either Beau is drunk or he's about to explode with pride and pleasure. Maybe both. Merriweather clings to him like an inebriated windsock. A few spaces away, Lyra and Bon Bon stand beside the punch table, simply gawking at the technological earthquake unfolding before them. It occurs to me that neither of my two friends have had the distinct pleasure of actually seeing me do something live. I don't know whether to feel proud or sorry for blowing their minds.

Octavia is a remarkbly good sport. She sits the entire time atop her stage like a perfect lady, gawking at me and the pulsating crowd. Her velvet ears twitch and shake. I know that it's her closest take on rave dancing, and I love it. I wish I could be buried for an eternity with those ears.

But as amazingly awesome as this entire thing is, I can't help but feel as though somepony should have ended it fifteen minutes ago. Surely this night belongs to Twilight Sparkle and her fellow Friendship Council Members... not me. I gaze across the way, lost in sound and sweat. I spot the alicorn on her throne. Her eyes are downcast. The gray aura around her is still as a frozen pond, even despite the sheer intensity of the night. That's how I realize that something is amiss... if the one ambassador of friendship who counts isn't enjoying the very first Gala she's set out to make.

It's a DJ's job to entertain the crowd. But lying underneath all of that is an even more important prime directive—and that's to take charge at the drop of a hat. This Gala needs to transition into something else. It's not Twilight's fault for letting things go like this, and I'm not about to blame her. We just have to put the ball back into her court.

So, while preparing for a segue into a smoother beat, I glance to my left and wave wildly towards the next stage.

Octavia notices me in an instant. She always does. We make eye contact. I signal to her and point at the mare's cello. She nods back, and I see her muzzle mouthing a specific instrumental number.

I take a deep breath, adjusting the beat and modding the ambiance so that the crazy track cascades into a dull roar.

At the same time, Octavia stands up. All of the lights focus on her as she takes to the strings. Her velvet black roses shimmer before everypony. The audio input switches, and suddenly her cello is consuming the night, echoing across the crystalline hallways in mournful, provocative bass.

The tonal shift has its effect. The crowd stops jumping, turning to gawk and stare. I can tell by their faces that they are mesmerized. Their heartbeats carry them into the suite that Octavia has prepared. And just as she has them under her spell, she picks up the tempo and channels their adrenaline into another canal. One that's softer, more subdued—yet still excited and enticing.

The party is saved. At that rate, we could have run the entire crowd into an exhausted stupor. Thanks to Octavia, a second wind has been breathed into the Gala's lungs.

Recovering, I stare across the hall with shuddering lungs. In the ensuing lull that Octavia has provided, I spot Spike, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy wandering over to Twilight's side. Good. Looks like they too have caught wind of Twilight's melancholy. I gaze from afar as they exchange a few words. Pinkie and Fluttershy smile while Spike leans in to hug Twilight. The Princess sighs, her lips curving slightly as she strokes the back of the dragon's head. She exchanges a few words with her friends, and quiet nods are shared between them. Pinkie and Fluttershy lean in to nuzzle her, and a golden aura gathers around the group, chasing away all tan and gray.

At least for now.

Part of me wants to continue gazing... observing. But I'm a bit distracted at the moment.

Octavia's being a goddess, as usual.

Respectful Things

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Two instrumentals later, and we hit a lull. I can tell that Octavia needs a breather, and I've nearly run out of new material. It's not that we can't continue performing, but—rather—it wouldn't seem right for us to dominate the entire night's festivities.

My shaded eyes travel across the hall, meeting Pinkie Pie's. She's no Beau, but she reads me all the same. The mare's an entertainer at heart, and she can tell when an event needs to move on into the next phase.

She leans in to Twilight, murmuring something.

The Princess nods... then nods again. With a heavy sigh, she puts on a thin smile and waves her hoof in Pinkie's direction.

Pinkie says something back, smiles, and backflips into the crowd.

I can feel Octavia's wince in my peripheral.

Miraculously, Pinkie lands with one hoof on the edge of an empty chair at the head of a refreshments table. Balanced like a ballet dancer, she waves a forelimb in the air and speaks boomingly into a microphone.

"Alright, fillies and germs! You think this party's nearly over?! No way, horsey! The Friendship Gala is in full swing! And who better to commemorate the occasion than your very... own... Princess of Friendship... Twilight Sparkle!" She twirls about like a pink swan and stretches both hooves out—and upside down—towards the lavender matriarch in question. "Take it away, Queen Bookworm the First! Woohooo! Who's awesome?! You're awesome!"

The crowd erupts in chuckles before applauding thoroughly. A sea of smiles pivot in Twilight's direction as the alicorn stands up.

Spike holds a microphone up to her, smiling proudly.

"Ahem..." Twilight stands tall in her gown. She spreads her wings and speaks firmly, "It is both an honor and a pleasure to usher in this evening's special event... the very first annual Friendship Gala, located right here in my special home of Ponyville, the navel of Equestria."

Whistles and cheer fill the chamber. Golden beams of sonic euphoria soar left and right over everypony's heads. Among them, I detect the colors of Lyra and Bon Bon. Applejack's chortles mix with Fluttershy's quiet exhalations. Everything feels jubilant and familiar.

"I know that many of you came here not knowing what to expect," Twilight says. "First off, I want to thank you for your good faith... and your willingness to try new things."

A few more chuckles echo across the hall.

Twilight smiles as she continues, "I suppose—in short—I wanted the Friendship Gala to stand out from the Grand Galloping Gala and other events. Some have said that this is meant to be a great deal less formal than what's held in Canterlot. So far... well... I guess you could very well attest to that. Huh?"

More laughter, quieter and more subdued this time.

Twilight clears her throat and carries on: "But, in all honesty, what I feel the Friendship Gala should entail is the plain and simple celebration of each other's company. We are here today—in Ponyville—in spite of so many harrowing events that have travailed across Equestria in recent history. The Return of Nightmare Moon... the Rise of Discord... the Changeling Conspiracy..." She gulped. "Tirek's Rampage." She shook her head. "If it weren't for the magic of friendship, none of these crises would have been averted. We all have each other to thank for triumphing over such inexplicable adversity. I know for a fact that I myself wouldn't be here if it weren't for Spike, my most trusted assistant. Applejack and her honesty. Loyal Rainbow Dash... generous Rarity. Fluttershy and her kindness. Pinkie Pie and... hehe... her endless joy and laughter."

"Don't forget my wicked chocolate muffin recipe!"

Laughs and more laughs.

Twilight smiles, exhaling. "Friendship is more than just a harmonic device for saving this kingdom. It is a force that helps us prosper each and every day. It allows us to relish the presence of those whom we consider special in our lives... without whom our existence would be hollow." She gulps. "And wanting."

I gaze to my left. Octavia sits in her stool, hugging her cello. Biting my lip, I gaze back across the hall.

"But friendship is forever a learning process," Twilight says. "And a growing process. It is full of as many mistakes as it is full of achievements, and we wouldn't be any better off without either of them. And even I, Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship... have made m-many mistakes as of late." She clenches her teeth, pausing for a few seconds. "And, as always, I have found ways to grow... and to improve myself."

I look towards the far side of the chamber. I spot a guard with a blue mane. Flash Sentry gazes quietly across the crowded ballroom. His eyes are alert, resolute. If there's emotion beneath it all, he keeps it well guarded. Even all colors are obscure. His body is a bulwark of monochromatic purpose.

"Such improvement has only been made possible through the direct contribution of friends," Twilight says. "And... I suppose..." Her gaze drifts towards the opposite end of the ballroom, where my stage is located. "...if there's one lesson that I've learned to appreciate as of late, it's that friendship is nothing without respect." She gulps. "We are all... nothing without respect... and a deep sincerity of heart. It is something that divides acquaintances from loved ones. And, well... as far as I am concerned... you are all loved ones in my eyes."

She sniffles a bit, but hides it with a firm voice as she holds her hoof out.

"So... from my heart... to all of my beloved subjects... friends... and muses... I wish you a wonderful Friendship Gala... and an even greater life ahead. Thank you all."

Applause fills the room, filling my ears, blinding my vision. Beyond the crimson deluge, I am certain Twilight Sparkle is smiling. And if I'm to trust the gray breath coming out of her muzzle, then it's the first honest smile she's enjoyed in months.

That's freedom worthy of envy.

"Now... without any further delay, let's continue with tonight's festivities," Twilight says. "Take it, Pinkie!"

Subdued Things

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The crowd is a bit more subdued now as I allow myself a break. Trotting away from the DJ Booth, I approach a table full of refreshments, lifting a glass with my telekinesis. There's no Dr. Pony here tonight, but I think I can deal. This is Twilight's Gala, not one of my tours. Besides... I think my kidneys could use a break.

So, without anymore hesitation, I dip a ladel into the punch bowl and pour myself a drink. Bringing the stuff to my lips, I sip... then shiver slightly from the inside out.

Yeesh, Pinkie Pie...

What did you put in this stuff?

I'm pretty certain we want plenty more Galas to follow after this one.

I tongue the inside of my mouth. I glance left... then right... and then I take another sip. I smile to myself.

The voices behind me form a colorful tapestry over my head. With a casual breath, I turn around, adjust my shades, and gaze out at the crowd filling the ballroom. My body and brain are still buzzing from an hour-long music session. I feel just like a soldier winding down from a military endurance trial. Every exhalation is a cloud magenta raining over the floor, painting the outlines of every equine body so my eyes can study them better.

The faces of everyone in attendance is altogether pleasant. There's an impenetrable sense of comfort and relaxation filling the place. Even the elders—sitting off in the distance—gather in chatty clusters, observing the sights around them as they talk about parties of days gone by. I spot Cranky and Matilda—the old "newlyweds"—conversing with Mayor Mare and Granny Smith. They laugh and chuckle, their golden voices wafting over the rest of the crowd.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash stand side by side. On Rainbow's side are a bunch of flight ponies in uniform. On AJ's side, I recognize the Harvest family. Golden Harvest finishes telling a long-winded anecdote—no doubt about carrots and harvest season—and it sends Applejack's sides splitting with gunshot crimson guffaws. Rainbow and her fellow Wonderbolts snicker politely and shrug at one another.

Pinkie Pie—of course—is all over the place. Everypony knows that this Gala is Princess Twilight Sparkle's idea and all, but it's Pinkie whom we have to thank for making it all possible. She flocks from group to group, checking up on them, encouraging each pony to smile. With a salute and a snicker, she bounces off to the next cluster of partygoers, managing the event—and doing it with a hum and a song.

As my eyes trace after her, I stumble upon the sight of Octavia and Merriweather. Beau's new beau is chatting amicably with Tavi. Perhaps a bit too amicably. I detect the tell-tale signs of drunkenness rolling off Merriweather's slurring tongue. He teeters left and right, giggling incoherently between each pronounced phrase of an ongoing tale. It's harmless... if not goofy. Octavia tries her best not to smile, but it tugs at the velvety edges of her muzzle. She stands back as Merriweather teeters a bit too much, having to steady himself against a table with his non-drinking hoof. Octavia snickers slightly, then responds to his ongoing rambles with a stately purple voice.

I smile.

I swear...

I'll never run out of pride for her...

"Vinyl."

I turn to look ahead of me.

Lyra leans on Bon Bon's shoulder. Her eyes are rosy—as is the rest of her muzzle. After a hiccup, she waves an empty punch cup at me. "Great... mmm... grrrrreat show tonight... hic!"

Ho boy...

"No... I-I really mean it! Y'know..." She grins crookedly, her horn pulsating like a broken antenna. "There was a t-time when I d-didn't go to your concerts on purpose... HIC... c-cuz I was afraid I'd come home all depressed since I knew you were s-so much better than me..."

"Take it all with a grain of salt, Vinyl," Bon Bon says, rolling her eyes with a smirk. "She's a had a bit too much fun punch, but when she asked to say a few words to you... heehee... well, I couldn't resist."

"Few wordsss?" Lyra tries to frown, but it comes across as a melting green jack'o'lantern. "How 'bout a billion hugs? HIC! Things have changed girl! I'm no longerrrr intimidated by yousa." She blinks blearily, the crooked smile returning. "Yousa is the best!" She raises her empty cup, exhaling. "Squee! Totally... totally made this party—HIC!—happen! Princess Twilight Petticoat Pants should... mmmm... promote yousa..."

"Alright, Lyra..." Bon Bon nuzzles the mare, hoists her around, then shuffles towards the exit. "The medal ceremony can wait. Let's get yousa home."

"Awwwwwwww... but I wanna talk to Tavi too!"

"Tavi's already getting an earful of tipsy, methinks. It's okay, Lyra. We'll congratulate her on the party tomorrow."

"Hehhhh... whatever you say, Bon Bon Bon Bon Bon Bon Bon Bon Bon Bon Bon Bon..."

"So long, Vinyl! It's been a blast!" Bon Bon waves from a distance, dragging Lyra out. "Heehee! Truly, it has been!"

I wave back, smirking.

And just then... I feel a burst of indigo to my far left.

Blinking, I turn to look.

Merriweather stands alone by the refreshments table. He gazes around, shrugs, and takes another sip of his drink before filing off across the ballroom.

"... ... ...?" My brow furrows. I turn and gaze across the chamber, lips pursed.

Huh...

What just...?

"Heya Viney!" Pinkie scuffles up to me, nearly sliding across the polished floor and into a table. "Hey hey! You ready for the next session? Twilight's asking for something smoooooooth that'll ease the crowd's nerves down so we can properly close out the evening!"

I blink at her. I look left and right again, fidgeting.

"Is everything okay?" Pinkie's muzzle scrunches. "Do you need an inspiration hug? Maud taught me as a little filly how to give those out!"

I shake my head, waving a hoof. With a reassuring smirk, I point back at my booth, turn around, and march towards the stage.

"Okie Dokie Lokie!" Pinkie trots off in the opposite direction. "I'll tell Twilight that the last phase of the Gala is a go!"

Frightening Things

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I'm about five minutes into the last session of the night. My mind is abuzz with plotting what tune to transition into. I have several spare records at my disposal. The problem is, most of them are a bit too heavy on the bass for what I need right now. What Twilight and the rest of the Council require is something gentle and trance-like to ease us out of the party atmosphere. I know I should have planned for better, but I was performing for a lot longer during the first half of the party than I had anticipated.

My mind is so busy with pondering the next step that I fail to notice the voice wafting up to me until there's a tug on my tail. This startles me so much that I nearly scratch the record I'm playing. Lifting half of a set of headphones off my ears, I look down curiously, blinking through my shades.

It's Beau. He looks nervous... panicked, even. His muzzle moves, and it's not until I drop the other half of the headphones that I can make out his words.

"...seen her lately? I've been looking all around the ballroom, but I don't know where she's gone."

I raise an eyebrow behind my shades. It's the signal I always give Beau to indicate how confused I am.

"Octavia, Vine," Beau emphasizes. His voice is a great deal breathier than I would have anticipated. He's very scared for some reason. Maybe it's the punch speaking? But then he exhales again: "I need to find her! I'm afraid that... that..."

He hesitates. The zebra's ears fold back—a very guilty expression.

Now I'm really confused. I look across the ballroom to my left.

Octavia's stage is empty. Her cello leans against the stool, abandoned.

My lips part. I gaze down towards Beau again.

"Look, I... I've been getting really... really close to Merriweather," Beau rasps. "And, in the time we've... hung out together, I... I-I feel like I may have t-told him a bit more than I should have... about things. And... uhm..." He sniffles, trembling all over. I've never seen Beau look this vulnerable, and that's what freaks me out the most about this. "He's not as subtle as me and... and he was talking with Tavi earlier, Vine. I... I'm scared that he may have triggered something he shouldn't have. I mean... I-I'm still trying to get it out of him. The stallion's had a bit too much to drink and... and..."

I feel my heartbeat racing—if only to try and match Beau's anxiety. I raise a hoof to steady him, to request that he repeat himself.

But he shudders and says, "This is all my fault. Just... j-just finish your session, Vine. I-I'll go find Octavia. I'll take care of this, okay? I'll make this all right! I promise!"

I grit my teeth, waving at him.

But it's too late. He trots off hurriedly through the remaining crowd. His tail whips frightfully. I'm not sure even he knows where to go or what to do.

I stand nervously at my booth, contemplating the situation—or the lack thereof.

What would Merriweather have "triggered," exactly?

Octavia's an understanding mare.

I think...

Yeah, Beau is just overreacting. He hasn't been in a relationship for a long time and his heart is trying to make a catastrophe over nothing.

Tavi's fine.

I'm sure she's just off to use the filly's room. Odds are she found a stash of wine at the Gala tonight and she's just—

A wave rolls through the Ballroom. Everything ripples—including my heartstrings.

I gasp, freezing in place. I sit back on my haunches, craning my neck, ears twitching.

I wait and I wait and—

It happens again. Another wave. Deep and drenching and indigo.

My blood freezes over.

Scrccchhhttt! The speakers rip, and then the music dies.

The ponies milling and swaying about the ballroom jolt in surprise. Half of the room's eyes turn, gazing curiously at my DJ Booth.

I descend from my table and land on the cold crystalline floor. I trot through the awkward silence, filing through the crowd, keeping my ears pricked towards the ceiling.

Again...

Indigo...

Incalculably far away... but very real.

I hear it... I hear her...

I shuffle through the crowd. There are a gazillion eyes on me, but I don't care. Each trailing wave leads me towards a doorframe to the far left, behind Octavia's stage.

A body files through the mess. Two bodies.

"Uhhh... hey there, Vinyl...?" Pinkie Pie coos.

"Is everything alright?" Fluttershy asks.

I don't listen to them. I can't listen to them. My ears tune in on the indigo and the indigo alone as I brush on by, my trot turning into a half-hearted gallop, matching the stutter of my heart.

"Uhhmm..." Fluttershy glances at her friend.

Pinkie Pie clears her throat, turning towards the crowd. "Okie dokie lokie, everypony! That was tonight's entertainment! Uhhhhm... g-give it up for DJ-P0N3! Yeah!"

The ballroom slowly breaks into crimson applause... then melts behind me as I rush into the nearest hallway.

I'm panting at this point, threading my way down black and blacker crystalline corridors... searching... seeking.

And again...

Indigo...

Closer now...

Indigo...

Fractured... desperate...

Indigo...

Weeping... pleading...

Her color is not alone. It's accompanied by something else. Something wretched... and wretchedly familiar. A patchwork of coarse browns and grays. Sandpaper to the ears... to my ears.

I glance at the floor.

Mottled feathers and torn velvet roses litter the ground.

They form a trail... bleeding around the corner.

I'm galloping at this point. My dashes right, left, then right again...

And then I see her... draped in a vice-like pair of talons... his talons.

A gangly freak of a griffon in a gold vest holds Octavia by her neck. Her dress is torn from an obvious scuffle. Her legs dangle beneath her—dangle beneath his grip as he drags her towards a thick set of crystalline doors labeled "Royal Treasury."

"For the last time, you stupid mud horse!" Ambassador Talonsmith snarls, aiming a pair ot talons against the soft-spot between her eyes. "Give me the combination to this lock or I'll hang you by your garters!"

"And f-for the last t-time, you insufferable brute..." Octavia's words are tough, but her voice isn't. She sniffles, just upon the crest of indigo sobs. "I don't know it! I'm j-just a minstrel!"

"And just what's a damned musician doing wandering the halls at this hour?! Huh?!" Talonsmith spits in her face. "Don't pretend, hussy! I know you're a guard in disguise! Now tell me the blasted combination already so I can get what belongs to Griffonstone!"

"I... d-don't... know it!"

"Rrrrgh!" The air splashes with crimson as he slaps my best friend. "You're not making this any easier for the two of us?!"

I brace my legs hard against the floor. Hissing magenta, I aim my horn at him and channel forth as much magic as I can. My vision goes black, and when it comes back... the abominable griffon is still standing there, the shoulders of his tunic barely smoking.

"Huh?!?" He turns and glares over his shoulder at me. "The hell is this?! Some kind of musician's convention?!"

"Vine! Vine, love!" Octavia sputters, trembling, bleeding from the lip. Her voice lifts into violet for a split second before diving deep into an indigo abyss. "Don't be a hero! Get the guards! Get Twilight! Get—"

"Shut up!" Talonsmith's patchwork breath suffocates her. He spins around, grasping Octavia from behind as he plants a series of razor-sharp talons right up against the mare's velvet chest. Octavia shrieks in pain and fright, and the cretin's voice seeps through it, his hawkeyes glued on my shivering frame. "I'm only going to tell you this once, unicorn. Leave us be, or I promise you: this pathetic mule's death won't be a slow one..."

Penultimate Things

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I am on stage.

I am in a studio.

I am riding a train across Equestria.

I am anywhere but here.

Magenta breaths...

Golden shivers...

I am awash in Scribbler's orange purrs.

I lean against the wall of my bedroom, bathed in the purple breaths seeping from the other side...

The violet froth of all of her unfulfilled dreams...

The fitful streams of indigo flickering in between.

It tastes of her tears... her sniffling nostrils... the pitch in her voice at the first taste of wine as we sit on the patio watching the sun set.

And all of that shatters as she whimpers again...

Shivering.

Locked up in an indigo voice, secured by this psychopath's claws.

This freak...

This happenstance monster who's sliced his way into our lives like a patchwork splinter.

"Can't you take a hint, snow horse?!" Talonsmith sneers at me in the black, black hallway. His claws remain pressed to Octavia's vulnerable chest. "I said beat it! Take your shades and scram! And if you breathe of word of this to the Princess—"

"Don't you d-dare threaten m-my friend," Octavia suddenly hisses in a splash of purple. Her teary eyes flare as she shudders with a newfound fury. "Haven't you d-done enough already?!"

I grimace.

I shiver.

Tavi, no...

"Shut up..." He snarls. "Some help you've been! I have a good mind to break the door open with your sorry skull, ya damned glue stick—"

"You'll g-get nothing from this." Purple and indigo. Swaying. Dipping. So very close to sobbing. "You have to understand that." Her eyes dart my way. "Vine... love... please... you m-must leave..."

No...

Patchwork growling. "Shut your trap unless I'm telling you to speak..."

Please, Goddess, no...

He's out of his mind. He's got her strung up like a rabbit about to be skinned.

Celestia, please...

"It'll be okay, Vinyl..." Octavia smiles through her tears. It's a fragile thing. Like breathing for the first time through a layer of ice. "You m-must go now." The indigo returns. She's shivering. I feel my knees go weak. Heart pounding like thunder. "Get help. Get help from somepony who—"

"Did you hear a word I said?!" His beak clatters. He's a twitching, spastic organism. Something half-pretending to be civilized, crumbling before us, bringing the full weight of his inside-out world over my best friend. My best friend. "Rrrrgh... damned horses. I don't have time for this." Claws glint in the light.

A bridge beneath snow. The glint of strings.

A teary smile from the riverside.

"Go." Love.

She doesn't say the last word. She can't. Not with four sharp talons knifing through her chest, digging, spilling blood. Her eyes bulge, the purplest they've ever been. And then she's tossed limply to the floor in a puddle of her own juices.

I no longer see her. All I see is Talonsmith's blinking face, for I'm charging into him horn-first.

He's faster than lightning. I'm not. His second punch lands in my gut before my nerves can register the first. My spine ricohets with crimson flashes of pain. I awake from the eternal moment, gasping, and that's when a fifth punch slams across my skull. I fly back, skidding across a warm, wet floor.

Another red splash, and I'm collapsed against the opposite wall of the corridor, curled up in a fetal position. Claws scrape towards me, accompanied by sandpaper hisses.

"...Tartarus... snkkkt... forsaken p-pack mules..." He clutches his neck. A puncture wound lingers there, bleeding—right at horn level. I suddenly realize how wet my forehead feels. "Should never... snkkkt... have signed that treaty with you. The steward's blind." Schiiing! He raises his talons above me. "But not as blind as I'm going to make you—"

Something heavy soars in like a missile, slamming right into him. There's a patchwork squawk. Talonsmith's voice is suddenly a barrel of seagulls shrieking in agony, followed by several punishing thuds that squeeze the oxygen out of his raspy lungs. I look over to see flickers and flashes of gold, followed by a blue mane, tossing. White teeth, snarling.

"Rrrrrghh!" A golden voice, burning like a swift sunrise, and Flash Sentry heaves Talonsmith over his shoulder for one last bodyslam into the black surface of the harmonic domain. Crimson ripples beautifully in all directions. Talonsmith tries getting up, sputtering, cursing. A savage metal horseshoe to the beak splits his resolve down the center, and the mad griffon falls into a dull slump, wheezing.

Flash Sentry stands up, catching his breath. He looks at Talonsmith, at me, then at the quivering spectacle to the left of us... bathed in squeaks of indigo.

Oh Goddess.

Oh Goddess, I can't look.

Celestia help me...

I turn and look anyway. My blood turns to ice. I wish I could say the same about hers.

Octavia quivers, a wet meaty center to a black velvet flower. Her hoof claws at the air. The shivering movement pulls the bile up out of my gut. Her eyes stream with tears. A foaming trickle of white vomit laces her muzzle. Her chest...

Goddess no...

I crawl towards her. Deflated. Numb. My ears tickle with the red clicks of a pair of hoof-cuffs being manacled around Talonsmith's limbs. Then—in a literal flash—the guard squats at Octavia's side. I watch as he takes the deep breath of his life, and then he speaks in breathy golds and yellows.

"Hello, Miss Melody. Pretty exciting stuff, huh?"

"Mmmmfffghh..." She gurgles, eyes darting about. "Mmmmnshglkkt—gonnadieee...?"

I cover my muzzle with my forelimbs.

"Heh. Not on my watch. Besides... brave mares earn themselves several lives." The deepest of gulps. "Sorta like cats. You have any cats, Miss Melody?"

"Mrmmmff... grkglllfg... Sssscribbler..."

"Heh. Silly name for a cat. You should get a second one. Name it. Name it. Uh. Spike." Only now do I notice how swiftly Flash Sentry's hooves are traveling up and down Octavia's figure, checking the puncture wounds under her blouse, the blood collecting along the folds of her dress. "On second thought, cats stink. Get a dog. They'll look after you more."

"Mmmmmm-goddessss..." Sweet, saccharine waves of indigo. Oh Celestia. "Oh goddess... g-gonna die..."

"Hey..."

"Don't want... d-don't want—"

"Hey. Miss Melody. Octavia, look at me." Flash clasps his hooves over hers, glaring. Eyes strong. Like iron. "You're going to be alright. I just need you to stay calm. Even breaths. Keep your eyes open—Octavia. Eyes open, you got it?"

Octavia merely pants... pants... squeaks...

Flash gulps hard. His skin is a cascade of glinting sweat from a mile away. He fumbles. He reaches into his armor and pulls out crystalline shard. He breathes into it... gives the thing a shake... and breathes once again. A warm rosy glow emanates from the object. It casts shadows across the room, including mine. Flash notices it, and he whips his eyes in my direction, panting.

Another gulp, and he murmurs through a panting smile. "Vinyl Scratch. Hey. Come here." Swallowing once more, he waves frantically, voice hissing: "Come come come come..."

I rush. I scamper over towards him. My bruises are a world away.

"Guess what, Octavia?" Flash smiles down at the wounded soul. "Your best friend Vinyl's here! Everything's gonna be okay—" He turns towards me, eyes narrow. "Vinyl." A dull whisper. "Did you take Magic 101 in Grade School?"

I stand there, shivering. Octavia's voice changes in pitch. The indigo dips, mixing with turquoise. I shudder, eyes welling with tears. Oh goddess please—

"Vinyl. Vinyl." He shakes my shoulder. "Look at me."

I do so, trembling.

"Magic 101? Yes? No?"

I nod.

"Magic 102?"

I nod again.

"How about Advanced Magic 201?"

I gulp... then shake my head.

"Well, that's okay. Really." He clears his throat, holding the shard up. "Do you know how to maintain a basic aura spell?"

I nod, shivering.

"Good. Here." He plants the rosy crystal in my hooves. "Feel for the leylines. Then connect with it. Maintain the magic field as long as you can. Do you think you can do that?"

Magenta bursts, and yet I nod.

"Okay. Come here. Come come..." He pulls me over to Octavia's side. My shivering knees nearly slip on the blood. Goddess, the blood... "Look here, Vinyl. See?" He moves my hooves until I'm leaning over, placing the shard gently against Octavia's chest. "I'm going to need you to stay here with your friend, Vinyl. Keep the shard pressed to her chest. Maintain the aura's magic field. Think you can do that?"

I shiver... shiver... and nod.

"This is going to stop the blood from flowing out for a while. Just for a while, okay? I have to go and fetch some medical assitance. I saw Nurse Redheart at the Gala just minutes ago. It should only take a minute to go grab her. Maybe two." Flash Sentry takes a deep breath. "I won't be gone for long. I promise. Can you look after your friend Tavi while I'm gone?"

I struggle not to sob. I'm dizzy by the time I nod again.

"Good." He pats my shoulder. "Good good." He flaps his wings, hovering right above us... above Tavi. "Tavi? Your friend Vinyl is going to take care of you, alright? Don't move. Your chest might start to feel a bit weird... fuzzy, even, but that's the crystal doing its work. And Vinyl's going to make sure the crystal stays charged. I'll be right back with a doctor who can make you all better. Got it?"

"Mmmmfff..." Octavia's eyes roll back as she sputters. "...V-Vine...?"

"That's right. She's right beside you. It's going to be okay." Flash flies two feet, then looks back at me. "Keep the crystal charged." He points. "Make sure she doesn't go unconscious." Then, in a burst of air, he soars down the corridor.

I shake... shudder... then keep my trembling hooves clasped around the shard. It glistens with a pink shine... but then there are more colors than that. A glossy bed of crimson blood lingers beneath her... beneath us. The aura fluctuates, nearly fading. I fight it with a magenta hiss, re-stabilizing the leylines. I concentrate... navigating the strings... deep salvos of a cellist's base... keeping me grounded... keeping her alive... the two of us together.

Seconds limp by.

Eons...

Tavi...

"Vine..."

T-Tavi...

I gaze down at her. My shades are lopsided. I try to smile.

Her voice doesn't help much. "Your... your muzzle..." A hoof lifts up, shivering. She gargles on something, and more vomit trickles out of her mouth. "...so bruised..." A shudder. "Bloody sod..."

I clasp her hoof in mind. Gnashing my teeth. Holding the shard against her wounded chest with the other limb.

Don't move.

Tavi, please...

"You... grkkkt..." Tavi's eyes twitch, dancing on either side of me. "...sh-shouldn't have to see this..."

I swallow a lump, forcing her hoof back down by her side. I place two hooves against the crystal, charging it with extra mana. A final symphony to keep her alive.

Please, stay alive...

"It... it's my fault..."

Please...

"Shouldn't... sh-shouldn't have wandered off..."

Please, Tavi...

"Just... so confused... so angry..." Eyes rolling back. Breath dipping. Indigo to tan to turquoise. "...why, Vinyl...?"

No...

"Why, love...?"

No!

I shake her head, gnashing my teeth.

Her eyes flutter wide open. A gasp. The crystal strobes with pink, and her voice jolts into purple.

Not like this...

I shake and whimper.

Not so soon...

"Mrmmffngh... Vine, why..." A hiss. A wheeze. "Why are you crying?"

I can't stop it.

It's an icy slope and everything's melting.

I slide down it... slide towards her.

A horn that's pulsating. A mare that's weeping into the snow.

Never been alive before.

Never.

Not until...

Magenta and magenta.

Waves of it, washing around me.

Around us.

It brings her closer to the surface than any crystal, and as the numbing waters drown me, it pushes her to the top. She counters with a healthy breath... a confused breath... gazing down at me from above the depths.

"Vine? Vinyl?"

I fall. I fade. The crimson dissipates as I drift down the frozen river.

"Vine, what... what did you just say...?"

And then...

I collapse.

Empty... black...

Unconscious.

Brave Things

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This is not death.

There's too much green.

I follow the hum.

I clasp onto it.

I'm pulled out of the tan murk, ascending faster and faster with each heart beat.

At last, I emerge, my ears ringing.

Soft voices emerge from the haze.

One familiar. Another scarcely so.

"...simply in an alicornia-induced sleep. She should be up and awake at any moment."

"Is... is there any chance of... of...?"

"Brain damage? Fear not, Your Majesty. She simply overloaded the leylines affixed to the schism. I've read Nurse Red Heart's files on Miss Scratch quite clearly. This is something she's endured many times. It's an unfortunate albeit manageable consequence of living with her condition."

"You don't think that charging the crystal would have put her through extraordinary stress?"

"I'm... under the impression that the guard who intervened didn't know that Miss Scratch's leylines were so sensitive. But I assure you that no damage is done. Let's just be glad that medical assistance arrived precisely when—"

I sit up with a jolt. Cold sheets roll off of me. There are cables attached to my forelimb and horn. A crimson beeping sound persists to my side.

"Oh! Speaking of which...!" A wrinkly face turns towards me from across a tiny hospital room. Dr. Clark smiles, trotting away from Twilight Sparkle in the cold blue light. "Miss Scratch! A delight to have you awake! Now... just relax. Take deep, even breaths. You are in the best care in all of Equestria—"

His words fade, along with the colors of his breath. I'm looking left and right, eyes squinting against the naked lights. The world swims. I kick away at it, spinning the colors, sorting through them. It's a nightmarish task, entangling me with errant reds and golds and blues and...

Indigo.

There it is.

Tavi...

"—if you would just sit tight as I perform a few quick tests on—"

I burst out of bed. The cables are still attached, and I cause the table of equipment to shift and rattle.

"Miss Scratch..." Dr. Clark stammers, his voice hitting a rosy pitch. "Miss Scratch, please, you are in no condition to—"

Teeth, gnashing, I rip the cables off of me. I trot away from the bed, tossing sheets and a rattling bed pan.

"Miss Scratch—"

I shove past him, wheezing. A magenta splash, and I see Twilight rushing towards me. No. She's rushing towards the Doctor, blocking him. "Doctor. It's... It's alright." Gray and grayer. "I'll keep an eye on her."

"But... your Highness, this is most unorthodox—"

"She won't interfere in anything! I promise!" She scampers after me. I'm in the hallway now, or at least I think so. Everything's spinning. Ponies in white turn towards me. All is gold and gasps. "Vinyl! Vinyl! Hold up—"

I don't listen. I don't care.

I don't stop.

Indigo.

It's just a few doorframes ahead. Towards the right. Faint and fluctuating.

Goddess, please...

I'm stumbling, scampering. I knock into something... or I knock something over. I don't know.

"Vinyl—" Gray bursts behind my table.

I surf the magenta waves, rolling toards a lone door. Ponies are gathered there. Eyes flash my way, widening.

"Vinyl, she's okay! Listen to me—"

I slump against the door. Gnashing my teeth, I squint against the blinding haze, staring through the sheet of glass and metal wires.

Nurse Red Heart is pacing around a thick wad of white sheets. It takes a few seconds to realize that my best friend is lying beneath them. I see velvet gray fur. The hint of a sleeved leg. A mane... where is her mane? Where is her breath?!

"She's alright!" Twilight rushes towards me. "Tavi's going to be fine! Do you hear me?"

Telekinesis tugs at my shoulder, but I shrug it off, struggling to yank the door open. The knob won't budge.

"Nurse Red Heart can't afford to be interrupted right now. She's keeping Octavia stabilized." Twilight presses her hoof to my shoulder. "You kept her awake in time for Red Heart and her team to arrive. Your roommate's going to be okay. She just needs to recover with magic stabilization therapy. That's what the crystals are in there for, see? Just like the one you protected her with."

I stand tall, shivering. My gaping muzzle presses to the glass.

At last, Nurse Red Heart hears the commotion. She turns to blink at the face staring in through the door. A smile crosses her muzzle. She leans down towards the mare in the bed, murmuring something. There's the tiniest, most fragile flicker of indigo... and a bandaged hoof raises up, waving meekly.

I hold a hoof over my muzzle, shuddering.

"See? It's okay, Vinyl." Twilight's face drifts in to smile at me. I can't see it through the waves of magenta rolling out... among other things. "You did it. You saved her. Octavia's going to be okay thanks to you."

I clench my eyes shut. I shake. I heave.

"Now... please... will you come back to your room so that Dr. Clark can look you ov—Vinyl?"

I'm slumping down against the door. My legs are butter. I can't stop sobbing.

Somehow, through the dizzying miasma, I detect a sharp series of echoing hooftrops, followed by a lovely breath.

"Is she up? My goddess. Make way. Please. Everypony." Beau's strong forelimbs wrap around me. "Hey, girl..."

A squeak leaves my throat, almost knocking me out. I spin around and bury my face in his shoulder. He holds me tight, stroking my back and nuzzling me close.

"It's okay. Everything's gonna be okay, Vine." He murmurs in my ear, rocking me gently as the breathy waves weep out of me. "You're as brave as they get, girl. Don't you fret one bit. Tavi's lucky... she's so dayum lucky..."

Another sob. I hang onto Beau as the magenta tide drags at my legs.

There's somepony luckier...

For the next few minutes, I'm crying through a smile. At some point, Beau helps me back to my hooves and leads me back to my room. But I scarcely notice.

Indigo...

Blessed... blessed indigo...

I could drown in it...

Bedside Things

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"Turns out there really is an 'Ambassador Talonsmith," Beau says, sitting at my bedside. "But that crazy turkey you and Tavi ran into the other night?" He shakes his head. "That ain't him! The psychopath is actually a Mr. Talonsmith Jr. Seems like livin' off daddy's bird bits has left him feelin' mighty entitled... and just a teensy bit deranged. Rumor is, they busted into Junior's roost in Griffonstone and found stacks upon stacks of books all related to the old griffon/pony wars. The lunatic's obsessed, and this ain't the first time he's tried using his daddy's title to slither his way into some sort of stately event of some kind or another."

I sit up in bed, blinking tiredly. Beyond Beau's voice... beyond the crimson beeps of my heart monitor, I sense a rippling sea of indigo. It's weak... it's still... but it's stable, and growing denser by the hour.

I breathe easily.

Beau continues. "So far, as best as Twilight and the royal guard can tell, Talonsmith Junior likely showed up with the first catering unit, pretendin' to be a normal servant. That was—like—a week ago? The current theory is that the crazy ol' coot stole his way up into one of the supply lockers and holed himself up there, munchin' on crackers and doin' his nasty bird business into a soup can. Can you imagine that? A house invader? Livin' like a cockroach between the castle walls for days and nights, just so he could leap out and stage some impossible coup? Brbrbrbrrrr..."

I can feel Beau's shivers from across the room. I struggle to keep my lunch in. It's a difficult feat, considering the texture of most hospital foods. I was once used to it.

"I've been hangin' out with Princess Twilight and her friends'n'all over the past two days. Real cool cats, even if I've only been seein' the serious side of 'em. For a second there, Twilight was really scared that this Talonsmith Jr guy would be claimin' insanity or something. But—like—the dude's spat in the face of all representatives who've come to help him. I think he's really insane! He thinks that he's the real delegate from Griffonstone, and that the ponies are holding out gold on him! Tch... guy couldn't be any further from reality. Heck, his own Pop's done disowned him, the way I hear it. So there goes his last line of homeland protection. Kind of pathetic when you think about it."

I close my eyes, feeling the indigo streams wafting from afar. I drift in them. My bed is a raft, and it carries me to a warmer tomorrow.

Beau's voice is the wind. "Well... if you ask me, psycho or not, that punk knew exactly what harm he was doin' when he did what he did to you and Tavi. And I'm super glad he got what was comin' to him. Heh. Reckon I've never met this 'Flash Sentry' dude, but the moment I bump into him you can bet he's gettin' a bro-hoof from yours truly that'll carry him for life! Hell, I'll hug the suave stuffing out of him! I dun care which way his barn door swings! The zebra train's a'rollin', buddy boy!"

The lips of my muzzle curve. I sigh calmly... relaxedly...

And I feel a strong pair of forelimbs covering mine.

My naked eyes open thinly.

Beau's leaning at my bedside. He smiles, gently stroking my fetlocks. "But nothin' tops you, girl..." He gulps. "And what you did." His ears fold back. "Vine... it had to have taken every ounce of yer guts to stick by Tavi's side like you did. Why, if somethin' that awful happened to Merriweather... I-I'm not certain I could even think straight. And I've only known the guy for only a few weeks! But you? You and Tavi? That's seven years of gorgeous stuff to have flash by yer genius eyes! And... and..."

I bite my lip.

He grimaces slightly, but covers it up with a smile. "I... I don't mean to rub it in or nothin', girl. Just... just know that I'm proud of you." He takes a shuddering breath, his eyes moist. "And I know in my heart that Octavia is proud of you too. Especially since... I-I mean... especially after what... what Merriweather..."

I love Beau. I love hearing him speak. But Goddess if I'm not exhausted right now.

Everything fades, cascading into a dull, vibrating green.

He sees me sliding away. His sigh is curiously remorseful. It's the last thing that nearly startles me as I drift into that gentle hum.

"Yeah... yeah, Vine." A stroke of my bangs. "You just rest up, girl. We'll... uh... we'll talk later."

There's a string of magenta—there and melting again.

Did I reply to him?

Do I ever reply to him?

For a mare with so many one-sided conversations, I sure do stumble through a lot of dimensions...

...and here comes one now.

...here comes...

Felicitous Things

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"Cheer up, Vinyl!" Bon Bon chirps, her amber voice practically assaulting my ears. "If you ask us, some sunshine will be good for you!"

I fold my forelimbs.

I frown.

I do not want to be here.

I never asked to be brought out here.

And yet, here I am, being rolled across town in a wheelchair. Bon Bon and Lyra gently push me towards home. My head aches, trying to catch my bearings through the brightness beyond my shades. All I want to do is be turned around so that I can face the hospital again. Maybe if I concentrate hard enough, I can still detect the fine ripples of indigo and—

"Honestly. You were only taking up unnecessary space at Ponyville Central," Bon Bon adds. "Octavia's fine. We all know she's fine! The doctors have told us a gazillion times that she's making a healthy recovery in record time! It... simply isn't healthy for you to sit around in that sterilized environment, watching paint dry as you wait for her to be moved to another unit!" She looks aside. "Isn't that right, Lyra?"

"Uhhhhhhhh..." Lyra mutters. Judging by the pitch in her voice, I suspect she's dreaming up another instrumental in that creative skull of hers. "...huh?"

"Eughhh..." Bon Bon groans. "Lyra, a little help here."

"Hey. Vinyl. Octavia's totally not dead. Stop getting so freakypressed about it, kay?"

A brief burst of magenta.

Did I just laugh?

Weird...

"Hah!" Lyra beams, her voice more golden than ever. "Told you I was here for moral support?"

"Fine... fine..." Bon Bon sighs. "How about this, Vinyl?" I sense her face leaning in through my peripheral vision. "Humor us by spending one day out in the open air. One day. We'll run by your apartment so you can grab some stuff. Y'know... Tavi's things. Necessities... comfort items. Things that'll make her really happy once she fully wakes up from the first wave of magic stabilization treatment. Then, we'll swing by Sugarcube Corner! The Princess and her friends asked specifically that we make a stop there so that they could visit you... at least... visit and socialize outside of a cramped hospital room. Wouldn't that be nifty?"

"Yeah, Vine!" Lyra grins. "They've been really dying to see you!"

"Lyra!"

"Yeesh! What now?!"

"Don't use the 'd' word?"

"Why not?" Lyra shrugs. "Everypony's fine! Tavi's fit as a fiddle! We're... like... in the Fit Fiddle Zone!"

"Ugh... you can be so impossible at times..."

"B-Squared, will you just lighten up? We're supposed to be relaxing! Letting Vinyl let loose!"

"Yes, but there are... st-standards to uphold!"

"Oh good grief. Hey, Vinyl. What's the color of stuck-up?"

Another magenta burst.

"See?!" Lyra points. "I got her rolling!"

"Lyra, I swear, if you make her faint again..."

"Hah. We could swing by our place and park her outside the bathroom door. That would make her faint."

"Gaaaaie! Lyra!"

"Haha! What, Bon Bon?! Come on! Vine's our friend!"

"But... b-but we're out in the open! Goddess..."

"You are sooooooo red right now."

"Grrrr..."

"Shouda called you 'Beet-Beet' after foaling. Friggin' priceless..."

I sigh, hugging myself.

A tiny smile hangs off my muzzle.

I truly am lucky to have such idiotic friends...

Comforting Things

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The door to the apartment opens, and Scribbler's there.

She looks up... sees me... and leaps.

The bruises on my body still hurt. I know this now. I wince fitfully into a sea of orange and fuzz.

"Whoops...!" Bon Bon grimaces, reaching in over my wheelchair. "Yes yes, Mommy's home. Well, one of them, anyway. Doesn't mean you gotta go crazy."

I raise a hoof to block her, still wincing. No. It's okay. Let her be crazy.

"Ehhh... I think Vine's okay, Bon Bon," Lyra says, moving me and the chair indoors. I hug Scribbler's black-and-white body the whole time, weathering her golden mewls. The smell of this place overwhelms me. I never thought a scent—of all senses—could do that. "If Vinyl wasn't having none of it, she'd float Scribbler away on her own."

"Is that true, Vine?"

"Pfft... of course it's true!" Lyra muses, trotting across the foyer and raising the curtains to let the light in. "I toss you off me every night when you're asleep!"

"Ugh! Not this again! Lyra, I do not toss and turn."

"Like a friggin' sideways tornado! Hah!" Lyra winks at me as she trots on by. "I've considered wearing hoofball gear to bed."

I'm listening to her, but I'm not looking. In a cold sweat, my eyes scan the edges of the kitchen until I find Scribbler's food dish. To my surprise, it's still partially full.

"It's alright, Vinyl," Bon Bon says, as if reading my mind. She trots in until I see her smiling face entirely. "Scribbler's been fully taken care of these last few days."

I raise an eyebrow suspiciously.

Bon Bon giggles slightly. "Rarity still has Octavia's keys. At least... that's what Fluttershy said. She and Rarity have been taking turns doing cat duty."

I blink at that. Adjusting my shades, I gaze into the distant hallway. Scribbler's litter box is in full view, and the thing is nearly empty.

"Now don't you feel bad or anything," Bon Bon says, pointing. "From what Fluttershy said, it was their absolute pleasure to look after the lil' kitty while you two were recuperating."

"Heh... yeah..." Lyra's voice rolls across the foyer. "All of Twilight's Council have been practically gushing over you and Tavi since the incident. After all, you girls are what made the Gala so spectacular in the end!"

"And we know!" Bon Bon grins wide. "We were there!"

I nod, pet Scribbler a few more times, then gently let her down onto the floor.

"Don't worry, Vine. We'll get Scribbler her evening meal," Lyra says. "How about you go into Tavi's room and grab some stuff, y'know? Stuff that'll make her feel at home for the next week or so she's at Ponyville Central?"

Bon Bon hums, "Some mane conditioner... lotion... a fluffy bathrobe..."

"She's not staying a friggin' resort hotel, Bon Bon."

"Hey, I thought the idea was to make Tavi feel comfortable!"

"With a full set of bath products?! Unless Aloe and Lotus have become doctors, I don't see how that's—"

I leave the couple to be... a couple. With a pulse of magic, I roll my wheelchair into the next part of the apartment, out of earshot.

I gulp.

"Go into Tavi's room," she says...

I've barely ever been in here.

Rule Number One of being a Roommate is knowing what's holy.

Rule Number One of being a best friend...

I flick on a light and linger in the entrance to Tavi's domain. A melancholic sigh exits my nostrils, cold and magenta and gone.

...is knowing how to share the praise and worship.

Tavi's room is every bit as elegant and refined as she is, full of flowy, velvet, burgundy things. I can't tell where her carpet ends and her bed begins. Is she so in love with red wine that she must sleep in the stuff?

I'm not one to criticize. Especially not Tavi. It's just that... everything is so spotless. Literally. There's hardly a speck of dust on the curtains—and they are thick curtains too. It's strange to think that she must hate the daylight as much as I do. It's even stranger to think that she made up her bed and her room so immaculately before attending something as important as the Friendship Gala... almost as if something deep inside the native Trottinghamite knew that she... that she might not have...

I shudder. With another pulse of magic, I roll forward, gazing at her dresser, her vanity. A pale unicorn in shades drifts past the mirror... and then I see her again. Me... posing next to Octavia and Lyra and Bon Bon. The four of us are standing outside the entrance to Town Hall the night before the Summer Sun Celebration over a year ago. We look happy and peaceful, unaware of the brief chaos that was to follow within minutes of that photo being taken... when Nightmare Moon made her return.

I can only guess that Tavi keeps this because she adores the moment far more than the followup. Or perhaps it's that Tavi—like me—appreciates the past.

No...

That's not the case...

She doesn't obsess over the past...

Not like... like...

With a mute groan, I stand up. It hurts to walk on my hooves. Talonsmith's punches really did a number on me. Nevertheless, I trot over to her bed—almost afraid I'll collapse on it. Instead, I look at the absurd collection of pillows piled up on one side of the mattress. I suddenly imagine that Tavi never bothers uncovering her duvet at all. She just... curls up on the pillows like a big fuzzy cat and calls it a night. If only I had memorized what her favorite cushion looks like. I'd hate to return to the hospital with a fluffy imposter inside my grasp.

Oh, whom am I kidding? It's the gesture that counts.

A pillow...

Some of Tavi's favorite books...

And—screw it—maybe one of her robes too. Bon Bon's right. Tavi loves to look and feel delicate. It's the righteous habit belonging to angels and angels alone.

Reaching out, I test one pillow, then another. I'm about to touch a third when—th-thap—Scribbler once more appears. She pads across the bed, at muzzle-level with me. Her whiskers flux as the kitten mewls once again.

I stifle a sigh, teetering a bit from the breathy gesture.

I reach out, grasping Scribbler and preparing to place her on the floor...

...when I stop. For now is the time when I realize that I have become Tavi.

In this place—in this domain—I have assumed her spirit. Tiny, delicate, wistful... and with the source of all orange mirth in my grasp.

Comfort.

Tavi is comfort... and I don't know if I can bring that to her at the hospital, no matter what I bag.

I don't know if I can bring her enough comfort at all.

But she definitely gives it to me... just by being here... the beacon of purple and orange serenity that is sorely lacking. And here I stand in the hollow of what this place once was... what it should be...

And oh how close we got to it being bereft of those colors altogether.

Right now... the bed and the pillows—they practically sing with the trace echoes of what makes everything so beautiful.

It's enough to bring me to my knees. Instead, I lean forward, surrending to the bed, hugging Scribbler close. Her orange purrs bring out the best and worst in me at once. I close my eyes, shuddering as the sobs come out, quiet and subdued—as much as I can afford.

The magenta is a poor, poor substitute.

I won't take long. I promise, Tavi.

I won't take long at all...

Familial Things

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"You sure you don't want us to go back to the apartment and grab your wheelchair for you, Vine?" Bon Bon asks.

I shake my head. Nevertheless, I wince slightly with each step I take across town. It's not so much that I'm in pain. I'm just... achy in a million tiny places. It all amounts to a big fluffy ball of ouch. If nothing else, it simply reminds me that I'm alive.

"It's okay, Bon Bon," Lyra says, levitating a case full of personal effects—Tavi's things. "You don't have to coddle her so much." She giggle-snorts. "That's Octavia's job."

I roll my shaded eyes with a smirk.

"Hardy har har, Lyra," Bon Bon muses. "Although, something tells me—once Octavia comes out of this, it'll be Vinyl who will do the coddling. At least for a few weeks."

"What do you say to that, Vine?" Lyra chirps. "A month of waiting on hoof and knee for Octavia as she recovers from her injuries?"

"I can't think of anypony better equipped for the job."

"Heehee! We should get her a little bell so she can summon Vinyl for the littlest of things."

"'Oh Vine, darling, would you kindly fetch me more red wine?'"

"Ooooh... I'm pretty sure Redheart's gonna tell her to go easy on the wine for a while."

"Ouch. Sorry if you'll have to deal with that, Vinyl."

I'm listening to them, and yet I'm not. As we approach the gates to Ponyville Central, I notice two... three... four ornate stagecoaches parked back to back, occupying much of the front lawn.

I'm not the only one.

"Yowsers... check out the wheels!" Lyra exclaims.

"Is Princess Celestia visiting?"

"Don't be silly, B-Squared. Those things are built out of dark mahogany. Celestia almost always rides in an open coach of polished gold and silver."

"Well, excuse me, Miss Vehicle Expert," Bon Bon mutters. "Still looks like royalty to me."

"Maybe one of the dignitaries from the Gala came to pay Octavia a visit."

"Heh. Wouldn't that be snazzy?"

I ponder on this as we enter the Hospital... as we take the elevator to Octavia's floor... as we approach the front counter of the ICU.

"Hey, uh... we're back," Lyra says, panting slightly as she heaves the bag onto the counter of the nurse's station. "And don't worry." She pats the satchel. "We've had this bad boy checked through security. Nothing but books, velvets, and bath products. Eheheh..."

The nurse behind the counter nods. "Indeed." Her eyes narrow. "And you are here to visit... who?"

"Huh?" Lyra blinks.

"Psssst..." Bon Bon leans in. "Lyra, she just started her shift."

"Oh! Right... guess we gotta do this officially." Lyra clears her throat. "We're here to... uh... visit Room 504?" She points at me. "This snazzy missy checked out of Room 501 just this morning."

"Mmmm... Room 504... Room 504..." The nurse scans down the list. "Oh!" She looks up, blinking brightly. "Are you here with the Melody party?"

"Hah! I guess you could say that—" Lyra blinks. "Wait... who's the Melody party?"

She's right to be confused. I'm blinking too.

And that's when I hear it...

"Would somepony kindly adjust the air conditioning as I requested twenty minutes ago? She's likely to freeze to death at this rate. Honestly..."

I grimace inside and out. There's something... putrid about it. Like day-old vomit. But what's worse is that there's a familiar color to the voice... despite its booming quality. It resembles indigo, only it's sprinkled with something else... something glittery, yet fake. Like fool's gold.

I turn in time to spot several well-dressed servants trotting back and forth with blankets and supplies. Down the hall—absorbing the glare of several nurses—is a tall, neatly dressed stallion with a gray coat and wearing an even grayer suit of fine silks. There's something golden on his lapel, and it brings out the amber in his cold, glazed eyes. He turns about, the light being absorbed into his slicked-back dark mane.

"I swear, if it wasn't for the Royal Princess' insistence, I'd take her to a far classier institution entirely." He strolls down the hallway, not caring how many patients' rooms rattle from the intensity of his dull, bass tones. I detect the unmistakable tilt of a Trottingham accent. "Then again, what more can you expect from government funding."

At last, his amber eyes fall on me. He freezes—as do his scrambling servants. For a split second, a layer of brown cycles through his voice.

"Oh... it's you." A sharp inhale. "I suppose I would run into you at some point or another. What was the name again? Vile Itch?" He shakes his head. "Not that it bloody matters. Miss Melody is being well-taken care of. You have my word. So you can kindly go home now."

Paternal Things

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I stand in place.

All of the aches of my limbs are gone. I suppose that's what happens when your blood heats to a boil. Things melt.

"Hmmm...?" The rich stallion blinks at me, as if surprised that I'm still within spitting range. "What are you still standing around here for? I told you that I have things taken care of, didn't I?" He sighs, eyes rolling across me and the hospital walls. "I keep forgetting. Are you deaf or dumb? I know it's one or the other..."

"Actually..." Lyra trots forward, clearing her throat. "She's a genius."

"Now that's quite a curious way of putting it," the stallion yawns. "And who might you be, darling?"

"Lyra. Lyra Heartstrings." She curtsies with a steadfast smile. Her yellow eyes pierce, as does her voice. "Octavia's close friend."

"Mmmm... now all of the mistakes are coming together."

Lyra blinks.

"Well, do be off. The both of you." He waves a hoof, his indigo dipping even deeper into brown. "While your compassion is greatly appreciated, it's far from needed. What Octavia needs right now is a swift recovery... even if she hasn't earned it."

"Uhhm... do pardon us, sir," Bon Bon says, trotting up alongside us. "But we have no intention of leaving without visiting Octavia."

"Well, that's quite a shame," he drones. "Seeing as you won't be doing anything of the sort."

"Erm... maybe we started off on the wrong hoof." Bon Bon leans forward. "How exactly do you know Octavia?"

"I brought her into this world, dear. That's how." The stallion adjusts his tie with a sigh. "Trust me. There's not a day that goes by without my being reminded of it with her blatant, passive-aggressive silence. But that's young mares for you, and I seek to amend that... after I've looked after her healthy recuperation, that is."

Lyra squints. "You're Tavi's father?"

"Good Goddess. Is that the insufferably trite designation she goes by these days? 'Tavi?'" A heavy shudder. "Bust my bank doors, I knew I should have intervened sooner." Nevertheless, he clears his throat. "Indeed, dear confused citizen, my name is Opulence Von Melody, and the mare in that room who suffered needless violence at the garrishly-labeled 'Friendship Gala' is—however ironically—my last remaining blood relation. It is familial obligation that I oversee to her recovery. You need not worry. I have the finest resources at my disposal, not to mention financial support. She will get better. And—Celestia-willing—she will come to her senses about a lot of... other unhealthy choices as of late. Now you may go."

Bon Bon looks at me, then gawks at the stallion. "Uhhh... we have no intention of leaving, Mr. Melody."

"Well, if you wish to mingle in the stairwell and twiddle your hooves, that's your prerogative. Not as if ponies have anything better to do in this lazy peasant town."

"'Mingle in the stairwell?'" Lyra cackles.

"Well, surely you don't expect to actually visit her!" Opulence squints down at us. He's as tall as his words and just as filthy. "My daughter needs rest, relaxation, and the loyal guidance of her father. I can't afford to have any of that disturbed by some bothersome nuisance."

"Excuse us, Mr. Melody, but we're not a nuisance." Bon Bon frowns. "We're her friends."

"Mmmm... yes. I do suppose she's convinced herself of that."

"Huh?"

"Let's see... how can I put this in simple terms for plebeian ears...?" He clears his throat before letting the glittery indigo flow. "For the last decade or so—ever since she blossomed forth from her teenage years—my darling daughter has been on something of a stubborn streak. I've tolerated it for so long, lovingly and wisely chiding her through written letters—all of which she's staunchly ignored. Now look where it's ended her?" He shakes his head. "Well, I shall be a failure no longer. It's time that I intervened on my daughter's life before another incident tears her down a notch. It's wretched enough that she's allowed herself to sink to such an impoverished low in this pathetic farm town. But—that's what happens when you encourage music, art, and whimsy. There's no foundation to any of it, and now is the time that I rescue her from the wreckage of all that she's presumed to build on her own."

I'm gnashing my teeth so hard that the sound of it nearly makes me faint.

"Uhm... doesn't Octavia get a say in all this?" Lyra remarks.

"When she next wakes up, I intend to talk her back to her senses," Opulence says, brushing off his coat. "After all, this has been a long time coming. But that is none of your concern. Be gone." He turns to trot back to her room.

"Hey... Hey!" Bon Bon stomps a hoof, drawing the attention of several nurses and orderlies. "You can't just do this!"

"I'm sorry. I did not catch your name, dear."

"It's Bon Bon!"

"Naturally. A title befitting marketable junk food. How quaint." He sniffs. "Madame, I can and will do this. She is my daughter. She was a concern of mine long before she ran away from home and got mixed up with you backwater harpies."

"But—"

"And if you do not cease harassing me over the issue, then I shall summon security forthwith."

"What?!" Bon Bon reels, eyes wide. "Summon security?! I—"

"That won't be necessary, Mr. Melody." The corridor fills with gray. I feel like doing backflips. Twilight trots up with Spike at her side... along with two armored guards. "I am the security for Octavia," she says in a calm tone, nearly deflating the passion of the moment. "Since what happened to her transpired at the Gala, I have taken it upon myself to protect the mare. It's the least I can do."

"Your Highness." Opulence bows immediately. There is no light in his eyes, just an icy stare as he stands back up. "I am indebted to you and what you have done to rescue my daughter from her plight. So much so... that I am willing to overlook the obvious flaw in your Castle's defenses that allowed the griffon vagrant to assault her in the first place."

"Why thank you, Mr. Melody," Twilight breathes. "I'm certain you respect the fact that we are all striving to improve ourselves."

"Name a number, Your Majesty," Opulence says. "And I assure you my investors will pay you handsomely for what you have done today. We can even fund you stronger, more solid fortifications to your crystalline bastion."

"My concern for your daughter is not a question of money, Mr. Melody," Twilight says. "I've come to value her as a trusted friend." She draws Lyra, Bon Bon and I close with her lavender wings. "As have these mares right here... and many more ponies much like them."

Opulence takes a deep breath. "I see..."

"And it would benefit future relations between the Melody family and the Royal Castle of Friendship... if you acknowledged the importance of Octavia's friends, and respected their mutual desire to visit each other." She raised an eyebrow. "Is that perfectly clear?"

He nods. "Crystal clear, Your Majesty." His brow furrows. "'Understood' is another matter. But, I—for one—am willing to give it the benefit of a doubt."

Twilight smiles calmly. "So long as one of us is."

"They may be allowed to visit Octavia." Opulence raises a hoof. "But only because of your insistence on the matter. Let us not forget that I am her family, and Equestrian Law dictates that the Melody Estate and the surviving representatives thereof reserve full rights to the patient's well-being, should anything further happen to her."

"Well, let us hope that she does nothing but recover," Twilight says. "That is what you're here to overlook, yes?"

He takes a deep breath. "Yes, Princess. Now, if you'll kindly excuse me." He bows once more, turns tail, and trots off to speak to his servants."

Twilight takes a deep breath while Lyra and Bon Bon stare at one another. I'm a shivering mess at this point.

Spike, in the meantime, clears his throat. "Can I be the first to say it?"

"Not now, Spike," Twilight quietly grumbles.

"Pleeeeeease?" Spike looks around, then leans towards the Princess, whispering: "It rhymes with 'ease of wit.'"

Chosen Things

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"I wouldn't have known anything hadn't Rainbow Dash flown over Ponyville Central and spotted the procession of wealthy stagecoaches," Twilight Sparkle says. We both sit on a bench at the far end of the ICU's hallway. In the distance, Mr. Melody can be seen speaking closely with his finely-suited servants. "She came to the castle and told me that it looked as though 'something was up.' So I came as soon as I could. Along the way, I ran into Rarity, and she instantly recognized the signature of Opulence Von Melody from his vehicles and their priceless mahogany finish. Rarity's done work for clients in Trottingham before, and she's heard nothing but tall tales of Mr. Melody's... well... opulence."

I nod vaguely, staring down at the affluent strangers gathered just outside Tavi's room. I weather a heavy sigh.

"It's... it's n-not particularly surprising to me that Octavia comes from such a wealthy family," Twilight continues. "She gave a brief summary of her closest relations when she applied for the Royal Minstrel position. Also... heh... you've got to admit that she has a certain air of... eloquence about her."

My lips curve ever so slightly, but it doesn't last long. My gaze falls on Opulence's muzzle, his sleepy eyes, the arrogant tilt of his nostrils. I feel a deep knot forming in the middle of my stomach, and my hooves start squirming.

"But I had no idea that Mr. Melody was so... so..." Twilight bites her lip, hesitates, then blurts: "Forward."

I turn towards her with an eyebrow raised.

"Okay, so maybe I'm painting our uncomfortable little run-in with the stallion in a rosy light," Twilight says, smiling nervously. "So help me. I'm the Princess of Friendship."

I nod, sighing a magenta sigh.

"Have... have you ever met Octavia's father before?"

I shake my head gravely.

"Let me guess... she doesn't speak much of him."

After a few seconds, I give her an affirming gesture.

"I guess she can't be blamed." Twilight curls her limbs underneath her as she exhales. "Rarity's always been... a teensy bit reserved about having other ponies meet her parents. I don't believe it's because she's ashamed of her mother and father—but the ponies who brought Rarity into this world are considerably less culturally refined than she is... or at least in her estimation." The Princess brushes a hoof across her straight bangs. "It's funny how we can get hung up on family matters." But then she fidgets. "...at least when we're overreacting."

My brow furrows as I continue to stare at Opulence from afar. He finishes talking to a servant, turning about with a sleepy-eyed look. The graying pony pauses momentarily to gaze through the window that looks in on Tavi's room.

I wonder...

Has she woken up long enough to see that he's here?

And if so, how is she taking it?

I grimace, rubbing my hooves nervously together.

Who am I kidding? She couldn't possibly be taking it well...

"I suppose I've been fortunate," Twilight says. "To have agreeable parents... and to have friends with functional families." She gulps. "That's something I haven't explored all that much. The impact of family on friendship. Perhaps I should hang out with Applejack more." A brief smile, and then she turns towards me. "How long have you and Octavia been living together, Vinyl? Five years? Six?"

I turn towards her, mouthing a two syllable number.

"Seven... goodness..." She smiles. "You know, I'm willing to bet that—in a lot of ways—you've been Octavia's family all this time." A slight sparkle crosses the alicorn's eyes. "I don't think there could ever be a more sincere form of friendship."

I turn and gaze down at the checkerboard floor.

I can think of something more sincere...

"I don't know if anypony has ever told you straight to your face, Vinyl, but you're a real goddess-send."

Blinking, I tilt my head up and look at her again.

"Truly, you are," Twilight says. "So... patient... and kind." She swallows. "Considerate... attentive... swift to adjust. There are many... many ponies who could have made the cut as Royal Minstrel. So many ponies out there with talent and skill. Heck... if Sapphire Shores or Countess Coloratura showed up at the Palace gates, I bet most ponies would have expected the auditions to be over with. Then and there." She shakes her head. "But no. I didn't choose our minstrels just for their ability to make music. We needed entertainers within the crystalline halls of the Castle of Friendship, and I just couldn't think of any two entries that were better and more essential to what we hoped to represent than... well... than you two."

Being unable to talk, I have the unique advantage of never having to bother with "something to say." But occasionally, there's a moment—such as now—when I wish I could... just to measure the awesomeness of what I've been forced to contemplate.

"And... I..." Twilight suddenly grimaces. "I am so... so sorry, Vinyl... that my security didn't..." She winces even harder, her eyes watering. "That I failed to discover the threat within that very same Castle until it was too late." She gulped. "And it hurt Octavia. I... I just can't stand that." She sniffles, looking up at me with folded ears. "I failed Octavia and I failed you. She... she could have almost died and it would be on my crown... on my heart." Her head shakes from side to side. "Neither of you ever signed up for that. Please... if there's ever a way I can make it up to y—"

My hooves slither in, collecting around her shoulders. I hug the princess close, nuzzling her gently in the neck.

I feel her body deflate. The gray gives way to an orange exhale, accompanied with streaks of blue. She sniffles again, then hugs me back with the assistance of her lavender wings.

"You're one in a million, Vinyl," Twilight stammers. A shudder, and she adds, "She's so lucky to have you for a friend." She nuzzles me back. She might think she needs the hug.

She's only partially right.

I clench my moist eyes shut and rest within the shade of her royal feathers.

Fatherly Things

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It's night.

I'm barely awake.

And yet, I cling to this hospital...

Its sterile cinderblock walls and checkerboard tiles...

Because I must...

I must outlast him.

If there's any respect to be had in my flesh, my spirit, my scent...

I must remain the most steadfast pony for Octavia in this place.

So it doesn't help that—as I stumble out of the mare's room on the furthest end of the floor, tired and limping and yawning—I still hear him, his indigo voice, his nonchalant Trottingham monotone rippling my way.

I turn the corner, gazing down the long hallway of the ICU. The lights have been dimmed, and half of the nurse's complement shuffle up and down the doorways. It's a cold, tan place—a hospital that's barely awake, like me, or the turquoise plastered to the edges of my lashes for just soaking in this would-be tomb.

"We'll get a surgeon to take a look at that coat of yours," Opulence says. "You can bet your bejeweled eyes, love. No monster scars my darling daughter and gets away with such desecration."

I raise an eyebrow.

That's a curious way to speak to a nurse or a servant...

...unless he's not talking to a nurse or a servant.

I glance at the nurse's station. Once I know that nopony's watching closely, I press myself suspiciously close to the nearest corner. I peer around, staring at Opulence...

...who is staring straight through the window to Tavi's room. His nose is so close to the glass that it's practically fogging. The normally stately stallion's body is slumped, limp. There's a drifting twitch to his ears, swaying from one side to the next. His vocal cords—usually tight and tense—roll with liquid purple hues.

"I'll have him skinned for sure. You can bet on that. Bloody puss bird thinks he has feathers in his brain and it excuses such asenine antics." A snort—dangerously close to a sniffle. The old pony tries to frown. What results is something half-brained, but full-hearted. "Well, he attacked you over bits... and it's bits that will run him over, grind him to a pile of rubbish." He shakes his head. "I have the finest solicitors in all the land. He'll never know what hit him. The place they'll throw him in will be dark and dank and dead. I'll even take photos for you."

He raises a hoof. At first, I think it's to knock on the door. But there's a gentle futility to it. It's now that I come to realize that there's no feasible way my roommate can hear him. For all I know, she's still asleep... knocked out by exhaustion, stress, and drugs. The breath from beyond is soft, tranquil, a deep purple.

"I tried warning you, love. But I wish I didn't have to. I wish it wasn't the pain that would have learned you right." His ears have folded back completely now. "You deserve to look forward to a return to something... not over leaving it. So many shadows in your life, and all these mistakes will do is enlarge them. Until you drown, blind and bitter. It's no way to live... and an even poorer way to die, dear."

He dwindles in the shadow of his own voice. It fits his coat... his mane. And I start to wonder if it's always been like this—a desperately lonely stallion and a fallen angel, separated forever by glass and fog, with the remnants of broken promises forming an eternal quagmire between them. I don't know what's more pitiable, the creature before me or the unicorn who's stooped to contemplating him.

"More than anything... I wish... I only wish I could have the luxury of asking." He bites his own tongue. A brief hint of pain, and then he sighs. Dull eyes swing my way.

But all that's left is a magenta shadow. I wait on a bench far away, out of sight. I focus on his breaths—how they're just a few tones different from hers, even with all of the tan shades thrown in the mix. And somewhere in the deep meditation, I lose my grip.

And fall asleep amidst the green.</