The Eternal Song

by Stereo_Sub

Chapter 2: 2: Prelude

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Hangovers suck.

Stating the obvious, yeah, but seriously. There’s not much worse than the triple-whammy of cottonmouth, raging migraine, and feeling of overall crappiness after a night of partying too hard. I’d ridden out more morning-afters than I could count, but this one still managed to feel just as horrible as my first. Alcohol’s a bitch like that.

I groaned and rolled over, clenching my eyes shut against the burning sun. In a few minutes, they’d adjust, and I’d be able to sit up and find out where the hell I was. For now, though, I was 100 percent content to lie right here and wait for my head to stop pounding.

But when was I ever that lucky?

“Oh, you’re awake. Good,” I heard from somewhere above me. “I was contemplating ice water, but I suppose I won’t need it. This time.”

That voice. I’d know it anywhere. Smooth and feminine, with just a hint of a Russani accent from her days as a filly in back in Stalliongrad. It belonged to the love of my life, the one mare I could trust with just about anything, including, of course, hangover care.

“Mmph,” I mumbled, pulling the blankets further over my head. “Octavia? Zhayou? Whahappened?”

A sigh. “You were drunk. Again. Colgate found you passed out in some alley and carried you home.” She might’ve muttered something else under her breath, too, but it was too quiet for my hazy brain to hear or care about. But, either way, she’d said I was home. Good. Home was good. The only thing worse than waking up hungover was waking up hungover in somepony else’s bed.

“I owe ‘er... a beer or somethin’...whatever,” I replied, burying my face in the pillow. “Now, I’mma jus... sleep ‘till I don’t feel like shit, ‘kay?”

“Sleep?!” ‘Tavi had dropped her usual silky tone for the thick, purposely-exaggerated Russani growl that never failed to make me laugh. “You going to lie like sack potato all day? No, I say no! Up up, get up!” She punctuated the sentence by rapping a hoof gently on my belly, just enough make me giggle, then groan.

“Ugh... hoohhfiiiiiine...” Wincing,I forced myself upright (or close enough, anyway), took a deep breath, and opened my eyes the tiniest sliver—

Ohhhh nonono bad idea bad idea ow ow ow ow— The daylight from the open window lanced straight into my already-aching head, burning with the force of a million white-hot Vinyl-hating suns. “Augh... curtains... get...” I moaned, burying my face back in the pillow and trying not to whimper. A second later, the evil light faded, and I rolled over, cracking an eye just enough to see ‘Tavi’s hazy charcoal-coated form silhouetted against the curtains.

"Better?” she asked in a normal voice, smirking. “I swear, you really must have some bat genes in there somewhere.”

“Ha ha,” I mumbled, forcing myself up for the second time and squinting as the apartment bedroom gradually came into focus. There was the chair, the dresser, the pillows on the end of the bed, the... white tray with a full plate of toast and a tall glass of iced coffee...

“I made your favorite,” said Octavia, pushing the tray towards me. “Black Tie blend and toast with hotpepper jam. You should eat, you look like death.”

“Feel like it too,” I replied, smiling weakly. I tried to pick up the mug with magic, then instantly regretted it as my horn exploded in burning, tear-inducing pain. Stupid, stupid Vinyl. You’d think by now I would’ve learned that hangovers and telekinesis don’t mix. After I’d blinked away the tears, I grabbed the cup in my hooves and took a tentative sip.

Oooooh that was good. The cool, sweet, spicy liquid soothed my aching throat and cleared my fuzzy head, and a few gulps later I was feeling much, much better. “Ahh. Thanks, ‘Tavi.” I put down the down the mug and started on the toast, coughing a little as the hotpepper jam tickled my throat and sinuses. It wasn’t the easiest to eat, that but it woke you up like nothing else. “You’re a freakin’ saint.”

That got me a thin smile. “As you say.”

Show me a better marefriend and I’ll show you a liar.

“So,” I asked, in between gigantic bites of toast, “how was the... uh, the thing?” ‘Tavi had refused to join Colgate, Cloud Kicker and me on our bar-crawl adventures, using some orchestral performance or other as an excuse to bail. After a lot of pleading, I’d reluctantly let her go, but only after I made her promise to come along next time. Drunk Octavia was definitely fun, but she probably wouldn’tve had a sip if I’d dragged her along. Better to let her have her night out, as sleep-inducing as that night might’ve been.

“The Manehattan Grand Philharmonic Exhibition?” Octavia asked. Ugh. Even the name reeked of stuffiness and boring.

“Gmph... sure, that,” I replied, swallowing.

“It was incredible,” she gushed. “I’ve seen them before, of course, but not under this new conductor, Julius van Starwing...” I fought back a grin. ‘Tavi was usually the definition of refined, detached, and classy, but as soon as you got her started on classical music...

“He’s one of the great pegasi contemporaries, and the things he did with melodic layering and controlled dissonance, oh, you have no idea— She saw my expression and stopped, frowning slightly. “What?”

I did grin this time. Couldn’t help it. “Nothing. You’re just cute when you get into stuff like that.”

She blushed, rolling her eyes. “Stop.”

“No. You really are, y’know... your eyes get all dreamy—”

“They do not!

“Denial won’t change anything,” I singsonged, giggling. “I swear, if you hadn’t found me, you’d probably be dating a symphony.”

“Oh? I can think of one thing a symphony can’t do,” she replied, leaning in to give me a quick peck on the cheek.

Now it was my turn to blush. “Uh. Well, if you wanna think about it that way...” I dropped my gaze, shooting her the patented Vinyl Scratch Bedroom Stare. “What do ya say we-’”

She put a hoof to my chest, gently pushing me away. “Asvat nie, Vinyl. Not a chance. You’re dirty, hungover, and your breath smells like vomit and cheap alcohol.”

Damn. “And yet you still love me.”

“Of course. Now go take a shower. You’ll thank me later.”

I wasn’t giving up yet. “Of course. You want to join me?”

“Vinyl. Shower. Now,” Octavia said, gaze steely.

Well, can’t fault a girl for trying. “Yes, mom,” I grumbled, heaving myself off the bed. The snack had definitely helped, but I was still pretty out of it as I stumbled towards the bathroom... or what I thought was the bathroom, at least.



“Is there a reason you’re trying to open the closet wall?”

Oh. “Just messin’ with ya, ‘Tavi!” I said brightly, doing a quick 180 out of the closet and trotting towards the actual door. “Thanks anyway.”

She slowly shook her head. “Sometimes, I wonder what you would do without me.”

“Continue being gorgeous, incredibly talented, and completely on top of my life?”

“I will concede the first two points.”

“Fair enough,” I said, stepping into the shower stall. “So, are you sure you don’t want to—” My question was cut off by a snort from Octavia and a towel to the head.

“Hang it up when you’re finished.”

I grinned. “Love you too.”

‘Tavi had been right. As usual.

I stepped out of the steamy shower and levitated the towel off the floor, savoring the feeling of using magic again. Nothing takes the edge off a hangover hornache like lots of soap and hot, hot water.

Humming to myself, I finished drying and moved over to the mirror, rubbing a circle to clear away the steam. The pony that stared back at me looked just like I expected: Red eyes, white coat, blue mane (spiky and uncooperative as ever, even straight out of the shower), silver amulet draped around my neck—


“The hell?” I murmured, squinting at my reflection as I poked the jewelry with a hoof. Somehow, I’d managed to get through my entire breakfast and shower without noticing it, but now the gleaming silver and shimmering green gemstone were hard to miss. It looked fancy, expensive, and totally, absolutely not my style. A bad, worrying combination. Gift from a drunken hookup, loot from a drunken robbery, haul from a drunken shopping spree... all possible explanations, none of which I liked.

I sighed, telekinetically throwing the towel back on its hook and exiting the bathroom. Maybe ‘Tavi would know. Asking her was risky, especially if I had done something stupid, illegal, or both to get it, but at least I’d have an answer.

Octavia was reclining back on the bed, nose buried in the latest issue of Classical Today. She glanced up as I came in, nodding appreciatively. “There. You feel better, no?”

I nodded in return, flopping down next to her and stretching out, joints popping. “Yeah, much. But, uh... you don’t know how I got this necklace, do you?” I asked, jingling the chain with a hoof.

She eyed it, frowning slightly. “Your amulet? No. It’s very pretty, but I was going to ask how you found it.”

I sighed. “I was hoping you could tell me.”

“You were wearing it when we found you in the alley. Colgate tried to take it off because the gem was digging in her back as she carried you, but the clasp wouldn’t open. That’s all I know,” she replied, shaking her head.

Hm. “It wouldn’t open?” I said, looking down at the amulet and focusing my magic on the clasp. There was a soft click, and it fell onto the sheets. “Huh.” I levitated the jewelry back up, refastened it, then motioned to Octavia. “Here, you try.” She did, a several times, but no matter how much she twisted, poked, or pulled, the clasp stubbornly refused to budge. “Maybe it’s enchanted,” I suggested. “Y’know, made so only the pony wearing it can take it off?”

Octavia nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, maybe. But that still doesn’t explain how you got it in the first place.” Her expression went darker. “You didn’t—”

“Steal it, splurge on it, or seduce it off some poor innocent mare with my sexy feminine wiles?” I finished, winking at her. “No. Well, not that I know of. My best guess, I found it on the street somewhere, but if some pissed-off Canterlot floozie starts pounding on the door, I moved out two weeks ago, okay?” I giggled a little at the thought, but ‘Tavi remained stony-faced.

“Well, I hope it won’t come to that. As should you.” Her tone made it clear I still wasn’t entirely forgiven for the whole ‘passing out blackout drunk and having to be carried home’ thing.

“Uh, yeah! ‘Course. Wouldn’t want that!” I said, flashing her a smile that she didn’t return. “But, y’know, I think I’m gonna keep it. A little bling never hurt anypony.” Yeah, the thing was tacky, but something about that gem... I wasn’t sure why, but I wanted to hang onto it.

Octavia rolled her eyes. “As if the ridiculous goggles aren’t enough?”

“Hey, c’mon,” I said in mock offense. “Don’t rag on the shades. They’re part of the PON-3 image. ‘Sides, most ponies tend to get a little creeped out when they see you have eyes the color of blood. Better to keep ‘em covered up.”

“Oh?” she replied, teasing. “When I first met you, I found them quite alluring.”

I nuzzled her cheek. “You are not most ponies.”

“I suppose I can’t argue with that.”

I was about to reply with something even sappier when I had a sudden, panicky burst of memory. “Well, I—oh, crap! ‘Tavi, did you get my saddlebags?” Shit. There were at least eight hundred bits sitting in my cash pouch, and I really didn’t want to have to explain to my marefriend that we wouldn’t be able to make rent this month because of a drunken misadventure. And after all those times she’d told me not to carry so much around, too... Shit shit shit—

“Of course. They’re on the kitchen counter.”

I gave a huge sigh of relief. “Whew, thanks. Was almost worried for a bit there. You’re the best, babe. ” Mentally praising Celestia, Luna, and whatever other benevolent forces of nature that had decided to give me the world’s greatest mare as my lover, I made my way to the apartment’s tiny kitchen. “Just lemme double-check and make sure everything made it home.”

Let’s see, I thought, rummaging through the slightly smelly bags. Cash? Check. Shades? Check. Emergency rum? I cracked a guilty smile. Octavia was a firm believer in giving partners their privacy, which was just as well, considering she would most likely disapprove of me categorizing a flask of Salthoof’s Best as an emergency provision. Check.

Well, looks like it’s all here— wait, what’s this? My hoof had brushed against something flat and papery as I had withdrawn it from the saddlebags, and I peered back inside, confused. There, lying crushed and wrinkled against the bag’s rough canvas, was a letter.

Funny. I don’t remember getting any mail. My curiosity piqued, I levitated the battered envelope onto the table, frowning as I read the print on the front:

To those it may concern: a matter of interdimensional importance.

The hoofwriting was large and flowing, full of unnecessary loops and curls. The type that belonged to a pony who cared more about their calligraphy than others. I raised an eyebrow. First the amulet, and now what looked like the world’s fanciest piece of junk mail... what the hell had happened last night?

Well, might as well read it as long as it’s here, I thought, popping the envelope’s flap with a flicker of magic. The paper inside was worn, almost yellow with age, but the green-inked lettering on top looked clear and fresh. The letters looked much different than the fancy script from the envelope, though: this was a hasty, scribbly scrawl that reminded me of my own:

To whoever I can find:

My name is Aura. If you’re reading this, I need your help.

Now, ideally I would be telling you everything first-hoof, but the fact that you have this letter means that wasn’t an option. Either I didn’t have enough time to explain, you weren’t in a position to hear it, or both. But the circumstances don’t matter. You have the letter, and now you should know the stakes.

The multiverse is dying. The core that holds it together is rotting away, fading out of existence like a mote of dust. All the things you love and hate, all the ponies you’ve never met, all of that and more... it’s all threatened, every last inch of it.

I whistled softly. Either I’d brushed hooves with a Grade A specimen of crazy last night, or... no, it couldn’t be.


Eyes widening in disbelief, I kept reading:

The core, the nexus, whatever you want to call it— it’s shattered, fragmented, a shell of its former self. If no one comes to help, and soon, it will fail to exist completely, and in case I haven’t been clear that means your universe, too. Everything, absolutely everything you can possibly imagine, gone like a snuffed candle. Just like that.

What I’m asking you to do won’t be easy. It won’t be fun. The road will be long, painful, and very possibly deadly. But I’m asking anyway, hoping that someone, anyone, will have the courage, the will, the selflessness to help.

I know this isn’t a very attractive offer, and I can’t blame you if you refuse. But if you do, all I ask is that you pass this letter off to somepony who you think would be better suited. Look for the ones that hear the world’s inner music.

Inner music, huh? I bit my lip. Why did that sound familiar?

Then the memories hit me like a thunderbolt.

Lying in front of me was an earth pony mare, her emerald green coat ragged and crisscrossed with hundreds of bloody scratches...

Her eyes snapped open, locked with mine...

”You... hear?”

“The music...”

I dropped the paper on the countertop, stepping away and taking a long, deep breath. If this was a hoax, it was pretty damn impressive. And if not...

Heart pounding, I levitated the letter back up and read the final lines.

But if you don’t refuse, if you’re truly willing to put your life on the line for the universe’s sake, you’ll have the gratitude of not just me, but all the untold trillions you would save.

It’s your choice.

Will you help us?

As I scanned the final line, I realized it was glowing, ink flickering against the page like a greenish flame. It seemed expectant, somehow, as expectant as a bunch of letters could be. Like it was waiting for an answer. Maybe it was.

Images flashed through my mind: me, the battle-hardened savior of some exotic world, waving to a crowd of cheering admirers with Octavia at my side...

Oh, the hell with it.

I glanced furtively around the room, making sure ‘Tavi was out of earshot, then leaned in towards the letter and muttered as confidently as I could:

“Uh... yeah, okay. I’ll take your quest, strange teleporting alley pony. Tell me where to go, and I’ll head off to save the universe.”

I stared back down at the paper, fully expecting nothing to happen except me feeling stupid. Instead, the ink started to flow and shift, melting into new words before my eyes.

Thank you, stranger.

Ooookay, self-rewriting ink. There’s gotta be a spell for that, right? Of course. Probably just some stupid marketing thing, I reassured myself. Of course, that didn’t stop me from reading the letter’s new lines as fast as the glowing ink could form them.

Here are some of the things you’ll need to stand a chance. Bring whatever else you think might help, but pack light. You’ll be traveling.

-A couple day’s worth of basic provisions. Food, water, firestarters, something to sleep in, everything you’ll need to survive in the wilderness.

-Something made of silver to carry with you at all times. The amulet I gave you will work.
If you don’t have it, find it as soon as you can.

Silver and camping supplies? This was seeming less and less like a recipe to save the world and more like a Lil’ Enchantresses field trip packing list.

-Bring some friends if you can, but not too many. Two or three at most. If they’re musicians or can heal somehow, even better. Make sure you’d trust them with your life. You might end up having to. They’ll also need their own silver to wear; anything larger than a half-ounce should work. If their instruments are light enough to be carried, bring them. They’ll make your job easier.

Again with the music! Maybe this was some indie band’s incredibly convoluted way of finding new members. That seemed more likely than asking a bunch of musicians to save the universe, anyway.

As a side note, all of this needs to be done as quickly as possible. Three days at the most. I realize that’s a lot to ask, but at this point, every second counts.

Once you’ve gotten everything together, head to Legato Records. You haven’t heard of it, I’m sure, but it'll be down a side street somewhere, one that you've never seen before. I know that doesn't sound very helpful, but if you want to find it, you will.

Thank you again, and good luck. You’ll need it.


I stopped, closing my eyes as the realization of what the hell I’d just done washed over me like a sheet of freezing rain. If this was some stupid prank, then I was about to walk straight into it. And if it wasn’t, I had just dived into something a few hundred miles over my stupid impulsive head.

Sighing through my teeth, I put the letter back in its envelope and stuffed it in the bottom of my bag, slung the strap over my shoulder, and turned towards the door. Whoever Aura was, she was right. If I was going to do this, I’d need some help. Luckily, I already knew the three ponies I wanted by my side. Unluckily, convincing two of them meant I’d have to leave the house again, something I really didn’t feel like doing with a still-somewhat-pissed-off marefriend one room over. But, hell, what choice did I have?

“Hey ‘Tavi?” I half-yelled at the bedroom, darting over to the corner of the room and hefting a mid-size box into my saddlebags. If I was right (and I almost always was) I’d need it soon enough. “I’m going out, okay? Won’t be long!”

“Out? Where is out?” she replied, sauntering into the kitchen and giving me a dark look.


Crap. I hadn’t wanted to tell ‘Tavi anything about the letter until I’d convinced at least one other pony. She was obviously my first choice for a musical companion, but she’d also probably be the hardest to convince. Looking out for us was one thing, but sometimes she seemed absolutely hell-bent on making sure nopony got to do anything fun.

“It’s, um... it’s a surprise!” I said, winking in a way I hoped was convincing. “You’ll love it, I swear, but I don’t wanna ruin it now. Like I said, it shouldn’t take too long. An hour or two at most, I promise.”

Octavia stared at me, eyes narrowed to cold, steely points. “Do you promise?” The words were soft, cool, and silky, but I’d known and loved her long enough to recognize her ‘calm before the storm’ voice. If I screwed up, there would be hell to pay.

“Yeah. Promise. Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake... whatever the rest of it is. That too,” I replied, nodding fast enough to make my mane flop. That got a faint smile out of her, and I grinned back, leaning in and giving her a peck. “Oh! You want me to grab some Pony Joe’s for us while I’m out?”

The smile widened. “I would like that. Thank you.” The coffee shop would be a slight detour from where I was actually headed, but it was worth it if it made ‘Tavi happy, and a little caffeine didn’t sound too bad right now either.

I flung the apartment’s door open, stepping out of the air conditioning and into the hallway, exhaling as I felt the heat and humidity wash over my coat like a wet, sticky blanket. “See you soon. I’ll grab you the usual from Joe’s. Double black, right?”

Octavia nodded. “With no milk. And don’t be long,” she murmured, batting those long lashes and leaning in to plant a kiss on the oh-so-sensitive base of my horn. “I’ll be waiting.”

Knowing ‘Tavi, I wasn’t really sure if that was a promise, a threat, or both, but it didn’t stop me from shuddering in delight and kissing her back. “You got it, babe,” I replied, then turned and tore off down the hall as fast as my hooves could carry me.

Pegasi might set the speed records, but I’m pretty sure I broke a few that day.

“You want me to... Vinyl, are you insane?” The slim, white-coated mare in front of me stared down at the letter in her hoof, eyes wide in disbelief.

I sighed, drawing it out as long as I could. “Come oooon, Red. For me? Besides, it’s probably all fake anyway. What’s the harm in giving it a shot?” I’d prepared for this. Nurses in general weren’t exactly the adventure-loving type, and Nurse Redheart took that stereotype and cranked it up so high the dial broke.

She shook her head so quickly I half expected her mane to fly out of its pink bun. “No. Not for all the bits in the world. Remember the last time I came along on one of your ‘adventures’? When we were a few choice words away from having our bodies dumped in a Fillydelphia alley? Sorry. Not this time.”

I stuck my lip out in a pout. “I swear, Red, you don’t have a fun-loving bone in your body.”

“I prefer my fun to end with all my limbs and organs intact, thank you very much.”

“Oh, c’mon,” I protested. “That was once, and they reattached the hoof after—”

“Forget it, Scratch. I’m done blindly trailing behind you whenever you get an idea for some grand quest to Celestia-knows-where . In case you haven’t noticed, I have responsibilities now.” Redheart gestured around the bustling, squeaky-white hallway of Manehatten General Hospital. “This job is still technically a paid internship, so I can’t afford to miss any days, and I’m on thin enough ice as it is after last time. One more screw-up, and that’s it.” She drew a hoof across her neck in a chopping motion. “I’m done, finished, out of here and back to the Ponyville clinic with zero bits and zero credibility.”

“Look, Redheart,” I said, trying to look and sound as sincere as I felt. “I know my ideas aren’t always the best, or the safest, or the... not-stupidest. But I’m asking you now, as a friend you’ve known for years, to help me out. One last time. Whether this pans out or not, I swear with Celestia as my witness that I’ll never ask you to do anything like it ever again.”

“And what if it does pan out? What if we go to that record shop and get jumped, mugged and beaten, probably to death?”

I grinned. “Red, I’ve seen you buck a wall hard enough to dent it. Muggers should be scared of you.”

“That was years ago, and I was drunk and full of adrenaline. The answer’s still no,” she said, shaking her head. “We’re not fillies anymore, Vinyl. We can’t just decide to leave our lives behind and ‘go adventuring’ at the drop of a bit.”

“Really? We can’t? Well, that’s news to me, considering all the times we’ve done it before,” I said, glaring at her. “We’ve been through so much together, Red, all of us, and you know what? If you’re too freaking grown up to care about that anymore, then I guess we’ll just have to go without you.” It would suck, yeah, but I wasn’t about to let a single pink-maned stick in the mud stop what could be the adventure of our lives.

Redheart frowned. “We? Who’s we?

“You know. Me, you, Lyra, and ‘Tavi. The four-mare wrecking crew,” I replied, conveniently neglecting to mention I hadn’t actually asked or convinced the other two yet.

The tiniest hint of a smile twitched at Redheart’s lips. “Scourge of the bars...”

“From Canterlot to Filly,” I finished, grinning and clapping her on the shoulder. “Shit, I knew you hadn’t forgotten! So, Red, whaddaya say? One last adventure, for old time’s sake?”

She twitched, recoiling from my hoof, then looked at me for a long moment, expression unreadable...

Then shook her head.

“I’m sorry, Vinyl. I can’t just abandon this. I can’t,” she said, avoiding my eyes. “I wish I could, but—”

Shit. Time for Plan B.

“See, I thought you might say that,” I said, winking and shrugging off my saddlebags onto the floor. “Which is why I brought something to sweeten the deal.”

“What? Vinyl, if you seriously think you’re going to bribe me into— ah.” Redheart stopped, her mouth hanging open slightly as she saw the box I was holding. “That... that’s the Gamemaster’s Kit, Special 3rd Edition Complete. Three-hundred and seventy-seven page bestiary with never-before-seen full color illustrations, a full set of ironcast class miniatures, eight specially-carved, pre-weighted Everfree wood dice, and a leather-bound, gold leafed core book with errata specially annotated by 3rd Edition Creative Lead Inky Page himself. Every monster, every archetype, every encounter table and appendix... they were on ultra-limited run, too. Only around 200 ever made, as collector’s items a few weeks before they released 4th Edition. They sold out in 15 minutes... so how in Celestia’s name did you get one, Vinyl? You don’t even like Wizards and Wyverns!”

Red sounded suspicious, but I was pretty sure I had her anyway. Being a total fantasy dork was a closely guarded secret of hers, but I knew it, and I knew that look, that glint in her eye... that was her Fangirl look. “Well, funny story, actually,” I said, throwing her my winningest smile. “I DJ’d for this stallion a few months ago, some convention host, and he promises me a ‘kickass bonus’ if I really rock the show, right? And I totally do, ‘course, and then when I go for my check, he hands me this! I mean, if I hadn’t been drunk, I probably woulda slugged him, but anyway, I was gonna save it for your birthday, but then I figured—

“You could use it to try and bribe me instead?” Redheart’s eyes narrowed.

Bribe isn’t exactly the word I’d use, but, uh, yeah, pretty much. So, whaddaya say?”

She paused, going quiet again, then finally gave a tiny, weary nod, which by Redheart standards was pretty much a squeal and a full-body hug of agreement. “First, don’t do that again,” she said, eyeing my hoof pointedly and edging back a bit further. “Second, fine, I’ll go. But this is the last time, understand? And I’m not doing it because you bribed me, either. I’m doing it because I care about you, Vinyl. Because I’m your friend.”


I whooped, dropping the box and nearly throwing my hooves around her before remembering that would probably get me shoved into a cart of medical supplies. Red had always had... issues with physical contact, and the last thing I wanted to do now was tick her off. “Right, sorry, won’t happen again. But uh, so...” I pointed towards the box, shrugging. “Do you still—”

“Well...I... yes.” she muttered, sighing and sliding it under a nearby desk with her forehoof. “If you’re offering...”

“I sure am! So, you know what to bring?”

Redheart nodded, looking like she was regretting the whole thing more every second. “I think so. Food, water, something to sleep in, medical supplies, and something made of silver?” She raised her eyebrows. “Why do we need that? To ward off ghosts?”

“Something like that,” I replied. “Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. The letter was pretty vague about a lot of it.”

“Always a good sign,” she muttered. “All right, when should I meet you?”

“Tomorrow, ten A.M, my apartment. You know where that is, right?”


“Awesome. Thanks a ton, Redheart,” I said, flashing her another winning smile. “I promise you won’t regret this.”

“Too late,” she replied darkly, but I was already running toward the hospital lobby, celebrating internally. Against all odds, the party had its healer.

One down, two to go, I thought, shoulder-checking the lobby door open and bursting out into the muggy sunlight. And I don’t think I’ll have to worry about convincing her to come along...

I galloped away from the hospital entrance and hung a hard left, the amulet bouncing obnoxiously against my neck. I wasn’t sure how much time I’d spent talking to Redheart, but I guessed I probably had around an hour left to hit Lyra’s place and the Pony Joe’s. Even if I sprinted the whole way, it was going to be tight.

Why didn’t I say thee hours? Or, shit, even two and a half? I kicked myself mentally as I tore down the street, drops of sweat flying off my coat like bullets. Too late now, anyway. Just gonna have to book it.

Five minutes of galloping later, I stopped outside a battered apartment complex, its stone walls worn and browned with age. Wheezing and shaking the sweat off of my coat as best I could, I turned to the buzzer and punched in a number.

There was a buzz, a blast of static, and a muffled yell of “I GOT IT, BON!” before a mare’s voice came over the speaker. “Hello?”

“Hey, Lyra. It’s Vinyl. You got some time to talk?” I said, timing the words between gasps.

“Oh, heya Vi! Sure, I can talk. What about?” the speaker answered cheerfully.

“Uh... can I explain when I see you? It’s kind of a long story.”

“All right. Gimme a sec, I’ll buzz you in.” There was a hum and a soft click, and the complex’s door swung open, basking me in a wave of that sweet, sweet, temperature-controlled air. If the speaker hadn’t been two-way, I probably would’ve moaned. “Should be open now. See you in a few!”

“Hohhhgoddessthatfeelsgood... I mean, uh, right. See you then.”

Walking through the entryway, I closed my eyes in relief at the cool air, then sighed as I saw the first of seven flights of stairs to Lyra’s apartment. ‘Rustic charm’ was one thing, but I’d never understood why anypony would willingly live in a complex so old it didn’t have an elevator.

Nothing to it, Vinyl, I thought, rolling my shoulders. One hoof, then the other. Easy.

And it was easy... for the first four flights, at least. The industrial-grade AC definitely helped (perks of living in Manehatten— the temp-control systems are all incredibly good, since we’re forced to deal with Tartarus-tier summers and horn-freezing winters every year), but I was still a sweaty, out-of-breath mess by the time I reached the floor of Lyra’s apartment.

See? You made it. Easy... peasy...

I leaned against a wall, catching my breath for a few seconds before trotting down the plushly-carpeted hallway. Lyra’s apartment was a while away from the stairs, and I took the opportunity to shake most of the sweat off so I wouldn’t drip it on her floor. A few steps after I’d finished, I reached her door, 341, and gave it a tentative knock.

“Lyra? Hello? It’s Vin—”

The door burst open before I could finish, swinging hard enough to clip me in the face if I hadn’t jumped back as soon as I saw the knob turning. I loved Lyra like a sister, but sometimes I wondered if she ever stopped... well, being Lyra long enough realize what she was actually doing.

Probably not.

“Hi, Vi! ‘Sup?” Lyra said, steadying the still-swinging door with a hoof and nodding appreciatively at amulet around my neck, “Nice bling. Here, come in. Bon just made cookies.” She pointed a hoof over her shoulder, where I could see a cream-colored mare standing over an oven, holding a silver tray in her teeth.

At the mention of her name, Bon-Bon put the baking sheet aside and raised her hoof in a friendly wave. “Oh, hello, Vinyl! Good to see you!”

“You too,” I replied as Lyra dragged me by my forehoof to one of the chairs. I hadn’t been counting on Bon-Bon, even though I should’ve realized that she’d be here. Of course, Lyra would be completely on board, thrill-seeker that she was, but even she’d be reluctant to leave her lover behind to go adventuring, and I knew for a fact Bon wouldn’t want to come along. Nice mare, really nice, but this was her home, and I knew from experience that she wouldn’t want to leave it. What to do, what to do—

My pondering was interrupted by Lyra dropping a plate of cookies in my lap.

“Here ya go! They’re a new recipe, and Bon wants feedback, so you’re our guinea pig.” She laughed. “Not that there’s anything to worry about. Tartarus would freeze over before she would make a bad batch of cookies.” Bon-Bon blushed and smiled, mumbling something about ‘too much credit’.

The cookies looked and smelled mouthwateringly delicious. Licking my lips, I took one with my magic and popped it into my mouth whole. They tasted equally incredible, and soon nothing was left on the plate but chocolate smears and crumbs.

Lyra grinned. “Good, huh?” She nudged her marefriend playfully. “See, I told you. Nothing to worry about.” As if to prove her point, she grabbed a cookie in her own mouth, flipped it into the air, and caught it neatly between her teeth.

“Awesome,” I said, swallowing. “Lyra’s right. You’re some kind of freaky dessert wizard.”

The cream mare blushed even harder. “Oh, thank you. I’m glad you like them.” Bon-Bon had the double blessing of being both an incredibly talented baker and the most humble pony I knew. Soft-spoken and kind, she almost always left the spotlight to Lyra, which was perfectly fine with the both of them. It might’ve seemed like an odd fit, but the pair of them were as close as any ponies I’d ever seen.

“So,” said Lyra, spraying cookie crumbs all over me, Bon-Bon, and all the surrounding furniture, “‘Sup, Vi?”

Bon-Bon sighed. “You’re cleaning that up.”

Lyra swallowed and gave a cheerful nod. “I know!” She turned back towards me expectantly. “Well?”

“Uh... Bon-Bon? Do mind if Lyra and I talk, um, privately? Just for a bit.” I hated going behind anypony’s back, let alone a mare as sweet as Bon-Bon, but I knew I wouldn’t have any luck convincing them both at once.

“Well... sure, I suppose,” she replied, looking bewildered. “You can use the bedroom, if you like.”

“Thanks,” I said, standing up and motioning for Lyra to follow. “Won’t be long, I promise.”

The bedroom was decorated just like the rest of the apartment: cozy and soft, with plenty of warm-looking quilts and fluffy pillows piled on the bed. I noticed the two largest were colored green and cream, and couldn’t help but smile. Aw, they match. Cute.

“So,” said Lyra, flopping down on the bed and giving me a look, “What’s so important Bon isn’t allowed to hear it?”

Wordlessly, I withdrew the letter from my bag and unfolded it for her.

“A letter? For me? From who?” she asked.

“Not for you. It’s complicated. Just read it.”

Lyra shrugged. “If you say so.”

I watched her eyes grow wider and wider as they traveled down the page, finally stopping somewhere between ‘saucer’ and ‘dinner plate’.

“Wha... Vi, is this for real?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure,” I replied, taking the letter and stuffing it back into my bag. “But there’s something else that makes it seem a lot more real than I’d like.” I explained what had happened last night as best I could. Even though the alcohol had turned most of it into a melty, colorful haze, I could still remember my encounter with the teleporting earth pony almost perfectly.

When I finished, Lyra was frowning.

“Uh, no offense, Vi... but are you sure you knew what went into those drinks?”

I rolled my eyes. “Look, I know it sounds weird, but I have proof. See this?” I poked the amulet around my neck with a hoof. “It’s the same one. I’m sure.”

Lyra nodded slowly. She still looked skeptical, but I could see that familiar adventurous gleam in her eyes. I mentally slapped myself on the back. This was the home stretch. Now all I had to do was convince her to leave behind—

“So, why can’t we show this to Bon-Bon again?”

“Uh, the thing is, the letter kinda calls for musicians, or ponies that can heal,” I said, avoiding her eyes. “And, well...”

“She isn’t either of those,” Lyra finished. The frown had returned, and I had a sinking feeling it wasn’t going leave any time soon. “So, what? You’re asking me to just drop everything and come with you on some quest, and leave the mare I love behind for... well, for Celestia knows how long?”

“Well, yeah, when you put it that way...” Crud. This was not going in the direction I’d hoped.

“I dunno, Vi,” Lyra said with a sigh. “I mean, you know I’m always up for an adventure, and this sounds like it could be loads of fun, but being away from Bon...” She blinked in realization. “Hang on. If I did decide to come along, who’d we be trekking with? Have you told anypony else?”

“Well, ‘Tavi’s the obvious choice for another musician,” I replied. “And no, I haven’t told her yet. I love her to death, but you know how she is about having fun.”

Lyra smiled. “True that. And what about a pony who can heal? Because only one I can think of is...” Her eyes widened. “Wait, you didn’t—”

I smiled back. “Oh, but filly, I did.”

Lyra’s eyebrows shot to the top of her head. “Redheart?”


How in the name of Celestia’s shiny incandescent flank did you convince her?” she said, slowly shaking her head back and forth.

“What?” I replied, holding a hoof to my chest in mock hurt. “C’mon, Lyra, where’s the faith in my natural charm and dazzling good looks? I mean, you’re acting like I bribed her or something, heh, like I would ever do anything like—”

“Vi.” Lyra was unimpressed.

I sighed. “Okay, so I did sorta bribe her, but it was only a little, and she agreed to it in the end anyway but the point is we have a healer now.

“That sounds more like your style,” she said, giggling. “So, we have Redheart already—”

“And if you agree, we’ll probably be able to convince ‘Tavi, too. She can say no to me, sure, but three of her closest friends? Not likely,” I finished.

“Right,” Lyra replied. She bit her lip. “I still don’t like leaving Bon behind, though. I mean, like you said, I don’t think bringing her is a good idea either, but, well, what if something really bad happens, and I—”

“Hey.” I put a hoof on her shoulder. “Don’t think about that, okay? There’s still a fifty-fifty chance this is just some crazy elaborate set-up, and we’ll all end up standing in an empty record shop looking stupid. And if it isn’t, well... this is a once in a lifetime thing. If you do go, and it doesn’t pan out, well, nothing lost, nothing gained. But if you stay behind, you’ll never know!” I looked at her, pleading with my eyes. “Come ooon, Lyra. It’ll be fun.”

“I... oh, Celestia darn it,” she muttered, jumping off of the bed and back onto the floor. “I’ll go ask Bon. No promises, though. If she says no, I’m not gonna argue.”

“Fair enough.” Not much to hope for, but it was something, right?

We trotted back into the kitchen, where Bon-Bon was busying herself cleaning up from the baking session. “Everything all right?” she asked, looking between the two of us.

“Great,” I said, flopping back down into a chair. “But, uh, I think Lyra’s got something to ask you.”

“Oh? What is it?”

Lyra shot me a glare before turning back to her marefriend.

“Uh, well, Vinyl showed me this letter, and it seemed pretty important, and so, I was kinda wondering...” She tapped her hooves uncomfortably. I knew from experience how difficult it was to ask for something this big from the pony you loved, so I jumped in to assist.

“What she’s trying to ask is if she can come with me on a possibly long, probably dangerous, and definitely weird adventure to save... somewhere. The specifics aren’t really worked out yet, but I’m sure we’ll learn ‘em as we go,” I blurted. “So, that cool with you?”

Bon-Bon blinked. “Lyra... is she serious?” The unicorn nodded, giving me another glare. I shrugged. Can’t fault a mare for trying to help.

“Well, er, I’m not sure,” said Bon-Bon. “If it’s something Lyra really wants to do, I don’t want to stop her, but I’d hate for anything bad to happen—”

“Trust me,” I interrupted. “If Lyra comes along, she’ll be under the protection of yours truly.” I smacked my hooves together for added effect. “Anything bad tries to mess with us, it’ll get its flank kicked into next Tuesday.”

She chuckled. “I’m sure.”

“So, is that a ‘yes’?” Come on, come on, I was so close...

“Well...” She looked back at Lyra. “I don’t know. I hate the idea of leaving you alone, you know that... I just... I honestly don’t know.”

“Yeah,” Lyra said, wrapping a foreleg around Bon-Bon’s crest and looking at her, then me, then back to her. “I mean, I think it could be fun, for sure, but...” She paused, gnawing at her bottom lip. “Can you give us until tomorrow to decide?”

I was nodding almost before I understood the words out of Lyra’s mouth. “Yeah, of course! Take your time. Well, actually, not too much time since we were planning on leaving tomorrow morning-ish, but y’know. Anyway, if you’re planning to come— and we’d love to have you,” I said, winking, “bring some a few days worth of food, water, camping supplies, and a sleeping bag to my place at ten A.M. Oh, and something made of silver, too. Doesn’t have to be fancy, just a hairpin or whatever.”

“Got it. If we decide to go, I’ll see you then,” Lyra said. “But why the silver?” She leaned in closer. “We aren’t... we aren’t hunting, like, vampires or anything, are we?”

“That’s werewolves, Lyra,” I replied, holding back a chuckle. “And, honestly, I have no idea. You read the letter, it didn’t say. But hey, better safe than sorry, right?”

She giggled. “Safe? With you, Vi, that’ll be a first.”

Ouch. But it was true. “Got me there.”

We exchanged goodbyes, and a few minutes later I was back outside in the sticky, sweaty blanket of midsummer heat that the setting sun was casting over the city. I was hot, tired, and still had to make it to Pony Joe’s and back in a little under five minutes, but damn if I wasn’t happy.

Turning down the next street, I broke into a sprint, scanning rapidly for anything that remotely resembled a coffee shop. With any luck, I’d be able to make it home just in time, and with some much-needed caffeine to boot. And there was also ‘Tavi’s “I’ll be waiting,” to consider...

I put on a burst of speed, more eager than ever to get back home.

“Octaviaaaaa! ‘M back!” I half-yelled, half-coughed as I staggered into our apartment. Of all the freaking days for Pony Joe’s to be closed...

“Oh, good.” Octavia walked out of the bedroom, looking as flawlessly composed as ever. “I was almost getting worried.” She saw the thin sheen of sweat coating my body and frowned. “What— Vinyl, are you okay?”

“Fine! Jus...tired,” I wheezed, collapsing onto the couch. “I got... coffee.” I waved a halfhearted hoof at the drinks I had barely managed to land on the end table. “PJ’s was closed, so I... hadta find ‘nother one...” I didn’t mention the ‘other one’ had been eight blocks away, and covered at a full sprint no less. I was already going behind ‘Tavi’s back. The least I could do was keep my promise of delicious liquid caffeine.

She shook her head and tutted, but there was a grin on her face. “I appreciate the effort, but there’s no reason to run yourself ragged over coffee.”

I shook my head back. “Made a promise. I don’t... hah... break promises.” I grabbed my coffee in a blob of magic, downing nearly half of the icy goodness in one huge gulp. “‘Sides, I needed it as much as you did. Long day.”

“Really,” Octavia said skeptically, picking up the double black in her hooves and taking a careful sip. “Was it, now?”

“Yeah. You’ll find out tomorrow, by the way. What the surprise is. It’s gonna be...” I stopped, searching for a word. Awesome? Dangerous? A little bit insane?

“Interesting. Really interesting.” At least that was true.

“Oh, good. I can’t wait,” she said, in a tone that could’ve been totally sincere or completely deadpan. That was ‘Tavi for ya. Sweet as anything, yeah, but as unreadable as a block of granite when she wanted to be. Of course, being with her for as long as I had, I knew a couple surefire ways to break that shell.

“Buuut, anyway,” I said, scooting closer to her from my position on the couch and batting my lashes. “I’m not completely tired out, y’know...” I let the words hang, shooting her an exaggerated wink.

“Oh?” Octavia replied, smirking as she caught on immediately. “Would you like to change that?” Her tail smacked playfully against my flank, making me shiver, and then her forehoof was around my shoulder, guiding me back over to the bedroom and onto the blankets.

She lay down next to me, and I buried my muzzle in her mane, nuzzling her cheek. ‘Tavi smelled amazing, like lavender and honey, although she swore up and down she never wore any perfume. Some mares get all the luck.

With a flicker of magic, I dimmed the bedroom’s lights and gave her another nuzzle. “Hey, ‘Tavi?” Might as well break it to her now, right? No time like the present.

She turned and looked at me with lidded eyes and a sultry grin. “Hm?”

With that expression, any words related to the alley pony, the letter, or why I’d actually been gone died in my throat, and I settled instead for a long, hard kiss.

Tomorrow, I would either start on the journey of a lifetime or make a complete idiot of myself (and it wouldn’t be the first time). But hey. That was tomorrow.

For now, I was safe, happy, and about to get some with the mare I loved.

I smiled as Octavia broke the kiss, rolling over and staring into my eyes as she straddled me. Her expression was expectant, and I said the only thing that was in my mind:

“I love you.”

For now, adventuring could wait.

Next Chapter: Chapter Three: Legato Estimated time remaining: 5 Hours, 4 Minutes
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