Part 1 (First Chord)
“Stop fiddling with that outfit, dear. It’s going to get frayed by your constant fidgeting,” reprimanded Graffite Scratch.
The filly she was addressing gave her mother a pleading glance. “But it’s too tight, mom! I can barely breathe in this darn thing...”
“Come now child, listen to your mother,” interjected Acoustic Scratch, “and watch your language. Where you’re going, nopony is going to take any of that tone. Don’t forget that you are a Scratch, and that you have a reputation to fulfill.”
Giving up, the filly begrudgingly released the cream colored collar of her maroon uniform from her teeth and buried her head in her hooves. Her unicorn parents exchanged glances and sighed disapprovingly at their moody daughter.
Pouting, Vinyl decided that being a Scratch certainly wasn’t worth the trouble that it was putting her through. She didn’t dare say this to her parents, of course, and instead just stared out at the unchanging tree line as the carriage coasted along the well groomed dirt trail leading upwards toward the Hoofington Institute for Musical Excellence.
It was dark and bleak along the trail, the grey-brown trees creating a thick, verdant canopy that held the sun’s light at bay. The darkness put her in a foul mood. She hadn’t even seen this place yet, but she already absolutely hated it.
“You’re going to absolutely love it. There’s no better musical university in all of Equestria. I should know, it taught me everything I know to this day!” her father Acoustic Scratch had expounded so many times. And Vinyl Scratch had to agree, albeit reluctantly, that her father’s talent for the guitar was nothing short of spectacular. The pale green stallion’s playing was some of the most powerful, emotional music she had ever heard in her life. But even that started to get tiresome after a while.
Her mother, Graffite, had come from the institute as well. In fact, the two had met there, both being instructors at the school for a long time before falling in love. She took greatly after this white-furred, blue-maned mare, thought the filly as she smoothed her coat absentmindedly. Graffite was a skilled composer with more symphonies under her belt than Vinyl cared to count. Her pieces had been performed by some of the most illustrious orchestras in Equestria, presented to Princess Celestia herself, and brought prestige to the Scratch name that she married into.
Indeed, her mother, her father and his father before him, had all come from the Hoofington Institute for Musical Excellence, and discovered their cutie marks. Now it was her turn. And yet, it was impossible for Vinyl to muster the slightest excitement towards the whole thing. The further she got from her home and her friends, the more and more she hated her parents for forcing her into some dreary old school in the middle of nowhere. Her brow furrowed even further, and she blew a lock of her straight-cut sea-foam blue mane out of her eyes.
Casting a dismal look at her blank flank, she couldn’t help but wonder what would appear there in two years’ time. A clarinet? A tuba? Or maybe a French horn? Maybe a guitar, like her father, or a baton, like her mother? Not that it even mattered, Vinyl told herself. Whatever it would be, it would disappoint either her, or her parents. As usual.
Sighing again, the one lingering thought that made her despise the choice her parents forced on her grew even stronger than before. As the carriage rounded the bend, and the afternoon sunlight began creeping into the cushioned interior, she kicked a hoof in frustration.
She was a Scratch, and she hated music.
When the carriage suddenly halted, the white-furred filly bonked her head against the sill of the window. The hit shaking her out of her stormy mood, she looked around, confused. Nodding politely to the porter as he opened the door to the carriage, her father shot her a quick warning glance before stepping outside. Grabbing her saddlebag with her mouth and reluctantly clambering off the edge of their carriage, the filly turned and, despite herself, gasped.
No one in Hoofington remembers exactly when the institute had been built, but they all agree that there’s no other building in Equestria that quite matches it.
The building’s massive, sprawling facade was built with red bricks rather than the traditional white mortar used for most homes in Hoofington. Cracked and weathered, they were silent with the wisdom of a long-standing history that demanded respect. Great wooden beams intersected the structure in intricate geometric patterns, and the polished windows imitated this style, but with thin wrought iron grates. A similar metal composed the long fence that encircled the institution’s grounds, separating the wild, overgrown forest from the well-trimmed lawns, marble fountains, and manicured bushes. Wooden slats composed the angular roofing, and a single, lonely weather-vane creaked slightly in the cool spring breeze.
“Whoa,” whispered Vinyl under her breath. Her parents smiled slightly as they watched their daughter’s wide eyes flit across the spectacular structure. However, that smile quickly went from genuine to a practiced politeness as a newcomer came trotting towards them, not disguising the wide grin on her face.
“My goodness! Graffite, Acoustic, is that you? I came as soon as I heard the carriage had arrived! Good heavens, it’s been far too long!” she gushed, embracing first Graffite, and then Acoustic.
Vinyl, finally tearing her attention from the beautiful grounds, gave this unknown pony a quizzical look. The unicorn wore a crisp, pressed dress that kept close to her slim figure, and her graying mane was tied back into a bun with a light red ribbon. A silver flute was emblazoned on her pale peach flank.
“It’s indeed marvelous to see you as well, Headmistress Metronome. Simply seeing you again brings back so many wonderful memories,” replied Acoustic Scratch warmly, with a nod to his wife. Grinning politely, the elderly Headmistress Metronome now diverted her sparkling blue eyes to Vinyl Scratch, who was doing her best to not be noticed.
“Oh, and this must be the little filly. My, my, how you’ve grown! The last time I saw you, you were barely able to stand on your own hooves. You probably don’t remember me, though,” she said cheerily.
With a rehearsed tone of forced propriety, Vinyl shook her head and answered: “No, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am.”
“Oh, isn’t she polite!” laughed the elderly unicorn, shooting Acoustic a wry wink. “Nothing like this rapscallion back when I was his musicology instructor!” Vinyl’s father blushed slightly as he cleared his throat. Vinyl giggled before being silenced by her mother’s reprimanding stare.
“Right, well…let’s not forget why it is we’re here!” He nodded to Vinyl before wiping a bead of sweat off his brow with a handkerchief produced from his pocket. The young filly lifted the saddlebag and placed it on her back, as her mother turned to her and knelt so to look her in the eyes.
“Now listen to me, Vinyl. I know you’re not exactly overjoyed to be here. But you need to believe me when I tell you that this is all for your own good. You may not know it now, but I promise you that, one day, you’ll look back at this and realize we were right.”
“But...you’re leaving already?”
“I’m sorry, dear, but we have a very important recital to get to. You’re a grown-up now, and you don’t need us watching over you constantly. Be brave.”
Giving her a gentle kiss on the brow, and her father giving her a kindly pat on the back, the two unicorns bade farewell to Headmistress Metronome and entered their carriage. The puller stallions whinnied, turned around, and set off at a trot for the wilderness.
Watching the carriage roll out of the wrought iron gates, Vinyl felt a strange sense of relief and confidence overcoming her. A grown-up. So rare were words of inspiration and confidence, that suddenly she started to believe what her mother had told her. That sentiment quickly deflated to foreboding as Headmistress Metronome cleared her throat, and her lighthearted expression collapsed into a stern scowl.
“Now then, Ms. Scratch. Before we begin, I would like you to first be aware of a few rules,” she said firmly. “Firstly, you will refer to me as ‘Headmistress’ at all times. Make no illusions: simply because your parents and I have history does not mean that you will be entitled to special treatment! Secondly, you are never to leave school grounds unless you are given permission and accompaniment by one of the instructors. And thirdly, disobedience and bad behavior that reflects poorly upon our Institution will be met with dire consequences. Are we clear, Ms. Scratch?”
Ears drooping, Vinyl’s red eyes lowered as she mumbled a response.
“Excellent. Follow me.”
The air inside the institute was notably colder than outside in the gardens. Warm brass and crystal chandeliers swayed slightly in a draft, their candlelit glow an apology for their homes’ chilly climate. Vinyl’s hooves clopping against the smooth marble tiles echoed inside the massive atrium, bouncing between the rafters and heralding their arrival to an earth pony patiently awaiting them. The gruff blue stallion had thin, well-kept stubble around his chin, and his bespectacled eyes were sharply analytical as he looked Vinyl over.
“This must be the newest and final student for this year,” he said in a controlled monotone, checking a pocket watch, “and she is late.”
“Indeed, Professor Fine Tune. This is Ms. Vinyl Scratch,” said the Headmistress, introducing the timid filly.
Replacing the watch into the pocket of his loose tweed vest, Professor Fine Tune adjusted his glasses. “Ah, a Scratch! It has been such a long time since we’ve had one of yours within these halls. I expect great things from this one.” He gave the Headmistress an expectant look. “Shall I give her the tour?”
“Please do,” responded the elderly mare, “I have a great deal of paperwork to attend to, a dinner with the mayor to discuss next year’s Grand Concerto, and at this rate I shall be late. Goodbye, Ms. Scratch. I hope you enjoy your stay at our fine university.” Making this sound more like a command rather than a suggestion, Headmistress Metronome trotted down one of the many corridors, leaving Vinyl alone with the Professor. With a dignified cough, he regarded the white filly with a thin smile.
“Now then. Shall we begin? The institute is large, and I have things to tend to myself,”
Nodding slightly, Vinyl followed the Professor Fine Tune as he directed her down the lonely, cavernous throat of the hallway.
“No one knows exactly how old the institute is, Ms. Scratch. Rumors have it that it was built by Princess Celestia’s ancestor long before she herself took rule over Equestria,” explained the blue stallion as they began their journey through the institute, the red carpeting warming their hooves with the day’s heat stored from the slowly dying rays of sunlight. “Historians are not sure if that is exactly true, per se. However, they have found documents to proving that the building was used as a temporary military outpost during the Princess Conflict. The architecture here doesn’t match that time period, though, and in my opinion the building’s history extends far past the Conflict.”
They stopped abruptly in the middle of the wide, windowed hallway, and Fine Tune scoffed to himself. “Oh dear, there I go again, blabbering like an intern. You will probably guess that I am one of the musical history instructors here at the institute. But anyways…” he coughed and swept a hoof across the hallway, “this here is the North Wing. Most of the technical music courses are located here, except for mine, which is further in the West Wing.”
Breaking her silence up to this point, Vinyl posed a question: “What is a ‘technical music course’?”
“You do not know?” said Professor Fine Tune, surprised, “Well, technical courses cover things such as music notation, terminology, as well as musical philosophy. They might not be the most interesting subjects, but they are invaluable for--”
The two ponies suddenly jumped upwards as a catastrophic crash ruptured the silence, accompanied by a slew of cymbals, drums, and percussion instruments pouring out of a flung open doorway. Vinyl had to do everything in her power to keep herself from laughing as a flustered Fine Tune slipped his glasses back onto his nose.
“Speak of the devil. I believe that is your music psychology teacher right now!”
Sure enough, a dust colored unicorn poked his head out of the pile of instruments, scowling in frustration. Suddenly realizing that he had an audience to his clumsiness, he blushed as he pushed his way out of the avalanche. This pony was completely different from Fine Tune or the Headmistress. He wore no suit; in fact, the only thing he wore was a dark red and black spotted bandanna that obscured his mouth, which he adjusted slightly as walked towards them.
“Professor Smooth Song! I take it that the movers mistook your office for a closet space yet again, hm?” said Fine Tune wryly.
Smooth Song snorted slightly in disapproval, tugging a drumstick out of his mane. Just noticing the filly accompanying Fine Tune, he pointed questioningly to the perplexed Vinyl Scratch.
“Ah! This is a new student, Ms. Vinyl Scratch. She is going to be one of your students, if I remember the attendance list correctly,” explained Vinyl’s escort. “Ms. Scratch, this is Professor Smooth Song.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” responded Vinyl with a slight curtsy. Smooth Song responded in turn with a kindly nod, and motioned with his head to the pile of instruments.
“Yes, well, we will leave you to figuring that out! Ms. Scratch, this way please. I will show you the West Wing, and then we shall see where you’ll be sleeping.” As Fine Tune trotted off down the hallway, Vinyl cast one last, lingering look at the strange pony. Sifting through the mess, he didn’t even give her another look as she galloped to catch up with Fine Tune.
Following the blue stallion through the labyrinth of high-ceiling corridors, Vinyl tried to memorize their path as best as she could.
“Mr. Fine Tune, where is everypony anyways? I haven’t seen a single other student so far,” said Vinyl, looking up at the instructor.
“Do not worry, they’re here. You’re actually the last student to arrive, and everypony else is in their dormitories, unpacking and preparing themselves for their stay. It’s one of the rare days of rest that you will be getting.” Just as she was wondering when she herself would get some rest, Professor Fine Tune began speaking again, indicating one of the many tall windows that lined the hallway.
“You will notice that the Hoofington Institute for Musical Excellence is shaped like a sort of square. In the middle are the inner gardens, where many festivities and concerts are held.” Vinyl Scratch peered over the edge of the window, amazed by the rainbow arrangements of flowers, the smooth grass, and the wide, circular fountain at the epicenter of the greenery. An antiquated gazebo, lovingly maintained with fresh paint and golden trim, was bordered by proud, dark trees. Moving away from the picturesque panorama, Fine Tune resumed his discourse.
“Now, the West Wing will probably become your favorite, if you ask me,” he explained as they entered a new, brightly lit corridor. “This is the applied music wing, where all the instruments and music classes are held. Students experiment, practice, and compose here with the assistance of our instructors. The myriad of music that fills these halls...” With an air of reverence, he stopped and stared at the heavy oaken doors that lined the hall.
“Legendary pony musicians have found their cutie marks within these very rooms, Ms. Vinyl Scratch. Everything we know and will know about music started here once, started as a young filly or colt with not a clue what they were doing here. You will join them one day.” Vinyl couldn’t help but snort slightly. As if not noticing, Fine Tune drew again his golden pocket watch.
“Hm…yes, I suppose we are a bit ahead of schedule. Follow me, Ms. Scratch. I am going to tend to something while I am here.” With a purposeful stride, he walked her to the end of the hall to a door labeled simply: “Recording Studio”.
“Let us try to be quiet. I do not know whether he is busy or not,” he instructed, before knocking.
There was a brief pause, and a muffled voice answered: “Yes, come in!”
The interior of the studio was covered with a strange fabric and bisected evenly. Vinyl looked questioningly at a large glass panel and door that led to a smaller room filled with instrument stands and microphones. In front of this window was a large panel that looked like a complex keyboard covered with switches and monitors. Sitting at its head was a pale magenta earth pony with a microphone cutie mark. A frazzled gray mane hung over the stallion’s weathered and pockmarked face. The pony gave Fine Tune a pleasant smile as a soft classical track spun on a player. Vinyl recognized it.
“Hello there, Fine! I’m guessing you’re here to pick up that disc. I just finished ironing out the last few flaws, and I think it should be set and functional,” he said. Standing, he put his hoof on the rotating record, stopping it with a sudden loud screech. Fine Tune flinched slightly at the sound.
And Vinyl Scratch froze in place.
Apologizing quietly, the bizarre pony slid the record into a cardboard sleeve, and handed it Fine Tune. He then turned his sparkling green gaze to the filly.
“Well now, Fine, you haven’t even introduced me to this young’un. A new student?”
Looking over the record, the Professor nodded.
“Indeed. This is Ms. Vinyl Scratch. Ms. Scratch, might I introduce Legato, our recording technician.”
Shaking her head vigorously to snap from her trance, the filly mumbled a feeble salutation. This made Legato laugh; it had a tinkling, musical feel that reminded Vinyl of a silver bell.
“Well, Vinyl, welcome to the institute! As Fine said, I’m the recording technician. I handle all the record production, music editing, and of course sound recording.”
Staring at the arrangement of switches, buttons, and sliders on the panel, and encouraged by Legato’s vivacity, she answered: “Looks complicated.”
“Oh, you bet it is! Want me to show you how it works?”
Before she could answer, Fine Tune harrumphed and slid the record inside his jacket.
“All in good time, Ms. Scratch. But, it is getting rather late, and I imagine you’ll want to see your dormitory…”
Vinyl nodded obediently, looking up at the Professor and shifting her saddlebag uncomfortably.
“Leaving so soon? Ah well... See you tomorrow then, Fine,” said Legato wistfully.
Legato waved a hoof in farewell, and as the door shut, he turned back to his soundboard, smiling sadly. Fiddling absentmindedly with the dials, he thought out loud:
“A Scratch, eh? Darn shame she should end up here.”
Vinyl had completely lost track of where they were, but she wasn’t exactly trying hard to pay attention. Lost in thought, she followed Fine Tune blindly through the halls, her mind elsewhere. Inattentive, the young filly bumped into the Professor’s leg as he stopped in front of a door.
“Come now, Ms. Scratch, pay attention. We’re now in the North Wing, where the dormitories for the students are. And this,” he said dramatically, indicating the door they stood before, “is yours. You will need to pardon my meager tour, but I think you are also probably content to retire.”
With another mumbled thanks, Vinyl pushed against the heavy door. Grunting in effort, she pressed her forehead against it to no avail, until Fine Tune intervened.
“It...opens outwards, Ms. Scratch,” he said humorously.
“Right. Knew that,” muttered Vinyl, finally managing to get it open.
“Enjoy your stay, Ms. Scratch,” said the blue stallion, allowing the door to shut behind him. And Vinyl was alone with her thoughts.
The room, like the hallways, was tall and well-decorated. A stained wood trim went halfway up the walls, the rest made of blue-painted bricks. A large wooden bunk bed occupied the left half of the room, while an old mahogany desk claimed the right. Tossing her saddlebag onto one of the several antique plush sofas, Vinyl sat in the center of the room, staring out the window as the shadows crept along her body in sync with the setting sun. She looked down at her hooves. The static tingle that she had felt in the recording studio was wearing off, and left her dazed and confused. She had never felt anything like that before, and something told her-
“You can’t just toss your things wherever you want!”
Vinyl jumped into the air in surprise at the unexpected voice.
“Whoa! Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you!” apologized the mysterious voice, “I thought you knew I was here.”
Looking upwards at the bunk bed, Vinyl realized she wasn’t alone in the room. A dark gray filly with her mane carefully curled into a neat bob was observing her from above, peering over the edge of the bed with her purple eyes. Vinyl looked at her skeptically.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I should be asking you the same question. I was here first, after all!” replied the filly.
“I’m Vinyl Scratch.”
“I’m Octavia. Nice to meet you. Now put your saddlebag somewhere that isn’t in the way. Like the wardrobe.”
Complying, Vinyl shot Octavia an irritated look. “Is it gonna be like this for two years?”
“No, you could put it in the drawers if you’d like as well,” she responded sedately, “And try to keep it down a bit. Classes start early in the morning, and I want to be ready. You only make a first impression once, after all.”
“Snooty little goody two-shoes...”
“What was that?”
“Nothing. Good night,” said Vinyl Scratch hotly. She opened her saddlebag, digging around, and withdrew a smooth piece of gilded parchment. Reading quickly in the dying sunlight, she repeated her schedule under her breath, memorizing the classes, the teachers, and the rooms.
She revised this paper several times. When she could no longer make out the script with the little gray light the moon afforded her, she sighed resolutely, returned the parchment to its place, and pulled off her uniform, placing it in the wardrobe as well. She walked to the tall window, placing her hooves on the sill. Her eyes wandered over the lonely gardens awash with the silver glow of the full moon. An errant leaf carried by a breeze landed on a placid mirror-like fountain, and its rippling tough fractured the fragile reflection of the stars.
Vinyl’s heart felt tight in her chest as she sat in the dark, quiet room. A tear fought its way into her eye, and she vigorously scrubbed it away.
Silent, she undid the ribbon holding her hair, crept over to the unfamiliar bed, and slipped under the covers that didn’t smell like home. Vinyl curled tightly against herself, and it wasn’t long before she faded into deep sleep.
Hello there. Welcome to the end of the page! We’ve been waiting for you, if not ever so impatiently.
Anyways, I’d love it if you’d care to hit me up on my personal blog The Nucleus. Over there, you’ll get to know more about this story, keep up to date on future chapters, and read irrelevant news that you’ll shortly forget. So basically, it’s where you can know about stuff before it happens. (like a psychic! how exciting!) You’ll even be able to read new chapters before they get to EqD!
If you got here from my blog, this was pretty pointless.
But if you got here from Equestria Daily, then thank you, Mr. and Mrs. pre-readers for being so merciful/awesome.
Of course, if you want to contact privately me for any reason at all, you can do so at [email protected]
Part 2 (The Chaotic Sonata)
Vinyl Scratch was running for her life. Forced into a fierce gallop, a fearful, primal instinct was screaming in her eardrums, urging her to go faster if she wanted to survive. An echoing boom thundered around her, vibrating the air as her legs started to feel heavier and heavier. Sweat pouring from her brow, the binding force in her legs became insurmountable, and she froze in place against the will of every panicked fiber of her being. Her pulse throbbing in her ears, and her breath fast and hot in her throat, she couldn’t even move her head as some massive presence rose from behind her. She couldn’t even scream as it seized her. And she couldn’t even see as she started falling.
With a yelp, Vinyl’s eyes snapped open. Panting, her red eyes flitted across the room in terror. Why was it upside down!? She tried to move, and it didn’t take her long to realize that she was hanging off the edge of her bed; the cold, sweaty sheets were tangled around her in an accidental harness. As her heart began slowing to a regular rate, she tugged at her binds in frustration. Coming free, she fell to the ground with a painful grunt.
“Ow...” she muttered, rolling onto her feet and rubbing her head. Her dormitory was now flooded with brilliant yellow sunshine, its joviality almost mocking the filly’s fall. Letting her eyes adjust to the brightness, she plodded over to the gilded mirror hung over the antique desk, and winced at her chaotically curled mane and ruffled fur. Grabbing a brush laying on the wooden surface of the desk, she used it to painfully force out the knots formed during her turbulent rest. Her eyes strayed and wandered to a grandfather clock. She blinked.
8:06 in the morning.
“Agh! I’m gonna be late!” shrieked Vinyl Scratch, dropping the brush. Classes started at 8:15! Her outcry jolted Octavia awake on the top bunk.
“Not onions, I hate onions...!” the gray filly shouted in a sleepy daze, “I...wait. This isn’t the--” Her purple eyes wandered down to find Vinyl hurriedly pulling on her maroon uniform, and they tightened into a scowl.
“What is wrong with you? Screaming at Celestia-knows-what hour in morning and...wait...what time is it?”
The two fillies burst out from their dormitory and galloped into the hallway at a frantic pace. Tearing through the corridor, they realized that they were completely empty; all the other students had gone.
“This is not going to happen to me! I won’t be the one pony late for class on the first day!” swore Octavia as they careened around a corner, “And I can’t believe you used my brush!”
“Oh, come off it, and run faster!” gasped Vinyl, trying to keep up as best as she could under the weight of her saddlebag.
“Do you know what they do to ponies that are late? Oh...let me think...West Wing, which way is the West Wing?!”
“Turn right here!” said Vinyl as they reached a familiar corridor. The tour hadn’t been a waste after all. Galloping forward, Octavia looked at each door as they passed by.
“Storage, Musical Philosophy, Advanced Maintenance, Applied Musics...wait, there!” she said, skidding to a halt at this last door. “Quickly, before we’re--”
Bursting through the door, the three only students in the room and turned to stare at them. Their pegasus professor looked at them with a bemused air. Vinyl glanced at a clock hung above the chalkboard hidden behind rows of instruments.
“Ms. Octavia and Ms. Scratch, I presume,” said the professor, smiling wryly. “You’re late.”
“This is all your fault!” Octavia whispered harshly as they sidled their way alongside the three other students.
“My fault? How is this my fault? If it wasn’t for me, you’d still be in bed!” Vinyl responded, as her stomach growled hungrily. “I didn’t even get to have breakfast, either!”
Octavia looked as if she was about to respond when the professor cleared his throat noisily.
“Fillies and gentlecolts, I’d like to be among the first to wish you all a stellar two years here at the Hoofington Institute for Musical Excellence,” proclaimed the pale orange pegasus with the 3 five-pointed stars on his flank, smiling warmly. “My name is Professor Harpsichord, but I insist you call me Professor Harp, or even Mister H. Welcome to Applied Music.”
Walking around the room, his crystal blue eyes swept across the gathered fillies and colts. “Now, you might be wondering why there are so few of you here. Simply put, Applied Musics is not an academic course as much as a self-fulfillment course. Each pony requires individual attention, and this is done through small-focused classes. This is key to the success of the institute. Because here in Applied Musics, you will be doing one thing, and one thing only.”
He gave them all a beaming smile, and cast a dramatic sweep of the hoof toward the instruments behind him, his wings twitching slightly. “You’ll be discovering your musical talent! Any one of these instruments could become yours in two years’ time. The possibilities are endless!”
Despite herself, and her hunger, Vinyl couldn’t help but feel slightly excited at Professor Harpsichord’s speech. Her eyes scrutinized the bassoons, the tubas, the drums and violins, all these instruments that might hold the key to her future. Slightly worked up by his speech, Professor Harpsichord smoothed back his brown mane, straightened the tie of his blue suit, and let his wings settled down against his torso.
“Now then,” he said in a more controlled tone, “Let’s start off simply. Your names and a little something about yourselves, if you’d please, starting with you.” He pointed at a light brown filly with freckles and a pale blond mane that hung freely over her blue eyes. Aside from Octavia, she was the only earth pony in the room.
“Fiddlestick, Mister H, sir,” she answered proudly with a western drawl, “from Lopeka. And Ah’m gonna be the best darndest fiddler in all of Equestria!”
“Well that’s certainly very...forthcoming of you. And you are?” asked the orange pegasus to the next in line, a gray-blue unicorn colt with a loose white mane. His eyes lowered to his hooves as he answered.
“Um...My name’s Falsetto, Mister Harpsichord, from Ponyville,” he mumbled indistinctly, pawing the ground, “I dunno what I want to do yet. I’m not--” His voice faded away. Vinyl smiled to herself. At least she wasn’t alone.
The next filly, a unicorn, introduced herself before Professor Harpsichord could even address her. “Opera Gusto. Manehattan. Singer,” she stated in a clipped, curt tone. Her straight magenta mane elegantly complemented her pink fur, while clashing with her steel gray eyes.
Opera’s last name sounded vaguely familiar to Vinyl Scratch; she remembered having heard it somewhere before. Not giving her time to think about it, Octavia nudged her slightly as the class waited for her to introduce herself.
“Oh, uh...” stuttered the blue-maned filly, “I’m Vinyl Scratch. Came from Fillydelphia. Not sure what I want to do either.” At the mention of ‘Scratch’, Opera’s nostrils noticeably flared, and Professor Harpsichord laughed in delight.
“Ah, so you’re the Scratch! I assumed it was this other young filly here...” he said, nodding to Octavia. She sighed in frustration as Vinyl covered her mouth and giggled.
“My name is Octavia, Professor Harpsichord. From Canterlot.”
“And what do you intend to learn here, Octavia?”
The dark gray filly shifted her hooves uncomfortably, “Well...I...I’m not entirely sure. I just know that I want to learn. Whatever it takes.”
Professor Harpsichord smiled another radiant smile. “You’ve got some fire there, Miss Octavia. I can appreciate that. I think we’re all going to get along just fine. Yes indeed.” Staring at them for an awkwardly long time, he cleared his throat again, and his tone became business-like.
“Now. Some of you have an idea of what you want to do with yourselves, which is an excellent start. However, who knows? You might end up somewhere else entirely. Either way, it’s my job to find out, and I’m rather good at that. Come here, then. Come, come!” he said, motioning for them to approach. Lining up again, closer to the assortment of instruments, Vinyl watched as Professor Harpsichord’s brow furrowed, and he brought a contemplative hoof to his chin. Walking around the nervous Falsetto, he muttered to himself, his eyes flitting between the colt and the instruments.
“Hm. I think...let’s try the flute. That seems right.” He picked the silver flute and passed it to the uncertain colt, who turned it over in his hooves quizzically.
“For you, a fiddle, of course,” mumbled their instructor. He spread his wings and, with a powerful pump, became airborne. He hovered around the higher shelves in the room, hunting for the elusive instrument. “Now, I swear I saw one of those around here somewhere...Ah! Here it is!” Gingerly pulling a dusty fiddle from between an accordion and a banjo, he alighted and handed the instrument to Fiddlestick. She scrutinized the mistreated instrument disdainfully, throwing the pegasus a sour look. He shrugged apologetically.
“We...never really use those.” Ignoring Opera, who turned her nose upwards snootily, and leaving Fiddlestick to wipe the coat of grime off the fiddle’s body, he turned his attention to Octavia. Almost instantly, he pointed to a large instrument in the corner, and concluded: “Something in the strings, for sure. Let’s try the harp, and see where that takes us. And as for you, Ms. Scratch...”
He stopped right in front of her, and a befuddled look contorted his face. Scratching his mane, he circled around her as he had with Falsetto. However, this eerie stare-down took far longer. He would open his mouth to speak, then shut it again before any words could escape as he reconsidered his answer. Vinyl wiped a thin bead of sweat rolling down her forehead as Professor Harpsichord continued his silent analysis. Octavia was now too staring at Vinyl and the instructor in confusion. Finally, he stopped and sat on his haunches in defeat.
“Well, I’ll be darned. I have no idea,” he said, mystified, “This has never happened before. Normally, I can get close, even nail it spot on. But never before have I not had the slightest idea.”
His wings twitching again, he stood and turned to face the array of musical instruments. Not speaking to anypony in particular, he said:
“What a peculiar filly you are, Ms. Vinyl Scratch.”
Vinyl coughed slightly, the focus of the students now on her. This was exactly what she was afraid would happen.
Snapping out of his glazed-over trance, Professor Harpsichord spun around sharply. “Well!” he exclaimed eagerly, “This is an inconvenience, but education stops for nopony! You’ve got some future ahead of you, Ms. Scratch. I guarantee it. In the meantime...” He took a guitar-like instrument from its stand and carefully placed it Vinyl’s hooves.
“Let’s try the bass, for starters. It’s fragile, so don’t drop it.”
The filly tugged at the steel strings of the instrument. “What am I supposed to do with this?” The other students nodded, echoing her concern.
“Simple. You play it. Like so!” he said, taking Vinyl’s hoof and running it across the strings. A strangled chord warbled from the instrument.
“But I’ve never played a harp in my life!” complained Octavia, looking up at the intimidating array of fine strings.
“Don’t you see, children?” said Professor Harpsichord, exasperated, “That’s the point. This is your time to experiment, to learn! You can become anything, but you will become peerless at it. However, there are many paths to greatness, and it’s only by trying them all that you can choose which is right for you.”
He clapped his hooves together with finality. “And the only way you can try them all is to have friends that have tried as well. I need to step out for some business, and will return soon enough. Try to get along and...um...don’t destroy anything!”
“Are you seriously just gunna leave us all--” started Fiddlestick, before being cut off by the door slamming shut.
“Highest quality education in music my flank,” muttered Octavia indignantly, plucking at one of the harp’s strings. The monotone vibration hummed through the room, leaving an awkward silence in its wake as the ponies weighed their instruments.
“Um...” stuttered Vinyl, “Fiddlestick, right? You said you were from Lopeka. Where is that exactly?”
“Out west,” responded the earth pony nonchalantly as she adjusted the tuning pegs. Satisfied, she picked up the bow, sat on her haunches, and brought the fiddle to her cheek, resting it on her shoulder.
“Well, yeah, but where out west?”
“Deep west. Out in the middle ah nowheres. Mos’ folks ain’t heard of it. Can’t blame ‘em.” She drew the bow across the fiddle’s strings. A horrific screech pierced the ears of the unsuspecting ponies, leading to an aggravated chorus of groaning and grumbling. Fiddlestick wailed in despair, clutching the fiddle to her chest.
“Sweet Celestia’s turnips, what have they done to ya, ya poor thang? I ain’t never seen a fiddle this outta tune. Why would anypony be so cruel?”
“Maybe because a ‘fiddle’ is not a real instrument...” said Opera Gusto hotly, raising her snout upwards. Fiddlestick’s light blue eyes narrowed into an intense gaze, and turned themselves to the pretentious unicorn.
“The fiddle is such a folk-ish instrument that it astounds me the institute would dare even keep one in its grounds. Its mere presence is an insult to the years of art and sophistication that have graced the institutes's halls.”
“Now girls...there’s no need to start this sort of thing! We’re all high class--” started Octavia weakly, before being overridden by an infuriated Fiddlestick.
“Folk-ish? What kinda nonsense is that supposed to be? Are you tryin’ to imply somethin’?!”
“Oh, not in the slightest. A lady would never dare,” smiled Opera pleasantly, batting her thick eye lashes. As Fiddlestick was about to tell Opera exactly where the ‘lady’ could shove it, Vinyl put herself between them and forced them apart.
“Enough! We haven’t even been here for an hour and already we’re at each other’s throats! Can’t we just sit back and try to stay calm?”
“Get your hooves off me, Scratch!” hissed Opera, slapping her hoof away indignantly. Vinyl stumbled back, stunned.
“What the hay is your problem!?”
Suddenly, Opera pressed her face intensely close to Vinyl’s, her eyes thin and hateful.
“You know very well what my ‘problem’ is, you foal! Do not dare pretend to be innocent!”
“You have ruined me and my family, and do not think for a second that it is so easily forgotten!”
And suddenly, Vinyl remembered where she had heard the name ‘Gusto’ before.
“They’ve ruined me!” roared Acoustic, slamming the door behind him.
“Dear? You’re home so early! Was the concert cancelled?” called Graffite, descending from the top of the grand staircase.
“Cancelled? It wasn’t bucking cancelled, I got replaced!” Seething, Acoustic slammed his guitar case onto the polished marble floor.
“What?! By whom?”
The pale green stallion’s face contorted with anger as he spat the name like it was venom.
Silent, Vinyl sat in the foyer, rolling her favorite ball between her hooves as she watched her parents curse and argue. She didn’t exactly understand what was happening, but she knew better than to ask. Her wide red eyes instead focused on the ball. Its predictable rolling made more sense than whatever her parents were talking about.
“That’s the fourth time they’ve run us out of a show. Those amateurs have their hooves in the pockets of every theater and recruiter in Equestria. At this rate, we won’t get another to perform ever again!”
“Come now, dear,” reassured Graffite, despite her own anxiety, “You’re being melodramatic.”
“He humiliated me! I can never show my face in Manehattan ever again, thanks to that confounded saxophonist!”
A steely glint in Acoustic’s eyes, he panted hard as he gradually recomposed himself. A cold edge creeping into his voice, he stared his wife in the eyes and vowed:
“I’ll make them pay. I’ll make those Gustos rue the day they decided to cross the Scratch family again. This isn’t the institute anymore, and I’m through playing by their rules. I’m going to destroy them. I’m going to grind their names to dust. Get me a phone, I need to make some calls.”
Vinyl was silent, and averted her gaze from Opera’s. With a haughty snort, the whipped around and stomped away, stopping before the one of the windows and sitting there moodily.
“Sheesh. Did somepony hurl in her cereal this mornin’ or somethin’?” scoffed Fiddlestick. At the mention of cereal, Octavia’s stomach rumbled. Groaning, she fell backwards, kicking the harp in frustration.
“Please, can we not talk about food? I haven’t had a bite to eat since this morning!”
“Don’t remind me...” muttered Vinyl, placing a hoof on her own ferociously growling stomach. She tried plucking a few more of the bass’s strings, but every note seemed to fall flat musically as well as emotionally. Trying to remember how her father played the guitar, she did her best to imitate the hoof positions, and, with a strum, a scratchy imitation of an E chord vibrated from the instrument. The blue-maned filly furrowed her brow irritably. She didn’t know what she wanted, but this instrument certainly wasn’t the ticket.
Octavia was faring no better. Her attempts at pulling the string were half-hearted at best, and she had to contort herself awkwardly to even hope to reach the further strings, not that reaching them made her playing any better. Giving up, she puffed her cheeks.
“Darn this stupid thing.”
“Well, at least the two of us know which instruments won’t be getting us a cutie mark,” offered Vinyl weakly as she tried to replicate the chord. There was a shrill whine that turned their heads to a bashful Falsetto, who promptly pulled the flute out of his mouth.
“Make that three,” added Fiddlestick dryly, plucking her fiddle to see if she had finally gotten the tuning right. A harmonious ting floated through the room. Beaming, Fiddlestick stood and brought the fiddle to her cheek again, lightly placing the bow across its strings.
“Awright y’all. Lemme show you how we get down in Lopeka!” she claimed.
“Hold on to yer hats, pardner...” added Opera in a sarcastic pantomime of her accent.
The first stroke of the bow was a high, harmonic hum that silenced them all. Basking in their astonished gazes and gaping jaws, Fiddlestick pulled the bow back. Slowly, the hum became strong and powerful, a song of hardiness and pride, built upon sweat and toil of devoted earth ponies. Then, at a breath-taking pace, their song became fast, frantic, and full of vivacity. The tempo accelerating to the threshold, and Fiddlestick elegantly switching her hooves from string to string with every rapid chord. Vinyl felt a tingle in her hooves, and a smile spread across her face. Without the least bit of self-control, she started hopping from hoof to hoof, dancing with her eyes shut as she let the festive tune envelop her and let her body become free. Laughing, Octavia joined in, and they swung around each other breezily, perfectly in sync with the fervent melody.
Fiddlestick’s hooves became a light-brown blur as they flew across the instrument. The song rose, rose, and rose, finally reaching a single, perfect crescendo. And then, as suddenly as it began, it stopped, and a heavy, satisfied silence took the place of Fiddlestick’s song. Panting, she smiled weakly and dropped to all fours as her classmates applauded her.
“That was...wow! Incredible!” squealed Octavia, tapping her hooves in excitement, “I’ve never heard anything so simply amazing!”
“Fiddlestick, you’re unbelievable!” agreed Vinyl.
“That song was just...I can’t even describe it,” said Falsetto, bewildered. Fiddlestick lowered her eyes and scratched the back of her head.
“Aw, shucks. It was nuthin’...” she said, blushing.
“Nothing? My dear, that was far from being nothing. That was a spectacular display of talent!” A strange voice interrupted them, and Vinyl jumped back in surprise to see that Professor Harpsichord was now standing behind them.
“That truly was fantastic, Miss Fiddlestick. I’m immensely impressed, and dare I say honored to have you as a student,” he continued, grinning widely, “And as much as I’d love to hear more, the lot of you need to get moving to your next class!”
“Huh? So soon?” asked Vinyl, confused.
“But of course. Miss Fiddlestick here has been playing for you ponies for the past twenty minutes.”
“Twenty minutes?! It only felt like three minutes!” cried Octavia. Professor Harpsichord laughed, and gave Fiddlestick a sly wink.
“You, my dear, are good. Very good. Now then, you can leave the instruments here, they’ll be waiting for you next class.”
As the student began filing out of the class, and Fiddlestick had reluctantly placed her fiddle back where she took it, she gave Opera a light tap in the ribs.
“Folk-ish, ya said?” she said coyly, her tail flicking across the unicorn’s nose. Fuming, Opera glared at the light brown earth pony, but said nothing as they headed out the door, and into the now bustling halls of the institute.
Want to know when the new parts are ready as soon as they drop? You’re best off visiting my personal blog The Nucleus. You’ll even be able to read new chapters before they get to EqD! You should also check out the SALT homepage. These guys help me do proofreading and editing, so give them some lovin’!
Of course, if you want to contact privately me for any reason at all, you can do so at [email protected].
Part 3 (Silent Songs)
“You really are amazing, Fiddlestick!” congratulated Vinyl as they tried to find a spot to talk without interrupting the flow of students trying to get to class. “Where did you learn to play like that?”
“Mah grampa taught me everythin’ he knows!” said the brown earth pony, grinning at the attention she was receiving, “Ah was playin’ the fiddle when it was taller than I was! Well...more like poking the strings, but ya get the idea. I was born to play, and it’s gonna make me famous, Ah tell ya!”
“Well,” questioned Octavia, squeezing past an irritated Opera to join them by the window where they stopped to talk, “how come you don’t have a cutie mark yet?”
Fiddlestick stammered, her eyes shifting back and forth uncomfortably: “Uh...Ah dunno, but what the hay is it to you, huh?”
“Well, it’s just that, to me, I’d think you’d have a cutie mark by now, considering how good you are!”
“Gettin’ a cutie mark ain’t no contest, missy,” Fiddlestick informed hotly, “It takes time, like grampa said, but the wait’s always worth it! So maybe ya should focus on yer own rather than buttin’ into other folks’ business!”
“Well jeez, you don’t need to get so def--” started Octavia, riled, before being cut off by another wailing complaint from her stomach, shortly echoed by Vinyl’s.
“Lovely,” quipped Opera as the two fillies blushed awkwardly, “Although it pains me to miss out on this...enthralling discussion, I would rather get to class...” With an arrogant sway in her hips, she joined the steam of students and vanished.
“Thank goodness she’s gone,” said Octavia dryly, watching her go.
“Oh, I don’t know how I’m going to survive another class if I don’t get something to eat soon. My stomach feels like it’s chewing on my guts!” moaned Vinyl, “I can’t believe I had to miss breakfast on the first day of school.”
“Um...” started Falsetto.
“Well why in Equestria did you fillies get up so darn late? Didn’t you set some sort of alarm or somethin’?” questioned Fiddlestick.
“Well...maybe we forgot it in the bustle of things...” admitted Octavia, loosening the collar of her uniform sheepishly.
“Bustle?” Vinyl scoffed, her hunger starting to wear on her nerves. “You were literally laying in your bed when I came in! It’s not like you were exactly swamped with work. And then you had the nerve to call me a lazy slob!”
“Guys, could you please...”
“Now hang on a minute! We are not starting this again!”
“Guys, I’ve got...”
“Oh, I am so starting this again! All I’ve heard from you since we got here is nothing but--”
“Guys!” finally shouted Falsetto. His sudden outburst drew the attention of everypony in the hallway, turning his face into a surprisingly vivid shade of red despite his cobalt fur.
“I...uh...” he resumed in a far more subdued tone as the students continued their business, and pulled something out of his saddlebag. He meekly offered two halves of a sandwich to the surprised Octavia and Vinyl Scratch. “I always keep a little something with me from breakfast...just in case.”
“Wait, you have food? Why didn’t you say so earlier?!” said Vinyl excitedly. Falsetto frowned slightly.
“Oh my goodness...” whispered Octavia, longingly eyeing the toasted bread and grass, complete with a toothpick and olive, “Is that daffodil...? I love daffodil.”
“Does it have onions?” asked Vinyl with a sideways glance to Octavia. She blushed.
“Um...I don’t think so.” said Falsetto shyly, his hind leg scratching the back of his front. “You...uh...do you want them?”
“Oh, yes please!” Octavia nodded eagerly as she took a half and bit into it. Closing her eyes as she chewed, a soft moan escaped her lips. “Mmm...heavenly. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more delicious sandwich in my life.”
Vinyl Scratch couldn’t agree more as she sank her teeth into the sumptuous treat and let the flavors melt on her tongue.
“You’re welcome...” muttered Falsetto with a slightly bitter tone, lowering his head.
“Uh, not to interrupt yer ‘culinary experience’, but we’re going to be late to class,” said Fiddlestick, nodding to the rapidly emptying halls. Blinking in surprise, the fillies rapidly finished their very late breakfasts.
Thankfully, their next class was not only in the same wing, but very close by. Octavia, Vinyl, Fiddlestick, and Falsetto managed to slip inside the crowded classroom; the desks now full of students unpacking their quills and parchment in preparation for the upcoming lesson. Thanks to the stadium-like arrangement of the seats, they were all able to find places next to each other and with a clear line of sight to the front of the classroom.
Unlike the Applied Music room, there were no instruments here, and instead there was simply a green-black chalkboard with “Professor Smooth Song - Music Philosophy” written upon it. The professor in question, whom Vinyl recognized from yesterday, was seated patiently on the floor behind an oak desk as he waited for the dull hum of voices to slowly fade. Absentmindedly running his hooves through his dark brown tail, his sharp purple eyes flitted from face to face. Vinyl noticed whispers and glances directed towards Smooth Song’s particular outfit.
“What’s with that dish rag on his mouth?” whispered Octavia as she finished placing her quill and ink in front of her. Vinyl shrugged. The professor, still remaining silent up to this point, was finally joined in his quietude by the rest of the class. Pleased, the professor stood and walked about the classroom, looking upwards at the array of awaiting students. His expression indiscernible behind his bandanna, the only indication of his good humor came from his eyes as they sparkled in the warm sunlight. He spoke.
“It’th a pleathure to meet you all, thtudenths,” he said amicably, “My name ith Profethor Thmooth Thong. Welcome to Muthic Philothophy.”
There was a shocked silence in the classroom that lasted for what seemed an eternity. Then, one by one, stifled giggles broke out amongst the juveniles, which eventually escalated into full-on, uproarious laughter. Fiddlestick completely lost all control, burrowing her head in her hooves, her back shaking as she was wracked with choking bouts of laughter. Vinyl, despite herself, put a hoof to her mouth and giggled. Octavia and Falsetto looked at each other uncomfortably, as Professor Smooth Song’s eyes changed to a look of pained acceptance. From the back of the room, there was the slam of hooves on wood as an indignant voice shouted over the chorus of mocking students.
“How dare you all!? Compose yourselves immediately you...you...you foals! Have you no shame!?” reprimanded Opera Gusto, furious. Her outburst silenced the a students around her, but the rest of the classroom carried on laughing at the poor stallion’s bizarre lisp.
Professor Smooth Song didn’t say a word, nor did he attempt to silence the class. Instead, the unicorn strolled to his desk, and retrieved a weathered electric guitar. Lifting himself onto his hind hooves, he held the body in one hoof, and the neck in the other. His horn glowed with a pale aura the same color as his dusty brown fur, and the same light began emanating from the guitar’s steel strings. Calm and composed, he strummed a single chord.
Vinyl felt a slight electric charge zap through her spine, setting her fur on end and her ears twitching. For the slightest moment, all was deafeningly silent, with only hum of the guitar vibrating in the vacuum of sound. It lasted only a moment, and then it was gone. Dazed, she shook her head, trying vainly to clear her mind from the peculiar sensation. By the looks of it, she wasn’t the only one struck by the sound. The entire room had gone dead quiet, and the students were now all staring at Professor Smooth Song in a transfixed awe. He seemed to smile behind his black-dotted red bandanna.
“Now then. Do I haff your attention?” The classroom nodded rapidly.
“Well then,” he said, lowering himself back to all fours, and placing the guitar back where he had taken it from, “Let’th get thtarted. Yeth, my voithe doeth indeed thound ‘funny’. Howefer, that doeth’t mean I don’t ethpect your full attention and complianthe. Can we agree on thith?”
The class nodded again, terrified to say a word.
“I’m thorry...I didn’t hear that,” he said whimsically.
“Yes, Professor Smooth Song,” echoed Vinyl Scratch along with the rest of her classmates. The tingle had left her, replaced only by shame and a dull headache . Their professor shook his head and chuckled. His eyes aglitter once more, he pointed to a filly in the front row, a surprised looking earth pony with blue and white mane.
“You there, young filly. Tell me...what ith muthic?”
The filly’s eyes darted side to side in panic, hoping that the professor was asking somepony else. Sinking in her seat, she tried to stammer an answer.
“Uh...muth--I mean music is...um...sound?” she squeaked. Professor Smooth Song’s brow creased curiously as he seemed to ponder this answer.
“Yeth...muthic is thound, that much ith true. But maybe we can be more thpethific. You up there, 4th row, with the green mane. What do you think?”
“Er...is music is a way to express yourself?” ventured the colt.
A hoof rose up in the back of classroom. Leaning so as to get a view of the volunteer, Smooth Song raised a quizzical eye brow. Vinyl twisted around to see Opera with a smug grin on her face as she waited to be called on.
“Yeth, in the back.”
“Music,” she stated pretentiously, “is an art form involving sound and silence, based around the elements of pitch, rhythm, and harmony, and is performed by a musician either with an instrument or vocally.”
“Fery well informed, Mith...?”
“Opera. Opera Gusto,” replied the unicorn with a smile, prideful smile. Fiddlestick snorted in irritation.
“Fery well informed then, Mith Guthto. And altho completely wrong.” The crestfallen look on Opera’s face was enough to make Vinyl decide that Professor Smooth Song wasn’t so bad after all.
“Howefer, you do mention thome fery interthting wordth,” added the eccentric earth pony in condolence, “Mainly the word ‘art’. What ith art?” This time around, nopony was willing to volunteer, which made Smooth Song chuckle once more. “Alright. Let’th go back. Way back to the ageth of antiquity.” Stepping over to his blackboard, he levitated an eraser and swept his name off its surface. Vinyl took this opportunity to exchange an overwhelmed glance with Octavia, who seemed as much at a loss for words as she was.
“Now then!” announced Professor Smooth Song, waving a hoof at the name he had written: “Aristrotle”. The name seemed vaguely familiar to Vinyl, but Octavia seemed to have a better idea.
“Aristrotle? You mean the philosopher, right?” she said, curious.
“The very thame! Arithtrotle was one of the most influential philothophers of all time. He went againtht hith predethethors who thaid that art wath not thomething to be admired, but rather thcorned. To the ancienth, the phythical world wath a rotting, decaying copy of the perfect ideal world. Art wath an attempt to copy that phythical world. Tho what did that make art?”
Hesitant, Octavia scratched at her mane. “Wouldn’t that make art a copy of a copy, then?”
“And do you agree with that?”
“No...I don’t,” said Octavia honestly, trying to explain herself, “Music isn’t just a copy...and neither is art. Because some things aren’t physical, right? Like emotion. Would music about love or struggles be considered a part of the physical world? It just doesn’t seem right. Music is about more than making a copy, it’s about...” Her voice trailed off as words failed to describe the ideas.
“What ith your name, little Mith?
“Funny. I would haff thought you were Arithtrotle,” said the professor wryly, “for that’th exthactly what he thought. Muthic ith far more than the tangible world, it’th the heart and the thoul, it’th ethenthe of life with all it’th thtruggleth and toilth. You’re going to learn many thingth in the inthtitute, fillieth and gentlecolths. And I’m going to pick apart every latht one of them, making you quethtion eferything you know.” He was silent as he let his words sink in. With a prodding note of humor in his voice, he added:
“Now then...let the pain begin.”
Vinyl had never had a bigger migraine in her life. Her head buried in the hefty textbook distributed by their Music Philosophy professor, she groaned as she struggled to grasp what in the world the pony was talking about. None of the concepts seemed to add up, and every single time she thought she was starting to understand, Professor Smooth Song would open his mouth and dash those hopes with his incessant lisp. Every basic word she thought she knew was being redefined, and it was driving her crazy. Staring intently at her book as Professor Smooth Song droned in the background, the whisperings around her vied to tear her attention away from figuring out what the definition of “knowing”. Reading fiercely, her eyes suddenly lit up in revelation as it suddenly made sense! Knowing is based on faith, read the book in elaborate script. Finally, something she could understand, thought Vinyl, brimming with pride. Then she read the next sentence.
This is actually a common misconception.
Vinyl’s forehead collided with her desk with a loud thunk.
“Clath dithmithed, thudents,” whistled Professor Smooth Song, “Enjoy your lunchtime.”
The room was instantly filled with the clamor of excited youths as they collected their belongings and pushed their way towards the hallway. Octavia, concerned, poked Vinyl.
“Just leave. Go on without me!” whined Vinyl with a melodramatic air, not lifting her head from the desk. Her gray-maned friend sighed and rolled her eyes.
“Oh, come on. It isn’t that bad. Heck, I don’t get it either. What about you, Fiddlestick?” she asked the southern earth pony as she stuffed her textbook into her saddlebag. She gave Octavia a sheepish laugh.
“I dunno. I kinda fell asleep halfway through.” Hauling her bag onto her back, she trotted towards the exit along with Falsetto.
“You see? You’re not alone!” assured Octavia.
“No!” suddenly shouted Vinyl, standing in her seat and facing the purple-eyed filly. “I will not fall behind this early. It’s the first day! I can’t afford to already be completely lost in a class, I just can’t! I’m going to talk to the teacher. Meet you at lunch.” Before Octavia could say a word, Vinyl had packed up and was trotting down the steps towards Professor Smooth Song, who was humming as he swept the numerous definitions he had written off the blackboard. Octavia hesitated, then sighed as she turned and joined the rest of the students in heading for the dining hall.
Vinyl felt her frustrated determination dissipate step by step as she approached the professor who, only recently, managed to hypnotize the entire classroom with a single stroke of his hooves. By the time she was behind his desk, she was shuffling nervously as sweat trickled down the back of her neck. Swallowing hard, she spoke:
“Uhm...Mr. Smooth Song, sir?”
The dusty-brown stallion jumped slightly in surprise, turning around. His eyes scoured the empty seats, and then lowered to find the meek filly, who awkwardly avoided his gaze.
“Hrmm.” said Professor Smooth Song, probing his memory, “Finyl Thcratch, correct?” When she nodded affirmatively, he blushed slightly, remembering their prior meeting. “Thorry about the drumth and whatnot. Anywayth, how can I help you?”
“I...um...Mr. Smooth Song, I think I’m not...well, I don’t think I’m really getting the material,” stammered Vinyl Scratch shamefully, “I really don’t want to fall behind, and I’m scared that if I start now, I’ll be lagging the entire time.”
Professor Smooth Song scratched his chin, a bemused twinkle in his eyes. “Ith that tho? And what exthactly don’t you underthtand?”
“Everything . None of it adds up!”
“Well, of courthe. You think I exthpected any leth?”
Vinyl blinked in surprise at this answer, and the teacher elaborated, “Did you think that a clath that ith going to challenge eferything you’fe learned up to thith point in your life ith going to be thimple to underthtand? It’th a gradual proceth, and it’th going to be difficult.”
“But...what about exams?! And essays, and quizzes, and--”
“Calm down, calm down,” said Vinyl’s teacher, patting her on the head, “You haff two yearth ahead of you. That’th more than enough time to learn far more than thimply thilly Muthic Philothophy.” He paused, giving her what would have been a warm smile if not for his bandanna. “And you’re a clever filly, Mith Thratch, with quite a lot of heart in you. That much I can tell. I’m thertain that you’ll do jutht fine.”
With that, he turned back to his chalkboard, levitating the eraser and resuming his cleaning. The pale blue-maned filly felt a warm glow in her chest that she hadn’t felt in a long time. It was from pride. But as she watched him silently, and his encouraging words tugged at something in her mind, she felt a lump build in her throat and her ears drooped slightly. It was from shame.
“Mr. Smooth Song...I’m sorry,” said Vinyl Scratch quietly. Finishing, Professor Smooth Song lowered the eraser and turned, giving her a quizzical look.
“For...you know...laughing at you earlier. With everypony else. It was wrong and mean, and I’m sorry.” She was silent for a while, and then she felt a reassuring hoof touch her shoulder.
“Already forgotten, Finyl. I’m fery used to it. But...thank you for apologithing. I apprethiate that,” he said honestly. Emboldened by his acceptance, she looked up and asked him the more obvious question:
“Why though? Why is your voice like that?”
Professor Smooth Song seemed genuinely surprised by the query, his thin eyebrows raising. Coughing uncomfortably, he walked away from Vinyl, his gaze drifting between the now empty rows of desks as he paced back and forth.
“It’th a...uh...it’th a birth defect,” tried to explain the professor, “I wath born with a mithappen palette. Tho my tongue can’t reach the roof of my mouth. And well, I talk like thith. I’fe gotten uthed to it. It’th really no big deal, it doethn’t efen bother me...”
Before Vinyl Scratch could ask more, both their heads snapped to the door as it was kicked open, and familiar figure staggered forward.
“Urf...Smooth Song, I have the last of your confounded books. Seriously, couldn’t you make these poor little ponies read something a little lighter?” grunted Legato, the recording technician pony, as he fought to keep his knees from buckling under his hefty saddlebag bursting with hard cover books. Collapsing to the ground, he rolled onto his back, letting the textbooks pour out his bag in a cascade of bindings and papers. He wheezed: “I’m too old for this, Smooth Song. You’re killin’ me.”
The professor galloped to the top of the steps, and gave Legato his hoof to help him up. “I apologithe,” he said weakly. His horn glowing, he quickly levitated and organized the stack of book before the indignant purple stallion.
“Unicorns. Completely unfair, I tell ya.” He then noticed Vinyl Scratch, and gave the filly a light-hearted salute. “Ello there, Vinyl. How’s your first day going?”
“Better than expected, sir,” chirped Vinyl, sitting in front him, “Are you alright?”
“Oh yeah, I’m fine. Just a little winded is all,” reassured Legato, getting his breath back. Professor Smooth Song coughed weakly as he returned from storing the books, bringing with him another tall stack.
“Um...could you altho return thethe bookth, Legato? They’re latht year’th.”
Legato frowned as he imagined the cumbersome load on his back. “I swear, if I get my hands on those movers, I’m gonna--”
“I can help you carry those books, Mr. Legato!” piped up Vinyl, an idea forming in her head.
“That’s very kind of you Vinyl, but these are far too heavy for a young filly to carry...” started Legato. His voice trailed off as her horn glowed, and she magically lifted half the stack of books into the air. He pouted again, his green eyes set into a scowl.
Opening the door to the recording studio, Vinyl bounced inside, the mass of books enveloped in a white glimmer trailing behind her. Smiling gaily, she looked behind her as she placed the books down beside the array of electronic instruments and computers that dominated the room.
“Come on, sir, you’re lagging behind again!” scorned the filly playfully, and Legato finally staggered into the room, panting from the strenuous walk.
“The nerve of some fillies. No respect for elders, I tell ya!” snorted the recording technician in mock offense. Dropping to his haunches and letting the weighty saddlebag slide off his back, he breathed in relief, wiping the sweat on his brow.
“Sir, can I say something?”
“With all due respect, you’re really out of shape.”
“You brat,” he sniffed, collecting himself, “I am not out of shape, I’m simply not used to this sort of exercise.” The red-eyed filly look up at him, raising an eyebrow doubtfully. Legato frowned. “Oh, lay off me. All I do is sit in this darn room. Now instead, why don’t you help me put these books into that closet over there?”
“Sure thing!” Vinyl nodded eagerly, swinging the door open with a zap from her horn and tossing the pile of books inside with a loud thump. Legato blinked.
“Uhm. Maybe a little more carefully then that?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m sure you can do it so much better than me, sir!” she said quickly, giving him a wide smile, “After all, you’re such a smart pony!”
Legato looked as if he were about to question Vinyl’s bizarre behavior, but instead simply shrugged, agreed with her, and walked into the closet, turning on the light inside. Vinyl waited patiently for him to start stacking books on the shelves, then discreetly shut the door behind him. A mischievous twinkle in her eyes, she turned to a shelf full of the cardboard sleeves and rubbed her hooves together. Pushing a stool that was sitting nearby, she scrambled onto it and reached upwards for the records that were neatly stowed alphabetically.
She ran a hoof across the line-up, thinking back to the haunting sound she had experienced the last time she was here. Does the kind of music even matter, she wondered? Deciding to be safe rather then sorry, she selected a record she recognized, Coltzart’s Symphony No. 41. It was one of her father’s favorites, she remembered, crawling onto the audio interface and pulling the record from its sleeve with her teeth. Cautiously, she slid it onto the built-in record player. Gingerly placing the arm onto the disc, she then stopped, searching the sound board for something that looked like an “on” button. Groaning in frustration, she scoured the unfamiliar dials and switches. Back home, they had an antique gramophone that Vinyl had been explicitly told to never even think of touching, but she had seen her parents use it often enough to guess how they worked. Unfortunately, that knowledge wouldn’t help her here. Taking a gamble, she pressed down on a green square button next to the record player. To her relief, there was a fine crackle, and the harmonious quavering of the violin filled the room. She stared at it, immobile, as if the slightest motion would scare the disc away. Summoning her courage, Vinyl licked her lips nervously and brought her hoof above the record as it spun freely. How was it that he had done it? Should she just touch it or...? A static charge seemed to trickle from the disk as, gently, she lowered her hoof and--
“Vinyl, what are you doing?”
With a yelp, Vinyl sprang away from the record, knocking into the shelf and crashing to the floor as records engulfed her in a wave of cardboard. Poking her head out of the pile, the filly looked up at the questioning recording technician with a sheepish grin.
I...um...wanted to put on some music?” she explained feebly.
“Could you try that with less collateral damage in the future?” said Legato, taking note of the mess.
“I’m so sorry...let me clean it up, sir! It’s my fault, I wasn’t paying attention,” she admitted, pulling a disc out of her straight-cut mane.
“No need! I think you’ve done quite enough, Ms. Scratch. Get on out of here. It’s lunchtime after all, and you did help me with the books. I think that’s enough for one day, eh? Now go on, get to the dining hall and...mingle or something.”
Vinyl opened her mouth in protest, but before she could even say a word, she was pushed outside the door, and it quickly closed behind her. Dusting herself off, she gazed longingly at the doorway. She snorted, stomping a hoof in frustration. She had been so close! Her tail dragging behind her, she slouched as she walked down the abandoned hallways. Suddenly, she remembered something...
Legato opened the door, and looked down to find Vinyl scratch meekly smiling at him.
“Umm...which way is the dining hall again?”
-To be continued-
Want to know when the new parts are ready as soon as they drop? You’re best off visiting my personal blog The Nucleus. You’ll even be able to read new chapters before they get to EqD! You should also check out the SALT homepage. These guys help me do proofreading and editing, so give them some lovin’! Side note, I’m going to be busy working on a new story for my “Black Genre Challenge” over the next week, so I probably won’t be updating then. Be sure to look out for more in the future, though!
A big thanks to RavensDagger and DeRockProject for their proofreading and input!
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