Lasers, noise, sweat, and screaming. This was home. This was where Vinyl Scratch belonged. Forget the apartment, forget the worries, forget everything, just for tonight. The mare closed her eyes, whipping her head back and feeling her slick, disheveled, two-tone mane impact her shoulders with a wet slap as water continued to fly from the stage and into her face. Standing out here in the crowd, she had rarely ever felt more alive than at this moment. Thundering bass shook the windows as she continued to jump to the beat, surrounded on all sides by ponies she didn't know, didn't care about, and may as well not exist at all. All that mattered was chasing that rush of euphoria, and making it last as long as she could.
Here, in this spacious, nearly pitch-black Manehattan club, everypony who was anypony stood- or danced, rather- bumping into each other and lifting their hooves, reaching out to touch the booming reverb and feel the synthesized melodies against their skin. Vinyl kept her eyes closed, and yet she still saw the brilliant, flickering colors of the lasers, strobe, and polychromatic smoke wafting about the room as the entire building continued to shake to the rhythm. Her heart felt light for the first time in days, and the mare had trouble fighting back a stupid grin. Keeping her lips closed became impossible, and so the mare let out a scream, cupping her hooves to the sides of her mouth as she continued to move to the beat.
An unfamiliar mare joined the call, pumping her hoof in the air along with Vinyl, who opened her eyes and reinforced the magical hold upon her deep purple shades. Thankfully, the other club goers saw them as a fashion statement, one which many older stallions had found to be enticing. However, Vinyl turned each and every one of them down, shaking her head with a smile and moving deeper into the pulsating organic mass that was the crowd.
The deep blue mare beside her continued to pump a hoof in the air as Vinyl watched, still smiling wide. The other pony was so much bigger and mature-looking, to the point where standing next to her made Vinyl begin to feel uncomfortable. The fact that Vinyl's fake I.D. had gotten her into the club was impressive enough at the door, but now that she was seeing just how young she actually looked, that familiar sense of panic rose up to seize at her heart.
No. They're not gonna catch you. This is your night. The best night of your life. Make it count!
The adolescent pony shifted her focus away from the partying mare beside her, instead choosing to push her way deeper into the crowd and up toward the stage. Simply figuring out where she was going became a battle as Vinyl moved forward, pushing her hooves and hips against other ponies to slip through cracks amongst the others dancing around her. A sudden explosion caused her heart to skip a beat, and the source became clear almost instantly as she cast her eyes up to the stage. The DJ stood beside his turntable, a t-shirt cannon loaded with balls of glitter slung over his shoulder. The stallion took aim again and fired another round high above Vinyl, smirking with satisfaction as the ball detonated and rained twinkling lights down upon the crowd.
Vinyl had never seen anything more beautiful.
More smoke billowed forth from places unknown, chased by green lasers that blinked in and out of sight as the song began to change. The DJ stallion moved back behind his turntable to take control of the beat, sliding a switch and upping the bass. Vinyl was bucked hard in the side as she turned to watch, and the air left her lungs as she doubled over in a wheeze. The crowd began moving faster, slamming into her as the ponies packed in tighter in anticipation of the coming drop. Vinyl found herself in pain as she felt her insides jump to the bass, which was quickly reaching uncomfortable levels. As she stood with one hoof around her stomach, doubled over and face nearly to the floor, she could only think of one thing: how much she loved it.
This is where I belong; this is me. They know nothing.
A cacophonous slam interrupted her moment of reflection, and a sudden impact below her jaw caught Vinyl completely by surprise as a jumping pony in front of her moved backward too quickly. Off her shades came, flying backward amid the crowd, spinning freely in the air as they disappeared from sight. Vinyl felt her breath catch as her heart stopped, equally from both pain and panic.
My shades! My EYES! Shit! They're all gonna see!
The mare slammed her eyes shut immediately, absolutely unwilling to let anypony see her for what she was. None of them mattered, nor could they be trusted. If they saw her ruby orbs, they'd call her a freak, just like everypony else had. Even if she was finally in her environment once again, that didn't mean the ponies of the outside world would be any more understanding.
Another sharp impact against her side caused Vinyl to cry out in pain as a mare was pushed into her, and Vinyl brought a hoof up to strike back with as much force as she could muster.
"Watch where you're goin'!" she yelled. "Seriously, keep the hell away from me!"
Vinyl gave the mare a hard shove, earning a few curious looks as she stood, her eyes squinted and face scrunched into a scowl. She had to find her glasses, and these inconsiderate ponies weren't helping matters any.
"Watch where you're going yourself, little girl!" the infuriated mare retorted. The pony raised her voice to yell above the music, which seemed to be thumping louder and louder as time went on. "You shouldn't even be in here, clearly! You pull that again, and I'll call over security!"
"Fuck you!" Vinyl pushed her way forward, opening her eyes a bit more as she began to breathe harder. Pins and needles rushed through her skin, causing her entire body to quiver as angry voices rose up in her memory.
"Absolutely not! You're going to get hurt!"
"Dad! Chill! I'll be fine! I'm not your little filly anymore! I'm sixteen!"
"You're an idiot, is what you are!"
"Cocksucker," Vinyl grumbled as she walked forward slowly, sweeping a hoof along the floor as she continued her search amid the deafening background noise and ever-shifting crowd. "Stupid, fat piece of shit. I'm here, and I'm fine. They didn't know shit then, and they don't know shit now."
Angrily, she swept a hoof forward again, and felt the tip clink against something familiar. The touch of the round frames brought a small feeling of hope to the mare as she used a quick tug of magic to bring the shades back to herself, only for her heart to sink; both of the lenses had large spider-web cracks running from bottom to top.
FUCK! I CAN'T AFFORD TO FIX THESE!
Vinyl's hoof began to shake as she slowly moved the glasses back to their place upon her nose. Blinking a few times, she peered out, seeing the world once again through an amethyst filter. The cracks were obvious and annoying, but… workable, at least. Another pull of magic brought the shades tight against her eyes as she snorted, pushing her wild mane of out her face once again with a hoof.
Alright. Shit. Crisis averted… this five seconds. Back to the party!
Doing her best to put on a smile, the trespassing pony turned back to the stage and walked forward to squeeze more closely into the crowd. She raised a hoof and began to jump again, leaning into the stallion in front of her as he too joined in, screaming and jumping wildly along to the changing beat. Craftily, she slipped a hoof around the older stallion's neck and pulled herself in tighter to him, pressing her side right up against his. The tan pony looked sideways, quietly eyeing her up as she nudged her head just below his chin in an obvious display of affection.
The stallion grinned and leaned in close to her ear, slipping his own sweaty hoof around Vinyl's neck as she kept her expression even. "You come here often, lady?"
"More often than I should." Vinyl slipped out from under his hoof, pushing the surprised pony backward as she traded places with him and slipped deeper into the group of ponies.
There she was again, right up near the stage, mere feet from the speakers. Vinyl swore that she felt a bit of wind coming from the large devices and leaned in closer, letting the beat wash over her as the sweeping lasers flashed directly into her eyes. Her protective shades did a bit to dampen the effect, but the partying pony still saw dots dancing on the edge of her vision as the lasers swept back and forth in front of her. Slowly, she came to realize that something was missing. That nagging, irritating feeling that something was just… off was coming back. Even being so close, even doing what she loved to do most, the anxiety had caught up with her.
Vinyl began to shake and feel slightly nauseous as unpleasant thoughts once again reached her mind. The apartment. The mail. That feeling of total panic.
NO. This is my fucking night! You're here to have fun and get away, so don't think about that shit!
Despite her attempts to reassure herself, nothing was working; her jumps became halfhearted as she moved to the beat, feeling a hoof upon her flank. Vinyl didn't care at all, and let the lecherous male behind her rub his forelimb up and down her side as he leaned in to say something. Vinyl didn't bother to listen, and instead started walking back through the crowd, her mind and stomach swimming.
C'mon, c'mon… I'm not ready yet. I'm not giving this shit up. I need… I need…
And there it was: hope. Golden, liquid hope, being poured out of a tap and handed to a waiting mare, who accepted the glass with a gentle hoof.
Vinyl moved as quickly as she could, weaving her way across the floor and up to the bar with considerable speed. The bartender was less than impressed as the slightly smaller than would normally be considered 'adult' sized pony hopped up onto the bar stool and readjusted her fractured glasses casually with a grin.
"Gimme somethin'. Hard. For… uh…" Vinyl's horn glowed, and in a flash, her coin pouch appeared. The mare grinned sheepishly as she shook it out, producing a small pile of bits. Barely enough to cover one drink. Certainly not enough to cover other essentials. "…this much?"
The unicorn stallion stopped wiping his rag along the countertop, staring blankly at the pitiful, unkempt mare and her tiny stack of coins. Slowly, he pulled down a plastic cup and filled it quickly with straight beer, before pushing it over to the mare and turning back around.
"Take your bits and go. You obviously shouldn't be here, and I somehow doubt that money is yours. Come back up here again, and I'm calling security."
Vinyl at least had the decency to blush as she greedily grabbed at the cup and stuffed her bits back into the pouch before sending it away. The lucky mare hopped off the stool, careful to avoid spilling her drink, and meandered around the edge of the large room as the music continued to play. Slowly, making sure to keep the drink lasting as long as she could, Vinyl began to sip at the liquid, loving every second of it. The pony knew it wasn't good for her system, especially given the fact that she had important things to be doing in a few short hours. However, knowing and caring are two very, very different things.
"Hey, you. Yeah, you!"
Vinyl looked up, pausing as she kept her lips along the edge of the cup. An unfamiliar mare, done up in a heavy layer of makeup was beckoning to her with a hoof. "C'mere!"
Hesitantly, Vinyl acquiesced to the summons, and walked forward slowly while draining the last of her beer with a look of disappointment. Casually, she levitated the empty container over to a nearby trashcan, the feeling of anxiety slowly beginning to bubble up again inside of her. "Yeah?"
"You look cute tonight…" the older mare cooed, bringing a hoof up to her lip. "You also look pretty young."
Vinyl tensed, narrowing her eyes. Even if the gesture would go unnoticed behind her protective eyewear, it still brought her a little satisfaction. "And?" she asked with a little bite in her tone.
"Is this your first time clubbing?" The earth pony tilted her head, curly blonde mane cascading down over her shoulders as she put on an exaggerated pout.
"No, it's not," Vinyl replied through gritted teeth. I've been doing this shit for over a year now! Why is everypony getting on my nerves tonight? The one night I need this?
"Oh… interesting…" the mare drew out the last word, chasing it with an animated giggle as she took a tiny clutch from her larger purse. "What's your name, cutie?"
Vinyl grit her teeth, shuffling her hooves impatiently. If this didn't get interesting and fast, she was going to leave this mare in the dust. "Crystal Nova," she lied. Her fake name for everything. It hadn't failed her yet, so why change now?
"Tell me, Crissy…" the clearly intoxicated mare giggled at her own nickname, blushing as she reached a hoof out to touch Vinyl's shoulder. "Are you having fun?"
"Fun enough, now what the fuck do you want?" Vinyl snapped. The music was almost beginning to annoy her at this point, and coupled with the mysterious pony now touching her shoulder, things were going downhill fast. The voices rushing through her head weren't helping the matter either, and Vinyl found herself breathing a little harder as she heard her mother's worried tone replaying in her thoughts.
"Vinyl, Sweetie… do you know the types of ponies that go to those… those raves? It isn't safe, especially for you… we're just trying to look out for you, Honey…"
The mare recoiled a bit, taken aback. For a moment, Vinyl thought that she had successfully rebuked the annoying pony, only for the determined mare to lean back in once again with a smile. "…ever tried E?"
With a quick motion of her hoof, the mare opened the little purse and slid out a circular tablet, holding it out for the other pony to examine. Vinyl blinked in surprise as she stared down at the pill; small, beige, and with a smiley face indented into its surface. With a shaky forelimb, Vinyl tucked her hoof under herself, leaning her head back slightly away from the drug. She had never experimented with such things, but at the same time…
"A-are you… are you kidding me? You… you have…"
"Mm-hmm…" The mare moved in closer, pushing the pill into Vinyl's hoof as she reached the other up to brush the side of her face. "Crissy," she whispered directly into the nervous pony's ear, "it's yours if you want it. Free tonight, for looking so good…" The mare leaned back out, giving a bubbly giggle as she turned to walk away while waving a hoof. Vinyl looked down to her own hoof, and considered her options.
Shit. Toss it or take it, but I gotta decide quick. This is insane…
Vinyl shivered out of nervousness, completely unsure of herself. She closed her eyes briefly, and felt close to the edge of tears. The feeling wasn't coming back. Not even the music was reaching her anymore, and the more she ran, the faster reality was catching up. Reality wasn't where Vinyl wanted to be at the moment. And after what had happened earlier today… maybe not ever again. The decision was easy.
The pill went down her throat without a hassle, and only after the fact did Vinyl consider whether she should have chewed it or not. Hoping that things would work out, she turned back to the crowd with a determined glare and walked confidently forth, doing everything she could to surmount her rising sadness.
C'mon, kick in… kick in… gimme somethin'…
A familiar song began to play, and Vinyl threw all of her energy into getting excited for it. The tune wasn't even her favorite, but she just didn't care. Things were catching up too quick, and she needed to push forward. With a stroke of luck, she spotted the snooty mare from before who had bumped into her, holding a glass of expensive looking wine as she slowly swayed. Not even thinking, Vinyl moved toward her, before giving a bump of her own and stealing the glass. Quickly, she downed the remainder before giving the empty glass back and sticking her tongue out.
Vinyl slid forward, hearing a scoff and furious stomp behind her as she worked her way around the room.
Sucks to be her.
Suddenly, her vision started to become wavy along the edges, and the effect combined with the purple filtering of her glasses caused Vinyl to tip sideways a bit as her head began to swim. She brought a hoof to her forehead, feeling rather clammy as she brought it back coated in a thin layer of cold sweat. Another impact from places unknown rocked into her side, and things seemed to move in slow motion as another young mare appeared before her. The pony began to speak, but all that Vinyl heard was a jumble of sound before she leaned in, pressing her lips to the light yellow pegasus' own.
A whirl of color and feeling overcame Vinyl as she pushed forward, firmly planting a hoof into the mare's chest as she closed her eyes. Nothing mattered but the feeling, and her current sensory overload was finally beginning to drown out her unpleasant and wandering thoughts. The pegasus squeaked a bit, and the scared-sounding whimper brought out the animal in Vinyl, who bit down a little and pressed herself further into the kiss. A collision of tongues took place, and both ponies let out a moan as they fell down to the floor, Vinyl on top and pushing her full weight into the other mare. The crowd was probably staring. The music was probably still playing. If Vinyl was to be honest, she had no idea.
All at once, the world around her came rushing back in an explosion of noise and light. Vinyl leaned up, pushing her hooves into the floor on either side of the blushing pony below her as she licked her lips, breathing hard. What am I doing? I just... I…
The confused mare stood up fully, abandoning her pegasus plaything to whatever fate awaited her. Vinyl began to wander, her movements somewhat slow as she blinked in confusion. Another round of shivers wracked her body, and she leaned into a nearby stallion for warmth.
"Hey! The hell is wrong with you?"
"S-sorry… I'm sorry…" Vinyl shook her head, blinking a few times as she removed her glasses and brought a hoof up to her horn. Her entire skull was throbbing, and without her purple filter, the world looked even stranger. More glitter and water rained from above, and the confused unicorn blinked rapidly, sniffling a bit as the moisture sunk into her fur. Suddenly, she felt very, very cold. The extreme temperature shift brought her thoughts back to the past, and Vinyl bit her lip as tears started to flow silently down her face.
"Honey… you know you can't stay outside for too long… think about your condition…"
"I DON'T CARE! I'M NOT A FREAK, I'M NOT!"
"Nopony said you were, Vinyl." Her mother brought a reassuring hoof down upon Vinyl's messy orange mane. "You just… you know how easily you burn if you're out in the sun too long. It isn't your fault, you just need to be careful."
Vinyl sniffled, blinking as her eyes began to sting. Be careful. Be careful. I'm tired of being careful. Fuck this.
With a sob, she reared up and began to move, her shades held in hoof as she closed her eyes. The music once again flowed through her, and the pony wished silently that she was the one on stage, sliding dials and twisting knobs to make ponies around her dance. Soon, however, she dropped back to all fours, and a pained whimper escaped her lips as an unexplainable sadness overcame her.
…this isn't fun anymore. I want to go home.
More tears came as Vinyl sank to the floor, putting her forehooves over her head as she tried to lie down amongst the crowd. Several ponies backed away from her, and a concerned stallion kneeled down to put a hoof upon her back.
"Miss? Miss, are you alright?"
Vinyl continued to sob, unable to hear herself over the music. The pony's distorted voice barely reached her ears as she buried her face into her hooves, crying uncontrollably.
"I don't care what you think you want, Vinyl! Failing out of school to prove a point won't get you anywhere! You will listen to me, and you will start trying harder! This… this stupid dream you're chasing isn't something realistic!"
"I… I-I want to go home…" Vinyl looked up at the confused grey stallion, seeing only a watery blur through her tears. "I want to go home!"
Slowly, the larger pony looped his hooves under Vinyl's shoulders, pulling her up as he turned to the mare at his side. "I'm sorry, Whisper, but I'm not going to leave her like this. I'll be right back, I promise." Once again, he turned to Vinyl, and offered her a handkerchief to dry her eyes. "Here. Let's get you to the bathroom so you can clean yourself up."
Vinyl only sniffled in reply, feeling extremely sick and shivering once again. Despite her self-induced suffering, the music continued to play, and the depressed mare looked all around to see everypony else thoroughly enjoying themselves. She took the cloth and dabbed at her eyes, but made little progress in drying them as the tears kept coming.
"…I made a m-mistake. I want to go home."
"I know." The stallion nodded, moving a hoof to part the onlookers as he walked Vinyl across the club floor. She didn't remember making it to the bathroom, but she did remember opening her eyes to find herself leaning over a toilet.
The mare heaved again, bringing up more bile and remnants of food as her throat caught fire with a painful sensation. Vinyl leaned farther over the bowl, emptying her stomach as she continued to sob and whimpering in disgust as she touched her hooves to the toilet seat.
"M-my… my glasses… where're…"
"I have them. Just focus on getting it all out." A warm hoof touched her back, and Vinyl leaned over to vomit once again, unsure as to who was behind her. It sounded like the stallion from before, but for a second, she almost believed it was somepony else.
"I'm sorry. I… I'm so, so sorry…" Vinyl started crying even more, leaning her face down to rest against the cool porcelain.
"Why are you apologizing to me? I just want to make sure you're alright."
Vinyl nodded, not following the pony's words. "I fucked up. I fucked up… real bad."
The stallion offered a grim smile and rubbed with his hoof, absently massaging the tired mare's back. "Everypony does. Are you done throwing up, kid?"
Vinyl nodded once again, but hugged the toilet bowl and closed her eyes. Never before in her life had she felt so pathetic, and she knew that standing up would mean facing the truth. However, the cool tile of the bathroom floor was beginning to send a chill straight through to her bones, and so the unicorn made her best effort to stand upon shaky legs.
"Alright. Now, tell me… what's your name?"
As the unicorn looked up to the older pony's face and they locked eyes, a crushing feeling of guilt swept over her. Her tail drooped a bit as she wiped at her face with a hoof, feeling utterly defeated. All of her attempts to escape were for nothing. Sneaking into a club was usually a thrill, providing her with a feeling that nothing else possibly could. Tonight, however… it rang hollow. There was no more point in running. Not when this was likely the last Manehattan nightclub she was ever going to see.
"V-vinyl. My name's… Vinyl Scratch."
"Alright, Vinyl Scratch. Where is 'home'?"
Vinyl stepped out of the taxi carriage, handing over the bits that mostly weren't hers to the cabbie and giving him a sad smile. With her glasses back upon her face, she was confident that he hadn't noticed the soulless, desperate look in her eyes as she refused to speak for the entire ride. Looking up at the building before her, she sighed, taking a deep breath of the trash-scented, familiar city air. As she slid her keycard into the reader, the front door unlocked with a faint click, giving Vinyl mere seconds to trot over and let herself in. The mare did so, and stepped into the lobby with another sniffle. She knew what was waiting upstairs, and was in no rush to see it again.
The unicorn mare dragged her hooves as she slowly walked to the vending machine, biding her time as best she could. Her tiny coin pouch materialized once again in a muted blue flash, and she slowly counted out the bits in midair. Just enough remained for a drink, and so she slid the coins into the machine and made her selection, pressing the buttons with tired hooves.
My last purchase in Manehattan… a fuckin' soda. So much for living the dream.
Vinyl watched as the metal loops holding her prize in place rotated forward, bringing the cold drink closer to her inch by inch. Suddenly, the turning stopped, and the machine went dark as the light within flickered off. All that the unicorn could do was stare blankly, her mouth hanging open as she pressed her forehead to the plastic window.
Too upset to even begin banging on the machine, Vinyl withdrew herself from the panel and sent her empty coin pouch away. She walked over to the elevator, jabbing at the call button with a sigh. What seemed like an eternity passed as the somber mare waited for the doors to slide open, and when they finally did, she shuffled quietly into the cab before hitting the button for the 18th floor.
Now watch this stupid thing break, too.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, the ride was a smooth one, and Vinyl was delivered safely to the empty hallway, into which she stepped out with a heavy sigh. Sparing a quick glance at the wall clock, Vinyl rolled her eyes. Three in the morning was several hours earlier than she had intended to return home, but there was no use trying to go back out. Only one thing remained, and so she continued her slow march back to room 1803.
As she slid her keycard once again, Vinyl bit her lip. Stepping back into the apartment meant seeing it again. Seeing it again meant being reminded of her failures. However, no other options remained, and so she stepped into the dark room, and flicked on the lights.
Empty pizza boxes were stacked atop the counter, surrounded by just as many empty plastic cups and a half-finished bowl of cereal. The dirty kitchenette flowed into the living room, where the moth-eaten and raggedy furniture stood waiting for its owner to settle in. Near to the seating area, randomly-placed wooden tables held various electronics and fake plants in a halfhearted attempt to make the place more presentable. Vinyl moved to the couch and flopped down onto it, feeling far more depressed and lonely than she had when she left the cab.
I don't understand. I just… I can't do this anymore. I can't run. I'll run tomorrow. But… for now, I have to see it again.
Shakily, a piece of yellow paper floated over to the mare from the coffee table next to the worn green couch. Vinyl brought the official-looking document into her vision, and immediately teared up again as she reread the words at the top of the page.
The paper fell onto her chest as the mare dropped her magical hold over it, draping both hooves in front of her tired eyes. With a quick motion, she removed her glasses, and sobbed uncontrollably into one of the waiting pillows.
Where the fuck am I going to go?
Before Vinyl could even begin to formulate an answer, she rolled over and cried herself into a fitful, dreamless sleep.
Author's Note: So, here it is. The beginning of my new big project. This is indeed in the same universe as Ruby, so feel free to read that old thing if you want a quick glimpse into filly Scratch's life. A certain somepony from that story will be showing up soon, so it might help to see the initial basis for her inclusion here. Of course, it will be explained in this story as well, but if you want a heads up, I suggest reading that one-shot.
Crossroads hasn't been abandoned, if any of you are worried. However, I won't be picking it up again until the middle/end of May, instead working on this and Pie & Pegasi in the meantime. Would love to hear your thoughts on the beginning of this saga, as this story is going to be quite big. Possibly even bigger than Scented Venom when all is said and done. Until next time,