After an emotionally straining and tear-filled night, Octavia and Vinyl left their home, Wubsy safely nestled in their bedroom for the day. The white unicorn had gotten halfway out the front door when a gentle cough from behind caught her attention; Octavia shot her a bemused look, gesturing to the massive black cello case next to her on the floor. Vinyl grinned sheepishly as her horn glowed, and she levitated the case outside before helping settle it onto her marefriend’s back. She would have carried it for the entire trip, but Octavia was the kind of mare who insisted on doing everything relating to her instrument herself. Vinyl could sympathize; the only ponies she let near her decks were herself and her marefriend, and even then she didn’t quite think Octavia could handle moving them. She always wondered how ponies without magic coped.
As they walked, the two mares struggled to find some thread of conversation that would not inevitably lead back to their dire situation. “The new piece I’m writing is almost complete,” Octavia stated awkwardly.
Vinyl jumped aboard this topic, endeavoring to seem interested. “Oh? That’s nice. I can’t wait to hear it.”
For another few seconds they fell silent again, the echoes of their hooves being the only sound that passed between them.
“So why did you decide to walk with me today?” Octavia asked. Usually Vinyl was more than content to stay at home while Octavia went to the Ponyville music hall. “Are you going to watch me rehearse?”
Vinyl shrugged. “Probably not. I think I should be home as much as possible, but I didn’t have a choice today. Dazzler wants to see me and you know how she is with appointments.”
Dazzler, or Dazzling Talent as she was professionally known, was Ponyville’s up-and-coming talent agent and the manager who booked all of Vinyl’s gigs. Octavia knew from experience that if Vinyl missed an appointment, Dazzler would show up and let herself in and then wait for her star to return. It was, after all, Vinyl’s budding fame that had led to Dazzler’s success in the first place. She wasn’t very likely to let a missed summons go uncorrected.
“I see,” the cellist conceded. “If she wants to see you, you had better go.”
“It’s probably another one of Pinkie’s soirees,” Vinyl said, using a sarcastic tone to emphasize the last word. “I don’t know where she gets the money for it, but being her go-to mare for thumpin’ tunes is a pretty steady cash flow.”
Octavia nodded as they approached the music hall. “Well whatever it is, I hope you enjoy it.”
The mares shared a parting kiss, and Octavia watched the white unicorn walk away for a few seconds before turning and heading inside, struggling only momentarily to get the cello case through the double doors..
The interior was, as usual, a mass of organized chaos as musicians bustled about preparing for rehearsals. Octavia headed backstage and began getting ready. She took the large instrument out of the case, propped it up and began tuning it by ear, years of practice manifesting as she went about her preparations with ease and skill born of her passion for the art. Halfway through her maintenance, however, she heard a familiar voice.
“Hello Octavia,” a mint-green unicorn called out to her. “We missed you at the wedding.”
“Hello, Lyra. You know how it is: I’m not one for big social events unless I’m performing. Besides, I had to stay home and work on my new piece.”
“Oh yes, that’s right. I saw the program. You got another solo, didn’t you?” Lyra veiled her resentment with a saccharine-sweet tone.
Octavia sighed. “Yes Lyra, I’ve been given another solo piece. You can’t blame me if your choice of instrument doesn’t lend itself easily to a solo performance, can you?”
Lyra feigned shock well enough to fool anypony who didn’t know her as intimately as Octavia did. “Blame you? Why would I? You’re a fantastic musician, you deserve your fame.”
Octavia decided not to pursue the matter further, hoping to avoid the petty squabble she knew Lyra was attempting to bait her into.
Octavia and Lyra had known each other since they had met at the Equestrian Music Academy. They had almost instantly become fast friends—and soon after that, lovers. They had been inseparable throughout their studies, and had moved to Ponyville together when they both auditioned for the Ponyville Orchestra. But when they had realized they were competing for position, things had gone sour; Octavia’s natural talent had overshadowed the lyrist and she was soon named as the show’s centerpiece.
They had carried on for a while until Octavia began to get the impression that Lyra was bitter about being upstaged. Eventually, Lyra’s jealousy and over-zealous ambition had lead to them breaking up. While they tried to stay on amiable terms, it was clear Lyra continued to harbor resentment toward her former love, and this wedge was the chief reason their friendship was little more than superficial to this day.
“I hear you were named one of Cadence’s bridesmaids,” Octavia continued, attempting to steer the conversation back to a safer track. “That must have been exciting.”
A dark cloud came over the mint unicorn’s face. “Yes, I was offered a chance to be Cadence’s bridesmaid, but I had to turn it down due to extenuating circumstances.”
This caused a moment of genuine surprise in the cellist. She knew Lyra’s ambitious nature and craving for recognition. For her to give up something as high-profile as being the bridesmaid to royalty, something truly extraordinary must have occurred. “You turned it down? That’s so unlike you, Lyra.”
Octavia sensed she may have touched a nerve because Lyra suddenly seemed to be marshaling her thoughts for one of her verbal barrages. Luckily, Octavia was saved the tirade by the appearance of a cream-colored mare with a pink-and-purple streaked mane.
“Oh hi, Octavia!” Bon-bon said enthusiastically as she trotted up beside Lyra. The green mare started, apparently having forgotten that her marefriend had been waiting in the wings of the concert hall, just off stage.
Bon-bon was something of a safety mechanism for Lyra. Octavia often marveled at how the confectioner seemed to sense when Lyra was getting carried away and diffuse her temper with almost no effort.
Bon-bon gave Octavia a clandestine wink, indicating that her intervention had been far from coincidental.
“Hello, Bon-bon,” Octavia smiled openly. “Glad to see you again. Are you here to watch Lyra rehearse?”
Bon-bon nodded happily. “Of course. I had some free time in my schedule today so I thought I would come see how the show is coming together. I heard you got another solo part—congratulations.”
“Thank you. I’ve been working non-stop to get the piece ready. It’s been pretty rough, but thankfully I have Vinyl to help me unwind.”
The tiniest twinge of anger crossed Lyra’s face at the mention of the pony Octavia had replaced her with, but it passed quickly. “And how is Vinyl?” Lyra asked.
“She’s doing well. She just played the royal wedding reception and it sounds like that was very well received. She has an appointment with Dazzler today, so I suspect she may have a new ‘gig’ lined up.” Octavia gestured air quotes with her hooves around the term.
Bon-bon smiled sweetly. “Well that’s fantastic. We need to go out on a double date soon so we all have a chance to catch up.”
Octavia had anticipated this suggestion. Bon-bon, bless her heart, had taken to making every attempt to bring the two couples together in an attempt to acclimate Lyra to Octavia’s presence in the hopes that the two rivals could rekindle their old friendship. Octavia had made every attempt to accept these invitations when they were presented, despite the fact that Lyra’s attitude toward her didn’t seem to be improving. But she loved Lyra and Bon-bon dearly and shared Bon-bon’s dream of them being close, so she continued to try.
“Of course, Bon-bon. I’d be delighted. Vinyl and I are rather busy of late, but we should definitely schedule something for another time.”
Bon-bon nodded. “Yeah, that’s probably for the best. Lyra’s pretty busy herself. She’s been put on one of the CLEaR anti-changeling teams, and that’s been taking up most of her spare time.”
Octavia continued to tune her cello, her calm facade hiding the electric panic coursing through her. “Oh? You’re on the changeling teams?”
Lyra nodded, her face suddenly a picture of triumph that put Octavia instantly on her guard. “Yeah. I’m on the lookout for any suspicious activity that might indicate a changeling in town. And on that note, what’s interesting to me lately is that Bon-bon happened to mention she saw your marefriend in town with Berry Punch the day of the attack.”
Octavia trod lightly, wary that Lyra had more up her sleeve than she was letting on. “Yes? I’m sure you know that Vinyl and Berry are on friendly terms. What’s so interesting about that?”
“Oh, not much. Just that Bon-bon had been coming from Berry’s market stall at the time.”
Bon-bon cut in with an embarrassed giggle. “Are you still on about that, Lyra? I told you, I must have been mistaken. I’m sure there are plenty of ponies in Ponyville with Berry’s coat color. It was probably Cheerilee or somepony.”
Lyra was undaunted. “And there was our bumping into each other in town two nights ago. I thought it was pretty strange how you had so much trouble recognizing me.”
Octavia’s heart lunged into her throat. Was it possible Vinyl had taken Wubsy for a walk without telling her? What other mistakes had they made during their walks? Who else had evidence of Wubsy’s true identity?
“So tell me again, what was it that had you so distracted the other night?” Lyra grinned, moving in for the kill.
Just then, the conductor rapped his baton on the podium to signal the start of rehearsals. Saved by the bell Octavia sighed inwardly. Bon-bon wished them both good luck (looking rather abashed by Lyra’s behavior) and headed for the audience seats. Lyra took her place on stage with the rest of the strings section. Octavia took up her bow and placed it against her instrument, and her cello joined the rest of the music which filled the hall, in perfect sync with the conductor’s baton.
Significantly rattled by what she had heard from her rival, Octavia was more than slightly distracted during the rest of the rehearsal and made several blunders in her performance. With every missed note she noticed Lyra attempting to suppress a guilty smile. At least the unicorn seemed to feel bad about reveling in her failures. In the end, Octavia managed to muddle through the set and was glad when the conductor declared the rehearsal concluded.
Once rehearsals were over, Octavia dashed for the exit. She hurried to avoid being cornered by Lyra again, unceremoniously shoving some poor pony out of the way in her attempts to escape further questioning.
She galloped home full tilt, dodging ponies in the streets as she busted flank toward her small shared apartment. Her mind was buzzing with panicked thoughts. She desperately grasped for some semblance of a plan to deal with Lyra's suspicions but the shrill klaxon in her head kept her from being able to focus.
She reached the sanctuary of home and threw the door open, unable to suppress the thought that Vinyl and Wubsy could have been arrested and dragged away while she was at rehearsals.
Vinyl was relaxing in the living room eating some cherry pie, Wubsy sitting contentedly beside her. Both ponies looked up to see the earth pony standing in the doorway, a frantic expression on her face.
”What's up, Tavi? You don't look so hot," Vinyl asked.
Octavia quickly shut the door and rushed over to her marefriend. “Vinyl, did you take Wubsy out for a walk two nights ago?”
Vinyl thought about this for a moment. “Well yeah. She needs to get out of the house now and again. Don’t worry, we didn’t run into any trouble. Well, aside from a close scrape with Lyra.”
Octavia glared at the unicorn. “Lyra confronted me before rehearsals today, Vinyl! She’s a member of CLEaR and now I think she suspects something is up!”
Vinyl gulped audibly. For a few seconds she sat motionless, stunned by the news before she found her voice again. “Alright. No problem. I figure if we start running now we can make Los Pegasus before they come after us. Once they figure out we’ve left town they should stop chasing us, right?”
“We’re not running, Vinyl,” Octavia said with frustration foremost in her voice. “This is our home. We’re not just going to abandon it. Besides, we'll just keep encountering the same problem wherever we go as long as Wubsy is still with us.”
The expression of panic on Vinyl’s face was replaced by disbelief. “You’re not saying we should get rid of her, are you?”
“No, Vinyl. I’m not even thinking it. But we do have to be more careful. Lyra doesn’t have any proof or she would have just brought it straight to CLEaR. So whatever she has, it hasn’t been enough to sway them to look any deeper into it. But I know her. She’s not just going to let this go. She’s going to be looking for something else they can mobilize on. That means she’s going to be watching us like a hawk so we can’t afford any more slip-ups. That means every time Wubsy is out of the house, it needs to be coordinated and planned out.”
The DJ nodded sadly. “You’re right. We should have been more careful. I promise, no more walks without planning it out with you in detail first.”
“Good.” Octavia paced around the room while contemplating damage control. It was just then that a small pop caught her attention. She turned toward the source of the noise to see a scroll lying on the couch, tied with a ribbon and with Twilight’s distinctive hoof-writing picking out the words “To Vinyl and Octavia. URGENT!!!”
Vinyl saw the sudden appearance of the scroll too and levitated it up, unfurling it so she could read.
“Dear Vinyl and Octavia,
What are you two doing over there?! Lyra’s team leader just came to me saying Lyra had given her evidence of changeling activity in town! I managed to convince her it was hearsay, but you two have to be more careful! I’m doing what I can but if you keep letting them see Wubsy’s slip-ups I’m going to be forced to order another search, and this time I won’t be able to just declare your house all clear. I would have to choose another pony to cast the detection spell. Somepony not willing to lie to save Wubsy.
For Celestia’s sake, BE CAREFUL!
Your loyal friend,
Octavia bit her lip. “You see, Vinyl? We can’t afford to be careless. If they find any more evidence, they’re going to be breaking the door down to get at Wubsy.”
Vinyl kicked at the floor, looking utterly downtrodden. “I get it, Tavi. I messed up bad. You don’t have to keep drilling me on it.”
The cellist took a deep breath, trying to calm herself before she exploded with anger. “I’ve been trying to tell you since you brought her home that you have to be careful. I just hope this drives my point home enough that you’ll start watching where you step. I can’t tell you how lucky we are that this is the worst of it for now. I think you realize this could have been much much worse.”
Vinyl raised her head to glare at the gray pony. “Alright already! You made your point!” Wubsy flinched, affected by the tears running down her cheeks from behind her large glasses. “You were right and I was stupid, okay? Just drop it!” Vinyl rose and bolted for the bathroom, latching the door behind her.
Octavia fumed for a while, pacing the living room grumbling while Wubsy watched her with a fearful expression. Once her temper had cooled somewhat, she approached the bathroom door and knocked gently. “Vinyl,” she said, her voice still firm but not near as volatile. “I’m not going to apologize for what I said. It’s something you need to seriously think about. But I am sorry for how I said it. I lectured you like a foal and I shouldn’t have done that; I know you understand how serious this is and I pressed the issue because I was angry and scared. I lashed out at you when you didn’t deserve it. I’m going to go to bed now because it’s been a very stressful day. I hope you can forgive me enough to come sleep in the bed with me.”
With that, Octavia retreated to the bedroom and closed the door behind her. She turned out the lights and climbed onto the bed, wrapping herself in the blankets. She sat fretting for a while, but eventually sheer exhaustion won out. Just as the mare began to dream, she was woken again by the sound of the door cautiously creaking open. Two forms entered the room and the door shut behind them and a moment later, Octavia felt the weight of both ponies climbing into bed beside her.
“Don’t worry, Vinyl.” Octavia whispered into the darkness. “We’ll make it through this together, you’ll see. Things will look brighter in the morning.”
Octavia was not encouraged by the silence from the unicorn, and she rolled over and reached out to hug her marefriend. The feeling of chitin on fur was a familiar one, but not the sensation she was looking for; Octavia kissed Wubsy on the forehead. “It’ll be okay. We’ll protect you.”
The changeling nuzzled her appreciatively and moved aside, allowing Octavia access to Vinyl. She wrapped her hooves around her marefriend and pulled her close.
“We’re in this together. We’re a family.”
“I know, Octavia. I really am sorry I messed up.” The gray mare could hear the sadness in Vinyl’s small, lonely voice.
“It’s not your fault, dear. It was an honest mistake. Let’s just move on, alright?”
She heard the DJ sniff loudly. “Alright.” Octavia sensed Vinyl was hesitating to continue. Then, “Can we bang now?”