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“Of course you should go,” said Carrot Top, looking surprised at the question. “It sounds like an amazing opportunity.”
It was the next morning. Lyra had made a list of all the ponies she had obligations too over the next three months, and was circulating the town to talk to them. She’d go, she decided, only if they didn’t object. As badly as she wanted this job, she couldn’t just leave them in the lurch.
But Carrot Top, at least, seemed enthusiastic.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “I know I was supposed to help you fix up your fence next week—“
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ll take care of it. Who am I to keep you here?” Carrot Top laughed. “You just make sure to tell those Canterlot ponies that there’s more to Ponyville than apples, okay? Best carrots in Equestria, right here.”
“You got it!” Lyra laughed.
“You wouldn’t be upset if we put off your lessons a little bit, would you?” asked Lyra. “I mean, I totally understand if you want to start them right away, but…”
Dinky tilted her head, carefully considering. “No,” she decided.
“Momma says that it might make sense for me to study the basics before asking you for help,” said Dinky. “So I will. When you get back, I’ll be all ready to go!” With her telekinesis, she picked up a stick and began waving it around like she was playing a concert timpani. “Like this!”
Lyra hugged Dinky. “You’re the sweetest little foal.”
Dinky giggled. “Yep! That’s what Momma says!”
“Congratulations!” Bonbon leapt up and embraced Lyra. “Lyra, that’s fantastic!”
“I know!” Lyra grinned. “It’s just… are you really okay with me leaving for three months?”
“Am I – of course! Lyra, I’m not going to stop you from pursuing your career. Uh, you’ll write, right?”
“Every day,” promised Lyra.
“That’s all I ask. Besides, even if you can’t come see me, I can see the concerts, right? They’ve gotta give some tickets to friends and family of the musicians.”
“I’ll check with Octavia, but I'd guess that they do.”
“Great.” Bonbon grinned. “This could be a whole new chapter for you, Lyra. I’ll bet in a few years, you’ll be performing for Luna herself!”
“Oh, don’t say that,” joked Lyra. “What if she doesn’t like my performance and has me banished?”
“Then I will go with you, and we will travel the world, defended by the force of our love, and—“
Lyra was laughing too hard for Bonbon to continue.
“What? Was it really that cheesy?”
Lyra couldn’t stop laughing long enough to answer.
Lyra sat on a park bench and looked at her list. Most of the names were checked off. Carrot Top, Dinky, Ditzy, Cherilee, Bonbon… all the ponies that she had obligations to had proven to be as supportive as she could possibly hope for. To a one, they had all told her to take the job.
Lyra sighed in contentment. She could just see herself at the Canterlot Song Cycle Extravaganza. Wearing the finest jewelry she owned, elegantly strumming her lyre with all the others… and then, maybe, just maybe, the lead lyre player had a family emergency, the conductor needed a replacement, he quickly sorted through the lyre section members… a little luck, a good audition, and…
It was entirely possible she’d be playing a solo for twenty thousand ponies. Not likely, perhaps, but completely possible.
“This is so awesome!” Lyra couldn’t help but let out a short ‘squee!’ “I’m going to get to play for everypony!”
Lyra looked over to see Trixie approaching. “What’s up, Trixie?”
“Working on a new illusion spell. Do you want to—“
“Woah.” Lyra jumped up and backed away. “Uh-uh. I'm all magicked out. If I never get hit by another spell again, it'll be too soon. That concert in Canterlot was beyond crazy.”
“... I was going to ask, since I’m stuck on the spell and taking a break, do you want to grab a snack with me? It's almost three o’clock, so Berry’s is open and they have some good hay fries.”
“Oh. Well, that’s okay then.” Lyra began to walk over to Trixie. “I’m thinking – wait, did you say three?”
“Yeah, it's almost three, why?”
“Oh no!” Lyra began to sprint. “I was going to be recording with Octavia at three! I can’t believe I almost forgot, she’ll kill me!”
Trixie hurried after her. “For the Doos?”
“Yeah! And just after she got me this awesome job in Canterlot. I’ll feel so dumb if I’m late, she hates musicians that are late…”
“Wait, what job?”
Lyra quickly explained. “The Canterlot Song Cycle Extravaganza. Three months in Canterlot and the surrounding country. I’ll be in front of a huge audience, and –“
“Three months?” Trixie’s eyes narrowed. “All at once?”
“Yeah. I know, long time to be away, right? But I think it’s going to be worth it.”
Trixie seemed to be thinking about something else. Finally, she said, “Did she tell you who you’ll be working for?”
“The Extravaganza conductor, I guess. Above him, the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra.”
“That’s probably fine… where are you staying? Did she tell you that?”
“Find out. It’s really important.”
Lyra rolled her eyes. “Trixie, it doesn’t matter. I’d sleep in a ditch if I had to. This is the most incredible gig I could ever get. You’re going to come see me, right? Night Court always gets lots of seats.”
“Sure, but…” Trixie hesitated. “Just find out where you’re staying. If it’s at some noble’s house, you need to worry—“
“Will you stop fretting? This is getting silly. Just because I’m having fun with another pony doesn’t mean I’m not still your friend.”
Trixie looked affronted. “What? I’m not jealous. Look, Luna taught me politics, remember? It’s a classic move to isolate and…” She trailed off, seeing Lyra’s expression.
“Trixie. Octavia wouldn’t get me stuck in some political thing. I know her.” Lyra turned her attention back to the road, dodging around a startled Daisy. “Since when did you help me deal with Night Court stuff, anyway?”
“Look, I know I haven’t been the best possible friend, but I’m trying. Isn’t this something friends do? Look out for each other?”
"Yes. But friends also know when to back off and accept decisions made by their friends, okay? Trixie, I honestly appreciate your concern, but I trust Octavia.”
They were approaching Vinyl Scratch's studio. “See you later?” asked Lyra.
“Sure, just… just find out where you’re staying, okay?”
Lyra gave a mental sigh, nodded, and ran inside. Even as she ran up to the studio room, she forced thoughts of Trixie, and politics, and everything else from her mind. She had to be calm. She had to stay in control. She had to be ready to play—
She dashed into the studio room and saw Octavia in the booth. She was checking over her cello with a surgeon’s touch and a painter’s attention to detail. Even her tuning looked musical. The grey mare had leaned her head to be right next to the strings and had shut her eyes. Even as Lyra watched, Octavia gently bowed a single string, listening for imperfections that Lyra would probably never notice.
Lyra almost shook with excitement.
She was about to perform with Octavia Philharmonica, and they were going to make amazing music.
“Alright,” called Scratch, as Lyra entered the recording booth. “We’re recording in a moment, get ready.”
Lyra took out her lyre and playing a few scales to warm up. “Sorry about almost being late,” she said.
“You were on time nonetheless, and that is what matters.” Octavia squinted down the length of her bow. “Honestly, so many of the younger musicians we get these days… showing up five, ten, fifteen minutes late to rehearsal. It is very frustrating.”
“Younger? You’re only a few years out of the Magic Academy yourself,” teased Lyra.
“True enough. But I do wish more of the recent graduates shared our work ethic.” Octavia shook her head. “Some of them tried to apply for the Extravaganza… the conductor shut them out, though. You and I will be the youngest mares there by at least a decade.”
Lyra laughed at that. “Guess we gotta be awesome enough to show them what a couple young mares like us can do!”
The mention of the Extravaganza brought to mind Trixie’s comments. “Hey, Octavia? Where will I be staying while I’m in Canterlot?”
“Visiting musicians will be provided for by one of the sponsors,” said Octavia. “You will reside in some noble’s guest rooms, most likely.”
“Do you know which one?”
“Does it matter?”
Lyra paused. “Just curious, that’s all. I mean, if it’s not set up yet, I’d rather not be homeless for a couple days in Canterlot while they figure out where I’m staying.”
“I believe Duke Greengrass is sponsoring accommodations for the out-of-town players this year,” said Octavia. “I’ve stayed in his guest room before. Quite luxurious.”
Scratch tapped on the recording studio window. “You girls all set?”
Octavia drew her bow across her cello. “Yes, I think so. Shall we, Lyra?”
Three hours felt like thirty seconds to Lyra,
She hadn’t played that well in months, she thought, not since she’d left the Academy and her colleagues. It had been far too long since she’d had a skilled virtuoso that she could play with, one who understood the music so well that they didn’t even need to talk to communicate. A faint gesture, a tilt of the instrument, and Octavia understood Lyra’s intentions and played to match them. Lyra did exactly the same, giving Octavia the support she needed to make the cello sing more sweetly than any bird.
They played a stately waltz, a sad fugue, a happy and galloping polonaise. They performed the ‘Sonata of Grass and Snow,’ the ‘Dance of the Ursas,’ and of course the famous ‘Pegasus Journey to Fairyland,’ a notoriously difficult duo for lyre and cello. Lyra, recalling that this record was also going to be for Dinky, took the lead in improvising a jaunty and exciting tune that she was certain the foal would love, and Octavia was right alongside her, filling in her gaps and boosting her melodies to soaring heights. They finished with a twenty-minute improvised work that paid homage to a few popular Canterlot melodies before going off on its own course and ending with a glorious cadenza that seemed to stun even Octavia with its beauty.
“…well,” the cellist said, a moment after they had finished. “That went rather well.”
Lyra was too exhilarated to say anything. She just nodded.
Scratch tapped the window again. “That’s a wrap, girls. I’ll get it onto the records and you can distribute them however you want. Nice job.”
“Already?” Lyra checked the clock.
Octavia laughed. “That’s the kind of attitude I like to hear in a young musician. Come on, let’s get something to eat. Physical fitness is…”
“…the key to performance,” Lyra said in unison with Octavia. That was another lesson Octavia had taught her, that she couldn’t neglect exercise and diet for the sake of her music. An out-of-shape musician wouldn’t have the stamina to get through difficult pieces, or the strength to play the heavier instruments.
“Exactly,” said Octavia.
They packed up and left the studio. Lyra said, “I know a great little restaurant just off of the town square. A lot like that little café just outside the Academy. The one we always went to after those late night rehearsals?”
“Then I look forward to it.”
As they walked, Octavia nodded at the distant train station. “So. Have you decided if you want to play for the Extravaganza?”
“I… can you give me just one more day? I really think I’m going to say yes, but I just need to tie up a few other loose ends.”
Octavia nodded. “Of course, Lyra.”
“Thanks.” They were approaching the restaurant. “Now, I should tell you, the zucchini and pesto salad here is to die for…”
Lyra almost skipped home. It had been another spectacular day. Now she just had to get squared away with a couple other ponies and –
“Aagh!” Lyra jumped to see Trixie stepping out from behind a bush that, on closer inspection, didn’t really seem big enough to conceal her. “Have you been taking lessons from Pinkie Pie?”
“Ugh, no way. Anyway. Did you find out where you’re staying?”
“Somepony named Duke Greengrass. I still don’t see why it matters.”
“Duke? Greengrass is a Count—“ Trixie’s eyes narrowed. “Oh. Great. That snake.”
“What, you know him?”
“By reputation. He’s one of the younger members of the Court, just got his seat a couple years back. Really ambitious, always scheming. And he’s young enough that, if he gets caught doing something out of bounds, he can just blame his own inexperience. Guess it’s working, if he’s a duke now.“ She looked at Lyra. “Yeah, this isn’t good. If Greengrass is hosting you, he wants something from you.”
“Trixie, I am reasonably confident that a member of the Night Court is not going to set up some convoluted scheme for the purpose of getting a lyre player to perform in some concerts. In fact, I’m completely failing to see the political advantage here.” Lyra sighed. “This is ridiculous, Trixie.”
“I’m trying to look out for you.”
“I told you already that I didn’t need you to check my gigs for political craziness.”
“You don’t know the Night Court. You—“
“I know that Octavia would never do anything that would hurt me or get me involved in some weird political plot. Leave it alone, alright?” Lyra frowned. “Seriously, this isn’t funny anymore. Stop it.” She began walking away.
Trixie scampered over to cut Lyra off. “Just listen, okay? There’s something really weird about all of this. She shows up out of nowhere and offers you this amazing job. It’s not normal.“
“I said, stop talking about it, Trixie,”
A light gleamed in the blue mare's eyes, as if she'd had an epiphany. “You’re the Element of Loyalty,” she said.
“And Octavia and Greengrass want to isolate you from your friends for three months. Maybe that’s to weaken your Elemental power, or—“
“Exactly what evidence do you have that it works like that?”
"I don't, but--"
"And what is Greengrass supposed to do to ensnare me, exactly? Make me Pinkie-swear to help him? I'm going to go, perform, and then come home. I don't live in his territory, and I really don't think he's going to try abducting one of the Elements of Harmony."
Trixie paused. “Look, I admit I don't have all the details.”
“Yeah, I noticed.”
The blue mare's eyes looked annoyed for a moment, but then her eyes gleamed again. “What if I could offer you something better? This job is still just playing as part of a huge group, right? No solos?”
Lyra stared. “Yes, but it’s still the biggest performance in Equestria for the next three years. I mean, sure, solos are different -- better, whatever -- than playing in a section, but unless they were solos in front of the Night Court members themselves, there’s not much more I could ask for than the Extravaganza.”
“Well, what if I could get you one of those?”
Trixie was talking quickly, with a nervous smile on her face. Lyra tensed – she recognized Trixie’s ‘I’m going to manipulate you’ look. She was terrible at hiding it. “Well, look at it this way. A lot of the Night Court nobles want to see me screw up, right, because I’m Luna’s student, see? So I do a big flashy proposal for you to perform for them, and we totally undersell you and make them think you’ll flop. They’ll all support it, cause they’ll think I’m being stupid and I’ll humiliate myself, but then you play something awesome. They’ll all hear you great you are and you’ll get everything you could get from this Extravaganza thingie and more. Yeah, that’s a much better idea.”
“And, conveniently, this idea also makes you look great for nominating me.”
“Hey, two things at once, right?” Trixie smiled, as if Lyra had already agreed to her plan.
Lyra growled. “Trixie. Setting aside that many of those nobles already heard me play at the competition last month—“
“With your horn, we’ll stipulate it’s hoof only and pretend that you’re not as good—“
“TRIXIE! Setting that aside, it’s not that simple! Working in the Extravaganza will help me make connections with other lyre players, conductors, musicians in general – not just politicians, even if those are the only ponies you think are worth meeting!”
“That’s not what I meant!” Trixie looked flustered.
“Octavia went out on a limb for me. She recommended me to the conductor,” snapped Lyra. “If I don’t show up, then she looks bad. I’m the Element of Loyalty, remember? I’m not going to hurt my mentor like that without a better reason than ‘oh, the duke might try something mean.’”
“So she’s manipulating you,” said Trixie, sounding triumphant. “Using your past friendship with her.”
“No, Trixie, manipulating would be how you forced me to perform at the Longest Night festival. And how you forced Carrot Top to set up her vegetable stand there, and all the rest.”
“Manipulating?” Trixie shook her head. “Lyra, manipulating would be me saying, ‘I’m going to tell everypony that you’ve been booked at performances around Ponyville for the next months, and if you don’t show it’ll look like you bailed on your contracts and then nopony will hire you.’ That’d be manipulating.”
They were both silent for a moment – Trixie in triumph, Lyra in shock. The green mare could hardly believe what she’d heard. Did Trixie have any idea what she’d just threatened? A reputation as an unreliable flake would obliterate any hope Lyra had of playing professionally in respectable venues. No concert hall, or event planner would want to take a risk of booking a pony that might not show up, not when there were hundreds of other musicians with impeccable records. Trixie had just threatened to ruin Lyra’s career.
“Uh.” Trixie seemed to have noticed Lyra’s rapidly growing expression of pure rage. “Um. Okay, maybe that was a little far—“
“Yes. Yes it was.” Lyra approached Trixie. Her voice was a low hiss. “After all we’ve been through, that’s still the first place your mind goes? What in Equestria is wrong with you, Trixie?! I thought we were past this!”
“How could you even think that! You’d ruin me, just to stop me from going with Octavia! I have no idea what you think Greengrass is planning, but I don’t think it could be any worse than what you, apparently are willing to do to stop it!”
“I didn’t say it! I said that’s what manipulation would be, not that I was actually going to do that,” said Trixie, speaking so quickly her words began running into each other.
Lyra looked at Trixie directly in the eyes. “And if I’d given you some indication that your threat would work, you’d have made it for real, right?”
Trixie gulped and seemed unable to speak for a few moments. “I – okay, Lyra, I'll be honest, I won’t say it didn’t cross my mind, but I would never— really, I’m trying to be better now, I wouldn’t have--“
“This is a great opportunity for me. You should be happy for me, but you’re just jealous because if I’m with her then I can’t be in town to help you when you screw things up,” Lyra hissed. “It’s not all about you, Trixie. After all the times I’ve looked after you and helped you out, you can’t support me in this one thing? This one thing?”
“I’m just trying—“
“Save it! You’re a terrible liar.” Lyra turned her back on Trixie. “That you would even think of telling the world that I bailed on my contracts is… I don’t even know. Goodbye, Trixie. Maybe when I get back from Canterlot I’ll see you again.”
“Wait! I didn’t mean it!”
But Lyra was already running off.