68w, 1dLyra & Bon-Bon
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The carriage slowed down and pulled up in front of the castle gates. Staring out the window, Lyra took a deep breath.
She was expected here. The invitation had come months before Twilight had showed up at her house, before she’d asked Princess Luna about humans, before any suspicion could be placed on her at all.
But it was still dangerous.
Lyra opened the door and stepped down from the carriage. Her gold shoes clicked against the paved stones of the path. She glanced up at her lyre case and books floating down out of the carriage, and pulled them down closer to her.
“Good luck, ma’am,” the stallion pulling her carriage said.
“Thank you,” she said absently.
She heard the wheels rolling along the path as the carriage pulled away. Lyra hesitated in front of the castle gates. Things were a bit eerie right now when she was the only one here.
It was still light out. The musicians were expected to arrive early. It wasn’t much different from any other performance, really. Lyra tried to convince herself of that, but somehow she knew that something was about to happen tonight. Princess Celestia probably knew what Lyra had been up to… But would she do anything about it at this public event?
The path leading up to the castle was long, but right now it was empty. No guards. That was good.
She walked into the entrance hall. A long red carpet led down the center. Lyra glanced around and found the ballroom – her post for the night. The other band members were already setting up inside. The stage was right in front of some abstract-patterned stained glass windows. Quite a venue.
Walking up to the stage, Lyra took her place next to a elegant-looking grey earth pony in the process of tuning her cello. There was also another mare with a huge brass instrument – a sousaphone, Lyra thought – and a stallion at a piano.
Just give me ten fingers and I bet I could play that even better than he can, Lyra thought.
A music stand was there by itself, waiting for her, so she stacked her sheet music on it. Then she set down the case for her instrument, clicked it open, and took it out.
“Hey. You ready?” Lyra asked the pony next to her. “I’m Lyra, by the way.”
“Octavia.” She’d barely turned to look at the newcomer and was back to adjusting her strings. Apparently satisfied, she stood up on her back legs and played a long, drawn-out note to listen to the tone.
Lyra stared at her, mouth hanging open. “So… you always stand up like that when you play? How?”
“Years of practice,” Octavia replied.
“It must be hard to keep your balance,” Lyra said. She thought maybe she could put more effort into learning that pose herself.
“One learns to maintain posture, even for extended periods.”
Lyra turned back to her own instrument. She’d always taken care of her lyre, ever since her parents had bought it for her when she was a filly. The gold frame still shined in the last of the daylight filtering in through the window, and the strings… She plucked one with her magic, frowned, tightened the string, and tried again. There it was.
The ballroom was all decorated for the party. Tables had been spread out, and waiters dressed in suits were arranging the food on the main buffet. The Gala ran until midnight. Lyra would be in here for hours… It might be good to grab some food while she still had a chance.
It was typical prissy formal-event fare. Tiny sandwiches that weren’t meant to fill you up, little cubes of expensive cheeses. Some floral arrangements were in the center. Lyra took a glass of punch. Maybe she’d need it if she wanted to make it through the night.
Heading back up to the stage, she finished tuning her lyre and waited for the guests to arrive.
The sun was setting, and the colorful light streaming down on the stage was fading away. Lyra tried to settle on a more pony-like method of sitting that she could hold for the entire night. It wasn’t easy.
The earth pony playing the sousaphone turned to Lyra. “That’s a very nice dress.”
“Thanks!” She remembered what she’d been told to say. “It’s an original Rarity design.”
“Rarity?” the pony said, tilting her head.
“Certainly not Prince Blueblood’s… disastrous… date from last year, I’m certain,” Octavia said, raising an eyebrow.
“Nope. Different Rarity,” Lyra said, shifting her eyes. She stared off in the other direction towards the door.
“Oh, yes. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to return after that,” the stallion at the piano turned to join the conversation. “Nadermane certainly didn’t. Though I’m sure our friend Lyra here will fill in for him just fine.” He nodded towards her.
A chime sounded from up in the tower, tolling out the hour.
“It appears the party is starting,” Octavia said. “On my count.”
As the first few guests arrived, the band started into the first piece, a slow-moving sonata that lasted a full fifteen minutes. Lyra was already bored.
Canterlot had always made Lyra feel alienated from other ponies. Nobody here cared about anything interesting or important, just fashion and high society and the most boring of all the boring classical music that had ever been written. Why had she taken this gig?
Right. So that she could advance her career. Towards even more boring parties and concerts.
And now the song was coming to an end, and they started into yet another song, and another one, for the next two endless hours.
Lyra was nodding off. She fought to stay alert, her mind going through each song she was playing without really thinking about it. After practicing a song so much, it got to be an unconscious action. It usually didn’t even take her much practice to master a piece anyway. She’d always been a fast learner. A prodigy. Whatever.
The night was a blur of ponies dancing, talking, entering and leaving the ballroom from the gardens outside. It was hard to imagine she’d actually been nervous when she arrived. Absolutely nothing was going to happen tonight, if it ever ended.
She played the coda of one song, and the other musicians seemed to be preparing to finish up for the intermission. The only intermission of the entire evening. But then they started into another waltz, and Lyra lifted up her instrument again to play.
Finally the waltz came to an end. There would be a brief break – about ten minutes, but it was something – before they continued with the rest of the music. She set down her lyre and gratefully stepped off the stage to stretch her legs for a bit.
“Excuse me. Which one of you would be Heartstrings?” One of the servers, a white unicorn dressed in a tuxedo jacket, had walked up to the stage and was speaking to the band.
Lyra turned back around. “That’d be me.” She was surprised to hear that name being used.
“Ah, yes. The Princess has requested an audience with you after the conclusion of tonight’s festivities,” he said.
Lyra’s eyes widened. “What? Princess… Celestia?”
The server nodded. “She will be expecting you just after midnight.” Without another word, he walked away.
That had certainly been a wakeup call. Lyra’s mind was reeling with questions now. There was no way this had anything to do with the Gala. She was just a musician here, nothing special. Other plots were at work here. She’d been right. Princess Celestia was undoubtedly at the top of the entire conspiracy.
“The Princess wants to speak with you?” Octavia said. Her mouth hung open.
Lyra gave a nervous grin. “What can I say? I must be a very important pony.”
She quickly trotted off into the crowd, her head bent down. The voices in the ballroom all blended together. A stallion somewhere raised his voice for the punchline of a joke, followed by a burst of polite laughter from one corner. Lyra glanced over to the side and recognized Spitfire, one of the Wonderbolts, talking to a fan. Everything seemed so ordinary. None of these ponies knew what was really going on.
The complimentary buffet was just up ahead. She got another glass of punch and downed it.
“You’re with the band up there?” asked a pegasus with her mane done up in an elaborate curly style.
Lyra was caught off guard. “Y-yep, that’s me…” She had to calm down, pull herself together. No reason to suspect everybody.
“Simply smashing work. I quite enjoy a good concerto.”
“Thanks.” Lyra nodded, finishing a second glass of punch without realizing she’d picked it up, and hurried off, almost tripping over the tail of her gown as she turned.
It was easy to get lost in the crowd. Maybe she could slip out unnoticed. Not until the end of the Gala, though. They'd definitely notice if their musical quartet was suddenly a trio. But after tonight, then what? How could she hide from the Princess of Equestria herself?
Through the archway she could see her. Princess Celestia – right there, personally welcoming each pony in a line of guests, smiling and offering polite greetings. So close. What was going to happen tonight?
Lyra had to prepare for the worst. Luna had reacted strongly to a mention of humans. Celestia had commissioned that report from Twilight, but what did that mean? One thing was sure – if Celestia was asking for her specifically, then she knew.
Watching her from a distance, Lyra examined her fancy mannerisms. She would say something to each pony she greeted, just a few words, though Lyra couldn’t catch them, then – as a pair of guests stepped away after greeting her – Celestia’s head turned towards her, and she briefly met Lyra’s eyes.
She froze. It had only lasted a second, but she’d definitely been watching her. She quickly dashed off, weaving through the crowd, heading towards the stage to rejoin the other musicians.
Just a few more hours remaining. Octavia was giving her a strange look, no doubt jealous that Lyra had been invited to such an honor.
Lyra sifted through her music, trying to find the next piece. Something fell out of the stack of books. It wasn’t one of the Gala pieces, though, it was…
No. How had she managed to pick up her journal? She was stuck at the Gala, the Princess knew she was here, she knew what she was doing, and on top of everything else she’d brought all of her incriminating research.
What else could she do? Lyra slid her journal in the middle of the books of sheet music she’d already played. It was easy enough to miss. She’d definitely not been able to notice it. Hopefully she'd be able to get it out without anyone noticing.
The stallion at the piano started an intro, and they began playing another piece.
Here, at one of the biggest social events in Canterlot. In all of Equestria, even! Princess Celestia would actually choose to confront Lyra here? Then again, she was the supreme ruler. Couldn’t she get away with anything if she wanted? And if Lyra happened to already be here as a musician, that was the perfect excuse.
The lyre began to play out of rhythm with the rest of the band. She'd gotten at least three measures ahead of everyone else, and Octavia shot her a look. Lyra quickly caught herself. She had to focus. The situation had become that more intense. She couldn’t let her thoughts influence her magic.
Lyra did her best to concentrate on the music in front of her. She’d practiced these songs hundreds of times. It was no challenge to play them. One note at a time, staying in time with her other band members. She was a professional.
How was she supposed to focus on this boring classical music when she’d essentially just been told that the government really had been spying on her?
Her perception of time grew hazy. Had she been playing for five minutes, or for five hours? Lyra honestly couldn’t tell. Her horn glowed, the next song was there, and the lyre continued to play.
Another hour passed… or it seemed like it had been an hour, Lyra couldn’t tell. She glanced up from the music for a moment to check on the crowd. What time was it now? Was it just her, or was the ballroom starting to empty out?
No, the party was definitely coming to a close. By the end of the next song, practically everybody had left. Her chances of getting away had dropped to zero.
She turned another page of sheet music over. There was nothing but the shiny brass music stand behind it. This was the final song of the evening.
After it came to a close, there were still just a few scattered circles of ponies talking to one another. The silence was sudden and unnerving. Octavia had started putting away her cello, the stallion had stood up from the piano.
A female voice spoke to her from the side of the stage. “Heartstrings?”
“I prefer Lyra,” she said automatically, and then glanced over to see Princess Celestia speaking to her. Her eyes went wide.
“Oh, of course. My mistake.” The Princess smiled at her.
Lyra was feeling dizzy. What was she supposed to do now? Did she even have a choice other than to go along with it?
“Perhaps you would like to join me in private,” Celestia said. “I have some important business to go over with you.”
“Y-yes…” Lyra said. She nodded. “Of course.”
Her head turned towards her instrument case, the sheet music (with her journal hidden in the middle, she realized).
“You can leave your things for now,” the Princess said. “Shall we go, then?”
Lyra nodded silently. Her stomach was doing backflips. It was a good thing she hadn't eaten anything.
She followed Celestia out of the ballroom. Her legs were shaking as she walked, and probably not because of all the punch. They climbed the stairs, and continued through the hallways of the castle. The silence here after the bustle of the Gala was extremely unnerving.
Lyra and Celestia continued through the castle up to the throne room. Stained glass windows flanked the long hall. The last time Lyra had been here was when it was publicly open for the Hearth’s Warming Eve pageant. The huge room was completely empty now.
Celestia spoke to a guard posted at the door. “You may leave us. Wait outside.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” He promptly left, and the doors closed.
They were alone now. Lyra’s heart was pounding. In the quiet room, she could almost hear it.
Celestia finally spoke. “This was your first Gala, wasn’t it? Even after a thousand years, these always seem to drag on forever.” She smiled.
“Y-yes…” Lyra stammered.
“It’s a shame that Twilight and her friends couldn’t make it, but we couldn’t exactly have a repeat performance of that.” The Princess laughed softly. “So how was your night?”
“Pretty boring, actually.” Lyra stared at her in confusion. This wasn’t at all what she’d expected.
“Ah, yes. I’d have to agree.” Celestia nodded. "It never gets any better, no matter how many we have."
“So, uh… what’s this about?” Lyra frowned. "Why did you call me up here?"
“I suppose I should get to the point, shouldn't I?” Celestia said. “Twilight told me you’ve been helping her with her research project. I must say, I was surprised to see your name in her report.”
“Oh… right,” Lyra said. This was about humans, then. Her fears were confirmed. It was probably useless to deny anything at this point, but what else could she do? “Oh, but, uh… We went over everything we found, and it looks like humans don’t really exist at all.” She forced a grin, even though the words were hard for her to say.
“Is that so?” Celestia raised an eyebrow.
Lyra hesitated. “Of course.”
“Just a complex series of myths and legends, invented by ponies long ago, with absolutely no basis in fact,” the Princess said. Lyra could almost hear her parents saying the same thing.
“Absolutely.” Lyra gritted her teeth.
Celestia’s expression became more serious. “Yes, from what I’ve heard, you found quite a lot of information,” she said. “In recent years, it’s become obvious that humans won’t be able to stay forgotten.”
She couldn’t take it anymore. “Don’t lie to me! I know that humans exist!” Lyra’s outburst echoed in the large, empty hall. It was only then that she realized… “W-wait… are you saying… Oh.”
Celestia paused. She stood there, facing away from Lyra, and was silent for what seemed like an eternity. Lyra took a step back nervously, though somehow she wasn't feeling threatened anymore.
“I’ve… been hesitant to even talk about humans,” Celestia said finally. “In recent years they’ve started to press on my mind once again. And just a few months ago, my sister came back from her visit to Ponyville claiming that somepony still remembered them.”
Lyra was really regretting opening her mouth now.
“Unfortunately, my sister wasn’t able to describe who had asked her about them. Apparently they were entirely hidden by their costume,” Celestia said. She turned around, and had a slight smile. “That’s Nightmare Night, though.”
“Y-yeah…” Lyra said, nodding.
Celestia continued. “I realized then that I had neglected to tell her of the recent developments, since it happened only shortly before she returned to Equestria… Our relationship with humans has become more complicated than my sister realized. But the truth is, Lyra, humans did exist once in the world we now call Equestria.”
Lyra’s mouth was hanging open. “You’re… just going to tell me?” She’d honestly been expecting more difficulty than this. The Princess was being amazingly open about it all, and far more calm than Luna had been. “I’ve been studying them all my life. Everybody just says they’re made up, though. Why doesn’t anybody remember them?” Then she fully comprehended what Celestia had said. “Recent developments?”
They began to walk slowly down the length of the room. “Well, relatively speaking, recent… But it’s best to start at the beginning. For well over a thousand years, there were no humans left in Equestria. I myself was very young when humans were still alive. But after what happened to them… my sister and I devoted ourselves to wiping away every trace that they ever existed. Gradually ponies have forgotten what humans even were. Those who did thought they were made up.”
“Why would you do that? I’ve done research. We owe nearly everything to humans,” Lyra said. “Our entire civilization is based on what they created.”
“That is true…” Celestia said. “What humans lacked in magic power, they made up for with their intelligence. Ponies all have innate magic power. Not just unicorns, but the earth ponies have their connection to the land, and pegasi can regulate our weather. Humans, on the other hand, have only their minds. They invented their own solutions to make up for what they lack. We still use some of what they made; those tools are that useful. Ponyville looks almost exactly like a human village would have, all those years ago. But then…”
Lyra quickened her pace to get even closer. “What happened to them?”
Celestia walked over to one of the stained glass windows. The image of a draconequus, nearly the entire height of the window and the room itself, was etched there. “As ambitious as they were, humans were also naturally prone to conflict and disorder.”
Discord… Just last year he had reawakened. Everyone in Ponyville remembered it. He was the spirit of chaos. Most of what had actually happened while he was out was just a confused blur, but Lyra remembered the chocolate milk rain, buildings turning themselves over upside down, and ponies suddenly turning against their best friends.
“Even the smallest differences between humans could lead them to fight amongst each other,” Celestia said. She stared up at the unmoving face, the yellow eyes, the twisted body composed of so many unmatching parts. “When Discord came to power, he escalated what tension already existed. The disharmony between humans gave him even greater power.”
“I-I’ve never read anything about humans fighting each other,” Lyra said. She tore her eyes away from the window to look up at Celestia. “This never even came up in any of the books.”
“This is exactly what Luna and I wanted to hide. The wars between humans became increasingly brutal. They began inventing new weapons, rather than tools of creation. Eventually…” Celestia closed her eyes. “No civilization can survive for long when it devotes itself to destruction.”
The words hit Lyra hard. She couldn’t even imagine it. Humans… They’d destroyed themselves? How could any kind of creature even do that?
“It’s all Discord’s fault, though, right?” Lyra said, finally breaking the long silence. Celestia looked down at her. “Humans couldn’t have done that on their own. They wouldn’t.”
“They were already vulnerable,” Celestia replied. “I know this must come as a shock to you, but you must understand.”
A shock? That was a bit of an understatement. Lyra could barely convince herself to accept it, even when she was being told these things by the Princess of Equestria herself. It didn’t seem right.
“After humans had been wiped out, Discord’s power was growing weaker. He’d driven them to such chaos that it had overwhelmed them, and with the humans gone he didn’t have that source of power anymore.” Celestia left the window and crossed the hall. “That was when my sister and I first used the Elements of Harmony. He was finally defeated and sealed away… although it was too late to save any humans.”
Now they stood before one of the new windows. Twilight Sparkle and her friends were immortalized here, wielding the Elements of Harmony to defeat Nightmare Moon.
“Kindness, laughter, generosity, honesty, and loyalty. Those are what Equestria was founded on.” They both gazed up at the window. “Luna and I created a new society based on harmony and friendship, so that what happened to humans would never happen again.”
Lyra was staring at the floor. This seemed to go against everything she had ever thought about humans.
It was all a mistake, Lyra told herself. That’s not what they really were.
“You said you tried to destroy all the records. I found books about humans in the Canterlot library when I was a filly,” she said. “They never mentioned anything about the war, but...”
“There could be nothing remaining of war in Equestria. That much was certain. We tried to find every remaining trace of humans, but… They were very widespread. Not everything could be caught,” Celestia said. “I’m surprised you were able to find anything remaining when you were so young… and right here in Canterlot, of all places. I suppose humans always were a persistent race.”
Lyra didn't even know what to say anymore. "So our entire way of life... The entire reason we even have the Elements of Harmony, it's all to cover up... the war?"
“Of course, it’s hard to understand just how important friendship is unless you’ve seen its absence," Celestia said. "We couldn't let any of the truth be told, but ponies had to know. That’s why we came up with the Hearth’s Warming Eve play. It’s nothing compared to what really happened to humans, but it serves as a warning.”
“So that play really is made up.”
“Chancellor Puddinghead was my own creation. I’m particularly proud of him,” Celestia said. “I hear Pinkie Pie did an excellent portrayal this year.”
Maybe it was just the fact that she’d spent the entire night playing music at a boring party, but Lyra was feeling drained. “You’ve worked so hard to keep this a secret. Why are you telling me?” She stared out one of the clear glass panes over the dark castle grounds with their stone statues, and the hedge maze extending to the horizon.
“Your… parents… spoke with me not too long ago. They were concerned,” Celestia said. “They said that you’d found out about humans, that you’d continued to study them all your life.”
“My parents talked to you? Why would they... No, they wouldn’t…” Lyra laughed nervously, and shook her head. “My parents hate humans. They’ve always tried to keep me away from all of this.”
“I wouldn’t say they ‘hate’ humans,” Celestia said. “Like most ponies, they’d never heard of humans before. That was… until what happened. About fifteen years ago if I remember correctly.” She paused. “It was just a few months ago that they spoke with me, and we agreed that you needed to be told. Please, you must understand why we ponies have taken such measures to distance ourselves from humans…”
“Huh?” Lyra said.
“When Cirrus and Dewey Decimal found you as a baby, and brought you to me, they had no idea what you were. I myself wasn’t sure how it was possible. All we knew for sure is… you weren’t born here in Equestria, Lyra.”