Lyra didn’t know what to say.
Octavia. The friend who had stayed up with her all night when she was horribly sick with the pony pox, even though the cellist had a jury test in the morning. The friend who had spent three days helping her master Professor Eight Note’s last and most difficult symphony, teaching and instructing without rest, enabling Lyra to earn the ‘Best Performance’ award for the end of year recitals. The friend who had trained with her, performed with her, and griped with her during their 3AM study sessions.
And now she had betrayed her.
Trixie helped Lyra onto a couch and laid a blanket over her. “Do you need anything? Ice cream, or hot chocolate, or bourbon or…?”
“No. I'm okay.” Lyra realized that she was crying. “Trixie, I’m… I’m so sorry I didn’t believe you. You were completely right, and—“
“Not your fault. I went too far, and it’s not like I haven’t given you reason to doubt me.” Trixie sighed. “If you hadn’t been so patient with me, we might not have caught this in time.”
Lyra managed a very slight smile through her tears. “Still. I should have trusted your instincts more – you know more about the Court than I. Besides, we’re friends. Right?”
“Yes.” Trixie smiled back at Lyra. “We are.”
Lyra scooted back as Trixie sat on the other end of the couch. The musician was still softly crying. The blue mare paused, then said, “I’m going to guess you don’t want to take that job anymore.”
Lyra shuddered and didn't say anything.
“Stay with me, then. Octavia’ll probably freak out trying to find you, but if she can’t get you there in time, we win. She’ll have to leave, and then she'll never be able to hurt us again.”
That sounded ominous to Lyra. "Why not? Couldn't she just come back later?"
“Greengrass is vindictive. He’ll have her blacklisted for failing him, and probably arrange that she has to leave Canterlot. That's it for her political career."
"Yeah. If I know him, he'll do whatever he can to ensure that she can't find work there or in other major cities. He sees it as giving his remaining helpers an incentive to avoid screwing up."
"I want to be able to play," Octavia had told her long ago, "For as many ponies as I can. I want to be good enough to be able to obtain orchestra positions so I can reach entire concert halls and let thousands of ponies hear beautiful performances. But not just that... I want to be great enough to perform for the Dukes and Counts and Viciennes, and maybe even Princess Luna herself!" This was the only time Lyra had ever heard Octavia sound excited and jumpy, almost foal-like. "Can you imagine what an honor it would be to play for an immortal pony, one who's heard so much music before? How amazing it would be to impress her and to perform something so gorgeous that it moved her to tears? If I could do that, no matter what else happened, I would be so happy..."
Performing music had always been Octavia's dream. It had been her sole passion for all the years Lyra had known her. Now it would be wrecked; she'd be unable to perform again for the Court or almost any other pony. She'd still be able to play in villages, but she'd never reach the quantity of ponies -- or the elite few that she really wanted to meet and play for -- that way.
Octavia had betrayed her, had tried to sell her out to Greengrass. But, as badly as Lyra hurt, as much as she wanted to fling herself into Bonbon's arms and sob for an hour, she couldn't bring herself to want to destroy Octavia. Octavia had been disloyal to her, but even so, Lyra found that she didn't want to smash her former friend's career and send her off to spend the rest of her life doing anything but the one thing she wanted.
“No.” Lyra shook her head. “No. Not even after this… I can’t let that happen.”
“Uh, Lyra, she just admitted she would try to force you to work for her boss. And that her boss would do really bad things if you backed out of it.”
“I know. But I still owe her. I wouldn’t be half as good at the lyre as I am today without her.” She looked down. "I can’t hate her, not even after this. I just can't."
Trixie didn't say anything.
"Isn’t there any way I can get out of it without ruining her?”
Trixie thought. “The only way would be to make you unavailable. So it wouldn’t be Octavia’s fault that you couldn’t go. But you already told her you were free, right?”
Lyra nodded again.
“Besides, if it was obvious you were lying about not being able to attend, then Greengrass might think that Octavia tipped you off and you both colluded. You’d have to be unable to go there due to the efforts of some other pony.”
They were both silent for a few moments.
“I have an idea,” said Trixie. “But you’re probably not going to like it.”
Lyra was still for a moment, then smiled a little. “Trixie, that’s… that’s awesome.”
Trixie brightened. "You really like it?"
"It's perfect. And it saves me, and it stops Octavia from being exiled. I love it."
“Well, I’ll get on it, then.” Trixie rose. “If you want to stay the night, I’ll go tell Bonbon that you’re staying… you look kind of tired to go walking—“
“I’ll be fine. But thank you.”
Trixie led Lyra out of her house, and Lyra began the walk home. She was lucky, she thought, to have a friend like Trixie.
Lyra was awake early the next morning, and was unsurprised to hear Octavia knock on the door.
“Octavia! Hi!” She smiled as best she could and welcomed Octavia inside. “What’s new?”
“I was thinking. Since you decided to play in the Extravaganza, it might make sense for us to head back to Canterlot now. We’ll have a few days to settle in before the actual concerts begin.” Octavia smiled. “And I would be quite surprised if you didn’t want to try the Grace Note at least once.”
“That little bakery by the Academy?”
“The very same. They have some kind of partnership with a proprietor named Donut Joe, now, where he provides donuts and they provide cakes and sweets to fill the hole in the donut. Surprisingly, it’s quite delicious. My treat.”
“That sounds amazing.” Lyra turned. “Let me get my bags, and—“
“Hey! Lyra Heartstrings, open up!”
Lyra paused and turned back to her door. “Who is it?”
“It’s the police! Open this door now!”
Lyra and Octavia exchanged a confused glance. “Lyra, what is this?” asked Octavia.
“You’re asking me?” She opened the door. “Is everything alright?”
A large yellow pegasus with a policepony’s hat was scowling at her. “Lyra Heartstrings, right?”
“You’re under arrest!”
“Lyra, what did you do?” hissed Octavia.
“I didn’t do anything!”
The officer was leading Lyra to the courthouse, with an increasingly frantic Octavia following. “Fine, what does she think you did?”
“How should I know?”
A foal was taking pictures outside the courthouse. Octavia winced as the camera flash went off in her eyes. “Stop that!”
“Foal Free Press, ma’am,” said the foal. “I’m supposed to take pictures outside the courthouse today.”
The officer shoved at Lyra. “Come on, Heartstrings. Time to pay for what you did.” They both went inside, leaving Octavia to again chase after them.
“Will you just tell us what’s going on? We have a train to catch!” snapped Octavia. “Do you know who I represent?”
“Should I?” asked the officer.
“I have the ear of some very important ponies. Tell us what Lyra is being charged with, or I will –“
The officer smiled contemptuously. “Or you’ll what?”
They were led into a conference room, where the officer left them but promised that she’d be right outside the door in case they tried to run. Octavia sighed. “I don’t believe this.”
“Do you think it’s Trixie?” mused Lyra.
“She was really upset over me choosing to go play. She went on this crazy conspiracy rant last night about you and this Greengrass guy and everything. Maybe she’s using her power as Representative to have me arrested.”
Octavia frowned. “Well… don’t worry. If that’s what’s happening, I’ll get you a special royal exemption. The charges, whatever they are, will be voided and you’ll get to Canterlot with time to spare. We just—“
The door banged open, and Trixie staggered in.
“Lulamoon, what is the –“ Octavia froze. “Are you drunk?”
Trixie laughed. “Bourbon! Now that’s a loyal friend! It ain’t gonna just leave you behind and run off to Canterlot to have all kinds of fun with somepony who’s just gonna betray her!” She stumbled into a chair and collapsed. “Hey Lyra, how’s it goin’?”
“Trixie, what did you do?” demanded Lyra.
“Nothing. Just broke a few of Carrot Top’s fences, ripped up a few carrots, you know. Stuff like that.” She grinned. “Course, I illusioned myself to look like you.”
“You WHAT?!” cried the two other mares at once.
Lyra had to fight not to laugh. Trixie was giving a great performance, and it was kind of fun to put on this huge show just to fool Octavia. But she couldn’t crack up. If Octavia suspected they were lying, it would cause problems.
“Uh huh! Looked like you! Even stole one of those stupid rings Bonbon got you and left it there! You’re goin’ to jail! That way, you’ll never get to Canterlot!” Trixie laughed. “Serves ya right! Octavia, she, she was totally gonna make you work for that jerk Greengrass.”
“How dare you? Trixie, I could go to jail for this!” cried Lyra.
Octavia scowled. “Don’t worry, Lyra. The investigation will show—“
“Who cares what it shows? Court’ll take weeks! You’ll miss your stupid Extravaganza opening, and even I know that musicians can’t just miss concerts and come back later!” Trixie brayed laughter. “Serves you right for throwing me under the cart!”
Lyra groaned. “Octavia, help me – I don’t know what to do!”
Octavia shut her eyes. “Let me think!” And then, a moment later, “Hey, somepony get this idiot out of here!” She kicked at Trixie, who rolled away from it.
The officer came back in. “Come on, miss,” she said, helping Trixie up. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
“Good riddance,” muttered Octavia, as the two left.
“Octavia, isn’t there anything you can do?”
“I can try to contact the sponsors and see if they can pull some strings,” said Octavia. “I’m sure they’ll be able to. It would be very embarrassing if one of their performers couldn’t show because she was in jail.”
“How long will that take?”
“A day at most,” said Octavia.
“Well, as long as they don’t—“
The officer reappeared. “Heartstrings! You’re up!”
She dragged Lyra to her feet and began prodding her out of the room.
The courtroom was sparsely populated, but Octavia could see a judge – a purple mare with a pink mane, sitting at the bench – and a prosecutor The officer took a position by the door, apparently also acting as baliff, and Octavia followed Lyra to the defendant’s bench.
“Your honor,” said the prosecutor, a yellow earth pony with an orange mane, “We are ready to present our case against Lyra Heartstrings.”
“But I’m innocent—“ began Lyra.
The judge banged her gavel. “We don’t have all day. Hurry up!”
The prosecutor began her case. Briefly, it seemed that a farmer named Carrot Top had woken that morning to find one of her fences torn down and several of her carrots ripped to pieces. One of Lyra’s rings had been found in the dirt, and a few other ponies had seen Lyra leaving the scene late that night.
“I think we can deny bail, then,” said the judge. She quickly began filling out a form.
“Wait!” called Octavia. “Lyra is due to perform in Canterlot in just a few days. She—“
“That doesn’t exempt her from following the law,” snapped the judge. “Now, be silent or I’ll have you removed from my court.”
Octavia thought as quickly as she could. There had to be somepony in town who could intervene and stop this. Trixie wasn’t the only governmental official they had, and besides, she was drunk and couldn’t interfere with anything Octavia did.
“Lyra,” she hissed. “I’m going to get the mayor of this town and anypony else who can help. I’ll get you out as soon as I can.” She turned and hurried out of the room.
Everypony was completely silent as Octavia’s hoofsteps faded down the hall. Only when the foal from out front came back and reported that Octavia had left the building and was galloping for Mayor Scrolls’s office did they make noise.
Specifically, they burst into laughter.
Cherilee put down the gavel, giggling merrily. “You know, when I was little, I thought it’d be a lot of fun to be a judge. You could bang gavels all day, and that sounded really neat.” She grinned. “I was right! That was fun!”
The officer took off her helmet. “Think we fooled her?” she asked.
“Yes.” Lyra smiled merrily. “Thanks, everypony. Raindrops – nice police officer impression.”
“And Carrot Top, great job.”
The 'prosecutor' smiled. “Aww, it was nothing.”
The foal had gone to tell tell Trixie that Octavia was gone, and the showmare dashed into the room. “So, did it work?” she asked. “She get fooled?”
“Yeah!” said Lyra. “Great drunk impression, Trixie. I think you really sold her.”
Lyra frowned. “Trixie, are you…?”
“See, I was gonna just fake it, but I thought, we’re great friends! I gotta be realistic!” Trixie hiccupped. “And ya said it yourself, I did great!”
“Wow, Trixie. You got drunk for me.” It was hard to tell if Lyra was kidding or not.
Trixie frowned a little. “Aw, come on. I’m trying to help ya. And – and maybe I’m not always good at it, but I’m really trying real hard, and—“
“You did fine.” Lyra hugged Trixie. “Thank you.”
Raindrops coughed. “Come on, girls. We need to get ready for when she comes back.”
Lyra nodded. “Let’s get to the train station.”
Several hours passed.
Octavia, looking exhausted and disheveled, approached the train station on hoof. “Lyra?” she called, weary and worn. “Lyra, are you there? They told me they saw you heading over here.”
Lyra poked her head out of the station building. “In here, Octavia.”
Octavia staggered inside and took a long drink of water before talking. “Good, you got bail. I talked to the mayor, town council, and a couple of the richer ponies in town who are patrons of the arts. Told everypony that you’re being framed by Trixie, that they need to step in and stop her. Mayor Scrolls told me that… what’s this?”
She had noticed the pile of luggage.
“Those are your things,” said Lyra.
“You’re going back to Canterlot.”
Octavia blinked a few times. “I don’t understand. I can’t leave without you.”
“I’m not going.”
“Lyra, we can beat Trixie. You can still play at the Song Cycle Extravaganza.“
“I said, I’m not going.” Lyra glared at Octavia. “I was listening in on your conversation with Trixie last night.”
All the color drained from Octavia’s face. “Impossible. I broke her illusion, and I—“
“Trixie hid me. Not with magic. Doesn’t matter.” Lyra scowled. “You’ve been trying to manipulate me from the start. Force me to work for this Duke Greengrass. You lied to me. You betrayed me!“
“Wait. You don’t understand.” Octavia gulped. “Listen, when I told Trixie that Greengrass was the best possible option for you, I was being sincere. He isn’t the only noble that wants an Element, but he’s definitely the best one to work for, and—“
“I don’t think the Elements work like that. I’m not somepony’s bodyguard.”
The two stared at each other for a moment.
“Just consider it,” said Octavia, her voice becoming more of a plea. “It would mean a lot to me. I have never asked you for anything until now, but if you don't come with me to Canterlot, Greengrass will--”
“About that. You’re going to tell Greengrass that Trixie got jealous and had me arrested. That I pled guilty and received three months’ probation, and as part of the agreement I cannot leave Ponyville. So I can’t play in his stupid concert and it isn’t your fault. Furthermore, if he tries to get the sentence overturned or something, Trixie will cause a huge scandal. If there’s one thing she excels at, it’s at drawing attention to something, and she’ll make sure every paper in Equestria knows that a criminal is playing at the Extravaganza at Duke Greengrass’s behest.”
“He’ll never believe that. Lyra, he’ll think I made it up due to our friendship, and—“
Lyra nodded at an envelope resting on top of Octavia’s belongings. “Photos from me being taken into court, the paperwork Cherilee filled out, and other court papers. That should be sufficient evidence.”
“Any pony can make paperwork. If it was just you and your friends in the courtroom, then there weren't any witnesses. He'll investigate and find that nopony in town knows about this 'frame up.'"
Lyra smiled, but it was thin. “Well, you’ve spent the day telling ponies all over the city that Trixie was having me framed, right? And I'll bet you looked really sincere. I'm sure the ponies you told then told all their friends, who told their friends, and so on. By now, half the town probably knows what Trixie 'did' to me. Greengrass's investigation will show all the confirmation of our story that you need."
The cellist looked stunned. “You fooled me. You used me.”
“Yeah. To help you. So it isn’t your fault that you failed to bring me back to Canterlot.” Lyra scowled. “We could have just left you high and dry, but we went through this whole act so that Greengrass doesn’t have you blacklisted. You’re welcome.”
Octavia looked down, and Lyra saw that she was about ready to cry. “Lyra, I never intended for you to get hurt.” Lyra said nothing. “I tried everything I could, but there was nothing else for it. If I was going to perform for the nobles, I had to participate in Night Court activities! It was just carrying letters at first, and I didn’t care about that, but Greengrass wouldn’t let it stop there. He said that, if I didn’t collect you, he’d make sure I never played in any noble houses again. What was I going to do? A musician without an audience is just a dreamer, I’ve invested my whole life in my craft, and—“
“Stop it. Please.” Lyra approached her. “You could have told me, Octavia. I trusted you. If you had just approached me and told me what was going on, we could have figured something out. But you lied to me and backstabbed me. So that you could get a better clientele.”
“Well, what would you have done?”
“I’m the Element of Loyalty,” said Lyra, quietly. “You know I would never have done this to you. I would have quit first.” She looked at the tracks through the train station window, which were slowly being filled by an arriving train. "And that's your ride, Octavia."
“Lyra, please.” Lyra had never seen Octavia like this. She didn’t seem refined, or even scornful. She looked like she was about to beg. “You know how few ponies can do what we do. The others don’t understand. They think of music as frivolous or some quaint hobby, something to occupy hours not set aside for more important tasks. Even the nobles care more about my utility as a secret mailmare than for my music! But we’ve always understood each other. We know the kind of work that our art requires. I’ve always thought of you as… as understanding me more than any other pony. My mother and father, an architect and a tailor, they don’t get it – but you did. Lyra, you are my closest friend.” She paused. “Can you – can you understand—“
Lyra sighed. “Octavia. You are…”
She hesitated, not knowing what to say. Octavia was her mentor. But Octavia had betrayed her.
“You are an excellent musician.”
Octavia looked away. "There will be others, Lyra. They won't all be as nice as me."
"We'll deal with them too."
Porters began carrying the luggage onto the train. “Careful with that one,” called Lyra. “It’s got an instrument inside. Very fragile.”
Lyra turned on her hooves and left. “Goodbye, Octavia. Maybe I’ll see you in Canterlot sometime.”
Octavia said nothing.