Octavia smiled slightly at the ponies who trotted and danced before her. The Paganeighni Memorial Hall was a relatively prestigious venue, with room for a large audience and an upper-class clientele. While there were no nobles in attendance, she could see members from a few of the top families in attendance, as well as celebrities –Photo Finish had just arrived– and cultural trendsetters. This was her biggest and most prestigious audience yet.
But that was something to reflect on later – for now, her focus had to be on the music. This piece was ending, and the ending had to be just right. So she continued, playing the flurry of staccato notes, the two rapid, long melodies that traveled all over the cello, and then finally, the series of cadences to close out the piece.
When she finished, she allowed herself a small smile – she had played it perfectly. And her audience had noted this. She gracefully bowed at the applauding ponies. “Thank you,” she said, and meant it.
“Brava!” they said, and they meant it too.
Her set was over; she had a little time before she would be due to play again. She quickly put her cello in its case and stowed it in the storage area, then went out onto the dance floor. She wanted to get a quick bite to eat – the chickpea turnovers smelled amazing – and mingle with a few of the ponies. Photo Finish was unoccupied, for instance; she would be a good start.
Collecting a drink and some food, she approached the celebrity. “Hello,” she said, bowing a little.
“Octavia! So nice to finally meet you.” Photo Finish smiled broadly. “Truly, your music iz divine!”
“Yes, it’s wonderful indeed.” Octavia turned to see Hoity Toity, a popular fashion critic, approaching. “Remarkable.”
“Thank you both.”
Hoity Toity nodded. “You know, I’m going to be at fashion show in a couple of weeks; Upper Crust Fashions is going to be showing off some of their newest lines. I don’t think they have their musical accompaniment lined up quite yet. If you want, I could recommend your services.”
“I would be most grateful.”
Photo Finish paused, and then, as if not wanting to appear less supportive of the arts than Hoity, said, “And I’m hosting a fabulous soiree in two days. I certainly hope you could attend and make ze magics with your music!”
“I will be there.” Octavia smiled to herself. Photo Finish, despite her daffy demeanor, was quite intelligent and well-versed when it came to music. Playing for Hoity would be a boost to her career; playing for Photo would additionally be an honor.
The topic of the conversation turned towards music and the scene in Canterlot; what musical styles were gaining in popularity, which composers were the ones to watch, which musicians the best for which pieces. Lyre music came up at one point, and Octavia was able to recommend her best student, Lyra Heartstrings, for a small lyre recital. Cello music also came up a few times, and with it plenty of acknowledgements of Octavia’s skill, as well as mentions of a few other concert opportunities.
Then the time came. Octavia excused herself, retrieved her cello, and walked back to the stage. It was almost midnight, and she would play the famous Ballad of the Moonlit Sky. This was the most famous cello piece relating to the Longest Night ceremony, and while few musicians could master it, Octavia was up to the task. She brought up her bow, waited for the crowd to notice her, then swept it down towards her instrument—
A ray of sunlight fell across her face.
This was so bizarre and unexpected that even Octavia, who had occasionally joked that she would continue to perform even if the sun fell out of the sky, froze and glanced up.
The sun was rising.
Her first thought was that this was impossible; her sense of time was more accurate than most clocks and she would never have lost several hours. Her second was that she had gone crazy and was hallucinating. Her third, accompanied by a sharp order to herself to stop panicking like some idiot foal, was that this was obviously some stupid joke or prank. Some unicorn had cast a light spell on the windows, that was all. She brought her bow back up and began to lower it again.
She didn’t know who in the crowd had gasped it, but she felt a stab of annoyance that somepony would rather pay attention to the joke rather than to her music. With a frown, she rose her bow for the third time.
But now the crowd was streaming away, hurrying towards the doors and the balconies. In seconds, nopony was before her. Octavia hesitated, then hurried after them. Was there more to this than she thought?
The crowd on the nearest balcony seemed to be stunned, looking blankly into the sky. Octavia made her way between them, and looked up…
To see the blazing sun.
“Don’t panic!” This was the voice of the host of the party, Celebratory. “I’m sure that… Luna just made a mistake, or something. Or she’s performing some kind of joke, or a special event. It’s been a thousand years since she defeated the Tyrant Sun, after all. Perhaps she wants to show us what her sister was like, or something…”
The crowd began murmuring to each other. Octavia frowned. That was possible, but then Princess Luna would have told ponies. She would have known how frightening the sudden appearance of the sun would be. Octavia couldn’t imagine Luna springing this on the populace as some sort of surprise.
“Why don’t we all go back inside? Octavia, could we perhaps have some music? Something bright and sunny?”
“Of course.” Octavia nodded briskly. “I—“
“Look!” cried somepony.
Octavia looked, just in time to see a large purple dot appear high above Canterlot Castle and begin to grow, quickly turning into a large dome. “What?” she managed. “What’s that?”
“The aegis shield!” a tan pegasus yelled. “It’s a big defensive wall – they must think something’s going to attack the city!”
There was a pause.
“It’s the Tyrant Sun!” screamed half a dozen ponies at once.
Octavia, sensing that a panic was coming, immediately began forcing her way out of the crowd. She wasn’t wrong. No sooner had she made it to the edge of the balcony than the crowd stopped screaming and began running for the exits.
“I’m getting out of here!”
“My foal! I have to get to Chomper!”
“Ladybug, come on – forget your purse!”
Octavia barely managed to get away from the rush before they would have trampled her and her cello, and she backed up against a wall to let the celebrities and high-society ponies rush by her. She realized, belatedly, that her mouth was dry and her coat fell clammy. How can Corona be here? What can we do?
She’d heard stories, of course. Her student, Lyra, loved telling stories with music. She knew all about the horrible things Corona had done and had tried to do. What she had vowed to do if she ever escaped her prison in the sun. The tales were many, and each one was frightening in its own way. The two consistent trends? That Corona was very powerful… and mean.
I have to get home.
There was no logical reason for this; home wasn’t any safer than anywhere else in the now-enclosed city, but Octavia still decided to make this her objective. “Besides, if I’m home I can… I can compose or practice, or do something productive…” It would help her take her mind off of the sun, and Corona, and being burned up. Besides, if there was a panic, she’d need to be home to make sure looters or vandals didn’t attack her house.
She looked around, realizing that she was the last one in the hall. Every other pony had fled by this point.
The streets were in a chaos that the legendary Discord himself would have envied.
Carriages and carts were jammed up against each other in complete gridlock. Several carriages had crashed due to their owners’ zeal to get away from wherever they were, and traffic couldn’t progress. Nopony was trying to clear the streets; the repair crews were probably just as panicked as everypony else. There were a few harried Guards, but they were clearly being overwhelmed.
Octavia abandoned the idea of catching a carriage and began to hoof it towards her home. It was about an hour’s trot, but at this rate, it would take more than an hour just to get traffic moving again. The walk would be faster.
As she hurried down the streets, the chaos only grew worse and worse. It soon became apparent that the Guards were underpowered; Octavia couldn’t see any unicorns, so she guessed that they were helping with the Aegis shield. But it was all the remaining police could do to work with traffic and stop open panic; she knew they’d have no hope at all of stopping anything else or defending private property in the event of looting or more violent chaos. She gritted her teeth. She had to get home.
“Attention!” Octavia looked up just in time to see a pegasus wearing Night Guard Armor – but without the characteristic bat-like look, for some reason – flying into a nearby square. “Any unicorns who wish to assist Captain Armor with the defensive shield, please report to Canterlot Castle!”
“You need civilians for help?” cried out somepony. “We’re doomed!”
Octavia rolled her eyes and ran all the faster.
It took a while, and there were several close calls – not so much for her, but for her cello, which many of the panicking partygoers seemed to somehow overlook in their zeal to get home – but she finally began approaching her neighborhood. She waded across a small stream, not bothering with the clogged bridge. Fifteen minutes at most, now, and then she’d be home.
“It’s so bright,” she heard a pony mention to her companion, and she had to agree. The sun wasn’t usually this bright or this big. That confirmed it. Only Corona could grow the sun, or bring it closer to the world. She was really back.
When I joked about playing even with the sun falling, I didn’t think it’d really happen…
She could panic later. She could panic when she was safely home, with her cello secured in its safe and with herself sipping tea or sitting on her couch. (Or hiding under her bed, possibly). But she had to get home first, to protect her instrument, to save her home from any riots that might spring up, to…
She heard distant cries.
Foals? So many? What are they doing out now?
As she rounded a corner, she saw one of Canterlot’s elementary schools. Though it should have been night, she saw that there were panicking foals inside, most of them screaming and trying to escape out into the streets, and several calling out for parents. There were also a few teachers and chaperones in party garb, desperately trying to stop the foals from smashing through the gate or scaling the small playground walls and running out into the streets.
Octavia skidded to a halt, staring. The foals looked absolutely terrified. The teachers didn’t look much better off, and they were tiring. If the foals continued to panic, some of them would probably escape the school building in the next few minutes. Given the general chaos, they could be trampled and hurt.
For a moment, she was tempted to ignore this and hurry home. She bore no responsibility for the foals; it was the teachers and chaperones who had pledged to keep them safe, and it wasn’t her fault that they weren’t up to the task. Besides, in these circumstances, nopony could blame her for wanting to hurry home and get under the shelter of her familiar roof.
She shoved those thoughts aside. She had played for foals before; while she didn’t much enjoy it, as they could rarely follow or understand her music, they seemed to have fun with it. She had the power to distract the foals from the sun and the chaos outside, to calm them down so they wouldn’t get hurt. It was the right thing to do.
And, besides. She’d joked before that a good musician performed on schedule, even if the sun fell out of the sky. Well, now it was time to meet that standard.
The chaperones seemed more surprised than the foals when Octavia strode into the building, but both groups stopped panicking and turned to look at her.
“Can… can I help you?” asked one of the teachers.
“Musical entertainment,” said Octavia. She had guessed that this was some sort of party for foals whose parents were otherwise occupied that night. “I’m ready to start.”
The presence of a calm adult was already starting to calm the foals a little, who turned towards her. “Music now?” asked one. “But – but the sun’s up! It’s not supposed to be up yet!”
“That doesn’t matter.” Octavia set her cello case down and unpacked it. “Are all the foals here?”
“Yes, I think so,” began one teacher. “But—“
“Good.” Octavia drew her bow back, and then, without waiting for the teachers or anypony else, began to play.
It was not the sort of music Octavia usually performed. It was light-hearted, energetic, foolish music, with obvious beats and simple melodies. It was a medley of popular foal tunes, the sort found in carnivals and at grade-school recitals.
And it worked wonders on the foals.
They were desperate, of course, for some sense of normalcy to cling to. The teachers hadn’t been providing it; they had been fear-crazed themselves; but Octavia showed no fear. She just played her music, the way she always did, with sublime accuracy and perfect poise.
And they loved it.
At first, they forced themselves to listen, desperate for some distraction from the chaos outside. But then, after a few minutes, they didn’t need to force themselves anymore. They liked the music. Loved it, even. It was familiar, and it was the music they had been expecting to hear that night – after all, it was the Longest Night, and they’d come to the school for some sort of party. Now that it seemed to be resuming, now that an adult seemed to have everything in hoof, the foals were able to calm down somewhat.
And so Octavia played on, heedless to whatever news the outside world might bring. And the foals listened, enraptured.
Two hours passed.
Octavia had noticed, distantly, that her audience was decreasing in size. Every now and then, a pony would make it to the school, having fought their way through the traffic jams, the crowds, and everything else, to retrieve their foal. Normally, Octavia would have been furious at an audience dribbling away before she was done, but given the circumstances, she wasn’t going to complain.
Eventually, when she was down to ten foals, the door opened and an exhausted-looking Night Guard came in. She was tall, with a violet coat and unusually large wings.
“Hi.” She nodded to the chaperones, then to Octavia. “I’m here to get the children of the Guards.”
Ah. That would explain why some of the remaining foals were there – the others were probably at the school so their parents could go to parties without needing to find a foalsitter, but the foals of the Guards on duty that night would need to be watched too, of course.
Octavia stopped playing for a moment, and the teacher nodded. “Hippity Hop, Cutie Pie, Roller Derby, Silly Goose…” she quickly read off about eight names. “Please go with the nice Guard here.”
The Guard nodded. “I’m Evening Moondew. I’m taking home all the foals of the Guards, so you can see your families again.” Two foals raised hooves, as if to ask questions. The Guard looked at them and seemed to guess what they had to say. “For those foals with both parents in the Guards, we’ve set up a big suite at the Canterlot Royal Hotel. You’ll see your friends there, and we can protect you.”
The foals got up to go with her. A few paused and turned to look at Octavia. “Thanks for playing us music, Miss Philharmonica!” said one.
You are welcome.” She paused; she had not introduced herself. “How did you know my name?”
The foal smiled brightly. “My mom’s a really big fan of yours! She says you’re the best cellist in Canterlot!”
“And you’re really nice too,” said another. “Thank you so much for playing with us!”
Octavia couldn’t quite contain her smile that time.
The Guard looked amused too. “Alright. Stick close to me, foals, and I’ll get all of you home safe.”
Only two foals remained. The head teacher paused. “Ah… I know where both of them live. I can take them home.” She smiled at Octavia. “And… thank you. Thank you so much. I don’t know what we would have done without you.”
“It was no trouble.” Octavia began packing up her cello. “Your students were a good audience.”
“Still… it meant a lot to us. Thank you again.”
Octavia bowed before leaving.
The sun was still high overhead. The streets were clogged with abandoned carriages and carts, though they were mostly deserted except for the occasional harried Guard on patrol. Octavia found that she was able to make much better time going home.
Well, that wasn’t my usual audience. But, as she got home – despite the situation, the sun, the Aegis shield which was the city’s one thin defense against a Tyrant – Octavia could not help but smile slightly. But it was a very rewarding show.
The pony peeled herself off of the wall. A group of prisoners had tried taking advantage of the chaos and the disappearance of the Guards to affect their escape; she and a few of the Shadowbolts had been sent to stop them. They had done so, and had then been ordered to a Shadowbolt hideout to wait for further orders.
The pony called ‘Walls wasn’t really a Shadowbolt, though she often helped them with their missions and they treated her as one of the team. She’d been going to the hideout with them, when she’d heard, distantly, cello music. It had seemed so out of place in the chaotic and panicked city that she’d simply had to go investigate.
She’d caught the tail end of Octavia’s performance, but even after the mare had left, she’d remained hanging off the wall for a few moments.
I think I’ll keep my eye on her… She couldn’t help but smile. Octavia didn’t seem to think it was a huge deal, but she’d likely stopped some of those foals from running into traffic and getting injured. A mare like that was worth keeping an eye on.
“Walls!” The pony turned at hearing her codename called for the second time. “Jewelry store robbery in the downtown district. Guards can’t get there before us. You coming?”
Walls turned and began to follow the others. That could wait for later. They had work to do.