Doors slammed. Windows snapped shut. Whispers and gasps of fear echoed in the air. The few ponies brave enough to hazard a peek hid again almost immediately afterwards.
Tobias was well aware of how the inhabitants of Ponyville reacted to anything new or different. He had watched them be suspicious concerning Griffons, as well as outright terrified of a zebra. It was no surprise to him they were terrified by his presence.
As he strolled down the main street every pony in sight fled. Occasionally a foal's curiosity got the better of him or her, but inevitably would be scooped up by a parent and vanish back indoors. The ponies of Ponyville were a carefree population, but easily upset.
Tobias was fascinated by the gap between generations as he listened to the many hushed conversations. The young were curious, but the adults acted to protect themselves and their children. On occasion these two impulses would clash, and arguments would arise. The foals who sought to investigate would argue with the adults who worried about safety. It was one of the reasons that the ponies of Ponyville were so interesting to watch. There was no place quite like it in Equestria.
Tobias slowly approached the marketplace, a denser part of town, when he passed a house that caught his attention. A colt watched him through a window, eyes wide and smiling as the strange creature passed by and gave a little wave. Tobias returned the gesture, but the colt vanished from the window. He smiled, surprised to be greeted at all. He had not anticipated a welcome, expecting he would have to do much earn one. Perhaps the young colt heartened him a little, perhaps that was just the inspiration he needed, either being the case. He continued to the marketplace fountain with less doubt in his heart and a spring to his step.
He hopped up onto the stone border of the basin and spun around to face the way he'd just come. With a flourish he fitted the violin against his chin, and slowly brought the bow towards the strings. A series of long, slow notes filled the air before Tobias halted and turned two of the pegs. He played the same long notes, and nodded when he was satisfied that the instrument was in tune. He touched the bow to the strings and with a bow flew into a jig. He spun and bowed and kicked around the edge of the fountain, his music echoing through the marketplace in a frenzied beat.
His eyes were closed as he continued the song and dance around the circumference of the stone basin. The tempo accelerated towards the finish and at the last note he threw out his arms. The finale was immediately met with a handful of stomping hooves, shouts of praises rising to fill the near empty square. Opening his eyes, Tobias saw that a few ponies were coming out of their homes and shops to get a better view of this musical marvel on their fountain.
It was only that few at first, but more and more were venturing from doors and around corners, curiosity overpowering their cautious nature.
As the ponies continued to approach, Tobias put bow to string once more and began to play a slow, calm melody. There was no dancing this time around. He instead chose to take a seat on the stone edge and sway in time with the music. The tempo began to pick up slowly, the notes playing in his mind as if he had the music before him. He continued to play harder, letting the notes in his mind guide his motions through the song.
He finally struck the climax. Standing up, he bobbed back and forth as the music poured from his swift movements. A final brisk pull against the strings and Tobias finished the song with a pluck and a tap against the body. Again opening his eyes, he saw that a very large crowd was gathered. As the song ended the ponies burst into cheers and stomped their hooves for him. Taking a seat once again on the fountain, he simply grinned as he continued to pluck a few strings absentmindedly on the violin.
"Sorry for scaring anyone, or uh, anypony," said Tobias haltingly, a stutter working its way into a few of his words. "Didn't really mean to. Just passing through--thought it might be fun to play a few songs, maybe get a bite to eat? Don't have any money--pay my way with some music?"
"What kinda thing are you?" A young voice piped up from the crowd. Tobias grinned and watched as the little filly was quickly silenced by her mother.
"I am terribly sorry," the mother apologized.
"Oh it is quite alright. I have had very similar reactions from ponies before," Tobias responded with a smile as he plucked another string. "To answer your question, little girl, my name is Tobias."
"You mentioned you like something to eat? My family sells the best apples in town," another filly spoke up.
Tobias smiled sweetly to the young pony. "The best apples? Can't say I've had an apple in a very long time. Tell me, what is your name, seller of the best apples in town?"
"Applebloom," she responded happily.
"Applebloom?" Tobias plucked another string, the sound echoing a little longer than the last time. "I take it then that Applejack is your sister? The famous Element of Honesty?"
"That's right! How'd you know?" Many ponies looked to one another, matching Applebloom's curiosity. Several murmurs echoed through the crowd as well.
"Oh I know quite a bit. Word travels fast if you listen for it." With a flick of his wrist, Tobias brought the bow back to the strings of his violin. "But, that is quite enough of that. I promised a song to pay for an apple, so what sort of song strikes your fancy?"
"Well, what was it that you were just playing?" Applebloom asked, followed by a few ponies repeating the question.
Tobias drew the bow slowly across a few strings before he answered. "Just some of Tartini's sonata in G minor. But something tells me somber music isn't what my new audience desires. How about, let's say, a good old sea-shanty jig? Those are a whole lot of fun to dance to. What do you say, my new friend?"
"Sounds like fun!" Applebloom exclaimed,her voice mixing with the shouts of agreement through the whole crowd.
Tobias drew his bow away for a moment, plucking a string one last time before launching into the new song. He looked down at his violin, watching tiny ripples cross the surface from where he twanged the string. He kept his smile as he placed the bow in the right position and stood up on the fountain.
"Gather around, my friends," Tobias shouted. "I have a little lesson to share. The question of the day is, 'What do you do with a drunken sailor?' What better way to answer such a wonder with a bit of music and dance?"
With that, Tobias launched into a spirited rendition of the catchy tune. The sound of the violin was quickly accompanied by the happy chorus of singing ponies. The music traveled far and wide, drawing more and more ponies to the marketplace. There was never a wrong time for a good song and dance for the citizens of Ponyville, and the sound of this new tune was irresistable. It echoed through streets and alleys, even reaching as far as the countryside beyond. Each echo traveled farther and farther out, drawing more and more curious ponies towards the source.
When the melody and sounds of singing reached the train station, the conductor was only just beginning to stoke the fires of the locomotive. His ears twitched a few times, and he felt a deep, burning curiosity. He didn't know why, but he felt compelled to find wherever this music was coming from. Jumping out of the engine, he walked a few paces towards the music, trying to identify which direction to go. His ears swiveled this way and that before they finally perked up all the way and he took off for the source of music.
"Did the conductor just--did he just run off?" Rarity wondered as her head popped out of a window. She watched the conductor disappear around a corner, her mouth agape. "We have an appointment in Canterlot and he runs off," She huffed in disbelief.
Pinkie Pie's head popped out of the next window, a wide grin spreading across her face when she heard the sounds that drifted through the air. "Yeah! I don't blame him, don't you hear that? Sounds like a party! Wait, they're having a party! A party and I'm not there!" With a blast of confetti, Pinkie Pie shot out of the window and went tearing after the conductor.
"Wait, Pinkie! But what about--" Rarity's voice trailed off into a pout.
"Sorry, Rarity," said Applejack as she patted her friend's shoulder. "Though, does sound like some kind of happening is going on in town. I'm a mite curious myself."
"Well, so am I!" Rarity complained. "But--we made a promise to meet Twilight and Rainbow Dash in Canterlot! If we do not leave immediately, then there shall be no time for anything else!"
"Hmm, look at it this way." Applejack pulled herself out of the window and landed on the station deck before pointing towards the engine with a hoof. "We have to get the conductor back so we can get on our way."
"We should simply be on our way, conductor or not!" Rarity pointed towards the engine as well. "How hard can it be to operate? It's a train!"
Applejack just shook her head, "Whoa there, Rarity. I know a thing or two, but not a lick about trains. Besides, I hear they're mighty dirty with all that coal up in the engine. You wouldn't be wanting to get all sooty before the how-to-do in Canterlot."
"And we wouldn't want to take his train," a whisper came from back inside the car. Fluttershy pawed at the wooden floor when Rarity turned back towards her. "I mean--if it were my train--I wouldn't want anypony to take it. Unless they asked nicely. Or--or they had a good reason to."
"This is a good reason! There is no better reason!" With a final huff, Rarity relented, "Oh very well. We shall find our conductor and be off as soon as possible! I didn't want to take his train to begin with! Come along, Fluttershy!"
Fluttershy backed a little deeper into her seat as the white unicorn passed her by. "Oh, no thank you. It does sound like ever so much fun, but I don't think I would be of much help getting the conductor back."
"Yes, but it was you who convinced me that it is better to ask nicely. Come along, my dear." Rarity batted her eyes persuasively. "Please?"
Trying to hide inside her mane did Fluttershy little good as Rarity pouted at her, "Well, okay. I mean--if it means so much that I come along."
"Oh, it always does Fluttershy! Let us be off, we must hurry!" Following after Pinkie Pie, Rarity and the others took off at a canter towards the source of the music and singing.
At the source was a massive crowd. The marketplace was full of circles of dancing ponies, all singing happily to the resounding violin music that poured through the whole town. Still on top of the fountain, Tobias danced and jumped gleefully as he sang, leading all the others in the words.
"With a loud hurray / They joined me in the fray." He skipped as he sang with a few colts and a filly mirrored him beside the fountain.
"Soon we cleared the way / O'er the rocky road to Dublin. One, two, three, four, five / Hunt the hare and turn her down the rocky road and all the way to Dublin, whack-fol-la-de-da!"
The entire crowd all threw their hooves into the air and shouted, "Hurrah!" Laughter filled the square as Tobias played another colorful finish then threw his arms into the air just like the ponies around him. Stomping their hooves they all looked eager for more. Several voices called, "Another! Another!"
"I'm running out of dancing songs!" Tobias shouted heartily, and was met by more laughter. "These are the sort of songs I learned back where I came from! Well, these and waltzes, and those are boring! We don't like boring songs, do we?"
The ponies roared together, "No!"
Tobias continued, driven by their enthusiasm, "We like fun songs!"
A cry of approval rang out through the crowd. The fillies and colts bounced up and down eagerly awaiting more.
Beside the fountain sat Applebloom, handing apples up to Tobias and laughing as he whispered something funny before plucking the fruit up in earnest.
He took a bite of his treat happily and plucked another string. He heard Applebloom ask him to play something, but his attention shifted. He could see a blur of pink moving through the crowds of ponies towards the front, following behind her were the other three he'd come to Ponyville for; four bearers of the Elements of Harmony.
"You bet we do!" A shriek went up as the pink blur came to an abrupt halt right in front of Tobias. Pinkie Pie had an enormous grin on her face as she bounced up and down in front of the fountain. "This looks like a ton of fun, play more!"
Lifting an eyebrow, Tobias again plucked a string and let the sound echo across the crowd. He watched the other three approach in his mind's eye. They were about to come into view of his physical eyes, and that meant it was time for things to take a different turn. He'd been plucking very specific strings, playing very specific notes, and now he would need only one more. Lifting the violin, he plucked a final note and let it resonate through the air. Whistling , the shrill sound began to grow louder and drift through the entire marketplace.
He played the same note again and it spread out, dulling the very air around him. Matching each note he whistled with his instrument, Tobias let his well-practiced song play through the ears of all around him. Each mournful sound deadened the air a little more, each new note louder than the last.
Ponies went silent, their faces relaxing to the sounds that now drifted around them. The few ponies that still murmured drifted into incoherence as the music took hold of their thoughts. By the time the whistling ended, there was no cheering. No hooves stomped in applause. Only silence came as the entire crowd stared at Tobias, their hollow eyes locked on him without blinking.
Dropping down from the fountain, he tucked his violin and bow under an arm. "And that, little Applebloom," Tobias said softly, "was a very old song from my home."
The filly stared at him, her head tracking as he walked towards Pinkie Pie.
"It's from a time when there was a war, and all the men had to go fight. No one wanted them to go, but they had to. Their friends wanted them to come on home, so they made a song about them doing just that. 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home,' that's what it was called." Stopping a few steps before the pink pony, he turned back towards Applebloom. "It's a nice story, at least for the Johnny's that made it home." Tobias paused a moment in thought before adding, "It always got stuck in my head though, so I learned to love it."
His free hand moved to the back of the violin and reached through it. The surface rippled like water, and he drew out a golden disc. The Phoenix Medallion began to cast soft golden light on Pinkie's face as she continued to stare blankly.
After a few moments, the light died away. Tobias reached to his strings and plucked one, the crowd before him immediately parting to make a path. "I was here for a long time before I noticed the song in my head again. I liked to whistle it, not much else I could do. Ponies--well--weren't very nice to me. So I whistled, a lot."
He walked through the opening they made, approaching Rarity, Applejack, and Fluttershy. Like all the others they were dazedly watching him, their heads turning slowly to follow as he came closer. He continued to speak as he moved away, knowing that to Applebloom he still sounded as if he had never moved.
"I didn't know then how much music could help me here," he continued as he lifted the medallion in front of Fluttershy. "Turns out it doesn't just get stuck in my head. Whistle it just right, and it gets into any head that hears it."
The glow poured over Fluttershy as well. When it finished, the medallion was visibly shinier than before.
"Once its in, it isn't coming out. Stuck in your head, playing over and over. Taking over every thought you have," Tobias spoke softly, a dark tone coloring his words.
He lifted the medallion in front of Rarity, and it poured its golden light out just as it had with the others.
"Same thing goes for me, I guess. Getting into heads, plucking some strings while I'm there." The glow did its work and he pulled it away; the medallion was even more brilliant than before. "Sorry if I'm rambling, I don't really get to talk a lot. Guess I just have a lot to say, especially to an audience of such good listeners. I'm not so used to a kind ear."
Finally placing the medallion before Applejack, Tobias let it do its work while all of Ponyville watched.
"I'll have to repay such kindness. I promise I will. But for now, I have another promise to keep," Tobias said with a far-off expression. "A promise I made to someone who was kind to me a long time ago."
The Phoenix Medallion shimmered brilliantly in his hand. It had never been this pristine, even in the vault. Despite this, Tobias had doubt if it would be enough. He steeled himself in the knowledge that it would be. Plucking a final string on his violin, Tobias watched the town all turn and slowly walk back towards the buildings. Only the fillies and colts remained behind, all still staring at him. One of the fillies came forward, her face blank. Her voice came as a dull whisper, but the words were clear.
"Play one more song, please," she said.
A weak smile took the side of Tobias' mouth. "That I can do. I have to leave, but I'll play as I go. You just go on home, you'll hear it the whole way. It's my favorite song, you know. It's called Danse Macabre." Stepping in beat to the music, Tobias made his way back out the street he'd walking in on. He played the sorrowful music, listening to it fill the air as the rest of the ponies all returned home. "My very favorite song," he whispered as he departed from Ponyville.