"Now I know what you're thinking..."
Spike lectures us while we're escorted out the front gates of the Castle.
"You—like every other pony who's auditioned today—wants to know how well you did, just how impressed the Princess and her friends are, whether or not they were just faking their enthusiasm during your performance, yadda yadda yadda..."
I... can't quite get a read on Spike's voice. I don't know if it's because he's a dragon or that he's super young or what. His jaws open up and... everything is everywhere all at once, like the clouds just vomited a rainbow through metal fan blades and chopped it all up at my hooves.
Hey. You can't figure them all out.
"Well, you're gonna have to wait, ya hear me?!" Spike frowns, pointing an accusatory claw. "Just like the rest of them! So, no jibber-jabbering to the rest of Ponyville about 'how likely' you are to have 'nailed it!' No stupid boasting, like: 'I just saw the inside of Twilight Sparkle's Castle! Omigoddess!' And definitely... definitely no attempts at bugging Princess Twilight for an update on the official minstrel selection process!"
"We wouldn't dare think of such a thing, my good sir," Octavia says with a calm smile. She curtseys, and I'm fumbling to follow suit. "You've been most gracious during out entire stay. My apologies if earlier I came across as frenzied, impatient, or obtuse in any fashion whatsoever."
"Huh..." Spike leans back, squinting at us with his tiny dragon arms folded. "Sincere respect. I like that." He rubbed just under his nostrils, sniffing. "I'm Spike, the official clerk to Her Royal Highness, Twilight Sparkle, and don't you forget it."
"Hmmmmm..." Octavia's muzzle curves as she suppresses a violet laugh. "We most certainly won't."
"We'll have your gear delivered promptly to your condo," Spike says, slipping somewhat "stealthily" back into the castle. "And remember! Don't contact us. We'll contact you." He tries to slam the massive doors shut with finality. It's only an orange ripple instead of a red clap.
But immediately afterwards, Octavia twirls towards me. She grins wide, wider, dimples about to burst in the glow of the Ponyvillean sunset. I can tell from the rising waves of violet that she's just seconds away from squealing.
So, with a smiling sigh, I brace myself and my shades—
"Squeeeeeeeee!" She hops around in a foalish little circle. "Oh Vine Vine Vine! We absolutely thrilled them, love!" Violet and violet waves. I'm practically getting seasick. "No, not just that, we killed them with our talent! I just know it!" Her pupils suddenly shrink, and she blushes. "Erm... well, perhaps that is not quite the right expression, seeing as it carries the implication of a royal assassination—"
I blow a few jagged bangs out from my face and smirk.
"Mmmm! It just went so... so swimmingly!" She rubs her two hooves together. "I... I can't believe I was so stressed and worked up about it for weeks! Months! Oh, Vine, we seized those minstrel positions for sure!"
I can only smile.
"This is a cause for celebration! Red wine! Euphoria! But mostly red wine! Awwwwwww blast..." To my quasi-surprise, she grabs... yanks at her bowtie, rips the thing clean loose, and prepares to toss it skyward like a graduation cap. "To Tartarus with prim and proper redundancies! Let us simply indulge in the frivolity of the moment—"
"Hey Octavia!" Lyra chirps, trotting up with Bon Bon. "Hey Vinyl!"
"Eeeep!" Octavia emits a burgundy cloudburst, and she shrinks to my side, hiding the stripped bowtie between us. "Oh... Miss Heartstrings! Miss Drops!" She gulps, fighting the inevitable beads of sweat. "What a... pleasant surprise meeting you here!"
"Oh wow! Did you just come back from auditioning for the Princess' royal minstrels?!" Bon Bon exclaims, bright-eyed. "I had no idea! That's so wonderful!"
"I bet you guys did wonderfully!" Lyra says with a kind wink. "We both heard the two of you throwing your talents together at Cranky and Matilda's wedding. Wowsers... if you could make a last-second masterpiece like that work, then you'll cream the competition here at the Castle for sure!"
"Oh... uhm..." Octavia gulps, then glances nervously at me. "That's... such a nice thing to say, Lyra. But... erm..."
I raise an eyebrow, listening. Always listening... witnessing... feeling...
Octavia winds up and pitches: "I... I-I'm sure that the Princess will weigh in all of the performances with the utmost patience and consideration, for they are among her most chief qualities. It goes without s-saying that each and every contestant has an equal shot at gracing the halls of this fine place behind us with their musical gifts."
"What... are you saying?" Bon Bon asks, squinting quizzically.
"Only that... th-that everypony is uniquely talented!" Octavia reaches up to adjust a bow-tie that isn't there, smiling with chattering teeth. "And just because... erm... some m-might stand to excel where others don't... uhhh... shouldn't be taken as a judgment on the less fortunate contestant's talent on the whole, but rather a reflection on the Princess' own subjective viewpoint on the spectrum of music—"
"Octavia," Lyra says, "I didn't enter."
"Huh?" Octavia blinks.
Lyra smiles. "I'm not participating in the competition here at the Castle."
"You're... you're n-not?" Octavia's eyes twitch.
I face hoof.
"Heehee... believe me, it sounds fun, but I like to stick to studio recordings. Being in front of a crowd?" She shudders. "Whew! It gives me the heebie jeebies!"
"Totally!" Bon Bon nods, leaning against her. "It gives her goosebumps all over. Even across her fuzzy green tummy!"
"She's right! Er... I-I mean..." Lyra blushes slightly. "I'm right. Eheh..." She reaches over, drawing Bon Bon closer into a side hug. "We're both right! Heheheh..."
"Oh... uhm... well then..." Octavia gives me a frazzled smile, then pivots it towards the two mares. "...who's for some celebratory wine?!"