“I've got just one question,” Bon Bon says. She sips from her glass and places it down on the restaurant's table. “Exactly who is invited to this 'Friendship Gala?'”
Octavia answers, and the air is saturated with sweet, sweet purple. “Well—I suppose—everypony, conceivably.”
“Everypony?” Bon Bon blinks in the afternoon light.
“You mean even ponies like Bon-Squared and I can cut a rug at this gig?” Lyra's voice cracks.
“Erm... eheh...” Octavia brushes her mahogany strands back. “I can't promise that there'll be much... erm... rug cutting.”
Bon Bon rolls her eyes and nudges Lyra. “It's a figure of speech, Tavi.”
“Mmm. Of course.” Tavi holds her hooves delicately together. “In truth, I don't think Princess Twilight precisely knows what the rules of the Friendship Gala will entail.”
“It's supposed to be far less formal than Canterlot's Grand Galloping Gala. That's as much as we've been told. I... erm... h-haven't had much of an opportunity to question Her Majesty about it. Princess Twilight has been... indisposed these past few days.”
“No doubt preparing all of the paperwork for the invitations.” Bon Bon stifles a giggle. “I bet she's having the time of her life with that.”
“Hmmm... quite so.” Octavia smiles. “Still, I'm rather excited for the prospect. And the other members of the Council of Friendship have stated that invitations are going out to all ponies—dignitaries or not. So... who knows?” She shrugs. “Perhaps you and Lyra could be there in the ballroom, listening to us perform!”
“So you are going to be minstrel-ing it up, huh?” Lyra beams.
“You bet your bloody horseshoes we will!” Octavia swirls a glass and takes a sip, smiling. “If you... forgive the crude affirmation.”
“Hee hee hee...”
“Wow... our very own Gala,” Bon Bon muses. “It's strange to think that—just a few years ago—this place was nothing more than a mere sneeze on the map. But now? We're having our own prestigious event!”
“Even if it's trying to set itself as anti-prestige,” Lyra says with a smirk. “I like it. It's new... fresh... and bold. Too bad—ten to twenty years from now—it'll likely evolve into some sort of elitist garbage that popular culture will adore and sane ponies will hate.”
“Eugh... Lyra...” Bon Bon rolls her eyes with a smirk. “Must you?”
“Come on, Bon Bon! You know the way of all things!”
“No.” Bon Bon winks, leaning in to nuzzle the mare. “I just know the way of all adorable pessimists.”
“Mmmmm... heehee... you look like a sunburnt lime whenever you blush.”
“I am not blushing!”
Around this time, I've begun to tremble. A nauseous wave bubbles up from my core, and the proximity of Octavia's giggles isn't helping any.
I swallow a half-glass of Dr. Pony, then levitate a pen. Scribbling on a napkin, I hold the thing up before the other three mares.
Bon Bon blinks. “You've got to go?”
“Awwwwww...” Lyra pouts. “But we all just got here!”
“What's the matter, Vine?” Octavia looks up. “Are you not feeling alright, love?”
That word... that damned word.
I try to smile. It comes out as a grimace. As I shuffle out of my chair, I inadvertently knock the table with my leg, causing the silverware to rattle with such volume that it attracts the nearest patrons' blinking attention. I bow apologetically, drop a few bits on Octavia's side of the table, and wave.
“Hmmm... well...” Octavia nods slowly. “If you really must...”
I can scarcely look at her. The knot in my stomach intensifies, reaching a magenta breaking point upon each echo of her violet voice.
That doesn't stop her. “Perhaps you would be so kind as to grab some treats for Scribbler on the way home?” A soft, velvety smile. Even through the back of my skull, I can feel it burning into me. I tremble all over. “We're running out, and I don't want the little furball to think we've grown less fond of her.”
I wave... then wave again.
At last, I'm trotting off... a brisk retreat.
It isn't brisk enough. I'm barely out the door when I can hear Lyra's voice squeaking from a distance: “I wonder what's been gnawing at her—”
I cross the streets of Ponyville, almost galloping. I'm sweaty and breathless. I can barely stand upright. The violet is so heavy. It tugs at my bones and boils at the meat in between.
I can't chase it away. Not with music. Not with sighs. Not even with anger.
I need a change of scenery. Maybe Beau can save me. Beau always saves me. But I haven't got a tour to do in ages. What excuse can I use?
I'm running out of holes to leap through, and everything leaks out, submerging me in a voice I used to love to love, but now it suffocates me.
I can't handle it. I simply can't.
Octavia. It was always nothing. So why can't I accept that? Would you even be able to help me?
No, I mustn't put this on her...
I mustn't put this on anyone...
I'm a stumbling mess. Anypony can see it. I seethe at the thought of what they must be thinking... saying...
A million voices—brown and gold and pink and blue—and I can't for the life of me interpret them anymore.
If there's anything I hate more in life, it's being transparent. I shouldn't be outside like this. I'm falling apart with each second of exposure.
I shuffle my way to the store, my mind set on cat treats.
After all... it's the friendly thing to do.