• Published 31st Aug 2014
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The Gentle Nights: Audience of One - PaulAsaran



A chance meeting at a ruined gala leads to opportunity. Luna longs to recover from her isolation and the shadows of her past, and she clings to the one pony whose music provides her comfort. She might not be the only benefactor in the arrangement...

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Rāt Yād Ānā

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter I
Rāt Yād Ānā

Octavia tilted her head back to gaze upon the vaulted ceiling of Canterlot Castle’s Grand Hall. Her heart was beating like a drum at the sights: pearly marble columns, brilliant historical tapestries, massive windows and shimmering crystal chandeliers. She lowered her eyes to take in the bustling activity of hundreds of servants roaming, working and shouting, all preparing for the night’s big event. There, far across the hall beneath the widest window in the room, was the stage.

And she was going to be on it. The thought made the butterflies in her stomach flutter about as a big grin spread across her face.

“Oh my Goddess, Parish, look at this.” Beauty Brass beamed in Octavia’s face. “I can see her teeth!”

Octavia sealed her traitorous lips, but not before Parish Nandermane spun about to catch the grin. “Holy horseshoes! Who are you and what have you done with Octavia?”

Beauty pressed her hooves to Octavia’s cheeks and examined her up close, head tilting back and forth. “Do it again, maybe Tartarus will freeze over.”

Octavia rolled her eyes. “I get it,” she said, voice sounding odd with her cheeks pressed in as they were, “I’m an emotionless priss. Please rub it in a little more.”

Parish chuckled and turned back to his rolling harp stand. “Well, if you really want us to I’m sure BB will oblige.”

“You bet.” Beauty stepped back and counted by tapping her hooves. “Pigs flying, the sun and the moon rising at the same time, the Everfree going crazy, song and dance numbers creating alicorns, dogs and cats living together, changelings invade Canter—wait, that’s it!” She pointed at Octavia with a grin. “You must be a changeling.”

Octavia facehooved. “Do forgive me if I’m a little excited that one of my lifelong dreams happens to be coming true.”

Beauty giggled. “Octavia Melody doesn’t get excited. It’s a fundamental law of the universe.” She winced at Octavia’s glower with a lopsided smile. “Okay, okay, I’ll quit it.”

“It is something, though,” Parish admitted, his head slowly turning to take in the massive hall. “I’ve known about this for months, and I still can’t believe we’re actually here.”

Beauty shrugged and turned to lift her sousaphone case. “I know it’s exciting the first time, but trust me: after an hour you’ll be wishing it was over. The Grand Galloping Gala has got to be one of the most boring social events in Equestria, even by elitist standards. No offense, Octy.”

They made their way to the stage, dodging the servants who scurried about them like ants. It was slow going, but Octavia didn’t mind; it was hard to be annoyed by anything when walking on air. She stood on the tips of her hooves to try and see over the heads of everypony, making out the majestic grand piano on one side of the stage. No sign of the pony who would be using it, though.

Parish glanced at her from over a group of servants rushing between them. “Is he there?”

“I don’t see him,” Octavia replied, settling back to a normal walk. She noticed how his shoulders sagged. “You act as if he won’t show up.”

“I know, I’m being silly.” Parish straightened up and offered a grin. “I’m just so nervicited! Do you realize—”

“—what an opportunity this is?” Beauty bumped him with an elbow. “No, not really. Why don’t you remind us again? I don’t remember from when you said it ten minutes ago.”

“I can’t believe you’re so calm about it,” he replied as they reached the stage. “Seriously, the guy came all the way from Germaney and we get to perform with him!”

Octavia climbed the access ramp ahead of her friends, muzzle held high. “I’m sure this is as big an event for Mr. Horseshoepin as it is for us.”

“Did somepony say my name?”

Despite her posh manner, Octavia couldn’t ignore the small increase in her heart rate. She turned with the others to see a brown Earth pony step onto the stage from the opposite side. His lips were set in a stern frown, but there was a light in his eyes that told Octavia his mood didn’t match the expression.

“Ooooh my Goddess.” Parish took a step forward with a big grin. “M-mr. Horseshoepin, it is an honor!”

Frederick Horseshoepin nodded to Parish. “You must be Mr. Nandermane. A pleasure.”

“The pleasure is all mine!” Parish was shifting back and forth, one hoof tapping the floor as he fought to keep his excitement in check. “I want you to know, I have all your recordings! You must be the single greatest—”

Beauty stepped up and pressed a hoof into his mouth. She tilted her head Frederick’s way. “Please do not mind him, he’s a doddering idiot. Beauty Brass, nice to meet you.”

Frederick nodded to her as well. “Of course. I do not mind zee fans; I vouldn’t be vere I am today vizout zem. So—” he turned his eyes on Parish, the slightest of upturned curves coming to his lips “—feel free to gush.”

He was straining with the accent. It made him a little difficult to understand, but apparently Parish got the gist: he pulled away from Beauty’s hoof and beamed. “I would be happy to gush! Why, I can gush so much that you have no idea—”

Beauty whacked him over the head and replaced her hoof on his lips. “Take a chill pill, Parish, and think about the phrase ‘double entendre’ for a moment.”

Frederick chuckled… then turned his eyes on Octavia. She straightened just a little at his steady gaze. “And you must be Miss Melody.”

“Indeed.” She gave a small bow of her head and willed her heart to slow down a bit. “It is good to meet you, Mr. Horseshoepin. I hope our playing does not disappoint.”

He seemed to consider her calm response. Suddenly, the stone that was his face cracked and he was smiling. “I do not belief any of you vould be here if zat vere possible. And please, all of you, callen sie me Frederick.”

With the introductions over and the ice effectively thawed, Parish was let loose to gush at his leisure. He wasted no time, spending much of it extrapolating on the wonder that was Frederick’s music. Beauty was sure to crack him over the head when he was getting a little too excited, but the pianist didn’t seem to mind at all. Beauty had her own addition to the praise every now and then, but for the most part both she and Octavia let Parish do the job for all of them.

Octavia devoted much of her time testing her cello and looking over the sheet music, though it was just to refresh her memory. She had to acknowledge that she was a little nervous. After all, here she was, about to perform at the single most prestigious event in Equestria alongside one of the world’s most renowned concert pianists. Was there a small shake in her hooves?

Well, it only made sense. This moment was the result of six years of hard work. It wasn’t her first ‘big gig,’ as Beauty liked to call them, but it could very well be the most important moment of her career and life. If she earned Frederick’s approval tonight, just how far could she go? Maybe her real dream wasn’t that far away after all.

Parish had at last managed to get enough energy out to calm down so they could rehearse. Octavia’s stomach churned for the first few minutes, which were devoted to testing out some short song excerpts and getting used to one another’s rhythms. Even so, the first mistake wasn’t hers; it came from Beauty Brass, who’d apparently lost her breath when she noticed Princess Celestia entering the hall for a last check on the preparations.

The princess didn’t stay for very long, having lots to do prior to the opening of the Gala within the next hour, but she did pause briefly by the stage to listen to them perform. Octavia was a nervous wreck the entire time, just waiting for Celestia’s pleasant, welcoming smile to turn into a frown at their playing. It never happened, though, and she actually praised their work before moving on to her next task, not once losing that ingratiating smile.

Frederick spoke up after she’d gone. “Vell, if vee haff zee princess’ nod of approfal, I zink vee’ll be just fine. Chall vee tak zee break until zee actual efent?”

He had to repeat the line twice before Octavia, with the tiniest bit of frustration, told Beauty and Parish, “We’re taking a break.”

“Oh, right.” Parish blushed with ears low. “Sorry.”

“I’m getting a bite to eat,” Beauty informed them. “If this goes how I expect then I’ll be starved by the time our next break comes up.”

“Let me join you,” Parish said, still blushing.

Frederick cast a glance to Octavia. "You are not joinink zem?”

She shook her head as she put away her sheet music. “I’m too nervous for eating.”

He frowned, but it seemed to be more self-directed than anything. “Not because of my presence, I hope?”

She shook her head again, then reconsidered and used her hooves to indicated a small amount. “It has more to do with how important this night could be for me.”

He tilted his head. “And vat exactly could zis night mean for you?”

Octavia blushed as she considered her answer. After a few seconds, she turned to gesture at the great hall before them. “I know you are used to performing at such great events, Frederick.” She winced; why did it feel so odd calling him by his first name? “Beauty has been to this before. Even Parish has been to a few major events. I, however, am largely unknown. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how it is they found my name amongst the list of potentials, or what made them think I am worthy.”

Frederick looked her up and down, eyebrows scrunched together as if he were examining a curious specimen. She shifted under that gaze.

“I am surprised,” he said at last. “I admit, I’d nefer heard of you ven zey told me your name, but I assumed it vas because I hafen’t been payink close attention to Canterlot musicians in the past few years. Still, you look and act like an elite, established and vell-connected musician of zee region.”

She smiled and adjusted her bowtie with muzzle raised high. “Why thank you, I work hard to maintain this look.”

His eyes ran over her again, but this time she didn’t feel so anxious. He gave a firm nod and reared his head back to announce, “I like you.”

She gave him a prim expression to match. “Good. If the rest of this night goes poorly, I can at least say I’ve managed one good thing.”

Frederick tossed his mane with a proud smile and turned back to his piano. “Do not vorry, Miss Melody.

“Vith ponies like us, how could zis night efer go poorly?”


Octavia was sitting behind the piano and rubbing her face with both hooves. Surely, Frederick might never have suggested this would be a good night had he known that some appropriately terrible ponies would be arriving to effectively drown out whatever positives the quartet possessed.

“That was awesome,” Beauty announced with a grin. She was sitting beside Octavia, her sousaphone still wrapped about her body. “I wish every Grand Galloping Gala was like this!”

Well, at least somepony was enjoying herself.

“Outrageous.” Frederick, his pale mane akimbo, glared at the wrecked hall. “Who in zee name of Celestia infited zose ponies? Clearly a bunch of uncifilized ruffians.”

Parish finally managed to stand his harp back up. “Not how I expected my first Grand Galloping Gala to go.”

Octavia groaned and stood. She eyed the elite ponies that filled the hall. Total chaos, from the fallen columns to the ruined buffet tables. Princess Celestia was attempting to placate the crowd, but even she was acknowledging that the Gala was over.

“Well, might as well pack up,” Parish grumbled. “I hope our pay doesn’t get docked for only going through a third of the event.”

“I’m sure they will be most generous, under the circumstances,” Beauty said, her grin not diminished in the slightest. If Octavia were any less of a pony, she might have slapped that smile off her friend’s face.

That thought made it clear: she needed to cool down. She closed her eyes and focused, becoming acutely aware of her rapid heartbeat and tense breathing. There was a distinct noise in the back of her mind like a constant cymbal, which was the single most tell-tale sign. She pursed her lips tightly and began putting her cello away.

“Octy?” Parish leaned forward a little to study her. “You okay?”

Octavia said nothing, which was enough of an answer for her two friends. Frederick watched her with a terse frown but said nothing.

“I’m going to take a walk in the gardens,” Octavia announced, her head held high as she struggled to maintain her tone. She finished putting on her cello-carting saddle. “I’ll see you two later. Frederick, it’s been a privilege.”

She left the hall, ignoring Beauty’s half-hearted attempt to stop her.

The Royal Gardens were abandoned, and for that Octavia was grateful. She could almost see the storm clouds hovering over her own head. With nopony left to see, she allowed her lips to turn up in a sneer. There was only one cure for this…

“Miss Melody?”

It was all she could do not to let out a snarl. With great will, Octavia forced her lips into the most neutral position possible before turning. Frederick stood a few feet back, his frown ever present.

“Yes, Frederick?”

He paused, rubbing a hoof over his unkempt mane. “I vanted you to know zat your playink tonight vas exemplary, and I hope zat vee might perform again soon.”

She blinked, her anger fading slowly at his words. “You… th-thank you.” Those cymbals were still ringing, but she did her best to ignore them.

He offered her a smile. “You are fery velcome. Please, do not be burdened by zis night. I vill do my best to help make up for it.”

Her jaw dropped before she could catch it. “Mr. Horseshoepin, that really isn’t necessary.”

“Do not be modest, please.” He gestured to her cello. “I noticed zat you did not play vith your cheet music. Most impressive. It is a true chame zat a pony of your talent chould remain unknown.”

There was no escaping a blush. By now Octavia's anger had faded entirely, to be replaced by a certain bubbly excitement. Still, she kept her tone in check. “You are too kind, Frederick. Assuming this night doesn’t end my career—” there were those cymbals again, “—I will strive to be the best musician I can, in honor of your kind words.”

Frederick chuckled, the faintest hint of pink in his cheeks. “Your eloquence puts me to chame, Miss Melody. I chall hafe to vork on my shpeech so zat I may keep up zee next time vee meet.” He gave her the slightest of bows. “Do me zee great honor of vritink me, if you vould be so kind. I vould like to keep up vith your career.”

Octavia had to fight to avoid a squee, instead limiting herself to a proper, small smile. “I would be happy to. Thank you, Mr. Horseshoepin.”

He nodded with a beaming smile and finally turned away. “I shall keep you no longer. I imagine you hafe some pent-up emotions to be free of. Good night, Miss Melody. I look forvard to hearink from you in zee future.”

“Good Night, Mr. Horseshoepin.”

Octavia waited until he was well out of sight to turn around and clap her hooves with a giddy grin. This was turning out to be a good night after all. For the first time in her life, somepony big had noticed her! Even if the Gala was a disaster, Frederick's endorsement might just fix all the damage. She let out an uncharacteristically girly giggle as she trotted through the grass, her mind swimming with possibilities.

How curious. Not three minutes ago she’d come out here to play some nice broody song to channel and loosen her frustration, but now she was thinking in precisely the opposite direction. She moved deeper into the gardens, looking for a place where she could play without risk of being disturbed. She finally found a suitable location: a tall fountain within a wide clearing. She gazed up at the statue’s bearded face, watching as water streamed from the wizard’s tipped hat. Not a typical design, not at all.

Octavia set her case on the fountain’s edge and carefully pulled out her cello. She stood and tested its sound, smiling at the deep, pleasant tune. Now she just needed to think of a song. What tune might she play to properly demonstrate her pleasure at this moment?

Her eyes roamed the scenery. She glanced back at the fountain, but didn’t see anything particularly inspirational. Pouting, she tapped her chin with her bow and cast her gaze skyward.

Her vision was graced by a moonless sky, deep and shimmering with stars. She gazed, momentarily stunned; it wasn’t often she could see the night sky in such a way. The bright lights of a city life denied it. As she let her eyes drift aimlessly through the inky depths, she found herself marveling.

A strange sensation filled Octavia’s mind. She found herself lost in the fanciful illusion that she might, with just a little nudge, drift off into the depths of the night. It was a strange image, a wonderful image, like a daydream creeping over her mind.

She closed her eyes, bowed her head…. and began to play.

It was a slow song, its patient rhythm blessing her ears. She imagined that she was surrounded by stars, a vision emphasized with all the tenderness her cello could offer. Calm, serene, pleasant. How long since she’d played this tune? For shame. Now that she permitted herself to be lost in the swaying melody, she wished it wouldn’t end.

But songs, like dreams, must end, and Octavia was not one to drift in this simple astral fantasy for long. She sighed in contentment as she played one last, slow, drifting note and let it hang in the night like the last flower of autumn.

Silence. Pure, comfortable silence. Octavia sucked in a slow breath, feeling indescribably calm. Oh, what pleasure her cello gave her! She smiled as the soothing memory of the song lingering in her ears.

Her eyes fitted open. She raised her head…

…and found herself gazing upon a pony, standing silently at the hedge entrance and watching. A tall pony of deep sapphire and a mane more brilliant than the stars. Octavia’s jaw dropped. Her eyes locked on the deep cyan jewels of Princess Luna and her heart rate climbed.

Her audience of one said nothing, only gazed back with an unreadable expression.

Octavia broke out of her stupor. She glanced at her cello, then her bow. A powerful alarm filled her and she promptly dropped to a deep bow. “Forgive me, princess! I did not mean to disturb you.”

A long, lingering silence filled the garden, but Octavia’s mind was running away with possibilities. What if she really had disturbed the princess? What if she had moved too deep into the gardens and was trespassing? What if the princess was unforgiving of such mistakes? She didn’t know anything about the princess, nopony did! How was Octavia supposed to—

“Thank you for the song.”

Octavia’s head jerked up; Princess Luna had turned to walk away.

The urgency was gone. All Octavia could think about was the tone of the princess’ voice. It had been even, carefully set… but she had heard the underlying emotion. She looked at herself, still set in her low bow, then looked up at the princess’ backside. She gazed up at the stars… and felt guilty.

“P-princess?”

Luna paused, but didn’t look back. Octavia sat up properly and tried to be careful of her words. “Thank you for the stars.”

Luna shifted. Her head slowly turned back to reveal an anxious expression. “…what did you say?”

Octavia chewed her lip, but there was no going back now. She pointed up at the sky. “The stars. They inspired me to play that song. So thank you.”

Luna turned back to her, eyebrows high as she stared. After a few seconds her eyes began to flit about the gardens as if she expected somepony to be sneaking up on her. “I… You are welcome.”

Octavia’s stomach flipped, but she wasn’t even sure why. She just knew that the princess seemed so very unsure of herself, and that made her feel unsure in turn. Octavia offered a smile, but Luna didn’t return it. Instead she kept shifting, her lips moving as if she were fighting not to chew them.

The quiet lingered a little too long. Octavia fidgeted. “I… um… I’m sorry if I intruded on something.”

“No…” Luna’s ears tucked as her eyes continued their anxious dance. “I was just… walking.”

“Oh.”

Another lingering silence. Octavia wondered if she should just go; it really did feel as if she wasn’t meant to be here.

Luna’s ears perked, her eyes falling upon Octavia’s cello in the grass. “T-tell me… what is the name of that song?”

Octavia blinked and glanced at the cello. “Tārā Sapnā.”

Luna tilted her head at the name, her hesitancy fading in her apparent confusion.

Octavia smiled and explained, “It’s Nilgiri. It means ‘Star Dream.’”

“I see.” Luna’s eyes widened a touch, a hoof rising to her lips. She looked to the stars, her gaze lingering. “How… appropriate.”

Octavia nodded, her smile broadening a touch. “I’m glad you liked it.” She flinched; had the princess liked it? Was that a presumptuous thing to say?

“I liked it very much.” Luna’s smile was frail, faltering. It was as though she wasn’t used to having one. “Thank you again. I… I think I should go now. I do not wish to make you uncomfortable.”

Octavia stood up, her eyes widening as the princess once again turned to leave. Luna’s words were nothing like she might have expected, and they generated an inexplicable sadness within her.

“I can play another.”

Luna paused yet again, her had rising and her ears perking.

Octavia winced and held her bow close to her chest. “I mean… if it pleases you.”

Luna turned back, her lips slightest parted. “Really? But does not my presence disturb you?”

She was worried about disturbing Octavia?

“Not at all!” Octavia barely avoided cringing; that came out faster than she’d intended. “I mean, no, princess. Please, it would do me great honor to play for you.” She bent down over her cello and pretended to test its strings as she thought on her shallow breathing.

Was she really going to do this? Play for Nightmare Moon?

Then again, she wasn’t Nightmare Moon anymore… was she? Sucking down her fears, Octavia lifted the cello into a proper playing position and turned to face the princess. Luna still had that mild, mystified expression, as if Octavia were a new entity beyond her comprehension. Her eyes shifted in a slow, continuous motion as she studied Octavia from hoof to mane.

At last, the princess sat. Octavia saw her swallow; well, at least she wasn’t the only one anxious about this encounter.

Sucking in a slow, steadying breath, Octavia set the bow to the strings.

“Princess Luna, what’s your pleasure?”

Author's Note:

Rāt Yād Ānā: "A Night to Remember."

When I first joined this site, I became engrossed in some monthly contests put on by the group Random Romance. The Gentle Nights was my first-ever contest entry on this site. Although it won the contest, I was never satisfied with the story. It was too short, it skipped over too many details and it didn't really give you the full relationship between Octavia and Luna. I decided recently that this simply wouldn't do.

Thus we have Audience of One, a complete re-imagining of what The Gentle Nights could have – should have – been. I didn't want to just rewrite the story, I wanted to build it from the ground up with new concepts thrown in to really expand upon the relationship between Luna and Octavia. I honestly don't know how long this is going to run, but I'm excited for it nonetheless.

However, certain rules still apply. Octavia's family line is still foreign to Equestria, just like in the original, and this topic will come up before long. The chapter titles are in Hindi, reflecting this origin. Why did I do this? Because nobody else does, and I didn't want my Octavia to be like everyone else's Octavia. How deeply this will play into the story, I can't say for certain.

I'm hoping to achieve weekly updates. I can't guarantee that will happen, but it's a goal. I'm going to try and update Reddux the Tyrant at the same rate, though, and thus it's a challenge. Don't be surprised if I'm late a few times.