• 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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Kamjorī

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter II
Kamjorī

Octavia was glad to be out of the dress she’d been obligated to wear. She glowered at the red abomination, with its foreleg sleeves that were too stiff, its bodice that was much too tight and the skirt that forced her tail up a little too high for her liking. If it wasn’t something she’d need later, she’d have ripped it to shreds.

Well, the two-week job was over and done with. The stallion’s dream could be stuffed into the back of her closet and she could forget it ever existed… so long as she wasn’t required to work another ‘joint’ like this bar. She slammed the small suitcase closed and tied it to her case saddle, eager to get home.

Glancing at the mirror of her dressing room, she saw the small amount of makeup she’d applied. She scowled at her own appearance before she turned on the bathroom faucet to wash the gunk away. A hopeful glance showed her normal, unpainted face in the mirror. It was such a relieving sight. A quick clean up with the towel and brush and she was ready to go, tossing on her case saddle and carefully strapping her cello case to it.

The mare wasted no time escaping the bar, doing her best not to breathe the extract smoke that kept the place in a fog. No catcalls from the half dozen patrons lining the bar, and for that she was grateful. The manager was kind enough to thank her for a good job and open the door for her; at least he seemed a decent sort. She was still upset with him for demanding she wear that hideous and uncomfortable dress, though.

The cool fall breeze made Octavia shiver. She walked out to the road and looked around; it was largely empty, save for one or two ponies roaming about on some late night business. Her eyes rose past the inner wall of Canterlot to the towering Upper District. Canterlot Castle was just barely visible at this angle, but she didn’t let her eyes linger on it. After the disastrous events of three months ago, she didn’t want much to do with the castle.

“Well now, if it isn’t the Goddess Tatuswati.”

Her heart skipped a beat and her ears perked at that familiar voice. She turned a slow circle, eyes locking onto one of the last ponies she wanted to see.

Parish grinned and waved from the corner of the building. “Grace me with your presence?”

She sagged with a distraught sigh. “What are you doing here?”

“Nice to see you, too.” He approached with a pleased smile. “I heard it through the grapevine that you were performing here, so I thought I’d come by.”

Octavia’s cheeks burned and she took a cautious step back. “You… didn’t watch, did you?”

“Sure did.” He grinned and tilted his head to study her. “Not wearing the dress? Too bad, it really suited you. Perfect for the Goddess Tatuswati.”

She pressed a hoof to his lips with a scowl. “It’s Ṭaṭṭūsvatī. Please stop butchering the language of my family. Where did you even hear about her, anyway?”

He waited until she removed her hoof to offer a lopsided smile. “Sorry. Read about her in a library while in Baltimare.”

Octavia sighed and turned away, making her way uphill. Parish trotted to her side and studied her.

“Octy? You okay?”

She blushed and refused to meet his eye. “Parish, you know I don’t like it when ponies I know are… well… ‘aware.’”

“That you had to work in a place like that?” He waved a dismissive hoof. “Come on, you know me and Beauty don’t care.”

“But I care,” Octavia muttered, “and I don’t want it advertised.”

Parish wilted. “Octavia… nopony thinks less of you.”

She shot him a withering glance; he hesitated and averted his eyes.

They walked on in silence for several long minutes. Octavia brooded over the presence of her friend. Who had told him where she was working? How many ponies knew about it? She gritted her teeth with a silent curse at this extra blow to her reputation. If only she didn’t need the bits…

They reached the gate to the upper levels. The guards recognized her and opened them without a word.

Passing through those gates was like moving from night to day. The streets were clean and pristine, with no sign of the trash that littered the lower alleys. The buildings were all beautiful and well kept, unlike the old and worn appearance of those below. Here there were tall trees lining the roadway, their leaves turning red with the coming autumn. The lower levels were nice by the standards of most cities, but by Canterlot standards they amounted to slums.

“Home is this way,” Octavia told her companion in a haughty manner, turning to walk along the wall. “See you later.”

“Octavia?”

She paused and fought to stifle a groan. Sucking in a controlling breath and ignoring the cymbals in her ears, she looked back.

Parish’s head hung low, his hoof tracing circles in the stones. “I know your image is important to you. I didn’t mean to… you know.”

She sighed and turned to him. The cymbals faded. “I’m sorry, Parish. I shouldn’t blame you for learning about it from somepony else.”

He blushed and couldn’t meet her eye. “I just wanted to see you. You haven’t been around much since the gala.”

At that she smiled. “I’m sorry about that, too, but you know we can only work together when we land the same jobs.”

“Yeah, I know.” Parish pouted and sat up a little straighter. “Still, you could come by to visit every now and then. Beauty worries about you.”

“Does she, now?” Octavia gave him a wry smile, to which he blushed and glanced away. “Unlike you two, I have to work constantly to pay my bills. My apartment might be small, but it’s still an Upper Level apartment.”

“You didn’t have to move to the Upper Levels,” he countered with a frown. “If you’d let us help you, at least financially, you could—”

“Parish.”

He sagged at the force of her tone. “You sure you don’t have some mule somewhere in that ancestry of yours?”

Octavia shook her head with an amused smile. “I might. I know you want to help, and I do appreciate it, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—”

“I know, I know.” He rolled his eyes. “‘The struggle is the glory.’”

“And don’t you forget it.”

Parish sat back and extended his hoof, rotating it as if he were carrying a wine glass. His face took on a proper ‘elite snob’ manner to go with the voice he suddenly acquired. “Mayhap it would be my sophisticated upbringing as an entitled member of the social elite—” he regained his normal composure and smirked, “—but I really think you need to learn to accept help from time to time.”

She nodded in an exaggeratedly polite fashion. “Your friendship has been help enough, thank you.”

“Heh, ‘friendship.’” Parish sighed and shook his head. He considered her for a moment, eyes suddenly becoming hopeful. “Hey… there’s this nice new place not far from here. Maybe if you’ve got time later we could have dinner.”

She sighed with a pained expression. “Parish Nandermane, are you seriously asking me out again?”

“Gotta keep trying,” he replied, though his shoulders slumped. “I figure you can’t say ‘no’ forever.”

She offered a nervous smile. “Well, at least you’re not using those cheesy pickup lines anymore… unless that insult to Ṭaṭṭūsvatī was meant to be one.”

He scratched the back of his head with a blush and a chuckle.

Octavia stepped a little closer and set a hoof to his shoulder. “Parish, you need to go for a mare who isn’t constantly working… and who is interested in a relationship. That’s not me in either case.”

Parish frowned and leveled her with a surprisingly hard look. “And what are you gonna do when you finally get to that elite status you’re working so hard for? It’s no less lonely at the top than it is where you’re at, Octavia.”

She cringed and shook her head. “Parish—”

“No.” He set a hoof to her chest, his eyes forceful. “Yeah, I wanna date you and yeah, you’re insanely attractive. But there are other reasons, Octavia. Even if you never date me, you at least need to start socializing more. You think your cello is going to keep you happy forever?”

“You’ve told me all this before,” she reminded him. “I just don’t have the time.”

“Then you need to make the time!” Parish sighed and rubbed his forehead. “We’re worried about you, Octy. Me and Beauty both. You might not see that there’s a problem, but it’s there, and eventually something’s gonna give. Visit us, write us, go out and mingle, do something.”

She frowned and leveled him with a hard stare.

“I’m fine.”

Parish met her glare for a couple seconds, but finally turned his head away with a bitter snort.

Octavia studied him for a moment, her hard manner fading slowly. After a few seconds she moved in and gave him a hug. He tensed under her hold.

“I’m fine, Parish,” she whispered. “Thank you for worrying about me, really. I’m glad for it, but you don’t have to.”

He hesitated, but finally returned the hug. He didn’t hold on for long, though, stepping back with a blush and a small smile. “Tease…”

She smirked. “Gutterhead.”

He snorted and visibly fought down a laugh. “Fine, I’ll leave you alone.” His expression grew serious, but soft. “Still, keep it in mind, okay?”

“I will.”

A moment of anxious silence passed as she smiled with him. Parish kept shifting and averting his eyes. At last he kicked the ground and gestured past her. “So… uh… shall I walk you home?”

“I think I can take it from here,” she replied, not losing her pleased smile. “But thank you, Parish. I’ll see you later.”

“Yeah… later.”

“Goodnight.” She turned and left him, making her quiet way home.


Octavia could hear the pounding music as she closed the door to her apartment. She emitted a long, pained sigh and rubbed her forehead. “Great…”

She made her way to a clean kitchen and pulled off the saddle, tucking it and the suitcase in the corner between the counter and the fridge. She glanced at the clock; it was just past midnight. That steady boom boom boom made her head throb.

She entered the square area that the floor plan had graciously referred to as a ‘hallway’ and looked out the cracked window. She saw the apartment directly across the street, lit up in a garish neon blue. Her neighbor was sitting at her turnable, bouncing her white head to a beat that shifted in small ways at her command. Her mane bobbed back and forth about her horn, but despite how much she appeared to be into the music her eyes were focused and her lips set in a frown.

An artist at work.

Or so she probably told herself.

Octavia glowered and reached for the flashlight on her dresser, just within reach through the bedroom door. She clicked it on and waved the light at the apartment in a slow, steady motion.

After a few passes her neighbor looked up, crimson eyes locking with Octavia’s. She grinned, waved, then kindly turned the volume down. It wasn’t much of a reduction, but it was enough to keep the noise out of Octavia’s bedroom, and that was all she desired. She nodded her thanks and set the flashlight aside. The neighbor went back to her work and Octavia closed the curtains.

One shower later and Octavia was sitting at her kitchen table with a salad. She ate slowly, practicing her etiquette: the graceful manner of holding one’s fork and knife with hooves – a task that required great practice with no horn to take advantage of – and the delicate process of chewing. She sipped her glass of water and dabbed her lips as was appropriate.

But then she stopped. She stared at the fork full of lettuce in her hoof, mind blank. Slowly, she looked around.

Drab blue wallpaper. Old appliances. A ceiling light that only worked with some persuasion. Dated wood floors that had seen one too many hoofsteps from previous inhabitants. A refrigerator that rumbled as it made some more ice. The countertop stained with the spilled food of a hundred thousand meals made by an untold number of previous owners.

Silence.

Why did it feel so... oppressive?


A white light engulfed Luna, and suddenly she was flying through the night sky. She adjusted her wings accordingly and was soon descending to Earth. She touched down and folded her wings, sucking in a deep breath as she let her mind go over the past few minutes.

Another nightmare eased, another ungrateful pony. Sometimes she wondered if she would ever meet one in this day and age who would appreciate her work. She had tried to speak to the colt, to explain the root of his fears and help him overcome them, but the colt only knew one thing: Nightmare Moon had come for him.

Ignoring the pain in her heart, Luna looked up to find herself on a hilltop not far from Canterlot. She could see the great city rising in the distance, quiet and still in the pleasant darkness. She realized that she didn’t have long before sunrise; an hour at most. Perhaps she should end this night of suffering and return home.

Home. Why did the thought put a sneer on her lips? She thought of her sister, sleeping comfortably in her suite with her devoted, loyal guards just outside the door. It made her blood boil…

No.

She shook her head, starry mane floating about her face. She banished such thoughts, refusing to dwell on them.

But that was hard. She needed to calm her mind, to stop thinking about Celestia and her loyal ponies, or herself and how much she was reviled.

Luna let out a snort; she was doing it again! The princess sucked in a long, slow breath and focused on clearing her mind. No more negative thoughts, no more ill views.

“No more Nightmares.”

She could do no more dream patrols this evening, her mind was just not in the right state for it. Yet Luna wasn’t quite ready to go home either, for that meant more thinking. She didn’t need to think, she needed to relax. These days there was only one guaranteed method of achieving that.

Luna gazed up at the half-full moon and closed her eyes, linking her magic to it as she had done so many times in the past. Soon she could feel the ethereal tendrils of dreams, millions upon millions of them reaching up into the sky from the unconscious minds of Equestrian citizens. With an ease acquired from centuries of practice, she brushed them away, carefully filtering out all those that weren’t from Canterlot, and then all those not from the Upper District.

She was fortunate: the pony was dreaming this night. There was a smooth sensation running down Luna’s horn, like the touch of velvet. That could only mean one thing, and Luna was grateful. She locked her magic about the dream and, opening her wings wide, flew directly towards the moon. To the world it would seem as if she’d disappeared, but to her it was like taking a dip in warm water.

When she emerged she was still in a night sky, but the entire world was different. Below her was a grand, open-air stage reminiscent of a majestic concert hall. The stands rose up into a tall hill and were filled to capacity with ponies. Onstage was an orchestra performing a piece Luna barely recognized, but knew it had been created after her exile.

There, sitting on the stage with her back to the audience, was Octavia. She was the conductor, guiding the music along with only the most careful and elegant of motions.

Luna flew down to a place a few seats from the front row, using her magic to free up a location. She sat among the dream ponies and perked her ears, listening intently to the delicate melody. She closed her eyes and swayed just slightly, absorbing every note.

Octavia had wonderful taste in music. It wasn’t like the loud, glaring material of this new age, but at the same time it held a distinct clarity and uniqueness from that of Luna’s own time. The music she’d heard while visiting this particular dream – a dream the musician had frequently – had spurred Luna to examine the evolution of music over the last thousand years. In so doing, she’d come to realize that she’d missed a golden age.

The princess relaxed. Her shoulders sagged, the tension in her wings faded, the furrow of her brow disappeared. She allowed herself to be lost in the soothing melodies, as she had so many nights before. Luna was grateful for this sanctuary from the troubles that surrounded her. Sometimes she wished she could just linger on forever.

The song came to its gentle end, and the crowd stomped its approval. Luna joined in, watching as Octavia turned to bow with a delighted but calm smile. After a few seconds the applause died down and Octavia reached to her side, grabbing the cello that hadn’t been there a second ago.

The new song began, this one with Octavia as the lead. It was a little faster, but still had that delightful calmness that was so soothing to the Moon Princess. She leaned back and closed her eyes, prepared to spend the rest of the night in the pleasant comfort of Octavia’s music.

Several songs went by, each one just as elegant and delightful as the next. Luna applauded to each one, always eager for the next masterpiece.

Then, during one of Octavia’s solos, something changed. It was the slightest thing at first, a barely noticeable coldness that touched Luna’s horn. She blinked and sat up straight, head swiveling about; she knew that feeling.

The chill abruptly grew stronger. Luna turned about and felt her jaw drop as the audience in the back row began to fade like mirages. First one open seat, then a dozen, then a hundred; the emptiness spread like a plague.

Octavia missed a note.

A gut-wrenching horror filled Luna and she abruptly dropped low between the seats. Within seconds the entire audience was gone, leaving her alone and hidden from Octavia’s view.

The music skipped, slowed… died.

For several long seconds Luna could only lay on her stomach, trembling for fear of being spotted. Yet even as she did, she knew that Octavia had to be suffering as well; she’d seen enough dreams turn to nightmares in her time. Feeling like a foal, she slowly raised her head and looked from between the seats.

Octavia stood next to her cello, her bow-wielding leg hanging limp and her head bowed. There was an intense expression on her face, as if she might break down at any second.

Luna dropped to the floor again, eyes wide as she pondered. How many times had she come to this dream to relax her mind? This was new… and it was disturbing. What had changed in Octavia’s life to bring this about?

The princess was faced with a truly terrifying prospect. She raised her head once more, but ducked it quickly when she saw that Octavia was surveying the empty stands.

There was a tug on Luna’s horn. She grimaced at the feeling, knowing exactly what it meant. She waited a couple seconds before taking another look; Octavia had dropped her cello and bow and was sitting, her shoulders shaking. She was all alone now, even her orchestra having disappeared. The sight filled Luna with despair.

The tug on her horn intensified. She fidgeted and considered her situation. What to do, what to do?

At last she surrendered to the tug of the magic and, closing her eyes, focused. Her world became engulfed in light once more and soon she was dropping through the sky. Her wings flared open and she immediately set her sights on Canterlot Castle.

Celestia was waiting for her at the balcony of the tallest tower. “Good morning, sister.”

“Good morning, dear sister.” Luna landed beside her and they pressed close for just a moment. Luna then promptly turned to the horizon and focused her magic. The moon was falling. She could feel Celestia’s nearby magic reverberate through her horn as the sun began its slow ascent.

“There.” Celestia turned to Luna with a pleased smile. It faded when she saw Luna’s face. “Luna? Is something the matter?”

The Princess of the Night forced her face into a neutral position. “No, sister. Everything is fine.” She started to turn away.

“Luna.”

The warning tone in Celestia’s voice made her pause. “Yes?”

Celestia stepped up beside her, concern in her eyes. “Did you… did you see it again?”

Luna relaxed and gave her sister a weak smile. “No, it let me be this time.”

“Good.” Celestia sighed her relief, but her concern didn’t fade. She looked her sister in the eye. “But something did happen, yes?”

A scowl on her face, Luna turned away. “Do not meddle in my affairs, sister.”

“Not meddling in your affairs is part of what caused the problem.”

Those words were like a knife through the heart. Luna bowed her head and tensed. “Y-yes… I suppose that is true.”

Celestia stepped about and sat before her, a deep frown on her face. “Luna… please. Talk to me. You know better than I do that it’s necessary.”

Luna turned her head away. “This is not something you can help me with, dear sister.”

Celestia tilted her head one way, then another as she examined Luna. After a couple seconds she set a hoof to her lips. “…did you go to see her again?”

The Moon Princess emitted a small groan. “I regret telling you about her.”

“Did you talk to her?” Luna remained silent. “Luna… you really should.”

“I can’t.” Luna’s lips trembled at the thought. “They fear me, Celestia. All of them. She won’t welcome me.”

Celestia sighed. “I’m sorry, Luna. I thought your return would be easier if they didn’t know that you and—”

“You’ve told me this before,” Luna said with a grimace. “I understand your reasons. They do not help me now.”

Her sister winced and looked away in shame, but it only lasted for a second before she turned back and placed a hoof on Luna’s shoulder. “Talk to her, Luna. You said she was kind at the gala. Perhaps she can be a first step.”

At that Luna gave a small chuckle, though it lacked conviction. “A first step? After over a year…”

“You must try, sister.”

“I’ve been trying!” Luna glared at Celestia, her teeth bared and her eyes going white. “What do you think I have been doing these past months, playing with the shadows? They hate me, Celestia, hate me because of you!”

Celestia backed away, her pupils shrunk and her chin quivering. “L-Luna, calm down…”

The rage left as quickly as it came. Luna turned away from her sister and held her head in her hooves. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry, s-sister. It… I didn’t mean…”

Celestia let go of the air she’d been holding as Luna trembled. A couple seconds passed, and Luna felt hooves wrapped about her shoulders. Celestia held her close, her wings covering her in a warm embrace.

“We’ll get through this, Luna. I promise.

“You won’t go back.”

Author's Note:

Kamjorī: Weakness

Ṭaṭṭūsvatī is my own amalgam of of the Hindu word for pony – ṭaṭṭū – and Sarasvatī, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, wisdom, art and nature. Just another small clue regarding Octavia's family history. I'm getting a much better picture of how I'll utilize it in this story, though right now it's more or less in the background.