• 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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Paricay

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter III
Paricay

Octavia was sitting at her dining room table, carefully working on her latest letter to Frederick. This would be her third response to his letters, and writing them was always a bit of a challenge.

Not that there was nothing to say. No, Octavia had plenty to talk about regarding music history and culture and her latest jobs. The problem was that Frederick was still having difficulty writing and understanding common Equestrian, and she had to keep her terms simple enough for him to grasp.

She just signed off the letter when she heard something she didn’t at all expect: music. Or rather, something commonly referred to as music. She recognized the tune, too; it was fast, modern and… well, if she was truly honest with herself, it wasn’t that bad.

Not that she’d ever tell that to the pony who made it.

The music died, prompting her to raise her head and look around. After a few seconds there was a faint crack like shattered glass and the music came back. This time Octavia picked out a direction.

Leaving the letter behind, she made her way to the window just as the music died again. She opened her curtains to see her neighbor waving at her… but she wasn’t using her turntable. Octavia tilted her head, glancing about to try and determine the source of the music.

Her neighbor’s horn lit up; something round and flat appeared in her hooves. Octavia realized it was a vinyl record… or rather, a magical construct that looked like a vinyl record. Her neighbor tossed the disc like a Frisbee towards Octavia, and when it hit her window the disc shattered. The music seemed to burst out of the thing with its heavy beat and synthetic tones.

Octavia stared… and smiled. She pulled open her window and set her forelegs to the sill. “That’s a really nice trick.”

“Thanks.” Vinyl grinned and leaned against her own windowsill. “Been working on it for weeks for a show.”

A wry smile graced Octavia’s lips. “Is there a reason you’re trying to break my window with your magic?”

Vinyl nodded enthusiastically. “You still play the cello, right?”

“Yeeeesssss…” Octavia wasn’t sure she liked that eager tone.

“Great!” Vinyl’s ears perked as she beamed. “So look, I’m working on something different and I really want to try… well, you’d have to hear it to get it. Do you think I could record you playing sometime soon?”

Octavia leaned back, staring at Vinyl with wide eyes. “You want me to… perform for you?”

“Yeah, it’ll be awesome!” Her neighbor imitated playing the cello – very poorly. “I want that smoooooooth sound in there. It’s something nopony’s tried before, I guarantee it.”

“I see.” Octavia leaned against the windowsill once more and raised an eyebrow. “You don’t actually expect me to want to play that noise, do you?”

Vinyl gained a smug smile. “Don’t give me that, you like it.” She laughed at Octavia’s disgusted expression. “But seriously, no. I want you to play your kind of music.”

Octavia raised her muzzle in a manner of mock haughtiness. “And how do you expect my elegance to go with your junk?”

“You mean funk.”

“No, no I don’t.”

Vinyl glowered at her. She leveled a bemused frown in return.

There was a moment of intensity…

Then they both burst out laughing.

Octavia regained her control and took a steadying breath, her elegant manner back in short order. “I swear, Vinyl, if I hadn’t known you for half a decade I’d probably hate you right now.”

“I have no doubt of that, Miss Priss.” Vinyl chuckled at her favorite nickname. “I think the only thing that kept you from going all elite is me.”

“Oh, so you’re the one holding me back.”

Vinyl grinned, then gestured invitingly. “Come on, Octavia. Just come by my studio—”

“You mean that rat’s nest of an apartment?”

“—my studio, see what I have in mind. You might be impressed. Look, see?” Vinyl’s horn glowed and a small stack of papers floated through her window. It crossed the alley and Octavia caught it. “I even have some sheet music for ya.”

Octavia gaped at the papers. A little sloppy in its writing, but from what she could see it was all correctly formatted. “I didn’t know you used sheet music.”

Vinyl rubbed her chest with a self-appreciative smile. “Despite what you might think, I am a musician.”

Octavia flipped a few pages thoughtfully. Keeping her head low, she turned her eyes up to study her neighbor and old friend. Vinyl raised her sunglasses and leaned towards her with big, imploring eyes. She was really good at those.

Octavia debated the pros and cons of this idea. Working with Vinyl was bound to be supremely aggravating. Vinyl would also bring the music to the club where she worked; no real potential there for making connections.

Then again, Vinyl had a record out, which was more than Octavia could claim. If Vinyl was able to create a second one with Octavia’s help, Octavia would undoubtedly earn a small percentage of the profits, which would really help her out.

This was almost certain to earn her nothing at all in terms of the respect of the cultural elite, though. In fact, it could be a point against her.

Still Vinyl was a…

Octavia blinked.

Vinyl was a friend.

Slowly, she looked around at her apartment. Her eyes traced the crack in her window, the stain in the carpet of her bedroom, the creaky floors that weren’t quite level. All the things she’d noticed the other night, which were now so blatantly obvious to her. Her little hole away from the world.

The dream came back to her mind, that terrible dream where she was all alone.

“Octavia?”

Her body jerked as if she’d been electrocuted, and she found herself looking out her window once more. Vinyl had pulled her sunglasses up again so they rested on her horn and she was studying her with a concerned frown. “Are you okay?”

Vinyl was her friend.

One of the few.

“Tell you what.” Octavia waved the sheet music demonstrably. “Let me take a look at this. If I like what I see, I’ll come by. Agreed?”

Vinyl smiled, pointed with both hooves and winked. “It’s a deal! But, uh, take it easy, okay? You kinda bugged out for a moment there.”

Octavia nodded with a pleasant smile. “I will. Talk to you later.”

“You too.”

The windows closed, the curtains were replaced. Octavia sat in the hallway and stared at the sheet music in her hooves. She didn’t read it, she just stared and thought on her neighbor and old friend. Parish’s words kept running through her mind over and over again.

For reasons beyond her understanding, she really wanted to get out of the apartment. She wouldn’t go see Vinyl, not yet; it felt too much like she was getting needy. Maybe she would go to one of the local parks to practice today…

Setting the sheet music aside and strapping on her case saddle, Octavia took a moment to seal her letter to Frederick before heading out. Her first destination was the set of mailboxes on the bottom floor to put Frederick’s letter in the ‘send’ box and check her own mail. She hadn’t expected to find anything...

...so she was startled to find an envelope with golden trim in her box. She took it out and flipped it a couple times, but found no return address. Curious, she ripped open the seal and pulled out a letter.

What it said made her jaw drop.


Octavia was trying her best to maintain her typical elite demeanor, but it was hard considering how her stomach was cutting flips. She sat in a large waiting room surrounded by pearly walls, gorgeous tapestries and a stellar view of Canterlot. There were six others waiting with her, but all had come after she did, so she was, in theory, next.

Her eye went to the yellow pegasus at the reception desk. It was rather stunning to think that Celestia’s secretary had a secretary.

Once more she found herself pulling the letter from the pocket of her cello case and reading it, tightly clutching it in her hooves. An important job at Canterlot Castle, she still couldn’t believe it! The gala was one thing, but if she was reading this right then Celestia herself had recognized her playing. Of course, that couldn’t be it, not really…

...so why was she meeting with the princess’s secretary?

Ideas were flying through Octavia’s head at a mile a minute. What would this mean for her career? It might be the launch platform she needed! Then again, the letter requested she be discreet. Why?

The great door opened and an official-looking unicorn stepped out, his expression as haughty as any Canterlot native Octavia had ever seen. Before the door closed, the secretary called her name.

It took Octavia a few tries to get her case saddle on, her hooves slipping on the straps. Struggling to keep her expression as neutral as possible, she made her way to the door. Her knees wobbled and she had to fight to keep from stumbling.

The office of Celestia’s secretary was about as large as the waiting room itself. To Octavia’s right stood a single large window that showed the same view as before, and the secretary’s desk was surprisingly large. It was also covered in papers and scrolls. A large case just behind it held dozens of labeled ink bottles and at least ten filing cabinets were set about the room. To the left was a massive door, which Octavia’s eyes lingered on; was the throne room just behind that wall?

Sitting at the desk and banging on a typewriter was Celestia’s secretary, a unicorn with a white coat – or was it grey? – and brown mane and tail, both tied in a bun. She peered at her work through thick glasses, hardly seeming to notice Octavia’s entry. The placard on her desk read Raven Dupin.

“Ah.” Raven finally looked up. “Miss Melody, I presume?”

Octavia couldn’t help relaxing; Raven had a strangely demure appearance for a pony of such high rank. “Yes, I am Octavia Melody.”

Raven studied her for a moment, seemingly out of curiosity, before extending her hoof. “Do you have the letter?”

“Err, yes.” Octavia pulled it from the pocket of her case and gave it to her. She stepped back, fidgeting just a little as Raven read its contents carefully.

“Good.” Raven turned and dropped the letter, and the distinct sound of a paper shredder hit Octavia’s ears. “Sorry, but this whole situation is a private matter for the princess.”

Octavia stared, her heart beating just a little faster. “A… private matter?”

“Indeed.” Raven leaned forward, her forelegs set in a triangle as she rested her chin on her hooves. Despite her small size, she didn’t seem so demure anymore. “The princess is seeking a special, solo performance. You caught her eye.”

“Oh.” Octavia thought her legs might have been made of jelly, and her throat was suddenly dry as a desert. She sucked in a calming breath and gestured to the cello on her back. “I… Is this an audition? I can… play… if that’s what—”

Raven shook her head. “That will not be necessary. You were not selected for an audition, Miss Melody, but requested by name.”

The air left Octavia’s lungs and she fell to her haunches. “She… she asked for me?”

Raven sighed with a small smile, her horn glowing red. The water cooler in the corner churned bubbles as a small glass was filled and floated over to Octavia. She took it and downed the contents in a single long chug.

“Thank you,” she muttered, wiping her lips. “I needed that.”

“I noticed.” Raven let the glass rest on her desk, still possessing that pleasant smile. “I understand you must be in shock. Opportunities like this don’t come along very often.”

Octavia gave a feeble nod. “I’m beyond grateful, but this is… well, astounding. I can’t imagine why Celestia would seek me out. Do…” She averted her eyes. “Do you know?”

Raven’s smile became wry. “As a matter of fact, I do, but I cannot share. All I can tell you is that there is a certain – let’s call it an ‘ambition’ – in regards to your performance tomorrow night.”

“Tomorrow night?” Octavia glanced towards the window, noting the sun hanging low on the horizon. “But I don’t know what she expects me to play. I will need time to prepare, to practice.”

“There are no set expectations,” Raven replied as if this were a trifling matter. “All the songs you play will be by request.”

“R-request?” Octavia gaped and the butterflies in her stomach decided to do an encore performance. “I… What if she chooses a song I can’t play?”

That wry grin came back. “Believe me, Miss Melody, you will know the songs. Now, you are expected to be at the theatre of the Southern Wing by no later than 10 tomorrow night, ready to play. You can make that, can you not?”

“Y-yes…”

“Good, then we shall look forward to your performance. You will receive your payment in the mail the day after tomorrow.” Raven returned to her typewriter. “That will be all, Miss Melody.”

Octavia blinked. She looked around, feeling a little lost, but finally turned to the door.

“Oh, and Miss Melody?”

Octavia looked back to see the secretary offering a warm smile. “Relax. You’re going to do fine.”

She nodded to Raven robotically before stepping out. Her entire walk home was done in a haze as her mind went over and over what had just happened.


Octavia gazed at the hallway, her heart hammering in her chest. Everything was dark, from the marble forming the walls to the tapestries and paintings decorating them. She chewed her lip and glanced back, but the door was closed. The servant’s instructions had been very straightforward: go to the stage and wait for the audience.

This had to be the single strangest job Octavia had ever accepted. She would have been crazy not to, but now that she was here she found herself wishing she were back home. Even so, she sucked down a calming breath and moved forward on wobbling legs.

“Hello?” She glanced through doors as she passed. “Is anypony here?”

Silence met her raised ears. She eyed the walls, which were lit with inlaid gemstones that glowed a deep blue. They didn’t provide much lighting, just enough to make her path clear. Under normal circumstances she might have found the dim lighting to be soothing, but all it did for her now was make her tremble. Surely they didn’t keep it this dim all the time?

At the end of the hall was a sign indicating the stage was to her right, so Octavia followed. She called out a few more times, but never received an answer. Was this how it always was for ponies hoof-picked by Celestia? Why had she never heard of this kind of performance before?

Octavia paused before a pair of wide doors, the word ‘backstage’ emblazoned above them. She hesitated, her mind frantically going over all the songs she been trying to cram into her head since she’d learned of this job. What kind of music would the princess request? Moozart? Hooftoskie? Amatrottus von Pony? Andrew Lloyd Clopper?

She had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of thousands of musicians in her head, but Octavia feared it wasn’t enough. Celestia was thousands of years old, who knew what she might request? There was simply no way to be sure…

No, this was her opportunity. Octavia sat and clapped her hooves against her cheeks, letting the sting provide a jolt of energy. With one more calming breath and a whispered prayer, she pushed open the doors and entered the stage area.

It was dark backstage, but the low lighting of the rest of the wing made it easy for her to see. Octavia was a little disappointed to find the place devoid of ponies; she had hoped to at least find one individual who might provide her with some kind of instruction. Instead she only found the typical backstage equipment; easels for sheet music, folded chairs, some old stage props, a grand piano in a corner, other such things. Even in the dark, Octavia could see the dust.

She walked by the piano, giving it a cursory glance and tapping a key with her hoof. It offered no sound. Her mind went to Frederick in Germaney. What would he say if he knew where she was at this very moment? If his letters were anything to go by, he might claim to be proud.

Octavia didn’t feel any pride. She looked at her hoof and saw it was shaking. Her eyes went to the curtains that blocked her view of the seats. Slowly, her breath in her throat, she approached the center. What if Celestia was already here, waiting for her to arrive?

“You can do this, Octavia,” she whispered, adjusting her cello case. “Celestia is a nice pony, right? She was at the gala, wasn’t she? You can do this. Make your Aunt Strings proud.”

She waited for several seconds at the center of the stage, her hoof raised and ready to push. Her breathing came in a slow, steady rhythm as she worked to maintain her elite poise. She had to get this right, she had to look the part. It was inconceivable just how much was hinging on—

No, she wouldn’t think on that. She just needed to focus on giving a good performance, that was all. With one last moment of self-assurance, she forced herself to push the curtain aside and step across.

The sheer amount of disturbed dust left her coughing. She shook it off and looked up… to an empty auditorium.

Her moment of strength rushing out of her like a popped balloon.

Octavia raised her head and peered around. The auditorium was almost as dark as the backstage area had been, the numerous glowing stones not doing much to illuminate the massive space. A quartet of chandeliers were high above her, but they were unlit.

A horrible thought struck her: what if she’d been directed to the wrong theatre?


Luna stared up at the double doors of the Nocturnal Wing’s theatre, a firm frown on her lips. How long had it been since this place had been used? She cast a glance in one direction down the hall and saw nopony. Her eyes turned the other direction; still nopony. The place was eerily silent, even more than was normal for this part of the castle.

Were Celestia and she being given some privacy? Luna couldn’t imagine why. She just hoped this wasn’t leading to one of Celestia’s numerous ill-conceived ‘plans.’ She was growing very tired of those.

It probably was. Luna considered turning about and leaving to begin her nightmare patrol; she was in no mood for her sister’s games. She fought the temptation down, however, for she knew Celestia meant well, and perhaps there was more to this ‘secret meeting’ than what was floating about Luna’s head. So, with a weary sigh, she stepped forward and pushed through the door.

The ticket hall was empty and dark, as expected. Luna paused to glance around, but there was no sign of Celestia. She was probably waiting in the auditorium—

Luna’s eyebrow rose as she heard a distinct click. Her head lowered and a dark fire burned in her mind as she slowly turned to observe the door she’d just walked through. Her horn shined for just a second, testing at the handle. As expected, it was locked.

Now she knew Celestia was planning something.

Closing her eyes, Luna concentrated and sought out her sister. She’d expected to find her hiding somewhere in the auditorium, but no, the small tug on her horn was aimed towards the center of the castle. Celestia was in bed, where she was meant to be at this time of night.

Which could only mean that she was working through third parties, loyal little servants eager to play her games. Luna sneered… but also had to acknowledge being just a little impressed. After all, it wasn’t the average mortal who could hide from her. Not for long; she revised her magic and swept the theatre a second time, this time with a mere life detection spell.

She found only one soul in the whole theatre, and it was waiting in the auditorium. Setting her lips in a firm frown to make sure her disapproval would be immediately recognized, Luna made her way to the doors leading to the auditorium. She wasted no time pushing through, her eyes going directly to the stage. There was a single pony there, and she looked up at Luna swiftly.

Her breath caught. Luna promptly retreated back into the ticket hall, her hoof raised against the closed door and her eyes wide.

It was her.

“Celestia,” she whispered through gritted teeth, “if ever I get my hooves on the Elements of Harmony, I swear on our Holy Mother I’ll banish you to the sun for a thousand years.”

It would be all too easy to walk away and pretend she hadn’t seen the pony. A locked door had no chance of stopping her. She could claim she’d never arrived, that she’d decided not to go…

...but Octavia had seen her. One way or another, Celestia would figure out the truth.

Yet to invite Octavia’s scorn…

Luna lowered her head in shame. She was thinking about running away? Again? She felt like such a coward. That feeling would be a thousand times worse if Celestia confronted her about it. And what of Octavia? How much did she know about why she was here? Knowing Celestia… not much.

She stood tall and squared her shoulders. She was the Princess of the Night, and she was not going to let this get the better of her! If anything, this would prove to Celestia how hopeless it all was. What did she have to lose? Aside from the one real source of relaxation she’d ever had… not that she would be able to bring herself to sneak into Octavia’s dreams after this.

With a heavy heart, Luna pushed her way through the door and walked down the aisle. Octavia had her cello set on a stand and dropped into a deep bow as she approached.

“G-good evening, Princess. I… I wasn’t expecting you.”

Luna stopped just before the stage, maintaining her royal posture as she stared at the pony. Already she could hear the fear in her voice. The sound left a ball of ice in her stomach, but she held her solemn expression. “And who, pray tell, were you expecting?”

Octavia sat up and averted her eyes. “Your sister.”

Luna tilted her head just slightly. “They did not tell you why you are here, then?”

The musician shook her head, unable to meet Luna’s eye. “I was only told that I would be performing solo for the princess.” She blushed and wilted a little. “Now that I think about it, I realize they never said which princess.”

Luna sighed and turned her face away. “If it is any consolation, I did not know about this, either.”

“You didn’t?”

“As such…”

Luna observed the pony with one eye. Octavia put on a good show with her posh pose, but her emotions were breaking through more than enough for Luna to recognize them; there was a slight shake in her knees, her tail was shifting in a jerky way, and her lips moved as if she wanted to chew them. Yes, all very familiar signs to the Princess of the Night.

“…you do not have to stay.”

She turned and started to leave.

“What? B-but… you don’t want to hear me play?”

“If you are afraid, leave.” Luna didn’t look back, though her chest was tight with sadness. It was all she could do to maintain her proud pose.

Silence filled the auditorium, punctuated by the hard echo of her hooves.

“No.”

Luna came to a stumbling halt, her eyes widening a touch. She gave herself a moment to regain her royal air before slowly turning her head back to the stage. “No?”

Octavia was by her cello, bow in hoof as she turned to Luna. There was something in her manner that the princess had never imagined she would see: concern.

“Your sister specifically requested that I come here and play for you.” Octavia held Luna’s gaze, her elite manner gone entirely. “She must think that I have something to offer you. I do not know what it is, but please, Princess Luna, let me try.”

Luna completely forgot about her royal poise, her lips parting in an expression that vastly underrepresented her surprise. She turned to face Octavia properly and shifted from hoof to hoof. “But… are you not afraid?”

“I was,” Octavia admitted with a blush. “I thought I was coming here to be harshly judged. But… that’s not really why I’m here, is it?”

Luna didn’t dare to hope, but still she approached. “And… why do you believe you are here?”

Octavia hesitated. “I’m not sure… but I think it is no coincidence that I played for you at the Gala three months ago.”

So she was connecting the dots, or at least what dots were visible to her. Luna sighed and bowed her head.

“My sister enjoys meddling in my affairs, but she means well. I did not expect her to try something like this. I suppose it’s my own fault for underestimating her.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s nothing. I just…” Luna raised her head to offer a warm smile. “I would very much like to hear you play again.”

Octavia returned the smile, and for a few moments there seemed to be a pleasant understanding between them. It felt to Luna like a first step. A first step to what, she couldn’t tell, but it was a good feeling, nonetheless.

Octavia raised her bow.

“Princess Luna, what’s your pleasure?”

Author's Note:

Paricay: Introduction

I don't intend for Vinyl to make a big splash in this story, but I do have a specific scene in mind involving her. We shall see how far I take it as time goes on. The same can be said for Frederick, although we're going to be hearing from him a few times as well.

There's a fundamental concept behind this story, a concept that was at the core of the original and a primary guiding thought for how this one will develop: the romance needs to be a slow burn. Due to my specific headcanon involving these two, I can't imagine them just jumping into one another's hooves. Not only that, I wanted to show how a steady buildup of affection can be poignant and as powerful as the throes of passion that more often grace romances these days. The Gentle Nights isn't just a nice name: it is very indicative of the kind of romance that will grow in this story.

I say all of this now for one reason: to make it clear that, no, they are not yet attracted to one another and this chapter does not make them a couple.

Yet.