• Published 1st Oct 2014
  • 3,634 Views, 435 Comments

Story Shuffle - FanOfMostEverything

Thirty-one one-shots inspired by thirty-one random Magic cards.

  • ...


Octavia tuned her instruments: her cello, her body, and her mind. The quest for pure tones was more than just rote preparation. It was a form of meditation. By seeking harmony in her music, she achieved harmony with it. The cello became more than just an oddly shaped box; it grew into an extension of herself. It didn't matter whether she was tuning up for a performance before thousands or a private recital like tonight's. This was her passion, her destiny. No matter how many were in the audience, that audience deserved her best.

It still astonished Octavia that some of her peers saw their work as little more than a job. That such beauty and artistry could be reduced to unfeeling routine... It was another reason to meditate, to reflect on her role and its importance and to renew her sense of wonder. She'd never again be the naive filly who stepped off the train onto Canterhorn Terminal with little more than a cello on her back, a treble clef on her rump, and a dream in her heart, but as long as she could see a hint of that filly in the mirror, she was content.

Of course, there were certain aspects of her youth that she could do without. That same naivety had believed that nopony with a name like Pie would be taken seriously in a place like Canterlot, so she'd overcompensated. Using her middle name wasn't so bad, but tacking a moniker as overblown as "Philharmonica" on the end...

"Tavi? You ready?"

Octavia blinked as her focus shifted outside of herself. She nodded to Beauty Brass. "Is everypony else?"

Beauty gave her a flat look. "Yeah, like always. Harpo's chomping at the bit. Fred's trying to keep him occupied, but we have a minute or two before we'll have to play without a harpist."

"Ah." Octavia went to all fours and positioned her cello on her back with practiced ease. She bowed her head. "As always, my apologies."

Beauty waved a hoof. "Eh, it happens. Not like you're the only one who gets lost in the music sometimes."

As the two mares left the guest room, Octavia said, "That reminds me. Did you—"

"Yes, I made sure the sousaphone's lubrication spell was charged up." Beauty shook her head, but she was smiling. "Honestly, I get stuck in the thing once and you guys never let me forget it."

"After the way you reacted when Frederick suggested cutting it off of you?" Octavia allowed herself a slight grin. "If none of us will ever be able to forget it, what makes you think we'll let you?"

"Sheesh. With friends like you, who needs elegies?"

Octavia winced. "I suppose I deserved that."

They entered the small hall where they'd be performing. There was room for perhaps twenty ponies, and the stage wasn't much more than an elevated platform. The elaborately carved dark wooden furniture, equally dark paneling, and wrought-iron magelight sconces made it feel smaller, almost stuffy.

Harpo Parish Nadermane's glower went well with the rather dour impression. "If Beauty made a music pun, I can only assume so. Are you ready to grace us with your presence, Miss Philharmonica?"

Frederick Horseshoepin peeked over Harpo's shoulder "If not, we could probably manage another few rounds of Twenty Questions."

Harpo's stare intensified. "Please tell me you're ready."

"I am," said Octavia.

Harpo sagged with relief. "Thank Celestia. It's so hard being the only professional in the room. Scales, everypony."

They went from do to do and back in flawless harmony. After the arpeggio, Octavia performed her usual custom, going higher and higher up the scale, up through notes that shouldn't have been possible for a cello. Only when she heard the wine glasses in one cabinet resonate with the notes did she stop.

Fred shook his head. "No matter how many times I hear that, it's still creepy. You should not be able to hit higher notes than I can."

Beauty laughed. "That's a treble clef mark for you. The only reason I don't do the opposite is because I'd shake my fillings loose. Well, that, and I'm not superstitious."

Octavia shrugged. "What can I say? It reminds me of the day I got those clefs."

"In any case," said Harpo, "Frederick, if you could tell the ambassador that we're ready?"

Fred snorted. "I always go get the audience when we do private gigs."

"Yeah," said Beauty, "because Tavi and Harpo have get into position and I have thirty-five pounds of brass coiled around me. You get to sit, you twelve-inch pianist. You can survive walking thirty feet and back."

"Sit the way I do for a whole performance, Little Miss Locked-Knees, then tell me how good I have it." Even as Fred said this, he was off his stool and making for the master bedroom.

To Octavia's practiced eye, Beauty visibly stiffened as she put on her mask of professionalism. Fred returned shortly thereafter, also holding himself much more seriously.

Behind him were three griffins. The one in the middle was a sleek male with aspects of falcon and panther. On either side of him were near-identical hulking slabs of furred and feathered muscle, eagle-lions both. Ambassador Gunter seated himself in a recliner. His security detail flanked him like statues in front of the First National Bank, watching everything with avian attentiveness.

As Fred took his seat again, Harpo nodded to their audience. "Sirs."

The griffin on Gunter's left cleared her throat meaningfully.

"Sirs and madam. We are very pleased to perform for you tonight. As per the honorable ambassador's request, we will be performing selected works of Johann Sebastian Beak. We hope you enjoy."

Beauty tapped her hoof against the floor for four beats, and then there was music. It flowed out from Octavia's soul, her bow and cello as much a part of her as her hooves and heart. Gunter was rapt at first, but after some time, turned his attention to other matters. Octavia didn't mind. She was used to being in the background. Attention wasn't the point. The music was.

Once Gunter was finished with whatever affairs he felt were necessary, he dined, having something sufficiently seasoned and sauced such that Octavia couldn't tell it used to breathe. They played on. Soon they had his full attention once more, and held it for the rest of the performance.

Once they were finished, Gunter applauded, an odd clacking sound as his talons met one another. "Exquisite," he said. "I'd heard good things about your group. I see they weren't unfounded."

The quartet dipped their heads as one, Fred standing for the occasion. "Thank you, sir," said Harpo.

Octavia silently echoed him.

The group was much less dignified as they left the Griffish embassy that night. Well, Beauty and Fred were. They were bouncing in an rather nostalgic way.

"He liked us!" cried Fred.

"I know!" said Beauty.

"The Griffish ambassador liked us!"

"I know!"

Harpo sighed. "Must you two?"

"Oh, I'm sorry," said Fred, smiling and clearly not sorry in the least, "I should just treat this like all the other times we got our hooves in the door to international stardom." He gasped and put a hoof to his cheek. "Oh, wait! That's never happened before! I suppose I can set a precedent then!"

Octavia smiled. "Fred's right, Harpo. This is rather big. Let them have this."

"See?" Beauty cried. "Even Tavi's on our side here! We need to celebrate! Party at Fred's!"

"Yeah! Wait, what?"

Beauty laughed, cried "Too late!", and galloped towards Fred's apartment. He chased after her, screaming. Harpo and Octavia watched them go, and he gave a hint of a grin. "Well, I suppose I should at least tag along and make sure they'll be presentable for rehearsal tomorrow. The Gala's in less than two weeks."

"I'm afraid I'll have to bow out," said Octavia. "Somepony has to do the same for Vinyl, after all."

Harpo nodded. "Too true. Give her my regards."

"Will do." The two parted ways.

After a few blocks, Octavia took a sharp turn away from Canterhorn Terminal. Vinyl liked to project an utter lack of restraint, but she actually knew her limits well. No, Octavia's true destination was entirely different. Soon enough, she approached the gates of Castle Canterlot.

The Night Guards stationed at the gate barred her path with spread wings and glared at her. "Who goes there?" demanded one.

"A gardener."

He nodded, but didn't step aside. "Good pruning," said the other.

"Calm nights," Octavia answered. With that, they folded their wings and let her pass.

Ever since Luna had reclaimed the night and her throne, the magelights in the palace's entrance hall were doused while she held court. The hall was beautiful at any time, but the play of starlight and soft darkness presented an entirely different image than the golden glory of daylight. Now there was suggestion rather than impression, hints of what might be rather than a bold statement of what was. It was like half of an optical illusion that had taken incredibly long to click into place, and Octavia wondered how she ever could've missed it.

She shook herself out of her woolgathering and pressed a hoof against one of the wall panels. It clicked, then swung open into the hidden servants' corridors. Octavia went in, the hidden door closing behind her. She worked her way through the twisty passages, heading steadily downward, past the wine cellars, the larders, the refrigerated cake vault.

Octavia stopped just short of the catacombs, where the magics rooting Canterlot to the mountain did strange things to space and an unwary pony could find herself lost in the abandoned crystal mines. Just to one side of that fateful staircase was a door. Given where it stood, it should've been some fell portal, carved from obsidian and inscribed with skulls and dread imprecations directed towards those who would dare to cross its threshold.

Should've, but wasn't. The door was a bog standard thing of wood and frosted glass that wouldn't have looked out of place in any Manehattan office building. Aside from its incongruity, its only notable feature was that the glass seemed blank where it would normally display a name of some kind. It seemed that way, but a pony who knew what to look for could find a hint of purple in one corner, a twisting shape somewhat like a lowercase "h."

Octavia focused on that symbol, waited until she heard the faint click of a latch, and opened the door. She bowed as she entered the room, the door swinging shut behind her. "Your Highness."

Like the entrance, the room was much more ordinary than seemed appropriate. Filing cabinets, in and out trays, even one of those office toys with the row of little pendulums. It seemed a grossly improper place for the alicorn behind the desk.

"Hello, Inkie," she said with a smile. Her coat was a dark grey, and only because nothing could be as black as her mane or tail. No star shone in those voids, though the edges quickly lightened to a soft white. "How'd it go? And do get up."

Octavia stood at attention. "The ambassador drank four glasses of wine after I applied the appropriate resonance to the glasses. Between that and the performance, his desire for war was thoroughly terminated. He will very likely revise his assessment of our military capabilities before sending it to Gryphheim."

The princess nodded. "Excellent work. I've come to expect nothing less. It's easy enough to end a life, but you're one of my best when it comes to ending ideas."

Octavia gave a slight nod. She didn't trust herself with anything else right now. "Thank you, Princess Temperance."

Temperance gave a brief laugh. "Well, you're not calling me Mi Finale anymore. I suppose that's progress." She plucked a form out of her in tray with her indigo magic. "I'll contact you though the usual channels should I need your services again. Thank you again, Inkie."

Octavia dipped her head again. "Of course, Your Highness. It is more than a service for me. It is art."

Author's Note:

Equestria has no Royal Assassinorum. Assassins do not permeate every level of society. They do not possess a variety of means to end virtually everything imaginable, and several others besides. There is no assassin standing right behind you.

And yes, in the continuity of Elementals of Harmony, Octavia's is Incantessa Octavia Pie, youngest of Pinkie's siblings. I'm citing the grandfather clause on this one; that particular detail was decided before the beginning of Season 2.

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