• Published 24th Jul 2012
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Symphony for Moon and Sun - GrassAndClouds2

Lyra must help Octavia play a piece of forbidden music. Both will be ruined if she fails.

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Meeting in Canterlot

Lyra hadn’t wanted to wait, but at Bonbon’s urging she accepted a two-day delay as a compromise between ‘leaving immediately’ and ‘not going’. So she’d written Octavia a long letter telling her that she would probably be coming to visit. She’d also set up reservations at a hotel, bought train tickets, and made the other necessary logistics arrangements. Soon, she was all set to take a weeks’ journey to Canterlot.

She’d considered asking the other Elements for help, but there was nothing they could really do. If the Symphony was really happening, Lyra was the only one with the necessary music skills to help Octavia. And if politics were involved… well, Trixie did have some knowledge of that field, but from what Lyra knew, her presence would likely just make them both targets of the nobles. Better to try to stay out of sight when she went to see Octavia.

Lyra also did as much research as she could on the Symphony, though of course she was limited by not having access to the Canterlot libraries or the Music Academy archives. She couldn’t get a score for the work in Ponyville, but she was able to dig up some old scholarly analyses of the work from ancient newspapers and journals. It was every bit as complicated as she remembered, and she spent hours locked in her room, studying the texts and trying to work out the best approach to performing the piece which was not to be performed.

And finally, the day came. Bonbon received confirmation from the concert hall – Octavia was indeed slated to play the Symphony for Moon and Sun. The newspapers and magazines from Canterlot were buzzing with the news; apparently the vast majority of the Court was now expected to attend, and the few remaining tickets were being sold at prices that even the rich could scarcely afford. ‘This may well be,’ one paper said, ‘The only chance in any of our lifetimes to hear the infamous piece as performed by a master of her craft!” If it was a prank, it was one that had fooled the entire press corps.

It was thus that Lyra found herself on the Ponyville train station, waiting with Bonbon for the one o’clock to Canterlot. Bonbon hugged Lyra goodbye. “Be careful,” she urged. “Please.”

“I will.” Lyra looked nervous, but resolute all the same. “I promise.”

The train arrived, and Lyra soon found herself en route to Canterlot.

“What time is it?”

It’s almost up, thought Octavia. But she only said, “Five minutes past eight.”

She’d been shut up in her practice room for the past two days, only leaving to grab hasty meals at a small, shabby restaurant whose single greatest virtue was that the staff didn’t stare and whisper while she ate. Rather than take the time to go home to sleep, she slept on the practice room floor; for grooming she used an old, forgotten public bathroom in the castle. She knew, intellectually, that she didn’t have any idea how to play the piece in a way that would please Luna, but the relentless practice at least allowed her to distract herself from that issue.

But it wasn’t much of a distraction, because the practicing wasn’t going well. Octavia had always prided herself on her ability to perform without letting her own emotions influence her music, but her turmoil was such that even she found it a chore to concentrate on what she was doing. She was slowly mastering the sequences of notes, the intricate rhythms, the multiple voices which stretched to the very limits of the cello’s range, but she was completely unable to connect with the piece. It might as well have been a random assortment of notes for all a listener would be able to tell.

Now she was on her way back from the restaurant, slowly climbing the stairs to get to her practice room up in the tower. The pony who had asked her time, a youngish pegasus page, was literally the only pony she’d spoken with besides her waiter since her agent had quit. In other circumstances, she could have seen the silence as a kind of vacation. As it was, though, it was only a further reminder of what she’d have to look forward to after the performance was over.

Enough whining. I’m not a foal. Back to work, she thought. She wanted to go over the first movement several more times before the end of the day. It was the one that would introduce the main voices, so it would need to be as clear as possible – while maintaining all the ornaments and intricacies, of course. If she got through that, she could start the second movement. The third and fourth would have to wait a day or two… and she still had no idea where to even start with writing an ending.

“So I should begin as soon as I can,” she muttered, as she entered the practice room and locked the door behind her. She picked up her cello, hefted the bow, and began to play. And what followed could, technically, be called music.

The first voice, which Octavia understood to represent the Equestrian citizens, began and continued for a while, representing that the ponies were doing things. And it was happy, indicating that the things were going well. And then came the second voice, Celestia, and she also did things. Now she had to get ready for the third voice, Luna, who would also have things to do, and…

This isn’t working, thought Octavia, as she tried all the harder to push past her own fears and worries and other feelings and find the emotion in the piece. It was there, it probably wasn’t even hard to find, and if the stakes weren’t quite so high, she’d probably be able to grasp it easily. But as it was…

She heard a tone behind her from just in front of the chamber’s door.

Turning in disbelief – that wall was perfectly soundproofed, and no music could penetrate it – she saw nothing in front of the door. But on the other side of it, visible through the window, was a green hoof waving around.


Octavia went to the door, opened it, and could only stare at the pony who was waiting for her.


As Octavia approached the door, Lyra tried to push aside her stress and frustration. It wasn’t easy, but she did try.

It had taken forever to find the cellist, for one thing. She hadn’t been home, hadn’t been there in over a day according to her neighbors, and wasn’t in any of her usual practice rooms or restaurants either. She’d looked for hours before lucking into finding a pony that could help her – a tallish white unicorn who said that he’d seen a gray mare with a cello in one of Canterlot Castle’s towers.

Then came the joys of actually getting into the castle. She could understand why she had to sign in, and be scanned, and even searched, but it took forever. She tried to speed things up by saying that she was a friend of Representative Lulamoon – in a technical sense, this could be considered Element-related business, after all – but then things seemed to just drag on even longer, to the point where Lyra wondered if Trixie had somehow offended a bigwig in the guards. It was past dinner by the time she was cleared to move on.

And then, lastly, she had to actually find Octavia. Nopony that she asked seemed to know where Octavia’s practice room was, as Lyra had been expecting, so she had to search by hoof all the tower rooms that weren’t marked as being used for something else. By the time she came to Octavia’s tower, she was quite exhausted. And by the time she found Octavia’s room, she was ready for a cold drink and a long nap.

But she’d found it at last. She verified this by standing as high up as she could on her hind legs, allowing her to just barely peak through the window and see the back of Octavia’s head. Sighing with relief, Lyra knocked.

Of course, the room was soundproofed.

After about a solid minute of pounding away, none of which Octavia seemed to hear – and Lyra couldn’t hear the cellist either, even though her motions indicated that she was playing a very loud piece -- Lyra decided to go to plan B. Summoning a magical musical note wasn’t too difficult, so she focused the spell on a spot just through the door, then cast. Unfortunately, that was how she found out that the door had an anti-magic spell, probably to prevent magical eavesdropping. So Lyra had to cast the spell again, this time putting in enough raw power to push through the magical barrier – quite a bit, as it turned out. That left Lyra dizzy and spent, but it at least got the cellist’s attention.

As Octavia turned and approached the door, Lyra attempted once more to banish her weariness. She was here to talk to Octavia. Her own problems at getting there didn’t matter. She would apologize for her disheveled state, and—

Octavia opened the door, and Lyra completely forgot about her day.

Physically, Octavia looked fine, like she’d just woken up from a nap. Her coat was smooth and unruffled, her back unbowed, her legs straight, even her mane and tail had retained their characteristic smoothness despite the circumstances. But, there was still something off about the cellist, something indicating a sort of exhaustion… no, not exhaustion. Hopelessness. It was her eyes, Lyra decided. Her eyes were wandering all over, like she couldn’t be bothered to focus on anything for more than a second or too.

Lyra had never seen Octavia despair before, but she knew that was what she was seeing. Octavia took great pride in facing any difficulty without flinching away from it; she scorned the weakness that might make other ponies cringe or look away. And now, the mere act of talking to Lyra seemed to be almost beyond her, sending her searching for some escape. Lyra’s stomach turned. Tavi…

“Lyra?” the cellist managed.

“Octavia… what happened to you?”

It couldn’t just be that the practicing was tiring her. Lyra had seen Octavia go for days without rest to master difficult pieces, and even then she’d retained her fundamental sense of poise. Octavia seemed spent on a deeper level, somehow. This was new, and not a good sign.

“Lyra, what are you doing here?” managed Octavia. “Why did you come?”

“I got an invitation to your next concert.” Lyra paused. “Octavia, what’s going on? Why are you playing the Symphony for Moon and Sun?”

Octavia looked away. “It doesn’t matter why, Lyra. You know that.”

“You can’t play that piece. You know the history.”

“And yet I must. I cannot cancel on Luna Herself.” Octavia smiled, but it was bitter. “There is no way out of this. If you came to persuade me to take one, I am sorry that your trip was in vain. I hope you have a safe trip back to Ponyville.”

She moved to shut the door, but Lyra stuck out a hoof and blocked her from closing it. “Octavia, talk to me! I need to know what’s going on.”

Octavia shrugged. “I am paying for the mistake I made in betraying you. That is all there is to it. I don’t deserve your pity.”

“Nopony deserves this—“

“I said, I don’t need your pity,” said Octavia, in a slightly stronger voice. “You don’t need to lie to me.”

Lyra paused, thinking of what to do. She had to find out what was really going on. “How long has it been since you’ve had a decent meal?”

“I ate twenty minutes ago.”

“I said ‘a decent meal,’ not whatever junk the local canteen serves. I know how you get.”

“Lyra, you know that I don’t care about things like that when the music—“

“Well, I do.” Lyra smiled a little. “Let’s get something real to eat, Tavi.”

“I – first of all, please, my name is Octavia. And second, I don’t have time. If I’m to have any hope of mastering this work, I cannot spend the time it would take to order food in a fancy, sit-down restaurant.”

“You won’t master it if you’re exhausted either. You taught me that physical condition is a crucial component of any performance. That includes a proper diet.” Lyra went over to Octavia and gently steered her out the door. “Come on. Won’t be an hour.”

Octavia hesitated, and then followed Lyra.