Lunaverse. Octavia tries to recruit Lyra; Trixie doesn't trust her. Who will Lyra believe?
Lyra is pleasantly surprised to find that her friend and mentor, Octavia Philharmonica, is in Ponyville. It seems that Canterlot will be having a three-month long music festival, they need a top-notch lyre player, and Octavia has recommended Lyra. Lyra is thrilled, of course, but torn as to whether she can really leave her friends for months to go play music in Canterlot. Meanwhile, Trixie is sure that this is just a political move and that one of the Canterlot factions thinks having Lyra under their hooves would be helpful. Unfortunately, Lyra is all too aware of how manipulative Trixie can be. She thinks that Trixie's warnings are just a selfish attempt to keep Lyra nearby in Ponyville, and is only driven closer to accepting Octavia's offer. Can Trixie patch things up with Lyra and expose Octavia's scheme? Lunaverse story.
The sounds of lyre music drifted across Ponyville Park, blanketing the fields in Lyra Heartstring’s latest composition.
Lyra sat at her usual bench, carefully balancing her lyre with one hoof and strumming it with another. Her eyes were shut and she swayed slightly as she manipulated the instrument, as if she herself were lost within her own music. Her horn glowed slightly, the only visual evidence of the minor spell Lyra was casting that amplified the sound of her lyre so that all in the park could hear it. No ponies spoke, not even foals, and even the birds had fallen silent. All attention was on Lyra and the music flowing gently from her instrument.
Lyra smiled slightly as she entered the cadenza, the improvised section, and began to rapidly strum a high pitched, bird-like melody that drew a few gasps of amazement from the crowd. Distantly, she noted that she was in her element. There was only her, her instrument, and a group of fans who were giving her their fullest attention. And, of course, a few of those fans were extra-special to her. Bonbon, as always, was front and center, and Ditzy was floating just above her, a grinning Dinky on her back. That reminded her, she’d been planning on writing a happy and energetic dance soon, maybe she could dedicate it to Dinky…
But all these thoughts flashed by in a moment and were gone, because she had music to play and she had to focus. The improvised section was ending; the next part was difficult and she had to be at the top of her game to pull it off. She had a rapid glissando along the strings, followed by –
Her ears, sharpened and tuned by thousands of hours of practice, heard hoofsteps approaching her. There were a few murmurs from the audience, a startled tweet of a bird. Lyra pushed this knowledge aside. It wasn’t important if somepony wanted a better view. The music was what mattered.
Anyway, after the glissando was a series of rapid sixteenth notes, then chords in both the lowest and highest reaches of her lyre. She’d been trying to improve that part, because having to play the low notes prevented her from fully manipulating the higher ones, but she hadn’t found a way around it yet. Still, the music was lovely, and –
She heard, faintly, the sounds of somepony opening up latches on a box.
This, too, she ignored. Maybe it was a photographer unpacking her camera, maybe an especially oblivious foal with a lunchbox. They might as well have been on another world. Lyra finished the cadenza with a flourish, strummed a flowing glissando that made all the ponies gasp, plucked out the sixteenth notes, and –
Was that a cello?
Lyra’s eyes opened in shock, her hooves hesitating over the lyre for a fraction of a second, and she saw a gray-coated, black-maned pony standing next to her, playing a cello like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Octavia glanced at her, expression stern and implacable. The meaning of the glance was obvious. It was the first thing Octavia had ever taught Lyra – when you played, you kept playing, no matter what. A real musician would never give up in the middle of a performance, but would keep going until the end. The audience deserved it, and so did the music.
Lyra grinned and immediately resumed playing. The hiccup was so small that she doubted even the most observant ponies listening noticed it.
Though they had never rehearsed this piece together, they meshed wonderfully, with Octavia improvising the low notes as Lyra’s hooves danced on her highest strings. The light, airy sound of the lyre contrasted beautifully with the rich cello, and Lyra wove intricate melodies around the steady progression that Octavia was building. The Ponyville ponies, none of whom had heard Lyra play in duos before, were floored. Octavia’s music seemed to be laying down a structure that Lyra’s notes could build on, with the result reaching far greater heights than either could construct alone.
Lyra swept her hooves downwards, descending to the lowest reaches of her instrument and approaching the upper limits of the cello. She smiled at Octavia, and inclined her head just slightly. Come on, she thought. Let’s really knock ‘em dead.
Octavia’s glance remained implacable for a long moment… and then she winked. Lyra’s smile became an ear-to-ear grin.
Octavia began to play higher and higher notes, Lyra descended still lower, and then, with little more than a nod between them, Octavia ‘skipped’ over Lyra and began to play higher notes than her.
It took the ponies listening a few moments to catch on, and even then, they could only stare in awe. Cellos were never played that high; it was too hard to do – but there was Octavia, playing Lyra’s melodies perfectly. And Lyra had taken Octavia’s place, plucking out a solid structure, though she reached the very limits of her lyre. It was new and fascinating; it was music nopony there had heard before. It was music that should have been impossible… and yet they were hearing it. Even the smartest and most observant of the ponies in the audience had to reassure themselves that their ears were not deceiving them.
And once they did, they couldn’t restrain themselves. A wave of applause, of hooves thundering against the ground, resounded from every corner of the park.
Lyra and Octavia exchanged places again, and Lyra gracefully ended the piece with a soft and fast succession of thirty-second notes. She lowered her harp at the same time that Octavia bowed slightly, and then ponies were cheering and screaming her name, and she felt as happy as the day she’d learned that she had received a scholarship to the Magic Academy.
Eventually, the cheering died down, Lyra received a fortune in tips – more than triple her usual amount – and the other ponies slowly dispersed. Only then could Lyra turn to Octavia and warmly tap her hoof.
“I’ve missed you,” she said.
Octavia blushed a little, but she smiled as well. “And I you.”
Bonbon approached. “Hey Lyra. Who’s your friend?”
“Bonbon! This is Octavia Philharmonica. She was my mentor at music school. She’s also the greatest string player I’ve ever heard, and,” Lyra smiled again, “One of my very best friends.”
My little pony, My little pony Ahh ahh ahh ahhh... My little pony Friendship never meant that much to me My little pony But you're all here and now I can see Stormy weather; Lots to share A musical bond; With love and care Teaching laughter; It's an easy feat, And magic makes it all complete! You have my little ponies How'd I ever make so many true friends?
“…so Piebald Pianissimo really went to Manehattan?”
Lyra had insisted on ordering lunch for Octavia, as the gray mare had refused to take any of the bits they’d earned (‘Your performance, your tips,’ she’d said). They’d gone to the fanciest café in town, La Fleur Rouge, since Lyra knew that Octavia would probably disdain the more rustic fare that was served in most Ponyville restaurants. After ordering, she began to ask about the other friends she’d made at the Academy. Bonbon was with them, but ate in silence, allowing Lyra to catch up with her companion.
“Yes. She received an offer to play for a musical.” Octavia daintily sipped her daffodil wine. “Personally, I think it’s a very good move for her. She always preferred harmonizing with a singer instead of solos, and she’ll have plenty of opportunity for that now.”
“Still a freelance musician.” Octavia smiled. “Granted, my clientele tend towards Counts and Vicerienes, but I don’t have a permanent appointment. Nobles with birthdays, weddings, even funerals hire me, and I perform for them. Nothing as prestigious as a full-time orchestra job, but…”
“It sounds amazing,” said Lyra. “You must get to meet so many important ponies!”
“A few here and there,” said Octavia, still smiling. “But Lyra, we’ve talked about me and our friends for the past twenty minutes. Don’t you think I want to know what’s going on in your life?”
Lyra blushed. “I couldn’t…”
“Lyra, really. I appreciate that you respect my abilities, but you shouldn’t idolize me. It’s not like you’re not worthy of discussion just because I’m in the room.” Octavia took Lyra’s hoof. “We are not just mentor and trainee anymore; we are friends. So please – tell me how you have been doing. I want to know. In particular: are you able to find suitable venues for your performances?”
“You just saw one of them,” said Lyra. “But, yes, I do get asked to play at weddings and parties, that kind of thing. Cute-ceaneras too, especially for the richer families.”
“Good. A musician without an audience, without ponies to perform for, is just a dreamer.”
"And, judging from her, a musician with an audience is a snorer," joked Bonbon.
"Hey!" Lyra giggled and nudged her.
Octavia smiled. “And… what else? Besides your music, what else is happening in your life?”
Lyra began to rattle off what had happened during the past few months, including moving in with Bonbon and dealing with several of the weirder minor crises that had hit Ponyville. “…but at least they got the griffin out of town, thank Luna. I’d have gone crazy if she and Rainbow Dash had played any more pranks.”
“And that fake secretary you mentioned?”
“Gone. It’s been kind of crazy sometimes, but at least we can usually get through things in one piece. Sometimes, I kind of miss the days back at the Academy, when the biggest scandal was that Jokester set up two tin cans and tied them together with string so that Jester could whisper test answers to him!”
Octavia laughed at the memory. “Yes, and then the invisibility spell failed halfway through the exam, and everypony saw he had a tin can in his ear… perhaps he should have studied instead.” She grinned. “I’ll admit, I haven’t been keeping close tabs on Ponyville. But I did hear that a lot of… interesting things happen here.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“Although, I think you forgot one thing.” The cellist chuckled. “Apparently, you helped save the world by fighting off Corona?”
Lyra blushed a deep scarlet. She hadn’t brought that up; she couldn’t think of any way to do it that wouldn’t have sounded like bragging. “Uh… maybe?”
Octavia's laugh was a warm and rich sound, like, Lyra thought, her cello. “Congratulations. I always knew you were special, Lyra. Which Element were you, again?”
Behind Octavia, Lyra saw the door to the café open and Trixie, and the Doos entered. Lyra waved them over.
“Well, that’s most fitting. I don’t think I ever knew you to miss a practice, rehearsal, or show. You were the most reliable trainee I ever had.” Octavia finished her glass of wine. “And it shows. You truly have a prodigious ability, Lyra.”
“Thanks. Coming from you, that means a lot.”
“Hi Miss Heartstrings!” chirped Dinky as the others approached. “How are you?”
“Great, Dinky! Everypony, may I present Octavia Philharmonica, my mentor from my time at the Academy and one of the finest cellists in Equestria.”
Octavia bowed slightly. “A pleasure to meet you all.”
Lyra performed the introductions. Dinky hopped off of Ditzy’s back and beamed up at Octavia. “Your music is really pretty,” she told Octavia.
“Indeed. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything so lovely.” Ditzy glanced between the two musicians. “I don’t suppose you have records?”
Octavia and Lyra both chuckled. Octavia said, “Regrettably, I have not yet achieved that level of fame. I haven’t produced a record since my days at the Academy. Although… for friends of Lyra, I see no reason that the two of us could not, perhaps, put one together.” Lyra nodded eagerly. Octavia continued, saying, “That is, if this town has the necessary facilities. Is there a recording studio?”
Ditzy smiled brightly. “Vinyl Scratch has one. I’ll ask if you two can borrow it.”
Dinky asked, “Miss Philharmonica, how could you go to the Magic Academy if you aren’t a unicorn?”
“The Academy, in addition to their music scholarship, had a dual-study program with students from my institution, the Canterlot School of the Musical Arts. We took some of their classes and trained with them, and they with us” said Octavia. “Even though I wasn’t performing magic spells, I was still technically enrolled in their music program during my last two years of education.”
Trixie looked awkwardly at Octavia. “Hello again.”
“Miss Lulamoon.” Octavia’s voice seemed to become a little colder. “How… nice to see you again.”
“Look, I’m sorry I caused that, uh, incident with the Ice Palace… were you able to fix your cello?”
Lyra hesitated, not knowing what to say. Trixie was squirming. But then Octavia lowered her head. “Nevertheless. Any friend of Lyra’s is a friend of mine. I forgive you, Trixie Lulamoon. Just… please, be careful around my instruments. They are extremely fragile.”
“Of course,” said Trixie, looking relieved. Unusually, she didn’t even complain about Octavia using her last name. “Thanks.”
Octavia waved this off, and Lyra grinned. “Octavia’s only in town for a few days, so I’m going to help her get to her lodgings and get unpacked. Can we meet up later?”
Ditzy nodded. “Of course.”
Lyra helped Octavia balance the cello on her back, and they began to leave the restaurant. “So, how’s old Professor Eighth Note?”
“Getting on in years, but he can still play ‘Dance of the Ursas’ better than any other pony in Canterlot…”
Several hours passed, during which Octavia and Lyra reminisced and exchanged all manner of stories. Lyra found herself increasingly eager to visit Canterlot; so much was happening there on the musical scene that she could barely believe it. New venues, new musicians, and a new music competition Luna was sponsoring with a thousand-bit purse to the winner. Maybe she would enter, she thought. She probably wouldn’t win, but she was sure she could put in a good showing.
But after the catching up, and after dinner, Octavia asked if she could have an hour to herself so that she could practice her scales. Lyra agreed and opted to take a quick walk around the city. The sun was setting and casting a warm, red glow over the fields and flowers of the village. Lyra smiled – everything was so beautiful. It was like music for the eyes.
“She’s fine. She really likes Ponyville.” Lyra grinned. “She says I’m even better than when she last heard me! She told me that she knows of a couple groups she can recommend me to! Trixie, do you realize how amazing this is? She’s, like, one of the most famous cellists in Canterlot!”
Trixie nodded. “Yeah… about that. Um, who does she usually play for?”
“Nobility, I guess. Social events for the rich ponies and the politicians… I think she played at the Night Court’s Gala one year. She’s not quite at the level of giving Luna herself recitals, but give her a couple years and she’ll be the Court Musician.”
Lyra frowned. “Is something wrong?”
“Lyra, how many ponies do you think know my last name?”
“Oh, come on, Trixie. There’s no reason to be embarrassed—“
“I’m not embarrassed!” But Trixie did look a little flustered. “Isn’t it weird that Octavia just knew it? We’re not exactly friends. In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever spoken.”
“What does it matter?”
“Maybe nothing, but…” Trixie sighed. “If she studied up on me before coming here—“
“—She might be planning something. If she deals with the Court, they could be influencing her. Be careful, okay?”
“Planning something? Trxie, she’s a musician, not one of your Night Court enemies. Stop worrying.” Lyra smiled. “Wait. Are you jealous?”
“What? No! I’m—“
“Trixie, just because I have another friend – one who didn’t pressure me into a performance I didn’t want to do – doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon you. I’m the Element of Loyalty, remember?”
Trixie looked annoyed. “I’m not jealous! But this is the kind of thing Luna taught me to look out for.”
“I’ll be careful,” promised Lyra. “Now – I really should get back.”
Trixie frowned, but nodded. “Alright. Just… watch out, Lyra. You haven’t dealt with the Court, but they use proxies all the time.”
Lyra rolled her eyes. “I get it, Trixie. I’ll make sure I don’t get pulled into any political turf war. Good night.” And she quickly walked off.
Jealous, she decided. Trixie was just jealous. Ah, well. The blue mare really was trying hard to be a good friend now. Hadn’t Trixie saved her at that performance a few weeks back? She could forgive a little jealousy.
Lyra heard ‘Sonata of Grass and Snow’ as she approached Octavia’s door, and paused to listen. It was one of her favorite cello works. Eery and melancholy, yet ending on an uplifting and hopeful note. The grass reached through the snow, the sun poked through the clouds, and the notes faded away like the last gusts of winter.
“Lyra, you can come in,” called Octavia.
Lyra chuckled. Surprising Octavia was near impossible; the musician’s ears were some of the best in the country and she could identify most of the ponies she knew by their hoofsteps alone. Lyra had never managed to sneak up on her, despite dozens of attempts. “Did the practicing go well?”
Lyra opened the door and entered Octavia’s lodgings. The mare was setting her cello back in its case and wrapping the bow into its wax sheath. Lyra set down the little basket of hot cocoa mix that she’d balanced on her back. “Just like old times, huh?”
“Fewer whiny underponies,” said Octavia. “No drunken revelries interfering with our practicing… no whiny applicants to our quartet who think that their social lives are of a higher priority than perfecting the music they will play with us.”
“It wasn’t so bad,” teased Lyra. “We had a lot of good times there. And, admit it – that one weekend Timpani Tapper snuck in and hosted that huge party for all the string players was pretty fun.”
“Every musician I rehearsed with was hungover for two days,” said Octavia crisply. “My cello was scuffed. I myself have little memory of the evening; I probably lost several hours of practice time, and—“
“But you had fun,” interrupted Lyra.
Octavia paused, then smiled. “Yes. I had fun.”
Lyra began to brew the hot chocolate as Octavia reclined on the couch. “Anyway, Lyra. I have to confess that my visit here was not entirely for pleasure. There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”
Lyra wondered briefly if Trixie had been right. “Yes?”
Octavia bent, graceful as always, and carefully took an advertisement out of a pocket in her cello case. “You are familiar, I trust, with the Song Cycle Extravaganza?”
“Of course.” Lyra nodded. “Every three years, the Canterlot Symphany Orchestra spends three months playing music with one particular theme and travels all over Equestria. I think last time the theme was ‘Nature,’ right? I remember you playing in one of the sections. Youngest ever to play in the Extravaganza, if I’m remembering it correctly.”
“I was then... but not anymore” Octavia slid the paper over to Lyra. “Because this year, the theme is the music of Concerto Forte. The most famous lyre player of the Classical era.”
Lyra stared. “You… you don’t mean…”
“They need lyre players. After they selected me to be second cellist chair, they asked if I knew any available ponies. I recommended your name.”
Lyra didn’t know what to say. She ended up not saying anything.
“The conductor is a close friend of mine and trusts my judgment. If you want the job, Lyra, you can—“
Lyra realized she was hugging Octavia. “Thank you thank you thank you! This – this is the biggest music event of the year! THANK YOU!”
“Personal space!” gasped Octavia.
Lyra released Octavia. “I can’t believe it. I’ve never held a position in a full-time orchestra, I—“
Octavia held up a hoof, and, just as in their days at school, Lyra quieted instantly. “Believe it,” said Octavia. “This is not a joke. If you want it, it’s yours.”
“Of course I want it!”
Octavia smiled. “Wonderful. Come back to Canterlot with me. Pack all your bags, and—“
“All my bags?” Lyra frowned. “Canterlot’s not that far from here… will I be staying overnight?”
“Well, during the Extravaganza, there’s concerts every night and rehearsal every morning. You’ll have to commit to staying with the orchestra for the whole period.”
Lyra hesitated. “I couldn’t go home? At all?”
Octavia shook her head. “No. The schedule is too demanding. But surely three months is a small sacrifice for such an opportunity.”
“It is, but…”
She was thinking of Carrot Top, who she’d promised to help fix a fence the next week, and help with some irrigation problems the week after. She thought of the foals, who by now expected her in the park each Saturday that it didn’t rain. Then there was Dinky, whom she had offered to start teaching music lessons next month. And, of course, Bonbon would miss her terribly. She was the Element of Loyalty; even for such an opportunity, could she really just up and leave for three months?
But, then again, wouldn’t her friends understand? That was part of what being a friend meant, after all. Supporting one another.
“…when do you need an answer?”
“By the time I leave,” said Octavia.
“Alright. I’ll see if I can clear my schedule.” Lyra nodded. She could probably get things squared away enough that she could go perform. She’d make every effort to do so.
Octavia nodded. “Very well.”
Lyra poured her two mugs of the now-finished hot chocolate. She added a few marshmallows, offered one cup to Octavia, and then drank from the other to hide her silly grin. This was shaping up to be one of the best days of her life.
“Of course you should go,” said Carrot Top, looking surprised at the question. “It sounds like an amazing opportunity.”
It was the next morning. Lyra had made a list of all the ponies she had obligations too over the next three months, and was circulating the town to talk to them. She’d go, she decided, only if they didn’t object. As badly as she wanted this job, she couldn’t just leave them in the lurch.
But Carrot Top, at least, seemed enthusiastic.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “I know I was supposed to help you fix up your fence next week—“
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ll take care of it. Who am I to keep you here?” Carrot Top laughed. “You just make sure to tell those Canterlot ponies that there’s more to Ponyville than apples, okay? Best carrots in Equestria, right here.”
“You got it!” Lyra laughed.
“You wouldn’t be upset if we put off your lessons a little bit, would you?” asked Lyra. “I mean, I totally understand if you want to start them right away, but…”
Dinky tilted her head, carefully considering. “No,” she decided.
“Momma says that it might make sense for me to study the basics before asking you for help,” said Dinky. “So I will. When you get back, I’ll be all ready to go!” With her telekinesis, she picked up a stick and began waving it around like she was playing a concert timpani. “Like this!”
Lyra hugged Dinky. “You’re the sweetest little foal.”
Dinky giggled. “Yep! That’s what Momma says!”
“Congratulations!” Bonbon leapt up and embraced Lyra. “Lyra, that’s fantastic!”
“I know!” Lyra grinned. “It’s just… are you really okay with me leaving for three months?”
“Am I – of course! Lyra, I’m not going to stop you from pursuing your career. Uh, you’ll write, right?”
“Every day,” promised Lyra.
“That’s all I ask. Besides, even if you can’t come see me, I can see the concerts, right? They’ve gotta give some tickets to friends and family of the musicians.”
“I’ll check with Octavia, but I'd guess that they do.”
“Great.” Bonbon grinned. “This could be a whole new chapter for you, Lyra. I’ll bet in a few years, you’ll be performing for Luna herself!”
“Oh, don’t say that,” joked Lyra. “What if she doesn’t like my performance and has me banished?”
“Then I will go with you, and we will travel the world, defended by the force of our love, and—“
Lyra was laughing too hard for Bonbon to continue.
“What? Was it really that cheesy?”
Lyra couldn’t stop laughing long enough to answer.
Lyra sat on a park bench and looked at her list. Most of the names were checked off. Carrot Top, Dinky, Ditzy, Cherilee, Bonbon… all the ponies that she had obligations to had proven to be as supportive as she could possibly hope for. To a one, they had all told her to take the job.
Lyra sighed in contentment. She could just see herself at the Canterlot Song Cycle Extravaganza. Wearing the finest jewelry she owned, elegantly strumming her lyre with all the others… and then, maybe, just maybe, the lead lyre player had a family emergency, the conductor needed a replacement, he quickly sorted through the lyre section members… a little luck, a good audition, and…
It was entirely possible she’d be playing a solo for twenty thousand ponies. Not likely, perhaps, but completely possible.
“This is so awesome!” Lyra couldn’t help but let out a short ‘squee!’ “I’m going to get to play for everypony!”
Lyra looked over to see Trixie approaching. “What’s up, Trixie?”
“Working on a new illusion spell. Do you want to—“
“Woah.” Lyra jumped up and backed away. “Uh-uh. I'm all magicked out. If I never get hit by another spell again, it'll be too soon. That concert in Canterlot was beyond crazy.”
“... I was going to ask, since I’m stuck on the spell and taking a break, do you want to grab a snack with me? It's almost three o’clock, so Berry’s is open and they have some good hay fries.”
“Oh. Well, that’s okay then.” Lyra began to walk over to Trixie. “I’m thinking – wait, did you say three?”
“Yeah, it's almost three, why?”
“Oh no!” Lyra began to sprint. “I was going to be recording with Octavia at three! I can’t believe I almost forgot, she’ll kill me!”
Trixie hurried after her. “For the Doos?”
“Yeah! And just after she got me this awesome job in Canterlot. I’ll feel so dumb if I’m late, she hates musicians that are late…”
“Wait, what job?”
Lyra quickly explained. “The Canterlot Song Cycle Extravaganza. Three months in Canterlot and the surrounding country. I’ll be in front of a huge audience, and –“
“Three months?” Trixie’s eyes narrowed. “All at once?”
“Yeah. I know, long time to be away, right? But I think it’s going to be worth it.”
Trixie seemed to be thinking about something else. Finally, she said, “Did she tell you who you’ll be working for?”
“The Extravaganza conductor, I guess. Above him, the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra.”
“That’s probably fine… where are you staying? Did she tell you that?”
“Find out. It’s really important.”
Lyra rolled her eyes. “Trixie, it doesn’t matter. I’d sleep in a ditch if I had to. This is the most incredible gig I could ever get. You’re going to come see me, right? Night Court always gets lots of seats.”
“Sure, but…” Trixie hesitated. “Just find out where you’re staying. If it’s at some noble’s house, you need to worry—“
“Will you stop fretting? This is getting silly. Just because I’m having fun with another pony doesn’t mean I’m not still your friend.”
Trixie looked affronted. “What? I’m not jealous. Look, Luna taught me politics, remember? It’s a classic move to isolate and…” She trailed off, seeing Lyra’s expression.
“Trixie. Octavia wouldn’t get me stuck in some political thing. I know her.” Lyra turned her attention back to the road, dodging around a startled Daisy. “Since when did you help me deal with Night Court stuff, anyway?”
“Look, I know I haven’t been the best possible friend, but I’m trying. Isn’t this something friends do? Look out for each other?”
"Yes. But friends also know when to back off and accept decisions made by their friends, okay? Trixie, I honestly appreciate your concern, but I trust Octavia.”
They were approaching Vinyl Scratch's studio. “See you later?” asked Lyra.
“Sure, just… just find out where you’re staying, okay?”
Lyra gave a mental sigh, nodded, and ran inside. Even as she ran up to the studio room, she forced thoughts of Trixie, and politics, and everything else from her mind. She had to be calm. She had to stay in control. She had to be ready to play—
She dashed into the studio room and saw Octavia in the booth. She was checking over her cello with a surgeon’s touch and a painter’s attention to detail. Even her tuning looked musical. The grey mare had leaned her head to be right next to the strings and had shut her eyes. Even as Lyra watched, Octavia gently bowed a single string, listening for imperfections that Lyra would probably never notice.
Lyra almost shook with excitement.
She was about to perform with Octavia Philharmonica, and they were going to make amazing music.
“Alright,” called Scratch, as Lyra entered the recording booth. “We’re recording in a moment, get ready.”
Lyra took out her lyre and playing a few scales to warm up. “Sorry about almost being late,” she said.
“You were on time nonetheless, and that is what matters.” Octavia squinted down the length of her bow. “Honestly, so many of the younger musicians we get these days… showing up five, ten, fifteen minutes late to rehearsal. It is very frustrating.”
“Younger? You’re only a few years out of the Magic Academy yourself,” teased Lyra.
“True enough. But I do wish more of the recent graduates shared our work ethic.” Octavia shook her head. “Some of them tried to apply for the Extravaganza… the conductor shut them out, though. You and I will be the youngest mares there by at least a decade.”
Lyra laughed at that. “Guess we gotta be awesome enough to show them what a couple young mares like us can do!”
The mention of the Extravaganza brought to mind Trixie’s comments. “Hey, Octavia? Where will I be staying while I’m in Canterlot?”
“Visiting musicians will be provided for by one of the sponsors,” said Octavia. “You will reside in some noble’s guest rooms, most likely.”
“Do you know which one?”
“Does it matter?”
Lyra paused. “Just curious, that’s all. I mean, if it’s not set up yet, I’d rather not be homeless for a couple days in Canterlot while they figure out where I’m staying.”
“I believe Duke Greengrass is sponsoring accommodations for the out-of-town players this year,” said Octavia. “I’ve stayed in his guest room before. Quite luxurious.”
Scratch tapped on the recording studio window. “You girls all set?”
Octavia drew her bow across her cello. “Yes, I think so. Shall we, Lyra?”
Three hours felt like thirty seconds to Lyra,
She hadn’t played that well in months, she thought, not since she’d left the Academy and her colleagues. It had been far too long since she’d had a skilled virtuoso that she could play with, one who understood the music so well that they didn’t even need to talk to communicate. A faint gesture, a tilt of the instrument, and Octavia understood Lyra’s intentions and played to match them. Lyra did exactly the same, giving Octavia the support she needed to make the cello sing more sweetly than any bird.
They played a stately waltz, a sad fugue, a happy and galloping polonaise. They performed the ‘Sonata of Grass and Snow,’ the ‘Dance of the Ursas,’ and of course the famous ‘Pegasus Journey to Fairyland,’ a notoriously difficult duo for lyre and cello. Lyra, recalling that this record was also going to be for Dinky, took the lead in improvising a jaunty and exciting tune that she was certain the foal would love, and Octavia was right alongside her, filling in her gaps and boosting her melodies to soaring heights. They finished with a twenty-minute improvised work that paid homage to a few popular Canterlot melodies before going off on its own course and ending with a glorious cadenza that seemed to stun even Octavia with its beauty.
“…well,” the cellist said, a moment after they had finished. “That went rather well.”
Lyra was too exhilarated to say anything. She just nodded.
Scratch tapped the window again. “That’s a wrap, girls. I’ll get it onto the records and you can distribute them however you want. Nice job.”
“Already?” Lyra checked the clock.
Octavia laughed. “That’s the kind of attitude I like to hear in a young musician. Come on, let’s get something to eat. Physical fitness is…”
“…the key to performance,” Lyra said in unison with Octavia. That was another lesson Octavia had taught her, that she couldn’t neglect exercise and diet for the sake of her music. An out-of-shape musician wouldn’t have the stamina to get through difficult pieces, or the strength to play the heavier instruments.
“Exactly,” said Octavia.
They packed up and left the studio. Lyra said, “I know a great little restaurant just off of the town square. A lot like that little café just outside the Academy. The one we always went to after those late night rehearsals?”
“Then I look forward to it.”
As they walked, Octavia nodded at the distant train station. “So. Have you decided if you want to play for the Extravaganza?”
“I… can you give me just one more day? I really think I’m going to say yes, but I just need to tie up a few other loose ends.”
Octavia nodded. “Of course, Lyra.”
“Thanks.” They were approaching the restaurant. “Now, I should tell you, the zucchini and pesto salad here is to die for…”
Lyra almost skipped home. It had been another spectacular day. Now she just had to get squared away with a couple other ponies and –
“Aagh!” Lyra jumped to see Trixie stepping out from behind a bush that, on closer inspection, didn’t really seem big enough to conceal her. “Have you been taking lessons from Pinkie Pie?”
“Ugh, no way. Anyway. Did you find out where you’re staying?”
“Somepony named Duke Greengrass. I still don’t see why it matters.”
“Duke? Greengrass is a Count—“ Trixie’s eyes narrowed. “Oh. Great. That snake.”
“What, you know him?”
“By reputation. He’s one of the younger members of the Court, just got his seat a couple years back. Really ambitious, always scheming. And he’s young enough that, if he gets caught doing something out of bounds, he can just blame his own inexperience. Guess it’s working, if he’s a duke now.“ She looked at Lyra. “Yeah, this isn’t good. If Greengrass is hosting you, he wants something from you.”
“Trixie, I am reasonably confident that a member of the Night Court is not going to set up some convoluted scheme for the purpose of getting a lyre player to perform in some concerts. In fact, I’m completely failing to see the political advantage here.” Lyra sighed. “This is ridiculous, Trixie.”
“I’m trying to look out for you.”
“I told you already that I didn’t need you to check my gigs for political craziness.”
“You don’t know the Night Court. You—“
“I know that Octavia would never do anything that would hurt me or get me involved in some weird political plot. Leave it alone, alright?” Lyra frowned. “Seriously, this isn’t funny anymore. Stop it.” She began walking away.
Trixie scampered over to cut Lyra off. “Just listen, okay? There’s something really weird about all of this. She shows up out of nowhere and offers you this amazing job. It’s not normal.“
“I said, stop talking about it, Trixie,”
A light gleamed in the blue mare's eyes, as if she'd had an epiphany. “You’re the Element of Loyalty,” she said.
“And Octavia and Greengrass want to isolate you from your friends for three months. Maybe that’s to weaken your Elemental power, or—“
“Exactly what evidence do you have that it works like that?”
"I don't, but--"
"And what is Greengrass supposed to do to ensnare me, exactly? Make me Pinkie-swear to help him? I'm going to go, perform, and then come home. I don't live in his territory, and I really don't think he's going to try abducting one of the Elements of Harmony."
Trixie paused. “Look, I admit I don't have all the details.”
“Yeah, I noticed.”
The blue mare's eyes looked annoyed for a moment, but then her eyes gleamed again. “What if I could offer you something better? This job is still just playing as part of a huge group, right? No solos?”
Lyra stared. “Yes, but it’s still the biggest performance in Equestria for the next three years. I mean, sure, solos are different -- better, whatever -- than playing in a section, but unless they were solos in front of the Night Court members themselves, there’s not much more I could ask for than the Extravaganza.”
“Well, what if I could get you one of those?”
Trixie was talking quickly, with a nervous smile on her face. Lyra tensed – she recognized Trixie’s ‘I’m going to manipulate you’ look. She was terrible at hiding it. “Well, look at it this way. A lot of the Night Court nobles want to see me screw up, right, because I’m Luna’s student, see? So I do a big flashy proposal for you to perform for them, and we totally undersell you and make them think you’ll flop. They’ll all support it, cause they’ll think I’m being stupid and I’ll humiliate myself, but then you play something awesome. They’ll all hear you great you are and you’ll get everything you could get from this Extravaganza thingie and more. Yeah, that’s a much better idea.”
“And, conveniently, this idea also makes you look great for nominating me.”
“Hey, two things at once, right?” Trixie smiled, as if Lyra had already agreed to her plan.
Lyra growled. “Trixie. Setting aside that many of those nobles already heard me play at the competition last month—“
“With your horn, we’ll stipulate it’s hoof only and pretend that you’re not as good—“
“TRIXIE! Setting that aside, it’s not that simple! Working in the Extravaganza will help me make connections with other lyre players, conductors, musicians in general – not just politicians, even if those are the only ponies you think are worth meeting!”
“That’s not what I meant!” Trixie looked flustered.
“Octavia went out on a limb for me. She recommended me to the conductor,” snapped Lyra. “If I don’t show up, then she looks bad. I’m the Element of Loyalty, remember? I’m not going to hurt my mentor like that without a better reason than ‘oh, the duke might try something mean.’”
“So she’s manipulating you,” said Trixie, sounding triumphant. “Using your past friendship with her.”
“No, Trixie, manipulating would be how you forced me to perform at the Longest Night festival. And how you forced Carrot Top to set up her vegetable stand there, and all the rest.”
“Manipulating?” Trixie shook her head. “Lyra, manipulating would be me saying, ‘I’m going to tell everypony that you’ve been booked at performances around Ponyville for the next months, and if you don’t show it’ll look like you bailed on your contracts and then nopony will hire you.’ That’d be manipulating.”
They were both silent for a moment – Trixie in triumph, Lyra in shock. The green mare could hardly believe what she’d heard. Did Trixie have any idea what she’d just threatened? A reputation as an unreliable flake would obliterate any hope Lyra had of playing professionally in respectable venues. No concert hall, or event planner would want to take a risk of booking a pony that might not show up, not when there were hundreds of other musicians with impeccable records. Trixie had just threatened to ruin Lyra’s career.
“Uh.” Trixie seemed to have noticed Lyra’s rapidly growing expression of pure rage. “Um. Okay, maybe that was a little far—“
“Yes. Yes it was.” Lyra approached Trixie. Her voice was a low hiss. “After all we’ve been through, that’s still the first place your mind goes? What in Equestria is wrong with you, Trixie?! I thought we were past this!”
“How could you even think that! You’d ruin me, just to stop me from going with Octavia! I have no idea what you think Greengrass is planning, but I don’t think it could be any worse than what you, apparently are willing to do to stop it!”
“I didn’t say it! I said that’s what manipulation would be, not that I was actually going to do that,” said Trixie, speaking so quickly her words began running into each other.
Lyra looked at Trixie directly in the eyes. “And if I’d given you some indication that your threat would work, you’d have made it for real, right?”
Trixie gulped and seemed unable to speak for a few moments. “I – okay, Lyra, I'll be honest, I won’t say it didn’t cross my mind, but I would never— really, I’m trying to be better now, I wouldn’t have--“
“This is a great opportunity for me. You should be happy for me, but you’re just jealous because if I’m with her then I can’t be in town to help you when you screw things up,” Lyra hissed. “It’s not all about you, Trixie. After all the times I’ve looked after you and helped you out, you can’t support me in this one thing? This one thing?”
“I’m just trying—“
“Save it! You’re a terrible liar.” Lyra turned her back on Trixie. “That you would even think of telling the world that I bailed on my contracts is… I don’t even know. Goodbye, Trixie. Maybe when I get back from Canterlot I’ll see you again.”
Trixie knew the Night Court. She knew Greengrass. He’d never displayed any interest in the arts except insofar as it gained him power; if Lyra would actually bother to listen to her for five minutes, she could explain this. But she wasn’t listening, and she was falling directly into Greengrass’s trap, and Trixie was trying to save her from herself but she wouldn’t let her. It was beyond frustrating.
I need to stop her from taking that job! If she won’t listen to me, I’ll have to trick her somehow, or find somepony else to talk to her. Or maybe get Octavia to slip up and reveal herself. But I have to do something!
She wondered what her friends would recommend. Ditzy, she knew, would suggest apologizing to Lyra and then asking her kindly to listen to her – but asking kindly hadn’t worked, and besides, Trixie didn’t think she’d done anything wrong. She’d only brought up blacklisting Lyra hypothetically. If Lyra didn’t know that Trixie wouldn’t actually do it, well, that wasn’t Trixie’s fault. Apologizing was not necessary.
But maybe the others can help. It’s not even seven-thirty… Carrot Top might still be in her fields. I’ll try her first.
“Lyra? Is something wrong?”
Lyra couldn’t help but let out a tired giggle as she approached Octavia’s room. The gray mare apparently knew her well enough that she could determine not only her identity but also her mood just by hearing her hoofsteps. That didn’t surprise her.
“It’s… yeah. Can I come in?”
Lyra entered Octavia’s room and sat down. “How are you?”
“Quite alright.” Octavia pushed aside the sheet music she was examining. “What is the matter?”
“It’s nothing,” said Lyra, suddenly feeling reluctant to burden Octavia with her troubles. She began to regret coming to see her; it wasn’t like Octavia had anything to do with Trixie.
“Really, I’m fine.”
“Lyra. Tell me.”
Lyra smiled slightly. “Hey, I’m not your student anymore. I don't have to tell you everything.”
“Lyra.” Octavia’s gaze was soft. “I want to help you, if I can. Please tell me what is upsetting you.”
Lyra nodded a little. Octavia had helped her with so much in her life. She had earned Lyra’s trust. And, while Lyra didn’t want to burden Octavia with her bad mood, the cellist clearly wanted to know. “It’s Trixie. She… she crossed a line.”
Octavia inclined her head. "I see."
“It’s been going on ever since you arrived…”
“What do you want me to do, exactly?”
Trixie smiled. “Come on, Carrot Top. We both know the Night Court’s bad news. Help me convince Lyra to stay here.”
“Why would I do that?” Carrot Top frowned. She was standing by the broken fence that she’d been repairing when Trixie had shown up. “This is a big opportunity for her.”
“Yeah, to get ensnared by Greengrass.”
“Never mind. Look, she isn’t listening to me, but she’ll listen to you. Help me convince her to stay.”
“That doesn’t sound like Lyra… I’ve always known her to listen to other ponies.” Carrot Top paused. “Did you say something to her that, uh, made her not want to listen to you?”
“No! Well, uh, I mean, I kind of did, but she took it totally the wrong way! And—“
Carrot Top shook her head. “Trixie, unless there’s some actual reason to believe going to Canterlot will hurt her, I’m not going to stand in her way, okay? And if you made her mad, then you need to apologize – it won’t do any good coming from me.”
“It’s not about apologizing. I need to convince her.”
“The first might help with the second.”
“No, it won’t, she wasn’t listening to me even before she got all mad!” Trixie turned around. “Fine, if you won’t help me, I’ll find somepony who will. I’m just trying to help her!” She ran off.
Carrot Top stared. “That was weird.”
“…I’ve tried to be nice to her for a really long time. And, I mean, it’s not like she’s heartless. She does care about other ponies. When she tried to save everypony when Corona returned, that was really brave. And when she helped get rid of the Ursa, and… you know what I mean. I’ve seen her be incredibly kind.”
Octavia nodded. “Yes.”
“But sometimes she’s just so selfish, and I think that she really doesn’t see me as anything but some other stupid chess piece that she can use to maneuver in the Night Court. And I know it’s wrong of me.” She took a rather forceful sip from the daffodil wine that Octavia had poured for her. “I’m the Element of Loyalty; I’m supposed to be loyal to my friends. I should be more forgiving of Trixie; I mean, I probably wouldn’t be much better if I’d been raised in the Night Court. But I can’t, and—“
“Lyra. It is not your fault. From what you have told me, Lulamoon has behaved abominably. You have every right to be angry.”
Lyra didn’t say anything.
“Perhaps the Song Cycle Extravaganza is coming at a good time, then. You will be able to leave town for a few months and get away from Lulamoon. And when you return, perhaps your absence will have helped her to realize that you do indeed matter to her and should be treated more appropriately.”
“That’d be nice,” muttered Lyra.
Raindrops glowered at Trixie. “So, you hurt Lyra, and now you want me to fix it.”
“No! I want you to help me help her!”
“If she doesn’t think she needs help, I don’t either.”
“Look, I know these ponies. I know how dangerous--“
“So tell her.”
“She won’t listen!” Trixie realized that she was starting to lose her temper, but couldn’t help it. “I’m trying, okay?”
“I know Lyra. She wouldn’t ignore you if she didn’t have a good reason. What’s the reason?”
“That doesn't matter. I--“
“The reason, Trixie.”
Trixie blanched. “Look, I’m not saying I’m perfect—“
“If you aren’t going to give me a straight answer, I’m not going to help you,” said Raindrops. She turned around. “I’m behind on my paperwork, Trixie.”
“I’m trying to help her!”
“So you say.”
Trixie wanted to scream at Raindrops, but she forced herself not to. She had no desire to get another buck to the jaw. Instead, she silently turned around and began to run off.
Cherilee hadn’t been home when she checked, and Trixie really didn’t want to have to admit to Ditzy that she might have screwed up that badly with Lyra. There had to be something else to try.
“…why don’t I play a new composition for you?”
Lyra’s eyes widened. “Oh, you don’t have to do that. I mean, we were just playing for three hours, and—“
“I practice for nine hours every day. Another thirty minutes won’t hurt me.” Octavia lifted up her cello. “As long as you promise not to fall asleep, I won’t mind if you lie down. I understand that you have had a… difficult evening.”
Lyra did so, snuggling under a blanket on the couch.
“Sonata for Solo Cello No. 34, in D-Flat Major,” said Octavia, raising her bow. “Dedicated to Lyra Heartstrings, my best student.”
“Lyra,” said Octavia, as if she was introducing the piece at a professional concert, “Has worked tirelessly to put into practice the principles which I taught her. She has demonstrated ceaseless devotion and dedication to her craft, and this is clear in every performance of hers that I have heard. No matter the challenge, Lyra…”
Lyra found herself grinning.
“…Lyra rises to the occasion and produces some of the most brilliant music of our time. She is everything one could hope for in an apprentice.”
Octavia bowed her head, then brought up her bow and began to play.
“Okay,” muttered Trixie, “What if I trap them in town until the stupid thing starts?”
She had galloped into the downtown area. Though she was starting to tire, she wasn’t going to stop. She was going to save Lyra, even if everypony in town was against her. She would save Lyra and they’d all have to admit that she was right.
“I can probably get the train station to close for a few hours on some pretext, but then Luna will probably get mad at me,” muttered Trixie. “And that won’t be long enough anyway. Maybe an illusion of a broken track? No, they’ll try fixing it right away and they’ll figure out it’s fake.”
She glanced at the little jail. “Maybe I could have Octavia arrested… or detained, or something.” But would that be enough to stop Lyra? Lyra might go to Canterlot without Octavia. Of course, Trixie could just have Lyra arrested… well, she could probably figure out a way to do that… but she had a feeling that Lyra might not ever forgive her for something like that, no matter how much better it was than the alternative.
Wait! Lyra was the Element of Loyalty. All Trixie had to do was come up with something Lyra would feel obligated to stay in town and do instead of going to the stupid concert. Some dumb task, it didn’t have to be hard or onerous, just something that would occur during the three months of the concert. Something like…
Her gaze fell on Town Hall, and on the little bulletin board of ‘upcoming events.’ Smiling, Trixie trotted over to the board. Surely there was something on there that Lyra could help with.
Octavia’s sonata was one of the most relaxing pieces that Lyra had ever heard.
The melody seemed almost like a fine mist, a gently floating stream of notes that enveloped her and drained her tensions. The harmonies were beautiful yet subtle, calling to her attention and diverting her focus from her cares without being overt or obnoxious. The more she listened, the more distant she felt, until it was like her mind was resting on a bed of music and her tired body was far below her.
She didn’t know when the piece was over, but she knew that she regretted that it wasn’t longer. She felt like she could listen to it forever. “That was so beautiful…” she murmured.
“You’re awesome, Octavia.”
Octavia stepped over to her. “Lyra.”
“I think that you want to play in the Extravaganza.”
At the moment, Lyra felt like she’d agree to anything Octavia said, just on general principles. What other friend could make her feel so good and relaxed after having such a bad fight? Besides, she really did want to play there. “Of course I would.”
“And it would mean a lot to me. I would find it deeply satisfying to see you, my greatest student, having the debut you deserve.”
“So – will you play?”
Hadn’t she already said she would? Lyra frowned. Well, if not, she'd say it now. “Definitely. You can count on me.”
Octavia’s voice sounded very pleased. “Thank you, Lyra.”
Trixie gripped the piece of parchment in her mouth and raced towards Octavia’s lodgings.
Finding the perfect task had been easy. The Ponyville census was coming up, and there were always a substantial number of ponies who didn’t bother to fill out the forms. Thus, the bulletin board proclaimed, the village would need census takers. Volunteers could sign up by talking to Mayor Scrolls’ secretary, and if there weren’t enough volunteers, some might be chosen by random draw. To Trixie’s delight, the sign-up sheet wasn’t even close to full. Random draw it would be, then.
It had been harder to track down Mayor Scrolls, get her to answer her door, and persuade her that they needed to choose one by random draw right away. “Look, the Night Court’s got an agent in town, and if they find out we’re behind they’ll take the advantage to cut our funding,” she’d lied. “We only have nine volunteers, and ten’s the magic number. If we don’t have ten, they’ll think we’re slacking and hammer us.” But to her relief, Scrolls had at last said that they could choose a ‘volunteer’ right then.
Any competent magician knew how to make a pony think they were choosing a name at random while actually directing them towards some predetermined outcome. Trixie had written the names of thirty ‘randomly’ selected citizens on cards and put them face down on the desk, Scrolls had ‘chosen’ groups among them, Trixie had discarded or kept the groups as needed, and when they were done, Lyra’s was the only name left. Thus she became Ponyville’s tenth census taker, a job which was not overly difficult, but would require just enough of a time commitment that it would make it impossible for Lyra to get to Canterlot.
Scrolls filled out the requisite paperwork, shoved it at Trixie, and informed her that under no circumstances was she to bother Scrolls outside of working hours again. Trixie had agreed and left.
She’d gone to Lyra’s house, but Bonbon had told her that Lyra hadn’t come up yet. Scratch said that she wasn’t at the studio. That just left Octavia’s place. All she had to do was go there and deliver the news.
Trixie smiled. Lyra was stuck in town now. Greengrass wouldn’t be able to touch her, and Lyra would be safe from his machinations. She was such a great friend!
“Could you please excuse me for a few moments?”
Lyra looked over at Octavia. The gray mare had helped Lyra get another glass of wine and had played a little more music for her. Lyra had asked for the windows to be opened up, which Octavia had, and was enjoying the evening breezes playing across her face. Octavia, she noted, looked a bit odd, like she was focusing on something only she could hear.
Well, actually, that wouldn’t surprise Lyra.
“Sure,” said Lyra.
“Thank you.” Octavia rose. “I will return as soon as I can.”
She left the room.
Trixie slipped inside the building. She didn’t know which room, precisely, Octavia was in, but she couldn’t be too hard to find. Hay, she could probably follow the cello music, and –
Was that voice coming from the floor above her?
Trixie looked up in confusion, then started to hurry towards the stairwell. But before she got there, the door opened, and Octavia stepped out.
Trixie froze, and the two stared at each other for a moment.
Then Trixie tucked the paper into her saddlebag so she could talk. “How did you know it was me?”
“I heard you walk in.”
“You heard hoofsteps downstairs from your room?”
“I have good ears.”
“And you recognized me from my hoofsteps?”
“You have the most arrogant gait I’ve ever heard. It is quite memorable.” Octavia shrugged. “This is my private room, and you are not welcome. Lyra has made it very clear that she does not wish to see you, and I will respect her wishes. If you try to force your way inside so that you can bother her, I will stop you.” Her eyes narrowed. "I will not let you agitate her further."
Trixie scowled. Okay. This would be harder than she thought. Well, no matter. She would just have to get around the cellist. Octavia was a musician; it wasn’t like she had any combat training.
Her horn glowed, and she cast an invisibility illusion over herself. She smiled as Octavia’s eyes widened; no doubt the cellist would start freaking out over not being able to see her foe. She slipped to Octavia’s left, then began running around her –
Octavia bucked her in the side.
It didn't look like Octavia was trying to land an especially hard blow; certainly the musician didn't seem to even notice the exertion, but it was still enough to send Trixie flying into the wall. Her head rang, and her invisibility spell fizzled out. “How?” she demanded. "How did you know where I was?"
“I can hear you,” was the response.
Trixie got back to her feet and glowered at the cellist, who seemed completely unperturbed. “Just a lucky shot," said the blue mare.
Octavia said nothing.
Trixie turned invisible again, this time focusing harder and making herself inaudible too. This drained a lot of her energy, but when she was done, no sound would be able to move past her or through her. Now that blasted musician wouldn’t be able to see or hear her. Trixie could get around Octavia, talk to Lyra, and get this whole stupid thing done with.
Octavia began to hum.
Trixie stared. What in Equestria was she doing?
It didn’t matter. She still had to talk to Lyra. She began to edge around Octavia again, going for the door.
And Octavia bucked her again.
When Trixie managed to get up and the world stopped spinning, she saw that Octavia had opened her saddlebag, which had been sent flying by the kick, and was looking at the census taker form. “Oh. I see.”
“…how?” It wasn’t a demand this time. It was a plea.
Octavia smiled thinly. “If I can hear an echo from every part of the room… except one spot… then something or somepony is in that spot and blocking sound.”
Trixie stared. She felt too dizzy to stand up again.
"Since when does the Town Representative act as a courier for the mayor?" mused Octavia. "And it is quite the coincidence that Lyra was selected for this duty now, of all times. I find it more likely that you forged the document as part of your jealous scheme to keep her here."
She put the form on the ground and began to carefully rip it up with her hooves. "I see no reason to subject her to your lies, Lulamoon."
"Not lies," hissed Trixie. "I know that you and Greengrass are up to something."
"I won't dignify that with a proper response."
Trixie wanted to get up and try again, but even disregarding her dizziness, she had no idea what to do. How did you get around an opponent that could find you even when you were invisible and inaudible?
Octavia finished shredding the form. “Good night, Lulamoon. Please do not bother me again.” And she returned upstairs.
Trixie could only stare, wait a few minutes to recover, and then slink out in disgrace.
It was over, Trixie thought. She’d lost.
She didn’t have any proof anymore that Lyra was needed in town, so Lyra wouldn’t believe her. Hay, at this rate, she probably wouldn’t care even if Trixie still had her proof. Octavia wouldn’t have dared attack her unless she’d been confident that Lyra would take her side. And, Trixie thought, Octavia had technically just been defending her room from an intruder. Trixie couldn’t even go to the police about this.
So now what?
I go back home and write Luna and tell her I’ve failed, she thought bitterly. Failed again. And Lyra goes to Canterlot…
She could visualize Greengrass meeting Lyra. Somewhat short and very slightly fat, with a red mane and a large red ‘X’ for a cutie mark, the Duke was a memorable figure. Greengrass would welcome her gregariously and wine and dine her. He’d befriend her, cajole her, and bamboozle her until she agreed to whatever he wanted. And then he would wait, and a month or a year later he’d use her. If his plan worked, Duke Greengrass would get another promotion, or a raise, or more land, or whatever he wanted, and Lyra… well, Greengrass had been known to say that he didn’t pay much attention to the fate of obsolete tools.
She could picture the last few nobles that had ‘worked with’ Greengrass. She could picture them easily, because they tended to make the papers when they went to prison, into exile, or to obscure positions and posts at the end of the world. Greengrass was bold and audacious, so everypony seemed to underestimate him... and yet, strangely, it was never he that took the fall for his actions. Trixie could easily see Lyra being jailed for treason, or barred from ever stepping foot in Equestria again.
But there’s nothing I can do. I’ve tried everything I know. I’m still too weak…
“Sorry, Lyra,” she muttered. “I really tried. I’m sorry…”
Right, apologizing. She remembered, again, that Raindrops and Carrot Top had told her to apologize. Trixie didn’t want to, though, and felt it wouldn’t do much good. She’d been in the right, after all, and…
No. Forget that thought. Lyra’s life was at stake here; Trixie was not going to let her get hurt because of pride. Who cared who was in the right? Trixie would swallow her pride and ask for Lyra’s forgiveness… and for her to listen to Trixie. It was the only option left.
She began walking to Lyra's house. The musician had go home at some point; Trixie would wait for her there. She’d wait, and then beg Lyra’s indulgence.
And if she failed, that would probably be it for Lyra Heartstrings.
“Where were you?” asked Bonbon, looking up from the recipe she was studying. "I was starting to get worried."
“I was with Octavia, nothing to worry about,” said Lyra, smiling giddily. “She played her latest piece for me. Do you realize what that means?” She flopped down on the couch. “Do you know how many nobles would pays buckets of bits to hear one of her unreleased pieces? And she just played it for me. It was amazing.”
“Did you decide if you’re going to go to Canterlot?”
“Yeah, I am!” Lyra laughed. “I told her that today. I’m sorry, Bonbon, but it’s just such an incredible opportunity, and—“
“I told you already, I’m fully in favor of you going. Get me some autographs, okay?”
“You got it!”
The doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” said Bonbon. She trotted over to the door. “Hello? Oh, hi Trixie. What’s up?”
Lyra shot to her feet. “Not now,” she said. “Get out.”
Bonbon looked between the two of them. “What’s wrong?”
Trixie stepped into the threshold of the door. “Lyra, please. Just give me five—“
“I don’t want to talk to you now. Bonbon, could you please shut the door?”
Bonbon hesitated. “Uh—“
“Lyra! Please!” Trixie began trying to force her way past Bonbon, who shoved Trixie back. “I am begging you to listen to me!”
“I don’t care.” Lyra’s horn glowed. “Get out!”
She slammed the door shut just as Trixie stuck her front hoof through it. The door banged against Trixie’s leg, and the blue mare cried out.
“Trixie! Are you okay?” Bonbon threw the door open and looked down. Trixie’s leg was already beginning to bruise. “I’ll get some ice, and—“
“It’s fine. I’m fine.” Trixie gritted her teeth and looked right at Lyra’s eyes. Lyra blinked – Trixie looked unusually, well, honest. “Lyra. Five minutes. That’s all I want.” She bowed her head. “Please. If you want to throw me out later, if you want me to never come back -- fine. Just give me five minutes.”
Lyra stared at her for several moments. Trixie didn't look so well -- were those bruises on her sides? She opened her mouth to ask what happened, then paused. Trixie hadn't brought those up, and that in and of itself was unusual for the attention-seeking mare. What was going on?
After a moment of thought, she said, “Bonbon, could you please be a dear and run down to the hospital? They should be able to get an ice pack for Trixie.”
Bonbon nodded and hurried out.
Trixie stepped inside. “Lyra – I’m sorry about what I said earlier. It was out of line.” She took a breath. "Way out of line. And -- and I know I shouldn't be thinking of things like that anymore. All I can do is beg you to overlook it, and..." She trailed off. "I'm sorry," she repeated.
“Just give me a few minutes to talk to you. I’m worried about you, and you’re my friend and friends don’t let their friends get hurt and, and…”
Lyra could tell how hard this was for Trixie, who so rarely thought of other ponies beyond herself. “Alright, Trixie. I’ll listen.”
Trixie took a deep breath and marshaled the arguments she'd come up with on the way over. “This Extravaganza, you said it’s a really big deal. Isn’t it unusual that the conductor would hire you without hearing you first?”
“He probably heard me at the recital we gave last month in Canterlot.”
“Not the same thing. You said it yourself, solos and playing as part of an orchestra section aren’t alike. Have you ever heard of a conductor who would hire a new musician, especially one without a professional history, without evaluating how they could do?”
Lyra hesitated. “I grant that it’s unusual, but I’m sure he just trusts Octavia. She’s one of the best, and she would never recommend somepony for a position they couldn’t fill. Besides, it’s starting in a week or so, so they wouldn’t have time for a full round of auditions.”
“Okay,” said Trixie. “Let’s take Octavia then. You’ve been in a lot of performances with her, right?”
“And for some of those, did she bring in other musicians? If you needed some unusual part or something?”
“Did she ever recommend a musician for a job, or hire one, without hearing them audition?”
“Trixie, she’s heard me play for years.”
“Has that ever mattered before?”
Lyra thought. Octavia often asked her trainees or students she knew to fill in for her groups when they needed a member… but… yes, she had always forced them to audition first. Even Lyra. “It’s not about friendship,” she’d said, when one mare had complained. “I need to know that you can play these pieces. That’s all there is to it.”
“No – but I was her closest trainee. It’s different. She trusts me completely.”
Trixie nodded a little. “Have you ever played in anything like this before – with a huge orchestra like this?”
“Well, not exactly…”
“Are you familiar with all of the music?”
Lyra shook her head. “I don’t know what pieces they’re playing yet.”
“Then shouldn’t she have had you go over them and audition, for you if not for her? It’s been months. For all she knows, you’ve slacked off.” Lyra opened her mouth, and Trixie held up a hoof. “I know you haven’t, but she doesn’t know that, since she only heard you play the one recital, and like you said, that’s not really the same as a big orchestra performance. She can't be certain that you’ll be able to play well in the Extravaganza -- especially since you've never seen the music. And if you do screw up, you’ll be the one who looks bad. Shouldn’t she have had you audition – Hay, brought some of the music with her and had you play it – just to make sure that wouldn’t happen? For your sake? Isn’t that what she would do in any other case?”
“I… yes, Octavia would normally insist on an audition. Probably even from me, for something like this. But there may not have been time. Like I said, this concert series starts really soon.”
“Then why did they wait so long to ask you? They had to have scheduled in months ago.”
“Maybe somepony got sick or quit,” said Lyra. “It happens.”
Trixie looked steadily at her. “So the conductor’s acting weird, Octavia’s acting weird, and it only makes even a hint of sense if a bunch of the lyre players had last minute emergencies and they didn’t have enough backups?”
Lyra was quiet for several moments.
Then she said, “It looks odd. I get it. But, yes, it’s completely possible that they needed an emergency fill-in and Octavia gave them my name. For that matter, it’s possible that I will have to audition once I arrive in Canterlot and Octavia is just assuming that I’ll pass without problems and so isn’t having me worry about it. I’ve known Octavia for years. If there was anything bad going on, she wouldn’t be involved… or, at the very least, if she was being forced into it, she would let me know.” She turned. “I appreciate your concern, Trixie. But I’m not convinced. And I’m still very upset with you for threatening to have me blacklisted.”
“Then let me prove it to you.”
Lyra turned back. “How?”
“I’ll – I’ll talk to Octavia. You’ll eavesdrop. If she’s setting you up, I’ll make her confess. If not, then I’ll probably just look stupid, and I won’t bother you anymore. I won’t try to stop from going to Canterlot with her.”
Lyra frowned. Trixie sounded unusually sincere and serious. “Why is this so important to you? No offense, Trixie, but even if what you’re saying is true, it isn’t going to affect you.”
“You’re my friend!” Trixie looked down. “And I know I’m not good at friendship yet, and I know I’ve screwed up a lot, but I – I want to protect you if I can. And if Greengrass gets you he’ll make you work for him and act as his agent, and it’s going to mess up your life. A bunch of the ponies that he's worked with and can't use anymore winds up in jail or exiled or something.” She took a slow, deep breath. “If you want to hate me for what I said, I get that. But please let me try to show you what I think is really going on here.”
Lyra didn’t know what to say. She’d never seen Trixie look like this. If somepony had told her the day before that Trixie would say anything like this, she’d have thought they were crazy.
She’s probably just acting; she’s a decent actor when she tries, she thought.
She was the Element of Loyalty. If it meant this much to Trixie, if there was even a chance that Trixie was being honest, she owed it to her friend to agree. Octavia would understand. Trixie would talk with Octavia, would learn that there was no deception, and that would be that.
“Fine. But I mean it, Trixie; if you don’t come up with anything, I don’t want to hear any more about this.”
“Promise.” Trixie nodded. “Leave Bonbon a note, then come to my house. I’ll get Octavia. I'll say I want to apologize, or I want to bribe her or something, but I'll get her to show up.”
“Wait. You won’t be able to hide me in the room. She’ll hear me, even if I’m just standing there and breathing.”
“I’ve got that worked out. You’ll be fine.”
“How? She—“ But Trixie was already gone.
Trixie took a few deep breaths. This was it.
She’d tried her hoof at politics before. She’d never done a very good job, but she’d tried. Ultimately, though, all of her prior schemes had been designed to benefit her. This was the first one where she wouldn’t really be helped or hurt by it (except insofar as its failure might make her look stupid, and that was pretty much the common perception of her in the Court anyway). The only pony that would lose if she failed was Lyra.
And Lyra would be hurt if she went to Canterlot. Trixie was sure of it, would have been sure even if she'd never heard of Greengrass and hadn't seen Octavia rip up Trixie's form. There were too many things that didn’t add up, too many odd coincidences in Octavia’s story. That the orchestra just happened to need a lyre player. That the whole concert series was based around the lyre in the first place. That Octavia hadn’t written but had come in person -- after all, it would probably be harder for Lyra to say ‘no’ to her mentor's face. That no auditions were needed for what was supposed to be a huge event. It just didn’t make sense, and she had to make Lyra see that.
Luna tried to teach me politics, although I guess I wasn’t very good… okay, can’t focus on that. Think. How can I get her to confess?
Octavia was (or had been) fundamentally honest, according to Lyra. Trixie could use that; Luna had taught her how. If Octavia was honest at heart, it wouldn’t be easy for her to mislead and trap Lyra, so she would be stressed from it. She’d want to tell somepony. Trixie just had to make sure that pony was her. If she gave Octavia enough of a push, made her angry enough to forget herself, she might say something stupid. Once a pony said one thing that they shouldn’t, Luna had said, they tended to give up and just spew out the rest, especially if they were stressed or unhappy from keeping the secret in the first place.
How to get that initial comment, though? Octavia was formal and probably hard to anger with insults, and Trixie had no desire to get beaten up again anyway. Maybe she could provoke the mare’s contempt? Octavia already didn’t like her, so maybe if Trixie acted like a total lout and idiot, then that would irritate the cellist. And also, since Octavia hated Trixie and seemed rather proud, fooling her might make her mad. That seemed likely.
A plan outlined itself in Trixie’s head. Start out friendly and inviting, use an illusion to make the place look a lot more comfortable, and get Octavia at ease as much as she could. Be apologetic and conciliatory. Maybe spend ten or fifteen minutes like that. Next, ‘accidentally’ reveal the illusion and otherwise act dumber and dumber until Octavia was angry – at being fooled by the illusion, at being fooled by such a dumb pony, at even having to deal with such a dumb pony. At that point, she could probably be tricked into saying something that she shouldn’t. Once she’d done that, it would hopefully be easy to coax the rest of the story from the cellist.
Trixie began setting up the illusion.
It took twenty minutes to work out the magic and get the spell running. Trixie was proud that she’d even remembered to make her horn look like it wasn’t glowing. It would be no good if Octavia figured out the illusion moments after showing up.
Somepony knocked crisply at her door.
Alright. Show time.
Trixie crossed the room and opened the door. Octavia stared at her. “Miss Philharmonica,” said Trixie, forcing an insincere smile. “I’m pleased you could come at such a late hour.”
“Musicians keep unusual schedules,” said Octavia. “It was no trouble.”
Trixie invited her in, showed her to the living room, and poured her a glass of bourbon. Her home looked about right, she decided, with rich, blue walls and thick, soft carpet. The living room appeared to be freshly cleaned, with a couple of nice couches and chairs and a few knickknacks on the tables – probably exactly the sort of room that would appeal to a formal mare like Octavia. “Please, help yourself. I’m honored to have such a distinguished guest in my home.”
Octavia waved this off. “You need not flatter me. May I ask the purpose of this meeting? Your letter was rather vague.” She looked honestly curious, which was what Trixie had been hoping for. If Octavia had just ignored the letter, the plan would have fallen apart at the beginning.
Trixie nodded. “As Night Court Representative, I felt an obligation to apologize for what happened at your residence. I was out of line.”
Octavia settled back in her chair. “I see.”
“So, hopefully, we can clear the air between us. I thought a little meeting might assist with that.”
“Of course.” Octavia smiled slightly. “Incidentally, you can drop the illusion now, Trixie Lulamoon. It doesn't fool me.”
Oh, Hay. “What – what illusion?” Trixie stammered. She'd put her best effort into it this time. What had she done wrong?
“The one you’re casting over this room.” Octavia looked almost smug. “First of all, the reverberation in here is completely wrong for a carpeted surface. The sound of our voices should be much duller. This floor – soft as it feels – has a thin carpet here and there, and hardwood everywhere else.”
Trixie hated the feeling of being completely outmatched. “Uh.”
“Second, I hear the breeze from outside.” Trixie cocked her head. There was some faint sound, but she couldn’t say what it was. “From there.” The cellist pointed at Trixie’s largest window. “A weak seal or a crack… and yet it looked freshly installed.”
“Um.” Trixie gulped. The Residency was reasonably weather-proof, but it was old and it did have a few places that needed patching up. But how had Octavia figured that out in seconds, and by ear alone? How freakishly good was her hearing?
“And, lastly you’re breathing rather heavily for a mare who’s simply sitting in a chair. One might theorize that you’re casting something.” Octavia’s smile grew slightly. “Especially given that faint, high-pitched whine I hear, which, as I recall, is emblematic of unicorn magic.”
She can hear my magic too? Oh come on! I’m great at casting quiet spells! Trixie forced herself to remain calm – though this was complicated by the fact that Octavia was apparently listening to, and studying, her breathing patterns. Fine, junk the illusion. Skip to the contempt part. Come on, I can make her angry! I’m really good at making people not like me! It’s just on purpose this time!
While she thought, Octavia began to speak again. “It is a good effort. Your horn looks dull, and the tactile sensations are a nice touch. But the auditory aspect is lacking.” Octavia sipped her flask of bourbon. “Let me guess what’s going on. You still think that I’m going to set Lyra up for something bad, so you brought her here, cast a spell to mask her and to gussy the room, and intend to try to get me to detail some evil scheme with her in earshot?”
“So you admit you have an evil scheme?” asked Trixie, brightly.
Make her think I’m a complete idiot…
Octavia rolled her eyes and rose to her hooves. “Goodnight.”
“Wait!” Trixie shot to her hooves, deliberately breaking the illusion as she did so. “Wait, hang on!”
The room, in a flash, turned back to its usual chaotic state. Old dishes and a few pieces of clothing were scattered about, and the wallpaper was dirty and faded. The carpet was indeed sporadic and thin, and the big window needed new sealant. Furthermore, instead of neatly organized stacks, the papers on Trixie’s desk were scattered all around. A few quills were mixed amongst the papers, tethered tenuously by a mess of strings to an old can.
“Lyra isn’t here,” lied Trixie. “I tried to get her to come, but she wouldn't listen to me. She doesn’t trust me anymore. But I thought if, if I could impress you with my taste or something, you’d-”
“I find it oddly hard to believe you, Trixie. I hope you won’t mind me checking for myself.”
Trixie fell silent and watched as Octavia began to slowly walk a circle around the room. The cellist paused frequently, shutting her eyes and listening to sounds only she could hear. Trixie bit her lip. Had she hidden Lyra well enough? Was Octavia even now hearing a breath, a blink, a rumbling from Lyra's stomach that would give her away?
But Octavia didn’t seem to hear anything. “Alright,” she said, opening up her eyes. “There’s nopony in earshot except you and I.”
“Like I said, she wouldn’t listen to me. She thinks you’re more trustworthy. I don’t get it, I’m usually really good at talking ponies into things, but lately…”
Make her hold me in contempt…
“I’m unsurprised. I’ve heard a lot about you, Lulamoon. You’re not very good at making friends.”
“Well, forget friendship then.” Trixie walked over to Octavia. “Look, just stop whatever scheme you’ve got going. I’ll make it up to you. I’m Luna’s student. I have influence.” She smiled winningly. “Lots of it. I’ll do more for you than Greengrass ever could.”
“You? How – how can you even think that?” Octavia raised an eyebrow. “How unintelligent can you possibly be? Everypony in the Court knows that Luna was so fed up with you that she exiled you here. And then you screwed up the Longest Night ceremony, and you’re only still in Equestria and not exiled to Tortrotto because you somehow obtained the Element of Magic. You have no influence.”
“I have influence with Luna!” Trixie repeated, as if repeating this statement would somehow help her.
“Yes, and that matters how? Can you use any of it?” Octavia smiled again. “Apparently, you’re so foalish that you not only thought I was up to something bad, but you thought I’d just tell you because you asked politely and promised me something you could not possibly provide?”
Trixie looked away. It wasn't working. Octavia hadn’t confessed anything, and she would probably leave soon. No matter what Trixie said or showed about herself, the cellist wasn’t biting.
Wait. Forget myself, Octavia doesn't care enough about me to get angry when I act dumb, but Octavia likes Lyra. I should be able to use that! If I make Octavia think that I don't appreciate Lyra, that I can't see how useful she could be, she might be contemptuous enough to...
“Well, maybe I’ll tell Luna what you’re up to!”
“I am ‘up to’ nothing.”
“You’re trying to get Lyra to work for Greengrass so you can manipulate me!” said Trixie, triumphantly. “It’s obvious! You obviously don't want her for her own sake, since she's just an unemployed lyre player, but you know I care about her, so you want to use her to force me to —“
Octavia began to turn a bright shade of red.
Got her, thought Trixie.
The musician approached Trixie. “You… you are a COMPLETE IDIOT! You think any of this is about you? Are you really that self-absorbed? You don’t factor into any of the Night Court’s calculations, because none of them hold you in anything more than mockery and contempt! Luna herself was probably hoping that you’d be eaten by some monster in the Everfree when she sent you here!” She tossed her mane. “None of this has anything to do with you whatsoever.”
“I don’t believe you,” said Trixie, trying to match Octavia’s former smugness. “Why else would Greengrass want Lyra?”
“Because she’s the Element of Loyalty, you…” Octavia hissed something inarticulate. “She’s one of the Elements of Harmony. One of the six ponies who can beat Corona. How is it not obvious?”
“Well, so am I,” said Trixie. Now, if she was right, Octavia would keep talking. She would be desperate for somepony to confide in, wouldn’t have the political chops to know to shut up, and would believe that Trixie was both too distrusted and too stupid to use the information.
Octavia obliged her. “Yes, and you support Luna. Fine. But right now, all of the Elements work for Luna. Are you able to comprehend why some nobles might not like that?”
Trixie pretended to be thinking hard. “Uh…”
“Look. Let’s say Corona does return. Say she arrives in Starlight’s territory. Starlight runs to Luna and begs for help. Luna says ‘sure,’ if Starlight votes her way on the next few motions in the Court. If he says no or dithers, no Elements arrive, and Corona lays waste until he gives in.” Octavia shook her head. “The nobles don’t want Luna to be able to threaten them with obliteration from Corona if they don’t do what she wants. They don’t want her to be slow to defend their provinces and cities because they opposed her on some tax issue. Now do you understand?”
“Well, the Elements don’t really work for Luna.” Trixie smiled. “Some might say they work for me.”
“That’s even worse. ‘Trixie, save us!’ ‘Of course, as soon as you build me my own palace!’ The Elements are too powerful to be left in your foalistine, selfish hooves.” Octavia straightened. “So, yes, Duke Greengrass and his collagues enlisted me to track down Lyra and secure her services, so that if something requiring Elemental magic does come up, he can count on her. Honestly, I’m doing Lyra a favor. A lot of nobles want their own Element, and Greengrass is a much better boss than most.”
Trixie decided to go further and continue acting dumb to get more information. It could be important. “It sure was lucky for him that the Extravaganza was lyre-based this year--” she began.
“It wasn’t luck! He was one of the big sponsors, so he told them to play lyre music. And he forced several of the lyre players to quit or run away, so they’d need understudies and backups.”
“Wow. I guess he really outmaneuvered me. I was expecting somepony to try to poach the Elements, but this was really unexpected.”
“Well, that would be why he is a Duke and you are a Representative,” hissed Octavia.
“So what’s going to happen to Lyra? When she gets into Canterlot, Greengrass threatens her until she signs a contract to work for him?”
“No, nothing so crude. He just won’t let her play at the Extravaganza until she swears to support him if he needs the Elements. He’s sponsoring, so he can veto musicians he doesn’t like. She’ll swear, she’ll play, and that will be the end of it. It’s not like we’ve needed the Elements more than once in the past millennium, so I doubt he’ll even ever have reason to call upon her.” Octavia began walking towards the door. “Either way, there’s nothing you can do about it, Lulamoon.”
“Oh. Well, can’t she just say she'll work for him, play, and leave? I mean, if he calls for her and she doesn't come, what's he going to do?”
“Lyra is intelligent enough to know that you do not break a contract with a Duke of the Night Court, Lulamoon. It is pathetic that you are not even that wise.”
Trixie had one more question. “Why are you helping him? I thought you were friends with Lyra.”
That seemed to irritate Octavia more than anything else Trixie had said. “I still am! How can you possibly be this thick?”
“What?” asked Trixie, not having to pretend to be confused.
“I… oh, I wouldn’t expect you to understand. You were always trying to be a career politician. You don’t understand how sometimes you have to choose between your friends and what you want to do in life. I suppose it helps when what you want to do is rule over other ponies, but that’s not me. I create something. That matters. That – that’s worth a sacrifice.”
Trixie frowned, not knowing what the cellist was getting at.
“I have worked very hard, Lulamoon.” Octavia looked out the window. “I have perfected my art. I have never asked for anypony to pity me or give me a job I didn’t deserve, an audience I didn’t merit. I am fully aware of my ability. I am good enough to play for the nobility and best ears in Canterlot.” She took a breath. And they began asking me to do things for them; to pass secret messages under the cover of my performances, that sort of thing. I didn’t want to, of course, as if you could understand not wanting to get involved in politics, but I was informed that my career would be over unless I complied. So I complied. I’m complying now too.” Octavia glared at Trixie. “A musician without an audience is just a dreamer, Trixie, and I don't just dream. I create. So I do what I have to do to have the career I love and to share the glory of music with the world."
“You were Lyra's mentor. Is that what you taught her?"
“We were both naïve then. Someday she’ll thank me.” Octavia scowled. “Probably the day she gets to Canterlot, signs whatever Greengrass throws at her, and then gets to play for an audience of twenty thousand ponies. I’m giving her the greatest gift she could ever hope for.”
Trixie had what she needed, and now she couldn't help it -- it was beyond her to avoid throwing in a little barb at the end. “Her? It sounds like Greengrass threatened to have you blacklisted unless you brought him Lyra. You aren’t doing this for her at all. It’s just for yourself.”
“I have worked too hard to be kicked out of Canterlot for something as stupid as this! If it was due to any flaw in my technique, I could accept that, but I will not sacrifice my passion on the altar of some noble’s stupid political gambits!” Octavia reached the door. “I will bring Lyra to Canterlot, and I will get on with my life. I will flourish and continue to perform. And so will she. And someday, when all you have to show for your life is a fiefdom in the middle of nowhere and a squadron of sycophantic toadies, when you wonder how it is that you never produced anything but only took from others, when you look at all the lives that she and I have improved and you cannot find a single pony who was better off for having met you, you will understand why I made this choice. Goodbye, Lulamoon.” She stormed out.
Trixie sighed. That had gone… well, it had gone very well for her, because Octavia had confessed, but probably not as well for Lyra. She had to go comfort the green mare. It was the friendly thing to do.
She approached the old can on her desk, and found the one string that wasn’t connected to a quill. It was taut, and careful visual examination showed that it led out of the room. Trixie spoke into the can. “She’s gone.”
The string slackened.
Trixie nodded. That was how to send a voice or a sound from one room to another, far enough away that two were out of earshot with one another, without using magic. All you needed was two cans and some high-quality wire. A foalish trick, perhaps, but sometimes those were the best.
Trixie’s back door opened, and soon Lyra was dragging herself from the garden into the room. She looked like she was about to cry.
Trixie opened her mouth to gloat, but then shut it. This wasn’t the time. “Alright,” she said. “Now we need to decide what to do about it.”
Octavia. The friend who had stayed up with her all night when she was horribly sick with the pony pox, even though the cellist had a jury test in the morning. The friend who had spent three days helping her master Professor Eight Note’s last and most difficult symphony, teaching and instructing without rest, enabling Lyra to earn the ‘Best Performance’ award for the end of year recitals. The friend who had trained with her, performed with her, and griped with her during their 3AM study sessions.
And now she had betrayed her.
Trixie helped Lyra onto a couch and laid a blanket over her. “Do you need anything? Ice cream, or hot chocolate, or bourbon or…?”
“No. I'm okay.” Lyra realized that she was crying. “Trixie, I’m… I’m so sorry I didn’t believe you. You were completely right, and—“
“Not your fault. I went too far, and it’s not like I haven’t given you reason to doubt me.” Trixie sighed. “If you hadn’t been so patient with me, we might not have caught this in time.”
Lyra managed a very slight smile through her tears. “Still. I should have trusted your instincts more – you know more about the Court than I. Besides, we’re friends. Right?”
“Yes.” Trixie smiled back at Lyra. “We are.”
Lyra scooted back as Trixie sat on the other end of the couch. The musician was still softly crying. The blue mare paused, then said, “I’m going to guess you don’t want to take that job anymore.”
Lyra shuddered and didn't say anything.
“Stay with me, then. Octavia’ll probably freak out trying to find you, but if she can’t get you there in time, we win. She’ll have to leave, and then she'll never be able to hurt us again.”
That sounded ominous to Lyra. "Why not? Couldn't she just come back later?"
“Greengrass is vindictive. He’ll have her blacklisted for failing him, and probably arrange that she has to leave Canterlot. That's it for her political career."
"Yeah. If I know him, he'll do whatever he can to ensure that she can't find work there or in other major cities. He sees it as giving his remaining helpers an incentive to avoid screwing up."
"I want to be able to play," Octavia had told her long ago, "For as many ponies as I can. I want to be good enough to be able to obtain orchestra positions so I can reach entire concert halls and let thousands of ponies hear beautiful performances. But not just that... I want to be great enough to perform for the Dukes and Counts and Viciennes, and maybe even Princess Luna herself!" This was the only time Lyra had ever heard Octavia sound excited and jumpy, almost foal-like. "Can you imagine what an honor it would be to play for an immortal pony, one who's heard so much music before? How amazing it would be to impress her and to perform something so gorgeous that it moved her to tears? If I could do that, no matter what else happened, I would be so happy..."
Performing music had always been Octavia's dream. It had been her sole passion for all the years Lyra had known her. Now it would be wrecked; she'd be unable to perform again for the Court or almost any other pony. She'd still be able to play in villages, but she'd never reach the quantity of ponies -- or the elite few that she really wanted to meet and play for -- that way.
Octavia had betrayed her, had tried to sell her out to Greengrass. But, as badly as Lyra hurt, as much as she wanted to fling herself into Bonbon's arms and sob for an hour, she couldn't bring herself to want to destroy Octavia. Octavia had been disloyal to her, but even so, Lyra found that she didn't want to smash her former friend's career and send her off to spend the rest of her life doing anything but the one thing she wanted.
“No.” Lyra shook her head. “No. Not even after this… I can’t let that happen.”
“Uh, Lyra, she just admitted she would try to force you to work for her boss. And that her boss would do really bad things if you backed out of it.”
“I know. But I still owe her. I wouldn’t be half as good at the lyre as I am today without her.” She looked down. "I can’t hate her, not even after this. I just can't."
Trixie didn't say anything.
"Isn’t there any way I can get out of it without ruining her?”
Trixie thought. “The only way would be to make you unavailable. So it wouldn’t be Octavia’s fault that you couldn’t go. But you already told her you were free, right?”
Lyra nodded again.
“Besides, if it was obvious you were lying about not being able to attend, then Greengrass might think that Octavia tipped you off and you both colluded. You’d have to be unable to go there due to the efforts of some other pony.”
They were both silent for a few moments.
“I have an idea,” said Trixie. “But you’re probably not going to like it.”
Lyra was still for a moment, then smiled a little. “Trixie, that’s… that’s awesome.”
Trixie brightened. "You really like it?"
"It's perfect. And it saves me, and it stops Octavia from being exiled. I love it."
“Well, I’ll get on it, then.” Trixie rose. “If you want to stay the night, I’ll go tell Bonbon that you’re staying… you look kind of tired to go walking—“
“I’ll be fine. But thank you.”
Trixie led Lyra out of her house, and Lyra began the walk home. She was lucky, she thought, to have a friend like Trixie.
Lyra was awake early the next morning, and was unsurprised to hear Octavia knock on the door.
“Octavia! Hi!” She smiled as best she could and welcomed Octavia inside. “What’s new?”
“I was thinking. Since you decided to play in the Extravaganza, it might make sense for us to head back to Canterlot now. We’ll have a few days to settle in before the actual concerts begin.” Octavia smiled. “And I would be quite surprised if you didn’t want to try the Grace Note at least once.”
“That little bakery by the Academy?”
“The very same. They have some kind of partnership with a proprietor named Donut Joe, now, where he provides donuts and they provide cakes and sweets to fill the hole in the donut. Surprisingly, it’s quite delicious. My treat.”
“That sounds amazing.” Lyra turned. “Let me get my bags, and—“
“Hey! Lyra Heartstrings, open up!”
Lyra paused and turned back to her door. “Who is it?”
“It’s the police! Open this door now!”
Lyra and Octavia exchanged a confused glance. “Lyra, what is this?” asked Octavia.
“You’re asking me?” She opened the door. “Is everything alright?”
A large yellow pegasus with a policepony’s hat was scowling at her. “Lyra Heartstrings, right?”
“You’re under arrest!”
“Lyra, what did you do?” hissed Octavia.
“I didn’t do anything!”
The officer was leading Lyra to the courthouse, with an increasingly frantic Octavia following. “Fine, what does she think you did?”
“How should I know?”
A foal was taking pictures outside the courthouse. Octavia winced as the camera flash went off in her eyes. “Stop that!” “Foal Free Press, ma’am,” said the foal. “I’m supposed to take pictures outside the courthouse today.”
The officer shoved at Lyra. “Come on, Heartstrings. Time to pay for what you did.” They both went inside, leaving Octavia to again chase after them.
“Will you just tell us what’s going on? We have a train to catch!” snapped Octavia. “Do you know who I represent?”
“Should I?” asked the officer.
“I have the ear of some very important ponies. Tell us what Lyra is being charged with, or I will –“
The officer smiled contemptuously. “Or you’ll what?”
They were led into a conference room, where the officer left them but promised that she’d be right outside the door in case they tried to run. Octavia sighed. “I don’t believe this.”
“Do you think it’s Trixie?” mused Lyra.
“She was really upset over me choosing to go play. She went on this crazy conspiracy rant last night about you and this Greengrass guy and everything. Maybe she’s using her power as Representative to have me arrested.”
Octavia frowned. “Well… don’t worry. If that’s what’s happening, I’ll get you a special royal exemption. The charges, whatever they are, will be voided and you’ll get to Canterlot with time to spare. We just—“
The door banged open, and Trixie staggered in.
“Lulamoon, what is the –“ Octavia froze. “Are you drunk?”
Trixie laughed. “Bourbon! Now that’s a loyal friend! It ain’t gonna just leave you behind and run off to Canterlot to have all kinds of fun with somepony who’s just gonna betray her!” She stumbled into a chair and collapsed. “Hey Lyra, how’s it goin’?”
“Trixie, what did you do?” demanded Lyra.
“Nothing. Just broke a few of Carrot Top’s fences, ripped up a few carrots, you know. Stuff like that.” She grinned. “Course, I illusioned myself to look like you.”
“You WHAT?!” cried the two other mares at once.
Lyra had to fight not to laugh. Trixie was giving a great performance, and it was kind of fun to put on this huge show just to fool Octavia. But she couldn’t crack up. If Octavia suspected they were lying, it would cause problems.
“Uh huh! Looked like you! Even stole one of those stupid rings Bonbon got you and left it there! You’re goin’ to jail! That way, you’ll never get to Canterlot!” Trixie laughed. “Serves ya right! Octavia, she, she was totally gonna make you work for that jerk Greengrass.”
“How dare you? Trixie, I could go to jail for this!” cried Lyra.
Octavia scowled. “Don’t worry, Lyra. The investigation will show—“
“Who cares what it shows? Court’ll take weeks! You’ll miss your stupid Extravaganza opening, and even I know that musicians can’t just miss concerts and come back later!” Trixie brayed laughter. “Serves you right for throwing me under the cart!”
Lyra groaned. “Octavia, help me – I don’t know what to do!”
Octavia shut her eyes. “Let me think!” And then, a moment later, “Hey, somepony get this idiot out of here!” She kicked at Trixie, who rolled away from it.
The officer came back in. “Come on, miss,” she said, helping Trixie up. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
“Good riddance,” muttered Octavia, as the two left.
“Octavia, isn’t there anything you can do?”
“I can try to contact the sponsors and see if they can pull some strings,” said Octavia. “I’m sure they’ll be able to. It would be very embarrassing if one of their performers couldn’t show because she was in jail.”
“How long will that take?”
“A day at most,” said Octavia.
“Well, as long as they don’t—“
The officer reappeared. “Heartstrings! You’re up!”
She dragged Lyra to her feet and began prodding her out of the room.
The courtroom was sparsely populated, but Octavia could see a judge – a purple mare with a pink mane, sitting at the bench – and a prosecutor The officer took a position by the door, apparently also acting as baliff, and Octavia followed Lyra to the defendant’s bench.
“Your honor,” said the prosecutor, a yellow earth pony with an orange mane, “We are ready to present our case against Lyra Heartstrings.”
“But I’m innocent—“ began Lyra.
The judge banged her gavel. “We don’t have all day. Hurry up!”
The prosecutor began her case. Briefly, it seemed that a farmer named Carrot Top had woken that morning to find one of her fences torn down and several of her carrots ripped to pieces. One of Lyra’s rings had been found in the dirt, and a few other ponies had seen Lyra leaving the scene late that night.
“I think we can deny bail, then,” said the judge. She quickly began filling out a form.
“Wait!” called Octavia. “Lyra is due to perform in Canterlot in just a few days. She—“
“That doesn’t exempt her from following the law,” snapped the judge. “Now, be silent or I’ll have you removed from my court.”
Octavia thought as quickly as she could. There had to be somepony in town who could intervene and stop this. Trixie wasn’t the only governmental official they had, and besides, she was drunk and couldn’t interfere with anything Octavia did.
“Lyra,” she hissed. “I’m going to get the mayor of this town and anypony else who can help. I’ll get you out as soon as I can.” She turned and hurried out of the room.
Everypony was completely silent as Octavia’s hoofsteps faded down the hall. Only when the foal from out front came back and reported that Octavia had left the building and was galloping for Mayor Scrolls’s office did they make noise.
Specifically, they burst into laughter.
Cherilee put down the gavel, giggling merrily. “You know, when I was little, I thought it’d be a lot of fun to be a judge. You could bang gavels all day, and that sounded really neat.” She grinned. “I was right! That was fun!”
The officer took off her helmet. “Think we fooled her?” she asked.
The foal had gone to tell tell Trixie that Octavia was gone, and the showmare dashed into the room. “So, did it work?” she asked. “She get fooled?”
“Yeah!” said Lyra. “Great drunk impression, Trixie. I think you really sold her.”
Lyra frowned. “Trixie, are you…?”
“See, I was gonna just fake it, but I thought, we’re great friends! I gotta be realistic!” Trixie hiccupped. “And ya said it yourself, I did great!”
“Wow, Trixie. You got drunk for me.” It was hard to tell if Lyra was kidding or not.
Trixie frowned a little. “Aw, come on. I’m trying to help ya. And – and maybe I’m not always good at it, but I’m really trying real hard, and—“
“You did fine.” Lyra hugged Trixie. “Thank you.”
Raindrops coughed. “Come on, girls. We need to get ready for when she comes back.”
Lyra nodded. “Let’s get to the train station.”
Several hours passed.
Octavia, looking exhausted and disheveled, approached the train station on hoof. “Lyra?” she called, weary and worn. “Lyra, are you there? They told me they saw you heading over here.”
Lyra poked her head out of the station building. “In here, Octavia.”
Octavia staggered inside and took a long drink of water before talking. “Good, you got bail. I talked to the mayor, town council, and a couple of the richer ponies in town who are patrons of the arts. Told everypony that you’re being framed by Trixie, that they need to step in and stop her. Mayor Scrolls told me that… what’s this?”
She had noticed the pile of luggage.
“Those are your things,” said Lyra.
“You’re going back to Canterlot.”
Octavia blinked a few times. “I don’t understand. I can’t leave without you.”
“I’m not going.”
“Lyra, we can beat Trixie. You can still play at the Song Cycle Extravaganza.“
“I said, I’m not going.” Lyra glared at Octavia. “I was listening in on your conversation with Trixie last night.”
All the color drained from Octavia’s face. “Impossible. I broke her illusion, and I—“
“Trixie hid me. Not with magic. Doesn’t matter.” Lyra scowled. “You’ve been trying to manipulate me from the start. Force me to work for this Duke Greengrass. You lied to me. You betrayed me!“
“Wait. You don’t understand.” Octavia gulped. “Listen, when I told Trixie that Greengrass was the best possible option for you, I was being sincere. He isn’t the only noble that wants an Element, but he’s definitely the best one to work for, and—“
“I don’t think the Elements work like that. I’m not somepony’s bodyguard.”
The two stared at each other for a moment.
“Just consider it,” said Octavia, her voice becoming more of a plea. “It would mean a lot to me. I have never asked you for anything until now, but if you don't come with me to Canterlot, Greengrass will--”
“About that. You’re going to tell Greengrass that Trixie got jealous and had me arrested. That I pled guilty and received three months’ probation, and as part of the agreement I cannot leave Ponyville. So I can’t play in his stupid concert and it isn’t your fault. Furthermore, if he tries to get the sentence overturned or something, Trixie will cause a huge scandal. If there’s one thing she excels at, it’s at drawing attention to something, and she’ll make sure every paper in Equestria knows that a criminal is playing at the Extravaganza at Duke Greengrass’s behest.”
“He’ll never believe that. Lyra, he’ll think I made it up due to our friendship, and—“
Lyra nodded at an envelope resting on top of Octavia’s belongings. “Photos from me being taken into court, the paperwork Cherilee filled out, and other court papers. That should be sufficient evidence.”
“Any pony can make paperwork. If it was just you and your friends in the courtroom, then there weren't any witnesses. He'll investigate and find that nopony in town knows about this 'frame up.'"
Lyra smiled, but it was thin. “Well, you’ve spent the day telling ponies all over the city that Trixie was having me framed, right? And I'll bet you looked really sincere. I'm sure the ponies you told then told all their friends, who told their friends, and so on. By now, half the town probably knows what Trixie 'did' to me. Greengrass's investigation will show all the confirmation of our story that you need."
The cellist looked stunned. “You fooled me. You used me.”
“Yeah. To help you. So it isn’t your fault that you failed to bring me back to Canterlot.” Lyra scowled. “We could have just left you high and dry, but we went through this whole act so that Greengrass doesn’t have you blacklisted. You’re welcome.”
Octavia looked down, and Lyra saw that she was about ready to cry. “Lyra, I never intended for you to get hurt.” Lyra said nothing. “I tried everything I could, but there was nothing else for it. If I was going to perform for the nobles, I had to participate in Night Court activities! It was just carrying letters at first, and I didn’t care about that, but Greengrass wouldn’t let it stop there. He said that, if I didn’t collect you, he’d make sure I never played in any noble houses again. What was I going to do? A musician without an audience is just a dreamer, I’ve invested my whole life in my craft, and—“
“Stop it. Please.” Lyra approached her. “You could have told me, Octavia. I trusted you. If you had just approached me and told me what was going on, we could have figured something out. But you lied to me and backstabbed me. So that you could get a better clientele.”
“Well, what would you have done?”
“I’m the Element of Loyalty,” said Lyra, quietly. “You know I would never have done this to you. I would have quit first.” She looked at the tracks through the train station window, which were slowly being filled by an arriving train. "And that's your ride, Octavia."
“Lyra, please.” Lyra had never seen Octavia like this. She didn’t seem refined, or even scornful. She looked like she was about to beg. “You know how few ponies can do what we do. The others don’t understand. They think of music as frivolous or some quaint hobby, something to occupy hours not set aside for more important tasks. Even the nobles care more about my utility as a secret mailmare than for my music! But we’ve always understood each other. We know the kind of work that our art requires. I’ve always thought of you as… as understanding me more than any other pony. My mother and father, an architect and a tailor, they don’t get it – but you did. Lyra, you are my closest friend.” She paused. “Can you – can you understand—“
Lyra sighed. “Octavia. You are…”
She hesitated, not knowing what to say. Octavia was her mentor. But Octavia had betrayed her.
“You are an excellent musician.”
Octavia looked away. "There will be others, Lyra. They won't all be as nice as me."
"We'll deal with them too."
Porters began carrying the luggage onto the train. “Careful with that one,” called Lyra. “It’s got an instrument inside. Very fragile.”
Lyra turned on her hooves and left. “Goodbye, Octavia. Maybe I’ll see you in Canterlot sometime.”
The train was about to depart. Octavia sat in her seat moodily, feeling impossibly low. What could she do now?
It was almost worse that the Elements had gone to all that trouble, even damaged Lyra’s and Trixie’s reputations, just to give Octavia a reason for failing so that Greengrass wouldn't blacklist her. Lyra had implied that she didn’t deserve that kind of consideration. She was probably right.
“What happened to me?” she muttered. “I was happier when I was just dreaming. This wasn’t what my career was supposed to be.” She knew that if she tried playing her cello now, she would only produce noise. Her heart just wasn’t in it.
She heard hoofsteps approaching – Trixie’s. She had the most arrogant gait of any pony Octavia had met. “Get out, Lulamoon,” hissed the cellist.
“So, Octavia!” Trixie sounded very pleased with herself. “We just did you a pretty big favor, so now you owe us one.”
Octavia said nothing.
“From now on, when you hear about Greengrass or anypony else trying to ‘obtain’ one of the Elements? You write me. Got it?”
“Or what?” the cellist hissed.
“Or I let it slip that the reason I had Lyra arrested was not out of stupid jealousy, but because I figured out your plan. No, because you told me your plan. Greengrass won’t like that too much, will he?”
“…go to Tartarus.”
“Hey, the Elements are my friends. I'm going to protect them, whether you like it or not.” Trixie began to walk off. “Have a nice ride back. Say hi to the Duke for me!”
Octavia groaned and sank deeper into her seat. This was the worst day of her life.
A few days later...
Lyra looked at the letter on Trixie’s desk. Only the second page was visible, but it was still quite interesting.
…be advised that some of the nobles are attempting to obtain the services of the Elements of Harmony, and may be using proxies to do so. Philharmonica will probably not be the last one. I will, of course, do all I can to prevent them from succeeding.
Regarding Philharmonica, I have discussed the matter with Lyra, and neither of us wish to see her destroyed over this affair. While she did betray her friend, she was pressured into it, and Lyra still feels a debt to her from her time at the Academy. I understand that one could argue that she be harshly punished because, were she successful in tricking one of the Elements to work for one of the nobles, that Element could be used for political gain instead of the safety of all Equestria. Nonetheless, we both hope that you temper justice with mercy and deal with her lightly.
On a more personal note, I wanted to thank you for insisting that I learn about friendship, even when I was reluctant. If I had still been my old self, I could never have protected Lyra from Greengrass. I acknowledge that I am still learning, but your instruction has already been invaluable for myself and my friends.
Your faithful student,
PS: Incidentally, if you do need a lyre player for any reason, I cannot recommend Lyra highly enough.
“Hey. Don’t you know it’s rude to read somepony else’s mail?”
Lyra turned to see Trixie and grinned. “Just making sure you put in all the good parts.”
“You mean, making sure I didn’t take credit for everything? Nah, it’s all in there. Including…” she sighed. “The part where I almost drove you away.”
“Hey, I forgave you.”
“Still.” Trixie nodded. “I’m trying to be better. I really am. But I still screw up sometimes. I’m sorry—“
“I already told you, it's okay.” Lyra laughed. “Trixie, I know you’re not perfect. Well, that’s probably an understatement. But I also know that you always come through when it really matters. Against Corona… against Twilight… at the performance last month… even now. Sure, sometimes you don’t say the right thing, but you’re still a great friend.”
Trixie blushed. “Thanks, Lyra. That means a lot to me.” She put the letter into her hat and cast the spell to teleport it to Luna. “It really does.”
“And, I guess I should be happy that I scored my first political victory.”
“Over a cellist with absolutely no political training.”
“Gotta start somewhere!”
The two laughed.
Lyra plucked her lyre. “Come on… let’s get to the park. I’ve got some new music that I think the foals will love.”
“I’ll get the Doos,” said Trixie. “And the other Elements.”
“Better hurry. You don’t want to miss the opening. It’s based on our adventures the past week.”
"I'll be there for the opening, but I won't be able to stay for long. There's still twenty homes that haven't filled out their census forms." Trixie looked at the paperwork in her saddlebags. "And Pokey can't help me with this for some legal reason."
"Well, I suppose now you've learned not to sign your friends up for random bureaucratic tasks."
"I certainly have," sighed Trixie.
Lyra smiled kindly. "If you're still working when I'm done, I'll help you."
"Now, come on, let's get going. I've got to regale the crowd with the music of our adventures!"
“…you did omit the part where I got drunk and almost passed out on the judge’s chair, right?”
Lyra giggled and began to leave.
“Right? Lyra? Hello?”
Lyra laughed and galloped out of the room.
“Hey, come back here!” Trixie, smiling radiantly, chased her out into the bright new day.