The Gentle Nights: Audience of One

by PaulAsaran

First published

A chance meeting at a ruined gala leads to opportunity. Luna longs to recover from her isolation and the shadows of her past, and she clings to the one pony whose music provides her comfort. She might not be the only benefactor in the arrangement...

Octavia Melody is calm, patient and longing to break the boundaries of class through her career as a musician.

Princess Luna is lost in the eddies of her past, struggling to belong in a new age that doesn't seem to want her.

A chance meeting after a disastrous gala gives these isolated souls a chance to find companionship and comfort. As Luna seeks solace in Octavia's soothing music, Octavia comes to recognize the princess's loneliness and fears. When it's your duty to protect other ponies' dreams, who protects your own? Octavia might just be willing to try.

...a fantastic fic, with one of the best paced romances you can find on this site, great prose, and one of the best characterized Octavia's I could point out.Soge, TPCaRG (Read the review!)

PaulAsaran has crafted what may well be the best LunAvia ship on the site.Cerulean Voice

Highly recommended if you like romance instead of the more typical shallow shipping.City of Doors

If you're a fan of Luna and or Octavia, it's a crime not to indulge!Wanderer D

I guarantee you will enjoy it.vren55

Print copy now available for purchase on Lulu!

A re-imagining of The Gentle Nights, reworked from the ground up to be bigger and brighter.

Special thanks to Mercury Gilado, Absolution and Starlight Nova for pre-reading and editing.

Artwork commissioned from the talented viwrastupr.

[11/11/2014]: Now featured on Equestria Daily!
Featured 11/22/14.

Now featured by The Royal Guard!

Rāt Yād Ānā

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter I
Rāt Yād Ānā

Octavia tilted her head back to gaze upon the vaulted ceiling of Canterlot Castle’s Grand Hall. Her heart was beating like a drum at the sights: pearly marble columns, brilliant historical tapestries, massive windows and shimmering crystal chandeliers. She lowered her eyes to take in the bustling activity of hundreds of servants roaming, working and shouting, all preparing for the night’s big event. There, far across the hall beneath the widest window in the room, was the stage.

And she was going to be on it. The thought made the butterflies in her stomach flutter about as a big grin spread across her face.

“Oh my Goddess, Parish, look at this.” Beauty Brass beamed in Octavia’s face. “I can see her teeth!”

Octavia sealed her traitorous lips, but not before Parish Nandermane spun about to catch the grin. “Holy horseshoes! Who are you and what have you done with Octavia?”

Beauty pressed her hooves to Octavia’s cheeks and examined her up close, head tilting back and forth. “Do it again, maybe Tartarus will freeze over.”

Octavia rolled her eyes. “I get it,” she said, voice sounding odd with her cheeks pressed in as they were, “I’m an emotionless priss. Please rub it in a little more.”

Parish chuckled and turned back to his rolling harp stand. “Well, if you really want us to I’m sure BB will oblige.”

“You bet.” Beauty stepped back and counted by tapping her hooves. “Pigs flying, the sun and the moon rising at the same time, the Everfree going crazy, song and dance numbers creating alicorns, dogs and cats living together, changelings invade Canter—wait, that’s it!” She pointed at Octavia with a grin. “You must be a changeling.”

Octavia facehooved. “Do forgive me if I’m a little excited that one of my lifelong dreams happens to be coming true.”

Beauty giggled. “Octavia Melody doesn’t get excited. It’s a fundamental law of the universe.” She winced at Octavia’s glower with a lopsided smile. “Okay, okay, I’ll quit it.”

“It is something, though,” Parish admitted, his head slowly turning to take in the massive hall. “I’ve known about this for months, and I still can’t believe we’re actually here.”

Beauty shrugged and turned to lift her sousaphone case. “I know it’s exciting the first time, but trust me: after an hour you’ll be wishing it was over. The Grand Galloping Gala has got to be one of the most boring social events in Equestria, even by elitist standards. No offense, Octy.”

They made their way to the stage, dodging the servants who scurried about them like ants. It was slow going, but Octavia didn’t mind; it was hard to be annoyed by anything when walking on air. She stood on the tips of her hooves to try and see over the heads of everypony, making out the majestic grand piano on one side of the stage. No sign of the pony who would be using it, though.

Parish glanced at her from over a group of servants rushing between them. “Is he there?”

“I don’t see him,” Octavia replied, settling back to a normal walk. She noticed how his shoulders sagged. “You act as if he won’t show up.”

“I know, I’m being silly.” Parish straightened up and offered a grin. “I’m just so nervicited! Do you realize—”

“—what an opportunity this is?” Beauty bumped him with an elbow. “No, not really. Why don’t you remind us again? I don’t remember from when you said it ten minutes ago.”

“I can’t believe you’re so calm about it,” he replied as they reached the stage. “Seriously, the guy came all the way from Germaney and we get to perform with him!”

Octavia climbed the access ramp ahead of her friends, muzzle held high. “I’m sure this is as big an event for Mr. Horseshoepin as it is for us.”

“Did somepony say my name?”

Despite her posh manner, Octavia couldn’t ignore the small increase in her heart rate. She turned with the others to see a brown Earth pony step onto the stage from the opposite side. His lips were set in a stern frown, but there was a light in his eyes that told Octavia his mood didn’t match the expression.

“Ooooh my Goddess.” Parish took a step forward with a big grin. “M-mr. Horseshoepin, it is an honor!”

Frederick Horseshoepin nodded to Parish. “You must be Mr. Nandermane. A pleasure.”

“The pleasure is all mine!” Parish was shifting back and forth, one hoof tapping the floor as he fought to keep his excitement in check. “I want you to know, I have all your recordings! You must be the single greatest—”

Beauty stepped up and pressed a hoof into his mouth. She tilted her head Frederick’s way. “Please do not mind him, he’s a doddering idiot. Beauty Brass, nice to meet you.”

Frederick nodded to her as well. “Of course. I do not mind zee fans; I vouldn’t be vere I am today vizout zem. So—” he turned his eyes on Parish, the slightest of upturned curves coming to his lips “—feel free to gush.”

He was straining with the accent. It made him a little difficult to understand, but apparently Parish got the gist: he pulled away from Beauty’s hoof and beamed. “I would be happy to gush! Why, I can gush so much that you have no idea—”

Beauty whacked him over the head and replaced her hoof on his lips. “Take a chill pill, Parish, and think about the phrase ‘double entendre’ for a moment.”

Frederick chuckled… then turned his eyes on Octavia. She straightened just a little at his steady gaze. “And you must be Miss Melody.”

“Indeed.” She gave a small bow of her head and willed her heart to slow down a bit. “It is good to meet you, Mr. Horseshoepin. I hope our playing does not disappoint.”

He seemed to consider her calm response. Suddenly, the stone that was his face cracked and he was smiling. “I do not belief any of you vould be here if zat vere possible. And please, all of you, callen sie me Frederick.”

With the introductions over and the ice effectively thawed, Parish was let loose to gush at his leisure. He wasted no time, spending much of it extrapolating on the wonder that was Frederick’s music. Beauty was sure to crack him over the head when he was getting a little too excited, but the pianist didn’t seem to mind at all. Beauty had her own addition to the praise every now and then, but for the most part both she and Octavia let Parish do the job for all of them.

Octavia devoted much of her time testing her cello and looking over the sheet music, though it was just to refresh her memory. She had to acknowledge that she was a little nervous. After all, here she was, about to perform at the single most prestigious event in Equestria alongside one of the world’s most renowned concert pianists. Was there a small shake in her hooves?

Well, it only made sense. This moment was the result of six years of hard work. It wasn’t her first ‘big gig,’ as Beauty liked to call them, but it could very well be the most important moment of her career and life. If she earned Frederick’s approval tonight, just how far could she go? Maybe her real dream wasn’t that far away after all.

Parish had at last managed to get enough energy out to calm down so they could rehearse. Octavia’s stomach churned for the first few minutes, which were devoted to testing out some short song excerpts and getting used to one another’s rhythms. Even so, the first mistake wasn’t hers; it came from Beauty Brass, who’d apparently lost her breath when she noticed Princess Celestia entering the hall for a last check on the preparations.

The princess didn’t stay for very long, having lots to do prior to the opening of the Gala within the next hour, but she did pause briefly by the stage to listen to them perform. Octavia was a nervous wreck the entire time, just waiting for Celestia’s pleasant, welcoming smile to turn into a frown at their playing. It never happened, though, and she actually praised their work before moving on to her next task, not once losing that ingratiating smile.

Frederick spoke up after she’d gone. “Vell, if vee haff zee princess’ nod of approfal, I zink vee’ll be just fine. Chall vee tak zee break until zee actual efent?”

He had to repeat the line twice before Octavia, with the tiniest bit of frustration, told Beauty and Parish, “We’re taking a break.”

“Oh, right.” Parish blushed with ears low. “Sorry.”

“I’m getting a bite to eat,” Beauty informed them. “If this goes how I expect then I’ll be starved by the time our next break comes up.”

“Let me join you,” Parish said, still blushing.

Frederick cast a glance to Octavia. "You are not joinink zem?”

She shook her head as she put away her sheet music. “I’m too nervous for eating.”

He frowned, but it seemed to be more self-directed than anything. “Not because of my presence, I hope?”

She shook her head again, then reconsidered and used her hooves to indicated a small amount. “It has more to do with how important this night could be for me.”

He tilted his head. “And vat exactly could zis night mean for you?”

Octavia blushed as she considered her answer. After a few seconds, she turned to gesture at the great hall before them. “I know you are used to performing at such great events, Frederick.” She winced; why did it feel so odd calling him by his first name? “Beauty has been to this before. Even Parish has been to a few major events. I, however, am largely unknown. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how it is they found my name amongst the list of potentials, or what made them think I am worthy.”

Frederick looked her up and down, eyebrows scrunched together as if he were examining a curious specimen. She shifted under that gaze.

“I am surprised,” he said at last. “I admit, I’d nefer heard of you ven zey told me your name, but I assumed it vas because I hafen’t been payink close attention to Canterlot musicians in the past few years. Still, you look and act like an elite, established and vell-connected musician of zee region.”

She smiled and adjusted her bowtie with muzzle raised high. “Why thank you, I work hard to maintain this look.”

His eyes ran over her again, but this time she didn’t feel so anxious. He gave a firm nod and reared his head back to announce, “I like you.”

She gave him a prim expression to match. “Good. If the rest of this night goes poorly, I can at least say I’ve managed one good thing.”

Frederick tossed his mane with a proud smile and turned back to his piano. “Do not vorry, Miss Melody.

“Vith ponies like us, how could zis night efer go poorly?”

Octavia was sitting behind the piano and rubbing her face with both hooves. Surely, Frederick might never have suggested this would be a good night had he known that some appropriately terrible ponies would be arriving to effectively drown out whatever positives the quartet possessed.

“That was awesome,” Beauty announced with a grin. She was sitting beside Octavia, her sousaphone still wrapped about her body. “I wish every Grand Galloping Gala was like this!”

Well, at least somepony was enjoying herself.

“Outrageous.” Frederick, his pale mane akimbo, glared at the wrecked hall. “Who in zee name of Celestia infited zose ponies? Clearly a bunch of uncifilized ruffians.”

Parish finally managed to stand his harp back up. “Not how I expected my first Grand Galloping Gala to go.”

Octavia groaned and stood. She eyed the elite ponies that filled the hall. Total chaos, from the fallen columns to the ruined buffet tables. Princess Celestia was attempting to placate the crowd, but even she was acknowledging that the Gala was over.

“Well, might as well pack up,” Parish grumbled. “I hope our pay doesn’t get docked for only going through a third of the event.”

“I’m sure they will be most generous, under the circumstances,” Beauty said, her grin not diminished in the slightest. If Octavia were any less of a pony, she might have slapped that smile off her friend’s face.

That thought made it clear: she needed to cool down. She closed her eyes and focused, becoming acutely aware of her rapid heartbeat and tense breathing. There was a distinct noise in the back of her mind like a constant cymbal, which was the single most tell-tale sign. She pursed her lips tightly and began putting her cello away.

“Octy?” Parish leaned forward a little to study her. “You okay?”

Octavia said nothing, which was enough of an answer for her two friends. Frederick watched her with a terse frown but said nothing.

“I’m going to take a walk in the gardens,” Octavia announced, her head held high as she struggled to maintain her tone. She finished putting on her cello-carting saddle. “I’ll see you two later. Frederick, it’s been a privilege.”

She left the hall, ignoring Beauty’s half-hearted attempt to stop her.

The Royal Gardens were abandoned, and for that Octavia was grateful. She could almost see the storm clouds hovering over her own head. With nopony left to see, she allowed her lips to turn up in a sneer. There was only one cure for this…

“Miss Melody?”

It was all she could do not to let out a snarl. With great will, Octavia forced her lips into the most neutral position possible before turning. Frederick stood a few feet back, his frown ever present.

“Yes, Frederick?”

He paused, rubbing a hoof over his unkempt mane. “I vanted you to know zat your playink tonight vas exemplary, and I hope zat vee might perform again soon.”

She blinked, her anger fading slowly at his words. “You… th-thank you.” Those cymbals were still ringing, but she did her best to ignore them.

He offered her a smile. “You are fery velcome. Please, do not be burdened by zis night. I vill do my best to help make up for it.”

Her jaw dropped before she could catch it. “Mr. Horseshoepin, that really isn’t necessary.”

“Do not be modest, please.” He gestured to her cello. “I noticed zat you did not play vith your cheet music. Most impressive. It is a true chame zat a pony of your talent chould remain unknown.”

There was no escaping a blush. By now Octavia's anger had faded entirely, to be replaced by a certain bubbly excitement. Still, she kept her tone in check. “You are too kind, Frederick. Assuming this night doesn’t end my career—” there were those cymbals again, “—I will strive to be the best musician I can, in honor of your kind words.”

Frederick chuckled, the faintest hint of pink in his cheeks. “Your eloquence puts me to chame, Miss Melody. I chall hafe to vork on my shpeech so zat I may keep up zee next time vee meet.” He gave her the slightest of bows. “Do me zee great honor of vritink me, if you vould be so kind. I vould like to keep up vith your career.”

Octavia had to fight to avoid a squee, instead limiting herself to a proper, small smile. “I would be happy to. Thank you, Mr. Horseshoepin.”

He nodded with a beaming smile and finally turned away. “I shall keep you no longer. I imagine you hafe some pent-up emotions to be free of. Good night, Miss Melody. I look forvard to hearink from you in zee future.”

“Good Night, Mr. Horseshoepin.”

Octavia waited until he was well out of sight to turn around and clap her hooves with a giddy grin. This was turning out to be a good night after all. For the first time in her life, somepony big had noticed her! Even if the Gala was a disaster, Frederick's endorsement might just fix all the damage. She let out an uncharacteristically girly giggle as she trotted through the grass, her mind swimming with possibilities.

How curious. Not three minutes ago she’d come out here to play some nice broody song to channel and loosen her frustration, but now she was thinking in precisely the opposite direction. She moved deeper into the gardens, looking for a place where she could play without risk of being disturbed. She finally found a suitable location: a tall fountain within a wide clearing. She gazed up at the statue’s bearded face, watching as water streamed from the wizard’s tipped hat. Not a typical design, not at all.

Octavia set her case on the fountain’s edge and carefully pulled out her cello. She stood and tested its sound, smiling at the deep, pleasant tune. Now she just needed to think of a song. What tune might she play to properly demonstrate her pleasure at this moment?

Her eyes roamed the scenery. She glanced back at the fountain, but didn’t see anything particularly inspirational. Pouting, she tapped her chin with her bow and cast her gaze skyward.

Her vision was graced by a moonless sky, deep and shimmering with stars. She gazed, momentarily stunned; it wasn’t often she could see the night sky in such a way. The bright lights of a city life denied it. As she let her eyes drift aimlessly through the inky depths, she found herself marveling.

A strange sensation filled Octavia’s mind. She found herself lost in the fanciful illusion that she might, with just a little nudge, drift off into the depths of the night. It was a strange image, a wonderful image, like a daydream creeping over her mind.

She closed her eyes, bowed her head…. and began to play.

It was a slow song, its patient rhythm blessing her ears. She imagined that she was surrounded by stars, a vision emphasized with all the tenderness her cello could offer. Calm, serene, pleasant. How long since she’d played this tune? For shame. Now that she permitted herself to be lost in the swaying melody, she wished it wouldn’t end.

But songs, like dreams, must end, and Octavia was not one to drift in this simple astral fantasy for long. She sighed in contentment as she played one last, slow, drifting note and let it hang in the night like the last flower of autumn.

Silence. Pure, comfortable silence. Octavia sucked in a slow breath, feeling indescribably calm. Oh, what pleasure her cello gave her! She smiled as the soothing memory of the song lingering in her ears.

Her eyes fitted open. She raised her head…

…and found herself gazing upon a pony, standing silently at the hedge entrance and watching. A tall pony of deep sapphire and a mane more brilliant than the stars. Octavia’s jaw dropped. Her eyes locked on the deep cyan jewels of Princess Luna and her heart rate climbed.

Her audience of one said nothing, only gazed back with an unreadable expression.

Octavia broke out of her stupor. She glanced at her cello, then her bow. A powerful alarm filled her and she promptly dropped to a deep bow. “Forgive me, princess! I did not mean to disturb you.”

A long, lingering silence filled the garden, but Octavia’s mind was running away with possibilities. What if she really had disturbed the princess? What if she had moved too deep into the gardens and was trespassing? What if the princess was unforgiving of such mistakes? She didn’t know anything about the princess, nopony did! How was Octavia supposed to—

“Thank you for the song.”

Octavia’s head jerked up; Princess Luna had turned to walk away.

The urgency was gone. All Octavia could think about was the tone of the princess’ voice. It had been even, carefully set… but she had heard the underlying emotion. She looked at herself, still set in her low bow, then looked up at the princess’ backside. She gazed up at the stars… and felt guilty.


Luna paused, but didn’t look back. Octavia sat up properly and tried to be careful of her words. “Thank you for the stars.”

Luna shifted. Her head slowly turned back to reveal an anxious expression. “…what did you say?”

Octavia chewed her lip, but there was no going back now. She pointed up at the sky. “The stars. They inspired me to play that song. So thank you.”

Luna turned back to her, eyebrows high as she stared. After a few seconds her eyes began to flit about the gardens as if she expected somepony to be sneaking up on her. “I… You are welcome.”

Octavia’s stomach flipped, but she wasn’t even sure why. She just knew that the princess seemed so very unsure of herself, and that made her feel unsure in turn. Octavia offered a smile, but Luna didn’t return it. Instead she kept shifting, her lips moving as if she were fighting not to chew them.

The quiet lingered a little too long. Octavia fidgeted. “I… um… I’m sorry if I intruded on something.”

“No…” Luna’s ears tucked as her eyes continued their anxious dance. “I was just… walking.”


Another lingering silence. Octavia wondered if she should just go; it really did feel as if she wasn’t meant to be here.

Luna’s ears perked, her eyes falling upon Octavia’s cello in the grass. “T-tell me… what is the name of that song?”

Octavia blinked and glanced at the cello. “Tārā Sapnā.”

Luna tilted her head at the name, her hesitancy fading in her apparent confusion.

Octavia smiled and explained, “It’s Nilgiri. It means ‘Star Dream.’”

“I see.” Luna’s eyes widened a touch, a hoof rising to her lips. She looked to the stars, her gaze lingering. “How… appropriate.”

Octavia nodded, her smile broadening a touch. “I’m glad you liked it.” She flinched; had the princess liked it? Was that a presumptuous thing to say?

“I liked it very much.” Luna’s smile was frail, faltering. It was as though she wasn’t used to having one. “Thank you again. I… I think I should go now. I do not wish to make you uncomfortable.”

Octavia stood up, her eyes widening as the princess once again turned to leave. Luna’s words were nothing like she might have expected, and they generated an inexplicable sadness within her.

“I can play another.”

Luna paused yet again, her had rising and her ears perking.

Octavia winced and held her bow close to her chest. “I mean… if it pleases you.”

Luna turned back, her lips slightest parted. “Really? But does not my presence disturb you?”

She was worried about disturbing Octavia?

“Not at all!” Octavia barely avoided cringing; that came out faster than she’d intended. “I mean, no, princess. Please, it would do me great honor to play for you.” She bent down over her cello and pretended to test its strings as she thought on her shallow breathing.

Was she really going to do this? Play for Nightmare Moon?

Then again, she wasn’t Nightmare Moon anymore… was she? Sucking down her fears, Octavia lifted the cello into a proper playing position and turned to face the princess. Luna still had that mild, mystified expression, as if Octavia were a new entity beyond her comprehension. Her eyes shifted in a slow, continuous motion as she studied Octavia from hoof to mane.

At last, the princess sat. Octavia saw her swallow; well, at least she wasn’t the only one anxious about this encounter.

Sucking in a slow, steadying breath, Octavia set the bow to the strings.

“Princess Luna, what’s your pleasure?”

Author's Notes:

Rāt Yād Ānā: "A Night to Remember."

When I first joined this site, I became engrossed in some monthly contests put on by the group Random Romance. The Gentle Nights was my first-ever contest entry on this site. Although it won the contest, I was never satisfied with the story. It was too short, it skipped over too many details and it didn't really give you the full relationship between Octavia and Luna. I decided recently that this simply wouldn't do.

Thus we have Audience of One, a complete re-imagining of what The Gentle Nights could have – should have – been. I didn't want to just rewrite the story, I wanted to build it from the ground up with new concepts thrown in to really expand upon the relationship between Luna and Octavia. I honestly don't know how long this is going to run, but I'm excited for it nonetheless.

However, certain rules still apply. Octavia's family line is still foreign to Equestria, just like in the original, and this topic will come up before long. The chapter titles are in Hindi, reflecting this origin. Why did I do this? Because nobody else does, and I didn't want my Octavia to be like everyone else's Octavia. How deeply this will play into the story, I can't say for certain.

I'm hoping to achieve weekly updates. I can't guarantee that will happen, but it's a goal. I'm going to try and update Reddux the Tyrant at the same rate, though, and thus it's a challenge. Don't be surprised if I'm late a few times.


The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Octy? You okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“And don’t you forget it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She cringed and shook her head. “Parish—”

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

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

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

She frowned and leveled him with a hard stare.

“I’m fine.”

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

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

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

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

She smirked. “Gutterhead.”

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

“I will.”

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

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

“Yeah… later.”

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

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

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

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

An artist at work.

Or so she probably told herself.

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

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

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

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

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


Why did it feel so... oppressive?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“No more Nightmares.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Octavia missed a note.

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

The music skipped, slowed… died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You must try, sister.”

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

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

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

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

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

“You won’t go back.”

Author's Notes:

Kamjorī: Weakness

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


The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean funk.”

“No, no I don’t.”

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

There was a moment of intensity…

Then they both burst out laughing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still Vinyl was a…

Octavia blinked.

Vinyl was a friend.

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

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


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

Vinyl was her friend.

One of the few.

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

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

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

“You too.”

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

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

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

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

What it said made her jaw drop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Oh, and Miss Melody?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now she knew Celestia was planning something.

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

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

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

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

It was her.

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

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

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

Yet to invite Octavia’s scorn…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You didn’t?”

“As such…”

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

“…you do not have to stay.”

She turned and started to leave.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t understand.”

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

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

Octavia raised her bow.

“Princess Luna, what’s your pleasure?”

Author's Notes:

Paricay: Introduction

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

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

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



The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter IV

“Good morning, sister! I presume you had a good night?”

Luna scowled at the waning moon and said nothing. She didn’t even glance Celestia’s way.

The elder sister sat next to her and grinned. “Oooh, I know that look,” Celestia giggled. “It was in your best interest, Luna.”

The Princess of the Night sulked and didn’t stop glaring.

Celestia was entirely unphased. “So is she as talented in real life as she is in her dreams?”

Luna’s teeth ground together as she closed her eyes. “You are not going to deny it this time?”

“Don’t give me that attitude, young filly.” Her sister tapped her on the side of the head playfully. “You only get that look when you’ve been forced to do something you know is good for you.”

She finally turned her burning eyes upon Celestia, her teeth bared as she hissed, “It could have ended in disaster.”

“Ah.” Celestia raised her hoof high. Her eyebrows rose and grin broadened. “Could have. That means it didn’t. Come now, little sister, are you really so upset? You used to do things like this to me all the time.”

“That was before,” Luna grumbled, turning away. “Things are not the same, Celestia.”

“Tia.” Celestia sounded hurt. “Don’t you remember calling me Tia, Lulu?”

Luna sighed, her heart heavy in her chest. “Yes… I remember. Those were happier times. Sometimes I wish we could return to them.”

Celestia heaved a sigh of her own. “There’s nothing wrong with having a little fun every now and then, sister.”

“We are not foals anymore!” Luna shot another glare at her sister. “Our actions have consequences, Celestia. We must be cautious!”

A frown came upon Celestia’s lips. “Luna, you’re taking everything too—”

“—seriously?” Luna’s harsh gaze silenced her. “Yes, I am. I have to, dear sister. Maybe you shall understand that someday, but until you have been through what I have I seriously doubt it.”

Celestia winced and averted her gaze as guilt spread over her features.

Seconds passed as Luna glared, but her frustration gradually faded. She sighed and moved close to nuzzle her sister. “Forgive me, I know you mean well. I only… It is one thing to torment me with your games, Celestia, but please do not involve others in them.”

“I only thought she could help you,” Celestia whispered, returning the motion. “Did she?”

Luna stepped back and averted her eyes with a frown. “She… was a comfort.”

Celestia’s eyes brightened. “Will you see her again?”

A glower met her hopeful look.“You act as though she were a mate to be pursued,” Luna muttered.

The elder sister giggled. “Nopony says ‘mate’ anymore, Luna, except in very intimate situations. I’d avoid the term unless you want to earn some very strange looks.”

Luna blinked, then facehooved with a blush. “I shall keep that in mind.”

Another giggle from Celestia. “So? Did you arrange to meet Octavia again?”

“You want her to be part of my daily life, it seems.” Luna turned away with another of her sulking frowns.

Celestia nudged Luna’s shoulder with her muzzle. “I want you to make friends, sister, that’s all. You know how worried I am.”

“Friends…” Luna bowed her head with a sigh. “It has been so long. Do you really think she could accept me?”

The elder sister moved about to look her in the eyes. Her own shined with hope.

“You tell me, Luna. You met her last night, didn’t you? Do you think Octavia might be your friend?”

Luna licked her dry lips, staring into those imploring eyes.

She had no answer.

Octavia kept her head low as she walked through the streets of Canterlot. She refused to look up at the cloudless sky and its glaring sun. Though she had no idea why, today she found Celestia’s great orb annoying. Strange, she usually enjoyed the feeling of its heat on her coat, especially in the cool months of early autumn.

The Music Hall of Canterlot was an unusual structure, conjured up by some ‘new age’ architect who didn’t believe in symmetry or straight lines. Octavia could never be sure if she liked it or not. It certainly drew the eye away from the regular boxes that surrounded it.

She ascended the wave-like steps, nodding to the occasional familiar face and hefting her cello. In the main hall she was spotted by Beauty Brass, who trotted up to her with a pleased smile.

“Well hello, stranger. What brings you to these parts?”

Octavia smiled and resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Nice to see you too, BB. Don’t give me that look.”

‘That look’ consisted of pursed lips and a raised eyebrow as Beauty’s neck stretched forward from her shoulders.

“I’ll give you my patented ‘look’ if I want to. Honestly, I haven’t seen you in two months! You’re known for going on isolationist binges, but this might be a record.”

This time Octavia really did roll her eyes. “You know how I am, BB. I thought you’d be used to it by now.”

Beauty pouted, her ears lowering. “I’d remind you that it’s unhealthy, but you’d just ignore my advice. Again.”

Octavia giggled. “That’s because your advice always involves meeting stallions.”

“Or mares,” Beauty added hurriedly with a grin. “Mares work too.”

An annoyed sigh rose from Octavia’s throat. “You’re almost as bad as Parish. Your only saving grace in comparison is that you’re not out for my tail like he is.”

“I know, I know.” Beauty shrugged and promptly struck a haughty pose. She attained her own high-browed manner – as polished and perfect as any elite’s – and spoke in a haughty voice.

“So what brings the lofty Miss Melody to the Music Hall? Surely she does not wish to mingle among the commoners.”

Octavia countered with her own display, flicking her mane back and raising her muzzle. “Of course not. I seek only to utilize the facilities of the Hall, which, though garish in their design, are nonetheless effective in their purpose. Mingle with the commoners, please.”

Beauty snorted, then broke into a fit of giggles. “Yeah, you’ve really got it down by now.”

“Why, thank you.” Octavia smiled and flicked her mane once more, this time in a much more exaggerated fashion. “I’ve been practicing.”

“It shows.” Beauty took a moment to recover her breath. “So are you going to try again?”

Octavia shook her hoof in the air as if to threaten something. “It can’t avoid me forever!”

“Probably not.” Beauty examined Octavia, her smile slowly fading. “Are you alright? You look a bit tired.”

“Really?” Octavia tilted her head and shifted her cello on her back. “I don’t feel tired. Still, I suppose I did have trouble sleeping these past couple nights.”

She paused, a frown forming on her lips as she observed her friend. Beauty had been doing this for a few years more than her, so maybe… “Can I ask you a question?”

Beauty beamed and clapped her hooves together. “Of course!”

Octavia considered the topic that had been on her mind these past few nights, kicking the floor anxiously and averting her eyes.

“Have you ever had a… ‘private’ client?”

“’Private?’” Beauty cocked her head with an uncertain frown. “I’m not sure… Do you mean like being commissioned by a noble to perform at a party? Something like that?”

“No…” Octavia chewed her lip, knowing exactly how her friend would view her situation. Even so, she needed some kind of advice, and she certainly wasn’t going to ask Parish about it.

“I mean… one pony. One pony hires you, and only you, to perform. An audience of one.”

Beauty blinked, staring at Octavia as if she’d never seen her before. After a couple seconds she lowered her head and rubbed her chin with a frown. “Well. That’s certainly… unorthodox. I’ve never heard of it happening, really. Did somepony actually ask you to do that?”

Octavia still couldn’t meet Beauty’s eyes. “Umm… something like it, yes. I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into at the time I agreed to it.”

Then came the wry smile Octavia had known was coming. “Maybe he likes you. It is a ‘he,’ isn’t it?”

“BB, please, this is serious.” Octavia glanced around, very aware of the ponies in the hall. Why was she so anxious?

“I’m being serious.” Beauty nudged her shoulder playfully. “Why else would somepony hire you to do that? Then again—” her cheer faded to uncertainty, “—what if he’s a creep?”

Octavia almost laughed. “No, Beauty, I seriously doubt that the—” She clamped her jaw closed just before the title could spill from her lips, cheeks going red. “I m-mean, I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.”

She coughed self-consciously at Beauty’s raised eyebrow and sly smile. “I was just wondering if it was normal, that’s all.”

“Definitely not normal,” Beauty replied, her smile not fading. “So did you do it?”

Octavia sighed and nodded. “I wasn’t aware of what was happening until I reached the… the ‘venue.’ So yes, I did it.”

Beauty’s smile grew and she stepped a little closer. “Did it go ‘well?’”

“BB…” Octavia’s head and shoulders sagged along with her ears. “I take it back, you’re as bad as Parish. I assure you, it wasn’t like that at all. I played a few songs, then I left. That’s all there was to it.”

“Uh-huh.” Beauty peered at her face. “So why does the whole topic make you jumpier than a Blueblood around mud?”

“I don’t know. I guess… it was such an odd encounter. I find myself wondering if it will happen again.”

“Hmm…” Beauty rubbed her chin, regarding Octavia with a solemn look. “Was the pay good?”

Octavia raised her head along with an eyebrow. “Yes, the pay was very good.”

Beauty nodded. “And you’re sure this guy’s not nutso or anything?”

Octavia started to smile, but it faltered as she considered the question. Though she had an image of Nightmare Moon in her head, she managed to keep her voice perfectly normal.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Then what are you worried about?” Beauty grinned and patted her on the shoulder. “Milk that cash cow for all it’s worth! I mean yes, it’s a bit odd, but if you really think he’s just an eccentric fan then why not take advantage of him?”

Octavia hesitated. “I never really felt comfortable with the idea of ‘fans.’”

“Seriously?” Beauty tilted her head. “How do you expect to get anywhere without them?”

“I know, I know.” Octavia waved a dismissive hoof. “I guess I never properly equated them with the lifestyle.”

Beauty smiled and patted Octavia’s head. “My little Octy, finally growing up. We’ll have the naïvety washed out of you before you know it.”

Octavia scowled and brushed her mane back into place. “Thanks… I think.”

Beauty opened her mouth to say something else, but was interrupted by a distinct rumbling noise coming from the general direction of her stomach. She blushed and gave a small chuckle. “Yeah… I was just about to get lunch. Care to join me?”

“No, thank you.” Octavia gestured to the cello on her back. “I have some work to do. Besides, I ate right before coming.”

A lecturing frown hit Beauty’s lips. “Well, you could – oh, I dunno – keep me company?”

It took no small effort to keep from groaning, and Octavia’s smile was strained. “Yeah… I guess I can do that.”

She was already counting in her head how many minutes would be lost because of this distraction.

Octavia stared at the blank page of sheet music, her shoulders sagged and her lips set in a deep frown. Her eyes scanned the small, quiet room, one of the soundproofed practice spaces of the Music Hall. Her vision traced the corners, roamed the yellow wall, etched out the door, danced along the floor. Her attention settled on the small waste bin, which was loaded with crumpled sheets. She lingered, taking in her dozens of aborted ideas.

She’d been at it for hours, tinkering away with quill and ink to come up with something new. A fruitless endeavor, driven by frustrated hopes that were, once more, starting to fade.

At first she’d attempted to carefully consider her options. Begin adagietto or catch their attention with vivace? Would the audience like something that begins giocoso? What key should she begin with? Should it start with her cello, or something else? How many instruments? Should she write a sonata, or perhaps a fugue?

She eventually realized that thinking so hard wasn’t helping, so she tried to write without any conscious thought.

What came out was a convoluted mess.

Her next step was to try making up something on her cello, creating music directly and writing it down after. But as she got through nearly a page, she would realize that everything she was doing was copying the work of another composer, either in pieces or as one big copyright-infringing blasphemy. She had so many songs in her head that coming up with her own on a whim was next to impossible.

So now she was just sitting there, staring at a blank page and feeling like a failure. She reached back to rub her cutie mark, wishing it could have been just a little different. She had her real talent, she had her cello. She had her excellent memory, enabling her to take any song she heard and play it. She could best any pony alive at music trivia. She devoted years of her existence mastering her art all on her own, determined to make it no matter what obstacles were thrown in her way.

But she couldn’t create new music. The one and only thing she still longed for in her career, and it continued to elude her.

Why was it so hard?

She sighed and flipped the sheet of paper before her, trading musical bars for a blank page. She set a new ink bottle down and began to write.


I know this letter is early. You won’t even have received my last one by the time I mail this one. Forgive me if it seems improper, but you’ve sworn in three letters so far to help me if I needed it.

I need it now. I need your advice. I have a very simple question, but the answer has eluded me for years. You have written your own music, created something new and amazing that is loved by millions.

I want that, Frederick. I want to give birth to new music, to create with my own hooves something remarkable that will survive for generations, something for which I will be remembered by. I’ve been trying so hard for so long, but I can’t find my muse. I’m a Hooftoskie without a Sonnet Naturale, an Andrew Lloyd Clopper without a Sarah Brightcolt. I’ve given up my life for this dream, and it’s always just out of reach!

Please, if you have any advice for me, I’ll take it. I want to contribute to the world of music as you have.

Your friend,


She stared at the letter for several long seconds, heart heavy. It seemed so short, so direct... barely half a page. Her letters to him usually said so much more.

She didn’t know what else she could say. She let her head roll back on her shoulders and stared at the ceiling, letting her mind wander. She thought on the songs she knew, a vast variety of melodies and beats and tempos floating through her memory.

Not a single original note. Not one.

A knock on the door snapped her back into the present. She turned as the door opened.

“Excuse me, miss, but the Music Hall will be closing in fifteen minutes.”

Octavia nodded to the mare and began to put away her cello and paper. The letter stood out, and she found herself once again staring at it after everything was packed away. She read through it, and again. She began to feel ill.

It was a call for help.

The cymbals began to ring in her ears. Octavia ground her teeth as her eyes scanned the words one last time. She didn’t know whether to scream or cry. With an unladylike snarl, she grabbed the letter and crumbled it in her hooves, then tossed it into the waste bin.

She’d come this far without help.

She wasn’t going to ask for it now.

The mare was trembling in a corner of the room, head beneath her hooves and tears in her eyes. She babbled for mercy, to be spared, to let no harm come to her. She shook her head, she begged, she pleaded. She prayed to Celestia.

Her demon had been vanquished.

Luna stood in its place.

The princess stared at the sight, her mind numb. She felt so… tired. Tired of dreamwalking, tired of helping, tired of this. She made no attempt to reassure the pony, to correct her views. She only stared and wished the noise would stop.

Why did she do this every night? What was the purpose? These ponies didn’t want her help, or her. She should have just left well enough alone.

But Luna knew she couldn’t stop. As she turned away from the distraught pony, she felt her heart stinging. Her heart… her accursed, compassionate heart. Going into these dreams tore her apart, but every time she thought she would stop, she found herself here again.

The sounds pierced her ears. Luna closed her eyes and concentrated, not bothering to escape in her usual fashion. The magic seemed to reverberate about her as the floor fell out from under her hooves. A cool wind battered her body as she dropped through the sky, letting herself tumble through the clouds. Her eyes rose to the waning moon, teardrops floating in the air just above her face.

She lingered.

The clouds flew up, the ground drew closer.

Luna’s wings opened wide and she swooped over rooftops, her hooves just barely held above the tiles. A few wingbeats were enough to land gently on a particularly high building, and she promptly dropped to her belly with forehooves and head hanging loosely over the crest of the roof.

Silence. She lay there, mind blank and body heavy.

How many ponies lived in this town? She wasn’t even sure what town it was, but such was the way of things when she left the dreamscape with no destination in mind.

It didn’t matter. Not a single pony here cared about her.

Luna shook her head with force and grimaced. This defeatist attitude didn’t suit her at all, yet it was so hard to think positive when everything around her was so negative.

No… not everything.

Luna sat up and considered the option. She’d not been to Octavia’s dream since it had turned into a nightmare. Perhaps that was why she was so down lately. Yet to enter that dream…

If it became a nightmare again, would she be able to help Octavia? To confront her? What if Octavia didn’t approve?

Now Luna was cursing Celestia, for she found herself almost desperate to hear that soothing cello again.

At last caving to her desires, Luna turned and launched into the sky, flying directly for the moon. She concentrated on a location as the cool, soothing light covered her. It was like floating through a tunnel, streaks of shadow flowing past her as if to emphasize a speedy flight, though she knew there was no physical motion involved.

Within a couple seconds, the tunnel passed and Luna was flying over the city of Canterlot. She landed atop a cloud and focused once more, this time conjuring up the familiar ley lines of slumber. She filtered out the dreams at an almost hurried pace. Luna wasn’t sure she approved of her eagerness, but she could not bring herself to stop.

She frowned; Octavia’s dream wasn’t there.

Tensing, she reversed her actions. Once she had all of Canterlot back in her mental sight, she began again, this time much more slowly. Perhaps she’d worked the magic too quickly, it had happened before.

Yet as she gradually stripped away the unwanted dream lines, she came upon the same result. She could still see a faint line above Octavia's apartment, something small and dim. Luna knew what it meant: Octavia wasn’t dreaming. She was asleep, but for once her mind was empty.

It was uncommon, but there could be many reasons for it, the vast majority of them innocent enough. Perhaps she’d had a mentally trying day.

Luna sighed and pulled back, letting Octavia’s barely discernible line get lost amongst the hundreds that surrounded her. Disappointment filled the Luna’s heart, for she’d let her hopes rise to unusual levels. She longed to hear more of that soothing music, even if only from a place hidden beyond Octavia’s sight.

Alas, there would be no comfort this evening.

Flopping onto her back, Luna stared at the moon with a pout. There were still many hours left of the night, but she had no energy for more dreamwalking. She knew she was moping, but she didn’t know what else to do.

She let her head fall back so that her eyes were on Canterlot. The thousands of shimmering lines rose into the night sky towards the moon in a dazzling display. Even now, she subconsciously picked apart the different colors, pulses, auras and shimmers. Nowadays it all seemed uninteresting. Garish, even.

Slowly, Luna released the magic. The lines began to fade from her vision a few at a time, returning the world to its gloomy darkness.

Luna paused, catching the magic in her mental grip as her eyes lingered on Canterlot Castle. There was one line there, no different from the others, that pulsed intensely in a dark red glow. She studied it, picking out the harsh motions of the faint aura surrounding it, and soon had no doubts.

Celestia was having a nightmare.

A morbid curiosity filled the Princess of the Night. Part of her wanted to cut off the spell entirely and not think on it, but another wanted to investigate. Interest won out; Luna fell through the cloud and spread her wings to fly directly for the castle. Her eyes set on that steady, throbbing light, its silent pulses emulating a racing heart.

Luna landed on the balcony outside her sister’s room, but couldn’t bring herself to move to the window. There was a tightness in her chest, a distinct fear that she was becoming all too familiar with. She abruptly didn’t want to look in her sister’s room… but she shoved down her doubts and moved closer. Using her magic, she opened the curtains and peered through the glass.

Celestia lay on her side beneath the covers of a massive bed. Her face was tense, her head shifted and legs twitched as the nightmare took hold. Just above her head was a funnel of red light flowing up, the up-close indication of the dreamwalker’s spell. Luna stared at her sister’s troubled, slumbering face and felt an intense ache in her heart.

Luna had only ever entered Celestia’s dreams on one occasion, a highly embarrassing moment for them both. Since then they had formed a solid agreement that she would never do it again unless invited or in dire emergencies. Not once did she break that promise, even when she knew Celestia was suffering a nightmare.

Yet now the temptation was stronger than it had ever been. Luna’s heart twisted with every jerking motion, but in her selfishness she knew her worries had nothing to do with Celestia. There was a terrible suspicion, a nagging worry that ate Luna up from the inside.

It would be so easy to slip in unnoticed, to watch as Celestia’s terrors came to life. Easy… and difficult at the same time. The horrible, agonizing question loomed in Luna’s head: ‘what if?’ She was almost desperate to know the answer.

Yet at the same time, the thought of knowing sent shivers down her spine.

At last, Luna tore herself away from the sight, drawing the curtains and fighting to regain her composure. She would not invade her sister’s privacy, no matter how much she did or did not want to. She would not question Celestia; that route would only lead to suffering.

Yet, as she launched from the balcony and drifted in the night sky, that hideous worry continued to claw its way into her brain.

Author's Notes:

Śaṃkā: Doubts

There are a lot of things I've been puzzling over, things I need to find solutions to and don't quite know how. This chapter highlights the worst offenders.

Kyā Ruknā Sapnā

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter V
Kyā Ruknā Sapnā

Luna was waiting for her sister to arrive on the balcony, as she always did. This time she watched the stairs, eager to see Celestia’s face. Well… eager was the wrong word, wasn’t it? Yet she had to know.

When Celestia at last appeared, she seemed no less chipper than usual. Luna despised her ability to smile so readily upon waking. What was that modern term used for ponies like her? Ah, yes: ‘morning ponies.’ The phrase itself was almost insulting.

She pushed her frustration down; she’d been putting up with Celestia’s ‘rise and meet the day’ attitude for an eternity, and there were far more important issues to consider. “Good morning, dear sister.”

“Hello, Luna.” Celestia’s greeting smile was as radiant as ever. “How was your night?”

“It went well enough, I suppose.” Luna turned to gaze at the night sky, pondering on her sister’s pleasant demeanor. She was truly gifted in hiding her emotions, that pony. “It was a long one. Let us end it quickly.”

Celestia stepped up to her, only the tiniest waver of concern in her voice. “So be it, but it’s difficult to work my art when it’s rushed. You owe me a slower dawn, sister.”

Luna couldn’t smile at Celestia’s words. She wanted to, but… she simply couldn’t. So instead she reached out with her magic to grasp her beloved moon and begin its descent. Soon the sun was rising in its place, brilliant and majestic and lovely.

To her, it was a sunrise like any other, but she heard Celestia whisper a self-depreciative “How bland…”

Luna could understand her sister’s annoyance. She might not be able to appreciate the sunrise in the way Celestia did, but she imagined it was no different from the deep, steady workings of crafting a moonrise. For this reason, she was deeply apologetic.

Yet still, there were more important matters on her mind. It was so hard to broach the subject, though…

“Luna?” Celestia leaned forward and turned her head to get a better look at her face. “Is something wrong?”

Luna turned her head away, battling with herself. She knew she had to ask. The answer could be terrible, but not knowing could be infinitely worse. All her will was needed to keep from trembling.

At last she was able to open her mouth. “Last night I… I noticed you were being plagued by a nightmare.”

The world went quiet. Luna’s ears folded as she waited with bated breath for a response.

Celestia’s voice was even, steady in a way only a millennium of political practice could perfect. “Luna… did you look?”

Luna slowly turned to her sister, struggling to maintain her tone. “No, sister. I remember my promise. I only… wanted to offer my help, should you desire it. You know that dreams are my domain.”

Celestia’s face had been hard, but she slowly smiled upon hearing her sister’s words. “Thank you, Luna, but no. I do appreciate your concern, but I do not think it is anything you need to fret over. To be honest, it wasn’t much of a nightmare, and I can’t remember most of it.”

It was easy to believe most of her words, but Luna hadn’t missed the slip. Perhaps Celestia wasn’t aware that she could judge the strength of a nightmare’s power by the intensity of the colors. Yet she pushed her doubts down and forced herself to smile. “Very well, but should you ever change your mind, I am here.”

Celestia moved in close to nuzzle her. “Should I need it, I won’t hesitate to ask. Thank you, dear sister.”

They remained close for a few seconds, Luna somehow managing to maintain her smile. When they parted she gave a great yawn. “Oh dear… last night was busier than the norm. I think I will be going straight to my chambers.”

“Oh…” Celestia pouted. “I had hoped we might have breakfast together.”

“Forgive me, sister, but I ate not long before you awoke.” Which was true, thankfully. “Perhaps we may have dinner tonight?”

That brought a smile back to Celestia’s face. “Tonight, then. Good morning, Luna. Pleasant dreams.”

“Of course.” Luna turned to walk away, her smirk fading as soon as she was out of her sister’s view. “’Tis one of the perks of being the keeper of dreams.”

Luna let her head hang just a touch as she walked down the stairs. Celestia hadn’t told her. She was having terrible nightmares, and she wasn’t willing to share them with her. What did that mean? Did it mean anything?

That terrible doubt was scratching at her mind yet again.

A dark fog filled the world in shadow. Though stars shined in the sky, they offered no relief from the oppressive force looming within the darkness. It wasn’t a simple form against which one could transcribe a direction, a size or a distance; the presence was all around, pressing in like a black, drowning liquid.

Luna stepped out on the flat, hard ground. There was no way for her to ignore the intense anxiety within her, but she did what she could to hide it beneath a veil of anger. She turned her head about with a small frown, ears twitching as she sought out some kind of sound.

There was none.

“You again,” she muttered. “Why will you not just leave me alone?”

A chuckle resounded in the darkness. The voice that replied didn’t seem to be coming from any particular source… but rather, from her own mind.

Oh, Nightmare. You know as well as us that we can’t leave you alone.

“Don’t call me that,” she hissed, turning in place as she scanned the rolling wisps of black fog. “That is not who I am.”

Don’t say that. It breaks our black heart.

Luna stomped her hoof, head held high. She pushed down the sick feeling in her gut. “Go away. You were defeated. Accept it.”

Defeated? The voice was mocking, almost mirthful. Such a strong word. They pushed us back, Nightmare, that is all. We know that.

Luna gained a smug smile. “You cannot defeat them. You should know that.”

The voice only gained confidence. We only failed because they caught us off guard. Oh yes… this time we are aware of what awaits us. Tearing them apart will be much easier now.

Luna’s wings flared, her teeth were bared. She jerked her head about, seeking something to target with her anger. She found nothing. “You will never return, monster.”

Oh, yes we will, Nightmare.

“Stop calling me that!” Lightning streaked from the princess’s horn, but it struck only the hard ground. “I am over my sins, you wretched thing!”

Are we? Are we really, Nightmare? Luna felt something cold drift across her withers. She turned about with a glare, but found nothing. A thousand years. Do we believe that was just? We cannot tell ourselves that we are willing to simply let it lie in the past.

Luna sucked in a sharp breath. “Celestia… was defending Equestria. There is nopony to blame but you.”


You!” Luna’s wings tensed as she cast her glare about once more. “I would never have betrayed my sister!”

A slow, pleasant chuckle trickled through the air. Possession. That’s the best excuse we have?

There was a terrible twisting feeling in Luna’s stomach. She stepped back, though she knew the ominous force was impossible to escape. “It… it wasn’t me. I love Celestia, and she loves me.”

The fog began to roil.

A thousand years! It would have been longer if not for the distancing of the Elements. She would have left her own sister to rot on that rock for all time if she had the choice. That is Celestia!

Be silent!” Luna covered her ears against her tormentors words. “We were going to destroy Equestria with our eternal night! My sister did what she had to do, what you made her do! None of it is her fault.”

It was no use; the words wormed their way into her brain. Seductive, tempting, pleasant.

She fears us. We see it in her eyes, we know it in her voice. What is it that she dreams of, hmm? What is this thing that torments her slumber? We know, Nightmare. We know.

“It’s not true…” Tears were forming in her eyes. “You don’t know that…”

We know.

“N-no we don’t.”

We know, Nightmare.

“Stop calling me that…”

We know.

“Celestia isn’t…”

We know.

Luna’s eyes jerked open. She stared at the ceiling with sweat beading on her brow and breath coming in shallow gasps. She merely lay in her massive bed, the familiar voice reverberating through her mind like an eternal echo. Not in a millennium had it been so strong. She sat up and bowed her head, entire body shaking as she struggled to push the memory away.

“It’s not true,” she whispered, eyes set to her hooves. “It’s not true. It’s not true.”

She repeated the line like a mantra. Slowly, her trembling came under control. Her breathing steadied, her heart stopped pounding, the moisture in her eyes dried up. The voice faded, leaving her in merciful silence.

Yet there was still the uncertainty. It clutched at her, forcing her mind to wander in directions she didn’t want it to go.

Luna climbed out of her bed. Lips set in a deep frown, she scanned the massive room. The marble walls, stained dark for her comfort; the sapphire curtains that barred all sunlight; the exquisite dark wood furniture. Yet underneath all the things that were most certainly hers, Luna could still see the shape of the room. The servants had worked their best to clear the marks left by the crates and antique statues and dust. Sometimes she wondered if they shouldn’t have left it all here with her.

After all, what was she but an unwanted antique?

She shook her head with force. “Stop it, Luna. Such thoughts are unbecoming.”

She blinked a few times before facehooving. “And now I’m talking to myself.”

The tiny voice in the back of her mind told her to go to Celestia, to ask the question that was burning inside her brain. She couldn’t give that idea any serious consideration, however. Every time she imagined her sister’s traumatized face she felt cold.

Luna turned with a sigh and approached the window. Bracing herself, she used her magic to open the curtains and almost had to close her eyes at the glare of the sun. She turned her face away from that piercing light, not at all pleased by the thought that even Celestia’s sun was attacking her. Once her eyes were adjusted, she turned to gaze out at the world.

Canterlot shined in the brightness of daylight. It was only a little past noon. Luna stared down at the ponies, from this height little more than ants to her vision. They were completely unaware of her gaze, ignorant of the eyes that roamed over their fair city. What would they think if they knew she was watching them from on high? Would they flee inside, eager to escape the gaze of the pony who once threatened Equestria so? She was little more than a frightening legend to them.

She wanted to be so much more…

A glint of light reflected off one of the buildings below, making her wince. She was reminded of Celestia, of how brilliant her coat was, of how much she was adored. Celestia, who had ruled this land alone for a millennium. Celestia, who left her on the moon. Celestia, who did nothing to prepare Equestria for her return and make her integration back into society a smooth one.


Luna retreated from the window, letting the curtains close. She was engulfed in darkness once more, clutching at her head with a shuddering breath.

“Don’t think like that. Celestia loves you, Luna. She does. And you love her. She had no reason to believe Starswirl’s prophecy would come true, you know that.”

She lowered her hooves, head low as she slowly eyed her surroundings. Her chambers, her darkness, her sanctuary. Not a cell. She wasn’t being hidden away like… like a criminal.

So why did she still feel so alone?

So unwanted?

Luna flopped back onto her bed with a sigh, letting the weariness sweep back over her. She lay still on her belly, pouting as she flicked at the sheets with a wing. What she wanted was clear, but she had no idea how to get it. Celestia had tried, but Luna couldn’t find comfort with her. The pain was too great. Yet where else was she to get it?

She closed her eyes and allowed her mind to drift, knowing it might be a mistake.

Time lingered inexorably on. Thoughts drifted around the princess’s troubled mind, most unpleasant. She did her best to divert her attention away from those, but there were so many…

After a while, she realized she was humming. She paused, her frown weakening just a touch as she thought on that fact. She began to hum again, paying closer attention to the melody.

Her eyes opened gradually as she tune solidified in her mind. Yes… she knew that song.

Why was she so eager to hear it again?

They were leaving her again. Octavia sat there, her composer’s baton raised but unmoving. She didn’t have to look to know it was happening. It was a feeling inside, something painful that made it seem like her stomach was trying in knots.

Slowly, she turned around. The audience was more than half gone by now, but she didn’t gaze out over the seats. No, her eyes fell to the very first row. Her mother and father, her three brothers… and that one open seat. That particular seat had been empty for a long time. Even after everypony had left her, when there wasn’t a soul left in the audience, Octavia’s eyes didn’t leave that seat.

Why was her chest so tight? She had tears in her eyes, and she didn’t even understand why. Slowly, she shifted her gaze so that it encompassed the empty chairs as a whole. She wanted to call them back, but couldn’t find the words. Why would they leave?

She lowered her head and clutched her baton to her chest. Maybe this was how it should be. Maybe she wasn’t even supposed to have an audience. It was often said dreams had meaning. Could this one be foretelling her future? The idea was almost enough to bring tears to her eyes, but she shoved them down; she would not let something so intangible beat her down. Octavia Melody wouldn’t cry over this… no matter how much she might want to.

Octavia detected the presence. She didn’t understand how, but she knew she was no longer alone. Her head slowly rose to gaze out at the seats, but there was nopony there. She looked about, trying to determine the source, but then felt something… in her mind? It told her to look up, so she did.

Her lips parted in a small gasp as a pony of magnificent dark sapphire appeared, floating down on great wings towards the stage. Princess Luna drifted, her movements slow. Though she seemed so very calm, her lips were set in a deep frown and her eyes shined with concern. She landed before Octavia and gazed down at her, ears folded and a leg held up to her chest.

Octavia shook herself as if to come out of a trance. She pulled back a step and ducked her head just slightly at the sight of the much taller alicorn. “W-why… why am I dreaming of you?”

Luna took a deep breath, her eyes set to Octavia’s. “Because… because I wished to be here.”

“Wish to be here?” Octavia thought on this, her gaze falling to Luna’s chest as she tried to make sense of what was happening.

Luna gestured to herself. “I am the Princess of the Night,” she explained. Her voice was so soft… almost submissive. “Dreams are my domain.”

Octavia tilted her head, both at the words and the tone. “So… you mean you’re actually here?”

The princess nodded, though she averted her eyes.

Seconds passed. The information slowly churned about Octavia’s mind. Her eyes fell on Luna’s horn and she considered the magic that would be required to…

Reality came to her like a slap in the face, and she promptly dropped to a hurried bow. “F-forgive my rudeness,” she whispered before standing back up with a blush. “I just… didn’t know you could do this.”

Luna winced, her wings fluffing. “Though we have tried to make it public knowledge, I am afraid most are still ignorant of my nightmare patrols.”

“I see…” Octavia looked around at the empty stage and seats that surrounded them. “Is… that why you’re here? Because I’m having a nightmare? Of sorts.”

“Actually…” Luna shifted from hoof to hoof, her eyes doing that free-roaming dance Octavia had witnessed when they’d first met. The princess’s head lowered and she chewed her lip. “If… If you do not mind… I would like to make a formal request.”

Octavia’s heart skipped a beat. “A request?”

At last Luna's eyes locked with hers. There was so much fear in them, it almost took Octavia’s breath away.

“C-could you… could you play Tārā Sapnā for me?”

“Tārā Sapnā?” Octavia’s jaw dropped. “You came into my dream to hear me play music?”

Luna cringed and turned away, her distress as clear as the moon. “No… N-no. Forgive me, I should not have come. This was selfish of me.”

Octavia stepped forward, raising her hoof as if to catch the princess. “Wait!”

Wings half-opened, Luna’s shoulders tensed and her head lowered. She didn’t look back… but she didn’t leave, either.

“Please, Princess, I’m sorry.” Octavia sat and grabbed her cello, not bothering to wonder how it had come to be right next to her. “I was surprised, that’s all. I don’t mind playing, so please don’t go.”

There was a long silence. Octavia fidgeted, wondering what was on the princess’s mind. Luna didn’t relax, her wings never leaving that flight-ready state. Had she offended Luna? Was the princess angry with her?

At last Luna spoke, her words slow and measured. “Do you fear me, Miss Melody?”

In an instant, all anxiety dropped from Octavia’s mind. She stared at the back of Luna’s head for a few seconds.

“Why would I fear you?”

Luna’s head rose with a jerk. She turned about, eyes wide. “What do you mean, ‘why would I fear you?’”

Octavia raised her hooves high and wide in a questioning pose. “I have played for you twice already, Your Majesty. You were not threatening then, why should I believe you are threatening now?”

The princess gaped at her for several long seconds. She finally lowered her head, eyes shifting as she thought on this answer. “But… you… I… What about Nightmare Moon?”

“Oh…” Octavia winced and averted her eyes with the slightest of blushes. “I admit, on our first meeting I was a little scared because of that. But—” she offered a confident smile, “—you’re not her anymore. The princess I met at the gala and for whom I played in the Nocturnal Wing didn’t strike me as the type to do such things.”

Once again, Luna’s head rose at her words, this time slowly. She stared with wide eyes, as if seeing Octavia for the first time.

Octavia only smiled back. She didn’t know why she smiled. It just felt… right.

And then the princess’s face scrunched up, her entire body shaking. She bowed her head and wept, tears making tiny rivers on her cheeks.

Octavia dropped her bow and cello and gaped at the sight. “Princess Luna?”

“Th-thank you…” Luna tried to wipe away her tears, but they kept coming in an endless stream. She looked up at Octavia with a shuddering breath and… smiled. “You have… no idea what it means to me to hear you say that.”

Octavia had no idea what to say, so she said nothing. Luna’s smile faltered and she bowed her head once more, silently weeping for reasons Octavia couldn’t fathom. All she knew for certain was that seeing the princess like this… hurt. It hurt in a way that was deep and almost traumatizing. She didn’t want to hear this, didn’t want to see it.

She wanted it to stop.

What possessed her to do it, she couldn’t fathom, but Octavia slowly picked up her bow and righted her cello. With a calming breath and a moment to compose her thoughts around the piece, she began to play.

The soothing sound, enhanced by glissando motions with the strings, rose into the night sky, providing a gentle backdrop to Luna’s hushed sobs. The tempo was so delightfully larghetto, seeming to stretch the introduction in a velvety caress. As she picked up to a gentle adagietto, briefly reverting to a spiccato playing style, Luna’s crying began to fade.

The music went on, never rising beyond a gentle pace, Octavia’s body beginning to sway as she allowed herself to indulge in the deep, dulcet tones. She felt so incredibly at ease when she played Tārā Sapnā. She hoped it would have the same effect on her fresh audience.

At last the song came to an end, Octavia carefully holding the triple stop of a long, delicate tone that seemed to linger in the air even after her bow stopped moving. That last note often made her smile, both with the pleasure of the culmination of a song well played and the pride of a final note that few could achieve.

She opened her eyes to find Luna sitting where she’d left her, watching with a wide smile. Her cheeks were still moist, but it seemed she had at least stopped crying.

“Thank you, Miss Melody,” she whispered. “It was beautiful.”

Octavia beamed, chest swelling with the praise. “It was my pleasure. I only hope it helped.”

“It did, thank you. I feel much better.” Luna blushed and averted her eyes, her smile becoming anxious. “Please forgive my distressing behavior. To be seen in such a state by you… I admit to being just a little ashamed.”

“I don’t mind,” Octavia assured her. “So long as my cello can give you comfort, I don’t mind at all.” She hesitated, eyes dropping to her instrument.

Luna noticed. “You wish to ask.”

Octavia lowered her head just a touch and nodded. “I don’t want to be nosy.”

“It is okay,” the princess replied, her voice calm. “I imagine it must seem strange to you, how we keep meeting like this.”

“I was wondering why,” Octavia confessed, still unable to meet Luna’s gaze. “I can’t imagine why a pony as unknown as I would warrant your attention.”

Luna tilted her head at this statement… but then smiled. “Perhaps my sister was right about this, after all.”

At last, Octavia’s eyes met Luna’s. “What do you mean?”

The princess considered her for a few seconds, setting a hoof to her lips in a thoughtful pose. “Miss Melody… I have another request, if you would but indulge me one more time.”

“Oh… of course.” Octavia raised her bow to the strings in preparation.

“I would like you to visit me tomorrow, after nightfall.”

Her hold on the bow tightened, her jaw dropped. Octavia stared at Luna, unable to speak for several seconds as she processed this request. Luna shifted, a touch of pink in her cheeks as she offered a tiny smile.

Octavia finally found her words. “This isn’t like my last trip to the castle, is it?”

Luna’s eyes drifted to one side, her anxious smile growing just a fraction. “I might have a musical request or two, but no, it is not. Should you come, I promise to clarify things. Some.”

“I…” Octavia’s lips worked, but she could manage no sound. She couldn’t help but wonder exactly what she was getting into. She couldn’t really say no, could she? Did she even want to? She was so confused, so… surprised that she couldn’t really think properly.

Luna’s wings opened and she began to fly backwards. She smiled down on Octavia and her horn began to shine. “It is your decision, of course. Please consider this a request, not a command. I shall leave you with a parting gift, for providing me with your musical blessings. Good night, Miss Melody. May your dreams be pleasant ones.”

The princess turned away and flew high, almost straight up. Octavia craned her neck to observe the ascent, still trying to grasp what had just happened. A white light shined in the black sky, which Luna flew directly into. As she did, the darkness rolled away like a fog being pushed back. In its wake was a sky of brilliant stars, accompanied by a beautiful full moon where the light had formed.

Luna was nowhere to be seen.

The cheers made Octavia jump. She looked down to find that her audience – every last pony – had returned and were giving her a standing ovation.

Except for that one seat.

Author's Notes:

Kyā Ruknā Sapnā: What Waits in Dreams

In all honesty, I probably butchered the grammar for that title.

And it is with great displeasure that I announce that this is the last of my backup chapters. They gave me enough time to finish my special project, but now they've run out and I have to start writing on this again. Yet I also have to write the (woefully ignored) Reddux the Tyrant at the same time. Since I intend to work on both in equal measure, and I'm coming to get a good grasp of my writing speed, I think I'll only be able to update one story per week. So yeah, that means that in all likelihood AoO will now be updating once every two weeks. It sucks, but what can you do?


The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter VI

Octavia kept her head low as she walked behind the servant. They passed through a tall hall of pearly marble walls and gorgeous chandeliers, the floor a solid grey stone that felt good on her hooves. It wasn’t the first time she’d walked these grounds, but she felt no less like a trespasser.

Her gaze roamed to a large family portrait, every pony in the picture having raised muzzles and holier-than-thou frowns. Most of them took the image to heart, but there were a few ponies in there that Octavia knew were only putting on a show. Beauty’s firm frown stood out near the center, but her eyebrows were raised and her lips were a little too thin. She was probably trying to keep from laughing.

“Miss Melody has arrived,” the servant announced, not even bothering to hide his austere disdain.

“Octy!” Beauty set aside her sheet music and hurried to give Octavia a hug. “This is a real surprise.”

Octavia grinned and returned the gesture. She spoke as they separated, “It was a last minute decision. I needed to talk with somepony.”

“And you got two.”

She looked up to find Parish approaching, his harp set up by the window. The two hugged as he said, “Glad to see you’re actually getting out of that apartment.”

“Yes, well…” She fidgeted and glanced between them. “What are you doing here, if I might ask?”

“Me and Parish are working the same concert in Fillydelphia next week,” Beauty said, gesturing for them to follow her to a nearby table. “We were just about to practice together.” She grabbed her sousaphone case off the table and set it by a window as her guests sat. “If you’d hang around more often you’d have known, y’know.”

Octavia blushed as she and Parish settled on individual cushions. “Err, sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Parish said as Beauty took a seat. “We’re just glad to see you at all.”

Beauty half-raised her hoof towards a nearby servant as she asked, “Tea?” Her guests nodded, and she turned to make a simple gesture. The servant disappeared with a sharp bow of the head.

“So tell me,” she said as she turned back to the table, “what brings the lofty Miss Melody to my humble abode?”

“Hardly humble,” Octavia muttered, glancing at the breathtaking garden filled with statues just out the window.

“What, this?” Beauty blushed and rolled her eyes. “Believe me, if it was feasible to move out, I would. It’d break my mom’s heart, though, so here I stay.”

“At least it’s not like that mansion Blueblood has,” Parish said. “I mean seriously, have you seen that place? I never want to do a job there again. It gets creepy seeing his statue grinning at me from every nook and cranny.”

Beauty shook her head. “Actually, I think most of those are his ancestors. The Bluebloods have a significant lineage.”

“And they all look the same.” He pounded the table. “Aha, inbreeding! That explains everything!”

Octavia chuckled. “I seriously doubt the Bluebloods are inbred, Parish, although I suppose it would explain some things.”

He waved his hooves at her. “I know, right?”

Beauty leaned over the table to study Octavia. “So… what did you want to talk about, hmm?”

Octavia glanced at her, then at Parish. Her stomach flopped as she considered the situation. “Umm… nothing in particular. I just wanted to—”

“Ah-ah.” Parish pointed at her while turning to Beauty. “You see the way her muzzle turns up and her eyebrows get low?”

Beauty nodded, waving her hoof at the air in slow circles. “And the way her tone mellows out to become niiiiice and even.”

Octavia stared at them for a couple seconds. “What are you two talking about?”

Parish, his manner professional, gestured to her while leaning towards Beauty. “And then she feigns ignorance.”

Beauty nodded curtly, muzzle high. “Note the way she keeps glancing at you.”

“Oh, that?” Parish chuckled. “That’s just her latent attraction to me coming out.”

Octavia’s shoulders slumped as she stared at them with a deadpan frown. “Okay, stop it.”

The two shared a triumphant grin. Parish leaned towards her. “Gonna come clean, then?”

“What did you really come here for, Octy?” Beauty beckoned with her hoof.

Octavia shot Parish a glower. “I didn’t want to say anything with you around, knowing how you’d respond.”

He slapped a hoof over his heart in mock distress. “Why Octavia, you wound me!”

“Your tea, madame.”

The three shared chuckles as the servant set teacups down for each of them. Octavia wasted no time taking a sip, letting the hot liquid linger on her lips to buy some time to think. Beauty and Parish were watching her like two foals waiting for their Hearth’s Warming presents.

At last she let the cup down. “Beauty, do you remember that… ‘special client’ I mentioned?”

Beauty’s eyes narrowed. “Him? Yeah, I remember.”

“Well I don’t.” Parish looked to each of the mares in turn. “Clue me in?”

“Octy got a special request to perform solo for a single patron,” Beauty explained. Her serious expression made Octavia fidget.

Parish tilted his head. “A single patron?”

“As in one pony,” Octavia told him, her eyes sharp as she prepared for his potential response. “I performed for a single pony.”

“Oh.” He blinked a couple times, thinking on this. His shoulders abruptly sagged. “I see. That’s… that’s something.”

“Octavia.” Beauty peered at her. “Did you perform for him again?”

“No…” Octavia tapped her hooves together with a blush; dreams didn’t count, right? “A meeting has been requested, though.”

“‘A meeting has been requested.’ That’s a very clinical way of putting it.” Beauty eyed Octavia with a frown. “Why do I get the impression you don’t want to go?”

Octavia toyed with her teacup, head bowed. “It’s not that I don’t want to go...”

Parish tensed. “You’re not afraid he’s going to do something, are you?”

She sighed and shot him a hard look. “It’s not like that.”

His eyes narrowed. “No?”

“No!” She leaned back a little and rubbed her forehead. “It’s just… I don’t know. I have no idea what’s going to happen.”

Beauty cocked her head to one side. “You just said it’s ‘not like that,’ but you don’t know what’s going to happen?”

Another sigh. “I know it’s not that, okay? I know what it isn’t, but I don’t know what it is.”

Parish rubbed the back of his head. “I’m confused.”

“Me too,” Octavia muttered, slumping over her tea. “I feel like this pony has been watching me for a long time, yet there’s nothing ‘dangerous’ about the situation.”

The three of them remained silent for some time. Octavia spent it staring into her teacup and fidgeting. She found herself wanting to go home, grab her cello and play all day and night. She could say she got lost in the music. It happened often enough.

Yet she kept seeing Luna’s tear-streaked face in her mind’s eye…

“I think I see what’s going on here,” Beauty said.

Octavia looked up from her tea, not bothering to recover from her slouch. “You do?”

“You do?” Parish repeated with a frown.

Beauty nodded, her expression regal as she pointed at Octavia. “You have no reason not to go, but you want one. You’re hoping one of us will justify you hiding away in your apartment instead of going to see this pony.”

Octavia’s jaw dropped and she glanced away. She saw Parish’s eyebrows rise as he turned to give her a curious look. “That’s… that’s not—”

“Actually,” Parish said, “that makes perfect sense, considering this is you we’re talking about.”

“Face it, Octy, you’re a total introvert.” Beauty smiled and reached over to pat Octavia’s foreleg. “You’re out of your comfort zone. It’s okay.”

Parish grinned. “Beauty’s right. You’re getting anxious because a fan wants to do more than just sit in the audience and listen.”

Octavia’s gaze retreated into her teacup again. “F-fan? I guess that’s accurate.” Calling the princess a ‘fan’ still felt extremely odd. “But it’s not like I’m trying to avoid this.”

Beauty huffed and leaned back with a lecturing frown. “Really? Tell me this, Octavia: how many friends do you have?”

“Friends?” She tilted her head. “I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”

Beauty set a hoof to her chest. “You’ve got me because I saw you were lonely and wouldn’t stop pestering you.”

“I’m not lone—”

Beauty set a hoof to Parish’s shoulder. “You’ve got Parish ‘cause he thinks you’ve got a hot flank.”

The blood rushed to Parish’s cheeks as he swatted her hoof away. “That’s not—” He sputtered, wide eyes darting to Octavia. “That’s not the, uh… not the only reason.”

Despite the anxiety she still felt, Octavia couldn’t help smirking. “Nice save, Parish.”

He ducked his head and raised his cup to hide his face.

Beauty chuckled, then twirled her hoof in the air. “You’ve got Vanilla von Scratchington because you were stuck together as roomies in college for four years.”

Octavia winced, suddenly recalling that she had yet to read Vinyl’s sheet music.

“Other than that?” Beauty raised an eyebrow and gestured to Octavia.

“Umm… well…” Octavia averted her gaze as her stomach seemed to sink into her cushion. “I’m still writing Frederick. That counts.”

Parish, having recovered now that the attention wasn’t on him, shook his head. “It’s not the same. She’s talking about ponies you can meet face-to-face… and you really don’t do that with us much, come to think of it.”

Octavia’s ears lowered as she took a quick sip from her teacup.

Beauty batted Parish on the back of the head. “Hush, you! She’s doing really good, all things considered. She did decide to come out of her lair and ask us about this.”

“Ask you about this, y’mean.” Parish was rewarded with another whack on the back of the head. “What?”

Octavia wrinkled her muzzle. “My ‘lair?’” She considered her apartment for a moment, then glanced at the marble columns and tall windows surrounding her. She sighed and bowed her head. “Yeah, I guess that’s a good term.”

Beauty frowned, but recovered her smile quickly. “Listen, as long as you think it’s safe, you should go.”

“She’s right.” Parish rubbed the back of his head with a wince. “You should try it out. Making more friends is never a bad thing.”

Octavia wilted and stared into her teacup. None of them spoke for some time.

Beauty sighed. “Octavia, why are you so afraid to go out and do stuff with ponies?”

She shifted on her cushion. “I don’t know.”

Parish and Beauty exchanged concerned glances.

Parish reached forward to touch Octavia’s foreleg. “Look, nopony’s going to force you into doing something you don’t want to.”

Beauty copied the motion with a weak smile. “But the fact that you don’t concerns us, Octy.”

Parish nodded. “Going to meet this guy would be good for you. Even if he steals my mare.”

Beauty shot him a scowl, but then blinked and turned back to Octavia. “You know what? I was wrong.”

Octavia, chest tight, glanced up at her.

“You didn’t come here because you want an excuse not to go,” Beauty declared. “You came to us because you don’t want to, but know you need to.”

The butterflies in Octavia’s stomach faded as she puzzled over this. “What?”

“Yeah, ‘what?’” Parish raised an eyebrow at Beauty. “Now you’ve got me confused too.”

Beauty ignored him, smiling as she sipped her tea. “Octy, I saw it when we had lunch together the other day; you’re not happy. Is it because you’re lonely?”

Not happy? Well, Octavia couldn’t honestly deny it, could she? But regarding why…

She shrugged.

“I think you are,” Beauty said. “Deep down, you want to go meet this pony, but your determined introversion is getting in the way.”

“Well, if you are lonely,” Parish added with a lecturing frown, “you could always spend more time with us.”

Octavia leaned against the table, a hoof pressed to her cheek. “I’m sorry about that, okay?”

“It’s alright, Octy,” Beauty assured her. “We get it, really. We just think you take the whole isolation thing a little too far, that’s all.”

She sighed and nodded, her hoof tracing the edge of her teacup. She couldn’t look either of them in the eye. Another long silence passed over them.

Parish sat back and crossed his forehooves. “Alright, if you won’t commit one way or another, then let me do it for you: go meet this guy.”

Octavia raised her head to study him. “You mean you’re ordering me to go?”

“Yes, I am.” He leveled her with a grim frown. “Go tonight, and if you still don’t like it then you’ll never have to see him again.”

“It’s a ‘she,’ Parish.”

He blinked, remained perfectly still…. Then abruptly sagged, the air released from his lungs as if he’d just swam out of deep water. “Oh, thank Celestia!”


He clutched the back of his head and glared at Beauty. “Would you stop that for, like, five minutes? It’s starting to get sore.”

“Obviously, Parish is a dork.” Beauty turned to smile upon Octavia. “This time, though, I like his idea. Go. Don’t think about it, don’t mull over it, just go. If you don’t make a friend, that’s fine, but at least you got out and did something.”

Octavia tapped her hooves together once more. “If you really think so…”

“We don’t think so,” Beauty said.

“We know so,” Parish concluded.

Octavia sighed and sat up properly. “Well… thanks, I guess.”

Parish tilted his head. “You sound disappointed.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the advice,” she replied. “I honestly had no idea what to expect when I decided come here. I just needed to talk to somepony.”

Beauty nodded with a smile. “And you can come to either of us at any time for that, day or night. We’re here for you, Octy.”

Parish grinned. “Right! Talk, shoulder to cry on, have some fun, whatever you’re after. Don’t be afraid to come by.”

“And I bet that rambunctious neighbor of yours would say the same thing,” Beauty added with a firm nod. “It’s what friends do.”

Despite herself, Octavia smiled. “Thanks, you two. Really. Just bear with me. I’ll figure this whole ‘friendship’ thing out eventually.”

“Glad to hear it.” Beauty stood and tapped her sousaphone case. “So, you wanna be our audience for practice?”

Parish nodded enthusiastically. “We could always use a critic.”

Instinct told Octavia to say ‘no.’

She pushed it down with a grin. “Sure, I’d love to.”

Octavia’s stomach was performing a dance routine as she followed the royal guard through the dark halls of the Southern Wing. The entire place was engulfed in that dim light like she’d seen at the theatre, the small crystals occasionally pulsing to some unknown trigger. Their hoofsteps echoed loudly in her ears, the only sound apart from the shifting of her cello case. Funny, she’d not noticed that sound in ages.

The royal guard, his expression as stoic as ever, paused before a pair of large double-doors and knocked. “Octavia Melody, to see the princess.” He wasted no time pushing the door open.

Octavia took a moment to gather her courage and glanced inside. The room, bedecked in a soothing midnight blue décor, appeared to be a lounge. She saw a quartet of large cushions next to some thin but tall windows, at least five bookcases, a large dining table and a fireplace that emitted a bright glow.

Princess Luna was nowhere to be seen.

She turned to the royal guard. “Umm… am I supposed to wait for her?”

He blinked, then looked inside himself. His veneer cracked just a touch as he frowned. “I guess so. My orders were to deliver you to her quarters promptly. I can only assume she is in one of the adjacent rooms.”

“Oh.” Octavia’s ears tucked as she examined the room again. “So this is where the princess lives.”

“I’m sure she’ll see to you shortly,” the royal guard said, tapping his hoof. Octavia glanced at him and wondered at his hurried manner. She nodded to him and stepped inside; the door closed so quickly it almost caught her tail.

The performance in Octavia’s stomach kicked into overdrive as she stood by the door with no idea what to do. She chewed her lip and slowly turned her head to take in the room. It was actually very nice, the dark tones a comfort for her eyes.

Octavia removed her cello case, resting it as carefully as she could by the door. Would it be considered rude to call out for Princess Luna? Octavia had no intention of finding out, but she couldn’t just stand there waiting, so she began to pace.

She examined the great paintings on the walls, most depicting pristine nighttime scenery. One showed a portrait of a pair of alicorns unfamiliar to Octavia’s memory, which warranted extra attention.

They were a couple, she realized. The stallion shared Luna’s coat and had a dark green mane with a flowing appearance like water; it actually appeared to drip from his shoulders. The mare was a pale red, her orange mane rising from her head almost as if it were made from wind. They both gazed upon Octavia with small smiles.

Octavia studied the picture for a few seconds. Where these alicorns related to the princesses? Their parents perhaps? Octavia had never even considered the possibility that Princess Celestia and Princess Luna had parents. Now that the thought was there, it struck her as a silly oversight.

She moved on, examining the bookshelves and finding tomes on astronomy – several written by Princess Luna herself – philosophy and the arts. A whole bookcase was devoted to magical theory, and another to world history. She was surprised to find more than half a bookcase filled with military treatises, studies on conflicts throughout the world, army logistics and even espionage.

What really caught her attention, however, was the discovery of two shelves devoted to music. She skimmed the titles and felt a small thrill at the realization that most of them focused on the Classical Resurgence period, also referred to as the Second Classical Age. How interesting it was that the princess seemed to prefer Octavia’s favorite musical time period. The only thing keeping her from perusing the titles was a distinct awareness that she probably shouldn’t touch anything at all without direct permission.

By now Octavia had circled the entire room. She glanced about, wondering when Princess Luna intended to show. There was a doorless opening nearby, and Octavia approached it. She glanced inside the next room and saw that it was less densely furnished; a few more bookshelves and pictures, two substantially sized couches and, sitting in one corner, a suit of armor.

Would it be improper to explore a little further? Octavia shifted from hoof to hoof as she struggled with her indecision, but finally stepped into the room.

The first thing she did was approach the armor. It was blue and just a little menacing, and Octavia had the strangest feeling like she recognized it. From a book? Perhaps.

There was a flash of light outside. Octavia walked to the window and gazed up at the night sky to find Princess Luna descending rapidly towards the castle. Sucking down a sharp breath, she hurried back to the main room and sat beside her cello. Her heart pattered against her chest as she pondered what the princess might want with her, but nothing she thought of made sense. What could one of the monarchs of Equestria possibly desire?

Her ears perked to the sound of hoofsteps in one of the adjacent rooms. She sucked down a deep, calming breath and turned to the closed door, determined to appear professional in spite of her out-of-control thoughts.

It was several anxious seconds before the door opened. Princess Luna stepped into the room, her face set in a firm frown and her eyes focused as if she were viewing something in the distance. She passed by with wings twitching and tail flicking, and didn’t seem to even notice Octavia.

Then, abruptly, she paused and raised her head. It turned back over her shoulder and her hard eyes locked with Octavia’s.

Octavia flinched under that gaze. Her chest tightened as she wondered if she’d come at a bad time… even if she’d been invited.

Yet Princess Luna’s gaze softened and her eyebrows rose. “Oh, Miss Melody. Forgive me, I lost track of the time.”

Upon realizing that her professional veneer had been lost, Octavia rapidly bowed. “I c-can come back later, if you’d prefer.”

“No.” The princess turned to her with a small smile. “You are not interrupting anything. I merely felt the pull of… a particularly strong nightmare and had to see to it. I apologize for keeping you waiting.”

“Not at all.” Octavia rose and offered a weak smile. “I… um… brought my cello, just in case.”

“It is appreciated.” The princess frowned and tilted her head. “And… there is no need to bow while you are here. This is a very informal visit.”

Octavia blinked as she tried to take that in. “Of… Of course, princess.”

Princess Luna set a hoof to her chin and considered her guest. “Just Luna tonight, if you please.”

Another few blinks. “Um, as you wish… Luna.” Her lips twisted around the name; not using the title felt about the same to her as trying to write a ballad without a lead.

Luna nodded before gesturing to the open doorway to the left. “Come, let us get comfortable. Can I get you anything? A little wine perhaps, or a bite to eat?”

“N-no, thank you.” Octavia reached for her instrument.

“You may leave the cello there, if you wish.”

Octavia’s ears folded as Luna turned for the door. She glanced back at the cello and wondered if she should take it. After a moment’s hesitation, she grabbed it. Maybe it was for the comfort of something familiar.

Luna lay atop one of the couches in the next room and gestured invitingly. Octavia followed her lead and sat on the opposite couch, setting her cello on the cushions next to her.

“It pleases me that you decided to come,” Luna said with a smile. “You must have many questions.”

A moment of silence passed, and Octavia abruptly realized she was supposed to respond. “Well… yes, actually.” Her eyes went to her cello, then back to Luna. She fidgeted and tapped her hooves together. “Um, I don’t mean to be rude…”

“Let me guess.” Luna leaned forward, her eyebrows raised in an expectant expression. “Your first question would be: ‘why am I here?’ Correct?”

Octavia wilted a little and nodded.

“Hmm… how to answer?” Luna lowered her head slightly, brow furrowing in thought. She remained like that for a few seconds, leaving Octavia to battle the butterflies in her stomach.

At last, Luna looked up. Octavia was surprised to see that she was blushing and her eyes were doing that increasingly familiar dance.

“It’s not so easy to explain. I assure you, this is a very awkward moment for us both… but I suppose I did take the first step.”

She nodded, as if to confirm something to herself, then finally looked into Octavia’s eyes.

“I am seeking something that I have not had in… well, a millennium. Miss Melody, if you don’t consider it too forward, I would like to meet you on a regular basis starting tonight.”

Octavia leaned back, her eyes wide. “A regular basis? Pri— Luna, why? What do I offer that warrants such a thing?”

“Comfort,” Luna replied. Though her voice was soft, her eyes held Octavia’s firmly in place. “My return to Equestria has been difficult. There are many things that I still need to adjust to, and the public has yet to…”

She paused, her eyes finally turning away. She gained a small frown as she considered her words. “I mean… my name is… Of course, I’m not her, but…” She pressed her lips tightly together, her head bowing as her eyes narrowed.

Octavia tilted her head at this strange behavior. “Princess?”

“Luna,” the princess whispered without moving. “Please, just Luna.”


Luna shook her head and grimaced. “I want… Why is it so hard to say? I want…”

She locked eyes with Octavia once more. “A friend. I want a friend.”

“A frie—” Octavia’s throat constricted, and she had to pause to recover as she stared into those brilliant cyan eyes. “You want me to be your friend?”

Luna averted her gaze with a blush. “You disapprove?”

“No!” Octavia shook her head and forced her tone down. “No, it’s just that this is entirely unexpected. I don’t understand why you’d ask me.”

At this, Luna smiled. “Because you were kind to me. Do you remember the gala, Miss Melody?”

Octavia cringed. “Unfortunately.”

Luna’s smile broadened, but only a little. “Yes, it was rather… memorable. I only watched it from a distance, but what I witnessed was quite the sight.”

“Wait.” Octavia tapped her chin as she thought back. “You mean you weren’t actually attending the gala that night?”

“No.” Luna turned her gaze away once more, her expression becoming grim. “My sister tried to convince me to attend, but I chose not to.” She looked back to Octavia. “But for this I am grateful, because I met you. Tell me, Miss Melody, did you fear me then?”

Octavia’s jaw hung loose. How was she supposed to answer that? “I… umm…” She bowed her head and tapped her hooves together. “Not you you, but… how to put it?”

Luna’s face stiffened. “I will not take offense if the answer is ‘yes.’”

“It’s… It’s like…” Octavia brushed her mane back as she fought for a proper answer. “It’s like how I feel right now. I’m afraid, but not of you. My anxiety has more to do with not wanting to do the wrong thing.”

She finally looked to the princess. “What if I say something I shouldn’t? What if I offend you in some way? What if I don’t even deserve to be here? That’s the kind of fear I have now… and then.”

That hard expression faded as Luna’s eyebrows rose. She stared at Octavia, lips working silently for several long seconds.

Then she threw her head back and laughed. It came so suddenly that it made Octavia jump.

“I’m sorry!” Luna giggled and set a hoof over her face with a blush. “It’s just that I’ve been thinking all this time that you had been afraid of me, and this? Clearly a thousand years of exile has ruined my ability to read ponies.”

Octavia fidgeted. “I see?”

Luna at last recovered from her giggles. She leveled Octavia with a broad smile. “Please, Miss Melody, speak plainly. I promise, I won’t be throwing you into any dungeons for stating what is on your mind. In fact, I ask of you: hold nothing back. I’d like this to be a candid discussion.”

Octavia gaped at the princess and realized she was completely serious. “So you really want me to speak my mind?”

“Of course.” Luna nodded eagerly. “Go on, speak up. Whatever you wish to say, do so.”

“Well, in that case… I mean, if you’re really sure?” Octavia waited for some kind of retraction, but Luna only gestured for her to continue. Chest tight, she considered what to say.

“I… I don’t understand why you chose me,” she admitted at last. “You picked me out from a single meeting at the gala?”

Luna blushed. “In a sense. I did love Tārā Sapnā, but the other music you perform is also quite pleasurable.”

Octavia’s jaw dropped. “You mean you’ve been watching me? At what venues?”

The blush deepened. Luna hesitated, but slowly reached up to tap the side of her own head. “This one.”

“I don’t under—” Octavia blinked. “My dreams. Have you been spying on my dreams?”

The princess cringed. “‘Spying’ is a rather strong word. I was only seeking comfort through your music.”

Octavia ducked her head a little at this news. “H-how long have you been watching me? Since the gala?”

“Well… yes.” Luna nodded, a lopsided smile accompanying her pink cheeks. “Your preferred music is from a time that I regret having missed, and—”


Luna went silent. Though Octavia was still sunk low, the princess was paying rapt attention.

“I am a very private pony,” Octavia said, her words quiet and slow even though her heart raced. “I don’t appreciate being spied upon when I’m at my most vulnerable. I gather that your ‘nightmare patrol’ is to help ponies, but this feels different… invasive.”

Luna stared at her for some time, her lips parted in a small ‘o.’ She bowed her head and her eyes began their dance around the room.

“I see. I suppose I should have known such was a possibility. Forgive me my rudeness.”

“But I still want to know why,” Octavia pressed, still in her hesitant posture. “Why my dreams? Surely there are other ponies out there whose music you enjoy. Ponies more famous, ponies more worthy, ponies who are more…” She sought the right word, lips fumbling. “…more open.”

Luna’s lips dipped into a frown as she gazed at the floor, her shoulders sagging. “No, Miss Melody. There are no ponies like you, or at least, none that I have found. I apologize. I didn’t mean to intrude, I only…”

She finally met Octavia’s eyes, and her own were moist. “I only wanted to find a little solace. I had no other place to go.”

Octavia sat up at last, taking in Luna’s forlorn appearance. “Princess?”


Octavia jumped at the shout, her eyes going wide as the princess covered her face and turned away.

“Call me Luna. Please… call me Luna. I want at least one pony who can forgive that I tried to murder my sister a thousand years ago, or the fact that I twice nearly destroyed the world in an eternal night, or that my dark side kept haunting ponies dreams for a millenium. I know ponies are afraid of me. I understand that. I deserve it. But… but can’t I have a normal relationship with somepony? Is that really too much to ask?”

The princess went silent, and Octavia could only stare. There were no tears, but Luna’s shoulders rose and fell with her deep breaths and she kept her face covered beneath her hooves. After a moment her wings curled forward, hiding her from view.

It was some time before Octavia snapped out of her daze. She didn’t know what to say, but she carefully climbed off her couch and approached. Her ears were folded as she sat beside Luna’s couch, eyes roaming those luxurious wings.

She had to work her lips a few times to get the name out without the title. “L… Luna?”

At first there was no answer… but then the wing lowered. Luna’s shining eyes met hers from just over the feathers, and the sight of those cyan orbs was like a knife in Octavia’s chest.

They held that gaze for a long time.

Octavia’s lips trembled upwards. “If I have to call you Luna… then you have to call me Octavia.”

Luna stared unmoving for a couple extra seconds, then her wing slowly folded back to her side. She smiled.

“I can live with that arrangement.”

Octavia glanced at her hooves with a blush. “And I don’t mind if you visit my dreams, just so long as I know you’re there. No more spying. Please?”

“I apologize again,” Luna whispered. “I was afraid you would not welcome me at all… so I hid. I didn’t want to lose the one comfort I have in this new age.”

“The one comfort?” Octavia looked up at Luna. “What about your sister? Surely there’s something other than my music.”

Luna sagged and turned her eyes to the windows. “Celestia tries, but there is a rift between us. Nopony else wishes to even be in the same room as me. No, M—Octavia, I am alone.”


Octavia bowed her head to think on this information. She felt pity… but something else too. She wasn’t sure what it was; a rising sensation in her chest that didn’t seem to belong. She shuffled her hooves as she pondered it. Whatever it was, it guided her words.

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t know anything about being a friend.” She looked up to find Luna watching her with curious eyes. “I’ve never been very good at it, but maybe that’s okay.”

She offered the princess a weak smile. “Maybe, through this, you can remember what it’s like to have one… and I can learn what it is to be one.”

Luna returned the smile, her eyes shining. “That sounds like a good plan.”

“Then it’s settled. If you’ll permit me making this just a little formal…” Octavia bowed before Luna. “Princess, it would be my honor to be your friend.”

When Octavia looked up, it was to find Luna bowing her head so that her horn gently rested on her shoulder.

“I thank you, Miss Melody. Your kindness is most appreciated.”

Luna grinned as she raised her head once more. “And now I must expressly forbid you from any additional formalities during these private meetings, lest I throw you in the dungeons.”

Octavia threw her hooves to the sky and let out an exaggerated scoff. “Fine, if you really must take the class out of everything.”

There was no laughter, but they shared amused grins as Octavia walked back to her couch.

“I feel like a student all over again,” Luna said with a chuckle. “Perhaps I should write to my sister’s protégé for advice on friendship.”

Octavia set a hoof to her cello case as she turned to the princess. “How about we commemorate this moment with some music?”

Luna nodded, her smile broadening. “I would like that.

“I would like that very much.”

Author's Notes:

Hickicāhaṭ: Indecision

I finally brought up the main flaw of Octavia: her extreme introvertedness. This is an easy thing to write about, because it happens to be my own biggest problem. For those of you thinking it, it's not the same thing as being antisocial. As this story goes on, I hope to expand upon this nature of Octavia's personality quite a bit.

Here's hoping I can pull off another chapter for next weekend!

Acchā Or

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter VII
Acchā Or

Octavia chewed on the tip of her quill, eyes on the letter before her. She'd reached the part where she could mention her new visits with Princess Luna… but should she? There was still a vague impression that they were meant to be secret, and even if that weren’t the case, Octavia wasn’t confident she liked the idea of spreading the news. She could just imagine being mobbed by ponies seeking favors.

Besides, the whole arrangement felt very private.

Frederick could be trusted, couldn’t he? He was a professional, after all.

But what if some nosy pony read the letter along the way?

That was a dumb idea, and she knew it. She wasn’t about to be paranoid over this.

Maybe she should ask Luna about it? Nopony knew better whether this situation should be kept secret than her.

The quill lowered, ready to scratch a few extra words, but her hoof froze over the letter as her mind began running circles again.

Octavia was rescued from her mental maze by an invasive noise: music. It faded quickly, telling her instantly who was responsible. With a small smile, she stood up and approached the window. Another quick blast of music assailed her ears as she reached to open the curtain.

Once again, her hoof froze. Her eyes had locked on the dresser in her bedroom, upon which sat the sheet music Vinyl had given her. She’d not even glanced at it since then, and it had been over a week.

She pulled back from the window. Her ears went flat against her head as she lingered in the hall, the brief blast of new music making her wince. The papers seemed to glare at her. What to do, what to do?

She turned away and made for her cello, her pace picking up with another musical assault. She didn’t know where to go, but she could always claim to have not been home at the time. It was a lie, but under the circumstances—

A knock on the door made Octavia jump with a yelp. Her cheeks burned as she hurried to answer, pulling it open without thinking to ask who it was.

“Hello there, Ṭaṭṭūsvatī.”

Parish grinned and delivered a lazy salute.

Her jaw dropped. “P… Parish? What are you doing here?”

He spread his hooves, that lopsided grin still plastered to his face. “Visiting, of course.”

Octavia’s entire body twitched as music briefly filled her room. “No, what I mean is… how did you figure out where I lived? Did Beauty tell you?”

He smirked and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’m fine, thanks for asking. Thanks for inviting me in.”

“Oh! Umm…” The burn in her cheeks intensified as she stepped aside. “I… it’s not much, but come on in.”

He stepped over the threshold, but paused halfway through the door to peer at her. She turned her face away and kept her eyes low.

“Are you alright, Octy?”

Another blast of music filled the room, this time catching his attention. “What the hay is that?”

She glanced back towards the hall with wide eyes. “Oh, nothing. Just my neighbor. It’ll stop soon.” Please let it stop soon.

“Huh.” He entered the room proper, his eyes roaming the dull walls and worn appliances. “So this is what you traded your old place for.”

Octavia closed the door, her tail tucking between her legs and her head low. “Parish, how in Equestria did you find this place?”

“I asked around,” he said, eyes still roaming the kitchen. “You’d be surprised how many ponies notice a hot mare in the area, even a homebody like you.”

Her gaze roamed the room, noting all the little cracks and stains. “I wish you would have warned me you were coming.” Another wince as the music blasted the room. “Sh-she’ll stop soon, I’m sure.”

Parish turned to study her with one eye, then lowered his head with a sigh. “Octy, you are so transparent. I thought you were proud of finally getting an Upper Level place.”

She looked away and scuffed the floor. “I am. It’s just… well, I’ve seen your place. And Beauty’s.”

He sighed and turned to her. “I’m sorry. I should have asked if it was okay instead of showing up out of the blue.”

Yes, he most definitely should have.

“No, it’s okay.” She did her best to smile for him.

The silence between them was interrupted by another wave of music, and this time Parish looked over his shoulder at the window. “You sure you don’t wanna check that?”

Octavia grumbled and walked past him for the window, doing her best to ignore the sheet music that still seemed to glare at her. She pulled open the curtains and the window and glowered at Vinyl, who grinned upon seeing her.

“Oh, good. For a moment there I thought you were dead or something.”

“I was busy,” Octavia replied. “Why are you trying to break my window this time?”

Rawr.” Vinyl raised her hooves up and waved them as if she were a manticore. “Somepony’s fussy today. You read that sheet music yet?”

The frustration faded in an instant. Octavia’s ears folded and she leaned back, glad Vinyl’s sunglasses made it harder to make eye contact. “Err… not yet.”

“Seriously?” Vinyl rested her legs on the windowsill. “It’s been a solid week.”

“I know, I know.” Octavia stared down at the street. “I’m sorry, okay? I just got distracted. I’ll look at it soon.”

“Distracted? For a whole week?”

Parish appeared behind Octavia, grinning and waving out the window. “Hey there, Vinyl.”

Vinyl lowered her head to look over her glasses at him. “Oh, you got company? Hey there. You’re… remind me.”

“Parish,” he called over Octavia’s shoulder.

“Right, sorry.” Vinyl rubbed her chin… and grinned.

Octavia’s eyes went wide and she waved her hooves. “No, Vinyl, It’s not—”

“So that’s why you were distracted,” Vinyl said, rubbing her hooves together. “In that case, don’t mind me. I’ll just go back to my turntable and you two can continue to be distracting. Talk to ya later, Octy!”

“Wait, you don’t under—”

Vinyl’s window closed with a thunk, her smirk the last thing Octavia saw before the curtains closed.

Parish snickered.

Octavia facehooved as she turned to him. “Great, now she’s going to bug me every day over this. Parish, you are a royal pain.”

His smile turned smug as he rubbed his chest self-appreciatively. “Well, if I’m going to be a royal something, I’ll take a pain.”

She shook her hoof at him, but couldn’t resist a small smile. “You’re hopeless.”

Parish’s smile faded, the ridge above his eyes narrowing. “I could say the same thing about you. When were you planning on telling us about your little rendezvous?”

Octavia blinked. “Rendezvous? What are you talking about?”

He poked her in the chest. “You came to us almost a week ago looking for advice on some super-secret fan who you were having one-on-one time with.”

“Oh.” She rubbed her chest and shrank back from his glare. “I just… well, I went.”

“We figured as much.” Parish rolled his eyes. “Come on Octy, we’ve been worried! You can’t come over and ask us about things like that and not tell us the outcome.”

She tilted her head and rubbed her chin. “I didn’t even consider that. I didn’t think you were interested enough.”

He groaned and rubbed his face with both hooves. “And you say I’m hopeless. Of course we’re interested! We’re invested in your wellbeing. It’s called ‘being good friends.’ Beauty and I have been on pins and needles all week, thinking maybe you were too embarrassed or maybe even too humiliated to come see us.”

Octavia shook her head frantically. “It’s not like that at all! It actually went very well. I’m going to meet her again tonight.”

His ears perked and his lowered his hooves. “You are? I mean… really?”

“You sound surprised.”

“I am!” He tilted his head to study her from several angles. “You were so nervous about meeting her just once, I didn’t expect you to be interested in doing it twice, even if we were really hoping for it.”

“Well, I am.” Octavia regained her confidence and flicked her mane. “I like her. We’ve decided to make these visits a regular thing.”

“Wow.” He leaned his head back and gaped. “That’s… that’s awesome. I mean, we were hoping you’d make a new friend, but this is better than either of us guessed.”

It was her turn to cock her head. “Why?”

“It means you’re getting out of this apartment. It means you’re meeting ponies, doing things.” He grinned and clapped his hooves. “Beauty is gonna be thrilled! So when do we meet this new friend, anyway?”

“Oh.” Octavia’s ears flattened once more. “I don’t know. She’s a very private pony, I’m not sure she’d want this brought to light just yet.”

“What? No fair.” He pouted. “You mean you’re spending more time with this new friend than you are with us and we don’t even get to know her name?”

Octavia winced. “You’re right. I’ll ask her about it. Sorry, Parish.”

He waved a dismissive hoof, though his head was bowed. “Don’t worry about it. Can’t blame her for wanting to hog a mare like you.”

Then he straightened up and peered at her with a frown. “But you’re still in trouble for leaving us in the dark for almost a week. Beauty’s going to demand an apology, y’know.”

“And I’ll be sure to give her one the next time I see her,” Octavia assured him with a smile.

“Make it soon, Octy. Don’t wait until you see her again in three months. Go see her.”

Octavia frowned at this order, but after a moment’s thought relented. “Fine, I’ll make a day of it.”

“Don’t act too excited,” he grumbled.

She flinched as if stung. “I’m falling into introvert mode again, aren’t I?”

He eyed her for a couple seconds before patting her shoulder. “It’s alright, Octy. I get it. Well, I don’t, not really, but I understand that you look at this kind of thing a little differently. I just wish you wouldn’t look at visiting us as a waste of time.”

Her chest tightened at his words and she glanced away. “It’s not a waste of time, I know that. I just… I guess my priorities are all messed up.”

Parish managed to smile. “Hey, maybe this pony you’re meeting will help you overcome these issues. It could happen.”

“I guess.” Octavia shook her head. “I’ll get better somehow, I promise.”

“I know you will.” He reared back to wave his hooves at his surroundings. “So, why not give me the guided tour?”

She blushed and felt her stomach do a flip. “It… won’t be a long one.”

Parish took on his best elite posture and tone. “It is the home of my most distinguished friend and colleague. I assure you, it will be a most fascinating time.”

She couldn’t help but giggle. “Okay, okay, I get it. Come on, then, allow me to wow you with the daring old look of Chateau Melody.”

“Have you ever benefited from branching out of astronomy?”

Luna watched as Octavia examined the bookcase. “I don’t think I understand the question.”

Octavia turned to her, rubbing her leg as she did. “Perhaps I should be more specific,” she said after some thought. “I am throwing it out there, aren’t I?”

“Specific would be nice.” Luna sipped her coffee with a small smile. “Are you sure I can’t get you anything?”

“Not at the moment, thank you.” Octavia turned to one of the windows and stared out at the dark city. “I don’t know why I’m asking about this. Never mind.”

Luna cocked her head with a frown before levitating her cup to the nearby table. “Please, Octavia, you’re not keeping your end of the agreement. If you want to ask, do so.”

For a short time Octavia was silent. Keeping her eyes set on the window, she spoke, “I have an old friend. She’s… well, if I’m to give her due credit, she’s a musician. Her musical genre is a far cry from my own, though, and we agreed long ago to simply disagree on what qualifies as ‘good’ music.”

Luna cringed. “I assume she prefers the more modern… shall we call it ‘material?’”

Octavia chuckled and smiled from over her shoulder. “Yes, I hesitate to call it ‘music’ too.”

With a chuckle of her own, Luna gestured. “Go on, tell me more.”

“Recently, she asked me to take a look at some sheet music she wrote.” Octavia looked back to the window with brows furrowed. “She wants to work together on a project, for me to play a couple songs in her new album.”

Luna nodded. “You do not think it will work.”

“I’m not sure.” Octavia finally turned back to Luna, her eyes lowered in thought. “Can two things so diametrically opposed to one another actually form something beautiful? I usually don’t like her style. Every now and then she gets lucky… but to combine hers and mine?”

“Ah.” Luna smiled and brought her coffee back to her lips. “She’s your Celestia.”

Octavia looked up and blinked a few times. “My Celestia?”

“Indeed.” Luna returned her cup before standing and walking for the window. Octavia stepped aside, but Luna beckoned her closer before gesturing to the half-full moon.

“Tell me, Octavia, have you ever seen an eclipse?”

“No.” Octavia shook her head with a blush. “I’m told there was one over Trottingham when I was little, but I was too young to remember.”

Luna frowned and glanced away, fighting to ignore the grip on her heart. “I am not surprised. My sister rarely created eclipses during my banishment save for on special occasions. They were painful for us both, though I imagine she was unaware of my own suffering.”

Octavia looked up at her with a small frown. “I don’t understand.”

Luna looked up at the moon with a sigh. “As any pony does with a new toy, Celestia and I… ‘experimented’ when we discovered our gifts.” She couldn’t resist a smile as she closed her eyes. “Learning to create an eclipse was one of the happiest memories we have from our youths. I can see it now, how glorious a sight it was, the unbridled joy it gave me as the ultimate symbol of our sisterly bond.”

She shook her head, quickly escaping her momentary reverie. She looked up once more, her smile gone. “To see her do it without me was painful for both of us.”

“I see.” Octavia was looking away and chewing her lip.

Luna studied her. Her smile came back slowly. “I believe it will be much the same for you.”

Octavia’s ears perked as she turned back to Luna.

“You see, Octavia, my sister and I are in many ways stark opposites.” Luna gestured flamboyantly to the moon. “Even our charges, the sun and the moon, are completely different. How can such things ever hope to exist in harmony or share in one another’s beauty? But in that moment, that glorious connection of brightness and darkness, there is a beauty that cannot be replicated by any dawn or dusk.”

Octavia stared at her beaming face for several seconds, neither smiling or frowning as she contemplated what she’d been told. Eventually she lowered her head and rubbed her chin.

“So what you’re saying is… if Vinyl and I work together, the result could be our version of your eclipse?”

“Very good, Octavia.” Luna beamed down on her guest. “I encourage you to try. You may find yourself in awe of what you can achieve together.”

“I suppose it’s worth a go.” Octavia blushed and averted her eyes, though she smiled. “I have read the first few pages. It’s not anything extraordinary, but maybe when I hear it combined with her music?”

“I’m sure it will be spectacular.” Luna turned and trotted for the couch, once again grabbing her coffee from the table. “If it is performed by you, I fail to see how it wouldn’t be.”

“Please don’t,” Octavia replied, approaching her own couch. “It sounds too much like you’re putting me on a pedestal.”

“I see no reason not to offer praise when it is due.” Luna settled on her couch and finished the last of her coffee. “Why must you doubt yourself?”

Octavia paused to raise her muzzle. “I don’t doubt myself. I think I am a good cellist, I believe I am good. I just don’t like being treated as somepony special.”

“As a wise pony once said: ‘Don’t be modest; you aren’t near famous enough for it.’” Luna chuckled.

Halfway on her couch, Octavia paused and looked back with a raised eyebrow. “I’m not familiar with that one. Who said it?”

“My sister,” Luna replied with a grin. “To Smart Cookie, if I recall correctly.”

Octavia climbed the rest of the way onto the couch and shook her head. “That doesn’t sound at all like something I imagine Celestia would say.”

“Perhaps I should introduce you,” Luna suggested, but then grimaced. “On second thought, that might be a bad idea. I can just imagine her hounding my tail for months about the progress of our friendship. She might even press me into writing ‘friendship reports’ like her protégé.”

It was Octavia’s turn to chuckle. “She sounds like an optimist.”

“She is, Goddess curse and bless her.” Luna rubbed her head with both hooves. “Looking at some of the things that have happened in the past thousand years, I must question how she kept this country from falling apart. The Great Divide alone should have doomed Equestria. It seems luck is eternally on my sister’s side, which is good because she needs it.”

“You don’t have faith in her leadership?”

Luna sat up and raised her hooves in a shrug. “She kept the country together for a millennium. I really have no room to judge. Yet, just between the two of us, I think a lot of this country’s past problems would have been resolved much more swiftly if Celestia had practiced less optimism and more realism.”

Luna paused to stare wide-eyed at Octavia, who began to fidget. After a moment the princess glanced away with a blush. “Forgive me, I should not be saying such things to you. I am in truly no position to speak in such a way about my sister.”

Octavia cocked her head before offering a smile. “Now who’s not keeping her part of the agreement?” At Luna’s questioning frown, she explained, “You told me to speak plainly, and now you’re holding back.”

“I am not sure it is the same,” Luna replied, once again glancing away. “I should not be spreading seeds of doubt regarding my sister’s leadership. She’s truly a wonderful pony.”

“If you need to vent, do so.” Octavia beckoned, maintaining her smile. “I won’t think less of you.”

For just a moment, Luna considered it. She stared at Octavia with wide eyes, words dancing on the tip of her tongue and body tense with a desire to unleash words she’d been holding in for over a year.

Her mouth remained firmly closed, lips set in a fine line as she shoved the desire back down her throat. “No… no, it wouldn’t be proper.”

Octavia frowned, but nodded her acquiescence. “Okay, but if you change your mind, I’ll lend an ear.”

“It is appreciated,” Luna grumbled, looking to the window with head held high, “but I do not think I’ll be accepting any time soon. I should be nothing but supportive of Celestia and her efforts.”

Silence reigned for several seconds. Luna maintained her commanding stature, but it required all her willpower not to fidget. She felt as if she were under an intense pressure, though she had no idea of exactly why.

“So,” Octavia finally said, “have you and Celestia considered performing an eclipse together since your return?”

A slap to the face wouldn’t have hurt as much as those words did, and Luna winced from the mental blow. “N-no. I’m afraid neither of us feel up to such an event anymore.”


Luna glanced to see Octavia shifting and looking at the floor. With a sigh, she turned to her guest. “Please, do not let it bother you. It is difficult to fix the rift of our past, but eventually we will be close once more. You need not concern yourself.”

Octavia looked up at her with a deep frown. “If you say so, Luna. I’m sorry I brought such things up.”

“It’s alright.” Somehow, Luna managed to smile for her. “These things come—”

She cringed as a spark ignited at the tip of her horn. Reacting on instinct, Luna closed her eyes and quickly cast her dreamweaver magic. The dream lines appeared in her vision instantly, surrounding her in a cascade of brilliant colors.


“Please,” Luna hissed, “I need a moment.”

Where was it? She pulled away at the lines, filtering them from her vision a little at a time. She had seen this happen enough times to at least follow a general direction, and soon she’d uncovered the first sign of trouble.

It was a red dreamline, but it was more than just the color that caught her attention: the line literally vibrated with energy. The pulse that rose from its owner was rapid and heavy, a visible aura surrounding each wave and making Luna’s horn throb in time. The line shifted and seemed to go taut, the red darkening in a manner that twisted Luna’s heart.

It wasn’t alone. Dozens of dreamlines surrounded it, rising to the moon like a series of pikes seeking to pierce the celestial orb. The sight of them sent chills down Luna’s spine.

Luna opened her eyes, the dreamlines still visible as she looked to Octavia. Her guest was leaning back against the couch and staring with wide eyes, her mouth opened in a fretful gape.

It was then Luna realized she had her lips pulled back in a sneer.

She shook her head and forced herself into a neutral expression. “Forgive me, Octavia, but I must cut this visit short. Something serious has occurred and I must see to it immediately.”

Octavia sat up quickly. “Is everything okay?”

“Not if I don’t do something about this.” Luna climbed off her bed and turned for the door. “Do not worry about me, I will be fine. I hope to see you again next week.”

“Oh, o-of course.”

There was no time to be wasted on politeness; Luna trotted into the next room and immediately approached the balcony. She stood outside for but a moment, eyes following the dreamlines to a location in the east before she spread her wings and launched. As she rose towards her moon, she peered at the pulses and shifting auras of the ethereal strings. So many at once… but it wasn’t the worst she’d yet seen.

“Alright, you monster,” she hissed, horn glowing in the dark, “I’ll make short work of you this time.”

Octavia watched from the window as the princess disappeared in a wink of white light. She stood there for several seconds, just gazing at the air. After a while she turned away, looking around at the empty room.

“Well… that was sudden.”

She pondered what had just happened, curious about what terrible thing Luna had discovered. For her part, Octavia had noticed nothing. Perhaps it was some sort of magical sixth sense?

Or maybe that was just an excuse. Octavia thought about the recent conversation and her stomach clenched. She quickly slipped on her cello case and fled the room as quickly as dignity would permit.

Yet the walk home was a long one, and Octavia could spend the time thinking on nothing but what Luna had told her. Her pace was slow, her eyes on her hooves as unpleasant thoughts swam through her mind. She hardly noticed when she’d reached the castle gates, which were opened by a pair of indifferent royal guards.

Luna had referred to her sister as an optimist, and it sounded like she considered herself a realist. Thinking on what very little Octavia knew of both of them, she could see it. True, she’d only seen Celestia once, but the princess had at least appeared to be a gracious individual. Luna, by comparison…

Octavia paused in the street, looking back to the castle with a frown. She felt as though she were studying at a puzzle, one that appeared to have a complex solution when the real answer was right in her face. Should she have pressed the princess into talking? What if Luna didn’t take kindly to that kind of treatment?

She wasn’t sure she could will herself to press Luna. After all, she was the princess; how do you tell somepony like Luna and of such rank what to do? It would have been laughable… if Octavia’s stomach would unclench enough to let such a thing happen.

It was too late now, anyway. Octavia sighed and continued her trudging way home. She realized it had to be closing in on midnight – no wonder she had no energy. A glance at the moon reminded her that this would be a regular occurrence. Perhaps she should start sleeping in and going to bed later, just to accommodate her Wednesdays. Nearly all the events she regularly performed for took place in the evening, after all.

She stopped to get her bearings, looking out upon pale brick roadways and pearly buildings. She was surrounded by cafés and restaurants, the majority of them closed for the night. The market district was just down the road – a heinously misnamed area of town considering the ‘market’ consisted of high-fashion boutiques, air-yacht vendors and similar such excessive businesses. It wasn’t all bad, though; there was a small music store where she could go to buy new strings and all the kinds of albums she preferred.


Octavia turned to a side street, one she’d very rarely gone down. She stared between the tall buildings, and though the path was no different from any other she couldn’t help feeling a sense of foreboding at the thought of going that way.

Yet there was one locale she knew about…

Luna’s advice echoed in her mind. The words made Octavia wilt; how could she even think about helping Luna with her sister when she wasn’t even prepared to deal with her own friends?

For a long time she stood, shifting from hoof to hoof and fighting with indecision. She still had five blocks to go before she got to her apartment, and did she really want to take the detour? Vinyl might not even be there. It was an unplanned visit, and how would Octavia feel if she was visited unannounced? She only needed to think of Parish’s arrival that morning to get her answer.

Yes… yes, it could wait. It wasn’t as if she couldn’t talk to Vinyl from the window tomorrow, or—

Octavia paused, half-turned away from the street. Her eyes had gone up, and so she saw the moon. She stared at it for several seconds, body stiff and mind blank.

At last, with ears flat and head low, she turned back for the path.

To the most insulated elites, this area pressed against the cliffs of the Lonely Mountain was referred to as the ‘bad side of town,’ even though it was visibly no different from any other neighborhood in the Upper Level. A number of cocktail lounges dotted the area and at least three specialty wine brewers lined the very first street. The only business Octavia might have called ‘shady’ was the extract shop on the corner, its windows tinted black to prevent wandering eyes from gazing upon what she imagined were rows upon rows of poison joke products, perhaps not all legal to sell within the city limits.

A few of the stores were still open, with young ponies wandering about or talking in small groups nearby. A few were drinking right from their bottles and Octavia saw more than a few with extract sticks, the smoke rising into the air to act as cover for their raucous laughter. The majority were around Octavia’s age or younger, youths who thought they were being rebellious or avant-garde because they knew how to puff on a stick.

If they knew what rebellious young ponies did in the Lower Levels – or even Octavia’s hometown of Trottingham – they would slink home in embarrassment of their own lackluster performances. Octavia had never been the kind to get into that kind of trouble, but her brother Chalk Board…

A wolf whistle brought her out of her daydream. She spotted a trio of stallions eyeing her and promptly retreated down the street. Her stomach tied in knots and cheeks burned at the cat calls, but she held her head high and took on her high-brow manner. Hopefully they’d think her stand-offish and not pursue.

She was glad to reach her destination, a squat building that seemed to be hiding between two of its larger kin while pressing tight against the mountain. Above the plain front entrance was a darkly lit sign, The Lonely Beat. The door was guarded by a bouncer, a tall and imposing green unicorn in a black suit and sporting a frown as hard as his face.

Octavia walked right past the doors.

It took a great force of will to make herself stop, and a little more yet to turn around. Butterflies flitted in her belly as she avoided looking directly at the bouncer. How to approach? What to say? Should she say anything? Maybe it would be better to just go home.

She shook her head with force; she’d already come all this way! Steeling herself, she approached the door. The bouncer wasn’t blocking the entrance, but by the way he leveled his hard eyes on her it was clear he’d do so if she tried to go in.

“You don’t look like the usual clientele. Ya got a name?” His gruff voice matched his appearance perfectly.

She flinched at his tone. “O-Octavia Melody.”

His horn glowed dimly and a small clipboard rose from the vest of his coat. He flipped a couple pages, Octavia fidgeting and wondering if this wasn’t a mistake.

“Well, you’re on the list.”

Her head jerked up. “I am?”

“Yep.” The clipboard slipped back under his vest as he nodded for the door. “Go on ahead.”

“Oh… uh, thanks.” Octavia promptly went through the door, her mind running circles as it tried to make sense of this.

Her ears were instantly assaulted by a pounding beat. She was in a stairwell going down and lit by dim lights in the walls that flickered like candles. She began to descend, barely able to hear her own hoofsteps over the constant thumping. The passage was small, almost claustrophobic in the dark. With every step the beat got louder, the synthetic tones washing over her like an audio wave determined to drown out all thought and logic.

It felt almost poisonous to her mind, yet also seductive. She ground her teeth and put great effort in not letting her tail swish to the beat.

Then Octavia reached the bottom and found herself staring at a seething, writhing mass of flesh. Legs, tails, manes, sweat, smoke and the fierce scent of hard liquor all combined in a sickening entity before her wide eyes. In the spinning lasers and flashing lights, she finally came to understand that what she was looking at was an army of ponies on a dance floor… if anything they were doing could even be remotely referred to as ‘dancing.’

Octavia stood in the entranceway for some time, just staring at them. It was downright disgusting, the way they ground against one another. Their bouncing matched the rhythm, but everything else they were doing was blasphemous to her sense of propriety; the touching, the lewd looks, how they kissed randomly for no apparent reason save perhaps to do it. It all progressed under a blanket of smoke that left the room reeking.

Octavia was tempted to bolt. The emotional intensity of the place frightened her and she found herself gasping for air. She turned for the stairs, took two steps—

Something caught her by the shoulders. She jumped as if the touch were electric and tried to flee, but whoever had her didn’t let go. Somepony was speaking, but the voice was drowned out in the din. Panic began to fill Octavia at the very thought of getting caught in that wretched hive of sin and she lashed out, elbowing her aggressor in the shoulder. That was enough to let her break free.


She stumbled and almost fell on the bottom steps of the metal stairs. She turned about swiftly, eyes wide and heart pounding.

An electric blue mane. Pale coat.


Vinyl was rubbing her shoulder as she studied Octavia through narrowed eyes. Her horn shone and her sunglasses rose from the floor to settled on top of it. She approached and set a hoof on Octavia’s shoulder and shouted, her voice barely audible.

“What are you doing here?”

Octavia’s lips worked soundlessly as her eyes went back to that multi-ponied monstrosity on the dance floor. All she could do was shake her head.

Vinyl studied her for a couple seconds with a taught frown, but finally nodded and pressed Octavia towards the stairs. They climbed up together, Vinyl’s leg over Octavia’s trembling shoulder. The music continued to pound in Octavia’s ears and the smoke seemed to follow them all the way, carrying with it the hideous stench of sweat and arousal.

They reached the door, and when it opened Octavia could swear she felt wind on her back. She spilled out, feeling just a little like a dragon had just spit her onto the Canterlot pavement. Trotting out to the road, she sucked in fresh air and the poison in her mind gave way to a calm, pristine night. She promptly dropped to her haunches, chest heaving as her moment of near-panic faded.

“You okay?”

She looked up to find Vinyl watching her with a hoof on her shoulder. “Y-yeah… I think I’ll be fine now.”

“Good.” Vinyl’s frown became a glare. “What the hay are you doing here? What were you thinking?”

Octavia stared at her hooves and felt the butterflies coming back, but now for entirely different reasons. “I was looking for my Celestia.”


“Nothing.” She sighed and shook her head. “I thought I’d come by and listen to your music. I read your material, but I still didn’t understand how we were supposed to make a song together.”

“You mean you came all the way out here in the middle of the night just to listen to my songs?” Vinyl gaped at first, but then shook her head. “That’s… Octy, you didn’t need to do that.”

“Yes, I did.” Octavia turned to her, head and ears low. “I felt so guilty. A promise was made, and then I ignored it for a whole week. Then this morning I was forced to admit that and I realized it was wrong of me that I was avoiding you and… and… I just felt so guilty.”

“Calm down.”

The hoof on her shoulder made her jump, and she realized her breathing had become erratic. She shook her head and wrapped her legs about her shoulders with a shiver. “I’m sorry, I d-don’t know what came over me.” She allowed herself a few moments to get her breathing back under control.

“Hey, look at me.” Vinyl was smiling. It was a sweet smile, the kind that almost never touched her lips. “I get it, Octy. We were roomies for four years. I know how your mind works.” She patted Octavia’s shoulder. “To be honest, the fact that you came out here is amazing. I’m touched.”

Octavia’s ears rose just a fraction. “Really?”

Vinyl tapped the side of Octavia’s head with a grin. “Super-homebody drags her flank out of the safety of her apartment and comes all the way to the bad side of town in an attempt to make up for a slight that only exists in her head? Yeah, really.”

“B-but I thought you were mad at me,” Octavia confessed. “The way you talked this morning—”

“Aaaah, don’t worry about that.” Vinyl bumped Octavia’s shoulder playfully with her own, making her flinch. “Like I said, I know you. If I don’t give you a push every now and then, you won’t do anything. It was just a little motivation.”

Octavia sighed, the butterflies in her stomach finally finding someplace else to flutter. “All that fretting over nothing.” She glanced back at the door, the bouncer eyeing them curiously. “Vinyl, how do you work in a place like that every night?”

“That? That’s nothing.” Vinyl waved a dismissive hoof. “You should see what goes on at the clubs on the Lower Level. I could tell you some crazy stories! Those ponies are whack.”

“Come on,” she said as Octavia let out a long yawn, “let’s get you home.”

“Oh? But don’t you have to work?”

“Nah.” Vinyl turned to the bouncer. “Hey Beau, could ya go let Girly know that MC Candy can take over the rest of my shift? She needs the bits more than I do anyway.”

The bouncer offered a half-hearted salute before disappearing inside.

“See? Nothing to it.” Vinyl tugged on Octavia’s tail and gestured down the road. “Come on, little lady. It’s way past your bedtime.”

“I’m a year older than you,” Octavia grumbled, but did as she was told.

They walked in silence. It gave Octavia a chance to assess her situation, and the first thing she noticed was how incredibly tired she was. Her legs almost dragged on the bricks and her posture was low. Funny, she hadn’t felt so worn out before.

Perhaps it was that terrible place she’d just visited. It was so energetic, so loud, so… wild. She shivered at the memory, having absolutely no intention of ever visiting Vinyl’s place of business again. All Octavia wanted to do was forget what she’d seen and heard and smelled.

Vinyl was glancing about the road as if not sure what to look at. After a while she looked to her companion. Not at her eyes, but at Octavia’s chest.

“So… um, I know it looks bad. What you heard back there? That’s not my music, y’know? I just DJ for the place.” She scuffed the bricks and looked away.

“It certainly wasn’t good,” Octavia grumbled, eyes on her hooves.

“It’s not bad.” Vinyl stole a quick, wide eyed glance at Octavia. “N-not that I’m saying I make music like that, I mean. That was trance and techno. Those ponies aren’t the audience for my albums, y’know?”

“I don’t know, Vinyl.” Octavia shook her head and wouldn’t look her friend in the face. “I’m not sure this idea of yours will work.”

“It will!” Vinyl slipped a little closer and lowered her head, trying to catch Octavia’s eye. “I promise. Come by my place, you’ll see. That’s not the kind of music I make. I only DJ there.”

“You said that already.”

For a moment Vinyl was silent again, but then she moved in front of Octavia and sat before her. She grabbed Octavia’s shoulders and looked her in the eyes.

“Please, Octavia. Give me a chance to show you. That’s all I ask. Please.”

They stared into one another’s eyes for a long time. Octavia wondered if this was how Luna felt sometimes while dealing with her sister. She felt that this cause was hopeless… and yet, as she was struck by those imploring red eyes, she couldn’t help but crack under an unfamiliar and not altogether welcome pressure.


Vinyl’s ears perked and a grin spread across her face. “Really?”

“Yes.” Octavia smiled back, but it was a feeble one. “I’ll try. I can’t promise to go all the way with this idea, but I’ll give it a shot.”

Yes!” Vinyl hoof-pumped and embraced Octavia, who promptly stiffened and locked her legs lest she push the pony away.

“Sorry.” Vinyl backed away with a chuckle and a blush. “S-sorry, got carried away. You won’t regret this, Octy, I swear!”

Octavia relaxed, shaking off the unpleasant contact. She might have frowned if she weren’t abruptly assaulted by a deep yawn. “We shall see. Can we please go home now? I hear my sheets calling my name.”

“You got it!” Vinyl bounded about like a schoolfilly who just got asked out by her dream date. “Heck, I’ll carry you if ya want!”

Octavia couldn’t resist a chuckle at that mental image. “No, thank you, I think my legs can handle the journey just fine.”

They pressed on through the Canterlot night for home. Vinyl was all energy and excitement, and Octavia tried to remain cheerful.

Yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was wading into dangerous territory.

Author's Notes:

Acchā Or: A New Direction

Delving a little deeper into Octavia's social issues – which are, again, somewhat modeled after my own. My jumpiness regarding physical contact is legendary in my family. Basically, this is me:


I'm not even remotely joking.


The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter VIII

The world of white faded, and Luna found herself in a large, dark cavern. Yet it didn’t seem natural. The walls were too perfect in their circle, and the rocks were constantly changing shapes. It reminded her – unpleasantly – of a ‘game’ Discord once had forced Celestia and her to play. She was glad he was stuck in his stone prison, hopefully for good this time.

She perked her ears as two sounds arose simultaneously: laughter and sobbing. The laughter was ethereal; it echoed from all directions and also seemed to come from within. It wasn’t playful, but coarse and mocking, as though the walls themselves were filled with mirth over some calamity. She eyed them and realized that the rocks formed faces.

The walls really were laughing, but not at her.

She turned about to find a tiny, purple filly. The little pony was curled in a tight ball, sobbing with her head buried beneath her hooves.

Luna cringed; helping foals was one thing, but this one was even younger than usual. What to say? She stared down at the filly, thinking on potential solutions. After a while, she focused her magic on the foal’s mind.

She’s too dumb to do anything right!

Ditzy Derpy! Ditzy Derpy!

I bet you’re as retarded as she is!

So when are your eyes gonna go stupid, huh?

Luna disconnected and shook her head to clear it of the lingering thoughts. She frowned at the foal as a familiar ache encroached upon her heart. Kneeling, she brought her horn down to rest across the foal’s back. The spell was not complicated; this was a simple nightmare, and called for a simple solution.

The laughter began to warp, the sounds becoming random and illogical. After a few seconds, it came back, but there was no more mockery in the sound. No, this was the sound of children playing. Cracks began to form in the cavern walls, a blackness seeping in to block the view.

Luna raised her horn and fired a single beam into the air. It struck the very top of the cavern, which caused the whole thing to shatter like glass. The sound made the foal jump to her hooves with a yelp, her head swiveling about as the walls faded into a bubbly black cloud that drifted away on a soft breeze.

They stood on a sandy beach, the ocean stretching out before them. Waves lapped at their hooves in a lazy rhythm, and behind them was a plain of endless green grass dotted with purple and white flowers. It was night, but the moon shined brightly alongside a brilliant starscape.

The filly gasped and spun in a circle, trying to take it all in. When she spotted Luna she shrank back, eyes going wide and ears folding. Only now did Luna notice that she was a unicorn, her tiny horn poking out of a messy blonde mane.

For several seconds, they merely stared at once another. Luna could see the worry in the foal’s eyes and had to fight to keep her expression neutral. Eventually, she turned away and left the filly alone, prepared to leave the dream entirely to continue her duties.


She paused, the tiniest of gasps breaking through her royal veneer.

“Are you the Moon Princess?”

Why did Luna suddenly feel like bolting? She shook off the desire and looked back over her shoulder to find the filly standing tall once more and looking up at her with big, curious eyes.

“Y-yes, I am your Lunar Princess.”

“Really?” The foal leaned forward. “Really really?”

Luna found herself in the uncommon position of having absolutely no idea what to do. After a few seconds she attempted to smile, fully aware of how terribly forced it was. “Yes, really.”

The filly’s eyes widened even more, if such a thing was possible. She sat and glanced around at the beach. “Did you make the mean foals go away?”

Turning to face the child properly, butterflies floating in her stomach, Luna nodded. “I did.”

The foal looked up at her, jaw loose and eyes going moist. Her shoulders shook as the tears prepared to break free.

There was a rising feeling in Luna’s chest, a distinct panic that threatened to take over her mind. Once again she felt an urge to bolt from this dream entirely.

The filly’s hooves kicked up sand as she burst into a gallop straight for the princess. She leapt and wrapped her tiny legs around one of Luna’s.

“Thank you!” It was all she managed to get out before breaking down into sobs. She pressed her cheeks to Luna’s leg and wailed, the sound piercing the night air.

Luna’s jaw dropped. In spite of her bleeding heart, something else held her attention, a feeling she almost couldn’t fathom. All her anxiety left her as she dropped down to press the foal to her chest with a single leg. Amidst all the sobbing, Luna smiled.

“Shh,” she cooed. “It’s okay, my little pony. It’s going to be okay.” Such words… she’d not offered such words in so long. The whispered sounds that Luna offered were as precious to her as they were to the filly bawling into her coat. They tasted sweet on her lips, like nectar.

Eventually, the foal’s sobs faded to mere sniffles. Luna patted her small head with a smile. “There, all better, yes?”

The filly nodded but continued to cling to Luna’s chest. “W-will they come b-back?”

“Hmm…” With a hoof to her lips, Luna considered the foal. “What is your name, little one?”


Luna set a hoof to Dinky’s chin, making her look up. “Dinky. Why do ponies say such things to you?”

The tiny face scrunched up, but Dinky rubbed her eyes and kept from crying. “Th-they’re making fun of mommy. Her eyes are broke.”

“Broke?” Luna tilted her head. “Her eyes aren’t really ‘broke,’ are they?”

“Mommy says they’re fine, but they’re not.” Dinky pulled away from Luna’s hoof and bowed her head. “The other foals say she’s dumb. Mommy’s not dumb!”

Luna’s smile broadened a touch. “She’s not?”

“No!” Dinky glared up at her, cheeks puffed out and red.

Leaning over the foal, Luna asked, “So what is your mommy?”

Dinky paused, her face twisting as she struggled to understand Luna’s meaning. “She’s… um… Mommy’s…” She crossed her hooves and sulked.

“Dinky?” Luna waited for the foal to look up. “What do you like about your mommy?”

A moment passed as Dinky stared at her, and then her face lit up. “She’s fun! She takes me flying.”

“Oh?” Luna took only a moment to wonder at Dinky’s horn before offering another smile. “Go on, tell me more.”

“She works a lot.” Dinky frowned at that thought. “I wish she’d be home more. But Mommy brings home candies from Bonbon’s!” The grin came back in a flash. “And she helps me with letters and tells me stories. Like yours.”

Luna leaned back as the filly pointed towards her. “M… My story?”

“Uh-huh.” Dinky nodded emphatically. “You live on the moon and your sister missed you. You had a fight and couldn’t come home. Mommy says the Eme…” she scrunched her face and worked her lips. “The… The Elephants of Harming?”

A hoof over her face and great willpower were the only things that saved Luna from revealing her smile. “Elements of Harmony?”

“Yeah!” Dinky bounced, her smile back in full spread. “Mommy says they taught you and your sister to be friends again.” She paused and tilted her head. “Is that true?”

Luna’s chest swelled. “It is. My sister and I are good friends again, just like we used to be.”

“Good.” Dinky kicked at the sand and her smile faded. “But why don’t you come out?”

The swelling reversed course; suddenly Luna’s heart was in a vice. “C-come out?”

Her face set in what was probably meant to be a confident expression, Dinky sat down and raised her hoof as though to dictate. “Mommy says the Moon Princess never leaves the castle. She says you hide ’cause you’re scared that ponies don’t like you.” She lowered her hoof and shook her head. “I think that’s silly. I like you.”

For a time, Luna could only stare at the little pony. “How… What makes your mother think I’m scared?”

Dinky shrugged. “I think Miss Sparkle told her.”

“You know Twilight Sparkle?”

The filly nodded so forcefully Luna wondered if her head wasn’t about to pop off. “Uh-huh! She’s the libwa… librarian. She’s real smart and nice and knows lots of magic. She lets Mommy borrow books to read me.” Dinky gave a little bounce and grinned. “I wanna be like Miss Sparkle when I grow up!”

Dinky’s happiness was infectious; Luna found herself smiling down at her. “That’s very ambitious. I’m sure Miss Sparkle is honored. Now—“ she lowered her face so it was level with the filly’s, “—do you know what you need to do when the other foals talk about your mommy?”

The smile faded quickly as Dinky shrank back and looked at her hooves. “Um… I don’t know. If I was good at magic like Miss Sparkle, I’d turn them into frogs.”

Luna swiftly raised a hoof to her lips to hold in her snicker. “That’s… one option. Are you good at magic like Miss Sparkle?”

Dinky kicked the sand with a pitiable “No…”

“Well then, I have something else to try.” She once again raised Dinky’s head by the chin. “The next time the others talk about your mommy, I want you to tell them exactly what makes your mommy so special.”

The foal frowned as she considered this advice. “Why?”

“Because then you’ll be proud, and their words can’t hurt you.” Luna nuzzled Dinky. “You know your mommy is the best, so tell them that. When you show them how much you love your mommy, they’ll stop.”

“But what if they don’t?”

“Then at least you know how special your mommy is.” Luna beamed down at the filly as she sat up. “As long as you remember just how good she is, their words won’t hurt.”

“Oh…” Dinky was still thinking on the matter, but eventually she smiled and nodded. “Okay, I’ll try. Thank you, Princess!”

“And thank you,” she replied with a sigh.

“For what?”

“For liking me.” Luna winked, eliciting a small giggle from Dinky. She could feel that swelling sensation in her chest again and couldn’t help but grin as she turned away.

“Do you want to play?”

Luna paused to look back at Dinky. “Oh, I am sorry, little one. I would, but I’m a little busy. I have other little ponies to visit in their dreams.”

“Aww…” Dinky pouted, but quickly regained her smile. “Thank you for helping, Princess. I’ll tell Mommy you came. Umm…” She glanced around at the empty beach. “How do I go home?”

There was no resisting a laugh this time. “Do not worry, Dinky. Dreams are for playing, so play to your heart’s content. When it’s time to go home, you’ll be there.”

“Oh, okay!”

The filly promptly sat down and began toying with the sand, a large scoop appearing in her hooves without her even noticing. “I’m gonna make you a castle, like your sister’s! It’ll be better than hers,” she added with confidence.

Luna chuckled and lifted off, floating backwards as the filly waved. “I’m sure it will be. Farewell, little one! It has been a pleasure.”

“Goodbye, Princess Luna!”

She turned away, flapping towards the moon with an energy she’d not felt in a very, very long time.

“She wasn’t afraid of me at all!”

Octavia giggled at the beaming princess, who was clapping her hooves and grinning in a way she’d never seen before. “That’s great, Luna. I knew ponies would begin warming up to you before long.”

“But this wasn’t just a pony,” Luna replied theatrically. “It was a foal. She couldn’t have been more than four. The youngest are usually the most afraid.” She set a shaking hoof to her lips, eyes shining. “If even a foal can like me, then surely anypony can in time… right?”

“I fail to grasp why they don’t like you now.” Octavia took a dainty bite from the pasta sitting at the table before her and let out a small sigh. She took a moment to swallow and dab her lips with a handkerchief. “Is all the food you eat this good?”

“Hmmph.” Luna turned her nose up from her own plate. “Back in my time, they used to include chicken or shrimp, perhaps some grilled beef. Clearly ponies have lost their sense of taste over the last thousand years.”

Octavia choked on her second bite. “R-really?”

Luna snorted out a laugh. “No, but you should have seen the look on your face.”

“Oh.” Octavia sank back in her chair with a sigh and a smile. “You have a gift for looking serious.”

“Hmm…” Luna frowned and stared at her untouched plate. “Maybe that’s why most ponies don’t care for me. Yet if that were so, why did little Dinky warm up to me?”

“Maybe because of her mother?” Octavia ventured with a shrug. Another polite bite.

“Perhaps… and she did mention my sister’s protégé.” Luna fork stirred the pasta about as she pondered. “Mayhap the Element of Magic is trying to improve my image?”

Octavia watched Luna with a small frown, her eyes lingering on the fork. “Is something wrong?”

Luna flinched and looked up with uncertain eyes. “No, nothing’s wrong.” She took a quick bite, perhaps for emphasis.

Silence passed between them as they continued to eat. Octavia had a lot of questions on her mind, some more pressing than others. She spent the time attempting to sort her thoughts.

“You have a very dignified way of eating,” Luna said. She glanced away as soon as Octavia tried to meet her eyes.

“Thank you.” Octavia offered a warm smile. “I spent a lot of time practicing to use cutlery properly. It isn’t easy, not without a horn.”


The fork paused just outside Octavia’s mouth. “I beg your pardon?”

Luna’s mouth snapped closed and she blushed. “Forgive me, I shouldn’t pry.”

An awkward quiet passed between them as Luna focused particularly hard on eating. Octavia studied her once more, buying time by chewing slowly. It wasn’t a bad tactic, if her taste buds had anything to say about it. Yet it was hard to really enjoy the meal with her host so… timid.

Octavia thought on how excited – perhaps ‘giddy’ was the better word – Luna had been throughout this visit. To see her withdrawing once more… she didn’t like it. Not at all.

“My sister.”

Luna looked up. “What?”

Averting her gaze, Octavia said, “I… have an older sister. I used to look up to her a lot.”

A smile formed across Luna’s face. “Go on.”

Octavia sighed and fiddled with her fork. “Benjamina’s opinion was always important to me. She’s the rich pony in the family, and I wanted to be like her.”

“I see.” Luna leaned forward, her smile broadening. “So that’s why you wish to become an ‘Important Pony?’ I know a bit about looking up to a sister.”

Another, deeper sigh escaped Octavia as she toyed with her food.


She closed her eyes. The familiar, unpleasant sound filled her head. “She laughed at me.”

“Your sister?”

Octavia nodded, setting her fork down as her stomach knotted. “I told her what I wanted to do for a living, and she laughed in my face. It… It really hurt. She said I’d never become an elite like her by playing the cello.”

“I see…” Luna sighed and shook her head. “So your drive is to prove her wrong?”

“Something like that.” Octavia pushed her plate away and leaned against the table, wishing her stomach would calm down.

Yet another lingering silence. She was coming to hate it when that happened. Slow, measured breaths helped her fight down the bitterness that tried to rise up within her.

“You can do it, Octavia.”

She looked up to find Luna smiling at her. “I have listened to you play once a week for a month now, and let us not forget how I watched you from your dreams. Trust in your special talent, and you will achieve that goal.”

Octavia huffed a feeble laugh and pressed a hoof to her cheek. “Playing the cello isn’t my special talent.” Seeing Luna’s jaw drop was a little satisfying, but only a little. “That’s a pretty typical reaction.”

The princess closed her mouth, but she was still staring. “You… you mean you have something else? What is it?”

The blood rushed to Octavia’s cheeks as she averted her eyes. She mumbled her response.

Luna leaned forward. “What was that?”

With a wince, Octavia spoke up. “Singing. My special talent is singing.”

“Oh.” Luna set a hoof to her chin, her brow furrowing. “Now that you speak of it, that does better suit your cutie mark. Why keep it a secret?”

Octavia fidgeted and stared at her plate. “It’s not a secret, really. I just… I don’t like drawing attention to it.”

Luna considered her with the smallest of frowns. “Because of your sister?”

“Something like that.” Octavia looked up at last. “Can we please not discuss this? I’d rather focus on your progress.”

“I suppose.” Luna’s frown deepened a touch as she focused on her food. “I do not wish to pry… though I will admit that my recent success isn’t so easy to enjoy knowing that you may be suffering.”

“I am here for you, Princess,” Octavia said, going rigid and pulling her plate back towards herself. She held her head high. “You don’t need to worry about me.”

For a third time, silence reigned. Luna cast a forlorn look Octavia’s way, but made no attempt to reply. For that Octavia was glad. She tried to enjoy what was left of her meal, but for some reason it didn’t seem as appetizing as it had a few moments ago.

The quiet lingered, and Octavia started to struggle with her poise. Her host ate slowly and kept fidgeting. She kept trying to meet Octavia’s eyes, but couldn’t seem to manage it. It was after several long minutes of this that Octavia was struck by the peculiarity of the situation, at which point she began to fidget and look for a new topic.

“S-so,” she said at last, “are you going to be doing anything for Nightmare Night?”

Luna’s fork dropped to her plate with a clink, her expression twisting like she’d been stabbed. “Do not speak to me of that… holiday.” She spat out the word like it was poisonous.

Octavia blinked. “You don’t like… oh.”

“‘Oh’ is correct.” Luna sneered and turned her face away. “And to think, Celestia actually suggested I go out and celebrate it.”

Octavia flinched and looked down, her cheeks burning. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”

Luna pressed a hoof to her forehead. “’Tis not your fault, Octavia. If anypony is to blame, I suppose it is me.”


“No.” Luna shot her a one-eyed frown. “Like it or not, I created Nightmare Moon. So when little foals travel around mocking me, I have only myself to blame.”

Something about the way Luna said that struck a chord within Octavia. She sat up straight and shook her head. “They’re not mocking you.”

“Then what would you call it?” Luna spread her hooves wide. “They go out and listen to a story about how I am going to eat them if they don’t give me any confectionary. Worse, the foals believe it!” She grumbled and glared at her half-finished plate. “No wonder they all fear me.”

Octavia frowned at the princess, a strange mix of concern and annoyance filling her. “Dinky didn’t.”

Luna didn’t look up. “Perhaps she doesn’t attend that abominable festival.”

“Or perhaps she knows that Nightmare Night is about having fun.”

“Fun?” Luna peered at Octavia, her lips curling back to show her teeth. “You think I like that children believe I’m going to eat them?”

“Dinky didn’t believe you were going to eat her.” Octavia pressed a hoof to her chest. “I remember going out for Nightmare Night as a foal. I was entertained.”

Luna slammed her hoof against the table, making the whole thing shake. Her wings jerked open as she snarled. “We are done discussing this! If you like Nightmare Night so much—”

“You are not Nightmare Moon!”

Her lips stilled, Luna stepped back from the table. She seemed to shrink, her wings snapped to her sides and her body low. Her wide eyes stared at nothing as her lips trembled.

“I was. I w-was her. Do not speak as though it didn’t happen.”

Octavia felt her body grow cold. “I-I’m sorry. That was… I shouldn’t have brought it up at all. But… if I may… you’re not her anymore.” She chewed her lip and averted her eyes from Luna’s shivering form. The sight felt so wrong. “They don’t mean anything mean-spirited by it, pri… Luna.”

“M-maybe they don’t,” Luna whispered as she slowly sat up. “But it hurts all the same.”

The silence was intensely frustrating. How many times was this? Neither of them touched their plates, and they couldn’t meet one another’s eyes. Octavia’s mind couldn’t escape the recent conversation. It swirled around the subject of Nightmare Night, refusing to give up on the topic no matter how much she wanted it to. She didn’t dare say anything about it again, though she was nigh desperate to do so.

“Forgive me.” Luna tapped her plate with a hoof. “I’ve ruined our dinner.”

Octavia studied the princess’s forlorn face. She hated seeing that pout. It didn’t belong there.

The thought gave her a renewed courage.

“Where does that foal live?”

Luna blinked and looked up. “You mean Dinky? Ponyville. Why?”

“Go there.” Octavia leaned forward in an attempt to show her determination. “This weekend for Nightmare Night. Go to Ponyville.”

A groan rose from Luna’s throat and she shook her head. “I thought we were finished with this conversation.”

“Luna, aren’t you aware of the chance this offers?” Octavia asked. “Dinky wasn’t afraid. She likes you. There has to be a reason. Go to Ponyville and find out. Maybe there are more ponies there who aren’t stuck on the whole Nightmare Moon thing.”

“No.” Luna shook her head. “That… that won’t happen.”

“But how do you know if you don’t try?” Octavia sat back and raised her hooves. “Right now, Nightmare Night is about Nightmare Moon. Why not show them that you and her aren’t the same?”

“But we—”

“You’re not the same.” This time when Luna flinched, Octavia only leaned forward to press her words. “Nightmare Moon is gone, so why don’t you take this opportunity to take the holiday away from her? Make it about you.”

Luna studied her, fidgeting in place. “It’s not that simple. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Octavia, but you’re suggesting I overturn something that has been set in place for centuries.”

Octavia shook her head. “I’m not saying do away with the traditions. Just let them see that you aren’t her. It’s like…” she paused, tapping her chin in search of a proper explanation. “Let her be the boogiemare. Nightmare Moon is the villain, you’re the hero… or something like that.”

“You mean...” Luna cocked her head to one side, her eyes losing focus as she thought. “Like casting off the veil?”

“I suppose?” Octavia blushed and fiddled with her food. “Is that a bad idea?”

“I’m… not sure.” Luna set her elbows on the table and tapped her hooves together as she pondered. “I can’t say it’s a bad idea, but I’m not convinced it’s a good one, either.”

Octavia perked her ears with a weak smile. “So are you going to go?”


“Oh.” She wilted and toyed with her food some more.


She looked up to find Luna smiling. “Thank you. I know you mean well.”

Octavia returned the smile. “Of course. What are friends for?”

Luna blinked, her smile fading. The lapse lasted for only a moment. “Of course.”


Luna jerked as if coming out of a trance. She turned to find Celestia standing close, watching her with a frown.

“Are you alright?”

“Yes.” Luna blushed and turned back to the balcony to find the sun just peering over the horizon. “Forgive me, sister. I was merely lost in thought.”

“Hmm.” Celestia nodded, though she didn’t stop watching Luna. “So… how was dinner last night?”

“Pleasant enough.”

“Good, that’s good.” Celestia turned to stare out at the scenery. “How are you and Miss Melody getting along?”

“We’re fine.”

“Just ‘fine?’” Celestia’s eye shifted towards Luna, her frown deepening.

Luna sighed. “What do you want me to say, sister?”

Celestia turned her head to study her. “You never talk about her. I just want to know that you’re making a friend.”

“Friend.” Luna closed her eyes and saw Octavia’s soft smile.

What are friends for?

“I… I guess I have.” A smile arose on her lips. “Yes, I think that is a safe conclusion.”

Celestia let out a long sigh and bowed her head. “That’s good. That’s wonderful, Luna.” She looked up, this time with a beaming smile. “Perhaps more will come.”

“Perhaps.” Luna frowned, her mind once again playing over the conversation over dinner. “Perhaps if I…”

“Luna?” Celestia eyed her. “What is it?”

Luna remained silent, slowly turning her head to look to the south. There, just barely visible in the distance, sat the sleepy town of Ponyville. Her heart clenched and her stomach flipped as she thought on the possibilities.


“Sister?” Luna turned to Celestia, her cheeks burning and her eyes low. “C-could you tell me a… a little more about Nightmare Night?”

Celestia’s eyes widened. Her gaze slowly shifted from Luna to the distant town, then back again.

Her smile came back.

“I’d love to.”

Author's Notes:

Pragti: Progress

A short chapter to help me get back into the groove of this story. I really struggled with Octavia's characterization in this one, so do let me know how I'm doing in that vein.

A few have already asked about Nightmare Night, so I figured I should include it in this story lest the more fanatical Luna fans come after me with their pitchforks and shotguns and chainsaws. Does that mean what you hope it means? Yes, yes it does.

This chapter was also a test of my foal-writing abilities. After making numerous missteps in Lightning's Bolt, I really wanted to try writing a foal again to see if I'd improved any. Opinions are welcome, especially if you've read Lightning's Bolt. Don't get too excited, though; Dinky won't be a major character in this story, nor Derpy. They were simply easy targets for the roles I needed.

Duḥsvapn Rāt: Śurū Karnā

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter IX
Duḥsvapn Rāt: Śurū Karnā
Nightmare Night: Begin

Luna studied her chariot with a bemused frown. Compared to Celestia’s, hers had always been… what was a good description? Sleek. Yes, that would do. Of course, it wasn’t really her chariot; the one she always accredited with that distinction was long gone. There had been a veritable pang in her heart when she’d heard it was destroyed by the changelings a couple centuries after her exile. Out of spite, apparently.

Still, this one was a very accurate recreation. A few modern touches – to provide a smoother ride, Celestia claimed – but visually identical. At least in form; a few additional, eyebrow-raising touches had been applied in the past couple nights. Luna found she liked the ‘gothic’ art forms that had come about some five hundred years ago, and so approved of their addition to her personal mode of transportation.

The eye of Nightmare Moon on the front, however, was not a welcome inclusion.

“I think it’s going to work wonderfully for your Nightmare Night appearance.” Celestia flashed a pearly grin from Luna’s side. “Far be it that my little sister takes her new chariot on her first trip outside the palace walls and not be in style.”

“I think the artist may have… overreached.”

Luna glanced at the two royal guards who were to be her drivers tonight. At Celestia’s insistence – and their apparent amusement – she’d used her magic to make them appear as thestrals. Although she was rather proud of the skillful illusion, she did feel that the whole thing was a touch insulting to a noble race. Hearing of their disappearance and presumed extinction during her exile was not just a little distressing.

But, for the sake of the holiday…

Celestia’s smile shrank a little. “I know it feels… awkward. You get used to it after a while.”

A frown formed on Luna’s lips. “As it did for you?”

Celestia sighed and averted her gaze. “It did take some time, and a lot of pressure from the populace. They were going to celebrate this night whether I endorsed it or not, Luna.”

“I am aware of that.” Luna shook her head and stiffened her shoulders. “I will change their outlook. It may take some time, but I cannot let this continue as is.”

“You should lighten—” Celestia bit her lip and avoided Luna’s piercing gaze. “What I mean is, you don’t have to take it so seriously. Nightmare Night is supposed to be fun.”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “Have you ever had fun at one of these events?”

“I don’t usually go to them,” Celestia acknowledged. “For reasons similar to your own. Tonight I will be attending an event put on by Miss de Lis, though; her annual 'Week of Nightmares' is based more around the traditional aspects of the holiday, and is usually quite a show. Besides,” she added with a roll of her eyes, “there are a few political motivations for me to attend this one.”

“Well,” Luna grumbled, “at least I won’t have to deal with those kinds of issues tonight.” She cast another peering look Celestia's way.

“Indeed, it does get tiring. I miss the Nightmare Nights when Twilight was still at the palace.” Celestia’s eyes grew foggy and she attained a silly smile. “She always had the most adorable costumes. Once she even dressed up as me.”

She’d missed Luna’s insinuation entirely. It was all Luna could manage not to snap at her sister.

“You’ll tell her I said hello, won’t you?”

Luna glanced over and saw the genuine hope in Celestia’s smile. “Of course I will.”

“Good. If you have any problems in Ponyville, talk to her. I guarantee she’ll be helpful.” Celestia chuckled. “Unless she’s being negligent in her friendship studies.”

A churning filled Luna’s stomach as she stared at the chariot. She felt an intense urge to turn around and walk back into the palace.

Celestia’s wing brushed against her back, and Luna found herself being herded gently forward. She blushed and tried not to look at her sister or the waiting ‘thestrals.’

“You’ll be fine, sister. I promise, you won’t regret doing this.”

“I wish I shared your confidence.”

“Remember, try to be a little theatrical in your appearance.”

Luna stepped on, her heart flipping as the chariot rocked to her weight. She chewed her lip and cast a fretful glance back to her sister. “I… I am not sure I am ready for this.”

Celestia’s face showed no doubt, only beaming pride. “You’re ready, Luna.”


A hoof touched Luna’s lips.

“You’re ready.”

They stared into one another’s eyes for a few short seconds. At last Luna heaved a deep breath and nodded. “Very well: I am ready.”

“Good.” Celestia gave her a tight hug before stepping back from the chariot. “Have fun, Luna. I look forward to hearing about your night.”

“I’ll… be sure to tell you all about it.” With one last glance at the palace, Luna turned and nodded to the drivers, who promptly lifted off.

Within seconds, the chariot was above the clouds and Luna was hit square in the face by a biting autumn wind. Shivering and realizing she should have prepared for such a thing, she closed her eyes and focused her magic. She sensed the presence of a nearby colony of bats and called out to them. It wasn’t long before the creatures rose up to meet her, flying in a chaotic swarm.

Despite everything, Luna could only grin as their soft wings batted her playfully. “Thank you for heeding my summons, my friends. If I might use your warmth for but a few minutes?”

They squeaked their acquiescence and permitted her magic to take hold. Soon the bats were reformed into a thick, dark cloak that wrapped about her in a soft, warm embrace. A hood came up to cover her face against the harshest of the winds. The bats marveled at their temporary new form, their squeaking calls the faintest of whispers in her ears.

Yet Luna’s nocturnal allies were only a small distraction in the face of the significant challenge ahead. Her mind was already churning over the possibilities, most of them unpleasant. It dawned on her that she probably should have taken time to practice the Royal Canterlot Voice, which she hadn’t used once since her return from the moon. Nor had she practiced her Old Equestrian – in this age, very Old Equestrian. She wished Celestia had reminded her…

No matter, she would make do. It was a rare thing for royalty to visit such a small place like Ponyville; with any luck, the citizens there wouldn’t notice if she made a faux pas.

That still left the manner of her entrance. Should she be discreet? No… Celestia suggested she be theatrical. Luna had to make a good first impression, after all.

Second impression. She couldn't resist a cringe at the thought of her first impression. Oh please, let them not recall that night too vividly. Perhaps this really was a bad idea…

She shook her head forcefully. No, she was already on her way. Too late for reservations!

Leaning back with a sigh, she closed her eyes and found herself envisioning Octavia. Why did the sight of her give Luna pause? She could still remember her words, how unusually emotional she’d become when speaking of this night. Somehow, this all felt much more important because of her.

Luna hardened her heart and opened her eyes. They centered upon the full moon.

A smile rose on her lips.

She lit her horn and looked to her two drivers. “We will approach from the moon.”

The two ‘thestrals’ glanced back at her, their slitted pupils glowing in the darkness. They offered fanged grins and nodded.

Well, they certainly appeared to be into their roles. They probably had no idea how disrespectful they were being, but Luna forgave them. After all, what did they know of long-dead races, even ones that she had once been so close to?

She shook her head a second time, rubbing her temple. She tried to focus on the task at hoof. Theatrical…

The trip went largely in silence. It took nearly an hour for them to begin approaching the town. Though the world was partially obscured by clouds, the bright lights of the festival were still easy to spot from a distance. For a scant few seconds, Luna felt that familiar bile in the back of her throat at the thought of what the ponies were celebrating. She pushed it down and sat up straight, determined to do this right.

The drivers shifted their course, taking them on a path that would put them directly between the moon and the town. Luna, having spent the trip thinking on what Celestia had told her of the holiday, began setting her plan in motion: horn glowing, she cast a powerful wind that set the clouds to roiling. Soon they were pushed into position to block the chariot from view, and Luna turned her attention to the moon. To the laypony what she was doing might seem complicated, but to her the spell was easy to arrange.

She closed her eyes and envisioned her plan for the hundredth time. It would be simple: come in on a mighty wind and a flash of light. She’d bound from her chariot and land amongst the festivities – partially to let the drivers in their disguises set down far enough away that their appearances wouldn’t startle the citizens – and introduce herself and her intentions. It would be flashy enough to catch their attention, but not so much as to scare any of them.

Yes… yes, this might work.

“We are in position, Your Highness.”

Luna took a moment to suck in a few deep breaths and clear her head. She had to get this right, she had to show that she could do this. For herself, for Celestia… and yes, for Octavia.

At last she opened her eyes and nodded. “Proceed.”

The pegasus on the right flashed a fanged grin.

The other promptly batted the back of his head. “Get in character!”

“Right.” The pegasus’ face became a mask of menace as he turned forward once more. Luna had no time to wonder what exactly they were thinking before they rocketed forward, almost making her fall back in her chariot.

Well, she did tell them she wanted to make a spectacle.

Straightening up against the winds, Luna rushed to ignite her horn as the chariot dove into the clouds, kicking up a strong breeze and reaffirming her grasp on the moon. Just as they broke through to the open air, she finished the simple spell; the moon flashed a powerful beam of light directly upon them, undoubtedly giving the watchers below the impression that she was emerging from the orbital body itself.

The sound of shouts reached her ears, and she couldn’t resist a grin. ‘Theatrical,’ Celestia said. For all her calm, Luna definitely knew how to be that. Moments like this reminded her of why she added so many tricks to their old castle.

She shook herself; no time to be distracted! Bringing the dark clouds back together – the show wasn’t over yet – Luna assumed a royal demeanor and waited for the chariot to fly over the town.

Her mind yet again swam with possibilities and her stomach felt full of lead. She knew that hesitation would render the entire show for naught, so she forced her legs to work the instant the chariot had stopped over the town square. Faces hard, her drivers made no attempt to follow as she dropped.

Luna landed on the grass amid gasps and cries. She had to remind herself that it was all part of the act, that their fear was only make believe. Still, her insides twisted and it was all she could manage to maintain her royal poise as she pulled the hood back from her head, revealing to them all that she was not, in fact, dangerous.

Luna cast her gaze upon the shocked citizens, offering what she hoped was a charming smile. To her delight and relief, they all instantly bowed. Good, they recognized her. That made things easier.

With but a thought, she kindly dismissed the bats that formed her cloak. They flew off, chattering their goodbyes as she walked to the center of the crowd. Her gaze fell upon one pony who appeared to be dressed as a witch. She offered a smile and was rewarded with a deeper bow.

She had no idea the Ponyvillians were so… loyal.

Now was the time. Everything was going well. The Royal Canterlot voice had been all but beaten into her head, so all she needed now was to remember her Old Equestrian. May she not screw it up.

Citizens of Ponyville.” Her voice rang out over the ponies, loud and clear and powerful.

Oh yes, she still had it.

We have graced your tiny village with our presence so that you might behold the real Princess of the Night! A creature of nightmares no longer, but instead a pony who desires your love and admiration. Together we shall change this dreadful celebration into a bright and glorious feeeeast!”

She almost forgot to stretch out the emphasis on ‘feast.’ That would have been humiliating.

Oh, lightning. Forgetting that definitely would have been embarrassing! She brought the bolt down, making sure to attain the proper pose for such a declaration. Though she maintained her royal veneer, deep down she congratulated herself on remembering it all.

Perfect. Everything was going—

“Did you hear that, everypony? Nightmare Moon says that she’s gonna feast on us all!”

Luna’s eyes flashed open as the screams started. She looked to see a giant... chicken… fleeing amidst terrified children. Her mind froze, and even her stomach decided to stop roiling as she watched them retreat.

What?” She completely forgot to use the Royal Canterlot voice. “No, children, no! You no longer have reason to fear us!” The churning returned as a flame before she knew it. “Screams of delight is what your princess desires, not screams of terror!”

Luna barely noticed that she’d stomped with the last word, or that in so doing she’d actually damaged the ground. She failed entirely to note the wince of the pony at her hooves.

Okay, so the foals fled. Luna sucked down the sudden doubt that had pushed into her brain. Foals were easier to frighten, and she may have taken her initial arrival too far for them. Understandable. One misstep wouldn’t destroy this opportunity, surely.

She turned a little too quickly, her eyes locking on a rather colorful clown. Luna was glad she’d read up on the local government, for recognizing the mayor – even in that outfit – was a simple matter.

Luna approached the bowed mayor. Endearing herself to the local leader would be a good start, she was certain. She worked to keep the Royal Canterlot voice, though toned down a touch as she was now directly addressing a government official. Remembering the proper tonality for the different governing ranks was always a challenge.

“Madam Mayor, thy Princess of the Night hath arrived!”

She offered her hoof to the mayor, ready to help her from her bow.

Yet the mayor only cringed and buried her face in the dirt. Luna stared at her, taking note of her trembling. What was—

It dawned upon her: they weren’t bowing out of loyalty, and the fear in these ponies wasn’t being feigned.

Panic began to well up inside Luna. She looked about and saw them all in that same bow, faces averted and eyes downcast. They were shaking like a bunch of leaves. Luna fidgeted as she sought a solution. Had her arrival been too much? Was there something wrong with her Royal Voice? Oh Goddess, was her Old Equestrian faulty? It’s not like being stranded on the moon for a millenium gave her motivation to practice!

Her eyes danced about, landing upon a familiar pony. Luna focused on her, her mind scrambling for recognition. She looked… just like Celestia’s secretary. What was she doing in Pony—opportunity! Luna promptly thrust her hoof towards Raven. She’d provide an example for the others, wouldn’t she?

Raven only gasped and covered her face, trembling like the rest.

Luna stared at the pony. The fire simmering within began to build as she realized she would receive no aid. From Celestia’s secretary!

“What is the matter with you?”

Raven only continued to tremble. Luna’s lips rose up in a sneer as the fire grew. She proffered her hoof to another pony, then a few more. They all gave her the same response. Their frightened eyes were like individual daggers ripping into her chest.

Octavia had been wrong.

Luna stepped back, caught in a terrible mix of anger and anguish. Now she knew: these ponies would never accept her.

“Very well then, be that way!” She didn’t even care that her voice had cracked. “We won’t even bother with the traditional Royal Farewell!” Not that they probably cared, the accursed simpletons.

It took all the effort she could muster not to flee from their terrified gazes. She held her head high and kept her royal veneer as best she could, even as she raged on the inside. All she wanted to do was get away from their eyes.

As she left the town square, she spotted her chariot resting by a nearby building. The two pegasi, still latched to it, looked to her as she approached. She paused at the sight of them, and particularly their eyes. They were… pitying.

A scowl came upon her lips as she neared them. “Return to the castle. Immediately.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Yet they didn’t move when Luna walked past the chariot. “Uh… Princess?”

She turned in a flash, her eyes shining white. “Now!”

They jumped into action and were soon lost among the clouds.

She stood there for a brief time, the image of their eyes burned into her brain. Eventually she turned away, seething quietly as she wandered. She made no attempt to know where she was going. She just wanted to walk.

She thought of Celestia, of how she had been so encouraging. The thought made her snort steam. Encouraging. Celestia’s own secretary was here, and she had been terrified! What did that mean? Why would Raven be so scared? Could it be that Celestia—

“No.” She shook her head with a growl. “Celestia wouldn’t do that.”

She blinked and let out a long sigh; she was talking to herself again. Knowing they would only lead her down dark paths, Luna tried to empty her head of thoughts. She glanced around, noting all the buildings that still surrounded her. Seeing them reminded her of what just happened, and her blood began to boil.

Luna’s gaze fell upon a clearing behind some buildings. She moved almost instinctually towards it. Walks in the Royal Garden had always helped to clear her head. Perhaps if she went out into the clearing, took a long walk…

Her eyes went to it instantly; a statue in the distance. The sight of it almost stopped her heart, for it was a visage she knew well.

Hello again, Nightmare.


The statue of Nightmare Moon was reared back and pointing at something below, perhaps casting judgment on some poor, unseen pony. It wore the royal regalia… Luna’s regalia.

“W-what is this doing here?”

And we thought nopony worshipped us.

“Be silent!” Luna shook her head fiercely as she approached the statue. “Why are you speaking—”

Her eyes went wide upon the realization that, this time, she wasn’t in a dream.

What? Did we think we were limited only to unconscious minds?

Luna stood before the statue, staring up at its menacing face. Her heart pounded, her stomach lurched. “Y-you… You can’t be real.”

Of course. It’s just a statue. Not a perfect example of our glory, but at least the simpletons tried.

“Shut up.”

Why? Do we not think them simpletons?

“I was upset.”

We thought it only a few minutes ago.

She snarled and shook her head again. “I am not talking to you!”

Then don’t. We can do all the talking. But tell us, Nightmare, did we really think those foals would accept us?

“You’re not real.” Luna pressed a hoof to her forehead and sucked in a deep, shuddering breath. “It’s all in my head. I just… just need to—”

We can’t ignore reality forever. The voice was soft as silk. They all see us for what we are.

“N-no… I was just too forceful with my entry, th-that’s all.”

Even Celestia’s own secretary is afraid of us. Now why would that be, hmm?

Her legs began to shake.

She fears us. She told her secretary to be wary, didn’t she?

“That’s not… Celestia wouldn’t…”

She would, we know it for truth. They fear us. They all fear us.

She collapsed to her barrel. “N-no.”

We cannot name a single pony who doesn’t.

Luna’s eyes flashed open. Suddenly, she wasn’t seeing Nightmare Moon at all. The terrible swirling of her insides began to fade as she looked up at the statue with a firm frown. “You’re wrong.”

Are we?

“I have Octavia.”

She could almost swear the statue’s face twisted in anger. Her? That worthless wretch of a pony? She only visits us every night because we pay her to do so!

“I will listen to you no longer,” Luna whispered, turning her eyes to her hooves in defiance of the statue’s stare. “Your words are nothing but poison. You aren’t even real, why should I take your words to heart?”

Not real? Cold laughter echoed in her head. Very well, Nightmare. We will be silent… for now. We’ll understand in time.

Silence. Blessed, wonderful silence. Luna remained in the grass, relishing the moment.

Until she remembered where she was, and why she’d wandered off. The pang in her heart came back in full force. She looked down and her eyes fell on a lone piece of candy at her hooves. What was this doing here? She slowly reached out to touch it… and suddenly a new face came to mind, that of a little unicorn filly who had been so happy for her help.

Had Dinky been amongst that crowd of children? The thought only made the vice on her heart tighten.

What had she done wrong?

“Princess Luna?”

Luna raised her head to a royal poise in an instant, fighting to harden her expression. She stood and turned, not daring to hope that she was about to meet a friendly face.

She blinked at the pony standing before her. That outfit… brought back memories.

“Hi!” the pony offered a smile Luna wasn’t prepared to believe. “My name is—”

“Starswirl the Bearded.” Luna couldn’t help taking another careful look, lost for a moment in her recollection of an old, dear friend. “Commendable costume. Thou even got the bells right.”

The pony’s smile broadened and her eyes shined. “Thank you! Finally, somepony who gets my costume!” She looked herself over with a grin… but then seemed to recall who she was talking to.

A second of awkward silence passed between them. Luna found herself at a loss for words, not entirely sure how she should address this particular pony. She was undoubtedly high in status, but…

Well, the Royal Voice was an automatic element of Luna’s dialogue. If it came out, then she’d at least have an idea.

The pony at last regained her smile and approached. “Uh, I just came to welcome you to our celebration. My actual name is—”

“Twilight Sparkle.” Did she really expect Luna not to know? Yet she seemed confused, so…

The Royal Voice came unbidden, along with the appropriate wind and clouds: “It was thou who unleashed the powers of Harmony upon us and took away our dark powers.” Well, that settled how to address her.

Luna realized instantly that she was overdoing the wind, which pushed the smaller pony back several feet. Blushing, she stopped the spell and landed, having not been aware that she’d begun levitating.

Twilight recovered and offered an uncertain smile. “Aaand that was a good thing, right?”

Luna’s residual confusion and anger from before threatened to make itself known again. “But of course. We could not be happier. Was that not clear?” The other Ponyvillians Luna might be able to understand, but how could the esteemed Twilight Sparkle not know how to interpret the Royal Canterlot Voice?

“Well...” Twilight fidgeted a little. “You kinda sound like you’re yelling at me.”

Good Goddess, she actually didn’t know. What was Celestia teaching her? Wasn’t she actually born in Canterlot?

Well then, Luna would just have to fill in the gaps. “But this is the traditional Royal Canterlot Voice! It is tradition to speak using the Royal We, and to use—” she unleashed the Royal Voice in all its majesty, “—this much volume when addressing our subjects.”

The wide-eyed Twilight took a moment to adjust her sideways faux-beard and wide-brimmed hat. “You know,” she said upon recovering, “that might explain why your appearance was met with… mixed results?”

She approached once more, since the blast of wind had knocked her back a bit. With an encouraging smile, she said, “I think if you just changed your approach a bit, you might be met with a warmer reception.”

Luna paused as Twilight’s words filtered through her mind. “Change our approach?”

Twilight’s smile grew sheepish. “Lower the volume?”

“Oh.” Luna’s mind ran in circles as she abruptly realized that maybe the Royal Canterlot Voice wasn’t… modern? Her nervousness came back in full force. “We have been locked away for a thousand years. We are… not sure we can.”

Twilight cocked her head. “Why not?”

Luna sighed and averted her gaze. “I spent hundreds of years mastering the practice. It became rather… automatic. Natural.”

“I see.” Twilight rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “Didn’t Celestia tell you that the practice was phased out some six hundred years ago?”

With a small curse aimed her sister’s direction, Luna muttered a quiet, “No.”

Twilight was abruptly all smiles once more. “That’s alright! Please, Princess, let me help you. We’ll phase it out with some practice and you can try again with the townsponies.”

“Really?” Luna gaped. “You would help me? Just like that?”

“Of course.” Twilight cocked her head once more. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because I’m…” Luna glanced back at the statue.

The motion resulted in a chuckle from Twilight. “Princess Luna, like you said: I was the one who defeated Nightmare Moon. Don’t you think I’d know that you’re good now?”

Luna turned to her with wide eyes. Her chest swelled and a smile spread across her face. “Thank you, Twilight Sparkle. That means a lot more to me than you can know.”

Twilight stepped forward with a frown. “Having trouble fitting in? Even after a year?”

“You can’t imagine.” Luna’s head hung and she sighed. “Ponies fear me, Sparkle. I’ve been trying hard to improve my image, but it seems as though it is no use. Aside from my sister, to date I can only count one pony as my friend, and even she I am not wholly sure of.”

“Well,” Twilight said with a grin and a hoof to Luna’s shoulder, “now you have two.”

Luna blinked and stared at the hoof, then at Twilight’s beaming face. “Is it really that easy for you?”

“Why shouldn’t it be?” Twilight thought for a moment, then gestured. “Come on, I think I know just the pony who can help with your volume problem.”

Luna could think of no reason not to follow. She was too busy being amazed at the situation to object anyway.

Octavia knew she’d be remembering this particular event. Fleur de Lis’ annual “Week of Nightmares” was legendary even beyond Canterlot. It might not be the event to end all events for the evening – at least a dozen high-society parties were going on throughout the city – but it was certainly established as something to behold.

And what a sight it was; the walls, normally the traditional pearly marble, now appeared to be dark stonework befitting the oldest of castles. The diamond chandeliers were now wrought-iron monstrosities with bats flapping to and fro. Gargoyles leered at the guests, wraith-like servants floated about the room and a thin fog wafted at everypony’s hooves.

Even the band was altered: the pianist appeared hunched and decrepit, his piano covered in skulls and black-flame candles; the three violinists shared matching illusions as sirens; the drummer was some eldritch monstrosity, using his tentacle-like arms to pound his instrument.

Octavia herself was actually one of the less flamboyant members, having been given the look of a vampire pony. The fake wings were certainly interesting, rising out of her back in a perfect illusion, and though she could not feel them she knew there were fangs in her mouth. She’d taken a look in a mirror and found herself rather fetching with red eyes.

She eyed her cello between songs, noting its new black coloration and the dark sigils that decorated it. It had taken a lot of convincing for her to let them do that to her most prized possession, and then only under the strictest assurances that it would wear off in about a week.

It was time for the organist to play a few songs. Those songs were all solo performances, so the rest of the band took a break. As the powerful notes of the organ floated over the ballroom, Octavia dismissed herself for the refreshments table. She didn’t know the others in the band very well and wasn’t interested in mingling.

She waded through elite ponies dressed as ghouls and goblins and diamond dogs and finally found her way to the food. Her stomach growled while she examined the delicacies, more than a few of which had been made to represent appropriate themes for the night. She noted the éclairs shaped like dismembered legs and couldn’t resist a smile… and a taste.

“You’re performing well tonight.”

Octavia paused, eyes wide at the familiar voice. She turned to find a smiling Raven Dupin at her side.

Swallowing her bite and dabbing her lips, Octavia offered a weak smile. “Thank you.”

“Of course.” Raven’s horn lit up, and a small pastry rose to her lips. “We were pleased to find you here.”

Octavia tilted her head. “We?”

Raven half-turned and gestured towards the crowd. Octavia followed her lead and scanned the room. Her jaw dropped upon spotting Princess Celestia herself talking with Miss de Lis. The princess’ mane was like a flame and her coat appeared to be simmering with heat, yet she was smiling and even laughing with Canterlot’s most prominent illusionist and model.

“You mean you didn’t notice?”

Octavia blushed and turned back to the table. “I was… focused on my work.”

“Well, rest assured it’s going wonderfully.” Raven took a moment to eat, leaving Octavia to fidget and try to think of something to say.

A thought came to mind. “Isn’t she afraid she’ll offend Lu—her sister?”

“You can say her name, y’know.”

Blood rushed to Octavia’s cheeks. “I just didn’t want to be improper.”

“You worry about that kind of thing far too much.” Raven offered a comforting smile before grabbing a slice from a cake that looked like a decapitated head. “Also, you might want to get some of the cake before Celestia discovers it. She hones in on those things like a parasprite, and eats them three times as fast.”

“Uh… I see.” Octavia did as suggested, even as she tried to imagine Celestia’s mouth opening as wide as a parasprite’s. “So what brings the princess to this particular party?”

“Politics, mostly.” Raven adjusted her glasses with a prim frown. “There are certain nobles she needs to appeal to.” Her frown reversed into a smile as a few screams arose from one corner of the room. “Also, Miss de Lis’ illusion skills are second to none, and always lead to a fun event this time of year.”

Octavia glanced back, but couldn’t see what had caused the minor disruption. Laughs were trickling through the crowd though, so she paid it no more attention. “And where is Luna?”

“In Ponyville.”

The last piece of the cake caught in Octavia’s throat. She choked and sputtered for a few seconds before a slap on the back from Raven freed the murderous treat and allowed her to swallow properly.

Octavia turned on Raven, not realizing just how broad her grin was. “You mean she actually went?”

“And Celestia suspects you have something to do with it.” Raven’s smile was warm. “If she could, she’d thank you personally. Just not now.”

“Really?” Octavia cast a sideways glance towards the princess. “Not to sound ungrateful, but… why not?”

Raven sighed and shook her head, though her smile was good-natured. “Luna is a very private pony, as I’m sure you’ve gathered, and she doesn’t like it when Celestia meddles in her affairs. If Celestia spoke to you now, in front of all these ponies, word would get out quickly and Luna would almost certainly know about it.”

Understanding dawned on Octavia. “She’d think her sister was trying to manipulate things for her sake.”

“And that would offend Luna.”

If she weren’t in public, Octavia might have facehooved. “That mare is so difficult.”

Raven grabbed a goblet with her magic and poured herself some champagne. “Are you really any better?”

Octavia bowed her head with a sigh. “No… I suppose I’m not.”

A moment of silence passed between them. Raven was watching Octavia from over her drink, eyes narrowed. For her part, Octavia couldn’t help thinking on Luna and feeling one part annoyance and one part pride. She’d listened. Octavia had thought Luna would resist her suggestion, but… she’d actually listened. The thought was almost giddying.

“Speaking of Luna, there’s a matter I’ve been needing to speak with you about.” Raven set her glass down and resumed her prim manner.

The pleasant thoughts kept Octavia from noticing the change in demeanor. “Such as?”

“Your pay.”

Octavia blinked, her mind lurching back to the moment. “My pay?”

Raven nodded. “You’re still being paid for your visits with Luna. Checks are… risky. We need to set up a direct deposit.”

“I’m being…” Octavia stared at the pony, trying to process this. It dawned upon her that, yes, she did receive a few more checks in the mail. Significant checks.

Which reminded her of a certain peculiarity. “Why are you still paying me? I thought Celestia would only pay me for the one visit, so I was a little surprised.”

“Oh, it’s not Celestia,” Raven replied with a small smile. “It’s Luna.”

Octavia’s eyes bulged. “L… Luna is paying for me to visit with her? But I thought—”

“You thought wrong.” Raven shrugged and lost her smile. “We don’t need to worry about the details now, of course, but we will need to meet in a more official—”

“No.” Octavia shook her head frantically. “I don’t want to be paid.”

Raven raised an eyebrow. “Oh? You were accepting the payments before.”

“I shouldn’t have.” Octavia raised her head high. “I’d like to return those bits.”

“I see.” Raven gained a wry smile, which knocked Octavia out of her solid pose. “You’ll have to take that up with Luna, I’m afraid.”

“I will.” Octavia considered the secretary, then cast a glance towards Celestia. The princess seemed completely ignorant of her stare, but Octavia thought she caught just the slightest glance in her direction.

She turned to Raven. “You knew I was going to be here all along, didn’t you?”

Raven grabbed another slice of cake in a plate and turned away, but she still had that smug smile. “I told you: Celestia’s visit to this particular event is political in nature.” She promptly disappeared in the crowd.

Octavia stood there for some time, pondering on the recent discussion. She kept glancing towards the princess and thinking on Luna. Suddenly she really wanted it to be Wednesday. Maybe she could make an impromptu visit?

No, best to stick to the schedule. Luna was a busy mare, after all.

She realized that the organ had gone silent. A look to the stage showed the band getting back together. Time to go to work; she pushed her way back through the crowds and to the stage.

As she took her cello from its stand and turned to the audience, her wandering eye caught sight of Celestia, who was talking with her secretary. The princess glanced up and offered Octavia a warm smile, but she didn’t dare return the motion with so many eyes on her.

As the music started up, only one thought ran through Octavia’s mind:

She’s good.

Author's Notes:

On the suggestion of the EqD prereader, I'm moving the translations of the titles to the top of the chapters. He seemed to think it would be more helpful, and I guess that does make some sense.

This chapter was a real challenge, particularly because the character of Luna devised for this story doesn't really match the character of Luna in the episode Luna Eclipsed. I tend to think of Luna more along the lines of how she was in the episodes Sleepless in Ponyville and For Whom the Sweetie Belle Tolls. As such, looking for ways to make her dialogue in Luna Eclipsed line up with her established personality from previous chapters was a big hurdle. While I'm not 100% happy with it, I think I pulled it off about as well as can be expected. Opinions would be appreciated.

It should go without saying, but I did a lot of careful research into the episode for this chapter. More research will of course be required for the next one.

The 'Week of Nightmares' concept actually originated from my much older story, The Challenge of Fleur, although the nature of this one is very different from what it is there. Next to Octavia, Fleur is easily one of my favorite background ponies and I couldn't resist the opportunity to give her a tiny cameo.

Duḥsvapn Rāt: Natijā

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter X
Duḥsvapn Rāt: Natijā
Nightmare Night: Conclusion


Absolute chaos.

Luna watched as the ponies panicked. Smashed stands, fallen tentpoles, shrieks and cries. All over a bunch of harmless spiders. The scene was rather ludicrous… and yet it made her knees shake and her heart rise in her throat. The citizens were scared—no, terrified of her!

Do we see now, Nightmare?

She shook her head, pushing the voice down with as firm a mental shove as she could muster. Yet Luna didn’t need some specter to tell her the truth: these ponies hated her. They always would.

Her worry began to fade. These foals, did they not care about her feelings? Would they rather their precious sun princess come and rescue them? Did they legitimately believe she was going to eat them? Every fresh thought was like a hot knife in her brain.

Suddenly, Luna wasn’t in Ponyville. She was at the Everfree Castle, standing tall before a panicked populace. All she’d requested was one day, a single day to let them spend in her beautiful darkness! A festival, she’s said, an opportunity to show them what they were missing. All these familiar faces, Ponyvillians fleeing Nightmare Moon, ponies of the past fleeing Luna. Threatening them with eternal night, they’d said. The bane of all Equestria, they were saying!

No. Luna attempted no eternal night that time… but the concept was there. It was boiling in her mind like a flame, ready to grow and consume. They loved Celestia so much, did they?

Luna jerked out of the stupor, but the screams hadn’t abated. She could feel the blood pumping in her eardrums, her entire body shook. A thousand years, and this was still all she was to them!

The Royal Canterlot Voice burst from her lungs, accompanied by a bolt of lightning.

Be still!”

The pathetic creatures did as told, dropping to their barrels and prostrating themselves before her.

Twilight’s voice arose from behind her. “Princess, remember! Watch the screaming.”

To dare speak to her as if she were an equal! Luna jerked about, nearly pressing her muzzle into Twilight’s startled face. “No, Twilight Sparkle! We must use the traditional Royal Canterlot Voice for what we are about to say.”

The young pony only stared, wide eyed. Luna couldn’t resist a smirk upon seeing that expression. She turned back to the citizens, not noticing as she began to fly above them and conjure stormclouds.

Since you choose to fear you princess rather than love her, and dishonor her with this insulting celebration, we decree that Nightmare Night shall be canceled forever!”

Another bolt of lightning accompanied her proclamation. The citizens stared upon her with mixed expressions of shock and horror that sent a thrill down her spine. Perhaps now they would come to understand the true scope of their insult. A thousand years of mockery and humiliation! But she would not stop here, oh no…

Does it feel good, Nightmare?

Luna thought her heart had stopped. She almost fell out of the sky. Her anger vanished as she gazed upon the terrified citizens and realized what vile thoughts had been running through her head mere seconds ago.

What? Do not stop now, we’re enjoying this.

She wanted to scream, but only a hoarse moan escaped her lips. Panic welling inside her, Luna forced her stiff wings to take her out of their collective sight. Her breathing came in quick rasps as she darted between buildings. She felt so horribly weak. Dropping into an alley, she folded her wings. Her body quaked and she clutched at her burning chest. She needed to breathe, to stop and think. Breathe…

She closed her eyes and focused.


Air rushed into Luna’s lungs. She almost collapsed in relief.

Feeling better?

Even as she gasped, Luna couldn’t help trembling. “Get… g-get out… of my head.”

Impossible. How can we escape ourselves?

She clutched her head. Her mind, her entire body felt heavy. “I am n-not… I am not you.”

Why do we keep refuting the truth? We just saw with our own eyes how much they hate us! We should give them a reason for fear.

“It’s not true…”

Oh, but it is. We saw our little friend, Dinky. Did we really think she liked us? We should stop being so childish!

“No.” Luna shook her head forcefully. “I won’t go back!”

Go back? Dear Nightmare, we never left.

“Go away!” Luna’s wings spread, her body tensed.

Yes, get angry. Be upset! We have every right!

Luna let out a small gasp and clamped her mouth tightly closed. She closed her eyes and focused on her heavy breathing.

What, trying to calm us? We are only delaying the inevitable.

Panicked faces filled her vision.

They hate us.

She forced the image from her mind, only to be rewarded with a memory of little Dinky in her firefighter’s outfit, trembling and fleeing.

They would rather be boiled in Celestia’s eternal sunlight than so much as look at us.

Luna’s body shook, her heart pounded in her chest. She was so angry…

They don’t understand. They will never understand.

“I w-will not go back.” She bit her lip and thought of Celestia.

Celestia had forgiven her.

But has she?

She saw her sister, tossing and turning in bed beneath a terrible, crimson pillar. The vision cast a chill upon Luna’s heart.

For what reason might our hated and hateful sister have such terrible nightmares?

“N-not for that reason…”

But it is.

Luna held her head in her hooves once more. “Celestia trusts m-me.”

One mistake is all it will take, and she’ll send us back.

“That’s not true.” Luna’s breathing grew heavy once more.

A thousand years.

Luna slammed her hoof to the ground and bared her fangs.

Will we let it happen again?

“She wouldn’t resort t-to that…” Would she?

Would she?

She had no way to know.

We have no way to know.

If Celestia didn’t trust her…

Celestia doesn’t trust us.

Luna lowered her head and trembled. She seethed, but she held on.

Let it go.

She closed her eyes.

Embrace it, Nightmare.

She began to hum.

The tune came slowly at first, as if it were barely discernible amongst the venomous thoughts and boiling anger. Yet it was there, somehow, miraculously, just under the surface. Where had it come from? Why was she—

What is that?

She knew what it was.

It was Tārā Sapnā.

The song grew in volume, her humming became more distinct. Slowly, like a receding tide, Luna felt her anger slip away. Her breathing steadied, her heart ceased its pounding, the ice in her chest melted. She looked up at the stars peeking through the cloudy sky and released a long, relaxing sigh.

To think, we only just met that pony. Has she really had that much of an impression on us?

“I don’t know,” Luna whispered, climbing to her hooves, “but I… I really want to hear her music right now.”

We know she doesn’t like us. We are little more than a rung on her career ladder.

“Maybe so,” Luna whispered, “but that’s better than anything else we have.” She raised her head high and attained her solemn manner at long last. “I am not doing this. I will speak with you no more. Be gone.”

As if it were that easy.

“You will manipulate me no longer.” Luna maintained her calm. “Be gone.”

Silence filled the cool night air.

We will break eventually, Nightmare. We know it as sure as we draw breath. We came very close tonight.

Luna said nothing.

Very well. We’ll stay silent… until our next breakdown. Until then, Nightmare.

She waited for some time, maintaining her royal veneer in anticipation, but the voice didn’t return. Only when she was confident she was alone did she let her head lower. How strange, that after achieving such a victory she would feel so heavy. It wasn’t much of a triumph, all things considered.

Climbing to her hooves shakily, Luna began to walk along the alleyway. She had no more interest in Ponyville, especially after she’d come so close to losing herself. No, it was time to go…

Go where?

She paused, finding herself standing on an empty street at the edge of town. A river ran alongside, and across it, far to the north, Luna spotted the dark silhouette of Canterlot on the Lonely Mountain. Home… only it wasn’t really home, was it? What would she do there, hide in her room? Such a pathetic image.

Yet there was no way she’d be performing her nightmare patrols. She probably couldn’t fight off even the feeblest of dreamland spooks in her current state.

So… now what?

With nothing better to do, Luna turned and followed the river. Nopony appeared to impede her or – more likely – flee in terror. She hummed some more of Octavia’s music under her breath, concentrating on the notes. It was the only thing she had to avoid thinking about the disastrous events of the night.

Octavia… Thoughts of that pony had helped her twice this night. As she turned onto a bridge crossing the river, Luna wondered if the Nightmare wasn’t right. The music was soothing, but did Octavia really think of her as anything other than—


Luna didn’t even bother to groan her frustration. “Leave me be, Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight’s tone was comforting. “Princess, I’m sorry it hasn’t worked out how we wanted, but you have to believe me when I tell you that Nightmare Night is one of the most popular celebrations we have.” Luna glanced back to find an eager smile aimed her way, but it failed to break through her depression.

Yes,” she countered with a roll of her eyes, “I could tell from all the adoring shrieks of the children as they run away.” She left Twilight behind, determined to not be goaded into another foalhardy trip into town.


Luna missed a step. A glance back over her shoulder revealed that Twilight had a determined expression. She knew that look, it was the same one her sister got when she decided she was going to make Luna do something whether she liked it or not. The thought was almost enough to make her smile… but not quite.

Twilight marched up to her. “I am not going to let Celestia’s little sister suffer like this. You don’t deserve this kind of treatment.”

Luna gave a derogative sniff and turned away. “It seems my sister taught you how to meddle. Go back to your wretched festival, Twilight Sparkle.”

“No. Princess, this is wrong. You can’t give up now!”

Luna turned her head so it was half-facing Twilight, her eyes going white. “Leave. Me. Alone.”

She noted Twilight’s backstep, watched her body sink low and her eyes go wide. It felt… appropriate. After all, everypony else feared Luna, why shouldn’t she? The sight reconfirmed to her that she was alone. Convinced that the foalish pony was effectively cowed, Luna continued for the tree line.

“So what now? Are you just going to hide?”

A shard of ice ran through Luna’s heart. Her legs wobbled and her head lowered.

“Luna, please. I don’t know what you’re going through, but we can make it right.”

Luna sighed and shook her head. “Can you, Twilight Sparkle? Can you make a thousand years of slander, ridicule and hatred right?”

Silence. Luna didn’t bother to glance back. She merely waited, knowing that her sister’s protégé would have no good answer.

“Better.” Twilight appeared at her side, hope still shining in her eyes. “We can make it better, Luna. If we just look at this from a different angle and keep on, things will improve. You’ve got to try.”

Staring at that pony, listening to her words… Luna couldn’t help a bitter chuckle. “You really are just like my sister: always the optimist. It is as insufferable in you as it is in her.”

Twilight gave a weak chuckle of her own. “Actually, I tend to be a nervous wreck lots of times. I’m just determined. I like to think there’s always a positive outcome to be had, if we can just find out how to get there.”

Luna studied her, then looked back to the town. She could still hear the screams of the ponies in her mind. Yet she could also hear that voice, mocking and jeering. She set her lips in a solemn frown and shook her head; the voice would not win.

“I fear I lack my sister’s optimism,” she confessed, turning back to Twilight. “I do, however, understand determination. So be it, Twilight Sparkle: I shall give this one more try.”

“Thank you, Princess!” Twilight beamed and gestured. “Come on, we’ve got a chicken to catch.”

Luna raised an eyebrow and wondered if she wasn’t making another terrible mistake.

Octavia cautiously lowered her cello into its case. She took a moment to study its sinister design, chuckling a little at the sight. What would her Aunt Strings think if she saw it now? Or Octavia herself, considering her ‘enhancements.’ She took a moment to touch her ears, but couldn’t feel the elongated shape they’d taken on. Just like her wings and fangs; she ran her tongue along her teeth, half expecting to feel the protrusions.

As she closed the case, her thoughts turned to Luna. The spell wouldn’t wear off for a whole week. What would the princess think when she saw her that Wednesday? The thought brought another chuckle to her lips.

She turned to the crowd of ponies. It had thinned a bit, for it was getting late. Celestia and Raven had left some time ago. Octavia didn’t really know anypony, and her part was done. Having no reason to stay, she hefted her cello case. With one last nod to the few remaining musicians, she turned for the door.

She was almost out when a voice rose from the crowd. “Leaving so soon?”

Octavia paused, not recognizing the voice. She turned, preparing to offer some excuse, and her words caught in her throat: there stood the single most important pony in Canterlot, Fancy Pants. Her heart promptly rocketed to her throat.

The stallion grinned and rubbed his moustache. “Dr. Hackle, at your service.”

She blinked, then took in his whole appearance. He was dressed in a black cape, wore a top hat and had a long smoking pipe between his teeth.

Fancy used his magic to wave the pipe at her. “Do not fret, my dear, Mr. Hide won’t be coming out tonight.”

“Oh.” She thought on his statement. “Oh! Now I get it.” She chuckled with a blush. “S-sorry, I was—I mean, you caught me off guard.”

“That’s quite all right.” He eyed her with his pleasant smile. “I dare say you make for a delightful night pony. Fleur outdid herself with tonight’s menagerie.”

Octavia’s blush intensified and she fidgeted. She opened her mouth to speak, but could think of no proper response. What did one say to the most esteemed stallion in Canterlot?

Fancy took her hesitation in stride. “I don’t intend to keep you, my dear; the hour is late and I’m sure you have better places to flap off to.” He chuckled around his pipe. “Fleur tells me you are Miss Melody?”

“Y-yes, that’s right.” Why couldn’t she stop fidgeting?

His smile broadened a touch. “I greatly admired your playing tonight. Truly divine! I recall you were at the Gala this year. Quite the memorable event, was it not?”

Octavia’s face stiffened. “It most certainly was.”

“Well, I am no musician,” Fancy admitted pleasantly, “but I think your work has been quite pleasing. Tell me, Miss Melody, how is your schedule looking?”

“My schedule? It’s mostly free at the moment.” Her heart rose into her throat once again as understanding dawned. “M-Mr. Fancy Pants—”

“Ah-ah.” He waved his pipe at her with that charming smile. “Dr. Hackle. If Fleur thinks I’m not playing my part, she’ll make me pay for it later.”

“Oh, um… Dr. Hackle.” Octavia barely managed to keep from running her hoof in circles on the floor. “A-are you suggesting you’d like to hire me?”

“But of course!” He nodded emphatically. “I would love to enlist your talents at this year’s Garden Party.”

Octavia gasped. “The… The Canterlot Garden Party?”

His grin came back in full force. “Do you know of another?”

A moment was needed for Octavia to grasp the opportunity that was before her. She pressed a hoof to her chest and exhaled a long breath, but her heart still beat a little faster than normal. “I’m flattered you would think me worthy. I would be honored to perform there.”

“Splendid.” Fancy bowed his head to her. “I will be sure to inform my planner; she’ll get in touch with you before too long.”

“I look forward to it.” It required all Octavia willpower not to grin like a foal. “Thank you for this opportunity, Sir Fan— Dr. Hackle.” Blood rushed to her cheeks with the slip.

“I should be thanking you,” he replied. “You’re developing quite a reputation for yourself in Canterlot, Miss Melody. I see bright things in your future.” He offered what had to be his most charming smile. “But listen to me! I said I wouldn’t keep you, and here I am doing just that. Good night, Miss Melody. I look forward to hearing your cello again.”

“Of course.” She bowed her head just slightly. “Thank you, sir. It’s been a pleasure.”

She was walking on air as she left the room. The moment Octavia was out of sight, she gave a small bounce and let her lips break into a broad grin. Fancy Pants, of all the ponies who could be asking for her services, Fancy Pants! She couldn’t wait to tell Parish and Beauty! And Frederick, she would have to write him immediately. Not to mention—


She came to a pause and clapped her hooves with giddiness.

The Canterlot Garden Party.

That meant Luna might come! The thought had her giggling like a schoolfilly.

Citizens of Ponyville! You were wise to bring this candy to me. I am pleased at your offering, so pleased that I may just eat it, instead of eating you!”

The foals let out a collective shriek and promptly fled from Luna at full gallop. She couldn’t help feeling foalish, what with her dark appearance and the strength of her Canterlot Voice. As she noticed the retreating form of little Dinky in her firefighter’s costume, she also felt a touch of guilt.

And confusion.

Dropping the illusion and spitting out the fake fangs – recommended by Twilight because the illusion fangs were too ‘realistic’ – Luna watched the children and their accompanying adults disappear over the hill.

“I am not certain that did what you meant for it to do, Twilight Sparkle.” She cast a glance back at Twilight, who was looking strangely confident.

“Just wait,” Twilight instructed with a proud pose.

Luna dropped from the statue’s podium. “For what? For… for them to scream some more?”

She felt a tug on her mane and looked down to find a tiny colt dressed as a pirate looking up at her.

“Umm, Princess Luna? I know there’s not going to be anymore Nightmare Night, but—” his lips curled in a hopeful smile, “—do you suppose you could maybe come back next year and scare us again anyway?”

Luna’s eyes went wide as she took in his manner. She glanced beyond and saw his foal friends watching from behind some bushes. Thoughts swirled through her brain as she struggled to grasp just what was being asked of her.

“Child.” She set a hoof to her lips and turned her gaze back on the small pirate. “Art thou saying that thou… likest me to scare you?”

He beamed and nodded enthusiastically. “It’s really fun. Scary, but fun.”

“It… is?” She took in this thought, going over all the things she’d seen since her arrival. The fear, the chaos, the worry… Had she been isolated for so long that she was really that incapable of reading ponies now?

The pirate leaned forward, his grin broadening. “Yeah, Nightmare Night is my favorite night of the year!”

All Luna’s presumptions crashed. For the first time, she understood everything. She was so filled with relief that suddenly all the insulting concepts behind the holiday didn’t seem to matter anymore. “W-well then, we shall have to bring—” the Royal Canterlot Voice came unbidden in her excitement, “—Nightmare Night back!”

“Whoa!” The little pirate dropped to his barrel as the winds she unintentionally conjured pushed him back. He was on his hooves in an instant, though. “You’re my favorite princess ever!” He rushed to hug her leg, but the embrace was short lived as he dashed back to his friends.

“She said yes, guys!”

Luna could only stare as the sound of cheering erupted from behind the bush.

“See?” Twilight stepped up beside her with a grin. “They really do like you, Princess.”

“Can it be true?” As the last sliver of doubt faded from her mind, Luna found herself erupting into the Canterlot Voice yet again: “Oh, most wonderful of—”


“—I mean… oh, most wonderful of nights.”

Twilight chuckled and patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry, Luna, you’ll grow out of that.”

Luna eyed Twilight with a small frown. “I still think Nightmare Night requires a… shall we say ‘change in image?’ Regardless, you have my thanks, Twilight Sparkle. I can see why my sister suggested I come to see you.”

Twilight blinked. “She did?”

“Yes.” Luna offered a smile. “If I needed help. Her faith in you was well placed.”

Twilight’s hooves danced with barely contained excitement. “Th-that’s… that’s great! I didn’t realize, I mean, I just thought—”

“I know.” A small laugh trickled out of Luna’s throat. “That’s Celestia; she can’t resist an opportunity to meddle, and it once again proved to be for the better. I will be hard-pressed to maintain my faux-annoyance this time.”

They shared a brief chuckle that ended in silence. Luna distracted herself by replacing the statue of Nightmare Moon… but upon looking at that vicious visage she frowned. She had the distinct feeling that those stone eyes were staring into her own.


“It’s nothing.” Luna’s chest swelled and a smile returned to her lips. “I’m just… saying goodbye.”

Twilight glanced at the statue, then back at her. She slowly smiled. “Feel good?”

Taking a deep breath, Luna turned from the statue with her head held high. “Like you cannot imagine. Come, let us return. There is a certain filly I wish to speak to.”

“Really?” Twilight walked alongside her. “Who?”

“One Dinky.” Luna’s smile broadened. “I would very much like to see her again, and meet her mother.”

Twilight cocked her head. “But… how do you know her?”

“I helped her with her dreams.”

“Oooooh.” Twilight nodded enthusiastically. “Celestia mentioned you could do that. That is a very fascinating magical topic and I would love to learn more about it! I don’t suppose someday you could show me a little bit about how dreamweaving magic works? The possibilities, the potential uses, the practical applications!” Her eyes took on a rapturous glow.

“I don’t know about that,” Luna replied with an apologetic smile. “Manipulating dreams is not so difficult, but dreamweaving is another matter entirely. Perhaps when you have advanced—”

She came to a stop, her eyes rising to the moon. Curious thoughts swam through her head, accompanied by the faint echoes of a cello.


She came out of her thoughts with a flinch and resumed her walk. “Forgive me. I just… had an interesting idea.” Twilight raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “It is nothing, just something I want to try with a friend.”

They came upon the edge of town, where the festivities were back in full swing. Luna noted the foals talking excitedly with their friends and families, undoubtedly sharing the news that Nightmare Night was no longer canceled. She couldn’t resist a blush at the thought of such a hasty decree. In hindsight, she realized Celestia would have never condoned it.

Twilight pointed. “There’s Dinky and her mom over there.”

Luna caught sight of the miniature firefighter bouncing before a grey pegasus. She did a double take; was the pony wearing paper bags on her hooves and head? She was.

Recovering from her moment of confusion, she shook her head and approached. Dinky noted and came running. “Princess! Thank you for bringing Nightmare Night back!”

Cheeks flushing once more, Luna giggled. “Of course, little one. I was… only playing a game with all of you.” Her eyes turned to the pegasus, who was keeping her distance. She waved, prompting Dinky’s mother to approach. Upon closer inspection, Luna was suddenly very aware of why Dinky thought her mother’s eyes were ‘broken.’

Twilight waved to the pony. “Hello, Derpy! Happy Nightmare Night.”

Derpy nodded, one eye set on Luna. “Hello, Twilight! Hello, Princess Luna.”

Luna smiled upon the strangely dressed pony. “A good evening to you, Miss Derpy.”

Dinky broke into giggles. “Not ‘Miss Derpy,’ Princess! We’re Hooves.”

At Luna's cocked head, Derpy blushed and added, “It’s Derpy Hooves, Princess.”

“Ah. Miss Hooves, then.” Luna couldn’t resist eyeing the bag on Derpy’s head. “If I might ask, what are intending to be tonight?”

Dinky bounced. “She’s the Paper Knight! She fights to protect our food!”

Luna, Twilight and Derpy all shared giggles at the foal’s enthusiasm. Derpy tapped Dinky’s helmet, making it fall over her face, and mouthed ‘she insisted’ while the foal worked to correct the wardrobe malfunction.

“Well,” Twilight said with a grin, “It’s good to know that if ever our groceries come under attack, we’ve got a food knight to save us.”

Paper knight,” Dinky corrected with grave seriousness.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Luna replied with a regal pose. “Your mother is no knight.”

Dinky stared up at her with doe eyes. “Huh?”

Derpy and Twilight both shot Luna alarmed looks.

Luna sat back and folded her wings before her, head high. “She’s not a knight unless a princess names her one.”

“Oh…” Dinky’s drooped and dropped to her haunches with a pout, but Luna noted the slow grin forming on Twilight’s face.

Twilight and Derpy shared knowing looks. “You know,” Twilight said, leaning down to Dinky’s level and gesturing towards Luna, “if we only had a princess around to knight your mother, we could make it true.”

Dinky looked to Twilight, her face scrunched up in confusion, then looked to Luna. Her ears promptly flopped back up. “Hey, yeah! Princess Luna, you’re a princess!”

Luna blinked and leaned back. “Am I?”

“You are!” Dinky hopped to her hooves. “You can knight Mommy!”

The princess set a hoof to her lips and peered at Derpy, just barely managing to hold back her smile. “Hmm… Are you sure I can do that?”

“Yes! Would you, please?” Dinky leaned forward with the kind of big, hopeful eyes only a foal could achieve.

Luna mulled it over, tilting her head and flicking her mane. When she got to the point that she feared Dinky’s face might break, she finally nodded. “Oh, very well, then.”

Dinky practically exploded, leaping into the air with a cry that was undoubtedly heard all across Ponyville. She began bouncing circles around Luna. “Mommy’s gonna be a knight! This is the best night ever!”

Luna’s horn shined. Her magic caught the filly in midair and deposited her beneath Twilight’s waiting forelegs. Twilight promptly caught Dinky and held her in place as Luna gestured to a blushing but grinning Derpy. “If it would please thou, Miss Hooves, bow before thy princess.”

Derpy beamed at Dinky before doing as she was told, spreading her wings across the ground. Luna brought her left wing forward and rested it on Derpy’s shoulder.

She spoke with all the pomp and formality of a true knighting. “We hereby dub thee Lady Hooves, First Paper Knight of Equestria.” Her wing moved around to rest on Derpy’s other shoulder. “Mayest thou perform thy Royal Duties in a manner befitting thy title. Rise—” she brought her wing back, “—and be recognized.”

Derpy stood, and there was a sudden cheer from the surrounding ponies. Luna barely avoided jumping, having not been aware of the audience. She blushed along with Derpy and waved to the surrounding ponies as Dinky shot away from Twilight to tackle her mother in a hug.

“Ohmygoshohmygosh!” A pink and white blur darted out of the crowd and a very recognizable chicken manifested itself between Luna and Derpy. “Ponyville’s got its first knight! This is so awesome and now Derpy can do really awesome things like guard the food from Parasprites and be all knighty and stuff!”

“I’ll do my best,” Derpy said with a chuckle and a salute that knocked her ‘helmet’ off.

“You’ll be the best Paper Knight ever!” Pinkie snatched the bag and shoved back onto Derpy’s head. “But ya gotta maintain your equipment better, Lady Derpy. No knight’s complete without proper headgear!”

She bounced back with a loud ba-cack and flapped her faux wings. “Oh no, this is horrible!”

The ponies all shared questioning looks, to which Pinkie explained, “Derpy’s a Paper Knight and she’s supposed to be protecting food, but she’s got no food because we gave most of our candy to Nightmare Moon!” She snatched up Dinky and held her high. “Dinky, this is an emergency! We need to get Lady Hooves some candy to guard or she can’t do her job and she might lose her knighthood! Come on, we’ve gotta hurry!”

Pinkie was off in a blur, Dinky barely managing to get out a “Thanks, Princess!” before they were out of sight.

Luna watched them go with a raised eyebrow. “That pony is… curious.”

Twilight giggled with a shrug. “She’s just being Pinkie Pie. You get used to it.”

“Thanks for playing along, Princess,” Derpy said, scuffing the ground with a blush and managing to get an eye on Luna. “I really appreciate it.”

“And I appreciate you,” Luna replied with a small bow. “I’m sure Dinky told you about how we met in her dream?”

Derpy nodded enthusiastically. “She did! Thank you for that, too. The bullying was really causing problems. I didn’t know what to do.”

“Well,” Luna said with a chuckle, “now that her mother is a knight, the other foals may think twice before doing it again. And if not, I might be able to conjure a few nightmares for them.”

“Oh no, please don’t.” Derpy shook her head frantically. “I’m sure there are ways to deal with bullies without scaring them.”

“Princess?” Twilight stepped closer. “What did you mean when you said you ‘appreciated’ Derpy?”

Derpy blinked, glanced to Twilight, then up to Luna. The question was painted all over her face.

Luna gave them a weak smile. “I have been having… difficulties. Most ponies do not appreciate me entering their dreams. Dinky is actually the first pony to not fear my presence in the dream world, and I gather it is because you taught her not to be afraid of me. And for that—” Luna dropped to a deep bow, “—I owe you great thanks. You cannot imagine the relief I felt upon knowing Dinky’s appreciation.”

Derpy’s wings quivered and her eyes darted about randomly. “P-Princess, that’s not necessary, really! I m-mean, it was Twilight who’s been teaching everypony here the truth about you.”

“And for that, too, I am most grateful.” Luna rose and nodded to Twilight, whose face grew crimson. “It pleases me to know that there are those helping to stop the rumors and misinformation regarding my return.”

“Well what else was I going to do, ignore it?” Twilight shook her head. “I’m very sorry things have been so hard for you, Luna. I wish I could do more.”

“You are already doing enough,” she replied. “Thank you, Twilight Sparkle, and you, Derpy Hooves. Your faith in me means more than you could possibly know.” The two ponies beamed at one another.

“Now then.” Luna shook as it to remove the formal air like water. “That’s enough of that. Come, I wish to partake in more of this night’s entertainment!”

Author's Notes:

This chapter is the sole reason I pushed back my entire release schedule a week. I just could not find a way to merge Luna's personality in Luna Eclipsed with what I've produced in this story. The in-show moments always looked bad, and I'm still not happy with them, but I'm tired of struggling with this chapter. I'm ready to move on, and let the issues be. A big thanks to Mercury Gilado and Absolution, who were very critical about some points and helped me to keep this chapter from being a total disaster.

Khuśī kā Pal

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter XI
Khuśī kā Pal
Moment of Happiness

Luna stared at the horizon, her lips set in a taught frown. She heard the hoofsteps, but ignored Celestia's approach. She merely waited, ears low and eyes hard.

“So?” Celestia sat beside her with a grin. “How did it go?”

Nothing. Luna kept her lips sealed and her eyes unmoving.


Not a word.

Celestia shifted and leaned a little closer. “Is… Is everything okay, little sister?”

Luna didn’t move a muscle.

“Luna… I…” Celestia sighed and bowed her head. “Did it really go so poorly?”

The Night Princess turned with a jerk, the motion making Celestia recoil. Keeping her head low, Celestia chewed her lip and fidgeted. “L-Luna, I know I was the one to push you into it, but you must understand—”

Luna pounced, catching her sister in a tight embrace. Only when her muzzle was buried in that multihued mane did she at last let her grin break free.

Celestia stiffened, her words catching in her throat to produce some truly entertaining noises.

Seconds passed. At last Luna released her sister and pressed a hoof to her muzzle. “I think I will make visits to Ponyville an annual thing.”

A blink. Another. Celestia’s eyes crossed to stare at the hoof on her muzzle, then rose to Luna’s smirk.

Celestia’s shoulders shook, and Luna’s smile faded as tears began to well in those magenta eyes. With a gasp, Celestia moved forward to embrace her sister.

“Don’t scare me like that,” Celestia whispered through her sniffs. “This is wonderful, Luna. After all this time, I was beginning to fear that… that…”

Luna returned the embrace, delighting in the warmth that grew within her. “Thank you, dear sister. You were right. You were right all along.”

It was unladylike to show too much emotion, this Octavia knew. If she was to fit in among the elite, she had to maintain a calm and composed manner at all times. No outbursts, no silly grins, no strutting – though many elites seemed to forget that last rule.

Octavia bore no grin and she certainly didn’t perform any emotional outbursts.

But she did strut. If the elites could ignore that rule half the time, she could afford to do so every once in a while.

Chest puffed out and head held back, she walked through the halls of the Nocturnal Wing like she owned the place. No guards escorted her – she was well known enough by this point that it had been deemed unnecessary. Most ignored her, though she noted one or two pairs of eyes following her with curiosity. For once, she enjoyed their stares.

She cast a glance over her shoulder, eyeing the illusory, leathery wings. The sight made her smirk. This was going to be a visit to remember.

Octavia stood before the doors to Luna’s residence. A lone guard stood at attention by the door; he eyed her curiously but said nothing. With how stoic they always were, sometimes she wondered if communication on the job was forbidden. She knocked on the door.

“Come on in.”

Unable to resist a smile, Octavia pushed her way through. Luna’s room hadn’t changed since the last time she’d been here, save that Luna was nowhere to be found.

“In the study, Octavia.”

Maintaining a calm pace proved difficult, but Octavia made no attempt to keep from posturing as she approached the door to her right. She found Luna hunched over her large mahogany desk, a pair of quills scribbling on two separate sheets of paper and a thick book hovering at her side. She glanced up, went back to her work… then did a double take.

Octavia flicked her mane and grinned at Luna’s dropped jaw, making sure her fangs were visible. “What do you think?”

Luna gaped for several seconds, her mouth opening and closing as if she were a fish out of water. At last she managed to come out of the stupor with a small shiver. “That is a very… effective illusion.”

“Isn’t it, though?” Octavia appraised herself for the hundredth time. “I’m told it will wear off in another two days, but in the meantime I’ve really been enjoying it.”

Luna turned back to her desk with a solemn frown. “I did not think you would take to such a flashy display.”

“Not usually,” she admitted, approaching the desk. “This one has a certain charm to it. Besides, I’m still in the spirit, so to speak.” She noted Luna’s expression. “Is something wrong?”

“Nothing that is your fault,” Luna replied with a sigh. She cast another glance at Octavia and her ears lowered. “It’s just… you look a bit too much like a thestral.”

“Oh?” Octavia opened her wings to give them a curious look. “I’m supposed to be a vampire, but I guess they would look similar.”

“Not quite.” Luna closed her book, which floated into place on a nearby shelf. “There are ponies and there are thestrals. The vampire’s appearance is dependent purely upon which they were before turning, or their ancestry.”

Octavia cocked her head at the princess’s serious manner. “You speak as if they actually exist.”

At this Luna’s eyebrows rose. “But they do.”

Now it was Octavia’s turn to gape. She shook off her surprise and offered a wry grin. “This is like the ‘ponies used to eat meat’ thing, isn’t it?”

Luna stood and walked about the desk and for the door. “No, Octavia, it is not. Though the thestrals are likely extinct, I am sad to say.”

Octavia followed her at a trot. “But… but I thought thestrals were just a myth! And vampires? Really?”

Luna shook her head with a sigh. “Octavia, please. The thestrals were my friends and I do not enjoy discussing their demise. It is painful enough that I am reminded of their image.”

“Oh.” Octavia paused in the middle of the next room. She could have sworn an iron talon had gripped her insides. “I… Luna, I didn’t know.” She glanced back at her wings and chewed her lip. “You can dispel the illusion if you want.”

“No.” The princess paused next to the lounge entry and gave Octavia a forlorn smile. “It is alright. I accept that they are gone, and I have come to understand how today’s culture views them. I am not offended, Octavia. Just a little… sad.”

Ears low, Octavia trotted into the lounge. “Of course. Should I attend the Week of Nightmares again, I will ensure Miss de Lis uses a different enchantment on me.”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “Did you say the ‘Week of Nightmares?’”

Octavia hopped onto her usual spot on the couch and shot the princess a questioning look. “Yes. Why?”

“No reason.” Luna rolled her eyes with an exasperated smile. “The name simply sounds familiar. Tell me,” she added as she settled herself in her own couch, “did you enjoy your Nightmare Night?”

Thoughts of thestrals and vampires fled Octavia’s mind. She sat up and beamed. “Indeed I did. A new door has been opened for me: the Canterlot Garden Party!”

Luna’s ears perked. “I assume this is an auspicious occasion?”

“It most certainly is. It’s the second most important event of the year, next to only the Grand Galloping Gala, and Fancy Pants personally approached me to perform!” Octavia resisted the urge to bounce; not easy, considering how she all but buzzing with excitement. “I thought the Gala was a disaster for my career, but this… Luna, I can’t describe it.”

“Well then, that’s wonderful!” Luna replied with a proud smile. “I knew you would go far in time.”

“But that’s not the best thing.” Octavia leaned forward. “You can come!”

The princess blinked, her body going rigid. “I… can?”

“Of course!” She waved towards the windows. “The Garden Party is so-named because it is held in the Royal Gardens of the castle. It’s right here.”

“I see.” Luna set a hoof to her lips as she considered this. “Well, I typically don’t care for the events these modern nobles put on, and I am not wholly certain I would be welcome—” Octavia’s ears lowered, “—but I suppose if it is in support of a friend…”

Octavia’s ears popped back up. “So you’ll go?”

“For you? Of course I will.”

A grin arose in defiance of Octavia’s will and she puffed out her chest. “Th-that’s great! I was really hoping you could hear me perform outside my dreams.”

Luna nodded with a grin of her own. “I’ll look forward to it. I know it will be a wonderful performance, as always.” She raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps it is a good thing you were not born a pegasus. It becomes harder to hide your excitement.”

Octavia blinked and cocked her head. When Luna gestured over her shoulder, she looked back to find her fake wings spread wide. She couldn’t resist a small blush as she felt at the couch, through which the wings appeared to be running straight through.

“Well… um… this is a little embarrassing.”

“I must give Miss de Lis credit,” Luna said with a smirk. “It is not a simple illusion that can effectively function like the real thing. Be glad, Octavia; it took me years to gain the poise necessary to keep my wings in check, and you will only have to put up with them for a couple days.”

“That is fortunate.” Octavia waved her hoof, passing it through the joint of one of her wings. She really regretting not being able to push them down. She turned to Luna with a sigh… but then broke into a broad smile.

“Well, if I can’t hide my excitement, then I guess I won’t keep trying.”

Luna giggled. “I am pleased that my presence at the party pleases you so.” She regained her stately manner, though she made no attempt to replace her smile. “If you would entertain me for but a moment, I also have a proposition for you.”

Octavia settled comfortably on her barrel. “Really? I’m not sure what I could possibly offer aside from my music.”

“You misunderstand,” Luna replied with a small shake of her head. “It is not you giving something to me, but me giving something to you.”

That gave Octavia pause. She thought on her conversation with Raven a few nights ago and felt her stomach flip. “Like what, exactly?”

Luna tapped the side of her head. “Dreams.” At her guest’s confused frown, she added, “I mean, control of your dreams.”

“Control?” Octavia’s eyes went wide. “You mean… like dreamweaving magic? You can actually teach me that?”

With a giggle, Luna shook her head. “I’m afraid that would be impossible. Only particularly powerful mages can use dreamweaving magic. Dreamweaving involves moving from one dream to another and being able to manipulate the dreams of others. It is both hard to master and very dangerous if used incorrectly.

“No,” she continued with head held high, “I would like to teach you how to control your dreams.”

Octavia crossed her canons before her as she thought on this. “I was unaware a pony could simply control their dreams.”

“A dream is nothing more than an illusion projected by the mind,” Luna told her. “Since it is indeed your mind, you have the power to do whatever you want in them, if you but knew how.”

Her voice took on a light, dreamy quality. “Imagine it, Octavia. Every night, you can do whatever you wish. Anything is attainable. If you can imagine it, it can happen. Also, you’d never be powerless before your nightmares again.”

This information swam through Octavia’s brain as she stared at Luna. “That sounds… nice. Why not teach that to more ponies?”

“Because only one pony can be trained at a time, and even I cannot be in two places at once.” Luna chuckled. “Only a pony who knows dreamweaving can teach such things, and that is not a magic easily learned. I am sorry to say that I am now the only pony in Equestria who knows it. Perhaps someday I will find an apprentice and spread the knowledge, but given the danger I would have to be very selective.”

Octavia raised an eyebrow. “What danger, exactly?”

“The danger to the mind.” Luna grew serious once more. “A pony’s mind is a fragile thing, Octavia. I should know. It is why I go on nightmare patrols in the first place; even without a dreamweaver, a pony’s nightmares can cause significant harm. Of course, it is rare that a pony will conjure up a night terror of such potency, but it does happen.”

“Hmm…” Octavia tapped her chin as she studied Luna. “So I can only manipulate my dreams? There is no way for me to enter another’s?”

Luna considered the question for a moment. “Well, I once made a magical talisman that can let the wearer traverse dreams as I do. I believe Celestia keeps it hidden, assuming it even exists anymore.” She leaned forward to peer at Octavia. “I thought you were not interested in traversing the dreams of others?”

Octavia blushed, busying herself by brushing her mane aside. “Well, yes… but this all has me wondering about you.”

“About me?”

“Yes, you.” Octavia waved in Luna’s direction. “You go out every night and help ponies in their dreams. Who helps you with yours? Nopony, I’d imagine.”

Seconds passed. Luna stared at Octavia, her face an emotionless mask. Octavia wilted. “I m-mean, not that you’d need help, of course.”

“You are right,” Luna replied, tone even. “I am the mistress of all dreams. I am in command of my own.” Her expression broke into a calm smile. “As you will be, once I have taught you how. If you are interested in learning, that is.”

“I most certainly am.” Octavia exhaled her moment of worry and smiled in turn. “Thank you, Luna. I don’t consider my nightmares particularly bad or frequent, but to manipulate my dreams would certainly be a boon in the future.”

Luna relaxed, her smile broadening. “Wonderful. I will look forward to seeing you in your dreams at a later time.”

Abruptly, a puff of cloud appeared before Luna with a small ping. Her horn lit up, catching the small note that had materialized from them. Octavia recognized the style of the note even from her place opposite Luna. “What’s on the menu tonight?”

“Poniterranean.” Luna sent the note towards Octavia. “You will be having dinner tonight, yes?”

“As long as there’s no garlic involved.” She bared her fangs with a hiss that made Luna roll her eyes and chuckle. As she looked over the meal description, she abruptly was reminded of another pony she’d spoken to over a banquet. She nodded to Luna, who sent the note to the cooks with another small spark of her horn.

Octavia fidgeted, rubbing her hooves together as she wondered about the most diplomatic way to broach the subject she had in mind. “I…”


“I heard… you went to Ponyville.”

“Ah.” Luna sighed. “I suppose my sister mentioned it?”

“No.” Octavia winced at her far too quick response. “It was actually her secretary, Raven. We bumped into one another at the Week of Nightmares.” That worked, right? It wasn’t as though she’d lied.

“At the…” Luna’s eyes went wide. “But that’s not possible. I saw her in Ponyville.”

“Ponyville?” Octavia wrinkled her muzzle in thought. “But I definitely met her. She’s the one who told me that you’d gone to Ponyville, after all.”

Luna rubbed her chin, her face taking on an expression that probably rivaled Octavia’s. “That’s… curious. I have to wonder how this could happen. I will have to ask her about it at the first opportunity.”

Octavia shook her head. “We’re getting off topic. I meant to ask you how it went.”

“How it went?” Luna’s uncertain eyes met hers.

“Yes, how it went.” There was a pause as Luna sought to grasp her meaning. Octavia waved to the window. “Nightmare Night in Ponyville?”

“Oh!” Luna’s cheeks flushed, then she giggled. “Right, that. It went—”

The blush left as fast as it had come. Luna stared at her guest for a few seconds as though seeing her for the first time, then gained a warm smile. “It went wonderfully. A few missteps at the beginning, but I enjoyed myself by the end.”

“I knew it!” Octavia hurriedly covered her mouth. It was her turn to blush and giggle. “I mean… I suspected things would go well if you just gave it a try. I’m glad it worked out for you.”

“It most certainly did,” Luna said, still possessing that strange, soft smile. “I owed my sister thanks for meddling, and Twilight Sparkle for helping me get through the night. More than anypony, however—” she leaned forward just a touch, “—I owe you. Without your encouragement, I would not have gone at all.”

Octavia shifted under the princess’s gaze, her lips turning upwards in a lopsided smile. “I only spoke my mind. Like you told me to.” Her hooves toyed with the edge of the couch. “It wasn’t a big deal.”

“You really are too modest.” Luna’s smile broadened a touch. “It is because I wanted to thank you that I offered to teach you about dreams.”

Octavia’s cheeks were burning. She wasn’t even sure why. “I’m just glad I helped.”

Luna nodded, then turned her thoughtful eyes to the window. “I feel like stargazing. Join me on the balcony?”

“Stargazing?” Octavia tilted her head, but stood from the couch and followed Luna to a closed door that she had never been through before. The door opened to Luna’s magic and revealed a room much darker than the others.

“Next time we will have to try the Nocturnal Tower,” Luna said, her shimmering mane guiding Octavia through the dark. “But for tonight, I think this will do fine.”

Something shifted; curtains were pushed back to reveal a large balcony behind tall windows. With the moonlight streaming into the room, Octavia had the opportunity to look around. She spotted the large bed with its dark sheets.

“Oh, bedroom.”


“Nothing.” Octavia hurried to catch up. “I was just wondering what room… oh.”

The stars filled the cloudless sky like a thousand tiny jewels floating upon a black sea. Octavia gaped at the sight, craning her neck back in an attempt to take it all in. She’d never seen the sky look so pristine, and it took her breath away.


She shook off the moment and looked to see Luna lying on a marble bench and watching her curiously.

“Sorry.” She blushed and went to rest on a second bench. “I’ve simply not had such a clear view of the night sky like this since—” She bit her lip and fought down painful memories. “In a long time.”

Luna chuckled and turned her eyes skyward. “You should see what it looks like from the tower, or better yet, the clouds. Truly spectacular.”

“I would like that.”

Silence fell upon the two ponies as they gazed at the twinkling night canopy. Octavia felt no need to speak, and it seemed Luna shared the sentiment. They simply observed.

There was a certain pleasure in this: a quiet night, the comfort of Luna’s company, a feeling of deep relaxation and calm. Octavia wasn’t sure she’d ever felt so serene before. She glanced at Luna, studied her face and shape. Most of all, she took in Luna’s mane. When it shifted in just the right way, it seemed almost as though the night sky itself extended from her, marking her as a being far greater than a mere pony, more sacred than even a princess.

She was like a goddess. A beautiful, perfect night goddess.

Octavia sighed and turned her gaze back to the sky. As she did, she thought on how she’d come to be here, about her relationship with Luna. How fortunate she was, that she could call the princess her friend.




“I want you to stop sending me bits.”

In the corner of her eye, she saw Luna shift. “You… you do?”

“Mm-hmm.” She tilted her head slightly so she could catch Luna’s uncertain frown. “I didn’t realize you were paying me. It needs to stop.”

Luna’s sounded as hurt as her pouting expression looked. “But why?”

Now Octavia turned her head to look at the princess directly. “Why are you paying me in the first place?”

A red glow rose slowly in Luna’s cheeks. She bowed her head and her eyes began to perform that dance Octavia had grown so familiar with. “Well… my sister paid you, did she not? I thought, since I am taking up your time and all—”

“Celestia paid me to perform for a princess.” Octavia pressed a hoof to her chest. “That’s not why I am here. I’m your friend, Luna. You don’t pay for a visit from a friend.”

“I know, I just…” Luna’s blush deepened and she covered her face with a wing. “I thought at first that you should be given something for putting up with me.”

“Luna!” Octavia leaned towards her. “Please, don’t belittle yourself like that. I like our weekly visits. I wish we could do them more often!”

“I do too.” Luna lowered her wing just enough to reveal her sheepish smile. “I am sorry, my friend. I thought you deserved a little something, that is all.”

“I don’t deserve payment.” Octavia facehooved, but maintained an exasperated smile. “That makes it seem as though I am only pretending to be your friend so I can earn some bits. Our relationship isn’t a sham.”

Luna’s eyes were like saucers and a gasp escaped her lips. “I… Octavia, it was never my intention to… I am so sorry!”

“No, no, no.” She waved an energetic hoof and blushed. “I’m not offended, really! I’m just saying I want you to stop paying me for these visits. I’d like to give back the bits you’ve been giving me, too.”

Luna shook her head forcefully. “Absolutely not! I’ll stop the payments immediately, but I can’t let you return the bits.”


Please, Octavia.” The princess bowed her head beneath the level of her bench. “Keep it, as a gift and as part of my apology. I cannot believe I was so insensitive! I insist.”

Octavia pursed her lips. She waited for Luna to rise from her bow, but she refused to move. At last, Octavia sighed. “Well… I must admit the extra money will make things easier for me for a little while. I’m not comfortable with it, but as long as you promise not to send anymore.”

“It’s a promise.” Luna at last raised her head, her cheeks still burning. “This is a most embarrassing faux pas.” She thought for a moment, then groaned. “And my sister knows about it.”

“What?” Octavia felt her cheeks flushing as she tried to think of when she’d let that information slip. “W-what makes you think that?”

Luna buried her face in her canons. “She’s watching me more closely than a phoenix does its eggs. I promise you, if I spend money from my personal treasury, she will be aware of it before it has even left the vaults.”

“Oh.” A sigh of relief. “I am sure she’s only after what is best for you.”

“So she claims.” Luna huffed and raised her head, taking on a proud pose. “I will simply have to deal with her pestering later. Then again, she has said nothing of it so far, so I suppose she is—” She blinked and cast a raised eyebrow Octavia’s way.

Octavia shifted. “Is something the matter?”

“Of course not.” Luna sighed and looked up to the stars with a small smile. “I am merely wondering at what point my sister will stop acting like my mother. Enough of this; let us just enjoy the stars together, yes?”

A warm smile slowly turned Octavia’s lips. “Of course.”

Once again, silence reigned. Octavia fell back into that mode of relaxation and pleasure, taking in the delightful canopy above her. She sighed and thought about all that had happened in the past few months. So many good things… and yet she felt happier now than she had at any of those times. With her only grave issues towards Luna resolved, everything felt as if it had fallen into place.



“I’m really glad to be here.”

Luna glanced at her.

“I’m glad you are here, too.”

Little else was said that night.

There was no need.

Author's Notes:

I seriously considered adding one more section to this chapter, but after some contemplation decided against it. Simply put, I wanted this to be the 'high ground' chapter where everything just feels right.

Of course, once you hit the top there's only one direction left to go.

Pahalā Ciṃgārī

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter XII
Pahalā Ciṃgārī
First Spark

The floorboards creaked beneath Octavia’s shifting hooves as she sat in the dimly lit hallway. She stared at the door before her, hoof raised in preparation. Yet that was as far as she could go; her leg moved forward a little, retreated, shook, moved forward again, stopped. Her stomach felt empty and acted like an anchor, refusing to let her do what she wanted.

The hideous image of the club kept swimming back into her vision; that mass of unnatural flesh and color and sin within a cocoon of noise and flashing lights. The memory made her whimper and tuck her tail between her legs.

Octavia paced before the door, struggling to find her courage. Her cello case rocked with each turn. She said she’d do this. This had been promised. It was important that promise be kept.

She paused before the door, but couldn’t raise her hoof. A second passed, then another. She started pacing again.

“You can do this, Octavia,” she whispered, her eyes on her hooves. “Just… just knock. It should be a simple thing. Just knock.”

Moving quickly, she made for the door and tapped on it; three light raps. The sound seemed so loud to her folded ears. Octavia shuffled from side to side, a circus act performing in her stomach. She held her breath and forced herself to be perfectly still.

The door didn’t open.

Maybe the knock hadn’t been loud enough? She started to raise her hoof, stopped and lowered it again.

“M-maybe she’s not home.”

She stepped to the door and raised an ear, bringing it close to the wood. There was no sound outside the quiet buzzing of the fluorescent light over her head. Octavia stepped back, swallowing to apply moisture to her throat. She glanced down the hall in both directions. What would ponies think if they saw her just standing here? She looked ridiculous.

Her cheeks hot, she raised her hoof again and hesitated.

“I tried,” she whispered, stepping away from the door. “Sh-she must not be home. Or… or too busy. I’ll come back later. Yes, later.” She turned and made for the stairs, moving just a little faster than she’d intended.

Octavia came to an abrupt stop at the top of the stairwell, the inertia of her cello making her lean forward; one floor down, Vinyl Scratch just turned the corner. She spotted Octavia and gaped.

The two stared at one another for a long time, one in surprise, the other in alarm. For a fraction of a second, Octavia actually considered bolting from embarrassment.

“Octy!” Vinyl trotted up the stairs with a grin, bags of groceries floating around the corner behind her.

“H-hello, Vinyl.” Octavia offered a sheepish smile. She went rigid as Vinyl hugged her, but it lasted only a second before she returned the motion. “I, um, thought I’d missed you.”

“I’m glad you didn’t.” Vinyl pulled back. “Does this mean you wanna give my music a try?”

Octavia nodded with a weak smile.

“All right!” Vinyl pumped her foreleg and bounced for her door, the floors squeaking loudly as she moved. “Come on, let’s get started. This is gonna be so awesome!”

Pressing a hoof to her chest, Octavia breathed out slowly. Her trepidation fled like water pouring down a tall hill, and at last she began to relax. She turn to follow, glad the hardest part was over. Her old roommate’s legs danced as she fumbled with the keys in her magic. At last the door opened and the grocery bags floated inside. Vinyl stood aside and waved flamboyantly, using what had to be her most exaggerated fancy accent: “If it pu-leases thou, my armoire awaits.”

Octavia pressed her canon to her lips and snorted down a laugh, her cheeks puffing as she failed to fully control herself. She stepped up and patted Vinyl’s cheek. “I think you mean boudoir, unless you want me to perform inside your cupboard.”

Vinyl blushed with a lopsided grin and thrust her hoof through the doorway. “Just get in there.”

Octavia did as she was told, though she had to step carefully to get her cello to fit. One of the reason she’d chosen the apartments next door was because the building happened to have slightly wider doorways.

Vinyl’s apartment was larger than Octavia’s, but just barely. The peeling wallpaper was a dark green, the floorboards creaked even more loudly than they did in the hallway and the cabinets were ‘decorated’ with stains from meals long ago spilled. Essentially, it was just like Octavia’s, only with wood floors, darker colors and a bunch of posters featuring assorted bands the likes of which Octavia only knew by name. The lights were actually a dim blue, but that didn’t surprise Octavia in the least; she knew her old roommate’s quirks better than anypony.

There was one oddity, though. She tapped the floor and noted the distinct lack of trash. “I see you finally learned how to clean up after yourself.”

Vinyl chuckled as she walked into the room. Her mane glowed as if electrified under the blue lighting. “Not really, I just wanted the place ready for when you got here. I remember how my mess used to really annoy you.”

Octavia blinked and glanced back at Vinyl, who was busy putting away her groceries. “You cleaned up… for me? Vinyl, you never cleaned up when I lectured you back in school.” She reached for a bag.

“Na-ah!” Vinyl caught the bag in her magic and pulled it out of reach. “You just make yourself at home.”

“But I—”

“Nope!” Vinyl shook her head forcefully. “I finally got ya in here, I’m not about to make you do anything.”

Octavia raised an eyebrow. She leaned forward and turned her head to study her companion with a lone eye. “What’s going on here?”

With the last can of food put away and the bags thrown in the trash, Vinyl turned to find herself the target of a peering eye. She blushed and giggled, running a hoof through her shimmering mane. “I just wanted everything to be perfect, y’know? I remember how you were in school, Octi; you never practiced in our room because the mess was a distraction, and I want you playing at your best.”

Octavia sat and waved her hooves around the room. “How long have you been keeping it like this?”

“Uhh, let’s see…” Vinyl tilted her head back and mumbled, her eyes shifting back and forth as she ran the calculations under her breath. “Little over a month now.”

“A month?” Octavia felt her jaw drop. She stared at the blushing Vinyl, then looked around at the clean room. “Vinyl… you’ve been doing this for me?”

The pony nodded and fiddled with her hooves. “I really want your help with this, Octi.”

“Wow. I…” Octavia glanced around once more, trying to imagine just how much willpower her sloppy friend must have been exerting all this time. She sighed and offered a warm smile. “I’m sorry I made you wait so long.”

Vinyl gave a weak laugh, her head low. “Me too.” She shook her head, the glow of her mane creating shimmering patterns. “What the hay? I’m gonna turn into you at this rate! Come on, lemme show ya what I’m trying to do.”

Octavia followed Vinyl through a small hallway, through which she had to walk at an angle in order for her cello case to fit. With Vinyl’s assistance, they entered a small room that was just large enough for the both of them to stand comfortably. Next to a window in the corner was Vinyl’s synthesizer, the same old, black tool she’d been using all through college. It was covered in circular stains and stickers representing the many locations Vinyl had been to so far in her life.

Octavia let out a small sigh at the sight of the device. She reached over to touch the rough surface of it and ran her hoof along the keys, memories of college life running through her mind. “We had many an argument over this little monstrosity.” She glanced through the window, finally seeing what her apartment looked like from Vinyl’s side of the street.

Vinyl, her mane no longer glowing now that they were out of the blue lighting, sat on a stool before the synthesizer and gave her a warm smile. “I miss it, too.”

There was a mess of wires on one corner of the device. Something within shined blue, and a pair of thick headphones floated from under the small mountain of wires. Vinyl took a moment to brush off the wires from the headphones. “You set up your cello in the corner there while I get this prepared. This place was designed for living, not acoustics, so we’ll use the headphones to get the right sounds.”

“Okay then.” Getting the cello case off her back in the small room required some work, and Octavia had to stand into the hallway to open it. She slid the case into the hallway and finally managed to get her cello set just as Vinyl had finished untangling two headphones from the wiring.

“Okay.” Vinyl turned to Octavia, fidgeting in her seat. “Before we get started, let me explain some things. First, there are three songs I want you to listen to. I already made most of the instrumentation on the synthesizer, but classical instruments sound like breezie farts on this thing, so what you’re going to hear won’t be all that great. That’s why I need to record real instruments.”

Octavia smirked. “What, you mean you’re actually going for quality? Vinyl, I didn’t know you had it in you.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Vinyl waved a dismissive hoof and rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I’m trying to fuse modern music with classical instrumentation. This album focuses more on rock, but in the future I’m gonna blend things like jazz or dubstep with things like opera.”

“Opera.” Octavia tilted her head and peered at her old roommate. “Vinyl, are you running a fever?”

Vinyl scowled. “I know, you never believed I had ‘real’ music in me. I’ve grown in the past few years, Octavia, and today I’m going to prove to you that I am almost as much of a musician as you are.”

Octavia raised her hooves. “Alright, I’m giving it a chance. Just understand that I’m skeptical.”

“You won’t be for long.” Vinyl floated one of the headphones over to Octavia and turned to dig through some papers in a stack by her stool. After a while she produced three sets of neatly stapled sheet music. Two of them came to rest on the synthesizer, whereas the third floated to the stand Octavia had set up in her corner.

“Three songs in the album feature the cello prominently,” Vinyl explained. “Some, like this one, will have multiple cellos. The music there is just one of the cello parts; the rest will run through the synthesizer for this play-through.”

Octavia picked up the sheet music and flipped through a few pages. It appeared above-average difficulty, but it was the one Vinyl had given her before, so she would have no trouble playing it. “Alright, let’s try this.”

“This one represents the kind of sound most of the album will feature. Think of it as a ‘title track.” Vinyl floated the headphones over to Octavia, who took them in her hooves. She glanced at Vinyl, then put them on.

“Here goes nothing.” She took up her bow and prepared to play, her eyes set on the sheet music.

Vinyl licked her lips and turned on her machine. She pressed some buttons before setting her own headphones on. Hers had a small microphone. “Give me a moment, I’m removing your part from the pre-recording.” A few more seconds of toying with buttons. “I’m gonna turn the pages for you, so you just focus on playing.”

“Got it.”

Vinyl finally finished. Her hoof shook as it hovered over a final button, but her voice was steady. “You ready?”

At Octavia’s nod, Vinyl pressed the button and promptly rolled her stool so she was by Octavia’s music stand.

Seconds passed in silence as a slight buzz of static filled Octavia’s ears. Then, with a sudden burst, the sound of drums filled her head. The impact made her jump, but she kept her attention on the sheet music. She could hear the accompanying cellos, three of them playing rapid notes in low volume. Vinyl was right about the sound quality, but at least Octavia could recognize the intent.

Her part came. Though her cello was muffled by the headphones, a lifetime of hearing it made it seem that much more powerful in comparison to the notes in her head.

Octavia’s head bobbed slightly as she carefully reproduced every note. The sound fascinated; there were no other instruments, just four cellos and the drums. Yet the addition of those drums and the fast, spiccato flurry of the accompanying cellos made for an entirely new music wholly alien to her ears. She could clearly identify the ‘modern’ aspects of the song such as its structure, and yet she also heard hints of classical elements, particularly in her own part, which she now understood was the frontrunner of the entire piece from its much higher chord and longer notes.

A melding of classical and modern. It was so… different.

The song wasn’t long, perhaps only three minutes. Curiously, the song ended not with her cello, but one of the others playing at gradually slower speeds – Vinyl had written ‘grazioso’ on the sheet music, which Octavia found appropriate.

“So?” Vinyl leaned towards her, eyes wide. “What do you think?”

Octavia stared at the sheet music, gathering her thoughts and thinking on what she’d just heard. She slowly pushed the headphones off one ear. “It’s… not what I expected.”

Vinyl swallowed and raised her sunglasses to rest on top of her horn. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

Octavia raised her bow and thought a little more. “Good. It’s a good thing. The drums work so much better than I would have imagined.”

Vinyl bounced in her seat, grinning from ear to ear. “G-good, really? Great! Let’s do another, you’re really gonna like this one!” She hopped off her stool and hurried to the synthesizer, her hooves flying over the buttons with practiced precision.

Octavia took the opportunity to look over the sheet music. She was stunned by her own feelings. This could work. Luna help her, this could really work. All these years she’d been struggling to create her own music, and her old roommate and next door neighbor was pulling it off. Effectively!

Vinyl’s voice broke through her thoughts. “Okay! I’ve got it all set up. This one is by far the most cello-centric, much less instrumentation. It’s practically a solo.”

The sheet music was replaced in the stand. Octavia looked to see Vinyl’s hoof once again hovering over the starter button. The pony breathed as if she’d just run a marathon and her eyes shined as she looked to Octavia. “Ready?”

Octavia promptly reset her headphones, took up her position and nodded.

Almost as soon as Vinyl pressed the button, Octavia began playing. There was a much more ‘electronic’ feel to this song, a musical genre she had long ridiculed. Yet, as she finished the larghetto introduction and waited for the wind sounds to die, she realized she didn’t mind them here. Perhaps because they were so quiet?

She jumped into the main part of the song. It was a little repetitive compared to her part in the last one, yet it also had a flowing, leggiadro style that she enjoyed. At times she could hear a second cello playing in the background, but it felt like an echo of her own instrument. Maybe it was.

Octavia began to sway, smoothly shifting between the frequently altering legato and staccato styles within the chorus. The synthetic beats seemed to shift into a pleasant background noise as she focused on her part, delighting in the steady, comfortable rhythm. The finale came abruptly, her hoof playing across the strings with expert precision to keep up with the rapidly changing notes until finally finishing in a short but heavy tone.

Just like that, the song was over. She stared at the sheet music, surprised that it was indeed the last page.

She glanced with wide eyes at Vinyl, who was bobbing on her stool like a foal with a new Hearth’s Warming present. “You liked it, didn’t you? I saw the way you were getting into it!”

Octavia pushed off her headphones. She would have smiled if one weren’t already plastered to her lips. “I liked it. Vinyl, this is wonderful material you’ve created! I’m sorry I doubted you.”

“Yes!” Vinyl clapped her hooves. She bounced so much Octavia began to wonder if her stool wouldn’t break. “This is gonna be so awesome! With you frontlining those songs and a few musicians from around town, there’s no telling how far this will go. It’s a whole new genre, and we get to be at the helm!”

“You mean you had others in mind?” Octavia asked, curious to know if she knew any of the names Vinyl planned to ask.

“Nope, just you.” Vinyl spun in place, her stool swiveling as she kicked her hind legs playfully. “I gotta take out ads for the others, do auditions, but I just knew you would be perfect for the cello parts! Goddess, Octy, I can’t even describe how… how good this feels!”

“I’m just glad to be part of it.” Octavia tapped the sheet music with her bow. “So what are you waiting for? Let’s hear that third piece.”

Vinyl came to an abrupt pause, her ears lowering as she stared at Octavia. “Oh, right. The, um, third piece.” She rolled her stool to the synthesizer and began to work it, but much slower than she had before. “Listen, this last one… well, it’s kinda special. I’ve been working on it for a very long time, and it might not be any good.”

Octavia cocked her head. “If it’s anything like these others, I doubt you need to worry.”

Vinyl chewed her lip and wouldn’t look at Octavia. “Umm, it’s not. This is gonna be a bonus track or… or maybe a single.”

“Oh.” Octavia glanced at the sheet music, then back at Vinyl. “What’s so special about it, then?”

Vinyl was quiet for a few seconds, her attention seeming devoted to the synthesizer.

“I’ve been working on this one for five years.”

“What?” Octavia gaped at her old roommate. “We were still in college then. You never mentioned anything about some special piece.”

Vinyl’s entire body sagged, like a flower in need of water. “I thought you’d make fun of me if you knew.”

“Vinyl, I wouldn’t—”

The pony turned about to glare at Octavia, effectively ending her objections. Octavia hesitated, clutching her bow close to her chest as she took in the accusation in those red eyes. “Vinyl?”

Vinyl glanced away, her anger fading quickly. She began to fidget once again, and she was back to taking long, slow breaths. Licking her lips, she reached her trembling hoof for the button. “Are you ready?”

Octavia hurriedly resumed her playing position. “I don’t have my sheet music.”

“Oh, right.” The music was replaced by a much thicker stack than the other two.

“Alright,” Octavia said, “now I’m ready.”

“Good.” Vinyl hesitated, her cheeks brighter than a flame. She held her breath for several seconds. At last she pressed the button and moved to Octavia’s side.

“I wrote this one for you.”

Octavia gawked at her, but Vinyl merely chewed her lip and stared at the sheet music with determined intent.

The music began with violins making a steady, tenerezza tone, prompting Octavia to focus on the page before her. The introduction was long, but pleasant and graceful. Then a cello filled her ears with a steady, repeating series of notes that, while allegretto, seemed very calm.

Her part came, a steady but powerful series of legato notes. She swayed, enjoying a complete absence of heavy sounds or unusual instrumentation.

Then the violins came back.

More cellos arose.

Percussion. Not the drums from the previous song; percussion was something stronger, calmer.

Then all the instruments hit at once: violins, cellos, bass, cymbals, drums, flutes, horns, oboe. Octavia’s breath was taken away as she found herself playing along not to a ‘band;’ this was the familiar, lovingly crafted work of an orchestra. She caught the faintest hints of Beecloven within the melody, a series of notes that she’d played over and over again in her youth simply because they’d been her favorite at the time.

Vinyl had written a symphony. An actual symphony.

And it was beautiful.

Octavia couldn’t comprehend the emotion that was coming over her. She swayed to an incredible sound that she’d never imagined could have come from her friend’s mind. She loved every note, each carefully placed line, all the intricate melodies and motions. There was repetition, and she could see the modern styling within the music, but it worked so delightfully with every delicate tone, every perfectly placed instrument…

It was a much longer piece than the others, yet still the ending seemed to come far too quickly. When she played the last slow, gentle note, she felt out of breath and her eyes stung. She could only stand there and gaze at the music, her bow frozen to the strings as she struggled to withhold the emotions running rampant within her.

Gradually, she turned. Vinyl’s back was to her, the unicorn’s body slumped and trembling.

“V-Vinyl… you wrote this for me?”

Vinyl sniffed. “It’s… it’s bad, isn’t it? I worked so hard on it for so long, trying to make it perfect. I tried so hard…”

Octavia set a hoof to her friend’s shoulder, and Vinyl stiffened at her touch.

“Vinyl,” she whispered, “that was incredible.”

Another sniff. “It… it was?”

Grabbing her with both hooves, Octavia forced her to turn around. Vinyl’s cheeks were moist and her eyes were like saucers. Octavia wrapped her in a tight hug.

“I have been trying for years to make even a simple song. I was envious that you’d written so many, but I always thought you were writing substandard work. I… I want to hear more. I had no idea you were so talented.”

Vinyl shifted with a weak chuckle, not returning the embrace. “Bull. You… you think my music’s trash, don’t you?”

“I’m sorry.” Octavia only held on more tightly. “I am so sorry. This was an incredible gift and I will never be able to match it. It was perfect, Vinyl.”

At last, Vinyl’s legs rose. They shook as they wrapped about Octavia, but she finally returned the hug with all the force of Octavia’s. “Th-thanks, Octy. You really have n-no idea what it means to me to hear you say th-that.”

“But why, Vinyl?” Octavia leaned back to look into Vinyl’s eyes. The poor unicorn was all but sobbing. “Why did you need my approval? Why spend five years writing a song just for me?”

“It was… it was supposed to only take a year,” Vinyl admitted, bowing her head into Octavia’s shoulder. “I didn’t want to admit to it when we were roommates, ’cause I was a stubborn foal back then, but… but I always looked up to you. Your work on your cello was always so good, and it’s not even your special talent. What was I doing? Scratching out crap on a keyboard because I was too lazy to learn a real instrument or focus in class.”

“V-Vinyl, that’s not—”

“Shut up and let me get it out!” Vinyl pulled back and rubbed her eyes, though she couldn’t stop crying. “Mom’s a concert pianist. My dad could play four different instruments in his prime! I was such a disappointment to them, and there you were, no musical background, no formal music education, and you’re like a bucking pro. I w-was mad… and inspired. I hated you even as I was crushing like crazy.”

Octavia sputtered, her cheeks heating up. “C-crushing?”

“I remember thinking I would prove to you that I could be just as good at your kind of music, no, better! Then I…” Vinyl sniffed and took the sheet music in her hooves. She stared at the paper, shoulders shaking. “I realized that I really wanted you to like it. I w-wanted your nod of approval. If that happened – if even the perfect, incredible Octavia Melody could like something I wrote – then maybe I could finally make my parents proud. It had to be just right, but it never was. It’s still not.”

Octavia stared at her old friend, jaw hanging loose as she struggled to take all of this in. “Vinyl, I had no idea you thought so… so highly of me.”

“That’s because I didn’t want you to.” Vinyl held the sheet music close, the paper crinkling in her grip. She wouldn’t look Octavia in the eye. “I had so many crazy emotions all bundled up in an ugly knot. Hate, respect, approval, annoyance. Sometimes I wanted you to acknowledge me, others I wished I’d never seen your face. I think I might have even been in love for a while, crazy as it sounds.”

With the slightest of whimpers, Octavia bowed her head and tried not to acknowledge her steaming cheeks.

Vinyl held the sheet music at leg’s length. “This is the only time I will ever really explore your kind of music. After five years, I know it’s just not where my skills lie. I had to do so much research, and I spent lots of sleepless nights going crazy over just a few small notes in the whole thing. I attended more of your shows than you would think looking for inspiration. But y’know? That work makes this the single most important piece of my entire life. This is the proof, see? It means I can almost be as amazing as you are if I try hard enough. Almost.”

Octavia felt a tear running down her cheek, and there was a sinking feeling in her chest. “But Vinyl… you’ve done so much more than I have. You’ve proven yourself better than me. I haven’t written a single musical piece, and you made something so… so…”

“But you will,” Vinyl said with a warm smile. “I know it, Octavia. Someday you’ll get out of your rut, and when you do you’re going to write dozens of songs that will make this look like the piece of amateur toilet paper it is.”

“Don’t say that!” She shook Vinyl by the shoulders. “It’s a wonderful song, Vinyl. If it were a painting, it would belong in a museum! I’ll never be able to do what you’ve done. I’d be ashamed if I wasn’t so flattered that it’s for me.”

Vinyl looked at the sheet music, then at her. “You… you really think it’s that good?”

“I do.” Octavia nodded emphatically. “Oh, Vinyl, it’s incredible! I want to be part of this and help you make this album. I promise, I will never, ever doubt you again.”

A weak smile formed on Vinyl’s lips. “G-good. That’s good. As long as you’re with me on this. It means so much to me, Octy. If you’d said no, I… I probably would have abandoned the project altogether.”

Octavia chuckled and rubbed the back of her head. “You don’t need to put me on a pedestal. I’ll be happy to help; it’s so much more than I could ever achieve on my own. But, um…” She shifted from hoof to hoof and blushed. “Well, about this whole ‘crush’ thing…”

Vinyl laughed – a real laugh, filled with relief and the breaking of what had to have been years of built-up tension. “Don’t worry about that! It only lasted a few months, then I came to my senses.”

Octavia hesitated. “Really?”

“Really.” Vinyl nodded with a grin. “I mean seriously, can you imagine us as a couple? It’s got to be the craziest idea ever. We’d never know peace!”

With a hoof to her chest, Octavia released a long breath of air. “Thank Luna! I thought things were about to get really awkward.”

“I think things were plenty awkward,” Vinyl countered with a chuckle. She took a moment to rub her cheeks free of moisture. “Goddess, I haven’t opened up like that in ever. It feels so good to get it off my chest.”

“After five years? I can’t imagine,” Octavia replied with a grin of her own. “So, when do we get started?”

“Right away, if you’re willing.” Vinyl bounced across the room and began digging through the wires. “This is going to be the most awesome album ever, just you wait! I’ve got the microphones, we can start recording right now.”

Octavia chuckled at her friend’s enthusiasm. “I don’t think so. You want to record in here? It’s not suitable at all.”

Vinyl huffed and turned to waggle a microphone at her. “I sure as hay can’t afford a proper recording studio, so unless you’ve got a location in mind this is as good as we’re gonna get.”

“Hmm…” Octavia rubbed her chin in thought, then smiled.

“Actually, I do know of one place.”

The intense white glare faded to soothing darkness. A cool wind buffeted Luna as she fell through the sky. She made no attempt to control her fall; she relaxed and let the clouds come up to greet her. The condensed moisture chilled her like a splash of ice water, and her sore muscles tensed at the sensation. Though she shivered, still she kept her body relaxed, her wings and tail whipping above her.

At last she twisted so her legs were aimed at the ground far below. Her great wings opened wide, catching air and slowing her descent with a sudden, painful jerk. Luna didn’t mind, for it felt akin to stretching after a long exercise.

In a way, that was exactly what she was doing.

The city of Canterlot spread out beneath her, glistening like a jewel even at night. Luna landed atop a particularly large building and stretched her aching wings before folding them at her sides. She shifted her shoulders and took a few light hops, her back and legs popping as she did. Each little crack sent a wave of pleasure through her, but it wasn’t near enough to fully relax her body.

Or her mind.

Luna cast her gaze upon the city, her horn emitting a dim glow as she reset her dreamweaving magic. The countless pillars of light rose into the sky in a wide assortment of colors; blues, greens, purples and the occasional pink she preferred to avoid. Every here and there she saw a red column rising up to pierce the moon, but the intensities were weak.

That was a relief. How many night terrors had she put down this night? She’d stopped counting at twenty. It seemed she’d dealt with the last one, thank the Goddess.

Her old enemy was angry. It had been ever since Octavia’s last delightful visit. Part of Luna was pleased with this, for if her foe was upset then things were clearly going well. Yet she had to also consider the grave danger to the ponies unaware of the creature’s presence, for none of them knew that the dark being within their dreams was not an illusion but a true fiend.

Luna kicked at the stone roof with a scowl; after over a year, she was no closer to catching it.

She felt that uncomfortably familiar tug on her horn; a new night terror was taking place. Sighing, Luna launched into the air and made a wide turn in the direction her horn guided her. She sucked down a sharp gasp at the sight of Canterlot Castle. The blood-red line vibrated with a feverish intensity from the roof of the castle’s central tower.

The night terror belonged to Celestia.

It didn’t take long for Luna to locate and land on the great balcony outside of her sister’s chambers. How many times did this make? She peered through the curtains and watched as, once again, Celestia tossed and turned in her bed. Equestria’s great leader of a thousand years was sweating, the sheets tangling in her legs. Her lips moved frantically, but silently, and tears were running down her cheeks.

Luna sighed. It would be such a simple thing to slip inside her sister’s mind. The night terror wouldn’t be so easy to disrupt, though, not after an entire night of doing exactly that. Besides, there was still that horrible, nagging worry in the back of Luna’s mind, the question she yearned to answer but was too scared to acknowledge. To see her sister in such anguish tore at Luna’s heart. The inability to help was almost infuriating, but she was determined to keep her promise. If only Celestia would open up to her and grant permission, this problem could be over and done with in short order.

Luna pressed a hoof to the glass as she watched Celestia’s trembling form. “Why won’t you speak to me, dear sister?”

Just then, the red line that rose from Celestia’s forehead trembled and shook. The colors began to shift and fade. Recognizing the signs, Luna hurriedly stepped from the window and out of sight. A second later, Celestia awoke with a cry that made Luna flinch.

After a long, unpleasant pause, Celestia began to sob. Cringing, Luna turned away and dropped off the edge of the balcony, waiting until she’d fallen far enough to not be heard before spreading her wings for flight. She would not risk being caught eavesdropping.

The night had grown old; in another hour it would be time for the sun to rise. With her mind in a state of calm turmoil, Luna landed on the balcony outside her own chambers and went inside. There would be no more nightmare patrol tonight.

She noticed the presence almost immediately. Though the darkness was Luna’s domain, she’d encountered this stallion enough times to know that he’d wanted to be found.

“You presume to hide from your princess?”

His toothy grin appeared in the dark of a corner. “From the Mistress of All Night? Of course not, although it does make for good practice.”

She scowled at him. “I’d prefer you not do such things around me. You are meant to be hiding from Equestria’s enemies, not its rulers.”

He stepped forward, his face entering the dim light of the moon from the window. He was a tall unicorn, with a coat of mottled brown and a black mane. His grin faded as he bowed his head. “My apologies, Princess. It is a useful habit, and a hard one to break.”

Luna sniffed, looking down her muzzle at him. “I suppose I should expect no better from Equestria’s highest ranking spy. Did you get what I commanded?”

“Indeed.” The stallion’s horn shined red, and a manila folder floated into the light. “The mare you seek has a significant record, so we have a lot of information on her.”

“A record?” Luna took the folder in her magic. “She is an enemy of the state?”

“Of the Nildian state, not Equestria.” The stallion shrugged. “Simply put, she’s a crime boss. Her family doesn’t know; they think she’s merely a banker.”

“I see.” The idea left a pang in Luna’s heart. “And what is the official position of your organization in regards to her?”

The spy waved a dismissive hoof. “Her actions don’t negatively impact Equestria, and so she’s outside our jurisdiction. Otherwise, she falls into that rare category of ‘good villain.’ She’s the kind of criminal we like to keep in power, lest her downfall bring about some real monsters. Unlike most criminal leaders, she has a tendency to better the lives of those around her... provided they don't get in her way, of course.”

“Thank you.” Luna set the folder on her bed. “I will be sure to read the file in detail. That will be all.”

The stallion bowed his head. “Always a pleasure, Princess. I look forward to our next talk.”

He stepped into the shadows. There was the slightest indication of magic, and his presence was gone. A teleportation spell no doubt. As soon as she was alone, Luna grabbed the file and stepped into the greeting room. Though dim, the room had enough lighting to let her take a close look at the manila folder.

To her despair, the name on the folder was indeed what she’d feared:

Benjamina Melody

Author's Notes:

I'm a little ashamed to admit that I have performed the 'door dance' more than once in my life. There's just something about the act of initiating contact that makes me lock up with anxiety. Once that one barrier is broken, everything else goes smoothly... but getting in that first knock on the door is torture.

I wasn't going to reveal any OCs from my other stories, but I saw an appropriate opportunity to provide a cameo and ran away with it. Those who are avid readers of mine will know who the stallion is Luna spoke to. Benjamina, on the other hand, was planned to appear from the very beginning.

I used three real songs to help me describe the kind of music Vinyl wrote. This will probably be the only time I do such a thing for this story, although there is one more song that needs to be described. As a general rule, I didn't plan on using real songs for this purpose, but that applies only to music 'belonging' to Octavia. These songs belong to Vinyl, so I'm not worried about sharing. The first two can be heard here and here.

The last one is easily my favorite kind of music, and struck me as perfect for Vinyl's 'gift' to Octavia:

I have in mind a side story for AoO, which details the five years Vinyl spent writing her orchestra and the emotional rollar coaster ride it put her through. If I write it, this chapter may well be the climax.

Dūsrā Ciṃgārī

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter XII
Dūsrā Ciṃgārī
Second Spark

“Octy, are you sure we’re allowed in here?”

Octavia adjusted her cello case and looked behind her. Vinyl lingered in the dimly lit hall, shuffling her hooves with head low. Her synthesizer stood at her side in a rolling case and her sunglasses sat atop her horn.

“You’ve been shuffling your hooves ever since you saw we were going to the castle,” Octavia replied. “The guards didn’t stop us, did they? Don’t tell me little miss ‘Danger’ from our school days is worried about being caught.”

Vinyl hesitated. “This isn’t like sneaking into locker rooms for a prank. This is Canterlot Castle. We’re talking about military-grade trouble if we’re not supposed to be here.”

With an exasperated sigh, Octavia flicked her mane and gestured. “Come now, Vinyl, have you ever known me to do anything exceptionally risky on my own? I assure you, we have permission.”

Vinyl shot her a deadpan frown. “You put a Carabian Sap Tick in my bed on the day I went rock climbing.”

Octavia facehoofed. “For the last time, I didn’t know you were going rock climbing that day. You didn’t even mark your calendar.”

“That’s because you were already thinking I had a crush on that Pie girl,” Vinyl grumbled as she at last approached. “I didn’t need you to know I was gonna be hanging out with her.”

“And I still think you had a crush on her.” Octavia grabbed Vinyl’s hoof and pulled her along. “Come on, it’s just down the hall.”

Vinyl shot her a scowl. “I made one comment – one – and you think I’m gaga over a girl who lives, breathes and might even eat rocks.”

“You said her flank was smoking more than a… how did you put it?”


“Oh, right.” She smirked. “‘Smoking like an igneous still molten from the mafic flow.’ You even used her terminology.”

“Oh Goddess, you remember the exact line?” Vinyl threw up her hooves. “She was my geology tutor! I had a big test coming and had just come out of a session with her. I had rocks on the mind!”

“Clearly.” Octavia rolled her eyes with a grin and pushed through the doors with the ‘backstage’ sign. “This way.”

Not noticing the sign, Vinyl continued to glare at her. “You’re dodging the subject. Let me remind you that I had practically no magic because of that stupid bug under my coat. I nearly got killed!”

“You fell five feet,” Octavia countered as they walked past the broken piano. “Maud said there was practically no danger.”

“For an Earth pony maybe, and that doesn’t change the fact that my life was at serious risk just because I had that disgusting thing on me! That thing still gives me the—”

Octavia pushed her hoof into Vinyl’s muzzle with a chuckle. “We’re going to be arguing about this for the rest of our lives. How about we take this time—” she turned and pulled the stage curtain aside, “—to focus on this?”

Vinyl’s eyes became as wide as saucers. She stepped onto the open stage and gazed at the massive auditorium, jaw hanging loose. “O-Octy… where are we?”

“I knew you’d approve.” Octavia stepped up beside her and studied the room. “It’s the Nocturnal Theatre. It hasn’t been used in decades.”

Vinyl turned a small circle, taking in the seats, the chandeliers, the stage curtains, everything. “It’s huge. Why haven’t I heard of this place, and why isn’t it used anymore?”

Octavia sat and pulled off her cello case. “From what I was told, Princess Celestia included the theatre in the castle’s design centuries ago in honor of her sister. It fell out of use during the Age of War, when ponies were less interested in the arts and more interested in national defense. It’s been gathering dust ever since.”

Vinyl turned to her. “But how do you know about it? And what if we get caught using it? Won’t we get in—”

Straightening her back, Octavia squared her shoulders, reared her head and sucked in a long gulp of air. Her mouth opened wide to release a single long, crystal-clear A note, her soprano voice filling the magnificent auditorium. The note made Vinyl jump, her already wide eyes only growing wider at this unfamiliar display.

The sound faded, and Octavia shot her a grin. “Perfect acoustics. This is where we record.”

“Octavia…” Vinyl took a small step towards her. “I haven’t heard you sing in… in ages. I thought you didn’t do that anymore.”

Octavia’s cheeks began to burn. She promptly focused on opening her cello case. “C-come now, Vinyl, one note hardly qualifies as ‘singing.’ I was just demonstrating the quality of the room, that’s all.”

“You could have used your cello for that.” Vinyl set her synthesizer case down and sat beside her. “You’re really happy, aren’t you?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Octavia wished the heat would leave her face. “It was just one note, nothing to get worked up over.”

Vinyl studied her, then turned her peering gaze to examine the auditorium. After a few seconds she turned back to Octavia. “Why are you so sure we can use this place?”

There was a bite in her tone that made Octavia hesitate. “I… have a friend who pulled a string or two, that’s all.”

“A friend.” Vinyl leaned towards her, but Octavia refused to look her in the eye. Why wouldn’t her face cool down? “What friend?”

Octavia sucked down a calming gulp of air, grabbed her bow and used it to tap Vinyl’s muzzle. “That is for me to know. Now are you going to get your machine out, or will I be recording to the empty stands?”

Vinyl considered this answer, then shot her a smug smile. “All right, Octy, I’ll play along, but—” she pointed at her, “—if I find out this ‘friend’s’ name, I promise I will get back at you for all the teasing you put me through about Maud.”

Octavia’s smile dropped. Her brain came to a stop in the same way a train derails, and though her body was perfectly still, she was mentally flailing.

The last few months smashed together like an accordion:

Thank you for the song.

I can play another.

The struggle is the glory.

You caught her eye.

If you are afraid, leave.

Have you ever had a… ‘private’ client?

Maybe he likes you. It is a ‘he,’ isn’t it?

Why am I dreaming of you?

Because I wished to be here.

What if I don’t even deserve to be here?

No, Miss Melody. There are no ponies like you.

I fail to grasp why they don’t like you now.

You are not Nightmare Moon!

That mare is so difficult.

Are you really any better?

I’m flattered you would think me worthy.

So you’ll go?

For you? Of course I will.


I’m really glad to be here.


She snapped out of it with a flinch, Vinyl’s red eyes boring into her. “W-what?”

“You okay?” Vinyl patted her cheek. “You zoned out on me for a second there.”

“I… I’m fine.” Octavia shook her head in an attempt to get the stars out of her eyes. “I just had a thought, that’s all.” She turned away and wondered how much blushing would be required to make her face melt.

Vinyl said nothing, though Octavia could feel her probing eyes. She paid them no mind, for hers was still running a mile a minute.

There was something ahead of Octavia. She knew it, and she felt determined to reach it. Yet it was beyond her sight; the world was shrouded in fog, and before her was a thick brush. She was pushing her way through it, snapping twigs and splashing mud the entire time. When she thought she had a clear path, she’d end up with new brambles and limbs in her face. If she tried to go around, she would inevitably find herself running in circles. Sometimes she would walk in one direction for ages, only to turn around and find herself in a new place she didn’t recognize.

The entire time, she knew what she pursued was just beyond sight. It taunted her with its very presence, unexplainable yet clear. Sometimes she called out to it, but the only response would be echoes in the fog, her voice mutating into a strange, otherworldly laughter. She grew angry and thrashed at the brambles and limbs. Then she was afraid and kept her distance, trembling but too enticed to dare flee.

She wanted whatever lay beyond the thickets and vines, and a grim desperation came over her. The longing filled her to her core, like nothing she could recall, but there was also despair. She sat in the fog and wept for her uselessness.

Then, the world changed. It was a subtle difference, almost unnoticeable, but notice it she did. It seemed as though the fog had become less substantial, the brush less of a wall and more natural, the ground more consistent and hard. It was then that Octavia realized she was dreaming.

A dark blue light shined through the thick underbrush, pushing away the branches and thorns to make a clear path. Octavia watched, her mouth slightly agape, as something tall appeared within that light, almost like a ghost. As it approached her it grew steadily more solid, until Princess Luna at last stepped into the clearing beyond the underbrush.

She smiled down at Octavia. “Hello again, my friend.”

Octavia felt a strange rising sensation in her chest, but it was offset by her uncertainty. She glanced at the fog around them, then recollected that the now-missing presence she’d been so focused on had, in fact, come from the direction Luna had appeared.

“Did you… plan that entrance?”

“Oh, no.” Luna glanced back at the leafless branches and brambles with a thoughtful expression. “That is simply where I manifested when I entered your dream. I note that you were having a mild nightmare.”

“Was I?” Octavia looked around at the fog and the blank, grey sky. “I guess I was. Strange.”

Luna turned to her. “You did not realize this was a dream until I arrived, yes?” Octavia nodded. “That’s actually the most common kind of dream there is. Ponies tend to become ‘aware’ of the dream once an alien entity arises. Your mind immediately recognized that I was not a product of its own creation, and so made you aware, first subconsciously, then directly.”

Octavia had leaned forward, her ears perked. “So… I became aware this is a dream specifically because you entered it?”

“Exactly.” Luna blushed and averted her eyes. “Did I not just say that?”

Octavia blushed in turn and offered a sheepish smile. “You did, it just took me a moment to process the information. Wait…” She stood and gestured to herself. “Did you come here to start teaching me about dreams?”

“Indeed I did.” Luna waved at their surroundings. “And it appears I’m doing so at just the right time. I can’t help wondering what this is all about, and would be more than willing to interpret this dream if you’d like.”

Octavia opened her mouth to respond, but hesitated. She didn’t know why, but suddenly she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the meaning by the dream. “Do… all dreams have meaning?”

“No.” Luna paced a small circle to take in the area. “Yet nightmares typically do.”

“Then… let’s not.” Octavia offered a weak smile. “I’d like to learn more for myself. Maybe I can interpret it on my own in time.”

Luna turned to smile at her. “Very good! In that case, perhaps I can show you more about the active control of dreams. Also…” Luna pointed over Octavia’s shoulder.

Blinking, Octavia turned around and found her cello and, of all things, Vinyl’s synthesizer sitting in the grass behind her. “What? When did these get here?”

“You subconsciousness summoned them just now,” Luna said. “Presumably, your session with your friend is on your mind.”

Octavia stepped up to the synthesizer and felt at its rough surface, covered in the marks of age she’d grown so accustomed to. Vinyl came to mind, and with her the questions that had been plaguing Octavia all day long. Realizing Luna was watching her as she reflected on those thoughts brought that frustrating burn back to her cheeks.

Luna appeared at her side. “How did the recording session go?”

“Good.” Octavia glanced away and struggled to regain her composure. “Vinyl kept bugging me about… about just who gave me permission to use the theatre.”

“Of course. Who could blame her?”

Octavia sat and tapped her hooves together, a strangely familiar anxiety filling her. It was just like all the times she tried to make herself do something with other ponies. Her indecision before Vinyl’s door came to mind; yes, this sinking feeling in her stomach was just like that. The possibilities were swimming in her thoughts…

“Well, this is unexpected.”

Octavia blinked and looked up. No longer were they surrounded by fog; instead, they were in a hallway of the Nocturnal Wing, Luna’s door standing tall and imposing before her. The sight of it made her ears fold back and she lowered her head just slightly.

Luna gave her a curious look. “Was there something you wanted to ask me, Octavia?”

“Um… I…” Octavia’s heart pounding against her ribs as she sought a response. She couldn’t say what was really on her mind, she just couldn’t! She needed something else, a distraction…

Luna touched her chin, leading her to look into the princess’s eyes – beautiful eyes, Octavia suddenly remembered. Yet even as the blush hit her cheeks, Octavia found a question that she could ask. Indeed, it should have been asked a long time ago.

“Does our relationship need to be a secret?”

She was surprised by how smoothly the words came out.

“Secret?” Luna blinked, then sat and rubbed her chin. “I… Well, I suppose…”

Octavia leaned forward. “I want to tell my friends about you, but I’ve always had this feeling that you wanted me to keep quiet about it. I mean, you never said it, but that’s the impression I had.”

“And it was intentional,” Luna admitted, her brow furrowing. “I admit, I was nervous in the beginning. I didn’t want your reputation hurt by our friendship.”

“I don’t think it will be,” Octavia said. “And even if it was, I’d be willing to take that hit. Why shouldn’t we celebrate our relationship to anypony who might notice?”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “You make it sound as though you wish for some public proclamation.”

“No, I just—” Octavia paused, her cheeks flushing once more as an idea found its way into her head. It was absurd, but under the current circumstances… “I know. How about we meet?”

“Meet?” Luna cocked her head. “We meet once a week, dreams notwithstanding.”

“I mean… outside the castle.” Octavia kept her eyes on her rubbing hooves. “In public.” She shrank a little. “Maybe for dinner?”

Luna stared at Octavia for a while, and then her eyes began that familiar dance. When she spoke, her words came very slowly. “I suppose there’s no need to keep things a secret anymore, if you’re that willing. I mean, the guards all know, and if they do then surely others such as their families are aware. So it’s really more of a public secret now, yes?”

“Exactly!” Octavia’s ears perked. “And it’s not like we’re doing anything flashy, just having dinner together at a restaurant.”

“Yes, that works.” Luna’s lips slowly turned up in a smile as she continued to think on the matter. “Yes… yes. I’ve never… what is the phrase? Oh yes, spent a ‘night on the town.’”

Octavia’s smile faded. “Really? Not once?”

Luna coughed and glanced away. “Not since I returned from exile.”

Octavia reached up to touch Luna’s shoulder, her smile returning. “If it’s any consolation, I almost never do this kind of thing myself. We can break new ground for the both of us; you can have a little more public presence, and I can finally let my friends know who I’ve been going to see every Wednesday.”

A musical, wonderful laugh arose from Luna’s lips. “I can see how that must be awkward! Your friends must suspect you of having a lover.”

A shard of ice ran through Octavia’s chest, making her flinch. She managed to keep her smile, but barely. Even as she puzzled over this mysteriously distressing sensation, she said, “It has come up from time to time.”

Luna giggled. “Well, that simply will not do.” A second shard to the heart. “Why don’t we go out this weekend? My treat.”

“G-good.” Octavia’s smile became a grin. “Then you can choose the location.”

“Me? But I don’t know any restaurants.” Luna tapped her chin. “I could always ask Celestia. If there’s anything I trust, it’s for her to try every dessert of every culinary establishment in town.” She beamed, her wings flapping. “This is a wonderful idea! Octavia, I dare say you are a genius.”

Octavia almost bounced. “Really? I didn’t think you’d be so excited.”

“But of course I am! This is an opportunity for me to be seen in a new light. My image in Ponyville has been saved; now it is time to do the same in Canterlot! Thank you, Octavia. Truly, you are like a star sparkling in the night. I shudder to think where I’d be today if I did not have your friendship.”

A curious warmth filled Octavia as she beamed up at Luna. “It has been my pleasure.”

There was a pleasant pause as they both stood, smiling at one another. Octavia had a lot of questions, but for now she chose to simply delight in this moment.

Luna abruptly shook her head. “Oh, what are we doing? I came here to teach you about dreams. How about we begin?”

Octavia nodded, that warm feeling not fading. “Certainly. Where do we start?”

“With a demonstration.” Luna stood beside Octavia, then pointed at the wall before them. “I want you to think of something important to you, something that makes you happy. Try to envision it before you.”

“Just like that?” Octavia stared at the marble wall. “Okay, I’ll try.”

She closed her eyes and thought about what made her happy. Her instinct was to focus on music, yet her mind kept shifting. She kept seeing Luna, but every time she did she pushed the image down. It would certainly appear awkward to have her appear in front of them.

What else?

She thought of Vinyl’s song, which did indeed make her happy, but it was also linked with a jealousy she couldn’t refute. Luna…

No! Something else! Her family, perhaps? Her friends?

“It can be a bit difficult if you’re not used to it,” Luna said. She sounded so close, and suddenly her image was back in Octavia’s vision.

She cringed even as her heart beat a little faster. What was this she kept feeling? Ever since Vinyl made that pointless statement earlier! It wasn’t an entirely new feeling, she simply hadn’t paid it much mind. She—



Octavia shook her head violently. “I’m sorry, I’m just thinking.”

“Relax.” Luna’s soothing voice was directly in her ear. It sent a shiver down her spine. There was the cool touch of feathers draping over her back. “Don’t be so tense. This is supposed to be a happy thought.”

“I know, it’s just…” Octavia clamped her mouth closed, her cheeks going crimson.

“Just imagine it, Octavia. Something that puts you at ease. An individual, a location, perhaps an item. Be calm, think clearly.”

How was she supposed to think clearly when Luna kept whispering into her ear like that? Now the image of Luna was stuck in her brain, and Octavia had no way to know if she would ever be able to dislodge it. She couldn’t let Luna see that, not until she herself had figured out why it kept showing up. She needed…

In her mind’s eye, she noted something about Luna: her mane. Sparkling, gentle, calm. It was so serene, serene like the night. Just like that, she saw it: the two of them, relaxing under the stars of Luna’s balcony, taking in the cool night air and the eternity above them. No words spoken, just a relaxing, pleasing presence. Octavia sucked in a long breath and felt the tension fading.

The vision of Luna blurred as her mane began to spread, growing larger by the second. Soon all Octavia could see in her calmed mind was the sight of countless stars.

“Oh my…”

Octavia’s ear perked towards Luna. “Did… did it work?”

“Open your eyes and see for yourself.”

She did so, and the world was stars. Above, below, all around, nothing but a black eternity filled with sparkling jewels. It took Octavia’s breath away. She looked down to find nothing beneath her hooves. Slowly, Octavia turned a circle to take it all in, a smile slowly forming on her lips.

“Did I do this?”

“You most certainly did,” Luna whispered, “and it is wonderful. A night to rival my own.”

That was when Octavia saw Luna. Not just ‘saw’ her, but saw her. She sat aside from Octavia, her gaze lifted to the bedazzling sky and her glorious cyan eyes sparkling as if they were stars themselves. Her dark blue coat was outlined by the shimmering jewels, her long legs and pristine body made all the more perfect. And her mane – that impossible, incredible mane – merged with the world. Once again, she appeared as a beautiful night goddess, from whom all the darkness and stars were birthed in a faultless act of creation.

The stars had stolen Octavia’s breath. Luna threatened to keep it forever.

“I am honored that you think so highly of my night.” Luna turned to smile at her. “It is beautiful.”

Octavia gave a feeble nod. “It is.”

She blinked and turned away, her cheeks burning and her eyes shifting wildly. “It… it is.” Her breath came back in a burst, she clutched at her chest. She took long, slow gasps, her mind reeling with a sudden comprehension that was as powerful as it was frightening.

“Octavia?” Luna stepped closer. “Is something wrong?”

“No, I just…” She scrambled for a suitable answer. She looked up at Luna and thought her heart skipped a beat upon seeing those precious eyes. “I just didn’t realize how special you… your night is to me.”

The princess gained that heart-melting smile she was so good at. “And now you may enjoy it every night in your dreams. When we are done, you will know everything you need to make this special world, and any other you may wish to witness.”

“Th-this one will do nicely.” Octavia gave her a beaming smile. “But… can we just enjoy this sight for a while?”

“Of course.” Luna nodded and turned her eyes back to the stars. “You did do a wonderful job creating them, after all.”

They sat in the darkness, taking in the serenity of their surroundings. Every now and then Octavia would steal a peek at her princess and feel moths in her stomach. Though her mind was swimming with the potential consequences of her realization, she felt so at ease that, for the time being, she was content.

She had to work hard to keep from moving closer to Luna.

Celestia was waiting when Luna landed on the balcony of the Nocturnal Tower. She offered a curious smile. “You are late, sister.”

Luna blushed as she folded her wings and enveloped Celestia in a tight hug. “Forgive me, dear sister. It has been a distracting night.”

“By the way you’re smiling, I presume it was a pleasant distraction.” Celestia returned the hug. “What has you so happy?”

“Nothing.” Luna turned away swiftly and began to work her magic. “Let us end this night before our citizens begin to wonder.”

I’m the one who is wondering,” Celestia replied.

Luna gave a weak chuckle, her horn shining brightly. As the moon began its final descent and the sun rose, the stars faded into the brightened sky. Her smile broadened as, one by one, they hid under the light of day. “Goodbye, my friends. I look forward to seeing you tonight.”

“Are you actually addressing the stars?” Celestia peered at Luna, who coughed and averted her gaze. “What has my dear little sister been up to all night?”

“I only gave Octavia her first lesson in dreams,” Luna replied. “It was an endearing time.”

A small gasp arose from Celestia. “Luna, that’s incredible. You stopped teaching ponies that long before even… well, you know.” It was her turn to avert her gaze.

Luna looked to her sister, a small pang running through her. As she studied Celestia, however, something more than their troubled past caught her attention: Celestia’s ears were low, her eyelids drooped and her shoulders sagged just slightly. They were such clear signs, and Luna had a feeling she knew what they involved.

“Celestia… you were right about Octavia.”

Celestia gave her a curious look, but then smiled warmly. “I am pleased to hear it.”

Moving close to nuzzle her shoulder, Luna whispered, “I would like to repay you for… ‘introducing’ us.”

A light laugh rose from Celestia. “That’s nonsense, little sister. After all I put you through, you need not repay me for anything.”

“I could teach you.”

Celestia abruptly stepped back, her expression firm. “No, Luna. We’ve spoken of this before. My responsibility is the day, and I—”

Luna pressed a hoof to her lips. “You misunderstand. I know you are having frequent nightmares, Celestia.”

Her eyes widening slightly, Celestia took another step back. “Luna… I have told you before, my dreams are my own.”

“Yet I can see they are affecting you terribly.” Luna raised her hooves imploringly. “If you would let me in this once, I can—”

“No.” Celestia shook her head forcefully. “My dreams are private. You cannot teach me without seeing my dreams, which you know I expressly forbade long ago. I appreciate the offer, but—”

“What are you so afraid of?”

Celestia’s eyes became like saucers and her lip trembled. “A-afraid? Sister, I am not afraid.”

“Do not lie to me!” Luna took a step forward; Celestia retreated. “Every few nights I notice you thrashing about in your bed. You are having a recurring nightmare, Celestia, which means there must be a cause. Let me help you.”

Celestia stared at her for several seconds, then turned away. “Luna… you can’t help me with this.”

Luna found her familiar worries coming back, but she pushed them down. “I have said that to you before, have I not?” She saw Celestia grow tense and knew she’d hit a mark. “When I was at my most stubborn, when we did not talk to one another, I let my anger erupt. Please, Celestia, talk to me.”

“This is nothing so severe.” Celestia sighed and turned to Luna. “If it will ease you… Twilight. I am dreaming of Twilight.”

“Your protégé?” Luna cocked her head. “What would cause you to have nightmares regarding her?”

“I fear for her, sister.” Celestia turned her gaze south, to the barely-visible town of Ponyville. “She has become like a daughter to me, and she’s been away from my watchful gaze for so long. There was an incident prior to Nightmare Night that reminded me of just how fragile she can be. Worse, she is indeed my protégé, and I fear there are great trials in her future that I have not prepared her for.”

Luna carefully studied her sister, looking for any sign of deception. She found none. Though she remained unconvinced that Celestia was telling her the full truth, she could accept that this was indeed a heavy weight on her mind.

“Perhaps you should go to visit her,” Luna said, sitting next to her. “I recall you mentioning that her birthday is coming.”

“Oh, I don’t know…” Celestia smiled weakly and averted her eyes. “She’s finally free of the nest, if you will. I’d hate to impose.”

Luna giggled and nuzzled her sister’s neck. “Come now, that pony adores you. I think she would be absolutely delighted to have you visit for her birthday.”

Celestia returned the motion. “Do you really think so?”

“After how she spoke of you on Nightmare Night? Celestia, I know so.”

“Well then… perhaps I should make a day of it.” Celestia gave Luna a warm smile. “Thank you, sister. It seems you are the one giving advice now.”

Luna struck a haughty pose. “Of course, I was always the smarter of the two of us.” She felt a magical tug on her ear and winced with a grin. “You know it’s true.”

“Having been the better student does not make you smarter,” Celestia countered with a playful roll of her eyes. “Maybe I was just bored at having to be reduced to our teachers’ level.”

“And perhaps a parasprite will begin fasting.” They shared a chuckle, but then a thought came to Luna. “Are the ponies aware of our birthdays?”

Celestia heaved an exaggerated groan. “I had all records of such information burned centuries ago for ‘national security’ reasons, thank the Goddess.”

“Oh, good.” Luna pressed a hoof to her chest and exhaled. “I’d hate for the public to know they are being ruled by a pair of spinster crones.”

They shared another laugh, but then Celestia turned to the door. “This ‘old crone’ is in need of coffee.”

Luna watched her go, her smile fading. “Celestia?”

Celestia paused and looked back, her face once again showing her weariness.

“My offer will always remain.” Luna leaned towards her. “Please, at least keep it in mind.”

Celestia remained silent, her expression unreadable. She then approached and wrapped her legs and wings about Luna in a tight embrace.

“Thank you, little sister. I love you.”

She left Luna to her pondering.

Rāt Kā Khānā

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter XIV
Rāt Kā Khānā
The Dinner

Octavia reread her letter to Frederick, checking it for errors. That task proved difficult, considering she kept going back over the part about Luna. Every time she did, she felt her heart do a little flip. She had spent the past few days thinking about it, and at this point there could be no denying her situation. She’d never be able to say it out loud, but it was there nonetheless.

As she set the letter in an envelope, Octavia thought on her feelings once more. Inexperienced as she was in social situations, even she knew that this couldn’t be left idle for long. Luna needed to know the truth, and Octavia had tossed and turned for three nights in a row trying to find a way to make it happen. After all, how does one just… admit such a thing? It seemed downright impossible.

But it wasn’t. Octavia had figured out what to do. Though imperfect, she had a plan, and she felt confident that it would do the job. Luna would discover Octavia’s feelings through her music.

Yes, her music.

There was no time to waste, and she was eager to start. Already the tunes were running through her head; different, but not quite special enough. It could take months to refine, and maybe require the help of a few friends, but if she could make it work…

She trotted into the lobby and tossed the letter into the Send box, making sure to greet the desk clerk with a friendly smile before heading out. The air was cold and the sky overcast, but Octavia pranced through the streets as if it were a perfect Spring day, her cello case shifting to her bouncing step. She waved to random ponies, hummed to herself and even stopped to smell the roses of a local vendor. Her hooves felt lighter than air as she made her way to the Arts District.

The entire world seemed bright and beautiful: the towering structure of Canterlot Castle glistened even without a sun; the wind caressed Octavia’s mane; all the ponies around her were friendly and charming; the thrum of the city was a gentle music to her ears. For what may have been the first time, Octavia marveled at how wonderful Canterlot was.


Beauty and Parish waved to her from atop the steps of the Music Hall. She smiled and trotted up to them. “Hello, you two. It’s been a little while, hasn’t it?”

They shared nonplussed looks, then Parish pointed at her. “We’re usually the ones who have to tell you that.”

“Well, today I beat you to it,” she countered with a grin. “Sorry I’ve been so out of touch lately. Again.”

Yet another curious glance passed between her friends. “You’re awfully happy this morning,” Beauty said.

Octavia blinked and realized that they were staring. “Of course I am, why shouldn’t I be?”

Parish rubbed the back of his head and averted his eyes. “We don’t mean anything by it.”

“Yeah,” Beauty added. “It’s just that you’re usually not so openly cheerful.” She leaned forward with a suspecting smile. “Did something happen?”

The implication of Beauty’s words weren’t lost on Octavia. She grinned and flicked her mane. “There’s always a possibility.”

Their jaws dropped. A third, longer look passed between them as Octavia relished their reactions.

Parish was the first to recover. “Y-you… Octy, you’re toying with us, right?”

“No,” Beauty said with awe in her voice. “Octavia never jokes about this kind of thing.”

“But I… I mean…” Parish dropped to his haunches and began toying with his hooves. “Octavia, w-what about…”

Beauty’s shock at last faded, as indicated by her abrupt bounce. She pounced, her muzzle pressed to Octavia’s. “Who is it? I want a name, address, next of kin, juicy details!”

Octavia pushed her back with a giddy laugh. “Calm down, it might not be what you’re thinking.”

“Oh, it most certainly is what I’m thinking,” Beauty countered. “Look at you, you’re practically glowing. If that’s not the rosy red cheeks of a mare under Princess Cadance’s spell, I’ll sell my sousaphone!”

“Really, you’re looking too deep into it.” Octavia didn’t want to give them everything, not yet, but it was fun leading them on. “Something did happen, but I won’t say anything beyond that.”

“No fair!” Beauty crossed her legs and huffed. “You mean after all this time you finally open up, and you’re not even gonna tell us who he is? Don’t think you can convince me it’s anything else, Octy.”

“I can’t believe this.” Parish toyed with the ground he was staring so intently at. “This isn’t how it was supposed to go. I saw you first, for Celestia’s sake.”

A pang of guilt ran through Octavia at the sight of him. “Parish… I kept telling you it wasn’t going to happen.”

“I know, but a guy can dream, can’t he?” He pouted and gave her a big-eyed look. “What’s this guy got that I don’t?”

Octavia rubbed the back of her neck and blushed. “Umm… well, I didn’t say there was somepony, so…” How to put him at ease without outright lying?

Beauty patted him on the shoulder, her expression unusually soft. “Sorry, Parish. You really shouldn’t have put all your hopes on her like that.” He only stared at his hooves some more.

A moment of silence passed, Octavia and Beauty fidgeting as the situation grew awkward. Beauty turned to Octavia. “So… why all the secrecy? Can’t you tell us a little?”

At that, Octavia found a reason to smile again. “My secrets have a purpose. You two read the news much?”

Beauty gained a curious expression, and even Parish looked up at her with uncertainty. “The news?” Beauty asked. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“I’m going to be doing something important tonight,” Octavia replied with a smug smile. “I have every reason to believe it’ll be in the papers tomorrow.”

Beauty’s eyes came alive. “Oh, really? Is this your way of coming out, then?”

Octavia paused to consider the particular phrase Beauty had used. The thought made her smile broaden. “Why yes. As a matter of fact, it is.” Beauty clapped her hooves with an excited giggle. Parish only sagged a little lower, if such were possible.

“In the meantime,” Octavia said, “I have something very important I must do. It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but worth it.” She came forward and embraced Beauty. “Don’t ever change, BB.”

Beauty returned the embrace without hesitation. “This isn’t like you at all. I’m looking forward to seeing what lucky stallion has caught you.”

“Whatever you say, Beauty.” Octavia chuckled and backed away… then embraced Parish. He went stiff at first, but gradually raised his hooves to clutch her in a tight hug. “I’m truly sorry, Parish. There’s a mare out there for you, it just isn’t me. For what it’s worth, thank you for pushing me.”

She pulled away and offered her best smile. “I’ll see you both later. Soon, I promise.”

With that, she trotted for the entrance of the music hall feeling light as a feather.

Luna ascended the steps of Canterlot Castle’s tallest tower at a trot. Within her blew a storm of emotions; anticipation, fear, eagerness and uncertainty, just to name a few. Her mind centered on the coming evening with both purpose and trepidation. Should she be smiling? She felt like it, but every time the corners of her lips began to rise she would think of the potential for disaster and frown once more.

She found Celestia waiting for her at the great balcony with a smile. “Good evening, Luna! Are you prepared for tonight?”

“As prepared as I can be, I suppose.” Luna accepted her sister’s embrace.

Celestia sat back and gave her a concerned look. “Whatever is the matter? I thought you were looking forward to this.”

“I am.” Luna fidgeted and turned her eyes to the horizon. “I just… I want things to go well.”

“Go well?” Celestia cocked her head to one side. “Have you any reason to believe otherwise?”

Luna remained silent for a while. “I fear that it will make a dramatic display this night.”

“Oh.” Celestia hesitated, then turned to face the horizon with her sister. “I know it is your duty, Luna, but… if it does come, perhaps this once you should ignore it.”

“It is angry, sister.” Luna stared at the orange sky, feeling light with apprehension. “It has been for some time. The ponies it threatens are at risk of losing their lives in their sleep. How am I to ignore that?”

“I know,” Celestia whispered. “Believe me, Luna, I know. There comes a time when you realize that you cannot save everypony. You need to take some time for yourself every now and then or the responsibility will wear you thin and make you vulnerable.”

Luna gazed at her; Celestia wouldn’t meet her eyes. “Speaking from experience, dear sister?” When Celestia didn’t answer, Luna sighed and turned her attention back to the horizon. “It is like an infant that screams all the louder when it is ignored. It could be that it will grow silent should I leave it alone.”

She had meant to encourage herself, but she didn’t feel at all confident. Her mind drifted to Octavia, and how disappointed she would be if Luna had to cancel because of the enemy. It was a terrible image, but one she knew she could tolerate.

Celestia finally spoke up. “Is there anything I can do to put you at ease?”

“Not unless you decide to learn Dreamweaving,” Luna replied with a voice far calmer than she felt. “Otherwise, the only way would be for it to enter your dreams… but then I’d have to follow it inside.”

“I see.” Celestia still wouldn’t look at her. “Would you follow it if it did?”

Luna shook her head. “I would not know if it had. I can see that ponies are having nightmares, sister, but I cannot know if the enemy is responsible until I have entered the dream myself.” She turned to nuzzle Celestia’s neck. “If it started entering your dreams… you would let me know, wouldn’t you? We cannot permit you to be a safe haven for it.”

Celestia frowned as she considered the suggestion. “I am not sure if I would know of its presence, but if it did enter my dreams and I was aware, then yes, I would let you know.”

“Do you promise?” Luna stepped back to gaze imploringly into her sister’s pink eyes. “I must hear you promise, Celestia.”

At her tone, Celestia gained a warm smile. “Luna, we must trust one another. Of course I promise.”

“Very good.” The words sounded hollow to Luna’s ears, but she somehow managed to smile for her sister. It wasn’t enough. She knew it wasn’t enough… but Celestia was Celestia, and pressing the issue now would bear no fruit. Holding in a sigh, she turned to face the horizon. “Come, we’ll be late.”

“Quite right.”

Luna reached out with her magic and touched the moon. She welcomed its weight and took pleasure in the gathering darkness. Slowly, the white orb began to peer over the horizon, the sun descending at the same even pace. Luna found herself engrossed in the combined sunset and moonrise, how the sky gradually shifted from a warm orange glow to a blanketing, velvety darkness. The stars began their playful twinkling.

“Beautiful,” Celestia whispered as the last rays of sunlight faded beneath the glimmering night sky. “I think we are finally starting to sync, dear sister.”

A fresh warmth filled Luna at the thought. Her smile broadened as she gazed upon the glittering jewels of her starscape. “We did well indeed.” She gazed down at the city of Canterlot, her chest swelling with pride. Somewhere down there, Octavia was preparing for dinner. Combined with the beautiful night and this perfect achievement with her sister, it granted a distinct confidence to her.

“I won’t let this night be ruined,” she declared, turning from the balcony with head held high. “This night is important, for Octavia as well as myself. I will enjoy it, and no nightmare-inducing fiend will stop that.”

“Good!” Celestia embraced her a second time. “Very good, Luna. Make this a special night for the two of you. You both deserve it so much.”

Luna gave her a warm smile as they parted. “Thank you, sister. Your meddling has actually worked for a change.”

“Meddle? Me?” Celestia pressed a hoof to her heart and raised her head flamboyantly. “I am offended, and scoff at your suggestion! Now go—” she thrust her hoof at the doorway, “—take your insulting accusations and be on your way, before my acquaintances at the restaurant start to think you aren’t coming.”

Luna stifled a giggle and pranced for the door. “Very well, oh spymaster. I’ll be sure to smile and wave for your agents when I see them at the next table.”


She paused halfway through the doorway and looked back. The warm smile on Celestia’s face was accompanied by a clear and present happiness in her eyes. “I am very proud of you, little sister. It is good to have you back.”

Luna returned the smile with equal warmth. “It is good to be back.”

She descended the stairs, thoughts of her old foe far from her mind.

It was preposterous, a stupid idea that would achieve nothing. Octavia knew that there was no point. The thought had come on a whim and should have been abandoned upon conception. Yet there she stood, gazing upon herself in the mirror in a familiar dress.

It was an abomination, with its foreleg sleeves that were too stiff, its bodice that was much too tight and the skirt that forced her tail up a little too high for her liking. Even so… it did look good on her. As she turned to the side and studied her reflection, she could feel her cheeks growing hot. What was she thinking? She had a half-dozen dresses and a suit that were perfectly valid attire for the restaurant they would be attending. There was no need to put this red thing on.

This stupid, form-fitting, eye-catching, enticing red thing.

Octavia shook her head and left the bedroom, her hoofsteps loud in the quiet apartment. She was getting ahead of herself, and knew it. Luna probably wouldn’t even notice, but it was too late to change out of it. If Parish could see her now…

Her cheeks started to burn again. Octavia half-feared her makeup would run because of it.

Yet despite the way her heart kept cutting flips, she noticed how light her steps felt. She smiled and pranced for the door. Just as she reached up to open it, however, there came a hard knocking that made her jump. Octavia’s heart hit her throat; now was not the time for a distraction!

She opened the door and shrank back: a royal guard stood opposite the threshold. He had the same grim frown they always did, his head held high as he stared down his muzzle at her. Fears of a cancellation ran rampant through Octavia mind.

The guard stood back from her and inclined his head. “Lady Melody, the princess awaits outside.”

Octavia’s jaw dropped; Luna was there? She felt her heart do another flip as she nodded. “V-very well, show me the way.”

The door closed and locked, Octavia walked behind the guard. Her mind already ran circles, and the dinner hadn’t even begun! Why would Luna come to pick her up?

No, she was reading too deeply into it.

But what if she wasn’t? Octavia glanced at her dress and chewed her lip. It couldn’t be, Luna was just being kind. Luna probably hadn’t even dressed up for the occasion, being royalty and therefore not necessarily subjected to dress codes. A casual, public visit between two friends, that’s all this would be.

Octavia had anticipated Luna standing out on the streets waiting for her. Instead she got Luna’s carriage, sleek and dark and just a little imposing. Luna waited for her, and the sight of that smiling alicorn had Octavia’s heart hammering against her chest. She’d not come unadorned, oh no; she wore a long, silken dress of light brown, accented with dark blue trim and a wide collar. Not a color Octavia would have expected on her, but there could be no arguing the results: Luna defined radiance.

“A good evening to you, my friend.” Luna smiled and moved aside, giving her room. Octavia stared at her, entranced, prompting Luna to add with a blush, “I know, the dress is not exactly of my usual variety.”

“N-no, it’s not that.” Octavia shook herself from her ogling reverie and made to enter the chariot, but paused. Her hoof hovered over the frame and her stomach began to twist. A distinct feeling came over her that, upon taking this step, there would be no turning back. Turning back from what, she couldn’t say.

“Is something wrong, Octavia?”

The moment passed, and Octavia entered the carriage. “It’s the sleeves,” she muttered with eyes low. “They take some getting used to.”

“I’m surprised you are wearing a dress with sleeves,” Luna admitted as she nodded to the two earth ponies pulling the chariot. It rocked forward promptly. “It’s not as common a fashion style as it was back before my exile.”

“I see.” Octavia managed a weak smile. “I, um, didn’t expect you to come here with the chariot. I thought we were meeting there.” She glanced at the sidewalk and saw how the ponies were watching them pass. At first she felt tempted to hide her face, but resisted the urge. After all, she’d wanted to be seen with Luna, hadn’t she?

“I thought this would be a good way to grant myself more attention,” Luna said. “After all, the whole point of this night is to remind everypony that I am here. Besides,” she added with a warm smile, “I believe we are close enough to warrant you riding at my side.”

Octavia returned the smile, but her head was swimming. It was delightful to be so welcomed, yet the direct reminder of what Luna expected from this night shackled her hopes and aborted their takeoff. Those words forced Octavia to acknowledge that, despite what her foalish hopes might have been, this night belonged to Luna.

“Sleeves or no,” Luna abruptly added, “that dress looks lovely on you.”

The shackles shattered and Octavia’s heart soared. “Thank you!”

She loved that dress.

The rest of the trip was short and quiet, both ponies content to simply enjoy one another’s company. Octavia’s nervousness had been washed away with that lone compliment. Only her close proximity to Luna could make her anxious; the chariot had been designed to hold only one pony, after all. She kept as close to the chariot’s outer frame as she could without being obvious, but the occasional bump of the shoulders or flanks was unavoidable.

Luna didn’t seem to mind the cramped space. She watched the buildings roll by, occasionally waving to the ponies they passed. By their expressions, one would think that Luna’s return had been yesterday rather than over a year ago. Then again, Celestia didn’t make regular, unannounced rides through the city, so surprise did seem an appropriate response.

The restaurant they came to was a tall structure of browns and oranges. Although it maintained the architectural style of Canterlot, the colors and textures of the building were inescapably Gryphan in nature. A griffon holding a steaming plate of éclairs grinned down at them from above tall double doors, with the words Ailes du Plaisir emblazoned beneath him.

Octavia knew of this restaurant. Specifically, she knew it was far above her pay grade. A long line of ponies stood before the entrance and included a few griffons and one minotaur. As their upheld muzzles turned in the direction of the chariot, Octavia felt distinctly insignificant in the face of their impeccable suits and dresses.

Yet the moment Luna stepped down, those muzzles rushed to touch the ground. She waited for them to rise and offered them all a pleasant smile. Octavia stood beside her and basked in the princess’s presence. The murmurs and curious looks didn’t faze her in the least as they walked side-by-side for the host. The ponies in line wasted no time standing aside.

The host smiled up at Luna, though her wide eyes gave away her anxiety. “Good evening, Princess! Welcome to Ailes du Plaisir. We have your table prepared, as requested.” The excited whispers followed Octavia into the restaurant, making her grin.

The interior of the restaurant was brightly lit, with tall ceilings awash in some yellow, glowing substance. Octavia stared up at it with curiosity, having never seen the reputed glowgel of Grypha before. How much must it have cost to import? The tables were all made of solid stone, the bottom parts appearing to be untouched rock formations while the tops had been smoothed flat and polished to a reflective sheen. A dark brown stone comprised the walls; moss hung from cracks and exotic-looking plants grew along the edges of the room.

At the center of the expansive dining room stood a single tall boulder that rose high above everypony’s heads. A staircase encircled it, rising to a balcony-like structure resting near the top of the stone that acted as a second floor, though in terms of height it would be more accurate to call it a fourth storey. The host quickly led them to the stairwell which, to Octavia’s surprise, actually moved on its own.

Octavia was only half-listening to the host as she tallied out the evening’s specialties. She instead focused her attention on the mysterious moving staircase that slowly brought them around the great boulder. She looked out at the packed dining room and marveled at the restaurant’s design. As they rounded the back of the boulder, they discovered a thin waterfall cascading along the rocks, slipping just beneath the stairs and onward to a large pool and fountain below.

They reached the top of the stairs and were promptly guided to the table that stood right before the top of the waterfall, which flowed through an opening in the floor surrounded by short shrubs bursting with purple and yellow flowers. Octavia sat on a cushion that had likely been made from griffon down, her haunches cooled by the touch of velvet.

“Wow,” Octavia said as soon as they had been left alone. She looked up at the glowing ceiling once more. “Luna, this place is beyond amazing.”

“Celestia says the same thing about the éclairs they make here.” Luna shifted and glanced at the waterfall. “You don’t think I chose too flamboyant an establishment, do you?”

“No, no.” Octavia shook her head quickly and offered a smile. “Not at all! I mean, I could never afford to eat at a place such as this on my own, so I should be relishing the opportunity.”

Luna relaxed. “Good, for a moment I thought you would be intimidated.” She lifted the menu in her magic. “Let us see what they have, hmm?”

Octavia followed suite, scouring the surprisingly large drink menu first. Their server approached and took their drink orders, after which Octavia asked, “Have you ever had Gryphan cuisine?”

“Of course.” Luna nodded from behind her menu. “But the last time was before my exile, so I am very curious as to how the style has evolved over the centuries.”

That was better than Octavia; when she thought of Gryphan food, she couldn’t escape the image of meat and blood. There was none of that on the menu, although she did notice a small note at the bottom of the front page offering a ‘griffon diet’ menu.

The silence was interrupted by a grey-colored griffon in a chef’s toque and a moustache for the ages. “Bonjour, Princess!” He bowed to Luna on two legs. “And to your lovely companion, d’ailleurs. I am Gustave le Grand, the ’umble proprietor and chef of zis establishment. Ma foi, it is an ’onor to serve you both.”

Luna blessed both Gustave and Octavia with a charming smile. “A good evening, sir. My sister has spoken highly of your cuisine, and so I decided to partake.”

“Ah, I am ‘umbled!” Gustave grinned and rubbed his moustache with a paw. “Zat Celestia praises my work is too grand even for le Grand! For such lovely and special guests, I must insist upon preparing your meals myself. Do tell me, ‘ave you ‘ad ze opportunity to study my menu?”

His gaze swept towards Octavia, leading her to quickly avert her eyes from that whip-like moustache. “I haven’t had the opportunity to peruse the entire menu, I fear.”

Luna nodded and turned to Gustave. “What would you recommend, sir Gustave?”

That question proved a mistake, for the flashy griffon apparently loved not only food, but also talking about it. He went through a lengthy description of his four favorite dishes, complete with anecdotes regarding their ingredient sources, preparation and presentation. It took nearly ten minutes for him to finish, but even so, Octavia had to give him credit; his descriptions had her mouth watering. He’d done such a good job, in fact, that neither she nor Luna bothered to check the menu, instead ordering directly from his quartet of favorites.

With that – and Gustave – out of the way, Octavia made herself comfortable and observed Luna. The princess faced her, but Luna’s eyes were sifting through the surrounding tables and she had a wry smirk.

“Looking for something?” Octavia asked.

The smirk broadened. “While raising the moon tonight, Celestia and I joked about her sending spies to check on our evening. I’m trying to ascertain if she actually did.”

Octavia cocked her head. “You really believe she’d do that?”

Luna looked at her as if she’d grown a second head. “She’s Celestia.”

“Uh-huh.” Octavia blushed with a lopsided smile. “I guess I’m just not used to it.”

“It is a source of amusement for her, I fear.” Luna shrugged and shifted to a more relaxed position. “This was a wonderful suggestion, Octavia.”

Octavia saw that warm smile and felt the blood rushing to her cheeks. “I thought so, too.”

“You always seem to be thinking of my well-being.” Luna’s tone had softened, which was enough to catch Octavia’s full attention. “I wish I’d had you as a friend a year ago. I have decided to take steps and repay you.”

“Repay me?” Octavia fidgeted, uncertain of how she should feel about that suggestion. It felt good to be appreciated, of course, but… “I don’t know if I deserve anything like that, Luna. I mean, you were paying me for the first few weeks, you’re teaching me how to control my dreams, and now you’re treating me here. I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking anything else.”

“This is something different,” Luna said, her smile warm. “It is nothing physical that I will be offering, nor is it a lesson.”

That gave Octavia pause. “I don’t understand. What are you going to do, teach me magic?”

Luna’s smile broadened. “I can’t say. The gift isn’t ready yet. I can only promise that you will know it when you see it.”

Octavia sighed. “Luna, you’re spoiling me. I don’t think I deserve quite so much.”

“But you do.” Luna leaned forward, her eyes insistent. “You don’t know how much you’ve done, or what you mean to me.”

There could be no response to that. Octavia sat there, gazing into Luna’s focused eyes. She couldn’t help but think that she now had a good idea how pegasi felt when standing on a cloud. Her lips worked soundlessly for several seconds. In the end, she merely studied her hooves and let her cheeks speak for her. In so doing, she saw her dress – the stallion’s dream that she loved so very, very much – and felt the heat in her face intensify.

Luna chuckled. “Too much flattery for one night?”

Octavia could only nod and continue her determined examination of her hooves.

Something else might have been said, but at that moment the waiter arrived with their wine glasses and a bottle set in a bucket of ice. Octavia took a longer drink than was probably appropriate, but she had nerves that needed settling.

“You’d best be cautious,” Luna said as the waiter departed. She winked at Octavia and glanced at a nearby table, where a trio of ponies were doing a poor job of trying not to glance at them. “Continue like this and ponies might actually think this is a romantic rendezvous.”

The airy sensation came crashing like a ton of bricks. Was it even possible to deflate quite in the way and at the rate Octavia had just managed? “Oh… right.”

Luna’s smile faded and she cocked her head. “Is everything alright?”

“O-of course!” Somehow, she managed a smile for the princess. “I’m great! I just realized… something. About a song I’m trying to write.” She resisted clutching at her chest. The hurt would go away on its own, surely.

“I see.” Luna nodded and relaxed. “You’ve mentioned your troubles with that before. I wish I could help you. Did you have any luck with this one, then?”

Octavia took a few long, steadying breaths. Why had she let herself get so worked up in the first place? She knew the timing was too soon, that Luna couldn’t possibly see her in the same way. Ignore the pain, accept it as a necessary evil. Octavia’s chance would come.

Fortunately, her move to distract had led to a good – and relevant – new subject. “I am, actually. I have been working on this song for only a short time, but I think it has a lot of potential.”

Luna’s eyes lit up. “Truly? That’s wonderful, my friend! Could it be that you’ve finally broken whatever chains have been holding you back?”

The pleasure in Luna’s eyes helped to offset the ache in Octavia’s chest, so she latched onto the subject for safety. She even managed a proper smile, for this was a happy subject. “I think so. I’ve found two great sources of inspiration and intend to use them to the fullest.”

“Excellent, I knew you could do it.” Luna leaned forward once more. “So what problem did you realize?”

Octavia didn’t miss a beat, for her answer was truth. “There’s something missing. It needs… I don’t know.” She took a sip of her wine. “I’m only a couple pages into the music, but already I can tell that it needs something more. It feels incomplete.”

“But of course,” Luna said with a wry smile. “It is only two pages.” She giggled at Octavia’s deadpan frown. “That was too easy. I know what you meant, Octavia.”

“I know.” Octavia leaned on the table, a hoof to her cheek. “It’s just… I’m close, Luna. I can feel it. This may be my chance for success, and it is so very important that I get it right. This song is more than just a song, it has a purpose.”

Luna’s eyebrows rose. “Oh? What purpose would that be?”

“I can’t tell you.” Another sip of wine. “This is something that must be completed before anypony else can hear it, especially you.”

“Me? Why me?”

Indeed, why her? Octavia realized she pushed herself into a corner. Her heart was already sore, she didn’t need to deliver anymore punishment to it. “I… um… Well, your opinion matters to me. It’s more important than anypony’s. I can’t let you hear it before it’s finished.”

Luna leaned back, her lips slightly parted in a surprised expression. Octavia couldn’t meet her eyes.

Then Luna regained that warm smile, the one that could melt hearts. “I see. So be it, my friend. I appreciate that you think so highly of me.”

“How could I not?” Octavia offered a smile of her own, the sting in her chest easing just a little.

They shared a moment of pleasant silence. Octavia would have been content to just sit there in silence and enjoy Luna’s presence, but that little hope was dashed when a certain mustachioed griffon arrived to excitedly and loudly deliver their meals. The mood effectively ended, but for once Octavia didn’t mind; she reminded herself that this wasn’t supposed to be a romantic rendezvous.

The meal proved every bit as delicious as Gustave had suggested. Octavia and Luna ate quietly, making small conversation about the restaurant and the past week. A photographer appeared about halfway through the meal and begged them to let him take a picture, which both thrilled and unnerved Octavia. The mare claimed to be from the Daily Royal, a paper every pony in Canterlot was well aware of. Luna had welcomed the opportunity – one more chance to show her brighter side to the masses. Gustave somehow got wind of things and soon appeared himself to have his own picture taken with them.

The photographer asked a few questions, but they were mostly aimed at Luna. That gladdened Octavia; the attention had her shuffling in place and wanting to hide behind the table. She reminded herself over and over again that she’d known all along it would probably happen. Had she not warned Parish and Beauty about it? So she grinned and let the mare do her job, though she was intensely relieved when the pony finally left.

The excitement died down and the two were finally able to get back to their meals. Luna cast a concerned look at Octavia. “If you do not enjoy the spotlight,” she asked, “however do you manage to perform onstage?”

Octavia shrugged. “It’s not the same. Onstage I can focus on the music, rather than the hundreds of ponies watching me.”

“Hmm…” Luna took a few bites of her meal, but she never stopped watching Octavia. The attention made her just a little nervous. “Octavia, I was wondering about something. I understand it may be personal, so you may feel free not to answer.”

“I’m sure I’ll be able to answer whatever question you might have.”

“Okay then.” Luna set her fork down and attained a serious expression. “I would like to know more about your family.”

“My family?” The fork paused halfway to Octavia’s mouth as she thought on the topic. “I suppose I haven’t said much about them, have I?”

“I noticed,” Luna admitted with a weak smile. “I thought perhaps it was a taboo subject, hence my hesitation.”

“It’s not taboo. I guess they just never came up.”

Luna smiled and gestured invitingly. “In that case, would you indulge me?”

Octavia certainly didn’t mind; this topic seemed safer than most and would prove a nice distraction from her sore heart. She set her fork down – she was full anyway – and wondered what she should talk about first. “Well, my father was born in Trottingham. He moved to Nildia to research the county’s history and lecture at universities, and there he met my mother. After he wrote his book and finished his contracts, he moved back home and brought Mother with him.”

“I see.” Luna raised an eyebrow and scrutinized Octavia. “Forgive me if I’m off, but I don’t see much nilgiri in you.”

That made Octavia laugh, though she had the sense of presence to keep it quiet. “My mother is a pony! Descended from the famous Karma Flash.” She puffed out her chest with pride… until she noted Luna’s blank expression. She sighed. “You don’t know who that is, do you?”

The princess blushed and took a sip of wine, her eyes darting to the waterfall. “I’m not well versed in Nildian history.”

Octavia slumped a little, but shook off her disappointment. “That’s okay. She’s my great-great grandmare, and was an investigative reporter from New Horseleans. She blew the lid off of the corruption and abuse of the Grypha puppet government in Nildia and took part in the revolution that led to Nildia becoming a free country.”

Luna smiled. “That’s quite the story. I might have to do some research on her. And what about this book your father wrote?”

“I’m sure they’ll have it in the Royal Library,” Octavia told her. “It’s a history book all about Nildia and its culture. Fascinating material, I’ve read it three times.”

That made Luna’s eyes widen. “You must be quite knowledgeable, then.”

“I am.” Octavia swelled once more. “I’m proud of my lineage. I’ve been to Nildia four times, two of those on temple surveys with my father, and I’m fluent in the language.” Yet her pleasure deflated. “I haven’t done anything involving Nildia in a long time.”

Luna’s smile faded and she cocked her head. “What changed?”

“I lost track of time,” Octavia replied. “After college, I devoted everything to my music and trying to become an elite pony. I don’t see my parents very often nowadays either, so I don’t get many reminders.”

“That’s a shame.” Luna pressed a hoof to her chin as she examined her. “Perhaps you should visit them soon.”

“Perhaps.” Octavia sipped her wine. “Maybe I should find Father’s book and go through it again.”

“Hmm.” Luna leaned forward, her ears perking with anticipation. “What about siblings? You’ve mentioned a sister. Are there any others?”

Octavia chuckled. “Three brothers. Chalk Board’s the second oldest, and we like to jokingly refer to him as a ‘beach bum.’ He’s a competitive surfer and lives in Los Angelicorn.”

“Sounds like fun,” Luna said with a knowing smile.

“It’s a total waste of a college education,” Octavia corrected, though she grinned. “As long as he’s happy, and he really is. I have a younger brother named Rochette, who works in the Equestrian Embassy of Nildia. I can never remember the title; he likes to say he’s a glorified translator.”

“I’ll have to look him up if I’m ever in Nildia.” Luna caught Octavia’s curious expression and shrugged. “You never know, I might be called upon to go there someday.”

Octavia nodded with a warm smile. “Maybe we could go together. I would like to see Nildia again, and Rochette’s a gentlepony. Anyway, my youngest brother was an ‘oops,’ if you will, and came much later than the rest of us. He’s not even earned his cutie mark yet. His name is Harp C. Cord.”

“I see. That’s quite the extensive family you have.”

Their talk was interrupted by the server, and Octavia took the opportunity to ask for her meal to be packaged for later. The server gave her a funny look, but when Luna made the same request he wasted no time complying. It dawned upon Octavia as he left that this might be a restaurant where clients weren’t expected to bring any food home. Had they just committed a sort of faux pas?

She noticed Luna’s eyes upon her. She bore a calm, collected gaze, but Octavia couldn’t escape the sensation of being scrutinized.

“What about your sister?”

Octavia cringed at the query. “Benjamina, the eldest of us all.” She turned her eyes to the waterfall, lips set in a tight frown. “I’d prefer not to talk about her. She moved to Nildia and is a banker, if that sates your curiosity.”

“It does not,” Luna said in a low tone. “Even so, I will honor your wishes and not press you on the matter... on one condition.”

With a deep sigh, Octavia turned to peer into Luna’s eyes. Luna returned the gaze, her expression full of determination. “And that would be?”

Luna’s response was as firm as her expression. “Promise me that, when the time comes, you will discuss the situation with me. I wish only to help, and you cannot keep your feelings bottled up forever.”

Octavia looked away once more. She watched the lights shimmering in the clear waters, her mind going back to that painful day in Nildia. She could still see her sister’s leering face, and now the ache that had been sitting idle in her chest was joined by a dark fire in her thoughts. She heard the cymbals in the back of her mind; it had been a long time since they’d made themselves known.


She sighed. “I can’t guarantee that such a time will ever come, but if it does, then I promise to be open about my sister.” She turned to give Luna a hard look. “Can we please change the subject?”

Luna considered her solemnly for some time, as if she were trying to see a crack in Octavia’s expression. Octavia offered no weakness, and the princess at last sagged. “So be it, Octavia, but please, remember that you can trust me. Your silence hurts.”

After all her determination, hearing those words in that tone broke Octavia’s defense. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, reaching her hoof across the table. “I do trust you, Luna. More than you know. It’s just a hard subject to broach, that’s all.”

“I know.” Luna eyed her, then smiled and reached across the table.

Their hooves brushed against one another, and Octavia could have sworn a jolt of energy had run up her leg. The princess’s hoof was so soft… Octavia pulled her leg back with a blush and rubbed it beneath the table.

Luna sat up and regained her pleasant smile. “Now, why don’t we move to more appropriate topics? I would love to know more about your great-great-grandmare.”

“Oh, of course.” Had she not sensed it? Octavia forced a smile and maintained her stature, but inside her heart was wilting again. “I can tell you whatever you want to know.”

She resigned herself to a less than romantic night. As the night wore on, she came to enjoy herself. She was spending an evening with Luna in a public setting, which she took as a sign of how comfortable they really were together. That was a good thing, she should relish it.

Still… she couldn’t help wishing she could skip to the good part.


The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter XV

Octavia crossed out the notes she’d just written down. Her face was set in a scowl as she dipped her quill into the ink and considered the bar. Why couldn’t she get this part right? Every time she tried to modify it, it came out… weak. The music just didn’t seem to evoke the kind of sound she was after. Something was missing, and her inability to find that something was infuriating. This piece had to be perfect, but she just couldn’t see what she needed.

The quill tip hovered over the paper. She squinted at the last few notes, running the music through her head. It passed through her brain again and again, and every time she groped for that unexplainable something that failed to be there. The quill didn’t move.

With a groan, she set the quill down and pressed her hooves to her face. “What the hay am I missing?” She flopped onto her back, sending small waves of sheet music flying about her kitchen. The pages formed an untidy pile by the table, each one covered in scratched out notes and scribbled words. Octavia just stared at her ceiling and tried to let her mind go blank; maybe if she stopped thinking it would just come to her.

Octavia closed her eyes and slowed her breathing. She used to be so good at staying calm, but lately her emotions ran away all the time. Why did it have to be so hard?

She chuckled at the foalish question; obviously, it had to be so hard because of Luna. Just thinking about her made the alicorn’s face arise in Octavia’s mind. Her thoughts drifted to the dinner last night, and that in turn filled her with pleasure. Sure, there had been no progress in terms of… well, that, but it didn’t matter. It had been a first step, a door opened, a fresh opportunity. The road to Luna wouldn’t end until…

She sighed once more; the song had to be written. It was the key. Without it, she’d never be able to make her pretty princess understand.

There was a crack and a short blast of music. The combination made Octavia jolt upright. She spun about to hear the noises a second time, her eyes set on her window. Eager to take a break, she hurried to open it. “Hey, Vinyl, what’s—” Something smacked her in the face, and she stumbled back with a small cry. She grabbed the object and pulled it away. “What is the meaning of… this…”

The object was a newspaper, the Daily Royal, and right on page one was a picture of herself and Luna at Ailes du Plaisir. Her heart skipped a beat and a smile stretched her lips as she recalled the evening once more. She didn’t understand why, but suddenly she felt like electricity flowed inside her. Were she a more energetic pony, she might be running in circles right about now.

“Looks like I know who gave us permission to use the Nocturnal Theatre.”

A look over the newspaper revealed Vinyl waggling her eyebrows with a mischievous grin. “I knew you were hot to trot, Octy, but to land a princess? Sweet Celestia on a box of donuts!”

Octavia smirked and waved the folded newspaper at her. “It wasn’t like that.”


“Oh, really?” Vinyl pointed at the paper. “Then what’s with that racy little outfit you wore, hmm?”

“It wasn’t… racy.” Octavia took a look at herself in the picture. The tight bodice, the way her tail had been hiked a little too high, the hip-hugging skirt… “W-well, maybe a little, but I had to dress up. There was a dress code.”

Vinyl chuckled. “Yeah, because you don’t have a dozen perfectly suitable and far less eye-catching dresses you could have worn. If you ask me, you should have worn the suit.” She leaned over her windowsill and purred with a wicked smile.

Octavia countered by leaning against her own windowsill and flicking her mane haughtily. “I think you’re just jealous that Luna got to spend an evening with me in a posh restaurant.”

In an instant, Vinyl sobered. She stared at Octavia with wide eyes. “Whoa…”

The reaction made Octavia fidget and blush. “What?”

“I thought you’d get all hot-headed if I taunted you,” Vinyl said. “I didn’t think you’d counter like that.”

Octavia raised an eyebrow. “I can be feisty when I want.”

A grin spread across Vinyl’s lips. “You really do like her, don’t you?”

“I… well…” Octavia fumbled with her lips, her face burning. “M-maybe I do.”

Vinyl leered. “Maybe?”

With a groan, Octavia began rubbing her temple. “Vinyl, have I ever mentioned how much of a pain you can be? My relationship with Luna is for me to decide.”

The newspaper rose up, encased in Vinyl’s magical aura. It unfolded to the front page picture and pressed against Octavia’s muzzle. “If it’s so personal, why do you look so happy to have your picture taken with her for one of Canterlot’s most widely read newspapers?”

Octavia took the paper in both hooves and dropped to her haunches. She gazed at her own beaming face. Yes, she had wanted this. The very thought sent a thrill down her spine. “Because… because I wanted everypony to know.”

Vinyl lost her smirk upon hearing Octavia’s quiet voice. “Octy?”

“I wanted them to know.” Octavia hugged the paper to her chest. “It means I helped her. She opened up, she let everypony see us together. So she missed what I was after, s-so what? This still means something, doesn’t it?”

The world was quiet as she fought down her emotions. Out of control yet again, what was Luna doing to her? She chewed her lip and focused on her shaking hooves.

“Wow, Octy.” Vinyl rubbed the back of her head, her eyes averted. “You’ve really got it bad, don’t you?”

Octavia sucked in a long breath and relaxed. She set the newspaper aside and, with great effort, contorted her face to its old, haughty mask. It used to be so easy. “As far as everypony in Canterlot is concerned, it was just a night on the town between friends.” She gave a look that felt more imploring than she’d intended. “For now, please don’t encourage any other ideas.”

Vinyl cocked her head. “Seriously? You wore that dress and you don’t expect anypony to make some conclusions?”

“Well… Luna didn’t.”

“Ouch.” Vinyl sat back and whistled. “Alright, Octy, I’ll keep my hay hole closed. But, uh, from one who knows? Try not to get too hopeful.”

Octavia winced and averted her gaze. “I know, it’s ridiculous. Just… wish the best for me, okay?”

“Yeah, I guess I can do that.” Vinyl sighed and crossed her hooves. “You wanna talk or something?”

A curious thought came to Octavia as she stared across the alley at her old friend. It was a very pleasant, welcome one. “You’ve changed, Vinyl. You’re a lot more receptive than you used to be.”

Vinyl raised an eyebrow. “Umm… is that a good thing?”

A laugh burst from Octavia. “Yes, Vinyl, it’s a very good thing!”

“Oh.” Vinyl’s cheeks went red and she gained a lopsided, anxious smile. “Okay then.”

Octavia glanced at the newspaper and grinned. “I think I’m going to head for the Music Hall. There’s a composition I’m trying to write and I’m having trouble. Maybe the Hall will provide some inspiration. You could join me.”

“Whoawaitwhat?” Vinyl leaned out of her window, jaw hanging loose. “I totally did not hear that. Are you actually inviting me to go do something? Miss Determined Loner?”

“I’m in a sharing mood.” Octavia’s smile broadened. “Come now, Vinyl, is it really so strange?”

“For you? Absolutely.”

“Okay… maybe it is.” Octavia grabbed the newspaper and waved it. “I’m just so happy about this, and I want to share with some friends.”

“You’re gonna get mobbed,” Vinyl warned, taking the paper in her magical aura. “I’m surprised you don’t have dozens of reporters banging on your door already.”

“Oh, you’re overreacting.” Octavia sat and lifted her muzzle high. “This is Canterlot. The ponies will behave themselves, I’m sure. I need to get to the Music Hall anyway; I all but promised to see Parish and Beauty today.”

“Right.” Vinyl shook her head with a sigh. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. As much as I enjoy hanging out with you, I was just about to start packing. I’ve got a gig in Baltimare. Nothing much, but it pads the wallet. Go with you and I’ll miss my train.”

“Oh.” Octavia wilted a little. “Very well, then. I just hoped—” She blinked and looked at Vinyl. “Say, are you bringing your synthesizer?”

“Cynthia?” Vinyl raised an eyebrow and patted her machine with an affectionate smile. “Nah, not this time. She’s not exactly built for traveling.”

Octavia tapped her hooves with a blush. “Do you think… I might be able to use it while you’re gone?”

Vinyl’s head whipped towards Octavia so fast her sunglasses nearly fell off. “What? You want to use a synthesizer? What the hay for?”

She blushed and gave Vinyl her most imploring stare. “Y-you taught me that it’s really good for hearing how multiple instruments sound in tandem. I could use it for my new symphony… maybe?”

“Uh, you sure about that?” Vinyl leaned her elbow against the windowsill. “You don’t know how to use it, and there’s no way you’ll be finished by the time I get back.”

“Oh… right.” Octavia blushed and rubbed the back of her head with a sheepish grin. “Well, maybe when you get back you can show me? I could, um, use it while you’re at work or something like that.”

“Maybe.” Vinyl shrugged. “If you want, I can show you how to use it when I get back. I’d suggest you get your own, but they aren’t exactly cheap.”

“I’d appreciate any help you can give,” Octavia said with a hopeful smile. “Anything to help me get this song right.”

“Well, alright.” Vinyl rubbed her chin, a skeptical frown on her lips. “I mean, if you’re serious?”

“Of course I am!”

“Okay, okay.” Vinyl waved her hooves. “Don’t get your tail in a knot! You wait until I get back next week, and we’ll figure something out. Deal?”

“Deal!” Octavia clapped her hooves with a giggle. “Thank you, Vinyl, this will make things so much easier!”

Vinyl sagged and gaped. “Wow, this is so unlike you. I feel like I should be taking a picture in case I need proof.”

“Oh, pish-posh.” Octavia waved her hoof with excessive pomp. “Forgive me if I’m really excited about maybe, finally finishing a song, and a very important song at that. This may be the most important song of my life!”

“It’s a tribute to the princess, ain’t it?”

Octavia’s heart cut a flip and her face burned. Her entire body went stiff as she stared slack-jawed at Vinyl. “I… That is… I didn’t say…”

Vinyl’s lips curled up in a wicked grin. “Oh-ho, nailed it!” She cupped her legs under her cheeks and pursed her lips. “You’re gonna propose in the form of some cheesy song about kittens and bunnies!”

A small fire rose in Octavia’s chest. “Hey, give me at least some credit.”

“I’m just joshing ya.” Vinyl chuckled and lit up her horn. “Look, I gotta get to packing. Seriously, when I get back I’ll help you in any way I can. It’s the least I can do after you agreed to help with my stuff. See you next week?”

“Y-yeah. And Vinyl?” Octavia rubbed her hooves together and averted her gaze. “About the subject of my song…”

“I know, I know, silent as the grave.” Vinyl rolled her eyes and grabbed her windowsill. “Like I’d spill the beans on something as important as that. You need to give me some credit.” She chuckled. “See ya, Octy. Good luck!”

The window closed, and Octavia heaved a deep breath. Why did she feel like she’d just run a marathon? Slowly, she closed her own window and turned back to her apartment. Her eyes went to the mess of sheet music scattered about her kitchen. It wasn’t a very pleasant sight. Maybe if she could just hear the music, even if on Vinyl’s synthesizer, she’d have a better idea of what she was doing. There had to be something small, something fundamental that she was missing.

She closed her eyes and sighed… then saw Luna’s visage on the back of her eyelids. The image made her smile. It was public knowledge, now. She should go out and share the news with her friends!

Her worries fading, she began sorting her music.

Octavia trotted towards the Music Hall, a broad smile on her lips. More than a few ponies were casting curious looks her way and sometimes she’d hear them murmuring behind her back. For what may have been the very first time in her entire life, she relished the attention. It took all her willpower not to outright strut in the middle of the street, though she did hold her head high.

“Octy!” For once, Beauty didn’t bother to wait for her. The pony hurried to meet her in the street with a beaming smile. “Holy Goddess, Octavia, when I saw the Daily Royal I almost had a stroke! You mean you’ve been playing for Princess Luna all these months?”

“Some private client, huh?” Octavia winked and laughed at Beauty’s wide eyes.

“This is incredible.” Beauty sat and fanned herself with a hoof. “Everypony in town’s talking about it. Hardly anypony has even seen the princess since she returned a year ago, and you’re dating her!”

Octavia shook her head just a little too quickly. “No, no I’m not. It was just a night on the town, that’s all.”

“Don’t bother denying it, Octy.”

The mares turned to find Parish sitting before them, his head and shoulders slumped. He pawed at the ground and stared up at her in a way that reminded her of a kicked puppy. “I remember that dress. Ṭaṭṭūsvatī, right?”

She groaned. “Parish… It’s just a dress.”

“No, it’s not.” He sighed and shook his head. “I’ve seen you wear plenty of outfits for gigs, Octy, and you even wore a suit a few times. You never wore that dress unless you had to. You hate that dress.”

Octavia felt the heat rising in her cheeks and cast a nervous look around. The ponies in the street were making a decent showing of not gawking, but she could see their brief glances and curious eyes. “That’s… well…”

“No, it’s okay,” Parish said in a tone that didn’t match his words even remotely. “She’s a princess. Seriously, had I known that was my competition I never would have tried in the first place.”

Beauty sighed and reached for him, but Octavia batted her hoof away. There was a renewed fire in her, and she hit Parish with the full harshness of her glare. He leaned back as she took a step closer. “Is that what you think of me, Parish? That I’m so shallow as to care only about a potential suitor’s social standing?”

He sputtered, eyes wide. “I-I, that’s not… I-I mean I never—”

“What did you think, that if you showed enough money and got to play at the Gala I’d fall into your loving embrace like some flighty floozy?”

“N-no!” He stepped back and frantically shook his head. “That’s not what I meant!”

She poked him in the chest. “Luna and I have been seeing one another weekly for months. I’ve had time to learn about her quirks, her dreams, her fears. Every time you got near me all you could do was flirt! Luna sees me as an individual, not a nice flank!”

He was down on his barrel now, pupils shrunk to pinpricks as she towered over him. She snorted and leaned down to peer into his eyes. “I’m sorry, but what you offered isn’t even on my radar. Now stop acting like a child about this.”

Seconds passed. Octavia and Parish merely stared at one another, her huffing from anger and him frozen in place. After a moment, Beauty appeared and gently pushed Octavia back. “I think you’ve made your point, Octy.”

“I don’t think I have.” Octavia stepped away but didn’t stop glaring at Parish. “You’ve proven yourself no better than the noble snobs we entertain for a living.”

“Octavia!” Beauty stepped pack to touch Parish’s shoulder, her eyes wide. “That’s enough!”

“Is it?” Octavia began pacing, the cymbals in the back of her mind ringing louder than she could ever remember. “I’m sick of this, Beauty. My success shouldn’t hinge on who I choose to spend my time with! Do I not have talent? Have I not worked hard? How many days did I devote to practice, practice, practice, only to have everypony tell me I’m not good enough because my family could only afford a state school? Is the fact that I come from a poor family of teachers and archeologists in Trottingham mean I’m doomed to musical mediocrity?”

She paused and looked around, abruptly aware of the eyes upon her. Ponies were staring as if she’d grown two heads. For a moment she hesitated, but only a moment. “What are you looking at!?” Most looked away, but a few kept gawking. She grimaced and turned back to Parish and Beauty.

The sight cut her words short; Parish had covered his face in his hooves, and Beauty’s expression was the frozen definition of shock. There was disbelief in those wide eyes… and pain.

“Oh, Beauty, Parish.” Octavia sat and folded her legs to her chest. “I… I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I…” She turned away from them, a feeble whimper escaping her lips as her heart throbbed. Why was that happening so much lately?

“No!” Beauty was at her side in an instant, “No no no, don’t you dare! Let it out, Octavia.”

“N-no, I shouldn’t have.” Octavia shook her head and covered her face. “I’m hurting you. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Not at all.” Beauty hesitated. “Well, yes, you kinda did, considering I didn’t do anything. But Octy—” she pushed Octavia’s hooves down and looked her in the eye, “—you shouldn’t hold that kind of thing back. Sometimes it’s good to get a little emotional.”

“But I…” Octavia glanced towards Parish, who hadn’t moved from his spot on the ground. “Oh, Parish, I’m so sorry.”

Beauty shook her by the shoulders. “Calm down. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay, Octy.”

Just then, Parish jumped to his hooves and fled down the street at a gallop, pushing past the ponies in his way without so much as an apology.

“Parish!” Octavia started to follow, but Beauty held her fast.

“Let him go. Octavia, stop!” She struggled to hold Octavia in place for a few seconds, then cupped Octavia’s cheeks in her hooves. “Look at me, Octy. Look at me. Let him go. You’ve given him a lot to think about, and I promise I’ll go check up on him. Right now you need to calm down.”

“B-but after what I said—”

“I think he needed to hear it, anyway.”

Octavia’s energy faded and she slumped over Beauty’s shoulder. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!”

Beauty petted her mane and cooed in her ear. “It’s alright, Octy. Everypony blows up from time to time. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster all this time,” Octavia whispered. “I used to be so good at managing my emotions. What’s wrong with me?”

“You’re equine, Octy.” Beauty sat back and gave her a warm smile. “That’s all. You don’t need to bottle your emotions so much. This is actually a sign of improvement.”

“‘Improvement?’” Octavia turned her moist eyes to where Parish had disappeared off to. “I hurt Parish, and I made you into collateral damage. How is this an improvement of any kind?”

“You let me worry about Parish,” Beauty replied. “This is something he needed to hear, and I’m glad it came from you. Maybe after today Parish will look at mares a little differently. As for you—” she pressed a hoof to Octavia’s muzzle, “—you’re finally showing your feelings. That’s a good thing, Octy. How are we supposed to understand how you feel if you won’t make it clear to us?”

Octavia crossed her eyes at the hoof before pushing it down with a sigh. “Maybe that’s why Luna didn’t notice anything last night. Maybe I just don’t know how to open up.”

Beauty chuckled. “Looks like you’re getting there just fine on your own. A late bloomer, but hey, nopony’s perfect.”

“Umm…” Octavia hunched a little and rubbed her hooves together. “Do you really think Parish will be okay?”

“If not, it isn’t your fault.” Beauty sighed and crossed her hooves. “He really did bring it upon himself, the poor foal. Air for brains, I swear.” She smiled at Octavia’s uncertain expression. “Hey, don’t worry. I’ll check up on him after this, make sure of things. You just worry about yourself and catching the eye of a certain princess.”

Beauty blinked and glanced around before leaning in close. “Octy… are you really interested in her?”

Octavia chewed her lip, unable to meet Beauty’s gaze. “It feels so sudden, but it’s not. It’s been building up all this time and I…” She fumbled with her words before finally resorting to a small nod.

“Wow. Do you think you have a chance?”

Though she tried to respond, her words came out as a quiet whimper. She sagged and stared at her hooves.

“Hmm…” Beauty thought for a few seconds, but then moved a little closer and hugged Octavia. “Don’t give up, Octy. You’re a wonderful mare and I’m sure Luna sees that. You just need to make use of this newfound energy.”

Octavia’s ears perked. “Y-you really think so?”

“Of course!” Beauty leaned back to beam at her. “If you show her how you really feel, I’m sure she’ll respond.”

With a flinch, Octavia said, “I’m just afraid of how she’ll respond. And what if I blow up like I did in front of you two just now? What if I—”

“Oh, hush.” Beauty tapped her muzzle a second time and chuckled. “You’re overthinking this. Just because you got upset, that doesn’t mean it’ll happen again, or in the same way. Some emotional outbreaks are entirely positive.”

Octavia brushed her mane back, still unable to meet her friend’s gaze. “I guess I wouldn’t know.”

Beauty set a hoof to her shoulder and leaned down to look into her eyes. “This is a good thing, Octy. It means you’re gaining confidence and a bigger voice. I’m actually kind of proud: my little Octy’s growing up.”

That at last managed to get a chuckle from Octavia. “Thanks, mom.”

“You’re welcome, young lady.” Beauty sat up straight and took on a posh, lecturing manner. “But if I find out that princess has taken advantage of you in the bedroom, why, I just hope she has a good lawyer!”

A laugh bubbled out of Octavia’s throat. “Okay, that was horrendous. Leave the bedroom lectures to the actual mothers, BB.”

“Hey, you never know, I may get there someday.” Beauty grinned with a small blush. “So… you feeling okay?”

Octavia considered the question, and herself. “I think so. Thanks, Beauty, I really don’t know what I’d do without you sometimes. I’ll be alright.” She scuffed the ground and wilted. “Still feel pretty bad about Parish, though.”

“Speaking of whom, I better go find him before he joins some angsty goth band, dyes his mane black and pierces every inch of his body.” Beauty chuckled and turned in the direction Parish had disappeared. “Don’t worry, Octavia. The future is brighter than you know!”

Octavia watched her go with a smile. It wasn’t a very good one, but it was better than nothing. Hopefully Parish would forgive her this one outburst… assuming she could forgive herself, of course. Still, she trusted Beauty to know what to do in this situation, and after her foalish behavior she had no intention of getting in the way.

A glance at the Music Hall left an empty feeling in the pit of Octavia’s stomach. Was there any point in going in? Parish’s miserable face consumed her mind and shoved out all thoughts of Luna’s song. Perhaps it would be better if—

“Miss Melody!”

She blinked and turned in the direction of the unfamiliar voice. A unicorn was weaving through the thin crowd, a notebook and quill floating over her head. “If I could just have a minute of your time, I’d love to ask a few—”

“Miss Melody, over here!”

Octavia jumped and spun to find a second unicorn trotting for her from an alley. “If we could just take a statement—”

“Oh, no you don’t,” the first unicorn shouted. “This is my story and I’m not letting you beat me to it like last time, Red Ink!”

Red Ink chortled and waved his notepad at Octavia. “The Daily Royal already broke the story, what’s got your horn chipped?”


Octavia winced and looked up to find a pegasus hovering overhead with a camera and a pearly grin. “Olive Spring, from the Southern Onion. Fancy a picture, missy?”

“Where did all you ponies come from?” Octavia stepped back as the three moved in, her eyes going wide. “And at the same time, no less!”

“Oh, nevermind that,” the mare said, her quill poised over her notebook. “Now, if I may take a moment of your—”

“You don’t wanna talk to her!” Red Ink shoved past and grinned at Octavia, who was now backing onto the stairs. “She won’t get any attention, just a bit player. My interview will reach tens of thousands!”

“Yer full o’balony!” The pegasus guffawed and raised his camera. “Now, if ya’d look as pretty as ya did in the Royal Daily, I’d appreciate—” He gasped as his tail went taught and dragged him forcefully to the steps.

The mare glared at him. “Hey, lay off my story!”

Your story? Look, missy, Ah just came fer a picture. And maybe one or two questions.”

Red Ink grinned and stepped up to Octavia. “They can squabble, we can talk. Just imagine your name in highlights—”

Go away!” Octavia leaped up the stairs and headed for the doors to the Music Hall. “I don’t want to be interviewed!”

The pegasus, still being cornered by the mare, burst out laughing. “Listen ta that malarkey! Why’d ya move ta Canterlot, then?”

Octavia came to a sliding stop and turned back to them, eyes wide. “W-what? How did you know I moved here?”

“Oh, that’s nothing.” Red Ink waved a dismissive hoof. “Doesn’t take a lot of detective work to figure that out. By now every newspaper in town knows where you live, where you came from, when you were born, all that jazz.”

Her jaw dropped. The three ponies moved in, and she had the distinct impression of vultures moving in for a feast. “B-but, I didn’t want that. I just wanted ponies to know Luna and me are friends. It was never meant to go farther than that!”

“Of course, we understand.” The mare’s quill was scribbling furiously. “So what else can you tell us about your relationship with the princess? Any particular reason for the saucy dress?”

Octavia reeled from the verbal assault, barely noticing how Red Ink was snapping at the mare and the pegasus was trying to move his camera into a good position for a shot. Her eyes darted about the street. Sweet Luna, was there even more reporters coming? The world seemed to swirl around her and her breath came in gasps.

She spun about and all but dove into the Music Hall, slamming the doors behind her. Some ponies stared as she pressed against the door, until she realized there were three other entrances right next to it. Panting, she hurried into the nearest hall and entered one of the small practice rooms. She pressed her ear to the door and waited with bated breath. Seconds passed, but no sound arose.

At last she relaxed, stepping back to sit in the middle of the room. A shiver coursed through her frame, but as the urgency faded there arose a new sensation: frustration. Why had she run away? What was wrong with her? She should have seen this coming. Vinyl had warned her, for Luna’s sake!

She hugged herself and focused on steadying her breathing. Self control: she’d practiced it all her life. Now should be no different. Even if she’d never enjoyed that kind of attention, she should put up with it. Just answer a few questions and then they’d leave. Simple, right? With a deep sigh, she reached for the door handle…

There was a long pause. She stared at the door, then at her hoof. It refused to acknowledge her, and she had that sinking feeling in her gut once more. She felt just like she had when pacing before Vinyl’s door.

She sighed and set her hoof down. “What is wrong with me?”

With nothing better to do, she pulled off her cello case and prepared to practice. There was a Garden Party to prepare for, after all.

When the light faded, Luna found herself somewhere she’d not anticipated: standing outside what appeared to be a room. She glanced around, but saw nothing save grey fog. The air was neither hot nor cold, and everything seemed so balefully blank. She’d seen this kind of dream before, though, and was not alarmed. She turned to the structure before her, appearing as if a room had been made without any proper building built around it. A long, brown door served as the only entrance, and Luna wasted no time opening it.

She stepped inside to find herself in a small bedroom. The walls were covered in green wallpaper with a floral design, and a lone window let bright sunlight stream through. The floor was cluttered with blurred, indistinct toys strewn about every which way, a large trunk standing open beneath the window. A bunk bed sat in the corner, the sheets rumpled and tangled.

And there, sitting in the middle of it all at a little desk, was a young Octavia. She couldn’t have been more than thirteen, and she scribbled almost violently on some sheet music. The filly hunched over the paper, her tongue poking out the side of her mouth between bared teeth and her brow furrowed in deep concentration. Luna couldn’t help smiling at the foal; Octavia was rather cute as a child.

Yet she couldn’t linger on this; her window of opportunity was only so large. She coughed, but when this failed to catch the foal’s attention she spoke up. “Hello, Octavia.”

Octavia’s head jerked up and her eyes grew wide in that way only a foal could manage. “Princess? What are you doing in my room?”

“Your room?” Luna glanced around with a faux air of uncertainty. “Oh, so this must be your home in Trottingham. Yes?”

“Uh…” Octavia peered at her, then at the room. After a moment’s thought, she asked, “Am I dreaming again?”

Luna offered a warm grin. “You most certainly are.”

“Oh.” Octavia sat back and stared at her hooves. “Weird, I’m so small. I don’t remember—” she let out a gasp and flung herself on top of the desk. She curled around it as if it were something precious and fragile. “Don’t look at it! It’s not ready!”

Luna backstepped. “Ready? What’s not ready?”

Octavia shook her head violently. “It’s not ready! You can’t see!” She waved wildly at Luna with a lone leg. “Go away, don’t look at it!”

It took Luna a couple seconds to really understand what was happening, at which point she chuckled.

“It’s not funny!”

“Oh, Octavia…” Luna concentrated, her horn glowing brightly. After a few seconds, the little pony became engulfed in blue smoke. A loud crack arose from within the cloud, and when it dissipated a fully grown Octavia was lying atop the broken desk, her head swaying dizzily.

“W-what? What just happened?”

“Don’t be alarmed,” Luna said with a pleased smile, catching her attention. “It’s a common element of dreams for a pony to be reduced to a… ‘younger’ state. Although I must say, you made for an adorable filly.”

Octavia’s face went pink and she bowed her head, fumbling with her words. This sight made Luna giggle; she’d never realized just how adorable her friend could be. “So,” she began, leaning over the crushed desk, “just what were you working—”

No.” Octavia thrust her hooves at the desk and it promptly burst into flames, forcing Luna to back up. “It’s not ready yet!”

Luna waved the smoke away with a grim frown. “While I commend you for getting the hand of lucid dreaming so quickly, I must ask you to be warier. Unlike you, I am not dreaming.”

“Not dreaming?” Octavia blinked and peered at her. “I’m not sure I understand your meaning.”

“I’m not dreaming,” Luna repeated, pressing a hoof to her own chest. “Through my dreamweaving magic, I have manifested myself physically in the realm of dreams.”

Octavia’s eyes widened. “You mean if you get hurt, it will be real? Doesn’t that make your job dangerous?”

“Very.” Yet Luna smiled warmly. “Do not worry, Octavia. It will take more than a little fire to put me at risk. Still, I ask that you exercise caution.”

“I will.” Octavia nodded frantically. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize the danger.”

“It’s alright.” Luna sat beside her and gestured to the room. “So… this is your old bedroom in Trottingham?”

“Oh, uh…” Octavia glanced around as if just realizing their surroundings. “Yes, the one I shared with Chalk before he moved out. I wonder why I’m here?”

“There could be many reasons,” Luna replied. “Perhaps you were reminded of home somehow. Maybe you were reminded of something special from your foalhood. It may even be that you were frightened by something and sought the comforts of home.” She noted Octavia’s folding ears. “Octavia, is something the matter?”

“No, I just…” Octavia glanced away for several seconds, but finally sighed and turned back to Luna. “I had a lot of reporters come to see me these past three days.”

Luna cocked her head with an uncertain frown. “Did you not anticipate it? I thought it was a given that they would approach you.”

“I know.” Octavia stared at the floorboards, fidgeting from side to side. “I’m just not used to so much attention. They keep coming, asking questions I feel are private, trying to make me say things that aren’t true. So many of them talk as if I’m spending time with you just to advance my career.”

A smile adorned Luna’s lips. “Do not worry, Octavia. I’m not about to believe anything that might appear in the local tabloids. You should see the things they say about my sister and her protégé.”

“That’s not what bothers me,” Octavia said. She looked up at Luna with big, glassy eyes. “All I wanted was for our… friendship to be acknowledged. They all talk about my reasons for spending time with you. I don’t want anypony to think that you’re a stepping stone, but that’s exactly the kind of thing they’re writing! Everypony’s going to think I’m some shallow, cold-hearted social climber.”

Luna felt her heart splitting in two. She gazed into those eyes and felt more regret than she’d ever imagined. “I’m sorry, Octavia. Perhaps we were too quick to make our relationship public. When you said you were prepared—”

“I was prepared!” Octavia began to pace, her head hanging low. “I was prepared to see you brought into the spotlight and given a new identity, to let you shine like you’re supposed to! Why aren’t they going to you and asking questions? Why aren’t they asking me any questions about you? This was supposed to be your beautiful, shining return to the public eye and all they want to know is why I’m putting up with you!”

She turned to Luna, her eyes suddenly hard. “Why are they making our dinner all about me? Why does everything in Canterlot have to be viewed as an act of selfishness? Luna, what is wrong with this city?”

For several seconds, Luna could only gape at her. Then the emotion hit her, but it wasn’t anger or fear or sympathy. Whatever it was, it drove Luna to reached forward with her wings and pull Octavia into her chest. With a warm smile, she bowed her head to the startled pony’s shoulder, cocooning her in feathers and warmth.


“You are a true diamond in the rough, my friend,” Luna whispered. “Here I thought you were upset because of me, and now I see you were upset for me. How could anypony be so selfless?”

“I… uh…” Octavia shifted under Luna’s weight, but then began to press against the princess’s chest. “I wish I was as selfless as you think.”

“Don’t be silly.” Luna raised her head to beam at her. “Your words fill me with joy! I wish there were more ponies of your caliber, Octavia. This world would be a much happier place if it were so.” For the second time, Octavia’s face turned crimson. She promptly buried her face in Luna’s chest, eliciting a chuckle from the alicorn.

Luna leaned her head down once more and delighted in the presence of her friend. “I truly appreciate you, Octavia, in so many ways. Please, don’t let them disturb you anymore. The bridge to my public endearment cannot be crossed with but a single public dinner. We need only be patient.”

Octavia said nothing, though she nodded against Luna’s chest. Luna sighed and stroked the pony’s mane with her pinions. While Octavia remained still and quiet, she looked up and began disseminating their surroundings. Within seconds, the room was gone, replaced by an eternal starscape not unlike that which Octavia had created for her first dream lesson.

“Now then.” Luna stepped back to smile at Octavia, who continued to reach for her even after contact was lost. “Do you remember that gift I mentioned?”

Octavia’s legs remained outstretched as she looked up at Luna with blinking eyes. “Gift?”

“Yes, gift.” Luna winked. “You know, at the dinner?”

“Oh.” Octavia lowered her legs with a frown and pondered, but then her face lit up. “Oh, the gift! Yes, now I remember.”

With a chuckle, Luna turned to face the firmament before them. “I have been doing some research lately, trying to find something special. I ultimately determined that there is something you need, something important that I hope to help you with.”

Octavia sat and gazed up at her with an uncertain expression. “You mean you’ve been researching… me? In what way?”

Luna grinned. “I may not have an active role in governing Equestria – yet – but I am still royalty, and that means I have connections. So I dipped into your past in order to help you solve a problem.”

“M-my past?” Octavia hunched low. “Luna, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this.”

“Don’t worry,” Luna said with a small laugh, “I didn’t uncover any dark, dirty secrets! In fact, all I really did was ask about your family.”


The princess waved at the darkness before them, and something materialized from nothingness. It was a chair, just like one of those that might be found in a theater, and it was empty. “Remember, Octavia, how I used to… ahem, ‘stalk’ you in your dreams? I listened to your little orchestration many times. Of course, I was there to enjoy your heavenly music, but I also noticed some trends.” She glanced at Octavia out of the corner of her eye. “There was that one seat, always empty.”

“O-oh…” Octavia kicked at the non-existent ground and pouted. “So that’s what this is about. Luna, I don’t think that’s something you can help me with.”

Luna gazed at her with a deep frown. “It belongs to your sister, doesn’t it?”

Octavia merely looked away.

“Tell me, if you had the chance to talk to her again, what would you say?”

“I don’t know,” Octavia whispered. “I’d have to go to Nildia to do that, and I don’t intend to do so anytime soon.”

Luna leaned a little closer. “Why not?”

“B-because…” Octavia hunched down once more, her ears folding as she chewed her lip. “I don’t think she’d want to talk to me.”

Luna gave her a weak smile. “I suppose there’s only one way to know for sure.” She turned back to the stars, her horn shining brightly. The space before them began to shift as if it were being viewed through a sheet of water. Slowly, an image took shape within the shivering stars.

There now existed before Luna a broad opening in the air, like a window. Beyond it was what appeared to be a balcony that looked out over a thick forest of unfamiliar trees and flowers. Standing at the railing of this balcony was a young unicorn, her coat a dark orange shade and her mane possessing a very familiar gray color. On her flank was a curious symbol which, after some study, Luna realized was a claw, perhaps for a griffon?

Luna glanced at Octavia, who was staring with wide eyes at the image. “L-Luna, that’s—”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

They turned back to the pony, who was glaring out at the forest with a sneer. “Look at your cutie mark. What is it?”

“What do you mean?” a familiar young voice asked. “It’s a musical note. A treble clef.” A small filly appeared as if she had just walked through the ‘window.’ There was no question as to who it was. The filly Octavia couldn’t have been more than twelve.

The real Octavia trembled and shook her head. “L-Luna, why are you making me see this?”

“I am not,” Luna admitted with a solemn frown. “She is.”


“Yes,” the stranger snapped, “it’s a treble clef. It symbolizes what, Octavia?”

“Singing,” the two Octavias spoke in unison, the foal in confusion and the adult in a mere whisper.

“Exactly.” The older mare turned to her, head held high as she towered over the filly. “You should be doing that, not trying to figure out how to do something unrelated to your destiny.”

The filly sat and rubbed her head. “But I wanna play the cello like Aunt Strings. It’s still music. I’m already really good! Someday I’m going to be a master cellist and be rich and important just like you!” She grinned up at the elder pony, hope and innocence shining in her big eyes.

The unicorn threw her head back and laughed. The sound seemed to roll through the air in waves, and the filly sank low at the harsh sound. “You?” the unicorn gasped between breaths. “You want to be an elite pony? By playing the cello? Sweet merciful Celestia, that’s rich!”

The foal Octavia jumped up and glared. “What’s wrong with it? Why can’t I? I just wanna be like you!”

“I made my way through hard work,” the unicorn countered fiercely. “I put my all into my business! It’s been a long and hard road, and you want to get where I am by playing music that isn’t even related to your cutie mark?” The unicorn shook her head with a scowl. “Don’t be an idiot, Octavia.”

I’m not an idiot!” The filly Octavia stomped, her face going red and tears welling in her eyes. “I can work just as hard as you, and I don’t need to be mean about it like you do, Benji!”

“Oh, grow up.” Benjamina turned away from the foal. “Life is hard, Octavia, but it’s impossible for ponies who go against what they are. You’re a singer, so sing.”

“B-but I…” The filly hesitated, her tail wrapping around her flank as she stared at the floor. “I wanted to make Auntie Strings proud.”

“Aunt Strings?” Benjamina huffed and rolled her eyes. “That no account never-was? She’s poor and ignorant. If she knew what was really important, she wouldn’t have spent her life wasting away on something she had no business getting involved in.”

Little Octavia gasped. “Y-you take that back! Auntie Strings is a great musician!”

Benjamina turned on her so fast that Octavia fell on her back. “Then why doesn’t anypony know about her, huh? Why is she an unknown, more insignificant in the music community than a bucking ant? She’s a nopony, Octavia, which is exactly what you’re going to be if you follow in her hoofsteps! It’s no wonder the dumb mare never married, who’d want anything to do with a lifelong failure?”

The filly curled up in a ball and sobbed. “T-take it back. A-auntie Strings was a g-good pony…”

Benjamina sniffed and loomed over the tiny ball of tears. “Some good it did her. If you want to be a failure in life, be my guest, but don’t think for an instant that you can ever be my equal.”

“Stop it.”

Luna blinked; both Octavias had spoken at once. She looked at the real Octavia and was surprised to find those mulberry eyes centered on her. Tears were streaming down Octavia’s cheeks. “Stop it, Luna. Make it stop.”

“I…” Luna hesitated; this wasn’t going at all like she’d planned.

“I’ll show you!” The filly leaped up and glared through her streaming tears. “I’ll be just as important and special as you, I’ll do it without my cutie mark, and I won’t be a stuck up, mean witch like you!”

Benjamina chuckled and waved as the filly galloped away to parts unseen. “Yeah, you write me when that happens. Stupid foal…”

Something was wrong. Luna could see it, but she couldn’t quite make it out. If she were in Benjamina’s dream, then it might have been obvious.

“Luna, turn it off!”

Luna jumped at the shout and turned back to Octavia. “I’m sorry! I didn’t know her dream would involve something like this.”

Octavia’s ears perked. “Her… dream?”

“I only linked your dreams together,” Luna hurriedly explained. “I only meant for you two to see one another. I didn’t know it would involve something like this!”

“I don’t care what it is.” Octavia shook her head frantically. “J-just make it stop!”

Luna turned and waved a wing at the scene. The window began to fade, but as it did Benjamina’s eyes turned to them. She stared through the rapidly fading portal, eyes going wide and jaw dropping. She had no chance to speak before the window closed entirely and the two of them were surrounded by stars once more.

For a time, the world was quiet save for Octavia’s sniffling. Luna’s heart throbbed at the sound. “I am so sorry, Octavia. Had I known what your sister was dreaming of, I never would have—”

“How could you?” Octavia glared up at her. “You invaded our privacy, just like that!”

Luna stammered, eyes wide. “I… O-Octavia, this is no greater than anything I have ever done before. Seeing into ponies’ dreams is necessary to protect them from dangers you can’t yet understand.”

“This wasn’t you running through a random dream and helping a stranger!” Octavia sat and held herself in a tight embrace. “I’m your f-friend, Luna. You should have asked first!”

“Please, hear me out!” Luna raised her hooves as if to ward off blows. She could feel the situation slipping from her grasp, and it left a cold sensation in her stomach. “I didn’t mean to… to… to upset you. I was just trying to—”

Ooooh, looks like things aren’t going as well as we expected.

Luna’s eyes bulged upon hearing that voice. “No, not now!”

Abruptly, the night sky began to morph, bits of blackness and ever-shimmering stars coming together as a strange, warped muck and drooping like melting wax. A fog slowly surrounded them and laughter filled the air. Luna spun in a circle, her heart pounding and her mind running rampant. “Not here! Keep away from this place, you monster!”

Octavia, cheeks still moist, looked about frantically. “Luna, what’s going on?”

Yes, tell her, Nightmare. Tell her who we are and what you fear.

“Go away!” Luna’s wings flared and her horn sparked. “You are not welcome here!”

“Who is that?” Octavia asked, standing and stepping closer to Luna.

The princess jerked about to stare at Octavia. “Y-you… you can hear it?”

Of course she can. This is a dream, and dreams are our domain.

Luna reared her head with a snarl that she hoped hid her rising worry. “Be silent!”

The fog billowed about as if powered by a gale, circling them in a pale vortex. The stars and sky continued to ooze all around them. What terrors lie in this one’s heart? What beautiful agony can she reveal to us?

“L-Luna…” Octavia stepped close to her, tail tucked between her legs as her head swiveled in search of a source for the voice. A lone tendril of fog rose up like a whip and darted for her.

The cloudy limb burst against a dark blue shield. Luna thrust a wing out to cover Octavia. “You will not touch her!”

How protective. Do we believe she is special? Is she important to us? A cackle rolled through the fog like a wave. One more great disappointment. How long before she rips our heart out?

Octavia shivered as if touched by ice. “This is the monster you’ve been fighting, isn’t it?”

Monster? Is that what we call ourselves now?

Luna watched the fog rise up, forming a dense wall all around them. She trembled and pulled Octavia closer with her wings. “I won’t let you harm her. Begone!”

Another tendril reached out for Octavia, this time slowly. Luna bashed it away with her shield only for three more to come forward. We will enjoy this one…

“Luna, w-what do I do?” Octavia watched as Luna continued to fend off the wraith-like appendages. “How do I defend myself?”

“I—“ Luna ground her teeth as she pushed them back over and over again. Why was it attacking in such a lethargic fashion? It had to have some kind of scheme. Was it merely trying to wear her out? Or maybe it simply wished to test the situation and Luna’s reaction. Perhaps it wanted to drive a wedge between them somehow?

“Luna, talk to me!”

“H-hold on,” she replied fiercely. “I’m thinking!”

Yes, keep thinking, Nightmare. Think about all the things we’ll do to her before we succumb to the velvety need.

Luna’s eyes widened; so that was its game. She immediately grabbed Octavia in her hooves and pressed the side of her horn to the startled pony’s forehead. “I’m sorry, but this is going to be very uncomfortable. It’s the only way.”

“The only—” Octavia’s eyes widened as her body became covered in Luna’s dark aura. “W-what are you doing?”

The tendrils approached, testing the barrier that was weakening with every touch. “I’ll explain later,” Luna said. “Please, trust me and stay safe.”

“But I don’t under—”

Octavia’s words faded, first to an echo, and then into nothingness. Her body became a blue aura that also slowly slipped away. Her task done, Luna turned and bolstered her shield, pushing it out and knocking the fog back. “She is gone, you wretched thing; awakened and safe from your infernal meddling. Now you will answer only to me!”

That cold laughter filled the air again, making the fog ripple. Thank you, Nightmare, for clarifying things. We look forward to ripping her mind apart when we aren’t looking.

An icy claw held Luna’s heart, but she responded to the sensation with a snarl. “She will not be dreaming again anytime soon. I will not let you use her as a weapon against me! I swear in the name of my holy father, I will never succumb to you!”

Yes, we’ve said all this before. The fog began to fade. If we intend to be so boring, then we shall go find entertainment in the dreams of others.

“No, do not run away from me!” Luna’s horn flashed as she tried to construct the necessary boundaries. “Face me, abomination!”

Yet even as she felt the chains of the dream lock into place, she knew it was too late: the monster was gone. Luna cursed and pawed at the ground, only to have a glob of sparkling black gunk land atop her head. She shook it off with a snarl and began undoing her own enchantment, determined to follow the damnable creature to the bottom of Tartarus if necessary. She would protect Octavia, whatever that required.


The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter XVI

Octavia stared at the castle in the distance, her heart heavy. The moon was only a sliver in a sky filled with twinkling stars. The sight gave her no joy. She’d had no dreams last night, nor had there been any word from Luna. A lingering fear clawed at the back of her mind; what if Luna had taken away her ability to dream at all? The thought was almost unbearable.

She wanted to run to the castle, to gallop straight to Luna’s rooms and apologize for her outburst from the night before. Octavia still held firm her belief that Luna’s actions were wrong, yet that didn’t excuse her reaction. Had she angered Luna? Was that why no explanation had come, in pony or by note?

Head hanging, she shifted her cello case on her back and trudged down the street towards home. She couldn’t stop thinking about Luna, but to confront her about what happened... Why couldn’t she do it? Maybe Luna just needed time to stew over the situation. Octavia would grant her that. After all, the Garden Party was only a couple days away. On a Wednesday, of all days. She’d see Luna then.

Wouldn’t she?

Octavia shook her head forcefully; of course Luna would come, she’d promised! This situation didn’t put that big of a rift between them, surely. They'd meet at the Garden Party and have a nice, long talk afterwards. It was the monster that kept them apart, surely. Luna couldn’t see Octavia because she had to fight it.

If only Octavia could learn to defend herself. She paused before the front gate of her apartment complex, fumbling through a pocket of her carrying case for the keys.

“H-hey, Octy.”

She blinked at the familiar voice, then turned. Parish sat on a nearby bench, his mane disheveled and his tie loose. His eyes were set on her hooves.

“Parish?” She finally found her keys, but held on to them as she approached. “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to… y’know.” He rubbed his mane, but it only flopped back into a mess. “I was waiting for you to get home so I could apologize.”

“Really?” She looked up at the starry night sky, then back at him. “How long have you been sitting there?”

“A couple hours. I know,” he grumbled, averting his eyes. “I’ve never been the most subtle of ponies.”

“You could have just met me at the Music Hall,” she said softly.

“No, I couldn’t. I wanted this to be a more private talk. I...” He lowered his head and pawed the bench. “I don’t think I could say it right in the open.”

She offered a weak smile. “Now that I can understand.”

“The Garden Party’s coming,” he added after a moment, matching her smile. “Can you imagine letting this hang over our heads while we’re on stage together?”

“That would be trouble, wouldn’t it?” Octavia sat on the bench next to him, tail tucking around her cutie mark. For a time, neither spoke; they only stared at their respective hooves. They both attempted to speak at once, paused, tried again.

Octavia smirked. “Alright, you go first.”

“Okay.” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I’m sorry. I was looking at things – at you – in the wrong way. I don’t have a good excuse, save overeagerness.” He turned to give her an imploring look. “But even if I was being a little aggressive, Octavia, I swear that I never saw you as a shallow pony. I just… I was so disappointed. I kind of said things without thinking.” With a sigh, he added, “Something I’m really good at, apparently.”

“It’s okay, Parish,” she said, offering him her warmest smile. “I know you didn’t mean any harm. And I’m sorry, as well; I never should have blown up as I did. Beauty says such things are healthy, and maybe she’s right, but I think I need to practice on controlling those vents.” She fidgeted and bowed her head. “Can you forgive me for taking it out on you?”

“Nah, there’s nothing to forgive.” He matched her pose and sighed. “I’ve had more than a day to think on it, and I realize I sorta had it coming.”

Tentatively, she touched his hoof. “So… friends?”

He looked up with a broad smile. “Yeah, friends.” He took her hoof in one and patted it with the other. “I think I can live with that.”

They shared a quiet smile, but then he released her hoof and sat back. “So. Princess Luna. How’s that working out for you?”

Octavia winced and turned to face the street. “I… don’t know. I have no idea what to do, and things are a bit awkward at the moment.” She bowed her head and sighed. “I think I might understand how you felt all this time, Parish.”

“Oh.” He turned to also face the street. “So… you don’t know how she feels yet? Does she even know you’re interested?”

She tapped her hooves, once again feeling the weight of her heart. “No.”

“I see.” Parish considered this, then stood from the bench and faced her. “If there’s anything I learned while chasing your tail – if you’ll pardon the phrase – it’s that you shouldn’t be too aggressive. In your case, though, I think the very opposite might be a problem.”

She blinked and gave him a skeptical look. “Parish Nandermane, are you trying to give me advice on dating?”

“I’m only trying to warn you,” he replied, expression serious. “How long have you been seeing her? Months? And you’ve yet to make a move?”

Octavia cocked her head and raised an eyebrow. “And what exactly do you call our little dinner date the other night?”

“Oh, right.” He blushed and rubbed his mane again with a sheepish grin. “And that killer dress.”

She felt her cheeks burn at the mention of the stallion’s dream, now safely hidden away in her closet. “Y-yes, that too.”

Parish blinked and stared at her, then abruptly facehooved. “Wait, you mean you asked her on a date, risked being the target of every journalist in Equestria and wore a smoking hot dress… and the princess still hasn’t caught on?” She gave a weak nod. “Wow, and Beauty says I’m clueless.”

“Luna’s still… awkward,” Octavia admitted, fidgeting in place. “She’s been getting better, a little at a time. I have a plan, though.”

“Really?” His eyes lit up. “Is it the hush-hush kind, or can I hear about it?”

“Hush-hush,” she replied with a smile. “When the time comes, though, I might just ask for help.”

Parish nodded, matching her smile with a warm one of his own. “When and if the time comes, I’ll be ready. Just say the word, Octy.”

“Thanks, Parish. Really.” Octavia stood and rattled her keys. “But for now, I need to practice. The Garden Party’s coming up fast, after all.”

“Indeed it is.” He stood and rubbed his mane back yet again, unable to meet her eyes. “For what it’s worth, I was always ready to help, Octy. Even when I was being a lovestruck idiot.”

She smiled and moved close, placing a hoof to his shoulder. “You’re a good guy, Parish. I’m glad to have you as a friend.”

“Heh, friend.” He gained a pleasant smile of his own. “I think I can live with that.”

Luna’s shoulders sagged along with her head, and her mane and tail were a bit dim compared to the norm. Her mind centered on the creature, the foul thing that refused to be vanquished. Every time she thought she had it cornered, it would slip away at the last second. For all her experience with dreamweaving, it proved to be equally capable.

Two nights in a row devoted to chasing the abomination. Celestia had tried to calm her anger, to no avail. Its abhorrent trespass into Octavia’s dream burned at Luna’s mind like a red coal, and she refused to let it have another chance. It would die first. The fact that she would be killing her own creation was of no consequence.

Her ears perked to the sound of hoofsteps. She waited for her sister to reach the balcony before speaking. “Do not try to take me off this path again, Celestia. I am in no mood.”

“And what path would that be?”

She blinked and turned to find not Celestia at her side, but Princess Cadance. Luna stared at her adoptive niece as if having never seen her before. “Do you expect me to believe that you somehow convinced my sister to let you raise the sun?”

Cadance grinned and brushed her colorful mane back. “Believe me, it wasn’t easy. How are you, Aunt Luna?”

“Tired,” Luna confessed. “It has been a busy night.”

“A busy couple of nights, if what Aunt Tia says is true.” Cadance eyed her with concern. “Part of the reason she was so hard to convince was that she was eager to speak to you again.”

Luna grimaced. “Exactly how much did she tell you?”

“Only that your friend, Octavia, could be in trouble.”

“It is not just her,” Luna hurried to say. She turned to face the horizon, her eyes going to the thin moon. “Every pony in Equestria is under threat from the creature. As Princess of the Night, it is my duty to protect them.”

Cadance leaned forward, trying to look her in the eye. “But it is Octavia that most concerns you now, isn’t it?”

Luna’s grimace returned. “I have no interest in discussing her.”

That made Cadance’s eyebrows rise. “Did the two of you have a fight?”

An ice pick skewered Luna’s heart; she flinched and pressed a hoof to her chest. “Th-that’s not why I—” She pressed her lips firmly closed before she could betray more than she already had.

“Aunt Luna?”

She closed her eyes and ground her teeth. “I do not want to speak of this.” For a time there was a silence, but she could feel Cadance’s eyes on her. She at last peeked out of a lone eye to see her niece watching her with that same expression of deep concern. It prompted her to add a firm “No.”

Cadance sighed. “The easiest way to have me form my own conclusions is by saying nothing.”

“I didn’t say ‘nothing,’” Luna corrected without a hint of sarcasm, “I said ‘No.’”

Cadance tilted her head with a dull frown. “You do realize I am the Princess of Love, right?”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“A lot.” Cadance turned to the horizon. “It means I can detect it just as easily as I can spread it.”

“I think you’re confused.”

“Not so confused as you, Aunt Luna.”

The baiting couldn’t be more obvious. Luna grimaced as she realized she’d be falling for it, regardless. “I have nothing to be confused by. The monster came into Octavia’s dream and I will keep it from doing so again! The situation seems very straightforward.”

“It always does at first.” Cadance’s lips turned up in a sly smile. “Then things get complicated. Take Shining Armor, for example.”

Luna shot her a questioning look. “Your mate? What of him?”

Cadance broke into a fit of giggles, her cheeks turning an extra shade of pink. “Nopony says ‘mate’ anymore, Aunt Luna! Except in the bedroom. He’s my coltfriend.”

Her own cheeks burning, Luna glanced away with a small huff. “I’ll remember that this time.” She hoped.

“Shining loves me.” Once her giggling calmed down, Cadance continued, “I know he does, and so does he.” She raised her hooves as if to reach for something. “But he just. Can’t. Fathom it. His judgment is clouded by silly little worries; family, duty, consequences, so on and so forth. He’s yet to understand that love doesn’t care about such boundaries. As soon as he figures that out, well—” She grinned and toyed with her mane absent-mindedly, “—I suspect he’ll have a question for me.”

Luna stared at her. “Do you really think your relationship will go that far?”

“I have no doubt at all.” Cadance tapped her own head. “As soon as he gets his brains aligned, that is. I won’t push him; I have faith he’ll figure things out on his own soon.” She reached over and tapped Luna’s head in the same fashion, making her step back with an uncertain expression. “I think your brains are similarly scrambled.”

Shaking her head, Luna said, “I fail to grasp your meaning.”

“Good Goddess!” Cadance rolled her head back on her shoulders with a small groan. “Do you really want me to spell it out for you?”

Luna scowled. “Now listen to me, young filly—”

“You’re in love with Octavia.”

Her words caught in her throat as Cadance’s declaration swam about her head. She sat and tried to process the accusation, but was left only with confusion. “What?”

Cadance gained a sly smile at her expression. “Just think about it for a bit.”

Against her better judgment, Luna found herself doing precisely that.

Thank you for the stars.

Did you go to see her again?

So is she as talented in real life as she is in her dreams?

You mean you’ve been watching me?

It sounds too much like you’re putting me on a pedestal.

You are not Nightmare Moon!

I have Octavia.

I really want to hear her music right now.

So you’ll go?

For you? Of course I will.

Princess Luna, what’s your pleasure?

“The Garden Party.”

Cadance blinked. “What?”

Luna stared at her hooves with wide eyes, her cheeks hot. “I was so wrapped up in my work, I forgot all about it. It’s this week. Oh Goddess, what if I had missed it?”

“And… that has what to do with Octavia?” Cadance asked.

“Octavia is—” Luna’s head snapped up to stare at her niece. “O-Octavia is… By the stars.”

The smirk returned to Cadance’s face. “So have you figured it out?”

“It’s not what you think.” Luna turned back to the horizon, forcing her face into a blank expression and wishing she could douse the fire in her cheeks. “You have the wrong idea.”

“Denial is not going to help anything, Auntie.”

She ground her teeth and refused to match Cadance’s gaze. “You don’t know what you are talking about.”

Cadance chuckled. “You presume to tell the Princess of Love that she doesn’t know anything about love?”

Luna stomped. “We are done discussing this. Come, let us see if you can handle my sister’s job; we are late.”

Even as she said it, however, Luna found her concentration off. When she closed her eyes to focus on the moon, she was greeting by a wave of flowing, immaculate grey hair. She could almost feel it brush beneath her chin. The thought alone was enough to make her tremble in anticipation, and she nearly lost her hold on her extraterrestrial charge.

“The moon is shaking.”

Baring her teeth with a growl, Luna shoved the tantalizing apparition from her mind and focused on her work. She forced her eyes open and watched as the wobbling moon steadied itself and slid below the horizon. The sun began to rise in its place, but its pace was slow and uneven. Luna glanced at her niece to see Cadance sweating from exertion, her eyes clenched shut and horn sparking like a firework.

All frustration faded as concern took over. Luna considered lending her magic to help, but resisted; Cadance would surely ask if the task was above her. The sun was not an easy thing to tame, this she knew from her own attempts centuries ago. She bit her lip and turned to watch as the orb made its slow, trembling journey to its proper place. Only not; when it finally stopped, it was a little off. Not enough to be particularly noticeable, though. Luna herself only knew from daily observation.

A burst of air escaped Cadance as she sagged to the floor. “H-how does she make it look so easy?”

“You did well,” Luna assured her. “Far better than my first attempt, for certain.”

Cadance’s ears perked and a smile lit up her face. “Really?”

“Yes, really.” Luna offered her hoof, which Cadance accepted. Her legs wobbled, but she managed to stay standing on her own.

“It’s good to know I am capable of it,” Cadance admitted. “I’ve always wanted to try, ever since I earned my horn.”

“I am sure Celestia appreciates the opportunity to sleep in,” Luna added with a pleased smile.

“Goddess knows she hasn’t had such a chance in centuries.” Cadance brushed the sweat from her brow, then turned to smirk at Luna. “Now, why don't we get back to your difficulties?”

Luna threw her head back and took on an air of pomp, doing her best to ignore the slight increase in her heart rate. “I told you, I do not wish to speak of it.”

“Oh, come on.” Cadance lowered her head and focused. Her horn glowed, but dimly.

“You shouldn’t try to work your magic so soon,” Luna warned haughtily. “Rest.”

“Your heart is throbbing.”

A flame erupted within Luna and she took a warning step closer. “Whatever you are doing, stop it now.”

“I am only examining you,” Cadance replied pleasantly, the glow of her horn not diminishing. “Your heartstrings sing, but you’re drowning their chorus.”

“I said stop!” Luna’s horn flashed, and the glow of Cadance’s horn disappeared with a loud pop that made her flinch.

Cadance winced and rubbed her head, but her eyes were set on Luna. “What are you so afraid of, Auntie?”

Luna turned away and rubbed her temples. “I am not afraid, I am tired.” She closed her eyes and trembled at the velvety feel of an imaginary tail drifted across her cheek. “I am going to bed. Good morning, Cadance.”

“Aunt Luna?”

She paused to look back with a scowl.

Cadance stared at her, her face filled with concern. “Denial won’t help. You know that, right?”

For a while, Luna simply stared at her. Finally she turned away. “There is nothing to deny.”

Yet as she descended the stairs, Luna found her confidence wavering. Her thoughts kept drifting to Octavia; her voice, her kindness, her calm. She told herself that she was only feeling guilty about the dream from a couple nights ago. That had to be it. ‘Love,’ how predictably silly of Equestria’s youngest princess. That kind of flighty interest might be plausible for her sister, but Luna had given up on the idea over a millennium ago.

She managed to keep these thoughts up all the way to her quarters. By then, she’d thoroughly convinced herself that Cadance’s abilities as the Princess of Love required sharpening, for clearly she’d been off the mark this time.

Luna passed through her meeting room and entered the lounge. As always, her eyes flitted towards the armor in the corner. As always, she dismissed the abrupt urge to have the abominable set destroyed. As always, she reminded herself of why she kept it.

Her eyes passed over the two couches. For a moment – the tiniest flight of fancy – she thought she could see Octavia sitting in her usual spot, sipping tea and talking pleasantly. There would be no conversations on the couches this week, no; this week Luna would act as a guest at this so-called ‘Garden Party.’ She couldn’t believe she’d let the event slip her mind. After all, she had promised Octavia that she would go, and she couldn’t stand the thought of the mare’s disappointed face.

Even as she thought it, the image of Octavia came to her mind’s eye: crestfallen, afraid, angry. The sight twisted Luna’s heart. She couldn’t allow that to—

She shook her head forcefully; her worry was for her friend, and no further!

With a groan, Luna turned for the door to her bedroom. Sleep, that was what she needed. Her mind would quit running circles around this foalish topic if it was fresh.

The balcony window provided the only source of light in the bedroom. Luna shut the door behind her and, with but a thought, closed the curtains. In an instant, the bedroom became enshrouded in perfect darkness. Luna took a moment to let the shadows embrace her and relax, her breathing coming in a slow, gentle rhythm. The tension in her shoulders faded, her brow unfurled, her mind cleared.

No, not entirely. Luna’s ears perked to something faint, a gentle sound that seemed to come from nowhere, and yet everywhere. She glanced around at the darkness, trying to determine the origin. All was quiet save for the tone… no, the tune. It was a song.

From a cello.

Her eyes widened and she clapped her hooves over her ears, but the music persisted. She recognized that playing. By now it was the most easily recognizable style she could have ever heard. She sat and shook her head, trying to think of some other song to play in her ears, yet no matter how hard she tried, every melody she thought of gradually morphed back to one of those familiar, blessed songs.

Luna’s thoughts turned to Cadance, but she was wrong. It couldn’t be that. Luna hurried to her bed and all but dove under the covers, silently begging sleep to take over. Octavia’s music continued to haunt her as she trembled in the dark.

Octavia’s eyes flitted open yet again. She stared at her bedroom wall, traced its worn wooden panels. An aura of despondency pressed down on her like the blankets wrapped about her body. She remained motionless, offered no sound, ignored the stray hairs lingering in her vision.

No dreams last night.

No Luna.


With a sigh, she turned to her barrel and pressed her face into her pillow. Three nights in a row. Why couldn’t she dream? If only she could speak to Luna, to apologize for becoming so emotional. Surely she wasn’t being avoided? She told herself over and over again that Luna wouldn’t do such a thing, but in the back of her mind sat a voice reminding her that Luna wasn’t as strong as she tried to look.

Octavia didn’t feel all that strong, herself. She couldn’t even bring herself to go to the castle and apologize in pony. If the threat of an argument didn’t loom over her thoughts then it might have been easy. Worse were the thoughts of her sister and her cruel words. Benjamina… Octavia had sworn not to speak to her again until she’d reached the same elite status. Even now, her heart ached at the thought that she still hadn't made it.


Why was Nildia stuck in her head? Because Benjamina lived there?

She slowly sat up, the sheets dropping off her with a quiet thwoomp. With dull eyes, she stared at the wall above her headboard and thought of the land of her ancestors, a part of the world she’d not seen in so long. She missed the wild country, roaming through the jungles with her father on ‘adventures.’ At least, she always looked at them as such. In reality they always followed the known paths to get to the ancient ruins, which always had a base camp for them to stay at. It had still been exciting to a young mare not even out of grade school.

The thought brought a smile to her lips. She realized that she wanted to go back to Nildia, if only because of the nostalgia.

The smile faded; that wouldn’t happen so long as she hadn't rectified things with her sister. She couldn’t risk the mare learning of her visit and coming to gloat. Because Benji would gloat – it was in her nature – and had the meanness to seek Octavia out just for the sake of doing it.

Besides, Octavia had her career, her music… and Luna.

At least, she hoped she had Luna. If only the blasted mare would visit her in her dreams. If only she could have dreams!

Her eyes went to her cello, set in its stand in the corner. She’d practiced well into the evening in preparation for the coming Garden Party. By now she knew the songs by heart. Octavia pondered practicing some more, just to get her mind off things, but knew it was pointless. Going out didn’t appeal to her, either; even if she had been in the mood, she didn’t want to risk running into another group of reporters. They’d come after her every day so far; she wouldn’t give them a chance this time.

What else could she do? Her song for Luna had stalled, not for lack of interest but, rather, a lack of ideas. So… what else?

With a groan, she crawled her way off the bed. Stretching her legs resulted in pleasant pops, but even with that she didn’t feel very energetic. She glanced at the window and noted the sunlight pouring through; it had to be late in the morning. Her mind went to Vinyl, only to immediately discard the thought as she recalled her old friend wouldn’t be home for several more days.

Thoughts of Luna drifted through her head, prompting her to sit and rub her eyes with a growl. “Gotta think of something to do.” She didn’t think she’d ever had such a horrid case of cabin fever. Her options ran circles though her head: write, practice, go out, write, practice, go out…

She sighed and lowered her head. As she did, something caught her eye; an object hidden well beneath her bed. It took her only a second to conclude that her curiosity would at least leave her distracted for a few seconds, and so she dropped to her barrel and nudged the loose sheets aside. A long row of familiar books stood neatly beneath the frame, covered in dust. They were all from home; musical textbooks, old favorites, things of that nature.

Her eyes slowly passed along the titles. It was so easy to forget these were down there; out of sight, out of mind, as they say. Perhaps reading would be a decent pastime for the day? Nothing really stood out to her, though—

She paused, gaze set upon a particularly thick yellow tome. There was no book in her meager collection more recognizable. Almost on instinct, she pulled it out from the dust and cobwebs. She sat up and blew on the cover, sending a cloud of particles flying. Her eyes played along the bright red title:

In The Eyes of Foreign Gods: A Reference and History of Nildia by Brass Compass

A smile crept along Octavia’s lips, her interest peaked as she rubbed the smooth cover. “Hello again, Dad.”

Without a second thought, she jumped back to bed and opened to the first yellowed page.


The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter XVII

The apartment was quiet, the silence disturbed only by the faint sound of a quill’s scratching. Octavia was hunched over her kitchen table, her lower lip held in her teeth and eyes set upon the tools of her new trade. Before her sat a neat stack of papers, to her left three ink bottles – one nearly empty – and to her right a trio of open books, her father’s history textbook in the center. She worked the quill at an almost fevered pace, tracing notes in various melodies and styles and scratching out the ones she didn’t care for.

Every now and then she would glance at one of the books. Her father’s text was opened to articles about Nildian gods, particularly Camkanā, the Star Creature, who hid behind the sun during the day so that the Se Paidā Honā Ujālā – Those Born of the Light – would not see it. The second book, a favorite of her aunt’s, contained a collection of ancient Nildian folk songs, currently opened to a lullaby invoking Ullūbālū, the Sand Bird whose wings were made of enchanted dust. The third was a binder filled with the sheet music of classical Nilgiri orchestrations, currently opened to the ever-beloved Tārā Sapnā.

Octavia’s mind was bursting with ideas, melodies, concepts, patterns and themes. In all her life, not once had her desires for creativity been this clear. The level of clarity was a transformative experience; suddenly all the things she ever wanted were not only visible, but seemed perfectly within reach.

And all it took was a glance back at her roots.

Even as she scribbled out another batch of notes for consideration, she corrected that last thought. No, this wasn’t everything. This was just the final inspiration. Looking back, even that became obvious: there were three. Her past was the lock to this new well of creativity and Vinyl’s incredible song acted as the door. The key?

The quill paused. Her eyes closed, and beneath the veil of her eyelids came the soft, soothing twinkle of stars within an unparalleled mane. Yet again, the thought returned. This time she spoke it aloud, as if to savor the taste:

“I have everything I need.”

So deliciously sweet.

When she opened her eyes, they rested upon the clock on her wall. She blinked, took a closer look. With a groan and no small amount of willpower, she forced herself to put the quill down. This gave her pause; was this song so important to her that she actually begrudged having to play at the Garden Party?

Goddess, she had it bad, didn’t she? The thought brought a lopsided smile to her lips, but she promptly shook it off and turned for her room; she would need to go soon if she was to make the party on time. She checked her cello case and carrying saddle to ensure her invitation was properly stored, then turned to her small closet. Her instinct was to just grab her bowtie as usual, but she paused to take in the dresses she had.

Luna was going to be there. Maybe… maybe she should dress up a little more? She browsed the clothes, her heart rate increasing just slightly at the possibilities. All of her dresses were nice, especially for how little she was able to afford, but none of them seemed good enough. She pushed aside another one of the dresses and paused; there was her suit. The only outfit of its kind in the collection, it stood out like the moon on a starless night: black, prim, long coattails, and a fedora that, while not exactly matching the ensemble, she couldn’t help thinking looked great on her head.

The suit was one of her favorites, but she didn’t wear it often because it was also the most expensive of her outfits and she wanted it to last. For tonight, though…

Her hoof paused, half-outstretched to take the item. Her eyes were on the floor, were a small carrying case sat. Hidden inside was the stallion’s dream, the red dress she loved and hated. Luna hadn’t noticed her in that, and it was designed to be noticeable. What were the odds that Luna wouldn’t notice the suit?

Maybe it would be better to go with just her bowtie. She wasn’t going to attract Luna with nice outfits. Besides, the suit was only for special occasions. True, the Canterlot Garden Party was decidedly ‘special,’ but equal to the moment when Octavia’s greatest gift was to be unveiled before her beloved princess?

No, the two events weren’t even comparable. Octavia took the bowtie.

She strapped on her carrying case, humming a new tune as she did. She paused, hummed it in a couple variations, then hurried to her table to scribble down some notes. With an almost painful effort, she set the quill aside and returned to set her cello to the carrying saddle. That done, she marched for the door – pausing for a few seconds to scribble one last set of notes – and fled the apartment before another tune could come to mind.

The walk to the castle started off slow at first, for Octavia couldn’t stop thinking about potential new material for her music. It was so different from everything she knew! A background of the pure, delightful classical music that she had always loved, coupled with the alien melodies of Nildian culture and history, all held together by the patterned resonance of modern music that, as Vinyl had demonstrated, could indeed fit together with a more sophisticated format. A bold, original blend of sounds and styles, and it was all hers. Had she wings, she imagined she would have been floating.

Yet the closer she came to Canterlot Castle, the more her thoughts drifted towards Luna. It felt like so long since she’d spoken to the princess, even though it had only been a few days. Octavia steeled herself; Luna had agreed to attend the party, and she was confident beyond any doubt that the princess would keep that promise. After the party, they would talk and this whole mess with Bejamina could be behind them. Octavia had already forgiven Luna her trespass; surely Luna would forgive her anger.

The Royal Canterlot Gardens could easily be reached without going through the castle itself, and so Octavia took the road that ran along the side of the castle. This was an influential residential district with great mansions tucked against the castle's outer wall. On the other side of the road stood tall manors that had been built narrow due to the small space between the cobblestones and the cliff, for this road ran right up the side of the mountain. It had to in order to reach the elevated gardens next to the royal ballroom.

It took no time at all to reach the gardens once past the gate. The sight of the trees and shrubs brought to mind Octavia’s very first meeting with Luna. Looking back, it had been such an anxious moment. She smiled at the memory; oh, had she only known what that fortuitous night would lead to!

The Garden Party was in the midst of being set up, but the arrangements were nearly complete. Octavia made a beeline through the servants for the stage that had been set up on one side, taking the time to examine the other musicians already there. She recognized the violinist, a pretty yellow mare with a deep purple mane named Symphony. They’d worked together a few times in the past. Symphony’s name might not be on the lips of every pony in Equestria, but her work in orchestras was widespread and had earned her a solid reputation. Octavia always enjoyed working with the kind mare.

To the right of the stage was the backup violinist, Concerto, who belonged to the more traditional elite. Full of pomp, that one, but there could be no denying his skill. The fact that he’d been named secondary to Symphony probably irked him, but Octavia could find no indication of it on his face. Perhaps he was just happy to be at the Garden Party at all.

And of course there was Parish beside his harp. He waved as Octavia approached the stage. “Hey, Octy. I’m surprised to not see you dressed to the nines.”

“I didn’t think it was necessary,” she admitted with a small blush, accepting his help onto the stage.

Symphony paused in the act of adjusting her violin. “Hello, Octavia. Always good to see you’re in the band. The music’s going to be a lot better with you here.”

“But of course.” Octavia flicked her mane with a grin. “Nice to see you, Symphony. Fancy Pants clearly has good taste.”

“Indeed he does,” Concerto said, approaching with a smooth smile. “If I dare say so, however, I believe you are the star of tonight’s performance.”

Octavia maintained her practiced smile and resisted the urge to step back from the smug stallion. “I think you put too much stock in the tabloids, Concerto.”

“I’m not so sure.” He glanced at the crowd over his upturned muzzle, then leaned over to whisper, “Are you really in a romantic relationship with the princess?”

She kept her smile steady and ignored the tiniest of aches in her chest. “No.”

“Really?” He leaned back, eyebrows raised. “Then what did you do to earn her favor? Surely you don’t expect me to believe that Fancy Pants selected you for any other reason.”

Heat rushed to Octavia’s cheeks and she sucked down a long breath through her nostrils, lips pursed tight. At the last instant, she remembered her need to control herself and managed to avoid opening her mouth.

“Hey!” Parish stood between the two of them. “Octavia is here because of merit. You do understand that concept, don’t you?”

“Merit, her?” Concerto tilted his head so he could study Octavia with a miffed frown. “Isn’t she from Trottingham? I don’t know of any noble families from there.”

Though her lips trembled, Octavia bit her tongue. She stepped around Parish and pressed her hoof to his muzzle just in time to stop whatever had been about to explode from it. He shot her a worried look as she shook her head. Concerto watched the scene play out looking no less confused.

At last, Octavia managed to suck in another long breath and force a smile to her lips. “If you want to know why I’m here, you’ll just have to ask Fancy Pants. He’s the only one who really knows.”

Concerto rubbed the back of his head with an uncertain frown before shrugging. “I guess I’ll do that. I… didn’t mean to offend.”

“Of course.” She stepped back, pulling her hoof from Parish’s face. “Parish, would you help me set up my cello, please?”

He said nothing, only turned and stalked for the center of the stage. Her own fire mercifully burning out, Octavia gave Concerto one last nod and turned to follow.

Parish stood by as she removed her case from her saddle. His words came out as a strained hiss. “The nerve of that… that…”

“Calm down,” she instructed, offering him the case. He took it, and she worked her way out of the saddle. “It won’t do to get into a fight right before the party starts.”

He snorted and bent down to open the case. While he set her cello on a stand, she dragged her saddle to the place behind the stage where she could stash it for later. Deep down, she was reveling in the moment; she’d held in her emotions, just like she used to! It hadn’t been easy, granted, but it felt good to know that she still could if necessary. Maybe this was a sign that her situation was improving, even if only emotionally.

Parish had her cello standing properly when she got back. He looked at her with a frown and ears folded. “I’m sorry, Octy. After my little faux pas the other day, I guess I felt the need to make up for it.”

A smile bloomed on her lips and she gave him a small nuzzle. “Oh, Parish, you don’t have to make up for that, and you don’t have to defend me. I’m a big filly, you know.”

“And I’m a little colt,” he grumbled, returning the nuzzle. “Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so dumb.”

Octavia blinked. “You’re not dumb.” When he only wilted a little more, she nuzzled him again. “Parish.”

He sighed and waved her off. “Stop it, your princess will get jealous.” Despite the humorous nature of the statement, he didn’t smile.

She stared at him, at a loss for words. What could she possibly say to cheer him up? When he turned back to his harp, she reached up to try and stop him, but the words locked in her throat.

“What’s wrong with Parish?”

Octavia glanced at Symphony, who was watching the harpist with a distraught expression. “He’s beating himself up over something that’s not his fault.” She sighed and turned to her cello. “I don’t know what to tell him.”

Symphony nodded, her eyes not leaving the stallion. Octavia distracted herself with trying to tune her cello.

The Garden Party continued into the night, the pleasant music rising in the air. Luna delighted in the sound even as her stomach churned. She stood on a balcony three stories above the gardens. She gazed at Octavia, who currently had her eyes closed as she went through the current piece. The more Luna stared, the more Cadance’s words haunted her.

Part of Luna was glad she’d kept hidden. When the Element Bearers arrived to crash the party… well, Luna considered her non-presence for that near-fiasco a good thing. With her luck, perhaps she’d have made things worse. Yet now everything had returned to normal, or as ‘normal’ as they could with those six ‘rustics’ trying to fit in. Luna had observed everything, and the event gave her a newfound respect for Rarity, as well as Mr. Fancy Pants.

Her eyes drifted back to Octavia. At the end of every song, the cellist had paused to look around at the partygoers. The princess knew Octavia would be hurt if she skipped out, but every time she tried to join in…

Another twist of the stomach.

“Princess Luna?”

Luna practically jumped out of her horseshoes. She spun about, cheeks a deep crimson, and found her visitor standing by the door of the balcony, sporting a plain yellow dress. “O-oh, Twilight Sparkle! I didn’t expect you to be leaving the party so soon.”

Twilight had ducked low at the princess’s abrupt reaction, but recovered quickly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“No, it’s quite alright.” Luna sighed and glanced back to the stage. Octavia was casting around for her once more, lips set in a concerned frown. Turning her attention back to Twilight, Luna hurried to ask, “What brings you up here?”

“I was on my way to see Celestia,” Twilight replied, stepping onto the balcony. “She said she wanted to visit for my birthday.”

“Of course. A happy birthday to you.”

“Thanks.” Twilight looked down at the stage as the music started up again. “Watching Octavia?”

Luna sputtered, eyebrows shooting up and cheeks going hot. “H-how do you know about her?”

Twilight chuckled. “It’s all over the news. I don’t read the papers much, but Rarity is a true gossip and wasted no time letting everypony in Ponyville know.”

“I see.” Luna glowered at Rarity, who stood below in deep conversation with Fancy Pants. Her appreciation for the Element of Generosity promptly diminished just a bit.

Twilight gave her a curious look. “Aren’t you going to go talk to her?”

Luna licked her lips and averted her gaze. “I… I am supposed to be down there now. I promised.”

“Oh.” Twilight looked to the stage, then back to Luna. She sat and leaned forward just a little. “Is everything okay?”

The answer came slowly. “Yes. I’m just…” Luna tossed around words in her mind, seeking out just the right one. “Confused.” She gazed down at Octavia again, studying that soft face, her dark mane, that ever-calm expression. Her chest grew tight. “So confused.”

Once more, Twilight looked from Luna to Octavia and back. She considered the situation, her muzzle wrinkling in thought, and Luna suddenly didn’t like the idea of Twilight trying to figure out this puzzle. “Now, if you don’t mind—”

Twilight’s eyes became saucers. “Oh.”

No.” Luna made a cutting motion with her hoof. “Whatever you’re thinking, you will cease doing so now.”

Twilight ducked as if to avoid a blow, a sheepish grin spreading across her face. “It’s kinda hard to stop, now that I’ve started.”

“Delightful.” Luna rolled her head back with a groan. “First Cadance, now you. I imagine my accursed sister will be pestering me about this next.”

Ears perking, Twilight sat up straight and asked, “So you’re saying it’s true?”

No, that is certainly not what I am saying.”

Twilight winced and averted her gaze to the ongoing party. “Sorry.”

Luna considered her, then cursed under her breath. It took a moment to push the anger down. “Forgive me, it’s not your fault. The past few nights have been rough and I may be a bit…” She pondered on an appropriate word. “Snippy.”

“It’s okay, Princess.” Twilight continued to watch the party for a few seconds, but then her ears perked once more. “What about Octavia?”

“Octavia?” Luna’s gaze dropped to the mare in question. Octavia swayed to the music once more, her eyes closed, but there was a visible strain in her expression. The sight gave Luna a strange sense of urgency. Pushing the sensation down, she asked, “What about her?”

Twilight turned to Luna, face filled with concern. “Maybe you’re not interested, but what if she is?”

Luna scoffed. “Impossible. Octavia wouldn’t be so—” She sucked in a sharp, hissing breath, eyes going wide. She looked down at the cellist once more, abruptly imagining Octavia in a form-fitting red dress. Even for a casual dinner, it wasn’t exactly normal attire. Possibilities swam through Luna’s mind faster than she could stop them. Her heart regained its frenetic pace. “Oh my stars.”


“It’s nothing.” Luna straightened and put on her best regal mask. “Just something I realized needed doing. You should go, Celestia will be eager to see you.”

Twilight hesitated, once again glancing towards Octavia. “Alright, then. It was nice to see you again, Princess.” She started to leave, but paused before she was out of Luna’s peripheral vision. “And… um… good luck.”

Good luck? Luna resisted the urge to ask ‘for what?’ She glanced back, making sure Twilight was gone before letting her mask drop; she sagged and let out a long gasp. At this point she couldn’t get the image of Octavia in that dress out of her head. The mare – as undesiring of attention as she is – had worn something like that in full view of the public, even letting that journalist take photos of her. Did that mean something? Had Octavia been trying to send a signal?

Good Goddess, what if she was? And Luna had missed it completely!

“No,” Luna whispered, shaking her head frantically. “Twilight’s… I’m looking too deeply into this. Octavia wouldn’t be—” She exhaled slowly. “Cadance is wrong. She has to be.”

Slowly, as if just a glance risked something terrible, Luna looked down to the stage once more. Her breath caught in her throat: Octavia was looking right at her. The urge to bolt came over the princess, but she resisted and instead managed a weak wave. Octavia’s face split into a broad grin. She practically glowed as she waved with bow in hoof. Luna couldn’t help wanting to hide behind the balustrade, but she returned the smile as best she could.

The next song began. It possessed a slow tempo, yet when Octavia began her part she had a reborn energy in her sound that Luna couldn’t help noticing. Had Octavia’s playing improved because of Luna’s presence? It sounded so silly, but…

She should be down there. Luna knew that. Hiding up here wouldn’t help anything, and she couldn’t very well ignore the topic, now could she? Besides, she still owed Octavia an apology. Yes… yes, that made sense. Fighting down her stomach’s circus, she turned to make for the stairs—

A familiar, cold wave washed over her. Familiar, but far more frigid than Luna had ever experienced in such a manner. Her horn ignited in a fiery display, making her wince even as her teeth chattered. Luna’s eyebrows shot up and her heart skipped a beat. “No… No, not now. Any time but now.”

She could almost hear the wicked laughter in her ears. Closing her eyes, Luna worked her magic. The sheer volume of blood red pillars made her fur rise. Slowly, she turned a circle to take in the damage. Her heart sank as the wave of red grew, fanning out until it formed a circle around her. Had the abomination somehow managed to target the entire city?

There comes a time when you realize that you cannot save everypony.

Luna chewed her lip. She wanted to take those words to heart, to ignore this abrupt new threat and visit with Octavia. The situation with her… her friend had to be rectified, and soon. Yet there were so many night terrors out there, she’d not be able to end them all even if she worked all night long without a break. How many ponies were being affected? Hundreds?

Breath coming slowly, Luna looked down at the gardens. Octavia was concentrating on the music, her eyes closed once more and her body swaying. Oh, how much Luna wanted to go down there. She winced as a few more crimson lines appeared on the horizon. She closed her eyes and begged the sickness in her stomach to go away.

Too much. She couldn’t shirk her duties, not in the wake of such a disaster. The creature undoubtedly wanted this; it was trying to drive a wedge between them. Luna knew that Celestia was right, that sometimes the vile thing had to be ignored, but this?

“I’m sorry.”

With one last, mournful look towards Octavia, the princess turned and ignited her horn, preparing to step into the realm of dreams.

The stars shined on their own tonight, but they provided Octavia with no joy. Again. She stared at her hooves, a deep sadness marring her every thought. The Garden Party had ended ages ago. By now she understood: Luna wasn’t coming.

Slowly, she cast her head up to the balcony where she’d momentarily seen the princess. Or had she? Maybe she’d just imagined it. Even if Luna had been there, why hadn’t she come down to talk? Why disappear immediately afterwards?

Fighting back tears, Octavia trudged to her the edge of the stage and pulled on her carrying case, cello already set. The straps seemed to dig into her coat, but she made no attempt to correct the problem. Maybe the discomfort would distract from the ache in her heart. The thought of going to Luna’s quarters struck her, but she cast it aside with a dull frown. If Luna didn’t want to talk to her here, she wouldn’t want to talk to her there.

She stumbled off the stage, barely aware of her own hooves. Octavia kept her eyes on the grass, lips trembling as she struggled to think of some kind of excuse for Luna’s absence. Maybe Luna really was upset with her. Perhaps her outburst had been too much. Or… what if Luna had come to believe Octavia was angry? Octavia cursed herself. Why had she let her emotions grow so strong that night? There had to be some way to fix this, there simply had to be. Losing Luna now, her great inspiration…

She was so close to having a song she could make with her own hooves, a song that would reveal just how important Luna was. If Luna stopped seeing her – Octavia shook her head, trying to get that hideous concept out of her mind. She needed to show Luna, but Luna herself happened to be one of the major inspirations! Without the princess, could she even finish the song?

Octavia sighed and sat, the grass cool to the touch. “All I can do is fret.” Her gaze rose to the stars. “I wish I had somepony to talk to about this, anypony at all.” She saw no point in it now, though; all her usual friends would be asleep except Vinyl, and she wasn’t even in the city. She glanced around at the gardens, half-hoping some quiet watcher would appear to listen to her troubles. No such pony came, though, and after a while she resumed her trudging pace.

Yet even as she did, she felt a fire burning in her heart. She found herself glaring at the night sky, her mind blazing with fresh memories. How many times had she butted heads with Luna? How many nights had the princess made her feel special without even trying to? They laughed and argued and fretted and accepted one another. Out of all the things the two of them had in common, none were so blatant as their stubbornness.

Maybe that defined the problem. Perhaps Luna stubbornly refused to face this problem. Octavia couldn’t fault this; had she not stubbornly refused go see Luna these past few days?

Another thought came to mind, and it brought a chill to Octavia’s body: what if stubbornness led to Luna’s banishment a millennium ago? The princess had always been determined not to discuss her exile, only broaching it on a few rare moments that usually amounted to no more than a slip of the tongue. Octavia had taken to avoiding the topic entirely by now. Maybe that was the wrong approach.

Octavia knew Luna still struggled with her past. Could it be that Luna feared being close to Octavia as a direct result?

She came to an abrupt stop and turned to stare up at the castle. All her frustration fled as this new idea churned around in her mind. What if Luna feared a… a relapse? Everypony believed Nightmare Moon had been vanquished, but defeat doesn’t equate to death. Could it be that the monster—

Monster? Is that what we call ourselves now?

The air burst from Octavia’s lungs and her hind legs gave out on her. She closed her eyes and tried to remember as best she could the entity that had attacked them in her dream. The way it had spoken, the way it seemed to toy with them. There had been something specific, something important. What had it said?

Yes, keep thinking, Nightmare. Think about all the things we’ll do to her before we succumb to the velvety need.

Think about all the things we’ll do to her…

…we’ll do to her…


Octavia abruptly remembered to breathe, a small whine rising in the back of her throat. That… that thing could only be Nightmare Moon. Why else would it call Luna ‘Nightmare?’ It didn’t make sense, though; weren’t Luna and Nightmare Moon one and the same?

She shook her head violently; that thought made even less sense. Octavia knew Luna, and she was not Nightmare Moon! But that had to have been her in the dream. How could that be? Was Luna out there right now, fighting with herself in the dream realm? What had happened to cause such a thing?

She jerked to her hooves with a firm frown. It didn’t matter how it happened, or why. What mattered was that Luna was fighting the Nightmare – or at least something that resembled it. That task had to be taking up all her energy and time. She’d failed to resist it once; what were the odds of it happening again?

It could be that she’d just come up with a desperate theory to justify Luna’s absence. Octavia knew she could be completely off, but if she was right

How had Luna fallen the first time? The details were sketchy at best, but Octavia knew that somehow, in some unknown manner, Celestia had failed her sister in her time of need. If Nightmare Moon lingered in dreams, where Celestia refused to go, perhaps she would be incapable of helping again.

A growl rose unbidden from Octavia. Her princess could be under threat at this very moment, and she knew she had to help in some way. If nothing else, she had to lend her support. She might not be capable of dreamweaving, but she did have a way to offer that much.

Octavia turned and galloped for the garden’s exit, a new resolve filling her.

She had a song to write.


Luna flinched at the soft voice, slowly forcing her eyes open. She could only halfway manage it. Her entire body aching, she turned her head to find Celestia closely inspecting her with wide eyes. She said nothing to this.

“You look exhausted.” Celestia folded a wing over Luna’s smaller form, pulling her close. “Are you okay?”

A feeble, trembling smile turned Luna’s lips. “I didn’t let it win,” she whispered. Against her better judgment, she leaned against Celestia and delighted in her warmth. “It thought that… that sheer volume would beat me into submission, but… but no.”

Celestia nuzzled her cheek. “Sister, you can’t keep this up. You have to rest. Please, don’t go out there again, not until you’ve recovered.”

“I have to do my duty.” Luna replied sleepily, resting her chin on Celestia’s withers.

“No, Luna. Just for one night, please.”

“I can’t.” Luna’s voice turned ominous even through her huffing breaths. “It came during the Garden Party. It’s trying to do as much harm as… as it can to keep me from being happy.”

“And in that way, it’s winning.” Celestia turned so she could rest her head on Luna’s withers in turn. “Can’t you see, Luna? The only way it will stop is if you do.”

For a time, Luna said nothing. A tiny fire still bubbled in her mind, a smoldering ember of what she’d possessed the entire evening. The words came almost unbidden, “You could always order me.”

Celestia sucked in a sharp breath. It took a while for her to formulate an answer. “I will never order you to do anything ever again.”

Her tone felt like a knife in the heart, and before Luna knew it she was grasping her sister in shaking legs. “I’m s-sorry. I’m just so… so tired of this. It felt stronger than usual tonight, and it said such t-terrible things.” Tears defied her feeble resistance. “I won’t go back. I won’t.”

“You won’t.” Celestia returned the embrace. “I promise, Luna. You won’t go back.”

“It was so strong tonight.” Luna buried her face in her sister’s mane. “It only grows strong through me. I’m doing something wrong. What am I doing wrong?”

Celestia sat back and cupped Luna’s cheeks in her hooves. Thought difficult, Luna somehow managed to look into her sister’s determined eyes. “We’ll figure it out, little sister. Together. You’re not alone this time. Whatever I can do to help, just ask and I will be there.”

Luna considered this, wiping her cheeks with a cannon. “I d-don’t know if you can help.” She lowered her head once more. “I’m afraid, Celestia.”

Her sister fidgeted, uncertainty and anguish clear in her expression. Luna didn’t blame her; she knew exactly what it felt like to be helpless. She turned to the balcony, wobbling a little as she did. “I still have a job to do.”

“No.” Celestia nuzzled her once more. “Let me do both tonight, Luna. You need to rest.”

“If I cannot at least do this, what purpose do I serve?” Luna shook her head and concentrated. “Do not fret, Celestia; I have enough strength for one of my only duties.”

Celestia hesitated, but finally nodded. Luna said no thanks, instead focusing her attention on the new moon. The glow of her horn was shaky at best, flickering in the dark as she struggled to conjure some magic through her weariness. The moon responded, but its path was slow and jerking, sometimes pausing for several seconds before resuming its slide to the horizon. The effort had Luna panting and sweat beading on her flanks. A burning sting centered in her forehead, making her cringe. At last, the moon disappeared over the horizon.

Luna released the magic, stumbling forward as she did. Her breathing, previously heavy, now came in gasps. Had her legs not been splayed, she might have collapsed. The weight that seemed to cover her entire body had grown significantly, catching her by surprise, and her head was throbbing. She dropped to a sitting position with a groan.

Celestia touched horns with her sister, lips set in a deep frown. “You’ve overdosed.”

“I know,” Luna grumbled, rubbing her head. “I’ve not done that in centuries.” The world abruptly began to spin, and she had to scramble on aching legs to keep from falling down. Celestia pressed against her for support. “M-maybe I really should rest for a night.”

“Good, please do.” Her sister turned her gaze to the horizon, her horn sparking. “Let me raise the sun, then I’ll help you to your room.”

Closing her eyes, Luna braced herself. Soon the light of the sun pierced her eyelids, agitating her headache. Yet worse than the first rays of morning was the shame she felt for her weakness. She wanted something, longed for it, yet somehow she knew it wouldn’t help. Celestia would do it, if she asked. The question was on the tip of her tongue.

“Come,” Celestia whispered, nudging her to the door. “Let’s get you to bed.”

Luna allowed herself to be corralled, fighting a mighty internal struggle. If only she weren’t so scared, if only she thought it would help. “S… sister?”

“Yes, Lulu?”

She pressed a little more tightly against Celestia, cheeks red. “Will you… will you stay with me? At least until I fall asleep?” Though she didn’t open her eyes, she could feel Celestia’s gaze upon her. She felt like such a foal.

“Of course I will.”

Luna sighed, a shadow of a smile on her lips as she tucked her muzzle beneath her sister’s throat. “Thank you… Tia.”


The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter XVIII



“No, sister.” Luna turned to the door leading up the tower, but Celestia blocked her path with outstretched wings. “Move.”

Celestia’s expression was firm. “You promised you would take this night off.”

Luna raised her head high and scoffed. “I made no such promise. I said I would consider it. Regardless, it does not apply to this.”

“I believe it does.” Celestia braced, as if she expected her sister to dash past like a foal eluding her parent. “A night off should include all royal duties, Luna, including this one.”

Faint, familiar whisperings taunted Luna as they had all day, but she shook off the unpleasant implications they pressed upon her. She met Celestia’s solemn expression with one of her own. “The citizens of Equestria know me for one thing, sister. One. Would you deny me even this small measure of responsibility?”

Celestia’s lips worked. Luna could almost see the gears turning as her sister sought out the most diplomatic response. The thought sickened her. At last Celestia replied, “I would deny you nothing. I am only asking for you to be reasonable.”

“‘Reasonable.’” Luna scowled. “Since when has one princess’s taking over of another’s duties been considered a ‘reasonable’ act?”

“I only intended to raise the moon for you, Luna. Just this once.”

Luna gritted her teeth. “The moon is mine to raise.”

Celestia peered at her. “You suffered a magic overdose this morning.”

“I told you, I feel fine. Look.” The guard at Luna’s side rose in the air, his eyes going wide. “See? No pain.”

“Luna, put him down.” This accompanied by an exasperated sigh. After the guard was safely deposited to the floor, Celestia continued, “One pony is not the same as raising the moon. Please, Luna, it’s going to be late.”

“Then get out of my way so I can raise it.”


The doubt tried to press its way into Luna’s mind. It took a bit more work to push it back this time.

Celestia noticed the pause and pressed her advantage. “I know you feel as though the moon is symbolic of your place in Equestria, but—”

“Symbolic? It is my place in Equestria!” Luna sat and rubbed her temple, fighting down the ice in her heart. She refused to listen to the whispers that had plagued her in her sleep. “Please, sister. I promise, all I’m asking is that you let me raise the moon. This is… it’s all I have to retain my authority.”

Celestia’s expression softened. “What about dreams?”

“Dreams are flowing, ebbing, ever-shifting,” Luna replied. “The moon is solid, permanent.”

With a smile, Celestia relaxed. “I think you underestimate the effects of your dreamweaving.”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “You presume to educate me on the value of dreams?”

“What I presume,” Celestia countered with no less certainty, “is that you really do intend to relax tonight, probably by going to visit Octavia.”

Heat rose in Luna’s cheeks and she stiffened. “The thought… occurred to me.” She glanced away at Celestia’s smirk. “It is of no relation to the current topic.”

“I think it is,” Celestia said. “You must avoid using too much magic tonight, you know that as well as I. I am trying to help you limit the mandatory use of your horn, Luna.”

“I don’t follow.”

Celestia’s smile grew smug. She turned her face away and raised it high, rubbing a hoof beneath her chin as if in careful thought. “As a responsible elder sibling, I am obligated to keep you from hurting yourself. What would you rather, raise the moon or meet Octavia?”

Luna gaped. “Are you saying you want me to choose?”

“One spell, or the other.” Celestia smirked. “I can’t possibly let you do both tonight.”

“This is ridiculous!” Luna pointed to the nearest window. “I could just walk over there, or any other window in the castle, and still raise the moon. And how do you propose to stop me from dreamweaving?”


“In fact, why don’t I do that?” Luna turned and marched for the window. She stared out at the horizon and ignited her horn.


The spell paused, half-prepared. Luna blinked and looked to see Celestia had her head bowed, eyes set where Luna had just been. All pretense at confidence had fled her sister’s countenance, replaced by a deep sorrow.

Luna tried to take this image in. Despite her lingering anger, the pain in Celestia’s face tugged at her heart. “Trust?”

Celestia wouldn’t look at her. “You told me you wanted to regain my trust. I’ve been trying to regain yours as well. Please, Luna, trust your big sister again. You once gave it to me freely.”

The cold anger swept back over Luna. She reared her head back and glared. “Do I not have your trust, sister?”

“Of course you do, but do I have yours?”

Luna ground her teeth. Through the blizzard in her mind, she focused on keeping calm. There was a temptation to ignore this blatant manipulation of her situation, to raise the moon in defiance of it! Yet she fought down the urge with everything she had. At last the aura of her horn faded, but the ice in her heart remained.

Celestia’s eyes lit up as she turned to her. “Thank you, Luna. I’m sorry, I know I can be a bit overbearing at times.”

“You’re not sorry.” Luna turned to walk away.

“I thought we made such great progress this morning.”

Luna huffed. “And that made you think I’d be okay with the theft of my responsibilities?”

She could hear hoofsteps behind her. Celestia’s voice was almost pleading. “It’s only for one night. I’m doing this for your sake, little sister.”

Luna sniffed and shot a dark glance over her shoulder. “Enjoy your monarchy. I’m sure you missed it.”

The look on Celestia’s face was like a lance through her heart, but Luna refused to acknowledge the pain. She marched away, leaving her sister behind with head held high. She went directly to the Nocturnal Wing, ignoring every guard and servant she might pass. Speech was out of the question, lest she explode at some undeserving soul.

Although it required all her willpower, Luna kept the biting cold within her until she was back in her chambers. As soon as the door closed, she knocked her crown off her head with a snarl. “How dare she use that against me, to manipulate me like that!”

Luna began to pace, steam snorting from her nostrils. “‘Trust,’ she says. What does she think I’ve been trying to do since my return? That arrogant, spoiled…” She sensed a change in the air and felt her stomach drop. Her eyes went to the windows instinctually, through which she could see the moon rising over the distant horizon. The sight made her legs buckle.

She dropped to her barrel with a groan. “She speaks of trust, and then takes away my one duty. What is that but a sign that she doesn’t trust me? Is she not aware that trust is a two way street?”

With a sigh and a pout, she rested her chin on her crossed cannons. “I’m being ridiculous. It’s just for one night, isn’t it? Celestia only wants what’s best for me.”

Her head jerked up, a sneer on her lips. “And who is she to decide that? I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

She winced at her own words. “Then again, I did act like a foal a thousand years ago. I shouldn’t blame her for treating me like one.”

“Yes, we should! She’s repeating all the same arrogant mistakes!”

“So am I. It’s my fault I was exiled, so it’s my duty to repair the bond between us.”

“Why does it have to be? Why shouldn’t she give just as much as we do?”

“This is just as hard for her as it is for me.”

“It’s not even close! She didn’t spend a thousand years alone!”

“And spending a thousand years facing her guilt is any better?”

“She had it coming.”

We had it coming.”

“She doesn’t trust us!”

“She’s trying.”

“Hydra droppings! She’s only saying what she wants us to hear.”

“That’s not true.”

“It is! Put the blinders on stupid, ignorant little Luna so she’ll trot along to her sister’s tune.”

“Celestia isn’t like that!”

“Did she not just order us to give up our charge?”

“She didn’t order us.”

“Order, manipulate, same thing.”

“N-no, it’s not…”

“How long before she stops with the pretense and takes away our responsibilities for good?”

“She won’t do that!”

“How do we know? She doesn’t trust us.”

“Stop it.”

“And she never will!”

Luna jumped to her hooves. “Get out of my head!”

Her legs shook, her breath came in gasps, her wings were half-opened and taut. She stared at the wall with wide eyes, trying to process what had just happened. Understanding dawned upon her like a fresh nightmare, and she fervently denied it. Blood pounding in her ears, she turned and ran for the lounge, kicking the doors open with a resounding bang. She rushed to the dark armor in the corner, caught it in her hooves, ripped it from its stand and flung the thing across the room with a snarl.

Silence filled the air, interrupted only by her shallow breathing. The armor lay on the floor, immobile and innocuous. She stared at it, horn shining like some unearthly torch in the dark. “Come on, you fiendish thing,” she hissed through her teeth. “Talk to me.”

Nothing. No velvety whisper in her ear, no ominous chuckle in her mind. The world was hideously quiet. Luna would have given anything to have heard it speak to her.

Seconds passed. Minutes.

At last, the glow of Luna’s horn died and she sank to the floor. She covered her face with her cannons and struggled against the sting in her eyes and the sob in her throat. “I’m not going back,” she whispered hoarsely. “I’m not. I won’t. I’m not going back.”

She repeated the phrase over and over again. The shadows pressed in from all sides, feeling downright oppressive, but Luna didn’t dare ignite the nocturnal lanterns. She didn’t want to look at this room, this… this prison.

The last thought sent a shiver down her spine. “I’m n-not going back, I’m not going back.”

Luna knew she needed help, but what avenues were left to her? She couldn’t possibly go to Celestia, not after their recent conversation. Besides, it wasn’t as if Celestia really cared about—

She shook her head violently beneath her hooves. “I’m not going back! I’m not going back.”

Her ears swiveled about in search of that familiar, hated, desperately desired voice. Only her own shallow breathing met them. “I’m not… not going back.”

Her head rose abruptly and her eyes went wide. “Octavia. I want to see Octavia.”

Closing her eyes, Luna focused on the dreamweaving spell. Soon she could see all the colorful lines, and she sighed with relief to find only a few stray red ones out there, none of them strong enough to demand her attention. Then she recalled her unspoken ‘promise’ to her sister and scowled; she’d keep that promise, of that she felt determined. No nightmare patrol tonight.

Visiting Octavia was perfectly suitable, though. She began filtering the dreamlines, rapidly eliminating all those that didn’t belong to Octavia. By this point she knew exactly where to look, so it took no time at all to—

Luna’s heart sank: Octavia wasn’t sleeping. She shouldn’t be dreaming at all, but Luna would have seen if she were at least asleep. For the first time, Luna regretted that Octavia had adapted her sleeping habits to make their visits easier.

There was nothing for it; Luna would just have to wait. The thought brought a pout to her lips.

She cancelled the spell and opened her eyes… to find herself looking directly at the fallen armor of Nightmare Moon. Her ears folded back and the ice returned to her chest. She turned her face away and trembled once more.

She prayed Octavia wouldn’t keep her waiting long.

Octavia’s head bobbed forward. She jerked it up and shook it violently, clutching the quill in her hoof. Laying on the floor at the foot of her bed, she was surrounded by page after page of sheet music. A dozen books lay scattered about the room. She rubbed her eyes and tried to remember where she was with her work, but it eluded her.

“No,” she grumbled, “I’m not done yet.” Her words sounded slow and feeble even to her.

She set her face in a determined frown and tried to focus on the sheet music in front of her. She was able to read the five previous notes, and the tune came back to her mind. It was lovely, and it sounded just right, but it wasn’t complete. A few more notes…

No ink came from her quill. She dipped it in the inkpot, silently replaying the music in her head as she did, and tried again. Still no ink. Blinking, she glanced at the jar to find it empty. A cursory glance revealed four more jars, all just as empty.

Octavia suspected she should feel angry about this, but she was too tired to muster that kind of response. She yawned and tried to take in her work, but in her growing disorganization she’d stopped tending to her stack, and now the sheets made a chaotic mess out of her bedroom. With a groan, she set the quill aside and climbed to her hooves.

She trudged into her kitchen. With how quiet everything was, the creaking of the floorboards seemed incredibly loud. A glance at the clock revealed it was well past midnight. Octavia opened her refrigerator, pulled out some milk and drank straight from the bottle. The cool liquid felt good in her throat, but did little to alleviate her weariness.

There was a voice in the back of her head suggesting she buy more ink next time, but she shoved it down. Even if this was for Luna, she’d worked far too long at a stretch. Her friends would be questioning her sanity if she pulled something like today over and over again. They might even be right this time.

After taking one more chug of milk, Octavia put the bottle away and returned to her bedroom. She entertained half a thought to sorting an entire day’s worth of sheet music before turning out the light and collapsing on her bed. She didn’t even bother to crawl under the sheets; she pressed her cheek into the pillow and relished its cool softness.

Octavia knew she was dreaming almost immediately, which was a fairly new sensation. There was an unpleasant tingling, her coat hairs standing on end and a taut feeling in her stomach that left her nauseous. She was boxed in by white walls made entirely of sheet music, the notes all blurred together in an illegible mishmash of ink. The floor and ceiling followed the exact same pattern.

As soon as Octavia recovered from the unpleasant feelings, she grinned and turned a circle. “Luna, I know you’re here! Come out.”

At first, there was no response. Then the sheet music on one of the walls began to flap about as if caught in a wind. Piece by piece, they were blown away from the wall, leaving an opening just large enough for a pony to fit through. On the other side of this paper doorway sat Luna, and Octavia lit up at the sight of her.

Octavia trotted for the princess, but her approach slowed as she took the pony in. Luna’s mane was dim and her coat appeared disheveled. She stared at her hooves, huffing as if she’d been running all night long, and her shoulder sagged. She didn’t even have on her regalia.

“Luna?” Octavia took a tentative step closer. “Are you okay?”

The princess made no attempt to look at her. “What took you so long?”

“What do you mean?”

At last Luna looked up. There were bags under the princess’s eyes, which were bloodshot. Her chin shook as she worked her lips. “I’ve been waiting all night. Why wouldn’t you sleep?”

Octavia blanched. “I… was busy.” She moved closer and sat, staring up at Luna’s miserable countenance. “What happened to you?”

“I’ve been busy, as well.” Luna sighed and turned her face away. “I am sorry about the Garden Party. I wanted to be there.”

“Don’t worry about the party, worry about you. You’re a mess.”

Luna offered a weak chuckle. “I feel a mess. The past few nights have been arduous.” She turned, her smile frail but genuine. “It’s really good to see you again, my… friend.”

Octavia beamed at this. “It’s good to see you too. I missed you.”

“Oh.” Luna’s smile faded, her eyes doing that little dance Octavia was so familiar with. “Can you forgive me for taking away your ability to dream? I assure you, it was for your own safety.”

“I understand.” Octavia leaned forward, hoping to convey her sincerity through her smile. “You were trying to protect me from N… the monster, right?”

“Yes!” Luna nodded, her face lighting up. “That’s it, exactly. I feared you wouldn’t understand, that you would be upset.”

“Of course not.” Then Octavia frowned. “I was put off by your silence, though. Couldn’t you have sent me a message somehow?”

Luna stared at her in unblinking befuddlement, then covered her face beneath a leg. “My Goddess, how could I be so foalish? Why didn’t I think of that? I am so, so sorry!”

Octavia winced and hurried to add, “It’s okay, really! I figured you were busy and all… and besides—” she kicked at the floor, “—I didn’t go to see you in the meantime, did I?”

“I don’t think I’d have had time to meet with you, regardless.” Luna sighed and stared at her hooves some more. “But I… wanted to see you. Tonight, I needed to. It’s been so difficult lately, and you know I don’t like to complain about such things. I just needed… to see a friendly face.”

“A friendly face?” Octavia’s ears folded back as she thought of the implications of that sentence, both the good and the bad. “What about—”

“Do not mention my sister.”

Octavia leaned back, eyes wide at Luna’s harsh tone.

“I’m sorry!” Luna hid her face behind a wing, but it was too late; the fear in her expression had been as clear as day. “Th-that’s not what I… I didn’t mean it.”

“What’s wrong?” Octavia reached up to touch that silky blue wing. “Luna?”

“Nothing is wrong.”

Her tone was regal, but strained. Octavia hesitated, wondering if she’d be overstepping by asking the question. “Did you two have a fight?”

Luna still didn’t lower her wing. “I said nothing is wrong.”

“I… but…” Octavia kicked at the ground, her head low but eyes set where she suspected Luna’s face to be. “How can I help you if you won’t talk about it?”

“I don’t need help!” Luna turned away and began pacing a small circle. “It’s not my fault Celestia’s an arrogant tyrant!”

Octavia blinked. “A tyrant? Celestia?”

“Yes! And she has you all eating out of her hoof like good little fillies and colts, doesn’t she? Well, she’s got her power back for the night. We’ll see if it satisfies her for the time being, but I won’t be surprised if I never get my responsibilities back.”

Her behavior left Octavia with a loose jaw. She found herself thinking on a time that seemed so long ago, when Luna wouldn’t permit herself to speak ill of her sister. “What is wrong with you?”

“What is wrong with me?” Luna whipped around to press her muzzle into Octavia’s, a fierce growl rising from her throat. Octavia hurried to back away from those harsh eyes.

No sooner had the anger come was it gone. Luna stepped back, her face going slack. She raised her shaking hooves, studying them as if they had suddenly changed color. “W-what is wrong with me?”

“No, it’s okay!” Octavia approached and caught Luna’s hooves in her own, which brought the princess’s eyes down to meet hers. For just a moment, Octavia was stunned into silence, lost in those startling blue pools. Her heart rate climbed, but then she recalled the situation and shook off her… interest.

“Everypony gets angry at their siblings from time to time. I should know, I have four of them.”

Luna blinked, but didn’t move away. Instead, she gripped Octavia’s hooves. “I’m trustworthy, am I not?”

“Of course you are!”

No smile graced Luna’s lips. Her eyes were wide and wild. “Th-then why doesn’t she trust me?”

Octavia tilted her head. “What makes you think she doesn’t trust you?”

“She took my moon!”

“She… what?” Octavia struggled to process this sentence.

Luna jerked away with another growl. “My moon! She wouldn’t let me raise it! ‘You need a break,’ she said. ‘Have to get some rest,’ she said. ‘I’m not ordering you, Luna.’ Oh, no!” She stomped, and the impact sent sheet music flying in all directions. “She just manipulates me, tells me exactly what she knows she must to get me to play along. I’m supposed to be the good, loyal, obedient little sister. Shut up and do what I’m told!”

Octavia gasped. “Luna, listen to yourself!”

“I know, I know!” Luna pressed her hooves to her face. “These damnable thoughts just keep coming. I’m trying to calm down. I’ve been trying all night! D-did it find a flaw in my defenses? Did it finally get to me? I don’t want to go back!”

Octavia didn’t even realize what she was doing until it had already happened: her hooves wrapped tightly around the princess’s shoulders. She held on, surprised at her own forwardness, and wondered if she hadn’t just made a grave mistake. Yet Luna didn’t react, so she relaxed… a little.

“I know what it is you’re fighting, Luna,” she whispered. “You won’t go back. You’re too good to go back.”

Gradually, her hooves shaking, Luna clutched her close. “H-how do you know what I’m up against?”

“I figured it out. It’s Nightmare Moon, isn’t it?”

Luna’s weak gasp blew her warm breath into Octavia’s ear. “You know?”

Octavia nodded against her shoulder. “What else would keep you so busy you had to skip the Garden Party? What else could keep you fighting in dreams?”

It took a few seconds for Luna to respond. “She’s determined to hurt me… to hurt us. She wants me back.”

The word ‘us’ made Octavia tense up, but now wasn’t the time for such considerations. “You won’t lose to her. I know it, Luna. You’re better than her.”

“Am I?” Luna heaved a shuddering breath. “Sh-she won once already. I’m trying so hard, but I don’t know if I can…”

“You’re the Princess of the Night.” Octavia leaned back to offer a confident smile. “She’s nothing but a shadow. You know it better than I do.”

“A shadow.” Luna bowed her head, tears barely held behind her eyes as they shifted in thought. “Yes, she’s a shadow, but a shadow of me. I created the abomination with my own envy.”

“But that’s not you!” Octavia leaned down, trying to look her princess in the eyes. “That’s not you, Luna, I know it.”

Luna wouldn’t meet her gaze. She seemed so small, her wings hanging limp, ears folded and head low. Her posture reminded Octavia of… submission. It brought a stab of pain to her heart.

“Octavia… We can’t do this anymore.”

Octavia froze, her face slack as her heart gave a sudden, terrible twist. “What?”

“It’s too dangerous.” Luna turned away from her. “You’re my… my friend. The Nightmare will target you. If it wins, your life will be in danger. I can’t have that.”

“It won’t win!” Octavia ran a circle around Luna, but the princess turned her face away. “Luna, it will not win! You’re going to beat it!”

Luna shivered. “I… I don’t know that.”

Tears stung Octavia’s eyes. She grabbed Luna’s shoulders and shook her. “You will! You just have to believe in yourself. P-please, you can’t—”

“Believe in myself?” Luna jerked away, her face contorted in a scowl. “Believing in myself is precisely what let it win last time! ‘I’m better than my sister.’ ‘I am not just a shadow of the light!’ ‘There will be only one princess of Equestria!’ Self-confidence nearly killed every pony in the world!”

“But…” Octavia flinched from Luna’s steely gaze. “B-but I know you. That was… it wasn’t your fault. It was different.”

“How?” Luna turned away, but the anger didn’t leave her face. “How is this any different? No, Octavia. I will fight the Nightmare, but there is no guarantee of success.”

Octavia’s lips worked, but only a frail whimper left them. She stared at her hooves, shaking with the effort to find something, anything meaningful to say.

“I lift your curse,” Luna whispered. “You will dream once more, and I will protect your dreams, but we can no longer meet. In fact… it may be safer for you to leave Canterlot entirely.”

Octavia’s head snapped up. Tears threatened to escape her. Her throat constricted; she struggled to breathe. Luna wouldn’t face her. If only Luna would face her!

“Thank you, Octavia. Thank you for your music, for your comfort. I will… I…” Another shiver ran down Luna’s body. She spread her wings. “Just… Th-thank you.”

She flew away. Octavia raised a trembling hoof to stop her, but it was too late; Luna had disappeared in the darkness that now surrounded her. Lips shook; tears warmed her cheeks. For a long time, her hoof just hung there, limp and weak and useless like her.

“B-but… But I believe in you.”

Luna collapsed on her floor with a gasp and covered her face. She could still see Octavia’s expression: the slack jaw, the paleness, the tears threatening to burst from her eyes. That one expression tore at her soul like nothing else ever could. Tears formed trails down her face, but she refused to make a sound. No, Luna buried her face in her cannons and, though the effort rocked her body, kept her sobbing as silent as she could.

She knew it now.

Cadance had been right.

So beautifully, horribly right.

Luna fought to control her emotions, to beat them down with some semblance of logic. She stood no chance; every time her mind began to clear, that pretty, horrible, broken visage would come back to haunt her.

“W-why did I do that? That’s n-not what I m-meant to do…”

Somepony knocked on her door. Luna’s head jerked up, her body shrinking away from the sound as if stung. She clamped her jaw tight against her own quick breathing and stared at the door, tensed as if she might bolt from whoever had come calling.


The ice came back, abrupt and powerful. Luna sneered even as more tears ran down her face.

“Luna, can we talk?”

She turned her face away from the door, struggling between a desire to sob and the need to maintain a regal poise… even if nopony could see it. “Go away, sister.”

Celestia needed a moment to formulate a response. “Please, Luna. I know I made a mistake and… and I’d like to right it.”

Luna gasped, her eyes going wide. She pressed a hoof to her aching chest, eyes shifting while her mind tried to process this. An answer… she had to answer.

“Luna? Please, let me in.”

No. No, it was a trick. Little Luna needed to be placated. She raised her head high once more. “I have no interest in talking right now.”

Another pause. No doubt Celestia was looking for just the right words to break Luna’s defenses and earn her forgiveness. Luna didn’t want to forgive.

No, she did. She should.

“I need you to listen to me, little sister. Please.”

“Celestia, I…” Luna stared at her hooves, her throat closing as the urge to sob rose up once more.

“You have to let me in, Luna. I have to make this right.”

Because only she could?

The ice returned. Luna gritted her teeth.

“This is not something you can just ‘make right.’”

Celestia’s voice was strained. Having difficulty keeping patient, it seemed. How frustrating Luna must be for her. “I know. Believe me, Luna, I know, but we need to start trusting one another.”

“Trust?” Luna glared at the door. “Trust is earned through actions, and yours are in question. Come to me in a year, and maybe then we’ll talk.”

“Luna, please. What must I do to help you?”

Luna’s ears perked. The idea made the ice thaw… some. She stood and turned to the door. The question danced on the tip of her tongue, but the odds of Celestia accepting were so low… should she even bother? “L-let me…” She paused to swallow the lump in her throat.

There was a trace of hope in Celestia’s voice. “Yes?”

Oh, so eager to get this over with.

Luna’s tone grew hard. “Let me see your nightmare.”

Silence. Luna pawed the floor, her eyes narrowing as she awaited a response. The air felt thick, pressing in on her. She moved a little closer to the door.

“Please, Luna. Ask me anything else.”

The ice expanded, freezing Luna’s entire body. She reared her head, lips pulled back to bare her teeth. “No.”


“No! You speak of trust, but you know nothing of it. All you want is for me to behave.”

“That’s not true!”

The horror in Celestia’s tone was like a slap in the face, and Luna reeled. The ice melted as fast as it had come, and she collapsed to her knees with a gasp.

Celestia’s words pushed through Luna’s chaotic mind. “Sister, you must believe me, I never intended anything like that! I swear, I only meant to look out for you. I’m sorry if I seem controlling. I… I only ever wanted to help.”

Luna swayed as though drunk, a storm of conflicting emotions making the world spin. She closed her eyes and sucked down a long, slow breath, then released. The repeated this a few times: inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. By the fourth time, she had steadied herself. She looked at the door. At the moment, it seemed more akin to a great wall separating her from her dear sister.

Yes, her dear sister. She wouldn’t let the Nightmare mislead her. Luna reaffirmed the fact: she loved her sister, and she would never forget that fact again.

Even so…


A long, horrible pause.

“I’m here.”

Luna winced at that quiet tone. “Please, forgive me. I… my emotions are powerful, and have tainted my words. I don’t believe I can have this conversation now. I beg of you to give me time.”

“Time.” Celestia’s sigh was heavy. “Do we have time, Lulu?”

“I…” Luna chewed her lip and stared at her hooves. “I don’t know.”

Another of those hideous pauses.

“Very well. I will trust you, Luna. In the meantime, will you please forgive my rash decision?”

A weak smile formed on Luna’s lips. “I think I can do that.”

“G-good.” A moment’s hesitation. “Goodnight, little sister.”

“Goodnight, dear sister.”

Luna waited, just in case. Her body felt heavy, her breathing came in a long, slow rhythm. Despite everything, her mind had at last steadied. When certain Celestia had gone, she turned and walked for the window. Her eyes drifted over the city of Canterlot, to a certain familiar district.

“Forgive me, Octavia,” she whispered. “I know it hurts. It hurts… like I can’t believe.” She pressed a hoof to her chest, taking in the pain. “I will fight this demon. For my sister and Equestria, but for you more than anything. I won’t give up, not yet.

“And maybe, when it is at last vanquished, I will hear your beautiful music once more.”

Author's Notes:

As of this chapter, we are officially in the downward spiral to the climax. So glad to finally be here!

Patan Ke Kagār Par

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter XIX
Patan Ke Kagār Par
On The Ropes

Dead weight. The term wandered through Luna’s mind as she remained tightly ensconced within her sheets. Her body felt like lead and her mind drifted sluggishly. Her limbs didn’t react at all to her half-willed instructions.

The music haunted her, like always. If she hadn’t known better, she’d have sworn Octavia was in the room, playing leisurely on her cello. A delightful image, one that pierced Luna’s heart over and over again. Why couldn’t she get the mare’s face out of her head? Why did that music have to slip through her ears no matter how hard she struggled to cover them?

Not tonight, however. Tonight, Luna kept still, unable and unwilling to move from her bed, letting the beautiful music torture her.

She had no way to know how much time had passed. Perhaps she’d drifted back to sleep. Perhaps not. That little voice in the back of her mind said she should at least try to get up. She hated that voice. Even so, she pushed her head through the covers – an act that required no small amount of effort – and let her muzzle poke out. A few quick sniffs rewarded her with the savory scent of breakfast in the next room.

If breakfast had already been prepared, then it was most certainly time to get up. She lingered anyway. Maybe she should let Celestia raise the moon again. Goddess knew Luna didn’t deserve to.

No, it was her duty, and she’d never shirked her duties before. She had no intention of starting now.

“Get up.”

Her body remained limp. She scowled.

“Get up now.”

Her leg twitched, but couldn’t rise against the overwhelming weight of itself.

She let out a small moan. “Don’t be so pathetic, Luna. Get. Up.”

That at least gave her enough energy to sit up properly, the covers falling off her shoulders with a quiet fwoomph. The hardest part of her morning done, she spent the next minute or so working up the courage to climb off the bed. Her entire body felt heavy, her wings dragging along the carpeted floor. In a way, it felt like any other evening; getting out of bed had always been the worst part of her night. This, however, was profoundly different from everything she was used to. Even grumbling and grouchy, she always at least had some energy.

Breakfast was the usual spread, with assorted fruits and vegetables, a half-loaf of rye bread with a plate of butter, a small bowl of long-grain rice and a glass of blueberry juice. She took the rice first, but even one of her favorite foods felt like dirt in her mouth. The juice seemed tasteless, the fruit dry and the bread too soft. She knew the details were all in her head and that any other pony would be relishing the fine morning meal, even if it wasn’t as flashy and creative as Celestia’s preferred dishes.

She ate in silence, neither her energy nor her mood rising. She didn’t bother to raise the curtains; at the moment the sunlight felt more like an unwholesome invader than anything and she wanted nothing to do with it. About halfway through the meal, she finally noticed an addition to her table.

Luna studied the scroll, wondering if it might be from her sister. They’d not spoken to one another very much in the past couple of days, though Luna had only herself to blame for it. Celestia wanted to talk, had tried on several occasions. Luna brushed her off every time; just being in her sister’s presence made her heart throb. If only she could be confident of why.

After some consideration, Luna came to the conclusion that this was not a message from her sister. The scroll had been tied in a red ribbon with an embroidered ‘L’ for its seal. She’d seen enough letters appear before Celestia to know exactly who had sent this one. For the first time since… Octavia… Luna felt her malaise fade in the face of curiosity.

Luna raised the scroll in her magic, considering it with a peering gaze. Perhaps this hadn’t been written by her sister, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have a hoof in it. Should she brace herself? She rolled her eyes at her own paranoia and, before doubt could forestall her once more, pulled off the ribbon and unrolled the letter.

Dear Princess Luna,

I’d like to ask “how are you,” but I have a pretty good idea. I know this might be considered very forward of me. I ask your forgiveness in advance. It’s not like me to send letters out of the blue like this, but when I heard of your circumstance I felt compelled to act. I like to think that the events of Nightmare Night have made us friends, and this gives me hope that you’ll listen to what I have to say.

Did Celestia ever relate you what I was like growing up in the palace? I imagine she had an embarrassing story or two to tell. The important thing is that I was… well, I won’t sugarcoat it: I was a recluse. I spent every waking moment studying, reading and experimenting. I had no friends to speak of, only acquaintances. I never saw the value. I even thought everypony else felt the same way about me. Social interaction was a waste of valuable time.

The night after the Garden Party, I decided to explore the castle like I used to as a foal. I only wanted to enjoy the nostalgia. As I did so, I ran into Feather Duster. Maybe you know her, maybe not, but when I was little she was responsible for keeping my place tidy. Another one of those acquaintances, a pony I was obligated to know because she had to come to my rooms every day.

She cried when she saw me. I thought something was wrong, but then I learned that her tears were of pride. Feather Duster had watched me grow from a foal to a mare. She even remembered my birthday. Until then, it had never dawned upon me how she might see me. All that time, I’d looked upon her as another face getting in the way of my work, when she saw me as so much more.

She brought me to see a few others, and I was surprised at how much I remembered. Old Dry Wit, who used to make me laugh with his namesake; the twins Lollipop and Popsicle, who always slipped an extra cookie into my lunches when they thought Celestia wasn’t paying attention; Wrinkled Muzzle, who taught me all about poise and grace despite looking like a hippo on stilts. They were all so happy to see me, and I them.

That day, I realized that even before I understood friendship, I had friends. Even though I kept hidden amongst my musty old tomes, the blackboards and the textbooks, ponies still saw me as something more that a stand-offish egghead. The way they welcomed me back… I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about it.

It was a beautiful lesson.

One benefit to having friends working in the palace is that you learn a bit about what’s going on there. Now I hear that you’re hiding in your room all night, refusing to talk to even your sister. I look back at how hard you worked during Nightmare Night to gain everypony’s affection and I have to believe that something has gone horribly wrong. I can only think of one thing.

Maybe I’m reading too deeply into things, or maybe I’m not digging deep enough. I wouldn’t presume to try. Even so, if this is what I think it is, then I implore you, Princess:

Don’t give up on friendship.

Don’t give up on Octavia.

I understand that even when we think we’re alone – and especially when we strive to be so – our friends are there for us. Mine watched and waited for me to come out of my shell. I’m sure yours are just as eager to embrace you. Remember Dinky and Ditzy, Pinkie and Applejack, the entire town of Ponyville. We’re all rooting for you, Princess.

I’m sure Octavia is as well.

Your friend,

Twilight Sparkle

It took a moment for Luna to realize she bore a smile. A sad smile, but a smile nonetheless. “Dear sister, this may be the best apprentice you’ve ever had.”

Luna promptly summoned a scroll of her own, a quill and inkpot floating over from one of the nearby tables. She tapped the sharp point of the quill on her tongue a couple times as she considered her response.

Dear Twilight Sparkle,

The concern you’ve shown me is touching. Your letter has been well-received, and came at a most ideal time. I know that my reclusiveness must be worrisome, but I beg you not to let my affairs disturb you.

She paused, staring at the words. Her smile faded.

I am

Am what? Luna chewed the quill. She felt strangely out of breath. How much dare she say?

I am merely feeling under the weather, but can assure you that it is only a temporary issue. Even alicorn princesses have their bad nights.

It sounded like a weak dodge, even to her. She grimaced and considered scrapping the letter for something else. No, best to keep going. Maybe… a little bit of truth?

I admit, there is a bit of strain between Octavia and myself, but that has always been the case.

Luna smirked; well, that at least was the unbridled truth. Now to finish up.

I would like to write a longer response, but I need to attend to my duties. Perhaps in the morning I will send you something longer, something more appropriate to the gift you have offered me. Please reassure your assistant that I will wait until as late as possible to do so, so that I don’t awaken him in the night.


Princess Luna

There, a short little something to ease Twilight’s worries.

Luna blinked. She reread the letter. A certain dream came to mind.

We only failed because they caught us off guard. Oh yes… this time we are aware of what awaits us. Tearing them apart will be much easier now.

She should say something. Twilight and her friends… they needed to be ready. Just in case. They deserved a proper warning, didn’t they?

No… that was like admitting defeat.

But defeat was a definite possibility, wasn’t it?

Luna groaned and rubbed her temple. If only she could be more confident, but that in itself came with substantial risk. Twilight had to be warned. Then again, doing so might cause her to go into one of her famous panic attacks. How to approach this?

Celestia. She knew Twilight best, she would know what to—

With a snarl, Luna dropped the letter and jerked away from the table. Go to Celestia? Be the ignorant, helpless little sister expected of her? She didn’t need Celestia.

Luna shouted and leapt to her hooves. Her wings flared and she shook her head violently. “Stop. Thinking. These. Thoughts!” She stomped with every word, forcing down the ice in her heart. “Celestia knows the risks. Her advice will be useful. Get over this petty rivalry, Luna, and do what you have to do!”

That felt good. Luna straightened up and shook her anxiety away, wings ruffling as if to be free of water. She had regained her calm exterior and, after sucking down a deep breath, had extended that manner to her mental state. Yes, she could do this. She passed through her bedroom and to the balcony, opening the curtains wide. The fading light of day pierced her eyes, but she faced it with firm conviction.

The sun was not her enemy.

Wings spread, she jumped off the balcony at a canter and sailed into the evening sky. She circled the castle, slowly rising, taking in the warmth of the sunlight. She accepted it, embraced it. Whenever she fell under the shadows of the castle, Luna would beat her wings for more speed, determined not to hide. She could be proud in the garish light of day. No more cowering.

When she reached the balcony of the tallest tower, Celestia was waiting for her, but faced the doorway. Luna landed gracefully behind her sister, head held high and expression firm. “Celestia.”

Her sister concealed her surprise well enough, but she still kept her head low and her ears flat. She looked to Luna as if afraid she might be struck. “Sister. You’re looking… sure of yourself today.”

“Of course.” Luna stared down her muzzle. “Should I not be?”

“That’s not what I—” Celestia clamped her jaw shut and averted her gaze. “Are you still upset with me, Luna?”

Luna studied her sister. She’d never seen Celestia look so… uncertain. She didn’t like it, and her icy exterior began to melt; the tension left her body and she let out a small sigh. “I’m getting over it, dear sister. Steadily.”

Celestia’s ears perked and a small, hopeful smile touched her lips. “I am glad to hear it, Luna. I’m—”

Luna made a slicing motion with her hoof. “Please, Celestia, no more apologies. I know you meant well. All I ask is that, next time, you come to discuss such things with me rather than making the decision for me.”

“I can do that.” Celestia’s smile grew, and she rose up to her full height at last. She approached, but stopped herself short and pulled back, averting her gaze.

With a smile of her own, Luna closed the gap and held her sister close, head resting on Celestia’s withers. “I’m sorry I’m so difficult.”

Celestia returned the hug, her grip tight. “I thought you said no more apologies?”

“Do as I say, not as I do.” Luna chuckled and pulled back. “That used to be one of your favorite lines.”

“I remember.” Celestia smirked. “It's a great way to get away with things.”

They shared a smile, but then Luna gestured to the horizon. “Come, we’ll be late.”

They stood side by side, Celestia’s horn shimmering in the lingering light. As the sun descended, Luna commanded the moon, and soon the two orbs passed one another by. Luna frowned at the display; something wasn’t right. It was a regular moonrise, a perfectly normal sunset. She’d performed her part like always, yet the whole event felt… out of sync.

As soon as the moon reached its place, Luna glanced at Celestia. Her sister stared at the sky, shoulders sagging and a frown on her face. She saw it, too.

Celestia caught Luna’s eyes and quickly pulled up one of her most comforting smiles. “We can’t perform well every time, I suppose.”

She smiled, chuckled and brushed the situation off, but her eyes didn’t leave Luna’s. Something lingered within them. It spoke to Luna, whispered doubts into her ear. They’d made no mistakes casting the spells.


Luna shook off the dark thoughts and looked up at the moon. “I suppose you’re right.”

“Maybe the sunrise will be better. Yes, I’m sure of it!”

And why would the sunrise be better, Celestia? Because it meant you’d be getting rid of the moon?

No! Luna shoved the thought down as quickly as it came. She turned to Celestia. “Twilight sent me a letter sometime while I slept.”

She watched Celestia carefully. The slightly widened eyes, the small parting of the lips, the shift in weight from one foreleg to the other. “Oh?”

Yes, her surprise was genuine. A wave of relief rolled over Luna at this quiet confirmation: Twilight had acted on her own. She bowed her head slightly, letting her anxiety come out. “Yes, she found out about my recent… isolation… and wanted to comfort me.”

Celestia beamed. “Oh, Twilight, you’re such a good pony. She so often makes me proud.”

“You chose well.” Luna scuffed the floor. “Celestia… I think I should warn her.”

The smile dropped, and Luna winced at her sister’s short intake of breath. She kept her eyes on her hooves, keeping perfectly still and wishing she could take the words back.

“Luna… do you think the risk is that great?”

She made no attempt to answer. How does one confirm the worst? So she just stared at the floor and waited. Eventually, she realized she was holding her breath and let it out with as quiet a gasp as she could muster.

“No.” Celestia came forward, her wings wrapping about her little sister. “It won’t happen. I believe in you, Luna. You’re stronger than it is.”

Luna didn’t return the embrace, but she did lean into Celestia’s warmth. “I don’t know that I am.”

“You are.” Celestia nuzzled her shoulder. “We don’t need to warn Twilight, because we won’t need the Elements. You’re going to beat this thing, Luna, I know it.”

“That’s irresponsible.”

“That’s trust.”

Luna could think of nothing to say to that, so she just rested against her sister. Celestia’s warmth filled her, and she drifted on a quiet comfort she’d denied herself for so long. The temptation to lose herself within Celestia’s love nearly overwhelmed. Grudgingly, she pulled away.

Still, she couldn’t meet her sister’s eye. “Thank you, dear sister.”

“Do not thank me, Lulu.” Celestia used her pinions to nudge Luna’s chin up, revealing her pleasant smile. “We are sisters. We need to be there for one another.”

But you weren’t there for us.

The effort required to maintain a straight face and smile was almost painful, but Luna pulled it off. “I thank you, anyway.”

Celestia huffed and rolled her eyes, though her smile didn’t fade. “Well, if you’re going to be stubborn about it: you’re welcome.” She stepped back, her smile slipping to something more subdued. “Are you going on your Nightmare Patrols tonight?”

“Yes.” Luna raised her head high and turned her gaze to the moon. “I think I’m up to it.”


“Very well, but please, Luna, don’t overexert yourself again.”

“I promise.” Luna offered Celestia another smile. “I won’t let it tempt me like that again.”

“Good.” Celestia considered her, then glanced to the city below. Her smile gradually disappeared. “Sister, about…”

Luna cocked her head, noting the uncertainty in Celestia’s countenance. “About?”

“No, it’s nothing.” Celestia regained her smile. It was a good one; Luna almost missed the effort put into it. “Good luck, Luna. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Watching her go, Luna managed to hold her smile until her sister was out of sight.

She doesn’t trust us.

Luna sniffed her derision and launched from the balcony, flying towards the moon with slow, steady wingbeats.

She interprets our fallout with Octavia—

“Why have you returned?”

We told us before, Nightmare: we never left. We thought we were looking forward to seeing us again.

Luna sneered. “It was a moment of weakness, no more.”

It was fun to watch, we must admit. The way we squirmed, knowing that we are just as spiteful of our sister as—

“You have already outlasted your welcome.”

For a time, there was silence. Perhaps the abomination had heeded her for a change. Relaxing, she began to focus on the dreamweaving magic.

She’ll be sleeping soon.

Luna’s wings froze. She tumbled through the air for a horrifying moment, her body passing into a thick cloud. She recovered quickly, grinding her teeth and glaring at nothing in particular. “If you even consider invading my sister’s dreams, I’ll—”

What? What are we going to do, Nightmare? Invade our sister’s privacy? Disobey the one order she refuses to budge on?

She hesitated. “It’s… It’s a request, not an order.”

When it comes to Celestia, there are no requests.

Luna jerked about, as if expecting to find the monster just behind her. Her horn flashed as her head whipped about. “I will hunt you down, fiend. If you come anywhere near my sister, I swear it will be the last thing you ever do.”

In that case, maybe we’d prefer to go after Octavia?

“No!” Sparks erupted from Luna’s horn, illuminating the cloud in blue light and leering shadows. “You cannot comprehend the brutality I am prepared to deliver upon you if you touch her!”

Well then, Celestia it is.

Nightmare!” Luna landed upon a ledge of cloud and cast her eyes about, steam blowing from her nostrils. “This is between you and me. You will leave them both out of this!”

She waited, body heaving and horn shimmering in the dark. The world remained silent. She stomped. “Speak to me, you wretch.”

Nothing. Only the cool wind and her own heavy breathing.

A chill ran down Luna’s spine. She leapt from the cloud, the dreamweaving spell coming to her rapidly. The lines of yellows and blues and reds filled the sky all around her as she dove through the fog. When she finally burst free, she shifted to a hover and turned for Canterlot Castle.

Her sister’s dreamline was thin and nearly transparent. Luna released a long, slow breath and hung her head: the pony wasn’t even dreaming. Good, her worries were unfounded. Perhaps the monster had taken her threats seriously? It would be a first.

Just as Luna prepared to turn away, however, Celestia’s dreamline began to change. She turned back with a jerk and watched, eyes widening as the line became a column, pulsing and red and shaking. It grew brighter, extending into the dark sky like a hideous blade. It pierced the moon and Luna’s heart in equal measure.

Her words were a mere whisper. “No. Please, no.”

She received no response.

The first thing Octavia noted was the pounding in her head. She could feel her pulse, and she moaned from the torture. A sharp pain ran down her back as she tried to sit up. Cringing, she pressed her hooves to the table and forced her back to straighten, the action accompanied by a series of resounding pops and cracks. Something was stuck to her face; peeling it away revealed a crumpled page of sheet music. She tried to make sense of the notes, but even if they weren’t smeared, she was somehow seeing double.

The pounding grew louder. Was that voices in her mind? She rubbed her forehead until the throbbing went down.

Sheet music covered the table in a thick blanket. The entire kitchen shared this fate. Empty inkpots sat where they’d been discarded, but there was a box by the table that had been stocked with full ones. Octavia peered inside the box; it was half-full. Or… a third? The inkpots wouldn’t stop shifting around.

The pounding rose again. Octavia fought to ignore it. She reached for one of the inkpots, but it slipped from her hooves. Lips turned in a frown, she tried again, and again. On the fourth try she had it, and slowly deposited it to the table.

“Have to finish,” she muttered. “Have to… have to finish.”

Octavia cringed, but this time she realized that the pounding wasn’t just in her head. Nor were the voices. She sat up, swaying as her head turned about to take in the kitchen. Where was that racket coming from?

And voices. Somepony was… calling for her?

The door. Somepony was knocking on her door. Maybe they’d go away. She didn’t have time for visitors, didn’t want visitors. She needed to write, to work. Luna needed this song. She didn’t know it yet, but Octavia did. She needed this song.

She reached for the quill, but the pounding came again, shooting fire through her cranium. Octavia groaned and turned for the door. Curse her pathetic body; with more energy she might have screamed at them to go away. She stumbled, shoulder hitting the wall, and she nearly started crying.

No, no tears. No time for tears.

No time to indulge the pain in her chest.

No time for visitors.

No time.

Luna needed…

Write. Octavia needed to write. Why was she in her hallway?


The pounding on the door came loud and hard and vicious. Octavia covered her head and fought down tears. Her trembling hoof reached for the doorknob. She pulled; the door didn’t open. Why didn’t it…

Oh, locked, right. She fumbled with the deadbolt. Why was it so hard to turn? At last it came loose, and she pulled on the knob.


She dropped back from the door and covered her head with trembling legs. “N-not so loud.” Why was her voice so quiet?

“She’s here, guys! Somepony grab Symphony and let her know.”

“Be quiet.” Octavia sat, but the world went sideways and she nearly collapsed trying to adjust. “Be quiet.”

“Octy? Sweet mother of Celestia, what happened to you?”

At last the throbbing in her skull receded enough that Octavia could see past the pain. She looked up to find Vinyl standing before her, Beauty and Parish watching with wide eyes from the hallway. “What are you doing here?” The words came out a lot rougher than she’d intended.

Parish pressed behind Vinyl in the small space. “That’s for us to ask!” At her cringe, he lowered his voice. “We’ve been worried sick about you.”

“I’m fine,” Octavia grumbled. “Go away.”

“Not a chance.” Vinyl held Octavia’s face with her hooves, ignoring the feeble attempts to push her away. “Octy, you’re a mess.”

“I’m okay.” Octavia struggled to pull back, pressing her hooves to Vinyl’s chest. “I need to… leave me alone. Let me go. I need to write!”

She escaped Vinyl’s hold with a jerk, but the world began to spin and she lost her hoofing. Octavia crashed to the floor on her side, shouting as an inferno raged inside her head. The world went white; she curled into a ball and sobbed, clutching at her skull. Why did it hurt? It shouldn’t hurt. Write. She should be writing. It hurt so much!

Ponies were talking. She tried to ignore them. Ignore the pain in her heart. Write. Write for Luna. She had to—

“—kay, Octavia. You’re okay.”

The white faded, and she looked up. Beauty. What was Beauty doing here? “What?”

Beauty’s chin trembled as she nudged Octavia’s shoulder. “Come on, let’s get you to bed.”

Octavia wanted to resist, but she felt somepony helping her up regardless. Her hooves refused to obey her, but eventually she had at least managed to stand. She found Parish pressed against her other side, concern on his face. “Don’t worry, we’ve got you.”

“Got me?” She shook her head, very slowly. “Need to write. F-for Luna. Can’t stop.”

They guided her along, but came to an abrupt stop at her kitchen. Octavia saw the sheet music, the inkpot, Luna’s face. “H-have to…” She tried to walk, but Parish and Beauty’s bodies were pressed too tightly around her. “Let me go. I have to write. Have to… Have to…”

“It’s okay, Octy.” Vinyl’s voice. What was Vinyl doing here? Where was she? “You can write after you get some rest.”

“No. No rest. No time.” Octavia squirmed, eyes set on the inkpot. No, inkpots. When had she put three of them there? “H-have to finish.” Why was her face wet?

Beauty rested a leg over her withers. “You can finish later, Octavia.”

“No!” Octavia tried to lock her legs, but they buckled in short order. Her head turned to follow the inkpots… inkpot? “Please, you can’t. It’s the only way. Luna n-needs—”

“It’s going to be okay, Octavia.” Parish tugged on her leg. Why couldn’t she pull away from him? “You’ll still finish the song. I promise.”

She could do nothing to stop them. The world was spinning again, and she would have fallen if not for their presence. Their… who? Beauty and Parish. Oh, they were… here? They set her in a sitting position on the bed, scattering sheet music everywhere in the process. She stared at them through heavy eyelids. “What are… you doing here?”

Beauty kept a hoof on Octavia’s shoulder to keep her from falling. She offered a smile. “You didn’t come to the ball last night. The only way that would happen is if you’re in trouble.”

“Ball?” Octavia leaned heavily against Beauty’ leg until Parish straightened her from the opposite side. She tried to look at him, but instead found herself gazing at his chest. Chests? There were three Parishes, now? “What ball?”

“The charity ball?” Parish was a lone pony once more. He held her at leg’s length, wary of which way she’d sway next. “You know, the one put on by Tiger Lily?”

Octavia’s head craned back as she tried to think. Charity ball? Tiger Lily? She gazed at her ceiling, lips working soundlessly as she swayed. “But that’s not until Saturday.”

Symphony appeared before her – when did she get here? – with a moist towel. “It’s Sunday morning, Octy. Now hold still and let me get that ink off your cheek.”

Ink? Ball? Sunday? Octavia closed her eyes and cringed as the towel was rubbed against her face. “B-but that can’t be. It’s… It’s Friday. Isn’t it?”

When the rubbing stopped, she opened her eyes to find the three of them sharing uncertain looks. “Octavia,” Beauty said, “when was the last time you slept?”

“Slept?” Octavia gazed at her for a time, letting the question sink in. Once the meaning finally hit, her entire body began to shake. Her chest tightened, her throat constricted. “Sh-she… she won’t come. Luna won’t come.” Tears welled in her eyes even as the pain in her head came back in full force.

She pressed her hooves to her face and sobbed. “Why won’t she come?! It hurts. It hurts. It hurts! Please come back. P-please.”

“H-hey, it’s okay.” Parish’s words seemed to echo through her skull. His hold tightened.

“It’s not okay. Luna… Luna needs me. The song, I… I-I need to finish.” Octavia started to stand, but was quickly pushed back to a sitting position by the others.

Vinyl appeared in the doorway, levitating a bowl before her. “What you need is food and sleep. C’mon, I’ve got some soup for ya.”

Octavia rubbed the moisture from her cheeks and sniffled. She felt at her stomach, which did seem taught. When was the last time she ate? She couldn’t remember. Should she be hungry? “I g-guess I could use something to eat.” She reached for the bowl, but her hooves were tugged down by Beauty and Parish. “I can feed myself,” she grumbled.

They persisted, however, and at last Octavia permitted herself to be spoon fed – literally, the utensil levitating before her in Vinyl’s magic. By the third mouthful, her stomach finally reacted, and she became horribly aware of how hungry she really was. Once understanding hit her, she made no attempt to fight or argue anymore. Why had she let herself go so long without food?

How long had she gone on without food? They said it was Sunday morning. What was the last time she could readily recall? After waking up from the dream, everything had passed in a blur. That was… Thursday night. Goddess, had she not eaten in three days?

The soup was gone before she knew it. “Th-thank you, Vinyl,” she whispered after swallowing the last spoonful. “I didn’t realize, I…” She bowed her head, rubbing it as the headache worked itself into a background sensation.

Vinyl sighed and sat before Octavia, setting the bowl down on the floor. “I’m sorry, Octy. Really, I am. I knew this might end in tears, but I never thought it would—”

“End?” Octavia’s eyes drifted to Vinyl. They cast around, taking in the faces of Beauty, Symphony and Parish. “It hasn’t ended.”

Beauty cringed. “Octavia, you can’t—”

“It has not ended.” Octavia tried to sit up straight, but nearly fell on top of Beauty for her efforts. She settled for a firm frown. “Luna’s scared. She thinks I’ll be in trouble. I have to show her my support. If I… If I can just finish the song and… and…”

Parish sighed and patted her shoulder. “Octavia, I think you’re reading this wrong.”

“You didn’t see her, Parish.” A shuddering breath rose from Octavia. She closed her eyes and recalled Luna’s distraught face. She pressed a hoof over her heart. “She’s afraid. She doesn’t think she can win. I… I have to prove my faith in her.”

“Can win?” Symphony rubbed her hooves together and chewed her lip. “Win against what?”

Octavia opened her mouth to respond, but stopped herself. No, they shouldn’t know the truth. It would only scare them too. “It’s… hard to explain. It’s something in our dreams. She thinks it’s dangerous. I want to help. I have to help.” She tried to stand, but when the others braced she promptly sat back down and bowed her head. “Please, I can’t stop now.”

They exchanged worried looks once again. Parish and Beauty shared a nod, and then Beauty stood up. With a little nudging from Parish, Octavia allowed herself to fall to her side. She cringed at the pain in her head.

Parish stepped off the bed. “We’ll help you, Octavia.”

“We’ll do what we can,” Beauty added with a smile.

“You get some sleep,” Symphony instructed. “We’ll look after you and try to arrange your notes.”

“Don’t worry, Octy.” Vinyl knelt by the bed and offered a smile. Her image was blurring; Octavia couldn’t resist closing her eyes. “If this is so important to you, then we’ll make sure to help the princess too. I promise, everything will be okay, but you’ve got to take care of yourself first.”

Octavia wanted to speak, to thank them, but she couldn’t form any words. She could already feel sleep invading her mind.

Maybe, if she was lucky, she’d dream of Luna.

Author's Notes:

Octavia's section was pretty difficult to write. I mean, I pulled it off pretty quickly, but that doesn't mean I had an easy time about it. My mind is extremely logical, so writing delirium can be tricky at the best of times. Opinions?

Okay, important bit: last weekend, Reddux the Tyrant ended. Rather than immediately focus on the other stories I have planned, I'm going to instead decrease the update time for Audience of One by half. That's right, AoO's going to start updating weekly until it's done.

And it will be done soon. Three chapters to go.

Śikār Honā

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter XX
Śikār Honā

“Hello again, Aunt Luna.”

Luna turned to find Cadance walking up the steps. The sight of her adoptive niece sent a pang through her chest. “Please tell me you talked my sister into letting you do this again.”

Cadance had none of her usual cheer. She shook her head, worry marring her young features. “I am afraid not. This time it was she who asked me to step in.”

Luna frown deepened. “This is getting out of hoof.”

“I wish I knew what troubled her so much.” Cadance sat beside her and stared at the moon. “I’ve never seen Celestia so… weak. It’s as if something were draining her.”

“Emotionally, perhaps.” Luna considered Cadance with a studious frown. “How much do you know?”

“Only that she is exhausted, and appears to be physically ill.” Cadance turned to Luna, eyes imploring. “She told me to remind you of your promise.”

“My promise?!” Luna growled at her niece, who retreated from her expression. “That’s her concern? Not her health or wellbeing or the trust she claims to have for me?!”

“I-I don’t understand.” Cadance raised her hooves in a placating motion. “What was this promise?”

Luna growl yet again and turned away, silently reprimanding herself for unleashing her emotions on Cadance like that. “Centuries ago, I promised to never enter Celestia’s dreams except under extreme circumstances or her request. Her problem involves a nightmare, Cadance.”

“I… I see.” Cadance kept her distance, but her curiosity laced her tone. “So you knew all along?”

“Indeed.” Luna kicked at the stone floor and snorted. “She’d rather wallow in misery every night and suffer than trust me to do my job. So much for her faith in me.”

Cadance fidgeted and rubbed her hooves together in a sheepish display. “I know I shouldn’t pry in your relationship, but—”

“Don’t bother.” Luna raised her head high and focused her magic on the moon. As it began to slide towards the horizon, she continued, “There is nothing you can say that would ease my mind. Celestia has made her position clear. If I deem the situation to be such that I must break my promise, then I will. Until then, I will keep very close watch.”

Cadance said nothing. For that, Luna was glad. She had enough issues to deal with, like deciding whether or not the current situation was enough of an emergency to override her sister’s wishes. Yet no matter how much she wanted to invade her sister’s privacy, there still came that nagging doubt and those horrible questions:

What did Celestia face in her dreams, and why hadn’t Luna heard from the Nightmare in two nights?

Octavia sat in the hallway, staring at the ponies in her cramped kitchen. “Guys, you really, really don’t have to stay. I’m fine.”

Parish, with a steaming cup of coffee in one hoof, pointed at her and turned to Vinyl. “She’s not serious, is she?”

“Of course she’s serious,” Vinyl answered from the synthesizer that was squeezed in a corner. “Octy has no sense of self-preservation.”

“You had us scared half to death,” Symphony reminded Octavia from her spot opposite Parish. “We’re not leaving you alone until we know you’re okay.”

“But I am okay!” Octavia groaned, head rolled back on her shoulders. “You all bought me lunch and dinner yesterday, helped me arrange my sheet music—”

“Throwing away the crappy parts,” Vinyl broke in.

“—and all in all I feel a lot better. I don’t need you all holding my hoof.”

Beauty spoke from the bedroom behind her. “This from the mare who spent two whole days without food or water and barely any sleep.”

Octavia looked back to her friend’s smirk. “And I appreciate all that you guys are trying to do, really.”

“Good, then you’ll shut up and let us keep working.” Vinyl put on her sunglasses as she adjusted some knobs on her synthesizer. “We’re going to help you finish this song, and the only way you’re going to get rid of us is to get started.”

“But…” Octavia chewed her lip and turned her face away, staring out her cracked window at nothing in particular. “But I wanted it to be my work. It’s important.”

“Princess Luna’s going to appreciate this no matter what,” Parish countered.

“Yeah, the fact you’re going through all of this for her would wow any mare.” Symphony flipped through the sheet music on the table. “This is really good stuff, Octy. Well, the parts that weren’t a jumbled mess from you being a zombie.”

Beauty laid a hoof on her shoulder from behind. “We know this is important to you, but—”

“No, you don’t.” Octavia pushed her leg away. “I… I need this to be me, to be my voice! I have to prove it to myself that I can do this on my own.” She turned to Vinyl. “You understand, don’t you? Look at that beautiful piece you wrote!”

Vinyl sighed and rested her cheek in her hoof. “But I didn’t do it all by myself. I attended your concerts, asked the opinions of a few friends, things like that. I mean, sure, the majority of the work was mine, but I had to get at least some help.”

“B-but… I…”

“Octavia, please.” Parish shot her his best pleading expression. He was pretty good at them. “You can’t do this all by yourself. Yesterday proves it.”

“But I have to!” Octavia stomped, but there was no force behind the act. She bowed her head and said nothing more, feeling horribly drained. They weren’t going to give in, were they? Why couldn’t they understand? If only she knew the right things to say.

The silence was interrupted by a knock on the door. Octavia ignored it and continued to stare at her hooves.

“I’ve got it,” Vinyl said when the knocking came again.

Another quiet pause. Octavia knew she should at least try to look decent for whoever was at the door, but couldn’t muster up the energy to bother straightening herself out. She just kept seeing Luna’s distraught face and wishing she could do something.

Vinyl’s voice rose hesitantly from the door. “Octy? I really think you wanna take this one. Let’s go, guys.”

“What?” Parish turned to her. “What do you mean? We can’t just—”

Vinyl looked back, pulled her sunglasses off and leveled him with a hard look. “I said let’s go. All of us. We’ll be back later, Octavia.”

Good. At least now she’d have some time alone to think. Octavia shuffled aside so that Beauty could slip past her, barely catching her worried eye. Soon the apartment was clear of everypony save Vinyl, who shot Octavia one last, fretful look before leaving. With a sigh, Octavia began to approach her door.

It closed. The visitor was in her room. Had she the energy, Octavia might have snapped at the guest for invading her home without asking first. As it was, she only looked up.

Her heart stopped, along with her breath.

A dark orange coat.

A grey mane almost a match for her own, neatly brushed about a long horn.

Startlingly familiar mulberry eyes.

“B… Benjamina?”

Benjamina remained expressionless, her eyes set upon her younger sister. “Hello, Octavia. It’s been a while.”

At first, Octavia could only stare. Then a familiar fire rose within her, and her gaping turned into a teeth-baring sneer. “It has, indeed.”

Silence and a distinct tension filled the apartment. Octavia maintained her glare as her eldest sibling’s eyes began to roam about the apartment. She said nothing to this, waiting until Benjamina focused upon her once more. “I know,” Octavia growled, “I’m a disappointment.”

Benjamina started to step forward. “Octavia—”

Octavia recoiled, and Benjamina paused with hoof still raised. After a moment’s hesitation, she stepped back once more. “I see time hasn’t made the heart grow fonder.”

Octavia only sniffed.

Another moment of quiet staring. Benjamina lowered her head, eyes shifting in thought. Never did she lose that willful expression. She met Octavia’s steely gaze. “Have you had breakfast yet?”

With a sigh, Octavia turned her face away. “Not yet.”

“Why don’t we go somewhere, then?” Benjamina gestured invitingly. “A quiet breakfast, just you and me.”

“Is that why you came halfway around the world? For breakfast?”

Her sister sighed heavily. “I just wanted to see my little sister again.”

Those words gave Octavia pause. She glanced at Benjamina and saw… something. She couldn’t be sure what, for it had vanished into that neutral, firm expression as fast as it had come. She had to admit, it had been many years. “Just breakfast?”

Benjamina nodded. “If that’s all you’ll tolerate. You might want to freshen up.”

A swipe of her hoof through her mane reminded Octavia that she still suffered from a nasty case of bedhead. “Right. Make yourself at home.” Not that Benjamina would have awaited permission.

Octavia retreated to her bathroom and went through the motions; hot water to the face, brush teeth, brush hair, so on. Anger continued to bubble under the surface, and she could see it clearly in the tiny scowl that never seemed to leave her lips. She wondered what her sister could possibly want, for there was no question she wanted something. How long before she started throwing around insults? Probably as soon as she had what she came for.

When Octavia finally stepped out of the bathroom, her sister was in the hallway staring out the window. Octavia brushed past her for the bedroom, voice dripping with bitterness. “Nice view, isn’t it?”

“That depends,” Benjamina replied without missing a beat. “Is your next-door neighbor a stud?”

Octavia paused, hoof reaching for her bow tie, and slowly stepped back to gaze at the door. She could barely see her sister’s shoulder from this angle. “Uh… no.”

“A pity… but then I suppose you prefer mares.”

There was something off about Benjamina’s tone there, but she didn’t elaborate further. There was a sinking feeling in Octavia’s stomach; how much did her sister know? Should this be something worrisome? Of course it should, this was Benjamina! But Octavia sucked down a calming breath and refused to jump to conclusions. She set her bow tie and closed the closet.


Benjamina led the way out, Octavia pausing only to lock her door. When they came to the apartment lobby, they were joined by a pair of burly-looking nilgiri. Their presence caught Octavia by surprise; they were larger than the Equestrian goat, and that went for their horns too. Both wore expensive-looking suits and possessed blank, hard expressions designed to intimidate.

Octavia felt just a little nervous with the two brutes marching behind her. “Is the banking business in Nildia so rough you have to have bodyguards now?”

“You have no idea.”

Given how serious Benjamina said it, Octavia thought it better not to doubt.

Octavia was startled to find a large carriage waiting for them outside the apartment. It wasn’t some busted up rental, either; the thing looked brand new, and the two pegasi who lead it were quite the specimens of masculinity. Octavia hesitated to enter, but Benjamina had no such qualms. The two nilgiri climbed aboard the front of the carriage.

A distinct bitterness filled Octavia as she lay on the felt cushions opposite her sister.

“I have a friend who claims there’s an excellent Quinese restaurant on the north side of town,” Benjamina said. “Any objections?” With none presented, she knocked her hoof on the side of the carriage, which promptly rocked forward and into the sky. The rising sensation brought Octavia’s stomach to her knees; it was a most unpleasant feeling.

“You get used to the takeoffs after a while,” Benjamina assured her.

“I don’t think I’ll be flying enough to do so,” Octavia countered while rubbing her stomach, not daring to look out the window.

“I wouldn’t be so sure.”

Octavia stomped her hoof against the cushions. “That’s twice you’ve hinted at knowing something. Spill it, Benjamina; I know you’re not here for a casual visit.”

Benjamina flinched, yet still she maintained that calm manner. She turned to stare out the window as her face softened. Octavia didn’t buy it, crossing her legs and waiting impatiently for the explanation.

“Tell me, Octavia, do you spare me much thought?”

“More than I care to admit.”

Benjamina glanced at her, but there was no harshness in her expression this time. “I… see. I guess it’s to be expected, isn’t it?”

“After how you treated me?” Octavia held her head high and turned her face away. “Most certainly.”

Benjamina was quiet, her gaze searching. At last she turned back to the window. “I still remember that day. Vividly. I’ll admit, for the first two years I didn’t give you a passing thought.”

Octavia huffed. “I’m honored it only took you two years.” Another flinch from her sister. She didn’t recall Benjamina being so… jumpy.

“I started dreaming about it.”

Octavia’s blood ran cold. Slowly, she turned her wide-eyed gaze to her sister, but Benjamina continued to stare out the window.

“It seemed like such a stupid dream at first,” Benjamina continued. “There was nothing to it. Just me and you, reliving that moment exactly. Yet it came again, and again. At first it was once every month or two, but gradually I started having the dream on a weekly basis. The… ‘quality’ of it kept shifting.”

She leaned against the back cushion, her expression gradually falling. “I noticed that I didn’t have control anymore. I’d stand in front of you and I’d say those things, and I realized that I didn’t want to say them. I tried to stop myself, but it was like my mouth had a mind of its own. It’s not a dream anymore, but a nightmare where I have to sit there and listen to a pony who used to be me insult my only sister. I started to avoid sleep, then sought mages who could keep me from dreaming for short periods of time.

“Then… something changed.” She turned to Octavia, who was startled to find a distinct wetness in her sister’s eyes. “One night, I’m having the nightmare. I’m laughing at you, and you’re so angry, and I want to throw myself off that balcony if it’ll just make the words stop. Then I heard a different voice, a voice I didn’t recognize. I looked for it, and for just a second or two…”

“You saw us.”

The sisters gazed at one another, one with her mouth slightly agape in comprehension, the other calm but on the verge of tears. No sound filled the carriage save Octavia’s heart pounding in her chest.

Benjamina’s horn shined, the color of her aura matching her mulberry eyes, and something rose from a pocket of the carriage door. It was a small piece of folded paper, which floated into Octavia’s waiting hooves. “I read that a week later.”

Slowly, her hooves feeling like lead, Octavia unfolded the item. It was an article ripped from a nilgiri newspaper. Though she could have read the foreign symbols easily, there was no need: the picture of Octavia and Luna at the Ailes du Plaisir said enough.

“You really were there, weren’t you, Octy?”

Octavia’s hooves shook. “You’re not supposed to call me that.” She set the newspaper aside and tried to ignore the pain in her heart. “Luna thought she was doing me a favor. She wanted us to talk in our dreams and… and bridge the gap between us.”

“‘Luna,’ is it?” Benjamina offered a weak smile. “So you’re close enough to not require the title?”

“She’s my friend,” Octavia whispered, turning away.

“Is that all she is, Octy?” Benjamina leaned forward. “I saw the title you used for that song in your kitchen.”

Octavia sneered. “You’re looking through my things too?”

“It wasn’t exactly hidden, Octy.”

“Don’t call me that!” Octavia jumped to the middle of the carriage to get in her sister’s face. “You are not allowed to act so… so bucking familiar with me! And my relationship with Luna is none of your business. It’s… it’s not.”

She lost her steam, slumping to a sitting position and staring at her hooves. “What do you want, Benjamina?”

“To do something that should have been done ages ago.”

Octavia sighed and rubbed her cheeks. “Whatever it is, I don’t want it.”

With another silent moment moment between them, Octavia thought her point had been made. She started to turn back for her seat…

Benjamina caught her up in a hug. It came so suddenly that Octavia had to think for a moment to understand it. Her immediate reaction was to try and push her sister away. “Let me go, or I’ll—”

“I’m sorry.”

She paused, legs pressed against Benjamina’s chest, mind frozen. “W…What did you say?”

Benjamina shivered, but her hold was tight. “I’m sorry. That’s all there is, Octavia. I am sorry.”

Octavia’s mind swam with the words, words she’d imagined would never, ever come from her sister’s mouth. “B-but you… You’re not… Can’t be…”

“I had no right to say those things to you.” The sniffling pierced Octavia’s ears. “I am so proud of you, and I was so wrong.”

“Proud?” Octavia pushed her away, but only so she could look upon her sister’s tear-streaked face. “Why? What have I ever done to make you proud? I haven’t done anything to prove you wrong!”

“But you have.” Benjamina's lips turned up to form a trembling smile. “Just because I live in Nildia doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention to my family. You have a successful career, built through hard work and determination.”

“B-but I’m not…” Octavia turned away with a scowl, her anger refusing to fade so quickly. “I’m not rich or elite like you.”

“It doesn’t matter, Octy.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Benjamina repeated. “Your career is blooming. Your performances are earning rave reviews, your name is on the lips of ponies all over Canterlot. You’ve built a reputation, Octavia, and you did it in spite of everything I said would hold you back. I have never been more wrong in my life.”

Octavia shook her head with a sniff that only left her feeling more pathetic. “You don’t really think that. You… you can’t.”

With two light raps against the wall from Benjamina, the carriage came to a rocking stop. She reached forward to cup Octavia’s chin in her hooves and looked her in the eyes. “I know you hate me, Octavia. You have every right. I should have been there for you, and instead I…” She swallowed audibly and pressed her forehead to Octavia’s. “I won’t ask you to forgive me, but please… I want to at least try to get us back on the right path.”

For just the slightest instant, Octavia thought she might accept. Yet as soon as the idea came to mind, she quashed it and pulled back. Benjamina winced and stared at her hooves, but Octavia leveled her with a hard look.

“Benjamina, I can’t trust this.”

“I know.” Benjamina heaved a sigh. “It’s going to be a long road. I didn’t expect you to accept me readily, Octy.”

Octavia opened her mouth to snap at her over the nickname, but held it back. She stared at her sister, looking for any sign of deception. She found none, and she had no idea how to respond to that. Should she be relieved? She couldn’t just… trust it. Even if she wanted to.

“Benji, I…” She paused to consider her words, noting how Benjamina’s head lifted slightly at the use of her own nickname. “You hurt me, Benji. You know that, right?”

“I do.”

Okay. Another moment to think. “For the past seven years, I have based all of my decisions on proving you wrong. I gave up my life, my friends, my home. I’m not saying it’s been a bad seven years, but… I worked so hard and for so long, all because of that moment.” Despite herself, Octavia smiled. “I suppose I should thank you; if you hadn’t been such an insensitive witch, I might not have worked so hard or made it this far.”

Benjamina cringed and turned away.

“Now you come back and suggest that everything can be right again. We can’t just turn the ship around, it’s not that easy.”

“Octy, I…” Benjamina chewed her lip and could say no more.

Octavia bumped her sister’s shoulder with her muzzle, but Benjamina wouldn’t look at her. She continued anyway. “You say that I’ve proven myself to you. It’s your turn, sister.”

At last Benjamina met her gaze. Octavia offered a weak smile. It was difficult to achieve, and it probably looked as forced as it was, but it was something, and Benjamina returned it. “I think that sounds like a good deal,” she replied.

“I won’t make it easy for you, though.” Octavia’s smile dropped as she leveled her sister with a hard frown. “I’m sorry, Benji, but I just can’t trust you yet.”

“I know.” Benjamina didn’t lose her smile. If anything, it became warmer. “It’s going to be a long, hard road, I know that. I don’t care. Thank you for giving me the opportunity, Octy. It means more to me than you can imagine.”

They shared one last smile, faced with the mutual understanding that no more needed to be said. After a time Benjamina bumped the wall behind her once more and the carriage rocked forward yet again.

“So,” Benjamina said once they’d both settled back into their seats, “You and Princess Luna, huh?”

Octavia rolled her head back with a groan. “Not you too.”

Her sister chuckled. “Hey, it’s a good thing. You say you haven’t made it, but at the same time you’re having romantic dinners with princesses. I’d say you’ve come farther than me.”

Those words put Octavia on high alert, but she kept her emotions in check when she said, “Don’t tell me you came all the way here to try and worm your way into Luna’s good graces.”

Benjamina’s response came with such a professional seriousness that it left little room for doubt: “What possible use could I have for that? My business is centered in Nildia, not Equestria, and I see absolutely no reason to expand.”

Octavia blinked. “I thought it was a business rule to constantly expand.”

Her sister waved a dismissive hoof. “You’re confusing me for some greedy Stall Street tycoon. I could retire right now and live the rest of my life wealthy. Finagling my way into an Equestrian royal’s good graces to make a few more bits isn’t going to improve my quality of life one iota.”

Octavia peered at her, but Benjamina seemed entirely unperturbed by her skepticism.

“What I do want to know,” Benjamina went on with a wicked grin, “are the juicy details of how my little sister managed to nab the Princess of the Night. And here you had mom thinking you’d die a spinster. If only she knew you were waiting to land a dish like that.”

“My relationship with Luna isn’t like that.”


Benjamina lifted the newspaper with her magic, but Octavia batted it down before it could be thrust in her face. “I know, the dress. And...” She eyed Benjamina’s curious expression before sighing. “Okay, maybe I’d like it to be. Things are strained between us at the moment.”

“Hmm…” Benjamina glanced away with a thoughtful frown. “How serious is it?”

Octavia turned her face away as well. “I’ve got it pretty bad, Benji. I’m sure she has no idea, or else she’d have never asked me to keep away.”

“She ‘asked’ you to keep away?”

Caught by her sister’s tone, Octavia looked up to find Benjamina studying her with a peering gaze. “Um, yes?”

“But not ‘ordered,’ right?”

“Asked, ordered, what’s the difference?” Octavia pouted and kicked at the cushions. “She’s dealing with a lot of… let’s call them ‘personal issues.’”

“I see.”

Another long, uncomfortable silence, interrupted only when the carriage abruptly descended. The motion shot Octavia’s heart into her throat and she couldn’t resist a tiny squeak of surprise, her body going rigid in rebellion against the sudden motion.

“Spend the day with me, Octy.”

Despite her pattering heart, Octavia looked to her sister. “What?”

“Spend the day with me.” Benjamina offered a warm smile, clearly unaffected by the rocking motions of the carriage. “You and me, a sisters’ night on the town. My treat. If we’re going to start healing, we might as well start now.”

Despite her physical discomfort, Octavia ran the idea through her mind. Healing the gap between them was a worthy goal, no doubt, but her thoughts drifted to the song she longed to complete.

Then again, the song wouldn’t be finished for a while yet.

Luna didn’t have time to wait!

But Benjamina did seem to be trying. Was that more important than the song?

Nothing was more important than the song, except Luna.

Her friends devoted an entire day fretting over her. They’d want her to relax.

Was Luna relaxing?

She groaned and covered her face in her hooves.


“I’m sorry, Benji.” Octavia leaned back against the seat and stared at the carriage ceiling. “I have a ton on my mind right now. I don’t know if your timing is perfect or all bucked up. Let me think about it while we eat, okay?”

Benjamina’s face fell, but she nodded. “Alright, Octy. You don’t have to do it today, and I won’t hold it against you if you just say ‘no’ outright. I’ll be in Canterlot for a week anyway, so… so you’ve got a little time.”

“Time.” Octavia shook her head with a long sigh. “I’m not sure I have any time at all.”

The day had been uncomfortable at best, but Octavia had to admit that it wasn’t as bad as she’d feared. She’d returned home, promising to have dinner with her sister that night. Trusting Benjamina to be honest had to have been one of the hardest things she’d ever done, but now that it had been done Octavia was committed to the road ahead. If her sister’s display proved a farce… well, Octavia had no intention of giving her a third chance.

Once at home, she caved to her friends demands and allowed them to help with her song. Maybe she was too tired to argue. Perhaps giving Benjamina a chance left her feeling more susceptible to their offers. Or it could be that she simply felt good to be in the company of such caring friends. Whatever the case, she gradually grew used to the idea, and steadily came to even like it.

By the time Benjamina had arrived, Octavia and the others had worked out their planned approach to Luna’s song. Yet even as they helped, they all made one thing abundantly clear: this was Octavia’s work, and she would be doing the majority. They only lent their aid when asked, and otherwise stuck around for a more supportive role, distracting her when she grew frustrated and cheering her when she started to doubt. The entire day left her with a warm sensation, which made her more receptive to her sister when they left for dinner – after some brief introductions, of course.

Now, with the moon close to the horizon, the carriage rumbled across the streets of Canterlot – Benjamina wanting to take a more ‘scenic’ ground route. Yet they weren’t on their way to Octavia’s apartment.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to wait for you?”

Octavia rolled her eyes. “For the fifth time, yes. I’m a big mare now, Benji, you don’t have to escort me everywhere I go.”

“Big mare or no, I don’t want my little sister to have to walk home alone if—” Benjamina bit her lip and glanced out the window just as the carriage rocked to a stop.

“That’s not going to happen,” Octavia declared with head raised. “I’m just going to talk to her, that’s all.” She reached for the door handle, but her sister’s hoof caught hers before she could grasp it.

“I get it, Octy.” Their mulberry eyes met, and Benjamina’s face was marred by a deep frown. “You think you know the princess. You believe she’ll listen to you. What if she doesn’t?”

Octavia sighed and pulled her hoof away. “One day and you’re already trying to give me advice. You don’t understand, Benji. There’s a lot more to this than me being attracted to Luna or vice-versa. Regardless of whatever you concluded from the papers, she is my friend and I need to show her that I’ll be there for her.”

Benjamina huffed and stared at the floor, her frown growing hard. “I wish I could share your confidence.”

“It’s because you’re here that I’m doing this.”

Her sister blinked and looked up. “Me? What did I do?”

Octavia paused to collect her thoughts, knowing she had to choose her words carefully. “I… I’m not saying I’ve fully bought this… this attempt to get back into my life. I’m still on the fence about it, but if it’s true…” She sighed and met Benjamina’s gaze once more. “If you’re really here to make amends, Benji, I can’t imagine how hard it must be. After what you did, you must be scared to death.”

Ducking as if to avoid a blow, Benjamina turned away. She said nothing, but the worry in her eyes spoke volumes.

“You came all the way here, knowing I could very well have rejected you outright.” Octavia set a hoof to her sister’s shoulder and offered a warm smile. This time, it was genuine. “That’s the courageous older sister I used to look up to. If you can do that, I can risk talking to Luna.”

Benjamina stared at her, her frown gradually shifting to a smile. “W-well, it’s good to know I can still be a role model.” She chuckled and reached up to squeeze Octavia’s hoof. “I know it’s going to take a lot to regain your faith in me, but allow me this one act of sisterly concern.”

She hugged Octavia, her hold tight and warm. Octavia returned the motion with no hesitation.

“If things go wrong, you know where I’m staying. If you wanna talk, I mean.” Benjamina sat back with a grin and pink cheeks. “Now go woo your princess.”

“I’m not wooing her,” Octavia grumbled, hoof already on the door latch. “We’re just going to talk.” Her face felt a little hot, though.

“Yeah, sure, we’ll see.” Benjamina leaned out the window of the door after Octavia closed it behind her. “Good luck Octavia. Thank you for giving me another chance.”

Octavia gave her a smile. “You’re welcome.” Then she raised her hoof and shook it with exaggerated force. “And don’t let me catch you lingering here when I come out!”

“Okay, okay, I won’t get into the ‘overprotective sister’ role quite yet.” Benjamina rolled her eyes with a grin and a wave of her hooves. “Bye, Octy. See you tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow.” Octavia nodded. She sat by the castle gate and waited expectantly, and after a while the carriage began to roll away. Despite all her misgivings, she couldn’t help but feel that Benjamina might be honest about her intentions. It felt… good, like a huge weight had shifted off of Octavia’s shoulders.

Now she just had to get rid of the other major issue that had been holding her back these past few days. With a deep sigh, she turned back to the castle and stared up at its tall, gleaming towers. Luna was up there right now, and Octavia could put off talking to her no longer. And if Luna was gone on her nightmare patrols, then she’d wait in her chambers. One way or another, Octavia was determined to show Luna her support.

Octavia felt no hesitation, only an empowering confidence. Luna couldn’t avoid her; she wouldn’t allow it. She stood and began her march. Even if she had to face Nightmare Moon herself, Octavia wouldn’t abandon the Princess of the Night.

No matter what.

The night was aglow with lines of light, all rising up to the moon in a brilliant display of colors. Blues, greens, purples, yellows, even the occasional red. Though her eyes were closed, Luna took in the sight. She examined their little pulses, some moving slowly and with a serene calm, others possessing a passionate beat, and more than a few shifting erratically. All of it familiar, all of it pleasant to her dream sight. This was a normal night with nothing to concern her.

With a deep breath to steady herself, she turned around. The multitude of chromatic columns faded into obscurity behind the behemoth before her, a thick trunk of powerful red lighting that seared her mental vision. It throbbed at a frenetic pace, the edges seeming to quiver with barely contained energy. Its very presence weighed on Luna, working to crush her mind.

Another breath. Another. She had to keep her calm. Gradually, she opened her eyes.

Celestia lay tangled in her sheets, sweating profusely and breathing in shallow gasps. Her eyes were squeezed shut and her lips worked, though Luna could hear nothing through the glass. The image rent her heart in two.

“Why are you doing this?” she whispered, placing her hoof on the window pane. “All you have to do is ask, and I can rid you of this torment. So why, Celestia? Why won’t you let me in?”

As if in response, her sister arched her back and cried out so loudly even the glass didn’t prevent it from reaching Luna’s ears. She fell back on the bed, still asleep, still tossing.

“This has to stop.”

Luna’s horn ignited and a latch clicked. She pulled the window open, the curtains billowing out around her. Though her heart hammered against her ribs like a drum, Luna forced herself to enter.

“I won’t let it play its games anymore.”

She tried to sound confident, but her tone slipped. Nonetheless, she forced her shaking legs to move.

“I know I promised.”

Passing over the threshold, Luna began to tremble.

“This is an emergency. It more than counts. You see that, don’t you, sister?”

She stopped before Celestia’s bed. Did she sit, or did her legs give out on her?

“Tell me what you dream of, Celestia. Please.”

Her sister turned away, shivering and sobbing.

Luna swallowed to appease her dry throat, but it brought no comfort. She leaned back to stare up at the hideous column that vibrated with vile energies. She forced her face into as firm an expression as she could muster. “Speak to me, you damnable thing. What are you doing to my sister?”

Maybe it was only an illusion, but Luna thought she saw something in that mass of light and menace: a fanged grin.

“I won’t let you have her.” Luna took one last, long breath. Her voice came out strong. “I will protect all I love from you, even if they do not wish me to. If you do not leave her now, you will force my hoof.”

There came no response. Luna hadn’t expected one, but still she felt her stomach curl with this final confirmation. She turned her gaze back upon Celestia, who twisted onto her back and spoke indecipherable nonsense.

It took every ounce of willpower she possessed, but Luna lowered her horn. The movement felt sluggish, as if her muscles were made of molasses. Her sister’s cringing visage loomed in her vision as she came closer. If she listened closely, she could almost hear pleading from those pale lips.

Their horns touched. Luna focused on her sister’s troubled face.

“Forgive me, dear sister.”

One last pause to reconsider.

The world flashed white.

Author's Notes:

Let me just take this opportunity to note that, yes, Benji's reunion with Octi is a bit awkward all over. That's intentional, even though I question the wisdom of it. I would have added more involving Benji to this chapter, but I felt it was already long enough and didn't want to overemphasize her lest I be stuck having to do more than I need for the purposes of the overall story.

Finale next weekend, folks. Get hype?

Gorī Ke Aṃdar Upagraha

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter XXI
Gorī Ke Aṃdar Upagraha
Mare in the Moon

A piercing scream hit Luna. It was so reverberatingly loud she had to cast a temporary nullification barrier around herself. Her ears rang as she recovered, and upon looking up she found herself in the throne room of Canterlot Castle.

Yet it was not the same castle she’d come to know; the once-pearly walls were now black as pitch and the chandeliers were wrought iron forged into twisted, spiked shapes. A strange thickness filled the air, as if the entire world were under an intense pressure. The rugs were now a dark blue where they used to be red, and a dim light pervaded the entire castle.

All of these things were to be expected. Nothing short of typical.

What wasn’t typical were the stained glass windows, which no longer depicted scenes of victory and harmony. Luna gazed at each in turn, watching as the glass moved in slow, lethargic motions. That one depicted Rainbow Dash, Element of Loyalty, caught in a vortex but unable to escape for the hooks in her wings. She twisted and turned in the winds, movements sluggish in the slowly-shifting glass, but that only made the agony in her face all the more clear.

Luna turned her eyes on each window, each depicting a different Element Bearer in some kind of twisted torment related to their known talents. She caught sight of Fluttershy, who still appeared as a real pony. She shrieked while a dark glow pulled her into a window, her body warping and shifting into the panes. Then she was within the glass, flat depictions of a variety of animals moving in for the kill. Luna turned away as some of the panes shifted to red.

“Stop it!”

The plea came out as a scream, dragging Luna’s attention to the throne. There sat Celestia, her body bound to the seat by tight barbed wire. Blood seeped from her body where the sharp edges dug into her. Her eyes were wide, tiny pupils set on the sight of the only Element Bearer yet to be absorbed into the windows: Twilight Sparkle. The unicorn squirmed in futility in the dark glow of magic, begging for Celestia’s aid. She wore her Element, which slowly rose to the touch of a dark cloud that swirled beside her like a miniature tornado.

“Please!” Celestia squirmed, causing more blood to seep from her wounds. “Not her! I’ll do anything, accept any punishment, just don’t hurt her!”

Anything, Celestia?

Luna’s blood ran cold. Her breathing came in short gasps as she stared, transfixed, upon the scene.

Yes!” Celestia nodded emphatically as a few more strips of wire curled around her slender throat. “Don’t do it, Luna, I beg of you!”

Luna’s legs dropped from under her. “N-no…”

Tell me, Celestia, will you give me your kingdom?

Celestia’s head bowed against her restraints.

No, you’re too good. You know this is just a dream, and when you wake up everything will be normal again.

“I hate you,” Celestia whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks.

I know. It’s such a delightful emotion.

Luna’s mind quaked with horrid understanding. She tried to tell herself that it was all a ruse, but her bleeding heart smashed itself against her ribs and she couldn’t find the strength for logic. “C-Celestia, no…”

Twilight began to move for the window, her screams and pleas searing Luna’s brain like a hot knife.

“No!” Celestia shook her head violently. “Don’t make me see this again!”

Hmm, perhaps you’re right, the voice cooed. Perhaps this is getting a bit redundant.

Twilight came to an abrupt stop, squirming against her magical bonds even as she sobbed.

I’ll have to come up with something more creative for her, something… slower.

“Luna!” Celestia gazed upon the vortex, her face soaked with her own tears as more wires wrapped about her. “Let her go! What more do you want?!”

Your hate.

Luna wanted to speak, to cry out in rebellion of the horrible sights before her. She watched as the cloud shifted into a distinct pony shape, never becoming solid, but holding enough form to be recognizable. The fog of its body shimmered as if covered in stars. The six Elements formed a circle around it and the being reared back its head to laugh.

Hate me, Celestia! Hate me for all eternity.

Celestia shrieked at the monster. “I do! I hate you, you wretched abomination! I should have killed you when I had the chance! You may torture me in my dreams, but you will never come back!

“I hate you!”

Luna felt tears forming on her cheeks.

“I hate you!”

Her entire body shook.

“I hate you!”

She covered her ears.

“I hate hate hate hate hate you!”

Stop it!”

In an instant, the villain was gone. Luna didn’t realize that the last scream had been her own, or that she was now standing. All she knew was that Celestia’s eyes were upon her and wide with a very different kind of horror.

“L… Luna?”

Luna’s breathing came in shallow gasps, her jaw tightly clamped. Her vision blurred and the world seemed to spin.

“Luna, what in the name of our Holy Mother are you doing here?!”

Luna‘s breathing came to a stop, but not of her own volition. She wobbled.

She loves me.

She never loved you!

That’s not true.

She just said she hates us!

But that wasn’t…

Don’t delude yourself!

Celestia isn’t…

We knew it all along!

It’s… it’s not true…

She hates us!

She loves…



With all her cold heart!


Celestia struggled against her bonds. She bled profusely from the effort. “You can’t be here! You promised!”

“You h-hate me…”

“That’s not true! I—”

“I thought you trusted me.”

“Luna, p-please.”

“You think I’m going to turn back.”

“No! No, Lulu, it’s just a dream! It doesn’t mean—”

Don’t lie to me!”

Luna’s horn flared and cracks began to form in the black marble of the castle. Steam billowed from her nostrils as she gazed upon her bound sister with a renewed fury. Celestia seemed to shrink under that gaze, her lips trembling.

The sight tore Luna’s heart to pieces.

“You fear me.”

Celestia slowly shook her head. “Luna, you have to let me explain. P-please.”

Explain?!” The windows shattered, the shards of glass flinging into the room and floating as if lighter than air. Sparks of energy flowed from Luna’s horn, dancing wildly across the fragments to fill the entire throne room with chaotic lighting.

“How will you talk your way out of this one?” Luna stomped towards her sister, each step sending fresh cracks through the stonework. “Tell me a sob story? Lie in my face? Pat me on the back and tell me I’m overreacting?”

“L-Luna, you can’t.” Celestia seemed to want to melt into her throne. “Please, this is exactly what it wants!”

“That’s right!” Luna thrust her head back with a snarl. “Luna’s too stupid to understand, too immature to grasp what the all-knowing, wise Celestia does!”

“Luna, please, don’t do this!”

“You hate me!” Luna pressed her muzzle to Celestia’s. Her fiery white eyes boring into her sister’s. “Admit it, you hate and fear me! Tell your ignorant, immature sister the truth, for once in your life!”

“N-no.” Though her voice trembled, Celestia met her gaze. “I love you, sister. P-please, don’t go b-back.”

Luna peered at her, lips curled back to reveal sharp fangs. She held Celestia’s gaze, magical energy coursing through her and begging to be unleashed. The words came unbidden, poured into her by a recognizable but barely noticed source. “Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? Like for me to give you an excuse to be rid of me. Like for me to—”

It happened before Luna had any time to react: something as cold as ice engulfed her, and her world turned to black. Though she couldn’t see it, she could feel the poisonous touch, like tentacles squirming into her mind and body. She knew this sensation, had felt it long before during a similar contest of wills, and a terrible realization clamped down all her anger and replaced it with a mind-numbing horror:

She couldn’t stop it.

No!” Luna reared back as the dark cloud engulfed her body. “Keep away, get out… don’t!”

Yesssss, there’s the hatred we’ve been waiting for. We missed you, Nightmare.

“No no no no no!” Luna thrashed against the creeping tendrils that worked to pierce her brain, trembling against the chill. “I won’t go back!”

It’s too late for misgivings. Celestia fears us, so let us make that fear a reality!

“Luna!” Celestia’s voice pleaded through the darkness. “Fight her, Luna! You are not her!”

But she was.

But we are.


“C-Celestia… I c-can’t…”

There. There’s what we need.

Luna had fallen to her knees. She clutched at her head and sobbed. “P-please. Sister… h-help me…”

“You can do it, Luna. You can beat her!”

No, she couldn’t.

At last, I am free. No more interference! I think I’ll start with reclaiming my old regalia, just for the nostalgia.


Celestia’s voice grew faint. “Fight her, Luna. I believe in you!”

“Help m-me…”

Cold laughter overwhelmed Luna’s senses.

Octavia pushed the door open and poked her head through, eyes roaming the darkness. Empty, as she suspected. She stepped inside without hesitation, quietly closing the door behind her. Sitting in the middle of Luna’s meeting room, she cast her gaze along the bookshelves and pictures while her eyes adjusted. It all felt so familiar.

A warm smile sneaked onto Octavia’s lips as she approached the shelf with Luna’s music collection. She ran a hoof along the many tomes, taking in their titles and subjects. They’d had more than a few musical discussions, but not nearly enough.

She walked the perimeter of the room, taking in every familiar sight. When she reached the doorway to the next room, she entered and went straight to the couches. It felt almost like an instinct. She jumped into her usual spot on the couch, turned a small circle and laid down. Her smile broadened with the way her body fit snugly into the impression she’d made after so many visits.

Her gaze fell on the opposite couch. If she thought hard enough, she could almost see the princess lying opposite her.

“You’re not getting out of this one, Luna,” she whispered with a self-assured smile. “You, me and a nice, long talk.”

Time passed, punctuated by the quiet tick-tock of the clock in the next room. Octavia considered her situation, frowning as she wondered just what she would do while she waited. She’d become long accustomed to staying up late, but if Luna remained gone all night long…

She needed a distraction. Octavia could just imagine Luna coming home to find her sleeping on the couch. Not the best way to start the conversation off. She sat up and looked around the room. There were plenty of options to her, but what to—

She blinked and turned her head back to the corner of the room. That was where Luna’s… no, Nightmare Moon’s armor used to stay. The bottom of the stand remained, but the bars that held the armor itself had snapped. Frowning, Octavia reared up over the back of the couch and scoured the room once more.

It didn’t take long to spot the armor resting in the opposite corner of the room as if it had been thrown there arbitrarily. Octavia hopped off the couch and approached the set. Her hoof traced the light blue metal, questions forming in her mind. Did this mean anything? Should she be concerned? Surely not; Luna wouldn’t succumb. Octavia was—

White light pierced Octavia’s eyes, leading her to shout and cover her face. Powerful gusts tossed her mane about as she recovered, and there came a resounding crash. She jerked about to find a dark blue vortex of clouds and magical energy filling the center of the room, an ominous cackle rising from somewhere within.

“What in the world?”

The laughter came to an abrupt stop. The winds died down just enough for the clouds to thin, and Octavia saw a form inside. She could make out no details, but one thing was certain: she was gazing upon an alicorn.

“Well,” the strangely familiar voice cooed, “it seems we have a visitor.”

Octavia’s fur stood on end. She backed away from the invader. “Who are you?”


Her eyes shot open. “L-Luna?”

The form within the clouds began to fidget and shake. It fell to its knees and clutched at its head. “N-no, not her. You can’t!”

A hiss rose from the clouds. “We can. Do not fret, Nightmare: why would we kill something when we can toy with it?”

Octavia’s mind all but exploded with possibilities, each more horrible than the last. No matter how chaotic her mind, the truth of the scene before her was abundantly clear. It filled her with a cold dread. A terrible weight seemed to press down upon her body, yet even so she managed to step forward.

“Luna! Fight her, Luna!”

“We can’t,” the dark voice whispered even as the billowing fog began to swirl once more. “We have already succumbed.”

“You lie!” Octavia stomped, a vain attempt to hold down her rising panic. “Listen to me, Luna! Don’t give in to the darkness!”

The voice rose in volume, every word dripping with venom. “Give in to the darkness? You impudent foal, we are the darkness! It is the core of our being, the source of all existence, the very soul of this sad excuse of a princess! You dare to tell us not to be all that makes us?”

The figure within the fog climbed to its hooves and struggled forward. Its horn began to glow. Octavia crouched low, heart hammering in her chest.

“We will play with your body for a thousand years! We will show you just how black the darkness can really be. For your ignorance—”

The magic of the horn winked out and the enshrouded alicorn jerked to a stop. Its head whipped about violently as a scream pierced Octavia’s ears.

“Octavia, go! Flee! Please, while I still have some control left!”

The sound of Luna’s real voice soothed Octavia’s fears like a healing balm, and she jumped to her hooves once more. “No! You will not go back! I believe in you, Luna!”

“Faith? Is that what you intend to defeat us with?” A snarl made the fog roil. “You pathetic ponies are all alike.”

The horn began to glow, but it fluctuated wildly.

“I can’t do this, Octavia. Please, I don’t want to hurt you!”

“But you can do this!” Octavia forced every bit of determination she could muster into her voice. “Luna, I know you can beat her. She is nothing compared to you!”

The figure stepped backwards, the shadows clinging to it as the fog formed a veritable tornado. “Nothing compared to us? We are everything! We are power, we are strength, we are leadership, we are confidence, we are the Queen!”

She was weakening, Octavia knew it. She took a daring step forward, a grin forming on her lips. “You are nothing. Luna is everything.” The horn’s glow intensified. It pointed directly at her, but Octavia stood her ground. “You cannot win, Nightmare!”

“Enough of your prattling! Die, you worthless little—”


A combined shriek filled the air, stabbing into Octavia’s brain and making her wince. The enshrouded figure reared back, head clutched in its hooves and horn glowing like a torch. The winds picked up, moving the couches about the room and knocking Octavia off her hooves. She hit the floor next to the armor just as another flash of white light filled her vision.

In an instant, the wind died and the world was engulfed in silence and darkness.

In another, glass shattered and hooves hit the carpeted floor. A new voice cried out, “Luna, no!”

Octavia blinked, her eyes filled with bright spots from the flare. She lay in stunned silence, trying to process what had happened. Then she noticed that she wasn’t alone; somepony nearby was sobbing. Who could be…

Her heart slammed into her throat. Had Luna won? She jerked into motion, climbing to her hooves and turning for the center of the room. The couch had been pushed in her way, and she hurried to run around it.

Octavia’s legs shook. It was not Luna she heard, but Celestia, covered in the fragments of one of Luna’s windows. The princess lay in a heap in the middle of the room, her head buried beneath her hooves as she wept with all the fervor of a newborn foal.

Octavia stared at Celestia, her brain slowly piecing together the scene before her. Her eyes rose up, but aside from the wrecked state of the room there was no sign of the Princess of the Night. Where had she gone? If Celestia could sob like that, it could only mean…

…Luna lost?

“But… I believed in her.”

The sounds began to push down on her. Octavia felt tears welling in her eyes, held back only by the intense state of disbelief that refused to abate. She swayed drunkenly, her hind legs collapsed. With eyes closed tight, she willed for Luna to appear, to smile and tell her this was a nightmare. Everything would be alright, surely. Luna couldn’t… lose…

She hadn’t even told her how she felt.

Why didn’t she tell Luna? She could see her, smiling in the darkness, her mane creating an entire world of stars. She needed to see that smile again.

Her eyes opened, settling upon Celestia. The princess’s shoulders still shook, her wings splayed across the floor like a white carpet of feathers. She wept, and the more Octavia watched her the more she felt… wrong. This sight, that hideous sound, they had to stop. What was Celestia doing?

“St-stop it.”

Celestia ignored her, or perhaps didn’t hear.

Octavia approached, wobbling on uneasy legs. She barely registered the moisture on her cheeks.

“Stop it.”

She stood over the Princess of the Sun, a fire building inside of her. Her lips curled back, her heart began to throb.

“Stop it!”

Celestia’s head jerked up just in time for Octavia to grab her cheeks with both hooves. Her face was soaked, her bloodshot eyes wide at the sight of the earth pony. “Y-you?”

“Stop it, stop crying!” Octavia shook her, the words blasting uncontrolled from her mouth. “You can’t just lie there and cry! Isn’t she your sister? Why aren’t you doing anything? I want my princess back, do you hear me? So stop weeping like a bucking foal and do something about this!”

Time seemed frozen. Octavia glared into Celestia’s pink eyes, and Celestia stared right back. Neither moved, still as statues. Octavia couldn’t even breathe, her mind simmering with a determination she’d never known.

Celestia’s lips finally worked. Her voice came out frail. “I tried.” Fresh tears ran down her cheeks, rolling along Octavia’s hooves to drop off Celestia’s trembling chin. “I tried so… so hard. Where did I go wrong?”

Octavia’s anger died in the chill that ran through her body. “You… you can save her, can’t you?”

Celestia didn’t answer. She merely wrapped Octavia in her legs and held her close. Octavia rested her chin on Celestia’s shoulder and quietly wept, her own sobs joining those of the princess.

Why do we continue to resist?

The world was darkness. Darkness and fog.

We know it is over.

Luna’s body trembled. It burned with every push from the outside, the dark tendrils digging like hooks deeper and deeper. Yet she pushed back as forcefully as she could.

We’ve already opened the door. Celestia hates us. Octavia fears us, as does all of Equestria.

No answer came from Luna. She closed her eyes and devoted herself to this last, token resistance.

We can feel it in our heart, Nightmare. It is pain, pain that burns more than any flame ever could. It is only a matter of time.

Yes, only a matter of time.

The hooks dug deeper.

Still we push back. We admire our own tenacity.

Hold it off. It was only a matter of time. Her strength ebbed, but her will remained.

What could we possibly hope to achieve? Give in, Nightmare.


Luna hoped to achieve time.

Our anger will never be contained. We know this. We know this with every fiber of our being.

Luna knew with every fiber of her being.

We will be free, we will rule Equestria. The Elements will not stop us this time.

Time. Celestia would know what to do.

Time would end this.

The shadow surrounded her hoof, which shifted to black.

Luna ground her teeth and focused.

Push back.

Give her sister time.

It was all she had left to offer.

How long had she been crying? Octavia didn’t think it had been too long. Celestia still held on, clutching Octavia as though she were the only pony left in the world.

With a sniff, Octavia looked past the ever-flowing mane, through the shattered window and into the starry night beyond. The moon shined its rays upon them in a breathtaking display, encircled by the glittering jewels of the darkness. The sight brought a trembling smile to Octavia’s lips.

That was Luna. The incomparable night sky, the perfect moon and the gentle night. They filled Octavia with a deep longing and desire. Precious memories flitted through her mind, and she could almost hear Luna’s soft voice tickling her ears. She needed to hear that voice again. Luna…

Luna still needed her.

Slowly, Octavia pulled away from Celestia. The princess made no attempt to prevent this, her legs falling limp and her head hanging. Her horn rested on Octavia’s shoulder. Octavia stared at her, a quiet determination mixing with her sorrow.

Her voice came out weak. “Where is she?”

Celestia gradually raised her head. She stared at Octavia in silence.

Octavia sucked in a long breath. “Where is my princess?”

“She’s…” Celestia heaved a sigh, her eyes dropping to the floor again.

Then, abruptly, they flashed back up. Her eyebrows rose, her lips slightly parted in a small ‘o’ shape. Celestia leaned forward to examine Octavia as if having only just realized who she was.

“What is she to you?”

Octavia blinked. “What?”

Celestia shook her by the shoulders, her voice cracking. “Now is not the time for confusion! Speak plainly, Octavia: what is my sister to you?”

It took a moment for the question to seep in, but the answer came automatically. “Everything.”

Celestia leaned back slightly, her eyes growing wider. “‘Everything?’”

“Everything.” Octavia nodded slowly. “Where is she? Please tell me.”

Celestia stood, chewing on the tip of her hoof. Her eyes defocused and began to shift in thought. “If… if that’s true then maybe… yes…” She looked to Octavia. “If you could save Luna—”

Octavia jumped to her hooves. “What do I have to do?”

“Wait.” Celestia raised her hoof. “It could be—”

The hoof was knocked away. “What do I have to do?”

The two shared a quiet gaze. It lasted only a second, and then Celestia’s wings wrapped around Octavia. “Come with me.”

The world flashed white once more, and Octavia felt her stomach churn as a tingling ran over her body. When the light faded, they were in a new, darkened room. Celestia promptly trotted towards one of the walls. “This way, quickly.”

Octavia wobbled, the world spinning as she tried to adjust to the sudden teleportation. “W-where… where are we?”

“There is no time.”

The world stopped spinning and Octavia looked up to see Celestia pushing her horn through a hole in the wall. Runes and magic circles appeared on the surface, spreading out to cover the entire wall and revealing that they were in some vast, empty chamber. A second later, the wall split down the middle and began to slide open. It widened just enough for a single pony to get by, and Celestia promptly trotted inside. Octavia hurried to follow.

The next room was, to Octavia’s surprise, small. There was just enough space for the two of them and maybe a third pony to stand side-by-side. It possessed only one item; it appeared at first to be a large mirror, but as Octavia watched the surface of it shifted and rippled like silvery water.

As the door closed behind them, a soft green glow filled the small space, revealing what had to have been thousands of small square runes that covered every wall and the ceiling. Celestia’s horn shined and the runes began to move, dozens at a time, criss-crossing in a wild blur of green light.

“Luna has entered her own dream world.”

Octavia looked up to Celestia; the princess’s face was grim and focused. “Her own dream world? When she’s not asleep?”

Celestia nodded. “I’ve seen her do it before. It is a very complex spell, one I couldn’t hope to replicate.”

“But why? Why would she go to her own dream world?”

“It is a self-imprisonment.” Celestia’s frown deepened. “Luna can lock the dream and trap herself and Nightmare Moon within.” The runes picked up speed.

Octavia gasped, shaking her head frantically. “But that’s insane! Even if she can, Nightmare Moon could easily break down the locks, couldn’t she?”

Celestia’s voice came as a harsh whisper. “From the inside, yes, but not if the dream is sealed from the outside. It was the one thing Luna taught me about Dreamweaving, back when she was just mastering the art.”

“Y-you… you mean she wants you to—”

Celestia leveled a hard look at Octavia. “She wants me to trap my own sister in an ethereal prison. Forever.”

Octavia’s blood chilled. “You wouldn’t actually do that… would you?”

The firmness dissolved from Celestia’s face. “No. I could never imprison my sister again, just as I could never fight her again. I can’t go through that, can’t put her through it. If Nightmare Moon returns, I…” She turned back to the mirror. “I would rather let her kill me than fight her. I’d deserve it for failing her once more.”

Octavia gazed at the princess, paying no mind to the runes that seemed to be shifting across the walls and ceiling like mad insects. Her gaze dropped to the floor and she sighed. “I guess I failed her too.”

Silence, oppressive and heavy, filled the room.

“There is still a chance to save her.”

Octavia’s head jerked up. “There is?”

“Luna doesn’t trust me,” Celestia said, her voice faint. “I have failed her too often. She won’t listen to me no matter what I say.” Her head rose just as all the runes came to an abrupt stop, their green light intensifying for a couple seconds. “You, however, might be able to reach her.”

“Reach her? But how?” Octavia watched, startled, as Celestia walked right through the mirror as if it wasn’t there. It only took her a half-second’s thought to follow.

The silver liquid wrapped around her body, chilling her like a splash of water but clinging to her coat. She pushed through, and within a second her head emerged from the stuff. As she pulled herself the rest of the way, she found herself in an even smaller room, just barely big enough for her and Celestia to fit inside. A lone display case stood against the opposite wall, the glass that covered it rising in a golden glow.

Celestia used her hoof to lift something from the case. Upon a silver necklace was a pendant, a perfect circle which within were engraved the moon and a trio of stars. A lone pony stood atop the moon, its gaze focused on the stars. Celestia dangled the pendant before Octavia.

“This is the Pendant of Hrímfaxi. Luna made it as a training aid for her apprentices long ago. It grants whoever wears it the ability to enter the dreams of other ponies.”

Octavia straightened, hope rising within her. “You mean we can use this to enter Luna’s dream and talk to her?”

“No.” Celestia offered the pendant, expression solemn. “Only one pony may use it at a time. It’s either you or me, and after what just happened… it has to be you.”

Yet when Octavia reached for the pendant, Celestia didn’t let it go. She looked into the princess’s eyes and saw concern.

“I must warn you, there is a great risk in using this pendant. When you do, you will not be asleep or dreaming. You will be there physically, for that is the nature of dreamweaving. Any harm that comes to you while in there will be real, and make no mistake, Octavia: Nightmare Moon will stop at nothing to win.”

Octavia pulled the pendant from Celestia’s grasp, her face going hard. “I understand.”

Celestia set her hooves to Octavia’s shoulders. “Are you sure? If Nightmare Moon wins, you will surely—”

“Nightmare Moon will not win.” Octavia leveled Celestia with a firm look. “Luna will overcome this, I know it.”

“I pray you are right.” The princess wrapped her in another tight hug, which Octavia slowly returned. Celestia whispered in her ear, “Save my sister, Octavia. I know not how deep your feelings for her run, but they are all that stand between her and the corruption. I beg you, find the strength to do what I could not.”

“I will.” Octavia stepped back, expression determined. “I promise, Celestia. Luna won’t go back.”

She raised the pendant over her head, closing her eyes.

“Just focus on Luna as you put it on,” Celestia said. “The Pendant of Hrímfaxi will do the rest.”

Octavia nodded and focused her mind on Luna’s pristine smile. It was the easiest thing in the world to imagine. She slipped the necklace on and her body abruptly felt light as a feather. Even with her eyes closed, she could see the steadily brightening light of the pendant.

“I’m coming, Luna.”

Octavia wobbled, an intense nausea coming over her. She dropped to her knees and took slow breaths, willing her insides to stop churning. The world felt cold, but it wasn’t due to a wind or temperature; this was something she could sense within her. A permeation of emotion, a disheartening chill produced by the mind.

She shivered and opened her eyes. Everything was black, save for a dark blue fog that drifted quietly all around. Octavia felt at the pendant on her chest, taking comfort in its presence, then stood to take in her surroundings. Upon turning around, she saw Luna.

The princess sat, her head bowed and her body trembling violently. She faced away from Octavia, not noticing her presence. The fog coalesced, pressing in and seeming to pass into her body. Patches of Luna’s coat had turned black, and those spots were growing across her form at a small but constant pace. The image shot a shard of ice into Octavia’s heart.

Yet she calmed herself. Now was not the time for panic.


Luna gasped, her head jerking up. “Octavia? W-what are you…” Her face paled at the sight of the pendant. “No. No! You mustn’t be here!”

“It’s okay, Luna.” Octavia trotted forward, forcing a smile to her lips. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Get out!” Luna’s horn began to shine. “You’re in danger!”

Her horn sputtered and dimmed.

Well now, this is an interesting development.

Octavia paused, her head whipping about. She saw nothing. “Where are you?!”


She turned and jumped; Luna’s visage had become black, her narrow irises focusing on her as a wicked, fanged grin formed. A moment later the black shifted to blue and Luna’s face reappeared, contorted in teeth-baring effort.

“I c-can’t hold her back,” Luna snarled through her teeth. “Please, Octavia, get out while you still can. Tell Celestia to seal the dream before it’s too late!”

“I refuse!” Octavia hurried towards Luna, but the princess’s horn sparked with dark energy and she was pushed back by an invisible wall. “You’re going to beat her, Luna. I’m staying right here. You’re not alone!”

“What don’t you understand?” Luna cringed as the black expanded a little more across her body. “I can’t. I can’t stop her, no matter how much you believe in me.”

“That’s not true!”

“Oh, but it is.” Luna’s muzzle shifted to black, lips curling in a smile. Luna’s head jerked and twisted about, her eyes closed tight as she fought back, but her mouth moved regardless. “We have already succumbed. It is only a matter of time now.”

Octavia reared back to press her hooves against the unseen wall. “Luna, listen to me. Listen to my voice! You are not Nightmare Moon. You are the Princess of the Night, guardian of dreams. Master the shadow!”

Tears formed rivers along Luna’s cheeks. The darkness on her muzzle shifted, rose up to one of her eyes. The eye opened to show that narrowed pupil once more, a pupil that focused on Octavia. Luna’s lips, now freed, spoke, “Octavia, I beg of you, do not sacrifice yourself. I am lost! If you don’t go now, if Celestia does not seal us within the dream, all of Equestria may fall!”

“Yes,” the dark covered her muzzle once more, “it will.”

“I’m not leaving until I know you’ve won!” Octavia’s heart pounded as the shadows stretched to cover over half of Luna’s body. Panic threatened to well within her, but she stamped it back. Emotion would not win this battle! “You need to believe in yourself! This isn’t a thousand years ago, Celestia does not hate you, you are not evil!”

Luna’s horn turned black and flashed, and Octavia was knocked of her hooves by an unseen force. She twisted and landed on her barrel, but stood quickly and turned back to her princess. “She fears me, Luna! She knows I speak the truth!”

“Fear you?” A cackle rose from black lips. “A mere earth pony who clings to us in the name of prestige and position? And ponies say we are arrogant.”

“Don’t listen to her, Luna!” Octavia pressed against the invisible wall once more, her voice strong despite the shaking in her hooves. “You’re my friend! Remember, you have to remember! The Gala, our long talks, the dinner, Nightmare Night, everything we’ve done.” Why were tears streaming down her cheeks? “Please, it means something. You know it does!”

The shadows merged together in an ominous blanket. It climbed up Luna’s chest, wrapping about her throat like an ever-growing tar. Luna shook her head slowly, her eyes set upon Octavia. Her lips trembled, her face had become soaked in tears, her eyes pleaded.

“P-please… Please go. It’s t-too late. I don’t want to h-hurt you.”

Octavia pounded against the wall until her hooves ached. Understanding had finally dawned, but she fought against the despair. “It’s not over, Luna! Please! Don’t let her win! I’m here, I believe in you!”

“I c-can’t defeat her with f-faith alone.” Luna cringed, the darkness clinging to her ears. It wrapped about one of her eyes, transforming it back to that ominous shape. “O-Octavia… I… Go. Go now. Go now. Go no—”

The black covered her face and her horn flashed. A wave of dark energy threw Octavia back with far more force than the last. Luna’s words rang through her mind:

I can’t defeat her with faith alone.

She hit the black ground, grunting from the pain as she ended up sprawled on her barrel. Laughter filled the air, and as she forced her head up Octavia saw the face of villainy: Nightmare Moon. The alicorn reared back and kicked her legs in a celebratory display, her wicked laughter a gleeful announcement of her final victory. Octavia let her face fall to the ground as despair filled her.

“At last, we have reclaimed our rightful place!” Nightmare Moon took a moment to stretch her limbs and trot in place. “It feels so good to have a proper physical form again. Have you any idea what it’s like being an inconsistent fog all the time? Most uncomfortable.”

I’m trying to calm down. I’ve been trying all night!

The words swam through Octavia’s head as she lay there. If only Luna had believed in herself…

“Oh, look at you.” Nightmare Moon’s voice tickled her ears. “Come now, don’t be so depressed. Your precious princess will still please you… if you’re willing to obey.”

Octavia didn’t bother to look up. She just pressed her hooves against her face and shook her head.

She won once already.

“Aren’t we the loyal little maggot.” Nightmare huffed a brief laugh. “Did you really think Luna could stand up to us? Bringing us in might have taken a while, but it was still child’s play.”

Octavia looked up at last. Nightmare’s horn glowed, and she realized she couldn’t move. Even so, she spoke. “Give her back.”

The monster rolled her eyes. “‘Give her back, give her back!’ Nopony ever understands. There is nothing to give! We are Luna. We are Nightmare.”

I will fight the Nightmare, but there is no guarantee of success.

“Please.” Octavia struggled against the magic. She was prepared to kiss Nightmare’s hooves if it would get her princess back! “Please, Luna—”

Her lips clamped closed against her volition. Nightmare approached her, eyes narrowed and lips set in a grim frown. “What did we ever see in you? You’re a bug compared to our majesty. Maybe we should keep you here, trapped as we were to be trapped.”

Octavia squirmed, pathetic whimpers rising from her tightly closed lips. Tears dripped from her chin, her heart felt as if it had shattered into a million pieces. She could see Luna’s pretty face, her begging eyes, her lost expression. Why? Why had Luna failed after they’d come so far together?

I was her. Do not speak as though it didn’t happen.

Nightmare ground her hoof atop Octavia’s head. “We are Luna. We are Nightmare. That is why Luna failed, child: we cannot defeat ourselves. Neither you nor Celestia ever figured it out. Speaking of Celestia—”

I can’t stop her, no matter how much you believe in me.

“—I think it’s time I paid her a visit.”

The light in Octavia’s mind kicked on.

It all made sense. Celestia had failed. Octavia had failed. Luna had been trying to tell them all along, but they hadn’t listened. Now that Octavia paid attention to her words, it all seemed so obvious.

She closed her eyes and focused.

“Now, to break Luna’s seal on this—hey!” Nightmare Moon was knocked backwards by a powerful wind, flapping her wings to regain control. “What’s this?”

Though her legs shook, Octavia managed to move them. Slowly, ever so slowly, she climbed to her hooves.

“Hmm…” Nightmare rubbed her chin with a wing as she observed. “We forgot we taught you a little about dreamweaving. No matter.”

The weight piled onto Octavia’s back, but she bared her teeth and fought. Willpower. It all focused on willpower. She continued to rise, at last managing to stand to her full height.

“Oh, ponyfeathers.” Nightmare Moon scowled. “Is this where you make some fanciful speech about good triumphing over evil? Luna isn’t going to fight back anymore.”

“Because she can’t beat you.” Octavia raised her head high to stare down the monster. “That’s what she’s been saying all along: she can’t beat you, not on her own.”

“She can’t beat us at all, silly pony.” Nightmare chuckled, her horn sparking. “If you want to beg some more, we suppose we are willing to listen while we release the seals on this dream.”

Octavia closed her eyes, picturing Luna’s lovely face. She remembered every moment, every smile, every laugh, every argument, all the things that made Luna ‘Luna.’ More importantly, she remembered all the warnings, the pleas, the anger, the desperation. It was no wonder Celestia had failed her sister; like Octavia, she’d misinterpreted the message. Luna didn’t need support.

She needed help.

Octavia set her hoof to her chest and took a long, slow breath.

Nightmare sounded curious. “I’m waiting.”

The pendant sparked as Octavia released the air in a single long, pronounced, reverberating note.

With a cringe, Nightmare Moon stumbled back and pressed a hoof to her head. “W-what the…”

Once the note faded, Octavia took a step forward, lips pulled back in a fierce display. “I’m not standing on the sidelines anymore!” She fired off another note, the air shifting in waves that washed over the monster.

“You wretched foal!” Nightmare bared her fangs, the glow of her horn intensifying. “We will make you suffer for that!”

“I came here for Luna.” Octavia reared back and caught her cello in one leg, her bow in the other. “I am not leaving without her.” She set the bow to the strings. “And you’re not going anywhere until I see her freed from you.”

The bow ran along the strings, producing a single long note. Nightmare Moon snarled and took a step closer, but Octavia sang and she was pushed away. The pendant about Octavia’s neck glowed brightly.

“We have had enough of this.”

A beam of energy shot from Nightmare’s horn. It struck Octavia’s chest and she stumbled back, a black mark seared in her coat. Even so, Octavia didn’t stop playing. She ground her teeth and focused on Luna’s image. This was only a dream, and she could control it!

Nightmare Moon growled and fired another shot. It slammed into Octavia’s shoulder like a hammer, making her stumble.

“Control it,” Octavia whispered to herself. “She’s strong, but if you can just—”

A third shot struck her cello, shattering it and sending Octavia flying. She hit the floor on her back, gasping for breath and eyes bulging.

Laughter echoed in her ears. “Is that it? Is that all your love can produce? And here I thought it was supposed to be a strong emotion.”

The pendant flashed again.

“You’re wasting my time, maggot. I really will leave you… hmm?”

Octavia stood on trembling legs.

Nightmare’s scowl returned. “You’re more annoying than we expected. Maybe this time we’ll just cut your head off and be done with it. I have a seal to break, so if you don’t mind, stay down.” Another beam shot from her horn.

Thank you for giving me another chance.


The beam curved in flight and zipped over Octavia’s shoulder. Nightmare Moon’s jaw dropped. “What?”

Octavia began to suck in a breath as a second beam flew her way.

Don’t give up, Octy. You’re a wonderful mare and I’m sure Luna sees that.


She produced a high pitched note, pristine and pure.

The beam shifted and hit the black floor. Nightmare Moon snarled and fired a third beam, this one brighter than the others.

Octavia’s bow appeared in her hooves.

Please, do not be burdened by zis night. I vill do my best to help make up for it.


She raised the bow just in time for it to absorb the beam’s impact. It snapped in two and jerked from her grip. Within a second, the two pieces re-merged and flew back into her expectant hoof.

Nightmare Moon’s jaw dropped once again. “I-Impossible, you can’t be that good so quickly.”

The pieces of Octavia’s cello floated into the air. Nightmare began to forge a ball of dark blue energy.

When and if the time comes, I’ll be ready. I was always ready to help, Octy.


Her cello reformed, the pieces merging and sealing to create a smooth, polished surface.

Nightmare Moon hissed, her horn flaring brighter as the ball of energy grew. “Enough of this! We do not know what you are playing at, but we will be distracted no longer!”

If even the perfect, incredible Octavia Melody could like something I wrote, then maybe I could finally make my parents proud.


Octavia molded the emotions to produce something wholly new. It felt so incredibly good, like she was being empowered by some divine touch. She looked upon the Nightmare and imagined Luna within that body, watching this final battle.

Nightmare unleashed her spell, the energy sphere larger than Octavia herself. It flew like an ethereal wrecking ball, a trail of dark-blue fog in its wake.

I am honored that you think so highly of my night. It is beautiful.

A smile formed on Octavia’s lips.

“It is.”

She pulled the bow across the strings even as she called out another pristine note. She wasn’t alone: a symphony of sound erupted in the cool air, from trumpets to violins to drums to a chorus! The resulting sound wave washed over her, cocooned her, made her mane fly with wild abandon.

The sphere erupted in a shower of sparks and smoke a few inches prior to impact.

Nightmare Moon’s lips twitched, her eyes wide. “H-how did you… We don’t…”

The chains of her mind gone, Octavia trembled with overwhelming emotions that swirled like a storm; anger, joy, pride, ambition, confidence, amusement, concern, love. She turned her eyes on the Nightmare and grinned. With a glance over her shoulder, she watched as the orchestra of her dreams formed at her back.

She saw Parish in the corner, his chest swelling as his hooves prepped over the strings of his harp. Near him stood Symphony, her violin raised and her eyes sparkling with adoration. Opposite them stood Beauty, her sousaphone squirming like a snake about her as she giggled her amusement. Vinyl sat in the middle before her precious synthesizer, tears streaming as she looked upon Octavia with a beaming smile. Frederick sat beside her, hooves raised above his grand piano with all the air of a professional.

Even Benjamina. She stood before the choir, conductor’s baton at the ready as she watched Octavia for her cue. Her head rose, collected and confident and powerful.

“This is my dream now.” Octavia turned back to Nightmare Moon, pointing with her bow. The pendant glowed like a beacon in the darkness. “Luna is my princess. I will do what I should have done all along: I will fight for her!”

Nightmare Moon reared back, her eyes flashing white. “Fight for her? You? Against us? We are going to crush you for this arrogance!”

Twin pillars of dark blue smoke rose from the ground, swirling in a vortex of wind and magic. The two tornadoes approached, the wind threatening to topple Octavia.

She didn’t have to issue orders; the orchestra responded on instinct, sending forth a cacophony of new music. Octavia joined it, her bow a blur of motions. The two columns slowed, stopped.

Spheres of energy rose from Nightmare’s horn and darted for Octavia, but each cracked and disintegrated against wave after wave of music.

The sound filled Octavia’s ears, no, her very soul! This wasn’t just music, it was her music, and was as glorious as she had always dreamed. Raw, unbridled emotion spilled forth from her orchestra, smashing against the Nightmare in an explosion of sound. Wild, fresh, pure, unique.

Nightmare Moon wavered, screaming against the music and clutching at her head. “You foal! This will achieve nothing!”

“Luna!” Octavia poured all her love into the words. “Luna, fight back! I’m not standing by anymore! We’ll fight her together!”

“She. Can’t. Hear you!” Nightmare steadied herself, and a massive pillar of energy blasted from her horn. Octavia sang out, the orchestra picked up momentum; the beam smashed against an invisible barrier before Octavia. It kept coming, the brightness blinding her. Even so, she sang with all the power and emotion her cutie mark offered her, the soundwaves folding against the magic.

Every note was an emotion. Every instrument was power. Octavia put forth her very soul, Luna’s image seared within her brain as she pushed back with everything she had. The beam began to waver.

She didn’t notice the two energy balls swinging wide around the tornadoes.

Twin eruptions of magical energy sent the ponies in her orchestra flying, many of them fading into nothingess. Octavia rocked as the ground beneath her shuddered and roiled and the music came to an abrupt stop. She collapsed to her side just as the barrier failed, the beam slicing through the darkness and annihilating what was left of her orchestra. She screamed as the heat curled the fur on her backside.

A heavy silence filled the void. The weight pressed down on her once more, pinning her. With a small moan, she waited for the dots to leave her vision before looking up.

Nightmare Moon huffed, her shoulders heaving and steam rising from her nostrils. Sweat poured down her brow and flanks as she swayed. After a moment’s recovery, she began to approach Octavia at a slow pace, her eyes glowing with sinister intent.

You. We can’t believe you would prove such a pain in our flank! We were willing to let you wallow in misery for an eternity, but now we see that was too kind. We are going to rip you to—”

She jerked to a stop, eyes widening as a choking sound rose from her throat. Her horn began to flicker.

The weight disappeared and Octavia leaped to her hooves. “Yes, Luna, fight back!” Pride and confidence came back in full force, and with them the orchestra reappeared as if it had never gone. Anger and ambition fueled her, the pendant glowed and music exploded into the world like a tidal wave.

Nightmare Moon fell back, her hooves covering her face against the fresh attack. “Stop this! Enough!” Her horn gained intensity and a fresh beam erupted.

Luna!” Octavia’s cello flashed into existence, playing a string of lightning-fast notes entirely on its own and in concert with the orchestration. The beam came to a slow halt before it could travel very far. The pillar wavered and dimmed as Nightmare reeled.

“This isn’t possible!” Nightmare shook her head violently. “Stop it, stop it, stop it! We have won! Surrender!”

“Never!” Octavia took a step forward, throwing all the strength of her love at her foe. “Luna can’t beat you alone, and neither can I… but together we are stronger than you’ll ever imagine!”

“You are nothing!”

We are everything!” Octavia sucked in a preparatory breath and let loose, her soprano voice rising above the cacophony of wind and music and screams to blanket the world in pure, unbridled emotional energy.

Nightmare shrieked and clutched at her head as her dark coat gave way to patches of blue. “No! Stay down, you pathetic wretch! You can’t beat us, Luna, you know you can’t!” Her head jerked about in unnatural movements, her coat swam with a wild mixture of blues and blacks.

Still Octavia sang, walking steadily closer.






Nightmare Moon began to approach, her legs jerky and shaking as she struggled against the motions. Her horn flickered in wild spurts. “No, no no no! This isn’t happening!” Her horn at last managed to flash, and the two tornados abruptly converged over her. Octavia dropped back as the winds buffeted her, Nightmare lost to her sight.



Octavia scanned the massive funnel of smoke, but could not see the alicorn. “Luna! I’m here!”

“Come to me, Octavia!”

“No, keep back! I won’t let you do this!”

The winds kicked up, but Octavia pressed on. Though the fierce gale drowned out the orchestra, the music continued unabated in her mind. “I’m coming, Luna! Don’t stop fighting!” She sang a high note that blasted a hole in the wind, granting her a half-second to see Nightmare Moon hovering in the center, twisting and shrieking as her body fought against itself.

Nightmare’s voice rose against the winds. “We are the same, Luna!”

“Yes, Nightmare, we are.”

Octavia sang as she struggled against the gale. A gust made her stumble, but she kept on her hooves and moved forward. The music rang unimpeded in her head. The pendant blazed with pale light. “I’m coming. I’m coming, Luna!”

“I know, Octavia. I know!”

“Keep back, you foal!”

There! Octavia could see them, still hovering and struggling in the air. She entered the center of the vortex, panting with the effort. Her legs ached, her breath came in gasps, but her heart sang with determination. She passed through the last layer of fog to find Nightmare squirming in midair. Her coat all but glowed with combating waves of color, her eyes warping back and forth between beauty and ferocity.

“You can’t beat us, Luna! We are a part of you!”

“We know, Nightmare. We won’t let you go.”

Her leg vibrated with visible effort, gradually reaching for Octavia.

Nightmare’s voice trembled. “W-what… what are you doing?”

Octavia stared up at them, struggling to regain her breath. Her eyes met with Luna’s pretty blue ones.

“Octavia. Take my hoof.”

“No!” Nightmare’s face twisted with effort and rage. “I will tear you apart if you come any—”

“Octavia, now!”

Octavia flung herself forward, struggling against the winds. She reached up, stretching as high as she could. Luna’s hoof shifted wildly from black to blue in a chaotic display. It trembled and waved about as though it had a mind of its own. Luna’s face contorted in effort.


Pristine blue eyes focused on Octavia’s calm gaze.


Black lips bared fangs. “No!”

Blue lips curled into a warm smile. “Together.”

“No no no!” A black hoof jerked away.

A blue hoof reached down.

Octavia jumped.

Their hooves touched.


Thank you for the song. Thank you for the stars.

I can play another. The struggle is the glory.

Did you go to see her again?

You caught her eye. If you are afraid, leave.

Have you ever had a… ‘private’ client? Maybe he likes you. It is a ‘he,’ isn’t it?

So is she as talented in real life as she is in your dreams?

Why am I dreaming of you? Because I wished to be here.

You mean you’ve been watching me? What if I don’t even deserve to be here?

No, Miss Melody. There are no ponies like you.

It sounds too much like you’re putting me on a pedestal. I fail to grasp why they don’t like you now.

You are not Nightmare Moon!

That mare is so difficult. Are you really any better?

I have Octavia. I really want to hear her music right now.

I’m flattered you would think me worthy.

So you’ll go?

For you? Of course I will.


“I’m really glad to be here.”

An ear-piercing shriek, a blast of white light. Octavia didn’t realize she’d been sent flying until after she hit the floor. She lay on her back, dazed as the overwhelming torrent of emotions began to die down, leaving her with only a deep warmth. The winds had died completely, all sound gone in a moment of perfect silence. Everything was black.

She sat up slowly, shaking her head in an attempt to clear it. Even as she did, heat seemed to spread throughout her body. It filled her, made her seem lighter than air, flooded her head and heart with pleasure. It was delectable, and she wanted more. What was—

Her eyes locked on Luna, who sat with head bowed not far away. Blue rapidly overwhelmed the darkness of her coat. Octavia watched in quiet awe as, in short order, the last vestiges of the Nightmare faded away. When Luna at last looked up, her eyes shifted rapidly from the narrow pupils to blessedly clear orbs of cyan.

And that is how they remained.

The sensation lost, Octavia stood and took a tentative step forward. “Luna?”

The princess let out a small gasp and sucked down air, as if she’d not breathed in an age. Her eyes widened and her body trembled. She looked up at the blackness above. “It’s… It’s gone.”

“And you’re okay.” Octavia stood before her, reaching a leg up hesitantly. “Right?”

Luna gazed upon her as if uncertain that she was real.

Then she jerked forward, wrapping Octavia in a hug that stole her breath. “It’s gone! Octavia... You beautiful, wonderful, am-mazing…” She broke down, sobbing like a foal over the smaller pony’s shoulder. It only took a few seconds for Octavia to do the same. They wept and clung and shook, and all along Octavia felt her fears washed away by a renewed, all-encompassing joy.

Yet one small worry nagged her, and when she finally had regained control she managed to ask, “Will she be back?”

“She is back.” Luna pulled away, rubbing her cheeks as she smiled upon Octavia. “She’s back where she belongs, and we will never see her again.”

Octavia sat back and followed Luna’s example, brushing the tears from her face. “W-what do you mean? Where did she go?”

In response, Luna pressed her hooves to her own chest. She heaved a pleasant sigh. “The Nightmare was part of me all along, Octavia. I merely reclaimed her. I’ve become whole again.”

Octavia stared at Luna’s chest, then took a tentative step closer. “What does that mean for you?”

“It means I am at last ready to move on.” Luna cupped Octavia’s cheek in a hoof. The warmth of her smile percolated through Octavia. “Thank you. At last, somepony understood that I couldn’t reclaim her by myself.”

“I don’t understand exactly why,” Octavia admitted as she pressed lovingly against that hoof, “but I had to help. I couldn’t just let her… let you…” She leaned back and rubbed her hooves together with a blush. “I couldn’t let her win.”

“I know.” Luna pressed her forehead against Octavia’s, her wings surrounding the pony. “Believe me, Octavia, I know.”

Octavia leaned into her princess, delighting in her softness and the feel of feathers caressing her back. “I should tell you. Th-that is… I mean… I was going to wait until I finished my song, but I… Well…”

“I know.”

She gazed up into Luna’s hypnotic eyes. Her heart hammered in her chest as they floated closer.

“You blessed me with the strength of your emotions,” Luna whispered. “I felt it all, Octavia. So yes… I know.”

A small gasp rose from Octavia’s throat as she recalled the sensations from moments ago. “So we… ‘shared’ emotions? Then what I felt was… was…”

“Something like this, I think.”

Luna’s lips came down to meet hers. It was a gentle touch, but Octavia swelled with that addictive, desirable need almost instantly.

She wrapped her legs around Luna’s slender neck and swore to never let go.

Upon returning to the great chamber, Luna and Octavia found Celestia waiting for them. Her back was to the door; her shoulders shook with silent crying. Upon hearing their hoof-falls, she jerked about.

Octavia paused as Luna did and cast a fretful glance between the two princesses. Luna looked upon Celestia with her head high and her lips set in a judging frown, whereas Celestia trembled. She approached her younger sister at a cautious pace, head low and ears folded flat against her head.

“S-sister?” Celestia raised her head just slightly, looking up at Luna with bloodshot eyes. “Are you…” She reached with a trembling hoof.

Luna caught the hoof with both of hers. The swift motion made Celestia flinch, but Luna’s frown faded to a warm smile. “It’s me, Tia.”

Celestia released a long, slow breath. She stood just a little taller and gazed into her sister’s eyes. “You’re okay?”

“Indeed.” Luna patted her sister’s hoof. “Better than I’ve been in a thousand years.”

A trembling smile stole its way onto Celestia’s face and tears began to run down her cheeks once more. “Lulu… Oh, Lulu!” She all but tackled Luna, who had to stagger backwards a couple steps to keep from falling.

“It’s good to see you too, sister.” Luna whispered, patting the sobbing Celestia on the back.

Octavia stepped away to give them some room, but Luna glanced at her and gestured with her hoof over Celestia’s shoulder. Though hesitant, Octavia smiled and sat.

“I don’t hate you!” Abruptly Celestia was on her knees. She looked upon her sister with pleading eyes, her words coming in a flurry. “You must believe me, I never thought of you like that. I missed you so much and I desperately wanted you back. I know you’re upset that I’ve kept your power limited and I know you blame me for the stigma attached to you, but please believe—”

“Enough!” Luna waved her hooves. “I understand, Celestia.”

“But it’s not enough!” Celestia shook her head vehemently. “I failed you, Lulu. I failed my only sister. Time and time again, I failed you!”

Luna dropped down to hold her sister once more. “We failed one another, Tia. You are not the only pony to blame in this situation.”

“I was so certain I’d get it right this time.” Celestia sucked down a long, shuddering breath as she leaned against Luna. “W-when I saw how you were relapsing, I… I was so determined to get it right. Why couldn’t I get it right?”

“It’s okay.”

“I’m a terrible sister…”

“You’re a wonderful sister.” Luna leaned back to offer a warm smile. “Even if you have a bit of trouble letting go of the reins.”

Celestia chuckled despite her tears, that fragile smiling appearing once more. “Can you f-forgive me, Lulu?”

“Of course I can.” Luna rubbed her cheek against Celestia’s, her smile turning sly. “I forgive you for being a domineering control freak.”

Celestia’s laugh had the ring of sincerity this time. “And I forgive you for being a stubborn, combative pain in the f-flank.”

They shared a grin, Celestia’s strained. Luna began brushing her sister’s tears away. “Now that we’ve settled that…”

“Settled?” Celestia grabbed Luna hooves and shook her head. “This is hardly settled, Lulu. I’ve barely even begun making up for my failures. I—”

Luna planted her hoof against Celestia’s muzzle. “Now that we’ve settled that, I think it’s time some appreciation was shown for the heroine of the hour.”

Octavia fidgeted as two pairs of royal eyes fell upon her. “Oh… uh… You mean me, don’t you?”

“Octavia Melody.” Celestia turned to her, curiosity and awe sharing equal presence in her wide-eyed face. “How in Equestria did you do it?”

“I’m not clear on the details, myself.” Octavia blushed and rubbed the back of her head. “I kinda just… did.”

“She figured out the truth,” Luna said with a beaming smile. “She realized that not all my words were a case of defeatism.”

Celestia looked between the two of them. “I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to.” Luna gestured to Octavia in a grand, sweeping motion. “Octavia did, and it is enough. Nightmare Moon will torment Equestria no more.”

“Well then, in that case…” Celestia stood properly and turned to Octavia, only to drop into a deep bow, her wings splayed upon the ground around her. “Thank you, Miss Melody. Thank you for saving my sister, and Equestria as well.”

Octavia stuttered, her cheeks burning as she glanced from Celestia to Luna and back. She bowed her head and mumbled a barely audible, “You’re welcome.”

“‘Equestria as well?’” Luna asked once Celestia was standing again. “Did you not send a notice and the Elements to Twilight and her friends?”

Celestia ducked as if to avoid a blow and glanced away sheepishly. “I wanted to show my trust.”

Luna facehooved. “Oh, sister, what am I going to do with you?”

“Forgive me?” Celestia offered her a bashful smile, body kept low.

“It seems I’ll be doing a lot of forgiving tonight.” Luna rolled her eyes and shrugged. “Oh well, ‘tis part of the burden of being siblings with you.”

“You’re not exactly a rose yourself, Lulu.”

Octavia couldn’t help a giggle. “Are you two always digging at one another like this?”

“But of course,” Luna replied with a pompous air. “It’s called ‘competition.’”

Celestia giggled. “I call it ‘keeping our sanity.’” She sighed and offered Luna a beaming smile. “It’s good to have you back, sister. For real this time.”

“It’s good to be back, for real this time.” Luna approached Octavia and, turning to sit at her side, used a wing to press the pink-cheeked pony close. “Now, I’m sure my savior is tired.”

“Well, I am a little,” Octavia admitted as she rubbed against her princess with a grin.

Luna nodded, then looked to Celestia. “Join us, Tia?”

Celestia blushed and sat back, her hoof making circles on the floor. “Are you sure about that, Lulu? Don’t you two want to… ‘talk?’”

Octavia and Luna shared amused expressions. “Honestly, dear sister,” Luna said with pomp, “you really should get your head out of the gutter. This is my first night of true peace in over a millennium, and I want to spend it with the two ponies I love.

“Besides—” She leaned against Octavia and petted her mane with a sultry smile. “—I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time for that later.”

The burning in Octavia’s cheeks probably rivaled that of Celestia’s.

Author's Notes:

Did you have as much fun reading that as I did writing it?

Stay tuned tomorrow for the epilogue!

Saumya Am˚dherā

The Gentle Nights
Audience of One

Chapter XXII
Saumya Am˚dherā
The Gentle Nights

“Are you really sure you don’t want to see her before the performance?”

Luna shook her head vehemently, pawing at the dark carpet as she paced across the hall. “She asked me not to, and I will honor that wish.” Her silver dress shimmered in the dim lighting.

Celestia sat by the door to their theatre balcony, her head turning back and forth to keep up with her sister. She sported a playful smile. “I’d almost believe you’re the one about to go on stage. Relax, Luna. Everything will be fine.”

“Of course it will.” Luna paused to suck in a deep breath. “Everything is fine. It is.”

Celestia stepped forward and set both forehooves on Luna’s shoulders, looking her in the eyes. “Relax, little sister. Trust in Octavia.”

Another long breath. “I do.” Luna nodded, but the motion did nothing to stop the moths in her stomach. “I do trust Octavia. This night will be perfect. I’m sure.” She stepped back and took a moment to examine her wings for the tenth time that night. “I have every confidence.”

“So I see.” Celestia rolled her eyes, her smile broadening just a touch. “Your feathers are as straight as they ever were. Ah—” She set a hoof to Luna’s leg before it could rise too far, “—and your dress is seamless.”

“I should hope so.” Luna examined the gleaming silver ensemble. “Hoity Toity might not be as ‘in’ as Rarity at the moment, but he still knows how to design an incredible dress. I wanted Rarity to make it, but she—”

“Yes yes, you’ve explaining it all to me before.” Celestia giggled and tucked a hoof under Luna’s chin, making her look up once more. “You really, really need to calm down. Everything is going to go wonderfully.”

“Wonderfully is not perfectly.”

Celestia laughed, and Luna scowled at her sister. “Excuse me if this night is very important to me. This is Octavia’s chance to make it into the upper class as she’s always dreamed, without it being based on our relationship.”

“True.” Celestia took a step back and appraised Luna from hoof to horn. “What does that have to do with the ‘perfect’ dress and your overall appearance?”

An intense warmth filled Luna’s cheeks and her heart performed a little flip. “I… just… wanted to make sure the photo op at the end of the concert went smoothly. I can’t look…” She pursed her lips as Celestia broke out in laughter again. “What’s so funny?”

“You are.” Celestia raised a hoof over her mouth to stifle her giggles. “Come now, sister, a photo op? There won’t be one. How could you think I’d fall for something like that?”

Luna jerked her face away. “Sometimes I wish you had a mate I could tease you about. It would make things seem more fair.” Her eyes fell upon her wing, which she promptly began inspecting.

“Luna, how many times do I have to tell you that nopony says—”

“She is my mate,” Luna repeated, spreading her wing slightly to get a better look at her pinions. “I know what the conventions are. We are close enough for me to say it in private amongst ponies I trust.” She turned to gaze at her sister with narrow eyes. “I can trust you, can I not?”

“I think you may be looking at it in the wrong way.” Celestia sighed and waved a hoof in a dismissive display. “If you wish to terminally embarrass Miss Melody, be my guest.”

“To be terminally embarrassing is a marefriend’s duty,” Luna replied confidently, not so much as cracking a smile.

She smiled on the inside though. ‘Grinned’ was more like it.

“I’ll be sure to remind her of that at the first opportunity.” Celestia eyed her sister. “Are we going to take our seats or do you intend to spend the entire performance pacing and staring at your wings?”

Luna snapped to attention and moved for the door. “Quite right. Let us go.”

They entered the theatre, the lighting even lower here than it had been in the hall. The quiet hum of chattering ponies filled the auditorium as the princesses went to take their place upon two large couches that gave them a perfect center view of the stage.

“Have you considered my proposal?”

Luna blinked and turned to her sister. “You want to talk about it now?”

Celestia glanced away, her ears folding back. “It’s been three months since Nightmare was defeated. I thought you were eager to retake the reins, Lulu.”

With a scoff, Luna turned her attention back to the empty stage. “You just want me to lighten your load. I’m on to your schemes, Tia.”

“I’m not scheming.” The wilt in Celestia’s voice caught Luna’s attention, and she looked to find her sister studying her hooves intently. “I’m not.”

“I only meant it as a joke.” Luna reached over to touch her sister’s hoof. “Why must you keep beating yourself up?”

“I don’t know how you ever forgave me.” Celestia set her hoof over Luna’s, but still wouldn’t look her sister in the eye. “I certainly haven’t forgiven myself. Reforming the Night Court is supposed to be the beginning of my apology, and you have yet to even accept it.”

Sighing, Luna leaned over to nuzzle her sister. “I know, Tia. I appreciate it. I will be accepting the proposal, that I assure you. I just wanted to have a little time to enjoy myself and be with Octavia.” She blushed and glanced back to the stage. “Granted, three months is a long vacation.”

“You’ve earned it, after a thousand years of—”

“Don’t.” Luna pressed a hoof to Celestia’s lips, her own set in a small scowl. “I am tired of hearing you berate yourself, sister.”

Celestia only turned her face away.

Luna pondered her sister, her eyes drifting over Celestia’s ever-flowing mane. “If it would ease your heart, then I promise to go over your proposal tonight. Tomorrow evening we can meet and discuss any changes I might wish to offer. Now will you please stop acting like a felon before his sentencing hearing?”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get over my failures.” Celestia sighed and attempted to smile. It wasn’t a bad effort. “I shall try, Lulu. Just promise you’ll let me know when I’m messing things up.”

At that Luna smirked. “Oh, trust me, Tia, I’ll be sure to tell you all about it. Would you like those reports daily or would a weekly summary do the job?”

Celestia slapped her lightly on the back of the head with a wing, but her smile at least seemed more genuine now.

At that moment, the lights of the auditorium went out and the audience grew quiet. Luna’s heart jumped into her throat. She turned to the stage, working to keep her manner calm and focused even as her anticipation mounted. If she chewed her lip any harder it might have bled.

Lights covered the stage as the curtain rose, revealing a full orchestra for which the audience politely stomped their applause. A moment later, Frederick Horseshoepin came onstage and the applause turned uproarious. He waved to the crowd with a broad smile as a lone spotlight followed him to a microphone located at the front of the stage.

He waited until the audience died down before speaking. “Good evening, everypony, and welcome to ze grand reopening of ze Canterlot Nocturnal Seatre.” A brief pause as the audience applauded. “I am Frederick Horseschoepin, and it is my honor to be here tonight for all of you. Permit me to express my zanks to ze generous and beautiful host of zis wonderful evening: Princess Luna.”

He turned to face the princess’ balcony and gave a deep bow as the crowd applauded once more. Though her legs shook, Luna stood and waved to the audience.

“Your image has improved significantly in the last three months, I see,” Celestia said as Luna sat back down.

“I had help,” Luna replied with a warm smile.

“On zis most auspicious night,” Frederick continued, “we have planned for you zree symphonies. The first will be my very own Als Die Nachtigall Fliegen: As ze Nightingale Flies.” More cheers interrupted him, but he bore the interruption with grace and a grin. “Ze second is an energetic song lead by Manehattan’s premier flautist, Vento Conzone: Dancing on Mane Street at Midnight.”

Yet another round of applause. Luna barely contained her impatience, crossing and uncrossing her legs over and over again. She felt Celestia’s feathers brushing against her back and tried her best to relax.

“Last but not least,” Frederick continued, “we have a song zat I, personally, have been greatly anticipating. Canterlot’s very own Octavia Melody will be introducing us to her debut original symphony, ze name of which sche has yet to reveal even to me. I trust it will be as incredible as ze pony herself.”

This time the applause was uproarious, and Luna couldn’t help but smile at the audience’s anticipation.

“I hope zis evening will prove as magical to all of you as it schall be for us. And now, wizout furser ado, let us begin.”

Frederick promptly went to his piano amidst more applause, pausing only to whisper something to the conductor. Luna fidgeted in place, her eyes scanning the edges of the stage.

“Relax, Lulu.”

“I’m relaxed.” Luna stiffened and focused her eyes on Frederick. “I’m perfectly calm.”

“Octavia will do just fine,” Celestia whispered in her ear as the orchestra began to play. “Just enjoy the music, dear sister.”

“Of course,” Luna hissed back. “I just wish Octavia was first. She must be a nervous wreck.”

Celestia shook her head with an exasperated smile. “I doubt she’s anywhere near as nervous as you are.”

“I’m not nervous. I’m just…” Luna glanced at her sister and noted her raised eyebrow. She pouted and turned her attention back to the stage. “I’m just nervous.”

“You’re just nervous.”

“Of course I’m nervous!” Octavia flipped pages of her sheet music, frantically checking every line to make sure it was committed to memory. “This is only the single most important night of my career, my relationship, probably my life. I can’t mess this up. This night has to be perfect.”

Vinyl rolled her eyes and set her hoof atop the sheet music, effectively blocking Octavia’s view. “Look at me, Octi.” Octavia’s glare only earned her a smile. “You know this song like the back of your hoof. You could play it in your sleep. Relax.”

“I can’t just ‘relax,’” Octavia countered, trying to pull her sheet music from under Vinyl’s hoof. “I’ve never been so… so worked up!”

“Really?” Vinyl grinned and waggled her eyebrows. “Does ‘three days without food or drink or sleep’ ring any bells?”

Octavia winced and released the papers with a sigh. “I thought we agreed never to bring that up again.”

“Yeah, we did.” Vinyl lifted the sheet music in her magic and set it in Octavia’s cello case, well away from the fidgeting earth pony. “We also agreed that if you started going nutso I could step in and snap you out of it.”

“I know, I know!” Octavia pawed at the ground and cast a wary look towards the stage. “But Luna’s out there. She’s going to hear it for the first time and… and…” Her eyes went to her case.

“Come on, Octy.” Vinyl moved to block her view. “You’re worried about Luna? You’ve got some of the most prestigious ponies in Canterlot out there.” She winced. “I mean, not that they won’t think your music is awesome, ‘cause it is.”

“And none of them are Luna.” Octavia stood to turn a small circle, eying her crisp black suit. “This is so much more than just a song, Vinyl. This is… It’s my…”

Vinyl gained a broad smile. “She already knows how you feel, Octy.”

“That’s not the point!” Octavia made to walk around Vinyl for the cello case, but when Vinyl moved to block she promptly turned around and began pacing. “Yes, Luna knows, but this is how I show her my feelings! This is where I lay it all bare for her to see.”

“Right, because entering her dream and helping her put down a thousand-year-old demon that tried to possess her didn’t do that.”

Octavia paused. She touched the Pendant of Hrímfaxi that hung around her neck, taking comfort in its coolness. “Y-yes, she found out then, but… but not in the way I’d wanted.” She glanced up as the music came to an end. Soon Frederick would leave the stage to Vento Conzone.

Then it would be her turn. She paced once more, chewing her lip and replaying the music in her head again and again.

Frederick appeared shortly after, beaming at the two mares as he approached. “So, how’s ze star of ze evening?” His accent had really improved, or so she thought.

“She’s about one slip-up away from a panic attack and two from dropping dead,” Vinyl replied, though her tone was soft.

“Ah yes, ze anxiety of ze debut.” Frederick patted Octavia on the back with a grin. “Have fais, my friend! You have great talent.”

“Do I?” Octavia shook her head frantically. “We don’t know that, Frederick. What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t like me?”

Frederick shrugged. “Zen you pick yourself up and try again. Zat’s what I did. Were you not aware zat my first song… er… what is ze term? Ah, yes: flopped.”

Vinyl glowered at him. “I don’t think that’s helping any, dude.”

“I can’t flop, Luna’s watching!” Octavia started to stand, but Vinyl pressed a hoof to her lips and used magic to push her back down.

“Uh-uh, no you don’t!” Vinyl held Octavia’s face in both hooves. “Look at me, breathe. You’re not gonna flop, Octy. Just breathe.”

Octavia did as she was told, taking slow, long breaths. As her heart regained its pace, she started to whisper, “Not gonna flop, not gonna flop…”

“My apologies.” Frederick set a hoof to her shoulder with a concerned frown. “I did not realize you were so nervous. Please, Miss Melody, you must relax. Tonight is no different from any other performance.”

“But it is.” She hugged herself and glanced towards her cello case. “It is, Frederick.”

“You’ve got Beauty, Parish and Symphony out there with you,” Vinyl said, regaining her smile. “We’re all here, Octy. Nothing’s going to go wrong. When that song ends, those ponies will be on their hooves demanding an encore.”

“An encore?” Octavia’s pulse started to rise again. “I-I don’t have anything for an encore. W-what will I—”

Stop. Breathe.”

Breathe. Right.

Frederick sighed and glanced towards the curtains. He rubbed his chin and fiddled with his tie. At last he turned back to Octavia, who suspected she’d have a heart attack if she kept this up.

“Tell me zis, Octavia: do you believe your princess loves you?”

She cocked her head his way with a questioning frown. “What does… yes?”

“Zen do you really zink her opinion of you will change based on how zis night goes?”

Octavia licked her dry lips as she pondered the question. Toying with her pendant, she shook her head.

Vinyl grinned and shook her by the shoulders in a playful manner. “Then why are you so worried about it?”

“You don’t understand.” Octavia stared at her fidgeting hooves as they turned the pendant over and over again. “This isn’t just a song. This is me baring my soul before my princess. I… I need this.”

Her chin rose, pushed up by Vinyl’s hoof so she could look the pony in the eye. “Octavia, anything you put your soul into is magic. I know, it drove me insane while we were roomies.”

“And I have seen your conviction zrough our correspondence,” Frederick added. “You’re going to do wonderfully.”

“We believe in you, Octy,” Vinyl finished, her smile warm. “Beauty, Parish and Symphony do too. You know Luna does. The only pony who doesn’t believe this is going to go off without a hitch is you.”

“I…” Octavia looked to each of them, then back to the curtains. She felt… warm. Chewing her lip, she turned to hug Vinyl. “Thank you.”

“Whoa, this is new.” Vinyl chuckled and patted Octavia on the back.

Octavia ignored the statement and just held on, her grip tightening gradually. She indulged in the comforting presence of an old friend and felt herself relaxing. A smile gradually formed on her lips. She could do this. Her friends believed in her. Luna believed in her. If they thought she could handle it, then she could handle it.

Even as she told herself this, her hooves still shook when she finally stepped back. At least she felt calm again. “Thanks, Vinyl, Frederick.”

“But of course.” Frederick grinned and accepted her much more brief hug. “Do not worry, Miss Melody, zis night is going to be perfect.”

“Perfect.” She shared a smile with Vinyl and nodded to herself. “Things will be perfect. Just perfect.”

She repeated the phrase like a mantra, stopping only when Frederick offered her some water. Her mental state remained on the verge of wild anxiety, but her friends were always ready to bring her back into the moment and rebuild her confidence. She never knew just how much she needed such ponies in her life until now.

After a while, Frederick turned his attention to the stage. “Vento is almost done with his part. Are you sure you don’t want me to handle ze introduction?”

Octavia sucked in a long breath and released it with equal dedication. Her stomach churned, but she shook her head. “No, I will do it. I can take it.”

He studied her as the music wound down, then nodded and turned for the curtain without a word.

“You’ve got this, Octavia.” Vinyl nudged her forward. “Just you wait, those ponies are going to love you.”

“O-of course they will.” They moved sidestage and watched as Frederick approached the microphone. Octavia glanced towards her cello, sitting by itself near the center of the stage. She spotted Parish in the corner setting his sheet music and Symphony amongst the many violinists doing the same. Beauty stood amongst three other sousaphonists. She locked eyes with Octavia and offered a bright smile, waving just enough to not be noticeable to the crowd.

Octavia smiled back, once again feeling that increasingly familiar warmth.

Her attention went back to Frederick as Vento, an older green pegasus with wild orange hair, took his final bow. He trotted towards them, flute tucked under his wing and waving to the crowd. As he passed Octavia he whispered, “Knock ‘em dead, kid.”

“Ladies and gentlecolts,” Frederick began once the audience had properly quieted, “our final musician is a good friend of mine, whose acquaintance I made during ze unorsodox events of last year’s Grand Galloping Gala. A remarkable talent hailing from Trottingham, sche moved to Canterlot to build her reputation as a cellist.”

Octavia flinched as stomps and cheers rose up from the audience. She cocked her head. “Why are they already applauding?”

Vinyl elbowed her in the ribs with a grin. “Maybe because you’re already real popular, even if you didn’t know it.”

Octavia rubbed her suit, if only to give her legs something to do. “But… how could I be…”

“Since her arrival,” Frederick continued, “sche has gradually made a name for herself in Canterlot as a premier musician. Ladies and gentlecolts, it gives me great pleasure and honor to introduce to you, leading a symphony of her own creation for the very first time, Octavia Philharmonica Melody!”

Legs shaking, Octavia trotted out to an almost deafening roar of applause. Her eyes darted to the balcony in the center of the auditorium and instantly fell upon Luna and Celestia. Her cheeks heated as she approached Frederick and he gave her a brief, polite hug. “Remember,” he whispered before they parted, “it’s just like any other concert.”

Then he left her alone at the microphone. Octavia turned to the crowd, moths swarming in her stomach, and licked her lips. There were so many ponies…

Deep breath.

Just like any other concert.


“Good evening, everypony, and thank you for joining us tonight. Before we begin, I’d like to thank my friends who supported me with such diligence during the three months it took to create this song: Heavenly Symphony, Beauty Brass, Parish Nandermane and Vanilla von Scratchington.”

As the crowd politely applauded, she turned to each of her friends and offered them warm smiles, which they graciously returned. Vinyl in particular was blushing like crazy at the use of her full name, to which Octavia couldn’t resist a small smirk.

Feeling a little more confident, Octavia turned back to the audience. “My thanks also to Mr. Horseshoepin, whose guidance and advice has been irreplaceable as I sought my own voice in this city’s hallowed music halls.”

The cheers were much louder this time, and Frederick stepped out from behind the curtain for just long enough to take another quick bow and offer a grin Octavia’s way.

Octavia cast her eyes across the theatre, surveying the crowd. “And now I’d… I’d like…”

Her eyes had fallen to the front row. There sat six ponies, beaming up at her as if she were the light of their lives. Her parents, her brothers…

…and Benjamina.

Two sets of mulberry eyes met. Benjamina held their mother’s hoof tightly as she nodded to her sister. Octavia could only stand there in stunned silence and fight back tears.

“I… I ap-pologize.” She wiped a canon across her face, and when her leg dropped Octavia possessed a broad smile. “And a most special, heartfelt thanks to my family, who have surprised me with their presence. I love you ponies… all of you.”

Benjamina’s face lit up, and Octavia nodded to her. The mare’s lip trembled as their eldest brother patted her on the shoulder.

Another deep breath as a sense of satisfaction washed over Octavia. She looked up to the crowd. “This song is dedicated to a very important pony in my life. She is a constant inspiration, a beloved companion and a treasure to my heart. Every note of this symphony was written with her spirit in mind, and…” Her gaze fell upon Luna.

“…and I hope the spirit of my song touches her heart.”

Luna stared down at Octavia, her heart thumping and her breath coming in a slow rhythm. Though they were so far apart, somehow their eyes still managed to meet across that dark auditorium.

“Ladies and gentlecolts,” Octavia concluded, “I present to you for the first time, Caṃdrakiraṇ Aur Tārā Sapnā: Of Moonbeams and Star Dreams.”

Luna thought her heart might burst from her chest. She sat rooted to her seat, struggling to breathe as she watched Octavia step back to the crowd’s applause and approach her cello.

“Well,” Celestia said, her tone wry, “it seems she has a lot more than music in mind for tonight.”

Luna could say nothing. She merely watched, entire body trembling with anticipation as her precious mare took up her cello. Octavia took a moment to position herself. The auditorium grew silent. Luna leaned over the edge of the balcony, ears turned forward in search of the cello’s familiar sound. She was rewarded with something else entirely.

Octavia began to sing.

Luna stood, her eyes going wide as a crystal clear soprano tone filled the theatre. The meaning of Octavia’s words was lost, for she sang in the Nilgiri language, but even so the sound filled Luna with… she couldn’t describe it. She’d only ever heard that pony sing once, and now this?

The cello’s deep voice filled the auditorium with a slow, gentle tune, providing a calm background to Octavia’s song. The music had a distinct flavor to its rhythm, a sound unknown to Canterlot. Luna’s ears twitched to a certain familiar string of notes, and that was when she knew that this music borrowed from the culture of Octavia’s familial homeland.

Octavia’s playing and singing quieted into a slow, lentando conclusion. Just before the sound died completely, the orchestra erupted, flooding the theatre with a tone that seemed no less powerful despite its slow tempo. Octavia swayed, her cello working in concert with the rest of the instruments and her voice joining the choir.

Here Luna found another surprise, for while the Nilgiri inspiration remained strong, a powerful rhythm displayed the classical roots of Octavia’s song. She could detect the faint traces of Moozart within the saltando of the violins. Yet there was also an underlying repetition, traded between the percussion and the assorted horns, that lent itself to a more modern musical style.

Three forms melded into a single song that rose and fell in waves of volume and emotion, never rising above an allegretto pace yet somehow always expressive. There was something gentle in the song, touching upon Luna’s ears like fine silk, yet evocative at the same time. Luna closed her eyes and took in the delicate sound, her hooves lighter than air as she found herself envisioning the song.

In her mind’s eye she stood upon a beach, gentle waves echoing the rhythmic swaying of the horns. Clouds rolled overhead in the odd, foreign patterns of the violins and bass as moonbeams drifted across the sky. And there, shimmering in a great circle of cloudless sky, were the shimmering stars, their calm consistency evoked by the cello’s classical musical structure.

Octavia’s voice rose through the air, brushing Luna’s mane back as it danced on the wind with skillful precision. Her voice lowered, and Luna felt a comforting weight all over, as though she were covered in a warm blanket. The voice rose to a pristine, high pitch, carrying the princess aloft so that she felt buoyant in her own moonlight.

She opened her eyes and stared down at Octavia, who still swayed to the beat of her own magical music. Tears fell from Luna’s cheeks. She ignored them, even as her legs shook.

She barely heard Celestia’s words:

“Sister, I might be jealous.”

Luna couldn’t take her eyes off her precious marefriend. The music continued into the night, holding her heart and mind captive. She drank it in like precious nectar and wept as silently as she could, the smile never leaving her face as she received the gift she knew this song was meant to be.

At last, far too soon, it came to its steady end. Octavia’s words died, and soon the symphony concluded its work in a final, uplifting note that left only the cello playing a series of quiet, soothing sounds before drifting into silence.

The theatre was quiet. Luna held her breath and listened to the ghost of the song drifting in her ears.

The crowd rose to thunderous applause.

“I knew it was going to be good, but Sweet Celestia.”

“My synthesizer didn’t do it justice!”

“Sign me up for your next song!”

“Goosebumps. Goosebumps, I tell you.”

“I zink, tonight, we have all been humbled.”

Octavia barely heard them. She sat amongst her friends beyond the curtain, the roaring applause still echoing in her ears and the music drifting through her mind like a benign phantom. Her legs wobbled, her breath came in slow gasps, tears formed rivers down her cheeks. She could still see her family in the front row, stomping and cheering louder than any of them. Even Benjamina, who failed to contain a sob halfway through the song.

Vinyl embraced her for the tenth time. “If ponies didn’t know your name this morning, they will tomorrow. Goddess, Octavia! I told you you’re amazing, but would you listen? Nooooo.”

Beauty pulled her away. “Give her some space, I think she needs to breathe.”

“I think we all need to breathe,” Symphony declared, fanning herself with a hoof and leaning heavily against Parish. “I thought my heart was going to explode.”

“Truly remarkable.” Frederick’s usually perfect mane was akimbo as he grinned. “I don’t zink I’ve ever seen a first-time performance go zis well. If you make too many songs like zat, I may have to move to Canterlot permanently.”

Octavia looked at their beaming faces. She rubbed the tears from her cheeks, a pointless endeavor as she couldn’t stop crying. “Th-thank you, everypony. This is… I just…” She bowed her head and sobbed.

Abruptly, Parish spoke up. “Whoop, I think it’s time we took a hike. Let’s go, guys.”

“W-what?” Octavia looked up to see them walking off. “Where are you going?”


Octavia froze, her heart jumping into her throat. She couldn’t move for her shaking legs, so she just sat there and struggled for control of herself. Luna walked around to sit before her, and Octavia looked upon her with a trembling smile. Oh, but she was beautiful! Her wings were immaculate, her mane shimmered in the dim light, her dress dazzled.

The sparkling jewels that were her eyes settled upon Octavia with a gentleness that made her heart soar.

“L-Luna.” Octavia wiped her face once again, lips trembling into a smile. “Th-they liked it. They… They really liked it.”

“Of course they did,” Luna whispered. “It was a song from the soul. It was the most beautiful, wonderful gift I have ever received in all my long years.”

Octavia swelled at those words, her grin broadening and her heart fluttering. “You m-mean… you understood?”

Luna’s horn flashed, and her mane seemed to grow wild. It came forward and engulfed them both, so that it seemed as though Octavia were floating within an eternal starscape. Before she could fathom this, Luna’s wings opened wide and pulled her in, pressing Octavia to her chest.

“I understood perfectly,” Luna whispered in her ear. She sniffed, and only then did Octavia notice that her face was also covered in tears. “Octavia, my precious star, I have never been so blessed. It was perfect.”

“It had to be.” Octavia pressed against her beloved princess, delighting in her warmth. “I had to tell you the right way.”

For a few seconds, they simply held close to one another. A wave of pleasant calmness overwhelmed Octavia, making her forget where she was or why. Luna filled her thoughts, her focus and her desires.

“Stay with me.”

Octavia nodded into Luna’s fur.

“In the castle.”

Another nod.


Her eyes flashed open. She leaned back to look up into Luna’s heart-stopping eyes. “R-really?”

Luna responded by planting a soft kiss on her lips.

Author's Notes:

Note: this song is not representative of Octavia's symphony.

There was no way I was going to miss out on recreating this scene from the original. No chance at all.

So that's it, the story's done. My thanks to all of you who made the journey with us, and to Mercury Gilado, Absolution and Starlight nova for their pre-reading assistance. Lastly, I'm going to throw a thanks to Danger Beans, who devised the contest for which I wrote the original story. Had he not done that, we likely never would have come this far.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and really hope to get a chance to explore this universe once again. Speaking of which, I should point out now that I do have some ideas for expanding the Audience of One universe, including a prequel, a sequel and two side stories. I don't know when or if I'll get to them, but I really hope it happens.

A last thank you to all of you who commented along with the story, providing me with both confidence and criticism. You people make this kind of effort worth it.

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