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Da Capo Al Fine

by TheBandBrony

Chapter 1: On a Deathbed

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On a Deathbed

To Ice, in the hope that death isn’t the end.



The weak mid-winter sun shone across the room, giving much needed light to the disparagingly grim mood within. Several ponies, most wrinkled and grey with the obvious signs of aging, huddled around a worn but comfortable leather couch. Some cried. Some stared solemnly downward, refusing to allow their eyes to focus upon anything but the floor in front of them.

They were there, huddled around that worn red couch, for one reason and one reason only. That reason was currently reclining upon the couch, draped in a plush blanket and propped up with an extravagant amount of pillows.

Lyra.

The mare sat there, her copper-toned eyes gazing furtively at the friends around her. Her greying mane, once the brightest shade of vibrant sea-green, now lay against her shoulders, deflated and worn. Several prominent wrinkles creased her brow, furrowing and stretching each time she moved around. Despite such resounding signs of age, she still gave off a spark of life that was lost on nopony. They knew she still had life to live.

Unfortunately, her body wasn’t cooperating.

“This... this is really nice.” Lyra spoke up in a futile attempt to ease the miserable tone of the room. “I’m glad I’m here with you all.” She heard another choked sob from her companions. “Come on now. There’s no need to be so sad.” Her soulful voice filled the air in sudden harmony. “Everypony just smile-” Her impromptu song was cut short by a reserved fit of coughing.

“Lyra, don’t exert yourself.” One of her friends, equally grey with age, stepped up next to the couch with a concerned look on his face.

The frail unicorn simply waved a frail hoof dismissively. “Oh hush now. Saving my strength won’t do anything. I want to live while I still have the chance.” Another wave of coughing overtook her for a moment. “Which, judging by that cough, won’t be very long.”

She tentatively laid her tired head down onto the pillows beneath her. Soft and worn with age, they had been a gift from an old friend, now long gone.

“Hmm, thanks for the pillows, Bon,” she whispered. Burying herself further into the frilly softness, her mind brought back the glorious day that the two had first met, one chance conversation turning into the best friendship a mare could ever have hoped for.

-----

The sun shone down on Lyra Heartstrings as she reclined on one of Ponyville Park’s many old benches. She sat with her rear legs dangling over the side of the bench, her back propped up against the backrest. With her signature lyre in a firm magical grip, she effortlessly plucked a quick, flitting chord into the breeze. She smiled. It was a beautiful day to be out.

“Hey, you.”

The green unicorn turned. The voice belonged to a curious bystander, a creamy beige earth pony with an adorably curly mane. Lyra cocked her head a bit at the sudden intrusion. “Um, yes? Can I help you?”

“Yeah, you can. Mind explaining why you’re sitting down like that?” The passerby flinched a bit as she took in Lyra’s reclining figure. “It looks really uncomfortable.”

The unicorn laughed. She had gotten this question so many times from curious foals, but never from a full grown mare. She chuckled at how such a pony could be so unabashedly curious. “Well, it’s actually a very interesting story, if you’re willing to listen.”

The earth pony shrugged. “I’ve got nothing better to do, sure.” She sat down on the bench next to Lyra in a “normal” sitting position, her hooves curled underneath her. “Well? I’m all ears.”

“That’s great,” Lyra beamed as she prepared her speech for the curious pony, “because you’re going to want to listen very carefully. Now tell me...”

“Bon Bon.”

“Bon Bon. Nice name. So tell me Bon Bon, have you ever heard of creatures called humans?”

----

The memory always made Lyra smile. No matter how old she was, she would never forget that look of bemusement on Bon Bon’s face that seemed to transcend time, forever burned into her head. That was a moment she would cherish until her death.

Which, by the looks of it, wouldn’t be very far away.

A weak voice drifted through the room. “Tell me... how long has it been... since Bon left?”

A moment of silence. Finally, somepony in the back of the group mustered up the courage to speak. “I-It’ll be three years this Summer Sun Celebration.”

Lyra sighed meekly. “Three years...” She gazed wistfully at the dull ceiling, letting the number roll around in her head a bit. “Three years. It’s really gone by quickly. I can still remember us wandering through Ponyville Park, just enjoying the weather and watching the clouds.” Another pause. “Those were good old times.”

A choked sob escaped from somewhere near the rear of the group, followed by a miniature stampede to comfort whoever had made the offending display of sadness. The lingering, muted silence in the room was replaced by a chorus of comforting words. The truth was, however, that they were only trying to comfort themselves.

Under the cascade of well wishes, Lyra chuckled silently to herself. “Oh Bon, if only you were here. Maybe this wouldn’t be so darn sad.”

Her words, only meant for herself to hear, fell on the ears of one in the small crowd. A dark coated earth pony turned to face the aging unicorn with a look of clear hurt etched into his face. “Sad? Of course this is sad!”

Somepony else in the group tried to hold him back, but he shrugged it off, marching straight up to the dull seafoam green matriarch. “It’s heartbreaking, that’s what it is! Absolutely heartbreaking!” He shook visibly, tears welling up in his proud blue eyes. “We’re all here because you’re dying, and you have the nerve to crack jokes?” His voice cracked as the floodgates finally began to overflow. “How can this be anything but sad to you?”

Suddenly, he was wrapped up in a surprisingly firm hug, his face buried in a green and grey streaked mane. He heard soft words cooed into his ear. “Now now, don’t worry. It’s fine. It’s okay.”

The earth pony buried his face in Lyra’s shoulder, finally allowing grief to overtake him in gasping sobs. “No! It’s not okay! You can’t just leave us here! We - we’ll miss you!” He trailed off, whimpering softly into Lyra’s mane. “I’ll miss you... so much...”

The pain that the pony felt was echoed on Lyra’s face. “It’s okay. I’ll be in a better place-”

“What if you won’t?” The sudden shout silenced any other conversation in the room. “How do you even know what’ll happen after... you know.” He shied away from any mention of the word “death” like the word itself was infected with the plague. “You say ‘Don’t worry! I’ll be in a better place!’ like you’re certain there even is an afterlife!” He gave Lyra a disparaging look. “How can you be so certain about something you know nothing about?”

A forlorn look crossed her face as she pondered the question. Finally, she sighed. “I don’t really know how to answer that. I don’t know if there’s some great paradise in the far sky waiting for me or not. I just don't know.”

She picked up her voice, trying to put a bit of optimism into it. “I may not not know what’s gonna happen, but I’m sure as hay gonna face it with open arms. It’s like... it’s like a new song. I can choose to open up my mind to hear it for what it is be it good or bad, or I can choose to shut it out.”

Lyra pushed him away a bit and grabbed hold of his chin, bringing his eyes down level to hers. That spark of life that had always burned so passionately in her eyes was dying. Only scattered, charred embers glowing the same soft gold color as her irises were left. “Now look here. There’s nothing to be sad about.”

Everypony in attendance seemed to disagree. “Okay,” she relented, “maybe it’s all a bit sad. But you should all be happy. I’m gonna get to trade in these old bones for a fresh set of hooves.” Even with the infinite wisdom of age, her humor had still never progressed beyond the point of getting crickets to chirp. “Gee, tough crowd.”

“Take this seriously, won’t you?” The earth pony dove in for another embrace, a fresh wave of tears matting Lyra’s age-dulled coat.

The duo began to rock back and forth slightly. It was like Lyra was a mother cradling a newborn foal in her arms. “Oh, I’m too fun for that. Besides,” she said with a small, almost sad smile, “when I go, I’ll finally get to see all my friends again. Twilight, Applejack, Colgate... Bon...”

This drove about half of the ponies in attendance over the edge. Tears fell onto the matte hardwood floor in a steady pitter-patter. The group huddled around the couch leaned on each other collectively for support, their sobs echoing off the dull walls of the room, filling the room to the brim with the sound of mourning.

Twang

A sharp, piercing note sliced through the air, cutting off the pitiful display of sadness. All crying ceased as all the ponies in attendance turned to the source of the noise. There, in a flickering aura of green magic, floated Lyra’s namesake instrument. The strings were frayed with wear, and the once shining body was now dulled and rusting at the edges. Even with so much wear and tear, the lyre was still crisp and clear enough to drown out a chorus of wailing ponies with a single note.

“Goodness me, stop all that crying. You’re gonna make me start.” As she chided the group for their dramatics, she casually floated the lyre over to her reclined position on the couch. She closed her eyes and strummed a simple chord on the worn instrument, eliciting another smile from her. “Oh, the old gal still plays like new. Could use a bit of polish, though.”

“Lyra, don’t strain yourself. You know how taxing it is to use magic in your state-”

“Oh, hush now. The last thing I’m going to do is let all you Mopey Moes ruin my fun.” The group recoiled a bit at her almost harsh voice, but immediately lost interest in her tone as she let loose another fit of coughing. Waving off assistance from her friends around her, she muttered incessantly, “I’m fine, I’m fine.”

The group refused to accept it, remaining on edge until the hacking had subsided. “Whoo, that one was a doozy. Now,” she turned back to her faithful musical compatriot, still trapped in a weak aura of shimmering magic, “where was I... oh yes. This old thing.” She pulled it in close, leaning into the frame as she manually plucked a few errant stings with her hoof. “It’s been ages since I last played for anypony.”

Taking the aged unicorn by surprise, the entire crowd burst out in nearly hysterical laughter. Tears fell again, this time primed by laughter, not sadness. Finally, between gasps for air, one stout old pegasus chuckled, “Please Lyra. You play for us all the time!”

“No, I meant on stage. For large crowds.” She absentmindedly nodded as she dredged up memories of long ago. “Not since I was in the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra.” A quiet chuckle escaped her lips. “Boy, were those good old times...”

-----

The very last notes of a crescendoing, rolling tune hung in the air. Lyra, still bright with youth, clung nervously to her lyre as she stared at the three judges in front of her. Two wore stoically apathetic glances, while a third had a slightly softer yet no less intimidating smile on his face. All three were levitating pens with their magic, scribbling furiously at several sheets of dried parchment in front of them. For a moment, nopony spoke. Only the scratch of pens permeated the silence.

“Um... so what did you think?” Summoning a burst of courage, Lyra managed to gasp out the words. Inside, her stomach had knotted itself into a tight ball. Her chest felt like somepony was slowly crushing it in a vice. She felt horrifying dizzy, like the slightest breeze could keel her over with ease.

The trio looked up from their papers, aligning their gaze on the nervous unicorn in front of them. “Well, Miss Heartstrings, you were-”

“Terrible? Awful? Disgraceful? Oh, I’m so sorry!” The sea green unicorn preempted the judges words and hid her face behind her instrument in shame. “I just wasted your time, I’m sorry! I’ll just go-”

“Wait now!” The commanding bellow of the middle judge forced Lyra to stop mid stride, confusion written all over her face. “Miss Heartstrings, that performance of Beethoofen's Ninth was brilliant! Simply brilliant!”

The two judges flanking him nodded their agreement eagerly. “Your dynamics in the festoso were spot on! The tonal quality was unmatched by any of the other musicians who auditioned today. It was brilliant!”

They seem to like that word, thought Lyra. “Well, thank you. I-I didn’t think you would like it...” She trailed off, content to stare at the ground and blush mildly.

“Miss Heartstrings, I think that I speak for everypony here when I say that we would love for you to join the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra as our new harpist. What do you say?”

For a moment, there was dead silence in the room. Then, a weak, “...Really?”

“Absolutely. Now, if you’re interested, we can discuss-”

The judge could hardly finish his sentence as Lyra jumped onto her two hind legs in sheer joy, squealing like a little school filly who had just been asked to prom. With a burst of speed, she galloped out of the audition room and into the open air of West Canterlot.

She wasted no time in dashing straight to her house, practically knocking down the door as she burst inside. Lyra hardly waited a moment before she shot up the creaky old stairs and onto the second floor, where she came muzzle to muzzle with her surprised roommate.

“Ah! Lyra, sweet mother of Celestia, d-don’t barge in on me like that! I can’t-”

“Bon, listen! I just got accepted into the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra!” She paused for a second, finally bothering to breathe. “Isn’t that great?”

“Wait... the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra? As in one of the most prestigious chamber ensemble in all of Equestria?”

“Yeah,” she practically squeaked.

“That’s great! But,” a look of hesitation crossed her face, “if you just got accepted, what are you doing here?”

A moment of shocked silence passed between the two. The ecstatic smile on Lyra’s face gradually clouded into a horrified combination of fear and shock. “Oh crap. I just-”

“Ran off, yes.” Bon Bon was already shooing her out the door in the direction of Symphony Hall. “You better hurry back over there before they begin to think that you’re not coming back.”

Still in a state of panic-induced hysteria, the unicorn only had time to mutter a quick, “Thanks,” before galloping off full-tilt towards the Hall, her mane caught on the wind, flying behind her in a wave of green and white stripes.

As her house slowly receded into the distance, Lyra mentally berated herself for being such a scatterbrain.  “Sheesh, I think I’d forget my horn if it wasn’t attached to my head.”

-----

“Yes, it’s certainly been awhile. I haven’t played on stage since Bon...”

Somehow, Lyra had found the one way to bring the room from helpless mirth to helpless depression in a single, foul swoop. All laughter ceased at the mention of the earth pony, each in the group silently recalling some memory or other of the baker.

The mere mention of Bon Bon also hit Lyra a bit too hard. The aura around the lyre flickered and died, roughly depositing the instrument in Lyra’s lap. She let out a sharp breath as she scrambled to keep the instrument steady in her weakened grasp. Just as it seemed like her namesake was going to wind up falling to the ground, broken, she saw a pink hoof reach out and catch the instrument just as it slid from her hooves.

“Whoopsie. Wouldn’t want that to fall, now would we?”

Lyra gazed up past the helpful hoof. The face that looked back at her was just as dulled with age as her own. However, the shimmering blue eyes she looked into still had so much life in them, so much fire and passion and energy and love.

“Pinkie Pie. I haven’t seen you in a while. Guess this is the saddest party you’ve ever been to, huh?”

The pink mare’s shoulders drooped a bit, letting her mane land limply at her sides. Over the many years, her signature poofy mane had deflated, slowly but surely, until there wasn’t an ounce of life left in it at all. It may as well have been a rag of pink attached to her head.

“Yuppers!” No matter how old that mare got, her voice would forever be just as squeaky as a filly’s. “I mean, I don’t usually go to sad parties, but I know just wanted to, you know, say goodbye and all that mushy sad stuf-” While her voice may not have aged, her lungs sure had. A sharp, spasmodic cough cut off her long winded rant, and she kicked back onto her haunches, trying to regain her breath. “Whoo. Remember when I used to be able to talk and talk and talk for hours?” A sudden, philosophical look filled her eyes. “Those were the days.”

Lyra rolled her eyes a bit. It seemed like she wasn’t the only one to be using that phrase a lot. Looking around the ragtag group around her, she was fairly certain that they’d all used that phrase one way or another.

Those were the days.

In a sudden burst of philosophical thought, Lyra turned to Pinkie. “You know, you say ‘those were the days’ like you wish you were living in the past.” She waved a frail hoof at the group. “We’re all guilty of it, myself included. And don’t try and lie, either.” Their sheepish blushes and nervous glances were all the affirmation she needed. “Now, I know that you may be content to reside in the past. But if you do that, you won’t ever really get to live in the here and now.

“I mean, how could we really live if all we ever do is reminisce about memories gone by when we could be busy making new ones?” Lyra repositioned herself on the couch, her eyes flaring briefly with an unquenchable fire. “You can’t let the past consume your thoughts so that the present slips right by!

“If you choose to just think of the past, you’ll never see the future pass right under your noses. I may not have much life to live, but you all do. Don’t be so occupied in the good old days that you miss all the good new days ahead of you!”

She motioned everypony to come closer. As they huddled around her, she whispered, “I’m not long for this earth. If you do one thing for me, let it be this: live. Live your lives like every day is the last one you get. Laugh and cry and frolic and play and love and fight and do everything that makes life worth living in the first place. Don’t get so caught up in a rut of routine that you forget the very reason we are alive! Do that for me... live.”

With her monologue complete, she let herself flop back on the couch, utterly and completely spent. Her eyes that had burned with such vigor only a moment ago had now died down to a mere flicker of golden flame. She exhaled slowly, but the breath caught in her throat as she was enveloped by a crushing group hug. The group around her leaned in with all they were worth, collectively squeezing Lyra.

“Okay, okay *cough* I get it! You’re gonna crush me!”

The ponies retreated, sheepish grins on their tear-stained faces, muttering a collective, “Sorry, Lyra.”

“Oh, that’s fine. It’s just that an old mare like me can’t handle all that love. It’ll end up squishing me.” With so little to find humor in on that day, the ponies latched onto the poor joke instantly, laughing a bit too hard at the aging unicorn’s lackluster attempt at comedy. “Oh, come on now. It’s not that funny.”

She was given no reply. As the laughter finally began to subside, Lyra let out another long, drawn out sigh and slid down further into the supple old couch. In an almost weak voice, she asked, “Hey... guys?”

Noting the frailty in her tone, they all immediately went into caregiver mode. “What is it, Lyra? Do you need some water or something?”

A sad chuckle escaped her lips. “No, no. Nothing like that. I think... I think it’s finally my time to go.”

The group went instantly silent, any hope of response crushed by the weight of the words they had just heard. Their jaws hung slack, like the words were weighing down their own mouths as much as hers. Everypony just stared at Lyra for a moment, gazing in concern at her flickering golden eyes.

“No... no you’re not. You’re gonna be just fine. You’re just a bit under the weather, that’s all.” An old grey mare, her once jet black hair now almost the same dull shade as her coat hobbled to the bed, eyes slick with tears. Her voice contained equal parts denial and depressed panic. “You’re gonna be fine... just fine...”

Before the mare could even reach the bed she half dove, half collapsed next to Lyra, latching onto one of her hooves and sobbing into it fiercely. “Octy...” was all Lyra could muster as she reached her other hoof around and ran it through the gray earth pony’s mane, comforting her like she was a foal who just lost a beloved stuffed animal. “Sh-sh-sh... It’s gonna be fine. I’ll be fine.”

She looked up. Their eyes met for a moment. “Really?” The sobbing mare asked. “You’re gonna be just fine?”

Lyra nodded. “Absolutely. But we both know that I can’t stay here. I need to go now.”

Suddenly, the grey earth pony shot up and enveloped her in a vice-like hug. “No! You can’t leave me, too!” She tore herself away and shook Lyra a bit as tears freely rolled down her cheeks. “Everypony’s already gone, Lyra! You’re all that I have left! You can’t just... leave!” She buried her face in Lyra’s mane, matting her grey-green hair with salty tears. “I can’t let you go! Ice’s gone, Golden Harvest’s gone, Colgate’s gone, Vinyl-”

At the last name, she completely broke down. It was a sad, pathetic sight, one old mare gasping in loud, convulsing sobs into another old mare’s arms. Some in the group averted their eyes, not wanting to sensationalize the mare in her moment of weakness. The sobs echoed through the dull room, their choking cries drawing tears out of whoever in the group had not already let the floodgates open.

Over the din of sobs, Lyra’s voice floated through, carried on the air. “Octy, listen.” The crying earth pony gave no heed. “Octy...” Still nothing. Finally, with a huff, she forced her away from her shoulder. “Octy, I need to do this. It’s not like I want to, but... it has to happen.”

Another short wail from the grey mare in her arms. “But what about us?” She shot a hoof out at the remainder of the group, standing there in forlorn silence. “When you’re gone, where does that leave us?”

Lyra opened her mouth to answer, but for once, no answer came. No witty comebacks, no witty quips, not even a sound from the aged unicorn. She locked eyes with Octavia, sagging her shoulders apologetically. Finally, she struggled out, “I-I don’t know, Octy. I really don't know.”

“Then lie! I don’t care, just say something! Anything!” The earth pony lost herself to another wave of fresh tears.

Suddenly, Octavia heard a voice, fragile as glass, whispering into her ear. “Octy... when I go, you need to be strong. You need to be a pillar for all of them. You need to be supportive, even if you feel like you can’t. You have to do this, not just for me, but for them. They’ll need you.” The grey earth pony just nodded into her shoulder, still too addled to come up with a response.

A frail green hoof, worn with age, lifted Octavia’s chin up. “And besides... soon you’ll be able to see all your old friends from the good old days.”

The crying mare’s eyes looked lost for a moment, deep in thought. Finally, she accepted Lyra’s words with a slow nod. “And... I’ll be able to see V-Vin-”

Another one of Lyra’s hooves silenced her. “You’ll see her there, Octy. I promise.” Another embrace ended the conversation effectively, the only sound now being the quiet sniffling of the group behind her.

That silence annoyed Lyra.

“Hey... guys?” Once she had their collective attention, she continued. “I know this might be kinda silly... but could I play a song?”

The ponies looked at her a bit confusedly. “A... a song? Like a song-song?”

“What other kind of song is there?” She received no answer. “That’s what I thought.”

“But... Lyra, why a song?” Octavia, recomposed after her breakdown, gazed at her questioningly.

She sighed. “Well... I’ve always wanted to go out with music in my ears. I-I hate to think that I won’t ever get a chance to play anything again... I just want to play myself to sleep.”

Another anvil of silence was dropped on the room as Lyra’s implication sunk in. The group bowed their heads in grief, but none voiced objections. “Good... that’s good. Thank you... for letting me do this.”

And so, she pulled out her lyre, her namesake, and began to play.

As she engulfed the instrument in her magic, her horn lighting up with a flickering green glow, the familiar twang of a lyre resonated through the room, the gentle chorus of strings bleeding through the muting walls. One by one, the ponies around her began to sniffle, stifle sobs, and eventually choke out a few tears, wiping them away with tissues or letting them roll down their cheeks and fall steadily to the floor.

The soft flow of music covered up the grief of the pony behind it, tiny rivers of luminescent tears flowing down her cheeks. Truth was, she was scared. She didn’t want to go. Not now. She still had so much to live for.

But time had other plans. She couldn’t escape it. A small part of her held her back, fed her mind reason. Death was as natural as life. She couldn’t avoid it. All she could do was let the currents carry her along, to do with her as they wished. She was simply a passenger, swept away by time.

The music swelled and faded soothingly, gradually dying into oblivion as the mare behind it closed her eyes one last time, the spark in her beautiful, golden eyes finally extinguished.

In one last motion, Lyra hugged the lyre close to her chest, clutching it tightly. She sighed, one last time, finally letting go of the breath of life that she had held for so long.

With her died the music so beautifully proclaimed for so many years. Gone were the sweeping melodies and gentle plucking of a lyre from the afternoon air. Gone were the epic, storming concertos that echoed from symphony halls.

Gone was the mare who still had life to live, still had a fire burning with passion in her sparkling golden eyes. The world was lost, missing an elegy to the wonders of life and the musician behind it. The earth fell silent as the song slipped through the cracks of life, and fell into nothing.

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