(Note: this piece of fanfiction is meant to be accompanied by a piece of music. When prompted with a hyperlink, click it and wait till it starts playing, then continue reading. If you find music too distracting, feel free to read without it!)
Octavia/Dam Sheon Hachol
Octavia was not happy.
She was sat on her own, in the middle of an expansive concert hall. Her friend and fellow musician, Lyra, had convinced her to come to a performance of some contemporary classical music. Lyra had pleaded and begged for Octavia to join her. And then, about an hour before the concert, Bon-Bon said she needed Lyra for ‘personal reasons’. So Octavia was on her own, going to a concert she didn’t want to go to. Her hooves ached for some cello practice; she’d forgotten to play today and had a performance of her own coming up. She could just feel the flowing movement of her bow and the light touch of her hoof as she created the most exquisite music with her imaginary instrument.
Instead, she was slowly wafting the flier for tonight’s concert around. She took a look at the strange artwork around the border of the paper; lines and splodges expanding and contracting on themselves, but never moving past the invisible wall protecting the words on the sheet. She mouthed the words “Dam Sheon Hachol”, stroking the flier with her hoof. “A String Sextet by the world renowned zebra, Czernowin” Of course. Zebras were notorious for writing music which baffled the mind. Or baffled Octavia’s mind anyway.
Modern classical music had always been a sore spot for Octavia. She was forced to play horrible, atonal pieces with no soul or feeling during her time at Canterlot Conservatoire. It was all about the numbers. And Octavia wasn’t a fan of numbers. It was enough to put her off the concept of new music for life. Now, Octavia focuses on the music of the past, which thankfully, is also what many orchestras and ensembles do in Equestria.
Not in this case. The concert hall was becoming packed quite quickly. Octavia shifted about in her seat. The concert hadn’t even started and already her grey flank was itchy and uncomfortable. Ponies of all shapes and sizes began filling the big red seats, save for the single, lonely seat next to Octavia, where a certain unicorn was meant to be. That seat was now filled with Octavia’s flier.
The lights were dimmed and the rustling, ghostly whisperings of the audience melted into silence. Six ponies entered the stage amid thunderous applause, carrying their various stringed instruments. Three unicorns walked on, with an earth pony carrying her cello. Two pegasi floated down, one carrying his violin, the other her double bass. It was almost ironic that the big stallion had the teeny violin and the little mare had the intimidating double bass. Octavia had immediately decided that she wasn’t going to enjoy this, but thought that at least watching fellow string players would be beneficial for her technique.
A single grey earth pony wearing a smart, black jacket walked on stage. He was the conductor and gave a bow to the audience once he’d reached the ensemble. The whole thing looked very rehearsed.
Octavia slumped in her seat, with a posture that would have made Lyra proud. She closed her eyes and prepared herself.
All of a sudden, Octavia’s mind transported her to a dark, cloudy day in a town square she didn’t recognise. She glanced up at the giant building in front of her, which had the sign “Ponyville Town Hall” written across the entrance. The whole place had a very grey colour scheme, no thanks to the overcast of clouds. It was drizzling slightly, the small drops of water felt odd on her cheeks. The whole atmosphere was depressing. Something wasn’t right. She could sense it.
She could also see it. All the ponies going about their daily business seemed to have an almost frightened look on their faces. Octavia’s eyes focused on a particularly dazzling white mare with an elegant purple mane. Her face was scrunched with a sense of frustration, as she tried to herd a little white filly into what looked like her boutique, with poor results. That filly seemed to be the only pony not scared out of her mind. How nice to still be so young.
Octavia tried to avoid eye contact with any other pony’s hurt eyes. Her attention shifted to someone that she recognised. She was a light purple mare with the most beautiful set of stars on her flank and a very well groomed purple mane, with a pink streak through the middle. Everypony knew about the famous Twilight Sparkle, student to Celestia herself. Twilight was carrying various groceries in her saddlebags, along with a very disgruntled baby dragon on her back. Octavia was about to go up to say hello, but stopped when she noticed the pure dread in Twilight’s eyes as she looked Octavia’s way. Octavia felt taken aback, shrinking in place at the sight of those deep pupils. Twilight refocused her attention on her hooves as she trundled along.
What on earth was going on?
Octavia had only been to Ponyville once and that was to go to Lyra’s house. But the town looked nothing like she remembered it. However she did remember going down the path that she was facing to get to Lyra’s. Maybe she will know what’s going on. Octavia started down her chosen route.
The closer she trudged to Lyra’s, the more bleak and desolate the path became. Octavia didn’t even recognise Equestria anymore, let alone Ponyville.
The rain stopped. Octavia looked up and the sky was blacker than she’d ever seen it. The ground around her had lost all life; there was just dirt and sand whipping around in the wind. She stared ahead to see Lyra’s house, a dark shell of what she remembered it to be. Her heart skipped a beat as she dashed forward, hoping that the house was not representing the condition of her friend. She reached the front door and slammed her hoof against it. One! Two! Three!
Desperate and starting to pant with worry, Octavia peered into the kitchen, via the front window. The kitchen had an even greyer tone to it than outside, with plates and cups dotted along the table and working surfaces. There was no sign of life inside. No Lyra. No Bon-Bon. No one.
Octavia turned around and slumped to the floor. Where was her friend? What was going on? Why is everypony so distraught? She wracked her brain, trying to recall if there was a clue she’d missed, but she couldn’t think of anything.
It was times like this that Octavia really needed her cello. Just to play, just to calm her down. She could almost hear her cello singing to her as she played. Comforting her as the soothing melody wrapped itself around her. Caressing her as the harmonies and sounds enlightened her every sense. Octavia was in ecstasy.
But she was woken from her trance with a start as a loud bang sounded and the overcast of clouds flashed a brilliant white. All of a sudden, ponies from all directions began screaming and running in the direction away from the town hall. For a moment, Octavia was in absolute chaos as she tried to regain her composure. Panicking, she blindly followed the frightened pack. Whatever they were running from, she wanted to be away from it.
Octavia tripped and luckily fell into a side street, avoiding a trampling from the horrified stampede of ponies. She looked at her now grazed knees and was about to curse under her breath. But Octavia was more civilised than that and brushed her grazes delicately. She turned to see pony after pony rush past her, the fear in their faces even more apparent than it was before. Others had fallen and were in the path of other ponies. Some were trampled, huddled in a foetal position. Others managed to get up and continue galloping. But most just ran, unaware of the living obstacles they dashed over. Octavia spotted that white filly from before running just behind the white mare. The mare had lost all elegance about her and was now just as timid and just as horrified as the ponies surrounding her as she ran. She frequently checked behind to make sure the filly was still there. The mare looked up and let out a scream. She broke into a sprint. Other ponies turned their heads and screamed as well. Octavia looked in the direction they were looking and saw the clouds flash with white again. Something pierced the cloud cover, something with streaking white behind it. Octavia could just make out the silhouette of a Pegasus pony, falling towards the earth.
Octavia ran. She was concerned for what was falling, but the surrounding terror prompted her to run in the opposite direction. She turned her head to watch as the projectile descended towards the earth, threatening to destroy everything below it. Octavia watched, still in full gallop as the object disappeared behind the roofs of the houses and sickeningly impacted with the ground.
The dust cloud from the impact hurtled through the streets and swallowed the ponies behind Octavia. She went as fast as her legs could go, but the dust wall engulfed her and she was slammed to the ground. Her vision a blur, Octavia could only watch as her body rolled and tumbled with the wind and dust, as other ponies and objects flew, crashed and broke apart around her. She lay to rest on the street edge, battered and hurt, the dust still ripping at her skin.
All she could feel for a long time was that dust, flowing over her like water, but rubbing her skin like sandpaper. She wanted to scream, but couldn’t move, as the dust weighed her down. She opened her eyes briefly to see the face of that white filly lying next to her. Her face was bloodied and raw from the dust. She didn’t move, even with the unnatural wind pushing at her. Octavia closed her eyes.
She woke with a start. The ensemble was still playing. The unicorn violist was slowly twirling his bow up and down the strings of his viola. One or two nearby patrons had shifted their attention to Octavia. One very old stallion mouthed “Are you okay?” Octavia gulped, but nodded. She didn’t want to ruin the performance.
As the piece continued to play, she relaxed in her chair and listened intensively. Her entire conception of modern classical music had just been thrown out the proverbial window. She always thought that the more modern music was all about academic knowledge and being the smartest musician you could be. But this piece just evoked the single most terrifying experience Octavia had ever had. It was incredibly emotional and inspiring to her.
And that filly.
Octavia knew that that image wouldn’t leave her for a long time.
She continued to listen as the music moved her through the fresh wasteland that was created by the dust. The ground was littered with debris, both organic and inorganic. Entire houses had just fallen apart as if they were made of hay. Octavia was worried for the ponies unfortunate enough to be caught in the houses at the time of the disaster.
But she was just as unfortunate. Her skin was raw and thin. She itched all over, but any attempt at relieving the itch resulted in wounds opening up. Her grazed knees were now the least of her worries. She was more worried about what happened to the white mare and how to break it to her that the white filly didn’t make it. If the mare had even made it herself.
Octavia began to limp through what looked like a battlefield. Her eyes darted back and forth, left and right, trying to spot any sign of life. There was a single wall where a house used to be, standing erect, with a single picture hung up in the middle. The fancy gold frame housed a smiling pegasus family; parents and two children. They looked so happy. Outside of that family portrait lay fragments of the house, like when a child gets frustrated at a jigsaw puzzle and throws the pieces. Octavia noticed a single wing poking out of the debris and for one, single second, she thought it moved.
This made her distraught. She was terrified at what could lie beneath the mess and if she saw anything that could disturb her. She feared she’d end up being too emotionally unstable to survive this. But there could be a potential soul to save under there.
She felt itchy.
Slowly and painstakingly, she pulled a wooden beam away from the wing. She held her breath and couldn’t let it go. There was nothing under there. The wing ended where the limb had been severed off. A sticky red paste of blood and dust lay where the limb ended. But no body.
Octavia ran out and released her breath on the sidewalk. Air came rushing out amid spluttering and gasping. It was like a small part of her had just floated out of her mouth and was lost in the wind forever.
It tasted disgusting.
She fell to her knees and gagged. Her knees seared with pain, but her full attention was focused on her attempts at regaining control of her lungs. They were going into overdrive after seeing that wing. With the smiling family in the picture, watching over it. She didn’t want to think about where the rest of that body was.
After she’d finally managed to remove the repugnant taste from her mouth, Octavia noticed that she was standing in front of a bakery. The building was relatively intact, except for the front door and window. They were blown off and the bakery was bleeding baked goods from the hole that remained. Within the wound of the bakery lay the white mare. She was ever so still. Octavia prayed that that was because she was unconscious.
As she stepped through the various breads and pies, Octavia noticed the mare’s back left leg was stained red. Whether it was blood or the remains of a pie was yet to be seen. But she was breathing. Octavia thanked Celestia for being merciful on another victim. But she hesitated from touching the mare. What will she say to her? How will she break the news? Her head turned in the direction of where she landed in the dust storm, the corpse of the young filly half submerged in dust lying close by. The irregular rhythm of the mare’s breathing was fitting to what Octavia currently felt.
Movement within the bowels of the bakery broke Octavia from her thoughts. Panicking and wide eyed, she hopped through the pie minefield and hid behind the building next to the bakery, which was also still intact. She could hear movement and sounds of astonishment from where the white mare lay. Octavia didn’t have a good view though, so couldn’t see what was happening. But she just couldn’t bring herself to go and see. For the first time since the disaster, Octavia suddenly realised that she didn’t want anyone seeing her like this. Weak and vulnerable.
She was an icon of high society! She needed to represent that.
A weary yellow stallion with a loaf of bread for a cutie mark emerged from the gash in the bakery. He’ll look after the mare. Octavia had no clue how she would have helped, so she felt almost relieved that the stallion was there. But she felt ashamed. She couldn’t bring herself to make her presence known. She just sank into the shadows and prayed that the mare would find her filly herself.
Octavia wasn’t strong enough to tell her.
The old stallion near to Octavia was now sitting in her flier’s chair. Octavia hadn’t realised that she’d actually been crying the past couple of minutes.
When she regained her composure, the stallion once again mouthed, “Are you okay?” Octavia nodded, wiping a fresh tear from her eye. She looked away from the stallion, she didn’t want him to see her like this. She turned her attention to herself briefly. Her skin was no longer ragged and she was once again in the concert hall. The piece was still going on, so she stopped herself from just crying out with the pain that she apparently just imagined.
It didn’t feel like her imagination. It felt real. Octavia made a mental note to ask the composer at the end of this what her inspiration was. She hoped it wasn’t the story playing out in her head.
Octavia now found herself walking along the road towards the town center. The air was still very dusty and Octavia could barely see or breath through it. She wasn’t sure whether this was good or bad. She didn’t want to see what happened to the unfortunate souls closer to the impact than her.
Yet she felt compelled to see what happened to the pegasus pony that fell out the sky. Or at least, what she thought was a pegasus pony. Maybe if she found it, she would be redeemed in Celestia’s eyes from leaving the white mare. But first, she had to brave the blanket of dust surrounding her. It felt incinerating on her skin.
Slowly, but surely, images of the scene surrounding her came into view as Octavia moved forward. You’d be forgiven in thinking that there wasn’t anypony there. There was, only scattered around. Octavia recognised at least one or two chunks of flesh that belonged to the same colour of pony. She gagged again, then spluttered as she inhaled an unhealthy amount of dust.
Her mind quickly shifted to her cello, but she knew that that was not going to happen now. She wouldn’t want a dearest friend to be in this mess as well.
A dearest friend.
Octavia slumped as she realised she had completely forgotten about Lyra. She turned herself around to head to where Lyra’s house should be, only to realise she had no idea where she was. The dust was too thick to see very far. The only thing she could see was the beaten path towards where that thing impacted with the earth. That and what was lying on the path. Octavia didn’t want to think about it.
She decided to take the visible path. At least she couldn’t get lost this way. She cringed as she tried to navigate herself over the deceased, terrified that one might drag her and try to pull her into the depths of the ruins. She stumbled and came face to face with a young stallion, his eyes rolled to the back of his head. He’d clearly been crushed by the debris.
Octavia shot backwards and buried her face in her hooves. It hurt to touch, but she didn’t care. She didn’t want to see any of the images now engraved in her mind, with her own eyes. It was too much. She imagined her and her cello, making sweet music with every pass of the bow. Even the single notes held such enticing potential. She imagined what Lyra had to do that was so important that she didn’t have to accompany Octavia through the nightmare. She thought about how happy the white filly was before the disaster and then her face as she lay lifeless next to her.
A single tear dripped onto the parched ground as Octavia opened her eyes and looked forward. The dust was starting to settle and she could make out where the remains of the town hall stood. Reminding herself to stay strong, she began moving towards the impact zone. Her face was now leaking droplets of blood from where she’d rubbed with her hooves. But she didn’t feel it. Instead, she felt the need to find what fell. Maybe then will she be free and she can be with her dear cello.
It looked like the object that fell had landed directly on the boutique. The town hall was completely destroyed. The front entrance sign was now unnaturally sticking out of the road, half-submerged by dust, so only “Ponyvil” was left exposed. Most of the various shops and stalls had been annihilated and fused together to form disturbing examples of modern art. The boutique had been replaced by a smouldering crater, still exerting dust into the air.
That was where Octavia would find her redemption.
She slowly moved up to the crater, making sure not to upset the monstrous dust cloud that was being belched out from it. It almost looked like it was alive, protecting what was inside the crater. Octavia could almost make out a face in her fear induced state. As she got closer, she began to feel a strange heat radiating from the hole. It burned her already scarred skin, making walking forward almost unbearable. But she had to! For her own sake.
Eventually, the sides of the crater came into view as Octavia peered into the abyss. She couldn’t see much, due to the dust. But she could sense that something was there. She carefully placed her back hooves on the side of the crater, hoping to slide down. She checked each rock, to see if they were stable. When she placed her hoof on one, it budged and she fell, tossing and tumbling down. She hit the bottom with a loud yelp and subsequent sobbing as her body literally began bursting at the seams. Her skin wasn’t strong enough to take that kind of punishment anymore and she began bleeding onto the sandy floor. She was now under the dust cloud and could see the whole surface of the crater.
And there was nothing there.
Octavia crawled forward, hoping for some kind of sign, showing her the way to redeem herself from her cowardice. But there was nothing. She whimpered and placed her face into the sand. She apologised in her head to the white mare and hoped that she’d be okay, even with the death of the filly. She hoped that Lyra was safe and sound in this world. She wondered what happened to Twilight Sparkle after the incident and whether she still had the same dire look in her eyes. Octavia wondered what her eyes currently looked like and whether they had the same look in them. She knew that they would never look the same.
Her eyelids flickered momentarily and she caught sight of a small speck of something beside her. Using the last of her strength, she raised her head to see three locks of hair.
One was red.
One was green.
One was blue.
Octavia thought that this might be the sign she had so desperately hoped for, but she didn’t understand. She was starting to slip away and realised that redemption was coming after all. She dropped her head onto the murky surface of the crater and closed her eyes.
Octavia was transfixed on the ensemble as they played. She hurt, she burned, she itched and she felt like she was going to die. But it was all because of this music. The amount of emotion she had felt from this piece was exhilarating, even if it felt bad. She watched as she wondered what other marvels had ponies written in the past few years?
The moment this concert was over, she’d find out.
And the piece was only halfway through.
*The piece is “Dam Sheon Hachol” (1992) for String Sextet, by Chaya Czernowin. The* *title translates from Hebrew as “The Hourglass Bleeds Still”.*
* I hope you enjoyed this, as it’s my first real attempt at writing anything with words,* *instead of music!*
*criticism is always appreciated!*