“I can’t believe how well your friend plays the cello, Lyra,” Bon-Bon sighed as she stepped over the threshold of the door to their hotel room. “I’m almost envious. Everyone I know has such skill with instruments, such passion for their careers, and here I am, idly making sweets as I struggle to compete with two old doormats and their doggedly incompetent au pair.”
Behind her, Lyra shrugged, violently pulling the door shut. The chill breeze outside, combined with the cloudy, restless sky that churned warningly overhead, suggested there’d be a storm later on; they’d only been in Canterlot for three days so far, but each night had been cold and draughty. The door kept refusing to close properly, and she simply could not survive yet another night spent shivering beneath too-thin blankets, desperately clinging to Bon-Bon for her warmth. It would be just enough to push her over the edge of sanity, well into madness. Proof positive, she felt, that living frugally wasn’t worth the effort, not when a few extra bits per night would guarantee you an exponentially more comfortable experience.
“You know, it looks like bad weather’s comin’,” the mint-green unicorn shouted, struggling to undo the clip that kept her formal saddle (or ‘personal prison’, as she’d jokingly deemed it earlier) wrapped around her wiry frame. From somewhere down the hallway, she heard a muffled shout in response, but she couldn’t make the words out over the sudden hissing of steam; that meant tea, and tea was always appreciated. Bon-Bon did make the best tea.
After a few more moments of bitter combat with the doohickeys and thingamajigs that were beginning to choke the life out of her, Lyra finally escaped the clutches of the dastardly saddle, bucking it as hard as she could, as far away as she could. It sailed down the hallway, arcing through the air in a magnificent crescent that, Lyra had to admit, was almost athletic in its grace, even as it collided with Bon-Bon’s head in mid-air. She’d peeked out the door, carrying a tray filled with assorted treats, two cups of tea, a shiny steel teapot and a tall glass of milk, only to be beaned in the face by the saddle; now she sat dazed on the floor, food and drink spilled carelessly around her, saddle still hanging limply from the side of her head. It made Lyra chuckle, though she could feel her face reddening out of embarrassment.
“Sorry, sweets,” she cooed, bounding over to help clean up. The scent of tea wafting into her nostrils was more than a little enticing, and she hoped Bon-Bon would make more. Their day had been tough (as always, Octavia had been more than a little neurotic about everything), and she could have used a nice, hot drink to cool off. “Next time, I’ll be more careful.”
“Hopefully,” the earth pony spat back, wiping away the last streaks of tea in her mane as she stomped her way towards the bathroom. “Though I place little stock in hope.”
Lyra just sighed in response, sweeping the debris away with a hoof.
After a few more hours on the clock, Lyra began to feel her energy slowly seeping away. It had been a routine evening for their stay in Canterlot - after dealing with the disastrous mess they’d made in the hotel room (followed by a decidedly un-romantic quickie, by way of apology), they’d returned to the town. A quick stop at a local café came first, where they’d snacked on some absolutely divine sunflower sandwiches, followed by a much longer sojourn to the outlying hills, and a spectacular evening spent resting amidst the bosom of nature, stargazing in relative silence, content to simply enjoy the beautiful night-time sky.
Lyra had been more than a little shocked by the sudden change in the weather patterns, but she assumed the pegasi had chosen to move whatever storms they’d been planning back, at least for the day; the shadowy shapes swimming through the inky darkness of the night sky attested to that, performing a wide array of stunts and tricks that kept their attentions riveted. By the time the shapes had disappeared (one in particular had very nearly divebombed the two ponies, in its haphazard styling), the last specks of light from the towns out in the countryside had darkened, save a single point of light in the direction of Ponyville that Lyra was sure belonged to the library. Idly she had wondered what Miss Sparkle was up to so late at night, but Bon-Bon had chalked it up to a night-time study session, and Lyra had been content to agree.
When they’d finally made their way back into Canterlot, choosing to take the scenic route through the rural shanties on the outskirts of the city, despite their notorious reputation for crime, Bon-Bon had been desperate to get some sleep, and Lyra had reluctantly agreed. Not everyone was a night-owl like her, after all, though her thoughts couldn’t help but harken back to the day’s she’d spent in the Academy of Creative Artistry in the heart of Canterlot, when she’d slept through the days and relished in the nights, and the nocturnal life that came with it.
“Lyra,” Bon-Bon whispered, snapping her from her reverie, “we’re here. Do pay attention, darling.”
“Sorry,” she chuckled meekly, scratching the base of her neck with her hoof. “A little distracted. Can’t keep my eyes off the prize.”
“Prize?” Bon-Bon gave her a quizzical look, head slightly cocked. “Are we playing a game now?”
“It depends,” came the response, smooth and sultry. Lyra leaned into her lover, overbalancing her ever so slightly as she wrapped a foreleg around her neck. “Games have to have more than one player, right? Are you going to join me, in my quest for...points?”
With little warning, something clicked in Bon-Bon’s head, eyes narrowing as she smirked back into Lyra’s eyes.
“Now there’s a question,” the earth pony growled, amused expression playing across her lips. Bon-Bon, for all her ability to be icy and stoic, had never been very good at keeping her emotions to herself; Lyra knew how to play her like an open book, or, well, a game. Part of her, a tiny corner of the back of her mind, suddenly became a whole lot more interested in the exchange.
“Sweets, I’m not hearing anything I’d question...” she trailed off, sensuously running her hooves down her partner’s neck, across her back, down her flanks. She’d practically draped herself over the other pony now.
“Neither am I, dear,” Bon-Bon crooned, mane falling over her eyes in a way that drove Lyra mad. She couldn’t contain herself, any more. She’d use magic to drag the other pony to bed if need be. “It all sounds very well and good, to me.”
“Then why don’t we get to playing? I’ll go first.”
“Of course, dear,” Bon-Bon laughed, raising a hoof to the door and pushing it open. Lyra assumed she’d been working the chain during all her amorous advances. Her sweetie had always been clever.
This was it. Her time to strike. She pushed forward, ready to grab the other pony and toss her to the ground-
“But right now I’m ever so tired,” she yawned, shutting the door, and Lyra, out behind her.
The unicorn’s jaw fell open. Where before she’d been quiet, content with her eyes on her mare’s flank and her thoughts elsewhere entirely, now she was livid, stomach very nearly about to burst.
“Yeah, well,” she screamed, slamming her hooves on the door, “see who’s sleeping on the couch for the next two weeks!”
When no response floated to her eyes from the other side of the door, in that delightfully eerie way of Bon-Bon’s that made her shiver with anticipation, she knew the couch-sleeper would be her.
Bon-Bon always did get her way.
Eventually, Lyra remembered that she had her own key for the door in her saddlebags, and managed to jimmy it open, with some effort. She’d never been one for working small keys, or anything that required excessive amounts of finesse, and now her out-of-touch levitation abilities were necessary, she found it quite difficult to actually get the damn thing in the lock the way she wanted. The cool night air was beginning to give her goosebumps, most certainly not in a good way, and she could swear her shouting must have been enough to rouse Nightmare Moon from slumber. The neighbours would not be happy the next morning.
By the time she was inside, softly levering the door closed behind her, she’d decided getting revenge on her partner wouldn’t be worth the effort. Bon-Bon had a weasel’s tendency towards good luck, slippery enough to evade any punishment one might direct upon her; Lyra knew from experience with her family, all ten of her twin sisters, all with the same Cutie Mark, that there was no such thing as a comeuppance for her. She had, to put it frankly, enough luck to make the Princesses look cursed, and she drained it from everyone around her. Bad things happened to ponies who knew Bon-Bon, that was the assumption.
Tiptoeing down the corridor, Lyra looked into her room. The pony in question was tucked up tight in her bed, covered in enough blankets to keep her toasty in a blizzard, head lying comfortably on a two-pillow ensemble. Two pillows! The nerve of that pony, stealing her bed, her sheets, her things. If she wasn’t so adorable, Lyra would have thrown her out. As it was, she stood awkwardly on her hind legs in the doorway, eyes glued on the rise and fall of the other pony’s chest, and the tiny bubble of drool that formed, expanded, and popped with every breath she took.
Lyra could have jumped on top of her, smothered her, and thrown her out of the bed. She could have set fires around the bed, stolen one of the pillows, removed a blanket, hidden a pea under the mattress; Celestia knew the little princess would have been awoken by even the slightest thing. She could have simply slipped in next to her and gone to sleep.
Instead, she turned and trotted away, towards the kitchen, intent on getting herself something to drink while she pondered her predicament.
That was how Lyra came to be sitting at the table in the kitchen at two in the morning, during the darkest part of Luna’s night, dressed in her legendary ‘Bath Robe’, a rare holdover from a mythical civilisation of intelligent, bipedal, furless animals that she had come to love, sipping on a magically-levitated cup of bitter, black, piping hot java. A series of events that culminated in a frigid night in all possible senses of the word, but she could deal with it. She’d very quickly gotten used to getting the cold shoulder from her precious Bon-Bon. And so it was that she was set up in a very, very awkward position for what happened next.
When the knock on the door came, in the dead of night, Lyra shot up from her seat into the air, dropping the china mug on the floor. It clattered onto the ground, shattered, and its husk rolled across the floor, spilling coffee all over the tiles, but Lyra wasn’t interested in any of that; she was still hyperventilating, clutching a hoof to her heart as she steadied herself with a hoof on the furniture. The second knock didn’t catch her quite so much off-guard, but it still served as a surprise, and she very nearly fell to the ground herself as she moved towards the doorway to the main hall, slipping and losing her footing on a trail of liquid that stretched across the floor.
“Coming,” she muttered angrily, regaining her balance and continuing her trek. The knocking quickly became louder and more insistent, and Lyra forced herself to keep calm as she crossed the distance between it and her own space.
She should have been asleep, she mused. Safe and snug as a bug in a rug in her own bed back in Ponyville, or at least in her bed in the next room over, frolicking in a happy dreamscape, dreaming happy dreams. Not sleepless in Canterlot in the middle of the night, answering a mysterious, persistent knocking that vehemently refused to go away.
The knocking died down as she reached the door, thankfully, and for a moment Lyra considered just not bothering. Maybe the pony on the other side had given up? It probably wasn’t important anyway. If Bon-Bon, light sleeper that she was, hadn’t been woken up by it, remained largely unaffected as she snored comfortably away in her (their!) room, why should she? Why should it bother her?
Her mind told her that it wanted to satisfy its curiosity, and she accepted that, albeit with some reluctance, as she pulled the door open.
“Thank Luna’s divine haunches!” cried the voice on the other side, a nasal, whining voice, and Lyra found herself with an faceful of earth pony, grey coat, black mane, pink bow-tie and all.
It took a moment for Lyra’s mind to put everything together. Even when it did, she still found herself confused. Octavia was sobbing in her grasp, pretty much a shaky, useless wreck on all counts, and just behind her, Vinyl Scratch, possibly Lyra’s oldest friend outside of the pony she was holding now, leaned against the railings on the outdoor balcony, casting glances back and forth between Lyra and the stairwell. She looked just as uncomfortable as the unicorn felt, red eyes bloodshot, unfocused and ringed with dark bags, and her posture wasn’t the sort of slouching, devil-may-care bravado she usually carried herself with. Instead she seemed tired, swaying occasionally as she tried to hold herself up with energy she didn’t have.
Octavia herself was even more of a wreck. Her eyes were sunken, blackened pits, stained red from crying, violet irises barely showing through, and she looked like she was about to faint dead away, frazzled mane and coat showing none of the usual ‘care and dignity’ Octavia was renowned for. Both of them were wrecks, though Octavia easily the worse, still crying as she held on to Lyra for dear life.
“Rough night, huh?” Scratch and Lyra grumbled in unison, and that coaxed a laugh out of Octavia. That was enough for Lyra, who stepped outside and shut the door behind her, still wearing her ‘Bath Robe’.
It was going to be a long night.
The three old friends found themselves in a dingy backwater bar in the Canterlot slums, one they’d regularly visited in their childhoods and had made a point of avoiding ever since. It was the sort of place a youngster could be served without worrying about the consequences, and that spoke volumes of its clientele, though not its quality, surprisingly enough. It was run-down, cheap, near-dilapidated, and a host of seedy characters were dotted about the inside of the tavern, but the staff were friendly, and the drinks were always some of the best in the city. Despite its distance, it was the first place in their collective heads. The old bartender, upon seeing their little crowd, somehow immediately recognised them, in spite of the sheer number of years it had been since they’d last been served there; he sat them down at their old regular table, brought them some of their old regular drinks, and left them to their old, regular haunts.
“Good ol’ Vanish,” Scratch groaned, voice scratchy as she mixed her salt up with some more hard alcohol. Lyra gave her a sideways glance that said all that needed to be said - sobriety was the key word tonight. “Never questions a thing. Been years since I’ve been to this ugly little shack, makes the little filly inside me happy to know it’s still here.”
“Yep,” Octavia mumbled back, downing a shot. “And buck sobriety.”
“I’ll drink to that,” the white unicorn laughed, kicking back a mixer the likes of which Lyra had never been able to handle like it was a glass of water. “Vanish Mixer, bartender extraordinaire. Wonder if he’ll regale us with some of his ol’ stories tonight.”
“You’re slurring your words again,” Octavia sighed, resting her head on the table, one hoof in the air. “I thought I told you...not to...slur...”
With a heavy snore, the grey earth pony fell right out of consciousness. Scratch just sneered, reaching over and snatching her glass straight out of her hooves, downing it in one. The sight made Lyra retch a little. She’d never been one for mixing her alcohol with salt, after an unfortunate experience earlier in her life that she didn’t enjoy thinking about, that generally left her feeling dirty and sickened when it chanced to cross her mind.
“So what made you come to my hotel room and drag me out in the middle of the night?” She asked, glaring at the unconscious earth pony. Scratch chose to field the question, with a question of her own.
“Nah, man,” she laughed, pulling her goggles off of her face. “You came on your own. I figure you weren’t in the middle of anything important...or, more importantly, anything saucy!” The white unicorn paused, hiccoughing, before she leaned over conspiratorially and asked, “were you?” under her breath.
Lyra just sighed and shook her head in response. Scratch’s smile was wider than she’d seen it the whole day.
“That mare of yours holding out on you tonight, eh?” Her guffaw was loud enough to jar Lyra out of her reverie, the sound of her distinctive laugh ringing in her ears, and she fumed, raising her glass to her lips and chugging it with a distinct air of haughtiness. At least, she hoped she was being haughty. She didn’t know whether there was more to it than just turning your nose up at someone, and she hadn’t bothered to learn from Bon-Bon-
When Lyra choked on her drink, hooves scrabbling for purchase on her throat, Scratch just sat still, shaking with laughter. Octavia, on the other hoof, shot back up, one hoof in the air, a determined expression on her face as she gave Lyra a soul-searching stare that pierced right through to her core, or so Octavia thought. The mint-green unicorn was still too busy trying to clear her airways to care.
“I don’t see why you’re still with that snotty little harlot,” the cellist scoffed, bristling with new, barely-contained rage. “She is a horrid excuse for a mare and you deserve better, Lyra!”
After a few more moments of coping with her latest near-death experience (asphyxiation, she’d have to add that one to the list), Lyra trained her eyes on Octavia.
“Don’t say things like that about her,” she snarled. “You two are my oldest friends. You know how much I care about her.”
“Don’t seem like she cares too much about you, dude,” Scratch retorted, focusing on a couple across the room that seemed to be totally engaged in being fleeced by an eerily-familiar blue unicorn with a wand for a Cutie Mark. She was used to seeing ponies get bilked out of their money, but this caught her eye. “Anyway, we know how you feel, it’s just that we think you can do better.”
“Of course you can do better!” Octavia shouted, jumping to her feet. “Why, if you’d only-”
“Don’t go there, girl,” Scratch said, intervening with a hoof to the grey earth pony’s shoulder. Lyra had seen this conversation play out one too many times for her liking, so she chose to nip it in the bud as soon as possible.
“Why are we out here, anyway? It’s late, we’re all tired, and pretty much frustrated out of our minds. Couldn’t we have had the whole ice cream social tomorrow?”
“Refills, Mixer!” Scratch cried over the din. Octavia, for what felt like a single second, looked completely flabbergasted, before she broke down into tears. Lyra already regretted asking. Meanwhile, Scratch comforted the distraught cellist, massaging her back as best she could.
“You can’t what?” Now Lyra was perplexed.
“Lyra, don’t push it, honey,” Scratch said, as Vanish wordlessly passed her another shaker of salt and a jug of Luna-knows-what, followed by four shiny, spotless tankards, before skulking away. “Tav’s got a bit of a problem, tonight, see?”
“So she came to you with this problem and you decided to come get me?”
“Sort of,” Scratch sighed, giving her a look that made her stomach drop. “We were celebrating, I guess? A great show, a Canterlot reservation for the Triple G, a rec from Sapphire Shores herself, this was, like, the best night ever for Tav!” At that, the ambient sobbing exploded into a chorus of violent wails, but Scratch carried on determinedly, still rubbing Octavia’s back. Lyra couldn’t help but lean forward, very much interested.
“My life is ruined!” The earth pony in question yelled, burying her face in her hooves.
“Hey, chill out, babe,” Scratch murmured into her ear, in a low, loving tone that comforted Lyra just by hearing it. She wondered if Scratch had ever moved past her infatuation with the cellist, then struck that thought from her mind in favour of more important things. “Anyway, ignore her, she’s just a bit worked up.”
“A bit worked up?” Lyra snickered, pulling a face. “The way she’s turned on the waterworks, she could power Canterlot for a month!” When they both turned their glares on her, she withdrew into her seat a little, grimacing. It had seemed like an appropriate way to lighten the mood at the time, but then she remembered that despite those two being her oldest friends, they were still city ponies, and snark never went over too well in the high-society of the city. “Sorry.”
“It’s not fair!” Octavia roared again, drawing out the emphasis on the fair for longer than Lyra could even hold a breath. She found it impressive, how much air she could pack into her lungs, not being a singer.
“Anyway,” the DJ continued, tone forceful (probably to avoid more interjections, Lyra assumed), “we ended up getting a bit...frisky. Head to haunches, you know the drill.”
“Oh, joy,” Lyra sighed. “That always ends so well for us.”
“Don’t I know it,” Scratch sighed in reply. “Point is, two lonely mares like us, when things get really good it’s hard not to do things you both enjoy. We trust each other, so what’s the problem? Besides, well, our terrible luck.”
Lyra didn’t see much of a problem with it, so she nodded, electing to remain silent.
“So, I woke up a couple of hours later, and I was still sort of tired,” the white unicorn lifted a hoof to her brow, wiping away some of the sweat that had gathered there. Lyra did the same. The bar had always been quick to heat up in the evenings. “Tav here wakes up too, and she’s freaking out as usual, when she tells me she’s lost her cello somewhere.”
“Lost your cello?” Lyra frowned. That cello had been Octavia’s treasure, a last memento from her deceased mother, and she could understand why they’d come to her for help. They’d need help finding it. Hopefully it hadn’t been stolen.
“Well, sort of.” Scratch’s sudden lapse into speechless silence made Lyra hesitate. The mare generally never ran out of words - it was why she could handle radio so well - and the absence of her voice, in the quiet atmosphere of the bar, was almost deafening. Lyra wanted to find the oxymoron funny, but she just couldn’t. In light of what she’d heard, and how she’d feel if she lost her lyre, she understood entirely what Octavia was going through. “See, the cello is still there, and it’s fine.”
“Really?” Lyra blurted out. That came as a shock to her. “So what’s the problem?”
“I forgot how to play!” Octavia screamed, clutching at her head with her hooves, and Lyra blanched, very nearly falling from her seat.
Three rounds down the line, at nearly half past three, Lyra still couldn’t get her head around it.
“So you’re saying,” she groaned, rubbing her temples with her hooves as she grimaced, “that you can’t remember how to play the cello? At all?”
“No!” was the response, quick, curt, and depressing. Lyra couldn’t help but groan again. Across from her, Octavia had a straw in one hoof, and she was leaning on the other foreleg, swirling the drink with the straw. Scratch had left to use the restroom. “It’s not possible, I know! It can’t have happened to me!”
“Damn right it can’t,” Lyra muttered, taking another shot. “You don’t just forget how to play an instrument. That’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Exactly!” Octavia slammed a hoof on the table, shaking it and drawing eyes from around the bar. The regulars didn’t seem too fussed, but the couple sitting with the silver-maned performer looked over, before turning their eyes back on their new companion. “It’s not right, it’s not right, it’s not right!”
“How did you forget to play your cello?” Lyra had trouble making sense of the entire situation. “It’s your cello. You’ve been obsessing over that thing since we first met. You’re serious about this? You just can’t remember?”
“Not a single bit of my training remains,” Octavia murmured, head held low in shame. “It eludes me.”
“Great,” Lyra sighed. She seemed to be having reason to sigh a whole lot more, tonight. “Well, colour me stupefied. I don’t have a clue what to tell you.”
“I wouldn’t expect someone like you to be able to advise someone like me over an issue so pressing, dear!” The surge of laughter that erupted from Octavia’s mouth, high-pitched, frenzied cackles, caught Lyra completely unawares, and she started from her seat, upturning her glass. Reluctantly she refilled it and took another great swig. She was starting to feel a little tipsy. “Why, it’s not as though your whole life rests upon your ability to play your instrument!”
“That’s pretty arrogant, and pretty wrong,” the unicorn snarled, “I have to play to live. It’s my job. You know? Those things us normal ponies have?”
“My darling friend, you’re little more than a hobbyist compared to me!” Octavia’s reply cut through to her bone, but she couldn’t deny the truth of it. She hadn’t played a show on the scale Octavia regularly enjoyed since her illustrious youth. “Why, the axis of the debutante world rests on the axle of my cello! I am a pillar of modern musical culture! I am the mountain upon which Celestia’s divine vibrations choose to reverberate!”
“Now you’re really pushing it,” Scratch chuckled, sidling past Lyra into her seat between the two as she hefted another tankard to her lips. How she managed to work her hooves so deftly, Lyra never could figure out, but she admired the skill, just like she admired everything about Vinyl. “So you’re making a name for yourself, big deal. We all know Lyra’s the better player.”
“The nerve!” Octavia cried. Lyra just grinned. “If she is, it is only because I can no longer play! And whose fault is that? Who distracted me from my lofty goals with her lusty mannerisms?”
“You’re so nasal,” Scratch laughed, settling into her seat. “Anyway, don’t pin the blame on me for this one, babe. Everypony here knows you’re your own worst enemy.”
“Yeah,” Lyra cut in, smiling, “remember back when she hit Professor Plectrum over the head with her bass guitar because he wouldn’t let her retune it? Man, she never lived that one down!”
Octavia began to sink into her seat, slowly, her whole body turning crimson.
“Or that time when she was caught red-hoofed in the janitor’s closet with Blues because she refused to admit that he kissed better than she did?”
Both Lyra and Scratch couldn’t help but start giggling madly. Octavia sank further under the table with every word.
“Or when she tried pranking the Headmaster and ended up tarred and feathered on the school flagpole?”
“Oh, oh, what about when she put on a solo performance for Princess Celestia-”
“And she took out half the audience!” Neither could control their hooting laughter.
“You promised we’d never speak of that again!” Octavia squeaked from beneath the table, but now she was laughing, not the reserved, dainty laugh that she so often used around others but the hearty, if quiet, laugh that only came out for them.
“Yeah,” Lyra said, wiping a tear from her eye, “and when was the last time we kept that promise?”
“You’re both terrible,” Octavia replied, though each of them could tell she felt at least a little better. “Still, this doesn’t explain why this had to happen to me, of all ponies! Surely I am the least deserving of losing my livelihood?”
“You’re kind of crazy, honey,” Scratch crooned, reaching out to play with her mane. It was something they’d often done in their younger years to soothe Octavia; her love for her beautiful mane was well-documented, and having other ponies indulge it always relaxed the grey earth pony. “No one deserves to lose everything, but you’ve just got to give yourself some time.”
“Vinyl’s right,” Lyra added, taking another drink. “You’re just worked up now because you’ve got so many prospects ahead of you, and you had a long day. Lemme tell you, even Bon-Bon was impressed by your show on the stage! Trust me, it’ll all work out.”
“But it’s not fair!” Octavia couldn’t help but whine. “I didn’t do anything to deserve this! I’m just a talented mare who’s worked hard to get where she is! I bet that Princess Luna is responsible for this, taking away my music so she can use it to rule Equestria!”
Lyra held a hoof to her forehead in defeat. Next to her, Scratch mirrored the response. They were used to the grey pony being difficult, but this was more than just obstinacy, it bordered on lunacy!
“Hey, I know!” Octavia jumped into the air. The other two sighed in chorus. “Why don’t you two teach me?”
“Contractions, doll,” Scratch said, cradling her head in her hooves as she leaned forward. “You’re beginning to sound like us down-in-the-dirt common folks, y’know? I know how you hate that.”
“Ah, my apologies,” Octavia replied, voice rising several octaves in pitch. Once again she was the stuffed-saddle noblepony they both knew and...well, loved would be stretching it (if anything, Lyra preferred Octavia when she was chilled out). “Nonetheless, I must insist! I would be happy to do anything for you two if you can just do me this service.”
“I don’t even know how to play the cello!” Lyra groused, taking another deep swig from her glass. This time she’d chosen to mix it up with some salt, by Mixer’s recommendation; it burned going down, but it kept her awake, aware and feeling alive, something alcohol usually didn’t do, so she was grateful to the bartender for that. “What, do you want me to beat you over the head with it until you learn?”
“I can do that,” Scratch crowed, flexing her forelegs. Lyra made note of her muscle tone, reminding herself to ask what her workout routine was later. “An hour a day, babe. All sorts. I’ll clue you in on the specifics later.”
“Oh!” Lyra blushed, embarrassed. “I didn’t realise I was thinking out loud. Sorry.”
“Beat me over the head, splice the cello into my genes with your unicorn magic, turn me into a cello, whichever,” Octavia snorted, waving a hoof in the air dismissively. Lyra couldn’t help but snicker. “I have the withers for it. Surely you can do me this much?”
“You’re serious?” Scratch sounded aghast. “That’s some pretty hard bargaining there, Tav. Sure you can’t just learn it yourself?”
“It would take me years to learn the cello all by my lonesome, the same way I did as a filly!”
“Oh.” Scratch was nonplussed. “Well, uh, I don’t think unicorn magic, or a beating, can do that. Right, Lyra?”
“Won’t know until we try!” Lyra hoped the bright grin on her face said enough. “Come on, we can go get it now! And we can beat her until she learns! Sounds good to me!”
“I think you’ve had too much to drink, girl,” Scratch nickered, snatching the glass out of Lyra’s reach. “What is this stuff, anyway?”
Lyra couldn’t quite tell what the blurry white smudge she assumed was Scratch had said, all of a sudden, so she leaned over and whispered what was, ostensibly, gibberish, into empty space. Then she laughed, loudly enough to scare some of the other patrons, as she fell out of her seat.
“That was uncanny,” Octavia said, eyes wide open as she stared, unamused, at the ground-bound Lyra. “She seemed fine moments ago.”
“Salt takes a while to kick in,” Scratch casually answered, shrugging. “She’ll be up in a bit once the high dies down, doll.”
“OK!” The abruptness of Lyra’s battle cry jolted both of them back into full consciousness. By that point the three should have been well and truly roaring drunk, but their tolerances for alcohol had been weathered by time and experience. There were no lightweights among this crowd. “I know what to do!”
“Oh, what does it matter?” As quickly as she had become incensed, Octavia’s fiery passion died down again, leaving her a mopey, disinterested shell as she idly shoved an empty glass around the table. It rolled around on its side for a few moments before stilling, and Octavia quickly became apathetic to it. “I’m done. I’m over. I’m washed up! I’m you, Lyra. Why bother?”
“That, dude,” Scratch giggled, “is harsh. You’re harshing all up on Lyra’s whimsy, man.”
“What in buck’s name is a whimsy?” Lyra giggled back, pointing at Scratch as she struggled not to slur her words.
“It’s, like, I dunno, something whimsical, I guess,” Scratch replied, confused.
“Why bother?” Octavia’s tears had returned in full force. “What’s the point? There’s no point! I’m over! I’m done! I’m washed up! I’m Lyra!”
“I’ll drink to that!” Lyra cried, now tearing up herself as she raised her glass in the air, to nobody in particular. “I was washed up before I even made it to the beach!”
“That makes no sense, man!” Scratch shouted back, and together the three of them drank their sorrows away.
A little ways past an hour afterwards, down the long trail that is pony drunkenness and pony disorder, the bar had been turned into a tip, and three mares were dancing on a table, surrounded by a crowd of cheering onlookers as they sang, toneless and off-key. Behind the bar, Vanish Mixer kept his eye on the festivities, but otherwise, no one minded; even the swindling pony had joined them up on the makeshift stage, a regular quarter putting on a real show, or what felt like one, anyway.
When the noise died down, around five o’clock in the morning, they found themselves seated at their table from before, this time with a new member of the group.
“So, I said to them, I said,” the blue unicorn shouted, barely managing to get garbled words out without mangling them, “‘The Great And Powerful Trixie!’ And then I left those no-good, podunk, hill-billy, boondock nobodies in the dust!”
“Serves ‘em right!” Scratch cried, tinkling her empty glass. “Hear, hear! For Trixie!”
“For Trixie!” the four of them yelled, clinking their glasses together.
“So, Octavia,” Lyra said, the beginnings of what was sure to be a major headache cutting through the haze in her head, “What are you going to do about all this cello business?”
“Oh, I don’t care anymore!” The earth pony yelled, slamming her glass on the table. She stood, wobbling on her hind legs, raising her right foreleg in a bizarre mockery of a salute to Trixie. The unicorn cheered in response, gulping down another helping of salt, like it was nobody’s business. For a moment, Lyra wondered who was footing the bill for all this revelry. “Trixie’s bravery, her courage, her daring, her valour! They have inspired me!”
“They’re all the same thing, you goof!” Scratch piped up from her spot between two drunken stallions, stretched out across the seating, head in one’s lap, hind hooves in the other.
“I don’t care!” Octavia screamed back, to a wave of catcalls and hollering. “Trixie has shown me...the light!” With a flourish she climbed on to the table, standing on her own hind legs as she waved at the other patrons of the bar, all similarly drunk, eyeing the beautiful mare. “The cello was never my true calling! I am a performer! I will move on! I will learn...magic!”
“Don’t be daft!” Lyra bellowed above the cacophony of cheering, the buzz in her head slowly bringing everything back into what could generously be called clarity. “You’re not a unicorn!”
“Unicorn, shmunicorn!” Trixie shouted. “You don’t need to be a unicorn to do magic! You just need to be magical, my beloved!”
“Oh, Trixie!” Octavia cried, swooning. In fact, she swooned so heavily, she fell from the table, into Trixie’s waiting hooves, where they shared what Lyra was sure was the most passionate kiss she’d ever seen Octavia share with anybody. Scratch jeered.
“Oh, Octavia!” Trixie mumbled around Octavia’s locked lips.
“Oh, boy,” Lyra groaned, a guttural growl escaping her stomach. She cursed when Octavia and Trixie moaned again, in sync.
“I’m so tired,” Scratch yawned, sitting up. As the kiss between Trixie and Octavia became even more heated, the white unicorn stared at the peeling plaster on the wall opposite their booth, face burning scarlet. Lyra grinned.
An unexpected scream captured their attentions as Octavia grabbed Trixie’s face with her hooves.
“Oh, darling, I remember!” She cheered, newly invigorated. Lyra and Scratch sat there, equally shocked; Trixie, on the other hoof, looked downright disheartened. “I remember how to play the cello! My dreams, they are saved!”
“Congratulations!” The two eventually sang, leaping up to embrace their friend in a hug. None of them noticed the blue unicorn dejectedly slipping away, at least not until Octavia bounced out after her, cornering her at the entrance (or, exit, as it now became). Scratch followed them good humour restored. Despite the late hour, Lyra felt the same way.
“A-hem,” hemmed a voice from behind her, clearing its throat. Lyra froze.
“Can I make a clean getaway?” She whickered, hoping the voice behind her would answer in the affirmative. In her recovering hangovers, she barely knew what to say or do normally. Under stress, she became a nervous wreck. She thanked the Princesses that she’d been able to avoid falling unconscious tonight, for a change, and waking up to a destroyed bar afterwards. That had too often been a recurring element of her childhood.
“‘Fraid not,” Vanish Mixer drawled, and Lyra slowly turned. “That’ll be four hundred bits, Lyra.”
“For the drinks?!” She couldn’t believe her ears.
“Fifty for the drinks and the salt,” he replied, and her heart sank as her ears drooped, knowing what was coming next. “Three hundred and fifty for the damages.”
Reluctantly, Lyra pulled out her wallet.
It had been a long night.
“You’re going to have to repay me, you know,” Lyra sighed as she joined Scratch outside. It was nearing six o’clock in the morning, and in the summer, the first embers of dawn were beginning to light the horizon, a mixture of flaming pinks and rich, exuberant purples that set her heart alight with joy. Soon the sun would come up, dancing and spinning in the evening sky, and all, save her wallet, would be well and merry.
“Yeah, yeah,” Scratch replied. Both of them knew words weren’t really necessary, and as they walked back through the cool, calm morning, birds beginning to wake up and sing, others taking to the streets for the new day, the refreshing atmosphere made Lyra feel a lot better.
They’d had fun. She hadn’t expected it, but it had happened, and it had cheered her up. Wasn’t that what good friends are for?
“You know,” Scratch sighed, “I’ve been in a bit of a rough spot lately.”
“Uh huh?” Lyra mumbled, curiously shooting her a glance out of the corner of her eye.
“Yeah,” and for a few more moments, there was silence between them. “I’ve sort of been having a really tough time. With Tav doing so well for herself, and you with that girl of yours and your reviving career, I felt like I was the only one who wasn’t moving on, y’know?”
Lyra did know. She’d felt the same way, a long time ago, when Scratch had just started her radio station, and Octavia’s career had begun to skyrocket, while she’d been forced to give up her career as a professional musician to afford to survive. She’d lost the opportunity to chase her dreams, while her friends were out accomplishing theirs, and it made her hurt; now, Scratch was feeling the same way she had. It was almost ironic.
“But tonight, when I saw Tav still being the obsessive-compulsive, maddeningly wonderful crybaby she’s always been, and you, still...well, you,” and Lyra caught the distinct note of a blush on her friend’s face, “something in me clicked, y’know? Man, it’s sort of, like, it felt right. I knew we’d be all right.”
“Friends forever, through thick and thin,” Lyra recited from what she remembered of their old team motto. It had been a while.
“You still remember the dance?”
“Oh, jeez,” Lyra coughed, holding back a swelling tide of laughter, “don’t remind me. That was the worst thing ever.”
Scratch quickly jumped into what consisted of the most terrible routine ever devised by any choreographer, ever, in any possible world. By the end of it, Lyra was rolling around on the floor, tearing up from the sheer hilarity of it, while Scratch waited above her, laughing herself. Neither cared about any other prying eyes (and thankfully, none of the eyes cared about them - Canterlot was the city of freaks, that was the credo), and when they were done, they shared a hug, the likes of which they hadn’t in a while.
By that point, they had arrived at the hotel in which Lyra was staying - the first rays of the morning sun creeping over the horizon, glittering beams of light cutting swathes through the darkness. It was beautiful, almost as beautiful as Scratch.
“Take care of yourself,” they each said in unison, sharing a final hug.
“Make sure Octavia gets home alright, and give her my love, OK?”
“Will do, Minty. And give the old mare the best from me, alright?”
“Of course. Goodbye, Vinyl Scratch!” And with that, a last wave, and a final nuzzle, Lyra closed the door, creeping into her apartment.
On all counts, it had been a great night. Now, in its aftermath, nothing stirred, and a strange, oppressive atmosphere of darkness and silence laid over the room, capturing everything in its sepia-toned glow.
In her own room, Bon-Bon still slept. Gorgeous, insufferable, incorrigible, adorable Bon-Bon. Lyra leant over to peck her on the cheek, before climbing into bed beside her.
Casting a final, cursory glance over to her lyre before she fell asleep, she sighed, smiling, thankful that it would always be there, and she’d always be able to turn to it for comfort. Using her magic, she plunked at a few of the strings. They produced no discernible melody, but in her tiredness, Lyra couldn’t tell.
Dimly, with alarming urgency as she fought sleep, she continued to pluck away at the strings with her magic. Next to her, Bon-Bon stirred, but Lyra carried on, desperate to figure out why she couldn’t pull a melody from her instrument the way she’d grown so accustomed to. Was she too tired? She felt lethargy eating at her, eyelids drooping as she sank deeper into the mattress, but she refused to stop, stabbing at the strings again, and again, and again, with as much telekinetic force and finesse as she could muster.
By the time she’d finally coaxed something resembling a tune from the exquisitely-crafted golden instrument, she’d given up, resigned to the simplest conclusion.
She’d forgotten how to play the lyre.