~ Overture ~
It was a bright summer’s morning in Ponyville. The Weather Pegasi had not yet made their early rounds, and the wispy, natural cloud that had floated in during the night was high in the air, carried on the light summer winds.
Fluttershy had already been up for hours, tending to her nocturnal animal friends by tucking them into bed and making sure they were well fed as the first rays of sunlight broke over her small cottage on the outskirts of the town. She had joined in with the dawn chorus, giving a daily practise session to a blue jay recovering from syringitis. Now she was preparing breakfast for her beloved Angel, chopping up carrots and lettuce into a salad for the fussy rabbit that sat by her hooves on the kitchen floor, rubbing his eyes and yawning.
Whilst Fluttershy was traditionally an early riser, she was making even more of an effort than usual, as she did on this day every week. This day, after all, was her spa day with Rarity; a social highlight in her otherwise empty calendar, and one of the few times she felt able to take the time off from helping all her animal friends and just indulge herself. Of course, most of the afternoon at the spa was spent listening to Rarity ‘talking shop’, but Fluttershy enjoyed the company, and more than once she had aided the fashionista in a difficult design with her (as Applejack put it), “freaky knowledge of sewing”.
Once Angel was fed and content to run off and play, Fluttershy found herself with nothing left to do, surprising herself at her own turn of speed. She decided to double check and make sure that she hadn’t forgotten anything, flying low around her cottage, dipping as she scanned bird’s nests, rabbit’s warrens, her chicken coop and every hidey-hole she knew of in the earth banks around her home.
Satisfied that she’d done all she could do, she decided to fly into town early, and spend the rest of the morning in the park, before meeting Rarity for lunch. She flew down the road leading away from her cottage and followed the path through the wild and untended trees that made up the outskirts of Sweet Apple Acres, listening to the birdsong and the soft breeze rustling the leaves.
The peace and tranquility of the road ebbed away as she arrived at the outskirts of Ponyville proper. Fluttershy could hear the chatter of ponies wandering the streets doing their daily grocery shopping, the clatter as they set up market stalls for the midday rush, and the cantering of hooves as the foals ran about, enjoying their break from lessons.
Fluttershy nodded politely at a few ponies who shouted good morning as they ran past, but continued at her own leisurely pace as she half-trotted, half-glided through the marketplace and past Sugarcube Corner.
At least, she’d nearly got past it when she heard an unmistakable voice call out after her.
Fluttershy stopped and blinked, her ears twitching. She was sure she heard Pinkie’s voice come from above her. As if on cue, the pink pony fell from the air and landed in a tangle of legs at Fluttershy’s hooves, beaming with barely contained enthusiasm and apparently none the worse for wear.
“Oh, hello Pinkie.” Fluttershy replied, smiling as she helped nudge Pinkie Pie back onto her hooves with her muzzle.
“Whatcha doin’?” Pinkie asked, hopping alongside Fluttershy.
“Oh, well, I’d finished giving Angel his breakfast and making sure everyone was alright, so I thought I’d, um, go to the park. Before I meet Rarity for lunch, I mean.”
“The park? Oo, I love the park! Can I come? Can I, can I, can I?” Pinkie bounced up and down on the spot with each syllable. Fluttershy cringed a little, inwardly. She would have enjoyed a quiet stroll and flight in Ponyville’s park, but when you were around Pinkie Pie, quiet was the one thing you could be sure would never happen. Still, she couldn’t back out and refuse without hurting the pink pony’s feelings, so she smiled and nodded. Pinkie squee’d happily and trotted alongside Fluttershy, talking at high speed and pitch about an unusual customer she’d had at Sugarcube Corner the other day. Fluttershy only half-listened; it was nearly impossible to give Pinkie Pie your full attention purely because her train of thought seemed to leap about like the rails were made of rubber.
Passing through the town square and out along the north road, the pair soon arrived at the park. Fluttershy took a deep breath, savouring the lingering crispness of the morning air as the day gave way to ‘noon. The scent of the flowers in the park was so strong that she could taste it, enjoying the subtle differences between the many blooms. Most pegasi never learnt of the wonders of the ground, too busy flying high with their heads in the clouds, but Fluttershy revelled in the beauty she saw beneath her hooves.
She was dragged back out of her thoughts by Pinkie Pie animatedly nudging her.
“Fluttershy! Look! Somepony’s gathering all the birds on the fountain!” She pointed with a hoof. Fluttershy looked over in that direction, eyes wide in amazement as she saw the birds arrange themselves in order of size up and down the tiers of the fountain, and with a wave of a hoof from a grey pony apparently acting as conductor, burst into song. Not the free-for-all of a dawn chorus, but proper, organized song.
Entranced, Fluttershy floated over, her wings guiding her subconsciously as she listened to the birds belt out a full cantata. As the melody washed over her, she felt an irresistible urge to join them in song, and flew to the statue atop the fountain, oblivious to all else except the music of the birds.
She sang with them in harmony for what seemed to her like hours, the joy of the piece filling her heart and overflowing into her voice. It was only when the piece ended on a final triumphant note that she heard the sound of several ponies stamping their hooves on the ground in applause.
Realization dawned on her and she blushed fiercely, dropping off the fountain and walking away, head lowered with her pink locks covering her face. They were doing such a good job of this that she soon walked directly into another pony.
Flicking her hair out of her eyes, she saw a grey earth pony splayed out, daze, on the ground, and her expression changed from one of embarrassment to concern.
“Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going, are you alright? Are you hurt?” She said, quickly helping the pony to his hooves. He swayed as his eyes rolled back into their correct position, then laughed.
“My dear, I’m more than alright! I’m overjoyed! Never have I heard such sweet singing! Tell me my dear, what is your name? I simply must know!” He said in an airy, sing-song voice, beaming at Fluttershy. She shied back from him a little and blushed at the compliment.
“I-I’m Fluttershy.” She replied, mumbling into her hair. The earth pony’s eyes lit up immediately.
“No? THE Fluttershy? But I should have seen it immediately, your grace and poise, it shines through you just as it did in Photo Finish’s pictures! Not only a beautiful model, but a singer as well? My dear, this is a grand day! A momentous day!” He said, nearly bowling Fluttershy over with the force of his enthusiasm.
“Oh! How terribly improper of me, where are my manners? My name is Falsetto, composer by trade. I was conducting the birds just now, bit of a hobby.” Falsetto offered a hoof, which Fluttershy shook, not wanting to seem rude. She noticed that his cutie mark was an open book of music crossed by a conductor’s baton, and judging by the white around his muzzle and the bags under his eyes, he must have been an older pony.
“Fluttershy! There you are!” A voice called out from behind, and Fluttershy turned to see Rarity approaching with Pinkie Pie in tow. Fluttershy was surprised to see Rarity, knowing that she usually spent the morning before their spa sessions making sure she was caught-up on her orders. Falsetto looked up at Rarity and smiled, glancing between her and Fluttershy.
“Ah, you know each other? Marvellous!” He trotted over to Rarity, sweeping up her foreleg and kissing her on the hoof. “Rarity my dear, your friend has a remarkable voice! Such talent! In fact, she might just be the answer to my dilemma!”
Fluttershy blinked. Rarity turned to her and smiled.
“Fluttershy, darling, this is Falsetto, an old friend of mine. He was recently made manager of the Canterlot Opera House, by Royal Appointment no less, and he came to Ponyville just this morning to ask me to design the costumes for his new opera!” Fluttershy blinked again as Falsetto cut in.
“Indeed, but it seems that I’m short one singer for the performance. In the preliminary practise sessions, our lead singer handed in her notice, claiming some nonsense about the place being haunted. Nothing I could do would stop her, and I haven’t been able to find a suitable replacement...” He looked Fluttershy up and down and beamed once more.
“... at least, until now!”
Like realization before it, comprehension dawned on Fluttershy and she quickly began backing up.
“Oh, no, no, I wouldn’t be right for the part, I mean, uhm, I don’t know any of the songs, and I’ve not had any formal training... and I can’t sing in front of crowds and, uhm, then I have Angel and the animals to look after, and I just couldn’t-” She was quickly stopped by a raised hoof from Falsetto.
“I’ll have none of that, my dear! You’re perfect for the part, and rehearsals have only just begun. Not to mention, even without training you sing better than most of my company! As for your pets, I’m sure I can make arrangements. I’m not without the funds, you know. Oh, funds! Indeed, you will be paid highly for your part!”
Fluttershy opened her mouth to say something, then caught Rarity’s look over Falsetto’s shoulder. It was that same pleading, pouting expression she’d worn when Fluttershy had agreed to model for Photo Finish. Fluttershy could feel herself being backed into a corner, and glanced up at Pinkie Pie for support, only to find the pink mare oblivious to the whole conversation, watching a butterfly flit about.
She sighed, but instead of feeling her heart sink at the prospect, as she expected, she realised she felt oddly intrigued by it.
“Well, if you’re really sure about this...” She began, but was cut off by Falsetto shaking and kissing her hoof, in equal measure.
“My dear, you will not regret this! Mark my words!”
~ Act I: Scene I ~
A few days had passed since Fluttershy’s impromptu performance in the park, and now she sat inside a sleek, pegasus-drawn limousine on its way to Canterlot, trying not to look out of the tinted windows as the fields and forests of Equestria passed below.
Next to her, calmly sipping from a cocktail glass of carrot juice, was Angel. Once Fluttershy had explained to the rabbit that she was going away to Canterlot for a while, he insisted on joining her, and none of Fluttershy’s begging, pleading, beseeching or asking politely was going to dissuade him. Truth be told, she was glad he was there. As diminutive as the white bunny was, he was fiercely protective of Fluttershy.
She wasn’t entirely without equine company either; Rarity was laid across the seat opposite, levitating both glass and magazine, occasionally taking sips from one and glances at the other. Although it wasn’t strictly necessary, she had volunteered to stay at the Opera House for the duration of the performance, to help maintain the costumes and give Fluttershy somepony to talk to that she felt comfortable with. (Not to mention a golden opportunity to scout out the competition while she was in Canterlot, it never hurt to see what designs were rivalling your own in the city’s best boutiques).
Rarity flicked the page, tutting to herself at the garish designs featured in the latest selections.
Rarity closed the magazine and laid it down carefully on the seat beside her, making sure the edge of the publication was parallel with the stitching of the seat fabric.
“Yes, dear?” She replied, turning her full attention to Fluttershy.
“uhm, well... Have you been to the Opera House before?”
Rarity was about to make a scoffing assurance that of course she’d been to the opera, many times, but she remembered who was doing the asking, and sighed as she levitated her glasses back into their case.
“To tell the truth... No. I met Falsetto at a concert in Trottingham, some years ago, and he was so impressed with that experimental frock I had Rainbow Dash model during his recent visit that he asked me to design the costumes for the performance. I’ve never had the privilege of going to the opera itself, though I admit I’m positively giddy that we’ll be staying there!” Her eyes lit up with that same dreamy sparkle she used to reserve for talking about Prince Blueblood.
“I’ve heard it’s magnificent there! The walls covered in gold leaf... Marble floors polished to a mirror-like shine... Not to mention the great chandelier above the hall! Every piece a diamond, enchanted to be as brilliant as the sun! Oh, and the dresses and gowns, formal yet elegant...” Rarity continued as Fluttershy listened. She was rapidly beginning to feel that this was a bad idea.
She was no stranger to ostentatious architecture - pegasi made an artform out of it, crafting clouds into fluted pillars and temple-like palaces that rivalled the Princess’ own, but Rarity’s description of the staggering opulence of the Canterlot Opera House was making Fluttershy feel like she’d much rather be in her homely thatched cottage.
Rarity noticed Fluttershy’s head drooping a little, and leaned in with a conspiratory glance from side to side.
“I’ve even heard that there’s a vast lake deep beneath the building!” That caught Fluttershy’s attention. Rarity smirked.
“They say that it’s full of beautiful fish, and the walls are covered in gems! And of course, there’s the gardens... They keep bees there that, supposedly, hum along to the music during performances, and give out honey to the best singers!” Fluttershy smiled at that. Her last experience with a garden in Canterlot may not have been pleasant, but she was happy to know there was somewhere she could retreat to if it all got too much, and the lake sounded worth exploring.
“Anyway, we’ll both be seeing it for ourselves soon enough!” Rarity smiled, looking out the window at the passing clouds.
Angel took another measured sip of his carrot juice. He knew exactly what he was looking forward to in the gardens.
The limousine landed gracefully on one of the balconies overlooking Canterlot city. The pegasi chauffeurs unhitched themselves from the harness, one trotting across to the door, pulling it open with his teeth and extending a foreleg towards the the staircase. The other three began unloading the luggage, which was no easy task. Rarity stepped out first, levitating a small pouch of bits from her saddlebags towards the pegasus, who took it and swiftly hid it under his wing before his three colleagues noticed.
Fluttershy peeped out from the open door, staring wide-eyed at the Canterlot Landing Pad. Chariots, balloons and wagons soared above, circling a great spire in the centre of the structure, where several pegasi stood on small cloud platforms, shouting orders and displaying complex signals and commands with their wings. It took a few elbow nudges from Angel before she found the courage to step out after Rarity. She thanked the pegasi, barely audible, and blushed furiously when one of them winked at her in response. Rarity smirked to herself and lead Fluttershy away while the unfortunate pegasus was set upon by a small, angry rabbit.
They took the stairs down to the street level, emerging into the busy streets of Canterlot City. Rarity had visited the city a few times, but to Fluttershy the experience was entirely new. The Gala had taken place solely at the palace, which sat apart from the main city. Ponyville, even at its busiest on market days, was nothing compared to the crowds that went to and fro up the wide, pristine white streets of the capital.
Waiting for them was Falsetto himself, quickly running up and kissing them both on the hoof.
“My dear ladies! I trust your flight was comfortable? Oh! Your bags, allow me to-” He stopped short as he saw the three chauffeurs come crashing down the spiral staircase, landing in a pile of legs, wings and bags.
“... My, you... Certainly came well-prepared, Rarity my dear.” He finished. Rarity frowned at the three pegasi as they tried to untangle themselves.
“Well, a lady must always be prepared.” She replied, gasping as one of the pegasi managed to get up, tipping an over-burdened case that spilt its contents over the cobbles. “Augh! Be more careful with those! Oh, now look, I’ll have to get them all washed...”
Falsetto cringed and turned to Fluttershy, who was watching the scene with a hoof over her mouth.
“Didn’t you bring anything with you?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh, uhm, no, just Angel. I hope it’s alright, but he was very stubborn about coming with me, and I couldn’t bear to see him upset about being left behind...” Angel hopped off the chauffeur’s back on cue and landed on Fluttershy, giving Falsetto a stern glare.
“I’m sure that will be... Just fine! Yes, just... fine.” The earth pony stammered in response. He took his gaze from the rabbit and continued. “You’ll receive full bed and board at the Opera House, of course, as well as your payment. We have a canteen for guest’s refreshments which we use for our own meals between performances. Oh, you don’t have any allergies I should be aware of?”
“N-no, no, I’m fine with just about everything.”
“Excellent, excellent! But if there’s anything you’d really like us to make for you, please don’t hesitate to ask! Your every whim is our command, my dear. I would have no less for my new star singer!”
Fluttershy swallowed, smiling nervously. Fortunately for her, Falsetto turned to help Rarity (or rather, help calm her down) with the luggage. Fluttershy sighed. This was reminding her of that awful week she spent modelling for Photo Finish. Beyond her weekly visits to the spa, she didn’t really enjoy being waited on, hoof and fetlock. It always made her feel that she ought to be helping, or that she was making trouble for them.
Once Rarity’s belongings had been gathered and re-packed, Falsetto decided to walk the pair through Canterlot before they arrived at the Opera House, while the pegasi flew the luggage over. Rarity was in her element, stopping at nearly every clothes store, checking the prices and ‘in’ styles. She squeaked with delight when, in passing ‘Best of the Best Boutique’, she saw her own designs were still being showcased alongside Hoity Toity’s own.
Fluttershy was admiring the city’s own beauty. Ponyville was distinctly Earth Pony in style, and Cloudsdale, like all pegasus cities, had those Classical leanings, but Canterlot was unmistakably a city for unicorns. Towering pillars, tiled and glazed in bright, vibrant colours, and topped with domes of shining gold, brass, copper and silver. The streets were all paved, in what looked like rough-hewn marble. The brilliant sun above was almost dazzling as it reflected off the whitewashed walls and glass windows. As they passed a pet store, she dragged Rarity and Falsetto aside to look at the exotic species for sale from all corners of Equestria, and beyond.
Her nervousness at her arrival melted away as the ‘tour’ continued, leaving the markets and shops and passing through Canterlot’s central park. There were nearly as many different flowers, trees and animals here as in Celestia’s own at the palace, and they spent a good two hours or more just enjoying all the sights, sounds and scents of the city.
“And here we are! Breathtaking, isn’t she?” Falsetto waved a hoof at the Opera House, a twinkle in his eye.
Both Fluttershy and Rarity were taken aback. They were immediately reminded of the night of the Gala, stepping out of their carriage and being struck by the sheer splendour and beauty of the Princess’ palace, but the Canterlot Opera House had a splendour all its own.
The façade before them stretched higher than the Town Hall in Ponyville, adorned in columns that sat in pairs, framing balconies overlooking the streets. Over each balcony was a burnished copper statue, every one unique and expertly crafted. Over one sat a roaring griffon, another bore an effigy of a unicorn stallion entwined with an earth pony mare. Pegasi stood with wings outstretched and hooves against the sky with looks of determination in their eyes. One in particular caught Fluttershy’s eye; a pony that, from the waist down, was scaled like a fish, its coiled tail resting on the crest of a wave.
On the layer above the balconies rested the crests of the Royal Princesses, half bearing Celestia’s sun, and the other half decorated with Luna’s crescent moon. On the far left and right corners of the façade stood golden statues of the Princesses themselves, Celestia on the left and Luna to the right. Between them was a great dome covered in copper, and topped with a weather vane styled after the combined sun and moon of the Princesses. Rarity noted, with some interest, that the Luna crests and statue seemed more recent additions.
Falsetto smiled at their reactions, leading them up the steps and under the arches of the façade to the mahogany and glass double doors that served as the entrance to the foyer.
The foyer was just as breathtaking as the façade, if not more so. Rarity’s sources had been correct, the walls were indeed covered in gold leaf, with golden foals peeping out from behind golden trees and vines that twisted and grew over golden sconces. The floor of the foyer was polished pink marble, and bore not a single crack for the thousands of hooves that had crossed it over the years.
The ceiling was painted with scenes from Equestrian myth, all in exquisite detail. A dragon even reached down from the painting, his sculptured neck and head holding a chandelier that reflected the light of a hundred candles.
Beyond was the Grand Staircase, which took up almost half the room. Steps carved from the same pink marble as the floor lead up and away from the foyer, into the hallways surrounding the auditorium, and also down into the actor’s quarters and storerooms. Sitting on the central landing, in front of another set of double doors leading into the stalls, was a statue of Princess Luna, resplendent in an evening gown as she raised the moon.
“Falsetto, darling... I notice all these statues and emblems of Princess Luna seem newer than the rest of the building, why is that?” Rarity asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.
“Oh! Didn’t I tell you? Princess Luna is our patron! … Or should that be matron? Either way, its from her generous gifts that I can afford to keep this place open! In honour of her return to Equestria, we had the new statues crafted immediately, at Princess Celestia’s behest, no less. Princess Luna has quite a passion for the arts, you know, not to mention the sciences...” Falsetto replied, as he led them up the staircase.
“Sciences? That would explain the abacus...” Rarity looked back, glancing at the lovingly carved mathematical implement that rested at Luna’s hooves.
“Princess Luna insisted.” Falsetto smirked.
He led them through the doors at the top of the staircase, into the hallways, pointing out features as he went.
“Customers who’ve paid for box seats come through here, and as you can see there are doors along that wall leading to the boxes. Each is entirely separate from the others for the sake of privacy. Oh, let me show you, while I think of it. There’s no better view of the auditorium than from the box seats!” Falsetto pushed a door, only to find it locked. He frowned and tried pulling, to no avail. He walked a little further along and tried the next one, to find it swing open at the lightest touch of his hoof.
“Odd. I wonder why Number Five is locked. They’re only lockable from the inside.” He muttered to himself as he let Rarity and Fluttershy pass into box Number Six.
The auditorium stretched out before them, seeming, if it was possible, more luxurious than the façade and foyer combined.
Rows of scarlet and gold cushioned stalls sat before a vast wooden stage, currently hidden by a single massive curtain that hung from the outstretched hooves of pegasi in the ceiling above. On either side of each box was a statue of a pony, covered, like almost every available surface, in gold leaf. Anything that wasn’t gold was covered in the same scarlet fabric that made up the curtain.
Above everything hung the centrepiece of the auditorium, the Grand Chandelier. Once again, Rarity’s sources had not been exaggerating. Every piece that made up the intricately complex array of prisms was a brilliant diamond. They glowed with a light all their own, adding to the light of the hundreds of candles ringed around the tiers of the chandelier. Rarity’s horn itched just being in the presence of so many enchanted gemstones.
Fluttershy, on the other hoof, was just feeling faint.
Falsetto, seemingly satisfied that there was nopony in Box Five, led the girls out and back down the stairs into the storerooms and actors quarters. In comparison to the rest of the Opera House, they were decidedly spartan, consisting of just plain wooden beams and plaster walls illuminated by simple lamps hanging from the rafters.
They were led past hall after hall, catching glimpses of the props in storage, waiting to be wheeled out on stage. Stagehoofs rushed back and forth, checking the inventory and making sure the place was kept clean.
Eventually they found their rooms, Falsetto having managed to get them next to each other at Rarity’s request. He was grateful to find that the pegasi had delivered all her luggage directly to her room, and made a mental note to double whatever it was he’d paid them in the first place.
Fluttershy’s room was luxuriously decorated, and she realised Falsetto had put her and Rarity in the rooms reserved for big name actors, actresses and singers. The bed looked bigger than her own at home, and plusher. Angel leapt off her back and onto it immediately, bouncing on the mattress a few times before nodding at her with approval. She smiled, looking around at the rest of the room. One feature that caught her eye was a full-length mirror against the far wall, that seemed to be fixed to the wall itself. There was also the usual dresser and mirror, and she chuckled to herself, imagining that Rarity was probably already busy arranging her beauty products on her own dresser.
It was only late afternoon, but the trip and tour had left her drained. Stifling a yawn, she clambered onto the bed, curling up. It certainly was plusher than her own. She decided that, since Rarity was likely to be a while unpacking, she may as well take a quick nap.
~ Act I: Scene II ~
“Places, places everyone, please! Right, once more, from the top...”
A black coated and white maned unicorn pony raised his conductor’s baton and tapped it on the music stand before him until he was sure he had everypony’s attention. He took a final glance at the ponies gathered on stage, and those around him in the orchestra pit, and swung the baton.
The musicians took the cue and began playing a slow, melodic waltz as the ponies on stage quickly began stepping back and forth in time to the music and to each other, dancing elegantly across the wooden platform, their quick, light hoofsteps making hardly a sound.
A spotlight was turned on in the rafters and gangways above the stage, and spun down to illuminate a pegasus in the centre of the stage. Her coat was a warm peach, and her mane and tail a strong amaranth pink, styled in an elaborate twist, not totally unlike Rarity’s own.
In fact, as Rarity watched with Fluttershy from the sidelines, she unconsciously flicked her tail in irritation. Falsetto leant in between the two and whispered;
“That prancing pegasus in the centre there is the renowned singer, Prima Donna. The old manager was quite fond of her, and often gave her the star roles, but I’ve been trying to... phase her out. Ah, this is her number now. You’ll see what I mean.”
As the waltz began to pick up speed, Prima Donna unfurled her wings with a dramatic flair, and leapt into the air, hovering a few feet above the stage as the dancers whirled and pirouetted around her.
She raised a hoof to her chest and took a deep breath. Fluttershy noticed out of the corner of her eye that Falsetto was instinctively folding his ears against his head and cringing in anticipation.
Prima Donna’s first note rang out across the opera hall, as strong as a gale. She sang, loudly and with practised skill, sending her voice out to fill every nook and cranny of the auditorium. A brief flash from a unicorn’s horn bent the beam of the spotlight around the hovering pegasus, curling it about her like a cloak as she sang.
As the second verse began and the dancers joined her in chorus, Fluttershy almost forgot that this was merely a rehearsal, and the stalls stood empty before the stage. As Prima Donna sang of a lost love reunited by fateful chance at a masque ball, Fluttershy could picture the scene, seeing the lavish colours and vibrant banners decorating the ballroom, while masked and costumed ponies danced and spun around and around in an endless waltz.
The music built to a crescendo as Prima Donna’s voice climbed higher and higher, each ascending note punctuated by a flap of her wings as she hung above the stage like an angel of music.
However, as she hit a high C, the illusion was shattered by the piercing noise. Fluttershy’s own ears pressed against her head as she winced, and Rarity stumbled like she’d been struck. The chandelier jingled as the blasting note resonated through the theatre. The conductor pony calmly put out a hoof to steady the sheet music before him as it threatened to blow away. Fluttershy could barely make out the strangled notes of the strings section as their bows slipped from their hooves, or the squeak of the brass as they choked on their own breath. One or two of the dancers faltered, missing a step and crushing the hoof of their partner.
Finally, the ordeal ended, as Prima Donna finished her song and sank gently back to the stage, her coat of light fading away as the spotlight was extinguished.
The conductor pulled out an earplug.
“Thank you, Prima Donna... gentlecolts, fillies. I think that will do for now. When we reconvene we’ll go over the ballet in Act Three.” He stepped down, the sheet music floating up and following behind him as he trotted away.
Falsetto leant forward again, and Fluttershy found herself rooted in place.
“A marvellous voice, to be sure, but... What she lacks in talent, she makes up for in volume, you understand.” He said, quietly. All Rarity and Fluttershy could do was nod.
As the yellow pegasus watched Prima Donna walk away, head held high, she suddenly understood the unspoken meaning in Falsetto’s words.
“... Y-you brought me here to... to replace her?” She squeaked, staring at the older grey earth pony with wide eyes. Falsetto cringed at what he felt was more of an accusation than a question.
“Well... Not ‘replace’, no, that’s an unnecessarily harsh way of putting it, my dear, it’s just... Prima Donna is not... Well... She lacks that true talent, that spark, if you will... She’s exceptionally well-trained, but her singing... It’s methodical, cold.” He explained, trying to avoid looking directly at Fluttershy.
“... Truth be told, I half-suspect my predecessor was either a ‘friend’ of hers, or in her family’s pay, or perhaps both. Whilst I certainly have no intention of replacing her, I felt that perhaps she should settle for smaller parts... allow fresh, new talent a chance to shine!” Now he looked her straight in the eyes.
“Like yourself! I will help you shine all across Equestria!”
Fluttershy felt a cold dread creep over her..
Rarity knew Fluttershy well enough to read her body language like a book. For such a shy pony, she wore her heart on her sleeve. Sensing that the conversation was about to take a turn for the worse, she interrupted.
“Well, I can’t say I thought much of her mane. That style looked all wrong on her.” She bounced her own lightly on her hoof. “I’ll just have to see what I can do about that.” Satisfied the conversation was suitably derailed, she continued.
“Oh, Falsetto, I simply must show you my first designs... I’ve had a flood of new ideas since arriving here, and I want to make sure the finished articles are perfect!” She turned, letting Falsetto lead the way back off the stage, and gave Fluttershy a reassuring smile. She smiled back, grateful for Rarity’s tactful change of subject.
She watched the stagehoofs clear the props away as they prepared for the next scene, mulling over her own thoughts.
She still wasn’t sure how to feel about the whole affair. She liked singing, and she was forced to admit she liked singing for her friends. Pinkie Pie often turned to her for help when struggling with a new song, either because she felt the melody wasn’t quite right or the lyrics needed some work. Or once, as Fluttershy recalled, when the pink party pony was left speechless by a mischievous blue bloom.
In fact. after the group’s encounter with Poison Joke, she remembered Twilight Sparkle had been comparing the effects on herself and her friends, deducing that the plant somehow affected, through the plant’s own magic, the quality about themselves that a pony took the most delight in, or was most proud of.
When, one day over tea, Twilight had asked her directly why her voice was affected by the flower, she’d had to do some quick mental gymnastics to come up with a reasonable-sounding excuse: the deeper voice made her sound more intimidating, which meant she couldn’t help her animal friends.
Twilight had said no more about it, but Fluttershy knew herself that that wasn’t the whole reason. It was true that her animal friends had been a little taken aback by ‘Flutterguy’, but when she spoke gently and softly to them, they soon came around.
If she was being truly honest with herself, she loved her voice. Her ability to work with animals extended to all areas of their lives, and singing with the birds always boosted her confidence in herself when she was feeling low.
So why was she feeling so nervous at the thought of singing professionally?
She was startled out of her introspection when a large elephant knocked her aside. She was about to instinctively apologize for being in its way, before it was swung aside, and she realised it was just a prop.
Feeling a little sheepish, she made her way down from the stage and wandered back towards her room.
No sooner had Prima Donna opened her mouth, than there was a barely audible ‘twang’ from somewhere in the rafters above the stage. The wooden moon swung low as one of the ropes holding it aloft fell away, cut clean through, the other soon following suit.
It dropped from above almost as if Luna herself guided it, and before any of the unicorn technicians had time to react, it crashed squarely onto Prima Donna below. A mixed gasp of shock and relief went up from all present, and the stagehoofs rushed to help the singer from the heap of wood.
Falsetto strode onto the stage, glaring up at the rafters.
“Iron Knot! What happened up there?” He yelled to a pony staring wide-eyed at nothing, seemingly rooted to the spot in fear. He managed to find voice, and stuttered:
“G-ghost! I saw him! I saw the Ghost! He c-cut the ropes!”
The ponies on the stage and in the orchestra pit murmured amongst each other, shooting frightened glances around the empty theatre. Falsetto grimaced. “Just what I needed...”
Prima Donna was pulled, battered and ruffled, from the wreckage, fury written across her features and splinters in her mane.
“Ghost? Pfah! Is your ploy to get rid of me, eh? You arrange this!” She pointed an accusing hoof at Falsetto, who backed up a step.
“S-signora, I assure you, there’s no ‘ploy’! These things happen! The rope was probably frayed!”
“ ‘These things do ‘appen!’ ” Prima Donna sang back, mockingly. “This is the third time ‘these things do ‘appen’ in a month! And if ‘these things’ do ‘appen, then this thing does not ‘appen!” She yelled back, gesturing to herself as she hovered above the stage. “Enough! I go now! Bye-bye! You get your little canary to replace me!” She turned to Fluttershy, glaring at her in anger. “Maybe she sing better for you and appease your ‘ghosts’, eh?”
She flew across the theatre and out the double-doors of the auditorium. An awkward silence descended in the wake of her departure, and Fluttershy could feel everypony looking at her.
She felt like she wanted to cry.
The conductor looked at Falsetto, breaking the silence by clearing his throat.
Falsetto looked to the conductor, and gave a resigned sigh.
“Signora!” He yelled, running out after her. As the double-doors swung shut once more, the ponies gathered inside the theatre whispered to one another about what had just happened. Fluttershy caught snatches of sentences as they echoed around the auditorium.
“... Third time this month...”
“... look on her face!”
“... ‘course she’ll be back...”
“... yellow one over there...”
“... Miss Day’s replacement?”
Rarity leant over to Fluttershy, keeping her own voice to a whisper.
“That didn’t look like an accident to me... Look at the ropes, they’ve been cut through! And not only that, but I’d swear someone placed that moon there deliberately. I saw them practising this scene yesterday, and it was at the back of the stage, not the centre.” She frowned at the pile of what was now little more than firewood.
Fluttershy looked at it, trying to ignore the glances in her direction. She could see the dangling end of rope in the rafters above, and it did seem strange to hang it over the centre stage, especially since it was a background piece. She trusted Rarity’s judgement on such matters, at least.
But if it wasn’t an accident, the bigger question remained: who?
“I can see that harpy is not well-liked.” Rarity cut in, referring to the mythical group of griffons that tormented ponies with their harsh voices and sharp claws. “Perfectly understandable, of course. I’m surprised she has any supporters at all, the way she treats other ponies. And what was all that about a ghost?” She frowned again, raising a hoof to her chin.
“Falsetto mentioned in Ponyville that his last singer left because of a ‘ghost’... Oh, this won’t do. I shall simply have to do some digging!”
Fluttershy raised an eyebrow at her.
“... Metaphorically speaking, darling, of course.”
~ Act I: Scene III~
“In the preliminary practise sessions, our lead singer handed in her notice, claiming some nonsense about the place being haunted.”
“Just what I needed...”
~ Act I: Scene IV~
A group of ponies, dancers, singers and stagehoofs were all gathered in a small room off the side of the main stage, sitting encircled around a unicorn as he span wild tales.
“His coat... Well, if you can call it a coat, is grey like slate, patches of hair over a bare body, nothing more than skin stretched over a skeletal frame! His eyes are black pits sunken into the side of his skull, and a hole serves for a muzzle that never grew!”
Iron Knot grinned as he looked around at his enraptured audience. He stood in the centre of the small crowd, lit by a spotlight hovering above, and dressed in an old cloak that he swept around himself dramatically.
“And of course, you must always be on your guard... Or the Phantom will catch you in his magical lasso!” He swung a rope for emphasis, catching one of the dancers around her forelegs and pulling her over with a quick tug. She giggled helplessly as Iron Knot stood over her and growled affectionately.
“ ‘Those who speak of what they do not know find too late that silence is wise.’ ” Another voice spoke up from behind the crowd, making Iron Knot look up and frown.
The dancers shuffled aside hurriedly as their choreographer, Quick Step, moved into the spotlight. She circled Iron Knot, glaring at him while the roped dancer edged away. Quick Step snapped up the end of the rope in her teeth and wrapped it around Iron Knot’s neck, pulling it just tight enough that it became uncomfortable.
“Iron Knot... Hold your tongue.” She hit him with one of her forehooves.
“And the rest of you, get back to practice. No more talk of ghosts and phantoms, we have an opera to perform.” She scowled, looking around at the assembled ponies, who avoided her sweeping gaze. As one, they quietly walked away, leaving Iron Knot and Quick Step under the light.
She gave him another long look, before letting the rope fall from his neck. He said nothing, but stumbled away, his expression a mix of shock and embarrassment. Quick Step went out after her dancers, and the room was empty once more.
The light went out, cloaking the room in darkness, but for a single violet glow from atop the rafters.
Rarity carefully floated the spotlight back to the floor, smiling to herself.
Fluttershy strained to hear any sound of Angel’s footsteps, but all she could make out was the dripping of water against cold stone.
She fell back on her haunches and chewed her lip nervously, wondering what to do.
“I... I could go get help, but I can’t leave Angel all alone in there...” She said out loud, using herself as a sounding board. “... I’ll just have to be more brave, like Rainbow Dash.”
She rose to her hooves and stared down the black tunnel that stretched away before her.
“... I-I faced down a dragon. I saved the girls from a cockatrice.” She gulped, scraping her hoof on the floor. She took a deep breath, and made a tentative step forward, repeating her words in her head.
Her wings stretched out to touch the walls on either side. The corridor was wide enough for two ponies to walk comfortably, side-by-side, and her wing-tips brushed against rusted sconces nailed to the damp, stone walls. The cold, clammy feel of the tunnel clung to her hide as she continued to walk. She could see nothing before her, and looking over her shoulder, even the light of her room seemed far, far away.
It was as she was glancing over her shoulder that she collided with a wall. After regaining her footing, she felt along the wall with her wings, still blind in the dark. A chill wind picked up to her right, and she could hear the distant sound of rushing water in that direction. Following her ears, she kept herself pressed against the wall, edging forward and making each step carefully.
She came to a flight of stairs that spiralled down into the mountain, and decided to take to flight in case she slipped on the wet stone. As she followed the walls, circling around and around in what seemed like an endless flight down into the depths, the sound of rushing water grew louder and louder.
Fluttershy descended the final few steps and was met by another long corridor. She could see a soft light at the other end, like the glow of a unicorn’s horn, at once both inviting and otherworldly. The sound of what she imagined to be a waterfall was now a loud roaring that echoed along the stone walls, drenched as they were in mist.
She emerged into a vast, natural cavern, the same underground lake that Rarity had told her rumours of. What she’d heard wasn’t the half of it. The walls of the cavern, hewn from the rock of Canterlot Mountain by centuries, perhaps millennia of water rushing through them, were studded with rich amethyst gemstones, the source of the strange and almost unnatural light that permeated the entire cavern.
The gems stretched from floor to ceiling, creating a large dome, in which sat the lake itself, reflecting in its ripples the lights above, making them look almost like a starry night sky against the dark water. In the ceiling, a perfectly circular inlet had been cut, through which the waters from above poured into the lake. The mist created by the artificial waterfall was breathtakingly beautiful as it shone with the full spectrum of blues, violets, purples, indigos and reds, reflected and refracted from the crystalline theatre.
She just floated in the air, staring at the sight and drinking in the beauty of it.
A brief flash of white out of the corner of her eye brought Fluttershy back to reality, remembering the reason she had ventured down here to begin with. She swept down and grabbed up Angel in her hooves, torn between chiding the small rabbit or just hugging him.
“Angel! I was so worried! Thank goodness you’re alright...” Angel glowered at her. Fluttershy’s smile turned into a frown as she glowered back. “And don’t you ever run off like that again, young man, you hear me? Now, we’re going to go back up and tell Rarity-” Angel cut her off with a frustrated shaking of the head, pointing out across the water to a smaller tunnel where the lake wound away further into the mountains. Fluttershy glanced between it and Angel.
“... You want to go on further?”
“Well, I suppos-...” Fluttershy trailed off, before she felt a sudden conviction about the matter. She placed Angel on the bank of the lake and looked him directly in the eyes.
“No. We’re going to go back up to the opera house. We can come down here again later, with Rarity.”
Angel folded his arms.
“Come on now, Angel...”
He shook his head.
He turned away.
He held his head up and sniffed in the manner of a Canterlot aristocrat.
Fluttershy frowned, and jumped in front of him. The air around the two grew chill as she gave him the full force of The Stare.
Angel looked up at Fluttershy, and raised an eyebrow. He held her gaze, a bulwark of defiance against the ocular onslaught. Sweat beaded on Fluttershy’s forehead as the two engaged in mental conflict, Stare against Stare.
She blinked first. Angel smiled smugly and waited expectantly for the pegasus to concede. Fluttershy sighed, extending a hoof for him to climb on her back. He leapt up and grabbed a lock of her hair like reins, jabbing her in the shoulder with his foot, pointing dramatically towards the tunnel on the far side of the lake. Fluttershy shot him one final glare and took off, flying low above the surface of the water.
She could see flashes of silver as fish darted through the dark water, the light of the gemstones reflected off their scales. A few swam to the surface to nip at her hooves as she flew, winding over the lake, avoiding the waterfall and the great clouds of mist at its base. As she approached the tunnel, she could see that the amethyst covering of the walls ended a short distance in, plunging into darkness once more. However, she could just make out a dim light at the far end of the tunnel, that looked to be the more familiar light of a torch or lamp.
Flying slowly towards it, keeping her head low to avoid hitting the cavern ceiling, she passed worn masonry and rusted sconces. From what she could make out in the low light, they were a similar design and cut to the tunnels that connected the lake to the opera house above, but must’ve been constructed quite some time ago considering their current state.
She came to the end of the tunnel, and peered around the corner. Before her lay a sort of small harbour, lit by candelabras that stood in the water. A small boat was docked at the foot of a flight of stone steps, leading up away from the harbour to a ledge above. From where she was, Fluttershy could see curtains hung from the stone ceiling, obscuring much of her view of the ledge.
Suddenly, a loud note echoed in the cave, the sound of a hoof striking a pipe organ, deliberately discordant. The noise so startled Fluttershy that her wings immediately locked to her sides, and she fell into the water below with a cry. The music ceased instantly, and as she fought for the surface, she could hear the echoing clops of somepony running towards down the steps towards her.
She felt strong hooves slip under her wings, and she was pulled from the water, coughing and spluttering. Angel hopped to the stone steps, looking particularly bedraggled. Fluttershy was placed beside the rabbit by her rescuer, who looked at her with some concern.
“Are you alright?” He asked. His voice was deep, the voice of a stallion of some years, but it carried a melodic and soothing quality. It was the voice of a trained singer, an artist, or perhaps a noble. The sort of voice Prince Blueblood could only wish to imitate.
Fluttershy opened her eyes, staring up at the face of her rescuer. Or rather, the mask that obscured it. A pristine white half-mask ran from the stallion’s forehead down over his left eye, along his muzzle, and curved down around his mouth and along his cheek. In the dim candlelight, she could make out nothing more of his features, beyond the slate-grey of his coat, a black mane and unusually long ears. He was also dressed in formal opera wear, although he had discarded his cloak and waistcoat before running in after Fluttershy.
She blinked at him, her own wet mane plastered across one eye in a mimic of the stallion’s mask.
“I-I’m fine, thank you.” She squeaked. Angel hopped onto her chest, standing between her and the stallion, brandishing the rose with its (now soaked) black ribbon that he had taken from Fluttershy’s room. The stallion’s eyes widened in recognition.
“Ah! How did... Nevermind. We must get you dried off. Come, let me show you my humble abode.” He said, rising from his knees and trotting back up the stairs, pausing to pick up his cloak and throw it over his shoulders with a practised flourish. Angel glared after him. Fluttershy looked at the rose the little rabbit held in his paw, then to the retreating figure of the stallion, suddenly understanding.
“... Was that was this was about? You were jealous!” She smiled, hugging the rabbit between her hooves, and placing him back on the stone so she could get up. “Still...” she continued, half to herself, “He seems friendly, and it would be rude to leave now...”
Angel frowned, but hopped up the steps, Fluttershy following close behind. She stepped through a curtain at the top of the flight to find what looked like a finely furnished cave. Part of the original tunnels had given way at some point in the past, and water had gouged an overhang into the rock walls, now turned into a homely cavern by the masked pony. Richly woven rugs were strewn across the floor, upon which sat desks and tables of every size, shape and grain, decorated with candelabras, theatre props, sheet music, instruments, paintings, drawings and designs. Against one wall where the stonework had survived sat a great pipe organ, its ivory keys yellowing from age and use, stoppers missing and pipes fractured.
It was chaotic and disorganized. Finished works of art shared space with half-complete sketches, half-obscured by curtains of many different materials and hues draped as makeshift partitions. Everywhere Fluttershy looked she found something to occupy her attention.
She heard the clatter of cups and saucers away behind one of the curtains, and guessed that her host had decided to prepare a drink. She walked up to the pipe organ, glancing at the pages and pages of sheet music scattered across it. Some bore staves of music angrily crossed out, half-formed melodies discarded in favour of others. Atop the stand sat a musical score, its worn cover tied with string to protect the sheets inside. On the cover, in fine, gold lettering, read:
“Don Libertad Triumphant”.
“My magnum opus.” Fluttershy jumped as she heard the voice of the stallion behind her. “My apologies, I did not mean to startle you. Here.” He took a cup from a tray on his back and placed it in front of Fluttershy on a small square of free space on the organ. She mumbled her thanks.
“And one for you, little guardian. I trust you enjoy tea.” The stallion continued, placing a smaller cup at Angel’s feet as he stood next to Fluttershy. He seemed a little startled at this display of generosity, but continued to glare at the strange pony nonetheless.
Fluttershy could see now, in the better light from the many candles around, that the stallion was an Earth Pony. She guessed he was maybe half a hand shorter than Big Mac, but of a similar build. His left eye was mostly obscured by the mask, but his right eye was a dark brown, almost black. He wore full formal evening wear; a white shirt buttoned to the collar, with a black overcoat and extravagant silk opera cloak that obscured his cutie mark.
“I hope my gift didn’t offend you.” He said to Fluttershy, indicating the rose. The pegasus blinked again.
“Oh, uhm, n-no, it was... Very nice of you.” She replied. “Thank you. F-for helping me just now, I mean. And the rose too.”
“I shouldn’t have gone through your room to put it there, but I prefer to remain unseen, you understand.” He continued, in that same soothing voice. “I admit I was somewhat startled when your little protector awoke and confronted me, and I suppose that, in my haste, I forgot to secure the mirror behind me. I hope you can forgive me.”
Fluttershy just nodded, unsure of what to say.
“Fluttershy, isn’t it? The new singer from Ponyville.” The stallion asked.
“Y-yes, I’m Fluttershy.” She replied.
“Fitting name.” He smiled. “You can call me O. G. This is my domain, here, beneath the city. Here I live, I work, I dream and I create.” He said, waving a hoof at the surroundings. “You could say I’m a connoisseur of the opera, and I watch the goings on above me with great interest. You, in particular, have a talent I have rarely seen in recent years.”
Fluttershy could feel herself blushing. She felt both uncomfortable at being praised, but also put at ease by O. G.’s polite manner and hospitality.
“Well... I, uhm, I like singing. … I’m not very good with crowds, though...” She said, thinking back to her practise session a few hours ago. O. G. smiled again.
“Ah, well, I think I may be able to help you with that. I have trained a number of promising singers over the years. I can give you lessons to improve your confidence in singing, if you wish.”
Fluttershy pondered the offer. She thought of Prima Donna’s snide remarks and insults towards her, both during practise and off-stage, when the diva thought Fluttershy couldn’t hear. She thought of Falsetto and Rarity’s enthusiasm for her, and above all, the enjoyment she brought herself and her friends when she sang.
“Oh, yes, please, that would be wonderful!” She replied, smiling happily at the stallion. Angel looked on, still glaring at the interloper.
While I’m not usually in the habit of adding author’s notes, I feel that this chapter perhaps deserves one. I’m well aware that The Phantom of the Opera (whether book, musical and movie) has a very dedicated fanbase, and a number of the comments I’ve received have been in the hope that the characters (the Phantom especially) and story would be truer to one version or the other.
However, this is, above all, a crossover, and it’s a crossover with My Little Pony. The tone is very different, and I’m trying to keep the story believable to the universe of our favourite pastel-coloured equines. If you dislike the consequence of me taking that direction on the course of the story, then I would advise you to halt reading at this point, and I thank you for sparing your time to read up ‘til now. Otherwise, I hope that you enjoy my attempts to blend the two together in a seamless and entertaining manner!
“Now please just- Would you- Signora, I- Hold still!”
“Now you shout at me, eh? You keep poking me with your needle! Kch! Ai-ya, watch my coat!”
“I don't like doing this any more than you do, but if you'll just let me do my job we can both be out of each other's manes tout de suite!”
Prima Donna snorted, but finally consented to hold still and stop trying to admire herself in the mirror. Rarity was at her wit's end, her mane dishevelled and falling back to its naturally wavy state. She had been battling with the pegasus singer for over an hour, trying to put the finishing touches to her costumes. The earth pony and unicorn actors and actresses didn't require such fine-tuning, and a loose-fitting costume was generally adequate, but for the pegasi to fly properly on stage a tighter fit was needed. The diva was making especially sure that her own somewhat frill-heavy costume did not impede her flying.
She heaved a sigh and stomped her hooves.
“Bah, I should be out there practising, not stuck in 'ere with you.” She said, looking down her muzzle at the seamstress.
“You could certainly do with it.” Rarity allowed herself the jibe, but Prima Donna brushed it off.
“What you know, eh? See, Falsetto, he see my true talent. Tonight I play the lead soprano, as I should do. The little yellow ingénue won't get the limelight tonight!”
“Knowing Fluttershy I imagine nothing will please her more... Come to think, where is she? She hasn't come in for her fitting yet. I don't suppose you've seen her?”
“What you think?” Prima Donna replied, deadpan.
Rarity rolled her eyes behind Prima Donna's back, and laid down her needle and thread. “Still, I haven't heard a sound from either her or Angel all day. I know she's quiet, but the wall between our rooms is so thin I could put my hoof through it.”
“You going to chat or 'do you job'?”
“Hmph. Fine. Now hold still.” Rarity took up the tools of her trade once again.
“AI-YA! You do that on purpose!”
Falsetto read over the note grasped in his hooves once again. He’d tried his best to ignore the threats, but they played over and over in his mind, plaguing him. He couldn’t bring himself to believe all the nonsense about the ghost, but the evidence was before him. He’d seen the ‘accidents’, he’d heard the rumours, and he’d received the notes.
In some ways, he would’ve been more than happy to do as the ‘ghost’ asked, and cast Fluttershy as the leading soprano in tonight’s play, but it was never as simple as that. Prima Donna had powerful connections in the city, and the media sung her praises after every performance. As much as he relished the idea of seeing her upstaged, it would be a foolish thing to do in his current position.
He stared at the wall, adorned by a copy of the poster he’d had put up all over the city. ‘The Barber of Ponyville’ was always a crowd-pleaser. The takings had been good, almost every seat in the house had been sold. It’d be more than enough to pay off this ‘ghost’s salary should the threats in the note be more sinister than they appeared.
If nothing else, Falsetto was a careful stallion.
“ ‘I shall watch the performance from my usual seat in Box Five, which is to be left unoccupied.’ ” The grey earth pony muttered to himself as he read. “... Like Hay it will.”
Careful, but sometimes... He just had to see things for himself.
A dancer twitched back the curtain, looking out at the full house before her. Every row and box was full of ponies, chatting among themselves, eagerly waiting for the opera to begin. The orchestra were tuning their instruments, while Maestro arranged the pages on his music stand.
Behind her, the stage was in turmoil, as stagehoofs ran around making sure the pieces of scenery were all in the correct places. Lights spun and flickered as they were tested and swivelled into position, and chorus ponies, singers and dancers tried hurriedly to arrange themselves.
Rarity was watching from the sidelines, her critical eye going over all the costumes as their wearers ran around, looking for any loose seams or rips that she would have to fix after the performance. Suddenly, Fluttershy shot past her looking slightly panicked, her costume hastily thrown on and her hair frizzled.
“Fluttershy! Where have you been, darling?” Rarity hissed, causing Fluttershy to stop and turn.
“Oh, Rarity! I... uhm, I was busy practising, and I lost track of time, and I didn’t realise how late it was, and I had to rush to the stage...” She replied. “I’ll see you after, alright?”
“Of course, darling, but... Oh, never mind, there’s no time for that now.” Rarity sighed, looking at Fluttershy’s dishevelled appearance. “Go on! Break a leg!”
Fluttershy nodded thankfully and rushed to the other side of the stage, getting lost in the crowd. Rarity continued to watch while everyone settled into place, and saw the lights dim on the other side of the thick velvet curtain.
The auditorium fell silent. Rarity heard the tap of Maestro’s hoof on his music stand, and the music began. In the same instant, the curtain was pulled back as the spotlights flared into life, bathing the stage in light.
As the overture played, the ponies on stage moved and danced around one another, acting out scenes of Ponyville life in mime. Rarity could see Fluttershy, dressed as a serving maid, buying produce from another mare stood behind a wooden façade painted to look like an apple stall.
Eventually, the two starring tenors strode in from the far end of the stage, playing the roles of Fig Roll (the eponymous barber), and his employer and friend, Count Almond. The music lowered to a background volume as they struck up their song. Rarity had to admit she was impressed by how powerfully they could sing, but without being as deafening as Prima Donna.
Ponies shuffled about the stage and disappeared through doors cleverly obscured by props as the audience’s attention was diverted towards Fig Roll and Count Almond. Soon, they alone stood on the stage, the Count spilling out his problems to his old friend.
Behind the scenes, Prima Donna was barking orders to her circle of dedicated helpers, preparing herself for her entrance. In the chaos, nopony saw a masked figure reach from behind a prop and swap Prima Donna’s throat spray for an identical-looking bottle with a rolled up note tied to the neck.
“Where is my spray? Hurry! Try not to get it all over my chin, eh?” She yelled, and one of her assistants ran to take it and the note. She held it in front of the diva’s open mouth and dutifully sprayed. It was only then that Prima Donna noticed the dangling piece of parchment.
“Oh? A note? Read it to me.” The assistant unfurled the note and read it in a stammering voice:
“ ‘Y-you have a bad cold. If you are wise, you will see that... that it is M-madness to try to sing tonight. Even now, it is not too late to t-turn back and save face.
O. G.’ “
The diva snorted in anger and snatched the note from her assistant’s magical grip, throwing it to the ground and stamping on it.
“It’s all a conspiracy! Well, I will sing! Nothing is going to stop me! Not a fantasma, not that canario, nothing!”
Prima Donna calmed herself, swallowed, and tried a few notes to warm up her vocal chords. Satisfied, she waited for her cue, listening as the tenors wrapped up their scene and watching as the lights darkened, and the stagehoofs ran out to transform the stage from a busy market to a quiet home.
She lived for this moment. The moment when she would step out onto the stage, and the audience would clap and cheer before she had so much as opened her mouth. She savoured the anticipation as she waited for the lights to come on again.
The only thing spoiling it was the yellow pegasus standing next to her, staring intently out at the stage.
“Your little plan isn’t going to work. I know what you’re up to.” She hissed at Fluttershy. She didn’t wait to see if the yellow pegasus had heard, but strode out of the wings as the stage was illuminated for the second scene.
Now the stage went dark as the scene drew to a close, allowing the stagehoofs time to change the props and the actors and actresses time to place themselves.
A line of the note rose, unbidden, to the fore of his mind.
‘Our dear Prima Donna must be taught humility, so she shall be allocated the role of the servant.’
The command was all the more threatening for its lack of threat. This scene was where both the ward and the servant were introduced, and Prima Donna had the opening lines. His mouth went dry. It was now that he would see whether there was any weight behind the lines of red ink.
Spotlights flared into life, their enchanted limestone and gem orbs burning brightly and illuminating the stunning figure of Prima Donna. She stood centre-stage, drinking in the attention as the audience applauded her appearance.
Behind her, to the right, was the diminutive but unmistakable form of Fluttershy. She seemed intent on staring at a spot somewhere behind the audience, and stood as still as a statue.
Falsetto missed the soft click of the door behind him, masked as it was by the thunderous applause. Hoof-steps, muffled by the rich velvet carpet, crept slowly towards him.
The first he knew of the intruder was the feeling of cold dread as he felt the presence of another behind him. Rational thought abandoned him, his ears fell back against his head as his pupils shrank in terror. He didn’t dare turn his head.
A soft, melodic whisper sounded in his ear.
“Did I not command that Box Five be left empty?”
“CROAK!” Went her voice.
A stunned silence fell over the entire house.
Falsetto could only look on in frozen horror.
The diva landed back on the stage with a thump, trying to sing, but finding her voice had left her completely. She continued to croak like a toad as the audience dissolved into first mirth, then raucous laughter.
Tears streaming from her eyes, the pegasus fled the stage.
The voice behind Falsetto spoke again in his ear.
“I think we can both agree that if that didn’t teach her humility, then the diva is a lost cause, wouldn’t you say, my dear manager?”
Falsetto could say nothing in reply. He merely fled the box, galloping down the stairs and directly backstage, intent on somehow salvaging the play before anything more happened.
He ran onto the stage as the curtain dropped on the sorry scene, and took a moment to compose himself. Gasping for breath, he held up a hoof to quiet the audience.
“F-Fillies and Gentlecolts!” He began, shouting out across the stands. “We apologise! … The, uh, the performance will soon continue with...” He glanced through the crack in the curtain and his eye fell on Fluttershy. He beckoned her over with a frantic gesture.
“... with the role of Rose, the ward, being played by Miss Fluttershy!”
Applause went up from the audience, as well as a few excited murmurs. The crowd was always eager to see a new talent perform on the opera stage.
“For now, we crave your indulgence! For the interval, we give you...” Falsetto racked his brains. “... the ballet from Act Two of tonight’s performance!” He gave Maestro a meaningful look, and the conductor swiftly flicked through his pages of sheet music, the orchestra swiftly following suit.
With a bow, Falsetto pronounced a quick thank you, and ran back behind the curtain, a baffled Fluttershy in tow. He turned to her and placed his forehooves on her shoulders, pleadingly.
“You’ll have to take Prima Donna’s place tonight! You just have to! There’s no one else to do it!” With that, he released her and ran off to help re-organize everypony.
Rarity trotted over to Fluttershy and placed a hoof on her shoulder in a comforting gesture. “Well, darling, this is a great opportunity for you! Come on, I’ll get you into your costume. You’re a similar size to Prima Donna so I shouldn’t have to make too many adjustments...”
Fluttershy just nodded, too overwhelmed to do anything else.
Rarity looked at him, horrified. “Darling, no! Let’s leave that as the last resort. Think about it, the Phantom must have other ways of coming and going, since it would hardly be convenient to pass through an actress’ room every time he came up to the Opera House.”
Falsetto conceded the point, and nodded.
“He’s made his move and shown his hoof. Now we’ll have to play our own more carefully. … We’ll go ahead as planned, the opening of the new opera is coming up.” He grinned. “We’re having a masque ball to celebrate... Perhaps our masked friend will be more likely to make an appearance if he’s less conspicuous.”
Rarity nodded at Falsetto. “Indeed, he’ll be keeping a low profile after tonight, but if we can draw him out of his tunnels then perhaps we could get to the bottom of all this.”
Fluttershy said nothing, staring at her hooves and nervously chewing her lip. The Phantom had been nothing but a perfect gentlecolt to her, and his tutoring had unlocked a hidden well of confidence she never knew she had.
It wasn’t just the tenors that had made tonight’s performance, it was the Phantom himself.
~ End of Act I ~
~ Intermezzo ~
Twilight sat calmly on the library floor, a copy of ‘Arcane Equines - A Brief History of Unicorns’ levitating before her and a cup of tea resting beside her. Spike had been sent out to get lunch for the pair from the market. Twilight strongly suspected that her draconic assistant had only offered to go because the town jeweller had a shop near the marketplace, and was more than happy to give Spike the flawed, broken or cracked gems he couldn’t sell.
The owl-shaped clock on the wall struck a quarter to twelve. Twilight turned a page of her book with a spark from her horn, and made it two sentences into the text before being interrupted by a loud THUD coming from outside the library’s front door. Brief, conflicting feelings of annoyance and concern washed over her as she got up and trotted to the door, swinging it open to find a slate-grey pegasus lying on her back, golden eyes spinning.
“Ditzy! Are you alright?” Twilight asked, concern winning out.
Ditzy Doo rolled over and pulled herself up, her eyes taking a little longer to come back into line.
“Hi, Twilight! I’m fine, thanks, I just wasn’t looking where I was going and hit that branch as I flew past.” she said, pointing up at an overhanging limb and smiling apologetically. Twilight smirked in return.
“The way Rainbow Dash keeps hitting them, I’m surprised there’s any left. Any mail for me today?”
“Oh! Yep, a few letters, hang on.” Ditzy flipped open the flap of her saddlebag with her muzzle and drew out a small collection of letters tied with string, holding them between her teeth. Twilight relieved her of them, floating them inside and onto the table for later perusal.
“Okay, got plenty more to deliver, see you tomorrow, Twilight!” Ditzy smiled and waved a hoof in farewell as she took off, flying back over the main street.
Twilight spared a second to ponder why the mailmare didn’t just deliver to the houses and buildings in order instead of shooting off around Ponyville, but reasoned that Ditzy Doo probably had her reasons.
Swinging the door shut, she turned to her mail, magically untying the string and moving them into a row so she could clearly see them all. One in particular caught her eye; a pale gold envelope bearing a Canterlot postmark, with the address clearly written in Rarity’s distinctive, cursive horn-style.
Intrigued, Twilight pulled across a letter opener and slit the envelope, withdrawing and unfolding the letter.
Dearest Twilight Sparkle,
Fluttershy and I have been working at the Canterlot Opera House for some weeks now, and I am just writing a brief note to inform you that we are both in fine spirits and enjoying our stay in Canterlot. Fluttershy’s confidence has soared; she has been playing major roles in a number of performances. However, she doesn’t seem to be dealing with the popularity very well, the poor dear.
I have been swept off my feet creating and maintaining the costumes for all the ponies here at the Opera, but I am relishing every moment of it!
In the upcoming week, Falsetto, the manager of the Opera House to whom I introduced you when he visited Ponyville, will be hosting a masque gala to celebrate the opening of his new opera! I am thrilled to announce that I have managed to procure you all tickets to the gala and the evening performance! Oh, and you need not worry about what to wear, I have an extra surprise for you all when you arrive!
Both your ticket and Spike’s are enclosed, please make sure you can attend! I haven’t told Fluttershy that I’ve sent out these tickets, so it will be a wonderful surprise for her as well!
Eagerly awaiting your reply,
Twilight smiled broadly, happy to hear from Rarity and Fluttershy, and pleased as punch for the invitation! Being quite an enthusiast of the classics, Twilight was sure that whatever her schedule held, she’d make time for the visit to Canterlot. As she turned the letter over to place it down, she noticed a post-script;
You’ll also find enclosed a return envelope has been enchanted with the Opera House’s dragonfire service thaumic signature, or ‘hotmail address’, I think they call it. If you could find out which of you can attend and send me a letter back via Spike, that would be wonderful!
“That’s Rarity for you, always thinking of every possible detail...” Twilight said to herself as she pulled two gold tickets from the envelope, bearing her and Spike’s names. As if on cue, the little dragon burst through the door, over-burdened by a large lunch order and a sack of semi-precious gems and off-cuts.
“Oh, Spike! Rarity wrote from Canterlot! She’s invited us to go there for the opera Fluttershy’s performing in!”
Spike dumped his cargo on the floor and turned to Twilight, frowning.
“Opera?! Eugh! Give me a DJ-P0N3 gig any day... But if Rarity invited us...” he trailed off, torn between his dislike of operatic music and the desire to see Rarity.
“Aw, come on, Spike! It’ll be fun! Besides, Rarity specifically asked you to come.” Twilight replied, waving the ticket over Spike’s head in a teasing manner. “You’ll enjoy it, I promise.”
“... Fine. Oh yeah, the store’d run out of daisies, so I got you dandelions on rye.”
“Ah, thanks! Come on, let’s eat. Gotta admit, I’m starved!” Twilight carefully tucked the two tickets back into the envelope, before following Spike into the kitchen.
~ Act II: Scene I ~
Fireworks lit the night sky over Canterlot, spectacular flourishes of red, gold, green, blue, purple, and everything in-between reflecting off the white marble buildings in a dazzling display of colour and light. The explosions echoed off the mountainside, carrying over the whole city. Nopony would get much sleep tonight, but then, barely anypony was trying. All eyes were focused on the Canterlot Opera House as the enchanting display announced the Masque Gala.
Carriage after carriage drew up in front of the Opera’s steps, carrying nobles, aristocrats, patrons of the arts, and a few ponies who just came for the music. Rarity and Fluttershy stood atop the steps, hidden in plain sight behind their masks.
Rarity had worn a simple dress of blue silk, with golden lining, and was hidden behind a matching blue and gold domino mask. A picture of understated elegance.
Fluttershy wore a more elaborate dress of delicate, rose pink fabric and lace, stitched in floral patterns. Her mask covered more of her face, and was designed with a definite theme of flowers in mind, the left eye entirely surrounded by yellow sunflower petals arranged like a bloom. Angel, perched on her back, boasted a black bandit’s mask with a wide brimmed hat and cloak.
Rarity held an embroidered fan in her telekinetic grasp, fanning herself with it as she watched the arrival of the carriages and their occupants, exhanging comments with Fluttershy.
“Oo, that design is very chic. I swear that’s one of Hoity Toity’s. He’ll probably be around himself, somewhere. I can’t imagine he bothered with a mask.” Rarity smirked.
“I like that one. Classical.” Fluttershy replied, indicating a pegasus dressed in a tastefully arranged toga and ancient theatre mask. Rarity nodded in approval, eyes flitting across various other newcomers. They stood a few moments in silence, letting the background chatter of the guests wash over them, punctuated by the occasional bang of a firework, high above.
Rarity was getting a little worried. Twilight had sent the reply back punctually that all five of them would be attending, but there was, as yet, no sign of the apple-shaped coach they were meant to be arriving in. Rarity had their dresses waiting for them, and even included a tuxedo for Spike and a mask for Gummy, and wanted to intercept the carriage as it arrived so that they could dress first and formally arrive in style.
She scanned the line of waiting carriages on the street leading away from the Opera House once again, and finally found what she was looking for. Smiling, she turned to Fluttershy.
“I’ll be back in a little while, Fluttershy. You will be okay here, won’t you?”
“O-oh, yes, I’m fine. It’s lovely seeing all these costumes, and Princess Luna has done a wonderful job of the night sky tonight.” she answered, smiling back. Rarity nodded and slipped away, quickly making her way out of the gates and down the street until she came up to her friends’ carriage.
She smirked as she saw that Caramel and Blues had, once again, been roped into pulling it. They were busy debating with each other over whether they ought to start charging for taxi services, and failed to see Rarity as she approached. Spike, however, sitting atop the carriage, was more observant, and immediately pulled hard on the reigns. Blues and Caramel halted their discussion to glare up at him, but he ignored it, too enraptured to see what was, unmistakably, Rarity standing before him.
“Rarity!” he exclaimed, jumping down and bowing low. She lifted her mask and curtsied, and extended a hoof for him to kiss, smiling. He gratefully did so.
Twilight, hearing Spike, stuck her head out of the window. “Oh, Rarity! You look amazing!”
“Oh, merely fabulous, darling.” Rarity replied, smiling still. Spike rushed across to get the door, and soon Rarity was in the coach with the others as it made its way through a side-street on a new course for the Opera House’s service entrance.
“I’ve made you all gowns for the Gala tonight, I just know they’re going to suit you all perfectly! We’ll get you suited up first, then come back around the front to greet Fluttershy, she’ll be waiting for us at the front entrance. She still doesn’t know that I invited you all, so this should be quite a surprise for her!”
To Twilight’s surprise, Applejack turned and, unexpectedly, curtsied to him.
“Why, of course, sir. I must say, they are simply delightful!” she said, in a perfect, cultured Manehattenite accent, before daintily taking the tray in her teeth and passing it across to the stallion. He took one gratefully, and winked at her. She returned the favour, followed by the tray.
Twilight watched him disappear back into the crowd with a raised eyebrow.
“... What was all that about?”
“Oh, le’s jus’ say he an’ I have an’... understandin’, sugarcube.”
~ Act II: Scene II ~
The reception drew to a close as the hour of the performance neared. Ponies emptied their glasses and quickly snatched the last few morsels of food on offer before heading, at a stately pace, up the Grand Staircase to the auditorium.
The Princesses lead the procession, trailed by the nobility and aristocracy of Canterlot in an ostentatious display of self-importance. Celestia and Luna ascended the polished marble steps in perfect synchronization, neither one a hoof step ahead of the other. Lesser nobles, dignitaries and guests all crowded the many balconies that overlooked the stair, watching as the twin rulers of Equestria made their way to the Royal Box.
At the top of the landing, Celestia halted briefly to admire the statue of her sister placed before the main doors of the auditorium, smirking at the sculptor’s choice to portray the Princess of the Moon as a more youthful mare, with her shorter mane and smaller stature. Luna herself just took a cursory glance at it and said nothing, but Celestia could tell, despite her sister’s great skill at masking her reactions, that she was embarrassed. Celestia theorized that it probably had something to do with the more... developed figure the sculptor had chosen.
The two sisters parted at the landing, Celestia taking the staircase to the right, and Luna to the left. They continued perfectly in step, reaching the next landing together. From here, those patrons who had paid the extra bits could enter the coveted box seats. There were two floors of seats, but the Royal Box could only be entered from the first floor of the Auditorium, as it was twice the height of any of the other boxes.
As they entered, Celestia spared a moment to muse on the odd placement of the box. Surely, one would think, the best place to see the opera is from the box directly opposite the stage, not adjacent to it as the Royal Box is. Indeed, even with her naturally slender neck, she still had to crane over the balcony to see any of the actors, singers or dancers on the near end of the stage.
She knew of course that the design had come about for an entirely different reason. In past days, the nobles of Canterlot didn’t attend the opera for the play, as they had often seen it many times before. Instead, they were there to be seen. The opera was a social place, a venue for meetings and deals, a place to be updated on the latest rumours and trends of high society. Thus, it stood to reason that the Princesses should be given the seat where they would be seen by the entire audience, next to the stage itself.
… Despite all this, Celestia deeply wished that one day she might attend an opera performance and actually be able to see the blasted thing.
The Royal Sisters watched with passive interest as the ponies filed into the stalls below, occasionally giving each other a knowing look at the sight of a particularly extravagant or over-the-top costume. Eventually Celestia saw the curtain at the back of the box opposite twitch, and be drawn aside to reveal Twilight and her friends. She waved at them as they took their places, and smiled at Pinkie Pie’s enthusiastic leg-waggling in response.
Twilight was busy trying to calm Applejack and Rainbow Dash down, as a dispute had arisen between the pair in the short time it took for them to walk from the hall to the auditorium.
“I’m jus’ sayin’ I don’t see what all the fuss is about!” hissed the farmpony.
“It’s the pinnacle of the art of performance! It’s a great spectacle!” Rainbow replied, waving a hoof in wild gesticulation.
“Yer sound jus’ like Rarity sayin’ that,” Applejack retorted, smirking.
“You take that back!”
“Girls! Please, calm down! The show will be starting soon, and the Princesses can see us over here!” Twilight pleaded, wedging herself between the two mares. They glared at each other, but silently nodded and sat at opposite ends of the box. Twilight sighed in relief and sat back next to Pinkie, who was whispering excitedly to Gummy and pointing out different costumes she recognized. Gummy looked on with what might have been interest.
Behind the great red curtain, the stagehoofs were running back and forth and making sure the set pieces were in the right position, while the dancers made last-minute twirls and the actors went over their lines. Barely audible squeaks and groans floated up from the orchestra pit as they tuned their instruments. Amidst the frenzied preparations, a hasty meeting was taking place centre-stage.
“You say you saw him?” Falsetto gasped, leaning in closer to Rarity.
“You all did! He was the one dressed as Red Death during the masquerade! I followed him as he passed by on the last hour, and he led me on a merry chase through the opera house and down into the foundations. I tried to stop him, and he turned to confront me, but then he snuffed out the lights and vanished!” Rarity replied, a little breathless from all her running around.
“Do you think he’ll try and interrupt the performance? We know there’s no love lost between he and Prima Donna!” Falsetto continued, prancing nervously.
“No, I don’t think he will,” Rarity said, looking around at the actors, “she’s not the star, Fluttershy is. … I think she knows more than she’s letting on. We know that he’s been tutoring her.”
“With impressive results...”
“True... I’ve never seen Fluttershy so confident in her own abilities.”
She went silent for a moment, staring intently at a knothole in the stage’s timbers.
“... He’ll come watch her tonight, won’t he?”
“More than likely,” Falsetto agreed.
“Then perhaps we can get some answers... Is Box Five being left empty?”
“Madame Quick Step insisted on it, and I must admit I was happy to oblige after last time.”
“Then perhaps we’ll catch him. No decent pony skulks around in the shadows like this and keeps hidden for the sake of it.”
He was broken from his stunned silence by a loud crack from the ceiling above. The Grand Chandelier, the priceless piece of craftsponyship that provided light and ambience to the entire Auditorium, jolted by a couple of inches, each diamond striking another in ominous cacophony as a couple of candles fell from the rim.
It was Falsetto’s turn to gasp.
“S-Stop it falling! It’s coming down! IT’S COMING DOWN!”
The audience glanced sharply upwards in terror as the chandelier gave another inch, and immediately broke out into mass panic. The Princesses looked on, aghast, as the audience swarmed over their seats and themselves in an effort to escape. The doors to the Royal Box burst open as the guard rushed in, having heard the screams.
On the opposite side of the Auditorium, Applejack scrambled to find a rope she could lasso while Rainbow Dash cursed her dress for hampering her flying. Fortunately, Twilight and the unicorn stagehands were able to act swiftly, and enveloped the fixture in a telekinetic glove as the ropes finally gave, catching the chandelier before it came crashing down on the heads of the entire audience.
Fluttershy was strangely calm, despite all that happened around her. She looked down at the discarded mask, lying on the wooden rig with its ribbon dangling over the side, and felt a sense of responsibility surge in her soul. Her wings snapped open as she leapt from the wooden platform, gliding gracefully down to the stage for a running start, directly on the trail of the fleeing tenor.
She was not alone. As soon as she was sure that Twilight no longer needed any assistance in holding up the chandelier, Rarity had left Box Five and immediately made her way down through the myriad corridors of the building, heading towards Fluttershy’s room. She knew the Ghost would make for the mirror-passage, and aimed to cut him off.
This time she was going to get some answers.
~ Act II: Scene III ~
The ghost ran headlong through the corridors of the Opera House, heedless of anything in his path, as he made a direct route for Fluttershy’s room and the hidden passage in the mirror that led to the underground lake. None hindered his progress, as all the actors and stagehoofs were preoccupied with calming the guests in the wake of chaos left by his unmasking and the chandelier’s collapse.
A short way behind him was Fluttershy, still in her gown, racing after the fleeing mule at a speed she would have been proud of, had the thought crossed her mind. As it was, she focused only on the chase, determined not to let the mule slip away like the Ghost she had come to know. Beyond that she was driven by simple curiosity: why did he desire to remain hidden? Why the mask? He had helped her to find her confidence under the close scrutiny of Canterlot’s High Society, and now she wanted to return the favour.
Rarity was also on the Ghost’s trail, but as she turned a corner into another of the Opera House’s twisting corridors, she found her way blocked by Madame Quick Step. She drew up short, skidding on the worn carpet as her hooves failed to find proper purchase.
“Madame! Please! I insist that you go no further!” the concierge began, emphasizing her point by stamping her hoof.
Rarity snorted, flicking her mane. “And why is that?”
“This matter does not concern you or your friend! Please, just go!” she answered, with a sense of urgency in her voice.
“I think this very much does concern me, and the safety of my friends! If you do not let me past I may be forced to do something...” Rarity’s horn lit up, as she retrieved a carefully wrapped cream custard tart from the folds of her gown, having swiped it from the tables earlier and saved it for later, guilty, eating. “... that we will both very much regret.”
“Madame, you would not...!” the earth pony cried as Rarity hovered the pastry above her menacingly.
“I most certainly would!”
Madame Quick Step looked up in horror at the delicious and incredibly-difficult-to-wash-out treat, and surrendered. “S-stop! Fine, fine, I will let you pass. But I implore you, madame, do not be too hard on him... If you knew...” she stepped to the side. “... Well, you will discover for yourself.”
Rarity gave a curt nod to the concierge. In thanks, she gently placed the custard tart on its napkin at Madame Quick Step’s hooves, and resumed the chase.
The mule stood in Fluttershy’s dressing room, struggling to undo the catch on the mirror-passage in his panic. He’d already wasted enough time having to unhinge the surprisingly fearsome white rabbit that had clamped around his leg, and safely tying him up had taken longer than he’d hoped. He knew he was only ahead of his pursuers by a minute at most, until they realised where he was headed.
The catch came undone and the mirror slid aside just as Fluttershy swept through the door. The mule quickly ran down the passageway, trying to put as much distance between he and her as possible, ignoring her pleas to slow down and stop.
His hooves clattered on the wet stones as he galloped, deeper and deeper into the dark tunnels he knew so well, hoping to lose Fluttershy as he descended. Within minutes he had made the shores of the great underground lake, and leapt aboard the little boat awaiting him, letting the momentum carry him across to the mouth of his hidden cave..
Fluttershy was forced to stop and untie Angel, who was understandably infuriated at being put in place by a mule and then tied up in ribbon like some sort of pet. Without waiting for her, he ran down the tunnels, as before. Fluttershy felt a brief sense of déjà vu as she watched his little white tail disappear into the dark, and rolled her eyes with an exasperated sigh.
“Down once more...” she muttered to herself, chasing after the retreating sight of her little friend.
Angel could naturally see well in the dark, and had little difficulty navigating the trail taken by the Ghost. He gave enough consideration to his carer to allow her to keep up, especially when the tunnels began to narrow, making flight impossible. Fluttershy was not as sure-footed on the slippery ground as the mule, and faltered more than once. She navigated by sound and memory rather than sight. The echoing roar of the waterfall that fed the lake grew louder as she turned this way and that, carefully finding her way through the old tunnels and stairwells. The damp and clammy air worked its way into the fabric of her clothing as it clung to her, hindering her further.
By the time she and Angel emerged at the shores of the lake her gown was well past salvaging, the hem soaked and muddy and the body scratched where she had stumbled or collided with a wall. The little boat had already vanished down the mouth of the river to the far side, the surface of the lake still rippling gently on the bank in its wake, lapping around Fluttershy’s hooves.
Taking a deep breath, she spread her wings, about to launch into the air and continue her pursuit, when she was startled by a voice behind her.
“There ain’t anypony left in the buildin’, Twi, we’ve searched ‘er top t’bottom.” Applejack said, interrupting the panicked pacing that her unicorn friend was currently indulging herself in.
“But they must be in there! They haven’t come out, so it’s the only logical-”
“They might be in the caves.”
Twilight turned around to find Princess Luna standing behind her, her mask now discarded. She smiled at the confused look on Twilight’s face and continued.
“I am sure you know of the extensive collection of caverns that exist beneath our fair city of Canterlot...” the Princess said, with Twilight slowly nodding in response. “The Royal Opera House is built on top of one such cavern, one that used to be open to the public many years ago. It was the site of the original Opera House before my banishment, but during my absence, the construction of the new sewer systems has led to the caves below the building becoming flooded.”
Twilight blinked. “So you’re saying that Rarity and Fluttershy may be... Beneath the building?”
“As you say, it’s the only logical explanation.” Luna replied, winking.
“But what in Celestia’s mane would they be doin’ down there?” Applejack said, then turned to the nearby smirking Princess Celestia. “Beggin’ yer pardon, yer royal highness.”
“I saw that mule jump off the stage before the chandelier started falling,” Rainbow Dash interjected, “maybe they’re chasing him?”
“Oo! Are we going spelunking? Are we, are we?” Pinkie chimed in, bouncing with barely contained excitement.
“Spe-what?” Rainbow replied.
“Spelunking” Exploring caves! I had to take a course on it back home when Dad decided to plant a new deep shaft rock field and-”
“Pinkie! We don’t have time for that now!” Twilight scolded, interrupting. “Princess, could you lead us down to the caverns below?”
“Well... This building was constructed while I was on the Moon, I... am afraid I do not know the way.” Luna replied, looking down at the floor.
“You’ll find a tunnel leading down to the lake in Fluttershy’s dressing room.” Falsetto stated, as everyone turned to face him. He looked a mess, distraught with worry and the looming threat of financial ruin, but he had picked himself up off the ground and at least temporarily shaken off his melancholy. “It’s part of the foundations of the old Opera House before this one was built to replace it. I suspect you’ll find them there, and the Ghost. He had been using the tunnel to visit Fluttershy and give her tuition to improve her confidence.”
Twilight nodded at the manager. “Thank you, Falsetto. Come on girls, we’ve got our friends to save!”
The Ghost turned to Rarity, his face contorted in anger. “How dare you compare me to those... those ignorant, uncultured foals!”
He moved to tighten the rope yet further, but Fluttershy swept forward and drove the Ghost away from Rarity, shielding her with her own body. Angel leapt off her back, landing nimbly on the bars of the portcullis, and began chewing through the rope that held Rarity to the iron gate.
“You... You treated me so kindly...” Fluttershy began, addressing the Ghost. “You helped me find my c-confidence in my own singing, and you gave me lessons in how to improve...”
She looked up at him, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. “How they treated you years ago was unfair, but this... this awful ‘vengeance’ has to stop! The ponies who turned you away are gone! What you’re doing now is... is just vicious and... and cruel!”
“There is no place for me up there! Better I stay down below, where I am in control.” The Ghost retorted, taking a step closer. At this, Fluttershy fixed her eyes on him, giving him the full force of her own anger. Anger at how he had treated her, yet despised others, anger at how the management of the Opera in years past had treated him, and anger at the way the situation had spun so out of control.
“NO!” she yelled, rising from the water. “What happened to you was terrible, but that can be fixed now! If you continue like this, someone will end up hurt, and I will not let that happen!”
She flew closer as the Ghost attempted to back away. “You helped me, and now I want to help you. It won’t be easy, but we can talk to Falsetto and the Princesses and sort this all out.”
Rarity fell into the water once more as Angel finished chewing through the rope. The Ghost looked between them, unsure how to handle the situation.
Fluttershy took the initiative. She threw her forelegs around his neck, embracing him. “You don’t need to be alone.”
~ Finale ~
Fluttershy, Rarity and their friends stood now around what was left of the refreshments table offered earlier in the evening, subtly eavesdropping on a conversation taking place on the opposite side of the room.
Or not so subtly in the case of Pinkie Pie, who was watching the Princesses and the ‘Opera Ghost’ intently through a pair of opera glasses she had ‘found’ earlier, and relaying the conversation back to the others as well as her lip-reading skills allowed.
“Princess Celestia is saying something about how they can’t juice ignore what he’s done, but that his motives were purée, and she and Luna will show leaning on ice.” Pinkie said. Twilight arched an eyebrow at her.
“No, wait, lenience.” Pinkie added, correcting herself.
“Ah, right.” Twilight nodded, mentally filling in the blanks.
“Oh, I do hope they’re not too harsh on him...” Fluttershy interjected, glancing nervously at the Princesses.
“Fluttershy, dear, he did scare the singers, antagonize the actors and terrorize the theatre.” Rarity replied. “(And destroy my dress),” she added, under her breath.
“I suppose, but he just seemed so... Lonely.”
“Ain’t like it weren’t self-inflicted, sugarcube.” Applejack added, gulping down a mouthful of hors d’oeuvres. “Sure, he had a hard run of it back then, but y’don’t jus’ go crazy an’ choose to live under a theatre ‘cos y’got rejected.”
Fluttershy opened her mouth to say something, but then just nodded, meekly. All six turned their attention back to the Princesses and the mule, watching quietly while the conversation slowly drew to a close. Eventually, Princess Celestia turned to look at them all, and smiled. She, her sister, and the mule all walked over to the group.
Fluttershy was first to speak.
“So? What’s going to happen to him?” she asked, nervously.
“Oh, I thought I’d banish him and then lock him in a dungeon in the place that I banished him to.” Celestia replied, smirking. Fluttershy looked shocked, paused, and then blushed.
“Stop teasing her, sister!” Luna said, cutting in. “Fear not, the mule will not be so harmed. In fact, we were most impressed with his performance, and have decided to...”
The six ponies and one mule leant in closer.
“... Give him community service. As a composer for our Royal Opera.”
The mule looked utterly taken aback. His jaw dropped, and his eyes widened.
“And I choose to appoint him as an advisory for the renovations.” Celestia added. Luna looked at her with a raised eyebrow.
“What renovations?” she asked, confused.
“To the lake, of course! I’d forgotten how beautiful it was down there, and it’s been centuries since it was open to the public. I think it’s about time we restored it to its former glory, but the decision is ultimately down to you, sister. You are the patron of the arts, after all.”
Luna blinked a few times, and broke out into a broad grin, momentarily forgetting herself and leaping at her sister, wrapping her forelegs around her neck.
“Oh, thank you! You don’t know how much that means to me! After all these years...-” she paused, looking around her. Blushing a little, she disentangled herself from her sister and adopted a more regal posture.
Rarity delicately cleared her throat. “Begging your pardon, your highnesses, but that does seem a bit... lenient.” Applejack and Rainbow Dash both nodded at the sentiment.
“In time, all his misdeeds against the Opera, its employees and its patrons, will be repaid.” Celestia responded. “His work will pay for the repairs to the auditorium, and beyond that, he will do all that is necessary to repair the damage he has caused. All he can do is ask for forgiveness, it is up to us to grant it.”
Rarity nodded, although it was perhaps obvious to one as well-trained in reading expressions as the Princess that she was not altogether convinced.
“Besides... I recall being told that our Ghostly friend has amassed quite a fortune in ‘salary’ over the years...” Celestia added, looking back at the mule. “I think that it should account for most of what he owes, would you not agree?”
“... Yes, Princess,” Rarity replied.
“Now, with that settled, I believe there is still a final act to perform, is there not?” Luna said, smiling. “At least, providing there aren’t any more interruptions!”