When I enrolled in the Canterlot Academy, I knew I was going to learn all sorts of strange things. I had talent, oh yes, but not nearly enough for Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. So, it was the standard Canterlot academy for me.
But as well as learning in detail how to conjure and banish, manipulate and illuminate, I learned outside of the school, one single, indisputable fact:
Equestria is a weird, weird, weird, weird place. I've seen monsters of the darkest myths, alive and walking about. I've seen feats of Unicorn magic beyond anypony's wildest dreams. I've seen whole city streets just up and vanish within a night.
What, may you ask, do I mean by that? Well, it's the truth. No matter how many times I've tried, no matter how many maps I've pored over, paying attention the tiniest details imaginable, I have never again been able to find the Rue d'Lune.
Not just the modern maps of Canterlot that are updated annually, but I've even examined antique and ancient maps of the royal city, going right back to the founding of the city, at the coronation of Celestia and Luna. But despite all I do, it remains the same humiliating and bizarre truth that the Rue d'Lune does not seem to exist. And yet for all that, it still remains cemented in my memory, those brief days I spent as a poor magic-student in Canterlot, living in a small, squalid apartment on that very street. That street where I first heard Octavia's music.
The fact that I cannot find it again is simply bizarre. I distinctly remember it, not just my living there, but even my journeys from there to the Academy, less than half an hour's trot away. And yet, nopony I have spoken to knows anything about it.
It wasn't exactly a prize spot: A steep, narrow street with high apartments and buildings on both sides, with a deep canal at the end. It seemed quite out of place, that canal, among the shining white spires and rainbow-hued streams that criss-crossed the city. It was dark, and murky, with a strange smell to it that I had never smelt before. But if I ever smelt it again, I'd know I was close to that strange street, which in itself, seemed out of place in Canterlot.
As I crossed the bridge over the canal and walked up that street for the first time, I noticed how empty and quiet it seemed. Not another pony in sight, neither going in, nor coming out of those dark houses, with their dusty, murky windows. But, I shrugged and made a left as I reached my new apartment building, third from the top of the street, and the tallest of them all.
My landlord showed me to my apartment on the fourth floor, which apart from myself, was pretty much empty. It wasn't exactly the best of apartments: one bedroom, with bed and dresser, a simple bathroom, and a small lounge inbetween, complete with a moth-eaten sofa and dining table. The Royal Palace it wasn't, but it sure beat living in a tent. I was low on funds, and this was the only place I could afford.
My first night there, I lay in my bed, exhausted from a day's hard work at the academy. Around eleven at night, I stirred awake as I heard the drone of some stringed instrument. A cello.
It seemed to come from the floor above, the top floor of the apartment. A strange, discordant, drone, unlike any music I had ever heard. It echoed through the ceiling, endlessly throughout the night.
The next morning, on my way out to the academy, I ran into my landlord on the ground floor. Our usual greetings aside, I mentioned to him the strange cello-music I had heard the night before. The haggard old pony nodded, telling me that what I heard was Octavia.
"Yeah, she lives up on the top floor. Nice pony, she is, always says hello to me. Or rather, she smiles and waves to me…"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, she's pretty soft-spoken, y'see. She used to be a great opera singer, but then one day, she just up and stopped singing. Mighty strange, ifn' ya ask me. Hardly ever talks either… darn good player, though. She plays cello for hire, doing solo concerts, helping some local band, y'know.
"Huh…" I dwelt for a moment on this "So, er, she lives up on the top floor then?"
"Yep. All alone. I guess for a musician like her, it's ideal: No distractions, no disturbances. Just her and her music. She sure gets a great view from that floor; you c'n probably see all of Canterlot from that window… Why? Was she playing too loud for ya?"
I shook my head "Oh no, not at all. In fact, it was quite nice to listen to… I-I was just curious."
And so, night after night, I'd lay awake, eyes closed and ears wide open, as I listened to the strange music. Even with my limited knowledge of music, I knew that these melodies were beyond anything any musician could regard as normal. Perhaps she was some sort of musical genius? Octavia, the lonely, quiet pony with the impossible cello. The more I listened, the more fascinated I became, until one night, I made the decision to finally make her acquaintance.
My luck could not have been better. The next evening, as I returned once again after a hard day's work at the academy, there on the staircase between the fourth and fifth floor, I bumped into her. At first glance, she looked like any other pony: A pale grey/brown coat, with a dark black mane that curled prettily at the tips round her neck and chest, with a delicate, short fringe at the front. A cutie-mark of a treble-clef adorned her flank, and she wore a strange, disembodied shirt-collar and bowtie about her neck. Her eyes gave an impression of world-weariness, with the slightest hint of snobbiness.
As I passed her on the stairs, I paused to greet her, introducing myself. For some reason, at my first words, she appeared either angered, or frightened by my words. She silently stood, stock still, just…staring at me.
But as I began to talk about what the landlord had said about her, Octavia's expression softened. She smiled as I recounted his compliments about her, bashfully pawing at the floor with a forehoof. She was clearly one who enjoyed a good compliment, and soon was more than happy to oblige when I humbly requested to sit in on one of her rehearsals.
With her leading the way, we headed up those stairs to the sixth floor, where her apartment was the only one. We went in, and what struck me at first sight was the sheer shabbiness of the apartment. It was a mess!
The floor and walls were devoid of their respective carpet or plaster, leaving nothing but bare boards. The window was strangely curtained, leaving the room illuminated by nothing but a dim gaslight hanging from the ceiling. The furniture was in equal disrepair: nothing more than an old beadstead, a dresser by the wall, and a few small tables, each littered with piles upon piles of music sheets. And in one corner, stood the cello, the instrument that had been keeping me up with its strange song every night. It struck me at how… ordinary it looked. I was half-expecting some sort of custom-design, or some bizarre augmentations, but nope. It was just a plain old cello, with a plain old bow, complete with the loop that allows the bow to be held by a hoofed arm of an Earth Pony.
She motioned mutely for me to sit down on the bed as she picked up her cello from the corner, blowing gently the dust off it and the bow.
Closing her eyes, she stood up on her hind legs, and began slowly to play, without any sheets or songbooks, playing entirely from memory. Or perhaps, given the strange nature of the melodies emanating from the instrument, from improvisation?
She entertained me for about an hour, enchanting me with strains of music the likes of which, I had rarely heard before. Enchanting, I cannot deny, but notably devoid of any of the bizarre alien melodies I had heard her playing before.
When she finally came to an end of her playing, I tried to ask her about the other music I had heard her playing. Her expression once again turned to that strange mix of anger and fright she had first worn when I had met her on the staircase. It unnerved me to see her usually calm and placid expression suddenly change so drastically, but I persisted, asking her again and again about her music, even whistling a few bars of it myself.
Without warning, she lunged at me, the cello falling to the floor with an echoing CLUNK. I backed against the wall, shocked as her hooves clamped firmly over my mouth. At the same time, her nervous glance turned to the curtained window, as if expecting some sort of burglar to suddenly burst through the black drapes.
My curiosity was piqued. Brushing her off, I got up from the bed and hurried to the window, eager to get a glance from this window. What view awaited me, of the panoramic rooftops and towers of Canterlot, a view that nopony but this lonely mare could enjoy?
But Octavia would not have any of it. The moment I raised my hoof to push aside the curtain, she batted by arm down with the bow of her cello. Now thoroughly disturbed and disgusted by my hostess and cradling a smarting forehoof to boot, I turned to leave.
I stopped, however, as I felt her hoof gently placed upon my shoulder. I turned to face her and saw that her expression had returned to her usual gentle calm.
"I-I'm terribly sorry…" she said quietly. The landlord wasn't kidding: she was so soft-spoken I could barely hear her!
"Please, sit back down... let me explain myself." She implored.
Never one to say no to such a kindly (and pretty) face, I obediently returned to my seat on the bedside.
"I apologise for my actions." She related, as she paced up and down the room before me
"It's just…Y'see, that music… the music you've apparently heard me playing at night… well it's… special to me."
Her glance briefly turned again to the black curtain covering the window, before she returned to me and sat by my side.
"I'm sorry but I…well, I don't like it when somepony else plays my music. It's just not...right."
In my mind I wondered what significance this music could have to her. Why those tunes in particular? And what did she mean, "not right"?
"I think I'll end it there for the night" She continued briskly. "It was nice meeting you."
"Indeed." I replied, taking to my hooves and heading towards the door "I could listen to your music all day. Perhaps we could do this again tomorrow?"
There it was again. That strange expression of hers, with that mixed emotion of anger and terror, flashing briefly across her face. But it passed within moments and she smiled again "Of course."
The next day I had a talk with the landlord, to have myself moved to another floor. Out of pity and sympathy for Octavia, I thought it wrong for me to eavesdrop on her nightly playing that apparently seemed so personal to her. I was put in a room on the third floor, leaving the fourth completely empty.
As the days past, I became a regular visitor to Octavia's apartment, sitting in every evening on her rehearsals. But I noticed a change in her. By the third night, she no longer requested me to join her, and became uneasy and slightly reluctant whenever I visited her. This was always late in the evening; she would never answer my knocking during the day.
But my curious mind got the better of me, and every so often, I would stop as I left, and stand silently outside her door at night, listening to her mysterious recitals. Whenever I would listen, I would be filled with a sense of dread and wonder. Not because the music was necessarily bad, indeed it had moments of symphonic quality that assured me that Octavia was a great genius of music, playing with wild power and melody. But the music held a strange, otherworldly quality to it.
Over the week, the pony became more reluctant to let me join her, until the day came when she refused to open the door for me. After that night, she no longer spoke to me, refusing me entry and shunning me on the stairs.
But I continued my covert listening outside her door regardless, standing in the hallway, drinking in bar after bar of the unearthly tunes. One night, however, even her strange, alien playing was blown away by what I heard.
Her music had become frantic, fast, violent, and deeply frightening. It was almost painful to listen to; was she having a fit or something?
I knew she wouldn't let me in, but I banged with a hoof on her door anyway. From within I heard the clatter of the cello once again falling to the floor and the sliding sound of a curtain being hastily drawn.
I jumped back as, without warning, there came a scrabbling at the door. It swung open and there stood Octavia in quite a state.
Her mane, usually smooth and tidy hung unkempt and frazzled as sweat dripped down her face. Panting, her face broke into a relieved smile as she suddenly staggered forwards and wrapped her forehooves around my knees, as if in supplication.
"Oh… thank Celestia, it's you!" came her muffled voice, wheezing with exhaustion.
I gently prised her arms off of me "Octavia! What happened? Are you alright?"
She did not answer, but got to her hooves again and pulled me inside her apartment, which was now even more of a mess than usual.
"What the…? What have you been doing in here?" I asked, before my attention was drawn to the gentle flutter of the black curtain. Was the window open?
But not answer came. For a few minutes, she sat in silence on the floor, her head nodding strangely, as if listening intently to something unheard to anypony but herself.
As I sat down before her, I asked again, gently, what had been going on.
Once again, she said nothing, but instead got up and sifted through her music sheets to find a small stack of strange manuscripts, covered with chilling images and symbols. But as she returned to me with these papers she froze, her mouth hanging comically open. She turned to face the obscured window with a wide-eyed expression of pure, undiluted terror.
I had heard it too, clear as anything. A low, echoing note, carried on the night air as if from one of the nearby houses. As if played on some strange flute or pipe, it sent a shiver down my spine, and still to this day I have no idea why.
Before I could say a word, she had jumped to her hooves and ran to pick up her cello. Looping the bow onto her hoof, she stood up once again on her hind legs, and put bow to string.
Once again she began her frantic, intense playing, sweat drops flying from her arms as they moved back and forth with the bow, and up and down on the neck, with some unearthly, hideous melody.
Louder and louder, faster and faster, Octavia played, her entire body twisting from the effort, her jaw set and her gaze firmly on the window. As if in response, there came again that strange piping noise from outside, with the same bizarre melody as her cello almost in perfect synchronisation, but somehow calm and gentle, almost mocking her frantic playing.
The curtain billowed and flapped as a gust of wind suddenly picked up, blowing out the gaslight, leaving me in a terrifying world of discordant noise and pitch blackness.
Finally, the wind ripped the black drapes from their hooks above the window, exposing the dark framed night sky. The gusts of wind bore up the strange manuscripts that Octavia had been about to show me that now lay scattered around the room, as they were carried out the window and into the night below. I tried to catch even a few of these papers before the gusts pulled them out the window, but to no avail. In doing so, I finally got a good look outside that window.
I expected to see the tall white towers of Canterlot, with the lights in the windows as little dots in the night. But as the wild wind blew and the insane cello music howled on the wind, I saw no such view. All I saw was space eternal, a great tunnel of darkness alive with music and motion. A great void, ever moving like a vortex of pure blackness, laced with strange, indescribable colours. It was as if looking into the physical form of chaos and madness given physical form.
This incredible, terrifying sight was topped off as I saw in the distant darkness of the indescribable tunnel, the movement of some great shadowy form, approaching out of the madness.
I tore myself from this bizarre and terrifying view, hurrying to Octavia's side, ready to shake her out of her frantic bacchanal state, so that we may both flee before… whatever I had seen out that window came any closer. But she was beyond saving. Her eyes were rolled back in her head and her mouth hung open as she continued her maniacal playing, eyes fixed on the window as she appeared to direct her music out into the darkness beyond.
Over and over again I roared her name in her ear, barely able to hear myself over the cacophony, with that endless chaos and horror behind me, and the demonic baying of the cello before me. I tried to grab her and drag her forcibly out, but she would not budge, her skin clammy and cold, unbreathing, her bulging eyes locked on the window. The calm piping from out the window and the shrieking cello played in harmony, as if battling against eachother. As the shadow approached the window, Octavia's playing became faster and faster until the bow was nothing but a blur, and I was certain the strings would burst into flames from the friction.
Overturning whole tables in my frenzied attempts to flee the terrifying scene, I galloped out the door, down the stairs of that accursed apartment, and out the door. I fled, screaming down the street, towards that dark-watered canal, and leapt across the waters, landing clumsily on the other side.
The last thing I recall before I passed out from sheer exhaustion and terror, I turned again to face down that damned street and no longer saw the Rue d'Lune. Across the canal, which was now the familiar rainbow-hue of the canals of Canterlot, there was a busy, crowded street, with the standard white towers and houses down its sides.
Since that day, I have never been able to again find the Rue d'Lune. Nor have I ever found any record of a pony named Octavia playing in any orchestra or band nearby. But honestly,
I'm not sorry. Neither for the loss of that street, nor for the loss of that strange mare, or those papers with their odd symbols and images that may have provided some explanation.
But, some things, ponykind was not mean to know, I guess, and I must agree. I don't want to know what I saw out that window in her apartment, or how her music seemed to be affecting it. Was her music attracting it, or holding it back? I may never know, and quite frankly, I no longer care. Whatever power that mare held in her music, it was hers and hers alone. That strange music of Octavia.