Chapter 1: The charity event
The theater was crowded with ponies.
Swan Song could hear their murmuring from behind the blue curtain, as she stepped onto the stage, her hooves making soft clicking noises against the wooden planks.
Her heart was beating against her rip cage but her mind was calm and focused the very moment she came to a halt.
In the side of her vision she saw another pony from backstage pulling at a rope and in the next moment the curtain began to open right in front of her.
The blinding light that took away her sight for a moment was all too familiar.
She only saw the audience as shadowy silhouettes in front of the stage while she was blinded by the spotlights that were set on her alone.
Just like the countless eyes she could feel burning into her pelt. But if she was honest, only one pair of eyes really mattered to her.
And the owner of it was standing backstage right now watching Swan Songs every move.
Knowing that , the unicorn's short dark pelt started to tingle and her heart fluttered for a moment almost breaking her concentration.
She took another deep breath to calm herself and then gave the pony sitting at the piano next to her a subtle nod.
The colt nodded back before he placed his hooves onto the piano keys and started to play the first few notes of a melody.
Swan Song closed her eyes and let the familiar notes she had heard so many times by now go by until she finally opened her mouth to sing the first verse.
Her voice was mixing perfectly with the melody while filling the air in the theater, echoing from it’s walls.
The world around her disappeared as only the melody and her voice seemed to matter.
Them and those pretty eyes watching her from backstage right now, making her feel all warm inside.
She put more energy into her voice. More emotion.
It just had to be more. It had to be the best it could be for her.
And then at a certain part of the song the dark unicorn opened her eyes and let her magic flow through her horn.
A small burst of red light shot out from it and exploded into the air. Out of the exploding light galaxies and stars formed and then exploded again in a supernova to bathe the theater in a ocean of colors for just a moment.
Bright sparkles softly rained down onto the onlookers, as the pianist played his last note to only leaving Swan Song‘s voice to fill the silence, as she sang the last verse.
It echoed out and then disappeared together with the last remaining parts of the light show she summoned.
And then there was the loud thunderous clattering of hundreds of hooves against the ground.
Cheers were filling the air.
Swan Song bowed one time to the audience, before the curtain was pulled over the stage once again.
She just gave the colt at the piano a polite nod when not a second later she was nearly tackled to the ground by a flash of red.
She stumbled and then stared into the green eyes of the pony she just had sang her whole heart out for.
„By the princess! Swan Song, you were amazing!?“ the earth pony squealed.
Not a moment later they could hear laughter from behind the curtain.
Chatter Cherry flinched.
„Sorry. Let’s just go backstage and talk there, okay?“
Swan Song couldn’t help but grin at the dark redness on her friends face as the two mares walked down the wooden staircase.
She could feel Chatter Cherry slightly shake with excitement very unsubtly trying to keep all of her emotions in while they exited the stage area through the door and then entered Swan Song’s changing room.
As soon as the door fell close the earth pony turned around her fluffy wild mane swinging with the fast motion. „Bytheprincess,youweresooogoodoutthere!Themusic!Yourmagiclightshow!Yourvoice!Ohmygoshyourvoice!“ she blurted out so fast Swan Song almost didn’t make out all the words she was saying.
But it made her heart beat faster anyways.
The unicorn felt her face getting warm while she just watched and listened to her friend going on and on without taking a breath until the Swan Song put one of her hooves over her friends mouth.
She was scared the earth pony would faint otherwise from lack of oxygen.
Swan Song smiled.
„T-Thank you. I’m glad you liked it. Let’s just hope the audience out there thinks so too and feel compelled to donate a bit more beside the price for the entry ticket.“
„Oh, i bet they will! This fund raising event will be a big win, i feel it! We’ll get enough horseshoes to help all the fugitive ponies that lost their homes to wild magic!“
Chatter Cherry then made a step towards her looking directly into Swan Songs face.
She smiled her pretty green eyes sparkling up at her, filling the unicorns stomach with butterflies.
„I really appreciate you doing this for me. Thank you so so so much! We wouldn’t have gotten half as much donation if it wasn’t for you. Having a known singer in our program really made a lot of difference. I have to pay you back somehow.“
Swan Song felt her heart flutter again as she looked away, shaking her head.
„I-It’s n-nothing! We are friends after all and it’s for a good cause. You don’t need to do anything!“
„No!“ Chatter Cherry insisted while stomping with one of her hooves on the ground.
She had a cute pouting expression on her face.
„I have to! Let me think.“
The earth pony let her gaze drift upwards while she tapped her chin with her hoof in a pondering manner.
Swan Song light-heartedly sighed.
„Just buy me a slushy on our way home, silly.“
„Deal! I know just the place where they serve the best slushies in all of canterlot! I’m telling you-„
Chatter Cherry started rambling again but Swan Song didn’t mind listening while she freed herself of the elegant gown she had been wearing for the occasion.
She enjoyed it actually.
Her earth pony friend was so full energy and excitement when she rambled about things that were important to her.
Things like this fund raiser that she came up with and organized through her many social connections.
Her green eyes always seemed to shimmer in that state and her voice began to became a bit squeaky.
„Oh, wait before i forget!“ Chatter Cherry suddenly exclaimed “ Did you hear? There is apparently this one pegasus we went to school with.... Azure chaser? Was that the name? She was accepted into the knights of Equestria.“
Swan Song froze.
„Uh-huh. Or, well...i heard she starts as a squire, doing a bit of the dirty work for the actual knights first. But isn’t it insane? I still remember when almost everypony at our school wanted to become a knight after they graduated. And now one of us actually gets to do it.“
Using her magic, Swan Song tossed her gown into her bag, clenching her teeth.
„Well, good for her.“
She tried to keep her voice calm but she couldn’t stop the slight tone of bitterness crawling it’s way in.
Chatter Cherry looked at her.
„Oh, i’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-„
„You didn’t do anything. Let’s just talk about something else, okay?“
„Why? Do you know Azure Chaser?“
Swan Song felt one of her eyes twitch.
„Do you guys need help tidying up the hall?“
Chatter Cherry blinked confused.
„Huh? You wanna help? But you’re one of the artists you shouldn’t have to-„
„Do you need help or not?“
“Yes, we are terribly understaffed but-„
„But what? You think i am to weak to carry a few things around?“ Swan Song snapped, making Chatter Cherry flinch from her sudden outburst.
The unicorn‘s eyes widened not a second later and she held one of her hooves over her mouth.
„I..I’m sorry, Cherry. I..don’t know why i did that. I didn’t mean to scream at you.“
The earth pony shook her head.
She put one of her hooves onto Swan Songs shoulder.
„It’s fine. I should have never asked about-..Just forget it ,okay? Let’s just go help the others.“
Swan Song nodded and let her friend lead the way to the door.
She needed something to do.
Something that would keep her mind off the memories that started to crawl their way back into her mind.
Away from the voice she could still hear in her head from time to time taunting her.
The theater hall was empty by the time Swan Song and Chatter Cherry arrived there.
Some guests where still around in the entry hall if the muffled voices coming from the main doors was anything to go of off.
The only ponies that were still around inside the hall were a few of the volunteers working for the charity that tidied up the place.
Chatter Cherry led Swan Song over to the other side of the stage, where behind the curtain she could already see all kinds of props that the singers before her had used just laying around everywhere almost as if a storm had made it’s was through.
Swan Song blinked at the sight, while her friend just shrugged.
„Artists, huh? Always being messy.“
„Is it really so difficult to just put things back where they were?“
„Some of the acts are a bit...special when it comes to that.“ Swan Song just sighed, before she whipped up her magic to pick up each of the props from the ground, putting them orderly back in the chests standing on the side.
„You unicorns have it so good with your magic.“ Chatter Cherry said as she watched. „It would have taken forever if i had to do it all by myself.“
„Anything else we need to do?“
„Ehm, yes actually.“ She motioned up to the rafters.
„We still have to turn off the Spotlights.“
„Isn’t that the technician’s- Oh wait, understaffed, right.“Swan Song said. „Fine, let`s do it. How do we get up there?“
Chatter Cherry walked a bit further backstage, where they very quickly saw a metal latter reaching up.
The earth pony went up first. Swan Song waited until she reached the end of the latter before she followed.
It was a bit dark up in the rafters and she could feel the metal under her hooves shake with every step she and her friend took. From time to time there came an ominous metallic squeaking from somewhere that made Swan Song feel queasy.
„Don’t mind the rocking to much. The landlord said the rafters are safe, just a bit rusty. “ Chatter Cherry said „This whole theater is quite old. They say it was already around when Princess Luster Dawn was the active ruler. Crazy huh? On the plus side it was very affordable to rent with what little resources we had.“
„Y-yeah, crazy.“ murmured Swan Song while she felt another weak jolt going through the rafters.
She noticed that Chatter Cherry didn’t seem bothered by all of this while she just walked over to the light desk.
„Okay, let’s see..I turned it on today like this...“
The earth pony tapped wildly against a few buttons, the lights flickering and changing colors with each press until finally they shut off.
Proudly she huffed and smiled at Swan Song.
„See? If you’re understaffed you have to learn fast. I have become a technician, a janitor and manager in the two days we have been doing this.“
Swan Song felt her heart get warm again.
Why did Chatter Cherry’s smile have to be so cute all the time?
She smiled back at her friend.
„Alrighty then, supermare. Let’s get down again. I bet there’s-„
A loud metallic crack suddenly echoed through the hall and in the very next moment Swan Song felt the rafters shift under her hooves.
She tried to keep her balance as she saw the metal plate under Chatter Cherry’s hooves give way with a loud snap and fall into the depths.
In a reflex Swan Song brought her hooves forward just in time to hold onto her friend whose hind legs thrashed around in midair.
The light desk however was ripped from it’s place and crashed onto the stage below.
It shattered into to a thousand pieces on impact.
Swan Song could hear scared screams and yells from around the hall as the other volunteers noticed what was going on, but she was too focused on holding onto her friend with her limited strength to fully realize what was going on around her.
Then it happened quickly.
She felt the very familiar feeling of what little strength she possessed leaving her muscles.
She lost the grip on Chatter Cherry.
And her friend fell.
She lost her grip.
Chatter Cherry fell.
She lost her grip.
Chatter Cherry fell.
Her panicked mind focused on her falling friend.
The earth ponies wide green eyes stared up to her.
Magic flared through Swan Songs horn like a lighting and in the next moment Chatter Cherry was engulfed in a cocoon of the unicorns red magic and came to a hold in mid air , only a meter before she would have crashed onto the stage with full force.
Swan Songs heart was racing.
The blood in her ears was rushing and took away all the voices of the volunteers that now came running towards the scene.
She could see Chatter Cherry still staring up at her ,clearly in shock. But the earth pony was breathing.
She was alive.
Carefully Swan Song set her friend down.
Chatter Cherry sank down into a sitting position breathing heavily, while the other ponies came rushing to her side asking if she was okay.
Swan Song however could just stand in the shaking rafters.
Her mind was running.
Her friend nearly-
All because she didn’t have the strength to keep a hold of her.
‚Weakling. You’re such a liability.‘
With shaking legs Swan Song turned and carefully walked back the way she had come and then slowly climbed down the latter.
She nearly fell to the ground once her quivering hooves hid solid ground once again.
The world was swaying a bit for a moment.
She looked over and saw how Chatter Cherry was helped back onto her hooves by the volunteers.
„T-Thank you. I’m fine. I promise i’m fine.“ the earth pony said and then looked into Swan Song’s direction.
The unicorn felt a jolt going through her body.
She turned around and ran through one of the backstage doors and out of the theater hall.
Swan Song thought she heard Chatter Cherry’s voice behind her for a moment, calling after her but the rushing in her ears drowned her voice out as she stormed out through the back door ending up on a small backyard.
The cold evening air rushed against her heated face.
She couldn’t face her friend now.
She had let her fall. She had failed her.
‚Oh, please! You couldn’t save anyone, ever! Forget about getting into the equestrian knights or the guards ,useless weakling. You would just embarrass yourself and bring others in danger by being a total burden!‘
Swan Song clenched her teeth.
There was the familiar voice in her head again.
A memory from way back.
The unicorn slowly came to a halt somewhere on the backyard.
Breathing heavily she tried to calm down her rapidly beating heart.
She just stood there for some long second, that felt more like minutes.
Then she heard the back door fly open behind her. „Swan Song!“ Chatter Cherry's voice called over to her and she flinched.
She saw the earth pony running towards her.
„W-Why did you run away? You didn’t even give me a chance to say-„
„I’m sorry, i failed you.“
Chatter Cherry blinked at Swan songs words and leaned her head a bit to the side.
„What? Failed me? What are you talking about?“
„I let you fall. I couldn’t hold on to you.“
„Yeah, that was a bit scary not gonna lie, but you caught me with your magic, remember? You saved me.“
Swan Song quickly turned around to face Chatter Cherry.
She felt the back of her eyes starting to heat up.
Her voice cracked.
„You shouldn’t have fallen in the first place! It was my fault! I’m such a weakling! What was i thinking? I would have never made it into the knights anyways!“
Chatter Cherry’s eyebrows furrowed.
„This doesn’t sound like you at all. Wait...is that something Azure chaser said to you?“
Swan Song stared at her friend and then let her gaze drift to the side.
Chatter Cherry gave a quiet huff.
„So, you do know her.“
Swan Song sighed.
„I thought i did. I thought we were friends..“
„But she wasn’t really your friend, was she? Not if she said such things to you.“
„I guess not..“
It was quiet between the two ponies for a few long seconds. Swan Song felt herself tremble from the cold evening wind that blew over the backyard and howled ghostly through the alleys of canterlot.
„I never knew you wanted to join the Knights of Equestria.“ Chatter Cherry said stepping a bit closer „Why did you never mention it?“
„Because it was all just a silly childhood dream, Cherry. I wanted to help. I wanted to do something against the wild magic threatening everpony. I thought the knights would be the perfect way to do just that. But it would never become reality. If you want to be a knight you need to be strong.“
Swan Song gestured with one of her hooves towards herself.
„I’m not. I couldn’t even hold you for longer than a few seconds and keep you from falling without my magic. It was always this way and will always be that way. So i didn’t even bother going to the try outs last week. But Azure Chaser did and got in, unsurprisingly. Guess she was right when she called me a useless weakling. I didn’t even try after all.“
The unicorn felt her eyes watering and she swiftly used one of her hooves to wipe away the tears and then taking a deep breath to hopefully get rid of that quiet sob that threatened to come out.
„Listen, i..don’t know why i’m telling you this. This is so dumb.“
She felt Chatter Cherry's gaze on her for some long drawn out seconds. Something in the green eye of her earth pony friend flickered as she made a step forward.
„Well, i admit i don’t really know that pegasus. I had a hard time even remembering her name, honestly. But from what i could gather, she must be pretty stupid.“
Swan Song blinked.
„She must be stupid to actually call you weak. If that’s what she sees when she looks at you, then the knights really should reconsider taking her in cause she obviously needs to get her eyes checked.“
Chatter Cherry stomped with her hooves onto the ground as if to give her point more meaning.
Her voice had lost her usual bright bubbliness and had filled with anger.
The glimmer in her eyes was different from usual as well.
„Cause you know what i see when i look at you?“ she said as she looked directly into Swan Songs eyes.
„A gorgeous , intelligent, talented and strong unicorn with an amazing voice that was willing to help her friend with a crazy idea just because.“
Gorgeous. Talented. Strong. Amazing voice.
Chatter Cherry‘s compliments hit her one after the other like bolts of lightning, the heat in her chest and face increased with each word.
Her heart begann to beat faster when the earth pony came closer and touched one of Swan Songs hooves with her own while she continued.
„And even if you’re physically not as strong, have you seen what your magic can do? Other ponies can’t even do easy spells like levitation, yet here you are pulling off that and so much more on stage today! I wasn’t lying when i told you you were amazing, Swan Song! You were! You are! Even without the knights!“
Chatter Cherry’s green eyes were shining up to her while the butterflies in Swan Songs stomach returned in full force chasing away the bad feelings.
„So please, stop talking so badly about yourself. You will find something you can do and you will be amazing at it, cause that’s just what you are.“
Then before Swan Song could think another thought, she felt the lips of her friend on hers.
It was just a moment. Just a small peck.
But it shot an entire firework up and down her spine and made her legs feel weak.
Her heart was beating so fast it felt like it was making somersaults in her chest.
Swan Song felt herself leaning into Chatter Cherry when she slowly pulled away and nuzzled into the unicorns cheek.
„Come, let’s go back, okay? Cause there is someone that wanted to talk to you.“
Swan Song didn’t feel able to speak with her heart beating so fast and her whole body still trembling from the experience , so she just nodded and followed Chatter Cherry back to the door of the theater building.
When they entered back into the theater hall, the other volunteers were busy tidying up the mess that the broken light board and the fallen metal plate had left.
What really caught Swan Songs attention however was the stranger that suddenly stood in front of the stage whose sharp blue eyes snapped immediately into the two mares direction when they entered through the backstage door.
„Is everything alright?“ the stranger asked, her voice just as sharp as her eyes were.
„Yeah, sorry. We had to talk for a minute, but i brought her just like you asked.“ Chatter Cherry said.
Swan Song blinked, feeling how sore her eyes were and then looked confused at her friend.
Chatter Cherry just smiled at her and gave her a soft push forward so that Swan Song now stood in front of the strange red pinto unicorn, who had some scars running through her pelt that made her look even more fierce then her aura already suggested.
Now that Swan Song stood closer she thought she recognized her from somewhere.
„Greetings. Swan Song , right?“ the stranger said.
„Yes, hello. Who are you?“
„My name is Sword Dancer, i’m here on behalf of the princess.“
Swan Song froze.
Sword Dancer nodded.
„She wanted me to tell you, that she really enjoyed your performance today. She also apologizes for not being able to tell you in person, as she has some important business to take care of and couldn’t stay for too long.“
Swan Song felt the blood drain from her face.
Princess Dawn Bringer had been here?
Right here in the audience?
She had listened to Swan Song singing?
Why- Why did nopony tell her?
She didn’t even notice!
Again Swan Song threw Chatter Cherry a confused glance,wich was just returned by a shrug from the earth pony.
„Her exact words were that it sounded like you were not singing to please a crowd, but for one very special pony that means a lot to you.“ Sword dancer continued.
‚I have been so obvious huh..?‘
Swan Song’s cheeks warmed up once again and she let her gaze drift downwards.
She just wanted to sink into the earth and disappear.
The way she could see the edges of Sword Dancers lips curl upwards a bit just now didn’t make it any better.
„I..- T-Thank you. Please, could you tell her that i feel very honored to hear all this? And that she took time out of her busy day to attend the concert? It means a lot.“
Sword Dancer nodded again.
“The princess always supports charity’s and ponies that try to help others in need. Oh, and before i go.“
Sword Dancer’s horn glimmered up with her magic, as she let a small envelope float out from beneath the green cape she was wearing.
„She also wanted me to give you this.“ Swan Song blinked and then took the envelope with her own magic and opening it.
Inside was some kind of notice.
„Admissions open. The school of magic is now accepting ponies interested in studying the art of magic and how to use it to make equestria a better place-„
Wait. Swan Song looked up to Sword dancer confused.
The other unicorn gave her a small smile.
„The princess was impressed with how you used that illusion spell on the stage today. She thinks you have a real talent and that you would make a great addition to the school of magic.“
Swan Song opened her mouth to speak but closed it again, overwhelmed.
Sword Dancer turned around and looked over her shoulder one last time.
„Think about it. The admissions are open till the end of the month. You could really make a difference.“
With that the battle scared unicorn walked away and left the heather hall through the main door.
„I told you!“ Chatter Cherry squealed:“I told you, your magic is amazing! Even the princess thinks so! You’re going right?“
„I don’t know yet, Cherry..“
„Oh, come on! Can you at least send in an application? For me? Pleeeeaaaseeee?“
Chatter Cherry looked into Swan Songs eyes and batted her eye lashes at her.
Swan Song chuckled.
„Fine. I’ll send one in, what’s the harm, right?“
Chatter Cherry smiled brightly , prancing around on the spot for a moment.
Swan Song smiled looking at her and then let her gaze fall back onto the messy stage.
„But i guess that means you need a new place to hold your charity concerts, huh?“
„I guess.“ Chatter Cherry sighed “I can’t ask my volunteers to bring themselves in danger going up these cursed rafters, after all! Not to mention that the landlord could have lied about other safety risks we’re not seeing yet too. There is no way we’re staying here!“
She rubbed her chin with her hoof for a moment before shaking her head.
„First order of business is using the charity revenue to help the fugitive ponies we collected it for! After that.....we’ll figure something out.“
Swan Song nodded and nuzzled into Chatter Cherry’s side.
„I’m sure you will. You always find a solution for everything.“
She felt her friend shudder for a moment before she leaned into the unicorn as well.
„Thank you, Swan Song. Thank you for being here.“
Then they just stood there for a few long seconds, just enjoying each other warmth for the moment, before going back to work, helping the other volunteers.