Simeon's Song: Part One
Author's note: Big thanks to my friend dewdropzz for inspiring me to write something music-themed - you're the best! This musical story is a sequel to my series And Then There Was Silence. It may be a good idea to skim through that series – especially part six, which gives essential character information – before reading this one. Also, feel free to send a Neomail if you would like to learn more about the music and music terms used. Enjoy!!~
"Mum, we need a song."
Ember is standing in the threshold to her kids' peaceful Market Town home, panting and sweating after a frantic run all the way from Werelupe Woods. She's taken a wide stance, as if preparing for a fight, holding a carved bone dagger she doesn't quite know how to use in one hand and half-eaten peachpa in the other. In her panicked rush, she had thrown open the heavy door, sending it slamming against the wall. A few pictures' frames still rattle with the impact, and an old Prince Jazan plushie has tumbled to the ground off of a shelf. Nothing else seems amiss, though. The only source of chaos in the room is Ember's own thundering heartbeat.
The tiny human stares down her son Sky and daughter Sonikki, miles beyond confused. Sky had sent her a Neomail only a few minutes ago saying something about an emergency, so she's absolutely shocked to see the two of them doing nothing but sitting casually around a dining table and playing a peaceful game of kacheekers. Ember stutters a bit, completely unable to comprehend the calm. She tries to form a decent sentence, but all that comes out of her mouth is, "You... wait, what?"
"We need a song," Sky repeats, completely nonchalant despite the alarm in Ember's black eyes and the dent the door handle has left in his home's stone walls. The placid demeanour is typical for the forever-mellow faerie Zafara, but Ember is still stunned to see him not on fire, or dying, or a zombie, or something. Sky leans back in his seat, draping his arm over the back of his chair casually while Ember's expression continues to contort in confusion.
"Y'all... just..." Finally able to see through the veil of hysteria and realise that nothing is wrong, Ember is able to relax her shoulders a bit – rests her weight on one hip with her arms still held awkwardly out in front of her. "I thought you said there was an emergency," she finally manages to say after what seems like ages of useless stuttering.
"I mean, kiiinda," Sky says with an impassive little shrug. "We need it by tomorrow morning."
"That doesn't merit an emergency Neomail, you dummy!" Ember shouts, her heartbeat finally beginning to slow to a normal pace. She lets her arms drop to her sides. "I was, like... busy, or something."
Sky cocks an eyebrow. "Mum, you're never busy."
"How would you know, mister?" Ember snaps.
Sky shrugs again – he tends to shrug a lot. "Fine, what were you doing?"
Ember opens her mouth to speak, but immediately shuts it again. She lifts her dagger and twirls it in the air a couple times, trying to think of something, but... all she was doing was eating lunch. And it wasn't a very important lunch, either. "I was... doing... important Werelupe stuff," she says with a firm nod of her head, hoping it'll be enough to keep Sky from questioning her further.
It isn't. Sky looks unimpressed. "Like...?"
"Like..." She twirls the dagger again, more animatedly this time. "I don't know, spooky things!" she says, unable to think of anything else, and Sky gives her a look that reads, Really, Mum? Ember gives up on the lie when she meets his bright blue eyes and sees that there's absolutely no hint of belief swimming there. "Ugh, fine, whatever," she says, her pulse finally steadied, clenching her eyes shut. "Why do you guys need a song?"
Sky gets a smug grin for a few seconds, pleased that he got his mother to admit the lie, but it quickly disappears. He looks over to his Maraquan Cybunny sister. "We, uh, got in trouble," he says calmly.
Ember tilts her head as she tucks the dagger into a small leather scabbard that's hung from her belt. "What dumb kind of trouble would be remedied with a song?" she asks, only half-sarcastically.
"Philharmonic trouble," Sky says, his tone unchanging.
Sky and Sonikki have played piano and cello respectively in the Neopian Philharmonic for a few years now – a fact which their mother is incredibly proud of. Well, proud of, except for in this particular moment, since apparently now she has to do some damage control for them. Still, the response doesn't clear up any of the human's confusion. "How do you even get in trouble with the Philharmonic?" she asks, taking an annoyed bite out of her peachpa. "You guys are the Philharmonic!" she adds through a messy mouthful of fruit.
"Well..." Sky looks to the ceiling and begins to toy with his hair, feigning innocence. "I may have been distracting the first violinists by, er, narrating the conductor's wanderings about the room on my piano..." He can't help but smile, pleased with the memory of his perfectly timing every one of the blue Lenny's steps on the highest keys and the way all the violinists snickered.
Ember rolls her eyes and slams her free palm against her forehead. "You're a piece of work," she mumbles, mostly to herself. Then, she addresses Sonikki. "Well, Honeybun, how the heck did you get in trouble?"
Sonikki was born mute, so she just covers her blushing face with one hand while Sky answers for her. "She kept turning the new scores into origami Gallions."
"Great Fyora..." Ember groans, shaking her head, and Sky and Sonikki exchange pleased glances. Their mother is usually the one making everyone frustrated with her stupid shenanigans and bad jokes, so seeing her getting so frustrated makes them feel all the more accomplished with their own antics. Ember finally looks back up at her kids, and the two's expressions fall into a flat sort of patience. She takes another bite of her peachpa, still shaking her head as she looks back and forth between the two of them. "Okay, but still, how does a song fix this?" she reiterates.
Sky shrugs for a third time. "He said our punishment was coming up with something."
Ember waits for him to continue, but he doesn't. She looks awkwardly to her right, then back at him. "So then... come up with something," she mumbles.
"That's not my problem, Angel."
"Well, we have other things to do."
"So do I!" Ember's voice shoots up an octave. "Me and Apsy have to run stupid errands for the Werelupe King all the time now that we're part of the pack!"
"Well..." Sky laces his fingers and holds his knuckles against one cheek, tilting his head. "You're so much better at composing than li'l ol' us," he says with a saccharinely honeyed tone. "How could we ever write something as wonde–"
"Flattery will get you nowhere!" Ember shouts, cutting him off, lifting her hand in a frustrated motion for silence. Sky unlaces his fingers and gives up on the charade immediately. He should have known that that wouldn't work. Trying was just a waste of time. "Plus," Ember adds, "y'all are better with instrumentation and whatnot than I am, and we all know it. Lies won't help. Gimme a good reason and maybe you'll convince me."
Sky rolls his eyes. "Well... I guess..." For a few seconds, he mirrors Ember's hand-twirling-while-trying-to-think-of-something-to-say action, but he can't come up with any convincing tricks. He finally settles for a good old-fashioned guilt trip. "You're our mum, and we've come to you in our hour of need, so you gotta help your poor children out," he says.
Ember groans again, throwing her head back melodramatically. "Don't use the 'mommy we need you' excuse!" she complains loudly to the ceiling. "You know I'm bad at saying no to that!"
"That's precisely why I said it," Sky says with another impish grin.
Ember whips her head back down and narrows her eyes at him. Sonikki covers her mouth with one paw to try to hide her silent snickering. Ember refocuses on the Cybunny since Sky's calmness always proves to be unfaltering. "Honeybun, don't go picking up his bad habits," she says, and Sonikki purses her lips, blushing again.
"So... are you going to help?" Sky asks sweetly, trying his best to make convincing Puppyblew eyes.
Ember doesn't fall for it. At first, at least. "Dude, wait, why do you have, like, homework as a punishment?" she questions aggressively. "This isn't Neoschool! This is, like, big kid stuff!"
"I mean, it's his orchestra," Sky responds coolly. He takes a long pause, humming softly, before quietly adding, "And he gave some long-winded speech to us about 'proving we wanted to be here' and 'respect for the arts' and blah, blah, blah – I don’t know, I wasn't listening."
At this point, Ember is too frustrated to do her typical groaning routine. She just pinches the bridge of her nose tightly. "Y'all..." She shakes her head again. She doesn't know what to say. She just leaves it at that one very irritated syllable.
Sky and Sonikki both wait patiently for her response.
Ember looks like she's never going to speak again, though. All is still within the house. The door leading to the beautiful gardens outside is still open, allowing a cool breeze from the Brightvale coast to dance its way in. The bustling sounds of the Market Town square can be heard even here on the outskirts of town. Somewhere down the dirt path back to Brightvale, a Whinny gives a gleeful cry. Ember finally looks up, her eyes reading an exasperated murder, then kicks the door shut theatrically, again making all the pictures and plushies rattle against the walls. "Fine, what instrumentation am I working with?" she asks bluntly, her tone incredibly bitter. She begins to approach the table as she takes another giant bite of her fruit.
Sonikki smiles bright, excited that her mother finally caved, and leaps out of her seat, grabbing another chair from across the room and pulling it over to the table for her mother to sit in. Sky reaches for a backpack that's propped against the leg of his chair with a long "Uhh..." Eventually, after rifling through crumpled papers and a mess of loose pencils for a few seconds, he pulls out some incredibly worn sheet music that has some hasty notes scribbled across the top. He pushes his glasses farther up the bridge of his nose, then tries to decipher his own illegible handwriting. "Looks like... piano... uh... I think that says viola, but it might be... something else... uh..."
Sonikki rolls her eyes and grabs her purse from off the ground. She begins to dig through the bag as Sky squints at the papers, flips through some pages, squints again, but makes absolutely no progress in figuring out what he's written. The cheerful Cybunny eventually pulls an origami Gallion out of her purse and hands it to her brother with a sunny smile. Ember shakes her head again at the sight.
"Ah..." Sky takes the paper and unfolds it gently. "Thank Fyora for your perfect handwriting," he mumbles, then reads what's written. "Looks like it's supposed to be strings – violin, viola, cello, bass – piano, annnd voice. One to one-and-a-half minutes. No fancy key or time changes. Simple." Sky gives a firm nod of his head as he hands the paper back to Sonikki.
Ember repeats the list of things to herself a few times as Sonikki begins to fold the note back into a petpet. "Easy enough, I guess," Ember eventually says, but she still isn't thrilled. Sky can see this in her already-exhausted expression, but his wanting to stay inside and read all night rather than slave over his piano keeps him from caring too much. Once her intricate folding is complete, Sonikki places her paper Gallion on the table, then stands and gives her mother a tight hug. Ember exhales noisily, still frustrated, but she returns the embrace. "By tomorrow morning, you said?" she asks over Sonikki's shoulder, her irritated eyes finally softening slightly.
Sky gives her a slow nod, then pulls a spiral-bound notebook of blank staff paper and a brand new pencil out of his backpack. "Thanks, Mum," he says with a warm smile.
"Yeah, yeah..." Ember murmurs, pulling away from Sonikki and taking the papers and pencil. "I'll see what I can come up with while wandering the marketplace..."~
Market Town proved to be incredibly useless during Ember's search for inspiration. She had wandered through the busy cobblestone streets for what seemed like hours, admiring merchants' stands, sampling expensive cheeses and meats, and giving all the cute petpets loving pets and scratches. Still, nothing stood out. Nothing screamed, Here's an idea! Nothing shouted, This will get your dumb kids out of trouble! During her meandering, she had written several key signatures, marked a few random notes, and scribbled some useless ideas on the first page of the notebook, but immediately crossed it all out when nothing worked. Every mark she made only lasted a few seconds before she decided the idea was stupid. She's never been good at finding a place to start with this sort of thing...
There's just nothing interesting about people buying things. There's nothing interesting about most of this realm, actually – to her, at least. Brightvale is just a bunch of nobility complaining about the weather, Meridell is just a bunch of farmers complaining about potatoes, and Illusen's Glade isn't exactly the most welcoming place to those in the Werelupe King's pack. Ember has found herself back in the now very familiar Werelupe Woods, wandering through the trees, listening for any interesting petpet calls or howling or anything with a melody she could draw inspiration from.
She half-considers sneaking up to Sophie's hut and trying to brainstorm ideas by spying on the always-frustrated, always-busy witch, but... she's not that desperate. Yet, at least. After all, if she got turned into a Blechy, who would her lazy kids rely on then?
She also half-considers spying on the Werelupe King's council, but that would basically just ensure her becoming dinner for the rest of the pack. But what else is there to do? Where else is there to go? The crypts are a mess, the bogs smell awful, Kamen is boring, Apsy is annoying, the king is always irritated...
Temporarily giving up, Ember sighs to herself, then decides to take a break to come up with a game plan. She's practically right next to her favourite spot in the woods, anyway. Without a second thought, she takes a sharp right and begins to head towards the clearing where she usually sits to think. It's a beautiful place – a fallen tree grows wild with fragrant flowers; vines and hanging moss caress the slowly-decaying wood; a strangely calming bubbling sound can be heard consistently coming from the sinkholes only a few feet away...
But something seems... off... when Ember approaches the lovely glade. She can't smell the flowers or the trees' sweet sap. The air feels like it's cooling with each step. The light seems to be fading too fast. She pauses in her steps, wondering if dark magic is afoot, or if something horrible is about to happen... but then, she hears a somehow-familiar voice, and a small pang of shock hits her in the chest.
"So you're sending me after a sorcerer, eh?"
Wait... is that... Simeon?
Ember's confusion causes her to trip over nothing, but she steadies herself before her knees hit the ground. She hasn't heard the Gelert Assassin's voice in quite a while now, and she honestly thought she never would again. He seemed pretty intent on staying away when last she met eyes with him through the crowd of people during her and Apsy's initiation into the Werelupes' society... so what is he doing here? Is that even him? Maybe she's just forgotten what his voice sounds like in the few weeks since she and her daughter had last spoken to him...
Her rotten curiosity finally getting the best of her, Ember tiptoes as quiet as her clumsy legs will allow towards the source of the sound, crouching down as low as she can to stay hidden behind the brush.
A foreign-sounding voice responds to the first: "Yes, but he is a novice. It shouldn't be any problem."
Then, the first voice again: "Ha! You say that as if I wouldn't be able to handle the pest if he weren't a novice."
Ember would laugh at the sound of the man's cocky words, but she forces herself not to for the sake of silence. The pompousness in the man's raspy tenor gave his identity away. Yep, that's definitely Simeon... Still, even though a part of her is now content in the knowing that she was right, another, now more aggressive part of her begins to grow nervous about getting closer. Is he in the process of making a new contract? This is super shady stuff... it could be really dangerous... I really shouldn't get close to this... She hesitates, but only for a second longer. Her overwhelming nosiness and lack of self-control spreads a crooked half-smile across her lips, and she quickly opens the notebook Sky had given her, preparing to document whatever she may see on the still-empty staffs.
The foreign voice's tone fills with dread as she approaches the glade. "N-no! No, of course not, sir! I merely meant, uh, that, uh... it should be easy! You could do it with your eyes closed! That's all I meant!"
Ember finally gets into eyeshot of the clearing, then sits cross-legged on the dying grass below her, slowly and quietly, taking in the scene that's already begun to unfold before her. She can already tell this is going to be interesting...
Simeon looks the same as the last time she saw him – his eyes hidden under the hood of his cloak, his hand seeming eager to draw his assassin's blade, his ruby and ivory broach glistening under the setting sun's light... He's leaning against the trunk of an ancient tree, somehow looking both furious and ridiculously apathetic. Before him is a very terrified-looking yellow Wocky. He's sweating nervously, his eyes darting around everywhere, and he's clutching tightly to a broken wand. Simeon seems to be completely impassive, if not a bit smug, with the Wocky's behaviour. He's completely in his own state of mind, absolutely unresponsive to whatever the Wocky is saying and doing. Ember takes note of this above one of the staffs:
And with that, she is able to come up with a few measures worth of music at the top of the page to accompany the idea. Finally, she's found something interesting enough to write about.
Simeon shifts his weight slightly, and the Wocky takes a step back, fearing that he may have offended the grey Gelert and now he is the assassin's target... but he is safe. For now. Simeon is only reaching for something tucked into his cloak's inside breast pocket. It's a piece of parchment. Uncomfortably slowly, he hands it to the Wocky without a word, making the man all the more nervous with his patient and silent motions.
Ember takes another note:
She adds a fermata over a quarter note rest at the end of a measure, making the intended lift more defined.
Simeon finally speaks as the Wocky takes the parchment. "I trust you don't doubt my skill," the Gelert says, his voice so thickly honeyed that it sounds somehow even more terrifying. "Still," he continues, "you'd be better off keeping your tongue in check. I tire easily of mistakes."
The Wocky swallows hard. "Yes, sir."
She adds a B flat in the middle of a few D minor chords.
"Good," Simeon says, then he pulls a scarlet pen out of his pocket and hands it over to the nervous man. "Now, let's make this official, shall we?" he says, the ghost of a bloodthirsty smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Ha! Blood red? How stereotypical... Ember rolls her eyes as she writes:
She changes a few progressions to a more predictable, less-pretentious pattern.
The Wocky takes the pen, then starts to read whatever is written on the parchment. His hands are trembling slightly. He's obviously very eager to get out of this horrible forest and the horrifying situation, but he doesn't want to sign something that he hasn't examined thoroughly first. It's clear that he still doesn't trust that his life will be spared. Simeon's patience and peculiarly calm demeanour both suddenly begin to wane visibly, and he starts to tap his foot anxiously on the ground, his expression darkening with each second the Wocky spends reading rather than signing.
Ember cringes at the sight. She knows how aggressive Simeon can get when he's frustrated. She writes:
She scribbles down an accelerando and takes a few notes up an octave.
Finally, the Wocky nods to himself, accepting of the terms of the contract, then signs the parchment. He hands Simeon the papers, pen, and the wand he's been clutching tightly, his nervousness heightening for a few seconds as he meets the Gelert's scowling gold eyes. He seems beyond relieved when all the assassin does is tuck the items back under his cloak and give a short nod in response to his compliance. For a few more seconds, silence. Then, "It will be done by dawn," Simeon says as he crosses his arms. He then nods quickly to the left, not wanting to deal with this coward any longer. "Now get lost."
The Wocky gives a hasty bow, making himself a bit dizzy in his rush to stand up straight again. "Thank you, sir," and he scampers off into the shadows, not wanting to risk spending another second with the hostile assassin.
As the Wocky disappears into the fog of the forest, and the surrounding woods grow deathly silent again, Simeon lets out a long exhale, relaxing his tense shoulders and stretching his arms. He allows his "ruthless assassin" persona to fade for a few seconds, and the typical wash of sorrow that Ember is used to seeing on his face momentarily replaces the glower of fury. The irritation returns quickly, though. She watches, holding her breath, as the Gelert finally turns and begins to walk away, his footsteps crunching softly on the dying grasses and fallen autumn leaves.
Satisfied, Ember looks down at everything she's written so far. She's got the piano line done, most of the vocal line, and the last eight measures for the strings – she figures she can flesh the rest of those out when she gets home. Still, she isn't sure about the sound. She's never been very good at chord progressions, or vocal lines, or... well, a lot of things, really. She isn't entirely sure why her lazy kids asked her to do this in the first place. They probably would have been better off doing it themselves. Still, she made a promise. She makes puzzled faces at the papers as she harshly scrutinises the piece, then tries to fix some things with a few hasty scribbles.
Hasty and noisy scribbles.
The sound of the disappearing footsteps suddenly silences, and Ember looks up to see that Simeon has stopped dead in his tracks, his sensitive Gelert ears standing alert. He definitely heard something. She just hopes it wasn't her. He starts to look around, seeming distressed, if not completely furious. Oh no... Ember doesn't know what to do. If she stands, he will hear her. If she stays still, he will see her. She holds her breath and hopes for the best. Oh no, oh no, oh no...
But he doesn't do anything. At first, at least. He looks around slowly, holding one hand out in front of him. His open palm glows a faint violet as he gestures delicately toward the trees. He's obviously casting some sort of spell, but Ember can't tell what it is. She hasn't seen him use too much magic other than his teleportation and dowsing spells. This force definitely feels foreign, though. That only worries her more. Eventually, a grim scowl slithers its way across the assassin's face, and he cusses under his breath. But then, he disappears in a quick flash of black smoke, not acting upon whatever it was that had angered him.
Ember stays completely still for a few more painfully long seconds, wondering what the heck he just got so mad about – and where he went – but there's no way in Moltara she's gonna snoop around trying to find out. She really can't afford to take any more chances with that weirdo. They may have a kinda-sorta friendship, but she knows for a fact that that isn't nearly enough to convince him to spare her life if ever she crossed him. When the air turns calm again and the smoke settles, Ember finally exhales, placing a hand over her heart to calm its frantic beating. That was way too close... Still, no matter. She has all that she needs. Now it's time for a long night of editing and proofreading...
With a few quick flexes of her wrists, she stands, then casually stretches her back and legs, preparing for the long walk back to Market Town. She spins around on her heels, takes one last second to examine her work, then looks up... only to be met with the razor-sharp tip of a jagged blade inches from her face. Simeon stands before her now, looking absolutely livid. "How much did you see?"
Ember can't fight back her panicked gasp. She stumbles back a bit, hugging the notebook tightly to her chest like a breastplate, not knowing what else to do. Her terror is only intensified when the assassin mirrors each of her steps, keeping his sword the same painfully close distance away from her nose. She knows she can't lie her way out of this, so she defaults to sarcastic. "Like, most of it, I think," she says, somehow able to sound unfazed despite the obvious panic in her black eyes. She takes another nervous step back, and he mirrors her actions again. She continues speaking as if she doesn't know he's probably going to kill her. "You were, like, being all spooky, and then you gave him a paper, and then he ran away."
Simeon's expression is only continuing to sour. He doesn't lower his blade, despite Ember's best efforts to stay calm and tell the truth. She tries to have faith that their incredibly shaky almost-friendship will keep her alive, but he doesn't look merciful today... apparently this has been an incredible mistake...
To be continued…