A polite cough; a gentle old smile. A small ragged group hunched over strange instruments; scorched originals and makeshift approximations. A string quintet, of sorts. Dwarfed by the rubble, curving up behind them like a ruined theatre. The young solemn lead shouldered a strange charred something, like a violin. Took steady breaths in the shuffling silence, and blocked the crowd from his mind. Running the bow across otherworldly strings he produced a rising solo, rich and baroque; an abrupt gentle melody that carried through the sunlit gardens. Joined by the rest in full joyous harmony. Painting bright living music on the cool air that followed the storm; gilded and statuesque to hear. Such a strange sudden beauty, among the ruins and sunlit rubble; a burst of hope like a lightning bolt. High rapid notes like glorious birdsong. The village was gathering to see; parents held young staring children high against their shoulders to watch. Weary people, beaten and grieving; gathering around a precious remnant of better times. Kids and teenagers listened with fresh novelty. They’d heard of physical music, but it’d been out of fashion for two centuries or more. But older villagers smiled along to the tune in gentle familiarity; one lady beamed and clutched her hands dearly to her heart like she was a little girl again. One small figure in a tired happy gathering, standing close around their joyous music. For a few fleeting minutes, the sounds were the most precious thing in the world.
Tabitha looked on the scene from a distance, smiling despite herself. Leaning against a damp stone pillar in the outer cloisters. Listening in utter rapture to a gorgeous artwork, strummed and sawed and strung in silver-sweet divinities. A hopeful glimpse of civilisation, in the city’s torn hazing ruins. In a while the music took a melancholy turn; a brief mournful interlude that faded into solemn silence. And then, rising. Harder, and determined; colder and more beautiful than before. Constant stabbing notes, like ice and steel. Building, relentlessly, to a coming crescendo. The young man stood suddenly and broke into a hard slicing solo. So cold and fast and intense that the whole dead birdsung city stopped to listen. His face was set in stern determination, as he played rapid-fire in fierce virtuoso. Making his mark on this dim dying world, whether it wanted him or not. Years of endless practise, distilled in the greatest minute of his life. The quartet joined in the hard gorgeous harmony; the crowd watched in spellbound silence. Other races watched the strange music in stunned fascination, wondering at such beauty; as if the gods themselves had descended. Tabitha felt such a full sudden rising in her chest. Fresh purpose. But it wasn’t the art or the talent she saw in those people. It wasn’t even about the music, beautiful as it was. It was that energy; that dedication. Undying commitment to something greater and more perfect than themselves. To conjure thoughts and tears from wood and string and hard scorched silence. Carving angels from solid sound. The kind of will and artful determination that’d built this ancient city in the first place.
The kind that could rebuild it too, Tabitha told herself, as the quintet faded and the crowd applauded like they’d never hear music again. All they need is a fighting chance.