Kester surveyed his surroundings, taking in what he saw. The entire town looked as though time had stopped- completely covered in white and motionless save for the falling snow. He took a deep breath, feeling the frigid air sting his lungs a bit, but it didn't phase him- he was used to this. He then began his search for Rolando. "...If A' were Roly, where would A' go?" He looked around, trying to get an idea. He then looked down at the snow, trying to look for anything resembling hoof prints in the snow. He examined them carefully, and noticed one set was larger than the rest, but not quite as large as his. "These must be Roly's. A' just got ta' follow 'em before the snow covers 'em up."
He made his way off the porch of Octavia's house, and began to walk. He refrained from running so as not to gain the attention of the Royal Guardcolts that were circling the area. He moved quickly but quietly, following the trail. It almost pained him to see the quiet little town so devoid of life. There was one thing he attributed to this situation that he never had back in Scoltland- he had never felt more alone. The only thing that he could hear was the sound of the howling wind, his own hoof-steps and his own breathing. Not a single soul was around to hear him walk by. He looked on at the fountain as he passed it, motionless as if frozen in time. The stones that made the roads were buried beneath thick sheets of snow, hidden from view. "A' got ta' keep movin'...Roly won't stand a chance in this weather..." Kester said to himself, pressing forth.
He made his way to the edge of town, where he was forced to stop as a few Royal Guardcolts rounded a corner. Kester leapt behind cover, keeping his breathing as quiet as possible until they passed. He heard the two talking, so he decided to listen in.
"Jeeze, this storm's only getting worse...any idea when they'll get the Weather Factory back under control?" One stallion asked the other.
"I dunno...thank Celestia she gave us this armor that uses magic to generate heat. I'm pretty sure we would have frozen by now otherwise," the other stallion responded.
"I feel awful for the poor residents of this town. We can't really do much for them but make sure they don't leave their homes," the first stallion said.
"Tell me about it...I just came out from patrolling around Sweet Apple Acres. I don't think I've ever been more afraid of something happening to me. The place was like it was deserted. I kept thinking something was gonna sneak up on me."
The second stallion looked puzzled. "Why were you all the way out at the Acres? I thought the Apple Family hunkered down long before the storm hit."
"Well, we got a report that a stallion was seen wandering around the area-"
That must'a been Roly! Kester then focused his hearing more intently on the two guards.
"-so I was sent over to look. I didn't see anything...and I can only hope that what they saw was the storm playing tricks on them. Unless he's a unicorn that can use his magic to heat himself up...there's no way he's gonna survive this."
"Poor guy...I hope he makes it out alright. Anyway, we better get moving. We've stood in place too long," the second stallion reminded.
"Oh yeah. These things generate heat based on our movement, right?" the first stallion asked.
"That's what the General said. Let's get going before we freeze to death," the other said. The two Guardcolts left the area, Kester coming out of his hiding spot.
"Don't worry, Roly...A'm comin'. Just hang in there a lil' longer..." Kester said, trudging on through the frigid winds.
The six mares sat in the living room, waiting patiently for the stallions to return. Octavia comforted Vinyl, stroking her foreleg with a hoof as Madeline sat with Marianna, a foreleg across her shoulders. Lyra and Bonbon sat silently, leaning against one another as they all quietly waited. They could hear the wind screaming past the windows like a demon reveling in the chaos outside, the fireplace crackling as it generated warmth.
"The fire's starting to go out...I'll go get another log," Lyra said. She got up and pushed a fresh log into the fireplace, using her magic to conjure a spark that lit it. A fresh wave of warmth swept over the room, the mares shifting to get more comfortable.
"...Please let them come back okay..." Marianna said softly, on the verge of tears.
"Don't worry Marianna...Kester will not give up until he finds Rolando...you can count on that," Madeline said, doing her best to reassure her. Kester...please stay safe...don't do anything crazy out there... She thought to herself as she stared at the front door. Vinyl leaned her head into Octavia's neck, trying to keep herself calm. She closed her eyes, a single tear escaping as she hoped for her father's safe return.
"Everything will be fine, Vinyl. I promise...Papa and Rolando will come back safe and sound. You'll see..." Octavia said softly, pulling Vinyl closer to her. Vinyl then looked up when she felt something skitter past her leg. Unts had finally woken up from his sleep, and had crawled up onto Vinyl's back and sat on her shoulder. He could sense her pain, and was doing whatever he could to ease it.
"Hey, Unts..." Vinyl smiled weakly, giving him a kiss on the top of his head. "Thanks for being an awesome pet..." Unts looked at Vinyl, and plopped down on her shoulder, snuggling up against her neck. Octavia smiled, but it quickly faded when she looked at the front door.
Come back safe, Papa...
The cold only grew more and more bitter, but still Kester marched on. "A'm not abou' ta' let some lil' storm get in tha' way of ma' family! No way, no how!" He gave a small smirk, and pressed forward. After several minutes of walking, he found himself near the edge of town. He saw what appeared to be a fork in the road, with a sign at its center. Kester made his way over to it, and brushed snow off one of the two signs.
"'Sweet Apple Acres'...tha's where A'm headed," he said to himself as he read the sign. He then took the path, and gave a small sigh when he saw what exactly the guard meant. The farm was devoid of any signs of life, the hundreds of apple trees swaying at the mercy of the fierce winds. The farmhouse, barn, and all the livestock had been locked up to keep out the cold. Kester then began to make his way through the area, looking for any sign of Rolando. He swept past the barn, circled around the farmhouse a few times, and checked around all the livestock houses, coming up empty-hooved. "Damn...Roly's not makin' this easy..." He then noticed a fresh set of prints leading away back towards town, and felt a small sigh of relief when he noticed they were around the same size as Rolando's. He began to follow the trail, breaking out into a full gallop, leaving Sweet Apple Acres. He came back to the fork, and went down the other path. As he did, he knocked off the remaining bit of snow on the sign, the words reading:
Kester continued galloping at full tilt, his breath growing slightly short as the cold air stung his lungs. He followed the trail until it eventually stopped dead. "Wha'...how is this possible? The stallion didn't just disappear," he said to himself as he looked around. It was at that point that he realized that he was nowhere near town. "Where in Equestria am A'? A' didn't know there were forests in Ponyville...what an odd lil' town." He continued making his way through the forest. "ROLY! ROLY CAN YE' HEAR ME, BOYO!? ARE YE' OUT THERE!?" he yelled, hoping for a response. His heart sank slightly when the only sound he received was the wind rushing past his ears. "ROLY! ANSWER ME, BOYO!"
"KESTER!? KESTER IS THAT YOU?!"
Kester's ears perked up at the sound of another voice- one very similar to that of Rolando's.
"A' hear ye' boyo! Just stay where ye' are! A'll come ta' you!" Kester called out. He quickly hurried towards where Rolando's voice was coming from, and felt his blood beginning to boil when he found Rolando, backed into a corner, staring down a bear with a thick black coat. "Nopony attacks MA' FAMILY!" he yelled as he galloped into a full charge, barreling into the bear and knocking him clean over. The bear let out a loud roar as it toppled over. Kester then hurried over to Rolando, who looked very much afraid, confused, and cold.
"Ye alright, boyo? C'mon, let's get ye' out of here..." Kester said.
"Thank you, Kester- LOOK OUT!" Rolando yelled. Kester wheeled around, but didn't quite evade in time. He grit his teeth as he felt the bear's claws cut into the skin on his left foreleg at the shoulder, his left foreleg going slightly numb from the pain as well as warm as blood began to seep out of the wound. "Gaah! Sweet Celestia that hurts!" Kester said, reeling back slightly. He examined his wound quickly, and let out a deep growl. "Oh, yer goin' ta' get it now! COME ON! LET'S THROW DOWN!" he yelled, pawing the ground with a hoof and letting out a deep snort. The bear let out a deafening roar and charged at Kester. Rolando sat nearby, watching as Kester fought the bear.
"Unbelievable...Kester truly is a beast of a stallion..." Rolando murmured softly as he watched in awe- Kester was matching the bear blow for blow. Every time the bear swiped, Kester responded with a buck or an attempt to grapple with it. He landed a few hits on the bear's midsection, only to receive a hit to the face with the back of the bear's paw, leaving a solid welt on his cheek. "...I need to help him! He came all this way out to save me, I need to get him out of this!"
Kester was beginning to slow down- the effects of the wound as well as the cold were beginning to set in. A' don't know how much more o' this A' can take... he thought as he continued to fight the bear. The bear looked as though it was about to land a blow, when a pair of forelegs wrapped themselves tightly around the bear's throat.
"NOW KESTER! BUCK IT IN THE CHEST!" Rolando yelled, using what strength he could still muster to hold the bear back.
"Heh...good on ye, boyo!" Kester turned his back on the bear, and reared back his hindlegs. Rolando then realized just how muscular Kester was- his hindlegs looked like giant steel springs ready to be let loose on their unfortunate target. Kester then bucked backward as hard as he could, both hooves landing square in its chest. The force of impact was so great Rolando felt the shock rush through his body. The impact was followed by a sickening crack as the bear's ribcage shattered under the force. Rolando let go and circled around to Kester as the bear reeled. The bear coughed up blood a few times, then fell prone.
"Nicely done, Kester...thank you for coming out here to rescue me," Rolando said, panting heavily.
"Roly, ye're family. A'll put ma' life on the line any day o' the week fer family...now let's get home," Kester chuckled as he and Rolando limped back towards Ponyville. Rolando gave a warm smile at this. "Stick close to me so ye can stay warm. A've got enough heat fer both o' us," he gave a goofy grin as he pointed at his belly. Rolando snickered, shaking his head.
"Thank you, Kester...I apologize for the way I acted with you earlier," Rolando said.
"Well tha's mighty big o' ye, Roly. A'm sorry fer pushin' yer buttons," Kester chuckled, nudging Rolando's shoulder.
The two walked in silence for some time, until Rolando spoke up.
"I bet I can spoil our grandchildren better than you can..." Rolando said with a smirk, raising an eyebrow. Kester, not one to pass up a challenge, grinned in return.
"Do you think we should inform the Royal Guard?" Lyra suggested.
"I don't think that would be a good idea, Lyra...we're not supposed to be out of the house. If they find out that they've been out all this time, they could get arrested," Bonbon pointed out.
"Better than leaving them to freeze," Octavia said.
"True..." Bonbon said, trying to think of something else.
"I still think we should go out there and look for them. Lyra and I are unicorns, after all. We can use our magic to keep each other warm," Vinyl said optimistically.
"And if we are caught? What then? Are you going to use your magic on a Royal Guard?" Octavia said.
Vinyl thought about it, and sighed. "No...no I'm not..."
"We need to think of something that will not get us caught or get our father's in trouble..." Octavia said. There was a knock at the door, and all six mares looked at the door. Vinyl and Octavia immediately rushed for the door, and swung it open. They stared in awe when Kester and Rolando walked in, covered in snow.
"Whoo! Tha' just might be the craziest storm A've ever been in. Wha' about you, Roly?" Kester asked.
"No doubt about that Kester," Rolando chuckled. He then looked up at his wife, who made her way over to him.
"Is...is it really you?" Marianna asked, in utter disbelief that Kester had actually brought her husband home safe and sound. Rolando placed a hoof on her cheek as tears began to flow down her face. Marianna placed her own hoof on-top of his, grateful for the feeling of his touch.
"Yes dear, it's me...I am alive and well, all because of Kester," he said as he turned to Kester, who nodded. "...I am so sorry I frightened you," Rolando said softly. He then heard the sound of sniffling that didn't come from his wife. He turned his head, and gave a warm smile when he saw Vinyl sitting next to him, leaning into his side. Rolando brought his foreleg around her, and pulled both Marianna and Vinyl into an embrace as they came apart in his grip. "I am so sorry I did this to you. I love you both so much..." he said softly.
Kester nodded proudly, watching the endearing sight of a family being reunited. "Tha's the way, Roly." Madeline quickly made her way over to Kester, examining his wounds.
"What happened to you!?" Madeline said as she examined the wound on his shoulder.
"A' fought a bear," Kester said flatly. "No need ta' worry. It's only a flesh wound."
"You what!?" Madeline yelled in disbelief.
"Papa! Are you out of your mind?!" Octavia scolded. "What if you had gotten hurt even worse than you are!? What if-if-" Octavia couldn't find the rest of her sentence as her emotions came out all at once, literally falling apart as Kester scooped her into a hug.
"There, there 'Tavi...Papa's okay," Kester chuckled as he held her tight. He then looked over at Madeline, who was so angry and relieved that she too found herself emotional. Kester opened his right foreleg, and Madeline practically threw herself at Kester, holding him tightly.
"Don't you EVER do something like that again! I-I couldn't bear it if..." Madeline choked out, completely overwhelmed.
"It's okay, Maddie...A'm fine, Roly's fine...we're all goin' ta' be fine..." Kester said as he held both his daughter and his wife tightly. Lyra and Bonbon found themselves getting teary as well.
"When this is over...do you maybe wanna go on a trip to see our parents?" Lyra suggested as she wiped her eyes.
"Absolutely...I miss them so much right now it hurts," Bonbon responded, blinking the tears out of her eyes.
With Rolando home and safe, both families could finally begin to heal and grow together as one.