Tux followed Twilight out the door and moved up beside her as they walked down the street. "So where are you from?" she asked him.
"Hoofton," he replied. "It's a crummy city to say the least."
"I hear it's pretty good if you're a business owner."
"But I'm not. My training is in music and language, not something useful."
"Oh, but music is very useful. It just takes a special something to be able to use it. And only those who are serious about music go to music school. Maybe that's what you'll wind up with."
"Your career. And your cutie mark." She nudged him.
"I've accepted that it'll never show up."
"Hey, don't talk like that. All ponies get their cutie marks." They came to the Carousel Boutique and went inside. "Hey Rarity, I have somebody to introduce you to!"
"Oh, nonsense. Rarity, are you free?"
"Be right down," Rarity's voice replied. "Ow! No more needles for you, Sweetie Belle!"
"I'm sorry!" replied a smaller voice.
Rarity trotted out a moment later. When she saw him, she said, "Twilight! I see you've met my new accountant, Mr. Tails."
"Tux," he corrected quietly.
"New accountant?" Twilight asked. "I thought I did your books."
"Yes, but last time you did, you wrote everything in this ugly, red ink. Since that can't be right, I thought I'd give Mr. Tails...er, Tux the job. He needs work, and I'm confident in his abilities."
"But I could have sworn I used black ink, too," Twilight said in disbelief. "You're right, Rarity, that can't be right. Can I just take a look at your books really quick?"
"I'm sorry, but I don't have the time. Not even with my sister helping me. I have massive orders to fill. I'm sorry I can't stay and talk longer. Toodle-oo!" She trotted back into the back room just in time to shout, "Sweetie Belle, what have you done?! Sequins are not to be applied with glue!"
"Sorry about that," Twilight said, adding a nervous chuckle. "Canterlot has been buzzing about her ever since the royal wedding a few months ago. She's been so busy." She sighed. "A little too busy, I'd say."
"You miss her, I take it?"
"We haven't spent very much time together in the last few weeks. Spike has taken it the hardest."
"Why has he?"
"Walk with me." They left the dress shop and started walking back down the road. "Spike has a tremendous crush on Rarity, and I think there could be something mutual. I know it's crazy, but they just click. He's on special assignment in Canterlot this week so that he can get his mind off it."
"So I guess I'll meet him when he gets back."
"Bingo. Hey, let's check Sugarcube Corner to see if Pinkie Pie is there."
"I've actually met her already. She was the first pony I met in town. Besides, she's probably already redecorating my house."
"Oh my gosh, I need to tell you about when I first met Pinkie. I had just come to town, and when she saw me, she gasped and took off. When I got back to the library, everypony in Ponyville was in the reading room for a surprise party that she threw."
"At least she talked to me. I would have bugged out if she'd done that."
"She's gotten better about it. I guess we can wait until the big housewarming party to get the formal introduction going. So who else have you met?"
"Just lead me around. Where to next?"
"Let's head to Sweet Apple Acres."
"Been there, too. But I'm all for going back." They walked quietly for a while, but then the silence got awkward. "So I take it that you haven't always lived in Ponyville. Where are you from?"
"Canterlot. I'm actually Princess Celestia's protogée. I was sent to Ponyville before the Summer Sun Celebration last year so that I could check on the preparations. Nightmare Moon crashed the party, and Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Fluttershy and I defeated her with the Elements of Harmony, making her see the error of her ways. Now she's back to her old self as Princess Luna, and she's in Canterlot doing her old job."
"You're the six who defeated Nightmare Moon and Discord?"
"Yes, we happen to be."
"I am in the presence of greatness," he marveled. "And I'm surprised you're so...normal."
"Yup. Normal as chocolate cake."
"Of the six of you, I haven't met Fluttershy yet."
"Oh, then I'll have to introduce you. I think you'll get along very well."
"So yesterday you said you loved to read," he commented. "What do you like to read?"
"Everything," she replied. "History, biography, fiction, encyclopedias--you name it! What about you?"
"I love a good story. And I also like reading about linguistics."
"That's a topic I have yet to tackle. It's much too technical for my taste."
"It can get pretty hairy sometimes. But I've learned a lot, enough to create my own languages. One thing I can't stand, though, is history. It's so...boring."
"Then all you've had are textbooks. They leave out all the juicy little scandals. I have books about secret lovers, betrayals, and bribes that shaped the world as we see it today."
"I'll have to borrow those," he said. "That actually sounds interesting."
"You said that you create languages. Does that mean you also speak other languages?"
"Well, I can speak a little Spanish and Esperanto, which is itself a constructed language. But most of my experience comes from singing. I've sung in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Latin. Because of that, I can understand each of them to a little bit of facility."
"So if I asked you to translate my sister-in-law's name, 'Mi Amore Candenza', you could tell me what it means?"
"Yes. But it's half Spanish and half Italian. 'Mi' is the Spanish first-person possessive. 'Amore' is Italian for 'love'. Cadenza is a musical term, a long, showy, improvised phrase. Beethoofen wrote one in one of his piano sonatas that was a couple pages long."
"So it's more just a name in this case."
"We just call her Cadance, anyway."
"Now, a cadence is different than a cadenza. A cadence is like this." He sang a series of notes and demonstrated his point. "Whereas a cadenza is like this." He sang the cadenza from an aria he learned in school. "I'd need a piano or a guitar to show you better."
"I think I get it," Twilight smiled. "And you have a very nice voice."
"Thanks." He blushed.
"Do you play piano, too?"
"Not very well. I just can't get my feathers to cooperate."
"Feather dexterity. Very interesting."
"I do everything with them. I hold my pen, I play my instruments, and I have full control of my flight."
"Rainbow Dash would love to have dextrous feathers like that, I bet."
"All she needs is practice and some lessons."
A group of three young fillies came trotting briskly down the road. "Hey, girls!" Twilight greeted.
"Hey, Twilight!" they responded in unison.
"Girls, I want you to meet Tux n Tails. He's new around here."
She stood beside them and introduced each one in turn. "Tux, this is Apple Bloom, Applejack's sister; Sweetie Belle, Rarity's sister; and Scootaloo, Rainbow Dash's number one fan."
"We're the Cutie Mark Crusaders!" Apple Bloom exclaimed gleefully.
"They have a mission to find their cutie marks. Hey, maybe you should join them!" Twilight winked and nudged him.
"Ew, a boy in our club?" grimaced Sweetie Belle, a white filly with voluptuous pastel pink and mauve curls.
"A grown-up, no less," Scootaloo added. He could easily see that she was as tomboyish as Rainbow Dash was, and he wondered if her mane and tail's color was natural. It clashed a bit with her orange coat.
"Hey, he's a blankflank, too," Apple Bloom defended. She was very much the country bumpkin, wearing a big, red bow in her relatively unstyled, red mane. Her southern accent mirrored that of her older sister. "I think he should at least be an honorary member."
"Oh no, that's fine," he said. "I don't need to be a part if you want to keep it exclusive."
"Next meeting, we'll discuss it," Scootaloo suggested.
"Hey, Sweetie Belle," he asked, "weren't you at Carousel Boutique just a bit ago?"
"Rarity kicked me out," she replied. "I had a Crusaders meeting to attend, anyway, and I had to really hoof it. Besides, I cut across the field instead of taking the road like you two."
"Where are you off to now?" Twilight asked.
"Lunch," Scootaloo replied. "Pinkie Pie fixed us a picnic at the gazebo. She's waiting for us there."
"Well, I won't keep you any longer. Have fun!" The three trotted off, and Twilight explained, "They formed that group a year or so ago. All their contrived attempts to force their cutie marks to appear have been met with disaster. They really need an adult giving them guidance, and I think you would be a good candidate. There's something about you that makes me want to trust you implicitly."
"I try to be a pony of integrity," he said, inclining his head respectfully.
"True integrity can be hard to find."
Several minutes later, they arrived at Sweet Apple Acres. Applejack was unhooking herself from an empty apple cart when she saw them. "Hi, guys!" she greeted, trotting over. "Tux, I didn't expect you back so soon, not that it's a bad thing."
"So I take it that your initial meeting went fairly well," Twilight said.
"It was...decent as far as first meetings go," Tux commented.
"Tux came here looking for work, but I had to turn him away. You know how that works. Did Rarity have anything for you, Tux?"
"Yeah," Tux replied. "I'm going to be doing her books."
"Well, good for you. Granny Smith does our books now, but she's getting on in years. We're workin' on trainin' Apple Bloom to do it, and at this rate, we'll have a calculator on her flank in no time at all."
"Calculators are commonplace for cutie marks in Hoofton," Tux commented. "I've seen at least a dozen ponies with them.
"Bleh," Applejack grimaced. "I hate all them numbers. I like buckin' and bakin'. Somethin' I can do with my hooves."
"So I guess Pinkie Pie is throwing me a housewarming party tonight. Are you, Big Macintosh and Apple Bloom going to be there?"
"Not Apple Bloom. She has to go to bed at a decent hour. But I think it's safe to say I'll be there. The only way Big Mac will come out of his shell is if Cheerilee is there. So make sure to extend the invitation to her."
"Are they an...item now?" Twilight asked inquisitively.
"Very discreet, so don't tell nopony about it. But yes. Ever since that little stunt my sister pulled with her posse, he's been awful close to her."
"Cheerilee is the schoolteacher," Twilight explained. "I'll tell you the story of the whole Hearts and Hooves debacle later. Hey, Applejack, have you seen Rainbow Dash?"
"Not lately. Yesterday, she said something about going to Cloudsdale for a couple of days. She left after her chores this morning, far as I know."
"Well, I hope she can make the party."
"I think she will," Tux smiled. "She wants to pick my brain for gliding tips."
"We'll let you get back to work, Applejack," Twilight said. "We're going to see if we can find Fluttershy. Tux and she are kindred spirits, I think, and she's the only one of the six of us that he hasn't yet met."
"All righty, then. Take care!"
As they left, Twilight explained what the Cutie Mark Crusaders had done on the last Hearts and Hooves Day, and how they'd learned that meddling in the love lives of others was not a good idea most of the time. He found the story both amusing and disheartening at the same time, because any matchmaking that anypony had done for him, or that he'd done for himself, had led only to awkwardness and heartbreak rather than a good relationship.
He had all but given up hope of finding his very special somepony, but the more he talked with Twilight, the more he felt he had a chance with her. This time, he was determined to follow his sister's advice and become good friends before asking her out. But half of him still wanted to jump in; in the past, waiting had always resulted in failure. Somepony else always came in and snapped her up. Maybe a happy medium was the best.
It wasn't very long before they came to a small cottage somewhere near a large and foreboding forest. "That's the Everfree Forest," Twilight informed. "I'll have to introduce you to Zecora sometime. She's a zebra, and our resident herbalist. She lives in the Forest. But this is Fluttershy's cottage. She might not be in, but we'll check."
She knocked on the door. "Fluttershy, are you in?" She opened the door and went inside. "Fluttershy?" A small rabbit hopped over and pointed out the window then waved its arms rhythmically. "Thanks, Angel." She turned and started walking for the door.
"Wait, what?" Tux wondered.
"She's practicing with her songbird choir."
"Really?" His ears pricked. "She's musical, eh?"
"Very musical. Very shy. But not as much as she used to be."
He followed her until he heard a familiar Renaissance anthem wafting through the air. "William Byrd," he pointed out. He chuckled. "Birds singing Byrd. How fitting!"
When they were within sight, he heard a soft voice say, "All right, from the top. Remember to count; this has to be perfect." She began conducting, and Tux joined and sang the baritone part:
Sing joyfully unto God our strength;
Sing loud unto the God of Jacob!
Take the song, bring forth the timbrel,
The pleasant harp, and the viol.
Blow the trumpet in the new moon,
Even in the time appointed, and at our feast day.
For this is a statute for Israel,
And a law of the God of Jacob.
After the end of the song, Fluttershy landed and turned around, blushing. "Hello," she said. "I didn't realize you were there until I heard you singing." He blushed as well.
"Fluttershy, this is Tux n Tails. He's new in town, and I figured you and he would get along."
"It's very nice to meet you, Tux. It sounds like you've had some singing experience."
"A little bit," he replied.
"Oh, don't be so modest," she smiled. "You're very good."
"I actually went to music school."
"Then maybe you can teach me a thing or two. I'm self-taught, but I love music so much."
"I need to get back to Ponyville," Twilight said. "I'll leave you two."
In the first few minutes after Twilight left, it was awkward silence between the two of them. One of the birds chirped expectantly, and Fluttershy said, "Oh, sorry. You all did a fantastic job. You're dismissed."
As the birds flew off, Tux tried to initiate some conversation. "So what kind of music does your choir usually sing?"
"I usually write my own, but we're supposed to be guest performers at the next Grand Galloping Gala, so I figured we'd try something a bit more complicated."
"How long have they been working on the Byrd anthem?"
"A couple of months. We've worked for an hour every day since then. It's been really hard on me because it's so complex."
"I noticed that you were trying to cue everybody. You're making it harder for yourself than it could be. All you need to do is keep a steady beat like this." He conducted with his right wing as he sang the song. "Cue the important parts, and put the burden on the birds. They can do it."
"Oh, I couldn't do that."
"It'll be a lot better if you do. Trust me."
"Okay, I'll try it."
"You know, you're not nearly as shy as I thought you would be."
"I've gotten a lot better about it since Twilight came to town," she confessed. "But I still get bad stage fright."
"Everybody gets stage fright. I can know an aria backward and forward, and when I get up to sing it, my heart pounds."
"What arias do you know?" she asked. "I've been looking for somebody to sing a duet with."
"What part do you sing?"
"I don't know any baritone-soprano duets, but if you had something in mind, I could learn it. I could also write something."
"I think I would like that more."
"It's settled, then. Maybe we can perform at the Gala."
Fluttershy smiled. "I'll have to ask the princess about it. But I'm sure she would approve."
Later, as Tux was walking down the road to his cottage, ideas for new choral works running through his head. He was about to reach for the door handle when he paused and remembered Pinkie Pie's party idea. Chuckling to himself, he went around to face the balcony and flapped up to it. He pulled the door open as quietly as he could. His bedroom was empty, but it was no indication of the state of the downstairs. He sneaked down the stairs and saw every square inch packed with anticipating ponies.
He took a deep, silent breath and said in his most sinister sounding voice, "Surprise!"
Half the crowd shrieked, and most of them jumped. Tux guffawed at the reaction. "Nice try. But thank you so much for throwing this party. I've never had an entire town turn out for anything having to do with me, but then again, this is an apartment building's worth in Hoofton." Some of them chuckled. "Speaking of Hoofton, I just flew in from there, and boy are my wings tired!"
Only a cricket responded, and it with a heckle. "I guess that doesn't work when you're a pegasus. Um...."
"Leave the comedy to the comedians," said a raspy voice behind him. He turned and came face to face with a tall, jet black mare whose mane shown with starlight and whose fangs glistened. Her eyes glowed behind her crystal helm, and her wings were extended in a gesture of authority that only a pegasus would fully understand.
"Nightmare Moon...." He stammered.
"Yes," she grinned.
"Wait a minute. You've gotta be Princess Luna in disguise."
"Disguise?" she bellowed. "Absurd! We have only recently realized our true potential. And that potential can be realized only in this form. Thou art unique among ponies, a threat to our plans. It is only fit to paint over this threat with nothingness." She lunged at him in a show of superiority.
Tux shrieked in terror and backed further down the stairs. "Don't kill me! I'm nothing! I'm nopony!"
"Quick, girls!" Twilight rallied, bursting into the now clear main room. "The Elements of Harmony!" She wore a crown of some kind, set with an amethyst.
"Loyalty!" shouted Rainbow Dash as she flew through the door.
"Kindness!" Fluttershy announced, emerging from the kitchen.
"Honesty!" Applejack called as she entered the room.
"Generosity!" Rarity bellowed.
"Laughter!" Pinkie Pie giggled.
"And Magic!" Twilight shouted. Her eyes glowed with a blinding, white light, and she levitated as the tip of her horn gathered an orb of pure light. Each of the ponies was wearing a different piece of jewelry with a different gem, and they each shot a beam of light at Nightmare Moon behind Tux. He ducked and covered his eyes with his front legs, but a split second later, the light had vanished. He kept low as he turned to look at what was left of the villain. He didn't notice a change.
"It didn't work!" he shrieked, kowtowing before her.
"We demand that thou wilt rise before us," the princess bellowed. "And open thine eyes! Look us in the face!"
Slowly, he looked up. But this time he didn't see Nightmare Moon. Instead, he saw somepony else. "Welcome to Ponyville, Tux n Tails," she said. "I'm sorry for this. I could not continue this ruse any longer." She glared at somepony behind him. "Pinkie Pie thought it would be a good idea to scare you, especially seeing as how you were born on Nightmare Night, but seeing your genuine fear changed my heart. Please rise, Tux n Tails."
"T-Tux," he stammered, scrambling to his feet. His heart pounded, pumping adrenaline through his veins. "I understand why Pinkie thought it would be a good idea. I know there was no malice in it."
"I'm sorry, Tux," Pinkie said.
"No, no, it's fine." He turned and walked up to her. "I really appreciate the sentiment. It would have been much better as an actual Nightmare Night party. Keep that one in mind."
"Well, I couldn't get Luna for Nightmare Night, but she was free tonight. So I figured, why not?"
Princess Luna walked around him and joined the other six ponies. "If it weren't for these six, I would never have seen the error of my ways. I used to be Nightmare Moon, but I'm not anymore."
Tux inclined his head. "Thanks to you six, there is hope for me. It's a long story, and I don't like to tell it. Maybe someday I will. But for tonight, let's party, shall we?"
Pinkie Pie shouted, "Hit it!" and a bass drop the size of Manehattan shook the tiny house. A black-light illuminated a pony who stood behind a set of turntables. "Cake!" Pinkie bellowed, and Mr. and Mrs. Cake wheeled in a tall chocolate cake covered in fluorescent frosting that shone in the ultraviolet rays. "Punch!"
Somepony came in and said, "Berry drank it all."
"What the hoof? I'm going to have to have a talk with that girl. Applejack?"
"Cider!" Applejack called, and Big Macintosh wheeled in a keg of the drink. "Come and get it!"
Ponies started filtering back into the room. Twilight cut a piece of the cake and gave it to Tux. "Welcome to Ponyville," she smile. "Officially."
"Thank you, Twilight."
"Now go mingle."
He went around talking, making introductions, and doing other social things. He was glad to be able to put names to most ponies' faces, but it quickly tired him out. He procured a mug of cider and hung by the wall, blending in with the darkness, watching Scootaloo and Rainbow Dash dancing like robots along with the music.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a rather dejected looking mare doing the same thing as he. He refilled his mug and got one for her, and he went over and made small talk. "Hey, Fluttershy. Tired?"
"Yeah," she replied. He could barely hear her, but she was loud enough to be understood.
"Thank you," she replied.
"So...dubstep. I wonder how Pinkie knew. You'd think she's stalking me or something."
"It wouldn't surprise me. So this is dubstep?"
"I knew Vinyl Scratch was into electronic music, but I didn't know about this."
"Is it a good or a bad thing?"
"Oh no, I like it. You can never have too much bass. It's just that parties drain me."
"Well, they drain me, too. Let's have a party of two, shall we?"
She took the mug of cider in her teeth and took a sip. "Sounds good."