The next morning, Tux first went to Carousel Boutique to beg off work, and when Rarity approved the trip to Canterlot, giving him a shopping list and the company checkbook as a contingency, he set off for the train station. Twilight was waiting for him on the platform, a pair of tickets levitating beside her. He silently took one and tucked it snugly into his feathers.
"Thank you," he said, looking at the ground.
"For what?" she replied blankly.
"For getting me an audience with the Princess."
"Think nothing of it," she replied. "If what you're saying is true, and Discord actually got out of his prison somehow, this has to be handled with all seriousness. I have to admit my skepticism, but as one of the keepers of the Elements of Harmony, the burden of proof is on me."
"Rarity gave me a list, besides. So this counts as a business trip."
Twilight's demeanor lightened a bit, and she chuckled. "I guess since she can't rub withers with high society, she's making you do her dirty work. Make sure you get some autographs."
The attendants opened the boarding gates, and Twilight and Tux handed over their tickets as they stepped into their coach. The ride to Canterlot wasn't a long one, she explained, but it was long enough for them to have some time to talk. They took up facing seats in one of the private boxes in the main passenger car, and when the door was closed, Twilight asked him to recount the entire day before.
He told her about his nightmares, about the writing and the draconequus footprints on his walls, about the voices heard by not only him, but also Sweetie Belle, and about about the lines of verse prophesying the villain's return. He recounted the unusual appearance of the apples he'd helped harvest, and how he'd sampled one and found it to be inordinately sweet, like it was already infused with caramel, or like the sugar content was far higher than normal for that particular cultivar. Lastly, he mentioned how Rainbow Dash had totally forgotten about her date with Soarin', whom he didn't name, and Twilight agreed that forgetting an appointment was quite unlike the cyan spirit of Loyalty.
"But there's one thing I don't seem to get," she puzzled. "You make it seem like Discord has been singling you out. Why would he do something like that?"
"All my life that draconequus has dogged me," Tux sneered. "Everywhere I go, whatever I do, I can't seem to escape his clutches. He's taken everything from me. Friends, family, the love of my life...." He shut himself up before he made another faux pas. He was already talking about erstwhile crushes, which was one of the quickest ways to destroy what chance he had with Twilight.
"I'm so sorry," Twilight consoled. "But it still doesn't make sense why he would target you specifically. Last time he got out, he wreaked whatever havoc he could. I would have thought he'd do the same this time, but he left Ponyville alone for the most part. My day was actually quite normal."
"Maybe Princess Celestia would have some sort of clue."
"Let's hope." She cast a glance out the window for a moment, and then back to him. "So let's just say that Discord does have it in for you. There's a reason for everything, so what could this one be?"
"I have no idea," he replied with a sigh. "Wait, do you remember what Princess Luna said to me the other night? She said that I was unique, that I was a threat. What if...but how could I be a threat to Discord?"
"Maybe Princess Luna would know. Though, I'd hate to wake her."
"Whatever she knows, Princess Celestia would know."
"Of course," Twilight acknowledged.
But then again, he wondered. The princesses were different ponies, and they had a history of uncooperative behavior. They seemed to be at harmony, but day and night were like Yin and Yang, opposites in every way.
The rest of the train ride was quiet. Tux didn't dare divulge the details of his past, other than what he'd told Rarity. And they didn't talk much once they got to Canterlot, either. He figured that she was an introvert like he was, and that conversation was contingent on there being a subject to converse about.
They walked up to the castle gates, and a pair of royal guards stopped them, crossing their lances. "Halt!" the senior guard commanded. "Access to the palace is restricted."
"Tin, you know me!" Twilight chuckled.
"Even for you, Twilight," Tin replied. "There has been a Changeling threat against the Princess, and we must keep the place sealed."
"That makes no sense, Tin. They can't have returned."
"They haven't. But the threat is just as real. Our intelligence is sound."
"Where's my brother? He'll let me in."
"Shining Armor and Princess Cadance are still in the North. I am acting Captain."
Twilight's expression drooped slightly. "But Tin, you know me. Search my mind; you won't find a Changeling."
"And him? You expect me to just let some nondescript nobody into the palace? You must think I'm dense."
Tux spoke up with urgency, rattling off the mental speech he had composed in his mind. "Night before last, Discord escaped from his stone prison--in spirit, not in body. He meddled with the lives of three ponies in Ponyville, both of which were closely connected to me. He stole my employer's supplies and added one hundred trees' worth of apples to the Ponyville orchard. He came to me in dreams and wrote a message on my walls, vowing that he would return. My name is Tux n Tails, and I have information that could be crucial to the survival of Equestria. I seek an audience with the Princess so that she may be prepared."
Tin glared at him until a voice came from the room behind: "Let him in, Brazen."
"Yes, my liege."
The guards stepped aside, and an alicorn horse walked slowly out of the palace and into the courtyard. Her wings were folded loosely at her sides, and her mane and tail flowed despite the lack of wind. Her face showed something resembling distress, but her features were for the most part blank.
"Bow," Twilight whispered harshly. Tux followed her as the princess continued to approach. "Princess Celestia, we seek an--"
"I know why you're here, Twilight," the princess replied shortly. "Come inside."
As they walked, Tux asked, "Why did you call the guard Tin? The princess called him Brazen."
"His name is Brazen Shield, and his parents were Tin Can and Copper Pot. He has more of his father in him, so we called him Tin. He's a childhood friend of my brother's. If he's not letting me in, this must be a lot worse of a threat than we thought."
"The threat is from Queen Chrysalis and her Changeling army," Celestia interrupted. "There is no physical threat yet; we are merely taking precautions. As a wise pony once said, 'Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.'"
"But Chrysalis was rendered powerless when Shining and Cadance cleansed the city," Twilight questioned. "Without a source of power, there is no way she could threaten the throne."
"She found somepony to feed off of. Somepony powerful. We can sense the threat rising, and it is close."
"What about Discord?" Tux asked. "You must have heard my spiel; shouldn't we consider him a threat?"
"What about him? He is trapped in an unbreakable prison cell, and only I hold the key." She sat down on a large cushion on a dais at the head of the throne room. "He is no threat."
"Use a memory spell, please," Tux asked. "Read my mind. Discord visited me!"
"It was probably some vandal," the princess dismissed.
"Perhaps the spell is imperfect," Twilight suggested. "After all, he escaped once before."
"That was one incident," the princess snapped. "The weakness was corrected, and Discord cannot escape again. I designed the first imprisonment spell when I was young, when I wasn't as well versed in the magical arts. But your magic seems to have patched the hole."
"But I didn't make any changes to the original spell," Twilight contradicted. "I didn't even analyze it; there was no time."
"The change wouldn't have been conscious. The Elements would have taken the more complete picture embodied by the six of you, analyzed the design, and fixed what was wrong. Their magic is mysterious even to me." Off in the distance, a clock tower signaled the hour. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I must pay a visit to the Crystal Empire. I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help."
"We understand, Princess," Twilight said, bowing. Tux followed suit, and Celestia left the room.
"I'm sorry we took this trip for nothing," he sighed. "Maybe I was just hallucinating."
"I trust you, Tux. Especially if Applejack and Rarity can corroborate your story. But there could be another explanation. Maybe it was Chrysalis trying to fake you out and scare you off."
"I don't know...."
"Remember, I couldn't tell the difference between the fake Cadance and the real one."
"Excuse me," said a familiar voice from off in the hallway. Princess Luna stepped cautiously into the throne room, then walked up to the two of them. "Exactly when was this?"
"Um...night before last," Tux replied.
"I know you speak the truth. To understand this, you must first understand the design of Discord's prison. Adjourn with me to my chambers."
They followed her curiously down the hall, away from the guards. Luna's bedroom was spacious, with room enough for a large bed, which was dressed with crimson sheets and a royal-blue comforter. The walls were adorned with the colors of the night sky, with hoof-painted depictions of the Milky Way, the constellations, and the Moon itself.
"Why did you bring us here?" Twilight inquired. "Why couldn't you tell us in the throne room?"
"Because my sister refuses to acknowledge what she knows to be true. When we first imprisoned Discord with the Elements, Celestia designed the prison. She neither requested nor needed my input; she was, and is the superior magician. What I didn't learn until nearly fifteen hundred years later, the night before last, is how exactly she designed the spell.
"I was forced into Discord's prison that night by Queen Chrysalis, who altered the spell so that any mortal injury I sustained from within the dream world would affect me in kind without. Her intent was to frame me for my sister's murder, which would result in my execution within the dream.
"I learned the nature of the nightmare when Discord appeared to me. He explained that Celestia had designed the spell to torture him; every night he experiences vividly her death. I have given an unbreakable oath of secrecy as to why this affects him, but if you use logic, the reason will not be too difficult to discern.
"He alluded to a way out, an exit of sorts. After I learned that death within would mean death without rather than waking, I realized that my only recourse was to trust him to lead me to the exit. I thought he had sacrificed his life to save mine, but then I received evidence that reassured me he was alive.
"I now know of two places aside from Canterlot where he went on that night: as I just learned, he visited Ponyville first, and thence he entered Tartarus for reasons unknown.
"I will tell you that I have confirmed his current presence, in body and spirit, within the statue-prison. He cannot escape unless he makes it to the exit again, which he has done twice now in fifteen hundred years. This goes to show how difficult it is to reach the prison's exit, even in the best circumstances."
"So he's safe," Twilight observed.
"As a sleeping bunny."
"But why would he single me out?" Tux asked. "He could have turned other ponies' lives upside down, but he's always singled me out."
"I know, but cannot say. That information must remain secret until my sister is asleep rather than in mere absence. Even walls have ears." She nodded her head toward a decorative lighting fixture.
"A security camera," Twilight explained.
"I offer both of you a room for the night. It is spacious, but has only a single bed. For that I apologize."
"I'll sleep on the floor," Tux offered.
"No thank you, Princess Luna," Twilight said, bowing. "I have responsibilities in Ponyville, and I have to be back by dinnertime. Tux?"
"Go," he said, closing his eyes disappointedly. "I have errands to run for Rarity, and she'll have my head if I don't run them here. Besides, I have to know for sure why Discord has dogged me my whole life."
"All right. Goodbye, Tux." She briefly put her head on his shoulder then left the room and walked back down the hall.
"Run your errands now, Tux n Tails," Princess Luna suggested. "I will show you to your room after sunset."
Tux found Canterlot's downtown agora to be a rather unsettling place. It was a bustling courtyard with three quarters. The first, the one closest to the palace, was a mall of indoor shops that sold various wares becoming of the high life, from jewelry to clothing to big-screen televisions, albeit at slightly discounted prices from the shops further uptown in the wealthier districts.
The second quarter, Tux's target, held a bazaar where merchants sold textiles; small quantities of gold, both ore and refined; cut and uncut gemstones; and various and sundry kinds of ribbon.
The third quarter was an open-air produce market selling imported fruits and vegetables from around Equestria. It was largely deserted, but even some of the higher society ponies could be seen milling about and perusing the stands. Apparently even the Canterlot elite realized that nothing was better than home-grown produce.
He made his way toward the bazaar, skimming the list out of the corner of his eye. Rarity needed silk from a specific seller, some assorted rough-cut gems, a couple hundred yards of ribbon, and some gold ingots for custom casting. He knew it would be heavy, and he'd neglected to bring his saddlebags, but he could easily rent a cart or use his wings to help balance the load.
The nearest seller on the list was Silkworm, a unicorn whose special talent was weaving silk. According to Rarity's list, his silk was the finest in Equestria. Tux thought it would mean considerable expense, but when he walked up to the counter, Silkworm eyed the list and asked, "Was Rarity unable to come this time?"
"She has a large order to fill."
"So she sent a pack mule, eh?" He laughed. "Since you're not a unicorn, you get a set of my bags. Just have Rarity send them back when you return to Ponyville." He levitated a pair of sturdy burlap saddlebags over the counter and set them on Tux's back. He then filled them with several bolts of various colors of silk, which were a lot heavier than Tux had expected. "Off with you, now," Silkworm said. "You probably have other errands to run. Don't worry about payment; I have a contract with her."
"Oh, okay. Have a nice day, then."
"And when you get back to Ponyville, tell Rarity that prices are going up next year."
"All right." He knew that it would be a stretch for her to afford much of an increase, but perhaps she could work something out.
He kept walking, albeit slightly unbalanced due to the heavy load, until he came to the group of vendors hawking gemstones. As he eyed the first two vendors' displays, the third called out to him in a noticeable South Trottingham accent. "Mate!" Tux looked around to confirm the origin of the call. "Yes, you! You with the salt-and-pepper mop!" Tux trotted over, lost his balance, and when he picked himself up, the vendor said, "Hey, mate, I hear tell you're looking for a bunch of gems."
"Some very specific gems, actually," Tux replied, taking out the list. "I need one dozen aquamarines, one dozen opals, six dark sapphires, eight rubies, five emeralds, three diamonds, and one...one cubic zirconia? All rough cut."
"Running errands for a dress maker, eh?"
"How did you know?"
"Well, for starters, who buys gemstones, ingots, ribbon and silk but a dressmaker? And you're obviously not a dressmaker, though you'd look smashing in a nice suit. Just wait for that one. But before I give you these, let me give you a piece of advice. Watch out." He slid two bags of gems across the counter.
"What do you mean?"
"Just keep your eyes open and your head up, and everything will work out in the end. And whatever you do, listen to your friends. If you don't, you'll end up clear up a creek without a paddle. You could use your hooves, but they'd really start to stink."
"It'll all be clear in due time. That'll be three hundred quid."
"Pounds. Bits. Credits. Cheese. Monies."
"Do you accept checks?"
"I don't, but the bloke who runs the stand does, so scratch away. I'm just watching it for him while he's in Los Peg." He set a pen on the counter, and Tux wrote out the correct amount. Rarity didn't have the funds according to Discord's altered books, but she had at least a thousand bits coming in with her current order.
"Oh, and you'll be back."
"But I've got everything on the list."
"I know." The vendor smiled broadly.
"Have a nice day," Tux said, chuckling as he walked away. He found the vendor to be somewhat strange, but not in a bad way. He had a certain charm and charisma that would make him a shoo-in for a salesman.
After purchasing the rest of the items on the list without event, he slowly made his way back to the palace. He expected Brazen Shield to deny him entry once again, but the armored stallion stepped aside. "Princess Luna is waiting for you in the throne room," he said. "She has also instructed me to grant you access to the palace whenever you choose."
"Thank you, Brazen Shield." As he neared the throne room, he felt his load lighten, and his saddlebags separated from him and levitated into the throne room, settling at the princess's hooves. "And thank you, princess."
"You're welcome, Tux n Tails. Er...Tux. I believe that is what you requested to be called at our first meeting, yes?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"Follow me." She picked up his saddlebags and led him down the hall to a door. "This is your room for the night. I'll tell you everything you want to know if you'll meet me in the throne room at ten o'clock. In the meantime, somepony wants to see you. His quarters are down the hall, third door on the right." She deposited his saddlebags against the dresser and returned to the throne room.
Tux made his way down the hall until he came to the door that Luna had mentioned, and he knocked on it. When it opened, Tux saw a smallish, purple and green dragon. "You must be Tux n Tails," the dragon greeted. "I'm Spike."
"Oh, Twilight's 'little brother'," Tux remembered. "Nice to meet you, Spike. Call me Tux."
"Come on in." As Tux entered, Spike said, "I'm sorry I couldn't make it to your housewarming party. Believe me, I tried, but I just couldn't get away." He got up on a stepping stool and poured two cups of tea.
"What exactly are you doing here?"
"A research project on the Elements of Harmony. It was Twilight's idea, and she was going to do it herself, but I volunteered to compile notes for her."
"I hear that you have ulterior motives."
"What do you mean?"
"I heard that you needed to get away."
"Oh yeah, that." He hopped down from the stepping stool and handed Tux one of the teacups. "Sometimes you just have to take a step back and look at things."
"I totally know the feeling." He took a sip of the tea. It was a bit black for his taste, but he didn't complain. "So when are you returning to Ponyville?"
"I can go back whenever I want to. But I still have a few more books to read."
"Have you learned anything?"
"Yeah, but nothing that Twilight doesn't already know. Anything worth a look is buried in books I can't read."
"Why not? Are they locked in Special Collections?"
"No, they're in some old language that has different writing. It looks kinda like little pictures."
"Ponese," Tux recognized. "I can read it, and I can translate some, but I can't stay long."
"Maybe you can come back sometime."
"Perhaps I will," he shrugged after another sip of tea. The conversation died there, and Tux waited in silence for another couple of minutes. He tried to build up the courage to ask Spike something about Twilight, but the words kept crawling back down his throat. But after another minute of silence, he forced the question out.
"So...Spike, if I were to ask Twilight out, what should I do for a first date?"
"Wha?" The dragon looked up from his teacup.
"I kinda want to ask her out. You know, get to know her better."
"Yeah, I know. I'm not a baby anymore. Why are you asking her out to get to know her? She'll just say no. Get to know her first."
"That's what I thought you'd say," he chuckled wryly, taking another sip of tea. "Have you found anything in your research to suggest that the Elements' magic could be imperfect? How else could Discord have broken out?"
"Some ponies think that the Elements represent perfection, but they actually represent Good. Discord's escape was caused by a second spell, one that he cast as he was being imprisoned the first time. He can't escape again unless somepony lets him out."
"Who could do that?"
"Only Princess Celestia has the key."
One way or another, Celestia was responsible for Discord's most recent escape. But at least it was good to know that another petty quarrel in the statue's presence wouldn't release the fiend once again.
Spike interrupted Tux's thought stream. "You know, if you're so crazy about Twilight, you should have gone back with her on the train. It would have been a perfect opportunity to talk to her more. And she seemed to like you well enough when she stopped to see me earlier today."
"This trip has higher purposes," Tux chuckled. "As much as I'd love to chat her up, it's more important to figure out why Discord has been dogging me my whole life."
"But he's been locked in prison," Spike said confusedly.
"It's hard to explain. Maybe someday I'll tell you, but for now, I should probably get some shuteye. The last two nights haven't been very kind to me." He finished his tea and set the cup next to the kettle that sat on the dresser. "Nice to meet you, Spike."
"Likewise, Tux." Spike fished a gemstone out of his teacup and popped it in his mouth with a cringeworthy crunch. He noticed Tux grimacing and said, mouth full, "What? Didn't you know that dragons eat gemstones all the time? Rubies are some of the best; they taste like ripe raspberries."
"Good to know," he said, still a bit put off by the thought of eating a hard, crystalline mineral. He turned and walked out the door, and he went back to his room and lay on the bed. It was a lot softer than the one in his cottage, much closer to sleeping in a cloud. He set the alarm clock for ten o'clock and closed his eyes, but he had trouble sleeping without closure. He couldn't keep his mind off of Discord, and he kept speculating about what Princess Luna would tell him.
He was still awake when his alarm went off, and he silenced it hastily. He rolled out of bed and plodded down the hall to the throne room. Princess Luna waited there, out on the balcony, watching over the land. "Princess?" he called. His voice reverberated on the marble floor.
"Tux," she greeted, turning around and walking toward him. "I am glad you came. I ordered the security systems to be turned off for the duration of our meeting."
"So what's the big deal? Why has Discord been haunting me my whole life?"
"It hasn't been Discord. The Four Horses, the lords of Chaos, have many agents, and Discord is only one of them. The moment I saw you, I knew that there was something special about you. You are a threat to the Four Horses, one of the only non-alicorns who can wield all of the Elements of Harmony. As such, the Horses have been trying to destroy you from the day you were born. You stopped breathing twice as a newborn foal in the hospital, and the agents of Chaos almost succeeded, but for a miracle."
"How do you know about that?" he asked. "I've never told anypony else!"
"Alicorns have ways of finding out about things, but in short, I read your mind. I know your entire life: every memory, every triumph, every failure."
"I'm not so sure I like that."
"What is done is done; the past cannot be changed. But take comfort in that what I know will not leave my lips."
He took some relief in her pledge, but his mind was still restless. "If I'm a threat to the lords of Chaos, that means they'll never leave me alone, right?"
"That is correct. Your life will be as good as you make it, but you will always be a target, as will those around you."
"Thank you, Princess." He bowed. "I should get back to sleep; I have a train to catch in the morning."
"To Ponyville, I hope...."
Her cryptic question confused him. "Of course. Where else would I go?"
"Good night, Tux. May Harmony ever attend you."
He adjourned to his room and crawled into bed, but his newfound knowledge didn't give him any pause. As long as he was in Ponyville, nopony was safe. And as much as he hated the thought, there was only one remedy.
Early the next morning, he bade the princesses goodbye and carried Rarity's load of supplies toward the train station. The burlap saddlebags itched, nearly driving him out of his mind, and he shed them when he reached the ticket office. "When does the next train to Ponyville leave?" he asked.
"Ten o'clock," the clerk replied. Tux looked at the clock. He still had an hour. "If you buy a ticket, we'll load your bags for you so that you don't have to wait around."
"Sold," Tux replied. But then he realized that he didn't have any money on him. "Hey, did a purple unicorn get a refund for my ticket last night? We were supposed to head back last night, but I got waylaid."
"Oh, Twilight? Yes, she actually turned in the ticket for a one-way raincheck, which she left in your name. All you need to do is verify."
"Tux n Tails."
"Bingo. One ticket for the 10am train. But don't run off for too long; if you miss it, your ticket is non-refundable and non-transferable."
"Oh, I won't go far."
The clerk rung a bell, and an attendant came quickly to collect Tux's saddlebags. Once they were safely under guard, awaiting the train's arrival, Tux trotted back downtown to the bazaar. He looked around for something he could buy Twilight, but every time something caught his eye, he remembered that he hadn't brought any money of his own. He could run back and get Rarity's checkbook, then replace the money in her accounts later, but that would be dishonest.
He wandered around until he came across the booth of the Trottingham pony who had sold him the gemstones the day before. He fully expected the admitted temporary proprietor to be gone, but he was still there. "I told you you'd be back."
Tux shook his head. "I'm not here to buy anything; I'm just wandering around."
"I know. Here." He put a medium-sized, rough cut ruby up on the counter. "For the dragon. Delicious and nutricious. Plus, it'll earn you some points with the lady, I think." He winked and flashed a toothy grin.
"No thanks. I don't have any money, remember? And I can't take it in good conscience, especially since you're only a temp."
"A temp? I'm insulted! I can do whatever I please!"
"Keep your gem, please."
The vendor scoffed indignantly. "I dug this prime-age ruby out of the ground with my own hooves just for you, and you stand here telling me that you won't take it? I've been holding onto it for years, just for this occasion."
"No, you haven't."
"Look me in the face and tell me I'm lying."
There was something about the vendor's expression that unsettled Tux. It was impossible to look the light brown pony in the eye unless he let himself believe that what the vendor said was true. "I can't."
"I'm telling the truth when I say this gem is meant to be yours. To give to Twilight, for her to give to Spike."
"How do you know their names?"
"I know things. I also know that this won't be our last meeting."
"Who are you, really?"
"I'm nopony." He pushed the gem further across the counter, and Tux took it with his wing, holding it against his body. "Off with you, now," the vendor said, shooing Tux with his hoof.
Tux walked back to the train station. He'd give the gem to Twilight, sure enough, but it would be the last thing he ever gave her. He had to leave Ponyville in order to keep everypony safe. This was all he could think about on the ride back. He would never get a chance with Twilight. He would never hang out with Fluttershy again. He would never see Rainbow Dash in a gliding exhibition. He would never see Rarity make a mint. He would never get to help buck apples for Applejack. And he would never get another Pinkie party.
When he got off the train, he went to his cottage first, switching the itchy burlap saddlebags for his own. The strap was padded and lined with fleece for comfort, and it made the heavy load much easier to carry. The walk to the Carousel Boutique was longer than ever before with the foreshadowing of his giving up gainful employment.
"Rarity, I'm here," he called as he entered. "Rarity?"
"In a minute!" she called. "I'm in the middle of a fitting!"
"OW!" shrieked Rainbow Dash, her voice equally distant. "If you stick me one more time, I swear to Celestia, I'm gonna clobber you!"
"If you weren't so fidgety, you'd be done by now. Stand still!"
Tux waited for several more minutes, and eventually, Rainbow came storming down the stairs, mumbling curses. Her language was as blue as her coat until she saw him there. "Sorry," she said, chuckling nervously. "I just don't like being a pincushion."
"Your leg is bleeding," he observed. "You can say whatever you want."
"Where'd that cloud come from?"
"The dark one over your head. You look like a pile of soggy straw. What's up?"
"I have to leave Ponyville. I probably won't be able to stay in touch."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. You just got here this week!"
"I know, but I need to go. I don't know where."
"Of all the nerve!"
"I'm sorry I couldn't teach you mo--"
"Is it some family emergency or something?"
"No," he sighed. "It's not you; it's me."
"What are we, breaking up? Ugh. You don't have to explain yourself. Just...." She huffed and stormed the rest of the way out.
"Smooth," he sighed. Soon, Rarity came down the stairs levitating the beginnings of a dress. "Thank you so much for running my Canterlot errands. A bonus is in it for you."
"We can't afford a bonus."
"Pish posh. You're getting a bonus even if I have to take it out of my own pocket."
"Rarity, I need--" She went into a side room and shut the door. He shrugged off his saddlebags and started to follow her, but she burst through the door again, nearly hitting him in the face. She lifted the various supplies out of the saddlebags and carried them toward a supply room.
"What was it that you needed, darling?"
"I need to talk to you."
"I'm really busy, Tux. If you want to talk, you need to walk."
"I need to give you my notice." The supplies suddenly fell to the ground. "Rarity, are you all right?"
"Um, yes," she replied, recovering the supplies and shelving them appropriately. "Why exactly are you intent on resigning?"
"I have to leave Ponyville."
"Something has come up."
She turned around. "Tux, is there anything I can do to convince you to stay? I could give you a raise, I could change your job description, I...I...."
"There's nothing you can do," he said. "It's because as long as I'm here, I'm a threat to your safety. The agents of Chaos won't rest until I and those around me are gone. Do you understand?"
"I.... Yes, I think I do."
"I hope to be out of here as soon as I can get away. And the sooner it happens, the better off you'll all be." He put his supplies into his saddlebags, and he held out his hoof to shake. Instead, Rarity embraced him.
"Tux, I may have known you for only a short time, but I consider you a friend. There is something special about you, some...je ne sais quoi. I hope to the heavens that you will return one day. Goodbye."
He stepped out and paused for a moment. "What in the hoof am I doing?" he sighed. But his decision was set.
His next stop was the Library; the sooner he said goodbye to Twilight, the easier it would be to get to the others. But most importantly, he wanted to say goodbye to Fluttershy last.
When he reached the Library, he found Twilight organizing books on the main floor. When she greeted him cheerfully, he didn't know what to say, so he decided to start somewhere else and try to work his way toward his eventual goal. "So basically, Princess Luna said that I can wield the Elements of Harmony."
"But what about Magic? You're not a unicorn."
"I know. I would have to research it. But that's basically why the Four Horses have been after me."
She shelved another book. "The Four Horses are just an ancient Pegasus myth, Tux."
"Not according to the princess. She called them the lords of Chaos."
"Well, they're no match for all of us."
"Actually...that's what I came here to talk about. I need to leave Ponyville as soon as I can."
"Don't be silly, Tux."
"I'm serious, Twilight."
She stopped shelving and turned around. "Tux, you're being rash."
"No, I'm not," he defended. "As long as I'm here, you are in danger. All of you. Discord is nothing compared to the Horses. You won't stand a chance. If they come after me, I don't want anypony caught in the crossfire."
"I guess we can't stop you," she sighed.
"I have a present for Spike. It's a ruby. But it's back at my place."
"I'll come with you," she said, putting the rest of the unshelved books onto a cart and pushing it off into a side room. She followed him out, and they walked silently down the road. Time and again, he wanted to tell her about his crush, but the words refused to leave his mouth. It was what he imagined a stutter would be like, and it was horrible.
When they reached his cottage, Twilight asked him once again to reconsider, but he replied, "I'm absolutely certain that this is what needs to be done."
"Okay." She opened the door and ushered him inside. There, in the front room, were the other five of the Element-keepers. Their expressions were varied: Pinkie was struggling to hold back a waterfall of tears; Rainbow Dash glowered, and Applejack glared in disapproval; Rarity's expression was warm but stern, like a mother intent on disciplining an errant child; but the one who tugged at his heart was Fluttershy, who was sniffling, having been unsuccessful in holding her composure. Tears stained her cheeks, and her lip quivered as she quietly whimpered.
"What are you all doing here?" Tux asked.
"This," Rarity said, "is an intervention."
"When I heard you were gonna bail on us, I had to warn the gang," Rainbow Dash said proudly.
"It's not going to work," he sighed.
"Hear us out," Twilight urged, walking forward to join them. "You may think that you have to leave, but you're so much happier here than you were in Hoofton."
Rarity made her entreaty. "You have friends here, you're gainfully employed, and it doesn't take a soothsayer to know that you're special. Besides, we've handled monsters in the past, and we can do it again." She stamped her foot softly and lifted her chin defiantly.
Applejack spoke up next. "Ya may think that we'll be fine lettin' ya go away like this, and I'd even say that it's true that we don't really need ya 'round. But hang all that; we want ya 'round. 'Specially Fluttershy and I."
"That's right," Fluttershy said, sniffing. "You're the closest pony friend I've had in a long time. Somepony who I really feel comfortable with. No expectations, no conventions; I can just be. I'm not even like that with these girls."
"And in case that didn't move you," Rainbow Dash said, flying forward and sticking her nose in his face, "I know this guy in Cloudsdale, who shall remain nameless, who actually knows Rosie Gardner's brother." She landed again, still glowering. "Think of what that little punk did to you. Now think of what you were going to do to us."
He hadn't thought of it that way. And she was right. Just like Rosie had done to him, he had planned on leaving Ponyville without giving much notice or a way to contact him. His reasons were different, but that didn't matter. He looked at the group for a long moment then conceded. "You're right. I shouldn't run away from my problems. I guess that's just what I've been doing my whole life, and I'd gotten used to it."
"You don't have to run anymore, Tux," Fluttershy said softly. She walked up to him and put her head on his withers, wrapping a foreleg around him. As he extended a wing to embrace her, the rest of the group filed into position around him, crushing him in a huge group hug.
Then and there, Tux broke down and cried.