Tux and Twilight sat across the table from each other, each waiting on a sourdough bread bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. They had almost finished their salads, and up until this point, the meal had been relatively quiet. Tux had no qualms about talking with his mouth full; he and everybody else in his family did so with impunity at the dinner table. But in the presence of a lady, he would rather leave a sentence unsaid or a question unanswered than to be so rude as to open a full mouth.
“So I’ve been thinking,” he said after swallowing the last bite of his salad, “having Vinyl and Octavia might be a bit of a problem.”
“You can tell me tomorrow,” she said, shaking her head. “There’s no use stressing about work matters when you’re supposed to be relaxing.”
“I know,” he groaned. “I just.... I obsess over things easily.”
“Living with obsessive compulsive disorder can be a pain, but I get by.” She cleared her throat and dabbed her lips with her napkin.
“I’m not OCD,” he defended. “I have Asperger’s. There’s a difference; my obsessions are not caused by intrusive thoughts, but rather by a fascination.”
“Or perfectionism,” she shrugged, taking a sip of her raspberry and kale juice. “But obsessions, even those caused by fascination, have some component of intrusive thoughts. Any time a thought is unwelcome and involuntary, it can be classified as intrusive. For instance, if you’re trying to get to sleep, but you can’t stop thinking about your ink recipe.”
“Yours may be a bit thin,” he quipped. “But at least it won’t eat through the paper. I use India rather than iron gall.”
“But iron gall is so much easier to make,” she replied, jabbing at him with her fork. “Have you ever tried scraping lampblack? It makes my horn tired, and that’s saying something.” She picked up her glass again.
“Oh, I just buy it from the store.”
Twilight choked on her juice, flying into a coughing fit that lasted for several seconds. “Blasphemy!” she coughed when she regained use of her voice. “Every true writer makes their own ink. I suppose you also use metal nibs.”
“They don’t break. But I know how to cut a quill, and I know how to make my own ink. I do make my own red ink, but I use henna instead of the standard iron gall recipe. Less tannic acid to worry about, but it’s not as permanent.”
“Soup, bread bowl, with grilled cheddar and havarti?” said the waiter as he walked up, levitating two plates in front of him. Tux raised his wing. “And we also have a soup with a bread bowl with grilled munster and cottage.”
“That would be me,” Twilight smiled, waving a hoof.
“I can count on my hooves the number of ponies who have ordered cottage cheese on a grilled sandwich,” the waiter said as he set the plate down in front of her.
“I figured I’d try something new.”
They kept talking as they finished their bowls of soup. Tux always thought that the bread bowl was one of the best inventions of all time; not only was it one of the ultimate realizations of the reason bread was first invented, but it eliminated one dish from the sink.
Tux kept inadvertently bringing up the issues of the past two days, and eventually Twilight had to step in. “If the problems continue, just cut them loose. You have Rarity and Ivory, and that makes three. Problem solved.” She finished her juice. “Now can we finally put this to bed?”
“Yeah,” he replied.
The waiter walked up shortly and asked, “Are you doing all right? Can I get you any dessert?”
“I’d like a slice of blueberry cheesecake,” Tux replied. “How big is that?”
“It’s pretty big.”
“Then we’ll just split it. I’m pretty full as it is.”
“And I’ll take a marionberry pie shake,” Twilight added. “To split.”
The waiter scribbled on his pad. “One blueberry cheesecake and one large marionberry pie shake. Will that be all?”
“I think so,” Tux replied.
“We’ll go Dutch,” Twilight offered after the waiter left again. “I’ve been watching the bill.”
“Uh-uh,” he replied, shaking his head. “This is all on me.”
Soon, the waiter brought the two desserts and the check. “The desserts are complements of an anonymous gentlecolt.”
“Hmm,” Tux muttered, looking at the bill. “Thanks.”
“Anonymous gentlecolt?” Twilight wondered.
“I was thinking the same thing. Why remain anonymous?”
“Random act of kindness?”
“I suppose so.” He took a bite of the cheesecake. “I sure wish I could thank him.”
That night was much the same as the night before. There were no vacant rooms that Tux could rent, and he didn’t want to take his business elsewhere because he was certain he didn’t have the cash to spend at another hotel.
He stayed up with Twilight, and they continued reading their Daring Do book, this time quitting much earlier; the long train ride to Vanhoover began early in the day.
At breakfast the next morning, Rarity passed him the latest issue of the Canterlot Questioner, a popular tabloid that was widely regarded as trash, but was always first to break any major scandal which turned out to be true. “What’s this about?” he asked without bothering to read the headline.
“The rumor mill is turning faster than ever,” she whispered. “Look who’s on the cover.”
He looked down at the large, bright letters: “Twilight and Shadows: does the Magic of Friendship come with benefits?” Hot blood rushed to his face and his heart began racing. On the cover was a photo of him standing outside the hotel room with Twilight two nights before. He flipped through the pages until he found the article, and he skimmed it, reading aloud.
“Princess Celestia’s protégée Twilight Sparkle was seen in downtown Los Pegasus entering a hotel room with a mysterious pegasus stallion, whom we have dubbed ‘Silent Shadows’. A source close to the Questioner said that, though they claim to be friends, they are secretly dating. Who is this suspicious stallion, and what sort of things happened behind closed doors? Stay tuned for more.” He dropped his head to the table. “Why is this happening?”
“I’ll get to the bottom of this, Tux,” Rarity assured. “Whoever is churning this out will be silenced. I could have the informant sued on your behalf for defamation of character. I could get a gag order. I could even make them disappear.”
“Don’t do anything drastic,” he advised. “Does Twilight know yet?”
“Do I know what?” the lavender mare asked as she sat down at the table.
He passed the magazine over to her. “Somepony has been following us with a camera.”
“Oh gosh, this is bad,” she groaned. “The princess will never tolerate behavior like this! Last time I was in the tabloids, I practically died of embarrassment!”
“You’ve been in the tabloids before?”
“Well, nothing national like the Questioner! I and everypony else in Ponyville was gossiped about by Gabby Gums, who turned out to be the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ pen name. Ugh, when will ponies realize that gossip can hurt?”
“Well, if you weren’t so private with your relationship, I suppose it wouldn’t come under such scrutiny,” Rarity suggested. Both Tux and Twilight glared at her. “I’m just saying....”
“We’re keeping this private for good reason,” Tux chided. “Twilight is fairly well known as Princess Celestia’s protégée, and she doesn’t want this exact thing to happen.”
“Besides,” Twilight added, “this is just testing a what-if scenario. It’s nothing serious at all.”
“Right,” Tux acknowledged. But something deep within roared, “I told you so, you dope!” The ensuing silence had everypony at the table glancing around nervously.
“Uh, I think we should make our way to the train station soon,” Rarity said as she got up from the table. “My luggage is already aboard, so I’ll, uh, see you all there.”
“I’m sorry, Tux,” Twilight whispered as Rarity left. “I was just letting my mouth go like a loose cannon.”
“We’ll talk about it later,” he replied, clearing his throat. “Are you all packed, or do you need a hoof?”
“All ready to go,” she replied.
“I’ll head to the train station and reserve us a booth.” He made his way up to the room to grab his suitcase, and he came across Octavia as he was coming out. He steeled himself, walked up to her, and confronted her. “Are you the one who sold us out?” he demanded.
“Absolutely not,” she retorted. “I saw that unfortunate issue of the Questioner, and it made me want to vomit. Vinyl and I understand your situation, and we know better than to gossip about anything, much less something which is completely untrue. I understand why you are accusing me, and I honestly don’t know who else could have known about the two of you. Perhaps you should try contacting the Questioner’s staff; I have gotten nowhere with them.”
“You’ve talked to them?”
“Yes, in fact. I called them this morning with a request to retract their story, but as expected, they hung up. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to the train station, as should you.”
He stood there in reflection as she took her suitcase in her teeth and trotted into the elevator. He had misjudged her, and he felt like a heel for it. He pushed his own suitcase slowly into the next elevator, sighing in regret as he did so. Twilight joined him, and after the doors had closed, she asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I talked to Octavia about the tabloid,” he replied. “She wasn’t the source, and neither was Vinyl. And she rebuked me for it.”
“Well, she can’t fault you for taking the most logical course of action.”
“She suggested I call the Questioner, but I don’t have the time, and I don’t think the train has a phone on it. Keep your ears peeled, and if you find anything out, let me know.”
“Will do,” she replied.
They managed to claim one of the private booths on the train so that they could talk without worrying about anypony overhearing. Tux didn’t know how to say what he needed to, but he had to say it, so he decided that frankness would be the best course of action.
“Did you mean what you said earlier?” he asked. “You know, what you said about our relationship not being serious.”
“I....” She sighed. “Yes and no.”
“If you’re leading me on, even a little bit, then I want you to tell me right here, right now, that it’s over. I’ve been led on before, and when things came crashing down, it did much more damage than a simple ‘no’ would have. Besides, if there’s one thing I hate in this world, it’s a liar.”
“I’m not leading you on,” she defended. “Yes, I said that this relationship wasn’t serious. What I mean is that we’re dating, but we’re not courting. You of all ponies should know the difference. I’m still getting to know you, Tux, and until I feel like I’m in love, I’m going to call this casual. But I know that it’s much more to you.”
“That’s how I work, Twilight. I’ve been shot full of holes so many times that I hang on to any lift I can get, lest I crash and die. I treat any yes like true love, and I know I shouldn’t. But it’s not my fault.” He sighed. “I’m sensing some overtones of ‘It’s not working out.’“
“I’m not going to lie, Tux; this is hard. I don’t know how to be a fillyfriend; all I can do is read books on the subject. But at the same time, I still want to give this a chance. That’s why I came on this trip: to evaluate our relationship and see where it needs to go.”
“Where does it need to go?”
“When I know, I’ll tell you.”
They arrived several hours later in Vanhoover, and Tux was relieved that this time, auditions didn’t start until the next morning. He double-checked with the concierge to make sure that there were enough rooms for everypony, and sure enough, there were five in total, one for each of them. He checked in as quickly as possible so that nopony could meddle with the arrangements, and once he cast his suitcase onto the single bed in the room, he was finally able to relax.
He picked up the hotel phone and called the toll-free tip line listed on the inside back cover of the Questioner issue that Rarity had given him. After a few minutes of pushing buttons and being passed from operator to operator, he was finally able to connect to the author of the story.
“Who is this?” the reporter demanded. “Be quick; I don’t have time.”
“I’m calling about the Twilight Sparkle story,” Tux replied, clearing his throat.
“Got any more for me, or are you another foal complaining about it?”
“I want it retracted,” he replied.
“You and a dozen others. Look, pal, you’re the first stallion to call in, so I can only assume that you’re Silent Shadows, whatever your real name is. I don’t give a pile of manure if you want me to retract it. I’m not gonna do it. But if you give me your real name, I’ll make it up to you. Five grand in cold, hard cash.”
“You want my name? Take a hike, that’s my name. You sit here casting aspersions and spreading rumors without regard to the feelings and dignity of the ponies you write about. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“Here’s the thing, Shadows. I make money spinning yarn about famous ponies. Lots of money. I could make you rich, but it sounds like you don’t want to take my offer. So yeah. Ciao.”
“Wait, who’s your source?”
The reporter chuckled. “Give me your name, and I’ll give you his.”
Tux slammed the receiver back in its cradle, his blood boiling with rage. He cursed in Ponese and stamped his hoof. “Stupid son of a nag.”
He gasped and whirled around to see Twilight standing in his open doorway. “How much of that did you hear?”
“A little bit. Who was that? And what did he do to make you so angry?”
“That was Inkwell, the author of that Questioner article. I was trying to get him to reveal his source, and he tried to buy me off. He doesn’t even care about what he might be doing to us.”
“Tux, you need to stop obsessing over this. It’s just a stupid tabloid, and it’ll all go away in a week. Sometimes, you have to accept your fate rather than take justice into your own hooves.”
“I came by to see if you wanted to come to the pier with Rarity and me to get some cocoa. Do you?”
He nodded. “Sure.”
“We’ll be leaving in a few minutes. Meet us by the lobby.”
She turned to leave, and as she did, he called after her, “You know, it takes a lot to set me off. I’ve always been really slow to anger.”
“It’s not the speed I’m concerned about,” she replied.
He hung his head in shame and shuffled over to the table, taking the small journal out of his saddlebag. It had been a long time since he had written in it, and he felt somewhat disingenuous in doing it, but he felt that it needed to be done. Taking the ball-point pen off the desk, he put it to the page.
My beloved, today I realized that I am still a flawed stallion. Even though I am a meek pony most of the time, sometimes things can stretch me to the breaking point. And then I snap. My friend Twilight brought this to my attention a moment ago. When I first started this journal, I set out to find what flaws I needed to fix, and this one will be a real toughie. But you can rest assured that I would sooner die than hurt you. I love you more than anything else in this world.
He signed his name and sighed, hanging his head. “I just hope I didn’t blow it, darling.”
“Is that your infamous journal?” Tux jumped at the sound of Rarity’s voice, slamming the journal shut in a reflex.
“Yeah, it is,” he replied. “I just got another entry put down.”
“May I see it?”
“No,” he said indignantly. “I won’t even let my sister look at this. You can see the cover, but only two ponies are ever going to read this.”
“We’re almost ready to leave, so come join us if you still want to go. If not, I’ll make an excuse for you.”
“I’ll be right there.” He tucked the journal into his saddlebag, but then he thought better of it and slipped it into the wall safe and set the combination to something only he could remember. If there was somebody snooping about for things to sell to the tabloids, that was the one thing he didn’t want them to find.
He trotted down the stairs to the lobby and found Twilight and Rarity there waiting for him. “So glad you could join us,” Rarity smiled. “We’re going to the Vanhoover Art Museum this afternoon, and we thought you might want to accompany us.”
“They have a rare book exhibit going on right now that I thought you might like.”
“Oh, you know me,” he smiled. “Still going for some cocoa?”
“There’s a chic little coffee shop down the street, and I’ve been dying to go there for years.” She produced a floppy, red beret and a mauve scarf from her saddlebag and put them on. “And I’m finally in the right place for these.”
“Don’t you have a scarf, Tux?” Twilight asked, donning her own neckware.
“I didn’t think I would need it. Has it gotten colder since we got off the train?”
“It is a bit nippy out,” Rarity acknowledged. “If you don’t have one, I have one or, well, ten extra that you can borrow.”
“Be right back. You two can leave, and I’ll catch up with you.” He loped back up the stairs to his room, only to find Ivory standing in front of his door. “Hey, Ivory, ¿qué pasa?” he asked.
“Oh, Tux, I was, uh, just looking for you. A buddy of mine was wondering if you wanted to, uh, come to a jam session.”
“I’d love to, but I have other plans,” he replied. “I’m hanging out with Twilight and Rarity this afternoon. Rain check?”
Tux unlocked his room and slipped inside. “Just came up to grab my scarf and hat.” He had been wearing an older scarf all winter, and this was the first time he had the opportunity to wear the most recent winter wear that he had knitted while spending weekend time with Fluttershy. The ensemble was a brown and white, argyle-patterned scarf with a matching brown cable knit cap, all knitted in some of the bulkiest yarn he could find. Fluttershy had encouraged him try intarsia knitting, and he was glad she had.
He slung the scarf about his neck and fitted his cap before walking back down the stairs. Ivory was gone by then, so he just rejoined the girls. Rarity gasped when she saw his ensemble, and beamed, “Oh, Tux, they are just too, too chic. You say that you have as much fashion sense as a parking meter, but deep down, you know what looks good.”
“Those look nice and warm,” Twilight added. “Is it wool or acrylic?”
“Pure wool,” he replied. “And yeah, it’s pretty warm. Fluttershy helped me with the technique, but I designed it.”
“I like it,” Twilight smiled.
“Have you seen hers?” he asked. “It’s the cutest thing!”
“The one with the ears?” Rarity gasped. “Oh, simply to die for! I’m going to have her knit me one just like it.”
The cocoa at the coffee shop was some of the best he’d ever tasted. Unlike the cocoa at his coffee shop back home, it was sweet and creamy rather than dark and bitter, and it was just the right temperature. Rarity got herself a cappuccino, and while Tux took a taste, Twilight didn’t care for coffee.
After the trip to the coffee shop, they made their way to the museum. Rarity paid admission for the three of them, and they all grabbed maps. “Let’s meet back here at five o’clock sharp,” Rarity suggested. “That will give us a few hours to go see the rest of the museum.”
“And if our paths cross after we’re done with the book exhibit, I think we’ll join up with you,” Tux added. They parted ways, and Tux walked with Twilight, wandering the halls of the museum, trying to follow the map to the rare book exhibit. “I wished I’d grabbed an English map,” he sighed, trying to translate.
“Books is ‘Bücher’, isn’t it?” Twilight guessed.
“Yeah, but I don’t see it anywhere on this map.”
“Let me see it,” Twilight offered, snatching the map from his grasp. “As a male, you’re predisposed to three forms of blindness: refrigerator blindness, pantry blindness, cartographic blindness.”
“I’m not cartographically blind,” he defended. “I just can’t sift that easily though all these blasted compound words.”
“German sure likes to do that, doesn’t it?” She stopped for a moment, burying her head in the map. “Aha! Builder...hand...schriften. I have no idea how to say that.”
“Bilderhandschriften,” he corrected, taking back the map. “It literally means, ‘picture hand writings.’“ He found the exhibit on the map. “Die Bilderhandschriften des Equestria, The Illuminated Manuscripts of Equestria. I hope they have some chant books. Maybe I’ll do an impromptu performance.”
“Even though this is a museum?”
“Then I’ll sing quietly.”
The two of them followed the map until they came to a large, black-walled room with a series of signs that prohibited flash photography. Within were several pedestals, upon which rested antique books in glass cases. Each of them was open to a page adorned with brilliant inks, gorgeous drawings, and exquisite penmanship. “hundreds of years ago, books were special,” he explained. “Normally, only the richest ponies could afford them. And especially with sacred texts, they were made to be works of art worthy of their owners.”
He read some of the plaques at the bases of the pedestals. The books were mostly volumes of history, translations of the great Unicornic and Pegasellic the philosophers, and sacred texts.
He found a beautiful chant book and hummed the melody written on the page. “You can actually read that?” she asked.
“Chant was one of my favorite chapters in Music History class,” he replied. “I learned how to read the older notation.”
She gasped and loped over to another display case, which housed a large text in old Alicornish. Tux wasn’t as familiar with the language, but it was clear that Twilight knew exactly what she was looking at.
“Codex Thirteen, Starswirl the Bearded, circa 200FE.”
“Oh my gosh, so you know what this is?” she panted. “Starswirl the Bearded’s lost codex, in his very own hornwriting! This is the only book the Royal Canterlot Library doesn’t have.”
“Twilight, you’re hyperventilating.”
“I can’t stop, Tux. So you know exactly what this means?”
“That the lost codex isn’t lost anymore?”
“I’m reading spells that haven’t been read for more than a thousand years!”
“What’s this one about?”
“It looks like...” She wrinkled her nose. “...notes on the effects of a flight spell. I’ve actually used this one before, and I wish I’d had these notes. I could have avoided a lot of side effects.” She took a deep breath. “Oh, what I would give to see the rest of it!”
A museum staff member walked up “I think I can arrange that.”
“ Really?” Twilight gasped. “Are you sure that isn’t against the rules or something?”
“You’re a special case. You’re Twilight Sparkle, right?”
“Princess Celestia arranged with the curator to let you see this book, should you stop by. She’s been trying to acquire it for years, but the owner isn’t selling.”
Several minutes later, the three of them were in a climate controlled reading room, and the staff member set the book on the table in front of them. Twilight’s horn sparked alive, gently lifting the cover. She skimmed the pages, many of which were illuminated, and her expression changed as she went along. “A lot of this doesn’t make sense,” she sighed. “I mean, the effects of the spells are written about in Old Alicornish, but the spells themselves are in a completely different alphabet.”
“It’s an abugida, I think,” Tux commented. “The main characters are consonants, and the vowels are diacritics. Ponese is a hybrid between an alphabet and an abugida, but this looks nothing like it.”
“There’s a page missing,” Twilight gasped. “More than one!”
The librarian nodded. “Legend has it that Starswirl himself tore out those pages. Nopony knows why. He bound them together and hid them. That is the real Lost Codex. Ponies just refer to this one as the Lost Codex because it is the source book from which those pages came.”
“But why would he tear those pages out?” Twilight said pensively.
“There’s a lot if speculation surrounding it,” the librarian replied. “Some say that he did it to prevent the spells contained in that codex from falling into Nightmare Moon’s grasp. At least, that’s the explanation that makes the most sense.”
“I wish I knew where that codex was,” Twilight sighed.
“I think I may know somepony who does,” Tux commented. Both Twilight and the librarian looked at him like he was crazy. He explained, “The pony who writes the Daring Do books is an archaeologist, and a good one at that. I’ll write her a letter when we get back to Ponyville and see what she says.”
“As much as I would love to stay, I think Mr. Tails and I should go,” Twilight said, looking at the clock. There were other exhibits I wanted to see, and we have only until five o’clock. Thank you so much for letting us see this.”
“I understand,” the librarian replied.
“I could stay longer if you wanted to,” Tux offered. But Twilight insisted on leaving.
As they all left the reading room, Twilight suggested, “You know, the search for the Lost Codex would make a pretty good novel.”
“It would,” he replied. “I’ll run it by her in that letter.”
“So, you said she’s an archaeologist. Does she base her book on real digs, or are they completely fictional?”
“I’m not at liberty to say that,” he replied. “But I will say that there is definitely fiction. And I can definitely say that some of the artifacts are real. The Blarney Stone, for instance.”
They moved on to the next exhibit, a series of Renaissance era paintings by less than famous artists. He wished he could have seen paintings from bigger names, but the ones on display were still just as beautiful as some of the more famous works.
“Oh, check this one out!” Twilight exclaimed. “Commissioned in the year 3RS, this painting was hidden for many years, coming to light only after the anonymous artist’s death. Named ‘A Lunar Lament’, it depicts Nightmare Moon as she was, a downtrodden Princess Luna crying crystal tears for a love that none would give her.”
Tux gazed at the painting, absorbing every detail contained within. “Did anypony sign it?” he asked.
“It doesn’t look like it,” she replied.
“The pony who painted this sure loved her.”
“Usually it’s the commissioner who loves the pony in question,” she posited.
“It was probably both,” he shrugged. “This looks a lot like Raphael, and it was rumored that he was involved in the Lunati.”
“Lunati?” she balked. “What is that?”
“A secret society of Princess Luna’s supporters, which was accused of worshiping Nightmare Moon. Some people say they still exist, but they were officially disbanded in the first century RS.”
“Do you think the allegations had any credence to them?”
“I don’t think they worshiped her per se, but I think it’s fairly well documented that they were critical of the banishment.”
“I’ve never read this in any history book,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “How did you learn it all?”
“Did i mention that Ann Nonymous is also a history buff? She has quite the library. Lots of old and rare books, some of them dating back to before the establishment of the Summer Sun Celebration at the beginning of Renaissance. She was a big influence in learning ancient Pegasellic.”
“I need to meet this mare,” Twilight gaped.
“Next book tour, I’ll ask her to come to Ponyville.”
“You’ll have to convince her to do a book tour first.”
“Oh, there you are!” Rarity said as she entered the room. “I stopped by the book exhibit, and neither of you were there. Did you know that one of the books was missing? And from the plaque, it was quite the valuable piece, too.”
“It wasn’t missing,” Twilight corrected. “If fact, we were reading it. Princess Celestia called ahead and arranged for me to be able to see it.”
“Well, that was perceptive of her. Did you learn anything from it?”
“Actually, most of the spells were in some sort of code, and dozens of them were totally missing. As it turns out, Starswirl took them out on purpose, hiding them away. I think they must have been pretty powerful for him to do that. And Tux here was talking about how an archaeologist friend of his might know where those lost pages are.”
“Oh Twilight, dear, you would look just fetching in a pith helmet,” Rarity commented. “Oh, fiddlesticks, I have ideas in my head and no paper to put them down!”
“I think this might be an original Raphael,” Tux said, nodding at the painting of Luna. “What do you think?”
She produced a pair of glasses from her saddlebag and squinted at the painting. “Hmm.... I don’t think it’s a Raphael. But it could be a student of his. Look at the tones of the coat. They’re too brilliant. Raphael painted Princess Luna dozens of times, and he always used a flatter blue, even in sunlit scenes. This brushwork is also too coarse for Raphael, and the portrait is too...busy, for lack of a better word. But nevertheless, it’s a beautiful work. It must have cost a fortune.”
“Since when did you become an art historian?” Tux asked.
“Darling, it’s a part of my calling. Fashion is art, and art is fashion. They go together like jam and toast. I tend to care more for the mid to late Romantic period, but the Renaissance was truly a golden age of art, music, and literature.”
Tux smiled. “You know, Rarity, I don’t think I could have picked a better judge.”
The next morning, auditions began at ten o’clock in the morning. But Vanhoover didn’t seem to have a lot of shining talent, or at least, not among those who auditioned. Tux heard at least four horrible renditions of Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, perhaps his most famous aria. There were a few bubbly pop singers, one of whom demonstrated her J-pop skills, drawing perhaps the first unanimous vote from the judge panel.
And perhaps the most contested vote of the first few hours was a heavy metal singer who had a passion for singing opera. Tux was surprised to hear the strongest, sweetest bass voice of the tour thus far. The only judge who turned him down was Octavia, who did it on principle. But after a heated argument between Tux and her, she finally decided to vote more objectively.
All in all, four singers made the cut that day, one for each part. Octavia invited them all to a local Thai restaurant to celebrate, but Tux already had plans. “I have reservations at Il Bello Cioccolato,” he explained to Twilight, “but if you want to get Thai instead, it’s fine with me.”
“I think we could do a group thing and still have it be a date,” Twilight replied. “And afterward, we could do some more reading.”
“It’s a deal.” Tux walked back into the room where Ivory and the three other judges were waiting and let them know that he and Twilight would be joining them after all.
“But I won’t, sadly,” Ivory sighed. “I have matters to attend to.”
“Your buddy want to get together for drinks?” Tux wondered.
“He called me just a few minutes ago, and I’m meeting him for happy hour.”
“Don’t go too crazy,” Vinyl chuckled. “If we’re ready, then let’s bounce.”
“Laa gòn ná,” Ivory smiled. Everybody stared at him. “It means ‘goodbye’ in Thai.”
“You speak Thai?” Tux asked.
“Just a couple words. Eh, I thought it was funny.”
“See you tomorrow,” Rarity called after him as he left the room.
“What do mean, you don’t like curry?” Rarity gasped as Tux looked up from his menu. “Everypony likes curry!”
“I don’t like curry,” Vinyl commented.
“Neither does Fluttershy,” Twilight added. “And I don’t think Applejack does, either.”
“My entire world has come crashing down,” she moaned.
“You’re such a drama queen,” Twilight quipped. “But we’re still ordering family style, right?”
“Well, if none of you like curry....”
“Yeah, let’s do it,” Tux shrugged. “We can all grab a little bit of whatever we want, and we can skip what we don’t.”
“That sounds reasonable enough,” Octavia approved.
Soon, the waiter came by and took their orders, and when he was gone, Rarity started things off by toasting to a successful tour thus far. “As much as Tux here didn’t want to do this, I think he’s done a splendid job.”
“Hear, hear,” Octavia cheered. “Disagree as we may, it takes a special stuff to lead this charge.”
“So, who’s excited for Manehattan?” Rarity asked.
“I know I am,” Vinyl grinned. “The Big Apple, the city that never sleeps. I need to check out some of those clubs, since we’re doing two days there. Too bad I don’t have my turntables with me.
“I’m planning on catching Der Ring des Nibelungen,” Octavia added. “I wish I could see the whole Ring Cycle, but I’ll have to do it on my next concert tour.”
Rarity was almost bouncing with excitement. “I’m most excited for an exhibition of the latest haute couture. I’m going to be taking notes.”
“I’m going to visit Equestria’s second biggest bookstore,” Twilight smiled. “I need some new literature for the library. What about you, Tux?”
“I’m actually not too excited about Manehattan,” he shrugged, taking a sip of his ice water.
“You’re not?” Rarity gasped. “First you don’t like curry, now you don’t like the Big Apple?”
“You see, I tend toward agoraphobia,” he explained. “And ochlophobia. It’s not a panic-inducing phobia, but big cities and large crowds tend to make me uncomfortable.”
“All you have to do is face your fears,” Rarity encouraged.
“Like I said, it’s not a fear. I mean, I’ve been to Honolulu, and I was fine there. In fact, I really liked it there. But Manehattan is totally not my kind of city, partly because it’s overhyped.”
“Overhyped?” Vinyl gasped.
“I would have thought that the Met alone would be enough to make you eager for the whole thing,” Octavia added.
“Honolulu isn’t nearly as bustling as Manehattan,” Twilight defended. “Besides, I don’t like the city, either. Everypony is in a yank to get everywhere, and you’ll never see more rudeness. At least, that’s what I hear.”
“Well, I suppose you have a point,” Rarity conceded. “But honestly, I think an actual visit will prove you both wrong.”
“That’s certainly how it was with Honolulu,” Tux shrugged.
“See?” Rarity said with a smug grin. “Don’t knock something until you’ve tried it.”
Everypony’s food and exotic drinks came soon, and Tux heaped his plate with savory vegetables, fried rice, and sweet and sour eggplant. When he picked a piece up off the plate, Rarity grimaced as if she’d seen a rotting fish carcass. “What is that?”
“Eggplant,” he replied. “Want some?”
“I’ll, uh, pass,” she said, wrinkling her nose.
“I’ll have my eggplant, and you can keep your curry.”
“Touché.” She sipped her tea.
“I didn’t know you could use chop sticks,” Twilight marveled as he took the utensils in his feathers.
“It’s definitely harder than if I had magic to help me,” he acknowledged, “but yeah, I mastered it a number of years ago.”
The meal marched on, full of comments about the food and how good it was. They all ate until they were satiated, and with the check, the waiter brought a plate of ichigo daifuku, which he set between Tux and Twilight.
“That ain’t on the menu,” Tux remarked.
“A special order from an anonymous gentlecolt,” the waiter replied.
“Xie xie,” Tux smiled.
“The gentlecolt also has a message for you: ‘Wo ni ge wai se.’“
“Well, tell him I said thanks,” Tux replied. “Xie xie.” The waiter bowed and left.
“What does that all mean?” Rarity wondered. “It sounded like Ponese.”
“It was,” he replied. “Xie xie means, ‘thank you,’ but that message, ‘wo ni ge wai se’? It means, ‘I’m always watching you.’“
“That doesn’t bode well,” Octavia grimaced.
“No, it doesn’t. First, how could this anonymous gentlecolt know that I’ve always wanted to try ichigo daifuku? Second, how could he have gave gotten it to this table without a lot of foresight? This dessert is Ponese, not Thai, and I think Al Nonymous knows it. That’s why the message was in Ponese.”
“You have a stalker, dude,” Vinyl gasped.
“No, merely un paparazzo,” Tux corrected. “A pony who’s trying to spread scurrilous rumors about Twilight and me. Well, I’m not putting up with it. You hear that, Inkwell? I’m not afraid of you.”
“Yeah!” Vinyl encouraged. “Stick it to the pony!”
“And there are enough of these little cakes for everybody,” he said, counting the balls of dough on the plate. “This is gonna knock your stockings off. Everypony take one.”