Tux stood halfway to his hocks in snow, trying his best not to shiver. A rogue blizzard had struck Ponyville just before Winter Wrap-up Day, and the storm was still threatening to circle back and undo everypony’s hard work. Somepony had to chase down that storm and buck it into submission. And apparently Twilight thought that Tux had the stuff.
He stood at attention next to Rainbow Dash as Twilight explained the assignment. “You two are the most competent fliers in Ponyville,” she praised, “and that’s why I need you to chase down that storm. It’s a big one, but I know you can corral it.”
“If anypony can do it, we can,” Rainbow grinned. “I can squeeze it down to nothing, and then Tux can blast it out of existence with his monster kickers.”
“Are you sure the rest of the weather team will be fine without us?” he asked tentatively.
“We don’t have time to lose!” Twilight asserted. “Cloud Kicker said that it’s behaving erratically, like somepony is controlling it, and it’s circling back toward us. We have to exterminate it before it hits us again.”
“You can count on us, Twi,” Rainbow said, thumping her chest proudly. “That storm doesn’t stand a chance.”
“Good. I expect you both to return soon.”
Tux and Rainbow took to the skies, flying as fast as they could toward the colossal storm, which was roughly twenty miles outside Ponyville, blanketing the Everfree Forest in inch upon inch of white powder. The closer they got, the more uncomfortable he felt about the whole thing.
“You and I both know that I don’t have much experience flying in high-wind environments,” Tux shouted over the gale roaring in his ears.
“Piece of cake,” Rainbow replied. “You’ll do better than I ever could, with your dextrous feathers and superior wing control.”
“But you have a sprinter’s wings. Mine have like twice the surface area.”
“Just don’t catch a draft, then.”
The storm grew larger and larger in his vision as they approached, until it filled the sky. Even above the rushing of the air past his ears, he could hear the roar of the blizzard below. He and Rainbow paused just short of the cloud wall, and he looked over, awaiting her command. Her eyes were darting this way and that, sizing up the task before them. Her expression went slowly from one of gumption to one of doubt. “You sure we can do this?” he asked.
“No,” she sighed. “But we have to try! For Twilight! For Ponyville!” She bolted for the cloud wall, making a sharp right as she began corralling the storm. Tux followed her lead, but the two of them didn’t seem to be making inroads on the monster.
“We need help!” he called. “It’s too big for just the two of us!”
“The two of us are the only ones Twi could spare,” she replied. “Besides, it’s too dangerous for anypony else.” She put on more speed, and he struggled to catch her, but eventually he lost her. Then the cloud wall reached out and swallowed him.
He couldn’t explain what had happened. Storms weren’t alive; they couldn’t reach out and eat their attackers. They couldn’t knock those attackers around with rapidly changing wind gusts. And most of all, they didn’t have voices.
“What’s the matter, Tux?” the storm taunted. “Can’t keep up with Dashie?” He recognized the voice immediately.
“Discord?” he gasped, flying for his very life. “What the hoof are you doing here?” He ducked and weaved, trying to anticipate the changing air currents, trying to keep one step ahead of whoever was controlling the storm. He was so far into the clouds that he had lost all sense of direction, besides up and down. “Rainbow!” he called, hoping she would hear him over the gale.
“She can’t help you now,” Discord sneered. “You’re going to crash...” An updraft threw him for a loop. “...and you’re going to burn.”
While he was still reeling from the updraft, a fierce downdraft caught him, hurling him for the trees below. He tumbled, hurtled end over end, with no recourse. “Rainbow!” he screamed in vain, knowing that his life was nearly at an end. Everything was a blur around him, but he knew that the trees were coming up fast. “Rainbow!” Something, no, somepony hit him, slowing his fall. But it was too late to keep them out of the forest, and he and his savior clipped a thick trunk, losing all lift, and hurtling for the ground. He saw a turquoise blur as he spun out of control, and he reached out to try and save her, but it was too late.
Even though the forest floor was covered in snow and pine needles, Tux and Rainbow hit it hard. Tux bounced back into the air, hitting another trunk, which stopped him dead. He struggled to his feet, but a dislocated wing kept him from reaching a better vantage point. “Rainbow!” he called, trying to plod through the snow. “Rainbow, are you all right?”
A pained squeal echoed above the howling winds, and he followed it, stotting to the best of his ability through the thick, white carpet. Finally, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a bright blotch that had to be Rainbow Dash. He stotted over and found her crumpled in a heap, choking out sobs of agony. “Broken,” she stammered, pointing to her right wing. “Can’t move.”
“Don’t worry, Rainbow,” he comforted. “I’ll find us shelter and get you to it.”
“Not with that wing, you won’t.” She motioned to Tux’s dislocated left wing.
“I’m fine; it just hurts.”
“It’ll hurt more unless you fix it.”
“How could I fix it at a time like this?” he protested. “We’re going to die of hypothermia unless I can find us a cave or something.” He knelt down, and she pulled herself onto his back. He struggled to lift her, but once he was back on all fours, he told himself that he would not stop walking until the two of them were safe.
“The wind is dying down,” Rainbow murmured.
“That, it is,” Tux acknowledged. The clouds above were starting to break up, as well. “This storm had it in for me. And now that I’m out of the picture, his work is done.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I’ll tell you later.” He began trudging in the direction he thought was north, hoping that the Everfree Caverns weren’t very far off. All he needed to do was reach them, and then he could collapse. The last thing he could do was give up when Rainbow was in danger as well.
It had been nearly an hour of trudging through the snow. He was about a quarter draft draft, so he had a thicker winter coat and was sturdier build than some other ponies, namely Rainbow Dash. Where she was shivering, he was only chilly. But he knew that if he didn’t get to a cave soon, no amount of thick fur would do him any good.
“Cold,” Rainbow moaned, her teeth chattering in the bitter chill.
“On the bright side, it’s keeping the swelling down in your wing.”
“We’re almost there,” he replied, trying to keep his hopes high.
“You said that...last time.”
“We’re closer than we were last time.”
“How...can you tell?”
He couldn’t. The wind had stopped, and the clouds were thinner, but they still blocked the sun. He didn’t have any sense of direction except the thinning of the trees, which he suspected meant that he was nearing the caves. With each step, he lost a shred of hope. What if he didn’t find the caves? And if he did, what if he couldn’t find fuel? What if he couldn’t start a fire? These questions plagued his mind for the next hour.
But after that hour, something caught his eye in the distance. If the ground weren’t covered with snow, he probably would have missed it, but now it was plain as day. It was a large, roughly circular depression in the side of a rock face, and it wasn’t too far off, either. He steeled himself and doubled his pace, his joints burning from the frigid weather. But at last he reached the cave, which was deep enough to afford them some shelter from the snow. Deep inside the cave, despite the near total darkness, it was a balmy fifty degrees--still chilly, but easily survivable. Tux let Rainbow down and checked her vital signs, glad to know that she was out of danger.
“Wake up, Rainbow,” he said, gently shaking her. “We made it.”
“I can’t see anything,” she moaned.
“There isn’t a whole lot of light in here yet,” he replied. “But I’m going to go see if I can find some firewood.”
“Stay here,” she pleaded.
“I’ll be right back. You’ll be safe here, I promise.”
He felt bad leaving her there, but without a fire, the two of them would have a much harder time. He struck out into the open again, searching until he had found a decent number of dry sticks to get a fire started. Working with what little light he had, he was finally able to get a single, glowing ember. After much care and feeding, that ember became a small flame, which was enough to cast a dim glow on the walls of their cave.
“It needs more wood,” Rainbow observed.
“I know,” Tux replied. “But I can’t carry anything heavy with this wing.”
“At least yours isn’t broken,” she sighed.
“Just dislocated. I can deal with it later.”
“Or...” She struggled to her feet. “...I could do it now.”
“Rainbow, what are you doing?” He backed away from her, but the cave wall stopped his progress.
“I’ve fixed half a dozen of these, two on myself.”
“Rainbow, I’d prefer it if a medical professional did--” She seized his dislocated wing, and with a deft twist, reset it. Searing pain ran up Tux’s spine, and he dropped to his knees, crying out in agony. “Why did you do that?” he sobbed.
“Because it needed to be done,” she replied. “The pain will stop soon.” She returned to her place by the fire, lay down, and closed her eyes.
Sure enough, the pain subsided quickly, and in a short time, Tux had his full range of motion back. As much as he hated the action, he was grateful that Rainbow had reset his wing. He walked back over and told her that he was going to find some more wood, but she didn’t respond. Just to make sure she was all right, he checked her pulse again, but when he did, she shifted in her sleep and grabbed his hoof, holding it close, wrinkling her nose and moaning in pain.
“You’re fine,” he sighed, reclaiming his appendage. “I’ll be back with a splint, too.”
Outside the cave, the outlook was bleak. He found a couple of logs for the fire, but there was nothing straight and strong enough that he could use to splint Rainbow’s wing. So after he added the fuel to the fire, he went against his better judgment and struck out deeper into the cave, carrying with him a flaming stick for lighting. He knew that these caves were occasionally home to vagabonds, and that sometimes they would leave their shelters behind for others to use if necessary.
After an hour of nothing but dead ends, his efforts finally paid off. He found a small shelter with a roughly a cord of firewood, a collection of blankets, and plenty of twine. “Is anypony home?” he asked, his voice echoing in the cavern. He slowly pushed open the door, poking his head and torch inside. Above the single bed hung a symbol that Tux recognized. “Vacant. Thank you, hobos.”
He used what was left of his torch to light candles around the shanty, and he dug through the drawers until he found a flashlight. “Oh, it’s a shaker,” he said, noticing the inner workings through the transparent housing. He shook it for a couple of minutes, and the beam shone out bright. He smiled. “This couldn’t be better.”
After carefully marking the trail back to the cabin, he helped Rainbow hobble into the cave. Not only was her wing broken, but she had a sprained ankle, and she couldn’t walk very well or very far on her own. When Tux told her about the shanty’s amenities, she started crying. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Just.... I mean, they have a bed.” She chuckled. “I thought I would have to sleep on the cold cave floor.”
“Nope,” he smiled. “We’ll be safe and sound.”
“What if the owners come back?”
“The shelter has been vacant for a while,” he explained. “I don’t think anypony’s going to come and take it from us.”
“I’m hungry. Is there any food in there?”
“Um....” He hadn’t seen any. But he didn’t want to dash Rainbow’s hopes. “I’m sure there is.”
“What if there isn’t?” she pressed.
“Then I’ll find us some.”
Along the way, Tux tried to think of what kind of food could possibly last in a hobo shanty. But upon searching the cupboards, he had his answer. “I hope you like canned corn,” he called to Rainbow, who was lying on the bed.
“I can learn to,” she groaned. “Is there anything else?”
He moved some of the cans aside. “Not really. Some green beans, but they’re past their date. By a while, too. I wouldn’t eat them.”
“At least we have a fire so that we don’t have to-- Wait a minute, we have some pinto beans, too. Too bad we don’t have any lettuce, or I’d make a nice taco salad.”
“Well, are you going to heat some up, or not?”
“Coming right up.” He took two cans of corn and dumped them into a charred metal cookpot with one can of beans and some spices and dried vegetables he had found in another cupboard. “A little stew is good for what ails you.”
“I’d prefer a taco salad,” she grimaced.
“Well, unless you want to eat dried onions, we don’t have much of a choice. Don’t worry; I used to do Whatcha Got Stew once a week when I was in college.” He lit the fire and began cooking. He was grateful that Rainbow didn’t complain about how long it took. He had to tweak the mix of spices several times before it finally tasted like a decent stew, and he ladled out two steaming bowls.
He joined her on the bed and handed her a bowl and spoon. “It’s really hot,” he warned. “Be careful.”
She took a spoonful and blew on it for a few moments. “Smells like a manure pile,” she remarked.
“But I assure you it tastes much better.”
She took her first bite and nodded. “Yeah, it’s actually pretty good.”
“Usually, I’m a whiz at fruit punch, but it’s really the same deal with Whatcha Got Stew.” He dipped into his own soup. “So, have I ever told you that I know Daring Do?”
“I’m confused,” she replied. “I thought she was a fictional character.”
He shook his head. “For the most part, she’s as real as you or I. Her name is Deryn Doo, and she’s coming to Ponyville to do a book signing, come her next release.” He explained how Deryn was an archaeologist and based her stories on her own adventures. She listened eagerly as he recounted the true stories of each novel, each no less interesting than its fictionalized counterpart.
He continued long after they had finished their stew, and even after Rainbow had fallen asleep. When he finally noticed that she was in dreamland, he tucked her into bed, being careful not to jar her broken wing. “Tomorrow, I’ll tell you what you missed.”
He took a few blankets and made a ramshackle bedroll, which he laid out by the fire. It wasn’t as soft as a bed, but it was better than hard cave floor. He watched the dying embers of the fire until his eyes could no longer remain open. “Sleep tight, Rainbow Dash,” he yawned, glancing at the shanty one more time. “Tomorrow is going to be a long day.”
Rainbow was still asleep when Tux awoke the next morning. He went outside to see no evidence of the storm except for the foot and a half of snow that blanketed the ground. The sky was blue, and the sun was warm, even though he could still see his breath. His wing still ached from dislocation the day before, but he felt like flying wasn’t out of the question. He flapped as gently as he could up to the top of a large tree, trying to survey the landscape and get his bearings.
Off in the distance, he could see what he thought was Ponyville, but he couldn’t be sure. He also couldn’t be sure of the distance, maybe thirty miles. The wind started blowing, whipping his mane, and bending the tree he was on. Snow began swirling up around the tree next to his, and he nearly lost his footing because of it. Finally, the snow coalesced into a golem with a familiar, serpentine shape. Its eyes flashed a bright orange, and Discord’s voice spoke through it. “Hello, Tux. Did you miss me?”
“That’s not possible,” Tux stammered. “You’re rotting in prison where you belong!”
“Who are you to judge where I should be?” the Discord-golem sneered. “Especially when you don’t have the power to keep me there.”
“Why are you here?” Tux demanded. “How are you here?”
“You’re not the only one allowed to have friends, Tux,” the golem sighed. “Somepony very close to me has devised a way to let me out of my stone cell, even if I have to resort to animating snow if I wish to make my presence known.
“Now for the why of it all.” In a flash, the golem slithered through the air to Tux’s tree and seized him by the throat with an icy claw, lifting him from his treetop perch. “You are the only pony standing between me and the throne of Equestria.” The golem squeezed tighter, and Tux struggled to breathe.
“What did I ever do to you?!” Tux choked.
“From the moment you entered this world, you were my enemy,” the golem growled, its eyes blazing brighter. “My mission in life is to see to it that yours ends.” The claw squeezed tighter still. “Every single time I have tried to kill you, one of Harmony’s agents has seen to it that you somehow survived. But no more! Your precious Rainbow Dash can’t catch you this time. You know, they say it isn’t the impact that kills you, but rather the sudden deceleration. This time, I’ll make sure there’s enough of it to do the job.” The snow golem leaped off the tree and hurled Tux at the ground. He flailed about with his wings, but there was nothing he could do to prevent the inevitable. He hit hard, and the last thing he saw before his vision faded was the snow golem dissolving into the wind.
Slowly his consciousness returned to him. He could hear faint cries, echoing as if they were far off in the distance. “Tux!” the voice screamed, a raw voice laced with the most primal fear. “Tux, wake up!” He started to feel somepony shaking him, gripping him firmly by the shoulders. “Wake up, you nag, wake up!”
“I’m awake,” he tried to say. “I’m fine.” But his lips refused to move, his voice refused to sound. He felt a weight on his chest. Heaving sobs from whoever was trying to wake him. “I’m fine,” he tried again, but to no avail.
His vision returned slowly, and all he could see was colors. Turquoise, red, orange, green, blue, a rainbow mane buried in his chest, a friend sobbing over her loss. “Rainbow!” he called, blinking. “Rainbow, I’m okay.”
“You’re....” she gasped, lifting her head up. Her jaw hung open in shock.
“Like I said,” he repeated, “I’m fine.”
She picked him up off the ground, wrapping him in a tight embrace. “I heard something happening outside, and I came out to investigate, and I found you...lying in the snow. I--” She began sobbing again. “You weren’t breathing, and I didn’t know what to do, I--”
“It’s okay, Rainbow,” he comforted.
“No, it’s not okay!” she shot back. “Here I am with a broken wing, lost in the Everfree Forest, and not only are you my ticket out of here, but you are the only pony keeping me from losing my mind!”
“Calm down, Rainbow,” he urged. “I know where Ponyville is from here. We can leave in the morning.”
“Why not now?”
“Because if we leave today...forces will conspire to keep us from ever getting back.”
“What do you mean, ‘forces’?”
He looked up at the sky, trying to figure out what to say. “Help me back inside, and I’ll tell you.” She knelt down and helped him up. He walked with a nasty limp, probably from a sprained ankle, and he also couldn’t move his left wing. But Rainbow didn’t need to know that. Finally, the two of them were back at the shanty deep within the cave. Rainbow helped Tux up onto the bed and lay down next to him, demanding to know everything that had happened.
“It all started yesterday,” he sighed, recalling the events. “The storm pulled me in, and I came face to voice with Discord. He was controlling it.”
“Let me finish. Discord was controlling the storm, and he tried to hit me with a downdraft and smash me into the ground. That’s when you saved me. This morning, he was still lurking about, and he created a snow golem that tried again. This time I hit the ground, and I probably should have died, but something stopped it from happening.”
Rainbow held up her forehooves. “Back up, now. You said that Discord was controlling the storm?”
“It had to have been him,” Tux replied. “I heard his voice. And I think I might have seen his face.”
“How could he have gotten out?” she scoffed. “The girls and I locked him in tight.”
“This isn’t the first time he’s gotten out since I’ve come to Ponyville,” he recalled. “If you recall, soon after I arrived, he tried to get me to leave. Pony knows what else he’s been doing behind the scenes.”
“But how could he get out?”
“I recall Luna saying something about dreams and exits, and Discord’s golem said something about having friends who help him escape.”
“We need to tell Princess Celestia about this. Now!”
“I tried,” he groaned. “She either refused to believe me or refused to hear me. I think she knows a lot more than she’s letting on.”
“Do you think she’s the one letting him out?”
“You didn’t hear it from me,” he said balefully.
“So we just sit here until Discord is gone?”
He nodded. “That’s the plan.”
“Well, how will we know?”
“We won’t,” he replied. “What we should really do is wait for the rescue party. I’m sure Mayor Mare is hot on our trail.”
“I need to get this wing to the hospital,” she reminded him. “And your ankle is swollen.”
“We’ll be fine at least until tomorrow morning. As far as I know, Discord can be out for only a day at a time, and it’s not easy for him to make it, even with help.”
“Then we’ll wait,” she nodded. “I trust you, Tux.”
“I really like how you can be independent and loyal at the same time,” he sighed. “You’re one of the strongest spirited ponies I’ve ever met.”
“Well, you know...you’re kinda the same way,” she replied. “That’s why.... Oh, never mind.”
“That’s why what?” he asked.
“Just drop it, it’s stupid.”
“Dash, I care about you. I care about what you think. If you want to talk, then let’s talk.”
She didn’t reply for quite some time, and he listened for anything she wanted to say, while giving her the right to remain silent if she so chose. But finally, she spoke up. “That’s why I look up to you,” she mumbled. “That’s why I...think I’m in love with you.”
His expression sank. He could have seen this coming, but then again, he could never read anypony well enough to know their feelings about him. It had gotten him in trouble many a time before. Instead of saying outright that he couldn’t reciprocate, though, he went for a more diplomatic approach. “It’s too soon after Twilight for anything to happen, Dash. You know that.”
“Yeah, I do,” she huffed. “See? I told you it was stupid.”
“It’s not stupid,” he contradicted. “Is that why you left Soarin’?”
“I left Soarin’ because we weren’t right for each other. Don’t you remember saying that if I wasn’t in it lock, stock, and barrel, then I should reconsider. I wasn’t, so I did.”
“I don’t remember giving you that advice.... It sounds like something I would say, but I don’t ever remember saying it.”
“Back in September? When all of Ponyville got some kissing sickness?”
“Not mono. Don’t tell me you can’t remember it!” she groaned.
“No, I....” But he could. In the back of his mind, he remembered her flying off in a huff. He remembered kissing her. “Actually, I do.”
“Well, ever since then, I’ve been having trouble. First, I dump Soarin’. Then I dump my dream of being a Wonderbolt. Then...this!”
“Well, why did you break up with Soarin’?” he asked. “Was it because of me?”
“No, not exactly,” she sighed. “It’s just...somepony loved him more than I did. And I couldn’t be selfish and keep him from seeing it, so I.... I stepped aside.”
“A very noble thing to do,” he nodded.
“And then...you know, after I broke up with him, how I cried? You were there for me. You didn’t judge me. And I trusted you enough to carry me through. You see, I’ve spent my whole life putting on this tomcoltish face, making everypony think I’m tough, and don’t get me wrong; I am. But I have a soft side, too. And you’re the only pony I’ve really ever shown it to.”
“And that’s why you think you’re in love with me.”
“Because you get me. You get what I’m going through.”
He understood perfectly now. If any of his mare friends had been close enough to hold him when he cried over lost love, then he would have fallen for them, too. But he didn’t feel the same way about her. Maybe it was too soon after Twilight, as he had said, but maybe he just thought of Rainbow as a friend, like Applejack. He couldn’t bear to discuss it any further, though he knew that before their time at the shanty was over, he would have to broach the subject again. “So...what about giving up your Wonderbolts dream?”
“Yeah, that....” She sighed. “At least this doesn’t screw up my image. When I was with Soarin’, he complained once or twice about never being able to see his family. I met his mom and dad, his brother, his sister.... It got me to thinking. If I joined the Wonderbolts, then I would be on tour all the time, just like he was. I would have to leave Ponyville.”
“Not for good,” he contradicted.
“But I would never be able to see my family there. I had to make a choice between my dream and my friends. And I made the right choice.”
“That’s an even nobler choice, Dash,” he acknowledged. “But you don’t have to give up your dream. Apply for the Academy, and if you make the team, you can always turn them down. You’ll know that you’re good enough.”
“But what if I’m not good enough?”
“You are good enough. More than good enough.”
“You’re just trying to stroke my ego.”
He shook his head. “I never exaggerate when I’m talking about a friend. Promise when we get out of here, you’ll apply to the Academy.”
“I promise,” she replied grudgingly. “Cross my heart and hope to fly...” She glanced at her splinted wing. “...stick a cupcake in my eye.”
“That’s the Rainbow Dash I know and love.”
She blushed. “So you do love me.”
“As a friend,” he clarified. “But yes, I do.”
Both he and Rainbow were too tired to get up for much of anything, so they decided to bite the bullet of awkwardness and both spend the night in the bed. Tux had to admit that it was a more comfortable solution overall than rebuilding the fire and sleeping on the thin bedroll. Their shared warmth helped take away the soreness of his various sprains and dislocations, and despite a bit of snoring, he was able to get a better rest than he had the night before.
But the fact still remained that he didn’t have the strength to carry Rainbow the distance to Ponyville, and she didn’t have the strength to walk. The only thing they could do was wait there for help. They passed their time playing cards with a worn deck they found in a cupboard, talking about flying techniques, and trying to figure out what to do about Discord.
The only course of action they could take was to tell Princess Celestia about it. The Elements of Harmony were locked up in a vault in Canterlot Palace, where they weren’t readily accessible, and without a darn good reason, Celestia wouldn’t allow access. After all, wanton use of power, without fail, leads to corruption.
The next day, the two of them didn’t do much. They were too bored to play cards, and neither one wanted to talk about Discord. Tux still didn’t feel strong enough to leave, and even though Rainbow could walk, she couldn’t carry him, and her wing was still broken. He refused to let her walk back to Ponyville alone, fearing that she would get lost and freeze to death in the lingering cold of winter and the labyrinthine complexity of the forest.
Yet another day passed, and the two of them were beginning to go stir crazy. Rainbow threatened to leave in spite of him, doing whatever she could to keep him from stopping her. But their wait finally came to a close. Off in the distance, Tux heard a familiar voice with a familiar lilt: “Over here! This is the place. They must have found this wanderer’s space.”
“Zecora?” he gasped, his ears pricking.
“It can’t be,” Rainbow scoffed.
“Tux! Rainbow!” It was Twilight’s voice.
“Speak up if you can hear us!” called Applejack.
“We’re fine!” Tux called back. “Follow the markers!”
It wasn’t long before the three mares came to the shanty. “Oh, thank Celestia, you’re all right,” Applejack said, rushing forward and hugging Tux and Rainbow. “We were worried sick for y’all.”
“Aside from a broken wing, there was nothing serious,” Tux explained. “But that blizzard was a doozy. Pretty...chaotic.”
“Are you trying to be cryptic?” Twilight asked, lifting an eyebrow.
“Dash and I will talk to you when we get back to Ponyville. I hope you brought a cart; we’re pretty banged up and can’t walk too far.”
“I think Mac can answer that question,” Applejack winked.
The sorrel stallion poked his head through the door and smiled. “Eeyup.”
“I’m afraid that isn’t possible.” Tux found the princess’s denial unsurprising but nonetheless disappointing.
“I know what I saw, what I heard,” he asserted. “It was Discord.”
“While generally, I am not one to doubt the veracity of your claims, this time I know that you’re mistaken.”
“Princess,” Twilight protested, “we have to take these allegations seriously. If Discord is indeed able to escape his prison, any way it may occur, then he is a threat to the security of Equestria.”
“I designed the spell which holds him into place. Its one documented failure was a flaw which you and your friends remedied.”
“But...I trust Tux. Rainbow can corroborate his story.”
Celestia lifted an eyebrow. “She didn’t witness the alleged attack, did she?”
“No,” he replied, “but she saved me from the first one.”
Celestia dismissed it with a wave of her hoof. “As you’ve said, a downdraft in a rogue blizzard.”
“With all due respect, Princess, you did this last time. Only Princess Luna gave me any credence.”
“You’ve said enough, Tux,” Celestia snapped. “I’m sorry to be short with you. But my sister is still a very sensitive subject. I have the final word on the matter. Good day.”
Tux shuffled out of the room, defeat weighing heavy on his shoulders. His blood boiled with frustration at Celestia’s dismissiveness. Where was Luna when he needed her? And why was Celestia so quick to quash any mention of her name like a downpour extinguishes a campfire.
Twilight came loping after him. “Tux, wait!” she called. “I know you’re mad, but think about it. If Discord gets out, what’s that going to do for her public image?”
“That’s exactly it,” Tux snapped, jabbing a hoof back at the throne room. “She’s so concerned about what her subjects think of her, how they look at her, that she refuses to acknowledge the biggest threat in Equestria.” Twilight balked at his harsh tone and frankness of criticism. “I don’t know if it’s her colossal ego or if she just can’t bear the thought that she’s already powerless to stop him.”
Tux stopped, caught his breath. His heart skipped a beat when he realized that he’d gone one step too far. He chose his words carefully. “She isn’t as powerful as she used to be. That’s why she needed you to find the Elements. That’s why she didn’t show up when Nightmare Moon came back.”
“I thought Nightmare Moon...I don’t know, did something to her.”
“There are two sides to every coin. And her dark side is spreading. When I look at her, I can feel it deep in the pit of my stomach. She knows Discord is loose, but she doesn’t want to do anything about it.”
“Tux, those are some pretty strong allegations.”
“There will come a time when you will have to choose your loyalty,” he warned. “It’ll be either her...or me.”
“I trust you, Tux,” she supported. “I believe you. But I can’t throw away my loyalty to Princess Celestia.”
He shook his head. “You don’t have to throw away anything. Not just yet.”
“If the time comes to choose, I’ll make sure to do what’s right, whatever that may be.”
“And I trust your judgment,” he replied. He unfurled his wings. “If you need me, I’ll be in the labyrinth.”