The First Prince
Disclamer: I do not own My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, please support the official release.
Make no mistake; I am as patient as I am fabulous. However even I have my limits. One of them is being interrupted on my morning walk, another is having my best cravat covered in mucous.
“Ugh” I said shoving the bizarre sobbing mare away. “Get off me you…” Of all ponies I found myself face to face with none other than Princess Luna.
Now, I am a veteran of the Doomed Gala, so understand what I mean when I say that I had never seen a more disgraceful sight in my life! The co-ruler of Equestria’s tiara was crooked, her mane looked like a bur’s nest and her eyes were discolored and puffy. Were I in a more charitable mood I might have recommended a nice trip to the spa… or at least some cucumbers.
She stared at my forehead and blinked. “I… I’m sorry… I thought you were someone else.”
I raised my head with a “Humph!” (She still towered over me of course, but it was the principle of the thing). “My lady you have the honor of addressing the sophisticated, world renowned, and fabulous Prince Blueblood the 23rd. You will also have the honor of paying his dry cleaning bill.”
Her eyes went wide and she broke into the most unseemly stutter. “W-wait Blueblood? T-twenty third?”
My butler coughed, shifting uneasily in his saddlebags. “Kind sir, perhaps-”
Oh not the staff too! Royalty was one thing, but impudence from hired earth ponies just couldn’t be tolerated.
I let my voice go cold, “Top Hat, you will speak when spoken to, understood?”
The earth pony opened his mouth for a moment, then closed it and lowered his head. “Yes sir, my apologies.”
I snorted, “Just don’t think that dapper little cutie mark means you can’t be replaced.” That little problem nipped in the bud I turned back to the puffy eyed alicorn. “Now as for you…”
The princess narrowed her eyes. She had the most chilling look. For a moment I felt like I was back at the gala staring down a certain harlot. It was almost as bad a glare as mother’s...
“You’re the Prince? You?” For a moment it almost seemed like the sky grew dark.
I wanted nothing more at that instant than to just turn around and bolt. I felt all four knees start to shake…
No! I forced myself to be still. I didn’t care how much power she had. I had embarrassed my family more than enough this season. A Blueblood cowered before no one, mother would accept nothing less. Besides… the cravat was already lost.
So I held my ground. I glared right back at the petulant goddess. “It is one of my many titles. You may note it is equal to yours, if not greater from more recent use. Now I believe you owe me some bits…”
For a moment her horn flared. Her eyes filled with some terrible black fire and I felt a quiver at the base of my horn and a shiver down my spine.
I took a few steps back, putting the petrified Top Hat between us.
Finally the Alicorn shook herself and her eyes returned to normal… though the tears were back for some reason. She lowered her head, “Definitely not who I thought you were.”
That said her, horn glowed softly and she vanished in a silver puff of magic.
I blinked. “W-what in Equestria was that about?”
Top Hat shifted nervously, “I couldn’t say sir.”
I sighed. “Again, I wasn’t talking to you.” I got out in front of him and re-gathered my dignity. “Now come along. We’ve business to attend to.”
I supposed I’d just have to collect another way.
One walk through the gardens, trip to the dry cleaners, light lunch, and shopping expedition later I found myself being brutally interrogated by our beloved ruler (she deigned to call it ‘dinner’).
Princess Celestia, sun goddess and ruler of all Equestria, gave me her most diplomatic smile. “Now, if we might discuss the back taxes owed by your province…”
I groaned and magically raised my teacup. I had to admit, it was an excellent brew. Princess Celestia had far more courtly graces than her sister, even if she was a tad too soft. I’d been brought into the usual private tea room with its simple, but elegant decorations. It was actually quite cozy with its soft embroidered cushions and mahogany table. It even had a clear picture window with an excellent view of the night sky (a very fashionable addition according to The Trotter). Unfortunately it seemed like Celestia dragged me here every time I set foot in the palace, so the décor had little effect on my mood.
“I’ve told you several times. I have less income since you suspended tax obligations in Fillydelphia. I’ve raised the income taxes on my other cities, but for some reason I’m even getting less revenue than before! It’s a mystery, but it certainly isn’t my fault.”
I eyed her for a moment, trying to gauge her reaction to my labors. Sadly, her expression remained as serene and diplomatic as always, revealing nothing. I was always envious of that composure.
Finally she spoke. “I’m quite sorry that you haven’t yet been capable of collecting from Fillydelphia, but you must understand that it requires a delicate managerial touch at the moment. After the parasprite swarm reconstruction efforts have been occupying a great deal…”
I tuned her out for a moment and sipped daintily at my tea. It was always the same with Celestia, construction efforts this, emergency funding that… It amazed me how she could immerse herself in such trifles. They were just common folk after all, and they were ignoring their financial duty to the crown.
In any case, there were more important things to ponder, such as why my new cravat was chafing even after I’d specially selected a softer fabric! I swear the injustice of it all! Perhaps I should have paid another visit the tailor and…
“…so I’ve been thinking of getting you gelded…”
I twitched and dropped my tea cup with a crash. “What was that?”
Celestia Beamed, “Just getting your attention. You see raising the income taxes even higher was probably the worst thing you could have done if wanted to raise tax revenue. Have you heard of a Laffer curve?”
“They’re quite interesting actually. You know, there’s a tax economics course being offered next semester at Canterlot University…”
I went more white than usual. That was a real threat. At some point the princess had decided to forcibly enroll me in a class as a cruel punishment for any random misfortune that befell my province. I still had nightmares about calculus… Oh I’d have to think fast!
Finally it came to me, “Princess Luna owes me about nine hundred bits! Certainly you could start there?”
Celestia blinked. “I’m sorry… Why does my sister owe you nine hundred bits?”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh it was the most dreadful thing! This morning I was minding my own business walking through the garden when all of a sudden she just leapt out of the bushes, grabbed a hold of me and started bawling into my coat. She ruined a very expensive (and sentimentally valuable) cravat and when I tried to get her to pay for the damage she just said I was “definitely not who she thought I was” and teleported away to who knows where. Also, I must say she looked simply awful for some reason I don’t know what she did to her hair, but-”
I stopped; Celestia’s face had gone cold. “What did you do to her?” she asked, lowering her voice.
I froze. She was blaming me? For Luna’s random snit? How could she possibly blame me? I was not going to be sent to another etiquette course over this!
I caught sight of her eyes and suddenly the righteous indignation drained from me. Facing down Luna was one thing, but this Mare…“Um, I, Nothing! Honestly! Nothing whatsoever!” I blurted, “She just said that she thought I was someone else and then that I wasn’t who she thought I was! That’s it! I suppose she was disappointed for some inane reason…”
Celestia looked like she was about to prod me further, but then stopped. Her eyes went wide. Suddenly she looked very old... or perhaps very young. I’d known this woman since the day I was born and this was the most off balance I’d ever seen her.
“Skies above,” She whispered, “You really do look like him.”
The lack of propriety was beyond appalling, but my indignation had been overwhelmed by fear. Underneath it all I felt… curious. “Who exactly?”
Her horn glowed for a moment and she ladled a drop of honey into her tea. “Your many times great grandfather. He was the prince a thousand years ago, the first prince.”
Oh was that all? Thank the heavens! I allowed myself a smirk. “Well I suppose I’m glad to hear I’m descended from a line of fabulous looking unicorns, but-”
“He was an earth pony.” She said, stirring in the honey. She sounded completely sincere, and I had never known her to lie.
I felt a strange sinking feeling. An Earth Pony? No, impossible, I’d sat down with mother and learned every last cousin in my noble lineage when I was five. We were unicorns, we had always been unicorns! “Your majesty I…” I hesitated, “apologize, but you must be mistaken.” She said nothing. She just floated up her blasted napkin and stared at it like it was the most important thing in the world.
“There is no commoner blood in these veins!” I shouted, “We Bluebloods are a family of the gods… Your family!”
She turned to me with those ancient eyes and for a moment I felt… I’m not sure… like I’d left the house unclothed and without a grooming, or mother was calling, or something. Like she’d peeled back every flap of skin and saw all there was to see.
Then she turned away, “Prince Blueblood the First was an earth pony.” She said simply.
I glared at her. Goddess or no! Ruler or no! I would not let that insult pass! “Well fine then, why did Luna want a stupid smelly earth pony on the throne instead of a cultured and elegant unicorn like me?”
Princess Celestia, sun god, expert diplomat, and ruler of all Equestria, responded very calmly.
“Because he was better than you.”
The pegasus guard kept his hoof on my neck. “Your majesty I advise you against this.”
“Captain Heart, I can handle myself for 10 minutes. Please leave us…” Came a voice.
The steel clad pony gave me a warning growl. I glared back up as menacingly as my black eyes would let me. You want to go another round Chuckles? Go on and bring it…
The Pegasus reluctantly removed his hoof, “I’ll be right outside the door pretty boy. Please, go right ahead and try something. I dare you.”
“I love you too.” I croaked.
He snorted and waltzed out, wings flared in agitation. “Ten minutes…” He threatened. Then he slammed the door behind him.
Once I stopped seeing double, I forced myself onto all fours and surveyed my surroundings. There were things on the wall that could have fed Ponyville for a month if you knew where to hawk them. It also had a large picture window. I seriously considered jumping out of it.
On the far side of a table covered in a motley assortment of cups and pots sat the heir to the throne, looking very small, and a lot less than royal without her guard.
I drew in a breath and felt a crackle in my lungs, “Princess Celestia…” I wheezed “to what do I owe the pleasure?”
Her horn glimmered faintly as she floated up a pile of papers. She smiled at me, politely. “Organizer Blueblood, I apologize for the… harsh way in which the Royal Guard construed the order to bring you here. Do you require time to rest, or something to eat or, um… medical assistance? I mean… the hospitality of Ever Free Castle is at your disposal.”
I coughed up a gob of… something, and the pain in my lungs eased a bit. There was a coppery taste in my mouth, which really wasn’t a good sign, but I would take what I could get. “I think I’ve had enough of your *cough*… hospitality, thanks. Now why am I here? I knew Seasons was low, but I didn’t expect her to send a 14 year old to off me.”
The Alicorn filly bit her lip. I noticed that her plain pink mane was almost as trashed as mine. “I… regret to inform you that Queen Seasons has passed away.”
My bruised eyes went wide. “She’s dead?”
She gulped. “Yes.”
Time froze. Dead? That monster was actually dead? I felt a glimmer of hope, not for me, I was hosed, but everyone else! I had half a mind to break into a bucking jig right then and there! I knew there had been rumors, no whispers of an illness, but sweet skies… the witch was dead and the world hadn’t ended! Ha! So much for ‘raising the sun’ every morning! I couldn’t wait to see the look on Wind’s…
I saw Celestia flinch and slowly my joy drained away.
Seasons had ruled the land with an iron fist for millennia, the suffering and horror she had caused was beyond my capacity to comprehend. She was cruel, oppressive and I’d spent half my life cleaning up after her.
But right then, looking at that terrified little pony, I realized she was someone’s mother.
“I... I’m sorry.” The words just tumbled out. “I-I can’t say I’m really mourning, but I… I know what it’s like to lose family.” A flood of bitter memories came, a letter at school, a tiny red stain, a royal seal on a scorched door. My voice went cold. “Actually a lot of ponies do.”
She flinched, but forced herself to go on. “I-I understand that mother was a quite, um, f-forceful ruler and Luna and I going to have a lot of work to become as trusted as she was.” She pulled a folder from the pile. “Seriously, I do know where you’re coming from. I’ve read your file, and… well a lot of other files… and I understand the… everything I really do, but right now-”
Now that, that I couldn’t take.
I ground my teeth and rammed my hooves on the table. Carefully arranged china scattered. “You understand? You understand? Princess, your little pampered flanks Don’t. Know. Shit! Seasons never had her victim’s trust. They just prayed to the old gods that she’d keep up their rain rations and did their best to smile when she dragged off their children…”
A flash. A colt dragged away. Two pegasi holding guard “recruitment” badges and blades in their teeth. A father gripping a pitchfork… and dropping it on the ground, knowing he couldn't do any good. A pony finding a pamphlet… and walking away from his fields. Then another, and another…
I smirked, “Well, at least until I gave ‘em a better idea.”
Her expression darkened. “I remind you that whatever their justification, your “demonstrations” may have cost everyone in Equestria a harvest. I’ve been going over the ledgers and I assure you. Come this summer ponies are going to go hungry.”
I narrowed my eyes. “If you want food, then strap on a plow. My people are used to cropping grass in the gutter all winter. This time you magical ponies get to have a taste.” I put my fore-hooves on the lace tablecloth and lifted myself as high as I could get. “And don’t think for a second you can beat your apples out of me. I’m ready for whatever dungeon you’ve got…” I dug a bruised hoof into the table and let out shaky breath. “I promise you, I’ve seen worse.”
She ducked her head, rifled under the table, and came back up with a scroll in her teeth. “72%” She said, letting it drop by her teacup.
I blinked. “What?”
Her horn sputtered and she telekinetically tossed me the scroll. It bore the royal seal. “From now on, the earth ponies will be granted 72% of the yearly crop to dispose of as they wish, in reflection of their population size and labor. Whatever they don’t eat, they can sell and consider as payment for damages.” She narrowed her eyes. “Of course, as the proclamation provides earth ponies a percentage of total crops if they don’t produce anything…”
“I get the picture.” I popped the proclamation open with a hoof and looked it over. I’d always had a bit of a talent for cutting through legal horse-apples (my professors called it ‘issue spotting’), but I didn’t need it. I was surprised at how straight forward the proclamation was. It was exactly what she said.
I felt a shiver down my spine. If I’d left that seal unbroken… I pushed the thought away. What was done was done. “This is… good.” I let it roll shut, “Too good, what’s the catch?”
She smiled. “I want to adopt you.”
I blinked “Okay… you obviously don’t mean that literally…”
Her smile became a beam. . “Actually, I’m quite serious. I want to adopt you into the royal family. I want you to take on the title of prince and start representing the earth ponies in court. You’re widely respected by your people, you’re an excellent organizer and none of your… well public demonstrations were violent.”
“Captain Tightie bucked first.” I said through gritted (if loosened) teeth.
“Yes…” She said. She looked genuinely concerned. “I-I’ll have to talk to him about that, but it’s beside the point. Equestria’s Earth Ponies need a representative in government and you’re perfect for the job! You’re widely respected, you have experience leading people, and you’ve even been to law school.”
She put her hooves together and gave me a completely innocent smile.
I rolled my eyes. “Princess do you honestly believe I’ll swallow that tripe?”
The smile faded She tilted her head in confusion. “What? What that tripe? I’m offering you a position just underneath the royals! Mom… Queen Seasons did basically the same thing with Cesar in 293!”
“Uh, how about Caesar was a pegasus with Cloudsdale at his disposal and a magically charged army that could match her? You seriously expect me to believe you’re just going to roll over and make concessions this massive when you know you have the force and authority to just round up ponies like me and make examples of us?”
Her floating teacup shook and I saw a bead of sweat roll down. “I assure you I intend to be a benevolent a-and honorable ruler, I-”
I leaned over the table and looked her right in the eyes. “Little girl, I. Am. Not. Stupid! If you want a gods damned puppet you’ll have to tie me up in strings! You monsters spent the last 500 years keeping us in the dirt, and you’ve never had a problem butchering us before. What? All of a sudden you’re saying “Let’s all be friends!” Please! Why in Equestria would-”
“BECAUSE WARM BREEZE IS DEAD!” She screamed.
Princess Celestia, new ruler of Equestria, had a horn fizzle, spilled her priceless teacup all over her notes and crumpled to the floor.
I took a step back in surprise.
“S-she was just playing” She babbled, “They took her away and I wanted to stop them, but Mom said we couldn’t be soft and so I didn’t and now Mom is gone and it’s all too late and we lost them both and Luna’s being quiet and I know something’s wrong, but I don’t know what to do! A-and I looked at the records and there’s like a million Warm Breezes and when I try to think about all their friends and put together all the pain in a big pile I just can’t!”
Tears pooled up and her nose went runny, she gave me a look straight from a nightmare. “I need to make this stop okay?. And for some stupid reason I thought you’d care about that Organizer.”
Finally the fire in her eyes burned out and she started sobbing, becoming a big quivering ball of misery on the gilded carpet.
I run my mouth like most ponies breathe, so understand what it means when I say I was speechless.
When she was done, I pulled a napkin off the table napkin and blotted that poor filly’s face, she tensed up when I got close, but let me clean her up all the same. Then I sat down next to her and brushed her mane from her eyes. I think it was about five minutes before she spoke.
“I just can’t do it… I can’t see them suffer, and I can’t look away… Mom could... I-I think there’s something wrong with me.”
I turned her head and gave her a serious look. “No Princess. I think there’s something very right with you.”
I helped her up and brushed her off a bit. Then I reached up to the table and nudged open the proclamation. “So, you want me to work for you?”
I smiled and put a hoof on her shoulder. “I think I can do that.”
She smiled back for a moment, and then started crying again. I wrapped my hooves around her and let her get it out. She shuddered in my grasp and-
All of a sudden the door burst open, the lock spell shattered by the sheer force of the captain’s buck. I vaguely registered that my horseshoe was right next to his crying charge’s head before he launched himself towards me in a silver and white streak.
“HOOVES OFF THE PRINCESS!”
“… and then Captain Heart rammed his fore-hooves right into Blueblood’s head!” Princess Celestia clacked her floating salt shakers together for emphasis.
“Blueblood turned with it, so he didn’t crack his head open, but Heart went left and…”
I sheepishly raised a hoof.
The princess paused. “Yes?”
I shifted uncomfortably, “Um… are these graphic descriptions of how the Royal Guard beat up my ancestor really essential to the story?”
“Well, it is how he got to know his coltfriend.”
Note: Comments are nice!
The First Prince
Disclamer: I do not own My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, please support the official release.
“That doesn’t make any sense! If he was a colt cud-”
“Language.” The princess interjected.
I froze, She was wearing her “slightly disapproving” look. There was a rumor around court that the griffin ambassador had been on the receiving end of her truly disapproving look once and slit his own throat to escape it. Celestia had him rushed to the hospital and sat by his bed till he woke up.
Then, she gave him the look again.
“Homosexual!” I corrected rapidly, somehow growing even whiter. “Um… how could he possibly have founded…” A perfectly reasonable and extremely comforting thought occurred to me.
I clapped my hooves together, “Oh of course! He adopted a unicorn who inherited his title!” The relief was palpable. I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. “You had me worried for a second there. I thought you were talking about my bio…”
The princess held up a hoof. “Firstly, even if your presumption was true, it would not make him any less your kin. Secondly, while I commend your logical reasoning, you are incorrect. You are his direct descendant biologically as well as socially and legally.” She reached out with her telekinesis and picked up a piece of toast from the tea tray. “In any case, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to be genetically related to him, aside from the occasional injury, he was perfectly healthy.”
I was flabbergasted. “Your Highness, you just told me he was a rabble rousing, homosexual, Earth Pony.”
Celestia buttered her toast. “Your point?”
It took all of my culture training to suppress an aneurism. “Well… What about when he made you cry? That wasn’t nice!”
Her butter knife froze in mid flight. “I’m very sorry, what was that?”
I blinked. “Um… he made you cry? It’s, uh… not nice, to make people cry.”
She lowered her food, untouched and gave me an extremely serious look. “Blueblood, I need you to do me a favor and remember that statement. Can you do that?”
“… Okay, I suppose,” I replied, utterly baffled. “But in any case, the man clearly had no courtly credentials at all! How in Equestria did you get him accepted by the council?”
She sighed and shook her head. “I had to be very persuasive…”
It was comfortably warm in the castle gardens, even before the break of dawn. Don’t get me wrong, normally I liked a little warm weather, but now it had a sinister edge to it. Every extra bit of heat made the conditions get worse and worse for planting. The pleasant late spring air was a constant reminder that time was running out. Of course, the big honking magically fed water clock by the hedge was probably an even better symbol if you could actually tell the time from it, but I wasn’t very abreast of the latest magical technologies.
The silver furred, steel eyed pegasus looked at me with disgust. “Captain Heart, you are to take this outlaw into custody.”
The guard narrowed his eyes. “General, I have royal orders are to keep the prince safe.”
General Storm snorted in anger. “Damnit boy, this is bigger than you and me! Now take this treasonous earth pony to old gods damned stockade or you I will make you regret it.”
The Captain didn’t even flinch. “I have my orders, sir and oath is directly to Celestia. When you become my commanding officer, I’ll let you know.”
The old pegasus snarled, “You miserable little spit fuck, if you aren’t stallion en-”
“General please,” came a foppish looking unicorn with a wineglass cutie mark. “you are a peer of the realm and such language is certainly not merited.” He puffed out his chest
I breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you esteemed Speaker, it’s good to know-”
“We’ll wait until the princess gets here and then demand that she arrest his treasonous, racially inferior arse.”
‘-that you nobles can be reasonable’ died on my lips. I sighed and turned to Heart. “Tough crowd eh?”
The captain just stood there, teeth gritted menacingly like a constipated statue.
I shook my head and eyed the water clock. Again, I didn’t know how to read the darn thing, but the glass basin sure seemed a lot more full than when I’d first come out here. It was still pitch black though, so Celestia must have sent her messengers in at 4 am or something, making everyone worse for lack of sleep. The idea was to have a pre-meeting in the gardens with the top three ministers before announcing my appointment to the council of lords at large, but we’d been out here for what felt like ages and we were still waiting on the princess.
Well, there was nothing for it really. I gritted my teeth, turned to the foppish unicorn and put on my most diplomatic smile “Look, Speaker Shimmer, I know that we’ve been on opposite ends of more than a few issues, but we both-”
The unicorn rolled his eyes and floated a Cubano de Paso cigar out of the breast pocket of his gorgeously tailored suit. “I’m sorry anonymous voice from nowhere, I don’t speak to ponies without enough magic to light one of these.”
I trotted up and smiled even harder. “Here, let me get that for you.” That said I reared up on my back legs and rammed my forehooves together. My horseshoes squealed with the sound of metal on metal and sparks rained down.
The little roll of tobacco ignited instantly. The unicorn was so stunned he dropped it.
“Smart move, smoking is bad for you. Anyway…” I dropped the façade and turned to the assembled nobleponies “Look, I have a lot of good reasons to hate your measly stinking guts and you have lots of racist reasons to hate my measly stinking guts, but the princess has very explicitly declared that we’re going to be running the country together, so we might as well set our differences aside right now and get to the freaking running.”
“Spoken like a pony with no political experience whatsoever.” Came the third and final noble. She was an immaculately, though not extravagantly, groomed unicorn and a bit of a puzzle actually. Celestia’s note had identified her as Aurora Lights, the Archmagus of Everfree Tower, but my experience with magi was limited to herding ponies away from their fire spells so that didn’t tell me much. She wore no adornment except for a pair of spectacles and a bronze medallion around her neck.
Even her cutie mark was mysterious, just a purple burst with white stars around it.
She trotted past the other two and gave me an appraising look. “Organizer Blueblood, you do realize that you’re completely out of your league here correct?”
I shrugged. “Nope, I’m way too arrogant for that sort of thing. Oh, and it’s Prince Blueblood. I have a waxy piece of paper that says it and everything.”
She raised an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t have expected you to care so much about titles.”
“Oh, I don’t, but I suspect the gentlecolts behind you do.”
General Storm gritted his teeth. “Oh now that’s true enough sonny. I care quite a bit about how you manipulated a little filly’s conscience for political gain. It’s extremely motivating.”
I blinked and ducked my head around Aurora to give him a questioning look. “What?”
The Pegasus snorted, “What? Season’s dies and all of a suddenly the man who convinced a whole mess of perfectly honest earth ponies to become god damned revolutionaries gets himself a seat on the throne?” He raised himself into the air with a few powerful wing strokes and hovered over the Arch Magus to glare at me. “You’re an old gods damned manipulator Blueblood and it doesn’t take someone of your skill level to make a terrified little girl do something stupid.”
He stretched out his neck and got right in my face. “Well it just so happens that Celestia has, older, less treasonous ponies who care about her. I guarantee that once we get a chance to set her straight your body will be on the dung heap and your head will be flying over the lower quarter on pike as a warning to the rest!”
Before he could say anything else to make me uncomfortably respect him, Heart’s wing shot out between us to the general’s neck with a surprising metallic shing. At the close proximity I saw he had a blade strapped under his wing. Even on the blunt (and surprisingly... snuggly) side it was more than a little unnerving.
“That’s close enough, General.” He said. There was ice in his voice.
To my great surprise, Storm did not back down. He narrowed his eyes and turned to the guard with a look of utter revulsion. “You little shit, you actually kept it.”
“Back UP!” Heart returned, holding his wing taught. “I have Royal orders. The prince will not be harmed!”
I heard the tiniest quiver in his voice.
I stretched my neck over Heart’s wing and shoved my head against the General’s “You heard him Storm. Back away, from both of us.”
I saw the muscles in Storm’s foreleg tense and heart’s wing started to shake as the old general glared down at him. There was another shing as the general stretched out a wingblade of his own… and then popped out of existence.
Heart and I blinked stupidly at the empty air for a moment. Speaker Shimmer gasped.
Aurora… looked extremely bored.
She walked calmly over to the gauge on the water clock and started a little countdown. “four… three… two…”
Storm popped back into existence three feet in front of her. He then collapsed to the perfectly mowed grass and started twitching uncontrollably. His wings were glued tight to his back and his eyes were wide with fear. “Wh-what was that place!?”
She sighed. “In desperate need of wallpaper.” She put her fore hooves on the dripping hunk of granite and tilted her head.
Heart and I exchanged a look. I blushed, and slowly untangled myself from his wing as he lowered it to the ground so the blade wouldn’t nick me. It was a delicate operation in the dark, and I felt a little shiver down my spine as that deadly weapon inched away and those soft feathers ran across my-
“In any case general,” The Archmagus began, interrupting my train of thought. “Whatever her reasoning, I think it’s safe to say that Celestia sincerely wanted the organizer in power. This intimidation is no half-hearted measure.”
Speaker Shimmer raised an eyebrow. “My dear Magus what on earth are you talking about?”
She rolled her eyes, raised her hoof, and pointed to the clock. “Speaker, it is 10 o’clock on a late spring day and the sun is not yet up.”
I froze. Utter silence fell.
Then, as if on cue, a light appeared in the east. It got brighter and brighter and soon the massive ball of fire that warmed the planet appeared and flung itself up in the sky at break neck speed. It rose so fast it burned a brilliant streak on the horizon and blinded us all in a burst of light as the ground trembled beneath us.
And flying up with that flaming orb, moving faster than any Pegasus I’d ever seen, was a little pink maned filly with a picture of the sun on her flank.
Princess Celestia drifted down to our speechless little party and beamed at us. “Esteemed Colleagues! Thank you all for coming. I apologize for the delay, I must have overslept. Now, are there any questions or concerns regarding my recent appointments?”
My eyes went wide. “Well… that was… very impressive, but you must admit he didn’t make a good first impression.”
The princess laughed, her rainbow mane bouncing lightly. “Oh I wouldn’t be so sure…”
Heart and I had barely set foot back in the castle when Archmagus Aurora appeared in front of us. Literally, she just appeared out of thin air. No explanation, no burst of light, barely a shimmer from her horn.
“Organizer Blueblood, It is imperative that we speak, and I’m sorry Captain, but I’m afraid this will need to be a private conversation.”
Heart drew defensively to my side and I rolled my eyes. I’d spent the entire day in council meeting and I’d severely overdrawn on my allotment of patience. Trying to get nobleponies to stop fighting over scraps of power and do their jobs was like pulling teeth.
“Archmagus Aurora, with all due respect, if you think I’m going to follow you into some back hallway so you can quietly do away with me you’re completely bucking batty. And once again, it’s Prince.”
She faithfully imitated my eyeroll. “Firstly, I call ponies by the titles they’ve earned, not the titles they find legally convenient. Secondly, if I wanted to kill you I could just teleport you into a volcano.”
I groaned. “Look, you may logically think I’m an uneducated rube given the minuscule amount of money that gets spitefully drizzled on the earth pony school system, but I know my old gods damned geography! I admit, your teleportation is extremely impressive, but there isn’t an active volcano within a hundred miles of Everfree so if-”
“Oh for pity’s sake! Fine, we’ll do this the hard way.”Aurora’s horn glowed and a green bottle of what appeared to be flaming kerosene burst into existence over her head. She then flicked her mane back and telekinetically flung it straight for… Heart.
Without even thinking I tackled the metal clad Pegasus and flung him to the ground. My ribs screamed at me at me in protest as we rammed into the stone floor and sparks flew from Heart’s armor.
He was low enough, I wasn’t. The bottle smashed against my back and my whole body erupted into flame! I screamed in agony as the fire consumed me and then…
The wind rushed past me at break neck speeds as my stiff, borrowed suit billowed around me. I shook my head in a desperate bid to clear my vision, I could barely breathe... First there were clouds, then I was in the clouds, then I saw trees underneath me…
I looked down as the landscape below rapidly magnified. Adding insult to assassination, I was directly over a volcano.
Right about when my colthood gymnastic lessons finished flashing before my eyes, I felt a sickening lurch and the volcano slid from beneath me. Half a second later, I noticed I wasn’t falling anymore.
I slowly turned my creaky neck around and caught sight of my rescuer, or at least his foot. I looked up… and up… and up, and finally caught the eye of a massive purple dragon smiling down at me.
“Well, well, well…” His voice boomed through the heavens. “Looks like Aurora owes me five bits.”
There was a burst of purple light and a certain four-eyed archmagus appeared, now sporting a massive pair of, I shit you not, rainbow colored butterfly wings. “Huh,” She said, looking genuinely impressed. “Not bad, not bad at all.”
I took the most reasonable course of action available and started puking my guts out.
Celestia cleared her throat, “And then…”
I blinked at the noise and turned blearily to the door.
“Yes?” Celestia asked, suprised.
The door opened and a royal guardsman walked in, giving a reasonably proper bow. “A thousand pardons your Majesty, but the buffalo ambassador is awaiting you in the parlor. I believe you had an appointment.”
Celestia tilted her head. “I beg your pardon sergeant, but that’s not until…” she stopped and her eyes went wide. I followed her gaze to the intricate grandfather clock. Heavenly sisters it was 10! I’d missed my evening chocolate and nearly two hours of beauty sleep!
Celestia was on her feet in an instant. “Prince Blueblood I’m sorry, but afraid we’ll have to adjourn- ”
“Wait what?” I protested instantly, rising to my feet. “Your Majesty can’t possibly stop there! How did he escape the dragon? What bad blood lead to the spat between Heart and the general? What was the Archmagus doing? How did the palace react to the Tower’s treachery? What happened with the famine? And for the love of the Sun! How did a gay earth pony end up with tiny, unicorn babies!?”
The guard blinked and gave Celestia a confused look. She returned an almost sheepish smile. “Well, you see…” she caught sight of the clock once more. She lowered her head and sighed.
“I’m sorry Blueblood. Truly, I am, but we’ve already been speaking far longer than scheduled and I have a duty to the rest of the court. Sergeant if you’d be so kind as to escort me.” She started towards the door.
I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think. “But, but you don’t understand!” I blubbered. “This is my family, my history, my origins. I’ve never heard any of it and… and I think it’s important. I need to know, I want to know! Please!”
Celestia froze in mid stride.
The guard stopped, confused. “Uh… Ma’am?”
Celestia turned to face me. She had a serious, almost… hopeful… look.
“Sergeant Sheild,” She began, her voice full and commanding, “please apologize to Coyote Waltz for me, tell him I’m occupied with an important family matter and I’ll meet with him as soon as I can. Please assure him no slight to his great nation is intended.”
Hearing her tone, the guard saluted and marched off down the hall. Celestia closed the door and sat back down and turned to me. “Now, where was I? Did I get to Luna yet?”
Hey all! okay I feel utterly horrible after all of the share requests that showed up in my inbox so I have decided to make a more formal apology to those people that tried to access the story, but couldn't
Firstly: The document has now been formally shared with everyone who made a share request in addition to being opened to the public.
Secondly: People who sent a request and still cared enough about the story to read all the way down here in can send me an email and I'll forward them an exclusive earlier version of a scene from chapter 2. I know it's not much, but after all of the problems I feel you definitely deserve something extra for the grief.
The First Prince
Disclamer: I do not own My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, please support the official release.
Celestia took a deep draught of her tea and straightened right back into her customarily regal posture. “Fortunately for all of our sleep schedules, Aurora got straight to the point…”
“Welcome to Pyrian Airspace organizer, I can understand that you may have questions, but what we have to say is incredibly important and I just committed high treason by snatching you. We have a lot of ground to cover and only so long before the rest of the tower finds a way to track my teleportation spell, so I need you behave like a reasonable pony and keep your mouth shut. Can you do that?”
“My mouth?” I put a hoof to my chin. “I dunno, you’re asking a lot…”
The Archmagus winced and the dragon keeping me airborne let out a chuckle. “My dear, you always find such entertaining companions…”
Lights’ ears twitched. “Look, here’s the deal; you need help, and I need to help you. And while I can’t say your political leadership has been all that inspiring so far, with the princess at your back you’re currently the earth ponies’ brightest hope for a better life. I can’t ignore that sort of thing, not in good conscience.”
She fluttered her wings and floated easily upward, “You’re going to need a few things if you want to do this right.” She reached the dragon’s head and smiled. “That’s where we come in.”
I blinked, “Wait… are you saying you kidnapped me so that you could throw your support behind the earth pony cause?”
She clopped her fore-hoves together. “Precisely.”
I felt like I’d suffered a sledgehammer blow to the face, and the equivalent brain-cell loss “Wha? Bu-” I twitched,” Hasn’t anypony in this crazy place heard of appointments! Urg!”
I flung my hooves up. “You know what? Fine! Second time this week! Break out the snacks!”
Lights and the dragon exchanged a look. “Pardon?”
“Oh come on, all my other kidnappers gave me snacks! Empire gave me pie, Celestia threw a tea party…”
The dragon looked thoughtful. Aurora just rubbed a hoof against her temple. “I’ll admit… it might be easier to have a conversation with you with some salt and a few jugs of cider in my syste, but I’m afraid I hadn’t the foresight.”
“I assure you though, the kidnapping was well thought out and entirely necessary.” She locked onto my eyes, “In fact, it brings me to the first thing you’ll need for this venture.”
I bit, “What’s that?”
“A lesson in politics.” She fluttered back down to my level, “Tell me, do you know why I decided to steal you away?”
I shrugged (chafing dragon claws be damned!) “You like following royal trends?”
She shook her head, “No… I didn’t want it to look like I was helping you.”
She flapped her brilliant wings and rose once more, but unlike before, the dragon followed suit and slowly a thin range of mountains rose on the horizon. Then the archmagus pointed a hoof.
“See those mountains? On the other side of them lies a castle where nearly everypony is starving for power. They’re so desperate, in fact, that there was a time when they sought to claim it at the expense of their fellow ponies lives. Seasons put a stop to the open warfare millennia ago, but the battles rage on. They’re a bit less bloody in the open, but I assure you lives are lost and cities crumble over the squabbles of the council of lords... It’s gotten to the point where nopony can ever really trust each other.”
She lowered her hoof and turned back to me. “The short of it is; if I openly tried to help you, then everypony in that bleeding madhouse would assume I had some ulterior motive or convoluted scheme and would do everything in their power to stop me.”
I raised an eyebrow “Wait, You’re telling me you don’t have an ulterior motive?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, of course I do, that’s not the point.”
I blinked. “You know, most ponies wouldn’t be so quick to admit that sort of thing.”
She sighed. “Alas, honesty is a personal failing of mine. I admit; it is most unbecoming in a leader.”
She turned to the horizon, “What’s important is that by kidnapping you and only helping you politically after the incident, I will heavily imply to the rest of court that I threw a tantrum and then traded some favors in exchange for a pardon. When I continued to help you long after the fact they’d probably assume you backed your claim on my services with some compromising letters you forced out of me to ensure I’d keep the bargain. Hmm…” She tilted her head adopted a thoughtful look, “Now that I think about it I might want to fabricate some for you…”
I took a moment and tried to imagine what sort of hideous alien creature would think like that.
Oh wait… politicians.
Still there was something else off about her story.
I narrowed my eyes. “If that’s true, then why did you throw that Molotov dragon-tail at Heart instead of me? You couldn’t possibly have known I’d block it.”
She turned back from the mountains and gave me a little nod of… respect? “I must say, that leap was quite the impressive display. Taking arrows for a pony who professionally takes arrows is of course violently stupid, but that doesn’t make your actions any less valiant. I admit, it was an act of courage and decency I did not expect. Though that reminds me…” a small velvet pouch appeared over her head. There was barely a flicker from her horn. “Honored Fire, will you accept a five bit chunk of amethyst in lieu of currency?”
The dragon smiled, easily, “Certainly Aurora my dear… To be honest I’m feeling a bit peckish after such a long range fire warp.”
Lights smiled. It actually seemed more… natural than the smiles I’d seen before. For a moment she was twenty years younger.
She magically plucked a small purple stone from the little bag, “Catch.” She said, hurling the gem to the dragon’s mouth. He caught it deftly on a tongue at least three times my size and rolled it around in his mouth like a connoisseur. “Ah, plenty of iron in this one, my compliments to the chef.”
I blinked. Dragons eat gemstones? I suddenly felt less guilty about the lavish, castle catered breakfast I’d thrown up.
Aurora smiled that real smile again. “Thank you,” the little bag vanished and she turned back to me, donning a more serious expression. “As to your question, thanks to the Honored Fire’s generous donations, I have plenty of bottles stored in the dragon-fire place in my stockroom and I’d hoped to catch whoever I missed on a second swing. Heart proved more… evasively resourceful than I anticipated. That blade of his…” I caught then tiniest nervous twitch from her fore-hoof.
She regained her composure so fast I wasn’t even sure she’d lost it. “In any case, had he been captured he would have jumped at the opportunity to serve Celestia and annoy his father at the same time. It’s a pity we lost him really, our ruse would have benefitted from a sworn royal guardsman confirming my emotional instability. Oh well.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Wait, what’s up with Heart and his father?”
The Archmagus shook her head. “Sorry, I’m no palace gossip, it’s just a personal thing and it’s not my story to tell.”
“Okay, but you’re going to tell me right.”
Celestia paused her story and gently lowered the teapot representing the dragon. “Well, given how much time has past and the liberties I’ve already taken, I suppose I could...”
I smiled. “Marvelous, so what happened between Heart and his father?”
Celestia raised her head in an enigmatically thoughtful sort of way, revealing the utterly shameful job her attendants had done under her chin. I swear, some ponies shouldn’t be allowed to hold curries! I felt her pain too, Top Hat could never get that spot right. Every morning I had to clean it myself! Not to mention-
“Hmm…” Celestia muttered, distracting me from my lofty train of thought. “I think I should wait to tell you that story until the point where Heart told it to your ancestor.”
“Well because then I’ll be able to tell you the rather important story of how Blueblood the First heard Heart’s story.”
“Wait, so you’re going to tell me a story about someone else telling a story? Why wouldn’t you just tell the story?”
The Princess took another draught of tea. “Blueblood, sometimes how and when a story is told is just as important as the story itself.”
I groaned, “Oh fine then, carry on.”
“Wait, if you wanted to catch both of us and we were in an enclosed space anyway, why didn’t you just use enough fire for-”
“Okay, look” she said, crossing her fore-hooves. “I already asked you to keep questions to a minimum here! I’d love to rattle off all the details of my schemes like some comic book villain, but we simply don’t have time. I ask again, can you please cut the questions so we can get to what we can do for you.”
I crossed my fore-hooves right back. “Not until you answer the 50 million bit question.”
Lights narrowed her eyes, “Which is?”
“Why do you think I’m going to accept any of your poison candy when I know you have ulterior motives and the cavalry is on its way?”
The ghost of a smirk crept onto her face, it was… disturbing. “Because, if you want to survive in Everfree, you’ll need resources and friends; both of which I can provide.”
That said she fluttered up to the dragon’s head and made a sweeping bow. “Honored Fire, if you would be so kind as to explain the details?”
I looked up at the scaly leviathan keeping me airborne and tried to take in a few more details (you know, other than “holy [email protected]#$ it’s a dragon”). He was mostly purple in coloration with light green scales spread along his underside and darker green blades running down his elongated neck. He was huge of course, at least 20 pony lengths, and heavily muscled to boot.
He carried himself with an air of confidence that his body more than backed up… but there were a few discolored scales speckled amongst the purple and he had a sort of softly worn look that made him somewhat less intimidating than one might expect. If I had to hazard a guess I’d have placed him somewhere in his late sixties (or whatever the equivalent in dragon years was). He was wearing a fairly mellow expression for someone who had just violated international law.
He smiled down on me with a look of incredible warmth, “Fear not, little one. You are far from the first pony I’ve carried…” He grimaced, “Actually, I must apologize for the fall. I fear the distance was far and that fire wasn’t very… fresh.”
I was about to ask what the hay that meant when he flipped me around and carefully intertwined his massive claws, forming a little platform with his claws surrounding it like a railing.
I stood up, for the very first time since my spontaneous combustion.
My legs were a little shaky, but I managed a polite bow. “It’s totally cool man, I mean you saved my life… uh… Mister Fire?”
The Dragon chuckled, “Actually my given name is Crest; I’m just the “Fire of Agriculture””
I sort of looked back and forth for a second, just in case the explanation for that was written in the clouds or something. “Uhh… okay I can’t say I have a lot of experience in the fields, but I don’t think blueberry bushes grow too well when they’re incinerating.”
He chuckled. “Fire is merely a title in Pyria, I believe you might call me a “Minister”, or “Secretary”. I’m in charge of filling our nation’s granaries; we can’t afford to eat only gems you see.”
“Oh…” I shuffled awkwardly in his palms. I usually wasn’t this bashful around authority figures (to a fault), but talking to this guy felt a bit like talking to my grandfather… Old gods rest his soul.
I shook myself, “Sorry, the title makes a lot more sense.”
“It’s perfectly alright good Prince. And for the record, I shall happily trade you the right to call me Crest, for the right to call you Blueblood.” He tilted his head thoughtfully, “I must admit, I find your professed ignorance of agricultural matters a bit surprising given your profession… and cutie mark.”
I looked to the hammer and sickle on my flank and shrugged. “Yeah… I can’t really tell you what’s up with that, I got it while making a speech and no one’s made heads or tails of it since.”
I turned back to him, “Actually… you’re kind of right though. I mean organizing my band of merry farmers has taught me a few things, but when you work with ponies who have spent their whole lives in fields and orchards you really start to realize just how ignorant you are.”
Crest nodded sagely. “You are wise beyond your years good prince and I understand you entirely. In my position I have to keep far abreast of our growers, but with all of these new cultivars and ecological theories-”
“*Ahem*” Aurora cleared her throat, She floated her glasses off and produced a cloth to rub them. “I’m truly sorry to interrupt these pleasantries. Really, I am. But the Cloudsdale guard may be here any minute. If we could return to the matter at hand?”
The dragon smirked and bowed slightly, it was an odd movement in the air. “Quite right, my apologies good prince, we old men do tend to ramble.”
I smiled. “Call me Blueblood.”
His face lit up, “Very well then, are you perhaps familiar with night soil?”
I raised an eyebrow “You mean manure left without proper treatment? Well… Yeah, I’m pretty familiar with it considering the lack of decent sewer systems in most earth pony villages. My friend Wind has been trying to organize some better cleanup crews, why?”
The dragon let out a long, hot sigh. From my end it felt a bit like a warm breeze on a sticky day. “Thank you so much for being unabashed about it. You have no idea how hard it is to get most dragons to even mention droppings.”
His expression darkened for a moment. “I’m sure you’ve also heard of its use as fertilizer?”
I grimaced. “Yeah… it’s a really great way to turn a starving village into a diseased one.”
I remembered more than a few towns where I’d seen that. Whenever I bumped into one desperate enough to use it, I tried to get everypony to wash their food, but in villages the pegasi were draining dry, they just couldn’t afford the clean water. Rigorous cooking worked sometimes, but it only took one pony to forget, or not stew their apples for long enough and… You get the picture.
Sometimes I called in Wind for those villages, but a doctor can only do so much without supplies…
The fire nodded, “I know what you’re thinking Blueblood, I have seen it too. Right now its use is a blight on both our nations… but it doesn’t have to be.”
I found my footing and looked the Dragon right in the eye “You have my attention.”
The Dragon nodded and began, “The droppings of one species are far less likely to carry diseases capable of infecting members of a greatly dissimilar species, simply because they survive in different habitats and have different microbes adapted their differing bodies. I have the names of some fifty fast flying Pyrian carters who’d be interested in exchanging gold or dung of their own for the dung that gets accumulated in earth pony villages. With the approval of your government and a relaxing of both side’s tariffs we could pump a massive amount of wealth into both our nations and the earth ponies would have another business in their hooves.”
I winced. It was a good plan, it was such a good plan that I’d already tried it.
“Crest, thank you so much for bringing this to me, but…” I sighed and shook my head. “It won’t work. Another union leader named Empire and I coordinated on a similar project a few years back with the cows, but food borne illness was still pretty rampant if the manure wasn’t properly treated. Its good in theory, but in practice…”
He smiled so hard he showed teeth. “You forget one very important thing Prince Blueblood.”
I blinked. “What?”
“Dragons breathe fire.”
“You don’t understand Blueblood, it is childishly easy for dragons to “sterilize” their droppings by flaming them and easy to tell if they’ve been “cooked through” just by checking them for moisture. That kind of cleaning is not nearly as helpful for dragons, we have such high body temperatures in certain organs that many microbes adapted to infect us are immune to all but the most blazing of heat, but it’s an excellent way to purge any microbes that would thrive in the temperatures of a pony body. Simmilarly, it would be easy for the carters to flame earth pony manure. Any infectious organisms in it are unlikely to be able to survive at dragon fire temperatures and infectious extremophiles that can survive at the temperatures of draconic fire bladders would be very unlikely to be present in the first place.
“I know it sounds a bit… theoretical, but I’ve made inquiries with health professionals on my end and they think the trade will be safe. It could bring money into both our economies and make our fields bloom. It’s, it’s….” His face grew very still. “It’s a chance for something decent to happen. I think the poor souls in Season’s slums need that.”
I blinked. Wait. He actually sounded sincere. Of all creatures, a dragon minister was an earth pony sympathizer? Where did these ponies… people keep coming from?
I was struck even less coherent than usual. “I… thanks. Seriously, just thanks for noticing. I didn’t think…”
“…that dragons would be interested in the plight of the small folk?” He finished for me.
I looked away. I couldn’t meet his eyes.
He shook his head. “We may be firey, powerful creatures with age, but everyone forgets that we dragons spend perhaps a century of our lives no larger than you, and only the most powerful of us are gifted with fire so early. The years have dulled many of my memories, but I will never forget what it’s like to stand in front of some towering monster and feel powerless and alone… Also” He smirked, it looked good on him. “I’ve seen six centuries. Trust me, the little people never stay little.”
I smiled. Then I turned to the floating archmagus. “Okay, that’ll do. You have yourself a bucking deal Lights. Keep people like this coming my way and you’ll have a pardo- *urk*”
Crests claws tightened around me and I heard a loud choking gasp…. It wasn’t coming from me.
I swung my head around and caught sight of the dragon desperately trying to breathe. There were lines of pain on his face and his throat looked frighteningly swollen.
The muscles in the claw wrapped around me tensed as he squeezed in an involuntary spasm of pain. I heard something crack and shrieked in agony. Out of the corner of my eye I caught Aurora’s expression...
Old gods, she was scared.
Crest noticed what he was doing to me and snapped open his claw so I wouldn’t be crushed. His slick scales started to slide out from under me, but I managed to scrabble my foreleg around one of his talons and latch on. The old dragon jerked and waved his limbs around gracelessly, swinging me back and forth as my heart pounded and I gripped for dear life.
A tiny part of me was extremely grateful that my stomach was empty.
For what felt like hours I couldn’t tell up from down and the wind whipped around me in every direction, but finally I saw the terrible truth.
With all the convulsions, Crest wasn’t flapping anymore. And the trees were getting bigger.
MOTHER BUCKING, HORN RAPING, PIECE OF-
A purple glow surrounded us, the dragon stilled. Suddenly the world was sane. I blinked the windblown tears from eyes and flung my head around in search of an explanation.
Eventually Aurora flapped desperately to keep herself stable as her horn glowed with several layers of purple magical force. She was actually keeping us airborne with sheer telekinetic power.
My eyes went wide. We had to weigh a hundred tons at least. Sweet mother of horse apples… I guess you didn’t become archmagus by collecting box tops.
Then her horn sputtered, just for a split second, and we dropped some fifty feet. I barely managed to cling to Crest. He still couldn’t breathe, much less tell us what was wrong with him. His lips were turning blue.
Aurora was visibly panting. Strain was written all over her face and little magic sparks were shooting off from her glowing horn as the effort wore at her magic.
She wasn’t going to last long.
Think Blueblood think! If I jumped off… No I was an afterthought for Aurora. Maybe I could ask her to drop him and keep me… Damnit I couldn’t let him die! But we would both die if he didn’t stop cho-
It hit me. “AURORA! HEIMLICH! NOW!”
The Magus grunted in pain, “WHAT IN THE NAME OF SWEATY DRAGON BALLS ARE- Oh.”
She dropped us. For a few bowel destroying moments we flailed about in freefall. Then a purple explosion of force rammed Crest in the chest and his mouth erupted in a maelstrom of blinding fire that singed the very clouds.
There was a long pause as the ashes settled.
When I finally worked up the courage to extract my quivering face from between my forelegs I noticed that I wasn’t incinerated. Also Crest was flapping his wings again. Holy Horeshoes, I might just live through this.
I turned my aching neck to check on Aurora and staring stunned at a deep blue filly still too young for her cutie mark, hovering right where the firestorm had centered.
Then I blinked away some soot and realized it was an Alicorn filly.
My mind blanked. “Buwa?”
Truly my years as a rabble rousing union leader had made me a master wordsmith.
Once the initial shock had passed, Aurora zoomed over with a look of utter terror in her eyes and examined the little filly from top to bottom.
Finding her unharmed, her expression went very cold. She put her hooves on the Alicorn’s shoulders. “Luna, what exactly were you doing in my reagent stocks? The office door was locked for a reason! I did not teach you to teleport through walls so you could rifle through some of the most dangerous magic in existence!”
The second princess of Equestria, heir to the throne, and sister to a literal sun goddess, cringed and let out a whimper. “I-I was just trying to find you and… you weren’t there so…”
“Luna I told you explicitly, lessons were canceled for today due to council meetings. I was down at work with your sister! I certainly wasn’t hiding in the dragon fire!”
“Dragon fire? Bu-but I didn’t know it was dra-”
“No buts!” She cut her off, “There is no possible excuse for breaking into my office and fooling around with potentially lethal magic. And of course you didn’t know, I haven’t even shown you what the things in that section are. That’s why you shouldn’t be playing with them!” She looked the filly right in the eye. “What was the first thing I taught you? The very first thing!?”
The little filly bit her lip. “M-magic is not a toy…”
Aurora shook her head. There was a moment of silence as Aurora’s wing flaps slowed and the wind calmed. “I am unbelievably disappointed in you right now…” She pointed a commanding hoof towards Crest and I. “Now, go and apologize to the poor people you nearly killed.”
Luna nodded and flapped towards us, utterly silent.
All through this conversation, I was hanging from a frighteningly sharp claw while the honored fire’s tongue lolled out and he wheezed for breath.
The filly flew up to Crest’s head and hovered just over his snout. She couldn’t quite manage to look him in the eye. “I’m sorry I put you in danger Honored Fire.”
The dragon turned from the filly for a moment and coughed up a small cloud of black soot. “Apology accepted my Dear Princess, the dragons of Pyria treasure your visits… Though I would take it as a personal favor if you would send a letter ahead… and perhaps not use quite so much fire.”
She winced. “I’m really sorry Crest, I didn’t know- I mean didn’t want to hurt…”
Crest gave her a reassuring look. “Rest easy Princess, there’s strength in these old bones yet… I’m afraid our good prince must have taken the… oh dear.”
My thankfully empty stomach lurched again as I was rapidly shifted back into the Fire’s cupped claws.
“My apologies Blueblood! I did not mean to leave you in such an uncomfortable position.”
“It’s cool.” I croaked. I twisted my neck experimentally and heard a sickening pop… ow…
The little filly fluttered down to me. “I’m sorry I put your life in danger mister…” She glanced up. “W-wait, who are you?”
I put a hoof to my chin. It was a good question “Well… First I was a cheerleader, then I was a fake lawyer, then I was a union stallion… and now I’m a prince.” I blinked in realization. “And, come to think of it, your brother slash nephew-ish pony… Hi.”
She put an ear back in confusion. “You’re the new prince? You?”
I chuckled, “Yeah, I know, not much to look at, am I? I swear I’m a little more presentable when I’m not so sooty and vomity… It’s kind of been an off day.”
There was a pause. Crickets chirped below us.
Finally I raised a leg. “So… brohoof?”
She looked at me like I’d grown a fifth hoof and hesitantly touched a hoof to mine. We held that position and sort of… stared for a while. “This… is awkward.” She said.
“Eh,” I shrugged, “it’s better than when I met Celestia, fewer note cards.”
She gave me the tiniest smile, it looked really, really good on her.
Then Lights floated down like some butterfly avatar of adulthood and it faded away. “We have to go,” Came the archmagus, “the tower’s been incompetent enough already with their tracking and we just used up all our spare time.” She turned to Luna. “You used the fire on the left correct?”
The filly nodded.
The archmagus turned her back to her and looked up at Crest. “Honored Fire, can you send us back through the spare burner? I think I’m a little low on power for a multiparty teleport.”
He nodded. “Of course.” He turned his head to me. “Please good prince, keep in touch. I feel we’ll have much to talk about in the coming months and my digestive tract is always open…” he paused and looked away. “That… came out wrong.”
“It’s okay,” I said, “it’s been a pretty long day. Send me the details of your plan. I’ll send word to Wind so she can look it over, she’d know more about our end of the issue than anyone else.”
Crest smiled. “We may have taken the first step to a great good today Blueblood. Remember that and take heart.” To my surprise, he turned to the archmagus. “That goes double for you Miss Lights.”
She looked up at him, for just one more moment the mask came off and her eyes misted. “Thank you.”
The dragon shook his head, “I owe you more than a thousand lives Aurora, this is nothing.”
She looked back to the horizon, her eyes hard once more. “We have to go. Are all of you ready?”
Luna and I exchanged a nod. “Yeah, we’re good.”
She turned to Crest. “Burn us.”
I dry heaved at the floor as sweat beaded down my face. Letters, next time I’m sending letters.
We had reformed from emebers in the open closet of a moderately spacious office (Well, it would have been spacious if it wasn’t packed with papers and strange little jars filled with old gods knew what). A large, perfectly ordinary looking fireplace flickered behind us and I could see a second, empty one in another closet across the room. Clearly the archmagus kept good stocks.
A very groggy Aurora nudged Luna’s neck. “Run along now, go find Heart and tell him we’re waiting up here. We’ll discuss the consequences of your break in later.”
Luna nodded and scampered off. She looked pretty desperate to escape Aurora’s disapproving gaze. When she was gone, I offered the tired unicorn a shoulder to lean on and she gladly accepted. Both of us were far too tired to care about the propriety or what not.
“You think… maybe you were too hard on your student?”
Aurora shook her head. “Luna is a goddess just as much as her sister. If she doesn’t learn to respect her power it will destroy her.” She looked at the cold stone floor. “I’ve known her since the day she was foaled. I assure you, I take no pleasure in doling out punishment.”
I nodded. There was a long pause as I tried to think of a decent way to do what I needed to do. I came up blank.
“I need to know your ulterior motive.” I said.
Lights chuckled. “It wouldn’t be very ulterior then now would it?”
I shook my head. “Let me put it this way… if you don’t tell me exactly what you’re getting out of this arrangement, I’m going to tell heart to press charges and leave you to rot in a dungeon”
The unicorn narrowed her eyes. “That wasn’t our deal.”
“I promised you a pardon Archmagus,” I gave her a look icier than she could ever hope to achieve. “I didn’t say when.”
She replied very calmly. “That’s complete bullshit… what’s really interesting is that you know it.” She slid off my shoulder and turned around to face me. “I suppose you also realize that lacking that excuse, you’re just breaking a promise and threatening somepony for information.” She stepped gracefully through the neat piles of papers and stood behind her desk. “That does not bode well for your precious innocence, Organizer.”
I flinched. I wanted to apologize. I wanted to just take the deal, trust her and…
I locked eyes with her. “I’m sorry Aurora. I really am, but I can’t deal with you if I don’t know what I’m getting into. Not when I know you’re playing another game and lives could be at stake.” I felt my fore-hoof start to shake. I forced it still. “Please don’t make me do something we’ll both regret.”
For a long time the only sound in the room was the crackle of dragon fire.
Finally Aurora floated out a key and unlocked a drawer in her desk. “Tell me Blueblood, are you familiar with the massacre at Saddle Point?”
A flash, three years ago, a mining town, five ponies dead… burnt to charred bones by fire magic, one a colt younger than Luna. More were wounded with severe burns, Wind was there, patching ponies up with a little aloe she’d gathered. I was picking through the charred husks of buildings looking for family treasures…
All because they wanted three bits more per cart of coal.
We weren’t there in time to stop it.
I looked down, “I’m afraid I missed that crackdown.”
The archmagus levitated out a file. “I didn’t.”
My heart skipped a beat. “What?”
Aurora poured out the file and five sketches fell on her desk with paragraph long descriptions. Five little ponies reduced to dust and paperwork.
She looked up. “I assure you, Prince, I’m helping earth ponies for entirely selfish reasons.
“You see, I really want some sleep.”
One capture, a refusal to press charges, check-in with Celestia and walk out of earshot through those oh so wonderfully cozy hallways (seriously I think the unicorns who built this place wanted to stop pegasi from spreading their wings or something) later, Heart stopped me with a wing.
“We need to talk.”
I rubbed a hoof between my eyes. “Look man, whatever it is, can it wait? I’ve had a really, really long day.”
“Just so long as we get something straight.” He reached out a hoof and bodily spun me to face him, “If you keep trying to take hits for me we’re going to have a problem.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Really? You’re seriously giving me a dressing down for trying to save your life?”
He gritted his teeth. “Look pretty boy, I get that your new to palace life, but let me fill you in. When you interfere with royal guard work, you interfere with the royal guard. That means the best line of defense this castle has goes down and ponies get hurt. Ponies die. I’m not going to let that happen just because you want to play knight in shining armor.”
I swear, this guy was the most irritating pony I’d ever met. And I’d met frigging Empire.
“I’m so very sorry.” I said, “I didn’t realize that bursting into flames was one of the vital duties of our military.”
“Uh, when we’re acting as body guards yeah, it really is! Also,” he raised a hoof and tapped pointedly at his breastplate. “you may not have noticed, but I was wearing bucking body armor while your protection consisted of a cheap suit and a thick layer of insufferable arrogance!”
I gasped, “Wow! You’re right! Being covered in conductive metal plates would make completely you impervious to burning fire! I don’t know how I could have missed it.”
“The armor’s enchanted you bucking… jerk. Maybe you shouldn’t be running off half cocked when you don’t know what you’re dealing with!”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh I’m sorry I’ll just assume from now on that everything in this stupid castle is mag-”
I froze. All the little pieces clicked into place and a wave of terror ran down my spine. Oh… Oh BUCK!
I grabbed Heart by the shoulders “Luna! Where’s Luna?”
To my surprise he snapped to attention “Her room, North tower. What’s the problem and how do I make it bleed?”
“I’ll explain on the way, C’mon!” I turned tail and bolted north. A professional knight in shining armor was right at my heels.
Celestia hung her head and looked down at her empty, stained teacup. I’ll admit it was a horrible sight, but nothing a good servant’s washing couldn’t fix. I opened my mouth to say as much so she could get back to the story… but then I stopped. I had the strangest sensation. For a moment it felt like I wasn’t looking at the teacup, or her glorious coat or even her regal crown, I was looking at her.
She looked tired… and not from lack of sleep.
I thought very, very hard, trying to find a comparable expression, but I’d only ever seen one other pony that tired.
It was when my mother dragged me in front of great grandmother Blueblood’s deathbed. I complained that it was sunny out and we could go do other less depressing things. The ancient mare just looked at me… I almost want to say how Luna looked at me this morning, but that’s not right. It was similar, but there was more… Like she’d tried very hard to do something, and it hadn’t worked.
Mother took me out of the room, told me that a prince had to learn when to not tell the truth, and then took me out to the park.
For some reason I didn’t feel like playing.
“I should have known…” The Princess said finally, bringing me back to the present. “I know I didn’t see what he saw, but I shouldn’t have needed to. I just should have known. I had a duty. Not as a princess, but a sister… and I failed.”
“Known what!?” I shouted. Damnit I needed more of the story, this was something important, I… I just knew it. “What should you have known? What did my ancestor know? Did he miss something magically important? What?”
Princess Celestia shook her head. “Just the opposite, actually.”
“Well, what!? Spit it out already!”
She let out a breath. The clock ticked away behind us.
“Blueblood, think about it. If Luna didn’t know that fireplace was full of was dragon fire, why would she jump in?”
The First Prince
Disclamer: I do not own My Little Pony.
Tick, tick, tick…
The clock was the only sound in the room.
I kept trying to picture the sort of situation that would make the co-ruler of Equestria feel so desperate and hopeless, but I kept drawing a blank. I tried to think back to our brief meeting. I wracked my brain to see if I could get some insight into her character that would shed some light on… this.
But all I could seem to think about was her glaring down at me, crying.
It’s not nice to make people cry.
I felt the strangest wrenching sensation in my chest. I broke out in a sweat.
“S-so…” I choked, desperate for a distraction. “Obviously she lived, and everything turned out okay, so how did they make her not want to… um…?”
Celestia smiled just a little. I swear I saw the tiniest tint of blush; the real kind, not the cosmetic. Oh dear, Celestia wearing blush, I cringed at the thought. Though maybe if she got a good cosmetologist…
“Well,” The Princess began, interrupting my train of thought once more. “Your ancestor had a plan… sort of.”
I stood outside the ornate door tapping my hoof. Damn it, where was Heart!?
Finally the Guardsman puffed his way down the hall. His saddlebags were full to the brim.
“Did you get everything?” I asked.
He shook his head, he was sweaty from the run and he looked afraid “No! I couldn’t find Celestia, She’s in some late night meeting. Are you sure we shouldn’t send for the Archmagus?”
I nodded. I undid the straps on his flanks and shrugged on the bags, my ribs protested, but I hushed them. “I’ve only known Aurora for hours and I still know she wouldn’t be good for this.” Actually come to think of it, I only had known her for hours. I hesitated. “Do you think she would?”
He paled, an impressive feat for a white stallion. “Old gods, no.”
I gulped. I’ll admit it, I’d been holding out hope for more backup.
“Nervous?” He asked.
My ear twitched. “Nope. You?”
He smiled a little too wide.
I let out a breath. “Alright then… Let’s do this!”
We whirled on the door and put on our game faces. Heart flung out his hoof and turned the knob with a practiced flick. The door swung free. The guard leapt in and I slid right behind him. I slammed the portal shut with a crack of my hooves and we spun to face our challenge!
Which… happened to be a 10 year old, blue filly lying on her bed with a book who’s response to our dramatic entrance was to stare at us blankly.
I rustled through a saddlebag with my nose and produced a carefully wrapped ice cream bar. “Fwe broghf snahks!”
“Luna-I-love-you,-please-don’t-kill-yourself!” The Pegasus guardsman blurted.
Luna froze. My mouth fell open and the sundae hit the carpet.
Heart bit his lip. “Uh your majesty, I didn’t- I mean I did, but… umm…” he looked down. “I said the right thing, but the words were wrong…”
Lacking a better option, I pulled out a candy bar and plopped it sheepishly in my hoof. “So… uh, chocolate?”
The Heir to the throne did not take my fudgerific candy bar. She also didn’t move. Or breathe. There was a long, long silence.
Finally she spoke. “P-please don’t tell Celestia.”
Another pause. Heart tensed and we exchanged a look. Eventually, I forced one hoof in front of the other and made my way to her, I dropped the chocolate. “Look, we can worry about stuff like that later. Right now… we just need to make sure you’re okay.”
Heart walked up and put a hoof on her shoulder. In a way he looked more scared than her. Luna looked down and touched a hoof to his.
More silence… This was getting ridiculous.
Finally I let out a breath and spoke. “Okay… Normally if you were feeling down, I’d ask if you wanted to talk about it, but under the circumstances we really need to know what’s wrong and how we can help.”
The princess let out a breath. “It’s just…” she flicked her eyes to me and I caught a shred of fear and distrust in her eyes worthy of her teacher. “M-maybe I shouldn’t.”
I winced. It was a horrible thing to see in the eyes of a pony so small. “I get that this place really, really makes it hard to trust ponies. I can even get why you wouldn’t want to drag your sister into this, but suffering in silence is not healthy. I can tell you from experience. You’ve got to talk to somepony, and you could do a lot worse than your sworn guardsman and your brother.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Celestia asked for a brother. Not me.”
I blinked. It took a moment for the implications to sink in.
If I was going to be honest, really honest. The girl had a point. She was not Celestia. She hadn’t asked for me to pull up a cushion listen to her deepest, darkest secrets. Heart might have earned the right to hold her while she cried, but I hadn’t.
And then I had an idea. A silly little smirk crept up my face, “Want one?” I asked
She blinked. “What?”
“Look,” I said, “I get it. I got a seat at the family table for all sorts of crazy weird political reasons, not because everyone thought I’d be fun to hang around with. I get it, I really do, but… why not both?”
She looked back and forth for a moment. “Wait, are you um… applying… for my friendship?”
I clapped my forehooves together. “Yes! Or, you know siblinghood! ‘cause that’s what’s going on legally anyway.” I put a hoof to my chin. “You know, actually applying sounds too business-ish, why don’t we go old fashioned.” I held up a hoof solemnly. “Guardsman Heart, if you’d be so kind as to observe.”
The warrior in question shot me a very distinct look of “What the hay are you doing?”
I gave my best smile of “Improvising”.
He reluctantly removed himself from Luna and stood at attention. The pinched eyebrows of “This had better be good…” had never been more clearly expressed.
I raised my head and took up an elevated stance “I hearby swear that from this day forward that I, Prince Blueblood the First shall faithfully perform all duties of brotherhood to the Royal Princess Luna of Equestria. These duties shall include, but not be limited to: loving her endlessly (in a platonic familial fashion), being there for her whenever the horse apples hit the furnace, sending out winter wrap-up gifts and occasionally being as annoying as ponily possible!” I gave her a level look. “Will you accept my oath?”
She blinked. She looked at me like I was some sort of impossible Calculus problem. “Okay, you can’t be serious. Why would you possibly want to make that promise? You have every reason to hate my guts!” She put her hooves on my shoulders. “Seriously I’m worthless! Like ten minutes ago I nearly killed you! And mom…” she took her hooves off and lowered her head.
I raised an eyebrow. “Okay, firstly; I’m amending the previous oath with an ‘incessantly remind you that you are not worthless clause’. Secondly, I’m making this promise because… because…”
Why? Came a voice from the back of my head. For a moment I didn’t have an answer. Then another voice drifted in “does not bode well for your precious innocence…”
“I… I really need keep a promise right now.” I said. “I could do a lot worse than promising to be a decent sibling. I mean, like it or not, at this point I have to be some kind of sibling. I might as well be a good one.”
There was a pause. Luna screwed her eyes shut. I could almost feel the weight of her train of thought. She had no reason to trust me, no reason to believe I cared about her…
Finally she spoke.“Could… could I get it without the “annoying as ponily possible” part?” she asked.
I fell instantly in love.
A big, goofy grin spread across my face. “Sorry, it’s a package deal.”
She snorted. “Okay then.”
She held out a hoof, I pressed mine to it. It didn’t feel quite so awkward anymore. There wasn’t so much a silence this time as a quiet. A long, relieving quiet… of course we weren’t done.
I let out a breath. “So… you still haven’t told us what the problem was.”
She looked away, but she pressed her hoof tighter. “It’s just… well Mom’s gone, and Warm Breeze is gone, and Celestia is off being a ruler and I just kind of felt, well… alone.” Her head slumped.
I glanced to Heart, then caught a glimpse of a mirror.
I smiled. “Allow me to explain why you are a silly pony.
One explanation, chocolaty picnic, and request for a nap later, Heart and I were trotting back down the hall.
“You know,” He said, “If you break that filly’s heart, I will break your everything.”
I kept walking. “You’re a good pony.”
For some reason I was smiling. She liked him! I nodded to Celestia. “Okay… I suppose that explains…”
I thought back to the tears… My smile fell. Whatever they were, they weren’t tears of joy.
“…very little actually.” This story was starting to get truly inscrutable. I stifled a yawn and poured myself more tea.
Tick, tick, tick…
“I can see how she would have wanted to hug him if they had a close relationship, but why the tears? Did seeing an old friend bring back memories of troubled times? Was there something terrible she had to tell him? Did she…”
Celestia was staring, is swear staring. It was most unseemly. I was disappointed actually; she’d seemed far more stately when this conversation started.
She didn’t stop. I narrowed my eyes, “What?”
She blinked and looked away. “Oh! It’s nothing, nothing at all. Please, go on, keep thinking.”
“Oh, all right then. Well he might have-” I stopped. “actually come to think of it this is a rather pointless inquiry. I can just ask you…”
Celestia sighed. She had bags under her eyes.
I groaned, “Oh for pity’s sake, stop it!”
“Stop making your disappointed ‘Blueblood just did something stupid’ look. Seriously asking you for information isn’t dumb. It’s efficient! There’s no reason to speculate about something if someone smarter than you can just tell you the answer.”
She calmly levitated up a handkerchief and rubbed gently at her eye. “Sometimes thinking is fun.” She tilted her head. “You don’t think you’re smart?”
I opened my mouth to reply, but… for a long moment I didn’t know what to say. Am I smart?
Finally I shook myself and regained my composure. “Of course I’m smart! I must have forty college credits by now! It’s just… you’re you and… Uhg! That’s not important! The point is there are plenty of things to be disappointed in me for and this is not one of them!”
The sun goddess blinked. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”
I slammed my fore-hoof on the floor, “Story! What made Luna cry?!”
She opened her mouth… then closed it. She let out a breath. “Very well, I’ll tell you, but first you need to know about a few more ponies… people actually; starting with Wind.”
“She was another Union leader.”
“Did she do something important?”
“You might say that.”
Wind bowled me over and wrapped her hooves around my neck. Her grip would have put crest to shame. She shoved my nose into her sweaty orange vest and held on tight. It was the best thing I’d ever smelled.
Seriously, a little pony in my head was jumping up and down going “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!...” I never wanted her to let go… but oxygen was becoming an issue.
“*gurk!” I choked.
“Oh!” She let go. “S-sorry, it’s just when the royal guard got you… Blueblood I thought you were dead!”
I smiled. “Please, I’m too pretty to die.”
She snorted. Her curly red mane jumbled over her warm purple fur. “The stallions of the world rejoice.”
I grinned. She was actually here! We could work together and we could make Crest’s trade happen and we could… I caught a whiff of her breath.
My face fell. Wind smiled sheepishly and looked away.
I held out a foreleg.
Slowly, very slowly she reached a hoof into the pocket of her vest and produced a hip flask. To her credit, she put it in my hoof. “Okay, three things: one, you were dead, two, I just flew over here, flew, three…” she hesitated, “…the pain’s been coming back.”
My eyes went wide. “What?!”
She held up a hoof. “Muscle pain! No bone okay, I had it checked, it’s minor.”
I relaxed at that, a little. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. “Again, I think you should…”
She groaned, “Yeah, yeah, use willow bark, I know. And again back; it’s more expensive than gold and my patients need it.”
I smiled, it was a bit grim, but it was a smile nonetheless. “It’s good to have you back.”
She smirked, “Likewise Blondy, now let’s see this sister of yours.”
I blushed. “Actually I kind of have two.” I led her down the hall and filled her in on everything that had happened so far, my bizarre adoption, the council meetings, Aurora and Crest… well almost everything. I cherry picked a few painful details out of the meeting with Luna. I could tell she knew I was holding something back, but she didn’t press.
“So…” I said, dreading the news. “Who’s farming again?”
She looked down and rubbed a hoof at her vest. “My stitchers got back to work, your gang too… Empire’s though.” She shook her head. “He thought that deal was too good to be true. To be fair I can’t really blame him.” She stopped for a moment and smirked, “Plus he still doesn’t like you.” She wiggled an eyebrow.
I winced. Seriously, you pick up one guy, once. “Well at least he’s not getting violent, right?”
The smirk went away. She shook her head again, “Don’t count on that lasting. He’s still stockpiling, and don’t forget, he has most of the vets. If we don’t calm him down… I don’t even know what’s going to happen.”
“You mean aside from lots of ponies dying?”
For a long time the only sound was our hooves on the stone.
“Look,” I said, finally, “things are tense yeah, but... we’ve got a real shot here okay. I know it’s crazy, but I think Celestia will keep her word. Things suck, but they suck a lot less than usual. Or, something like that.”
She snorted. “Yeah, maybe we should throw a party or something.”
I tilted my head thoughtfully, “Probably, but first we need to talk about poo.”
“Why do I hang out with you again?”
Before I could explain in excruciating detail exactly how awesome I was, a certain armored Pegasus huffed up behind us carrying a gigantic burlap sack in his teeth. It looked like it was about to explode.
I gave Wind a questioning look.
She held up her hooves, ruffling her vest. “Hey! I needed to make sure no one knicked the medical supplies… Plus he said one bag.”
I swear, I thought Heart was going to literally sprout daggers from his eyeballs and fling them at her.
Fortunately we were ten feet from the door.
“Heart put that down man, Celestia can teleport it somewhere safe while we talk.”
The exhausted guardsman plopped it down instantly. He wheezed out through his teeth like he was trying to suppress a pant.
Wind tilted her head. “Wait, the princess can teleport all of that?”
I nodded. “This is the girl who raises the sun every morning okay? Literally. She can take anything.”
That said I swung the door open and saw our sun goddess sprawled on the ground. She wasn’t breathing.
Celestia… oh buck it, my little sister was dead. I had spent my time in Everfree Castle surrounded by creatures who could fly and teleport and move heavenly bodies without breaking a sweat. Never once had I felt weaker. I just froze.
She wheeled on Heart and snapped her hoof towards the heaping sack in the hall. “Green bag. Red cross. Get it. Now.”
Heart lunged for the bag. Wind spun around and smacked me upside the head. “You. Compressions. Yesterday.”
The pain snapped me out of it and weeks of half remembered training flooded back into my mind. I stumbled over to Celestia and rolled her on her side while Wind put her cheek to her neck and lifted the filly’s head into position.
I started compressions, jabbing my hooves into her side again and again. Wind wrapped her hooves around Celestia’s muzzle, clamped her lips closed and covered one of her nostrils, she took a deep breath. After the right count of compressions she wrapped put her mouth to Celestia’s nose and blew for all she was worth.
She came up for air. “Switch places!” She wheezed.
She growled, “I need my hooves and my voice. Now switch bucking places!”
I wrapped my hooves around the filly’s neck and let wind take my place. Three breaths and 500 years later Heart came back with the bag.
Wind snatched it with a hoof. “Back to compressions! She needs them more than air!”
I returned to her chest. I pounded so hard I felt ribs crack. Buck!
“Wind I think I’m hurting her!”
She tore the bag open and a pile of bottles scattered on the floor. “Good! That means you’re pressing hard enough. Now keep up!”
Heart’s eyes flicked back and forth and sweat poured down his back. “What do I do? What do I do? Do I breathe for her, do I sound the alarm?”
Wind snatched a bottle in her teeth and flung it in the air. “YOU BUCKING CLEAR!!”
For just a second, just the tiniest fraction of an instant time froze. Oh. Shit. I leapt to the side. Heart scrambled back.
The bottle fell, Wind bucked it.
A burst of lightning sprouted from the bottle and tore through the air, striking Celestia in the chest, at two very precise points.
Two things happened in the same instant. The room filled with mist, and Celestia’s chest started to rise and fall.
Wind rushed over and instantly re-started compressions. “Good, we’ve got a shot. Blueblood, hand me that syringe by the bed.”
I scrabbled to pick it up.
Heart’s mouth hung open. “What. Just. Happened.”
“But you’re a-”
She tore off her coat with a single hoof, never stopping compressions.
I thanked the heavens her stumps weren’t swollen.
“Pegasus,” she said. “Now are there any more stupid questions or are you going to help me save this filly’s life?”
“You know,” I began, “the dramatic tension here is somewhat let down by the fact that you’re alive and well.”
The princess narrowed her eyes. Had she been less tired I think it might have killed me where I stood. “Blueblood, think. About. It. Why couldn’t I stop Nightmare Moon on my own? Why couldn’t I help directly with Discord? Why do I spend every, single, waking moment forcing myself to be as calm as ponily possible?”
I had nothing to say.
Author’s Discalimer: While I have raised horses, I have never defibrillated or resuscitated one. The above scene was written with as much careful research as I could muster, but I would be a fool to think I didn’t miss something. You have my apologies for any inaccuracy.
The First Prince
Disclaimer: I do not own My Little Pony.
Tick… tick… tick…
The Princess poured more water from the pitcher into the kettle. She flared her horn and steam burst from the spout as the water began to boil.
I accepted some of the newly brewed tea and she poured a cup for herself. She ignored any ladylike pretense and downed it instantly.
Then she began anew.
“Wind managed to stabilize me, but I was still unconscious and severely weakened. This led to further complications…”
It felt warmer. I prayed it was just the crowd.
Wind came out of Celestia’s bedroom and met me in the middle of the hall. She looked more than a little haggard.
She’d put her vest back on, much to the relief of the guardsmen present. Still, their stoic expressions grew a little anxious when she brushed past, and every now and then one of them would glance at her vest and follow the little indentations that were made by what was left of her wings.
Heart wasn’t around at the moment. He’d left looking a bit like he wanted to find a safe place to throw up… not that he’d budged an inch from Celestia until fifteen guardsmen and the palace medical staff showed up.
Aurora finished talking to a unicorn with a red cross for a cutie mark and made her way to us. The crowd parted instantly and eyed her even more anxiously than Wind. Her expression was composed and detached, if a bit artificial.
The archmagus got right down to business. “The palace physicians tell me she’s almost certain to pull through if outside circumstances don’t intervene.” She turned to Wind. “Your efforts were most timely. Equestria is in your debt, though we may not live through these coming days, you have given us our only hope for survival.”
Wind nodded, but there was cold fear in her eyes. “She really does it, doesn’t she? She really moves the sun.”
Aurora nodded. The sundial hadn’t changed in two hours.
I could hear the clopping hooves of even more armored pegasi tromping their way down the stone corridor towards us.
The Archmagus glanced down the passageway, then to the horde already present “We need to take this conversation somewhere more private.” Her horn began to glow.
Private? My eyes widened, “Wait! Aurora! N-”
A blinding flash filled my vision and… luckily, rather than suddenly being on fire again, I found myself standing completely unsinged in Celestia’s tea room. It was rather anticlimactic.
Nevertheless, Wind nearly reared, “What the hay!?” she snapped her head around, pulled out a bottle that looked frighteningly like the one she’d used to defibrillate Celestia and brandished it menacingly
Aurora was completely unfazed, “Teleportation.” she explained.
The startled physician blinked. “Oh…” She slid the weapon/medical instrument back into her vest pocket, looking rather embarrassed “Sorry, it’s been a while.”
My heartbeat slowly returned to its normal rate. No fire, no lightning… things are looking up. I turned to Wind and opened my mouth to begin our inevitable tense and exhausting conversation, but a realization stopped me cold. We were still in the castle.
I gave Aurora a sidelong glance. “I thought you said all the walls in this castle have ears.”
She nodded, “These particular walls have my ears. And before you pose the two obvious questions; yes I heard every word of your little heart to heart with Celestia, and I didn’t use this room for our previous meeting because Crest couldn’t fit.”
I felt like I’d been kicked in the face. “Wait a minute, you mean you-”
“Uuuugh!” Wind raised her fore-hooves in exasperation, “Would someone please tell me what the hay is going on!?”
Aurora turned to her with a blank expression. “I, the archmagus of Everfree Tower, have forged a secret alliance with Blueblood here to promote earth pony rights because I killed five earth ponies in a mining town a few years back and the guilt has been slowly turning me into a miserable, wretched husk of a pony. Earlier, as part of a convoluted scheme to convince everyone in the castle I was under the good Organizer’s hoof, I transported him to a friend of mine who happens to be a dragon. Then we had a little chat and set up a dung exchange. Now we’re trying to avoid the prying eyes of the aristocracy, and well meaning guards, so we can figure out how to save basically everypony’s lives.”
Aurora took off her glasses, produced a cloth, and telekinetically rubbed at them. “Now that you’re filled in, will you please tell us if our god is going to di-”
There was something in Wind’s expression that stopped Aurora midsentence.
The mare who had spent three days of her life piecing burnt, screaming ponies back together in a certain mining town let her eyes go cold.
“You’re the Saddle Point Butcher?” Wind asked.
“The very same,” Aurora replied. She acknowledged Wind’s seething hatred with a nod and folded her cloth away. “I suppose running around with Blueblood you might have seen the details of that…” She set her glasses aside. “Do you want to hit me?” she asked.
“Yes.” Wind replied.
Aurora looked her right in the eye. “Feel free.”
Wind, an ex-Cloudsdale Guard, swung around in a practiced motion and struck out with her hind legs as only a soldier could. The archmagus stood stock still, held in place by the unwavering resolve of a lifelong leader and the discipline of a magical practitioner.
…I used my four years of college cheerleading to bunny hop between them. Go Fillydelphia Earth Ponies.
There was a loud, agonizing crack and I felt a rolling ripple of agony as Wind’s Horseshoes connected with my side. The sensation was incredible really, it almost felt like my ribs were speaking to me “Why Blueblood!?” They wept, “Why do you hate us so much!?”
I bowled backwards with the force of the blow. The Archmagus reflexively stepped to the side and I rolled haphazardly into a tasteful side table.
There was a pause while the two mares stood there speechless and I tried to remember how to form words.
“None of that… ow…” I croaked, “None of the violence and self punishment horse apples… They’re really dumb…” I felt a shockingly stabbing pain. “Oh… old gods I think I broke something.”
They rushed over to help me. After Wind made sure that I hadn’t punctured a lung and Aurora confirmed that diagnosis magically, the two mares exchanged a long look.
Finally Wind spoke. “Four.”
Aurora blinked. “What?”
“Four.” she said, “You killed four ponies… one of the ones the royal investigators listed as dead made it.”
The unicorn’s eyes went wide. “What? H-how?”
Wind narrowed her eyes. “I’m very good at my job… Aaaand, that’s all you’re getting.”
Aurora stared at her, completely at a loss for words. Finally she just said “T-Thank you.”
Wind shrugged, “Whatever.”
I managed a smile. Oh old gods, the pain…
They guided me back up and I got myself steady. When the room stopped spinning, I turned to the archmagus. “Look, this doesn’t make sense. Why has the sun stopped moving? I’ve seen Celestia take naps before, she doesn’t have to be conscious just for the daily cycle to go on.”
Aurora nodded, summoning back her glasses and regaining a little composure. “Alicorn magic differs significantly from Unicorn magic. Celestia and Luna have both allowed me to perform some minor experiments, but I’m afraid the exact mechanisms of their power elude me. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that Celestia’s abilities operate passively most of the time, but now that her body has taken serious damage, her magic is focused almost entirely on regeneration.”
“Regeneration?” I asked.
Aurora nodded “Alicorns have incredible healing capabilities. It’s the tower’s best explanation for their longevity. If I had to speculate further, I’d say that the sun should start moving again once she healed. As far as what she needs to heal from… I presume Dr. Wind could tell you more.”
I turned to Wind, but surprisingly she shook her head. “Look guys, we’ve all got our lines.”
Aurora raised an eyebrow.
“She’s a patient, okay!”
I nodded, “Fair enough, but she’s unconscious and legally her only family member over 18 is me… So by telling me what’s wrong with her, technically you’re just notifying her next of kin.”
Trusts and Estates 101, thank you Professor Book-End.
She eyed the archmagus warily.
“I would have told Aurora anyway.” I said, answering the unspoken question. “As resident magical expert she needs to know… Also she’s a good pony and I trust her.”
The archmagus twitched.
Wind shook her head, “Okay, look, the princess has suffered from a myocardial infarction. She’s stable, and medically she should wake up very soon, but… well I don’t know how Alicorn regeneration would change things, (though I intend to read the literature as soon as I get the chance), but if a normal patient had a heart attack this bad, I’d be crazy to let them go back to work for at least six weeks. Strenuous activities like rapid flying or heavy duty magic are out, and I don’t know how stressful it is to move the sun, but if it’s labor intensive at all…” She shook her head, “I can’t see her doing it for at least a few days.”
We had nothing to say to that. She continued.
“Assuming by some miracle we can survive having the sun glued in one spot for that long, I don’t see why she couldn’t get back to her duties as princess, but the fact that the poor girl had a heart attack this young may indicate that she has a congenital heart condition. That means that in the long run Celestia is going to have to be very careful about dieting, exercising, doing stressful work… Most of the things that could cause this are entirely manageable, but it’s possible this is going to be a challenge for her for the rest of her life… assuming anyone gets one of those.” There was a bead of sweat on her forehead. “Have I mentioned I’m suppressing panic?”
I was right there with her. Never the less, I clopped my forehooves together and smiled. “Fantastic! Celestia isn’t going to die and we have a plan for the medical side of things.” I turned to Aurora. “So! How do we get the sun moving?”
She started pacing thoughtfully. “I’ll consult with the climatologists, but I can’t imagine we have more than a day and a half before things start getting irreversible. However, if I can summon enough unicorns we might be able to push the sun to a more favorable position and buy ourselves some time.” She put a hoof to her chin. “We’d need at least 0.3 Seasons worth of power, not counting what we’d burn off in the energy conversion. Between the battle caster division of the royal guard, the tower, and whoever we can draft, we might have it. Maybe.”
“How much time would that buy us?” Wind asked.
“Another day or two, perhaps three. Again, I’ll need to do some research.”
I nodded. “Wind, would that be enough time for Celestia to recover?
She let out a breath through her teeth. “If she was a normal pony, emphatically no, but if that regeneration is as good as you say it is… I have absolutely no idea.”
I smiled. “Way better than certain fiery death, let’s do it! Wind, you get back up to Celestia and do whatever you can to help the rest of the medical staff.”
Wind winced. “Blueblood those medical personnel are a team, I’ll just get in their way.”
“Horse apples, your special talent is defibrillation, don’t even pretend you won’t be useful, especially if she has another attack.”
For a moment she looked like she was about to say something, but finally she just closed her mouth and nodded.
I turned to the archmagus. “Aurora, you get your people on moving that sun, I don’t know how much magic 0.3 Seasons is, but if I were you, I’d send for every able bodied unicorn with their horn still attached.”
I smirked, “Okay! Let’s-”
I was about to throw out one of my famous one liners, but then the door burst open and a blurry, metal clad pile of muscle bowled over Aurora, flung itself on top of her, and pressed a bladed wing to her throat.
Heart growled at the unicorn and forced her forelegs down with his hooves. “Kidnapping royalty again archmagus?”
I sighed, Wind’s jaw dropped. “What the…”
Then Heart caught sight of the good doctor. They exchanged a completely inscrutable look.
A rather horrifying thought crept into my head. He’s from the Cloudsdale military... He could know.
They blinked at each other for a long moment…
Then in a flash he leapt up! He threw his hooves around her neck and… hugged her tight (while keeping his blade on Aurora, amazingly enough, that stallion really had wingspan).
“Thank you!” he said gripping her even tighter, “Thank you for saving her! Sweet Seasons, you are a beautiful mare and I am so sorry I ran away…”
Wind flailed her hooves “*urk* Personal space! Personal space!”
I breathed a sigh of relief, then snickered, “Good to have you back man.” I glanced to the imprisoned archmagus, who looked more perplexed than anything else.
“Uh…” I began, “I’m not pressing charges on Aurora. You don’t have to point pokey things at her.”
He let go of Wind and let out a breath, which the oxygen deprived doctor promptly recollected. Then he turned to Aurora, his weapon still pressed to her neck “Okay, spill it, what did you do to him?”
The archmagus rolled her eyes and stepped calmly forward along the blades edge. Her horn was just about level with his neck. “Nothing, and we don’t have time for this nonsense, now are you going to put down your wing so I can help us all not die? Or are we going to have more of these ridiculous contests.”
“You’re playing him.” Heart said.
“I’m letting him play me.”
He narrowed his eyes, “Come on, like I’m going to-”
Okay, I’d had just about enough of this. I reared up and rubbed my front horseshoes together. The resulting screech felt like a file being dragged over somepony’s braces and was about as painful.
The pair stepped back, if only to cover their ears. Wind, being used to my shenanigans, managed to get by with just a gritting of her teeth and an expression that said I’m going to rip those off and make you eat them.
I gave Wind an apologetic look and took the opportunity to get between the castle ponies and put on a goofy smile. “Okie dokie loki, that’s enough of that…. Heart I’m very glad you came to my rescue, but I. wasn’t. Kidnapped. I just hitched a lift and,” I drew out the word for emphasis, “before you start in on this poor mare being an evil enchantress, or whatever, let me just point out two things: one, without some serious magic we’re all going to be very dead and Aurora’s probably the only one who can provide it; two,” I paused for dramatic effect (timing is very important in these things), “… so long as you’re here bickering with me, you’re not upstairs keeping Celestia safe.”
He gritted his teeth. “I left her with thirty guards.”
“And if something goes south while you aren’t there, is that going to let you sleep at night?”
He paled a bit at that (an impressive feat for a white pony) “You need to stay safe too.” He pointed out.
“Not as much as her.”
He snorted angrily, I swear his nostrils steamed. “You are the most aggravating stallion I have ever met! Seriously, you think you’re bucking Captain Vorponigan.”
“I get that a lo- Wait, who?” I actually hadn’t heard that one before.
He blinked “Uh… not important.”
“Right…” Unfortunately I did not have time to investigate. “Look I’m glad you have my back, but right now Celestia needs you. Don’t lose Wind, she’ll be going too.”
He ground his teeth, turned tail and marched out the door. The good doctor, taking her cue, followed him. She gave me the weirdest little smirk before she left. I honestly had no idea why.
I took a moment to close my eyes and clear my head. Seriously, if the world didn’t end I’d really have to take some time to niggle out the details as to what the hay was going on in this crazy castle. When I’d found my center again, I turned back to Aurora “So,” I said, “We really need to get moving. Can you spare the juice for a teleport or…”
She tilted her head. “What are you talking about?”
Huh? I blinked, “Uh… Aren’t we going to go organize the tower so we can move the sun and just maybe save everyone’s hides?”
Her expression became very… I don’t know. If this mare knew how to do anything it was hide her feelings.
Finally she spoke. “Blueblood I will be blunt, you have neither magical training, nor a horn, what do you possibly think you can do to aid a large group of spell casters in constructing and executing an elaborate magical ritual?”
The list came to me instantly. “I could crunch numbers, get every pony coffee, write the inevitable eight thousand letters that we’ll-”
She cut me off, “All menial tasks, tasks we already have dedicated ponies and spells for. Look, you may have been an organizer once, but Everfree Tower is a system you have no knowledge of, a system run by a group of ponies who would become utterly distracted by the presence of an earth pony in their midst.”
I narrowed my eyes. “I can stay out of sight, and let me be blunt, if you think just because I don’t have any fancy powers an extra set of hooves in the right place isn’t-”
“Blueblood, enough.” She let out a breath, “You are a brilliant man, you are a leader, you genuinely make me feel like a better pony when you’re around and you do know how to bring ponies together, but right now that isn’t what we need.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry Blueblood, I really am. If we live to see tomorrow, then you might just be able to make a difference in the world, but right now we need magic, not friendship.”
That said, she vanished.
It was about thirty minutes later, as I was wandering down Everfree Castle’s infinite hallways trying to figure out where everypony had gone, when I bumped into a certain midnight blue filly.
“Luna?” I asked, genuinely surprised. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be helping Aurora with her grand master plan?”
She sighed. “I already asked her she said I’m too… you know.”
“Yes, that…. How about you?”
I put on an uneasy smile, “Oh, I asked her, but she said… uh, I was, um…”
“An earth pony?”
There was a pause.
“So…” I began, “Want to help me brainstorm ways to save the world?”
That little filly smiled, old gods did it look good on her. “Okay.”
Celestia was smiling.
I rolled my eyes. “Oh please, you can’t fondly reminisce about something you weren’t there for.” I paused. “Wait a minute, how are you even telling a story about something you weren’t there for?”
She chuckled. “Prince Blueblood the First kept journals. He asked for a blank one right after he accepted my... *snerk*” Princess Celestia disgracefully discarded all courtly manners and laughed out loud.
“What, what’s so funny?” I demanded. She better not be laughing at me.
“Oh,” she snickered, “I’m sorry. It’s just I still can’t decide what it was; an offer, a request, or a surrender… Old gods, for those first few minutes I was so scared. Now I can’t imagine being scared of him.”
“Why,” I asked, “because he was your lesser?”
She shook her head, “Because he hated hurting people, and he loved us…” her expression grew darker, the bags beneath her eyes look heavier than I’d ever seen. “There’s so few of us left.”
I… I felt very strongly that I was supposed to say something, but nothing came to mind. Just distract her! My mind supplied. That works sometimes; sometimes people forget and stop looking at you like that.
“Uh, so!” I deflected, turning my eyes from hers. “What happened next?
“Right, so with the giant, earth pony powered hamster wheel pulley system and those theoretical, though not totally implausible, kinetic to magical energy converters. We’d be able to get… how much power?”
Luna flicked at her an abacus and scribbled down a few notes. “Hey 0.34 Seasons minimum!”
My face lit up. “Aurora said we needed around 0.3!”
Luna’s hooves shuffled in excitement, the smile came back. “It’s brilliant! Now all we need to do is get the theoretical magic lab to get those kinetic to magical energy converters working, convince every earth pony in Equestria to start melting down their horseshoes, hire a bear to…”
She stopped, let out a sigh and crumpled up the paper with magic. She turned back to the railing and frowned. “We’re not getting anywhere are we?”
We’d made our way to the battlement a few hours ago. To be honest, we’d spent about as much time looking over the courtyard from the castle ramparts as we had coming up with ideas. We could see all the splendor of the rich fields and healthy trees of Everfree spread before us, but we only really had eyes for the host of unicorns massing below and that cheerful looking sun still hanging in the sky. It was right where it had been five hours ago. There was no question now, the temperature was rising.
I shook my mane out and propped myself up next to her. “Sure we are. I think what we’re missing is the right energy conversion. I mean, Aurora’s doing a unicorn to Alicorn now right? What about dragon fire? Or pegasus lightning? Maybe we could try…”
“Why are we even doing this?” She asked bluntly. “Are you just trying to keep me distracted or something?”
I’m trying to keep me distracted. I shook my head. “Look, I’m not going to lie, us coming up with the plan that gets us out of this is the mother of all long shots, but hey,” I shrugged “It’s kind of our job, and if we don’t try we’ve got a 100% chance of failure, so why not?”
She twisted her neck uncomfortably and looked very deliberately away from me. “Well… What if it’s not a good idea to fix this?”
I grimaced. That really wasn’t what I was hoping to hear.
“Luna…” I began, “I know you’ve had a sucky time recently, a really sucky time, but we’ve been over this. Things will get better, there’s a whole great big beautiful world out there, and-”
She cut me off, her expression cold, “No.” she said, “There isn’t.”
I looked out at the giant verdant forest bursting with life, then in towards the massive castle full of gorgeous architecture and history. I blinked. “Uh… why do you think that?”
She glared at me. “Have you spent any time in this world? Seriously, any time at all?” She spread her hooves, “This isn’t pretty sunshine happy land. This is the world where a third of the population is enslaved. This is the world where good ponies die for nothing and ponies with power just sit on their flanks and try to bleed each other. This is the world where little fillies lose their mothers and their friends…” She stopped for a moment. “Their sisters…”
It had to be about eighty degrees out. She was shivering. She shook her head and turned away. “Sooner or later, everypony goes away. Why shouldn’t it all just go away at once? It would save everypony a lot of time and a lot of pain… and then ponies wouldn’t have a chance to make everything worse.” She closed her eyes.
I grimaced. My pep talks weren’t working. I was majorly bothered by that.
Seriously, I could take half the earth ponies in Equestria throwing in with Empire over me. I could even take being put on the benches when the whole world was due for a fiery apocalypse. What I couldn’t take was watching my brand new little sister tear herself up inside. This was more than just pre-teenage existential misery, hell it seemed like it was more than grief.
There was something she wasn’t telling me, and if I wanted to have any chance of helping her I’d have to pull it out. I didn’t want to bring all the pain to the surface if I didn’t have too, but right now, I couldn’t see another choice.
“Luna,” I asked, “What happened to Warm Breeze?”
Celly gulped. “Luna, what exactly is that recipe for?”
I looked down on the roll of parchment and smirked. “Three words: Zehavan. Stink. Grenade.” I said.
Celly looked pretty skeptical, but Breeze got a glint in her eye.
“Luna, you’re a mad genius…”
Picture a black, featureless plain with a single large spotlight hanging high above it, illuminating a small white circle on the otherwise empty ground. Somewhere in the distance, the ticking of an egg timer echoes in the air.
Tick… tick… tick…
I, a gangly, drab, pony with no visible cutie mark wearing a dark green hoodie with the hood up, sighed and stepped into the circle.
“I tried to think of a less direct way to say this, but I guess I just need to blurt it all out. The following story is dark. Possibly the darkest thing I’ve ever written. It’s that way because I couldn’t think of any other honest way to write it.”
“What’s more, it’s outside of that carefully constructed narrative frame I’ve been building. Celestia can’t tell Blueblood number twenty three about it because Celestia doesn’t know about it… Well, not in detail anyway. I guess the best way to describe it is that she knows that the story exists, and knows that it is important, but she just can’t say for certain what really happened.”
Tick… tick… tick…
I shake my head. “I’m rambling. I don’t mean to keep you long. But there’s one more thing I need to say. The ponies telling this story? Yeah, they are not good sources for moral guidance. The second one goes without saying, but the first one… It needs to be mentioned that I don’t agree with her worldview, or even most of her arguments. A particularly glaringly bad one follows right after this note.”
“That’s not to say she’s always wrong, but… she’s… you’ll find out.”
Tick… tick… tick…
I cock my ear to the ticking and produce a little leather volume from the pocket of my hoodie. “Looks like there’s no more time for the intro… Heh… time…”
I open the book, sit down and look directly at the audience. “Again, sorry about those shattered remains of the fourth wall. I’ll try not to jump in like this too often.”
Tick… tick… bing!
The light goes out and I begin to read.
I slid the envelope forward, making sure to keep my hoof planted until the deal was done. Oh the look on the principal’s face. The curious fear, the sheer, hot embarrassment… I think I liked that part the best.
She flared her horn and opened her wallet. Correction, I liked that part the best.
She stopped; her wallet stood floating in the air.
I tilted my head coyly, “What’s wrong?”
She dropped the wallet. It hit her desk with a thud. She turned away. “All of this is wrong.”
Aw Tartarus, she was chickening out. I put on my most mature face and rolled my eyes. “It’s really just a picture. Okay? It’s a picture of me that I had taken. Granted, it’s a little more than what you’d see in the yearbook, but c’mon, it’s not like it’s not all on display 24-7.” Well, almost all of it, I rubbed at my ankle-sock with a fore-leg. Not very trendy, but a girl has to keep her knives somewhere.
Principle Black Board shook her head. “I can’t… I don’t want to be… You’re… You’re way too young to do things like this.”
I narrowed my eyes “Hey, I’m going to be fifteen soon… Besides,” I said, shrugging with a calculated amount of casual sultriness. “orphans grow up fast.”
She looked down. “I know.”
Crap, I’d said exactly the wrong thing. I kicked myself mentally; I was usually a lot better than that. “Hey, look, before I came here… heck, before you brought every single person in this school here to the upper quarter, we didn’t expect to live to twelve. You keep us safe, you keep us fed, and you give us hope. You should remember that.”
She looked like she was about to cry. “But I’m hurting-”
“Hey,” I cut her off, “I’m a tough cookie. Plus, I came to you…”
And then it was time for the most dangerous and most important part of the dance. I narrowed my eyes “It is just me right?”
She paled… but nodded.
I smiled, carefully making it just wide enough to reassure her while showing just enough tooth to be intimidating “Then so long as it stays that way, we’re fine.” I pushed the envelope forward. “Now are we going to do some business?”
She slid me the bits, I counted them up with a smile. “It’s been a pleasure.”
“Thank you Warm Breeze.”
“You stay good now.”
I stepped off my chair; slid my little booster-seat of books back in my saddlebag, and headed off to Geometry.
I slipped the hook around the stem of the Seasons knows how many bit cut crystal glass and gave Neri a smirk, “C’mon, we had a deal, I pass Algebra, you have a drink with me.”
The zebra lowered her sun hat even further, “Yes, but here?”
Tasteful music began to play as a pegasus servant went around relighting the candles. The wavering light shimmered as it reflected off the marble walls.
I shrugged, “Why not?” I tapped my forehead tilted hat (upper quarter unicorns will believe anything) and took another sip of the old gods’ ambrosia, “Seriously Neri, You’re leaving for that fancy-pants high school the day after tomorrow, you should live a little!” I looked her in the eye. “You’ve definitely earned it.”
The poor filly was unconvinced. She pawed at the lace tablecloth with her hoof and grimaced at the menu. “You do know you could feed the entire orphanage for three days on what it costs to get an entree here right?”
I casually pointed to the bread basket in the middle of the table. “You see that right there?”
She nodded. “Yeah, I’m surprised it wasn’t bussed already, I don’t think the waiters here want to get near us.”
“A fair observation,” Even the one I’d promised a kickback for letting us in was keeping his distance. “but you’re missing the point. That basket? They never stop refilling it.”
She tilted her head. “Okay, that can’t be true.”
I smiled, poked out my hind-hoof and pushed my bag towards her, under the tablecloth of course. “Why don’t you take a look down?”
She carefully lifted the cloth a bit. Her eyes went wide. “How did you?”
I shrugged. “Well, aside from the standard refills, I ‘went to the bathroom’ a few times while I was waiting you to show up.” I took a sip from my glass. “And before you start the lecture, I want to point out that I’m definitely just getting my actual money’s worth on this one. You weren’t wrong about the entrees.” I hooked the bag by the straps with a hoof and drew it back to a more discrete location. A day’s worth of meals for everyone probably wasn’t going to happen, but with some luck, and a few more trips, I might be able to pull off a midnight snack.
Neri dropped the cloth. She looked suitably impressed. “You always have a plan don’t you?” Her expression brightened suspiciously... oh no, she was going for her notebook. “Speaking of which…” she began, flipping it out.
I rolled my eyes. “Neri c’mon”
“Breeze, please hear me out, I’ve been doing some research and I think I know how we can keep you in school.” She flipped through her notebook and found the figure filled page she sought. “Now, my work-study scholarship gives me 57 bits a week, a waiver from the work crew hour requirements for earth ponies, and, most importantly, housing in a state hostel. I talked to the manager, and for 15 bits a week, I can pick a servant for the complex…”
“Breeze, I don’t need a job. Remember? Earth pony? I’m frigging required to join the work crews once I’m 16.”
“Not if you can get a scholarship and work exemption like me. If you just take required courses and fund yourself through…”
I groaned and eyed my diminishing drink. “Neri, this is just a variation of the plan you threw at me last week, only this time you’re putting yourself in even more financial jeopardy. I’m not going to let you do that to yourself.”
I put my glass down, “Let’s talk about something else.” A mischievous smile crept up on me, “Like maybe how you’re going to wow the bucking Queen at graduation tomorrow.”
Neri winced. “You’re a cruel, cruel pony Warm Breeze.”
I snorted. “Maybe that’s just what I want you to think.”
She smiled. “You know, I think you’re right.”
Then something bad happened… I smiled back. I actually, sincerely smiled… She…She shouldn’t have been able to do that to me.
I twisted it, made sure it was fake. I needed to be in complete control of this conversation. With graduation coming up, the stakes were way too high for a slip up.
Controlling my conversations with Neri had become harder and harder over time. Don’t get me wrong, I like it when Neri figure things out… it’s fun it’s cool it… I dunno, I guess when someone walks up to a unicorn and corrects his homework it gives me hope for the rest of us.
I know, I know, that sort of putting on airs usually comes off as snobby, but... It’s hard to describe. I guess she’s the kind of person who’s so clever it’s almost beautiful, she cuts through math problems like they’re butter and she aced so many tests last year that they took her out of the advanced classes and sat her down in the library for independent study.
But that’s just it… she’s smart, and that’s a serious liability for people like me. Plus, I’d been working her for a while and it’s a well known fact that cons get harder the longer you pull them.
Okay… so this is starting to sound a bit shady.
Let me clear the air, I didn’t have any nefarious plans for Neri, quite the opposite in fact. Neri was… Well, I guess you could call her a project.
When you’re one of the miss-fit toys in a unicorn city like Everfree (read anyone who isn’t a unicorn or, more charitably, anyone who isn’t a unicorn or a pegasus). Anyway, when you’re constantly pissed on like us, you need a hobby to keep you busy. Otherwise you go nuts or dead.
My hobby was people. Not people in general, Seasons no, the world’s way too big for a little filly like me to fix it, but specific people, people who have a chance of getting the buck out of this shit hole. I tried to help those out. Neri was one of them.
“Breeze?” Neri looked concerned.
I blinked “Huh?” Had I really just been sitting there? Man, I was out of it. I let out a breath, “Sorry, it’s been a long day… seriously though; we’ve been over how to handle Seasons. Be polite, show her how impressive your grades are, and remember to stop, drop, and bend knee if things get dicey.”
She tried to look wry. It was adorable. “You, Warm Breeze, the mare who once spun around and peed on a royal guard, are advising against getting in someone’s face?”
I gave her a cold, even look. “It’s God.”
There was a pause.
Finally, Neri nodded. “Okay then… so, what’s the fastest way to kneel?”
Like I said, she’s a smart girl. I shrugged, “That I can’t help you with, but I’d recommend looking up Morris.”
She tilted her head. “You mean the new kid, the mule?”
“His dad used to be a butler; he can give you a crash course in frou-frou etiquette.”
“Good to know.” She replied.
I looked her over. Her eyes were moving just a tad faster, and her hoof twitched ever so slightly as she reached for her water.
Okay, she was scared enough to be cautious, now it was time for the reassurance. I rolled the stem of the glass in my little hook and put on a much more easy expression. “Don’t worry too much about it. Seasons very publicly slid some cash to our little orphanage last year, so she’s got a, how do you say it, a vested interest?”
Neri nodded, looking very smug. “See what happens when you study your vocabulary?”
My groan groaned, “You’re never gonna shut up about that hundred are you? Anyway, it went out in the Times, so all the castle big-wigs know about it. If the shindig goes south, she’s going to lose face.”
Neri looked down at the fancy table cloth and pawed at it. She looked a lot less confident than I’d hoped. “Queen Seasons doesn’t have to worry about losing face. She controls the sun and moon. She can afford it.”
I snorted, “I can afford to pay five bits more for this meal, that doesn’t mean I want to.”
She didn’t look up.
Okay, time for the trump card. I leaned across the table and whispered in her ear. “Seasons has a lot of power, but it isn’t infinite. Why do you think he’s still around?”
Neri backed away. I swear for a moment her stripes paled. “Don’t talk about that here!” She whispered.
I smiled. “I’m just saying.”
She glared at me, but I saw it in her eyes… that little gleam of hope, real hope.
Oh sure, the newspapers all talked about how he ate baby unicorns in the moonlight or some horse apples like that, but everyone who paid attention heard the real stories. Seasons, I’d even managed to get my hands on one of his pamphlets. He was a ghost; he was a magician with no horn. Even here in Everfree, the guards just couldn’t keep his message out.
Oh Empire, you brilliant bastard. I bucking loved him, of course. Just like every other miss-fit toy.
I figured I’d gotten just the right ratio of hope and caution for Neri, so I started in on the cool down.
“So…” I began, “I hear they’re bringing hay fries back to the cafeteria next week.”
She sighed, “Yeah, I read about that in the newsletter. You know this means that no one’s going to order anything else there right?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said, “Those things are bucking delicious!”
She sighed. “We’re all going straight to cardio-vascular Tartar… Derrick?”
I’d placed myself so I’d have eyes on the front door. Naturally, the big scary monster came out of the kitchen.
I want to pause here for a second and explain to the members of the audience whose lives are not completely bucking crazy what it’s like to see a griffon coming towards you. We’re talking about a mostly carnivorous creature with gigantic eagle talons for fore-feet, razor clawed lion paws for rear feet, and wicked beak designed to tear out your intestines and eat them while you’re still alive.
To be fair, the griffon in question wasn’t the most impressive specimen in the world. His right wing was sort of twisted and shriveled from a birth defect and his left, rear paw wasn’t much better. But what he lacked in those categories he made up for at the moment by carrying himself in a destabilized, twitchy sprint that made me feel like he was a hair’s breadth away from making the next pony he met into take-out.
The fancy-pants wait staff scattered. The unicorns at the table lit up with expressions of shock and a little curiosity. He was probably the first griffon they’d ever seen outside of pictures.
He sat right down at our table, twiddled his claws and choked out, “Breeze, I need a favor.”
Meet project number two.
Neri ignored every survival instinct a sane zebra would have and went straight over to him. She put a hoof on his shoulder in concern. “Derrick, sweet Seasons, what happened?” Her eyes widened “Are you on something?”
Derrick forced a shivery smile. His muscles were firing in little jerks, and his eyes were bloodshot. I’d seen it a million times. He wasn’t on something, he was off it.
I took in a calming breath, and found my center. I had the sinking feeling this was going to be one of those conversations. “What do you need?” I asked.
“I need money-”
“No.” I spat.
Okay, I’ll admit it, that response was a bit reflexive, but considering that he was probably going to spend on drugs, I think it was pretty justified.
Neri was utterly lost. “Derrick, what’s going on? Why do you need money?”
I sighed inside. Neri: sharp as a knife, and about as observant.
Derrick locked eyes with me. “It’s not what you think. I need to book passage on the next ship down river. I already have 52 bits, I need 448 more.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh for buck’s sakes Derrick, we have, like, four minutes before the guys in charge notice you barging in and work up the nerve to throw us to the curb. Can you please not waste my time by using the oldest scam in the book? ‘Oh, look at poor me, I got stranded here after the last boat left and the ticket counter wouldn’t give me a refund, please have some basic pony dignity and help me!’ Seriously, we both know what you would be doing if you had 52 bi-”
He smashed his talon down on the table. To my extreme surprise, a pile of coins rolled out of it. It wouldn’t have bought the table cloth, but on the street it would have bought him an ounce or two of something that would stop his shakes.
I blinked, “… You have my attention.”
I saw a rapid succession of emotions play across his face. It shifted from relief, to hope, to the deflated expression that people get when their adrenaline starts to wear off and they realize that they have to keep pushing themselves anyway. Needless to say, he was a lot more sheepish after that convoluted half second. “Look my…” His eyes shifted to the basket in shock. “C-can I have a piece of that bread?”
I shoved the basket over. “Knock yourself out.”
He snatched half a loaf from the basket and dug his beak into it. He didn’t eat it, just bit down really hard like a baby chewing on one of those fancy unicorn pacifiers.
As if I needed more proof that he wasn’t all there. “Now spill.” I began, “Why do you need to get out of Everfree? Is someone after you?”
He unclamped his beak with an effort of will and replied. “The ticket’s not for me Breeze. It’s for my Mom, she’s... she’s getting worse.”
I winced. Fun fact, you didn’t actually have to be an orphan to get into the Everfree City Orphanage for Disadvantaged Children, you just had to have parents who incapable of handling you and death has a tendency to do that. So yeah, Derrick still had a mother. Principle Black Board dropped him off at the asylum twice a month to see her.
I put my fore-hooves together and gave him a level look. “How is going downriver going to help her? I wasn’t aware cramped third class quarters were beneficial to the psyche.”
“It’s not her brain! It’s her body. The doctors at the asylum… they know what’s wrong with her, they just can’t…” He dug into the bread with his talons. “Won’t get what they need to fix it. It’s in short supply so it’s unicorn and pegasus restricted.”
Ah the bucking wonders of the Equestrian health care system.
Neri spoke up. “Derrick, if you’re looking for a free griffon doctor, 500 bits won’t get you out of Equestrian Borders, you’d need a passport and visas, and… everything! I’d estimate it would put you back at least 1232 bits with tax,”
Yes, she actually did know that number off the top of her head.
“…and I’m not even sure they’d produce the drug you need outside of Equestria, have you checked?”
He shook his head, ruffling his already disorganized feathers. “I’m not going out of Equestria, just a little past Hoofdale. I heard there was a stitcher down there.” His talon started twitching and he forcibly stilled it. “I heard it from a pretty good source.” He said lamely.
My eyes widened a little, “You want to gamble 500 bits on that, seriously? You want to gamble 500 bits that mother bucking Dr. Wind is going to come out of the woodwork to help your Mom?”
He narrowed his eyes. “If I told you there was a chance to save your parents, what would you do to get it?”
For one, excruciating second I felt as though I’d swallowed a hoof full of nails and followed it down with some acid. Fortunately I kept it off my face.
I let out a breath. I hadn’t been planning my responses nearly enough, I needed to figure this out. I decided to start with an appeal to realism. Despite all the crazy passion Derrick was a logical person at heart. “I’m sorry man, but it’s a moot point.” I began, “I aggressively don’t have that kind of money, and before you ask this” I gestured to our opulent surroundings, “was a one-time deal and we’re only getting drinks.” I took said drink and swirled it. “Seriously dude you have my sympathies, it sounds like life is sucking extra hard for you lately, and I can’t even imagine the cajones it took to quit that crap you were on, but I don’t know why you’d come to me for something like this. I’m not a loan shark.”
...of that level. I added silently.
His eyes shifted uneasily. “I know about your business with Black Board.”
I froze. “What?”
Neri blinked. “You have a business with the principle?”
I grit my teeth. “How did you come across this information?”
I raised an eyebrow and waited.
He flinched, “S-snap, okay, but he just wanted to help! Please, Breeze…”
I let a hiss of air. I was going to murder that pony. First though, I had to get a handle on the mess he’d made. “Derrick, I don’t know what he’s told you, but let me make this extremely clear. What Snap and I are doing is not a business, it’s containment. We’re trying to stop something truly shitty from going down and money just happens to be a side effect.” I looked him dead in the eye. “I poke for more bits, bad things happen. Like ‘the entire school is in danger’ bad. I can’t let that go down, period.”
He nodded, “I know, believe me, Snap made it clear once he realized what he’d suggested. That’s why I found you another clien…” he caught the look on my face and his words drifted off.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you’re confronted by something so stupid that your mind just shuts down? Yeah, it was one of those. All my carefully crafted words, all my calculated gestures, and all my willingness to pretend I cared went right out the window.
“Let me get this straight… You’re trying to bucking pimp me?”
The bread crumpled in his claws and his eyes glistened. “Breeze, it’s not like that-”
“Derrick this is the bucking definition of that. What? Did you think you could just sell me like your opium stash? Oh yeah, don’t even think I don’t know where that talon-full of gold came from! You didn’t have nearly that much in your piggy bank.”
Every part of him that wasn’t covered in feathers paled. “Breeze, please, you’re my last shot, if I don’t find a way to help Mom-”
I threw up my hooves. “Then what Derrick, you won’t have any family? What you think that bucking mother of yours makes you bucking better than us?”
Neri leaned over the table and put herself between us. “Both of you stop! Would someone please tell me what in Equestria is going on?”
Derrick turned to the Zebra. “Neri, you won’t let me lose mom, right, you’ll hel-”
He was cut off by the sound of one of my knives jamming itself into the expensive table.
`“NO.” I said
Derrick froze. The knife had stuck itself an inch away from his stomach.
“You will not drag Neri into the shit ponies like us live in.” My eyes filled with cold fury. “So help me Seasons, I will gut you! I’ll-”
“You will leave this shop!” Came an unfamiliar voice.
I turned around to see a trio of heavyset unicorns in chef’s attire galloping towards us.
Well horse apples, I’d completely forgotten about that. Fortunately my brain chose that moment to start working again.
Usually when you’re in a group and you get charged by scary thing X, your herd instincts kick in and you all move in one direction, but that default option wasn’t going to work today because there was no way in Tartarus I would leave Derrick anywhere near Neri right now. Fortunately, our circumstances presented me with an opportunity. In a tense situation where you need to react quickly, you’re actually in a very suggestible state. If you get thrown an urgent order that fits with what you already want to do, then nine times out of ten, you’ll just roll with it.
I snapped my hoof towards the entrance. “Neri! You go that way! Derrick, you’re with me!”
And that’s how I ended up getting the service entrance door opened for me by a drug addict that I threatened with a knife twenty seconds ago.
Seven blocks later, we finally lost the chefs.
When we knew the coast was clear we ducked behind an old barber’s shop and sprawled against the back wall to catch our breath. After I got some oxygen in me I cracked a smile. I know, I know, any sane pony should feel like re-fried horse apples after a fiasco like that, but what can I say? I like a little adventure now and then. Plus, in spite of all the chaos, I’d still managed to hold on to the bread.
I let out a chuckle of relief and turned to Derrick. “Woo… Man, that was…”
He wiped the sweat stained feathers out of his eyes and glared at me, “Shut up.”
He pried himself off the wall and clutched at his chest. He looked like he was about to throw up.
Crap, I’d seen this shit before. Barring more drugs, he’d need sleep and a lot of painkillers. I started in on a spiel, “Derrick, listen to me, how long has it been since your last fix? I don’t think we can get you more chems right now, but I know a doc or two who-”
“I said SHUT UP!” He snapped. He wheeled on me, talons popped. “I can’t believe I was stupid enough to think you gave a shit Breeze. You had me fooled, I really believed it. I actually thought you’d do anything to help out your friends… but you don’t actually have friends do you… just toys?” He growled, low and deep.
I quietly let a knife slide a bit down my sock.
He dug his claws into the pavement. I swear they left scratches “Well news flash! I’m not you. When I say I care about someone, it means I bucking care.” He forced his limbs to stop swaying and held himself high, “Yeah, things look bad for Mom, boo-hoo, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to throw her away. Maybe you can sit by while the people around you burn, but I won’t, period.”
He turned away. “Oh, and for the record, I didn’t think I was better than you until you decided it was okay to pull a knife in front of Neri.”
That said, he limped his way down the alley and headed back into the street.
For a while, I just stood there, staring down the grimy path.
And that’s why you’re number two…
The sky was falling.
I gripped my pillow as the thunder boomed. The lightning spastically cast dark reflections of our bunks on the far wall. It hurt to watch. Seasons I was tired.
Stupid lightning… stupid nightmares…
My headache had a headache and the day’s events just kept rolling around in my head. I couldn’t believe that Derrick could be so stupid. Seriously, I thought I’d trained him better than that! Now there was one more perv out there with, at very least, my description.
And he’d tried to drag Neri down with him, who the buck did he think he was?
I turned over and found myself staring at poor Morris’ bed-head in the next bunk over. I sighed.
If I was going to be entirely honest with myself, Derrick wasn’t the only one who’d taken his stupid pills this morning. I was out of control. I hadn’t thrown a tantrum like that since I was ten. I swore off alcohol right then and there.
I needed a plan, some way to get Derrick sane again. Maybe there was a way to get his mom what she needed. After all, just because pills are illegal doesn’t mean you can’t buy them.
The problem was Derrick knew all of the Dealers I knew. He was how I met most of them. If he had two brain cells left to rub together he would have gone to them before he came to me… Of course, he wasn’t operating at his full mental capacity, so there was a chance it slipped his mind. It was worth a shot, at least.
Maybe I could try another route and feed his fantasy, say I believed his crazy story, but had a better way to get him money. I knew at least one loan shark who would have the… and that lead me straight back to the problem with my first plan. It was still an idea, but probably one he’d tried already if he was desperate enough to throw his pills away and try to whore me out.
It still felt weird to think about his actions. Derrick just didn’t do stuff like this. He was the 14 year old who quit every gang that tried to coax a scary mofo like him in so he could get a crappy job sweeping up storage spaces. He hated hurting people, it’s I’d built him up.
I tried to think of what it would take to push him that far. I tried to imagine what it would be like to care about someone that much.
The thunder boomed in the distance and I felt a knot in my stomach.
There was a shuffling. I looked down just in time to see Neri waggling her fore hoof over the foot of the guard-rail and tumbling into the top bunk.
I raised an eyebrow. “Neri, I understand that my feminine charms are considerable, but you simply must try to control yourself.”
She blushed. “Could you lower your voice?” She whispered. “The other ponies might…”
KRACK-POW! The windows shook as the storm raged outside.
Neri blinked, “Okay… so, maybe that’s not a problem.”
“Not really. So, what’s on your mind?”
“Derrick,” she said, “we need to find a way to help him and his mom.”
I kept my expression steady. I may have let myself get thrown earlier, but now I was on my guard. “I’ll worry about Derrick. You focus on wowing Seasons tomorrow.”
Neri frowned. “Breeze… you know you’re not alone in this right?”
I blinked. “Come again?”
The zebra shuffled her legs into a more comfortable position and looked me in the eye. “I know that you think your strength means that you have to be the pony that solves all our problems, but you’re not alone.”
I snorted, “Neri I’m the shortest 15 year old in the senior class. I’m definitely not the stro-”
She cut me off, “Yes, you are Breeze, and it’s let you do some incredible things.” She pointed to herself with a hoof. “I wouldn’t have won that scholarship if you hadn’t helped me word my application. Derrick would probably have knuckled under and joined the mob. Snap would probably have gotten cripp… well, hurt even worse.
“You stopped all of that, it was really impressive, but even you need help sometimes. Please Breeze, I’m your friend. If you just tell me what’s wrong, I’m sure there’s a way we can fix it, together.”
I looked at her, I looked at those warm open eyes and those good intentions and I just felt more exhausted than I’d ever been in my life. Neri was thirteen years old, one hundred and thirty in orphan years, and she still was naïve enough to think I was a good pony.
And here I thought she’d been catching on.
A thought bored into my skull. If I was going to do my job and lift her up, I couldn’t let her stay like this. If she was going to go to high school with unicorns, everyone was going to be taking advantage of her, everyone. And her attitude would paint a big fat target on her back.
She was going to be gone after tomorrow, and she would be at the award ceremony all day. I… I guess I really wouldn’t see her again.
That knot in my stomach tightened. It had to be now. She needed to know the truth.
“Neri…” I choked out. “I’m… I’m not your friend.”
She tilted her head. “What?”
There it was the truth… It felt really weird to blurt it out like that, but the dam was broken, so I went on. “Neri, I’m a monster. I lie, I cheat, I steal, and I’m not your friend. I’m not anybody’s friend.”
She blinked, “What?”
“I just toy with people for fun so I can feel like I’m in control!” I looked down and pawed at my blanket. “There are a lot of people like that Neri, people like me, and you need to avoid them if you’re going to survive...”
The zebra’s lips twitched. She looked me straight in the eye… and burst out laughing.
I was completely lost, again. It really wasn’t my day.
Neri rolled around my blanket with tears in her eyes and a grin on her face.
I threw my hooves up. “Neri, I’m trying to reveal dark secrets here… what the buck is so funny?”
“Phbtttt!” she just kept laughing.
I narrowed my eyes, “Neri…”
Her laughter settled down to a snicker, she blinked away the moisture in her eyes and looked up at me. Her smile drooped. “Old gods… you think you’re telling the truth.”
I growled, “Of course I’m telling the truth! I’m telling the truth for like the first time! What, you think this is easy?”
“Breeze, you’re not telling the truth.” She stood up, walked over and put a hoof on my shoulder. “Breeze, you can convince me that the sky is green, or that there are eyeballs in the cafeteria juice boxes, or even that the Ponythagorean Theorem doesn’t work, but nothing you say is going to convince me you don’t care about people, there’s just way too much evidence to the contrary.”
I shook my head. “Neri, I’ve only been helping you write applications and talk to high society folks so-”
“I’m not talking about that stuff,” she said. “That stuff’s you thumbing your nose at the higher ups, I play along with that because it’s fun and it tends to work out pretty well for me.” She gave me a knowing smile… “I’m talking about the other things you do, like threatening a Griffon twice your size, taking me to fancy restaurants, and giggling with me at terrible mane-cuts. There are a thousand and one things you do that tell me that you care, and if you didn’t than what you’re saying wouldn’t be hard to say.”
As she spoke, images flickered in my mind. Us taking turns with donated ice skates, us drawing massive chalk murals on the sidewalk, all four of us just hanging out shooting the breeze… well, not literally, that would hurt, but the point is, I’d liked that stuff... Would it have been the same without her?
I shook myself, threw the pictures from my brain and let my tangled blue mane flop down. I closed my eyes, I couldn’t look at her. “Neri, you aren’t listening, it’s not safe to be around me. I’m a monster.”
She tilted up my head and looked me dead in the eyes. “Breeze, you keep telling me all the horrible things you are. Let me ask you something. What do you want to be?”
There was a long pause as I considered my answer.
Then it came to me.
I flung my foreleg around her neck and dug it into her windpipe. She tried to scream, but she couldn’t draw in the air. I slid a knife down my sock and pressed it to her cheek.
“Neri, you will listen to me very carefully. You will climb down from the bed, you will go to sleep, and tomorrow you will forget I ever existed. You will not invite me to live with you, and you will stay in that fancy school you worked so hard to get into. You will stay far, far away from ponies like me.” I dug the blade into the side of her cheek. Blood mixed with her tears. “It hurts right? Well that’s just a taste, the tiniest sliver of the shit that hits people I care about.”
I let her go. She shook me off and shuffled herself to the edge of the bed panting.
I kept the knife out. “Run.” I said.
She jumped out of the bed and bolted for the other dormitory. For a while I just sort of froze.
Then I threw away my selfishness and fell back into bed. The storm clouds blasted away at the windows and my shivering came back. It was okay though. I knew what I wanted to be.
I wanted to be the one that saved her, and no one was safe near me.
I always feel a little sick to my stomach the morning after doing something cruel, even if I do it for a good reason.
Ponies will try and tell ya’ that cruelty is the some sort of big monstrous thing, but really it’s just another arrow in a manipulator’s quiver. There was no justice to it really. I once told someone they were the best artist I’d ever met just so they would give me their pills and I slept like a foal that night.
And yet there I was, eyes heavy and legs sore from a night of tossing and turning that I knew wasn’t just from the thunder. I guess no good deed goes unpunished.
I shook myself and made my way down the twisting, riot proofed halls of the orphanage. I was looking for “project” number three… I found him just about where I expected him to be. Backed into a corner and surrounded by three angry earth pony kids.
“You killed my parents!” One of the taller ones shouted. He smashed his hooves into Snap’s forehead and the 11 year old colt fell to the floor twitching in agony. Honestly I don’t know why the earth pony bothered. The horn was long gone.
Even rolled over on his side Snap kept that stupid grin on his face, “I’m not gonna let you steal Jeremy’s… *ooofph!*” The rest was swallowed up as another pony stomped down on his gut.
A knife stuck itself in the floorboards.
So, here was a situation that didn’t happen very often. I was the biggest one in the fight. Not that with my reputation I really needed to be. Suffice it to say, the trio bolted so fast they left skid marks.
After they fled, I made my way over to the little blue colt, who jumped up enthusiastically to greet me. “Breeze that was awesome, we kicked butt!”
I smiled. “Yeah, we did.” His eye was starting to go purple around the edges. “‘c’mon hero, let’s get you an ice pack. We have a Queen to meet.”
“We have ice?”
“Royal visits have their privileges.”
Snap followed me down the hallway with a jaunty skip. It was undercut somewhat by his limp, but he put in the effort. The halls were pretty much empty; just about everyone was either at breakfast or enjoying a rare chance to sleep in.
Here it was; my opening, time to be cruel again.
I sighed, “You know I’m really glad you’ll still be here tomorrow Snap.”
The growth stunted unicorn blinked. “Huh?”
I put on a truly convincing smile and turned to him, “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m not going to miss you, it’s just… it’s nice to know I have someone I can trust looking out for these ponies.”
He blushed a little and looked away. “Oh, you know, you can count on me.”
I snorted. “Yeah,” I mechanically lowered my head and eyed the floor, getting my expression just right for my next line. “You know there aren’t a lot of people who I can say that about.”
He flinched. “Uh… yeah… Well, some people are monsters… like the principle.”
I shrugged, and made sure there was no one else around before continuing. “Eh, honestly as far as out here goes, she’s probably one of the good guys. We can argue about subconscious choices until we’re blue in the face, but it’s pretty clear she doesn’t want to be into to the stuff she’s into.”
For those of you who are scratching your heads at this frank exchange between a 12 year old and a (probably, hay if I remember my real birthday) 14 year old, let me please instruct you to get your heads out of your plots and admit that people our age are not completely oblivious to sexuality, especially if one grows up where we did.
I went on. “It’s not her I’m worried about; it’s what’s going to happen if word gets out about what we’re doing in order to control her.” I turned to him. “Can I tell you a gross secret?”
He nodded, looking more than a little queasy, “O-ohkay.”
“Last week I had my period.”
He stuck his tongue out “Eww!”
I groaned. “Yeah, I know, it really smarted too. The point is, there’s even more jackasses, sorry, that’s racist; even more jerks who want to take advantage of post-pubescent fillies. I know we did the right thing by weaning her, your photos of me are a lot better than the photos she was looking at before, but I have to admit, sometimes I get worried, what if someone sees them or finds out about what we did. If the word gets out, and someone comes after me…”
I gave a not entirely artificial shudder and turned away. Then I swapped to a half-smile “Anyway, I’m just being silly. You’ve been really careful about what you say and I know you’d never want to hurt me. You’re the good-”
I turned around to find Snap throwing up into a trash-bin.
Yep, I’ve still got it.
Meeting the God Empress of Equestria turned out to be a lot more boring than you’d think.
I’d at least expected some sort of decent security when we came into the assembly hall black board rented out, but no! There were a couple of unicorn guards flanking her and that was it.
Note, as a manipulative, little wretch myself, I did appreciate what she was doing. What better way to show a recently rebellious population your strength than by demonstrating that you don’t really need all those terrifying guards to protect you? But for all that I was still more than a bit miffed. I’d stashed my knives outside for nothing…
Seasons herself… was surprisingly unremarkable in appearance.
Okay, so she was twice the size of the biggest stallion I’d ever seen. And the fact that she had a horn and wings was more than a little disconcerting, but otherwise she was just a drab grey mare wearing a metal plate on her chest with a picture of a sun and moon on her flank. Oh, and she wore a crown with jewels in it that could have bought four orphanages like the one I was in (and probably supply them for years), but from where I was standing, it just looked like a flashy bow on a puddle of grey.
Even her expression was dull. She was just flashing around that generic politician’s smile of obviously fake benevolence. To be fair, the expressions of concealed disgust at the student body that her horde of ministers wore were far more telling, if entirely expected.
For no real reason other than a perverse desire to make our legs cramp up, the Queen had decided to wander through the entire student body with her ministers in tow and have a round of hoof shakes with everyone.
Snap was standing next to me and shaking like a leaf. I rolled my eyes. “Snap, chill out. They do frigging psychology experiments on stuff like this, they’re not paying attention. They’re just going to shake your hoof and pass by.”
“I’m really sorry Breeze.”
I put a hoof on his shoulder “Is that what this is about? Look…” I fumbled for something comforting; I was having a bad couple of days as far as snappy responses were concerned. “I’m leaving tomorrow, okay? That means that pretty soon, I’m going to be in a work crew far, far away from anyone who knows about any of this. Then I’ll just be in the same boat as every pony else. No aggravating circumstances… so long as you don’t broadcast it to the world.”
“But if you go away, how am I ever going to make it up to you?”
I started to say that far, far away might be a bit of an exaggeration and I was likely to get assigned a job doing construction or maintenance in the lower quarter, so it wouldn’t be too hard to visit some time if he gave me a voucher, but I stopped myself before the words left my lips.
It’s not safe around you, remember? What applied to Neri certainly applied to him too.
“Snapshot,” I said finally, “You can make it up to me by staying who you are.”
He blinked at me, confused. “How could I even stop doing that?”
I sighed. “It’s easier than you think.”
He accepted that and turned back to the crowd. The ministers were only ten ponies away. He winced. “What am I supposed to say?”
I smirked “Dude, you’re supposed to say anything you frigging want. They’re in a loud crowd doing their 400th formal handshake. They’re not listening, period.”
The first official was approaching, some impossibly stuck-up looking unicorn geezer with a wineglass cutie mark.
I held out my hoof “Observe.”
The minister grudgingly touched his hoof to mine and I smiled up at him sweetly.
“You’re so fat I’m surprised you fit through the door.” I said.
“Yes, yes, very good.” He replied. Then he shook Snap’s hand and went on down the line.
Snap was speechless.
I smiled. “C’mon Snap, work that noodle of yours. Let’s see if you can do wittier.”
Thus began one of most enjoyable pranks I’d ever perpetrated. Snap picked up on the game pretty quickly once I convinced him that an insult that was A: made for laughs, B: known by the insulters to be false and C: completely unperceived by the insultees, couldn’t possibly be called bad because it didn’t hurt the insultees, even in the insulter’s estimation. Plus it provided joy to the insulter. It was a net positive all around.
I… may have had to translate a couple of the words I used in that explanation. Snap wasn’t dumb, but he hadn’t taken professor Girth Grip’s English class yet.
I actually started to run out of good lines after a while. The floor was a lot thicker with politicians than I’d thought. I found myself somewhat hoisted by my own petard as the various noble’s faces and responses began to blur past and I found myself barely listening to what they said.
“Your hair looks like a bur’s nest.” Shake.
“You could rent out your wrinkles as storage space.” Shake.
“Everyone knows it’s a toupee.” Shake.
“You murdered my parents.”
“Really, when?” came a voice.
I looked up, and up, and up. Standing there, holding my hoof was Queen Seasons.
My eyes went wide, “Uh… I uh…”
“It’s okay dear. Take your time.”
She stood there waiting for me to compose myself. Her expression hadn’t changed at all from that soft little political smile she’d given to every other pony. But now, up close I noticed that… that it really was the same smile. No, seriously, she had not moved a single facial muscle the entire time she walked down the rows and rows of students. There was no twitch of discomfort at my unease, no sympathetic frown.
On the other hoof there was no cruelty, no delight at my squirming… I almost wish there was.
I had spent half my life studying people’s faces so I could figure out what they were thinking; it’s something you need to survive. Every living being I’d encountered always made some movement, some twitch, some transient show of emotion, even if it was just boredom.
Not her. Not now. I had the distinct impression that I wasn’t looking at a pony, I was looking at a corpse. It wasn’t natural… It wasn’t right… And yet she there she was, smiling and waiting for me.
“I-I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just playing with the crowd, t-that’s all.”
She didn’t move. Her expression was completely unchanged. Her eyes had not shifted a millimeter, but somehow, by some dread power I could feel them cutting through my skin and watching my lies pour out on the ground like a disemboweled intestine.
“O-okay, fine, you did kill my parents, but that was like… six years ago! Half my life away… plus you didn’t really do it, the pegasi did… And, and… you’d hear like, the exact same story for half the people in this shit-hole so… it doesn’t-”
Images poured into my mind. A little house at the edge of a mining town, an army of pegasi blotting out the sun, ponies being herded into the center of town… The thunder, the lightning, the howling wind… the hurricane raged as I ran away and the tornadoes tore the little house apart. I bolted through the streets until the water was so thick I was swimming. I cried out again and again until my throat was raw, but I kept crying because if I didn’t cry then how was mom going to…
Somewhere, deep inside me, a little flame lit. “Actually it does bucking matter.” I ground my hoof against the floor. “Remember signing that order to destroy Forgeton? Well when you did it you killed every pony I loved. You made me miserable and alone, and you tried to make me dead.”
I met those cold empty eyes. “You failed.”
She raised an eyebrow a fraction of a millimeter. “Interesting.” She said. Then she turned and left.
Snap giggled. “That one about the feathers was pretty good. I liked how punchy it was.”
I blinked. “What? What’s going on? What happened to Seasons?” I scanned the crowd desperately and finally caught sight of her. She was at least fifty ponies in front of us.
Snap tilted his head “Oh! Did you not get a good look at her when she passed by? Yeah, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. She wasn’t that impressive.”
After that I just shook hooves like a good little filly until it was time to put on my silly hat and sit down. Most of the other elementary and middle school students had wandered off, but some had stayed behind to watch their friends graduate. I couldn’t tell if Snap was still there. I wasn’t sure if I wanted him to be. If he was better off far away he might as well start now.
Principle Black Board took the stage and made her way to the podium, The Queen and ministers lounged on pillows behind her. She cleared her throat, and began.
“Fillies and gentle colts, esteemed graduates and supporters, I cannot say how proud it makes me to be standing here today, with the first ever graduating class of the Everfree city Orphanage for Disadvantaged Children!”
There was a fairly substantial round of applause. The principle held up a hoof, and it subsided. When she began again, her tone was somewhat more serious
“I cannot say that today is entirely happy for me. I’ve formed close relationships with each and every one of you, and I will be deeply saddened to see you go.” For a moment her expression darkened even further. “When I started this, I had no idea that you would prove to be such incredible people… I’m happy that I’ve done something to give you a chance to learn, but you wouldn’t be standing here today if you didn’t work for it. I am truly humbled by what you’ve done, especially considering what you’ve been through...” She shook her head and smiled, “I’m sorry, if there’s one thing you’ve heard far, far too much of over these last years it’s me talking.”
An uncertain chuckle ran through the crowd.
“So let me turn the stage over to someone who has not been heard nearly enough. Your classmate and friend, I present to you, Neri Urafiki!” She held out her hoof and the crowd applauded as a certain zebra walked up to the podium.
She had a large bandage on her cheek.
I bit my lip. It was the right thing to do…
The principle sat down and Neri pulled out a small stack of cards. She eyed them briefly, looked out one of the auditorium windows at the sun, and shoved the pile to the side.
“Today is the day we graduate. I could talk for hours upon hours about the generosity of our donors or the hard work of the people who run the school, or the incredible academic work that we’ve all put in… but now that I think about it, that completely misses the point.”
She spread her fore hooves out. “Look around you. Look at what’s here! Those aren’t just the people from class you’re sitting next to; those are the people you’ve lived with. Those are the people who care about you. I’m not going to lie and say that we don’t have our share of stupid fighting, our share of hardship and meaningless cruelty, but I guarantee that somewhere in this room there are people who have seen you fall and helped you back up, people who have kept you going.”
She folded her hooves and looked down. “I don’t really remember my mom’s face anymore; I can barely even remember the couplets she told me before I went to bed each night.” She raised her head. “But… but that’s okay. Because even though we’ve all suffered from the loss of our families, it’s taught us something important. It’s taught us just how valuable the people who care about us are. It’s taught us the power of friendship.”
She looked away. “So I beg you, if you forget everything else about this place, do not forget your friends. Never stop being there for them. Never stop helping, even when it’s hard! Because if you keep trying to make things better, there’s hope that tomorrow, Equestria will be a better place.” She let out a breath, and gave the crowd a nod. “Thank you.” And then she walked off stage.
There was a smattering of applause at this short speech and Queen Seasons took the stage.
I didn’t notice, because while everyone else was paying attention to the god on the stage, I was watching Neri. And Neri didn’t go back to her seat.
She walked down the aisle and went past all the rows of graduates, and then she turned towards the door.
I put it together.
“Derrick, we need to find a way to help him and his mom…”
I got to my feet in an instant and blessed my aisle seat. Neri’s trick worked just as well for me.
Seasons’ speech began as I made my way down the Aisle, her voice sounded completely different from before, it sounded truly friendly and welcoming.
“I must say,” she began “it is a pleasure to see ponies, no people, of such understanding and obedience...”
I ducked under the eyes of three teachers and made my way to the door.
“Unlike some unfortunate souls I could name, you have chosen to reject fruitless violence….”
I reached into a decorative pot by the entrance and snatched up my knives.
“You have learned that your position in the world need not be cause for misery…”
I pulled my hat off the rack. It was still the upper quarter outside, and I couldn’t afford to be stopped for papers.
“But most importantly,” she continued, “you have realized the true wisdom of the world, my wisdom. You have uncovered the most crucial lessen of all for people like you, to open your ears to your betters and liste-”
I headed out the door.
I didn’t hear the rest.
There are a few things you learn pretty quickly when you’re not welcome on the streets of Everfree. Lesson one is to save the running for alleyways and emergencies. Sure, it might get you away from that asshole chasing you, but it’s also guaranteed to get every guard on the street to come after you. That means…
Oh to Tartarus with the explanations. The point is Neri wasn’t moving very fast and it was easy to keep up with her. Not that I had to follow very far. Two blocks away from the assembly hall, she just turned down an alley and vanished.
I walked in after her, very pointedly threw my little sock to the ground and called out.
“Derrick, we need to talk.”
The griffon in question crept out from behind a dumpster. He looked even more worn down than yesterday. His eyes were bloodshot, his left talon wouldn’t stop shaking, and somehow he’d torn three chunks of feathers from his neck.
He hadn’t taken more chems. I didn’t know whether I should be terrified or proud, but unfortunately there were bigger things to worry about.
I let out a breath, “Hey.”
He gave me a cold glare. “You hurt Neri.”
“That I did, but let me ask you something. Who do you want to be?”
He yanked me up by my mane and rammed me against the wall. “I’m not going to stand here and listen to your head games you snake!” He gripped harder and a thousand little pinpricks of agony ran through my skull as my follicles stretched to their limit...
I grit my teeth, a tear rolled down my cheek… but it was just pain, and I had a lot of experience with it. “Yeah, but here’s the… urg… thing,” I began “if you let Neri go to where ever the frick you’ve set up that rendezvous… you’re going to cross a line, and the odds of you ever getting to call yourself a good person, ever again, go straight down the… urk… toilet…” I
He saw me jerking in pain and for a moment a concerned look flashed on his face. He let go, dropping me to the asphalt. I wiped my eyes a let out a breath… “Let this happen and you’re exactly what you’ve worked so hard to not become.”
“Oh please!” He spat “You’re one to bucking talk; I’m not letting you through.”
I picked myself up locked eyes with him. “Yes, actually, I am one to talk. I know what you think you’re doing because I’ve bucking done it. You think you’re helping one person by hurting another. I’m not going to lie, sometimes it works, sometimes it works fabulously, but at the end of the day it always comes out of you.”
“Breeze, for buck’s sake, all she’s doing is what you do every other Thus-”
“Okay, stop, stop right there,” I cut him off, “because if you think all that asshole isn’t going to do something awful to her, then you’re just delusional, end of story. We are not talking about some shy, miserable, ex-English teacher who’s afraid of what turns her on. Think about it, this is somepony who is buying sex from a, sorry man, but drug addled adolescent. And he’s offering a frankly absurd amount of money for something he could get dirt cheap in the lower quarter. If this doesn’t smell to you then you have no nose, beak, whatever.”
“That’s… that’s not true…”
I cut him off, “Yes Derrick, yes it is. You need to face facts. You hate me for hurting Neri? That’s good, you should. You think you’re better than me? You are. But only if you march right down that alley and pull that filly back.”
The hate ran out. His feathers flattened, and suddenly Derrick just looked tired. “Breeze, I… I don’t want to be alone.”
I let out a breath, walked up, and put a hoof on his shoulder. “Derrick, think about it. Neri just gave up her chance to meet God to help you. Save her, and you’ll always have someone who cares about you.”
Derrick blinked. Then he lifted up his left talon and looked at the fat pouch inside. I hadn’t even noticed he was carrying it. He stared at the pile of gold for what felt like eons before pressing his beak together and turning down the alley. He was still shaking, but I caught a look of steely determination in his eyes.
A regulation black unicorn in guard armor came from around the far corner. Neri was next to him, held in some kind of aura.
Derrick threw the money to the ground. “The deal is off K-”
From out of thin air, a massive, glowing white blade shoved itself clean through his chest and the 16 year old wheezed blood griffon and fell to the ground.
The unicorn smiled.
One of the little bitches screamed “HELP!” a smarter one screamed “FIRE”.
It didn’t matter, the barrier was already up.
The chicken pulled a cloud from his jacket. I smashed his ugly wrist and it rolled away. I made sure to tell it that it would have been pointless anyway. Stupid pegasi had been trying that trick for years and by now we’d gotten the armor so tight, I was a walking Faraday cage.
Its blood flowed onto the pavement and it started to die, but I fixed that, with healing magic like mine it and its other little filly friends were going to last a long, long time. When I told him that, he choked out that he wasn’t a girl. So I made myself another blade and fixed that too.
One of the little bitches tried to pull some fast talk, but I set her straight. It’s amazing how fast bitches shut up when you smack them. Here’s a pro-tip. Use a brick wall instead of your hoof. It really gets the message through. If they lose some teeth, you can always fix it with a spell. Or not.
But my favorite part, my favorite part by far was when that striped bitch gave her speech. she told me that my power didn’t give me the right to hurt people. She told me to remember my oath as a defender of the people. She told me to put myself in the other ponies’ places so I could dig deep and find the common decency to let them go.
I pushed her down, snapped her jaw shut with magic and started in with my knives. This was going to be a very good day.
When I opened my eyes, there was a cloud by my head.
The psycho was in a corner with Neri, lost in his own little world. I couldn’t see much, but there was a red puddle spilling onto his hooves. Derrick wasn’t much better. He’d lost so much blood he could barely move. To my extreme surprise, he managed to crack an eyelid.
And there it was, mocking me. I was sitting next to a lightning slinging pegasus super weapon and I couldn’t even touch it. I couldn’t save my friends because the fucking wind had more magic in it than…
I had an idea.
I puckered my lips and blew. Fast talking gives you pretty good lung capacity so the cloud flew right across the alley and bumped into Derrick’s claw. His eyes widened. He looked at the guard and cold rage filled his eyes.
“Derrick, it won’t work! He’s wearing armor!” I whispered. My head was spinning. I blinked away some tears and grit my teeth. “Here’s what we need to do…”
I told him the plan. He gripped the cloud and managed a weak nod.
I nodded back. Then I rolled over, and started laughing my flank off.
As expected, the guard didn’t get up. His horn flared slightly and I was smashed into the wall again. It raised red welts all over my side, but I was expecting it so it didn’t knock me senseless. I kept laughing. He threw me again. I started bleeding, but kept the chuckles coming.
He got up. I caught a glimpse of Neri covered in little cuts before he yanked me up with magic and glared at me. “The buck is so funny bitch?”
I mumbled something.
He leaned in closer. “What?”
“You missed my knife.”
I swung out my left hoof in a deadly flourish.
He was a trained soldier. He followed the attack and caught it instantly… but while his eyes were on that, I swept my right hoof forward and used the wine hook in my horseshoe to tear out his bucking eyeball.
A lot of things happened at once.
The guard cried out and dropped me to the ground, clutching at his eye socket with a fore hoof.
Derrick threw his out his talon and dug into the cloud with all his might. A bolt of lightning hit the force field and it shattered under the stress.
I rolled myself over to the left hand wall and picked up my Ankle sock.
Derrick, apparently on a massive adrenaline high, grabbed up Neri and dragged her out into the street. They screamed for help and the unicorn got back on his feet. A flash of magic rolled over on his eye socket and he a new eye sprouted in the empty socket with a squelch.
But before he could chase after the escaping pair I chucked a knife at his head.
It bounced harmlessly off his helmet, but it got his attention.
He turned around and I flung another knife at his face. He caught it telekinetically. I cocked my hoof to throw a third, but he picked me up with his magic and rammed me into the dumpster. There was a sickening crack as my left hind leg bent in an unnatural direction. I cried out in agony and hit the pavement, hard.
He walked up to me, slowly, his horn flared and his teeth bared in a smile. “Bitch, you’ve got spirit.” He said.
He threw my knife down and I screamed as it tore into the meat of my calf.
He smiled. “I’m going to enjoy beating that out of you.”
I gave him a bloody smile right back, “I gesh swwhen you’re as shmall ash you, you have to sthink of shomething elsh to do with a mare…”
He reached out with his magic and tore a tooth from my mouth. I screamed again. My throat was getting raw.
He lifted me up, held me a good distance away from his face and showed me his teeth.
Then I heard the voices.
“Good gracious Neri is that you!” called Blackboard
“Have you seen Breeze?!” called Snap.
“Down the alley!” Derrick shouted. “Shit, I think he still has her.”
“It’s alright,” Blackboard shouted, “We’re going to help her. Guards!”
The metallic sound of hoof-beats on concrete started getting closer.
The guardsman glared at me “Not going to happen, mud pony. Not. Going. To. Happen.”
His horn flared, and we vanished.
When I could see again we were in a completely different alleyway.
He threw me to the ground like a rag doll. I decided that the most intelligent rebuttal I could make was spewing bloody vomit on the ground. Then I decided I’d just lie there for a bit… yeah, that was a good plan…
I stared blearily out into the street. A pair of guards passed by; they peered in the alley and moved on quickly.
“That’s right.” The unicorn said. “No one can see you. No one can hear you.” He jammed his hoof down on my ribs and something else cracked. I coughed in lieu of a scream. It actually didn’t hurt that much anymore... Boy it was cold in this part of the city…
He tore the sock off my ankle. He chuckled. “Throwing knives? Seriously, throwing knives? I can’t even imagine how hard these are to use without magic…” He tossed one idly into my hoof and it dug all the way into the concrete. I didn’t bother to cry out. The pain felt far away.
He laughed, he laughed long and ugly. “So much effort to do absolutely nothing…” He knelt down and smiled at me. “You know you’re just like those stupid farmers that that Empire idiot put together. You just don’t get it. You’re cripples, we’re gods, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“Do… do you know… how many times… I’ve heard this speech?” I managed
He shook his head like a disappointed teacher. “And you still haven’t learned… I guess filthy mud ponies never do.” He narrowed his eyes. “It was very stupid of you to try and fight. Now you’ve made this personal. So I’m going to find those-”
And then something really weird happened. Something wet fell on me.
The guard blinked. There was a trickle of blood coming leisurely out of his left nostril.
He snorted. “Oh real cute, you hit my nose when you pulled that cheap shot, ha ha.” He flared his horn and the pattern of light I’d come to recognize as his healing spell washed over him.
His right nostril started bleeding.
He rolled his eyes “Guess it was a solid hit then, Heal.” He cast the spell again.
Then the blood started coming out of his mouth.
His eyes went wide. He staggered back, coughing heavily. The hemorrhaging continued. He started bleeding from his eyes… and his ears… and from under his tail.
Finally he fell panting to the ground and stared up in horror.
And, there was God. Standing over him with the exact same smile she’d given me. She looked down at the nearly exsanguinated guard and tilted her head. “Goodbye.” She said.
He choked one last time and then fell very silent and still.
Then she turned to me.
“Sleep.” She said.
She didn’t have to tell me twice.
“Breeze? Breeze are you okay?”
I blinked my eyes open. There was drool on the table cloth.
I lifted my head up and looked around. The light from the tasteful candles on the table hurt my eyes… old gods my head was killing me.
Neri breathed a sigh of relief from across the table. “Thank goodness you’re okay. I knew alcohol was a bad idea.” She pushed her glass away. “We are way too young for this stuff.” She put her hooves together and looked away. “I would have woken you up sooner, but it looked like you really needed the sleep…” She blushed. “Plus it let me set up a little surprise.”
I blinked her words were sort of blurring together “Huh?”
“Happy birthday to you…” A pair of pegasus waiters approached the table. One of them had a slice of chocolate cake balanced on a plate on their head. They smiled as they sang. “Happy birthday dear Warm Breeze… happy birthday… to… you!” They put the cake down in front of me. It was the most delicious thing I’d ever smelled.
“And many mooore!!!” They finished. There was a silly half round of applause from the surrounding tables. Neri looked away with a mischievous little smirk on her face.
I took in a breath, and let it out, inadvertently blowing out the candles. “Okay… so… this isn’t real.”
Neri tilted her head. “What?”
I narrowed my eyes. “Neri, what does Derrick’s mother look like?”
She blinked. “Umm… brown feathers going grey around her head, a little bit of iridescent fluff in her neck feathers, dark grey body fur?”
I rolled my eyes. “Okay, whoever the buck you are, you can drop the bucking illusion. I’ve seen Derrick’s mother, Neri hasn’t.” I took a sip of probably imaginary wine. “Next time you do a mind scan check your damn facts.”
The not-Neri smiled. “Not bad.”
Everyone else in the restaurant vanished. I blinked and the fake Neri was replaced by her Majesty Queen Seasons.
“Cute trick,” I said dryly.
“You know that was quite an impressive feat. Very few ponies will reject a happy reality, even if it is completely nonsensic--.”
“Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah…” I folded my hooves on the table. “You can skip the pre-amble and go straight to the execution. I want get a good seat in Tartarus to watch Empire kick your geezer ass.”
She raised an eyebrow. I know, shocking right? She was being a lot more expressive than when I’d met her in the auditorium, that’s for sure.
“You think you’re going to die here?” she asked.
I drank some more wine. Apparently it was real. “Bitch please; I assumed I was dead the moment I turned into that alley. The only difference now is I might get a last meal.”
The Goddess tilted her head thoughtfully. “Speaking of which, are you going to eat your cake?”
I looked down. Holy crap, it was real, a perfect slice of chocolate cake with “Happy Birthday Breeze!” written out in shimmering blue icing.
There were thirteen burnt out candles in it.
I felt sick to my stomach. “Well played.”
She looked genuinely sympathetic. “I’m not sure if that’s your real age, but you’re much closer to this age than that ridiculous fabrication you told your principle.” She folded her hooves. “But back to business. You showed great talent in that alleyway, I was watching intently and I was quite surprised you managed to save both-”
I leapt up on the table and shoved a knife clean through her temple.
The blade vanished. There was no wound. She didn’t even change her expression. “I’m afraid it takes a bit more than-”
I grabbed her head between my hooves and snarled. “You were watching? You were watching that and you just sat on your fat flanks and did nothing!?” I rammed my hoof into her face. It felt like kicking a brick wall… and it was far less effective.
She looked down, as though she’d just remembered that she was supposed to look sad. “I did not enjoy standing on the sidelines, but you must understand how important it is for me to meddle in affairs as little as-”
I pulled out two more knives and jammed them into her eye sockets.
She sighed and the knives vanished. “Again, you won’t-”
I spun around, lifted my tail, and peed on her face.
She blinked; for once it didn’t look rehearsed. “I… I genuinely didn’t expect that-”
I kicked her in the face again.
She narrowed her eyes. “Okay, this is just getting silly. Why in Equestria are you still hitting me? It isn’t doing anything-”
I smashed a wineglass over her horn and started sawing at it with the shards. “You’re a bucking illusionist you idiot! You could make it so it looked like my kicks were healing you if it floated your bucking boat!” I kept sawing.
Queen Seasons, who was apparently completely unhindered (for whatever appearances were worth); put a hoof to her chin thoughtfully, “Fair enough… but if that were the case, wouldn’t I have just layered the image of myself over a bag of flour or a pile of rocks or something right after the first hit?”
I stopped sawing “Oh.” I wrapped my hoof around her horn and held on tight, then started sawing again. “I’m going to be optimistic and assume you were too stupid to think of that before I grabbed your horn.”
She groaned. Suddenly I was on the other side of the table again. I climbed back up and swung at her, but I hit a force field. I briefly considered beating at it on the off chance it was an illusion over her face… but that stretched even my optimism.
I let out a breath, “Fine, be that way.” Then I turned tail and went for the door.
“You know Derrick’s mother doesn’t have to die.” She said.
I stopped, “Didn’t think you were giving out immortality.”
“I meant pre-maturely from a curable disease. I didn’t come here to torment you Breeze, I came here to hire you.”
I snorted and started heading for the door again. “You’re Queen Seasons. You don’t hire earth ponies, you enslave them.”
“True enough,” She returned “Most of the time, but I think your reaction to your birthday party illustrates that manipulations, mind tricks and illusions are a risky business. They work in the majority of cases, but if someone sees through them, then there’s little you can do to convince the person who saw past the curtain that what you’re saying is real. Certainly one could spend eternity building up contingencies for this inconsistency, or that, but why would anyone want to spend all that time and effort making a perfect replica when they can just use the real thing?”
I shrugged, “I dunno, maybe because they’re so used to lying that they can’t figure out how to tell it like it is? I mean, that’s why I do it.”
She smirked. It was hideous. “Thankfully I’m old enough to have come full circle from that one. I need a willing earth pony Warm Breeze, and I’m not going to waste my time manufacturing one when there’s one right in front of me.”
I suddenly noticed that I’d turned around to look at her. I turned back immediately and bolted for the door. It was locked. I turned my sore hooves on it and started kicking.
The smirk faded. She got up and walked over to me. “Warm Breeze, ask yourself this. Will you be able to help your friend more than with me as your backer? If I let you go, and if you’re truly unwilling I’ll be forced to, for reasons I’ve already explained; will you ever be able to forgive yourself? If that poor boy’s mother dies and you are responsible because of your inaction will you be able to sleep at night? Is that the pony you want to be?”
I saw a flicker in the illusion. It was nothing big, just the tiniest tremor in her right hind hoof.
She didn’t seem to notice it. It was probably intentional, something to sucker me in… in fact who am I kidding, it certainly was.
I rolled my eyes. “Nice trick with giving me the false hope of pulling a double cross there, real cute.”
She sighed again. “It was worth a shot.”
I stopped kicking the door. My hooves hurt too much to keep trying.
Damn she was good. I was actively thinking about it… But it was stupid. It probably wouldn’t work, it would be completely evil, and it was almost definitely going to get me killed…
And then I remembered. The final piece fell into place.
Queen Seasons tilted her head. “Is this the part where I ask you what’s so funny and you reveal your trump card?”
“No,” I said. “This is the part where I tell you the price tag.”
I sat down at the nearest table. Seasons sat opposite me and eyed me curiously.
“You are going to save Derrick’s Mom, but you’re also going to pay for Derrick’s rehab… and you’re going to get him a better job. I’m thinking five figures a year minimum or a full scholarship to where ever the buck he feels like going with an even more lucrative job waiting for him at the end if he wants it.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Okay…”
I shook my head. “I’m not done. You’re also giving a scholarship to Neri.”
“She already has one.”
“I meant a better one, the kind where she isn’t doing work study and can afford to eat at a place like this every night if she damn well pleases. I’d also like a job lined up for her at the end, but that shouldn’t be too hard. She’ll have earned it.”
She frowned. “Very well.”
“You’re also finding adoptive parents and medical treatment for Snap. He can still cast the spell with the photo on his flank, and I’m pretty sure the physicians you’ve got could get him casting more.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Are you done?”
“No, no I am not, because you’re also going to double the cash you give to that orphanage of mine and get Blackboard into a prog-”
“Oh for pity’s sake!” The queen spat. “Your classmates are one thing, but what would possess you to ask me to help that perverse, wretched creature who exploited you for favors?”
“Because A, She’s better than you.” I spat back. “And B, because you don’t get to make the terms here. If my guess is right about your motivations for funding the orphanage, then you’ve already worked long and hard to produce the kind of pony you needed. And the fact that you’re talking to a scumbag like me at all implies that I’m probably your best option. I’m clearly a valuable commodity here and if you want me, then the price is saving all of my…”
“…my friends.” I finished. “You are saving all of my friends.”
Final note: For those of you wondering where the text adventure the update listing talked about is, you can find it here if you are willing to trust a .exe file. I’m sorry about the format and apologize if I shouldn’t be putting this here, it was not officially accepted due to its format, I am working on making a web-run version: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4jezjYGzgFDM1FBS21Pb09BVXc/edit?pli=1
Also, comments give my life meaning! :)