I plant my walking stick into the ground in front of me, using it as a prop to get to my feet. It’s quite a strain on my wound, and for the first time I’m worried that the stitches might pop.
Actually, now I’m worried that I can’t manage it. The angle is wrong, and I simply don’t have the strength.
I slump back onto the cushion, before I suddenly feel my torso start to tingle.
Maneworthy’s magic envelopes my chest, once again infusing me with the same sense of claustrophobia as he lifts me to my feet.
He removes the aura immediately, and I take a deep breath, my anxiety dissipating as quickly as it appeared. That was close. Another couple of seconds, and the doctor would have been dealing with an emotional shit-storm the likes of which Equestria has never seen.
“Uh… thanks.” I mumble, my face turning red. It's embarrassing, and undignified that I needed to be helped up... that I couldn't manage it myself.
Maneworthy doesn’t acknowledge the awkward thanks, which I in turn am grateful for. At least he can appreciate that I have a sense of dignity, and that his helping me didn’t exactly help.
“We should hurry.” He speaks softly, and I feel a twinge of irritation. We’re back to the tip-toeing. Maneworthy’s going to spend at least the rest of the day treating me like I’m made of glass.
“Yes.” I reply, with more bite in my voice than I would like. “How late are we?”
Maneworthy glances at a large ornate clock hanging above the main staircase – which I myself had somehow not noticed. “About half an hour.”
My chest tightens. “Half an hour? I’ve been keeping the princesses waiting for half…” I trail off, reigning myself in before I cave into the panic once more.
“We… We need to hurry. Seriously.” I bite my lip, and tighten my grip on my walking stick.
“Of course.” Maneowrthy nods encouragingly, clearly pleased that I was able to ward off another panic attack. “Let’s go.”
He takes the lead, slowly walking up the main staircase of the ornate entry hall, while I trail behind, hobbling up the steps.
Most of the ponies have stopped staring by now, and continued on with their daily tasks. The only ones still watching are the armor-clad guards, but that’s just their jobs. I still feel uncomfortable, but not nearly so much as when I'd been throwing my little tantrum.
“The castle really is beautiful.” I remark casually, trying to break the tension. “I never thought it would be this… splendid.”
“They’ve had over a millennium to get it just right.” Maneworthy’s curt reply is disheartening, but I press on.
“Well they did a very good job.” I mumble meekly. My ‘pressing on’ was nothing more than a weak remark that killed the conversation even better than Maneworthy’s reply.
One step forward and two steps back, I guess.
I look down at my walking stick as we approach the large ornate door. We’re up in one of the larger towers of the palace.
I have to say, the view from the windows is truly spectacular. Everything about Canterlot is so... scenic. From the architecture to the shape of the land itself.
Maneworthy turns to look at me, his eyes full of concern.
“Are you feeling up to this? We can postpone it a few days if you need it.”
I shake my head, offering a meek grin. “After all I went through to get here? Forget it.” I look over my shoulder at the spiral staircase back down to the rest of the castle. “Besides, we’re here now, and I need a rest before using those again.”
Maneworthy nods, and looks at the large door, which is flanked by two guards on both sides.
“We’re here for a meeting with the princesses.”
“You’re expected.” The guard closest to the door handle speaks in a deep baritone, his horn lighting up. “Go on in.”
On that cue, the door knob is enveloped in a grey-blue aura, and the door itself slowly swings open, making barely a squeak on it’s well maintained hinges.
I stare down at my feet as Maneworthy – as always – takes the lead, walking confidently into the throne room.
“Your majesties.” He announces respectfully. “I apologize to no end for our lateness. There were a few complications.”
I keep my eyes down on the floor as I enter the meeting room. I don’t feel worthy of being here - Scratch that, I'm just plain not worthy of being here.
“That is quite understandable…”
I shudder visibly at the voice. It’s her. Celestia, the ruler of the day, and master of the sun. She’s speaking – excusing me, no less, for being late to a meeting she is attending.
I keep my eyes rooted on the floor, taking shallow rapid breaths. I try to keep them quiet and unnoticeable, but I have no clue if it is or not, as the thumping in my ears is drowning out such tiny noises.
She's standing quite close - within two meters, I think. It's nauseating - and worrying. She's providing for me, and I can't even look at her.
“...After all, asking one in your situation to be punctual is quite a ridiculous notion, wouldn’t you agree?”
The room falls into silence, and my downcast face turns into one of shock as I realise that Celestia is addressing me directly.
“Uh, yes! Y-your majesty!” I still don’t look up, and instead bow awkwardly – nearly falling over as I overbalance.
Celestia chuckles light-heartedly as I right myself, and my face turns red. I’m making a fool of myself in front of the princess herself.
“I - I’m sorry. I apologize to the floor, squeezing my eyes shut. This is not how I had imagined first meeting Celestia – and I mean properly meeting her. I don’t count the glimpse I got of her before I passed out at the Grand Galloping Gala.
“Why do you not look upon us?” Asks Luna softly, and I realise that she’s standing even closer than Celestia. “Are you… afraid? Why would you fear us?”
I let out a little squeak, but cannot bring myself to say anything.
“My apologies, Princess Luna.” Maneworthy speaks for me. “My patient had a slight breakdown in the entry hall. He’s not in the best condition at the moment.”
“I see.” Luna’s voice recedes slightly as she gives me a little room. I sincerely doubt it's because I worry her. It's most likely just her giving me a little space to myself.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Celestia seems to do the exact opposite, as her voice gets closer, and I feel my throat tighten as Celestia’s flowing mane enters my field of vision. “I’m sure there was a good reason.”
I’m not sure it it’s my emerging panic, or if there is truly some sort of extra force surrounding Celestia, but it feels like the air around me holds more pressure – as if there’s something more to it.
“It…” My words come out choked. “It w-was… over my… c-clothes, your highness. I-”
I stop as a white hoof clad in a golden shoe enters my wide-eyed gaze, approaching my face and coming into contact with one cheek.
“Do not concern yourself, my little human.” Celestia’s voice is filled with sympathy as she gently pushes my chin up, until I find myself looking into the pale-magenta eyes of the princess herself.
“You’ve been through more in the last month than any pony could claim to go through in their entire life.” She speaks softly and slowly, even more-so than Maneworthy. “Nopony will begrudge you a little emotional tension.”
I feel like I’m about to cry. It all feels like just too much. Her presence, and how much she’s done to help me in the last week, and I couldn’t even bring myself to look at her. I'm disgusting.
After a few seconds, Celestia allows her hoof to fall from my face, filling me with relief.
“I’m…” My voice is shaky. “I-I’m s-sorry.”
“Do not be, human.” Luna appears in the left side of my vision, also speaking softly. “Everything is understandable.”
Maneworthy appears at my side, looking at me with that concerned gaze of his.
“Maybe we should postpone, and get you back to the hospital.”
“N-no. Everything’s… e-everything…” I shake my head, and take a breath. “Everything’s fine. I’m alright. Seriously.” I look at Maneworthy, then Celestia, and then Luna.
“I’m so sorry.” I steady my cane against the floor, and plaster a feeble smile on my face. “I won’t let it happen again. I promise.”
“Nopony blames you.” Celestia turns back to a large circular table in the centre of the tower-top room, where an extremely concerned Twilight is seated. “I believe that we should make this quick, so that you may rest.”
“Thank, you, your majesty.” I mumble awkwardly accompanying the three ponies to the table.
I’m determined not to make myself look any weaker and more foolish than I have already. I had no clue that my ordeal had left such intense scarring.
I truly do want to get this meeting over with, so that I can go back to the hospital and collect my thoughts – and sleep. It’s not even midday yet, and yet I’m already exhausted.
Slowly, I sit down on the cushion next to Twilight as Maneworthy accompanies the princesses around the table, where they begin to talk in hushed voices. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out their topic of discussion.
I don't see Cadance. Twilight told me that she hadn't left her and Shining Armor's chambers since the day of the Gala - and that makes me feel just terrible. It isn't my fault, but I feel responsible for it.
I'm sure I wouldn't be able to live with myself if Cadance came out of this with any scars. She's such a wonderful pony - as far as I know - and to think that I could have been a part of something that hurt her is unbearable.
“Hey.” Twilight speaks quietly, not wanting to disrupt the more importanty conversation taking place on the other side of the table. “Are you okay?”
I almost scoff at the redundancy of the question. It’s readily visible that I am definitely not alright. The only thing stopping me spitting out a sarcastic reply is my understanding that Twilight is really just trying to see if I feel well enough to continue.”
“Okay?” My voice comes out in something resembling a cross between a standard and a stage whisper. “Definitely, definitely not.” I shake my head sadly. “But I can get through this.”
Twilight nods, her expression still sympathetic. “Just say something if you feel unwell.”
I reply with a sad smile. “I’m sorry. I’m… I’m such a burden. I didn’t think I’d come out of it this bad-off. All I want to do is go back to the hospital and sleep.”
“You are definitely not a burden, and you can do that.” Twilight looks down at the mess of paper in front of her. “Once this is over.”
I turn to look at the ornate table as Twilight engrosses herself in her notes, and the other three continue to talk. My freedom has caused a rather large shake-up for all of them, and I would feel a lot worse if it had been my own fault I’d been pulled through. Even now, I still felt bad for simply leeching off of them. No matter how necessary it is, I still hate taking advantage of others like this.
The Princesses and Maneworthy continue their conversation for a further two minutes, before ending abruptly and returning to the table. The sisters seem content to stand, and Maneworthy takes his standard place – that is to say, somewhere within two meters of me.
“Very well then, let’s begin.” Celestia looks at Twilight, and then at me. “I’m sure you’ve already been told of your living arrangements. A suite in the castle is ready for when you’re discharged.”
I nod. “Thank you, your highness.”
“It looks to me like discharge could take a while.” Maneworthy adds blithely, although the comment is mostly good-natured. Once my wound is properly healed, I can move into the palace, and deal with my mental issues from there.
Celestia rolls her eyes, smiling slightly, before continuing. “Well, the room is ready for whenever you need it, and I’m sure you’ll like it… Luna?”
Luna nods, taking over. “Now, young one. Do you know how your captor was able to control you?”
I grimace. “It was… because humans… have no magical spark, right?”
“Indeed.” Luna’s horn starts to glow, lifting a simple strip of curved metal from under the table. It took the general shape of the brace segment of a pair of behind-the-head headphones.
“This…” She continues to speak, levitating the shiny metal band over to me. “Has been infused with magic. You won’t be able to use magic, but it will shield your mind, and stop others from controlling you.”
“Th-thank you.” I stammer, catching the semi-circle in my hands as Luna’s magic disappears. I didn’t even consider that they would give me something like this – something that would make sure that my mind stayed mine.
“You wear it on your ears.” Twilight adds a tad unnecessarily. “And it should do the trick.”
Slowly, I slip the semi-circlet onto my head, tucking it under my slightly long hair. (I haven’t had a haircut in just over two months.) It feels slightly heavier than it should. I didn’t know magic could create a weighted presence.
I know what’s going to come next. They’re going to test it out, and see if it works.
What if they get through? What if this thing doesn’t work right? I’ll probably have a heart attack.
I squeeze my eyes shut, and wait for it to happen. I don’t know why, but I’m almost completely sure that I’m about to be put through all kinds of hell.
“Are you okay?”
I open my eyes, and look around. The four ponies are giving me concerned looks.
“I… Aren’t you going to test it?”
“What?” Twilight looks startled. “No!”
“You’re in no state for us to just throw spells at you.” Maneworthy replies with much more gentleness.
“Oh, right.” I grin sheepishly. This place isn’t exactly the way it’s portrayed in the show. Certain unicorns are psychotic, and Twilight Sparkle isn’t nearly as reckless with her science. "Sorry. I... I'm not thinking clearly."
"Evidently." Maneworthy puts a hoof to my forehead, checking my temperature. "We should probably get you back to the hospital as soon as possible."
"Indeed." Celestia agrees. "But first, I have a few questions."
I can almost feel the color drain from my face.
The questions. I knew they would come eventually - I just didn't think it would be this soon.
This is going to be a horrible conversation.