My name was Razorbeam, and I am retired.
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Twilight waited outside while Aurus made his way through the door first. The building he was walking into looked like one giant amalgamation of sweets, piled into the shape of a house. Cautiously he pried open a door that appeared to be made out of an enormous sugar-wafer, fearful that he might break it.
It was dark inside, and his gut sank as he began to fear that he had been led on. Here it was, the true hate for his people, about to be poured out onto him full force. Out of the darkness would come hundreds of ponies, all hungry for revenge after what his people had done to their capital. His eyes darted about, looking for any exit other than back past the smugly smiling escort, the false friend who had led him into this horrendous trap.
He was instantly blinded, his blue lenses snapping shut to try and block the flood of light milliseconds too late. He stumbled back, and was nearly lifted from his hooves by a wave of sound, a multitude of voices shouting one single word.
As he recovered, trying unsuccessfully to pull himself from his position lying on his back, helping hooves picked him up. When he could see again and his outer eye was out of the way at last, he was looking into the smiling faces of the five ponies he had met in the library earlier, along with Twilight, who was standing next to him.
"That scared the living hell out of me!" he griped, unable to calm the shaking in his knees or the chatter in his jaw. Literally right up until that moment, he had been certain he was about to get massacred.
"Heh heh, yep. I reckon most folks get that reaction their first time," AJ replied with a laugh, smiling at him.
"What in Equestria did you think was going to happen?" Twilight asked, looking at him like he was mad. Who in their right mind was afraid of a party?
"Surprise!" came a call from behind him again, causing him to jump and whirl around. His ears flopped down on his head to block out any shouts that might come afterwards, but there weren't any. Somehow he had lost track of the pink one for a split second, giving her all the time she needed to sneak up behind him and startle him again.
"That never gets old! I love it when people are surprised, but I've never seen anyone as surprised as you! Haven't you ever been to a party before?" Pinkie asked, looking at him like he was crazy.
"Never one where everyone screams at you," he admitted. Still, after all that with his heart racing and his nerves itching, he felt... alive. He realized that everyone had been calling out to him, not trying to startle him. The magic coursing through him told him as much, that it had all been meant in good fun, and in his honor.
And it was always exciting to realize that you weren't about to be stampeded.
"Well, welcome to your first party by Pinkie Pie," Rainbow congratulated, draping a leg casually around Aurus' neck, chuckling to herself. "If you can still hear after the welcome, the rest of the party's a blast."
Aurus smiled, finally understanding this for what it was meant to be. Crowded into the bottom floor of the food-building were umpteen other ponies, some that he recognized from the night before, and others he had yet to meet. Off in the corner a white unicorn with blue hair threw a black disc down onto some device in front of her and gave it a quick turn with her hoof, using her magic to drop a needle onto it. Music began to play, an interesting and fast-paced tune with heavy beats that vibrated the plates of Aurus' shell.
It was nothing like the music he was used to; nothing like any party he had ever experienced. There was no event, nothing glorious they were celebrating. No real occasion, other than the fact that he was in town, and wasn't a monster. Bright colors were everywhere, the entire ordeal was held indoors... How very strange. But he loved all of it.
To them, this was the norm. And it meant a lot to him that they wanted him to not only be a part of it, but to be the source of it.
He turned to Rainbow, who was still smirking at him and leaning on him. "I thought you didn't like me?" he said jokingly, glancing from her face to her leg, draped over his shoulders.
She chuckled. "Hey, if Twilight says to give you a chance, what can it hurt? We already messed up once when we didn't trust her instincts the last time. Besides, anypony who can take a hit like that from me and come back ready for more is cool by me."
He chuckled himself, glad to feel sincere respect flowing from the pegasus. "Well, we're a little tougher than we look," he admitted, smirking at her. She withdrew her leg and patted him on the shoulder to signal she was departing before wandering off to talk to the purple maned one. Aurus thought her name was 'Rarity' or something like that. Ponies had such strange names.
Pinkie took it upon herself to lead him around, helping him introduce himself to everyone in Twilight's stead. He met everyone at the party at least once under her guidance, impressing several ponies by remembering their names. A few of them invited him to share drinks, which thoroughly surprised him. He couldn't feel much coming from them, and so he deduced that they were simply being polite. Even so, that was a good start.
He spent his evening playing games, talking with the party-goers, or simply listening to the music, bobbing his head to the rhythm. He was flooded with energy on one occasion when, bobbing for an apple, he had come up with a fruit stuck to each of his fangs. Unable to see past them, he had nearly tumbled into the bucket when he lost his balance. Everyone had laughed, but the flow of energy insisted that they were laughing with him, not at him. Once he had dislodged the offending apples, he had joined them in their mirth.
It was a wonderful night. While perhaps not everyone liked him, he could feel no more fear or hate. Perhaps it was the party, or the drinks, or maybe even the late hour of the night. But for a moment, he was just another guest. For a time, he was one of them.
All good things came to a close, however; the hour grew late. At last the music was stopped, but instead of someone calling for the party to end, Twilight called for Aurus. He made his way to her, all eyes on him.
She said a short number, thanking everyone for coming and welcoming him so warmly, dealing out the expected closing pleasantries of any party. Instead of simply dismissing the party when she was done, she turned to Aurus.
"I think maybe our guest of honor has something he'd like to say to everypony," she said politely.
Aurus knew this was his chance; the chance to tell everyone why he was really here. Until now he had shown up unwelcome and for reasons unknown to them all. But now they had accepted him, in a way. He owed them an explanation.
"It was a pleasure to meet all of you tonight, and to come to such an amazing party. I've never been to one so magnificent in all my life. But I didn't come to your town to party with you. I came here to get to know you, to show my respect for you, and to someday earn yours in return. I'm here to show you that my people are ready to be a part of your world. To show you that we're not terrible, but that we're willing to befriend you... if you will have us. It's a long road ahead to build trust, but already I can see the possibilities between us."
Many ponies in the crowd were nodding, all listening intently to his heartfelt speech. He could feel a few of them sympathizing, a trickle of energy from the crowd.
"I'm honored to be here, and to have this chance to get to know you all, and to show you the true face of my people. I hope that in the days to come you all and I can share our lives, and get to know one another even more. I value nothing more than your trust," he finished quietly. He looked to Twilight, who nodded, clearly satisfied. Another gesture from her confirmed that it was time to end the party.
"Thank you for such a wonderful evening, my friends. Rest well, and I hope to see you tomorrow," he finished politely, bowing his head in gratitude.
The party filtered out, ponies heading home for the night. The hour was late, but Aurus didn't mind. Between the energy circling in his veins and the exhilaration of such a wonderful night, he was a far cry from tired. Only the six friends remained to see him off. From them all he could feel a slight trickle of constant energy.
He realized that this had been just as much for them as for him; for the six of them to see him in his most basic form, enjoying himself and being real. And from what he could feel flowing from them, he had not disappointed them. There was much work to be done to call them friends yet, he knew. Yet they liked him, if only a little, and that was a start.
A fantastic start.
Bidding them all farewell and thanking them again, the pink one especially, he finally made his way into the night, flying west to Everfree. A long night of expending magic awaited him before he would see any rest; magic well-earned.
"Well, I reckon the wind must'a done it somehow," AJ said, rubbing her chin with a hoof. Little pieces of wood were laying all over, the fence in front of her shattered to bits, with a tree where it shouldn't be; square in the middle of it. Her sheep pen was in shambles thanks to that little freak accident. Luckily none of them had been hurt.
The tree had been awfully old, to be fair. It was only a matter of time before it had to come down one way or another. Still, it was a large oak, and there was no way she was going to move it on her own. Big Mac, who was helping her survey the damage finally reacted to her comment about the wind with a simple 'Eeyup'.
"Think you could haul it out o' there, Big Mac?" she asked, though she knew the answer before he even replied.
"Nnnope," he shot back, giving the solidly planted tree a kick that didn't even shake its leaves.
AJ sighed, not wanting to have to resort to the inevitable. "A'right, well, I spose I'll go and fetch Twi then. If anypony's for moving this here tree, it's gotta be her," she said with a small smile. She was lucky to have such reliable friends. She had no doubt Twilight would happily help her out.
"What happened?" came a recently familiar voice from behind her. She turned to catch Aurus landing nearby, his green eyes taking in the damage.
"Oh, mornin' Aurus," Applejack replied with a sigh. "I reckon it got windy last night and toppled this ol' tree. Right on top of my sheep pen, too. I spose that's my luck for ya," she said with a small laugh.
"Well that's no good. Anything I can help with?" he asked sincerely, smiling as he waited for her answer.
"Well, I was about t' fetch Twilight t' move it for me, so's Mac and I can get t' fixin' it up again. It would be awful kind of ya t' fly off and get her; I reckon you're a might quicker than me, with those wings of yers," she pointed out, nodding at his back.
He folded the mentioned wings tight, making no sign that he meant to take off. "No need to bother her, I'll take care of that for you," he replied casually, like it was no big deal.
AJ looked at him like he was crazy. "You sure you've got the magic t' move that thing, partner? I know ya'll can do spells and the like, but Twi's got a bit more practice..." she said, trying to stay polite.
"Well, you're right about that. Still, I think I can take care of it without spells," he said, eyeballing the tree and trotting closer to it.
Applejack was stunned. "You think you can move that thing? Well shoot, anything's worth a try. Let's see what you got, partner," she said, unable to keep from sounding skeptical.
Aurus prodded around the tree, looking for a good point to drag it from. He found a low branch near the base, splintered from the fall, but still intact enough to use as a pushing point. He pressed his solid chest against the bark and closed his eyes, pulling the magic from his veins into his muscles. He pushed hard, grunting, his back legs crushing the soft earth underneath them.
AJ couldn't believe her eyes, but sure as she was orange, the tree started to move. It slid slowly at first, but once Aurus got it moving, he seemed to have little trouble pushing it well out of reach of the sheep fence. He stopped, checking to see that it was far enough away. "Is that good?" he asked, only breathing slightly heavily.
Big Mac's jaw was hanging open, the stem he had been chewing on falling lazily to the ground. Applejack was in a similar state of shock as the changeling just stood there next to the massive tree like nothing had happened.
"Er, yeah, I reckon that's plenty good where it's at," AJ said quietly. "How in the blue blazes did you get that thing t' move like that? Mac and I together couldn't get that thing t' budge if we tried!"
Aurus trotted over, smiling. "Well, changelings are abnormally strong. We're pretty similar to insects in a lot of ways. Think of how an ant can lift twenty times its own weight... I certainly couldn't have picked the tree up, but pushing it wasn't so bad really. Plus, we can pull the magical energy in our bodies into our muscles to help us when the going gets tough," he finished, looking at the fence.
Applejack was still shocked, but was recovering slightly. "An ant, huh?" she asked, looking at him curiously. "I ain't never seen an ant do nothin' like that."
"It's really just an example. Still our shell makes us a little more durable than most creatures," he said, laughing and giving his head a bump with a hoof. The resulting click-clack made Applejack laugh a bit, finally bringing her back to reality.
"Well, I still can't hardly believe what I saw, but thank you kindly. Twi sure would appreciate it, too," she said. She smiled at him, fully sincere. She looked embarrassed suddenly, looking away from him.
"Don't mention it. Is something wrong?" he asked, catching her look. If she needed him to move the tree again, it really wasn't any big deal, so she might as well just say so.
"Well... T' be honest, I haven't been quite square with you. I know we all had a good time at that party, but I couldn't let it go, you being a changeling and all. I still had my doubts about you, and I couldn't have been more wrong. Nopony who's any kind of bad would have helped me out of such a tight spot," she said, looking at the ground and going red in the face, pawing at the dirt. "I'm sorry I doubted you, Aurus. Can you forgive me?" she asked sadly.
Aurus was filled with magical energy; energy from her sincerity, and her desire for his approval and forgiveness. Kindness at last, true and full from a pony. He just smiled at her as she looked up at him forlornly, doing his best to impart his answer well before he had the words out.
"Of course. I really don't blame you. But I want you to know, I didn't help you to try and get you to like me. Even if you still doubt me, I don't mind. I can see how you interact with all the other ponies, and I just want to be a part of that. Doing my part for you and the rest of the town is just who I am. Just take your time getting used to me. Maybe sometime soon we can even be friends," he said with a warm smile.
Applejack smiled wide, nodding her gratitude. "Partner, we're friends already. Heck, half the ponies I know ain't half as nice as you. I jus' needed t' get that off my chest first. I know it ain't easy to be new in town, 'specially when yer different. You don't have t' go it alone out here, bud," she said with a warm smile, holding out a hoof.
He shook it for the second time, but this time he could feel the energy coursing through him, the real friendship there. Young and budding as it was, it was no less sweet or meaningful.
"Well, I promised Twilight I'd meet up with her anytime I was in town, so I suppose I shouldn't stick around too long," he said after the pause between them had gone on long enough.
"Yeah, reckon that's for the best. I know she's keepin' an eye on you, but I'll be sure an' let her know what you did here today. It's the least I can do. Thanks again Aurus," she said, backing up to give him some takeoff space.
He unfurled his wings as she did so, smiling at her. "No, thank you. You're right, it's not easy being new. Even harder when nobody trusts you. It means more to me than I think you know," he said, dipping his head. He leaped into the air, flaring his wings and buzzing up a few more feet. "I'll see you later!" he called, not wanting to wait for her reply. He knew that the modest pony would just try to downplay the meaning she now held in his life.
As she watched him drift off, she couldn't help smiling. "Adios, partner," she said quietly to herself. After a few moments, she turned back around to the fence, where Big Mac was already at work setting some new boards.
She took one final look at the oak, and the trench in the dirt behind it. The long day's work didn't seem so tough anymore, or so she reckoned.
Something was not right. Korrick was often in this very market, shopping for his family. Yet he had never been received so coldly, had never felt so many eyes on him. Dark whispers filtered around jagged, jade corners everywhere he went this day. The capital was alive with distaste for him. He could feel it in the air, draining the magic out of his blood, making his old bones feel frail.
He quickened his pace, eager to simply get home to his wife. There at least he could feel a sense of normalcy. As he pushed open the door and called out for her, he did his best to keep the worry from his voice.
The elderly female came to help him with the groceries as she always did, smiling and welcoming him home. But her smile was small and uncertain, the magic he could feel flowing from her seemed weak, as if somehow it were leaking out rather than flowing.
Even in his own home things were strange.
"Is something wrong, dear?" he asked, concerned. "Everyone in the city is acting strange. Nobody will look me in the eye, and they feel... different. Full of hate. Even you seem far away," he said, his voice all warm concern.
His wife's smile went sad. "You haven't seen the paper today, have you?" she asked, magicking him a copy.
One glance at it was all he needed to see the problem. There on the front page was an article titled 'Rebuilding Tyranny', and scanning through it, his heart sank. His mind raced for answers as his eyes read the page more thoroughly.
"Tell me it's not true, Korrick," his wife begged, drawing closer to him. Her eyes were full of hurt and worry. "Did you send the king away to die?"
"No, my darling. I would never do such a thing!" he practically shouted, his anger and his fear far too great to regulate his volume. "How could they say such things? Where are these lies stemming from?" he asked of her, his tone now dark and serious.
She smiled again, but her eyes were full of worry. Worry and love, for she believed her husband. She had known him too long to be blind to the truth in his eyes when he denied the rumors. "I don't know, Korrick. People have been whispering about it since yesterday, and now it's in the paper. What's happening, dear?" she asked, frightened.
Korrick didn't look at her, just at the floor, his eyes darting this way and that in panic as he tried to sort it out. He had no idea what had started this, but the signs were too obvious for his old, experienced mind to miss. With Aurus away, there was nobody but the council to maintain order over the people. And if rumors of Aurus' potential demise in faraway lands were starting to circulate so early, along with rumors of Korrick's involvement, there was only one possible outcome.
"It's a 'coup," he said quietly, his eyes going wider as he realized he was right. Any decent uprooting of the throne would target not only the king himself, but all of his advisors. And with Aurus far removed and already in danger in foreign lands, whoever was grabbing for power in the dark would certainly come for those advisors first.
Except in Aurus' case, there was only one advisor he trusted.
"I have to go," Korrick said quietly, choking on the words as his chest and throat tightened with anxiety. "Honey, you have to get out of town."
His wife gasped. A 'coup? How? Why? Everyone loved Aurus, near as she could tell. "Dear, aren't you overreacting a little?" she asked, but her tone said she could only pray that was the case.
He shook his head hard. "I wish I was. It's me that they're trying to blame for all of this. And if I cannot stop it before it becomes out of control, they'll do anything they can to get to me... Including hurting you."
She nodded reluctantly, tears in her eyes. She was afraid; afraid for him, and for her king. Aurus was Korrick's good friend, and if he were to ever return and the 'coup succeeded...
"I have to try and stop this," Korrick said vehemently. He turned for the door, ready to make his way to the council and call an emergency meeting. He was out the door already, things with his wife as squared away as they needed to be before he could deal with other business.
As the door shut behind him, she felt tears running down her shell and through the cracks in her joints. "Please, my love... be safe."
Aurus landed at the library, knocking as he always did. "Twilight, it's me," he called. After a short time where nobody opened the door, he pushed it open himself. It was quiet as usual, but he could hear voices filtering down from upstairs. The doors to the balcony on the second floor were wide open, and outside he could hear Twilight talking with somebody whose voice he didn't recognize.
"Hello?" he called up. He didn't want to be rude, but he at least wanted Twilight to know he was here, and not out somewhere causing havoc like she kept suspecting he would.
"Oh, that's him now," he heard her say to whoever she was talking with. She came back inside quickly, standing at the edge of the second floor landing. She smiled down at him, and Aurus went a little cold in the gut as he noticed a hint of mischief in her expression.
"Good morning," she chimed a bit too cheerfully. Aurus could hear hoofsteps behind her, and knew that he would soon catch sight of her mystery guest.
"Good morning, Twilight. Am I interrupting something?" he asked, shuffling uncomfortably as she kept up her impish, slightly smug smirk.
"Not at all. In fact, you're right on time," she said with a small laugh.
It was at that moment that Aurus caught sight of her. A magnificent, pearl-white alicorn, standing tall next to Twilight on the landing. She was certainly radiant and beautiful, and before she even introduced herself, he knew who she must be, without ever knowing her name.
"Hello, Aurus. I am princess Celestia," she introduced herself warmly. He could feel nothing negative coming from her; only intrigue, which was neutral to his senses. "I've heard quite a lot about you the last few days," she said with a small smile.
Aurus jumped after a pause, realizing with a start that it was his turn to introduce himself. "I suppose that would make me 'King Aurus', though just Aurus is fine," he said with a nervous laugh, trying to cover his breach in etiquette with some humor. "It's a pleasure to meet you, your majesty," he said, meaning every word of it. He had heard quite a bit about her as well; all good things, as far as he could tell. Still, he was no less nervous in her presence.
She laughed, a melodic sound that Aurus rather enjoyed. "No need to be so formal. Please, just Celestia will do," she replied warmly. "Now then, it's a little strange to talk down at you from all the way up here. Why not join us out on the balcony, and we can talk there?" she invited.
Aurus smiled and nodded, making his way up the stairs as Twilight and the princess made their way back outside. He could hear them whispering something together, but couldn't quite make it out. Either way, they both seemed nice enough, so he decided to pay it no mind. It did his aching nerves a measure of good to have his company handled so casually for once. If it weren't for all the magic leaking into him from his home far away, he was sure the stress of meeting everyone would have killed him a long time ago.
He stepped outside and joined them in the warm sun, glad to find them smiling at him. The princess seemed especially warm towards him. Again, he could feel nothing negative coming from her, just a mild curiosity, and a strange tingle of magic that he couldn't quite trace the source of. It was like no other positive emotion he had felt before, whatever it was. Still, it wasn't very strong.
"You're running late today," Twilight pointed out with a little laugh. "Sleeping in or something? Pinkie's parties can sure take it out of you."
"Not exactly. I slept fine, but I had to stop and help Applejack with something before I came over," he said, making it sound as if he had just helped her carry a basket of apples rather than move a gargantuan oak tree on his lonesome. "Since her farm is on the way here, I figured I'd lend her a hoof."
Twilight seemed genuinely surprised. First off, it wasn't like Applejack to accept help from anyone unless she really had to. Which, by proxy, meant that whatever Aurus had done had been quite a big deal.
"What happened?" Celestia asked. She wouldn't admit it out loud, but she was interested to hear an explicit tale about just how different this changeling really was.
"I guess the wind toppled some old oak tree onto her sheep fence last night. Shattered it all to pieces. She was going to come and get you to move it for her, Twilight, but I figured I could handle it on my own, so I didn't want to bother you," he said with a small smile. Again, as if it were nothing. "I'm glad I didn't, since you had company."
Twi had been to the farm enough times to know precisely which tree they were talking about, and her eyes practically bugged out as she put two and two together. "You mean that oak tree?" she asked skeptically. "I thought you said you weren't very good at magic?"
"I'm not. I just pushed it," he said with a small smile.
"You just pushed a one-ton tree. Just pushed it," she said, raising an eyebrow.
"I guess I'm stronger than I look," he joked, chuckling slightly.
Twilight gave the princess a look that screamed 'I told you so'. The princess sighed in mock defeat, smiling that smile everyone does when they know they're beaten fairly.
Aurus didn't get a bit of it. "Something I'm missing, maybe?" he asked, not happy with being out of the loop.
"Twilight and I had a little wager," the princess admitted. "I've been alive a very long time, and I've seen a lot of strange things in my life. She bet that you would come as a surprise to me, and I didn't believe her. I don't think I could have been more wrong," she said with a warm smile.
There it was again, that weird feeling that came from the princess. It wasn't unpleasant, but it wasn't normal either; whatever the emotion behind it, it was one-way. From her to him, but not the other way around. Perhaps that's what made it strange, he mused; the fact that he had no way of reciprocating it.
"Now then, Aurus," she said, interrupting his thoughts. "Twilight's told me quite a bit, but I want to hear it from you. Why are you here?" She didn't sound angry or bothered by his presence. Just curious.
And so Aurus launched into the longest, most in depth story he could muster about his travels, and the fate of his people. And of his mission to renew them.
By the time mid-afternoon had rolled around, he had it all hashed out. Right down to the smallest details about how the guards had come to retrieve him. He had even gone out of his way to explain the first week on the throne, and his trusted friend Korrick.
Celestia had listened patiently, asking simple questions if he ever got off topic to try and steer him back. Which he always responded to with a nervous laugh and by rubbing his left hoof on his right leg before apologizing. Occasionally there would be a break in the telling while Aurus searched for the words needed to translate certain things. The name of his hometown, for example, was not a pretty translation. It came out to mean something along the line of 'Town in the rocks' by pony standards, but that wasn't exactly an apt description.
They were still talking about his homeland. For the time being it was just him and Celestia on the balcony, since Twilight had gone to help Spike prepare something for lunch.
"What is your nation called? I've always suspected that somewhere out there there was a society for your people. When Chrysalis came and declared herself a queen, my suspicions were confirmed. And now here you are, their king. It doesn't sound like your system is too different from our own," she pointed out. It was all so casual, so simple.
Aurus got the feeling that she really had no doubts about him at all. The fact that he was a changeling and his people had torn up her city apparently had no effect on her opinion of him.
He thought for a moment. This was another tricky translation, and the changeling language didn't exactly roll right off the tongue. He smiled, thinking perhaps he had it. He had long since given up on trying to apologize while he thought of his answers; the princess had berated him for it already.
"Well, in our language it's called T'rahk Enox. Not exactly easy to say. In your language, it would translate simply to 'The Grand Home'. Not very interesting, I'm sure, but that is what we call it," he said with a small laugh, realizing that the name of his nation was rather unimpressive in their language.
Celestia just smiled at him, and shared his small laugh. "I think it's perfect. Our own nation, Equestria, doesn't translate to anything at all. It's just a word, one we all recognize to mean our nation, our home. The only difference is that you actually refer to your nation as a home directly. It makes perfect sense, and I think it's rather beautiful, in its own way."
Aurus was surprised by her logic. The name of their nation had no real meaning? How odd. But she was right, any nation's title implied one thing; the home of its people. So why not call their nation the grand home, if that's what it truly was?
"Tell me about it. I have no doubt that it truly is grand," she said warmly, excited to hear about a faraway land. Probably the only one she had never visited before as a diplomat. One she had never seen.
Aurus smiled, glad to oblige her. "We settled to the west, past Lone Peak, as we call the mountain you see there," he said, pointing to it in the distance. "Nearly four day's walk, and one day and night of hard flying if you can manage to do it in one go. We are surprisingly near to you, for having never been discovered," he mused.
"Well, you might be surprised to know that Canterlot is near the borders of Equestria. Ponyville as well. The capital was originally a military outpost. We had no shortage of enemies when this all began. Back then even the castle was a simple fort to defend our borders," Celestia said idly, smiling at him. "Your nation is further from the center of ours than you think. Our borders rest with Everfree."
"I see. I've been staying in the ruins of an old castle there, until I am more welcome here. Was that once to defend your borders, too?" he asked.
Celestia nodded. "That's right, though the post was abandoned very early into our nation's history."
Aurus pondered that, finding it ironic. He was now living in the ruins of a castle that, long ago, was built to deter creatures like him. Instead, it now served as his home. He realized that they had drifted away from the meaning of this conversation though, so he did his best to let those musings go.
"Well, our home is very different from yours. Out past Lone Peak is a series of gorges, carved in red stone. Our people build their cities at the bottoms of these canyons, since that's where the water is. Not far beyond us is a great desert, and we have a similar climate, so water is valuable to us. The canyons are almost always rough and ragged, subject to landslides in the rainy season. Instead of trees, our landscapes are full of spires of red rock, high points that rain water has eroded into stony pillars. It's quite beautiful to us, though we know others might find the twisted rocks ugly," he said, remembering fondly how not long ago he had spent his afternoons dipping and diving through those jutting spines of stone.
Celestia smiled, and he could feel her enjoyment of his description as she pictured it in her mind. "I think it sounds marvelous. I can't imagine the sunrises or sunsets you must experience with canyon walls on either side of you all the time," she said, though clearly she would try to imagine it anyways.
"It's amazing. Perhaps sometime, when we finally have peace, you can see it for yourself," he said, smiling to show that it was a patient thought, far in the future by his reckoning.
Celestia smiled and nodded. The invitation was welcome, even if it was not to be anytime soon. "I am sure I will. But in the meantime, I would like to personally invite you to my home. Canterlot," she said with a warm smile. "My sister, Luna, would also enjoy meeting you. And there, perhaps she and I can help you with your mission of peace."
Aurus was speechless. He had not expected this, but the magic he felt coming from her buried all of his skepticism in waves of certainty. Here she was, the being he had been most afraid to meet in his travels here. And yet she was welcoming him as a friend into her own home city, the capital of her nation.
He was afraid to accept. There, where all the damage had been caused, he would surely be hated. There he would be weak and helpless to her people. Even her invitation might not be able to save him from their wrath, should they choose to come against him.
She could see the struggle in his face, the nervousness in his eyes. "Aurus, trust me. It will be fine." Her voice was a pillar of certainty in his sea of doubts and concerns. He latched onto it willingly, though it did nothing to lessen the sinking feeling in his stomach.
"Alright," he said reluctantly. He was unable to fight her comforting smile, even with the force of his nervousness. "I suppose it can't hurt to try. But I'm... afraid," he admitted, looking away from her and at the ground.
She just laughed, trying to dispel his feelings. "Aurus, if you were not afraid, then your mission would not have meaning. The day you can walk into Canterlot without fear is the day you have succeeded," she pointed out.
That statement hit him like a falling stone, making far too much sense. She was right; if he weren't afraid to fail, then his success was guaranteed, and there was no purpose. Nodding to her as he slowly absorbed that, he was interrupted by her laugh again.
"Let's forget about that for now, and just enjoy our lunch. After all, there's still much I'd like to know."
Korrick rushed into the dark council hall. He had come thinking to assemble them. But instead he had been informed that they were already gathered, and waiting for him.
"Brothers and sisters, I am here," he called, breathing hard from his haste.
"Good to see you, 'brother'," someone in the council called scathingly.
Already? How could this have happened? How could the council already be prepared to stand against him on this, with nothing more than a newspaper for evidence, and the mutterings of a few citizens.
It came to him that this had all started within the council in the first place. He had been too busy of late, keeping things in line for Aurus to pay attention to the subtle talk among his brothers and sisters in this dark hall.
"Who called this meeting?" he asked cautiously. It was his right as chairman to call them, though in the case of an emergency it could be any one of ten or so others.
A female changeling stood, eying him as if he had no place to ask such things. "I did," she proclaimed, floating down to meet him.
"What is the purpose, Morelda?" Korrick asked, recognizing her. She was no true friend of his, just a colleague with a similar hunger for balance and justice.
"The purpose is to determine the rumors circulating about your... involvement in the king's decisions," she said coldly.
This did not bode well. There was little he could say that would absolve him, for Aurus had shunned the company of other nobles and councilors, though he had not offended any of them by doing so. Still, there would be no one to vouch for Korrick's words, except for Aurus himself.
"What do you wish to know?" he asked, doing his best to project calm. If he could not hope to sway them with words alone, then he would have to do everything he could to make them believe the truth.
"Was it you who sent the king away to make peace? It was you, after all, who went in search of someone just like Aurus in the first place," she pointed out.
"I have done no such thing. We chose Aurus because of our desire, all of ours, for change. Our people have been stagnant and wretched for too long. Aurus saw the way, and we saw it in him. It was his decision to venture forth and confront the other nations on his own. An army, he claimed, would have only made matters worse," he said with confidence. There was no reason he should doubt the words of pure truth coming from his own lips.
"Is that so? Tell me, did you know of his plans before his proclamation to the people?" she asked, now walking around him in slow circles.
This was a dangerous question, but again he had to trust in the truth. "Of course. Aurus confided all of his plans and fears in me. I spoke against it as a dangerous course of action, but in the end I could not argue his wisdom. With a heavy heart, I accepted his decision to meet with the other nations alone."
"And how are we to know he was not convinced of this? There are murmurs saying that you bent the king's ear to such a dangerous mission. The young are so easily swayed by heroic and dangerous plans, especially when they are so filled with ideas of justice as our great king." It was clear that Morelda held no ill will towards Aurus, but that she held Korrick accountable for the youth's bold plan.
"And how are you to know that he was? Would you believe the word of a single changeling without just evidence?" he asked, gesturing to himself first.
"Of course not," Morelda scoffed, smirking smugly and thinking her point saved. Korrick had all but said he was not to be trusted.
"Then why would you take the mutterings of hundreds more, all without truth or purpose to back them?" he asked snidely.
This set Morelda back on her hooves, rocked her mind. Clever, clever Korrick. She narrowed her eyes, now angry. "Very well then, Korrick. Until evidence can be found for or against you, the council has no choice but to take you into custody," she declared, stomping a front hoof loudly on the stone tile below.
Korrick was seized immediately, much to his horror. "Morelda, think of what you are doing! Can you not see what is happening? You are aiding exactly that which we vowed to guard the people from!" he pleaded. He was not concerned for his own safety, but the fact that she was arresting him was just one more sign that something terrible was coming.
"The only tyranny I fear today is what people are saying of you, 'brother'. We shall yet see about that. Rest easy, for if what you say is true, you have nothing to fear," she said smugly, thinking she had won.
"You are making a grave mistake," Korrick said sadly, for he feared for his people in the days to come. His sorrowful tone drew her attention, for she had been expecting anger or resistance.
"What are you prattling on about now, 'brother'?" she asked scathingly.
"With all of your eyes on me, you will have none left to watch for the dagger coming in at your back," he said quietly.
"And who holds this dagger, then?" she asked, signaling the guards to drag him away. There was no answer he could give her that would carry enough weight to convince her of his innocence. And so she had no reason to listen. She turned her back on him, for he was dealt with.
As the guards dragged him to the council doors, he sighed. Such arrogance, such self-serving wisdom. To think they could not see such an obvious ploy! Yet they did not know the truth.
"If you will not heed me, then your only hope is for king Aurus to return and save your minds from madness. For the dagger is in the council's own hooves."
Morelda whirled to retaliate, but the doors had already closed behind Korrick and the guards.