Prince Blueblood stood on a wooden box, trying to clean his blood stained mantle. He seemed completely absorbed by it; truth be told, he had nothing else to do. His soldiers gathered the remnants of the castle staff in the courtyard along with those from the Cassius family who had the misfortune to stay alive.
All of them made an enormous bustle, but it seemed to be nothing compared with what had happened moments ago. Just fifteen minutes ago, the courtyard was the site of a fierce battle, where Marquis Cassius had his last stand with a few of his loyal guards. Prince Blueblood had to admit that Marquis was a brave stallion. With a long bastard sword in his mouth, and golden armor adorning his flank, Cassius fought to the bitter end like an enraged animal. Now, only a meter from the wooden box on which Prince Blueblood stood, laid Marquis in a pool of his own blood. He was breathing heavily, with a red foam on his lips. Blueblood hoped that Marquis would see the destruction of his family and his house before death. He knew that he had the sacred right to humiliate his enemy and to have this satisfaction.
A feud that lasted two hundred twenty-three years just ended.
The Cassius family and the Blueblood family were neighbors and Royal vassals, clashes between those two families erupted again, and again. Sometimes quarrels faded, but they never ended. There were times of peace, better defined as time to allow preparations for the next war. There were proposals to marry younger representatives of both families. More than once, both families sworn friendship in front of the Royal Court. None of this mattered. Hatred between Cassius and Blueblood could only be quenched by blood, and the war would last as long as the families existed.
And finally came the day of triumph. Today every Cassius dies right here in the courtyard of their own castle, thought Blueblood. And I will be watching as they die. Stallions, mares, fillies and colts. All of them. Yes, nopony would ever raise a sword in the name of revenge.
He only regretted that he hadn’t found a better place to stand than a wooden box, so that all could see him in his hour of glory. But hey, from this place I can watch the entire courtyard, and still be close to the action.
He lifted his eyes and looked for his adviser, Trixie. She assured him this victory by her wisdom and art of reading old maps. He smiled at her with his lips, Trixie smiled back and trotted to him.
“How does it feel?” She asked.”To end a war after two century’s of fighting?”
“Great!” Blueblood replied with feeling, and throwed his blood stained mantel away. “Great, glorious, luxurious.”
The Prince laughed. “My father always said that the one who would crush House Cassius would live forever in the memory of future generations and rejoice the souls of our ancestors. And it is ME... “ He paused and rubbed his chin.
Captain Madlok approached them. He was a huge brown stallion with a gloomy expression.
“What do we do next, your highness?” He asked.
Blueblood took a look around the courtyard. In the far corner were servants and simple soldiers. They would survive because Prince Blueblood didn’t consider himself a tyrant or a murderer, mindlessly killing innocent. He knew that these ponies had nothing to do with the ancestral dispute. They just wanted to earn a bowl of oatmeal and have a roof over their heads.
Bad luck led them to the Cassius castle, but even bad luck can change.
Kept closer were the officers and notable courtiers. Blueblood had not yet decided what to do with them. In the middle were those who he hated the most. House Cassius. Marqui’s wife, his younger brother, two daughters and two small sons. Two? Blueblood turned towards captain Madlok.
“Where is Little Pip?” The Prince growled.
“We are looking for him, your highness,” said the captain. ”He may be hidden under his bed, or anywhere in the Castle. He is just a colt …”
“Find him!” Blueblood was angry, but took a few breaths to calm himself.
Pip was only eight years old, but age was irrelevant. In seven years he would be a mature stallion and that boy could bear the ancestral sword of vengeance against House Blueblood. However, he would not live that long. The death of a young pony was unjust, but Blueblood hoped that the soul of the colt would understand that there was no other choice. Little Pip would do the same thing, if fate had offered him a similar chance.
Blueblood stood on the box, his amber mane fluttered in the morning breeze.
“You all,” the Prince showed at the service and soldiers. ”You are free. Go in peace, Go wherever you wish, or remain here, and swear allegiance to me.”
The crowd suddenly erupted with shouts of joy, and a few mares began to cry loudly and snuggle up to each other.Blueblood heard and saw it clearly, something warm begun to rouse in the depth his heart.
I’m a good Prince.
“Quiet!” shouted captain Madlok. “His Highness speaks.”
“But you...” Blueblood pointed at officers and courtiers. Not many of them survived the battle. ”You will be punished, because you have served this evil with full awareness. Captain!” He turned to Madlok.” My verdict is hundred lashes, and those who survive, may go wherever they want to.”
A Cassius officer charged toward the box with a loud growl, but one of Blueblood’s guards stabbed him with a spear and pinned him to the ground. The officer took a deep breath and died. The Guard placed his hoof on the chest of the fallen enemy, and yanked the spear out from his body. Blueblood nodded with approval.
“Commander, you will pay hundred bits for this brave soldier,” the Prince said loudly in the direction of the captain, so that everypony could hear.
I'm your Prince now. Resistance is futile.
He darted his eyes around, still unable to get used to the idea, that he was here, in the courtyard of the Cassius castle –stronghold of his ancient enemies– standing with his faithful guards to take part in the final solution.
Perhaps one day somepony would write a theater piece in honor of this glorious event, thought Blueblood. I only hope that my role would be played by an actor capable of sweeping crowd from its hooves. And the name of the play? ‘The Destruction of House Cassius.’ That's right: ‘The Destruction of House Cassius.’
“Bring out the trunk,” he ordered.
Two soldiers brought an oak stump and placed it in the middle of the courtyard. Recently chopped and well shaped, so that the position of the head on it would show clearly the neck of the victim. Blueblood also brought the Executioner; it was his wish that everything was done with complete professionalism.
The Executioner, a stocky unicorn in a black cape, came slowly to the stump. He levitated a large sword next to him. Blueblood admired his own generosity.
My sworn enemies would not hang or be beheaded by an ax like common criminals. They would die with honor, like nobility, by the sword. I hoped that they would at least show a little bit of gratitude.
He imagined the applause in the audience when the actor playing the executioner entered the stage in a black hood. But perhaps the director would demand a scarlet hood, to show the inevitability of judgment.
“Quicksilver, you first,” he said, pointing his hoof at the Marquis’ brother.
Quicksilver looked at Blueblood and spat, then boldly trotted toward the stump.
“Blueblood!” screamed Marquis’s wife. ”You devil seed! Do you think that Celestia would forgive you for this? Ponies!“ she screamed even louder. ”The Princess will have your heads for this madness! Step out from this while you have time!”
One of the soldiers jabbed her with a spear rod, the mare moaned and sat down, greedily clutching air like a fish ashore.
“Be silent, you toad,” Blueblood said calmly. ”Or I would order them to cut out your tongue.”
She looked at him with eyes full of pain. One of her daughters sat beside her and stroked her gray hair. And to think that, until recently, she glistened among guests in silk dresses and shiny diamond necklaces.
Blueblood looked at the bleeding Marquis. Cassius was panting, and with every breath, bloody bubbles came out from his mouth.
“Lean him below the box,” ordered Blueblood. ”I don’t want him to miss anything.”
He smiled at his own thoughts. How would an actor play this scene? Should I say something exalted? Hmmm ...
“This is the end of House Cassius,” he said with a solemn tone. ”Master Executioner, in the name of Luna, begin.”
The Executioner bowed, walked over to Quicksilver and whispered something in his ear. He asked for customary forgiveness and received it. Marquis’ brother quietly knelt and laid his head on the trunk.
“Uncomfortable,“ Quicksilver said loudly. ”Can’t you do anything right? Bastard!”
“Do your duty, ” the Prince ordered.
The Executioner lifted his sword and made a clean cut, with one stroke separating the head from the body. The head rolled a few feet from the trunk.
The Marquis’ wife began to scream with the shrill and desperate howl of a wounded animal. Blueblood thought that the director would have to find somepony with a really strong voice for her role.
“Lizetta, ” said Prince, pointing at the younger daughter of Marquis.
Marquis’ Wife, with the remains of her strength, seized her daughter in her arms.
“I will not give her! I will not!” She screamed with a hoarse voice.
But Lizetta freed herself from the clutches of her mother and stood up. Blueblood saw that the blood poured from her face, but she was calm. A soldier shoved Marquis’ wife away when she tried to cling to her daughter’s dress, and pushed Lizette toward the trunk.
“How old is she?” whispered Trixie, her voice trembled.
“Fifteen,” said the Prince.
Captain Madlok approached the box.
“Your highness,” he said quietly. “Is your majesty sure about the mares, too? Princess Celestia …”
“Celestia has more important things on her mind, captain,” Blueblood replied haughtily.
Lizetta touched the arm of the Executioner, whispered something to him, and he bowed his head. Then she knelt down. She seemed calm, but Blueblood saw that her hooves were shaking so hard that she had to grab the stump. Is this scene dramatic enough for a theater? And would it not divert public sympathy towards the girl?
Blueblood was heartily and sincerely sorry for the daughter of Marquis. He would willingly spare her life, if only it depended on him. But he knew that if he did it, he would ruin the whole plan. From the womb of Lizetta, an avenger could be born, and she herself surely would try to plot at the Royal Court.
“Maybe a monastery? Prison?” Madlok tried to save the life of that mare and her sister. Blueblood wondered why. But he had no grudge against the captain. He even admired his courage and his attempt to defend his beliefs. Blueblood, in his situation, probably would have done the same thing.
But in this case I can’t be only a simple Pony. I’m Prince Blueblood, the sword of vengeance. A sword cannot be guided by conscience. Only effectiveness counts.
Maybe the theatre play should show a love drama? Lizetta’s lover falls to his knees before me and begs for the life of his love? No, no, Blueblood shook his head in thought. In terms of drama, certainly that would be a successful treatment, but this would turn public sympathy towards Cassius family. Perhaps I should write this play myself?
“Your highness?” Madlok reminded the prince of his existence.
“No, no,” Blueblood looked in the sky helpless. “I cannot, captain. Ask what you want, but not for the life of one of Cassius, It is as if you would ask for my own life.”
Good! He applauded himself. That was good!
Executioner slashed again smoothly and cleanly. Lizetta’s head fell from the stump and froze on the ground so that the dead glass eyes stared straight into Blueblood. The Marquis’ wife no longer howled, only mumbled with her face pressed to the ground.
“Time for you, Margot.” the Prince spoke to the older daughter of Marquis, the sixteen year old beauty of deep green eyes and shiny blond mane.
“You'll pay for this with your head,” said Margot with a strong, confident voice. She jerked and freed herself from the grasp of a guardpony. “I will go by myself!”
Now, I should say something, he thought in panic. But what?
“I forgive you, Margot. Just as I forgive all Cassius of their crimes. I will pray for you every night.”
The mare laughed.
“Clown,” she said and shook her head.
She took from her belt pouch a gold coin and handed it to the Executioner. He took it with a deep bow, and showed her how to lay her head as comfortable as possible on the trunk.
Slowly, things started to wear Prince Blueblood. It was probably due to the fatigue of the past battle, and the earlier nightmarish digging through the half-buried, damp dungeon. Thanks to the secret way in, they had a chance to surprise the defenders.
Oh, wise Trixie and her map! Blueblood thought suddenly. What a priceless treasure.
But now he preferred to leave the scene and dip himself in a tub of hot water. Then a feast with wine and night with one of the pretty maids. Actually a pity that I hadn’t saved Margot for the night, he thought. That would be an experience!
He was so buried in thoughts that only the clatter of blade woke him to reality. He was glad to see Margot’s head in the courtyard, because he feared that he might give in to his dangerous temptation, saving the mare for his own pleasure. And in the end, he could not ruin this plan for a whim.
I am only a servant of vengeance, he thought. My feelings do not affect what I do. Maybe it would be a good title? "Servant of Vengeance." Hmmm ... To emphasize the fact of the inevitability of destiny.
Cassius’s defeat was only the first step on the road to triumph. The moment of glory will come true when my family is cleared of allegations by the Princess, and the lands of House Cassius officially go into my possession.
Blueblood knew that Princess Celestia was now pretty much occupied by her younger sister Luna. Affairs that took place away from Canterlot sometimes didn’t reach her. You would just have to know when to stop a guard from whispering something into her ear. And Prince Blueblood belonged to an old family where the art of intrigue, flattery, and bribery was not forgotten.
“Sir?” asked Madlok. “Who's next?”
Minty and Sparky - two blond twins - they had only eleven years, and it deeply hurt Blueblood that he had to cut the thread of their young lives. The executioner had been previously informed what task awaited him, and he demanded an additional fee for the enforcement of the sentence on children. Even, known for their ruthlessness, Cloudbergen crime syndicates didn’t execute death sentences on colts younger than twelve.
“Maybe you should consider killing the colts quietly. Afterword’s you would say that they died in the turmoil of battle!” said to him Trixie back in the camp when they planed this bold attack.
It was him who insisted on an explicit solution to the problem.
“Haven’t you thought about possible usurpers, Trixie?” he asked back then. “That if the death of Marquis’ heirs will be known only to a few ponies? There will be colts, claiming to have miraculously survived the carnage, claiming to be sons of Cassius. I need to dispel any doubts.”
Back then Trixie didn’t argued with him. Moreover he had the additional satisfaction of the fact that Marquis would see the death of his heirs and die without hope of revenge. But now he was not so sure about the validity of his choice. Especially that he heard reluctant whispers even among his own guards, when soldiers conducted the first of the colts.
“I humbly invoke forgiveness, Prince,” shouted one of the Cassius officers.” Do not stain your honor with the blood of innocent children!”
Prince Blueblood frowned and rubbed his chin with embarrassment.
They should have been killed silently, and their corpses placed in the courtyard for others to see. He was angry that he didn't come up with this idea faster, and because he insisted on a public execution. He promised himself that Pip would not die like his brothers. Small children can choke easily, and then I will just show his body to courtiers, soldiers, and servants, so that there will be no rumors.
“I sincerely grieve over every lost life. But cruel fate leaves me no choice.” He said at loud, so everypony could hear him.
Blueblood knew that in his memory this day would be remembered as a moment of triumph, but also sorrow and shame. When the twin’s heads rolled on the courtyard, Prince Blueblood saw tears in the eyes of his officers and soldiers. Many turned their heads away. When the Marquis’ wife was beheaded, the courtyard was silent. Her face frozen in pain, a mare who had lost her children. Her face was so sorrowful that even Blueblood felt a twitch somewhere deep in his heart. Her eyes were empty, extinguished. She died as if she didn’t care anymore. The judgment on House Cassius, which was supposed to be a joyous triumph, turned into a pathetic parody. The unconscious Marquis was dragged to the trunk and quickly beheaded. Several soldiers raised a joyful shout, but they sounded strange in the dead silence of the courtyard.
Afterwards, the courtiers and officers were exiled —Blueblood ordered not to whip them. The show had gone too far already—, the servants were sent to work, repairing and cleaning the castle. The soldiers had been looking for Pip the entire time, and Blueblood offered a large reward for whoever found the last of Cassius family. Soldiers not taking part in the search, nor on guard duty had been allowed to open a few barrels of wine from Marquis’ cellar.
The Prince knew that they would soon forget about the carnage on the courtyard, especially because tomorrow they would divide the spoils. Officially and fair. This was advised by Trixie. Gold and jewels would be poured in a stack, then divided. One quarter to the Prince, the rest to the soldiers and officers, depending on rank. This would allow them to forget the shame and remorse.
“A full purse will convince them about nobility of your actions, faster than the absolution from priests,” argued Trixie.
Now Prince Blueblood was bathing in a tub full of hot water. A few steps away on a stool sat Trixie. Blueblood drank wine from the silver chalice with the Cassius coat of arms engraved on it.
“You will need to melt them,” she said, looking carefully at the chalice. ”All the things with Cassius coat of arms have to be destroyed, you know.”
Blueblood grimaced involuntarily; The Cassius family was known for its passion for beautiful objects, and it would be a shame to destroy them in the heat of a steel furnace.
“It was not supposed to be like this,” he added, thinking of the carnage in the courtyard. “Not like this...”
Trixie nodded without conviction.
“It’s been done,” she replied. “Ponies will forget.”.
“They will forget, probably,” said the Prince despite himself.
“Write a letter to Princess Celestia,” said Blueblood. “You did manage to take hold on the Cassius family seal?”
“Yes, your highness.” Trixie nodded. “All documents providing a Cassius plot of a coup have been stamped with their seal. Best forger form Cloudbergen is working on them as we speak. We can prove in Court that your actions have been in Equestria’s best interest and there was no time to inform the capitol. You should also write to your cousins and other family members, to inform them about this. You will be welcomed in Canterlot as a hero. Everything will work out, my lord. History is written by the winners.”
“Probably,” the Prince repeated, but he could not forget the two blond heads on the gray sand of the courtyard and Marquis’ wife dead face. She actually died before the executioner's blade fell on her neck. Now, even the memory of dying Marquis, was not able to amuse him.
He smacked the mirror of water, with a hoof to disperse evil thoughts. Hot drops of water flowed off his face.
“Find me a nice mare for the night,” he ordered. “Have you seen any worthy of my time?”
“I have,” Trixie nodded and smiled. “More than one actually.”
“Then find me two,” Blueblood laughed and thought that he would soon forget about all those bad things. Because, hot, young mares are the best remedy for sad thoughts.
“When are we going to start searching, my lord?” asked Trixie.
This question could have meant that Trixie proposed a quest in search for pretty maids, but Blueblood immediately recognized the change in her tone. He knew what she was asking, he expected it sooner or later. Everypony has its price.
Trixie gave him favor worthy of a royal reward, and she asked little in return. Especially since she wanted things witch existence was not even know to the House Cassius themselves. Besides, Blueblood thought it was just a fantasy.
Although the map told the truth in at least one thing: the ancient dungeons leading from the river to the castle, existed. Perhaps hundreds of years ago in the past, they acted as an evacuation path for defenders. One was certain Cassius family didn’t know about the hidden entrance to their stronghold in the dungeons. Probably because this passage belonged to an old fortress, on which the foundations of the Cassius Castle were built. Strange, however, that for so many years they failed to discover every secret passage.
Luck, thought Blueblood. Plain luck sometimes decides the fate of ponies, families and even entire kingdoms.
“Tomorrow, when you are ready,” he said. “But I would not expect too much. Even if the map tells the truth, all these books and knowledge you are looking for may have been torn to shreds long ago. If you are lucky, we may find some leftovers. Anyway, my gratitude and reward will not miss you.”
“I think that whatever is down there is protected by magic,” said Trixie.
“Magic that lasted for hundreds of years maybe even millennia?” Blueblood snorted.” Do you really believe in this nonsense? The greatest magic know to ponydom managed to imprison Nightmare Moon for a thousand years until it finally faded."
“Oh my lord,” Trixie laughed.” This magic is real. I have seen it, I have perform… ummm, I have seen this true magic, I saw the wizards in Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns in Canterlot when I studied there.”
“They had purple hats and coats with silver stars, did they? Those were just show offs and braggarts, common peasant, fairy performers unable to cast even a simple magic,” Blueblood snored. “We will look for your library tomorrow.”
Trixie drunk a sturdy sip of wine from the chalice, the Prince noticed that his adviser could hardly hide her anger. It amused him.
“The water cooled down,” he said. “Give me a towel, I'll leave now.”
Trixie obediently stood up and gave him a crisp, starched cloth. He wrapped himself in it tightly.
“What will you do now, my lord?” asked Trixie, Blueblood sensed in her voice a deeply concealed malice. “Now that House Cassius is gone?”
Blueblood wanted to laugh, but the weight of the question suddenly hit him like a hammer. Just what will I be without my enemies? Conspiracies, intrigues of the Royal Court, espionage, ensuring the support of the old families - all this was no longer needed. House Cassius ceased to exist and there was no one to fight.
“I ... I ... “ Blueblood stammered, but could not finish, because Trixie turned away with a slight smile on her lips.
“I'll go look for these maids,” she said. “They will be ready before nightfall.”
“I do not understand,” Prince Blueblood said icily. ”How is it possible that a dozen or more guards could not find one single brat. Madlok, do you know what this means to me? What does it mean to House Blueblood?”
The Prince listened to captain Madlok’s report during breakfast. He was full of concealed anger, but he could not blame the captain for a lack of efforts.
“I do, your highness,” replied Madlok. ”I swear we looked closely in every part of the castle. Even now, when we talk. I allowed myself to announce that anypony who finds little Pip, soldier or servant, would receive from, your highness, one thousand gold coins and land on lease. Now we have to force ponies to clean the castle, because everypony just wants to look for the colt.”
“You generously dispensed my wealth,” Blueblood growled, angry, because one thousand gold coins was a royal reward.” But well done.”
“I think that somepony is hiding him, your highness,” said the captain. “I interrogated the castle’s overseer, the foalsitter, and everypony who had anything to do with Pip. I threatened that anypony who hides the kid would be tortured before death.”
“Have you noticed anything suspicious?” Blueblood muttered.
“Nothing, my lord.”
Blueblood regarded himself as a modern and enlightened monarch. He was an enemy of unnecessary violence and always believed that it’s easier to rule with use of charm and glamour than fear. It is better to reward ponies than threaten them. Better to buy, than take. Until now, such proceedings brought in good yield.
“Let them know that there will be no mercy for traitors,” he said after a moment. “We’ll, go now. And, by Luna, find me that colt!.” Madlok stood up, bowed slightly and left the chamber.
Not a moment passed, and there was a knock. Trixie entered the room.
“I am ready, my lord. Workers are waiting in the corridor.”
“Workers?” asked the Prince.
“Somepony has to remove the walls. The entrance to the library is probably sealed and bricked up, your highness.”
“Let us go then,” the Prince rose from his chair. ”But I think it’s a waste of time.”
“According to this, the library is in the west wing, in the wine cellar. If you break through in this place ...”
The ceiling in the wine cellar hung low, so Blueblood, who was a tall stallion, had to bend his head so he didn’t scrub his horn on the ceiling . The workers were carrying torches, and Trixie, from time to time, ordered them to light up the wall, which she considered suspicious. She knocked some of the walls, while listening attentively to the sound. During one of such tests, Blueblood allowed himself a loud yawn.
“If your Highness is tired, Trixie can manage alone.” Trixie turned to Blueblood. Her face in the flickering light of the torches had an alarming, stubborn expression.
“I had a busy night,” Blueblood explained with a smile. ”And don’t start with that third person talking, you know I hate that. I'll be happy to accompany you. But we have to go back for dinner.” He added.
“Of course, my lord,” she muttered and turned back to the wall.
“Here, here.” Trixie said with a trembling voice. ”Destroy this wall here!”
The workers looked toward Blueblood, and he acquiesced in a gesture of his hoof.
“Do what she says.”
The workers lined up against the wall and began to demolish it with pickaxes. Trixie nervously unfolded the map and started to read it with her horn as the source of light.
“Here, here, here,“ she repeated.” It has to be here!”
“Yes, miss, ” a worker grunted. ”But there is nothing here.”
“There must be!” Trixie hissed.”It must be!”
After a while, the brick wall was gone and the worker’s pickaxes started to hit solid rock. A tired worker turned to the Prince.
“There is nothing here except this rock, my lord.”
“Keep digging!” Trixie growled, but the Prince raised his hoof warningly.
“Let them rest,” he ordered. ” And show me this map.”
Prince Blueblood, had already seen the map, but then he was interested in a secret passage leading from the river right up to the castle cellars. He drew much less attention to the rest of the map. Yet still, this map looked to him like a jumble of mutually intersecting lines running at various angles.
He had experience in map reading, but Trixie had explained him that on this one map was drawn both the floor plans of the castle and its dungeons. In addition, the map of the ground floor had nothing to do with reality, because Cassius Castle was built on the ruins of an old fortress, but they only slightly changed the underground. Therefore, after a long time of staring at the parchment with a flickering light from his horn, Blueblood shrugged.
“I just don’t understand any of this,” he said with disappointment.” Might it be that this library is even lower?”
Trixie looked at him and suddenly her face brightened into a smile.
“Below us!” She jumped and pushed the workers. “By Luna, below us! You're right, beneath us! Dig! Dig through the floor!
“You waited for so many years, wait a few moments.” He was very happy with himself and wondered if the idea which he incidentally dropped, may be the solution.
I would add this in the play. Trixie might have the knowledge, but it is I who outsmarts her. What is knowledge if you lack… wisdom. Prince Blueblood smiled to his own thoughts.
* * *
Prince Blueblood was right. After a few minutes both Trixie and Blueblood were looking down into a gap leading down to something that looked like an underground passage. Just like the one marked on the map. However, breaking a layer of stones, forming both floor and ceiling, was not easy, and Blueblood began to wonder if everything was not going to collapse under their feet. Although the structure seemed to be solid, the bond connecting the various elements passed the test of time, and put even more resistance than the stone.
“This is good old work, my lord,” muttered one of the worker ponies with a stone and pickax as cutie mark. “Good, old work. Nopony can make this kind of mortar anymore.”
When the hole was big enough for a pony Trixie boldly jumped down. And went ahead to explore the corridor.
Blueblood wisely waited and ordered to lower him down, securely tied with rope. He was not going to risk himself needlessly, it would be ridiculous and unfortunate to twist a leg just a day after winning a war.
When Blueblood finally caught up with Trixie, she was standing in front of a huge wooden door.
“It is here,” she said, excited. “We are in the vestibule of the library.”
“And if some ancient spell is guarding the entrance?” the Prince whispered in her ear.
“I thought you didn’t believe in ancient magic, sir?” Trixie maliciously whispered back. When the Prince saw a grimace on her face, he just looked away.
The door was strong, solidly embedded in the stone wall, it barely gave in under Trixie’s attempts to open it with repeated bucks. After the use of strength failed, she used magic. The Prince saw that her horn shined more and more until the whole corridor was bright with a blue magic light.
Finally, the door fell with a thud that echoed in the narrow corridor.
“My Lord,” Trixie said solemnly. ”Do you wish to enter first?”
The Prince peered suspiciously into the darkness beyond the fallen door.
“I leave this honor to you,” he said.
Trixie went through the door’s threshold, and immediately, a bright light shined and revealed a large room. When Blueblood entered the room he saw Trixie gasping at the ceiling, from which it flowed a clear, strong light. Not the trembling, yellow-orange lights of torches or lamps, but the true brilliance of the sun. Only that there was no sun, only the glowing white ceiling.
“Ancient Magic?” the Prince whispered. ”Ancient and still working Magic?” he repeated, not taking his eyes away from the light.
After a second or two the Prince started to look around the chamber. The room was large, the walls and floor were covered in ivory colored stone slabs of equal size, with small reddish veins, resembling plant stem embedded in the stone. On all four walls hung paintings in wooden, simple framework. Portraits. Blueblood walked to the nearest of them and looked at the face of an old orange pony, dressed in a black doublet with a large, crisp white ruff. The earth pony stared into the distance, his pale blue eyes seemed to be devoid of thoughts and feelings. The Prince took a step and stood before the next portrait.
This represented a lavender unicorn mare with purple mane, cut evenly in the middle of the forehead. Her eyes were like fragments of granite. The next one represented an image of another mare, slightly younger and a prettier copy of the previous one. And so on.
All images seemed to be crafted by the same painter. Stallions, mares, colts. All with a fixed, penetrating expression on their eyes. Eyes which seemed to be devoid of fear, but also without curiosity, lurking somewhere in the dark void, visible only to them.
“It is not a library, my dear Trixie.” The Prince shook his head. ”But I think it was worth the work and dirt. You know who they are? The previous House! Those who owned the castle before House Cassius?” He looked at Trixie with an asking expression.
“House?” Trixie snorted, her voice changed a bit. ” A family? Oh, yes. You could call them a family.”
She turned toward the Prince.
“They are Warlocks, my lord,” Trixie spoke with a deeper more serious tone. ”Although they have been called various names. Sorcerers, Necromancers, Warlocks, Demonologists. They have been known as the Brotherhood of the Night, the Moon Heard, but they have descended from the righteous path of the Night Princess, and become the bane of Equestria, known as the Dark Brotherhood. Can you believe they even started to worship Nightmare Moon! Seven hundred years ago, Princess Celestia prohibited the use of Moon Blood Magic. The Dark Brotherhood rebelled and was destroyed by the Sun Princess herself. Those who fled from her wrath were hunted down, then burned, hanged, drowned, or walled up alive. For their unspoken crimes, against nature and ponykind, none of them was spared. Only images are what is left of them. But where is their library?”
Trixie looked around and suddenly, with a joyful shout, ran into one of the walls. She pushed on the wall with her hoof, and it unexpectedly revealed a hidden chamber. She ran inside. After few seconds, Prince Blueblood heard a really bad curse. He shrugged his shoulders and looked into the dark chamber, where his adviser was staring at a solid brick wall. In small hallway, built with standard red brick, there was nothing there except single portrait. Prince Blueblood looked carefully at the painted image.
This picture presented a beautiful unicorn mare with indigo, thick mane and a milky white coat. The mare was holding her right hoof on the head of a white cat, who seemed to be very bored and looking away. On her head was a golden tiara with a large ruby in the middle, and her white neck was adorned with a ruby necklace.
“So Beautiful,” whispered the Prince. ”Isn’t she beautiful?”
Trixie didn’t react to his words; she was carefully knocking on the wall, as if she expected to find another secret passage.
The mare was painted differently than other images in the chamber. She was not staring into the void behind the Prince’s head, but straight into his face. Furthermore, in contrast to other portraits, her eyes had a soft caring glamour and her lips were frozen in a warm smile. She looked as if, when the painter immortalized her face, she thought about spending the night with her beloved.
“Merciful Luna...” Prince Blueblood could not take his eyes from the image.” It’s hard to believe that there were such mares.”
Trixie finally deigned to glance at the portrait.
“Beautiful, indeed,” she said, but she was not as fascinated as the Prince.” What do we do next?”
“Search all you want,” Prince Blueblood replied, without turning his eyes from the painting.” I will leave you these workers, but promise me you will not turn my basement into a heap of rubble. I have to take care of my own affairs now.”
The Prince summoned a worker who just now entered the chamber.
“What a mare ...” He whispered to himself and shook his head. “Take this painting off, carefully and bring it to my bedroom.” he ordered.
* * *
It took him a long time to choose a place to hang the portrait. Prince Blueblood wanted to take it with him to Canterlot when all problems here were sorted out. Well, for that matter, it might take several weeks. Anyway, I’m not going anywhere until Little Pip is found.
In any case, he could not decide where to hang the picture. Finally he decided to put it on the wall opposite of his bed so that, after waking up and just before bedtime, he could enjoy her beautiful figure.\
Who was she? he wondered. Could she really be a witch? Why only her portrait was placed in a secret chamber, and not with all the others? Is it because she was the most important of them, or the contrary, the least important?
Blueblood knew that he would not find answers to these questions, but it amused him to ask them. When the picture was hung on the wall, and the servant went out, Prince Blueblood gently touched the image. Amazingly, he did not sense texture or paint. He did not know much about the art of painting, but it seemed at least bizarre that he didn’t feel the characteristic roughness. The picture was smooth, like a mirror or the polished surface of a tray.
“Fascinating,” he said to himself.
Well, perhaps some ancient painters knew a technique, which nowadays is forgotten? Or maybe they knew how to create a portrait with magic? The Prince was fascinated by the idea of a picture made with the help of ancient witchcraft in his chamber. Especially since the mare in it was the most fascinating and attractive creature he had seen in a while. She reminds me of that mare I met at the last Grand Galloping Gala, although that one couldn’t appreciate my royal valor.
“I would marry you without hesitation,” he said.” Even if you were a commoner or even a peasant.”
Prince Blueblood devoted the rest of the day to writing letters. To the Royal Court. To cousins and relatives. To the old aristocracy. Everywhere he wrote he explained his motives (Discovered plot of a military coup and had to act immediately), that he regretted his decision and sincerely mourned over the spilled blood and lost life’s. He was so moved by his own words that he had to wipe his eyes with a silk scarf.
Then he had to bring extra candles, and ate dinner alone, glancing occasionally at the mare in the portrait. During the meal, he read a report from captain Madlok, who was forced to hold back Trixie’s destructive impulses in the cellar, and that Little Pip was still missing. Finally, came Trixie herself, angry, tired, smelly, her face marked with dirty streaks. Blueblood kindly showed her a chair and poured a cup of wine. Trixie emptied it in one gulp and breathed deeply.
“Nothing. There's nothing there,” she said. It sounded almost like sobbing, and the Prince had difficulty restraining his laughter.
“I'm sorry,” said the Prince, trying to voice a sad tone. “Keep looking, don’t give up.” He wanted to pat her on the shoulder but saw that her mantle was all dirty. He removed his hoof quickly.
“And what’s that?” Trixie looked at the portrait.
“Don’t you remember? It’s the portrait from the small corridor.”
“Ah, yes,” she looked at it more carefully this time. ”I would advise you to burn them all.”
“Why?” Prince Blueblood laughed and filled his cup.
“Warlocks,” Trixie growled. ”Necromancers. We are talking about a very evil force here.”
“I see evil when I look in my shaving mirror. It is, philosophically, present everywhere in the universe, apparently, to highlight the existence of good. I think there is more to this theory, but I tend to burst out laughing at this point. What could be dangerous in the picture?” Blueblood shrugged. “It’s beautiful, don’t you think?”
Trixie approached and touched the painting with her hoof. Blueblood felt a strange involuntary pain, because her hoof landed on the neck of indigo-haired beauty.
Her cat, thought the Prince. I could swear that the cat had his mouth closed, and now its opened in a yawn.
And now he could see clearly that the cat was yawing and the painter captured both the sharp, shiny fangs and glittering red eyes.
Trixie rubbed the painting and shook her head.
“Luna only knows what it is, my lord,” she said. ”Because surely it is not a painting. At least, not what you and I understand as the concept of a painting or a photo.”
“Have you seen or felt the paint? Exactly. It resembles more a mirror than anything else.”
“Maybe they could capture the fleeting moment in the mirror and keep it for eternity? ”Asked Blueblood, admiring his own ingenuity. ”Do you think it's possible?”
“I don’t know.” Trixie again sank into the chair. ”I hoped to find their books, to understand more, why did they succumb to the power of the Everlasting Night.” She spreaded her hooves helplessly. ”And there’s… nothing!”
“After all,” her fiery eyes looked at the Prince. ”Knowledge itself is not evil, right? You can only use it in an evil or good manner.”
“Probably yes,” Blueblood shrugged.
Trixie levitated the bottle of wine and poured some into her cup. She took a sip and said.
“I haven’t told this too anypony, Prince, and I suspect I never will again, but some time ago I was walking along the bank of a stream near Ponyville when I saw a mother otter with her cubs living under a bridge. A very endearing sight, I'm sure you would agree, and even as I watched, a yellow Pegasus with pink mane showed up and with great care offered the family two plump salmons. The yellow Pegasus flew away and the otter family started to feast. As the mother ate the salmon, while of course it was still alive, the body split. I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that's when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe.”
”Go now its late Trixie,” he ordered after a while.” We had a rough day.”
When Trixie left, he drank more wine, and laid on the bed. It seemed amusing to him, but this time the cat was positioned the same way as earlier. Could it really be a magical painting? But in that case, what magic could be active after seven hundred years or more? Or maybe the painter could paint a portrait that, depending on the lighting and angle of view, showed little details differently? Blueblood considered himself a unicorn of keen mind and devoid of superstition, and therefore, did not reject any idea, as long as it wasn’t refuted. Either way, the portrait could be magical or not, from the standpoint of a connoisseur, it was a work of art. Most importantly, it represents a mare with unearthly beauty, and the only thing that mattered now was that he would admire it every day. Those fantastic shapes, and incredibly beautiful face.
“Why cannot dreams become reality?" he asked himself.
Finally he fell into a half sleep. But after a while he heard a rustling in the dark, so he raised his head above the pillows.
“Who’s there?” He asked the darkness.
He heard only a loud sigh and felt something like a glacial breeze, which not only banished sleep, but soon sobered him. He opened his eyes.
“Who is there?” He said alarmed, and reached with his magic for the dagger under the pillow.
In the darkness he saw a figure standing four or five steps from the bed. It wasn’t even a figure, but rather a shape in the dark. He could feel the smell of perfume. He concentrated his levitation spell on his knife. He wanted to call the guards, but for some reason the words stuck in his throat.
“Do not be afraid,” the figure had a quiet, dull voice.” I do not come to harm you.”
Prince Blueblood raised himself up from his bed. He strained his eyes, and now saw clearly a milky white coat and indigo, lush hair. The mare from the portrait.
“I’m dreaming,” he said to himself. ”Merciful Luna, I’m dreaming.”
“Yes,” the mare admitted. ”In some part I’m a dream, and in some I’m as real as you are.” She laughed softly, and came so close that it was enough to draw a hoof to touch her hips.
It seemed that the mare did not walk, but floated in the air. He did not hear her steps, only the quiet rustle of silk. He looked at her and saw the same thing as in the portrait. It seemed to him that she was surrounded by a barely visible glow, causing everything near her become clearer in the darkness of the chamber.
“Will you not ask me to sit by your side?” she asked with amusement.
“Would you… deign to sit down, my lady?” he said, and she sat on the edge of the bed.
The Prince clearly saw that the mattress did not move under her weight.
“Your thoughts, your feelings, your lust,” she said. ”Restored me to life, Prince Blueblood. Or at least ...“ she hesitated, as if searching for words. ”Allowed me to see the world of the living again.”
He reached out to touch her, but his hoof passed through her body as if through fog. He felt only cold moisture on his hoof. Surprised and frightened, he drew a deep breath into his lungs. She saw his gesture and his reaction, and sadly shook her head. She leaned over him and he saw shining gold specks in her green eyes.
“Yes, my Prince,” she whispered. ”I'm a bit more real than a dream. You will not feel my hooves, or,“ she smiled slightly. “Lips. But you can hear the rustle of my dress, you can smell the perfume, hear my voice. And that's all.”
“Night Magic,” said Prince Blueblood.
“Oh, yes,“ she replied with a strange reverie. ”Ancient magic. Old as Equestria itself and sweet as the night.”
“Do you want me to come alive, my Prince?” she asked after a pause. ”Become a creature of flesh and blood? So you could feel the warmth of my body and enjoy my touch?”
“I do!” He almost shouted, stunned by her proximity and the heavy scent of her incense perfume.
“It's not an easy task,” she said. ”But is it not worth paying any price to make the dream a reality?”
“And what is the price?”
She was silent for a long time, looking straight at his eyes. He didn’t back away.
“Find me,” she said. ”Find what was left of my body. In the catacombs, under the portrait gallery. You will recognize me by the necklace and tiara. Find me.” She repeated bitterly, and shuddered. “The wretched remains, rotten dress and crumbling bones,” he saw the grimace on her face. ”But do not be fooled by appearances. Flesh will cover bones again and blood will circulate in my veins. Rebirth. I'll tell you what to do, just find me.”
She got up and retreated toward the portrait.
“Do not disappoint me, my Prince,” she said. ”I am worth your time.”
When she disappeared in the darkness, he felt embraced by some nauseating weakness, before his eyes erupted bundles of colored sparks, and then the darkness fell. Prince Blueblood lost consciousness.
He awoke in the morning with a hangover and vague memories of an amazing dream. He remembered clearly one thing: to dig under the floor in the picture gallery and find a way to the catacombs. If there were any catacombs at all. But Prince Blueblood believed in prophetic dreams, and trusted that the ancient magic of the mysterious mare from the picture allowed her to visit him in dreams.
The worker ponies had to dig five feet deep into the rocks to break through to the next level. Blueblood stood over them and smiled with satisfaction when the cry of surprise filled the chamber. Trixie leaned over the hole.
“Ingenious, my Lord,” exclaimed his adviser.” Brilliant!”
But then out of the sudden her voice and expression changed.
“How did you know about it?”
“A good night's sleep always brings best ideas Trixie. Remember that you are only my adviser.”
Again, Blueblood was not going to be the first pony down. Especially because he felt a disturbing smell from the hole, as if the underground chamber was exposed to fresh air for the first time in hundreds of years.
When Trixie jumped into the darkness, and casted a spell to illuminate the catacombs, he decided to go down. Catacombs - this was the appropriate word.
The Catacombs were an exact copy of the gallery above with one exception, instead of paintings, there were small niches. Each one barred. And in those niches, chained to the wall were skeletons of ponies.
“It's silver, my lord,” said Trixie amazed after touching one of the prison bars. ”They have been chained with silver.”
“Bury this place Prince, bury everything.” Trixie moved close to Blueblood and begun to whisper. ”Give the command to bury this place up, sir.”
He turned towards his adviser.
“Are you crazy?” he asked. ”Why would I do that?”
Trixie waved her hoof, to show the whole room and pulled the Prince to one of imprisoned skeletons.
“Whoever killed them, my lord, killed them accordingly to an ancient ritual. There are runes engraved on those trellises. See.” Trixie pointed her hoof and now the Prince saw that the silver was etched with miniature symbols.
“And so what?” Prince Blueblood shrugged.” The world is full of lunatics, my dear Trixie.”
“My lord, centuries ago, this castle was a stronghold of the Dark Brotherhood.” Trixie spoke clearly, though quietly, but Prince Blueblood could feel suppressed anger in her voice. “When Celestia triumphed, they were killed and buried in tombs protected by holy ‘Runes of the Night’ and ‘Lunar Silver’. This was not done without reason, believe me! I just do not know why their bones were not burned and the ashes scattered in the four corners of Equestria!”
Blueblood patted her on the back.
“I will not desecrate this tomb,” he said, with a calming tone. ”Though if those were bars of gold, you would have to convince me, longer. Let them be as they were for hundreds of years. But let's check them, maybe they will have a clue where the library is hidden on them?”
Without a word he trotted ahead, illuminating with his horn the rest of the hidden niches. Trixie followed him reluctantly. And suddenly Prince Blueblood saw a red flash on one of the skeletons. He leaned. It was a ruby necklace. A pony skull with a diadem stared into space with empty eye sockets.
“The mare from the portrait.” he whispered to himself.
“Nothing, nothing. See here. Those are some beautiful jewels, are they not?
Trixie leaned toward the niche.
“Really beautiful.” She said without enthusiasm in her voice.
Blueblood mused over pony destiny. Here is what remains of a pony, every pony. Death and decay. Even this brilliant mare with a charming smile and wonderful body turned into a skeleton. And yet she somehow gained eternity. Her beauty spoke to me from the portrait, and she branded herself so strongly in my mind that she could visit my dreams.
“What are you going to do with all this, my lord?” Trixie asked finally, and Blueblood sensed tension in her voice.
“Well. I would order to seal this place up, brick up the whole place. Who needs a cemetery?”
Trixie sighed with undisguised relief.
“It would be best for all,” she said. ”It’s dangerous to resurrect the ghosts of the past.”
“Exactly,” the Prince agreed. ”Let's go. These bones have a depressing effect on me.” He tried to laugh, but his laughter rang unnatural in the dungeons.
Prince Blueblood ordered everypony to leave the basement, and placed guards at the entrance. Then he ordered the workers to prepare relevant materials to brick up the hole next thing tomorrow.
Prince Blueblood remembered well the request of the mare and he wanted to meet her demands. He did not know why should he move the skeleton, but he knew also that the only way to get rid of the intrusive thoughts about her was to meet this request.
Anyway, that can be called chivalrous duty - to bury the mortal remains of a former inhabitant of the castle, is not a sin. The Prince didn’t intend to rob her from her jewels, never thought of melting the silver bars and chains. And what's wrong with burying her bones in the garden, and not in dark, gloomy catacombs? Prince Blueblood also imagined that he would prefer to be buried in a park after his death, under a spreading tree in whose shade, ponies would seek refuge. Read his name on the tomb, and remembered with respect and admiration the deceased Prince. Stallions would be inspired to act like he did in his time, and mares, would have dreamy hopes to find a lover like him. Prince Blueblood wiped a tear, which spun in a corner of his eye. He realized that he became part of history by destroying House Cassius, but he hoped that after several years passed, everypony would remember him with reverence, not hatred.
“No one judges the winners,” he said to himself. ”Because they write history.”
He decided to write a letter to relatives in Cantelot, and ask them if they could commend him a well-known playwright. Maybe he would spend several weeks with me, so I could inspire him to create a theatre play in honor of House Blueblood, and its greatest representative. Me.
When the day was at an end he summoned captain Madlok, and went with him to the catacombs.
In the catacombs Prince Blueblood removed the silver bars and shackles imprisoning the mortal reminds of the milk white mare from his dream. Madlok carefully, respectfully, and perhaps also with fear, placed her remains in a wooden crate. Madlok didn’t ask any questions and that pleased the Prince, who decided to keep an eye on this pony and promote him. Neither did he show surprise, when the Prince ordered him to bring the chest with the skeleton to his bedroom.
Madlok said goodbye to the Prince and wished him good night. Blueblood was alone. Alone, not counting the portrait of a mare whose mortal remains laid in the middle of the floor. Blueblood had a rather vague idea about what was appropriate to do next.
He assumed that when he falls asleep, the dream would answer his questions, and now such assumption seemed to him both funny and at least bizarre. He sighed, and undressed, preparing only a flask of wine and a freshly printed book with one of the trendy dramas from Canterlot. He liked to read before bedtime, especially when the action of the play concerned a heroic struggle and passionate love. And in Canterlot fashion for them prevailed recently.
He didn’t know when he fell asleep.
Is it reality, or just a dream so clear that almost real? Prince Blueblood could not answer that question, at this time, moreover, the answer to it didn’t seem important to him. It was important that he could hear a gentle rustle of a dress, and again felt the intoxicating smell of heavy perfume.
“Thank you, my Prince. The first step was made,” she said with a solemn tone. ”Time to continue our work.” She smiled sweetly.” Because after all, you want to see me in bodily form, my beautiful Prince? Would you like to feel my hoof touching your… hoof, Hmmm?”
“Of course, my lady,” he said, still amazed that a conversation with a dreamy phantom seemed so real.
“That's what I thought. You don’t even know how great is my gratitude and how much you will enjoy the way it can be shown.” A playful smile appeared on her lips.
“I am very thirsty, my Prince,” she continued, in her words was both sadness and longing. ”Ah, to drink wine from crystal goblets, feel a strong masculine hoof on my body.”
She fell silent, and finally looked at the Prince and nodded.
“I would not forget that it was you who contributed to my rebirth, my Prince,” she said in a whisper. ”Although there is much to be done before you will be able to taste the full reward. For now I would give you the first fruits of my gratitude. You are looking for somepony, are you my Prince? You can find him in a secret chamber in the Marquis’ wife bedroom. Move the cabinet and open a secret door. There sits a small colt, alerted as a hunted rabbit. Just like a rabbit he goes at night to filch food, but he is alive and full of hatred and desire for revenge. He saw from the window the carnage of his family. He has the sight of you, calmly cleaning your mantle in front of his eyes, all the time. He remembers also his father lying in a pool of blood, and the headless bodies of his brothers and sisters. He hears the screaming of his mother. He is a strong colt, my Prince. You will have trouble if he survives,” she laughed, as if something amused her, and Prince Blueblood preferred not to ask what.
“This is my first gift,” she continued. ”A sign of goodwill. Just tell me what would you do with this colt?”
“Forgive me, madam, but I have to kill him.” he said quietly. ”He is the last colt of House Cassius. When he dies, House Cassius will be no more.”
“No need to ask for forgiveness,” she laughed again. ”What can be wrong in inflicting death in the name of big ideas?” she asked.
“Y-yes,” Blueblood stammered. ”Of course, but few in the world believe as you do.”
“This will change,” she said gently, but with remarkable confidence in her voice. “This will change shortly, my dear Prince Blueblood. I feel the wind of change coming from all sides. Night is waking from a thousand year sleep. Princess Luna has returned and with her comes back the power of the Night and the Moon. Servants of the Night Princess wake from slumber, she is calling for them and with her call we will return as well. We are coming back, my Prince! And with us comes twilight of the era of the Sun!”
The Prince didn’t understand what she was saying, and besides, his attention was drawn to the sculpture of her rear, which seemed even more beautiful, than the previous night.
“If you could see what I see,” she whispered, and leaned over him. ”If you could see the future, young Prince.”
Blueblood could see the future. Or rather, one of its aspects. He saw how he would cuddle and caress her body, and how he would hear a groan of pleasure coming from her ready to scream lips. She smiled, as if she knew his thoughts.
“I know that you ordered to seal and wall up the catacombs,” she said with a calm voice. ”Do it, but very carefully. But don’t you dare to destroy anything inside.”
“I did not intend to destroy anything. I have respect for the dead.”
“Dead?” she repeated, her voice sounded amused.
”I'll tell you now, how to complete the ritual ...” she added.
“Do you think that it is easy to resurrect a pony?” she asked with unexpected bitterness. ”That it is easy to come back from the depths of the world-not to the universe of living beings? That the souls and minds wandering in the icy emptiness would easily reclaim its bodily form?”
“You'll look just like on the picture, right?”
“Oh, much more beautiful! And all yours! I can give you not only my body, young Prince. I can give you the power and knowledge. And fame, which you desire above all else.”
“The Ritual, my Prince,” she went back to the main topic. ”It’s been long since ponies stopped to fulfill the sacred rites... Well, my Prince, I will explain everything thoroughly. First of all you need to find a pony with bonds to this place of life and death. Secondly, the pony has to be innocent, because only the blood of innocent creatures and its souls have the magic power to resurrect. Thirdly, you need blood of the chosen pony. The best way is to hang him by the legs and slit arteries so that blood flows to a bowl,” she added with businesslike tone, and looking at terrified Blueblood loudly drawing air into the lungs.
“I know that it can be uncomfortable,” she spread her hoofs. ”But in the end is not like you haven’t killed ponies before? My dear Prince, our goal is important and sacred. It is worth the sacrifices.”
“You're right,” he said quietly, but the thought of butchering some pony in cold blood seemed repugnant to him.
Something like this could not be shown on stage. This kind of scene would cause vomiting in the audience. And if not vomiting, then at least a feeling of hatred and disgust for Prince Blueblood.
“Later, when the blood is drained, set the bowl under my Painting and immerse in it my remains. Then you will light seven black candles in a circle around it, and each of them is to be molded in wax mixed with the hair of the chosen one ...”
Prince Blueblood winced.
“... And then the only thing you have to do is to desire my return,” she smiled radiantly. ”Pray at the image for my return to the world of the living. Perhaps it’s even more important than the ritual itself, faith and desire. Do you have enough of them, my Prince?"
Blueblood looked at the mare and nervously stroked his chin.
“Probably yes, my lady,” he replied after a moment.” But I think the conditions are difficult. It will take time to find somepony with your requirements. Innocent, and bound with ties of life and death. This may take time.”
She laughed carelessly.
“My young friend, don’t you understand? Pipsqueak is this pony! A colt born in the castle. A colt, who saw the death of his family here. A colt who never killed anypony, and was never with a mare. Ties of life, bonds of death and innocence.”
Blueblood rose in bed and sat up straight. Thoughts whirled in his head. One thing is to condemn to death, officially, and leave judgment in hooves of a skilled executioner. It was something else to issue orders to strangle Little Pip with a pillow. And quite another is to treat him as if he was an animal destined for slaughter.
Blueblood stood up from the bed. He came to the table, reached for the jug and poured a cup of wine. He drank a few sips, knowing that this moment could not drag on forever and that eventually, he would have to answer.
“My dear Prince,” he heard a warm voice. ”I know that it is not easy for a stallion, with a pure heart, to make this kind of decision. But is it not a step forward? What is the next, logical step after the death of House Cassius? Believe me, you will need my strength and friendship. House Cassius had friends and supporters in the Royal Court. They would close ranks and conspire against you? And my magic will allow you to defend, and to attack …”
Even if it's true, he thought with remarkable clarity. This means that for the rest of my life I will be depending on you. And the greater your power, the stronger I will be shackled to you.
“I will think about your… proposal,” he said with an official tone, and tried not to look at her. ”It is difficult for a noblepony and knight to undertake a similar decision without time to think.”
“There is no time,” she interrupted him. ”You broke the Night Runes and freed my remains. You already made a choice.” she added with a hard tone.
Prince Blueblood was not accustomed to this type of tone. He turned towards her.
“I said that I will think about it, my lady, and that is the whole answer,” he said. ”I didn’t make a choice, yet. Perhaps it would be better, if I drown the colt in a well and forget about the whole affair.”
Her face changed for a moment and Blueblood saw not a pretty, delicate mare with a gentle smile, but a witch with clenched lips and the eyes of a cockatrice. But this strange view subsided as quickly as it appeared, and the indigo-haired beauty was back again. And this time she had a sad smile.
“I will not go back, my Prince,” she said quietly. ”I'm not going back into the void. I can be a devoted friend, but I can be enemy for those who do not appreciate my friendship.”
“Don’t threaten me. You know that I want your presence,” his tone softened. ”And I can do much to set you free. But let's find another way.” he took a few steps in her direction.
Again he could not resist her beauty, and the heavy scent of perfume enveloped him like a cocoon. He wanted to take her in his arms and cuddle with her. Taste her kisses, touch her mane and lips. He forced himself to regain clarity of mind. She looked at him with sadness and concern.
“Don’t hurt me, my Prince.” she said. ”Allow yourself to be loved. It's just one bad night, and then everything will be fine.” Her voice was soothing and persuasive, but Blueblood gathered all his forces and retreated two steps.
“No,” he said firmly. ”There must be another way.”
She looked at him and her eyes had both anger and reluctant admiration. Or I just want to see them? Maybe it’s just anger?
“You had a carrot,” she announced coldly. ”And now you will taste the stick.”
She clapped her hooves, but he did not heard any sound. He heard a something jumping into the floor next to her picture. He turned sharply in that direction, but it was too dark to see anything.
He heard that something slowly scratched its claws on stones. From the darkness emerged a large cat with bloody eyes and gleaming fangs. It was the cat from the portrait. The brown, thick mouth trickled drops of saliva, and in the throat of the animal grew a dull roar.
“Mistress and her pet,” she said, amused to see his fear.
Blueblood was actually afraid at first, but then he recovered. The animal was large for a cat but it has been just a cat after all, and he was a full grown stallion! Furthermore this cat has been just an illusion, an image just like his mistress. He laughed.
“You have to do more to ...”
He was not able to finish, because the beast jumped. Quick as a whip. Prince Blueblood felt an immense strength pushing him from his hooves. When he opened his eyes he was on the floor but the first thing he saw was huge jaw full of bared fangs.
“My dear Prince,” he heard. Unexpectedly, the heavy cat pinned him to the ground. ”Cats needs a lot less to go back to the real world,” she explained with amusement. ”And I gained back enough power to do it when you broke the silver shackles on my body.”
Hot saliva dropped on his cheek. The Prince couldn’t refrain from shouting full of disgust. The milk white mare laughed and whistled at her pet. The cat slowly departed, releasing Blueblood.
“Let not allow this small quarrel, to change our feelings,” she said with a gentle voice and nodded at the beast, which obediently moved away into the darkness. “I don’t want to scare you any more or hurt you, young Prince. Let me be your friend.”
She knelt down beside him and looked at him with the gaze of a concerned mother.
“Are we going to be friends, my dear Prince? Lovers? Partners in mystery? That really is what you want, is it not?”
“Of course,” he replied, and again, he wanted to hug her.
He did not know how could he be stupid enough to hurt this lovely mare, who only wished for his welfare and happiness. He understood her anger when she had sent that cat against him. How much is worth the life of one colt? He is Cassius. He would die anyway!
“Of course,” he repeated completely convinced. ”I'll try to be worthy of you, my lady”.
She smiled and leaned over him. For the first time he felt the taste of her lips. She took his face in her hooves.
“Soon,” she said, covering him with kisses. ”The Dark Brotherhood will be reborn.”
Prince Blueblood awoke full of bad feelings. He already knew he was in trouble; big trouble. The Prince had no doubt that the cat from the painting could tear him to pieces. He felt his heavy paws on his shoulders. It was not a gentle ghost, wandering through the castle chambers, despairing over lost life and his own past. It was a real, bloodthirsty beast. And his mistress was not particularly gentle either.
The very thought of completing the ritual made him shrink in disgust, but he slowly realized that he might not have any other choice. His noble soul, an innate sense of aesthetics and a love of theater scene didn’t accept such solution. How would this scene look in a theatrical event? The main character, killing a colt with a butcher knife? How could he become a knight, desired by beautiful mares, thinking fondly that their charm would heal his wounded soul?
“I had to kill my mortal enemy, but it was a necessity dictated by the eternal law of Vendetta, I could not refuse fate.” I would say with face full of suffering, and mares and fillies would faint in my arms.
But no noble mare would have ‘faint’ in the arms of a butcher, stained with the blood of a slaughtering ritual! After this, the only role left for him would be a demonic villain, waiting for death at the hooves of a righteous Paladin stallion.
She is dead, only a disembodied spirit. What would happen when she regains her former power? What would happen if she came to life? What tricks, intrigues and machinations would she be able to perform?
If not for this damn ritual. Maybe it is for the better.
Blueblood remembered a story his nanny told him once when he was just a colt and hadn’t obeyed her. He had nightmares for a month after just one story. They were powerful sorcerers. They cultivated an art so dark, and so awful, that only the faded memory of their deeds survived. As if the ponies were afraid to even remember them. Though no doubt they were also wise and powerful. They had power over life and death. Celestia only knows how they were defeated. But, she wasn’t entirely successful. It’s not safe to play with such power ...
On the other hoof it would be good to have powerful ally especially now.
No, no. It’s dangerous to extinguish a fire with a flood.
The game has become too dangerous. I will bury the catacombs, burn the skeleton and the portrait. I’ll order my soldiers to find and strangle Pipsqueak. No more games.
The Prince summoned captain Madlok and gave his orders. Madlok took them without any questions and trotted to execute them. Meanwhile Blueblood felt an urge to go for a long walk. He didn’t want to be in the castle when the young colt was caught and his precious picture burned. Yes, it would do me good if I just look around my new land.
The walk was relaxing and The prince didn’t hurry with getting back to the castle. He had two Pegasus guards with him but they were observing him discreetly from the clouds so he could enjoy his walk. It was almost sunset when he finally returned to the castle.
It was until he trotted onto the bascule bridge that he felt that something bad had happened. It might have been because a servant mare ran next to him with screams of dread or maybe because he saw smoke coming from one of castle windows.
The Courtyard was in total chaos. Ponies were running from place to place without any coordination, some of them were carrying buckets of water into the castle. Only place where he saw a bit of order was in the middle. Trixie stood there on the same wooden box he stood on a few days ago. She was easily seen with her purple, star covered mantle, flowing in the wind. She was surrounded by his soldiers. From time to time one of them ran somewhere.
Blueblood didn’t know what was happening but he knew that his blue mare advisor would know. He trotted to her, carefully avoiding running into the servants.
“What in Luna’s name is going on here?” he yelled in half the way.
“Prince Blueblood you are finally here.” Trixie immediately stopped whatever she was doing and ran towards Prince.
”I have sent for you, an hour ago. We have here a bit of a situation and you will have to take charge of some things.”
“I think so, it’s MY castle after all, now.”
“If things would go as well as for now, you would have a smoking ruin not a castle.”
“Start from the beginning. But be fast.”
“I was in the catacombs overseeing the workers, when this whole castle went straight down to freaky town. When I went up here everypony was just running around, basically as they do now, so I gathered some guards to restore some order, but then fires started to ignite all around the castle causing more chaos. I was informed that somepony found Pipsqueak in a hidden chamber in his mother's room. And for the love of Celestia who ever built this place had a knack for hiding things.”
“Back to the point,” the Prince interrupted her.
“Yes. Apparently when they finally managed to pull him from that shit hole he was hiding in, a gigantic Cat appeared out of the blue and attacked them. Killed two of the three guards. The one alive is in bad shape but he told me the story. The beast kidnapped the colt and ran off. I have no idea where the colt is now but the fire and the fear of the beast are our main problems at the moment.”
Prince Blueblood swallowed hard. ”You know Trixie, I think the fire and giant cat are not on the top of our ‘problem to be solved’ list. Where can we talk privately?” the Prince looked around.
Trixie looked at him with disbelief but didn’t argue.
“Let’s go to the kitchen. There's no one there. I sent every available pony to extinguish the fire.”
In the kitchen Prince Blueblood explained to her his little ‘resurrected from the painting, seven hundred years old, necromancer and her pet, problem’. Blueblood know that he couldn’t cope with this problem alone and Trixie had proven to be more than helpful to him during her short service.
Trixie listened to his story and didn’t ask any questions until he had finished.
“So the beast from the painting kidnapped the colt. Now this milk white mare from the painting lacks only you as the transmitter. You have to check the painting in your bedroom.”
“You mean you and guards would have to …”
“Your highness, please note that I advised not to move the corpses or the paintings, did I not? My advice was burying it up and leave everything as it was.”
Prince Blueblood dramatically hit his hoof on the kitchen table.
“So this is my fault?” he asked with a furiously quiet voice. ”You dare to say that I caused all this misery?”
Trixie stepped forward and pushed him straight into the chest, so that he landed back.
“And whose fault it is, you idiot?” hissed his adviser. ”Who revived the ancient magic? Who do we thank for having an infernal beast running in the castle killing ponies? Now, instead of having the corpse of a colt, we have to look for him, again. If you weren’t thinking about fucking this mare, we would not be in this trouble in the first place.”
“What?” the Prince blurted out.
“What you heard! Get a hold of yourself and start thinking, because this monster will soon come after you!” Trixie stood and stared at the Prince with burning eyes.
“Have you finished?” Blueblood asked after a moment of silence.
“Yes,” she murmured with a not very humble tone.
“What do we do now?” asked the Prince.
“Well, I will go and take care of the giant, necromantic enhanced, Cat.” said Trixie. ”Now that I know what it is I think I can deal with it.”
Blueblood rouse one eyebrow in disbelief.
“You in the meantime would have to find that painting and destroy it.”
“Ok, I will take some guards with me and…”
“No my Prince. I will need all available guards to evacuate the castle and to catch the cat. If I manage that, there will be nothing for you worry about.”
“And the fire? She can cast powerful spells! Charms!”
“You are a unicorn for crying out loud! Don’t they teach you anything these days? Now go. I have a kitty to catch.”
Prince Blueblood trotted out of the kitchen. He was in a bit of a shock. Not often was he pushed around like that. None the less, he ran towards his bedroom, but he took the long way just in case.
All of the sudden he spotted his faithful captain Madlok in one of castle corridors, he was passing by. He stopped and trotted towards him happy that he found some pony who would do his dirty work.
“Madlok here you are. Where is the paint…”
Prince Blueblood never ended that sentence because his world went black. The last thing he felt was a hoof smashing him between the eyes.
He woke up and tried to move his hoofs. He couldn’t. I’m paralyzed, this very thought terrified him. Only after a second or two he realized he was not paralyzed, just tied down. He saw that his mystery mare was bent over him; he could smell her perfume, but this time Blueblood could not admire her perfect shapes. He knew that something was very wrong. In any case he had failed to burn her magical image.
“I have come to the conclusion that you will not be useful for me, Prince. You could not appreciate true friendship...” Her green eyes were cold now.
“Let's make a fair deal. Care to negotiate?” he blurted out
“I suggested that from the beginning, my beloved.”
“Your proposition was not fair...”
“Not fair?” she interrupted him, and the tone of her voice tightened. ”I dedicate my friendship, support and body to you, offer you power to deal with your enemies. And what did I request in return? One small sacrifice. Not even one night, but two, maybe three hours of your life. Who could give you a better offer?!”
“You have requested my honor,” he said haughtily.
“You talk about honor? Murderer of mares and fillies? Did you really think that you would get away with everything? That Princess Celestia would just wave her hoof and say, ‘what’s done , is done.’ You would need powerful friends to save your head, Blueblood. Believe me. But now I have no use for you, at least I have no use of you being alive.”
“Listen...” He tried to get up but could not move. Somepony did a very good job while tying him up. “You can’t just kill me like that!”
“You will not die just like that,” she laughed, and Blueblood didn’t liked that laughter. ”You will take part in something much more than just a theater play about death and revenge. It will be a real feast, my dear Prince! A sublime and wonderful ceremony!”
He focused all his strength to brake his bonds, but he knew that the mighty knights, who can break chains with one quick move, existed only in chivalrous romance novels.
He took a careful look around. In the hall he saw the yellow flames of candles. Flickering, raised by the wind seeping through cracks in the window frames and the door. But at the border of darkness he saw something that chilled his blood.
He saw a rope suspended from the ceiling, with a huge slaughterhouse hook at the end. He strained his eyes, because he was not sure if this was just an illusion. But no, it wasn’t the hook was swaying slightly.
She followed his gaze and smiled.
“It won’t take long, my Prince,” she said with almost caressing tone. ”Though, of course, for you it will seem like an eternity.”
“What will you do with me?” he almost screamed.
“Only what I have to do,” she explained. ”Don’t think that you are the ideal candidate.”
“I ... I do not understand.”
“You have bounded with this castle, my Prince,” she said thoughtfully. ”Extremely strong bonds, even though you do not realize their strength. Life, death, hope, lust ... The bond between you and this place was born when you murdered the Cassius family… It just bothers me that you can hardly be called innocent,” she winked playfully at his side, and fluttered her long eyelashes. ”But I hope that the small deviation from the canon does not disrupt the entire ceremony. And my power will compensate losses ...”
“You want to kill me? Butcher me?”
“Me? How could I do it, my friend, I’m only a spectrum? When I touch you, can you feel something beyond the cool, damp breeze? How do you imagine that I could hurt or kill?” she was clearly mocking him.
She waited for the grand final, she prepared it carefully, he knew that she enjoyed theatrical productions as much as he does.
“Madlok? How did you persuade him?
“No, no, no, my love. He is under my charm. A pony who would complete the ritual has to do it out of free will. By the way, it’s remarkable that you were able to resist my magic. Now, my friend. He would do everything to bring me back.” She nodded her hoof, as if inviting somepony from the darkness.
Prince Blueblood froze. He had expected to hear heavy footsteps, to see some demonic figure with flickering yellow eyes. He expected a terrible beast with fangs and mouth dripping with saliva, and gore. But nothing like that happened. In the circle of light came a white and grayish brown colt. He stood right next to the mare, and his dark scarlet eyes stared relentlessly at Blueblood with cold, reptilian hatred.
“Little Pip has no remorse, similar to you,” she explained cheerfully. ”He was delighted with the possibility of performing on you this little prank.”
Pipsqueak snorted and looked at her with resentment. She became serious, and nodded, as if agreed with some inexpressible opinion.
“I know, I know,” She said. ”It's not a joke. It's revenge. For mother, father, brothers and sisters ...”
There were no sorrow or tears in Pipsqueak eyes when she spoke these words. All the tears had been shed at the castle window when he watched the destruction of his family, and in the dark cell, where desperate, frightened and alone, he listened to guards searching for him. Now in his eyes there was nothing but hatred.
“This colt has strength, Prince Blueblood,” she said. ”Strength, which you never had. You're just a pathetic comedian, but you managed to create a monster. My congratulations. Even I wouldn’t have done better.” She looked at him with an ironic smile and shook her head.
“Do not make it difficult,” Again, her tone sounded almost like maternal concern. ”I would prefer that everything ended without unnecessary suffering. Although do not think that I won’t find delightful joy in this. Madlok take care of him.”
The world went dark again as the hoof of the captain struck his face. Again.
Trixie walked down the long corridor. Torches on the walls gave weak light. She was tired. The encounter with the beast cat was not easy. It took lots of power, both hers and her master’s to kill that monster, but finally, she managed to immobilize the cat in a magical Nexus Prison. The kill belonged to one of the Pegasus Guards, but she didn’t mind that. There were more important things to do than shine in the glory of killing a monster.
“Hurry Trixie,” she heard voice in her head.
The encounter with the giant cat didn’t go as well as she hoped. Trixie was wounded in the leg. It was a minor wound but still, the pain and her muscle twitching slowed her down.
“She is gaining strength I can feel it. We shouldn’t have come here in the first place.” The voice of Cloudbergen Necromancer echoed in her head.
“It was your idea, master,” said Trixie, but she had no strength to argue.
“We were supposed to find their Library. I wanted to know what happened to my brethren. Why did they go down from the righteous path?”
Trixie had heard that story a hundred times. Her master was a much older servant of the Night than the Necromancers from Dark Brotherhood. As she understood, he belonged to the Brotherhood of the Night and was still a faithful servant of Princess Luna. Although she never had courage to ask him why did he immortalized his soul in that book, neither did she ask why did he chose her to be a vessel of his return. He taught her ancient magic, but sometimes Trixie wondered when would he finally find himself a body. Two souls and minds in one pony was unhealthy, not to mention those three demons that were still caged in far reaches of her mind.
“Soon Trixie, soon. Try to concentrate now. This mare from the painting is a powerful necromancer. She survived in the cold void of the world-not for seven hundred years. I’m going to take control of your body for a while.”
Trixie was close to her destination. She could feel enormous amounts of magical power emanating from this part of the castle. She was close to the big wooden door at the end of the corridor when she heard a scream from the other side. It was a female scream of dread and disgust.
Trixie concentrated her magic. She didn’t open the door. She blew it up, sending it inside the chamber. When she trotted inside she saw that her spell did not only sent the door flying, but also a pony who was guarding it on the other side.
“That was probably captain Madlok. Well, shit happens,” said master in her head. But it didn’t made Trixie feel better. “Wow, this is not a scene you can see every day.”
In the middle of the room, in a circle of candles, stood the mare from the painting covered in blood, still dropping on her from the body of Prince Blueblood that hung above her. In the corner of the room curled a small colt, covering his face and crying.
“I was supposed to be beautiful!” Her voice was like a clatter of an iron chisel on the stone surface. A mirror hovered in front of her face.
“Innocence!” she whispered.
Now Trixie saw that the mare was not exactly like in the painting. Her face and body were full of wrinkles, her hips were shaking and her whole body looked as if it would fall in any second. Her body was old, devoid of youngness and beauty. She looked at Little Pip in the corner and with an angry face moved towards him. Her eyes were glowing with unnatural red light.
In that moment Trixie felt that Master took control of her body. She didn’t like that but now it was a necessity.
Master/Trixie stood on two legs and started to mutter incantations. The floor under her changed into a bright glowing pentagram covered in runes.
This is something new, thought Trixie observing the scene from the backs of her own mind. The pentagram begun to glow with bright blue light and small lightning started to shoot from the runes around Trixie. That finally drew the attention of the mare from the painting. She opened her eyes in shock.
“Who are you?”
“How dare you speak to the Great and Powerful Trixie. On your knees witch.” Trixie was surprised how well her master imitated her voice.
“No. This is the body of Trixie. But who are you?”
“So you can see me, witch.” Master/Trixie smiled.
“Yes, and your pathetic spell is not going to help you if you will not say who you are.”
“You know what kind of spell I’m casting now my dear?”
“Of course. It’s some sort of a summoning spell. What would you do? Summon a pathetic demon? Me and my brethren could control every demon from the world-not.”
“Every demon you say?”
“Yes.” She boosted her chest.” Now speak, who are you, or I will make you suffer for your…
But Trixie never knew for what she would be punished for, because the castle began shaking and the stones under the hooves of the old mare started to crack. She tried to jump away, but her old body was too slow. She casted a spell, and bat wings appeared on her back. That didn’t help either because from the rift under her hooves, giant green tentacles erupted. Demonic tentacles grabbed her and pulled her under the ground in a split second. The Stone floor sealed itself when the last tentacle disappeared with its victim.
Trixie collapsed. She regained control of her body. This spell was not a simple trick and she felt drained. Her body felt as if she had just finished a marathon.
“What was that?”
“A summoning spell, my dear Trixie. Haven’t you listened?”
“Yes but what did you summon? Where is she? I can’t feel her magic matrix anywhere in the castle.”
“She is not in the castle anymore. There are demons even I can’t control. The hardest part of this spell is not to summon but to banish,” Master sounded amused.
“You said something to that creature, did you?”
“What does that mean?”
“Enjoy your meal, bon appétit.”
Trixie finally stood up and looked around the room.
“What do we do with the colt?” Trixie asked with a shaken voice. She was afraid of the answer. Too much blood on my hooves.
“There is no sense in killing him. It’s a perfect occasion to train memory wipe charms for you,” Master’s voice
“And what then? His life here would be full of hatred and revenge. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, blood for blood.”
“You are right, it was a mistake to help Blueblood. I will show you how to cast deep memory charms.
“Memory charm and orphanage? That’s your answer to all the pain that you … we have caused him.”
“He is young, he will get a good new life I... We would ensure it. He is a brave bold colt. He will do well somewhere far away from this place. But you are right Trixie; there are things that no magic can cure, the Night will always appeal to him. I just hope he finds happiness under the light of Luna’s moon and stars, rather than the darkness and chill of the Eternal Night.”
“And what about Prince Blueblood? He lost almost all blood but…”
“He is dead Trixie, but…”
Prince Blueblood floated at the ceiling. He could control his body only through thought. The whole scene amused him very much. The only thing that spoiled his humor was his dead body.
He playfully shook his hoof in farewell, to both, his body and all present in the chamber. He floated away into the darkness, where, in emptiness, full of bitterness, hatred and anger, waited for him his ancestors.
Spectral forms in full armor barding, with ghostly spectral swords in their hooves welcomed him. Prince Blueblood knew that he would have somepony to talk about his pain and humiliation.
Suddenly he felt that something grabbed him and hold his body thigh. He couldn’t move his ghost form. An invisible force pushed him back from where he came from. In panic he looked around. His ancestors scattered as sheep in presence of a wolf. Behind him stood Trixie. The power erupting from her horn caused her mane to flutter.
“There ain’t no rest for the wicked… even if we close our eyes for good,” said a male voice in his head.
“...they didn’t call us Necromancers for no reason.”