I am Raleigh; pony fan, metalhead, Warhammer enthusiast, and amateur armchair general.
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Prince Blueblood and the Second Incursion of Canterlot
Prince Blueblood is a renowned war hero, who has served with distinction during the Changeling Wars and numerous other highly crucial military operations that have ensured the survival of our great kingdom. Throughout his extensive military career as a commissar of the Royal Guard he has proved to be a popular hero with soldiers and civilians alike, with a combination of inspired leadership, unrivalled courage, and quick-thinking that allowed him to turn many a near defeat into a glorious victory. As such, his worth as a propaganda figure is almost as great as his worth on the battlefield, with our recruitment centres being swamped with ponies wishing to emulate their great hero.
The truth, as ever, is always far more complex than its fiction. Those of us who knew him personally prior to his meteoric rise to fame generally believed him to be a boorish and unpleasant individual, utterly self-absorbed and arrogant to the extreme. The disparity between his public image of the noble hero and the Blueblood who once used a mare as a pony-shield has often confused me.
His memoirs, ‘To Serve the Princess’, were published a few short years ago, these are infamously inaccurate, having been written by a ghost-writer and the truth doctored to preserve the image of the all-conquering hero. As I was going through his personal effects I discovered a manuscript; a rather more frank description of his life, amusingly entitled ‘To Serve Auntie ‘Tia’, which provides a fascinating insight into the mindset of this popular public figure.
This manuscript provides a very candid appraisal of the events surrounding Blueblood’s life, showing him to be very much aware of his fraudulent reputation, and bizarrely, he appears to have been rather shameful of it. It appears that behind the boorish swagger of this high ranking noble lay an ingrained inferiority complex. Indeed, throughout the manuscript he seems to dismiss genuine moments of courage and selfless sacrifice as the actions of a self-centred coward.
Most of this manuscript appears to be written as a stream of consciousness, and often its tone makes it feel like a confession as much as memoirs. True to Blueblood’s self-centred personality, the manuscript tends to focus solely on his own thoughts, emotions, and actions. Where necessary I have attached extracts from other works to help explain the big picture of the circumstances around his life.
With the aid of the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony and my sister Princess Luna, the ponies who perhaps knew him best, I have compiled this loose collection of memories and recollections into a publishable format. Where necessary I have added notes that we hope will clarify on certain points raised in this manuscript. These notes will be in parenthesis, in italics, and coloured red.
We hope, dear Reader, that this manuscript will illuminate you as to the true thoughts and feelings of Equestria’s champion, but above all we hope that you merely find it interesting.
Needless to say that in order to preserve Blueblood’s worth as a propaganda hero this document is classified as Top Secret. Unauthorised individuals caught reading this will be banished.
If I were to pick a single moment that turned my entire career from comfortably sitting in my manor licking chocolate off mare’s flanks to being thrust repeatedly into many violent and life-threatening scenarios, it would have to be Fancy Pants’ benefit party of ’12. This was the moment where the seeds of my fraudulent reputation for heroics were first planted and subsequently snowballed.
The party was held in the aftermath of the first Changeling invasion of Canterlot, in which somehow nopony had noticed that Princess Cadence had been replaced by an evil doppelganger hell bent on sapping all of the love out of the city. Especially her fiancé, Shining Arsehole [evidently Blueblood’s nickname for Shining Armour, I recall Twilight getting most upset when he taught it to Spike], who probably should have noticed.
At any rate, the immediate aftermath of a hostile invasion didn’t seem the best time to host a benefit party for Canterlot’s elite. However, Fancy Pants was of the view that despite Equestria being in a state of total war we should continue with ‘business as usual’. This meant hosting another party for Equestria’s upper crust with the aim to raise money for rebuilding parts of the city that were ruined in the invasion. Naturally, as Princess Celestia’s nephew, I was invited.
Up to this point I was doing my utmost to avoid being drafted into the frontline infantry to be sent halfway across Equestria to the Badlands, where the Changelings were massing once more, and so far I had largely been successful. Having a military background (all members of the royal family are expected to serve in the Royal Guard) and being Canterlot royalty would have guaranteed me a role as an officer, however, I had no plans on risking myself getting killed or taken prisoner on the frontlines, so with a little wrangling I managed to secure a position as Commissioner for Supply in the War Ministry overseeing the all important supply lines. Granted, it was not particularly interesting, and if I ever had grandchildren they would not be impressed when they ask me ‘what did you do in the war?’ and I answer ‘signing requisition forms’, but at the very least I was guaranteed to live long enough to have grandchildren.
Of course, had I any indication of what I was getting into in this party I’d have grabbed up my sword, screamed ‘for Auntie ‘Tia!’, and personally walked across the accursed Badlands to Queen Chrysalis’ domain. Life, as I have learned, likes to play a little game called ‘Screw Blueblood’ in which every time I think I have everything arranged so that I’m not in constant mortal danger, fate contrives a way to bring it all crashing down upon me.
So I arrived at Fancy Pants’ estate fashionably late as usual, with my esteemed aide Cannon Fodder in lieu of a date. Sadly, despite being Canterlot’s most eligible bachelor there were no young, impressionable mares available at such short notice, and I would rather go and tell Iron Will he’s a pansy to his face than ask any of the desiccated old mares at the office to come with me.
As Royal Commissioner for Supply I was assigned an aide to assist me with the vast mountain of paperwork and requests I had to deal with on a daily basis, and as luck would have it I had to get a stallion for whom personal hygiene was something that happened to other ponies. He was a unicorn pony from the Royal Guard with a grubby beige coat, black messy hair, and two crossed spears for a cutie mark. I later found out that his coat is actually white but the accumulated mud and dirt had stained what should have been lustrous alabaster fur into a sickly shade of off-white. You may be wondering why I would associate myself with such an unkempt and unclean pony, but I found that his malodorous scent was outweighed by his knack for organisation, scrounging things, saving my life, and, perhaps most importantly, dissuading individuals who didn’t have anything truly important to discuss from annoying me.
That said, he was hardly the pony for Fancy Pants’ little soiree, but I brought him along as a little reward for helping me clear out a six month backlog of paperwork (requests for extra paperclips for Auntie Luna’s personal army of ghouls [The Night Guard obviously]). At the very least, Cannon Fodder was unimaginative and phlegmatic enough not to cause an embarrassing faux pas on my behalf. Also, I was relying upon his innate tendency to follow orders to the letter as I ordered him only to speak when he was spoken to this evening.
It had taken us hours to prepare, much of which was spent on trying in vain to get Cannon Fodder to look presentable. After a three hour bath and a failed attempt to remove the gravy stains from his Royal Guard uniform my maid announced that there was nothing more that she could do and subsequently quit her job, which was a shame because she had an amazing derrière.
Fancy Pants’ estate was magnificent, not as wonderful as mine obviously, but still very impressive for somepony who was nouveau riche. I watched disinterestedly through the window of our carriage as we were brought up the expansive driveway. The gardens were lavishly decorated, with a well manicured lawn and numerous bushes trimmed into pleasing shapes and a smattering of statues of ponies I didn’t recognise.
The mansion itself was rather understated compared to the garish designs of other such self-made millionaires, lacking the hideous classical minarets that Canterlotians find so attractive for some peculiar reason. Instead it was modelled on the delicate white curves of Canterlot Castle and, for once, not festooned with purple and gaudy chunks of gold. In fact, it was rather modest compared to the other palatial estates on this road.
The carriage stopped, and the door opened to allow us exit into the cold and dark night. I stepped off first, followed by Cannon Fodder, and I was amused when I saw the carriage driver turn his nose up in disgust at Cannon Fodder’s appearance and odour. I paused for a moment to adjust my own uniform in the reflection of one of the many gothic windows of the house, while the other party guests streamed past us to enter.
I had decided to wear my Royal Guard dress uniform since I would be representing the Royal Guard at this soiree, which consisted of a red tunic and brass buttons, a red sash, yellow epaulettes, and a sword strapped to my back. However, it did make me look rather dashing, and mares always love a stallion in uniform (Cannon Fodder excepted).
“How do I look?” I asked.
“Very good, sir,” answered Cannon Fodder in his usual laconic manner. He had chosen to wear his full plate armour and carried his trusty spear. I questioned why he, a mere office drudge now, was still expected to wear that but I chalked it up to bureaucratic incompetence as usual.
At any rate, I wasn’t likely to attract any ladies with Cannon Fodder hanging around, but that night I was feeling rather sorry for him. The poor guy had spent so much time going through all of my paperwork and sorting out the Western Front’s paperclip supply lines, so I felt compelled to reward him by giving him an insight into the upper class world in which I am most at home. He, on the other hoof, seemed to take my offer of a colt’s night out as a direct order rather than a mere suggestion. I had another motive for bringing him along, with the risks of another Changeling incursion I felt it necessary to bring along a bodyguard just in case things went pear-shaped, which they inevitably did.
Now ready, I entered through the great oaken doors into the mansion. The interior decor echoed the exterior’s design with its sleek lines and lack of gaudy ostentation, at least what I could see of the main entrance hall. The hall itself had been repurposed for the holding of parties; Fancy Pants’ usual venue of one of the many banquet halls of Canterlot Castle unavailable as they were being used as weapons stores for the army massing there.
While smaller than the Canterlot Castle banquet halls, Fancy Pants’ own entrance hall was still sufficient to the task. It was three storeys tall with a high vaulted ceiling reminiscent of a gothic cathedral and was supported by tall marble pillars. The ceiling had several windows which allowed Auntie Luna’s stars to shine down upon the party. The rest of the mansion was constructed around this lavish entrance hall in a ‘U’ shape, with balconies overlooking the hall.
I stepped inside, taking in the sights of the upper class at play. The hall was sparsely filled; however, as despite Fancy’s insistence that business proceed as usual, the majority of Canterlot’s aristocracy preferred to huddle in their estates in case of Changelings. I couldn’t blame them myself, if it weren’t for my social standing as the Princesses’ nephew I’d have probably retired to my room in the castle with a copy of Playmare magazine and a bucket of ice cream.
Despite there having only been about twenty or thirty guests in the hall the party was lively enough, though concentrated in a small area of the room. As I looked around at the enormous hall I could only wonder what Fancy Pants used it for when he wasn’t hosting parties, indeed even I thought this building was much too vast for merely one pony.
There were a few ponies I could recognise, admittedly since the last Grand Galloping Gala I haven’t taken part in many social gatherings. That was such an unpleasant experience which very nearly swore me off attending any parties, charity auctions, museum openings, or any activity where I would have to associate with a large number of ponies. As such I was unsure of the subtle movements in the delicate social hierarchy, indeed my own standing was put into some measure of disrepute in the aftermath of that shameful display, but I was confident I would be able to regain some of my waning reputation. The act of bringing Cannon Fodder, who was the most lower class individual I could find, would no doubt improve my standing in the eyes of Fancy Pants, who held a peculiar affection for the low borns.
The host was busy chatting away with his small group of hangers-on and associates who, in their efforts to appease the number one trendsetter in Canterlot, were sycophantically agreeing with every word he said. He was a unicorn who, despite his low birth, looked every bit the upper class host. His white fur was expertly groomed with particular attention paid to his cutie mark to make the three crowns printed upon his flanks shine as if they were gold. His suit was suitably starched, with not a crease to be seen. In fact, I was rather jealous; that particular suit was a finely tailored ensemble by the prestigious Hoity Toity fashion designer before their establishment was destroyed in the Changeling invasion and he snapped up the only remaining suit at auction before I could.
“Ah!” Fancy Pants detached himself from the conversation and approached us. “Prince Blueblood, it’s always a pleasure, I’m so glad you could come.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Fancy Pants,” I replied, slipping into my ‘party’ persona where I pretended to be somepony of wit and grace (last Grand Galloping Gala notwithstanding).
I always found Fancy Pants to be rather irritating. He was amicable enough, to the point where he could get on as well with the low born proletariat as he did with high Canterlot royalty such as me [It should be noted that technically Blueblood is only considered minor royalty, but as far as the aristocratic hierarchy is concerned he is among its upper echelons]. Yet it was that incessant cheeriness that I found to be rather grating, and frankly, why should somepony as he, who had just dragged himself out of the low born masses we rule over, continue to associate with them? However, I was at an important social event and therefore had to pretend that I liked him.
“And is this your date for tonight?” he asked jokingly, meaning Cannon Fodder. If he was the least bit shocked or confused over the dour guardspony’s presence, odour, or appearance he was doing a very good job of masking it.
“No, sir, I’m the Prince’s personal aide,” replied Cannon Fodder plainly as the joke clearly went over his head.
“Yes, I hope you don’t mind,” I said. “He’s been working so hard and I thought a night off would do him some good. Cannon Fodder, this is Fancy Pants.”
“Nice to meet you, sir.” Cannon Fodder extended a grubby hoof towards Fancy Pants, who regarded it with a fleeting expression of disgust at the unclean extremity before grudgingly shaking it.
“Yes, quite,” he muttered as he absently wiped his hoof on the marble floor. “Anyway, I do hope you enjoy the party, it’s for a very good cause.”
From there Fancy Pants turned to welcome the next batch of arrivals to his little soiree, leaving Cannon Fodder and I to mingle with the other party guests. Unfortunately it seemed that my reputation amongst the Canterlot elite was so low, or they were so repulsed by Cannon Fodder’s appearance and musk, that they seemed to be actively avoiding me. Attempts to start up conversation were met with increasingly transparent excuses to leave; Lord Flash Heart had left his oven on, Baron Shilling misplaced his wife, Lady Goldenrod was worried about her pet cat, and so on.
Eventually we gave up and found a spot to relax by one of the empty tables. At that point I began to regret bringing Cannon Fodder along, he was singularly ruining all of my chances at climbing up the social ladder. It wasn’t his fault of course, it was all mine; I took him way out of his depth and thrust him into a new and unfamiliar situation. On the other hoof he seemed to be enjoying himself, as he stuffed his face with cucumber and lettuce sandwiches with all the grace of a starved Diamond Dog. I reminded myself that this was for him, after all, without him I’d have drowned in all that paperwork weeks ago before being fired and sent off to the frontline to die in some pointless battle. [It’s possible that Cannon Fodder was the closest thing Blueblood had to a real friend at this point.]
It wasn’t that we were being deliberately ignored; indeed I caught a few furtive glances in our direction and a few snippets of conversation about me ‘slumming it’. Thankfully, it seems that Fancy Pants found Cannon Fodder to be ‘delightfully rustic’ and, like sheep following their shepherd, their opinions soon fell into line. At that point I wondered if any of my compatriots in Canterlot’s upper crust were capable of forming independent thoughts.
I noticed a familiar bright pink alicorn approaching me, Princess Cadence, my cousin and one of the living goddesses who rule our fair realm, though her grandeur was somewhat diminished having grown up with her and I will always remember the little filly who fainted in sex education classes. In the tradition of most royals she was rather naked except for her crown, breastplate, and shoes. Not that she needed clothes; she looked regal enough with her minimalist wardrobe.
“Blueberry!” she exclaimed as she approached me, and I cringed at the mention of my childhood nickname. “So good to see you.”
“Likewise,” I retorted, “how was your honeymoon?”
“Los Pegasus was wonderful,” she said as she levitated a canapé from a passing servant’s tray, “admittedly it was difficult to get some time to ourselves with the paparazzi around all the time, but Shining used his shield spell to keep them out of our villa.”
“Yes, quite, insufferable lot journalists are,” I said as I took a glass of wine from another servant. As expected, it was a fine vintage.
“Oh, they’re only trying to earn a living,” she smiled. Dear, sweet, innocent Cadence, she could find the best out of nearly everypony, which must be one of the reasons why she can tolerate my company.
“Where is Shining Armour anyway?” I asked, realising that he was nowhere to be seen.
Cadence looked sullen for a brief moment, before putting on her happy party face once more, “He’s working late drilling the new recruits for the upcoming war. I do hope he will be okay.”
“I’m sure he will; he’s a capable soldier,” I lied, but it was the sort of platitude she was looking for. As Captain of the Royal Guard, Shiny Armoire [Another one of his nicknames] could have just sat back several miles behind the front lines while the Royal Guard did all the fighting, but he had the strange and unwise tendency to lead from the front. It made him popular with the troops, but it was certainly not what I would have done.
“You’re right,” she smiled. “I suppose it’s only natural to worry.”
“Blueblood!” Fancy Pants cried from halfway across the party. He weaved his way through the mass of party guests towards me. “I would like you to meet somepony, a very important somepony!”
“Oh?” I asked, somewhat disbelieving of him. “I think I should know anyone who’s important.”
“Well, I must admit she’s rather new, but she’s fitting in wonderfully.”
My hooves started itching, which was always a sign that something bad was about to happen. I decided to ignore this warning; however, considering I was at a fairly sedate little party held by Fancy Pants, the host whose parties were least likely to end in disaster, so I felt that I could handle whatever fate had in store. Since the disastrous Grand Galloping Gala of last year I had learned my lesson. I concede that I acted in a less than chivalrous manner regarding a mare who was deluded enough to think I would instantly sweep her off her hooves and marry her right there, which resulted in both of our evenings being utterly ruined. From then on I decided to try and act with a great deal more tact, which, as it turned out, helped me develop my skills in lying and arse-covering that would prove so useful in later life.
Looking back on this relatively innocent period of my life, I can only long for the days where the greatest threat to my life was a very large cake and not insane generals who sought to get me killed in increasingly suicidal missions.
I made my apologies to Princess Cadence, placed my glass of wine on the table, and followed Fancy Pants across the hall with Cannon Fodder in tow like an obedient dog. The soldier did his best to walk and eat his sandwich with his hooves at the same time, but managed to do so without tripping or dropping his meal. Such was his complete and total lack of any magical ability, despite having the relevant anatomy in the form of the horn protruding from his forehead, that he was incapable of levitating anything at all. I theorised that must have been why he was discharged from the frontline infantry and sent to work with me in the never-ending battle against bureaucracy and paperwork.
I caught furtive hints of conversation discussing the ‘brave guardspony’ and all that he had sacrificed in the name of keeping Equestria safe, no doubt purely to impress Fancy Pants by agreeing with everything he said. Up to this point all Cannon Fodder had sacrificed in the name of Equestria was my sense of smell.
It was then that I saw the mare Fancy Pants was talking about and instantly I had flashbacks to the horrors of common carnival fare, improper protocol before one’s social betters, and vast amounts of cake frosting.
Standing before me was a white mare, whose pristine coat had been so thoroughly cleaned she looked rather like a shiny silver statue come to life. Her purple mane was expertly styled, no doubt by the best spa ponies in all of Equestria, and was of the same lustrous sheen as her coat. Yet what was most striking about her was her dress; not too overstated like the hideously garish designs that I’m sick to death of seeing the upper class mares of Canterlot wear, but instead it was rather subtle in its divine elegance. It accentuated her mare-ly curves but without coming across as too inappropriate for this high society event, it was of a deep maroon colour to compliment her hair and alabaster white fur and bedecked with shiny jewels that formed sleek lines down her front.
Her face wore a fleeting expression of surprise upon seeing me, but it was soon replaced by a serene look of thoroughly aristocratic aloofness that would make Auntie Celestia want to give up her throne. This was one of the six ponies responsible for ruining the last Grand Galloping Gala with their inane country bumpkin ways, great heroines of Equestria they may be but that is not enough to allow them the opportunity to wreck the single most important social in existence.
“Oh, Prince Blueblood, how lovely to see you again!” she said once she had regained her composure, her polite demeanour gave me hope that whatever resentment she held against me was gone.
“You two know each other?” asked Fancy Pants.
The mare’s right eye twitched slightly, but she kept her composure, “Why yes, Blueblood and I met at the last Grand Galloping Gala.”
“Indeed we did,” I said, trying to sound amicable and doing my hardest not to remember how much getting my suit dry-cleaned cost me; damn thing nearly bankrupt my entire estate.
It was at that point that I realised I had completely forgotten the mare’s name. I know it seems rather inconceivable, but it’s not as if I maintain a list of every single pony I have insulted and offended in my lifetime as such an endeavour would likely use up all of the parchment in Equestria. I wracked my brain trying to remember the mare’s name but strangely I was drawing up blank, and as the awkward silence settled across the entire hall I could feel hundreds of eyes gazing accusingly at me.
“Er... Fluttershy?” I said, saying the first name that came into my head that sounded mostly plausible.
The mare’s eye twitched again and she shook her head.
“Octavia?” I ventured.
She shook her head. The walls of her composure were rapidly crumbling as her right eye twitched more violently and the gentle smile on her lips morphed into a strained grimace.
“It’s Rarity, you insufferable oaf!” she shrieked suddenly. “Honestly, Blueblood, after the way you treated me at the Gala the least you could do is remember my name.”
By now the awkward hush that fell across the hall had become incredibly uncomfortable. This was just perfect, now another embarrassing situation for ponies to use against me, no doubt I’d have my titles and land revoked and be reduced to a mere peasant pony.
Rarity blushed nervously as she realised she was causing a scene. “I mean, excuse us, there is something I must discuss with Blueblood, if you’d come with me please.”
Not wishing to argue with her and cause even more of a scene I followed her, accompanied by my aide and the quiet murmurings of the party goers as they no doubt chatted about how much of a cad I’ve been. It seems that in my absence Rarity had soared up the social ladder, which is remarkable for a simply country lady from the backwards little village of Ponyville. Unfortunately, it seems that she now outranked me. Ponies now looked to her as an example of how to behave, what clothes to wear, and what to find acceptable instead of me. I found it galling that a mere commoner; somepony who has to work for a living, who doesn’t own land, and who didn’t descend from a long line of great nobles, was more popular than me.
On the other hoof I wondered why I bothered trying to please these ingrates.
I followed Rarity up one of the many staircases that led to the first floor which ran like a ring around this party hall. Finding a room that wasn’t occupied by servants or a couple attempting to fornicate was rather difficult, but given the sheer size of the place it was only inevitable we found an empty room.
This was probably a servant’s room on account of its rather plain decor, though I wouldn’t know as I’ve never been anywhere near one before. There was a small bed in the corner by the window, with a bedside table which held a book and other personal effects belonging to whoever slept here. Opposite the bed on the other wall was a modest wardrobe with a small mirror on it. On the other remaining wall was a faded old poster of Sapphire Shores.
Rarity shut the door behind us and then turned to face me, her eyes glaring at me with enough intensity to burn holes in my tunic and her mouth contorted into a rictus grin.
“I thought I made it clear that I never wanted to see you again,” she spat at me.
“Don’t tell me you’re still upset about the whole Gala thing,” I said dismissively, not wanting to be dragged back into that ridiculous little debacle.
“Upset?” she said, looking rather shocked. “A lady does not get upset, but she can get offended by the loutish behaviour of a certain prince.” She then finally noticed Cannon Fodder standing there, dutifully consuming a canapé he picked up from somewhere, “And who is this?”
The guardspony’s mouth was stuffed full of food so I answered on his behalf, “That’s Cannon Fodder.”
“Blueblood!” she gasped and brought a hoof to her mouth. “How can you be so callous as to call a brave pony of the Royal Guard ‘cannon fodder’? They are risking their very lives to keep us safe!”
I smirked and shook my head, “No, no, that’s actually his name. Private Cannon Fodder, he’s my aide in War Ministry.”
“Ma’am,” he said, which caused a small trickle of crumbs to escape from his mouth. He snapped to attention and clumsily saluted Rarity.
Rarity flushed with embarrassment, “Oh dear, I am sorry Private Cannon Fodder, please forgive me.”
Cannon Fodder blinked a little in confusion before shrugging, “S’alright, ma’am, we all make mistakes.”
That little ‘mistake’ now put her on the back hoof, and I was about ready to press my attack when I heard the distinctive ‘snap’ sound caused by the displaced air of a magic missile being discharged. I froze, recognising that sound from my previous and uneventful career in the Royal Guard, while Rarity held that perplexed look on her face. Cannon Fodder's training as a guardspony snap into action as he ceased his gorging and took up a defensive position by the door and drew his spear.
I carefully approached the door, hearing the sounds of the panicking guests and more discharges of mage fire. With Cannon Fodder watching my back with his spear poised I drew my own blade and slowly pushed the door open a little. Through the crack I could see masked unicorns barge into the hall below, firing their magic missiles over the heads of the fleeing party guests. Earth ponies approached with their spears levelled, and from above pegasi soared down from the ceiling windows.
“What’s going on? Let me see!” Rarity complained as she barged against me.
“Shush! I think we’re under attack.”
“What? Is it the Changelings?”
“I don’t know, they look like ponies to me.” I only now realise the stupidity of that statement, if they were Changelings then of course they would look like ponies to disguise themselves.
“Of all the worst things that could happen, this is the! Worst! Possible! Thing!” Rarity shrieked and collapsed on the servant’s bed.
I rolled my eyes at the drama queen, though I had to agree with her assessment.
The invading army brought the crowd under control fairly quickly and herded them all into the centre of the hall. Fortunately, they were ignoring the first and second floors but I knew that wasn’t going to last, so if I was to make my escape it would have to be now.
“Right,” I whispered back at Rarity and Cannon Fodder, “we need to get to the cellar.”
Rarity widened her eyes in surprise, “What on Tartarus for? You can’t want to see Fancy Pants’ wine collection now of all times! Honestly, Blueblood, you never cease to provide me with new ways for me to despise you.”
I nearly slapped her, and in hindsight I probably should have, but I kept my irritation in check for the sake of my own survival. “So we can get into the Canterlot catacombs and escape to tell everypony what’s going on. All of these old mansions are connected to the network of gem tunnels that lie under the city; don’t you pay attention to anything here?”
To her credit, she held her tongue and didn’t turn this into a full blown argument that would have attracted the intruders, though I was wondering how these mooks would deal with an enraged Rarity on their hooves.
“It should be near here,” she said finally. “This is the servants’ quarter of the house and there’s a set of stairs a few doors down from here.”
I smirked, “Been here often then?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, unlike you Fancy Pants is a perfect gentleman!”
I could think of a few other ‘perfect’ appellations to describe Fancy Pants, but again in the interests of saving my own hide I ignored them for now. “Alright, can you teleport us?”
Rarity shook her head, “That’s Twilight’s domain. Can you?”
I couldn’t bear to tell her that I flunked Advanced Thaumatology in school so I just shook my head in response. If Rarity and I couldn’t teleport a short distance to this stairwell then Cannon Fodder clearly had no chance.
“Looks like we’re going to do this the hard way,” I said as I opened the door slowly, fortunately the invading ponies were focused on containing the party guests in the centre of the hall and hadn’t branched out to search for anyone hiding in the upper floors. Clearly these ponies were amateurs, I thought; if they were letting ponies like me, Cannon Fodder, and Miss Drama Queen move about unhindered in the floor above.
I did consider just surrendering there and then, but then I had no guarantee that these ponies would treat their prisoners well or even keep them alive. If they were seeking to take hostages to be ransomed back to their families then they should, in theory, keep them nice and safe, unless they were brutish thugs who didn’t for honouring deals. So, in the interests of not being tortured and/or killed I decided escape was my best option.
We slinked out of the room one by one, hugging the walls carefully and tentatively observing the scene below. The mysterious ponies said nothing as they moved amongst the stunned party goers, ignoring their increasingly vocal, and probably unwise, protests. Fancy Pants himself was rather livid at the interruption of his party and his persistent complaints earned him a backhoofed slap that sent his monocle flying, which I would have found rather amusing if it weren’t for the very real peril I was in.
They seemed to be looking for something or somepony, which might have explained why they were ignoring the upper floors for now. I hoped they would find whatever, or whoever, soon as to facilitate my escape. To their credit, it seems that my first analysis that the ponies were amateurs was clearly wrong; the terrorists were extremely professional. They were eerily silent and kept the crowd under control mostly through intimidation alone; their faces were concealed by black ski masks and their cutie-marks blacked out with what appeared to be paint to avoid any risk of identification. These were not mindless thugs gate-crashing an upper class party just to steal something and/or take hostages, they were professional and had a greater agenda than mere money.
“It’s here,” Rarity whispered as we approached a set of double doors.
From our vantage point above I could see the mysterious masked ponies grab Princess Cadence and haul her off down the hall. She didn’t resist, probably because she’d been taken prisoner before and was used to the ordeal or something. Anyway, I doubted there was anything she could have done, though alicorns’ powers are extremely potent, Cadence’s abilities were focused around spreading love. While much has been written on the power of love it would be useless in a hostage situation, unless you could make your captors engage in a sudden orgy [A gross (in every sense of the word) misunderstanding of how Cadence’s powers work, she does not make ponies fall in love but simply rekindles the love that already exists between two ponies].
I pushed the door open slowly, holding my sword in a telekinetic grip in front of me in case the enemy had wised up to our little escape plan and lain an ambush in the stairwell. To my surprise and evident relief it was completely empty, so I widened the door a little and stepped through followed by Cannon Fodder and Rarity.
The stairwell, much like the servant’s room we were in a short while ago, was plain and unremarkable. After a few tense moments of scanning the room for any signs of life other than ourselves we slowly headed on down the steps.
We tried to be quiet and Rarity and I were doing a pretty good job, but Cannon Fodder had chosen to wear his full plate armour and was therefore sounding like Pinkie Pie trapped in a china shop after being given an espresso. So it was with bated breath that we made our journey down the steps with weapons held ready for inevitable combat, yet each time we reached the end of a flight of stairs I was met with the relieving sight of nothing.
We reached the bottom without incident and were presented with another set of double doors that presumably led to Fancy Pants’ infamous wine collection.
“Cannon Fodder, take a look through the door,” I ordered. Somehow I had fallen naturally into the role of leader; either they were in awe of my non-existent leadership skills or simply saw no other alternative to following me. It was probably the latter, I think. Given the choice I wouldn’t follow me either.
Cannon Fodder did as he was told and stepped over to the door. He opened it cautiously and peered through the crack.
“There are two guards,” he whispered back, “and they’re standing by a big door.”
“Probably the entrance to the catacombs,” I surmised.
“Wait,” he ducked back inside and shut the door quickly. “There’s more coming and they’re bringing the Princess-Lady.”
I frowned, “Why would they want to take her to the cellar?”
“Probably taking her into the catacombs,” said Rarity, “It might be how they got in here in the first place.”
The thought hadn’t occurred to me that the enemy might have used the very means of our escape as a way of getting in, but now it seemed that we might have been getting out of the proverbial frying pan and into the fire. Yet it was our only hope of escape, and as far as I was concerned a small glimmer of hope for survival was better than none.
I heard the sound of a door slamming shut. Cannon Fodder pushed the door open carefully to peer through.
“They’ve gone, but the two guards are still there,” he said in the same sort of voice he used to tell me that the 5th Regiment of the Solar Guard was late on their invoice paperwork again. “We’ll have to take them out.”
“Is there no way to sneak past?” I asked, hoping to resolve this without the risk of getting killed.
“No, they’ve got the entire room covered. We’ll have to fight our way past them.”
I was afraid of that. I had to admit since my tour of duty in the Royal Guard ended I had become increasingly out of shape and somewhat pudgy from an easy life eating cake with my Auntie Tia. Still, we had the element of surprise and weight of numbers on our side. Hopefully, by the time the guards were through butchering Cannon Fodder and Rarity they would be too tired to attack me.
“Can you fight?” I asked Rarity.
The mare stuck her nose up arrogantly and said, “Fighting’s not really my thing, I’m more into fashion, but I will if it means saving Princess Cadence.”
“Good, so you’re not going to be a whiny mare-in-distress after all,” I said dryly as I took my place by the other door.
“Hmmph! Just because I’m a lady does not mean I am adverse to violence, it simply means I do so with decorum.” She then pointed at me, “Can you fight?”
“Lady, I served in the Royal Guard, I think I can handle myself in a fight,” I said mostly for her benefit. In truth, when I was serving in the Guard our main duties revolved around standing next to the Princess and looking imposing and the greatest threats we had to face were errant cakes. Oh, how I miss those days of innocence.
I steadied myself by the door, trying to ignore the anxiety cloying in my gut as I tentatively flexed the blade in my telekinetic grasp. I am a competent swordspony, having been trained from a young age in the art of fencing. Unfortunately in the world of real combat, the thing trying to kill me tends not to adhere to the rules of fair play. [Another example of Blueblood’s inferiority complex; he is in fact an excellent swordspony and certainly more than just ‘competent’. Thus far he is the only pony to have defeated my sister and me in fencing. In fact, after one defeat Luna was heard to remark that Blueblood must have been born with a sword in his hooves and likely performed his own caesarean]
“Three, two, one.”
We forced the doors open and charged. Cannon Fodder reared on his hind legs and hurled his spear, as I darted towards the two guards I watched the spear overtake me and imbed itself in the closest guard with a sickening ‘squelch’ noise. The one remaining guard had a fleeting expression of disbelief on his face before he raised his own sword to block mine.
Steel met steel with an almighty clash. Holding the advantage I pressed the attack, thrusting my blade at the pony in series of overhead swings and thrusts in the direction of his chest. He reacted purely defensively; blocking my attacks capably but doing nothing to counter them. I noticed the glassy, vacant look in his eyes as if he wasn’t focused on me at all.
A blur of white flashed from my left side and slammed into the pony. I flinched back, not wanting to accidently hit Rarity, if I did I’d have one less body between me and whoever might try to kill me next.
The elegant fashion designer wailed into the guard mercilessly, but despite the abject violence of the onslaught she moved with the same grace she did when, well, doing anything really. The guard collapsed unconscious under the assault of hooves. Rarity stepped back, suavely readjusting her hair and dress.
Now that the immediate threat was over I could afford to take stock of my surroundings. Only a select few had been allowed to view Fancy Pants’ famous wine collection, indeed amongst some of the more impressionable high society ponies this was the closest thing to the holy land they had. The cellar was as large as the grand hall but without the height, and was filled to the brim with a veritable labyrinth of huge wine racks. It felt much like a library, but with bottles of wine instead of books.
The cellar was dimly lit by torchlight, which cast off deep shadows down the ‘corridors’ flanked by wine racks. The air was cool, as was the stone beneath my hooves.
“Sir,” said Cannon Fodder. He was standing over the first guard and tugged his spear free from the corpse, “I think you need to see this.”
I sheathed my blade and stepped over to see what the problem was, admiring Fancy Pants’ extensive collection of wine along the way. I wondered whether Fancy Pants actually ever drank this rare and expensive wine or merely collected like some posh version of a comic book nerd.
There, on the floor by his hooves, was a dead Changeling.
“Oh my,” was all I could say as I beheld the sickening form of the Changeling. It was distinctly insect in appearance but with the size and shape of a pony. It was armoured with thick black chitin, with glimpses of the dark flesh beneath, its eyes were huge and glassy. Sickly green ichor leaked from the wound on its neck onto the floor and flowed through the gaps in the flag stones.
“Oh, how horrid!” Rarity shrieked, the skin under her alabaster fur getting distinctly paler.
“Sir, we need to move quickly before the Hive Mind notices this one’s dead,” said Cannon Fodder blankly.
At this time in the war we only had basic theories on how Changelings worked, and the leading theory was that they operated according to a latent psychic Hive Mind that broadcast orders directly into their brains. Individually they were mindless, oversized, magic bugs, but under the control of one of the more intelligent subspecies of Changeling their efforts could be co-ordinated effectively towards an objective. [This is a largely accurate summation, however, once severed from the control of the Hive Mind, individual Changelings will eventually start to develop their own personalities over a long period of time. Therefore they are anything but ‘mindless’]
I nodded in response and pushed the door to the catacombs open, revealing a pitch black tunnel that led downwards into the earth.
“Wait, won’t there be more Changelings down there?” asked Rarity, which was a fair point. If the Changelings were taking Princess Cadence down there, then there were likely to be even more hiding amidst the gem tunnels.
I frowned, “Obviously, but it’s our only chance of escape.”
“But it looks so dusty and dirty in there,” she complained. “Oh, I spent so long on making this dress.”
I rubbed my temples with a hoof; I swear this lady could weaponise whining. What I should have done is merely march her back up to the hall where the Changelings were keeping the hostages and just let her whine until their heads exploded.
She looked down on the dead Changeling and cringed, “Well, I suppose needs must.”
Not wanting to waste any more time than we already had I headed through the door with Cannon Fodder covering the rear. Rarity followed tentatively, making each step into the dusty old cavern as if it was physically hurting her hooves.
I shut the door behind us but there was no way to lock it or secure it. It would only be a matter of time before the dead Changeling would be noticed so, despite Rarity’s continued protestations we headed down the dank tunnel.
The air was surprisingly cool there, though there was a lot of moisture in it. The tunnel itself was wide enough for the three of us to walk abreast without much discomfort (the only discomfort being in close proximity to Cannon Fodder’s odour and Equestria’s biggest drama queen).
Rarity and I both flickered on simple light spells with our horns, illuminating the tunnel about ten feet in all directions. Beyond that was pure, untainted darkness that concealed all manner of Changelings and other beasts that call these dark catacombs home.
“So, Blueblood, I do hope you know where we’re going?” asked Rarity after a while of walking.
I puffed out my chest a little with pride, “My special talent is navigation.”
“Really? I’d have thought it was being rude and unpleasant.”
I ignored the snide remark, rather too focused on trying to keep myself alive than engage in verbal sparring. “Why do you think my cutie mark is a compass rose? When I was a colt some of the local foals thought it would be funny to convince me there was lost Alicorn treasure down here, so I went into the tunnels under the school and got lost.”
“Oh, how horrible!” I glared at her, but for once she wasn’t being sarcastic. “Foals can be just terrible sometimes.”
“It took a bit of trial and error,” I said, continuing the epic tale of how I got my cutie mark, “but I worked out how to ‘read’ the rocks and stone around me. It’s a little hard to explain but I just subconsciously know where I am and where I need to go provided I know where I started from.”
“Like a compass in your head?”
I nodded, “Something like that yes. You’re just going to have to trust me on this.”
Rarity sighed and shook her head despondently, and I can’t say I blame her. She was being forced to put her life into my hooves, and I could barely trust me with my own life these days.
The tunnel expanded, the rock walls becoming jagged and less smooth as we entered into the older parts of the gem mines. Glistening diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and other brightly coloured gems could be seen peaking through the deep cracks in the walls where the old miners hacked into the rock with pickaxes. Rarity’s expression soon changed as she saw the jewels hidden beneath the mundane rock, her eyes sparkling with wonder.
I rolled my eyes; they were just shiny rocks as far as I was concerned.
“So what happened to you in the tunnels?” she asked as she finally tore her eyes away from the shiny things around her.
“I starved to death,” I said dryly. “That’s why I’m here now talking to you.”
Rarity kicked my hind leg lightly and wore a scowl on her face, and I could only grin in response which, in turn, simply made her scowl harder in a peculiar vicious cycle.
“Fine, I navigated through the tunnels on my own and found my way out through the secret escape passages under Canterlot Castle. I ended up in the castle ballroom as Auntie Celestia was negotiating a high profile trade treaty with the Gryphons. I was crying my eyes out but she still stopped the meeting to comfort me, then this thing appeared on my flank.”
The mare blinked a little disbelievingly, “The Princess stopped a meeting to help you. I can scarcely believe that she of infinite patience and love would deign to associate with one as crass and rude as you.”
I shrugged; there were more important things on my mind now rather than having to explain myself to her. Clearly she held a lot of resentment against me, no doubt inspired by the horrendous Grand Galloping Gala disaster last year. While I had no real desire to play counsellor to this deranged little mare I knew that if we were to survive this ordeal we would have to work together, so that there would be two bodies between me and the Changelings rather than just one and a stroppy Rarity, who might not lift a hoof to aid me.
We had been walking for about ten minutes or so in the darkness, and the bleak oppressiveness of our surroundings was starting to take its toll on Rarity. The only sounds were our own hoofsteps and our breathing, yet every so often we heard the scurrying of rats and other foul vermin. Cannon Fodder was being as phlegmatic as usual and regarded the immense amount of earth and rock above our heads with only a passing interest, while I was already intimately familiar with these mines.
After a little more walking in the direction I hoped Canterlot Castle was we came to a fairly large clearing with three tunnels branching off into the darkness. I wanted to keep on going but for Rarity’s sake I decided we should stop for a break, after all, if she was tired then she wouldn’t be able to fight effectively to save my own hide.
Rarity was looking rather despondent; her pretty dress was now covered in a thin film of dust and the elegant train was scuffed and ripped after being caught on jagged rocks. She sat down, her tired eyes glancing worriedly down the infinite darkness of the three passageways.
I sat next to her while Cannon Fodder stood guard, his spear levelled and ready to meet any onrushing intruder.
“I do hope Cadence will be safe,” I said, trying to make conversation.
“I didn’t think you cared about anyone except yourself,” Rarity bit back. I sighed and shook my head, deciding to put her hostility down to the stress of the situation.
“She is my cousin after all,” I shrugged. “Is this about the Gala?”
“Yes, of all the times you could have wanted to talk to me about the Gala you had to pick when we are trapped underground with a Changeling army after us. You have had plenty of opportunities to apologise to me for your behaviour, especially that time I grudgingly had to stand next to you to christen that new airship, but only now, when our lives are on the line and the fate of Equestria hangs in the balance, do you take that opportunity.”
I blinked at her in surprise. “You... you want me to apologise to you?” I said, doing my best to keep my voice quiet and level.
Rarity made a disgusted face, “Oh for Celestia’s sake Blueblood, you don’t even know why I’m mad at you. You didn’t even remember my name!” She looked away and down at the ground by her hooves. “It’s not just the cake, or the way you insulted my friend Applejack’s apple treats, or your loutish behaviour.” She suddenly looked up, fixing me with an intense glare that reminded me of seeing a Gryphon stalking its live prey in their hunting rituals, “It’s me, actually.”
“Pardon?” I blurted out, not quite expecting this turn of events.
“You see, for most of my life I have always wanted to live in Canterlot. I dreamed of meeting my ‘Prince Charming’ here. I, a little innocent mare from little old Ponyville, quite out of sorts in the bewildering city of such glamour and culture, but possessed of such poise and style to impress even the bluest of bluebloods in the city, would attract the attention of none other than Princess Celestia’s own nephew. At the Gala our eyes would meet across the hall, our hearts would melt...”
Already I could see where this was going, the poor deluded mare, so I raised a hoof to interrupt her long soliloquy.
“Except I didn’t meet your vision of perfection,” I said. “You fell in love with what I am instead of who I am. I dare say you’ve been reading too many trashy romance novels.”
“Humph, too right you didn’t meet my vision.”
I sighed, “Rarity, you are a commoner and I am royalty, my so-called ‘loutish behaviour’ was only a result of time-honoured social traditions that stretch back to the founding of Equestria itself. The very idea of a common pony even thinking they could converse with my royal person is just unheard of.”
She shook her head, “That does not excuse you. A true gentlecolt is courteous to all regardless of their social station. However, as I have said, it was partially my fault. I was naive to believe we would fall in love at first sight like a fairy tale and I paid the price for that.” Rarity tapped a hoof to her chin, then made a face when she realised she just smeared dust and mud on her face by accident, “I think something positive can be taken from that rather traumatic experience. I learned a very important lesson that day; my dreams won’t just happen overnight, but they will require hard work and perseverance.”
I nodded, but couldn’t think of much else to say. Yes, she was a mare of uncommon taste and elegance, but the class difference was absolutely insurmountable. A commoner could not mix with royalty any more than oil with water. It was rather a shame as the truth was I was starting to like her, but it was accident of birth that kept us separate. The more I thought about it the more I found it to be rather ridiculous.
This was not the time to be dwelling on such things, with an unknown quantity of Changelings out to kill me and a possible threat the very existence of the kingdom I think I had more important things to deal with than a certain mare’s emotional baggage.
“Sir,” Cannon Fodder spoke up, having been silent throughout the entire exchange, “there’s something coming this way.”
I clambered to my hooves, stretching my tired limbs before drawing my sword cautiously. Rarity too stepped up cautiously, flexing her legs in preparation for any further violence. In the distance out of the rightmost tunnel I could see the faint glow of magical light, probably from a unicorn’s horn, slowly emerging.
“Shouldn’t we kill our lights?” asked Rarity.
“No point,” answered Cannon Fodder. “Changelings can see perfectly in complete darkness.” [Not technically accurate, Changelings have the ability to see in the infra-red spectrum which, for all intents and purposes, means they can ‘see’ body heat]
“Can’t be the Changelings then,” I said.
“And why not?” ask Rarity.
I grinned as the answer was completely obvious, “If they can see perfectly in the dark then why do they need horn lights?”
That shut her up for the time being. Despite being certain that they weren’t Changelings I was still wary. The gem mines were supposed to have been abandoned, but if there were definitely Changelings down here then there could be all sorts of monsters and beasts inhabiting these ancient tunnels. Dragons, perhaps, drawn by the allure of the many shiny things hidden in the walls or maybe brigands and thieves hiding from the Canterlot law in the labyrinth under the city.
“Challenge them,” I ordered Cannon Fodder.
He nodded, adopting a defensive combat stance by lowering his spear towards the tunnel entrance and crouching low, ready to burst into sudden and bloody violence at the slightest provocation.
“Halt!” he cried, his gruff voice echoing through the tunnels. I winced, hoping it wouldn’t cause a cave in. “Who goes there?”
The most welcome sight imaginable stepped out of the dark gloom: a Royal Guard unicorn in full plate armour, followed by two earth pony Guards. They bore the same stern expression of all Royal Guardsponies; merciless and uncompromising in their sacred duties to uphold the laws of Equestria and ensure the eternal rule of the Princesses. Despite the dust their armour was perfectly shiny even in the dull light and gleamed warmly.
“Sergeant Spear Point of the 3rd Regiment of the Solar Guard,” said the unicorn as he bowed low before my royal presence. “Prince Blueblood, it is an honour, Your Highness.”
I smiled and puffed out my chest in pride as the remaining two guardsponies bowed before me. Finally a pony who treats me with the respect I deserve, then again as a guardspony it was his job to do so. Rarity rolled her eyes and sighed in irritation.
“Rise, Royal Guards,” I said, and they complied.
“We were despatched in response to the hostage situation at Fancy Pants’ benefit party to ensure the safety of you and Princess Mi Amore Cadenza,” he said in the usual laconic manner of Guardsponies.
“It’s the Changelings,” I explained. The Sergeant tilted his head to one side. “They took her into these tunnels.”
“I see.” He motioned one of the earth pony guards towards him, “Return to the castle and inform the Captain of the Royal Guard of the situation.”
The earth pony snapped off a smart salute and galloped off down the tunnels. I wondered how he was expected to be able to navigate without a source of light, but at the time I put it down to superior Royal Guard training that allowed them to memorise routes. Perhaps he had a similar cutie mark and special talent to mine. Still, I noticed that my hooves were starting to itch rather uncomfortably.
“Your Highness, I would respectfully request your assistance in rescuing Princess Mi Amore Cadenza.”
“Of course!” exclaimed Rarity before I had a chance to say anything at all. Grudgingly I nodded in agreement, despite my growing desire to just go home and relax on my chaise lounge with a glass of fine port and a copy of Equestria Daily. I couldn’t very well tell everypony that; I had yet to earn my fraudulent reputation for heroics but I was still a Prince of the Realm with military training and therefore expected to lay my life down for Princesses and Country, lest I lose Rarity’s new but grudging respect for me.
On the other hoof having two extra, heavily armoured bodies between the Changelings and my handsome self was no bad thing.
“Lead the way, Sergeant,” I said, trying to sound as authoritative as possible.
Spear Point saluted smartly and directed us down the left most tunnel. We followed them, or rather Rarity did and I followed her and Cannon Fodder followed me.