The Colour You Bleed

by Kegisak

In Which Roads Converge

Chapter 14: In Which Roads Converge

The sky over the open sea was brilliant. A million tiny points of light were suspended above, reflecting off the still water and turning the ocean into a universe suspended in nothing. If it were not for the large ship cutting through the waters and disrupting the illusion, one might think it went on for eternity. The only sounds were those of the softly rippling sails, and the snores of the night sentry.
The boat was a large, four-masted vessel, bound for Ys. It was transporting soldiers: dozens of strong young stallions ready for the impending war. The ship was commanded by veteran officers, but most of the soldiers were fresh recruits. Only a few had been in active service before that night. As such, most of them had not yet adjusted to military life and were fast asleep, exhausted from manning the ship under the rough instruction of the captain and boatswain. Only Wet Mane was left awake, sitting on the aft deck.
Wet leaned against the rails, sighing quietly to himself. His voice seemed to blend with the wind, becoming an element of the night as any other. He stared a thousand miles away, as if he were trying to see the port he had left days earlier. That was not why he was up, however. He couldn't sleep. He hadn't slept well in months, now. Not at night. He could sleep during the day, but at night he could feel eyes, constantly watching him. He knew who they belonged to, who had followed him from the forest near Port Ponzance.
He smiled humourlessly. It was ironic, he thought to himself. He had been sent out to chase her, and she had chased him across the country for weeks. She would appear before him, occasionally. Sometimes she would even speak. He still had no idea what she wanted. He scratched his chin, and looked up.
The moon was full, casting a beautiful pale light over everything Wet could see. She would probably visit him, tonight. He heard the sound of ruffling feathers, confirming his suspicion.
“I thought I might see you tonight,” he said without turning around. The winged pony said nothing, and he sighed. He looked over his shoulder, asking, “It's gonna be another silent night, huh?” The pony was sitting across the deck from him, watching silently. Her eyes still shone like stars.
“Not if you don't want it to be,” she said. Wet shrugged.
“If I'm gonna be out here anyways,” he said, waving his hoof idly. “May as well have company.” The winged pony nodded, trotting closer. Her blue coat seemed to shimmer in the moonlight, and Wet smiled at her.
“Some night, huh?” he asked. The mare smiled faintly, and nodded.
“Yes,” she said. “It's alright.” Wet chuckled.
“So what brings you out here, miss?” he asked.
“You know why I am here, unicorn,” the mare answered. Wet shook his head, sighing. He leaned back against the banister, folding his hooves.
“Honestly?” he asked, as much to himself as to the mare. “I don't know. Keeping an eye on me? Trying to teach me something?” He smirked, and chuckled. “Maybe you just like being around me?” he asked. The mare just stared at him. He sighed. “When are you going to leave me alone?” he asked.
“When you reach the border,” she answered simply. Wet scoffed, what little goof humour he had fading.
“Well, that's going to take a while,” he said. “Can't say where I'll be deployed. Could be across the border, could be an outpost somewhere in Aloa. Either way, there's still plenty of time before I get sent anywhere. You might actually like Ys. Very pretty. Very noble. You seem like the noble type.”
“No,” she said. “I do not care for nobleponies.” Wet sighed.
“So much for making conversation,” he said. The winged pony turned to him, ruffling her wings.
“You are avoiding the issue,” she said. “As you have for weeks.” Wet groaned, resting his face in his hooves.
At the end of the day, he knew what she wanted of him, at least vaguely. She wanted him to run away, to leave Aloa behind. That was why she had followed him for weeks now. That was why he could feel her watching him every night. The question was, why? He didn't understand why she cared so much about him, why she was so determined to see him out of Aloa.
“Look, I'm leaving the prince alone,” he said. “Isn't that what you wanted?”
“It was,” the mare said, nodding.
“Then why are you still following me?” Wet asked. “Why is it so important that I get out of Aloa to you? Why do you care about what I do so much?”
“The prince is safe,” she said. “I trust this, for now. But you are different.” Wet rolled his eyes.
“Oh, what? I'm not safe?” he asked. “Who am I in danger of?” The mare took a step closer to him.
“Yourself,” she said. Wet stared at her.
“Myself,” he repeated. The mare nodded.
“You are dedicated,” she said. “This is admirable, but what are you dedicated to?” Wet blinked at her.
“My duty,” he said.
“So you always tell me,” the mare replied. “But what is your duty to? To the kingdom? To the ambassador? To the pony that killed your friend?”
“What are you trying to get at, here?” he asked sharply. He didn’t appreciate being reminded of what had happened to Brig. The mare stepped closer again. She was uncomfortably close to him, now. Their noses almost touched when she leaned in. Her eyes shone from beneath her light blue mane, a beautiful piercing blue.
“Why are you so dedicated, unicorn?” she asked. “What is worth endangering yourself by following these ponies for?”
“I...” Wet said, leaning away from her. She moved in, staying close to him. “I...” he said again.
“Why do you fight, unicorn?” she asked. Wet gulped.
“Because... it's what's right,” he said. The mare tilted her head.
“Killing ponies is what is right, to you?”
“Not killing,” Wet said, shaking his head. “Protecting. I want to protect ponies... and to do the right thing, so that ponies won't have to die pointlessly.”
“Ponies like your friend?” the mare asked. Wet sighed sadly.
“I guess,” he said. He turned out to the sea, looking away from the mare. “Maybe for ponies like Brig. Maybe just for ponies in general.”
“And this is enough for you?” the mare asked again. “You could have run at any time. You wanted to, once. You could have left Aloa, and began again. They never would have found you. You duty to what is right is enough to forget your duty to yourself?” Wet hung his head.
“I guess it has to be, doesn't it?” he asked. “It's not like I can run, now.” He leaned against the railing, folding his hooves and laying his chin on his legs. The mare sat in silence as he stared, thinking about his life as a soldier.
He hadn't joined because he had wanted to do the right thing, or to protect ponies. He had joined because he wanted adventure, and because he was proud of his country. Pride was what he had been taught since he was a colt, and it had always been enough for him. It was only lately that he had decided he wanted to protect ponies, since Brig had died. It was what had kept him from running. It was the only thing left connecting him to what he was. He hadn't been lying. It had to be enough for him, now. Everything else was starting to slip away. So, he clung to that duty, for all it was worth. It was not as hard as he had expected, in the end, but it wasn't easy. He sighed, and closed his eyes. Suddenly, he felt a hoof touch him.
He opened his eyes, and saw that it was the mare. She had slid her hoof beneath his legs, placing it over his heart. He stared at her, and she looked back at him.
“I have seen what happens,” she said quietly. “I have seen what happens when duty becomes corrupted. You believe you are only doing what you have always done, what you have always wanted to do. But in the end, you are not. Your duty is not to your king. It is not to the ambassador, or to the pony who killed your friend. Your duty is to what you believe in first. If you allow yourself to forget why you do what you do...” She shook her head. “I have seen what can happen first hoof, and it is not good.” Wet stared at her, then looked down at the hoof on his chest.
“I still don't understand why you care so much about me,” he said. The mare shrugged faintly.
“You have the power to protect many more ponies than you can imagine,” she said. “I believe that you can do it, if you have the opportunity. I am giving you that opportunity.” Wet looked up at her, blinking.
“How?” he asked. The mare leaned in to him, whispering in his ear.
“You already know,” she whispered. “You know why the war is happening. You know how to stop it. Never forget that you are fighting to protect ponies. Protect the prince, Wet Mane. Protect both our countries.”
Wet stared blankly for a moment, before his face screwed up with fury. He swung a hoof at the winged pony, but she was already beyond his reach. She had leaped into the air, taking to the skies. He fired bullets of air at her, but she dodged around them with ease.
“Equestrian spy!” he shouted at her. “You started this war, not us! We won't back down to you, and I won't let you use me for your damned country!” His words didn't matter. The mare was already gone.
Wet scowled at the empty air, breathing heavily. The sentry had been jolted awake by his shouting, and was now looking around dumbly. Eventually Wet's breathing slowed, and he sat down. He sighed sadly and hung his head.


Brook and Blueblood sat on the deck of their boat. The sun had begun to rise in the east, its light barely penetrating through a thick blanket of fog. The sailors eased about their morning duties slowly, staying out of the way of the two stallions. Brook dipped his bad hoof into a small bowl in front of himself, filled with a red paste. He lifted his hoof slowly, touching it gently to Blueblood's forehead where his horn used to be. The paste stained his fur a vivid, crimson red.
“There,” Brook said. Blueblood blinked, staring at his reflection in another bowl of water. Brook dipped his hoof in it, cleaning off the excess paste, and Blueblood looked up at him.
“Close your eyes,” Brook told him. Blueblood did as he was told, and Brook continued to speak.
“Do you feel it?” he asked. “The mark on your forehead. It's a part of you now, every bit as much as your horn was. You know where it is, instinctively. Find it.” Blueblood concentrated, focusing on the feeling on his forehead. The paste was still wet, and felt cool against the stump of his horn. In the blackness behind his eyes he tried to focus on that cool circle. The bobbing movement of the ship made his mind reel, and concentrating was difficult. He opened his eyes, and shook his head.
“I can't,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “I can't concentrate... my head feels too fuzzy.” Brook reached out, putting a hoof on Blueblood's shoulder.
“That's alright,” he said. “That feeling is good. Try again, and don't fight it this time. Just let it happen.” Blueblood wasn't quite sure, but he trusted Brook. He closed his eyes, and tried again.
“Don't concentrate too hard,” Brook said softly. “Know that the mark is there, and let it happen. Be aware of it, and let everything else fall away.” Blueblood breathed deeply, trying to do as Brook instructed. He felt the coolness, even as it started to subside. He could feel the rest of his mind relaxing, the thoughts drifting away. Even still, his mind reeled sickly as the ship swayed and bucked, and he could feel himself leaning dangerously.
“Don't fight the feeling,” Brook coached. “Let it happen, but don't give in to it. Let my voice keep you steady. I'm right here with you, Blueblood.” Blueblood barely nodded in recognition of his master. He could feel himself falling into the mark, and as he did the bucking and swaying only grew more intense. Every twitch was an earthquake, every creak of the boards a cacophony in his ears. The breeze bristled his fur, each individual strand like a tree trunk in his skin. It was amazing, and at the same time excruciating.
The mark and the reeling feeling seemed to be competing, and he wasn't sure which one was winning. Brook spoke soft encouragements constantly, but Blueblood had stopped hearing him. Only the faint mumble of his voice told Blueblood that Brook was still there at all. The feeling was becoming stable, and his mind was completely empty, save for the mark.
All at once feeling seemed to slip away from him. The mark became everything, and at the same time nothing. The reeling feeling was replaced by an almighty awareness, as if he were a part of everything around him. He could feel each and every hoofstep of the sailors, each subtle shift of the wind. He could pinpoint each noise, and tell exactly what made it. He could even feel the water moving beneath them. It was as if they were an extension of himself, or rather that he was an extension of something else. Just another piece of something greater than he could ever be. Even among himself he could feel everything; he was perfectly aware of every part of his body. Even the mark on his forehead felt like another limb.
“Blueblood,” Brook said. His voice rang in Blueblood's ears like an echo in a cave. “Open your eyes,” he said. Blueblood did as he was told, and gaped at what he saw.
Golden particles flew through the sky in bizarre currents and eldritch patterns. The particles clustered around everything, buzzing like tiny insects and flowing in and out of every object. The ocean seemed to be coated in them. Blueblood looked at Brook, who shone with gold. They clustered about his horn, shifting and flowing in a spiral pattern. Blueblood looked on in awe, a slow smile spreading across his face as he realized what he was seeing.
“...Magic,” he said, enraptured by the lights. Brook nodded.
“Most unicorns think of magic as something they create, and form,” he said. “But magic is everywhere, all the time. We simply use what's already there.” Blueblood saw the magic around his horn buzz into life, swirling into a great vortex that channelled down to the bowl, lifting it off the ground. “We use our horn as an instinctive channelling point,” he said, “pushing our magic through it, and taking in more.” The particles around his horn stilled, but before the bowl had chance to drop another stream formed around Brook's hoof, catching the bowl in the blink of an eye. He smiled, and said, “But that is not the only way. You can use your magic through anything, as long as you can focus on it.”
Realization dawned on Blueblood, and he looked at his reflection in the bowl of water. There, right in the middle of his forehead, was the crimson dot. The magic danced around it like fairies in a circle, bunching in and bulging out. He smiled faintly.
“As long as I have something to focus on,” he echoed. Brook smiled faintly, and nudged the bowl forward.
“Lift the bowl,” he said. Blueblood looked up at his master, and nodded.
He stared at the bowl, concentrating. In truth, he wasn't quite sure how. He focused on the mark, trying blindly to push magic through it. He saw a few of the golden particles tremble. Encouraged, he focused harder. He remembered Brook's advice, however, and tried to remain calm. The gold particles shook in front of his face, and as he focused more he pushed outward. A small, weak stream began to form, moving out of his forehead. It was the same as using magic with a horn, but he had to focus on the mark as well. He pushed his mind through it, trying to reach the bowl. The stream moved inch by inch, finally reaching its target. Blueblood grinned, and pushed harder. The stream gripped the bowl weakly, and it began to shake. He pushed as hard as he could, and the particles trembled violently. All at once the particles scattered, dropping the bowl. Blueblood gasped, and the particles started to disappear from his sight. He looked around wildly, watching sadly as they faded away. Brook smiled warmly at his sad expression.
“It's alright, Blueblood,” he said. “You did well.” Blueblood smiled shyly, and lowered his head.
“Thank you, master,” he said quietly. Brook's smile widened.
“We can try again,” he said. “This time, relax. It's like seeing the magic in the first place. Don't force it, just let it happen.”

Blueblood and Brook continued to practice as the morning wore by. The small bowl wobbled and shook, and sometimes it even lifted off the deck by inches. It was like learning to use magic all over again. Blueblood struggled to grasp it even a little; the golden flecks in his vision made it hard to focus, and his mind was becoming exhausted from the effort.
“Why don't we take a break?” Brook suggested as the bowl fell to the deck once again, rattling gently. Blueblood sighed and nodded. Brook smiled gently and limped to the bow, Blueblood following along. The sun was rising higher in the sky, its warm rays burning away the fog. A thin mist still obscured the distance, but everything on the ship was clear now. The sailors moved about with greater urgency, and Blueblood and Brook found themselves in relative peace at the bow.
Blueblood rested his chin along the railing, staring out into the mist. Brook sat beside him silently. His stoic expression had begun to fade, and Blueblood could see a hint of happiness on his old face. It made Blueblood smile as well.
The sun continued slowly along its arc, and as it went more and more of the fog burnt away. By noon it was almost all gone, and in the distance Blueblood thought that he could see a hint of something. He squinted, peering closer. Sure enough, a hump of land was poking out in the distance.
“Land, ho!” a pony in the crow's nest shouted down. “12 degrees port!” The soldiers bustled to life as the captain emerged from his quarters, barking orders harshly.
“We're almost at Ys, you unicorns! Get to work, you don't want to look like a lazy batch'a diamond dogs, do ya? Come on, look alive for the docks! Drum up some business for us hard-working Aloans! Rig up those knots, get the sails ready for port! Helmsman, start taking us starboard!” Blueblood stared at the sailors scurrying about, and turned back to Brook.
“We're coming close to Ys, now,” Brook said before Blueblood could ask. “Appearances count for a lot in the capital... I guess you understand that.” Blueblood nodded a bit sadly.
“Yes,” he said. “But why did he say to go starboard? I thought he said the land was port?” Brook nodded, and Blueblood became even more confused.
“The land is the tip of the peninsula,” Brook said, as if it explained everything. “The westernmost point of the Aloan landmass.”
“Then why are we going around it?” Blueblood asked again.
“Because it is not the westernmost point of Aloa,” Brook replied. He gestured in the direction the ship had begun to turn, and Blueblood looked curiously. In the distance, he saw a faint structure. The ship moved closer and closer, and the structure grew. Within minutes, Blueblood realized what it was.
It was an enormous city, miles away from land. Ships were sailing in and out of it in all directions, passing though tall arches in a miles-high wall that circled around the city. Just like the wall at Port Ponzance, unicorns patrolled along the top of the wall, staring carefully down at the ships that passed through.
They sailed closer, and Blueblood got a better view. The gate was made of a brilliantly polished white stone, rising from the water in pillars as thick as a small ship. Blueblood gazed up, following their path into the sky where they arched and met.
The ships mulled about in what seemed like traffic, constantly flowing around one another in an attempt to get closer to, or away from, the gates. Ships of all sizes moved in and out amongst each other, only stopping for the checks at the gates. Platforms stretched out across the water like miniature docks, ponies moving on and off of them, inspecting ships that came through for any suspicious cargo. Blueblood watched silently as one of the guards came aboard. They went into the hold, and returned nodding their heads. Then they inspected the sailors, all lined up and saluting smartly. Finally, they came for Blueblood and Brook.
Blueblood felt his heart start to beat fast as they approached, but he tried his best to remain calm. The guards looked them up and down impassively.
“Can we help you?” Brook asked. The guard inspecting them blinked, but spoke.
“The captain tells me that you aren't part of his crew.”
“That's right,” Brook said. “We're passengers.” The guard nodded.
“I'll need to see both your citizenships.” Brook looked slowly at Blueblood.
“My assistant doesn't have one,” he said. “He's new.”
“A slave?” the guard asked. Blueblood saw one of Brook's eyebrows rise faintly.
“Assistant,” he said again, an edge to his voice. He untied his medallion, handing it to the guard. The guard inspected it, and his eyes widened.
“General White, sir,” he said, saluting. “We've been expecting you. We, ah, thought that you would be on a military ship. My apologies.”
“That's alright,” Brook said. “You were only doing your job.”
“Thank you, sir,” the guard said, nodding. “We can arrange a ferry to take you directly to the palace when you make dock, sir.”
“Does the King need to see me right away?” Brook asked. The guard thought for a minute.
“I'm afraid I wouldn't know, sir,” he said. “But we haven't had many military ships come in yet, and none have left for deployment. I can only say that we're still preparing, I can't say how far along we are. Sorry, sir.” Brook nodded.
“If the King wanted me there, you'd know,” he said. “We won't need a ferry. They can bring my bags to the palace. Red has never been to Ys before. I'd like to show him around before we go to the palace.”
“Of course, sir,” the guard said. “I'll send a sea pony ahead to the docks. Somepony should be along to take your luggage shortly.” He shifted uncomfortably, and asked, “Your assistant... is he a foreigner?”
“From Mihaan,” Brook lied. A look of relief came over the guard’s face.
“Oh,” he said. “I see. Well, you can never be careful at war time, can you?” he asked. He saluted sharply, and Brook nodded.
“No,” Brook said. “Thank you.” He saluted back weakly, and when the guard had left he sighed.
“I suppose I'll have to get used to that again,” he said. Blueblood tilted his head as the ship began to move again.
“Get used to saluting?” he asked. Brook nodded.
“Saluting, and ‘Sir’, and being looked up to.” He shook his head, and quickly changed the subject. “I'll show you around Ys today,” he said. “You won't have much time to see it... so you might as well take a little time to enjoy it.” Blueblood smiled at him.
“Thank you, master,” he said. Brook smiled back.
“You're welcome, Blueblood,” he said. Their ship sailed inside the gates, and Blueblood and Brook looked out at the docks across the water.
Wooden docks stretched out like spokes, poking out in a long and slow curve. They went on for as long as Blueblood could see in each direction, and he imagined that the docks must have circled around the entire city. He leaned over the railings, taking in the sight and grinning. Ships weaved around each other and in and out of the docks with ease, navigating the large gap of water between the gates and the city. The water here was clean and clear, and he could see almost to the bottom if he looked hard enough.
Sea ponies dashed about beneath the water, breaking the surface occasionally to call out to the docks or berate a careless ship. Some of them were delivering packages and letters as they had in Port Ponzance. Blueblood half-expected to see Azure pop out of the water and wave at any moment. He smiled to himself, laughing at the thought that she might have come all the way out here.
Their ships sailed through the open water for several minutes, searching for an open dock, and eventually they found one. The pulled into port, throwing lines down to dock workers who hastily tied them, securing the large ship in place. A gangplank was laid and dock workers began to board the ship even as the crew started bringing the cargo on deck. The iron and steel was prepared to move, but Blueblood and Brook were oblivious to the preparations. They had already retrieved their bags from the small cabin they had been rented and were walking down the gangplank. A young, sleek sea pony was waiting to take the pair’s luggage, and after they had given it to him, Brook and Blueblood walked off the docks as quickly as they could.
They had to weave their way around the heavy dock workers, making their way towards the streets inch by inch. Finally they were at the arching white gate, and they passed into the city of Ys. Blueblood gaped at what he saw.
To say that Ys was different from Port Ponzance would be understatement to the degree of insult. There was no comparison. The dusty yellow sandstone of Port Ponzance was gone here, replaced by gleaming alabaster. Every inch of the city seemed to glow; hardly a speck of grime or garbage existed. Blueblood imagined that the inner sector of the city must have been immaculate.
The streets were narrow, barely three ponies wide, though the buildings were far from tight-knit. Great canals cut between streets in a massive grid, with arcing bridges connecting the gaps between streets. The water in the canals was so pure as to be invisible. Blueblood could see sea ponies pass by. They waved to him when they saw him staring, as they waved to one another whenever two passed. Blueblood could see that many of the buildings stretched down in to the water as well. Two cities existed here, one on top of the other.
Brook took Blueblood deeper into the city, smiling warmly as the young stallion gazed excitedly at the wondrous city on the water.
“You like like a tourist,” Brook chuckled. Blueblood lowered his head, smiling sheepishly.
“You're probably right,” he said, chuckling. Brook smiled.
“It's alright,” he said. “It's a beautiful city, isn't it?” Blueblood grinned, nodding.
“It's amazing,” he agreed. “I never really stopped to look at Canterlot... I don't remember if it's anything like this, but Ys is beautiful.” Brook’s smile faded slightly, but he nodded happily.
“I'm glad you like it,” he said. “Sometimes I think this is why we're so proud of ourselves. This is where Aloa began, you know.”
“It is?” Blueblood asked. Brook nodded.
“So they say. They say that this is the place where the first king met the first sea pony. They say the sea pony showed him a gem deposit underwater, here, in exchange for food. The king sold the gems, and shared his wealth with the sea pony. Their fortunes grew, and they started to spread into the peninsula. The palace is built in the centre of the city, where the gems were found. It's also the place where Prince Tidus first accepted Aloans as his children.”
Blueblood listened to the story intently, nearly walking over the edge of the street and into the water. A sea pony shoved him back onto the street, laughing cheerfully. Blueblood smiled, and thanked him as he swam off.
Blueblood and Brook made their way deeper into the city, Brook occasionally pointing out something interesting, or explaining a bit of history. They passed a flat square filled with statues of famous ponies: great kings and legendary warriors. Brook took Blueblood to a park as well, a great island of grass in the centre of a gigantic pool. A half-dozen bridges stretched out to the island, each aligned with a street. The park was walled with buildings, arranged circularly around the pool.
Blueblood took in every detail, Brook smiling happily all the while. The two enjoyed themselves deeply, revelling in each other’s company. They were so happy that they failed to notice a pony who had shadowed them from the docks: a tall, powerful pony with dangerous eyes.
They sauntered down an empty street, warm smiles across both their faces. There didn't seem to be another pony around at all, save for the stallion who had been shadowing them. He crept through side streets and alleyways, steadily making his way closer and closer. He moved silently despite his heavy frame, always checking carefully if they had noticed him. They moved along, ignorant of his presence. A slow, cruel smiled crept across his lips. He had been looking forward to this for a long time. He would kill the old one first. Not because he was dangerous, like Letter had said, but because it would mean Blueblood would know he was there. It would give the princeling time to be afraid. Time to beg, just like last time. The powerful pony grinned madly, and dashed at the pair.
The water exploded beside Blueblood, causing him to jump back. For a moment he didn't know what was happening. All he could see was a spray of water, and a flash of blue and gold. He followed the flash unconsciously, and only afterwords did he realize what he had seen.
Azure arced out of the water gracefully, spinning in the air. She coiled herself into a tight ball, suddenly stretching out and bringing her tail down hard. There was a meaty thud as her tail struck the pursuer’s head, and he dropped to the ground heavily. Blueblood gaped, and Brook dropped into a ready crouch. Blueblood blinked once, twice as Azure returned to the water, breaking the surface.
“Red!” she shouted.
“Azure?” he asked, dumbfounded. He looked at the pony she had struck, and his heart skipped. It was Captain Iron Towers. Blueblood stumbled back, falling to his rump. Iron got to his hooves, shaking his head and growling fiercely. He set his eyes dead on Blueblood, and a evil grin crept across his mouth.
“Hello, princeling,” he hissed. Blueblood trembled, shuffling away from the gray pony.
“I-I-Iron?” he asked, his voice trembling weakly. Iron's grin only widened as he took a step closer.
“That's right, brat,” he said. “Miss me? Because I missed you. I've been looking forward to seeing you again.” Blueblood shook violently.
“Iron, I... I... please, Iron,” he said weakly. His voice was failing him. Iron gave a barking laugh.
“Please?” he asked, mockingly. “Please? Oh, yes please. You want to know what I'm going to do with you, colt?”
“Nothing,” Brook said. He stepped between the two ponies, staring intently at Iron. “You will do nothing to him,” he said again. Iron paused for a moment, and Brook addressed Blueblood and Azure without turning around.
“Filly,” he said. “Do you know where the palace is?” Azure blinked, but nodded.
“I do,” she said.
“Take Blueblood there,” he said sharply. “Both of you, get out of here. Go to the palace. I'll meet you there.” Azure nodded, and turned to Blueblood.
“Red,” she said. “Follow me.” Blueblood didn't respond. He was still shaking and breathing heavily. Azure jumped up onto the street, taking a hold of him. “Red!” she said. “Listen to me! We have to go!” He still remained silent, until Brook spoke.
“Blueblood!” he said, his voice commanding. “Get out of here! Now!” Blueblood blinked, and shook his head.
“Master,” he said quietly.
“I'll be fine,” Brook said. “Get out of here now.”
“Oh, like hell you do,” Iron said, stomping towards the white pony. Brook moved in his way again. The old pony danced deftly in spite of his handicap, always taking up the gray pony’s space, but always staying out of his reach. With Azure's help, Blueblood managed to get to his hooves, and she pulled him into the water.
Iron roared with fury, lashing out at Brook. The old pony skipped backwards, widening the gap between them.
“You made me lose him, you daft old pin-head!” Iron yelled. Brook did not respond, staring coldly at the earth pony. Iron lowered his head, pawing at the ground as if he were about to charge.
“Damn unicorns,” he growled fiercely. Brook's eyes began to glow gently, and he spoke. His voice was soft, but clear in the silence. It was strong, and there was a dangerous edge to it.
“Are you the one who hurt Blueblood?”


It took Blueblood a long time to recover. Azure swam through the city streets as fast as she could with Blueblood's bubble in front of her. Other sea ponies leaped out of the way, shaking their hooves after her. Blueblood trembled inside his bubble, but he slowly came to his senses. He shook his head slowly, rolling onto his front and looking at Azure. She smiled at him weakly.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“I... yes,” Blueblood said. “Azure, we have to go back.”
“What?” Azure asked.
“We have to go back for Master.” A dire urgency creeping into his voice “You shouldn't have let him stay behind like that; Iron will kill him!”
“If this stallion is so dangerous, why do we want to go back, exactly?” Azure asked.
“Azure!” Blueblood shouted. “Please! I don't want Master to get hurt. Iron was after me, not him. We have to at least help him!”
“Your master is fighting him to protect you,” she said, as if she herself were unsure. “You think he wants you to go back there and get yourself in trouble?” Blueblood leaned against the bubble wall, gazing into her eyes. She could see fear, there. More than that, though, there was a deep concern.
“Please, Azure,” he said. “My master was there for me when I needed him. He's the only reason I'm worth anything. I'd never forgive myself if he was hurt...” Azure lowered her head slowly, looking away.
“That pony...” she said. “He was nuts. I got a look at his eyes... He terrified me. I've never done anything like that before.”
“I know,” Blueblood said. “Believe me, I know... but that's why we need to go back. Please, Azure, I need to help him. Please...” Azure looked into his eyes slowly, and sighed.
“Alright...” she said. “For you. But... who are you? Your master called you Blueblood. And that stallion called you princeling... you're not just some servant, are you?” Blueblood hesitated, and hung his head slowly.
“No,” he said. “I'm not. My name is Blueblood Star. I'm... the prince of Equestria.” Azure stared, and Blueblood winced. There was silence for a moment, then Azure swam around the bubble. She set her hooves against it, pushing it back towards where they had left Brook.
“Azure?” Blueblood asked.
“You wanted to go back to your master, right?” she asked. “I don't really care where you're the prince of. Nopony rules the ocean, after all.” She smiled at him, and said, “I liked you when you were Red. That's not going to change now that you're Blue. I just wanted to know who you really were.” Blueblood stared for a moment, then smiled back at her.
“Thank you, Azure,” he said.
Azure pushed the bubble back down the canals, back to where they had left Brook. Blueblood's heart thudded in his chest all the while, half-expecting to see Iron standing over Brook's body at any moment. He was so worried that he almost didn't notice Brook limping down the street as they swam past. Luckily, Azure spotted him and shoved Blueblood's bubble up onto the street, popping it.
“Blueblood?” Brook said, surprised by the prince's sudden arrival. “I told you to go to the palace. What are you doing here?” Blueblood threw his hooves around Brook's neck, hugging him tight.
“Master!” he cried. “Thank goodness! I was so worried... I came back to help you fight Iron.” Brook stood stock still, stunned by Blueblood's worry. He relaxed, and smiled.
“That stallion?” he asked, chuckling faintly. “He was nothing. I scared him off with no trouble. But... thank you, Blueblood.” Blueblood let go of Brook, and sat on the street. He smiled back weakly, and Brook spoke again.
“Who was that pony, Blueblood?” he asked. Blueblood's head sunk between his shoulders.
“He... was my bodyguard,” he said. “He kidnapped me, and brought me here.” Brook nodded solemnly.
“We need to go to the palace,” he said. “Right now.” He turned to Azure, asking, “Can you take us both there?” Azure nodded.
“Of course,” she said. “I can take you both no problem. Just hop in here and I'll make you a bubble.” Blueblood and Brook both slid into the water, and Azure blew a large bubble around them.
She moved slower with two ponies to ferry, but she was still much faster than they would have been on the streets. The canals stretched straight into the city, the same as the spoke-like streets in every other Aloan city. Within minutes, Blueblood could see a tall structure starting to poke above the horizon. It was a palace, and the very definition of opulence. It was every bit the rival of his home in Canterlot, made from gleaming alabaster and marble, with gold and silver trim along its doors and towers. Great spires stretched into the skies, and its base was set firmly on the sea bottom. It was marked with holes like a honey comb, with sea ponies swimming in and out like underwater bees. Blueblood imagined they carried messages and packages as Azure had, but he could only guess at their contents. He didn't give them much thought, however. His mind was elsewhere for most of the trip.
Though the danger of Iron had passed, the earth pony still weighed on Blueblood's mind. The very fact that he was in the same city terrified Blueblood. Iron could strike from anywhere, for all he knew. Would he be forced to live the rest of him life in constant fear of Iron, now that the evil earth pony had found him? He knew that the thought was ridiculous – he would be safe in the palace, of course. Even still, just the thought of Iron being near chilled him to the very bone. He tried his best to shake the thoughts from his mind as they approached the towering structure.
A pair of lightly armoured sea ponies swam into their path, crossing tails armed with three-pronged spikes to bar their entrance. Azure slowed to a stop, swimming to the top of the bubble.
“What business do you have in that palace?” one of the guards asked forcefully. Brook stood, staring strongly back at them. Blueblood noticed one of the sea ponies shrink back slightly under his gaze.
“I am General White Brook,” he said firmly. “War is my business in the palace.”
“Ah...” the guard said, “of course, sir. We'll, ah, need to see your identification, of course -” Brook tore off his medallion impatiently, showing it to them. The guard nodded and moved aside.
“Would you like somepony to escort you to your quarters, sir?” he asked.
“No,” Brook said sharply. Even Blueblood found himself flinching slightly at the force of his voice. “I will see the king.”
“Ah, sir,” the guard said, “I'm certain the king will be pleased to greet you, but he's holding court right now. Perhaps if you waited until he was finished -”
“NOW,” Brook said. The guard flinched, and nodded.
“O-of course, sir,” he said meekly. “We'll send for somepony to take you to the court...”
“The mare will take us,” Brook said, gesturing to Azure. She looked down in confusion, as did the guard.
“Me, sir?” Azure asked. Brook nodded.
“You saw Iron,” Brook said. “We'll need you in the court. Another voice is always good with politicians. It's the only way we can hope to drown them out.” He saluted to the guards, who had moved aside fearfully, and Azure swam them inside.
The underwater tunnels in the palace were much different from the city canals. They were completely dark save for the soft blue light of crystals placed intermittently through the tunnels, casting a strange pale glow over everything.
Brook would occasionally offer directions to Azure, pointing her along the path to the throne room, but beyond that, the trip was silent. The only ponies they encountered along their trip were busy-looking officials, swathed in wrappings that flowed strangely in the water. Brook sat tensely for the entire trip, never making a sound. Blueblood looked at his master carefully, wondering just what had him so tense. Perhaps he was as afraid of Iron as Blueblood, the prince thought to himself. Perhaps that was why they were going to see the king so urgently, to tell him about the earth pony's presence in the city.
Whatever the cause of Brook's intensity, Blueblood was afraid to ask. The stress of seeing Iron again was finally starting to fade, and with the calmness came a sort of exhaustion, as well as a sense of dread. The danger was over for now and he could rest, but he could not help but feel something worse was on the horizon.
The tunnels were beginning to widen as Azure pushed them along, and they were becoming better-lit as well. They occasionally passed by small windows in the ceiling, no doubt portholes into a palace courtyard. Soon the tunnel began to slope gently upward, and it opened into an enormous room.
The room was every bit as large as the throne room in Canterlot. A large platform took up the middle of the surface, bridges snaking their way along to the walls. The platform was supported by enormous, engraved pillars. Sea ponies weaved through the pillars in a line, but Brook paid them no heed.
“Surface,” he said. Azure looked at him oddly, but nodded and did as she was told. She pushed the bubble apologetically around the sea ponies, bringing it to the edge of the large platform.
The room above the surface was every bit as ornate as below it. It too was lit by phosphorescent crystals, casting a faint aqua hue over the room. The walls were decorated with intricate carvings, some merely decorative and some telling ancient stories of Aloan heroism and history. The figures on the carvings seemed to come alive, dancing along with the warbling light reflected off the water. It cast bright lines across everything in the room. The room felt ancient and regal. In spite of all the differences it reminded Blueblood deeply of Canterlot Palace. For the first time in months, he felt a twinge of homesickness.
At the very head of the platform were three massive thrones, one in the centre dwarfing those two that flanked it. In the centre throne sat a large, regal-looking purple unicorn with a golden mane, swathed in blue-green wrappings. An ornate crown swirled around his head, curling up his horn. It was cast with gold and inlaid with curling silver, an enormous and beautiful pearl in its centre. In each of the thrones at his side sat a mare, one of whom Blueblood recognized immediately as Princess Golden Dreams. The unicorn Blueblood presumed to be the king stared at them, looking decidedly unhappy.
“What is the meaning of this!?” he demanded, slamming his hoof on the arm of his throne. “Open court does not mean that ponies may barge into my throne room whenever they please. Explain yourselves!” Brook stepped forward, and bowed.
“Your majesty,” he said graciously, “I am White Brook.”
“I know who you are,” the king said harshly. “The day you and I last met is very clear in my mind. I may have invited you here, White Brook, but I did not intend that you come to greet me the very instant you arrive at my palace. I hope that you have a much better reason for this interruption than that alone?”
“I do, your majesty,” Brook said. “I hope to do the same thing today as I did last time.” The king paused, and leaned forward. All traces of anger seemed to be gone from him, replaced by a keen and cautious interest.
“You intend to threaten me with death by fire?” he asked. The guards along the walls of the room readied their spears, but the king waved his hoof dismissively at them.
“I intend to end a war,” Brook said. Blueblood blinked, and stared at him. The old pony suddenly looked as though he were in a deep pain. The king leaned back in his chair.
“You intend to stop the war?” he repeated, as though he were musing over the statement. “I believe your job is to win the war, White Brook, not to stop it.”
“You may be right,” Brook conceded, “but I wish to try just the same. If I can stop ponies from dying, I will consider it a victory.” The king rubbed his chin gently.
“Are you even aware of the cause of the war, I wonder?” he asked. Brook looked at Blueblood sadly.
“I believe that I am,” he said. “I believe that the prince of Equestria has gone missing.” The king raised an eyebrow.
“Indeed he has...” he said. “Celestia seems to believe that we are responsible for his disappearance. Tell me, Brook, how you know this?” Brook sighed, and looked at Blueblood again. The wall he kept in front of his emotions was gone, and all Blueblood could see was an overwhelming sadness. A lump rose in Blueblood's throat as he looked at his master. The old pony turned back to the king, and bowed his head. His voice was deeply pained when he spoke.
“Your Majesty... may I present Prince Bluebood of Equestria,” he said. The hall went silent as the king slouched back in his chair. Brook's head hung weakly, and Blueblood stared at him. The silence seemed to last for hours, nothing happening save for Blueblood and Brook's silent exchange. A slow realization washed over Blueblood, both grim and strangely wonderful. The old pony looked as tired as he had ever been. He seemed ancient, like a zombie. Blueblood could feel his heart pounding in his throat. The silence was broken by the king scoffing.
“I do not know what you have done since you were in Equestria twenty years ago, Brook,” the king said, “but I am beginning to rethink my choice of you as a general. That pony is not the prince. He isn't even a unicorn.” He nodded matter-of-factly, and sat back. Brook rose his head, and straightened up some.
“I... know what it looks like,” Brook conceded, “but he is not an earth pony...” He trailed off weakly. He seemed as though he himself were not convinced. It was as though he wanted to be wrong. Seeing his master so weak made Blueblood's heart ache. He stood, almost without realizing it, and walked to his master's side. He looked across the room fiercely, and he remembered.
He remembered life in Canterlot Palace. He remembered dancing with princesses, and giving orders to servants. The memories pained him, to be true, but he held on to them. They helped him. He puffed out his chest, and stood straight and tall.
“He is not lying,” Blueblood said firmly. “I am Prince Blueblood Star, son of Prince Winter Star and Princess Amethyst Star. The goddesses Celestia and Luna are my aunts, and all of Equestria mine to rule by birthright, as long as the sun and the moon shall traverse the world's sky. Even in the heat of the sun I shall not whither, nor in the dark of the night shall I be afraid, for their heat and their mystery are my sword and my shield.”
The words came with practised ease. Blueblood had been made to recite them countless times as a foal, until they were burnt into his memory. It was the Equestrian oath. The royal guardsponies were sworn in under it, albeit a slightly different version. He had been told he would recite it only on his coronation day and matters of grave importance, and this seemed to be the latter. He stood proud and tall, trying not to tremble under the king's appraising glare.
“Let us entertain the notion that you are the prince,” the king said. “What has brought you to my throne room sans horn, hm? What course could possibly lead the proud and powerful unicorn prince to stand before me as an earth pony?” Before Blueblood could speak, another unicorn called out to the king. All eyes turned to him: a single soldier, dressed in simple silver armour. He was not one positioned along the walls, but stood at the door as if he had come to seek an audience. His coat was a bright yellow, and beneath his helmet Blueblood saw a limp blue mane.
“You majesty,” the soldier said, stepping forward to join Brook, Blueblood and Azure, “I can answer that.” The king glowered at him.
“More interruptions!” he growled. “And just who are you?” The soldier removed his helmet, and bowed.
“My name is Wet Mane, sire,” he said. The king raised an eyebrow.
“Wet Mane? You were one of the soldiers sent with Ambassador Letter, weren't you? One of the ten missing soldiers?”
“I was, sire,” Wet Mane said. “That is why I know how the prince lost his horn. Because I held him down while it was cut off.” The room fell into a hushed silence, and Blueblood winced at the memory. His heart pounded as the pony recounted his tale..
“Ambassador Letter had us kidnap the prince,” Wet said. “We were told it was under orders from you yourself. We took him to the border of Aloa and Equestria, and an Equestrian guard cut his horn off with an axe. We tried to keep take him to a safe house in Dune, but he escaped. We've been running across Aloa for the past five months searching for him.” There was silence in the hall, save for the nearly audible scowling of the king.
“Bah!” he shouted dismissively. “Words. Anypony can play act, even a dense earth pony. This is just an Equestrian trick to get us to lower our guard.”
“Wait!” Azure offered, joining in. “He’s telling the truth! I saw a pair of ponies talking at the docks in Port Ponzance! One of them was called Letter, he must have been the ambassador!” She propped herself up on the edge of the platform, leaning in intensely. “They were talking about killing Blueblood - they called him the prince!”
“Lies!” the king roared. “Guards! Arrest this spy, and his treasonous companions as well!”
The guards all readied their weapons, and Brook jumped to his hooves. He and Wet Mane stood at the ready, preparing for an attack. The guards all mulled tensely along the walls and bridges, some brave ponies creeping forwards. Brook whipped his head around, challenging the guards. They had all heard of him. They had heard legends of his skill and prowess in battle, and they could all see that he had lost none of it.
Blueblood looked fearfully at the guards approaching them. He wracked his mind for some way to convince the king of his identity. His mind raced, desperately grasping. He felt a familiar urgency, deep in his gut. As far away as he was, he was so close to home now. Now, when it truly mattered. He was so close that he could almost see the gleaming marble of the palace, smell his mother's sweet perfume again, and it was slipping away from him.
“You Majesty,” he called, stepping forward, “please! Surely there is something I can do to prove myself to you! A secret of the Equestrian royal family, a family heirloom! Send a letter!” The guards were creeping closer, becoming more brave. Blueblood was grasping at straws, now. The king refused to hear him, brushing aside any suggestion. Then, Blueblood noticed the princess.
Princess Golden Dreams, one of the delegates from Aloa.
“Princess!” Blueblood shouted. “Princess Golden Dreams! Surely you remember me? At the summit in Canterlot, on the night of the opening ceremony! We danced for the whole night, surely you must remember me!” The princess stared at him from across the hall. For a brief moment Blueblood thought he saw a flash of recognition across her face, and he dared to hope she might remember him.
“I danced with a unicorn that night,” she said. “Not some... simple earth pony. I am a mare of pride, you know.” Blueblood's heart sank. He felt the last bit of hope slipping away. He felt his home growing more and more distant. Then he felt something else.
Perhaps it was how much the strange hall reminded him of home. Perhaps it was seeing a look of fear slip through Brook's normally stoic exterior. Perhaps it was even the haughty and arrogant expression of Princess Golden Dreams, so closely mimicking his own from all those months ago. Whatever it was, Blueblood felt something he had not felt in a long time. He felt a tiny fire flare up in his belly.
There was no indignation. There was no arrogance, no false sense of entitlement or worth. There was no ego. There was only the fire. It wasn't anger, not yet. It was fuel, like a stove or an engine. He was still nervous, there was no denying that, but the flame pushed him on. He took a step forward, heedless of the guards.
“Is that what I am?” he asked quietly. “Some simple earth pony? Tell me, princess, because I am so simple. What do you mean?” The princess raised an eyebrow at him. One or two of the guards turned their focus to him. He knew why. It was the same reason all heads turned when he had walked into great halls. He remembered more than just his oath. He remembered presence. He may have been quiet, and he may have been gentle, but he had presence. Perhaps it was because that his words were so quiet and gentle, amidst the tension of the guards, that they heard him. “Could you mean that I am some dirt-farming pony from some strange foreign land?” he asked. “Or do you simply mean that I am stupid?”
Even as he spoke, some part of him deep down trembled. Some small part of him was afraid of what he was doing. He was becoming his old self again. He breathed deeply, trying to keep himself calm, and humble. He rebelled against it, fighting to keep the little fire from becoming anger. He would not be the same. He would not be the old Blueblood, never again. The princess opened her mouth to speak, but he didn't let her. “I have been both of those things, Your Highness,” he said. “I have farmed the earth. I have been stupid.” He paused, feeling a wave of coolness wash over the fire. “I have been very stupid. A long time ago. But right now, I am neither of those things. Because a simple earth pony could not remember the colour of the dress you were wearing that night,” he said. He stood up strong and tall. The guards barely moved now, all eyes on him. “It was green. It was beautiful, falling across your body like a waterfall. You wore a perfume that smelled of lilies, and told me that you loved to waltz.” He looked her dead in the eye, and said, “I am the pony you danced with, Golden Dreams. I may be a simple stallion, now, but I am a unicorn. I am Prince Blueblood Star.”
The room was silent. Princess Golden Dreams slowly lifted a hoof to her mouth. For a moment she looked as though she would speak, but it was the king who broke the silence.
“SPIES!” he roared, spittle flying from his mouth. “Talk all you want, I don't see a unicorn here! This is just some Equestrian trickery, and I will not stand for it!” He leaned froward in his throne, almost standing up as he yelled. “I will not stand idly by and let Equestria bully its way into my country! I WILL protect my ponies, and my culture from you! GUARDS!”
The guards came closer, more confidant. Wet Mane’s horn began to glow, and Brook danced nervously. The old stallion’s horn never lit up, no matter how close they came. The guards inched closer and closer, surrounding Blueblood and Brook. Sea pony guards emerged from the water, cutting off Azure as well.
“Wait!” Blueblood cried desperately, still trying to win over the furious king. His heart leaped into his throat suddenly, springing into panic. “What if I could prove to you that I was?” The king didn't answer, but Blueblood tried anyways. He tried as hard as he could, focusing on the mark Brook had drawn on his forehead. He felt a strange tingling sensation, but the guards ignored him. He focused with all his might, desperately trying to make some magic – any magic – happen.
Closer and closer the guards came, spears outstretched. Blueblood began to shake, and he could feel his heart pounding furiously in his chest. Brook tried to keep between him and the soldiers, but there were too many. Blueblood's mark bristled faintly. Each hair turned gold, and a sparking glow came off them. Each single strand swayed in some unseen breeze, as if they were a part of a great, invisible current. Blueblood could feel himself reaching out: a tiny, weak strand of magic. It rippled and spluttered, dying feet away from his head. He gasped, and tried again.
“I am a unicorn,” he insisted, pushing himself into the mark. “I am Prince Blueblood Star!” The king stared, suddenly silent. He looked on in awe at the tiny, weak magic emanating from Blueblood’s forehead. His eyes darted about, and an expression of disbelief came across his face.
“It can’t be,” he said quietly. “You can’t be a unicorn. You can’t be Blueblood.” His brow furrowed slowly. “There must be some trick,” he said. His expression grew furious again. “This is just some Equestrian trick! Celestia is just trying to get me to let my guard down! I will not stand for her coming in and trying to rule my country! I will not have her trying to rule over my ponies! I refuse to be fooled by some... cheap parlor trick!”
“Is that what it is?”
Then there was silence. For just a moment, everything seemed still. Nopony moved. Even the rippling lights along the walls seemed to freeze in place. The world was still, and silent, save for a single voice. It was strong, yet soft, and ancient. It seemed to come from everywhere at once, echoing through the hall as cold and clear as ice.
“Why do you blind yourself, Ocean Gold?”
The king's eyes bulged, and he sank into the back of his throne. The water in the room shifted and bulged, as if there were some enormous creature swimming beneath it. It stilled in an instant, as if it had become glass, and once more there was silence. Then, slowly, a figure rose from behind the king's throne.
It was an enormous, aqua sea pony, the biggest Blueblood had ever seen. It dwarfed every other pony in the room, easily twice their size. A horn protruded from its forehead in a perfect tight spiral, decorated with a crown even more ornate than the king's own. The most beautiful wrappings Blueblood had ever seen draped across his shoulders, shimmering with every colour of the rainbow and tied with a medallion made from solid mother-of-pearl. It was decorated with an emblem that Blueblood had never seen before: some bizarre, almost living symbol made of twists and curls that seemed to shift and warp as the mother-of-pearl shimmered in the trembling lights.
The pony’s mane hung in heavy dreadlocks, each a living, swirling eddy of white water. His eyes were a piercing pale blue, locked dead on Blueblood. A long flipper swung out of the water, wrapping around the throne. The sea pony looked down impassively on the king, who seemed to be trying to become one with his chair.
“P-Prince Tidus,” the king said weakly, suddenly devoid of his rage.
“I know you do not share my and my kin's eyes,” Tidus said slowly, “but is it truly so difficult for you to see? Horn or no, there can be no mistaking this pony.”
“You mean,” the king said, “this is really Blueblood?” Tidus nodded. He left the throne, gliding across the open floor to Blueblood. He inspected him carefully, and his eyes glowed briefly.
“Yes,” he said. “This is a unicorn. I recognize his face: he looks like his father.” Tidus smiled faintly at Blueblood. “Do you remember me, foal?” Blueblood gaped at the divine figure before him and shook his head slowly.
“I'm... sorry, Prince Tidus,” he said, “but I don’t.” Tidus nodded.
“I visited you when you were born,” he said. “I always visit when Celestia's family has a new foal. She is a good friend of mine, you see. We met when she and her sister took the sun and moon.” Blueblood blinked at this.
“Really?” he asked. “But that was thousands of years ago.” Prince Tidus nodded.
“Yes,” he said. “Time goes by so fast, it seems.” He turned back to the king and nodded. “There is no doubt in my mind,” he said, “that this pony is Blueblood Star. Celestia visited me as she did you, Ocean Gold. All she wants is him back. She meant no insult. Why must you place my children in harm's way with your pride?”
“I...” the king said, shrinking back, “I had no idea that he was here! I thought that he might have been kidnapped by somepony else! Or, or, that he had simply run off! It was Celestia who persisted, your divinity, not I!”
“The loss of a loved one is stressful,” Tidus said, “even for creatures such as she and I. All she wants is her foal returned to her.”
“O-of course,” the king said weakly. “I'll arrange for a transport immediately. The fastest ship. We'll send him straight down the River Aloe, right up to the mountains. He'll be home within the month.” He smiled hopefully, and Tidus nodded.
“This is good,” he said, turning back to Blueblood. “You must be pleased to be going home, foal.”
In truth, Blueblood was still having trouble believing it all. After everything that he had been through, he had given up on ever seeing his home again. A slow, earnest smile spread across his face.
“I'm going home,” he said. “I'm going home!” He turned to his master excitedly, saying, “Master, this is wonderful! I can finally go home! Isn't this fantastic? I'll be able to see mother and Auntie again. You can give mother your letter – I'm sure that she'll forgive you if she knows how sorry you are, master. And she'll want to thank you for helping me, I know she will. We can get your chambers set up in the royal family’s wing. Canterlot is a wonderful city, and you'll never have to worry about anypony recognizing you at all. It'll be... it'll be...” Blueblood's smile faded as he saw his master's expression. The old pony still looked ancient, and pained.
“...Master?” Blueblood asked. Brook lowered his head faintly.
“I can't go with you, Blueblood,” he said. An incredible pain struck Blueblood, as if somepony had run him through. His mouth hung open limply, but he closed it and swallowed.
“You can't...” he echoed. Brook nodded slowly. “Why not?” Blueblood asked. He didn't need to ask. He already knew the answer. But he needed to hear it. It was as if it wouldn't be real until he heard it from his master.
“I'm the general of Aloa,” he said. “I would never be allowed in Equestria. Even after you end the war... I couldn't.” He sighed weakly. Blueblood nodded slowly, his expression slowly fading, just as Brook's had. The two looked at each other slowly.
To any other pony it would seem as though they were simply staring in silence. Nopony in the room knew just what was happening, save for them. Nopony understood the nature of the silent exchange. Nopony noticed Brook's expression become pained with loneliness, nor could they see Blueblood fighting against tears. They only saw two silent ponies, staring. Blueblood took a step forward, pressing his neck gently against Brook's. Brook sighed, and wrapped a hoof around him.
“Be strong, Blueblood,” the old pony said. “Be strong for your ponies.”
“I’ll try, master,” Blueblood said. “For you.” He nuzzled Brook gently. “Can you... at least come with me to the border?” he asked. “I want you to be there with me.” Brook smiled. His smile was like the sun, bright and full of an amazing, all-encompassing warmth.
“Of course I will,” he said. The king sat up in his throne, and scoffed.
“My general!?” he demanded. “Go to the border? Unacceptable! I need him here, in case the Equestrians attack in the meantime. Or what if you're attacked at the border!? I won't have it. White Brook will stay here.” Both Brook and Blueblood stared at the king in horror, but Tidus turned on him. His gaze was like ice; it seemed to chill the very air.
“Perhaps,” he said coldly, “your general might escort Blueblood as a body guard. As a show of good will between the countries, of course, and to keep him safe on the trip?” The king sank back in his chair.
“Ah... of course,” he said. “Excellent suggestion, Prince Tidus. Brook will escort the prince as a show of good will. To the border, of course.”
“Very good,” Tidus said, his tone warming considerably. Blueblood smiled, and pressed his neck against Brook's. It broke his heart to know that Brook couldn't be with him, but he was determined to make the most of what time they had left. The throne room was silent, and warm. Wet Mane stood, stepping forward.
“Your Majesty,” he said to the king, “I would like to go with the prince as well.” Once again, all eyes turned to him. The king raised an eyebrow.
“You are one of the ponies who kidnapped the prince to begin with,” he said after a moment. “Why would you want to escort him? For that matter, what makes you think you would be allowed to? You are responsible for causing an international incident.” Wet bowed his head ashamedly.
“I believed that we were acting under orders from Your Highness,” he said. “Even so, what I helped do to Prince Blueblood was horrible. I want the chance to make it right.” he raised his head, and spoke with more confidence. “Iron still has eight soldiers with him. They're all terrified of him, and will follow any order that he gives. If any one of those ponies comes close to the prince, I'll recognize them faster than any other soldier. Iron might still be able to find him. He could try a sneak attack at any time.” The king folded his hooves in front of his face, considering this. Azure drifted to the edge of the platform, leaning on it and speaking up.
“He’s found them already,” she said. “That Iron pony tried to attack them in town today.” Wet turned around in shock.
“Iron is in Ys?” he asked. Blueblood nodded.
“She's right,” he said. “He was the one who attacked us.”
“If he's this close, that's all the more reason for me to go with the prince,” Wet insisted. “Iron is completely insane. He'll try to kill the prince as soon as he's out in the open, and he doesn’t care if the soldiers are killed. I don’t think it even matters to him if he lives or dies.” Prince Tidus peered slowly at the king, and for once the king did not shrink beneath his gaze.
“I understand,” the king said. “If this Iron is so dangerous, getting Prince Blueblood out of Ys is top priority now.” He nodded to Wet. “You will escort him to the border. If you keep him safe, you will be absolved of your crimes.” Wet bowed.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” he said. The king nodded.
“You will all sleep in the inner sanctum tonight,” he said. “I will arrange for a ship to take you to Equestria first thing tomorrow.”