To say that the notion of Twilight Sparkle tagging along to view a battle did not sit at all well with me would have been a gross underestimation of just how I felt about it. As if I did not have enough to worry about with the threat of ambush; a possible siege against Diamond Dogs; the presence of Scarlet Letter; and, of course, millions of Changelings each with a vested interest in wearing my pelt like Rarity wears a fashionable new scarf, Twilight Sparkle had apparently lost all rational sense of self-preservation. Judging by the varied reactions of the ponies around me, I was not alone in thinking this. Indeed, something quite historic had just happened; the collective opinions of myself and a dozen ponies of different ranks, regiments, corps, and walks of life were in a sort of uneasy consensus; Twilight Sparkle was completely out of her bloody mind.
Captain Red Coat, who had somehow fallen asleep during the long and dull question-and-answer session, awoke with a jolt and lifted his head wearily from a small puddle of drool on the table. His esteemed associate, Captain Blitzkrieg, had taken to lying on his belly next to his earth pony comrade and was idly scratching his name into the underside of the wooden desk with one of his many wickedly-sharp stiletto blades. The thuggish pegasus perked his head up, pricked ears twitching like a guard dog on alert, as he heard something that likely finally interested him. On the other side of the debris-strewn desk, the officers of the 1st Solar Guard looked uneasily at one another as their commanding officer appeared to be having a small seizure. The only ponies who seemed unfazed by what was going on were Sergeant Bramley Apple, who, because of his low status as an NCO, was not allowed to express anything other than blind obedience, and Lieutenant Southern Cross who seemed more amused than anything.
As I turned my head to look down at her, my sincere promise to look after her echoed loudly through my mind. How was I supposed to ensure her safety if she insisted on putting herself in mortal danger? My fear that the greatest threat to her continued existence would not come from, say, a disgruntled and politically-minded officer out to save his career or from Changeling infiltrators, but from her own determination to acquire knowledge and her own naïveté about what a battle is actually like was turning real. More importantly, my irritatingly vivid imagination was conjuring all sorts of divine punishments that Auntie ‘Tia might mete out on me for failing my sacred oath; perhaps hot, molten gold would be poured down my throat and the resulting cast of my digestive system be cut out to serve as an example to all who forsake their vows.
Some ponies looked directly at me as if waiting for an answer; word had somehow spread – as it often does in the Royal Guard, for despite the perpetual need for secrecy ponies can and will talk – that I was apparently responsible for her. I suppose it made sense; even without any knowledge of Princess Celestia’s little chat with me it would have been obvious that I as the principal political officer here, and therefore the link between the military and civilian spheres of life, it was beholden unto me to ensure her safety.
“Pardon?” I said flatly.
Twilight’s hoof scuffed at the ground nervously, kicking up a little cloud of dust and gouging a small trough as she seemed to become acutely aware of suddenly becoming the centre of attention despite her earlier assertion that she would merely be ‘observing’.
“I want to observe the battle for my report.”
“No. Out of the question.”
Twilight looked positively crestfallen; her ears wilted and she pouted like a spoilt foal being denied a new toy. “How am I supposed to write this report for the Princess about the Royal Guard if I can’t even observe how a battle is fought?”
I have to concede that she may have had a point there, as despite her extensive preliminary reading those history books and ancient texts generally do not provide one with an adequate description of what a battle is actually like. If anything, the dry statistics and reporting of facts and figures from history books and the rather dubious authenticity and self-aggrandising nature of Pre-Heresy Era primary texts paint a highly misleading image of warfare; one where a battle is a quick and somewhat civilised affair, with plenty of glory for all who survive – especially generals and leaders – while the dead and injured are quietly swept under the rug as mere numbers at the end for the bean counters, if they are acknowledged at all. [It should be noted that some of the ancient texts on war that Twilight had brought with her were, as Blueblood described, not entirely accurate and often heavily biased in favour of whatever cause or faction the writer belonged to. Though I have done my best to make myself and my memories available for historians, any reliable testimony I can give is limited to those events which I had witnessed or presided over. This unfortunately led to a vague and incomplete historiography of the Wars of Unification and the Nightmare Heresy which was only corrected by the return of my sister, Princess Luna.] Of course she was intelligent enough to know about all of this, but, knowing her as I do, it was that same deficiency of knowledge that was likely driving her curiosity here. A certain proverb about cats and their deaths thereof sprung to mind.
“It’s a really bad idea, Twiley!” Shining Armour exclaimed, shaking his head emphatically. “Battles are very dangerous! You might get hurt!”
With such insight into the supreme art of strategy it became obvious to all attending just why Auntie ‘Tia, in her divine and infinite wisdom, had hoof-picked this lower-middle class oik to be Captain of her Royal Guard and her personal defender. Sarcasm aside, Shining Arsehole’s rather idiotic outburst was understandable in hindsight, given that his younger sister appeared to have taken complete leave of her senses. The other officers and I were at least polite enough not to show our derision of his behaviour, aside from a frustrated snort from Blitzkrieg that indicated, like me, he wanted this nonsense over and done with as quickly as possible.
At the very least, Twilight’s response to Shining’s comment indicated that we both in agreement on something for once; she rolled her eyes and sighed as she paused to collect her thoughts, the exhalation of her breath causing the minute golden stars of dust to swirl violently before her as if on invisible cosmic winds.
“I know that,” she said rather quietly, but in the stillness of the room her voice felt somehow amplified against the background noise of the encampment.
“I implore you to listen to your brother,” said Sunshine Smiles gravely. He attempted to pull what I could only assume what was intended to be a sympathetic smile, but that scar of his transformed what should have been a gentle expression into a grotesque and sardonic grin. “The battlefield is no place for a young lady such as you.”
Twilight frowned at the rather condescending remark. “It’s not like I’ll be taking part in any of the fighting. I’ll just be observing.”
Shining Armour shook his head again, though this time he appeared to have recovered somewhat from the initial shock of hearing Twilight’s request and no longer resembled a poorly-stuffed dog with bugged-out eyes and a hanging lower jaw. “It’s still too risky,” he said. “A lot of things can go wrong in a battle.”
“Shining...” whined Twilight.
“Oh, don’t worry Lady Sparkle,” I said, partly to mollify her enough so she no longer looked like an abused little puppy, but mostly because I just wanted to bring a quick end to this insanity. “You may have access to all AARs [After-Action Reports, the military does love its acronyms] and interviews with soldiers and officers once the battle is over. Would that be sufficient to your needs?”
She paused, thinking it over. “I suppose that would be okay,” she said, but her tone of voice and the petulant sulking expression that she wore implied that it was most certainly not ‘okay’. Her disappointment, of course, was not matched by the other ponies around us, as a palpable sense of relief seemed to flood through the tent around me, especially Shining Armour who looked like a condemned criminal who had just been granted a stay of execution. Whether the rest of them were genuinely concerned for Twilight’s safety or, like me, they just wanted to leave and do something (relatively) productive I could not say. However, it was not to last as before General Crimson Arrow had the chance to even think about proclaiming that our business was concluded and arrange for the next strategy meeting to sort out the dull specifics of the operation, he was interrupted by a short, loud, violent exclamation that came from just next to me.
Spike suddenly vaulted himself over Twilight’s head and onto the table with surprising dexterity, considering his clumsy and ungainly appearance.
“Spike!” Twilight regarded him with shock. “What are you doing?”
Spike ignored her, and the rest of us were so utterly paralysed by indecision that nopony could do more than stand and stare vacantly at the bizarre spectacle. Of course this was utterly inappropriate that he, a mere child, should even be present, let alone make such a mockery of this highly sensitive strategy meeting. However, as he was under Twilight’s care and, more importantly, he was capable of shooting searing flames from his maw, none of us really knew whether we should attempt to intervene.
“This is Twilight Sparkle we’re talking about!” he cried, looking remarkably like some sort of reformist demagogue reciting his ridiculous creed to an assembled mass of ignorant peasants, gesticulating with his hands and scattering scrawled bits of paper and detailed survey maps beneath his clumsy feet. “She’s the most powerful unicorn in all of Equestria and Princess Celestia’s personal student and a bearer of an Element of Harmony!”
He turned around to face me, and I felt the tremendous urge to introduce his obnoxious little face to the back of my hoof, though I knew Twilight, whose cheeks were by now blushing a brighter shade of red than the scarlet sash tied around my waist, would likely not approve of it. So there I stood, rather paralysed by the absurdity of what was going on and morbidly interested to see what exactly he was trying to prove with this ludicrous display. He jabbed a finger against my chest, and instantly I felt the familiar aristocratic indignation rise within me.
“If anything, you should be taking orders from her!” he shouted.
“She defeated Nightmare Moon!”
“And Discord, and an Ursa Minor!”
“She gave me an awesome moustache.”
The sound of Twilight’s voice, like a mother telling her foal to behave in public, brought Spike’s little tirade to a crashing halt. He stood there, his stubby finger pressed against my chest as I gave him my patented disapproving commissarial glare, and his previously indignant expression gradually gave way to vacant-eyed confusion as if he was somehow incognisant of what he had just done wrong. Around us, the assembled ponies watched on with expressions that varied between disbelief and stern disapproval; though whatever effect Colonel Sunshine Smiles and General Crimson Arrow were trying to achieve by glowering at Spike was utterly destroyed by the infantile snickering of Shining Armour and Lieutenant Southern Cross.
“Get down from there!” implored Twilight.
With a small burst of telekinetic magic I pushed Spike away from me. Not hard enough to cause him any damage, mind you, but just enough force to knock him on his rump. He bounced slightly as his backside hit the paper-covered table. I smoothed down the slight crease he had made in my storm coat which, admittedly, looked as if had seen better days. I looked down, and Spike met my flat gaze with a ridiculously adorable expression of mild confusion that made me want to vomit. Of course, my every impulse was to pick him up and drop-kick him out of the tent as hard as possible, but I doubted that anypony present would have taken kindly to seeing their supposed hero abusing a child even if the runt did bloody well deserve it.
In the awkward and embarrassed hush that ensued, Captain Blitzkrieg skulked away, only pausing to tell me that he was ‘only going for a piss’ as he passed me on his way out of the tent. I did not see him again until much later that day. If I did not have such a significant stake in this, as it was my sworn duty to ensure that Twilight does not do something desperately suicidal just because her enissophobia [fear of committing some unpardonable crime or sin, in Twilight’s case he probably means ‘failing me’] had over-ridden her sense of self-preservation, I would have likely followed him.
Looking rather sheepish, Spike scrambled off the table, sending more papers flying as he did so, and retook his usual position perched upon Twilight’s back. “I was only trying to help,” he muttered as Twilight made a few apologies to the assembled ponies for Spike’s behaviour.
“I’m sorry, Lady Sparkle,” I said, trying to sound as sympathetic as possible despite my growing irritation. “But it is because you are a bearer of an Element of Harmony that you cannot be allowed to risk your life like this. Try to think strategically; the Elements of Harmony are amongst the most powerful magical artefacts in Equestria’s arsenal, and key to defeating Queen Chrysalis. Please, for the good of Equestria, I implore you to reconsider your request. If you were to be injured, captured, or, Faust forbid, killed in battle then it would as severe a loss to us as the destruction of an entire regiment. Think, where would Equestria be without the bearer of the Element of Magic?”
I thought that little speech would have been the end of it. However, despite her earlier acquiescence, Twilight had somehow been emboldened by Spike’s short but impassioned rant. She no longer seemed to be trying to hide from the sea of mostly disapproving faces behind the table, but, as if she had just become cognisant of the fact that, yes, she was a bearer of an Element of Harmony and therefore worthy of at least some respect, she stood tall with her head held high and her chest puffed out confidently; a far cry from the meek little mare I used to relentlessly tease and bully some ten years ago.
“But this is something I really have to do,” she declared. “My commission will ultimately shape how the Royal Guard will be reformed into a more effective and efficient fighting machine, and if putting my life in danger means I may be able to save the lives of your soldiers then so be it. Princess Celestia has personally asked me to lead this commission, and I’m not about to let her down by not giving her a complete picture of the state the Royal Guard is in.”
The mention of Princess Celestia’s name put the fear of Her into my colleagues, as a stony, awkward hush once more descended over the tent. It was silent save for the nervous coughs of a few of Shining Armour’s comrades and the irritating scuffle of hooves on the dusty ground.
I wondered how long it would be until Twilight Sparkle pulled the ‘I Am Princess Celestia’s Most Faithful Student And I Can Do Whatever I Want’ card, though I am no stranger to using Her divine name and my rather loose association with it to get what I wanted (namely persuading the palace kitchens to give me treats when I was a colt or seducing mares when I grew up). Seeing Twilight use it, however, was still rather jarring, considering she seemed to be under the rather endearingly mistaken assumption that one can succeed in life on pure merit alone, without noble birth or the appropriate connections with powerful ponies. Looking back on it now, after these decades, her rise to power and later coronation as a princess of Equestria a year after this meeting might have been viewed as a striking a blow for egalitarianism by some of the rather more naive ponies in our fair land, but one must not forget that she had only risen to such a lofty position by dint of her close association with the one pony highest on the metaphorical totem: Princess Celestia. [One of the more frustrating of Blueblood’s faults is his tendency to assume that the world and everyone in it operates on the same cynical mindset that he does. Contrary to what this paragraph suggests, Twilight was crowned princess based on her sterling work in the study of the magic of friendship and steadfast defence of Equestria against many threats, and not mere nepotism.]
Despite it not being stated overtly, the threat behind Twilight’s words was obvious to all; do not obstruct my work or you will answer to Princess Celestia. Once again I found myself trapped in that infernal self-contradictory labyrinth of circular logic unique to the Equestrian military. My duty was to protect Lady Sparkle so that she may proceed with her investigation; the Royal Commission on the Royal Guard as it was now called. [Its full title was ‘The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Reform of Their Highness’s Armed Forces with Special Reference to the Battle of Black Venom Pass’. Unsurprisingly, most ponies simply refer to it as the Twilight Sparkle Commission.] If she was to place herself in any sort of danger in the course of her research, as she was proposing now, then naturally I would have to step in and put a stop to it for her own good. However, in doing so I would be obstructing the Royal Commission and therefore liable for prosecution. Were I to allow Twilight to go it would constitute an unacceptable risk which would, in turn, compromise the integrity of her research. Research projects tend to be very much compromised when the researcher is wounded or dead.
As much as I wanted to be as far away from the irritating little mare as possible, considering I would much rather go into Dodge Junction and attend a hoe-down than suffer Twilight’s presence for any longer than I felt was strictly necessary, it seemed that the best course of action was to allow her to accompany me to Fort E-5150. I could keep a better eye on her, for one, and ensure that she did not do anything too reckless in her relentless pursuit of knowledge or, as Auntie ‘Tia had advised me, keep the more politically-minded officers from trying to skew her research in their favour. The fact that it would provide a perfect place for me to attend the battle without actually having to place myself in any sort of danger, as I would be relatively safe foal-sitting Celestia’s little pet when the tides of blood and steel and chitin clashed was, of course, merely an added bonus for me.
“My commission has the backing of the Royal Commissariat,” Twilight added, when it became evident that nopony was going to speak up. At once, all eyes turned to me for guidance, and I silently cursed her for putting me on the spot like that. I looked around at the sea of expectant faces, each demanding that I settle this insanity for once and for all.
“As the Princess wills, we obey,” I said, reciting a common platitude I had picked up from the common soldiers. It was the verbal equivalent of a vacant shrug; one given as a reluctant acceptance that things are not going quite as well as one would hope but that there is not a lot that could be done about it, which perfectly matched how I felt then. “Are you absolutely certain you want to do this?”
Twilight paused, and then nodded her head energetically. “Absolutely!”
“Very well, then.”
I looked to Shining Armour and Sunshine Smiles; the two ponies most likely to object to this arrangement, judging by their earlier vocal objection to the very idea of Twilight being anywhere near a battlefield. In theory, I could have simply pulled rank and slammed my commissarial authority upon them, and that would have been the end of the discussion. That, however, was unlikely to have gone down particularly well with my colleagues, and considering that I had to work, sleep, and fight alongside these ponies I thought it best not to antagonise them. A thought, by the way, I do my best to instil into the commissar cadets I now train, in the vain hope that any mortal wounds they may suffer after graduation are at least inflicted by the enemy and not by disgruntled soldiers and officers with scores to settle.
“You will require an escort,” I continued, putting the plan that was hastily formulating in my mind to appease the two officers into motion.
“I’ll look after her!” exclaimed Red Coat suddenly. The young officer looked suddenly sheepish, glancing up at Sunshine Smiles for support that never came, before he muttered an embarrassed apology and sank beneath the table.
“Ahem, I will look after her.” I looked to Shining Armour. “If that is acceptable?”
Shining Armour looked at me with a decidedly ambivalent expression; though he appeared to trust me now since we had both spilt the blood of Equestria’s enemies in Black Venom Pass, it seemed we still had rather a long way to go when it came to his sister. I could not fault his trepidation over the prospect of leaving his beloved sister with the pony who had once reduced her to a sobbing wreck, but thankfully reason prevailed, albeit rather slowly as it seemed to take him quite an embarrassingly long amount of time for him to think about it. I suppose he was quite unused to the concept of using the organ located between his ears, however small and withered it might have been.
“When Twilight gets an idea into her head, it’s hard to talk her out of it,” he said, grinning like an idiot. “You will look after her, Blueblood?”
I nodded solemnly. “I swore an oath to Princess Celestia that no harm will come to Twilight, and I’m not about to renege on that.” And, more importantly, keeping that promise would provide a suitable pretence for me to find a nice, safe, and preferably comfortable little cubby hole deep inside the fort for me to hide from the Changelings in.
Anyway, that little act of alleged chivalry seemed to placate Shining Armour, and he brokered no further objections to this plan. Judging by the rumbles of general assent from most of the ponies around me (especially Red Coat, who was no doubt enthused by the idea of spending even more time with Twilight) that statement had gone down particularly well with them. The irony of further cementing my fraudulent reputation for heroics by actually arranging to have myself as far away from any opportunity to show off said heroics was not lost on me, and it took a not insignificant amount of willpower to avoid grinning smugly to myself. I hoped I succeeded.
With Shining Armour satisfied for now, I turned my attention to Sunshine Smiles. The flesh around his scar twitched violently as he looked down his sharp, refined muzzle at me.
“Colonel,” I said, “do you have anything further to add?”
“On this occasion I will defer to the Commissar’s judgement,” he said, narrowing his amber, draconic eyes at me. The implication lurking behind those words like a dagger concealed within a dark cloak was not lost on me; if something were to go wrong I would be held personally responsible in his eyes. “However, I must say that I am not entirely happy with this arrangement.”
Truth be told, I was not particularly happy with this arrangement either, but the only thing that would make me truly happy was to be allowed to go home with a nice bottle of Pol Roger champagne and some bored and highly impressionable Prench noblemare willing to entertain me for the night. Sadly, sticking with Twilight seemed to be the best way of maximising my chances of survival, barring desertion, of course, which was not an option as having one of the most recognisable faces in all of Equestria would have made hiding rather difficult.
The Colonel gave a vague sort of shrug, apparently recognising, like me, that this was all beyond his control and that it was simply best to go along with it. “I want her to attend some basic Royal Guard training,” he continued, and I noticed that he was speaking to me as if Twilight was not present in the tent at all, “and she will be given a suit of armour to wear."
I decided that it would not be entirely politic of me to voice any objections to this entirely unfair arrangement—that the civilian non-combatant received a full set of Night Guard steel plate armour to wear while I still had to prance about dressed like some bloody Saddle Arabian dictator—as everypony was much too tired anyway to tolerate any further interjections. I merely nodded my head in agreement with Sunshine Smiles, and prayed to Faust that nopony else would have anything further to say.
The meeting wound down to a close once more, and not before time; a surreptitious glance at my pocket watch revealed that I had been trapped in this tent for little more than one and a half hours, and I was rapidly feeling that sense of artificial exhaustion that one generally feels after the first hour or so of a meeting. With nothing else constructive to add from anypony else in the room, General Crimson Arrow tapped a muffled tattoo on the paper-covered table with his swagger stick to draw attention to himself. He had been conspicuously silent since Twilight had voiced her proposal, in stark contrast to his prior verbosity in explaining his master plan. It was as if he did not want to get directly involved with Twilight, though I suppose his sudden shyness was quite understandable, considering that she is yet another pony present who, in addition to me, held the power of life and death over his flagging career.
“I hope you made the right decision,” he said, addressing me. As with Colonel Sunshine Smiles thinly-veiled threat, the implication of whose lap blame will be placed into should things go pear-shaped was starkly apparent. I wondered if I had made the correct choice, but it was far too late to back down now. “Well, before we wrap up, does anypony else have anything to add?”
Red Coat put his hoof up in the air, and I barely restrained the urge to dive across the table throttle him.
“Can I have an awesome moustache, too?”
General Crimson Arrow glowered down at the simpering adolescent for a few seconds, his elegant swagger stick held aloft menacingly in a pale red glow as if ready to strike Red Coat across the cheek. “Get out,” he snapped. “All of you.”
Despite his brusqueness, a few ponies mumbled their thanks to the General and even fewer offered half-hearted salutes, except for Bramley Apple who performed his so perfectly that it would have moved any tough-guy drill sergeant to hot tears of joy. One by one they began to shuffle out of the tent, and as they did so I clumsily clambered up to my hooves and moved to intercept Shining Armour as he walked past; there was still the matter of his choice of Lieutenant Scarlet Letter to command the Solar Guard unicorn platoon in the flanking battalion that I wanted to discuss with him urgently.
“Not you, Blueblood,” said Crimson Arrow suddenly. “I’d like a word with you. Alone.”
I snorted in irritation, but there was little else I could do about it; when a general officer requests one’s presence for whatever mysterious reason and, just like the meeting this morning, absolutely everything else is put on hold until the matter is resolved. Inwardly, I cursed him twice; first for denying my chance to confront Shining Armour, and second for making me stay behind in this tent longer than I felt I strictly had to. Luckily, I caught Shining’s eye as he walked past me, and, somehow divining my intentions, he nodded his head towards me with a solemn expression on his face. “I’ll catch you later,” he said, before leaving through the tent flap just behind me.
The last of the officers silently vacated the tent [Including Twilight Sparkle and Spike, presumably], and I was left alone with Crimson Arrow. I felt quite awkward in the presence of my former friend, though I hid my discomfiture behind the habitual masque of cold, contemptuous, aristocratic aloofness that had served so well in protecting me, like a shield, from the worst consequences of my actions. I admit that I often wonder these years, decades after the events which I am describing here, where that facade ends and the true Blueblood begins, if one such beast actually exists after all this time. The awkward hush that descended around the tent became interminable, and yet somehow I could not think of anything to say.
We were separated by a gulf of paper; maps, communiqués, lists, and hastily scribbled notes that, like the sea, seemed to have waves, eddies, and currents in the swirling morass of scattered sheets. Yet the greater and more tumultuous gulf between us was one of betrayal, or, rather, my perceived betrayal, which still seemed to cut Crimson Arrow deep. Of course, I was completely and utterly justified in my decision, at least in the eyes of the Princesses, soldiers, my peers, the press, and the greater masses of Equestrian society, and, by dint of my rank and title, beyond any reproach for it, but whispers of doubt still echoed in my mind.
“So,” he said finally, his halting voice dry and cracking.
“How are you?”
“Fine, thank you,” I replied automatically. “And you?”
He shrugged vacantly, but gave no verbal answer. None was needed, of course, as I could tell by his dishevelled appearance and awkward body language exactly how he was feeling. He shuffled nervously on his hooves, kicking up dust as he did so, and his cold, glimmering eyes, deep in the shadow cast by his peaked cap, darted around the tent at everything except me. His voice, when he finally summoned up the courage to speak once more, was quiet and stammering, compared to the rather more confident and impassioned explanation of his master plan about an hour earlier. The difference, I found, was quite startling and a little disconcerting.
“Can I... can I get you a drink?” he asked after a moment’s pause. A flicker of magic from his horn opened the small drinks cabinet, hitherto unnoticed by me, located just next to the writing desk nestled in the corner of the room. Contained therein were a number of cut crystal glass decanters, each filled to varying levels with amber, clear, or dark red liquids. Where the harsh morning light slipped through a small hole in the roof and struck the now opened cabinet, the expensive and finely wrought crystal, probably modelled on some ancient artefacts of the long-dead Crystal Empire [the Crystal Empire was restored as a vassal state after its return one thousand years after its disappearance and shortly after the completion of Operation Equestrian Dawn and the events Blueblood was describing, the consequences of which are described in later entries. Prior to its re-appearance, there was significant archaeological interest in the Crystal Empire, and luxury items styled upon ancient Crystal artefacts were very much in vogue] sparkled brightly and gave the myriad fluids these vessels bore a lustrous glow. Situated above these decanters on a separate shelf were a number of tumblers, goblets, and port glasses, all styled in that same, quite gaudy, style.
“It’s a little early in the morning for that, isn’t it?” I said dryly, though after that meeting I certainly felt I could do with something of sufficient strength as to wipe my memory of it.
Crimson Arrow did not answer, but instead trotted off towards his beloved drinks cabinet and chose a clear crystalline decanter a quarter filled with a deep amber-red liquid. He lifted it up, his pale blue aura wrapped around the rectangular glass vessel carved with diamond patterns, and examined it carefully before selecting two wide-bottomed brandy snifters decorated in the same design.
“I was saving this bottle,” he said as he pulled the spherical stopper from the decanter and placed it delicately aside. “Hors d’age brandy; hoof-crafted by the Prench monks of the monastery of Saint Ivrogne.”
I snorted. “How the devil did you get your hooves on that? I’ve been trying for years!” It was purported to be the very best by those very few ponies lucky enough to have actually sampled this incredibly rare beverage. Sadly, despite my esteemed position in the hierarchy of Equestria’s ruling class and my extensive network of vassals across the heartland of Canterlot, I found it nigh impossible for me to secure even a single bottle, which, for a time, led me to believe that there was some sort of conspiracy mustering against me.
A sly grin formed on his lips as he looked at me over his shoulder. “Anything is possible with the right connections,” he said vaguely, “you should know that.” He turned his attention back to the bottle and began decanting it into the two prepared snifters.
Holding the two goblets in his telekinetic grasp, each containing a measure of the dark amber-brown liquid that sloshed violently with every movement, he stepped cautiously towards me and offered a glass. “It was quite difficult to get this bottle, and I hoped that the two of us would be able to toast our victory together after Black Venom Pass. Well, we all know how that turned out.”
“Yes, quite,” I said, quite unsure of what to say. Nodding my head, I accepted the proffered glass, and his pale white aura surrounding was replaced by my deeper blue. I made a show of holding the drink up to the light, watching as the bright morning sun made the deep amber-brown liquid sparkle and shimmer as if diamonds had been immersed within.
“Today seems like as good a time as any,” he said, shrugging. “We may not get another chance now.” He held his glass up and tapped it against mine with a bright, chiming ‘clink’ noise. “To victory.”
“To victory.” I took a small sip of the brandy, taking the time needed to fully appreciate the distiller’s art. The aroma, which reached my nostrils a full second before this so-called ‘eaux-de-vie’ touched my lips, was strong, heady, and slightly reminiscent of vanilla. The drink itself failed to disappoint; it was smooth, luxurious, with a surprisingly complex taste which echoed dry fruit and strong finish that lingered pleasantly on my tongue. Absolutely divine; like kissing an angel.
As the pleasant warmth of the drink filled me—said to be magically enhanced to protect the imbiber from the effects of extreme cold which were obviously not needed here—I watched Crimson Arrow take a sip, too much and much too quickly, and as a result broke out into a violent fit of coughing and wheezing. It took him a while, but after briefly screwing up his face as if he had just bitten into a particularly sour orange that he was assured was perfectly sweet, he recovered admirably.
Crimson Arrow was the sort of stallion who fancied himself as one not only capable of holding his drink, but able to do so in a polite, refined, and classy way; the sort who can quite casually drink a shot of exceedingly strong and quite expensive liquor without appearing to choke on it, and the subsequent effect of which does not reduce one’s behaviour to what an uncouth commoner might call ‘shit-faced’. Sadly, the truth was rather different, and, as I watched him struggle to contain the burning sensation rising up his throat, the fond memory of having to carry him back to his billet from the officers’ billet after he had partaken of far too much port again brought a small smile to my lips.
“I’ve something to tell you,” he said as he placed his drink aside on the table, breathing a heavy sigh as he did so. He removed his cap, placed it on the table next to his drink, and smoothed down his dyed blue mane anxiously with a hoof. Licking his lips, he said, in a quiet voice as if he was trying to force himself to say something deeply unpleasant, “I’m leaving.”