“So… I’m dying?” Warden asked blankly.
“I… I cannot say,” the doctor said helplessly. “If it is truly a sliver of a changeling’s horn inside your chest that is causing this anomaly—and I have no reason to believe otherwise—then there are most certainly complications that could happen. Unfortunately, the same anomaly that is sucking magic from your surroundings is also causing any scans I attempt to produce nothing.”
“So… I’m dying?” Warden repeated with a long-suffering sigh.
The doctor gave him a long stare. “I cannot say. As I tried to explain. This is not a common occurrence.”
“But it’s cured my poisoning, at least?” Warden asked hopefully.
The doctor nodded warily. “That is what I assume, yes. I would like to run further tests, but we shall have to wait for the skin and blood tests to return before we can say anything with finality.”
Warden frowned, rubbing his hooves against each other nervously. “So, the complications. What would they be?”
“You have a piece of an incredibly powerful, incredibly evil creature stuck in your chest. And it sucking up magic,” the doctor said, deadpan. “For it to be gathering that much magic, it must be doing something. I cannot say what it is doing, even. Given the nature of changelings, it could be trying to change itself, inside you. This would result in your death, most likely. Considering that it was attained during a violent encounter, it might be that the sliver is trying to cast an offensive spell. This would almost certainly kill you, were it to complete.”
“There’s no way to know what it’s going to do?” Warden asked quietly.
The doctor shook his head. “I am afraid not. Were Chrysalis still alive, not even she would be able to say. There would be ways to trace the lines of magic the sliver is putting off… but as it is sucking up as much magic as it can, even those spells would become trapped within the web of absorption it is casting. Simply put, there is no way to know.”
“So I have a ticking clock in my chest just counting down the days until it explodes and I die?” Warden asked flatly.
The doctor shrugged. “In a sense… yes. But do we not all have said clock in our chest? We all die, Warden. Your condition just means you will die much more spectacularly.”
Warden arched an eyebrow slowly. “You’re not good with the bedside manner, are you?”
“I was quite awful at it, yes,” the doctor admitted, chewing on his toothpick thoughtfully. “I know that this is quite sudden, but you are going to have to stop taking the aurora. And you are exempt from all magical scans and spells. I understand that your manor is under lock and key of the royal guards following that unfortunate business a few days ago. And no doubt this is going to cause added levels of security to be placed upon you. But…” he trailed off with a helpless shrug of his shoulders. “Your lifetime is now, very likely, measured not in time, but in the amount of magic that sliver in your chest absorbs. You cannot, under any circumstances, allow a unicorn to scan you with magic. You cannot approach magical constructs. I would definitely not stand near your wife while she is changing, either.”
“Could it… could it be absorbing emotional energy since it’s from Chrysalis?” Warden asked suddenly.
The doctor frowned, scratching his chin. “I had not thought of that yet. Perhaps. But I will not ask you stay away from your loved ones. I think you will agree, a life without loved ones is a waste.”
Warden nodded stiffly. “I agree.”
“Very well. I must converse with my peers in the medical association to see about exploratory surgery to get that sliver out of your chest. I must also find some archaic method of locating said sliver without a magical scan. Until then, you are not permitted to be near magic.”
Warden nodded again, staring down at his hooves. “So… I’m cured but I’m dying?”
“That is the long and short of it, I’m afraid. But do not give up hope. We may be able to extract the sliver through regular surgery,” the doctor reassured. “There is hope, yet.”
Warden gave a soft laugh. “After all the bullshit I’ve been through, this isn’t even rocking the boat. How long before Chrysalis tries to kill me again?”
“There is no way to know until the sliver has absorbed enough energy to create its spell. With the amount of magical poisoning you received… Any simple spell would have been completed long ago. Indeed, the sliver might be just absorbing magic indefinitely. It has no real ‘purpose’ unless it is attached to Chrysalis.”
“Don’t get my hopes up,” Warden said hollowly. “Nothing good came from that bitch.”
“Then you understand it is paramount that you do not come into contact with magic. Of course, this is impossible to be one-hundred percent sure of, but minimizing exposure is your main goal at present.”
Warden nodded again. “Gotcha, doc. No magic. Ever.”
“I would be seriously careful near unicorns. Especially were you to… couple with one,” the doctor said carefully.
Warden perked a single ear. “My wife is a changeling.”
“Whom can become a unicorn,” the doctor said with a wave of his hoof. “Extrusion of a great deal of magical energy during copulation is not unheard of.”
“Oh, I get you now,” Warden said, blinking once. “I didn’t even consider that.”
“Any source of potential magic must be evaluated and avoided at all costs. If your wife has the same proclivities as a unicorn, then you must avoid that situation.”
Warden nodded, giving a long sigh. “She doesn’t do that, thankfully.”
“Very well. If you will wait here, I will send a nurse to get a writ from the royal palace, exempting you from security scans. I will also suggest you wear a magical monitoring device. It will determine how much magic you come into contact with on a regular basis. The idea is to keep the bar as low as possible.” As he spoke, the doctor rummaged around in a filing cabinet, coming up with a small necklace. “The central jewel here will gradually begin to glow as it detects magic. We use this for determining a young unicorn’s energy level. But it should suffice to alert you to background magic, should you come across any.”
“Thank you,” Warden said, taking the necklace, staring down at it. It was a simple white jewel set on a round piece of metal. Very simplistic.
“Now, please take a seat in the waiting room, we will have your paperwork in a few minutes.
“So… you’re dying?” Kuno asked, not even looking up from the architectural plans. An earth pony with a hard hat and a hammer for a cutie mark was also perusing the plans, making vague sketches on a piece of paper set next to them on the table.
“Pretty much,” Warden said with a shrug. “Got a piece of paper that exempts me from being scanned when I come in or out of the manor, though.”
“That’s nice,” Kuno said, finally looking up, rubbing one of her eyes with a hoof. “So what’s the problem this time?”
“Chrysalis left a piece of her horn in my chest,” Warden said simply.
Kuno blinked once, and then gave a long-suffering sigh. “Are we really still getting grief from her?”
“We really are,” Warden said with a wan smile.
“So the aurora isn’t wearing off?” Kuno queried hopefully.
“Actually, Chrysalis’ piece of whatever in my chest has cured me of that… the doctor thinks,” Warden explained, sidling up beside his wife and resting his wing against her own.
“No more pain?” Kuno asked hopefully.
“No more pain,” Warden said with a firm nod. “No more aurora, either.”
Kuno sucked in a breath. “I thought that wasn’t for another few months, at least.”
“I know, right?” Warden said with a strained smile. “I’m going to have to psyche myself up for getting off it.”
Kuno gave him a sideways stare. “Are you sure you can?”
“I’ve done it before,” Warden said simply.
“When you hoofcuffed yourself to the toilet?” Kuno asked seriously.
Warden nodded quietly. “Yeah. Then. Look, I’ve died before. I kicked that off pretty quickly. How hard will a second round of getting off aurora be?”
“I had to bring you back,” Kuno reminded flatly. “And it wasn’t pretty. And now you’ve only been saved from that medical condition by having a piece of an evil Queen’s horn buried in your chest.”
“My eulogy is going to be the stuff of legends,” Warden said proudly. “It will be as jaw dropping as when you spoke to my parents.”
“Don’t overestimate yourself,” Kuno said with a shake of her head, leaning in to kiss his cheek warmly, wrapping a hoof around his middle to pull him close. “I’m just worried about you.”
“I know you are,” Warden said, pushing up against her and leaning against her larger form. “I’ll manage… somehow. Swam will be allowed back at school in a few days, so I’ll have the room to myself to throw up and sweat in.”
“That is not reassuring,” Kuno said, frowning deeply.
“It’s a fact of withdrawal,” Warden said with a long sigh. “The doctor said he wanted to wean me off the aurora, but… He had no idea what dosages to go with. Nopony does because nopony has built up a resistance to it like I have.”
“Not even those ponies who Daggertail was supplying it to?” Kuno queried.
Warden shook his head. “They were about three-quarters along where I was to. I heard one of them in the hospital when I was recovering. There was a whole lot of screaming and begging.”
“You’re not going to be like that, are you?” Kuno asked hopefully.
Warden sighed faintly, leaning against her side and pushing his cheek up against her neck. “It’s not pretty. Last time… it was pretty bad. This time could be just as bad. But… I’ve got you. I’ve got an anchor, at least.”
“Are you calling me fat?” Kuno accused.
“I’m calling you an anchor. You’re really heavy and can keep entire ships from blowing away in storms. So no, not fat,” he poked her side with a hoof. “Just big-boned.”
“I’ll have you know, mister,” Kuno said, nudging him with her shoulder. “That the next time we’re alone…”
Warden perked an ear. “Mhmm?”
“And I’m on top,” Kuno continued, her tone becoming seductive, leaning down to whisper it into his ear.
“Mhmm?” Warden urged.
“And right as you’re at the precipice of pleasure, I’m going to transform into a minotaur and smother you with my biceps,” Kuno finished bluntly.
Warden gave her a long stare. “Is it tuesday already?”
Kuno growled, and nipped his ear, before wrapping a hoof around him and squeezing him tight. “I love you, you idiot.”
“And I love you too, you terrifying bug-creature,” Warden said, gently kissing her nose. “But ix-nay on the transformation, please. Apparently, my new internal jewelry could absorb energy from your transformations.”
“That’s… ugh. So it absorbs all magic?” Kuno asked, looking down at him seriously.
Warden nodded. “Doctor couldn’t even steal my pillow because it was too close to me.”
“So what is it doing inside you?” Kuno asked plaintively. “Why is it storing magic?”
“Who even knows? We don’t. The doctor doesn’t. Chrysalis wouldn’t even know, if she were alive. It could be offensive magic, in which case I die. It could be trying to transform inside my chest, since it came from a changeling. And if that’s the case, I’d also die,” Warden explained blankly.
“Why is everything trying to kill you, Warden?” Kuno asked bluntly. “Seriously. We can’t go a month without some new thing trying to take you out of the picture.”
“Gotta keep things interesting and fresh!” Warden said with an earnest nod. “You would get bored without having to protect me from some new malady every other month.”
“I find it amusing that you are my damsel in distress,” Kuno said, nuzzling her nose against his own warmly.
“And you must be my bug in shining armor,” Warden said with a sage nod.
“That can only happen if I’m male at the time,” Kuno said, deadpan.
Warden squinted at his wife suspiciously. “Are you making an allusion to archaic gender roles or were you making the single dirtiest joke ever?”
Kuno gave a slow, sly giggle. “You know me.”
“Cadance would be scandalized if she heard that,” Warden said, nudging Kuno’s shoulder with a derisive snort.
“Well, she is the princess of love. If half of the stories I hear are true, she’d want to watch,” Kuno said drolly.
Warden arched an eyebrow. “Hear a lot of strange stories from there, huh?”
“I’ve heard that their love life is… well… it’s as strange as ours!” Kuno said with a sly giggle.
Warden shook his head. “No love life is as strange as ours,” he rebuked, lightly stroking a hoof down the length of one of her shiny wings. “You’re not even a pony.”
“Not most of the time,” Kuno said significantly.
“Kuno, I think we’re scarring the builder for life,” Warden said plaintively, making a motion towards the earth pony who was still standing beside them. He was standing completely still, staring at the page in front of him. His ears were perked towards it, but they were almost completely pink, as were his cheeks.
Kuno giggled helplessly at that, lifting a hoof to her mouth. “And then we wonder why changelings have such a raunchy reputation!”
“That and the fact that they’ll fornicate with anything that moves, and if it doesn’t move, they’ll push it,” Warden said dryly.
“I’m going to have to have words with them about that, as a collective,” Kuno said, pursing her lips.
Warden gave a nod. “Helpful tips from the grand-master?”
Kuno glowered at him. “No, about any kind of subtlety. I’ve been hearing second-hoof rumours that Chitin was seen dragging two guards ponies into a garden shed and then was joined by a third! And she's my second in command!”
“So, what you’re saying is that, you have no problem with the three other ponies bit, but more that she was seen doing it?” Warden said.
“Well… yes!” Kuno said, flailing a hoof in his direction. “Wild orgies are all in good fun, but be discreet!”
“Your priorities are so screwed,” Warden said with a chuckle, draping a hoof around her neck and holding her close. “Thank you, though.”
“For what?” Kuno asked, giving him a stare.
“For… being normal with me. Helping me… be the same,” Warden said seriously. “Things are different now… but it feels good to be the same.”
“That makes absolutely no sense and it scares me a little bit that I know what you mean,” Kuno said, gently kissing his nose. “Now hush and help me pick out where to put the pleasure dungeon.”
The builder beside them gave an audible gulp, and they both laughed.