My eyes were shut tightly. The gentle wind that enveloped me tossed my mane back, wrapping my whole body in a chilly, but refreshing embrace. I truly missed the feeling. I always thought the air tasted sweeter up here. In my mind's eye, I envisioned myself; wings gliding effortlessly through the air, propelling me forward into the clouds, everything getting smaller as I rose higher. I began to feel my heart lift in my happiness.
That happiness was cut short when I opened my eyes. I wasn't flying. I was sitting in a carriage that Celestia had sent for me once she received the news of my arrival. It was pulled through the air by two guards, each dressed in similar golden armor. Their wings flapped almost silently, pulling me and the carriage over the Everfree forest.
I sat back. As I watched the guards, the nubs on my back twitched. I released a heavy sigh, glancing over the edge of the carriage at the trees below. The day was still fairly young, as the sun had yet to reach the middle of the sky. The trees began to grow thin as we reached the edge of the forest and started to pass over a small town. A multitude of white fluffy clouds passed in front of me; I raised a hoof out and dragged it through a nearby cloud, covering it with little dew droplets. I let out another short breath, closing my eyes again, letting the steady sway of the vehicle try to soothe the worry and uneasiness in me.
Blueblood managed to encourage me to at least check out the situation that was threatening to take place. After careful consideration, I accepted, but made it clear that I hadn't accepted lending my services to the Princesses just yet. I hoped that message reached them just as fast. I wasn't ready to go back to that. Blueblood said he understood, and several hours after he left, I received a letter from the Princess, saying that she was grateful for my understanding, and promised a carriage to arrive the following morning before noon. Sure enough, half an hour to noon, the guards were at my door. I barely had time to collect a few things, including my medication, before I was forced out my own home. And here I was now, waiting to arrive at the Canterlot castle. It wouldn't be long now, so i tried to occupy my mind with something else besides Celestia or her issues.
Bronze came to mind instead; the thought of him was so sudden, I visibly pulled back as if it had physically hit me.
I purposefully tried to avoid thinking about my husband at all costs in the past. But here he was now in my head, the vision I had of him looking just as strong and handsome as the day I met him. Of course, back then I didn't really think of him as such. Still, the thought of him now was bittersweet -- it made my heart clench and my chest ache and my stomach sink, all at the same time. I truly did miss him, but I'd never tried to ponder if he had ever missed me. I was unable to look into his eyes and ignore the resemblance he shared with our deceased son. I didn't doubt that somewhere in his mind, he blamed me for Gold's death. After all, I was undoubtedly Gold's inspiration to become a soldier for Equestria. Without me, he might still be alive today; in fact, I bet Bronze sometimes wishes that I had died instead of him -- I know I did.
It made my throat tighten with the thought, and I had to blink away the tears that threatened to spill over. It became harder to breathe. I hoped I didn't have to face Bronze at any point during this visit. At least not anytime soon.
The castle came into view. My stomach began to do somersaults, tying itself in knots, while my throat dried out quickly. I swallowed, tightening the shawl around my shoulders that hid the nubs on my back. I felt embarrassed to show them, and instead of wearing bandages, my therapist suggested I wore a cloak over them, even going as far as to buy one for me himself. It wasn't all that bad-looking, and flattered the color of my coat. It also helped to cover my cutie mark.
I also felt the leftover anger from my last meeting with Princess Celestia wash over me, which added to the uneasy feeling that pooled in my gut. It made me begin to regret making the trip.
The carriage landed in front of the main gate of the castle. I reached out to grab my bag, before it was swiped from out of my reach by a pair of castle workers. I climbed out of the carriage after them, prepared to take my belongings from them, but a guard stepped out in front of me as they disappeared into a different entrance. I grumbled, looking up at the fellow.
"Steele Schwert? Follow me, please." He said, turning and leading the way towards the main entrance. I spared a glance towards the other entrance, but gave it, following the stallion. I'd take it up with Celestia when I saw her. I was perfectly capable of taking my own luggage with me -- I was wingless, not weak. Nonetheless, I held my head high as I trotted behind him, despite the growing dread that weighed me down.
The inside of the castle was familiar to me, and it was, surprisingly, a sight for sore eyes. The clean smell of the interior was a sort of comfort for my uneasiness. I'd been here many times during my service here, back when I pledged my loyalty to Equestria. I could say I had a better sense of the castle than most of the workers here, which said a lot. The heart of the castle, the throne room, was emoty when we arrived. The guard grunted to me to wait here, as he went on alone, probably to let Celestia know of my appearance.
I stood in place as he left, letting it sink in that I was about to face Celestia again. It wasn't the fact that she was a Princess that got to me -- that hardly affected me anymore. No, it was how our last meeting went that unnerved me. Needless to say, it wasn't very good.
Instead of sitting around, I walked along the wall, admiring the elegant details that I hadn't seen in so long. The stained glass windows were always my most favorite feature in the entire castle; they told a sotry many decades ago, up until the present day. It never ceased to amaze me by the particular details the seemingly simple designs had. The story of Discord, the Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony, was by far my most favorite part of history. The evil tyrant of Equestria, now turned family man by his wife, Maria Firestone, his tale always fascinated me. It was exciting when I got to meet him in person a long time ago back when I was still in service, and he was temporarily added to the team during a special mission. His wife and children I never knew personally, but I've heard plenty stories about them from Twilight and her friends, who had become very close with the family.
There was, however, a new window in the room, seated at the very edge beside the thrones. It was blank, which made it stand out from the others. I couldn't help but to stare at it, curious as to the story it would eventually hold.
"Steele Schwert. I didn't believe you would actually come, yet here you are." A gentle, almost motherly-like voice said. I turned to see both of the princesses standing a ways behind me, neither of them seeming to notice the empty window. They continued towards me with long graceful steps. My eyes unintentionally locked onto Celestia's fair wings, which were folded at her sides. Once I realized I was staring, I pulled my gaze away and bowed my head to them, out of respect for their titles.
"Trust me, Celestia, I don't believe it either." I said in a neutral tone.
She smiled kindly. "I must say that I am pleased that you accepted to help us-"
"Excuse me, Princess," I interrupted as politely as I could manage. My tone still sounded a bit cold in my ears. "I didn't say I would help you. I told Blueblood that I would scope out the situation and gather some information first before I made a final decision as to whether I would help you or not. Apparently that part of the message was lost in translation."
Her smile faded. "I see. Of course." she sighed softly. "Well then, follow us, and we'll talk about it."
# # #
"We received these less than 48 hours ago," Princess Luna explained to me, using her magic to levitate a small bunch of scrolls across the table to me. "Each one was sent an exact hour from each other."
The three of us sat in an empty bedroom, a plain wooden table set up between us. Guards were posted at the door and at the windows, all of which were closed. The room was dark without the natural light to illuminate. As a light source, Celestia created a glowing ball of magic aura to allow us enough light to read over the papers. I looked down at the papers, which now sat comfortable in front of me. I took one of them in my hooves, unrolling each scroll one by one. Each had a short but threatening message scribbled on it.
Your wicked reign is soon to end.
Your weak guards aren't going to be enough to stop me.
The choices you've made have caused suffering -- You shall pay for every single one of them.
I set down the third scroll, unable to read the few that were left. The pit of dread in my stomach seemed to grow heavier, and I had an urge to vomit. My brow furrowed in thought; each message was vague, yet descriptive enough to be targeted towards anyone in the royal family, especially the Princesses.
"Have you gained any other information about the situation?" I asked grimly.
"Upfront, we had suspected you at first," Luna said, making a nervous shiver run down my spine.
"But the scrolls were sent by means of magic, which you do not possess." Celestia finished. "We do have a suspect that we are fairly sure is behind this deed."
"If you have the suspect in mind, why am I here?" I asked, sitting back on my flank with my hooves crossed over my chest. "All you have to do now is gather a group of guards to capture said suspect. I obviously don't need to be here."
"The guards aren't able to handle this level of threat, Steele." Celestia said solemnly. "I know that this is asking a lot of you, and I understand that you've a strong distaste for the royal family, but..we desperately need your help." She hung her head a bit in a pleading way.
I was taken back by the fault in her princessly composure. I took in the realization that this was a serious threat to them, more serious than any had ever been. It was serious enough to the point that they were willing to beg for my help to keep them safe from whomever was threatening their lives. I swallowed dryly, fighting the mix of pride and disgust from their actions.
"And how am I supposed to help?" I asked lowly. "I've been discharged from service. I have little to no knowledge of the situation, as well as who I'm supposed to be up against. My strongest feature, my wings, are gone. How am I supposed to help you? After everything, how can you expect me to willingly put my life in danger for your sake?"
"We've asked ourselves the same questions. In fact, they plagued us for a short time," Luna said. "Much consideration has been put into this, and a lot of planning as been done in such a short time. We believe we have the solution you're looking for."
"Your agreement to assist in this will allow us to make some adjustments for your position to be restored, temporarily if you wish, into the Canterlot Royal Guards," Celestia added. "And a solution is being developed as we speak to restore your greatest trait."
I couldn't help but perk. "You can give me back my wings?" The sisters glanced at each other.
"Not us personally, but we've enlisted the help of a few sources to do just that."