• Published 26th Sep 2011
  • 7,343 Views, 295 Comments

The Colour You Bleed - Kegisak



Blueblood is kidnapped, and dumped in an unfriendly neighboring country.

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8
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In Which a Stallion is Good

Chapter 9: In Which a Stallion is Good

Celestia's sun rose slowly in the eastern sky, casting its light over the dampened world. Port Ponzance, far out of the shadows of the mountains, gleamed. The brilliant rays set the sea ablaze with light and caught the tiny droplets of water left from the previous night's storm, turning the dusty yellow sandstone to gold. Even the streets seemed to glow as the light spread through them, illuminating every dark corner and hideaway of the city. Ships pulling in to port needed no foghorns, no lighthouses; only the glow of the coastal city.

Though ships moved steadily in and out of the busy port, it was earlier still than most ponies would be up. Only a sailor or a soldier would be awake at this hour. Such it was that an inn in the centre of the city saw several ponies awake; very, very awake.

The former captain Iron Towers stalked up and down a room the size of a modest house. His normally short-cropped mane had begun to grow in, splaying wildly across his face and neck, and a ragged line of fur had begun to form along his chin. There was a wild look in his eyes, dead set on the two soldiers that stood before him. There was a tiny bit of spittle at the corners of his mouth. In spite of all this, he still held himself straight upright and with a distinct military air, as if it was something ingrained into his very being. Wet Mane, one of the soldiers before him, thought that he looked remarkably calm – a thought which absolutely terrified him.

“So,” Iron said finally, still pacing. “If I understand this right: you abandoned your post, left the pony that could decide whether or not we live or die unwatched, and returned to me with your tails between your legs – all of this, because you were chased off by a single pegasus.” There was a barb on the final word that made Wet cringe.

“Well, sir,” he said carefully. “It wasn't one pegasus. She said 'we'... she had others with her.” Iron stopped pacing, eying the nervous unicorn.

“Did you see any of these other pegasi?” he asked pointedly.

“I... we did not, sir,” Wet admitted.

“Then how do you know,” Iron said, walking up to the soldier, “that you didn't fall for a bluff?”

Wet swallowed hard. He didn't have an answer for that. True, there was the lightning that had chased them out of the forest the night after the pegasus had visited them, but those were few and far enough between that it could have easily been the mare chasing them on her own. True, it had followed them almost to the city, but there were storm clouds all across the countryside, and that was by no means rare. Fortunately for him, the ambassador spoke up.

“I think we have a more pressing concern, Iron,” Ambassador Letter said. Iron turned to glare at him.

“Just what could be more important than looking after the whelp?” Iron asked. Letter spoke softly, doing his best to placate the unstable earth pony.

“The fact that somepony knows that Blueblood was there.” he said. Iron stopped dead, staring at him. It looked as though his mind was struggling to make the connection, but nothing was coming. Letter spoke again, explaining. “It was a pegasus. We don't have pegasi in Aloa. Somepony knew that the prince was there, and that somepony wasn't an Aloan.” A flash of recognition shot through Iron's eyes, and he ground his teeth. Wet could feel the anger radiating off of the gray pony. His eyes flicked to his partner beside him, who looked every bit as nervous as he did.

Wet and Brig had had a very long discussion about what they were going to do, after they had been chased out of the forest. Wet hadn't wanted to come back. He had tried everything, every argument he could think of to convince Brig that they should just run. Brig, for his part, had held firm. Nothing Wet had said would even budge the chocolate-coloured pony from his position. Their duty was to Letter, he had insisted, and to the crown. That meant no matter what, they had to return to the ambassador. Going back to the forest wasn't an option. That had been the first thing they tried, and that was what had lead to the impromptu thunderstorm in the woods. In the end Wet had given in, and they returned to the city just before the sun rose, to find Iron waiting for them.

He didn't seem to sleep at all. Perhaps that was what made him so dangerous, what had robbed him of reason. Even now, standing in the room with him, Wet wanted to just leave. In fact, he wanted it now more than ever. He risked another peek at Brig while Iron seethed with his back to them, and he could see that Brig too was having second thoughts about returning.

“Somepony knows,” Iron repeated, beginning to pace again, “somepony knows. They know we've got the whelp... how do they know? How do they know!?” His hoofsteps were heavy, pounding through the room. The ordinarily soft clip-clop had been replaced by a deadly thudding as Iron slammed his hoofs down on the stone floor. He whirled on the two soldiers. “How do they know!?” he demanded of them.

“Iron,” Letter said quickly. “They wouldn't know.” He lifted a teapot and poured it into a small porcelain cup, which he pushed in Iron's direction. “Have some tea,” he said. “It will calm your nerves, and help you think clearly.” Iron glowered at him, and marched over. His face erupted into a picture of rage, and he slammed his hoof down on top of the teacup. When he lifted his hoof again there was a clear mark on the table, and the porcelain had been reduced to powder.

“I DON'T NEED TEA!” he roared. Letter leaned back defensively and Iron took a few deep breaths. “My head is perfectly clear,” he said callously. “What's wrong with yours? This could be the end of us – if we're lucky. Celestia could have us strung up in dungeons, torturing us until we're old and gray! This pegasus could damn us, you IDIOT. We need to find her, and put her in the ground!”

“We don't know that the pegasus is Equestrian,” Letter said quietly. Even he looked nervous beneath Iron's furious gaze, now. The ambassador's leash on Iron was straining. “She could be from Mihaan, or Acmippo for all we know.”

“Then how did she find out about it,” Iron said, a dangerously quiet edge to his voice, “and why does she care? She's Equestrian, and she'll bring the blasted princess down on our heads if we let her get away!” He spun on the two soldiers once again, and marched up to them. The wild look into his eyes seemed to glow with a primordial flame, an intense anger beyond thought or reason.

“You two,” he hissed at them, like an adder in the grass. “You two left because of her. You two find her again. Pull her down to earth, and make sure this never gets back to Equestria. Got that?” Wet took a step back, and Brig spoke up.

“With respect sir,” he said, looking dead ahead, not a trace of fear in his voice, “she's a pegasus. We can't fly. How are we supposed to catch her?” Iron ground his teeth.

“You're unicorns, aren't you? You all think you’re so great, so blasted clever. You find a way to do it – make a trap, build something that can fly, shoot her wings off with your precious magic for all I care! Just get rid of her. Have. I Made. My. Self. Clear?” He growled angrily at Brig, who saluted.

“Perfectly, Sir,” he said. Iron didn't acknowledge him, simply turning away from them. He moved to walk away, but he stopped when Wet spoke up.

The lieutenant didn't know why he was speaking. He didn't even mean to – all he knew was, he found himself voicing all of his concerns to exactly the wrong pony.

“Sir, I don't think there's anything we can do. For all we know she could be back in Equestria as we speak! I think it's time we left it alone – run for the border, or ask the king for protection. I -” As he spoke, Iron's back hooves lifted off the ground. Brig tensed, leaping into his partner and checking him aside. Iron's hooves lashed out with lightning speed, striking Brig square in the face. There was a deafening CRACK, and Brig was flung across the room. He struck the far wall with a meaty slap, and dropped to the ground. Wet stopped in mid-sentence, staring open-mouthed at his partner. He shook momentarily, before dashing over to the brown pony.

His neck was bent at an unnatural angle, his jaw slack and eyes wide and unseeing. Brig was dead.

“Brig?” Wet said. “Oh gods, Brig...” He put his hoof on the corpse, shaking it gently, as if he didn't quite believe that Brig was truly dead. “Brig,” he said again, “Brig, Brig, Brig...” Iron turned around again. His expression was one of absolute, almost divine rage. His mouth hung open, ragged breaths rolling across his teeth and tongue. His eyes were bugged open, filled with mindless, directionless malice. His entire face was distorted, as if it were some horrible mask, some mockery of a pony face. It was almost a caricature of rage. There was nothing else in there. No regret, no compassion, no fear. He stomped across the room, and Wet thought he could feel the entire inn shake with every step. The gray pony put a hoof down in front of him, cracking the floor.

“We can't run,” he said, his voice unnervingly quiet for his disposition. “We can't hide. We can't escape. She is the goddess of the sun. What part of that don't you idiots get!? The GODDESS of the SUN! NOT THE OCEAN, NOT THE FORESTS, NOT THE MOUNTAINS OR THE DESERT OR THE ROCKS! You can RUN from the ocean. You can RUN from the trees. You can run from all of them, but you can NEVER RUN FROM THE SUN!” He was inches away from Wet's face now, screaming at the top of his lungs. “She WILL find us! And she WILL kill us! So if you want to live to see old age, I suggest you get out there and FIND! THAT! PEGASUS!” Wet bolted, galloping out the door and down the street. Iron roared wordlessly. He lashed out, bucking the wall and leaving two deep cracks in it. He galloped to the table, flipping it over and smashing the ambassador's tea set. The fat red unicorn fell backwards, scrabbling away from the mad earth pony. Eventually, lacking anything else to destroy, Iron began to settle down. He breathed heavily, peering around the room, before his eyes fell on Brig's body. He stared at it for a long time, and when he finally spoke he had returned to his more composed, detached tone of voice.

“Letter...” he said. The ambassador got to his hooves, and brushed himself off.

“Yes?” he asked. He too had returned to his cool mood now that Iron had calmed down. The gray pony walked over to Brig's body, still staring at it.

“That soldier was right... the pegasus could already be in Equestria. We need a backup plan.” Letter took a few steps forward, tilting his head curiously.

“You have something in mind?” he asked. Iron hummed softly. He put a hoof on Brig's neck, straightening it out with a snap.

“Get your soldiers in here. One of you clever unicorns must know a disguise spell.”

***

“Easy now, colts. Easy... easy...”

Seastone and his two eldest sons slowly lifted a crate off the deck of their home, using their magic to shift it over the edge and onto Brook's cart, which waited for them on the bank. It settled down with a soft thud, and the three unicorns shoved it forwards, among two other crates there. The first crate contained vegetable seeds to plant in the gardens once they were completely tilled, and the other several bottles of a dark red-purple drink. The third crate, the one that had just been put on the wagon, was full of dried fruits.

Brook stood on the deck of the house boat beside Seastone. The stallion turned to him, and asked, “That everything, Brook?” Brook took one last look around the wares that Seastone and his sons had brought out, and nodded as well.

“I believe so,” he said. “Thank you, Seastone.” The two shook hooves gently, and Seagrass came out of the house carrying a small bundle.

“One more thing before you go, Brook,” she said. “We passed through a small town on our way here, and they had a bookstore. I know how much you like to read these days, so I thought I'd pick something up for you.”

“Thank you,” Brook said. “How much was it?” Seagrass smiled, and shook her head.

“It's a gift,” she said. “No charge.” Brook smiled faintly as well, and took the bundle from her.

“Thank you, Seagrass,” he said. The mare hugged him, and stepped off the boat while Brook reached into his wrappings to pay Seastone.

She trotted onto the bank and around to the front of the wagon, where Blueblood sat quietly.

“And thank you, Red,” she said. Blueblood looked at her shyly. Sleep had helped to rid him of some of the sick feeling, and he could at least bear to be around the family now.

“No... it was nothing, miss...” he said, pawing at the wet ground. Seagrass smiled sweetly, and wrapped him in a firm hug.

“You don't need to do that, dear,” she told him. “You were a wonderful host. You should be proud of yourself.” Blueblood looked away from the mare. That was still something he couldn't do. “Sandy is still sleeping like a foal. I can't believe you'd never talked to a foal before we met you. You're wonderful with children.”

“Oh...” Blueblood said, surprised by the compliment, “thank you, miss...” He swallowed, thinking once more about the night he shared with them in their home. “And... I'm very sorry for insulting your family...”

“Oh, hush,” Seagrass silenced him. “You have nothing to apologize for, Red. We all make mistakes sometimes. You shouldn't have to carry them for the rest of your life.” Blueblood looked at her sadly, and her husband called out from the deck of the boat.

“We're all ready to go, sweetie,” he said. Seagrass nodded, and called back.

“Of course. I'll be right there.” She hugged the slave firmly again, and trotted back to her home. She climbed aboard just as Brook clambered off into the water, careful not to put too much pressure on his hoof, and Seastone withdrew the lines that kept them tied to the shore. Their home began to drift away, the light breeze catching its sails and helping Seastone as he pushed it along. The stallion and his wife waved from the deck, and Brook waved back to them calmly. He sat on the bank watching them leave, and when they drifted around a bend and out of sight he turned back to the white stallion sitting by the wagon.

“Take this back to the house,” Brook instructed. “I'll show you where to put it all away.” Blueblood nodded, and put himself against the bar at the front of the wagon, setting it in motion.

The ground was soaked from the rainfall the last night, and the wagon's wheels had sunk in while it sat. Blueblood pushed hard, digging his hooves into the ground as well, but even still it wasn't as hard as it had been to pull it the first time, or to pull the plough through the earth. A week of pushing a ragged cloth through inches of dust and dirt had done him a lot of good, something that even now a faint burning in his muscles could attest to.

It was a short trip from the river the the front of the house, even with the heavy wagon holding him back. They had only brought it so he hadn't had to make three trips for the heavy crates. Once he had it set outside the house, open back towards the door, Brook began to give him instructions.

“Take the fruits into the pantry,” he said, and Blueblood brought out the crate. It was awkward work without any help; he pushed it to the edge of the cart, the rim of the crate sticking off the edge, and from there he had to worm it out and onto his back. He slid it very carefully onto the wooden floor of the house, and from there it was much easier to push it around. He found himself thankful that his master had made him clean the floors so thoroughly; the crates slid easily along the clean wood. Once he had deposited the fruits amongst the other foods in the pantry he returned to the door, where Brook was waiting with another set of instructions.

“The seeds go in the storeroom,” he said simply. Blueblood nodded, and unloaded the seeds. This crate was harder that the last, being much bigger with all the different kinds of seeds that they would need to plant to last them the year. Once again though, Blueblood managed to lower it to the ground, and push it into its place in the store room. The next crate, however, would prove to be much more difficult.

“The drinks go in the cellar,” Brook instructed him, “where you found the bramby last night. Be careful with it.”

“Yes, master,” Blueblood said. He lowered the crate onto the ground, wincing as he heard the bottles clink and clatter inside. Most of the trip was simple, pushing the the crate along the ground. Brook sauntered along beside him silently. Soon enough, they came upon the earthen stairs that lead down into the cellar.

Blueblood peered down the staircase. There as an inky blackness at the bottom, obscuring the damp room. The stairway was short, but the steps were small and steep. He thought for a while about how to best approach the task. He would never be able to do it the same way he had brought it down from the wagon; there simply wasn't enough room. He wouldn't be able to get it onto his back, and he didn't even bother thinking about using magic. In the end he walked around the crate, back to the staircase while Brook watched him blankly. He lay on the ground, wrapping his front legs around the crate, and began to inch backwards. Soon he was laying across the stairway, the crate just on the edge. Brook reach out, putting his hoof on top of the crate as it wobbled on the edge of the top step.

“Master?” Blueblood asked, looking up.

“Making sure you don't lose your balance,” the old pony replied. Blueblood nodded, and began to creep backwards down the stairs. Brook followed after him, keeping his hoof out in case the crate ever started to tip in Blueblood's grasp.

When they were halfway down the steps, Blueblood reached his back hoof out, feeling for the next step down. He found his footing, and started to lean back. His hoof slipped off the ledge, sending him flying down the rest of the stairs on his stomach. He lifted the crate instinctively, keeping it clear of the stairs that rushed past. Brook limped down the staircase as fast as he could, joining the groaning stallion in the dank cellar.

“Red,” he said sharply. Blueblood got to his hooves shakily, and lifted the lid off the crate. All of the bottles inside were still intact, and he breathed a shallow sigh of relief.

“The drinks are all alright, master,” he said weakly. Brook looked in the crate idly, then looked back at the slave.

“...And you?” he asked slowly. Blueblood blinked at him. “Are you alright?” Brook repeated.

“Oh,” Blueblood said. “Yes... I'm fine,” he lied. His stomach hurt fiercely, and his ribs felt like a pony had bounced off of them, but he didn't want to complain in front of his master. Instead, he apologized. “I'm sorry, master,” he said, starting to move the bottles from the crate into the shelf.

“For what?” Brook asked.

“For...” Blueblood said, stopping. “For almost breaking the bottles,” he said finally. “I already broke the plough... I'm sorry I almost broke the bottles too.” Brook stared at him, and sighed.

“I'm going up,” he said. “When you're done here, put the empty crate in the store room, and come see me. I'll be on the balcony.”

“Yes master,” Blueblood said quickly. Brook started his slow ascent of the stairs, and Blueblood returned to shelving the bottles.

Once he had finished, he took the crate back upstairs as his master had asked. It was much easier without all the bottles in it; he found he could just hold the rim in his mouth and carry it up the steps easily. His ribs still hurt, but he ignored it as he tucked the crate away and headed up the stairs. He found that the door to the balcony was ajar, so he nudged it open further and stepped outside.

Brook was laying at the edge of the balcony in a long chair. Unusually, he was not staring out over the river, but at the bundle that Seagrass had given him. The old cloth that had wrapped it was spread open, and in the centre there was a single, small book. Blueblood approached him slowly, and the old pony looked up.

“The Fall,” he said simply. Blueblood stopped, and blinked at his master.

“What?” he asked.

“The Fall,” Brook repeated. “The book. That's its title.”

“Oh,” Blueblood said. Brook looked back at the book, running his hoof gently across its cover.

“It's about guilt,” the old pony said. Blueblood's stomach lurched.

“W-what would you like me to do now?” he asked quickly. Brook was silent for a moment, before speaking again.

“You know the stump in the back?” he asked. Blueblood swallowed, and nodded.

“The one I... broke the plough on?” he asked.

“Yes,” Brook said. “I want you to get rid of it. Take the axe from the shed and chop up its roots. When you've done that, come and speak with me.” Blueblood nodded, and went back inside. He left the house, walking across the squishy ground to the shed, where he gathered the axe and headed out to the stump.

In the week since he had last seen it, much of the dirt that had been tilled around the stump had been washed back into its place by the rain. Blueblood sighed and set the axe down, setting about uncovering the roots of the stump. He found it surprisingly easy to shift the wet earth; it was no longer hard as it had been when he first tilled it, softened by the saturating rainwater. He dug at it with his hooves, pulling the mud aside and revealing the roots of the great stump bit by bit. As he dug, he began to realize that the roots ran deeper and father than he had imagined. He was lucky to have even cut through as much of them as he did before striking the rock. Once he had dug as far as he cared too, he sat down, staring at the immense task before him.

Roots sprawled through the earth like a massive nest of snakes; twisting and writhing over top one another, and slinking deeper into the earth. There seemed to be hundreds of them there, with hardly any gaps in between. Blueblood groaned, but picked up his axe.

“No sense in putting it off,” he mumbled, brandishing the tool. He lifted it above his head, and swung it down as hard as he could. The keen blade hacked through a pair of the roots, and for a moment Blueblood thought it might not be so bad after all. He had cut through a few roots in one swing, he told himself, so surely the rest could not be that difficult. He almost permitted himself a smile, until he lifted the axe again.

Beneath the two roots he had cut, more roots snaked away. His face fell, and he took a few more careful swings, tossing away the chips. Sure enough, beneath the layer of roots he could see there was another. He didn't doubt that there were several layers of roots making their way down. He sighed miserably, but lifted the axe again.

He swung the axe, again and again. At first he tried counting how many times he swung the axe, as a way of passing the time. Before too long, though, he had lost track. The rhythmic swinging of the axe and the steady hacking sound of the roots were droning, almost maddening. It would never stop so long as he didn't stop, and he couldn't. Before long it was almost a compulsion. The chopping filled the air, wearing the rest of the world away. Blueblood knew nothing but the chopping; nothing but the burning in his shoulders as he swung the axe once more, nothing but the shake in his hooves as the axe struck down and nothing but that maddening noise.

More than once it culminated in fury on the white pony's part. He looked desperately for something to blame, and every time the blame fell squarely with himself. He lay into the roots with vigour, breaking the rhythm of his chopping with a bout of irregular, ragged hacking. Those moments soon left him, though, and he returned to his familiar empty feeling, and the regular, steady chopping. Something inside of him was withering, as he cut.

The axe struck down again, and Blueblood stopped. He could hardly hold it anymore. His hooves shook when he tried to lift it, wobbling dangerously. He released the handle, peering at his hooves. They were red, and blisters were beginning to form. Even when he wasn't holding the axe they shook. He sat down, looking at the work he had done.

There was a deep trench around the stump. He had managed to cut through most of the roots, all save for the tap root at the bottom. The trench was nearly as deep as he was tall; sitting down in it as he was, he couldn't see over the top edge. He sighed sadly, and leaned back against the wall of dirt.

His hooves screamed. His ribs ached from the fall down the stairs, only aggravated by the constant lifting and dropping of his front legs. For the briefest of moments, he wondered what he had done to deserve all this.

You know what you did to deserve this, he told himself, squeezing his eyes shut, You were a wretched pony, that's what! This, all this, is the least of what you deserve! The dull, empty aching in his back returned to him, as did the tightness in his chest. He listed off his crimes in his mind, reminding himself of all the things he had done to deserve his punishment. He lifted his head to the sky and opened his eyes. Over top of him, standing on the edge of the trench, was Brook.

“Master,” Blueblood said. His eyes went wide, and his heart seized in his chest. The old pony was silhouetted by the sun, now high in the sky, and so Blueblood could not see the old unicorn's expression.

“Red,” Brook said simply. Blueblood scrambled to his hooves, heedless of the stinging, and apologized profusely.

“I-I'm sorry, master!” he said, “I was just... I wasn't taking a break master, I swear! I just finished cutting the roots, a-and I -”

“I came to see how you were doing,” Brook interrupted him. “You were taking a while.” Blueblood swallowed, and apologized again.

“I'm sorry I was too slow, master,” he said, closing his eyes and bowing his head. He climbed out of the trench, and dared to peek at his master. The old pony was still staring at him blankly, save for a single raised eyebrow. “I'm sorry,” he said again weakly. Brook sighed, and Blueblood winced.

“No,” the old pony said. “There are more roots than I expected. Good work.”

“W-what?” Blueblood asked, looking slowly at his master.

“Good work,” Brook repeated. “You don't hear well, do you?”

“I... I'm sorry, master,” Blueblood said. He expected the old pony to berate him, but he did not. Instead, he turned and walked back to the house.

“It's midday,” Brook said. “You should eat. I will make you lunch. You need the rest.” Blueblood stared after him, not sure what to say. Brook stopped, and turned around. “Coming?” he asked. Blueblood shook himself, and ran after his master.

“You don't need to make lunch, master,” he said, “I'll do it. I-I don't need to rest at all, I can do whatever you ask. I-I can still make lunch for you...”

“You will do whatever I ask?” Brook said, without looking back. Blueblood nodded.

“Yes, master,” Blueblood said. “Anything you order me to do, I will. I don't need to rest.”

“I want you to rest,” Brook said. Blueblood stopped again.

“B-but master,” Blueblood said, “I can make lunch. I don't need to rest, I... I...” His stomach twisted itself into a knot. It was a feeling almost the same as fear, but different. The same feeling he had felt when Seagrass had looked sadly at him, or when Sandy had wanted to play. Brook stopped as well, and turned around slowly.

“I order you to rest,” he said simply. “Are you disobeying my orders, Red?” His tone was hard as stone, but there was no malice to it. There was simply firmness; the voice of a commander. Blueblood cringed, and hung his head.

“No, master...” he said quietly. Brook nodded, and continued to limp. Blueblood followed him into the small kitchen, where Brook instructed him to sit at the table. He did so, laying his stinging hooves and chin gently on the tabletop. He watched Brook move around the tiny kitchen, setting a pot to boil and adding in various ingredients: strange things that he had never seen or didn't know the names of. The stinging in his hooves started to go down, and more and more he found himself focusing on the twisted feeling in his belly. He shut his eyes, trying to drive the feeling away, but it wouldn't leave. It was eating away at him.

“Eat,” Brook said. Blueblood opened his eyes, and saw that a bowl had been put in front of him. He peered inside it. It looked like some kind of soup, but with nothing in it but broth. He looked as his master, who held the bowl in his hooves and drank from it. Blueblood decided to do the same, setting his hooves around the wooden bowl. The heat radiated through, burning his hooves, but he ignored it. He lifted the bowl to his mouth, and drank.

The broth was thick, almost like sludge. It hit his stomach and seemed to solidify, turning to stone in his belly. It seemed to settle the awful feeling though, something he was grateful for. He sighed, and drank again. The thick broth tasted of vegetables, despite there being none present. There was also a vaguely sweet taste to it, which Blueblood enjoyed. He drained the bowl in a few gulps, and set it down.

Brook had already finished, and was staring idly at his slave. Blueblood's head sank, almost touching the table again. “Thank you, master,” he said quietly. Brook nodded silently at him, and stood.

“Wash the bowls,” he said. “Then come meet me outside.” he left Blueblood sitting in the kitchen, staring at the place where his master had sat moments before. He washed the bowls as his master had asked, and went outside.

Brook had returned to the stump, this time with the chains from the back of his wagon. He had also removed the yoke from the plough, and had it waiting. Blueblood approached him, head low, and Brook turned around.

“Red,” he said. Blueblood walked alongside him, looking at the chains and yoke. Brook didn't wait for him to ask what he would be doing. “You've cut most of the roots,” the old pony said, “now you just need to pull out the stump.” He lifted the yoke, slipping it over Blueblood's neck. “I'm going to chain you to it,” he said idly, “then you just walk. Like with the plough. Got that?”

“Yes, master,” Blueblood said quietly. Brook's horn lit up faintly, and the chains came alive. One end of them wound themselves about the Yoke around Blueblood's neck, as well as securing his torso for extra grip. The other end snaked into the trench, wrapping itself around the enormous stump. Brook nodded, and took a seat. Blueblood stared at him shyly.

“Master,” he said. “You're going to... watch?”

“Yes,” Brook said. “I want to make sure you're doing this alright. Do you have a problem with that?”

“No!” Blueblood said quickly, his head tucking between his shoulders fearfully. “No, master. I'm sorry.” Brook didn't acknowledge his apology.

“This will be difficult,” he said. “You had best get started. Walk.” Blueblood nodded, and moved forward.

He hit the end of the line in a few short steps. The chains went taught, rattling as they shook in the air. Blueblood was stopped dead, but he still pushed forward. Soon the chains were too tight even to shake. They hung in the air, perfectly straight, chaining the stallion to the wood. He pushed forward regardless.

For a long time, he didn't move at all. He pushed more and more every second, but the stump didn't budge. He held his breath, straining forward with all his might, but for nothing. Soon he could no longer hold his breath. He couldn't push any more. With a gasp, the chains went slack, and he dropped to his knees. He knelt, rump in the air, panting. Beside him, he heard his master move. His eyes snapped open and he saw that the green unicorn had stood, and was limping slowly towards him.

“I'm sorry master,” he grunted, getting back to his hooves. “I'm sorry. I'm fine, I... it won't happen again, I promise.” Brook stayed standing for a moment, but he lay down once more. Blueblood set his head forward, and walked against the chains again.

He didn't put everything he had into it, this time. He was steady. Steady, like he had learned to be with the plough. He pushed hard, constantly.

The soft earth was beginning to shift beneath his hooves, sliding around like muck. He dug into the ground, leaving ruts that grew deeper and deeper. He put his hooves against the back of these ruts, using them to push off of. The chains behind him were as tight as they had ever been. He breathed heavily, seething through clenched teeth. His eyes were squeezed shut, pushing every bit as hard of the rest of him. Every muscle in his body burnt, crying out, but he ignored them.

I don't need to rest, he told himself furiously, and I don't deserve to! This is what I've earned, and now I have to do it! Harder!

He put his head down, throwing himself against the yoke. Behind him, he could swear he felt the stump budge. He dared a look at his master. The old pony was simply staring at him, and for a moment Blueblood imagined that he saw the old pony's eyebrow twitch. To what end, he could never tell, but it sent chills down his spine, setting a spinning and tumbling feeling in his stomach, like a thousand little insects flying around. He set his teeth and pushed all the harder.

Once more he put everything he had, everything he was into pushing. The sick, twisted feeling in the pit of his stomach was like a furnace, spurring him on. He pushed to escape from it. He pushed to be there with it. That feeling became all that mattered to him. His hooves screamed out as the blisters burst, the pus and blood mixing with the dirt and stinging in the open sores. His ribs cried in agony as the chains tightened, pressing against them. They squeezed the air out of him, and his breath came in shallow wheezes. The yoke dug into his shoulders, biting into his flesh. He was in pain, but he pushed on. He needed to. He had to. He deserved too.

“Argh!” he wheezed involuntarily. He threw his head up, scowling in pain and effort, and kept pushing. Brook leapt to his hooves.

“Red!” The old pony said, limping over with surprising speed, but Blueblood ignored him. He felt the yoke cut into him, felt the blood running down his shoulders. “Red!” Brook shouted again. “Stop!”

“No!” Blueblood cried, “I don't need to!”

“Yes you do!” Brook demanded. “You need to stop. You're hurting yourself!”

“No I'm not!” Blueblood cried again. He still strained against the chains, heedless of his master's shouts. The chains tightened around his sore ribs, and he felt the bones burn. It was like each of them had become a stick of fire. Even still, it didn't compare to the feeling of his stomach being torn apart form the inside. He felt like he was going to vomit whenever his master spoke, but he tried to work past it.

“Red!” Brook barked. “You will stop this NOW! That is an ORDER!”

“No!” Blueblood cried. “No, no! I can keep going! You told me to pull out the stump! I'm going to pull it out, just like you told me to!”

“No you are not!” Brook shouted. He clenched his teeth, and his already shaggy and loose mane flew in his eyes. His entire body shook as he roared at his slave. “I am your master! You will do as I say, and you will stop hurting yourself THIS! INSTANT!”

“NO!” Blueblood screamed. “I don't need to!” Brook's face slipped, and his expression became one of fury.

“Stand! Down! NOW!” he roared. The words seemed to be amplified by some unseen force, echoing through the clearing. Birds in the forest flew away, and Blueblood's mane flipped as if blown by a great wind. The white stallion set his teeth, and threw himself against the chains. They synched around his ribs like a noose, digging into the flesh.

There was a great, resounding snap, almost as loud as Brook's shouting.

Blueblood screamed. He collapsed to the ground, and the chains wet slack. Behind him, the stump slowly leaned forward, toppling into the trench.

“RED!” Brook shouted, dropping beside his slave. Blueblood writhed in pain on the ground, screaming breathlessly. He thrashed his limbs like a madpony. Brook moved in beside him without even flinching. Blueblood's hoof caught him in the nose, but he hardly seemed to notice. His horn lit up with a blinding flash, and the yoke was thrown from Blueblood's neck. The chains that wrapped around his body exploded, flying away in individual links. Blueblood took in a deep breath of air, and winced in pain again. Before he could lash out Brook grabbed hold of his limbs, pinning them against his side. He was shaking, seething with rage. His horn lit up again, and for a moment Blueblood was blind. When his eyesight returned to him, they were back inside the house, on the floor of the main room.

By now, much of the pain had subsided. Blueblood's body still screamed at him, but the pain had paralyzed him now. He lay, perfectly still, breathing deeply. Brook got to his hooves, still furious.

“Idiot!” he shouted at the figure on the floor. “You stupid, stupid colt! What were you thinking!? Hurting yourself like that... did you even think what would happen!? Did you!?” He paced around the room, ranting almost as if he didn't care that Blueblood was there. “What if you're too hurt now? What if I need you, and you can't be there? You can't serve me, because you're hurt! You apologize for almost breaking things... things! What about you, then? Why don't you apologize when you're almost hurt!? WELL?” He loomed over Blueblood, watching the stallion wheeze. He chest puffed, in and out, in and out. He sat down slowly, and his breathing became normal. “Stupid...” he said, “stupid colt...”

Blueblood's pain had subsided now. His chest still ached, and his hooves still stung and bled, but they weren't bad. He looked into his master's face, and he thought that he saw sadness. The sick feeling returned to him in full force. It felt as if he had eaten a live animal, like a cat, and it was trying to claw its way out from inside his belly. He thought he would vomit, puke all his guts out all over the floor. Brook shook his head, and limped away slowly, leaving Blueblood on the floor.

The stallion lay there for longer than he knew, wallowing in his sickness. The sight of his master's pain haunted him as he lay there. He fought back tears. They were coming now, along with the sick, painful feeling, and he didn't understand why. More things came with them. He felt cold inside. He felt empty. The aching in his back filled his entire body. He felt like he was a thin piece of skin stretched over ice. A hollow, empty imitation of a pony. Soon, he heard his master's shuffling limp. He braced himself to be yelled at again, or to be punished. Instead, the felt himself slowly lift off the ground. A pillow slipped below his head, and a blanket drifted over top of him. He looked over, and saw his master.

The old pony had regained his passive expression. He was silent as he covered Blueblood, making him comfortable on the floor.

“You stupid colt,” he said again. He levitated a bowl near Blueblood's face, and he saw that it was full of soup. His heart lurched in his chest, and a lump rose in his throat.

“Master, I -” he said, but Brook interrupted him.

“Shut up,” he said. “Eat. You need to eat. You'll feel better.” Blueblood stared at him, but nodded silently. Brook fed him the soup, spoonful by spoonful, and Blueblood took them peacefully. With every spoonful he had to fight back another fit of tears. When the bowl was empty Brook set it on the floor, and shook his head. Blueblood couldn't fight the sick feeling for long.

“Master, I'm sorry,” he blurted, before Brook could stop him.

“You should be,” the old pony said. “It was a stupid thing to do. You were stupid. You should have stopped. You should have asked me for help, or said it was too hard.” He swallowed hard, but sat upright.

“But...” Blueblood said, “you asked me to do it. I was just doing what you asked.”

“I never asked you to hurt yourself, Red,” Brook said firmly. Any trace of emotion that there had ever been was gone from his voice now. He stared straight ahead, not bothering to look at his slave. Somehow, this only hurt Blueblood more.

“I'm so sorry, master,” he said. “Please... I'm sorry. Please don't be mad at me... please don't punish me.” Brook was silent. He stared straight ahead. His eyes were unfocused, staring a million miles away. Blueblood couldn't tell what he was thinking.

“Why would I punish you?” he asked finally. Blueblood just stared at him. His eyes watered, but he blinked back the tears.

“Because...” he said weakly, “because I keep screwing up. You ask me to do things, and I mess them up! You wanted me to clear the shed, and I broke it! Then you asked me to plough the fields, and I broke the plough! You asked me to dig up the stump, and I hurt myself and you got mad at me! Why wouldn't you punish me!? You have every reason to!”

“No I don't,” Brook said. His eyes drifted down to Blueblood. “I have no reason to punish you.”

“Yes you do!” Blueblood insisted. The feeling in his gut only got worse and worse. It was driving him mad. He rolled over, grunting painfully, and propped himself up on his hooves. “You ask me to do things, and I mess up! That's all I ever do! So why don't you punish me?”

“Red,” Brook said slowly. “You're going to hurt yourself again. Lay down.”

“No!” Blueblood said. “Why do you care so much if I get hurt? I'll work anyways! Why don't you punish me?”

“Do you want me to punish you?” Brook asked. Blueblood stared at him. The question struck through his heart like an arrow. He began to shake, and the ice in his veins turned to fire. It burned him alive from the inside. The pain was incredible. The aching ribs, the stinging hooves, were nothing compared to this. He didn't cry, but he desperately wanted to. He wanted to throw up. He wanted to curl up, and just stop.

“YES!” he screamed. “Yes, I want you to punish me! I deserve it! So why won't you!?”

“Because you don't deserve it, Red,” Brook said simply.

“Yes I do!” Blueblood screamed again. “Why are you so nice to me!? Why don't you ever punish me, why do you let me rest and make me food!? Why me? Why me, instead of some other slave, somepony who deserves it? Why me, instead of some little filly? Some little filly, who's been a slave for her entire life, and never did anything to deserve it like I did?” Tears streamed down his face now, but he kept screaming. “Why couldn't you have bought one of them? You could have let me go to some... to some noble pony! Someone who would treat me like I deserve! Somepony who would beat me when I screw up, somepony who would punish me! Why did she have to go instead? She never did anything... I deserve to be punished master, not her! She deserves to be here, with you! Somepony who won't punish her even when she's bad! So why!? Why did you have to buy me, instead of her!? And why won't you punish me!?” Blueblood screamed, wailing at the old pony. Brook just stared at him.

“You don't deserve to be punished, Red,” he said again. Blueblood screamed, slamming his hoof on the ground.

“Yes I do!” he said. “You don't know me! You don't know what I've done! I deserve it!”

“You think you deserve to be punished, Red?” Brook asked, getting to his hooves.

“Yes! Gods, yes!” Blueblood said.

“You think you deserve to be beaten. You deserve punishment, and pain?”

“Yes!” Blueblood cried again. Brook stood in front of him, staring solidly into his eyes. He set his bad hoof, normally held slightly in the air, flat on the ground. Blueblood stared in awe and fear, tears still pouring down his cheeks, as Brook put his weight forward. He leaned on his bad hoof, putting as much of his mass on it as he could.

“You think this is what you deserve, Red? Pain?” Brook asked coldly. “I've felt this, Red. I've felt this so much. And I've been where you are right now, Red. What you are feeling, that hurt in your chest? That is so much worse than any pain could ever be. It is the most intense hurting you will ever feel in your entire life. It is the worst punishment anypony could ever suffer, and nopony deserves to go through it.”

“That... That's not true!” Blueblood wailed. “I deserve it! I deserve it, and I deserve worse! You don't understand, master!”

“Don't I?” Brook asked. “Then tell me. Tell me what you did, Red. Tell me what you did that's so awful that you deserve to feel what you feel right now.” Blueblood sobbed, breathing in choking gasps, and he spilled his guts to the old pony.

“I was horrible!” he cried. “I was stupid, and, and I was selfish! I never thought about anypony but myself! I thought the sun and the moon revolved around me!”

“So?” Brook asked.

“How many lives did I ruin!?” Blueblood screamed. “Do you know? Do you know how many ponies I made miserable because of what I did to them? And all because I thought I was so fucking special! I'm not, and I never was! I was only ever a horrible, horrible pony! Scum!” There was bitterness in Blueblood's words now, and he was screaming at himself more than he was telling his story. The feeling poured out of him like the tears that poured down his face.

“I was bad!” he repeated, “I was so, unbelievably bad! I was... I was...” He broke down into sobs, and lay on the floor. He cried into the pillow, and for a while there was silence. Then, Brook spoke.

“Is that it?” he asked. Blueblood looked up into his face.

“I... I'm bad, master. I'm a horrible pony,” Blueblood whimpered. Brook shook his head.

“No you aren't,” he said simply.

“Yes I am!” Blueblood screamed again. “All I ever did was make ponies miserable! How can I not be bad!? How can I be anything but bad? How can I not deserve this? I have to be bad... I have to!”

“But you aren't,” Brook said, shaking his head.

“That's not true!” Blueblood cried, burying his face in the pillow. “I have to be bad! You're lying!”

“Red, look at me,” Brook ordered. Blueblood managed to force himself to look up again, and he saw Brook, laying on the ground in front of him. Some sort of softness had returned to his face. For just a moment the most empty, harshest pony Blueblood had ever met became the warmest.

“Red,” he said. “I spent so much of my life as a soldier. I saw so many bad ponies. Some of them I fought along side; ponies who only joined the army for the killing and the violence, or to feel strong. Sometimes they were my commanders, telling me to slaughter ponies because they hated them. Sometimes I was lucky enough to fight against bad ponies, maniacs who needed to die in order for there to be any good left in the world. And do you know what all of those ponies had in common, Red?” Blueblood sniffed, and wiped tears from his eyes.

“W-what?” he asked. Brook reached out, and put his bad hoof on Blueblood's shoulder.

“Not a single one of them knew that they were bad. They all thought what they were doing was right, or good, or even just justified. A bad pony can never tell when they're bad, Red.”

“But... everything I've done,” Blueblood said. “How can that not be bad?”

“All the things you've done, Red?” Brook asked. “Were they really bad? Would a bad pony stay with a foal who was afraid? Would a bad pony work himself to the bone to make an old stallion happy? Would a bad pony give up his blanket for another pony, or hurt himself trying to follow orders? Would a bad pony sit here and cry because somewhere a slave is being treated worse than he is? Why would a bad pony do any of the things you've done, Red? How could they?”
“They... they have to be. I have to be,” Blueblood said. “Please... please. It has to be me. If I'm not bad... if it isn't because I'm being punished... then why is this happening to me? Why is it all happening, unless I'm bad?” He shut his eyes, and whimpered miserably. Then, all of a sudden, he felt arms around his neck. He opened his eyes, and he saw that Brook had wrapped him in a hug. Tears sprung into his eyes again, and he began to cry anew.

“Sometimes it isn't personal, Red,” Brook said. “Sometimes things just happen. But believe me when I tell you this. You are not a bad pony, Red. You are so much better than you understand. You just need to see it.”

Blueblood cried. He cried for what felt like hours, sobbing into Brook arms. He cried, and he cried, and he cried. After a while, it seemed like he had finally run out of tears. He sniffled, refusing to let Brook let go of him.

“I'm sorry, master,” he said. “I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry...”

“I know, Red.” Brook said. “I know you are. That's why you're good. Because you're sorry.” Blueblood sniffed.

“Even if...” he said, “even if I'm not bad... I was still so selfish. I was so stupid, and so cruel. How can a pony like me ever be good, master?” Brook nuzzled him gently, and his horn lit up. Blueblood heard a noise from behind him, and he turned around.

Brook had used his magic to open the door. Beyond it, Blueblood could see the evening light. He could see the path out into the woods, and the river sparkling in the distance.

“Red,” Brook said. “If you believe you can't be good. If you really, truly believe it, then leave. I won't stop you. I'll go to town tomorrow, and I'll buy another slave. I'll treat them well, and never beat them, or speak harshly to them. I'll be better to them then I was to you.” Blueblood swallowed hard, but Brook continued. “But I believe in you, Red. I believe you can be good, that you can be so much better than you could ever understand. If you believe in the you that I see, then stay with me. I can help you be good. I promise.”

Blueblood stared at the open door. For a brief moment, he could see more than just what lay beyond its frame. He could see freedom. He could see coming back when Brook was sleeping, and robbing him blind. He could see selling the treasures in the city, and using the money to buy a ride back to Equestria. He could see his mother, and his Aunties, and putting this all behind him. He could see his old life again. Everything he had ever had. He would be respected again. He could buy a doctor to make a fake horn, even if he couldn't use magic. He turned back, and he saw his master, looking at him with soft, warm eyes. He sat down, and bowed his head to the old green stallion.

“I want to stay with you, master,” he said softly. “I want to be good.”