• Published 10th Jul 2014
  • 2,102 Views, 215 Comments

Sleipnir's Big Adventure - BlackRoseRaven

A hero makes an unlikely alliance with a stubborn prince, and they adventure across Equestria together.

  • ...

Dangers In The Deep

Chapter Twelve: Dangers In The Deep

They had stopped for the night after managing to make their way up the broken stairs and past the brightly-lit clifftop. It had been empty, the only signs anyone had been here at all a few rotten scraps of clothing and what Blueblood honestly hoped hadn't been bones. Not that he was kidding himself, though: he was quickly learning that all the legends about this evil place were very likely true.

At least they had found a nice little niche to camp in for the night: they were shielded on two sides by stone walls, and the third by a half-collapsed brick wall that had once been part of a long-fallen storehouse. There had been enough scraps of debris and loose timbers in the ruin for them to make a good-sized fire, at least... and now, Blueblood was sitting and listlessly playing with a nugget of gold the size of his hoof, also found in the storehouse, with all kinds of other gemstones and ore and valuable, beautiful, utterly useless rocks.

Blueblood picked up the nugget in his hooves, studying it silently. It was probably enough to pay back most of his debt to Auntie Celestia, and yet he knew that he couldn't afford to take it with him. And this was just one of the smaller rocks: there were chunks of raw gold in there that were as big as a foal, if not bigger.

Oh, he couldn't lie. They tantalized him. He kept playing longingly with this one, and he kept trying to figure out some way he could bring it along... but his armor and his packs were heavy enough to carry as they were, and already stuffed with all his equipment. He literally had nowhere to put it... and he wasn't stupid enough to try and get rid of any of his gear, either. Adventuring was hard enough as it was, and being able to lay on this stupid bedroll now was a lot more soothing than imagining bringing this big shiny rock to Auntie Celestia in some far, far future.

He sighed a little, then glanced awkwardly up when Sleipnir approached from wherever the earth pony had gone off to. The stallion smiled down at him, then asked teasingly: “Art thou trying to figure out how to bring thy new pet with us? For thou seems to love it as much as I did my pup.”

“I am not... don't... leave me alone, Sleipnir.” grumbled Blueblood, and then he scowled a little, looking moodily down at the golden nugget as he mumbled: “I already know that I can't bring this with me. I was just... I was just thinking that it would be nice to be able to present such a treasure to Auntie, to... to show her that I'm capable of doing this on my own. But I know that... I can't.”

“Aye, thou cannot. So here.” Sleipnir reached out and pulled the nugget away, and Blueblood had a moment to stare before Sleipnir stomped the golden rock savagely, and the prince gaped in horror as the nugget exploded into fragments.

He mouthed wordlessly, then glared furiously up at Sleipnir as the earth pony gave a slight smile and shook his hoof absently, saying cheerfully: “Now thou may take what thou likes.”

Blueblood blinked, halting in mid-curse at the earth pony before he reached dumbly down and picked up a small, almost coin-shaped piece of gold. Then he gave a dumb laugh, gathering up a hoof full of gold shards before giving an awkward smile up at Sleipnir. “You... well... thank you very much. I... I suppose that at times I'm glad I know a peasant like you.”

Sleipnir chuckled and shrugged easily, and then Blueblood frowned uneasily as he realized that the stallion's smile looked a little strained. More than that, he still had his leg raised high, and it was trembling and looked... “Sleipnir, are you... I mean... not that I... are you okay?”

The earth pony looked surprised at the fumbling question, then he cleared his throat and quickly dropped back to all fours, standing as normally as possible as he asked curiously: “Why does thou ask? Aye, I am perfectly fine.”

Sleipnir's muzzle wrinkled up slightly, and his eyes widened a little, staring a bit at Blueblood: two tells that the ivory unicorn had noticed back when they had been playing cards in Earl Gray's inn, and part of the reason why the stallion was so miserable at poker. Blueblood frowned even more at this, then he straightened and asked again: “What's wrong?”

“Oh, it... oh, 'tis nothing!” Sleipnir said after a moment, grumbling a little but seeming more embarrassed than anything else as he finally held up his bruised foreleg. “I merely sprained my hoof, that is all. And as I am rather foolish, I seem to keep forgetting to rest it.”

“Where did Invidia go? Maybe she can at least take your pain away, like she did for me.” Blueblood said, looking back and forth, but then he blinked when Sleipnir shook his head vehemently. “I... look, of all ponies, I certainly am not one to commend her, but-”

“Oh nay, do not suggest such things! For if I were to do such, then without a doubt my phoenix would not plant an axe in mine head, she would chop off my tail and then parade me through the streets, a laughingstock, an outlaw!” Sleipnir said vehemently, and Blueblood stared disbelievingly at the enormous earth pony before he rubbed moodily at his mane. “She may even be cruel enough to 'prune' me, as she so often mocks. And worser still, I would deserve all that and more for betraying her love and trust.”

“I... see.” Blueblood said slowly, and then he sighed and looked uneasily at the stallion's foreleg before asking almost uncomfortably: “Is there anything I can do anything to help?”

Sleipnir smiled kindly at this, and then he chuckled quietly before saying gently: “Thou already has, and do not think that is merely a platitude. There is much healing in kindness alone, young Blue. And in knowing that I shall have a good friend to rely upon should I direly need the aid.”

Blueblood simply shrugged awkwardly, half-tempted to make up excuses, half-wanting to thank the stallion, but then Sleipnir simply flung himself down by the fire as he rubbed slowly at his limb, saying finally: “'Tis not so bad, in any event. I regularly had far worse wounds when I traveled across Equestria with my sisters... oh, after our battle with the Broodmother of the Tyrant Wyrms, I recall, I was forced to stay in bed for a week! And then for weeks after, I was covered near head to hoof in poultices and remedies and enough bandaging to hold together a mountain!”

Sleipnir laughed, and Blueblood smiled a little before the earth pony said easily: “Nay, fear not. 'Twill heal, it just requires time. Now, young Blue, to more important matters: tonight we must keep a watch. Would thou like to be the first or second shift?”

“I'll... why don't you rest, Sleipnir, and I'll take the first shift?” Blueblood said after a moment, smiling a little before he looked uneasily up at the stone ceiling above. “Although I fear that I'm not very good at telling time...”

Sleipnir simply waved a hoof absently, and then he looked thoughtfully at the fire before reaching out and slapping away several burning timbers. Blueblood frowned at this, watching as Sleipnir quickly pushed the smaller pile together to create a little fire next to the much larger one.

“There. When this little fire goes out, young Blue, then it will be time to awaken me.” He paused, then added gently: “And thou may remove thine armor if thou so wishes, 'twill help thee sleep. Besides, before we leave in the morning...”

“We polish it, I know, I know. We'll polish it, then continue our journey through these filthy mines.” the unicorn said dryly, but Sleipnir only smiled and nodded firmly in agreement.

Blueblood looked at him for a few moments, and then Sleipnir stood up and carefully made his way over to the little travel blanket that was all he had brought with him. The unicorn bit his lip as he began to take his armor off, and then he sighed a little as he lowered his head, looking at his own bedroll, then at Sleipnir's bad leg...

But the earth pony looked settled and content on his blanket, and Blueblood turned his eyes away, only feeling a little bit of guilt. No, Sleipnir was perfectly fine... well, apart from his sprained leg. Although that didn't look like any sprain that Blueblood had ever seen...

The unicorn did his best to shove this out of mind as he rested quietly on the bedroll. He spent most of his time just staring into the flames, only looking up every now and then nervously. His stomach was bothering him, though, and his head was full of all sorts of uneasy thoughts, and he thought he could almost hear whispering voices...

Before he knew it, the little fire had burnt down to cinders. Blueblood was far from tired, though, so he decided to sit up for a while longer, thinking quietly to himself. And it was maybe another hour or so before Sleipnir awoke with a bleary yawn, then frowned a little before he stood up, rubbing absently at his face... and this time, Blueblood caught how he twitched when he moved his foreleg, hard as the earth pony tried to hide it. “Damnation. Thou let me sleep.”

“I'm not that tired.” Blueblood said after a moment, and then he gave a brief smile. Sleipnir cocked his head curiously, looking back at the stallion, and then Blueblood cleared his throat before looking away and gesturing awkwardly with one hoof, mumbling: “If... if you'd like to just sleep, feel free. I don't mind staying awake.”

“Aye, but if thou does not sleep, then thou shall end up cranky and tired tomorrow, and I shall end up carrying thee across the rest of these mines.” Sleipnir said kindly, and then he leaned forwards, saying in a softer, chiding voice: “Horsia is sprawling and filled with pitfalls, even if we have been fortunate enough to avoid conflict so far. We must both be well-rested and ready for the journey.”

Blueblood nodded awkwardly after a moment, dropping his head and mumbling an apology, but Sleipnir only chuckled and straightened, shaking his head with a smile. “Nay, 'tis no need for that, now. I merely do not want thee going to odd ends for me, 'tis silly. Thou art the apprentice, after all, and 'tis my duty to teach and protect thee.”

The unicorn gave an awkward smile at this, and Sleipnir nodded firmly once before he gestured to him gently with one hoof. “Now sleep, young stallion. I shall wake thee in a few hours, and then we shall continue our journey forwards.”

Blueblood nodded, then shifted awkwardly before he laid himself down. He shifted a little, then closed his eyes... or tried to. He found himself looking awkwardly at Sleipnir as the enormous stallion simply looked down at him with kindness and affection, and the ivory unicorn shifted awkwardly before mumbling: “Well. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Blue.” Sleipnir smiled, and Blueblood lamely nodded before he half-rolled away, feeling embarrassed and hating how... well...

He closed his eyes... but it wasn't long before the nightmares came on. But as Blueblood stood in front of the cemetery gates, for the first time he was able to walk forwards and silently touch them, then push them open himself. For the first time, he didn't try and run away, or cry, or escape. He stepped forwards of his own volition into this miserable, vile place.

He didn't know why. He was scared, sure, scared as hell. But he also knew that he had much worse things than these nightmares to deal with. And even though the dreamworld usually felt so real around him, he could also feel the heat of the fire on his body, and the rocks poking him through the bedroll, and hear what sounded almost like a song, even if he couldn't understand the words...

The nightmare flickered around him, and Blueblood winced in surprise as the world of memories and fears twisted on itself. Then he stared in disbelief as part of the iron fencing suddenly bent violently, jerking itself into a ruined, metallic pretzel as several tombstones melted like wax. But these things didn't fill him with fear for some reason; no, instead, as he stared at them, he felt a strange sense of... was that hope?

Surreality twisted itself around him: he saw a foggy vision of flames and stone, and then he was back in the nightmare world... but pieces of it were missing, like entire chunks of reality had been torn loose and only white void was left in its wake. Blueblood looked back and forth nervously, then up at the sky above... and he laughed a little as he saw it was a bright blue, not hellish crimson. And if there had ever been a good sign, that was certainly it.

Blueblood smiled, then looked back down... and froze as he saw the stallion in the raincoat, standing only ten feet away, his shovel buried in the ground beside him. And as Blueblood trembled and stared at this apparition, the nightmare suddenly snapped hungrily around him like the jaws of a trap as all of reality twisted into reds and blacks before his father took a step towards him-

Blueblood snapped awake with a cry of denial, sitting sharply up, and then he flinched as he saw a huge shape leaning towards him, flailing his front hooves uselessly at it.

“Nay, 'tis only I, 'tis I!” soothed a familiar voice, and Blueblood relaxed after a moment, breathing hard and looking dumbly at Sleipnir. Sleipnir gazed back at him with worry in his eyes but a reassuring smile on his face, reaching up to gently touch Blueblood's shoulder as he said softly: “See? 'Tis only I, Blue, fear not. 'Tis only I. Art thou alright?”

“I... y-yes.” Blueblood murmured, shivering a little and closing his eyes tightly, not wanting to admit how shaken he'd been by the awful dream. “I just... I thought that I'd... the nightmares, they weren't so bad at first but then... then... I...”

Sleipnir only gave the stallion a gentle shake, stopping him from stuttering away too much. “All is fine now, and the nightmares cannot reach thee here. Now come, I know what will calm thy mind best: polishing thy armor. There are few better ways to right thy head upon thy shoulders.”

Blueblood smiled awkwardly at this, looking up for a moment before he sighed and nodded briefly. He wasn't precisely thrilled with the idea... but ten minutes later, what he found himself hating even more was that he actually was calming down, the slow but steady movements Sleipnir had taught him to polish his armor with soothing him and giving him a sense of control.

They took their time polishing their equipment: Invidia showed up at some point, frowning at them both, but Blueblood didn't let the demon's presence bother or rush him. There was no talking, no complaining... just Sleipnir humming and occasionally singing quietly to himself in a language that sounded strange and ancient, and made Blueblood feel more and more certain that everything Sleipnir had said... was true.

Still, part of him didn't want to believe that... and those parts grew a little louder as he finished polishing his equipment and started to automatically slip it on, Blueblood hesitating before he said quietly: “Sleipnir, what... if you're truly so old, then can you tell me at all about how Equestria came to be formed? You must know the story.”

“Oh, no, I do not know any stories about that. I merely know the truth.” Sleipnir smiled, shrugging easily as he looked curiously over at Blueblood. “'Twas because the ponies came seeking new and better lands... they found wild Equestria, and sought to tame it. Powerful warlords created their own territories, which came to be known as baronies, and built fortified settlements to house their subjects and act as outposts in the wild, to push back against beast and monster.

“They were good days, though, for all that...” Sleipnir chuckled quietly, shaking his head slowly. “Aye, back then, my kind were known as nothing but 'slave hoof' or 'mudwalker,' but 'tis only a silly name. I confess that I rather like 'earth pony,' but that still is but a name. And... oh, what is this look upon thy face now?”

“You can't use words like that! That's awful!” Blueblood said disbelievingly, shaking his head violently. “Why, once I said that when I was a foal, before... before I really knew what it meant, and Auntie sent me to my room for three whole days and didn't let me leave the castle for a week after that! Why, she even made me walk around with Caxton, one of the earth pony servants!”

Sleipnir smiled amusedly at this, saying wryly: “What a funny nerve for a creature such as Celestia. I say this only because in the old days, 'twas Celestia who most often called me a slave hoof. Although she treated me rather like a pack mule. By which I mean no disrespect to such a profession, of course, but still. I am very pretty. 'Tis not a good use of my prettiness.”

Blueblood was surprised into laughing even as he looked at the stallion with amazement, and then he blushed a bit before Sleipnir smiled easily and shrugged. “Aye, perhaps 'tis strange to thee. But I fear that the Celestia I know must be very different from the Celestia thou does... for mine eldest sister is not merely a Valkyrie, but forged in blood and steel and pain. She has suffered much, and she schemes, and aches, and longs... but she is also passion, and rage, and love. And she would die to protect her world.”

“Auntie would do anything to protect Equestria, too...” Blueblood murmured, looking down before he shook his head quickly and gave an awkward smile. “Well, Sleipnir, I... I must say, all you've given me are more questions.”

“Good. Questions are what make life interesting. Thou cannot simply have answers, answers are boring and tedious things. But questions allow thee to wonder, imagine, and give thee the reason to search for answers. Answers are merely an ending, and endings are little fun.” Sleipnir said easily, smiling and shrugging.

“Sometimes answers are necessary. Are all that we have, and all that we long for. You are in no position to judge.” Invidia said with a strange, zealous fierceness, and Blueblood looked surprised as Sleipnir cocked his head curiously. But even as he began to turn towards the demon, her golden eyes had already changed from furious to warm and eager, asking quickly: “Are we ready to go? Prince Blueblood seems anxious to be off, and I know that you must long for the sun and warmth of day, gracious angel. I, too, admit that I dislike this place...”

“Horsia has not treated us too poorly as of yet... but aye, let us clean camp and then be off.” Sleipnir agreed after a moment, and Blueblood nodded in agreement even as his eyes roved uneasily down to Sleipnir's leg, studying him nervously.

He could tell that the stallion was still favoring the limb slightly, meaning it had to be something more than just a sprain or a twisted ankle: from what Blueblood had seen, the earth pony healed too fast for those things to bother him long, no matter how much he'd been irritating it. But Sleipnir wasn't letting an ounce of pain show on his face, and didn't ask for any help with the campsite... if anything, he went out of his way to try and do even more of the work than usual, and even offered to pick up the rest of the fragments of gold nugget for the prince.

Blueblood declined after a moment: the greedy part of him wanted to say yes, but he was worried about Sleipnir, too. Purely for his own interest, of course, not because he really... cared about him as a friend or anything: but if Sleipnir hurt himself too badly, then who was going to be here to protect him? Who would he have to... well...

Blueblood strapped on his equipment bags, hesitating only a moment before he asked finally: “Do you want me to carry your extra gear? It... I know one of your bags just has the rations and canteens, and I suppose that I could manage it...”

But Sleipnir only chuckled at this, shaking his head and replying kindly: “Nay, 'tis no problem, fear not. Besides, 'twould not be right. We must each carry our own burdens, Blue, that is all.”

“Well... it's just that... you seem to all too often carry mine, and... a prince should do what we can for the lowly peasants every now and then, as an act of charity, yes?” Blueblood asked after a moment, and Sleipnir gave the ivory unicorn an amused look before Blue cleared his throat as he put his helmet on, mumbling: “Oh, let's just go.”

Sleipnir only shrugged easily, but a few minutes later, they were off. Invidia remained strangely quiet as she walked behind the two, and Blueblood did his best to just ignore the demon. Sleipnir took the lead as several glowing balls of light floated around them... not that they were entirely necessary, they soon discovered.

It felt almost like they were entering an entirely different place: there were larger vaults and halls of stone, and torches and gemstone lanterns both glowed on the walls, their flames burning unnaturally high and bright. And Blueblood shivered as he realized there were more skeletons here and there... but it wasn't until they reached a great, grand hall that he truly realized that this place was no longer any kind of mine, but a deep, terrible tomb.

The hall was massive, but in complete ruin and disarray: ancient pillars had crumbled here and there, and one corner of the ceiling had caved in completely. A crumbled, black pit lay near the center of the room, surrounded by broken splinters of wood and brick; for some reason, it reminded Blueblood of a staring, hungry eye.

And here and there were broken weapons, broken sets of armor, and worst of all, broken bones and skeletons: it looked like some kind of terrible battle had taken place long ago here, and Blueblood shivered as he saw the skulls of Diamond Dogs, ponies, and... some horrible, huge thing that he couldn't identity. Sleipnir frowned at this last, then strode over to inspect it cautiously before he muttered: “'Twas a troll. Whoever these beasts were... they had a cave troll.”

“That is... bad, I take it?” Blueblood asked dubiously, and then he stared in horror when Sleipnir calmly picked up another skull, the prince whimpering before he blurted: “Put that down! Sleipnir, you can't just touch things like that!”

“Oh, shush. 'Tis neither defilement nor worship. Bones are merely bones, young Blue, as a tree is merely a tree and a rock is merely a rock. This soul has long returned to nature.” Sleipnir said almost crossly, and Blueblood winced and shrank down a bit before the earth pony sighed and added gently: “And I apologize to thee for my rudeness, 'twas not necessary. The journey... wears on me, that is all. Invidia, thou art right, I need to see lovely Mother Nature again.”

The demon smiled silently from where she was standing... away from the corpses, Blueblood noted. In fact, she had already crossed to the other side of the room, waiting nervously in front of a shattered set of wooden doors, looking as if she was anxious to hurry onwards.

But she didn't say anything, and Sleipnir returned his attention to the skull, checking it over before he finally gently put it down and sighed. “Goblin.”

“Goblin?” Blueblood asked dumbly, and then he frowned a little, shaking his head and scoffing: “Goblins... no, that's silly! There haven't been goblins in Equestria for five hundred years!”

Sleipnir only gave an amused smile to the prince, then he said softly: “And these bones, perhaps, are roughly that age, aye. But goblins need eat little and breed as rabbits, and they all too oft infest the dark places of the world. Nay, keep thine eyes open. I fear we may taste combat yet.”

Blueblood shivered a little at this, and Sleipnir looked thoughtfully around before he suddenly smiled, striding over and murmuring: “And well... Blue, come hence. We may have found something thou can put to use.”

The prince twitched a bit, looking uneasily at Sleipnir before he sighed tiredly... then shivered in horror as Sleipnir calmly reached out and yanked something free from a skeleton, which crumbled away into dust. The white stallion began to open his mouth, but then he only stared when Sleipnir turned and offered him the sword he had drawn free.

It was ancient, that much was clear, but it looked surprisingly... well, maybe clean wasn't the right word. But in spite of the dust and grime that covered it, the blade held a silver gleam, and only the outer covering on the hilt had decayed away into nothing, although there was something... mossy and greasy growing along the top of the handle.

Blueblood uncomfortably took it with telekinesis, keeping it at a foreleg's length from him, and Sleipnir smiled before he said warmly: “We are fortunate indeed to find such a weapon here in the depths of Horsia, but I suppose many have not come this far... 'tis such a wild labyrinth I must admit I am surprised we have found our way to this depth at all. But this is very similar to dwarven craft: does thou know of the Nibelung on this world? Or does thou think this was the masterwork of a pony smith of great skill?”

“I uh. I do not know, Sleipnir, I... what am I doing with this?” Blueblood asked nervously. Sleipnir only responded with an amused look, and the ivory stallion winced at everything that implied. “No. No, no, no. No. I... Sleipnir, this is... I'm not a warrior! This is... Auntie would kill me if she found out that I even touched a real weapon!”

“Then do not think of it as a weapon, Blueblood, or an object to cause harm or kill. Because 'tis not.” Sleipnir smiled, and Blueblood scowled before the giant stallion said gently: “'Tis only a tool. And it is what thou does with it that determines what 'tis. Thou can use it to strike at those who offend thee, certainly... or thou can wield it to protect and defend both thyself and others. Never forget, the responsibility does not lie in the weapon. It lies within thine own self.”

Sleipnir reached up and gently tapped Blueblood's breast with one hoof, and the young prince frowned uneasily before he bit his lip and lowered his head. Silently, he brought the sword a little closer, studying it... and then the earth stallion chuckled before adding jovially: “Besides, 'tis truly an exceptional blade! Why, look how well it has held up... it must be made of silvered steel, and crafted with love and promise. And thou can clearly see it still holds an edge to it, even after all these years buried in the earth. Fear it not as a weapon, but admire it for its fine craft.”

Blueblood hesitantly nodded: it would probably be a pretty sword with all the muck wiped off, although he didn't really know enough about weapons or forging to be able to do more than take Sleipnir's word about how exceptional it was. And as if the earth pony had read his mind, Sleipnir said easily: “Well, we have walked for at least... I would say four, almost five hours. Aye, let us break briefly, and we shall clean thy sword and rest for a moment.”

The ivory unicorn looked up in surprise, asking: “Has it really been five hours? I... it just feels like it's been much shorter than that...”

“Aye, it has been. But thou wert also surprised at how fast time passed on the roads while journeying, were thou not?” Sleipnir pointed out, and Blueblood nodded hesitantly. “'Tis much the same. When one is able to simply concentrate on the journey, the journey is always that much faster.”

Blueblood didn't really know how to argue with this: well, he didn't think that he could argue with it, as a matter of fact. So he finally sighed and sat back, lowering the sword into his front hooves and frowning in surprise at the weight of it... but it felt so light when I used my magic...

Sleipnir gave the unicorn an interested look, but he resisted from saying anything: instead, he simply began to shrug off his equipment satchels-

“No. This is not right.”

Blueblood and Sleipnir both looked up in surprise at Invidia, who was shivering a little as she looked uneasily back and forth before the demon stepped slowly back through the broken doors. She seemed almost... panicked as her golden eyes darted back and forth, before she whispered: “Death is all around you both. Death is everywhere, all these bodies, these corpses... the dead are everywhere. You cannot... you should leave. Immediately. Leave with me, please, let's keep going... please...”

“Invidia... they... look, they are nothing but husks. That is all.” Sleipnir said gently, gesturing towards one of the skeletons. And Blueblood grimaced a bit as he looked nervously at a pile of bones nearby, but... trying to think of it the way Sleipnir did – and the fact that they were so old, and nothing but skeletons – made it easier to deal with, even if Invidia's words sent a stir of fear through his heart.

“Yes. Yes, they are... they are awful. They are awful and terrible and we must leave, for these husks... what if these husks still have some sentience in them? What if their spirits remain here, trapped... what if...” Invidia trembled violently, and then she whispered: “Please. P-Please.”

Sleipnir frowned uneasily, and then he hesitated before saying gently: “Invidia, thou should go ahead and scout. Blueblood and I will be but a few moments, and in spite of the fact this was once a battlefield, 'tis also safe. If there are enemies, they shan't be able to ambush us with ease here, and there is plenty of light, even without thy magic.”

The earth pony gestured at the torches that fumed and burned here and there along the walls, and Invidia narrowed her golden eyes dangerously before an almost sly look appeared on her face for a moment. And then she suddenly cried out, pointing and shouting: “Look! Look, I warned you!”

Blueblood's eyes widened in horror as a skeleton of a pony shivered before awkwardly rising up to its hooves, and the unicorn reared back in shock, dropping his sword and almost scrambling over it as his breath caught in his throat, beginning to open his mouth-

Sleipnir's hoof settled gently on his shoulder, and the unicorn looked up with disbelief at the earth pony, who looked fearless... and disappointed. His eyes were sad as he gazed at the shambling skeleton, and then he sighed before saying quietly: “Invidia, do not puppet the dead so. Come now, thou art better than this.”

The demon flushed deeply, and the skeleton came to a creaky halt before shivering, then simply collapsing into a brittle pile of broken bones and dust. Blueblood shivered and reared away at this, and Invidia stared silently, almost desperately at the two stallions for a few moments before she suddenly snarled, then screamed: “Then let's see you both just crawl out of this hellhole on your own!”

And with that, Invidia vanished in a whirl of smoke as the wisps she had created sizzled out one after the other, leaving them bathed only in the dancing light of the torches. Sleipnir sighed softly again as Blueblood looked back and forth, swallowing thickly, before the earth pony said finally: “Fear not. She will return, and with either apologies or... simple longing, I know not which.”

“Are... are all demons like that?” Blueblood asked after a moment, reaching up to rub at his helmeted head slowly, and Sleipnir simply chuckled. “Emotional...”

“Demons are emotion, my friend. Emotion is what drives them, not sin nor evil. Only emotion, and primal instinct. But the demons of this world are cut off from Helheim and from each other, it seems, meaning they never learn to control themselves...” Sleipnir halted, then he shook his head slowly, saying softly: “But I have a strange feeling that she has a role to play yet. We should not judge her, nor make moves against her. We must be kind to her.”

“I don't see why.” Blueblood mumbled, even though he realized immediately how childish that sounded. Still, it was also true: Invidia terrified him still, and she was always either crawling all over Sleipnir or lashing out at him viciously. And she was probably the only mare that Blueblood had ever seen Sleipnir turn away instead of indulging.

The enormous earth pony seemed to recognize that he didn't even have to answer the young prince, however, only smiling and picking up the sword from where it had fallen. “Let us focus on better things now, shall we?”

Blueblood nodded and gave a lame smile as Sleipnir began to ramble away about swords and shields and all these silly warrior things that Blueblood didn't pretend to entirely understand. He just followed the larger stallion's instructions to clean the sword... then to do his best to sharpen the blade when Sleipnir gave him a round stone and a little bit of oil, although the unicorn didn't think he really managed much more than making noise.

Still, when he was done, the sword gleamed and looked... well, better. Not new, but better: the handle was threadbare and had odd ridges on it, but Sleipnir promised to help replace that once they found a proper forge. And he also said he'd make a decent sheath for it.

For now, Blueblood would just have to carry it... although the prince found he had a childish sort of fascination with the weapon as he and Sleipnir began to make their way forwards, the unicorn swinging it absently back and forth to test its weight, then raising it proudly in front of himself. It really was an elegant blade... suiting for a prince like him, he thought.

Blueblood's own thoughts surprised him into a laugh: for once, he hadn't been serious. Had he actually been teasing himself about his own silly nobility? And then he blushed as he realized that Sleipnir was only looking at him curiously, before the ivory unicorn cleared his throat and turned his eyes ahead, mumbling: “Just... thinking. That is all.”

“Thinking funny thoughts, I see.” Sleipnir remarked, smiling slightly. Blueblood expected some teasing or another question... but then the two stallions stepped out of a narrow corridor and into a massive, immense... Blueblood didn't even know what you'd call it. It was like a cavern, the walls so far away they were hidden in shadow, but a hall formed between pairs of immense, tower-sized stone pillars in front of them, leading onwards into the invisible distance.

A few of these had collapsed, and others were cracked, but some still stood proud and whole. Blueblood followed one up towards the ceiling, and then winced as he saw it vanished into nothing but darkness. They were enclosed by shadow on almost all sides here; only the braziers and massive beacons hanging from the pillars provided light, with their unnatural, ever-burning flame...

Sleipnir looked back and forth... and then his eyes narrowed before he suddenly stiffened... and mentally swore as he felt his bad leg almost buckle beneath him. All this walking had slowed his healing, and when it wasn't hurting, it was numb... which meant he kept stomping on things or kicking things or further irritating it without even realizing it...

So this was the worst possible time for them to have to run, but the stallion already knew that they were going to shortly be left without a choice. His ears twitched as he heard them moving in, while his eyes flicked back and forth as he saw shadows dance and shift...

“Blue. Ready thyself. We are going to have to move quickly.” the stallion said quietly, and Blueblood frowned at the earth pony before Sleipnir gritted his teeth and said sharply: “No time! Run!”

Blueblood blinked, then stared as Sleipnir leapt past him, charging between the pillars. The unicorn stood dumbly for a moment... and then he looked blankly over his shoulder as he heard a sound, like howling wind, like... like...

His eyes widened in horror at the hideous things he saw swarming down the wall and out of the darkness, their eyes glassy and animal, their limbs long and gangly and their bodies so thin and disgusting and like nothing-

“Blueblood!” Sleipnir shouted from where he had halted ahead, and the unicorn spun around before bolting, his sword bobbing wildly through the air beside him as he howled in pure terror. He caught up to the earth pony in a matter of moments, Sleipnir watching dumbly as Blueblood shot past before the earth pony hurriedly spun around and followed the unicorn.

He swore under his breath, doing his best not to limp as he ground his teeth together, but his pace was still slow, abysmally slow compared to what he was used to. He felt his leg shuddering and tensing beneath him, useful as a block of wood as Blueblood yelled incoherently and simply ran even as the horde of goblins converged on them from all sides, shrieking and crying and tripping each other up in their eagerness to get their claws into fresh meat.

Then Sleipnir winced as his sharp eyes looked ahead past the panicking unicorn, and he swore under his breath before yelling a warning: but it was either too late or Blueblood was just unable to process what was going on, the unicorn stumbling stupidly once down a sudden drop before he tripped and went falling over the edge-

Sleipnir tackled Blueblood out of the air before he forced them to flip forwards, crashing down on his upper back with a grunt of pain before he clenched his eyes shut as there was a second sharp bite of agony through his body. He breathed harshly in and out as Blueblood trembled on top of him, and then the unicorn picked himself quickly up as he looked stupidly back and forth.

They had fallen down on top of a broken chunk of... he wasn't even sure. Maybe once a balcony, now just an island, standing on a listing pillar of stone in middle of a vast chasm dotted with half-collapsed stairs and free-standing arches and ruins.

He breathed quietly in and out, then trembled and looked sharply up as he heard the screams of the beasts as they continued to close in on them, the unicorn scrambling off Sleipnir as he began: “We... we have to get moving, those things are coming and...”

Blueblood turned, and his breath caught in his throat as he stared weakly at the earth pony, who was breathing hard on his back, one hoof clutching Blueblood's sword... which was buried through his body, just above one of his hind legs. The unicorn paled, stumbling backwards and shaking his head weakly before he dropped onto his rump. All he could do was stare and whimper in disbelief as his whole body went numb, until Sleipnir opened his eyes... and then smiled.

“Now, now, 'tis... 'tis just a prick, worry not. I merely...” Sleipnir took a slow breath... and then Blueblood stared, a low moan catching in his throat as the earth pony slowly but surely yanked the sword out of his body, then tossed the bloody weapon to the side as he shivered a little. “'Tis my fault for not keeping an open eye. Now... now come, Blue. We... we must get out of here.”

“S-S-Sleipnir...” Blueblood whimpered... and then he looked over his shoulder with a shriek when a goblin suddenly leapt down and hit the edge of the platform, scrabbling at it wildly before falling into the chasm with a scream.

“Damned... monsters. Come, come! Up, up on thy hooves!” Sleipnir urged sharply, the earth pony rolling slowly over and forcing himself to stand even as he clutched at the bloody wound in his body. Blueblood stood as well, mostly on parroting reflex as he looked at Sleipnir with glassy eyes, but all the same the earth pony nodded encouragingly, rasping: “Good. Good! Now come, we have to...”

Sleipnir winced as several more goblins leapt down, one of them missing, one smashing into the edge of the platform, but one lucky beast landing on the edge, spasming wildly and still stunned by its own rough landing. Blueblood flung himself away with a yell of terror, landing on the other side of the balcony near Sleipnir... and then he fell over as the unstable island of stone groaned and listed, the pillar of stone it stood on cracking loudly.

“Oh damnation.” Sleipnir mumbled, and then he looked quickly over his shoulder before gritting his teeth and reaching out, wrapping one foreleg tightly around Blueblood before he snatched up the sword with his other hoof as the island began to tip.

The goblin scrabbled up to a crouch as several other goblins leapt from the cliff's edge above, but only one managed to hit the platform... and its body smacking like a cannonball against the edge of the listing island was what finally made it tip backwards. It sent the sole goblin on the balcony diving towards them, the creature squealing and clawing out wildly, but Sleipnir simply headbutted the creature to the side like it was nothing more than a ball before he shouted: “Hold on!”

Blueblood screamed as the platform fell backwards, Sleipnir gritting his teeth as he skidded towards the edge before he kicked hard off it at the last moment. And as the platform crashed down into the chasm below, Sleipnir slammed down on broken set of stone stairs, Blueblood yelping as his whole body shook with the impact before he screamed again as this next platform began to fall.

But Sleipnir only sharply checked over his shoulder before he spun around, leaping towards the end of the steps before kicking off them just as they began to crumble, the broken stairs collapsing into ruin behind him.

He landed on another outcropping, then swore as the island of stone shattered beneath him and sent him skidding down a slope of jagged rock. He gritted his teeth as Blueblood continued to scream in terror, before Sleipnir roared as he kicked off at the last moment, hurtling through air towards a low plateau...

His eyes widened as he realized it was too far, that he was going to fall short... and without a moment's hesitation, he leaned forwards, cursing and flinging Blueblood through the air like a cannonball, the unicorn shrieking before he hit the ground hard on his side, skidding backwards... and then shouting in denial as Sleipnir fell past the cliff. And then... he was gone.

Blueblood trembled, one hoof stretched out towards his fallen friend, his mouth working slowly before he rolled onto his stomach as he whimpered loudly. He felt tears spilling down his cheeks, heard the screams and shrieks of the goblins in the distance and... none of it mattered. He didn't care as he crawled slowly forwards, chest heaving, sick to his stomach as he whispered: “No, no, n-no, Sleipnir... Sleipnir! Sleipnir!”

Blueblood threw his head back and howled the stallion's name, eyes clenched shut, tears rolling down his cheeks... and then they snapped open as a tired voice mumbled: “Aye, Blue?”

The unicorn looked back ahead, then rushed to the edge of the cliff, nearly falling over it as he dropped flat on his stomach and stared down... and there was Sleipnir, dangling from the hilt of the silver sword he'd managed to bury through the stone by one hoof, the earth pony looking up with a faint smile as he asked quietly: “Now what is this? Why art thou so sad, friend?”

“You... you... you asshole!” Blueblood shouted, and Sleipnir only shrugged slowly before he held a foreleg up, breathing slowly. And Blueblood grimaced, but then reached down and grasped it... and shivered as Sleipnir groaned in pain, unable to hide his pain this time as the unicorn slowly began to pull him upwards as the earth pony did his best to push himself up the cliff with his hind legs, rasping for breath and trembling until he was able to sharply reach up and catch the edge of the cliff with his good leg.

Blueblood fell backwards on his rump as Sleipnir slowly crawled up over the edge, then smiled briefly at the stallion. And then he stepped forwards and tightly embraced the prince, the ivory unicorn trembling for a moment before he gritted his teeth and clenched his eyes shut, burying himself against his friend as he fiercely hugged him back, his whole body shaking as he whispered: “I'm... I'm so glad that you're okay. I need you.”

“Fear not, Blue. 'Twould not be right of me to die upon this quest and leave thee alone. We have much work still to do, after all, and I did make an oath to return thee safe and sound to thy aunt when all is said and done.” Sleipnir said kindly, and Blueblood laughed a little before the earth pony grimaced over his shoulder. “But the goblins will have our scent now... wretched, miserable things. I wish to say they must be mad, but 'tis simpler than that. They are only wild beasts now.”

Blueblood shivered a bit, and then Sleipnir said finally: “Retrieve thy sword. It may take some wiggling, but thou can do it. And then we shall... try and find a way out of this place, where we may rest. Damnation, Blue, I can smell the clean air, but... we have plummeted off course.”

Sleipnir absently reached up and touched the wound in his stomach, and Blueblood swallowed thickly as he asked worriedly: “But... but what about...”

“Oh, it looks worse than it is, fear not. It did not pierce through and through, and it did not strike any organs, methinks... I do not know if we have been fortunate or ill-fated here in Horsia. I suppose I shan't until we make it to the end of this path, either.” Sleipnir said wryly, touching the wound gingerly... and Blueblood couldn't help but stare at the fact it looked like it had already sealed closed. How... how is that possible? Unless he really is...

Sleipnir rubbed moodily at the wound again, and then he shook his head and muttered: “But aye, we shall have to find a safe place to rest. I am weakened and we must replenish ourselves whilst we have the chance. For I have no doubts the beasts will follow us.”

The young stallion nodded fearfully, and then he swallowed a bit before heading back to the edge of the cliff, leaning over it and concentrating on the sword. With a little bit of effort, he was eventually able to yank it slowly backwards and free, and he shivered a bit as he studied it before turning around and silently approaching Sleipnir and offering it to the earth pony, looking down as he whispered: “I do not deserve this. I... I am not a warrior.”

“Aye, I know, I know. Thou art a prince. But even a prince can learn to use such a tool, and to wield it well.” Sleipnir said gently, and then he gently pushed the blade back towards Blueblood when it floated towards him, smiling. “Nay. Carry it with thee. Do not be ashamed of what is not thy fault. There is no time to discuss this, anyway. I fear that I will be traveling slow.”

Blueblood hesitated, but then nodded and carefully shifted the sword away, carrying it at his side, as far away from Sleipnir as he could manage. The earth pony only looked at him with amusement for a moment, however, before he shrugged and turned, beginning to limp slowly forwards as he murmured: “Come, then, friend. 'Tis time for us to move on.”

The young prince nodded, then turned to follow Sleipnir across the desolate plateau they had fallen to. There was little light here, but flames visible in the distance, and with no other hints about where to go, the stallions focused on walking towards this.

Blueblood offered to try his light spell, but Sleipnir murmured that it was fine: they were walking slow, and there was enough reflected light they could watch their footing. Besides, he was worried that the light would draw the attention of the goblins: he could still hear the monsters screaming and howling in the distance.

After an hour, they reached the bonfire they had been walking towards: they burned and danced in a massive metal bowl, and Sleipnir inspected this quietly before his eyes roved towards the archway that the enormous fire seemed almost to be standing guard over.

The earth pony's eyes roved towards the splintered remains of the door, and then he grimaced a bit and hugged his stomach, lowering his head. He was low on energy, in pain, and his stomach had an ugly bruise spreading through it. His wound was leaking a little, too... too much irritation, too much movement.

He closed his eyes, bowing his head forwards before he cleared his throat, and Blueblood looked over at him uneasily before Sleipnir said quietly:”If thou hast the energy, thou shall have to light the way. We will find a decent place to rest inside.”

Blueblood nodded nervously, then he bit his lip before quickly stepping ahead of Sleipnir when the earth pony started to limp forwards. “I'll take the lead. I... I should anyway, if I'm going to be lighting the way. That's all.”

Sleipnir smiled briefly, then he dropped his head forwards in acknowledgment, and the unicorn shifted a bit before he turned back forwards as his horn glowed brightly. Light immediately washed out down the tunnel... and Blueblood shivered in horror at what he saw, his eyes widening as he froze up for a moment.

The walls of the tunnel were lined with skeletons, many of them covered in cobwebs and dust, laying amidst a mess of broken equipment and rusted weapons and tattered clothing. Blueblood shivered at the sight... but then he gritted his teeth and forced himself to stride forwards before Sleipnir could either prompt him or try and take on the lead, the ivory stallion whispering: “W-Watch... watch your step here.”

“Aye.” Sleipnir agreed, looking back and forth and frowning a bit. Countless corpses... and were they descending deeper into the earth? Yes, he thought they were... and it was getting warmer, too. But not in a good way: in a way that made his skin crawl, that felt sickly and feverish...

Still, they pressed onwards, until they passed through a set of doors that had been smashed open and entered another collapsed room. Furniture had likely once been stacked in a barricade against one door, but it had long been smashed to pieces and the rest had decayed into piles on either side of the archway. Something big had come through here... but Sleipnir could have guessed that from the state of the smashed skeletons and the stomp-marks here and there in the floor anyway.

Sleipnir shivered a little, and Blueblood looked over his shoulder at him worriedly, but the earth pony shook his head before looking uneasily between the archways. There were a few possible paths to take, but the stallion's instincts pointed to the right... so finally, he murmured: “There.”

They headed through the crumbled barricade and onwards into a deeper maze of passages, until they emerged onto a high cliff in another massive, empty cavern. There was a ramping ledge that led downwards into darkness on one side, but Sleipnir turned away from it, instead studying the area they were in.

Yes, it would do: it was wide enough they could rest a distance from the edge, and there was the crumbled remains of a guard tower sprawled in ruined recline over the clifftop. Sleipnir gave a small smile before he sat down in the middle of the plateau and lowered his head, murmuring: “Here, Blue. This will be fine enough to rest for a few hours.”

Blueblood nodded quickly, looking nervously over at Sleipnir as the earth pony shrugged off his saddlebags. He began to dig through them before pulling out his blanket and stepping onto this, and Blueblood bit his lip before saying finally: “Here.”

The earth pony looked up as Blueblood quickly took off his saddlebags, and then he pulled out his sleeping roll. He unfurled it and laid it out beside the earth pony before saying awkwardly: “You... need it more than I do.”

“Oh, nay, I could not-” Sleipnir began, and then he smiled a bit when Blueblood glared at him angrily. “Oh, fine. I know that look. Thou... thou hast my thanks, Blue. But when we switch off guard duty, thou shall rest here.”

“I...” Blueblood bit his lip, then he shook his head quickly, and Sleipnir frowned a little before the unicorn said quietly: “I know that rest is important, but... you're injured. I'm... I don't need sleep right now. I can sleep when we get out of here. But you do.”

Sleipnir began to open his mouth, but Blueblood held up his hooves, shaking his head quickly. And after a few moments, Sleipnir sighed before shrugging and saying wryly: “Very well. By the Gods, allow thee to walk ahead of us for a few moments and now thou art acting like the All Father.”

Blueblood dropped his head in embarrassment, and Sleipnir softened a little before he touched his side, murmuring: “I apologize, I am... foul in mind and mood. I dislike burdening thee, Blueblood, but... well, all the same I must ask for thy aid.”

The unicorn laughed a little at this, saying softly: “I don't like saying this, Sleipnir, but... even if you're nothing but a filthy peasant, I know that I've been... I've been much more of a burden on you. I've... always been a burden, on everypony. I don't even know why Auntie put up with me anymore, now that I'm not... now that I realize that I... I am no prince.”

Blueblood's eyes shifted away, and Sleipnir chuckled quietly before he murmured: “Nay, thou art not a prince, but I know in time thou shall make a fine jarl all the same. Prince is... a stuffy title, for a stuffy pony. Thou art my friend, and one I am proud to have, and I would much better have my friend Blue than waste my time with stuffy Prince Blueblood any day.”

The unicorn blushed a bit as he looked up warmly, rubbing awkwardly at his face before Sleipnir closed his eyes and let himself sink down into the bedroll. He breathed slowly in and out before gesturing slowly towards his satchels with one hoof, murmuring: “The herbs we gathered are kept in a small sack. Find them. I shall teach thee to make a mending poultice.”

Blueblood nodded quickly, striding forwards and digging out the sack. As he sorted through the deep saddlebag, he also found a medical kit that he pulled out, although Sleipnir opened one eye and frowned a little at this, saying grumpily: “Nay, nay, I am not that direly injured and 'twould be better saved if something were to happen to thee.”

“Quiet.” Blueblood muttered, then he halted before asking lamely: “Well, first tell me how to make this poultice. Then just... shut up.”

Sleipnir smiled wryly despite himself: Blueblood had to dig out a few more things from the stallion's bag, but it only took him twenty minutes to crush up the herbs and mix them together with just a touch of water, eventually creating a greenish mush. He studied this curiously, and then Sleipnir instructed him to check his wound while the mush was allowed to sit for a few minutes.

The wound was still bleeding a bit, and Sleipnir scowled at the sight of it before saying moodily: “Blue, thou shall have to stitch it closed.”

The thought alone almost made Blueblood vomit, but Sleipnir reassured him as much as possible. And finally, the unicorn found himself trembling and staring at this small but deep wound, wheezing for breath as a string and needle floated in front of him, Sleipnir on his side and with his leg raised as he mumbled: “At least thou art a unicorn. And if thou misses with the needle, for my Father's sake do not pierce my pride. No matter how large a target it may be.”

“Oh, ha ha.” Blueblood winced and averted his eyes with distaste before he almost closed them, whimpering a little as he stabbed the needle down... and missed the wound completely, Sleipnir's eyes bulging as he kicked one leg out.

After a few failed attempts, Blueblood finally managed to do a half-decent job of sewing the wound shut. Sleipnir was almost in tears by then, which made Blueblood feel horribly awkward, but the earth pony only mumbled about needles before he wheezed: “Now, the poultice. It should be a paste, aye?”

It was indeed, and there was more than an ample supply of it. Blueblood was able to carefully spread this over the sewn-shut wound before he applied a bandage, and Sleipnir relaxed immediately before he mumbled: “Good. Use the rest on thine own scrapes and bruises. It will accelerate their healing and soothe the nerves and muscles.”

Blueblood picked the bowl up, then looked down at himself: he ached, certainly. He had accumulated more bumps and bruises in the last day or so than he had over his entire life from their wild escape... and yet...

Sleipnir frowned a bit as he felt something grasp his bad leg, and then he looked up in surprise as Blueblood spread the salve over this. The earth pony stared up at Blueblood, but the prince only smiled a little before he shrugged silently.

And after a moment, Sleipnir smiled gratefully before he closed his eyes and laid his head down, feeling a stirring of warmth and pride deep in his chest. Yes, all Blue needed was a little guidance, and a little friendship, and he would become a truly great stallion.

Sleipnir only hoped that he would still be here to see it.