• Published 10th Jul 2014
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Sleipnir's Big Adventure - BlackRoseRaven



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

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A Gentle Farewell

Chapter Twenty Six: A Gentle Farewell
~BlackRoseRaven

Sleipnir and Blue returned in the early afternoon to the fortress in the shadow of the mountain, on the backs of dragons. At first, Blueblood had been terrified of climbing on Crystelle, but she had been gentle and kind: Blue had honestly been surprised by how kind she had been, and how tender, and he was somehow certain that if she had been a pony, he would have wanted to sweep her off her hooves.

But as she was instead a twenty-foot tall dragon, he instead shuffled meekly around her until she finally reassured him that she preferred a diet of gemstones and ore to ponies... at which point, Sleipnir had cheerfully blurted out Infernus' secret, that he did too.

Infernus has uselessly tried to squish Sleipnir under one fist until Crystelle quickly pulled the dragon away, not realizing that the dragon's hammering on the pony had all the effect of making him laugh. And she had been so nice to him, in a way that Blueblood envied: he didn't think any mare had ever treated him like she was treating Infernus, after all, and it made him feel... funny.

Then they had gotten on the dragons, and Blueblood had shortly forgotten everything else: first to fear, and then to awe. And as they sailed through the sky, he stood and shouted his wordless joy to the air, mane streaming around him, eyes glowing with wonderment before he laughed as Sleipnir shouted as well, and then both dragons joined in their chorus, encouraging Blue to roar along with them as loudly as he could, his whole body filled with ecstasy.

They had landed carefully and gently in the forest to avoid frightening any of the already-strained ponies, and Sleipnir had called cheerful greetings to the ponies and the undead. And Blueblood had been surprised at how afraid of the undead ponies the dragons had been at first: it was just so strange, to see these terrifying beasts scared of what were nothing but little bony ponies.

They had eventually all... acclimatized to each other, was probably the best way to put it at the moment. They were all a little wary, all a little uncomfortable... well, except for Sleipnir, of course. But Crystelle was kind and empathetic, and Infernus did his best to follow her lead: and when he realized what had happened here as Jack Lantern talked about the attack and the ponies that had been lost, the sadness on his face had been honest. Had been painfully real.

Infernus and Crystelle had departed after only an hour, so that the misfits could tend to their dead. Auros and Invidia both came to help, and although at first Jack was stiff with them, he loosened up a little when Sleipnir touched his shoulder. And even Rack seemed grateful when they found the undead outside already waiting by the burial site in respectful lines, their heads bowed, the ground cleared and offerings already resting at each grave.

Jack Lantern led the services, and Sleipnir and Blueblood sat off to the side, only watching, letting them tend to and take care of their dead the way they wanted to. But as Jack's long, emotional speech ended and he stepped aside, they were surprised as Auros came forwards, looking to the crowd, hesitating a moment... and then saying in a heartfelt, emotional voice: “I'm sorry.”

There was more, much more... but really, it was only those words that really needed to be said. It summed up everything he could say and told the misfits what they had needed to hear: everything else he said was soothing, and reassuring, and kind, but it was all extra and unnecessary.

After Auros stepped down, Sleipnir went up, and his words were... gentle, and compassionate, and even though there was nothing happy about what was happening... Blueblood thought that all the same, he could see such a... a warmth, a light, visibly fill up every pony here. Sleipnir simply had such a... a positivity about him that Blueblood could only envy: he shared love and light fearlessly with the world, and made everyone around him all the better for it.

When Sleipnir stepped down, Blue wanted to go up, to say something, to honor them in his own way... but what could he possibly say? What wouldn't just be repetition, how could he hope to bring peace to any of these ponies in the way that Jack and Auros and Sleipnir all had?

Blue fidgeted in the spot, then only lowered his head as Sleipnir sat back beside him, and the prince decided it was better to just listen quietly as Steele silently strode up in front of the graves, smiling faintly and trembling a little.

The band of misfits said their last goodbyes to their departed friends, and Blue watched with solemnity and strange fascination... and maybe just the slightest tremble of pointless fear. But he didn't think that he'd ever get over his dislike of funerals: those scars, he felt, might be too deep to heal, no matter what Sleipnir seemed to believe.

Blueblood and Sleipnir sat until the ponies were done speaking, and until the crowd began to disperse. They sat and watched until several of the misfits quietly began to fill in the graves, and then Sleipnir smiled faintly before standing and saying softly: “Come. Let us offer to help.”

“I... n-no.” Blue murmured, shifting uneasily, and Sleipnir frowned a little as he turned his eyes to Blue... but his gaze became concerned after a moment as he saw how pale the unicorn was, as Blueblood's eyes fearfully followed the movements of one of the shovels, watching as it dipped into earth, then poured cold soil down into that hole in the ground, heard the thump as it knocked on the coffin cradled in the earth's grip...

The unicorn blinked as he realized that Sleipnir was talking to him, and then he forced a smile, looking up uneasily and whispering: “S-Sorry. I... I just... lost myself for a moment, that's all. Would... yes, Sleipnir, do you need something?”

Sleipnir studied the stallion intently for a few moments, and then he asked quietly: “Art thou alright? Thou looks more ill with fear than when thou faced the dragon.”

“I doubt that.” Blue mumbled, shaking his head quickly before he added: “And I just... didn't have time to feel fear back then, and then... you showed up. I... I knew you would. You always do, always have to... steal the moment.”

It was weak and forced, but Blue was trying to act normal, and the earth pony knew he had no choice but to respect that. Yet all the same, he studied the unicorn for a few moments longer before he nodded slowly, then said softly: “Well, all I heard was the dragon roaring away. I thought it was calling me to battle, not trying to drive off a certain young prince who had already roundly beaten it.”

“Yeah.” Blue murmured, dropping his head and shivering as he reached up and rubbed at his forehead slowly, memories intruding, killing his focus, making it impossible to think or do anything before he finally swallowed and said quietly: “I uh... I think I need to get out of here. Did you want to leave tonight or tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow. Thou must write a letter for me to thy aunt.” Sleipnir replied gently, and then he gave a brief smile before saying gently: “We must inform her that we shall be sending a caravan to Canterlot, of ponies who are going to assist us with the creation of the portal. They will require lodging, and protection, and most of all, understanding.”

Blue frowned up at the stallion, and then he asked slowly: “Wait, you're going to send... all of them? But I mean... a whole group of undead ponies marching through Equestria... even disregarding the fact they'll have to find a way into Canterlot, it's going to scare a lot of ponies...”

“Nay, Auros looks normal enough, and they have already built a large wagon.” Sleipnir gestured off towards the undead camp, adding: “Auros has been most industrious since I asked him to do this for me. I am very impressed.”

The unicorn only shrugged a little as he followed Sleipnir's gesture, and then the earth pony said in a softer voice: “But go ahead, get started on that letter, my friend. I will join thee in a few moments.”

Blue hesitantly nodded, and then he picked himself up, shaking only a little bit. But before he could walk away, the attention of both ponies was drawn by a throat loudly clearing itself, and they looked up to see Jack Lantern.

The old stallion regarded them for a few moments, and then he lowered his head and said softly: “I talked it over with the others, and... you are both welcome here for as long as you like, and... so are Auros and his subjects. We've had time to recover and... they've done as much for us as you have.”

“In some ways, perhaps they've even done more.” Sleipnir replied with a kind smile, and then he nodded slowly before saying softly: “Thou hast my thanks, from the bottom of my heart, Jack Lantern. But fear not: I believe that most of Auros' band will be leaving soon enough. A few may stay behind, though... I know that Lock, Shock, and Barrel seemed to fit in rather well here.”

Jack smiled briefly, shaking his head and replying quietly: “It's funny. I don't think any of us ever remembered that those three were even from the Dead Kingdom. There was just something about them, I guess... or maybe it was just always easier to pick and choose.”

“We are all guilty of that, fear not.” Sleipnir replied gently, and then he chuckled and shook his head before saying kindly: “We shall be leaving early tomorrow morning. If there is anything thou needs help with before then, I would recommend thou tells me now.”

The old stallion looked between the two of them, hesitating before he asked finally: “Is there any way we could convince you two to stay for a few more days? It's not that I don't appreciate everything you've done for us, how you even convinced those dragons to protect us, but... we all feel a lot better with you two around.”

Sleipnir only shook his head even as he smiled, replying kindly: “It gladdens my heart to hear thee say so, but I fear that I must refuse thy kind invitation, as much as it pains me to do so. Nay, 'tis... 'tis well and above time that Blue, Invidia and I all make our way onwards.”

Jack nodded after a moment, and then he sighed and lowered his head, murmuring: “Well, I suppose I can understand that, Sleipnir. I won't stand in your way, of course... but... keep us in mind, will you? Maybe if you and Blue ever pass back through this way, you'll stop in. And Invidia too, of course. You're all welcome here, always.”

Sleipnir smiled and bowed his head politely, and Blueblood nodded, then he hesitated before saying quietly: “I'm... sorry for all the trouble we caused. If I can ever make it up to you somehow, please don't hesitate to ask.”

“No, no... no. It wasn't your fault.” Jack said quietly, looking towards the stallion and shaking his head briefly. “Maybe you made a mistake, maybe I did, maybe Sleipnir did... maybe they did, as much as it pains me. But this was no one's fault. The only person to blame in this whole thing is the Dead King.”

The enormous earth pony nodded firmly at this, and Blue smiled a little before he cleared his throat and picked himself up. “I... I appreciate it.”

Jack only shrugged, and Blueblood shuffled on the spot before he cleared his throat and turned, walking quickly away. Sleipnir smiled wryly and shook his head, and then he gazed back at Jack and asked: “So, where does thou need my help?”

“Maybe... we should try and take care of our own problems, Sleipnir. Rest for now. You've done more than enough for us.” Jack replied quietly, and Sleipnir chuckled and shook his head.

But all the same, there was an approving glint in his eye, and the old stallion felt that maybe, just maybe, he and his band of misfit ponies were going to be alright after all.

They were on the road again, and Blueblood didn't know how he felt about it.

Yesterday had really just been a blur, and the night far too short, with far too little sleep. And in the morning, they had been seen off by Auros and Jack and a mixed bag of ponies. Everypony had been sad to see them go: maybe most telling of all had been how Rack N. Ruin had flown down and yelled at them that they were traitors for leaving, which went to show they had apparently grown even on the paranoid Pegasus.

Now, they were following a natural trail that ran along the edge of the mountains, continuing their journey to the west. It was a fairly easy walk, and from the looks of it, they weren't the only things that used this trail: every now and then, they passed fairly large footprints and other markings Blueblood had begun to notice.

His armor felt a little... strange on him. He wondered if Sleipnir had been forced to rush the repairs on it, or if maybe he'd put something on wrong. He paused for a second to absently tap over his chest, and Sleipnir only smiled at him before saying easily: “When we next find an appreciable forge, I shall make better adjustments. But I did not desire to either hurry along the process or do so without thy help, Blue. As thou hast grown, 'tis time for thy armor to grow with thee.”

Blueblood looked with surprise at Sleipnir, and Invidia smiled before saying approvingly: “Often, Sleipnir, I can't help but disagree with you... but on this subject, I can only wholeheartedly concur. Yes, our handsome prince has grown exceptionally...”

Blue looked awkwardly at Invidia, and then he turned his eyes quickly ahead: he still wasn't entirely sure how he felt about her these days. But even as he concentrated on the path, he murmured: “I appreciate it, Sleipnir, but... I don't know if I've really earned it. It still... I still feel like I'm getting used to this armor, after all.”

Sleipnir looked curiously at Blue, and then he softened a little before saying gently: “Fear not, my young friend. I shan't rush anything, and there is both time and distance yet to cover before we find a decent forge with decent materials. Mother Nature has warned me that the trek ahead is long, after all. We must be prepared to travel for many days.”

Blueblood was glad for the change of subject, asking quickly: “Many days? But I just don't see how that's possible. Why, I've heard of ponies crossing all of Equestria in a week-”

“Aye, yes, walking upon a straight road, I suspect, with naught to stand in their way and no reason to stop.” Sleipnir said wryly, and then he shook his head briefly. “Nay. We have strange terrain, strange roads, and strange creatures all around us; nor are we journeying through explored lands, which means we lose even more time when we are forced to double back or find other paths to our objective.”

Blueblood nodded a little, hesitating before he said finally: “I just... I remember when we talked about this before, you pointed out how convoluted Horsia is. But... we're traveling above the ground, on a relatively straight path...”

“Aye, but it won't be for long. Fear not, Blue, I am not leading us in circles, if that is what thou art afraid of.” Sleipnir huffed, then added pointedly: “And furthermore, we are keeping a more than respectable pace. In the past, Luna and I would oft drag our heels or complain constantly to Celestia, until she would grow aggravated enough to allow us to stop for a time or wander off in some new direction that had tingled our senses.”

“So you're saying we're actually making good time.” Blueblood said dryly, and Sleipnir nodded childishly a few times, which made the stallion sigh tiredly as he closed his eyes and rubbed slowly at his face. “How wonderful, really.”

“'Tis!” Sleipnir agreed positively, winking over at the unicorn. “Now come, let us focus upon our march. Thou art the one anxious to make good time, after all.”

“More anxious not to wander in circles.” Blueblood muttered, but then he nodded and allowed Sleipnir to stride past, falling in step with the stallion and doing his best not to look back over his shoulder at Invidia.

The demon was being strangely quiet, and smiling too much: what disturbed Blue the most was that he didn't think she was just trying to pretend to be positive for them. Apparently she was quite pleased about something, but she didn't want to share what that was with either stallion, which meant it likely wasn't anything good...

And now that he knew she was some kind... triple or quadruple agent who was apparently first sent to them by the Harbinger, it made him more than a little paranoid about precisely how dark and dangerous her secrets might be.

But for now, he just wanted to focus on moving forwards. Once they got to a base camp tonight, they could settle in, and then discuss things from there. Or at least, that was what he told himself: part of him felt like just... pretending that Sleipnir had never told him about Invidia, and that everything was okay... or at least, everything apart from those creepy golden eyes of hers...

They pressed onwards through the snowy forest, until they emerged into a frosty field filled with waist-high powder. Sleipnir cut through the field like an icebreaker, however, and Blueblood and Invidia simply followed him until he had plowed his way into a frozen marshland, the enormous earth pony noting here: “Be careful, friends. It may look and seem solid at first glance, but if thou stands for a moment, thou shall realize 'tis sludgy beneath the topcoat. There is quite a bit of warmth in the earth here, still.”

They trekked carefully and slowly through the muck, Blueblood swearing every now and then when he accidentally stepped onto a weak section of ice, or he stumbled into some other slimy hollow. But by the evening, they had reached a large island with a scraggly copse of trees, and they were able to set up camp in relative safety: there wasn't a lot lurking in this frozen bog, after all.

Sleipnir prepared their stored rations, and Blueblood grimaced: they didn't have a lot of food left. It had felt somehow wrong to take food from the misfits, after all, and so he hadn't really pressed the subject of restocking with Sleipnir. And the earth pony seemed unconcerned, but Blue didn't think Sleipnir really got worried about anything apart from his precious mane.

Still, he trusted the earth pony to find them food for the next few days, and the two ate in quiet as Invidia excused herself to find her own 'food.' That thought made Blueblood shiver a little, but he didn't say anything even when Sleipnir looked at him quizzically: he wanted to avoid the subject of the demon for as long as possible.

Blueblood headed to bed after dinner so he could be up for the last watch: only minutes after he hit the bedroll, he was asleep, snoring loudly and descending down into the darkness and curling up tighter as his whole body shivered with sudden cold...

He tried to reach up to pull the blankets tighter around himself, but he couldn't seem to find them. The stallion frowned uneasily at this, and then he opened his eyes before swearing quietly and sitting up, wishing he could be more surprised than he was to find himself in the grips of a dream... or more likely, a nightmare.

His eyes roved back and forth, and he realized after a moment he had no idea where he was. It looked a little bit like a foal's bedroom: the bed he was in was pretty small, after all, and there were a few childish drawings on the wall and a few old wooden toys on the floor... but they were in pretty awful shape. They looked like they'd been badly carved by someone with good intentions, but who really had no idea what the hell they were doing. And whoever owned them obviously hadn't been treating them the kindest, from the chipped paint and the dents and... were those teeth marks?

Blueblood smiled a little despite himself, slipping out of bed before he looked around the room uneasily. It felt... familiar. Had this been his room when he was a foal? But no, he wasn't about to allow himself to get tricked into thinking about the past and summoning up those memories and making this nightmare even more powerful. He'd play along to get out of this dreamscape, but there was no way he was going to do anything that could make this place worse than it already was.

The unicorn's eyes roved towards the door, and after a moment, he sighed and shrugged, walking over to push it open. It was quiet in the connecting hall, and Blue stepped carefully out, ready for just about anything...

But there was nothing. Just plain wood and motes of dust that danced in the beams of sunlight leaking in through the cracked ceiling. Blue looked up at this... and then he shivered as he heard a child's laughter, a child's voice...

But that wasn't his... was it? Blue licked his lips uneasily, looking up at the ceiling as he realized... no, his family had been poor when he'd been growing up, but they'd lived in a ground floor apartment...

No, he wasn't going to think about that. He wasn't going to remember... but at the same time, it was so hard to swallow the instinct to. Not when this place all the same felt so weirdly familiar to him, like it was a home he had lived in for all of his life...

He strode down the hall and into a front room of this little cabin: it was like a dining room and living area all mashed into one, with a rickety table and chairs taking up most of the room. In one corner, a large woodstove sat dangerously close to the wall, the pipes corroded and filthy-looking. In a different corner, another small cluster of badly-treated toys sat: wood again, Blue noticed. And these were as badly beaten up, but they at least looked more like whatever they were supposed to be.

There was a single large door leading out of this room, across from the archway he had just come in through. Blueblood studied this doorway for a moment, and then he bit his lip as he looked towards a shuttered window: more light was leaking in through the old planks but... he knew that didn't mean anything in a dream world like this. For all he knew, trying to leave this place could drop him right down in the cemetery, or some other cluster of hellish memories...

Then again, there wasn't a whole lot to do here. Not even a cupboard to poke through... what kind of kitchen didn't have cupboards or shelves? Or anything too cook with, for that matter, or...

“But life was hard, back then...” Blue murmured, and then he frowned uneasily before reaching up to touch his own muzzle, surprised by what he'd just said and not even entirely understanding precisely why he'd said it. He licked his lips again, then shook himself quickly out before muttering: “Maybe... maybe I shouldn't just stand around after all.”

He nodded uncomfortably to himself, then turned and headed for the door, pushing it open... and staring with disbelief out at a grassy hilltop that stood overlooking a scenic little valley. There were other homes here and there: cabins and longhouses, some beautiful, others almost as ramshackle as this old, beaten up one behind him was.

There was a well-worn path beneath his hooves, and Blueblod followed this as he looked back and forth with... strange nostalgia, for a past that he didn't even think was entirely his. These memories felt both terribly familiar and terribly alien all at once...

He looked up towards the blue sky, and smelled woodsmoke and... pine trees, he thought. Yes, they were in a pine forest, which meant they had to be far north... but it was late summer here, and the sun beat down with welcome warmth, and the breeze was cool and comforting, stopping the heat from becoming unwelcome or oppressive.

But there were no other ponies, he noticed, even though something told him this little community should have been vibrant and alive. There should have been friendly ponies, and playing foals, and more than the vague sound of birdsong in the distance...

“Young prince. It's good to see you.” said a soft voice, and Blue winced a bit before he wheeled around and found himself uncomfortably facing Invidia. But the demon only bowed her head and smiled at him kindly, before she asked almost eagerly: “What do you think of this place? This is a very special place to me... and I do hope that it shall become special to you, as well...”

“What... what is it?” Blueblood asked nervously, and Invidia smiled at him before he straightened and added uneasily: “I don't really like the thought that you've... hijacked my dreams, Invidia, I... I would like you to please try and understand that there are certain boundaries I'd like you to respect...”

“Oh, I will and I do, but you see, this was the best way I could protect you, my darling.” Invidia replied calmly, bowing her head politely towards the stallion. “I know that it makes you uncomfortable to remember, but I unfortunately must continue to pretend to serve the Harbinger: so I have drawn you into a 'nightmare,' so to speak, but not one that will harm you.”

Blue frowned, and Invidia bowed her head, whispering: “Please, Lord Blueblood. Please believe that I would never, ever harm you, not for anything. But we walk a dangerous path and play a dangerous game, and I must continue to... to pretend that I am the Harbinger's pawn. Otherwise its servants may seek to do worse harms to you. Otherwise, I fear... what evils it would visit upon you itself, what nightmares it would plunge you into. Please, trust me.”

Blueblood shivered a little, feeling like he was caught between a rock and a hard place. Especially if Invidia was the one controlling this dream... and yet he couldn't help but ask: “If these are your memories, why does it feel so familiar to me?”

Invidia brightened at this, studying him intently for a few moments before she glanced almost shyly to the side, murmuring: “Because... because, I suppose, you can feel the emotional resonance in these dreams. Because I am open, and vulnerable to you. Close your eyes and reach out with your mind, Blueblood... you will feel me.”

The unicorn looked uncomfortably at the demon, but then decided his safest bet was to do what she suggested, shrugging a bit before he took a slow breath as he closed his eyes. He found himself focusing naturally as he felt something almost calling to him, the stallion locking on to this as he rose his head slightly and murmured: “It's almost like... some kind of beacon...”

“Yes: like I said. We are connected, you and I: I am your humble, ever-loyal servant, my darling... my prince.” Invidia murmured, bowing low to him and trembling with what seemed almost like excitement. “I am your friend, and anything and everything else you want me to be. For always and forever...”

Blueblood frowned a little, and then his eyes opened in surprise as he felt something connect to him, like a tether in his mind. He flinched backwards, but Invidia immediately shook her head hurriedly, urging: “Don't panic! It will not hurt you, just relax and focus and you will understand that you can control it perfectly well...”

The unicorn grimaced, then winced as he felt a strange tremor run down his horn, shivering and feeling almost as if he had a thousand ants crawling over his body, and all he could do was pray they weren't hungry.

But after a few moments, the feeling faded, and instead he was left with an odd, warm tingling sensation through his mind. He frowned a little, shifting back and forth before he raised his head and focused experimentally, and Invidia smiled warmly as she nodded encouragingly, shivering and straightening. “Yes, that's right!”

Blue frowned nervously: when he focused now, he could feel... it was hard to describe. It was like a conduit had connected itself between his horn and something else, and if he focused, he could easily push power through it... but he had no idea what doing that would actually do.

Invidia was gazing at him almost hungrily, however, and Blueblood wondered uncomfortably if he'd done something stupid. But after a moment, the demon seemed to get a hold of herself, blushing and bowing her head as she murmured: “I apologize, my darling. I don't mean to be so... overzealous. I only want you to know that you are safe, and that I shall never harm you. That I cannot harm you...”

“And... how exactly does this prove that?” Blueblood asked uneasily, and Invidia laughed quietly and stepped forwards... and admittedly, the unicorn found it difficult to resist the urge to step backwards.

“I have given you a modicum of control over me: you will now be able to give me commands and, if you so desire, you will be able to punish me for disobeying you... or if I simply disappoint your expectations.” Invidia said calmly, and then she smiled as Blueblood looked at her disbelievingly. “Would you like to give it a try?”

“What do you mean, try and... hurt you?” Blue grimaced at the thought, shivering a bit before he looked nervously up at his horn. “And... I mean... how would I even...”

“All you have to do is focus on me, and channel your energies towards me. Tell me what you want me to feel... or concentrate firmly on a single thought. Speak to me with your mind.” Invidia said with a smile, bowing her head forwards... and Blueblood shivered a little at the raw intensity of her gaze, at how eager she seemed for him to... to try and control her.

And the worst part was that... that awful excitement. That mean, greedy part of him that wanted to all-but-celebrate the idea of having complete control over a demon, that craved control and being in charge and having things that could never, ever be taken away...

Blueblood shivered, looking off to the side as he licked his lips slowly, and then he asked finally: “Can... can you undo this, Invidia? I... I appreciate the gesture, but this connection between us... it's dangerous, isn't it? The Harbinger-”

“The Harbinger will think that I've forged this connection with the opposite intent: that I created it to influence you, and one day control you.” Invidia smiled lovingly, stepping forwards and shaking her head briefly as she whispered: “But it can never comprehend my adoration for you... our connection, and how much I have come to love you, and cherish you, so much...”

Invidia leaned in closer, Blueblood leaning away and wincing a bit... before his eyes widened in surprise as he heard a distinct giggling. A child's laughter, he realized, and he looked over his shoulder to see two translucent foals who were barely out of diapers stumbling and charging along the road, leaping back and forth together...

Then they simply vanished as if they had never been there, and Blueblood winced as Invidia grabbed him and yanked him around in a circle. She glared at him furiously, and yet at the same time she half-hid herself against his chest.

They looked at each other, Blueblood not knowing what to say, Invidia looking torn between anger and fear... and then the stallion carefully pushed her away, shivering a little before he asked uncertainly: “What... what exactly was that?”

The demon looked away silently, biting her lip for a moment before her eyes flicked away as she murmured: “Shards of memories I would rather let rest, forgotten and away... you... you would not want to remember the friend who you failed either, would you?”

“So you were mortal once?” Blueblood asked quietly, leaning down towards her... and the next thing he knew, he was laying on his back, his face throbbing with pain before Invidia pinned him by the shoulders as she leaned down over him, her golden eyes glowing with hellish fury.

“No! No, do not confuse the miserable maggot of the past with who and what I am now! I am... I am a demon, who was never mortal, never loved! I am... a brand new consciousness, created from... from consuming the failings and the weaknesses of a little miserable filly who couldn't even... hold onto her best and oldest...” Invidia trembled, tears welling up in her eyes before she stumbled backwards, touching her own lips and paling as she whispered: “Oh, oh, oh no. Prince Blueblood, oh... I... I am so very sorry, I... I never m-meant to... I... I'm so sorry, I'm so very sorry, I'm...”

Invidia quaked as Blueblood slowly sat up, staring at her and trembling: some part of him wanted to say that it was okay, but the rest of him only feared that he had always been right about Invidia. That this was why those golden eyes scared him so much: because all her rage and emotion shone so violently out of them, revealed that behind her pretty and prim exterior she was nothing but a seething, chaotic tempest.

Blueblood breathed roughly in and out as Invidia looked at him for a moment longer, then whimpered before she suddenly spun away. And as she leapt away from him, the dreamworld shattered into nothing, the demon vanishing from sight into the darkness that Blue was left laying in.

He shivered a little, then reached up and touched his cheek: it hurt so badly that he wondered if she had actually hit him in reality. He hesitantly drew his hoof back, then frowned uneasily as he looked nervously up; why the hell hadn't reality faded back in, on that note? If Invidia had run away, and the dreamworld had shattered...

Blueblood slowly climbed up to his hooves... and then he stumbled backwards in surprise as black soil vomited up from the nothingness in front of him, splattering down all around him and spreading into a dead, bracken field. His eyes widened, and then he stumbled back and forth as grave markers shot unevenly out of the ground all around him, ancient and mouldering, forgotten and mangled by the jaws of time...

Blue looked back and forth wildly, then he forced himself to calm down, clenching his eyes shut and bowing his head forwards. This was a nightmare and nothing more, and nothing could hurt him here, and he was-

“Blueblood...” whispered a voice, and Blue's eyes snapped open as he looked up... then trembled in horror as he saw a hideous, amorphous black shape slowly flood its way over a distinct tombstone. It was like rippling liquid, a shadow come to life, and Blue stumbled backwards before the voice emanating from this phantasmal thing rasped: “Come to our embrace...”

The unicorn stumbled backwards, swallowing thickly and shaking his head fearfully before he spun around and bolted, dodging around broken tombstones as he ran through the seemingly-endless cemetery. And behind him, he could hear that thing slithering and slurping along the ground, quickly gaining on him in spite of how fast he was running: he couldn't escape it like this. There was no way he was going to outrun it, especially in a nightmare.

A nightmare, he was in a nightmare, that was right! When he'd fought the fear demon, he'd been able to bring up memories by concentrating hard enough, to distract the creature, even reshape his surroundings: maybe he could do that here, too, if he managed to focus...

Blueblood gritted his teeth, looking at a mausoleum ahead that was flanked by two enormous statues of angels. He focused all his energy on them, trying to will them to change, reminding himself that this was nothing but a nightmare, and it was inside his mind, and he had control...

The statues began to tremble violently, and Blueblood felt victory for a moment... but then it dropped away into horror as black, fleshy tendrils suddenly twisted violently up along both statues, and the voice of the monster said almost tenderly: “No. You will not escape, Blueblood. You are mine now. And soon enough, you will thank me for it.”

“No, no! Get away!” Blueblood veered to the side, away from the statues... and then he skidded to a halt as massive black spikes ripped out of the earth in front of him, Blueblood staggering backwards and staring in horror at these before he turned around-

A pony-like shape stood behind him, its mane and tail both composed of writhing black tendrils, its eyes glowing with horrific light as it stared into his soul. Blue fell backwards, breathing hard and trying to shove himself away as he stared in horror at this... this awful, hideous monster. This terrible, surreal thing that radiated nothing but hatred and malice and... and...

Blueblood swallowed thickly as the pony-thing stepped forwards, looking at him with hideous tenderness as it whispered: “Yes. You and I have a great destiny together. Since we first met, many years ago... have you already forgotten me? Have you already forgotten who you are? You don't have to be afraid, Blueblood... I am a gift. I am here to give you power, and the love you always craved.”

Blue trembled and shook his head, crawling backwards until he was pressing painfully back into the black spikes, wincing only a little at the poisonous energies he felt thrumming through them. And the monster only continued to look at him, studying him silently before it leaned slowly forwards and said gently: “Yes. You are not yet ready... but very soon, you will be. I had almost given up on finding you, you know; I lost you so many times. But I finally found you... and how perfectly everything has played out so far. Soon... we will be together. Soon, you will remember, and understand.”

The Harbinger smiled at him, and then it simply vanished into black mist: not a moment later, Blueblood snapped away, gasping for breath, almost choking as he grabbed at his chest and his whole body shook. He was freezing cold, his eyes bulging with terror, his lungs trembling as he tried helplessly to take a single breath.

Sleipnir was beside him instantly, the earth pony throwing a foreleg around him... then leaning back in shock before scooping Blueblood quickly up and carrying him hurriedly over to the fire. The heat hit the unicorn like a hammer, and he coughed hard before taking a long, whooping breath... only to cough yet again thanks to the smoke.

But as he dropped his head low and clutched at his breast, he felt his breathing evening slowly out and his blood thawing in his veins, the unicorn shaking himself briefly out before he mumbled shakily: “T-Thank you. I... I had... Invidia...”

“Thou had a nightmare... and damnation, the specter's touch must have left a worser mark than I had thought.” muttered Sleipnir, shaking his head briefly before he sighed a little and soothingly rubbed a hoof along the stallion's back. “Thou wert colder than frost, Blue... thou wert cold like death.”

“So... so what, I get scared now, and I turn to ice?” Blueblood asked disbelievingly, and then he shook his head quickly before holding up a hoof. “Look, it doesn't matter anyway, okay? Invidia-”

“Nay, it does matter!” Sleipnir said stubbornly, looking pointedly at the stallion. “Thy spirit has been scarred and damaged by the wraith's touch! We must learn what will trigger these scars to... to bleed their poisons, so to speak, into thy very being. And we must cure this if possible, but... I fear by now it will have set in its course, and may no longer be any simple task to fix.”

“Will you please listen to me?” Blueblood snapped, glaring with frustration at the earth pony, who looked taken aback by the sudden flash of anger. “Listen! Invidia... Invidia tried to make some link between our minds, but... when she left, the... the Harbinger attacked.”

“What?” Sleipnir leaned forwards, his eyes widening before he asked quickly: “Tell me, how did the demon make the pact with thee, what did she say?”

“I...” It was all hard to remember, though: it was getting blurrier by the moment in his mind, and thoughts of the Harbinger were welling up, spreading like an inky stain over his thoughts... “It was... something to do with my horn. She said... I could control her. Command her. P-Punish... her. But she...”

Blueblood halted, then reached up and rubbed at his face, murmuring: “She had me trapped in her memories somehow, not a dream... to try and hide me from the Harbinger. But then something made her think of... I think it was her as a child. Although when I mentioned that...”

Sleipnir smiled wryly, saying mildly: “Now that is a gesture I recognize. She struck thee, did she? Fear not, 'tis simply how some mares show affection.”

“This is not a joking matter.” Blueblood said sourly, glowering at the earth pony before he shook his head and murmured: “She... I have never seen her that angry, Sleipnir, as when I asked about her former life. And then she seemed to... realize what she had done, but she... panicked, I suppose.”

“Then that is how the Harbinger must have sensed thou wert vulnerable.” Sleipnir said quietly, and Blueblood frowned a bit, looking up curiously. “I have no doubt that the Harbinger is watching us closely... Invidia, perhaps, closest of all. As I believe I have told thee before, demons feast upon emotions, and can sense the more complex and powerful of emotions even over great distances... 'tis how they excel at tracking and hunting.

“I know enough of how demonic magic works to know she must have done two layers of enchantment over thee: the first to keep thee asleep, the second to mold the dreamworld thou found thyself trapped within.” Sleipnir continued, as Blue looked at him uneasily. “How she linked herself to thee, I will not make many guesses at, but I am relieved to know 'tis not a true pact. Although the fact she harmed thee, even whilst in rage... it worries me.”

Blueblood shifted uneasily, then he said finally: “But she's... she's always been so... reactive.”

“Aye, yes. But when Invidia and I first made our own deal, one of the things she was forced to promise was never to raise hoof to thee. She has broken that tenet... and it means that she must either be suffering for it, or something about Invidia permits her to break deals that other demons could not.” Sleipnir shook his head slowly. “'Tis worrisome.”

Blue looked less than thrilled, but also less than convinced, shifting a little before he asked hesitantly: “I don't see how Invidia could be 'suffering' over it, though... I don't see why you seem so convinced that demons must all be... honest, and as honorable as you like to think that you are.”

Sleipnir huffed at the implied insult, but then he shook his head and murmured: “Demons are creatures of emotion and spirit. I believe they cannot lie because 'tis simply fact: precious few can do more than bend the truth, at most. Likewise, I have seen what happens when a demon breaks its word, Blue: young, foolish demons often think the warnings from their elders are nothing but lies, and end up in great torment for it.”

“So... wherever she is, she's... hurt?” Blueblood asked querulously, and then he sighed a little before asking finally: “What makes you think the demons of our world are exactly the same as the demons of your world, anyway? Apparently everything else is different, after all.”

Sleipnir opened his mouth... and then he closed it thoughtfully, reaching up and tapping slowly at his chin as he murmured: “Thou art right.”

Blue frowned, and Sleipnir shook his head as he expanded: “Aye, thou art right: for while this world sits upon a different span than my world, I was told that other demons have come here from Helheim, and they would carry the same blood, the same laws, the same spirit. But what I failed to remember is that others are born into this world as well: and if a demon is born to this world's cycle, apart from those of Helheim, apart from any outside forces... aye, it may not be bound by the same rules, the same laws. 'Tis something I must think upon.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Sleipnir shook his head quickly before he asked quietly: “But now, tell me of the Harbinger. For I do not believe any of us expected this attack... and it shows that perhaps the Harbinger is even more cunning than I had first anticipated. It makes me fear that he may already have plans in motion against us...”

Blueblood hesitated for a moment, and then he lowered his head and murmured: “I... I think he must. Because he... he could have killed me, or captured me or... I don't know. Done whatever he wanted to do to me in the nightmare he trapped me in. But... he let me go, and said that... he said that I'd met him before, and he wanted me to remember him before...”

Sleipnir's eyes were intent and his features serious as he looked at the unicorn, but Blueblood only shook his head, looking down and continuing: “I... I honestly can't remember, though. I've never met him at Canterlot, and I can't... remember before then.”

It wasn't entirely the truth, maybe, but Blueblood was somehow certain that if he'd seen something as malicious and horrific as the Harbinger before, it would have stuck in his mind, no matter how much he wanted to block it out. And yet... “He made it sound like it was years ago, though... like all my life, he's been there, watching me...”

The earth pony nodded slowly, then muttered: “Perhaps he has. I know thou does not like to think of the past, Blue, but... heed my words, words that I have spoken to thee before, but perhaps now thou can see the warning in: thou must not forget thy past. Thou must face it, even when thou art afraid of what it will mean, even when thou knows it will bring pain to thee. Elsewise, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the wickedness of enemies.”

Blueblood looked down quietly, shifting uneasily before he sighed quietly and murmured: “I wish that wasn't true, Sleipnir. Why can't we just leave the past where it lies?”

“We can, Blue. And we must. But we must also not forget what it all means.” Sleipnir replied softly, shaking his head and giving a small smile. “Think on it, my friend. 'Tis better to suffer a little pain now than it is to let it fester and worsen, and weaken thee in the future.”

Blueblood smiled a bit, then he dropped his head and closed his eyes, knowing that Sleipnir was right... and only wishing that he had half as much courage as Sleipnir thought he did, because he knew that unless he was pushed, there was no way he was going to risk delving into the past.

The future would be what it would be, he reassured himself... even as part of him lamented that no matter how much he'd grown up over this journey, in his heart of hearts, he had always been and would always remain one thing: a coward.