• Published 10th Jul 2014
  • 2,105 Views, 215 Comments

Sleipnir's Big Adventure - BlackRoseRaven

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

  • ...

Of Drinking And Dream Charms

Chapter Six: Of Drinking And Dream Charms

Blueblood was back in his bedroom, although only for a few minutes: but any time he could get alone was precious now, now that he was traveling with not just that big lummox Sleipnir, but that... alluring, strange, and somehow terrifying demon.

He wasn't sure why Invidia scared him so much, precisely: he wasn't even entirely sure she was really a demon still, after all. She just seemed like a very strange mare, with very strange eyes, who had an uncanny knack for getting in his head. Not that Blueblood had never seen that before: once for one of his birthday parties, Auntie Celestia had several famous magicians perform, and one had been a stage psychic. He'd been quite scared at first, but after the show, Auntie Celestia had made the psychic explain how his whole act worked.

Now Blueblood was older and wiser, and knew all about mentalists and making 'predictions,' and how much of that was nothing but nonsense. He wasn't going to let another parlor magician get inside his head like that one had two whole years ago.

But at the same time, there was just something about Invidia that made his stomach curl in on itself, made him just want to hide and cover his head and do whatever it took to get away from her. Her eyes... it was something in those golden eyes of hers. Something in the way she talked, in the way she was so eager to try and get close to him...

It terrified him. It reminded him somehow of his worst nightmares... and he just couldn't place a hoof on exactly why. Sure, some of the soldiers seemed uncomfortable around the mare, but it was far from actual fear: more a nervousness, perhaps even a desire to impress this pretty stranger, Blueblood thought. And of course that idiot Sleipnir was already treating her like they were best friends, even if the young prince had caught the demon scowling at Sleipnir's back on more than one occasion. Although somehow he doubted that Sleipnir was even half-aware of how much the demon seemed to loathe the big dumb brute.

Blueblood almost felt like sending a letter to his Auntie Celestia. He was certain that by now, he had probably received several, but he hadn't really bothered to check his portable mailbox yet... he just felt too tired to read, and he knew that her letters would just make him feel more homesick. But maybe she'd know something... Auntie Celestia had always said there were certain things about Equestria that should be kept quiet, because ponies didn't need to panic or worry about things they couldn't do anything about. He wondered if this was one of those things... and if maybe Auntie Celestia could help keep him safe somehow.

But... well... as much as he hated to admit it, part of the reason he hadn't tried to send out a letter immediately was Sleipnir. Sure, he was a big stupid lummox and he was probably trying to steal his throne and he was just a jerk in general. But the earth pony was far, far stronger than a silly demon, right? And Blueblood grudgingly believed him when he said he'd keep the young prince safe.

The white unicorn reached up and moodily adjusted his collar, then he flinched a bit as there was a knock at the door before Invidia called through it: “Darling! Sleipnir sent me to fetch you for drinks...”

The door clicked, and Blueblood trembled like a leaf, his eyes widening as for a moment, he thought he saw something hideous, something evil and vile and monstrous lean in the ajar door... and then it was just overeagerly-smiling Invidia, who was looking at him with... with hunger in those golden eyes of hers as she almost purred: “But if you prefer... we can just stay inside here... together.”

“N-No! No! Please, go... go tell Sleipnir I'll be right there. I... I can humor the oaf, after all.” the young prince said hurriedly, and the demon looked almost disappointed before she nodded briefly, then closed the door.

Blueblood remained silent, holding his breath and not even knowing why he was so scared as he just stared at the door. He knew the demon was on the other side of it, could see the profile of her hooves in the crack beneath the door... and then, finally, she turned and walked away. And Blueblood gave a quiet sigh of relief, closing his eyes and shivering a little before he mumbled: “Oh, what did I ever do to deserve all this nonsense? I... I am supposed to be a respected prince.”

The unicorn shook himself out, then hesitantly approached the door. He bit his cheek, then leaned forwards and carefully poked his horn against the wood of the door, concentrating a little bit: his horn gave the faintest of glows, but he didn't need much magic for this simple spell.

There was something like a flash before his eyes and a flurry of images, and then he sighed in relief, relaxing visibly. The hall was empty and Invidia's presence was far away. And he shivered a little as he straightened a bit, feeling the strange magic that emanated from her... one of the few things about her that made him think she was exactly what Sleipnir and Invidia both said she was.

Well, that and the fact he was so utterly terrified of her for no real reason he could manage to put his hoof on.

Blueblood scowled a little to himself as he lowered his head, closing his eyes and trying to summon up the little courage he could before he finally pushed the door open. He looked thunderous as he emerged into the hall and made his way to the stairs... but really, he was a frightened little colt, dragging his hooves into unknown territory.

The common room was much more cheerful now than it had been during the day: many of the soldiers had taken off most of their armor, and were singing or chanting along with Sleipnir as they helped themselves to glasses of ale. Invidia was lurking at a table in one corner of the room, and she immediately waved to Blueblood when he stepped into sight... but the young prince only awkwardly smiled at her, stopping and staring like an animal caught in a bright light before he suddenly spun towards Sleipnir and scuttled to safety beside him.

Sleipnir laughed as Blueblood almost fell into the table next to him, and then the prince gargled when the enormous earth pony wrapped one foreleg around him and nearly choked him with his merry embrace, shouting warmly: “And here, here! Aye, here is the stallion who shall one day grow into the finest of warriors, mark my words!”

A few of the soldiers cheered along with Sleipnir as Blueblood struggled loose, then grabbed at his neck and glared furiously up at the earth pony. But even as he rubbed at his throat, he felt awkwardly... well...

It hadn't been a lot of voices, but a few of these Royal Guard had actually welcomed him instead of treating him like he was some kind of punishment. Sleipnir was smiling jovially and already pouring him ale from a pitcher, making room for him at the table. And for the first time in his life, Blueblood actually felt like... like he was being honestly included in something.

He sat awkwardly down, looking at Sleipnir almost with confusion, but the enormous earth pony merely chuckled and winked down at him, saying easily: “Pick up thy glass, take thy drink of ale! And then, young prince, we shall begin thy training as a true leader of stallions.”

Blueblood blinked in surprise at this, but he felt a strange thrill run through him as he picked up the glass of ale, saying hesitantly: “So what you were saying before...”

Sleipnir smiled: while he had taught a surprisingly-attentive Blueblood how to repair and clean his armor, the earth pony had said that while they still had the Royal Guard around, he thought it was a good idea to teach the young prince how to command his soldiers and lead a team. Blueblood, for as much as he loathed Sleipnir, had been excited at the thought of maybe actually becoming... a leader.

He could imagine it now: returning to Canterlot knowing how to lead an army, finally able to command the respect of all these soldiers... maybe Auntie Celestia would even make him a general! And really, learning to fix the armor hadn't been so bad... then again, Blueblood had mostly been fascinated by how Sleipnir had just used his bare hooves to pop out many of the dents.

“Aye, of course!” Blueblood was brought back to earth by the earth pony's loud, positive voice. “We shall make a mighty jarl of thee yet, only wait and see! But 'twill be a long, hard road, I warn thee. I expect we shall have to spend many a night here in this inn, until thou hast conquered the test I shall set before thee.”

Blueblood nodded a few times, puffing out his chest as he rose his head eagerly. This was it, his chance to prove himself! To prove that he was not only worthy of the throne, that he could be just as good as Sleipnir... and maybe, if Sleipnir started to trust him enough, to respect him, he could finally get this big dumb oaf to start listening to him and put his incredible strength to use... “I'm ready, Sleipnir, I... I'm more than ready!”

“Well, we shall see.” Sleipnir said cheerfully, winking and looking warmly down at Blueblood, and then he rose his flagon of ale, saying firmly: “Drink.”

Blueblood awkwardly looked down at the foul-smelling amber liquid, but then he shrugged and forced himself to take a small sip. Sleipnir roared in approval like he had just quaffed the entire cup, however, then knocked back his own flagon, Blueblood staring as the stallion guzzled down the ale, heedless of the amber streams that flowed down his chin and muzzle.

Then Sleipnir belched loudly before slamming the flagon down, a wide grin spreading over his features as he said cheerfully: “And thus we take our first step, young Blue, to a brighter future! So say I... stallions, warriors, raise thy glasses! A young prince is finally casting down his crown to be a brother among us!”

Blueblood winced, opening his mouth to try and deny this, but the Royal Guard nearby cheered as others looked up in surprise, drowning out his first denials. And any further protest was cut off as the unicorn felt hooves slap his back, heard greetings, heard them calling his name and wishing him luck and... and...

All he could do was look back and forth, barely able to process what was going on. Barely able to comprehend that... that all these ponies, they had gone from hating – or at least ignoring – him, to... welcoming him like he was one of their own. Part of him screamed that it was horrible, that this was disgusting, that they were low-brow filth and peasants who should be kissing his hooves and treating him with respect...

Some other part of him, though, felt almost like it was coming back to life after a long time spent cold and comatose. There was a warmth, like flickering embers that were struggling back to life, to catch, to be reborn into flame...

Blueblood laughed weakly, and then he gave a trembling smile as his eyes flicked around him again, marveling at all these ponies before Sleipnir slapped him on the back and nearly knocked him sprawling. But Blueblood couldn't even manage to be angry as he looked almost childishly up at the big stallion, who smiled warmly back at the unicorn before nodding firmly to him once and saying cheerfully: “Aye, thou art ready to be one of us, I think. But do not think I shall be gentle upon thee! Nay, this first test will be no walk in pleasant fields; 'twill require bravery and cunning and great strength and courage!”

Blueblood winced a bit, then he forced himself to nod as the soldiers all leaned in with interest. The unicorn felt fear, certainly... but oh, also that he'd do absolutely anything to continue to hold onto this feeling, to try and feed those embers glowing in his body. “I'm ready, I... I'm ready!”

A few of the Royal Guard applauded, but then Sleipnir quickly held up a hoof and looked seriously down at the young prince, who stared back up like a foal, trembling with excitement and anticipation and anxiety. And then, all of a sudden, Sleipnir grinned as he hammered a hoof against his own breast, declaring: “Thou shall lead these twenty fine young stallions upon a battle against me, but 'twill be no ordinary fight! Nay, it shall be all of thee against me... and thy team must successfully match me drink for drink, until one of us collapses!”

Blueblood's jaw dropped as he stared disbelievingly up at Sleipnir, and then he snapped in a strangled voice: “You want us to play a drinking game with you?”

“Nay, 'tis a drinking war!” Sleipnir replied with a grin as he slammed his free hoof against the tabletop, and then he announced cheerfully: “We leave only after I am outdrunk! And until then, every night we shall drink, drink until sunrise if 'tis necessary! And Prince Blueblood shall generously pay for every night's round of drinks!”

“What?” Blueblood almost screeched, immediately forgetting all his former happiness, but he was drowned out by a roar of approval from the soldiers.

The prince stared back and forth, aghast, but Sleipnir only laughed before he snatched up the pitcher of ale from the table, pouring himself another flagon and saying warmly: “Well, 'tis no better time than the present to start, young prince! After all, I am half-drunk already and thou hast taken but one sip of ale. Perhaps thou can truly humiliate me and pass my test tonight!”

Blueblood ground his teeth together, knowing he shouldn't take the bait... but oh, it was too tempting to pass up. And that big dumb oaf was giving his big dumb smile... “This cannot seriously be your test. How... how is this leadership?”

Sleipnir only winked at him, gesturing easily around the room at the soldiers, who were all pouring themselves glasses, drinking heartily, laughing and having a good time... “Oh, believe me, young Blue. Master this task, and thou shall rank among the greatest of commanders to have ever graced Equestria.”

Blueblood ground his teeth together slowly, feeling patronized, mocked, frustrated... and then, before he could think better of it, he swept up his glass and snapped: “Very well, Sleipnir, have it your way! If you want to make a game of this, then I'll just drink you under the table myself!”

Sleipnir smiled almost consolingly at the young prince, beginning to open his mouth, but Blueblood hurriedly rose the glass to his lips and drank down the stingy, bitter ale as fast as he could manage, before he slammed the glass down and gave a small, very un-prince-like burp. It tasted awful and watery, but if Sleipnir could handle it, then he damn well could too.

Outdrink him. He'd show Sleipnir who the prince of drinking was. Why, he'd been drinking things all his life, and he'd never been drunk more than five times, once! He bet Sleipnir was drunk right now, as a matter of fact, because the big stupid stallion looked so... so stupid... and drunk... and he was already wobbling in his seat like a big fat... stupid...

Blueblood's bloodshot eyes slowly flickered open, and then he whimpered weakly and grasped at his throbbing skull, blinking slowly. He carefully picked himself up... and groaned as he pulled his face out of a sticky puddle of drool and congealed ale.

He sat blearily up... then stared disbelievingly around the common room. His head whirled and his stomach throbbed in pain, and he wondered weakly for a moment just what the hell he was looking at: it looked almost like a real battle had taken place while he was unconscious.

There were bodies sprawled here and there around the room, some lodged in bench seats, a few others on tables, a hoof-full on the floor. There were broken and overturned glasses here and there, and puddles of ale spreading like blood. He smelled something stale, and he heard a few weak whimpers, and some other pony moaning like he was pleading for death to come and take him away.

Blueblood trembled as he dragged himself out of the seat, half-falling forwards... and then shivering as he saw a puddle of vomit. He could almost make out what the pony had last eaten, and... and...

Blueblood's eyes bulged and his stomach heaved, and he turned and scrambled wildly for the stairs, staggering back and forth past unconscious bodies. He barely noticed Invidia as he passed her, the demon scowling as the stallion made a beeline for the bathroom.

She rolled her eyes and gave a tired sigh: damn that jackass Sleipnir. He was going to end up killing his own ward at this rate. Even more annoying, he was making it impossible for her to get close to literally anyone here: the moment oh mighty and beneficent Sleipnir showed up, everyone forgot about little old her and looked right at him... he was the stallion every stallion wanted to be. He was the friend that every pony desired.

Invidia bared her teeth for a moment, but then forced herself to calm down. No, giving in to her envies would just make the ponies like her even less. She would just have to keep... trying. And hope that she could catch some of these stallions when Sleipnir wasn't around. All this emotion in the air, all this... walking around in public, doing her best to pretend she was one of them, trying to mimic their behavior, it was all having a tremendous drain on her and making her incredibly hungry. She needed to feed on one of them, but that meant she needed to get some privacy with one of them...

Invidia eyed the bathroom, then shivered at the sound of mixed moaning and retching from inside. She didn't need to feed that badly yet: she'd let the stallions recover while she took some time to herself. She was starting to regret the deal that she'd made with Sleipnir already; in fact, she was starting to regret the fact she'd revealed herself at all...

She glanced up as Sleipnir emerged from his room with a refreshed yawn, and then a warm smile towards her. Invidia only scowled in response, biting the inside of her cheek with distaste before she forced herself to give a curdled little twitch of her lips in return, saying through grit teeth: “You look very content with yourself, Sleipnir.”

“Oh, do I? Well, perhaps 'tis because I slept so nicely. We had a fine round of drinks last night, and young Blue tried admirably to keep up with me...” Sleipnir paused at the sound of vomiting, and then he added reflectively: “Although perhaps 'twas a bit cruel of me, even if I tried to drink two glasses for his every one. Still, he did his best. There is nobility in that.”

“Nobility.” Invidia repeated flatly, and Sleipnir nodded childishly a few times before the demon sighed, shaking her head and muttering: “What a strange and exotic form of nobility you must hold, then, Sleipnir. For all I saw were colts playing at being stallions and poisoning themselves into stupefaction. What nobility is found in that?”

“Oh, nay, the getting drunk was not so noble. But the try, that was what set Blue apart.” replied Sleipnir easily, and Invidia shook her head before starting to turn away... and then Sleipnir asked curiously: “But what happened to thee? I saw thou leave last night before the drinking had really begun. I had hoped thou would have joined us for a flagon or two.”

And the demon was suddenly like a different person as she spun quickly around, smiling brightly up at Sleipnir and bowing her head courteously as she said warmly: “Oh, I meant no disrespect... but since you only spoke of the soldiers and young Blueblood, I didn't feel it was my place to intrude on your silly game with these stallions. But had I known, I would have gladly stayed.”

Sleipnir chuckled as he strode towards her, and the demon immediately cozied herself up to him. But then one of his forelegs slipped around her, and she tensed ever-so-slightly even as he said kindly: “Thou art a very interesting demon, Invidia. I must ask thee a strange question, though: hast thou ever been part of any demonic society?”

“Society? No, we're solitary creatures... we can't really trust each other after all, can we?” the demon said pointedly, and then she awkwardly half-shrugged off his limb before snuggling herself against him again, closing her eyes and whispering: “Don't be a fool. You know all about demons, you can't hide that from me. There's no need to pretend otherwise, my darling.”

“Aye, I do... but where I come from, demons are different from thou.” Sleipnir said gently, and Invidia scowled darkly at this, immediately becoming colder as she leaned back. But the earth pony only smiled at her, before saying gently: “Thou art unique.”

This made the demon once more loosen up, smiling and relaxing visibly before she leaned into him. Sleipnir looked down at her thoughtfully, studying the strange, emotional creature, but thinking that perhaps he was starting to understand her a little.

Before he could think of anything else to say, however, the bathroom door opened and Blueblood came staggering out, looking pale and trembling. He glared up at Sleipnir when he emerged, but then only tried to turn his face away: but even if he could hide the trails of tears down his cheeks, he couldn't hide his sniffling, or the whimper in his voice as he rasped: “Are you happy now?”

“Nay, not at all. I am rather disappointed, as a matter of fact.” Sleipnir said softly, and then he reached up and gently rubbed a hoof over the stallion's back. And at the same time, he could feel Invidia tensing against him, felt her malicious jealousy almost ebbing off her in waves, but for now Blueblood needed his attention. “Now come, there is no need for great sadness or suffering, though. We shall bring thee downstairs, and I shall fix thee something to drink and something to eat.”

Blueblood nodded after a moment, and then Sleipnir looked down at Invidia, asking kindly: “Will thou join us?”

The mare glared at him for a few seconds, but then she nodded almost grudgingly, and the earth pony smiled before he added thoughtfully: “Perhaps there is something thou might be able to do to help with our young friend here, as well. Thou art a wise and powerful demon, after all. There must be something thou can do with thy powers for our ill compatriot.”

“Maybe...” Invidia's eyes lit up at this chance, and she turned an eager look towards Blueblood... but Sleipnir couldn't help but notice the way that Blueblood whimpered, how he looked suddenly scared even as Invidia purred: “I can certainly take his pain away, at least, and perhaps share a little bit of energy with him... would you like that, my darling? A little touch of my life force...”

“Now, careful Invidia.” Sleipnir winked over his shoulder at her, and the mare glared at him before he continued in a jovial, teasing voice: “We know not how Blueblood may react to thy demonic powers yet. Thou might be a demon of such strength that even the smallest mote of thy powers may poison and harm him, and he surely would be terrified of thee then.”

The demon looked strangely alarmed at this, halting dead and raising a hoof to her muzzle before she suddenly smiled again, nodding quickly... and yet still seeming almost panicked as she said: “I'm quite certain such extremes are not necessary, in any event: this handsome prince is strong enough as it is without my unnecessary aid. All he needs is a little kiss, to soothe the pain.”

Invidia leaned towards Blueblood, who shrank back and whimpered weakly, but then the demon only tenderly kissed his temple as her horn gave a faint glow. And a moment later, Blueblood shivered before he blinked slowly, and the demon leaned back, looking almost eager even as her eyes flickered with pain. “T-There. Did it work?”

“I... yes. I feel much better.” Blueblood said with surprise, and then he looked uncomfortably over at Invidia, who closed her eyes and shivered a little even as she nodded almost too eagerly. “What... what did you do?”

“Demons feed upon emotions... some demons, like myself, are capable of doing more than that. We can devour emotion, memory, thoughts... and things like pain. Sap them into ourselves to experience them, to... treasure them...” Invidia shivered a little, then reached up and rubbed slowly at her forehead, visibly feeling pain... and if Blueblood actually understood what the demon meant, feeling the throbbing hangover that had been bothering him just moments ago.

Sure, he could feel a faint thrumming, and his throat ached, and he felt disgusting and exhausted, but... almost all of the pain was gone. He laughed weakly, then stumbled to the side and almost overbalanced, catching himself against the wall as his mind swam.

Sleipnir turned quickly around, frowning: Invidia was smiling crookedly even through the agony she was clearly in, and Blueblood looked suddenly dazed, like the demon had accidentally done more than just take away his pain: she had likely eaten up some of the stallion's vital energy, too. And probably wasn't even aware of what she'd done thanks to the fact she didn't actually seem to know half as much as she thought she did about... well... herself.

“Are both of thee alright?” Sleipnir asked quickly, stepping forwards worriedly, but thankfully Blueblood already seemed to be coming around.

Invidia gave a weak, almost-crazed giggle, and then she looked up, golden eyes almost glowing as she whispered: “Oh, I'm very fine, Sleipnir, there's no need to worry. I'll treasure this agony forever... I apologize for worrying you, but I'm merely... lost in this most wonderful, exotic of feelings...”

Blueblood whimpered a little, and Sleipnir frowned a bit as the unicorn scampered forwards and almost hid behind him, saying in a rush: “P-Please, let's... please go, Sleipnir, I... I am... I need water. Water. Fetch me a glass of water, now!”

Sleipnir started to open his mouth to chide the young prince, but before he could, Invidia said lovingly: “Yes, fetch... fetch him a glass of water, Sleipnir, be kind to him. I'm sure I haven't yet tasted all his pain... I barely lapped at the surface, the poor darling. Oh, he really is so strong, to endure all this and more, Sleipnir... do not be cruel to him. And do not worry about me... I'll join you in a few moments, after I have a little rest. I think I'll have to borrow a bed, though...”

“Thou may use the free room down the hall, then. I think it would be best if thou rested there for a while.” Sleipnir said kindly, and Invidia looked up at him for a moment. She scowled ever so slightly, but after a moment relented and nodded, and Sleipnir suppressed a sigh of relief as the demon turned and made her way down the hall... and thankfully, stayed away from Blueblood's room.

Blueblood shivered a little, peering out from behind Sleipnir with a whimper and watching anxiously until Invidia finally staggered into the bedroom Sleipnir had pointed out. And then the unicorn looked up with disbelief as the earth pony said softly: “Thou should have thanked her, Blue. Even if thou art scared of her. Even if perhaps... she delved deeper than was strictly necessary.”

“I...” Blueblood halted, but he couldn't even manage a single indignant thought before he dropped his head and asked disbelievingly: “What is she?”

“A demon. A demon of Envy, furthermore, and one who has had no training or help in controlling her emotions.” Sleipnir turned around calmly, then he gave a faint smile to Blueblood, studying him thoughtfully before he reached up and squeezed his shoulder gently. “Thou art afraid of her. And that is understandable, aye. But 'tis only because thou does not know what to make of her, that is all. She is the unknown.”

“She is not, she's... she's so...” Blueblood scowled a little, then he shivered and hugged himself as Sleipnir cocked his head curiously. “N-Nothing. I... I need to write a letter to Auntie Celestia today, Sleipnir, so I will ask that you give me time after breakfast before we go on another of your silly adventures. Understood?”

Sleipnir smiled wryly, then he said kindly: “Fear not. We shall do some training in the afternoon, but otherwise we shall be staying here. I am sure I will be busy cleaning up the damage we have wrought in our festivities, in any case. Thou will have plenty of time then. Fair?”

Blueblood nodded uncomfortably, then he shivered a little and shook his head quickly, reminding himself of... well... oh, was there even a point? He wasn't the one playing games with Sleipnir. Sleipnir was the stallion playing games with him, and making him look like nothing but a big idiot...

The young prince closed his eyes and lowered his head, and Sleipnir frowned before saying gently: “Now there is no need for such sadness, young prince! I do not mean to chastise thee so greatly. And besides, thou will earn thy victory against me in time, I am sure.”

“Oh, it's not... no, that's stupid, anyway, Sleipnir. Stop treating me like a colt, like I'm stupid enough to believe this game of yours is anything but a way to make me look like an idiot in front of the Royal Guard and a trick to get as much ale as you can out of me before we move on to the next place.” Blueblood said bitterly, glaring up at Sleipnir as he trembled a little as anguish washed over him. “Have your laugh, Sleipnir! It's not as if I'm well aware as it is that everypony laughs at me, mocks me!”

Sleipnir looked at Blueblood for a few moments, and the unicorn glared back through his teary eyes... then stiffened in shock when the earth pony simply embraced him tightly. He didn't know what to do or say, but there was no need for anything as Sleipnir said gently: “I am not thy enemy, Blue. I shan't ever be, either. Now come, to breakfast. Other matters can wait.”

Sleipnir gently let go of the stallion, then smiled down at him before patting him once on the shoulder and striding past. And Blueblood honestly had no idea what to say or think before he finally looked over his shoulder, then nodded hesitantly and followed nervously in the earth pony's wake.

After breakfast, Sleipnir woke up the few Royal Guard that hadn't yet managed back to consciousness, and then the stallion went to work cleaning up the wrecked common room. Blueblood wasn't entirely sure why: it wasn't like the earth pony owed the old stallion who was running the inn anything, and they were already paying him more bits than Blueblood liked to think about for all the ale and the rooms.

Blueblood scowled at this: more accurately, he was paying, and he was sure that Auntie Celestia was going to be very unhappy about all the money they were wasting. And yet he was also somehow sure that somehow, somehow, Sleipnir would be able to justify it. It seemed like the great idiot could get away with just about anything and everything, after all, much to Blueblood's disgust.

The unicorn grumbled to himself, tapping a hoof slowly against the bed as he looked grouchily at the letters he'd pulled out of his little portable mailbox. Auntie Celestia had sent them, but they were short and barely worth reading... just little things about how she was worried about him and she hoped things were going well and that she would like to hear from him. No apologies, no promises that she was going to make this up to him, and worst of all, she asked about Sleipnir, too.

Did that damned earth pony really have his poor Auntie already under his hoof? It made him shudder to think of, the unicorn grumbling and hugging himself before he muttered: “I almost think she cares more about him than she does about me...”

Blueblood huffed moodily: why, Auntie Celestia hadn't even asked about his nightmares, how he was surviving without her goodnighties! And she hadn't offered to visit, either, and it wasn't like it would be difficult at all for someone like her to come see him if she wanted to... but he just supposed that she didn't really want to.

Well, wouldn't she be surprised when he told her all about the demon that was traveling with them, and how mean and unprofessional the Royal Guard were, and that Sleipnir was wasting all their time and money? Blueblood sniffed loudly, then looked back and forth for a quill before frowning uneasily as his eyes settled on his bed-table... and then his eyes widened in horror and he grabbed at his face as he saw that his sleeping charm was gone.

Immediately, he dove forwards and snatched up one of his carrying bags, emptying what remained in it out over the floor. Clothes and quills and parchment flew in all directions, and Blueblood dug wildly through the chaos before he whimpered and hurriedly turned back towards the messy, unmade bed, tossing his pillows aside in the wild hope that-

No, it wasn't there, either! He threw off the sheets and blankets, but he knew that was a vain hope even before they hit the wall. Blueblood whimpered again as he leapt on top of them and dug through them away, before dropping flat and checking under the bed, beginning to hyperventilate in his panic.

Oh no, no no no... he couldn't have just lost it... he knew, he absolutely knew where he'd put it last, and if there was one thing that he never, ever lost, it was his dream charm! Oh no, not since he was a stupid teenager and he'd been dumb enough to accidentally drop it out the window and had to go a whole week with nightmares, every single night, in spite of Auntie Celestia's goodnighties and... and...

Blueblood whined in his throat, looking like he was about to cry as he grabbed wildly at his face, his eyes darting back and forth in terror. He'd have to tell Auntie Celestia right away, get her to get Aunt Luna to make him a new one as soon as possible, and... and oh, no, he had to go right home to Canterlot. Right home, right away: there was no way he was going to survive his nightmares in this strange place, without the safety of Auntie or... or...

There was a knock at the door before Sleipnir opened it, starting cheerfully: “I am here to mend a bit of damage to-”

“Get out! Get out!” Blueblood almost howled, and Sleipnir blinked in surprise as he simply stood in the doorway, staring as the unicorn shook his head violently and pointed wildly at the doorway, unable to hide his sheer panic. “I don't... out!”

“What is wrong? What has happened, Blueblood and... by the gods, look at this place.” Sleipnir kicked the door closed, then strode forwards and grasped the prince's shoulders before he could stumble away, forcing him to sit back and looking down at him with concern. “What has happened?”

“I... I lost my dream charm!” Blueblood blurted out, trembling and staring up at Sleipnir. For one wild moment, he wanted to scream accusations at the earth pony, but it only took one look up into those big, guileless eyes of the stallion to know that there was no way Sleipnir would do something like that. And furthermore, he probably wouldn't've been smart enough to, anyway. “I... I just d-don't... I can't... I just can't...”

Sleipnir nodded and soothingly squeezed Blueblood's shoulders, looking slowly around the room: Blueblood had passed through here like a whirlwind and torn just about everything apart. Even if part of him wondered if Blueblood had perhaps just misplaced this dream charm he was talking about, from how panicked the prince was and how he'd torn the room apart, Sleipnir figured it was likely a better idea to wait until he suggested taking another look for it.

The earth pony carefully guided Blueblood to the best, sitting him down and hesitating only a moment before he asked gently: “Thy dream charm. Can thou tell me what purpose it serves? 'Tis like a dreamcatcher, is it not?”

Blueblood laughed shortly at this, then he looked down and hugged himself tightly, muttering: “It's no simple toy, Sleipnir. It's... it's much more than that. That and my Auntie's goodnight... I mean, her blessings, are the only things that keep my nightmares at bay. Y-You don't understand. How could someone like you ever understand?”

Sleipnir only gave a faint smile, shaking his head slowly before he said softly: “Now there is no need for that, young Blueblood. Besides, no matter how great I am in stature and body, 'tis meaningless to the mind. I know the cruelties of the mind very well, young colt.”

Prince Blueblood laughed shortly, turning away and shaking his head vehemently. “How c-could you even hope to understand? The... the nightmares are... they're just...” The unicorn trembled, not wanting to try and describe them, not wanting to try and think about them for fear of what the memories might summon up as he plunged his face into his hooves. “G-Go away!”

“Nay, I shan't. I am thy friend, young Blue. I am not about to abandon thee, even if thou wants me to.” Sleipnir said softly, squeezing gently into the young stallion's shoulders before he gave a faint smile and shook his head slowly. “And how hast thou been sleeping these last few nights?”

Blueblood shifted, opening his mouth... then closing it, not wanting to admit that... well, even without his goodnighties, his sleep had mostly been dreamless and restful. He frowned a little, looking down, and Sleipnir chuckled quietly before he said gently: “Perhaps thy nightmares can be tempered in more than one way, young Blue. We shall keep thee active during the day... and every night, we shall have our contest. And if I know anything, 'tis that enough ale will stifle even the worst of dreams.”

The unicorn looked uncomfortably up at Sleipnir, not exactly sure what he could say... even if there was anything he could say to that. And yet the earth pony only smiled and shrugged easily before he nodded firmly to the unicorn. “Aye. There is no need to fear, young prince. I shall protect thee during the day, and teach thee to protect thyself during the night. And perhaps Invidia-”

“No no no! Keep... keep her away from me!” The white stallion shook his head vehemently, and Sleipnir frowned and cocked his head curiously before Blueblood glanced awkwardly down, shivering a little and muttering: “I just... don't want anything to do with that... she just...”

“She scares thou, and I still do not know why. Oh, aye, a pretty mare can be intimidating, I understand this well. But it seems something much more than that, from what I have seen...” Sleipnir hesitated, then he shook his head before finally sliding back a bit. Blueblood was admittedly glad for it: it was weird having a big stallion that close and constantly touching him. “Is it because she is a demon?”

Blueblood scowled at this, the question striking him as incredibly idiotic as he opened his mouth... then suddenly stopped, only frowning as he realized... “Well... no.”

Sleipnir tilted his head curiously, and Blueblood shifted uncomfortably before he looked down, rubbing slowly at the back of his head. Then he scowled a little, shaking his head before mumbling: “It's none of your business, I'm... not... you're already imposing enough as it is.”

Sleipnir chuckled quietly at this, and then he said softly: “Perhaps, but... well, thou does not need to carry this weight alone, young prince. It might do thee good to learn to trust.”

Blueblood only scowled at this, then he shook his head shortly and dropped his gaze, muttering: “I'm no... peasant pony, Sleipnir. I know how Equestria works, on more than... friendship and magic. Don't... just... just don't...”

He shifted a little bit, turning his gaze away, but Sleipnir only smiled at him with his infinite patience and kindness, and... Blueblood hated that it was finally starting to wear him down. No matter what he did, no matter what he told himself, it was getting harder and harder to believe that Sleipnir was anything but... well... Sleipnir.

The unicorn lowered his head, chewing on his lip before he scrubbed childishly at his face with his hooves and mumbled: “No.”

Sleipnir only nodded agreeably, then reached up and squeezed Blueblood's shoulder, smiling at him as he said kindly: “Now, there is no need to work thyself up any further, any more than there is need for thee to spew such venom. Aye, I understand thou art in an ill predicament and fearful of the coming storm... but giving in to fear shall only make thy situation all the worser. Nay, I shall help thee find thy charm. And whether we fail or succeed, thou also hast mine most sacred vow that I shall help thee conquer thy nightmares.”

Blueblood scowled a little at this, looking uneasily up at Sleipnir... but at the same time, he felt a foalish kind of hope. He didn't know why: maybe it was because so far, Sleipnir had... well, in spite of the fact that Blueblood was still trying to convince himself he was some conniving, manipulating invader who was only after the throne...

The unicorn shifted a little, and then he finally looked away and mumbled grudgingly: “I... maybe for now you should just concentrate on... minding your own business, Sleipnir. I am a prince and a unicorn and... very capable of... of dealing with things.”

Yes... he was. Or at least he was supposed to be... and Blueblood couldn't help but tremble a little as he silently rubbed at one of his eyes, lowering his head in shame. Here he was, panicking and crying and... well...

He looked awkwardly up at Sleipnir, then sighed tiredly as the earth pony gave him that damned smile of his, the unicorn grumbling: “I cannot begin to express how sick and tired I am of seeing that little smirk of yours.”

“Oh, come now, I cannot help but try and be happy!” Sleipnir said encouragingly, and then Sleipnir settled his hooves on the smaller stallion's shoulders again, making Blueblood shift a bit... but much more than the contact, he hated the fact that it was no longer his first instinct to shrug off this... unwanted, undignified touching. “I am no fool, Blue, I know thou and I still have plenty we must try and work out between us. But I would like to believe that we are getting there.”

The young prince grimaced a little, but then he gave a grouchy nod before crossing his forelegs and muttering: “It would be easier if you didn't seem to feel the need to touch me all the time.”

“Contact is important. It shows that we are connected, that I am here, beside thee, with thee. That thou can trust me.” Sleipnir replied kindly, and Blueblood looked up in surprise at how... well... smart the response sounded. But a moment later, Sleipnir grinned and winked, adding cheerfully: “And what is not to enjoy about my touch? Why, I have made many a stallion moan beneath my ministrations, just as I have mares!”

Blueblood reared back with a look of horror at this, and then Sleipnir said seriously, leaning forwards: “And well, thou art very pretty... I am very pretty... very pretty things-”

“Oh, get away from me!” Blueblood snapped, flailing wildly and shoving himself backwards before he yelped and toppled over, and Sleipnir only laughed as he stepped back with a wide grin, the unicorn scowling horribly up at him from the ground. “Filthy... you... you dirty stallion!”

“Aye, I am.” Sleipnir said agreeably, shrugging easily before he said easily: “I shall ask the Royal Guard if any of them have seen thy trinket. Fear not, I shan't reveal thy nightmares to the world, I shall merely tell them 'tis a thing of sentiment from thy aunt. I do not believe any of our friends would steal from thee, Blueblood, but... perhaps 'twas a silly prank, or was done without thinking.”

Blueblood frowned at this, and then he shifted a little as he sat up. He thought for a moment about Sleipnir's words, then asked slowly: “Why did your mind jump to our soldiers first? Because... because they don't like me?”

“Oh, cease that, silly stallion.” Sleipnir chastised gently, and then he shook his head with a quiet chuckle. “'Tis not that at all, in any event. Nay, 'tis simple. Earl Grey is certainly no thief, and no matter what thou may think of Invidia, nor is she. And besides, she has been with us the entire time. There are no other guests, and thy room is ripped to shreds and shambles: that means either the charm has vanished upon its own will, or one of our own soldiers has taken it.”

“Oh.” Blueblood said in a very quiet voice, and Sleipnir frowned a bit as the ivory unicorn looked down, silently rubbing at his chest: he hadn't even imagined that one of his soldiers, these Royal Guard might have... actually...

He shifted uneasily, then realized Sleipnir was looking at him... pitying him. The unicorn hated it, but the only thing he could think to do was try and steer the conversation in a different direction by asking: “Who is Earl Grey?”

“Why, the innkeeper, of course.” Sleipnir smiled and shrugged, and Blueblood scowled a little: he didn't understand still why Sleipnir insisted on learning about everypony they came across. And yet at the same time, it struck him as funny: he and Celestia had been coming here for years for the winter games, and he'd never actually learned the name of the hotel's owner.

The young prince shifted moodily, and Sleipnir studied him for a moment before simply smiling again and bowing his head politely. “But I shall go and speak to our friends, then, and see what they have to say. I'll return to thee once I have talked to our soldiers. And do not take this to heart, young Blue, no matter what the answer: 'tis either an honest mistake or an error of judgment, nothing more.”

Blueblood didn't reply, only looking at him warily, so after a moment Sleipnir simply nodded again before turning and letting himself out. He frowned a little as he emerged into the corridor, lowering his head in thought before he looked slowly towards the end of the hall, where Invidia was cooped up.

Late last night, after the drinking contest was over and the common room was in disarray, Sleipnir had headed outside to try and clear his head beneath the stars. He had been feeling... alright. Not good, not bad, and maybe a little calmer and more thoughtful than usual. There had been a lot to think about, after all... and for once, ale hadn't quenched his thirst or quieted his thoughts, but instead brought back all the old memories, of the times he'd traveled with his siblings across Midgard; of the great feasts and endless nights of celebration they'd shared; of laughter and togetherness and...

Sleipnir shook his head and smiled faintly, then he reached up and tapped gently against his temple with a hoof, saying softly: “'Tis not the time for that. And 'tis not the time to question Invidia, either. Thou art perfectly capable of solving this odd riddle on thy own.”

The stallion nodded to himself, then turned and calmly made his way towards the common room, where most of the Royal Guard were still lounging and slowly trying to eat. Almost half of them, Sleipnir was able to immediately dismiss as possibilities: when he'd come back inside early in the morning, he'd seen all those faces sprawled out here in the common room.

There were a few missing soldiers, and a few others who looked... not quite as hungover as the others, meaning they had already shaken off last night's events or had been smart enough not to try and keep up with him. Sleipnir smiled slightly, his eyes flicking back and forth before he strode into the center of the room and announced: “Friends, 'tis good to see all of thee! But I fear that I have a strange request for all of thee as well: it seems our friend Blue has lost something special to him, gifted to him by his Aunts. 'Twould be very nice if it could be returned, 'tis... a good luck charm of some kind, a talisman. I think 'tis green? Or blue? Bah, I have no mind for colors!”

Sleipnir smiled as he looked back and forth: most of the guards looked confused, but... yes. There was one in the corner who looked much more attentive, raising his head, shifting a little bit as he recognized what it was that Sleipnir was talking about.

The stallion strode leisurely over towards this soldier, looking at him kindly: he didn't want to just jump on this poor soul, or humiliate him in front of his friends. So he'd try and give him an easy way out, first. “Does thou know of what I speak? Hast thou seen it? The young prince swears he had it with him, but methinks that the very reason he lost his charm is because he clings to it so tightly. 'Twould be most fortunate if thou had picked it up.”

“I...” Caught off-guard, with all eyes turning curiously towards him and no possible escape, the Royal Guard swallowed a little before giving a shaky smile, saying awkwardly: “I... well... that is to say, I mean...”

Sleipnir only continued to smile, tilting his head ever-so-slightly, and the stallion finally dropped his head and nodded embarrassedly. Then he cleared his throat and nervously rubbed a hoof through his mane, mumbling: “It's uh... in my room.”

“Oh, most excellent. Would thou bring me to it? I do not like to meddle with others' belongings.” Sleipnir said pleasantly, and the Royal Guard tried to shrink his head down between his shoulders even as he nodded meekly.

He carefully slipped out of his seat, and then scuttled quickly out of the common room, Sleipnir striding after him and shaking his head more in amusement than anything else. There was something almost bittersweetly nostalgic about this moment; it brought back memories of all the times he'd had to lecture his daughter about all her wild little misadventures.

But his amusement didn't last long, even as he felt an ironic pang when the soldier showed him the charm: just like his daughter, the stallion hadn't meant any harm, but all the same he'd accidentally broken the charm into pieces.

At least, Sleipnir wanted to believe it was an accident, although the Royal Guard was rambling away at a hundred miles a minute, apparently grasping at any possible excuse for his actions. The earth pony ignored him for the moment, however, studying the pieces of dreamcatcher quietly: string was torn and barely holding together in places, some of the beads were missing, the stone was chipped deeply enough that it had ruined the runic engraving on it.

He shook his head briefly, then finally held up a hoof to silence the guard, who dropped his head and mumbled an apology. But Sleipnir only chuckled quietly at this, shaking his head again and murmuring: “Nay. 'Tis not I whom thou must apologize to. Thou must take this and apologize to Blueblood. And I pray thou will be honest when thou does it.”

The Royal Guard fidgeted uneasily, and then he suddenly blurted: “But he's such a... a jerk! And I really didn't mean to break it, I... I don't even know why I took it!”

Sleipnir frowned at this, and then thrust the broken charm towards the guard, who flinched back from it. He shrank even further from the earth pony's stern voice, as Sleipnir chastised: “How can thou be a brother-in-arms when thou acts at the same time like thou has never heard of fraternity and comradeship! Blueblood is like a colt, making his first steps into this world... 'tis our duty to help him be a strong and bold stallion, not to make him hate the world! Oh, how thou disappoints me!”

The soldier had almost cowered down to the ground now, and he swallowed awkwardly before nodding a few times and mumbling: “I... well... it's just that... I mean, he's always been...”

“The past is the past. Thou must let it lay where it has fallen, not disturb it and drag it forwards. How can our young friend but repeat the mistakes he has already made if his fellow ponies expect nothing more, and treat him as if he is not trying to change? For he is trying. Thou has my word upon that.” Sleipnir said quietly, shaking his head before he sighed and studied the charm in his hooves silently. “Damnation. This is not a craft which I can mend, either.”

He looked down moodily for a few moments, then glanced up at the soldier before once more holding the pieces out. And this time, at least, the Royal Guard took them, biting his lip before Sleipnir said quietly: “Thou shan't belittle him or patronize him. Thou shall tell him the truth, in whole. And aye, I do not expect our prince to be so grown he will take this well. But all the same, thou shall treat him with compassion. We learn best from example, watching kin and kindred.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then the Royal Guard nodded a few times before he carefully hefted the pieces in a telekinetic grip. He shifted uncomfortably, then looked awkwardly up at Sleipnir before saying finally: “I really... didn't mean for anything like this to happen, I... I know that much. I just... I don't know why I did it. I really don't.”

Sleipnir only smiled faintly, then gestured quietly at the soldier: the pony dropped his head and hurried out, looking back once like a chastened foal before he vanished around the corner, and Sleipnir sighed. This was going to take time and effort to mend... and moreover...

He frowned a little, narrowing his eyes. That soldier was... Velvet Hoof, if he remembered his name right. A lieutenant, respected by the other soldiers from what he could recall: they had been telling a story about him last night, hadn't they? How he had once saved his entire platoon by baiting a hydra into a ravine, but he was too chicken to ask a mare out on a date.

The other soldiers liked him, thought highly of him. And Velvet Hoof had seemed to take honest pain in Sleipnir's words, even if he'd also tried to weasel out of his punishment... but had he really? No, he had been rambling away, certainly, and it had sounded like he was making up excuses... but what if Velvet Hoof had just been trying to figure out himself what the real reason he'd gone and stolen such a precious thing from Blueblood himself?

Sleipnir felt like he was missing a piece of the puzzle... but he thought he knew what that piece might be. Blueblood's nightmares, nightmares that had apparently plagued him during all his years in Canterlot... but hadn't bothered him at all the last few nights, like they had lost track of them. And maybe that was because... something had lost track of Blueblood for a little while.

The stallion rubbed at the underside of his muzzle thoughtfully, closing his eyes. Sure, Blueblood was constantly snapping at everypony and trying to assert his princedom... but it was easy to see how all of that was just Blueblood trying to protect and cling to the few things he had in life. His aunt, the little power he had, the hopes and dreams Sleipnir didn't think he entirely believed in, no matter how often he bragged about how he'd one day rule Equestria.

No, Blueblood was ruled by fear, by real and imagined slights and threats; he was an insecure little colt, easily manipulated and emotionally-loud. Demons, spirits, plenty of things would love to lock on to Blueblood and devour his emotions: Invidia's reaction to siphoning up some of Blueblood's pain was proof enough of that.

Maybe that was what Invidia was after, too... but Sleipnir put her out of mind for now. If she had wanted to actually harm or feast on Blueblood, she'd had a thousand chances by now to do far worse than break his sleeping charm. But maybe some kind of demon really had been preying on the prince for all these years: that would explain why he was absolutely terrified of Invidia, and yet couldn't settle on any reason why.

Heavy thoughts... thoughts all usually better left for his older sister, but... since she wasn't here, Sleipnir figured he'd have to try and bear this burden himself. He smiled a little at this thought... and then winced when a blood-curdling howl came from down the corridor, followed by swearing and the sounds of objects hitting walls and hoofsteps fleeing rapidly.

Sleipnir grimaced, but didn't panic or rush as he let himself out into the corridor, watching without surprise as Blueblood half-fell out of his room, shouting angrily after who the earth pony assumed was probably Velvet Hoof. But in spite of his rage, Sleipnir could see Blueblood was already collapsing into tears, and the earth pony gave a faint smile before he shook his head and strode towards the unicorn.

Well, figuring out the rest of this riddle could wait. For now, he had his ward to attend to.