• 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.

  • ...

The War Of The Drunks

Chapter Eight: The War Of The Drunks

Blueblood spent another day gathering and hauling rocks for Sleipnir, and then he helped him stack and arrange them all neatly together. It struck Blueblood as being nothing but a waste of time, and yet at the same time he was starting to... well, he didn't enjoy it. But it made him feel tired in a strangely good way, and it kept his mind off things like Invidia, or his nightmares.

Thankfully, both those things had been absent: the demon was likely feeling utterly humiliated right now and had run away, and last night had been dreamless and restful. He'd only managed a few hours of sleep, but he had never slept much... the fact that he hadn't spent the night reliving twisted memories had been more than enough to help him feel a thousand times better. Well, that and the fact he hadn't woken up hungover, either.

When evening rolled around, Blueblood had found himself taking their nightly drinking game far more seriously than he had before. And to his surprise, his seriousness seemed to rub off on the soldiers, as a few of them even approached him and volunteered some of their ideas. Food had seemed to help last time, but along with that...

Blueblood took the inn owner aside, and made a special order. He would pay full price for every glass of ale, but he wanted all the ale for his soldiers watered down, heavily, and served with ice. He also requested breads, muffins, dry foods that would suck up as much alcohol as possible.

Ever-benevolent Sleipnir seemed well-aware of what they were doing: as a matter of fact, he even seemed to be encouraging it. It made Blueblood nervous... and feel somehow unsurprised when he woke up the next day with a horrible stomachache, hugging his gut with one foreleg as he stumbled his way to the bathroom in desperate need of a toilet.

He fell into a routine: every morning, he'd wake up either in bed or at the table, depending on how drunk he'd gotten the night before. Sometimes Invidia would try and catch him in the hall, but he always made a beeline for the bathroom, and usually he was able to hide inside long enough that the demon would get frustrated and leave. Then he would head to his room to reassure Auntie Celestia he really wasn't wasting all the country's money, that it was really all going to a good cause, before eating a quick breakfast with the Royal Guard.

Sleipnir would come and get him at some point, and the afternoon – and often the early evening – would be spent doing some kind of menial task that Blueblood would scowl and complain about, but found himself... not quite enjoying, perhaps, but always reasoning and rationalizing that it was better than doing nothing all day.

Then they would have dinner, and Blueblood would find some time for himself before Sleipnir dragged him down for their drinking game. Invidia would sometimes be present, and other times she would hide away: either way, she always left once the drinking got going in earnest, clearly no longer wanting to be a part of this 'game' of theirs.

But Blueblood was more and more wondering exactly what Sleipnir was trying to do here, why he was pushing this so hard. It clearly was so much more than just a game to him, after all: the earth pony wanted him to work out the solution to this problem, to beat him... and to do it fair and square. And so far, everything Blueblood had tried had done nothing but manage to make his soldiers sick and waste countless bits.

Blueblood went over and over again everything they'd tried: even watering down the ale had just meant that they ended up getting sick of drinking long before they were drunk, and more often than not, the soldiers surrendered to stomachaches and the foul taste. Most of them, anyway... that idiot Velvet Hoof always did his damnedest, as if that could help make up at all for having smashed Blueblood's sleeping charm.

The unicorn hadn't forgotten about that, but since the nightmares were coming few and far between, he had decided to focus for now on just beating Sleipnir at his own game. He could call for Velvet Hoof's punishment later: as little as he liked it, the prince understood that he needed every hoof available if he was going to somehow outdo Sleipnir.

It made him wish that Invidia would just join them again for another night... but the demon still scared the hell out of him, even if he was trying his best not to run away whenever she approached these days. She was apparently going to continue to travel with them no matter what, after all, so he figured that he might as well attempt to make the most of it.

He remembered that night still: how she and Sleipnir had gone drink for drink for so long, and they had been drinking almost the same amount... well, almost. Sleipnir always had that big flagon of his, while they all used cups...

Blueblood frowned a little in thought as he sat at the table, resting his face in his hoof. A few of the soldiers had come over and were looking at him awkwardly: he wouldn't say he was quite friends with any of them, but... well... he knew a few of their names, at least. And even if they didn't really like each other, they had started to listen to him... and he admittedly had started to acknowledge them maybe a little more than he had in the past.

The cups... yes, that might work. Except... no, Sleipnir could easily drink twice, maybe thrice as much as they did in a single gulp. And he always matched his pace to whoever was drinking the fastest, as somepony had pointed out, like... like he was racing to stay in the lead, even though...

Memory flashed in Blueblood's mind, of Sleipnir grinning at him, telling him the game was still on in spite of the fact that Invidia was sprawled on the floor and the other soldiers were helpless. Blueblood remembered it vividly, because it had been the first time he'd willingly admitted his defeat... and when he'd turned the glass over, then Sleipnir had said he was done. Because... because...

Blueblood's eyes widened as an idea sprung to mind. A crazy, stupid idea as he looked back and forth, and one of the soldiers leaned in and asked almost anxiously: “Did... did you come up with something, Prince Blueblood?”

“I... yes. Maybe.” Blueblood muttered, and then he looked back and forth to make sure Sleipnir wasn't around before saying quickly: “Bring everypony in, I've got a plan.”

And... the soldiers listened. It amazed him, how fast they went about their work instead of dragging their hooves, and how they all leaned in attentively... but Blueblood forced himself not to let too much of his surprise show on his face as he cleared his throat and looked back and forth, trying to summon up his princely authority...

Princely authority. That was a joke, wasn't it? And... well, he didn't have time for all that right now, did he? Sleipnir would be here any minute, and they had to get ready before the earth pony came in, and... and to hell with it, the Royal Guard didn't care about him anyway. He was lucky they listened to him at all as it was, and there was just no point in pretending otherwise. He needed to beat that big oaf Sleipnir. He needed to, because... he needed to prove himself.

It only took him five minutes to explain his desperate, gambling plan, and that included talking to Earl Grey, too. And only a few minutes later, Sleipnir entered with a wide grin... before laughing as he saw Blueblood was already seated at their usual table, and the soldiers were already helping Earl Grey carry out the different kegs: pure ale for Sleipnir, heavily watered-down stuff for them. “Oh, well now! What a pleasant sight this is, 'tis-”

And then Sleipnir cocked his head curiously as an enormous stein was set on the table in front of him, while Blueblood raised a small shot glass. “How about one-on-one, Sleipnir? I'll even start.”

Sleipnir smiled slightly at this, striding towards the table and saying easily: “Oh? Well, 'tis a foolish thing for the prince to lead the charge, young Blue! After all, if thou falls, who will replace thee? Who shall thou leave with the responsibilities of thy position? Nay, 'tis hard... but a general must stay at the back of his forces, where he can most help his soldiers through the use of his mind. Have I not told thee that?”

Blueblood only leaned forwards, replying almost giddily as he felt like maybe, just maybe, he might finally have the upper hoof: “This time is going to be different, Sleipnir. I'm sure that you can beat me. But I don't think this time you're going to win.”

Sleipnir chuckled at this, and then he grinned widely as as soldier filled his enormous stein for him, before the earth pony swept this up and declared: “Very well then! Onwards, Blue! Let us see what thou hast learned!”

Blueblood grinned in return, then quickly knocked back the shot before a soldier poured him another, and Sleipnir cursed as he was forced to guzzle down his own stein as fast as he could: but even as fast as he could drink, he couldn't do much to hurry how long it took to fill his flagon.

The unicorn did little to pace himself, but each watered-down shot of ale was little more than a mouthful for him, letting him get a good lead before he allowed himself to start taking more time between each drink. Sleipnir, meanwhile, was draining stein after stein, not able to take a breath as he tried to catch up to the unicorn, who purposefully kept himself a few shots ahead. The faster Sleipnir drank, the faster he would get drunk...

But Blueblood soon felt his stomach starting to hurt, his mind getting a bit fuzzy, and he knew it was now or never. And Sleipnir blinked in surprise as Blueblood suddenly got up from his seat, only to be replaced by one of the soldiers, who immediately knocked back the shot.

Sleipnir gaped... then slammed a hoof against the tabletop, grinning widely as he lifted his flagon high and shouted cheerfully: “There! There, aye, there! Now I see thee using thy head... but 'tis not near enough yet to defeat me!”

Blueblood only smiled thinly, knowing that it had to be now or never: they had to make this tactic work. They had to defeat Sleipnir here and now, or they were going to be stuck in a drunken limbo forever, struggling to drown an unstoppable force. And even though part of him hated how stupidly serious he was taking this whole thing... he was determined to win. To prove to Sleipnir and himself that he could win.

They drank until morning, forcing Sleipnir to inhale pitcher's worth after pitcher's worth of ale from his stein in great gulps, while Blueblood's soldiers traded off every time one of them started to get too buzzed. They would stretch and eat and drink water, doing anything and everything to stave off drunkenness and clear their heads – and stomachs, if necessary – before patiently waiting their turn.

And as the sun began to rise, with Blueblood down more than half of his soldiers, and the unicorn running on little more than pure need for victory himself, Sleipnir finally burped loudly as he reached for his flagon of ale, and only succeeded in knocking this over. He frowned almost uncertainly, then hiccuped before his features slowly brightened, like a rising sun.

He giggled, and then looked up with something like childlike awe, staring across at Blueblood as the unicorn looked uneasily back until Sleipnir declared with a strange happiness: “Yes! Yes, I... I am... thou hast won, young prince! Oh, merry day and congratulations to thee, for... for...”

Sleipnir almost flung himself up out of his seat, then swayed tipsily on his hooves before he burped loudly, giggled... and then fell face-first into the table with a tremendous bang that seemed to rattle the entire room. Blueblood and the Royal Guard that remained on their hooves could only gape at the sight of the massive earth pony, half-standing with his rump in the air, snoring placidly away with his face almost indented into the table.

And then Blueblood laughed in disbelief, sitting back... before his eyes widened in shock as the Royal Guards roared cheers, grabbed him and... and celebrated. They celebrated, they sang, they carried him like he really was some conquering general as Blueblood gazed back and forth in amazement, a smile spreading over his face before he pumped a hoof in the air and laughed again, filled with... with warmth. With happiness. With victory.

It was wonderful. It was the best feeling in the world, celebrating side-by-side with these ponies as they... for the first time, they showed him respect, they treated him like... no, not like a prince, perhaps, but something even better. He was one of them; he actually belonged.

Their triumphant celebrations ended too early for Blueblood's liking... but when he went to bed, it was with a smile on his face, and he fell asleep almost immediately. And it was a good sleep, deep and restful: only a few hours, but he felt like he'd slept away the entire day when he got up at noon and made his way down the common room.

Sleipnir was awake now too, and for the first time Blueblood had ever seen, the big earth pony actually looked like all his drinking had caught up to him. Part of Blueblood relished that... but as he watched Sleipnir slowly shuffling around the room with a broom... “Oh, enough.”

The earth pony looked up in surprise, then he chuckled and yawned loudly before waving a hoof, saying tiredly: “Oh, 'tis good to see thee, young... young prince. And I am most impressed by... by thy insight and thy...”

And then Sleipnir blinked in surprise as Blueblood snatched the broom away from him, the ivory unicorn saying irritably: “I don't see why you seem to feel you always have to do all of this yourself. This is Earl Grey's inn and we pay him more than enough to clean up his own business.”

As Blueblood spoke, he absently swept up some of the piles that Sleipnir had made, using telekinesis to guide both the broom and the little scoop Sleipnir had unsuccessfully been moving around. He didn't notice the earth pony's amused smile as he dumped debris and dust into a garbage can, muttering: “You're only making the mess worse, anyway. I'm surprised that with your peasant manners Earl Grey let us stay so long in the first place...”

“Aye, we have imposed upon his hospitality enough. And that is why, come tomorrow morning, we shall be leaving.” Sleipnir said kindly, and Blueblood blinked in surprise, looking over his shoulder in shock as he dropped the broom and scoop.

Sleipnir only chuckled as Blueblood mouthed wordlessly, and then he said with a shrug: “Well, 'twas the deal, was it not? We would move on once thou bested me. Thou hast bested me, and proven thy strength to me. This afternoon, we shall finish our little project on the hill, and then tomorrow... we shall move on.”

Blueblood looked down, feeling strangely... sad. He had gotten so used to being here, and... well, it had started to feel maybe a little like a sanctuary. Canterlot had always been visible in the distance, he was able to quickly trade his letters with Auntie, the soldiers had started to actually like him... and now they were supposed to hit the road again? And did that mean... “Are... are we going to send the Royal Guard away?”

The earth pony shrugged, then said softly: “That I shall leave up to thou, Blue. I said it would be thy decision, did I not? And 'tis, and rightly so. But aye: if thou art ready, then... it is time to begin our journey in true. For that to happen, though, thou must send thy Royal Guard back to Canterlot, for we number too many to cover the ground we must.”

Blueblood hesitated, shifting back and forth before he asked hesitantly: “But what about safety in numbers? What about... I am a prince, and you can't always be there to protect me!”

“Aye, but there is also Invidia. And much as thou fears her, I have seen thou art also trying thy hardest to trust her, and by now thou must know that if she truly wanted to harm thee, she has had the chance a thousand times over.” Sleipnir smiled a bit, saying quietly: “I do not think her aims are so nefarious, ultimately. As a matter of fact, I believe she is very honest when she says she desires a friend in thee. I do not know why, what motives she may have, apart from the fact that she is a lonely mare and thou art a very handsome stallion.

“And at times, Blue, numbers will not win the day. Numbers will only mean losses, and will draw enemies to us as flies to honey.” Sleipnir said gently, shaking his head with a quiet laugh. “Where we venture, there shall be real danger. I do not desire to put our friends in danger.”

“Oh, just me, then?” Blueblood asked pessimistically, glowering up at the earth pony, but Sleipnir only gave him an entertained look in return.

The young prince shifted a little... and then he sighed quietly, dropping his head and muttering: “Great. Well... I... I don't know, Sleipnir. I need time to consider. And I'll have to let Auntie Celestia know and... and why are you so eager to part ways with our soldiers, anyway? I thought you liked them and respected them all... or was that just lies?”

Sleipnir huffed at this, raising his head and replying: “'Tis precisely because I like and respect them that I do not wish to see them dragged along with us, Blue! They can do much good back in Canterlot and this surrounding territory... but most of our days will be naught but marching. Nay, do not think that we are going off on an adventure where every single day shan't be naught but warring and running from traps and beasts. Nay, 'twill be perfectly boring most days: but when there is danger, 'twill be the sort of danger best navigated by a small and able group.

“And I am not eager to plunge thee into danger. I shall do all in mine power to keep thee safe, thou knows this. But I cannot lie and say that we will not go to places where few ponies have tread, and where we may not be entirely welcomed. We may end up in dark swamps, and darker still dungeons, and disturbing things that would be better left untouched in order to get what we will require...” Sleipnir sighed after a moment, reaching up to rub slowly at his forehead before he murmured: “'Twill be difficult enough to have the weight of thou and Invidia upon mine head and conscience. I do not want either of us to return to Canterlot with the weight of lost lives upon us both.”

Blueblood was silent, shifting slowly before he grimaced a little and looked down, mumbling: “I... I suppose I see your point. But still... why are you so sure that... well...”

“Because I have been there before, that is all.” Sleipnir smiled a bit, shrugging easily before he said softly: “I will give thee time. And if thou does not wish to leave them behind yet, so be it. But I shall ask thee every time we camp, every city we reach. And I would not press the issue if I did not believe... thou art truly ready for this.”

The unicorn shifted a little, and then Sleipnir smiled and reached up to squeezed his shoulder, saying amiably: “Thou already looks half the unicorn thou once were, after all. And I do not mean that as an insult, either.”

Blueblood couldn't help but laugh a little at this despite himself, silently reaching up and touching his paunchy belly. Oh, he hadn't lost that much weight, but... but he did feel better. Like more of a stallion, more capable, more able to take care of himself... and that was probably half the reason he felt like he was in such a good mood these days, why he was willing to put himself on the same level as these silly peasants and peons and... this big oaf who... well... “I... thank you,. Sleipnir. I... I really do appreciate it.”

Sleipnir only smiled, like he always did, then he reached up and absently rubbed at his forehead before saying cheerfully: “Thou had a fine idea, by the way... not just in using thy soldiers as I had hoped thou would, but in switching our cups. That I must admit I did not expect: 'twas quite a creative gambit on thy part, Blue.”

Blueblood only smiled a little, feeling awkwardly touched as he shrugged a bit. “Well, I... I suppose it's your fault for making me take this idiotic game so seriously, Sleipnir. And I suppose I've learned a little bit about... not underestimating even a peasant like you.”

The earth pony chuckled, then he said wryly: “Oh, 'tis no finer cure for a hangover than to hear such nice words from thee, my young friend. But come, come, enough of this chatter. We have a job to finish, and thou hast much to reflect on. 'Twould be a waste not to make the most of our time.”

Sleipnir turned and headed towards the doorway, and Blueblood bit his lip, then absently looked down at himself. He had stopped wearing his regal clothes because all the work just made them dirty and tattered, and he had a few rough patches here and there in his coat, and even if he paid painful attention to his mane, he knew that the curls were beginning to lose some of their coiffed perfection and instead fall more in a wild sprawl around his head...

Well... it was fine for now, right? Right. It wasn't like anyone could see him out here and... it was better not to be dressed to the nines when he was dealing with this idiocy with Sleipnir. He was really just humoring the earth pony, too, which was important to do because... well... just because.

Prince Blueblood cleared his throat, then hurried out after Sleipnir before he could think too much: as he'd learned, after all, sometimes it was simply better to just do things than it was to try and figure things out.

Sleipnir, to his surprise, had cut two old kegs in half and attached them each to a balanced pole, so they could haul water. There actually was a natural spring in the mountains, maybe twenty minutes from the hilltop... but Blueblood didn't complain. Well, alright, that was a stretch: he didn't complain as much as he could have, and after a while, his muscles seemed to get used to the load and the monotony of the walk became strangely... pleasant.

And Sleipnir, well... Sleipnir never ran on ahead, was always laughing, and the work seemed to... to heal the stallion, for lack of a better word. His hangover was forgotten along with any other pains from the night before, and he was cheerful and upbeat and... well, Blueblood hated to admit it, but he preferred to see Sleipnir like this instead. There was something strangely... comforting about the fact that, well...

They worked all day to finish what had ended up being... not really a well, not really a reflecting pool. But whatever it was, Blueblood felt strangely accomplished as Sleipnir tossed a bit in, then smiled over at the unicorn and said easily: “Make a wish.”

Blueblood laughed a little, and then he looked at the well and wished for the one thing that always came to mind: that he'd wished for every birthday, that he'd wished for on every falling star, that he'd lost countless bits to trying phony cures for until his aunts had made his sleeping charm and started the ritual of goodnighties...

“Well, thou must speak it out loud. Nature cannot hear thy thoughts, Blue, and there is no time to waste with shame.” Sleipnir said reasonably, and Blueblood looked hesitantly over at the earth pony before he smiled a little, turning back to the well and looking down into the clear water that reflected both dead tree and mauve sunset...

“I... I wish for the nightmares to end.” Blueblood said quietly, and Sleipnir smiled at him kindly before the unicorn shook his head quickly, reaching up and muttering as he brushed at himself: “But you probably think I should have wished for strength or courage instead, or maybe that I should hear voices like you do.”

“Oh, fie on thee, the only voice I hear is the very real voice of nature... and besides, 'tis not like she talks to me alone, friend. She speaks to all of us. Thou must merely learn to listen.” Sleipnir said kindly, and the unicorn tilted his head curiously before the earth pony added gently: “And nay. Thou hast plenty of courage as it is. Between us, there is only one pony that denies thou hast any courage, and 'tis certainly not I.”

Blueblood looked down awkwardly, rubbing absently at his head before he cleared his throat and said finally: “And why shouldn't I wish for strength?”

“Because the strength thou art thinking of shan't do anything but make thy nightmares worse.” Sleipnir shrugged, smiling over at the unicorn before he said softly: “Thou looks at me and sees... oh, I do not know what. I suppose I must seem invulnerable to thee, aye? But I have no magic and there have been many foes in the past that I could not lay hoof upon, because of distance or nefarious defense. 'Twas often my most beloved sisters who would have to save and protect me then... and I shan't pretend that being useless in the fight never filled me with the same loathing I know thou feels from time-to-time. But I am not inadequate, merely because I am lacking in all fields, young Blueblood. And thou art not inadequate because thou art just learning to stand on thy hooves as I do.”

The unicorn looked down lamely, blushing a little before he cleared his throat and asked suddenly: “Who... were your sisters? You're always talking about them but never in more than vague snippets, Sleipnir.”

“Oh, 'tis because 'tis all rather confusing when I speak of them, that is all.” Sleipnir replied with an easy shrug, tipping the white stallion a wink. “But very well. In the world I come from, my siblings are Celestia and Luna. Which I admit is in part is what made the delights with thine aunts so delightful, in its... strange, exotic fashion.”

Blueblood stared for a few moments at Sleipnir, mouthing wordlessly before he twitched a bit, then asked incredulously: “There... there's a version of Auntie in your world, and... wait, you were excited to sleep with her because she was your sister?”

“Oh come now, as if I cannot appreciate the beauty of my siblings even while keeping myself chaste and brotherly!” Sleipnir said crossly, before he grinned and rubbed his front hooves together. “So how could I not seize upon this opportunity in this world? And every part of them was truly blessed with beauty and talent!”

Blueblood slapped his forehead, groaning as he held his other hoof out as if in surrender. “Enough, enough, you... oh, you disgusting little... hillbilly!”

“I am no Billy of Hills! I know no goats!” Sleipnir said in an offended voice, and then he halted and frowned thoughtfully, holding up a hoof. “Well. Nay, that is a lie. Once many years ago I knew a goat, but she was a strange creature. She stared at me the entire time we laid together, 'twas very awkward. And there was the strangest of smells...”

Blueblood rubbed slowly at his face, then glowered at Sleipnir from over his hooves as the earth pony smiled pleasantly back before the unicorn prompted moodily: “So your sisters are really... how does that even work? You keep bringing up all this nonsense about... other worlds, but...”

Sleipnir shrugged a little, sitting back and studying Blueblood thoughtfully: he wasn't entirely sure how much he should really tell the unicorn at this point, but at the same time... he had come to trust the unicorn. And he thought that Blueblood probably deserved some kind of explanation. “Well... very well, I shall tell thou what I can.

“First, thou must know that there are many different worlds, many different realms of Midgard.” Sleipnir said softly, gesturing widely with one hoof. “My Father always called them the Ninety and Nine worlds, but... there may be more. The worlds may be countless, for all intents and purposes; perhaps none know how truly vast this network is, and all of them surrounding the axis of the core world, the center of reality.”

Blueblood scowled a little, shifting uncomfortably: he didn't know how much of this he was actually believing. But considering what he'd seen and learned about since starting his adventure with Sleipnir, and how he had started to trust the earth pony, whether or not some part of him still grumbled about possible ulterior motives... “So you're from... a world where my aunts are your siblings.”

“Oh, aye, that is the greatest defining characteristic of it.” Sleipnir said blandly, and the unicorn gave him a sour look before the earth pony smiled slightly and held up a hoof. “Very well, 'tis not fair to say, I have not told thee much of anything of my world. No, I am from a world that is... wilder than this Equestria. Than many Equestrias. And a world that has seen too many sieges, been the victim of too many wars. I believe my beloved little sister and the stallion I call brother refer to is as Looking Glass World.”

Blueblood nodded slowly, and then he asked hesitantly: “And... and the ponies of this Looking Glass World... they're like you?”

Sleipnir laughed loudly at this, then he grinned widely and winked, patting a hoof firmly against his own breast. “I fear there are few ponies such as I across all the layers, young Blue! Nay, nay: we have many strong ponies, aye, many powerful allies and good, dear friends... but if the ponies of our world are stronger, 'tis not just because they have been forged in fire. 'Tis because they are ponies the same as any here, but who have all the same chosen to stand and live in a world much the more dangerous than this one.”

Blueblood frowned, and Sleipnir said in a warm, honest voice: “True strength lies not in muscle and ferocity, in how much one can lift or how many thou can defeat in the fight. There is more to be admired in the average pony who stands against impossible odds, than a pony such as I, for whom the impossible is regularly made easy by mine strength and skill alone.”

The young prince shifted a bit at this: it was still hard for him to understand that reasoning entirely. But maybe that was because he saw the world from the other end of the spectrum: he wasn't spectacular at anything, after all. Even getting his cutie mark had been a fluke, and... he couldn't even remember anymore what it was for.

Wasn't that ridiculous? He didn't even know what his own special talent was, he was so focused on the throne, on being a noble prince. He didn't know a single thing about himself, really, except for the nightmares, and that he'd been an unwanted foal, and that he was so fortunate Auntie Celestia had come into his life and given him reason and purpose and a home...

Blueblood bit his lip, then he shook his head quickly before looking up as Sleipnir frowned at him a little, the unicorn saying quietly: “Just... I was just thinking, that's all. So you... well... you've traveled between these different worlds before?”

Sleipnir nodded after a moment, studying him for a few more seconds before he decided not to press whatever was bothering the unicorn, answering instead: “Oh, aye, I have, although I lack the power to do so of mine own volition. But my family has always been well-versed in the magic required to do so: and as I have said before, I have seen Asgard as well... why, I have even walked the ice of Niflheim and Helheim, although certainly 'twas not such pleasant circumstance that brought me there in the first place.”

The unicorn laughed dryly at this, and then he shook his head before asking in a half-amused, half-disbelieving voice: “So what were you doing in Helheim? Making friends with demons?”

“Oh no. I died, and the demons claimed me as a trophy.” Sleipnir said with a smile, and Blueblood's smile was cut off immediately, the unicorn looking stupidly at the earth pony before Sleipnir simply shrugged and said softly: “Well, Invidia calls me 'angel,' does she not? 'Tis not quite right, but... 'tis not so far off. But my Father saved me from the ice, and for a time, I served loyally in Asgard. I returned to Midgard, aye, but... well, 'tis a funny story. And even now, I am not quite... alive, I suppose thou could say.”

Sleipnir held a hoof out, flexing it slowly and smiling a little as he studied it silently. “'Tis strange. What is life, what is mortality, young prince? 'Tis too complex a question for me, I am little good at using my head for things more complex than smashing down doors and breaking stones. All I know is that the world is still a strange and wonderful place... and I would much prefer to spend my time upon any layer of Midgard over wasting away in Asgard when she does not need my aid, for Heaven is a very stuffy place.”

Blueblood laughed a little despite himself at this, shaking his head slowly before he muttered: “I suppose the grass always is greener on the other side. Not that I believe you, Sleipnir... you sound completely insane to me.”

Sleipnir only shrugged amiably, replying easily: “Well, fear not, 'tis no bother for me either way. After all, I know it as truth, and 'tis not like I can claim I was not considered quite mad even back home. I was always most irritating.”

“I can see that.” Blueblood said dryly, and then they fell into quiet for a little while, both looking into the odd little wishing well they had made before the ivory unicorn reached up and silently stirred the waters with one hoof, asking: “Why did we build this?”

“To build it.” Sleipnir replied with an easy shrug and a smile, and Blueblood gave him a flat look before the earth pony laughed and said in a reasonable voice: “What we do is not always about what we accomplish, or what the ends create, Blue. Sometimes, 'tis purely about the journey. Any ending is meaningless without first experiencing the path we follow... elsewise, all poetry would be naught but a single line to begin and a single word to end it.”

The young prince looked at Sleipnir for a few moments, opening his mouth... and then he hesitated before reaching up and silently rubbing at one of his forelegs, thinking about how... well... how good he felt. And even if part of him wondered if that meant it had all been one giant waste of time, at the same time part of him understood Sleipnir's strange reasoning.

So he finally simply forced himself to nod, and the earth pony gazed at him with warm benevolence before he reached out and simply squeezed the young prince's shoulder. Blueblood smiled awkwardly at this, but he didn't shrug off the contact either, looking down almost abashedly before Sleipnir leaned back and asked warmly: “Wouldst thou be interested in hearing another tale of mine past? I have many stories of glorious conquests... and I know not if the tales of battle or bedroom are the more impressive of the set!”

Blueblood sighed tiredly, reaching up and rubbing slowly at his forehead before he said sourly: “I would prefer not to discuss another stallion's... 'conquests.' And in any event, I'm still trying to get the image of you and Auntie out of my mind.”

“Aye, thine aunts were quite fierce in bed, though. They had both been longing for a stallion for quite some time, 'tis clear.” Sleipnir said mildly, and Blueblood frowned at this for a moment before his jaw dropped and he stared disbelievingly at the earth pony, who looked curiously back. “What? Did thou think thine aunts were sexless automatons? Nay, every mare needs tending, whether she-”

“You slept with Aunt Luna, too?” Blueblood shouted in a strangled voice, glaring furiously at the stallion, but the earth pony only gave a cheerful smile.

“Well, 'twould have been rude to leave her out after she walked in upon myself and Celestia. 'Twas only proper that I invited her. And I assure thee, I took especial care to give the sisters mine equal attentions.” Sleipnir said kindly, nodding fervently.

Blueblood slowly attempted to process what Sleipnir had just said, his mouth working slowly before he twitched, then suddenly leapt to his hooves, shouting furiously: “Sleipnir, you... you filthy... you harlot!

Sleipnir blinked in surprise, then yelped when Blueblood seized on a rock and flung it at him, ducking under this before the enormous stallion leapt to his own hooves and bolted down the hill, and Blueblood immediately gave chase, swearing furiously as he flung loose rocks and gravel with telekinesis after the earth pony.

The unicorn chased Sleipnir all the way back to the inn before he finally ran out of energy, breathing hard and slowing to a walk as Sleipnir leapt into the safety of the inn. A moment later, he poked his head back out through the doors, saying pointedly: “I did naught that did not come naturally to me. 'Tis my privilege and my duty to provide for mares in need.”

Blueblood scowled darkly, and then he narrowed his eyes as he realized where Sleipnir was before sharply flicking his horn. And Sleipnir squawked as the double doors slammed closed on either side of his head, shaking himself wildly back and forth before Blueblood said moodily: “You're very fortunate that Auntie Celestia never allowed me to learn any combat spells, you... you pimp.”

Sleipnir huffed at this, then he finally wrenched his head backwards, knocking the doors back open before he suddenly smiled. And Blueblood frowned uneasily, then blinked stupidly as Sleipnir said cheerfully: “I shall teach thee to harness thy magic better.”

“You... but you're only an earth pony. An earth pony can't use a unicorn's magic.” Blueblood said after a moment, and Sleipnir only grinned and winked at him.

“Aye, but I would be willing to bet that my horn is much stronger than thine!” he said cheerfully, and Blueblood took a moment to get this before he groaned and slapped a hoof against his face. But before he could make a retort, Sleipnir suddenly became more serious, saying almost gently: “'Tis a discipline the same as many others. If thou shall trust me, I shall strengthen thy horn as much as any of thy muscles. I certainly do not claim to be as good a teacher as thou could have in Celestia, certainly, but I think I will be passable.”

Blueblood looked unconvinced, but he nodded all the same after a moment, figuring... well, what the hell. I suppose I've already... put enough faith in this idiot as it is. “I suppose that... it can't hurt. At least it can't make things any worse than you have already.”

Sleipnir huffed at this, and then he glanced over his shoulder before smiling slightly, saying easily: “Come inside, then, Blue. 'Tis time for dinner. And afterwards we shall enjoy a drink and a gamble with our friends, what does thou say?”

Blueblood hesitated... but before he knew it, it was almost midnight and he was still down here in the common room, laughing as he played another round of cards with the soldiers. Sleipnir, meanwhile, was standing back and watching, a flagon of ale in one hoof and his foreleg around Invidia, who had warmed up to him quite a bit once he had told her that tomorrow they would be leaving, and starting their journey in earnest.

They went to bed that night buzzed, but far from drunk. But Blueblood didn't sleep very well: his nightmares sizzled through his mind, although not with the same intensity as they had before. He still awoke in a cold sweat, trembling and hugging himself, but it didn't take him very long to calm down as they faded from his mind.

He rubbed slowly at his forehead, silently sitting back against the wall and breathing slowly, only glad that... they had been so half-formed in his mind. Unusual but... maybe Sleipnir was actually right about the ale helping him. Not that he'd ever admit that to the earth pony, any more than he'd dare to share this... awful, dark secret with him...

No one knew, apart from his aunts and the old nun at the orphanage where he'd stayed for a few months, until Celestia had rescued him from that hell. And that was just the way Blueblood liked it.

Still, his mind insisted on going back into the past, in spite of how hard he tried to block all those memories out: the memories of his mother, who always smiled in spite of how tired she always seemed; the memories of his father, who was always quiet and had never been interested in him...

Blueblood shivered a little, hugging himself silently. He hated thinking about his parents, and all the answers he would never have. He didn't remember much from when he'd been a foal... so many of those memories he'd locked away. Especially the good ones: it was too confusing, hurt too much to imagine that there might be happy memories of his times with his family when his father had betrayed them, had lured them to what was literally supposed to be their grave.

So much of what he did know had been culled from newspaper articles and interviews and reports he'd bribed and blackmailed ponies to get his hooves on, before he'd realized that he wasn't learning anything, this wasn't healing any of his wounds... it was just cutting into him deeper, leaving him with more questions and more suspicions and more fears. It hadn't stopped the nightmares... it was making them worse.

He had buried it all away, but still... he had so many questions. The wounds had never healed, kept fresh and open by the nightmares. And he knew that somewhere out there, in the furthest corner of Equestria, his father was living his life in some little town where no one had ever heard of him.

Blueblood shivered a little: ever since he'd found out his father had gotten out of prison, he'd been afraid that he'd be out for a walk one day in Canterlot, and he'd look up to see the pale, thin figure of his father, watching him. It was ridiculous, but it was a terror that Blueblood had never gotten over, a fear that made him itch, made him paranoid, had always sent him running to Auntie Celestia once he'd spent too long thinking about it...

Part of him wanted to track his father down, find him... and... he didn't know what. Hurt him? Yell at him? Just ask him why he'd done what he did? But he knew that he wasn't brave or strong enough to do any of those things, and that maybe it was better this way. Blueblood had no idea where his father was, and his father had no idea what had happened to his son: even if his father found out what orphanage he'd been sent to, there was no way that old battle axe of a nun would tell him who he'd been adopted by, or what his name had been changed to...

Blueblood shook himself out, breathing slowly before he scrubbed at his features, trying to push the thoughts away. He didn't want to think about this anymore. He just wanted to push it back in his mind and... and forget about all of it. And right now, he was safer than he'd ever been, really: he was on a mission with Sleipnir and... and a real live demon, for heaven's sake. And... all those Royal Guard...

The young prince looked down for a moment, biting his lip as he realized he had to come to a decision about them... but he'd made it already, hadn't he?

Blueblood sighed a little, then looked at his traveling clothes... but for once, he didn't feel like putting them on. His eyes lingered on them, then moved towards his simple jerkin, and he smiled a little at this before picking it up.

From beneath it, a second object slipped free, falling to the ground, and Blueblood scowled down at the cloth girdle. He lifted this with telekinesis, studying it for a few moments before he sharply flicked his horn to the side and tossed it across the room, glaring after it and brushing at himself moodily with one hoof. “I don't know why I ever thought I needed that.”

He huffed and embarrassedly rubbed at his stomach with one hoof before he quickly slipped the jerkin on, covering up his paunchy belly. He awkwardly hugged himself, looking for a moment after the girdle... but no, he didn't need it. He didn't need it, and he wasn't going to give Sleipnir any further fuel to tease him, and he was going to... he was going to do this.

A whole world was opening up to him, and the more Blueblood focused on it, the more he felt his nightmares and bad memories all receding. Like sunlight spreading through an open plain, he could feel his growing hopes and ambitions washing away and pushing back the shadows of his darker thoughts.

Maybe it was because he had a future to focus on now, one that was almost tangible, instead of just... wild, half-believed thoughts about how one day he'd sit in Equestria's throne. He had a future... and that made it easier to bury his past.

Prince Blueblood smiled a little bit at this thought, then he took a breath before deciding that he had dallied long enough.

He wasn't entirely surprised when he reached the common room and found the Royal Guard were already eating breakfast, Sleipnir cheerfully chatting away with Earl Grey at a table near the front before the earth pony glanced up and waved at him quickly. “There thou art! And to think, usually thou art awake before the rest of us: I do not know how to take this omen for our coming journey!”

Blueblood smiled a bit, and then he nervously adjusted his jerkin as he approached Sleipnir before his eyes flicked back and forth. Sleipnir cocked his head inquisitively, leaning forwards before Blueblood said quietly: “I... I think we should send the soldiers back home.”

Sleipnir's eyes widened slightly in surprise, and then he frowned a bit, asking: “Art thou sure? And thou art not merely doing this to try and impress me, art thou?”

Blueblood scowled at this, and Sleipnir held up a hoof after a moment, giving a slight smile before he said mildly: “Very well, very well. 'Twas just a question, prompted by surprise... I did not honestly expect for thou to make this decision so early. Not that I am not glad for it, of course, but... still. Do not... force thyself to do anything thou art not ready for.”

The unicorn smiled a bit, and then he hesitated, looking down at his own hoof. No, maybe he wasn't entirely ready to let the Royal Guard go, and he was afraid of what it was going to be like, those first few nights without the familiarity of those soldiers... and yet, at the same time, he knew that the longer they traveled with them, and the more he got used to them actually treating him with respect and friendliness, the harder it would get to let them go.

It was now or never. He'd realized that right from the moment that Sleipnir had reminded him of his plans, even if at first he hadn't been able to stomach the thought of sending the guards away. But he knew what had to be done, and he'd also come to understand that beating Sleipnir at his drinking game hadn't really been him proving himself, after all: it was just the first step in a long journey he still had to walk. And that maybe, for the first time, he wanted to walk.

“Well, art thou going to tell them?” Sleipnir asked mildly, and Blueblood blinked before the earth pony gestured outwards, saying easily: “They are thy soldiers, are they not? The announcement is thine to make.”

Blueblood paled a little at this, slowly turning his eyes outwards over the common room and the Royal Guard, who all looked upbeat, positive, eager to go... and who had actually started to like him. And now what, Sleipnir wanted him to actually tell all these twenty soldiers that he was sending them back to Canterlot because they'd slow them down?

“I... on second thought, maybe we should bring them with us. Just... just for the start of this campaign, of course.” Blueblood said awkwardly, clearing his throat and straightening, and Sleipnir gave him an amused smile.

“Oh, no, I fear 'tis far too late. Thou hast made thy decision and now thou must abide by it.” Sleipnir replied pointedly, nodding firmly a few times before he held up a hoof and called cheerfully: “Friends! Our young prince has an announcement for thee, concerning thy marching orders!”

The Royal Guard all looked curiously up at Blueblood, who smiled weakly as he looked back and forth before he cleared his throat and managed to say awkwardly: “I... I just wanted... I mean...”

He grimaced a bit, then scowled horribly over at Sleipnir as the earth pony gestured at him a few times with a bright smile, the unicorn leaning over and hissing: “This isn't fair!”

“'Tis perfectly fair! Thou art their leader, not I.” Sleipnir reasoned, shrugging and smiling before he motioned out at the Royal Guard. “Look, thou commands their attention and respect, simply... tell them what they must do, and why.”

Blueblood ground his teeth together, and then he shivered a little as he looked back out over the soldiers, clearing his throat and struggling to figure out what Auntie Celestia would say in this kind of situation. But then again, Auntie Celestia would never be stupid enough to get herself into this situation in the first place, she would just have one of her Generals address the troops, or she would...

The white unicorn looked uneasily back and forth, and then he swallowed thickly before saying finally: “I... all of you are going back to Canterlot.”

Surprise and disbelief ran through the ranks of the soldiers, and Blueblood flinched a bit before he said hurriedly: “It's not my decision, it's... Sleipnir said so! Right, Sleipnir, tell them, you can't make me stand up here and-”

“Nay, I left the decision in thy hooves!” Sleipnir huffed, and then he sat up a little, saying quickly as he rose a hoof: “Friends, calm, please. Now, the prince will explain-”

“The prince is a prince and is going to go and get his things together.” Blueblood said sharply, even as his cheeks flushed with embarrassment and shame, and then he turned and hurried towards the steps. He tripped on the last riser like a foal, blushing deeper and scuttling quickly for the safety of his room.

And downstairs, Sleipnir sighed tiredly as he dropped his cheek against one hoof, looking wryly towards the stairs as the Royal Guard argued and gossiped between themselves, the enormous earth pony reflecting that they had been doing so well... but maybe he'd ended up expecting just a little bit too much out of a stallion who hadn't entirely grown up just yet.