• Published 17th Apr 2015
  • 12,650 Views, 2,306 Comments

The Prince - BronyWriter

Prince Antares, formerly the human TD Powell, helps lead the ponies of Equestria through the trials and tribulatons his nation endures.

  • ...

Johnny Get Your Gun

"Come, Antares. We must prepare."

I stared down at the letter that stated without a doubt that everything that I had worked for was ultimately for nothing. All of our maneuvering, our gambits, our planning, useless. We were at war, and we couldn't do anything to stop it. All because Purgle couldn't just bucking leave Ara alone.

"Antares." I flinched when I felt Celestia's hoof on my shoulder. "There is much to do."

"I know," I croaked. "I just... want a moment to process this." I sighed and shook my head. "But we're royalty, yeah? We don't get that." I got to my hooves and folded the letter up, stashing it in my feathers for safekeeping. Somehow it made me want to shower again. I folded my wing against my side, but still kept it a half inch out, as I walked alongside Celestia and Luna.

"So, you've done this before. I think I was eleven the last time my country declared an actual war. What's next?"

"Next, unfortunately, is one of the hardest things we will ever have to do as rulers of Equestria." Celestia turned her head to me to look me in the eye, allowing me to see the fear that had started taking hold. "We have to tell them. We have to tell our ponies that they will soon be enduring the horrors of war."

"A concept that they won't even begin to grasp until they get on the battlefield, I'll bet," I muttered.

"That is, unfortunately, the way of things." Celestia gently draped her wing over my back and nuzzled my neck. "Do not despair, Antares. Our ponies have strength in them that surprises even me sometimes. This will be the worst thing in each of their lives, and the last in many cases, but I promise you that we will endure. They may have known peace their whole lives, but when threatened with something like this, our little ponies will rise to the challenge."

I deeply exhaled and nuzzled Celestia back. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess." We continued walking again. "I dunno, I just feel like we failed them somehow. It's our main job to keep them safe and healthy, and with war we can't do that."

"Perhaps," Luna said, coming alongside me. "But you forget that Purgle was going to look for any excuse for his war. 'Tis only grave misfortune that has caused him to blame Ara."

I flinched back at that name. Ara. Poor little Ara, who only struck out in fear and anger without knowing what he was doing. How could he? Then the sight of him contentedly nuzzling up against his father like nothing had really gone wrong at all... I sighed and lowered my head.

"He's going to be the most infamous pony in the world soon, and he's not even going to know why. He just followed instinct against something that scared him. But even beyond that, how is it going to be for him growing up? That one moment is going to come back and haunt him for the rest of his life. Heck, Veritas is probably going to catch some of the flak too, just by virtue of being his sister and just as poisonous as he is."

"Possibly," Luna said with a nod, "though that is why you are there. You are their prince, Antares. Your magic created them, so it is your job to keep them safe from what they will endure, while trying to give them as normal of a life as you can."

"Yeah." We reached my throne room and stopped. I listened to the sound of the paltry few ponies moving about the castle, completely unaware that we were now at war. Well, they would be soon enough. I sighed and shook my head. "Well, I'll make my announcement to the media tomorrow, okay? I'll just give the basic details, talk about the draft, give them a morale boosting speech, and so on. After that..." I shrugged. "I'll start setting up volunteer offices. We need to get factories going for wartime materials, crops to feed our armies, and..." I looked in the direction of my secret room. The one where I designed human weapons. What I had was good, but not enough. I turned my head back to Celestia and Luna, both of whom were giving me curious looks, and rubbed my temple. "And just a million, billion other things that will rear their ugly heads when we don't want them to."

"Such is the nature of things, but do not fall into despair." Celestia gave me a sad smile and wrapped a wing around my shoulders. "I have fought many wars over the course of my long life. More than even Purgle can imagine. We will get through this. I promise you."

"You've fought in a lot of wars, huh?" I softly exhaled and lowered my head. "So does that mean that, given I'm just as immortal as you are, I'll have to go through a lot too?"

Celestia moved closer to me and raised my head with her hoof before giving me a slight nuzzle. "Do not think on that, Antares. Dwelling on the distant future will not help. You are a prince of Equestria, and your little ponies need you here and now. They will look to you more now than they ever have before, and I know that you have the strength to lead them. I have seen it in you, even if you are not aware that you have it."

"I don't want to see them die," I whimpered.

"But they will, for that is the nature of war, I'm afraid." Celestia hugged me closer, and I felt two tears drop onto my shoulder. We both sat down so that I could lean my head against her chest, while Luna sat on my other side and draped a wing across my back.

I sniffled and wiped my eyes, trying to prevent the tears from falling. "I-if you think about it, really, this is my fault. If I h-hadn't ascended, then Purgle wouldn't have started to warmonger, Ara wouldn't have stung Bludworth, h-he wouldn't feel threatened by my human weapons, the battle outside my palace wouldn't have happened, a-and--"

"Antares, stop it." Celestia raised my head, forcing me to look her in the eye once more. "You are not to blame for this conflict. He is. You tried everything that you could to avoid this. If Purgle didn't have you to force his fear and bravado on, he would have done it to Twilight when she ascended. And if he didn't target her, he would have found something else. He was looking for any excuse. You cannot blame yourself for something completely outside of your control.”

"I guess." I paused as a thought struck me. "So since we're now officially at war, and doing so wouldn't incite more problems, can we just assassinate that stupid little jerk now? Instead of removing a figurehead, thereby rallying the minotaurs around a martyr, it would be removing the leader of the opposing army, on top of the fact that their high general also just died." I raised my head as a small spark of hope appeared in my chest. "Yeah, if we decapitate the army, then they'll be much easier to fight. Of course, we'd just throw Cromwell into the mix too, and maybe the other dukes, because why the heck not? Do that, then install Kathyrine as the new Griffonian monarch, totally loyal to the country that saved her life and put her on the throne, not to mention removed several major threats and gave her the revenge she wanted for her dad..." I grinned and nodded. "Yeah, that could work."

"It very well may, though I feel that it is prudent that we take this one step at a time, yes?" Celestia said, standing up and extending a hoof to help me to mine. "What we need to do next is tell our subjects what is happening. Then we should begin production on wartime materials, institute a draft, set up volunteer stations and training camps." Celestia sighed, her eyes closed and her ears flat. "We may be at the start of a tumultuous time in our nation that will last years, and that's not even counting the after-effects. Winners do not walk away from war unscathed."

"Yeah." I took a deep breath and rubbed my temple. "So should we try again to see if we can't get Zebrica on our side? Zebrican berserkers would be invaluable to have on our side during battles."

"yes they would, though President Mando has been rather adamant in insisting that his country will remain neutral in our war," Luna said.

I shrugged. "Maybe, though maybe we can see if some Zebricans would be interested in joining up. I know that during both world wars in my country, individual Americans went to go fight overseas before America as a nation entered the war. Could be something to look into."

Did it make me feel bad talking like that? Seeing if we could snag some soldiers from a neutral country for our own gains? Maybe, but every soldier counted at this point, especially with how outnumbered we were.

One day at a time, Antares. One day at a time.

"Until then, we will return to Canterlot and make a press statement regarding the upcoming war," Celestia said. "You will do one here as well. Keep it simple, keep it brief, and I trust your judgement on what questions you do and do not want to answer. Regardless, we shall exchange the details of our press meetings after the fact."

I nodded. "Roger. I'll have a stenographer there the whole time."

"Good." Celestia lowered her shoulders as if some air of formality had faded away, and she gently nuzzled the side of my neck. "We'll get through this, Antares. I'm sure of it. Keep your head high. Our ponies need that."

"Same to you two," I said with a slight grin, prompting a half-chuckle from Celestia and Luna. The moment of mirth didn't last very long, though, and our expressions quickly returned to ones of grim seriousness. "I'll talk to you two later, okay? Right now I have to prepare my statement for the press. I'll announce it today and make it tomorrow." I turned my head to the side exit of my throne room. "And I have to talk to Tulip. She's been a wreck, and Valiant has had a hard time being the rock for that family. He needs more help."

"Of course, Antares. We shall speak soon," Luna said.

Luna and Celestia turned and began walking out of my throne room, only stopping when I called out to them one more time.

"Celestia, one more thing..." I took a deep breath. "I'm using my human weapons. The ones I've developed on top of whatever else I come up with. It's going to suck, but I want this war to be over fast."

Celestia stood as still as a statue, but I could see the gears turning in her head. Luna looked at her, then to me, then back to her sister, an uneasy look on her face. She leaned in and whispered something to Celestia that I couldn't quite hear, and Celestia nodded.

"I trust you, Antares," she said after a few more moments. "How you use that trust is up to you."

"I understand."

Without another word, my fellow monarchs walked out of my throne room.

* * * *

I hated how Tulip and her family didn't get to spend much time out of their interior suite in my palace, and next to none outside of the palace itself. It was just too dangerous with the country so uneasy about their foals. I didn't want to risk something happening to them. I didn't think that my subjects would go and attack Ara and Veritas, of course, but the staring and the gossip and the photos that ponies might take, even if they were under guard, could potentially be damaging.

Man, Tulip is my most loyal servant, and she had to go through that? Dang.

I reached the door to Tulips suite, which was guarded by two guards at all times. They nodded when they saw it was me, and opened the door, allowing me entry. The moment the door opened, Tulip and Valiant rushed towards it with worried looks on their faces, looks that faded to relief when they saw that it was me. Ara and Veritas rested on their parents' backs, their drooping eyes and calm demeanor telling me that I probably caught them just as they were being put down for their nap.

"Prince Antares, it's wonderful to see you again. I trust that everything is going..." Tulip hesitated and exchanged a glance with her husband. "Better?"

"Well, that's what I dropped by to talk to you two about." I walked closer to the family, drawing the attention of the sleepy foals. They both looked up at me, and through I noticed that they didn't have the energy for more than a small smile, I could see in their eyes, their slitted blood red eyes, that they were happy to see me. Veritas reached a hoof out to me, and I took it in my own, flashing her a smile. She nuzzled up against her mother's back and made a noise of contentment.

"They really do have an amazing connection with you, Prince Antares," Tulip said with a smile. "I think that they're going to be even more devoted to you than I am."

I chuckled and gently patted Ara on the head. "Not sure how that's possible, but I foresee them becoming great ponies. They'll change the world, that's for sure."

They arguably already have.

"Either way, these world changing ponies need to go down for their naps, I think," Valiant said, beckoning the two of us to the side room set aside for the twins. "It'll be easier to talk if we don't have the two of them being grumpy and tired."

"Fore sure," I replied as we entered the nursery. "Besides, what we have to discuss isn't really for them to be privy to anyway. Not that they'd understand it, but I'd still like it to just be the three of us."

"Of course, Prince Antares," Valiant said with a nod as we approached their crib. "Just give us a moment."

"Take your time."

Now, generally when parents put their foals down in their cribs, they set them inside the crib and tuck them in. We figured out pretty quickly that Ara and Veritas had no intention of going along with those sleeping arrangements. The first night that they were able to, about three weeks after their birth, they actually climbed out of their crib. Now imagine Tulip's surprise and fear when she came to check on her foals and discovered that they weren't where they were supposed to be. After a minute or so of frantic searching, she found them in the one place that everyone searches, but no one ever is: under their bed. Turns out the two of them had actually taken each of their blankets out with them and covered themselves up underneath the crib.

Well, they are scorpions, after all. They like darker, more confined places. If I had the same shoe size as I did on Earth, I'd have to start checking my boots for the two of them before putting them on.

Well, from then on, we figured that we wouldn't bother with trying to keep them in the crib, so we rigged a new set up for them. We flipped the crib upside-down, set a mattress on the floor, and put larger versions of those half, hollow logs that people put in snake living spaces for the snake to crawl under. Now, did all of that make the two of them look like pets or zoo exhibits? Yup. Were they happy with the setup, particularly those logs? Oh you'd better believe it. They knew what those logs were for the minute we tried them out, and by some unspoken agreement between the two, they each picked one and didn't deviate at all.

I felt kind of weird about it, but it worked.

Valiant lit up his horn and lifted the crib up, allowing Ara and Veritas to crawl underneath their hiding spots. I laid down in front of them and smiled when I saw them nuzzled up against their pillows, curled up in their blankets. They seemed to be content, as if the world around them didn't have a single problem.

I wish. I wish they were truly as safe as they felt.

I took a deep breath and stood up, beckoning Tulip and Valiant to the other room so we could begin our talk. Valiant cast a Foal Tracker spell on the crib, the spell equivalent of a baby monitor, only it monitored their vital signs as well, before they followed me out of the room, turning the lights off so that their children could sleep.

"I envy them," I muttered as Valiant closed the door behind us. "They look so happy. Reminds me of when I was a kid. Life was a lot simpler back then." I snorted and shook my head. "I wasn't ruling a nation."

"So, uh..." Valiant exchanged a confused look with his wife. "When you say 'kid', you mean human child, right? That's what humans call their children? You're not talking about baby goats?"

I gave a humorless chuckle and rolled my eyes. "Yes, Valiant. Young human." I waved my hoof and walked over to a large, comfy couch and laid down on it. Resting my head on one of the foreleg rests. It didn't look very regal of me, I must admit, but on the other hoof, these were two of my most loyal and trusted ponies. I could relax around them a bit.

"So, I suspect you want to know why I want to talk to you, and you're freaking out because I'm acting serious."

"Well, yes," Tulip said as her and her husband took their seats in front of me. "I take it the news isn't good?"

I grimaced and shook my head. "No, I'm afraid not." I hesitated for a moment. It hurt to see their scared expressions. It really did. I didn't want them to know. Why did I have to tell my ponies these things? Why did it have to happen at all? I sighed and bit the bullet.

"Bludworth died from the sting Ara gave him. Purgle used that as his excuse to declare war. As of about an hour ago, we are officially at war with Griffonia and Minotauria."

Valiant's jaw dropped and he held his hooves up to his mouth while Tulip instantly burst into tears, wrapping her forelegs around her husband's barrel and leaning against his shoulder. Valiant embraced his wife, giving her a comforting nuzzle before looking me straight in the eye.

"Prince Antares... it will be an honor to march alongside my fellow ponies to protect this great nation in your name," Valiant said quietly.

Tulip gasped and hugged him tighter, looking up at him with fear in her eyes. "NO! Please don't go! What about our foals?!"

"Tulip, honey..." Valiant gently removed her forelegs from around his barrel. "I am a soldier. I fought alongside my fellow soldiers to protect Prince Antares, and now the time has come for me to do it again. I'm no coward, and I'd be ashamed to stay behind while my brothers went off to protect Equestria." He hugged her head to his chest and nuzzled her mane. "Besides, I'll have something else to fight for: you and the foals."

Tulip half laughed/half sobbed as she nuzzled her husband. "That was a cheesy speech," she said, wiping her eyes.

Valiant snorted and began rubbing her back. "Yeah, well, no one ever called me eloquent."

"I love you anyway, you big lug." Tulip's half smile fell, and she turned her head to me. "Does he really have to go?"

I nodded. "I'm afraid so. I need every able-bodied stallion and mare that I can get, and your husband is one of the best ponies I have. I am not asking him to do anything that I would not do myself. Literally. I will take my place by my soldiers' side on the battlefield."

Tulip gasped and vigorously shook her head. "No! You can't do that! The other side has a lot of Nightmare Weapons! What if you get killed?!"

My ear flicked at the mention of Nightmare Weapons, but I gave her my best attempt at a comforting smile. "Don't worry about that, Tulip. We're going to do everything that we can to make sure that the Nightmare Weapons never even make it onto the battlefield. Even if they do, I'll make sure that they don't come anywhere near me. My human weapons will see to that." I got to my hooves and walked over to the couple, putting a hoof on Tulip's shoulder. "It'll be okay, Tulip. Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, Princess Cadance and I will make sure of that." I removed my hoof and straightened up, looking towards the door. "I must go now. I'm not sure when we're going to march out to meet the armies, but it will be soon. I'd suggest that you cherish your time together. Equestria is going to change a lot in the coming months. Permanently, most likely."

"Of course, Prince Antares," Valiant said, standing up to bow to me. "We are at your service."

"Of that I have never doubted."

I trotted out of the room, leaving the two scared ponies to talk things over. Ugh. I had a million freaking things to do, and the clock seemed to be ticking faster every second. I left the room and closed the door behind me, nodding to the two guards. I stopped halfway through a nod when I saw that one of them was Private Blaze. He saw me staring at him and saluted me.

"Burning Blaze."

"Yes, Prince Antares?"

"Your soldiers need you, Captain Blaze. I need you."

With that, I trotted away, giving one last glance to my most valued soldier to see tears brimming in his eyes.

* * * *

With a burst from my horn, I cast a spell over my eyes to shield them from the hundreds of flash bulbs going off in my direction. I waked out to the podium already set up for me, my face a careful, blank mask of stoicism that us alicorns are known for. I ignited my horn and adjusted the microphone to an acceptable height, then raised my hoof to quiet down the dull chatter filling the courtyard of my palace. A few more flashbulbs went off, but a look from me stopped any more of that.

"Good afternoon, mares and gentlecolts. Before we begin, I must inform you that I will not be answering any questions at this time. That is for a separate press conference that the Crown will be doing in the next week or so. I am here only to make an announcement. Nothing more."

My mind flashed back to Roosevelt, to Churchill, and I realized that this speech would be repeated in history as long as my ponies remembered this war. I internally said a short prayer for the first time in years.

Help me, and help my ponies.

"Yesterday, the newly formed nation of Minotauria sent us a letter stating that their High General, Bludworth, died from the sting inflicted upon him by one of the newborn scorpion ponies. Bludworth was the last minotaur official that wished for peaceful negotiations between our nations. With his death, King Purgle found the reason he has been looking for since my ascension. The letter ended with the words 'The alliance of the Kingdom of Minotauria and the Empire of Griffonia do hereby officially declare war on the state of Equestria.'"

The crowd went wild at that, to say the least.

The flashbulbs started going off again, and the noise from the gathered reporters was deafening. I heard overlapping questions about what we were going to do with Ara, what our plans were, and so on. I heard ponies panicking, ponies crying, and I saw many ponies just staring at me in shock. I raised my hoof to about face level and kept it there, my expression not changing a single molecule. After about two minutes, the ponies in the crowd seemed to realize I wasn't going to elaborate further until they calmed down, and the chatter faded away, leaving the courtyard silent once again. Once I was sure I had the floor again, I cleared my throat and put my hoof back down.

"We will be instituting a draft, and I assure you that we will not play favorites. Everypony of age and sufficient health is eligible, regardless of race, gender, or social class. The monarchs of Equestria will take the battlefield alongside our soldiers. We do not expect you to do anything that we would not do ourselves. We will also be setting up volunteer stations for any of you who want to sign up to protect Equestria. I must also warn those of you in industry. Much of our economy will be geared towards the war. We have much to manufacture to sufficiently defend our great nation.

"I understand your worry. It is reasonable, and I urge you all to remember that fear is not cowardice. Fear is the first step towards bravery. I know that I have not ruled this land as long as Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, or even Princess Cadance, but believe me when I say that during my time as your monarch, I have seen what you ponies are capable of. If the minotaurs and griffins wish to fight us because they see us as easy prey, they will find themselves surprised by our courage, our strength, our resourcefulness, and our resilience.

"Equestria has stood as a mighty nation for longer than anyone can remember, and some warmongering leaders are not going to bring us to our knees for the sake of their egos. They are fighting for pride, but we are fighting to protect our families, our homes, our neighbors and friends, our livelihoods, and when all pretense has been stripped away, and their soldiers are standing upon the field of battle and seeing what they have brought upon themselves, they will realize that they do not want to die for the pride of their leaders. But each and every Equestrian soldier will charge into battle and will fight with every fiber of their being. For they know that their actions are to make sure their families are safe from the tyranny of the invading forces. For every step that our enemies take onto Equestrian soil, we will make them pay with more blood and death than they ever thought possible.

"We do not do this alone. Sultan Mesud of Saddle Arabia has pledged his support, as have the Crystal Empire's forces. Together we shall show them the price of tyranny, and the downfall that it leads to. My beloved subjects, my fellow Equestrians: I will not lie to you and say that this time will be easy. It won't be. It will change us. But we will win. And when their armies are decimated, they will understand that our nation is not one to be trifled with. We love peace, but that is not a sign of weakness. They will understand that, and we will emerge from this crucible as strong as we have ever been."

I tilted my head to the crowd.

"Thank you."

* * * *

The country more or less went absolutely berserk.

After Celestia's press conference that pretty much said the same thing that I did, we began immediately gearing up for battle. Mesud sent twenty thousand soldiers to Equestria to protect our borders while we got our army ready, which was the first thing we started doing. We set up those volunteer stations in every single town in Equestria, and within a week we had ten thousand volunteers, with more coming in every day. That was on top of another five thousand we received from the first round of the draft. The buffaloes had also joined our side, mostly because the minotaurs would be attacking their land, too, so they had every reason to stand and fight. I had scientists working on mass producing my human weapons, which I kept under extremely heavy guard. No need to play that hand until we were ready.

As I had hoped, a few battalions of Zebrican berserkers entered on our side, and we were trying to see if we couldn't use them to get President Mando to support us in full. Unlikely, but a guy can hope.

Great. I wanted to avoid this planet's World War One, and here I am trying to get it organized.

I finished writing a letter to Cadance requesting that the Blade Wings use their contacts to give us a list of every single high ranking officer in both enemy militaries. It would be easier to cut the head off of the minotaur if we knew which head we were going after. With that done, I put it in my outbox on my desk where Time Keeper would pick it up and send it. Content that all of my desk work had been finished, I stood up and walked out of my office towards my throne room. Court was starting soon.

I didn't really look forward to it. Ninety percent of the petitions had been about the war. It got to the point where I had some of my staff go down the line asking the petitioners what they wanted, and if it was a simple question, or something that I didn't deal with, they'd direct them to the right pony.

It cut down on the petitioners by over half.

I walked into my throne room, escorted by Valiant and Private Blaze. I moved to my throne and sat down on it, looking down at Blaze to see if I couldn't discern his thought process. He hadn't so much as made eye contact with me since I asked him to take the captain's post again. Pity. I know he'd take the field with me, that wasn't in doubt, but I needed good leaders like him.

I took my eyes off of Blaze and nodded to the guards manning the doors. They saluted back and ignited their horns, pulling the large double doors open to allow the first pony in. Upon seeing who entered my court, I subtly grimaced.

Two ponies, one mare and one stallion, both with solemn expressions on their faces and dressed in black, trotted up to my throne and bowed low before me. They held the bow longer than I thought to be strictly necessary, but I saw the game they were playing at. Always nice to see my favorite noble this side of Blueblood.

"Prince Antares, we have come to ask for the lives of our children," County Vichy said, still bowing to me. "My sons received their draft notices yesterday evening, telling them to report to some training camp near Canterlot to become soldiers. Please..." Vichy stood up, and nudged his wife so she'd do the same. "They are the only heirs to our family name. Should they fall in battle, the Vichy name will die out for good. I-if they must go to war, give them positions as medics, or some other job where they are not on the front lines." Vichy bowed low again. "I beg of you, Prince Antares. I will give you anything you ask for. Just don't let my sons die."

I stared at him for a few moments, studying him. On one hoof, he annoyed me. I said from the start that the nobility was no more safe from the draft than the farmer picking oranges in a small town. On the other, though, I could understand. These were his children. He had seen them grow up, and loved them dearly. He didn't want them to die. Still...

I took a deep breath and cleared my throat, something that made Vichy stand up straight instantly.

"No." I raised my hoof to forestall any retorts. "I won't just let your sons die, of course. They are not fodder for me. They are not there to absorb arrows while the important soldiers do the real fighting. However, I said from the start that I would not show any special treatment in the draft. I meant it. I'm sorry, but your sons will march to war."

The mare instantly burst into tears, and Vichy looked at me like I just told him he was my new castle toilet cleaner. I could see a mix of incredulity and rage in his eyes as he tried to formulate a response.

"N-now Prince Antares, let's be reasonable here!" He took a step towards me. "You can't expect my sons to just abandon their duties to their family to go to war! You're not being fair!"

"Fair?!" My face twisted into a snarl as I shot to my hooves and flared my wings out to their fullest extent. "How in Equestria do you have the gall to say that to me?! Fair?! None of this is fair! We didn't ask for this war, but it's been thrust upon us anyway! I said that everypony was eligible for the draft from the moment I announced it, yet you come here begging me to play favorites with you?!" I scoffed and stomped towards them, something that made them quickly move back. "What of the other families whose sons and daughters are being sent off to war?! The ones who don't have a drop of noble blood? Many parents will lose their only children, Vichy, for that is the nature of war! What, you think you're better than them or deserve special treatment because of your wealth and standing? That is not the way that my country will be run, do you understand me? I will not have my little ponies look at the upper class and feel resentment because they have to go die, while the children of the nobility sit at home free from the worries of combat!"

I stomped my hoof on the ground and internally grinned when the two of them flinched back.

"I myself am taking the field alongside my subjects! If the highest authority in the land is fighting, what makes you think that your sons should be exempt? I don't want them to die; I don't want any of my subjects to die, but that is the path we walk together."

My anger faded away, and I folded my wings back against my sides. I closed my eyes, lowered my head, and rubbed my temple. The war hadn't even started and already I was tired of the whole thing.

"Should your sons die, we'll mourn. We'll mourn everypony who gives their life for Equestria. But understand that they will be heroes. You can be proud of them; proud that when the time came, and they had to choose between doing their duty or running like cowards, they chose to stand and fight to protect all they knew and loved." I looked back up at Vichy and his wife, both of whom were staring at me in awe, and sighed. "It's the fear that millions will have to endure in the coming months. Not just you." I turned around and began walking back to my throne. "Now go. Cherish what time you have left with your sons. If they don't report for duty when they're told to, they'll be arrested for treason. But that's not going to happen, is it? They'll do the right thing, and you'll be more proud of them than you have ever been in your lives."

* * * *

I groaned when I looked at the clock and saw that it was only five in the evening. I just wanted the day to be over. No such luck, I guess. I finished court and headed to my dining room for dinner. I told Time Keeper to tell my chefs to surprise me. I was in the mental state where food was just food. My brain shut itself off hours the moment I declared court over.

Right then I just wanted to eat something and relax without any interruptions.

"Prince Antares!"

Me dammit.

I inwardly groaned, but turned around to see one of the scientists I had on staff, Bubbling Beaker, trotting towards me, a stuffed manila folder floating lazily next to him. I didn't really like how wide his eyes were, as I knew it meant big news. Most likely bad.

I forced a neutral look onto my face and nodded at him. "Good evening, Mr. Beaker. How can I help you?"

Bubbling Beaker slipped into a hasty bow before shooting back up and waving the folder in my face. "I have been doing research on the venom from the two scorpion pony foals, and I have made a startling discovery!" He took a few sheets of paper out of the folder and shoved them in front of my face. I went cross-eyed trying to read them, gave up after a few seconds, and brushed them aside.

"How about you just give me the short version?"

"Oh, yes, of course." Bubbling Beaker chuckled uneasily. "My mistake. Anyhoo, I took a look at some properties of the venom and discovered that it matches very closely with certain hallucinogens. You mentioned that Mr. Bludworth was brushing his body like he was trying to get insects off of him, right? Well, if my data is correct, he was. He believed he saw insects crawling all over him as a result of Ara's sting."

"Great," I muttered. "So that stuff really isn't something you want to mess around with."

"Oh, but there's more! Something much more important!" Bubbling Beaker stuffed the papers back into his folder. "I ran some further tests on the venom to discern its potency. I know you didn't want it tested on living creatures, but I compared it to known potency levels of other venoms such as cobra, hornet, other scorpions, and so forth." Bubbling Beaker's eyes somehow went wider, and he stepped forward to stand on the tips of his hooves, putting his face uncomfortably close to mine. "Prince Antares, scorpions are just as venomous from youth as they are as adults, and I suspect the those foals are the same. When I checked the venom potency, I saw that it wasn't the type of venom mean to kill, but merely one intended to incapacitate! Keeps the meat fresh, I suppose. A healthy minotaur like Bludworth should have had no problem pulling through after the sting. It would take a week or two before he was back to full strength, but unless he was allergic to it somehow, which I find highly unlikely, the poison didn't actually do him in."

Really? Wait, so that means...

My face paled as the implications of his findings hit me. I gently pushed him back down to his hooves and put a hoof up to my mouth as my brain digested this new information.

"So you're saying that it's very likely that someone murdered Bludworth?"

"I'd say it's almost definite, Prince Antares."

And I had a pretty good idea of who. I really wouldn't put it past Purgle to get his war by murdering the one general of his who was for peace.

That son of a bitch.

I took a deep breath and gave Bubbling Beaker a weak smile. "Thank you for telling me this, Mr. Beaker. Should you find out anything else about their venom, don't hesitate to let me know."

"Of course, Prince Antares. I shall get back to my research at once."

* * * *

The cool night air drifted around me as I landed on one of the balconies of Canterlot Castle, hoping that my trip here wouldn't be in vain. I walked up to the large windows and looked through them, smiling when I saw the object of my affections sitting on her favorite pile of pillows and reading something or other. I raised a hoof and gently knocked on the window, making her jump a little. She looked over to her balcony and smiled when she saw me standing there. I returned it as she stood up, trotting over to her window to open it, letting me in.

"Good evening, Antares," Celestia said, exchanging a nuzzle with me. "How was your day?"

"Awful," I groaned. "And I expect to have a lot of days like today coming up."

Celestia chuckled and nodded. "Yes, I foresee many such days myself. It will be alright eventually. We will win this war and time will heal our nation."

"Yeah..." I paused for a moment. "We did more research on the scorpipony venom. Turns out it's not nearly potent enough to kill someone like Bludworth. It's designed only to incapacitate. I'm guessing that Purgle killed him so that he'd have an excuse to have his war."

Celestia's smile fell, and she sat down on the floor, her head lowered. I sat down next to her and wrapped my wing around her shoulders.

"But... just for tonight, can we forget all of that? Just for tonight, let's pretend that you and me are the only ponies in the world. No war, no death, nothing. Just us."

Celestia looked back up to me and smiled before leaning in for a kiss.