• Published 8th Oct 2012
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Blueblood: Hero of Equestria - Raleigh



Like all heroes, Blueblood will always do the right thing... after he has exhausted every other option.

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First Blood (Part 2)

Something felt distinctly wrong as the itching in my hooves grew worse. As I thought about it I found that this was all rather too convenient; in the vast labyrinth underneath the city, hiding from shape-changing monsters that desire nothing but the complete destruction of our way of life, we come across a small squad of Royal Guard who just so happened to be patrolling through the same tunnel as we were. It was possible, I supposed, but highly improbable. It was the sort of deus ex machina normally found in dreadful action-adventure novels.

As we navigated through the tunnels the nagging feeling of ‘wrongness’ was growing stronger. How did this Guardspony know where he was going? The earth pony’s silence was rather unnerving too. At the very least he would have attempted to strike up a conversation with Cannon Fodder, a fellow comrade-in-arms. The more I thought about t the greater my suspicions grew. At this stage they were merely suspicions, nothing without any grounding in evidence. At this stage in my life I hadn’t learned to trust the odd signs my subconscious used to tell me that something was wrong.

I decided to try and test out my suspicions and trotted up next to Spear Point. Now, I’m a rather tall pony myself, probably due to my distant link with the immortal, giant goddesses who ruled Equestria, but the good Sergeant towered a full head above me. His coat was purest white, in accordance with the Royal Guard’s tradition of dyeing its members’ fur. His eyes, however, seemed impassive and emotionless like his facial expression, which I found rather disconcerting. They seemed glassy, as if lacking life; even Cannon Fodder with his permanently gormless expression seemed more animate than him.

“So,” I said, trying to make it sound like I was trying to make conversation, “the 3rd Solar Guard? It’s a good regiment; I served alongside them during my Royal Guard days.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” he said flatly. “You served in the Royal Guard?”

I nodded, “1st Solar Guard, ‘Celestia’s Own’.”

“The best of the best,” he said with a hint of sarcasm in his voice and a slight smile on his lips. He certainly looked and talked like a guardspony, right down to the tense but friendly rivalry between the regiments. I decided to push him a little further, knowing that Changelings are very good at imitating but could theoretically be caught out when asked about specifics.

“Hmm, 3rd Solar Guard, that means you must come from the area around Baltimare.”

He nodded.

“I’ve always wanted to visit Baltimare, have you seen the Statue of Harmony there? Of course you have.”

The sergeant hesitated a little before he answered, “Yes, you can see it from all parts of Baltimare.”

Got him! I lifted my sword up, pretending to inspect the keen edge of the blade but in actuality bringing it to a more favourable position to strike at the doppelganger.

“The 3rd Solar Guard recruits from Trottingham not Baltimare and the Statue of Harmony is actually in Manehatten. Everypony knows that.”

He stopped, looking at me incredulously in dawning realisation of his embarrassing and costly mistake. The Changeling hissed and his maw opened to reveal rows of sharp fangs that dripped sickeningly thick saliva as he prepared to lunge at me.

I was quicker and rammed the sword deep into his neck to be rewarded with a spray of sickly green ichor.

“Blueblood!” Rarity shrieked, evidently thinking I’ve lost my mind and killed a member of the Royal Guard.

The Changeling hissed and gurgled in pain before finally expiring. It fell in a collapsed heap on the ground like a coat dropping from a hook, and with a flash of green energy his true insectoid form was revealed to all.

Not wasting any time I turned and swung my sword in an arch, slicing cleanly through the other faux-guardspony’s neck. It still bore the same expression of surprise as its head pitched forward and rolled to the ground like a dropped hoofball and its decapitated body slumped to the ground in a fountain of green blood. A brief shimmer of green energy and it too returned to its original form.

“They... they were Changelings?” gasped Rarity. “Oh Celestia, how could they have infiltrated the Royal Guard? Equestria’s last line of defence has been compromised!”

I shook my head, “We don’t know that, it could have just been these three ponies. But we need to keep moving.”

Rarity nodded, somehow growing even paler than her pure shade of white as she stared wide eyed at the bloodied corpses before her. I’d have thought that as one of the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony she would have been used to the sight of blood by now, but then again one as delicate and demure as she would probably never get used to it. Actually, I don’t recall the Bearers ever using lethal force in their adventures and instead preferred to use the power of friendship to overcome the odds. As far as I was concerned, a sharp blade did the trick just as well and without the uncomfortable process of having to form lasting attachments with people I can barely tolerate existing.

Rumbling emanated from down the tunnel, accompanied by the hideous sounds of chittering and shrieks of violence. Instinctively I stepped back to position myself behind Cannon Fodder and Rarity.

“What in Celestia's name is that?” Rarity shrieked over the din.

The Changelings came in a vast seething horde through the narrow tunnels as an unholy cloying mass of chitin, tattered wings, and razor sharp fangs.

Cannon Fodder stood firm, his face grim as he lowered his spear to meet the onrushing mob like an implacable rock before the incoming tide. He fought well, skewering the bug-like monsters on his spear and bucking like a mad horse. Yet despite his firm defence he was swallowed by the tide.

Rarity fared little better. Her face contorted in a mixture of fear and concentration as her horn lit with powerful magics. Gem stones from the walls around us were torn from their hiding places and circled in mid-air around Rarity, entrapped within a pale blue aura of magic. With a shout of exertion she telekinetically hurled the gems at the horde, felling a good number in the volley of lethally sharp jewels.

“Blueblood!” Rarity shrieked at me when she realised that I was standing frozen in terror. “Have you not a weapon? Then for Celestia’s sake I suggest you use it and FIGHT!”

I didn’t.

I ran away.

Yes, you read that correctly, the brave and noble Prince Blueblood, Hero of Equestria, bravely ran away in the face of almost certain death. I heard Rarity exclaim a stream of most unladylike language as I sprinted through the tunnels.

I don’t know for how long I ran, how far, or even where I ran to. All that was on my mind was preserving my own life. But after a while I gathered the courage to look over my shoulder and found no slobbering horde nipping at my tail. Exhaustion was starting to get the better of me; my coat was covered in a thick layer of sweat and grime and my legs were starting to burn with fatigue. I had no choice but to stop and recover.

There was a small alcove where I slumped down in an effort to hide myself, sucking in deep breaths of the stale cold air. I was lost. My special talent for subconsciously knowing exactly where I was and where I need to go wasn’t infallible; I needed to know my starting location and the approximate positions of local landmarks in order for it to work. In my flight I had lost track of everything and all of the tunnels and turnings blurred together in my panic.

I was lost, alone, and I had just abandoned the closest ponies I had to actual friends to almost certain death. The sensation of feeling guilt was unusual for me. I admit in my time I’ve done some rather unpleasant things; I was rude to Rarity in the Gala, I’ve duelled fellow aristocrats over the most facile of slights, and as a colt in Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns I repeatedly bullied this purple filly egghead, but I’ve never once caused a pony mortal harm as a result of my selfishness.

I don’t know how long I sat there in the little alcove trying to recover, but it felt like several hours. Wiping my eyes on a fetlock I finally took a proper look at my surroundings. As far as I could tell, the way I was heading in my flight was going uphill. A thin draft emanated from that tunnel, hinting that there was likely an exit to the surface there. Feeling encouraged by this news and the promise of safety I pulled myself out of the alcove and picked up my sword once more before heading up the tunnel.

The chill of abject fear was worse now that I was alone. I even began to miss Rarity’s incessant whining and Cannon Fodder’s consistently unimpressed expression. My progress was slow as I placed one hoof in front of the other, peering around corners to check for waiting Changelings, and freezing at any out-of-place sound that reached my sensitive ears.

The tunnel turned to the left before levelling out. I followed my instincts, trusting in my special talent to guide me to safety. As it turned out, my special talent also hates me as instead of tasting the fresh Canterlot night air it led me through more winding passages, past crossroads and forks, before finally leading me to a small balcony area that overlook a large chamber.

If it weren’t for the mass of Changelings standing guard over a distraught looking Princess Cadence tied down to a sacrificial altar below me I’d have sworn loudly and profusely.

To this day I don’t know how my special talent for navigation quite managed it. Ponies tend not to have any conscious control over how their special talent works, with the possible exception of a certain purple, gifted unicorn I used to steal lunch money from. So it seems my special talent has a rather sick sense of humour; either trying to get me killed by leading me to the largest concentration of Changelings in the catacombs or trying to get me killed by encouraging me to perform some amateur heroics and try to save Cadence. [It is possible that, on a subconscious level, Blueblood earnestly wanted to make up for his previous cowardice but that doesn’t seem to have occurred to him]

I retreated a little into the tunnel, trying to avoid being seen. To my immense relief none of the Changelings so much as glanced up to see a rather frightened white unicorn in a ridiculous uniform above them. The chamber was fairly large, about the size of a medium sized classroom, with the altar on a raised podium in the centre. Half a dozen Changelings were congregated around the altar, chittering and mingling about doing whatever it was Changelings do when they weren’t actively engaged in trying to destroy Equestria.

The altar itself was a stone slab the approximate size of a pony. Princess Cadence lay bound by thick sturdy ropes. Beside the altar Rarity and Cannon Fodder were hogtied on the floor, looking injured and rather worse for wear but otherwise alive and well.

Rarity looked most indignant, as if the greatest problem she was facing was the fact that her dress was utterly ruined, her manestyle wrecked beyond repair, and her pristine white coat looking much like Cannon Fodder’s dirt-induced piebald colour. I noticed a ball gag lodged in her mouth, no doubt her attempt to coerce the Changelings into surrender through weaponised whining didn’t account for the fact they could render her mute with that simple device.

Cannon Fodder on the other hoof still had the same blank expression he always wore, as if his imminent death at the hooves of these monsters was nothing more than a slight inconvenience.

One of the Changelings stepped forwards. It was much taller than the rest, about the size of my Auntie Luna, and its eyes possessed greater intelligence and keenness than the mindless drones that surrounded it.

It was a Purestrain, one of the ‘commanders’ of the Changelings that broadcast the psychic web that bound them to the Hive Mind. They were intelligent, sapient, and, in my experience, rather irritating.

“You won’t get away with this!” shouted Cadence in impotent rage, though to be fair; there was little she could physically do at this stage other than shout clichés at the Purestrain. “My husband will be here, and he won’t be happy!”

“Save your breath, Princess,” said the Purestrain with a great deal of irritation in his snakelike hiss, as if he had been putting up with Cadence’s complaining for quite a while. No doubt with Rarity added to the mix he was very close to snapping.

“I thought our spell banished all of you from Canterlot!”

The Purestrain stepped up to the podium slowly and circled around the altar like a cat sizing up its prey, his draconic eyes fixed upon the shapely form of the Princess.

“Some of us hid under your puerile little city,” he hissed, “where the spell couldn’t affect us. Since then I’ve been planning for the return of my Queen to retake what is rightfully hers. Oh, she will reward me greatly for this.”

The Purestrain leaned in close to Cadence, and she turned her head away from his probably rancid breath. “You see, when my Queen took your image for your wedding it formed a firm magical bond between you two. You should be honoured, really, to have been touched by a true goddess. This magical bond still exists, though faint and fading, but with sufficient magic I shall bring our Queen forth from her throne to once more take your image and rule Equestria forever.”

In an abject fit of insanity I jumped. Perhaps motivated by some small sense of duty to Equestria and my goddess-like Aunties or more likely that the situation seemed so hopeless I was willing to risk my life for some vain hope. My life seemed forfeit either way, if I ran away I would be at the mercy of my now unreliable special talent and whatever other Changelings were still in the tunnels. Even if I did make it out nopony would believe my story; it would have to be my word against faux-Cadence’s who would most likely turn the accusation against me.

I landed on a surprised Changeling, the beast’s body crunched disgustingly under my hooves and it expired. I swung my sword in an arc, catching a second Changeling in a horrific laceration across its barrel. It hissed and chittered in pain before keeling over dead.

“Blueblood!” Cadence exclaimed in a mixture of surprise and relief.

There was only one chance. I had to kill the Purestrain and sever this Changeling cell from the hive mind. The hideous creature looked up in surprise, but soon a thin grin formed on its distorted face as I lunged forth with my sword.

I felt my stomach lurch as my momentum was arrested in mid-air. My blood-stained sword fell to the ground with a clatter as my legs windmilled uselessly in the air.

“I was wondering where you went off to,” the Purestrain said, his voice sickeningly sweet with smugness and sarcasm. “So good of you to drop in on us, I wouldn’t want you to miss this.”

I could only watch in pathetic, useless terror as the Purestrain’s jagged horn, a hideous mockery of a unicorn’s graceful organ, illuminated with a baleful green glow. He closed his eyes in concentration, and his ugly face distorted further in the exertion of the spell. The glow grew stronger as more and more magic fuelled the malevolent spell, tearing a distortion in the fabric of reality above Cadence.

The void hurt my eyes and my brain to look at, as the skein of existence itself was bent and torn in various unnatural ways in a swirling vortex of forbidden magics. The Purestrain grimaced in exertion, grunting monstrously as he fuelled more and more magic into this unholy spell. The tear grew wider and wider, and a hideous screeching sound of reality itself being torn asunder filled the chamber. Gazing into the bleak abyss I could make out two green glowing eyes with pure malevolent anticipation. There I gazed upon Chrysalis, the Queen of the Changelings, as she prepared to step through this ethereal bridge and a grim sadistic laughter echoed in the room.

I struggled frantically against the magical hold on me, but it was no use. I was secured as if tied by strong rope. All I could do was float there in mid-air and watch in impotent horror as the beast prepared to return to Canterlot and destroy it from within.

Pop.

The portal burst like a bubble. It disappeared as if it was never there to begin with. The horn-light evaporated too and I fell to the ground in a clumsy flail of limbs. It was all rather anti-climactic really.

“What?” the Purestrain shrieked in confusion. He suddenly locked eyes with me, “What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything!” I protested. I was just as confused as the Purestrain; maybe he got the spell wrong. Unlikely, I don’t know quite how powerful Purestrains are with magic but it is likely that he spent a long time planning this operation and was therefore unlikely to mess up the spell.

The Purestrain leapt over the altar in a single bound. True to my first assumption, his hot breath was disgusting and smelt of rotten meat.

“Tell me how you disrupted the spell!” he shrieked louder.

“I didn’t! I can barely perform any spells at all!”

“It’s true,” said Cadence, there was a slight grin to her face as she saw her mortal enemy’s plans all turn to ruin before her, “he wasn’t very good in magic school.”

Well, that was hardly a fair assessment. Granted I wasn’t particularly good at the whole studying thing but I did reasonably well at sports such fencing.

The Purestrain scoffed, “No matter, I’ll merely take your place in Canterlot’s royalty and feed off your subjects’ love.”

“Good luck, he only loves himself,” said Cadence with no small degree of snark.

A green flash engulfed the Changeling commander, which soon faded to reveal an exact facsimile of me gazing back. I shuddered as I looked upon my perfect doppelganger; identical to the most minute details; even the little tiny imperfections in my fur and skin, my strong build, and devilishly handsome good looks. The faux-Blueblood grinned back at me, leaning uncomfortably close to my face.

“Eh, I’ve seen better,” I deadpanned.

I did something that in any other circumstances would be considered thuggish and unpleasantly brutal, something utterly below the holy station of my office as a Prince of the Realm and nephew to the living goddesses of Equestria. I head-butted him.

I heard a disgustingly wet ‘squelch’ noise as I found that, by fortunate coincidence, I had rammed my horn into the Changeling’s eye and buried it to the hilt. Something warm and sticky trickled down from my horn onto my forehead, staining my pristine white coat an unpleasant dark green. The faux-Blueblood shrieked in my voice and convulsed in frantic spasms, seeing myself in such pain was extremely disturbing.

I tugged my head back, but found my horn was still embedded in the creature’s brain. Feeling somewhat merciful I summoned a charge of magic and blasted through the monster’s skull. I have to admit that watching my own head explode in a spectacular explosion of blood, brains, and bone fragments was deeply unpleasant. The headless corpse twitched and then fell to the ground, and I soon followed it as the magical grip on my body died with the Changeling.

My limbs were shaking and felt numb; my stomach churned and threatened to send up the canapés I had eaten at Fancy Pants’ party. It was peculiar how the relative warmth and comfort of the party felt so distant at the time. I picked up my sword with my magic and turned to face the Changelings congregating behind me.

The mindless beings reverted to instinctive behaviour, seeing the pony that just killed their leader they turned tail and fled down the tunnels.

“Blue-y, would you please be a dear and untie me!” Cadence shouted, waking me from my stupor.

I stepped over the still-twitching corpse of the Purestrain; thankfully his body reverted back to his natural form so I didn’t have to look upon my own dead body. Still splattered with Purestrain brains all over my face I must have made for a hideous sight, and all I really wanted at this moment was to take a shower.

Cadence was freed easily, who rewarded me by leaping up and enveloping me in a tight bear hug. Rarity and Cannon Fodder were next, the latter mumbling a thank you and the former wearing a harsh scowl at me.

“You ran away,” she said, her voice dripping with venom. “Once again Blueblood you showed your true colours as the miserable cur that you are, leaving me and this brave stallion to face the Changelings on our own! But most importantly, my dress is ruined beyond repair!”

“Rarity!” shouted Cadence; her weary features were fixed in an expression of surprise. “Blueblood just saved us, the least you could do is show a little gratitude.”

She sighed and her expression softened somewhat, “But, you did come back for us, and in the end you were very noble. Perhaps there is hope for you yet, Blueblood.”

I was far too weary and tired to even think of an adequate response. My legs felt like jelly and were about to cave in underneath me and, despite my fatigue, adrenaline kept my heart pounding against my ribcage. My stomach clenched uncomfortably and felt as if somepony had somehow tightened a vice around it. The bleak surroundings were starting to get to me finally, even after the main threat to our safety had just been eliminated, the claustrophobia of the tunnels and my enforced captivity with Lady Rarity was making short work of my limited patience.

Truth is I was still feeling rather ashamed of my flight earlier. Though it all worked out for the best in the end, I can hardly consider myself a shining example of Equestrian royalty after I had just left a mare to almost certain doom to save my own hide.

“Let’s...” I gasped, my head feeling rather light and woozy after so much exertion. “Let’s just go.”

Fortunately my special talent deigned to behave itself and actually led us to the courtyard of Canterlot Castle. After explaining our situation to the bewildered Night Guards stationed around, who also dragged a tired looking Shining Armour out of the castle’s war room to be with his darling wife.

In the pure darkness of midnight the castle was silhouetted against the brilliant night sky, and illuminated by the pale light of Luna’s moon. The castle itself was a vast compound built into the tall mountain to which the entire city clung like a limpet on the side of a ship. Vast towers reached into the sky; tall minarets of white marble with purple and gold accenting that disappeared into the light cloud cover above.

The courtyard itself was illuminated by a few torches and a spotlight. We had dragged ourselves out of a hatch in the centre of the well-manicured lawn. The courtyard was maintained by a vast army of gardeners who fought an eternal war against weeds, without whose efforts the courtyard would descend into chaos and anarchy. Bushes were cut into pleasing shapes, and night blooming flowers, probably planted on Auntie Luna’s orders, were on display. Looming over us was a huge statue of Princess Celestia looking down with her characteristically warm and motherly smile expertly carved onto the stone.

I cringed somewhat as the two embraced tightly, such displays of affection in public are most unseemly. Worse still, she started gushing to her husband about how I heroically dived into battle and fought off the entire Changeling horde and Purestrain single-hoofedly and somehow disrupted their unholy ritual with powerful magic.

Before Shining Armour could direct his inquisition upon me, Rarity and I made our excuses and left for my personal suite in the castle. Being the Princesses’ beloved nephew afforded me certain privileges, chief amongst which was having my own little part of the castle to call home. I invited her along, mostly because I didn’t feel like being alone that night. Rarity’s tired eyes sparkled at the prospect of staying in the castle. Cannon Fodder, however, was ordered away by Shining Armour and the last I saw of him he was heading back to the barracks.

The Royal Guard, at least what was left behind before Equestria’s military was mobilised for war, were starting to form up to deal with the stragglers I’d left behind at Fancy Pants’ party. I mused that saving their expensive little hides and averting disaster would help boost my ailing position in the social hierarchy of Canterlot’s high society.

We slipped away as the happy couple were distracted. I had to admit it had been a very long time since I had taken a mare home, and I was even more surprised that Rarity agreed to though I assume she was just as weary as I was. Therefore neither of us would be up for the sort of debauchery that usually happens when I have female company.

My personal chambers were modest compared to the abodes of Celestia, Luna and Cadence, consisting of a small living room, a master bedroom, and a small guest bedroom. Since I rarely ever used these quarters, instead preferring to sequester myself in my ancestral estate elsewhere in the city, it was sparsely furnished. Even so, it was comfortable enough and the servants kept it reasonably clean and ready for the rare occasion I have reason to stay there.

I retired to bed early, but only after a brief but vigorous scrub to get the dried remains of Changelings from my fur, as I was unwilling and incapable of playing the host that night given the circumstances. Besides, I had a full day of work to look forward to in the morning and no doubt the full investigation to deal with. Rarity too said little and slinked off to the guest room to do... whatever it is she does. Rest most likely, but that night I slept with one eye open in case she turned out to be a Changeling and come for me in the night.

As it happened I survived the night, which is how I’m currently writing this ‘confession’ that you are currently reading, whoever you might be.

I contemplated throwing a sick day; I certainly felt like I deserved one, but on the other hoof without my inspired leadership the Equestrian armies would lose out on their valuable supply lines. How will our brave stallions and mares on the frontlines survive without tiny pieces of metal to hold sheets of parchment together?

I went through my morning routine robotically; though it was difficult without the servants around to assist me in the basic tasks that should be beneath a noblepony such as me. Usually one couldn’t move in Canterlot Castle without being mobbed by servants, but with near-total conscription for the war effort being enforced, good servants were rather difficult to come across now.

I left Rarity sleeping in my guest room. I decided against waking her, as she was most likely not a morning pony. Hopefully she would have had the good sense to make herself scarce once she does drag herself out of bed.

Fortunately my office in the War Ministry was located in the castle, along with nearly every aspect of the Equestrian government. Not really the best idea, in my humble opinion, as it meant we were one airstrike away from decapitating the entire state. Then again, I’m only a Prince...

I was slightly groggy and not paying attention to exactly where I was going. I couldn’t find a servant so I had to go without my customary morning cup of coffee to jumpstart my sleep-addled brain, therefore I was merely relying upon my somewhat temperamental special talent to lead me to where I wanted to go. Without Cannon Fodder there to handle the bulk of the pointless, meaningless bureaucracy I dreaded to think what the office would look like. The mares there, bless them, did their best but on the whole seemed to believe that gossiping was more important than processing paperwork.

Inevitably I wandered straight into something as my nose bumped into the cold steel of an armoured breastplate. Yelping in surprise I dropped back on my rear.

“Watch where you’re going, peasant...” my admonishments died in my throat as I finally looked up to see the stern visage of my Auntie Luna gazing down upon me as an exterminator would on a nest of termites. “G-good morning, Auntie,” I stammered.

“You will address me as Princess or ‘Your Highness’,” she said coldly. I was thankful that she didn’t employ the use of the Royal Canterlot Voice, at this range I would have been rendered deaf permanently. At the very least she finally learned to stop speaking in Ye Olde Butchered Equestrian so I can actually understand a word she’s saying.

For those of you unfamiliar with the darker half of Equestria’s ruling royalty, Princess Luna is bloody terrifying. At this stage she had just started to loosen up a little, but she still maintained a stern adherence to the ancient protocols of royalty and a rather aloof detachment from the affairs of us mere mortals. [My sister was rather upset at her absence from the Battle of Canterlot as she was busy patrolling Equestria’s outer borders, which explains her sour mood at this time]

“Sorry,” I mumbled as I got back up. Well today had gotten to a good start already, it’s not even time for elevenses and I’ve just insulted the pony who can make the moon crash into the earth on a mere whim.

She was an unnaturally big pony, but not quite as large as her elder sister Celestia. Yet despite the slight disparity in size, Luna was infinitely more imposing. Where Auntie Celestia was warm and comforting in a motherly way, Luna always seemed cold and distant as if my mere existence was an affront to her regal sensibilities. [It should be noted that Luna refused to believe Blueblood was even slightly related to us for the following decade] I couldn’t help but wonder if this is what it felt like for commoners when they spoke with me.

Her coat was a dark blue like a clear moonlit night, her body sleek and well defined with muscle, and her mane and tail had become ethereal in a dark imitation of Celestia’s rainbow. Peculiarly she was clad in armour, probably a ceremonial thing now that Equestria was at war. It didn’t help that her armour made her look even more like Nightmare Moon than usual.

“I have been told of your heroism,” she said, without breaking her seemingly permanent scowl. “I thought you to be a rather useless little colt; vain, arrogant, and soft, but you have proven me wrong.”

“Uh... thanks?” I said, not quite sure what to make of the thinly veiled insult masquerading as a compliment.

“Come with me,” she said.

I shook my head, “I have to get to work now, supply lines won’t manage themselves.”

“It was not a request,” she said coldly and turned about face to march off down the hallway. I sighed and followed her, not relishing the future task of having to explain my lateness to my immediate superior; the Minister for War.

Her iron shod hooves clopped loudly against the marble floor, drowning out my relatively weaker hoofsteps. I dreaded what she might have had in store for me, and if I had any indication of what exactly she had planned I’d have turned tail and ran and not stopped until I was safely across the sea in Zebrica. Evidently she had heard of the previous night’s misadventures, probably from Shining Armour who, in turn, got his evidence from Cadence and Cannon Fodder. If what I overhead last night was any indication, Cadence still believed wholeheartedly that I heroically waded in against impossible odds and freed her. On the other hoof, Cannon Fodder could be trusted to tell the complete truth, but then again I doubted the dim little unicorn was capable of understanding what was going on around him.

We stepped through into the War Ministry, through the vast nameless corridors that led off into offices and cubicle farms where hundreds of ponies spent all day going through the mountains of paperwork for military supplies to the frontlines. The office mares stepped out of Luna’s way, and I could imagine the sheer amount of gossiping and office politics that would go on after they saw their boss being carted away by the Night Princess. Oh, I’d never hear the end of it now.

“It has been centuries since Equestria last went to war,” said Luna finally, ending that damnable silence. “Even then they tended to be border skirmishes. The last great war we fought was against Nightmare Moon one thousand years ago.”

“Equestria will prevail,” I said, mindlessly parroting the latest propaganda phrase dreamt up by the Ministry of Misinformation. [A common nickname for the Ministry of Information, Equestria’s propaganda department]

“Indeed.”

We descended down some steps to an area of the castle I had never been before. Despite being practically raised here there were always parts of this ancient citadel that were off bars to me. As far as I could tell we were entering the bowels of the War Ministry, beyond the nice and comfortable world of supply management and into the meat of the grisly business of waging war.

In contrast to the bright and airy offices above, and indeed the rest of the castle, the war rooms were dark and foreboding. There were no windows, meaning the only light came from burning torches fixed upon the walls and iridescent magical orbs that floated about fifteen feet from the stone floor. Unicorn and earth pony guards snapped to attention as we passed them, looking as still as statues with the only signs of life from them were the slight swivel of their eyes.

“The Changeling threat is unlike any other our nation has faced,” Luna continued as she led me down the corridors. “Our armies are well-trained and well-equipped but inexperienced. We fight an enemy that has the ability to infiltrate our own, blend into the ranks, and therefore sow chaos and confusion amongst our armies. Morale is at an all time low. To this end my sister and I are creating a new institution that will monitor our armies for any Changeling infestation, will enforce strict discipline, and punish cowardice and incompetence.”

Which was all very good but what did it have to do with me? Already my hooves were starting to itch uncomfortably again, and I was rather getting tired of feeling that so frequently.

We came to a door finally, just as my legs were starting to ache with exertion. With a quick flicker of telekinetic magic, Luna pushed it open gingerly and revealed a room rather reminiscent of the interior of a fashionable clothing shop. It was a fairly large chamber with numerous mannequins arrayed like soldiers on parade, all wearing the same uniform I had never seen before.

“The Royal Commissariat,” said Luna proudly, waving a hoof triumphantly at the uniforms.

They were almost entirely black. Consisting of a black double-breasted storm coat with red frogs and lining, and opened up with wide lapels and a high collar. They had shiny brass buttons, crafted with the royal seal of Equestria’s diarchy. There was a red sash tied around the waist. Completing the ensemble was a high peaked cap, also predominantly black with red lining, but more noticeable was the winged pony skull badge in the centre.

“It’s all very nice, but why do you need me here?” I said.

Luna looked down on me and for the first time since she had returned to Equestria I saw her expression soften. “Last night you displayed the necessary qualities to become a commissar. You were loyal to your duties and courageous in the face of mortal danger; you were tenacious and didn’t give up; you were resourceful and employed quick thinking when it seemed all hope was lost.”

I hardly thought headbutting a Changeling Purestrain and accidently blowing out his brains counted as being ‘resourceful’.

“Furthermore, you proved to be remarkably level-headed. You could have stood your ground like any hot-blooded, testosterone-fuelled ‘hero’ but instead you retreated so that you might strike the enemy when he was at his most vulnerable.”

She leaned her head down to my level, and I gulped slightly as I already worked out exactly what she had planned for me.

“I want you to be the first of the commissars,” she said, her voice quiet but laden with the full weight of what she was about to explain to me. “You will don the uniform and go to the frontlines to be attached as regimental commissar to the 1st Night Guard; they are a new regiment who require the stern hoof of the Commissariat to watch over them. You will be responsible for discipline and morale; you will inspire the weak and guide the lost. You will also punish the incompetent, the cowardly, and the treasonous. You will embody the divine will of the Royal Pony Sisters and provide a perfect example for your troops to follow. Is that clear, Blueblood?”

I nodded, not wanting to spend an eternity exiled on the moon or some other celestial body for disobeying the divine will of my Auntie Luna. I didn’t have much of a choice but to accept and be wrenched away from the relatively safe life I knew and loved.

“Well, go on, put your new uniform on,” she said with a hint of childlike glee in her voice. Judging from the big pony skull on the cap I assumed she probably had some hoof in designing it, from what I could tell from speaking with Auntie Celestia; Auntie Luna was always into rather morbid things like skulls and spiders.

Resigned to my unfortunate fate I did as I was told, casting off the red dress uniform I had just grown used to and putting on the slightly ridiculous black commissarial uniform. She must have gotten my measurements from somewhere as the uniform fit perfectly, which made a change from usual Royal Guard uniforms which tended to come in only two sizes: too big and too small.

I looked at the grinning pony skull on the cap. “Princess,” I said tentatively, “my hat has a skull on it.”

Luna rolled her eyes, “It is to inspire fear; fear ensures loyalty you see.”

I put the cap on and then set it at what I thought would be a jaunty angle. Despite the grinning skull and the morbid colour palette, once I beheld my reflection in one of the full length mirrors in the room I thought it started to look rather dashing on my regal self.

“Skulls,” I muttered, “we are the good guys, right?”

The moon goddess ignored my quiet complaints, “Come, there is something else.”

From there we stepped back into the corridors. I followed slightly behind her, lost in my own thoughts of where exactly my life was headed now. I had some experience of frontline Royal Guard duties, but I never saw action (unless you count the Great Canterlot Snowball Fight of ’05). For me, life in the Royal Guard revolved around sitting in the officer’s mess drinking myself into unconsciousness and getting into duels because I insulted some other toffee-nosed aristocratic officer. Yet now, with total war on our doorstep and the fate of Equestria hanging in the balance I was to be dragged into brutal conflict and not only that but I would be directly responsible for the lives and well being of thousands of ponies.

I had never been responsible in my life! I suppose you might think otherwise, given the amount of power and prestige that a prince of the realm should have. Not so, I had very little political power and my position was hereditary and symbolic more than having any real purpose, which suited me just fine. I could have all the wealth and glory of being a prince without the difficult task of actually ruling.

Perhaps if I did such a bad job of leading/monitoring this Night Guard I could be demoted and bumped back into a nice cosy desk job. Or maybe I wasn’t actually expected to do any fighting on the frontlines and could instead sequester myself a couple miles behind our troops in a relatively comfortable tent. I had to rely upon my ability to lie and weasel my way out of things to survive. Of course, at that point I wasn’t aware of the sadistic games that fate likes to thrust upon me; whereby any attempt by me to move further away out of obvious danger merely pushes me into less obvious but more calamitous peril.

We came to another room, this one apparently some sort of weapons R&D laboratory of some description. It was small, but that was merely because of the vast banks of machinery and equipment lined up against the walls. Huge banks of thinking machines, like vast bookcases, lined the walls. Pretty red and green lights flickered in a sequence only understandable to a select few of ponies capable of comprehending such information. Another machine vomited forth a steady stream of parchment, printed with graphs and esoteric symbols that hurt my brain just trying to comprehend it.

“Sir!” Cannon Fodder called out, and I finally noticed him strapped to a chair and buried amidst a small but growing mountain of that parchment. There was a bowl helmet on his head with numerous wires that led off into the machines around us. “This mare is crazy, please let me out.”

I frowned, looking around for signs of this mysterious mare.

“Who?”

“Me!” A lavender unicorn with purple hair with red highlights burst out of the parchment pile. I recognised her immediately, the crazed look in the eyes of Twilight Sparkle on a study binge seared into my soul from early childhood when we were classmates in Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. Her eyes were wide but the pupils shrunken into tiny points and her mane was even more unkempt than unusual.

“Twilight Sparkle,” said Luna, shaking her head. “I thought I told you to get some sleep and let our test subject rest.”

Twilight’s ear twitched and she cocked her head to one side. Her mouth was cracked into a disturbingly wide grin. “I know! But I couldn’t sleep because I had so many more theories and hypotheses to test out and I haven’t had a proper test subject in a long time!” The unicorn paced around an increasingly terrified Cannon Fodder, her voice babbling excitedly with barely comprehensible magical terms being thrown about the place haphazardly.

“Twilight,” Luna said more firmly, but the unicorn kept babbling and fiddling with Cannon Fodder’s bowl helmet.

Bracing myself for what was coming next I crouched down and plugged my ears with my hooves.

“TWILIGHT SPARKLE!”

The full force of the Royal Canterlot Voice sent the parchment flying to the back of the room along with the hapless unicorn. Two of the machines close to us started smoking and sending off sparks of electricity across their buckled surfaces. My ears were still ringing painfully as I pulled my hooves back and slowly stood up.

Twilight stumbled out of the parchment pile once more. Thankfully her eyes were back to normal and her expression was a little less manic than before; the Royal Canterlot Voice must have shocked her back into that strange new world called reality.

“Hehe,” she laughed nervously, “sorry, Princess, I got a little carried away.”

“Quite alright,” said Luna, her voice thankfully back at a reasonable volume. “You remember Prince Blueblood, don’t you?”

She finally noticed my presence and smiled insincerely, “Of course I remember Blueblood; we went to school together. You used to steal my Smarty Pants doll and play keep away with it.”

I was something of a naughty colt back in the day but a little schoolyard bullying was to be expected, especially on an awkward little egghead like Twilight. Yet now, years later, here she was with enough magical power in her horn to render me into small pile of ash with hardly any effort. She wasn’t the quiet, awkward, friendless little filly I remember but now a confident magic user who wielded one sixth of the most powerful artefacts in Equestria. Also rather attractive I might add, despite her low birth.

“I hope you don’t hold that against me,” I said, forcing a confident smile on my face. “Your brother did beat me up pretty hard after that.”

She smiled amicably enough, “That he did.”

Luna thankfully stepped forward before the situation could become any more awkward than it already was. “Have you confirmed our suspicions about this guardspony?”

I blinked, “Suspicions? Is he a Changeling?”

Twilight shook her head, “No, he’s a Blank. They’re extremely rare occurrences. It’s a one in a million chance that a unicorn is born with this ability.”

“What’s a ‘Blank’?” I asked in confusion. I had heard the term before, often used disparagingly to unicorns of poor magical talent like Cannon Fodder but never in the strictly scientific sense that Twilight was using.

“It’s a very rare genetic mutation,” Twilight continued, pacing around Cannon Fodder. “You see, the specimen here,” she pointed a hoof at Cannon Fodder who merely looked back with wide, terrified eyes, “acts like a magical black hole that absorbs the energy used for complex spells right out of the caster.”

“Meaning?”

Twilight rolled her eyes as if it should have been obvious. “Cadence told me what happened last night, but I was confused when I heard about the Changeling Purestrain’s spell just evaporating into thin air. I thought it might have been a miscast, but miscast spells usually expel the stored magical energy in the form of a violent explosion rather than just vanish inexplicably.”

I tapped my hoof to my chin thoughtfully, “So you’re saying Cannon Fodder disrupted the spell?”

She shook her head, “Not quite. Like I said, Blanks work like sponges that absorb magical energy when complicated spells are being cast, like the one the Purestrain tried to use to bring his Queen to Canterlot. Cannon Fodder simply sucked all of the magic out of the Purestrain’s spell before it could be completed.”

“I didn’t mean to,” said Cannon Fodder meekly, as a child would when being confronted over an accident he had caused.

“Of course you didn’t,” she smiled at her latest test subject, an act which only made the poor guardspony flinch in his seat. He had faced a Changeling horde without number, stared down a Purestrain, but trapped all night with Twilight Sparkle on a study-spree was a bit too much for him.

“Wait, if he sucks away magic then how can I still use my telekinesis and special talent?”

Twilight Sparkle reached up and removed the bowl helmet from Cannon Fodder’s head, to the guardspony’s evident relief. “The science isn’t exact, but such things like telekinesis and special talents are so common place and used so often we barely have to think about it to use them. Telekinesis is the first spell most unicorns learn and forms the foundation of nearly all further unicorn magic; therefore it’s become the most efficient spell in the book.

“The Blank’s abilities only seem to work above a certain threshold, as if telekinesis isn’t worthy of its attention. But when you start drawing on more magical energy above this threshold then the Blank just drains all of it away. From what I can tell in my research, the Blank’s magical null field has a radius of approximately five feet. It was very fortunate that the Purestrain happened to be close enough for it to take effect.”

As Twilight Sparkle removed the restraints Cannon Fodder leapt off the chair, his hooves skidding on the parchment and marble floor as he scampered towards us, though he soon regained his phlegmatic composure and bowed low before Princess Luna.

“Oh this was so exciting!” Twilight Sparkle squealed enthusiastically, clapping her hooves together. “Blanks are so rare and nopony’s ever written conclusively about them! Oh I wish you could stay, we can have such fun together experimenting on you!”

I had to feel sorry for poor Cannon Fodder there, reduced to a mere science experiment. Oddly, I had grown rather attached to this strange old stallion; he did save my life albeit in an entirely indirect fashion and without even being conscious of it. At the very least, wherever I was headed was bound to have a great deal of paperwork, paperwork being so prevalent in all areas of the Royal Guard, so having him around to deal with the deluge of parchment that was sure to come would be useful. That and having a magic-eater could prove useful if I ever came across a powerful mage.

Cannon Fodder merely looked up at me with pleading puppy eyes that seemed to say ‘please don’t leave me alone with the crazy purple one again’.

“I’d rather Cannon Fodder continue being my aide,” I said. I looked up at Auntie Luna, “If that’s acceptable?”

Luna nodded her head, and Cannon Fodder’s relief was palpable. “Very well,” she turned her attention to the prostrate Guardspony by her hooves, “Private Cannon Fodder, you will continue to serve as Commissar Blueblood’s personal aide and assist him in performing his important duties.”

The Guardspony nodded and slowly rose to his hooves, “By your command, Your Highness.”

“Aw,” Twilight’s ears wilted in disappointment as her new academic focus was now being wrenched away from her. “Well next time you’re in Canterlot we can have another study session together!”

“You will leave for the army gathering at Dodge Junction immediately,” said Luna to me, ignoring Twilight. “There you shall meet with the senior officers of the regiment; they will brief you on your new duties in preparation for the war to come.”

I nodded my head, sighing reluctantly and the new life thrust upon me because I had the good sense to run away from battle and accidently save the day. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad, I thought at the time, if I had any inclination of what a Commissar was supposed to do. All Princess Luna had done was give me some vague hints about enforcing discipline in the ranks, encouraging the weak and punishing the incompetent and cowardly. Well, frankly I’d probably have had to summarily execute myself if I followed those duties to the letter. They must have been truly desperate to recruit the likes of me; then again, little did I know just how desperate we were.

“When do I start?” I asked.

“Immediately,” Luna turned towards the door, “come, I shall brief you further on your new duties.”

Nodding my head in resignation I followed my Princess, trailed by a very relieved Cannon Fodder, down the hallway towards my new life. My entirely discreditable and life-threatening career had only just begun, and I had several more decades of being stabbed, shot at, punched, covered in green Changeling goo, and thrown off cliffs to look forward to.

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