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MP - Prince Anonymous & Young Celestia By LokiLorien PT1

By Anonimoose
Created: 7th June 2022 10:45:31 AM
4th October 2022 10:51:33 PM

  1. Created: 2017.01.16 10:17:03 UTC
  2. Last modified: 2017.01.16 10:17:03 UTC
  3. Archived from https://pastebin.com/Frkd19Lf on 2020.10.26 05:23:22 UTC
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  6. > You are Prince Anonymous.
  7. > And you are comfy as fuck right now.
  8. > But the light from the window is irritating the hell out of you.
  9. > Slowly, you crack open your eyes.
  10. > On instinct, you immediately move to stretch.
  11. > And your elbow hits something.
  12. > Looking over, you see a woman.
  13. > Still sleeping peacefully.
  14. > Despite the little tap you gave her.
  15. > This isn't your bed.
  16. > Fuck.
  17. > You look at the clock by her bed.
  18. > 8:48.
  19. > That's not good.
  20. > You have a Royal Meeting with your father you needed to attend in twelve minutes.
  21. > He's going to be pissed.
  22. > You roll out of the bed, landing on the floor.
  23. > You were only wearing a pair of boxers.
  24. > You needed to find your clothes.
  25. > Looking around, you spot your shirt.
  26. > ...
  27. > Yeah, you're not wearing that.
  28. > And the pants aren't even in wearable condition.
  29. > Practically in shreds.
  30. > You give a low whistle.
  31. > She must've been crazy in bed.
  32. > A nice catch, drunk self.
  33. > You're welcome, sober self.
  34. > A shame you can't remember much of it.
  35. > Looking back at her, she's definitely an impressive score.
  36. > Well, you suppose there's no sense waiting around.
  37. > If she wakes up, there'll be an endless line of questions.
  38. > And you'd like to be out of here long before that.
  39. > You look down at your mostly naked self.
  40. > Dad's going to be pissed anyway.
  41. > Exiting her front door, your two guards stand there.
  42. > Alexis and Felicia.
  43. > Yeah, you managed to score a set of female guards.
  44. > What you wouldn't give for a night with them.
  45. > But sadly, every time you made a play, they shot you down.
  46. > But that duty angle caught your attention something fierce.
  47. > Unf.
  48. "Morning, ladies!"
  49. > They snap to a salute.
  50. > Felicia speaks up.
  51. > She always does. Alexis is far too quiet.
  52. > "Anonymous, sir. Your appointment is in ten minutes."
  53. > Psh. You knew already.
  54. > But her dedication was so adorable.
  55. "Well aware. You two wouldn't happen to have a spare set of clothes, would you?"
  56. > They look over.
  57. > Seeing your well-sculpted body mostly nude.
  58. > Alexis' face lights up with a blush.
  59. > But Felicia remains stone cold.
  60. > "Sadly not, sir. Should we go find you some?"
  61. > You wish you could.
  62. > But there wasn't time.
  63. "Sadly not. Looks like the town's going to get a show all the way to the castle today then."
  64. > You get a grin on your face.
  65. > And that puts a look of discomfort on theirs.
  66. > They knew what was coming.
  67. "Race you to the castle, then?"
  68. > Yet they still look startled.
  69. > And you seize the advantage.
  70. > Leaping down the steps, you start running.
  71. > You hear them shout after you and start clambering after you.
  72. > Slowed by their armor.
  73. > Clothes would just slow you down anyway.
  74. > The city was only still waking up, so you had time.
  75. > The streets weren't barren, but mostly clear.
  76. > You attracted every damn eye in the city you passed.
  77. > Just staring at their mostly naked prince running like a madman.
  78. > But you suppose you caught everyone's eye no matter how you went through the city.
  79. > "Anon! Slow down! Please!"
  80. > Your guards were running out of breath moving this quickly.
  81. > Sorry ladies, but you've got places to be.
  82. > Your feet pounding the pavement, you knew you wouldn't make it on foot.
  83. > So perhaps it was time for a bit of an illegitimate ride.
  84. > Leaping off the sidewalk, you catch the handrail of a carriage which was passing.
  85. > "Anon!"
  86. > It jars on the street, and the people inside start yelling out.
  87. > Your guards stop running, resigning themselves to the fact they wouldn't catch you now.
  88. > Unfortunate, you hoped they wouldn't get a reprimand.
  89. > Swinging around to look into the carriage, you see a couple.
  90. "Sorry, folks! Just need to hitch a ride for a bit!"
  91. > The Coachman up front starts yelling at you.
  92. > But he's not stopping the carriage.
  93. > So you consider this a win.
  94. > The castle is rapidly getting close.
  95. > But he turns the wrong direction, and you jump off.
  96. "Thanks! Bill the castle!"
  97. > Sucks that he probably couldn't bill the castle.
  98. > But you had places to be.
  99. > And so you start up running again.
  100. > Looking at the clocktower, you had two minutes.
  101. > Plenty of time.
  102. > Your lungs burn from the running, but you enjoy it.
  103. > Running up to the gates, they open on your approach.
  104. > You give a thumbs-up to the royal guards as you pass them.
  105. > They smile knowingly back at you.
  106. > But because you weren't looking where you were going...
  107. > You trip into the fountain.
  108. > Great.
  109. > Now you're soaked.
  110. > You throw open the doors to the Throne Room.
  111. > It's mostly empty, but your dad is up on his throne.
  112. > Chatting to what you presume to be an ambassador.
  113. > A tall, intimidating Unicorn stallion.
  114. > Well, for a pony.
  115. > Still only came up to just past your chest.
  116. > You briefly consider going back to get a new set of clothes.
  117. > But, that would make you late.
  118. > Well, you've done more embarrassing things in front of foreign dignitaries.
  119. "I'm here on time!"
  120. > That gets both of their attention.
  121. > Your father looks at you with a look of shock.
  122. > And the Unicorn with one of disgust.
  123. > And, as you move further into the room, you notice a third occupant.
  124. > An alabaster... Pegicorn?
  125. > You've never seen an Equestrian with both a horn and wings.
  126. > Much less with magic hair.
  127. > Her clothes are embroidered with images of the sun.
  128. > Both of the ponies are dressed up in expensive looking clothes.
  129. > Barely any of their bodies showing, beyond wings and heads.
  130. > They were notoriously conservative.
  131. > Prudes.
  132. > As she sees you, her face lights up crimson.
  133. > Her eyes locked down onto your boxer shorts.
  134. > Which stuck closely to your skin.
  135. > Her wings extend out to the sides.
  136. > Which seems to embarrass her further, with her trying to hide her face behind them.
  137. > You tended to have that effect on the ladies.
  138. > Your father still seems stricken by shock.
  139. > You keep a carefree grin on your face.
  140. "So, what did you need me for?"
  141. > He attempts to gather himself.
  142. > But the words come out like a defeated sigh.
  143. > "To introduce you to your new wife. You idiot."
  144. > Huh?
  145. > What? Why? Where?
  146. > You only voice one of these.
  147. "What?"
  148. > He gestures over to the white mare.
  149. > Who looks positively scarlet.
  150. > Well now.
  151. > You probably should've changed clothes.
  152. "Oh. I guess I'm a little under-dressed then, aren't I?"
  153. ----------------------------------------------------------------
  154. > Well, that was an unfortunate introduction.
  155. > You're now in a side-room to the throne room for servants.
  156. > It's a peasant's dining hall.
  157. > You're being chewed out by your dad.
  158. > The King.
  159. > But more importantly, you're eating an apple.
  160. > It's a good apple.
  161. > The best apple.
  162. > "... Am I understood?"
  163. > Curses.
  164. > The apple has distracted you.
  165. > Why apple, why would you do this.
  166. "... Run that by me one more time?"
  167. > Your father, in a fit of rage, knocks the fruit from your hand.
  168. > It smashes against the wall.
  169. > That poor fruit.
  170. > You will always miss that apple. He was your friend.
  171. > "You listen to me, and you listen well. You are a goddamn prince."
  172. > "And it's about time you started acting like one."
  173. > You look back up at him.
  174. > He's certainly not a happy camper.
  175. "You have to know I couldn't possibly have expected this."
  176. > And it's true.
  177. > All you knew was there was a meeting with father today.
  178. > He was terribly busy, never had time to inform you personally of what was happening.
  179. > You rather preferred that, though.
  180. > Gave you more freedom.
  181. > "It doesn't matter! You should always be looking your best! I raised you better!"
  182. > Evidently not, old man.
  183. > You sigh deeply.
  184. "Why do I need to marry her? And so suddenly?"
  185. > Your father's face takes on a grim expression.
  186. > He withdraws a scroll from under his cloak.
  187. > It turns out to be a map, which is marked with battle strategies, and lays it on the table.
  188. > "The Dragons have seized Farin Cross, the Deerborn lands."
  189. > Fascinating.
  190. > That put them right by your borders.
  191. > And the Equestrian borders.
  192. > Now you understood.
  193. "And I suppose this marriage seals a political alliance?"
  194. > His eyes drop to the table.
  195. > Maybe he feels a little guilty, using you as a pawn?
  196. > Maybe he had a soul yet.
  197. > "Yes. Between both Equestria and Aetherium, the dragons wouldn't dare attack us."
  198. > Aetherium was your home.
  199. > You knew this alliance was critical to protecting it, if Farin Cross had fallen.
  200. > But there was a niggling doubt at the back of your mind through all this.
  201. "Why me, though? Shouldn't your first-born be sealing an alliance with their leader?"
  202. > Your father sighs, and runs his hand through his hair.
  203. > He turns around and looks at a painting.
  204. > "I need Marcus to bear me an heir."
  205. > Well, isn't that touching.
  206. > You truly were such valued children to him.
  207. "And, I presume, he can't bear one with her? They have magic, after all."
  208. > He dismisses you with a wave of his hand.
  209. > "Nothing that would make that possible. Fortunately, they agreed to marry you."
  210. > Just peachy.
  211. > That little detail made this a hell of a lot worse.
  212. > While you hadn't planned on children for quite some time...
  213. > Having the option removed was irritating.
  214. "And yet you couldn't give less of a care about whether I might want an heir?"
  215. > Your father gives you a serious look.
  216. > One which communicates that you have no choice in this situation.
  217. > "You always said you never wanted a child. You're getting your wish."
  218. > And yet, he had pressured you since becoming an adult to settle down.
  219. > Trying to set you up with young, noble d├ębutantes.
  220. > Seems he had grown tired of trying to coerce you, and was now commanding you.
  221. "Why not Ares? He's always had a flavour for... exotic women."
  222. > Your younger brother.
  223. > Not too much younger, but certainly under age.
  224. > Didn't seem to stop him from cavorting around.
  225. > You two truly were a pair.
  226. > "He's too young for marriage. You're the only option, Anonymous."
  227. > Not too young to go around plowing half the foreign dignitaries, though.
  228. > Man, you wish you had your apple back.
  229. > You weren't giving up on this battle yet, though.
  230. "Doesn't their princess want an heir? Why would they sacrifice their leader's only shot at progeny?"
  231. > His hand moves up to his face, scratching his facial hair.
  232. > There's a reflective look on his face.
  233. > "They don't work the way we do. Their rulers rise to the throne, they don't inherit it."
  234. > "And the process of ascension renders them barren. She has no options for reproducing anyway."
  235. > "Her and her sister are currently the two leaders, having ascended a couple of years ago."
  236. > Fascinating.
  237. > Well, time to put the last of your cards on the table.
  238. "And if I refuse?"
  239. > You had no intention of being chained down to a goddamn pony for the rest of your life.
  240. > You couldn't even bear the thought of being chained to a single woman.
  241. > Much less chained to a single non-human.
  242. > But you knew you had no choice.
  243. > The look on your father's face said this was an ultimatum.
  244. > "Then you cost two kingdoms their lives. Apart, we cannot stop the dragons."
  245. > You look down at the map.
  246. > The Dragons had seen unprecedented expansion under a new leader.
  247. > Xenophobic tendencies among the species had prevented them from uniting against them.
  248. > You knew you had no choice.
  249. > But it would cost you quite a bit.
  250. "So how do I fix this, then?"
  251. > At that, you see a smile upon your father's face.
  252. > The only time the bastard was happy was when you capitulated.
  253. > Did what he wanted.
  254. > "You're going to go to their chambers in the Royal Wing, and convince her father to have you."
  255. > Her father.
  256. > That rather imposing unicorn, you supposed.
  257. > He had looked rather old. Made you wonder what her age was.
  258. > Or, what her name was, for that matter.
  259. "Alright. But, one last thing."
  260. > "Yes?"
  261. "What's her name?"
  262. > You were moving through the castle.
  263. > Taking the scenic route, of course.
  264. > You had first gone back to your room to get some proper attire.
  265. > If you were going to convince her father you were suitable, it would require some work.
  266. > You had to wonder why her father had authority if she was the ruler.
  267. > He clearly didn't have wings.
  268. > Gods, they have a weird system.
  269. > All of this sat ill in your stomach.
  270. > You couldn't get married.
  271. > You had so much left to live for!
  272. > All the fair maidens of this land would weep at the announcement.
  273. > And Ares would outpace you in terms of scoring.
  274. > Arriving at the door, you suddenly feel very small.
  275. > It's imposing.
  276. > Somehow, you have to convince the stallion in there you are worthy.
  277. > After you showed up in the throne room wet, and in your boxers.
  278. > He didn't seem like he liked you then.
  279. > But, then again...
  280. > You were Anonymous.
  281. > Prince of Love, your people called you.
  282. > You could charm anyone.
  283. > But, could you charm anypony?
  284. > Well, it was time to find out.
  285. > You knock upon the door.
  286. > And a gruff voice responds.
  287. > "What do you need?"
  288. > Well, at least he's here.
  289. "It's Prince Anonymous, I'd like to talk."
  290. > Silence.
  291. > And the door stays locked.
  292. > You knock again.
  293. > And you hear the lock undo.
  294. > Well, let's do this.
  295. > You twist the knob.
  296. > And enter.
  297. > Once more, unto the breech.
  298. --------------------------------------------------------
  299. > As you enter, her father, Abyssal Shelf, takes a seat.
  300. > God, they looked weird sitting like that.
  301. > They just looked weird in general.
  302. > Hopefully you could get used to that.
  303. > The stallion has a stern expression on his face.
  304. > "So, if you came to talk, then talk."
  305. > You put on a winning smile.
  306. > Time to chat him up. Win his heart.
  307. "Well, sir, I wanted to come to apologize for what happened in the throne room."
  308. > You didn't, really.
  309. > "No, you don't. Your father's making you."
  310. > Oh.
  311. > So that's how this is going to be played.
  312. > Well, when the waves are too strong, you turn into them.
  313. > Your smile never falters.
  314. "That would be correct. But I nevertheless would like a second opportunity for introductions."
  315. > He regards you evenly.
  316. > He scoffs, before getting up and moving over to the coffee kettle on the stove.
  317. > "Well, Celestia's not here. So you'll have to make reintroductions to her later."
  318. > That was unfortunate.
  319. > If mares were anything like women, you imagine she'd be easier to win over.
  320. > What with your good looks and winning personality.
  321. > And then she could convince daddy dearest.
  322. "That's quite alright, I'll make amends to her separately."
  323. > Holding the coffee pot in his magic, he pours out two mugs.
  324. > And levitates one over to you.
  325. > Black.
  326. > Eugh.
  327. > Still, you take a drink from it.
  328. > And scald your tongue.
  329. > Coffee was never your forte, coffee breath tended to turn off the ladies.
  330. > And stain your shimmering teeth.
  331. "So, brass tacks. How can I convince you to let me have your daughters han-"
  332. > You deftly correct yourself, but you cringe as you do.
  333. "-hoof?"
  334. > He gives you a glare.
  335. > "You say that like I have any damn choice."
  336. > Hmm?
  337. > You were under the impression he would take some convincing.
  338. > He sits on a couch, and you follow suit.
  339. > You take a relaxed posture.
  340. "I imagine there are other allies you could seek."
  341. > He snorts in derision.
  342. > Well, that was an obvious 'no.'
  343. > "The other nations are far too proud."
  344. > He regards you with contempt.
  345. > He gestures at your family's coat of arms on the wall.
  346. > "Even yours refuses a normal alliance, requiring this farce of a marriage."
  347. > The image depicts an armoured knight breaking the chains around his wrists.
  348. > With a dove in front of him.
  349. > The words "Never Again" beneath.
  350. > A callback to the days when humans were enslaved.
  351. > Your great-grandfather had been the one to free them.
  352. > Long before your time, of course.
  353. > But something humans fiercely identified with.
  354. "You must understand our skepticism, given our history. We want blood to verify an alliance."
  355. "The people would riot if we risked being betrayed again."
  356. > A grim look overtakes his features.
  357. > "It was almost a century ago. Your people need to move on."
  358. > It perturbed you to be having this discussion.
  359. > The older generations tended to be more staunch in their positions on it.
  360. > An awkward silence overtakes the room.
  361. > Species politics always tended to end this way.
  362. > "You're not worthy of her, you know."
  363. > You take a deep drink of your coffee.
  364. > You have no idea what she's like, so you couldn't possibly comment.
  365. > But you imagine he can identify with your lack of control.
  366. "I hardly think that matters. It wasn't my decision."
  367. > He grunts.
  368. > "You could at least pretend you're going to change. Become a better stallion."
  369. > He doesn't even attempt to adjust his vocabulary.
  370. > The other species never did, when addressing humans.
  371. "Whether you believe it or not, I am a good man. Celestia will be fine with me."
  372. > He matches eyes with you.
  373. > It almost makes you feel small.
  374. > But you keep up a diplomatic, neutral look.
  375. > "And yet, you came into the throne room today reeking of another mare."
  376. > You freeze.
  377. > You had forgotten about their adept sense of smell.
  378. > You would have thought that your dip in the fountain would've removed that.
  379. > "It just proves what base creatures your kind are. Always craving a rutting at every hour."
  380. > You feel anger in your chest.
  381. > But you keep it down.
  382. > While he felt he had to make this deal, angering him could change that.
  383. "I will be faithful to her when we are married. You have my word."
  384. > He drinks deep from his coffee.
  385. > Before his horn lights up.
  386. > And magic encircles your throat.
  387. > "I very much doubt that. But you had better, or there will be a price."
  388. > Your hand moves to the sword at your hip.
  389. > Father would be furious if you lashed out at him.
  390. > But if he took this too far...
  391. > "We still had humans when I was a colt. Despite the fact that it had been abolished."
  392. > The magic tightens.
  393. > Breathing is becoming difficult.
  394. > Your grip on the hilt of your blade does in response.
  395. > "I know how to keep you in line."
  396. > And with that, the magic fizzles out.
  397. > "Keep that in mind."
  398. > He sighs deeply.
  399. > And a resigned look covers his features.
  400. > You relax your grip on the sword.
  401. > But keep your hand there.
  402. > Just in case.
  403. > "But your people are born warriors, and warriors are what we need right now."
  404. > He gets up off the couch, and moves over to the balcony window.
  405. > Staring out at the castle gardens.
  406. > The room remains tense.
  407. "There are none better. We won our freedom by blood."
  408. > He looks over at you with a sad smile.
  409. > "Yes, you did. And now we need you to best the Dragons."
  410. > His eyes glaze over somewhat.
  411. > "It will be difficult for our people to work together. Many of us still think of humans as lesser."
  412. > Another drink of his coffee.
  413. > He seems entirely lost in his thoughts.
  414. > "Myself included. And I imagine your people still view us as cruel overlords. Perhaps even you."
  415. > Well, you supposed that was true.
  416. > Although, your personal objection to ponies wasn't their cruelty.
  417. > It was their arrogance.
  418. > Arrogance bred over centuries of domination.
  419. > "You and my daughter will need to be symbols of unity, or the Dragons will destroy us all."
  420. > He moves back over to you, and puts a hoof to your chest.
  421. > He puts weight on it, trying to push you back, but you resist.
  422. > "You will need to be a better stallion than I to protect our countries."
  423. "I will be."
  424. > And that, he removes his hoof.
  425. > And gestures towards the balcony.
  426. > "My daughter is out in the gardens, writing out a song for your wedding. You may want to visit her."
  427. > She sang?
  428. > Interesting.
  429. > "The wedding is tomorrow, we will be leaving for Canterlot by chariot this evening."
  430. > Wait, what?
  431. > Looking back to you, he sees the shock on your face.
  432. > "Your father didn't tell you? We need this alliance in place as soon as possible."
  433. > That's... concerning.
  434. > You had hoped for a little more freedom.
  435. > You hadn't actually been fully cognizant of the fact you would be moving to Equestria.
  436. > But it made sense, you were a second-born prince.
  437. > Celestia was the ruler of her country.
  438. "I will be ready."
  439. > "Good. Now go reintroduce yourself to her. She's incredibly stressed."
  440. > Hopefully things went better with her.
  441. ------------------------------------------------------------
  442. > Leaving the room, you wipe your brow.
  443. > Well now.
  444. > That was intense.
  445. > Just a bit.
  446. > You hoped he warmed up to you over time.
  447. > You'd have to talk to Ares later about how to butter up Equestrians.
  448. > He's got a talent for them.
  449. > Although his skills were better suited for mares.
  450. > Turning and moving, you begin to move out of the castle.
  451. > You supposed there was no time like the present to find Celestia.
  452. > But you would need to find a romantic way to greet her.
  453. > Sweep her off her feet.
  454. > Hooves.
  455. > Whatever.
  456. > But you had little idea of what she might find romantic.
  457. > She's from an entirely different world to yours.
  458. > Although a number of customs and languages were shared.
  459. > Another product of your peoples' subjugation.
  460. > The words of her father burned in your head.
  461. > "You're not worthy of her, you know."
  462. > You look down to your ring.
  463. > The symbol of you family stares back at you.
  464. > He knew nothing of your worth.
  465. > You were the god damn Prince of Love.
  466. > No one could make women happier than you.
  467. > Or Mares.
  468. > Maybe.
  469. > You really needed to talk to Ares about that.
  470. > For all you knew, you could try something sensual, and have no effect.
  471. > Or try something innocent and have a dramatic effect.
  472. > But first, you had to reintroduce yourself.
  473. > And that would require smooth talking.
  474. > Not sex talking.
  475. > Maybe sex talking.
  476. > Probably not. It was usually only loose women who liked that.
  477. > Was she a loose woman?
  478. > Mare?
  479. > Gods, you had no idea what she would like.
  480. > And your brain wouldn't stop over-analyzing.
  481. > You wished you were drunk.
  482. > As you approach the gardens, you have resolved for cliche.
  483. > A rose.
  484. > You would tuck it behind her hair.
  485. > And she would swoon.
  486. > It was an immaculate plan.
  487. > The gardens were spread throughout a hedge maze, of sorts.
  488. > Blocking off segments which were arranged for aesthetic appeal.
  489. > Years ago, you used to take women here to put the moves on.
  490. > Get 'lost' in the hedges and make love under the stars.
  491. > Surrounded by the most beautiful flowers in the land.
  492. > And then go missing by morning and have the guards escort them out.
  493. > It was terribly romantic up until that point.
  494. > You enter the hedges, and begin your hunt for Celestia.
  495. > You suppose leaving her satisfied in the gardens wasn't an option this time.
  496. > Maybe.
  497. > You weren't entirely sure you could bring yourself to seduce her, actually.
  498. > While you were sure she was attractive by pony standards...
  499. > You lean down and pluck a rose from a nearby bush.
  500. > Hell, she was attractive by human standards.
  501. > But there was something about her being an Equestrian that bothered you.
  502. > Xenophobia, perhaps.
  503. > It was odd, almost. For centuries your people had intermingled with them under their dominion.
  504. > Their mares were notorious for their heat seasons, after all.
  505. > And the humans didn't exactly have a choice.
  506. > Yet you couldn't think of them in that context.
  507. > It repulsed you to do so.
  508. > Which was unfortunate.
  509. > You imagined at some point you would have to swallow that resistance.
  510. > Else you'd never have relations again, given the marriage.
  511. > C'est la vie.
  512. > As you round a corner, you can hear a voice.
  513. > It's an incredible, enticing voice.
  514. > Singing a song to which you can't make out the lyrics.
  515. > You push forward, and eventually come across her.
  516. > Oddly, without any guards.
  517. > She's at one of the largest open spaces of the gardens.
  518. > Beneath a large oak tree.
  519. > Still in that sun-emblazoned dress from earlier.
  520. > She's looking away from you, at a pond.
  521. > Singing softly.
  522. > Surrounded by birds.
  523. > It sounds beautiful.
  524. > And the scene is beautiful.
  525. > Your eyes scan her body.
  526. > She's definitely attractive by human standards.
  527. > But you still felt repulsed, for some reason.
  528. > No matter how you try to shake it off, you feel dirty for thinking that she's beautiful.
  529. > Like you've betrayed yourself.
  530. > Betrayed your people.
  531. > You resolve instead to focus on the song.
  532. > You can't make out any of the words.
  533. > It seems like it's in another language.
  534. > But the tone seems incredibly relaxing.
  535. > Her soft lilting tones luring you into a peaceful state.
  536. > You relax up against the hedge and listen for a time.
  537. > Waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
  538. > The song reaches highs and lows, almost creating the picture for you without words.
  539. > Painting a picture of a triumphant celebration in your mind.
  540. > It sounded like an appropriate song for a wedding, to you.
  541. > You wondered if she was going to sing it, or just tell others how.
  542. > As you hear the song come to a close, the birds start chirping.
  543. > "Thank you, my little birdies."
  544. > And you strike.
  545. > You begin to applaud from your vantage point at the bush.
  546. > The birds all fly away from her.
  547. > She flinches, and spins around to look at you.
  548. > Her face is once again crimson.
  549. "An incredible song, princess."
  550. > She sputters for a second.
  551. > Perfect execution.
  552. > Fluster, then press the attack.
  553. > "p-Prince Anonymous, I had no idea you were there."
  554. > You begin to move towards her.
  555. "I thought I would drop by and pay you a visit. I'm afraid our last introduction was... short."
  556. > She makes a remarkable recovery from her embarrassment.
  557. > And chuckles at your comment.
  558. > Bringing a wing up to her mouth as she laughs.
  559. > "I suppose we've both been rather blindsided now, then."
  560. > You move up, and offer her the flower.
  561. "A beautiful flower, for a beautiful mare."
  562. > You expect her to take in her magic to put in her mane.
  563. > But instead she leans forward and bites off the bulb.
  564. > What.
  565. > You stand there in stunned silence, holding the stalk.
  566. > Watching her chew and swallow it.
  567. > Before she replies.
  568. > "That was delicious, thank you Anon."
  569. > Looking back at you, a worried expression overtakes her face.
  570. > "Did I do something wrong?"
  571. > This had to be an Equestrian thing.
  572. > You deftly recover, casting aside the carefully de-thorned stalk.
  573. "Oh, it's nothing. Just being struck by your beauty."
  574. > Standard distraction compliment.
  575. > But you feel sick saying it.
  576. > "Oh my, Anonymous, you flatterer. Trying to romance me now, are you?"
  577. > She extends a wing to poke your chest.
  578. > "My father might not take kindly to that. He was rather upset by your antics earlier."
  579. > She might think that, but you knew what she didn't.
  580. > "He was saying earlier how we were immediately marching back to Canterlot."
  581. > She starts moving around you, sizing you up.
  582. > "Then returning with an army to scourge you from the lands."
  583. > You flash her a cocky grin.
  584. "Yeah, I imagine you'd need an army to handle me."
  585. > She gives you a look.
  586. > A look which just says 'really?'
  587. > But she lets out a laugh anyway.
  588. > "I'm not so sure. It's not hard to beat a man in his underpants."
  589. > At that, you let out a laugh.
  590. > It's good she didn't hold that against you, at least.
  591. > You move away, and lean up against the tree.
  592. "I already spoke to your father, he's fine now."
  593. > She raises an eyebrow at that.
  594. > She moves over to sit beside you, staring out at the pond.
  595. > "I figured he would give in eventually. He doesn't really have a choice."
  596. > Your words come out before you can stop them.
  597. "Seems none of us do."
  598. > But you immediately regret them.
  599. > She shoulders sag at that, a sad expression on her face.
  600. > Dangerous territory.
  601. > Time to change the subject.
  602. "So I'm curious, what was that song? I didn't recognize the language."
  603. > Her embarrassment flares back up at moving back to that topic.
  604. > But she remains sombre.
  605. > She kicks a hoof at the ground.
  606. > "I don't have a name for it, yet. It's in Old Coryan, so not many Ponies would know the words."
  607. > Interesting.
  608. > Old Coryan was the language of the ancient Unicorns, if you remembered correctly.
  609. > So she was a bit of a scholar.
  610. > And a singer.
  611. > Little intimidating.
  612. "I didn't realize anyone still knew Old Coryan enough to compose in it."
  613. > She makes a gesture with her hooves.
  614. > But you have no idea what it means.
  615. > "I don't really know enough. I just compose around the words I do know."
  616. > Ah, sensible.
  617. "Fascinating."
  618. > An awkward silence takes place between the two of you.
  619. > She seems content to just stare out at the water.
  620. > Well, your attempt at distraction didn't last long.
  621. > It might be best to address the elephant in the room.
  622. "So, we're to be married tomorrow I hear."
  623. > She makes a noise in the affirmative.
  624. > Now or never.
  625. "Is that what you want?"
  626. ---------------------------------------------------
  627. > She looks up at you, uncertainty on her face.
  628. > "I... I must confess, it's a little scary. I've never even had a coltfriend and now I'm getting married."
  629. > Well now, that was surprising.
  630. "Oh? Never?"
  631. > She looks bashful again, looking back to the pond.
  632. > Her wings rustling by her sides.
  633. > "Ascension is a difficult task. I had to study all the time to manage it. So did my sister."
  634. > You supposed that made sense, then.
  635. > No time for stallions.
  636. > That made your match even more awkward.
  637. "Well, that's... interesting."
  638. > She chuckles.
  639. > "I may have heard a rumour or two about you not being quite as inexperienced."
  640. > Now it's your turn to heat up in the face.
  641. > But, as ever, you have a witty comeback prepared.
  642. "Or smelled it, according to your dad."
  643. > She clears her throat.
  644. > She's blushing again.
  645. > "Yes, well. That certainly made things a little more awkward this morning."
  646. > Your hand rests atop her head given her seated position, and scratches her ear.
  647. > She lets out a hum of contentment as you do it.
  648. > Seems like tackling the issue head on was a little better.
  649. > "But... I imagine you're not too pleased about this."
  650. > You look down at her.
  651. > Her eyes lock with yours.
  652. > Time to lie your pants off.
  653. "Hmm? Of course I am, I get to marry such a beautiful woman."
  654. > "Mare."
  655. > Oh, right.
  656. "Yeah, that."
  657. > She giggles lightly, but has a bit of a look of resigned sadness on her face.
  658. > "You're a terrible liar, Anon. That's good to know for the future."
  659. > Fuck.
  660. > Your ship is sinking.
  661. > Time to save the crew.
  662. "Well, I mean, it's unexpected. But I knew I had to settle down eventually."
  663. > She looks down again, staring back out over the pond.
  664. > "I imagine this wasn't what you had planned to settle down for. Most humans hate Ponies."
  665. > You resist the urge to mention your brother.
  666. > That could go all kinds of wrong.
  667. "I've never hated them. But I must confess it feels a little..."
  668. > "Weird?"
  669. > How apropos.
  670. "Yeah, weird. I've barely even talked to Equestrians, and now I'm marrying one."
  671. > You see her kick her hoof at the ground.
  672. > Her eyes locking with the hoof.
  673. > "I know what you mean. I'm much the same with humans."
  674. > Your hand continues to lightly scratch around her ears.
  675. > They're twitching in your hand.
  676. > It's adorable.
  677. > "That feels really nice, by the way."
  678. > Score one for human ingenuity.
  679. > You didn't even need Ares to figure this one out.
  680. > But, your inner joker had to show his face.
  681. "Well that's no good. Here I was hoping I was causing you immeasurable pain."
  682. > Yeowch!
  683. > Hoof to the shin!
  684. > But you take it like a man.
  685. > Show no pain, Anonymous.
  686. > But you managed to finagle a smile out of her with that.
  687. > "You are a silly man."
  688. > You don't say?
  689. > But she continues.
  690. > "I had expected somepony super serious with the way your father talked about you."
  691. > He really did have over-inflated expectations.
  692. > Or he was trying to be a good sales guy.
  693. "I'll have you know I'm incredibly serious when I want to be. I just don't want to be."
  694. > But you think you're a better sales guy.
  695. > Maybe.
  696. > You still had no idea with this mare.
  697. > At least you've managed to maintain a smile on her face consistently.
  698. > She looks suddenly contemplative.
  699. > "Are you going to miss it?"
  700. > Hmm?
  701. > The chase?
  702. > Well, maybe a little.
  703. > But you didn't need to tell her.
  704. "Eh, I think the ladies will miss me more than I miss them."
  705. > She looks back up at you, an indignant look on her face.
  706. > And sticks out her tongue.
  707. > But can't properly hide her smile.
  708. > "Not the ladies, you goofball. Aetherium. Your home. You know you'll be moving to Equestria, right?"
  709. > You had been trying to forget.
  710. > But you suppose you had to confront this at some point.
  711. "Of course I'll miss it. Everyone I've ever known is here. But... I think I can manage with you."
  712. > Stroke that ego.
  713. > On the note of stroking...
  714. > Your hand has moved down from her ear, to her neck.
  715. > You were gently moving it up and down, scratching the fur.
  716. > She didn't seem to mind.
  717. > Your scientific exploration has been mostly positive thus far.
  718. > "I'm sorry. I... I don't want to take you away from that."
  719. > But you didn't have a choice.
  720. > Neither of you did.
  721. "I'll be fine, I'm a big lad. Even if I don't always act like it."
  722. > In truth, you were worried.
  723. > Being one of only a few humans in Equestria would be terrifying.
  724. > Most humans despised that land for what it represented.
  725. > And if most ponies were anything like her father...
  726. > "I'm sure you'll love Equestria, though. It's beautiful, especially this time of year."
  727. > "And all the ponies in Canterlot are exceptionally nice. Plus, you'll get to meet Luna!"
  728. > Her sister.
  729. > You wondered how alike they were.
  730. "I'm looking forward to it."
  731. > You weren't.
  732. > But you give her a winning smile anyway.
  733. > You sat there discussing any topic you could until the the air was beginning to chill.
  734. > But eventually, she told you something you couldn't believe.
  735. > That she had to lower the sun.
  736. > Alone.
  737. "Isn't that the responsibility of the Council of Solaris?"
  738. > A council of forty-two Unicorn aristocrats in Equestria.
  739. > Some of the most powerful mages, or so you had heard.
  740. > She smiled back to you.
  741. > "Not anymore. How do you think I ascended?"
  742. > Incredible, if true.
  743. > You wondered, given her name, if Luna was responsible for the moon you saw rising.
  744. > Her horn began to glow with a radiant light.
  745. > And you could see the sun begin to make it's final descent, darkness closing in on the gardens.
  746. > But as the shadows crept in, the horn from her light became more defined.
  747. > It cast the most beautiful shadows across the entire clearing.
  748. > Across her, in particular.
  749. > She was absolutely divine looking in the shadows, the light accentuating her perfectly.
  750. > It made you feel sick to think about.
  751. > That wasn't good.
  752. > Slowly, the light went out, and the glow of the stars was your only companion.
  753. > Guards would be out shortly to light the lamps throughout the gardens.
  754. > She seems winded from it, letting out a tired sigh and catching her breath.
  755. > "Anon, we're going to be leaving shortly. You may want to say goodbye to your family."
  756. > Shit.
  757. > You had forgotten entirely about that little factor.
  758. > You rise up, and dust off your pants.
  759. "How long do I have?"
  760. > She taps a hoof to her chin briefly, before shrugging.
  761. > "Maybe an hour, if we want to get back to Canterlot with good timing?"
  762. > She appears to be headed off in her own direction, as well.
  763. > "The chariots are fast, but we'll need to be well-rested for tomorrow. They're over at the Airship Bay."
  764. > Whelp, time to say your goodbyes.
  765. > And see with Ares about those tips.
  766. "Well then, I'll see you in an hour, my princess.."
  767. > You do an exaggerated bow.
  768. > She smiles back.
  769. > "I'll see you then, my prince."
  770. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
  771. > At that, you had departed, heading for the castle proper.
  772. > You kept up the cheerful expression all the way to the doors.
  773. > But when you left her field of view, you felt a wave of nausea overcome you.
  774. > Fatigue flows through you, and you fall to your knees.
  775. > Turning to a potted plant, you immediately threw up.
  776. > The emotional turmoil was overwhelming.
  777. > While she seemed pleasant enough...
  778. > She was still the enemy.
  779. > You were still dry heaving over the plant.
  780. > Your stomach rejecting your attempts to quell it.
  781. > You had been taught your whole life they were the enemy.
  782. > That they were monsters.
  783. > And now you had to leave everything...
  784. > And live with them.
  785. > With her.
  786. > The reality of the situation is crushing you.
  787. > You needed to speak to Ares.
  788. > To understand how he dealt with them.
  789. > To understand how to compartmentalize what they are and what they represent.
  790. > Because right now, every time you saw her...
  791. > You saw a slaver.
  792. > Someone from your history classes as a child.
  793. > Who would take you away and use you.
  794. > A beautiful, terrible overlord.
  795. > You fall back, and lean up against the wall, catching your breath.
  796. > You would have to control this.
  797. > If you freaked out like this during the wedding...
  798. > There could be immense consequences.
  799. > But you were never terribly good at controlling your emotions.
  800. > You tended to follow them, not lead them.
  801. > It had gotten you into a lot of trouble, in retrospect.
  802. > You figured Ares would likely be in the library.
  803. > He often was.
  804. > It was time to pay him a visit.
  805. > Upon entering the library, your suspicions are confirmed.
  806. > There he is, chowing down.
  807. > Alone.
  808. > He always ate dinner late.
  809. > And in the study.
  810. > While he was an aficionado of the opposite sex, like yourself...
  811. > He dedicated much of his free time to studies.
  812. > As such, he tended to score within the castle, while you hunted outside.
  813. > You preferred your style. More game to the hunt outside the walls.
  814. > And you were a master of the hunt.
  815. > But because his studies took up so much time, he often ate late.
  816. > You knock three times on the door beside you, getting his attention.
  817. > He looks up.
  818. > "Anon!"
  819. > He drops his fork, and gets up to move to greet you.
  820. > You give him a firm handshake and a pat on the shoulder.
  821. > You treated one another like peers, even if he was younger.
  822. > "Why aren't you in the stuff they brought for you?"
  823. > Hmm?
  824. > What?
  825. "Brought for me?"
  826. > You hope it was apples.
  827. > You needed another friend right now.
  828. > Someone who could never disappoint you.
  829. > Ares lets out a gasp.
  830. > And moves past you out the door, pulling your hand with him.
  831. > "The Equestrians! It's incredible, it's in the dining hall right now!"
  832. > They brought something for you?
  833. > Other than Celestia, you meant.
  834. > Or were you for her?
  835. > You supposed it was actually that way around.
  836. > Back on track, brain.
  837. "What is it?"
  838. > A wide grin is on his face.
  839. > "A set of armour!"
  840. > It was impressive, to some degree.
  841. > A full set of plate armour, minus the helmet.
  842. > Shimmering gold plated, covered in long ribbons of white cloth.
  843. > Encrusted with sparkling diamonds.
  844. > Certainly a kingly looking armour.
  845. > The Equestrians were notorious for their wealth.
  846. > Much of it built on the backs of your people.
  847. > You supposed it was sensible for them to give you such extravagance.
  848. > Given you were going to be the equivalent of a King.
  849. > Even if your title would remain Prince.
  850. > But the armour itself wasn't what concerned you most.
  851. > It was the cloth.
  852. > A thick tabard was laid out on the table beside it.
  853. > Obviously a part of the set.
  854. > And set in the center, was the same sun you had seen on her dress.
  855. > Her Cutie Mark, you imagined.
  856. > You hadn't had the opportunity to observe her flank.
  857. > It was such a benign name for such a terrible symbol.
  858. > "Isn't it awesome? It's rune-engraved, although I can't read the spells woven in."
  859. > You run your hand along one of the stripes of runes.
  860. > It feels icy cold to the touch.
  861. "It certainly is incredible..."
  862. > But your discomfort is clear.
  863. > He looks up to you, catching your attention.
  864. > "Don't you like it?"
  865. > You scoff.
  866. > He couldn't understand.
  867. > He had spent so much time with Equestrian ambassadors the marks were normal to him.
  868. > However, before you can respond, a third voice is heard.
  869. > "I'm certain he loves it. Fits his personality."
  870. > Marcus.
  871. > Your older brother.
  872. > You can feel his hand tug back your collar.
  873. > As he peers at the back of your neck.
  874. > You instantly jerk back to knock him off, and turn around.
  875. > A scowl on your face.
  876. > "What, hasn't she branded you yet? What a terrible owner."
  877. > Branding.
  878. > An old process from the days of slavery.
  879. > The imprinting by burn of an owner's Cutie Mark on the neck of their slave.
  880. > It was what you had thought of when you saw the tabard.
  881. > And Marcus knew it.
  882. "Watch yourself, Marcus. I'm not gone yet."
  883. > He lets out a chuckle at that.
  884. > And moves over to the tabard.
  885. > He traces the sun with his finger.
  886. > "It's terribly irresponsible to put it on this. Why, you could take it off at any time!"
  887. > Rage boiled in your heart.
  888. > Because he dropped out of your mother's cunt a year earlier...
  889. > He thought he was better.
  890. > Spent all his time making you and Ares as miserable as possible.
  891. > It was a large part of why you spent so much time out of the castle.
  892. > But, at that point, Ares speaks up.
  893. > "They're not like that any more, Marcus. That was a long time ago."
  894. > Marcus scoffs.
  895. > And flicks Ares' nose.
  896. > "Well you would know that, wouldn't you, given you fuck them."
  897. > Ares' face lights up red at that.
  898. > But he keeps his mouth shut.
  899. > You had both learned a long time ago not to engage.
  900. > You turn away, and gather up the armour.
  901. "C'mon, Ares. I'm going to put this on. And I need to discuss some things with you."
  902. > You both move to the next room over, leaving Marcus behind.
  903. > "No doubt learning his tricks. Do have fun in Equestria, brother."
  904. > You ignored him.
  905. > You had a lot of questions which needed answering.
  906. > And not much time.
  907. > As you stare at yourself in the armour, you feel mixed emotions.
  908. > You look impressive. Like some sort of conqueror.
  909. > But on the other hand...
  910. > You feel like property.
  911. > Your future wife's Cutie Mark emblazoned on your chest.
  912. > "And so, right at the base of the wing, you can do a twist... Just like this."
  913. > Ares had spent the last twenty minutes quickly giving you a series of tips.
  914. > Everything from how to deal with them being so different...
  915. > To how to make them scream.
  916. > In pleasure, that is.
  917. > He didn't know much about torture.
  918. > You appreciated it, on one level.
  919. > But on the other hand, it didn't help the nausea you were feeling looking at yourself.
  920. > It felt like you were a pleasure slave, bought and sold.
  921. > You had heard stories about that role in your childhood.
  922. > Wealthy mares who would acquire young men for their... services.
  923. > A sickening practice, to be sure.
  924. > And you knew that in practicality that wasn't what you were.
  925. > But Marcus' words rang in your head, right alongside her father's.
  926. > "You're not worthy of her. Hasn't she branded you yet?"
  927. > You carve away the thoughts.
  928. > And move toward the door.
  929. "I appreciate it all, Ares. But I really have to go."
  930. > He looks up to you, with sadness in his eyes.
  931. > "I'll miss you, Anon."
  932. > You look back to him, and hold out your hand.
  933. > He takes it for a firm shake.
  934. "I'll miss you too. But I'm sure I'll be back on some kind of diplomatic mission in no time."
  935. > You hoped so.
  936. > You really hoped so.
  937. > As you arrived at the Airship Bay, you spotted the Equestrian entourage.
  938. > Celestia and her father were already there.
  939. > Along with your father.
  940. > Along with about sixty Pegasi, and sixty human guards.
  941. > You supposed they were uncomfortable about visiting Aetherium without substantial escort.
  942. > And your father was unwilling to be shown up.
  943. > Sensible.
  944. > Your father would never visit Canterlot without an army at his back.
  945. > The distrust between your species was too strong.
  946. > As you're spotted, Celestia's eyes light up.
  947. > To see you in such immaculate armour.
  948. > Bearing her mark.
  949. > Your father's expression is a bit more grim.
  950. > He's the first one to speak up when you get close enough.
  951. > "It's good to see you looking... respectable, for once."
  952. > Doubtless the mark was offputting to him as well.
  953. > But he needed to compliment the armour, given how much was doubtless spent on it.
  954. > Her father speaks up next.
  955. > "We need to get moving. Each of us will have a separate chariot. Try not to look over the side."
  956. > "It's difficult for first-timers."
  957. > You felt sick thinking about it.
  958. > Which didn't help, because you already felt sick about the whole situation.
  959. > You turn to your father, who gives you a hug.
  960. > He whispers in your ear.
  961. > "Don't let them change you. Remember what you are."
  962. > You hoped you could.
  963. "I will."
  964. > "Good."
  965. > At that, he backs off, and pats your shoulder once before moving to stand back.
  966. > You shuffle forward, into one of the chariots with two Pegasi attached.
  967. > And sit down in it, staring back at the castle.
  968. > You can see your guards over there with your father.
  969. > Felicia and Alexis.
  970. > A shame you never got to bag them.
  971. > The pegasi close the back gate to the chariot.
  972. > And a commanding voice rings out.
  973. > "Onward!"
  974. > And with that, the chariot leaves the ground.
  975. > And your stomach lurches.
  976. > Gods, you needed to throw up again.
  977. > This was going to be a long flight.
  978. -------------------------------------------------------------------------
  979. > Looking down, you see Canterlot.
  980. > It practically illuminated the countryside.
  981. > This flight had proven to be a nightmare.
  982. > Man was not meant to fly.
  983. > Ever.
  984. > Pulling in to the side, you can see a crowd outside the place you were landing.
  985. > The Pegasi slowed down, and slowly began to land on the runway.
  986. > Slowly, your chariot came to a stop.
  987. > You could hear raucous cheering in the distance.
  988. > It reminded you of any time your father would return home from visiting other countries.
  989. > Or fighting them, as the case may be.
  990. > You looked down at yourself.
  991. > Your armour still looked impeccable as ever.
  992. > Fortunate that you hadn't soiled it with your inability to control your stomach during the flight.
  993. > "We're here, human."
  994. > Human.
  995. > Spat at you.
  996. > Almost like it was a derogatory term.
  997. > You were to be their Gods-damned King.
  998. > And yet still they thought themselves superior.
  999. > You bite your tongue.
  1000. > You're not their ruler yet.
  1001. > And, you suppose you should be focused on winning them over.
  1002. > Not resenting them.
  1003. > Or making them resent you.
  1004. > Rising up and exiting the chariot, you move around to beside them.
  1005. "Thank you kindly, sirs."
  1006. > They grunt.
  1007. > You'd make them respect you yet, given time.
  1008. > You hoped.
  1009. > You had never had to lay on charm on so many individuals at once before.
  1010. > Typically your title did half the groundwork for you on charming people.
  1011. > But ponies didn't seem to care.
  1012. > Yet, anyway.
  1013. > Looking around, you spot Celestia.
  1014. > She's staring at you.
  1015. > But she averts her eyes as you look back.
  1016. > You look down at the symbol on your chest.
  1017. > Well, time to face the music.
  1018. > As you get closer, Celestia turns to move toward you.
  1019. > But a look of concern is evident on her features.
  1020. > "Are you alright, Anonymous? You still look sick."
  1021. > Her wing goes up to your forehead.
  1022. > You wondered if she could tell temperature that way.
  1023. > To say you felt sick was an understatement.
  1024. > But it wasn't just the flight.
  1025. "I'm perfectly fine, Celestia. Shall we go visit your adoring public?"
  1026. > Her concern shifts into an understanding smile.
  1027. > You imagine she thought it was just the flight jitters.
  1028. > Her wing extends, and wraps around your back
  1029. > It pushes you in the direction of the gates, her moving beside you.
  1030. > Her head leans over to your ear to whisper.
  1031. > "'Our' adoring public, you mean."
  1032. > You weren't so certain that would hold true.
  1033. > The ponies you've encountered so far weren't terribly... adoring.
  1034. > But hell, anything's possible.
  1035. > You give her a smile back.
  1036. > Look on the bright side, Anonymous.
  1037. > They had to know why Celestia was gone, you imagined.
  1038. > The cheers seemed like a good sign you would at least be accepted.
  1039. > "Try to keep looking forward, don't look off to the sides. And keep pace with me."
  1040. > She whispered it in your ear, like telling you a secret.
  1041. > It made you feel a little indignant.
  1042. > You were familiar with royal protocol.
  1043. > You were a royal, after all.
  1044. > She acts like you're a commoner.
  1045. > Which is... concerning.
  1046. > You suppose, to be fair, you didn't behave like a royal as a general policy, though.
  1047. > At least her behaviour seems to be good natured.
  1048. > You suppose you would have to discuss that with her later.
  1049. > As the doors open, blinding light comes through.
  1050. > And you assume your staunchest, stuffiest pose.
  1051. > And begin marching forward with purpose, Celestia right beside you.
  1052. > Out onto a precipice.
  1053. > By the Gods.
  1054. > There were thousands of them.
  1055. > You feel the wave of nausea overtake you again.
  1056. > You were on a bridge overlying much of Canterlot.
  1057. > Seemed it connected the platform you landed on to the castle.
  1058. > Flanking it on either sides were hordes of Equestrians, cheering out for Celestia.
  1059. > Being in the presence of so many Equestrians made you immensely uncomfortable.
  1060. > The light was blinding by contrast to the darkness you had been in during the flight.
  1061. > The city was a spectacle all on it's own.
  1062. > Shimmering so brightly in the dark of night.
  1063. > The opalescent capital of a rich Empire.
  1064. > You could hardly stomach being around a single Equestrian.
  1065. > How the hell would handle a city of them?
  1066. > But you swallowed that discomfort.
  1067. > And kept your eyes forward.
  1068. > Following the forward detachment of guards.
  1069. > You tried to focus solely on the guards.
  1070. > But your peripheral vision kept picking up the ponies below.
  1071. > They were incredibly excited.
  1072. > But not a single one you noticed was looking at you.
  1073. > Their eyes were locked to Celestia.
  1074. > Like you didn't exist.
  1075. > You supposed that was fair enough, she was their ruler.
  1076. > But you would think, given you were about to be one as well, they would look at you.
  1077. > You were new, after all.
  1078. > New things are exciting.
  1079. > Why aren't they excited about you.
  1080. > Perhaps they didn't think of the marriage like that.
  1081. > You refocus on the walking.
  1082. > That line of thinking is only going to lead dark places.
  1083. > "Relax. You look incredibly tense."
  1084. > You hear her voice, but you continue to stare forward.
  1085. > You relax your posture a little.
  1086. > "You have nothing to fear, Anonymous. I promise."
  1087. > Her words are reassuring.
  1088. > But you still feel ill.
  1089. "Hah, as if you adorable little things could intimidate me."
  1090. > You briefly turn your head to flash her a grin, before returning to look forward.
  1091. > You hear a guard ahead of you scoff.
  1092. > But Celestia lets out a light giggle at that.
  1093. > When you weren't looking at her, it felt good to make her laugh.
  1094. > When you reach the castle gates, relief floods through you.
  1095. > They close behind you with a loud thud.
  1096. > Leaving you in the courtyard.
  1097. > The guards, along with her father, move up quickly toward the castle.
  1098. > And you almost feel excited to be with just Celestia again.
  1099. > Being away from the oppressive environment out there...
  1100. > Your aversions to her felt less important.
  1101. > "I'm sorry about that, my little ponies just tend to get very excited when they see me."
  1102. > You look down to her.
  1103. > Your hand naturally finds its way back to her head, scratching through her hair.
  1104. > It feels like a stream around your hand.
  1105. > It's an odd sensation, to be sure.
  1106. "Not a problem. I'm quite well acquainted with being adored."
  1107. > Eyebrow waggle.
  1108. > Everyone loves the eyebrow waggle.
  1109. > At that, she scoffs.
  1110. > And begins heading toward the castle proper.
  1111. > You accompany her.
  1112. > "You know, your wife doesn't want to be reminded of your previous conquests all the time."
  1113. > Banter?
  1114. > You suspect banter.
  1115. > Hopefully banter.
  1116. "Then it's a good thing you're not my wife just yet. Maybe I'll hit the town and go score..."
  1117. > She looks back at you with a pout.
  1118. > The sort of pout which you imagine would crush a stallion.
  1119. > "You're losing a lot of points right now, mister. I might have to reconsider this marriage."
  1120. > Fortunately, you're no stallion.
  1121. > You give her your trademark smirk.
  1122. > And cross your arms.
  1123. "Hah. As you if you could resist someone like me for long. These fingers are good for a lot of things."
  1124. > To emphasize, you wiggle them before her.
  1125. > For a moment, she's looking at you with an expression of cluelessness.
  1126. > Before shock overspreads her features.
  1127. > Wings out.
  1128. > And her face explodes in crimson.
  1129. > It was too easy.
  1130. > "You're horrible!"
  1131. > She pushes at you with the wings and walks away.
  1132. > You still had it.
  1133. > You just had to pretend she wasn't an Equestrian.
  1134. > Which was difficult. But doable.
  1135. > You could make this work.
  1136. > Maybe.
  1137. > However, as you reach your bedroom, you suddenly find yourself less able to do so.
  1138. > It was an immaculate room.
  1139. > Very spacious.
  1140. > Decorated in immense finery.
  1141. > Every bit the royal bedroom of a country as wealthy as Equestria.
  1142. > But there was a huge problem.
  1143. > There was only one bed.
  1144. > You supposed that made sense.
  1145. > It was a big bed.
  1146. > A bed fit for royalty.
  1147. > Incredibly well crafted. Expensive sheets. The whole nine.
  1148. > But nonetheless, one bed.
  1149. > For you.
  1150. > And your wife.
  1151. > A shudder shoots up your spine.
  1152. > You couldn't do this right now.
  1153. > You see Celestia removing her golden regalia.
  1154. > You move to remove yours as well.
  1155. > Detaching the straps.
  1156. > It feels like a great weight is lifted when you remove it.
  1157. > Leaving you in just a tunic and pants.
  1158. > It hurt you to think about what you were about to do.
  1159. > She was so nice.
  1160. > But you had to.
  1161. "I've got the couch."
  1162. > It was a nice couch.
  1163. > A beautiful couch.
  1164. > You imagined you'd be getting well acquainted over the years.
  1165. > "The... couch?"
  1166. > She looks confused.
  1167. > You take advantage of the situation to grab a pillow and toss it over.
  1168. > And afterward, dive onto it.
  1169. "I figure it's best to make introductions early. If we're getting married I imagine I'll be getting intimate with this couch eventually."
  1170. > She doesn't look convinced.
  1171. > Oh no.
  1172. > That's a look of resigned sadness.
  1173. > Your heart can't take it.
  1174. > "Oh. I... don't mind if you want to sleep in the bed."
  1175. > There's a struggled desperation in her voice.
  1176. > She wants this to work.
  1177. > But you can't.
  1178. > Not yet.
  1179. > Diversion, go!
  1180. > You attempt to lighten the mood, putting on your best stuffy voice.
  1181. "It would hardly be appropriate. What would the nobles say about their princess sleeping with some colt on the eve of her wedding?"
  1182. > She doesn't laugh.
  1183. > She tries to smile.
  1184. > But you can tell it's forced.
  1185. > "Well... Alright, Anonymous. If that's what you want."
  1186. > It was.
  1187. > Even if it made you feel like a bastard to do.
  1188. > You couldn't sleep in the same bed just yet.
  1189. "Goodnight."
  1190. > "Goodnight, Anonymous."
  1191. ------------------------------------------------------------
  1192. > You awake to a smell.
  1193. [spoiler]>A kind of smelly smell that smells... smelly.[/spoiler]
  1194. > A smell you were well acquainted with.
  1195. > The smell of the food of Gods.
  1196. > Bacon.
  1197. > Cracking open your eyes, you see a silver serving tray.
  1198. > With a cover over it.
  1199. > And a note attached to the side.
  1200. > Slowly, you stretch.
  1201. > While the couch was comfortable...
  1202. > It remained a couch.
  1203. > It wasn't quite long enough for your body.
  1204. > And so you were feeling a little stiff.
  1205. > Sitting up, you see Celestia is missing.
  1206. > Weird, you were used to being the one waking up first.
  1207. > Turning over to the tray, you lift the cover.
  1208. > And are awed by the spectacle.
  1209. > Bacon, eggs, sausage, and...
  1210. > Steak.
  1211. > For breakfast.
  1212. > The eggs were even done the way you liked.
  1213. > You had never seen such a plethora of protein at the one time.
  1214. > No toast or anything, but still.
  1215. > It occurred to you that this must have been difficult for the ponies.
  1216. > Both to obtain and to cook.
  1217. > They were herbivores.
  1218. > You set the lid aside, and detach the letter.
  1219. > To Anonymous, written in fancy cursive.
  1220. > Carefully opening the envelope and withdrawing the letter, you notice a number of things.
  1221. > You see that it bears Celestia's Cutie Mark in the corner.
  1222. > Official letterhead for a note on your breakfast.
  1223. > Hearts have been drawn in places.
  1224. > It was perhaps the most adorable thing you had ever seen.
  1225. > She was going all out.
  1226. > With that, you delve into the text.
  1227. > "Morning, Sleepyhead!"
  1228. > Oh Gods.
  1229. > Ordinarily, you hated that phrase.
  1230. > It meant you got trapped and had to make hasty explanations.
  1231. > Almost every time, if they woke up before you.
  1232. > But you relax.
  1233. > You suppose this wasn't a one-and-done, like the others.
  1234. > But then, this hadn't even been a one yet.
  1235. > Irrelevant.
  1236. > You continue.
  1237. > "You seemed too peaceful to disturb, so I decided to let you sleep."
  1238. > Appreciated.
  1239. > But you had to wonder how early she woke up, if that's the case.
  1240. > "If you sleep too late, somepony will be dropping by to make sure you're up and ready in time."
  1241. > "New clothes, in your measurements, are in the closet to go under your armour."
  1242. > Thanks, mum.
  1243. > That felt slightly creepy.
  1244. > "I have court this morning, but I had the kitchens make up some stuff I thought you'd like."
  1245. > She had no idea just how much you liked it.
  1246. > But you wondered how comfortable she really was with it.
  1247. > "Hopefully it's still warm by the time you get up. If not, head to the kitch-"
  1248. > The kitchens is scratched out.
  1249. > "Sorry, I haven't had the opportunity to show you around yet. Lulu will know when you wake up."
  1250. > Lulu?
  1251. > Luna, you guessed.
  1252. > Still, that's slightly creepy.
  1253. > You had to wonder how exactly she would know that.
  1254. > "She'll be by to show you around. The wedding is this afternoon, you'll want to be there by 3."
  1255. > Looking over at the wall, you see a clock.
  1256. > It was about 8:30.
  1257. > So you had a bit of time yet.
  1258. > "Luna will also show you where to get ready, and where the ceremony is. I'll see you then, Anon."
  1259. > The bottom has a very regal looking signature.
  1260. > Well, Luna would be here soon you imagined.
  1261. > And it would be a shame to let this food go to waste.
  1262. > So you dig in.
  1263. > That was delicious.
  1264. > How in the nine hells did they know how to cook a steak so well.
  1265. > They must have some damn talented chefs down in the kitchens.
  1266. > But you knew you probably didn't have much time.
  1267. > Getting up, you removed your tunic and pants.
  1268. > And moved over to the closet.
  1269. > By the Gods.
  1270. > It is stuffed full of different clothes.
  1271. > Human clothes.
  1272. > They had truly prepared for your arrival.
  1273. > You imagine this was largely Celestia's doing.
  1274. > She really spared no expense.
  1275. > Selecting out a pair of pants and a tunic, you get redressed.
  1276. > And move back to where you left your armour last night.
  1277. > A feeling of dread flows through you looking down at it.
  1278. > You wondered if you would have to wear it for the wedding.
  1279. > Piece by piece, you re-attach the armour.
  1280. > First with the breastplate.
  1281. > Clipping the shoulders and bracers into place.
  1282. > Flowing the white cloth through the hoops.
  1283. > When it is all in place, you look in the mirror.
  1284. > You left one piece out.
  1285. > The tabard.
  1286. > Looking at yourself now, you look like a knight of legend.
  1287. > One of the ancient human warriors.
  1288. > But when you lift up the tabard...
  1289. > And slide it over your head...
  1290. > The whole look changes.
  1291. > No longer are you an ancient human warrior.
  1292. > You were eyecandy.
  1293. > For a particular mare.
  1294. > You would need to discuss this with Celestia.
  1295. > Tonight, if possible.
  1296. > Things couldn't go on this way.
  1297. > Hopefully she would be understanding.
  1298. > She had seemed pretty understanding thus far.
  1299. > When you reach for the last piece, your family ring, you notice a blue aura around it.
  1300. > And it darts off into the air.
  1301. > It takes you a second to respond.
  1302. > But you quickly move into a mad dash.
  1303. > The door to the room opens, and the ring flies out of it into the hallway.
  1304. "Stop! Theif!"
  1305. > As you sprint out into the halls, yelling that, you notice the lack of guards.
  1306. > Shouldn't there be guards at the bedroom of the princess?
  1307. > Couldn't focus on that now.
  1308. > Ring thief to catch.
  1309. > You spot it moving down the hallway and dash for it.
  1310. > You were moving as fast as you could.
  1311. > But the armour was slowing you down.
  1312. > As you turn a corner, following the ring, you spot a maid.
  1313. > She looks up at you with terror in her eyes as you barrel towards her.
  1314. > And jump deftly over her, pursuing the ring.
  1315. > Down a flight of stairs.
  1316. > You hop over the bannister, gaining a lot of ground.
  1317. > Back out a door at the side.
  1318. > You're hot on its heels.
  1319. > Did rings have heels?
  1320. > You supposed not.
  1321. > Irrelevant.
  1322. > You would not be defeated.
  1323. > Running down the hallway, the ring flies out a window.
  1324. > And you jump out it.
  1325. > In retrospect...
  1326. > This might not have been a great idea.
  1327. > But you land in a shrubbery.
  1328. > The enchanted fabric of your clothes doesn't tear.
  1329. > But damn do those sticks feel uncomfortable scratching all over you.
  1330. > Crawling out from the other side, you look around frantically.
  1331. > And you spot the ring.
  1332. > Floating over a fountain.
  1333. "Don't you dare..."
  1334. > And like that, it drops into the water.
  1335. > Fuck.
  1336. > You move over to the fountain, and peer into it.
  1337. > You can see the ring through the crystal clear waters.
  1338. > It's in deep.
  1339. > You're not sure you can get it out without falling in.
  1340. > But you have to try.
  1341. > You lean over, and put your arm in.
  1342. > The water is incredibly cold.
  1343. > Almost there...
  1344. > You lean further over the fountain.
  1345. > Just a little more...
  1346. > And suddenly, there's a shove on your ass.
  1347. > Oh, fuck.
  1348. > You fall, head first, into the fountain.
  1349. > That.
  1350. > Is.
  1351. > Fucking.
  1352. > COLD.
  1353. > You grab the ring quickly, and then shoot up for air.
  1354. > Letting out a primal scream.
  1355. > Far too cold.
  1356. > You clamber out as quickly as you can.
  1357. > But the wet fabric, combined with the heavy armour, makes that an ordeal.
  1358. > When you're out, you finally notice it.
  1359. > That laughter.
  1360. > Those barely restrained giggles.
  1361. > You look to where you hear it.
  1362. > The bush.
  1363. > You slowly rise up...
  1364. > And charge the bush with the rage of a man wronged.
  1365. > And push right through it.
  1366. > Your body has contact with another.
  1367. > And you push them out.
  1368. > Landing with them in a heap on the other side of the bush.
  1369. > You land atop a... blue Pegicorn?
  1370. > She has the biggest shit-eating grin on her face.
  1371. > Your brain disconnects for a second.
  1372. > This must be Luna.
  1373. > This.
  1374. > Bitch.
  1375. > "Gotcha!"
  1376. > You're going to get her back for this.
  1377. ------------------------------------------------------------
  1378. > "And this is the kitchen!"
  1379. > This mare had far too much energy.
  1380. > Luna had been showing you around the castle.
  1381. > You had attempted to scold her for her cruelty.
  1382. > Yet, coming from you, that seemed a bit silly.
  1383. > You weren't exactly a saint either, you supposed.
  1384. > But still.
  1385. > Vengeance would be yours.
  1386. > But for now...
  1387. > The tour.
  1388. "It's certainly impressive."
  1389. > It was.
  1390. > Fully stocked.
  1391. > With a full team of chefs working.
  1392. > You would never get used to this degree of finery.
  1393. > While Aetherium was not broke...
  1394. > It was still a fairly new nation.
  1395. > And it certainly wasn't Equestrian wealthy.
  1396. > Even as a Prince, you often had to make your own food.
  1397. > There was good quality food, but still.
  1398. > It boggled the mind how they squandered such wealth.
  1399. > "Any-pony would be happy, any-time, to make you any-thing you want!"
  1400. > She emphasizes on different words.
  1401. > This mare seems... hyper.
  1402. > Like really active.
  1403. > You need to ask.
  1404. "You seem incredibly excited to be showing me around, Luna. Why's that?"
  1405. > She looks back to you.
  1406. > Her tone stays chipper, but her expression darkens somewhat.
  1407. > "Well, normally I'm not awake at this time of day. I'm supposed to run the night court."
  1408. > "I don't get to see too many ponies."
  1409. > She mumbles something after that, but you don't catch it.
  1410. > But her optimism pipes right back up.
  1411. > "But because Tia's getting married, I got to suspend it for this evening to attend!"
  1412. > That's interesting.
  1413. > Luna got to suspend court because of Celestia's marriage...
  1414. > But Celestia still needed to hold court?
  1415. > How odd.
  1416. "Hey, Luna. Think we can go drop in on Celestia's court?"
  1417. > She looks at you.
  1418. > Her eyes sparkle with mischief.
  1419. > This might be a horrible idea.
  1420. > "Ohhh. That sounds amazing. This way!"
  1421. > Definitely a horrible idea.
  1422. > As the door opens, you're immediately struck by shouting.
  1423. > Lots of shouting.
  1424. > Something was going poorly.
  1425. > "-tria has ruled for eons alone! We don't need them!"
  1426. > Uh oh.
  1427. > That probably explains why she had to hold court.
  1428. > Luna gasps at that outburst.
  1429. > Her magic attaches to the door to close it on you.
  1430. > "Oh... Maybe we should leave..."
  1431. > But your arm holds it open.
  1432. > You ignore Luna's comment and move into the room.
  1433. > "Anon, please!"
  1434. > As you move forward, you note you're on a balcony.
  1435. > Overlooking the primary area of the throne room.
  1436. > Celestia is up at the end, sitting on the throne.
  1437. > "We've always had good relations with the Dragons! They won't attack us!"
  1438. > Quite the aristocratic stallion who said that.
  1439. > How fascinating.
  1440. > You leaned over the railing.
  1441. > Easily a hundred ponies were in the crowd which had consumed the throne room.
  1442. > Luna scurried up beside you.
  1443. > "Anon, we shouldn't be here. I don't think it's safe, and I don't think Tia would want you here."
  1444. > You keep an easy smile on your face.
  1445. > As you listened to the complainants.
  1446. "I'm interested in hearing their opinions, Luna. If I'm going to be their ruler, I'll have to deal with this."
  1447. > She looks away.
  1448. > Celestia remains statuesque upon her throne.
  1449. > An impenetrable wall of authority.
  1450. > "You deserve much better than a human, Princess. We could find you any number of bachelors..."
  1451. > Even with such a suggestive comment, her face is stone.
  1452. > A picture of intimidation.
  1453. > You hadn't seen her in such a role until now.
  1454. > "And you shouldn't have to degrade yourself like this for their service anyway. They owe us!"
  1455. > Owe them?
  1456. > You let out a chuckle at that.
  1457. > As if humanity owed them anything.
  1458. > "We could easily march upon them and force them into this deal. Please, we beg you to recons-"
  1459. > A thunderous crack echoes through the throne room.
  1460. > Celestia's hoof hitting the side of the seat.
  1461. > That cannot be healthy for it.
  1462. > Or her hoof.
  1463. > But silence reigns in its wake.
  1464. > And she begins to speak.
  1465. > "Your request has been taken under advisement."
  1466. > She says it with little emotion.
  1467. > But the glare on her face is enough to melt the zealotry of the crowd.
  1468. > "And summarily denied. The guards will escort you out."
  1469. > One of the ponies, the stuffy aristocrat who had been talking, turned and left.
  1470. > And a new one stepped forward.
  1471. > "Princess. I implore you to reconsider, once again. The message this sends to young fillies..."
  1472. > He goes on to make an argument at length about fetishizing humans.
  1473. > About how that could provoke young fillies to go capture humans again.
  1474. > And how dangerous it was to expose them to those monsters.
  1475. > You just stared on.
  1476. > It was... enthralling to listen to.
  1477. > Unadulterated Equestrian views on humans.
  1478. > It went on at length.
  1479. > Until eventually Celestia once again thundered down.
  1480. > And dismissed the stallion.
  1481. > And another moved forward.
  1482. > A mare this time.
  1483. > By the Gods, had she spent all morning doing this?
  1484. > After some time, you look away.
  1485. > Not out of disturbance, but boredom.
  1486. > And your eyes catch Luna.
  1487. > Oh no.
  1488. > She's staring at the ground.
  1489. "Hey now, it's not a problem..."
  1490. > She heaves, like she's about to start crying.
  1491. > This isn't good.
  1492. > You move over to try and comfort her.
  1493. > But a wing extends to hold you at a distance.
  1494. > "I'm sorry, Anon. We shouldn't have come here..."
  1495. > You see a tear drop fall.
  1496. > And fold her wing, pulling her tight for a hug.
  1497. > You suppress the feeling of revulsion that flows through you when you hug her.
  1498. > She was going to be your sister, you supposed.
  1499. > She keeps quiet despite her tears, as she cries into your shoulder.
  1500. > "I... I can't do anything right. I was just supposed to show you around. And now this happened."
  1501. > You feel like this is backwards.
  1502. > They were talking shit about you.
  1503. > And yet she's the one broken up about it.
  1504. > "Now I've ruined everything."
  1505. > Perhaps this was a horrible idea.
  1506. > But for vastly different reasons.
  1507. > You pat her on the withers.
  1508. > And speak softly into her ear.
  1509. "Listen, it's fine. I'm sure my dad's going through the same stuff back in Aetherium."
  1510. > You were being honest.
  1511. > Both about the trouble your father was likely having.
  1512. > And about it being fine.
  1513. > For some reason, the insults they had hurled at you...
  1514. > The accusations that they had levied against your people...
  1515. > They didn't even provoke anger.
  1516. > More like...
  1517. > Joy.
  1518. > Happiness that they were so upset.
  1519. > Like you had dealt a blow to your enemies.
  1520. > Your marriage had grievously wounded their pride, in some way.
  1521. > It made you feel so happy.
  1522. > But so ill at the same time.
  1523. > Partially because it came from having to be here.
  1524. > In Equestria.
  1525. > But that wasn't the only reason...
  1526. > It was also because your happiness came at an immense cost to Celestia.
  1527. > And she had been nothing but nice to you.
  1528. > She didn't deserve this.
  1529. > Neither did Luna.
  1530. > Who is still weeping into your shoulder.
  1531. > "Ponies really aren't that bad, I promise Anon. It's just a few..."
  1532. > She cuts off there.
  1533. > There were at least a hundred in the throne room.
  1534. > That likely meant many thousands in the city who agreed with them.
  1535. > And you're sure she realized that.
  1536. > "I mean-"
  1537. > You cut her off.
  1538. "Luna, seriously. I'm not upset in the slightest. I knew this sort of thing was going to happen when I signed up."
  1539. > She looks up to you.
  1540. > Matching eyes.
  1541. > She's stopped sniffling.
  1542. "Want to go show me what I'll be wearing for the ceremony?"
  1543. > She tries to smile.
  1544. > But it still looks somber.
  1545. > "Sure."
  1546. ---------------------------------------------------------------------
  1547. "So Luna. Feeling any better?"
  1548. > You and her had swiftly departed the throne room.
  1549. > You were currently out in the Canterlot Gardens.
  1550. > Canals ran through the middle of each path, dividing 'traffic,' as it were.
  1551. > You had opted for the scenic route to the room your wedding attire was stored.
  1552. > Partially because you figured some nice scenery would help calm her.
  1553. > "Yeah. I just... It makes me so mad to hear them talking about you like that."
  1554. > She had a frown again.
  1555. > You had to fix this.
  1556. > As you walked along the canal, you dipped your finger in.
  1557. > And flicked the water at her.
  1558. > She barely reacted.
  1559. > But you saw her horn glow.
  1560. > And suddenly, a bunch of the water floated out of the canal.
  1561. > And floated over your head.
  1562. > Surrender.
  1563. > Never give up!
  1564. > Surrender now, you idiot.
  1565. > Don't let an Equestrian win!
  1566. "I surrender."
  1567. > Your hands in the air.
  1568. > You coward.
  1569. > She lets a smile break and puts the water back in the canal.
  1570. > And you both continue on your way.
  1571. > The gardens really are beautiful here.
  1572. > All manner of plantlife you've never seen before.
  1573. > You wondered how many of these flowers were edible for ponies.
  1574. > And whether there was a penalty for eating from the Royal Gardens.
  1575. "I don't really understand your anger, to be honest. You barely even know me, why get so upset?"
  1576. > She looks over at you at that.
  1577. > There's conflict in her face.
  1578. > Like she's deciding what she wants to say.
  1579. > "I know you better than you think. We've... Spent time together in another place."
  1580. > That is incredibly creepy sounding.
  1581. > You had barely spent even a moment with an Equestrian before coming here.
  1582. > Maybe she's religious or something.
  1583. > "And even besides that, you're going to be my brother. No one talks about my brother like that."
  1584. > Hmm.
  1585. > You supposed, to some degree, that made sense.
  1586. > Levelled out the awkwardness of the previous comment a bit.
  1587. > But just a bit.
  1588. > You and Luna had kept up banter until you reached the other side of the castle.
  1589. > That's right, the other side.
  1590. > That's how far the room your attire was in was from the throne room.
  1591. > Madness.
  1592. > But, irrespective, here you were.
  1593. > The set was... interesting, you supposed.
  1594. > Startlingly simplistic.
  1595. > Sharp black tunic and pants, with silver embroidery.
  1596. > And a small imprint of her Cutie Mark on the collar.
  1597. > No armour.
  1598. > They were intricately embroidered, certainly.
  1599. > But nonetheless, fairly plain looking.
  1600. "This seems... Simple."
  1601. > Luna looks up to you in confusion.
  1602. > "Do humans not have similar wedding customs?"
  1603. > You look over to her.
  1604. > And chuckle lightly.
  1605. "We tend to make quite a big deal out of the clothing. Expensive armour and cloth for men."
  1606. > Lifting up the shirt, you can feel that the fabric is incredibly soft.
  1607. > Luna runs her hoof across it as well.
  1608. > "I don't know exactly how you do it. But in Equestria, you're meant to get married in simple clothes."
  1609. > She seems to get giddy discussing it.
  1610. > A soft smile spreading on her face while she stares at the fabric.
  1611. > "It's supposed to symbolize that you're not marrying for wealth or status, but for love."
  1612. > She realizes her mistake as soon as she says it.
  1613. > And suddenly pulls back.
  1614. > An awkward apologetic look on her face.
  1615. > "I mean, not to imply anything. I know you and Celestia have barely known one another for a day..."
  1616. > You let out a light chuckle.
  1617. > And scratch her ear.
  1618. > It flicks lightly in your hand.
  1619. "Don't worry about it, Luna. We may not love eachother yet, but that might come with time."
  1620. > She cringes at your use of the word 'might.'
  1621. > But you couldn't say for certain.
  1622. > You weren't sure you could ever conquer your discomfort with them.
  1623. > But you'd make sure to try.
  1624. > Looking across it, a thought occurs to you.
  1625. > Clearly Equestrian weddings were different.
  1626. > Was there a ring?
  1627. > Where would you put it?
  1628. "Hey, Luna..."
  1629. > "Yes, Anon?"
  1630. > She looks up to you with those big, shiny eyes.
  1631. > Hopefully this didn't make you look like an idiot.
  1632. "I-uh. Hmm..."
  1633. > You've got to be careful how to word this.
  1634. > You didn't even really know the words to ask the question.
  1635. "Well, in human marriages the bride and groom exchange rings, which go on our fingers."
  1636. > She nods.
  1637. > "Usually gold. I've... seen it before. A lot of times."
  1638. > She's seen a lot of human weddings?
  1639. > How?
  1640. > You decide to finally voice your curiosity.
  1641. > She had apparently had a lot of interaction with humans.
  1642. > Including you.
  1643. "Where have you seen it before?"
  1644. > Once again, the conflicted look falls over her face.
  1645. > But, she answers.
  1646. > "I can see into dreams, both of ponies and humans. And other races, too."
  1647. > You remain perfectly still for a moment.
  1648. > "I've seen a lot of yours."
  1649. > She blushes.
  1650. > And her wings flare out a little bit.
  1651. > You give her a look.
  1652. > A look that says 'you've seen me naked. Doing horrible things.'
  1653. > And she averts her eyes.
  1654. "Oh."
  1655. > That's all you can say.
  1656. > Whelp. That bit of information will stay tucked away in your psyche.
  1657. > You'll never dream peacefully again.
  1658. > Moving on.
  1659. "Well, back to the point... Do ponies exchange something?"
  1660. > It takes her a second to recover form her embarrassment.
  1661. > But she eventually nods.
  1662. > And her horn lights up.
  1663. > An intricate, filigree silver necklace levitates up from the pile of cloth.
  1664. > "N-necklaces. You have to attach something of great importance to you."
  1665. > Oh.
  1666. > Well fuck.
  1667. > You wish you'd been briefed on this before.
  1668. > You didn't have terribly much you could give to her.
  1669. > She smiles and puts a hoof up to her cheek
  1670. > "I already know what Tia's putting on her necklace for you. It's really romantic."
  1671. > That's unfortunate.
  1672. > Now you had to do something equally important.
  1673. > But you had nothing...
  1674. > Except...
  1675. > You look down at your hand.
  1676. > Your family's ring sitting there.
  1677. > Your father's words echo in your ear.
  1678. > "Don't let them change you. Remember who you are."
  1679. > It felt wrong.
  1680. > Would it be like a betrayal of your father's request?
  1681. > Maybe. Maybe not.
  1682. > You could remember who you were without it.
  1683. > And you'd see Celestia with it all the time.
  1684. > Would she even like that?
  1685. > Your family crest was an affront to many Equestrians.
  1686. > Never Again.
  1687. > Yet, Celestia seemed to not be of that opinion.
  1688. > She seemed like the type who would want slavery to be a 'never again' type situation.
  1689. > Even if she did like putting her Cutie Mark all over you.
  1690. "I... I'm not so sure I have anything with me that's equivalent, anything that Celestia would want."
  1691. > Luna smiles brightly.
  1692. > "It's not about how important it is to Celestia, it's about how important it is to you. What you're sacrificing."
  1693. > Hmm.
  1694. > Then the ring made sense.
  1695. > You pull it off your finger, and run the filigree chain through it.
  1696. > It dangles neatly from it.
  1697. > Luna looks closely at it.
  1698. > "An interesting choice. Want me to seal it?"
  1699. > You look closely at it.
  1700. > Your last reminder of home, really.
  1701. > Apart from the sword at your hip.
  1702. > But you don't imagine Celestia would appreciate a sword hanging off her neck.
  1703. "Do it."
  1704. > Her horn glows.
  1705. > The chain fuses to the ring.
  1706. > The gold of the ring sticks out against the silver.
  1707. > "The spell will finish when you put it around her neck. You'll see. I'm sure she'll love it."
  1708. > You hoped she did.
  1709. > You supposed you would find out soon enough.
  1710. > In a couple of hours.
  1711. --------------------------------------------------------------------------
  1712. > You had spent the next short while going over wedding protocol with Luna.
  1713. > Most of it was very much the same.
  1714. > Same aisle, same reception, same whole deal.
  1715. > But, the main difference is the actual ceremony.
  1716. > It seems that there aren't vows in the traditional sense.
  1717. > You begin with stating the meaning behind the exchange of items.
  1718. > What they represent.
  1719. > Which meant you needed to develop some kind of speech about it.
  1720. > Which was doable.
  1721. > But that wasn't the crazy portion.
  1722. > There was a far greater concern.
  1723. > The necklaces.
  1724. "They do what?"
  1725. > "They bind your souls together with a spell."
  1726. > Your souls.
  1727. > That was...
  1728. > Concerning.
  1729. > To say the least.
  1730. > "It's a magical connection between you. But I'm not entirely familiar with all of it."
  1731. > She kicks a hoof.
  1732. > "I've never been married, obviously. Maybe someday, though."
  1733. > You pat her on the head.
  1734. > But you needed more information.
  1735. "So... Do you know anything else about it?"
  1736. > She puts her hoof to her chin.
  1737. > And hums.
  1738. > "Well, I know it's really difficult to break. Costly, is the term I remember hearing."
  1739. > Costly...
  1740. > Well, you supposed this was supposed to be forever.
  1741. > But the gravity of that was only just striking you.
  1742. > After today, you would be forever tied with...
  1743. > An Equestrian.
  1744. > No, not just an Equestrian.
  1745. > Celestia.
  1746. > Thinking of her as an individual helped a bit.
  1747. > But at the back of your mind, you felt immense insecurity.
  1748. > You were here for the rest of your life.
  1749. > Could you really handle that?
  1750. > "There's no records of how it works with Alicorns, though."
  1751. > Her words break you out of your reverie.
  1752. > Alicorn?
  1753. > Oh, that must be the proper term for Luna and Celestia.
  1754. > What a silly name for it.
  1755. > Pegicorn sounded better.
  1756. > But... that added an extra layer of concern.
  1757. > Maybe.
  1758. "Why would it be different?"
  1759. > At that, a look of deep introspection crosses Luna's face.
  1760. > Before she decides to speak in a measured tone.
  1761. > "Well, Alicorns are immortal. I have no idea what binding you two together might do to your lifespan, but..."
  1762. > Your lifespans were influenced?
  1763. > Wait a minute, this suddenly seemed like a much bigger deal.
  1764. "But... I thought this was just a bond. Why would our lifespan be influenced?"
  1765. > She looks up to you, with excitement on her face.
  1766. > She lights up her horn.
  1767. > And you see a small orb form in front of her.
  1768. > And then another, larger one.
  1769. > And a series of smaller orbs orbiting them.
  1770. > The larger one with more. But over time...
  1771. > The orbs begin to interact.
  1772. > The smaller one gets bigger, absorbing more of the smaller ones.
  1773. > The bigger one gets smaller, losing its orbiting ones to the other.
  1774. > Oh shit.
  1775. > This was a much bigger deal than you had realized.
  1776. > "Well, usually the spell causes the wearers to share their magic pool."
  1777. > She gestures to her little impromptu diagram.
  1778. > "And as a pony loses their ability to process magic, they age, until they die. With a shared pool, they both do."
  1779. > And like that, the orbs go out.
  1780. > Before she summons another two.
  1781. > "But with an Alicorn, we never lose our ability to process magic. Our magic is fundamentally different."
  1782. > And this time, rather than equalizing...
  1783. > The smaller orb keeps growing.
  1784. > Until it reaches the size of the larger one.
  1785. > And she gestures to it with a hoof.
  1786. > "It might do something like that. It might also just leave yours the same size, not influencing one another."
  1787. > "But I can't be sure, no one can. Your magic might not even mesh properly."
  1788. "Thanks, Luna. It's good I knew before I got into this..."
  1789. > This was... a lot to take in.
  1790. > You lift up the necklace and look at it.
  1791. > Soon, this would be around Celestia's neck.
  1792. > And her equivalent around yours.
  1793. > And you would be bonded for life.
  1794. > "Happy to help, Anon!"
  1795. > It makes you wish you had studied magic a bit better as a child.
  1796. > It had never caught your interest.
  1797. > You were more the duelling and swashbuckling type.
  1798. > Ares would know more about human magic.
  1799. > Might have some insight into what would happen bonding you with her.
  1800. > But he was a kingdom away.
  1801. > He should be here. Not you.
  1802. > He was so much better suited for this...
  1803. > Irrelevant.
  1804. > But this put things into perspective.
  1805. > Celestia had known this was what she was giving up all along.
  1806. > And still consented to be bound to you for life.
  1807. > There's so many unknown variables, though.
  1808. > Would this make you immortal?
  1809. > You weren't sure how comfortable you were with that.
  1810. > And if it didn't...
  1811. > When you died...
  1812. > What would that do to Celestia?
  1813. > Would she be able to bond again, after your death?
  1814. > Luna clearly didn't have the answers.
  1815. > And you imagine Celestia didn't either, or else she would've told Luna.
  1816. > But this raised another concern.
  1817. > Why hadn't Celestia told you about the bonding?
  1818. > Did they think they could sneak it past you?
  1819. > Probably not. Luna would have been told to keep silent if that was the case...
  1820. > Or...
  1821. > Had they told your father.
  1822. > And he said not to mention it.
  1823. > He knew you were phobic of commitment.
  1824. > And phobic of Equestrians.
  1825. > Maybe he was betting that you would back out if you knew.
  1826. > And it would be too late by the time you found out.
  1827. > That seemed sensible.
  1828. > You checked the clock.
  1829. > An hour and a half until they began accepting guests.
  1830. > An hour and a half until you...
  1831. > Lost your freedom.
  1832. > Forever.
  1833. > An hour and a half until you were...
  1834. > Not a slave.
  1835. > But...
  1836. > Close enough.
  1837. > But then, you supposed Celestia was losing her freedom as well.
  1838. > To you.
  1839. > Forever.
  1840. > If you own one another, are you both slaves?
  1841. > Or are neither of you?
  1842. > You suddenly felt incredibly stressed.
  1843. > You didn't know the answer.
  1844. > You were tempted to run.
  1845. > Partially for your sake.
  1846. > Partially for Celestia's.
  1847. > She didn't deserve this.
  1848. > 'You're not worthy of her.'
  1849. > The words echo in your head.
  1850. > They sting at your heart.
  1851. > But you knew you had no way out of Canterlot right now.
  1852. > This was a fortress built into a mountain.
  1853. > With not a single other human in it.
  1854. > You'd be spotted in no time.
  1855. > And captured. Or worse.
  1856. > And you would disgrace your family. Your nations.
  1857. > You would risk their lives.
  1858. > You had to do this.
  1859. > If Celestia wanted her freedom...
  1860. > She'd have to be the one to leave.
  1861. > You had already lost.
  1862. "Hey Luna?"
  1863. > She looks to you.
  1864. > She had been distracting herself with her little magic diagram.
  1865. > "Yeah?"
  1866. "Mind helping me get ready?"
  1867. > "Sure, Anon!"
  1868. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  1869. > So, as it turns out, your wedding was to happen in the Canterlot Gardens.
  1870. > And so, here you were.
  1871. > Standing off to the side.
  1872. > Luna was greeting guests as they entered.
  1873. > Celestia was nowhere to be seen.
  1874. > Getting ready, you presumed.
  1875. > The section of the gardens was brilliantly decorated.
  1876. > And incredibly well defended.
  1877. > It amused you to no end to see this many guards out.
  1878. > At every entrance.
  1879. > And patrolling the hedges.
  1880. > It was rather surprising, really.
  1881. > When you had arrived with Luna, you had to comment.
  1882. > And she had, at that point, revealed why you had seen so few.
  1883. > Evidently, Celestia was worried they would make you feel uncomfortable.
  1884. > And hence, had ordered them to supervise you from a distance.
  1885. > But now, they were everywhere.
  1886. > Presumably your life was in danger, if they needed this much security.
  1887. > Perhaps a threat was made at court, or something.
  1888. > You doubted the security was for Celestia.
  1889. > She seemed pretty beloved.
  1890. > A lot of the complainants earlier were concerned about her.
  1891. > Yet, you found you didn't particularly care.
  1892. > You had never been a terribly cautious sort.
  1893. > But, even more than that, you found your carefree attitude return when you realized this was a done deal.
  1894. > Never was any sense worrying about that which you cannot change.
  1895. > And when you had realized it was already done, the stress had melted away.
  1896. > No doubt it would return when the moment to exchange necklaces came.
  1897. > But for now, you would rather go with the flow.
  1898. > You were dressed in the simple black tunic from earlier.
  1899. > In a small box in your back pocket was the necklace.
  1900. > Still looking weird with the silver and gold fused to one another.
  1901. > And feeling warm against your ass.
  1902. > Luna explained that the spell kept the metal warm while the magic flowed through it.
  1903. > Not enough to burn, but to keep the metal pliant for when the spell triggered.
  1904. > You needed to study up on some magic.
  1905. > The setup was really quite impressive.
  1906. > Ornate outdoor chairs set up alongside the aisle.
  1907. > Birds singing.
  1908. > No, not tweeting.
  1909. > Singing.
  1910. > A damn choir of them.
  1911. > Equestria would never cease to amaze you.
  1912. > How the hell they managed to train up a flock of birds...
  1913. > You shook your head.
  1914. > The... Priest, you supposed.
  1915. > Were they called priests here?
  1916. > Whatever. The stallion up at the front was a unicorn.
  1917. > Had a big book open on an altar before him.
  1918. > He was clothed in an all-white robe.
  1919. > Embroidered with gold.
  1920. > Damn holy stallion was looking fancier than you.
  1921. > What a bastard.
  1922. > Looking back over to the entrance, the number of guests was staggering.
  1923. > Easily three-hundred chairs set out, over half filled already.
  1924. > It was a long ass aisle.
  1925. > However, fortunately, you did not have to walk down it.
  1926. > You got to stand comfy up at the front and wait for Celestia.
  1927. > Evidently an Equestrian tradition.
  1928. > In Aetherium, the Bride and Groom walked down the aisle together.
  1929. > You had never thought much about it really.
  1930. > But now, you suspect you knew why.
  1931. > Something about regarding one another as equals.
  1932. > It never ceased to intrigue you the subtle ways your cultures differed.
  1933. > And the meanings embedded in those differences.
  1934. > You had never been one for spotting invisible meanings.
  1935. > But you could see symbolism all over this event.
  1936. > The groom awaits the bride, escorted by her father.
  1937. > Seemed almost like a trading of ownership.
  1938. > Equestrians put a heavy value on ownership.
  1939. > Property.
  1940. > Your hand runs over her Cutie Mark on your collar.
  1941. > Seems you and Celestia had a lot in common.
  1942. > You had to wonder if she felt the same revulsion you did at the concept.
  1943. > But it was unlikely.
  1944. > This was her culture, after all.
  1945. > She'd be used to this sort of thing.
  1946. > But it rubbed you all the wrong ways.
  1947. > When the seats had filled up, you moved to take your place at the altar.
  1948. > At the prompting of the guards.
  1949. > From this vantage point, even though it was open above...
  1950. > Well, not terribly open.
  1951. > Pegasi guards flew overhead as well.
  1952. > It seemed so suffocating.
  1953. > So many Equestrians in one place.
  1954. > And you the only human.
  1955. > For hundreds of miles, likely.
  1956. > When combined with the immense guard presence, you felt incredibly unsafe.
  1957. > You kept a serene look on your face, however.
  1958. > Partially because you felt serene.
  1959. > Relaxed.
  1960. > If you were going to be their ruler...
  1961. > For potentially the next eternity.
  1962. > This moment would have to be perfect.
  1963. > You still couldn't quite wrap your mind around that possibility.
  1964. > So you preferred to just move with the flow.
  1965. > Stress and over-analysis would only serve to impede the perfection of the moment.
  1966. > It would cause you to slip up.
  1967. > It was a lesson you had learned at Tourney throughout your youth.
  1968. > Political speech and action was often like a duel, to your mind.
  1969. > It was always best to shut your mind off, and let your words flow freely.
  1970. > Like a blade, they will find the right location.
  1971. > Your body knows better than your mind how to make things work.
  1972. > And people will find you far more genuine than if you analyze it to death.
  1973. > You note the song the birds are singing come to a close.
  1974. > And a pony choir start up.
  1975. > You recognized that song.
  1976. > It was Celestia's song, from the gardens.
  1977. > And the crowd suddenly went silent.
  1978. > Looking down the aisle, you spotted her.
  1979. > Your breath left your lungs.
  1980. > She was looking radiant.
  1981. > A serene, soft look on her face.
  1982. > Her dress was as simple as your suit.
  1983. > White, with simple craft.
  1984. > But she carried it with a grace befitting the ruler of Equestria.
  1985. > You noticed her father by her side.
  1986. > His attire is incredibly fancy.
  1987. > Jerk.
  1988. > As she reaches the altar, she bows to you.
  1989. > And you bow to her.
  1990. > And then to her father.
  1991. > Luna had gone over this.
  1992. > Her father does not bow in return, but stares blankly forward at you.
  1993. > And following your bow, her father leaves to take a seat.
  1994. > Leaving her up there with you.
  1995. > From this distance, you could see the holes in the radiant look she had beamed for the crowd.
  1996. > Her fur, feathers, and hair remain impeccable.
  1997. > Doubtless she had people fawning over her for her preparation.
  1998. > But you knew that she wasn't feeling up to this.
  1999. > She was tired.
  2000. > Dead tired.
  2001. > Her eyes didn't sparkle quite the way they did in the gardens.
  2002. > And her smile was forced, you could tell.
  2003. > Court must've taken a lot out of her before this.
  2004. > Understandable, given the nature of what she had to deal with.
  2005. > Over and over.
  2006. > The priestly stallion speaks up.
  2007. > "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today..."
  2008. > He begins the typical droning on.
  2009. > You want to ask if she's alright.
  2010. > If she'd rather put this off for another time.
  2011. > But you know you can't.
  2012. > So you attempt a sympathetic smile.
  2013. > Which she returns.
  2014. > You knew that she would be the one to give you the necklace first.
  2015. > And so she was probably going over what she was planning to say.
  2016. > Maybe.
  2017. > Maybe she was just going to go with the flow, like you.
  2018. > But her eyes seemed unfocused.
  2019. > So you figured it was probably the former.
  2020. > "And so, Celestial Skies, you may present your bond."
  2021. > Celestial Skies?
  2022. > You supposed that must be her full name.
  2023. > She approaches you.
  2024. > And out from under her wing, levitates out the necklace in her magic.
  2025. > Same silver chain.
  2026. > Fused to...
  2027. > A feather?
  2028. > It was a big, white feather.
  2029. > One of her primaries, no doubt.
  2030. > Slowly, it levitates over your head.
  2031. > And down around your neck.
  2032. > Resting upon your chest.
  2033. > You had expected something to happen.
  2034. > With the spell and all.
  2035. > But you supposed that came later.
  2036. > She begins to speak, addressing the crowd.
  2037. > "This feather was the first primary I grew after I ascended."
  2038. > "The powerful magicks within it, those of an Alicorn, will keep it preserved forever."
  2039. > "The Old Pegasi clans, those close allies to humans of old, used to exchange their first primaries at weddings."
  2040. > "A symbol both of their destiny to be together, and their willingness to sacrifice the past for one another."
  2041. > "And of the idea that they would never fly apart again."
  2042. > She raises up a hoof.
  2043. > And you take it in your hand.
  2044. > She bows her head before you.
  2045. > Now, she must recite the meaning.
  2046. > "I want this to represent our eternal bond. That it will never grow weak."
  2047. > "I want this to represent our closeness of heart. May our feelings never fade."
  2048. > "I want this to represent our union of species. May we forever work together."
  2049. > "I want this to represent myself as a part of you. May we forever be intertwined."
  2050. > She raises her head, to look you in the eye.
  2051. > "It would be my honour if you would accept my gift, and be mine for all time."
  2052. > And with that, she withdraws her hoof.
  2053. > And returns to the other side of the stage.
  2054. > The priestly stallion speaks up again.
  2055. > "Anonymous Aetherite, you may present your bond."
  2056. > Well, Prince of Love.
  2057. > It was time to shine.
  2058. > You with draw the box.
  2059. > And pull out the chain.
  2060. > Setting aside the box on a small table, you moved over to Celestia.
  2061. > And reaching up over her head, pull the necklace down around her neck.
  2062. > It was then you felt a pulse of magic from your feather.
  2063. > But nothing too overt seemed to happen.
  2064. > As it rests upon her chest, you take a step back.
  2065. > And address the crowd.
  2066. "This ring is one of five of my house."
  2067. "It is inlaid with a powerful magic rune, which renders it invulnerable to damage."
  2068. "My family has handed these down since the ancient times, smuggling them when we could not openly have them."
  2069. "They have changed over the centuries, through spellforging. Now they bear my current family crest, and our words."
  2070. "Never again. Today, those words take new meaning."
  2071. > You go down on a knee.
  2072. > You raise up a hand.
  2073. > And she places her hoof upon it.
  2074. > You bow your head before her.
  2075. > And recite the meaning.
  2076. "I want this to represent our unbreakable connection. May it never wane."
  2077. "I want this to represent our enduring spirits. As one, may we never surrender."
  2078. "I want this to represent what you mean to me. You are my family, for the rest of our days."
  2079. "I want this to represent a new future for Equestria and Aetherium. May we never again be apart."
  2080. > You raise up your head, to look her in the eye.
  2081. > She's smiling for real now.
  2082. > You wish you could see the crowd.
  2083. > Hopefully you impressed them with that.
  2084. > A message of reconciliation.
  2085. > It seemed appropriate.
  2086. "It would be my honour if you would accept my gift, and be mine for all time."
  2087. > With that, you withdraw your hand.
  2088. > And rise up.
  2089. > Moving back across the platform.
  2090. > And stand, facing Celestia.
  2091. > The area is deathly silent.
  2092. > When the priestly stallion speaks up.
  2093. > "Celestial Skies, do you accept the bond of Anonymous Aetherite?"
  2094. > Without hesitation.
  2095. > She immediately replies.
  2096. > "I do. Without hesitation."
  2097. > He then turns to address you.
  2098. > "And you, Anonymous Aetherite. Do you accept the bond of Celestial Skies?"
  2099. > Likewise, you reply immediately.
  2100. > But you swallowed your hesitation.
  2101. "I do. Without reservation."
  2102. > You couldn't lie, after all.
  2103. > The stallion's horn lights up.
  2104. > And suddenly, both necklaces glow.
  2105. > "You may seal the bond."
  2106. > You move forward towards her.
  2107. > And she moves toward you.
  2108. > Placing one hand on her neck, and the other on her face.
  2109. > You gently meet lips.
  2110. > It is a chaste kiss.
  2111. > But something triggers.
  2112. > And the sensation is indescribable.
  2113. > You can feel magic flowing through you.
  2114. > To every part of your body.
  2115. > It's exhilarating.
  2116. > An immense light bathes the area.
  2117. > Emerging from your two necklaces.
  2118. > It forces you to close your eyes as you maintain the kiss.
  2119. > And just as quickly as it started...
  2120. > It's over.
  2121. > The sensation fades.
  2122. > The light fades.
  2123. > And when you reopen your eyes, you're struck by Celestia's.
  2124. > They're glowing.
  2125. > A bright pink/purple.
  2126. > You wonder if yours are.
  2127. > The ring around her neck has turned silver.
  2128. > Matching the chain.
  2129. > And so has the feather around yours.
  2130. > The priest speaks up once again.
  2131. > "Before all assembled here, let it be known that the bond is sealed."
  2132. > Applause erupts from the crowd.
  2133. > Slowly, the glow in Celestia's eyes fades.
  2134. > But her smile remains.
  2135. > And so you turn to the crowd.
  2136. "Now, who else is dying for some cake?"
  2137. --------------------------------------------------------
  2138. "He saw...?"
  2139. > Be Celestia.
  2140. > And Luna just told you that Anon saw what happened at court.
  2141. > Which is bad.
  2142. > Very bad.
  2143. > You had gone to great lengths to make sure everything seemed perfect.
  2144. > You knew how... easily scared humans were.
  2145. > Insecure, as well.
  2146. > Prone to running off.
  2147. > Especially Anon, if his father was to be believed.
  2148. > You sigh deeply.
  2149. > And take a deep drink of wine.
  2150. > Alcohol might help the stress...
  2151. > Plus, it was your wedding. You were supposed to be drunk.
  2152. > "I'm sorry. You told me to show him around, I just assumed..."
  2153. > Luna's words barely connect, your mind focused on Anon.
  2154. > You felt like you needed to protect him.
  2155. > Shield him from the public.
  2156. > To make him comfortable.
  2157. > Like everything is fine, and he can enjoy living here.
  2158. > You had taken every damn step to make sure that happened.
  2159. > Literally followed the "Big Book of Treating your Human Right."
  2160. > And now, that whole plan just got blown to Tartarus.
  2161. > You shake your head.
  2162. > No sense in taking it out on her.
  2163. "It's fine, Luna. I just..."
  2164. > You're frustrated.
  2165. > And tired.
  2166. > It was a long day at court.
  2167. > And now, you're emotional.
  2168. > Partially because the bond, when it's sealed, amplifies emotions.
  2169. > Intensely.
  2170. > Usually good emotions. Happiness, love...
  2171. > Lust.
  2172. > But right now, it was only amplifying your stress and fear.
  2173. > You needed to fix this. Now.
  2174. > Before you had some kind of breakdown.
  2175. "I'll go talk to him."
  2176. > Luna nods, and turns to head back to the reception.
  2177. > You looked down to your necklace.
  2178. > You wondered how much he actually meant those words.
  2179. > The words he said for his bond.
  2180. > You knew he... was uncomfortable around you.
  2181. > Around anypony, really.
  2182. > But he still declared that you were now his family.
  2183. > Which, while technically true irrespective of the inclusion in the bond, felt good.
  2184. > You hoped you could win him over with time.
  2185. > As you return to the reception, you scan the crowd for Anon.
  2186. > You spot Anon talking to...
  2187. > Oh no.
  2188. > Your uncle.
  2189. > You quickly make your way over.
  2190. > Uncle Starlight was not known for his... diplomatic speech.
  2191. > But as you get closer, they seem to be in relatively good spirits.
  2192. > Thank the Sun and Stars.
  2193. > You pick up on the end of Anon's comment as you approach.
  2194. > "... Oh no, I wish ours were more like this."
  2195. > Anon is drinking from his own chalice of wine.
  2196. > It's good to see him adapting, at least.
  2197. > The bride and groom were supposed to be...
  2198. > Smashed, you think the technical term was.
  2199. > By the end of the wedding.
  2200. > As you approach, your uncle shifts his attention to you.
  2201. > "Cel! Congratulations."
  2202. > You smile.
  2203. > Anon turns around, and spots you.
  2204. > He has a big smile on his face.
  2205. > You really hope it's a real one.
  2206. > Your heartbeat picks up just looking at him.
  2207. > A part of the bond, you knew.
  2208. > The magical attraction would fade over the next couple of days.
  2209. > Whereupon real attraction would pick up.
  2210. > You hoped.
  2211. "Hey, you two. Sorry I had to drop out for a second, Anonymous."
  2212. > He rests his hand on the back of your neck as you move beside him.
  2213. > And gives a light scratch.
  2214. > "It's not a problem, 'Celestial Skies.'"
  2215. > He lets out a laugh saying your full name.
  2216. > But you're slightly distracted.
  2217. > Those fingers...
  2218. > They're exceptional.
  2219. > You see why people used to brag about having humans.
  2220. > Even after it was outlawed.
  2221. > The thought comes unbidden.
  2222. > But you feel bad for thinking it.
  2223. > Like you're betraying Anonymous' trust or something.
  2224. > Focus, Celestia.
  2225. > You had something to fix.
  2226. > You extend a wing around Anonymous to hold him close.
  2227. > And start to pull him away from the conversation.
  2228. "Sorry, Uncle. But do you mind if I borrow Anonymous for a second?"
  2229. > A grin comes over your uncle's features.
  2230. > "Certainly, my dear. But do try to bring him back relatively dry, would you?"
  2231. > You sputter at that.
  2232. > And you feel your face heat up.
  2233. > That pervert.
  2234. > "So what did you need?"
  2235. > You and Anon were behind a hedge.
  2236. > You had to address this carefully.
  2237. > While he was acting carefree...
  2238. > You could feel the stress in him.
  2239. > His discomfort.
  2240. > You wanted to hug him, and make him feel better.
  2241. > Focus.
  2242. "I... heard you saw what happened at court."
  2243. > He takes a sip of his wine.
  2244. > And gestures with his hand.
  2245. > But you have no idea what the gesture means.
  2246. > When he recognizes the look of cluelessness on your face, he speaks.
  2247. > "Go on..."
  2248. > Oh.
  2249. > Like, rolling.
  2250. > Rolling on or something.
  2251. > You make a mental note of that gesture.
  2252. "Well... I just wanted to apologize for my little ponies. They're... not so used to change."
  2253. > He chuckles at that.
  2254. > And pokes your nose.
  2255. > You scrunch it up at that.
  2256. > "You don't need to worry. I expected some resistance, I can deal with it."
  2257. > He sounded so confident saying that.
  2258. > But you weren't so sure he actually was.
  2259. > Your doubt and fear were crippling your ability to express that concern.
  2260. > You were sure he could sense them in you.
  2261. > And was trying to console you.
  2262. > But you needed to support him.
  2263. > Not the other way around.
  2264. > You were the pony, here.
  2265. "I know you're strong willed. But... I just want you to know, they won't hurt you. I won't let them."
  2266. > That came out a little wrong.
  2267. > But he seems to get the message.
  2268. > His hand cupping your face.
  2269. > Your heart flutters at the contact.
  2270. > And your mind blanks.
  2271. > Stupid bond.
  2272. > "Seriously, you don't need to worry about little old me. Now, what do you say we get back to the party?"
  2273. > Everything he does seems... so attractive right now.
  2274. > You wonder what he's feeling.
  2275. > Because whatever it is, it's going to be amplified like what you feel.
  2276. > Surely the bond must be influencing him as well...
  2277. > Maybe tonight...
  2278. > He would at least sleep in the same bed, you bet.
  2279. > It would be a good first step.
  2280. > Even if he wasn't comfortable with anything else.
  2281. > And it was only fitting...
  2282. > Your honeymoon was supposed to be starting, after all.
  2283. > Returning to the party, you and Anon move around to greet various guests.
  2284. > They're all very courteous, both to you and to Anon.
  2285. > Apart from one mare.
  2286. > Who makes Anonymous and you incredibly uncomfortable.
  2287. > She was a bit older...
  2288. > And would not stop talking about humans.
  2289. > And what was 'good for them.'
  2290. > And how she knew how to treat them right.
  2291. > With you standing right there.
  2292. > Like she wasn't talking about pleasuring your husband.
  2293. > You had swallowed your outrage, initially.
  2294. > Anon, to his credit, had played along.
  2295. > Gently attempting to get her to stop with a joke.
  2296. > But you could tell how uncomfortable he was.
  2297. > You could feel it.
  2298. > It burned in you.
  2299. > But when she started touching Anon...
  2300. > Inappropriately.
  2301. > You almost banished her on the spot.
  2302. > The bitch.
  2303. > But you resisted, and instead just moved on.
  2304. > And told the guards to get her out of there.
  2305. > And never let her back on Palace grounds again.
  2306. > No one touches your stallion.
  2307. > Err... human.
  2308. > But the rest of the evening went relatively well.
  2309. > The cake had been delicious.
  2310. > It had better have been, you had chosen it yourself.
  2311. > The rest of the ponies were...
  2312. > Well, not always enthused.
  2313. > But at least always cordial.
  2314. > It was better than could be expected, really.
  2315. > For some reason, though...
  2316. > Anon seemed to get more stressed as the evening went on.
  2317. > And as his stress got worse, so too did yours.
  2318. > Yet, you found some relief in closeness to one another.
  2319. > Like your feeling of happiness from the bond was competing with your amplified stress.
  2320. > But the unease remained.
  2321. > Even despite the two of you consuming more alcohol than was reasonable.
  2322. > It was the custom, after all.
  2323. > By the end of the night, you were both adequately 'smashed.'
  2324. > Fortunately, however, once you left...
  2325. > The stress both of you had bottled up just seemed to fade away.
  2326. > "I can't believe he said that. Like... I was right there!"
  2327. > A comment from a stallion about you.
  2328. > A compliment, really.
  2329. > If a little... crass.
  2330. > You were stunned, at the time.
  2331. > He had clearly drank far too much to make such a comment about his princess.
  2332. > But that wasn't the big part of it.
  2333. > Anon had almost drawn his sword.
  2334. > And threatened the stallion.
  2335. > Which prompted him to quickly leave.
  2336. > His quick response made you feel... hot.
  2337. > Loved.
  2338. > You and him were walking back from the ceremony.
  2339. > You knew your guards would be watching from afar.
  2340. > But you didn't much mind.
  2341. > It seemed a little chilly.
  2342. > He was probably cold.
  2343. > You wrapped your wing around his body.
  2344. > And snuggled your head against his shoulder.
  2345. > Carefully watching out for the horn.
  2346. "At least he didn't actually go out to grab them, like that mare with you..."
  2347. > He chuckled lightly.
  2348. > His arm wrapping around your neck as well.
  2349. > He looked down at you.
  2350. > You stared up at him.
  2351. > "Feeling jealous already, are we?"
  2352. > You were.
  2353. > But so was he, you think.
  2354. > You still stuck out your tongue at that.
  2355. > To which he stuck out his back.
  2356. > This all felt so right.
  2357. > You hoped this wasn't just the fresh bond.
  2358. > That you two would feel like this forever.
  2359. > You could...
  2360. > You could probably seal that deal tonight.
  2361. > It was when a couple was supposed to... be intimate, after all.
  2362. > The first night after the marriage.
  2363. > Plus, you knew Anon was comfortable with doing that so soon after meeting someone.
  2364. > And last night he said it was just because you were unmarried he wanted the couch.
  2365. > Surely tonight would be fine.
  2366. > Surely.
  2367. > You resolved to try.
  2368. > Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  2369. > The second you entered your room, you pounced.
  2370. > Meeting lips with him, once again.
  2371. > There was little resistance.
  2372. > You had this.
  2373. > This was your opportunity.
  2374. > He felt the same.
  2375. > Yesterday's resistance was just nerves.
  2376. > You wrap your wings around him.
  2377. > And pull him close.
  2378. > Increasing the pressure, you gradually pushed him back with the kiss.
  2379. > Across the room.
  2380. > Until you both fell over onto the bed.
  2381. > You could feel the lust overtake you.
  2382. > Amplified immensely by the magic flowing through you.
  2383. > You could feel it within him.
  2384. > Your kiss grew in ferocity.
  2385. > Her rolled you over onto your back.
  2386. > Returning the kiss with all of the strength you had put into yours.
  2387. > But you wouldn't be outdone.
  2388. > You flipped him back over onto his back.
  2389. > Breathing heavily, you stared at one another.
  2390. > Barely an inch between you.
  2391. > You captured his lips once more.
  2392. > And as you did...
  2393. > You reached out with your magic for his belt.
  2394. > And undid the clasp.
  2395. > But the second you did...
  2396. > He froze.
  2397. > His eyes wide.
  2398. > His hands braced against you.
  2399. > No...
  2400. > You had done everything right...
  2401. > You could feel revulsion flow through him.
  2402. > He suddenly pushed you back.
  2403. > And shoved you right off the bed.
  2404. > You fell and hit the ground with a loud thud.
  2405. > And laid there.
  2406. > In stunned silence.
  2407. > As you heard him throw up off the other side of the bed.
  2408. ------------------------------------------------------------------
  2409. "Sorry..."
  2410. > You are Anon.
  2411. > And fuck.
  2412. > You didn't think she was actually going to try that.
  2413. > And...
  2414. > You sort of had a bit of a panic attack.
  2415. > You'd never felt anything like that before.
  2416. > An immense, sudden wave of fear and panic.
  2417. > But he brief feeling of disgust which had washed over you when you felt your belt unbuckle...
  2418. > All the feelings of anger and sickness from the past day...
  2419. > It was like they were magnified a million times over.
  2420. > And you felt like you needed to escape.
  2421. > Immediately.
  2422. > All of your emotions have been extreme since the marriage.
  2423. > You suspect it had something to do with the bond.
  2424. > You kept mixing up your feelings and Celestia's.
  2425. > And you couldn't separate yours from hers.
  2426. > When you had that brief moment of doubt...
  2427. > It had bounced back into one in her.
  2428. > And it was like they had fed into one another.
  2429. > Until you could handle it no more.
  2430. > But it was messing with your head.
  2431. > You felt like a damn manic depressive.
  2432. > Bouncing from extreme happiness to sadness.
  2433. > And you couldn't handle it.
  2434. > You couldn't understand it.
  2435. > You roll back over onto your back, in the middle of the bed.
  2436. > The sheets smelled like her.
  2437. > The scent was comforting.
  2438. > Everything about her feels comforting.
  2439. > Like you're meant to be with her.
  2440. > You don't understand what went wrong...
  2441. > You had felt so...
  2442. > Right.
  2443. > Like you could do this with her.
  2444. > Like it didn't matter what she was.
  2445. > Until that sudden moment of doubt.
  2446. > And it overwhelmed you entirely in an instant.
  2447. > Celestia is silent.
  2448. > You needed to fix this.
  2449. > You needed to lie.
  2450. > A lot.
  2451. > You roll over, looking down from the bed at her.
  2452. > She's staring forward.
  2453. > A heartbreaking expression of defeat on her face.
  2454. > You needed to fix this.
  2455. "It... It's just the alcohol, I-"
  2456. > You cough.
  2457. > Your voice is distressed from the violent betrayal of your stomach.
  2458. > You intend to continue with your explanation.
  2459. > But the interruption gives Celestia time to speak.
  2460. > "No... It's not. I felt it... the disgust, when you... When I..."
  2461. > Oh Gods.
  2462. > The sniffles.
  2463. > She's about to cry.
  2464. "I... I'm sorry, I just..."
  2465. > She raises up a wingtip to silence you.
  2466. > As she stares up at you.
  2467. > That same sobering expression on her face.
  2468. > "You don't need to be sorry, Anon. I do. I know I..."
  2469. > A hiccup.
  2470. > A sob.
  2471. > "Repulse you. I shouldn't have tried to do that."
  2472. > The tears begin to fall.
  2473. > You try to express that she doesn't.
  2474. > But the words don't come.
  2475. > All that does is a stutter.
  2476. > In the moment, you had found her the most beautiful thing in the world.
  2477. > But your mind wouldn't let you lock away what she represented.
  2478. > And what you represented.
  2479. > You can feel her feelings of inadequacy.
  2480. > Her worries about her own self worth.
  2481. > You want to assure her that the problem wasn't with her.
  2482. > You knew the feelings quite well.
  2483. > You had been feeling them yourself.
  2484. > It was your feelings that were the problem.
  2485. > 'You're not worthy of her.'
  2486. > You needed to get away from here.
  2487. > There was some kind of negative emotional loop between you right now.
  2488. > And you were only making one another feel worse.
  2489. "I think... I should go, for now..."
  2490. > You felt panic spring into Celestia.
  2491. > You saw it, in fact.
  2492. > As she got up and tried to get close to you.
  2493. > "Please, Anon. No. I... I'll leave you alone. I'll sleep on the floor. Whatever you need to feel comfortable."
  2494. > Her horn lights up.
  2495. > And the mess you made evaporates immediately.
  2496. > "We can pretend this never happened. We can just roll back the clock..."
  2497. > She's practically begging you.
  2498. > Looking up at you with those shimmering violet eyes.
  2499. > Those crying eyes.
  2500. > "Just... Don't go. Please don't go. Not right now, on our first night married."
  2501. > You can feel crushing guilt settling in your chest.
  2502. > Both your own guilt...
  2503. > And that which Celestia felt.
  2504. > It crushed you to do this.
  2505. > You sat up, and moved out of the bed.
  2506. > Your head was throbbing now.
  2507. > You had never been familiar with the sickness associated with alcohol.
  2508. > But you suspected this sickness had nothing to do with that.
  2509. "I just need some fresh air. I think it'll do both of us some good to... be apart."
  2510. > Moving toward the door, you feel her magic encapsulate your hand.
  2511. > Holding you back.
  2512. > You can't bring yourself to look at her.
  2513. > Because you knew you would lose the will to leave.
  2514. > This was for the best.
  2515. > "Please... Anon. I'll do anything."
  2516. > You pull on her magic.
  2517. > She doesn't fight you.
  2518. > The aura fades immediately.
  2519. "I'll be back soon, Cel. I just... We need some space, to relax."
  2520. > You hoped using a nickname might help.
  2521. > Might indicate that you weren't leaving.
  2522. > But you couldn't stay here.
  2523. > The bond was fucking with you something fierce.
  2524. > And so, you walk out the door.
  2525. > And shut it behind you.
  2526. > Leaving her sniffles behind.
  2527. > And plunging you into silence.
  2528. > You lean over the railing to the balcony.
  2529. > Your heart ached with an intense pain.
  2530. > The bond was screwing with you.
  2531. > The further away from her you got, the more it ached.
  2532. > You tried to swallow the pain.
  2533. > You hoped she wasn't feeling this too.
  2534. > But you knew that was a naive assumption.
  2535. > Either way, the fresh air had proven to be good for you.
  2536. > Gave you the opportunity to think.
  2537. > As you stared out at the castle gardens, you could see guards patrolling.
  2538. > You had passed a pair on your way here.
  2539. > They had bowed to you briefly.
  2540. > But you had barely been cognizant of them.
  2541. > You had just been focused on finding a place to be isolated.
  2542. > "Well now you're isolated, my prince."
  2543. > Fear.
  2544. > Intense fear.
  2545. > It overwhelms you.
  2546. > That voice came from right beside your ear.
  2547. > It was feminine.
  2548. > Yet when you whip around, there's no one there.
  2549. "Who's there?"
  2550. > The room to which this balcony is attached fills rapidly with darkness.
  2551. > The moon is blocked out above you, by clouds.
  2552. > You're shrouded in the dark.
  2553. > You hadn't felt terror like this before.
  2554. > Pure terror.
  2555. > It shook you to your core.
  2556. > "A friend. Just relax..."
  2557. > Whipping around again, you can't spot where the voice is coming from.
  2558. > It seems to be coming from all directions.
  2559. > You draw your blade from it's sheath.
  2560. "Show yourself!"
  2561. > A deep laugh.
  2562. > And a pony emerges from the shadows.
  2563. > Cloaked.
  2564. > It bows before you.
  2565. > And you feel intense drowsiness overtake you.
  2566. > "As you wish, my prince."
  2567. > You fall back against the railing of the balcony.
  2568. > Dropping your blade.
  2569. > Exhaustion spreading through you.
  2570. > As the mare approaches you, you can see her eyes glowing.
  2571. > Those slitted teal eyes.
  2572. > Like a dragon's eyes on a pony.
  2573. > "Sleep."
  2574. > And like that, your consciousness fades.
  2575. -------------------------------------------------------------------
  2576. > Slowly, steadily, you begin to regain your senses.
  2577. > Your head still throbs through it all.
  2578. > Smell comes first, oddly enough.
  2579. > The smell of moss and rot.
  2580. > You scrunch up your nose at it.
  2581. > Following that, you regain your sense of touch.
  2582. > You can feel cold stones beneath you.
  2583. > They're wet.
  2584. > You're in a cavern of some kind.
  2585. > With taste, you can taste salt in the air.
  2586. > And with hearing, you hear the crash of waves.
  2587. > You're by the sea.
  2588. > But you can also hear a chant of some kind.
  2589. > You cannot recognize the words.
  2590. > But it is methodical, and repeating.
  2591. > A single voice.
  2592. > Blearily, you crack open your eyes.
  2593. > Dark spots cloud your vision.
  2594. > But you are struck by the scene before you.
  2595. > The cloaked mare, laid flat on the ground.
  2596. > Surrounded by a large circle of blue flame.
  2597. > It seems to be laid out in a pattern.
  2598. > Looking beyond her, you can see out of the mouth of the cave.
  2599. > To see the moon in the sky.
  2600. > She seems to be praying to it, or something.
  2601. > As you look down, you see no injuries.
  2602. > The feather remains around your neck.
  2603. > And your sword lies beside you.
  2604. > You're not bound, either.
  2605. > Just propped up against a rocky outcropping.
  2606. > You blearily try to reach for the blade.
  2607. > But intense lethargy is overwhelming you.
  2608. > As you swing your hand out for it, it just knocks the blade off a rock.
  2609. > And it clatters to the ground.
  2610. > In an instant, the chanting stops.
  2611. > And the mare turns her head.
  2612. > Those eyes...
  2613. > "You're awake!"
  2614. > Instantly, the flames disappear from around her.
  2615. > And she gets up, moving over toward you.
  2616. > "I'm so pleased. Our escape had been... Not as smooth as I would have liked."
  2617. > She's acting so...
  2618. > Familiar.
  2619. > You try to speak, but it barely comes out as a gasp.
  2620. "Where..."
  2621. > She shushes you.
  2622. > And lifts a waterskin up to your mouth.
  2623. > "Drink, you're probably a little dehydrated."
  2624. > You don't resist.
  2625. > Eagerly chugging down the water.
  2626. > Her glowing eyes have your attention the entire time.
  2627. > You've never seen anything like them.
  2628. > "I imagine you probably want an explanation of some kind."
  2629. > She has a sheepish smile on her face.
  2630. > You can make note of her features at this distance.
  2631. > Dark grey fur.
  2632. > A unicorn.
  2633. > Sharpened teeth.
  2634. > Above average height.
  2635. > Substantially, actually.
  2636. > She was almost at Luna's height, though not quite Celestia's.
  2637. > Eventually, after you've had your fill, she withdraws the waterskin.
  2638. > And begins to speak.
  2639. > "We're just outside of Canterlot, right now. Down by the Eqruscan River."
  2640. > She's being awfully accommodating for a kidnapper.
  2641. > That hopefully meant you were still relatively safe.
  2642. > Maybe.
  2643. > You cough, to clear your throat.
  2644. > A sympathetic look comes over her features.
  2645. > "I've taken you here because I think you might be more open to negotiation."
  2646. > Negotiation?
  2647. > What?
  2648. > "As you've probably guessed, I'm not really a pony. I'm a Dragon."
  2649. > ...
  2650. > Well now.
  2651. > This just got interesting.
  2652. "How?"
  2653. > She smiles.
  2654. > And raises a hoof, as she looks down at it.
  2655. > Inspecting it, almost.
  2656. > "This isn't actually me. It's some Canterlotian noblemare, although her body changed with the possession.
  2657. > "When we're done, I'll let her go."
  2658. > Mind control.
  2659. > That made this a lot more dangerous.
  2660. > You needed to be careful about your thoughts.
  2661. > Re-think every thought that crosses your mind.
  2662. > "Hopefully, you'll get to meet the real me soon."
  2663. > Hopefully, you got as far away as possible from her soon.
  2664. > Finally feeling up to more than one word questions, you ask.
  2665. "And who is the real you?"
  2666. > The hoof she's inspecting goes up to her chin, and she taps it.
  2667. > Before she seems to come to an epiphany.
  2668. > "Well, our names don't translate well into your language. But...my name is something like Nightmare."
  2669. > Nightmare.
  2670. > A mare of the night?
  2671. > Is she Luna's body double or something?
  2672. > "But that's not important. What is important is what I can offer you. Freedom."
  2673. > Her hoof flicks at the feather.
  2674. > And as it does, sparks erupt.
  2675. > Showering the area.
  2676. "Freedom?"
  2677. > Back to the one word questions.
  2678. > They seemed the most appropriate.
  2679. > Seeing she peaked your interest, excitement falls over her features.
  2680. > "Freedom. I am a Queen in New Falwing, and... I'm here to offer you an alliance."
  2681. > New Falwing.
  2682. > The Empire which threatened your south border.
  2683. > You knew they had a number of Queens.
  2684. > But it was still... an interesting offer.
  2685. "And... why, precisely, are you offering this?"
  2686. > Her smile becomes more confident.
  2687. > As does her stride.
  2688. > She thinks she's won you over already.
  2689. > Her horn ignites.
  2690. > And a magical map of the world projects from it.
  2691. > Displaying Equestria, Aetherium, and New Falwing.
  2692. > "We have no interest in fighting Aetherium. But your father is irrationally upset about our conquests."
  2693. > "He is refusing to meet our diplomats. He sealed the Equestrian deal before even meeting with us."
  2694. > A line is drawn on the map.
  2695. > It traces the expansion of the Empire in recent months.
  2696. > "Our goal has been Equestria from the start. They... took something of great value from us."
  2697. > A somber expression falls over her features as she mentions that.
  2698. > Clearly this meant quite a bit.
  2699. > Or she was being manipulative.
  2700. > You were willing to put money on that possibility.
  2701. "What did you lose?"
  2702. > She looks back over to you.
  2703. > A conflicted look about her.
  2704. > She's deciding whether to tell the truth.
  2705. > That's a bad sign.
  2706. > She sighs.
  2707. > "I... I can't tell you until you agree. But it's really important to us. Central to our religious practice."
  2708. > An artifact, perhaps?
  2709. > You saw her chanting to the moon earlier.
  2710. > Maybe it had something to do with that.
  2711. > Perhaps it was relevant to Luna's ascension...
  2712. > Despite your inner turmoil, she continues her speech.
  2713. > "Anyway, if Aetherium leaves the alliance, and even better, joins us..."
  2714. > Equestria fades from the projection.
  2715. > And Aetherium takes over the land.
  2716. > Making Aetherium and New Falwing the two largest empires.
  2717. > "Then everybody wins. Humans get their revenge, we get our revenge, and the ponies face justice."
  2718. > She had clearly rehearsed this.
  2719. > It seemed too good to be true.
  2720. > And so you express the question.
  2721. "And why, Nightmare, should I trust a word you say?"
  2722. > At that, her smile returns.
  2723. > "Because... I'll seal the Alliance with you, with a bond."
  2724. > "And your father will have no choice but to cooperate."
  2725. > Interesting indeed....
  2726. "If you hadn't noticed, I already have one."
  2727. > She scoffs at that.
  2728. > And points a hoof at the feather.
  2729. > "I can break it for you. I know the spell, and it won't cost you anything."
  2730. > Luna had told you there was a great cost.
  2731. > You presumed her specific mention of 'you' in that meant...
  2732. > It would cost Celestia.
  2733. > Substantially.
  2734. > "I would require nothing of you for the bond. You could go on living your life as you pleased."
  2735. > Could you, though?
  2736. > This would require some serious betrayal...
  2737. > Betraying a nation.
  2738. > Nightmare moves forward, beside your ear.
  2739. > And whispers gently into it.
  2740. > "Your people win, you win, we win. The only losers are the Equestrians. And you know they deserve it."
  2741. > Did they, though?
  2742. > They were stuck up arses...
  2743. > But most of them didn't own humans in this era.
  2744. > Most of the ones who deserved it were long dead.
  2745. > But still...
  2746. > It was tempting.
  2747. > It was everything you wanted, handed to you.
  2748. > And more.
  2749. > Your people would respect you for beating their old foe.
  2750. > But the price...
  2751. > You knew you didn't love Celestia yet.
  2752. > "Just give me the permission to break your bond... And you can have it all."
  2753. > Her words are like honey in your ears.
  2754. > Your hand reaches up, and grips the feather.
  2755. > You look down at it.
  2756. > It's warm to the touch.
  2757. > Despite the chill in the air.
  2758. > Freedom.
  2759. > The respect of your people.
  2760. > The power of Falwing behind you.
  2761. > It was so tempting...
  2762. > You look into her eyes.
  2763. > Those terrifying, magnificent Draconic eyes.
  2764. > They seem so enticing...
  2765. > You could barely think while staring into them.
  2766. > You give your answer.
  2767. ----------------------------------------------------------------
  2768. "I'm afraid I'll have to decline."
  2769. > As you say it, her demeanour changes entirely.
  2770. > Her breath catches.
  2771. > Her eyes widen.
  2772. > She wasn't expecting that.
  2773. > But you couldn't do this to Celestia.
  2774. > Even beyond that...
  2775. > Something was just rubbing you wrong about this whole deal.
  2776. > She wasn't telling you everything.
  2777. > And you weren't sure all your thoughts were your own.
  2778. > This whole situation just seemed so surreal.
  2779. > You weren't even entirely sure what to say.
  2780. > But you knew you couldn't take that deal.
  2781. > "But... Anon, it's everything you want."
  2782. > You gesture with your hand.
  2783. > Time to go with the flow.
  2784. "Not really. But I'm still willing to help make restitution for however my people wronged you."
  2785. > You raise your hand, and put it on Nightmare's shoulder.
  2786. > Her head turns to look at your hand.
  2787. > She's slack-jawed.
  2788. > And on autopilot, it seems.
  2789. > "Your... people?"
  2790. > Oh.
  2791. > Well, you supposed that turn of phrase didn't work.
  2792. > In this context, anyway.
  2793. "My ponies, sorry. Still new to this. But I am their prince, after all."
  2794. > You offer her a sympathetic smile.
  2795. > She clearly had not expected this.
  2796. > But a seriousness overtakes her features.
  2797. > "I... I implore you to reconsider. Please."
  2798. > There's a desperation in her voice.
  2799. > And the teeniest edge of a threat behind it.
  2800. > You suspected the wrong answer could upset her.
  2801. > And you don't want to deal with an upset dragon.
  2802. > You needed to do something...
  2803. > Something drastic.
  2804. > Something you uniquely were skilled at.
  2805. > You gotta let her down easy.
  2806. > You were a champion of doing that.
  2807. > Just not usually with such high stakes.
  2808. > It's time to lay on the charm.
  2809. > You could charm anyone.
  2810. > Your arm shoots up on her shoulder, patting it.
  2811. "I mean, not that you're not beautiful. You're stunning! If I wasn't already with someone, I'd definitely be with you."
  2812. > Layin' it on a bit thick.
  2813. > But Dragons probably like it a bit thick.
  2814. > They were known for their egos.
  2815. "But I'm kinda already married. I mean, you knew that when we started this."
  2816. > You give her a sympathetic smile.
  2817. > She's still staring at you, slack-jawed, her face riddled with disbelief.
  2818. > Damn those fangs are scary.
  2819. "And I sort of swore an oath, so you know. But still, friends?"
  2820. > You offer her a smile.
  2821. > And a handshake.
  2822. > Hoofshake?
  2823. > She blinks.
  2824. > And blinks again.
  2825. > "...I'm afraid that answer is unacceptable, my Prince."
  2826. > Well fuck.
  2827. > You had hoped it wouldn't go this way.
  2828. > Seems you would need to take action, not just words.
  2829. > "Perhaps... Perhaps you just haven't seen properly what monsters the Equestrians are."
  2830. > She gets close back up to you.
  2831. > Her voice whispering in your ear again.
  2832. > "I... I'll show you."
  2833. > You can feel the drowsiness overcoming you again.
  2834. > Her soft fur resting beside your face.
  2835. > Your hand reaches out to your side.
  2836. > "Sle-"
  2837. > And mid-phrase, you push her back.
  2838. > Interrupting her spell.
  2839. > And grab your sword.
  2840. > And point it at her neck.
  2841. "No, I don't think I will sleep. I think I'll be leaving now."
  2842. > Slowly, you push yourself up from against the wall, to a standing position.
  2843. > Once again, shock across her face.
  2844. > She looks down to the blade.
  2845. > Then back up at you.
  2846. > A look of anger crosses her features.
  2847. > Uh oh.
  2848. > You were hoping for intimidation.
  2849. > "You wouldn't kill me. You would be killing an innocent."
  2850. > She had a point.
  2851. > You hadn't intended to kill her anyway.
  2852. > Just... bluff.
  2853. > And it seems you have been called.
  2854. > "I know you're better than that, Anonymous. Just... please, cooperate."
  2855. > You feel her magic rolling up over you.
  2856. > Her horn glowing softly.
  2857. > You never were terribly good at taking orders.
  2858. > You flick your sword up with your wrist.
  2859. > The blade tip scores her horn.
  2860. > And interrupts the spell it was channelling.
  2861. > A bright light erupts from it, covering the cave.
  2862. > She screams out in pain.
  2863. > And falls back, lightning crackling from her horn.
  2864. > Using the distraction, you roll off to the side.
  2865. > And dive into the river.
  2866. > Falling as low as you can to minimize your visibility, you begin to try and move away.
  2867. > But you know she won't let you go that easily.
  2868. > Even through the water, you can feel the vibrations.
  2869. > That roar.
  2870. > By the Gods.
  2871. > You let the currents carry you, attempting to stay under water.
  2872. > But you quickly feel magic wrap around you.
  2873. > And pull you out of the water, suspending you in the air.
  2874. > Over the river.
  2875. > You see her on the bank glaring up at you.
  2876. > Her horn crackling with power.
  2877. > Judging by the look on her face, maintaining this spell is not comfortable.
  2878. > She pulls you over to the bank, and then holds you to the ground.
  2879. > As she moves over top of you.
  2880. > Staring down at you with the sort of disappointed look only a mother could give.
  2881. > "Anonymous. I really didn't want to have to do this. But you've left me no choice."
  2882. > Her horn connects with your forehead.
  2883. > And you feel a presence in your mind.
  2884. > It spreads a burn through your body.
  2885. > "I'll show you what monsters they are. And then... When we next meet, you will agree."
  2886. > Whatever she's doing hurts like nothing you've ever experienced.
  2887. > You can't think straight.
  2888. > You attempt to scream, but your lungs are empty of air.
  2889. > You can't do anything.
  2890. > But lie there and take it as the spell rips at your mind.
  2891. > "I won't let them hurt you too bad... But you need to learn."
  2892. > Her voice is soothing.
  2893. > The words making the pain of the intrusion lessen.
  2894. > "Let me in..."
  2895. > You reach out for the voice.
  2896. > For any words.
  2897. > To make the pain go away.
  2898. > And let down your defences.
  2899. > Complying with what the voice wants.
  2900. > And then, you feel nothing.
  2901. > Slowly, but surely, you begin to forget the events of this evening.
  2902. > You can't remember what happened after you left Celestia...
  2903. > You can't remember the cave...
  2904. > You can't remember the mare in the cave...
  2905. > You can't remember her name.
  2906. > But, in the place of those memories...
  2907. > A new voice emerges to answer them.
  2908. > Why am I here?
  2909. > You were ambushed by the guards... They're taking you away.
  2910. > Why did they attack you?
  2911. > Because they hate you... All Equestrians do...
  2912. > Who is this voice?
  2913. > She's your friend... Remember the voice.
  2914. > Where is Celestia?
  2915. > She abandoned you... You knew she would.
  2916. > Why?
  2917. > Because she hates you... You stole her freedom.
  2918. > Why does it hurt?
  2919. > Because it needs to hurt before it gets better... And it's going to get better.
  2920. > And like that.
  2921. > The voice says one final word.
  2922. > "Sleep."
  2923. -----------------------------------------
  2924. > Periodically, you feel your consciousness return.
  2925. > But it never stays for long.
  2926. > Fading in and out of your senses returning to you.
  2927. > Every time your consciousness returns, you're barely cognizant of the world around you.
  2928. > A loud whine echoing in your ears.
  2929. > You can see, although your vision is darkened around the edges, that you're being moved.
  2930. > Hovered in the air, in a magic grip.
  2931. > By an Equestrian guard.
  2932. > A mare, you think.
  2933. > Her armour shines brilliantly against the dim light.
  2934. > Much better off than you, at least.
  2935. > Somewhere along the process of capturing you, it seems they removed your clothes.
  2936. > Apart from your boxer-shorts.
  2937. > Seemed to be a trend to you to expose your body to these ponies.
  2938. > Although this time it was not by choice.
  2939. > Periodically, the guard looks up at you.
  2940. > You can't make out the features very well of her body...
  2941. > But she must be a unicorn.
  2942. > She raises a hoof to your neck.
  2943. > Must be to check your pulse...
  2944. > Her eyes look weird...
  2945. > Like the teal extends outside the iris.
  2946. > But you can't make out the details.
  2947. > Everything is blurry.
  2948. > It feels like you've drank far too much.
  2949. > From time to time, you see her talking to ponies.
  2950. > But you can barely make out the words over the ringing in your ears.
  2951. > "... Why does... need it..."
  2952. > What did you need?
  2953. > "... All entrants... identification..."
  2954. > Entrants to where?
  2955. > "Somewhere private..."
  2956. > No...
  2957. > They can't leave you with her.
  2958. > She attacked you...
  2959. > Why did the guards turn on you...
  2960. > You feel the magic slip away.
  2961. > And you land roughly on a stone floor.
  2962. > This room is too hot...
  2963. > Vaguely, you're aware of the guard talking to somepony.
  2964. > This is your chance...
  2965. > You try to push yourself up, but your muscles won't respond.
  2966. > They feel too heavy.
  2967. > Your body just lays there useless.
  2968. > Until you hear that voice...
  2969. > The comforting voice...
  2970. > It echoes in your ear.
  2971. > "I'm sorry, but I have to do this."
  2972. > Why did she have to do this...
  2973. > Because it has to hurt before it gets better.
  2974. > And as the words echo through your mind.
  2975. > An immense pain spikes through you.
  2976. > Your neck.
  2977. > It burns like nothing you've ever felt.
  2978. > You let out a primal scream.
  2979. > But you can't hear it over the ringing.
  2980. > You can't do anything.
  2981. > Your muscles spasm throughout you.
  2982. > The pain slowly moves along your neck.
  2983. > A methodical, pin-point flare shifting around.
  2984. > Desperately, you try to move.
  2985. > To shove yourself away from her.
  2986. > Your muscles barely respond.
  2987. > The intense shock of the pain preventing them.
  2988. > You attempt to force yourself to overcome it.
  2989. > And briefly achieve some success.
  2990. > But the magic hold of the guard returns.
  2991. > And it holds you firmly in place.
  2992. > Uncontrollably seizing on the ground.
  2993. > The voice returns amidst the pain.
  2994. > It is like a cool breath of air on your neck.
  2995. > Contrasting with the intense heat and pain.
  2996. > "Sleep..."
  2997. > You begin to feel what little grip on consciousness you had slip away.
  2998. > It is a merciful reprieve.
  2999. > When you next gain consciousness, it feels much more solid.
  3000. > The ringing has stopped, mostly.
  3001. > Your vision is filled with spots, but is clearing up.
  3002. > Your neck still hurts.
  3003. > Immensely.
  3004. > And you're still naked.
  3005. > Mostly.
  3006. > You can see the feather still proudly sitting on your now-bare chest.
  3007. > And a pair of boxer shorts protecting your pride.
  3008. > But now, you're sitting in a cell of some kind.
  3009. > On a bench.
  3010. > You can see out through a set of bars ahead of you.
  3011. > But not well, your vision isn't entirely clear.
  3012. > Tentatively, your hand reaches behind your neck.
  3013. > You can feel the skin raised there.
  3014. > It burns to the touch.
  3015. > Jolts of pain flare through your body as your finger touches it.
  3016. > But you trace the outline of the burn.
  3017. > A crescent moon.
  3018. > You've been branded.
  3019. > By somepony other than Celestia, no less.
  3020. > Celestia...
  3021. > Why would she leave you to them...
  3022. > Was this her doing?
  3023. > To pin you off on someone else?
  3024. > A crescent moon...
  3025. > Luna's Cutie Mark.
  3026. > Was this an attempt to get you out of her sight, now that she had her alliance?
  3027. > Pin you off on her sister?
  3028. > As your hearing begins to return, you can hear the roars of a crowd.
  3029. > Some sort of event is happening.
  3030. > Something exciting.
  3031. > You can hear a clash of blades.
  3032. > Are you at Tourney?
  3033. > Why the hell would you be at a tournament...
  3034. > Equestrians didn't hold tournaments.
  3035. > Their kind were horrid at proper combat.
  3036. > Rolling onto your stomach, you pull yourself forward.
  3037. > Until you reach the bars.
  3038. > And gaze out into the room.
  3039. > By the Gods...
  3040. > It's an arena.
  3041. > Two humans were out there, fighting one another.
  3042. > Both males.
  3043. > Both are mostly naked, like yourself.
  3044. > And both severely malnourished.
  3045. > You can see their ribs exposed.
  3046. > They can barely lift the weaponry they've been given.
  3047. > One, a spiked mace.
  3048. > The other, a shortsword.
  3049. > Neither had been trained in combat, that much was obvious.
  3050. > They were clumsily heaving the weapons towards one another.
  3051. > No efforts to block or dodge, just rampantly seeking to maximize damage.
  3052. > They were like animals.
  3053. > Eventually, the one with the shortsword manages to get it lodged in the chest of the mace-wielder.
  3054. > The crowd goes insane at that.
  3055. > And you see something thrown into the arena.
  3056. > A hunk of raw meat.
  3057. > The victor is bleeding profusely from the head.
  3058. > But nonetheless, he kneels down and begins to devour it.
  3059. > He needs medical treatment.
  3060. > He's going to die.
  3061. > "And next up, we have a special treat! A prime specimen of a human, donated by the Royal Guard!"
  3062. > "The Lunar Templar!"
  3063. > That... sounded bad.
  3064. > You were brought here by a royal guard.
  3065. > And had a moon on your neck.
  3066. > Desperately, you look around your small cell.
  3067. > And you spot your sword.
  3068. > At least they let you keep that.
  3069. > You move towards it, and pick it up.
  3070. > As you rise up to a standing position, you still feel dizzy.
  3071. > Slowly, the gates rise.
  3072. > And you move out into the arena.
  3073. > Your eyes scan the crowd.
  3074. > All Equestrians.
  3075. > You can see the guard who captured you directly across from you.
  3076. > Grey fur, blonde hair, teal eyes.
  3077. > Remember how she looks.
  3078. > You'll need to report her to...
  3079. > Someone.
  3080. > You might not have any options if Celestia ordered this.
  3081. > But, your attention was needed elsewhere.
  3082. > The victor of the last round has finished his meal.
  3083. > And is now rising up with his weapon.
  3084. > This wasn't good.
  3085. "I don't want to hurt you..."
  3086. > He doesn't even seem to understand the words.
  3087. > As he begins a reckless charge in your direction.
  3088. --------------------------------------------------------
  3089. > You still feel sluggish.
  3090. > Like you can't properly sort out your thoughts.
  3091. > Everything just seems so surreal.
  3092. > The ponies blur into a blob around you.
  3093. > Your mind focusing in on the person charging you.
  3094. > You knew you should be reacting.
  3095. > But everything seems to dilate.
  3096. > Slow down.
  3097. > You can make out the features of his face clearly.
  3098. > Unshaven.
  3099. > Uncleaned.
  3100. > His teeth rotting.
  3101. > His skin loosely hanging over his bones.
  3102. > This was clearly not some kind of new capture like yourself.
  3103. > He had been here a long time.
  3104. > Or somewhere like here, at the very least.
  3105. > You look down at your hand.
  3106. > It's all so blurry.
  3107. > Focus.
  3108. > Focus on survival.
  3109. > But it's so hard to focus...
  3110. > As you look back up, you see him excessively close.
  3111. > Too close for you to react.
  3112. > As the short sword cuts clean across your cheek.
  3113. > And right across your nose.
  3114. > A splash of blood gushes from you.
  3115. > And the sudden panic shoots your reaction into overdrive.
  3116. > Immediately, you drop low.
  3117. > His rebound slice going right over you.
  3118. > And you bring around your leg, knocking his out from under him.
  3119. > As he falls, he drops his blade.
  3120. > And you catch it in your left-hand.
  3121. > As you pirouette, you rise back up to land a foot on his throat.
  3122. > Pointing your blade in your right hand down at his face.
  3123. > A look of pure shock on his features.
  3124. "Stay. Down."
  3125. > You're not sure if he understands the words.
  3126. > But he clearly understands the meaning.
  3127. > Going limp beneath your foot.
  3128. > The crowd is going insane.
  3129. > Your feather is glowing a dim yellow light.
  3130. > Focus.
  3131. > The loud voice once again permeates the room.
  3132. > "And the Templar takes him down with only minimal injuries!"
  3133. > Minimal injuries?
  3134. > He maimed your face!
  3135. > As you rise your hand up, you wipe off the blood.
  3136. > The cut was pretty deep.
  3137. > Not life-threatening, but still.
  3138. > It would leave one hell of a scar.
  3139. > And your nose would be disfigured by it.
  3140. > You supposed it was irrelevant at this point.
  3141. > You were already married.
  3142. > You could get fat and ugly now.
  3143. > And Celestia could fucking deal with it after this.
  3144. > It would be her fault, after all.
  3145. > Her damn guard took you here.
  3146. > You look up to her.
  3147. > She's still there.
  3148. > Expressionless.
  3149. > You'd have to find her too.
  3150. > Assuming you ever made it out of here, that is.
  3151. > You refocus your attention on your surroundings.
  3152. > As you look around, you see the crowd chanting.
  3153. > A phrase you didn't like.
  3154. > "Kill him! Kill him!"
  3155. > As you look back down at the poor excuse for a human beneath your foot, you feel empathy.
  3156. > He's clearly had a torturous life.
  3157. > Finishing him would be a mercy.
  3158. > But...
  3159. > You can't be the one to grant it.
  3160. > You've never taken a life before.
  3161. > And you're sure as shit not going to do it for the pleasure of these sadists.
  3162. > You remove your foot from his throat.
  3163. > And move away.
  3164. > Still holding both blades.
  3165. > "And he opts for mercy! We'll see how that pays off..."
  3166. > Booing erupts from the crowd.
  3167. > And they start throwing debris at you.
  3168. > All sorts of garbage.
  3169. > It bounces off of you.
  3170. > Who the hell...
  3171. > Who throws a whole head of lettuce?
  3172. > Fucking ponies.
  3173. "Stop this madness at once! I am your prince!"
  3174. > Your voice barely carried over the crowd.
  3175. > But some ponies nearby to you respond.
  3176. > From just beyond the raised wall of the arena.
  3177. > You hear a voice laughing.
  3178. > "And I'm the Emperor of Gryphonia!"
  3179. > Rage fills your heart.
  3180. > Condescending fuck.
  3181. > You spot the pony who said it in the audience.
  3182. > Earth pony.
  3183. > Brown fur.
  3184. > Black hair.
  3185. > What looked to be an eyeball for a Cutie Mark.
  3186. > You were going to find him once you got through this.
  3187. > You hear the grinding of metal once again.
  3188. > A lot.
  3189. > Three doors.
  3190. > And three more mangy looking humans emerge.
  3191. > As you're looking at the three new humans, the one on the ground scurries off.
  3192. > Over to the dead body.
  3193. > Where he picks up the spiked mace.
  3194. > And looks back over to you.
  3195. > Motherfucker.
  3196. > You spared his goddamn life.
  3197. > You ready the blades once again.
  3198. > They have a variety of weapons.
  3199. > One even has a shield.
  3200. > This would be difficult.
  3201. > They charge with abandon again.
  3202. > Maybe it wouldn't be so difficult.
  3203. > A shield isn't much use if you have no idea how to use it.
  3204. > You steady yourself for their approach.
  3205. > Four on one.
  3206. > You'd faced worse odds.
  3207. > Picked up four ladies at once, that is.
  3208. > Not quite the same.
  3209. > But similar enough.
  3210. > Don't think, just do.
  3211. > As the shield-equipped one reaches you first, you kick forward.
  3212. > Pushing the shield up against him.
  3213. > His arm lets out a sickening crack.
  3214. > You broke it with a simple kick.
  3215. > They're like tissue.
  3216. > All of them.
  3217. > Barely skeletons charging after you.
  3218. > As he falls back, crying out in pain, he pushes into another one.
  3219. > Sending them both off balance and to the ground.
  3220. > This was just pathetic.
  3221. > As the third one and the one you fought earlier approach, You move back and adopt a defensive stance.
  3222. > Spiked mace, and a flail.
  3223. > As they move in to strike, you begin hopping from foot to foot.
  3224. > Had to stay mobile.
  3225. > The one with the flail makes a move first.
  3226. > Swinging it wildly.
  3227. > Waiting for the perfect moment, you jab with the shortsword.
  3228. > It catches the chain, and the flail wraps around it.
  3229. > Pulling him close, you swing the longsword around the back of him.
  3230. > And slice cleanly through his calves.
  3231. > He screams out in pain.
  3232. > And you push him back, sending him hurtling to the ground.
  3233. > The shortsword, still wrapped in the flail, is pulled away with him.
  3234. > And you move away, abandoning the shortsword.
  3235. > You knew he wouldn't be getting back up.
  3236. > You weren't going to kill...
  3237. > But you clearly had no choice but to incapacitate.
  3238. > As the one with the spiked mace advances, you deflect his strikes with the sword.
  3239. > It's an easy task.
  3240. > He puts no force behind them.
  3241. > But it takes a while before you can spot an opportune moment to incapacitate him.
  3242. > Plenty of opportunities for killing wounds.
  3243. > But not for ones he could recover from.
  3244. > And in that time, you get blindsided.
  3245. > A club with a nail in it strikes your left arm.
  3246. > Puncturing clear through the muscle.
  3247. > And out the other side.
  3248. > You scream out in pain.
  3249. > And swing around the sword on reflex.
  3250. > Neatly severing the head of the bastard with the club.
  3251. > Dimly, you hear the crowd erupt in cheers.
  3252. > And the one with the spiked mace charging at you.
  3253. > But all you can do is stare.
  3254. > Stare at the head as it falls to the ground.
  3255. > It's surreal, as you look at it.
  3256. > Your body is still on autopilot, and your right arm moves to remove the club from your arm.
  3257. > Pulling it out with intense effort.
  3258. > Blood pours freely from the open wound.
  3259. > You could give no quarter here.
  3260. > Attempting to only look for incapacitating wounds is incapacitating you.
  3261. > With only one good arm, you barely stood a chance at survival.
  3262. > Much less winning this handily.
  3263. > Deftly, you raise your blade.
  3264. > Putting strength behind it, you casually knock the charging attacker's mace off to the side.
  3265. > And as his momentum carries him forward, you swing the sword back.
  3266. > It neatly cuts across his neck as it comes back on the rebound from the mace.
  3267. > The blood which comes forth oozes, rather than spraying.
  3268. > It's thick, viscous.
  3269. > He's dehydrated.
  3270. > But you supposed that hardly mattered now.
  3271. > As he collapses against your legs.
  3272. > "Templar! Templar! Templar!"
  3273. > The crowd is chanting your name.
  3274. > Seems they want blood.
  3275. > Unfortunately, you had little choice.
  3276. > The one nursing the broken arm is still on the ground whimpering.
  3277. > You move over to him.
  3278. > And neatly sever the tendons in his leg as well.
  3279. > Before roughly pulling the shield from his arm.
  3280. > And attaching it to your bad arm.
  3281. > You still had enough of a range of motion that it would be helpful.
  3282. > Your focus is sharp.
  3283. > But your body remains beyond your control.
  3284. > Focusing in on important sounds.
  3285. > Like the scratch of metal again.
  3286. > But this time, it's only one gate.
  3287. > But it only had to be one.
  3288. > "Seems like we need a tougher challenger! Let's introduce the Templar to the Mountain!"
  3289. > Looking over, there's a hulking leviathan of a man.
  3290. > Easily seven feet.
  3291. > He's muscular, but not healthily so.
  3292. > Some sort of magical enhancement, had to be.
  3293. > His body is weirdly deformed, muscular in some spots...
  3294. > And withered and weak in others.
  3295. > His right arm immensely strong.
  3296. > His left a husk.
  3297. > But, you supposed he didn't terribly need it.
  3298. > He was holding a massive warhammer in the one hand.
  3299. > This... Was going to be unfortunate.
  3300. > You look out to the crowd.
  3301. > Easily a hundred ponies in the room.
  3302. > Roughly the same you had seen at Celestia's court, actually.
  3303. "You Gods-forsaken Sadists! I'll find every damn one of you for this!"
  3304. > Laughs erupt.
  3305. > This fucking country.
  3306. > Monsters, the lot of them.
  3307. > The stories had been true.
  3308. > Cheering for the slaughter of humans.
  3309. > Cheering for murder.
  3310. > Looking down at your hands, it sickens you how bloodied they are.
  3311. > Illuminated by the bright glowing light of the feather.
  3312. > Even if it's only your own blood, it repulsed you.
  3313. > Since the blood of these... humans...
  3314. > Creatures.
  3315. > They didn't qualify as humans at this point.
  3316. > They had been denied that privilege.
  3317. > Their blood wasn't on you.
  3318. > Physically.
  3319. > But it was staining your mind.
  3320. > You were doing them a courtesy.
  3321. > But the thought was bitter in your mouth.
  3322. > You lock eyes with the guard.
  3323. > She's still there.
  3324. > But her stoney expression is gone.
  3325. > Now a look of panic covers her features, as she stares off at a wall.
  3326. > Not even going to watch you win?
  3327. > How discourteous.
  3328. > You look back over to the hulking beast.
  3329. > The Mountain.
  3330. > He certainly qualified for that title.
  3331. > Time slows down once again as you stare over at him.
  3332. > You would want to keep on his right side.
  3333. > He wouldn't be able to effectively maneuver the hammer if you stayed close.
  3334. > Blade into that arm, and he's done.
  3335. > He wouldn't be able to take you once that arm was incapacitated.
  3336. > But you needed to be the one to engage.
  3337. > And with that, you begin a charge.
  3338. > Running to get close.
  3339. > Your eyes focused on his arm.
  3340. > Watching for the movement of his muscle.
  3341. > Ready to adjust at a moment's notice.
  3342. > You slide under his first swing.
  3343. > And slide forward, using your momentum.
  3344. > And bring up your blade.
  3345. > The cut goes right along the arm.
  3346. > Perfect.
  3347. > Blood sprays out on you this time.
  3348. > A more appropriate reaction to getting cut so severely, you thought.
  3349. > As your slide stops
  3350. > You turn around, and jump up.
  3351. > Sliding your blade right through his shoulder.
  3352. > That would be this fucker out of commission.
  3353. > As you brace your feet against his back, and try to pull the blade out...
  3354. > You catch resistance.
  3355. > The unexpected nature of it causes you to let go of your sword.
  3356. > And fall to the ground.
  3357. > As your falling, you see his weak arm gripping the sword.
  3358. > He had pulled it in to stop you.
  3359. > The wind is knocked out of your lungs as you land.
  3360. > You try, quickly, to raise back up.
  3361. > But it's already too late.
  3362. > The mace comes from the side, and nails you in the ribs.
  3363. > Sending you flying across the arena.
  3364. > You roll to a stop, in a hump.
  3365. > You desperately try to raise yourself back up...
  3366. > But you can't.
  3367. > Your ribs are shattered, no question.
  3368. > You attempt to gaze back over at the guard.
  3369. > But you notice she's gone.
  3370. > That bitch doesn't even have the courtesy to watch you die.
  3371. > You feel the earth quake with every step the mountain takes.
  3372. > Until you can see him from your lying position.
  3373. > He pulls your sword out of his shoulder, and casts it aside.
  3374. > Using what appeared to be his weak arm, he lifts up the gargantuan hammer.
  3375. > And begins to bring it down.
  3376. > And it collides with the feather, now levitating above your chest.
  3377. > Confusion spreads across his features, looking down at the little necklace.
  3378. > When an immense shockwave knocks him off balance.
  3379. > And flying out of your field of view.
  3380. > The entire arena blows sideways, the bars collapsing off the sides of the wall.
  3381. > The stone walls beneath the bars crumbling into dust.
  3382. > And the bars themselves flying through the air.
  3383. > The sandy floor beneath you flying off into a sandstorm.
  3384. > And through it all...
  3385. > You hear a voice.
  3386. > Louder than any you've ever heard.
  3387. > "Where. Is. He."
  3388. ------------------------------------------------------------
  3389. > As the dust begins to clear, you can see the chaos.
  3390. > Ponies running like crazy.
  3391. > The arena is destroyed.
  3392. > Everything, except for you, blown to the far wall in a heap.
  3393. > Except...
  3394. > You can't see any of the human bodies.
  3395. > You're grateful for that.
  3396. > But it strikes you as odd.
  3397. > Many of the ponies are diving into the arena and running for the open cells.
  3398. > Maybe there's a way out you weren't aware of.
  3399. > But it seems not, they just hide in the corners.
  3400. > And you see a plethora of Royal Guards diving in after them.
  3401. > Possibly more guards than there were spectators.
  3402. > This was a damn military intervention.
  3403. > The guards move with precision and grace.
  3404. > Tracking down each pony and tackling them down.
  3405. > Binding them to the ground with magic.
  3406. > As you shift your face to get a better look, you notice how odd the spectators look.
  3407. > You hadn't quite noticed it earlier, but seeing both the guards and them...
  3408. > The ponies almost sparkle.
  3409. > In fact, they do sparkle.
  3410. > Against the relatively dull sheen of the coats of the Royal Guards.
  3411. > Yet more oddity.
  3412. > You had never seen a pony like that.
  3413. > You hear heavy hoofsteps coming up behind you.
  3414. > Three guesses for who that was, given the voice you heard earlier.
  3415. > You try to chuckle.
  3416. > But it comes out as a hoarse cough.
  3417. "You have impeccable timing."
  3418. > You manage to roll yourself back over to look at her.
  3419. > Celestia.
  3420. > In some rather impressive looking armour.
  3421. > Somehow, you can't even bring yourself to be mad at her.
  3422. > "Don't speak."
  3423. > The words come out authoritative, but exhausted.
  3424. > Damn.
  3425. > She is looking worse for wear.
  3426. > Heavy bags under her eyes.
  3427. > Blood pouring profusely from her nose.
  3428. > But she's still the picture of intimidation.
  3429. > Alongside her stands a unicorn in a red robe.
  3430. > In fact, you see a number of them spread out through the forces.
  3431. > They appear to be maintaining the binds on the various spectators.
  3432. "Who's he-"
  3433. > You feel magic around your mouth.
  3434. > "I told you not to speak. You'll hurt yourself more."
  3435. > Hmm.
  3436. > She doesn't seem to be in the mood for humour.
  3437. > It was something you desperately needed right now.
  3438. > Grim reality was hanging over your head about your circumstance.
  3439. > And you were in dire need of distraction.
  3440. > But you suspected you wouldn't be getting it.
  3441. > Celestia tears her eyes away from you, and looks down to the pony beside her.
  3442. > "I need you to get him back to the capital, and into medical care. Immediately."
  3443. > The red-robed pony nods, and calls to some of the others.
  3444. > While he collects them, Celestia kneels next to you.
  3445. > Inspecting your wounds.
  3446. > "What in the world did you get yourself into..."
  3447. > Get yourself into?
  3448. > She thinks you chose to do this?
  3449. > Is she insane?
  3450. > It was her guards who did this!
  3451. > With her knowledge!
  3452. > ...
  3453. > And like that, it all becomes clear.
  3454. > She's saving face.
  3455. > Most guards must not know.
  3456. > And so she needs to play politics.
  3457. > So they don't suspect that she had a hand-
  3458. > Hoof.
  3459. > A hoof in any of this.
  3460. > That's why she's not letting you talk.
  3461. > "It's going to be fine. I... I'll see you back in Canterlot, soon."
  3462. > So she's sending you back there.
  3463. > Fascinating.
  3464. > And risky, from her perspective.
  3465. > Leaving you outside of her control.
  3466. > Although you doubted the ponies would believe you anyway.
  3467. > And you had no way of escaping in your state.
  3468. > She must have some plan coming up...
  3469. > "And Anonymous..."
  3470. > "When I get back, we're going to have a long discussion."
  3471. > She's damn right.
  3472. > You're going to have a hell of a discussion.
  3473. > And she'd better have a damn good explanation for this.
  3474. > For all of it.
  3475. > The ponies rather quickly assemble and surround you.
  3476. > Their horns begin glowing as you feel their magic envelop you.
  3477. > "Keep him safe. And don't let him hurt himself any worse than he already is."
  3478. > Hurt yourself.
  3479. > There's outrage in your chest.
  3480. > But you can't bring it to words.
  3481. > "Yes, my princess."
  3482. > Her magic has faded from around your mouth...
  3483. > But your lungs are having trouble processing air.
  3484. > You suspect they've taken some damage from your shattered ribs.
  3485. > Eventually, you feel your stomach lurch.
  3486. > It accompanies an immense pressure building in your chest.
  3487. > And your vision turns blindingly white.
  3488. > It's over in but a second.
  3489. > But you feel nauseous as your vision returns.
  3490. > A feeling you were becoming far too intimate with these days.
  3491. > You're staring up at sunny skies.
  3492. > And the faces of your escorts.
  3493. > Half of them are bleeding.
  3494. > From their noses.
  3495. > Snouts?
  3496. > Irrelevant.
  3497. > It was just like Celestia had been.
  3498. > You ponder on the significance of that for a moment, as a commotion builds.
  3499. > Carefully, you're elevated in their magical grip.
  3500. > And they begin to move you.
  3501. > Your escorts commanding ponies to move out of the way.
  3502. > It all feels so impossibly surreal.
  3503. > How are you still conscious...
  3504. > You can barely breathe.
  3505. > Your body feels exhausted.