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MP - Machiavellian Anonymous & Unfaithful Twi (Complete)

By ImDoingMyPart
Created: 24th January 2023 02:36:36 AM
7th February 2023 08:43:16 AM

  1. > Be Prince Anonymous.
  2. > And you can scarcely believe the information set out before you.
  3. > Yet here it was, clear as day.
  4. > Pictures, of your wife...
  5. > Your wife betraying you.
  6. > One of your contacts said they had something juicy for you, but you had never expected...
  7. "How much?"
  8. > You keep your voice even.
  9. > The lanky stallion shuffles slightly. They're always so easily intimidated.
  10. > "Six-hundred bits. A thousand if you want the name of the stallion."
  11. > Hmm. Quite the high offer.
  12. > An unreasonable offer.
  13. "I'll give you five-hundred for the pictures and the stallion's name."
  14. > A more reasonable offer, you thought.
  15. > The stallion's scoff suggested otherwise.
  16. > "I know how much you don't want this to get out. My price remains the same."
  17. > You hated when they knew they had a good hand.
  18. > But maybe you could convince him otherwise.
  19. > You swiveled your chair around, facing the gardens outside your window.
  20. "And I know how much you enjoy staying out of prison, Featherweight."
  21. "I'm being generous by offering you anything at all. And suddenly I'm in no mood to negotiate."
  22. > "But your reputation-"
  23. > You silence him with a gesture of your hand.
  24. "My reputation will remain sterling, if not improved by this information. It's my wife who would suffer."
  25. "I'll not ask again, Featherweight."
  26. > You hear him shuffle from behind you.
  27. > He then gives an exasperated sigh.
  28. > "Fine. It was Private First-Class Flash Sentry, sir."
  29. > You hear the photos drop onto the desk.
  30. "Perfect. Simmer will compensate you on your way out."
  31. > You gesture with your hand that he's free to go, and the door opens behind him.
  32. "It's been a pleasure."
  33. > He grunts, then turns to leave.
  34. > The door closes.
  35. > Your arm lashes out.
  36. > A fifteen-thousand bit vase is the victim of your rage.
  37. > A gift from a Gryphon delegation.
  38. > It was almost three millennia old.
  39. > Shattered on the floor.
  40. > This was unfortunate.
  41. > Very unfortunate.
  42. > Much of what you had built was dependent on your relationship to Twilight.
  43. > Your status as Prince was what had enabled you to build political capital.
  44. > It enabled you to start building up a repertoire of secrets.
  45. > Your livelihood depended on you maintaining that title, if this information got out...
  46. > But it wouldn't. Because you could stop it.
  47. > Because secrets were your profession. Usually they just weren't so close to your identity.
  48. > And usually keeping them secret didn't hurt so badly.
  49. > But most importantly, you had to stop this from happening again.
  50. > Twilight wouldn't cheat with just anyone, she's not quite so stupid as to risk her reputation carelessly.
  51. > This Flash Sentry must have some strong connection, something irreplaceable.
  52. > So really, covering this up was more a matter of dealing with him at this point.
  53. > Getting up, you walked over to a bookcase.
  54. > Pulling back the "Tome of Cyclical Entropy," the wall begins to shift.
  55. > Revealing your pride and joy.
  56. > Behind the false door, row-upon-row of filing cabinets.
  57. > Dirt on just about every person on this damn world.
  58. > Knowing exactly where to go, you navigate the room flawlessly until you reach it.
  59. > A cabinet labelled "E. Royal Guard - Canterlot Region."
  60. > Pulling it open, you move to guard assignments to Ponyville.
  61. > It doesn't take you long to find Flash, but you have almost nothing on him.
  62. > So this would have to be indirect.
  63. > The Captain of the Ponyville Guard was one "Gilded Light."
  64. > Opening his file, a grin spread across your face.
  65. > You did so love the game.
  66. > Closing it, you return the rest and close the cabinet, taking it with you back to your office.
  67. > You carefully navigate the shattered porcelain of the vase.
  68. > As you take your seat in your comfortable chair, you pull out a quill from the desk.
  69. > Some parchment from a cabinet.
  70. > And you begin to machinate.
  71. "Dear Captain Light."
  72. > Best to begin formal.
  73. "I am writing you regarding one Miss Shining Diamond."
  74. > And hit hard, and fast.
  75. "I am well acquainted with your improprieties with her."
  76. > Appear civil.
  77. "I hope dearly that you know the cost of infidelity in Saddle Arabia."
  78. > But make clear the threat.
  79. "If you wish to avoid a political catastrophe which could cost you your life..."
  80. > The threat to him.
  81. "And the possible costs to your family."
  82. > The threat to what he holds dear.
  83. "I have only one request."
  84. > Make the task easy.
  85. "You will order Private First Class Flash Sentry to stand guard alone at the Babbling Brook."
  86. > And show how simple it will be for him to keep this all safe.
  87. "His posting will be beside the Everfree."
  88. > Leave no details out.
  89. "Burn this letter after reading it. Tell no one, I will know if you do."
  90. > And make clear your power.
  91. "Further instructions will follow."
  92. > And that was all it took.
  93. > You'd have Flash out of the way in no time.
  94. > And then you'd only have to deal with your unfaithful wife.
  95. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  96. > Looking at yourself in the mirror, you carefully adjusted your tie to make sure it lined up perfectly.
  97. > Appearances were important, after all.
  98. > You had to make sure this event was memorable.
  99. "Sapphire, the platinum cuff-links, please."
  100. > "At once, my Prince."
  101. "And the matching crown, as well."
  102. > The blue-toned pony bowed, making an affirmative noise, before backing out of your room.
  103. > Moving over to the window, you looked out over Canterlot proper.
  104. > Your suite at the Castle was a thing of beauty.
  105. > An amazing view of the city.
  106. > While your wife lived in her castle in Ponyville, you stayed mostly in Canterlot.
  107. > At the castle which still represented the heart of Equestrian government.
  108. > Making regular trips out to the township, of course.
  109. > It was a necessity. Ponyville was still a backwater. There was little in the way of political gain to be made there.
  110. > You had carefully arranged political cover for your trip to Ponyville.
  111. > Ordinarily, if there was a threat, you would have someone else take care of it.
  112. > There was too much political risk in addressing a problem yourself.
  113. > But this 'Flash Sentry' had made things personal.
  114. > He had opted to not only risk Twilight's entire life, but yours.
  115. > That was something that called for action.
  116. > And you fully intended to deal with him yourself.
  117. > It had been too long since you had gotten to enjoy any real fun, anyhow.
  118. > While the game was still fun from afar, you missed the personal touch.
  119. > But you required a solid alibi. Or your wife would know something was up.
  120. > So you pulled a few strings.
  121. > The door opens behind you.
  122. > "Your cuff-links and crown, sir."
  123. "Thank you, Sapphire."
  124. > The train ride was luxurious, but it was what you were accustomed to.
  125. > You spent the duration of it looking over plans for an extension to the Manehattan train network.
  126. > Unlike your fellow Royals, who tended to delegate most of their labour, you preferred the personal touch.
  127. > It was what had made you so beloved amongst the populace.
  128. > Upon your initial arrival, you had been reviled; the ponies were a naturally suspicious lot.
  129. > But you had struggled endlessly to make the inroads necessary to win the hearts of the people.
  130. > In no small part by winning the heart of a princess.
  131. > And it was that focus on the individual issues that had won you that reputation.
  132. > That, combined with your ability to get what needed to be done finished.
  133. > Your door opened, a servant bringing in a cup of coffee.
  134. > "Your beverage, sir."
  135. "Thank you, Collar. An incredibly prompt delivery, I must say."
  136. > Even the stuffy old stallion becomes bashful at your comment.
  137. > "You flatter me, sir."
  138. > Of course you flattered him.
  139. > Flattery got you everywhere with the average citizen.
  140. > Made you seem humble, real. Something tangible.
  141. > Where their princesses were their deities, you were their messiah.
  142. > When the door closed, you returned to looking over the expansion.
  143. > It was a good distraction from the struggles that would be ahead of you.
  144. > Your purpose in Ponyville was ostensibly covered. You were opening a new orphanage this evening.
  145. > 'Anonymous' Home for The Hopeful.' Funded by one Filthy Rich.
  146. > One Filthy Rich with a lot of secrets.
  147. > But you only hoped you didn't encounter Twilight this evening.
  148. > You knew she would be in Ponyville, and likely know about your event.
  149. > But you couldn't predict what your reaction would be to seeing her.
  150. > You knew you had to keep your cool...
  151. > But you must confess, it stung. Harshly.
  152. > Hopefully she would wait until after Flash was dealt with.
  153. > Upon disembarking your train, you almost immediately spotted Mayor Mare.
  154. > And you also spot a veritable flood of the press.
  155. > They hounded you everywhere. You were a bit of a celebrity, after all.
  156. > Your guards move out to hold back the tide of press while you move towards the Mayor.
  157. > You had won her innumerable political battles in exchange for information in the early days.
  158. > It's why there was still a Mayor in this town when a Princess ruled it directly.
  159. > Something otherwise illogical.
  160. > As if there would ever be a 'Mayor of Canterlot,' for instance.
  161. > You address her.
  162. "Mayor Mare! It's such a pleasure."
  163. > "My Prince! It's been too long since I've seen you personally!"
  164. > You lift the small mare up into an embrace, and you hear the snapping of cameras behind you.
  165. > Putting her down, you brush a lock of hair out of her face.
  166. "Why, I was here not two weeks ago and saw neither hide nor hair of your beauty."
  167. > She gets a little flustered.
  168. > "Well, you could've dropped by City Hall! You know my door's always open for you!"
  169. > It's always hard to tell if she's playing the game quite like you are.
  170. > Or perhaps she's genuinely an admirer, like the rest.
  171. > You preferred to believe the former. Made it easier to deal with.
  172. "But I suppose we mustn't waste time with pleasantries. The sun's already falling and I have a ribbon to cut!"
  173. > She laughs and swats you with a hoof.
  174. > The mayor says to follow her, and you do, your guards moving with you.
  175. > You look to your watch.
  176. > Flash would be at his post now.
  177. > Your mind wanders briefly as to whether this is the right course of action.
  178. > When you look up, you notice you've fallen behind a bit from the Mayor, and pick up the pace.
  179. > Always have to look busy.
  180. > Because even if you spend every waking moment working for Equestria...
  181. > If it doesn't look like it, then they won't think you are.
  182. > And that's guaranteed to lose you the favour of the people.
  183. "And thus, it is my pleasure to officially declare Anonymous' Home for the Hopeful open for business!"
  184. > You bring down the giant scissors on the big red ribbon, slicing it in two.
  185. > As you open the doors, a bunch of foals run into the building.
  186. "And of course, to prove that this is a home fit for a prince, I'll be staying the night!"
  187. > The thundering roar of hooves on the ground echo through the township.
  188. > A rousing applause, merely for cutting a ribbon and giving them your presence.
  189. > The foals were for show, of course. The orphanage wouldn't open until tomorrow.
  190. > You had need of the building for tonight. Those foals would be put up at the local hotel for the evening.
  191. > Looking at the crowd, your entourage begin to disperse them as you move into the building with the Mayor.
  192. > "I can't tell you how much I appreciate this, Anonymous. Every time you stop by it seems a big boon for my career."
  193. "Happy to help, Mayor. I'm sure you realize this helps me as much as it helps you."
  194. > She chuckles, hiding her face behind her hoof.
  195. > "Oh as if you need political help. Everyone loves you."
  196. > You chuckle lightly.
  197. "I do seem to have that effect on people. But I'm sure you need to get home, Mayor. I won't keep you."
  198. > She bashfully kicks her hoof.
  199. > "Oh, I always have time for you, My Prince. But I suppose we can carry on tomorrow."
  200. > You move to escort her to the exit.
  201. "I'll see you in the morning, then?"
  202. > "You can bet on it!"
  203. > You watch her until she's firmly out of sight, before closing the door.
  204. > You turn to your Guard Captain, an imposing Gryphon.
  205. "Talon, I want you to watch this door and the windows."
  206. "No one comes in, no one looks in. If Twilight comes by, one of you stall and the other notify me."
  207. "In no other circumstance am I to be disturbed."
  208. > He snaps a sharp salute.
  209. > "Yes, Sir!"
  210. > Good.
  211. > You remove your crown and wrist-cuffs, placing them on the table.
  212. > You likewise remove your blazer, and place it over one of the dining chairs.
  213. > You roll up your sleeves.
  214. > Moving around the rear-portion of the orphanage, you head near the stairwell to the second floor.
  215. > Behind the stairs is a door, leading down to the basement.
  216. > Which you take.
  217. > And once downstairs, you go through the trapdoor beside the icebox.
  218. > In the sterile room there is a single occupant.
  219. > Your prize for the night. Bound and gagged.
  220. > Strapped to a table.
  221. > Yes, you think you'll have fun tonight.
  222. > You did miss the personal touch.
  223. "Hello, Private First-Class."
  224. -----------------------------------------------------------------
  225. > A voice draws you from your slumber.
  226. > Cracking open your eyes takes considerable effort.
  227. > And the intense light from the top of the stairs blinds you.
  228. > You move a hand to cover your eyes, and avert your gaze.
  229. > "My Prince, it's six-thirty."
  230. > You groan loudly.
  231. > You should have stopped earlier last night.
  232. > But he kept on going.
  233. > So you had to.
  234. > Your bones feel rusty as you move up into a sitting position.
  235. > Snaps and crackles all the way.
  236. > Your eyes finally adjusting, you can see your Guard Captain at the top of the stairs in the light.
  237. "Thank you, Talon."
  238. > He makes an affirmative noise, turning to leave.
  239. > The small door closes, returning you to the relative darkness of the cellar.
  240. > Small, magic-powered lamps are around the room, but they provide little light.
  241. > Grime cakes your once immaculate white dress shirt and vest.
  242. > Pulling yourself up from the floor, you nearly slip.
  243. > Seems you passed out in a wet spot, a terrible shame.
  244. > Your whole body moves slowly, aching from sleeping on a stone floor.
  245. > Looking down at yourself, long red splotches stain your clothes.
  246. > Beyond any hope of cleaning, you supposed.
  247. > Slowly, your hand moves to the buttons of your vest, and you discard it.
  248. > Then your dress shirt.
  249. > But the pants stay.
  250. > You stand tall, stretching to shake off the stiffness in your joints.
  251. > Your immaculate form glistening in the wetness.
  252. > Seems the stains weren't limited to your clothes.
  253. > Your gaze draws over to a table on the far side of the room, holding what you needed.
  254. > It was the only immaculate portion of the room, you had required that it remain so.
  255. > You move over, slowly, to the table, and hear something snap under your foot.
  256. > A long, white, yet thin stick.
  257. > Reminded you of a chicken wing from back home, if it was oversized.
  258. > Ignoring it, you continue to the desk, and pull yourself up on it.
  259. > You sit beside the object of your affection, your back against the wall.
  260. > A solid oak box, with Twilight's cutie mark emblem emblazoned on the lock.
  261. > Reaching down into your pants pocket, you withdrew a small key.
  262. > And slid it slowly into the box.
  263. > And as you pulled it back, it revealed perhaps your greatest treasure.
  264. > One of the only things you got to keep when you arrived.
  265. > Six cigars, Cubans.
  266. > Originally of twelve.
  267. > It was a terrible shame this world didn't have Tobacco.
  268. > Or at least some pony equivalent of Cuba, to reminisce at.
  269. > In the second compartment, your lighter.
  270. > Specially engraved, although you had no idea what the engraving meant.
  271. > You had forgotten a lot of your previous life, but you remembered what these were.
  272. > Flicking the lighter on, you put the cigar in your mouth.
  273. > You light the tip, and inhale deeply.
  274. > The hot feeling of smoke in your lungs makes you feel alive.
  275. > After holding it in for a second, you exhale slowly.
  276. > Letting the fire roll out of you.
  277. > And as it finishes...
  278. > You begin to speak.
  279. "You know, Flash, I detest murder."
  280. > The room remains completely silent, save your breath.
  281. > You take another long drag from the cigar.
  282. "It's terribly ineffective. Leaves too many holes to cover up."
  283. > You look at the state of the room before you.
  284. "Too much mess to clean."
  285. > Another drag.
  286. "But it's not all about the practicality. There's a personal reason."
  287. > The cigar is draining quickly, and you feel strength returning to your limbs.
  288. > Your impressive physique flexes, shaking away the stiffness.
  289. > The room is rapidly filling with smoke.
  290. "I don't like to end a life. I know it's not who I was before I came here."
  291. > Standing back up with the cigar, you approach the table where Flash was initially bound.
  292. > It's vacant now.
  293. > It's occupant had gone on quite an adventure.
  294. > Your fingers run along the shoddy wood.
  295. > It wasn't well built, but it didn't need to be.
  296. > It just needed to hold him still 'till you got here.
  297. "It's why I'm smoking now. Because I feel like..."
  298. > You pause, looking for an apropros thing to say.
  299. "If I'm going to take away something from you that is so precious, I should lose something too."
  300. > You clenched the Cigar end between your teeth, holding it there to free up your hands.
  301. > You picked up your vest from the floor, and laid it out nicely on the table.
  302. "Something from myself before I became this."
  303. > The cigar is nearly done.
  304. > You once again withdraw it to your hand, as you meander over to the lump in the corner.
  305. > It's not moving.
  306. > And it's certainly not the same colour it started out as.
  307. "I'm not sure what I'll do when I run out."
  308. > You kneel down, observing the lump.
  309. > There was little in the way of defining characteristics left.
  310. "But I do hope you understand, I didn't choose to do this lightly."
  311. > You rub out the nub of the cigar on the ruined corpse.
  312. > No reaction.
  313. > Not even a twitch.
  314. > Your work was truly done.
  315. > Moving back up, you gather up your vest and shirt.
  316. > You would leave the box for another to collect.
  317. > You couldn't risk sullying it further.
  318. > You then turn around, and look toward the door.
  319. > You pause for a moment.
  320. "I'm sorry it had to be this way. You could have avoided this."
  321. > You begin to move.
  322. "But you chose a fight you couldn't possibly win."
  323. > You're at the exit quickly.
  324. > You look back one last time.
  325. > And give a little salute.
  326. "Rest in peace, Private."
  327. > Climbing the stairs back up to the main room, you see Talon waiting for you.
  328. > Along with two of his subordinate Gryphons.
  329. > You hold out your clothes for one of the subordinates to take, which they do.
  330. "Burn them, there's a fireplace in the dining hall of the building."
  331. > He looks briefly to Talon, who gestures for him to go.
  332. > The Gryphon takes off quickly.
  333. "I'll be taking a shower. I expect that room to be collapsed before I finish."
  334. > Talon snaps a sharp salute.
  335. > "It will be done, My Prince. A new suit is in the bathroom."
  336. > He gestures to a specific door in the hallway.
  337. > A smile spreads across your face.
  338. "Thank you, I can't imagine what I'd do without you."
  339. > You move into the bathroom, and turn on the shower.
  340. > Taking off your pants and undergarments, you jump in immediately.
  341. > The water is like ice, but it feels like sweet relief.
  342. > The water flowing off you is tinged crimson.
  343. > Taking some of the soap, you begin to lather yourself.
  344. > This was reckless, you knew.
  345. > Coming here in person, you mean.
  346. > But sometimes principle overwhelmed logic.
  347. > And under the cold water, you knew you would be fine.
  348. > Your sins were washing right down the drain.
  349. > But as you look at the drain, you notice not all of it goes down so well.
  350. > A bright orange feather, tinged red.
  351. > Must've stuck to you with the caked on grime.
  352. > Picking it up, the red drains from it under the water.
  353. > As you turn off the water, you carry the feather with you out of the shower.
  354. > Your put on your shirt and new pair of of pants.
  355. > Your new vest.
  356. > And your blazer, from last night, with the cuff-links.
  357. > You slide the feather into one of the inside pockets of the blazer.
  358. > And lastly, you put on your crown.
  359. > You had returned from the darkness.
  360. > And there was only one problem left on your mind.
  361. ----------------------------------------------------------------------
  362. > You're sitting before the fireplace of the orphanage.
  363. > Watching the flame waver back and forth.
  364. > Your foot tapping on the floor.
  365. > Now the real battle began.
  366. > You were entirely unsure how precisely you were going to handle the situation with Twilight.
  367. > And that disturbed you.
  368. > You never left things to chance.
  369. > The dim sizzle of what was once an incredibly expensive suit smouldered in the fireplace.
  370. > The ashes would need to be removed as well.
  371. > But you had no viable solution to the problem presented to you.
  372. > Divorce would crush everything you have worked so hard to achieve.
  373. > And if you challenged her on her affair, it would reveal your complicity in Flash's disappearance.
  374. > While you had plenty of material to control Twilight's silence with...
  375. > Experience has taught you that princesses are volatile, and difficult to manage with your trade.
  376. > You look away from the flames, your eyes closing.
  377. > None of the scheming mattered.
  378. > You knew you couldn't bring yourself to control her.
  379. > While the rational side of your mind said to play her...
  380. > You knew you couldn't.
  381. > You rose up, and moved over to the window.
  382. > You couldn't sit still.
  383. > There was so much at stake.
  384. > Your father had always said 'Great men know their strengths.'
  385. > 'The Greatest men know their weaknesses.'
  386. > You couldn't even remember the man.
  387. > But you remembered the phrase.
  388. > She was your Achilles' Heel, your one weakness.
  389. > What an irony.
  390. > What is a man to do when his weakness turns on him itself?
  391. > Twilight was invulnerable, to most of the populace.
  392. > You had made sure of that.
  393. > Because...
  394. > Because you loved her.
  395. > Which was tainted now, forever.
  396. > Every time you saw her face you would remember those pictures.
  397. > How in the hell could you ever be intimate again.
  398. > She would know something was up, immediately.
  399. > You prided yourself on your ability to put up a face to match any occasion.
  400. > And yet she could always tell when you were out of sorts.
  401. > And always find a way to cheer you up.
  402. > Your hand runs up through your hair, and you find it still damp.
  403. > Hell, you doubt you can keep your mask on just speaking with her.
  404. > A circumstance which was rapidly approaching.
  405. > A subtle rage brewed in you.
  406. > The rage of uncertainty.
  407. > You withdraw your key from your pocket, and run your thumb along it's grooves.
  408. > For now, you would have to keep it under wraps.
  409. > At least until Flash was long forgotten.
  410. > For all you know, she might tell you about it.
  411. > Beg for forgiveness, the whole nine.
  412. > That would complicate things even further, it occurred to you.
  413. > But had she intended to do that, she would've been at the train station.
  414. > So you supposed guilt was likely what she was feeling.
  415. > The grooves of the key are wearing a cut into your thumb.
  416. > And as a product of that, an unwillingness to approach you.
  417. > It was the most logical explanation of how you managed to evade seeing her all night.
  418. > You were prepared with a whole song and dance to avoid her if she showed.
  419. > When you had a plan, you could do anything.
  420. > You just boiled down your action to the steps.
  421. > It was how you dealt with stress, ignore the surrounding context.
  422. > Focus on what you need to do.
  423. > But your brain wouldn't permit it, here.
  424. > You knew the easiest solution to your problem.
  425. > Blueblood had mentioned it repeatedly over the course of your time in Canterlot.
  426. > How it is that he remains a permanent Prince without a Princess or a pair of wings.
  427. > His dearly departed.
  428. > How easy it would be.
  429. > Your mind immediately conjures the full plan.
  430. > A poisoned chalice, with Baktic Acid.
  431. > Uniquely found in the Falstad Republic, a Minotaur country.
  432. > Invite the ambassador back, as an act of good will.
  433. > Your thumb stopped running along the key.
  434. > Political tensions already festered between the nations.
  435. > Twilight had already spoken down to an ambassador.
  436. > An assassination would be expected.
  437. > Your foot stops tapping.
  438. > There's a knock at the door, and your guards answer it.
  439. > You could mourn Twi to win their hearts...
  440. > And when the war inevitably started up
  441. > Lead battles to win their minds.
  442. > You can see yourself, standing in the field, donning Equestrian armor.
  443. > Commanding the ponies in battle.
  444. > And in doing so uniting Equestria...
  445. > And destroying one of its enemies.
  446. > And becoming more beloved than ever before for leading despite your hardship.
  447. > The familiar voice of Mayor Mare at the door.
  448. > It would be so easy to accomplish.
  449. > You knew you could best the Republic.
  450. > And it would help Equestria.
  451. > Your heartbeat slows.
  452. > The sound of hoofsteps entering the orphanage.
  453. > The plan gives you comfort, a feeling of familiarity.
  454. > An ability to detach yourself from reality.
  455. > But you know it to be a false confidence.
  456. > The plan failed to account for you.
  457. > And your weakness.
  458. > When the sound of steps reaches the entrance to your room, you turn.
  459. > A friendly smile on your face.
  460. > Not a sign of stress upon you.
  461. "Mayor! I hope you slept well!"
  462. > And the game begins anew.
  463. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  464. > "Why yes! You don't get to look this good without your beauty sleep!"
  465. > The mare slowly sauntered across the room until she could speak in a lower tone.
  466. > "The paperwork is filed for Flash's 'transfer.'"
  467. > A small smile spreads across your face.
  468. "I appreciate it, Mayor. Can't imagine where I'd be without you."
  469. > She titters, poking your leg with a hoof.
  470. > "Don't mention it, Anon. Anything you ever need."
  471. > And she bumps your leg with her flank.
  472. > "And I do mean anything."
  473. > She's definitely playing the game.
  474. > And you love it. There are so few who appreciated the art like you did.
  475. "I'll have to keep that in mind. Care to have lunch?"
  476. > You were stalling.
  477. > You knew you had to go to the Castle, but you needed more time.
  478. > Time to compartmentalize your encounter with Twilight.
  479. > The Mayor strikes a dramatic pose.
  480. > "Why Prince Anonymous, I would be delighted. You sure your wife won't mind?"
  481. > She might.
  482. > Twilight had always been a protective mare, a little controlling.
  483. > It was in her nature, you supposed.
  484. > Like you, she craved structure.
  485. > Things following a neatly laid plan.
  486. > It was what had drawn you to her.
  487. > It was what had drawn her to you.
  488. > She exposed you to a whole other dimension of organizing, the study of magic.
  489. > While not innately capable of casting yourself...
  490. > You had designed a number of devices based on its principles.
  491. > Like the special watch you wore on your wrist right now.
  492. > In return you had exposed her to a far more complicated field of planning.
  493. > The study of politics.
  494. "I'm sure she won't mind if I'm a little late to visit."
  495. > On your way out of the orphanage, you see quite a number of foals waiting outside.
  496. > Alongside the press, who had returned to catch the Prince in the morning.
  497. "Good morning, my little ponies!"
  498. > A roar of approval surged through the crowd.
  499. "I think I can safely say this home is one of the comfiest around, and perfectly fit for the best little foals in Equestria!"
  500. > You kneel down and pick one up, ruffling her mane.
  501. > A little dark blue filly.
  502. > She giggles and swats at your hand to try and get you to stop.
  503. > You grin as you place her atop your head, giving her a piggy-back ride.
  504. "But I think all of you deserve a treat, first. Ice cream's on the crown today!"
  505. > Yet more cries of approval, and a horde of foals swarming around you.
  506. > The filly on your shoulders makes a squee of happiness.
  507. > You start making your way to the local ice cream parlour, carefully avoiding stepping on anypony.
  508. > It occurred to you that knowing Twilight, she had to have some sort of plan in motion.
  509. > It would be unlike her to dive into an affair without checks in place.
  510. > She's typically not so reckless as to risk getting caught.
  511. > Flashes of cameras surround you, and you take it in stride, leading your troupe of foals to their destination.
  512. > The Mayor is at your side, chatting to a young colt.
  513. > You were surprised she didn't have foals of her own, actually.
  514. > Nor a stallion, for that matter.
  515. > A family was a political asset.
  516. > Especially given the political climate in Ponyville rapidly changing...
  517. > Before long, this little town would be a metropolis like Manehattan or Canterlot.
  518. > Being the seat of royalty tended to do that to a town.
  519. > And with that population, political challengers would arise.
  520. > Perhaps it was time to discuss her political future.
  521. > Well, that could wait.
  522. > You had appearances to keep up for now.
  523. "Here it is! Go in and order whatever you want, you little rascals!"
  524. > The filly on your shoulders practically leaps off to enter the shop.
  525. > Foals.
  526. > You were sitting in the ice cream parlour listening to one little foal tell a story.
  527. > Well, pretending to listen anyway.
  528. > You had a remarkable talent for pretending.
  529. > The shop owner had practically exploded with joy at your presence.
  530. > Oddly, not even at the financial impact of such a big purchase.
  531. > Nor the further financial incentives of association with your name in the press.
  532. > She just gushed over you from behind the counter.
  533. > When you had called her by name...
  534. > 'Bubblegum Swirl, how could I forget the owner of the best Ice Cream shop in Equestria?'
  535. > She had practically exploded with glee that you remembered her.
  536. > It was amazing what an impact you had on these ponies.
  537. > But sadly, your mind remained many miles away.
  538. > Your meeting with Twilight grew ever closer.
  539. > In fact, you'd probably have to head there once all the foals were done.
  540. > To visit your loving wife.
  541. > It was a struggle to keep a grimace off of your face.
  542. > But you couldn't risk it with the cameras all around you.
  543. > The foal has wrapped up his story.
  544. > You start clapping your hands, the rest of the foals follow your example.
  545. "Why, that was terrific Skystreak! You'll be the next Shakespone yet!"
  546. > The colt blushes, but excitedly jumps up and down.
  547. > "You really think so? Thanks mister Nononymoose!"
  548. > You let out a chuckle.
  549. > You ruffle his hair as well as you stand up.
  550. "Well, fillies and colts, I fear I must be off to go visit my princess."
  551. > A collective 'awwwwwwwwh' cries out through the shop.
  552. > Including one from the owner.
  553. > Adorable.
  554. "But you lot can feel free to drop by the castle any time I'm in town. That's a promise."
  555. > That made their expressions do a 180. A cheer erupts.
  556. > The instructors start shepherding out the foals.
  557. > Chiding them about the ice cream on their faces.
  558. > "Good luck, My Prince."
  559. > The Mayor had snuck up beside you, giving you a grin.
  560. > She gives you a pat on the back of the leg before following out the swarm.
  561. > It was time.
  562. > As you approach the castle, the media frenzy remains relentless.
  563. > Constant pictures, everywhere you went.
  564. > While it was sometimes annoying, you knew it was for the best.
  565. > It was a constant reminder.
  566. > To keep up your face at all times, no matter what.
  567. > To never give the impression of the turmoil inside you.
  568. > Because a frown could provoke a national outcry.
  569. > An inquiry into who or what had wounded the normally exuberant prince so badly.
  570. > And that inquiry might find more than it has any business finding.
  571. > When you reach the courtyard of the castle, you hear your name cried out from above.
  572. > "Anon!"
  573. > Looking up, you see a lanky purple dragon flying down from one of the balconies.
  574. > Prince Spike.
  575. "Spike! It feels like it's been forever!"
  576. > The dragon doesn't stop as he glides low, tackling you onto your back.
  577. > He was bigger than you, now.
  578. > "That's because it HAS been forever! I've missed you!"
  579. > A tight hug envelops you.
  580. > You can feel the heat radiating from his inner fire.
  581. "Well miss no more, buddy. I'm here for a while."
  582. > You can see the grin spread across his face.
  583. > He adored you more than any other in Equestria.
  584. > You were partially responsible for his growth, after all.
  585. > You had worked your magic to learn about his specific breed's ageing habits.
  586. > It was part of what had won Twilight's affection so many years ago.
  587. > You pat the dragon on the side, signalling him to let you up.
  588. > He gets up off of you, and then helps you up.
  589. > The dust slides off your clothes itself.
  590. > Thank you, magic.
  591. > The giant grin remains on Spike's face.
  592. > "Well, c'mon! Twi's been locked up in her study for days. God knows on what."
  593. > "And we both know the only one who can break her out of that daze."
  594. > He does an eyebrow waggle.
  595. > You smile back.
  596. "I'll see what I can do."
  597. -----------------------------------------------------------------------
  598. > Moving toward the castle proper, Spike begins to regale you with his exploits.
  599. > His romantic exploits, primarily.
  600. > The little Drake could have almost any mare he wanted.
  601. > He was royalty, after all.
  602. > Yet his sights remained set on his true love.
  603. > The element of generosity.
  604. > It stunned you that she remained single.
  605. > It stunned you further that she continued to play coy to his advances.
  606. > When Spike still looked young, it was understandable.
  607. > But now, you couldn't fathom why she didn't give in.
  608. > Perhaps she simply liked the chase.
  609. > As you pass the main entrance, you gesture to your guards that they were dismissed.
  610. > Only Talon remained, joining the Royal Guards in the castle courtyard.
  611. > He was fiercely loyal.
  612. > You wondered when the poor sap had time to sleep, with how diligently he followed you.
  613. > But he was your most trusted advisor.
  614. > Apart from your wife, of course.
  615. > Hm.
  616. > Perhaps he had moved up in the ranks, you supposed.
  617. > Entering the castle, you're immediately struck by a feeling of claustrophobia.
  618. > Like the walls are closing in on you.
  619. > You feel trapped.
  620. > Yet, through it all you persevere.
  621. > While you were away from the cameras, you had Spike here.
  622. > And it would crush him to know that you were upset.
  623. > Especially if he were to discover the reason why.
  624. "So Spike, where's your sister hiding?"
  625. > "The archives, of course. She's barely been eating, too."
  626. > So your guilt assumption was likely right.
  627. > No doubt Spike was writing it off as her usually obsession with new knowledge.
  628. > At least she had the decency to be upset about her betrayal.
  629. > Looking around while walking, a thought strikes you.
  630. "Where are all the guards? This place is barren!"
  631. > That was generally a bad sign.
  632. > Spike scratches the back of his head.
  633. > "Gilded Light has them all on a search. One of his guys went missing."
  634. > Oh?
  635. > Seems they would find out too late that Flash went to the mayor for a transfer.
  636. > A terrible shame, that.
  637. "Oh? Is Gilded here?"
  638. > Gilded in person, Light in letters.
  639. > The differentiation gave you more plausible deniability.
  640. > "Nope, he's out with the rest of them searching the Everfree."
  641. > Useful.
  642. > Walking by the door to his office, you distract Spike.
  643. "I don't recognize that statue..."
  644. > Of course you recognized the statue.
  645. > Spike looks at you with disbelief, before turning to the statue.
  646. > "That's a replica of Luna's first Night Guard, Silverwing! He's so awesome, this one time..."
  647. > And while he's distracted, with perfect timing, you withdraw a letter.
  648. > And slide it under the door.
  649. > It should keep Gilded Light's conscience clear.
  650. > And your footsteps covered.
  651. > As Spike wraps up his little tale, you comment.
  652. "Fascinating. Let's carry on, though. Gotta bust Twilight out of her trance."
  653. > The door to the Royal Archives.
  654. > You had spent many a day down there, learning everything about Equestria.
  655. > Its culture, its heroes, its history...
  656. > Its villains.
  657. > You knew the ins and outs of what every Equestrian thought the model citizen was.
  658. > And what they reviled in anypony.
  659. > It was essential to crafting your political persona.
  660. > The archives even possessed knowledge of foreign cultures.
  661. > Every border state to Equestria, in fact.
  662. > You and Twilight had spent months combing through the collective knowledge when it was uncovered.
  663. > It was initially sealed away, only uncovered by Spike accidentally.
  664. > There was something magical about it, that it seemed to perpetually generate new knowledge.
  665. > News about recent events would be found in tombs in sections you and Twilight had picked clean.
  666. > It was the eternal source of joy for Twilight.
  667. > And where she went whenever stressed.
  668. > It was how she dealt with stress, absorbing knowledge.
  669. > It helped her keep her mind off the real world.
  670. > You knock lightly on the door.
  671. > But your intentions for subtlety are lost on Spike, who barges in.
  672. > "Twi! We've got company!"
  673. > You smiled.
  674. > Spike's presence would make a useful excuse for yourself.
  675. > It would allow you to play the game when you encountered Twilight.
  676. > You did have to keep up appearances, after all.
  677. > And if you focused on that...
  678. > Then it wouldn't hurt so much.
  679. > Entering the Archives, you close the door behind you.
  680. > The room always had a certain ambiance, with it's dark blue lights.
  681. > While you and Twilight had attempted to integrate regular lighting, it was always snuffed out.
  682. > Twilight could never locate the source of the magic preventing the light.
  683. > Looking ahead, you saw down the aisle Spike start descending a stairwell.
  684. > There were seven floors you knew of, and Twilight could be on any of them.
  685. > Better to follow the drake, he probably knew where she was.
  686. > Keeping up a brisk pace, you reach the stairs and follow him down.
  687. > All the while he's calling her name.
  688. > Yet no response comes.
  689. > Perhaps she's ignoring him, deeply involved in her studies.
  690. > It would be like her.
  691. > On the fourth floor, he exits the stairs.
  692. > As you exit the door, you recognize a voice.
  693. > "Hey, wussup?"
  694. > Her voice.
  695. > She must've been sleeping. She sounds tired as tartarus.
  696. > Even still, her voice is like silk in your ears.
  697. > "We've got company, Twi!"
  698. > You turn around the stacks, and you can see them.
  699. > She sits at a table by dim blue light, from one of the magic candles.
  700. > "Who is it?"
  701. > Spike gestures in your direction.
  702. > As she looks up, her eyes meet yours.
  703. > Your heart seizes, for a moment you think she shot you.
  704. > It's the only explanation for this pain.
  705. > Your mouth feels full of cotton, and you struggle to swallow.
  706. > But you force the mask into position.
  707. > You had to keep up appearances.
  708. > For Spike, of course.
  709. "Hey, Sparky. I'm home."
  710. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  711. > Your mind tells you to move toward her.
  712. > But your body is frozen in place.
  713. > Fortunately for you, she does the movement for you.
  714. > "Anon!"
  715. > She cries out ecstatically.
  716. > Jumping out of the chair, she gallops in your direction before taking flight.
  717. > Much like Spike, she tackles your chest.
  718. > Her hooves going around your shoulders.
  719. > But unlike with Spike, you don't fall.
  720. > You catch her and put your arms around her as well.
  721. > The soft feeling of her hooves on your back feels like fire.
  722. > Every point of contact is torturous.
  723. > Her face snuggles into your chest.
  724. > "I missed you..."
  725. > A cringe briefly lights your features.
  726. > How the hell could she maintain such an air of joy.
  727. > How could she play the game so well, when you could barely do it.
  728. > Assuming she's playing, that is.
  729. > Perhaps you never meant as much to her as you thought...
  730. > If she could ignore her betrayal like this.
  731. "I've missed you too, Sparks. It's been a while."
  732. > The words are like poison in your mouth.
  733. > They come out naturally, but burn away at you all the while.
  734. > She looks up, obviously aiming for a kiss.
  735. > But suddenly, hesitation.
  736. > From both of you, it seemed.
  737. > Rather than going for the lips, she went for your neck.
  738. > And you went for her forehead, at the base of her horn.
  739. > She was playing the game as well.
  740. > She had to be.
  741. > The alternative was too horrible.
  742. "Spike tattled, missus. Sounds like someone's been neglecting their food."
  743. > The dragon huffs over by the desk.
  744. > But a large smile remained on his face seeing you two interact.
  745. > That was what mattered.
  746. > Appearances.
  747. > She adjusts in your embrace so she can turn around.
  748. > Looking over at Spike, she points a hoof, childishly laughing.
  749. > "Traitor!"
  750. > They briefly quibble about loyalties.
  751. > The topic itself feels toxic to you.
  752. > But worse, is the manner of their discussion.
  753. > It feels so natural.
  754. > So much like before.
  755. > Gods, you wish it could go back to before.
  756. > When you didn't have to pretend around her.
  757. > The only one you could be yourself with, who understood you.
  758. > And you had lost that rock.
  759. > A cold fury is building in your chest, but you keep it in check.
  760. > You would have to be your own rock.
  761. > For the sake of Equestria, and all those within it.
  762. "Well, on the plus side, your flanks are feeling more toned for it."
  763. > That earns you an indignant "Hey!" from Twilight.
  764. > And an uproarious laugh from Spike.
  765. > Especially when a rumble from Twilight's stomach seals the deal.
  766. > You let out a laugh.
  767. > You hope that sounded natural.
  768. > You gently let Twilight down, before gesturing towards the stairs.
  769. "But as much as I appreciate them, we'd best get you some food, before you start eating books in your sleep again."
  770. > As she moves past you, lightly responding to your comment, you still feel frozen in place.
  771. > Your eyes following her as she moved to the stairs.
  772. > She was beautiful.
  773. > Why did she have to be so beautiful.
  774. > Reaching the top of the stairs, you follow her out of the archives.
  775. > The hallways remain barren.
  776. > You needed to know that she was playing the game.
  777. > That she was hurting too, under that relaxed face.
  778. > It was a risk to bring up the subject, but your conscience demanded it.
  779. "So Spike tells me the guard's off looking for somepony?"
  780. > Twilight briefly sputters.
  781. > A great burden feels lifted from your shoulders.
  782. > Her composure returns immediately.
  783. > But that reaction was all you needed.
  784. > "Yes, one of the junior members of the guard disappeared near the Everfree Forest."
  785. > A terrible shame, that.
  786. "Disappeared? Do they think it's desertion, or did some beastie nab him?"
  787. > You can see her fa├žade crack again.
  788. > This time she can't fix it quite so fast.
  789. > "Gilded Light said he wasn't sure yet, they were looking into it. They're all combing the forest now for a trace."
  790. > Then he had played his part admirably.
  791. > Ponies place such value on harmony, on trying to keep things the same.
  792. > Never changing.
  793. > The chaos of uncertainty frightens them.
  794. > They'll do anything to keep the status quo, or at least the illusion of it.
  795. > Sacrifice anypony else to maintain their own harmony.
  796. > It's why you had to keep this marriage together.
  797. > It would rend this country asunder otherwise.
  798. > Sadly, in this case, you were the sacrifice.
  799. > You reach the kitchens, where a chef immediately trots up to Twilight.
  800. > But you gesture with a hand for her to relax.
  801. "Don't worry about it, Cuisine. I'll make us all some lunch."
  802. "Gotta prove that what you taught me stuck, right?"
  803. > The chef mare blushes immensely, but capitulates, offering the kitchen up to you.
  804. > The personal touch.
  805. > While you were cooking, you sent Spike out to invite Talon in.
  806. > In the early days, Talon had always refused to eat with you.
  807. > "I could not disgrace the Fylkir by eating in his presence."
  808. > A title you had earned among the Gryphons.
  809. > It made it difficult for you to build the personal connections you liked in your business.
  810. > You were working a number of frying pans.
  811. > The title translated loosely to Peacekeeper.
  812. > It was the most respected honorific in their culture.
  813. > It was a religious title, really.
  814. > While they were warlike by nature, and always aggressive...
  815. > They valued peace all the more for it, believing those who could attain it to be Godlike.
  816. > A fire flares up over Twilight's meal.
  817. > Looking over it, you see it is ready, quite a bit before the rest.
  818. > Such is the nature of vegetarian dishes.
  819. > You put it under a heat lamp.
  820. > Four years ago, you personally had stopped a civil war between member states of the Holy Accipi Empire.
  821. > In return, they declared you Fylkir, and offered you anything you could want from their people.
  822. > It was why you had a personal guard of Gryphons.
  823. > The Empire was a political body formed of all the various independent Gryphon Kingdoms.
  824. > They valued you as if you were one of their own, and felt the ponies were unworthy of protecting you.
  825. > On the flip-side, the ponies thought the Gryphons were inappropriate for protecting their prince.
  826. > But their presence is good for Equestria.
  827. > It has shown the ponies that the Gryphons are not all blood-thirsty warmongers.
  828. > And it has shown the Gryphons that the ponies could exemplify the core Accipi virtues.
  829. > Loyalty, Respect, and Self-Sacrifice.
  830. > Those virtues made them the perfect confidants.
  831. > The meat is done.
  832. > You begin to plate the meals. Including one for Talon.
  833. > Fortunately, you managed to convince Talon it was alright to eat in front of you over time.
  834. > The poor Gryphon even used to pray to you.
  835. > Now, you think, he prayed for you instead.
  836. "And Lunch is served!"
  837. ------------------------------------------------------------------------
  838. > Setting down the meals in front of everyone, you took your seat.
  839. > Right beside Twilight, as always.
  840. > The long table had two chairs at either end, and twelve along the sides.
  841. > Talon and Spike both went for the seat right next to you.
  842. > But Talon is a little faster, and Spike has to settle for next to Twilight.
  843. > It never ceases to amuse you that Talon treats the rest of Equestria's royalty like commoners.
  844. > Twilight gives a little indignant huff at the display.
  845. > You clap your hands.
  846. "No sense standing on ceremony, let's dig in!"
  847. > Spike and Talon tear into their food ravenously.
  848. > Spike, because he always did so.
  849. > Talon, because he hadn't eaten in hours, instead opting to stay at his post.
  850. > Beside you, you hear Twilight sigh in contentment as she takes the first bite of her meal.
  851. > It was Eggplant Parmigiana, one of her favourite dishes.
  852. > You always made it for her the first day you were visiting Ponyville.
  853. > Spike was rambling on to Talon about something or other.
  854. > Him and Talon had always had a mutual respect for one another, as outsiders.
  855. > It was something you knew well from the early days.
  856. > Your eyes return to Twilight.
  857. > You were tempted to not make that dish this time.
  858. > It felt like you were soiling those memories.
  859. > But you and Twilight were creatures of habit, and everypony in the room knew it.
  860. > Had you done otherwise, they might've picked up on it.
  861. > And that would be unacceptable.
  862. > Your knife cuts through the steak on your plate like butter.
  863. > To most ponies, seeing carnivores eat meat was unsettling.
  864. > But for some reason, Twilight had always been relaxed about it.
  865. > She always said she understood, but you had no idea how.
  866. > She always understood everything about you.
  867. > You feel a hoof touch your nose.
  868. > Her soft, velvety hoof.
  869. > You had been staring.
  870. > "Bit for your thoughts?"
  871. > Fuck.
  872. > You were sloppy.
  873. > The game demanded your constant attention.
  874. > Yet you allowed yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security.
  875. > Could you help it?
  876. > Your former security blanket was right there.
  877. > Gazing up at you with her big, beautiful eyes.
  878. > It still awed you how she managed to keep this up.
  879. > You had taught her well, it seemed.
  880. "Can't I stare at the most beautiful mare in the world for a moment?"
  881. > The truth behind that statement made it hurt more.
  882. > Across from you, Spike makes a 'blech' expression, poking his tongue out.
  883. > It was followed by a genuine smile, though.
  884. > Twi moved up and pecked you on the nose.
  885. > The small action sent a chill down your spine.
  886. > And an ache through your heart.
  887. > This was becoming intolerable.
  888. > Keeping up your expression, you turned back to your food.
  889. > You couldn't keep this up.
  890. > It was emotional torture.
  891. > How in the nine hells were you meant to keep this illusion up for the rest of your days?
  892. > You needed to get away from the castle.
  893. > There was never any structure while you were here.
  894. > It was the one place where you allowed things to go with the flow.
  895. > It was the one place where you usually didn't wear a mask.
  896. > And you were having difficulty putting one on right now.
  897. "So Twilight, I was thinking we could go out for dinner tonight."
  898. > Take the bait...
  899. > "Oh? Where to?"
  900. "Aria's Hall. Been forever since we've had a real date night, hasn't it?"
  901. > Her eyes light up with excitement.
  902. > "Really?"
  903. > You wonder if it's genuine.
  904. > Aria's Hall was where you had taken her for your first date.
  905. > It was very much so a high-society affair.
  906. > Dinner, dancing, the whole lot.
  907. > You'd been many times over the years, but it had been a while since your last visit.
  908. > "But... Reservations there go back months, and I'd hate for somepony to lose their spot."
  909. > "I'm not so sure we could just decide this on the fly."
  910. > You were tired of playing politics.
  911. > Playing romance would enable you to distract yourself from your emotions.
  912. "I may have already arranged plans, but if you didn't want to..."
  913. > It was a lie.
  914. > You couldn't have possibly arranged such plans.
  915. > But you wouldn't have a problem getting into Aria's Hall.
  916. > There was guaranteed to be a wealthy sap you could... persuade to give you his reservation.
  917. > But when you saw the big smile spread across her face.
  918. > Her mouth is covered in sauce.
  919. > You knew you would do anything for her.
  920. > "Well then, I can't rightly say no now can I?"
  921. > Excellent.
  922. > "But, I'll need to get ready! I can't go there looking like I've been sleeping on a bunch of books for days!"
  923. > It was true, she didn't look in tip-top shape.
  924. > Her mane was sticking out at random angles.
  925. > Her fur ruffled.
  926. > Her feathers in dire need of a preening.
  927. > And yet she was still perfection in your eyes.
  928. > Why...
  929. > She pushed back the chair, and got up.
  930. > "I'm going to have to go see the stylist. Cuisine will clean up the plates!"
  931. > "See you tonight, Anon!"
  932. "6:30, Sparky."
  933. > You'd find a spot at that time.
  934. > "Gotcha!"
  935. > She spreads her wings, and flies out of the room at incredible speed.
  936. > With that done, you turn to Talon.
  937. "Find me those reservations. You know who to contact."
  938. > "Yes, my Prince."
  939. > Within a split second, he's gone as well.
  940. > Leaving only you and Spike.
  941. > He breathes deeply, before looking over to you.
  942. > "You guys are so adorkable."
  943. > The dragon's comment strikes a nerve.
  944. > Once upon a time, you found such a comment to be a compliment.
  945. > Now, it hurt.
  946. > Because it was referring to nothing but a construction.
  947. > A falsity, built out of necessity. An illusion of happiness.
  948. > But you don't let it show.
  949. "I do try to be ever entertaining, Spike. Have you got any plans with the missus tonight?"
  950. > Spike sighs.
  951. > "As if. Rarity's impossible to woo, I'm almost tempted to give up at this point."
  952. > It would probably be for the best.
  953. > But those were not the words he wanted to hear.
  954. "Hah! Those sound like quitter's words, and I know you're not a quitter."
  955. > You point your fork at him.
  956. "I'll have Talon rustle me up a second reservation for you, I expect you and her there at 6:30 sharp mister."
  957. > Panic sets in on his eyes.
  958. > "But Anon!"
  959. "No excuses! Get to it bucko!"
  960. > In a panic, he jumps out of his seat and tries to run the way Twi and Talon did.
  961. > He falls briefly, but continues out.
  962. > You laugh lightly as he makes his way out of the room.
  963. > You let out a deep sigh.
  964. > Your heart is finally beginning to settle down.
  965. > It's been almost ten minutes since everypony else left the room.
  966. > Leaving just you here.
  967. > Cuisine had dropped by once, to collect the dishes.
  968. > But you had told her you were not quite done.
  969. > Without even looking, she had left.
  970. > You could finally think straight, and work on how you intended this evening to go.
  971. > If your mind was focused on making the date perfect, then you would be fine.
  972. > So long as you had structure, you could handle it.
  973. > But your mind had been torn asunder.
  974. > You felt emotions you hadn't known personally for a long time.
  975. > Doubt. Fear. Sadness.
  976. > You had spent your entire life building up walls against those feelings.
  977. > And Twilight had torn them down from the inside.
  978. > As your eyes gazed over, they once again caught Twilight's plate.
  979. > Half-finished.
  980. > She had never left anything of that dish behind.'
  981. > Not once, in all the years you were married.
  982. > Not even if Celestia demanded her immediate presence.
  983. > You casually lifted up the plate.
  984. > And threw it at the wall.
  985. > It was a priceless artifact.
  986. > An irreplaceable part of the castle, having come with it from the Tree of Harmony.
  987. > And yet, as it shattered against the wall, spreading the leftover meal everywhere...
  988. > And fractured crystals across the floor...
  989. > You felt a certain satisfaction.
  990. > The heat in your chest subsided.
  991. > It was time to plan.
  992. "Cuisine, if you wouldn't mind, I accidentally dropped a plate..."
  993. -----------------------------------------------------------------------
  994. > Looking at yourself in the mirror, you gave a whistle.
  995. > Looking impeccable as ever.
  996. > Not a sign of distress upon your features.
  997. > It was getting close to 6:30, and you had seen neither hide nor hair of Twilight.
  998. > In that time you had briefly worked out, and changed your suit.
  999. > And occasion as formal as Aria's Hall demanded something a little different.
  1000. > As such, you were now wearing a tuxedo, an incredibly expensive one at that.
  1001. > Personally designed by one of your wife's friends.
  1002. > A pony with whom one of your closest friends was deeply infatuated.
  1003. > A pony with whom you would be joining this evening for dinner.
  1004. > You were sure she would appreciate you wearing her designs.
  1005. > She always used to go on and on about how well you carried her work.
  1006. > And how much she valued a challenge in designing something.
  1007. > That was a mare who understood the value of appearances.
  1008. > At times, you could swear she played the political game.
  1009. > She knew precisely how to deceive an audience about her feelings.
  1010. "I think gold will go nicer with this suit."
  1011. > You look over to the pure white pony attending you.
  1012. > She had just moments before finished trimming your hair.
  1013. > "Yes, my Prince."
  1014. > She moved over to the side of the room, and brought over gold cuff-links.
  1015. > And a golden crown.
  1016. > Laced with rubies.
  1017. > One of two that you possessed, and you switched between for occasion.
  1018. > The platinum one was better suited for playing politics.
  1019. > The coldness it emanated gave you an air of authority.
  1020. > It was a practical, imposing symbol of why you were their prince.
  1021. > By contrast, the gold was inviting.
  1022. > It felt warm and made you appear even more benevolent.
  1023. > It could evoke passionate feelings.
  1024. > And in the game of romance, passion was what was critical.
  1025. > You look at how well it matches your tuxedo.
  1026. > Yes, Rarity understood how important this all was.
  1027. > Yet Rarity had purposefully avoided politics, opting to pursue art.
  1028. > An admirable goal.
  1029. > A very different goal from yours.
  1030. > Power.
  1031. > You thought your choice better.
  1032. > It meant that you could change Equestria for the better.
  1033. > It meant you could save lives.
  1034. > Or destroy them, if it was for the greater good.
  1035. > But art could have considerable impact, you knew that.
  1036. > Art could sway the minds of the powerful and the wealthy alike.
  1037. > Art win the hearts and minds of millions for a cause.
  1038. > It was a far more admirable pursuit than wealth, at any rate.
  1039. > You rest the crown atop your head.
  1040. "That's perfect, Gleam. Thank you so much for your help."
  1041. > She bowed deeply, her face flushed.
  1042. > "I-it was my pleasure to help you, my Prince."
  1043. > You turn to open the door, leaving the salon of the castle.
  1044. > A carriage awaits to take you to Aria's Hall.
  1045. > You quickly get in, shutting the door behind you and placing you in silence.
  1046. > The carriage immediately gets moving.
  1047. > Your thoughts wander back to Rarity.
  1048. > Yes, both your passion and her passion could obtain wealth easily.
  1049. > The wealthy adored the artists and the politicians.
  1050. > Because you were their access to satisfaction.
  1051. > Their wealth bought them access to you, rather than seeking to be like you.
  1052. > It was a shallow pursuit.
  1053. > Survival by proxy.
  1054. > But you understood it, you incorporated it into your play.
  1055. > They thought their money made them important, and that was why they had access.
  1056. > But in reality, they were a tangent; their money itself was important.
  1057. > That was no way to live.
  1058. > Arriving at the building, you exit your carriage with purpose.
  1059. > You see none of your party there.
  1060. > But the damage is done by your presence alone.
  1061. > Immediately, the paparazzi swarm that always attends this locale shifted focus to you.
  1062. > Questions shouted from the crowd.
  1063. > Flashes of photographs being taken.
  1064. "Hello, my little ponies!"
  1065. > And the crowd goes wild.
  1066. > Such simple words.
  1067. > Said by every damn ruler of this country.
  1068. > But so valuable.
  1069. > Checking your watch, you see that it is 6:40.
  1070. > Fashionably late, as ever.
  1071. > Twilight and Spike were likely inside already.
  1072. > It was sensible, you supposed. Being out here could grow tiresome for some.
  1073. > Not for you, though.
  1074. > You knew that this part of the game was a part that so many members of the public valued most.
  1075. > Seeing you as you went on a date.
  1076. > Something so innocuous, but so important to so many.
  1077. > You imagine Rarity would be slightly later than you, knowing her.
  1078. > Assuming the poor Dragon managed to finagle her into it.
  1079. > He better have.
  1080. > Talon had nearly had a stroke when you told him to get another reservation beside yours.
  1081. > But that Gryphon is resourceful.
  1082. > As you move up to the door, a greeter with an incredible moustache gestures for you to follow him.
  1083. > Walking through the restaurant, you hear mumblings from ponies all around you.
  1084. > "It's him! It's the Prince!"
  1085. > "Do you think he'd let us get a picture with him?"
  1086. > "Oh my, he's looking fetching, isn't he?"
  1087. > You keep a sterling smile on your face.
  1088. > Truly, the game could be played in this environment.
  1089. > As you near your table, you find your suspicions confirmed.
  1090. > Twilight and Spike are sitting at two separate tables, right beside one another.
  1091. > Chatting back and forth.
  1092. > But the words cannot reach your ears.
  1093. > The world seems to have slowed to a stop.
  1094. > She is immaculate.
  1095. > Your breath is caught in your throat.
  1096. > Her accessories perfectly accentuates her appearance.
  1097. > Her mane is done in precisely the style she knew you liked.
  1098. > Her coat and wings perfectly groomed.
  1099. > And yet, the sight does not hurt you as seeing her earlier did.
  1100. > The very sight does not freeze your blood in your veins.
  1101. > Your heart does not ache.
  1102. > For in this environment, you could compartmentalize it as a construction.
  1103. > It was part of the game.
  1104. > You approach the table from behind Twilight, without her noticing.
  1105. > You make a shush motion to Spike, who notices your approach but keeps his appearance neutral.
  1106. > And when in position, you swiftly scoop her up.
  1107. > Your arms under her forelegs to lift her.
  1108. > She squeals in surprise.
  1109. > And you whisper hotly in her ear.
  1110. "Surprise, Sparky."
  1111. > She lets out a long whine.
  1112. > "Anooooon, I told you not to do that!"
  1113. > You laugh lightly.
  1114. > You set her back down, and move to your seat.
  1115. > The atmosphere feels just perfect.
  1116. > Here, in this place...
  1117. > In the sight of the public and high society,
  1118. > In the company of your friends...
  1119. > It seems like everything is real, there is no illusion.
  1120. > It seems like you can pretend forever, and never worry again.
  1121. > It seems like it doesn't hurt.
  1122. > Like it won't hurt when it ends.
  1123. > And that's what's important.
  1124. > Appearances.
  1125. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  1126. > You take your seat opposite Twilight.
  1127. > It looks ridiculous, if one's honest.
  1128. > Twilight looks positively tiny being surrounded by you and Spike.
  1129. > But at least your smile is genuine this time.
  1130. "Hope I didn't keep you waiting to long."
  1131. > She chuckles behind her hoof.
  1132. > "Oh, not terribly."
  1133. > She gets a sly look on her face.
  1134. > As reaches over for her wine, she fires a quip.
  1135. > "As if you didn't measure the time it would take you to get here to the second."
  1136. > She knew you too well.
  1137. > Fortunately, you knew her just as well.
  1138. > You raise an eyebrow.
  1139. "And you didn't? I'd bet my life savings you have the calculations filed away somewhere at home."
  1140. > A grin shows on her face.
  1141. > It feels heavenly to see.
  1142. > "In triplicate! Anything less would be gambling with the evening!"
  1143. > That earns a light chuckle from you as you remove your jacket.
  1144. "I dearly hope you got that signed off on by a guarantor, or we're flying blind here."
  1145. > A loud 'blech' emerges from the side.
  1146. > Looking over, you see Spike with his finger in his mouth.
  1147. > His lips curled into a smile.
  1148. > "You guys seriously need a room for all those nerd pheromones."
  1149. > You can tell his smile is forced, however.
  1150. > His eyes are darting around.
  1151. > His fangs are embedded in his bottom lip.
  1152. > He was always bad at hiding his emotions.
  1153. > He's worried Rarity won't show.
  1154. "Did you manage to convince the missus?"
  1155. > He twidles his claws together.
  1156. > You can practically smell the insecurity.
  1157. > Perhaps what he needed was a wingman.
  1158. > While it had been years since you had put these skills to work for another...
  1159. > Perhaps you could aid him tonight.
  1160. > "She said she would, but I'm a little worried."
  1161. > You look back at Twi with an expression of barely controlled excitement.
  1162. > You see she's looking at you with the identical look on her face.
  1163. "She'll be here Spike. But if you want to win her heart..."
  1164. > "Then there's a few steps we'll need to take. We'll walk you through it!"
  1165. > It felt good.
  1166. > To be so in sync with her again.
  1167. > To pretend for just a little while longer.
  1168. > Together you could conquer any challenge.
  1169. > The dragon groaned loudly.
  1170. > "I'm not so sure that you guys know the first thing about wooing a lady."
  1171. > At that, Twilight adopts a faux-outraged pose.
  1172. > "Hey, lady right here! I know what it takes to woo."
  1173. > And you take your jab.
  1174. "While I concede Twilight has no idea what a lady might want, I've never steered you wrong Spike."
  1175. > Yet another outraged gasp.
  1176. > But this one is accompanied by a zap to your exposed forearm.
  1177. > You flinch briefly, but give no other indication you noticed it, keeping your look facing Spike.
  1178. > This was normal.
  1179. > The dragon sighs loudly.
  1180. > "I suppose my way hasn't been working. I'm open to suggestions."
  1181. > You both pull your chairs over to his table.
  1182. > Twilight conjures up a piece of paper.
  1183. > While Spike didn't think in terms of the stages of a plan...
  1184. > He could still follow a written one.
  1185. > "Alright, so Spike, we're going to need to start with your introductions..."
  1186. "Needlessly romantic. Hoof-kiss, pull out her chair, the whole nine. You know Rarity."
  1187. > Twilight has a quill in her magic and is eagerly drawing out a battle-plan.
  1188. > He sighs and covers his eyes with his talons.
  1189. > "What did I get myself into..."
  1190. > A grin forms on your face.
  1191. > Your hand snakes behind Twi's head to scratch her ear.
  1192. > It twitches in your grasp.
  1193. > Your heart melts at the feeling.
  1194. "The best decision you ever made."
  1195. > "Why hello darlings! I'm terribly sorry I'm late, but one of my dresses ripped on the way here..."
  1196. > The plan is in motion.
  1197. > Spike sweeps out from his table, and takes her hoof in his claw.
  1198. > And he lays a chaste kiss on it.
  1199. > "Why Rarity, it's delightful to see you tonight."
  1200. > Oh God.
  1201. > The way he said that was cringeworthy.
  1202. > Why in the nine hells did Twilight put that in the plan.
  1203. > Though, you suppose she knew Rarity better than you did.
  1204. > Perhaps the mare liked a little cheese with her wine.
  1205. > He then swooped around to pull out her chair.
  1206. > "Oh my, Spike. Such the gentledrake!"
  1207. > She was being dramatic.
  1208. > But you supposed so were you, thus far.
  1209. > Using emotions you knew you should feel.
  1210. > Rather than the ones you felt.
  1211. > But in using them they began to feel genuine on their own.
  1212. > Rarity speaks up again.
  1213. > "My, you're all looking dapper this evening. I feel positively under-dressed!"
  1214. > She's being silly, of course.
  1215. > She's looking stunning, as always.
  1216. > Perfectly matched accessories and dress.
  1217. > Perfectly styled mane.
  1218. > The pinnacle of fashion and beauty that she always aspired to be.
  1219. > Yet, in your view, she seemed positively dull compared to the radiance sitting across from you.
  1220. "But of course, Rarity. My tux was made by one of the best seamstresses in Equestria!"
  1221. > A smile covers her features.
  1222. > The time to strike was now.
  1223. "Now... If only I could remember her name."
  1224. > And now you had been zapped by two mares in one night.
  1225. > Hopefully the papers didn't take that the wrong way.
  1226. > As your meals all arrive, Spike and Rarity are engaged in an intense discussion.
  1227. > About what, you might ask?
  1228. > The political tensions in the latest Daring Do book.
  1229. > Spike had gone off the script.
  1230. > And despite the best efforts of you and Twi to nudge him back on topic...
  1231. > The drake was just too excited to stop.
  1232. > But, Rarity still seemed engaged.
  1233. > Giving up, for now, you turned back to Twi and spoke quietly enough that the others couldn't hear.
  1234. "Seems like Spike had enough of our shenanigans."
  1235. > Her face near the plate, she chuckles lightly.
  1236. > The way the light strikes her hair is enough to stop your thoughts.
  1237. > After swallowing, she speaks up.
  1238. > "Maybe we should've cut down on the steps a little bit."
  1239. > Maybe.
  1240. > At this distance you can somewhat see through all the work she had put into her appearance.
  1241. > There were the vestiges of bags under her eyes.
  1242. > But you wondered how far he was going to go off script.
  1243. "Still think he's going to ask her to dance?"
  1244. > She gets a frown on her face.
  1245. > "He better, or I'm going to give him such a talking to."
  1246. > She looks over in his direction.
  1247. > But the two of them are so involved in their own world they don't notice you.
  1248. > You were hoping he made sure to as well.
  1249. > You and Twilight had some of the best moves around.
  1250. > And it would mess up his play if you and Twi left to dance and he felt too awkward to ask.
  1251. > The sacrifices you had to make.
  1252. "Even if he doesn't, we could still go dance after dinner."
  1253. > Her gaze turns back to you.
  1254. > The way her eyes sparkled.
  1255. > "I'd like that."
  1256. > So would you.
  1257. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  1258. > "So... Want to dance?"
  1259. > Finally.
  1260. > Spike had been tittering with Rarity over wine for about eight minutes now.
  1261. > The food long done.
  1262. > You can see Twilight release a breath she had been holding as well.
  1263. > "Why, Spikey! I thought you'd never ask!"
  1264. > While Spike's face continued looking at Rarity, his eyes darted over to you.
  1265. > He said earlier he had no idea how to dance.
  1266. > And your and Twilight's attempts to explain failed utterly.
  1267. > Both of you had essentially said to let the music control you.
  1268. > To shut down your plans and let it flow.
  1269. > It was an interesting point of agreement the two of you shared.
  1270. > One of the few places you were comfortable giving up structure.
  1271. > Wiping your mouth with a napkin, you scoot your chair back.
  1272. > And Twilight does the same.
  1273. "Hope you two don't mind if we join you."
  1274. > Rarity chuckles behind her hoof.
  1275. > "Oh, by all means dears. I do ever-so love watching Twilight dance."
  1276. > Oh?
  1277. > Twilight's face flusters at that.
  1278. > "You know I've gotten a lot better, Rarity!"
  1279. > Hmm? Did she used to be terrible at dancing?
  1280. > How odd. From the first night you went here on, you and her always stole the show.
  1281. > "Oh, I'm sure dear."
  1282. > A predatory smile is on Rarity's face.
  1283. > A thought occurs to you.
  1284. "I don't believe you've ever seen the two of us dance together, Rarity."
  1285. > She redirects her grin at you.
  1286. > "Why, no, I don't believe I have."
  1287. > Hm.
  1288. > Sorry Spike, but you had romance of your own to execute.
  1289. "Then how about a little wager?"
  1290. > "You should know a lady never bets, Anonymous."
  1291. > You do.
  1292. > But you also know that Rarity is a sucker for competition.
  1293. > You gesture dismissively.
  1294. "A friendly competition, then. To see who can steal the show, us or you two."
  1295. > You can see the intrigue on her face.
  1296. > And the panic on Spike's.
  1297. > They would do fine, you were sure.
  1298. > Familiarity bred a fantastic dancing partner, not strategy.
  1299. > The ability to know how your partner would move.
  1300. > Rarity makes an affirmative noise, before tossing back the rest of her wine.
  1301. > "It might be a little unfair, our side's short a princess to draw attention... But it is on!"
  1302. > She also took the rest of Spike's wine.
  1303. > The poor dragon made a whimpering sound.
  1304. > She rose up out of her chair and her magic tugged on Spike's collar.
  1305. > As he looked at you, getting pulled to the floor, he shot you a look of betrayal.
  1306. > You smiled deeply.
  1307. > That's what he got for dropping script.
  1308. > You feel a soft presence by your leg, and looking down you see Twilight rubbing against you.
  1309. > Incandescent as Celestia's sun.
  1310. "So you used to be a terrible dancer?"
  1311. > She giggles lightly, hoofing at the ground.
  1312. > "I still am. Just not when I'm dancing with you."
  1313. > You were horrid at it without her, as well.
  1314. > There was something about being together, though, that usually made it acceptable to lack structure.
  1315. > Something that made you comfortable at all times.
  1316. > A shame that that comfort was gone.
  1317. > You hoped it wouldn't impede your ability to beat Rarity and Spike.
  1318. > You finished off your wine.
  1319. > It was time to win.
  1320. > As always.
  1321. > Reaching the floor, you noticed how immensely crowded it was.
  1322. > No doubt you'd have that solved rather quickly.
  1323. > Intimidation was a powerful force on the dance floor.
  1324. > You quickly surveyed the battlefield for Spike and Rarity.
  1325. > They were on the far side of the floor, just getting started.
  1326. > It was clumsy, but you knew they'd find their stride.
  1327. > You feel Twi's wing brush up against your hand.
  1328. > The soft texture sends shocks up your arm.
  1329. > "Ready, my dashing knight?"
  1330. > It was the same set of words from the first night.
  1331. > She said it every time you danced here.
  1332. > And you always had the same response.
  1333. "As ever, my shining star."
  1334. > The first time, you had both burst out laughing at that.
  1335. > Yet now, the words held a special power.
  1336. > With that, she jumped up on her hind hooves.
  1337. > Her wings resting over on your shoulders.
  1338. > Her head laid against your chest.
  1339. > And you slowly began to sway.
  1340. > It was the beginning, you always had to start off slow.
  1341. > You were already attracting attention by virtue of your very presence.
  1342. > If you got right into it, then it would be over too soon.
  1343. > But these thoughts are barely whispers in your mind.
  1344. > Because while your mind wants to think about the performance...
  1345. > All it can focus on is Twilight.
  1346. > Her gentle eyes staring up at you.
  1347. > As you slowly swayed back and forth on the dance floor.
  1348. > You didn't need to concern yourself with anyone else.
  1349. > They would move out of your way.
  1350. > Nothing else mattered at the moment.
  1351. > Not history, not heroes, not villains.
  1352. > Just the dance.
  1353. > But, of course, the pace couldn't stay slow forever.
  1354. > Your once short steps began to develop into strides across the floor.
  1355. > Perfectly in tune with the music.
  1356. > Perfectly in tune with Twilight.
  1357. > You maintained the simplicity of the dance for now, just expanding the range of movement.
  1358. > And every time you went for a longer leap...
  1359. > Twilight's was just as long.
  1360. > It never ceased to amaze you how she could move like that on hooves.
  1361. > Yet, by shifting the weight into your chest with her hold, she could stay stable.
  1362. > You each kept the other in motion, and kept them from falling.
  1363. > But it couldn't remain so simple for so long.
  1364. > A smirk crosses your features as you look down at her.
  1365. > The music was building.
  1366. > It was time.
  1367. > Your leg kicked forward, almost as though to trip her.
  1368. > And her hoof slid forward, falling back into your arms.
  1369. > A perfect dip.
  1370. > Flaring her wings, she pushed back against you.
  1371. > And you used that force to spin around, twirling her with your arm before pulling her tight up against you.
  1372. > Linking up once again, you briefly sway before another pulse in the music has you push her away.
  1373. > Holding her by her hooves.
  1374. > The risky play, for most ponies such a move would mean falling.
  1375. > Too early, to the floor.
  1376. > Too late, into your partner's crotch.
  1377. > But you and her knew the exact moment to pull back.
  1378. > And as you collided once more, you were once again sashaying across the dance floor.
  1379. > The flash of a camera briefly blinds you.
  1380. > In that moment, you briefly became aware of your surroundings, and noticed that it had become mostly barren.
  1381. > But the touch of a wingtip against your face brought you back to what was important.
  1382. > Twilight.
  1383. > You needed only to look into her eyes.
  1384. > Everything was going to be fine.
  1385. > At the last peak of the song, you once again performed the dip.
  1386. > But this time, rather than a spin at the end of the move,
  1387. > When she pushed you up high you used the momentum to pick her up.
  1388. > She slid around to your back, on your shoulders, her forehooves cascading down over your arms.
  1389. > And she struck a pose above you, as you fell to a knee.
  1390. > And gestured grandly with your hands.
  1391. > The dance floor was entirely empty, save one other couple.
  1392. > A drake and a unicorn, posing in a very different but still excellently executed fashion.
  1393. > Seems that it was a draw.
  1394. > A terrible shame, that.
  1395. > Your face looks up to Twilight above you as cheers erupt through the restaurant.
  1396. > Her beautiful eyes staring back.
  1397. "Looks like a tie."
  1398. > She smiles broadly.
  1399. > "Looks that way."
  1400. > And in that moment, when you didn't need to think.
  1401. > When the world didn't matter.
  1402. > Your lips met.
  1403. > It felt like pure bliss.
  1404. > And in that moment you knew that you didn't need to pretend.
  1405. > You could fix this all.
  1406. > It was only a matter of work.
  1407. > Vaguely, you were aware of an incredible number of camera flashes.
  1408. > No doubt this picture would be riddling the newspapers tomorrow.
  1409. > But, that's not what really gets your attention.
  1410. > You heard a gasp from Rarity silenced quickly as well.
  1411. > Good to see the dragon still had a talent for mimicry.
  1412. > Hopefully his night was as good as yours.
  1413. > Your kiss ends all too soon.
  1414. > And you know precisely what to say.
  1415. "I love you."
  1416. > "I love you too."
  1417. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  1418. > Returning to your tables, you found that you were incredibly sweaty.
  1419. > An unfortunate consequence of not paying attention to your appearance for a period.
  1420. > The skies had darkened considerably outside, and Luna's night had started.
  1421. > But you couldn't tell that well, because it had evidently started to rain.
  1422. > Thick, dark clouds obscured the stars.
  1423. > "But really, Spikey, I had no idea you could dance like that!"
  1424. > The drake has been a bubbling mess before Rarity's compliments.
  1425. > "T-thanks Rares, I just sort of followed your lead though."
  1426. > She pokes his chest with her hoof.
  1427. > An indignant look on her face.
  1428. > "Now Spikey-wikey, don't you lie to me. I suspect someone took some lessons!"
  1429. > Hm.
  1430. > You hadn't paid them terribly much attention, so you had no idea how good they had been.
  1431. > The drake was blushing, but merely gestured with a claw instead of responding.
  1432. > "I thought so. Now, to pay the bill..."
  1433. > For a second, you thought Spike was going to be foolish enough to not pick it up.
  1434. > He just stood there smiling like a dolt.
  1435. > Until you nudged him with an elbow.
  1436. > "I'll cover it Rarity!"
  1437. > A smile covered her face.
  1438. > But not a friendly smile.
  1439. > A competitive smile.
  1440. > "Oh, but Spike, I couldn't possibly..."
  1441. > Oh, to be young and in love.
  1442. > You tune them out at that point.
  1443. > You had already set bits on the table for yourself and Twilight.
  1444. > Looking back to her, you feel a sense of comfort.
  1445. > She's looking worse for wear than you are from that dance.
  1446. > Her perfectly styled mane fraying in a couple of spots.
  1447. > Her fur lightly damp from working up such excitement.
  1448. > But a genuine look of happiness on her face.
  1449. > At least, you think it looked genuine.
  1450. > Yours certainly was.
  1451. > Departing the restaurant, you move to open the door to your carriage.
  1452. > It was pouring rain.
  1453. > You and Twilight clamber in quickly, but Spike stops outside with Rarity.
  1454. > "Hey Spike, I had a great night tonight..."
  1455. > You can see her eyes dart to Twilight.
  1456. > And Twilight gives a nod.
  1457. > They had something going on, you're sure of it.
  1458. > But Spike doesn't notice.
  1459. > He's probably too concerned with how soaking wet he's getting.
  1460. > "Yeah, it was great Rarity. Thank you so much for coming."
  1461. > But as his claw reaches for the carriage door, a blue aura holds it back.
  1462. > "Well, Spike... You know, it doesn't have to end here. The Boutique's just around the corner if you wanted to join me."
  1463. > The look on Spike's face was priceless.
  1464. > You dearly hoped one of the cameras caught it from a good angle.
  1465. > He was awestruck.
  1466. > He briefly looked in at you.
  1467. > And you gave him a nod.
  1468. > "I'd love to, Rarity! See you guys!"
  1469. > At that, he slammed your carriage door shut.
  1470. > You and Twilight held your expressions still for a moment.
  1471. > And as soon as you were out of earshot from Spike and Rarity, erupted into giggles.
  1472. > You were the first to get control of yourself.
  1473. "By Celestia, that was so adorable!"
  1474. > You reach to a bottle of wine in the side of the carriage, and take a sip.
  1475. > You were parched from that dancing.
  1476. > Twilight takes a little longer to calm down.
  1477. > "Did you see his look? Like a deer in front of an Ursa Major!"
  1478. > The imagery makes you choke on the wine.
  1479. > You had missed this.
  1480. > This not having to think about things business.
  1481. > You were always so analytical, it felt nice to be able to cast that aside briefly.
  1482. > But the thought brings you back to the harsh reality.
  1483. > You would have to deal with what she did tonight.
  1484. > When you got back to the castle, probably.
  1485. > You still weren't quite ready to forgive and forget.
  1486. > While every part of you screamed out to do it, you knew you couldn't.
  1487. > It would eat at your very soul to ignore.
  1488. > And doubtless, at Twilight's as well.
  1489. > If her recent behaviour according to Spike was to be believed.
  1490. > You wouldn't be surprised if she was the one to bring it up when you arrived.
  1491. > But you knew now that you could fix this.
  1492. > With time and effort, you could both fix this.
  1493. > "Hey, Anon?"
  1494. > You look over to her.
  1495. > She's gazing listlessly out the window.
  1496. > Watching the raindrops collect upon it.
  1497. "Yeah, Sparky?"
  1498. > Her gaze remains fixed outside.
  1499. > She can't look at you.
  1500. > Reality is closing in on her as well.
  1501. > She's nibbling one of the flowers on her neckpiece.
  1502. > When she was nervous she nibbled.
  1503. > "Thanks for tonight."
  1504. > You lifted up the bottle.
  1505. > No sense letting the alcohol go to waste.
  1506. "It was my pleasure, and here's to many more!"
  1507. > But as you take a drink, you watch a deep cringe flow across her features.
  1508. > It's only there for the briefest of seconds.
  1509. > Is she worried you're going to divorce her when she tells you?
  1510. > That this evening was potentially the last you would have?
  1511. > Perhaps she didn't know you as well as you thought she did.
  1512. > She had to know you'd place your marriage above such mistakes.
  1513. > That you'd place her and Equestria above yourself.
  1514. > You had always sacrificed everything for them.
  1515. > But she remains silent for the remainder of the carriage ride.
  1516. > Which leaves you to stew in your thoughts.
  1517. > Sadly, you couldn't use the time to plan.
  1518. > Because you knew you would be alone with her, and you could never plan for that.
  1519. > It concerns you immensely.
  1520. > Stepping out of the carriage, you help Twilight down as well.
  1521. > Her mask has shattered completely, in the privacy of the Castle courtyard.
  1522. > A look of pure sadness highlights her features.
  1523. > You poke her nose, breaking her out of her reverie.
  1524. > She looks up to you.
  1525. "Bit for your thoughts?"
  1526. > A sad smile crosses her features.
  1527. > "I'll tell you when we're inside."
  1528. > You knew it was going to hurt to discuss.
  1529. > But seeing her this sad almost tore you apart.
  1530. > Entering through the grand front gates, you dismiss Talon to your office.
  1531. > You would meet him there later.
  1532. > Looking back at your wife, her frown has returned.
  1533. > She was normally so optimistic.
  1534. > It almost made you feel bad for being the cause of her sadness.
  1535. > Even if it was her fault.
  1536. > But as the old saying goes.
  1537. > 'T'is better to purge a wound with salt and fire then let it fester 'neath a bandage."
  1538. > It wasn't a pony expression, but a Gryphon one.
  1539. > You rather preferred their way of thinking.
  1540. > As you both neared your room, the tension between you could be cut with a knife.
  1541. > She opened the door first, and entered.
  1542. > And as you entered, you saw her staring out the window at the rain.
  1543. > As you moved to take your jacket off, she spoke.
  1544. > "Leave it on."
  1545. > What?
  1546. "What? Why would I-"
  1547. > She looks back at you, her eyes red and teary.
  1548. > What in the nine hells...
  1549. > "Answer me honestly Anon..."
  1550. > "What did you do to Flash."
  1551. > Your blood froze cold in your veins.
  1552. > And your mask shattered.
  1553. ---------------------------------------------------------------------
  1554. "So then you know that I know."
  1555. > The words escaped your lips before you could stop them.
  1556. > They had no emotional inflection.
  1557. > You needed facts.
  1558. > You needed to sort out what was happening.
  1559. > Her horn glows, and from the desk two white envelopes arise.
  1560. > And from one, you can see the orange feather float out.
  1561. > "I recognize your handwriting, Anon."
  1562. > Your missives to Gilded Light.
  1563. > He had turned them over to Twilight.
  1564. > "Did you think he wouldn't tell me? He knows I'll protect him."
  1565. > That son of a bitch.
  1566. > Nothing would protect him.
  1567. > You reach up and pull the feather out of her magic.
  1568. > As your fingers weave through the feather, you speak measuredly.
  1569. > This was not a direction you had been anticipating. You were blindsided.
  1570. > You couldn't rush into things.
  1571. "Does it matter?"
  1572. > She then turns around, looking back out the window.
  1573. > "I'll ask again. What did you do with him."
  1574. > A white-hot rage building in your chest.
  1575. > You feel control slipping away.
  1576. > You had done nothing wrong.
  1577. > It was her betrayal that had prompted all of this.
  1578. > You had simply endeavoured to solve the problem she created.
  1579. > You had given up everything since day one for her.
  1580. > And yet she dared take the high ground?
  1581. > Your grip tightens around the feather.
  1582. > Until it snaps in two in your grip.
  1583. "I did what was necessary. What you could not."
  1584. > You begin an advance, but her magic envelops you.
  1585. > It holds you in place.
  1586. > "Stop playing the fucking game! Tell me!"
  1587. "I killed him, and I'd gladly do it again!"
  1588. > You shouted it louder than you had intended.
  1589. > You hoped there were no guards around.
  1590. > But your control was fully slipping away now.
  1591. > Rage was beginning to consume your words.
  1592. > By what right did this harlot judge you?
  1593. > She has not responded to your outburst, so you continued.
  1594. "He was a risk to everything we have worked to create, Twilight."
  1595. > You continue to struggle against her magic in futility.
  1596. > Your words come out like venom.
  1597. > You were in privacy.
  1598. > The game wasn't needed.
  1599. "And had I left him alive he would've undone both of us. With him gone, we can fix this."
  1600. > But she could not be left off the hook.
  1601. > Your strength is beginning to overwhelm her magical bonds.
  1602. "I just don't understand, what the hell were you thinking?"
  1603. > She had to account for what she had done.
  1604. > The white-hot furnace in your chest felt unbearable.
  1605. > You needed to get this out.
  1606. "Don't you care about me? Didn't you give a damn about what that would mean for us?"
  1607. > But you weren't the only one.
  1608. "For Equestria? Are you so selfish?"
  1609. > The words come easily to you.
  1610. > You had felt them all day, every time you looked upon her.
  1611. > But had suppressed them.
  1612. > Now, you felt righteous rage.
  1613. > Had she apologized, you would've moved on.
  1614. > But to judge you...
  1615. > As if she had any right.
  1616. > As if she wasn't the one who had caused all this.
  1617. > At that, she turns around to face you.
  1618. > Her face conveys nothing but pure hatred.
  1619. > As you go to speak again, her magic seals around your jaw.
  1620. > Preventing you from speaking.
  1621. > "Now you're going to listen to me. This has been tearing me apart inside."
  1622. > You continue to struggle against your restraints.
  1623. > Fuck magic.
  1624. > And fuck Twilight too.
  1625. > "And I can't fucking deal with this. You don't think I haven't thought constantly about what I did?"
  1626. > Tears are falling freely now.
  1627. > Not only from her eyes.
  1628. > "That every time I saw you I felt a lance of guilt through my heart?"
  1629. > The fire in her expression is dying out.
  1630. > Replaced with a solemn sadness.
  1631. > It was deserved!
  1632. > It was your betrayal!
  1633. > "And now, every time I see you, I'll be reminded that I'm not only responsible for betraying you, but a pony's death."
  1634. > "And I can't handle that."
  1635. > Well she'll have to.
  1636. > You didn't have any other option.
  1637. > And she didn't deserve another one.
  1638. > "And so I won't. I can't play these games, and I can't play pretend any longer."
  1639. > ...
  1640. > What?
  1641. > "I'm filing for divorce."
  1642. > She...
  1643. > She couldn't.
  1644. > Those words are like a douse of water on the fiery rage in your heart.
  1645. > The rage drains from your face immediately.
  1646. > But not only does the rage flee you...
  1647. > So too do all other feelings.
  1648. > Her magic fades from covering your mouth.
  1649. > But the restraints on the rest of your body remain in place.
  1650. > She turns back to the window.
  1651. "Twilight... But what about Equestria?"
  1652. > Her words are cold and resigned, but she does not turn to address you.
  1653. > "Equestria will heal with time. But I can't heal so long as I'm with you, and you can't heal either."
  1654. > A stack of papers on her desk levitates into the air.
  1655. > Divorce papers.
  1656. > She had planned this all day.
  1657. > "All we can do is pretend. I know you like to do that, but I can't handle it."
  1658. > Your body went limp against her restraints.
  1659. > Your head hung, staring at the floor.
  1660. > Your voice was resigned, but your words harsh.
  1661. "You selfish whore. I won't sign those. It's a betrayal of our ponies to give up."
  1662. > That brings back her anger at once.
  1663. > She walks up to you with a glare in her eyes.
  1664. > "They're not your ponies, Anonymous. They're mine. Get out."
  1665. > Your eyes raise to meet hers.
  1666. > Gods, she was beautiful.
  1667. > But so terrible.
  1668. "No. We're going to fix this, here and now."
  1669. > At that, her face contorts.
  1670. > "I'll send the paperwork to you."
  1671. > And suddenly, your world is thrown backward.
  1672. > Her magic forcibly throws you out of the room, against the wall on the opposite side of the hall.
  1673. > A loud, sickening crack rings out from your left leg.
  1674. > Your body slides down the wall to the floor.
  1675. > Your leg bending in an unnatural direction.
  1676. > And the door to your room slams shut.
  1677. > There are no guards in the hallway.
  1678. > She had anticipated this.
  1679. > Planned it.
  1680. > Looking at your leg, you knew you should be in incredible pain.
  1681. > But you felt nothing.
  1682. > For what felt like hours, you simply sat there, making no movement.
  1683. > No sound.
  1684. > Until eventually, you pull out your ceremonial sword.
  1685. > Using it as a cane, you rise up.
  1686. > And begin limping to your office.
  1687. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  1688. > Your office was in shambles.
  1689. > Bookcases fallen to the floor.
  1690. > Your desk upside down.
  1691. > Glass covered the floor, shattered relics from bygone eras.
  1692. > Your knuckles were bloody from the effort.
  1693. > You were rather impressed with yourself.
  1694. > To create such damage with a fractured leg.
  1695. > And you had indeed determined that it was fractured.
  1696. > Right below your left knee, the bone had simply been snapped.
  1697. > You were vaguely aware that you should get it checked out.
  1698. > That every second potentially put you closer to death.
  1699. > Yet you had spent all your energy on this pointless destruction.
  1700. > Now, you sat in a chair on the balcony.
  1701. > Before you, on a table, is a picture of your wedding day.
  1702. > And your box of cigars.
  1703. > They were the two things in your office you couldn't bring yourself to destroy.
  1704. > They were your anchors to reality.
  1705. > It occurred to you that there was a real chance you die here.
  1706. > If that bone had punctured a vein, you could be getting poisoned.
  1707. > Or maybe it didn't even need to do that.
  1708. > You weren't a doctor.
  1709. > At least it would punish Twilight more to know she took your life.
  1710. > What's this?
  1711. > A knock at your door.
  1712. > No one should even know you're here.
  1713. > And if they see your office, it will be clear to all of Equestria that something is up.
  1714. > You couldn't let that happen.
  1715. "Go away."
  1716. > But the voice on the other side is not what you expect.
  1717. > "Are you sure, my Prince? A maid saw you limping."
  1718. > Talon.
  1719. > You shift around in your seat to face that direction.
  1720. > You briefly consider dismissing him.
  1721. > But you knew that would be foolish.
  1722. > Talon could be discrete.
  1723. "I didn't realize who it was. You may enter, Talon."
  1724. > He opens the door.
  1725. > His eyes first survey the state of your office.
  1726. > His visage remains neutral in the face of such destruction.
  1727. > As he rounds your desk, his eyes looking at the destruction, he begins to comment.
  1728. > "Seems you've made a lot of work for me toni-"
  1729. > Yet when he looks upon you, your leg bent at an obscene angle...
  1730. > Pure shock runs across his face.
  1731. > And his feathers puff out.
  1732. > An interesting response, you hadn't seen it before.
  1733. > Talon was always a relaxed operator.
  1734. > You chuckle lightly.
  1735. "We'll need to come up with a story to tell that maid."
  1736. > His eyes cannot stop staring at your leg.
  1737. > The skin was black and purple now where the bone had broken.
  1738. > "My Prince, we need to-"
  1739. > You cut him off deftly.
  1740. "I fear that you may need to start calling me something else. She's filing for divorce."
  1741. > His eyes snap back up from your leg to your face.
  1742. > Disbelief now highlights his features.
  1743. > Yet as quick as you see it, he returns to a neutral stoicism.
  1744. > But his voice continues to bleed empathy.
  1745. > "Then you shall return to being my Fylkir first and foremost. And you need medicine."
  1746. > He begins to move toward you, seemingly intending to carry you to a doctor.
  1747. > But you hold out your hand to stop him.
  1748. > A loud bark of a laugh escaping your throat.
  1749. > It was time he knew.
  1750. "I don't deserve that title either. I built it on a lie."
  1751. > He freezes in place.
  1752. > His eyes once again meet yours, as he waits for you to continue.
  1753. > And so you do.
  1754. "I was responsible for positioning your clans against one another. Lord Tungsten and Lord Yarrak."
  1755. > You feel a weight lifting from your shoulders.
  1756. > Even if he turned on you for this, it would be worth it.
  1757. > You have deceived him for too long for this loyalty.
  1758. > No more masks.
  1759. "The Accipi Empire was poised for war with Equestria. So I manipulated them into fighting one another."
  1760. > At this point, he begins moving again.
  1761. > But only over to the railing of the balcony.
  1762. > His gaze shifts over Ponyville.
  1763. "It was a simple task. Tungsten had a great many indiscretions, torture and the like."
  1764. > The Gryphon continues to stare out at the town.
  1765. > But you knew you had his full attention.
  1766. "It was enough to get him removed from office. So he did as I said and picked a fight with Yarrak."
  1767. > But, there had been complications.
  1768. > Not every plan could be executed flawlessly.
  1769. > Especially before you had such valuable allies.
  1770. "But it all went further than I had expected when Yarrak killed him."
  1771. > You breathe deeply.
  1772. > The truth.
  1773. > It was such an unfamiliar feeling to you.
  1774. > You never shared the truth with anyone but Twilight.
  1775. > The more who knew it, the more compromised you were.
  1776. "I felt joy when that happened. Accipi had no more attention to spare for us. I had created an opportunity."
  1777. > You remember fondly how pleased you were with Yarrak's foolishness.
  1778. > How you had woven it into your narrative.
  1779. "And so I marched an army in between coalition forces and commanded Yarrak and Tungsten's son to treat."
  1780. > A wonderful day.
  1781. > The Gryphons had been eating out of your hands.
  1782. > They had never wanted to fight one another, it had been pure machination.
  1783. > It made them so pliable.
  1784. "And negotiated the peace deal that got me named Fylkir. It was a lie, the title is a lie. I thought you should know."
  1785. > He looks over in your direction.
  1786. > You half expect him to lash out.
  1787. > He could easily kill you right now, given your state.
  1788. > And yet, instead, he speaks.
  1789. > And they are not the words that you expect.
  1790. > "That is what makes you a great Fylkir."
  1791. > What?
  1792. > Your mind cannot process that sentence right now.
  1793. > But he continues.
  1794. > "Your pony ethics are soft. They do not take into account the harsh realities of life, and yet you judge yourselves by them."
  1795. > He moves into your office, and begins fixing the furniture.
  1796. > As he does, however, he continues to speak.
  1797. > "There's a reason the Accipi do not value honesty or kindness as ethical maxims."
  1798. > He shows immense strength pushing back up the bookcase.
  1799. > And diligence in returning the books to its shelves.
  1800. > "Honesty is an impediment to peace. An honest answer only ever causes suffering, where a simple lie could create joy."
  1801. > He then moves to your desk.
  1802. > First removing the shelves, and then flipping it back up.
  1803. > "Kindness is an impediment to justice. Perfect justice and any mercy are naturally incompatible."
  1804. > "You will let people get away with horrendous wrongs for your kindness, and they will commit them on others as a result."
  1805. > He begins to collect the fractured glass and porcelain into a bin.
  1806. > And attempting to straighten pictures.
  1807. > "It is why we boil our system down to three virtues. Loyalty, Respect, and Self-Sacrifice."
  1808. > "They ensure that what needs to be done, will be done. And it is understood that we act in accordance with what is best for all."
  1809. > "Results are what is important. You stopped two wars, if this is true.
  1810. > "You are my Fylkir."
  1811. > He briefly stops, and walks up to you.
  1812. > One of his wings extends, resting on your shoulder.
  1813. > "You are not a Gryphon. But you are not entirely a pony, I think you can understand."
  1814. > You did.
  1815. > At least, you thought you did.
  1816. > A grin falls across your face looking at Talon.
  1817. "I was unaware I had a philosopher in my employ."
  1818. > A smile forms on his face.
  1819. > "Basic tenets of our religion."
  1820. > "We are raised comparing ourselves to the ponies. We know why we prefer our way."
  1821. > You had always said that you preferred the Gryphon culture.
  1822. > But that left you with a difficult decision.
  1823. "Then I suppose we ought to plan how to fix this."
  1824. > His wing withdraws contact as he resumes his cleaning.
  1825. > You churn the ideas in your head for a moment.
  1826. > There was one concern which needed to be dealt with immediately.
  1827. > A loose end that needed to be tied.
  1828. "I want you to get me Gilded Light. Quietly, Twilight will have agents protecting him."
  1829. > The Gryphon is nearly done fixing your destruction.
  1830. > He would depart when it was suitable that no questions would be asked.
  1831. > "Of course, my Fylkir."
  1832. > The title gives you comfort.
  1833. > You were doing what was right.
  1834. > Even if your people could never understand it.
  1835. > There could be no loose ends.
  1836. > Turning around, you open the cigar box.
  1837. > Five left.
  1838. > You withdraw three cigars, and put them into the pocket of your blazer.
  1839. > There was no turning back at this point.
  1840. "His wife and daughter as well. I want them all in a room together."
  1841. > The floor was clean.
  1842. > Your office was in order.
  1843. > "As you wish, my Fylkir."
  1844. > Gilded Light clearly did not fear his secrets.
  1845. > He did not fear the impact of them on his family.
  1846. > But you would make him learn to fear you.
  1847. > He would learn the cost associated with betrayal.
  1848. > All of them would learn that cost.
  1849. > The time for kindness had passed.
  1850. > Justice was what was needed now.
  1851. "Oh, and Talon?"
  1852. > He paused at the door.
  1853. > He looked back, waiting on your every word.
  1854. > Loyalty.
  1855. > You knock over the picture of your wedding day.
  1856. > The glass frame shatters.
  1857. "Do send a doctor this way, would you? My leg is starting to hurt."
  1858. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  1859. > Dear Princess Celestia.
  1860. > This is Anon.
  1861. > I'm terribly sorry to be contacting you so early, but I know you're an early riser.
  1862. > First of all, I hope you're doing well. Things have been great here in Ponyville.
  1863. > I'm writing to inform you that myself and Twilight will be hosting a dinner this evening.
  1864. > At the castle in Ponyville, of course.
  1865. > I would be ever-so delighted if you could attend.
  1866. > I feel like it has been terribly long since we have had a real opportunity to talk.
  1867. > If you could pass along the invitation to Luna as well, it would be appreciated.
  1868. > The more the merrier, after all.
  1869. > I know you have a busy schedule, I'll understand if you can't make it.
  1870. > But your presence would brighten up what's sure to be a drab affair otherwise.
  1871. > And I can only imagine the joy on Twilight's face were you to show up.
  1872. > I appreciate your consideration.
  1873. > ...
  1874. > Prince Anonymous I, Peacekeeper
  1875. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
  1876. "I'll require a cane."
  1877. > Talon nods, and heads out of the medical bay.
  1878. > But your doctor yells at him all the way out of the room.
  1879. > Your doctor had been droning on and on.
  1880. > But at your interruption, her commands grow in quantity.
  1881. > About you needing plenty of rest.
  1882. > And not moving.
  1883. > And generally being excessively overprotective.
  1884. > And putting the entire wing of the castle on high alert.
  1885. > You had refused to tell her the details of how you were injured.
  1886. > Simply telling her that it was not her concern, and that it would be dealt with.
  1887. > You knew there was no way of effectively preventing this scandal.
  1888. > But you could mitigate the damage by averting responsibility from Twilight.
  1889. > There was a plan in motion for what precisely the details would be.
  1890. > But you couldn't have her implicated.
  1891. > Or there would be questions raised.
  1892. > As your doctor finally seems to be at an end to her droning, you decide to silence her.
  1893. "I appreciate your recommendations, doctor. But I am terribly busy, and cannot stay here."
  1894. > The look on her face is heartbreaking.
  1895. > Like you told her you were about to go jump off a bridge.
  1896. > "But... My Prince, surely nothing can take a higher priority than your life and health?"
  1897. > How you wish that were true.
  1898. > But a great many things required your immediate attention now.
  1899. > And you couldn't be restricted to this bed while they unfolded.
  1900. "I have faith that your splint will hold. I will keep pressure off of it."
  1901. > She sighs deeply.
  1902. > The poor pony was driving herself insane trying to convince you to stay.
  1903. > You place your hand on her withers.
  1904. "Listen, my friend. I appreciate your advice, genuinely. But a Prince must be ready to sacrifice for others."
  1905. > She relaxes under your touch.
  1906. > "You know I can't stop you. But please, be careful."
  1907. "I will."
  1908. > Shortly thereafter, Talon returned with a cane.
  1909. > It was an immaculately well crafted piece.
  1910. > Silver pommel, in the shape of a Gryphon.
  1911. > Talon had a gift for art, it seemed.
  1912. > You had to wonder how it had been crafted so quickly for a being like you.
  1913. > Doubtless using magic, you supposed.
  1914. > Or perhaps, given the craft, the Gryphons had prepared for such an eventuality.
  1915. > You cared not to inquire.
  1916. > As you rose up, you carefully balanced your body using the cane.
  1917. > Your doctor had insisted on crutches, but that would create the appearance of a very bad wound.
  1918. > To be fair, it was a very bad wound.
  1919. > But you had hoped that a cane would suggest something lesser.
  1920. > Like a sprain.
  1921. > Something which might not cause quite the controversy.
  1922. > Your pants effectively covered all of the splint and cast.
  1923. > And your feet were able to remain covered by shoes.
  1924. > The damage was not down there, it was up below the knee, after all.
  1925. > To the average citizen, it would look simply like you were limping.
  1926. > Not that your leg had snapped.
  1927. > The unfortunate part was that it was unlikely to ever fully heal.
  1928. > Which meant you had to get familiar with this cane.
  1929. > Even in the best case scenario, according to the doctor, it would still hurt to put full weight on it.
  1930. > You would never run again.
  1931. > You would never dance again.
  1932. > But those were small sacrifices, looking back.
  1933. > Running had never been terribly important to affairs.
  1934. > If speed was an issue, you had individuals who could work far faster than you.
  1935. > But dancing...
  1936. > Well...
  1937. > You supposed you never were very good at dancing alone anyway.
  1938. > Hobbling back to your office, you find a number of documents on your desk.
  1939. > You had one of your Gryphon guards return to Canterlot and obtain them.
  1940. > Along with dropping off your message to Celestia.
  1941. > They would be critical to setting up your plans after tonight's dinner.
  1942. > However, as you walk past the slightly fractured mirror, you notice something.
  1943. > You had no idea where your crown was.
  1944. > Your clothes were a mess, still wearing the suit from last night.
  1945. > And your crown was missing.
  1946. > The doctor definitely didn't remove it.
  1947. > Which probably meant that it had fallen off your head at some point.
  1948. > The logical side of your mind told you it likely fell lose when you were thrown at the wall.
  1949. > But the emotional side told you that meant it was in front of your room.
  1950. > But the emotional side was an irrelevancy.
  1951. > Your clothes were in that room.
  1952. > You swiftly about-faced.
  1953. > Well, as swiftly as you could given your circumstances.
  1954. > And began the march to your bedroom.
  1955. > The halls remained mostly barren.
  1956. > An occasional maid or guard.
  1957. > But far fewer than there typically were in the castle.
  1958. > Were they still out looking for Flash?
  1959. > That suggested that Twilight had not told anyone.
  1960. > Which was good.
  1961. > As you neared your bedroom, you notice the door still closed.
  1962. > Your eye was caught by a shimmer.
  1963. > Right by the potted plant.
  1964. > Your crown.
  1965. > It was slightly dented along the back.
  1966. > One of the rubies knocked loose.
  1967. > But you still picked it up.
  1968. > But as you bent down to grab it, a voice catches your attention.
  1969. > "Hey Anon!"
  1970. > It was Spike.
  1971. > What the hell was he doing back here so early?
  1972. > You swore he was making a home run play last night.
  1973. > He should still be over at Rarity's.
  1974. > You look up at him.
  1975. "Spike? What the hell are you doing back?"
  1976. > He's got a huge grin on his face.
  1977. > So he had some degree of success, at least.
  1978. > "Oh, Twilight showed up at Rarity's about something urgent. Girltalk, apparently."
  1979. > That... was unfortunate.
  1980. > If Rarity knew, then there were more lose ends.
  1981. > Sorry, Spike.
  1982. > But you could not tolerate lose ends this time.
  1983. "Yeah, she ran out of here in a rush this morning. Celestia's coming for dinner tonight."
  1984. > He scratches his head at that.
  1985. > You bend back up, the golden crown in your hand.
  1986. > "Why couldn't I be there for them to talk about that?"
  1987. > But as you straighten back up and make a move for the door, he notices the cane.
  1988. > "Anon! What happened to your leg?"
  1989. > Hmph.
  1990. > You supposed it wouldn't hurt to start the plan a little early.
  1991. "A guardspony attacked me. Not sure which one, but Talon is investigating."
  1992. > He gasps in shock.
  1993. > He quickly leans down to get a closer look, but you shy the leg away from him.
  1994. "You don't need to worry, Spike. It's nothing too serious."
  1995. > He looks skeptical.
  1996. > "If you're hurt, Anon, you should be resting in bed. Not up and about!"
  1997. > His concern was adorable.
  1998. > You reach out with your right hand and pat his shoulder.
  1999. "I'm fine, Spike. Now, you go get out of that suit. You smell like Tartarus."
  2000. > He chuckles at that.
  2001. > But the concern still remains on his face.
  2002. > "Like you smell any better. But take it easy, for me, alright?"
  2003. > You nod.
  2004. "Of course."
  2005. > Upon entering your bedroom, a sense of dread overtakes you.
  2006. > The previous night flashes through your mind.
  2007. > Your rage.
  2008. > Her rage.
  2009. > This room was forever tainted by that memory.
  2010. > A flicker of a powerful fire still roared in the fireplace.
  2011. > Magically created to last a long period without risk.
  2012. > Moving over to the closet, you open it up.
  2013. > Your clothes remain in tact.
  2014. > That was a good sign.
  2015. > Pulling out a new suit, you lay it on the bed.
  2016. > Sitting down, you carefully remove your jacket.
  2017. > Then your shirt.
  2018. > But the hardest part came now.
  2019. > Removing your pants was an immense struggle.
  2020. > The Doctor had initially simply cut them off, then re-attached them via magic.
  2021. > But you didn't have that option.
  2022. > And shifting your leg through it sent immense pain shooting up your body.
  2023. > You dearly hoped that would get more manageable with time.
  2024. > If that pain had to be a constant feature of dressing yourself...
  2025. > You imagine your appearance might suffer.
  2026. > But perhaps appearance did not matter as much as you thought.
  2027. > Your philosophies had gotten you nowhere.
  2028. > They had cost you everything.
  2029. > You regarded the crown once again.
  2030. > The golden crown, giving the impression of warmth.
  2031. > When you finish getting on your new clothes, you move over to the couch in front of the fire.
  2032. > You hold the crown in your hands.
  2033. > It was damaged anyway.
  2034. > You cast the crown into the flames, and for a time watch it sit there.
  2035. > It's fascinating how the gold flakes off slowly, in pieces.
  2036. > How the gems begin to slide out as the tension weakens in the metal.
  2037. > But you of course didn't have time to watch the full event.
  2038. > You had documents to review for this evening.
  2039. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  2040. > There's a knock at your office door.
  2041. > Hmm. You hadn't been expecting anyone.
  2042. > There was no way Talon was done that quickly, was there?
  2043. "Talon, how the hell did you finish so quick?"
  2044. > There's a bit of a cough outside.
  2045. > Then, a clearly feminine voice attempting to sound masculine rings out.
  2046. > "Uh, you know me boss. Super fast."
  2047. > God damnit.
  2048. > This mare did not deserve to be a princess.
  2049. > But you'd play along.
  2050. "Oh, that's fantastic. Then you have the key, you can open the door yourself."
  2051. > It was a silly little game.
  2052. > But it meant the world to you right now.
  2053. > "But, uh, boss, I lost the key."
  2054. > As if Talon would ever do such a thing.
  2055. "Well, I'm sure you know about a million and one lockpick spells, Celestia."
  2056. > You put the documents on the table into your desk.
  2057. > You can practically feel the pout that accompanied the whine on the other side of the door.
  2058. > The knob is briefly illuminated with a golden glow.
  2059. > And the door swings open.
  2060. > And there's the pout.
  2061. > The pout that could render any sensible stallion subject to her every whim.
  2062. > "You're no fun, my faithful student-in-law."
  2063. > Her nickname for you.
  2064. > Yesterday, such a comment would have hurt to hear.
  2065. > A reminder of better times.
  2066. > But today those nerves were numb.
  2067. > They had to be, because that title could soon be lost.
  2068. "Gotta be careful who you tell about that spell, or the royal treasury will be empty in a week."
  2069. > She chuckles lightly, before moving into your office proper.
  2070. > "I've been very careful over the past millennia, don't you worry sweetie."
  2071. > She practically treated you like a son.
  2072. > Which made sense, given that Twilight was practically her daughter.
  2073. "So, didja manage to get Lulu to cave in?"
  2074. > Celestia sighs, rolling her eyes.
  2075. > "She's sleeping right now, but she said she'd be here for dinner."
  2076. > She pokes you in the side with a hoof.
  2077. > A brilliant smile illuminating her ever-beautiful face.
  2078. > "But who knows with her, that mare seems to have no concept of time."
  2079. > She walks past you, heading to the balcony.
  2080. > But stops suddenly.
  2081. > "What happened to your mirror?"
  2082. > Now, you could begin your plan.
  2083. "Unfortunately, a deranged Guardspony broke into my office last night."
  2084. > Her serene expression turns dark very quickly.
  2085. > "Who?"
  2086. > Always to the point when it was serious.
  2087. > She truly was an artful ruler.
  2088. "We don't know yet. He was in full armour and had white fur, but that describes a million guards."
  2089. > "You saw him?"
  2090. > Hook, line, and....
  2091. "Yeah, he came in to attack me, not the office."
  2092. > Her eyes go wide.
  2093. > She rushes over to you.
  2094. > "Did he hurt you?"
  2095. > Sinker.
  2096. > You instantly feel her magic floating over your body.
  2097. > Searching for damage.
  2098. > H-er eyes widen as the pulse centers around your leg.
  2099. > "Anon! You get back to that medical ward right this second!"
  2100. > It always warmed your heart how concerned she was about you.
  2101. > But it was getting rather tiring how everyone thought they knew better what you needed.
  2102. > How best for you to 'heal.'
  2103. > You knew what it would fucking take to heal.
  2104. > It would never heal.
  2105. "But Celery, I've got a dinner to plan!'
  2106. > She loved it when you played up the petulant child role.
  2107. > Made her feel like a mother, something she never had the opportunity to be.
  2108. > Terrible shame about the sterility associated with ascension.
  2109. > Twilight had a terrible time dealing with it.
  2110. > "I think I told you not to call me that mister. And that injury is serious!"
  2111. > You feel the chair softly, slowly pull back in her magic.
  2112. > And the leg of your pants simply phase out of existence.
  2113. > "Goodness, Anon... What could he have possibly wanted?"
  2114. > And now you plant the bait.
  2115. "I'm not sure, but he was blabbering a lot about Twilight. Not sure if it's just deranged obsession or what."
  2116. > A look of steely determination crossed her features.
  2117. > She backed up, and you saw the aura of her magic fall over the room.
  2118. > Feeling for all the inconsistencies and damage.
  2119. > "What the... Did you try and fight him? Everything's damaged, it's just cleverly hidden!"
  2120. > You let a grin fall onto your face.
  2121. "Yep, and I beat the fucker too. Had him running with his tail between his legs."
  2122. "Talon's been on his trail since last night, we're hoping to figure out who it was."
  2123. > Her eyes match yours again.
  2124. > It was time for a lecture.
  2125. > She never did approve of your choice of guards.
  2126. > "He should've been here to protect you, Anon."
  2127. > Sadly, had he protected you he'd be in a lot worse trouble.
  2128. > Assaulting a princess and all that.
  2129. "To be fair, Princess, given that it was an Equestrian who assaulted me..."
  2130. "And Talon at least helped clean up after."
  2131. > That causes her expression to change in an instant.
  2132. > The look on her face is sympathetic.
  2133. > Like she feels partially responsible.
  2134. > It broke your heart to lie to her like this.
  2135. > To make her feel like it was her ponies who had hurt you.
  2136. > But it had to be done.
  2137. > For the greater good.
  2138. > "Anon, I swear I'm going to find who did this. You have my word."
  2139. > You were counting on her finding him.
  2140. > Terrible shame the Captain of the Guard couldn't be trusted.
  2141. > That would make her feel even worse.
  2142. > She had personally appointed him, after all.
  2143. "You don't need to worry, Celes-"
  2144. > She cut you off.
  2145. > Now she looked angry, not sad.
  2146. > "I do need to worry. One of my guards hurt you. And I will deal with them."
  2147. > "You can tell Talon to relax his search. The criminal will be brought to justice."
  2148. > Celestia was incredibly protective of you.
  2149. > While you and her shared the same rank and state-sanctioned powers...
  2150. > Everyone knew who the big fish at the show was.
  2151. > You let a smile show.
  2152. "I understand. I'll back off the investigation."
  2153. > She lets out a sigh.
  2154. > "I know you probably want revenge, Anon. But... this is my responsibility."
  2155. > She turns around, looking in your cracked mirror.
  2156. > "I've taken great strides to keep the guard always in their best state. To avoid abuses."
  2157. > It was crushing your heart to hear this.
  2158. > To know that your lie made her feel like she'd failed.
  2159. > She didn't deserve this.
  2160. > But then, neither did you.
  2161. > "And it's my duty to bring them to justice. I will solve it personally."
  2162. > And it had become necessary.
  2163. "I trust I'll still see you for dinner?"
  2164. > She lets out a soft chuckle.
  2165. > "As if I'd miss it for the world. You know how much you and Twilight mean to me.."
  2166. > A terrible shame, that.
  2167. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  2168. > Loud whining.
  2169. > The crying of a young filly.
  2170. > "Please, Shimmer, just calm down. It's going to be fine."
  2171. > The voice of a stallion.
  2172. > The sound grates on your ears.
  2173. > It is a voice you were only somewhat familiar with.
  2174. > You didn't spend a terribly vast amount of time here in Ponyville.
  2175. > But his attempts to quell the filly's screaming fall on deaf ears.
  2176. > "B-but the rope hurts!"
  2177. > Thank the Gods this room is soundproofed.
  2178. > You enter the room with two Gryphon guards.
  2179. > Talon stands watch outside.
  2180. > You limp into the room slowly.
  2181. > Your cane making loud taps against the ground.
  2182. > At the sound of your movement, the filly silences herself.
  2183. > All of them remain silent.
  2184. > As you turn the corner into the main room, you remain out of view of your guests.
  2185. > They're all facing a wall.
  2186. > Bound to chairs.
  2187. > The lights are dim, but bright enough to cast shadows on the wall.
  2188. > But the shadows lack definition.
  2189. > You rather enjoyed the ambiance.
  2190. > You remain silent, to watch their behaviour.
  2191. > To see how they react when they don't know what's happening.
  2192. > When people are uncertain, they show their true character.
  2193. > They lash out in ways they wouldn't if they understood.
  2194. > It was a lesson you had learned well.
  2195. > You don't need to wait terribly long for the Stallion to speak up.
  2196. > "Who's there?"
  2197. > You remain silent to his question.
  2198. > Lash out.
  2199. > "Who the fuck are you? I'm the Captain of the Guard!"
  2200. > He's pulling rank.
  2201. > Adorable.
  2202. > But quickly, his ferocity vanishes.
  2203. > "If you're the one who sent me those letters, I had no choice! The princess knew something was up."
  2204. > You imagine she did.
  2205. > If only he knew the cost of obeying her.
  2206. > Surely, he must suspect that he's not leaving this room.
  2207. > You continue to stand in silence.
  2208. > Awaiting another response.
  2209. > Yet, he's not the one who speaks next.
  2210. > The mare beside him is.
  2211. > "Please, we just want to go home. We won't tell anyone about this."
  2212. > You tap your cane on the floor.
  2213. > The Gryphons head back into the small hallway leading to this room.
  2214. > Out of sight.
  2215. > "Please..."
  2216. > Out of mind.
  2217. "Enough."
  2218. > A gasp rattles out from the ponies.
  2219. > They must've recognized your voice.
  2220. > You suppose you had on occasion seen the stallion around.
  2221. > "My Prince? Oh by the sun and stars we're saved!"
  2222. > The mare is optimistic.
  2223. > A terrible character flaw.
  2224. > You would have to remedy that.
  2225. > "There are traitors in your ranks, my Prince. Gryphons abducted me and took me here."
  2226. > You withdraw a cigar from your blazer pocket.
  2227. > And light it.
  2228. > "They were working for Talon, I just know it! I knew they couldn't be trusted!"
  2229. > You take a deep inhale of the tobacco.
  2230. > And slowly exhale it.
  2231. > Pony guards always were suspicious of your entourage.
  2232. > Felt like they were an affront to their dignity.
  2233. > It was part of why Celestia had always disliked your guards.
  2234. > Her military advisers were against them.
  2235. > But unfortunately, you could not permit his delusions to carry on.
  2236. "They brought you here at my behest, Gilded Light."
  2237. > His back goes stiff at that revelation.
  2238. > "B-but I..."
  2239. > His jaw is slack.
  2240. > No doubt his precious little world is crumbling around him.
  2241. > With his idealized Prince and Princess, to whom he was eternally loyal.
  2242. > Whom would defend him no matter the situation. Give up everything for him.
  2243. > Unfortunate that the man he dreamed of was an illusion.
  2244. "You need not worry for your life or the lives of your family, Gilded. Provided you do as I ask."
  2245. > Visibly, you can see some degree of stress melt out of his withers.
  2246. > He's trying to look back in your direction.
  2247. > But his restraints prevent him from doing so.
  2248. > "What... Do you need me to do?"
  2249. > Wonderful.
  2250. > It was so much better when they cooperated.
  2251. "As I imagine you're aware by now, I was the one who sent you the letters. Betraying the order of a Prince is treason."
  2252. > He quickly begins stammering.
  2253. > "But, I had no idea it was you! Had you signed them, I would've destroyed them at once!"
  2254. > You shuffle slowly over to a table at the side of the room.
  2255. > And withdraw a knife from the table.
  2256. > At the sound of the slick metal being picked up, he freezes again.
  2257. > You move over behind the smallest chair., every step accompanied by a tap of your cane.
  2258. > They know precisely where you are at all times.
  2259. "You may claim that, Gilded. But your loyalties are in question. I need insurance."
  2260. > Your hand rests on the shoulder of the filly.
  2261. "I need you to stay still, alright sweetie?
  2262. > She nods, and otherwise remains still.
  2263. > "Ok, mister prince."
  2264. > Her fear-filled voice tears at your heart, but you ignore it.
  2265. > Gilded is struggling to look over at you.
  2266. > You push the blade into his field of view.
  2267. > Right at the neck of his filly.
  2268. > "Please! No! Anything but that! Anything!"
  2269. > The blade is close enough to split fur.
  2270. "I need you to be cognizant of the costs of disobedience. Remember this picture."
  2271. > You withdraw the knife.
  2272. > And move over to his chair.
  2273. > And slice the ropes.
  2274. > They fall around him with a loud thud.
  2275. > But he does not move.
  2276. > He remains frozen in place, staring over at his filly.
  2277. > Moonlight Shimmer.
  2278. > Such an adorable name.
  2279. > To his other side, his wife.
  2280. > You hadn't bothered with her name.
  2281. > She was more incidental to this situation.
  2282. > But she had the most lustrous orange fur you had seen.
  2283. > It reminded you of somepony you despised.
  2284. > Somepony responsible for all of this.
  2285. > You let the knife rest at her neck.
  2286. > But you do not look at her. Your gaze remains fixed on the wall.
  2287. "There is a table to your right, with a quill and parchment on it."
  2288. > At first, there is no response.
  2289. > He just continues staring forward.
  2290. > And after a minute passes, you feel rage beginning to build.
  2291. "I am not making a suggestion. Go to the table."
  2292. > He continues to stare bleakly forward.
  2293. > But, in time, his body begins to move.
  2294. > He robotically rises, and trots over to the table.
  2295. > "What do you want me to write?"
  2296. > A defeated soul.
  2297. > Perfect.
  2298. > It was suitable for what you needed done.
  2299. "A suicide note. I will tell you the specifics as you write it."
  2300. > There is barely a reaction.
  2301. > But his voice sounds out again.
  2302. > How you wish you could silence it.
  2303. > "Do my wife and daughter get to live?"
  2304. > At that, his wife lets out a gasp.
  2305. > But you lay a reassuring hand on her head.
  2306. > Honesty.
  2307. > Honesty could cause great suffering.
  2308. "You all get to live. Just not here. I will find somewhere suitable for you."
  2309. > When a simple lie could create such joy.
  2310. > You could see the relief in his expression.
  2311. > It was better this way.
  2312. > "Where do I begin?"
  2313. -------------------------------------------------------------------
  2314. > The dinner was soon.
  2315. > You stared at yourself in the cracked mirror.
  2316. > You could scarcely recognize the man before you.
  2317. > Never before had you allowed such bags to form under your eyes.
  2318. > You had barely slept in three days.
  2319. > Only a short period when you dealt with Flash.
  2320. > Your posture was horrible.
  2321. > A natural consequence of walking with the cane.
  2322. > You had always taken a pride-filled stance.
  2323. > Yet now, it required more effort than you could expend.
  2324. > Your hair, freshly cut yesterday, now was messy atop your head.
  2325. > Five o'clock shadow along your jaw.
  2326. > Your suit was messily wrinkled.
  2327. > This would not do.
  2328. > You may have lost drive to wear your mask.
  2329. > But you would not give her the satisfaction of breaking you.
  2330. > You open the door of your office and address the Gryphon out there.
  2331. "You, Seraph. Fetch me a new suit from my room."
  2332. > "Yes, Lord Fylkir."
  2333. > One of Talon's subordinates.
  2334. > Talon's work was too critical for you to be taking up his time right now.
  2335. > Moving into your bathroom, you turn on the shower.
  2336. > Once within it, you withdraw a razor blade.
  2337. > And begin fixing your facial hair.
  2338. > And then the hair on your head.
  2339. > Exiting the bathroom, you find the suit waiting for you.
  2340. > You put the fresh suit.
  2341. > Platinum cuff-links.
  2342. > Yet, there is one thing you do not keep from your typical garb.
  2343. > Your platinum crown remains on your desk.
  2344. > And you leave it.
  2345. > You didn't need it.
  2346. > It was time for dinner.
  2347. > "Good evening, fair Anonymous. We hope you are well this eve."
  2348. > It was always fascinating talking to Luna.
  2349. > She had been waiting for you in the parlour, along with the other guests.
  2350. > Dinner would be soon.
  2351. > But it could not begin without Twilight, of course.
  2352. > Who had still yet to arrive.
  2353. > You dearly hoped she would at least continue to play the game at least one more day.
  2354. > While she had mostly adopted her speech, she liked certain words.
  2355. > Like calling you fair.
  2356. > If you didn't know better, you'd swear at times she was hitting on you.
  2357. > But you suspected she was teasing.
  2358. "As well as can be expected, I suppose. I imagine Celly told you all about what happened?"
  2359. > Her face takes on a grim expression.
  2360. > "She had mentioned you suffered a wound most dire. Your leg, I believe?"
  2361. > You nod.
  2362. > There was no sense hiding it from her.
  2363. > While Luna did not have the protective instinct over you that Celestia did...
  2364. > She remained concerned. In her own special way.
  2365. > "At least you haven't let it keep you down. Better to die standing up!"
  2366. > You let out a polite laugh at that.
  2367. > Luna was another who shared a good deal in common with the Gryphons.
  2368. > No doubt a product of being from another time.
  2369. "No doubt, but I do so hope that things aren't quite that dire."
  2370. > She lets out a chuckle, before moving to another topic.
  2371. > You mingle for a short while longer, when the doors to the castle open.
  2372. > And in moves your wife.
  2373. > You feel your breath leave your lungs as you gaze upon her.
  2374. > Her mane is...
  2375. > Not done.
  2376. > Her dress...
  2377. > She doesn't have one.
  2378. > She looks...
  2379. > Normal.
  2380. > Immaculate.
  2381. > So beautiful, and so terrible.
  2382. > A swarm of partygoers move over toward her at once.
  2383. > They had already had their fill of gossiping with you, Luna and Celestia you supposed.
  2384. > Even Spike had been dragged in on the action, much to his chagrin.
  2385. > Although Blueblood remained, as ever, a center of attention.
  2386. > As the only stallion royal, you suppose it made sense.
  2387. > But, casting your view over to Twilight, you see her desperately looking about.
  2388. > Ignoring the party guests.
  2389. > That was... unconventional.
  2390. > She did say she was tired of playing pretend.
  2391. > She continues to scan the room until she spots you.
  2392. > When her eyes meet yours, they light up.
  2393. > But as her eyes fall, they take on a deep sadness.
  2394. > They lock on to the cane in your hand.
  2395. > Perhaps someone had told her.
  2396. > Perhaps it had been Celestia, it would not be unexpected.
  2397. > She begins to move through the crowd toward you.
  2398. > But you cannot allow her that small mercy just yet.
  2399. > Holding up your wine glass, you tap it with a fork.
  2400. "Everyone, we've officially got the full party here. To the dining hall!"
  2401. > The ponies begin aggressively shuffling out of the parlour and into the hall.
  2402. > And you allow yourself to be swept up in the flock.
  2403. > Luna keeps to your left side to ensure your leg is not bumped into.
  2404. > But it seems Twilight will have none of this.
  2405. > She flies over the crowd, and lands right beside you.
  2406. > The other partygoers huff and puff at her display.
  2407. > Even you find it hard to resist the urge to scold her for her indiscretion.
  2408. > "Anon, we need to talk. Please."
  2409. > There is an expression of sincere sadness on her face.
  2410. > But you could not allow yourself to be concerned with that.
  2411. > She was feeling guilt only now that she had wounded you physically.
  2412. > It was clear she did not feel guilt for the real damage she had inflicted.
  2413. > Perhaps she was worried that divorcing you after you were wounded would hurt her reputation.
  2414. > She had proven herself so selfish.
  2415. "We can speak over the meal, dear."
  2416. > You had taken your place at the head of the table.
  2417. > While typically for such affairs you were at the side, in Ponyville you were the primary Prince.
  2418. > And Twilight the primary princess.
  2419. > So you sat at the forefront, with Celestia and Luna to one side.
  2420. > And Spike and Blueblood on the other.
  2421. > And nearly fifty aristocrats following each of them down the sides.
  2422. > The time was so close.
  2423. > You stand up, carefully, and slowly.
  2424. > And raise your glass of wine into the air.
  2425. "My friends and colleagues, I appreciate your taking the time to visit us on such short notice."
  2426. "I recognize that we all have terribly busy schedules, minus Prince Spike and Princess Luna."
  2427. > You get a couple of indignant 'HEY's out of that and some light laughter from the aristocrats.
  2428. > They were ever-so easy to entertain.
  2429. "But the reason I have called you all here tonight is for a day of celebration."
  2430. "I have with me a treaty, bound and signed by the Farin Woods, consenting to peace with Equestria."
  2431. > Gasps ring out throughout the room.
  2432. > Celestia, in particular, has a look of shock on her face.
  2433. > The Farin Woods, a Deerborn country, had been harassing Equestrian borders for ages.
  2434. > Because of their guerilla tactics, they had never been fully dealt with.
  2435. > But now, they had.
  2436. "And so, I propose a toast! To peace in our age!"
  2437. > An uproarious cheer echoed through the halls.
  2438. > As you clinked your glass with your wife and the other princesses, your eyes focused on Twilight's glass.
  2439. > As she drunk deep from the crimson wine.
  2440. > Deeper than you had expected, actually.
  2441. > You sit back down, and the table quickly breaks off into conversation.
  2442. > While the rest of the conversation interests you, you address Twilight.
  2443. "So... what did you want to discuss?"
  2444. > She looks about briefly, to ensure some degree of privacy, before moving her face close to yours.
  2445. > Her eyes are puffy, like tears are about to fall.
  2446. > "I... I..."
  2447. > "I'm so sorry Anon."
  2448. -----------------------------------------------------------------------
  2449. > She should not be doing this.
  2450. > Not right now.
  2451. > You needed to control this situation.
  2452. > If anyone else heard...
  2453. "Twilight, calm down. We can discuss thi-"
  2454. > "I burned the divorce papers. Last night."
  2455. > What?
  2456. > But, no, she couldn't...
  2457. > "I... I need to explain myself. If you'll let me. I understand if you won't."
  2458. > You are barely cognizant of her words.
  2459. > Your eyes affixed to her glass.
  2460. > "But I beg of you, please, give me a-"
  2461. > She coughs into her hoof briefly, before continuing.
  2462. > "-a chance to fix this."
  2463. > You turn to look at her.
  2464. > Her brilliant, shimmering eyes.
  2465. > Her perfect hair.
  2466. > She couldn't do this to you. Not right now.
  2467. > And yet, you could not deny her.
  2468. > You never could.
  2469. "Speak quietly."
  2470. > She nods, and reaches for her glass of wine for quick drink again.
  2471. > You do not stop her.
  2472. > "Last night, I..."
  2473. > A look of discomfort falls across her face.
  2474. > She corrects where she intended to begin.
  2475. > "I suppose I should start at the beginning. With why I... was with Flash."
  2476. > A dodging way of putting it.
  2477. > But suitable.
  2478. > You had been curious about that detail.
  2479. "Continue."
  2480. > "We were incredibly drunk."
  2481. > You almost laugh at the bluntness of her statement.
  2482. > But the sombre atmosphere prevents you.
  2483. > Your gaze continues to scan the tables, ensuring your conversation remains private.
  2484. > "And... It had been almost a month since I had seen you. At the Royal Soiree in Manehattan."
  2485. > "We had barely even spoken that night either. You had ambassadors to please."
  2486. > Had you truly spent so little time together?
  2487. > You suppose you had been distant.
  2488. > Twilight attempts to clear her throat, but is struggling.
  2489. > "It's not a justification, but it's what happened. And... After, when I woke up, I told him never to speak to me again."
  2490. > That was... curious.
  2491. > Featherweight had given you the impression that this was a repeating cycle.
  2492. > "I had hoped I could bury that betrayal, but even when I thought you didn't know... It ate me up inside."
  2493. > Her hoof runs over her chest.
  2494. > She's nibbling on a bit of salad.
  2495. > She always nibbles when she's nervous.
  2496. > "When I had heard you were coming from Canterlot, I thought I could tell you all of what happened."
  2497. > Her expression is heartbreaking.
  2498. > The look of a defeated mare.
  2499. > Of your mare.
  2500. > "When Gilded came to me with the letters, asking me to protect him, I... I couldn't believe it."
  2501. > "Like I could say we were even. Like... Like I didn't have to feel guilty any longer."
  2502. > She lets out a loose chuckle.
  2503. > But it leads into a bit of a coughing fit.
  2504. > "And then I realized what happened to Flash was my fault, and I felt even more guilty."
  2505. > Her eyes cast down to your meal.
  2506. > Eggplant Parmigiana.
  2507. > Her favourite.
  2508. > "But when we went to-
  2509. > Another cough.
  2510. > "- dinner... I just felt so relieved. Like the whole world was right again."
  2511. > She takes another drink of wine.
  2512. > And moves to refill her glass.
  2513. > She has been drinking it down incredibly quickly.
  2514. > "And when we left Aria's... The whole world came crashing down around me."
  2515. > She's swallowing thickly.
  2516. > Another cough.
  2517. > You maintain your look on the table.
  2518. > You can't look at her.
  2519. > Not now.
  2520. > "I had initially ordered those papers for you. If you wanted to leave me."
  2521. > "But when I was cornered... I panicked. And I've hurt you for it..."
  2522. > Her hoof lays on your leg.
  2523. > She tries to get you to look at her.
  2524. > But you can't.
  2525. > "If you're still willing to try..."
  2526. > "I think we-"
  2527. > She starts coughing, but tries to talk through it.
  2528. > "I think we can fix-"
  2529. > The coughs overwhelm her for a moment, but it calms.
  2530. > When she thinks she's calmed down enough, she tries again.
  2531. > "We can fix this."
  2532. > And she coughs again.
  2533. > And hot crimson flies over the table.
  2534. > A scream erupts from your right.
  2535. > As you look over to Twilight, a look of pure shock is on her face.
  2536. > Blood drips down from her muzzle, staining her fur.
  2537. > She pushes back the chair in panic, but another racket of coughs cause her to fall on her back.
  2538. > And you feel hot panic flow through you as well.
  2539. "Twilight! Someone get a doctor!"
  2540. > The words were supposed to come out as authoritative.
  2541. > But they come out as a struggled plea.
  2542. > Vaguely you're aware of Luna running out of the room.
  2543. > And Celestia attempting to command the nobility to calm.
  2544. > You push back your chair to move to her.
  2545. > You were meant to get up on your right leg and move to her.
  2546. > You attempt to get up on your left.
  2547. > The splint snaps, and your bone flies loose.
  2548. > Yet you do not feel the pain.
  2549. > Your collapse atop her.
  2550. > Staring into those beautiful eyes.
  2551. > As the whites around them slowly filled with red.
  2552. > Her hoof lightly pressing against your chest.
  2553. > "A-anon?"
  2554. > She's barely whispering.
  2555. > She hacks up blood once more, and it strikes you across the face.
  2556. > You lean in close to her ear.
  2557. > Your body is heaving with unshed tears.
  2558. > It wasn't supposed to be this way.
  2559. "I'm so sorry..."
  2560. > It was barely a whisper in her ear.
  2561. > The movement of her hoof is slowly fading.
  2562. > You can feel her pulse through your hand on her neck.
  2563. > Through your cheek at the side of her face.
  2564. > She weakly croaks, trying to form words you cannot bear to hear.
  2565. > Neither can you bring yourself to look back at her eyes.
  2566. > To gaze into those brilliant orbs.
  2567. > And so you stay beside her head.
  2568. > Listening to her pulse.
  2569. > "I..."
  2570. > It is slowly fading.
  2571. > Her body is seizing in your hands.
  2572. > "Still..."
  2573. > Her hoof holds still against your chest.
  2574. > Her back hooves cease movement as well.
  2575. > "Love..."
  2576. > She can't do this to you.
  2577. > She betrayed you.
  2578. > "You."
  2579. > And like that, her body stops seizing.
  2580. > The hoof falls down against her.
  2581. > And her pulse stops.
  2582. > And with it, so too does yours.
  2583. > And neither would start again.
  2584. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  2585. > Slowly, you cracked open your eyes.
  2586. > The room you were in was shrouded in darkness.
  2587. > A roaring thunderstorm rages outside the window.
  2588. > A dull beep by your head.
  2589. > You're back in the medical bay.
  2590. > Alone, at the moment.
  2591. > Your mind attempts to piece together what happened.
  2592. > After what happened to Twilight...
  2593. > After what you did to her.
  2594. > Panic had ensued.
  2595. > Celestia and Luna had managed to keep some degree of order.
  2596. > You don't know how long you laid there by her side.
  2597. > It felt like an eternity.
  2598. > They had to pry you off of her, eventually.
  2599. > The first time they tried...
  2600. > You had lashed out at them.
  2601. > At Spike.
  2602. > You supposed that was a poor decision.
  2603. > Doubtless the situation was as hard for him.
  2604. > Well, not quite as hard.
  2605. > He wasn't the cause.
  2606. > But you weren't thinking straight.
  2607. > You weren't thinking at all.
  2608. > Irrespective, eventually you had lost the strength to resist their efforts.
  2609. > When you were pulled away...
  2610. > Seeing her fur matted with blood.
  2611. > Her body shock-still.
  2612. > Seeing her eyes.
  2613. > Wide, and stained fully red with blood.
  2614. > But no longer shimmering.
  2615. > That was when you had lost control of your tears.
  2616. > Dimly, you were aware that you were still covered in her blood.
  2617. > You would have thought they would have cleaned you.
  2618. > But perhaps they were still too busy with the fallout.
  2619. > You had no idea how long it had been since that time.
  2620. > Once they had separated you, time was a blur.
  2621. > A blur of oaths for vengeance from Celestia.
  2622. > Cries of rage from you.
  2623. > Talon.
  2624. > He had taken you to the medical bay, at Celestia's order.
  2625. > And he had been the target of your rage.
  2626. > You had told him and his entire troupe to get out of your sight.
  2627. > To never set foot in this castle again.
  2628. > It appeared they had complied.
  2629. > But the cinders of that rage had burned out.
  2630. > You felt numb.
  2631. > This was her fault, yet again.
  2632. > Had she not...
  2633. > Had she not apologized.
  2634. > Then your plan would have worked.
  2635. > Had she come back playing the game.
  2636. > Wearing her mask.
  2637. > Then you would have felt like this was a victory.
  2638. > Like you had won the day.
  2639. > You would have been a saviour to Equestria.
  2640. > The prince who put Equestria above his own losses.
  2641. > You know the words to be lies.
  2642. > They feel empty, and hollow.
  2643. > Honesty.
  2644. > Perhaps there was more to it.
  2645. > Perhaps the Gryphons weren't always right.
  2646. > Looking down, you see an IV drip inserted.
  2647. > But you have no idea why.
  2648. > Surely, you weren't lacking fluids.
  2649. > Perhaps some sort of painkiller.
  2650. > Your leg had to be in a much worse condition after your foolishness.
  2651. > A crack of lightning.
  2652. > You were stunned at how much rain had been falling.
  2653. > Two nights in a row, no less.
  2654. > Sitting up in your bed, you look around the room.
  2655. > A lancing pain erupts from your leg as it shifts in the bed.
  2656. > It seemed those painkillers were not working.
  2657. > But there was another concern.
  2658. > You were naked.
  2659. > Your suit, still stained with grime and browned blood, sat on a chair.
  2660. > Your cane beside it.
  2661. > Your watch, however, remained on your arm.
  2662. > It was close to one in the morning.
  2663. > If you stayed here, things would work out for you.
  2664. > Gilded's manifesto would be found in about five hours, in your office.
  2665. > Neatly folded into an envelope and slipped under your door.
  2666. > Everyone would know of the Captain of the Ponyville Guard, who killed the princess.
  2667. > And then himself, with his family.
  2668. > Celestia would never forgive herself.
  2669. > Her selection for guard, after millennia of experience, not only crippled someone who was like a son to her...
  2670. > He killed her most faithful student.
  2671. > It's possible she might even begin to withdraw from political life.
  2672. > The stress and grief of this weighing on her.
  2673. > You knew she had done so in the past, when intense strife had struck.
  2674. > Typically when she was naive enough to take a lover.
  2675. > Or The Banishment.
  2676. > Or any number of other circumstances.
  2677. > There was an entire executive council in place to assume control should that happen.
  2678. > Although, with Luna back, who knows how things would work out.
  2679. > Either way, you would be clear to take on a more prominent role.
  2680. > You could unite the world as the proper leader of Equestria.
  2681. > But, you had come to realize...
  2682. > You were not the proper leader of Equestria.
  2683. > You never had been.
  2684. > You pull out the IV drip.
  2685. > Turning to the side, you unplug the heartrate monitor.
  2686. > And you pull off the heartrate monitor's attachments to your chest.
  2687. > You couldn't allow that to happen.
  2688. > A kindness could allow someone to escape great injustice.
  2689. > Did you deserve to escape?
  2690. > Your body moved on autopilot.
  2691. > You knew what you had to do.
  2692. > You attempt to move out of the bed.
  2693. > But when your torso reaches the edge, your leg moves.
  2694. > White-hot pain lances through you, and you feel dizzy.
  2695. > Unfortunately, your position meant that this caused you to collapse off the side.
  2696. > Onto the tile floor.
  2697. > You suppress a scream.
  2698. > You lay on the ground for a little while.
  2699. > Waiting for the pain in your leg to subside.
  2700. > They had re-splinted it.
  2701. > However, now the splint glowed with a dim light.
  2702. > It had been magically reinforced to prevent a break.
  2703. > When you feel stable enough, you pull yourself over to one of the chairs.
  2704. > Pulling yourself up, you sit in it.
  2705. > In the chair beside you is your suit.
  2706. > You pull out the blood-stained dress shirt first.
  2707. > And begin to put it on.
  2708. > You leave behind the blazer.
  2709. > You put on the dress pants next.
  2710. > That part of the process takes you easily an hour.
  2711. > An hour of intense agony.
  2712. > But ultimately, you are dressed once more.
  2713. > Taking your cane from the wall, you rise up.
  2714. > And move out of the door.
  2715. > The medical bay was barren.
  2716. > Not a nurse or doctor to be seen.
  2717. > You imagine at this time of night they have a skeleton staff keeping an ear out.
  2718. > It wasn't a public hospital, after all.
  2719. > Strictly for guards, most of the time.
  2720. > Speaking of guards, you were surprised there were none here.
  2721. > Even when you exited the medical bay, the castle was barren.
  2722. > But it worked well for you.
  2723. > You imagine they would not be as permitting as yesterday about your movement.
  2724. > You know where you are headed.
  2725. > And as your office comes into view, you're struck by the lack of guards.
  2726. > Seems Talon had taken your words to heart.
  2727. > Loyalty.
  2728. > What did it really mean.
  2729. > Obeying your command, or doing what was best for you?
  2730. > Perhaps they were synonymous in this case.
  2731. > Opening the door, you see the room exactly as you left it.
  2732. > Even the small white envelope on the floor.
  2733. > Picking it up, you shamble over to the fireplace.
  2734. > It is nothing but cinders at the moment.
  2735. > But you can fix that.
  2736. > Your cigar box is still out on the balcony.
  2737. > Getting rained on.
  2738. > You move out, and open it up.
  2739. > You withdraw the lighter.
  2740. > You pause for a moment.
  2741. > And throw the box off the balcony.
  2742. > You didn't need it any more.
  2743. > You then move back to the fireplace
  2744. > And you hold up the letter.
  2745. > You stop for a minute, in consideration.
  2746. > Before a steely resolve washes over you.
  2747. > You bring the lighter up, and ignite the letter.
  2748. > Before casting it into the fireplace.
  2749. > Gilded didn't deserve that.
  2750. > He would be remembered as a hero.
  2751. > But a thought occurred to you.
  2752. > He wasn't the only loose end you had planned to tie.
  2753. > And looking to your watch, the other would be tied soon.
  2754. > You needed to move.
  2755. --------------------------------------------------------------------
  2756. > When you turn around to leave the room, you're once again struck by your mirror.
  2757. > You had spent such time fixing your appearance yesterday for dinner.
  2758. > To make everything perfect.
  2759. > And yet now, you couldn't bear to see yourself.
  2760. > Especially with... Her all over you.
  2761. > Looking in the mirror, your body locks up.
  2762. > Her final words repeating endlessly in your head.
  2763. > Frustration builds within you.
  2764. > It wasn't fair.
  2765. > But it was.
  2766. > The guilt building up in you...
  2767. > You somewhat understood what she felt now.
  2768. > The guilt of betrayal.
  2769. > It burned worse than anything you had ever felt.
  2770. > Your leg paled in comparison to the ache in your heart.
  2771. > The ache of guilt which had festered in you for years.
  2772. > With every betrayal.
  2773. > With every justification.
  2774. > Every time you did something for the greater good.
  2775. > You had signed it away as being for the best.
  2776. > That you couldn't do wrong.
  2777. > Looking at yourself now, your eyes have gotten worse.
  2778. > The dark rings thick under them.
  2779. > Bloodshot.
  2780. > Like a man driven to madness.
  2781. > The responsibility of ruling demanded darkness.
  2782. > All of you understood that, to a degree.
  2783. > The royalty, that is.
  2784. > And yet, you had never considered it darkness.
  2785. > It was necessary.
  2786. > But perhaps there had been other ways.
  2787. > You just had never considered them.
  2788. > Your right arm lashes out, and smashes the mirror before you.
  2789. > The glass shatters, and flies through the air.
  2790. > A shard slices cleanly along your hand.
  2791. > The sting feels nice.
  2792. > It feels like the beginnings of justice.
  2793. > You had always lashed out when angry.
  2794. > Destroying things.
  2795. > Ponies.
  2796. > Because you could not express yourself properly.
  2797. > Because the slightest infraction would cause a national outrage.
  2798. > Because you were perfect for them.
  2799. > There was only one pony you could ever be yourself with.
  2800. > Looking back, it had been ages since you had spent real time with her.
  2801. > You had been caught up in the sway of politics.
  2802. > Neglectful.
  2803. > And you could never be with her again.
  2804. > Never look at her shining smile.
  2805. > Never slowly preen her wings as you discussed your days.
  2806. > Never intricately plan something meaningless, just to do it together.
  2807. > Never discuss magic for hours on end.
  2808. > Never love.
  2809. > You move over to your desk and withdraw a cloth.
  2810. > This wallowing was meaningless.
  2811. > You couldn't save Twilight at this point.
  2812. > And you couldn't save yourself.
  2813. > But there was still somepony you could save.
  2814. > Somepony who meant the world to your closest friend.
  2815. > Your brother.
  2816. > You would not betray Spike as well.
  2817. > You had your fill of betrayal.
  2818. > You wrap the cloth around your hand, tying it tight.
  2819. > The cloth is immediately stained red with blood.
  2820. > A substance you had seen far too much of lately.
  2821. > Taking your cane, you move to exit your office.
  2822. > Looking to your watch, you realize you had to hurry.
  2823. > Your reminiscing was costing you precious time.
  2824. > Your agent would be at Carousel Boutique any moment.
  2825. > As you walk through the empty halls of the castle, the only sound is that of your cane on the tile.
  2826. > And the relentless pounding of the rain and thunder outside.
  2827. > This would not be easy.
  2828. > You had difficulty enough walking in general, right now.
  2829. > Walking in the muddy, rainy conditions outside...
  2830. > It was an irrelevancy.
  2831. > You had to do this.
  2832. > Equestria needed a prince who could lead her into a new era.
  2833. > That was no longer you.
  2834. > But there remained one who could save this country.
  2835. > You were confident in that.
  2836. > But if he lost her tonight...
  2837. > He might never recover.
  2838. > Not so soon after Twilight.
  2839. > Reaching the front gates to the castle, you finally encounter some guards.
  2840. > Not your Gryphons, but the regular staff of the castle.
  2841. > They move toward you, but you will have none of it.
  2842. "I'm going out."
  2843. > They attempt to comment, but you ignore them.
  2844. > One of them moves to get in your way.
  2845. > You look down at him.
  2846. "Move, or so help me you will lose everything you hold dear."
  2847. > No doubt the look of pure insanity about you influenced his capitulation.
  2848. > Once upon a time, you would have persuaded them to let you pass.
  2849. > With pretty language and compliments.
  2850. > But you couldn't do that any longer.
  2851. > Your mask was long gone.
  2852. > The storm continued to rage outside.
  2853. > The winds were intense, blowing trees to their sides.
  2854. "You will stay here."
  2855. > You couldn't risk them knowing.
  2856. > If you were implicated in this assassination, then the story might come to light.
  2857. > That would crush Spike. And potentially Celestia.
  2858. > Perhaps it would be better if they knew the truth.
  2859. > But not like this.
  2860. > The guards remain at their posts as you take your first step out into the mud.
  2861. > Your cane sinks deep into the earth.
  2862. > As does your right leg.
  2863. > This would be difficult.
  2864. > And so it proves to be.
  2865. > Every step takes an immense amount of concentration.
  2866. > The wind whips at you harshly, irritating the cuts on your hand even through the bandage.
  2867. > The cold of the intense weather seeps into your heart.
  2868. > And the rain has you soaked to the bone.
  2869. > But you carry on.
  2870. > When you are almost to the boutique, a particularly strong gust of wind knocks your cane out from under you.
  2871. > You fall face first into the mud.
  2872. > Searing pain erupts from your leg as it jars against the ground.
  2873. > Desperately, you attempt to find purchase to lift yourself up.
  2874. > But your hand continues to slip on the slick ground.
  2875. > Pulling your head up, you look at the boutique.
  2876. > The lights remain on.
  2877. > And you can see, atop the front awning...
  2878. > A dark pony-shaped shadow.
  2879. > Peering in from the upper level through a window.
  2880. "Hey!"
  2881. > You attempt to call out, but it comes out as a croak.
  2882. > It would be impossible to hear you in this weather.
  2883. > You needed to get close.
  2884. > And so you once again attempt to push yourself up.
  2885. > And succeed.
  2886. > You begin to move to the boutique.
  2887. > You would not fail this time.
  2888. > You couldn't.
  2889. ----------------------------------------------------------------
  2890. > You eventually reach the side of the boutique.
  2891. > And collapsed against it.
  2892. > Your entire body ached with exhaustion.
  2893. > You had so little sleep...
  2894. > But you had to carry on.
  2895. > You tried calling out to the shadowy individual, but they still could not hear you.
  2896. > As you looked up, you saw the awning not too far up from you.
  2897. > You needed to get even closer still.
  2898. > Which meant climbing.
  2899. > Ordinarily, you would have little trouble climbing up there.
  2900. > You had a powerful physique.
  2901. > But you were weak right now.
  2902. > Weak and crippled.
  2903. > Just focus.
  2904. > Focus on what needs to be done.
  2905. > Balancing on one leg, you throw up your cane to the awning.
  2906. > The silver pommel hooks over the edge, the cane hanging down.
  2907. > You grab on, and try to pull yourself up.
  2908. > But your hands slip right off.
  2909. > The rain had made it too slippery.
  2910. > You pull down the cane.
  2911. > You had an idea.
  2912. > Tearing off your shirt, you wrap the cloth around it.
  2913. > While the shirt was wet, you could still grip it.
  2914. > The shirt was still stained.
  2915. > With her blood.
  2916. > It pained you to see it.
  2917. > How could the rain not wash it away?
  2918. > Why couldn't it just go away?
  2919. > You nearly lapse back into a shocked state.
  2920. > But you tear yourself out of it.
  2921. > You needed to do this.
  2922. > Hooking the cane back on to the awning, you heave on the cloth.
  2923. > It makes a loud stretching noise, but holds.
  2924. > With one leg against the wall, you start pulling yourself up.
  2925. > Desperately, you slowly ascend.
  2926. > Your one leg is burning with the effort of pulling up.
  2927. > But when you're near the top, a slippery spot strikes your foot.
  2928. > And you fall back into the mud.
  2929. > Immense pain blossoms across your body.
  2930. > Particularly from your leg.
  2931. > You hear a loud ringing sound in your ears.
  2932. > And your vision flashes white.
  2933. > The world is spinning.
  2934. > You can't focus...
  2935. > You can't do it.
  2936. > But you have to.
  2937. > You push yourself up, swallowing your nausea.
  2938. > Your muscles scream in resistance.
  2939. > The world continues to spin as you reach out to grip the cane.
  2940. > You miss it, falling against the wall again.
  2941. > You can't do this...
  2942. > You're too weak.
  2943. > But if you don't, then everyone loses.
  2944. > And you won't let that happen.
  2945. > Your hand takes up the cane again.
  2946. > And you make another attempt.
  2947. > Your vision is darkened around the edges.
  2948. > And you can't concentrate.
  2949. > Your foot slips again.
  2950. > But this time, you shoot out your other leg.
  2951. > And catch the wall against it.
  2952. > You can feel the bone shift out of place again.
  2953. > An incredible pain shoots through you.
  2954. > But the magically-enhanced splint prevents it from giving in.
  2955. > You attempt to scream in pain.
  2956. > But it comes out barely a gasp.
  2957. > Forcing yourself to overcome it, you push up on your shattered leg.
  2958. > Before catching the wall again with your right leg.
  2959. > Relief floods through you as the pressure is released on your bad leg.
  2960. > And you catch the ledge with your hands.
  2961. > You slowly, but surely pull yourself up and over.
  2962. > You could see him from where you were.
  2963. > Pulling up the cane, you struggle to your feet.
  2964. > The surface is slippery, but with great care you manage to rise.
  2965. "Hey!"
  2966. > That gets his attention.
  2967. > But you notice something horrifying.
  2968. > The window is open, and his crossbow is out.
  2969. > You move in his direction.
  2970. > And he pulls back from the window.
  2971. > Perfect timing, as ever.
  2972. > Now you could solve this.
  2973. "Apologies, but I no longer require you-"
  2974. > A loud twang sounds out.
  2975. > Your breath catches in your throat.
  2976. > Pain spreads out from your chest.
  2977. > You look down.
  2978. > A shimmering steel bolt.
  2979. > Embedded in your chest.
  2980. > Your eyes can't look away from it, but you force them to.
  2981. > Your eyes look back up to him.
  2982. > There is a panicked expression on his face.
  2983. > Time seems to stand still.
  2984. > The only thing moving being the rain.
  2985. > Until you speak.
  2986. "You shot-"
  2987. > Another twang sounds out.
  2988. > The bolt hits you in the stomach this time.
  2989. > You can feel it penetrate deeply.
  2990. > And a third twang.
  2991. > It lands beside the second shot, another in your stomach.
  2992. > The pony then turns, and sprints off the roof.
  2993. > You watch him go with a look of disbelief on your face.
  2994. > Fucking mercenaries.
  2995. > Your body resists your commands to move.
  2996. > But slowly, your hand moves to one of the bolts in your stomach.
  2997. > It's wedged in deep.
  2998. > Removing it would kill you faster.
  2999. > You prepare to call out to Rarity for help, her window still open there.
  3000. > When suddenly, fatigue overwhelms you.
  3001. > Your legs give out from under you.
  3002. > Loudly, your body smashes against the roof.
  3003. > And you roll harshly off the side of the building.
  3004. > You land on your back in the thick muck.
  3005. > You would think that fall would hurt quite badly.
  3006. > But you can barely feel a thing.
  3007. > The bolt in your chest was pushed in further by your fall.
  3008. > You focus on your breathing.
  3009. > In and out.
  3010. > When you hear a door open.
  3011. > And a male voice ring out.
  3012. > "Is anypony out there?"
  3013. > He shouldn't be here.
  3014. > He can't see you right now.
  3015. > Please, just go back inside...
  3016. > "Anon?"
  3017. ---------------------------------------------------------
  3018. > "What're you doing here?"
  3019. > You can barely hear him over the continuing roar of the rain.
  3020. > You try to lift your head to acknowledge him.
  3021. > To tell him it's all fine.
  3022. > But you can't.
  3023. > You don't have the strength.
  3024. > "A-anon...?"
  3025. > You hear a gasp.
  3026. > So he's noticed.
  3027. > He runs quickly to your side.
  3028. > And sits beside you, looking over your body.
  3029. > "No..."
  3030. > You feel his claws touch the bolt in your chest.
  3031. > He's shaking.
  3032. > Uncontrollably.
  3033. > "Rarity! Rarity get help!"
  3034. > His voice is a screech to your ears.
  3035. > He's on the verge of tears as it is.
  3036. > He collapses beside you.
  3037. > "Please, Anon... Don't do this to me..."
  3038. > A morbid sob escapes his mouth.
  3039. > He can't control himself.
  3040. > "Rarity!"
  3041. > His screams echo into the night.
  3042. > You muster the strength to speak.
  3043. "Spike... listen to me."
  3044. > He looks up to you.
  3045. > His eyes filled with hope.
  3046. > "Anon! You're ok!"
  3047. > It hurts more than your wounds to dash his hopes.
  3048. > But he needs to listen.
  3049. "Not for long. Listen closely."
  3050. > You can feel the darkness closing in on you.
  3051. > You didn't have long.
  3052. "You need to find Talon, and tell him to stop the plan."
  3053. > The door opens once again.
  3054. > And you hear Rarity say something, but you can't make it out.
  3055. > But you hear Spike's scream.
  3056. > "Anon's dying! Get help! Now!"
  3057. > You can't see her, but you presume she left when he turned back to you.
  3058. > "You'll tell him yourself, Anon. It's going to be fine..."
  3059. > It pained you to see such denial.
  3060. > You wished you could play pretend for him one last time.
  3061. > But he needed to hear this.
  3062. "It's not, Spike. And there's more you need to do..."
  3063. > You cough, and pain flares up from your wounds.
  3064. > They're oozing blood.
  3065. > "No! You can't just give up! We can save you... We have to..."
  3066. > You managed to lift a hand.
  3067. > You hold the side of his face.
  3068. "You need to take care of Velvet for me. And Celestia."
  3069. > His eyes are bloodshot.
  3070. > Tears falling freely.
  3071. "They're not going to do so well after this. See them at least once a week."
  3072. > "Stop! Stop talking, it's just making you weaker."
  3073. > He puts his claws under you, and attempts to lift you.
  3074. > But that causes more blood to ooze up from your wounds.
  3075. > And you cough intensely from it.
  3076. > So he immediately sets you back down.
  3077. > "Anon... Please, just not right now... I can't..."
  3078. > Sobs break up his words.
  3079. > Your hand falls from his face, back to the mud.
  3080. > He starts coughing, choking on his tears.
  3081. > "You're all I have left..."
  3082. > His claws cover his face.
  3083. > He can't bear to look at you.
  3084. "That's not true. You have Rarity."
  3085. > He lays down beside you, his arms wrapped around his face.
  3086. > The puddles from the rain around you had turned crimson.
  3087. "And you need to remember her. Always."
  3088. > Yet more crying.
  3089. > But you knew he was listening.
  3090. "Cherish her every day. When she's your princess, never neglect a second."
  3091. > You wish you had someone to tell you this before.
  3092. > But you never had anyone.
  3093. > You lost that when you came here.
  3094. "Because she'll be gone before you know it. And you'll want those memories."
  3095. > This cough is accompanied by blood.
  3096. > A lot of it.
  3097. > You spit it out.
  3098. "Above all, never change."
  3099. > You tilt your head to the right.
  3100. > He's staring forward, blankly.
  3101. > Tears freely running.
  3102. > "I won't, Anon. I promise you. I promise..."
  3103. > His eyes look back at you.
  3104. > You attempt a serene smile.
  3105. "Good. You always were a better prince than me."
  3106. > You can hear the shouts of guards in the distance.
  3107. > But the darkness is closing in on you.
  3108. > But at the voices, Spike perks up.
  3109. > "They're here! You're going to be fine!"
  3110. > Sorry.
  3111. > You're so sorry.
  3112. > That you can't be stronger.
  3113. > But you're so tired.
  3114. "Goodbye, Spike."
  3115. > "What? No! Anonymous, stay with me, please!"
  3116. > Your eyes close.
  3117. > They're too heavy to keep open.
  3118. > "Stay with me, just a little longer!"
  3119. > You wondered if you would see her again.
  3120. > If you would get to be with her.
  3121. > "Help him! Now! Hurry!"
  3122. > To see her smile.
  3123. > "Please..."
  3124. > Would she forgive you?
  3125. > "I don't care! Save him!"
  3126. > You had long forgiven her.
  3127. > But you had done so much worse.
  3128. > "What do you mean stopped?"
  3129. > But who were you kidding.
  3130. > You wouldn't get to see her.
  3131. > "No. Do it again!"
  3132. > She deserved so much better.
  3133. > "Again!"
  3134. > But still...
  3135. > "Please..."
  3136. > A man could hope.
  3137. > A man could dream.
  3138. > And with that final thought...
  3139. > You let the darkness consume you.
  3140. > And the voices fade.
  3141. > And you begin your everlasting dream.
  3142. -----------------------------------------------------------------
  3143. > You are Gwalor Skytalon.
  3144. > Best known among the Equestrians as Talon.
  3145. > And it has been three years since Equestria lost it's royal couple.
  3146. > One, a national hero, who had saved the world time and time again.
  3147. > The other, their most treasured Prince.
  3148. > Your best friend.
  3149. > Your only friend, at the time.
  3150. > You are currently visiting their grave.
  3151. > A monolithic statue, rising tall into the sky.
  3152. > It depicts Anonymous with Twilight hanging from his back.
  3153. > Both pointing to the skies.
  3154. > It rests on the border between Equestria and the Holy Accipi Empire.
  3155. > It was the only place they could be together.
  3156. > Their deaths had caused such immense political upheaval.
  3157. > The Gryphons had blamed the ponies, because it was a pony who had slain the Fylkir.
  3158. > The Ponies had blamed... Well, you. And by extension the Gryphons.
  3159. > They blamed you for your failure.
  3160. > That you could not protect Twilight and Anon.
  3161. > If they had known the truth, you had no doubt you would be dead now.
  3162. > Both lives weighed heavily on your conscience.
  3163. > And they forever would.
  3164. > It made these trips to this monument painful.
  3165. > So painful you nearly wished you could leave.
  3166. > But you made them once a week.
  3167. > Not alone.
  3168. > But alongside your new Fylkir.
  3169. > The second in almost four centuries.
  3170. > It would figure that it would be another Equestrian.
  3171. > They seemed to have a talent for peace.
  3172. > The dragon was laid out before the statue.
  3173. > Speaking to them about the events of the week.
  3174. > He did so every week. He said he did it so he wouldn't forget.
  3175. > Often times he would fly around the statue.
  3176. > The years had not been easy on him.
  3177. > The tensions between Equestria and Accipi grew quickly.
  3178. > Especially when Celestia withdrew from public life.
  3179. > And, rather stunningly, so too did Luna.
  3180. > When the executive council assumed control, that left only two Princes to challenge them.
  3181. > And Blueblood was hardly capable.
  3182. > So war brewed, as the hot-headed politicians debated whose fault the tragedy was.
  3183. > And skirmishes broke out.
  3184. > You had avoided them, trying to find peace on your own.
  3185. > But you didn't need to.
  3186. > Equestria provided an answer.
  3187. > When the Ponies and the Gryphons had clamoured for war, he rose up.
  3188. > Like the Prince he was, he brought all parties to the table.
  3189. > He was the one who had proposed this monument.
  3190. > And rallied Equestrians and Gryphons alike to build it together.
  3191. > A symbol of unity.
  3192. > An instruction to stay true to the wishes of the late couple.
  3193. > A reminder.
  3194. > So no one would forget.
  3195. > Spike certainly hadn't.
  3196. > And neither had you.
  3197. > The young drake had aged at an incredible pace since their passing.
  3198. > While he did not grow larger, he unquestionably grew wiser.
  3199. > In his gaze now was a wisdom surpassing any you had ever known.
  3200. > You admired him.
  3201. > He could reconcile justice with kindness.
  3202. > Truth with joy.
  3203. > "He does love to be dramatic, doesn't he?"
  3204. > The Fylkir's wife.
  3205. > She always accompanied him here.
  3206. > They were practically inseparable.
  3207. > Even when you were discussing security with him, she was present.
  3208. > They did everything together.
  3209. "I think he's earned the right to a bit of theatre."
  3210. > A smile creeps upon her face.
  3211. > As she gazes back out at Spike by the statue.
  3212. > You suspected she knew the truth.
  3213. > Or at least suspected it.
  3214. > Since there was never a culprit found.
  3215. > Only two dead rulers, and a dead guard captain.
  3216. > With his family.
  3217. > There was a reason she was meant to die, after all.
  3218. > But she never revealed it to Spike.
  3219. > You could respect that.
  3220. > "Well, if we don't go bug him he'll be there all day."
  3221. > She was the only one who could break him out of these reveries.
  3222. > You watch as she trots down to him.
  3223. > She always broke him out of it the same way.
  3224. > Her hoof to his muzzle.
  3225. > 'Bit for your thoughts?'
  3226. > It reminded you of another couple you had known quite well.
  3227. > You see them moving back toward you, and snap to a salute.
  3228. > Spike chuckles as he approaches.
  3229. > "How often do I have to tell you to relax, Talon?"
  3230. > You keep your steely appearance, but reply.
  3231. "Too often, sir."
  3232. > He moves past you, and you move to follow him.
  3233. > Three years ago, Equestria lost two of its greatest heroes.
  3234. > Only you would ever know what actually happened.
  3235. > And in their place rose one to best them all.
  3236. > Your Fylkir.
  3237. > The best hope for peace.
  3238. > And you would follow him until the end of your days.

Bombshell gets a date

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Retarded Pinkie

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Survival Anon (Parts 2-22)

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MP - Machiavellian Anonymous & Unfaithful Twi (Complete)

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Survival Anon Chapter One

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