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The Blueblood Papers: Royal Blood

by Raleigh

Chapter 1

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Author's Notes:

This takes place somewhere around Season 4

The Blueblood Papers: ROYAL BLOOD

Prince Blueblood and the Battle of Virion Hive

Explanatory note:

When what is now collectively known as the Blueblood Papers, the vast personal and private memoirs of Prince Blueblood, was unearthed when Princess Luna and I went through his personal effects following his death, it was clear that we had discovered historical material of great importance. His official memoirs had been heavily edited to the point where much of it was so divorced from reality that they could be reasonably described as fiction. These newly-discovered secret documents, comprising of thousands of pages of hoof-written and typed notes, present a much more candid description of Blueblood's career in the Royal Commissariat that is more in line with my own recollection of the personality and character of my nephew, with an almost exhaustive focus on his own thoughts and feelings as he took part in events that shaped our world at the turn of the new millennium. That said, it is my belief that he was his own harshest critic, and his tendency to dismiss moments of genuine heroism as self-serving cowardice implies a great deal of mental anguish that I wish I had been cognisant of when he was alive.

In the first four volumes that I have published and made available to a select few ponies, Blueblood described his actions during the first two years of the First Changeling War: the second kidnapping of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, the Battle of Black Venom Pass, the Battle of Fort E-5150, and the Twisting Ravine Incident. This next instalment (in chronological order of events, as I suspect that these accounts were written as and when he felt like it) focuses on what historians today agree is the turning point of not only the war but also the Equestrian military as a whole - the Battle of Virion Hive. The contents of this next volume, however, are not purely of a military nature, and provide a glimpse into his personal life beyond his service in the Commissariat, which should prove interesting to those scholars seeking illumination on the civilian milieu in which Blueblood lived.

Once again, I have endeavoured to leave as much of the original text intact as possible, barring the correction of the more egregious spelling and grammar errors. Blueblood's singular flaw as a chronicler is a tendency to focus entirely on events that directly impacted him or things that happened to interest him at the time of writing, which leaves his narrative without much in the way of historical context. Therefore, to assist those readers who might not have been alive at the time of these events I have annotated the text to provide necessary clarification. These annotations are in parenthesis, italicised, and in red. For further elucidation, I will continue to use extracts from contemporary and more recent academic work where appropriate. Everything else remains pure Blueblood.

H.R.H. Princess Celestia

***

Virion Hive. A lot has already been said, written, debated, discussed, filmed, and thought about that particular bit of nastiness, and rather too much of it as well, if you ask me. Those who were there and lived through it have already said their piece, vindicating their own actions and making excuses for the mistakes and lapses in judgement that made the whole thing such a horrific waste of life, and I counted myself amongst that number when I paid that damned ghostwriter far too much money (not that I ever have to worry about bits, being a prince of the realm) to hit a typewriter with his forehead and produce that poorly-written waste of paper I call my official memoirs. Writers, journalists, historians, politicians, and other such drains on society have all made their facile views on the matter known, hurling their voices out into the endless cacophony of public debate in a grotesque orgy of hoof-pointing and name-calling without actually accomplishing anything of particular worth.

I don't know what else I can add to all of this, except, perhaps, a description or explanation of what happened from the point of view of a pony who was very much at the centre of it all, despite having done my utmost to have kept myself as far from the proceedings as possible with my usual lack of success. Separated from all of the discourse and noise surrounding the events, perhaps a simple and relatively clear retelling of the whole thing as I remember it, without the necessary arse-covering and empty platitudes that my official memorialisation was cluttered with, would disperse the choking smog that has eclipsed the everypony's perception of this unpleasant event. Either that, or it will merely add to the confusion, if this little project of mine ever sees the light of day, which it won't as long as I'm still alive.

Out of all of my misadventures over the half-century or so I've had gallivanting around the world in a ridiculous outfit that my Auntie Luna had designed, getting stabbed, shot at, tortured, and so forth in the name of Princess and Country, the Battle of Virion Hive still counts as one of the very worst things that I have ever had to go through. That said, I want it to be understood that it was all bad, and that ranking atrocities and equine misery as though it is possible to quantify suffering in some measurable format is at best futile and at worst insulting. It is merely that out of all the horror and pain that I had been through in this miserable life of mine, this one still stands out even amidst the likes of Black Venom Pass, E-5150, and even the infamous Battle of Ponyville. Those at least were over in a matter of days, or even hours in some cases, whereas this dragged out, like an unwanted guest at the end of a party who did not know that everypony else had left and that the host was standing at the door in his pyjamas and making increasingly angry gestures at the clock.

I expect ponies reading this will want me to launch straight into the slaughter, the repeated and failed attempts to take the breach and the massacres that followed, which everypony already knows about. The fact is, the situation was a damned sight more complicated than just a few lunatic officers, whose stupidity was outmatched only by their apparent contempt for the sanctity of equine life, ruining it for all involved. No, like a proper memorialist I ought to start at the beginning and proceed in the proper order.

You see, it all began when Twilight Sparkle - no, Princess Twilight Sparkle now that she had been freshly elevated to the position of a veritable demigod as a reward for her service to Equestria - published her long-awaited report to much fanfare. I had been sent back to a military hospital in Canterlot following my flogging and torture at the hooves of a cuckolded native pony chieftain when all of that happened, and I was rather annoyed that for purposes of publicity that I was not allowed a private room but forced to reside on a bed in an open ward with a dozen other wounded ponies. Nevertheless, it was better than being at the frontline in just about every respect, despite the lack of privacy and the tedious company. My time spent there was not long and after a week or so of being drugged, examined, and lectured by a succession of doctors and nurses on all matters of my personal health I was released back into service and placed on light duties in the Ministry of War until I would be declared fit for active service.

It was around that time that I became aware of some considerable backlash to Princess Twilight Sparkle's suggested reforms, which was to be expected and really should not have come as that much of a shock for somepony so well-read. Normally, I did my best to keep as far away from the cesspit that is politics as a prince possibly could, but even with this exile from the realm of current affairs, much of it seeped through my self-made walls of deliberate ignorance. It turned out that while your average politician might publically say that reforming the Royal Guard was an absolutely topping idea and should be implemented immediately, the moment they realise that doing so might involve raising taxes and spending more public money that could otherwise be spent on useless things like absurd vanity projects and teaching peasants to read, then suddenly the budget's a bit tight and the poor bloody infantry is just going to have to make do with what they've got. I understand that I am hardly the best sort of fellow to complain about the raising of taxes, since being royalty they form a considerable part of my income that goes to the bare necessities like gin and fancy clothes for parties, but even I of all ponies baulked at the short-sightedness of an opposition mobilising to ruin the best chance for achieving victory for short-term electoral gains. And ponies wonder why I have always believed that democracy was a daft idea.

[Blueblood is allowing his prejudices to overshadow his description of the political debates around the Twilight Sparkle Reforms. While a few key figures in the Cabinet and the Ministry of War opposed the reforms on a variety of principles, from the cost of their implementation to a conservative opposition to change in general, it was hardly as overwhelming as he implies here. Public opinion at the time was very much in favour of enacting the reforms in full, and most of the opposition came from the House of Lords and older officers of the Royal Guard.]

I have no intention of explaining in exact detail the sort of devious and under-hoofed things that Twilight Sparkle had to engage in to get her reforms passed by Parliament, being a rather boring and tedious set of affairs anyway that could have been easily resolved if the new Princess had simply circumvented the need for a vote and passed the law by decree instead. If you want to read about that, then put this thing down and go to a library and find an appropriate book. Don't worry, it should still be here when you return. Auntie 'Tia had quietly asked Twilight to refrain from taking that direct option, and, in the long run, I have to concede that she was right about it as usual. Ponies will usually do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted every other option available.

Though I had done my utmost to keep my hooves unsullied by the filth of politics, Twilight Sparkle did call upon me for assistance. I was still convalescing, though having been released from the hospital, I spent most of my time not spent behind a desk pretending to process paperwork for the Commissariat indulging in fine food, fine wine, fine cigars, and fine company at the Imperial Club. The doctors had told me to get plenty of rest, which I had taken as carte blanche to engage in such brazen bacchanalian indolence in spite of conventional medical wisdom advising against drinking oneself into oblivion each night when recovering from a flogging. I had rather lost control, to be frank, but this was the greatest amount of freedom that I had been granted after two years of being at the front, so I can hardly be blamed for wanting to make the most of it before I would once again be thrust back into the war.

It was during one such evening that she called upon me to do my duty for Equestria. A particularly dreary evening it was, too, with a leaden grey sky that unleashed a veritable torrent of rain down upon our poor capital. I was away from all of that, however, and had taken up my usual position in the corner of the club's common room reading The Daily Ponygraph, with a strange Neighponese comic book that I had confiscated from Captain Red Coat titled 'The Erotic Adventures of Twilight Sparkle and her Friends' discreetly tucked between its voluminous pages. My two best friends, a glass of whisky and a smouldering cigar, rested on the table within easy reach, and the staff were always on hoof to make sure that both were readily replenished.

With much of the idle rich of Canterlot having caught the war fever and bought their commissions long ago, the evening was rather quiet with them off to war; a group of older ladies and gentlecolts played whist in the corner, a younger chap performed a rendition of 'Equestria, the Land I Love' on the piano, and a cluster of colts perched around a window and bet absurd amounts of money on which of the ponies walking past in the rain outside would accidentally step in a particularly deep puddle and ruin their clothes. In short, it was a perfect evening in which I could enjoy my naughty, sinful, borderline-treasonous filth without fear of being disturbed.

That is, until she arrived. The heavy oaken doors that connected the common room with the hallway opened with their usual sense of occasion, the old hinges creaking and the wood scraping across the floor. When they closed with a resonant 'thud', I peeked over the top of the newspaper that concealed my illicit literature to see who the newcomer was. Princess Twilight Sparkle herself stood by the door, nervously looking around the large, open common room and clearly looking for somepony in particular. Likewise, everypony, with the exception of the retired ponies too engrossed in their gambling to notice, had stopped what they were doing to stare at her. A few had gathered enough of their wits to remember their etiquette and dipped their heads in reverence of the arrival of royalty.

She looked, for lack of a better term, absolutely stunning. This was the first time I had seen her in the flesh since the Siege of Fort E-5150, and that was before Princess Celestia had made her an alicorn. It's remarkable what the addition of a pair of wings and a few extra inches of height could do for a rather plain mare. Furthermore, it looked as though she had started dressing for her new status in life too, wearing an elegant pink and white dress that complimented her purple fur, which was just as well considering the dress code of this ancient and noble club. The bookish, somewhat awkward filly that I had bullied relentlessly when attending Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns was still very much present, however, and as she stood there looking around, being momentarily distracted by the sight of the floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with rare tomes on the far wall, it was obvious that she had yet to become comfortable with ponies showing appropriate deference to her.

Peering over the top of my newspaper like a caricature of a griffon secret police officer looking out for dissidents, I watched as she approached one of the club's staff, who prostrated himself before his Princess with his nose pressed into the floor in the traditional manner. They spoke too quietly for me to hear clearly, but from what I could tell of Twilight's facial expression and the exasperated way she waved her hooves about, she was trying to get him to stand up. Once that had been resolved with the stallion standing but with his head bowed, the two exchanged a few words, and then the servant pointed in my direction.

Of course, thought I, who else would she want to see here? Certainly not Lord Brass over there, having fallen asleep in his favourite chair, snoring loudly with his newspaper sprawled over his lap and his still-lit pipe clenched between his teeth. As she trotted on over towards me through the haze of tobacco smoke, I remembered the rather compromising material still held in my hooves, and with no possible way of disposing of it discreetly, I quickly folded up the newspaper as best as I could and crammed it into the pocket of my lounge suit's jacket with a force that would have greatly upset my tailor if he saw it. Twilight Sparkle smiled as she approached, but it was a forced one at that.

"Hi, Blueblood," she said. I rose from my seat hurriedly and bowed, albeit in a deliberately exaggerated manner by rearing my head up and then swinging it down along with my shoulders, despite the stab of pain in my still-healing back.

Twilight Sparkle's cheeks flushed red with embarrassment. "Oh, um... please, you don't have to do that."

"It is correct protocol when in the presence of a Princess," I said, rising back up to my full height. I still towered over her, back then. "Your Highness."

"You don't have to call me that either. Twilight's fine."

"That would still be improper, ma'am."

Twilight's jaw clenched, and a vein throbbed in her forehead. One might think that I was deliberately teasing her, and one would be very much correct in that assumption. As much as I like to think that I have changed since my teenage years, being less of an officious snob and having gained a new perspective on matters of class since my time at the front, winding up little Twilight Sparkle until she exploded into a fit of impotent rage never ceased to be funny. This time, however, I became acutely aware that along with that pair of wings and a crown came a great deal of power, both political and magical, and if I pushed her too far there may be graver consequences than being beaten up by Shining Armour.

"Ugh, never mind," she said with a growl. "Look, I need to talk to you about something important, and I've already spent all day trying to find you. I could really use your help."

That familiar sensation of my guts turning into ice, which I had been mercifully freed from since I had returned to Canterlot, unfortunately returned. I tried to maintain that expression of aristocratic detachment, more so now that I was surrounded by my fellow nobles and I dreaded to think what the society papers would say if I had disgraced myself, but when a Princess demands an audience about 'something important', it's going to be a damned sight more complicated and life-threatening than helping to pick out flowers for the next Gala, I can tell you. Cadence is the exception, however.

"I'm flattered," I said, "but I'm to relax - doctors' orders, you see."

She glanced over at my half-drunk glass of whisky and half-smoked cigar on the table and pulled a face. "Of course," she said diplomatically, "but this shouldn't be too strenuous. I just need your help with getting my reforms through Parliament."

I snorted, smirked, and shook my head. "Oh, is that all? Why me? And how in blazes am I supposed to do that?"

"Princess Celestia advised me against directly interfering with the democratic process," said Twilight. She then indicated to the folded-up newspaper wedged into my jacket pocket. "Of course, you'd know all about it if you read that."

The offending article and the illicit contents it concealed seemed to burn hotly against my side. I felt a strong desire to get rid of it, especially since the mare it depicted in a number of deeply compromising positions, all rendered in surprisingly exquisite detail that that the poor artist who drew the comic must have done so as a labour of love, was standing right there in front of me and close enough to take it.

"I read it for the cartoons," I said, offering a cheeky grin in imitation of her older brother. She wasn't buying it, judging by her bemused, tired expression.

"Right," she said with a huff. Looking at her furrowed brow and gently pursed lips, I could almost hear her thoughts screaming inside her head - must I spell everything out for this imbecile? The answer, of course, is yes, especially when I'm both mildly drunk and deliberately obstinate for the sake of cheap amusement.

"As I was saying, because Celestia said a princess should guide her ponies gently instead of just forcing them to do what she wants them to do, I now have to let Parliament decide whether or not to endorse my reforms. But, she didn't say anything about getting others to help MPs to vote in Equestria's best interest. That's where you come in, I need you to-"

A servant clearing his throat noisily in a manner to discreetly but deliberately interrupt had stopped Twilight Sparkle mid-tirade, and I was momentarily spared yet another patronising Twilecture. The young fellow seemed to materialise out of thin air, as all good servants are invariably trained to do. They blend into the background, rather like furniture, such that one might be forgiven for not being aware of their presence until they sense that their services are required and just appear as though summoned by magic. This can be quite disconcerting for the common sort of pony who isn't used to servants, as Twilight here demonstrated by flinching and yelping as though the staff had abruptly shocked her with electricity.

"Your Highnesses," said the servant, dipping his head first to Princess Twilight Sparkle and then to me. I would just have to get used to being second in the pecking order, I supposed. "Please forgive my eavesdropping and interruption, but it is incumbent upon me as a member of this establishment's staff to gently remind both honoured members and guests that, in accordance with its ethos and culture, the Imperial Club maintains a prohibition on discussions of a business or political nature within the common room."

The vein in Twilight's temple throbbed just a little harder, and her right eye twitched as she stared down the hapless servant. I was reminded of watching Company Sergeant Major Square Basher staring down a slovenly recruit on parade.

"Are you serious?" she snapped at him, her voice shrill. Everypony else in the room was either staring or doing their best to look as though they weren't secretly listening, which always looks even more conspicuous. "First the pony at the door tells me that there's a dress code and he can't let me in until I put on a dress, then when I go all the way back to the Castle and find a dress it isn't 'formal' enough, so I have to go to the fashion district and buy a dress just to get inside, and now you tell me I can't even talk to the pony I want to talk to about the things I want to talk about in the first place because it violates another one of your crazily restrictive rules?"

Her voice had reached a crescendo, and even the ponies deliberately trying not to look as though they were eavesdropping had given up on the pretext and stared at their newest Princess throwing a small tantrum. The servant, however, remained unfazed, and stood as rigid and formal as a statue throughout the full undignified meltdown. In fact the only acknowledgement he made of the rather un-regal display before him was to retrieve a small white hoofkerchief from his tailcoat's pocket and use it to very carefully wipe a few stray flecks of alicorn-spittle from his silk lapels.

"Our rules, including the dress code, applies equally to all ponies who enter our club, be they royalty, aristocracy, or commoner," he said, now that his lapels were restored to their former luster. "If you continue to disturb our members, then I shall have to ask you to leave this establishment, ma'am."

[The servant is not exaggerating when he means 'all ponies'; I was once barred entry from the Imperial Club on the one day that I decided to visit and had neglected to wear my regalia.]

As hilarious as it would have been to see Princess Twilight Sparkle of all ponies escorted off the premises of the most exclusive gentlecolts' club in all of Equestria, literally tossed into the street outside and into a convenient puddle by the sergeant-at-arms for added comedic effect, I felt it best to cease this light ribbing and save her, and by extension her political aims with which I had some sympathy, from the sort of journalistic evisceration in the tabloid newspapers that I was all too familiar with. Her cheeks had flushed red, though more from embarrassment than anger, and I felt a distinct pang of sympathy that cut through the foalish teasing I had in mind.

"Come now," I said, injecting an element of jocularity into my voice, "she's not one of us, so she didn't know any better. We'll carry on this discussion in a private room, away from everypony else who seeks a sanctuary away from such things."

That satisfied both Princess and servant, and we were led away from the warm comfort of the common room, through the various corridors with portraits of long-dead members staring down at us as if to judge, up a flight of stairs, and into what was probably my least favourite room in the building. We walked in silence at first, broken only by my occasional sip of my drink just to keep me going through the evening, but eventually Twilight must have found it unbearable and broke it:

"Do you have any idea how hard it was to find you?" she said.

"No," I said, "but I imagine you're about to tell me."

Twilight Sparkle made a face, so I made one back. "I tried the hospital first, but then they told me you were discharged and put on light duties, so I tried the Ministry of War but you weren't there. Then I went to your palace but the hoof-pony told me you weren't in, so I tried your apartment, but Drape Cut [Blueblood's butler and valet] told me you were at this club of yours and I could wait there until you turned up, but there's only so much sitting around in your living room drinking endless cups of tea before I got sick of it and went to find you myself. Then when I did get here the pony at the door told me to go and find a dress and, uh, I guess you know the rest."

"Yes, well, forgive me for having a life outside of you, Princess," I said dryly. "The dress does suit you, by the way."

The silence returned, though more awkward than before, such that it seemed to amplify the sounds of our hooves on the polished wooden floor to an almost maddening degree.

"Blueblood," Twilight piped up once her tolerance for awkward silences had run its course. "What did you mean by 'she's not one of us'?"

She knew full well what I meant, that her royal title was just a shallow publicity stunt from Princess Celestia and was thus meaningless. Oh, she might now have a pair of wings, a crown, and a title, but such things are worthless without the dignity, poise, tradition, and history behind them. What was a title worth if such things could be dished out to just anypony regardless of breeding? She was a princess in name only; a commoner from a family of no real social standing thrust into a world where she simply did not belong, and her insistence on disregarding the deference due from those who were now her lessers in favour of some kind of fiction that she was still somehow their equal was proof. History has, of course, judged me entirely wrong on that account, and after a few decades or so I suppose I can say that my stance on the whole matter has softened somewhat, but as rare honesty is the entire purpose of this exercise then I must describe my honest opinion as it was at the time - I was more than a little upset that the little filly I used to pick on at school now outranked me.

"Not a member of the club," I said, keeping my true thoughts to myself. "The gentlecolts' clubs of Canterlot can be quite intimidating places for the uninitiated. I'm surprised they allowed a non-member inside unaccompanied."

"I told him you would vouch for me." Twilight then fluttered her wings, still folded up against the sides of her dress, and added, "I think these might have helped a little."

"I expect being a princess now must have its perks," I said, trying to cloak the resentment in my voice as relatively good-natured sarcasm. "More than a prince, of course."

We stopped at the end of the corridor, and the servant flung the door open to reveal my private room at the club. Well, it was more accurate to say that it was my father's, for it was his grim, haughty visage that stared down at us from the painting that hung on the opposite wall, as if so placed to judge everypony who stepped hoof inside, Yours Truly included. Seeing it always made me feel more than a little uncomfortable, as the master who had painted it had captured all of his arrogance, aloofness, rigidity, bigotry, and severity so perfectly in the medium of oil paint. It was as though he was right there in the room, peering down through his monocle and deeming me entirely unworthy of whatever arbitrary standard he had set.

Since his disappearance in Zebrica, probably eaten by cannibal zebras, the Imperial Club had decided to honour his memory and the generous donations he made to the club by dedicating a suite to his memory and allowing his scions, i.e. me and whatever foals I might one day sire, perennial use of it. As touching as this gesture must seem, the imposing portrait of my father looming over everything had rather put me off staying here, as convenient as a place to sleep in the centre of Canterlot's fanciest districts would be, which had led to me purchasing an apartment for such purposes instead. At least the drinks cabinet was always well-stocked, being one of the few things my father and I ever agreed upon, and I made a bee-line to it to refill my glass while Twilight followed on in after me, staring around at the room.

I imagine it must be rather striking to those who have not seen it before; the main motif was red, as dark and macabre as spilt blood in accordance with my family's ridiculously morbid traditions, with burgundy carpet, maroon walls, crimson curtains, and mahogany furnishings. It hurt one's eyes and gave one a migraine to spend more than a few hours there. The door was shut behind us, leaving me alone in the room with Twilight Sparkle, and I refilled my glass.

"Would you like a drink?" I asked, remembering my manners. Twilight Sparkle shook her head.

"Blueblood," she said softly, "is there something wrong?"

"I’m fine," I said, taking another swig of my drink.

I made my way to an armchair in the corner of the room, next to the large four-poster bed with the red sheets and a small coffee table with a tome of my family's ancient lore resting on it. As I luxuriated in the soft, plush chair, I saw Twilight had been watching me with a look of concern.

Of course I wasn't 'fine', but I couldn't bloody well tell her that. I knew this period of unbridled and self-destructive hedonism would have to come to an end one day, for the war would not stop just to allow me time to drink, gamble, and party my way to an early grave in the ancient traditions of my ancestors. Twilight Sparkle coming along with her damned reforms was merely an unwelcome reminder of the transitory nature of the rare happiness I had acquired, and already, just seeing her there standing before me was an unpleasant reminder of the inevitability of misery.

"Celestia told me about what happened to you," said Twilight as she settled into the seat next to me without asking permission first, but then again she no longer needed it. “You can tell me. I mean, friendship is kinda my thing.”

"I'll manage," I said, settling back in my seat and allowing the soft padding to take my weight and relieve some of the pain of my healing scars. "Now, what's all this about your reforms? You said Princess Celestia has forbidden you from interfering directly, but I don't see how I can help."

"The House of Commons is split right down the middle," she said. "Blowtorch [then Secretary of State for War, having replaced Treble Bass who had been shuffled out of that post] rejected my report, so the Prime Minister had to introduce it as a bill in Parliament to get it through. I have a friend working with me in the Commons to swing the vote my way, among other things, but the House of Lords is so overwhelmingly against the bill that they're sure to block it."

[The House of Lords remained very influential at this point in history, though its power was gradually being eroded by the House of Commons. Its hereditary peers, made up of the heads of the most powerful aristocratic houses in Equestria, senior religious leaders, and delegates from vassal states, scrutinised bills passed by the Commons, and they had the authority to amend, delay, or even outright block legislation passed by the lower house.]

"I see." I didn't, actually, but it was probably what she wanted to hear. "And this is where I come in?"

Twilight nodded. "You're Princess Celestia's nephew, the Duke of Canterlot, head of one of the oldest dynasties in Equestria, and now you're a celebrated war hero. You have a lot of influence, and if the nobleponies see you backing my reforms then maybe they'll support it too."

"You don't sound very certain of that."

"I'm not certain of much anymore," she said, shrugging. "Observing the frontline was supposed to be the hardest part. When I saw the bodies in the courtyard I knew I had to do everything in my power to finish my report and reform the Royal Guard, so their sacrifice wouldn't be in vain. Then I finally published it and now all of this happens; politicians and bureaucrats who know nothing about war telling me it's too expensive, or it violates military tradition, or nopony wants change, or that I shouldn't meddle. I was there, Blueblood, and I saw it. And they didn't."

And I was there, too. I remembered, in the aftermath of that awful battle, Twilight Sparkle, then just a normal unicorn like me, inasmuch as anything about the odd little mare could be considered 'normal', had broken down and wept in my embrace at the sight of the dead. The corpses, pony and Changeling alike, that were strewed across the stinking quagmire, surrounded by the broken walls of the fortress and beneath the light of a dawn Celestia had raised in vengeance, had moved her so far past the coldly rational and scientific approach to her research to the emotional core of her argument - the current state of affairs in the Ministry of War, with all of its bureaucracy, corruption, and incompetence, could not continue. The image was burned into my mind like a brand, as vivid as though I was standing right there up to my fetlocks in mud and blood, the stench of death and burned flesh like a malevolent miasma filling my lungs and choking me. In my mind, I could almost reach out and place my hoof upon the lifeless body of what moments before was a young colt, mutilated beyond all recognition.

"Blueblood?" Twilight's voice snapped me out of my daze, and she had placed her hoof delicately upon mine where it lay upon on the armrest. Her eyes stared into mine with a piercing quality that I had not noticed before; they seemed to strip away my aristocratic masque, layer by silken layer, searching for the damaged, frightened foal that hid behind it all.

She had changed so much over the years, and I wanted nothing more than to just unburden myself of all of the horror and guilt that I had carried within myself ever since I donned that hateful cap. I wanted her to listen to my tortured ravings and then tell me that it's all going to be fine, like an ordinary common pony would, except that my regal position in life would not allow me to indulge in such a luxury. Stiff upper lip and carry on and all that rot, no wonder so many of us lose our minds shortly after the on-set of middle age.

As nice as the gesture felt, I pulled my hoof away from hers. Such a thing was unbecoming of royalty, especially with the portrait of my father staring accusingly down at us. "I'll see what I can do."

"That's all I ask. Thank you." Twilight looked instantly relieved, as though she had spent much of the day fearing that I might refuse. Well, that would not have been beyond the realms of possibility; passing her reforms would mean the war would have to start again with renewed vigour and urgency, which I had wanted to put off for as long as possible, but if her proposals were actually implemented then it could mean competent officers and sufficient bodies for me to hide behind. I have to confess I did not read her report, as I had neither the time nor the inclination to sit down and slog through four hundred pages of dry, tedious academic literature on my least favourite subject [The abridged version available to the general public was four hundred and seventy-two pages long, while the complete edition with appendices was one thousand six hundred and nine pages], but if there was anypony in the world who could be trusted to undertake this grim task it was Twilight Sparkle. For all of my faults, committing what might be considered an act of treason by sabotaging these reforms was beyond the pale even for me, if only because I had seen first-hoof why they were so sorely needed.

"Oh, is that today's Daily Ponygraph?" said Twilight, pointing at the folded-up newspaper wedged into my jacket pocket and poking out of my chest. "Can I borrow it, please? I want to see if they've published my letter."

I was about to float it on over to her, when I remembered what was concealed within its pages, and it was damned lucky I did, too, for I had no desire to be the first pony to be punished for the crime of lèse-majesté with regards to Princess Twilight Sparkle's royal dignity. This folded up wad of paper was part-way out of my jacket pocket, wrapped in my aura, while she held out her hoof hopefully.

"Umm, no," was all that I could come with at such short notice. She looked surprised, as one would when denied a very polite and reasonable request. I had to come up with an excuse, and quickly too before my embarrassment would betray the fact that I was quite clearly hiding something. "It's yesterday's paper," I continued, hurriedly folding up the top so as to conceal the date and cramming it back into the pocket, "and I'm still doing the crossword puzzle."

"You like crosswords?" she asked, scepticism and hope in her voice in equal measure at first, then a wide grin stretched across her face and her eyes sparkled. "I love crosswords! We should do them together some time."

"Yes," I said, resigning myself to a grim fate of having to learn how to do the dreary little puzzles in order to keep up this ridiculous charade. "I picked it up in the hospital as something to do between being poked and prodded by ponies in white coats. Speaking of which, it's getting late and I should be going home now, so please forgive me for cutting this short but I ought to be in bed soon lest I incur the wrath of my physician."

Something about the way Twilight looked at me implied that I was not believed, but that didn't matter - I had to get out of there, and quickly too. With my hasty excuse out of the way I made an even hastier 'goodbye' and darted out of the room as quickly as I could manage, cheeks flushed hotly with embarrassment. I stopped only to grab my hat and coat at the door and bid farewell to the hoof-pony before exiting the club, leaving the bewildered Princess still inside and probably wondering what to do with herself now.

The weather was still atrocious as I made my way back to my apartment, but despite the Canterlot weather team deciding that the jewel of Equestria was overdue a downpour for some obscure reason, I wanted to walk instead of getting a cab. The pouring rain pattering off my umbrella spell made the noises of the street - the conversations of ponies, the mobs of tourists, and the carriages in the roads - somehow distant and muffled, and I became trapped in my own mind as my hooves carried me on that familiar passage home. My thoughts replayed that conversation over and over again, ad nauseum, as if to punish me for being such a damned idiot. That was the first time I had seen Twilight Sparkle in over a year and certainly since her coronation, and while my rational mind railed against the injustice of a common mare being elevated so, there was something inside me that kept me from achieving that state of aristocratic indignation I was sure would come. In my mind's eye I saw her face, so full of genuine worry and concern when she saw me over-indulging in drink.

I couldn't understand it, nor the strange longing that I felt to see her again. More than that, as I came into the lobby of my apartment building and discreetly dispelled the shield, I wondered why, as a pony so accustomed to misdirection, did it feel so difficult and so 'wrong' to lie to Twilight Sparkle over something so relatively trivial?

Next Chapter: Chapter 2 Estimated time remaining: 4 Hours, 23 Minutes
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