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The Blueblood Papers: Royal Blood

by Raleigh

Chapter 3

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I had always avoided visiting the areas of the Ministry of War building that are portioned out to the Royal Commissariat unless strictly, totally, completely necessary, partly because I never had much cause to, but mostly because, if given the choice under normal circumstances, I'd much rather visit Tartarus instead. Government ministerial offices are dull, grey, and drab little monuments to white collar mediocrity anyway, with the exception of the more prestigious ministries such as Friendship Affairs and the EEA (the latter having enough surplus budget to afford extravagant robes for all employees and an enormous and oppressively-lit headquarters they pretentiously call the 'Cathedral of Learning'). Until Twilight's reforms made warfare briefly fashionable for a time, War had suffered under a meagre budget and thus its offices reflected its financial problems. The room that I had previously occupied was an exception, of course, as I'll be damned if I ever have to work somewhere without at least one well-stocked liquor cabinet in place of the ubiquitous water cooler. The Commissariat's offices, however, appeared to be bleak and austere by design so as to reflect the sombre and moribund tastes of its founder.

[The Ministry of War was considered to be the least desirable and least prestigious of the governmental ministries to work for, and as such often received the lowest funding in government budgets. At first they occupied a floor of Canterlot Castle, but were then moved out into the small and dilapidated office building Blueblood describes here shortly after the declaration of war. The Twilight Sparkle Reforms dramatically increased their funding, which allowed the ministry to move to a larger and better equipped building. The Royal Commissariat shared offices with the Ministry of War for a time, until tensions between the two organisations necessitated the move to a separate building.]

The walls were bare, cold stone devoid of even the most modest attempts at decoration. Though my innate sense of direction told me that we were a few floors above ground level and I was waiting in a corridor on the outer edge, whosoever designed this place had not seen fit to grace the outside walls with windows. With the only lighting coming from candles along the walls that must have taken some poor servant hours to light each day, this hallway remained in a perpetual state of gloomy twilight. The overall effect was such that anypony wandering around here would be forgiven for thinking the laws of geometry had changed somehow and they've ended up in an underground dungeon.

Thus I sat on my haunches on the floor outside the office of one Rubber Stamp, waiting for my turn to be seen. Cannon Fodder, my commissarial aide, sat next to me and flicked through one of the stallions’ special interest magazines he seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of. His presence was not strictly necessary, and there was plenty of work for him to be getting on with back at the barracks, but here in these oppressive hallways having him close by was quite reassuring. He had, after all, saved my life multiple times before, though some of it was merely an unintentional side-effect of his incredibly rare disability. He was a blank unicorn; incapable of using magic, but sucked it straight out of the horns of others should they summon more than what is necessary for the most basic of spells. History has sadly forgotten him, but his apparent belief that personal hygiene was just optional and unassuming personality meant that he was doomed to slip from the memories of other ponies, except as a malodorous oddity in the great fictionalised versions of my life they believe to be true.

Rubber Stamp was late. I don't know how long we had been waiting there, but it felt like an eternity. The clock on the wall was clearly visible, but I refused to look at it, though its constant ticking counting the seconds shaved off what little life I had left was a morbid reminder of the transitory nature of mortal existence. The two of us sat in silence, though it was the comfortable sort that was born of two stallions who both knew when nothing needed to be said; my companion was hardly a sparkling conversationalist even at the best of times, but we were both quite happy to just sit and just stare at the opposite wall. There wasn't even anything interesting to look at here, no potted plants, posters, or even pamphlets to read.

Every few minutes or so, a pony wearing either a clean, pressed commissar's uniform or a business suit would come trotting through the corridor. Some would disappear through the other doors along the hall, while the others, often carrying stacks of paperwork, would carry on past us. A few gave me some sort of acknowledgement, usually a nod from a civilian or a salute from one of the commissars should they have a hoof free to do so. Besides a curt 'good evening, sir' or some variant thereof, few said anything at all, and nopony lingered around to chat at all. While my colleagues in the Commissariat tended to be rather tedious company, having taken their duties rather too seriously so as to almost eclipse whatever personalities they otherwise possessed, a brief diversion would have at least helped to alleviate some small iota of this endless tedium.

I wore a fresh uniform for the meeting, straight off the rack and back from my tailor with alterations. However, to maintain my image as a no-nonsense veteran quite out of sorts with all of this bureaucracy, more comfortable with a sword in hoof than a pen, I had buried it in my garden for a few days before wearing it here. The idea was to give the impression that this uniform had been worn in combat, to contrast with the neater examples worn by ponies whose careers kept them safely behind desks, but as the set that I wore in the Badlands had been left behind in the Rat Pony Tribe's foetid little dungeon and I was in no desire to return there and meekly ask for it back, this would have to do. However, I neglected to bring my sword, thinking that this key part of the outfit was entirely unnecessary in good old Canterlot.

Only when the door finally swung open did I dare to look up at the clock to see how long I had been waiting. Just over half an hour, apparently, though it felt like much longer. One would have thought that after spending around two years at the frontline I would have gotten used to sitting around and doing very little for hours on end, and one would be right. It was different in a civilian milieu, as time spent doing nothing at the front also meant little to no immediate danger and was therefore cherished, while here in Canterlot it was merely taking away time that I would have otherwise spent doing something fun, interesting, or relaxing.

“Blueblood?” A mare in a parade ground-perfect example of a commissar's uniform, Rubber Stamp's personal aide from what I had heard, leaned through the open doorway and peered over her thin, rectangular reading glasses at me. "Rubber Stamp will see you now."

"Prince Blueblood," I sneered, rising to my hooves. "If you don't mind."

The mare sniffed haughtily, her expression as severe and humourless as a mortician's, which reminded me of the face Princess Luna used to pull when we crossed paths in the Palace before all of this unpleasantness. On a young-ish mare, however, as opposed to an all-powerful alicorn, it was more cute, almost adorable, than threatening.

"Titles count for nothing here," she said. "All are equal in service to the Princesses."

How dare she? I pursed my lips, as though trying to keep the torrent of vitriol from vomiting forth like canister shot from a cannon. My hooves trembled, my eyes narrowed, and a strange heat flushed up my neck. Alas, though every atom of my being desired nothing more than to remind this impertinent, grey-faced peasant of the yawning gulf between our respective positions on society's great hierarchy, I also knew that I needed the help of this Rubber Stamp filly if my plan was to succeed. She was young, I decided, barely out of her teens; her mind was filled with such rebellious ideas that experience had not yet dragged out into the street and beaten to death with a croquet mallet. A hundred years ago, I would have been well within my rights to do just that to her without much fear of repercussion.

The tirade was already fully-formed in my head, the words pounding at the walls of my mind with a desperate need to be freed, but like the misguided alchemists of old, I would have to try to turn lead into gold - indignation into pleasantry. It would not help my case with Rubber Stamp to be seen screaming at her aide in the middle of the Commissariat's headquarters, after all.

"Of course," was all that I could manage to say. I forced a smile to my face, but I fear it resembled a manticore's snarl than anything pleasant. "How silly of me."

I gave Cannon Fodder a pouch of bits and told him to go and get something for himself from the cafeteria while he waited for me. As he trotted off down the corridor, making the same amount of noise in barracks dress uniform as he did in his loose-fitting armour due to the quantity of unspecified 'stuff' packed into his bulging pockets and pouches, I felt quite alone and isolated without my aide by my side. I was completely safe here, in the heart of Canterlot's government district and with the barracks of Guards Division within spitting distance, but a growing sense of disquiet began to creep over me. It was probably the severe decor, I thought to myself, with the blank stone walls, flickering candles, and total lack of what might be considered the 'personal touch' here reminding me too much of the corridors of Fort E-5150. The memories of that horrendous night bubbled up from my subconscious and intruded rudely into my mind.

My hooves started to itch, which they are wont to do when my primitive equine hindbrain picks up on something unsettling and dangerous but my rational pony mind remains blissfully unaware of. There was something about that mare's manner that struck me as odd, and it was not just the egalitarian nonsense she spouted earlier. That sensation only got worse when I stepped through the open door and saw the office. It was divided into two halves each with a desk, one bare and plain and probably belonging to the moody mare who let me in, and the other bright and colourful. The dividing line was split almost directly down the middle, with the half closest to the door being the one devoid of anything approaching sentimentality and the other positively dripping in it.

The desk on the far side overflowed with paperwork and assorted office accoutrements, which all but obscured the mare sitting behind it all. I didn't think it was possible to make the uniform of a commissar, designed to be as intimidating and authoritative as possible with its morbid imagery and black and red colour scheme, appear friendly and welcoming, but somehow this middle-aged pony accomplished it. The jacket appeared to be looser, and was cut in a more relaxed Bitalian fashion rather than the rigid, padded militaristic style the designers and tailors intended. She wore it quite casually too, unbuttoned and supplemented by an assortment of buttons and pins of cheerful designs which all softened its normally-grim countenance.

Rubber Stamp smiled warmly as I entered, and beckoned to the empty seat in front of her desk. Needless to say, this was not what I expected to see given the decor of the rest of the office and the frosty reception given to me by the other mare, who stood by the door and observed me with a curiously disdainful expression. I suppose some in the Commissariat still thought I had only gained my position due to nepotism, which is a charge I can refute with absolute certainty; it is only nepotism when somepony actually wants the job.

"Your Highness!" she said breathlessly. "I am so sorry for the wait. Please, come in and sit down."

I sat on the offered chair, which I found to be suitably hard and angled in such a way to only just more comfortable than sitting on the floor. Whosoever procured these clearly did not want the occupier to linger too long, which, in this case, was fine by me. There was a variety of things I'd rather be doing than being in this damned building.

"Red Tape," said Rubber Stamp. The stroppy filly at the door grunted wordlessly in response. "Be a dear and get Prince Blueblood here some of Dotted Line's birthday cake from the canteen, if there's any still left over."

Leftover birthday cake, likely stale and more icing than sponge, was better than nothing, I thought; I hadn't eaten anything since a few scones for four o'clock tea time. Red Tape gave a curt nod and left the room, shutting the door behind her with a little more force than was strictly necessary. Now alone with Rubber Stamp, I watched as she shuffled the assorted papers and ornaments around on her desk, then triumphantly pulled out the transfer request form that I had mailed a few days ago. Under normal circumstances, it would have taken weeks, if not months, for this intrepid little sheet of paper to wend its way through the bureaucratic pipes of the Commissariat, before finally reaching the pony who could actually do something with it. That it found its way there so quickly was due in no small part to my name scribbled rather prominently on the top, written in the elegant script my foalhood governess forced me to learn.

"I'm very sorry about making you wait, sir," she said, grasping for her pair of thick-rimmed glasses on the desk. "We're still moving everything into the new building, and it's been a bit of a kerfuffle."

So that explained the rather lax security getting in, and the fact that much of the building appeared to be deserted compared to when I had worked here before. Now that the notion had popped up in my mind, I wasn't certain that the security guards at the entrance checkpoint had actually scanned us. It had been a very brief passage through what was an otherwise tense and threatening experience, as usually the gruff stallion wearing sunglasses indoors asked all sorts of invasive questions to the point where even I was no longer certain if I was really Prince Blueblood and not a Changeling infiltrator. My regal title and my dubious reputation for heroics was no reason for me to skip the line, it seemed, and a damned good thing too; it meant that the security ponies were doing their job properly and keeping the enemy from sneaking in and committing all manner of cowardly, under-hoofed things. I was perfectly willing to endure the indignity of such things if it meant getting out of there alive.

Rubber Stamp made a show of reading through one of the very few forms I can say I completed myself. She did her level best to appear professional, apparently attempting to model her behaviour after a certain icy Equestria Games inspector, but her jittery body language and tone of voice betrayed a level of excitement that no amount of pretending could hide.

"I must say," she said, placing the form back down on the table and giving me what she probably thought was a stern gaze, "none of us expected to receive one of these from you, sir."

I gave an easy sort of shrug and leaned back as far as the awkwardly-designed seat would allow, affecting the usual bluff old soldier routine I had almost perfected for dealing with obstructive civilians.

"I've served with the Night Guards for two years now," I said. "They taught me a lot about soldiering, and I hoped that I could pass on that expertise to the new commissars who will watch over Princess Twilight's new army."

Never mind the fact that the last trainee commissar I had been tasked with educating is buried hundreds of miles away to the south, next to the bridge she apparently gave her life to help destroy for an offensive that would be delayed for yet another blasted year. Hopefully, Rubber Stamp didn't know about that, or the fact that Gliding Moth's death was a result of my failure to execute my duties as a commissar properly and kill Scarlet Letter when I had the chance to. The mare sitting in front of me looked at me sharply for a moment, and I wondered perhaps if I had laid it on a little too thick there.

"By serving with division headquarters instead of on the frontline?" she said, somewhat sceptically as she peered over the top of the form at me. Of course, a war hero like me is supposed to be eager to get right in the thick of the fighting, and would therefore be perfectly happy assigned to a regiment whose colonel had a frustratingly suicidal desire to be right where the fighting was thicker than Applejack's accent.

"In this war, everywhere is the frontline," I said, deciding the best way to proceed was to just pile it on and hope. "Everypony in Equestria is doing their bit for the Princesses in the way that suits their unique talents. Where would our commissars be without such dedicated ponies as you supporting them from afar? Paper shuffling isn't my thing, I'll admit, but I can't imagine I'd have been able to perform my duties without everypony in this office doing their bit. I just feel that everything I've learnt over the past two years with the Night Guards could be put to better use supporting my fellow commissars."

That seemed to do the trick. She beamed happily, as all office drones do when they are made to feel that the many hours they spend shackled to a desk, pointlessly shuffling paper after paper around in an endless cycle of bureaucracy, actually amounts to some tangible good happening somewhere in the world. I watched as she reached for her quill, dipped it in ink, and then held it poised to apply her signature to the form to confirm my request. Then the door behind me swung open.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, and placed the quill down.

Red Tape had returned, carrying a plate bearing a single slice of a sad-looking sponge cake with white icing an inch thick around the outside edge on her back. A knife rested atop the slice, and it occurred to me, as she placed the stale confection on the table atop a small pile of paperwork, that this blade looked much sharper than the sort normally found buried within the drawers of a civil servants' office kitchen. About twelve inches long, it glinted in the candlelight of this windowless room as she took the handle in her mouth; if it was possible, it should have made an appropriately sharp sound effect as the light danced across its edge. I felt the absence of the weight of my sword on my hip more acutely.

My paranoia proved to be my salvation as usual. I saw a flash of candlelight reflected on steel as the knife was thrust in the general direction of my jugular vein. On reflex I hurled myself backwards with as much force as I could muster. The blade struck nothing but air as the chair I sat on tipped over, and I struck the ground with a jolt that reverberated up my spine. The impact hurt, but not nearly as much as if my throat had been sliced open.

"Red Tape!" shrieked Rubber Stamp. "What's wrong with you? That's Prince Blueblood!"

"I know," said Red Tape, her voice chillingly flat.

I looked up at a hoof clutching the knife, which turned at the wrist to point the blade straight down at me. Gripped by panic, I yelled incoherently, partially to attract attention from outside but mainly because I was bloody terrified. Without thinking I brought my hooves up to cover my barrel, and then twisted my upper body in a frantic effort to roll away.

I collided with the wall, but it gave me something to steady myself against as I struggled up to my hooves. Too slow, though; the knife came down, and I felt a sharp sting against my shoulder and something warm and wet trickled down my foreleg. There was no time to check, as Red Tape granted me none. She darted forwards, sweeping her knife in a wide arc at my face. A breath of displaced air stroked my muzzle as I scrambled back in a flail of hooves. My rump hit a bookcase, knocking a few of its contents onto the floor.

Rubber Stamp screamed, but was otherwise useless. I saw her, past my advancing foe, cowering behind her desk for all the good it would do.

"Help me!" I shrieked at her, but she only responded with a frightened squeal.

Red Tape leapt forward, knife in hoof to bring it straight to my neck. My fencer's reflexes sent me tumbling away to the right, rolling onto my side. With a burst of magic that stung my horn, I seized the top of the bookcase in my aura and pulled it down. Books, ledgers, folders, and index cards slid from their shelves and rained down on the mare, as the heavy piece of furniture toppled over. A particularly heavy-looking copy of Princesses' Regulations, the 1019 edition by the looks of it, knocked onto her withers and bounced. She darted out of the way, and the bookcase collapsed onto the floor, splintering into large, broken planks of wood and torn books. Twilight would have had a fit if she could see the ripped pages and broken spines.

With her distracted, I tried the door, but the knob refused to turn. Locked, of course, it just had to be. Red Tape must have locked it behind her, or in my panic I had forgotten how to use a door knob properly, the effect was the same. I turned, swivelling on my forelegs and lashing out with my hindlegs to buck the damned thing open. A stab of pain wracked over my back and my muscles seized up. I instead bounced off the door and fell face-first onto the desk that Rubber Stamp wasn't using for cover.

Fumbling around, I grabbed the first sturdy object my hoof came into contact with. It was a typewriter, which I seized with both forehooves. I lifted the heavy object, muscles burning in protest, and then hurled it with as much might as my battered body could manage. Red Tape had recovered from the book assault and was advancing on me, knife raised to plunge it into my neck, when the typewriter struck her straight in the chest with a thud. It should have hurt her badly, broke a rib or two, or even killed her outright, but to my growing horror she appeared to shrug it off. Where I had struck had collapsed inward a little, like an impact against armour.

Or chitin. I realised all too late, even the Commissariat was not safe from infiltration.

"Do something!" I shouted at Rubber Stamp. She was cowering behind her desk, watching us fearfully. Upon hearing my desperate pleas, she picked up a pencil and threw it at 'Red Tape'. The Changeling didn't notice as the missile bounced off the side of her head.

"Something useful!" I barked again. It was too late, she had fainted.

That was just perfect. There was only one thing for it now. I summoned as much energy into my horn as I could muster, the pressure throbbing through my forehead and into my skull. At this range, even I couldn't miss. Except, I was too slow, or she was too fast. Either way, the Changeling was upon me in an instant, her hoof swung and it connected with my lit horn. Whatever lingering pain I felt from my back was drowned out utterly by the complete and total agony that tore straight into my mind. Hot, sharp daggers plunged through my horn and directly into my brain, blinding my vision in flashes of red and white. Some force shoved me back against the wall, and I collapsed in a heap on the ground, clutching my aching horn and bawling like a foal.

My horn was in excruciating pain, but that was a good thing in the main; it meant that it was still there, for one.

I forced my eyes open, and blinked away the tears and the swirling stars that danced across my vision like Princess Luna had painted the night sky while high on laudanum. My face smarted awfully, I could taste blood, and the stink of singed fur and ozone filled my nostrils. From what I could tell, though delirious with pain as I was, being smacked in the horn had caused the energy I had drawn upon to disperse in a violent discharge of raw magic. 'Red Tape' had been knocked backwards to the other side of the room, but she recovered faster than I could. Rising to her hooves, her lips were twisted into a snarl that revealed rows of fangs and a flickering, snake-like tongue. Her hoof had turned black, layered with glistening chitin and marked with holes, presumably where the magical discharge had burned away the illusion.

[Changeling shape-shifting magic has two main types - true shape-shifting and illusory. True shape-shifting transforms the Changeling's body completely, thus taking on all of its physical properties. It requires the most amount of magic, but for the purposes of infiltration it makes for the perfect disguise and in some cases is immune to the detection spell. Illusory magic merely applies an illusion over the body to mask the true form of the Changeling, and while it requires a minimal amount of magic to perform, it is far more prone to detection and can be disrupted by physical damage. Furthermore, illusions are limited to disguises that are the same size and shape as the Changeling.]

The knife was on the floor between us, amidst all the detritus our brawl had caused. Trying to draw upon more magic to grab it only made my horn hurt even more, as though somepony was twisting it out of my skull, so that was out of the question. There was only one thing for it. I pushed myself closer to the knife, but my back screamed in protest. It felt like hooks were caught in my back and tearing my flesh apart. I fell to the ground again.

I was damned if I was going to die like this, in a tacky office buried somewhere deep within the least attractive building in Equestria. Yet it would have been so apt; the culmination of a pointless life wasted on frivolity and decadence in an end that was just as meaningless as everything that came before it. Be that as it may, I had a great deal more fickle luxuries to indulge in and I certainly wasn't going to give up the potential for yet more little expensive things that make life worth living so readily. If this was to be my end I was going to make absolutely sure that I would go down kicking wildly and screaming incoherently at the unfairness of it all, much in the same manner as I entered this world.

Red Tape stalked towards me, her fanged maw open wide and slathering in anticipation of the kill. Apparently having judged me as being beaten and with the only other pony in the room unconscious, she seemed to think that she could afford to take her time toying with me. Then I saw that she was limping, and that the hoof where the illusion had failed was riddled with a spiders' web of cracks, from which wept stinking green ichor to leave streaks over the linoleum floor.

Something pounded on the other side of the door. The heavy thud of two hooves striking its surface made it shudder in its frame. Cracks and splinters emanated from the point of impact. Red Tape was distracted by the sound for a second, looking up and hissing, forked tongue flickering. A second was all it took; I dragged myself closer on my belly, grabbed the knife in my hoof, and then drove it straight into the beast's wounded leg.

She shrieked in pain as I twisted the blade, the flesh squelching hideously and ichor splashing onto my hoof. Red Tape reared up and stamped her hooves down. I frantically tried to push myself away, but got as far as rolling onto my back. Pain erupted in my chest where she had struck, and I heard a loud crack from somewhere disconcertingly inside me.

The door exploded in a hail of broken planks and splinters. Mercifully, I was shielded from the flying shards of wood by Red Tape, who took the brunt of it. I dared to look up, seeing a pair of hindlegs extended through the portal where the door had been. These retracted, and their owner, Cannon Fodder charged in and tackled my would-be assassin. The two rolled across the floor, over the scattered books, paper, and pens. As I pushed myself out of the way, pain shot through my chest and back with every movement.

Their struggle was brief; two writhing bodies and a flurry of hooves and snapping fangs, but my gallant aide had managed to grab the knife still embedded in the Changeling's hoof with his mouth. A sweep of his head brought the blade straight across the neck, and a spray of ichor splashed onto Cannon Fodder's already-stained chest. The beast collapsed, gurgling helplessly and clutching at its throat as it writhed about on the floor. A few more slashes put the creature out of its misery, and a flash of green light, briefly tinting the room in a malignant emerald glow, revealed the enemy in all of its hideous, mutated glory.

The corpse of the Changeling lay sprawled on its back, limbs splayed out in awkward, unnatural angles, twitching as the last vestiges of life left its mortal frame. Cannon Fodder stepped away from it, his face impassive as usual, and he trotted over to me. I managed to pull myself up against a wall, though the pain in my chest had become truly excruciating at this point. Every breath was like a knife straight through my ribs.

"I had some change leftover," he said, "so I got you a muffin, sir." He offered said baked good out on a grubby hoof, which I politely declined.

***

It took a few minutes for the guards to arrive, and a little while longer before I could be seen by anypony with medical expertise. While I made a show of insisting that Rubber Stamp was attended to first, I assumed that a medic who had been through some sort of specialist training would understand that I was clearly the priority case here. I did not expect him to take what I had intended to be the usual sort of casual disregard for one's own well-being expected of officers seriously, and he instead trotted right past me, picking his way carefully around the smashed bookcase and its scattered contents, to tend to the unconscious mare. Anypony with the tiniest modicum of sense should have seen the smudges of dark blues and purples spreading across my white chest like I just spilt Cabernet Franc on myself and that I was visibly in agony, then concluded that I could probably have benefited from at least a good few doses of painkillers. It appeared that I had been spending far too much time around Trottinghamites, and all of that damned understatement in the face of adversity was lost on those more used to treating ponies screaming out for relief.

Rubber Stamp was fine, by the way; a little dizzy and nauseated, with a bump on the head when she collapsed for good measure. I, on the other hoof, was eventually diagnosed with a cracked rib, an assortment of bruises, a cut to the shoulder, and some of the partially healed flogging wounds on my back had reopened. For all of those injuries I was dragged out into the corridor again, given a number of potions to help with the healing process, and left there while everypony else ran around panicking and being useless. Cannon Fodder sat by my side, devouring the muffin he had brought for me, which I had in fact paid for, with all of the grace and manners of a starved Diamond Dog. I felt far too sick to even think about eating it, anyway.

"I just can't believe it!" said Rubber Stamp. She sat at my other side, and tried to make up for her previous ineptitude in that fight by holding an ice pack to my horn to ease the dull ache. "I thought Red Tape was acting a bit strange, but we all thought that was just work stress. We've been ever so busy moving everything to the new building."

So busy that they just let security lapse so badly? I kept that thought to myself, but I think I may have given it away by glaring at her.

The Night Guards had the entire building on lockdown, with nopony entering or leaving, so my plans to have a quiet and relaxing evening to myself after the culmination of this meeting were completely ruined. The appearance of a Changeling in the middle of what was supposed to be one of the safest buildings in all of Equestria had everypony's nerves frayed just a tad, and not least of all me, though the relief of survival seemed to take the edge off a little.

"It's just so much to take in!" she said, pushing on the ice pack against my horn with a little too much force as if to emphasise her point. I didn't say anything, but only because Rubber Stamp carried on before I could even think about forming a coherent sentence. "What I don't get is why would the Changelings want to assassinate me of all ponies?"

It might have been the migraine pounding on the inside of my skull like some trapped creature inside was trying to break free, but it took me a while to articulate a polite enough response to that particularly absurd statement. No one would want to assassinate this harmless little bureaucrat, and for that I envied her; I longed for the kind of anonymity that would allow me to sail through life without so many threats made upon it, all orchestrated by those under the peculiar but apparently contagious misapprehension that bumping me off would somehow cause all of Equestria to just give up.

"Anypony as dedicated to serving the Princesses as you might be a target," I said. Rubber Stamp gave me a queer look, wondering if I was mocking her.

"You did say everywhere is the frontline in this kind of war," she said, deciding to take my comment at face value, it seemed.

"I did say that, didn't I?" Of course I had to. Far be it from me to think that whatever force governs the universe pays any special attention to me when there are far more interesting things going on, but occasions such as this did make me consider the possibility that the world possessed the cruel sense of humour of a sadistic foal. "About my application?"

"Oh, that thing?" she said, glancing over to the open door to her office, where the scene of carnage and wanton destruction of so much clerical work was still visible between guardsponies and commissars wandering between pieces of wrecked furniture. "I don't know if the form survived all of that. But you were amazing in there! You saved my life! A hero like you would be wasted foalsitting some general miles away from the action."

Of course this had to happen. I sat there brooding for a few seconds, wondering if the Changeling whose corpse was being poked and prodded by a medic had some foreknowledge that I would be coming here, or if it had been undercover in the Commissariat for some time and my wandering in had been some happy accident. Well, happy up until the moment Cannon Fodder slashed its throat repeatedly. Let's not forget that it was he, sitting there and stuffing his face with this enormous blueberry muffin in his usual, unassuming manner, who had truly saved her life and mine. She had been unconscious for that, however, but my aide didn't appear to mind me not correcting her on that little detail.

I was about to explain that, on the contrary, a 'hero' like me would be of more use helping other commissars become heroes too, albeit from a nice, safe distance, when who should crest around the corner of the corridor but Princess Luna herself, tailed by Celestia. Well, you don't need me to tell you, dear reader, that the appearance of the founder of the Commissariat, the pony responsible for thrusting me into all of this mess in the first place, was the metaphorical buckball hurled through my greenhouse and straight into the very rare water lilies. As if the attempt on my life wasn't bad enough.

Next Chapter: Chapter 4 Estimated time remaining: 7 Hours, 50 Minutes
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