The Colour You Bleed

At the highest point of the tallest tower in Canterlot, Celestia stood proudly in the morning dim. She rose her horn, and as she did so the first light of dawn peaked over the mountains that surround Equestria on all sides. It spilled over her kingdom like a sea of gold, waking the citizens of the mountain villages first, then the farmers on the foothills and vast plains, finally falling upon the capital. The alabaster city gleamed, and Celestia smiled the sort of smile that only a pony who has worked her craft for millennia can manage. Far below her, in a lavish room of the palace a different pony smiled a very different kind of smile.

Blueblood stirred in his large bed, his grin presenting itself to the world even moments after he awoke. He rarely found cause not to smile, after all.

"Ire, are you out there?" Blueblood asked. The door to his chambers creaked open, revealing a tall, steel-gray earth stallion.

"Of course, your highness," the pony said. "What do you require?"

"Oh, just making sure," Blueblood said flippantly, rolling out of bed. "We can't have you gallivanting off to do... whatever it is you do while auntie and mother aren't watching you. What do you do, anyways?"

"Sleep," the pony said shortly, "among other things." Blueblood heard him mutter something under his breath, but ignored it. Instead, he trotted over to the picture window that let through his aunt's sunlight, and sighed happily.

"She's done well this morning, don't you think Ire?"

"What?" the gray pony asked, snapping out of his mumbled rant. "What was that, your highness?"

"The sunrise," Blueblood said. "It's lovely."

"I suppose so," Ire said, "I see the weather pegasi are keeping the clouds clear today." Blueblood shook his head.

"Oh Ire. All you ever think of is the weather, isn't it? The weather, or the taxes, or polishing your armour."

"It is my duty, sire. Speaking of my duty... I've requested that you don't call me... Ire."

"Oh, but your title really is such a mouthful," the unicorn whined, "I can't call you 'Captain Sir Iron Towers' every time I need you, now can I? Why, We'd take all day just to get ready in the morning. And besides, Ire fits you so well, don't you think? No, I think I'll just keep calling you Ire."

"Very well, sire," the captain said flatly. Blueblood looked out the window for a while longer, before spinning around.

"Well, what are we just standing here for, Ire?" he asked impatiently, "Why haven't you gotten the chamber maids to get me ready this morning? We have business today, you know."

"Of course, sire," Iron said, bowing and backing out the door, "My apologies. I'll fetch some maids for you right away."

"Very good, very good," Blueblood said, turning back to the window. Iron left the room, and sighed deeply. Standing right in front of him was a pair of earth pony mares.

"We, ah, though the prince might need us," one of them said slowly, leaning away from the scowling captain. The stallion sighed again, and rubbed his eyes.

"Yes," he said, "Yes, he wants to see you. But... let's not go in just yet, alright?"

"Oh dear," the other mare said, "Is his highness in a mood?"

"Of course he is," Iron growled, "He's always in a mood. The blasted brat is a mood." The mares giggled, and Iron shook his head. "I don't think I can take much more of that colt," he said, "It's just one more day, though."

"One more day until what?" the mare asked. Iron looked down at her, as if he only just realized that the mares were still there.

"One more day until... I'm off rotation," he said, "I'll be back on the watch duty, and guarding his highness will be somepony else's problem."

"That's a good plan," the older of the mares said, "I heard the last pony they had guarding him full time had to retire early... something about him being worse than anything the westerners had. Shifting ponies out could make him at least bearable."

"Is he really so bad?" the other mare asked, "I've never spoken with the prince... but he seems quite charming."

"Oh he is, from a distance," the older mare explained. "But once you actually talk to him, well... I suppose you'll see."

"Yes, we may as well," Iron growled, "If we wait any longer he's likely to be even worse when you speak with him." He pushed open the door to Blueblood's chambers, allowing the two mares to walk in. Blueblood had moved back to the bed, where he was lounging lazily.

"Ah, there you are!" the unicorn said, sitting up, "I was beginning to think you had run off..." he tilted his head as the two maids approached him, and asked, "You couldn't find any unicorns?"

"Ah, we were just in the area, sire," the older maid said, bowing to the prince, "And the captain asked us to help you ready yourself. We're more than capable - "

"But you'll take so long," Blueblood insisted, "A pair of unicorns would be much faster, and then they could get back to cleaning up the ballroom for this evening."

"There are more than enough ponies cleaning the ballroom, your highness," Iron insisted, "These two will do for this morning."

"Yes, we will," the older maid said again, "I've helped your mother get ready a time or two. And, well, Lilac here may be new, but she's a very quick worker."

"Oh, very well," Blueblood gave a long-suffering sigh. He stood in the middle of the room, and Lilac's partner directed her.

"Fetch the brush and scissors from the dresser, will you dear?" she asked. Lilac did as she was beckoned, while the older mare went to Blueblood's wardrobe and opened it. She selected a clean collar, and laid it out on the bed. Lilac had returned with the brush and scissors, and the pair went to work on the white unicorn. Lilac trimmed his fetlocks carefully, while the other maid brushed down his mane and coat. After a few minutes work the stallion looked presentable, albeit bare. Lilac fetched the collar, and with the older maids help it was soon around Blueblood's neck, completing the handsome stallion.

"Well, I am impressed," Blueblood said, inspecting himself in a mirror. Lilac smiled happily, but her partner just rolled her eyes. Iron tensed as well, to Lilac's confusion. Then, Blueblood turned to the trio, and spoke again.

"I never would have expected you poor earth ponies to pull it off," he said happily, taking Lilac's hoof.

"Um... your highness?" Lilac asked, taken aback.

"You've done almost a good a job as any pair of unicorns could have!" he said happily, "Especially you, dear. Trimming those fetlocks must be no easy task for your kind. What's your name?"

"I... ah... Lilac, your highness," Lilac sputtered. She didn't fully understand what was happening, but she felt vaguely insulted.

"Lilac... A lovely name," the prince told her, "It suits you."

"Um... thank you?"

"It's just a shame you're a peasant," Blueblood said, "And a simple earth pony, at that. You're a very pretty mare. " Lilac simply stared, until her partner took a gentle hold of her shoulders.

"Thank you very much, your highness," she said, "But we really must be going. We have more work to do, to be ready for this evening."

"Oh yes, of course!" Blueblood smiled. The two mares trotted out of his room, and when they were in the safety of the hallway Lilac asked,

"What... just happened?"

"Blueblood just happened, dear," her partner said. "I think Iron really must need that break, though. Blueblood was much better than usual today."

Hours later Blueblood was in the palace's garden, accompanied by the surly captain. The prince sauntered among the flower patches, occasionally stopping to inspect a rose or two.

"And here I thought you seemed so eager to get to your duties," Iron sighed. Blueblood flipped his mane, and inspected another flower.

"My duty is to look as good as I possibly can for all the mares tonight," the stallion told his bodyguard. Iron rolled his eyes behind the prince's back.

"I thought you were pleased with how the maids did?"

"Oh they did well enough, I suppose," the prince said, waving a hoof dismissively. "But I need a unicorn's touch to be complete. I must be as beautiful as auntie's sunrise for this evening - I'd hardly expect you to understand, Ire."

"Indeed not," the earth pony said coldly. Blueblood ignored him, and selected a rose from the bush. He bit off the stem, and tucked into his collar with his magic.

"There we are!" he said. "Perfect. What do you think, Ire?" the gray pony simply stared at him, blinking.

"I'm sure a... unicorn's taste, is better than anything I could muster, sire," he said. Blueblood sighed, and shook his head.

"You shouldn't be so serious all the time, Ire," he said. "It can't be good for you. Why, my last guard -"

"Had to retire," Ire interrupted, "I know."

"Yes," Blueblood said, his expression fouling, "Yes, he did. But he retired of his own choice. YOU might not get the same opportunity, Ire, if you do not keep your tone with me." The two ponies glowered at each other for a moment.

"Yes, sire." Iron said finally, "My apologies." Blueblood nodded, and walked past his guard.

"Good," he said, "Come along then. Let's see how the ballroom is coming along."

"Yes, your highness," Iron said, following after the prince. The two entered the palace and walked in silence, save for the clip-clopping of their hooves across the polished floors. Iron stared daggers into the back of his lord's head the whole way, but the unicorn seemed unaware of the seething anger emanating from behind him. Eventually the pair reach the ballroom, and Blueblood gestured to Iron to open the large doors. The earth pony did as he was beckoned, and Blueblood gasped in shock.

"Oh, no no no no no!" he cried. All of the servants decorating turned to stare at him. An old pegasus, apparently the pony in charge, walked respectfully up to the prince.

"What seems to be the matter, your highness?" he asked, bowing to the stallion. Blueblood ignored him, walking further into the ballroom.

"This is all wrong," he exclaimed, "this won't do at all!"

"What won't do, sire?" the old stallion asked again, following the prince.

"This, all of this!" Blueblood said, waving his hooves about. "Ambassadors are coming from all over Equestria, all over the world tonight to present their best mares to court me. The ballroom MUST display me favourably for them! The colours are all wrong, and there's no focus. Why, I'll just blend right into the background!"

"With... respect, sire," the old pony said carefully, "While it is true that mares may come to court you, the delegates are here for other diplomatic purposes -"

"Well, it won't hurt those purposes if I am given the proper amount of attention, now will it?" Blueblood said, looking down at the pony, "Now fix it."

"But, sire!" the old stallion objected, "It will take hours to change it now! We'd have to call in other servants, and, and..."

"Well, call in other ponies to work on it, then," Blueblood said. "Just have it fixed for this evening. We are the capital of the greatest nation on the planet. We must look the part for our guests."

"I... yes, sire," the old pony said, defeated. He clapped his hooves together, and called out to the workers. "You heard his highness, we're changing it. Misty, run down to the kitchens and see if there's anyone else who can lend a hoof." Blueblood nodded and turned back to his guard, whose expression could sour milk. The white unicorn seemed oblivious to this, however, and simple gestured for him to follow.

"Come along, Ire," he said. "We should go make certain that none of the other servants have managed to mess up their tasks for this evening.

The day wore on, as days are wont to do. Before too long, Celestia returned to her tall tower and aided the sun in it's descent below the mountains. A soft clopping of hooves came from behind her, and Celestia turned to greet her little sister. The pair slapped hooves, the signal for their trade-off that Celestia had taught her sister when she returned, and Luna took to the air. She lifted her horn to the heavens as the milky face of the moon rose into view, silhouetting the little princess. She landed back on the tower, ruffling her wings proudly as her sister chuckled.

"Are we putting on a show now, Luna?" Celestia asked. Luna smirked, and replied,

"I'm an artist, Celly. I'm allowed to be proud of my work."

"You know, you could be even more proud of your work with a few ponies around to compliment you."

"Oh... I don't know," Luna said, the confidence fading from her voice. "I think it's best if I just keep my head down for a while. Let the whole... eternal night thing blow over first. Maybe a generation or two." Celestia sighed, and jostled her little sister playfully.

"You have to come out of your shell eventually, you know," she teased. "Come down to the party tonight, Luna. They'll be all compliments, you'll see. Nopony is afraid of the night any more."

"Oh, please Celly." Luna snorted, leaning over the balcony, "Compliments from pumped-up aristocrats? If I wanted compliments on my stars, I'd go find a sailor."

"Some of those 'pumped-up aristocrats' are family, you know," Celestia goaded. "You don't even want to see your nephew find a nice mare?"

"Not my nephew," Luna scoffed, "I wasn't around while he was being raised. I'd have had a thing or two to say about it."

"Luna," Celestia started, but her sister simply rolled her eyes and flew over the balcony.

"I'm sorry Celestia, but it's just not for me. I can barely stand being around normal ponies after so long, but them... it's just so petty. It's not my world, Celestia."

"Alright," Celestia smiled. "Have a good night, sister. I'll see you again at dawn?"

"Of course," Luna said. She flew in close, and nuzzled her sisters neck before taking off again. Celestia chuckled, and shook her head. She turned back into the tower and made her way down to the castle proper. It would have been much faster to fly, but she couldn't be seen doing that in front of this crowd - heaven forbid nobility be seen doing something for itself. Some days she wondered if Luna didn't have the right idea, avoiding the aristocracy like she did. Still, someone had to keep everything together. She entered the ballroom as quietly as she could, but nevertheless all eyes in the room soon turned to her. She made her way through the throng of ponies, approaching the head of the room where she sat, flanked on one side by her great-niece, and on the other by her slightly greater-nephew Blueblood.

"Good evening, auntie," Blueblood greeted her. His mother did similarly. Celestia smiled at them both, and a voice piped up over the crowd.

"Attention! Your attention, please!" the voice said. The crowd managed to unstick it's gaze from Celestia, turning to a unicorn in a finely crafted green suit - Equestria's foreign affairs minister, the stallion who had made most of the arrangements for the evening.

"Thank you very much," he said, "And thank you all for being with us here this evening. I know it must be difficult to travel so far for many of you. I'm sure you all understand the importance of this conference, of course - as you all know, we are gathered to deal with some issues of unrest among the countries along Equestria's borders..."

Blueblood smirked to himself. Celestia had decided that the best way to deal with the issue was to unite the countries through marriage - not that she'd ever admit it to anyone, of course. That was why so many princesses and princes were attending. They would try to match up countries, and in a few generations Equestria and it's surrounding countries would be one single, large kingdom.

Of course, everyone knew that Blueblood was the prize of the evening. Whoever married him, their country would merge with Equestria. It would be a great honour to become a province of the largest and most influential country in the world. Blueblood's thoughts were interrupted as the delegates began to applaud, signaling the end of the minister's speech. The 'opening ceremony' would begin, to let the nobility mingle amongst themselves, and meet their prospective matches before they would be bartered off the next day.

Celestia and Blueblood's mother stood and walked into the crowd, but Blueblood remained seated at the front, his chest puffed out proudly. Iron stood behind him, looking around the room.

"Not going to mingle, your highness?" he asked, though not with any sort of enthusiasm. Blueblood flipped his hair.

"Of course not," he said. "They will come to me, of course. "

"Ah. Of course." Sure enough, a mare did break from the throng to approach the prince. She was a deep-purple unicorn, her mane the colour of wheat, and she was adorned with a beautiful green dress of wrappings.

"Good evening," she said. Blueblood smiled handsomely.

"It is in indeed, miss..."

"Princess Golden Dreams," she said, offering her hoof. Blueblood took it gently.

"Prince Blueblood. It's delightful to meet you, princess."

"Likewise, I'm sure. You are the prince of Equestria, I presume?" she looked him up and down, and gave a coy smile. "I hail from the kingdom to the west - Aloa."

"Aloa?" Blueblood asked, "I hadn't heard that the Aloans would be here." In truth, he hadn't heard who was going to be coming one way or another - he was only barely acquainted with the surrounding countries to begin with. Geography had not been his best subject. Still, the mare didn't need to know that - and it seemed that he had touched on a conversation piece inadvertently.

"Oh, well," she shrugged, "I didn't want to, but Father insisted. He said that it was important to the future of the country..." she glanced at Blueblood again, and said, "of course, I'm quite glad I came now."

"I don't doubt it," Blueblood said, puffing out his chest. A piano key sounded across the ballroom, and slowly the band that had assembled at the side of the room began to play their first piece of the evening. "Would you care to dance, Princess?" Blueblood asked, pumping every ounce of charm he had into his words. Golden Dreams fluttered her eyleashes at him, and smiled sweetly.

"I would love to, I'm sure," she said. The two unicorns trotted onto the dance floor, where pairs of ponies had already begun to twirl to the band's waltz. Iron didn't follow the prince, instead remaining behind the thrones. After a while he moved more into the crowd, still skirting the walls of the room. He eventually came to sit beside a short, squat unicorn.

"He's dancing with your princess," Iron muttered, "Should we be worried?"

"With Goldie?" the unicorn chuckled, "Hardly. She no doubt sees him as just another dalliance. She won't miss him at all."

"Then everything is still ready?"

"As soon as all this winds down."

"Good. I couldn't bear to dote on that wretched excuse for a stallion any longer."

"Now now, Mr. Towers," the unicorn said smugly, "We musn't speak that way about our superiors."

"Oh well," Iron grinned wryly, "I suppose I can wait a few more hours." He stood up, and crossed the room to a position where he could better watch the obnoxious prince.

Blueblood spent most of the night with the Aloan princess. They danced for a while, then ate and chatted, then danced a while longer. Eventually the moon was high in the nights sky, and the Equestrian Foreign Affairs Minister spoke again.

"Thank you all very much," he said to the crowd. Celestia stood by his side, adding the weight of royalty - not to mention divinity - to his words as he reminded all of the guests where they would meet the next day to discuss how to "quell the unrest", as it was so euphemistically put. Blueblood could not help but grin. No doubt he would walk away from the meeting with Golden Dreams as his bride-to-be. Figuratively speaking of course; with mother and auntie there, there was no reason for Blueblood himself to attend the meetings. She was an excellent prize - beautiful, a tad dim, and Aloa was the second largest country in the region next to Equestria. Adding it as one of their provinces would increases the kingdom's influence even further.

The guests began to file out of the ballroom, escorted to the chambers set aside for them by the palace guards. Blueblood bid farewell to his dance partner, and Iron came to stand beside him.

"An enjoyable evening, your highness?" he asked, a hint of humour creeping into his voice for the first time that day.

"I think so, yes," Blueblood said smugly. "And where did you get off to, hm? Sleeping?" He cocked an eyebrow at Iron, an expression the earth pony knew well. He had begun guarding Blueblood when he was an adolescent, but the unicorn still made that same I-Know-Something-That-Can-Get-You-In-Trouble expression. Iron had to fight the urge to smile. He fought it so well, in fact, that any trace of a good mood faded from his face.

"I was watching from the sidelines, sire," he explained. "I would not want to be in your way while you danced."

"Ah, of course," Blueblood said. "Well... I think this has been quite a day. I would like to retire for the evening, Ire."

"Very well, sire," Iron said, bowing. The two ponies left the ballroom, walking through the palace hallways. Pleased as he was about the evening, Blueblood couldn't help but notice that many of the guards he saw were not wearing Equestrian armour.

"Why are all the guards dressed oddly?" he asked, trying to feign disinterest.

"They aren't our guards," Iron told him, "They came with the guests. Her Majesty thought a show of trust would help things along, so she gave all the guards the night off - save for the royal family's."

"Ah," Blueblood said, "Very good. Well, as long as my chambers are well guarded, that's quite alright."

"Indeed," Iron smiled. The two were silent for the rest of the trip, until they arrived at Blueblood's chambers - which were not, as he had expected, guarded by Equestrians. Instead, the pair of unicorns that stood before them were dressed in plain steel armour, dressed with green and blue wrappings - Aloan armour. Blueblood took a short step back, but soon regained his composure.

"What is the meaning of this?" he asked. The two guards bowed, and one spoke.

"You were called for, your highness," he said, "You are requested in a Aloan room for the night." Blueblood stared for a moment, before an impossibly smug grin came over him.

"My my," he said, "It seems I've made quite an impression on our guest the princess, don't you think Ire?"

"It would certainly seem that way, wouldn't it?" Iron agreed. The two Aloan ponies began to lead the prince, with Iron trailing behind. Blueblood stood proud and tall, too full of himself to notice where he was being led. After a while, the polished marble floors that the noblestallion was used to gave way to cobblestone. Still he seemed devoid of any thought other than his own greatness - until they stopped in front of a simple wooded door.

"This... is the princess's room?" Blueblood asked, shying away, "This is a servant's room!"

"Her highness is sleeping in the north quarter, actually," the Aloan guard told him. "You will have different accommodations this evening." The door opened, and the Aloans shoved Blueblood inside.

"What is the meaning of this!" Blueblood shouted, whipping his head around. Another shove came from the darkness, throwing him to the ground. The door slammed shut, and a the room was illuminated by torchlight. The room was filled with a few Aloan guards, and the Aloan ambassador.

"Hello, Blueblood," the ambassador said, his words oozing with a fake charm that Blueblood recognized all to well.

"You will address me by my proper title!" Blueblood said, getting to his hooves. He was shoved to the ground again - this time, by Iron.

"He was, you pompous oaf," Iron sneered at him, "Or at least, by the end of tonight he will have. You're going on a trip, colt. I'll bet you can guess where."

"W-why are you doing this?" Blueblood asked, leaning away from Iron. The ambassador cleared his throat.

"It isn't personal - at least not for me," he said, "But we need you out of the way for a while. Equestria has more than enough power, you don't really need this conference. So you're going to stay away until the negotiations are done, alright?"

"For the record," Iron cut in, "It's personal for ME." The ambassador sighed.

"You won't get away with this!" Blueblood shouted, "Auntie will know I'm missing, and -" A hoof in the ribs silenced him mid-sentence."

"Shut up, colt," Iron sneered, "We can't have you yelling, now can we? You'd upset the other guests." Blueblood coughed violently, and Iron grinned. "You know," he said, "that was sort of fun. Can I do it again?"

"Be my guest," the ambassador shrugged. "He doesn't need to be in any sort of condition where we're going to be taking him."

"Goody," Iron said. He kicked Blueblood in the gut again, sending the stallion writhing across the floor. He snorted gleefully, and ground his hoof into Blueblood's ribs. The prince grunted in pain, and Iron pressed down harder.

"I take that back," the ambassador said, interrupting the guard's "fun", "Stop that. The carriage isn't here yet, and we can't afford to make much noise while we're in here. If one of your men finds us, we're all dead - including you. You aren't clever enough to talk your way out of this." Iron snorted, and took his hoof off the prince, who groaned miserably.

"Well, have your men shut him up, then. You unicorns all think you're so special, so prove it then."

"My men are trained in combat," the ambassador said coldly, "The best they could do is hold his mouth shut." Iron shook his head, and leaned against the wall beside Blueblood. The room fell into silence, save for Blueblood's occasional whimpers. The tension in the room was palpable as they waited. Even the room itself seemed to mirror the ambassadors sickly, worried expression. Iron simply scowled, picking something from the ball's buffet out of his teeth. Suddenly, he felt Blueblood's hoof on his leg.

"Iron..." Blueblood said weakly, "Iron, why are you doing this? Did... did they bribe you? Threaten you? Whatever it is, Auntie can help... " Iron smirked, and leaned in to the injured unicorn's face.

"They didn't pay me," he said, "They didn't threaten me, or blackmail me. The only thing that I get out of this is a way out... oh, and you." He flashed his teeth at the unicorn, and prodded him with his hoof. "Yes... 'prince Blueblood, you get to hurt him'. That's what they told me, colt. And you know what? I jumped at the chance. The chance to hurt you, you stupid, arrogant little princeling... you pathetic excuse for a stallion. They only asked me because I'm close to you, you know. Any one of the servants... anyone who ever has to deal with you, they'd all do the same. Every single pony in this castle would jump at the chance to watch you suffer." He was nearly nose-to-nose with Blueblood now, a wide, malicious grin spread across his face. Blueblood's eyes were wide with fear, and he tried to struggle backwards, but Iron stomped a hoof down on his mane to keep him in place. "You know why?" the earth pony asked, "You wanna guess? Go on, guess. I wanna know what you think ponies think about you. I wanna hear you say that they care about you, so It'll be that much sweeter when you learn the truth."

"T-they do care," Blueblood said, his voice shaking, "I'm the prince. They all care about my well being. That's their job..."

"Yeah, that's right," Iron chuckled, "It's their JOB. Not one of them would care for you if they had any choice in the matter. They like your auntie, and they like your momma just fine, but you? They all HATE you. You're just some worthless pile of flesh to them. Another nuisance to deal with in the day."

"That isn't true!" Blueblood insisted. Even he didn't seem convinced by his words.

"Say that all you want," Iron laughed. "But you know the truth every bit as much as I do. Hell, I bet that's why your so full of yourself. You know that you aren't worth anything. The truth is, I'm not just doing the Aloans a favour, I'm doing Equestria a favour too! Now your momma can just start over, have a foal who's worth something!"

"Iron!" the Ambassador said sharply, "The carriage is here. Let's go."

"Good," Iron said, straightening up, "As soon as we get away from here, we can start to make some noise. Load him in."

Blueblood felt magic take hold of his body, lifting him into the air. The Aloan soldiers took him out of the back door, out into the palace's back lawn. A large, plain carriage was waiting there, hitched to a pair of ponies wearing simple rags. Blueblood was tossed unceremoniously in the back, followed by Iron, the Ambassador and a half-dozen soldiers. The door shut, and a jerking let the passengers know that their transport had begun to move. Blueblood lay in the middle of the carriage, trying to chase Iron's words out of his head, but they wouldn't leave. He began to whimper again, only for Iron to kick him in the back.

"We're not in the castle any more," the guard sneered, "I can do that now. In fact, I think I'm gonna. Every time you whimper, you get a kick. And hey - I'll get a kick out of that too!" he laughed cruelly, and Blueblood shuddered, suppressing a squeak. The cart rolled for about an hour, and Iron kept true to his word - whenever so much as a squeak escaped Blueblood's lips, Iron would kick him violently in the back. Eventually the captain got bored - or Blueblood simply stopped making noise. Either way, Iron spoke up.

"Where are we?"

"Hm?" the ambassador asked, shaking away his tiredness, "We should be at the bottom of the mountains. We're in Aloan territory now."

"Close to the exchange point?"

"We'll reach it in a few minutes, yes. Why?"

"Tell your ponies to move faster. I want to get there early. I want some time with the whelp."

"Haven't you had enough of him yet?" the ambassador asked, disgust clear in his voice.

"Just do it," Iron scowled. The ambassador sighed, and commanded that they pick up the pace. They reached their destination within a couple of minutes, and Iron kicked Blueblood out of the back of the carriage. He looked around, and sighed happily.

"Shale!" he said, "Lot's of shale here. That's good."

"Dare I ask why?" the ambassador asked.

"Shale is flat," Iron said, as if that explained everything, "Get your ponies to take him over to that piece, there," he gestured to a large slab. The soldiers did as they were commanded, while Iron stepped back into the carriage to get something. Blueblood couldn't see what Iron was getting until he brought it around to the stone where the unicorn lay. The cruel earth pony carried an equally cruel-looking axe in his mouth, grinning fiendishly around the handle.

"Hold him down," Iron said.

"What do you mean?" one of the soldiers asked. Iron glowered at the soldier, who shrunk back.

"I mean, Hold. Him. Down." Iron said. The soldiers did so, pressing Blueblood against the rock with their magic. Iron dropped the axe of the slab in front of Blueblood's face.

"Wha... what are you going to do?" the prince asked, his voice trembling. Iron grinned evilly.

"Guess," he said. "Go on, guess." His grin was so wide that Blueblood thought he could see every tooth in his mouth, and his eyes bugged out of his skull like even they wanted to leap out and attack the prince. His hot breath blew across the unicorn's face as he chuckled. "I'll bet you'll do great. You're a unicorn, after all... you're so great. So superior to us 'humble earth ponies'," he quoted in a mocking imitation of Blueblood's voice, "But you know we do try. And there's a lot of things that we're pretty good at... some things we're even better at than you unicorns... but you'll find that out soon enough."

"Iron," the ambassador cut in, "Is this really necessary?"

"Of course it's necessary!" Iron roared, turning sharply on the fat unicorn, "You said yourself, we can't risk having him seen while he's in Aloa! It would tip everyone off, they'd know about your precious plan! Well, nopony's going to recognize him now! They'll all be looking for a unicorn, and they aren't going to find one!" he whipped around, screaming at the soldiers, "HOLD HIM DOWN!"

They all flinched back, releasing the pressure on Blueblood just enough for him to struggle.

"Please, Iron!" Blueblood cried, "Please, don't do this!"

"Oh, you're begging now?" Iron gave a hissing laugh, "You think it'll make up for all the crap I had to deal with from you?"

"I'm sorry!" Blueblood cried again, "I'm sorry Iron! I didn't mean it!" He strained against the soldiers' magic, writhing as hard as he could on the rock. His heart was frozen in his chest as he struggled, and he trembled violently.

"I said, HOLD! HIM! DOWN!" Iron roared. Magic slammed against Blueblood, pressing down on him so hard he could barely breath.

"Please, please don't, Iron," Blueblood managed to wheeze, "Please don't do it..."

"Don't worry, colt," Iron chuckled, leaning in close to Blueblood and brushing his mane aside, "I won't hurt a hair on the pretty little mane of yours." He gave a barking laugh, and one of the soldiers looked away.

"Now, 'Blue blood'," Iron hissed, "let's find out what colour you really bleed!" he took the axe in his mouth, and lifted it up, laughing through the handle.

The prince's squeezed his eyes shut. "Please, please please please please please!" he begged.

The axe came down.

Pain erupted in Blueblood's skull. It felt like his forehead was on fire. It felt like his mind was on fire. He was vaguely aware of an explosion of colour, of Iron laughing hysterically, but he didn't care. The pain was his world. It was his everything. It spread through his entire body, growing far and wide like the roots of a great ash tree. It felt like it spread even out of his body, into the bodies of the guards that held him down, and into the ambassador. They broke their hold, but Blueblood didn't flail, or scream. He couldn't. His entire body was on fire. His entire body was fire. Then it was ice, and then the air, and the earth. Then, for the briefest moment, his body was light. But the light faded, and there was only darkness. Blueblood's world went dark, and soon, it disappeared.