The use of locations from The Ambassador's Son by Midnight Shadow is done with permission.
Ralph Vitoni wasn't dead yet. He was close, of that there could be no doubt, and the reasons behind that lack of doubt were best not looked at too long, at least for ponies, if not dragons.
There is a strange honor among dragons regarding their kills, and it shows itself most when the kill is sapient.
Ralph wanted to speak to the Starshines. His request was not something either Wildfire or Perspicacity wanted to honor; indeed, the last thing they wanted to do was to listen to anything the creature had to say. They did not have a choice, they were guests in a dragon home, and the strange honor of their hosts applied to them now.
His remains had been carried to the hoard, he was a trophy now, or nearly so, and the two unicorns Bobby and Jake were there, where they had fallen. Ralph was also an honored combatant; though he had landed no blows on the dragons, and had made no account of himself in battle other than to fall, he and his cohorts had breached the hoard. This was a matter of draconic tradition; an enemy that breaches the hoard automatically becomes an honored combatant.
So it was that Ralph had a last right in life, and so it was that Wildfire and Perspicacity found themselves unwillingly trying to only look at what was left of Ralph's face, and nowhere else in the room.
Both were able to stand and move with ease, thanks to medical assistance from Chip and his father; they had an assortment of curious potions and strange poultices that had numbed the Starshine's pains, for the time at least, and stabilized their conditions in general. They would both need more extensive treatment, but for now they felt almost normal, and certainly better than they looked.
There was no question they were in infinitely better shape than Ralph.
"Hello..." Ralph made gurgling sounds as he tried to speak, and there was a wet gurgling whistle coming with every breath. His voice was weak and thin. "...kids. Good to see you again..." He grimaced for a bit, and tried not to cough. "My favorite couple. Really sweet together."
"Say what you have to say, Ralph!" Perspicacity had her eyes shut tight, her head down. She had not been told she had to watch, just listen.
"I want you to understand something," Ralph began to choke a bit, but recovered with effort. "... Celestia... you don't understand..." He seemed to drift off for a moment. "...our guys, back on Earth, we figured her out. Conversion, it takes away all the mean stuff, the strong stuff in a man. Replaces it with sunshine and rainbows, but..." His wracking, gurgling coughing was terrible to hear. "...there's a reason."
"A reason?" Wildfire found himself curious. This was something he had often wondered about.
"She's god now, the bitch. And her sister. They really are gods. Old Testament stuff. But they're crazy." Ralph spat out blood for a while. "Listen... they were made... by that Discord fellow they teach you about in 'pony history'" The way he said 'pony history' dripped with disgust and venom. "She'd never admit it, but they never got over that. All this rainbow cutesy shit? It's the back ward, kids. Equestri..." wracking coughs interrupted the panting pony "...Equestria is a loony bin for damaged gods. Your smiles make Her feel safe. Your little pony lives make Her feel like the world makes sense."
Ralph was speaking easily now, as if he was suddenly well, which he was not. Wildfire suspected that he was beyond pain at this point, and nearly beyond life. "I never meant to hurt you kids. I liked you, I really did, but She stole our world, Wild." Ralph couldn't turn his head, but he had shifted his gaze to stare at the gray pony. "She did it deliberately. It wasn't the 'cosmic accident' she made it out to be. She stole our future and our species. I fought a war for Mankind, and I regret nothing. You understand me? She stole our...." There was silence. Ralph wasn't talking anymore. Ralph's eyes were still staring at Wildfire, but they no longer saw him, or anything else.
Mr. Leatherback - Sharptooth of the Diamond Expanse Dragon Clan - growled and rasped something that sounded almost like a song. Chiphoof joined in, the eerie and frightening sounds echoing off of the stone walls and ceiling of the hoard vault.
Wildfire had no idea what the two dragons had just sung, but he had a good idea why they had sung it, and what the song was. There were so many differences between Equestria and lost Earth, but so many similarities, too.
Perspicacity and Wildfire were led back to the main room above, their draconic duties completed. They had heard the last words of Ralph Vitoni, the only raider to have ever penetrated Sharptooth's hoard - other than an innocent castle servant at Canterlot, centuries ago, who had come to clean a certain walk-in closet. But that was a forgivable offense at the time because... it had to be.
The Starshines had finally gotten to sleep. Their dinner was simple; Sharptooth made something, it was filling and it did the job. Wildfire and Perspicacity had felt strangely numb, doubtless due to the powerful and magical medications applied to them; sleep came easily, for they were exhausted and injured, but it was devoid of dreams.
They woke in some discomfort, Sharptooth and Chip treated their wounds yet again, and tended to them with more of the powerful, arcane medicines.
That was the problem with adventures, thought Wildfire the next morning; they were exciting to hear about, but misery to actually live through.
Breakfast was eggs and haycakes, something meat for the dragons; lithovoric tastes had been replaced by carnivorous ones, as apparently was the case after battle, for the draconic. Neither Starshine dared to think about where the meat had come from, both chose to convince themselves that it was not... from the vault.
It was after breakfast that the elder dragon finally set the plan for the day. It was time to hear the final truth of the manuscript, and in doing so decide the fate of Equestria. Wildfire had finished translating the last two pages before Ralph and his boys had arrived, he had been looking at the amazing model work in Chip's room when Perspicacity had called up to him at dinner the previous day.
In the large living space they all gathered, Sharptooth on his great stone chair, Chip near the hearth, and the Starshines on the oversized sofa once more. Though the Starshines were injured, the draconic medicines had left them feeling well even if they were not, and they could not leave until the fundamental and dire matter of the manuscript itself had been finally resolved.
That whiche you have read
with sorwe, thou most my tale shul ye heere
And yet in wronge is myn werkes
That Celestea herself hath been filled with wrothe
For that book whiche I have boghte.
At night I take forth my new book and write in it, that which you have just read. But all that has come thus far is not the matter of true importance, for I must tell you not only of my great and terrible error, but also of that which Celestia herself has committed in my creation.
Of the book I must say this, even against her command, that she knew not of its nature for many years, kept it I so close to me that she never did gaze upon it until its near completion; more than this her efforts were so consumed by matters of her royal concern that she did forget entirely about her charge that I should write of my life and experiences.
When discovering my work, and above all my choice in purchase, much was brought to light that had previously been unseen. In the book was found a blasphemy that I could not comprehend; the book so fine and goodly having been made of a forbidden leather, more than this all leather is forbidden, at least among the fairy kin to which I am now part.
In my old world and life, my purchase would have been both frugal and displaying of taste and refinement, in this new world all is turned upon its head, such that I have inadvertently made an insult to one of those tribes within her dominion.
To this I can only say that I am grievously sorry and ashamed; my ignorance is complete for this is a world beyond my understanding or imagination, and there is little that does not confuse me or bring me to astonishment. That a mere book could cause such calamity as has been described to me is unthinkable, yet I accept it as the truth of my princess, and thus the truth of my very life.
I made to immediately apologize to those I had offended, thus to spare my princess any shame, but in this she has bade me stay; to do so would only destroy what agreements she has thus far forged, and cause only harm to both her kind and the great and terrible wyrms with which she parlays. The wyrms are wont to destroy themselves, and only in this peace can their kind be preserved, and the warring between them ended; my silence is as much for their lives as for my own - my princess assures me that any apology on my part would be met not with forgiveness but with death.
So it is that I keep her secrets, and as such she has made of me an agent of her crown, and though it be but a title without weight or station, it still binds my tongue in deference to such honor. I have broken with her will only in that I have continued to keep and to finish this book; it is all I have of my life and my own world, the words upon these fine pages, even if their substance be accursed, the writing itself is my only solace in this new life.
In this book I renew myself, and find my self, for I fear becoming all fairy horse and losing the last of what it is to be a man. I cannot rid myself of it, as I have been bade. And so I must excuse my princess here, that she not be blamed for my selfish disobedience.
It is in that which is still of man about me that the other matter of error has been found; my princess Celestia has admitted to me that my new flesh is not without fault, and that in the creation of my new fairy body my princess was brought to some difficulty, my kind being unknown to her, and there being no trace of it to work with once our passage was complete.
In some manner of guesswork did she house my new soul within my new flesh, but within my temperament does still exist a measure of my world. It is this that permitted me to make choice of a leathern book, and it is this which even now compels me to keep that book against her command. I am of her kind yet not of her kind, however hard I try to be as she desires me to be.
She keeps her enemies closer than her friends, as all wise rulers do, and in that I must accord myself somewhat her enemy as well as her servant, for she keeps me now close and in her court, where before I spent years with my new family and my wife. Of my wife and foals I can no longer speak; they have taken their leave of me and rightly so; my rages and jealousies having made monster of me to them. She has divorced me and returned to her Starshine clan.
It has been my princesses kindness to the family that once kept me as theirs that they should be granted royal recognition, appointed as instrument crafters to the crown, thus I can be quieted in my fears that my foals should be left without wealth or support in the world.
To keep me close, so as to watch me now, and prevent any further cruelty or wrongdoing on my part, I have been given a new name and situation. My princess has been forced to adopt me and bring me into her own keeping, claiming me as a relative, which is not without foundation; in the entirety of my creation, she has argued that I am in some philosophical manner the product of her loins; I am her offspring as much as I was a man - she made me from nothing, as God made Adam, and being her creation I am of her family now.
So it is that I am now called not Starshine, for that life is past, and am now Blueblood, an invented relative of the crown. A chambermaid is already with my foal as is another; my princess has ordered something done to prevent further generations from the inheritance of my temperament. I do as yet do not know what her order entails, yet still I fear it.
I do not see what is so wrong with my moods; I am always of a polite guise, and I am haughty as befits my new station in life; to the best of my understanding I act in accordance with all I know of royalty and courtly life. That generations hence my seed should follow this should surely be a matter of praise not censure, still I must defer to she who is my princess, my queen, and my goddess.
They come for me this afternoon, and one fear I do possess is that I should get the axe for my transgressions. To that fear I have sought a means to assure my remembrance; I have made arrangement that my precious journal, which you have been the fortunate attendant, should be taken and kept by those beyond the reach of my princess, to be preserved for all time.
Perhaps one day I may be known again to men, to that hope I pray.
But there is one last thing which I must relate to you, my good and faithful reader, and that is the promise which my beloved princess did make me, a promise to all men of the earth, to all the children of Adam and of the world to which I once belonged.
When I made my plea to she who saved me, and begged her to preserve me from the spiritless void and dissolution of my world, my princess did save me as you now know. But when I had gained my wits upon the other side, in her land, I felt ashamed for my survival while burning within me was the knowledge that all other men should perish while I alone lived forever.
Thus I begged the great queen, my Celestia, that she help all men as she had helped me, so great was my sorrow. But she could not, for the door between our worlds was now closed and would not open again for such time as I could not hope to see, nor any of what offspring I might have, nor even of theirs and theirs beyond.
But she also wept inside for my wretched and lost kind, and in her endless compassion and kindness she made me a promise to comfort me and to still my weeping. This promise I relate now to you, as best I remember it, for it was many years ago now.
My princess spoke unto me in complete truth and faithfulness that the doom suffered by all of humankind, that their lack of eternal souls and meaningless lives did trouble her heart greatly.
It was said among the alchemists that the soul is gold, the very goal of their philosophical search, and I conveyed this hope to her that perhaps man would make such gold for themselves one day. To this she replied that such gold would be as iron, and ultimately come to ruin, that without the essence of life there was no hope even with our human cleverness.
But as this made me cry the harder, she made promise thus; that one day, without fail, she would return to the earth once more, and on that glorious day, make her stand to end all human woe and sorrow, and to save my kind and rescue them from oblivion forever.
This she promised me in good and true faith, and in this promise I have made my peace with my new life.
They are coming. I will sign this document then:
Willelmus Learmount Starshine Blueblood, nephew to her majesty the princess Celestia, father of many, and Royal Agent of the Crown, this day in Eques
Was verraily felicitee parfit,
the peril of my soule, and of my lyf,
And this lyf she added eek therto,
That if gold ruste, what shal iren do?
In swich delit o day
wol I yow withouten faille turne to erthe ageyn,
The whiche thynges troublen al this erthe,
Ther is thee shapen of thy wo an ende.
"Eques?" Sharptooth did not understand the last word.
"He just stopped writing there. I think he didn't have time to finish. It was meant to be 'Equestria', I suspect, probably to be followed by the date, which would have been common in human writing in that time period." Wildfire thought for a moment, "I wonder what they did to him?"
"Probably gelded him. Celestia had quite a eugenics program going at that time; she was desperate to breed her little ponies so that they could survive. You have to remember that this was only just over a thousand years or so after she had created them in the first place; they weren't perfect either. There were still places touched by the chaos of Discord - she was struggling to stabilize the very world itself." Sharptooth paused, lost in memory "And I can't say we dragons were actually helping things. The manuscript is accurate to that point - the dragons were on the road to destruction, and without the Pact, we would not have had much time in the world..."
"I am NOT haughty, nor am I prone to rages!" Perspicacity suddenly interrupted, stomping her hoof. "I'm a little prone to obsessiveness, I admit that. And I don't have time for fools, but that is just reasonable! I show not the least resemblance to this... this... creature from another world! He was no Starshine - that filthy flesh-book lies!"
"Pers, what has gotten into you?" Wildfire hadn't seen her like this since the day he had accidentally broken her grandmare's dishes trying to get her something from the basement. He hadn't meant to knock over the crate, he didn't even know what was in it until the big crash.
Perspicacity glared at him. "Maybe my aunt Aspherica, now she was a total bitch, I admit - and so was her mother and maybe even my grandstallion sometimes - but not me! I refuse to believe that I am in the least part related to this little shaved diamond dog from a dead planet! I am not ambitious, selfish or... humanic." His wife kicked the couch, turned, and refused to look at anyone.
A dead silence filled the room.
"Prince Blueblood. Blueblood. What do you think of that, Chip?" The old dragon chuckled. "It explains a lot, if you ask me."
"I don't understand, Mr. Leatherback." Wildfire knew better than to disturb his wife when she was having a sulk of such a magnitude, so he decided to try to follow the current topic of conversation.
"Celestia has... a nephew. She has all kinds of 'family' but there isn't a pony in her court that believes for a moment that there is any actual relation going on there. There has always been speculation around her various nieces and nephews in name; why she would bother, who they really are, where the lineage really came from." Sharptooth chuckled again. "It was around that time... or maybe a century later... that I was first introduced to one of her 'relations'. It was obvious from the first moment she had no actual connection to them. They had a smell. Celestia has no smell. None at all. It's like she isn't even there. Part of being what she is, I expect."
"So there's some royal... relatives in Canterlot, who aren't actually related to her... except kind of? I mean, she did create Willelmus' body." Wildfire pondered the very notion of that.
"Celestia created all pony bodies. Where do you think ponies came from?" Mr. Leatherback shifted his weight in his stone chair. "Discord had the entire universe in chaos. Celestia had to make sense of that, along with her sister Luna. The two of them had to make sense of what life even was, what earth and sky and everything in between was and wasn't. Discord made them alicorns - whatever they may have been originally - so it only made sense to make life in the shape of ponies. Aspects of their own form. It's really fairly unimaginative. But then, to be fair, after Discord... I think Mr. Ralph may have spoken truth there at the end."
"So, dad, what about the manuscript itself?" Chiphoof leaned forward, "Is this a matter of draconic honor or what?"
"Now that's no longer an issue, son." Sharptooth tapped his long snout with his claw, in careful consideration. "The manuscript was purchased by Willelmus without Celestia's oversight, and she had no idea of what it was until years after the Pact. Now, she did hide the fact when she discovered it, and she failed to give us her little creature as she should have, but..."
Sharptooth lowered his head, filled with mixed emotions.
"If she had revealed all of this back then, it would have led to bloodshed, and likely returned the dragons to the clan war that was going on at the time. Arguably, her deception is the only reason there are any dragons - or ponies - around right now." Sharptooth clearly didn't like this line of reasoning, but there was no denying it either. "If she had been open and honest, this would be the cosmos of 'Griffonia' right now. Or more likely, just a dead universe with a statue of Discord biding his time."
"So what do we do?" Chiphoof stared at his father, waiting for an answer.
"What do you think we should do, Chip? You're a bright young dragon, part of the generation that will live on in the future of Equestria, long after me. What kind of world do you want?" Sharptooth smiled, eager to hear what he knew must be said.
"We... we do nothing. We keep this a secret. And we help Celestia find any more of these HLF types, and we make sure they can't cause any more trouble." Chiphoof was being very serious, the way only a very young dragon shaped like a pony can be, when charged with deciding the fate of an entire world. "I like Equestria, dad. I like the ponies and the griffons and the trees and the animals and... well... everything. I like all of it. War would spoil all of that."
Chiphoof looked at his father with eyes grown wiser. "Honor doesn't mean anything if everything is dead."
"Well said, my clever son." Sharptooth nodded in satisfaction at his child. "And now, we also have something over on Celestia, should we ever need it. We have new trophies for the hoard, we even got the thing properly sorted and cataloged in traditional draconic style, thanks to genuine slave labor; what dragon in these peaks can say the same?"
"My good Mr. and Mrs. Starshine..." Perspicacity had almost finished her sulking; it was clear she had been intently listening to what the others were talking about. "It was an interesting time. I don't think I need to tell you that it would be in your best interests to keep all of this closely to yourselves. Consider yourself under a draconic geas not to speak of these matters to others. It also serves your safety; we do not know how many of these humanified ponies exist loose out there. Also, there is the matter of the potential end of the world as you know it." Sharptooth pointed at his nose, to underscore his point.
"We understand perfectly, Mr. Leatherback." Perspicacity was back to her usual self, at least for now - the tainting blood of Willelmus Learmount the pony was no longer forefront in her mind. "That said, are we safe? What if Ralph and his partners had a larger organization behind them and..."
"That is not an issue, in this case, I believe." Mr. Leatherback relaxed in his stone chair. "In the end... at the end... I was convinced that this particular plot began and ended with just those three ponies. They had worked hard and prepared well, but they were brought down by the very thing they sought to seek vengeance for the loss of... their humanity. They made mistakes, ones driven by their own passions, by human passions. Even so, I can understand their fight; as a dragon, I would have done the same if my own kind had been invaded and destroyed." Sharptooth looked very thoughtful.
"Only much better, of course."
This brought a light laugh from the Starshines, to which both Sharptooth and Chip turned their attention now.
"I think we should be getting these two to the Tacksworn unicorn clinic. They need more help than we can provide here." Sharptooth raised himself from the stone chair. "The medicines which I have given you have allowed us this time, but I have taken more advantage of you, and them, than perhaps I should have. I forget that ponies are not as... robust... as dragons. We are far more used to injury than your kind."
"Getting my wings on!" Chip was busy with his billet strap.
"I will carry you down, Mr. and Mrs. Starshine. I think it best."
Wildfire and Starshine did also; the magic medicines were beginning to wear off, and the pain was slowly returning. They had simply forgotten how damaged they were.
"Yes... please." Wildfire said, simply.