Stories in Stone
Luna's Royal Guard
The Road Less Traveled
“Why didn’t some pony tell me that’s what a bachelor party was? Now I feel like a complete idiot.”
“Well we kinda thought you knew till the end there Spike. Who was it that put you in charge of that any way?”
“Your brother did. I guess he just wanted me to feel I was doing something useful. Either that or he was teasing me again. No offense Twilight, but I always thought he was a bit of a jerk to me anyway.”
“You have said that before and I never see any instance of it.”
“Probably cause you got used to it growing up. That's not important anyway. I still can't believe I just stood there, I feel useless after all that. I wasn't tied up or anything and I didn't even try to stop that Changeling Queen.”
“Yes, I suppose none of us did that well; she beat Celestia and we could not even get the elements, Spiky. I wouldn’t worry nopony thinks any less of you for it.”
“I couldn’t do anything at all. At least you guys tried.”
“Well you are still a baby dragon after all, Spiky. I am sure in time you will be able to do more in a situation like that than any of us.”
“It’s been over a week already Spiky, you should let it go.”
“It still bugs me, Rarity. ….. I'm gonna go out. You two have fun with this, or whatever.”
Twilight and Rarity watch Spike storm out. He had been dwelling on being made to look like a fool as well as his apparent uselessness in the fight with the changelings since they had come back from Canterlot.
“I hope he’ll be OK.”
“He should be fine Rarity. He's been hanging out with Scootaloo, Applebloom and Sweetie Belle for a while now and I figure they might try for a cheering up a dragon cutie mark any day now. After that nonsense with the school paper, I figured someone with a more level head should keep an eye on them anyhow. Of course they have tried to slay him at least once, he claimed the jokes were really bad, and yesterday, they slapped a blond wig on him and tried to rescue him from a castle like he was a Princess or something.”
“Well I expect he will have his claws full with those three no matter what they do. After what I have read so far in this research it seems he is a rather rare sort of dragon. Of course, we knew that after the whole dragon migration thing.”
“Yeah not many of the dragons they have encountered have been very nice in this story, but this is over a thousand years ago; things could have changed.”
We will find out soon enough I suppose. Before you start, however, darling, I do have one little question for you. It has been bugging me for a little while now.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Well for starters, where exactly does Princess Cadence fit into things? I thought Princess Celesita and Princess Luna were the only goddesses about? At least from what I understand of your book here, every race has a few gods, but ponies only had two.”
“Oh that; I kinda wondered about that too, after everything I have seen in my research. Once the wedding was over, I asked Princess Celestia about it. She was reluctant to talk about it at first and when she finally did, she kept the conversation fully on Cadence rather than herself and Princess Luna. I did get the answer though. It's sort of a genetic quirk, like with the Cake twins. We know Celestia and Luna were not the first alicorns now, this research proves that and according to Celestia certain family lines have the alicorn gene in them.”
“Like how Mr. Cake's great-great-great-great grandfather was a unicorn and how Mrs. Cake's great aunt's second cousin twice removed was a pegasus? I still don't get that really, but I do understand that genetics and family lines are complex and that the foals may not have any real resemblance to the parents. If you met my father you would clearly see that.”
Twilight blinks at the look of horror that crosses Rarity's face, though she decides not to ask.
“Any way, Cadence's family line had an alicorn in the far distant past. Celestia called her a lesser alicorn, though. It seems she will have the same life span as a normal pony and her power, while more impressive than most unicorns, is nowhere near Luna or Celestia's level. Apparently, there is more to being an alicorn than being a unicorn with wings. That is about as good a description of Cadence as I can give. I do remember Cadence told me once she could not create love; she could only strengthen love that already existed or restore love that had grown cold. While an impressive power, it is not at the level of a Goddess.”
“And because she shared her power with your brother, his shield was able to re-form and fling all the changelings away.”
“Yup, If it would have just been love that had hit them, the changelings probably would have eaten it.”
“Well at least that all worked out. At least for now, considering those nasty little brutes are still out there. Oh, did you ever find out where Princess Luna was during it all?”
“Yes. The wedding evidently depressed her and she was in the Garden by the statues of her friends. She fell asleep there and did not wake until much later.”
“I feel bad for her, I really do, but she is not making much of an effort to try and make new friends. She seems to be dwelling far too much in the past. I am not really sure if freeing them would be such a good idea. It might cheer her up for a time, but then we would have to worry about six ponies still dwelling in the past. It really seems like something she should decide on her own.”
Twilight sighs and sets the blade on the table. She glances back as Rarity gets comfortable, the white unicorn floating the book over to read what Twilight had so far.
“I am starting to understand how she has a hard time making friends though. She knows she is going to outlive all of them. I would be a bit reluctant to as well. “
“I did not come to Ponyville to make friends to start with. It sort of happened.”
“True, but between you and Spike you now know almost as many ponies as Pinkie Pie. You have put forth some effort to make friends now that you are here. You have more than just us five as friends now. The only friend Luna seems to have made is that foal Pip. Not exactly a great success. Fluttershy is still somewhat terrified of her as well. If she wants some friends she needs to put out more effort. Though I suppose staying in Canterlot, there are plenty of ponies simply looking to use her status.
Twilight smiles, nodding lightly as Rarity puts on her glasses to look over the book.
“Anyway Twilight, I should be fine for the duration. I do have a good bit of catching up to do. I don't want to be behind when the time finally comes to answer the Princesses' request. Do what you do and I will do what I do.”
“All right, here I go.”
Twilight closes her eyes, letting her horn glow as she casts the spell. The feeling of being drawn out of herself and entering the blade was a familiar one by this point and barely registered to her. She pauses, looking at the windows to the six that floated before her in this space. Rhede and Bleu had been captured, though she was not sure she wanted to check on them first, as they seemed to not be in mortal danger. Starfall on the other hand... Twilight wanted to know what happened to her. She picked the window for the pegasus and let herself slip into the past again.
“So this is where you have been hiding? Honestly, I did not expect you to take after me this much. I came to the same place after Scarlet.”
Starfall lifts her head, giving a surprised look at Jer'rahd as he trots into the garden. His gaze shifts over the statues of the ones in this grove. The unicorn’s tail whips as he pauses, looking up at the stone griffon, then at Starfall and the six Guards standing between it and the pegasus.
“I would have left by now if they would let me do what I wanted.”
“Yes, well, when I heard what happened, I knew you would want to simply crush the bird and be done with it. So I had them come here to make sure you did not do anything you might regret.”
“HOW THE BUCK WOULD I REGRET KILLING THIS BITCH!!!?”
Jer'rahd raises an eyebrow, though for some reason he had a smirk akin to Rhede's on his face and it infuriated her.
“Because if this griffon has been the driving force for everything you have done, what will you do when she is gone?”
Jer'rahd waves the Guards away from the statue, looking it over and noting that there were hoof prints in the griffon and one clawed hand had been broken off already. The hand was not far from the statue and held two pony tails, also turned to stone. Sections of a belt around the griffon’s waist had also been broken away and had been gathered in a pile near the hand.
“Retire, be done with the Guard and just live at home with my daughter, the same thing I have been wanting to do since this all started.”
“I see. I suspect you want to give Luna your letter of resignation then? Go to what’s left of your home, live with your daughter for another few years before she goes off to school, or joins the Guard like she has been talking about, and then what? Stare at a wall? Join those show pony Wonderbolts and fly for a circus? Curl up in a ball and reflect on what your life has amounted to?”
“So what if I am? ...Wait what do you mean she's talked about joining the Guard?!?! When?”
“I spoke with Cloud Dancer before coming here. You missed quite a bit when you left, not that I am one to say anything about giving in to a rage. She watched you fly off after the one that murdered her father. She saw Celestia get stabbed, she saw Silver Claw kill Ruin and rip the wings off of General Shower and eat them. She saw Baelit leave the safety of the hall and rush out to save General Shower. She watched the fight; she heard everything that was said and watched as a bass player galloped off the stage and smashed his livelihood on the back of a huge dragon in an effort to save the Princess. She saw me come back in the most painful manner possible to stand between the dragon and Luna. She watched Velkorn stop a blow that would have finished Celestia and watched the Sun goddess rise up, gravely injured, and pour her last energy into saving her subjects. Cloud Dancer, Cyan Sparkle, Fox Pelt, and Wolf Pelt all saw what ponies were willing to go through to save one another. They were all inspired by the acts that they witnessed. They stayed there, helping as best they could to tend the wounded, the dead, and dying who were brought into the ball room. Your daughter wants to join the Guard because she has seen the worst of what we face all the time and she has seen the best of what we can do. That and she wants to join because her mother is a Guard and you are all she has left now. So then, if you want to sit on your flank in some house somewhere growing old after you turn this statue into dust then fine. Though how do you think she would feel after all she has seen to hear that is what you want?”
He nods to one of the Guards, who carries a pair of wooden training swords over to Starfall, dropping them at her side before backing away. Jer'rahd floats his wooden blade up, offering a few swishes with it.
“What is all this?”
“It's quite simple, you want to quit and you want to destroy this statue even though I said no. You are attempting to violate a direct order of a superior. but that is fine; I won't hold that against you. However, I won't accept your resignation unless you can beat me.”
“Like that is even a challenge? I have beaten you in every fight we ever had but one.”
“No, no you did not.”
“Bullshit; I know you kept count just as much as I did.”
“I am not denying I lost. I am denying I lost to you. I lost to a great warrior, one who was not a quitter and followed orders. I did not lose to an annoying little bitch who has spent the last three days in a depressive funk of a foalish tantrum because she is being denied what she thinks she wants. I did not lose to a mare who claims to be doing everything for her daughter, but has not even been back to check on her in three days after leaving her in a combat situation. I did not lose to a pegasus who would leave her post at the worst possible moment. I did not lose to a pegasus who would abandon her friends and duty because she finally saw the chance to accomplish some petty act of vengeance against a foe who is already being punished for her crimes. I never lost to you and I never will lose to you; what you are I can easily beat. Now get the buck up and pick up those swords. Try and do what you think you want.
Starfall growls, getting up and flipping the blades up with her wings.
“You have no right to say any of that, Kaisur.”
“Don't like it? Then come and make me take it back. I haven't slept in three days, it should be more than enough to balance out those light wounds you have. Or should I see if I can get one of the unicorn mages to change your cutie mark to a chicken?”
Jer'rahd shifts as Starfall charges him; his magic whips his blade forward and knocks her legs out from under her as she charges him, sending the pegasus crashing to the ground, skidding forward a bit to crash at his hooves.
“Pathetic. That's one.”
She growls again, shoving herself off the ground and leaping at him, only to collide bodily with a shield that formed between them. She fell back dazed to the ground as the shield dropped.
“That's two. So tell me: Is this what you really wanted? To leave all you worked for just because you avenged some dead ponies? You plan to let the ones still alive suffer because you think you are done? I guess you were not the pony I thought you were if you are willing to let others die because you just want to give up after getting revenge.”
His green and red eyes focus on her, the red light trailing from the one near blinding. Starfall winces, turning her head, not even meeting his gaze. He snorts in disgust.
“Forget it. I am done here. You want to be a civilian again? Fine, take it, but you are not touching this prisoner again.”
He looks to the Guards around him.
“If she makes a move towards it again, throw her in jail. She stays there ‘till she gets over it. I don't need a weak, whimpering mess of a pony under my command.”
“You jackass! I am not finished with you yet.”
He pauses, not looking back at the flap of wings as Starfall rises to her hooves.
“Oh? You want to say something else, or do you want to keep trying? Then bring it, prove that I should give a damn about what you say anymore, Starfall. Prove to me that your whole time with the Guard has not been some revenge kick you have been on and that you actually have the desire to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Let’s see how much destroying this bird means to you really.”
“I don't want that anymore.”
“Then what do you want? A nappy? Maybe a bottle of milk?”
“I just wanna kick the crap outta you!”
Jer'rahd smirks, turning and leveling the blade as Starfall charges again. She darts forward, whipping past a few of the shields he tosses up, swiping at him as he dodges back. He whips the blade about, catching it in his mouth in time to block a strike from a wing-held blade, his shield deflecting a kick and the second blade. He shoves her back, his magic taking his blade and arcing it at her. She knocks it aside, charging before he can bring it back, though Jer'rahd meets the charge with his own, his armor forming suddenly around him as she slams both blades against his head.
The wood shatters over the armor with Jer'rahd barely flinching from the blow. Starfall blinks a moment before the larger pony plows into her, flinging her back across the dirt to tumble to a stop at the base of Colonel Claymore's statue. Jer'rahd walks forward, shaking the wood splinters off his armor before letting it retreat back into the amulet he wore.
“That's three. You're done.”
“That was cheating.”
“I never said you could not use the armor. Besides, I had no intention of losing. I could care less about the griffon, but I will be damned if I am going to let you walk out on us, particularly in the state Princess Luna is in.”
“Great; if this is what you do, I am not looking forward to going back and hearing about what I did from her.”
“She won't say anything about it. She will just be glad to have another one of her friends back. The one you need to worry about is me. I understand the rage and why you gave chase, or I would, if you had not left both your Daughter and Princess Luna unguarded by your actions. I don't know if anything would have been any different or if you would have ended up like General Shower or like Rhede and Bleu. But since you ran off, we will never know, now will we?”
“What happened with them?”
“Find out for yourself. Get out of this damn garden, get cleaned up and checked out by a doctor and get back to work, Air Commander. That is an order.”
Starfall glances back at him, recognizing the anger in his face, though she also finally notes how tired he looked and that he was slowly deflating now that the adrenaline from the fight was leaving. She was about to say something, but the look he still gave was enough for her to trot off as fast as she could muster.
Jer'rahd looks back at the Guards, dismissing them to return to their clean-up duties. His gaze shifts around the small section of garden and the statues in it. Celestia had said this was a new wing, and that all of them were the first to be placed here. His gaze is drawn to a great stone monolith that was being built not far from the gardens edge. With all the new expansions going onto the magic of the gardens, that pedestal would allow somepony to look over the garden in its entirety. Or it would once Celestia completed it; that was uncertain now. He sighs, his gaze lingering on the statues in this area of the garden. Silver Claw, Wind Razor, Nocturne, Colonel Claymore, Scarlet, and Blood Tail the Zebra. Every one of them had found some way to either hurt him or hurt his friends or both.
“I do not know if any of you can even hear me locked in stone like this, but if you can, I will be sure to destroy every single one of you before I die for what you have done. Leaving you like this may be more of a punishment, but for the hurt you have caused I want you to be there waiting for me in the next life so I can kill you again.”
He turns, trotting off away from the grouping of statues, his head drooping as the weariness of the last few days fully starts to kick in. He needed a bed.
Velkorn sighs, watching Princess Luna leave Celestia's bed chamber. She had brought a crate of healing gems much like the ones Bleu had been smashing over Jer'rahd's head. Velkorn had tried one, breaking it against Celestia's horn with no noticeable effect. Whether this was due to the gem not being strong enough or a magical resistance the Princess had herself was imposable to tell. Blood still oozed from the sewn up wound and Celestia did not wake.
She yawns softly, sitting back to watch Celestia again. The Princess had not shown any other changes since the wound was closed up. Her breathing remained steady, but blood still oozed from the closed wound seemingly unable to heal and she did not wake from the slumber she was in.
Baelit had shown up earlier to see if she needed anything and brought her a bit of food. He had said he would return later with a meal for her and to check up. Velkorn planned to let him take the gemstones that Luna had given her. The Queen’s Cross here in Canterlot could put them to far better use on the injuries from the attack than she could on just the Princess.
She shifts, getting less comfortable in the seat intentionally as she tries to focus on meditation without falling asleep. She had nearly panicked when the information of Rhede and Bleu's location was finally confirmed. The pair were prisoners of the Diamond dog nation, accused of trespassing and unwarranted attacks. An exorbitant amount of gemstones had been demanded for their safe return, an amount that would likely clean out the coffers of the royal treasury and the unicorn mages’ collection for years.
Oddly, Princess Luna had accepted the offer and set a group of ponies to collect what was demanded. There was much protesting from the nobles, all of which was ignored by the Princess or met with forceful eviction from the room by Jer'rahd. While Velkorn was glad Rhede and Bleu would be returned safely, she did wonder why Luna was being so agreeable about the insane demand.
She had left Celestia's side only twice, once to let Luna speak with her sister alone, and once to check on the wounded generals. Three Bear was in fairly bad shape, though he had tended most of his own wounds. Mustang had sent him into an ambush that was supposed to kill him and his Ursa companions. It likely would have succeed if the father bear had not given his life to protect the mate and cub destroying the magical seal and the dragons forming the trap before he succumbed to his wounds. Three Bear would have returned sooner, but he stayed with the others to tend their wounds and help bury the massive form of the Ursa Major. He was unaware the trap was set for him by General Mustang until he returned and found out what had transpired.
General Shower was a different story. She was wounded badly to the point no one was sure if she would live. Even if she did survive, she would never be able to fly again. There was no magic or power that Velkorn knew of that could regrow her wings. When she was hurled out the window, she used her own fire ability to cauterize the wounds so she would not bleed out. Even then she met the attacks of several griffons that had come after her, killing all of them before she finally collapsed to be found by Baelit. It was possible that she could pull through with time, and if she had enough fight left in her. The arrival of her husband and children earlier today could help her recovery a great deal by giving her a reason to keep fighting. Jer'rahd had informed her husband about General Mustang. He had not taken it well. Jer'rahd managed to calm him down in time, though the unicorn looked nervous about dealing with his old Drill Sergeant.
The worst of it was Celestia herself. Velkorn turned her head looking over the stacks of books Saw Bones had brought her on alicorns; most of them were useless and none of them documented anything more than something called Lesser Alicorns. None had anything on dealing with wounded goddesses. It was if the condition had never happened before. But there was mention of an old mare's tale in one book that drew her attention.
The story went that in the time before Equestria, one of the hidden alicorn rulers of the world was injured in a battle with a great evil. Left for dead, she was found by the North Winds and restored to health in time to stop the evil from devouring the world. There was little more than that, though the descriptions given of the North Winds sounded quite like a race of creatures she had recently encountered.
It seemed she needed to travel back to the windego lands, and soon.
Jer'rahd wanted sleep. He wanted it badly enough to kill this damned serpent and be done with it. The problem was that he knew the beast and he knew why it was raging and flailing about. He also knew it took out at least six dragons and countless griffons on its own in a fit of rage when its partner died. He also knew that no matter how much she hated him Bleu would be pissed if the damn thing was killed.
At least by anyone other than her.
The giant purple serpent had reduced a small section of the city to rubble in its fight and subsequent depression. The few survivors of Celestia's school had failed to calm Seamore when Lily was killed in the attack. And there were not any around anymore to try now. The one uninjured survivor of the school pleaded with Jer'rahd not to kill Seamore, but the Guards were having no luck containing him. Anything that came anywhere near the body of Lily was a target for his anger. Quite a few Guards had already been injured as well as some civilians just trying to pass by to get to safety.
“Every pony stay back, I will deal with this.”
Jer'rahd storms off grumbling heading straight towards the coiled serpent and the body his giant form was circled around. He pauses briefly as the dragon raises his head and almost laughs at the ridiculous mustache the serpent wore. Something Bleu had said before to him tickled at the back of his mind. Might as well try it out.
Seamore growled as Jer'rahd approached, roaring out at the advancing unicorn. The pony stopped, glaring up at the serpent before his horn glowed brightly. The serpent snapped its mouth shut, eyes bugging out a bit as the massive mustache it wore was grabbed by Jer'rahd’s magic and the beast’s head was yanked down to the ground with a crash. Jer'rahd did not hesitate, hopping onto the dragons nose and staring it directly in the eye.
“Alright, listen you overgrown worm. I have not slept in three days and my tolerance is at an end. You stand the buck down or I will rip that fluffy caterpillar you are wearing off your face and beat you to death with it. You are not the only one who lost someone they care about. I just beat the crap out of a pegasus who lost her sister and she is one of my best friends. You are just another dragon to me. So now that we have cleared up what I think about your sorry hide, what is it going to be? Are you going to calm down and let ponies who know what they are doing tend to your fallen, or are you gonna be another notch on my scabbard?”
“Wha... but she, I couldn't do anything; they attacked too...”
“DID I BUCKING ASK FOR YOUR LIFE'S STORY?!! THIS WHOLE COUNTRY LOST PONIES IN THIS SHIT!! Bleu was right; you really are a stupid pompous ass. You shrink back down to whatever form you are supposed to be in right now or else I will bucking show you why I am called the Demon of Dullahan, are WE CLEAR, LIZARD?!”
Seamore's eyes remained wide, though he didn't respond aside from slowly shrinking in size until he was barely bigger than Jer'rahd. The Pony stepped off his muzzle, but kept a firm hold on the mustache, much to the whimpering of the Dragon.
“Please.... it’s the last thing she did for me...”
Jer'rahd releases the mustache, but he does not move otherwise.
“Good. I don't care what the buck you do now, though I would suggest you show up for your friend’s funeral, then leave. Dragons are not going to be well-liked around here for a long time. Celestia's school is not going to be any protection in the shape it’s in. These ponies were already worried about partnered dragons and one without a partner is not going to be well off. Plus, that law has yet to be repealed, and I doubt it will. Get everything in order, then get out of Canterlot before somepony who does not know any better tries to get revenge on you for the attack.”
He moves away, leaving the beast alone in the center of the carnage, ignoring its weeping as the Guards rush in towards the body and the dragonling.
“WE SAID WE DID NOT WISH TO BE.......... Starfall..... thank the stars you are all right.”
“I am sorry I have not been here Princess. I would also like to apologize for leaving when I did. I......”
Starfall's eyes widen as the Princess suddenly plows into her, hugging the smaller pegasus and crying into her mane. She winces a little as the Princess's forelegs hit some of her wounds, though she does not say anything about it. The pegasus had no idea what she could do or say anyway, so she simply stood there letting the Goddess cry on her shoulder. She lifts one wing, wrapping across Luna's back, stroking it softly as she would her daughter’s when she was upset.
“General!! General Kaisur!!”
“Goddess take me now to the next world.... WHAT NOW?”
His room at the castle was right in front of him, the door was open and the bed in sight, when the pegasus messenger flew up to him landing with a salute before he could even get a hoof across the doors threshold.
“I was told to bring you the reports you asked for sir.”
“The casualty list sir.”
He sighs, closing his eyes and briefly noting how he planned his own downfall with this one.
“Have they finally made an accurate count?”
“There are still some missing sir, likely still under the rubble or not in Canterlot at the moment, but this is the up to date count of the confirmed casualties. Names, rank, and everything else you normally request.”
Jer'rahd takes the scroll from the Pegasus, unrolling it with some of the last power he had left, and scans the list his eyes stopping on one part of the list of names.
“Thank you, return to your post..... Wait…”
“Where are the Pelt family right now?”
“ I am unsure of all their locations sir, but the main members of the family were reported to still be in the ballroom sir.”
“Thank you, dismissed.”
The pegasus takes off again as Jer'rahd closes the door heading back down the hallway towards the ballroom. He was no longer looking forward to Rhede coming back any time soon. He also had no more desire to sleep.
(Four days after the attack in the Diamond Dog Capitol of Crystal Tooth)
“So then, where do you think they are taking us now, Rhede?”
“I don't know where they have taken us the last few times Bleu, how would I know now?”
“What a master of information you are.”
“Shut up, both of you, ransom been paid and now I finally get you out of cells and go back to quiet.”
“Whats the matter, puppy? Not fond of my singing? I am offended.”
“Your singing fine lizard, pony singing makes ears bleed.”
“Everyone’s a critic.”
“Actually, Rhede, this is the first Diamond dog I have met that has any sort of taste.”
“Jer'rahd! Thank the goddess you're still alive. Where's Rhede?”
“He should be on his way home by now. He should be here in a few days of travel.”
“Figures he would bug out at a time like this....”
“He and Bleu were not given much a choice in the matter Maw. I am sure he would be here if he could.”
“So you know then? I guess that's why you're here and look like the walking dead. You should have gotten some sleep first. It’s not healthy to be tired.....”
Jer'rahd frowns looking down at Maw and the nearly two dozen covered bodies surrounding her. The area was dotted with other members of the Pelt family either weeping openly or standing in mute silence. His attention, however, was drawn back to Maw. She looked old, as if her years had finally caught up with her. She still wore the tattered remains of her Gala dress and she looked like she had not slept either. Wolf trotted up, setting a plate of food near Maw before heading off. There was a small pile of untouched food stacked nearby.
“He said he would be right back, took his brothers, a couple of cousins and Lion and Mink outside to help the Guards outside the shelter. He never came back …... It's funny, I always thought Paw would leave me for some young thing.... I didn't expect this, Jer'rahd.....”
“None of us did Maw. None of us did.”
He sits down next to her and Maw leans against him starting to cry again.
[“You want me to do WHAT Auntie?"]
[" I want you to take care of Princess Celestia while I am away. I might have found something that could be a way to help heal her, but I am not sure until I go myself. I should be gone a few days at most.”]
“[What makes you think Princess Luna will even let me? She seemed ready to murder me just for being anywhere near the room to bring you food. Who's going to run the Queen's Cross if I am here? I am not cut out for dealing with royalty...]”
“[Luna will see reason. Besides, she has her own goal she needs to accomplish soon. I have heard her speak with her sister. She is planning something big. Luna is not the type to sit by and let things happen. And neither am I, nephew."]
“[How about you stay here and I go get what you need?]”
“[No, I doubt they will be as receptive to you as they will be to me. Besides, think of how much more respected the Queen's Cross will be when you have been known to treat royalty?]”
“[I am not comfortable with this.]”
“[And I am not comfortable with you still calling me auntie, but I have learned to deal with it as you will deal with this.]”
“Do you feel better now Princess?”
“Yes... thank you Starfall. Please do not tell anyone I broke down like that, particularly General Kaisur.....”
“I won't, Princess. I doubt he wishes to hear from me anytime soon any way.... I am sorry I took off like that..... I really didn't ….”
“Do not worry about it Starfall. I am not sure there would have been anything you could have done if you stayed. Even Jer'rahd, Rhede, and Bleu fared poorly. I do not even wish to think about what happened to Meteor Shower. I have been told she will live, however, so there is that. Have you been to see your daughter?”
“Yes Princess. She found out about my sister and took it far better than I did.”
“Is she still with Rhede's brothers and that noble pony?”
“Cyan Sparkle? Yes, seems Jer'rahd ordered him to protect her and he has been doing just that. He has not told the poor colt otherwise.”
“He does have that effect on ponies. He does not even need the Royal Canterlot voice to get them to do what he wants.”
“He has his ways to get what he wants or thinks needs to be done, done. A little too harsh sometimes, though.”
“And yet here you are Starfall, without an attempt yet to retire.”
“I did not say it was not effective. I just said it was harsh.”
“It may have been what was needed. That is his decision however. I may have had a few choice words to say to you as well, but it seems he beat me to most of them. That and I do not think I could be mad at any of you for long regardless. Well, perhaps Rhede, but I think he tries to make me mad.”
“No, I think that is just how he is. It’s not intentional. Like how Bleu cannot really be serious for long.”
“Bleu has to try to keep that attitude though. It is a thick shield to mask the grief she has and sees in the world around her.”
“Rhede likely has to do the same thing Princess. I have seen him when he does not have that mask up. It is rather clear he is related to Jer'rahd at those times, even if not by blood.”
“I do not see why, but I suppose he has his reasons. So what are you going to do now’ Starfall?”
“I am going to kick his ass...”
“Nothing Princess. I will not be going anywhere for a while. You all still need me, it seems.”
“I will not force you to stay, and Jer'rahd cannot do that either.”
“He had too many good points. This war has just started, and if I can be of use where others do not have to die then I have a purpose here. Besides, there are supposed to be six Elements of Harmony, not five.”
Princess Luna smiles, slowly rising back up to her hooves, lifting a foreleg to wipe her eyes.
“Good; I am glad you will be staying, and not just because I do have a use for you. You are one of the few who can keep the others in line. Every group needs someone with a good dose of sense.”
“Even if it does lapse at times...”
“Every pony's judgment can lapse, even mine and my sister’s. Go find your daughter and send Jer'rahd to see me if you can find him. I cannot do much more until Rhede and Bleu are back. But I have things I still need to speak with him about.”
“Of course’ Princess. You should get some sleep, though; you do not seem to have slept well, or at all.”
“ I have not, but I have no time to. There is much left to be done.”
“Are you sure about this, Rhede?”
“Yes, now circle back around one more time. I want them to think we are hanging around just to make sure the delegates are clear.”
“The wagon is clear already.”
“Its fine; go, I have all I need.”
The large blue dragon banks in the air, flying away from the Diamond dog capitol. The strange city was half above ground and half in the caverns below it. The whole place looked like it had once been a mountain that had been dug out and down to the point where it was a city. An impressive feat of construction to be sure, though not comparable to the works of ponies.
Rhede and Bleu had been brought out to meet the wagon train coming in with their ransom. The ambassadors accompanying it were decidedly not happy to see either of them, though Rhede snubbed them before they could say anything to either of them. He suggested to Bleu that she should stretch her wings and come along for the ride when she took off. They had been circling the city for nearly an hour before the delegates and the caravan guards left the Diamond dog city limits.
“Alright Rhede, level with me. Why the heck am I flying around up here? It better not be ‘cause one of those ponies is an old mare friend.”
“No, it’s because I want the lay of the land and any weak points I can spot from the air.”
“What? Planing an invasion?”
“No, but Princess Luna is.”
“We have barely been held for a week and the first ridiculous random that is asked for is immediately agreed upon. Luna wanted us out of there before she attacked so we would not be harmed.”
“That why you were watching everything all over the place the whole time?”
“Yes. The dogs rely too much on the fact their city is mostly underground for protection. That sort of thing means nothing when they have no other real defenses. The dogs have never been assaulted in their city directly before, because it looks like an impenetrable fortress and is so far away from anything of any importance to any other race. As their population grows, their defenses have weakened as towers and walls are made into homes. I could have kicked though the wall and freed myself in that jail cell. I likely would have wound up in some Diamond dog’s living room if I did, though.”
“So what now?”
“For now, we fly home as fast as we can. I want to know what we missed. At least we know Princess Luna is still alive. No one else would have met that ransom. No one else could have.”
“What about Princess Celestia? She could have.”
“She would have talked them down considerably. Celestia was good at that sort of thing.”
Bleu and Rhede both went silent at the slight implication that Celestia might no longer be alive before the dragon spoke again.
“Right, so we follow the road back to Camp Geode, then over the mountain towards Equestria.”
“Yes. The sooner we get back the better.”
“That's why you are not navigating this time.”
“You wished to see me Princess?”
“Yes General... has anypony told you that you look horrible right now?”
“No offense Princess, but you are not looking in top form yourself today.”
“I thought everypony was supposed to ignore that and just say I look beautiful no matter what.”
“I do not disagree you look beautiful. I just said you do not look in top form, I know what you have done to get into the state you are in. That actually adds to how you look in my opinion, Princess.”
Luna flushes a bit at the compliment, though for a moment Jer'rahd does not even seem to realize what he said. He was in mid yawn when his eyes widened and he turned red himself his brain catching up to his mouth.
“Err, ummm, my apologizes Princess I didn't mean, I mean I did mean but I didn’t mean to say, I am sorry I … I should probably head out and check on the Guards...”
“General, stop. I have information for you and information I want from you.”
He swallows, halfway turned, about to run, and still flushed.
“What is it you wish to know Princess?”
“Let me inform you of what I have first. Both Rhede and Bleu are on their way back. Bleu sent me a letter a few hours ago saying they were going to fly back. She also sent me a rather detailed layout of the Diamond Dog capital as viewed from the air.”
“That sounds like Rhede's work.”
“I am sure, but it is useful as well. Secondly, I will need you to actually sleep at some point. Once Rhede and Bleu return, we shall be embarking on a mission ourselves. I am going to leave Rhede in charge while I am away.”
“I think you really do need sleep Princess. That is a rather dumb idea.”
She snorts, somewhat annoyed at how hard it seemed to be for Jer'rahd to not speak whatever he was thinking when tired. She continues, trying to ignore him.
“Regardless, he has the training to do so. Starfall will remain as well to keep him out of any sort of trouble. We should only be gone for a few days at worst.”
“What is it we will be doing then Princess?”
“I shall fill you in on that once we are underway. Now then, Velkorn is also leaving for a few days. I am not comfortable with this at all, but she seems sure her nephew Baelit can watch over my sister while she is away. She thinks the Windigo might be able to teach her something about alicorns, as they have been around longer than my sister and I. It is a calculated risk I suppose; she does not wish to call them as they might only have what could help where they are. She has asked if Bleu could accompany her.”
“I do not see why Bleu would not do so. What is it you wished to know from me then Princess?”
“I have been getting reports and they have all been tampered with. I believe the hooves of the nobles are at work here attempting to lessen the damage reports coming to me.”
“Why would they do that? It does not make any sense.”
“I rather lost my temper in the last meeting and informed them of my intentions. They are trying to make this attack seem far less than it was. Even the papers are reporting things that I can see from here are wrong. I want an honest report, Jer'rahd.”
“ As you wish. New Dullahan was over run after being partially abandoned on order of Mustang. That area is now considered lost, though the forces there are light. The attackers that fled from here are currently regrouping there. Three Bear’s division and at least fifty percent of our remaining forces are currently in Manehattan pending a return here in light of what has happened. Mustang ordered them to the city to help rebuild and guard it. The Canterlot Guard base is gone, as is much of the market district. Most of the lower class district is still burning. The Guard housing has also been destroyed as well. Nearly all of the food stores have been destroyed as well as the main weapon caches of the Guard. The weapons and the food seemed to have been the first targets. Aside from what is in the larders now, there is nothing left of our early harvest here. Celestia's school for gifted unicorns is also gone. Of the students, all but one of the dragonlings and two of the students are dead. The sole remaining dragonling has fled into the Everfree forest as well. One of the two surviving unicorns is in bad shape as well and may not make it. The Royal Guard is down to below half their former number, as are any other branches here with the exception of the 42nd. The 42nd barely lost a tenth of their number in this battle; they also kept much of the damage away from the palace itself. However, the standing civilian population of Canterlot has been reduced to more than two thirds of what it was. This does not count the ponies who were here for the Gala. Very few of them were lost as they all made it into a shelter before the attack fully began. The exception to this was twenty three members of the Pelt family who gave up their lives to fight off a group that attacked the shelter. Our sister Mink, brother Lion and Paw were among the fallen. Maw is taking it rather badly. I have no doubt Rhede will not take it well either.”
“I am sorry to hear about your family’s loss Jer'rahd. I agree that Rhede will not take it well. I will wait until they return before informing him. If this were any other time, I would allow a period of grievance for you both, but we no longer have the time. I dislike to pull good news out of what you have given me, but with so few ponies left the food should not be a problem for a time. What of the surrounding area? Ponyville?”
“Nothing at all. It seems the full force of the attack was directed here. They wished to cut off the head of the serpent as it were. And do not worry about time off Princess; I do not wish to mourn. I wish to complete the attack I set out to do.”
“They almost succeeded in this attack, Jer'rahd. This has been closer to home than any other attack save the one by Forge Scale himself a hundred years ago. Bleu and Rhede should be back tomorrow and the day after they return is when we shall depart.”
“They you had best get some sleep Princess.”
“You should as well. There is a couch in my study you can use. I doubt you would sleep if I let you try to make it home on your own.”
“ I have been staying in the palace in my on duty room. The officer’s quarters I was given was destroyed as well. My room here in the castle is still intact, and luckily, I managed to save what was important. Bleu's collection of Platinum memorabilia, The Waning Moon's case, the tank armor, and my photo. Everything else was destroyed... including all those medals, I’m afraid. As well as all my dress uniforms. Pity that.”
“I thought you were still wearing the same one from the dance. I am surprised I could not smell you when you walk in.”
“It's all the dust. I am practically coated in ash and soot. You may need a new couch if I sleep on it.”
“It is an ugly color anyway. Get some sleep, General, and do not worry about your uniforms. You would need new ones anyway.”
She watched him walk off rather curious about something.
“How are you holding up with all this?”
“I am tired Princess. And angry. The latter has no outlet right now so tired is all I have.”
“How are you holding up so well? Some of your family has been killed and your friends are missing. I have not even been able to maintain myself as well as you seem to be doing.”
“Your sister is all you have had for a long time. That is understandable, Princess.”
“That does not answer my question, Jer'rahd.”
“We are surrounded by death and destruction and sorrow. Every pony is suffering. Someone has to be there and be unfazed by anything. Some pony has to be detached enough from what is happening to get things done without giving in to the anguish. Someone needs to be the rock that all others can build themselves back up from. I can handle whatever is given to me because I need to do so. Just as you need to be the rock for Equestria, I need to do so for my family and friends as well as anyone else who needs it. Something in this world needs to be stable enough that others can rally around it to rebuild. Get some sleep Princess. We can talk again afterwards if you wish.”
He continues into her study, closing the door lightly behind him. Luna waits a moment until the sound of a body hitting the couch is heard before turning to her own chambers and stepping inside, a small smile on her face.
“Thank you Jer'rahd. I may need you to be my rock as well.”
“What is the dragon’s coloration?”
“Blue General; however, its coloration shifts to metallic, as if it’s donning armor, every so often. There also appears to be a red pony on its back. It has maintained its distance for about half an hour now.”
“It seems the two we have been waiting for have arrived.”
Jer'rahd's horn glows, three massive green shields forming over his head vaguely shaped like an arrow pointing towards the courtyard he was in. The dragon breathes a crackle of lightning in response and wings towards the arrow. Jer'rahd climbs down off the parapet, dropping the shields as Bleu swings over the courtyard, landing hard and dropping back to the dragonling-sized form, clearly exhausted.
“‘Sup boss? We’re back. Miss us?”
“I did, but there is no time for pleasantries, so I will make this quick. The dragon was beaten and sealed in stone by Celestia. She is currently alive, but injured and not able to perform her duties. Princess Luna has taken over all necessary functions of Canterlot. Velkorn is staying with Celestia for treatment. Starfall and I are on a rotating shift to keep Guard and council with Princess Luna. Once you have recovered enough, Bleu, you will be doing the same. Rhede... damn... I cannot even say it... read this and head to the ball room. I can only give you two days. After that, we have to move on with the plans.”
He floats the casualty list over to Rhede, who scans it, his somewhat cheerful expression dropping instantly at the names.
“Where is she?”
“The main ballroom. It is still being used as a medical wing. I have spent what time I can with her, but she has been asking for you. YOU TWO, GET DOWN HERE!”
Two pegasus fly down from the wall and salute.
“Guide this pony to the medical wing in the ball room now. If any pony other than Princess Luna or one he says is okay tries to stall, delay, or stop his progress, you remove them with whatever force is necessary. You follow his orders like they were mine.”
“Things are a mess, Rhede, but this comes first.”
Rhede gallops off with the two escorts, taking to the air to follow along with him. Bleu picks up the list Rhede dropped and frowns, slowly climbing up onto Jer'rahd’s back.
“I did not expect it to be this bad boss. Hate to ask, but I don't see any of the band's names on here....”
“They are fine; Luna will have an interesting story to tell about them as well. Suffice to say I think Celestia will want to keep them around as well whenever she wakes.”
“Well that’s good at least... Is that Starfall up there?”
“Hmmm? Damn it she's headed back to the garden... wait, with Cloud Dancer? What is she doing? Never mind, I need to speak with her anyway. Luna better have dismissed her to do something or else.”
“Did I miss something else?”
“I beat the snot out of a miserable little mare a few days ago, she better not be returning.”
“I think a story time is in order boss. Fill me in on what happened as we walk ‘cause I sure ain't flying after her.”
Starfall tilts her wings’ figuring this was the best time to fly back to the garden. With Rhede and Bleu's arrival, Jer'rahd would be distracted enough that she could get something done she still needed to do. She glances back to Cloud Dancer as her daughter barely seemed to put forth much effort to keep up with her. She was growing up fast; she could not even be considered a foal anymore and in a few years she could legally make her own decisions of what she wanted to do with her life... which brought Jer'rahd's speech before back into her mind. She winced a bit, braking in the air, her wings not fully healed yet from the swords that pierced them, but she wanted to fly with her daughter a moment as they approached the garden.
Cyan Sparkle was not quite thrilled when they both took off. He was also unwilling to follow Starfall’s order to stand down his protection of Cloud Dancer until General Kaisur gave him the order. He was unable to keep up with the pegasi in flight, however, and although Cloud Dancer seemed to feel bad for leaving him, she followed her mother as she was asked.
“I hear you spoke with General Kaisur?”
Cloud dancer’s flight falters a bit though she rights herself quickly.
“I did mom.... I didn't really want to; he kinda scares me, though he has this way about him that he gets what he wants out of ponies. Though he really seemed to just want to find you and see how I was doing.”
“That he does. He said you expressed an interest in joining the Guard?”
“Why? What brought this on? I thought you were going to go to school and try to follow your aunt in weather control?”
“ I was, but I changed my mind.....”
Starfall glides in to land at the Gardens entrance looking back as Cloud Dancer lands.
“What brought that on? The fight in the ballroom?”
“Yeah... I was too scared to do anything but cower and watch with the band. Even Cyan was terrified, but he stayed between me and the dragon as if it would do any good. I could see him shaking, yet he didn't back down. I watched the attack and saw what every pony was willing to do to protect each other. The bass player was even more scared than me, but when the dragon was going to kill Princess Luna he did not even hesitate to try and attack the dragon to save the Princess. He just sucked up his fear and did what he thought needed to be done. Everyone did and all I could do was watch. Even after they were sent away, when the General came back, he looked like he was being burned alive.... goddess I remember his scream still, but he came back to try and protect everyone he cared about.”
She swallows as they both pause. Starfall hesitates as it seems Cloud Dancer was trying to build up the nerve to say something else.
“I wanted to be brave, I wanted to try and help, but I couldn't do anything. Even the weakest pony I had ever seen tried to help and I couldn't do anything. I don't want to ever have to go through that again... I figured if the Guard training produced a pony like General Kaisur and the bravest pony I know went though it to be the hero she is now… maybe at least it could help me not be so scared if something bad happens...”
Starfall felt herself tearing up, but she also felt a wash of shame, feeling more effects of what Jer'rahd said now that her daughter was telling her. The realization of her near abandonment of everyone to chase the griffon finally sunk in and it was a bit of a struggle to keep walking. Cloud Dancer seemed too wrapped up in her own thoughts to notice until they made it to the section of the garden with the griffon and the others.
Everything had been left just as it was, the pile of chipped stone and even the splinters of wood that had been her sparing blades.
“Is this.... is this the griffon that killed them?”
“Yes. She was also the one who killed your grandparents and your daddy...”
“Why? Why would she do that?”
“I don't know. All I know is she had some compulsion to complete sets of the ponies she had killed with as much of their direct family as she could. From what information I could get, she seemed to fixate on one member of the family to save for last. I was doing what I could to make sure her only focus was on me.”
“That’s why you had me using auntie’s last name?”
“Yes. It didn't work though; she knew about you.”
Cloud Dancer did not seem to be listening as she was looking up at the griffon. Her wings were shaking a little bit as she regarded the damage to the statue.
“What's with all this damage to her?
“When she was frozen in stone she was still wearing the tails of those she killed. I did my best to remove them for proper burial. I tried not to be gentle.”
Starfall's ears perk up, hearing a voice. Her gaze shifts around the clearing to note the heads of a little blue dragonling and a white unicorn colt poking around the edge of a hedge. Bleu smiles, waving to Starfall before a green glow wraps around both of them yanking the pair back out of sight. It figures he would notice and follow her here. She had no plans to do anything else to the statue any... A loud crack of stone breaks that chain of thought and her head whips back around to her daughter.
Cloud Dancer had evidently decided on something as tears ran down the sides of her face. The griffons tail had been snapped off and dropped to the ground in front of the griffons gaze and repeatedly stomped by the filly until it was little more than rock chips and dust. Starfall watched in shock as her little girl glared up at the statue.
“Now you know how that feels...”
She turns trying to fight back the tears as she walks away. Starfall approaches gathering up the parts she had broken off herself looking up at the statue then back at her daughter.
“If I ever meet you as flesh and blood again, I will kill you and I will make it hurt.”
She dumps the stone chips and bits into a saddle bag moving to catch up with her daughter. She pauses looking over at the bush she knew the three were behind.
“You have something you need General?”
“Yes. Report to princess Luna when able; she wants all of us present for the next royal court she is going to hold in two days.”
“Got it.... and tell that friend of yours to stand down. I'm getting nervous as much as he is hanging around my daughter.”
The sound of a choking cough from the mentioned pony and the laughter of Bleu was easily heard.
“Noted. You may wish to hurry; Cloud Dancer is leaving without you.”
Starfall nods and takes off after her daughter.
The trip back out of the garden was much longer for Jer'rahd than it was for Starfall. Not simply due to the fact the pegasus flew, but because Sparkle was in full-on fan colt mode and asking a million questions a second. Evidently, after he had rescued the colt in Manehattan, he had been following everything he could on Jer'rahd like he was some sort of super hero. This barely registered at first as they were walking back though the city, but the droning of the colt was enough to finally put Bleu to sleep on his back. He did not want to snap at Sparkle, but at the same time the colt was wearing on already-frazzled nerves.
“...I mean you've done things most ponies never even dreamed about, you saved countless lives, you’re a hero to nearly everyone whether they admit it or not...”
And the urge not to snap at the colt vanished like a gemstone around Bleu.
“What did you call me?”
Sparkle's survival instincts were good enough that he realized something had changed, but at the same time his brain pressed him on past them.
Jer'rahd visibly twitches enough for Bleu to actually wake up.
“Who what where why... sometimes how...? Oh crap. Boss, you OK?”
Jer'rahd ignores her, whirling on the colt.
“Cut the hero crap. I am in no way any sort of damn hero. I do what I have to do. There was a task to perform and I did it. I am a soldier, colt, not a hero. I go out, I do my job, I come back, just like every single pony who is currently in the Guard. The only difference between me and the other Guards is I was put in situations that brought me to the attention of the media and my superiors. There are thousands of tales of ponies who have done things that make my piddle crap look like a story about some pony crossing a room. Countless ponies have fallen in the line of duty, fighting for what they believe in. The main difference between me and them is that I have yet to give my life for what I believe and have it stick. You want heroes? The Royal Graveyard is that way. I am just a guard, colt, so stop calling me a hero. And don't try to imitate what you read about me. You are likely to get yourself and others killed.”
“I... I am sorry sir...”
“Don't be sorry, do something. This whole city is a disaster area; go out and help somepony instead of following me around like a lost dog. Cloud Dancer will be fine.”
Cyan Sparkle blinks, confused a second before clearly thinking of something and darting off. Jer'rahd watches him leave a moment before turning back to head again to the castle.
“A little harsh there, boss.”
“I have had a bad week. The colt needs to realize I am no sort of role model.”
“The fact you keep denying that you are a hero just makes you seem more like one you know.”
“You got married… again?? Without me... Again?!?!”
“Calm down Bleu. Janis and I never legally divorced... So we didn't have to get married a second time.”
“Doesn't matter; I still missed it the first time so I am angry about that now. What the heck happened anyway?”
“Tiger here grew a pair.”
“Hah hah, shut up Ray.”
Bleu had tracked down the members of Platinum Swan, who, with the exception of Tigerlily, were all unharmed, and even he only had a couple of cracked ribs where the dragon had hit him. The group had piled into the last surviving bar in town and shockingly, it was the one owned by Starcloud. Recognizing Bleu, he ran a few of the more drunk patrons out to give the group a table.
“So anyway, Bleu, what’s the verdict?”
“On the band. Did the Princess like us enough to keep us around?”
“Hard to tell, since she hasn't woken up yet... Luna liked you all, though, so it’s a safe bet you guys are in, but it will be a while before you are gonna perform anything.”
“That’s fine. There's too much turmoil about anyway. I need to get a replacement for the Lady Macbeth anyway. That could take a bit.”
“I wouldn't worry, Tiger. You can play any base well enough; you don't need a special one.”
“Not to butt in, but what happened to Proudmore?”
The group looks over at Pip, who was on his eighth or ninth glass of something and blinks, somewhat surprised at the question.
“What? I don't want him showing up to screw with us again.”
“No worries on that Pip. A dragon ate him.”
“You sound upset about that Bleu.”
“I am, Crystal.”
“Why? I was sure you hated him.”
“I did. What upsets me is that I wasn't the dragon that ate him.”
The unicorn slams his hooves down on the desk between him and Jer'rahd. For the first time in a long time that did not involve water, Jer'rahd actually felt rather panicked. Not due to any threat the pony was giving but by who he was. Stone Hooves had not seemingly changed in the slightest since he was Jer'rahd's drill sergeant. It also did not help that he was in full Drill instructor mode right now, including the still-nicked hat.
“WHAT THE BUCK DO YOU MEAN YOU ARE NOT TRANSFERRING ME? I WANT FRONT LINE DUTY KAISUR I WANT TO BE THERE WHEN THE WALLS OF THAT CITY FALL AND WE RUSH IN AND CRUSH THE DAMN DRAGONS FOR WHAT THEY DID. I AM NOT GOING TO BE DENIED THAT BY SOME BUREAUCRATIC BULLSHIT!”
“I say again Sergeant: no, I will not transfer you from the training group.”
“WHAT THE BUCK?! I COULD DO SO MUCH BETTER OUT ON THE FIELD THAN HALF THESE IDIOTS RUNNING AROUND!”
“Sergeant, if they are idiots, it’s because that is how you trained them to be.”
Stone Hooves steps back from the desk, clearly even more pissed off and ready to keep yelling, until Jer'rahd's magic yanks his hat from his head. The unicorn’s eyes go wide until Jer'rahd speaks again.
“You claim you could do much better than those who are fighting. I can understand that and at the same time I think it might be true in some regards.”
He spins the hat around in the air leveling the side with the nick towards Stone Hooves.
“Or it would be believable if not for this hat you still wear. You could have had this mended, but you did not. Why?”
“...That’s the first time someone actually managed to hit the hat. I left it there for the new worms to have a little hope at the start. Adds more to their drive....”
“So you offer hope to them before you break them down. Has it worked?”
“I have not had any more suicide attempts in my group, though I still have quitters. I can still be of more use...”
“Sergeant!! Allow me to point something out to you. Four of the ponies you have trained have managed to achieve things no other pony thought possible, three of those are from the same training class and one you actually married. She is going through a hard enough time having her wings removed and a forced retirement from her rank for her to be worried that her husband is going off to fight and maybe die without her. I am not keeping you here to train for that reason though.”
“Your training has produced some of the toughest fighters and most feared individuals that have ever trotted Equestria. Eighty percent of the 42nd is full of ponies you trained personally. You are not going anywhere because I need more guards trained and I want more ponies like that in my guard. Do you understand me? I am clearing you to train the other trainers in making more ponies like those in the 42nd . I want to see you produce someone better than Silver Tail, better than Pelt, better than me. You are not going to be able to do that if you are on the front lines. You want revenge then you make sure that every pony you train can take down a dragon or a griffon or anything else that gets thrown at them, because if every pony that graduates from basic kills even one then they have already taken out more than you could possibly do on your own, Sergeant. You are going to go back to work and you are going to give me soldiers. Do you understand me?”
“Will there be anything else, sergeant?”
“Good. I have only one other thing to say to you. In the next few years, you will likely have another Silver Tail, and a pair of Pelts as well as white unicorn named Sparkle. I want you to give them the special friend treatment.”
“The colt has potential, and if you cannot run the filly off then she could be greater than her mother.”
“And the Pelts, sir?”
“They are family.”
One week after the attack on Canterlot, the Royal Court was gathered. A collection of surviving nobles and ponies of importance, as well as a force of military personnel from both the Royal Guard and the 42nd were present. Many civilians were allowed to sit in this ceremony as well, regardless of importance.
The five Elements of Harmony stood by the pair of thrones representing the Sun and Moon, with only the throne of the moon occupied by Princess Luna. Several of the higher-ranking nobles stood near the two thrones, but away from Luna and the Element bearers as if they expected any of them to snap at any moment in front of this massive crowd.
Several reports were given to the princess and all those in attendance by the nobles. Most were facts on what had gone on. Every time a particular bit of information was false, however, Princess Luna stopped the one reading it directly and had one of the Elements continue with the proper information before the noble was allowed to continue with the assessment.
Bleu and Velkorn both looked nervous, not liking the scrutiny they were being put under by those in the audience and the nobles around the thrones. Rhede did not really seem to care; he had spent all the time he could with Maw and the rest of the Pelts helping to prepare the bodies of the fallen for the trip back to Ponyville for burial in the family plot. Only Starfall and Jer'rahd seemed unfazed, though Starfall kept glancing over at Jer'rahd as if she was expecting him to say something to her.
When the nobles finished, Princess Luna rose to her hooves, prompting the ponies gathered to bow until she gestured for them to lift their heads.
“CITIZENSOF EQUESTRIA, ATTENDING MEMBERS OF THE GUARD. INA LONG SERIES OF VERY FIERCE BATTLES, NOW ON THIS FRONT, NOW ON THAT, AND NOW EVEN ON OUR HOME FRONT, FIGHTING ON SEVERAL FRONTS AT ONCE WITH JUST US AGAINST EQUAL OR LARGER ATTACKING FORCES, AND FOUGHT VERY FIERCELY ON OLD GROUND THAT SO MANY OF US KNEW SO WELL, OUR LOSSES ARE STAGGERING: THOUSANDS OF PONIES KILLED, WOUNDED OR SIMPLY MISSING. WE TAKE THIS MOMENT TO EXPRESS SYMPATHY OF THE ROYAL FAMILY FOR THOSE WHO HAVE SUFFERED BEREAVEMENT OR ARE STILL ANXIOUS TO HEAR ANY NEWS OF LOVED ONES.
MY SISTER PRINCESS CELESTIA IS NOT ABLE TO JOIN US TODAY. SHE IS ONE OF THOSE WOUNDED BY THIS LATEST ATTACK. MANY HERE HAVE FELT PRIVATE AFFLICTION OF THE SHARPEST FORM, BUT I WOULD NOT SAY THAT ABOUT THE MISSING; WE HAVE HAD A LARGE NUMBER OF PONIES FOUND ALIVE, IF INJURED, IN THE RUBBLE OF THE CITY. THERE MAY BE MORE AS OF YET UNFOUND IN SHELTERED AREAS NOT YET ACCESSIBLE. HOPE IS NEVER WASTED.
IN THE CONFUSION OF THIS ATTACK, IT IS INEVITABLE THAT MANY SHOULD GO MISSING. AGAINST THIS LOSS, WE MAY SET THE FAR HEAVIER LOSS CERTAINLY INFLICTED ON THE ENEMY. BUT OUR LOSSES ARE ENORMOUS IN TERMS OF MATERIAL. WEAPON STORES, FOOD STORES, DEFENSIVE ENCAMPMENTS, HOUSING, WE HAVE THE PONIES BUT NOT THE NECESSITIES THEY NEED.
THESE LOSSES WILL IMPOSE A DELAY ON OUR RETALIATION FOR THIS GRIEVOUS ACT. THE BEST OF WHAT WE HAD TO GIVE WAS PRESENTED TO THE GUARD FIGHTING AT DULLAHAN, AND ALTHOUGH NOT ALL BENEFITED FROM THE VERY BEST THEY WERE THE FINEST-EQUIPPED TROOPS THAT THERE COULD BE. THAT IS NEARLY ALL GONE NOW.
HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE TO RESUPPLY FOR THIS ATTACK DEPENDS UPON THE EXERTIONS WHICH WE MAKE IN THIS LAND, AND EFFORT THE LIKES OF WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN SEEN BEFORE IS NOW BEING MADE. WORK ON NEEDED MATERIALS WILL PROCEED NIGHT AND DAY, SUNDAYS AND WEEKDAYS. ALL PRIVATE BUSINESS AND THOUGHTS OF PROFIT ARE TO BE SET ASIDE TO PUT EVERYTHING IN COMMON STOCK. EVEN THE SMALL SHIFTS THAT HAVE BEEN MADE IN THE WEEK SINCE THE ATTACK HAVE LEPT US FORWARD. THERE IS NO REASON WHY, IN A FEW MONTHS, EQUESTRIA SHOULD NOT REBUILD AND REARM PAST WHAT WE HAVE LOST IN TERMS OF MATERIAL ITEMS.
NEVERTHELESS, OUR THANKFULNESS AT THE SURVIVAL OF SO MANY PONIES AND THE THANKFULNESS OF THEIR LOVED ONES WHO PASSED THROUGH AN AGONIZING TIME MUST NOT BLIND US TO FACE THAT WHAT HAPPENED HERE WAS A DISASTER.
THE GUARD HAS BEEN WEAKENED, THE WALLS OF EQUESTRIA UPON WHICH SO MUCH FAITH WAS REPOSED ARE GONE, AND MANY OF OUR SUPPLIES ARE LIKELY BEING REPURPOSED BY THE ENEMY FORCES TO BE USED AGAINST US.
ALL OF THE DARKLANDS ARE IN THEIR POSSESSION WITH ALL THE STRANGENESS AND POWERS THAT COME FROM IT, AND WE MUST EXPECT ANOTHER BLOW TO STRIKE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY AT US OR OUR LANDS.
WE WERE TOLD AT THE START THAT THERE WERE PLANS FOR ATTACKING CANTERLOT. THIS HAS OFTEN BEEN THOUGHT OF AND ATTEMPTED BEFORE, ONLY TO MEET WITH FAILURE. THE WHOLE QUESTION OF DEFENSE AGAINST ANOTHER INVASION HAS BEEN AFFECTED THAT WE HAVE, EVEN WITH LOSSES, A GREATER FORCE THAN HAS EVER BEEN ASSEMBLED IN EQUESTRIA. BUT THIS WILL NOT CONTINUE. WE SHALL NOT BE CONTENT WITH A DEFENSIVE WAR. WE HAVE A DUTY TO OUR SUBJECTS.
WE HAVE TO RECONSTITUTE AND BUILD UP THE GUARD, PLACING IT ONCE AGAIN UNDER COMMAND OF A FIVE-STAR GENERAL. THIS NEW COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF SHALL BE GENERAL JER'RAHD KAISUR WHOM MANY OF YOU KNOW WELL. AS HIS SECOND, I AM PLACING STARFALL SILVER TAIL AS FOUR-STAR GENERAL AND GRANTING HER THE POSITION OF HEAD OF THE EQUESTRIAN AIR FORCE IN THE RETIREMENT OF GENERAL SHOWER.”
Luna pauses a moment at the surge of cheering that erupted from the 42nd in attendance and was rapidly joined by the Royal Guard in attendance as well. Jer'rahd looked unfazed, Starfall looked flustered.
“BUT NOW I FEEL WE MUST PUT THE DEFENSE OF EQUESTRIA INTO SUCH A HIGH STATE OF ORGANIZATION THAT THE FEWEST POSSIBLE NUMBERS WILL BE REQUIRED TO GIVE EFFECTUAL SECURITY AND THAT THE LARGEST POSSIBLE POTENTIAL OFFENSIVE EFFORT MIGHT BE RELEASED.
ON THIS WE ARE NOW ENGAGED. IT WOULD BE VERY CONVENIENT TO ENTER IN TO THIS WITH SECRET MEETINGS AND GATHERINGS, BUT AS THE ENEMY HAS SHOWN, THEY ARE JUST AS ABLE TO SPY ON US AS WE ARE THEM. IN LIGHT OF THIS, I SHALL BE PROMOTING AMBASSADOR RHEDERIC PELT TO THEPOSITION OF THREE-STAR GENERAL AND PLACING HIM IN CHARGE OF ANY NEGOTIATIONS AND INFORMATION THAT ARE NEEDED.”
Rhede blinks in surprise though a series of shouts and cheers sound from the back what could only be assumed to be Wolf and Fox. The two were abruptly silenced by a very audible growl that could only have come from Maw pelt before standard applause started at the promotion.
“WE MAY FIND IT NECESSARY SOON TO TAKE MEASURES OF INCREASING STRINGENCY, NOT ONLY AGAINST ENEMY ALIENS AND SUSPICIOUS CHARACTERS OF OTHER NATIONALITIES, BUT ALSO AGAINST EQUESTRIAN SUBJECTS WHO MAY BECOME A DANGER OR A NUISANCE SHOULD THE WAR PROGRESS.
IN LIGHT OF THIS AND DUE TO THEIR OWN DISTINGUISHED SERVICES FOR EQUESTRIA, ZEBRA QUEEN VELKORN SHALL RECEIVE THE RANK OF TWO-STAR GENERAL IN ORDER TO MAINTAIN THAT THE INVESTIGATION INTO OTHER NATIONALS RESIDING IN EQUESTRIA WILL NOT BE A WITCH HUNT BUT SHALL BE CARRIED OUT AS A NECESSITY. BLEU SCALE SHALL RECEIVE THE RANK OF ONE-STAR GENERAL AS WELL, DUE TO HER OUTSTANDING SERVICE FOR EQUESTRIA AND TO SHOW THAT PEACE MAY YET BE POSSIBLE IN THE FUTURE WITH DRAGON KIND ONCE THEIR CURRENT LEADERS HAVE PAID FOR THEIR CRIMES AGAINST US.”
Bleu and Velkorn both looked at Luna with almost as much shock as the babbling nobles around her. Jer'rahd simply smirks and raises a shield that a noble rushing forward to protest promptly smacks into knocking him to the floor. Jer'rahd turns to help the noble up muttering something that made the formally dark blue unicorn pony pale to the point of seeming to change fur colors.
“TURNING ONCE AGAIN TO THE QUESTION OF ANOTHER INVASION: NEVER IN EQUESTRIA'S LONG HISTORY HAS THERE NOT BEEN A POINT WHERE AN INVASION WAS GUARANTEED NOT TO BE POSSIBLE. RECENT EVENTS HAVE PROVEN IT POSSIBLE.
WE ARE ASSURED AND HAVE SEEN NOVEL METHODS THAT OUR ENEMY HAS ADOPTED, AND WHEN WE SEE THE ORIGINALITY, MALICE, AND INGENUITY OF AGGRESSION WHICH THE DRAGONS DISPLAY, IT IS CLEAR WE MUST PREPARE OURSELVES FOR EVERY KIND OF NOVEL STRATAGEM AND EVERY KIND OF BRUTAL AND TREACHEROUS MANEUVER. I THINK NO IDEA OUTLANDISH ENOUGH THAT WE SHOULD NOT CONSIDER IT A VIEW IT WITH A WATCHFUL, BUT AT THE SAME TIME STEADY EYE.
WE MUST NEVER FORGET THE SOLID ASSURANCES OF EARTH PONY TENACITY AND HARDINESS, THE SWIFT AND CUNNING MIGHT OF THE PEGASUS AND THE KNOWLEDGE AND MYSTIC POWER OF THE UNICORNS. ONLY BY THE GRACE OF THESE THREE PONY RACES SHALL EQUESTRIA CONTINUE TO HOLD BACK THE FORCES THAT SEEK OUR DESTRUCTION. I HAVE FULL CONFIDENCE THAT ALL WILL PREFORM THEIR DUTY AND THE BEST PLANS ARE LAID WE SHALL EMERGE TRIUMPHANT IN OUR QUEST TO BE FREE OF WORRY OF ANOTHER ATTACK SUCH AS THE ONES WE HAVE SUFFERED. OUR NATURE AND DRIVE SHALL RIDE OUT THE STORMS OF WAR, OUTLIVE THE MENACE OF TYRANNY IF NECESSARY FOR YEARS, AND, IF NEED BE, ALONE.
AT ANY RATE, THAT IS WHAT WE ARE GOING TO TRY TO DO. THAT IS THE NATURE OF OUR RESOLVE. IT IS THE WILL OF THE PRINCESS AND EQUESTRIA. ALL OF OUR LAND LINKED TOGETHER IN CAUSE AND NEED WILL DEFEND TO THE DEATH OUR HOMELAND, AIDING EACH OTHER LIKE GOOD FRIENDS, SETTING ASIDE ANY DIFFERENCES AGAINST A COMMON THREAT TOWARDS A COMMON GOAL.
WE SHALL NOT FLAG NOR FAIL. WE SHALL GO ON TO THE END. WE SHALL FIGHT IN EQUESTRIA AND IN THE DARKLANDS, WE SHALL FIGHT WITH GROWING CONFIDENCE AND GROWING STRENGTH IN THE AIR. WE SHALL DEFEND OUR LAND WHATEVER THE COST MAY BE WE SHALL FIGHT ON THE BEACHES, THE FIELDS, THE MOUNTAINS, AND THE CLOUDS. WE SHALL PRESS ONTO THE LAST TILL OUR FOALS NEED NOT FEAR OR EVEN KNOW THE MEANING OF WAR LET ALONE KNOW THE FEAR OF IT. WE SHALL NOT STOP UNTIL THERE ARE NONE LEFT WHO WOULD DARE RISE AGAINST US AND WE SHALL PUNISH THOSE WHO HAVE BROUGHT SUFFERING UPON US FOR NO REASON OTHER THAN THEIR OWN GAIN. WE SHALL NEVER SURRENDER TO THE ENEMY OR TO FEAR. AND IF PERCHANCE WE FALL WE WILL NOT FALL IN VAIN AS OUR SACRIFICE WILL GIVE BEAR THE MESSAGE TO OUR ENEMIES THAT WE ARE NOT TO BE WALKED OVER EQUESTRIA SHALL NOT GIVE IN AND IF WE DO FALL WHICH I DO NOT BELIEVE FOR A MOMENT SHALL HAPPEN, WE SHALL SET AN EXAMPLE FOR THE ONES THAT WILL FOLLOW US THAT OUR SPIRIT WHEN RAISED SHALL NEVER FALTER. AND THAT THOSE WHO SEEK TO DESTROY US, QUEST IN VAIN. WE WILL NOT GIVE IN, WE WILL SHOW WE CAN AND THAT WE WILL STRIKE BACK WITH MORE FORCE THAN THEY CAN WITHSTAND. THEY BLOODIED OUR MUZZLES WITH THIS ATTACK; IN RETALIATION WE SHALL RIP THEM ASUNDER. TO ERR IS TO BE ALIVE, TO FORGIVE, IS NOT GUARD POLICY.”
The ponies before her burst into cheering again though the nobles look hesitant they slowly back away from the group as the princess moves retaking her seat on her throne. The five move around her taking up positions at her sides with Bleu growing large enough to stand behind the throne and look over the top of it as the gathered forces continue to cheer for her.
Jer'rahd leans in closer to Luna, his voice barely carrying over the cheering.
“It only gets harder from this point, Princess. Now we need a plan.”
“I have one, General Kaisur, though it must be done soon; my sister will not allow it when she wakes. We set out in the morning. Once again, we need to part ways. Rhede, will you be able to handle things here?”
“After this, I should have no trouble with most of them, Princess, and out of everyone else, only you and Jer are more feared by the nobles than me. I will have my part done. I am not sure why you want me running the kingdom for a few days, though.”
“I will keep an eye on him Princess. I need to get the air wing back in order anyway.
“Good. Thank you, Starfall.”
“We are ready to go tonight, Luna. Velky's gonna check your sister one more time and we will head out. We have a bit of a longer trip to undertake than the rest of you.”
“We seem apart far too often as of late, but with the tasks ahead, such is our fate.”
“Thank you my friends; let us hope that what I have said can be backed up, because even if we crush the dragons, there are still many threats left.”
Jer'rahd snorts in annoyance, his gaze scanning the still-cheering ponies.
“Then we will deal with them all. Either Equestria will know peace or all the other nations will know death.”
Twilight sits back having expected far more than this after what had happened before. She also was starting to think Jer'rahd was becoming sort of a jerk, although she knew what lack of sleep could do to a pony. Also, it seemed he clearly got results. She reaches a hoof up, rubbing her eyes, then glances back at Rarity, who it seemed had already dozed off, her head face-down in the book. Twilight chuckles a bit, slipping the book free with her magic and placing a throw pillow under her friend’s head instead. She briefly glances at the book and sighs, seeing as the other unicorn had barely finished a chapter from where she had picked up before falling asleep. Well, after all that had happened at the wedding, it was no wonder; she was still recovering. Rarity seemed to have made nearly every dress in Canterlot at the time. Twilight cleans up the area, noting Spike had come back already and put his blanket over Rarity.
She smirks slightly, shaking her head, cutting out the lights heading off to bed herself.
[Luna's speech based roughly on a Winston Churchhill Speech ]