From the desk of Sergeant Iridescence
Acting Unit Sergeant
Princess Luna’s House Guard
Silent Knight was putting up a valiant but losing fight in the door of the train car. He was determined that the gryphons were not going to have a chance of reaching us.
His words echoed in my mind, “No heroes today, Sir.”
Stupid, stupid pony. The gap between the cars was growing swiftly as his slowed and ours sped up. He kept stealing brief glances over his shoulder and when it became clear that no gryphon could possibly reach us he just… went down.
The gryphons immediately pounced on him. Their heavy forms blocked any chance of seeing him and I screamed. I didn’t mean to, but I did. Everypony had stopped to look at me.
That was it. He was gone.
Behind me, I heard hooves galloping down the car. I turned to look just as the pearl-coated unicorn leaped over me and off of the train. She sailed forward on wings of light as silver magic shimmered around her form until she suddenly disappeared.
Down the track, I saw her pop into existence in the other car. Her sudden arrival sent gryphons tumbling about, leaving her standing over Silent Knight’s body. She looped her hooves around his unmoving form and her horn illuminated once again.
There was a crackle of air and a soft pop. The pair appeared beside me and she eased him to the floor.
“He is badly injured,” she said with a plain coolness that unsettled me.
Silent Knight’s sword was still clutched in his mouth, both bloodied. He didn’t move or make any sound.
Magic flared on Ferrel’s horn and she gingerly touched him. “He is stable but magic has its limits. I must rest.” Without another word, she walked to an empty seat, collapsed into it, and promptly fell asleep.
The rest of the squad came over to stare down at where Silent Knight rested.
“Miley, get him bandaged. Be careful,” I said firmly.
The others were in shock and I stamped a hoof. “Listen up! We’re not out of this yet. We don’t know what is waiting for us or if they’ve given up. There is no time to feel sorry for ourselves. I need every uninjured pony on watch. Now!”
They jumped to attention and I continued, “Thunder Tumble, get me a head count. Sergeant Orchid, you’re in charge of making sure this train moves as fast as possible. Miley, when you’re done with the First Sergeant, tend to the others. Get moving.”
Training and instinct took over and the ponies started on the tasks I set them to. I went to where the temple guards were. “You”—I pointed at the first—“back of the train. If the gryphons get anywhere close, I want a gravity spell. Can you do that?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Get to it. You”—I pointed to the second—“take care of the Exemplar. Make sure she hasn’t overdone it. Check her for injuries, too.”
“Right away,” she said before hurrying off.
The final one I put a hoof on. “You go to Silent Knight. It is extremely important that he lives. I know you have healing skills other than magic. You can tend his wounds. Help Miley.”
He nodded and hurried off. I jumped onto one of the benches where I knew everypony could see me. “Good work, ponies. When it all fell apart, you did your jobs. Everypony here did exactly what was expected of them… but we’re not done. We have to get Princess Luna to the ships. We have no idea how deep this goes and we won’t be stopping at the palace. Do whatever you need to do to get right in the head, but do it quick. By sundown, we’ll be at the port. Be ready.”
I made the call. Right or wrong, I made it. Before the train reached the city, we stopped it and bailed out. With our wounded across our backs, we made for the port. By the time the train pulled into the station, we would be on the ships and setting sail. We’d let the Duke sort out who was guilty.
Luna had been strangely silent. She did not argue with me. She simply did as she was told and followed along with the plans I made to get us all out of the Celestia-forsaken continent.
Silent Knight groaned on my back. He was heavier than I had estimated, but I just had to be the one to say I’d carry him. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done that. It is hard to command from under a heavy pegasus stallion, but the thought of him being injured and stuck on anypony else was more than I could bear.
The head count had not been as bad as I had estimated, at least if you didn’t consider Duke Cassius’s gryphons. We had three missing. None confirmed dead but, in my heart, I didn't believe ‘missing’ any more than anypony else.
The palace guards had fared worse. They had six missing and one poor pony didn’t survive the train ride. Silent Knight was in bad shape and Russet Rook was in a lot of pain. Rook was occasionally lucid enough to be useful but we still had to carry him.
Getting to the port was not difficult. The city guard were unconcerned, uninterested, and uninclined to stop us. We reached the ships without any trouble and got loaded up. I dumped Silent Knight into one of the bunks harder than I intended and he groaned.
“You have to hold on a little longer. Please… I can’t do this alone,” I whispered before heading back up on deck to look at everypony else.
“Cast off immediately,” I shouted to the captain.
He nodded and set his ponies to it. Within half an hour we were underway and facing a long voyage across the sea. A very long voyage…
“I’ve killed him,” I said meekly to Lieutenant Rook.
He was up and on the mend. He still had a horrible limp, but thankfully he had resumed command. “Iridescence, you made the best call you could in a high-intensity situation. It is the same call I would have made. More importantly, it is the same call that Silent Knight would have made.”
I set my hooves on the rail of the ship. “He is going to die. If we stayed in the gryphon capital, we could have gotten him to a doctor. They could have helped him!”
Rook reached a hoof out and pulled my face toward him. “Your duty was to protect the Princess and that is exactly what you did. Don’t dishonor Silent Knight by second guessing yourself. Iridescence, he is injured because he chose to sacrifice himself for that duty. If you had risked the Princess to save him, you would have sullied that sacrifice.”
He let me go and continued, “It is ugly to say but soldiers die. That is what we do. Silent Knight knew… knows that better than anypony. It is the harsh reality that we rarely want to face. Honestly, ponies like him and I… this is always how it goes. There is no happy ending. We just try to make it count when it is our time. What he did counted. Don’t cheapen it.”
“That… That is horrible! How can you be so callous?!” I demanded.
“Violence is horrible. War is horrible. They are the antithesis of rationality and harmony. Every pony lost is a tragedy, but that is exactly why Silent Knight and I do what we do. We go willingly so that the average pony will never see this part of life. We die so that others may live. I have no delusion that I won’t end up the exact same way. If it wasn’t for him, I would have! When it is my turn, I hope no poor pony feels guilty.”
Lieutenant Rook drew himself up to his full height. “If he dies, he dies. It won’t be your fault. The only ones to blame are the cowards that ambushed us. Silent Knight made his choice and now it is time for you to make yours. Are you going to wallow in guilt, or make it worthwhile? What will it be, Sergeant?”
Tears for my friend threatened to fall but I willed them away. My heart broke as I did it, but I drew myself to attention. “Duty, Sir.”
The lieutenant nodded and said, “You’re acting unit sergeant, then. Pick an acting sergeant for your squad.”
“Yes, Sir,” I said quietly as I turned to go to my duty.
“How is he?” I asked.
Luna was lying across the head of her bed with Silent Knight propped against her. She had graciously given her more comfortable quarters to him.
“He needs more medical attention than we can provide,” Exemplar Ferrel replied.
The unicorn priestess had been tending Silent Knight carefully, but she would not look directly at Luna or speak to her. It made for a somewhat strange situation since the Princess had been unwilling to leave her favored guard. The pair merely tended him and did not mingle.
“Will he make it?” I asked hopefully.
Luna replied, “He is in great pain. I fear there are internal wounds we cannot readily see.”
Exemplar Ferrel responded in her normal, emotionless way, “He will make the journey home. Once there, I cannot say.”
“How can you be so certain?” I asked
“I have faith in the alicorns,” she said plainly without looking away from the bandage she was replacing.
I looked at Luna, who simply shrugged, then back at the priestess. “I’ll take that as good news, then. Let me know if anything changes, please.”
“Of course, Sergeant,” Ferrel said.
Leaving the strange pair to care for Silent Knight, I went back up on deck to pray for strong winds. Just a few more days and we would be in Equestria. Then we could get him to the finest hospitals around.
“Balitmare in sight, Captain!” called one of the sailors in the crow’s nest.
Lieutenant Rook limped up and shouted, “I want all of the wounded on stretchers immediately. Incognito, fly to the shore as fast as you can. We need medics ready to receive us.”
“Yes, Sir!” Cog shouted. He was already in the air and speeding toward shore.
I hurried down to Luna’s quarters. “We’re here!” I blurted nervously. “We need to get him on a stretcher.”
Luna nodded and gently laid Silent Knight fully onto the bed. He didn’t groan or even move… he was just limp and pale. His breathing was shallow, too.
Solar Flare and Astral Bolt arrived to take him. They went to move Silent Knight, but Luna blocked them. Gently, she levitated his form with her magic and nestled him onto the stretcher.
She fixed them with a stern gaze. “Thou wilt be most gentle with him.”
Quickly, they nodded, took their positions, and lifted Silent Knight to move up onto deck. I followed behind them, unable to take my eyes off him. I was worried that if I did he’d… depart.
Exemplar Ferrel stood with the wounded, staring vacantly off into space. When Solar and Astral set Silent Knight down, she seemed to snap back to reality. Immediately, she went to him and her horn flared into silver light. She touched it to his forehead and then dispassionately said, “He does not have long.”
Everypony on deck stopped what they were doing and turned. The ship slowly pulled into port and the sound of sirens became obvious. I willed my hooves to carry me to the stretcher. Silent Knight had stopped moving. My head fell and I nuzzled his cheek... It was cold.
I whispered softly, “Just fight a little longer… please. Just a little longer.”
Lieutenant Rook found a voice and he called sternly, “The ramp is coming up. Stretcher carriers, to your posts. Get the First Sergeant down and into the nearest ambulance. Move it, ponies!”
It snapped them out of their grief and they went back to their duties. I didn’t. My hindlegs gave out and I just sat as they carried him away.