• Published 1st Nov 2011
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Stories in Stone, Luna's Royal Guard. - TDR



The Gardens of Canterlot contain more than their fair share of stories. And more creatures than just Discord.

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Red Sand [5]

Stories in Stone
Luna's Royal Guard.
By TDR

Chapter 5
Red Sands

Twilight checked under her bed again, darting over to look in the closet, Nothing. She then went tearing around the house, she locked doors, closed and bolted windows, drew the curtains, closed the chimney flue and galloped back into the main room. She lit candles after blocking out the bright day outside and rechecked everything again to make certain it was secure.

Every single time she had tried to study lately someone or something always interrupted. This time though she was ready for anything. She sent Spike to help Pinkie Pie for the day, posted a big do not disturb sign on the door and sealed everything off so no one could get in.

This time she was going to get started on her studying early so she had more time to learn more about the sword and it's owner. Moving to the table she set up the spell and held it waiting , her ears perked. The noise from outside was the usual hum of ponies going about their daily business and none of it was loud enough to make out more than a murmurer. No Pinkie bursting in, no Rainbow Dash wanting to show her new tricks, no Cutie Mark Crusaders ransacking her library. It was still, it was quiet, and it was perfect.

She froze once more after thinking that expecting that she had jinxed herself, but when nothing happened she relaxed a little. She let the rest of the spell form and dove into her work.


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The 42d legion, Luna's Hoof. A group of battle hardened ponies that could trace their companies history through every major battle all the way back to their formation in the Discordian War. The unit was under direct control of Princess Luna herself.

Other Guard units often were forced to answer to nobles or high ranking officers that had never even seen a battle field. The units were often mired down in legality and red tape. The 42nd had nothing of the sort. They were Princess Luna's personal forces, while much smaller than any other Guard unit they were the most feared by the enemies of Equestria, and even the other Guard units.

The 42nd was the strike force unit. They were the first into any situation, scouting and attacking the targets, testing the defenses and sometimes even ending the battle before the regular troops even got there.

The usual gold and blue of the Guard armor was replaced with black and dark blue, gothic sweeping points and spiked plate. The protection was the same as a normal Guards, but the armors design seemed to change how normal ponies looked making them seem much more demonic than they really were.

The unit was small because of what was required to get into the unit. In addition to needing to have served a combat tour, entry required a six month training session that made the Guard basic seem like a foal's summer camp. Despite this , every year saw nearly a hundred ponies attempt to gain entry into the unit. Whether for the prestige, the pay, or their dedication towards Equestria the unit never ran out of willing bodies.

Out of the mass that entered the training however it was not uncommon to have five or less pass and gain entry into the unit each year.

The group Jer'rahd Kaisur was part of, managed twenty three, breaking all known records by at least a bakers dozen.

A year after his recovery Jer'rahd had been invited personally to participate in the training for the 42nd.
He had no idea how to respond to the missive, and couldn't see himself saying no to the Princesses requests any way.

After he was examined and then cleared by medical he was thrown into a trail by fire type of training , where failure meant you were out.

Running, magical training,running,weapons training, running, weapons training,running, and pain tolerance to name a few of the ordeals. By the time everything was said and done Jer'rahd was the youngest pony who was still in the program and that was only by the skin of his teeth. He was nearly thrown out for his lack of magical ability as a unicorn, but he managed by surviving the earth pony training in better shape than the few unicorns who were left.

The real test came in the form of the squad matches. Having scored well enough on several leader ship tests he was placed in charge of a small force of nineteen other trainees and put through a gauntlet along with three other teams of ponies in the program.

A mock battle was set up in the wilds of the ever free putting the teams against more than triple their number of standard troops. His team followed the example of a few of their number and adopted a guerrilla tactical fighting style that was a mixture of Guard training and what he had seen the Bone Hounds practice. It was mostly hit and run as well as dirty tricks that most of the Guard ponies considered dishonorable at best, but the instructors allowed it to continue until the end of the time.

Jer'rahd's team had only lost two of their number in the mock combat, and another three were injured by the beasts of the Everfree. His team also had the highest 'kill' count in the mock battles and had also killed six cockatrice, three matacores and a hydra during the three weeks of the Gauntlet.

After another few tests, the record number of ponies to pass the training found out what the 42nd was really looking for in it's soldiers.

Skill was important, but above all else the 42nd wanted ponies who had no qualms ,nor hesitation to kill what ever their enemy was.

Ponies were not meant for war, most could barely stand the thought of hurting pest animals, it was therefore impossible to think many would be able to kill creatures that could think and speak like they could.

Ponies were not predators, they were not warriors. The rare killings from things like anger or jealousy were often thought flukes, as the average pony could not even contemplate killing another unless their friends or loved ones were threatened

The 42d wanted ponies who could put aside their morality to do terrible things, to become the stuff of nightmares, so that the rest of Equestria could sleep safely.

After graduation and a promotion the rank of Sergeant for his abilities shown during training the graduates were given a week down time. During the lull Jer'rahd found out what happened to Starfall, though not Rhede.

The pegasus had been sent back to the Diamond Dog front after mastering the Sonic Rain Boom. Most of her time was spent repeating the maneuver and blasting the country side with the effects shaking the very foundation of the hidden Bone Hound encampments, and most of the Diamond Dog Territories as well.

The Dogs complained and threatened the pony ambassadors, demanding the sonic attacks cease. Finally having a position of bargaining power over the dog the ambassadors took full advantage of it. The ambassadors simply claimed the testing was done over Equestrian lands and they had no reason to cease until the Bone Hounds were all defeated. The arguments barely lasted a week before the Diamond dogs started agreeing with whatever was asked just to get the high pitched noise to stop. The remaining Bone Hounds were rounded up and turned over to Equestrian forces, many of them having simply given themselves up to get away from the noise. Most of their will to fight was already gone after the death of their leader and the sonic attacks simply drove the point home.

With the War on the Diamond Dog front all but concluded, Jer'rahd was shipped to another hot bed of conflict along the borders of southern Equestria and into the Zebralands.

He was assigned to a unit of the 42nd that was on route there.

The Zebralands were a vast stretch of scrub plains and deserts, dotted with large swaths of jungle around all the water ways. It was one of the largest countries on Equus, but also the most unstable politically. For most of it's history there was no one leader, simply a large number of warlords who fought each other for power and rose and fell from said power some times in a matter of months. Most of the population for this country was along the wide rivers flowing through the country or in one of the oasis that dotted the scrub land. The landscape was mostly flat though a few tall mountains did break the surface soaring into the air higher than even Canterlot's own Maneterhorn. The few explorations of the place conducted by ponies showed a number of these mountains were volcanic in nature, though most were dormant. A great deal of the jungles had been cleared, some of them for crops , some for towns or fortresses, though with the turbulent change that happened often in the region there were a great many ruins around.

All of that changed five years ago with the rise of Warlord Zal'Torack. For the first time in centuries all of the Zebralands became united under one leader. Zal'Torack created an army never before seen in the zebra lands as he was more than willing to allow mares to fight, and have a say under his rule. His ranks swelled with a number of mares who wished a change in the way things in the country were run. His opponents laughed and dismissed his forces at first thinking a host of mares with only a few real male soldiers would be a easily dismissed force, something to defeat with barely any effort.

The first few years of the Zebra wars showed this was not the case. Zol'Torack's army rode over his opponents forces like a sand storm and left nothing bout bodies on pikes in their wake, accepting any that would follow the Warlord and destroying any that refused.

At the end of the Zebra War there was only one Warlord left in the Zebralands. Zol'Torack took a seat of power in the center of the Zebralands and had a castle built atop an old Mesa that had once been a shrine in the middle of the jungle. He set about writing new laws and expanding education and learning across the Zebralands. He also took a number of wives and sired a host of foals from them.

All of this changed near the end of the fourth year. Zol'Torack decided that there were large swaths of fertile land than could be claimed in the name of the Zebra Empire that would make excellent farm land for his subjects.

He didn't seem to mind that the lands he wanted were already claimed by both the Diamond Dog Empire and Equestria. His plan was to take control and fortify the lands he stole while Equestria and the Diamond Dog Nation were distracted by their own conflict.

However the sudden appearance of the Sonic Rain Boom collapsed the Diamond Dog front and left The Equestrian Guard to focus all their attention on the warlord.

The Diamond Dogs did nothing forcing Equestria to deal with these attacks on their own. The first encounters with the Warlords forces were unlike anything Equestria had faced before. Zebra's had very little magic on their own and had thus relied on alchemy and Shamanistic natural hedge spells for their offense and defense.

The more foolish of the Guard's leaders though the 'savages ' would be no match for unicorn magic and enchanted weapons. The airborne poisons and acids that were used in a strange sort of chemical warfare decimated most of the initial border Guard units.

It did not take long for counter spells to be made available just in time for the weapons to change and a new counter needed to be developed. The 42d was deployed in the middle of all this, spear heading the push deeper into the Zebralands. The vicious nature of the attacks and support from pegasi air units pushed the Zebra's back to the warlords home city.

For every league gained many lives were lost, the 42d taking the majority of these losses, turning an already small unit into a skeleton of its former size. Luna halted the rush opting to dig in and cut off supplies from the warlord rather than push into the jungle itself. Barriers and trenches were set up in the lands surrounding the city and its thick forest. The siege had begun,with the warlords forces holed up in the thick jungle. Zal'Torack was not finished however and his own forces dug in just as deep refusing to allow another gran of sand to be lost to Equestrian forces.

Which brings us to now.

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“DRAG HIM BACK INTO THE TRENCH KEEP YOUR HEADS DOWN !!”

Another spell explosion rocked the earth flinging dirt and sand into the air, bits of rock and sand showering over the green shield half covering the trench Jer'rahd walked along. A small group of troops darted up over the wall and grabbed a screaming earth pony yanking him back into the trench

A direct hit had broken through one of the shield spells over the trenches and sent a number of ponies flying out of cover. The barrier had been enough to shield them from the worst effects of the spell bomb, but there were still severe injuries.

He looked into the sky at one white cloud floating high above the battle field and stepped aside as the injured pony was carried into the bunker. Several others who had been flung out of the trench were nursing wounds, or in two cases, being covered with their own blankets to keep the flies away from their cooling forms.

He could cover a large section of the trench with his own shields but direct hits or even near direct still broke through. What ever the zebra's were using was strong enough to punch through most magical defenses.

The trenches they were in were within clear sight of the forest along what once had been the main road that ran to the warlords castle as a major trade route. The bunker was set up to stop movement along the road and the river that ran along side of it into the forest. Unfortunately the fortification also seemed to be one of the prime targets for the Zebra's artillery.

After several weeks at the front Jer'rahd had received two battle field promotions and was currently the second highest ranking pony in the unit.

The highest ranking pony was currently perched atop of the wall screaming curse words at the zebra's attacking while the artillery shells rained down around them.

Jer'rahd offered a look back at the screaming earth pony, Purple Candy he believed. The colt should survive, he would lose the mangled stump that remained of his left forelimb , but he would live, if any of them did.

“Sir, would you come down please before one of these rocks hits you?” Jer'rahd shouts up at the cussing pegasus.

“So Staff Sergeant . Are we having fun yet ?” the pony smirks looking down at Jer'rahd before hopping back down the wall with a flutter of his one wing.

The graying commander had a wide grin that was usually only seen on the truly mad plastered across his face. He was called, The Major, what his real name was no pony but he and Princess Luna likely knew, but everyone in the Guard knew who The Major was. He had served in the 42d longer than any other pony save the Princess and her Generals, having been with the 42nd since the end of the Dragon war. He was a teal pegasus with a coat streaked with gray and scars including a very large one where his left wing had been before a griffon had ripped it off in the northern war. He seemed content to be ground bound only occasionally making comments that made one think he would love to fly again. The Major had claimed to know Jer'rahds father and had taken him under his wing so to speak, getting Jer'rahd transferred under his squads command. Jer'rahd eventually proved to the older pony that not only could he hold his own but had a head for leadership. The Major made Jer'rahd his second in command though the duties mostly would up being carrying messages to the troops and preventing the Major from doing something insane. And of course there was also the time he saved the pony's old flank when The Major decided to launch a daring midnight raid on a zebra outpost by himself because it might be fun. Of course The Major had taken down half of the outposts guards by the time Jer'rahd led the rest of squad to his rescue, so perhaps, while the pony was nuts he clearly was skilled and had the luck of the Goddesses. The Major had on several other occasions proven he was crazier than any one else as well. Charging through explosions, leaping off cliffs,and generally doing anything he could to make Jer'rahd's job of keeping him alive a near imposable task.

“By Celestia's pearled horn, you are crazy sir.” Jer'rahd states as if it was known fact.

“Whats yer point sergeant?” The Major questions.

“Got one on my head, but that’s about it sir. Any word from command.”

Jer'rahd nodded to the com box next to the Major , the older pegasus pony simply shrugging.

“Same crap, as always. Seems the Stripes are pulling this up and down the lines,constant bombardment. Nothing new. Hows the shield holding up, seems to be keeping out the rain at least.”

“I've got this area covered and I’m good for a few hours sir, mostly bored. Still these shields can't take anything heavier than the rain it seems.”

“Bah, still glad for that, I'd be picking pebbles and dirt out of my mane for a month with all this stuff flying about. Spotter noticed anything yet ?”

“No sir, Hes still in the air being kept up by the AA weapons .”

“Stripes probably bought those damn things from the dogs.”

Jer'rahd gestures up with a hoof to the lone cloud floating above the battle field . A weather pegasus spotter his eyes on the battle field below ready to signal with lightning the moment anything was noticed. Most ponies had been trained to recognize lightning flash code, this method of communication was a rather recent idea but had helped immensely with communication among forces, removing the reliance on the gem com units.

“Bet hes doing well for himself must be nice and cushy up on that cloud.” the Major muttered to himself in a some what wistful tone.

“Dunno sir but........, hang on. “ Jer'rahd states looking up at the cloud at the roll of thunder that was barely heard over the explosions. The flashes of light seemed random, however by this point he could read them like a second language.

“Forces incoming Zebra line advancing.” Jer'rahd reads off.

Climbing back up the slope to look over the top of the trench a force of black and white stripped individuals could be seen rushing across the battlefield as the spell bombs slowed to a stop with a last few crashes.

“Ready the troops Sergeant we need to meet them just after they hit the fence line. There's too many holes in the fortification if they get closer than that they can get into the trenches and there's too many wounded in here right now that would be easy pickings. Sound it off sergeant.“ The Major states flatly.

“42nd ON YOUR HOOVES! WE HAVE INCOMEING, PREPARE TO MEET THE CHARGE KEEP THEM AWAY FROM THE LINE.”Jer'rahd bellows his ears perking at the return shouts from among the troops.

“LETS SHOW THEM HOW MUCH WE ENJOYED THEIR FIREWORKS, SARGE!”
“BOUT TIME!”
“WAS GETTING A BIT BORED SITTING IN THIS HOLE SARGE.”
“REALLY? BUT I JUST SETTLED IN FOR A NAP WITH HOW PEACEFUL ITS BEEN.”
“TIME TO GIVE THESE PARTY CRASHERS THE BUCKING THEY CAME FOR!”

Jer'rahd smirked at the return shouts. To serve this long under the Major was to give up a little bit of sanity.

“On your word sir.”

The major watched, dark eyes shifting over the charging group, his teeth grinding a bit on the stalk of wheat he was chewing, eyes narrowing as they ran past the fence line closing on the trench line.

“NOW!!! MOVE MOVE MOVE!” The Major hollers.

A good fifty some ponies rose up over the embankment including Jer'rahd and the Major, galloping forward across the crater filled landscape towards the attacking zebras.

This far into the conflict left Jer'rahd with enough sense of things that the Major practically let him run the unit. Every pony there knew who he was and what he could do , just as he could name each and every one of them as well as a number of notable things about them. Such as Bluesy Tone being a skilled trumpet player, or Green Gable having a husband and a foal back home she left to serve. While it made the bond between the group stronger it also made the morale worse when one was injured or killed.

This was only a small part of the overall 42nd, a scant fifty five ponies out of the hundreds of 42nd and thousands of regular Guard. Jer'rahd had worried greatly about being dumped into all this , but the major called it a learning experience and wasn't too hard on him when he screwed up, unless he repeated a mistake.

Jer'rahd had great respect for the pegasus, he had yet to let a crippling injury, nor age stop him from serving, usually from the front. He was the sort of leader that was easy to identify with and one that easily earned respect by not thinking himself above anything he would have his own troops do.

The line of ponies charged over the short span of scorched earth to meet the charging Zebra's .Weapons brandished, horns powering up and brought to bare against the raging stripped forces. The attacks were completely ineffective as the first blow dissolved the zebra to green mist more blows revealing the same.

“ITS A TRAP!!ILLUSION, PRESS FORWARD!! DON'T STOP GET UNDER THE ARC OF FIRE!!” screams the Major as the high pitched whistle of the incoming artillery spells were heard.

Jer'rahd kept rushing towards the tree line along with the Major the troops right behind him all of them ignoring all sense of caution as they galloped head long towards the jungle's edge. Explosions crashed down behind him taking out a few of the ponies who had been shocked by the illusions and didn't move fast enough or hesitated thinking to return to the cover of the trenches. Most of them however were used to the insanity displayed by their leader and rushed towards the woods without even pausing to think about it. The spell bombs exploding behind them did not even receive a glance as the remaining troops plowed into the tree line meeting the real force of zebra's there ready and waiting for them.

The soldiers of the 42nd screamed out with roars and cries like demons and they plowed into the zebra ranks blades and magic ripping into their foes.

Jer'rahds sword drank deep of zebra blood as he and the Major spear headed the attack moving like a dervish against the striped defenders. They pressed on harder pulling away from the brunt of their troops the pair broke into a clearing just as a large wooden machine launched another bomb. Several other machines like it were being manned by a number of zebra's loading bombs and firing the catapults They had found one of the artillery sites.

A slight nod was given to Jer'rahd as the Major rushed the machine as it was reloading leaving Jer'rahd to charge the guards around the device. His magic flared , a panel forming giving the Major a ramp to leap off of onto the zebras manning one of the devices. The remaining troops caught up laying into the zebra's surrounding the others.

Things were going rather well, the unit had surprised the crap out of the zebras by rushing on ward instead of falling back. However surprise doesn't last for ever and more zebra's were pouring out of the jungle. One of the zebras managed to grab the major by his remaining wing as they fought for control of the catapult and yanked him down into the device just as another yanked the lever flinging The Major, the zebra he was fighting , and another spell bomb into the air.

“Major!!” Jer'rahd screams out his blade whipping about ending the life of the zebra mare who had fired the device.

He turned back glaring at the on rushing forces noticing a injured zebra hobble over to the collection of glowing, pony sized barrels of liquid. Jer'rahd's eyes widened as he watched the wounded zebra bring up his hooves and slam them down cracking and shattering the cask , a gout of flame engulfing the zebra was the only warning he received.

He threw up a series of shields quickly trying to protect himself and his remaining troops as the entire pile of barrels exploded in a hell of magical flame and heat.

The force of the blast setting off several other bomb piles and vaporized the machines and anything near them. He felt his shields shatter as he wand the others were flung back away from the blast. Soaring through the air he knew he hit what felt like every tree in the damn jungle before one of them finally broke his flight and he crashed to the ground at it's roots.

The first thing he noticed was the ringing in his ears. He felt sure he blacked out at some point, though he could hear the sounds of movement around him in the rubble. He heard a number of curses in Equestrian and smirked to know he had managed to save at least some pony.

He slowly pushed himself up to his hooves, his whole body wracked in pain, one of his eyes already swollen shut. He tentatively reached out with his magic , feeling for his sword and finding the blade embedded in a tree nearby. He barely managed to yank it free of the wood before his horn fizzled out forcing him to pick the weapon up and sheath it with his teeth.

He shifted his gaze around noting one or two of his unit were laying near by one groaning soft curses, the other at least breathing. Taking a sharp breath that sent another wave of pain along his chest he couldn't help but smirk slightly at the blue flames lapping at the edge of the clearing. One less artillery piece for the zebras to use. Although the cost might have been too much in terms of lives, he needed to find out where every one was and get a head count enough to fall back before more of the zebra's arrived.

His good eye narrowed seeing movement coming out of the remaining tree line already, a hooded figure, clearly a zebra judging by the striped muzzle and exposed hooves. It didn't seem armed but that hardly mattered. The figure looks over the wreckage with a shake of their head. The figure glances down pushing something on the ground lightly, a moment later it pulled a unicorn from his unit out from under some debris. The pony seemed to be breathing, for now at least, and Jer'rahd was going to make damn sure he stayed that way. Like hells he was going to let a solider from his unit die like this while he could do something about it. He ignored the pain and rushed forward across the clearing towards the zebra, if nothing else he was was going to gore the damned creature with his horn.

The zebra looks up, a few locks of strangely bouncy hair falling from under the hood as the face of a mare stares blankly at him as he thundered down atop of her.

The next moment she simply wasn't there any more. He tried to stop stumbling and nearly falling over himself. He dropped down to a foreleg with a wince straining to push himself back up right and look around for the mare. Where the buck had she vanished too?

A few light taps along his blinded side between the rents blown into his light armor caused him to whip to the side suddenly lashing out with a hoof , to strike nothing but air, the zebra mare standing just out of his reach looking at him. He moves to rush her again when his legs seem to stop working , forcing him to crash dropping him with a hard crash to the ground that brought enough pain from his chest that all he saw was red and the approaching blackness of unconsciousness . He lifts a head managing a growl at the zebra as she looks down at him.

“Admirable that the pony, seeks to help his kin, But such a mess he left here, where can I even begin.”the zebra mare chimes.

And then the world went dark.

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Jer'rahd awoke to screams, blood curdling cries that seemed the very thing of nightmares. He jerked upright tumbling off to crash into the ground with lances of pain coursing through his causing him to tense up and freeze in place where he collapsed on the ground. Another scream got him moving again , though his body protested against his determination. He swears loudly pushing himself to his hooves barely managing to open his eyes against the jolts of pain. He only manages one eye as the other wasn't responding, skewing his depth perception, granted the darkness of where he was didn't help.

The was a faint light that his eye quickly adjusted too from a few small lamps and the silver glow of the moon that lit up the top of what appeared to be a large tent. He glances down at the cot he fell off of then over to the pony that was on the cot next to his. The mare's whole left side was wrapped in cloth, the linen stained dark with blood as the mare struggles. His gaze turns hearing move meant around him, noting a number of other ponies he didn't recognize , all with various injuries laying on the cots around him in the tent.

Moving closer to the screaming pony he visibly winced looking down at the injured pegasus mare . She was not from his squad though there was a ruined set of Guard armor at the end of her bed dumped into a box. The steel appeared melted along one side, hinting at the injury she had sustained.
The unit patch on one side was intact marking her as a member of the 63rd , something that was a bit of a surprise as he was unaware the 63rd airborne was involved in this war yet. Starfall was a part of that legion and they were still on the Diamond Dog front.

“She had been through much pain, she is over the worst, all she has left is gain.”

Jer'rahd whirls around and promptly falls back to the floor with a thunderous crash, he inhales sharply at the pain, the effort seeming to make the anguish double. He shook on the floor not able to stop a coughing fit, a coppery taste meeting his lips. A brief glance down showed the splatters of blood on the floor and his forelegs.

“Although your blood ruined several bibs, the powder I gave you is healing your ribs.”

He lifted his head, ears flattening as he looked up into the face of the zebra speaking. She looked like the typical zebra to him, black and white stripped with some obscure sort of symbol as a cutie mark on her flank. She wore no jewelry, unlike most of the other zebra's he had seen and her hair was not up in the usual spiky or braided mane styles he was used to seeing, but was instead falling in waves over her head and was almost what one could call 'poofy'. Her tail was the same way , though cut shorter than her mane, and aside from a red bandana that held her hair from her face, she was unadorned.

The mare seemed to ignore him after her speech, moving around his fallen form,carrying a tray across her back with some steaming bowls. She shifted suddenly the tray seeming to float a moment where she had stood before she whipped back catching it in her mouth setting it on the edge of the screaming mares bed.

“So what we're all zebra prisoners now.”Jer'rahd growls.

“Not a cell to be seen in sight, why must you ponies always seek a fight?” the mare responds not even looking at him as he struggled to stand again.

“And whats with the rhyming.”

“The pony language is absurd, the rhyming helps me to find the proper word.”

Jer'rahd pondered that a moment moving closer to the bed and watching the zebra pour the broth from the bowl down the throat of the whimpering mare. The zebra did have a point, there were no cells here and he had to spare a second glance around, but his armor and blade were sitting in a basket at the foot of the cot he had been on. This was something very strange.

“Who are you?” he questioned.

“She's the Goddess blessed Specter, Sarge.” states a voice behind him.

He turned slowly, shuffling as he tried to ease the pain of his movements. His eye locked on a pony raising a hoof from one of the beds nearby waving him over. Leaving the zebra to feed the unicorn, he hobbled over to the stallion on the bed recognizing the gold maned earth pony from his unit. His injuries seemed some what minor compared to his own and the unicorns, mostly a few burns and his leg in a cast. He scanned the room noting many others covered in bandages or with blankets pulled over their heads trying to hide from the screaming.

“Nice to see some one else survived that explosion Corporal.”

“Pie Sergeant. Just call me Pie.”

“Isn't your first name Banan...”

“Just Pie will do Sergeant if you don't mind. I think with the exception of The Major, just about every one who went in with him survived the blast. I think she only brought the worst of the injured here though. We're missing a few I know I saw moving around back there. From what I’ve seen she's already sent a few back that she patched up. I honestly wasn't sure you were gonna even wake up. It's been four days. Thought you might be as bad off as the lieutenant over there.”

“Four days? I've been out for four days” Jer'rahd asks in a bit of shock. “What in the name of Celestia's mane is going on, Pie? You said she was the Specter? You mean that supposed ghost of the battle field that’s been reported?”

“Yep in the flesh as it were.” Pie smirks. “ Her name as near as I can tell is Velkorn there was a lot of zebra gibberish mixed in when she told me and that’s all I could pull out as a name, probably the rest was titles and so forth, I dunno how they do it. From what me and some of the others here can tell she's been grabbing any one off which ever field she's near. She brings the ones she can't patch on the spot back here for healing Whatever sort of crap she puts into that stuff she feeds us works wonders even if it tastes like moldy hay.”

“So what your simply sitting here being ministered by the enemy? “ Jer'rahd grumbles

“She ain't the enemy sarge, she's not with us, but she's not with the Warlord either. Seems to be a neutral party in this conflict. She helps whoever needs it. Not every pony in this tent is a pony, quite a few zebras in here too. Most of them are in no shape to start a fight, but I’ve seen one that did. Watched her barely touch the stripe and he fell over out cold. He was turned out soon after, guess she figured if he was healthy enough to fight he was healthy enough to leave.“

“I find it hard to believe shes been doing this on her own, the reports of the battle field specter have been going on since this conflict began. “

“Sounds crazy but you also have to think of how many reports of missing ponies there are that have turned back up after vanishing from a battle. I remember there was quite a few AWOL reports till it was made clear they all had been injured, and then healed. That mares become something of a legend for both sides. She's got a few patients sticking around a bit to help out, that’s how we all got back here. “

“Not a lick of this makes any sense. Corporal”

“And yet here we are in a strange tent in the middle of the night being tended by a strange zebra when by all rights we should be dead in a field somewhere. Not much of a off the wall sort of thinker are you Sarge.” Pie smirks.

“I prefer facts to guesses .”

“ After all the time you spent with the Major, well I guess some one needed a level head out of the pair of you. Still you should ask her directly then, She doesn't seem to mind answering questions so long as you don't get violent about it, she'll likely kick yer busted up flank from here to Cincinagi. Your best bet though is to head back to bed, its late enough as it is. She's likely only even awake to tend the Lieutenant.”

“I would like more answers first before I am comfortable enough to sleep.”

“Suit yourself Sarge.”

Jer'rahd turns using his magic to lift his sword from the basket to at least put it on a bit blinking a moment as his horn flares weakly the green glow barely forming around the sheathed weapon before fading out. He tries again with the same result.

“What the...?”

“A unicorns magic is dangerous ,this is true, It has been muted with the help of my brew.” Velkorn states.

What?!”

“The medicine shes been giving subdues a unicorns magic power. Not a bad idea in truth we do it too, can you imaging if some one as bad as the LT there still had access to their powers in a feverish state? They'd likely wreck the place.” Pie chimes in.

“You're way to calm about all of this Corporal. And a bit more knowledgeable than you should be.”

“Sarge, I know a lot of stuff and I hear a lot more. Its been a rough three days for you pretending to be dead and all. Settle down before you hurt yourself more, your already sweating from the effort. Sides what ever she gave me for the pain has got me not feeling a bucking thing sarge. You should try to get some sleep, demanding answers isn't gonna change anything for you.”

Ignoring this Jer'rahd moves over to the basket hiding his wince slinging the harness over his head letting his sword hang loosely at his side not feeling the urge to tighten it on over the bandages. Moving closer to the Zebra mare as she finishes pouring the potion down the unicorns throat.

“So what happened to her? Wheres the rest of her squad?” he starts to demand, though his tone softens a bit towards the end.

“In Zal'Torack's death spell she was caught, for her teammates I could do naught.”

The Zebra watched him fiddle with the straps a bit more shaking her head at the action.

“For three full days you utter not a peep, now you wake when I want sleep.” Velkorn sighs.

He narrowed his eye watching her put the bowls back on the tray flipping the wooden server up and onto her back again. She trotted off to the edge of the tent dropping them into a small pile of other dishes. She glanced back at Jer'rahd who had yet to do more than follow her with his gaze.

“I understand your bit of fright, but no harm will come to you this night.” Velkorn placates

She kept her gaze level with his a moment before she finally sighed with a grumble in her own language and ducked out of the tent. Jer'rahd pondered a bit looking over the sleeping forms in the tent before glaceing back to the panting pegasus as what ever drugs were in the broth started to take effect and her breathing eased.

Out of the twenty five cots in the tent, he could see only three were empty, eight held zebras and the rest held ponies. All of them were in varying stages of injury, some snores here and there. A few of them lifted their heads to look over at him for a moment, one or two offered slight waves or half salutes before laying back out on their cots. Two of the zebras kept their eyes on him as if waiting to see if he was a threat. When he finally sat back down the pair viably relaxed and dropped back down onto their cots.

He slowly shifts himself onto the cot, trying to lay back down comfortably and mostly failing, though at least there were no more lances of pain. He doubted that this was as idyllic as it seemed, regardless of some how living three days while asleep. If it was true he owed the mare his life, if it was some sort of a trap, well best to be ready regardless.

He had been through a great deal because of the zebra's, while he knew not all of them served the warlord most of them avoided having anything to do with the conflict. To have one go out of their way to help and save anyone they could seemed like a fantasy. No one did that sort of thing in the middle of a conflict. This zebra either had some sort of ulterior motive or she was the most compassionate creature on the the planet.

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For the second time he woke with a start, though not from screaming. This time it was from the clank of dishes and the smell of food cooking.

Jer'rahd had not meant to doze off but it had seemed inevitable he would after finally managing to get comfortable, at least he didn’t hit the ground when he woke this time. Raising his head a little, he watched a few of the more mobile patients moving about cleaning or checking on the ones that were bed ridden. Bedpans were changed as well as dressings and bed linens, pony's and zebra's went about the tasks without seeming to care who they were helping. There was little talking between the ponies and zebras but they still managed to go about the tasks, as if it was a unspoken rule to get as much done as they could. He could see he wasn't the only one wearing a weapon, though most, it seemed chose not to be armed despite having their weapons in the basket at the end of their cots. He slipped off the cot seeing a few of the ponies approaching him, he saw no sense in being ministered by others when he was awake enough to do it himself now. He didn’t recognize their unit though they offered a polite nod evidently not much for talking, or it might have been more they were not sure how to address him at this point in a non combat situation. He had made a bit of a ruckus last night and he was not sure what his standing could be considered here. He let the ponies go about their work checking on the unicorn LT, seeing she was still asleep, and not showing signs of pain.

He hobbled over to where Corporal Pie had been, seeing the cot empty, but neatly made. One of the zebras that had been watching him before pointed him towards the flap the zebra mare had gone into the night before. Nodding a bit in a reflexive thanks he managed a few steps before starting to wonder if he was still drugged with something. Despite the war he couldn't bring himself to harbor any ill will towards the zebra's in the tent. He paused a moment thinking about The Majors death and felt the rage building, he stifled it just as quickly, ruling out the drugged option wondering if simply seeing them as something other than the enemy had something to do with the lack of urge to fight.

Pushing the flap open and walking gingerly into the room beyond he was surprised by the sight of a few more patients moving around a modern, if piece meal, kitchen. Another set of flaps to the right were pulled open and lead out to a large fire pit with a large metal slab over the flames. Pots and pans bubbled and simmered over this large outdoor grill, that looked as if it had been made by dragging stones from the surrounding area. The large metal grilling surface seemed to have been part of a zebra anti air catapult in its previous life. The enclosed portion of the tent held a pump sink stacked high with dishes and various hodgepodge cabinets of different make and build that seemed over flowing with various plants and herbs. Nothing he readily identified, but he was neither a cook nor a doctor. A pegasus and a zebra were working on the dishes as he passed, heading towards the outside. Once there he noted a braided black tail whipping lightly as the zebra mare wandered among the pots. A few of the other patients milled around helping her as she prepared the meals mixing potions into certain things and just working on broth with the others. The patients did not bother with the pots and pans working instead to keep the fire going occasionally taking a breather as injures got to be too much.

“Morning Sarge. Don't suppose you're here to help, though I doubt with the shape you're in you would be up for chopping wood.”

He greeted the corporal with a blank stare, simply watching him for a bit as if he was some sort of exotic creature, before hobbling out and away from the cook pit wandering along the side of the tent. His monocular gaze scanned over the jungle around them, and the lay out of the camp, taking in everything he could. The Corporal shrugged, kicking another log on the fire. Jer'rahd glanced back before rounding the corner of the large tent noting the zebra mare was watching him.

Jungle lots of jungle, that was all that seemed to be any where around this place. The tent itself was much like the kitchen, a great many different types of canvas sewn haphazardly together to make the whole thing bigger. A few trees brushed over the tops of the tent offering it cover from the air as well as shade, granted with the colors chosen one would have to be close to know this tent was not jungle itself.

Rounding the next corner to what he assumed was the front, he found he needed to take a small breather. While it felt good to be moving his chest ached painfully from even that slight exertion. The front of the tent faced a small river, a wooden raft rested on the bank pulled up enough to be out of the current. A few ponies and zebras sat on the bank holding what looked like fishing lines dipped into the water. Observing for a while, content to catch his breath he watched one of the injured zebras pull a fish from the river yanking it deftly off the hook and dropping it into a basket. A wounded pegasus caught something as well but was no where near as skilled with his hooves to remove it as neatly as the zebra did.

When his sides and leg stopped acing he pushed forward again, stopping at the tent flap and looking up at the mass of symbols stitched into the front flaps of the tent. He recognized only one of the over two dozen symbols sewn onto the flap, the red cross of the Equestrian Medical Services. One of them he was sure was the same mark as was on the zebra mares flank, however he was unsure what it was called. He managed another few steps before his body decided that was enough for now. He managed another few steps before sinking down in what seemed like a cozy looking spot of grass, his eyes closed as he tried to ignore the pain running through him. His head snaps up at a loud cry above him and he caught site of a rather large black bird of some kind, either a crow or a raven, he really had no clue which might live around here.
His gaze left the bird at the faint thunder of hooves from beside the tent, the zebra mare quickly rounded the corner skidding to a stop with a glance to the bird and then to him, before she started approaching him slowly.

“So you have a bird watching me ?” Jer'rahd mutters.

“Not afraid you would run away, more afraid you might somehow extend your stay.” Velkorn responds looking down at him.

“I've had worse.”

“I do not think that a ideal boast, you look much like a cat's scratching post.”

“ Been called worse too. So what is this place? Why bring everyone here and better still how are you keeping them from trying to kill each other?”

“Once again to my chagrin, so many questions, where to begin. All of that which your eye sees, is hidden deep within the trees. To aid the others is my goal, to do otherwise would stain my soul. Peace is easy without price, just remove the ones who won't play nice.”

He mulled over that a little, working on deciphering it.

“So what, do you have this little talk with everyone who comes here? Or just the ones you knock out?”

“You did not halt to save your own skin, even injured you rushed to kin.”

“They are part of my squad under The Major.... well under my command now I suppose. I couldn't allow them to be captured while I could still move...... lot of good that did me.”

“Four broken ribs, a wounded eye, where you not afraid to die?”

“No, more afraid some one else would die if I didn't do something.”

“Do or die, triumph or bust, is there a reason for such trust.”

“Here I thought I was supposed to be asking the questions. Besides I am not sure if your asking me to trust you or why I serve. So I'll just answer the first . What ever it is your putting in my food to cut out my magic, stop it. For right now I can only go by what I see and whats going on. Quite a lot of this is suspect to me still, if you are what it seems, then it's a Celestia blessed miracle. Though its my job to expect the worst first and go up from there as more information presents itself.”

“No violence from you I will expect, if your magic I do not affect.”

“I promise I won't instigate anything, but I will also promise that I will defend Equestrian troops if some one else does.”

“I suppose that will have to do, at least it seems your words ring true. I will cease the use of that special brew, though I must go now, too much to do.”

“Right I plan to sit here a while, if you need anything else.”

“Now that I know you are not hostile, you should relax, you will be here a while.” Velkorn turned trotting away with a last glance towards him before she rounded the tent corner.

He closed his eye with a sigh almost deflating as he tried to position himself in the warm patch of grass where it would cause the least pain. The sunlight filtering in through holes in the canopy felt good against his back and shoulders.

This was his fourth day here. Did every one already think he was dead like the Major? Would any one really be that torn up by it aside from Starfall and Rhede? Would they even hear about it any time soon? In his condition there was little he could do about it anyway. He wasn't sure he believed this Velkorn just yet, there was just as much reason to trust her as there was not to.

The Specter of life. Interesting title placed on the mare, how much of what was said about her was true? She didn't seem to have so much as a mark on her yet there were several reports of her being in the middle of an explosion or spell blast only to be seen later dragging some other soul away.
Taking him down like she had he knew she was quick, but he didn't see how she would be quick enough to not get killed in the middle of a war zone while pulling some one else out. Forget The Major's luck, this Zebra had to have been thrice blessed by both Goddesses to have lived this long.

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Several weeks passed and true to the zebra's word, Jer'rahds magic slowly returned. He was managing to get around better and had not coughed up blood again since that first day, the unicorn mare was looking better as well, sleeping easier at least and not waking up screaming as often. Jer'rahd had taken to administering the unicorns medicine himself when she did wake up at night, letting the zebra sleep. If nothing else it gave him something to do.

Occasionally Velkorn would take the raft up river along with a few of the less injured patients. Some times she would return with supplies or more wounded. More often than not some of the ponies that went with her did not come back. It was during one of these trips that Pie left. Jer'rahd was rather sad to see him go , though he wasn't allowed to give the earth pony a report to deliver for him.

In time he was well enough that he tagged along on on of these trips. The river connected to a larger river that likely was the one that ran along side of where he had been stationed. They stopped on a sand bar as they heard some shouting in the distance in zebra. He watched as she blew a handful of powder into a pair of zebra's faces leaving them stunned for a moment on the shore as she climbed back aboard the raft and pushed off, drifting down river and out of sight.

“What was that about?” Jer'rahd questions.

“Not anything they will regret, though my tents location and their treatments they will forget.” Velkorn responded.

“That explains why no one remembers where they were.”

The rest of the trip was spent in silence and seemed to be nothing more than gathering herbs. Velkorn pointed a few strange blue flowers out to him he needed to avoid though pointed out another type for him to collect that was a burn treatment. The other zebra with them still limped along with Velkorn carrying what he could while the mare gathered. The silence was rather uncomfortable after a while.

“Pie told me your name was Velkorn?” Jer'rahd states.

“An apt translation it would seem, the full of it is Wind Talkers Dream.”

“That’s what Velkorn means?”

She offered a nod stuffing another few herbs into the saddle bag he carried as well as some strange looking berries and fruit before sighing and heading back towards the raft with the zebra and Jer'rahd following. Seems he wasn't going to get much information out of her at this point.

It was the following day that things got rather interesting. The first of which was a number of zebras that looked to be part of a patrol stumbling upon the camp. They were fully geared with arms and armor and immediately moved into positions to secure the camp knocking a number of injured ponies to the ground and shouting at them. Velkorn moved out of the tent as soon as the first shouts started.
Jer'rahd was unsure of what was being said, though one of the injured zebra's near by where he was was willing to translate for him.

[ “What is this you dare harbor the enemy in the lands of your lord!!?”]

[“He is not my lord and these are patients, not the enemy, you will do well to leave them in peace”]

Jer'rahd sighed ignoring the gibberish watching as the zebras fanned out a bit more, one of them moving over to Jer'rahd spot on the lawn sneering down at the one eyed unicorn. Jer'rahd met his grin with one of his own shifting a little to keep his sword hidden at his side, shifting to nearly lay atop of it. This was not going to turn out well.

[“I do not know who you think you are mare, but you will not stand in the way here. You will be brought before the warlord and hung for treason, the rest of this rabble dies here. Kill them all!”] shouts the apparent commander of the squad lashing out with the butt of his spear to knock aside the zebra mare.

The words had barely left his mouth when Velkorn moved easily avoiding the spear. She lifted up onto her rear hooves lashing out and striking the squad leader the resounding crunch of bone snapping filled the air as the commanders leg twisted at a impossible angle, with bone jutting from the wound.

This was rapidly followed by the stallions scream and a sudden flurry of movement around him. Of the six squad members two were hesitating at the order, one of the others was moving to attack Velkorn. The sneering guard had whipped out his ax and was bringing it down at Jer'rahd. The sneer left his face as a green shield formed over his head deflecting the ax to the side before fading. Jer'rahd rose quickly at the sound of the leaders other limb being broken and the loud clang of a cook pot impacting one of the other soldiers heads.

The sneering zebra turned his head to swing his weapon back around, though the unwieldy weapon gave Jer'rahd time to move and whip his sheathed blade around slamming the scabbard against the side of the zebra's head dropping him to the ground in a heap.

Velkorn had taken down another of the guards , but the pair of surprised zebra's turned to rush her one of them getting a hoof to the head for his troubles though the second lunged forward spear aimed at Velkorn's exposed flank.

The mare winces expecting to feel the bite of the weapon though was instead greeted by a loud thud as the soldier impacted a green glowing panel shield and collapsed to the ground.

Her gaze swept the area as did Jer'rahds, noting the small unit was all down, and although two were crying and screaming in pain on the floor, they were all still alive. Walking past the one he had dropped, Jer'rahd offered it a swift hoof to the jaw silencing his whining while Velkorn tapped a spot on the others neck knocking him out.

“We are one for one last time I checked, I thank you pony for saving my neck.” Velkorn exhales moving to gather supplies to treat her new patients

“Not a problem. So what do we do with them?” Jer'rahd questions as some of the other patients move around looking at the damage done.

“While they only came to cause me grief, now they are patients in need of relief.”

“They attacked you and you're going to help them? That is a great deal more mercy than they were going to show you.”Jer'rahd states.

She moved over to the panting zebra who had swung the pot. His actions had reopened one of his wounds and she made sure he was the first one she treated.

“This is a task you might find hard, do not kill them just stand guard.” Velkorn states

“You're far nicer than you should be, but as you wish.” Jer'rahd replies trying not to move much. He wasn't hurt nearly as bad as he was when he first arrived here, but that didn't mean he was fully healed yet.

“Velkorn. The pegasus is awake.”” one of the Guard troops shouts from inside. Velkorn shouts a few things to some of the other zebra's who move to start basic treatment on the soldiers as the mare rushes into the tent. Jer'rahd glances back before following suit.

The yellow pegasus mare was sitting up on her cot panting heavily with several of the other Guard hovering around her.

“Sir are you alright? You need to lie back down.” a young unicorn states.

“Screw that, who's in charge here?” the mare curses, holding her good ear with a hoof. “And what is going on?”

“I suppose that would be me sir, I'm the highest ranking one here at the moment. Sorry about the noise, I’ll try to keep my next fight quieter.” Jer'rahd states moving up noting Velkorn had rushed back into the kitchen.

“Name and Rank soldier......” the pegasus groans out.

“Staff sergeant Jer'rahd Kaisur, 42nd infantry under The Major. Sir.”

“What am I doing here? Where is here”

“Same as me sir you got the shit kicked out of you, as for where here is …. that is a bit harder to explain.” Jer'rahd grumbles. “Suffice to say it is safe..... well relatively any way.”

Jer'rahd sits down on his cot explaining what was going on to the mare as Pie had done for him, though a little more eloquently. Velkorn checked the pegasus over briefly before going out side to tend to her newest patients.

“I find that story a total load of manure sergeant.” the mare grumbles.

“I said the same when I first woke sir, only with less grace. But all of it is true to the best of what I have observed.” Jer'rahd explains

“Even so I need to report back to base we found a hole.“ the mare winces.

“A hole sir?”

“Sergeant if was in any more control of this situation I would not be telling you a damn thing. But if I have been out as long as you say we might be out of time. Still I am not even remotely sure you are even who you say you are.”

“What? You want me to recite the Guard's oath? Maybe swear on Princess Luna's cutie mark?” Jer'rahd snarks.

“That’s enough sergeant, for the moment I will accept who you are. Even if you are the enemy you likely know this information any way if you got any of my ponies to talk.”

“Far as I know sir you are the only one of your team left. I was unaware the 63rd were even in this conflict until I saw you.”

“Really? Well that's good enough proof you're one of our grunts., there's playing dumb and then being dumb.”

“Yes, thank you for that sir......” Jer'rahd grumbles

“ Alright listen up solider I’m only gonna say this once. My team managed to infiltrate the enemy city . That's the easy part, most of the inhabitants of the lower city are refugees or those weird untouchables, the upper city rests on top of a plateau....”

“Untouchables?” Jer'rahd questions.

“Buck if I know sergeant all I know is they look like zebra's and some of them have red cutie marks, do I look like a bucking zebra historian? They're called untouchables and the other zebras don't like to be near them that's all that's important.”

Jer'rahd rolls his eye though the effect is lost on the ranting mare.

“On the north side of the plateau there's a crevasse. Some one on the inside tipped us off to investigate it and we sent in a scout. The crack in the mountain leads into a burial chamber of some kind and supposedly there's a way up to the castle from there. The contact inside claims to have left us a map and some supplies in the catacombs by what they called the tomb of the dirty king. There was a plan in place to take the warlord down but my team was ambushed before we even got to the city. That was weeks ago it might all be wash by now.”

“Not the best plan sir, but if it's still there we could get back and inform the rest of the 42d and we can act on it from there. “

“Do you think your 'Specter' would even let you do that?” snaps the pegasus. “Even if you did get back there's a jungle teeming with zebras between here and there.”

“Likely she would not sir. So then I suppose that leaves us with very few options.”

“It leaves us with nothing Sergeant.”

“No sir, we can go ourselves.”

“Sargent I feel like I am dead just laying here, I am in no shape to walk much less fight.“ The pegasus snaps

“There’s more than a few of us here Sir, who are up for a bit of ultra violence.” a injured yellow unicorn states from nearby with a small smirk on his face.

The pegasus turned her head, looking at the assorted wounded who had come in from tending the small field of crops, or fishing. Some of them felt a little annoyed they missed the fight. Only twelve of them were in any shape to do anything, though they all had over heard and they all were intent..

“A filthy lot of farmer ponies, yes some good that will be. “

“A dirty dozen of them true sir, but all of them are Guard sir, not farmers. And nearly all of them are healthy enough now to be back in combat.” Jer'rahd smirks. “ Thirteen counting myself.”

“No no , I forbid this strife, I did not cure you so you can waste your life” a voice shouts stomping into the tent pushing between the soldiers and glaring at Jer'rahd and the wounded pegasus.

“Lieutenant this is Velkorn the Specter of Life. Velkorn The LT.”

“Charmed I am sure.” the pegasus snarls

“You just barely now are fit to wake, yet more lives you wish to take?”

“Listen stripey I have a mission and I will be damned if I let you ...” the mare coughs, wincing and trembling as pain wracks her form and she falls back onto the bed with a wheezing shudder.

“The LT does have a point Velkorn. We have to do this. It's our one shot to win this war without making this siege go even longer and more ponies and zebras suffering. Its a long shot, that hole might have already been plugged, but it is still worth a try.”

“This loss of life I cannot condone, but you seek the warlord in his home!?!” Velkorn rants. “Do you have any idea of the danger you would be in, there is not a snowballs chance in the desert you would even win!?”

Jer'rahd smirks, doing his best impersonation of The Major .

“If it wasn’t dangerous, it wouldn’t be fun.”

“It is clear you are insane, I obviously should have checked out your brain!”

“Look its simple. We go in kill the warlord, and the war ends. No more conflict, no more suffering because of it. It all ends with him. Even if the thirteen of us are killed, if we manage to take him down it would be worth it. He's the one who gathered all these zebra's together and if he's gone they will be fighting each other to see who takes his place. Princess Luna moves in during that, stops the conflict and puts some one there who can keep the peace and work towards making everything better here. As a doctor you should be looking to save as many lives as you can before you need to drag them out of combat zone.” Jer'rahd rants.

“Your leader is the mare of night , what makes you think she will not press the fight?”

“No answer to that. But its the warlord that's spurring the forces against Equestria. If he hadn’t attacked us we would have left him alone. He struck first, that’s more than enough reason to end him. “

“I see now what you try to do, you are so sure this is the answer, fine, then I am coming too.” Velkorn states flatly.

“Wait, what? No, I’m not having any stripes on my damn team.” shouts the pegasus between fits of coughing.

“Stuff it LT. Your part in this op is done, I'm taking over.” Jer'rahd snaps back. “besides if she wanted to turn on us she would have had plenty of chances to do so already.”

“That’s insubordination Kaisur, I will have your hide for this!!”

“Welcome to it. If we fail we'll be dead and I won't rightly care, if we succeed we'll be heroes and you still couldn't touch us. Velkorn's capable enough in a fight. Since most of us are injured any way a medic would fit in fine. Besides if the ones today found her tent, then likely others will too and they might not be so civil to come and talk first before attacking. I suppose you have another reason to want to tag along aside from that Velkorn ?” Jer'rahd questions.

“You seek to end the war it seems, could one not hope for such better dreams. If you are correct at all these things, I will look forward to what this brings.”

“Fine we could use your skills but first get this patch off my eye, it itches like crazy and its got to be healed by now.” Jer'rahd whines.

“Your all mad. Especially you Sergeant.” the pegasus states

“Nah, oddly I am feeling rather chipper for once. Not angry at all.” Jer'rahd retorts

“Oh you are definitely one of The Major's squad,” the injured mare snorts in disgust.

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The twelve others took a few more days to get ready, Velkorn spent most of her time checking all of them out team took a few days to get ready. She also had a few of the others who were not going make sure they knew what to do for all the injured , making them rehearse it a bit before she seemed to be confident.

Per Jer'rahd's request she removed the eye patch, washing out the tincture of herbs and then giving him time to get used to having depth perception again. She was a bit alarmed that the mixture had turned the iris of his eye from green to red, though it didn't seem to hamper his vision any other way, and the color seemed to be all that changed. The rest of the time he spent repairing his armor and making sure the rest of the team was fit to go.

The group of them set out on Velkorn's raft as Celestia's sun sank below the horizon.

The small force followed the LT's directions slipping into and snaking through the lower city without any trouble. It took them some time but they found the crevice that the LT had told them about. It seemed little more than another large crack like many others across the plateau's surface.

One trail ran directly over the crack and had a number of zebra's patrolling the path. At the top they could just make out the walls of the castle and the main gate. Anti air weapons and catapults dotted the walls making any direct attack an suicide charge at best. It seemed that LT's unit was not close enough to the cave for any of the zebra's to think it needed a guard.

Slipping into the tight crevasse, the small force trekked deeper away from the entrance before the other two unicorns lit up their horns, illuminating the way ahead. After an hour of trekking through the stoney caverns and wondering several times if the LT's information was correct they found the first Zebra sarcophagus.

Velkorn muttered something that sounded like a prayer as they passed though she had been silent up until that point. Beyond that first they found more and more coffins, and bones, walls stuffed with skulls in macabre displays. Bones littered the ground in small unkempt piles,stalagmites spun up into the darkness above decorated with zebra skulls, shelves were carved into the rock face simply to hold the sightless eyes. The cavern seemed to glow a ghostly white as the unicorns light spells reflected off the pale bones.

“Sarge this is damn creepy.” a black pegasus states under his breath along with a few other mutters of approval of the statement

“Cut the chatter, keep an ear open for any other voices. We should be getting close to the dungeon entrance. Keep an eye out for something that might be a dirty king as well.“

The scant trail between the bones finally led up to a pair of half destroyed doors covered in dust and mold. The ancient wood and iron entrance was slightly ajar, drag marks on the floor showed it had been used recently, though no hoof prints were left in the thick dust of the cavern floor. He waved a hoof, fanning the group out to look around the new chamber. The room looked more like a church than anything else with six sarcophagi on each side of the cavern walls and a large alter at the end of the room. There were still no hoof prints aside from their own, but he let the group fan out to search for the clue they were given. It didn't take long before one of the others waved him over.

“What is it?” Jer'rahd mutters

“I found the dirty king.” the earth pony mare smirks trying to contain a laugh as she points up to the carvings over one of the sarcophagi.

Looking closer at the symbols on the side of stone they all seemed to be a images of a zebra stallion standing on a pile of bodies holding a massive club as a weapon in one hoof. At first glance it seemed to be a conqueror image, though looking closer all of the bodies were of rather voluptuous mares, they were not drawn dead as some seemed to be clinging to his lower legs in obvious erotic poses. Also …. that was NOT a club.

“Well dirty king indeed. Right this has to be it.” Jer'rahd sighs shaking his head. Seems he inadvertently found a zebra ancestor of Rhede.

Jer'rahd's horn glows rightly the stone top sliding open thumping softly to the earth on the far side of the stone box. As the dust settles he leans over the top peering inside along with the earth mare who found it and one of the unicorns with his horn lit.

“Not much in here sarge.“ the unicorn comments

A scroll, a set of keys, and a collection of ten potions marked in Equestrian as invisibility spells. He gestured to a few of the ponies and the two unicorns

“Its enough, and more than I expected with as late as we are. Private stow this gear, we need to hurry“ He pulls open the scroll looking at the map before stepping out the door and following the map to a half hidden staircase carved in the rock.

He floats the scroll up looking over the map taking note of the marks on the sides of them with interest.

“Our source knows his stuff, guard patrols and a bee line right for the warlords chamber. There's note on the potions too. They only last thirty, you attack something or some one touches you, spells gone. Velkorn you alright?” Jer'rahd commands glancing back at the quiet zebra with them.

“This place is full of so much dead, rarely a body but always the head.”

“We'll be out of here soon. You can stay with the rear guard if you want.”

She shook her head ending that idea. She did seem distracted and Jer'rahd hoped it was only from the crypt, If she turned on them it would be a much worse situation. He hoped the trust he had placed in her was justified.

The small group moved up the stairs Jer'rahd stopped and waved at the two unicorns to douse their lights before he moved up the steps more inching around old piles of trash and things he would rather not identify. Following the map again they moved forth along into the sewers disgust evident on all their faces until they came to a iron grate that had been pulled off the wall.

Moving up another set of stairs they came to what appeared to be an old cell without a door. Glancing out into the small room beyond there was one Guard half asleep standing by a door on the far side of the room. As Jer'rahd watched his head bobbed a bit more and he closed his eyes.

He pointed Velkorn to the guard and she nodded darting over striking the zebra on the neck making the nap last a lot longer.

He motions one of the earth ponies to pull him out of sight as he moves along the wall of door s checking in each cell. There were a number of ponies who looked like they were tortured and a couple of zebra's as well. Jer'rahd lifts a hoof up shushing the ones within waving over the earth pony who found the dirty king, and one of the unicorns.

“I want you two to take this lot out of here. Move back through the city to the raft and take them all the way down the river, don't stop til you get to one of our outposts, just follow the current and watch out for patrols.”

“Sarge , we wanna stay here.....” the pegasus starts.

“Don't argue some of these ponies are bad off and some of them possibly have important information that we might need if this mission fails. The zebra's are here for some reason too. Keep them safe the rest of us can handle this. Now go, some of them are going to need help making it out of here.”

The pair nodded and moved to start helping the prisoners back down out of the cells. Jer'rahd stripped the guard of everything he had and shoved him into one of the cells before locking the door. They were down two ponies now, making an even dozen along with Velkorn.

He looked over at the zebra mare as she watched the prisoners be escorted out, she had done all she could to treat them but she wasn't sure if they would make it.

“Rooms clean Sarge we need to move before the guard changes.” states a pegasus.

“Lotus pod how's your zebra?” Jer'rahd questions.

A white earth pony blinks as his name is called.

“Errr, I don't speak it at all Sarge.” Lotus Pod states nervously.

“Good enough, put this gear on, some one find some grease or something to put stripes on his face and any where exposed. Velkorn can you pass as some one whose supposed to be here?” Jer'rahd questions.

“I doubt I am welcome in this place, but it is unlikely any will know my face.” Velkorn admits.

“Good we only have ten of these potions and there's twelve of us. You two are going to have to make do with disguises the rest of us will down the potions and hope they don't kill us outright.”

“Way to help cheer ponies up Sarge,” mutters a orange pegasus.

“Not here to cheer ponies up corporal, I’m here to fight this war now pass me one of those vials and every one else chug one.”

“Alright, every one ready? This is it.” Jer'rahd hisses pulling open the door to the hall way beyond the rest of the troops. Velkorn and Lotus Pod leading the way with Jer'rahd right on their heels whispering directions to them.

Slipping along the wall's they group passed guards and servants with no one so much as batting an eye at them. They made their way deeper into the fortress with out mishap and where nearly to the door when their luck ran out.

Moving around one corner the pair bumped into a couple of zebra guards, literally. Lotus pod and the lead guard staggered back , the guard shouting something in zebra and rubbing his nose in pain. The other two with him start fussing at Lotus Pod and Velkorn , not obviously seeing through the disguise though the guard that hit him looked down at his hoof in surprise then up at Lotus Pod , reaching up suddenly and brushing his hoof though a black line on the others face smearing it.

The first guard bellows out an alarm though the three of them were dead before they could draw their weapons as a trio of the Guards materialize near each of them yanking their blades free of the new corpses. Another shout from down the hall was followed by a series of shouts from all over and the rapidly approaching thunder of hooves.

“Damn it, this is too soon. We're almost there, just down the next hall way. Weapons free ponies, we're going loud use the spells to your advantage if you can, if something gets in our way trample it. Move!”

The troops broke into a run tearing down the hallway, crashing into and through a few small groups of guards and leaving a trail of bodies in their wake as one by one the rest of the spells were used. Velkorn ran along side Jer'rahd as they came about the last corner to the Warlords room. The guards had already swarmed the entrance way seeking to protect their leader . Jer'rahd curses not even slowing down , the troops behind him doing the same as they galloped down the hall smashing into the barricaded line before the zebra's had a chance to retaliate. Spells began flying about as the ponies took control of the make shift barricade of tables the zebra's had set up, just in time for the rest of the zebra guards to run around the end of the hall.

“Finish this Sarge, we got this lot!” Lotus Pod screams out whipping to the side and flinging one of the fallen zebra's spell bombs down the hall with his tail.

Jer'rahd nodded shoving on the door and pushing into the room, his blade drawn. Velkorn moves in next to him as they scan the massive room for the Warlord.

“What in the name of Luna's twitching ears?!” Jer'rahd mutters.

The throne room was extravagant, rich silk drapery, paintings, statues encrusted with gemstones, objects of art, trophies of various beasts stuffed and mounted, and well made weapons of war on plaques and racks scattered about the room. The place was like a museum, that also held more grisly trophies, there were a few ponies heads on pikes around the door as well as a diamond dog or two and what might have been a griffon before it rotted away. At the end of the room was a massive golden throne and what looked like a bedroom behind some hanging silks behind it.

It was the throne that held most of his attention, more precisely it was the massive zebra corpse pinned to the throne by a spear imbedded in it's throat. A large zebra stallion stood next to the throne watching the last twitches of the one on the throne.

Jer'rahd clamped his teeth tighter on his blade horn glowing ready to raise shields. Velkorn stood back as Jer'rahd advanced her eyes locked on the corpse with a small shudder and a muted whimper.

[It should not have ended like this brother......]

“Bout time you ponies got here, almost lost my cover on this one. I figured that shapely pegasus mare had survived that ambush, gave you a bit longer than I should have really. Ah well, better late than never.” the zebra stallion sighs not looking back at the pair.

The stallion turns spitting out a small gem onto the floor before stomping his hoof down on it hard.
The gem turns to dust and the zebra stallion can be seen to be mouthing a countdown from five, when he gets to two the whole castle shakes, the sky outside lighting up with explosions.

“Damn cheap magic gems, that was supposed to be a five count. Ah well that might have been a bit much, but it got the point across.” The zebra looks over at the pair his blue eyes scanning rather appreciatively over Velkorn's form. “So who did they send this time, any way? The stallion approaches and stops dead at the sight of the gray unicorn with the sword.

“By Celestia's gooey plot...... JER?! What the buck are you doing here? Your unit was supposed to be guarding the mouth of the river... Oh wow, this is rich, I never expected this. Oh they are not going to be happy in the slightest, that makes this sooo much better.”

“What are you talking about? Are you the contact!?!” Jer'rahd shouts back.

“Well yeah that's kinda obvious by this point, but hold on, this things itchy any way.” The zebra explains

The stallion lifts his hoof teeth gripping a small gold band around his foreleg, yanking his head back tearing the metal free. The zebra coloration flickers fading away from the tall stallion and a much richer coat of red covers his form, his mane and tail remain black , though his cutie mark changes from some plant to a brace of heart shaped arrows on his flank.

“RHEDE?!?!”Jer'rahd states incredulously his sword falling from his mouth in shock.

“In the flesh, and who is this pretty little thing you brought with you? Tisk tisk Jer going native? Not the thing to do in a war zone … of course I managed a bit of time for it myself, but then again, this is me we are talking about here and I was a zebra for a little while there. Aww what did you do to upset her? “ Rhede blinks finally getting a good look at the mare his cheerful expression fading. “..... Oh I see it's you. Sorry..... I had hoped you wouldn't be around for this.”

He glances to Jer'rahd then the door before switching to speak to Velkorn in zebra.

[I thought you might be back eventually. Bad luck it had to be now, for what its worth I’m sorry it had to end this way, but you know he would not have come quietly.”]

[“I am unfortunately aware of that fact.”]Velkorn sighs.

“ What did you say? What are you doing here?!?! For Bucks sake what is happening?!? “Jer'rahd rants.

“Relax Jer, it's all good. There's no way the Princess could have missed that signal and the main force is gonna be hitting this place like a hurricane in a moment or two. Oh yes need to borrow that sword of yours a moment Jer.” Rhede snarks.

Trotting over Rhede kicks Jer'rahd's blade up off the floor where it fell from his open jaw. The earth pony catches it in his tail and looks back over at Velkorn with a sigh before trotting over to the corpse on the throne. [“Sorry about this Velkorn. We tried to talk him out of it.”]
The earth pony lashes out with his tail lopping off the zebra's head with a deft slice before flinging the bloodied blade back over to Jer'rahd who snatches it from the air with his magic.

“Now I know you are all dis a pointed Jer that I didn't use my mouth , but you'll just have to miss out on getting that second hoof kiss from me and settle for kissing my tail.” Rhede smiles. “besides you're cute lil mare friend there might have issues with a indirect kiss from some one as handsome as me.”

“Don't tempt me to burn the handle bit Rhede now what the hay is going on and why are you here?.” Jer questions

“Need to know information, ooh that zebra with you does have a cute blush, any way here they come catch Jer. Try to look heroic.”

“What the buck are you on.......”

Rhede ignored him yanking the spear from the zebra's throat and snapping off the blade dropping it into one of his saddle bags before kicking the stick to the side. Jer'rahd barely caught sight of the bloodied spear head noting it's resemblance to the star metal dagger he had trained with. Rhede rears a hoof back and punts the warlords head to Jer as the body slumps from the throne. He snatches it from the air with his magic blinking at the severed head before glaring back at Rhede, about to demand answers once more when a great many things happen all at once.

The ponies that came with him shoved open the door falling back into the room dragging a few injured and fighting off what seemed to be half the zebra army crowding the hall. The mass of zebra's freeze in place as Jer'rahd is seen, holding the severed head of their leader, blood dripping from his sword.

Before they could do anything else but stare, the wall behind Rhede exploded inward showering the room with rock and debris that the earth pony some how dodged by standing perfectly in front of the throne.

The dust had not even settled when there was a sudden cry and a swarm of ponies tore into the room from the ruins of the bedroom rushing into the mass of zebra's forcing them back , or cutting them down where they stood. Glancing back Jer'rahd could see a number of pegasi dropping off earth ponies and unicorns into the ruins of the room. Jer'rahd glances back as Rhede pulls Velkorn out of the way and back against one of the walls as the swarm of Equestrian Guard tears through the room slamming into the zebra's in the hall.

The zebra's begin to recover to fight back with a crackling bolt of lightning blows a hole in the ceiling over the throne, Rhede's position had again allowed him to avoid getting hit with anything.

A dark form floated down into the hole ignoring the melted puddle of slag that was all that remained of the throne behind her. The figures eyes glowed white as energy flickered along her lithe form highlighting the crescent shaped moon adorning her flank. More explosions sounded from outside illuminating her form in a fiery glow.

“SURRENDER NOW OR BE DESTROYED UTTERLY.” bellows Princess Luna, her voice likely heard all the way back in Canterlot.

The amassed zebra troops shifted their gaze between their leader's head, still held aloft by Jer'rahd and the Goddess of war before them with a massed Equestrian Guard. Nearly as one they all screamed out , dropping their weapons and fleeing enmasse back down the hallway.

“WE SAID SURRENDER FOALS, NOT FLEE LIKE CHICKENS!!.... ugh.... ROUND THEM UP KILL ANY WHO STILL RESIST.” Luna shouts.

Velkorn had dropped to the ground hiding under her hooves from the fury of the Goddess of Night, Rhede simply remained where he had moved, making sure none of the Guards confused Velkorn for a soldier. The earth pony looked far to amused with himself. Jer'rahd simply stood there in the middle of the room holding a severed head and his sword staring in awe at everything going on.

“Well well, look at this my little pupil survived just fine, figured that little explosion wouldn't have taken care of you for good.“ states a voice from one of the guards still filtering in.

“Wait, Major?!” Jer'rahd stammers.

The one winged pegasus trots up, a stalk of wheat clamped in his mouth as he chuckles. He glances back as the pegasi continue ferrying more troops in all of whom immediately rush down the hall working to secure the castle, the path open now that Rhede had destroyed all the anti air defenses.

“What? Did yah think I was dead? Takes more than a fall from the sky fighting a zebra on the back of a bomb to take me out.” the old pegasus cackles. “Glad you made it out alive. So what happened to yah? You get bored and decide to win the war on yer own? Perfect!! Knew you were the pony for the job. Squads yours now, I’m retiring after this nonsense. Me and Azalea petal are tired of this war crap. Been pooling our resources got a nice split level cloud love nest fer just the two of us. And that Pegasus is buff enough he can fly me around with out any problems. The Major grins and Jer'rahd notes the pegasus stallion nearby blushing a bit, Jer'rhad recognized him as the spotter for their group. Anyway your The Major now pony, enjoy being a war hero. I need to go get me a few stabs in before retirement.“ The Major shouts galloping off with the others laughing manically.

“Wha... what?” Jer'rahd stammers.

“SO WE MEET AGAIN SERGENT.... WELL I SUPPOSE IT IS MAJOR KAISUR NOW. A BIT OF A RANK JUMP, WE IMAGINE, BUT HERE YOU ARE AGAIN IN THE THICK OF THINGS. KILLING THE CAUSE OF THE WAR WITH YOUR OWN HOOVES THIS TIME. AND YOU SAVED ONE OF OUR MORE VALUED, WELL EQUESTRIA'S MORE VALUED, AMBASADORS AS WELL. WE SHALL TALK AGAIN BUT THERE IS MUCH TO DO NOW. WE ARE CURIOUS AS TO WHAT THIS ZEBRA IS DOING WITH YOU BUT IF YOU VOUCH FOR HER THEN WE SHALL ACCEPT HER.”

“Bwehuh?”Jer'rahd stammers one ear drooping.

The soldiers that came with Jer'rahd stand there almost as dumfounded as Jer'rahd was. Rhede ignored most of it and was speaking with Velkorn in zebra, judging by the red coloration of her face he was flirting up a storm as well.

The Princess steps out the door shouting orders and occasionally lashing out with a spell at something. A few more Pegasi filter in , gathering up the wounded and carting them out along with the rest of his squad, Rhede and Velkorn.

There was a momentary silence broken by a few wing beats as a Pegasus lands next to the gray unicorn standing alone in the throne room with the severed head of a zebra and a bloody sword held in his magic.

“Are you ready to go sir?” the pegasi asks.

“WHAT THE HAY JUST HAPPENED?!” Jer'rahd screams.

=======================================================================


Twilight closed her eyes lifting a hoof to rub her head a bit. That had taken longer than she expected it to. While it was nice to see the spell translated zebra, she was more confused than ever now. What had happened, why was Rhede there, and on some sort of terms with Princess Luna. Was Velkorn the warlords sister or was it some other terminology, why was the Princess always so loud? So much stuff to write down. So little time. Her ears perked hearing a scream of some kind from behind her. Whipping around she came face to face with Pinkie Pie and offered a scream of her own.

“Hiyas Twilight. Are you done because your done, or are you done because we bothered you?” Pinkie questions

“Pinkie what are you doing here?” Twilight gasps.

“Oh well Spike and I went and visited Canterlot today making a delivery for Mrs. Cake and we found a little shop that had the best sponge cake..It's hard to make a good sponge cake , trust me I know, so I went to ask the lady for the recipe and and we got to talking and turns out she was a baker too, which was kinda obvious since she worked in a bakery , but she said the sponge cake was an old family recipe and she couldn't part with it ever so I asked again in several different ways and she still wouldn't though she was willing to trade me in several cup cake recipes.....”

“Pinkie!!!” Twilight shouts for the third time finally being heard over the rambling bouncing mare.

“Yes Twilight?” Pinkie asks her mouth coming to a dead stop.

“Why are you in my house right now?” Twilight questions “Oh Spike and I also saw one of those new Coltari game systems. These things are popping up everywhere and I thought it looked fun so I bought one and then Spike wanted to play it too so I brought it over here when we came back and we've been playing since.”

“What.... A Coltari? Video game? You shouldn't play those, I hear it rots your brains. “ Twilight complains

“You mean like people say too much reading does?” Pinkie asks innocently enough though her eyes scan over the mass of books behind Twilight.

“Complaint with drawn....” sighs Twilight.

Author's Note:

This one has been redone but not yet edited for mistakes

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