• Published 4th Sep 2015
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Remember the Moonflower - Blade Star

On the run from the Royal Guard following Nightmare Moon's defeat, a group of thestrals make their final stand.

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Chapter 10 - Ride of the Thestrals

Until a few minutes ago, Dusk had been wrought with worry. The entire plan that had been drawn up to elude the pursuing forces had hung in the balance. There were dozens of ways it could have all unravelled right there and then. But, as luck would have it, fate had smiled upon the beleaguered ponies that made up the rag-tag force of the Moonflower garrison. They now knew for certain where the enemy was. They knew how many there were, what equipment they had with them, and had a rough idea of the enemy’s plan of attack. And so now, they began to plan their first strike.

“Okay, okay, settle down, everypony,” Flintlock called as the assembled officers chatted excitedly about the recent stroke of luck. Seeing so little effect of his words, Flintlock raised the volume.

“I said; QUIET!” His days as a sergeant had left him with a commanding voice that could still intimidate ponies. The chatter dropped off as Dusk began to brief them.

“Alright,” he began. “As you all know, we had previously sent out patrols to cover three possible approach routes to the mission. We now know where the enemy is. They’re marching through these apple orchards. Here.” Grabbing a ruler, he gestured to the relevant area of the map.

“The apple orchards are one of the largest this far south. It’s not exactly a full on forest, but it provides excellent cover. Our patrol only managed to spot them due to the light from a few fires. I think you’d all agree that this gives us a great opportunity to launch an ambush.” There were several murmurs of agreement and a few hushed conversations.

“Our original plan was, and remains, to hold up the enemy, by way of several sudden, sharp attacks. This will buy time for the civilians to make the Badlands, and also force the enemy to slow their pace, allowing us to flee when the time is right. If we can keep them in this wooded area, then we have a good chance of victory.

“A series of small scale surprise attacks, ambushes, and booby traps, should be enough to slow the enemy column down, or even bring it to a halt. So, what should be our first move?” Eager to offer his two bits, Sentry stood up and addressed the other officers.

“Well, I think we’d all agree, that it would be best to strike tonight, before the dawn. If we wait until tomorrow night, then who knows how far they might get. We don’t after all know the pace that this force is moving at. It could be that by tomorrow they could clear the orchards. Out in open country it’ll be much harder to attack them with the numbers we have.”

“That makes sense,” Flintlock agreed. “We move out tonight, lay into them for three days or so, then fall back to here, complete any preparations for leaving and then make a break for it.”

“Hang on though,” Quick Strike broke in. “You’re saying that you want everypony to move out tonight, reach these orchards, and launch an attack? For Luna’s sake it’s almost thirty miles! I know that might be alright for you thestrals and pegasi, but us unicorns and the earth ponies, we’d never make that distance in time. And if we somehow did, we’d be exhausted; there’d be no question of launching an attack.”

“Well, can we just make this another flyers only mission?” Dusk asked. Flintlock shook his head.

“We need the unicorns and their magic to help lay traps, provide shielding if needed, and act as sharpshooters, possibly even providing supressing fire. As for the earth ponies, they’re ideally suited for closer engagements, hoof to hoof combat. If we just took thestrals and the few pegasi we have, any attack we launched would get overrun. There just aren’t enough of us. Either we do this together, or not at all.”

And so, once again, the assembled ponies hit a proverbial brick wall. Consequently, they fell back into silence, each one trying to find some way of moving all the troops over the distance in the short time they had. Whilst the healthy mix of thestrals, unicorns, earth ponies, and the odd pegasi had frequently served them well down the years, there were times, such as this one, where it could be a hindrance. Eventually, after about twenty minutes or so, Flintlock spoke up again.

“Hey, how about this?” he said, prompting the others to all look up from their own thoughts and theories. “How did the princess and other higher ups used to get about?”

“They had those fancy chariots. Princess Celestia still does. They use ‘em to ship the nobles about too,” Sentry replied.

“Exactly! So why don’t we just do that? We have plenty of wagons here. If we spread the weight right, and use our stronger flyers, we could airlift everypony else.”

“We’re talking about sixty ponies, Flint,” Dusk countered. “Not just a couple nobles.” Flintlock shook his head.

“No, we can do it. It wouldn’t be the lap of luxury, but we could do it. Ten non-flyers to a wagon, with two thestrals to pull it. Six wagons in all.” Dusk still looked doubtful.

“Lieutenant Quick Strike, you know more about magic than anypony else in here,” he said, turning to the unicorn. “Do you think it will work?” Quick Strike considered for a moment.

“Well, colonel, thestrals have the same passive magic as pegasi. Aerodynamically they cannot fly. In pegasi, when they’re connected to a chariot, the frame was used to channel the magic, hence how they could pull it. I suppose that, if we could modify the wagons as Captain Flintlock has suggested, then yes, we could do it.” Dusk was now intrigued.

“Of course, you would be slowed down a little by the weight of the wagons, but not by much. We should certainly be able to get into position to attack before dawn breaks. We would though, most likely, be down twelve thestrals. They would have to stay with the wagons to ensure our swift departure.” Dusk decided he could live with that.

“How long will it take to modify the wagons?” he asked.

“If all the unicorns pitch in, call it ten minutes per wagon. We’d be ready to go in an hour.”

“Do it,” Dusk ordered.

With the meeting concluded, two things happened. Firstly, the entirety of the Moonflower was scoured for the vitally needed wagons that would be used to transport the unicorns and earth ponies in the garrison. Four were simply taken from the wagons that the thestrals had used to haul supplies whilst out on the trail. Another was found languishing behind the temple. After a bit of repair work, it was passed fit for military use. The final one proved something of a challenge. In the end, the thestrals ended up borrowing a wagon from the blacksmiths in San Maretonio.

With the wagons in their possession, they were first stripped of anything unnecessary, such as shovels and other implements that were fixed on the side, as well as the seats for the driver, which wouldn’t be needed. After that, a few ponies broke out the paint and began to paint them. This was mainly to ensure that the wagons, like the thestrals that would pull them, blended in with the night sky. Care was also taken to ensure nothing reflective remained, such as metal covers or steel bolts. As an humorous finishing touch, and as a way of keeping up tradition, a few of the more talented ponies painted mascots on the side of the wagons. In the manner of soldiers, some of these were quite lewd. Father Moonapple in particular objected to one group of ‘artists’ painting Princess Luna reclining rather informally on a cloud, giving what could only be described as ‘bedroom eyes’ to anypony that looked her way.

With that done, the unicorns promptly set to work. As thestrals, neither Dusk, Flintlock, or Sentry fully understood what they were doing. Their own magic was something they tended to take for granted, as it required no spells or concentration; it merely acted when they flew. In fact, it was the magic itself that allowed them to fly at all. In contrast, the unicorns were now doing what they referred to as ‘connecting’ the wagons. When the two thestrals hooked up to the front, their own magic would spread to the wagon behind them. Without this aid, the wagon would either not get off the ground, or if it did, it would continuously pull the flyers down.

The unicorns took a fair hour or so, going to each of the wagons and steadily covering it in their odd aura, moving their horns across the surface of the wagon. At length though, they were all pronounced ready. The wagons were by no means comfortable, or particularly safe for that matter; wood would do little to protect ponies from spears or magic blasts. However, it was believed that they would do what was required. They would each be able to carry ten ponies, just, to and from the battlefield. Plus, they would be protected to some degree by the thestrals and few pegasi who would be flying with them.

Still, when he lay eyes on the finished creations, Dusk wasn’t exactly sure.

“This is what we’re going to use?” Dusk asked, a noticeable lack of confidence evident in his voice.

“They may not be pretty, colonel,” Quick Strike replied, “But they’ll do the job.” The colonel briefly ran a hoof through his mane.

“Alright, lieutenant, if you say so.” Dusk still wasn’t feeling entirely comfortable about this. From what he’d been told, he had been expecting six chariot-like vehicles, camouflaged and possibly even armed in some way. What he actually got was six jalopies painted black, dark blue and grey, with some bawdy pictures of the princess on the nose. Magic or not, he doubted these would even get off the ground.

Still, it wasn’t as if there were other options available to them. This was the only way that they could transport the part of the garrison that was confined to the ground.

“Get some canvas covers to go over the top of the wagons; keep the guards warm,” Dusk suggested. “We’ll start with the mission briefing in ten minutes, in the mess hall.”

“Yes, sir,” Quick replied, touching the brim of his helmet in a salute.

With their transport sorted and ready to go, the guards all gathered in the mess hall. Even here, it was something of a tight squeeze. After all, this time everypony was being committed to the operation. This wouldn’t be a small contingent; this would be everything they had being thrown at the enemy. Hay, this would most likely be their last night in the Moonflower. They would only briefly return here to destroy the cannons and collect the remaining supplies. The rest of the time would be spent in the apple orchards, doing their upmost to slow the enemy down.

“Alright everypony, listen up,” Flintlock called out over the general hubbub. Conversations quickly died away. “In a short time, we will be moving out to meet and engage with the enemy. We know from previous recon patrols that they’re currently holed up…” he turned to a large map board that stood behind him, the Moonflower, the apple orchards, and the enemy positions were all marked. “Here.” He pointed to the red markers that indicated the foe.

“We don’t have the numbers to win in a straight fight, so this operation is going to consist mainly of ambushes and hit and run tactics. So business as usual.” This got a laugh out of the assembled ponies.

“The first phase of this operation, will be getting to the area in question. Our friendly neighbourhood unicorns have modified six wagons for us. These can now be towed by flyers and held aloft. So, all you unicorns and earth ponies will be riding in these, with ten ponies to each stick. The rest of us will fly with the six wagons, acting as escort. The flight shouldn’t take more than forty minutes.

“Once we get to the staging area, the wagons will be hidden, and we’ll all scatter out. Briefings for individual groups will take place whilst in flight. After that, each group will, at the designated time, briefly engage with the enemy, by way of ambush, booby traps, or hit and run attacks. This will go on for three days, during which the enemy advance must be brought to a near halt. With that accomplished, we will all regroup at the staging area, board the wagons and move out, stopping back here briefly to finished evacuation procedures. And after that, we ought to be home free. Questions?” There were none.

The plan was complex to be sure, but all involved believed that the chances of success warranted the risk. After all, it was these kinds of tactics that the smaller Lunar bands had been famous for during the war.

With the briefing over, the assembled guards all headed outside into the courtyard. Here, they were divided up into their various squads, sections, platoons and companies. For the thestrals and the two pegasi, this was merely business as usual. However, for the unicorns and earth ponies, a slight re-organisation was needed.

Naturally, each company and section had a healthy mix of the three main tribes of ponies. But since those who could not fly would be riding in the wagons, they would have to be temporarily separated for the rest of their unit and placed in a ‘stick’ of ten ponies for the ride in the wagons. Plus, a few flyers would have to also fly in harness, pulling the large wagons to the field.

Luckily, the temporary disorganisation was not too much of an issue. The only real difficulty was getting the ponies into the wagons. Quick Strike had warned that travel would not be in the lap of luxury, but Dusk hadn’t expected things to be this dire. What with all the equipment and the armour they carried, a lot of the ponies needed help just getting into the wagons. They were, after all, quite tall vehicles in comparison with a Royal Guard chariot. Entering through the tailgate, the ten ponies sat along the sides, crammed in like sardines, with their weapons and other equipment in the middle between their hooves. With boarding and other preparations done, the long take off procedure could begin.

The thestrals took off first, in small groups so as to limit the risk of an accidental collision. As had been the case with the previous raid, they all circled the mission, protecting themselves and their comrades still on the ground.

With about half of their number circling above them, the wagons now began their take off. Given their size and weight, they instead had to take off at a run, rather than simply flapping their wings and heading skyward. The large, heavy carriages lumbered across the comparatively small courtyard, each one could be heard groaning in protest at the high speed and excess weight. Dusk held his breath for a moment. He feared that they might not even clear the far wall.

Luckily, just before such an unfortunate outcome, the wagons clawed their way into the air, with the poor thestrals pulling them already sweating visibly. They had a good forty minute flight ahead yet.

Finally, the remaining thestrals still on the ground took to the sky, Dusk, Flintlock, and Sentry included. With around two hundred ponies dotting the skies, the small armada began to form up. The wagons would be in the centre of the formation, protected from all angles by thestral escorts. And so, with the moon still high in the blackened sky, they set off to face the foe.

It was a cold night, with a fairly strong wind blowing. For the thestrals, that meant getting buffeted around by the breezes. Most of them suddenly found themselves longing for a functioning weather patrol section. But out in the desert of Appleloosa Territory, such things were hard to come by. And so, they endured, shakily holding formation as best they could. Still, once or twice a couple of ponies bumped into each other in mid-air, often ending in a few choice words from the pony on the receiving end, and stammered apologies from the offending pony.

Conditions were not much better for the unicorns and earth ponies riding in the wagons. Like their winged counterparts, they too were getting buffeted around. Even worse, as most weren’t used to flying, least of all in such turbulent conditions, there were quite a few cases of ponies having to lean out over the side to be sick. Many cursed the lack of a few packs of medicine that would help settle their stomachs.

Even more annoying for the wingless contingent, the tarpaulin covers on the wagons could not be tied down enough to seal them off from the outside, so the cabin was filled with wind and noise as the covers rattled irritably.

“Don’t worry,” one of the earth ponies bellowed over the howling wind. “It’ll all be fine when we land.” The moment these words left his mouth, the wagon dropped several feet and the gravitational forces propelled him up, causing him to bang his head on one of the struts, and the rest of the group to burst out laughing.

As for Dusk, who was flying alongside Flintlock quite near to the centre of the formation, he was starting to think that the universe itself, never mind Celestia, was conspiring against him. He’d been a guard for quite a few years, and this had to be one of the worst flights he’d ever had to make. Out here in the warm desert it had been a case of long, still days, and clear, cool nights. Now that seemed to all have been thrown out the window. It was as if they were flying through the Everfree Forest. Eventually though, the torture ended.

“There it is!” Flintlock bellowed, despite the fact that Dusk was no more than six feet away. The colonel could just about hear him. Following Flintlock’s outstretched hoof, he saw the medium sized clearing that Flintlock had selected as a landing site.

“Alright,” he replied. “Let’s get these ponies on the ground. Send a squad down there to make sure it’s clear, and then we’ll start getting everypony on the ground.”

Flintlock decided to send four ponies down to investigate the landing zone; Sentry, Comet, the young thestral who had been with him when they first found the Royal Guard scouts, and two of his own recruits. The four thestrals landed together in the near centre of the clearing. Each one did his upmost to land softly on grass rather than on bare earth, lest their arrival be noticed.

As soon as they touched down, each of the four ponies began to scan the area on front of them. With no obvious signs of the enemy, they cautiously began to probe further in. Miming to keep silent Sentry quietly ordered his four subordinates.

“Alright, we’ll sweep around the clearing anti-clockwise, heading about fifteen feet into the trees. Walk softly, and keep your eyes and ears open.” The three ponies with him nodded to show their understanding.

And so, they carefully began to creep around the clearing, walking a wedge formation; one pony scanning forward, two checking left and right, and one pony acting as the tail end Charlie. The wind that had been battering them through the heavens was significantly calmer here on the ground. The slight breeze that blew through the trees concealed the sound of their careful hoofsteps. Of course, Sentry reminded himself, that advantage also applied to any enemy waiting in the shadows.

Up above the four thestrals, the rest of the ponies were still circling above the area, and were still being buffeted by the high winds. It had been around five minutes since the squad had been sent down, and as yet, they hadn’t returned. Dusk was starting to get concerned. After all, they couldn’t just stay up here forever. There weren’t any stable clouds to land on, and even if they could, the earth ponies and unicorns would be stuck in their wagons, since they lacked the magic necessary to walk on clouds. He pondered briefly; perhaps some unicorn could create a cloud walking spell? Somepony had managed to turn dragon fire into a mail carrier after all.

Meanwhile, Sentry’s small band was still working their way around. They were almost three quarters of the way done, when the young thestral lieutenant heard something. Instantly, he raised a hoof, signalling his fellows to halt and get down. Keeping silent, he strained his ears; he was sure he heard something.

But there was nothing. Perhaps it was just the wind? Turning to look over his right shoulder, he turned to Comet.

“Did you hear something just now, Comet?” he asked, speaking in a near silent whisper.

“There’s something out there, sir,” Comet replied, equally hushed. “A little to right of us.”

“Alright,” Sentry said. He turned to the other two thestrals. “You two,” he said nothing more, communicating only by hoof signals. His instructions were to circle around behind where the sound had come from. Then they would both go in with a pincer movement. The two thestrals nodded and cautiously moved away.

Keeping low, Sentry and Comet stalked through the long grass like a pair of timberwolves. Whilst they couldn’t yet see their prey, their bat-like ears granted them hearing vastly superior to other ponies, another adaptation that made their species excellent night time warriors. As they continued to creep forward, they began to pick up on other sounds, there were at least two of them out there, they could just about hear them breathing, and a little way beyond, once or twice, Sentry picked out soft hoofsteps; that would be the other two thestrals.

Finally, the pair came to the spot that hopefully contained their quarry. It looked like just another patch of tall grass, swaying peacefully in the breeze. But Sentry and Comet could both pick out faint sounds of life from within. Taking great care, the two edged ever closer. When the moment was right, they would all spring through the grass and attack the foe with their bare hooves. Swords and spears were simply too unwieldy for this kind of combat.

Then, just barely, Sentry spotted a glint of gold among the desert grass; guard armour. He realised that they were facing away from him and Comet. Obviously, they had seen them split up and feared an attack from behind. Ironically, they had now left their front exposed. Turning to Comet, Sentry gestured to the two guards. He began to nod and mouthed

“One.” Both ponies tensed up, like coiled springs.

“Two.” Sentry felt his heartbeat begin to race, his fight or flight response was kicking in.


The two sprung out of their hiding spot, leaping at the two guards, their wings spread in an ancient scare tactic. The guards didn’t even to have time to turn around before they were on them, and found themselves tackled to the ground. The other two thestrals burst forth a moment later to help.

Sentry first threw a punch to stun his opponent, who attempted to kick him away with his hind legs. Dodging quickly, Sentry all but summersaulted in the air, landing in front of the pegasus. This placed him in a perfect position to kick hard with his hind leg at his opponent’s skull. That left him out for the count as one of the other thestrals grabbed him and covered his mouth. Neither side had made any noise so far, aside from pained grunts as blows landed.

Comet had a tougher time. Being of a slighter build, his opponent initially was able to throw him off before he could pin him. Without weight to rely on, Comet turned to strength and speed. Flaring his wings, Comet slashed at his foe with the blades mounted on the tips, disorientating the pegasus. He then kicked out with his forelegs, striking his opponent in the knees. As soon as his forelegs buckled, Comet turned, and bucked him onto his back. With that, he followed Flintlock’s training, jumped on the pegasus’ barrel and punched at the stallion’s throat as hard as he could.

And just like that, it was over. In total, the whole matter had lasted less than twenty seconds. Both of the enemy guards were dead; one from Sentry’s swift kick, which had broken his neck through compression; the helmet having protected his skull, and the other from Comet’s punch, which had collapsed his windpipe.

After taking a moment to collect themselves, they finished up their sweep. Though really, if there had been anypony else, they would have shown their faces as soon as the fight started. Satisfied, the four ponies, again on Sentry’s non-verbal signal, took to the skies.

It had now been ten minutes since the squad had been sent down and Dusk was performing the aerial version of pacing. They’d been gone far too long, of that he was certain. That meant they would have to find somewhere else to land, assuming there wasn’t a boatload of guards hiding behind a cloud. The anxious colonel was just about the give the order, when Flintlock spotted them.

“Look, there they are!” he called over the wind.

The four thestrals flew a little unsteadily, having gotten used to the calmer winds down below. Dusk also noted that they were sporting a couple of minor wounds as well. Something was up. With Flintlock alongside him, Dusk glided over and flew with Sentry and Comet.

“What happened down there?” he asked.

“Just a little welcoming committee, sir,” Sentry replied, a little cockily. “Two hostiles killed, sir. The landing zone is clear now.” Dusk smiled, feeling relieved.

“Alright, good work,” he said. He then turned to call to Flintlock. “Captain, let’s start getting ponies on the ground. I want a defensive perimeter set up within the hour!”

With a great collective sigh, the ponies of the Moonflower began to take their turns landing on terra firma. The wagons were given priority, allowing the exhausted thestrals that had kept them aloft to finally rest. Without fail, the moment they were released from the harnesses, each one of them fell fast asleep. They’d need it over the next two days.

Author's Note:

Proofread by The Batmane of equestria.

No points for spotting the Apocalypse Now reference. I haven't written a serious fight scene in quite a while, so let me know what you think.

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