• 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 13 - Surrounded

It was a long and desperate fight back to the relative safety of the Moonflower. With the Royal Guard hot on their heels, the thestrals turned to unusual tactics.

The wagons carrying the unicorns and earth ponies landed first, being the most vulnerable and also vital to their immediate survival. As soon as they touched down, the unicorns piled out and began to fire their magic up into the air. While it wasn’t accurate, it was enough to temporarily deter any pegasus from attempting to come too close. This bought time for their real attack.

With the battle raging all around, Dusk touched down along with Flintlock, Sentry, and the other surviving officers. All of them were close to breaking. In a matter of minutes, they could potentially be overrun. They needed to clear the skies around the mission, and force the enemy to back off, giving them time to breathe.

“Sentry!” Dusk bellowed. “Find any of the earth ponies that were assigned to the gun crews and get those cannons readied. Flint, go to the stores and find that load of griffon shells we picked up back in Las Pegasus!” The two thestrals quickly darted off. It wasn’t a brilliant plan, but it was something, to his knowledge, these Royal Guards had never encountered the weapon they were about to deploy. It would scare them and rout them. That would give them time to at least set up a perimeter.

Sentry raced up to the battlements where the canons still stood. He thanked Luna that they had not spiked them before they left. Corralling as many earth ponies as he could find, he ordered them to man the great guns, getting them ready to take the shot.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the mission, Flintlock was hauling a small wagon of ammunition as fast as he could, doing his best to avoid the fire flying about. The boxes were marked as dangerous, and also carried the emblem of the Griffon Kingdom, an ally of Equestria.

“You three, come here!” Flintlock called over to a trio of unicorns. “Take a box each and head to one of the cannons. Meet up with me, along with Colonel Dusk when you are done. Understand?” The trio nodded and each took one box, leaving Flintlock to carry the last up to Sentry.

A few minutes later, the supplies had been taken to each gun, and had been loaded in. Flintlock, desperate to act in time, flew down to Dusk from the battlements. Above them, even with the impressive fire the unicorns were putting up, they were slowly losing ground.

“All guns loaded and ready, sir!” Flintlock reported. Dusk nodded.

“Then fire at will, captain!” he ordered.

“Yes, sir!” Flintlock turned to Sentry and the cannons. “FIRE!”

The four cannons, originally intended for assisting a ground defence, were now tilted skyward, right at the enemy pegasi. With a belt of smoke and flame, the cannons rocked back on their mounting. The pegasi above didn’t expect what happened next.

Instead of simply passing them by, or perhaps knocking down a single unlucky soul, each shell from the cannons suddenly exploded in mid-air. Worse still, it sent shrapnel rocketing out in all directions, and left an ominous black splotch in the clear blue sky. No less than a dozen pegasi unceremoniously dropped.

The thestrals you see, had a small store of an unusual griffon weapon; a leftover from the last war with Equestria, and still used to quell the occasional local insurrection within the kingdom. They called it a ‘Gegenflugwaffen’ in their own tongue, literally a ‘counter flight weapon’. When the shell was fired, it had a small fuse lit. This meant the shell exploded, rather than just relying on force of impact to deal damage. Loaded with shrapnel, it was like a mine going off in mid-air. It was perfect for deterring airborne foes.

The four small canons continued firing for a little longer, though the pegasi wasted no time in retreating out of the weapon’s range. And so, at last, they were safe. For the moment. They had not been overrun and wiped out. But that was still quite likely. Even as the pegasi retreated, more and more of them continued to fly in, landing a little way outside San Maretonio. They were settling in for a siege.

An hour later, and things had settled down. With the four cannons covering the open approaches to the mission, the Royal Guard didn’t dare mount an attack from the air. Of course, there was little to stop them advancing by land. Due to their sudden retreat, everypony had been forced to take shelter within the Moonflower. Their original plan of having dozens of foxholes filled with unicorns was now unworkable. At this point there were probably less than two dozen unicorns left anyway.

The losses on the bloody road back to the mission had been severe. When they had arrived in San Maretonio, there had been a little over one hundred serving guards. With the addition of the ex-army volunteers, and the recruits Flintlock had hastily trained, that number had swelled to around three hundred and fifty. Now, they were hovering at about two hundred, including medics and walking wounded. That meant at least a hundred and fifty ponies were out there unaccounted for.

In terms of supplies, the mission would not hold for more than a week. Ammunition for the cannons was already scarce as it was, and this was made only worse by the desperate firing of the great guns an hour or so earlier in order to see off the enemy. Food was also beginning to run low. With the enemy around a quarter of a mile away, there was no chance of reaching San Maretonio, assuming the town wasn’t already under occupation. Long story short, the Moonflower could not hold. They were cut off from any retreat by an army no less than twenty five times their own number. They had little in the way of supplies, and a perimeter that could not possibly keep the enemy out for very long.

Flintlock looked out over the lifeless desert at the encamped enemy army and sighed to himself. There was no way out. He didn’t want to believe that, he desperately wanted to have one last madcap plan to call on, some clever trick or deception, or reinforcements perhaps. But there was no chance of that. What little was left of the old volunteer army was staying well outside Equestria, and high command would certainly not risk it to save ponies from an unwinnable situation. He laughed a little as he remembered what his drill sergeant had told him on the day he signed up.

‘There is nopony out there to help you. Nopony is on your side. Never forget; no matter how cold, wet, starving, dead on your hooves you are, there is one thing you can depend on. There is far worse to come.’

That was when he saw the dust cloud rising from the desert floor.

It wasn’t the whole enemy force. Hay, it barely passed as a small squad. But it was nonetheless coming towards them.

“Heads up!” he called out, warning the ponies bellow in the courtyard. Flintlock then turned to one of the guards on duty. “What do you see, corporal?” Extending his looking glass, the young thestral squinted and did his best to make out just what was coming for them.

“Sir,” he reported. “Enemy troops approaching, under flag of truce.” Flintlock was surprised to say the least. Truce? They wanted to negotiate? Maybe their recent escapades had had an effect after all; they thought it too much trouble to storm the place. There might be a way out of this yet. After all, they only needed to remain here and occupy the enemy, until they were sure than the civilians were safely across the border. He smiled.

“Go and fetch Colonel Dusk at once!” he ordered. The youngster quickly scampered off. Dusk was most likely with the other officers, planning for their final stand.

Meanwhile, the other guards on duty, including Sentry, made ready to engage. The thestrals opened their wings in preparation to swoop down, whilst the unicorns charged their horns with magic, and earth ponies grabbed their spears. Worried that this posture might be misinterpreted, Flintlock quickly called them off.

“Stand down, the lot of you!” he ordered. “Those ponies are protected by a flag of truce, and this garrison will uphold the laws of war.” The assembled guards all relaxed themselves, but remained where they were.

Down below at the wall, the small group of Royal Guards pulled up and stopped. There were five of them, a senior officer and four enlisted escorting him. One of them carried a standard, which had been replaced by a pure white cloth, the international sign of truce. As the senior officer stepped forward, Flintlock challenged him.

“You down there!” he called “Identify yourself!” The pegasus looked up at Flintlock, perhaps noting the stallion’s uniform markings. Flintlock realised that the pony below was a captain like himself. They were on equal footing.

“I am Captain Sure Strike, of the Equestrian Royal Guard. By order of Her Grand Royal Highness Princess Celestia, monarch of Equestria, ruler of the day and the night, you are hereby ordered to lay down your arms and surrender.” Well, that was pretty clear, wasn’t it?

“And what makes you think we would do a thing like that, captain?” Flintlock called back.

“You are impossibly outnumbered, and have no chance to escape. But her majesty wishes to avoid further bloodshed, particularly of your own kind. We give you the opportunity to surrender honourably.” Flintlock shook his head.

“Oh c’mon, captain. You and I both know that’s a load of horseapples. Your new guard hasn’t spared a single thestral since you started your little cleaning house number. I know what you colts did to Atcanter! You wouldn’t know honour if it came and bit you on the rump!”

“If you will not surrender, then we will have to force you out!” Strike warned gravely. Flintlock though, shook his head.

“No you don’t, captain. I’m sure the last thing either of us wants is another battle. Enough blood has been spilled here as it is. You think I don’t realise our situation? We don’t want a fight any more than you. All we want is to leave this wreck of a nation in peace and start our lives again.”

It was then the idea came to him. He had been in this position himself mere days ago; a small enemy force, unwilling to surrender, yet too much of a force to risk a full blown engagement. Could he perhaps pull the same trick that Arrow Head had used on him? It was worth a shot; it could get some of them out.

“Alright, captain. How about this? Allow the rank and file here safe passage. Most of these ponies are volunteers. They aren’t soldiers. Hay, some of them only picked up a spear a few days ago. Let them go back to their families. Then, when they are safely away, those of us who served in the Lunar Guard will surrender ourselves to you.”

Meanwhile, the young corporal Flintlock had dispatched, was trotting into the Lunar temple in search of Dusk. It had become something of a habit of his to retreat into the place when times were tough. The corporal found him sitting in the middle of the aisle, looking up at the stained glass window that dominated the far wall. A few other ponies had joined him, perhaps making their peace with the world.

“Colonel, sir,” he called out. Dusk snapped out of his meditative trance. “Colonel, Captain Flintlock reports a small party of the enemy at the north wall, under flag of truce, sir.”

Dusk snorted in disgust. His nostrils flared and his amber eyes bulged in their sockets. Those Bright Lights dared to negotiate now?! After all they had done?! They had defeated him in war, then they had denied him his peace, then they had pursued him across the country, to corner him here like an animal. Now they wanted to talk?

Getting to his hooves, the emotionally charged thestral stormed out of the temple, his hooves echoing loudly on the stone floor. Heading out into the sun, which caused his eyes to sting badly, he heard Flintlock’s voice and that of a stranger. Listening to their conversation, he quickly picked up on what was happening. Flintlock was trying to negotiate a way out of their predicament.

Under normal circumstances, Dusk might have been proud of this; after all it was not how one fought that was important, but understanding when to fight. But matters had changed. Losing so many of his ponies in such a short time, on top of everything else that had happened over the last few months had finally made him snap. Unbeknownst to him, he was teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. He became single minded; they’d been on the run too long, now was the time to make a stand. If they wanted this mission, this temple, then they would have to pry it from his cold, dead hooves.

Snorting angrily, and with his wings twitching at his side, he galloped up to the ramparts. Flintlock’s continued negotiations had become a dull drone, in spite of the success he was having. Making his way to the north facing cannon, he barked orders to the gun crew.

“You four! Get off your flanks and engage that enemy!” he demanded. The gun crew were, understandably, confused.

“Sir, Captain Flintlock is negotiating with them,” one replied. “And they’re under a white flag, sir.” Dusk snarled.

“Do you want me to have to taken out and shot for insubordination?!” he asked furiously. “I said; fire!” The four ponies looked to one another, unsure of what to do. For a moment, Dusk’s tone softened.

“Look,” he explained. “Do you really think they will let us surrender and walk out of here? When have the Royal Guard done that, eh? Exactly, they haven’t. And I sure as hay am not going to parlay with these Bright Lights.” Unwilling to question their commander, and unable to come up with a suitable counterpoint, the crew complied.

Flintlock’s heart was racing. There was a decent change that he might be able to save at least a few of the ponies that were now held up in the Moonflower. The proposal he had given to Captain Sure Strike seemed to him like a fair exchange. If this whole mess really was about catching all of the ‘lunar traitors’ then there was little to gain by taking in a bunch of half trained civilians who meant no real harm. Plus, the potential propaganda coup of taking in a load of Lunar guards without a fight would be a good thing for the new Royal Guard, particularly in light of their recent defeats at the hooves of the thestrals. There was a way out of this, Flintlock was sure.

Just then though, both parties were startled by the sound of canon fire. The shell landed several yards short of the enemy party, and caused a small explosion, which sent dust and debris flying up into the air. The reaction of the Royal Guard was instant.

With a sharp snort and whiney, the five white and gold ponies made a rapid about face and began galloping off back towards their lines. And with them, went any chance of negotiation or settlement.

“Hold your fire, dammit!” Flintlock bellowed. He then called out to the still retreating enemy. “Wait, come back! It was just an accident. We can still work this out!” But the enemy paid him no mind and departed.

Flintlock was understandably furious. That was there last hope, gone. That was it; they were screwed! They couldn’t fight their way out, they couldn’t run, and now they couldn’t negotiate. If he remembered correctly, the correct term for this situation was ‘zugzwang’. No matter what they did, it would only, at best, prolong the inevitable. Angrily, he turned to the crew of the gun that had just fired.

“What, in the name of Luna do you think you are doing?!” he demanded. “Do you have any idea what you have just done? Do you?!” The five earth ponies that made up the gun crew all kept silent, unable to meet the enraged thestral’s gaze. It was then that Dusk emerged from behind the gun carriage.

“They just saw off an enemy scouting party, captain,” he declared. “If they want to take this place, they shall have to spill a lot of blood over it.”

Flintlock was bewildered. Dusk had given the order? Why? He’d known Dusk for quite a while at this point. He had always regarded him as a sound tactician. Hay, until now his tactics had kept them one step ahead of the Bright Lights.

“You?” Flintlock asked, pointing a hoof at Dusk. “Dusk, didn’t you see what I was doing. They wanted to talk.” Dusk however, cut him off.

“They wanted to take this place without a fight,” he replied. “They would force us out, put us up against a wall, and be done with us. Then they will burn this whole place down as a ‘shrine to traitors’. Well, I say no more!” Flintlock tried to break in, but Dusk continued with his rant. “We’ve done nothing but run this whole time. Our entire culture has been all but destroyed. Well, I say enough! This time, I will not run.” With that, Flintlock snapped.

“No, you won’t run; because we can’t!” he exclaimed. “We’re surrounded on all sides by an enemy we can’t hope to defeat. And you’re little stunt just killed any chance we had at getting some of the volunteers away safely! What they hay were you thinking, Star?” Dusk bristled at that.

“I will not let them have this holy site! We will hold here, and we will repel them!” Flintlock couldn’t believe his ears.

“With what, two hundred ponies? You stupid zealot foal; you’ve killed us all!” With that, he launched himself at Dusk. The impact knocked him from the gun carriage and sent the pair tumbling down the stairs and into the courtyard. The continued tussling, rolling over and over, with neither pony gaining the upper hand. Ponies quickly gathered around to watch the spectacle.

Just as things were about to get out of hoof though, the pair found themselves pulled apart.

“Hey! The pair of you, pack it in!” a voice bellowed. A pair of hooves held them apart, despite their efforts to resume killing each other. “Hey, stop! We have bigger problems to deal with!” Finally, the two stopped their fight to see who it was who was ordering them around like a drill sergeant.

It was Swift Sentry, of all ponies.

“You are officers of the Lunar Guard!” Sentry bellowed. “Act like it!” Finally, the pair stopped their struggles. There was quite a crowd gathered at this point.

“Right,” Sentry said, his voice a little hoarse. “Let’s examine the facts. We are now trapped here. We cannot run from the situation. We cannot fight our way out, either. We have two choices. Surrender ourselves and hope for the best, or stay and fight to the end.”

“I am not leaving the temple to those dogs,” Dusk said bitterly. Flintlock snorted in disapproval.

“Will you stop banging on about your stupid bucking temple! I knew you were a whack job when I first met you, but I thought you at least had a sense of self-preservation! I could probably have you deemed unfit to command.”

“Good luck with that,” Dusk replied. “Try to relieve me and I’ll kill you first.” It was quite clear to Sentry that Dusk was teetering on the edge of madness. Having lost so many ponies, and faced with almost certain death, the ex-volunteer’s mind was close to breaking.

“Colonel,” Sentry said. “Whether you defend the temple or not, the mission cannot hold. The choice we have is whether or not we go with it.”

“It’s better to try and save as many as we can. The situation may be salvageable; we can still surrender,” Flintlock offered. Sentry now turned to him.

“But what of the civilians, sir?” he asked. “We still need to hold the enemy up for another full day to ensure that they reach the Badlands. If we surrender, firstly, the enemy may, as Colonel Dusk says, simply do away with us. But more importantly, they will resume advancing. They will overtake the civilians and pull them down.

“Now, I don’t know about any of you, but I don’t want that to happen. While the colonel’s reasons may be a little foalish, I agree with him. If we stay here, we can still save the civilians. If we surrender, everypony will die.”

Silence prevailed amongst the gathered crowd of ponies. Each one taking stock of their new situation. Much to Sentry’s relief, he no longer had to hold back Dusk or Flintlock from each other. The two thestrals slowly backed away from each other, bruised and bloodied, and the whole group seemed to breathe a collected sigh of relief.

Dusk did his best to steady himself. He had indeed been on the verge of a nervous breakdown; a consequence of his wartime experiences, and the traumatic memory of their retreat to the mission. Flintlock was no better, he had just seen what he believed to be their final chance at salvation slip away. Still, both officers did their best to bury their personal feelings. If they broke, so would everypony else, and then those Bright Lights would win. Eventually, Dusk spoke up, addressing the assembled ponies.

“Lieutenant Sentry is right. Gentlecolts, we are out of options. This is where we will make our stand. We have to hold out, just a little longer, to make sure that those we all care about make it to safety.” He paused for a moment. “However, having said that, I cannot order any of you to do this. Every guardsman knows that someday he may have to give his life to protect Equestria and its people, but I cannot, and will not, order you to die. So…those of you who wish to try and leave…do so now.”

Silence prevailed again, save for the sound of the desert wind and the twittering of the birds. The ponies of the Moonflower all looked to each other; thestrals, unicorns, earth ponies, and pegasi. All of them, undoubtedly, felt the pull of their basic instinct to survive, to run from danger. They all felt that same fear, of the future, of death, and of what lay beyond it.

But still, nopony moved. Eventually, Flintlock spoke up.

“Colonel Star Dusk, permission to resume my post, sir?” he asked. Dusk smiled faintly.

“Very well, captain,” he replied. He then addressed the rest of the assembled ponies. “All of you, resume your posts; we have a battle to fight!”

At once all of the ponies cheered. A strange turn of events considering their now inevitable future. They were doomed. Each and every pony within the walls of the Moonflower knew that. Yet they still took pride in their work, morale stabilised, armour and weapons were cleaned, duty shifts were maintained flawlessly, and order held.

A few hours later, Dusk and Flintlock, who had both apologised to each other and consequently made up, were summoned by one of the watchful gun crews. The enemy camp had raised a signal flag. With the first ever telegraph network still very much under construction in Canterlot, many communications were sent by way of signal flags, a method more commonly used at sea. Typically, different colours and patterns were different numbers, with each three digit number corresponding to a word or phrase in a codebook. This however, was something different.

“Pass me you glass,” Flintlock ordered as he and Dusk looked out to the small fluttering speck that was the enemy’s signal. Bringing the instrument up to his right eye, Flintlock squinted, adjusting the focus of the lens to clear up the image. He quickly found the signal flag.

“Sir,” he said, reporting to Dusk. “Enemy camp has raised a red flag.” The young earth pony who had first seen it was one of Flintlock’s volunteers and as such, did not understand the sombre, blunt message that it entailed.

“Well, what does that mean, sir?” he asked. Flintlock however, had fallen silent, so Dusk explained.

“A red signal flag is rarely flown, private. It means ‘no quarter’. The enemy will not take prisoners, or show any mercy when they attack, and nor are we required to. This will be a fight to the bitter end.”

Author's Note:

Proofread by The Batmane of equestria.

This chapter is something of a nod to the events that took place at the Alamo; the inspiration for the story. When the main Mexican force arrived in the area, they sent out a small group to offer terms to the Texican defenders. Col. Bowie rode out to meet them, whilst Col. Travis elected to fire a warning shot, scaring them off. The mixed messages confused the Mexicans and sealed the Texicans fate.

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