• 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 14 - Final Hours

After the sudden flaring of tempers between the senior officers had settled, things returned to a state of relative normalcy. Most ponies inside the Moonflower had already made their peace. Father Moonapple, who still insisted that he would remain behind, found himself performing confessions en masse, as a mix of old devotees and sudden new converts descended on the temple seeking absolution.

It was a strange situation; everypony knew that tomorrow, in all likelihood, they would be dead. An odd sort of unreality set in. Everypony accepted the turn of event. After all, there was little they could do about it now. But at the same time, they all remained hopeful that some odd Luna ex machina event would come along and save them.

Others, such as Dusk, whose devotion to the fallen princess bordered on fanaticism, ignored their oncoming demise almost entirely, content in the fact that they would take a whole mess of the enemy with them. Flintlock sort of fell into this group. Though, rather than being driven by religious fervour, his simply wished for one last good fight; an opportunity to give his foes a bloody nose one last time.

Such was the final day inside the old mission turned fortress that was the Moonflower.

Meanwhile, across the expanse in the enemy camp, the mood was much more different. After their brilliant success the night before, Steel Pike’s temper had cooled. It had been a bloody battle with heavy losses on both sides, but it was clear who had held the field, and who had been sent scurrying back to their little hovel. It was the perfect situation for the Royal Guard. The numerically inferior enemy force was now safely bottled up, with no chance of escape.

Of course, there had been attempts to negotiate a settlement, much to Pike’s dismay. The Royal Guard didn’t negotiate with criminals and bandits, why should these vermin be any different? Luckily, though, in their usual fashion, the thestrals had proved to be turncoats. They’d initially accepted the small delegation sent out to try and talk them out. However, about five minutes in, one of the cannons the buggers seemed to have somehow gotten their hooves on had opened up, barely missing one of the senior officers.

After that debacle, it was decided to simply starve the idiots out. They had to be low on food as it was. It would take, at most, a week before they either came crawling out to beg for mercy, or drop dead from starvation and disease.

Pike had initially been against such a plan. He saw it as a waste of time. After all, being this far out in the middle of nowhere was already a stretch for the Royal Guard as it was. It wouldn’t be long before their own supplies began to dwindle. That and there were other hotspots that needed their attention; Mareginia was still trying to relive her glory days, despite what they had done to Atcanter. Why couldn’t ponies understand that this was all for their own good? The harmony of Equestria had to be maintained, and every single thestral stallion, mare, and foal was a threat to that harmony.

It would be far better off they just rushed the place now. At best, the enemy had about two hundred ponies, including those who were badly wounded yesterday. It would take less than a quarter of the Royal Guard forces to overwhelm them. The senior staff however, disagreed. They’d been badly spooked by the four large cannons that defended the approaches to the Moonflower. At first, the pitiful defences had been dismissed. With so few thestrals, it was expected that their own pegasi could easily gain air superiority. However, those cannons turned out to be more dangerous than anypony realised.

Pike had heard his grandfather talk about ‘flak’; something the griffons had cooked up during the last war with Equestria. He’d told of how it was like shrapnel in mid-air, and how one shell could knock down a dozen pegasi. He hadn’t believed him, until yesterday. He didn’t know how, and he didn’t really care, but somehow those thestrals had gotten their hooves on a few crates of the stuff. When their pegasi assault group tried to establish air superiority over the mission, effectively ending the battle before it began, the thestrals had wildly fired the stuff into the air. The survivors had been lucky to get away unscathed.

As such, nopony really wanted to go anywhere near the enemy stronghold. It was possible though, of that Pike was sure. A land advance would be far more effective, the small calibre cannons would be far less damaging, and they could use their larger numbers to overwhelm the thestrals. The Moonflower’s courtyard could then become a killing floor.

He just needed to persuade the brass to act. And in light of his recent success in that department, he very much fancied his chances.

“Sir,” a voice said, off to the side, catching him off guard.

“Oh, what? What is it?” Pike demanded; he’d been so lost in his own thoughts of victory that he’d been caught unawares.

“Sorry, sir. But the senior officers are all meeting to discuss the plan of attack.” Pike’s eyes widened. Well that was one issue sorted.

“Oh, I see,” Pike said more calmly. “I’d assumed we were just going to starve the vermin out.” The young guard shook his head.

“No, sir. Word around the camp is that we’re to be redeployed as soon as possible. Apparently there’s some issues back home to deal with. Command wants this all wrapped up as soon as possible, so we’re to attack soon.” Pike took in the details gleefully.

Following the young guard, he made his way to the large campaign tent where the other senior officers, including the general in charge, had gathered to discuss their plans.

“So you’re saying we can’t just blast away at them?” one officer asked.

“Not with the guns we have. If we had access to some long range pieces we could simply flatten the place with the enemy inside. But as it is, we’d be in range of their guns as well. And I don’t want to run the risk of them using that flak stuff as artillery.” There were murmurs of agreement all round.

“Fine,” another officer said. “Then the attack will have to be an infantry based one. We can’t use aerial attacks because of their flak weapon. But we should be able to advance overland; overwhelm them with numbers.”

“Why not just treat this like we’re assaulting a castle?” Pike offered up, causing everypony to take notice of his arrival. “Instead of just trying to rush the place, why not scale the walls? If we can get up high, we can take their guns out of play, or even turn them on the courtyard below.”

“I don’t know, major,” another pony replied. “It would be a bloody battle just getting onto the walls. You’d just end up with choke points. What about smashing the wall down in a few places? Our unicorns know a few demolition spells. We could knock out the cannons that way; undermine them. Then we could think about an attack from the air again.”

“Does it really matter?” Pike broke in again. “We’re going to take this place; we can’t lose. It’s two hundred against a thousand, and that’s just our initial attack force. What does it matter of the battle is a bit ‘bloody’?”

“It matters, major,” one of the generals replied. “Because we are talking about ponies lives here. Not just an expendable commodity. If we can reduce the loss of life as much as possible, I would be a very happy stallion. We had a decent chance of negotiating until that sudden burst of canon fire. It didn’t help that you went and ran up a red flag either.” Pike seethed.

“For Celestia’s sake!” Pike exclaimed, making himself a few enemies amongst the more senior commanders. “These are thestrals, lunar vermin. We’re better off without them!”

“Major!” one of the generals barked. “That is enough! We will be attacking the enemy camp tomorrow. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. I still can’t believe what your unit did at Atcanter.” He then addressed the assembled commanders. “Right, we will attack the enemy stronghold tomorrow. The attack will be a ground offensive, with the aim of breaking into the stronghold and disabling the enemy guns. Ordinarily, I would call for a final chance for the enemy to surrender. But thanks to Major Pike here, that is impossible. We will be fighting against ponies who know their back is against the wall. Alright, go and brief your units.”

With that, the meeting broke up. Pike now felt suitably foalish and was undoubtedly viewed as such by the other officers. Still, he was getting his way. Tomorrow the Moonflower would fall. He smiled to himself, looking forward to the coming dawn.

Back across No Pony’s Land in the Moonflower, the surviving senior officers were also making their own plans. Of course, it wasn’t as if they had much of a chance of overcoming the enemy attack in any way. All they could do was to hold for as long as they could. At the end of the day, every minute that they held out, would mean that the fleeing civilians would be another minute ahead of the Royal Guard.

Dusk looked around the table a little despondently. There were more than a couple of empty chairs tonight. Quick Strike had been killed in the initial surprise attack out at the orchards, and Moonbeam had been pulled down by a load of pegasi before anypony could drive them off. Then there were the numerous injuries and those ponies that were walking wounded. Suffice it to say that the small, battered garrison was in no shape for a fight on even terms, never mind against a vastly numerically superior foe. The tired thestral colonel leaned back in his chair and addressed the others.

“So, how long can we realistically hold?” he asked.

“Well, assuming the enemy still rely on their old playbook,” Flintlock answered. “If they attacked tomorrow, I’d say a couple hours at best.”

“What about tactics?” Sentry asked him. Flintlock thought for a moment.

“Well, they certainly won’t come in by air to start with; they’re too rattled by those flak shells. Speaking of, how many of those do we have left?”

“About a dozen or so, why?” another thestral, who was sporting a freshly bandaged gash along his side, replied. Flintlock’s brows furrowed.

“I figured we might try using them as artillery. If they go off a few feet above the enemy advance, it’ll still hurt them badly, maybe even cause a rout for a while until their officers get them in line.

“Still, that ought to be our first move. Once they start advancing, we start shelling the bastards. The more we take out before they get too close, the easier it’ll be.”

“The canons will probably be the first thing they go for,” Dusk added, nodding sagely. “Once we lose one of them, an entire front will be exposed. Even with what unicorns we have putting up a base of fire, we won’t be able to hold them.”

“And once they reach the wall…” Sentry said ominously.

“Once they reach the wall, either they try to scale it, and we have a chance to catch them in a choke point for a while, or they use explosives. Again though, any hole they make, we can still make it damn difficult to get through. We should be able to hold there for quite a while.”

“Eventually though, they’ll take out two walls, then three. We can keep fighting until they make it into the courtyard. Then we’ve had it.” The assembled ponies agreed.

“Well, when that happens, we can fall back to the temple; we’ll make our stand there,” Dusk decided.

It seemed a fitting place to him, and to quite a few others. Father Moonapple, who had refused all offers of attempts at securing him safe passage, was already preparing his own defences inside the temple. Unwilling to let the enemy raze it after he was gone, Moonapple was determined to instead, as a final blow against the enemy, blow the whole temple sky high. With that, the meeting was brought to a close.

“Alright, everypony,” Dusk said. “We can expect them to come at us tomorrow, or at best the day after. Make sure everypony is up to speed with the plan of action. Remember, at the end, we may well have to deal with a total breakdown of command.” That was a polite way of saying that the lower ranks would have to fend for themselves, as there was a good chance Dusk, Flintlock, and the other officers would be dead. “And I want all security procedures finished today; all maps, communications and logs are to be burned before moonrise."

With that, the meeting broke up for the final time.

Dusk had little to do. Everything was prepared as best as it could be. The mission would not hold, no, but taking it would be a very difficult undertaking. From a utilitarian perspective, it made the most sense. If his small unit had to be sacrificed, it was better that it took as many of the enemy as possible with it. So, like a thousand other commanders, on a thousand other battlefields, he awaited the dawn.

Sunrise was a few hours away yet, he expected that that would be the time the enemy would make their push. A night attack, whilst definitely possible, would be more costly for them. Thestral eyes would give his own ponies the advantage, in addition to their more suitable dark armour. Steadily, Dusk made his way to the temple.

He was still in two minds about what would happen tomorrow. His death was an almost absolute certainty, and thanks to his beliefs regarding Princess Luna, the thought did not bother him that much. As long as he died defending his princess, he decided, he would be happy. Laughing hollowly to himself, he realised that he was probably already walking over his own grave. Assuming he survived long enough, the temple would be where he met his end.

Others, of course, were not taking things as easily, or took different approaches in regards to making peace. The more atheistic Flintlock was more determined to go down in battle, taking as many with him as possible, whilst Sentry was, like a lot of the youngsters, still in that strange state of unreality. After all, it was a hell of a thing to know that tomorrow you would die. Most ponies didn’t get such a chance. The denizens of the Moonflower though, they had the luxury of getting prior notice. Dusk wasn’t sure if it was a blessing or a curse.

Walking along the aisle, his hooves softly echoing as he went, Dusk made his way towards the pews at the front, near the altar. Of all the ponies in the mission, his belief was probably the strongest. Some might even class him as a religious zealot, possibly even an extremist, based on the serious attitude he took when it came to his beliefs. Still, even he was not sure what would happen tomorrow.

Religious worship of the princess was common at this point in history, but very little was said about the mystery of death. Most of the scriptures focussed on the princesses themselves, their supposed divinity, and various inflated stories of their successes. But there was no consensus on what lay beyond the world. Dusk thought to himself; perhaps he would join Princess Luna in the moon, forming a new Lunar Guard of vengeful spirits, to one day help her take her place as rightful ruler of Equestria.

It was at that moment, that his train of thought was interrupted.

“Why am I not surprised?” Moonapple said as he made his way up the aisle towards Dusk. “Of all the ponies stuck here, of course you would be the one to come and seek solace in faith.”

“It cannot hurt,” Dusk replied. “I’m surprised you aren’t praying too. I would have thought an ordained member of the clergy would naturally fall back on his faith.” Moonapple scowled.

“Trust me, my faith is the only thing keeping me from losing my marbles at this point. Well, that and keeping myself busy with this.”
As he drew level with Dusk, the thestral realised that he was in the process of laying the explosives that would be their final gesture of defiance. He was presently unwinding the fuse cables and preparing to connect everything to the detonator. Rather sensibly, he had selected the infamous dead pony’s switch to ensure that the process couldn’t be stopped.

“Why didn’t you leave when you had the chance, Father?” Dusk asked curiously. Seeing that he was in for a bit of a chat, Moonapple set the cable down, and took a seat across the aisle from Dusk.

“Well, it’s my job,” he answered. “I’m supposed to care for and maintain the temple as best I can. And since my original parish was rather unceremoniously burned to the ground, I thought I’d have another go here.”

“But you’re going to blow it up,” Dusk replied. Lighting his horn a moment, Moonapple levitated the cables to one side, out of the way.

“True, but it shan’t be defiled by those sun worshipping morons.”

Silence settled again for a little while. Dusk looked down at his hooves in thought, occasionally glancing up at the image of the princess that dominated the stone wall in front of him.

“What do you think will happen tomorrow, Father?” Dusk asked, the unicorn minister was characteristically blunt in his response.

“I’m fairly certain that we’ll all die in a rather pointless battle.” Dusk shook his head.

“No, no, no. I mean after that,” he added. Moonapple thought for a moment.

“Well, I remember my old grandpa used to say that every star in the sky was a former guard of the princess, watching over their successors,” he said. “But personally…I’m not sure. Nopony is. And anypony who says they are is a lying idiot.”

Moonapple got up and moved to sit next to Dusk, placing a comforting hoof on his shoulder.

“Look at it this way. What you and your colts have done here has saved a lot of lives. And one day, when this war is all over and done with, their foals will be able to come back, and live out their lives in peace. Now, I may not know Princess Luna personally, but I think that if she could see the sacrifice you’re about to make, she’d be proud of you. Just hold onto that thought.”

With that, the elderly minister brought his magic to life again and began to head up towards the altar to finish connecting up the last of the explosives. Dusk himself stayed a while longer, staring up at the image of the princess before finally heading back to his room to catch his last few hours of sleep.

Despite the approaching maelstrom, Dusk, and most other ponies inside the Moonflower, slept rather soundly. There were some of course, who could not bring themselves to rest. They paced around the mission, cleaned their armour, checked their weapons, or practiced spells; anything to take their mind off of the future.

For the most part, it worked. There were no incidents in the night, no fights, no last desperate attempts at defection or flight. Dusk himself slept for several hours, awakening a little after four in the morning.

Heading outside into the courtyard, he found quite a few ponies already assembled. A few had stationed themselves up on the high walls and ramparts, a couple had commandeered the large telescope used to survey the enemy. All were looking up at the night sky, and at the moon which still hung above the horizon.

Dusk had always found the shadowy figure now emblazoned on its surface unsettling; a permanent reminder of their ultimate failure. Well, not permanent, he reminded himself. He would not live to see it, but one day, he knew Princess Luna would break free and retake her throne. Who knows, perhaps someday, the sisters would reconcile, and they could go back to ruling together as they had before all of this.

Looking out across the expanse, he could see the fires and lights of the enemy camp, who were also evidently already up and about. Like them, they were probably preparing for the coming battle in their own way. Even after all these years, Dusk still felt anxiety bubbling away in the pit of his stomach.

Heading along the catwalk, Dusk settled himself down in a quiet spot away from other ponies. He wanted to be alone for this. Looking up at the moon, he stared at the face of the shadowy mare on it for a good long while, trying to think of something to say. Finally, he began.

“Princess,” he said softly. “It seems I have failed you again. I’ve done my best, and done all I could to protect your ponies from harm. But it seems some of us now have no choice but to face our foes. I know this is not what you wanted for Equestria, and I know you did all you could to prevent it. I do not know what will happen next, and I’m afraid. If it is still within your power, please, help me to lead these ponies in their final hours.”

The moon of course, did not reply. Dusk however, did feel a sudden sense of peace wash over him, along with a cool night breeze. For a stallion with his level of conviction, that served as a valid response. Briefly bowing to the large white orb, he returned down to the courtyard and went to put on his last good uniform.

As the sun rose steadily into the sky, both sides were gathered. On the one side, holed up within the protective walls of the Moonflower, was the small group of thestrals, unicorns, earth ponies, and two pegasi, which made up their diminished garrison. And facing them was a vast army. The Royal Guard were committing almost an entire legion, with nearly a thousand ponies assigned to the attack. They were mainly pegasi, mixed with unicorns and a few earth ponies, all dressed in their shining golden armour.

The two groups stared at each other across the abyss of No Pony’s Land. All in all, the Royal Guard would have to cross almost half a mile of open ground to reach the mission. Had the Lunar Guard chosen to rest in San Maretonio itself, things would have been far less difficult. As it was, the thestrals had themselves a very defendable position. Both sides knew that the coming battle would not be an easy one.

Conversely though, both sides also knew the inevitable outcome. Ultimately, the Royal Guard would win out by sheer weight of numbers, and there was nothing to be done about that. Still, the thestrals were determined that if they were to go down, to take as many of the enemy with them as possible.

Dusk stood with Flintlock on the catwalk, facing the main enemy force, examining them through a spyglass. On this occasion he wore no armour, instead turning out in his formal uniform, complete with his medals and epaulettes.

“Well, looks like there’s enough of them for us to make a decent fight of it,” Dusk said. Flintlock chuckled at his dark humour. “Is everypony prepared?”

“Yes, sir,” Flintlock replied, becoming serious again. “Everypony is in position, all cannons are loaded and ready, and the explosives are set and primed. The ball’s in their court now.” Dusk nodded and returned to observing them. However, a moment later, Flintlock spoke again.

“Permission to speak freely, sir?” he asked. Dusk put down his glass and turned to him.

“When have you not, my friend?” he replied, smiling.

“I just wanted to say; it’s been a pleasure serving with you, Star. I know we’ve had our disagreements every now and again, but you’ve been one of the best ponies I’ve served under.” Dusk was thankful for the helmet on his head, lest the captain see him blush a little.

“Thank you, Flint. I enjoyed serving with you too.” Dusk was then cut off by Swift Sentry, who was further along the catwalk, also observing the enemy.

“Sir, enemy movement front!” he called out.

Dusk quickly returned to his spyglass. It wasn’t initially obvious, but judging by the dust that was being kicked up, the enemy was indeed advancing.

“Stand to, everypony!” Dusk called out. By now, it was clear that the Royal Guard were in a full gallop, charging across the open country. The colonel carefully put on his helmet, though did little else to protect himself.

“Lieutenant Sentry!” Flintlock called out. “A ranging shot if you please!”

“Sir!” Sentry answered, he then turned to the gun crew that was manning the cannons that faced the main enemy force. “Elevation forty, full charge. Ready. Fire!”

The cannon rang out, fire spewing forth as it rocked back on its gun carriage. Watching carefully, Dusk looked for the impact. Ten seconds later, a mound of earth suddenly shot up just ahead of the charging ponies.

“Twenty yards short, I think,” Dusk declared. “Wait a moment and then let them have those flak shells.” Half a minute later, the enemy were within range of the great gun.


Author's Note:

Proofread by The Batmane of equestria.

So, the final battle begins. The next and final chapter before the epilogue will be a lengthy one. Hope you all enjoy it.

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