• Published 4th Sep 2015
  • 714 Views, 32 Comments

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 1 - Crossing the Desert

Standing on the top of the highest rise for miles, Colonel Star Dusk, officer commanding what had once been the Appleoosian Rangers, a respected and highly decorated regiment, looked down on the sprawling evacuation column of ponies, carts, and wagons. The desert was not the best place for them. But the tyrannical mare, who now ruled Equestria alone, seemed determined to cook them all with the unforgiving sun she commanded, rather than let them flee and go in peace.

It was not an ideal situation; there were the older ponies to think of, not to mention the foals who found the long daily treks exhausting. And that didn’t even begin to consider the requirements of all the new-borns that made up the vast, seemingly endless column. Most of them weren’t even true supporters. Many had merely voiced their concern over Celestia’s creation of a monarchical government, concerned for the loss of the balance of power, the exact reason the diarchy had worked the way it did. But for their objections, they had been vilified, forced from their homes by angry mobs or offered ‘resettlement’ by the new Royal Guard, made up only of Celestia’s faithful and the few Lunar guardsmen who, at the moment of truth, had betrayed their cause and their countrymen.

But that hardly mattered now did it? Dusk knew, as everypony did, that there was no going back. The small band of former guards who escorted the great column were little more than the remnants of a defeated army. They had once been so sure of victory; they had forced Celestia and her conspirators to flee the castle, and raised their colours, tearing down those of the sun. But now? Now they were insignificant; guards without a princess and with little more than the armour on their backs to their name.

He remembered the day four months ago, when he had first taken command of this unruly mob. He’d been forced to grab what little he could from his home as the mob closed in. Bugging out the back door, he’d managed to give most of them the slip. What had he done? It had been the better part of a year since the war ended. Why had they suddenly started hunting the thestrals down now? There had been no time to grab much; just his old armour, his officer's sword and a few supplies.

After he gave the roving bands the slip, he’d lived out in the wilds for a couple of days, before blind luck led him to meet a few others in a similar predicament. They told him how the same thing was happening all across Equestria, and that the old top brass was ordering everypony to evacuate. As the most senior officer, he had naturally been given command. It was a far cry from what he had hoped. Less than seventy officers and men looking after over a thousand civilians. And all they did was complain! Why couldn’t they fight? Why couldn’t they take much with them? It was as if they hadn’t seen what those solar butchers were doing to anypony they caught. It made even a hardened veteran like him feel sick.

Still, there would be some temporary relief soon; San Maretonio was only another day or so away. Here and there, advance scouts were reporting scrabble farms and ranches, and occasionally the odd encounter with buffalo tribes. The settlement was neutral, or at least as neutral as could be. They would hopefully be offered temporary shelter for a couple of days, and perhaps an opportunity to replenish supplies. Their final destination, of course, was that of all exiled ponies; the Badlands. Beyond the rocks and lifeless sands, there were vast mountain ranges and huge cave networks. Mountains like that would be perfect, a place to hide and rebuild. What was left of the Lunar Guard’s chain of command, now declaring itself to be the government in exile, had ordered all surviving soldiers and their families to head there in whatever way they could.

For most, that meant evacuation in groups. It was a long, slow trip, made even more difficult by the roving bands of Bright Lights that nipped at their heels like timberwolves. They would get there though. After this last stop, it was less than a week until they reached Equestria’s border. At least then, they would be safe from their enemies.

Satisfied that the column was moving forward at a good pace, and that there was no sign of the enemy, Dusk briefly opened his bat like wings and took to the sky, gliding back down to the main trail to re-join his command staff. Assuming you could call two corporals and a reservist a staff. Still, they kept their men in line. Other than the enemy, and their perilously low supplies, the biggest concern for Dusk was the morale situation. Their beloved princess was gone, as were most of her noble guards; it was a very real possibility that the military structure they depended on would simply break down. After all, was their really any point in following these orders? Why didn’t he just quietly slip away, find a place out of the way, where he could live quietly? Out in the bayou country perhaps? Dusk was startled out of his thoughts by a report from one of the corporals; a thestral by the name of Swift Sentry if he remembered correctly.

“Sir, the convoy is proceeding normally. No sign of enemy movement. But we are beginning to run low on water,” the youngster said, saluting his vastly superior officer. He acted like a colt playing settlers and buffalo; maintaining this air of an aspiring young officer, even masking his thick Mustangian accent. Dusk wondered how the poor colt had even survived the war, never mind got this far. Still, taught to uphold the finest traditions of the service, he returned the salute.

“Very good. I can just about make out San Maretonio ahead of us. It should be safe harbour for a couple of days. With any luck we might even meet up with some other evacuation columns, maybe pool our resources.” Dusk hoped to Luna there was somepony there, aside from the miniscule population, mainly from Mexicolt, who called the small settlement their home; somepony who knew how to do something like this. He had been trained to command a regiment in battle and in peace. But his command now was mainly civilians desperate to reach safe haven, and not always willing to obey orders.

“Has there been any more news about what’s happening in Canterlot, sir?” Sentry continued, perhaps trying to make conversation. The home of the nobility was now the new home of the monarchy that moved the sun and the moon and ruled the battered country. Celestia had even made the recently completed palace (the final spires were actually only completed two years into the war) her seat of power, leaving the badly damaged Castle of the Two Sisters to rot and decay in the Everfree Forest.

“All I’ve heard is more of the same,” the aging colonel replied. “Everypony has to swear an oath of allegiance to the monarchy or they have to join us. They’ve been trying the rest in batches, like griffon republicans.” He paused to shake his head and clear his thoughts. “Still, there are still some rumblings in Baltimare and Mareginia. It seems like not everypony is willing to accept the new order. Who knows, the griffons might even try something.” Sentry cracked a smile.

“Yeah, maybe then we could go back, save Equestria and force Celestia out of that stupid golden throne!” So headstrong, you would have thought the war would have beaten that out of him. To his credit, Dusk merely chucked.

“It ain’t that easy, kid. Like it or not; this is our future for the moment. Until the time is right, and Princess Luna is able to break free of whatever spell that witch cast, we have to stay away.” Corporal Sentry merely snorted irritably. For a few pleasant moments, he was quiet. Dusk had a few precious seconds to admire to desert landscape before his thinking was again interrupted.

“So, what’s San Maretonio like then, sir?” Sentry asked. Dusk did his best to repress a groan. The kid meant well really. But would it really kill him to shut his mouth for five minutes? Placing a hoof to the bridge of his snout in an attempt to ease the oncoming headache, Dusk replied.

“It’s desert, kid,” he replied simply. The only difference between here and there is that there they’ve got a couple more scrabble farms and a watering hole or two. It ain’t gonna be much more comfortable, but they’ll give us some place to rest.” Perhaps Luna, from her new prison now smiled upon her old soldier, for Sentry at last fell silent, before promptly excusing himself to go and check the rear of the column.

And so, once again, Colonel Star Dusk found himself relatively alone as he continued to lead the column toward the town. There had to be somepony there. There just had to be. Sure the losses had been bad, and everypony had been caught napping when the evacuation orders came, mainly by civilian mail, but he knew there would be other columns like this. Hay, he knew some had already reached the Badlands. Who knows, maybe High Command would send somepony out to meet him halfway. He just needed something to support them. San Maretonio was the last stop before you hit the Badlands, if they were going to meet anypony on this Luna forsaken journey, it would be there.

Looking behind, to the west, Dusk could see the setting sun. Not so long ago, this would have been an important time of his day. Chaplain Darklight would be leading the guards in evening prayers, granting them safety for the night on behalf of Luna herself. Now though, each moonrise was just another reminder of his failure. Each night the moon was raised by that evil tyrant, who mocked each and every thestral alive, moving Luna’s moon with her own blasphemous solar magic.

Luna would return, of that he was sure. There was no prison that could hold his princess indefinitely. And when she did, he privately hoped that he would be the one to lead the column up the Canterhorn, into that glittering palace and hurl Celestia from her ill-gotten throne. Then, he would watch his goddess dispense justice to the traitors.

Shaking his head, Dusk departed from his fantasy. By all accounts, the prison Celestia had made for her sister would take at least ten centuries to break free from, even with alicorn magic. He would not live to see the day. Still, his memories of the old ceremonies did give him an idea.

Many of the thestrals within the vast column were good, honest believers in their princess and goddess. San Maretonio, if he remembered correctly had an old mission, long abandoned of course, but all the necessary articles should be there to hold a proper service. Perhaps it might be a good idea to set up shop there, rather than attempting to billet everypony all over the town. Once they were settled, perhaps they would hold a service, just like he was used to. Wasn’t there a chaplain in this mob?

Looking around for a moment, he scanned the area ahead of him looking for one of his guards. He spotted one of the thestrals just gliding above the ground, heading back towards the column having just been on a scout.

“Hey, you there!” Dusk called out, catching his attention. The thestral quickly landed and cantered over to him.

“Yes sir?” the young fellow said, after briefly saluting him. Unlike Sentry, this fellow wasn’t aspiring so badly. He was aware of his duties and carried them out correctly and without complaint. Dusk could ask for nothing more.

“I want you to head a little way back and find that Lunar chaplain that joined us at Dodge Junction, and bring him up here as soon as you can.” The young thestral, who was probably only just old enough to have enlisted during the war, promptly nodded.

“Very good, sir. I’ll bring him up right away.” And with that, the youngster took to the skies again, skimming over the column looking for the only pony that sported a ‘dog collar’.

As it turned out, the pony in question was a rather elderly unicorn. Dusk was amazed that he had made it so far. He was clearly getting on in years; his face sported an impressive grey beard that rivalled that of Starswirl the Bearded. He wore the traditional deep blue and indigo robes of a Lunar priest, though of course, they too had clearly seen better days, just as Dusk’s armour had. Here and there a button was missing and the hem was frayed in places. But what surprised Dusk most of all was the stallion’s expression. On the surface, it was that of a kind and friendly figure, almost like a father perhaps. But looking into the old stallion’s eyes, Dusk saw fire within. In days gone by, it would have clearly paid to get along with him. And whilst that fire had perhaps dulled as he had aged, it was still nonetheless potent.

“You sent for me, Colonel?” he asked in a voice that sounded as if it had been dragged up from a well. Dusk was known for having a fairly gruff voice, but he was taken aback by him. He briefly bobbed his head in a quick bow as a sign of respect.

“Yes, Father,” he replied. “I was wondering if I could perhaps ask a favour of you.” The ageing stallion did little to react, so Dusk continued. “When we reach San Maretonio, I plan to settle most of the column in the old mission in the town. Luna willing, the temple will still be intact. Would you perhaps be willing to perform a service for my guards?”

“I suppose I can throw something together for you,” he replied after briefly considering the idea. “But to what end?”

“I thought maybe it might serve as a boost to everypony’s morale. What with all we’ve been through these past months, it would be pleasant to have a moment to rest and reflect. And to hope for the future. You yourself must know the predictions some of your own superiors have put forward.” The priest snorted and tossed his head.

“Yes, yes, I heard it,” he answered dismissively. “The stars shall aid in her escape, correct? Interesting that they gave a timetable of a thousand years.”

“Still, it does not hurt to hope, does it, Father?” Dusk countered. “Forgive me, I never asked your name.” The priest paused to adjust his collar for a moment before regarding Dusk coolly.

“My name is Moonapple,” he replied. “Father Moonapple to you, my boy.” It felt strange to the middle aged colonel to be addressed in such a way. “Very well, when we reach San Maretonio, you would be so kind as to lend me a few of your stallions, and I will get to work making the temple, at least, presentable. I shall not be holding services upon a pile of drums! Luna willing, I will call you all for prayers before moonrise.” Dusk bowed again.

“Thank you, Father.” With that, Moonapple headed back down the column to wherever had had previously been.

Dusk watched him retreat for a moment, before turning his attention back to the front. It had been a long time since he had seen a priest. With the start of this new conflict, the temples were one of the first things to go; burned to ashes, along with all the scriptures, stained glass, hymn books, and alters. As an officer, Dusk had always been a deeply religious stallion, just like any good guard, he was loyal to his princess. Although some might say he, like most thestrals, bordered upon fanaticism. But how long had it been since he had set hoof in a temple, three years, four?

As Moonapple left, he passed another pony heading in the opposite direction. Like Dusk, this one wore the uniform of an officer of the Lunar Guard, although the markings designated him to be a captain rather than a colonel. He was however, the second highest ranking officer in the entire column. That made him Dusk’s second-in-command. He had actually been the one to find Dusk on that darkest of nights in the woods as he did his best to hide.

This was Captain Flintlock, formerly of No. 4 Guards; one of the seven peacetime regiments. Three were Lunar regiments, three were Solar regiments, and the final, smaller contingent was made up of volunteer griffons as a way of fostering good relations between Equestria and the Griffon Kingdom.

Like Dusk, Flintlock was a well-respected thestral officer and had no less than three citations for gallantry in action to his name. He also had a great deal of experience, having been in the war from the get-go. He was in the Castle of the Two Sisters when the war officially began, and took part in the confused room to room fighting that ensued. Two Bright Lights had attempted to have him arrested at his post for conspiracy, he had fought back. In the end, he had rallied the faithful with him and successfully taken the library and barracks areas. This in turn allowed the Lunar Guard to get behind and outflank their opponents, who had moved to defend the throne room. In that sense, he played a pivotal role in the first battle of the war, though he never would admit to such a thing.

However, while he was proud of his position, he did somewhat resent being led around by Dusk. While by rank he was his senior, in terms of experience, Colonel Star Dusk was around a year his junior and had hardly seen the ferocious fighting that he had. Hay, when he first found the poor devil out in the wilds, he had mistaken him for a frightened cadet.

Still, he viewed him as a decent commanding officer. After all, he had gotten them all this far without major incidents, or contact with the enemy, aside from that one near miss with that Las Pegasus militia outfit. And he did agree with his current course of action; the enemy forces were overwhelming, now was the time to draw in their horns.

Given his position then, Flintlock took up the typical position of the second-in-command; that of an enforcer and disciplinarian. With no activity by the enemy, he had used the time to do what training he could as the column moved forward. Any able bodied stallion was inspected and tested by him. If they passed, he did his upmost to give them a crash course in the basics of soldiering. It was thanks to this measure that the number of guards now hovered nearer to a hundred than the previous two dozen.

Flintlock had spent the time Dusk had been searching the horizon and chatting with Moonapple to work his way along the line. That is, going about the various sentries he had been ordered to post, and checking up on them. As he trotted towards Dusk, the colonel called out to him.

“Well, Captain, how goes the watch?” he asked. Unlike the lower ranking guards, Dusk was far more informal with Flintlock. In the previous months, he had grown used to having him available as a sounding board for ideas, and he considered the stallion to be his friend.

“All quiet, Star,” Flintlock answered, briefly touching his helmet in an informal salute. “A couple of my boys spotted some buffalo scouts about half an hour ago, but they seemed to have moved on. My guess is they were just curious, as long as we keep out of their way, they shouldn’t bother us.” Dusk nodded.

“Things are looking up it seems then,” he said, beaming a little.

“Oh, how so?”

“Well, we’re less than a day away from safe harbour, no sign of the enemy for miles, and with any luck, your boys will be able to at last rest up after all this time.” That was true; they’d been on the run, ever watchful and getting little sleep for the better part of a month. Flintlock remembered that he’d read something about how a stallion was only good in the field for a maximum of ninety days before his effectiveness began to fall away. If they didn’t get a chance to really rest soon, they’d pass that barrier. By the time you hit day one hundred and twenty, a stallion would more than likely be a detriment to his allies due to stress and fatigue.

“I hope so,” Flintlock replied simply. “If we do get some time to hole up here, it would be a good chance to get some training done. I’ve done what I can, but a lot of your ‘guards’ are just colts taught to hold a spear. And that doesn’t even begin to include our lack of air cover."

Flight was a tiring thing to do in full armour, plus it took skill to fly, never mind fight, with the addition of the blades attached to the wingtips. With so few real guards, their biggest concern was being overwhelmed from the air by their pegasi cousins.

“Well, once we are rested up, it isn’t that far until we reach the border. If worst comes to worst, we can skip in and out of the Mexicolt border. But I think…” Dusk was cut off by a cry from above, one of his airborne scouts.

“Heads up! Possible enemy contact ahead!” he warned as he circled over the column. Flintlock craned his head back.

“What do you see, Shadow Flame?” he called back.

“A group of ponies, sir. Civvies by the looks of it. They’re heading our way. I’d say another ten minutes and they’ll run right into us!” Dusk snorted at the news.

“Well, there goes our secrecy then,” Flintlock said to him. “If they’re heading towards us, they know we’re out here. They could be civvies, or they could be a lure.” Dusk nodded in agreement.

“Alright, Flint, here’s what I want you to do. Form the guard up. Two platoons of skirmishers, send them out on either side of us to sniff out any Bright Lights trying to encircle us. Then send a small detachment to lift those ponies ahead. Escort them back here and we’ll see what’s what. Everypony else you can spare is to be ready to circle the wagons at a moment’s notice.” Flintlock nodded and quickly began to bark orders to the guards.

While the response seemed excessive for only a couple of ponies, Dusk was certain it was the best course of action. Why, you ask? Because if he wanted to ambush a slow moving enemy column, this is how he would do it. Draw them in with the promise of allies, and then encircle them, creating a killing floor. He didn’t have many options anyway. If he backed off or tried to skirt around, they could potentially blunder into the enemy. Hay, the noose may have already closed; with so few ponies to spare, reconnaissance was limited at best. So he would attempt to turn the trap on them. When the small detachment lifted the bait, they would probably charge. But instead of hitting the column, they’d meet the concealed bands of skirmishers on his flanks. Since the tactic depended on surprise, there was a decent chance they could repulse the initial assault, then tighten their formation and punch out, before fighting a rear-guard action. Like all good strategists, Dusk always planned several moves ahead.

Many ponies have a distorted view of what war is really like. They often think of it as a continuous struggle that is forever on-going. The reality is quite different. War is, for the most part, boring. Dusk had been leading this column for a few months. In all that time, they had only encountered the enemy twice. However, the boring monotony aside, war is also littered with brief moments of absolute terror. This is what Dusk, and everypony else was bracing themselves for. It would take around ten minutes for the forward scouts to reach the ponies ahead. All they could do for the moment, was wait.

Author's Note:

Proofread by Sidetrack, The Batmane of Equestria, and ThatPonyWithASword.

And now we're into the story proper. What do you reckon to our two protagonists so far then? Let me know in the comments. Introducing characters was something I had issues with in my last story, so any advice is appreciated.

Tune in in a fortnight's time to find out what is stalking the thestrals from behind the sand dunes.

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