• 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 5 - First Blood

Much to Dusk’s happiness and glee, as he carefully made his way back to camp, he saw a small red flare shoot upwards, lighting up the surrounding scene. The guards were trained to do this, only if they believed there was a possible intruder out there somewhere. Evidently, despite his care, he had been noticed by his men. Quite quickly, a challenge was shouted to him from the lines. After giving the appropriate counter-sign, two thestrals guards came out to meet him. He quickly recognised the pair as the two that he had passed in their foxhole on his way out.

“I reckon you owe us ten bits, sir,” the armoured stallion said, grinning a little. Dusk returned his smile.

“I must be losing my touch, sergeant. Come see me when your watch ends and I’ll pay up.” Privately, Dusk considered adding a little something to the stallion’s winnings. Perhaps some extra rations or a better position. He liked to give the ponies under his command something to aim for, with a tangible reward. Not just the ‘rewarding’ feeling of a job well done.

Dusk headed back the way he had come, threading his way through the civilian shanty town and eventually taking wing briefly to fly back over the wall. Landing in the main courtyard, he found all to be quiet. Since their arrival, everypony had begun to settle down, no longer too concerned about looking over their shoulder for pursuing Bright Lights. Around a dozen or so off-duty guards were gathered around a campfire. A couple had managed to get their hooves on some instruments, a violin, a guitar and a banjo. It was enough for a little sing song; just like the old days. As Dusk passed by, the little group began to sing.

Twas midnight when we built our fires,
We marched at half past three.
We know not when our march will end,
Nor care we follow Glee.
The moonlight gleams on many a thes’ral,
An’ many a well tried blade.
This handful marching on the left,
This line is our brigade.

Our line is short because its ranks,
So lavishly have bled.
Across the many countless plains,
Where battle we have led.
There are Vanhoovers on the right,
Their ranks are thinning too.
Now in one company they say,
They now can count but two.

There’s not much talking down the lines,
Nor shouting amidst the gloom.
For when the night is clearest,
Then we’re thinking most of home.

Dusk smiled, remembering the old tune from his own days on the lines. Dear Luna, without songs and music, the war would have been near intolerable! He was glad to see them all relaxed though. Even soldiers need some respite in conditions like these.

Heading back to his office a short ways from the bunkhouse, he found Flintlock outside, waiting for him. The thestral had been looking after the Moonflower in his absence, apparently doing a very good job of it.

“Back before midnight,” the guardsman offered as Dusk trotted up. “And apparently still sober. I’m impressed.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dusk returned idly. “At least I didn’t start a fight or hit on anything with a pulse.” Flintlock barked a short laugh.

“Do you really think so little of me, Star? Anyway, how was it? Learn anything from our friend in town?” Becoming more serious, Dusk shook his head.

“No, not really. Honestly, I think it may just be a wild goose chase. Maybe he’s just naturally shifty. He did ask one probing question though.”

“What?” Flintlock asked.

“He asked where, exactly, we were going.” Flintlock grimaced.

“Somehow I doubt he wants to know so he can send a house warming gift. What did you tell him?”

“I just deflected and told him about the Badlands, nothing more.”

“Good, good,” Flintlock seemed to relax a moment. It was a strange situation. It was almost as if Dusk was reporting to his subordinate.

“Honestly, I don’t think he is a risk. We know there’s nopony for miles; it doesn’t seem likely that he's talking to anypony. We’re only here for a few more days anyway, we’ll just draw in our horns and rest, I think.” The pair of thestrals began to walk back toward the bunkhouse, passing a few guards, here and there, along the way.

“I’d still like to keep up those patrols nonetheless, Star,” Flintlock continued. Dusk nodded.

“Makes sense. It’ll keep everypony busy. The last thing we need is for stallions to start going stir crazy in here.” It was a simple fact that when soldiers were not required to fight, they would vent their frustrations elsewhere, including on each other. Reaching the bunkhouse, Dusk prepared to head off for a brief rest.

“Alright, Flint. Send out patrols at regular intervals, ten mile radius, same as before. I’m going to have a quick rest; too much food in one sitting.” The stallion raised a hoof to cover his mouth as he yawned. “I’ll be up at two, tomorrow morning.” And with that, the two officers parted ways again.

For the next few days, the inhabitants of the Moonflower settled into a comfortable routine. The civilians, now fully rested up, were now more than able to help out wherever needed. Many even volunteered their services to some of the local farmers in exchange for a little coin. The shanty town now looked less like a slum and more like a modest settlement. The hastily constructed, ramshackle buildings had been replaced with more sturdy looking structures and the whole thing was now far better organised, rather than a maze of poor hovels. For Dusk, Flintlock, and the many guards that also called the mission their temporary home, life had also improved. As with the civilian settlement, everything had been fixed up and brought to a more comfortable level. The general staff even now had their own rudimentary administration system up and running to ensure all guards were properly paid and equipped.

Each day, a few thestrals, selected via a rota, would head off on a reconnaissance patrol. One was performed at first light, one at midday, and one at sundown, plus a longer night time patrol that doubled as a training exercise. This kept Flintlock quite busy, regularly pushing the stallions under his command to near their limit. As a result, their ability as a fighting force improved greatly, and it kept everypony busy, avoiding troublesome incidents.

That’s not to say that there weren’t any incidents. A couple of guards were put in the stockades, so to speak; mainly for minor offences, often caused by too much salt. And of course, every now and again, there would be a bit of infighting amongst the civilians. But given their current situation, these were often resolved quickly.

And of course, there was Father Moonapple, the wizened old stallion continued to, without fail, perform nightly services from the Lunar temple. Some of the guards, who in their previous lives had been repair ponies, had even managed to fix the ancient organ, allowing for hymns to be properly accompanied. It kept morale up and the faithful happy. And, Dusk privately thought, it would please the imprisoned princess as well, knowing that he had not abandoned the old ways as so many had.

The thestral colonel then was left with very little to do with his time. On occasion, he led some of the recon patrols out and back to keep his senses sharp. Most of his time though was spent behind his desk in his office. In another couple of days, it would be time to move on and cross over into the Badlands. That would mean a whole other headache; taking everything down, stowing everything away, and getting ready to move out. Despite the short time they had been here, they were all quite well settled. Indeed, Dusk had grown quite accustomed to the earth and clay walls of the Moonflower, and attending nightly services at the temple with everypony else. He just hoped his final home would be as much to his, and everypony else’s liking.

Later that night, the last patrol was completing its sweep of the area around the Moonflower and San Maretonio. The flight of four thestrals was led by Swift Sentry, the young, aspiring officer that Dusk had been forced to endure on their journey to their temporary homestead. The young stallion was indeed, somewhat headstrong and perhaps a little overconfident. However, with training, and perhaps just a little bit of angry shouting from Flintlock, he had become a more refined young officer. Still, his comparative lack of experience was a hindrance at times, hence why he was so regularly selected to lead these patrols.

Of the three other thestrals that accompanied him, two were veterans of the war, and one was a youngster who had volunteered to undergo Flintlock’s crash course training scheme. Whilst they might sound like a rag tag band of vagabonds, the four ponies were nonetheless skilled in their occupation. Which, as it turned out, was a lucky stroke for all concerned.

“Lieutenant! Lieutenant!” One of the flyers called out, hailing Sentry. The young buck turned his head to face his counterpart.

“What is it, Comet?” he asked over the wind, which was blowing quite badly at the time; they had been warned that there was a possible sandstorm on the way. With no real weather control this far out, systems tended to form on their own, and the Lunar loyalists didn’t have the resources to do much about it. Responding to Sentry’s question, the private pointed off into the distance.

“I can see something over that way, sir. It looks like a light or something.” Sentry followed the youngster’s outstretched hoof. Squinting through the gloom and using his superior eyes, which were suited for seeing in near total darkness, Sentry searched for the light.

He was just about to give up and tell his subordinate it was just his mind playing tricks, when he spotted it. Just over the crest of a hill to their north, there was indeed a glow of some sort; yellowish in colour and possibly from a fire. Fire of course meant ponies, and in their current situation, ponies potentially spelled trouble. His orders were quite clear, any unusual activity was to be investigated and a report delivered upon their return to the Moonflower.

“I see it too, Comet,” Sentry replied. He then raised his voice to address the other two members of the patrol. “Alright, everypony. Comet has spotted something just to the north. We’re going to extend our route a little to investigate. Keep close together and stay high; we don’t want to risk getting spotted.” With that, Sentry banked to port and began to head north, the three ponies following him quickly mimicked his action. The extended route meant they would be late getting back. He just hoped they wouldn’t take too long. If a patrol was overdue by more than half an hour, it was standard procedure to send out a second patrol to search for them.

The four thestrals sped over the darkened landscape toward the faint light. As they drew nearer, Sentry’s suspicions began to grow. They were miles away from the town, and there were no farms this far out. They could be shepherds he reasoned, using the fire to keep warm, and predators away. But why would they be this far out? The light soon transformed from a mere glow to what was clearly a campfire, and a big one to boot. To be safe, Sentry signalled his compatriots to increase their height.

Finally, after about ten minutes flying, they reached the source of the light. What they saw made Sentry’s heart jump into his mouth. Below them, standing around the fire, with a couple of supply wagons nearby, were at least twenty Royal Guards. They wore the grossly ostentatious gold armour of the traitorous Solar Guard, with blue plumes on the helmets. The white pegasi were huddled around the fire for warmth, or eating near the wagons.

As Sentry did his best to calm down, he quickly, and quietly, ordered Comet to begin making observations. Carefully reaching into a small pocket on his armour, Comet took out a notebook and quill. Then Sentry, backed up by the other two flyers, began to dictate to Comet everything they thought of note about their enemy below. How many there were, any regimental markings, supplies, weapons; anything that could prove useful. Comet then dutifully wrote everything down. This would be passed on to the senior officers when they got back.

While what he had found was indeed serious, after taking a moment to think, Sentry realised the situation wasn’t yet that dire. The Bright Lights appeared to be in no hurry, nor had they come in strength. Like himself, they were probably just a small reconnaissance patrol sent out to try and track them down. With the knowledge they now had, it was quite possible that tomorrow, they could continue the observation and eventually ambush them while the numbers were in their favour.

As Comet finished making his notes, Sentry prepared to turn south-west again and head for home. Just before he did so though, something caught his eye. In his peripheral vision, he could have sworn he saw a flash of gold. Turning, he saw it appear briefly again. He was just about to tell the others something was amiss when all of a sudden they appeared. Out of the darkness, apparently flying using the light of the fire below, four pegasi, clad in golden armour emerged. At almost the same moment, each side recognised the other, and almost inadvertently colliding in mid-air. In the event, the Lunar flyers recovered first, coming to the realisation just as the stunned solar flyers passed beneath them.

“Contact!” shouted Sentry. “Break, break, break!” With that, both sides scattered, and the fight began.

Whilst the tactics and conduct of ground forces has changed greatly over the course of history, aerial combat has remained largely unchanged for many decades. At one time, it solely consisted of an odd sort of mid-air boxing match, with two pegasi attempting to physically knock each other out of the sky. However, when Equestria first went to war against what was then, the rising Griffon Empire, a change of tactics was called for.

In contrast to the rather brutish methods of the pegasi, the griffin flyers relied upon their claws and beaks to inflict damage to their opponents. They would single out a lone pegasus and brutally slash at him until he could no longer fly. Unable to retaliate using their own methods, the Royal Guard sought to mimic the griffon methods.

The result was the creation of a new fighting style. Small, sharp blades were incorporated into the guard’s armour. Placed along the leading edges of their wings, this allowed Equestria’s flyers to mimic the tactics of their foe. Instead of mindlessly ramming into each other, they now slashed and cut with their wings. It also resulted in the intimidating sound these pegasi can make when unfurling their wings quickly, sounding much like a sword being drawn. Combat then, quickly changed. Death now could, quite literally, come in a thousand cuts, as flyers dropped from the sky due to blood loss. This was the brutal reality Sentry and his squad now faced.

As soon as the fight began, everypony scattered, heading off in a different direction in an attempt to confuse their enemy. In the darkness of the night sky, the thestrals had the advantage, being able to see further and clearer than their opponents. Their opponents however, had numbers on their side; the shouting from above had alerted the resting pegasi, and they were now scrambling to get into the air.

Sentry knew that it would be idiotic to stand and fight. But if they merely retreated, there was a high probability that somepony would be able to track them. That would mean the discovery of the Moonflower, and the defenceless civilians. There was no doubt in his mind that these ‘guardsmen’ would make no distinction between soldiers and regular ponies; to them they were all fair game. So, his only option was a rear-guard action; if he and his squad could hold off and find an opening, they could eventually slip away into the shelter of the night.

As he circled, he again saw a flash of gold, off to the left. Turning sharply, he found himself on the tail of a pegasus, who had evidently gotten a bit disorientated due to the lack of light and discernible horizon. At any other time, the young thestral would consider his actions cowardly and dishonourable. But this was combat at its most brutal; if you stopped to preserve your honour, you had a tendency to end up dead.

Sweeping down, gaining speed as he went, Sentry passed just over the pegasus. As he did so, he slashed hard with his left wing. The blade on the tip cut cleanly and shallowly along his opponent’s spine. The pegasus howled in agony at the sudden attack and rolled over in a reflex to protect himself. Unfortunately, this exposed his underside to Sentry’s attacks; his second strike was not as slight. Gripping his forelegs to the large gash across his gut, the young pegasus, perhaps a little younger than Sentry himself, dropped away into the darkness. Sentry was glad the wind and the sounds of battle masked the dull thud as the injured stallion hit the ground below.

There was little time to reflect on his actions however. Seconds later, Sentry found the situation reversed as a pegasus came charging at him from below. The armoured stallion swiped at Sentry, missing by perhaps a hair’s breadth. Using his opponents speed against him, Sentry rolled and dived for the ground, the pegasus quickly overshooting. Taking the opportunity, Sentry vanished into the relative darkness of the night. Already his heart was beating like a drum; he’d been in this situation before, sure. But the odds were so heavily stacked against him, he couldn’t help but doubt the possibility of his own survival. Turning back towards the fight, and what flyers refer to as ‘the bowl’, Sentry again began to search for targets.

As his commanding officer twisted and turned through the night and slashed at his enemies as they came, Comet was all but bolting in fright. Unlike Sentry, he did not have his experience, being only a recruit hurriedly trained by Flintlock. He knew the basics of aerial combat, of course. However, as is so often the case, theory and reality are two very different animals. Everything around him was a blur; flashes of gold, and occasionally purple shot across his vision. As soon as he tried to follow one, they pulled some seemingly impossible move and he lost them. He couldn’t find any of his fellows and consequently felt quite alone in the brutal dogfight. Consciously looking behind him, Comet feared that any moment, he might see some veteran Bright Light come sweeping down to kill him. Unbeknownst to him though, many of the pegasi he faced were actually recruits, with limited experience.

Angling himself higher, Comet climbed in an effort to get a better vantage point. One of the many reminders that rang in his head was Flintlock’s advice on attacking airborne enemies; approach from above and behind, coming out of the moon if possible. So he climbed higher, heading toward the vague comfort of the glittering stars.

Levelling off, he began to circle, examining the battle below. Squinting, he briefly spotted Sentry as he came up from his dive. The two spotted each other and Sentry quickly pitched up to join his frightened comrade. As he did so, the young officer had to jink hard to avoid two unfortunate Solar guards. The pair had evidently collided in mid-air, and in a cruel twist of fate, they had become locked together by their armour. Unable to create enough lift for both of them, they were now spiralling down towards the ground. Sentry hardly blinked; he had seen such a sight many times.

Beating his leathery, bat like wings, Sentry drew up alongside Comet, close enough to communicate by voice, rather than the frantic gestures that were commonplace in the realm of such combat.

“You’re doing okay, Comet,” he called out reassuringly. “Just stick on my tail and you’ll be fine; we’re going to get out of this. We just need to make a hole."

“How the hay are we supposed to do that?” Comet shouted back. In response, Sentry gestured downward to the on-going battle.

“Look at it down there. It’s too dark for most of those idiots to see properly. Half of them are chasing their own tails. Trust me; it looks much worse than it is. If we can just find the rest of the guys, we can try and slip away, leave them to fight each other. Do you see what I’m saying?” Shakily, Comet nodded. “Alright, follow me then.” He then pitched over and dived back into the fray.

Comet quickly followed, his head almost constantly on a swivel. He still expected to be pounced on at any time. But as he followed the more experienced Mustangian through the maelstrom, he realised that very little was actually happening. There were so many pegasi in the air, all of whom could hardly see, that they were having trouble merely organising themselves. That didn’t even account for the relative inexperience of many.

Soon enough, Sentry was able to pick out a speck of purple and grey amidst the gold and white. The other two flyers, falling back on a simple trick, had dived for the deck and stayed there, using the ground itself as a means of camouflage. The four quickly met up, and after checking each other for injuries, agreed that it was probably a good idea to make themselves scarce. Keeping low, and holding in their laughter, they left perhaps twenty guards chasing each other’s tails amidst the darkness.

While they had evaded the sudden attack quite well, to be safe, Sentry took their patrol on a longer, less direct route back home. Sticking close to the ground, they carefully weaved their way through low lying clouds and other obstacles that would hopefully throw any would be pursuers.

Eventually, the dark shape of the old mission came into view. They were soon ‘buzzed’ by a pair of their own thestrals, who promptly challenged them. After being properly identified, they headed for the mission itself. Landing in the courtyard, all four of them let their wings drop to their sides; the extended flight time, plus the fight, had taken its toll on them all. Nonetheless, Sentry hurried to find Dusk to report what had happened; there was after all, a real chance that they were still in danger.

“You do realise what this means don’t you?” Dusk asked as he stood behind his desk in his office. Sentry had quickly found both Dusk and Flintlock near the temple. For the sake of privacy and to avoid spreading panic, they had returned to his office to hear Sentry’s report.

“Respectfully, sir, we knew they were following us in some way,” Sentry offered. Dusk sighed and put a hoof to the bridge of his snout.

“True, but they now know we are here. Even if you did manage to slip away, pegasi know how far they can fly. They must know that they won’t be far away from us. It would have been better if you had just monitored them, not gone in close and gotten yourselves compromised.” At this point, Flintlock spoke up.

“Well, at least we know there aren’t too many of them. You said there were no more than twenty or so, right, lieutenant?” Sentry nodded, glad that Flintlock wasn’t treating him quite so harshly.

“But how long before they call for reinforcements?” Dusk countered. “We’ll need to be on the move by tomorrow night if we want a chance of outrunning them.” It was here that, despite the lecture he had already received from his CO, that Sentry decided to offer an alternative solution.

“Sir, might I offer a…” Dusk quickly cut him off.

“No, you may not. You’ve put us in enough hot water as it is.” Luckily, Flintlock stepped in.

“Hey, hold on, Star,” he said, addressing the colonel in an informal manner than caught Sentry off guard. “We need to cover all the bases here. Let the colt speak. Go on, lieutenant.” Swallowing nervously, Sentry began.

“Well, sir, the way I see it, if the Bright Lights wanted to search an open region like this, they’d send out small teams to different areas, the same way we performed recon when we first got here. They’re probably pretty spread out, so communication will be quite difficult. Finding us was an amazing stroke of luck when you think about it.” He paused for a moment.

“Go on, kid,” Flintlock said encouragingly. Sentry straightened himself up and continued.

“Then, it stands to reason, sir, that there’ll be a delay in them getting a message out. If we were to attack them now, there’d be a decent chance that we could nip the whole problem in the bud. Their commanders would take time to realise they’d been knocked out. By the time they did, we’d be away.” Dusk thought for a moment.

“Alright, how do you suggest we proceed?” he asked. Fighting to hold back a grin, Sentry began to outline the plan.

Author's Note:

Proofread by ThatPonyWithASword and The Batmane of equestria.

To steal Halo: Reach's tagline; 'From the beginning, you know the end'. I just hope you all enjoy how this story reaches its logical conclusion.

The fight scene in this chapter was inspired greatly by Biggles books written by Capt. W.E Johns, many of which were set during the First World War, an equally violent chapter in the history of air combat. Let me know what you think of it.

Tune in in a fortnight's time to hear Sentry's plan.

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