• 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 6 - Riding a Raid

Knowing that time was not on their side, the thestrals of the Moonflower moved quickly after young Sentry had outlined his plan. After conferring with Flintlock, Dusk agreed that there were a sufficient number of stallions on the roster to mount a medium sized assault on the enemy. The Moonflower itself would have to be left lightly defended for a couple of hours, but it was agreed by all parties that this was a necessary sacrifice. And besides, unless the raid was a complete and utter disaster with heavy casualties, the returning thestrals would easily sure up the numbers. After all, at any one time, around half of the garrison was resting, leaving only a hundred guards to defend the area.

In the end, Flintlock settled on taking eighteen stallions on the attack, a little under a quarter of the Moonflower’s defence. He, as the most experienced officer, would lead the assault, while Sentry would act as second-in-command. They would all be divided into ‘flights’ of three giving them six flights in total. Each would operate independently of the others, but would be committed to the same end.

Sentry’s plan was simple in itself. Having just run into a group of thestrals not six hours ago, the enemy formation would most likely be preparing to move out. Since it was a common misconception that thestrals cannot fly, or even see clearly, in daylight, there was a decent chance they could catch the enemy unawares. Even if they were still at their bivouac, the attack would come at the time they would most likely be having breakfast. In any case, they would be less prepared than normal.

Working on the assumption that Sentry’s claim of three kills during his patrol; one by himself and two by one of the other guards, their numbers would be around even. The shock of the sudden attack, coupled with the ensuing confusion would hopefully provide them with an advantage.

The end goal was to either eliminate or capture the enemy guards where they were. Their wagons were to be searched for supplies and any intelligence. Survivors were to be taken as prisoners of war. However his opponents chose to see matters, Dusk was adamant that his thestrals would abide by the laws of war and accept surrender. As the sun began to broach the horizon and drown out the stars, the raiders began to assemble in the courtyard.

“Alright, everypony; listen up!” Flintlock began. “There are Bright Lights out there, searching for us. If we let them go free, they’ll report us to their princess and we’ll have the whole guard jump on us. As such, we are going to strike first!” At this point a cheer went up amongst the assembled thestrals, given the importance of this mission, Dusk had selected ponies that had had previous experience, Flintlock’s recruits would be left to guard the Moonflower.

“It’ll be nice to give those diamond dogs a little of what we’ve been taking!” one thestral called out. That made Flintlock smile. In spite of all they had been through, these guards were still eager to see action. Other guards quickly voiced their agreement. Eventually though, Flintlock had to bring them back to the matter at hand.

“Alright, alright, pipe down!” The assembled guards promptly fell silent. “This mission is going to be a long distance raiding mission. Nothing like that sightseeing trip to Manehatten mind you.” This got a chuckle out of the stallions that were familiar with that particular escapade. “We’re going to go in quick and with force. With any luck the enemy will still be on the ground, but any pegasi in the air is to take priority. Once we have them pinned, we’ll give them a chance, otherwise chalk this up as a search and destroy mission. Take out their wagons and supply train and we’re golden. Any questions? No? Alright, hop to it!”

Ten minutes later, the thestrals were all grouped into their formation and began to take off. Circling the Moonflower itself served as both a nice show for the civilians, and allowed everypony to stay close. Given his comparatively senior rank, and the fact that this was the young buck’s idea, Flintlock gave Sentry his own section; he’d come a fair way in the last week or so, plus he did have some wartime experience. The older thestral reckoned that if he could come through that ambush and claim one and a half kills, he would be up for this little outing.

As the last trio took to the air and took its place, Flintlock called down to Dusk, who was watching below with some of his staff officers.

“Raiding patrol ready to move out, sir!” Flintlock called down. Placing a hoof alongside his snout, Dusk replied.

“Carry out your orders, Captain. And may the night protect you.” He then saluted his fellow officer by touching the brim of his helmet. Flintlock briefly returned the gesture before quickly turning in the direction of the enemy, the other sections promptly followed.

Down below, Dusk watched more than half of his command, certainly the most experienced half, head off into the distance. He now had to defend the mission and the civilians camped around it with a little over a hundred ponies. It would certainly be an interesting couple of hours, that was for sure. Still, if this mission succeeded, he wouldn’t have to worry too much about future battles. The Bright Lights would be reeling from the sudden attack and they would have all the time in the world to slip away.

He still couldn’t help but feel slightly irritated however. Once again the supposed commander of this motley collection of guards, former soldiers and bushwhackers was left idle, with little to do but wait for his forces to return. Dusk wished it was him, rather than Flintlock, that was the one leading them. He knew what it would be like when they reached the enemy camp. After all, the Appleloosian Rangers had perfected long distance raiding into a fine art. It wasn’t just a matter of winning the battle. You had to balance the supplies needed with what everypony could be expected to carry. You needed experience in both aerial fighting and swordsmanship. You needed to be fast to outrun and evade the enemy. And you needed cunning and guile to overcome the vast odds that were stacked against you.

But no, here he was, stuck back in the relative safety of the mission. There would be no battle for him. No frightened neighing of ponies, no clashing of swords, not the maddening high of the charge. If Dusk was honest with himself, sometimes, he wished he’d stayed a lowly lieutenant.

Still, he had confidence in the ponies that had gone in his stead. The Bright Lights wouldn’t know what hit them and they could nip this whole problem in the bud, before the civilians picked up on the fact that something was wrong. Even now, if they got wind of the fact that there was an enemy force twenty miles away, they’d panic and riot.

“We’ll be alright,” Dusk said, to nopony in particular. “We’ll be alright.”

In the skies above, and about five miles out from the Moonflower, the raiders were settling in for their lengthy flight. Flintlock had them keep fairly tight in formation, but left sufficient room so that, if need be, each section could scatter without risking crashing into each other. It would be a long and difficult flight. A normal flight through the cool night skies, and this would be a breeze, but in the piercing daylight, it was a much more difficult proposition.

It was hot (it was the desert after all) but to fly in it was causing every thestral in the sky to sweat beyond belief. Then there was the brightness; the sky was a light blue, whilst the golden sand reflected the sun’s light, making the thestrals eyes, which were adapted for darkness, sting badly. That didn’t even begin to account for how conspicuous they looked. Purple and slate grey were not exactly camouflage colours at that moment.

To offset this final disadvantage, Flintlock decided to make use of the only natural camouflage available; the clouds.

“Everypony listen up,” he called to the whole group. “I don’t want to risk getting spotted before we hit our target, but in this light, that’s going to be a hay of a job. So we’re gonna use the clouds to mask our approach. There’s no weather patrol out here, so we can pick and choose. Follow me, and each section take its own line. But for Luna’s sake, keep in visual contact; I don’t want to lose anypony up here, and I don’t want anypony getting picked off. Understand?”

“Yes, sir,” came the chorused reply. With that, Flintlock signalled for a turning climb to port and headed for a group of cumulonimbus'. Banking sharply, the group headed towards the large cloud mass. The best course of action would have been to hide inside the cloud itself. However, the magic within the thestrals, like pegasi, allowed them to touch clouds. Thus, flying into a cloud would just result in a very soft crash. So, instead, the flight of raiders would have to skirt around the clouds, dashing from cover to cover as they approached.

As luck would have it, there were quite a few stray clouds floating about, particularly as the temperature began to increase. Flintlock, Sentry and the others then, were able to move quite freely through the daylight sky, although they were always on the lookout for an enemy patrol. As the hour slowly ticked by, they grew nearer and nearer to their objective.

Roughly an hour later, the raiders had all but reached their destination. As a final rest stop before the attack, Flintlock had had some of the flight gather a few of the larger clouds together to form a platform. Here the group could rest up and prepare for the attack. Flintlock and Sentry took this opportunity to give a final briefing.

“Everypony, listen up!” Sentry began, doing his best to keep his voice quiet, lest they be heard by the enemy below. “Below us, are roughly twenty ponies of the new Royal Guard. We know that they are pursuing us, hunting us. We’re going to show them that’s not such a good idea.” The assembled thestrals chuckled amongst themselves. “The plan is simple enough. We’ll leave here and dive, hard and fast. Drop down as low as you can, those Bright Lights will be watching the skies, not the ground. We’ll keep as low as possible and sweep in from the east. Once we’ve made our charge, you can expect them to circle the wagons, just keep nipping at them, and eventually they’ll break. Don’t try and charge in; those spears will cut you to ribbons. Everypony pick and mark and stick with it. In the event that they surrender, we are to escort them back to base. But otherwise, this is kill or be killed, gentlecolts.” The younger officer turned to Flintlock, who had been quietly listening. He was beginning to think he might have misjudged the young buck.

“Alright, any questions?” Flintlock asked. There were none. “Okay, hop to it, and good hunting.” With that, the thestrals took to the skies and began their rapid dive for the earth.

Down below, the white pegasi of the Royal Guard were blissfully unaware of the maelstrom bearing down on them. The small detachment was one of twelve sent out into the desert to search for the fleeing traitors. Unlike their counterparts, they were well aware of what had happened to Princess Luna, although not quite everypony believed the story of the night princess’ dark transformation. In any case though, the remaining guards were all known to be mutinous.

For the majority of the war itself, the issue at hoof had been one of sovereignty; who ruled Equestria. But with the sudden appearance and subsequent banishment of this being calling itself Nightmare Moon, the whole nature of the war had taken a more severe tilt. From that moment on, anything even remotely connected to the moon or the night was seen to be imbued with dark magic, and possessed a malign intent. Hence the sudden hard line attitude against any Lunar supporters. Anypony who supported Luna supported the Nightmare, and sought to cover Equestria in night time eternal.

As a result, it had been determined by the newly restructured command of the Royal Guard, that all former guards, soldiers, or advocates of the Lunar cause were just as much a threat as the fallen princess herself. Whilst the thestrals saw the attacks on them as being motivated by hatred, in reality it was mostly fear. They were no longer guards, or even former enemies; they were creatures consumed by the Nightmare, hell-bent on Equestria’s destruction.

It was this fear that had brought the twenty-five strong detachment out to this Celestia forsaken sandbox. They were under orders to push as far as they could toward the Badlands, and then turn around to cut off any fleeing thestrals. If they made it to the Badlands, they might very well rebuild, and one day return, possibly even freeing their dark ruler. Still, at least they had dropped lucky with their new contact. Now they had an opportunity to gather some valuable intelligence on their foes, while the rest of the Royal Guard began to move in.

That was not to say that any of them liked what they were doing. Even using their wings, it was a long hard slog out into the blazing hot desert. Most would rather just get back to their lives; there were enough problems at home without half of the guard gallivanting around looking for old enemies. Still, those were their orders. More importantly, they knew they were close. The night before, the final patrol of the day had just been coming back in, when they had literally run right into a marauding group of thestrals. The corrupted demons had hacked and slashed their way through the small unit before disappearing into the darkness once more. They’d lost two flyers, and two more were in bad shape.

One thing they could be thankful for though was the noon day sun, the light and heat would keep any thestral at bay for the time being. Only when the moon rose and the temperature plummeted, something the guards had not anticipated when they set off, were they at risk. As such, none of them could have predicted what happened next.

The first thing any of the resting guards noticed, was the sudden quietness. Even out in the desert, there was life, and most of the time, you could hear birdsong. Now though, even the wind had dropped. Quite soon, a sense of unease began to spread amongst the gathered pegasi, and they began to scan the skies uncertainly. Even their commanding officer, a young corporal, left the small communications hut to see what had suddenly gotten his guards spooked.

The only warning they had was the dust. Out away from their camp, beyond the ridge, a cloud of dust suddenly appeared, moving towards them. Initially, the guards feared a sandstorm was imminent, and thought that could explain the sudden quietness. But as it drew nearer, they could tell it was no sandstorm. Just as they were about to stand to and prepare for another fight though, it vanished. The sand settled, and nothing moved. With that, the guards began to relax, talking to each other and returning to their rest which had been interrupted.

Without warning, dozens of birds charged over the camp. Everything from crows, right up to vultures and hawks all came tearing through the sky in a maddening cacophony of squawking and screeching. Less than ten seconds later they were gone. The guards had one final moment of peace before the thestrals struck.

“Wa-woo-woohoo!” Sentry cried, raising the infamous rebel battle cry, an unsettling cross between a foxhound’s yip and a banshee’s squall. This was quickly picked up by the rest of the charging thestrals in the strange mob mentality that prevails in a charge. As they roared over into the camp, this kept up. Like baying hounds the thestrals screeched and screeched in the joy of the charge.

Not needing any further hint, the pegasi promptly turned tail. Being young recruits made them green as it was, but that frightening yell would make any stallion bolt. Amongst the Solar Guard there was a saying. ‘Any pony who says he heard that yell and says he wasn’t scared, either hasn’t heard it, or is a damn liar!’.

And so, as the thestrals surged forward into the enemy camp, the pegasi were driven like sheep. Too frightened to even consider taking flight, a good many simply curled up where they were and begged for mercy. Many were injured as the thestrals flashed by; their wings tips cutting them somewhat. However, only two were killed outright, both of whom attempted to put up a fight.

After the thestrals made their first pass through the camp, they zoom climbed up again. If their foe had any kind of sense, they’d now try to form a square or circle to provide mutual protection. Instead though, they simply began to scatter. Sentry himself, like most caught up in it all, looked down at the chaos and happily began to belt out an old thestral song.

How the Night’s great heart rejoices,
At your cannons ringing voices.
To arms, to arms, to arms,
For Luna.
For faith betrayed and pledges broken,
Wrongs inflicted, insults spoken.
To arms, to arms, to arms,
For Luna.

Advance ye flag of Luna,
Hurrah, hurrah.
For Luna’s night we’ll face the fight,
And live and die for Luna.
To arms, to arms,
And conquer peace for Luna.
To arms, to arms,
And conquer peace for Luna.

With that, they dived in again for another pass, this time managing to topple over one of the wagons that the guards had been using for supplies. Once again, the poor white pegasi were driven along until the thestrals zoomed up again. They were about to make a third pass to finish the job when they saw what the enemy were up to below.

The surviving guards, thoroughly traumatised by what had just happened, had broken out any piece of white cloth they could find, and were waving frantically at Sentry, Flintlock and the other raiders. They’d more than had enough.

“Stand down, everypony!” Flintlock called out. “They’re surrendering, stand down!” The trouble with a charge like this, was that once it got going, it was quite difficult to stop. Luckily, the action had not deprived the captain of his voice.

“I said stand down, you colts!” he bellowed. Finally, everypony stopped to look at him and the high of the charge faded to the point where the thestrals could think again. Taking the lead, Flintlock had them all land about two hundred yards away from the surrendering ponies. As the senior officer, and as he had let Sentry lead the charge, Flintlock would be the one to conduct negotiations.

The Royal Guard camp was a mess, both of their wagons were overturned, the ground was heavily marred by dozens of rushing hooves, and the remaining guards were all huddled in a bunch, still waving their makeshift flags. One look at them told Flintlock all he needed to know; these poor saps were rookies, new recruits. They wouldn’t be putting up much of a fight.

“Where is your commanding officer?” Flintlock called across the gulf. Presently, a young pegasus, dressed in slightly more ornate armour, emerged from the huddled group.

“I am, sir. Corporal Arrow Head of the Equestrian Royal Guard.” Flintlock was slightly impressed at the young stallion’s conduct. He returned the younger pony’s salute.

“I’m Captain Flintlock of No. 2 Guards, Equestrian Royal Lunar Guard. Currently assigned to the 23rd Appleloosian Rangers, Army of Northern Mareginia, Lunar Volunteer Army.”

“Respectfully, sir, I wish to discuss terms of our surrender.” The youngster offered. Flintlock smiled and motioned for the thestrals to stand to, aiming their spears at their enemy.

“You aren’t in a position to negotiate, corporal. You will immediately surrender your weapons and armour. Then you may accompany my men and I back to our base as prisoners of war.” Flintlock saw a number of the guards gulp or turn a paler shade of white.

“Captain, the war is over. You are being pursued as criminals and terrorists. You have no right to take us prisoner. Doing so would be tantamount to foalnapping,” Arrow Head replied. Flintlock thought for a moment.

“Well I can hardly release you, now can I? You will simply go and alert your superiors. I cannot allow that.” One pegasus behind Arrow Head looked like he was about to say something, but quickly thought better of it.

“Then we are at an impasse, sir,” Arrow head declared. “I am not willing to surrender my command, and you are not willing to simply cut us to ribbons.”

“Then what do you suggest we do?” Flintlock replied. He could hardly believe his own ears. He was bargaining with a damned Bright Light!

“If I was willing to turn myself over to your custody, as a prisoner of war, would you see fit to grant my men safe passage? On the assurance that they will not report this incident.”

Luna’s moon, this was a tricky situation! Flintlock was a soldier, not some pacifist diplomat. His method of negotiation involved a blade against his opponent’s neck. Here, he was feeling decidedly out of his comfort zone. As much as he was loathe to admit it, he had underestimated the young corporal. With no other officers to call on, the thestral guard turned to young Swift Sentry for advice. If only Dusk had come with them.

“What do you think, kid?” Flintlock asked, keeping his voice down. Sentry frowned and thought.

“We’re between a rock and a hard place, sir. Unless you fancy having a hoof in a re-run of Ghastly Gorge,” (during the war, Lunar troops, overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of a surrendering column in the confined space, had panicked, and inadvertently massacred over a hundred disarmed solar guards) “I don’t see any other way. We take him prisoner, have the rest turn over their weapons, and then release them.”

“But we can’t trust these Bright Lights!” Flintlock countered, raising his voice a little.

“Sir, we don’t have much of a choice.” Snorting in annoyance at how the situation had gotten away from him, Flintlock turned to address Arrow Head.

“Alright, corporal. I can accept those terms. You will be taken as a prisoner of war. The rest of your men are to turn over their weapons and armour to us. The wagons also stay here. Is that acceptable to you?”

“Yes, sir” the pegasus replied.

“Excellent,” Flintlock said, adding a curse against the cunning youngster under his breath.

With their surrendered foes appropriately disarmed, the thestrals released them to head back to Equestria. Many of the poor young recruits had decided that living through one bayonet charge was enough for them. With no armour or weapons, many planned to simply return to Canterlot and attempt to resume their duties there.

With their departure, all that remained was the young corporal, now shackled and under guard, as well as the remains of the Royal Guard camp. It would simply not be possible to bring the whole thing back to the Moonflower. So, Flintlock ordered a small group to go through each wagon and search for anything of value. There could be anything in there from maps, orders, codebooks, extra weapons or provisions, or maybe even something that could be bartered with back in San Maretonio. However, what the thestrals found was a bit more out of the ordinary.

“Captain, you’ll want to see this, sir!” Sentry called from the other side of the camp. Flintlock had been previously explaining to Arrow Head what would become of him. They would not be holding him prisoner forever; only until they were out of danger. Once the thestrals made it to the safety of the Badlands, beyond Equestria’s borders, would he be released.

“What is it?” he called back. Sentry held something in the air with his hooves. From this distance, Flintlock couldn’t quite work out what it was.

“It’s a newspaper, sir. From about two weeks ago by the look of it. You should come and take a look, sir.” Leaving Arrow Head with his gaolers, Flintlock crossed the camp to the overturned wagon Sentry had just come out of.

Sentry had found a couple of old newspapers, presumably taken by one of the guards when they left Canterlot. The headline, and accompanying photographs on the front page shocked Flintlock to his core.

‘Atcanter Burned! Royal Guard Destroys Last Thestral Stronghold.’

Below the headline, Flintlock beheld a black and white photo showing the city of Atcanter in flames. The city had indeed been one of the last bastions of the Lunar cause during the war. But there had been peace for so long! He struggled to believe that ponies were capable of such things. He was certain neither princess would ever give such an order. Skimming through the article, he read that a skirmish had broken out between a few thestrals who sought to stay in Equestria, and the Royal Guard sent to arrest them. The situation had quickly spiralled out of control and become a full scale riot. The city had been home to thousands, at least fifteen hundred were reported dead or missing, all civilians. A quiet rage began to bubble away inside Flintlock.

“Hey! Hey, I’ve got something here!” another thestral called out. Flintlock cast the paper aside and followed a few of the other guards to the other wagon, which was still on its wheels, though at one point somepony had ploughed straight through it, as evidenced by the thestral shaped hole on either side.

As Flintlock, Sentry and a few others surrounded the wagon, a small creature stumbled out of, falling down the too large steps, onto the soft ground below.

“What the hay is that? A lizard?” Sentry asked in confusion. The small creature was a reddish colour, with a yellowish front and spines sticking out of its head and back. It did indeed look quite reptilian. Flintlock had a vague suspicion as to what it might be. This was quickly confirmed when the creature, apparently emboldened by the thestrals confusion, projected a small jet of green fire, causing a couple to leap back in surprise.

“It’s a dragon!” Flintlock exclaimed. “And a youngster too by the look of it.” Since nopony else was willing to go near the small beast, Flintlock took it upon himself to grab the small creature. He then walked back over to Arrow Head, who now looked quite smug.

“What in the name of Luna are you idiots doing with a baby dragon?” Flintlock asked incredulously. Grinning, Arrow Head replied.

“It was recently discovered that dragon fire possess some magical properties. With the right enchantments, their fire can be used to perform some basic spells. For instance, the teleportation of objects to a fixed point. Reports and letters, for example.” Instantly, Flintlock understood.

“You’d already reported us before we attacked didn’t you?” he asked darkly. Arrow Head continued to grin.

“And you kindly released my men too, very kind, sir.” With that, Flintlock officially lost his temper. Drawing his officer’s sword from its scabbard, he slashed the blade against the pegasus’ ear, cutting it cleanly, and causing the appendage to fall to the ground. Arrow Head screamed in agony. Scowling, Flintlock turned to the other thestrals.

“Alright, everypony. We’ve got what we came for, and two prisoners to boot. Let’s head for home. I hate to say it, but I doubt we’re going to get much sleep in the near future.”

Author's Note:

Proofread by The Batmane of equestria and ThatPonyWithASword.

More ponification of civil war history for you all.

So, things have taken a turn for the worse for the thestrals. And as I'm sure you'll have guessed, things are only going to get worse.

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