• 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 7 - The Fog Lifts

It was a couple hours later that the tired raiders finally returned to the Moonflower. The return had been a much more arduous journey than the trip out, since they had to have two thestrals fly together whilst chained to the captive Arrow Head, and somepony had to carry the young dragon they had found, who didn’t take well to the idea of flying.

Before the group landed, Flintlock gave the lot of them a very stern talking to, warning them that if word somehow got out about their new situation, he would have somepony’s head on a platter before nightfall. There would be no easy way to explain it. The civilians certainly wouldn’t take it well. Luna help them all if they began to panic or riot.

Landing in the courtyard, Flintlock first had the medics take a look at the two wounded ponies, Arrow Head, whose ear was now caked with dried blood, and one of the thestrals, who had been somewhat singed by the baby dragon’s brief attack. With that done, he and Sentry headed to Dusk’s small office to debrief him, whilst the other guards were ordered to stay put until they were told otherwise. It was going to be a very long day.

“Oh dear sweet Luna!” Dusk exclaimed upon hearing Flintlock and Sentry’s report. On the one hoof, the mission had gone well; they had eliminated the nearest threat to themselves, gathered some supplies, and brought two prisoners home to boot.

But that paled in comparison to the fact that whatever secrecy they had before was now gone. Since their journey began, Dusk had known that they would be followed, but they had always managed to stay one step ahead and slip between the cracks. Now though, whilst the exact location of the thestrals temporary home was not known, the entirety of the Royal Guard knew they were close by. It wouldn’t take the Bright Lights long to work out that they had most likely passed through San Maretonio. From there, they would easily find the mission, and then that would be it; their backs would be against the wall with nowhere to go.

“We don’t know exactly how long we have, sir,” Sentry offered.

“Not long, that’s for sure,” Flintlock replied. “Now they know roughly where we are, they’ll send everything they can spare out here to hunt us down. I’d say we have three, maybe four days at most.” Dusk nodded gravely at his captain’s assessment. He just wished it wasn’t true. Assuming it was an all-pegasi force, running with only the bare essentials in supplies, and taking trains as far south as they could, they would be around their ears by the end of the week.

“Alright, gather the senior officers together, Flint,” Dusk ordered. “We need to work out our next move.”

“Yes, sir,” Flintlock nodded. He and Sentry then left to find, and in some cases wake, the other officers. Dusk merely leaned back in his chair and tried to calm his nerves.

Twenty minutes later, all the senior officers were assembled in Dusk’s small office. It was a cramped affair, but they needed the privacy. When they announced this to the rest of the guards, as well as the civilians, they needed to do it in a controlled manner, and have an answer to every question. Already, rumours were starting to circulate that all the top brass had been hurriedly called to Star Dusk’s office, and that a number of them looked decidedly worried. The previous relaxed atmosphere quickly began to fade. By the time all the officers had settled themselves down, the Moonflower was a powder keg, just waiting for a spark.

Each of the officers squeezed themselves onto one of the small cushions that had been hurriedly brought to Dusk’s office. It was hardly the ideal briefing room after all, being not that much larger than a large shed. It was meant as an office. While there were places for ponies to gather, there was nowhere where a small number could be gathered for a private discussion, without raising suspicion.

“All right everypony, quiet down,” Dusk said, in an attempt to get the worried chattering to stop. If they were going to come up with a plan, everypony would need his head screwed on. Silence quickly fell as Dusk repeated Flintlock and Sentry’s report.

“I’m afraid, we have been discovered. The raid was a success, the enemy surrendered and we have gained a valuable cache of weapons and supplies. However, it seems that since our departure, magical science has made a remarkable leap forward. It is apparent that it is now possible to use a dragon’s fire breath ability to send and receive objects, such as messages, via a new kind of teleportation spell. Our previous plans assumed that, while the small group we had run into knew of us, nopony else did. We must now set that aside. It can be assumed word has been passed to the enemy’s high command. They will be coming for us. The question is, what the hay do we do about it?” Dusk sat down at the head of the meeting. “I am open to suggestions.”

“Our first priority has to be the civilians,” one of the more senior officers declared. “If it were just us guards, as well as the recruits we have, we could keep up a decent rear guard action and get away. But if we have to fight with the civilians in tow, they’ll overhaul us and pull us down.”

“So what, two separate evacuations?” Flintlock asked.

“Exactly! If the civilians set off now, with a few of the recruits as a bare bones escort, they stand a good chance of getting away. We can then move out and draw the Bright Lights towards ourselves, hold for as long as we can, and then follow. As long as we stay ahead, we should make the Badlands.”

“Hang on though,” Sentry piped up. “A lot of those civilians are family groups, with husbands, fathers, and brothers in the guard. You think we can just convince them to abandon them here?”

“They aren’t abandoning; they’re going on ahead. We’ll catch up soon enough. It would be a temporary separation, nothing more.” That was another think that irked Dusk. In a typical military situation, everypony followed orders without question. But with these civilians, he was often forced to be more political than he liked. But then, if the civilians objected, he could face a breakdown of order amongst them, and possibly his own ranks. Therefore, it was vital they be placated at all times. The idea of leaving their loved ones would be a difficult pill to swallow.

“Okay,” he said. “Say we can convince them to all go on ahead. What exactly are we going to do? You may not have noticed, lieutenant, but we aren’t exactly the Army of Northern Mareginia. We can’t just go toe to toe with the Bright Lights and expect to get away.”

“We may not be that many in number, sir, but nor was Major Dagger at the siege of Richcolt. He even divided his army again. But in lashing out at his enemy, he put them on the back foot. Hay, we almost drove them back to Baltimare after that, and we lost all but one of the engagements. That would give us the breathing room we need. We keep lashing out in small attacks to slow them down and spook them. Then when the civilians are away, we give them one last bloody nose and disappear.” Across the room, Flintlock smiled.

“And by the time they realise we’re gone and begin to speed up their advance again, we’ll be safe across the border.”

“Precisely.” Dusk leaned back in his chair. At the end of the day, the decision was his. Pushing the civilians out with a minimal escort was a grave risk. There was a danger that the enemy would simply bypass them and the stronghold of the Moonflower and run down the civilians. With that, they could turn around, having cut off any chance of escape, and starve out the thestrals, or simply storm the place.

But on the other hand, they couldn’t all stay here. There was no way the Moonflower could stand up to a protracted siege or large scale attack. And they couldn’t all depart for obvious reasons. As long as they could get the Bright Light’s attention, there was a good chance this could work.

“Alright, we’ll evacuate the civilians,” Dusk said at length. “Assemble all the guards in the mess as soon as possible. We’ll brief them on the situation first. With luck, they’ll be able to convince the civilians to go. After that, we’ll announce everything to the civilians and begin preparation for their immediate evacuation. If we’re going to do this, they need to be gone tonight.”

“Agreed,” Flintlock replied. “Is there anything else, anypony?” Nopony spoke up. Their situation was still desperate, but at least now the moon had come out from behind the clouds.

“Alright, get going. Dismissed.”

Gathering the entirety of the guard complement, including all the ex-guards, volunteers, and the new recruits Flintlock had trained up, in the mess hall only further fanned the flames of rumours amongst the civilians. The guards were already prepared for some bad news when they were all assembled. All that remained was to tell them how bad things were. However, with their new plan to hoof, Dusk and Flintlock were able to soften the blow somewhat and prevent much in the way of panic. For the most part the guards took things quite well. Yes, they were in a bit of a pickle, but they were by no means out of the fight yet. It wasn’t far to the Badlands, all they had to do was hold out for a little while.

Of course, they were aware that the new plan involved engaging with the enemy, and would most likely result in some of them not making it to the Badlands. But such was the price of war, and of eventual victory. Plus, everypony had heard the stories and rumours of what the new Royal Guard and the various deputised bands did to Lunar supporters they captured. Suffice it to say, nopony wanted to see any of their loved ones amongst the civilian population suffer the same fate. As a result, morale remained quite high, and most of the thestrals were raring to go, and put their new plan into action.

The civilians on the other hoof, didn’t take things quite so well. As soon as Dusk told them what was on its way towards them, a few more excitable ponies amongst the assembled audience began to panic. A small scuffle quickly broke out in the crowd as panicked ponies tried to rush back to their homes to begin gathering their supplies. Fortunately, a mixture of Dusk’s reassuring words and a small number of the guards being sent in to round up the instigators quickly got things calmed down.

Still, unlike the guards, the civilians were not as confident in the idea of this rear guard action. Many feared that marching on with such a minimal escort, considering that it had been small before they got to the Moonflower, would leave them exposed to attacks by bandits or wild animals that were known to roam around in this part of Equestria’s frontier.

However, many did begin to come round to the idea as Dusk and Flintlock explained the alternatives that lay open to them. For once, Flintlock’s bluntness came in quite handy. He certainly didn’t pull his punches when he told them what would happen if they simply tried to hold their current position, explaining precisely how long starvation and the other effects of a prolonged siege can affect a pony.

In the end though, it was not a guard that got the civilians in board, but old Moonapple, who arrived late, having spent the afternoon preparing the temple for what was now the usual nightly service. Hearing a duly appointed representative of Luna herself tell them that this was the best course of action ultimately swayed the civilians and alleviated the air of unease and near panic that had previously filled the Moonflower.

With everypony, eventually, on board with the idea of an evacuation followed by a rear guard action, everypony dispersed to begin packing their possessions. The civilians would take all that they could with them, taking their settlement apart again and bundling it all up into their wagons or carrying what they could. The same had to be said of the guards, many of whom entrusted their belongings to friends or relatives amongst the civilians, since they would need to travel light to keep ahead of the enemy once they broke off their engagement.

Some things though, were to be left behind. Sadly, nothing of much could be taken from the temple, aside from a few books of scripture, since the idols and such were so heavy and, at the end of the day, not necessary for their survival. The four canons would also have to be left behind. Since there would be no toe-to toe engagement, artillery was not something that was needed. And hauling the heavy guns would simply slow them down. As such, it was decided that, after the guards began to head back to catch up with the column, a small team would briefly stop by the Moonflower and spike the guns. That is to say, they would destroy the barrel, blow the gun off its carriage mounting, and render it inoperable and beyond repair, so that it could not be used by the enemy.

Before long, the civilians were almost ready to go. With everypony pitching in to help, the shanty town that had previously surrounded the Moonflower like an ingenious, cheap, form of body armour was taken apart. Everything that could be was packed into the various carriages, wagons and carts that the column had used to haul their possessions across Equestria.

It was a difficult and busy operation. After all, there had to be the better part of a thousand ponies including the guard. So, there were roughly eight hundred civilians to be accounted for. Inevitably, there were incidents. A few ponies squabbled over possessions and things that had been community property during their comparatively short stay. There was also the difficulty of everypony staying together. Given the size of the temporary settlement, its sudden removal disorientated quite a few ponies. After all, quite suddenly, landmarks and signposts had completely vanished and navigation back to one’s own ‘home’ became a bit of a task.

As a result, a large portion of the guards’ time was spent either breaking up arguments, or helping lost ponies, mainly foals and the elderly, reunite with their loved ones.

With things well underway, and apparently progressing smoothly, Dusk took a moment to rest up. Like everypony else, he had been helping out wherever necessary. He had just returned to his position on the ramparts after helping a little lost filly find her mother again. The poor thing had gotten jostled by the crowd and lost her grip on her mother’s hoof, and the crowd had inadvertently carried her away. Luckily, she was a smart little tyke and knew roughly where her mother would be. With Dusk’s help, the pair had been reunited in less than ten minutes, both quite grateful. As he continued to watch the final preparations, Flintlock alighted beside him, having just come from the cells where Arrow Head and the baby dragon were being held.

“Nearly ready are they?” Flintlock enquired as he tucked his leathery wings to his sides. The captain had recently finished interrogating Arrow Head at length, he’d given him quite a few interesting insights.

“Pretty much,” Dusk replied, nodding. “Amazing, isn’t it.”

“What is?” The colonel gestured to the vast herd below.

“Down there, about eight hundred ponies have just about packed up their lives, everything they own, and are prepared to go on another slog through the desert. If you’d told me civilians could do that without making much of a fuss two years ago, I’d have called you an idiot.”

“They’re a lot stronger than most folk give them credit for,” a third voice offered. Dusk and Flintlock turned to see Moonapple standing behind them.

“Oh, you spooked me there, Father,” Dusk said as the elderly stallion walked over. “How is everything going at the temple? Any problems?” Moonapple shook his head.

“No, there isn’t much in the way of packing. I’m having your colts take only the essential icons and scripture. I understand the necessity of travelling light. And it is still more than we had before.”

“Well, why don’t we take a look, Star?” Flintlock suggested. Dusk quickly agreed. Privately, he had been hoping to set hoof inside the temple one last time before they had to leave. He was sure that, in time, new temples would be constructed in their new home. But having been here for a little over a week, he had gotten used to visiting the ancient building, taking it as a sanctuary of sorts. If only the Royal Guard would honour the old cry of ‘sanctuary’.

Heading back inside the temple, the three ponies noticed immediately that the building now looked decidedly barer. The altar had been stripped completely bare, as had the lectern. Everything that could be carried, and was not too heavy, seemed to have been taken away and packed up. As they walked up the aisle toward the bare altar, Moonapple continued to direct the ponies who were still packing things away.

“That goes,” he said, pointing at a sapphire statue of the princess. “That too.” One youngster almost dropped one of the icons. “Hey, damage that and I will have your head!” It was remarkable to Dusk just how commanding, and perhaps a little intimidating Moonapple could be, considering his age and appearance. And of course, the fact that, when holding a service, he was one of the kindliest stallions in the whole group. Outside of services, he was gruff, ill tempered, and usually had a flask to hoof. Yet when he was at the lectern, giving a sermon or reading, he was quite the inspiration.

As the two senior officers watched the elderly stallion continue to delegate with all the kindness and sensitivity of a drill instructor, an earth pony guard came trotting in. His head was swivelling around, looking for somepony in particular. When he spotted Dusk and Flintlock, he called out to them.

“Sir, that governor feller, Rare something, has come back. He’s waiting outside the front gates.” Dusk was surprised. Whilst his dealing with the governor of San Maretonio had been fairly smooth sailing insofar as relations go, he had nonetheless expected that the governor would be glad to see the back of him and his column. What could he possibly want now?

“Is it just him, corporal, or did he bring any other ponies with him?” Dusk enquired.

“Just him, sir,” the earth pony answered. "But a couple of our guys are with him, keeping an eye on him.” Good. Regardless of their situation, Dusk felt the need to continue putting up a front with Rare Diamond.

“C’mon, Star,” Flintlock said, remembering what Arrow Head had told him. “Let’s go see what this idiot wants now.” And so, they left Moonapple to his own devices, and he continued to bark orders as he directed the final preparations for leaving the temple. Dusk had a good idea what this would be about, based on the information Flintlock had gotten from Arrow Head. If he was right, and he hoped he wasn’t, the next few minutes would see a great curtain lifting on a number of matters.

This time, Dusk decided to meet Rare Diamond outside the mission. Briefly taking flight, the two thestrals cleared the top of the ramparts, before gliding back down to earth, landing with surprising precision, in front of the governor.

“Rare Diamond,” Dusk said, greeting the governor warmly. For once, he was determined to have the upper hand in their meeting. “To what do we owe the pleasure?” The governor appeared somewhat nonplussed at Dusk’s overtly friendly greeting.

“Well, Colonel, I had heard from a few ponies in town that there was some commotion going on over here. I merely came to see what the matter was. Are you leaving?”

“Merely moving on. We’ve had plenty of time to rest up and gather supplies. But you have to remember that we aren’t exactly welcome here in Equestria anymore. We’ve entertained your kind hospitality long enough, so we’re heading off for the border. We should be off a little before nightfall I think. Although I would add that us soldier types will be holding fast for a little longer, just to tie off a few loose ends.” Rare Diamond looked a little concerned.

“Oh, I see. I was under the impression you would be spending a few more days here.” Flintlock narrowed his eyes. He knew a snake when he saw one. Dusk maintained his façade.

“I had been planning on that, but the battlefield is an unpredictable place. My scouts picked up an enemy patrol a day ago. I think it is best if we keep ahead of the hounds as it were.” Rare’s mask briefly faltered again.

“Oh, yes, yes. Of course.”

“In fact, we were even able to take a couple of prisoners. Captain Flintlock here has been talking with them since yesterday. They certainly provided some valuable insights into the enemy’s strength.”

Flintlock had indeed interrogated Arrow Head, the Royal Guard pegasus that had hoofed himself over to ensure his subordinate’s freedom. He’d had his suspicions from the start that it was too much of a coincidence. After all, the deserts of Appleloosa Territory were over a thousand miles across. Even with the entire Royal Guard turned out, they could not simply throw out a dragnet; it would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Thus, the presence of the enemy patrol so close by seemed a major stroke of good fortune for the enemy.

The logical answer was that the Royal Guard had somehow been tipped off to their presence. Luna knew that they had been careful to conceal their tracks wherever they could, as well as taking multiple routes and doubling back every now and then. That meant that somepony nearby had alerted them. It had taken Flintlock a while to get all the answers, but eventually Arrow Head had admitted that his previous story was horseapples. Now, Dusk was determined to prove his earlier misgivings about the charismatic earth pony.

“For instance, we learnt of this fascinating new advance in magical science. Now, I’m not a gifted unicorn, but if I remember correctly, the folks back in Canterlot have found a way to bind a complex object teleportation spell to various creatures. That’s how those Bright Lights were communicating over such great distances. It’s a bit like a telegraph I suppose. Anyway, we found this little baby dragon with the guards. It seems that his fire breath has been bound to the spell. Mind you, it’s a very basic system, only communicating between the dragon and whoever the recipient is.”

While Dusk had been explaining all of this to Rare Diamond, Flintlock had quietly called over a guard and given him a crucial set of instructions. He then returned to Dusk’s side, Rare didn’t seem to notice. The guard meanwhile, hurried to the makeshift cells, where Arrow Head and the young dragon were incarcerated.

“Yes, well…that does indeed sound like a remarkable system,” Diamond replied, now seeming very uncomfortable, almost to the point of sweating. “Well, anyway, I must be going I’m sure you have a lot of work…” his departure though, was suddenly interrupted.

A little off to his side, an odd swirling mass appeared. It seemed to consist partly of a light purple smoke, the odd bit of green fire, and the golden shimmer, similar to a unicorn using its magic. All of a sudden tough, this swirling mass vanished. With the recognisable sound of a teleportation spell, a small rolled up piece of parchment appeared in the air. It lingered briefly for a moment, until the magic dissipated, whereupon it fell to the ground. Rare Diamond was suddenly quite pale.

“Well, that’s odd,” Flintlock said curiously, with a hint of ever increasing sarcasm. “Why has that turned up here? Unless…oh right.” In an instant, two thestrals Flintlock had had waiting in the wings pounced or Rare Diamond and wrestled him to the ground.

“Argh, get off me you idiots! Get off me!” Diamond demanded as he continued to struggle. The two thestral guards however, were more than a match for him. Dusk looked down at him in disgust.

“I knew there was something fishy about you, Rare Diamond. But until we found out about that dragon, I don’t think we’d ever have suspected you. You’ve been sending messages the Royal Guard. Each time a bunch of thestrals came through, you’d tip them off and watch them get cut to ribbons.” The ageing thestral scowled at him. “Have you no shame?” Much to Dusk’s surprise though, Diamond was laughing, even as he was hauled back to his hooves.

“What, you think you’ve dodged the bullet, Colonel? You think that pitiful little band was all that was sent after you? There’s a damned army out for your blood! You and that witch that called herself a princess!” Diamond’s angry ranting was cut short as Dusk struck him across the face. Outwardly, he maintained his angered façade, but inside, he was worrying about the possibility Diamond suggested. He remained silent for a moment, his brief attack had been almost instinctual. After all, Diamond had insulted his princess. It also made his hoof throb a little. Looking the earth pony dead in the eye, Dusk gave his orders to the two guards restraining the governor.

“Get this piece of manure out of my sight.” And with that, Diamond was hauled away.

Author's Note:

Proofread by ThatPonyWithASword and The Batmane of equestria.

So, at last Rare Diamond is exposed. Next time, we will see his ultimate fate.

Enjoy the Season 5 finale, everypony!

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