• Published 4th Aug 2015
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Before the Storm: The Rise of Firefly - Firesight

Before the Wonderbolts, there were the Bolt Knights. And before Rainbow Dash, there was Firefly. The story of Rainbow Dash's ancestor, the origin of the Wonderbolts, and the coming of the Great Pony/Gryphon War.

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Part 4 - Truth and Reconciliation

I left the orphanage when I was sixteen, taking odd jobs as a courier and mailmare, but I never went far from home… save once, when I saw the gleaming city on a hill that was Canterlot and Princess Celestia herself on a trip to the Capital with Wind Whistler.

Yet when the Princess gave a speech from her royal balcony, ’twas not she who held my attention so much as the sight of the Armored Guardsponies flanking her. Big, sleek stallions who were said to be the best soldiers in Equestria’s military, this despite Equestria’s badly skewed gender ratios and the need to protect breeding males at all costs…

This despite the fact they would only be allowed to fight in time of direst need.

There were many military options for a brash young pegasus who just wanted to be a warrior like me. The Equestrian Aerial Corps certainly had need of stalwart flyers and fighters, and they saw far more action than the Guard did, given they were out defending Equestrian borders whilst the Guard itself mostly defended Canterlot. And if the Corps was out of reach, there was always the Royal Navy or Cloudsdale Militia.

But no. I wanted the prestige. I wanted the shining armor and glory of the Guard, and not just the plainclothes division that mares were usually assigned to. I was stubborn, and in the end ’twas that stubbornness that defined me…

In the end, I would simply not take no for an answer, and kept coming back for more.

I remembered very little of the next few days, exhausted and lost in a feverish haze.

I later learned that Wind Whistler and I had been initially treated in the training base infirmary under heavy guard, Bone Deep and other healers making absolutely sure that there were no lingering magical effects, enchantments or curses that the amulet had imparted on either of us.

Once satisfied there were none, we were released to the care of a local healer in the town outside of the base, where my friend continued to mend from the injuries I had given her… and I in turn gradually regained my strength, my medical leave extended further for the purpose. The amulet had acted on me like an addiction even for the short time it possessed me, and breaking free of it had resulted in severe withdrawal symptoms I only slowly overcame.

After four days in the healer house, we were both pronounced fit to leave, and I finally felt ready to face the difficult decision that awaited me… Wind Whistler at my side as I returned to the training grounds of Fort Spur and presented myself for entry. My friend could go no further than the front gate, so I left her behind with a heartfelt hug and promise I would be fine. “Thank you for saving me, my dear friend,” I told her. “’Tis far more than I can ever repay.”

“Is that not what friends do?” she repeated to me one final time, tears in her eyes as she returned my embrace. She still had some bandages around her head, and would likely retain them for a few days more.

Still, methinks she was not convinced by my assurances. She knew me too well and could sense my anxiety as she watched me depart. But mere anxiety ’twas not—in truth, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so scared. The door to Windshear’s office might as well have been the mouth of a dragon for as hard as my heart was beating. Silently cursing my continued weakness, I took a deep breath and rapped a hoof hard on the door.

“Come,” came the gruff reply.

Taking a second deep breath, I opened the door and stepped inside, trying not to flinch as Windshear looked up from his paperwork and turned his gaze on me for the first time since the duel.

The Sergeant Major’s office was fairly spartan, consisting of a desk and single cabinet, a teamaker and Equestrian flag on the back wall… but there were also some mementos and keepsakes here and there. Most notable were a series of items I recognized as a helm and two oversized scimitars of gryphon make, wreathed by some large red-tipped black feathers that gave me immediate pause—only gryphons that belonged to their most feared unit, the elite Red Talons, were allowed to adorn their wings that way. And for him to display them here…

They were trophies, I realized, and perhaps the source of the scarring over his right hip where an arrow had apparently pierced his armor.

Despite his reputation and the duel I’d already fought with him, I don’t think it really occurred to me until that moment that the Sergeant Major was indeed a combat veteran, and a very good one if he’d bested an elite gryphon warrior, taking his opponent’s feathers, helm and weaponry as a prize. The half-lion, half-eagle predators, longtime pegasus rivals, had united their tribes under a single banner and had a tendency to see ponies as weak and Equestrian lands ripe for the taking; it often fell to the pegasi of the Equestrian Aerial Corps to keep their ambitions in check.

Then my eyes fell on something that made my jaw fall open. In an understated display case, hanging on a side wall, was a single medal. A sun-and-moon-inscribed gold medallion set into a larger diamond pendant that hung from a star-studded blue ribbon, it represented Equestria’s highest military honor, and its presence along with the citation that accompanied it could only mean…

Far from the useless trainer I’d originally pegged him as, he’d been knighted and awarded the Defender of Harmony medal “For Acts of Utmost Valor” by Princess Celestia herself!

“Well? What is it, Recruit?” Windshear asked over his steaming mug, snapping me out of my suddenly awestruck thoughts, wondering what he must have done to earn that award. “Your leave is up and your wing has healed. I heard from Sergeant Deep about your little amulet incident, but it cuts you no slack or sympathy with me! So out with it! Have you decided to quit, or stay?”

Pulling my thoughts back together, I gathered my courage carefully, realizing that for the first time in my life, I had met my better—that after our duel and seeing his medal and combat keepsakes on the wall, I was well and truly intimidated by him. “Before I give my answer, sir, I have to know…” I took a deep breath. “Is this personal for you? Have you been trying to get me to quit the whole time? And if so, why?” I let emotion leak into my voice. I felt on the verge of crying again, but I was past caring, needing an answer, any answer before I could move on. “Is it because I’m a mare? Or am I just not good enough for you?”

Surprisingly, he stared at me like I’d suddenly turned into one of the upright-walking apes that were said to live in another world. “Recruit, what in the name of the Mare In The Moon makes you think you’re not good enough for me?” he asked, disbelief evident in his voice as he set his tea and report scrolls aside. “When have I ever told you that?”

I gaped at him. “You’re always insulting me, calling me weak and useless, implying I should be a castle maid!” I bit out, looking down and still wondering deep down if that was indeed my proper place. “Why wouldst you do that, unless you didn’t think I was good enough?”

Windshear stared at me a bit longer, like he was considering whether to say something. Whatever he decided, his whole demeanor suddenly changed as he chuckled and shook his head, his eyes taking on an almost-mischievous glint. “Methinks it time to let you in on a little secret, recruit,” he said, leaning forward almost conspiratorially. “I don’t think your proper place is a castle maid. In fact, if you weren’t a mare and otherwise required to go through at least six months of basic training like the rest of the recruits… I would happily have given you your oath and armor after your first month here.”

I stared at him, my jaw open. Of all the things he could have said, that was the absolute last thing I expected to hear. “But… but the insults, and the berating, and all the hoops you make me fly through—”

Windshear sat back and pursed his hooves, regarding me coolly. “I personally have no problems with you, recruit—in fact, I admire what you’re trying to do. But the nobles are putting heavy pressure on the Captain of the Guard. When they got wind you wanted to join the armored division, they told him to ‘make sure that silly mare doesn’t make it’. He, in turn, told me to ‘make sure she’s ready for anything’ because, just like me, he thinks it’s high time the nobles got off their high horse and allowed the Guard to integrate.”

He smiled for the first time since I had known him—not his usual mocking smirk, but a genuine grin. “So… I did what I must to make sure you have what it takes. In fact, ’twas certain to me you had the drive and will after the first week.”

I was having a hard time accepting what I was hearing. “If you truly believed that, then why did you continue to insult and berate me?” I demanded to know, still leery.

He shrugged nonchalantly and gave me a surprisingly straight answer. “Because as good as you are and as good as you’ve gotten, you’re still far from ready—right now, you remain more a brawler than a warrior—and I found that you worked even harder the more negative the atmosphere you were in. ’Tis why I keep using the maid insult with you, because it makes you so angry and determined that you push yourself all the more. You weren’t a match for me in the duel because, as I think you’re now aware, I’ve already seen more than my fair share of fighting on the gryphon frontier—that and the award you were just gaping at are why I’m a trainer now,” he noted, his eyes going distant for a moment.

But whatever memories he was lost in, he quickly shook them off. “After five years and a thousand recruits, I’ve gained an excellent eye for talent, for being able to tell quickly who has it in them to be an elite Guardspony and who doesn’t. So believe me when I tell you, Firefly, that you do have what it takes—that as strong and swift as you’ve become, had you challenged any of your fellow recruits to an aerial duel instead of me… you’d have knocked them out in ten seconds flat. In fact, methinks you’re already a better flyer and fighter than most recent graduates. That’s how far you’ve come in these past couple of months,” he told me, leaving me stunned anew, and not just by his surety—’twas the first time he had ever called me by name.

Sensing my surprise, he went on. “Firefly, hear my words and take heed. You’re one of the best, most talented and driven recruits I’ve ever had, but that alone ’tis not enough. In order to make it as the first mare in the Armored Guard, you will have to be the best there is. Otherwise, ’tis certain your career will only last until the first time a veteran stallion takes exception to your presence, challenges and defeats you.

“And you will be challenged,” he warned me. “Repeatedly and frequently, especially at first. So if you truly want to be a Guardsmare, then ’twould be folly for me not to push you as hard as I can. If you wish to return to training, you may. But you will not graduate until I am satisfied you are good enough to best any foe and meet any challenge you might face. And that means, at a minimum, you must be good enough to beat me.

His words rang true, and I didn’t know what to say. For the third time in a week my entire world had been turned upside-down, and in many ways this time was the biggest shock of all. “I… I thank you for your candor and consideration, Sergeant Major,” was the only thing I could manage, scarcely able to believe that I was expressing gratitude to him! But in any event, my decision was now made. “And to answer your earlier question… I am not leaving, sir… now or ever!” I stood to attention before him and saluted. “Sir, request permission to rejoin my company, sir!”

“Granted,” the corners of his mouth crooked upwards again. “You may consider yourself reinstated and return to the barracks now—after a trip to the barber and dye shops, that is,” he frowned at my regrown mane and visible cutie mark. “But before you go, know this, recruit…” instantly, he was back in his drill sergeant persona, his voice going hard and eyes flinty again as he leaned forward. “Despite our little talk, don’t expect me to go any easier on you. I meant what I said about making sure you leave here the best flyer and fighter there is. Between that and the fact you’ve lost ten days of training, I’m going to be harder on you than ever!” he warned me ominously, his look and tone leaving me no doubt he meant what he said.

I stopped and looked back at him, giving him the same cocky smile I’d first arrived with months earlier. “I would have it no other way, Sergeant Major.”

Windshear was as good as his word.

The remaining eighteen weeks of basic were an endless series of physical training and combat drills, sleepless nights and pain-filled days, biting insults and a few more broken bones. ’Twould be a lie to say I didn’t have a few more shaky moments here and there, and before all was said and done seventy percent of the initial training class had quit. But for those who were left…

We stood in formation one week before graduation, the remnants of a once hundred-strong recruit class that now numbered but thirty shorn, grey-dyed pegasi. After spending weeks in our weighted training armor, our forms had become wiry but powerful, our wings stronger and swifter than we ever thought possible. Getting used to flying and fighting again without the amulet had been the biggest hurdle for me, doubly so since I returned just when they were starting to train us with the armor, making carrying the load even more difficult. But I persevered, and found myself finally earning the respect of my fellow recruits and trainers alike.

As I could already defeat every other recruit in an aerial duel, I could learn nothing by going against them. So Windshear had me spend time sparring with my instructors instead, slowly working my way up the command chain as the weeks wore on. Each pegasus stallion, all veteran trainers with combat experience, was able to defeat me in duels the first week and occasionally the second, but not by the third as I got better at carrying my armor and reading their movements, understanding how each thought and fought in turn.

‘Twas my true fighting gift, now that I think about it. I am called by many a born warrior, and perchance I am, but that did not mean that I was born with all my abilities and military acumen. What it did mean was that I was able to pick them up quickly, absorbing new skills like a sponge given proper training and instruction... and above all else, a proper mindset, which were three things I never truly had before I entered the Armored Guard. ‘Tis certain I gained the first two merely by enlisting and beginning basic training, but the third?

There is an old saying that when the student is ready, the master will appear. Methinks in this case, the master had to first make the student ready. The Sergeant Major recognized my potential early on, but he also knew that before I could realize it, I had to first be stripped of my pride and false self-image. Broken down completely before I could be built back up and turned into the soldier he wanted and the warrior I wished, for it was only then I would be able to listen and learn.

He was correct in his appraisal of me, and for it I remain eternally grateful to this day. He did indeed build me back up, designing his own custom combat training program for me, he or other trainers spending several hours even outside of the usual exercises to drill and spar with me personally each day. And when, after about ten weeks of this intensive and brutal regimen, I could take all the trainers short of the Sergeant Major individually? Then they moved on to challenging me in groups of two or more, starting the cycle all over again, forcing me to learn how to properly fight multiple opponents.

’Twas not easy as Windshear himself berated me repeatedly for my poor performance and penchant for charging right in, often taking on and defeating my duel opponents by himself to show me by example how it was done—not letting pegasi gang up on him, singling out weaker or more dangerous enemies for quick strikes or initial avoidance, smartly winnowing down the odds by thinking tactically, and above all else, not playing his opponent’s game.

“In other words, use your head, recruit!” he told me more than once, lecturing me angrily after each lost fight what I’d done wrong, and after a few more painful defeats and visits to the infirmary—’tis no exaggeration to say that during the second half of basic I used up most of Bone Deep’s medical stocks all by myself—I finally started to understand what Windshear meant by the difference between a brawler and warrior; that the difference between me and him wasn’t strength, speed, or fighting moves…

It was that fighting was more about brains than brawn.

’Twas not a fun time, but as we entered the last six weeks of basic, his lessons started to truly sink in. How to identify the more dangerous threats and not leave myself vulnerable to them. How to avoid disadvantageous situations and not be afraid to retreat in the face of them. How to spot weaknesses and openings. How to take advantage of mistakes and turn my opponent’s attacks against them. How to isolate enemies and force them to fight on my terms. So many defeats and harsh words were not easy on my battered body or repeatedly humbled pride, but I promised myself I would accept them and learn from each. And slowly I did, getting better in fits and starts, absorbing and internalizing Windshear’s tough teachings over time.

’Tis uncertain to me the exact moment it occurred, but sometime in that sixth and final month of basic, it all came together for me. I had at long last been forged into the soldier the Sergeant Major wanted, a finely-honed wingblade of a warrior able to defeat all my trainers whether singly or in groups. And when that happened…

* * * * *

“Recruit Firefly!” Windshear called me out and I obeyed instantly, coming forward out of formation at a brisk trot to stand before him.

“Reporting as ordered, Sergeant Major!” I snapped to attention and saluted, holding still and keeping my eyes fixed straight ahead as he inspected me from head to hoof.

Apparently satisfied, he stood back in front of me and faced me, his gaze boring into mine. I sensed I was about to be tested but wasn’t yet sure how. “Recruit Firefly… I told you before that you wouldst not leave here until I was certain you could defeat any foe and win any challenge you might face. And that, at a minimum, you had to be able to defeat me.”

There was a hushed murmur of awe from the other recruits and trainers, the former breaking military bearing to glance at and whisper to each other. For myself, I merely nodded, but felt an undeniable tingle of excitement… and a very definite twinge of fear. “So, ’tis time, then? Time for our rematch, sir?”

He nodded curtly. “’Tis indeed. Corporal!” he barked over his left shoulder.

The same corporal who had fetched the wingblades the last time jumped again, but only slightly. “Sir!” This time, he didn’t bother asking, as if he’d been expecting the order. He flew off and returned with the wingblades in record time, meeting us at the base’s formal duel grounds—a circular arena surrounded by three sections of stepped benches and an elevated, cloud-parked viewing area for high-ranking guests.

Whilst I waited at center ring, the rest of the company filed into one bench section. To my surprise, the other two training companies joined as well; their surviving dark-dyed unicorns and light-dyed earth ponies blinking at me in some surprise—they all knew I had joined, but hadn’t seen me since we had split off for separate training on the very first day and assumed I had quit long before. The Sergeant Majors of each training company stood in front of the three bench sections and called their ponies to attention, a hush falling over the entire base as the Fort Spur commander, an earth pony named First Lieutenant Ironsides appeared, escorting a surprise guest…

Captain Typhoon, the current commander of the Royal Guard, along with several aides and royal unicorn scribes from Canterlot.

“Recruits! We have a special guest with us today!” Windshear announced in a booming voice. “The Captain wishes to see his newest Guardsponies in action, and we have a very special presentation to make! Nearly six months ago, I began training a young pegasus mare who wished to be the first female to join the Armored Guard. Many thought her foalish for trying, but she has proven everypony wrong, meeting each challenge put before her! She has learned from her mistakes and accepted her defeats, turning each setback into a new opportunity to better herself, breaking her limits and reaching higher levels of ability with each challenge overcome. And that, recruits, is what a Guardspony is supposed to be!” he roared, to the approving hoofstomps of the entire training battalion, who had likewise all overcome a great deal to be sitting there now.

“She now faces her final test, in front of all Equestria!” he nodded at the Captain and royal unicorn scribes from Canterlot who were there to record the events. “And that test… is me.” he stepped forward into the ring and stood stiffly before me as Typhoon himself flew down to inspect us both, wearing his formal Captain’s uniform, rank insignia gleaming in the sunlight.

I stood rigid under his scrutiny as he looked me over; a very powerful-looking and face-scarred pegasus stallion who had clearly not won his position through familial ties or nepotism. Finally, he stepped back, apparently satisfied with what he saw. “This duel ’tis by my order, recruit,” he told me almost apologetically, but there was an edge to his voice as well. “The Sergeant Major tells me you are ready. Are you?” he watched me carefully, looking for any hint of doubt or uncertainty.

I drew myself up. “Sir! Yes sir!” I saluted, my heart going a mile a minute.

With that, the Captain nodded and withdrew, leaving me alone with Windshear and Bone Deep. The former donned his full Guardspony combat gear, including helmet, armor, hoofstrikers and wingblade harness, leaving me to face him with equivalent training gear. It may have seemed unfair to an observer, but I did not have the right to wear the real thing yet.

Once we were fully dressed and our blades deployed, standing apart at a distance of twenty paces, Bone Deep stepped between us and magically enhanced his voice. “Sergeant Major Windshear! Recruit Firefly! These are the rules! By order of Captain Typhoon, this is a full combat duel! Accordingly, it goes until one side surrenders or cannot continue to fight! And…” Bone Deep looked decidedly unhappy as he said his next words, glancing over at his fully stocked medical cart, his healer team standing by. “And to properly simulate combat conditions, you may use any attack or inflict any wound you wish!”

I understood the meaning of his words well. This was not a formal pegasus duel that went to first blood or flight disability only, as I had fought in the past. This battle would go until surrender… or death.

Just like the real thing. “I understand, Sergeant!” I nodded once, jerkily, reminding myself that this was what I wanted—what the last four months had been about. Another chance, another crack. Not to avenge a past defeat, but simply to prove myself worthy. I wasn’t ready then. But thanks to the Sergeant Major, I am NOW! I told myself. I had overcome all challenges before this; now facing my final hurdle to becoming a Guardsmare. And no matter how high that hurdle was…

“I won’t hold back, recruit,” Windshear warned me, though there was a barest hint of grin on his face. “And you don’t graduate without winning.”

“I would have it no other way, sir,” I repeated my words from weeks earlier, flashing my cocky grin. I wished Wind Whistler was there to watch, but the thought of her braced me, gave me strength. For this chance would never have come without her, either…

Captain Typhoon himself did the honors, stepping between us and giving the signal to start. “Combatants! Begin!” he brought his hoof down in a sharp slashing motion.

Both of us instantly took off like a shot fired from a catapult, powerful wing beats propelling us forward in an initial exchange as we each went for the other’s right wing. There was a sharp WHANG! and shower of sparks as our blades clashed, the impact rattling my wing in its socket but otherwise doing no damage. Before, such a blow that the Sergeant Major delivered would have dislocated my wing, but after six months of Guardspony training, it—and I—was stronger than that.

We circled after our first pass, which we both knew had been simply taking each other’s measure—’twas traditional in such duels to test wing strength first. “Not bad, recruit,” he called to me as we circled. “Methinks any other mare would have been knocked from the sky by that alone.”

“I’m not any other mare… sir…” I showed my teeth in a grin, which in any other situation would have been disrespectful to my superior. “Thanks to you.”

He grinned briefly, but then lowered his head in challenge, his eyes narrowing as he went back into his head trainer persona. “Really? Because methinks I’m not convinced yet, recruit. I still think your proper uniform attire is a mop and feather duster!” he used his favorite insult to try and provoke me before he slashed in again, utilizing a series of head and wing feints to disguise where his next blow would come. Before, I would have risen to the bait and rushed in recklessly to meet him head-on, attacking in anger in an attempt to make him eat his own words. But countless combat drills and training duel defeats had taught me the value of patience and discipline, to say nothing of not playing my opponent’s game. So I simply swooped down and away and then shot back up, avoiding him entirely whilst looking for my own opening.

“So you’ve finally gained some tactical sense,” he conceded from a hover, twenty feet away. “No more charging in like an angry minotaur, I see.”

“’Tis hardly unexpected. I learned from the best, sir,” I replied, my initial nerves having worn off, leaving sheer exhilaration in their wake. This was no duel, this was the real thing, and the sense of very real danger left me feeling more excited than I ever had before. “Even if you still are, without a doubt, the most despicable, arrogant, misogynistic horse I have ever met!” I retaliated with the same insult I’d used against him before our first duel. ‘Twas definitely one of my better ones, after all...

His smile returned and got wider as he replied like he did then. “Flattery gets you nowhere, recruit. And you won’t win this duel by avoiding me!” he shot back. “You’ll have to fight me to defeat me, or you really are no better than a castle maid!” he goaded me again.

I lowered my head in reply but never lost my own grin. “Try me, you useless mule!” I countered with yet another insult I’d used before, making clear that this time, I would not budge.

“Only because you asked so nicely!” He shot in again with a quick burst of speed that was almost so fast I couldn’t follow it, making it clear that despite his earlier promise he’d been holding back on me. He was on me in bare moments, yet for me, time slowed down. The instant he moved, I recognized his intent, having developed an uncanny ability to read my opponents from all my training duels—he was threatening me with his wingblades, which he knew I could evade, but the real threat came from his hoofstrikers, which he meant to bring down hard on me when I moved to block or avoid his wings. His flying form was perfect, designed to allow him to shift quickly to either side no matter which way I dodged, and he’d then punish me by bringing his hoofstrikers down hard on my head or shoulders, either one of which could end the fight and leave me with a fractured skull or spine.

With no time or means to evade, my only path was straight ahead, so I decided to use his own momentum against him. I blasted forward to meet him head-on… and head-butted him as hard as I could, the impact of our helmets ringing out loudly, causing us both to see stars and stumble backwards from the force of the impact.

Our flight wavered hard for a moment, and when my vision cleared, there was a visible dent in his helmet… and mine as well, judging by the pressure I was feeling against my forehead. So as one, we discarded them and then stared at each other again, trying to recover our senses. “So I was right all along! You really do have a hard head, recruit!” He rubbed his forehead for a moment, a visible bruise forming.

“I had to, to survive you!” I shouted and, recognizing he was more disoriented than I was from his slightly cross-eyed gaze, I tried to take advantage to land a quick blow, swooping in and aiming a blade for an exposed hindquarter. Four months earlier, using such a tactic would have struck me as dishonorable, but here…

He spotted my attack a fraction of a second too late and went into a quick tumble but my blade found its mark, penetrating his armor to put a long slash in his flank, fittingly right over his wingblade cutie mark.

I stared in wonder and horror at my feat—I had drawn first blood! I really could fight him now! Normally the battle would now end, but…

But this was a combat deal, and this time, ’twas Windshear who took advantage of my momentary uncertainty to spin hard in the air and ram a hoofstriker into my armored back just below my shoulders as I passed, causing my wings to go briefly numb. His blow knocked the wind from me, sending me into a tumble of my own.

The advantage now his, he immediately tried to follow up, slashing at me with a wingblade. But after six months of stamina training and flight balance drills, I righted myself and escaped further injury by going into a power dive, pulling out right before I hit the ground. I then flew low right over the stands filled with startled dark-dyed unicorn recruits, hearing the word ‘awesome’ from one as I passed.

Awesome… I repeated the strange word, recognizing it as one that some younger colts and fillies were starting to use. Methinks I like the sound of that! I grinned as I rounded on Windshear as he pulled up behind me, wearing a thin sheet of sweat as well as an impressed look.

“First blood to you, recruit,” he confirmed, looking back at his bleeding hip but grinning, a gleam in his eyes that told me he was enjoying himself as much as I was. “But battles don’t end just because your opponent is wounded. You can’t stop. You have to finish the job!” he warned me as his expression turned stern again, suddenly playing a different mental game with me since he could no longer affect me with insults. “Can you kill, recruit?”

I blinked. ’Twas an academic question—’twas what I was training for, after all. And yet… “have I not always done what it takes, Sergeant Major?”

“A non-answer,” Windshear dismissed me. “And one you had best ponder well!” he dove at me again, wings wide as I shot skyward in response. We made another combat pass, twisting ourselves in midair trying to both evade and target the other. There was another sharp CLANG! of clashing steel and this time, his blade found its mark as I felt a searing pain in my foreleg and outer wing, leaving my right hoof hanging limply, bleeding heavily, and several secondary feathers on my right wing partially sheared off.

The Sergeant Major noticed and held off. “That loose limb and missing feathers will upset your flight form. ’Twas a good match, but I’ll accept your surrender at any time, recruit,” he smirked, though I recognized from long experience with him that he meant it as a goad—he certainly did not expect or want me to surrender.

Still, he was right. I was in trouble and I knew it. The wound hurt terribly, and I knew the wing damage would slow me down. And yet, for all of it… I had never felt so happy or alive. What we were doing… it felt good. It felt right…

It felt like what I’d been born to do.

Adrenaline overriding the pain, I circled back for another pass, except this time I would be diving on him, ignoring my injuries. “As you say, sir… battles don’t end just because your opponent is wounded!” Taking the offensive, I dove down on him, using gravity to make up for my missing speed. Instead of answering in kind, Windshear used my own tactic against me and attacked me head-on, thrusting his hooves at my unprotected head. I saw his intention and flared my wings at the last moment, air resistance slowing my approach fractionally. That upset his timing just enough that his hooves missed my head, catching only my armored chest instead, though the sheer force of the impact was still enough to stun me and send another sharp stab of pain down my injured foreleg. My momentum carried me forward and I found myself on top of him as, wings and limbs entangled, we fell in an uncontrolled tumble.

We exchanged blows as we plummeted from wing and hoof, pummeling each other mercilessly, neither of us giving an inch. My blade clipped the side of his head whilst his hoofstriker found the base of my wing, causing me to cry out in pain and the wing to fall limp again as the sensitive nerve cluster had been hit.

Pressing his advantage, his blade swung and whiffed at my good wing, catching only the tips of my feathers, whilst I surprised him by ramming my good hoof right into his jaw, bloodying his mouth—some small measure of payback for our earlier duel, I later decided, though I can’t say I was thinking about that in the heat of the battle—and held on to him, knowing that with my wounds I couldn’t pull out in time. Instead, I forced him to try and slow our fall with his larger and as yet-uninjured wings, twisting over at the last moment to make him take the brunt of the impact as we hit the ground.

“OOF!” he shouted as we hit hard and rolled over several times in the dirt, but being on the bottom, he took the worst of it. And by the time the dust had cleared and his senses returned…

The entire arena stared in disbelief as they beheld me pinning him in place, my good wing’s blade at his throat.

I held the pose for several seconds, making sure ’twas clear to all who the victor was. “Surrender, Sergeant Major!” I directed him despite how odd it felt to be giving him an order!

“And if I don’t?” he goaded me, even managing a sly grin despite the blade at his throat. “The terms of this duel are surrender or death! If I fail to give one, you must do the other! So I ask you again: can you kill, recruit?” He challenged me a second time, and once again I had no immediate answer.

Can I kill…? I echoed the question in my own head. I don’t know yet, but… I will not NOW! I abruptly released him and stepped back.

“This fight is finished, Sergeant Major,” I told him, retracting my wingblades for emphasis. “I will not continue. And you may think me weak for saying this, but… honor does have its place! And its place is here and now!” I shouted my words for all to hear and stamped my hoof hard, then looked skyward to the Captain of the Guard, asking for his intervention.

In response, Typhoon flew down and landed between us. “Sergeant Major? Regardless of whether she gave a finishing blow, by my order, this duel is done! Are you satisfied? Has she earned her place?”

Windshear looked at him, then to me… and grinned, giving me a smile reminiscent of a proud papa—something I’d never known as an orphan. “I am. And she has,” he confirmed, hauling himself back to his hooves, and then spoke his next words loudly enough that all could hear. “I surrender! The duel is yours! Congratulations… Guardsmare!” he told me, standing to attention and saluting me as, to my astonishment, the Captain of the Guard did the same.

The stands and training staff then erupted in appreciative huzzahs and hoofstomps, my fellow recruits from all three companies cheering me loudly. They resented my presence and didn’t want me there to start, but after all I’d been through and the incredible battle they’d just seen...

In their eyes I was finally not only one of them. I was now the best of them!

I let their thunderous cheers and the feeling of sheer triumph sink in as I stood there, exhausted and sweaty, wounded and bleeding… but feeling happier than I’d ever been in my life.

Remember this feeling well, Firefly… I told myself as I refused aid to make it to the infirmary, determined to get there under my own power despite my wounded wing and leg. For methinks it may never come again!

Author's Note:

Basic training is over. But Firefly’s career has just begun! Hope you’ve enjoyed the intro! And now the real fun begins...

Before then, I’d like to thank prereaders AJ_Aficionado, SilentWoodFire, and JamesCyberlink for prereading and offering feedback on a story that wasn’t even on the radar a month ago. It kind of popped out from Firefly’s cameo appearance in Turnabout Storm and TLaTU, but basically, we decided she deserved to have her story told.

And heck, I’ve always wanted to do a military adventure story. To that end, I’d also like to thank Demon Eyes Laharl, father of the Gentlemanverse of author of Feathered Heart, one of the best MLP-based military adventure stories out there, for inspiration, and strongly encourage folks to check it out if they’re interested in reading a modern-day US Marine-griffin military crossover. Much of his worldbuilding and exploration of the griffin society and military, including their units, rank, and weaponry will be used here as well.

Hope you’ve liked, and plenty more to come!

—Firesight and Leo Archon


The chapter has been greatly expanded and heavily rewritten in places, to emphasize more that Firefly is very much Windshear’s pupil and protege, that the warrior she becomes is in large part due to his training and influence. I also tried to make Windshear’s explanations of his actions more believable and cleaned up some clumsy phrasing.

You may also notice some musical selections now, in green text as section headers. You can thank James CyberLink for them. Just a little bit of atmosphere, listen to them or not as you may.

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