• 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 5 - Graduation

Happy moments in my early life were few and far between, but they taught me to savor my victories, no matter how small.

Whether winning a fight or just mastering a new flight trick, I went to bed that night feeling good no matter how badly my body was hurting… for I had also learned over the course of my scrapes and scraps to work through pain and push myself to my limits. If I did not give my best, I could not look at myself in the mirror; if I did not try my hardest, I felt like I had failed myself.

In the end, I couldn’t give up as long as I knew I had more to give, and that was ultimately what sustained me not just in basic training, but throughout my whole life… though rarely was it more rewarded for me than that wonderful day of triumph, one I would remember for years to come.

“Stand and be recognized, Private First Class Tempest!

The week after my rematch with Windshear had been a relatively easy one, and not just for the fact I spent two days in the infirmary recovering from my injuries, getting my foreleg healed and sheared wingfeathers regrown.

Having come this far, we had already made it so they eased up on us except for morning drills. In the meantime, we were fitted for our armor and uniforms, as well as discussing where our first assignments would be. Some new Armored Guardsponies would be sent right out into the field; others would be selected for more specialized training.

“Stand and be recognized, Private First Class Stonehoof!

But before that came our actual graduation ceremony, where we stopped being recruits and were officially inducted into the Armored Guard. ’Twas not just the pegasi who were graduating; the unicorns and earth pony recruits were also receiving their oaths and armor today. No longer split by company, we stood in even rows in front of a podium where the respective Sergeant Majors of each recruit class announced our names and graduating ranks, recognizing one new Armored Guardspony from the pegasus, earth pony, and unicorn companies in turn.

“Stand and be recognized, Corporal Hexblade!

Most graduates were Privates, with about a third given the rank of PFC. There was the rare Corporal here and there, but those were few and far between. It took a great deal of effort just to make it through basic training; it took a great deal more to earn a higher rank right out of the gate. And to be made a noncom like corporal right away spoke of a very gifted young Guardspony.

“Stand and be recognized, Private Hazewing!

Recruits and officers weren’t the only ponies here, naturally. Graduation ceremonies were the one time civilians were allowed on base, meaning many friends and family would be in attendance. I had no friends or family to speak of, of course, save for Wind Whistler, her face beaming as she watched from the cloud stands that had been erected for the ceremony and occasionally wiped away a tear.

Previous graduates were in attendance as well, either to welcome their friends into the Guard, or to be arrogant and smug around the ‘rookies’, looking forward to the chance to haze them as they themselves had once been. I looked forward to wiping those expressions off their faces when it came to me.

“Stand and be recognized, Private First Class Treespeak!

The guest of honor, however, was Princess Celestia herself. In all my life, I had only ever seen her once, at a distance during my sole visit to Canterlot. Now, she was observing us at close range as we took our oaths to serve her. It heightened the tension considerably.

“Stand and be recognized, Private Shade!

We were nearing the halfway point of the ceremony; half of each group of recruits had been given their rank and insignia. I did not fidget, as I had been trained not to during six months of basic. Still, my mind was restless, as I began to wonder when they would—

“Stand and be recognized… Sergeant Firefly!

There’s an old saying that goes ‘It was so quiet you could hear a hay straw drop’. I was personally never fond of it, as I assumed it to be mere hyperbole. But as Windshear’s voice called my name and rank, the silence that overtook the graduates and spectators left me giving new thought to the ancient idiom.

Despite my surprise—Sergeant?! Right out of the GATE?!—I dutifully made my way up to the podium where Windshear was waiting, the bruises and cuts I’d given him still faintly visible on his healing body—I sympathized, mine were just as bad, though at least my wing was fully functional again. In his hooves were, yes, the rank insignia of a Sergeant.

“Sergeant Firefly,” he began, his voice reverent, “do you swear to serve the Guard faithfully and honorably, to obey all lawful orders given you, to defend Equestria against all enemies, and to lay down your very life, if necessary, in service to your Princess and fellow ponies?”

It was the ritual Armored Guardspony oath of service, and one deserving of an equally ritual reply. “I do, so help me, Celestia!”

With that, he pinned my new rank insignia on my uniform shoulders and then presented me to the assembled crowd in my gleaming new armor. The other recruits cheered me raucously, whilst the reaction of the existing Armored Guardsponies was considerably more mixed.

Once all graduates were presented, we stood in ranks to be inspected by Princess Celestia herself. Even after six months of having military bearing drilled into me, ’twas very hard to hold still as she stopped in front of me. She was a very large yet slender pony, even more so than the few Saddle Arabians I’d seen, and her immense alicorn power all but radiated off her, bathing me in its brilliance. She shone like the sun—there was no other way to describe her—and ’twas hard not to be intimidated by her.

And yet, there was also a gentleness and compassion about her. I could not imagine what ’twas like to live so long a life and not be driven mad by it, but here she was, not the goddess some called her but a very real pony, paying homage to those who served her.

“Sergeant Firefly,” she called to me softly, her voice nothing like I thought it would be—’twas quiet and clear, not at all like the booming royal voice she used for giving speeches. “I understand that you have overcome a great deal to stand here now,” she noted, almost languidly.

I swallowed, glad my gulp was hidden by my gleaming new armor. What was I supposed to say to that, except… “Yes, My Princess.”

She regarded me for a moment, then grinned. “Know that I have been watching you for some time. I cannot and will not interfere with your career, but be assured that you have my respect, now and forever for what you have accomplished,” she told me. “You have earned your place and your rank, and ’tis my great hope that other mares will now follow in your hoofsteps.”

Again, what could I say but… “Thank you, My Princess,” I answered, struggling to keep the grin off my face and flush from my cheeks. With a parting nod and smile, she moved on to the next recruit in line.

The ceremony complete, we finally dropped our military bearing, tossing our new helms in the air and cheering raucously. The unicorns began firing fireworks off their horns and earth ponies started butting heads as the pegasi, myself included took wing and flew several celebratory laps, engaging in some playful sparring along the way.

As was customary, we would be getting a week’s leave before beginning our first assignments, which we would learn later. Until then… I joined the surviving members of my recruit class that evening for a rousing night of drinks and merriment at the local pub; a favorite place of mine and Wind Whistler’s called the Aching Drum. I invited Wind Whistler, but she declined, saying—rightly, I later realized—that the night was for us, and she would just be an interloper.

Our recruit pay unspent for the entire duration of our training, we cleaned the place out and made more than a little mess of it, though the owners didn’t mind—they saw this happen every six months with each new graduating Guardspony class, and a few broken windows, chairs and tables were worth it for the bits they made. I was the unquestioned guest of honor, as all the stallions were clamoring to buy me a drink in an odd reversal of gender roles!

I’m not too proud to say I acceded to their wishes, granting each recruit company the right to buy me one drink despite how odd it felt to have stallions treat me. They were also not above some friendly challenges, as I ended up in a couple hoof-wrestling matches and some contests of wing strength with fellow pegasi. Everypony wanted to test me or test themselves against me, it seemed, and how could I deny them the chance?

To be sure, I didn’t win everything. After all, not even I could beat the new earth pony Guardsponies in a contest of strength or stamina, but even the most powerful pegasi were no match for me either on the ground or in the air, and the unicorns quickly learned that I was not so easy to restrain magically either, as it took four at once to hold me down… or so I let them think.

But for all the friendly challenges, there were some decidedly unfriendly ones to follow. Late in the evening, the doors of the Aching Drum burst open to admit a trio of new stallions—one unicorn, one earth pony and one pegasus. They were all sporting military mane cuts and were wearing formal Guardspony uniforms… as well as some very angry looks. They were Armored Guard veterans, I instantly realized, and ones who had been at the graduation ceremony if they were still formally attired. They’d also clearly been having a few drinks as well at the Drunken Rat down the street if their collective breath was any indication, and had probably been working themselves up into a lather for hours.

“Okay, where is she?” the lead pony, a pegasus corporal from the insignia on his shoulders, called out, his wings and tail twitching. “Where’s that stupid mare?”

That instantly got the attention of everypony present, all eyes turning on the interlopers. “Hey!” Stonehoof called out, immediately stepping forward. Of the earth pony graduates, he was easily the biggest, so massive I could hide comfortably in his shadow. “You don’t talk to her like that!”

“And what are you, her mother?” the unicorn stallion called out, lowering his head to present his horn. “This doesn’t concern you, rookie. It doesn’t concern any of you except her!” he pointed directly at me with a hoof, his aura casually tossing tables and chairs aside to clear a path to me.

Two fellow graduates, one pegasus and one earth pony stepped in front of me, interposing themselves. “Listen, gryphonbait—this is our night, so you can save it for some other time! You mess with her, you’re messing with all of us!” Hazewing announced with flared wings, a rumble of agreement coming from throughout the room as the remainder stepped forward as well, ready and willing to fight.

As odd and refreshing as it was to see stallions standing up for a mare, I wasn’t about to have anypony fight on my behalf. I fought my own battles, and I knew well this was likely the first of many. “Stand down, colts,” I gave my first real order as a sergeant. “If they want to have a friendly chat… I’m right here.” I fearlessly walked right up to them, my very presence seemingly infuriating them further. “So… how can I help you fine Guardsponies?” I asked.

This time, the earth pony spoke. “Oh, you want to help us? You can start by resigning your post and taking your filly flank back to Canterlot Castle where it belongs!” he spat, bringing his hoof down hard enough to punch a hole in the floorboards, causing the entire room to shake. “The Armored Guard is for stallions, not undeserving mares who probably got a free pass the whole way through!”

“Undeserving?” The word brought an immediate uproar from my fellow graduates, shouts of outrage filling the air. “Her training was worse than ours! And in the end, she not only survived it, she beat Windshear!” Tempest called out.

Three angry and incredulous faces turned on him. “Are you as stupid as you look, rookie? Windshear let her win!” the pegasus corporal shot back, fire in his eyes. “Probably under orders from Typhoon, if not Celestia herself!”

That’s Captain Typhoon and Princess Celestia!” I promptly corrected him, my eyes narrowing—surely being just a year out of basic wasn’t enough to make one forget proper address of superiors, was it?

“Oh, I’m sorry. Are you on a first-name basis with them?” the corporal brought his own hoof down, hard, easily smashing an overturned table and and advancing on me, head lowered, large wings flared and challenge smoldering in his eyes. “So what did you do to get through training, offer your flank to everypony who wanted it? And how the buck do you rate sergeant right out of the gate?” he demanded to know. “We’ve been busting our tails for two years and still haven’t made it!”

Despite his obscene suggestion, I smiled as sweetly as I could. I recognized where things were heading but, regardless of the alcohol in my system was beyond caring, deciding that if I was to survive the inevitable challenges Windshear had warned me about, I might as well start now. “Then clearly, you haven’t been performing up to par, corporal.” I dripped contempt on the title, making them take another threatening step towards me. “And as much as I’d love to write you three up for insubordination and conduct unbecoming, methinks it’d be far more fun and fitting to ‘bust your flanks’ back down to Private right here and now,” I suggested casually, thinking Wind Whistler would be proud of my turn of phrase.

He smiled like I’d done exactly what he hoped, even baring his teeth. “Oh, is that a challenge, filly?” the pegasus corporal asked, his wings twitching like he was only too ready to fight. “I’ve already fought and killed harpies on the western frontier. You really want a piece of this?” he showed off his flank and his sliced-feather cutie mark.

“Methinks you’re not my type, sorry,” I replied evenly, to peals of laughter from the others. “And ‘tis hard for me to imagine what mare actually did have foals with you. But if you insist, I’d be more than happy to show you why I’ve earned my rank.” I stepped forward to face him, giving him a level look, my cocky grin making itself known for the first time.

“Firefl… I mean, Sergeant…” one of the unicorn graduates whispered. “With respect, this might not be the best idea. I mean, you’re still healing right now…”

“Methinks you might want to listen to your friend, there.” The earth pony grinned, his tone mocking. “You accept a challenge from Shadowslash here, ’tis certain your career as an Armored Guardspony ends tonight!”

I sighed and put on my best impression of a cowed air. “I guess you’re right… it would be a rather unfair fight…” I lowered my gaze, but then raised it back up, fire in my eyes. “After all, ’twould hardly be a challenge for me to fight him one-on-one, so I hereby challenge all of you to a three-on-one match! We duel to knockout or submission, and the terms are simple: you win, I resign the guard. I win, you go home with your tails between your legs and get busted all the way back to private!” I grinned toothily. “So what say you?”

They gaped at me, and they weren’t the only ones, the entire graduating class looking at me like I’d lost my mind.

“Well now…” Shadowslash finally spoke. “You drive a hard bargain, filly. But methinks we can accommodate you,” he exchanged gleeful looks with his two compatriots, who nodded and grinned back. “We say yes! Care to step outside…?”

* * * * *

A minute later I stood in the center of the plaza outside the Aching Drum, facing my three opponents much as I’d faced Windshear but a week earlier. The thought of that battle still caused my heart to race and breath to quicken—for he was worthy. He was a true challenge and a final test that marked the end of a long and difficult journey. But these three…?

Three half-drunk, belligerent Guardsponies who didn’t respect my ability or accomplishments barely rated my time or attention.

But they would have it nonetheless as we took fighting stances, heads lowered, wings flared and horn presented, Hexblade stepping forward between us to give the signal to start, slashing downward with a hoof.

“Combatants! Begin!”

Whereas Shadowslash immediately shot towards me, intending to end the duel quickly, I smiled and made one powerful downward beat with my wings to blast up a cloud of dust, instantly following up with a swift stroke forward to drive it right into my opponents’ eyes—a trick I had learned from Windshear—distracting the unicorn in particular just long enough for me to take flight. I could overcome his aura, but I didn’t need it slowing me down, firing bolts at me or just plain shining a spotlight on me.

Windshear had been right when he said I was more brawler than warrior, given my previous penchant for charging right in and mixing it up with as many opponents as I could. But his training and many lost duels with my instructors had taught me patience and how to examine situations tactically, and I put those hard-learned lessons to use here.

“Coward!” Shadowslash called after me as I initially flew away, taking off after me, coughing hard and trying to blink the dust clear of his eyes. “Is all you can do run and hide? You abandon the field, you forfeit the fight!”

I stayed silent and grinned. I knew that. And I hadn’t, since the terms of the duel had never specified exactly what our arena boundaries were. And given that oversight, it became very easy to isolate and take out my opponents in sequence… just as Windshear had taught me.

Losing a blurry-eyed Shadowslash briefly in the darkness of the woods, I immediately circled back and darted between trees and buildings, heading back towards the light of the plaza outside the pub. Emerging out of an alley, I applied another lesson by taking out the most dangerous target first, striking out of the darkness to blindside the unicorn right as he launched an illumination flare to find me. I knocked him out with a single blow to the side of his head; his flare and the glowing aura surrounding his horn immediately flickered out like a shattered lantern. The magical threat eliminated, I dodged the retaliatory leap of the earth pony stallion, whose hooves smashed open a barrel in my wake, but then he pulled a sentry slingshot—a non-lethal version of a combat crossbow—and in a single smooth motion fired a projectile that sizzled past my head, one that would have given me a severe bruise or concussion if it hit. He was a good shot, but even if he was wielding an actual crossbow, he had little chance of bringing down a target as fast or elusive as me.

With the unicorn down, I didn’t have to worry about magical attacks and immediately set out to take down Shadowslash, who was bearing down on me from behind, cursing up a storm the whole way. Control your emotions, or they WILL betray you! I remembered Windshear’s words with a grin, and finally I was seeing the truth of it from the other side. My pegasus opponent clearly thought he was the fastest thing on four hooves or two wings, so I played to that, letting him slowly catch up to me, only to put on a burst of speed just as he was about to catch me, infuriating him further, making him take ever more reckless chances…

Completely oblivious to where I was leading him until I led him around a blind corner and he ran headlong into a tree. He clearly didn’t know the layout of the town as well as me; then again, I’d lived here my whole life and had led him down an obstacle course I’d flown oft as a filly. There was a pained cry that accompanied several branches snapping, and he fell in a tangle of leaves and limbs to the ground, bleeding through his badly torn uniform.

“Y-you…!” he struggled to rise again as I landed before him, my grin and flared wings mocking him even as he drew a hidden blade from his uniform tunic with his mouth and took a flying lunge, slashing at me with it, to the outraged shouts of the other recruits—by resorting to deadly force, he’d just broken the rules of the duel, and thus automatically lost it.

I cared not, for another hard lesson I’d learned over the past six months was that honor was only granted when given, and could never be assumed. I dodged his wild swipe easily, knocking the weapon out of his mouth with a single swift sock to the jaw—believe me, that wasn’t the first time I’d ever faced a blade—staggering him further. Reeling, he took one more wild hoof swing before I simply and quite contemptuously head-butted him to the cheers and delight of my comrades, putting him down for good. Windshear would be proud! I couldn’t help but grin.

At that moment, I heard heavy hoofbeats thundering up behind me, the ground itself shaking in their wake—the earth pony now intended to avenge his comrades and win the duel all by himself, and he would be on me in bare moments. As hard as he was charging, I couldn’t fly off quickly enough; he’d leap and tackle me right out of the air if I tried, and once he got me in a lock or landed a solid blow backed by his Guardspony-enhanced earth pony power, ’twas all over. His size and strength were massive; he was certainly the largest and most powerful of the three ponies and would not go down easily…

Unless I used my full strength. The others were screaming at me to evade and take flight again, but I didn’t… until the last possible moment, and even then, ’twas only to add power to the blow to come. I thrust down and forward with my wings just as I kicked out backwards, letting the earth pony corporal have it with both hind legs, my hooves connecting with his forehead with an audible impact heard all the way across the plaza, causing everypony present to groan and wince.

Incredibly, my strike staggered him and he stumbled forward a few more steps, staring at me. For a moment I thought he was actually going to shake off the blow, but his eyes abruptly rolled back in his head and he slowly toppled forward, then fell on his side, unconscious.

For all that it happened, it had taken less than half a minute from beginning to end. As the dust settled, Shadowslash lay unmoving in a tangle of tree limbs where I’d left him, whilst his unicorn friend was groaning, just barely starting to stir. I landed between them and surveyed the results. “The winner ‘tis me! Unless any now present object?” I asked the ritual question, and when there was no reply from either my opponents or witnesses, my victory became official. The graduating class whooped their appreciation and then surrounded me, clapping me on the back.

I accepted their adulation happily, but there was one last matter to attend to as I walked over to each fallen Guardspony in turn and ripped their rank insignia off as per the terms of our duel. “Privates Shade, Hazewing, and Trailblazer!” I called out, realizing I was already enjoying the ability to give orders—a rather ironic turn for a brash young filly who always hated taking them.

The three responded instantly. “Ma’am, yes ma’am!” they chorused, coming out of the crowd and standing at attention in front of me like they were back in basic again, a unicorn, pegasus and earth pony to match my three vanquished challengers.

“With apologies, you’re on garbage detail. Take these three back to the fort, dump them at the front gate and be sure you give the gate guards this note to let them know the terms of this challenge,” I scrawled out a quick message with a quill pen on a piece of scrap scroll paper. “And then, by my order, you are to come back here on the double… and have more drink!”

“Yes ma’am!” they shouted eagerly as one, happily loading the three vanquished Guardsponies into a wagon to haul them back to base.

Twelve days had passed since that night in front of the Aching Drum, and I was now standing before Windshear as he gave me my first marching orders. Fort Spur was currently nearing the end of the customary two-week break between the end of the previous recruit class and start of the next, the base resetting and preparing for its next wave of recruits, due the very next day.

Customarily, some new graduates were retained to help train them as their first assignment, but as I reviewed the order scroll, I realized quickly I would not be one of them.

”Sir? What is this?“ I asked, indicating said scroll.

”’Tis exactly what it looks like, Sergeant,” Windshear told me, his voice neutral. “Orders from Captain Typhoon himself; you’re to be deployed to the Gryphon border.”

I allowed myself my cocky grin—finally, some real action! And yet… “I see. Not to seem displeased, sir, but surely a border posting is a rather harsh place for a fresh graduate? I wish to know, why is the captain assigning me to a potential combat post right out of basic?”

Windshear sat back in his chair and gave me a rather deadpan stare. “You are far from a ‘fresh graduate’, if even half of the stories flying around about you are true, Sergeant. I hear you dueled and defeated three veteran Guardsponies at once and busted their ranks all the way back down to Private?” he gave me a sardonic look, but I also caught a gleam of pride in his gaze. “Granted, Shadowslash was always a bit too arrogant and undisciplined for my tastes, but he is quite capable—at least when he’s sober. And that’s to say nothing of the other half-dozen duels and all the other hoops you’ve been made to jump through.”

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at that. Apparently, not just the rank-and-file Guardsponies but numerous senior members of the Guard had taken exception to my graduating basic at all, let alone with the rank of Sergeant. As a result, several more challenges had followed, just as Windshear had predicted.

Somewhat to my surprise, though, it wasn’t the pegasi that were usually the problem; they’d heard of my duel with Windshear and were very respectful… most of the time, save for a couple more thick-skulled bruisers like Shadowslash, both of whom lasted even less time against me than he. Neigh, ’twas the unicorns and earth ponies that sought my attention the most, believing that ‘a mere mare flyer’ stood no chance against their strength or sorcery. They were easily dealt with for the most part; especially the one unlucky unicorn corporal I had dropped quickly, cracking his horn and following up with a subsequent punch that knocked out half his teeth.

Granted, I might have put a little too much into my blow, but he really shouldn’t have told me I would have been much prettier dressed as a palace maid.

The informal challengers were more interesting. They were the higher-ranked members of the guard, Master Sergeants and above who didn’t challenge me directly. Rather, they assigned me difficult and occasionally demeaning tasks that they thought I would refuse or fail. Some was just ritual hazing of the newest Guardsponies, having them shine armor or clean the officer latrines… but some was decidedly not. And indeed, some tasks I did initially fail. But I had not pushed myself through the tortuous process of training under Windshear to quit under duress now. I would come back to these challenges and complete them, usually the second time around, and as a result… I was quickly earning a grudging respect from the upper ranks, if not yet full acceptance.

“At any rate…” continued Windshear, bringing me back to the present, “the Captain seems to believe that the quicker you prove yourself fully, the better, and having seen our duel and heard about all the others you’ve fought, feels you are up to the task. You are therefore being assigned to Border Outpost Epsilon, attached to the 5th Division of the Equestrian Aerial Corps. First Lieutenant Sundiver is the ranking pony; you shall be reporting to him upon arrival.”

“The Equestrian Aerial Corps?” I asked, bemused and in a slight amount of distaste. “Why am I being assigned to work for them?” I had to ask, some part of me wondering if I was being given some form of garbage duty by no less than Typhoon himself. Was this yet another attempt to get me to quit despite what the Sergeant Major had just said?

The Sergeant Major’s eyes narrowed like I’d just said something insulting. “Make no mistake, Sergeant—the Guard is the most elite branch of the Equestrian military, but that doesn’t mean we don’t dirty our hooves or consider our sister services beneath us,” he admonished me, and my ears went flat as I heard the rebuke in his voice. “’Tis why we sometimes assign Guardsponies to other branches, to lend our prowess to their efforts and give our own soldiers some seasoning as well.

“To that end, I remind you that the Aerial Corps is our most experienced service branch and sees the most action of the entire armed forces guarding Equestrian airspace. In fact… it may interest you to know that I came up through them,” he pointed out, nodding at the plaque on the wall that displayed the citation that accompanied his Wing Warrior badge, awarded only to Corps combat veterans—and precious few stallions ever earned them, leaving me wondering again what he’d done to do so.

“My apologies, sir, I meant no disrespect,” I said quickly, bowing my head even as I struggled to keep my excitement in check, realizing that the Sergeant Major was right—that if I was being seconded to the Equestrian Aerial Corps on the Gryphon frontier, I was very likely going to see some real action, and quite soon. “I accept this assignment and look forward to my task! Will that be all, Sergeant Major Windshear?” I stood to attention.

“Methinks not…” his voice went solemn and very serious. “Heed my words and heed them well, Sergeant Firefly. I know you’re eager to fight, and I know firsthoof how capable you are. But the frontier is a dangerous place and the gryphons are not to be trifled with. Believe me, I know,” his expression turned dark and brooding for a moment.

“They are skilled warriors, they will test you, and they will not fight fair—they’re predators who can smell blood and sense weakness from miles away, and you still haven’t answered the question of whether you can kill,” he reminded me, leaning forward. “If you’re out there long enough, ’tis certain the time will come when you will have to answer that question and make that choice. And I pray for your sake you make the right one.”

My excitement slackened and to my surprise, I felt a sudden pit in my stomach. He was right—I’d fought, I’d dueled, I’d drawn blood and even hospitalized a few opponents… but I’d never killed, and still deep down didn’t know if I truly could. “Yes, Sergeant Major,” I granted, my voice more subdued.

With that, he passed me a fresh scroll, sat back and pursed his hooves. “Your travel orders are here. You ship out at 1800 tomorrow, so be packed and ready. Best of luck, Guardsmare. And Firefly…?” he trailed off, his use of my real name giving me immediate pause.


For just a moment, his facade cracked and I saw genuine concern in his eyes; not just that of a Sergeant for subordinate but something almost… fatherly. “For as much time as I spent training you, I don’t want to lose you. This will not be an easy assignment, even for one as skilled as you. You still have much to learn, so listen well to Sundiver’s briefings and lessons. He’s a good officer who will not lead you astray. And above all else…” He paused briefly, gathering himself, closing his eyes briefly before opening them again. “Stay safe and come back alive. Methinks we need more ponies like you, not less.”

So, methinks the toughest trainer of the guard really DOES have a softer side… I couldn’t help but think but didn’t dare say out loud, instead drawing myself to attention and saluting. “Count on it, sir.”

Author's Note:

A slightly disappointing start for the story in terms of overall reader interest, but I'm not going to let it get me down. This is the first new post-release chapter, and I think it's a good one. Note there's some additions to earlier chapters in the form of opening narration--the pink text you saw at the start of this chapter has been added into chapters 2-4 as well to provide additional backstory and scene-setting, the idea being that Firefly is in some way narrating her own memoirs.

I've had other stories start slow, so I'm going to give this one all due chance to find its audience and voice. Thanks for following! And if you have any suggestions about what we might to do to boost interest, I'm all ears.


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