• Published 17th Nov 2016
  • 2,951 Views, 91 Comments

The Prisoner of Zebra - Tumbleweed

Flash Sentry: hero, heart breaker ... and self-admitted coward. For the first time, he details his own undeserved rise to heroism (as well as the trouble such a reputation brings him) in his own words.

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Flash Sentry and the Battle of Canterlot

I've always been a coward, which is why I joined the Royal Guard.

There's more to it than that, mind you. As my grandfather was wont to remind me at every Hearth's Warming's Eve dinner, the Sentries have long been known as stalwart and martial sorts, stretching back to the pre-diarchal period in which the various pegasus kingdoms amused themselves by throwing thunderbolts at each other. Ol' granddad used to tell a story about how my great to the nth-power grandfather once got blasted with lightning over thirty times without flinching, which certainly says something about his fortitude but also implies something about his common sense.

I, on the other hoof, inherited none of my family's renowned courage. Oh, I can puff my chest out and flare my wings with the best of them, but the mere sight of blood (specifically, mine) is enough to reduce me to a trembling wreck.

The thing most ponies don't realize about the Royal Guard is that they don't actually do anything. Princess Celestia's never been the sort to need guarding, what, with the magical immortality and ability to toss the sun about and all that. Anything that could pose a threat to Princess Celestia would be far, far more powerful than a couple of stallions with ceremonial polearms. On top of that, Equestria had been at peace for decades, so there was hardly a need for a standing army.

I came to this realization during one of ol' granddad's holiday tirades, and thus a career was born. Looking back on this in my old age, with my grandchildren scampering about my hooves, it's frankly absurd that my entire career was based on a single, terribly misguided epiphany at the dinner table. I blame ol' granddad-- if he hadn't complained so much about how the Royal Guard spent all their time just standing around looking official, I never would've started envisioning myself in a crested helmet.

If I'd half, or even quarter of an inkling of what I was getting into, I would've pursued a safer line of work, like bear wrestling. I at least make it a point not to tell war stories around the dinner table like my grandfather did. A good thing, too, as it's been so long I can barely keep my lies straight anymore. Better they think me some old and stoic soldier. At least, until somepony finds these journals long after I'm gone.

But I'm rambling. I'll not bore you with the details of my training-- there's only so much to be written about wing-ups and endurance exercises and what have you. And that's before you get into the meticulous attention to uniform forced on you by obsessive-compulsive officers. At least that last part proved useful, as there is nothing that will draw a young filly's eye like a well-polished helmet*. Incidentally, there was very little training in actual violence-- just a sign of the peaceful times we lived in.

*Not an euphemism. I hope. -G.M.F.

Upon receiving my first commission, Lieutenant First-Class Flash Sentry was assigned to Canterlot. And, of course, with the lack of a proper war to fight, I spent my days parading around and looking official and my nights parading around in a far different matter. If you'll forgive my vanity, I've always been something of a looker-- with the added martial allure my Royal Guard-ness lent me, I was downright irresistible.

For a few too-short months, Royal Guarding was as wonderful as I thought it would be. Oh sure, standing around looking shiny for hours on end was a chore, but I managed to pass the time by ogling up the near-constant stream of hoofmaidens and ladies-in-waiting and other high society sorts. Though to be fair, many of them ogled me up in turn, on account of my dashing handsomeness. And, if I just so happened to run across a hoofmaiden or two in the evening, well, what two (or sometimes three, if you're lucky) consenting adults do with themselves in the wee hours of the morning is nopony's business but theirs. I'd say I'm not going to name names on account of being a gentleman, but to be honest I can't remember a good half of them. Those days were, understandably, some of the best of my storied life.

Things went to hell with a wedding, as they usually do.

“I can't believe the likes of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza is bothering with the likes of him!” Prince Blueblood lamented, and drained another snifter of brandy.

“Oh c'mon, Bluey,” said I, “not jealous, are you?” The Sentry name still carried some weight in some circles. This, combined with my inherent dashingness, opened up quite a few doors for me. In particular, my family's reputation opened up the doors to the Trotter's Club, a cozy, mahogany-paneled refuge for Canterlot's various nobilities. This included Prince Blueblood-- a colt even more of a bounder than I was, which meant of course we got along swimmingly.

“Jealous? Me? Of course not! It's just the principle of the thing. To think, a lady of her standing, deigning to dabble with a common soldier. No offense intended, of course.” Blueblood amended, and waved the bowtied bartender over to top him off.

“None taken.” I patted Blueblood on the back, perhaps a littler harder than I should have. “But still, it's not surprising. Ladies can't resist a man in uniform, and Captain Armor's known for his dress reds. Maybe you should give it a try. I'm sure you could pull a few strings, get yourself a commission somewhere.”

“That is the worst idea you've ever had.” Prince Blueblood said, even as a rueful, not-entirely-sober smile crossed his face. “For one, I'm already royalty, so joining the Royal Guard to watch over myself would just be silly.”

“It might make the job easier.”

“Ha. Ha.” Blueblood said, in a properly aristocratic deadpan. “Honestly, I don't see how you could make such a suggestion with all the commotion going on right now. The whole city's blockaded, a force bubble's blocking out the sky, and there are guards posted in every tower and battlement. If I didn't know any better, I'd be … concerned.”

“Bah.” I said. “It's all theater. Political theater. I thought you knew better, Prince Blueblood.” I grinned. “A princess' wedding is bound to attract every diplomat, dignitary, and debutante for miles and mile around. Therefore, Princess Celestia's more or less obligated to trot out everything she's got in order to impress them. They'll go back to their little duchies or provinces and what have you, and tell everyone how unassailable and impressive Canterlot is. It'll be all hooves on deck for the next day or two, but after that everything will be back to normal.”

“Speaking of which, shouldn't you be on duty?” Blueblood furrowed his brow. “The wedding's in just a few hours.”

“Ah.” I smiled, and patted my helmet from where I'd left it on the bar. “I am on duty. With all the goings on, I had the brilliant epiphany that Canterlot must be protected from threats within as well as threats without. I ran the idea past Captain Armor. He agreed, and sent me on an … irregular patrol, let's say.” It's also worth noting that I spoke with Shining Armor shortly after his beloved Princess left his chamber. She'd left him in such a post-coital daze that he'd agree to anything. Lucky colt.

“And now, I can honestly say the Trotter's Club is free of any danger or sedition.” I grinned, and then took up my helmet once more, checking my reflection in the mirror behind the bar to make sure my crest was set at an appropriately rakish angle. “Now if you'll excuse me, Bluey, I've got some patrolling to do. Canterlot's got quite a few establishments that warrant investigation. I don't suppose you'd like to tag along? You know, for the good of Equestria and all that.” I quaffed my drink and upended my glass on the bar with a little flourish.

“Ha!” Blueblood's laugh was genuine, this time. “That is the kind of soldiering I could get behind. But … Princess Celestia has made it quite explicitly clear where I need to be during the wedding, and what'll happen if I'm not in place.”

“Playing Groomsman or somesuch?” I asked.

“The opposite. Princess Celestia's put me all the way on the other side of town. Something about keeping me away from the bridlesmaids.”

“Our benevolent monarch shows her wisdom again.” I patted Blueblood on the back again, and then turned and made it for the door. “I shall endeavor to protect the bridlesmaids in your absence, good chap.”

“You're welcome to them.” Bluey said. “I've heard that those ponies are in Princess Cadenza's entourage.”

“Those ponies?”

“Ah, you weren't here for last year's Grand Galloping Gala, were you? I envy you, to be honest. For some unfathomable reason, Princess Celestia's latest protege brought a band of hooligans from Ponyville to the Gala. It was disaster.” Blueblood shuddered. “If you know what's good for you, you'll stay clear of the lot of them. Especially the unicorn with the purple mane.” Blueblood shivered at the memory.

“I think I should be able to handle just one unicorn.” I said with a grin. “Us Royal Guardsmen are made of sterner stuff.”

That sterner stuff was soon put to the test. I am proud to say that, by the time the wedding bells started to chime, I'd cleared every pub, tavern, and wine shop in a three block radius around the castle of any potential danger. I took a brief detour through the castle gardens for certain biological reasons (it's funny how often one ignores the number of fountains in Canterlot until they're brought to your attention).

As I approached the grand hall from the gardens, I saw a flash of green light flicker across the great hall's windows, followed closely by a great, hellish commotion.

“Funny,” I mused aloud, “I thought the screaming and evil laughter came after the wedding.”

Without warning, the force-bubble Captain Armor had encased the city in earlier shattered. I spouted off a few choice obscenities, and snapped my attention upward. The sound of broken glass chimed over Canterlot from all directions, and then the hellish buzz of untold insectoid wings washed over me, loud enough I could feel it in my hooves.

There's nothing quite as sobering as fear, and in a single heartbeat I was as dry as a teetotaler. I could only watch in abject horror as the changelings bore down on the city, cackling and hissing and otherwise sowing chaos in their wake. The changelings rained green bolts of magic down at random, blasting hoof-sized craters out of the castle walls and masonry. One such bolt passed close enough by me to singe my feathers, and I cringed away with a girlish shriek.

“Sentry!” A stern voice behind me snapped me out of my shock. I turned to see a burly gray stallion in Royal Guard armor (albeit with oak clusters etched into his pauldrons)** rush out from around a corner. “Thank Celestia you're here! We've got to secure the castle!” He pushed a spear into my fumbling hooves (butt first, thankfully), and then went charging off towards the castle as if he could fight the whole damn flock of them by himself.

**Sentry doesn't mention the Royal Guard's name, but, based on his (admittedly short) description, cross-referenced with personnel files and other first-hand accounts of the Battle of Canterlot, I have reason to believe Sentry crossed paths with Major Garnet Miner, himself a figure of some note.

This went as well as one could expect-- which is to say, badly. A trio of changelings spiraled out of the sky, quickly surrounding the brave but foolish colt, at which point they opened their fanged mandibles and vomited some noxious green slime all over him.

The would be hero flailed and shouted in dismay, but soon found his limbs encased in the quick-drying sludge, sticking him to the ground. Two of the changelings started hissing at each other, likely debating who got to eat the idiot's brain first, while the third one took off after me.

Again, I shrieked, but the high-pitched cry was lost amongst the countless other screams filling the city. Some old pegasus instinct kicked in, and I flared out my wings, preparing to take flight. Unfortunately, the magic bolt that had nearly fried me moments before had still left my wingtips unpleasantly tingly and unresponsive. I managed a few wingbeats to get myself into the air-- but before I could go any further, the changeling crashed into me.

I had just enough time to watch the monster's multi-faceted eyes go wide in dismay as he closed in-- a moment later, I registered why. Even as I tried to make my escape, I hadn't let go of the spear that the grey guard had foisted on me. And as I took to the air, the point of the weapon lined up with the changeling's advancing course-- as fast as it was going, the giant bug had no chance to slow down. I'll never forget the force of that impact, the sound of the impact. Razor-tipped steel punched through chitin, and a good several hoofspans out the changeling's back, like a specimen of the world's largest entymologist.

The changeling was dead before it hit the ground, but its momentum wasn't, and so its body slammed into mine. We tumbled over and over in the grass, and too-warm ichor gushed from the spear wound, fairly showering me in the foul-smelling stuff. Dazed, I could only think of how much of a pain it'd be to re-polish my armor when I made it out of all this.

If I made it out, a more sensible part of me noted.

I shoved the dead changeling off of me, and rolled back to my hooves. The two that had been tormenting the grey guard looked up at me-- and even with their alien features, I could tell they were shocked. I must have made quite the fearsome figure-- wings flared, feathers singed, spattered with gore. We stared at each other for a long, long moment, until the two changelings shared a look amongst themselves, and then bolted, no doubt in search of easier prey.

“One down!” The gray guard said, even as he tugged fruitlessly at his shellacked hooves. “Just a thousand more to go!”

For lack of anything better to say, I chanced a look upwards at the changeling-darkened sky. “I think there's a lot more than that.”

“Then that'll leave some for everyone!” The guard said, finally giving up his struggles. “You've got to get help, Sentry! Go, rally the troops-- all we need's a squad of ponies like you, and we'll have these bastards whipped by sundown!”

I wondered if the changelings had already started nibbling on the poor sod's brains, as a squad of ponies like me could only conquer a tavern, and even then it'd be chancy depending on the clientele. I sensibly kept my mouth shut, however, and just nodded a vague agreement.

“Now go!” said the trapped pony.

I went.

The military term is “tactical withdrawal.” The more accurate description would be “running like hell.” I heard particularly loud cries of battle (including several salvos from a confetti cannon) coming from the direction of the Royal Vaults-- so naturally I went in the opposite direction as fast as my hooves could take me.

What else was I supposed to do? I'd been lucky with the first changeling, but I knew there was no way I could singlehoofedly route an entire invasion. Hell, even if I somehow rallied the whole of the Royal Guard, we'd still be damnably outnumbered and outmagicked.

I kept to the streets, galloping from one corner to the next when the buzzing changelings weren't looking. It would've been faster if I took to the air-- but even a Wonderbolt wouldn't have been able to fly through such an endless swarm of adversaries.

Lungs burning, legs aching, I flattened my back against an alley wall, narrowly ducking past another changeling patrol. For once, Canterlot's labyrinthine sprawl of winding streets and pushed-together buildings worked in my favor. I was just as lost as I'd be under the best of circumstances, but so were the changelings. I just had to duck the changelings long enough for someone magical and alicornish to resolve the matter. Or, barring that, I'd just have to make a break for the train station and see about getting out of Canterlot as soon as possible. You know, to spread warning of the treacherous changeling attack. Or, technically, that major had ordered me to get help. He hadn't mentioned where the help was supposed to come from …

As I concocted a convincing sounding excuse to abandon my post, a door in the wall beside me opened.

“In here!” Somepony hissed. “Quick!”

Under normal circumstances, I would've been more cautious, but the ear-piercing buzz of the changeling swarm was growing louder and louder. I ducked into the open doorway, and slammed it shut behind me. No sooner had I done so, I found myself nose to nose with one of the most beautiful mares I'd ever seen (and even in my youth, I'd seen more than a few). She was a unicorn with a minty-green coat and a short-cut mane that, under normal circumstances was likely styled to be slightly disheveled, but the afternoon's events had made the ruffled look far more authentic. She wore the tattered remnants of a bridlesmaid's dress-- apparently one of the few to make it out of the Royal Hall intact.

“You're with the guard!” she said, breathy.

“Er, yes.” I managed. “I'm on a … a secret mission. Very hush hush.” Not the best of lies, but it'd have to do. I chanced a look around. We'd taken refuge in an office-- that of an insurance agency, if the sign on the storefront window was to be believed. And with the destruction outside, whoever owned the agency would certainly have their work cut out for them afterward.

The corner of the unicorn's lip turned up in the sort of sly smile that, in other circumstances, would've gotten my full attention. “Hush hush.” She said. “I can work with that.”

“Work with what?” I scooted closer to the window and peered out.

“Get down!” The unicorn said, and pounced upon me with surprising strength. She dragged me down to the floor and rolled atop me, pinning me in place. It would've been downright pleasant, if it weren't for my backplate digging into my spine.

“What're you--” I began, but the unicorn just put a hoof to my lips.

“Hush hush,” she said.

Sure enough, the drone of the changelings buzzed past the little insurance office, loud enough to make the windows rattle. My heart beat faster and faster-- for multiple reasons. I thought about making a break for it, but with so many changelings so close, I'd be covered in adhesive puke within moments. That, and, with each passing moment, my place beneath the minty-green pony became more and more enticing.

The buzz trailed off, and I let out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding. I even managed a giddy, half-mad laugh. “Damn, that was--” I trailed off as I found myself looking up into an honestly lovely pair of adoring eyes. “Close?” I said, suddenly dry-mouthed.

Just one near-death experience is enough to drive a pony a little mad, and by my count, I'd already racked up several that day. And so, when that minty-green unicorn mashed her soft lips onto mine, I was only slightly surprised. There's nothing so life-affirming as a good romp, and when the world is coming down around one's ears, it seems like the perfect chance to get one last fling in. Plus, the ol' Flashy charm isn't exactly something I can turn off, either.

That minty pony certainly knew what she wanted. Without taking her mouth from mine, she used her magic to work at the buckles of my gore-spattered armor. I'll at least pretend to be a gentleman and not tell you what she did with her hooves.

She finally broke the kiss, leaving me lightheaded and gasping for breath. My eyes fluttered blissfully closed, and I lolled my head back. “Er. Not that I don't appreciate the attention, Miss, but maybe we should find someplace more … comfortable? And safer. Safer and comfortable. Yes. Do you think they have a couch in the basement?”

“Oh no, this will do just fine.” Her voice was sultry. Too sultry. Certainly too much in control for a wild and uninhibited post-danger romp. “I want you all for myself.”

“All for your … “ I opened my eyes, and instantly regretted it.

There was a shimmer of heatless flame, and the ravishing young mare's form shimmered, giving way to a black carapace and a set of drool-spattered mandibles. The changeling licked her (at least, I presumed it was a 'her,' given I've got no idea how bug-monster anatomy works) fangs and leaned close to me. A too-long tongue lolled out from her mouth with a life of its own, and dragged up the side of my cheek, leaving a smear of warm goop in its wake.

“I've never fed on a Royal Guard before. All that bravery. Loyalty. Power. Mmmh.” The changeling flared her transparent wings out, and cackled.

“B-b-but I'm a coward!” I blurted, and shrank back against the floorboards. “A cad! A scoundrel! A rake! No valor here! I'd make a terrible meal. Terrible!”

The changeling narrowed her (I'm just going to go with 'her') eyes at me, and then shrugged. “Fear almost tastes as good.” She said offhandedly, and then started to open her jaws far wider than any creature should have any right in doing.

I cringed and shut my eyes, preparing myself for a messy, brain-eaten demise. There was the faintest of pricks at my neck as the changeling touched her fangs to my skin--

And then the world exploded.

I'll assume you, dear reader, already know how the Battle of Canterlot ended. But if you had a sub-par elementary school teacher, I'll give you the gist of it. Princess Mi Amore Cadenza channeled the power of her magic love into Captain Armor's special barrier, which hit the changelings with enough force to send them flying past the horizon. Quite saccharine.

What the popular histories don't mention is what happened to any changelings that happened to be inside when the magical shockwave hit. Nor do these histories mention what happened to the one particular changeling who wasn't just inside, but also intimately entwined with yours truly.

The shockwave caught both me and my paramour-turned-predator like leaves caught in a fast-flowing river, and slammed the both of us into a bookcase-- which in turn fell over, burying us in deductable charts.

While the other few changelings unfortunate enough to be inside when Captain Armor's spell hit were either smashed through windows or splattered against interior walls, 'my' changeling was lucky enough to have a durable, mostly-armored pony to absorb a good deal of the impact. It was still enough to knock the both of us senseless, however.

Thus, when the rescue party arrived, they found Lieutenant Flash Sentry, his usually polished armor absolutely filthy with changeling blood, locked in mortal combat with a fearsome changeling. Hell, not only had I fallen in the line of duty, I was responsible for taking the only prisoner of the Battle of Canterlot, which was no doubt a boon to the Equestrian Intelligence Service.

The kicker was, I didn't learn any of this until I woke up in a hospital bed, several days later. I wasn't the only hero of the day, of course, as the wedding celebrations had eclipsed most accounts of my so-called 'bravery.' Still, it was enough to get me awarded the Celestial Cross. Though really, I appreciated the bandages around my head far more than the medal on my chest. There's nothing quite like a few bruises to get the pretty nurses oh-so-ready to help with one's convalescence. Physical therapy, you know.

So that's the real story of how I came by my Celestial Cross-- as well as my own undeserved reputation for heroism. I haven't told another soul, until I sat down to pen this account. If I'd known then what I know now, I would've confessed my incompetence and cowardice then and there, and had done with it. But, young and foolish as I was, I thought the worst was behind me, that there was nothing more to do but enjoy the accolades of heroism, as well as the female attention that came with it.

How wrong I was.