• Published 15th Jul 2017
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The Black Sheep - Irrespective



How far are four Guards willing to go to ensure the safety of the Kingdom and the Crown?

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I - How Things Are

It was another glorious and superb morning in Canterlot, with the golden rays of Celestia’s sun gently peering over the distant horizon and tenderly giving all beneath it the gift of its warm embrace. Not even the cobblestone streets could refuse; they too seemed to come to life with the touch of the rays, shedding their grey moods from the evening to one of a delighted white. Ponies cheerfully greeted each other with pleasant salutations as the moved to complete their early activities, and the warmth of friendship was just as bright as the sun itself.

Yes, it was looking like another absolutely miserable morning.

Private Light Hooves sighed as he turned away from the window in his modest apartment. It was a delightful day, but he was scheduled to be on duty at the palace in half an hour and that meant that he would be, more likely than not, guarding corridor J-12 again, and that meant he would be spending this fantastic day staring at a blank wall and telling the odd lost pony that the throne room was two hallways over and one hall way up, and that the only thing down the hallway he was guarding was the Royal Custodial Closet. It was a cheap, boring, and rather unfulfilling assignment, but he was duty-bound as a Royal Guard to do it.

We surely don’t want anyone stealing the royal mop bucket, he morosely thought.

He sighed again as he looked at himself in the mirror. White coat, blue eyes, blue mane, and blank flank. The enchanted ring that sat at the base of his tail was still working, and he wouldn’t get in trouble for being in violation of subsection 9(b) when he arrived at the palace to report for his shift. With a sad smile for good luck coming from the mirror and another deep sigh, Light Hooves turned from his mirror and left for work.

The coming misery of his shift was all the more pronounced now that he was out in the sunlight. A few of his neighbors called out as he left his apartment building and began walking down the street, and he replied kindly back to them and thanked them for the well-wishes. The cobblestone streets felt pleasantly warm under his hooves, and the smells from the nearby open air market began to waft past his nostrils, enticing him to deviate from his course for some hot cross buns, or perhaps a churro. He had a weakness for those, and it made him wish all the more that he could be out and about on street patrol, enjoying the treats and conversation with the other ponies who would be out and about as well.

He managed to trudge the rest of the way to the palace without interruption, and he heaved another sigh as he moved around the grounds and Checkpoint Charlie came into view. Regulations stated that all guards were to be scanned and verified as an actual pony – and not a changeling – but ever since the Royal Wedding enforcement of the regs had become more and more relaxed, and he could see some of his fellow guards simply strolling through the wide-open gate with nothing more than a nod from the guard on duty at the Checkpoint. He received the same nod, and with the realization that today was going to be like every other day, he moved to collect his armor from the Quartermaster’s armory.

It’s not like the threat isn’t as real, he thought to himself, as he fastened the buckles on his armor. There’s still plenty of other nasty things out there that want to attack us, and the changelings weren’t destroyed. They were simply banished back to the Badlands, they could very well come back.

Wrapped up in his thoughts as he was, he mechanically moved through the motions of finishing his armor, placing his helm on his head, and collecting his spear. He then moved from the Armory to the Mess Hall, and once in he trotted over to the assignment board.

“Let’s see.” He muttered to himself. “There. Light Hooves, Private. Assignment: Corridor J-12.”

A long, deep sigh accompanied this. Perhaps he should go to Captain Shining Armor about this. He was back from his honeymoon now and bound to be in a good mood, perhaps he could make some progress that way.

He then started to turn, but then noticed an asterisk he’d missed before. A new squad assignment? It hadn’t been that long since the last one. Eagerly he moved to the squad board, hoping that a new squad leader would get him the opportunity to move assignments.

It only took a few moments, and he found it: 40th Squadron, under Sergeant Pokey. He hadn’t heard of him, but he probably was like all the other Sergeants he’d met. He smiled, though, as he saw the next name on the list: Private Clover Leaf. The two of them had gone through basic together and had remained friends afterwards, and he enjoyed her company during lunch and dinner breaks. It would certainly liven things up to serve with her.

The last name he didn’t recognize: Corporal Light Wing. He assumed he or she was a Pegasus, based on the name, so that meant he would be serving with the Sarge mostly. Clover was a Pegasus too, and it made a lot of sense to keep the flying ponies together.

“Light! Hey, Light! Over here!”

Light Hooves groaned and smiled as he heard the voice, and he moved towards the guard who had called out to him. He may be stuck in corridor J-12, but at least having Clover in his squad would give him a much needed boost of happiness.

“Hey-a, Light.” She greeted once he sat down next to her. “Long time no see. Did you miss me?”

He groaned audibly as one of her wings bumped playfully into his armored shoulder. “Miss you? Why would I miss your abuse?”

“Oh, just admit it.” She replied, as she batted her eyes. “You like me and you missed me. There’s no shame in saying so.”

This earned an eye roll. “Right, sure. Whatever.”

“Please don’t tell me you simply sat in your house for your leave.”

“Fine, I won’t tell you then.”

“Good.”

“But I did.”

She glared at him now. “Really, Light. You’ve got to get out and about more. It’s not healthy to be such a home horse, especially with the social expectations your job has.”

He scoffed at this. “Guarding corridor J-12 requires very little social skill, you know.”

“You’re still there?” she gasped, and he nodded. “That’s horrible! Why haven’t you said something? You’ve been in that same post since we got out of basic!”

“I have said something. It didn’t go anywhere.”

“Well, now that we’re squad mates, we’re going to do something about that.” She declared. “That’s just pathetic, Captain Armor shouldn’t keep you in the same post forever. You and I will go to the new Sick first, all right?”

“Fair enough. Where have you been lately?”

“Perimeter patrol.” She preened, her wings ruffling slightly in pride. “It’s been a blast, and I’m doing good with the training. Lieutenant Daisy Chain says I’m progressing by leaps and bounds, and if I keep getting good marks I’ll be up to Chariot detail in the next month or two.”

“Nice!” he replied, as he hoofbumped her. “That’s awesome to hear. I hope you get to move to that soon. That would be quite the honor.”

“Thanks.” She replied, a hint of a blush on her white cheeks. “I think it would be fun to travel with Celestia, don’t you?”

“I’d like to, but I don’t think earth ponies get to do that kind of thing.”

“And that’s not fair or right either.”

The two chatted about this and that for the remainder of the time, then said their good-byes as they left to their individual assignments. Light Hooves’ dour mood returned as he wound his way through the hallways, up the stairs, and then to his assigned post. Nothing had changed; the hallway was still a short, 12 foot hallway in a drab off-white color scheme with two doors at the end, one for brooms and one for mops. He sighed deeply again, assumed his regular stance on the left of the hallway, and went to work being a guard.

Twenty seven seconds into his post, his partner showed up. The Sarge, obviously, looked like every other guard at the palace, but Light could see in his body language that he was a bit more uptight, or high-strung, or cranky and stubborn, however one wanted to describe it. He was going to be a definite stickler for the Regulations, so Hooves dropped his spear towards him.

“Halt and identify.”

“Sergeant Pokey, 40th Squad. Reporting for duty, assigned partners with one Private Light Hooves.”

“Code word?”

“Sunshine Ladybug.”

“Very well.” Hooves returned his spear to upright. “Nothing to report at this time, Sergeant.”

Pokey nodded, and moved to his post without further comment.

The hours then meandered by, and the Private amused himself with trying to bore a hole in the wall with his eyes. It was the same thing he tried every day, and every day ended in failure. He really couldn’t do anything else until someone spoke to him, and it seemed no one was going to get lost today, so there he stood with his non-magic eyes. He might have tried to strike up a conversation with his fellow guard, but given that it was a Sergeant and that Sergeant Pokey seemed to be of the straight-nail personality he didn’t want to get into trouble on the first day with a new commander.

“This is a very unfulfilling assignment, isn’t it?”

Light was actually a bit shocked, but he then turned to the Sarge. “I’m sorry. What was that?”

“This is an unfulfilling assignment, is it not?” he repeated.

“It’s not my place to say if it is or not, sir.”

“Do you always break regulations while on duty?”

This made Light pause for a moment, mostly so he could review in his mind if he had broken a regulation or not.

“With all due respect, sir; I have not broken any regulations.” He replied, while keeping his gaze forward. This had to be some kind of trap to get him into trouble.

“How do you figure that?”

“I am permitted to speak when I am asked a direct question by a superior officer, sir.”

The Sarge eyed him warily, but Light didn’t rise to the bait. He wasn’t going to fall for it, especially if he wanted any sort of hope of getting away from this accursed hallway.

“So you say.” Sarge finally said. “Well, I do believe it is lunch time. I’m going to head off to the mess hall. I hear they have a delicious daffodil salad today; it’ll probably sell out quick. You wanna come with me?”

Another trap. Daffodil salads were one of the best meals the mess hall offered, but it wasn’t worth it. “No, sir; thank you. I shall remain at my post until you return from your meal.”

“You sure?”

“I am quite sure, sir.”

“Very well. Carry on then.”

Light didn’t reply to this, but he did watch the Sarge leave out of the corner of his eye. What was his game, what was he trying to do? Was it just to see if he would be in compliance? Was it an attempt to sabotage him? Well, whatever it was, it wasn't worth it to worry.


“You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Yes, please. Come in, Private.”

Light entered the small office, and then sat in the chair across from Sergeant Pokey. On the desk between them the Sarge had Light Hooves’ personnel file spread out across the length of it. Light wondered about this for a moment, but then shoved the thought out and focused on his commander.

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me on short notice, Private.” He started. “I appreciate that you’re taking personal time to do this.”

“Not a problem at all, sir.”

“Good. Now, first thing first. I’m sure you figured out I was testing you earlier today by talking to you and inviting you to lunch.”

“The thought did cross my mind, sir.”

Pokey smiled a bit. “You passed with flying colors. There aren’t very many ponies who have the discipline you do, so I’m putting a kudos in your file. I feel it’s always important to acknowledge when a pony does a good job.”

Hooves sat up a bit straighter. A kudos would be a great first step to getting away from corridor J-12. “Thank you, sir. I do appreciate that.”

“Not a problem. Secondly, I like to get to know my subordinates, so I wanted to just chat with you for a bit. What you tell me will be held in the strictest of confidence, but don’t feel obliged to answer any question you don’t want to.”

“Noted, sir.”

“So, where are you from?”

The next half hour was spent talking with the Sarge about the little things in life. Pokey mostly listened as Hooves told him about his family, his upbringing, and why he’d joined the guard. There were a few more questions as they discussed his future, and Pokey seemed pleased that he planned on working up the ranks for a bit, if for no other reason than to get the Sergeant retirement benefits.

After all of that Pokey then asked a rather unusual question. “So tell me. Is there anything about the Royal Guard, in general or specific, that you feel needs to be improved?”

“Improved, Sir?”

“Everypony has something that they don’t like about the Guard: for some it’s the food, some complain about ration sizes, some complain about the long runs, others hate the pay. So, if you could, what would you improve about the Guard? Larger bunks, perhaps? More personal leave time?”

Light only had to think about his reply for a moment. “In all honesty, sir; I feel that the discipline of the Corps needs to be addressed.”

“How so?”

“I see a lot of regulations being ignored or pushed aside; nopony seems to want to follow them. Most Guards saunter around the grounds with no clear purpose, they engage in conversations with each other during posts, and they fail to enforce basic security protocols. I really don’t know how we could protect the princesses or the public with things the way we are. We seem to panic as much as the public does, if anything. The recent changeling incident proves it. We need to have better discipline, better training, and better results. Captain Armor had neglected the rules for too long, and it’s got to stop. Otherwise, we’re going to end up as the butt of a lot of jokes, sir; and eventually ponies will pay a high price for our ineptness.”

Pokey nodded, but didn’t reply. He then slowly stood, turned to face the sole window in the office, and his gaze grew distant as he looked over the sights before him.

“Private, thank you for sharing that.” He said after a minute of silence. “I agree with you wholeheartedly, there must be a greater focus on discipline. Tell me, would you be in favor of any programs that would help that?”

“I believe I would be, sir; as long as they produce actual results.”

The Sarge turned from his window and looked at the Private. “And if the results couldn’t be immediately assessed?”

“I would have faith in my superior officers, sir.”

Pokey nodded again. “Very well. You know the em-rad starts tomorrow at 2300, yes?”

“I do, sir.”

“Good. We will be having a squadron tomorrow at 1900 to discuss our assignment. I’ll also leave some extra time for you to get acquainted with Corporal Light Wing.”

“Thank you sir.”

“Is there any questions you’d like to ask me?”

Light’s stomach rumbled slightly. He did have some, but they could wait.

“Not at the moment, sir.”

“All right. Please, feel free to ask if you do have one in the future. Anything else you’d like to discuss?”

“No, sir.”

“All right. You’re dismissed then, and thank you for sharing what you have with me.”

Light stood, saluted, and then turned and left. Sergeant Pokey was a bit of an odd duck, but he seemed pretty straightforward and honest, and nice enough in his own way. He’d had worse first encounters with other Sicks, so Pokey would probably be respectable enough.

Since his shift was over, Light decided to get a meal and then head home for the evening. He was about halfway through The Art of War by Sun Horseshoe, and it was proving to be a fascinating read that he’d like to get back to. He probably could have finished the book if he’d read straight through, but he’d been especially interested in the doctrines outlined in chapter three, and especially the factor of strategy. He’d reread it a few times, and was now just moving on to the rest of it.

“Know thyself, and know thy enemy, and you shall win a thousand battles.” He recited to himself. It was a passage that had stuck with him, and at every level he found it to be truth. He then smiled as another passage came to mind:

“All warfare is based on deception.”

He was glad some things were beyond his pay grade. Given the recent changeling invasion, deception had a whole new meaning.

The mess hall was mostly deserted when he entered, since the night guard had already begun their shift, and this happily meant there was no line to get dinner. There was even some Daffodil Salads left over, and they were still fresh, so Light happily took one and then moved to grab a bottle of apple cider.

“Light! Hey, Light!”

Clover? She was here too? Well, he was more than happy to go chat with her, so he smiled as he moved through the tables and Clover bumped him playfully as he sat.

“Hey-a, Light. Where you been? I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Why in the wide, wide world of Equestria would you do that?” he replied, as he popped the lid on his cider.

“Well, I missed you.” She replied, as her wing brushed his side. “It gets lonely, flying among the clouds and racing other pegasi.”

“You’ve got a funny definition of lonely then.” He laughed, and she chuckled too.

“Perhaps. But I won’t be tomorrow since I get to be posted with you.”

“You will?”

“Yeah. Sarge mentioned it when I spoke with him earlier. He needs to do…something, I don’t know what, so that means you need a partner.”

“What about Light Wing?”

“The Corporal is pulling desk jockey duty tomorrow. She forgot to renew her Flacks. She’ll be clear by the time em-rad starts, though.”

“Have you had a chance to meet the new Sick?”

“Yeah. We had a short little meeting earlier today.”

“How’d that go?”

“Oh, well enough I guess.” She shrugged, as he took a large bite of salad. “I mean, the guy is really by-the-book but otherwise he seems pretty solid.”

“Is by-the-book bad?”

“No, it just is a bit unusual. It’s actually nice that he’s trying to follow Regs. Goodness knows we don’t have many who bother with them anymore.”

“I know. We really need something to change or we’re going to have another changeling fiasco. That was embarrassing enough.”

“You just got done with a meeting with him, didn’t you?” she asked, and he nodded. “Did he ask you what he thought needed to be fixed in the guard?”

“Yeah, and I said basically that reforms were needed. He asked you too?”

“Yup. I told him pretty much the same thing. I phrased it as ‘we need better enforcement’ but it’s the same idea.”

“Think he can do anything about it?” he asked around a bite.

“Not likely, unless we pull the Black Sheep off successfully.”

He scoffed at this. “Please. Didn’t they just turn themselves in last year at Checkpoint Alpha?”

“No, that was the year before. Last year no one tried. I think the Sick proclaimed it a waste of time and didn’t bother, if I remember right.”

“No, you’re right. I remember now. It was 9th Squad last year.” He remarked.

“9th Squad?” she repeated, but she had to wait for him to swallow before a reply came.

“Yeah. My last Sick was that Sick. He made a point of telling me that it was a useless exercise and that it needed to be eliminated. Along with a lot of justification for talking while on duty, and then totally forgetting what he was talking about and moving on to tell me about a dinner party he’d attended with Prince Blueblood.”

Clover snickered at that. “Bluebood. I still am amused that nopony realizes that’s just his first name and not any sort of title.”

“So now you’re saying Celestia’s first name is Princess?” he joked. He had to get the jabs in when he could with her.

“No! I’m not saying that at all.” She defended.

“And then consider poor Princess Luna.” He continued. “To have your parents give you the same first name? Terrible! Oh, or is it really like the way names work in Neighpon, where the last name is first and the first name last, so they are really Celestia and Luna Princess?”

“I think the daffodils have gone to your head you horse feather.” She teased, and she bumped him playfully again.

“No, staring at a blank wall turned me into a horse feather.” He laughed. “You’ll get to see tomorrow how much not-fun it is.”

“I’m sure I will.”

Author's Note:

A quick Glossary:
Sick - S.I.C., Sergeant in Charge. It occasionally happens that there is more than one sergeant in a squadron, so SIC is used to define which pony is in charge.
Flacks - F.L.C., Flight Licence and Certification. Needed by all pegasi in the Guard, these documents ensure a pony has been trained and are physically fit to fly.
Em-Rads - M.R.A.D., This will be explained later. Trust me.
kudos - A letter of commendation for a job well done that is placed in a pony's personnel file. The more kudos, the better you look for promotions and posh assignments.
Checkpoints - There are three Checkpoints at the Palace: Alpha, Beta, and Charlie. Alpha is the main entrance, Beta is the staff entrance, and Charlie is for Guard Ponies.