• 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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X - The One Who Needs A Little Help

“Are you sure you’re all right, Private?”

“I am fine, thank you.”

Celestia gave him a dubious look, but Private Light Hooves wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“Really. I have plenty of snacks over here and cold drinks if you’d like.”

“No, thank you.”

“You do realize you’re not on duty, yes?” she asked. “Or do you not trust my snack selection abilities?”

He went pale again, and Celestia really wondered how a white-furred pony could do that. “No, not at all. I’m sure you’ve done just fine with that.”

“But still you won’t join me?”

“No, thank you.”

Celestia cut off a grumble of annoyance. She had been trying to talk to Private Hooves over the last month and a half, but it was like trying to talk to a rock. She then pondered her moves for a moment, stood, and crossed the room.

The poor Private looked like he might wet himself. Though he remained still, Celestia could see great beads of sweat form quickly on his forehead, and they began to drip down his face as she drew nearer.

Celestia said nothing, but she sat next to him and began staring at the wall with him. She could hear him shaking in his horseshoes, and he managed to go even paler than he had before, but he somehow stayed firm. His dedication to regulation was admirable, but he lacked flexibility. If he couldn’t adapt any better than this, he wouldn’t get very far in the Guard at all. She kept all this to herself, though; and instead kept staring at the wall with him.

“I give.” She announced after a few minutes.

“Give what?” he asked.

“I don’t see what’s so interesting about the wall.” She replied, as she leaned forward and peered closer. “It’s a very ordinary looking wall.”

“That it is.”

“Are you fond of staring at walls for hours on end, Private?”

“No ma’am.”

“So why do you do it here? You are free to move about. I have promised not to escape, and I have remained a prisoner here for over a month now. If I was going to go back on my Solemn Oath I would have by now.”

“That’s not why.”

“Then why?” she asked.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to say.”

Celestia let the grumble out this time. “All right, Private. You’ve forced my hoof. As your General, I hereby order you to come sit down.”

“You can’t do that!” he protested, as he turned to face her.

“Oh?” she mischievously replied. “And why not? I do believe I am the most senior officer in the Guard Corps, am I not?”

“Well, yes. But I’m supposed to be guarding you, and I can’t do that if you won’t let me.”

“What are you protecting me from?”

“I’m not!” he exclaimed, his frustration coming to a boil. “I’m protecting me!”

This made Celestia pause, and the poor Private looked like he was on the verge of tears.

“There.” He choked on his emotions. “There’s the true reason, alright? I’m afraid. I’m a coward. I’m in over my head here, and I’m terrified. I just want to get out of this mess I’ve somehow gotten myself into, and then to forget I ever had a hoof in any of this.”

“Why such fear, my little pony?”

“I know you’ve said I’m not in trouble for what’s happened.” He replied, as he sat heavily. “You’ve said that I was just following orders, but I know I’m trouble for all of this; there’s no way I couldn’t be. Foalnapping the Princess has got to get me banished to Everfree detail, if not outright booted from the Corps and thrown in the dungeons.”

“But I have told you that none of that can happen, on my own personal orders.”

“Yeah.” He scoffed, and then he wiped his nose with a hoof. “Tell that to Captain Armor. There’s no way he’s going to forget what I did. Once you return, you’ll get bogged down in catching up in your work, and then he’ll nail me to the wall and start hanging pictures off of my snout.”

Celestia wanted to reassure Hooves that such a thing would not happen, but she found she couldn’t say the words. He was right: given six months, or a year, her duties could slowly erode the memory of what had happened away, and she could possibly forget about him. He would then be at the mercy of Shining Armor and whatever justice he felt needed to be meted out, even though the good Captain wouldn’t do something like that.

“Come, sit down.” She motioned to the chairs again. “Let’s talk about this, shall we? I think we can work out something that prevents your ouster.”

They sat, and Celestia took a moment to pour out some water for the two of them. Once the Private had taken a long drink, she smiled warmly to try and ease his concerns.

“Now, tell me about your concerns, please?” she gently asked. “I promise you that we’ll work through this.”

He took another moment to compose himself before replying to her. “I really should have seen this coming. I talked to Clover about this in basic, about why I had joined the Guard. She told me I was infatuated with the romance of the Guard; all the brass and the pageantry and all that. I thought I would just walk around Canterlot, perhaps stop a petty theft every now and then. I didn’t ever think I’d have to do something like this. I can’t do it, Princess. I’m not cut out for it. If I have a panic attack over something serious like this, how am I supposed to actually protect Equestria, you, Luna, or anypony else for that matter?”

“Do you wish to resign?”

“I might, I don’t know.” He sighed. “It would be better than having Captain Armor glaring at me all the time.”

Celestia paused for a moment as she thought. “I don’t think you need to resign. In fact, I think you could be a great asset to the Guard Corps. You just need to know what you are.”

“I know what I am.” He grumped.

“No, I don’t think you do.” She replied. “Let’s try something, if you don't mind; something along the lines of a mental exercise. If you still feel the same after I’m done, then I’ll personally see to it that you’re placed somewhere where I can keep an eye on you. Deal?”

“All right. I guess I can’t lose much else.”

“All right. Now, first, close your eyes. It’ll help you to focus if you’re not staring Princess Celestia in the face.”

He obliged, and he dipped his head again as if in thought.

“All right. Now, I want you to focus your efforts on working from your heart, not from your head.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“The head is a very logical place but it can become fixated at times with what it believes is truth. The heart was given to us to balance the head, to help see that things inherently have emotion. If we deny the heart, then we deny the full breath of what we are.”

“Ok. So how do I work from the heart?”

“Just feel the answers.” She replied. “You’ll know the difference, trust me.”

“All right. I can try, I guess.”

“Now, to start, I want you to imagine what it is like to ride a cloud. Pegasi have tried to describe the sensation for ages, but I want you to see it from the earth pony perspective.”

“All right.”

“I want you to feel the cloud beneath you, supporting you. Imagine you feel the tickle of moisture on your legs, the soft breeze of the winds aloft blowing in your mane. How does it support your hooves; how does it flow as you push it through the sky?”

“Well, it…”

“Remember to feel it, don’t think it.” She offered, as the Private began to glow from within. Celestia smiled as wide as a Cheshire Cat as she saw the Private feel the answer to her question, and a small cloud no bigger than him formed under him.

“You have it?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now, instead of just one little cloud, imagine a gigantic stratocumulus cloud stretching out before you, something like if you were to visit Cloudsdale but without the city and multiplied as far as you could see. There’s a soft sunset off in the distance, just at the point when I slip the sun behind the horizon and Luna begins to peek the moon out. The clouds are bathed in brilliant reds, deep yellows, and a few soft pinks.”

The safe house faded from view as everything she described began to appear. Soon, a vast space that they inhabited was filled with the color saturated clouds, and she nodded in appreciation.

“You have it, yes?”

“I believe so.”

“Good. I’m glad you said believe and not think. Believe means you’re feeling. Now, for the sky. It’s showing some of Luna’s stars, but not all of them yet. It’s in that twilight transition between the navy blues of night and the soft yellow of day. A few twinkle here and there, as if winking to you.”

It only took a moment this time for the scenery to match the words.

“Oh, a fan of my sister’s work I see!” she chuckled.

“What?” he asked, as his eyes popped open. “Wha-? Where are we? Where did you take me?”

“I did nothing.” She replied, as he continued to look around. “This was all created by you.”

“I can’t create stuff like this. I’m just an earth pony.”

“Just an earth pony?” she repeated. “My young friend, that thinking is exactly why we are here. You have successfully created all of this through the Old Magics.”

“Old Magics?”

“Yes. Though I don’t really like the term.” She sniffed. “Really, they should be called the Deep Magics, but such things happen over time.”

“How in Equestria did I work any kind of magic?”

She gave him a warm, motherly smile. “That is a question I cannot answer right now; it would take too long. For now, let us focus on one very important thing – what you are.”

“Again with the what.” He grumbled. “What I am is an earth pony.”

She nodded. “Yes, but what else?”

“What else is there?”

“Precisely!” she cheered, as she wrapped one wing around his barrel. “The answer to that is just over here.”

Hooves followed her outstretched hoof, and he found a broad gate had appeared out of nowhere. It was a golden bar gate, with decorative fleur-de-lis at the tips and two silver cross bars supporting the individual bars.

“Did I die?” he asked.

“No, you did not.” She laughed. “But beyond that gate is the answer to the what. If you can trust me, I assure you that there is nothing but goodness and instruction on the other side of that gate. Once you have your answer, you will return to the safehouse, unharmed and just as you were, save for some wisdom that may help you.”

“Will you go with me?” he asked, as they both walked towards the fence. A split appeared as they did so, and a massive gate opened wide on two oversized hinges.

“I cannot. This journey must be taken alone, but I have travelled it before.”

“You have?”

“Yes. Will you step through?”

He looked between her and the sprawling opening before him, obviously torn over what he should do. He knew Celestia couldn’t make him choose, nor would she offer anything more than what she had. The choice had to be his, completely of his own volition. It only took a few moments of contemplation, though, until he nodded firmly and squared his shoulders.

“I’ll do it. If you say it’ll help me then I’ll trust you.”

“Then enter, my little pony.”

He did so, a resolute bounce in his step. She watched him as he passed through the gate, but then turned her gaze away to the scenery that was behind her for a few moments. The Private had a good imagination, she had to admit. Usually the Legionnaires came up with flat, monochrome clouds and simple wood-slat fences. With such an imagination, he could be a great strategist.

She then turned her gaze back and found the gate unsurprisingly empty. She smiled a bit to herself, and she hoped that the good Private would get the clarification he needed. Perhaps she would bring this back from the dustbin of history; it would be a good motivational tool and they would need a pick-me-up after losing their princess.

Celestia then blinked a few times. The gate still was there, unchanged. Usually by this point, she would be back in reality so this was unusual. She glanced around inside the gate but found no pony there, so why was she still here?

After a shrug of her shoulders she decided to move inside the gate. It couldn’t hurt to know what she was as well, even though she knew already. It was never bad to have a refresher course.

The heavy gate swung shut behind her, but Celestia was unperturbed. She simply kept walking forward, moving among the soft and colorful lumps of cloud and admiring the scenery. She had missed the true twilights that came with two sisters controlling the heavenly bodies, so with Luna’s return she had been soaking in the majesty that came with her moon-handling skills.

“Who are you?”

Celestia stopped walking. She hadn’t really heard the voice, even though she had. She smiled as she remembered how the magic here worked, and she held her head high.

“I am Celestia, Sovereign of the Sun, Princess of Equestria and Monarch of the Day. I rule the realm of the pony with my sister, Luna.”

“So you say.” The not-really-a-voice intoned. If it was a voice, it was a deep, solid voice; one that Celestia imagined the very Earth itself might have. “Do you rule softly or heavily, Princess?”

“I am as soft as I can be but heavy when I must be.” She replied, without missing a beat. “My kingdom is based upon the principles of Harmony: kindness, generosity, laughter, honesty, loyalty, and friendship. These combined are able to make peace and happiness prevalent.”

“You are sure of who you are.” A new not-voice spoke. Celestia loved this voice: silvery-soft, delicate, but yet with a taste of finality and absoluteness. “But do you know what you are?”

“What am I?” she repeated. Though she already knew, she took a moment to really contemplate the question. “What am I. I am a Princess, an Alicorn ruler of a Kingdom given to me by a confederacy of tribes with the task to bring love where there had been hate. I strive to bring light and kindness, prosperity and peace in answer to that charge.

“I am a teacher and a mentor.” She continued, deep in thought now. “I guide my little ponies on the paths they should take, offering council and guidance as needed but also allowing them to grow individually as well. I impart of my wisdom as liberally as I can, both in the realms of magic and academia. I help my ponies learn how to learn themselves and to be curious about the world around them.

“I am a sister. Though I have…” she found a tear impeding her thoughts, and she had to take a second to rein in the emotion behind the tear. “…failed, in a large part, as one. I love Luna more than I love life itself, and when I lost her to the Nightmare, a part of me died as well. Had she been destroyed instead of banished, I would have been destroyed as well. Her kindness has led me though difficulties I could never defeat on my own; her laugher brightened my soul when all other comfort has fled. I have spent many lifetimes making a world where my beloved sister would be able to show others the true greatness that she holds within her. Though it may take some time, I can see my ponies already beginning to love her as I do. I will remain faithful to her, follow her to the ends of Equestria and back again.

“But what I am, at the heart of it all, is a pony.” She said, the answer coming from deep within her very self. “I am an earth pony, tied to the land and a steward over it. Indeed, I even hear the earth, deep and strong, faithful and true to all who dwell upon it. From the earth I draw my own devotion and sustenance, and from the earth I speak with power and authority.

“I am a pegasi. I use the magic of the wind and clouds to soar though the heavens, bringing rain to the drought and light to the darkness. I use my wings to shelter and protect, to guide and to elevate. With them, I will reach out to any; from all of ponydom to a single faithful student.”

Celestia smiled broadly as she thought of her most faithful student, then continued. “I am a unicorn. Ever drawn to virtue and innocence, I use my magic to further the cause of Equestria. I defend her from enemies with my horn; I give warmth to her from within with my spells. My magic is devoted to service, and I will use every last ounce of strength I have to defend those whom I have stewardship over.

“In the three tribes, I am one. Given the attributes of all so that I may serve all, I remember always that I am one of them in the end. I am no greater than the farmer who brings the apples from the trees, or the pegasi who moves a single cloud, or a unicorn who cooks or builds. What I am is their servant, and their friend. In all things and in all ways, I strive to make their lives better. I may fail, I may falter. But I will try, with every bit of try I have.”

“Well spoken.” The soft not-voice replied.

The pseudo-reality then faded away quickly, but Celestia held her head high and smiled as reality returned.


Celestia smiled deeply as Private Light Hooves blinked several times. He then looked around the room, then towards the princess.

“Welcome back.” She replied. “I trust you received some answers?”

“I thought you said you wouldn’t come with me.”

“I said I could not go with you. The journey is an individual one.”

“Then why were you the one talking to me?”

“The voices you heard were not really voices.” She replied, as her voice adopted a wise sage tone. “Everything that you experienced came from within you.”

“Within me?” he interrupted, as he looked at his hooves.

“Yes. The journey you took was an introspective one and the voices you heard came from within you. They do, however, tend to not sound like your own internal voice, but rather voices you equate with authority; so thus my voice and Luna’s tend to feature heavily.”

“It was so strange, but yet…”

“Wait.” Celestia held up a hoof to cut him off. “Before you go much further, you need to know something very important.”

“What?”

“What you heard, felt, and saw was meant for you alone and none other. You should not share what you experienced with others, but rather treat it as special and sacred even.”

He nodded slowly. “I guess that makes sense. So I guess you wouldn’t tell me what you went through either?”

She shook her head softly.

“Thought not. But I’m still not quite sure why I needed to know what I am. I’m glad I do know; don’t get me wrong. It’s been very eye-opening.”

“Most ponies can tell you who they are very easily, but that’s only part of the equation; it’s a bit like saying ‘plus three equals.’ In order to have a full understanding of who you are, you need to know what you are. With both parts, then you can come to the answer.”

“I am a Guard.” He said softly to the table.

“And a very good one, with some training.” She replied. “Don’t sell yourself short, Private. Stay humble, but also be confidant. I’ll speak to Captain Armor if I have to when return to get you off of corridor detail, but understand that even in that you are important and necessary.”

“I think I understand that better now.”

“Good.” She smiled deeply. “Now, would you like a drink? I have a fresh batch of limeade I’ve just made this morning.”

“I would like some, yes.” He smiled back.