• 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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XIII - The Return

“All right, you maggots! Line up!”

Wings flapped, hooves shuffled, and after a minute the Guard got themselves into Form. Shining took a moment to look over his assembled troops, his left eye still twitching as the Luna-raised sun glinted off of their golden armor.

“Today, my little ponies, is a most auspicious day.” He belted out. “As you may or may not be aware, today marks sixty-three days since Celestia disappeared. That’s sixty-three days Luna has had to raise the sun, sixty-three days that diplomatic meetings have had to be cancelled, sixty-three days that my wife has had charge over the courts of Equestria. Sixty three days, my little ponies, is enough. This annoying little ‘game’ that you’ve been playing with me is now at an end, and we are going to have Celestia back within the hour.”

“How, sir?” a voice came from somewhere in the back. “No pony knows where she is.”

“Ah!” he replied, with a maniacal chuckle. “I’m so glad you asked, Private! Come on up here and I’ll show you!”

The offending Private didn’t really have a chance to say otherwise, as Shining’s magic instantly seized him and pulled him up to the stage rather roughly. After being dropped at Shining Armor’s feet, a dangerously demented leer appeared in the good Captain’s eyes.

“Now, then. There are at least four ponies here who do know where she is, aren’t there?”

The Private scooted back on his rump to try and escape the melting gaze. “I suppose so?”

“Well, all we have to do is find them and have them tell us where she is. It’s really as easy as that.”

That left eye was beginning to creep ponies out.

“Now, Private. Do you know where she is?”

“No, sir. I don’t.”

“LIAR!” he bellowed. His magic flared again, and the poor Private now found himself suspended in the air just in front of Shining. “YOU DO KNOW, AND NOW YOU’RE GOING TO TELL ME!”

Another band of magic jumped from Shining’s horn, and it struck the Private square in the chest. He grunted for a moment, as if in pain, but then went straight as a board. His eyes focused on two different points before him, and a few Guards in the front row took a step back in fear.

“I do not know where the Princess is.” He replied, his voice cold and emotionless. “I do not know who took her.”

“Good.” Shining Armor dumped him on the ground again, then offered a short maniacal laugh as he turned to face his Guards. “Now, we’re going to do that to everypony here until I get an answer! Let’s begin, shall we?”

“Lousy punks.” Hooves grumbled. He spat on his helmet and began rubbing. “Make me late with their stupid stunts. At least it was just a…a…”

He froze as he reached the threshold to the parade grounds. Shining Armor had just jumped from the podium, with a wild laugh and a creepy, almost-evil looking twitch in his eye, and had seized a poor unicorn guard in his magic. Hooves then backpedaled a bit as he watched his Captain use his magic to rip the confession from his comrade.

“I do not know where Celestia is.” The poor unicorn droned. “I do not know who took her.”

“NEXT!” Shining bellowed, as he dumped the guard. The magic then sized the next pony in line.

Just then, Hooves noticed Sgt. Pokey. He was mouthing something to him desperately, and it only took a moment for him to make it out:

Get Celestia.

Hooves slammed his helmet on and took off into the city.

“That does feel much better, I must admit.” Celestia remarked, as she removed the bandage from her horn. She then looked at herself in the small mirror on the wall. “Not bad at all. I might need to take it easy on my magic usage for another day or two, but the burn does appear to be gone.”

Little Celly seemed to cheer in joy.

“Now, then. How should I return, hmm? Should I just walk up to the gates, or should I have the 40th squad escort me back? Perhaps I should teleport back?”


“Light Hooves?” she asked, as said pony came crashing down the stairway. “What’s wrong?”

“Captain Armor!” he panted. “He’s…he’s lost it! He’s ripping confessions out of the Guards, trying find out who took you!”

It took Celestia a moment to process this, mostly because it sounded like something Sombra would do, not Shining Armor. Once that moment of shock passed, however, Celestia’s horn flared with magic.

“Veritas et mendacium.” She muttered. “Hooves, hold on!”

Panic had now descended on the parade grounds.

During Light Hooves’ run to the safehouse, one unicorn had blocked Shining Armor’s attempt at using the Truth Magic on him. This somehow made him instantly guilty of the crime, and two of his fellows had then tackled him to force him into a confession.

This led to four others - who agreed that this was going too far - trying to pull the two off. It didn't take long to get the rest of the Guards into the fray, and now there were several groups fighting amongst themselves and with whatever warring group brought their own fight too close.

Shining, for his part, simply continued to laugh manically as he would seize ponies at random and force out their confession. He may have caught a few ponies more than once, but in his agitated and unthinking state he was sure he’d get to the culprit eventually.


Oh, horseapples.

It was later said that the entrance Celestia made that morning was one of the most glorious ones anypony had ever seen. There was a blindingly bright flash of light that pulsed just before she emerged from within it, her wings unfurled to their full reach and her horn held nobly high. She descended gracefully, her snow-white fur as pure as it had ever been, and her Magenta eyes quickly reminded any who saw them just who was in charge, and who had been for the last thousand plus years.

However, hardly anypony noticed. Most of the guards were still fighting with each other, and the cacophony had not been interrupted by her Royal announcement of arrival. With a frown, Celestia’s horn flashed again, and every Guard suddenly found themselves frozen within her magic.

“Would somepony care to explain to me what is going on here, exactly?” she asked sternly.

No one was really willing to come forward, it appeared. Celestia turned her fierce gaze on Shining Armor, and she could almost hear him wilt.

“Meet me in the throne room.”

There was no further discussion, and Celestia disappeared in a flash. The magic grip released, leaving many bruised and battered Guards lying around the grounds, but all were staring at Captain Armor.

“Lt. Stone Spring?” Shining softly said after a moment, the fear audible in his words. “I’m leaving you in command for a few moments. I’ve been summoned to a conference with the Princess.”

Silence reined as Captain Shining Armor left the grounds. Nopony really could even process what was going on, or what had happened. Or, at least, no pony could until they heard somepony retching.

All eyes turned towards the side of the grounds, and everypony was treated to the singular sight of Private Light Hooves introducing his breakfast to a waste receptacle. His normally white fur was now a lovely shade of puke green, and he reared back for air before continuing his stomach-emptying repartee.

“Move! Move!” Sgt. Pokey shoved other guards out of his way. He reached the Private just a moment after the other two in his squadron, and Clover quickly began rubbing his back.

“That was the most miserable ride I have ever taken.” Hooves groaned into the can.

“Your first teleport always is.” Clover replied. “It’s worse since it was Celestia. The sickness is more pronounced if the teleporter has high magic.”

“Wait. You four were the Black Sheep?” a pony managed to vocalize the thoughts of all.

“Astute observation, Half Baked.” Wing dryly replied.

“All right, back up.” Pokey ordered. “Give him some air.”

“But, how did you…?” a slate-grey pony with a grey-white mane and tail asked, as he approached them.

“Lieutenant, with all due respect, now is not the time to be going over our methodology.” Pokey snapped at Stone Spring. “We’ve got a whole mess of ponies that are in need of medical attention right now.”

“Right!” Stone Spring replied, as if coming to his senses. “Get the medics out here, stat!”

“Sergeant Pokey!”

“Your Highness.” Pokey bowed.

“You and your squadron are to follow me, immediately.” Luna barked. “The rest of you are to carry on with your previously assigned duties.”

“Ma’am!” came the reply back from the crowd.

“Lieutenant, are…” her sentence stalled as her eyes settled on Stone Spring. “Ah. Lieutenant, do you make a habit of not being in uniform?”

“I, well…” he stammered, as he suddenly realized he was not. “I was called here in an emergency, you know, and…”

The excuse fell flat on its face in front of Luna’s hard gaze. “I do believe that is why you wear the Look-Alike ring at all times, is it not?”

“It is.” He muttered to the dirt.

“We will discuss this later.” She replied. “Do you need more medical assistance for your troops?”

“No, we’re good here.” Stone Spring replied. “If that changes, I’ll inform you.”

“Good. You four, this way.”

The 40th squad fell in behind the Princess, and followed her silently as she began to lead them through the palace. The only sounds in the empty hallways was the clopping of their own hooves, and the air of foreboding doom seemed to be growing as they trotted further in.

However, the squad was in for a pleasant surprise. Luna led them up and in to a large diplomatic suite, one usually reserved for visiting dignitaries and Very Important Ponies. Though she tried to be serious, there was a smirk on her face as Luna pushed open the door and motioned for the four to enter.

Inside, they found a rather remarkable and wonderful sight. The suite consisted of one large circular room, with soft couches and chairs scattered among end tables and marble pillars. A large main table was in the middle of the room, and this was filled with a tantalizing assortment of foods and drinks, most of which set mouths to watering. A balcony wrapped around half of the perimeter of the room, and large bay windows offered both access to the outside and an unparalleled view of the Equestrian countryside.

“By order of my sister, Princess Celestia, you are to remain in this room during the Inquisition.” Luna remarked. “You may leave only if called for. You are also hereby placed on inactive duty until further notice.”

“Not a bad punishment.” Wing remarked, as all four looked around the room.

“Celestia has always been lenient in her punishments.” Luna remarked. “The dungeons were proposed, but that idea was nixed rather quickly. You also will be expected to join my sister and myself for dinner this evening. Until then, the time is yours. If you need anything, ring the bell by the door and the servants will bring whatever you request, within reason.”

“May I ask what’s happening with Captain Armor?” Hooves asked.

“Captain Armor is having a rather unpleasant conversation with my sister at the moment, and I suspect it will continue until dinner. Do not concern yourself too much for him. Despite this hiccup in protocol, I imagine he will remain as Captain for now.”

“Great.” Hooves moaned.

“Any other questions? No? Until this evening, then.” Luna remarked, and she turned to leave the room.

“Are you mad at us?” Wing blurted out, just as Luna opened the door.

“I was.” she replied over her shoulder. A slight smile could be seen on her face. “But I am no longer. Your four have done a great service to Equestria, and you have my thanks and gratitude. Because of you, we now know that a great many things need to be addressed within the Royal Guard Corps.”

“You’re welcome, then? I guess?” Wing replied.

“We shall go with that.” Luna replied. “Until this evening.”

She then left. The four ponies made themselves comfortable by loading up platters of food, filling large, frosted mugs with root beer, and allowing soft cushions to become acquainted with their posteriors.

“Man, this is the best punishment I could have dreamed of.” Clover remarked. “Good food, root beer and lemonade, soft furniture. My Dad’s gonna say I’ve gone soft.”

“Your dad is going to have a conniption when he finds out his daughter abducted the Princess.” Wing chuckled.

“Probably.” She laughed back. “So, what happens now, Sarge?”

“I don’t know exactly. We’ll just have to see, I suppose.”

“What happens now is you receive my thanks.” Celestia’s voice echoed in the room. A brief moment later, the Princess herself arrived in the room in a flash of light, her regalia shining in midday sunlight, her eyes ablaze with warmth and her glory fully restored; though it was hard to argue it had diminished in the slightest. Each guard rose and bowed to her, but she ordered them up as soon as they did so.

“No need for that, not in these private settings. Here you are my friends, and I had hoped to spend some time with you as friends before returning to my duties.”

“Thank you, Princess. And thank you for the accommodations.” Sgt. Pokey replied. “We are humbled by your graciousness.”

“Well, it was the least I could do to repay you for your care of me.” She giggled. “How are the grapes, are they fresh?”

“Quite fresh, yes.”

“Good.” Celestia used her magic to pop one into her mouth. “Mm, yes. Very good indeed. It’s good to have my magic back, too.”

“I thought you were busy ‘discussing’ things with the Captain.” Hooves remarked.

“He’s now talking with his wife and Luna.” Celestia replied, as she sat on a couch and motioned for the others to do likewise. “They’re going over what happened today. It’s not going to be pleasant for him, especially when he has to explain himself to Cadance, but I feel it’s important for them to have this last bit of time together to evaluate and to finalize everything, as it were.

“And to fully answer the question you asked earlier, a great many things are now going to now happen. First, we are going to have a Formal Review of what happened. We will go over how you managed to foalnap me, why Shining Armor and the Guards couldn’t find me, and what needs to be rectified for the future. This may take several weeks, however, and you will be required to stay nearby for the interim until we get this all sorted out. You will still have your duties to perform, however.”

“Luna mentioned something about an Inquisition.” Clover pointed out. Celestia laughed at this.

“Did she? Oh, goodness. I suppose she is calling the Formal Review an Inquisition just to make it sound more intimidating. She always does like to do things like that. In either case, you four are fine. As I said at the beginning, you will not be punished for what has happened. In fact, that brings me to another point I wish to go over with you.”

Celestia then sat up straight and looked at the four in turn. “As your General, I have decided that your actions are meritorious enough for promotion. Though I cannot make these ranks formal and binding without Captain Armor’s approval – and that probably won’t come until after the Review – I can give you all a field promotion for the meantime. This means that you, Private Light Hooves, and you, Private Clover Leaf, are now hereby promoted to the rank of Corporal. Corporal Light Wing, you are now Sergeant Light Wing, and Sergeant Pokey, you are now hereby promoted to 2nd Lieutenant.”

There was a bit of a stunned silence in the room, before all four thanked the Princess at the same time and over the top of each other. Celestia smiled and took it all in until each had offered enough thanks for her actions, and then she took a drink of her root beer before continuing.

“Now, I also don’t want to separate you four just yet. I am planning on assigning you to my personal guard detail, but I’m still working out some details pertaining to that. I’ll let you know what I come up with once I am done, but just keep in mind we all are going to be spending a lot more time together.

“Was there anything else?” she asked herself, as she tapped a hoof to her chin. “Oh! Yes. Corporal, I’m sorry about the sudden teleport this morning. I understand the trip was a rather unpleasant one.”

“To put it mildly.” Hooves dryly remarked.

“You are feeling better now, yes?”

“Fine, ma’am. Nurses checked me out and I’m clear.”

“If we do that again I can add some magic to prevent Teleport Sickness. I’m usually better than that but the shock of what Shining Armor was doing made me forget about that.”

“It’s all good your highness.”

“Good. Now, one last thing. I want to apologize to you all for breaking my Solemn Oath.”

“What?” Three ponies blurted.

“Yes, I’m afraid I used the Royal Canterlot Voice when Luna used the Soror Inventum spell yesterday to find me. She didn’t synchronize her second and third layers properly, and the suppressor ring I was wearing would have prevented it from working anyway. All of the power she put into the spell went into my horn and began to build within me, causing a great deal of pain and anguish. I called out to her with the Canterlot voice in a vain and pain-filled effort to get her to stop.”

“There is no need for an apology, Princess.” Pokey replied. “You did not violate the terms of the Oath.”

“How do you figure that, Lieutenant?”

Pokey smiled, mostly because of his new rank. “We were under orders to keep you safe and unharmed. When the spell hit you, we failed on our end. Your Oath was only valid if we followed our orders, as we are all Guards. Since we did not, the Oath became void before you violated it.”

“I’d agree with that.” Wing remarked.

“Me too.” Hooves piped.

“Besides, if you had violated your Oath, we would have felt it.” Pokey continued. “We would have felt the magic seal break if you had.”

“Was that the magic surge we all felt when she made the Oath?” Clover asked.

“Yes. Bound as we all were, we would have felt the magic’s removal. Since we did not, the Oath was never violated.”

“Well, I can’t argue with all that.” Celestia replied. “So, we are even then. And now, we will all move forward with the reforms that the Guard so desperately needs. My friends, you all have done Equestria a great service with your actions, and I thank you again for it. Who knows, this could be the first step in a new era, one that bards sing songs about in a hundred years.”

“That would be quite astounding, Princess.” Lt. Pokey replied, with a laugh from all.

“I know why you foalnapped me.”

“You keep saying that.”

“And I meant it every time. I know why.”

“All right. I’ll bite. Why did I foalnap you?”

Celestia looked over the twilight that was descending over Canterlot. “You wanted me to see that no reforms have been made.”

He didn’t reply to her.

“It was obvious, you know. I had it figured out by the time you had told me the details of your infiltration.”

“Why didn’t you say so?”

“Why didn’t you say so?” she shot right back. “You could have saved yourself a lot of trouble. If you had just said so, we could have returned that evening and the reforms would have been reviewed immediately.”

“I didn’t think you’d believe me.” He replied softly. “Why would the Princess of Equestria believe some shmuck sergeant who had foalnapped her? I was convinced the only way you’d believe me was if I took you and kept you.”

She gave him a look. “Pokey, I’ve been a diplomat for over a thousand years. I’ve interacted with everypony from emperors, dignitaries, presidents and heads of state to farmers, bakers, candlestick makers and millwrights. I would like to think that, at this point, I know how to read a pony’s face, their body language. You told me all I needed to know without saying a word. I would have believed you.”

“Hence the warning during the chess game.” He replied. “You knew all the moves I would make before I even had two pieces moved.”

“And again, you could have saved a lot of trouble by just telling me all this.”

“I have failed.” He said to the railing in front of him.

“Pokey, you’ve not failed.” Celestia replied, and she smiled as he looked to her. “Any military commander worth his salt must know how to read the battlefield. You see policies that need to be enforced. Now I do as well. That would count as a victory. The only error you may have made is by not keeping your commanding officer in the loop. Other than that, you have achieved your objectives. The only difference is how soon those objectives could have been met.”

“I suppose.”

“Look, I wouldn’t have promoted you if I thought your reasons for all of this were selfish. You wish for a secure and peaceful Equestria, as do I. You saw that it was impossible for such a state to exist with the way things were. I see that now too. I now need to find out why we are where we are. Your intents were pure, and that holds great weight for me. Just please don’t hide things from me. I am your Princess and your General. I am here to help and serve my little ponies, but I can’t do that when you won’t let me.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, your highness.”

She smiled deeper at him. “Good. Now, I believe that Luna will be joining in short order. Shall we rejoin the party?”

“And not a moment too soon!” Luna’s voice carried from inside. “Thou shalt all now witness one of the greatest marvels of any era, as only I canst produce! Thou shalt be privy to the glory that is a Moon-B-Que!”

“Moon-B-Que?” Pokey asked. Celestia chuckled.

“You have not tasted a Hayburger at its full flavor until it has been grilled over moon rocks. There’s really nothing like it.”

Celestia then leaned in closer with a smirk.

“Or perhaps it’s because she has a special sauce. I believe it uses mustard and vinegar.”

“Thou shalt not reveal mine secrets!” Luna shouted. “Mine methods are a trademarked and proprietary secret, and if thou blabbest mine secret blend of eleven herbs and spices thou wilt find thyself with a charcoal briquette for a burger!”

Both Pokey and Celestia chuckled.