• Published 5th Feb 2018
  • 1,115 Views, 23 Comments

After Action - BlazzingInferno



Soarin has known thrilling victories and crushing defeats, some of them in front of thousands of spectators, and others in the company of only his closest friend. Sometimes it's the quiet moments that make all the difference.

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What am I doing here?

Soarin still hadn’t decided, not since he’d first received the formal letter of acceptance a week ago, nor in all the hectic days that followed. The question haunted him as he stepped through the castle gates with a gold-inlaid invitation clasped under a wing, and as he drifted through the sea of unfamiliar ponies who all seemed to have a much better idea of where they were going.

Was he really a Wonderbolt now? He didn’t have a flight suit yet. He hadn’t seen the barracks where he’d be expected to eat and sleep. All he knew was that he’d answered the invitation he received that afternoon, for all Wonderbolts to arrive at six in the evening at Canterlot Castle for an audience with Princess Celestia herself.

“Soarin, you made it!” a mare said.

He turned, his gaze whisking over the opulent ballroom and its mixture of lavishly dressed Canterlot elite and uniform-clad Wonderbolts. He’d heard that voice every school day, and all through summer flight camp; it belonged to a pony two years older than him, a mare who’d wowed all of Cloudsdale when the Wonderbolts Academy made her their youngest cadet in decades and their newest member soon afterwards.

All those facts flashing through his head didn’t prepare him for seeing her, for instantly recognizing the fiery orange mane and virtually nothing else. Her sparkling coat and muscular wings spoke of grace and power, while her smile exuded pure confidence. The filly he remembered had turned into a phenomenally attractive mare.

“S… Spitfire?”

Spitfire trotted over and offered him a hoof bump. “It’s been a long time! I haven’t seen you since—”

“Summer flight camp, right before your family moved across town.”

She grinned and cocked an eyebrow. “Somepony’s got a good memory.”

Everything from Soarin’s tail to his wings went tense, but his smile remained. “I-it was just a great summer… having cloud-busting contests, racing each other around the field, hanging out on the cloud bank during lunch…”

“Heh, yeah, I guess it was pretty great. So how does it feel to be here?”

“Great!” he said automatically. Of course it was great. “Only…”

“Let me guess: it doesn’t feel real. You don't feel like a Wonderbolt yet?

“Yeah!” His gaze drifted past her to the massive buffet table. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast. “Yeah…”

Spitfire gave him a playful cuff with her wing. “Get used to it. You’re the kind of pegasus we need on the team. Tomorrow’s your first official day and everything, but I made sure you were on the invite list for tonight. It’s only fair.”

Nothing about that immense dessert spread looked fair. “Thanks…”

At last she noticed his sugary staring contest and promptly cuffed him again. “Take it easy, hummingbird. We’ll grab some food right after the big announcement.”

Soarin couldn’t help laughing. “You and your friends used to call me that all the time.”

“Only because you lived on sugar. We’ll find you a new nickname tomorrow, trust me.”

He took another look around the room, picking each Wonderbolt out of the crowd and imagining what it’d be like to shake their hoof, not to mention fly alongside them. “You’ll show me the ropes, right? And introduce me to everypony?”

“I’d better. It’s part of my job.”

His eyes went back to her confident smile. “Your job?”

Spitfire winked, smiling all the brighter. “You’ll see. Just wait a minute.”

Metal-clad hooves echoed across the floor as guards streamed through a tall arched doorway. The partygoers quieted down as they turned to watch, some whispering that the princess was coming.

“That armor looks really heavy,” Soarin whispered.

“It is. Royal guards are built like minotaurs, but they’re nice enough.”

“Do you hang around them much?”

“Jealous?”

There was no hiding his blush. “No! I-I was just wondering.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time in Canterlot recently. I even got to meet Princess Celestia, one on one.”

“Whoa! What’s that like?”

Spitfire flashed him another smile, this one sharing some of his own open-mouthed amazement. “It’s like she sees through you. She totally knows everything, but she barely told me half of what I expected… It’s almost like she wanted me to answer most of my own questions or something.”

Ten royal guards now formed a line on either side of the door, their armor shining in the lamplight. They bowed in perfect unison while an eleventh stationed in the doorway spoke. “Wonderbolts and distinguished guests, please welcome Her Royal Highness, Princess Celestia.”

Soarin’s forelegs seemed to bend automatically, bowing along with everypony else as the Princess herself, the ruler of all of Equestria, strolled through the doorway. “Good evening, everypony. Thank you for joining me this evening.”

Soarin watched Princess Celestia make her way through the room, smiling at each and every pony with such ease and apparent sincerity that he wondered if he’d stumbled into a room of all her closest friends. She didn’t stop until she reached a small stage in one corner, not bothering to ascend its three shallow steps. “I think you can all see me already, can’t you? If not, I suppose I could find a stool.”

A quiet laugh swept through the room, and he couldn’t help grinning. The joke didn’t diminish from her regality in the least, as far as he was concerned; if anything he felt a little more at ease. “Wow. She’s awesome!”

Spitfire wasn’t next to him anymore. When did she slip away? He shrugged and turned back to the Princess. He’d catch up with her soon enough.

“It’s not often that we gather all the Wonderbolts together in a ballroom instead of in a stadium or on a cloud bank,” Princess Celestia continued, “but it’s also not often that we see such a celebrated captain enter retirement. Captain Starflare’s declining health kept him from joining us tonight, but he did leave a brief letter that I’d love to share with you.”

Soarin held his breath. He owned five pictures of Captain Starflare, three of them autographed.

“My fellow Wonderbolts. It’s time for me to step aside and let a younger pony get to know how amazing it is to be your captain. I couldn’t be prouder of the team you’ve become, and of the chance I’ve had to fly with you for so many years. I want to leave you with a reminder never to forget the ideals that make us the great team we are today: Integrity.”

Soarin nodded. “Integrity.”

“Teamwork.”

He nodded again. “Teamwork.”

“And perseverance.”

He nodded once more, determined to never forget these sacred words. “Perseverance!”

“Signed, Starflare. Forever a Wonderbolt.”

Hoof stomps and cheers filled the room, Soarin’s among them, until Princess Celestia quieted the crowd with no more than an approving nod. “It’s now my honor to introduce the new captain of the Wonderbolts, and to invite her to join me here in front of you. Spitfire?”

Spitfire stepped onto the stage amid renewed applause, still smiling confidently, and still offering Soarin a friendly glance despite her now standing shoulder to shoulder with royalty.

A small wooden box floated before Princess Celestia, its polished sides shining like mirrors. “Since the founding of the Wonderbolts, this compass has been passed down from captain to captain. It’s a symbol of their pledge to always hold themselves to the highest standard, and to always keep their team flying in the right direction. Tonight it’s my honor to pass it to you, Spitfire, Captain of the Wonderbolts. Congratulations.”

There was no stopping the cheering this time. The other Wonderbolts took to the air and pumped their hooves high, which Spitfire answered with a nod and a gracious bow.

Soarin cheered and whistled. “You’ll do great, Spitfire! I know you will!”

There was nothing more to be said, and Princess Celestia seemed to know it. Instead she raised her foreleg toward the line of tables by the wall, silently making the pronouncement Soarin had been hoping for: let’s eat.