• Published 9th Sep 2012
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Pony POV Series Season Six: Dark World/Shining Armor - Alex Warlorn

Twilight tries to remember herself after 1K years of chaos/Shining Armor awakes on his promotion day

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Episode 71: (Shining Armor): ecnarbmemeR

Pony POV Series Shining Armor
By LZ0291 (with Revisions by Alex Walorn, Kendell2, and producers of the Pony POV Audio Adaption)

It really all began the day I was promoted, shortly before the return of Princess Luna. Promotion in the Equestrian Royal Guard, for officers, is a great honor. Like many great honors, there's a ceremony involved. One that those in charge prefer takes place at a certain time, and excuses you from normal morning duties.

And so it came to pass that, since the ceremony was at noon, I was more or less commanded to have a long lie-in. That didn't guarantee a good night's sleep though. I slept very lightly, in fits and starts. Awakening, very suddenly, after a mere hour in bed, only to realize there was nothing else for me to do but settle under the covers and drift off again. Awakening, while feeling as if I hadn't truly been asleep in the first place. Awakening, confused. And experiencing the strangest dreams, all the while.

Now, I'm no expert, but I've heard it said that the average pony experiences an average of four to six dreams during a typical night's sleep. Have you ever been able to remember the whole set? Knowing each is a dream but ultimately just an observer, like a spectator in a first-equine game like Left 4 Herd or Unreal Tourneighment? Each dream I had involved me, or, more precisely, a version of me.

I dreamed of myself as a Captain, not in the Royal Guard but in the Royal Air Force. I wore black armor, and I was referred to as a 'dark knight' more than once. It seemed the airships I commanded were known as the Red Wings.

Once I dreamed I was a mare counterpart of myself. It was a little strange but it really didn't seem much different. Just that all males were now females and females were males, but our personalities were pretty much unchanged. Patrols remained boring, the enlisted troopers remained prone to halting their chatter only when it became obvious an officer approached. Prince Solaris was still all-loving Alicorn with an impish streak and my brother was still a bookworm. As for his assistant... the pink apron actually looked a lot better on her . And dad as a 'mom' was actually a better housekeeper than Mom is!

I dreamed of myself wearing an eyepatch, talking to a strange group of ponies. One was a yellow pegasus holding a hammer aloft, another was an earth pony in red and gold magic-powered armor, one was a blue pegasus in a strange red white and blue costume, one was a white unicorn with a bow and a cutie mark to match it, one was a lavender unicorn mare in a form-fitting outfit holding two strange little box things with her magic, and the last was a hulking pink... earth pony hulk-thingy.

It seemed as if I had a dozen dreams, but I remember only snippets. I dreamed of myself as a small, fluffy version of myself that drowned stupidly fast when it began raining.

I dreamed of myself in a gray suit fighting off small gray minotauroids. I dreamed of myself in a red and black uniform being spoken to by a voice claiming to represent 'the Mysterons.'

I dreamed of myself in a black and red skintight outfit controlling a giant blue, white, and red machine; crushing the head of another machine with a glowing gold hoof. Oh and I dreamed of myself as a green girl pony with an unhealthy fixation on socks.

But none of those dreams capped the last one I had just before waking up! I dreamed that I fell OFF the bed to stand on my four groggy hooves. Ate a cheese sandwich backwards, -I mean out of my mouth and whole again!- put it back in its wrapper, then walked backwards out of my room! I walked backwards to the Officer's Lounge, where some friends welcomed me with a 'good-bye'. We then all sat down, took some empty cider mugs and... you get the idea.

Eventually though, I awoke and it was reality. I felt tired even as I forced myself from bed. I might as well have not slept at all.

There are many theories on dreams. They are windows to our souls, they display our subconscious desires, they're prophetic, they're messages from the Mare in the Moon (which turned out to be relatively true), or there's the theory that they are just a sign that somepony should lay off the cheese before bedtime. A theory the Equestrian Cheese Board are trying to counter, might I add.

I blinked a little and looked at my quarters. They were fairly standard for a billet in the officers' dormitories of the Canterlot Barracks. Bed, desk, bookshelf, armor stand, closet for any clothing the trooper may own, walk-in shower, and a map of the world on the wall all came as standard. From there the officer puts up posters, puts whatever books they want beside the half-dozen manuals of rules and regulations, and generally adds whatever they like to the room, within the restrictions (no big ones, but a million tiny ones). Overall my room was neat and tidy, but evidently lived in. Especially since I hadn't yet made the bed.

And yet, even though this had been my room since I was a mere cadet, today it felt... unfamiliar. As if I had suddenly standing in a counterfeit REPLICA of my room, instead of the real thing. I tried looking for what could've triggered this impression, but the best I could turn up was a wrapper for a cheese sandwich from the mess hall lying in the small trash can beside my writing desk.

Then my eyes landed on the map on the wall, and it seemed wrong. The continents were the wrong shape, something told me. Next second, I blinked... and suddenly everything seemed right again. The Equestrian continent was the center of the map, with Zebrafrica to our southwest, Neighsia and Equrope to our east. Yet something still felt off.

And then I thought I had it. My thinking at the time went like this:

"This map is a conventional map! Not an enchanted one that would let me use magic to enlarge certain areas and see more information. Larger than the issued map! Not the one that would normally hang in any officer's quarters!

"Yes, somehow my issued enchanted map was replaced with a plain old map! Fortunately, the right map has been rolled up and lies on the shelf here! I shall quickly put it up in place of the plain old map that was a gift from Twilight! A plain old map that... is staying exactly where it is, Shining Armor, you great moron! "

I facehoofed as this very important fact came to light. Quite apart from the fact I'd managed to forget just how important the map really was... Nopony even cared if the 'issued' map stayed up, and nine out of ten officers usually swapped it out for an extra poster of whatever Wonderbolt had all eyes on him or her at the moment, or the occasional Pony Rangers poster.

Yet doubt persisted. Something still seemed wrong. Out of place. I looked back at the wrapper in the trash, citing it as being at least the cause of this one way or another. Then it hit me as I truly woke up.

I was what was out of place.

It was oh five hundred hours! So much for a long lie-in. Oh well, I thought, first I'll shower, then put on my armor and...

...Horseapples, my armor isn't here, it's in the, er, armory. Getting upgraded to Captain's armor. Okay, maybe a uniform? Ah, wait, my red dress uniform is at a tailor's getting new rank symbols and buttons stitched on. And so is my green parade service uniform. The only article of clothing present was a replica Hoofball shirt.

And so I thought: forget it.

I set my alarm for eight, and managed to wake up at my usual earlier time anyway.

I decided to read a little to try and awaken before I would wander off to find some food when my alarm did in fact go off, so I wouldn't be eating at the same time as the rest of the Guard. Rather than walk in the mess hall out of uniform while the rest of the regiment were wearing their armor to their own breakfast. It would be a very bad example to set before I was even a proper Captain.

Doubly so, given this was Canterlot where going around naked was frowned upon unless one was a college student.

I could overhear conversations from guards as I made my way to the mess hall. Royal Guards only speak when spoken to by a commanding officer, or when a commanding officer and civilians are not present. At which point they talk more than a radio.

"... See, ah got mah train ticket a while ago, but more fool me 'cos what ah was worried about never happened. Seems the nobles ain't in a huge rush to be in town there and then so there's plenty of chariots gonna be spare but, ah got the ticket already and there's no refunds. Apparently they only like to visit the Summer Sun Celebration town in advance when it's off in distant parts of the country and they can call it a real vacation. They were all over the place when they held it in Savanneigh when ah was a colt. But for a little town a couple hours away by train, nope, no rush. More fool them though, it's a great village... ."

Or at least one of them did. He fell silent as I neared though.

I must not have been awake as I had hoped, though, for the names of the three sentries at the door to the mess hall took their time to come to mind. They stared at me with their standard-issue Royal Guard Serious Face Mark Ones as I approached and tried desperately to remember their names. If I knew them at all, that was.

"Good morning, troopers."

The earth pony NCO looked at me puzzled.

"Good morning... sir?"

That had definitely been phrased as a question. No recognition in his eyes. I feared somepony had slipped dye into my shower gel (again) for a second... until he blinked.

"Oh, Lieutenant? Uh, I mean, Captain, sir? Ah, uh, ah mean... I didn't recognize you for some reason!"

It was then I knew who he was. Lance-Corporal Ellis Bitter Apple, a member of my own team. The distinct accent much of the Apple family seems to have slipped through for a moment there. However, at the time my blood ran cold.

"...What color is it?" I asked.

"What color is what, sir?" One of the privates, a unicorn, asked.

Before I could reply, the mess hall door opened, and a pegasus sergeant emerged.

"Is there a problem out here?"

"No, sarge, just a little confusion is all." The second private, another pegasus, replied.

The sergeant looked over at me, and that was when I was convinced some prankster was going to be hunted down and educated in the reception of severe flank-kickings. He raised an eyebrow.

Sergeants are not in the practice of wildly raising eyebrows at officers. A sergeant raising an eyebrow at an officer means something is wrong with that officer.

And then he blinked.

"...Oh, Captain. I almost didn't recognize you without your armor."

I sighed.

"Okay, Sergeant Thunderchild, be honest with me and speak freely. What color has somepony dyed my mane?"

He blinked again.

"Er, Shining, it's not been dyed at all. I just think the troopers might have not recognized you out of uniform."

"Yeah, sir, it's a rule we only play that sort of prank on somepony we don't like much," the unicorn private, Captive Audience, informed even as I, once again tried to decipher why he received a name like that.

Still, one simply didn't ask that sort of thing. It would be like asking Running Gag, (currently standing to Captive Audience's left) whether his parents thought him a joke. Simple manners. Like not pranking officers you like, apparently (and ones who weren't rookies, I knew that from experience, somepony once dyed my mane and tail like a skunk while I was sleeping and slipped some nasty smelling stuff into my cologne when I first enlisted. With the stripe markings I already have, I was just asking for it really).

"...Wait, does that mean I should wait for anguished screams from, let's say hypothetically, Lieutenant Coke's billet when he wakes up?"

I was not the only officer scheduled to be promoted today. Cherry Coke was a lieutenant, set to become a captain also. Troopers did like him, but only in his own platoon. My platoon, for some reason, did not. I was perfectly fine with him - we went to the academy together after all. Perhaps it was because he would pull rank quite often, which had a habit of irritating the enlisted troopers.

"Couldn't possibly comment on any pranking, hypothetical or otherwise, sir. Anyway, you were after something to eat?" Thunderchild reminded me.

"Er, yes. Quite. And if you have pranked him or anypony else, try not to get too murdered by them."

The troopers grinned at that advice, and I walked past them as they resumed their duties of standing around. A patrol neared, and apparently they did not recognize me either, as Lance-Corporal Apple had to inform them it was soon-to-be Captain Shining Armor that had just walked past.

"Shouldn't Apple get going if he wants to reach that family reunion he wanted time off for?" I pondered aloud.

"Not really, sir, he's got a couple of hours yet. He said something about avoiding a brunch. Apparently his relatives go overboard with the food, so he's catching a train that gets him there for just after twelve. He should still be back for eighteen-hundred though."

After eating, and getting a few strange glances from the hoof-full of troopers present (presumably from my lack of armor or uniform), I was a little puzzled about what to do with my time before the promotion ceremony. A short walk in the gardens seemed best. Nopony would be too nonplussed to see me without armor there, as even this early one would find visitors.

Unfortunately, at the doorway out, I instead encountered a resident from the castle coming to visit the guard barracks, or trying to. Another white unicorn, looking a little bit damp with his mane hidden below a towel, was angrily ranting at the door guards who had blocked his passage.

"Stand aside or fetch an officer, you fools! I demand that I see an officer of the guard right away!" Blueblood snapped at the guards that had refused him entry. I decided to act.

"Is there a problem, sir?"

He looked down his snout at me, but he does that to everypony. Even when they're wearing armor or his auntie's apprentice.

"Well, the most pressing would be that some nopony feels he is important enough to interject when I am ordering these foolish guards to stand aside!"

For a pony with a cutie mark that often signifies skill in exploration and map-making, he had a pretty terrible memory.

"I see, sir. Well, for your information I'm an officer, albeit technically off-duty at the moment, and if you have some business in the barracks I would be happy to assist you."

He sneered out his response.

"Oh, one of the ones getting promoted, eh? Very well, Lieutenant, take me to a captain!"

"I technically am a captain."

"Then take me to an actual captain!"

I kept my face blank as he adopted a smug expression at what he no doubt thought was a witty retort that put me in my place. However, the Royal Guard Regulations state in Rule Four Hundred and Nine, that 'in face of overwhelming stupidity, an officer is permitted to deploy sarcasm'(I appreciate the Princess' understanding of our position). Sadly, Major Payne's recent petition to have the rule amended to add 'and/or pepper spray' did not succeed, or I would have used that instead.

Who am I kidding, he'd have an even worse tantrum, which I did not need.

"Perhaps you wish a major to escort you to a colonel, sir? Or should we save time and take you to a general?"

"Curse it, you fool, you'll do. I must report an act of vandalism, and I have reason to believe it was carried out by enlisted troopers of the guard!"

"This is a serious accusation, sir. What has been vandalized?"

"My mane!" He yelled, briefly allowing the towel to fall down and reveal his normally blond mane was a neon green, but it had started to change hues even as he concealed it again.

Myself and the two troopers did very well not to laugh, I think. Remarkably enough, Blueblood seemed far more furious than embarrassed. That was a completely new shade of red for him.

"Well, sir, we can file a report and have the matter investigated..."

"I also want someone to fix this mess! Have a medic specializing in mane and coat care meet me when you file the report!"

"Sir, we have no such medics, I'm afraid, but perhaps you could consult Princess Celestia, or Princess Cadence. They may know a solution, and they are your family. Or perhaps even a scholar in the castle."

"Pha! The princesses are... too busy to deal with the effects of petty pranking! And what scholar in the castle would not find the situation amusing?!"

"...Twilight Sparkle?" I offered.

"That antisocial bookworm? Hm, well, if she does not know a solution she would likely seek one.... She may not be entirely useless."

The troopers winced. I simply upgraded my gaze from attentive to steely.

"I'm sure Princess Celestia will be thrilled to hear you feel she did a good job mentoring my little sister."

He blinked and his eyes widened in surprise for a moment, as if he finally realized who he was actually talking to.

Thankfully the Princess understood the value of bonds; the Royal Guard Regulations, while not condoning violence, did authorize 'scaring the horse apples' out of someone who has intentionally insulted your loved ones.

"Oh, er, Twilight Sparkle?! I was mistaking her for... Twilight... Sharkle. A different pony entirely! Miss Sparkle is a unicorn whilst Miss Sharkle is a... shark... I mean pegasus! Twilight Sparkle is a fine young mare, very attractive and... No, no, not attractive! I mean she is but she is not my type and, I mean, er... I think I left the toaster on in my haste to leave the shower! Good day, Captain!"

"Wait, don't you wish to file a report?" I asked as he began to retreat.

"Oh, er, no, it's merely a jape, very funny now I think about it, hahaha, and I'll just go... switch off the toaster and then have somepony like the Princess fix it!"

And with that he ran off. I looked at the two guards, who each had small smirks.

"Anyway, do you two want me to let your officer know he was here?"

"Thank you, sir. Probably best that Major Payne is made aware of the joke, er, situation sooner rather than later." One of them replied.

It was something to do at least. Alas, when I was reporting to their officer, who was at the time in the dormitories doing paperwork, I also heard an anguished cry from a nearby room. I and the Major soon discovered Lieutenant Coke with a color-changing mane.

Stunning coincidence really, that somepony should prank him when somepony else used the exact same method on Blueblood.

Still, once that one was dealt with and my face feed, I found myself still with time free still, as it was only just approaching nine o'clock. I figured I would maybe go and visit my sister. On the way I encountered two maids that had a good excuse for not recognizing me because I had no idea who they were either.

"Er, are you Captain Shining Armor?" One asked, hesitantly.

"Well, technically. I haven't been formally promoted yet."

She grinned and looked at her companion in triumph.

"See, I told you this wasn't a prank, Sweep!"

The maid named Sweep blinked.

"But I could have sworn... I really did think I'd never heard of him."

"Er, ladies, not to interrupt but I presume you were looking for me for a reason?" I prompted.

"Oh, that's right! The Princess would like to see you right away!"

I hoped I hid my panic well. That steal faced expression of a guard came in handy from time to time, even if ponies loved trying to make you break out of it.

"Ah, thank you. I'll just head straight there..."

They wandered off, and once I was sure no one was in earshot, I swore.

And then I moved my flank. When The Princess says jump, you don't point out you don't have wings, damn the cliff and take the plunge!

I tried not to look too panicky as the two guards to the throne room let me in. I also tried to distract myself wondering why a mess hall got an NCO and two Troopers on the door, whilst the ruler of the country got two bored looking corporals barely even batting an eyelid at anypony walking up to the door.

It didn't work very well because the other dozen of them inside answered that. And the fact said ruler was a goddess whose guards were probably there to protect her attackers more than her. And I was right back to wondering why a sun-goddess wanted to talk to me. I kept my head bowed and neared the throne.

'If she mentions bananas, just run like pony hell.' I thought to myself.

"Ah, Captain. Thank you for coming so quickly. You may rise."

I did so, and noticed that she was apparently feeding her pet phoenix. The Princess' expression was impossible to read beyond the impish friendliness she always wore. Princess Celestia's poker face was legendary. She could be scowling at me suspiciously behind those eyes and I wouldn't know the difference.

"Your Highness," I said, hoping I didn't look too nervous. I tried and failed to distract myself with the fact that the royal firebird looked like she would be molting in a few months.

"I just wanted to have a little chat, Shining Armor. There's no need for formalities. Anyway, I'm sure you're curious as to why you are here?"

I nodded honestly.

"Er, yes, ma'am. It came as a bit of a surprise, to be frank."

"I see. Did you feel okay this morning?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Nothing seemed a little out of place? No nervousness, confusion?"

"Well, Your Highness, I did, er, wake before my alarm was set to wake me. And I was a little confused about a few things in my room..."

"Such as?"

"Well, I was puzzled as to where my armor and uniforms were for a few moments. And for some reason I thought I had the wrong map on the wall."

She nodded.

"Any other strangeness?"

"A few guards seemed to not recognize me without my armor or uniform."

"I see. Well, I asked you here for four reasons. First, I'd like to personally congratulate you on your promotion. I know the letter we have a copy of in the royal archives said all that, but I'd prefer to say it face-to-face after I saw your name appear on my desk this morning."

"Thank you, Your Highness."

"I honestly do prefer to have a close relationship with those who work for me. Second, I also congratulate you on whatever it was you said to little Blueblood with regards to his, er, mane mishap. It would seem your advice made him look at the prank more rationally. But he did seem like he was a little afraid of something. I can't help but worry he may have left something out when he reported to me. Could you give me your side of events, perhaps?"

"Well, the Prince was attempting to speak with an officer and the guards obeyed standing orders not to let anyone enter the barracks without permission or a confirmed appointment. He did not appear to recognize me and as a result his initial conduct was... conducted on the assumption I was not the kind of officer he was looking for at the time."

"I see. He also mentioned your sister for a moment for some reason, but it seemed to have been a slip of the tongue. Between you and me, I think he may have plans to ask her out at some point. Would you have any opinion on that?"

'Over my dead body' was the first one that came to mind, but at the same time I knew Prince Blueblood was probably just flustered after his faux pas.

"Well, Your Highness, my sister is an adult mare and she can associate with whomsoever she wishes. It's not my place to decide if anypony can seek to pursue a romantic interest in her."

Celestia nodded thoughtfully. As if she hadn't read my mind and heard the first thought.

"Hmm, that is a very understanding approach. I know that elder siblings can sometimes feel very protective towards their younger brothers and sisters. In fact I worried the third matter I wished to speak to you about may be affected somewhat by your relationship with your sister."

She paused, and I realized I should speak.

"Affected in what way, Your Highness?"

"Well, I'd like to sound you out on a possible assignment that is of great importance, but that would mean you would not see Twilight Sparkle again for some time. I know it would be a sacrifice on your part, doubly so given the short notice involved, and I was concerned your possible worries about your sister could affect your choice..."

"Er, no, Your Highness, I'm sure Twilight is able to look out for herself. In addition, I did swear an oath upon Her Highness that if duty requires it, I am ready to perform the assignment regardless of the hardships I may face doing so," I said, quoting the oath in the process.

She nodded.

"Yes, quite. I never really liked the wording of that part of the oath, to be honest. Sounds far too much like every guard swears to obey without question. Perhaps I should look into changing it... Oh, my apologies, Captain, I was going a little off-topic there!"

I held back comment on the matter, of course, and she continued.

"Anyway, as you might know, Princess Cadence is to depart tonight on a two-year diplomatic tour, introducing her to the other nations of the world as well as extending the greetings of Equestria. I understand you and the Princess already know each other?"

I blinked for a moment, feeling strangely puzzled. Twilight's foalsitter and the only other Alicorn on the planet? Why was she phrasing it like this? She knew I knew.

'Oh, it's rhetorical. This is what happens when you tell your brain to expect sleep until eight AM but you forget to tell your body the same thing, Shining.'

That was what I thought. What I said was:

"Yes, Your Highness."

"Good. You see, she will receive a personal bodyguard, drawn from the Day Guard, and I feel she needs ponies she can trust. I've had non-commissioned and enlisted troopers submit applications to transfer over the last few weeks, and a Lieutenant Price had been checking up on the references."

I knew of Price - He'd been a cadet when I was in training myself. I knew at the time he had apparently caught the eye of an officer trying to set up a 'modern warfare' regiment in the style of a Neighponese ANBU black-ops group, and knocked back his own promotion offer to join the new unit. I correctly assumed that until it was set up they had him doing odd-jobs.

And I had been hearing the rumors over the past few weeks. The main story was that Celestia was forming a special unit of the Day Guard to act as Cadence's bodyguards, though others claimed that a whole new branch of the Guard under Cadence's total command was to be formed.

Anyway, Her Highness was still speaking when I was thinking all that.

"Key to ensuring the best are selected, however, will be making sure that the leader of her guard has the final say on which troopers are accepted. I don't expect any trouble on her trip, but I don't want her feeling nervous in foreign lands without soldiers she knows she can trust on hoof. Plus, she's insisted on trying to extend a greeting to the Hooviet Empire..."

I winced. The Hooviets were well known to any guard, and not so well known to the average Equestrian. The Hooviet Empire was a vast nation in the east that claimed to be a voluntary union, many weaker nations protected under the aegis of "The Greater Good" offered by unity and the strength of the largest nation of the union - a Deer nation called The Roedina.

Outwardly, they offered a free society and strength in unity. They tried to tempt neighboring nations to join the union with diplomacy, and the promise of the riches and prosperity that the union had to offer. They offered a vision of a bright and unified future.

In reality, well, it was an empire, and it had conquered much of its territory one way or another. Either by force, or through sheer economic strength. They had forced more than one deer tribe into the position where they simply could no longer afford to keep their freedom. And for ponies in the Empire, freedoms were few and precious. The deer were caste-based, and they forced the caste system upon ponies too. Your cutie mark meant nothing - your talents were to be defined by what you were born as and your life decisions were made for you in the name of the Greater Good.

Want to care for animals? Not with those wings! Want to be an engineer? You're a unicorn, get back to training on magic theory! Want to fly airships? Nice try, earth pony, get back to your farm or workshop. Meanwhile, the deer were in the majority, the middle and upper classes. They were the ones who gained the riches and the prosperity. Well, the Does and Stags of the proper tribe and lineage did, at least.

Planning dissent? There is a surveillance culture pervading all levels of society. The young are indoctrinated to report all unusual activity. There is a virtual cult built around Father Deer, the "Guiding Father and Great Leader" of the Greater Good. You would love him - or you would cease to exist. Your body incinerated, your deeds assigned to others, your name erased. Their vision of the future was a cloven hoof stamping on a pony face forever. They had tried to force Equestria under their hoof with threats, but Princess Celestia made it perfectly clear she desired nothing more than peace, but also what would happen if they intentionally harmed any of her subjects. Having a true goddess as your ruler had its advantages.

So it was a wonderful country that Cadence was so set on visiting, basically(!) But back to the matter at hoof, Celestia was still speaking as I recalled these facts.

"...And, well, you know why that place is a place to be on your guard. Though this is more of an informal check to see you'd be okay with accompanying her over the next couple of years, I'm already quite sure you're the perfect pony for the job - you're practically made for it with your defensive skills. It will technically make you the Commander of her Guard and no longer part of my Day Guard, but... well, I think that it's as good a time as any for the Royal Guard and the Day Guard to no longer be all just the same thing. I am not Equestria's only Princess."

Even with the two years I would be away, as it then stood, as it is now, all of Equestria's Defense Force was the 'Royal Guard' (even if that was now 'our' name), sub-divided into the Cavalry or ground forces, and the Air-Navy crewing Airships (with the two senior Princesses having split most of the armies down the middle between them). As it then stood, all the Royal Guard, even the ones on night duty, were the Day Guard. I was basically being told that I was forming the Second Guard of the 'Royal Guard.'

Of course, as it turned out, it was to be the Third Guard as the Second would in fact be re-activated, but that's a different story entirely. Suffice to say though, the Day Guard are pansies and the Night Guard are afraid of the light!

...What? Inter-service rivalry is great for morale. Yes, I know I used to be Day Guard but now I'm not, okay?!

Anyway, what I said in response to being given possibly the greatest honor any soldier had been given in centuries?

"I... I understand, Y-Your Highness. Thank you." I squeaked and tried not to fall over.

Words that shall inspire for generations to come(!)

"Good. I'll inform her formally later that I am attaching you to command her Guard, so for now if you meet her please try to keep it quiet, but I'm sure when I tell her she'll be thrilled to know she knows her bodyguard commander already. "

"Yes, Your Highness. May I ask the overall size of the detail I am to select?"

"Roughly a half platoon in size, thirty or so troopers. At present you will be the only officer, but hopefully your original thirty will provide the NCO's and maybe even more officers from the ranks for future expansions of Princess Cadence's Guard. I've found that ponies that rise up from the rank of Private often make good leaders once they become officers."

I nodded my agreement. I'd been trained by 'rankers' myself. One of the unspoken lessons of officer training and beyond is that lieutenants and captains are merely in command, while sergeants and corporals are in charge.

"Last but not least, your sister will be getting an assignment to Ponyville as my representative. She'll be checking preparations for tomorrow."

I nodded and tried to conceal my happiness for my sister. Being given such a trusted duty would be a great honor for Twiley! Assuming she wasn't caught up in some area of her studies that made her see anything else as just a distraction.

For the record, it would take me a while before I realized when it comes to things like that I should just stop thinking entirely.

"However, she will be leaving within the hour. If you are willing to take on this mission, now may be your only chance to give Twilight a proper goodbye before she leaves for Ponyville. She won't be back before you leave yourself."

I was startled at this, I will admit. I was facing a two-year assignment yet it would seem I would only have one hour in which to bid my little sister farewell? Would I even have a chance to say goodbye to mom and dad?

"...I can say goodbye to Spike too, right?" I tried to joke, but my voice wavered a little.

The Princess merely looked at me with understanding.

"She'll be getting ready, I think she'll only be on the double-checking checklist just now, which should give you a good bit of time. You should go now."

"Yes, Your Highness, right away. Thank you."

I made to leave, trying not to gallop away.

"Oh, and Captain?"

I turned to face the ruler of Equestria, and soon to technically no longer be my Supreme Commander once I was under Cadence's banner.

"Make sure you let her know how much you love her."

Even at the time, I felt this was sage advice.

I knew my sister would be in her residence, a tower on the castle grounds that like her old bedroom at home had become like a private library thanks to her bibliophile tendencies. It was also 'relatively' close to the throne room (not saying much in a castle this big).

Perhaps it was just suppressed stress and nerves from the promotion(s) I had received, but I had picked up my pace once outside the throne room. My basic train of thought was that my little sister was heading off to a strange town, and I might not have a good chance to see her again for at least two years if I did not go right now.

A running Captain of the Guard, even out of armor, always attracted some attention.

"Captain, is there a problem?" A voice asked from above.

I slowed down and looked up. Thunderchild hovered above me.

"Not really, Sergeant. It's just a personal matter. Twilight is going to Ponyville and I'm just off to say goodbye."

He landed, and now distracted by his presence, I felt a little less of a fearful urgency.

"I see. Is she going by train or has the Princess arranged a chariot?"

Unfortunately for him, I was now zoning out a little as I began to realize maybe I was overreacting a little. Reflecting on it all at the time, it became clear that it wasn't like the world would end if I didn't say goodbye to my little sister - she'd be here when I returned. Still, she is my only sister... Unless Dad has something to tell us all, that is.


And as for the big brother instinct kicking in, like I had said, Twilight was indeed a grown mare. Albeit a little naive at times, and maybe a little antisocial. Still, surely a trip to a quiet town like Ponyville wouldn't lead her into any real trouble. Right?


Remember what I said five minutes ago about thinking about things like that?

"Shining?" Thunderchild asked, bolting me from my daydream.

NCO-Using-Your-Name. A sure sign you were away with the flutterponies.

"Oh, sorry, I was a million miles away. What was your question?" I replied sheepishly.

"I was asking about her travel arrangements. If it's a chariot team being organized, I could try and be on it. The team would stay in town until the Summer Sun Celebration was over so I'd be able to keep an eye out on her for you?"

"No thank you, Thunderchild. I don't want her thinking she's being watched."

"Actually, she'd not notice someone watching her at all..."

Non-commissioned officers are adept at poking holes in your logic using emotional blackmail. They're like spouses in a way. Er, don't tell you-know-who I said that.

...No, not Lord Voldehorse, you know who! Anyway, back to the present. Past. Whatever.

"...Check who has been assigned to it for me, will you?"

"Yes, sir. Well, see you at your promotion ceremony, sir."

And with that he flew off, and I realized we'd reached Twilight's tower. That was actually quite fortunate - you'd be surprised how many times a 'talk and trot' takes you right past your destination at Canterlot Castle. Especially in the administrative section of the West Wing for some reason.

Anyway, I made my way to the door and knocked.

"Spike! Get the door!" I heard from within.

The door soon opened, and a confused baby dragon looked up at me. I'd always found Spike rather cool. Full grown dragons were rare enough (normally only an 'ambassador' coming to 'okay' a migratory route through Equestria), but Spike was the only baby dragon I'd ever seen.

"Uh... Hi? Who are you?"

Needless to say I was rather startled by that. I'd known Spike all his life and yet, I fail to wear armor now and I'm a stranger?! I was about to speak when my sister, despite having asked her dragon companion to get the door, wandered over.

"Spike, that's no way to greet... whoever this is..."

I'll admit my next actions were a little angered.

"Come on, am I that unrecognizable without armor on?!" I snapped.

Twilight seemed taken aback by this, though her eyes widened not in surprise at some strange pony shouting in her doorway for no reason, but at realizing who I was.

"B.B.B.F.F?! Wha... I don't know how I didn't recognize you!"

She then moved to give me a hug while Spike stood horrified and mortified and all sorts of -fieds at his own part in the error.

"Uh, I knew who you were, I was just joking..." Spike tried lamely.

Two unicorns gave him a look.

"Okay, I didn't either! You gotta admit, Shining, you look different without the armor!"

I sighed, defeated.

"Well, hopefully you still recognize me once I wear Captain's armor..."

Twilight suddenly looked dismayed.

"Oh... Your promotion ceremony. I... I'm going to miss that. Princess Celestia asked me to..."

I cut her off.

"I know, Twiley. She asked me to do something as well and... It's a long term assignment. I'll be part of a diplomatic mission that's going to last, erm, at least two years. It's short notice but the mission leaves tonight so... this might be the only chance we'll really get to say goodbye."

My little sister looked like I'd just told her the library was closing forever. I hope I did a better job of hiding my emotions.

"B-but... two years?! What is it, a world tour?"

"Er, yes. I'm commander of the guard detail for the VIP... Er, the Very Important..."

"...Pony, I get it, move on..."

"...And she is taking a small flotilla... that's..."

"A small grouping of airships, normally frigates or smaller," Twilight cut in again.

"Quite. Anyway, she's taking the flotilla around the world, extending the hoof of friendship and harmony to all the nations of the world.... And I'll be in overall command of security for the VIP at all times as Guard Commander. Well, I'll still be a Captain but I'll also be a Commander..."

"Shining, I read all the guard training and regulations manuals, I know Commander is a position and not a rank unless you're in the Air Navy portion of the Guard. I probably know the books better than you actually. And I know how much of an opportunity this is for you."

I nodded, thankful she was at least keeping herself on track even while I was babbling like an idiot.

"I... Thank you for understanding. I just wanted to say goodbye before you leave for Ponyville."

"Okay... Um, what can you tell me about your mission?"

"Not that much, honestly. I think I said pretty much all there is on it, actually." I didn't particularly want to tell her one of the distressingly few friends she'd had as a filly was going too. It was hard enough as it was.

"Well, it sounds better than mine even if it's way too long. I'm being sent to supervise a bunch of ponies in a town we could see with a telescope, and there might be..."

She gasped.

"You arriving so suddenly made it slip my mind! Shining, there's something important you need to know! Equestria is in mortal danger!"

"Really?! How?"

"I've been conducting research and all signs point towards tonight being the night that the Mare in the Moon will return!"

"The... What?"

It threw me off guard a bit, to be honest.

"Nightmare Moon!"


"The legendary pony who seeks to bring about night-time eternal."


"You... Seem pretty relaxed about it."

"Well, I am. Twilight, that's just a myth. Nightmare Moon is a fairy tale!"

"Augh! Why does everypony keep saying that?!" Twilight virtually wailed.

I chuckled, and placed a hoof on her shoulder.

"Twiley, we can't believe in every myth and legend. I mean, what if I tell you the ancient Mexicoltian calendar is counting down and it comes to an end in three years?"

"...I'd say you're nuts. It counts sideways, not backwards or forwards."

"See? Factual evidence to dismiss it, because the myth has no facts behind it! Twilight, there are no records that speak about the Mare in the Moon in recorded history."

"...Well, yes, you've got a point... But at the same time there's no evidence against Nightmare Moon! After all, the records on the origin of the Summer Sun Festival are nonexistent and we still celebrate it! Shining, we can't just dismiss this entirely..."

"But you don't need to worry about it. I'm honestly kind of surprised you believe it, Twiley, you're not a superstitious pony. You've never believed in this kind of stuff before."

"I know...But I haven't always been right either. Remember when I didn't believe in zebras?"

I winced. "...she didn't appreciate you trying to 'wash off' her costume ...But ponies say Nightmare Moon will eat little foals on Nightmare Night if they don't give her half their candy, did that ever happen to you when you refused to believe it then?"


"Besides, if it is true, the Royal Guard will take care of it."

"Maybe... But are you sure I can't borrow a few elite platoons?"

"Sorry, but I don't think so. Good luck in Ponyville anyway. I'll write if I can while I'm gone, but replying might be tricky with the anti-teleport wards on the ships." I said, trying to get her mind on matters other than myths.

Poor Spike was more than willing to help me, his expertise on sending scrolls coming to the fore with the mention of letters.

"Yeah, it would be. Even if I managed to send it to where the ship is, those wards might cause it to bounce back. I tried it once. And I won't do it again, know why? Backfire."

I winced, even if Spike was immune to his own flames. That must not have been a pleasant experience.

"...So, anyway, I've got a little while until I need to get ready for the ceremony. Need a hoof with anything?"

"Oh, not really. Spike and I were just going over the checklist."

I looked over at the dragon.

"On the first list, we confirmed that the milk that will expire before we're back is used, that the shelves have been re-shelved properly, that the bed is made, everything is cleaned up, you've packed your keys, scrolls, and bag of bits in your saddlebags."

"What about the map?! Did we pack the map?!"

"Twilight, I'm sure a small town like Ponyville won't be too tricky..."

"That's easy for you to say! It's just an Urban Operations scenario for you, the key landmarks, objectives, and choke-points would become apparent to your scouts even without maps, but I need to know which houses to go to!"

"Twiley, I don't apply military jargon to everything I do..."

"The map is packed, Twilight. Besides, like Shining Armor says, it's not that big a town, and if we did get lost we could just ask for directions."

"Or... we could bring scouts! Shining Armor, can I borrow some scouts in case I lose a map?! Say, the Seventh Heavy Brigade?" Twilight suddenly said.

"Nice try, but I don't think so. Besides, I'm pretty sure Spike won't lose the map."

"Nope! It'll be safe with me!" He saluted.

"Okay, scouts are out of the question. I'm sure I won't get lost. After all, it's just a few ponies to check up on, then I can head for... Oh no, Spike, where is it I'm supposed to stay?!"

"In the library in the town."

"You'll feel at home, at least. Should help you sleep..."

"Did you remember Smartypants?"

"Yeah I..." Twilight started, then blushed a little bit when she realized what she'd admitted to.

It's typical, really. When you've got the feeling you need to say something important to someone and this might be your last chance for a long time... You're speechless. Awkward silence descended.

"I'm really sorry I'll miss your promotion ceremony," She eventually said.

"Don't worry about it, Twilight. It's not that much. I put on my armor, hold my sword aloft when it reaches noon, and then I receive new orders. And technically I already have my new orders so I just get them officially. Besides, I'll get promoted again someday. That'll be a Major achievement!"

This pun fell flat at first, but cogwheels turned in Spike's head.

"Oh, I get it now."

He still didn't laugh though.

"Well, maybe, but what if you get a field promotion out there?" He then asked.

"Uh, Spike, field promotions happen in battle. I'm meant to avoid that," I corrected him.

"Oh. Maybe start one?"

"That'd get him a court martial instead. Anyway, uh... I guess I'd really better get going. The Princess said she'd have a chariot prepared for me in ten minutes from now."

I nodded, and hoped I didn't look as upset as I felt.

"I understand. Good luck again, and... Can you do me a favor while I'm away?"

I leaned in and gave her a hug.

"Even when I'm far away on this assignment, little sister, remember I'm there, and that I love you. Can you do that?"

She stood back from the hug and gave a sloppy salute that made me smile.

"Of course, Captain B.B.B.F.F! That's a really easy order! Permission to say I love you too?"

I cracked up at that, and so did she. Sure, it's not really all that funny when I explain it, is it, but... You had to be there, you know?

And hey, she seemed a lot less nervous about Ponyville now. I would later discover she actually started fuming about it when Spike re-read out her instructions from the Princess to her on the chariot ride there, but at least she set off happy with me. And I managed to say what I wanted to say.

"I can walk you to your chariot at least, right?" I said once we stopped laughing.

"Of course, big brother. I'm going to miss you though."

"I'll miss you too, Twiley."

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