• Published 3rd Apr 2023
  • 1,948 Views, 162 Comments

A Change in Darkness - David Silver

Bat ponies were a convenient hiding place. Few knew of their true nature, if they even really existed, so he could pretend to be one and get few hard questions. A pity one princess knew more than most, and would not be casually brushed aside.

  • ...

3 - Unit Formations

"Tonight is a special night." His instructor paced in front of Skyline, but Skyline wasn't alone. There were others on either side of him, making four in total. "Today, we practice group formations. One of our most common duties, as a team, is to carry Luna where she wants to be. This means you need to know how to draw her carriage. More importantly, you need to not go too fast or too slow compared to the others. You need to turn with them. You need to stop with them. You are not one pony today. You are four, but you will have one mind, together." His voice seemed to grow louder as he went, as if his words were increasingly important. "Do I make myself clear?"

"Sir, yes, sir." All four of them saluted, some with hooves, others with wings. Not all of them had wings. None of them wore armor.

"As you have, I hope, noticed, your comrades are also in training. Did you think you were special?" He leaned in, brow raised. "We train ponies all around the year. Most fail. Will we drum you out or welcome you? How you do at this task has a good portion to do with it, so shape up and get your head in the game."

An earth pony bumped against Skyline, but turned his words on the instructor. "How are we gonna practice pulling an air chariot without wings, sir?"

"A fine question... for a cadet." He rolled his eyes with a soft huff. "Teamwork is the same if you're on the ground, over it, or under it. Until you're all moving in tandem, I wouldn't trust you with an air chariot, especially one with any pony in it, let alone a princess." He went to a tarp and grabbed it with a wing, drawing it free with a great tug. "Here is your chariot. You can see that this one has wheels." He kicked one of those wheels with a thud of wood and rattle of the metal involved. "Sometimes, princesses actually want to be on the ground. Sometimes you're not helping a princess. Sometimes this is the sort of chariot you will be using, so don't bother thinking of this as the 'training model.'"

Skyline advanced to where the harnesses were. "We'll wear these, right, sir?"

"That is correct. Since you're first here..." He advanced on Skyline and got to fitting him into the harness. "Get used to this, and learn how to put it on yourself. That is where we will begin." He turned to the others. "You saw what I did? Foal see, foal do. Get dressed." He pointed at the three remaining harnesses. "You won't be pulling anything if you're not in a harness. A properly trained soldier can get in and out of them in an instant. You're not one of those. Let's take the first step."

The others moved into position and started nosing and stepping and making unsure noises as they tried to get their harness on as well as Skyline's was, though the instructor had put his on. The same pony gave Skyline a menacing look and said, "Don't think this means you're free and clear. I'll be taking yours off as soon as somepony else gets theirs on. Not much training if you just let me do it."

The first other pegasus got their harness on, perhaps copying how Skyline, the other pegasus, was wearing theirs. "All ready, sir!"

"I'll be the judge of that." The instructor was on them in a flash, tightening things, loosening other things and giving advice as he did it. "Now do it again." He pulled the harness back off. "And I want to see improvement."

"Yes, sir!" The pegasus got right to work.

The instructor began to swat at Skyline, getting his harness free quickly. "Your turn. You felt it on. Make that happen again."

"R-right." Skyline inclined his head. "Permission to cheat, sir?"

The instructor turned slowly in place, having been mid-turn away. "What? Can you break that down, cadet? Most ponies don't just ask if they can break the rules. That's very bold, and other words I'll spare until you finish explaining what you mean."

Skyline erupted into flames, ending with a harness attached to him perfectly. It had to be perfect, because it was part of him. He attached it to the rig of the chariot with a satisfying thunk. "All ready, sir! Is this acceptable, sir?"

The other trainees backed away in surprise, muttering and gaping at the sudden display. The instructor sighed at the display. "I thought you were trying to be subtle about that. Well, Princess Luna has admitted you, a changeling, to the corp." He was booming in sharp barks as he went over that, leaving no room for doubt that Skyline's species was a known fact. "She will expect you to use your given talents to their best for her purposes." He swatted at the harness. "Is this as strong as one I'd put on you? Should it give out and cause your unit to fail, you will earn their anger. If you fail, they fail. If they fail, you fail. You are one unit right now."

"It won't fail, sir!" Skyline gave a better wing salute, showing off the skills gained from previous demonstrations and the practice of it over the evenings of training. He inclined his head at his unit-mates. "Can I help them, sir?"

"You are one unit." He thudded Skyline in the chest. "You may assist them just as you'd assist yourself. You all succeed, or you all fail, together."

Permission given, Skyline moved in on the closest other in the line. That pony, an earth pony, seemed more anxious than actually paying attention. "It's the changeling thing... isn't it?" Skyline frowned, wings fluttering on his back. "We're all Luna's agents."

"Yeah..." The stallion forced himself to take a slow breath. "You aren't gonna... eat my love, are you?"

"Are you going to eat my hay fries?" Skyline dutifully checked the stallion's connections and straps.

"No! Um, unless you offered?" He licked his lips with the visions of salty fried hay fries waiting to be eaten.

"Then we're the same on that front." Skyline swatted at the pony. "Did you see what I did?" When the stallion nodded, Skyline got to taking it right back off. "You have to do it without me showing it."

"Right..." The stallion got to wriggling back into position properly. "Thanks... for showing me. How do you know how? You never put it on." The instructor had dressed Skyline and then Skyline shape changed into it.

"It's part of me." Skyline tapped at his harness that was also himself. "Once you see somepony doing a gesture, copying it with your own hoof isn't so hard, is it?"

"I... suppose not..." He got the harness on loosely and began tightening straps properly. "I don't want to mess this up..."

"Neither do I." He reached over and tapped at the stallion in places. "These snug?" Some spots got tightened, and he left others as they were. Skyline looked to the other two, but they seemed to be dressed and ready.

"Looking good, or at least better." The instructor waved at the chariot. "We're going for a little walk. We want to make a circle." He waved a hoof over the wide area. "Nice and smooth." He hopped up onto the chariot. "And, look at that. You have a passenger. If your passenger falls out, you fail. Points off for bumping and jostling. Focus on smooth and orderly. This is not a race. Speed can come later."

It took more than one try to even get started. The pony in the front would walk, and the others would attempt to catch up, but the moment had already passed, only resulting in a small tug and push instead of any actual progress. The instructor blew into his whistle. "You all go together, or you all sit here and waste my time. Do you want to make Princess Luna wait? She won't be happy, I can promise you that. She'll smile, but you'll know she's wondering why she bothers with you. Is that what you want? Get it together!"

Skyline ruffled his wings on his back. "We need to go together."

A unicorn stallion raised a hoof. "We can do this!" The others joined a cheer of desire and unity. "On three." They stepped forward together with the count, and the chariot moved behind them, pulled by their motions.

"Now we're getting somewhere." The instructor pointed to the left. "But you need to go in a circle."

Skyline was on the left side, so he veered towards it. They couldn't all pull to the left, not all at the same time and in the same direction. It took some trial and error to get their angles right to start the chariot in the right circling motion. "This isn't so bad." Once they were moving in a circle, the chariot practically wanted to keep going that way, following the motion of its wheels and their guidance.

"You're getting it..." The instructor nodded from atop the chariot. "Smooth and steady."

That evening had a lot of pulling involved, and turning. He had them going left and right, sometimes with very little warning. By the end, they were tired, worn, but a bit better at the process of drawing a chariot. The instructor hopped free of his chariot. "Kudos. I didn't fall off. Don't get a big head, but that does happen, especially with first-timers. How a guard can help our princess is wide and many. From guarding places, patrolling, screening, or, yes, drawing the chariot. When you pull this."

He pointed emphatically at the chariot. "When you pull this, remember, you are also acting as the bodyguard for whatever pony is on it, which, more often than not, will be a princess. That makes you, congratulations, one of the most important ponies for miles around, and your prize is nothing but the pride of a job well done if she makes it to her destination without complaint, spoken or not."

"Remember the rules!" He stomped in place, glaring at the lot of them. "We may be guards, but we are citizens first. If another pony is in the way, you ask them to get out of it. They can see who you're carrying. It will horrify nine out of ten of them that they ever managed to be in that situation. Don't make it worse."

"Sir, yes, Sir," shouted the unit in unison.

He nodded firmly. "We are the will of the princesses, but they don't want to see ponies hurt, or crying. Agents of her will, we must remember that our princesses are kind, and so must we be. There is one exception to that." He stepped on a button, hidden in the dirt.

A diamond dog pack popped out of the ground and he jumped at them, knocking over the cardboard that they were made of with a thud of dust and dirt. "If anycreature dares to threaten our charge, we are authorized to take immediate action."

The guards spoke in soft mutters, nodding a little at the show. One, the pegasus, waved timidly. "Will we know how to, um... fight, sir?"

"Of course! That's not tonight's lesson." He turned to point at the barracks a short distance away. "You're done. Clean up, eat, and be ready for the next course of instruction." He blew his whistle with its sharp trembling call. "Dismissed!"

They climbed out of their harnesses, except one. Skyline simply stopped having a harness with a dull flicker of flames, banishing it back into the rest of himself. "That was interesting."

The pegasus snorted softly. "How did it... feel? Can you hold that even when we're flying?"

"I think so." Skyline glanced back at the chariot they were leaving. "I'll practice with an actual harness too, to be sure."

"Good idea." The pegasus hurried into a trot, to shower, eat, or maybe both.