• Published 8th Oct 2012
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Blueblood: Hero of Equestria - Raleigh



Like all heroes, Blueblood will always do the right thing... after he has exhausted every other option.

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Bloodstained (Part 3)

The gentle rumble of applause was cut short immediately, as if the needle of a gramophone was suddenly wrenched from the spinning record, to be followed by an intense and oppressive quiet. Behind me I heard a fine porcelain teacup drop and shatter expensively on the hard wooden floor. Next to me, Fine Vintage had momentarily lost his telekinetic grip on his glass of wine and spilled a great deal of it on his front before he could catch the falling goblet, the crimson liquid staining his red tunic black and his white sash scarlet.

Looking back on this turn of events, as I sit here with my battered old typewriter and a tumbler of vintage single malt, I shouldn’t have been particularly surprised. In fact, I felt a slight sense of elation at the vindication of my initial suspicions about Celestia’s ulterior motives; Auntie ‘Tia always had the rather irritating tendency to mask her true intentions behind something seemingly innocent and harmless, and I’m not just talking about when I was nine years old and a much-anticipated trip to the Daring Do World theme park turned out to be a visit to the dentist to have new braces painfully fitted. Despite her rather underhanded tactics, I must concede that, for the most part, the ends do justify the means. Unfortunately, it left me with a chronic distrust of everything she did, and even worse for me, it often resulted in the placing of my vulnerable, squishy, un-armoured body in harm’s way far more times than I’m comfortable with.

Princess Celestia swept her cold, unflinching gaze across the entire room. The motherly expression on her face was gone, to be replaced by the cold and stern countenance of an experienced elder states-mare. Her lips were a thin line across her elegant muzzle, and were turned ever so slightly downwards at their ends. Her violet eyes narrowed and were utterly devoid of all of the love and warmth she normally holds for her beloved ponies, and instead they were filled with nothing but silent contempt for everypony in this room. As her chilling eyes tracked across the room slowly, occasionally pausing to single out one or two ponies for her particular attention, the assembled equines shuddered and flinched from her steely gaze. The effect was completed by the fact that her wings were spread erect to their fullest span, making the already monstrously tall alicorn princess appear even larger than usual.

I looked over to the Night Guard officers, who stood relatively close to the two Princesses. The majority of them seemed to be taking it with the usual passive stoicism and aloofness stereotypical of ponies from Trottingham, though I noticed that the left side of Colonel Sunshine Smiles’ face, where the hideous scar mangled his once attractive features, was twitching rather violently as it was wont to do whenever something unpleasant was happening. Captain Red Coat looked like a foal who had just been told Princess Celestia doesn’t personally deliver presents to good little colts and fillies on Hearth’s Warming Eve night [Apologies to anypony under the age of ten years who might be reading this]; likely due to the rather copious amounts of alcohol the teenager had drank throughout the party coupled with his very public embarrassment at the hooves of Shining Armour over Twilight.

Celestia’s long and spiralled horn ignited with the same warm glow of the sun on a fresh spring morning, and a sheaf of papers materialised into the space just before her head. Holding the inch-thick wad of papers within her yellow telekinetic glow she flicked through the files with deliberate slowness, seemingly taking her own sweet time in order to prolong everypony’s nervous anxiety as much as possible. The long, awkward moment of silence dragged out interminably and was made worse by the incessant ambient noises that seemed amplified both by the hush and my own anxiety. The constant and unremitting ticking of the infernal grandfather clock in the corner, as if counting down the remaining seconds of life for everypony in the room, and the gentle ruffle of paper sliding across paper, coupled with the fact that everypony seemed to be coughing and breathing much too loudly only heightened the nauseating anxiety I was feeling. Judging by the uncomfortable body language and nervous movements of everypony else in the room, I wasn’t alone.

My anxiety, however, was not helped by the notion that it would take one single lightning strike by the enemy to not only incapacitate the entire senior command of the Royal Guard’s Army Group Centre but also completely decapitate the leadership of the Equestrian state and thus leave Cadence as supreme overlord of the country. Needless to say, I am eternally thankful that the Changelings did not even attempt such an audacious plan; if my cousin Cadence, as friendly and gentle as she is, was to become sole ruling monarch of Equestria I’m not certain I would have wanted to survive the attack to see what kind of unremitting horror would ensue as a result of Cadence’s reign.

Whatever effect Celestia was trying to go for was instantly ruined by Spike.

“But I didn’t do anything this time!” he blurted out impetuously. The baby dragon sat on the table, legs dangling over the edge and his little face was smeared with brightly-coloured cake frosting. He looked around with a blank and slightly confused expression on his face, while the ponies around him reacted with the same sort of silent shock and incredulity.

I caught a fleeting glimpse of a smile on Celestia’s face before her scowl returned, as if a mask had slipped from her face to allow us a glimpse of the true pony behind it before being hastily reapplied again. She recovered quickly, in stark contrast to her younger sister who rolled her eyes and buried her head in her forelegs in embarrassment.

The wad of papers dropped, making an audible ‘thump’ noise that rapidly restored order by cutting through the general background noise of ponies coughing, breathing, and quietly whispering around me. I heard Spike yelp at the noise, but thankfully there were no further outbursts from him; Twilight Sparkle had instructed him to start jotting down minutes of the meeting on paper to be recorded for posterity. [The minutes are, of course, kept in the Royal Guard Archive. It is not necessary to read them, as Blueblood’s description of this meeting is actually more accurate than Spike’s, which is mostly made up of how delicious the treats were.]

“Over three hundred of my little ponies were killed as a result of your collective incompetence,” she said with no small amount of venom in her voice. [This is the early estimated death toll of the battle, which was later revised to four hundred and thirty-seven.] Her hoof, clad in a golden horseshoe that scintillated in the bright sunlight streaming through the cracked and broken windows, tapped on the pile of papers before her. “Explain.”

Nopony did.

Not that I could blame them; nopony wanted to be subjected to the torrent of verbal castigation in front of all of their friends, rivals, and peers, however justified I knew it would be. A couple of the braver ponies, or more cowardly depending on how one looks at it, tried to make a break for it through the doors, only to find their passage blocked by the two fearsome pegasus soldiers standing guard over it. No amount of ranting and raving, pulling rank and threatening all manner of unpleasant but still legally sanctioned punishments, would dissuade them from their sacred duties as the Princess’s personal guard. [To elaborate on this point, the personal bodyguards of my sister and I are drawn from the Royal Guard regiments, during this time they are considered to be outside the usual Royal Guard rank structure and take orders only from members of the Royal Family.] I had already checked out the possible escape routes beforehoof, and discounted that one for the aforementioned reason. The only alternatives were the windows, which were much too high for me to climb out of and the shattered panes still contained broken shards of glass for anypony stupid enough to attempt it to impale themselves upon, or to somehow burrow my way through the old wooden panels into the cellar.

“Come now,” she said, tapping her golden hoof on the table before her impatiently, “I want to hear your excuses.”

“Acceptable losses,” said Field Marshal Iron Hoof, a twinge of anxiety inflecting in his normally expressionless monotone. Despite being taller than most ponies in the room I still had to rear up slightly on my hind legs to catch a glimpse of the khaki-coloured pony in the corner of the room. His facial expression was the blank rictus of a well-practiced poker face, at least what little of it could be seen past the peaked cap pulled so low as to cast his eyes in shadow and the enormous bushy moustache like two small, furry voles had taken up residence on his upper lip, which began to twitch nervously.

Celestia turned her head slowly, her ethereal mane wafting gently on the invisible and intangible solar winds as she did so. She arched an eyebrow imperiously and tilted her head back slightly to look down her long muzzle at the Field Marshal in a slow and deliberate piece of theatre. That was what all of this was, thought I, as I observed the normally stoic and emotionless Iron Hoof, supreme commander of the Royal Guard, very gradually begin to lose his nerve and break down.

With a gentle wave of her golden hoof Celestia summoned a soldier-servant from their hiding places in the dark corners of the room. A nervous mare, probably in her mid-teens and therefore only doing this as a means of fast-tracking her way to earning a commission on recommendation from the Field Marshal, trotted on over. She tripped occasionally on the rough and pitted floor as she approached, before bowing low and graciously before the Diarchs.

“Would you be a dear and fetch a fresh pot of tea for my sister and I, please?”

The maid mumbled a response, and then scampered off through a set of doors I presumed led to the kitchen area. As I watched, I yearned for Celestia to just get on with this ridiculous and uncomfortable posturing.

“Now,” she said, finally deigning to continue, “what did you just say?”

“I-it’s a matter of ratios,” Iron Hoof stammered, speaking more to the floor between his forelegs than to the Princesses. “In order to maintain parity with the Changelings our stallions have to kill ten drones for every guardspony we lose. Our best estimates for the Battle of Black Venom Pass indicate that we have achieved—”

“Ratios?” Celestia arched an eyebrow imperiously as she interrupted the stallion. The soldier-servant returned with her teeth clamped around a tray. Upon this tray were a teapot and two dainty cups as requested, all made of fine porcelain with a delicate pink and sky blue flower motif. Steam rose from the teapot’s spout, which had been cunningly crafted to resemble a dragon’s head and neck so that, when poured, it would look like the dragon is vomiting tea. I personally thought it was rather hideous, but it seemed that the Field Marshal liked it; evidently whatever skills Faust had bestowed upon him to make up for his singular lack of imagination and poor social skills, sartorial elegance was not one of them.

The maid placed the tray on the table in front of the Princesses, avoiding the small pile of papers. She was dismissed, much to her obvious relief, with a quiet ‘thank you’. Celestia set about pouring the amber-brown liquid into the cups provided, and as she did so, she continued speaking.

“This is war, not accountancy; the lives of my little ponies are precious to me, and they are not resources to be wasted. I will not allow you to drag Equestria into a war of attrition that we cannot possibly hope to win.”

“Ma’am, with all due respect,” he continued, using that all too familiar phrase all soldiers use with their commanding officers to mean ‘with absolutely no respect’, “You cannot afford to be so weak-hearted and naive. No amount of skill on my part or any of the officers, nor the quality of our equipment and the training of the guardsponies, will enable victory without the sacrifice of ponies’ lives. You and the nation must learn to bear such loses if we are to win this war.”

Princess Celestia quietly sipped her tea, which in the ensuing silence that followed the Field Marshal’s short monologue seemed eerily loud and awkward; as if she were deliberately slurping in that same uncouth manner most uneducated ponies do when presented with a cup of tea. Naturally, Celestia is utterly incapable of performing any act without a supreme sense of decorum and grace (except when she thinks she is alone with a very large cake); having pretty much invented the concept of etiquette in the first place, so I simply put the ill-mannered noise down to my own heightened nervousness.

So when Princess Luna finally spoke up, it was quite a shock to us all.

“You dare?” she hissed, her voice felt rather than heard, as if it came from within my own head and scratched at the walls of my sanity.

The Night Mare rose and planted her forehooves on the table, her steel sabatons gouging two great U-shaped grooves into the antique wood. Her eyes flickered with unearthly light, like the baleful glow of the full moon on a cloudless night, as she swept her predatory gaze over the assembled mass of ponies before her. Knowing what was coming next I crouched down and put my hooves in my ears as a necessary precaution, and gently nudged Fine Vintage and indicated that he should do the same. The austere and proper officer looked as if I had just recently gone insane before he finally worked out my meaning and followed suit.

“YOU DARE PRESUME TO LECTURE US ABOUT WAR?”

The Royal Canterlot Voice blasted through the hall, the sheer concussive force of her voice made the rickety old beams and wooden walls of the ramshackle structure shudder and quiver in a way that I felt was not conducive to the immediate survival of everypony in the room. I believe it is only by Faust’s own divine intervention that saved us, and certainly not the architectural skills of the inbred country folk who built this thing, for whom health and safety guidelines in the construction industry are, at best, to be taken as a polite suggestion.

My cap was blown off my head and my mane, which for the first time in a fortnight was coiffed and styled into something approaching ‘smart’, was now completely and utterly ruined. I felt something lukewarm splatter onto my face, and tentatively peeking up to see what it was I was at first shocked at what initially looked like blood hit me, but on closer inspection it was revealed that Fine Vintage’s wineglass had been shattered by the force of Luna’s voice and sprayed its contents over us [This is unlikely, as sheer volume alone is not enough to make glass shatter. It is more likely that Fine Vintage accidently crushed the glass with his own magic]. Thankfully, he regained enough of his concentration to catch the shards of glass before they shredded my face into ribbons.

Princess Luna was apoplectic. Her body shook with barely controlled rage, ears angled forward aggressively, and her wings spread to their fullest span, as if she was struggling to keep herself from leaping over the table and tearing everypony apart in the room with her bare hooves. To this day I am not certain whether it was simply a trick of the mind or whether it was actually happening, but it seemed as if all of the light and colour in the room was being drained away from it.

Her face twisted into a snarl of pure, unadulterated anger as she swung her hoof forth in the Field Marshal’s direction, who, to my eternal surprise, stood stoically before the nightmarish vision before him with only the faint quivering of his upper lip to betray any fear he might have been feeling. She sucked in a deep breath, and as her lungs filled with air the armour plates strapped across her barrel and chest clanged together like an oversized wind chime in a hurricane.

I pre-emptively put my hooves in my ears once more, though I feared it would not provide adequate protection from the full force of the Royal Canterlot Voice. While it would be rather unfair to blame the tinnitus that would come to affect me later in life solely on Princess Luna, standing close by to a cannon going off one too many times probably having more to do with it, I still can’t help but wonder if she didn’t inflict the Royal Canterlot Voice on me quite as much in the early part of my career I would not have to contend with this irritating and nigh-constant ringing in my ears.

When the expected aural assault did not come I felt rather foolish for having ducked and plugged my ears as if taking cover from an artillery strike, but that feeling soon passed when I realised that practically everypony was doing much the same thing. Cannon Fodder was the exception, as usual, and trotted up to me with an unusual expression on his face that I could only describe as ‘dull surprise’. In his mouth was my cap, which he had evidently retrieved shortly after it had been blown halfway across the room.

The only other ponies who weren’t cowering, hiding, or making some sort of obeisance in a vain attempt to placate her, were Twilight Sparkle, Cannon Fodder — who looked decidedly unimpressed with Luna's display — and Princess Celestia. The latter touched her armoured hoof to Luna’s foreleg, rubbing the dark velvety fur reassuringly while looking up with a sympathetic yet somehow firm expression, while the former simply trotted up to Luna’s side with the same sort of suicidal determination normally reserved for insane stunt pilots.

“Princess,” she whispered, though the distinct lack of excess noise around us made her quiet voice seem rather loud and clear, “Remember what we taught you — use your inside voice when addressing your subjects!”

Luna gave an abrupt ‘harrumph’ of contempt before sitting down, idly brushing off her elder sister’s hoof as she did so and shooting an uncompromisingly harsh glare at Twilight that seemed to say ‘that’s it, you’re now on the list’. We all watched anxiously as the dark alicorn sucked in a deep breath and closed her eyes, as if trying out one of those fatuous New Age methods to calm one down and eliminate negative thoughts. The assembled ponies slowly drifted, as if by natural magnetism, towards the far end of the room closer to the only obvious exit. Those unfortunate enough to be too close to the Princesses instead gravitated towards Celestia, with the exception of most of the Night Guard officers, as if the Princess of the Sun would protect them from the wrath of the Princess of the Night.

It seemed like a game of good cop/bad cop, or to be more accurate, ‘good princess/psychopathic bitch-queen princess’. The damnable thing was that this cheap little trick, normally reserved for small-time police officers who have seen far too many cop films to use on juvenile petty criminals, seemed to be working wonders on the experienced veteran officers around me. Indeed, I recall that same technique used on me by two novice members of the Gryphon secret police who were so comically inept at it they ended up incriminating themselves [Blueblood’s involvement in the Gryphonburg Conspiracy, while fascinating, need not trouble us here]. In allowing Princess Luna to, well, be herself in this meeting, the officers would automatically look to Princess Celestia for protection and comfort, thus making them all the more malleable to manipulation. I supposed its success here was down to the rather unique place Princess Celestia holds in the minds of just about every pony in Equestria, such that the very idea of doing anything to make her even the slightest bit upset is so utterly repellent that most of us tend to bend over backwards just to try and please her. [Blueblood is mostly accurate in his summation. However, make no mistake, I do this because needs must and not because I enjoy it; sometimes my little ponies need a quiet nudge in the right direction.] At any rate, despite my misgivings about her technique, which I found to be as transparent as it was tasteless, but then again a lifetime of dissembling and arse-covering allows me to spot when another pony is doing it just as easily, I could not doubt its effectiveness.

“How can so many of you have forgotten your history?” said Luna, her voice thankfully back to what could be considered safe for everypony’s hearing, though it had lost none of its power for it. “Equestria was forged upon the anvil of war, its foundations are the bodies of the fallen, their blood its mortar that binds it together, and it was the Royal Pony Sisters who led our forces into battle. For over one thousand years since the Three Founders of Equestria, Princess Platinum, Commander Hurricane, and Chancellor Puddinghead, raised the flag on what would later be known as Canterlot to my banishment for my crimes in the Nightmare Heresy, Equestria has known only constant and unrelenting warfare for its survival. Equestria has only endured those dark times through the courage and sacrifice of the Royal Guard, whose exalted members my sister and I were honoured to stand and fight shoulder to shoulder with.

“What would they say if they could see you all now? They who held the line at Ghastly Gorge, who stormed the sheer cliffs of Vanhoover, who were forced to fight against me, their very own Princess whom they loved and adored, when I fell to the Nightmare? What would they think to see that the peace for which they had martyred themselves for would breed officers and leaders of such incompetence? They would be ashamed of you!”

She paused for dramatic effect, casting her stern and chilling gaze over the mass of assembled ponies before her, most of whom cowered and looked away rather than meet her eyes. Naturally, I did not want to be seen as anything less than the absolute pinnacle of stallionhood and pride, despite my stomach twisting itself into all manner of interesting and intriguing shapes that would keep a geometry teacher entertained for many hours, so I pretended to be busy with Cannon Fodder and my hat. He left some residual drool, cake crumbs, and some icing on the visor where he had been holding it with his mouth.

Naturally, most of us expected Princess Luna to unleash the Royal Canterlot Voice upon us once more and just destroy everypony’s sense of hearing in one fell swoop. Indeed, a few of the ponies took to sheltering under the large table with their hooves on their ears as if taking cover. I attempted to look as nonchalant as possible as I wiped the mess from my cap, and it seemed that a few of the ponies nearby, including Captain Fine Vintage attempted to copy my example.

So when she spoke again after that long pause in a soft, quiet voice, barely louder than a whisper, we were all quite surprised.

“War is about willpower, Field Marshal, not about balancing casualty lists; the numbers that are dead is no indication of triumph or failure. Defeat is merely the destruction of the ponies’ determination to continue fighting, and nothing will do more to erode the willpower of the Equestrian ponies to prosecute this war than the wastage of lives for very little gain. If ponies are to die in this war, then you are to ensure that their lives are spent for meaningful goals, not thrown away for hopeless endeavours mired by the incompetence of the officer class. Is that clear, Field Marshal?”

Defeated, Iron Hoof bowed his head in reticence and nodded his head, mumbling a very quiet, “Yes, Your Highness.”

“If we are to speak in the crass terms of pure mathematics,” said Celestia, idly munching on a sugar cube as she did so in a calculated, and rather transparent if you ask me, disarming move to ease the tension somewhat, “Then the numbers are against us, anyway. The Changelings can muster an army that numbers in millions, and while a Changeling drone is no match for a highly trained and dedicated guardspony, they can recuperate their losses far more quickly than us. A war of attrition with the Changelings is doomed to failure from the very start.”

“Y-yes, Your Highness, I understand.” Naturally he was lying right through his big bushy moustache, though nopony had any idea about that until years later when we became mired in trench warfare and forced to clear Changeling hives tunnel by bloody tunnel. I wonder now if the venerable old Field Marshal had picked up The Big Alphabet Book of Military Strategy during his time in the Academy and only got as far as reading ‘Chapter One: A is for Attrition’ before getting bored and picking up a Playmare magazine instead.

“General Crimson Arrow,” she said, turning her attention to the quiet and subdued General in the corner of the room who seemed to be doing his hardest to try and melt into the wooden walls behind him, “You, above all others, bear the greatest responsibility for this. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“I did my duty,” he said flatly, his normally jovial and friendly tone of voice now emotionless and devoid of inflection. He also sounded raspy, as if dehydrated, and much quieter than usual, such that I had to strain even in the tense silence in order to hear him clearly.

“Of course you did,” said Celestia dryly, her voice veritably dripping with barely concealed sarcasm. “But it was your intransigence that very nearly spelt disaster for the Royal Guard. Were it not for the intervention of my nephew, Prince Blueblood, the entire 3rd Regiment of the Solar Guard may have been utterly destroyed and the fortress of Maredun overrun.”

I noticed that everypony was suddenly looking at me, expecting me to say something. I realised this rather belatedly, I admit, so fixated was I in cleaning my cap and placing it on my head. Fortunately for me, eyewitnesses tend to recall my austere and princely bearing more than me not paying enough attention to what was going on around me.

“I merely did what was required of me,” I said, once again indulging in that false modesty that ponies seem to think befits a great hero. “The praise belongs to the brave stallions and mares who fought so well in the Pass.”

It was a clichéd line certainly, and far too reminiscent of the rather corny slogans that adorn the many propaganda posters that blighted Equestria’s streets, but sadly it was the best I could come up with on such short notice. It worked, however, judging by the rumble of polite applause and general murmurs of affirmation that rippled through the ponies around me.

Auntie Luna’s response was rather more interesting; her eyes were wide and her jaw hanging wider and flapping uselessly, giving the rather startling impression of a hungry guppy fish at feeding time. She rapidly regained her composure, and as the noise of the crowd around me started to die down I could hear her whisper to Celestia in Old Equestrian, the ancient language of the Goddesses, “Who is this stallion and what has he done with our syphilitic, waste-of-space nephew?”

I ignored the comment, mostly, though I confess to feeling some small measure of pride at the fact that, despite the rather vulgar insult which the good Princess probably should have kept to herself, given that most of the officers present here probably had a classical education and therefore reasonably fluent in Old Equestrian, she had finally acknowledged the fact that we are related by blood. Princess Celestia too ignored Luna’s comment, and instead fixed me with a rather intense glare as she took one more sip of her tea. Her expression was rather quizzical, with an eyebrow arched imperiously, and I feared that she looked past the unwanted facade of the noble hero I was now struggling to maintain and saw the truth. If she did, I could at least count on the fact that my dear Auntie would not be so vindictive to ‘out me’ in front of everypony. [I found Blueblood’s unexpected reputation for heroics to be rather useful in later endeavours, much to his evident irritation, which will be described in detail in later entries of this manuscript.]

Celestia poured herself a second cup of tea from the pot. “I think it might be best if we start from the beginning,” she said, in the rather condescending manner of a schoolteacher trying to get a class of particularly slow foals to understand. “Can any of you tell me why Canterlot fell in a mere ten minutes?”

Stony silence ensued once more, save for Twilight Sparkle who thrust her hoof high in the air and jumped up and down on the spot, making some rather foalish noises unbecoming of the Princess’s personal student. There was a broad, manic grin to her face, and her eyes sparkled with the need to educate and lecture ponies around her, sparking barely-suppressed memories buried in my psyche of our shared classes in Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, where her ten minute presentations on magical theory tended to last several days. [Despite being two years older than Twilight Sparkle, Blueblood did indeed share classes with Twilight Sparkle. Blueblood had to be kept back a year after poor test scores, and Twilight was allowed to enter the school one year early.]

Despite silently willing for somepony else to answer and thus spare us from being subjected to a lecture that would outlast the entire war itself in terms of its length, everypony around me remained utterly silent. Instead, rather cowardly I might add (though it’s what I would have done in their position), they took relief in the fact that they would escape the intensely awkward and psychologically scarring inquisition from the two Royal Pony Sisters, which they had just witnessed being inflicted upon Field Marshal Iron Hoof moments before.

The serene Princess of the Sun let out a sigh of exasperation, clearly feeling much the same as I did, before she reluctantly waved a hoof and said, “Very well, Twilight Sparkle.”

“And do try to keep this one under five minutes this time,” said Luna dismissively.

Luna’s warning did nothing to dampen Twilight Sparkle’s newfound enthusiasm, for the normally rather shy mare had beamed brightly at the opportunity to bore us all with her vast knowledge and thus prove herself worthy of being Auntie Celestia’s personal lapdog. She cantered up, almost skipping, between the two Princesses and cleared her throat.

“The exact reasons behind the Fall of Canterlot are many and varied,” she began; her voice became clipped and rather formal as she delivered the lecture. I instantly wished that I had acquired several glasses of wine before they were all taken away, for I had no desire to endure a Twilecture sober. “The primary reason, however, directly involves the Captain of the Guard, Shining Armour, and how his command of the defence of Canterlot was severely compromised from within.”

“Yeesh, Twiley,” said Shining Armour, blushing slightly and looking uncharacteristically awkward, an expression I took no small measure of enjoyment out of. “You’re making me look bad in front of everypony.”

“He’s quite capable of doing that by himself,” I whispered dryly to Fine Vintage, who chuckled quietly at the little joke. Fortunately, nopony around me seemed to have heard that, or at least they chose to ignore it.

“Don’t worry, BBBFF, I’m going somewhere with this.” She smiled sweetly at her highly embarrassed older brother, before turning her attention back upon her thankfully rather brief lecture, “Shining Armour was the weak link in the Royal Guard’s command structure, though not of his own will. Firstly, the War Ministry had very little intelligence about the exact nature of the threat against Canterlot, and so prepared for a long and protracted siege against ‘conventional’ forces. The timing of the threat was nearly perfect; coinciding with the much-anticipated wedding between Shining Armour and Princess Cadence, so the Royal Guard found itself torn between its primary duty of maintaining the defence of the city and providing additional security for the wedding.

“Secondly, with everypony’s attention focused on the wedding and on the threat from without, nopony could have foreseen Queen Chrysalis’ infiltration of the city and her foalnapping of Princess Cadence. With the leader of the Changeling invasion force intimately close to the commander of Canterlot’s defences, she had full and unrestricted access to every single facet of the Royal Guard's defence plans. As Shining Armour’s willpower was sapped by Chrysalis’ increasingly powerful psychic domination he became ever more suggestible to her poisonous influences. The defences, already severely compromised by the enemy’s knowledge of them, were further damaged as Chrysalis influenced several crucial command decisions — the decision to move the bulk of the Royal Guard contingent out into the Canterlot Province hinterlands being the most strategically important. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the Royal Guard remnants in the city were overwhelmed so quickly.”

[Again, even with Blueblood’s remarkably precise long-term memory, he is only mostly accurate in replicating Twilight Sparkle’s lecture. Unfortunately, this remains the most complete transcript of this lecture, as Spike was incapacitated by a debilitating stomach ache halfway through the speech.]

Celestia slurped her tea once more. “Do you now see? My little ponies, the Fall of Canterlot had proved that the Changelings are a dangerous enemy who will employ the use of great cunning and subterfuge to achieve victory. You believed that this war will be easy; that you will win a few great battles and it will all be over and then you can return home and bathe in the glory of victory. You have underestimated your enemy and you have failed to learn from past mistakes, and in doing so you have committed the two greatest sins possible in warfare.”

Princess Celestia placed her now-empty cup back on its saucer with a hollow ‘clink’ of porcelain on fine porcelain. “We are not in a surplus of officers,” she said, dabbing at her mouth delicately with a small white napkin, “and if it were not for that fact, we would have cashiered most of you instantly and have you replaced with ponies of greater competence and intelligence than you. As it happens, we are willing to give you a second and final chance, which is why we have set up a Royal Commission headed by my personal student, Twilight Sparkle, with aims toward wholesale reform of the Royal Guard.”

A murmur of dissent rippled through the ponies surrounding me, though it never really developed more than a few hushed whispers complaining about civilian interference in military matters, and that it was patently ridiculous that they should be subjected to the scrutiny of a silly little mare who did not even come from a good family even if she was Celestia’s prized pupil and her brother was Captain of the Royal Guard. I did sympathise with them, but that little voice was rapidly silenced by the altogether more rational notion that the Royal Guard was certainly in need of reform if I was to avoid being martyred.

Celestia held up a hoof and the bickering died down. “The Royal Guard must change if we are to achieve final victory over the forces of Queen Chrysalis. Each of you now faces a choice; you can either embrace this change, or instead foolishly cling to your outdated and parochial ideals, and thus condemn yourselves to stagnation and finally defeat.”

“Furthermore,” said Princess Luna, “In light of Commissar-Prince Blueblood’s success with the 1st Night Guards, and the staggering incompetence we have seen from the rest of you, we shall be introducing commissars across the Royal Guard at a regimental level and in the General Staff very soon. They will be our divine will incarnate; they will inflame the weak, guide the lost, and advise you in all command decisions. They will be utterly without mercy to punish officers who are incompetent or cowardly; for it is your actions that will mean life and death for the ponies under your command. If you perform your duties with the valour and dedication expected of officers of the Royal Guard then you have nothing to fear from them, if you do not...”

She left the remainder of that threat unspoken, but judging by the fleeting and worried glances in my direction nopony was having any difficulty in imagining what sort of heinous and medieval punishments I might have in store for them should I or my future colleagues find them unsuitable for command. The ignominious end of Captain Clear Heavens’ career and the temporary removal of Crimson Arrow from command had conclusively proved to everypony, myself included, that I was prepared to use the power and authority unwillingly bestowed upon me. Though only I knew, and perhaps Auntie Celestia, just how reluctantly.

“I’m afraid we’re going to have to cut this tea party short,” said Celestia, rising to her hooves and placing her soiled napkin back on the table with the empty teacup, “my sister and I must be in Appleloosa before sundown. Thank you all for your kind hospitality, I pray that our next visit will be under happier circumstances.”

The two alicorns moved to leave, with Twilight Sparkle tagging along behind them like a stray cat following a potential new owner home, and Spike draped across her back and groaning in pain as his bulging stomach inflicted painful retribution on him for his wanton indulgence in diverse, saccharine confections. The crowd of ponies parted to allow them to leave like oil through water, and the doors slammed shut behind them with a tense and resonant finality.

Author's Note:

Well, this one was probably the most difficult chapter to right so far, which is why it's rather late. Hope you all like it anyway.

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