• 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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Honour and Blood (Part 1)

Honour and Blood

Prince Blueblood and the Royal Colours of Commander Hurricane

Part One

The following entry in what has been named 'the Blueblood Manuscript' by our close circle of readers, chroniclers, and those who appear to be reading these writings for the purposes of light entertainment instead of actual serious scholarly work takes place roughly a year after the previous instalment. One can only assume that Prince Blueblood believed that very little of interest happened between the successful capture of Fort E-5150, which ensured Equestrian control over the strategically important Black Venom Pass, and what would later be known as the Twisting Ravine Incident. While his own life had for a time known a short period of the sort of relative stability and dull tedium that he had always craved, it would be incorrect to imply through lack of further embellishment that just because my nephew believed that nothing particularly noteworthy happened to him that the intervening period was uneventful.

Though I seek to keep these editions of the manuscript as true to Blueblood's original text as possible, his tendency to both only describe events that concerned himself, and to assume that the reader, if he intended this document to be read by others, is already knowledgeable about the historical context in which these events occurred invariably means that any peripheral knowledge, however useful, is either glossed over or ignored entirely. Therefore, I will continue to insert these explanatory notes into the following texts, as, despite feedback from various readers, I feel this is the best and most unobtrusive way I can make up for Blueblood's deficiencies as a chronicler.

I have thus prefaced the following chapter with an extract from Paperweight's 'A Concise History of the Changeling Wars’, to provide the reader with the much-needed historical context behind Blueblood's narration. Once again, those looking for a more detailed account of the intervening year between this entry and the previous are encouraged to look through chapters four hundred and eight to nine hundred and eighty-six of 'Blood in the Badlands: Volume One' by my Most Faithful Student Twilight Sparkle, provided that one has the free time to do so.

- H. R. H. Celestia


Extract from Paperweight's 'A Concise History of the Changeling Wars'.

[The following extract provides a condensed description of both the events described in Blueblood's previous entry and its immediate aftermath, though it neglects to mention the suspected treachery of Lieutenant Scarlet Letter. It is thought that Paperweight's editors did not wish to risk a political backlash and excised any mention of Scarlet Letter.]

The Battle of Black Venom Pass set the tone of the first stages of the war - inconclusive, muddled, and only just dragged back from the very brink of disaster by the tenacity and discipline of the humble Guardspony and by the heroism exhibited by Commissar-Prince Blueblood. The Siege of Fort E-5150 that followed just a month after had proceeded in very much the same way. Operation: Equestrian Dawn (often viewed by many historians that it was merely a continuation of Operation: Enduring Harmony, and that the new name was merely a transparent attempt by the disgraced General Crimson Arrow to boost morale by offering a 'fresh start') had likewise been marred by the general staff's continued assumptions of the predictability of Changeling strategy.

The new offensive, the second and last of the first year of the war, aimed to capture the entirety of Black Venom Pass and destroy the Changeling Army in a single battle of annihilation. This was to be achieved by an audacious pincer movement. A battalion sent through territory previously thought to be impassable by a large army to capture a ruined fortress and use it as a base from which to outflank the enemy. Although the Royal Guard had only achieved the first of its two main objectives, in hindsight it is obvious that the second objective of the complete encirclement and destruction of the horde was little more than wishful thinking on Crimson Arrow's part.

It would be unfair to place the blame for this near failure entirely on Crimson Arrow, as contemporary documents, minutes, and diagrams indicate that the operation was as robustly planned as it could have been given the state of the Royal Guard's general staff at the time. Neither he nor his advisors could have predicted Princess Luna's deception, and they certainly could not have foreseen that despite tighter vigilance against Changeling infiltration the security of the operation was still compromised by deep-cover spies. However, the offensive is justly considered to be a success, and was certainly welcomed as such by the Equestrian public.

The plan itself was devised almost entirely by Crimson Arrow himself with Field Marshal Iron Hoof's grudging approval, and unlike the previous operation it exhibited a rare flare of talent from the general. It was bold, and unlike his previous command he showed an ability to react to unforeseen enemy action with competence, if not with alacrity. The shape of his career if he had been allowed to remain commander of Army Group Centre has been the subject of much debate among historians and military analysts, with the hypothesis that the relative success of this operation showed that Crimson Arrow was capable of learning from his mistakes and that with time he may have become a competent general, if not a great one, continuing to be quite popular among revisionists. Such debate is beyond the scope of this book, however.

The ramifications of the battle were profound for Equestria, as the involvement of the Royal Pony Sisters led to the most severe constitutional crisis in our history since the Reconstruction Era. Princess Luna, by hiding herself among the soldiers of the 1st Regiment of the Night Guards, forced Princess Celestia to disobey the Parliamentary edict barring alicorn princesses from personally leading ponies-in-arms in battle. Though her timely arrival certainly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, it was feared by the more progressive members of Parliament that it signalled a return to arbitrary rule by the Princesses and to the destruction that characterised the Nightmare Heresy. The ensuing debate over the validity of the one thousand year-old edict dominated the halls of Parliament for months, and this distraction was one that Equestria could not afford.

With the debate raging and the re-appearance of the Crystal Empire to the north, the Changeling War took a back seat to these new issues. The reinforcements needed to continue the war were diverted north and to the overseas colonies, and the replacement of General Crimson Arrow with the inexperienced General Spring Blossoms and the subsequent adjustment period that must inevitably follow the reassignment of a general officer delayed any further exploitation of the victory at Fort E-5150 until it was far too late.

These factors, coupled with growing antipathy towards the war from Equestrian subjects when the promised victory failed to materialise in time, led to a change in overall strategic direction of the war from the total destruction of the Changeling threat to its mere containment. It was believed by Field Marshall Iron Hoof and by the War Ministry that as the Royal Guard had effectively completed its total envelopment of the Changeling-held Badlands it was now possible to stop all enemy infiltration of Equestrian society. The theory went that the growing Changeling population would then be starved of the love required to sustain them, which would either force their surrender or sufficiently weaken them to the point where their resistance would crumble.

For over a year the Royal Guard did not mount any further large offensives into the Badlands, though patrols and raids were common along the Eastern Front where the frontline was more fluid. What was originally intended to be a quick, decisive war of extermination that would be over in time for Hearth's Warming turned into a long and brutal slog of attrition.

--

I have many regrets over my long and distinguished career, the main one simply having this career in the first place, but one that stands out as I look back on the past few decades has to be not killing that insufferable oaf Scarlet Letter when I had the chance to. A typical war adventure story would have likely resulted in the Lieutenant being found guilty in a court martial, and, depending upon the author and what message he was trying to convey, the cowardly traitor would either be hanged and his body burned, as per military tradition, or be made to see the errors of his ways and repent. Reality, however, tends not to be quite so neat. Though the War Ministry is a slow and ponderous bureaucracy upon which the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers depend, word of Scarlet Letter's arrest and his scheduled court martial had reached his brother the Secretary of State for War, and, with the sort of speed that everypony wishes that this convoluted organisation truly possessed while processing requests for leave or transfers into the reserves, I received a letter informing us that the defendant was to be taken back to Canterlot for an internal inquiry and that all commissarial investigations into the matter were to cease. All of this happened before I had even the chance to complete the necessary paperwork to convene the court martial.

Needless to say I was furious, by which I mean I kept my anger suppressed while I maintained an outward air of quiet, aristocratic indignation. I am well aware of the fact that my outrage that this cowardly wretch had managed to get away with his actions almost entirely without consequence paints me as a hypocrite, so there's no need for anypony to point that out. Besides, I have been called far worse by better ponies than you, dear reader. And so it was with the signing of a piece of paper and the application of a wax seal that Scarlet Letter was spirited away from the hangpony's noose and on the next train back to Canterlot, and, more importantly, out of the reach of the Commissariat before I had the chance to take matters in my own bloodied hooves. Though my esteemed colleagues including the Lord-Commissar General himself [at the time this was Gale Force] made the necessary complaints to the very organisation that they were supposed to be overseeing, the ensuing legal arguments and political posturing only made it easier for the slimy Lieutenant to wriggle free of the righteous hooves of the Commissariat until he was completely untouchable, and all further attempts were simply blocked by yet more political wrangling that we could ill-afford.

[The War Ministry is responsible for implementing the defence policy set by our government and thusly oversees the Royal Guard's management and administrative affairs under the Secretary of State for War, but as a ministerial department of the state it is not considered part of the Royal Guard and is therefore beyond the oversight of the Royal Commissariat. The idea behind this arrangement was to curtail the power of the Commissariat, as it was felt that a paramilitary organisation with such power over a civilian arm of a democratically elected government (democratic for this era, I might add) was dangerous.]

Still, this was not something that I wished to dwell upon, though I often entertained the notion of storming into the House of Commons and ramming the rather heavy ceremonial mace kept in that chamber for some reason lengthwise up a certain orifice of Scarlet Letter's person that even the most depraved daemons of Tartarus would dare not touch with a ten foot bargepole, and then claim that he had somehow sat on it very, very hard. In the days and weeks following our apparent victory I was not in want of things to distract me from Scarlet Letter's latest and hopefully final insult; as the frontline moved about a mile or so from just north of Black Venom Pass to just south of it, it of course generated no small amount of paperwork for me, or rather Cannon Fodder, to do. The Dodge Junction encampment followed the advancing frontline, and with it the usual groups of camp followers and hangers-on who do their utmost to ensure that a soldier's life outside of duty is as comfortable as possible, while turning a healthy profit as an added bonus, helped to provide further distraction from the misery of war with their usual carte du jour of debauchery and gambling with younger officers who have yet to understand the value of money.

My life, such as it was, thus settled into another one of those all-too-brief periods of relative stability, albeit a rather tedious one, in which for once my life was not in constant danger from medal-hungry officers and incompetent generals, all of whom appeared to think that just because I had coincidentally been in the same general location as somepony else saving the day that I was somehow responsible, and that I perhaps wouldn't mind doing it again and again. My work, when I deigned to actually do some of it, was dominated by dealing with the various disciplinary issues that inevitably arise when large groups of young soldiers are not kept busy with important work. After all, there are only so many times you can send them out on uneventful patrols or march them around the square before it just becomes boring and they start looking elsewhere. They were therefore forced to alleviate their boredom as all colts and fillies do in their late teens and early twenties by descending upon Dodge Junction and drinking super-equine amounts of cheap, tasteless beer.

Small crowds of drunk and disorderly soldiers could be handled by the local militia and the provosts, so it was a very rare occasion that I was required to intervene directly in an incident. For the most part my role simply lay with deciding the fate of the guilty parties, as though the night in the cell, the pounding hangovers, and the acute embarrassment were not enough. In accordance with the established wisdom on the subject the majority were sentenced to additional latrine duty; 'Don't get shit-faced or you'll be face-deep in shit' as Company Sergeant Major Square Basher had so eloquently put it.

For the first time since I had donned the macabre uniform of the commissar my life became comfortable, or as comfortable as one can reasonably expect living so close to enemy territory that I could probably hit a passing drone by carelessly opening a champagne bottle. All of that, however, was bound to change rapidly. I knew it was coming, as the condemned prisoner led to the gallows appreciates the last few moments of life before the terminal, fatal drop; it was only a matter of when and in what manner our glorious leaders would tire of our utter lack of progress and once more hurl the youth of Equestria, myself included, at the unnumbered Changeling hordes and hope that enough of us survived for them to try again later.

The first clue should have been when I was notified that a small detachment of the Wonderbolts would join us. At first I merely assumed that they were only visiting to put on a show for the troops, as if flashy stunts, obnoxious music, and pretty colours would somehow improve the creeping sense of malaise seeping through the bored ranks. However, I recall feeling equal parts bewildered and terrified when Cannon Fodder succinctly reduced the contents of a twenty page memo plus helpful diagrams from the War Ministry into a single sentence: the Wonderbolts will join Army Group Centre, and that I was to act as liaison between the real soldiers and the overpaid stunt flyers.

Things were starting to go downhill. To be fair though, things didn't start very high up on the metaphorical hill in the first place, so it was more like things were descending further through the earth's crust and into the depths of Tartarus.

At the very least I was not alone in my derision, which became readily apparent when the Wonderbolts themselves arrived on another stiflingly hot summer's day. It was mid-afternoon, probably the hottest part of the day when the soldiers were allowed a short break from marching around under Celestia's merciless sun. As I stared with growing impatience at the clear blue sky for any sign of pegasi, I became acutely aware of the fact that I was wearing thick wool dyed black and that I had left my water canteen in my office. There were a few false alarms, where my hopes that my misery would soon end were crushed when the little specks flitting about in the endless expanse above turned out to be just routine patrols.

The fortress had changed somewhat in the past year; in addition to mopping up all of the blood and corpses, the gaping holes in the walls, one of which was torn open on my orders, were repaired. Further improvements were made to the ancient fortifications, and here and there on the weathered stone walls one could discern the newer sandstone, reinforced with mortar and bolstered by more modern building techniques. Our meagre defences were further bolstered by a large ditch that served in lieu of a moat; it was my belief that it was dug purely to give the soldiers something reasonably productive to do, as it would be utterly useless against an enemy universally gifted with wings. Beyond the walls and deep within the tight, narrow confines of the Macintosh Hills lay the encampment within an hour's march over the rugged, broken terrain that I and three hundred other ponies had been forced to slog through. There, amidst the narrow clefts between steep hills, the bulk of Army Group Centre and its accompanying baggage train, families, merchants, and ponies of ill-repute lived as they had done in Dodge Junction mostly under the open sky or in small, squat tents.

I was joined by Cannon Fodder, who for some reason had elected to spend his rare off-duty period sweltering in this abysmal heat with me, rather than catching up with work or engaging in a certain favourite solo activity locked away in his quarters. For a moment I was touched by his willingness to give up his free time to provide me with some company, albeit silent and rather awkward, but then I remembered finding a rather suggestive Playcolt centrefold of Captain Spitfire, commander of the Wonderbolts, pinned on the wall next to his bunk and wondered if my erstwhile aide possessed ideas above his station. Even without the oppressive heat and choking humidity that caused him to sweat so much that a veritable puddle started to form around his hooves I doubted his chances, but judging by the growing dark patches under my armpits and across my chest and back even I would have struggled to impress her.

After a while, Cannon Fodder offered his water canteen to me, which, despite the dryness of my mouth and the distinctly unpleasant sort of headache that comes with slight dehydration, I respectfully declined on account of the thick layer of grime that lined its mouth. It looked like something that would greatly interest the Royal Guard's Biological Warfare Division.

[The controversial Biological Warfare Division was set up in the early stages of the war by Colonel Chlorine, who sought to find a quick way to end the war by spreading disease among the Changeling horde. The division was shut down and their work destroyed following protest from both Parliament, officers of the Royal Guard, and my sister and me, arguing that a quick victory was not worth the ecological damage to the region and, in Princess Luna’s words, was considered to be ‘damned unsporting’. That it existed at all remains a point of embarrassment for the War Ministry.]

The afternoon wore on with all of the urgency of a paraplegic tortoise. The off-duty soldiers who didn't fancy the long trek to the encampment or to Dodge Junction sprawled languidly in what little shade was provided by the stone walls. Most had sensibly shed their armour plates in favour of nudity or the ever popular cotton work shirt. Some napped, others simply stared silently into the middle distance, while one soldier described to a small group his problems with constipation and the potential efficacy of relieving his problem by ‘digging it out with a stick’. I felt slightly nauseated and did my best to ignore the enlightening conversation.

Fortunately, respite came in the form of Captain Blitzkrieg, which might have been one of the first and very few times that I was thankful to see him. I spotted the pegasus officer skulking towards me from the shadowed doorway of the tower to my left, clad in his dress uniform as many of the more prudent officers who wished to avoid dehydration and heat stroke but still wanted to look as presentable as one can in this sort of horrid climate had done. What was curious, however, was just how smart he looked wearing the midnight blue tunic. When he put the effort in, the normally vulgar, arrogant, and often downright hostile stallion cleaned up rather nicely; his tunic was clean and neatly ironed, and the white sash tied about his waist was pristine, seeming to glow as he emerged into the bright sunlight. His movements were completely silent, and he seemed to glide effortlessly from step to step with his head held low like a stalking cat. Every motion evoked that of a murderous predator, and I shuddered to think how many ponies had met their end unknowingly from one of the unseen stiletto blades that he kept concealed within his sleeves and if I would ever count myself among that number any time soon.

"You look thirsty," he said in greeting, apparently having noticed that I was staring at the water canteen attached to his belt with the same expression on my face that Cannon Fodder gets when he reads his specialist gentlecolt's interest literature.

I nodded dumbly. Blitzkrieg unhooked his canteen and tossed it to me with a deft movement of his hooves. I caught the flying bottle in my magical aura, and with the sort of desperation only seen by the truly thirsty I hastily unscrewed the lid and took a sip. It took a monumental effort not to gulp the whole contents down in one go, as the cool, refreshing water soothed my tongue, which was as a dry sheet of cardboard in my mouth. I drank a few small sips, not nearly enough but it still helped somewhat, and returned the canteen to its owner.

"Thank you."

"It's a nice day today," he said, grinning inanely as he re-attached his canteen, but not before surreptitiously wiping the lip with his sleeve.

I shrugged my shoulders, not wanting to indulge in that Trottinghamite pastime of discussing the weather; it is almost always unbearably hot and humid here with little variation on those themes, aside from the sporadic torrential thunderstorms every few months or so [To be more accurate, rain tends only to fall during a very short period in mid-winter. Historically, military campaigns waged in this region of the world seek to avoid fighting during this period; however, as described in Blueblood's previous entries, storms outside of this window are rare but not unheard of]. "You're looking smart," I said. "What's the occasion?"

"I wanted to meet the Wonder-bitches," he said, instantly ruining his rather admirable efforts to look the dashing and sophisticated gentlecolt-officer in his smart dress uniform with but one word. Judging by the smirk on his face he must have thought what he had just said was very funny. "Might as well try and look like a proper officer."

Though he might dress like a 'proper officer' he still had a very long way from behaving like one, thought I. "Your epaulettes are on back to front," I snapped in irritation, pointing at the offending articles on his shoulders.

Blitzkrieg looked at me with an odd, confused, and slightly hurt expression. Was that embarrassment colouring his pale, high cheeks perhaps? "What do you mean 'back to front'?" he said, his raspy, heavily-accented voice becoming a little quieter and meeker as he started fussing at his shoulder flashes.

Feeling a little sorry for having humiliated him like that in front of the troops, though they were paying very little attention to us and probably had absolutely no interest in two officers being exceedingly pedantic about uniforms, I padded on over closer to him and unbuttoned his epaulettes for him. He was a small stallion, as most pegasi tend to be; slight, thin, and without an ounce of extraneous body fat to weigh him down or otherwise impair his manoeuvrability and speed in the air. Yet despite standing about shoulder-height to me [Prince Blueblood was unusually tall for a unicorn, which was one manifestation of his very distant alicorn heritage] and looking as though I could probably snap him in half if I so wanted, there was an intangible aura of menace exuded by his almost feline manner. One did not need to read his extensive background files to know that this stallion had committed some dreadful crimes; one only needed to see the murderous glimmer in those cold, disturbingly draconic eyes to know.

"Your rank insignia," I explained as I removed the rank slips from his freed shoulder straps and arranged them in the correct way. "The three moons are supposed to face away from your neck, not towards your neck. Don't ask why. It's tradition, so we just do it. It's easier for the Solar Guard, I suppose; the sun doesn't have a direction."

"Alright, alright," he muttered. He then stared awkwardly at my chest as I fiddled with his epaulettes, but I supposed he didn’t particularly feel like straining his neck to look up at my face, until he tapped at the Order of the Crescent Moon medal fixed to my tunic. “What’s that for?”

“Bravery,” I said flatly, doing my utmost not to let any sense of irony colour my voice.

“Hm. Princess Luna gave you that?”

I nodded my head, and did my best to suppress the memory of that awful night, standing between the beaten Princess and the vengeful Queen of the Changelings and just how damned close we came to utter disaster. As for Captain Red Coat, I made a mental note to myself to visit him later and see how he was getting on; he had become even more sullen and withdrawn after losing his arm, and I felt a twinge of concern for the poor lad.

“When can I get one?” Blitzkrieg asked.

“When you do something brave, I expect.”

“I think eating brown stew is enough for a medal, but then everypony in the Royal Guard would get one, which would defeat the point, right?”

“Something like that. There, nearly finished!”

Blitzkrieg made a quiet, impressed noise and brushed at his shoulders in an odd effort to diffuse my magical aura trying to tidy up his epaulettes. "What did you call these things?"

"Epaulettes."

"Huh." Blitzkrieg regarded the three winged crescent moons, signifying his rank as a captain of the 1st Night Guards' pegasus company, as though he had never seen or given them much thought before. "'Ep-ah-lets'. That's Prench, right?"

"I think so." I nodded my head and smiled politely; it was like talking to a foal at times, then again, I didn't think the stallion here had the expensive education that I had received courtesy of my late father's generosity and subsequently squandered. Nevertheless, despite feeling a little awkward and somewhat confused at one of the rare times that Captain Blitzkrieg took a more civil tone with me for once, rather than bombarding me with fatuous comments and violent sexual imagery as he tends to, I decided to humour him. Beneath that gruff, aggressive exterior I saw something within him that wanted to rise above his low birth and his violent past. If he could muster enough strength of will and patience to actually do something about it, of course, but he was making small steps in the right direction at least.

Captain Blitzkrieg snorted and looked out into the sky to the north where the Wonderbolts were supposed to arrive from, still clear and blue with nary a cloud or flock of pegasi to mar this vast and empty expanse. "Here, how come so many military words come from Prench when they're so shit at fighting wars?"

Oh, so close, but then he lost it. If he truly wanted to be a proper officer then he needed to engage that part of his brain that governed the pathway between unconscious thought and his mouth that others call 'tact', but I didn't hold out much hope any time soon. Besides, I had more important things to do with my life at the time, like making sure that I would continue to have enough of it to write this damned thing you are reading right now.

I was about to say something when I was rudely interrupted by a sudden, bright flash. To the north across the empty and barren plains a second sun crested over the horizon, and then blossomed into a growing sphere of scintillating light and colour. All of the colours of the rainbow flickered in an expanding halo around this ball of light, which soon began to shrink and fade as the rainbow around it grew. Seconds later, a deep roar like that of cannon being fired broke the silence that had ensued and reverberated from the ground through my legs to my core, and I felt the shockwave as a blast of hot air against my face and plucked at my sweat-stained tunic. From the arc of colours a dozen white streaks tore through the empty sky, like the rays of a stylised sun, before they converged together in a standard 'V'-shaped formation and darted at high speed towards us.

The soldiers, or at least those alert enough to notice, roared and cheered as the squadron of Wonderbolts swept above them, low enough for us to see the skin-tight blue and yellow flight suits and the glints of light from their goggles and insignia. Amidst the frantic whooping of the excited troops, I could hear from seemingly out of nowhere the obnoxious sound of a squealing electric guitar and a stallion singing in an absurdly high-pitched voice that “he is here” and that he will “rock us like a hurricane,” whatever that meant. The pegasi darted like mayflies around the tall spires and battlements of the fortress, leaving a criss-cross pattern of white vapour trails that marred the once perfectly clear sky. One dived low into the empty parade ground, trailing a glittering rainbow behind her, and streaked past me with enough speed to nearly knock my hat off. I caught only a fraction of a glimpse of a mare in a Wonderbolt-blue flight suit with a cocky, self-confident grin on her face as she raised a hoof to her forehead in a quick-fire salute before she managed to pull up just in time to avoid smearing herself across the castle walls like strawberry jam.

The pegasi regrouped rapidly in the air above us, and descended to land with all of the pomp and ceremony that normally accompanies a royal state visit. Oh, how I missed being introduced with dozens of fawning sycophantic admirers and the sounds of trumpets. The juvenile rock music had mercifully ceased, leaving only the unrestrained applause from the watching soldiers, which the Wonderbolts soaked up with relish. As they landed before me they all snapped to attention with the sort of military precision that Sergeant Major Square Basher would have deemed to be just barely acceptable, but I supposed that drill was hardly a key part of these stunt flyers' training.

While I did my best to look as uninterested in their self-indulgent aerobatic display as possible, as demanded by my station as both a commissar and a prince of the realm, the foal within me who used to beg my governess to let me see the Wonderbolts was metaphorically squealing with joy at the display. It certainly looked very impressive, I'll grant them that, but it was their efficacy in battle that I was most concerned about. I looked to Captain Blitzkrieg standing beside me, and saw an expression that was halfway between disbelief and barely-concealed rage - he was most certainly not impressed at all.

Their leader, the mare with the ostentatious rainbow vapour trail, approached me. She was not unattractive by any stretch of the imagination, though I thought that she was rather too thin for my tastes. Her toned, athletic build was accentuated by a skin-tight flight suit that seemed to conform to every line, cleft, and bulge of her taut musculature, which all gave me the disturbing impression of one of those medical drawings of a pony flayed of his skin. Her mane and tail were a shock of wind-blown, rainbow-hued hair that shimmered with sweat in the hot afternoon sun. I might have called her handsome, but not pretty. A mare, I feel, should be made up of curves and not straight lines, but then again neither the Royal Guard or the Wonderbolts were the sorts of organisations to find the sort of mares considered to be conventionally attractive.

She stopped just in front of me, snapped to attention, and in a swift movement reminiscent of a salute lifted her goggles to reveal bright cerise-coloured eyes. [Lifting goggles from one's eyes is the Wonderbolt equivalent of a salute. The origins of the Royal Guard salute comes from this practice.]

"Sir! Equestria's finest are reporting for duty, sir!" she bellowed in my face. I wiped the flecks of spittle off my face with a dusty sleeve.

Casting my eyes over 'Equestria's finest' I wondered if the mare had a different definition of the word from what was found in any common dictionary, and judging by the set of Blitzkrieg's jaw and his narrowed eyes he agreed with me. There were twelve pegasi standing before us in total; I had assumed that we would have received at the very least a full platoon, if not a whole company, but I soon realised that with the sort of bad luck and sociopathic glee that fate seems to take in ruining my life that these were all of the reinforcements that we were going to receive. Perhaps this was merely a detachment sent in advance of the greater force, but somehow I doubted it. They were all young, at the peak of physical fitness, and while superbly trained in distracting the easily-entertained common folk from their daily misery at air shows and other public events, their ability to actually fight was something that I doubted. I am far from an expert on such things, but perhaps wearing armour instead of latex might have been a good start, but then I was still forced to wear dress uniform and a silly hat into battle so I could hardly complain.

"And you are?" I asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Acting Squadron Leader Rainbow Dash commanding Wonderbolt Training Squadron Nineteen 'Flying Tank' ready to serve in the name of the Princesses, sir!"

Of course, the garishly-coloured mane and tail should have been a dead giveaway, really. I had seen her before at that Grand Galloping Gala where she and a number of enraged wild animals had inadvertently demolished a greater part of the ancient and historic Platinum ballroom, albeit at a distance as I was rather preoccupied with Rarity doing her utmost to satisfy her delusions that I would instantly offer to marry her over the thousands of the far richer mares available in Equestria. I took an instant disliking to Rainbow Dash; I had known her for only a few seconds now and already I found her to be brash, irritating, and probably the sort of pony who believes that it is not only acceptable to wear a baseball cap outside of that particular sporting event, but to also wear it backwards.

"Stand easy," I said. "You're not in basic training anymore, so there's no need to prefix and append every single sentence you say with 'sir', understood?"

"Yes, sir!" Rainbow Dash's ramrod straight posture slackened only slightly with the order, and I thought about having a little fun in belittling her for not following a direct order from a superior officer to the letter, but I decided in the interests of keeping my job over the next few weeks or months working with this mare as easy as possible to refrain and just get on with it. Besides, I assumed that her nerves would not allow her to relax fully in the presence of two superior officers and a pony who looked like he bathed in a septic tank every morning.

"That's a start, at least," I said, shrugging my shoulders. "I am Commissar-Prince Blueblood. These stallions are Private Cannon Fodder, my equerry-" I paused to see if Rainbow Dash had spotted my intentionally obvious error, and was somewhat dismayed when I saw that she did not, thus proving her worrying ignorance of Royal Guard command structure "-or aide if you prefer, and Captain Blitzkrieg, the commander of the pegasus company of our regiment."

[An equerry is an officer assigned as an attendant to senior members of the Royal Household. What Prince Blueblood is referring to here is the fact that it is impossible for Cannon Fodder to be his official equerry, though he performs more or less the same duties as one, as he was not a senior commissioned officer. To be fair on Rainbow Dash, it is unlikely that most ponies not versed in the minutiae of the convoluted command structure of the Royal Guard would have known.]

Captain Blitzkrieg grunted wordlessly in response, and cast a critical eye over the Wonderbolts assembled before us. "Did you just describe yourselves as 'Equestria's finest'?" he asked incredulously.

"Yes, sir," said Rainbow Dash, puffing her chest out with pride. "The Wonderbolts are the best flyers in all of Equestria! Everypony knows that!"

"Sorry, I beg your pardon," I said, cutting in before Blitzkrieg could say something inane and probably offensive again. "You are an Acting Squadron Leader? And this-" I swept my hoof at the ponies lined up in front of me "-is a training squadron?"

"Yes, sir."

I tilted my head to one side and looked at her curiously, while a sinking, unpleasant feeling of horror slowly being realised gestated in my guts. Sucking in a deep breath, as if I wanted to put off vocalising what I had just found out, I said, at length, "You have not completed your training."

"No, sir." Rainbow Dash shook her head and then tapped at the two chevrons on her epaulettes, which I was sure signified something but I must have just glossed over that bit of pointless information in the briefing notes, as usual. "The ancient pegasi warriors that formed the first Wonderbolts Corps believed that the best training for battle was battle itself! So, when Captain Spitfire said that it was about time for us to do our bit for the war we were selected to carry on this tradition. When we return with your approval, we'll all be fast-tracked to graduation as full Wonderbolts!"

It seemed more likely that Spitfire had got tired of Rainbow Dash's company and tried to send her as far away from the Wonderbolt Academy as possible where she could do less harm. True or not, it was still a deft political move from the wily Captain; to send a single training squadron meant that if something was to go very wrong,then the whole incident could be quietly swept under the rug with a minimal amount of fuss, but if it went well then she and the rest of her small gang of obnoxiously gung-ho stunt flyers can cover themselves in all of the glory that rightly belonged to the distinctly unfashionable dregs of the Royal Guard that were the common soldiery. As I considered this point I found myself feeling quietly impressed by Spitfire's subtle politicking, and wondered if I could pull that off myself by transferring Rainbow Dash and other undesirables off to a brand new front in Tartarus.

Then again, I thought it couldn't possibly be that bad. There was, of course, scope within Spitfire's alleged plan for me to keep a close eye on these rank amateurs pretending to be soldiers, get this insanity over and done with, and receive a nice pat on the back from Canterlot for a job well done integrating the Wonderbolts into the Royal Guard. Hopefully, it would be in the form of a massive pay raise, not that money was ever an issue for me but it's nice to look forward to one.

"I see." Blitzkrieg narrowed his cold, beady eyes at the mare, and glanced from her to the pegasi still at attention and then back to her once more. I didn't know where he was going with this, but I was rather curious to see what sort of point that he was trying to work towards so I let him. "You ever been in a fight?"

The subtle change in expression on Rainbow's face -the slight furrow of her brow and the almost imperceptible twitch of one side of her mouth- implied that she thought this was a question with a painfully obvious answer, but that her military training, such as it was, did not allow her to voice it in quite the same manner that she wanted to. To spare her the eternal quandary that every enlisted pony must endure when a commissioned officer says something in opposition to all sense, logic, or one's own personal sense of right and wrong, in spite of my initial animosity to her arrogant demeanour and insufferably peppy attitude, and because I was in no mood to let Blitzkrieg here make my life any more difficult than it already was, I said:

"Come now, let's give her some credit. She's a Bearer of an Element of Harmony, after all, so I think she's seen a fair few scraps before."

That seemed to do the trick, thought I, as Rainbow Dash nodded her head eagerly as if the tendons around her neck had snapped and her skull was merely pivoting upon her spine by momentum alone. "Yeah," she said. "I was there when Canterlot was attacked by Changelings helping Twilight Sparkle recover the Elements."

"Oh, I don't doubt that," said Blitzkrieg, shaking his head quietly. "All I'm saying is that I just think it's stupid sending amateurs into battle against the Changelings instead of proper soldiers. I mean, what the hell were you thinking with that little stunt just now? You've just announced your arrival to the entire bloody Changeling horde, and farting streams of rainbow clouds out of your arseholes is a sure way to get yourselves spotted and killed."

Rainbow Dash grimaced in annoyance. Apparently forgetting her very low position on the Royal Guard hierarchy, she spread her wings aggressively in that strange manner that pegasi believe makes them look bigger and more imposing but always reminds me of a strutting peacock. "Who're you calling an amateur, chump?"

"Careful," said Blitzkrieg, grinning widely and shaking his head in a condescending manner. "You're addressing a superior officer here."

I cleared my throat in that very noisy and very fake-sounding manner that one uses to get the attention of other ponies discreetly, or not discreetly as the case may be. I pulled what I thought was a moderately stern, commissarial expression that was somewhere between 'my toast has gone cold' and 'I have lost all but one of my slippers' in terms of severity so as not to scare them too much. Rainbow Dash straightened her posture to attention and stared fixedly at a single brick in the wall just behind my right shoulder, as all soldiers have been trained to do when being reprimanded. Captain Blitzkrieg remained thoroughly unperturbed; it is rather difficult to intimidate a pony who has done things he's done without waving a paternity test result slip in his face.

"Be that as it may," I said, "I will remind you, Captain, that we were all 'amateurs' until Black Venom Pass."

"Some of us were, mate." Blitzkrieg snorted and shook his head. "Alright, maybe I didn't word it properly. We're at war, and I don't want her risking the lives of my stallions with silly stunts like that."

"Which is why," I said, just as Rainbow Dash started to open her mouth but before any words could come out and make the situation worse, "it might be best for you, Captain, to provide Acting Squadron Leader Rainbow Dash and her squadron with some additional training."

The rare moment of sudden realisation that forms on a pony's face when they discover exactly how deep the hole they have just dug for themselves is an exquisite one, and in the case of Captain Blitzkrieg I savoured the sudden, bug-eyed and slack-jawed expression that formed on his face. He recovered quite quickly, however, returning his brow back into that habitual frown of his which always made him look as though somepony else around him had just passed wind but he couldn't quote work out who was responsible.

"You what, mate?" he said, at length.

I tried to suppress the rising smirk that tugged on the ends of my lips, and failed. "I think these 'amateurs' would benefit greatly from your experience, Captain," I said. "Who better to teach them how to fight than you?"

Blitzkrieg narrowed his gaze at me, and his face twisted into a snarl, but aside from a characteristic snort of derision and an impatient stamp of his hoof that made clear his displeasure at my decision, he kept his thoughts to himself. I wondered if I had overstepped the mark, but decided that to rescind would be to undermine the fragile authority that I maintained over him and his ilk in the long term, which, thought I, outweighed whatever short term misery I might have to endure.

"It ain't necessarily fighting that's the issue," he muttered half to himself, "but the killing."

Then, I looked to Cannon Fodder, who, apparently disappointed that he was not going to meet his idol after all, stared blankly at the horizon, seemingly having lost himself in thought. "Cannon Fodder, please help the Acting Squadron Leader find a place for her and her stallions."

With a quiet grunt of acknowledgement, my aide approached Rainbow Dash, apparently not at all offended when the mare wrinkled her nose and waved her hoof dramatically in front of her muzzle as if that would somehow waft away the lingering odour of unwashed socks and stale sweat. "This way, ma'am," he said, offering a yellow-toothed smile in what I later deduced to be an attempt at getting friendly with a mare, and led the pegasi back into the castle keep behind me.

"And as for you," I said, turning on Blitzkrieg once the Wonderbolts were out of earshot. "I want a word with you in my office. Now."

Author's Note:

Welp, about time.

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