• 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 3)

Part 3

It must have been four in the morning when Cannon Fodder's distinct aroma entered my office a few moments before he opened the door. I was still awake, having only endured a few hours of fitful sleep before the sensation of having my skull slowly compressed by a vice dragged me unwillingly back to the realm of stark, remorseless consciousness. The warm, comforting embrace of a dreamless sleep continued to elude me, though the threat of yet another nightmare was the dagger concealed beneath her welcoming robes. Princess Luna, it seemed, had rather more important things to do with her time while nearly every night I saw the fields of the dead.

Wrapped up in the layers of rough, itchy wool that felt as if it would shred the skin from my bones if I rolled over without due care and attention, I laid on my cot wrapped up in a tight ball and stared at the murky, indistinct image of the barren stone wall against which my primitive bed rested. I heard the door close, and then the sound of clumsy hoofsteps on stone as Cannon Fodder approached with apparent disregard for the fact that I might still be asleep. Staring at the wall and waiting for him, I considered pretending to be asleep until my aide gave up and went away, except that my aide never gives up on anything once he has set his strangely-ordered mind to it. Besides, I had correctly reasoned that he would only try to wake me up if he felt, or if somepony had the necessary patience and sheer strength of will to convey the idea to him, that the situation had deteriorated to the point where it demanded my complete and undivided attention. Thus when he none-too-gently shook me by the shoulder and asked if I was awake or not I only gave a token effort to appear as if I was still sailing down the river of dreams with Luna at the helm, before I reluctantly rolled over and pulled myself out of bed.

"What is it?" I said. My mouth was dry and my voice had the unnaturally deep baritone imparted by a night of quite heavy drinking. When I lifted my head from the bag of hay that could only be called a pillow if one had never seen an example of one before and had been forced to produce one with only a description written by a four year-old for guidance the whole room spun violently.

"It's Captain Blitzkrieg and the Wonderbolts, sir," he said, stepping back to allow me some space.

That short, terse sentence went some way in clearing the fog from my mind. "What are they doing?"

"Training."

I knew I was unlikely to get more information out of Cannon Fodder, and certainly not in my current state, so I asked him to lead me to the source of whatever problem had arisen. I shrugged on my storm coat and put my cap on quickly before I left, hurriedly doing up the buttons as I followed my aide down the dark, empty corridors. In the dead of the night the corridors of the fortress were unsettlingly quiet; the majority of soldiers were asleep outside and the only ponies still awake would have been those on sentry duties on the walls. The only sounds I could hear were our hoofsteps, though the quiet and subtle murmurings of background noise whispered and scratched agonisingly just beyond the scope of normal hearing, thus enhancing the thick atmosphere that drenched these ancient walls.

The feeble light of my horn illuminated only the slick, damp walls either side of me and Cannon Fodder's armoured rear end. Nevertheless, despite the gloom, my aide seemed to have no problem navigating the confusing maze of corridors, hallways, and mostly-empty rooms in the pitch-black darkness. However, it felt like a frustratingly long amount of time before we stumbled out into the courtyard with the majesty of Luna's night sky to greet us, the cool night air to clear the fog from my head, and the sight of a section of Blitzkrieg's pegasi huddled around a number of the trainee Wonderbolts, each with their limbs tied together tightly with strong rope, to make me wonder if I was just having some unusually perverse dream again.

Alas, I was still awake, and I like to think that I composed myself relatively well; it was dark so hopefully nopony noticed the expression of abject shock that appeared on my face for a few brief seconds. I forced the usual stern, reserved expression of quiet disdain that had been drilled into me from a young age, and cast what I hoped was a suitably withering gaze over the assembled ponies. The Night Guards, as expected, looked rather pleased with themselves, and the sight of them huddled around the trussed-up Wonderbolts morbidly reminded me of seeing photographs of Gryphon jaegers in Zebrica posing with the latest group of large animals that they had just murdered for 'sport'. [Gryphons, being carnivorous predators, have traditionally held hunting for their food to be a cornerstone of their martial culture. However, in modern Gryphon society, hunting has become an activity exclusively pursued by the ruling aristocratic classes, and in particular the caste of society roughly analogous to the old knights of Equestria. As Blueblood has hinted, the glorification of hunting as a noble pursuit, however justified by their biology, is regarded as distasteful at best by equines and horrifying at worst, and thus remains an unfortunate cultural barrier between our two species.]

"Captain Blitzkrieg?" I said, and the pegasus in question emerged from the small huddle carrying an extremely miffed Rainbow Dash behind him. A strip of tape covered the mare's mouth, which was constantly flexing as if to try and wrench it free. "The explanation you are about to give me for what I see here must be phenomenally good. Understand?"

"I'm training them," he said in an off-hoof manner, as if that was justification enough. The grin on his face glinted brightly in the dim torchlight, and his amber eyes, and indeed those of all of the pegasi, seemed to glow eerily. "Trust me."

I was willing to humour him, at least until my patience ran out and the relative comfort of my bed called me from this miserable courtyard. The night air, at least, was cool, unlike the stifling heat radiated by the vast stone that surrounded my cot, absorbed after a long day of being bombarded by Celestia's remorseless sun, so I derived some pleasure from that. So thus I stood there, and watched as Captain Blitzkrieg crouched down besides the bound and gagged Acting Squadron Leader Rainbow Dash and peeled away the tape covering her mouth with the sharp, unpleasant sound of fur being torn from skin, leaving a pinkish-white patch on the end of her muzzle.

"Hey!" she shrieked, her voice loud enough to rouse the ancient dead from these catacombs. Even with her hooves and wings bound by rope she had somehow managed to shove her face right against Blitzkrieg's muzzle. "What's the big idea? Huh? We were sleeping! Do you think this is funny?"

Blitzkrieg calmly stepped back, and circled around Rainbow Dash. I felt as if I should probably intervene, but as I recalled hazily the conversation that I had with him in my office the previous afternoon I decided that I should just let him carry on for the time being; if things were to get out of hoof, which I inwardly hoped they would so that I may be able to call this whole venture off early, I could always step in and put an end to this ridiculous, badly thought-out farce.

"You left no night watch," he hissed.

There was a slight pause, before Rainbow Dash snapped her head to follow Blitzkrieg. "Huh? What do you mean we 'left no night watch'?"

"Faust almighty," snarled Blitzkrieg, now facing his captive student and gesturing emphatically with a hoof. "You didn't leave a flaming lookout while you slept! We crept in and captured you all before you even had the chance to bloody wake up. If we were Changelings you'd all be dead by now; your pretty throat" -he delicately stroked a hoof along the width of Rainbow Dash's taut, slender neck in a manner that made even me, the infamously lecherous cad of Canterlot high society, shudder involuntarily- "slit neatly from ear to ear, and nopony would know until the Commissar here stumbles across your pale, still corpse bathed in a pool of congealing blood when he's looking to see why you haven't reported for the morning reveille!"

Steam snorted from Rainbow Dash's flared nostrils as she stared daggers at the pegasus standing above her. "We're safe inside a massive fortress and surrounded by armed guards, for pony's sake! Why would we even need to set our own lookouts when there's dozens of them already looking out by the walls?"

"Listen," said Blitzkrieg. "Lesson number one: when you get down to it, the only ponies you can trust to keep you safe are yourself and your brothers and sisters in battle. All of us here have fought over these walls and we know they ain't as secure as you probably think they are. We're fighting an enemy that can look like any one of us, and it's only because of the horn-heads like the Commissar here that we have any chance of finding them. The section over in the next tent could be compromised, and without one of your own you can trust on lookout the only way you'd know about it is when they wake you up to use your bloody guts as a skipping rope."

Oddly, Rainbow Dash giggled like a school filly. "I didn't think Changelings would like skipping much."

"Shut up," snapped Blitzkrieg. "We're going to untie you and your, uh, your mates here now, so no funny business. Then the training will begin."

A glint of steel flashed in the dim light as Blitzkrieg drew a stiletto blade and with a deft movement of his hoof cleanly severed the ropes that bound his captive's limbs. The rest of the pegasi followed suit, and soon enough the Wonderbolts stood, wide-eyed, bewildered, and definitely awake now as they rubbed their sore hooves and probably wondered just what their illustrious leader had dragged them all unwittingly into. Rainbow Dash herself scowled at her supposed mentor, and certainly looked as if she was about to head-butt him, which, I might add, would have resulted in the bearer of the Element of Loyalty being summarily court-martialled and either merely flogged to within an inch of her life, hanged, or some combination thereof depending on by how much she would offend the provost sergeant presiding.

"But it's four in the morning!" she protested.

"Lesson two," said Blitzkrieg. "Training can happen at any time and at any place. The whistle-heads [Royal Guard slang for commissioned officers, who started to carry tin whistles as part of their uniform with which to signify the start of a charge and serve as a rallying point should the regimental standard or platoon guidon be obscured or otherwise not visible, or if the platoon drummer or bugler be incapacitated] can send you into battle with barely a moment's notice, and the Changelings will give you none at all. You'll either learn to wake up and be ready for anything instantly, whatever the time and place, or you'll die, alright?"

I thought Rainbow Dash would protest further, but she merely clenched her jaw and nodded her head, which made the messy strands of her offensively garish multi-coloured mane flutter awkwardly. "Sir, yes, sir!" she shouted exuberantly.

Captain Blitzkrieg grinned. "That's more like it," he said.

"But what's he doing here?" Rainbow Dash pointed accusingly at me, as if I had just done something horribly wrong.

"The Commissar will watch, and then decide what to do with you."

It was around this time when I noticed that ponies spoke about me as if I was an inanimate object or a vague, indistinct concept looming in the distance; it seemed that as this aura of unassailable heroism that shielded me from the harsher realities of my rapidly deteriorating life had led ponies to think of me as no longer one of them, but something abstracted and somehow outside of 'normal' equine life. It was as if Blueblood, nephew to Princess Celestia, Duke of Canterlot, and a prince of Equestria, had ceased to exist and, rather like the Changelings themselves, had been replaced by 'The Commissar'.

"I will take you and your Wonderbolts through basic Royal Guard political indoctrination and ideology classes later today," I said, giving a polite nod of my head which made my brain feel as though it was sloshing about in my skull.

Rainbow Dash made an exasperated groan and slapped her forehead with her hoof. "There's classes now? Like school?"

"It's all part of the standard Royal Guard induction process to make sure you're as mentally fit to fight as you are physically. There'll be tests later." I looked to Blitzkrieg and gave him a knowing smirk. "Assuming that you won't quit after the Captain's through with you."

"No chance of that, sir!" Rainbow Dash turned on her hooves to address her pegasi. "We're the Wonderbolts and we never, ever give up!"

Said Wonderbolts shouted wordlessly in response, and I wondered how much more of this could go on before we had an entire encampment of sleep-deprived soldiers coming to tell us to keep the bloody noise down. With every exuberant syllable uttered by the garishly coloured mare pounding into my skull like a croquet mallet, I found that I would sympathise entirely if that were to happen.

Going back to bed might have seemed like an attractive option to those with the distinct lack of anything important to do who read this nonsense, but while the rustic comfort of a mattress packed with straw and a blanket that might as well have been made out of sandpaper would have been preferable to standing out in the chill of the night with a hangover metaphorically beating at the insides of my skull, I knew that there was little to no chance of me getting any rest now, so I may as well take a seat and enjoy the show. I was rather curious to see what Blitzkrieg would make of my somewhat vague commands, and I feared that he may have not picked up on the subtext that lay beneath my words with all of the subtlety of a manatee trying to hide beneath silk sheets.

With a barked order and a stamp of his hoof, one of the pegasi, a platoon sergeant, tugged a sackcloth bag over, disturbing the dust. Blitzkrieg grabbed the end with a hoof, and then upended the sack to send its contents: Two dozen or so training swords apparently acquired, or most likely 'borrowed without permission' from Quartermaster Pencil Pusher's stores, falling into a disorganised pile on the ground with a loud clatter of dull iron that should have woken everypony in the surrounding tents. I did not relish the time I would have to explain their sudden and unexplained absence to the odious, pedantic, unimaginative little stallion later.

"These are standard training swords," said Blitzkrieg, taking one and turning it over in his hoof. "Every soldier in the Royal Guard has cut his teeth on these bloody uncomfortable things, from wine-swilling, namby-pamby generals to us common troopers. I wouldn't trust you lot with blunt butter knifes, but since I don't want to embarrass you further by making you use pretend weapons these will have to do."

He tossed the weapon to Rainbow Dash, who caught it rather clumsily with her hooves and then examined the weapon with its rounded, blunted edges. Despite their somewhat shoddy appearance I knew from personal experience, having trained with the wretched, unbalanced, glorified slabs of lead during my time at the Academy as Blitzkrieg had just said, they could still do some very real damage to an un-armoured pony if one was not sufficiently careful or trained. An uneasy sensation, this time unrelated to my body's attempts to deal with the effects of alcohol, nagged at the back of my head as I watched Rainbow Dash take a few experimental swings of the sword, as neophytes are wont to do when finally presented with a shiny new weapon. Somepony was bound to get seriously hurt, but I began to think that was what Captain Blitzkrieg fully intended.

"Alright then," said Blitzkrieg. I felt a sudden sensation of dread creep over me when I noticed that slight, sing-song tint to his normally gruff, atonal voice. "Let's get down to business!"

One can only imagine my surprise and horror when Captain Blitzkrieg started out with that most mysterious and ultimately embarrassing quirks of collective equine psychology - a Song Number. While I can't recall all of the lyrics because, frankly, I have done my utmost to try and purge it from memory, I vividly recall the refrain in which he promised Rainbow Dash that he would 'make a mare out of you'. Naturally I refused to take part, though the unconscious mental pull was still there, and instead tried to make myself as unnoticeable as possible in the gloom and wait it out. It disturbed me to learn that Blitzkrieg had a surprisingly good singing voice, for a pony whose normal speech sounded as though he had been gargling with sand and had a tone that was about as far away from melodic as one could get while still being able to speak Equestrian with a reasonable degree of clarity, that is. Perhaps the stallion's life would have been very different if his workhouse had some form of choir, thought I.

Cannon Fodder, I should note, seemed entirely unfazed and watched the bizarre display, complete with spontaneous choreography involving the training swords and various other military training paraphernalia that happened to be around at the time, with his usual expression of moderate disinterest. I wondered, perhaps, if this was yet another symptom of my aide's unique abilities, or disability, depending upon how one views Blanks.

[It is possible that the reason Blueblood didn't take part in the song number and, unusually for one with such extensive powers of recall as he, appears to have mostly forgotten the details about it, is that he happened to be standing within Cannon Fodder's magic null field at the time. Further experiments have been attempted by Twilight Sparkle; however, the spontaneous nature of equine communal songs makes performing them in a controlled environment extremely difficult, which led to my Faithful Student's least favourite thing in the world - inconclusive results.]

The rest of the 'training' carried on until the first rays of the sun flooded over the horizon, and mercifully the singing was limited only to the very beginning. By then I had given up on all attempts to disguise my hangover, which seemed to be only getting worse and worse as the morning wore on with all of the haste of a drunken elephant, and instead I merely laid down and relaxed languidly in the dust, uncaring of the further staining of my already-battered uniform, and watched. Cannon Fodder, dutiful as ever, supplied me with tea from the ever-present and seemingly bottomless flask that he kept secreted deep within the many folds of his uniform.

For much of the morning Blitzkrieg and his pegasi simply chased the trainee Wonderbolts around and around the fortress, in what to my untrained eye looked like a very protracted game of tag, except played by supposed adults armoured and armed to the teeth. Whatever reasoning behind the exercise remained a mystery to me, and frankly I was under the impression Blitzkrieg was simply trying to waste everypony's time, mine and his included, and then call it a day so he could go back to doing whatever it is he does that passes for soldiering.

It was some time, just as the morning reveille was sounded with the dawning of the sun, that the pegasi landed. Well, I write 'landed', but in the case of the Wonderbolts I feel that 'fell out of the sky' is a more apt description of what I saw. I should reassure the reader that for the most part they were unharmed, aside from a few superficial bruises and cuts, having at least been able to arrest enough of their momentum so as not to cause themselves any serious damage. Nevertheless, they were clearly exhausted after having spent however many hours flying around like that; a choir of panting, rasping breathes and hacking coughs greeted me as I reluctantly rose from the ground, ignoring the sudden sense of vertigo as I did so, and approached with a suitably sympathetic look of concern on my face.

Rainbow Dash was the last of the Wonderbolts to drop, landing in a messy tangle of spindly limbs and wings resembling a dropped pile of broken, brightly-coloured twigs that happened to be in the vague shape of a pony. She didn't bother getting up, and instead merely unknotted her various extremities to lay sprawled on her belly like a beached dolphin after the tide has long since receded. Her thin, aerodynamic chest rose and fell with every laboured breath and her fur and mane were slick and shiny with dripping sweat, which I might have found arousing if it weren't for my rather fragile physical and mental state at the time. Teeth bared and gritted, she shouted wordlessly in defiance at the sky, or rather at the circling Night Guard pegasi who drifted in to land with the sort of leisurely, relaxed manner that must have been calculated to have been as mocking as possible.

The Night Guards landed almost simultaneously and without sound around the fallen Wonderbolts, forming a ring around the prone pegasi. There, Captain Blitzkrieg approached Rainbow Dash, who was struggling to rise to her hooves. As I watched, I pre-emptively stepped forwards, fearing that perhaps Blitzkrieg had gone too far. Not that I was overly concerned about the Wonderbolts' personal safety, mind you, but after thinking it through in the stark relief of relative sobriety I thought it best that when they return to Canterlot in ignominious failure that they do so in one piece and preferably still alive.

Captain Blitzkrieg strutted, that was the only word to describe his confident swagger, to Rainbow Dash, who had by now succeeded in standing up and was gently swaying from side to side like Fancy Pants after one too many of his particularly vile Manehatten cocktails. He circled her, eyeing the exhausted mare carefully as though he was selecting a courtesan with which to spend the evening, and mockingly shook his head and tutted.

"You can't be tired already," he said, jabbing Rainbow Dash roughly in the shoulder with a hoof.

To her credit, despite wobbling a little she remained more or less upright, which was more than could be said for the ponies under her command, who lay sprawled in an undignified pile gasping desperately for air. Rainbow Dash spat on the ground and sucked in a deep breath, which merely led to a hacking, dry cough.

"What was the point of that?" she said between ragged breaths, her voice somewhat hoarse.

"It was a test."

A deep frown furrowed Rainbow Dash's brow as she stared unblinkingly at her 'trainer', before she shook her head in confusion. "How was that a test?" she blurted out. "All you did is chase us around and around the castle over and over while hitting us with those swords! You said you were going to train us!"

"We've only just started, you daft bint. I wanted to see what your stamina's like, and I must say none of us here are the slightest bit impressed. Are we, lads?"

The Night Guards said, or shouted rather, some colourful variation of the phrase 'no we are not' at the exhausted, bewildered pegasi, accompanied by loud jeering that was probably unsuitable for the ears of a lady, though Rainbow Dash was as far removed from being one as much as her sex would allow. I watched Rainbow carefully, pushing my way through the crowd that seemed to be gathering around her and her comrades with judicious use of Cannon Fodder's overpowering scent to clear the way to get closer to her. It was clear from her clenched jaw, snarl, and aggressive body posture with wings erect in that odd manner that pegasi seem to think makes them look threatening and not at all like a peacock that's let itself go that she was uncomfortable, and that the source of her discomfort was not entirely exhaustion.

"Shut up," snapped Rainbow Dash, stamping a hoof. "I'm the best athlete out of Ponyville, and I'm only just getting started."

Blitzkrieg laughed and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "Stubborn little bitch, aren't you?" he said, grinning inanely as he stared at Rainbow apparently to see if his comment would elicit any further indignation from her. He was rewarded only with a glare and more laboured breathing. "Dammit, I could have you bloody well flogged to death for being rude to an officer, but I'm in a good mood today. You're fast, I'll give you that, and nippy too, but you used all your energy in one go. After an hour you were exhausted, which made you easy pickings. Battles can last for ages, love, and there's no telling when you'll next get a chance to recover or whether a Changeling horde lies behind the nearest cloud ready to take you and your pretty, virgin Wonderbolts out for a gangbang."

"But how was I supposed to know you were going to drag this out for that long? You didn't tell us! If you'd explained everything first then we would have conserved our energy, sir."

"I don't teach by telling, I teach by showing." Blitzkrieg shook his head and offered Rainbow Dash his water canteen, which she took with some hesitation but downed with relish. "I ain't doing this for fun, you know. That's just an added bonus. I'm doing this because I want to keep you alive if the medal-seeking generals suddenly decide to throw you against the Changelings. You're going to hate my methods, and I can accept that. In fact, I expect it. But when you do go into battle and you see a swarm of those bugs so huge it blocks out the sun, you'll thank me and the commissar for all the misery I'm about to put you through. Understand?"

When Rainbow Dash had finished downing the contents of the canteen, apparently draining it entirely and thus reminding me to impress upon her the need to conserve water in this desolate, arid wasteland some time later by taking a leaf from Blitzkrieg's book and letting her experience the deleterious effects of dehydration herself, she nodded her head and said: "Yeah, I guess so."

"Alright then." Captain Blitzkrieg gave her what I took to be a friendly, if rather forceful, pat on the shoulder, which nearly sent her toppling over, and then nudged her at my general direction. "For the rest of the day you'll be the Commissar's problem, unless I get bored later."

The Night Guards pegasi left, leaving me standing awkwardly with my aide, who was busy scoffing down a cucumber sandwich that he had procured from somewhere with his usual lack of grace that meant much of it ended up splattered across his dirt-encrusted breastplate, and the collection of exhausted Wonderbolts. With my head still pounding like the inside of a drum and the sun still yet to make its appearance in the eastern sky I knew that this was going to be an excruciatingly long morning. More to the point, however, what the bloody hell was I supposed to do with this thoroughly miserable collection of unwanted, untrained, and unwashed trainee Wonderbolts?

***

With little else to do with Rainbow Dash and company I simply put them through lesson one of Royal Guard induction and indoctrination, as helpfully provided by the Commissariat. I had given them the opportunity to wash themselves, find breakfast, and recover somewhat, which gave Cannon Fodder and me the necessary time to plunder my office for the appropriate class materials. In truth I had yet to give one of these lessons, thinking that they were rather pointless and frankly if any soldier came into my regiment ignorant of the structure of the Royal Guard and their lowly position within its labyrinthine bureaucracy then I would have likely sent them home, for which they would have been infinitely thankful. Nevertheless, though I knew that I had no business providing this service to the Wonderbolts, being a separate organisation from the Royal Guard and therefore beyond the scope of my commissarial portfolio, I assumed that it would be fairly easy and would keep me away from performing more onerous duties.

[Blueblood here displays his ignorance of Royal Guard basic training, which only provides a cursory introduction to what the recruits like to call 'book-learning'. It is the duty of the regimental commissar, i.e. Prince Blueblood, to provide these classes. He is, however, correct in stating that as an organisation wholly separate from the Royal Guard and not under the control of the Ministry of War (at this stage of the war, as their heritage as the personal bodyguard of Commander Hurricane and then the Princesses meant that they were organised separate from the Royal Guard) he technically has no power over the trainee Wonderbolts. However, as this training squadron was seconded to a Royal Guard formation, it was argued that they would therefore be subject to Princesses' Regulations and the authority of the Commissariat.]

I had selected a small tent in the courtyard in which to conduct this pointless lecture, nestled in the shade of the outer wall and positioned close to the main drill square with which to demonstrate the famed discipline that lies at the cornerstone of Royal Guard training and, more importantly, to provide me with some respite from the heat that was steadily rising with the dawning sun. There, I had set up, or rather I had Cannon Fodder set up for me, a couple of chairs, desks, and a chalkboard that he had somehow procured. It was shortly after the sun had deigned to rise and the morning reveille had been sounded that the 'lesson', as it were, began. As the temperature rapidly increased in that short amount of time, Rainbow Dash and company had soon learned that any effort put into bathing oneself is an exercise in futility in this climate, for it is instantly erased by the veritable buckets of sweat one will produce almost immediately after stepping out of the showers and drying oneself. When they had all filed into the makeshift classroom-tent and taken their seats, I noted that with their skin-tight latex flight suits the sweat did not soak into the fabric as it did with a tunic but instead ran off and pooled at their extremities.

I won't bore you with the details of the lesson itself, as I fear I've already bored you, dear reader, enough already. If you're really curious I'm sure those with adequate connections in the military will be able to find the lesson plans themselves if there's really little else productive you can do with your limited time, but needless to say the entire process was utterly tedious in the extreme for all concerned. Suffice to say, the purpose of these classes was to 'induct', as it were, the recruits into the Royal Guard so that they form a close attachment to their regiments and their comrades by teaching them to believe that they are part of a unique, tightly-knit brotherhood and thus make them all the more amenable to blindly following orders. I'll give the desk-bound imbeciles who wrote this quality-deficient nonsense one thing; they knew how to exploit the base, herd instinct of the equine race perfectly. I might have found it impressive if it weren't so morally bankrupt (or if I wasn't so 'morally bankrupt' myself, but I digress).

Despite the inattentive audience I carried on with the lesson as though we were on some unwritten contract: I would get through this as quickly as possible and then we could all go and do something else more productive. However, it was when I was explaining the finer points of the history of the Royal Guard, focusing on its past glories more than its more recent indignities, and halfway through a sentence that I was interrupted by the unmistakeable sound of a pony snoring. It was a loud sort of snore, like how one would imagine a larger earth pony stallion such as Colonel Sunshine Smiles would. I was only mildly surprised to find that the source of what sounded like a steam engine on the verge of exploding was the slim, svelte, athletic little pegasus named Rainbow Dash sitting at the back of the tent, with her head resting on crossed forelegs on the desk.

Cannon Fodder, who had been sitting patiently in the corner with a feedbag of oats around his muzzle and one of his favourite magazines to pass the time with, started to move over to the sleeping mare, but I stopped him with a shake of my head and a wave of my hoof. This was something that I wanted to take care of myself. A stern glare, modelled after the sort that Auntie Luna gives to those who displease her, which happened to be nearly everypony but especially me, was enough to dissuade the uneasy Wonderbolts from attempting to wake her.

I took a hoof-long wooden ruler from the chalkboard and approached Rainbow Dash as quietly as possible, which, despite my steel horseshoes tapping loudly against the sun-hardened earth, was easy enough with the tinnitus-inducing volume of her thoroughly un-ladylike snoring. If she was actually awake and only making the noise as a sort of critique of my teaching style then I admired her dedication in keeping up the act, however, as I loomed over her like a judge about to pass judgement on a lowly criminal and saw the small puddle of drool that formed on the table she used as a pillow and the vague, half-formed mumblings between each deafening breath I saw that she was truly asleep.

Two swift motions brought the ruler high into the air and then rapidly down to strike the desk very close to the filly's head, as though using a whip. Rainbow Dash yelped like a startled dog and very nearly leapt out of her seat, but before she could do so I quickly grabbed her by the head with my hooves and forced my muzzle against hers.

"Am I boring you, Acting Squadron Leader Rainbow Dash?" I said, doing my very best impression of Sergeant Major Square Basher. Alas, I don't think I could do old Marezilla justice.

She stared back with wide, alert eyes, and shook her head as much as my grip would allow. I let go, surreptitiously wiping my hooves on the ground in case I had caught anything from her, and stepped back a little to give her a little space. "Then why did you fall asleep?"

"Because I got no sleep at all last night, I've been flying around and around the castle being chased by Captain Blitzkrieg, I'm exhausted, and now you expect me to sit through a class without dozing off?" she said, throwing her hooves out as if to emphasise the point she was making. I cleared my throat and arched an eyebrow, which had the desired effect of making her sink in her seat and timidly add, "Uh, sir. I mean."

"A soldier is expected to be able to operate at peak efficiency, with maximum alertness and fighting spirit, in any circumstance, regardless of physical hardship and mental state," I said, reciting some sentence from some pamphlet that I had skim-read a while ago. "That includes classes."

"I know that, sir," she said, and I could tell by the halting pattern of her speech and the expression of moderate concentration on her face that she was, perhaps for the first time in her life, trying to pick her words very carefully. "But come on, we already went through this boring egghead stuff in the Wonderbolts Academy, and this book-learning isn't my style of learning things."

Before she dig her grave any deeper (already metaphorically approaching Equus' core already), I tapped the now-splintered ruler on her desk. In the quiet that descended on the tent like a shroud that had been dropped over it, I found that I could hear the rhythmic, pounding sound of soldiers marching up and down the drill square punctuated by the aggressive bark of Square Basher shouting orders, reminding me of the tribal drums of darkest Zebrica accompanying the arcane rituals of a shaman. It gave me a cruel idea; perhaps it was time that I took a leaf from Captain Blitzkrieg's book.

“Have you had the pleasure of meeting Company Sergeant Major Square Basher?” I asked.

Rainbow Dash shook her head no. "I only just got here. Like I had the time to meet all of the thousands of soldiers here."

I let her sarcastic comment slide for now, for she would soon be eating those words. “I think it's time we fixed that. In fact, I think she'll be able to teach you something herself. She's the big, loud, angry mare just outside on the parade ground. You can't miss her. I want you to tell her that I sent you to see her, and when she asks you why I want you to tell her in these exact words: 'mind your own fucking business you syphilitic whore'."

Those bright magenta eyes blinked at me vacantly once, twice, before Rainbow Dash burst into a loud, obnoxious giggle. "Oh, you almost had me there, sir," she said, between spasms of irritating laughter. She pounded her desk with a hoof and buried her face in her other foreleg. I waited until she recovered from her fit, as it would make the moment of realisation of exactly what predicament her inattentiveness and attitude had just put her in all the more entertaining when it inevitably came. "But you're gonna have to try a lot better than that to prank me."

"It is not a prank, Acting Squadron Leader Rainbow Dash," I said, keeping my voice as level and monotone as that of Field Marshal Iron Hoof to try and impress upon her the seriousness of the situation. I suppose it could technically be considered a prank, from my perspective, at least. "You are ordered to go to the CSM and tell her exactly what I have just told you. Now."

She looked up, rubbed at her face, and blinked again in that peculiarly gormless expression that forms on the faces of ponies moments before they finally understand just how badly things have gone for them, and that it is entirely their own fault. "Heh," she laughed again, but this time it was a nervous titter. "That's some dedication to the prank, sir. You can't seriously mean that."

"I gave you a direct order," I said, and beckoned Cannon Fodder closer with a hoof. "The penalty for disobedience is a flogging, soldier. Are you going to comply or is my aide going to have to tell the Provost Sergeant to dust off the old cat o' nine tails?"

[The cat o' nine tails was primarily used by the Equestrian Navy. The whip used by the Royal Guard for corporal punishment was similar, but was simply a drumstick with attached strings. Unlike the naval cat o' nine tails, the Royal Guard equivalent was more likely to cut the skin and leave distinctive, heavy scarring, which was believed by adherents of this practice to be a permanent reminder of the soldier's transgressions.]

The awkward grin faded, and she gulped anxiously. "Y-you wouldn't. We don't flog ponies in the Wonderbolts. You can't do that. I don't want to go to a random mare and swear at her like that; it ain't like me to do that."

"Can't I?" I rested a hoof on her desk and leaned on it, almost casually, and peered down at her, giving the impudent young mare a few seconds to drink in what I hoped to be a suitably threatening and authoritarian demeanour looming above. Lowering my head to her level and positioning just close enough to hers so as to be slightly uncomfortable without actually touching, which I found to be an effective way to intimidate the vast majority of ponies who happen to be smaller than me, I said, quietly but firmly: "You are attached to a Royal Guard Army Group, living in a Royal Guard encampment, using Royal Guard equipment, eating Royal Guard rations, and enjoying Royal Guard training. Whether you realise it or not, you are under Royal Guard authority. Now, carry out your orders before I have to ask Private Cannon Fodder to bring the Provost Sergeant."

Rainbow Dash hesitated for only a moment, before she sighed in defeat and slipped away from her seat. She skulked out of the tent through the flap, through which I watched her approach the Company Sergeant Major, and granted me with an enjoyably callipygian view as she left. It was damned lucky that I managed to convince her to do this, as I was not entirely sure that if I had to follow through with having her flogged, which I would have only done with great reluctance as I hated the idea of ruining that pretty little body of hers with the lash, that I would escape without any serious repercussions from Canterlot. I already had enough of damned politicking with Scarlet Letter, and I had no desire to earn the ire of the Wonderbolts of all ponies, knowing that such an enmity with these bizarrely popular stunt ponies would cause my standing in the elite's social hierarchy to drop considerably.

[As a historical note, there are a number of instances where the use of Royal Guard corporal punishment inflicted upon units of other arms who do not practice it which invariably led to fierce controversy over the issue of flogging as a form of maintaining discipline. In particular, when a soldier of the Princesses' Gryphon Legion (PGL - Gryphon volunteers who serve alongside the Equestrian Royal Guard, but, as with the Wonderbolts, are not technically part of it) was ordered to be flogged by a Royal Guard officer for a seemingly minor transgression, protests from the Gryphon Empire led to the matter being discussed in Parliament and resulted in the eventual abolition of the practice.]

I couldn't hear what Rainbow Dash said to Square Basher, but the earth pony mare's response was enough to know that my orders had been carried out correctly. They were quite close, about ten to fifteen feet away from where I watched them from behind the tent flap like I was some pathetic voyeur watching a mare showering, not that I've ever done that, with their backs to me. Rainbow Dash had approached the tall, well-built CSM with a degree of confidence and swagger to her step that I would not have expected to see on any pony other than her. It was rather comical, actually, to see her beckon the taller mare down, whisper something in her ear, and then flinch from the inevitable angry response.

"WHAT?" Square Basher bellowed.

A stunned silence followed. The platoon of soldiers she had been observing marching up and down the parade square halted mid-step, with each rank stumbling awkwardly into the one before it until the guardsponies simply collapsed in a heap with the sound akin to a garden full of wind chimes in a hurricane. With a slight growl of frustration that could be heard even from where I stood, the CSM briefly looked away from the somewhat startled Rainbow Dash to address them. "For Faust's sake," she shouted. "Pull yourselves together or you'll be spending the rest of this war marching in circles."

I was surprised to see that Rainbow Dash did not take the opportunity to flee and hide when Square Basher was briefly distracted, as I would have done had I been in her position and had been granted the gift of flight, but instead she stood there with that same defiant firmness to her posture. I had to give her dubious credit for standing there and taking her punishment like a mare.

"And as for you," said Square Basher, her voice dropping to that distinctively sinister East Trottingham snarl. "I want you to repeat what you just said; louder this time, so everypony else can hear it."

There was only a brief moment's hesitation before Rainbow Dash began to answer, but just as the first impertinent syllable stumbled over her thin lips she was interrupted.

"Don't you tell me to mind my own business!" shrieked Square Basher with sudden ferocity, and she matched the violence of her voice by using her favourite tried-and-tested method of intimidation by ramming her face against Rainbow Dash's cheek so that she roared directly into a wilting, floppy ear. "Of all the ponies in this bloody camp it's you, you disgustingly coloured cloud-humping bitch, who thinks she has cast iron twenty-five pounder cannonballs for bollocks to tell me to mind my own business! Stand up straight and stop flinching, because this is the very last bit of dignity you're going to enjoy for a long time! I am going to make you suffer!"

Rainbow Dash snapped to attention, seemingly out of reflex, and despite having received the full onslaught of the CSM's infamous rants at point-blank range, appeared to have composed herself rather well. I expect that she was used to such behaviour from the Wonderbolts, perhaps, and that I had been a little too unfair on judging their prior training. The next few hours or so would either confirm or deny my initial assessment that she and her ilk were civilians masquerading as soldiers and in need of a short, sharp shock to the system.

Square Basher remained close to her prey, but turned her head slightly away to address the soldiers loitering by the side of the busy parade square, and she uttered the words that every soldier of the earth pony company dreaded to hear: "Bring me the sled!"

The troops scurried away to retrieve her favourite device of punishment. It consisted of a sturdy wooden pallet liberated from the Quartermaster's stores, primitively reinforced with more planks of wood nailed into the sides and across its top, and with a length of thick rope looped around the front beams to serve as a harness. As Marezilla directed Rainbow Dash to bite around the rope before she took her position on the pallet like some earth pony warlord of Ancient Equestria who has had to scale back on the extravagant war chariots out of a lack of funds, I decided that I had seen enough and slipped back into the tent.

The stunned, nervous faces that looked back at me was proof that what I had just forced Rainbow Dash to do had the desired effect. "Is anypony else finding this boring?" I asked. The sea of faces shook their heads, and to the sound of the Sergeant Major screaming and Rainbow Dash's pained exertions in dragging her around, I continued the class.

Author's Note:

Phew, this was another tricky chapter to write.

Bit of useless trivia for today: ordering offenders to relay rude messages was a common punishment in the British Army, putting the poor sod in the unenviable position of having to choose between disobeying a direct order or earning the wrath of whomever receives the message.

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