Memoirs of a Royal Guard

by Anzel

First published

Silent Knight assumed his story would be complete once he achieved his dream of joining the Royal Guard. To his surprise, it was only just the beginning.

Everypony has a story. Some tell of heroic feats and grand adventure. Others tell of villainy against the forces of Harmony. The story of an average guard, however, is one of obscurity. They live in the background, unnoticed but ever-present.

Silent Knight assumed his tale would be like that of his father's: join the Royal Guard and serve Equestria. He would be just another helmet and spear, part of the rank and file. And that was all he ever wanted.

However, when Captain Shining Armor asked for volunteers to form a House Guard for the recently returned Princess Luna, it was Silent's hooves that stepped forwards to set his new life in motion.

1. Graduation Day

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It was all worth it. The hard work, long days, pain, and stress were all going to pay off. Training would be over in a mere three weeks and I’d not only be a royal guard but a member of the Canterlot Guard. One of the elite. It was everything I had dreamed of and worked for since I was a colt.

The whole company was at attention on the parade ground waiting for inspection. This wouldn’t be a normal inspection, either. At week nine the Royal Guard training schedule called for the Captain of the Canterlot Guard and other officers to come and personally do a parade review of us. We were the group that had not quit after being worked over for nearly two months. It was our time to shine since we were all that was left of the original two hundred ponies that dared to try.

I stood perfectly still: eyes forwards, shoulders squared. I noticed some of the other trainees’ heads moving as they tried to see if the officers were already on the way. It was poor form. My posture and stare were unrivaled, traits inherited from my father. He had drilled me since I was a colt to be quiet, speak clearly when spoken to, and never let anypony shake my cool. I’m sure he’d have been proud to see me that day.

The instructors had left us out in the sun for about half an hour before returning. Walking alongside the senior instructor was Captain Shining Armor. There were a few other officers as well, but he would be the one to impress if anypony wanted to be in the palace guard or the even more exclusive Princess Celestia’s House Guard.

Shining Armor took his time looking each of us over. He tried to make it look routine but nothing had been routine for my class. The whole Royal Guard had been on edge during and immediately after the Nightmare Moon incident. Princess Celestia had just simply vanished without warning and it wasn’t the Royal Guard that restored her back to the throne, either. It was hard for anypony to believe and the strain of it showed on the captain. It wouldn't have been obvious to most ponies but one soldier can read another.

It wasn’t long before it was my turn to be inspected. Shining Armor paused when he got to me. In hindsight, I don’t think it was because I was a particularly impressive-looking trainee. It was more likely the fact that he and I actually look somewhat alike. We’re both white-coated, blue-maned stallions.

There are some key differences between us, though. The obvious one would be that I'm a pegasus and he is a unicorn. Also, my mane is darker than his and styled differently. Same for my tail. Then there is the fact that my ears, like my father's, are tufted. I hadn't met many ponies with ears like mine, but it seemed to be a family trait.

In any event, if you didn’t know any better, you may think that I’m a cheap knockoff version of him. That isn’t my fault! I wasn’t born too long after he was and I’ve looked this way all my life, even before he rose to the lofty rank of colonel and took on the title of Captain of the Canterlot Guard.

Once the last trainee had been looked over and the inspection was complete, things really got interesting. Shining Armor moved to the front of the formation and stopped to face us. That was highly unusual. Typically by then the captain and associated officers were on their way back to their duties. This was supposed to be largely ceremonial, after all.

Instead, he took a moment to address us. “Many of you know or have heard about the recent return of Nightmare Moon. You’re all also aware that she was defeated and that Princess Celestia was safely returned. What you may not know is that Princess Luna has shed the guise of a villain and now walks among us for the first time in a thousand years.”

When I say professional decorum was lost I’m being polite. The polished trainees let out a collective gasp and there were murmurs in the ranks. It was as if somepony had blindsided us all. What he said next, however, led me to the life I have now.

“It is by the royal decree of Princess Celestia that a new Royal Guard unit be created for the protection of Princess Luna. Who will volunteer to join her House Guard and protect her with their life?”

That was what he said, word for word. The murmurs gave way to dead silence and blank stares. The captain was asking us to guard Nightmare Moon!

There was no sound or movement for what seemed like an eternity. It would have been comical if it weren’t for the fact that everypony was ignoring Princess Celestia’s desires. That might have motivated me. It might have not. To be honest, I’m not really sure why I did what I did, but in school I had always felt that Princess Luna was more than just a villain. My understanding was that things had been tough on her as a younger sibling. That happens sometimes. I think that may have played a role in my decision.

Without a word, I stepped out of line looking calm and confident. In my head I was screaming, “Stop, hooves, stop! You’ve got a chance to join the Canterlot Guard. Why would you do something so foolish?

My hooves didn't stop, however, and I suddenly felt like I had a hundred pairs of eyes on me.

The senior instructor trotted over to me and Shining Armor followed. The captain asked, “You volunteer? What is your name?”

“Silent Knight, sir,” my senior instructor chimed in for me. “He doesn’t say much, but he is an exemplary recruit. Always by the book and professional.”

Shining Armor stared at me. “Why volunteer for this? Everypony else seems to think you’ve made a mistake.”

Looking back, I sometimes laugh at the thousand different thoughts that went through my head. At the time, I had no idea why. Every fiber of my being said I’d done something foolish but, like Dad had always said, never make it obvious to an opponent you’ve made a mistake. Of all the options I had to choose from, I probably selected the one that made the least sense.

“I have lived with an older sister, too, sir,” was what I said. What does that even mean?

I guess at that point Celestia was watching out for me because he actually smiled. “Well, Silent Knight, I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that but come along, then. You’ve got a very important appointment that you don’t want to be late for.”

The captain turned and started to march off the parade ground. I fell in step behind him. At that point, I was completely committed. “Go with your gut and never back down,” I heard Dad say in my head. I’m certain that advice extended to hooves.

We left the parade ground and crossed town to the palace. It was a route all recruits knew well. In the course of training, any Royal Guard hopeful would march, trot, or gallop that road no less than once a day. I had never appreciated the palace for its size prior to then. When you go by quickly, it was just like any other building. When you’re going inside, it was miraculous. Only a princess could live in a place so elegant.

Shining Armor led me to a small meeting room off of the main hall. “Wait here, please,” he said before disappearing.

Waiting is something I’m good at. I took my parade stance again. Eyes forwards, shoulders squared. There is always comfort in that.

It wasn’t long before he returned in the company of Princess Celestia herself. To some ponies, that may have been commonplace but, even though I had always prepared myself to be one of her guardians, I was awestruck. With only a second’s hesitation, I bowed down and averted my eyes.

She was radiant, beautiful, and perfect. A flawless pony the likes of which made all of the rest of us seem crude and mundane. Princess Celestia was also a lot larger up close. I’m above average for a stallion but she still towered over me. Those were things that I caught at just a glance.

What struck me most, though, was that when she spoke, I heard a slight melancholy in her tone. “Only one?” she asked the captain.

“For now, Princess,” he replied. “I thought it would be a good idea to go to the recruits first, as we could train them differently and get to them before they develop any biases. Unfortunately, they most likely have career plans that don’t line up with such a wild and sudden deviation like this.”

Shining Armor then shrugged and continued, “Many of our active guards feel as if they failed you and are uncomfortable with the idea of guarding Princess Luna. For now, though, we do have one and I believe he might be a great one. May I present to you: Silent Knight.”

At that moment, my eyes had lifted to risk a peek up at Princess Celestia. She caught me doing so, too. So much for professionalism on my part.

“Silent Knight, do you not have career plans?” Her gaze was fixed on me. “Do you not fear Princess Luna?”

Always speak clearly when spoken to. Even to a princess. “I did and no, Princess,” I replied honestly.

“Are you certain?” she asked. “You may still decline.”

Was I certain? How could I be? I could have declined, played it safe, and probably ended up in the palace guard. That felt wrong, though. That was the easy way out, and a challenge had never frightened me.

Lifting my head, I replied, “It bothered me that nopony stepped forwards, Princess. Royal guards are supposed to perform their duty before they look after their career. I still believe that even if nopony else does.”

She actually smiled. It was like watching the sun rise after the blackest night. At the time, I had never seen anything so beautiful. Of course, I may have been biased as I’ve always liked it when unicorns smile at me, and the princess was a unicorn and then some.

“He will do fine,” she told the captain. “Please select current members of the Royal Guard that will be suited to the task and reassign them. Perhaps if they set an example for their peers we’ll have less trouble filling the vacancies in the future.”

She started to turn away as she continued, “And see that Silent Knight is made a House Guard immediately, unless you think he’ll need the remaining weeks of training. He seems to have the appropriate attitude.”

Shining Armor nodded and said, “Yes, Princess.”

And just like that, she was gone. I stood up and back at attention. Alone with the captain.

“You handled that very well. I just hope you honestly meant it,” he said.

What I said was what I meant. All I could do was nod that it was so.

He then asked me plainly, “Do you need any more training?”

“No, sir.”

It was true. I wasn’t the best trainee in the company, but I was up there. If you make it nine weeks, the rest is pretty much learning ceremony and how to keep your mouth shut. I was the best pony in that department. Being quiet, that is.

The captain nodded. “Very good. We’ll have to do this quickly. The paperwork can come later. Raise your right hoof and repeat after me: I, Silent Knight, do swear on my honor as a royal guard to defend Princess Luna against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that I take this oath freely and without reservation.”

As instructed, I raised my hoof. “I, Silent Knight, do swear on my honor as a royal guard to defend Princess Luna against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that I take this oath freely and without reservation.”

He continued, “I further swear that I shall be vigilant against all threats, both internal and external, and confront them for her wellbeing and, if necessary, lay down my life without hesitation so that she may live.”

Those words were far more serious than the ones prior. The Royal Guard oath was important, but this was the oath of a House Guard. It meant putting your life and survival second to somepony else’s. For most ponies that was the opposite of rational.

I raised my voice slightly to repeat, “I further swear that I shall be vigilant against all threats, both internal and external, and confront them for her wellbeing and, if necessary, lay down my life without hesitation so that she may live.”

Shining Armor smiled. “Good. Well, come along, then. We had best get you situated. Since you were brave enough to volunteer, I’ll give you the tour. By the way, the princess’s best designers have put together something special for Princess Luna’s House Guard. I think you’ll like it.”

That seemed like an interesting thing to say. Armor was armor… or so I thought. We walked together in silence. The whole time I started making mental notes about where things were in the palace. If I was going to be in the House Guard, I would need to be very familiar with the princess and her home. There would be research to do and facts to memorize. That didn’t bother me, though. It was my sort of thing.

The palace was a surprising place. It looked large from the outside but not ridiculously so. On the inside, however, it was almost labyrinthine. The captain showed me the commissary, the throne room, the gym, and all of the other support areas.

Eventually, our tour ended in a simple barracks at ground level. It had numerous dorms and each was exactly regulation: two beds, two foot lockers, two regular lockers, two armor stands, one table, and two chairs.

“This is all yours now,” he said as he showed me into one of the rooms. “I’ll find you a roommate and you’ll be all set. For now, Princess Celestia’s House Guard is keeping an eye on Princess Luna. I’ll be adding you into their rotation as soon as I get all of our paperwork straight. Any questions?”

With a shake of my head, I replied, “No, sir. Thank you, sir.”

He nodded once and then left me alone. This day had not gone the way I had imagined. Not at all but at least I was in the palace. Dad would be proud of that.

2. An Evening of Honesty

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Two weeks. It took a full two weeks just to find enough ponies to minimally staff Princess Luna’s House Guard with a squad. Imagine that: only a single squad of nine ponies to protect one of our alicorn sovereigns.

Captain Shining Armor had been careful—and rightly so. Princess Luna was now one of the only two rulers of Equestria, after all. That meant her security detail had to be staffed by the very best.

Each guard was hoofpicked by Shining Armor, interviewed repeatedly, and had their entire guard file audited. The goal was to end up with a group of ponies that were as skilled and as dedicated as the ones that staffed Princess Celestia's House Guard… or were at least close enough and willing to take the transfer.

The members of Princess Celestia's House Guard were, without any doubt, the finest guards I'd ever met. While the captain was putting together Princess Luna’s unit, I got to know many of them since I was temporarily assigned to their commander, Lieutenant Astral Dyke, and worked with them to protect Princess Luna. It was clear to me that they did not exactly appreciate the task, but they did the job without question.

Though we worked together, I was still an outsider. They only let me hoof the line of their inner circle and I understood that. Royal Guard units, especially one so elite, are like that. New ponies had to earn their way in and all I had done was step forwards on the parade ground. They’d invested their careers into getting to where they were.

Matters took a turn for the worse when my standard issue armor was replaced by the set that was designed specifically for the new unit. The uniform and dress standards for Princess Luna’s House Guards were different than that of our peers. It was done that way to better reflect the princess’s style and give her something that felt uniquely her own. At least, that is what the mare in charge of the design had said and, to be honest, it suited me fine. I was never a fan of gold.

My armor was byzantium with heliotrope highlights. That was the designer’s fancy way of saying dark and light purple. All of the segmented plates were light with the darker colors set into the breastplate. It looked rather impressive but also just a little bit sinister. I didn’t really feel like it made a huge case for Princess Luna not being Nightmare Moon.

What did I know, though? I was just a rookie guard on his first assignment. It just so happened that my first assignment meant immediately guarding a princess.

The door to my barracks room opened and the captain walked in. Immediately, I rose to attention.

“At ease, Silent Knight. There is somepony here I want you to meet.” He stepped out of the way to let a unicorn mare walk past him.

She was tall for a mare, silvery-white in color, and had a coltish turquoise and pink mane. Her cutie mark was a silver shield with a rainbow on the front. There was also some kind of design on it that I recognized from around Canterlot. It was called something like a flower of lies? No, that didn't seem right.

“This is Iridescence,” Shining Armor said. “She is your new partner. Pay attention to her, alright? She’s been with the palace guard for three years. I’m certain you can learn from her experience.”

She was a guard? She seemed a bit too pretty for that, but I certainly wouldn’t have said so out loud.

“Nice to meet you, Silent Knight,” she said, levitating a few bags into the room and setting them on the bunk opposite of mine.

“Likewise.” I looked to the captain and nodded. “Will do, sir.”

“Very good. You two get acquainted. You’ll be working opposite shifts.” He turned and left, shutting the door behind him.

I slowly sat back down on my bunk.

Iridescence started going through her bags and unpacking. “Have you been here long?”

“Two weeks.”

“Ah, so not long.”

I shook my head.

She glanced over at my new armor and raised a hoof. “That certainly stands out a ton against everypony else’s armor. You probably get a lot of looks.”

It was true. I nodded.

“Alright… well, I’m just going to unpack.”

“That sounds good.”

She seemed nice enough. I rolled over onto my bunk and picked up my procedures manual. It was the one used by Princess Celestia’s House Guard. We would be adopting it for Princess Luna and I wanted to make certain I knew it cover to cover. That sort of thing can come in handy.

The first lesson that anypony has to learn as a royal guard is that even though you spend most of your career training for the worst possible situation, your average day will be far more mundane. Guarding Princess Luna meant remembering two rules: keep your mouth shut and stand no further than two paces away from the princess at all times. If you can do that for twelve hours on end, then you’re set.

That also summed up my first month of duty when I was on shift. Truth be told, I was starting to feel like a pet. Wherever Princess Luna went, I followed close. Breakfast? Me watching her eat from over her shoulder. Official meetings? Silent Knight against the wall. Late night skeeball at the palace arcade? Two paces to the left of the machine.

Princess Luna loved skeeball, but she wasn’t that great at it. Once I was almost struck directly in the face by a ball that went wide. That was probably the most dangerous event in my early career.

Twelve hours a day I was two paces away if we were anywhere other than her chambers. If we were there, I was by the door so that I could stop any intruder that might happen to wander in. That was, of course, assuming they got past the gate, two or so companies of palace guards, and all of the support ponies.

When you spend that much time with anypony, you get to know them. My very important pony was different from most, though. Not because she was an alicorn or a princess, but because she had been stuck on the moon for a thousand years.

More than anything, Princess Luna was struggling to fit in. There was simply no polite way to put it. She didn’t know anypony, had no friends, and relied heavily on her sister to assign her duties. There wasn’t any royal function that was all her own. The palace staff and other guards weren’t a big help, either. They typically gave her a wide berth, and it wasn’t out of respect.

On the face of it, most ponies were polite to her, but very few tried to get close. There were always rumors about her being evil or strange and, while she kept a stiff upper lip, when she thought nopony was looking I could see the pain in her as plain as day.

That was how it is sometimes. If you’re doing your job right, the pony you’re guarding forgets you’re there. You’re just a piece of the background. At least, that was what I thought.

One evening, after raising the moon, Princess Luna was standing out on her balcony looking into the night sky. It wasn’t uncommon for her.

“Silent Knight?” she asked, catching me off guard. She’d never spoken at me, much less used my name. I wasn’t even aware she knew it.

Gathering my wits, I responded, “Princess?”

Turning from where she was gazing up, she made eye contact with me. “‘Tis true that thou wert the only pony to volunteer for our House Guard?”

Speak clearly when spoken to. That part I had down. Never tell a lie. Got that, too. However, the princess already struggled enough with ponies not relating to her. Telling her that yes, only one pony wanted to be on her guard seemed like a bad idea. It would probably be a bad idea to mention that everypony else was, more or less, voluntold to join the unit.

To be safe, I decided I would gloss over the truth with an elaborate but believable tale but “Yes, Princess,” was what my mouth replied while I was still working out the details. Stupid, honest mouth.

She turned away from me. “We see. And wherefore didst thou volunteer?”

Important ponies were always interested in motivations. It would be a lie to say I didn’t think for myself. I certainly did, but I was also a guard. Guards followed orders and did what they were told. Thinking was for their superiors. In this particular case, however, I knew I’d have to answer, and answer carefully.

“I didn’t believe you were Nightmare Moon, Princess. Still, that is. You probably had a good reason for what happened, too. With all due respect, Princess. My preference is always to meet a pony and then make a judgment for myself.”

The princess seemed to ponder that answer and I thought that I was in the clear. She was silent for a while longer before speaking up again. “And thou risked thy career for the opportunity to meet us?”

No, that certainly wasn’t true. I couldn’t tell her that. Plus, she might be thinking I was trying to fraternize and that was just not going to happen. I knew I’d have to take another stab at it.

“Not exactly, Princess. Royal guards are supposed to stand up for the little pony. It upset me when nopony else stepped forwards. When they didn’t it was clear I had to.”

What an elegant and great speech, Silent Knight! Other than the part where you called the princess a little pony. That was what we guards refer to as a resume-generating event.

“Thinkest thou that we are a little pony?” she asked. Her tone held a note of confusion. That was a step up from angry, at least.

Never let anypony shake your cool. That was certainly easy for my dad to say. He wasn’t staring down Princess Luna alone on a balcony. I could feel my cheeks turn red and willed them to stop. They won that battle.

“No, Princess. It is an expression. I meant nopony stood up for you, so it was my duty to do so. Everypony should have somepony in their corner.”

I could feel a bead of sweat running down my forehead, inside my helmet. I had not strung together this many words since before secondary school.

Her head tilted curiously. “What dost thou mean, in our corner?”

Seriously, Silent Knight, couldn’t you have made it another two hours until your shift ended? Stupid, honest mouth.

“Princess, it is another expression. It means having somepony that looks out for you. That supports you no matter what. Like a friend or—” What would make the most sense? “—a sister.” Yes. Like her sister!

I made a mental note to spend less time in the gym and more time reading philosophy or psychology. Anything to make talking to ponies easier.

Princess Luna smiled just slightly at me. She didn’t do so often, so it was nice to see her smile. Frightening, like I was about to be tossed into a dungeon or off the balcony, but nice.

“And thou art in our corner, Silent Knight?”

Ah, honest mouth, it is your time to shine. “Yes, Princess. Always.”

“This pleaseth us,” she replied as she walked past me and back into her quarters. “Thou hast a clever way with words. Though thou mayest wish to report to the medic. ‘Tis not warm this eve, yet thou art looking feverish with all of thy sweating.”

Never let anypony shake your cool. Easy for Dad to say. My shift was over in two hours. After that, I would report to the medic. Just in case.

Iridescence sat on her bunk, familiarizing herself with my procedures manual. She didn’t have one herself. Who knew why, but I didn’t mind sharing, and my thoughts were too focused on the letter in front of me to worry about where her manual was.

Dear Winterspear

You’ll never guess what happened. I’m not really sure I understand how it happened myself. Either way, and I know you won’t like hearing this, Dad was right. All that hard work was worth it.

Being left in Canterlot alone was frightening but it did a good job preparing me to deal with the type of ponies that live here. Plus all of that extra education and the chance to train at the Central Royal Guard Academy paid off.

I’m a House Guard! Can you believe that? My first assignment is to the House Guard. Princess Luna’s House Guard, but still. It was worth it.

Congratulations on making sergeant. Few ponies deserve it as much as you.

Your brother

Silent Knight

Carefully I started to try and fold the letter. That wasn’t something easy to do with hooves, but I usually managed. After struggling with it for a minute, it floated away from me, wrapped in royal blue magic.

“If you don’t mind, Silent Knight, I can do that for you,” Iridescence said, her horn illuminated.

Magic. Unicorn magic. It wasn’t something I was used to even after all of my years in Canterlot. Truthfully, I was wary of it but she was being helpful.

“Thank you,” I replied and let her do the folding. Once she was done, I stuck the letter in an envelope and headed off to mail it. It was a shame I’d waited so long. The letter was long overdue, but Winterspear would understand. She always did.

3. A Casual Conversation About Heroes

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After the night on the balcony, my shifts with Princess Luna were different. I wasn’t a backdrop anymore even if I wanted to be, at least not when the two of us were alone. When we weren’t at an official, semi-official, or casual affair, she would talk at me.

I should clarify what I mean by “talk at me.” To say Princess Luna didn’t have a lot of friends would be putting it kindly. There was Princess Celestia, of course, and a hoofmare or two. Outside of that, though, everypony else was all business.

That left a lot of time for her to be alone. At least as alone as a VIP can be, which meant being alone with a guard or two, depending on the security situation. During my shifts, she would talk at me. I would listen and be quiet unless she asked me something specifically. Which, mercifully, she rarely did.

My guess is that having a confidant gave her peace. She knew I would never repeat anything she said because I was obligated not to. Also, I’m pretty sure she got the impression that I’m not big on talking in general. I let my actions speak for me and since I’m not good at interpretive dance, her secrets were safe with me.

Princess Luna spent a lot of time writing, even during her free time. Her work seemed endless and I wondered if she ever took a moment for herself. There were documents in her office, in her chambers, in her game room, and everywhere in between. It made me appreciate that my job was to stand there quietly.

On one particular evening, she paced back and forth in front of her desk with three pieces of parchment floating in her vision, levitated by alicorn magic. She looked at them and then at me. That look always meant I was no longer a prop and was about to be talked at.

“Silent Knight?” she asked.

“Princess?” I replied immediately. It seemed I was wrong. This would be a talking to and not at. I had become somewhat accustomed to being spoken to by that point.

One of the parchments glided down to the table and a quill rose in its place. She scribbled something and then asked, “Thou went to school in Canterlot, didst thou not?”

Thank Celestia. An easy question with a straight answer. “Yes, Princess.”

“Wherefore, then, didst thou not attend school in Cloudsdale, close to thy family?” she asked, scribbling something else. Was she writing down my answers?

“My father said I would have a better chance of being accepted into the Royal Guard if I was already in Canterlot and familiar with its ponies, so he sent me here to attend school. It would be an advantage.”

“Is that so?” she asked, which was a very loaded question.

Was it so my father said that? Yes. Was it true? Possibly. I was now, in fact, a House Guard. How could I know for sure?

“So he said, Princess. Whether he was right or not I can’t know. I am a House Guard, however, and assigned to a princess. There must have been some wisdom in his mindset.”

Once more her quill scribbled on the parchment. Was she working and holding a conversation or was she taking notes? It was quite unnerving.

“Wert thou not frightened to come to Canterlot as little older than a colt?” she asked.

In that moment I really thought the whole ‘speak when spoken to’ part of my upbringing was going to be the death of me. The princess didn’t know it, but this was a sore subject in my family. My mother and sister had been against it; my father, for it. He typically got his way so he picked me up and dropped me off in a city full of ground ponies.

“Terrified, Princess. It was right before I started secondary school. I lived alone in a tiny apartment, but I received the best education my parents could afford.” Terrified was probably an understatement, but it did allow me to learn how to be self-reliant. That sort of thing makes a pony tough.

Princess Luna let a second parchment glide to her desk before levitating another one. “Thy father’s counsel is most wise, though I may question his methods. He was a royal guard as well, was he not?”

Finally, a change of topic. I could talk about my dad all day. He was a hero. Well, a hero to me, anyway.

“Yes, Princess.” I paused. “Well, technically no, Princess. He was eventually, but most of his career he was actually part of the Equestrian Army. He served Equestria well until he took an arrow to the knee in a battle with some gryphons.”

The princess brought a hoof to her muzzle and stifled a laugh. That was rather confusing and, honestly, a little agitating.


“Surely thou jest,” she replied, smiling behind her hoof.

“No, Princess. A gryphon shot him in battle. He was wounded… in the knee… by an arrow. Is that humorous?” I was pushing a line but I take my father very seriously.

The princess looked at me with big eyes, the smile vanished and she shook her head. “Our apologies. That is not humorous. ‘Tis just that the situation remindeth us of something we once saw in a story. Perhaps thou hast not heard of such?”

Somepony wrote a story about my father being hit in the knee with an arrow? Nonsense. I shook my head and said, “My apologies, Princess, but I’m unfamiliar with what you speak of.”

Princess Luna looked a bit sheepish before saying, “Then this is not funny at all.” After that, she quickly went back to her duties while I tried to work out what had just happened.

The palace commissary makes better food than most chow halls. That was what I had been told, anyway. One major difference between the two, however, is that I didn’t have to pay to eat at the latter. Bits were something I had to be careful with. Royal guards don’t make a lot and I sent most of mine to my parents.

Unfortunately for me, there wasn’t a proper chow hall in the palace. There was one somewhat close at the Royal Guard Central Command Campus but when pressed for time or worn out, it was just easier for me to go to the commissary.

As usual, I sat alone eating my dinner quietly. It was some sort of noodles with carrots and peas—at least that was what I hoped it was. Again, just because somepony tells you the food is better doesn’t make it true.

From across the dining area, a pink mare approached me. Her armor had Princess Celestia’s cutie mark on the breastplate and a sergeant’s pin by the collar. Ponies tend to look alike under armor, but she was somewhat familiar. She also didn’t have any food.

“Mind if I join you?” she asked.

I shook my head and she sat down.

“Are you settling in okay?”

“Yes, Sergeant,” I replied simply.

Lightly, she cleared her throat. “My name is Radiant Orchid. You and I met a couple of times when you were working with us. Prior to your unit being stood up.”

That was it. She wasn’t the sergeant that had been assigned to the duty, but she’d filled in one day. “Right, yes, Sergeant. What can I do for you?”

Sergeant Orchid shook her head. “Me? Oh, nothing. I’ve just seen you here eating alone a lot. I thought you might like some company.”

“That is very kind of you, Sergeant. Have you already eaten?” I waved a hoof to her empty side of the table.

“What?” She laughed. “Oh! No. No…” Lowering her voice, Sergeant Orchid added, “The food here isn’t that great. I just wait until I get home. That is a perk of having a kitchen. You’re kind of on your own there, I guess.”

My nose wrinkled and I whispered back, “I appreciate that somepony else noticed. I’ve been told repeatedly that the food here is better than the chow hall.”

“No chance of that. Personally, I’m hoping that at some point the palace manager brings in a new staff or something. It is almost a crime that the palace should serve such awful food.”

A crime. Poisoning a royal guard was a crime. That could be a way to get things moving. Although that also involved the downside of being poisoned.

I pushed the noodle mush away. “Maybe I’ll trot over there tomorrow.”

“You’ll live longer if you do. Listen, I know you’re new and there aren’t any other green ponies in your unit. If you need anything, you can come see me. Alright?”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“Good. Have a nice evening.”

Silently, I stood outside of Princess Luna’s chambers, guarding her door. She wanted some personal time and had asked me to step out. That was completely within regulations so I didn’t put up a fuss.

Princess Celestia had gone to a lot of effort to renovate an entire wing for Princess Luna. She wanted to be certain that her little sister had all of the same comforts that she did. Everything was still being hammered out… literally and figuratively. About the only rooms that were still in one piece were Princess Luna’s private chambers.

Outside of them, however, was an entirely different story. It amazed me at how many construction ponies came and went. Lumber, nails, bricks, and other materials went by in carts and I had to pay great respect to whatever pony had insulated the princess’s chambers. None of this was obvious from in there.

Just after a brief squabble between an architect, forepony, and construction worker, Captain Shining Armor turned the corner and headed in my direction. He had an unfamiliar mare in tow. She was a petite earth pony with a dark brown coat and an almost black mane.

My body stiffened to attention as the captain drew close.

“What was that about?” he asked.

“The architect and the forepony had different opinions on what an arch is, sir. The construction pony had a different opinion on physics than the two. The three of them all disagreed on whether the opening to the administrative wing should be an arch, doorway, or drawbridge. Then it got a little physical.”

The captain blinked, paused as if he was going to say something, and then just shook his head. “Not our department. Listen, this is Miley Hooves, the latest addition to the House Guard. When you get off duty I want you to show her around and explain her duties. Can you do that?”

I could, but why? Shouldn’t the sergeant do that? Was something wrong with the sergeant? Should I ask? The captain was staring at me, waiting. “Yes, sir.”

“Thank you!” Miley Hooves chirped happily before quickly falling silent when Shining Armor looked back at her. Typically, you don’t interrupt a conversation between an officer and another pony.

The captain pressed on, “Good. Also, I reviewed your file this morning. Your scores at the Royal Guard Academy were excellent. You should have graduated as a guard second class. That got lost in the shuffle. Why didn’t you say anything?”

“It hadn’t crossed my mind, sir. This posting threw me sideways.” That was true. It hadn’t even dawned on me. Being posted to a House Guard was exciting enough.

He nodded. “Fair enough. Still, a mistake is a mistake.” His horn illuminated and unicorn magic surrounded my third class pin before pulling it from my armor. It amazed me at how little unicorns used their hooves or mouths. From a pouch, he levitated a second class pin and attached it in the now vacant place. “I also notified payroll. You’re entitled to the difference in bits between grades. That should be a decent little sum.”

Promoted. Granted, second class is pretty much automatic, but it was still nice. It helped shake that ‘green pony’ status a bit. Plus more bits would help my parents. That would be one less thing to worry about. “Thank you, sir!”

“Don’t thank me. I just corrected the mistake. Carry on.”

“Yes, sir,” I responded and settled back into my place outside the door. Only now I stood just a little bit taller.

4. A Guard's Day Off

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It was early evening. Iridescence arrived right on time: fifteen minutes before my shift ended. We stood at our posts in silence for a little while before she asked without breaking her forwards gaze, “Anything to report?”

“Quiet day,” I replied.

Iridescence was a top notch guard. She was always buttoned up, on time, and dress right dress. Under her armor, she was also an attractive silver unicorn. Of course, I’m speaking professionally. I would never let that fact get in the way of our working relationship. We were partners working opposite shifts and traveling with the princess when necessary.

“I did your laundry for you,” she said quietly. Iridescence was nice. She was always looking out for me. Of course, I also didn’t have a lot of laundry. Just the gambesons I wore under my armor.

“Thank you. You’re a thoughtful partner.” Then we stood in silence for the rest of the shift change until it was time for me to go. “Good night. Hope you have a quiet shift.”

On the way back to our room, I bumped into Captain Shining Armor outside of the barracks. I saluted, he nodded, and I returned the gesture with the intention of heading inside. I guess he had something on his mind because he called me by name. “Silent Knight?”

“Yes, sir?” I replied and stood at attention.

“At ease. I know you’re off duty.”

Officers… Dad always said that when they’re around, even if you’re off duty, you’re on duty. He didn’t raise a fool. “Thank you, sir.” I relaxed my stance slightly.

“How are things working out for you? Are you getting on fine?”

I quickly nodded and replied, “Yes, sir.”

He looked at me for a long moment, as if he was waiting for me to elaborate. I didn’t. The captain shrugged and went on, “Princess Luna has said very positive things about your professionalism and dedication. She is very pleased with your performance.”

“She is most kind, sir.”

Shining Armor sighed. “Listen, Silent Knight, you’re an excellent guard. As your commander, I’m proud of you. You stand out and you’re top notch. Even more so considering all your peers have a lot more experience… but, from one stallion to another, I worry a little. There is more to life than the job.”

My head tilted. “Sir?”

“I asked around. You seem to spend all your time on duty, practicing, doing physical training, or studying. That is commendable and in no way am I chastising you. I just feel like that sort of life isn’t sustainable.” He paused and shifted uncomfortably. “I should know. My little sister was… or maybe still is the exact same way.”

He elaborated and I could tell it was somewhat tough for him. “All she did was study her magic and worry about her next test or project. It was getting so extreme that her mentor, Princess Celestia herself, stepped in to help her. It was a kind thing she did. My sister made some friends and even has fun every now and then.” He smiled a bit. “So, as a mentor, I hope you’ll take my advice. Maybe actually take a day off now and then when you have your days off, okay?”

Shining Armor was my mentor? The Captain of the Canterlot Guard? He wanted me to work less? Was this a test? It didn’t make any sense to me. My father had always coached me on keeping my edge and staying focused. I did sometimes wonder about what else was out there, though.

Now the captain was telling me to relax a bit, and I shouldn’t disobey an order. I also noticed he was staring at me, waiting for me to in some way acknowledge what he had said. How long had I been standing there in silence?

“I understand what you’re saying, sir,” I started. “Order received. I’ll start using at least one of my days off to relax and find something fun to do.”

The captain laughed and shook his head. “It wasn’t an order, Silent Knight, but I’m glad you’ll take my advice. Be sure that the something fun doesn’t look too much like Royal Guard work,” he replied before patting me on the shoulder and heading off towards home. “Goodnight,” he called over his shoulder.

“Goodnight, sir.” I headed to the room I shared with Iridescence. We were off shift the next day. When she got back from her watch I’d ask her what to do. She knew more about these things anyway. Maybe we could go for a gallop together… no, that was too much like training. Sword fight? No. Archery? No, darn… hat shopping? Yes! We’d go hat shopping.

When I got to our room I noticed that Iridescence’s bunk wasn’t made correctly. I set her pillow and accessories carefully aside and remade it for her. It was exactly how the manual stated. I replaced the pillow and then set her stuffed animal in front of the pillow. That wasn’t regulation but it made her smile and the officers never seemed to mind little personal touches.

I straightened up our room and put away all the fresh laundry she had left on the bed for me while I thought about hat shopping. I really didn’t want to do that. I’m not a big fan of my helmet, much less hats. Plus spending bits on something silly didn’t make sense. Almost all of my money still went back home to my parents. With our Dad being unable to work, my sister and I did everything we could to make sure Mom and Dad lived comfortably.

Tomorrow was going to be awful. I hate hats.

“You want to do what?” Iridescence asked before placing her hoof on my forehead to check my temperature.

I lightly pushed her hoof away and repeated, “Hat shopping. We should go hat shopping today.”

“Why?” she asked, still eyeing me as though I was crazy.

I took a few moments to explain what had happened the night before and she started to laugh at me, which she may have exaggerated a bit because she fell back onto her bunk. “Silent Knight, he just wants you to relax and cut loose a bit! Do you really want to go hat shopping?”

With a very definite shake of my head, I replied, “No, I hate hats. But it was the only thing I could think of that wasn’t like being a royal guard.”

More laughing. She was actually in tears. Iridescence looked good laughing. Well, typically she looked good doing most things but she was my partner. No time for unicorn looking.

When she finally managed to get herself under control she said, “We can have fun and not go hat shopping.”

“We can?” I asked.

“Yes, we can. Good Celestia, didn’t you ever have fun as a colt?”

I quickly nodded. “Of course. I trained with my dad. I was on teams in school. Things like that.”

Iridescence gave me a look that seemed to border between mild amusement and pity. I had never seen it before and it unnerved me. “I have a better idea than hat shopping. Why don’t we go out to the country, have a picnic, and watch the sun set? Would you like that better?”

“I would.” Which was extremely true. Of course, anything was better than hat shopping.

“Good,” she said as she closed on me. The unicorn met my eyes and then they narrowed a bit. “I was going to ask you to get the food but I’m worried you’d go to the chow hall or something. I’ll handle that. You just stand here and not think about work. Okay?”

“Okay. Stand here. Got it,” I replied.

With a quick nod, Iridescence was on her way. I just stood there contemplating what was wrong with the food in the chow hall. It was better than the commissary.

I then shifted my stance to be more loose and casual since standing was technically work. I felt silly.

It took about two hours for Iridescence to find everything she wanted and then another hour for us to find the perfect spot in the country. I laid out the blanket she had brought and inspected the area for ants while she set out our dinner. Unicorn magic is handy. Creepy, but handy. Getting out all of those fiddly bits with hoof and mouth would have taken a while.

Once it seemed everything was to Iridescence’s satisfaction, we started eating. I am unwilling to admit that the chow hall food wasn’t good. I liked it fine. At the same time, wherever she found those sandwiches, fruits, and other things she brought must have been a world class restaurant. It was amazing.

While we ate she would occasionally look my way and we’d make eye contact. She had wonderful eyes. Hers were an icy blue and crystal clear.

It was also quiet out in the country. Very peaceful and beautiful to look at. So this was what relaxing is like. Sitting around with no purpose and enjoying what was going on around us. I could get comfortable with that. At least, every now and then.

Iridescence finally broke the blissful silence. “You don’t talk very much.”

Ah, she had noticed. Being quiet was one of my talents, after all. I nodded in agreement and replied, “Thank you.” That was, evidently, not the correct or expected answer.

“Thank you?” she repeated. “You’re proud of not talking much?”

I tilted my head. “Should I not be? I was always told a good guard keeps quiet and speaks clearly when spoken to. It isn’t polite to brag but I’m probably the best pony at being quiet.”

My unicorn partner laughed again, which was good. She shook her head. “You know that you don’t have to be a guard twenty-four hours a day. You can just be Silent Knight when you’re not in the armor.”

It seemed like a lot of ponies had given me advice on not being a guard. I was starting to question if I’d been doing something wrong, but I understood what Iridescence meant. There is more to the pony than the job, my mother had said once. Dad always said free time could be used to get a leg up on the lazy. They never agreed about that sort of thing.

I ate my tiny sandwich and said, “I’ll talk to you. What do we talk about?”

“I’m honored,” Iridescence said with a slightly teasing tone. “Why don’t we start with something easy.” She pointed a hoof at my flank. “How did you get your cutie mark?”

My cutie mark was interesting. It had both obvious and curious elements to it. Like many ponies destined to be royal guards, it featured a sword. A silver sword, to be specific. The odd part was that it was set against a light blue crescent moon. That never made any sense to me.

It had been a while since I’d thought about when I got my mark. “I used to carry a wooden sword and pretend I was a great warrior. Even before I knew anything about wanting to be a royal guard. My older sister, Winterspear, would pretend to be a villain and we’d spar like ponies in adventure stories. She always wanted to be the bad pony for some reason.

“Most of the time she would defeat me easily. She was four years older after all. One winter, however, I hit a growth spurt and ended up being large for a colt. We were playing a game where I was trying to rescue a beautiful princess that my sister, the equally beautiful evil queen, had hidden away.
“At… well I guess the climax of our little adventure tale, there was to be a sword fight. Instead of her winning, I did! I bopped her on the snout with my sword and she dropped hers. I won! My cutie mark appeared right then. The sword makes sense, but I never understood the moon.”

Iridescence was wide-eyed.

Nervously, I asked, “What?”

“You just strung together more words in the last five minutes than you’ve said in the entire time we’ve been partners,” she said with a laugh. “Well, clearly you were just destined to protect Princess Luna.”

I thought that over. Could that have been it? I didn’t think so. I’d never really believed in fate. Besides, I got my cutie mark while Princess Luna was still trapped in the moon. It was somewhat convenient even if coincidental, though. “Maybe. Thank you for not agreeing to buy hats with me. This is much more fun.”

Iridescence smiled at me and scooted a little closer. “You’re welcome. Is there anything else you like or think you might like?”

“Games. I’m pretty sure I’d like games. The kind with little pieces. When I was a foal I never had time for them.”

Her tone changed. “Oh, well then, you should get some games. I think Princess Luna likes games, too. Perhaps ask her?”

“Maybe,” was all I said.

We sat quietly, ate the rest of our dinner, and looked out to the west. It was just about time for the sun to set and I thought about how it was weird that I had never paid it much mind. It really was an amazing thing. All of the colors, the light disappearing, and the fact that it was all done by one powerful pony. Some ponies forget that Princess Luna and Celestia aren’t just princesses. They’re alicorns, too.

While I was distracted and pondering the wonders of the sun, sunsets, and alicorns, Iridescence managed to sneak up right next to me. She moved silently. That was one of her talents.

It was chilly out, so I understood why she was so close. We lingered for a while longer. I didn’t move.

“Silent Knight, have you ever had a marefriend before?”

“Sure,” I said. “My sister.”

She shook her head. “No, that isn’t what I meant. I’m talking about a very special somepony.”

“Oh, no. I guess not,” I admitted.

With a nod, she replied, “I can tell.”

“You’re a more perceptive pony than most. Reading others seems easy for you.” It was true. She was excellent at that sort of thing. I had seen it on some of our days off. Usually, I just stood beside her while she did all the talking.

“Even an unperceptive pony would notice,” she said with a quiet laugh.

“Ah,” I said and contemplated that.

Iridescence wouldn’t lie to me and I valued her insight. If she said it was so, it was probably true. While I was thinking, we just sat there quietly for another hour until it was time to head back. I liked relaxing. I made a note to do that more often.

5. Suddenly Sofas... and Quills

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“Pardon me, Princess?” I asked for clarification.

“We would like to go out this afternoon and shop with our loyal subjects,” she repeated.

That was not a great idea. “Princess, perhaps you’d rather stay and discuss some games? We could play one together. It is a little irregular, but it would still count as guarding.”

“We would rather not stay. We will go out shopping!” Her tone was pretty insistent.

It was short notice and certainly against standard procedures. With a quick nod, I replied, “Princess, I’ll need to run this by the captain. You’ll be exposed and procedure dictates for you to have a second guard to ensure your safety.”

Princess Luna stood from her desk and asked, “Surely, thou dost not think that we would be in danger in Canterlot, Silent Knight? Wouldst thou not be enough security for us?”

She was right, of course, but we have procedures for this sort of thing. When the princesses go outside the walls we plan for it. We set extra security. We cover our bases. She wanted to go out on the fly. “I may be, Princess, but procedure—”

“Are we a prisoner in our own palace?” she asked, cutting me off.

“No, Princess. I was just—”

“Then let us away to Quills and Sofas.” She tossed on her saddlebags with a flare of alicorn magic and made for the door.

Her stride was bigger than mine and she was on a mission. It took a near double trot to keep up while also staying one pace left and two paces back.

This was bad. The princess had made up her mind and if I left her to follow procedure, she’d probably go alone. If I followed her, I’d break procedure.

The princess was clearly not going to give me enough time to work it out. She walked swiftly and purposefully through the palace, into the grounds, and out of the gates while I looked pleadingly at every other guard we passed. Nopony left their post to help me. Gold-clad, Princess-of-the-Night-fearing jerks.

Once we were away from the palace and on the streets of Canterlot, Princess Luna slowed down to a normal pace. She seemed glad to be outside. The citizens of Canterlot were less glad. As she passed, they bowed deeply and didn’t move until she had gone by. Many were trembling in fear and I heard unkind whispers. Thankfully, Princess Luna didn’t seem to notice.

We strolled slowly by all the fancy stores, peering in the windows, and admiring the wares. I kept my cool on the outside. It wouldn’t help to let anypony know that something was amiss. Confidence would do more to keep away would-be attackers than anything else.

“What dost thou think of this hat, Silent Knight?” the princess asked me as she looked in a window.

Hats. Why did it have to be hats? I couldn’t really see it from my position behind her, but she had asked me to look. Oh, what the hay. I’ve probably already lost my job, so why not move closer and take a look? So that’s exactly what I did.

It was a white hat with a wide brim and was outrageously big. There were also purple flowers on it and, in general, looked like it could shelter several ponies under it. I’m no expert on hats, but I’m pretty sure this one was ugly. What if the princess liked it, though? This would need to be a delicate operation.

“Flowers would be most suitable for a mare, Princess, and I believe you like purple.” Thank you stupid, honest mouth for not saying you thought the hat looked ugly. Because it was a silly, ugly hat.

“We do,” she said but then turned and walked on her way. “We think we might look silly in a hat so large.”

Silent Knight one, hats zero. “As you say, Princess.” I fell back into my position.

We walked in silence until we reached the store she was looking for: Quills and Sofas. It was a strange combination of items and, in my mind, Couches and Quills would have made more sense for a name.

The Quills and Sofas staff were shocked when Princess Luna strode in. I followed along behind her and found that the store lived up to its name. It was nothing but sofa after sofa and aisles of quills. Simple quills, fancy quills, and quills so large that I couldn’t imagine a practical use for them.

The manager approached and knelt down in front of Princess Luna. “How may I help you, Princess?”

“We are just browsing,” she replied loudly in the royal Canterlot voice before making her way to the quills. All of the customers and staff seemed too awestruck to move or make eye contact with her. All except one.

At the back of the store was a white-coated unicorn mare with a long blonde and pink mane that had been done up with some sort of heart-shaped braid. Normally I’d have paid attention to the fact that she was pretty and had big colorful eyes, but I was too busy assessing her as a threat.

She was staring at us intently while hugging a notebook to her chest. The look in her eye was a little weird and overly excited. The same fear that had overcome the staff and other patrons seemed lost on her. It was unlikely that she was actually out to do the princess harm. Despite that, I still kept myself between her and the princess. Fanmares…

Princess Luna browsed the various quills in silence. I estimate she picked up and looked at no less than thirty boxes. I wasn’t sure if she was looking for something specific or just wasn’t ready to return to the palace.

After a time, she settled on two different boxes and levitated them to the counter. “We would like to purchase these,” she announced.

The clerk stared at her with a mix of fear and indecision.

“How much do we owe thee?” the princess asked. Still no answer.

I walked up to the counter and lightly waved a hoof in front of the clerk. “How many bits?” That seemed to snap the stallion out his stupor. I guess I was less intimidating.

“Twenty-five, please,” he stammered.

Princess Luna levitated the bits to the counter while the clerk bagged the quills. Once he had ringed her up, she settled her purchase into her saddle bag.

“We thank thee,” she said and we were on our way.

Thankfully, it seemed like we were heading back towards the palace.

“Silent Knight?” she asked.

“Yes, Princess?” I replied.

“Dost thou think that pony was afraid of us or of Nightmare Moon?”

I thought on that a moment and then replied, “I believe that those ponies were unaccustomed to having an alicorn shopping in their store. I am certain if that occurred more often, they would not react as such.”

The princess nodded. That answer seemed to satisfy her initially, but then she pressed on, “Then we shall have to be a patron of their store more often.”

Great. More last minute trips outside of the palace without proper security. Oh well, that will probably be the next pony’s problem. I doubted my career would survive the day.

“Of course, Princess.”

We walked the rest of the way to the palace in silence. It was drawing near the time for Princess Celestia to lower the sun and Princess Luna would have her own duties to attend to. When we crossed through the gate and into the grounds, it was immediately evident word had gotten out. I could hear some of the other royal guards talking quietly to each other as they stared.

Once we were inside the palace, as expected, Captain Shining Armor was waiting for us. Well, for me, really. The princess would probably be unaware. Tomorrow there would just be a different guard working opposite of Iridescence. My hope was that I could at least remain her roommate.

It would have been sad if we couldn’t be. Some things were starting to make sense between us. I’d worked out that she and I were friends, not just partners. Which was nice. I didn’t have other friends.

“Princess,” Shining Armor said cordially with a bow. “Welcome back. Did you have a good trip into town?” He smiled at her. Officers...

She smiled in return and gave a quick nod. She genuinely seemed happy and, because of that, I was okay with losing my job. Sometimes it is easy to forget that even though the princesses are alicorns, they’re also ponies. Ponies who get lonely or have their feelings hurt. If quill shopping made Princess Luna happy, then by Celestia she should go quill shopping!

“We did, Captain. We found exactly what we were looking for and more,” she responded. “Perhaps next time we shall look at sofas.”

Shining Armor’s smile brightened a bit. “I’m glad to hear that. That would be an excellent idea. I know your furniture is not something you selected. Cadence has expressed a concern to me that your space should feel more like your own.”

Princess Luna seemed to ponder that before nodding. “We agree. Perhaps we will indeed go look at sofas and other furniture. Thou hast my gratitude, Captain. If thou wilt excuse us, we have duties to attend.”

The captain bowed again. “Of course, Princess.” Then he looked at me.

Here it was. He didn’t look particularly angry but anger wasn’t professional, and you didn’t need to be mad to relieve a guard of his duty. Procedure had been broken. Policies were not followed. That was a fact. He was just doing his job.

It still put me in a bind. Should I stop to talk to him, or continue with the princess? I was still on duty, so I chose to fall in pace behind Princess Luna like normal. The captain dropped into step close beside me. So close I was worried I was going to stumble over his hooves.

He spoke very softly to me as he asked, “Went out alone?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied, matching his volume. My eyes remained forwards, and we stayed completely in step with each other. Never let anypony shake your cool. There would be no disputing of the facts.

“Anything to report?” His voice was little more than a whisper.

“Most townsponies were afraid and kept their distance. One unicorn mare was very excited to see the princess. Pretty, petite, not big enough to overpower me, but could have been a distraction. Unlikely, though. She seemed more starstruck than anything and kept her distance.”

Shining Armor nodded. “That is to be expected. Not the mare part, but everything else. Good work thinking quickly on your hooves.”

Good work? Seriously? What did he mean by that? “Sir?”

“The princess wasn’t going to take no for an answer. She needs to feel like she has some control. You stuck with her instead of trying to argue her down or letting her go alone while you did the paperwork. That is keeping your eye on what is most important,” he explained in hushed tones.

I suddenly felt filled with confidence. “Thank you, sir. I would never leave her side,” I whispered back.

He smiled and nodded. “I know.” He then paused and added, “You did break procedure, though.”

And there it went. “Yes, sir.” What else could I say? Rules are rules and they’d been broken. There would have to be some sort of repercussion.

“The senior instructor of the Royal Guard Academy has requested that I send him a royal guard next week. He needs somepony to give a lecture on making quick judgment calls. There is value in giving trainees practical experience so that they know what to do when faced with a tough choice.”

Shining paused, then softly clapped me on the back. “You’re now that pony, Silent Knight. Enjoy.”

I can’t say for certain, but I swear it seemed like he was delighted by my misfortune. The captain smiled once more and immediately broke off before I could respond.

He wanted me to give a lecture? In front of a bunch of ponies? I think I would have rather been relieved of duty or executed. Either would be preferable. Officers…

My room had never looked so great after such a stressful shift. Between the unscheduled trip out, the punishment assigned to me, and just the normal day-to-day, I was beat. All I wanted to do was nestle into my bunk and get some extra sleep.

After removing my armor and settling it on the stand, I noticed that there was an unopened letter on the table. It had my name on it, so I scooped it up, carefully tore it open, and hopped onto my bed.

Dear Silent Knight

Putting aside the comment about Dad let me say that I am proud of you. A House Guard? Right out of the academy? You must have done something right!

Thank you for the congratulations. It has been a long road but I’m glad to be here. Now that I have my own squad I have more time to do paperwork and write letters. Plus more time for fun!

Are you having any fun? Have you made any friends yet? I worry about that. You’ve been alone a while.

Your sister


Worry? Why would she worry? Iridescence was my friend and that was one more friend than I’d had in school. I would mention that when I wrote her back. For now, though, sleep was my priority.

6. The Lecture

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Iridescence helped me polish my armor one more time while we stood in the hall of the Royal Guard Training Academy. She had volunteered to come with me for my punishment, which says a lot about her character.

It was our day off. She should have been out doing whatever it was she normally did in her free time. Probably getting her mane done. Her mane was always styled even after wearing the helmet. Most of the mares complained a lot about that. Somehow she’d found a way around it.

Very few things scare me but speaking in public is one of them. Despite how bad I felt for taking up my partner’s time, I was glad that she had come with me. That is why royal guards always work with partners: there is always a pony to watch your back.

“It’s time. Are you ready?” she asked me in a soothing tone.

I nodded. “Yes.”

Which wasn’t a lie. I was ready in fact to go inside the classroom, but not ready to speak. What could be worse than sixty ponies who idolize royal guards staring at you while you let them down?

Oh well. Never let anypony shake your cool. Orders were orders and mine were to give a lecture. Iridescence bumped her flank against my own and pushed me towards the classroom door.

Being stared at has never bothered me. Royal guards are trained for that, but there were a lot of eyes looking at me. The instructor motioned in my direction and said, “And right on time, as all royal guards should be.”

“Listen up, ponies,” he said gruffly. “This is Silent Knight. He isn’t just a royal guard. He is one of Princess Luna’s House Guards and became so right out of this very academy. We should all aspire to achieve what he has. Give him your full attention. Silent Knight.” He indicated to me and stepped aside.

Great. Just great. I wasn’t any sort of special pony. I just did my job and happened to be on Princess Luna’s House Guard because I was stupid enough to volunteer. It wasn’t like I was part of Princess Celestia’s House Guard…

That gave me pause and my head tilted while I mulled over that concept. Actually, why would one House Guard be less than the other? That was what created Nightmare Moon in the first place, right? Ponies not giving Princess Luna her due?

I smiled ever so slightly at the thought. How about that? I am on a princess’s House Guard. My princess was as good as any other princess. The sisters were equals! It was in that moment that I felt satisfied. My dream had been achieved already. Right out of the academy, too! Perhaps I was a special pony after all.

My ears twitched, catching the sound of a soft cough. “Silent Knight,” the instructor repeated, snapping me back to reality. How long had I been standing there without saying a word? I cursed my internal monologue and realized I was, in fact, some kind of special pony.

Okay, it was showtime. Iridescence had helped me with my lecture by drilling it into me. Just memorize this, stand there, and repeat it. That was what she had coached. During each shift change, I had stood next to her and given the speech. It was all in my head, so now it was time to repeat it once more and that was exactly what I was going to do.

I nodded at the instructor. No need for him to suspect me of daydreaming. My silence was just making a point about the weight of my lecture. That was only fitting.

“Thank you.” My eyes fixed forwards.

After looking out at the group of ponies that were not much younger than myself, I began, “As a trainee of this academy, you will learn many skills. You will also learn many procedures. Skills become muscle memory and procedures become routine. They make up two halves of a guard’s knowledge that you must be able to execute without thinking.”

So far so good.

“What challenges us as royal guards is the fact that sometimes we’ll find ourselves in a situation where the hard-trained skills do not apply. As an individual, you’ll face a problem where you must deviate from your routine. That is when you must use your most important weapon.” To make the point stick I lifted my hoof and tapped my helmet. “Your mind.”

I paused for dramatic effect and then paced back and forth in front of the room. “You will not be trained for every possible situation, nor could you be. That is the true power of a royal guard: the ability to think. It is because of that very fact that you must prepare yourself by strengthening your mind. You must have faith in yourself that you can make good decisions with the information you have on hoof.

“When you do face those challenges outside of the norm—and you will—always keep your eyes on what is most important. What is the basis of our duty? To protect!” I raised my voice for that bit, just like Iridescence had, and held that tone just a minute more. “Take responsibility and make a choice! Make the best one you can to ensure that whomever or whatever you’re protecting will be safe first and foremost. Sometimes that may mean deviating from procedure.”

That notion seemed to disturb the assembled ponies. It was opposite from what they were taught day in and day out. In some ways, the academy offered little more than a foundation. Everything else was learned on the job.

Pressing on, I continued, “That very idea was frightening to me and it should be to you as well. Fear is okay. Fear keeps you alert and alive. It heightens the senses. Terror is your enemy. Terror will paralyze you with indecision and no decision is the greatest danger.

“Control your fear, and as long as you use your mind and keep your eye on your duty, you’ll know the right thing to do.” I paused once again to let that point sink in. “But, and I do want to stress this, do not make it a habit of breaking procedure. If you do so, you could be relieved of duty, imprisoned, or even be required to speak in front of trainees. Although you probably shouldn’t say that last part.

“Thank you.” With the lecture finished I turned and walked out of the classroom without looking back. There would be no question and answer session. My commitment was done.

In the hall, Iridescence was staring at me wide-eyed. She had both hooves against her mouth and looked like a pony that desperately needed to laugh but was holding back out of politeness.

“What?” I asked.

My best attempts to blend into the wall were usually not successful. Royal Guard armor just wasn’t the greatest of camouflage. But that didn’t mean I didn’t try. The more I blended in, the less I’d be engaged.

Princess Luna had been busy with decorating and, to quote her, “making the space her own.” Her office and chambers were now a light shade of purple. It didn’t quite match my armor but it was close enough and I willed it to be more so. That way I could blend in better. Of course, it should also be noted that white pegasi tend to stand out against purple walls.

“Silent Knight?”

Blast, my camouflage attempt had failed yet again. Perhaps next time I’d stand guard from inside of a cardboard box. “Yes, Princess?”

The princess levitated a parchment my way and asked, “Wouldst thou read this and tell us what thou thinkest?”

What I thought? Who cared what I thought? I’m just a guard. I don’t have any opinions on official documents. It would be inappropriate for me to—“Yes, Princess,” I replied and then mentally swore at my mouth. The parchment arrived and I lifted a hoof to catch it.

The words on the page were intelligible, but it certainly didn’t have the format of any sort of paperwork I’d seen before. That was as utterly confusing as the princess asking me to check her work.

“Well?” the princess asked, a hint of… nervousness in her voice.

I was quiet for a moment longer and then replied, “Princess, it seems like a very interesting account of somepony named Daring Do and a dragon. Are we at risk of a dragon attack? When did this occur? I’ll inform the captain after my shift.”

Princess Luna floated the parchment back to her desk, smiling a bit. “Thou likest it, then?”

Liked it? It was a report. Typically reports are either well written or not. “It was very accurate and clear. I don’t know that I like the idea that a dragon may attack. That is more concerning than anything else.”

The princess laughed. It seemed to me that a lot of ponies around me laugh when I speak. “Fear not, Silent Knight, ‘tis but a work of fiction.”

“A false report, Princess? Who would do such a thing?”

More laughter. It was nice to see her laugh since she was usually so serious. Although why she was laughing at me I didn’t understand. “Thou art too serious, Silent Knight. We wrote this. ‘Tis fan fiction.”

Was the princess admitting that during all the time she seemed to be working she was, in actuality, just writing false reports? That didn’t seem right. Surely she did some work. I sensed that she saw my confusion, mostly because she said, “Thou still lookest confused. Perhaps we should elaborate?”

“Please, Princess.” It was time to get to the bottom of this. Filing false reports was a crime, after all, but arresting the princess would probably not look good. Plus her sister could just pardon her. She might be able to pardon herself, actually.

“It is stressful for us now that our royal duties have been resumed. We also do not…” She paused and thought for a moment before continuing, “We do not have many social engagements yet. As such, we write stories to entertain ourselves. ‘Tis truly for fun, not mischief.”

That made more sense and was far less treasonous than I originally imagined. “You write stories like mothers read to foals,” I said in understanding… or so I thought.

“Nay, Silent Knight!” she said quite seriously. “Our stories are not for foals! They are for ponies of all ages who like adventure and intrigue. Even royal guards may read them and enjoy!”

Literature was not really my strong suit. When I was at the Canterlot secondary school I focused more on easily applied skills. Reading and writing are clearly important. I mastered them but never took an interest in poetry and fiction. There wasn’t a lot there that translated into Royal Guard skills, but if the princess said they were for everypony, then it was so.

It was sensible to just nod and, instead of just leaving it at that, for some reason I said, “You called this fan fiction, Princess, but I did not recall a fan being in your story.”

“Thou art being quite literal,” she replied. “The character Daring Do is not of our creation. Nay, a wonderful writer by the name of A. K. Yearling created her and crafted many books about her heroism. Those books are known and beloved all across our land.

“We are a fan of these books and it is not uncommon for literary-minded fans such as we to take a character and write our own stories. It helps grow the fiction and many build communities around these stories.”

That was interesting to me, that you could take somepony else’s work and expand on it. “And that is acceptable to do, Princess? Even though you didn’t originally create this Daring Do and your stories may not be what the original creator wanted?”

The princess nodded happily. “Verily! This is so, thanks to Equestria’s weak copyright laws and the absence of a giant mouse corporation that compels bureaucrats to extend such rights well beyond what is reasonable.”

There were giant mice and they were able to form corporations? That was a frightening thought. More so the corporations than the mice. Beyond that, to be honest, I didn’t understand half of what the princess had just said but I think I got the gist: “Score one for the little pony.”

7. The Phial and Filly Alchemist Supply

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“Of course I knew she was writing fanfiction,” Iridescence said to me. “What did you think she was doing all the time?”

“Official business,” I replied and paused to think about it. “Plus, it didn’t seem like it was any of my business to pry into her tasks. She does her work while I stand by the door and keep the dangers out.”

Iridescence chuckled at me while we walked down the street. We were out about the town on our day off. “She does that, too, but she has to have a life of her own. Writing is currently her creative outlet and she's very good at it.”

That wasn’t a shock to me. “She is the princess, so of course she is,” I said confidently.

Iridescence bumped my flank with her own. “No… She is good at it because she is good at it and practices all the time. Being a princess doesn’t make her a good writer. Nor would I say she is good at anything just because she is a princess. That would hurt her feelings.”

Ponies were complicated. Iridescence saw my confusion and asked, “What would you say if I said you were good with a sword because you’re a royal guard?”

“Thank you.” Which was clearly the wrong answer.

“No! Not every royal guard is as good with a sword as you are. Didn’t you learn to use yours before you were a guard? Isn’t it a matter of pride that you learned enough to best your older sister? Do you really want to boil it all down to the fact you’re just a guard?”

That phrase bothered me: “just a guard.” All I had ever wanted to be was a guard, but when she said it that way it seemed meaningless. I realized then what Iridescence meant. Princess Luna wasn’t "just a princess" and I barely learned anything about using a sword during my time at the guard academy. My skill with the blade was well beyond that of my peers due to the fact that my dad had trained me since I was a foal.

That was a far different perspective than any I’d ever considered before. It was a revelation, actually. All royal guards aren’t the same. My cutie mark has a sword in it. Iridescence has a shield in hers. We did the same job, but we have different talents.

When Iridescence explained things they made sense. How could I express my appreciation of that to her?

“I see.” Nailed it.

“Good,” she replied before looking up at a street sign and then turning a corner. “I heard there is a new store in town, The Phial and Filly Alchemist Supply. It sounds like a neat place. Why don’t we check it out?”

“Alchemy? Isn’t that magic? That sounds… good?" I shrugged. "Tell me one more thing. Princess Luna said she liked to write her fanfiction, but some ponies complained because she didn’t like to 'ship' in it. What does that mean?”

My unicorn companion looked over at me, ignored my reservations about magic, and asked, “Do you ever speak back to the princess, or do you just listen?”

“She talks at me a lot,” I said, somewhat defensively.

“Of course. You know, you can ask questions if she is engaging you. Perhaps even have a conversation? Princess Luna needs ponies to talk to, not just talk at.”

I didn’t really respond. In my opinion, I wasn't a great pony to talk to. It just wasn’t one of my talents.

She went on, “Anyway, shipping means forcing characters into a relationship. Say Princess Luna was writing a story about you and me. A fanfiction writer likes that story and decides to write their own about us and, in that story, they decided you and I would become very special someponies, even if that wasn’t the princess’s intent.”

“That would be silly.”

I’m not sure why but Iridescence gave me a look and it wasn’t a good one. It was something like the look an opponent gives you before a sparring match. “Why would that be silly?”

Finally, an easy question. “We’re partners.”

“You’re a special pony, Silent Knight,” she quipped before shaking her head. “Anyway. Princess Luna doesn’t ‘ship’ her own characters with any of the main characters the original authors wrote about. She only puts hers in relationships with the other original characters she wrote. Some of her fans don’t like that.”

Thank Celestia for Iridescence. “You’re saying somepony writing a story might do something silly like have Princess Luna fall for me and then we would become very special someponies?”

“Exactly,” Iridescence said.

“That wouldn’t make any sense at all,” I said cautiously and looked over at her. I got a nod. Finally, I was catching on. What sort of pony would ship me with the princess, anyway? That would just be weird.

Then I frowned and continued, “Wait, did you say fans? How in Equestria are ponies getting Princess Luna’s stories? More importantly, how is she hearing about what they think about her writing? I’ve never seen any ponies coming or going during my shift.”

Iridescence’s brow arched. “How can you be so observant and miss all of this? The green journal that shows up once a week? The princess reads it cover to cover. She sends her stories to the group that prints it, they publish them and other stories, and then forwards all of the fan mail. They don’t know she is the author, but it is still a pretty big deal for her. She converses with a lot of ponies via mail.”

“I’d never made the connection between the journal and the writing.”

“You’ve never asked.” Her tone was chiding. “Learn your VIP, Silent Knight. Rookie mistake there.”

Conversing with the princess wasn’t something I really imagined doing but Iridescence was right. Rookie mistake.

After wandering around Canterlot, we finally found the Phial and Filly Alchemist Supply store. It had a big “Grand Opening” banner hung over double doors that were propped open. The whole place was packed with ponies and most of them were mares.

Shopping is not a talent I possess. Iridescence, however, was a master and I was becoming comfortable with being her packhorse. My task was to carry the basket and hers was to fill it wherever we went.

I often wondered where she found all the bits to shop like she did. Royal guards don’t make a lot and she was the same grade as me. The price tags of what she bought frequently caused my heart to skip a beat. It wasn’t my place to ask where the bits were coming from, though. That was just rude.

In our usual fashion, I held the basket and walked behind her as she looked around. Iridescence took her time so that she could touch, smell, and explore the various potions and products. When we reached the section labeled “Mare Care,” she stopped and started levitating bottles.

“Which one of these would you prefer I smelled like?” she asked me and started floating opened potions by my nose.

It was like an assault on my sense of smell. I’ve crawled through mud and muck. I’ve showered with a bunch of sweaty stallions. I even fell into the sewer once. Nothing had ever smelled as intense as the bottles floating by.

My vision went blurry and I was certain I was going to faint just before one particular scent went by. It was subtle and sweet. It smelled like berries. “That one,” I gasped before covering my nose with a hoof.

The bottle levitated into the basket and the rest went back on the shelf. I eyed them warily. It would probably be a good idea to check if they qualified as weapons and inquire if the pony who made them had a license to do so.

Iridescence picked out a few more things before we went to the counter. A grey pegasus stallion with green eyes was waiting to ring us up. He was wearing some sort of green flat cap. I kept an eye on it as I set the basket on the counter. Hats…

“Thank you for coming in today,” the stallion said warmly. “I am Runic Phial, the proprietor. Did you find everything you needed?”

“Yes,” I stated flatly.

“Almost everything,” Iridescence corrected. “Would you happen to have any love potions?” Her tone was teasing and she nodded in my direction while winking at Runic Phial.

I nodded back. I’m not sure why. It just seemed appropriate.

Runic Phial looked confused and nodded along with us. “Love potions, hmm? Romantic scents for your special somepony? I make perfume, bubble bath, coat glitter, and hoof lotion. Something like that?”

Shaking her head, Iridescence replied, “No, real love potions. The kind that make a pony fall in love with you?” She bobbed her head towards me again and looked from Runic Phial to me and back.

I wasn’t sure what we were doing so I just nodded again.

Runic Phial also nodded, clearly perplexed as well. He started ringing up Iridescence’s purchases and said cheerfully, “I’m sorry, ma’am. Those aren’t something I can make. Ethics and all that. That will be 54 bits, please.”

I was still nodding. She wasn’t anymore so I stopped. Iridescence paid and looked a little grumpy. I’d be grumpy, too, if I’d spent 54 bits on toxic potions. Runic Phial gave me the shopping bag and I carried it out.

“Don’t worry, Iridescence. You won’t need a potion to have a special somepony. You’re smart, attractive, and nice. Any pony would be lucky to have you.”

That made her smile, which made me happy. She leaned a little closer and asked, “Really?”

I nodded and smiled back. “Yes, really… and I promise I’ll help you find him.”

Royal guards get a decent amount of days off because of our long hours. Most of mine were spent training. After a 12-hour shift, I was rarely in the mood to go to the gym so off days allowed me to catch up.

Exercising was a passion of mine. Not because I had to do it for my job but because it made me feel good. Back in secondary school, I’d been a hoofball player and had gotten bit by the “workout bug.” My teammates rarely spent as much time with the weights or on the track as I did.

It was a habit that had largely paid off as a royal guard since my fitness rating was always an A. There was also the perk that the palace had a gym in the basement. I didn’t have to go far to indulge my passion.

My usual workout involved a lot of repetitions with low amounts of weight. That always got the heart going and kept me fit. Plus, it is dangerous to do heavy weights without a pony to spot you.

That was what I was doing when I caught a burst of pink come through the door. It was Lady Cadence, the captain’s fiancée and Princess Celestia’s adopted niece. I’d heard she was pretty, but that was the first time I’d seen her myself.

The rumors were definitely true. She was a magnificently beautiful unicorn. Good for the captain.

My tastes have always slanted towards unicorns and Canterlot had no shortage of them. They were usually smaller than pegasus mares and more elegant. It may have been a condition brought on by living around them so long. Either way, when Lady Cadence hopped up on the treadmill and started trotting, it became more difficult to just focus on the weights.

“Silent Knight, I didn’t expect to see you here on your day off.” The voice was the captain’s and came from behind me.

My head whipped in his direction and almost directly into the bar resting in the bench’s crooks. “Sir! I was… working out.”

“I see that.” He chuckled. “It is still your day off, though.”

Maybe he hadn’t seen me looking. “Old habit. I played ball in school. Never looked at exercise as a chore.”

“Good stallion. You want a spot? You can use more weight that way.”

“If you’re willing, sir.”

Shining Armor nodded and slipped two more plates on with his magic. “No problem. Just be sure you keep your attention on the bar when you’re lifting.”

White coats don’t hide blushes well. I’m certain my face was red… literally and figuratively. “Yes, sir,” I replied meekly before we went to lifting weights.

8. The Gala

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“I realize a lot of you may want to go to the Grand Galloping Gala tomorrow night, but we’re going to need extra security so I’m asking for volunteers to work it. If there are enough, I won’t have to assign ponies,” Shining Armor explained to the group.

My hoof went up. Iridescence shot me a look. Other ponies were also volunteering.

The captain started counting hooves and then cleared his throat. “We’re going to need about ten more. Any other volunteers? Otherwise, I’m just going to have to pick some at random.”

At my side, Iridescence sighed and lifted her hoof. A few more ponies did the same but with less sighing.

Shining Armor counted again. “Close enough. I’ll post the rosters shortly. Thank you, everypony. Next year I’ll give preferential treatment to the volunteers when it comes to leave. That is it for today. Dismissed.”

There weren’t a lot of “whole palace” meetings where both House Guards and the Palace Guard got together. The Gala was a special occasion, though. The palace would be open to a large group of ponies. It was far more access than normal and that meant additional security concerns.

Volunteering was easy for me. I’d never been to the Gala, didn’t have a ticket, and didn’t really care. That seemed more like Iridescence’s thing and she seemed grumpy about it.

On our way back to our room, she said, “We were off.”

“I know. You didn’t have to volunteer, too.”

“We’re partners,” she reminded me.

“I appreciate that.”

That seemed to be the end of it once we reached our room. Iridescence removed her armor, set it on the stand, flopped unceremoniously onto her bunk, and started to look through a magazine. She didn’t utter a single word.

While that was pretty unnerving, there was something else that I needed to take care of. I went to the table and started to work on my response to Winterspear. It was probably past time for me to do that.

Dear Winterspear

Yes, I’m having fun. Most of my off days allow me plenty of time to work out in the gym. That always relaxes me and gives me a sense of progress. It is work-like, but I was doing that long before I became a royal guard.

Did you know alicorns have to exercise to stay in shape, too? I didn’t. They do, though! Princess Luna likes to swim. I don’t think that is a secret but don’t spread it around. That would be a silly thing to end a career over.

Yes, I’ve made a friend. Her name is Iridescence. She’s my partner. Before you pick up the pencil to write that that doesn’t count, it does! We do things outside of work. We go shopping together, have an occasional picnic, and spend our off days together. That all counts.

I actually think she is mad at me right now. We have the Grand Galloping Gala coming up and I volunteered to work so other ponies could go. That seemed to set her off but I can’t understand why.

Mares aren’t as obvious about things as stallions are. No offense.

What about you? Is there anything new going on? Are you taking your job as sergeant serious enough? You may not be patrolling anymore but that is no excuse to loaf.

Tell Mom I said hello if you get a chance.

Your brother

Silent Knight

That was another letter complete. I set the pencil down and lifted the paper up. “Could you help me fold this?” I asked Iridescence.

She shot me an unkind look, but then sighed and did as I’d asked. She must have really not wanted to work that night. Still, she didn’t have to volunteer, too.

“Thank you.” The folded paper went into the envelope and I headed out to mail it.

Once that errand was done, I’d go get Iridescence a treat. Ice cream or something. Mares like ice cream. Maybe that would make her feel better about having to work… or at least less angry with me. Our room was too small to hide from an angry mare.

“Princess, are you certain you don’t want to go to the Gala? It is the biggest event of the year,” Iridescence said while I stood quietly behind her.

The princess waved a dismissive hoof. “We are certain! We would not know anypony there. It would not amuse us.”

Well, that was that. The princess didn’t want to go. We’d have a nice quiet night in her chambers.

“But you might have fun, Princess. You may even meet new ponies and make some friends,” Iridescence said over my thoughts.

Princess Luna paused, as if to think it over, and then replied, “No, though we thank thee for thinking of our feelings. Perhaps we can watch from the balcony? We three can make our own fun, can we not?”

“Of course, Princess,” Iridescence said and looped her hoof around mine and tugged me closer. “Silent Knight and I will be happy to do that. Right?” She gave me a look that read danger.

I had only one response to that: “Yes, Princess.”

“Huzzah!” Princess Luna exclaimed before levitating a box from one of the shelves. “Shall we play a board game?”

“Yes, Princess,” we replied in unison.

Playing games on duty. That wasn’t procedure, but we had a lot of extra security for the Gala. Two house guards and several palace guards. Iridescence could play while I kept an eye on things.

Princess Luna left her quarters and set out for the big balcony on the second floor that overlooked the main hall. We fell in behind her and followed. The whole area had been roped off and was relatively quiet in comparison to the noise coming from below.

The princess set the game on one of the tables and took a seat. Iridescence sat as well while I went to look over the balcony. Things were just getting started and ponies had not been admitted yet. Then I went to look out the window. There was a mass of ponies approaching together.

“Come on, Silent Knight, come sit down,” Iridescence said to me.

“There appears to be a mob gathering outside the gates. They are... singing... and dancing. They are also well choreographed. I don’t think they’re a threat,” I reported and came back over. Princess Luna and Iridescence were levitating pieces into place with their respective magic. Despite knowing better, I settled at the table with them.

Sitting while on duty felt weird. Iridescence levitated the helmet off my head and set it aside. My hooves wiggled after it in a failed recapture attempt. I looked at her. Playing on duty and out of uniform? So it was to be a mutiny.

“Hast thou played before, Silent Knight?”

“No, Princess,” I replied.

Iridescence spoke out of turn and said, “We are so surprised.” Both of the mares laughed.

An instructor had once told me that I could have had a career in comedy. Maybe he wasn’t just being a jerk.

Princess Luna smiled. “Fear not, Silent Knight. We shall teach thee to play. Thou mayest even like it.”

The board was an old timey map of Equestria and had colored lines all over it. The princess slid a group of pieces towards me. I took one in my hoof and peered at it. One of many blue train cars. She then slid four cards over to me.

“Thy goal is to complete the routes on thy cards. Pretend thou art riding the train and exploring our great land.”

Pretend. I used to do that a lot with my sister, Winterspear. We played all sorts of games. At least until our father got wind of it. He said we spent too much time with our head in the clouds. Which, at the time, my sister thought was hilarious. You know, since we’re pegasi.

Dad… well, Dad didn’t find that funny. Winterspear caught the worst of that. She always did. We focused more on our studies afterwards.

Orders were orders, though. “Yes, Princess. I’ll pretend,” I replied and she set about explaining the rules to me.

They were simple enough and I caught on quickly. It was a game about trains, but there was a lot of strategy to how you laid out your routes and blocked others’. I had to win! I also had a job to do. On Iridescence’s turn, I got up to look down on the ballroom. The Gala was in full swing but there was something out of place.

A pink mare with a cotton candy mane was making something of a scene. “There is a pink mare acting peculiar down there,” I said.

“That is fine, Silent Knight. There are guards there. Come play your turn,” Iridescence replied.

I wasn’t sure. “She has a cannon,” I added. “Should I take her out?”

“Nay, Silent Knight. It is thy turn,” Princess Luna said.

I put the crossbow down and came back over to the table. “Yes, Princess.”

Much to the dismay of the mares, I laid down six cards of the same color and placed my train cars. Were they expecting an easy victory over the new pony? Strategy is my middle name!

We played a while. Iridescence and Princess Luna chatted like two familiar ponies might. It seemed a little like fraternizing but I knew my partner. She was a professional. Between turns, I would keep an eye on the ballroom below. Towards the end of the evening things seemed to get really out of hoof.

“Is it typical for everypony to be running in terror at the Gala?” I asked.

Iridescence got up and replied worriedly, “What? Quit fooling around.” Both she and Princess Luna came over to look at the bedlam below.

Things had gone sideways for sure. The pink pony dove off the stage and sent a cake flying. As it approached the crowd, a rather cowardly unicorn stallion used a beautiful unicorn mare as a shield. I’d been told he was a princeling. Not an actual prince that was in the line of royal succession, not that such a thing really existed anymore.

The princeling bumped into the large statue of Princess Celestia that dominated the center of the room and caused it to topple over. To my amazement, a blue pegasus mare managed to catch it and somehow support its weight.

Unfortunately, she immediately bumped it into a support column, knocking it down. I was seriously starting to question the structural integrity of the palace. It seemed that relying on the lowest bidder for royal construction was not paying off. Celestia knows I’d seen some insane things going on with the ponies building over in Princess Luna’s wing.

Just a moment after the column went down, a herd of animals burst into the ballroom with a yellow pegasus mare chasing them and screaming, “LOVE ME!”

At that point, all decorum broke down and the Gala descended into a riot.

I looked to Iridescence and she looked back at me. I’ve known her long enough to read her expressions. This one was telling me: "No, Silent Knight, this is not typical for the Gala."

“Should we move the princess?” I asked.

Iridescence considered that and then shook her head. “Not from the palace but certainly from here. This situation could spill upstairs in a hurry and we’d be overwhelmed. I don’t much care for the idea of knocking down regular ponies who don't mean any harm but are just panicked.”

She was right. Of course, she usually was. I nodded and said, “Princess, shall we finish our game in your chambers?”

“Yes, we would not mind that at all. It is getting quite loud out here. ‘Tis a silly event,” she said and, with little effort, levitated the board, all the pieces, and cards with her alicorn magic. That always amazed me, but I didn’t have time to enjoy it or eye it warily.

Taking the lead, Iridescence said, “If you’ll follow me, Princess.” She started to head towards Princess Luna’s chambers.

I took up the rear, keeping an eye behind me. There were still sounds of chaos and commotion coming from the ballroom.

Thankfully we reached our destination without any excitement. I closed the door behind us while Princess Luna and Iridescence set the game back up. When it was clear that it was safe, I resumed my seat.

We played on quietly until I asked, “Should the columns have been that easy to knock down?”

Both mares looked up at me.

“What?” I frowned. “Nopony finds that weird?”

9. The Game Store

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“Iridescence?” I asked into the dark room.

I heard her roll over on her bunk to look my way. Royal blue magic illuminated around her horn and cast enough light for us to see without being blinding. “Easy there,” she said quietly. “Are you starting a conversation?”

Softly, I snorted. I could start conversations. I just chose not to. “Maybe I am.”

“You must still be high on your victory. It was just a board game.”

“It is a game that requires strategy, planning, and tactics. It was a good exercise,” I said but then rolled over to face her. “That isn’t what I wanted to talk about, though. How come you volunteered to work the Gala? You’d have fit in perfectly there. At least until the riot started.”

Iridescence laughed quietly. “We’re partners, and I was waiting for a particular stallion to ask me to go. He never did.”

I frowned. “Really? That seems like a mean thing to do.”

“Oh, it wasn’t intentional. I just think he isn’t aware that I’m around,” she explained.

I laughed a little. “Wow, he must be pretty thick headed, then. What kind of pony could be so blind to the fact that you’re one of the prettiest unicorns in Canterlot?”

She laughed, too, shaking her head and looking at me with amusement. Our eyes met and she answered, “Well, it takes all kinds you know… but thank you for saying I’m pretty.”

“One of the prettiest,” I corrected before rolling over onto my back again and tugging the sheets up. “That stallion must be pretty unobservant. I can’t imagine.”

Iridescence let the light on the tip of her horn go out and I could hear her giggling. “You might try.”

What did that mean?

The next morning, we slept in for a little while. Even though our shifts were exactly opposite, Iridescence and I usually spent our days off together.

“I have an adventure planned for us today,” she said.

I silently prayed to Celestia that it wasn’t another trip to the Phial and Filly Alchemist Supply. Iridescence loved to take me there and have me pick out scents for her. It was slowly killing me. I always thought she smelled just fine as is.


“Yes. You and I are going on a train ride. I’ve heard a new shop opened in Ponyville. Rumor has it that they carry all sorts of games. I thought we could go over, find something new to play, and get the princess a gift,” she explained.

That sounded like a great idea. Board games weren’t silly like hats. They kept your mind sharp.

“Okay. There are some letters I want to drop in the mail on the way out, though,” I replied while she got dressed.

She had been wearing dresses lately when we went out. Nothing fancy but more than the everyday mane and coat.

Today, the one she wore was blue like my mane. I wonder where she found things like that or how she afforded them. By that point, she had filled her locker, foot locker, and my locker, too. That was perfectly fine, since I didn’t own much in the way of clothing.

Once she was ready, we headed out to the train station after a quick visit to the mailmare. Typically, we walked everywhere. A train ride sounded like fun, but it also served as a reminder that I rarely flew anymore. I needed to do something about that.

Iridescence bought our tickets and we were off. I sat across from her, looking out the window and enjoying the scenery. She just seemed to watch me for most of the trip.

“You really are just yourself, aren’t you?” she asked.

That struck me as a strange question. “What do you mean?”

“You don’t pretend to be any other pony than yourself. You’re comfortable being Silent Knight. Is that you or is that your father’s doing?”

This conversation was getting even odder. I stretched my wings out and replied, “I like to think it is me. I realize ponies sometimes act differently depending on where they are or who they’re with. My mom always told me that if somepony doesn’t like me for me, then they aren’t worth worrying about.”

“You don’t talk about your mother much.”

I shrugged. “She and my father disagreed a lot when I was a foal. He just wanted to make sure I’d make out okay as an adult.”

Iridescence nodded in thought. “That must be nice. You wanted to be a royal guard so that is who you are.” She looked out the window and I had a feeling there was something else going on. Subtext.

“Is something wrong, Iridescence? You seem sad.”

That caught her off guard. I guess she was accustomed to me missing subtext. She got up and sat down next to me. “Maybe a little,” she admitted.


“You never pry into my business.”

I blinked a few times and quipped, “You’re sad because I don’t pry?”

Iridescence smiled a little, which was a good sign, and softly pushed me. “No, you dolt. I mean you never pry in general. You give me all the privacy and space I want. Why now?”

“You look sad,” I said plainly, but that wasn’t enough. “It bothers me to think that you might be sad.” My wing slipped around her shoulder.

“Aren’t you sweet,” she whispered and leaned against me. “I miss my family, even though I became a royal guard to get out on my own and put some space between us. Spending time with you reminds me how important friends are. I miss my parents and sisters… especially Dot."

She sighed. “Don’t get me wrong. I lo—really like hanging around with you. It doesn’t mean I miss my family and old friends any less, though. When it is just the job it is easy to forget what love feels like. Do you know what I mean?”

Yes. My father had sent me away from Cloudsdale before secondary school. I was alone day in and day out: terrified, sad, and without comfort. It made me strong, but I wouldn’t do that to my own colt. “Yes.”

“Manehattan just feels so far away lately.”

“Perhaps you should take a vacation and go home for a little while?” I suggested. “I’m sure the captain can assign somepony else temporarily. He said it himself that we all need time off.”

“What about you? Don’t you want to go home?” Iridescence asked.

Did I? Who wouldn’t? It had not crossed my mind in a long time, however, and I wondered why.

I tugged Iridescence a little closer with my wing. “I am home.” We’d leave it at that.

I guess my look said enough and she let it drop. We rode the rest of the way to Ponyville in silence.

Ponyville was larger than I’d imagined. It wasn’t a densely populated town like Canterlot and, without it being stuck on a mountainside, there was a lot of space available to spread out. That meant there was a lot of breathing room and that was nice. Iridescence’s spirits had improved dramatically and we wandered around the town for some window shopping.

“The captain’s sister lives here you know,” she commented idly. “In fact, all of the Elements of Harmony live here. It seems somewhat unlikely that six strangers could do what the entire Royal Guard couldn’t, doesn’t it?”

With a slight shrug, I replied, “I can’t pretend to understand magic. You amaze me when you levitate game pieces. It makes me jealous until I remember I can fly.”

She laughed. “Just game pieces, huh? How about my sword? Certainly better than clumsy hooves or mouths.”

“Those are fighting words.” I bumped her with my flank. While we were bantering we drifted off course and found ourselves in front of the pinkest cottage I’d ever seen. The mailbox was heart-shaped, as were the windows and the weather vane.

“We may need directions to the store,” Iridescence said as she turned up the walk to the little cottage.

I followed along behind her. She raised her hoof but, before she could knock, the door suddenly opened. A fluffy pink pony stood in the entry and gasped excitedly when she saw us.

“Oh, hello there,” Iridescence said. “We were looking for the new game store in town.”

“Pfft,” the pink pony said, her tongue poking out and flapping. She pointed vaguely in a direction and added, “Pfftbllblblbl.”

“I see,” Iridescence said, turning in that direction. “Around the town hall, then?”

The pony nodded and replied “Pfft” again but that time it sounded different.

“Thank you.” Iridescence said and we turned to walk in that direction.

The door shut behind us and I asked, “You understood her?”

“Not a word. Now get your flank up in the sky and find the place!”

No additional coaxing was needed. It was time to fly! I leaped into the air, spread my wings, and soared high.

Ponyville looked a lot smaller from that vantage point and it didn’t take too long for me to spot what looked like the store we were looking for. It was near the main street and out front it had two large peeples, those generic wooden pony figures that are used in a lot of games.

I circled longer than necessary since it felt wonderful to have the wind in my mane again. Keeping Iridescence waiting seemed rude, however, so I turned in and spiraled down to her. Landing at her side, I reported, “It is on the other side of town.”

“Great, we should probably check it out before it gets too late,” she responded and we were off. “You know, I enjoy watching you fly. You should do it more often to keep your wings strong.”

“You’re right.” We trotted along the wide streets of Ponyville looking at the various stores. “Sometimes I forget that I can fly. We just stand there all day,” I added as we reached our destination.

Iridescence smiled. “Well, don’t! For now, however, it is time to find some new games and a gift for Princess Luna. Try to find something more thematic. You’re too into the strategy games.”

What was wrong with strategy games? Perhaps the princess and Iridescence were tired of my winning streak. I shrugged and wandered into the store.

If you’re into board games, it was pretty impressive. Every wall was stocked with the latest and greatest games. There was even a section for small, independent titles. I started there. After all, a royal guard should look out for the little pony.

One game caught my attention with a brightly colored box. It had four colorful, young dragons on the cover. They were cute. Super cute, actually. I looked over at Iridescence. She liked cute and I didn’t mind that sort of thing. A stallion can like cute things without being unstalliony.

I read the back of the box for more details. A light strategy card game where each player took on the role of a baby dragon trying to build a treasure hoard. Light strategy. Light didn’t count, right?

I looked at Iridescence again and took the game over to her. Look at the cute dragons. Ignore the strategy part.

“What did you find? Something off the independent table, huh?”

I held up the game box for her to see.

“Wow! That looks adorable. What is it about?”

“Baby dragons stealing treasure. There are four different kinds to choose from: darkness, fire, moonlight, and sunlight.”

She looked at me and then at the box. Keep calm. No emotion. I stared back at her blankly, as if I were back at the academy.

“Okay,” she finally said.

Iridescence picked out a couple of games for herself and one for Princess Luna. Our gift. I use the word “our” loosely because she paid. It was a game about giant monsters fighting over Manehatten, which seemed kind of funny.

With our purchases in my saddle bags, we headed back towards the train station. The train wasn’t due for another 15 minutes or so and we found ourselves standing there, waiting. A faded poster on the wall caught my attention. It featured a yellow pegasus with a pink mane all dolled up. She was holding a mug of cider, clearly as some sort of advertisement.

“Do you think she is pretty?” Iridescence asked in my ear, suddenly right beside me. She moved too quietly for a pony. They didn’t teach that sort of thing in the academy, either.

Weighing my options, I replied, “I think you’re prettier and I’m somewhat tired of shameless advertising and product placement in everything we read, see, or watch. This doesn’t make me want to buy cider.”

“Aren’t you a smart cookie,” Iridescence said, turning back to the train tracks. “You’re right, though. Everything is about advertisement. The next thing you know it will start turning up in Princess Luna’s fan fiction."

I snorted. Advertisements in fanfiction. What sort of monster would do that?

10. Realizations

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“Silent Knight!” came the captain’s voice in my dreams. It was extremely lifelike and I quickly realized that this was real.

I fumbled about, fell out of my bunk, and immediately sprung to attention. “Yes, sir!” I replied from under the blanket that had landed over my head.

Captain Shining Armor was standing in our doorway. I heard him come over before he pulled the blanket off. I didn’t move.

“I’m sorry. You’re normally awake by now. I realize it is your day off,” he said.

“No problem at all, sir,” I replied.

“I need a reliable pegasus right now. Are you up to the task?”

“Yes, sir!”

The captain looked me over and nodded. “I knew I could count on you. Get dressed.” He dropped a sealed scroll case on my bed. “Deliver this to the Royal Guard commander in Cloudsdale. Get there as fast as you can. Understood?”

Cloudsdale? I wasn’t thrilled by that prospect, but I wasn’t going to let the captain down. “Yes, sir. Consider it done.”

With a nod, he said, “Good stallion.” Then he turned and left, shutting the door behind him.

“Will you be alright?” Iridescence asked.

I blinked, pulled out of my thoughts. I had forgotten she was there. Looking over at her, I nodded. “I’ll be back in time for my shift tomorrow.”

Getting out of bed, she came over and patted me with a hoof. “You know that isn’t what I meant.”

I did, but it was time to get my armor on and into the sky. Giving her the best smile my face would allow, I replied, “It will be alright. I’ll see you tomorrow. Why don’t you go to the Phial and Filly today since we can’t go on our picnic?”

Iridescence gave me an evil smile. “It isn’t as fun when you’re not there to grimace.” I glared at her just as she plopped my helmet onto my head. “Out, mister! You’re on the clock now.”

Tucking the scroll case into my bag, I headed out of the barracks. It was still very early in the morning; Princess Celestia had not yet raised the sun. Orienting to the west, I leaped into the air and started flying.

It wasn’t a short trip and a wise pony would set a reasonable pace. I flew fast, pushing the limit to see how rusty I was. Evidently, I wasn’t rusty at all. Even with the added weight of my armor and the occasional cloud stop to rest, I made good time.

Cloudsdale looked different than what was in my memory. It was very bright and colorful. The weather factory was in full swing, too, which added even more vibrancy in the form of rainbows, storm clouds, and other weather patterns.

Flying through town, it quickly became obvious that the ponies of Cloudsdale had never seen one of Princess Luna’s House Guards. Many looked out of idle curiosity, but I could also sense fear in others. Perhaps in time, they would forgive and forget.

After a bit of searching, I located the Royal Guard headquarters and landed. More odd looks, which was off-putting. Royal guards should know better. We would sometimes have a friendly rivalry with the “goldies” in Canterlot, but we were all on the same team. These ponies gave me a wide berth as I walked into the building.

The Cloudsdale headquarters was somewhat ancient. It was once the Pegasus Warrior Hall, built right after the old tribal times. Pegasi have always been exceptional warriors and the hall showcased that fact. There were rows of carved statues honoring our greatest heroes from the most recent all the way back to Commander Hurricane. We loved our warriors, regardless of what kind of ponies they were.

I paused at one of the somewhat recently finished statues. It was not as large as many of the others, but we didn’t have great war heroes as often anymore.

I hid my smile. They had done a good job capturing my father’s likeness. He looked as stern and proud as ever. Duty called, however, and it was time to report to the commander’s office.

The Royal Guard loves tradition. Most of the large commands have a special title associated with them. Colonel Shining Armor was the Captain of the Canterlot Guard. Colonel Tsunami was the Cloudsdale Commander. Both titles went back to ancient times.

Commander Tsunami's office had not been hard to find. All a pony needed to do was follow the statues.

“Message from Canterlot Command, sir.” I produced the sealed case from my bag and sat it on his desk.

Commander Tsunami is what ponies call “old school.” He never liked the modern gold armor. Instead, he wore a traditional pegasus set made of the finest Cloudsdale steel. It had been handed down along his family line for as long as anypony could remember. Soldiering was more important to him than guarding. If we ever had a real war, he would be one of the ponies to lead us.

The commander focused his one good eye on me and nodded. “Thank you, son. Dismissed.” I turned to leave, but he added, “Wait. You look familiar. Do I know you?”

I shook my head. “No, sir. I’ve never had the pleasure of serving with you. Canterlot only.”

Commander Tsunami stroked his chin with a hoof and then nodded. “That is a shame. That place is a waste of a real soldier and I know real soldiers when I see them. If you ever get tired of it, I’ll approve a transfer. What is your name?”

“Silent Knight, sir.”

He repeated it and said, “Good soldier. Dismissed.”

Good soldier? If anypony could read a pony it would be him. Was I honestly wasting my potential in Canterlot? Should I be here? No, I was a house guard. I would miss the princess and Iridescence too much. Besides, living in Cloudsdale would have been complicated. I would—

I fell flat on my face when my hooves tripped over something.

“Good soldier, indeed,” came the teasing voice of a mare.

I had been pretty lost in thought but had she deliberately tripped me with her spear? A quick look down confirmed it. What sort of childish, rude pony would—oh.

“Still up to dirty tricks?” I asked before righting myself. Like any good soldier, I straightened up to my full height and set my jaw. Our eyes locked beneath our helmets: she in her gold and me in my purple. We glared in silence.

Finally, she laughed. “Wow, you’ve gotten good!”

I glared just a little longer before smiling. “How’re you, Winterspear?” What were the odds?

“I’m doing well, little brother. I got your letters. A princess and a unicorn! Aren’t you a stud?” she teased. Always teasing.

“You’re one to talk… Sergeant,” I said, mock saluting her. “Or if you prefer… Your Majesty the Dark Queen.” I knelt and she bonked me on the helmet.

“Oh, get up, you. Come on before somepony sees us.”

Winterspear led me back to her room. As a sergeant, she had her own quarters, which was considered a perk. I only saw it as a detriment. Less time with Iridescence. For my sister, though, it was nice. Once the door was closed, my helmet came off and I plopped into a chair.

“I have duty tomorrow,” I said.

“I’m sure you do,” she said. “Surely you can spend some time with me, considering I haven’t seen you in who knows how long?”

Guilt. That was a new one for her. I smiled and nodded. “Of course. You could come visit me, you know. You have days off duty as well.”

She made tea and waved a hoof at me. “You know how it is. A sergeant’s work is never done. Cats, cradles, and all that.”

I did know how it was, but I still would have liked to see her more. She made really great tea.

“You should marry that unicorn,” she blurted out.

I blinked and stared. “What?”

“You clearly have feelings for her. You write about her in every letter. It is obvious to me she likes you and if she is half as attractive as you say, you should do something about it before some other stallion does.”

I continued to stare. We’d never really had a conversation like this and she sounded crazy. “But… she is my partner,” I managed to say.

That yielded me another bonk on the head. “You’re so rigid! That. Mare. Likes. You! When has that happened before? Do something about it.”

Clearing my throat, I skillfully guided the conversation another direction. “What about you? Don’t you have a special stallion in your life? I don’t see you married and you’re older than me.”

“My barn door doesn’t swing that way,” she said. “And age has nothing to do with it.”

I tilted my head, pondering where she had a barn.

“What? You don’t approve?” she asked.

What was she even talking about?

“Silent Knight? Don’t tell me that is a problem for you?”

“What?” I asked.

“Do you have a problem with that?”

“With what?” I was confused. Very confused.

“My barn door?”

“What is wrong with your barn door? If it only swings one way we can fix it,” I replied simply.

She glared at me. “Are you speaking metaphorically about fixing me or do you believe we’re literally talking about a barn door?”

“I can tell by your tone that if I say it was the second one, it may result in another blow to the head.”

Winterspear's hoof slapped to her face. “It is an expression. It means I don’t like stallions.”

My eyes narrowed. “I’m a stallion.”

“Oh, Celestia. Please marry that unicorn before she figures out how slow you are,” she started before setting her tea down and reaching across the table to hold my cheeks with her hooves. She looked me in the eyes and said, “I don’t want to marry a stallion. I want to marry a mare.”

Oh. Barn door. So that is what that meant in secondary school. I rolled my eyes. “Why didn’t you just say that? I don’t care if you want to marry a rock, as long as it loves you.”

Winterspear glared at me and then her eyes softened and she smiled. “You… You’re so sweet. I could always count on you.” She kissed my cheek and then hugged me.

We didn’t do that sort of thing much, but it was nice. I hugged her back.

“How is Dad?” I asked and she went rigid in my hooves. That was a mistake.

“I wouldn’t know. Mom is well, though. We have lunch once a week,” she said coolly.

“You two are still fighting, then?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” was the reply. “Are you going to see them before you go?”

No, I wasn’t. “No… I have to be at my post. I’ve never missed a shift and don’t intend to start now.”

“Good soldier,” she replied, hugging me still. Those words had a lot more meaning.

Dad and I got along, but I wasn’t thrilled about seeing him. Duty was a convenient excuse. We stayed in our embrace for a while. I was starting to see what Iridescence meant. I missed my sister.

“Do you have a special mare, then?” I finally asked.

She parted the hug and was all smiles. “I do, but you wouldn’t approve. Caramel Mint is also a royal guard. Different ranks. She makes me happy, though.”

That was against regulations. A pony could be relieved of duty for that.

“Keep it quiet, then,” is what I said and I meant it. I think that caught her by surprise. No lecture. No mention of regulations.

If it made my sister happy, then it couldn’t be bad. She deserved happiness.

The flight home felt almost too easy, as if the winds were carrying me along. Nothing could darken my positive mood. My duty was done and I’d spent an evening with my sister. Even if she was a little strange with her ideas about my love life, she was still my favorite pony in the world. What did she know about love?

Probably a lot more than me, actually.

Iridescence didn’t like me in that way. We were friends… partners. She was after some other stallion that never noticed how much she was into him. Some pony that was so oblivious that he didn’t see her for what she was. Some pony that was… never around? I’d never seen anypony else around her but… me. Oh, Celestia, I had been an oblivious fool.

Spreading my wings I dove towards Canterlot, flying faster than I ever had in my life. It was almost time for my shift. I had to see her. She would be there, outside Princess Luna’s door, standing guard. I had to tell her what a fool I was.

The landing was rough and I broke into a gallop across the courtyard. The frantic pace continued inside the palace. Down the hall, up the stairs, and into Princess Luna’s wing. I saw Iridescence standing there and considered all of the most romantic words the great poets had ever written about a mare.

I would swoon her. I would dazzle her. I would crash into her in one second. Wait!

I collided with Iridescence, knocking us both to the floor and making all sorts of horrible noises. Armor colliding with other armor sounds like that. I knew we’d drawn attention. She looked up at me shocked, as if I had lost my mind. I had.

I swallowed, thought back hard on those few love poems I had been forced to read in school, and said, “You are relieved…” No, that was wrong. “Relieved to be my special somepony,” I quickly whispered.

Iridescence just stared at me in shock. Half of that was probably because I had tackled her. I knew the other half was my words.

Two guards charged around the corner and she waved them off. “Clumsyhooves fell, but everything is perfectly all right now. We’re fine. Everything is fine, thank you. How’re you?”

The pair gave us strange looks, but took her word and left.

I panted as I remained still and she pushed me off and over. All that flying and galloping had done me in.

Iridescence looked over at me and whispered, “You express affection in a very idiotic way.”

“Yes,” I huffed.

“I’m going to see the medic. You have twelve hours to think about how you’re going to make up for not noticing for this long.”

“Yes,” I groaned as I dragged myself up.

Iridescence followed suit, keeping her professional decorum. She whispered as she went by, “But I’m glad you finally came around. I’ll see you at home.”

Yes. She would see me at home. I smiled briefly before I took my post and stood rigidly at attention.

11. Chocolate Rain

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Fraternizing was risky business for a royal guard. It was acceptable for enlisted guards to mingle but it was often looked upon as unprofessional if it was done within the same unit. This was especially true with partners.

The officers would worry that we’d look after each other more than our duty. It was because of that fact that Iridescence decided we would not actively discuss our relationship with others. We wouldn’t lie, but we wouldn’t advertise the situation, either. Those were her instructions to me. That made it seem wrong somehow, but I trusted her.

It was our first time off together since we decided to be more than friends. Of course, as my punishment for being so oblivious, we went to the Phial and Filly Alchemist Supply. Iridescence loved that store and its curious, eccentric owner.

Our shopping was taking longer than usual and the heavy scents were starting to get to me. I could feel my eyes watering.

Runic Phial came out of the back in a cloud of smoke. He had a pair of goggles over his eyes and was covered in soot. Wiping the grime from the lenses, he wandered over to us.

Iridescence smiled at him. “Good afternoon, Runic. Another failure?”

Runic Phial coughed and shook his head. “Complete success! I turned some quartz rocks into other rocks.” He looked at me and saw my discomfort. He stuck his hoof into a bucket of white goo on the counter, and then plastered me right on the nose with it.

Anything that resembles a punch isn’t always a wise thing to do to a guard. My reflexes started to kick in, urging me to fight back, but then I realized the smells had subsided. I wiggled my nose and then nodded at him. He nodded back.

“Do you have anything new, Runic?” Iridescence asked, which was always a dangerous question.

Runic reached behind the counter and produced a purple vial. “I do! This new potion is excellent.”

I was skeptical.

“What does it do?” Iridescence asked cautiously.

“That is a great question,” he said with confidence, though it didn’t sound like he actually knew the answer. “You see, I mixed together several things, including some great flowers that I found in the country. I’m pretty sure this combination will—oops.”

The potion fell from his hooves and shattered on the floor. A plume of purple smoke filled the back of the shop and sent many a pony scurrying out into the street.

I lightly coughed as the mist overpowered my senses.

Iridescence sneezed and looked at Runic, wide-eyed. “Are we going to die?”

Runic shook his head and replied, “Nooo… Maybe!”

I took Iridescence by the hoof and started to drag her to where the potentially fatal purple cloud was not lingering thickly. Most of the sales floor was now inundated with the mist and everypony else had scattered.

I knew I should have been more concerned but this was a pretty normal day for this shop. Thus far, the worst that had ever happened was me being transformed into a mare for six hours. I was pretty. It was weird.

Runic came through the cloud looking unconcerned. He took his goggles off and coughed. “Well, if it was going to kill us we’d probably be dead by now. We’re safe again!”

Safe was a relative term, of course. With Runic, I followed a 24 hour rule but, in this case, I didn’t think I’d have to wait that long. Looking outside, I noticed the clouds were pink and it had started to rain some sort of brown liquid. Pointing a hoof, I asked, “Do those clouds look pink?”

Iridescence looked, nodded, and then glared at Runic. “Why do the clouds look pink?”

The pegasus alchemist glanced outside and then paused in thought. “Mild shared hallucination. Happens all the time. Say, do you want to see my new rocks?”

“For how long?” Iridescence asked.

Runic shrugged. “I don’t know, until you get bored of looking at them? I never do but you might. Silent Knight understands, though. We didn’t have rocks in Cloudsdale.”

“She meant, how long will we be hallucinating,” I said. He was right about not having rocks. I just wasn’t as into them as he was. “Also, please define ‘happens all the time.’”

It had started raining pretty heavily now. Brown-looking water fell from the sky and pooled on the Canterlot streets. The smell of chocolate wafted in but surely that was part of the side effects.

“Oh, that,” he said, clearly sad about our lack of interest in geology. “Not long. A day or two, tops. Are you sure about the rocks? They were quartz this morning.” There was no answer for my second question.

“We’re sure,” I said and patted him on the shoulder. “Maybe next time when we’re not seeing things. For today, though, I think we’re going to go and potentially see the medic. Take care, alright?”

Runic nodded. “Well, okay then, if you’re sure. I’ll see you next time! Please come again.”

We left and for some reason I knew we’d come back. Iridescence always said the risk was worth it. Runic made the best mare care products in all of Equestria. By accident, I could only assume.

Walking out into the rain confirmed my suspicion. It was indeed the cause of the chocolate smell. I stuck my tongue out. Yup, chocolate. We started to head back to the barracks.

“It tastes like chocolate,” Iridescence said and I nodded.

“He really got us this time,” I replied. “Although I could think of worse things.”


Once we reached the palace grounds, we walked in and headed to the showers. After all, we probably just looked wet to other ponies, but as far as we could tell we were covered in chocolate. Sticky, sweet-smelling chocolate. That kind of thing is murder on the coat and mane.

I sat by our window, looking out at the insanely different world my potion-addled brain had created. My body was fine and there were no other effects. Just the crazy hallucinations.

“Anything new?” Iridescence asked from her bunk. She had decided reading was the way to go. Less visual.

“The sun has come up and gone down sixteen times and a house just floated by,” I stated matter-of-factly.

Iridescence quietly closed her book, set it aside, and slipped under the sheets. “DONE!” she exclaimed and went to sleep.

She had the right idea, so I followed her example.

Shining Armor laughed from behind his desk. “Seriously, you thought a potion could do all that?”

Honestly, I did. “Have you been to the shop before, sir?”

The captain’s expression went serious. “Once was enough. Cadence loves it, but it is no place for stallions. Nonetheless, I’m glad you’re well. Only you would show up to duty under the effects of a potion and not complain.”

“I didn’t think it would impact my performance.”

“I guess I can’t argue with that. Pink clouds, chocolate rain, and floating houses aren’t necessarily security risks. Just be sure you keep me posted in the future if you’re feeling like you’re under the effects of something.”

“Yes, sir. Should I assume everything is now handled?” I asked.

He nodded. “Thankfully yes. My sister and her friends took care of the situation with the Elements of Harmony and things are back to normal. Discord is safely encased in stone and we don’t have to worry about floating houses.”

“It seems strange to me that all of our major problems are now handled by civilians,” I said frankly.

Shining Armor nodded. “I won’t disagree with that. It has been odd. Here I am, a Royal Guard officer, and my little sister is off defeating Equestria’s villains. The worst we get are overexcited ponies that want an autograph or something. Still, somepony has to keep the law and order on a daily basis. Six mares can’t protect the whole nation on their own.”

He had a good point there. We might not be heroes, but heroes didn’t have time to help little old ponies across the street. They also couldn’t be everywhere. That was our job. “Is that our new recruitment line?”

The captain waved a hoof across the space in front of him. “Join the Royal Guard: we’re not heroes but we’re almost as good.”

“Needs work.”

“I’ll let the ponies in the press ministry work on it,” he replied with a chuckle. “Anything else to report?”

In my mind I was fidgeting. On the outside I’m sure I looked the usual calm, cool, and collected that I always did. Was the captain asking specifically about my relationship? How could he know? “Nothing of consequence as of yet, sir,” I replied and then paused. “But if you return to the shop with Lady Cadence, the shopkeep has a vat of goo by the desk. Rub some on your nose and it dulls the sense of smell.”

“That might save lives,” Shining Armor said in a serious tone.

I nodded gravely and then just stood in silence.

“Alright, dismissed.”

I left him alone in his office. In general, you had to be careful around officers, but Shining Armor wasn’t like that. He always seemed to be interested in what his ponies were up to and that was going above and beyond. The Captain of the Canterlot Guard had a lot of responsibilities. Taking the time to check in with individual guards wasn’t one of them.

It made not telling him the truth feel even worse. He had not asked specifically, though, and I decided that it wasn’t exactly a lie of omission. If things got serious I’d tell him myself. That is what an honorable pony would do.

Miley Hooves stood in my barracks room, dressed in her armor. I was looking it over before a routine inspection.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“You’ll pass. If you want I could give you some tips, though.”

“Please! I need all the help I can get.”

That wasn’t entirely true. Miley got on well enough but she wasn’t an exceptional guard. She tried really hard at everything she did. It just didn’t always work out well.

“You polished your armor in long strokes, didn’t you?”

She gawked at me. “How can you tell?”

“The streak marks. It looks good, but if you want to get that high gloss shine, you need to make small circles on each plate. That will eliminate all the streaks.” My eyes shifted to her sword. It hung just slightly below her armor. “I’d have the armspony take a look at your scabbard, too. If you take an inch off the belt, your weapon will be better concealed.”

She turned a circle trying to see it for herself. After three turns, she gave up and just nodded.

“Other than that, you’re in good shape. Certainly good enough to pass routine. Those suggestions are just for you to go the extra mile.”

Miley smiled. “Thank you! Where did you learn all of this stuff, anyway?”

“From my dad. When I was a foal, there were weekly inspections.” Punishments were also a lot more severe than a minor citation, but she didn’t need to know that.

“That is cool! My dad is a farmer, so he doesn’t know anything about guard stuff. He knows a lot about farming, though. If you ever need tips on raising pumpkins, I’m your filly!”

With a shrug, I replied, “Everypony has their own talents. I’ll keep that in mind if I retire from the Guard to farm instead. You’re all set, though. I’ll see you out on the parade grounds later, okay?”

“Okay!” she chimed before heading out.

It was time to get my own kit in order. Just enough to pass wouldn’t do for me. It certainly wouldn’t do for Dad. Everything had to be perfect. The model guard. An example to others. Those are the ponies that make sergeant quickly.

Of course, if I made sergeant that would also make my situation with Iridescence all the more difficult. Dating your subordinate was strictly prohibited. But that was something I could worry about later. For now, all I had to do was be certain that my armor was the best looking out of every other pony on the parade ground... and it would be.

12. The Plague

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It seemed that having a very special somepony was not that much different than having a close friend. Iridescence and I still did the same things we had before but now there was a shared secret between us.

There was also a higher percentage of time spent hugging, cuddling, and the occasional kiss. Beyond that, I now had the charge of “being more considerate.” Whatever that meant.

Iridescence and I sat at the small table in our room, playing a game. We were trying to ensure that four deadly viruses didn’t infect all of Equestria. It was going okay, but this was the sort of game that creeps up on you. Everything seems to be fine and then everypony suddenly dies.

There was a knock at the door and then it opened. Sergeant Windchaser came in and said, “Good morning, ponies.”

She was a pegasus like me and had been a royal guard for ages. Her mane and coat had long since started to grey and most of us saw her as more of a den mother than a squad leader. That isn’t to say she wasn’t good at her job because she was. Her style was just far more friendly.

I smiled and Iridescence said, “Good morning, Sergeant. What can we do for you today?”

“I hate to interrupt game time but I was actually looking for Silent Knight.” She pointed a hoof at me for emphasis. “Miley Hooves has come down with with a nasty case of the flu. Would you mind starting your week early and working one more shift to cover for her?”

Of course I wouldn’t mind. I never minded doing my job. In fact, I liked it! Then a subtle look from Iridescence caught my attention.

We had a quiet picnic planned for lunch that day, which also happened to be our last day off before we went back at work. She had gone to great lengths to set it up. She was also the one that said we should keep our relationship quiet. If I said no, the sergeant might have asked why.

I’ll make up an excuse. Something believable like: I have an appointment. That wasn’t made up. It was true—“No problem, Sergeant.” No! Stupid, honest mouth.

The withering look my unicorn companion shot me was almost physically debilitating.

Sergeant Windchaser didn’t seem to notice. She smiled and replied, “I knew I could count on you. Thanks.” Then she abandoned me to face Iridescence alone.

Once the door was closed, Iridescence repeated in a mock version of my voice, “No problem, Sergeant?”

Navigating this conversation was going to require strategy, care, and bravery. I calmly laid my cards down. “Had I said no she may have questioned me and you know better than anypony that I’m incapable of lying. I was following your instructions.”

“My instructions, huh?”

I nodded. “Yes. To keep things quiet. Especially in front of the sergeant and officers.” A reasonable defense. One thing I had learned about having a special somepony was that being more considerate also meant not necessarily being logical.

Iridescence gave me a look and then said, “In this case I agree. Although I feel like you always put the job first.” She sighed. “It is also really a shame. We had such fun plans.”

Of course I put the job first. It was our job! Picnics could wait. The princess needed protection. I kept those thoughts to myself, however. “I agree. Can we move it out a week?”

She smiled. I really liked that smile. “I think we can. Everything but the food will keep. Just don’t volunteer for any extra shifts if you can help it.”

“No problem.”

Miley Hooves, it seemed, was not the innocent, flu-stricken victim originally reported. She was, in fact, the harbinger of the plague.

By midweek, three-fourths of Princess Luna’s House Guard were sick, including Iridescence and Sergeant Windchaser. I was filling in for everypony I could and tending to Iridescence. On top of that, command had made me an acting sergeant.

Technically, I had not volunteered for any more shifts. At that point, our leaders pretty much expected those of us that had not yet fallen ill to pick up the slack. Things were getting so tight that they actually brought over trainees to do some of the basic Palace Guard work. Those ponies loved that. It was a dream come true, I’m sure.

At least until they caught the flu, too. That pretty much turned the dream into a queasy nightmare.

I stood in the background of Princess Luna’s chamber while she and Princess Celestia discussed the recent business with Discord. Typically, I make it a point not to eavesdrop on official business. That is a matter of personal pride and a good quality in a guard. Of course, it was very easy to not pay attention that day since I was half asleep.

The princesses were loudly discussing the possibility of rehabilitating somepony. At least I think it was a somepony. After all, they’d been talking about Discord prior. It was a somewhat heated debate either way. I got the impression that Princess Luna wasn’t thrilled with the idea.

The discussion went on a while before I felt myself sway. I quickly stiffened back to attention. It was unprofessional and I felt ashamed but also somewhat confused. Princess Celestia had just vanished. Alicorn magic was amazing! Princess Luna was laughing softly and looking at me.

“Princess?” I asked cautiously.

She smiled and said, “Fear not, Silent Knight. We shall not tell.”

Tell what? I glanced at the window to see that the sun was substantially lower in the sky... and then it dawned on me. “Princess, was I asleep?”

“Verily. It looked as if thou needed it desperately and we did not wish to disturb,” she said warmly. “Be not ashamed. Thou hast taken on too much for one pony.”

I was incredibly ashamed. Falling asleep on the job was the most embarrassing thing I could think of. A reprimand was in order. I would report myself to the sergeant as soon as my shift ended.

A hoof lightly landed on my shoulder. Princess Luna looked at me with concern. “Thou art a most diligent guard who has not been able to take the appropriate time to rest for days. Promise us that thou wilt go and sleep tonight.”

The thought to argue procedure and duty briefly popped into mind, but the look in the princess’s eyes told me she would hear none of that. “Yes, Princess.” I’d report myself then go to sleep.

The guard that relieved me, whoever he was, showed up right on time instead of early. I was too tired to comment on it. He looked pretty worse for the wear, too.

On the way to our room I kept my head up, doing my best to look one hundred percent. An acting sergeant, even an exhausted one, still had to set a good example for everypony else.

Coming through the door, I found our room to be dimly lit. Iridescence was awake and reading.

“How do you feel?” I asked her as I came over to check on her. Softly, I felt her forehead and then picked up her pillow to fluff it.

“Better. Still fatigued, but better.” She looked at me with concern. Once I’d finished with her pillow, I set it back behind her.

“I’m glad.” I smiled, went over to our table, and set out a parchment. It was time to start writing out my report.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

I set the pencil down so I could explain, “I fell asleep on shift. I’m reporting myself to the sergeant.”

Iridescence tilted her head. “But you’re the sergeant right now.”

That was true. I was acting sergeant, wasn't I? “That will save some time, then,” I replied.

I awoke the next morning with a blanket over my shoulders and my head on the table, still in my armor and completely stiff. My everything hurt and, with a groan, I shifted out of the chair.

“Good morning,” Iridescence said to me from her bed.

“How long was I out?” A sense of worry filled me. Was I late for my shift?

Iridescence lifted a hoof and replied, “Easy there, champ. Only six hours or so. I slept most of it, too. I wasn’t strong enough to get your armor off. Sorry about that.”

Six hours. Thank goodness. I had plenty of time to do the sergeant’s work and then get back to my post. “It’s okay. You’re sick. Thank you for the blanket. I’ll go get your breakfast for you.”

She smiled and shook her head. “You don’t have to do that.”

“No, but I want to.”

I picked up and delivered Iridescence’s breakfast, snuck a quick shower in, filled out all the paperwork for the sergeant, and left her a note about falling asleep. I didn’t have time for a formal write-up. She could decide what to do with that when she was well.

On my way up to start my shift, Shining Armor stopped me. “Silent Knight. A moment, please.”

I was suddenly concerned he knew about me sleeping. Although I highly doubted Princess Luna would have told him.

“You’re putting in a ton of hours lately,” he said. “Taking up the slack for almost every other pony.”

“I’m just doing my part, sir.”

He smiled and nodded. “I know, and now I’m doing mine. I requested some additional guards that can be trusted. They’ll fill in for the House Guard for a few weeks. Effective immediately, you’re off guard duty. You’re acting sergeant and a sergeant doesn’t have time to stand guard for twelve hours a day… or however many beyond that you have been doing.”

Standing guard was what I did. Being with the princess never felt like work. She was a wonderful pony. At least the change of duty was only temporary.

I nodded. “Yes, sir, understood. Who is taking my shift today, then?”

“The ponies won’t arrive until tomorrow. So today it will be me,” he said.

“You, sir?” I asked, surprised.

He laughed. “Yes, Silent Knight, I still remember how to do the job.” He winked at me and said, “Get some rest. You look awful. Your temporary guards will report tomorrow and you’ll need to be on your A game to ensure they are up to the task.”

“Yes, sir,” I replied and he turned to go. He was a good officer. “Thank you, sir,” I called after him before heading back to our room. I snuck in quietly, which was unnecessary because it was still daytime. Iridescence looked up from her book.

“Did you quit?” she asked, knowing perfectly well I never would.

Struggling to get my armor off, I huffed, “The captain took my shift. Bringing in new guards temporarily. Still sergeant.” Kicking off the hoof guards, I decided I’d worry about where they landed tomorrow. I crawled into my bed and it had never felt so wonderful.

“That was nice of him,” I vaguely heard Iridescence say, followed by my muffled response of “Uh-huh.” We discussed a few more things. I don’t really recall what. The sweet talk from my pillow was much more interesting and I fell for its siren’s call.

The next morning I felt amazing. I was fueled by a full night’s rest and the fact that Iridescence was feeling much better. She still wasn’t able to work but she was back to her usual self at home. She even helped me put my armor on.

“There, you look perfect,” she said before straightening my helmet. “Ready for your big day as sergeant?”

I frowned a little at that. “It's only temporary. Then I can go back to being your partner and guarding the princess.”

She actually bonked me in the nose with her hoof. “Temporary leads to permanent and Windchaser will retire sooner or later. You don’t want to stand guard forever, do you?”

My nose wrinkled. “I wouldn’t mind. You’re more of a sergeant than I am. You can talk to ponies.”

Iridescence bonked me again. “I’m not going to be a guard forever, but I suspect you are. Now go out there and be the best sergeant ever.” For emphasis she gave me a little kiss. I preferred that to being bonked.

My cheeks flushed, but I put on my sergeant’s face and went out to meet the temporary replacements.

The group was clearly comprised of some of the best royal guard ponies from around Equestria. I could tell immediately by the way they stood and carried themselves. They were also completely misfit. No two had exactly the same armor. Each was slightly different based on their region and unit. It may have looked a mess, but it didn’t make sense to issue armor temporarily.

“Good morning. I am Silent Knight, Acting Sergeant. You’ve been selected to temporarily fill in as house guards for Princess Luna. We have three simple rules here. As long as you follow them, we’ll get along just fine.

“One. She is not Nightmare Moon. Don’t mention that name. Don’t joke or ask about it. Forgive and forget.

“Two. You ARE a member of the House Guard. This is no different than Princess Celestia’s House Guard. It carries the same honor and responsibility. Act accordingly. Set a good example for the others.

“Three. My door is always open. If you need me do not hesitate to ask. Do you understand our rules?”

The group of ponies replied in unison, “Yes, Sergeant!”

I nodded. “Good. I’ve posted your shift schedules outside of my office. You start tonight. If you’re not on shift, be sure to take in the sights of Canterlot. It won’t be time wasted. Dismissed.”

The group filed off to do their jobs. Perhaps being a sergeant might be for me after all. I could always look in on Princess Luna. Of course, that also meant more danger for Iridescence's and my career. You can't be with a pony of a different rank that you supervise. Especially one that reports to the exact same commander.

I frowned at that and turned to head to my office. Shining Armor had been right behind me. I sprung to attention and saluted instead of crashing into him.

He saluted back. “Nice work. You’ll make a fine sergeant.”

“Not yet, sir. Haven’t gotten the pony skills down. Still learning the life outside the job part,” I replied.

Shining Armor looked a bit surprised by that. Surprised and impressed. “Everypony does things differently. You’re just more by the book. Sooner or later, your chance will come. Today, however, acting sergeant is fine. Acting sergeant and guard first class.”

He levitated a box out of his pack and opened it. There was a small, black-backed silver pin inside that featured three diagonal bars. He replaced the two bars on my breastplate with the new and set the old into the box.

Closing the lid, he offered it to me and said, “Congratulations. You’ve earned this.”

I accepted it with pride. “Thank you, sir.”

The captain headed off to his commitments and I made my way to Windchaser’s office to do mine. Silent Knight, Guard First Class. That had a nice ring to it.

13. Nightmare Night

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For a two full weeks, I was acting sergeant. Even after the temporary replacements went home, I held onto the title. The flu had hit Sergeant Windchaser particularly hard and the captain saw it fit for me to continue on. I thought it would be awkward being responsible for my peers, but nopony seemed to have an issue with it. They did their job, and I did mine… well, Sergeant Windchaser’s.

As a reward for my hard work and dedication, I was given a few mandatory days off. The captain was worried I had worked myself too hard. The sergeant even tore up my note about sleeping. “Extraordinary circumstances,” she had said before commending me for my honesty. Oh well, I could see their point.

I was standing guard quietly in Princess Luna’s chambers the day before my mandatory vacation was to start. She was excited and antsy. For most of the day she had been pacing and finally she said, “Silent Knight, we cannot wait for the morrow's eve!”


“Tomorrow is Nightmare Night. We have decided that we shall grace the citizens of Ponyville with our royal presence and show them we are not to be feared,” she exclaimed loudly.

Tomorrow? No, tomorrow I wasn’t on duty. She couldn’t go without me. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust the other house guards. I did. They weren’t me, though.

I was sidelined when Princess Luna wanted to go out! “Tomorrow, Princess? Perhaps it can be delayed until next week?” I suggested.

Princess Luna looked at me strangely. “The day has not changed in many decades, Silent Knight. Didst thou not celebrate it?”

“No, Princess,” I replied. My father thought it was frivolous and best left for the 'simple Ponyville farmers,' but I didn't volunteer that information.

“Then thou shouldst celebrate this year! Go forth on thy vacation and enjoy,” she declared.

“Yes, Princess,” was my reply and I meant it. That was exactly what I’d do.

“You want to WHAT?!” Iridescence asked as if I was crazy.

I repeated the plan calmly, “Disguise myself, infiltrate Ponyville, and keep an eye on Princess Luna to ensure she is safe on Nightmare Night.”

“On your MANDATORY vacation,” Iridescence reminded me.

“The princess said to go and celebrate. I choose to do so in Ponyville where I can keep an eye on her. Will you help disguise me or not?”

Iridescence frowned at me and then sighed. “Fine… I’m on duty here anyway so it isn’t like we could spend time together.” She went to her foot locker and pulled out a potion.

My eyes narrowed. “What is that?” I asked.

Pulling the cork out with her teeth, my very special somepony said, “The potion that turned you into a mare. What could be a better disguise?”

She had a valid point. Very few people would recognize Silent Dame. “It only lasted six hours last time. I need it to last all night.”

“Runic reworked it. It should last until you take the antidote.”

I nodded and then paused. “Wait. Why do you have this?”

Iridescence waved a hoof at me and replied, “No reason! Mind your business.” She flicked some of the potion onto my face. Then she gasped and covered her mouth.

“Am I a mare?” I asked.

“No…” Iridescence said, trying not to laugh.

I looked in Iridescence's hoofmirror and thought, “Runic my friend, you and I are going to have a talk.” My face was pink and the color was spreading through my whole coat. I was still a stallion but now I was pink. I looked like a cotton candy Silent Knight. “This does not work for me.”

The laughing started then. I went to the water basin and tried to wash the color off. That didn’t work. Iridescence kept laughing but was ultimately helpful. She took an old sheet from her trunk, used a letter opener to cut out two eyeholes, and threw it over me.

“Good enough?” she asked.

“I guess. Now I’m as under cover as I can be.” Lightly, I pressed my sheet-covered nose to hers and added, “I’m off to protect the princess. Don’t wait up.” I ran out into the hall and headed for the train station. I would be there before the princess and she would never know.

Ponyville was in full swing for Nightmare Night. Evidently the local ponies took their holiday very seriously. I walked alongside the hay ride to scout the area. It was hard to tell who was out of place when everypony was dressed in costume. One particular pony looked suspicious. He was dressed like a ninja and kept staring at me. Was my cover blown?

The stallion approached me and I shifted my weight onto my back legs so that I could leap into action.

“Would you like to dance?” he asked.

Oh… Oh, that was not what I had expected. Not at all… but blending in was important. I nodded at him and he led me to the open area in front of the stage.

I’m not much of a dancer, but my commitment to my disguise allowed me to hold my own. I bopped up and down under my sheet while he asked me if I was from Ponyville and other similar questions. All of my answers were in the form of yes or no via nod or shake. He seemed okay with that. Once the dance was done I excused myself and headed back on patrol.

One pegasus pony was pushing around a storm cloud and scaring others with thunder and lightning. She thought it was funny and, in general, it was harmless, so I let it slide. It was also around that time that the local mayor gave an address. Everypony collected in front of the stage. Looking around, I spotted two other ponies dressed identically to me. That just seemed lazy.

On stage the mayor greeted everypony and introduced a zebra named Zecora. Zecora, it seemed, was going to tell the legend of Nightmare Moon. She related the story and I couldn’t help feeling it was in bad taste. Nightmare Moon was gone and Princess Luna was a far different pony.

Of course, I realize that it was only a story meant to frighten foals into going easy on the candy and I couldn’t fault pony parents for that. I just wish they had come up with something new.

The tale winded on and Zecora walked us all out into the nearby forest. To my surprise, some ponies had built a monument to Nightmare Moon. That seemed silly to me but I guess they really took the holiday seriously.

Thankfully the princess missed the retelling and just as it ended she arrived on her chariot in grand fashion. She was shrouded in a robe and had two guards pulling her. They were dressed up like vampire fruit bats in what I can only imagine as an attempt to be festive for the evening. The costumes were clever but, again, this didn’t seem to further the impression that Princess Luna wasn’t Nightmare Moon.

The ponies of Ponnyville and I hurriedly followed the chariot back into town. We arrived just in time to see Princess Luna leap from it. To my surprise, the two guards pulling it simply flew on without her. The princess was alone! I would speak to them later about that but thank Celestia I was there.

The ponies of Ponyville knelt immediately and I followed suit. It would have been too obvious if I remained at attention. It may be disrespectful to say but, in my opinion, Princess Luna came on a bit strong.

In a loud, royal Canterlot addressing tone, the princess declared, “Citizens of Ponyville! We have graced your tiny village with our presence so that you might behold the real Princess of the Night! A creature of nightmare no longer, but instead a pony who deserves your love and admiration! Together we shall change this dreadful celebration into a bright and glorious feast!”

“Oh, Princess...” I thought.

A pink pony dressed as a chicken shouted something and all of the foals ran away screaming. My eyes narrowed. I recognized that pink pony: she was the one with a cannon at the Gala.

That caught Princess Luna’s attention and she exclaimed, “What!? No, children, no! You no longer have reason to fear us! Screams of delight is what your princess desires, not screams of terror.”

Even I could tell that this particular event wasn’t going to go wonderfully. The ponies were still cowering as Princess Luna offered them her hoof. Even the mayor was too frightened to speak.

“Very well, then! Be that way! We won’t even bother with the royal Canterlot farewell!” Princess Luna said before storming off.

Another pony, dressed as Star Swirl the Bearded, followed after her. I got up from my position and tailed her at a safe distance.

Creeping along in the bushes while under a sheet is not easy. Iridescence was the stealthy pony, not me. I was close enough to keep an eye on the princess but slightly out of earshot. The two conversed and at one point I heard the princess say the name “Twilight Sparkle.” Wasn’t that the captain’s sister?

The princess started to float and her voice carried through the area. “It was thee who unleashed the powers of harmony upon us and banished our dark powers.” Then she was quiet again.

It went on like that for a bit longer before the pair headed off. I followed as quietly as I could. We all ended up outside a cottage on the outskirts of town.

To my surprise, Twilight Sparkle pulled a yellow pegasus mare from the home. It was the same one that had been on the poster at the train station.

She was clearly terrified of the princess. The goal seemed to be training Princess Luna to speak quietly and it was making my job even more difficult.

From over my shoulder, I heard the sounds of the chicken-clad pink pony approaching with all of the foals. My eyes narrowed. She was the ring leader. If I could take her out, the princess might have had a chance of blending in. I shifted in the bushes, ready to pounce.

She must have sensed me because she screamed and ran off, taking two foals with her.

Behind them, Princess Luna shouted, “Nay, children, wait!” and then looked sad once more.

It hurt me to see her like that. I knew that it was time for me to take the chicken out of the equation. I hated to leave the princess alone, but she was in the care of the mare I believed to be the captain’s sister. Carefully, I backed out of the bush I was hiding in and made my way back to town.

I moved quietly along the alleys between the houses of Ponyville until I could get a good view of the village square and the festivities. This needed to be a quick snatch and subdue. I was going a little outside of the manual, but royal guards learn to defend against this sort of attack. It also made us experts on how to carry them out.

The chicken was going door to door begging for candy, surrounded by her posse of foals. Extracting her would be a challenge. I pressed myself up against the wall of a house and hid in the shadows. A distraction was exactly what I needed, something to get everypony’s attention right when the chicken passed by the opening of the alley.

It was right around that time when Princess Luna returned with Twilight Sparkle. As expected, the villagers fell to the ground before the princess. This was my chance to grab the chicken. When I turned to look for her, she had somehow moved from the house next to me to one down the street. Nopony moves that fast.

My plan would need to be adjusted… or so I thought. Something had suddenly changed. Princess Luna was happy and the ponies didn't seem to fear her. I crept out from my hiding place and blended back into the crowd. She was having fun! Everything seemed to be getting on the right hoof.

“I ask that thou call us... me... Luna, fair Applejack. Hear me, villagers! All of you! Call me Luna!” she declared.

Call her Luna? That was a high level of familiarity, but the princess was allowed to make such decisions. In my mind, it was better familiarity than fear. There were smiles all around and I relaxed. “What could go wrong?” I thought and immediately regretted it.

The colt that was dressed as a pirate tipped forwards and almost fell into the apple bobbing tank. Princess Luna saw the danger and rescued him. Only instead of sighs of relief we were again met with the shrieks of the chicken. Celestia take that chicken!

The fragile bonds between the princess and her subjects broke down at that point and chaos reigned. Ponies ran in all directions with little regard for caution. It was the Gala all over again. The difference this time was Princess Luna and I were in the middle of it. I started to push my way through the crowd towards her. If I could get to her side, I could protect her.

It seemed my services would not be required that night. Protecting an alicorn princess is not exactly the same as protecting anypony else. We treat them the same and sometimes it is easy to forget that they wield seemingly endless power. Princess Luna demonstrated that. Lighting arched across the sky and her voice echoed in my very soul.


Everypony was immediately compelled to stop and kneel before the princess. Despite all of my training, even I found myself on the ground without a second thought. It was an impressive feat of magic.

Princess Luna was swift and direct with her decree: Nightmare Night was canceled forever and she was leaving. It was not the outcome I had expected, but I didn’t blame her. This night was a reminder of her dark times.

The ponies of Ponyville were picking themselves up, their expressions a mixture of sadness, fear, and confusion. I looked on, angry that the chicken’s actions had offended the princess. Alicorn or not, she had feelings, too.

I turned to go and find the princess, but it seemed Twilight Sparkle had beat me to the task. Perhaps she would be better able to handle the situation. Mare to mare. Talking pony to talking pony.

I lingered in town and casually helped straighten things up a bit. The amount of damage that the ponies had wrought in such a short period of time was shocking. These ponies didn’t do anything halfway. They also looked miserable as they went about the task of cleaning. What an awful night.

In the distance, I swore I could hear the sound of the chicken squawking, mocking me and my Princess of the Night. “Squawk on, chicken,” I muttered under my sheet. “One day we will have a go.”

The mayor and Zecora started consoling the foals and advised that perhaps a candy offering could turn the night around. I doubted some sugary treats could improve the princess’s mood, but it wouldn’t have been the first time I had been wrong.

By some miracle, Princess Luna, Twilight Sparkle, the chicken, and all the foals returned to town not long later and the celebration was back on. From that point onwards, the evening went perfectly. The princess played games, smashed gourds, and even enjoyed some pranks. I loosened up, too, and danced with that stallion again. Don’t judge; I was on vacation and he kept asking.

Everything went great until it was time to call it an evening. I turned to head towards the train station and catch the overnight express. Princess Luna had been behind me and was now blocking my path. Casually, I moved to go around her and she said in a new, softer, but no less commanding voice, “Silent Knight.”

I wasn’t Silent Knight right then. I was a pink pony dressed as a ghost. All I had to do was pretend I was acting out the role of a ghost and stay in character. It was a brilliant plan. Now to just get into character— “Yes, Princess,” I said. Stupid, honest mouth! We would have been fine.

“Pink is not thy color.”

“Yes, Princess,” I said softly. She was right, of course. I had not meant to be pink. That was Runic’s mistake. I wonder if she would have known it was me if the potion had worked correctly.

“Dost thou need a ride home?”

“Yes, Princess.” I wasn’t sure if what I had done had broken the rules. Princess Luna didn’t seem upset.

The other two royal guards arrived with her chariot and we got on. She went first, of course. My sheet came off and I sat as proudly as I could with my pink coat. Once we were airborne and halfway home, she turned and suddenly hugged me. It was shocking but sweet, and I hugged her back.

“Thou art most kind to have been so concerned about us that thou camest here,” she said.

I smiled. “I promised I’d always be in your corner, Princess.”

She smiled brightly back and corrected, “Luna.”

I repeated, “I’ll always be in your corner, Princess Luna.”

She shook her head, looked me in the eyes, and pronounced it slower. “Loooonuh.”

“Princess Loooonuh,” I repeated exactly.

The princess sat up and said, “Thou frustratest us,” but kept a wing around me for the ride home.

14. The Equestrian Writers Convention

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Completely refreshed from my extra-long and mandatory vacation, I was more than ready to start work again. Mercifully, the pink coat faded without any kind of antidote. Leave it to Runic to have a potion not work as advertised. Not that I would have complained in this case.
“You seem awfully excited about getting back to work,” Iridescence said from across the table. She had a great poker face and was using it on me then. I wasn’t sure if it was because we were playing a game or for some other reason that I didn’t understand.

I smiled a bit and moved my figure closer to a couple of zomponies and rolled the dice. “Two hits,” I said and then added, “I am. I love my job.”
Iridescence nodded and moved her figure. “It will be nice to have you come relieve me again. It is odd working with another pony.”

That was certainly true. Not seeing Iridescence at work was strange. I had been seeing her more at home as a result but somehow we had less to talk about. We ended up playing a lot of games. “Agreed. Getting things back to normal will be great.”

“Normal indeed,” she said, rolling the dice. “Speaking of which, we’ve been doing a lot of the same things lately. Would you mind if we did something different for our next date?”

Looking up, I nodded. “Of course not. You let me know what you’d like to do and I’m on board.”

Iridescence smiled and winked. “Great! Also, tomorrow you’re taking Princess Luna to the Equestrian Writers Convention.”

“I’m doing what now?” I asked, my attention pulled from the game. “A convention?”

My unicorn companion was grinning widely. “Oh, yes. Princess Luna’s favorite author is going to be at the show and she let the captain know she wanted to go. They both felt like you’re the perfect pony to take her.”

“What exactly does a convention entail?” I asked.

“Oh, you know, nothing too exciting. Just tons of ponies going to panels, booths, and dealer tables. They’ll be chasing autographs from authors. Your mission is to keep the princess safe and, more importantly, be sure she gets to meet C.W. Step,” Iridescence explained. “The rest of us will make sure the venue remains secure.”

I pondered that a bit. Social events were typically Iridescence’s place. If I was there, I always just sat in the background. Me alone with the princess seemed like a strange plan. “Why me?”

Iridescence explained, “Princess Luna feels that, in this type of setting, one guard is more appropriate and that if you aren’t chosen to be that guard, you’ll probably show up in a silly costume to protect her anyway.”

I blinked. “Really?”

She laughed and shook her head. “No! She just feels safe with you and we both agree you could use more social experiences.”

“We agree? We who?”

“Luna and I,” she said plainly.

“Princess Luna and you? You discuss me?”

Iridescence got up and softly patted me with a hoof. “Of course. We’re friends and friends discuss their relationships.”

This was getting confusing. “You and Princess Luna are friends? When do you have time to get together and discuss me?”

“When I’m on shift, of course. You may just stand there all day but when she talks to me I talk back. We’ve really hit it off,” Iridescence explained.

That wasn’t against the regulations but there were dangers in getting too close to the pony that you’re guarding. Of course, you could also get in trouble being your partner’s special somepony, so who was I to throw stones?

“Very well, then. I’ll escort the princess to her rendezvous with this C.W. Step pony.”

Iridescence laughed. “She is just going to go to C.W. Step’s booth and get an autograph! Try to keep it light.”

Keep it light. It was a social event. I sat quietly, looked at our zompony game, and then planned tomorrow out in my head. I would need a map of the layout, a schedule of events, and information about where the guards would be patrolling. Tomorrow was going to be busy.

The Equestrian Writers Convention, or EWC as ponies seemed to call it, was being held in the Canterlot Convention Center. It was, more or less, controlled chaos. There were ponies everywhere navigating narrow thoroughfares, trying to get a few minutes with their favorite authors. Some wore costumes and others seemed to have forgotten to bathe. It was a lot to keep track of as I trailed behind Princess Luna.

The princess seemed to be completely in her element. She stopped at booth after booth, meeting ponies and talking shop. Much to my relief, most ponies were more interested in the convention than the princess. Several asked to get pictures of her ‘great Princess Luna cosplay,’ whatever that meant. Some ponies even insisted I be in the pictures as well because my armor was so authentic.

“Princess, shouldn’t we be getting to the rendezvous point with C.W. Step?” I asked.

Looking over her shoulder, the princess replied, “She will be there all day, Silent Knight. We… I am enjoying the convention. Can’t we simply enjoy it a while longer?”

The look was something I’d never seen before. The princess was really having fun and I think the idea of rushing through it made her sad.
I stuffed the schedule into my saddlebag with all of the princess’s ‘swag’ and smiled. “It would appear, Princess, that your schedule was just cleared.”

“Thank you,” she said softly and went back to the convention experience. I kept behind her and collected the various things she bought or was given. It was actually kind of fun to see all the colorful booths. There were posters, banners, and displays featuring all types of literature. It was impressive to see and I realized I should probably look into reading more. Being a soldier meant having a sharp mind, not just a sharp sword.

Eventually, we found C.W. Step’s booth and stood in line to meet her. C.W. Step was a white unicorn mare with a brilliant blonde mane. There were little hints of pink visible under the hat she wore. As I looked at her, I couldn't help but think she was somehow familiar. It was as if I’d seen her before, but I knew that couldn't be true. I’d have remembered a pretty unicorn with a blonde and pink mane.

When we were about three ponies back, C.W. Step spotted us and seemed to get really concerned. She started hurriedly placing some of her books behind the booth while also signing copies for other ponies. As our turn came, she looked up in horror and said, “Princess Luna! What a wonderful surprise.”

Princess Luna was looking past the mare at a big banner announcing her new book, The Princess of the Knight. Her mouth hung open. The cover featured a white pegasus royal guard holding a blue alicorn princess with one foreleg, wings spread wide. He even held a sword high in the night sky and was looking rather dashing. It was clearly like one of the romance novels I always saw Iridescence hide in her footlocker.

About that time, I noticed Princess Luna looking from C.W. Step, who stared on in horror for some reason, the banner, and me.

“Princess?” I asked softly, since she looked distressed.

“Dost thou not see, Silent Knight? That is clearly thou and I!” she exclaimed, pointing a hoof at the banner.

I looked again and didn’t see it. “No, Princess…” I raised a brow. “That stallion clearly has violet eyes. Mine are silver.”

C.W. Step stuttered, “P-Princess, it is loosely modeled after you. I hope you don’t mind, I’m just such a big fan! Everypony is so tired of the typical ‘Princess of the Sun’ romance. I felt like it is your time to shine, so to speak!”

“Thou art a fan of ours?” Princess Luna asked. “We… I mean, I am a fan of thee. I brought a book for thee to sign. Silent Knight?”

I dug around in the saddlebag and pulled out Princess Luna’s first edition, hardcover copy of The Mare’s Temptation.

C.W. Step took the book and opened the cover, her cheeks still flushed. “This is a real honor, Princess.” She levitated a quill with her unicorn magic and started to sign.

“What does C.W. stand for?” I asked.

There was a chorus of gasps and I’m pretty sure a mare behind me fainted. Suddenly, everypony was staring at me, including Princess Luna.

“What?” I asked, looking around and preparing for an assault.

C.W. Step laughed softly and shook her head. “No, it’s all right. I’m sure you don’t know, but it isn’t normally appropriate to ask an author what their real name is. It helps to protect our anonymity.”

Tilting my head, I asked, “Anonymity. Like an alias? Like a criminal might have?”

Princess Luna put her hoof over my muzzle and laughed nervously. “Nay, Silent Knight. Authors are celebrities and they don’t have overzealous house guards to protect them.” With her other hoof, she tapped the book. “If you could just make that out to Luna…”

C.W. did just that as I stood there quietly. Mostly because I had to. The princess’s hoof was still plastered on my mouth.

“Thank you,” the princess said before adding, “Come along, Silent Knight. We would like to see some more booths before we leave.”
I nodded and we started to make our way down the aisle. As we did, C.W. Step leaned across and offered me a copy of The Princess of the Knight. “Just for you,” she said softly.

Later that evening when I got home, I took a moment to open the book. She had written inside the cover, “Thank you for being a good sport. This will be our secret. — Crystal Wishes.”

She was right about that. I hid the romance novel in my footlocker.

Acclimating to the idea that Princess Luna and Iridescence were friends was proving slightly difficult. The part of my mind that focuses on rules, regulations, and best practices kept tingling. It also didn’t help that the two of them started to spend time together while I was on duty.

“You should invite her to the palace! Make it an official function to honor one of the up-and-coming ponies in literature,” Iridescence said.

Princess Luna shifted on her couch. “I don’t want to come across as a fanmare. It seems too eager to invite her so soon after the convention. There is also the matter that her latest book is clearly about Silent Knight and me.”

Iridescence laughed softly and waved a hoof. “Loosely based. I’ve read about halfway through. She gets Silent Knight all wrong. Sir Chevalier is a passionate swashbuckler who makes mares weak in the knees.”

Speak only when spoken to. “I’m right here,” I said quietly. Nopony seemed to notice and that was fine with me.

“Come now, Luna,” Iridescence said so casually. It set me on edge. “If you’d like to meet her, meet her! Give her some small award. She’ll be flattered.”

“Dost thou really think so? Would it not be abuse of royal power?” Princess Luna asked.

“Why don’t we ask the expert?” Iridescence mused, turning to me. “Silent Knight, if the princess invites C.W. Step here to meet her but also gives her an award, would that be an abuse of power?”

I thought that over a bit. “If the award is solely given for the excuse to meet C.W. Step then yes, it is an abuse. If the princess intends to create a new award and give it at a regular interval, it is perfectly in line. Perhaps an annual award for the best pony author?”

“Verily!” the princess exclaimed as she levitated her quill, ink, and parchment. She leapt from her couch excitedly and hurried to her desk.
“Ponies should be rewarded for work well done. We shall create the Fresh Ink Award to honor one up-and-coming author each year for their achievements.”

Iridescence got up and went to the desk to watch as the princess worked. “You could form a committee after this year to help choose the most important new literary works of the year and then vote on a winner.”

“That is a wise idea, Iridescence,” the princess said as she scribbled away. “We will invite scholars and critics to help… After this year, of course.”

It only took a few moments before she lifted the parchment and said, “Done! C.W. Step will be the first Fresh Ink Award recipient. We must get this into the mail and to her publisher immediately.”

I softly cleared my throat and added, “And create the award.”

Both mares turned to stare at me and then the princess quickly nodded. “Yes, and create the award. I think a medallion shall do. Come along, we have much work ahead of us.”

Iridescence walked next to Princess Luna while I stayed one pace left and two back. It was weird, but I supposed times were changing. Who was I to question the magic of friendship?

The reporter ponies loved Princess Luna’s idea to create a literature award. It was her first press conference and it went extremely well. Iridescence and I were assigned to keep an eye on the event but there really wasn’t anything noteworthy security-wise.

Everything worked out and within the week C.W. Step showed up at the palace to accept her award. The ceremony was elegant, brief, and low key despite being held in the throne room. Princess Celestia, Captain Shining Armor, and Lady Cadence were some of the more notable guests. There was also a handful of reporters, critics, and Canterlot elite.

I couldn’t help but notice that C.W. looked pretty nervous throughout the whole thing. Perhaps crowds bothered her. Not everypony is accustomed to being stared at by royalty. She was gracious, however, and her acceptance speech was most kind. She even thanked Princess Luna and I for being inspirations. I’d never been an inspiration before and, to be honest, I liked the idea of inspiring unicorn ladies.

Eventually, the official functions wound down and Princess Luna invited C.W. back to her office to talk shop. That was the goal, after all. Iridescence and I followed along for security. Once we were inside, I took my position. Iridescence didn’t take hers. Instead, she went to the sitting area in uniform. I said nothing.

“With your permission, Princess,” Iridescence said and was quickly given the nod. She took her helmet off, set it aside, and sat down. I guess that was okay.

C.W. looked a bit confused and stopped mid-seat to say, “With your permission, Princess.”

Princess Luna softly laughed and said, “Thou mayest call me Luna and be seated.”

C.W. finished taking a seat and said, “Thank you.”

Iridescence cleared her throat. “As a royal guard, I need her permission to deviate from protocol. As her guest, you don’t need to do so. You see, some royal guards are strict and completely by the book. They might take exception.”

“Oh, I see. Silent Knight won’t be joining us?” C.W. asked.

Princess Luna smiled and started setting out tea. “Silent Knight is one of those by-the-book royal guards. He likely feels somepony must be on security right now and, should I invite him over, he would be most uncomfortable. Is that not correct, Silent Knight?”

“Yes, Princess,” I said confidently. Somepony had to be on watch.

“Oh,” C.W. said. “What a shame.” Turning back to the princess she added, “Thank you so much for this award. I was worried you would be angry with me after you saw The Princess of the Knight.”

“Angry? No. Confused initially. I am not very accustomed to being… well… included. Fitting in has been a struggle,” Princess Luna admitted.
C.W. nodded knowingly. “That is something I understand well. I almost never published a book because I was worried nopony would understand or like it.”

She accepted a teacup that floated to her, taking it over with her own magic. Unicorns made everything look easy.
Princess Luna smiled a bit at that and sipped her tea. “I am glad thou decided otherwise. We rather enjoy thy books, Iridescence and I.”
C.W. looked confused. “Iridescence?”

With a gasp, Princess Luna said, “My apologies. How rude of me to forget proper introductions. C.W. Step, this is my friend, Iridescence.” She motioned to Iridescence. “Thou also knowest Silent Knight already.”

Iridescence and C.W. shook hooves while C.W. said, “It is a pleasure to meet you. My name is Crystal Wishes.”

That knowledge seemed to please both the princess and Iridescence.

“If it pleases thee, Crystal Wishes, wouldst thou share how thou comes up with thy stories? I write a bit as well, but it would be amazing to learn about thy process.”

Crystal Wishes shifted a bit and said, “I don’t think I do anything special, Princess. I just look for inspiration around me to start. What is something perfectly normal that I can just slightly tweak? Then I build interest in a character and write organically.” She sighed softly and smiled. “I idealize a bit. I write about guards or knights… and I hope that one day I can meet a real one like the ones in my fiction.”

Princess Luna tilted her head and pointed a hoof at me. “But thou canst. He is right there.”

Iridescence softly snickered as Crystal Wishes blushed and said, “Oh, no, I mean like the way I make them out to be in the stories. I doubt Silent Knight is anything like the brash, passionate, and dark stallions I write about.”

“You’ve certainly got that right,” Iridescence said and then giggled. They all giggled, in fact.

“I’m in the room,” I said softly. Nopony seemed to have heard.

15. Opposing Forces

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“You turned me pink, Runic,” I said as seriously as I could.

Runic’s head tilted. “What color did you want to be?”

“White!” I didn’t quite shout but Iridescence did look up from her shopping.

Runic looked me over, studied my coat, and then said, “Well, there you go.”

I brought my hoof to my face. “I realize I’m white now. I’m normally white. Could you just be a little more careful with what you sell to Iridescence? I don’t want to end up with acid in my sports drink.”

“One time...” Runic trailed off, shaking his head as he went back behind the counter. “By the way, I have some lovely new rocks. Would you care to see them?”

I started to argue that point but then I noticed he had a pile of precious stones as big as a foal on a table in the back. “Wow!” I said quietly, coming over. “You’ve managed to turn rocks into diamonds, emeralds, and rubies?”

“What? Oh, those?” Runic said with disdain. He pushed the priceless pile of gems into a bag and tossed it by the trash. “Those are failures. Look at these!” The pegasus set a box full of black rocks where the ‘failures’ had just been. “Volcanic!”

In all fairness, they were pretty cool rocks. At the same time, there was a pile of treasure less than a meter away that could allow me to retire. Let it never be said that Runic Phial obsessed about money.

“They’re great,” I said, giving Iridescence the ‘time to go’ look. She ignored it.

“Oh, by the way. We’re cousins,” Runic said while I was looking towards the mare.

I turned my head back to him. “Pardon?”

“Yup, just got back from Cloudsdale yesterday. Same great-grandparents on your mother’s side.”

I was skeptical to say the least but, in truth, my mother’s parents were a bit strange, so maybe their parents were even more so. “You were researching me?”

“You? Oh, no. I was looking up a favorite geologist of mine. At any rate I found the Phial family tree and I noticed a couple named Wintermane and Dawn Chaser.

"I also remembered that one time when we all got lunch and you told Iridescence that your sister was named for her great-grandmother. That had me curious so I followed that line in the Cloudsdale archives and sure enough, we’re second cousins. Family, as it were.”

He hastily added with a look of disappointment, “Unfortunately I’m not related to that geologist. Nor are you, so no luck there. Anyway, I thought you’d be interested.”

“I am,” I replied with sincerity.

I didn’t know any of my family outside of my parents and sister very well. My father’s line was a string of only stallions as far back as anypony could remember. All Knights. Winterspear was the first mare. She didn’t get the family name, though. Dad saved it for me.

I forgot about the potion and patted Runic on the hoof. “Glad to know you, cousin,” I said before turning to collect Iridescence. The longer we remained the more likely it was that we could be melted, exploded, or in some way altered.

On our way back home Iridescence looked pensive. It wasn’t like her and we were close enough for me to sense when something was off. Gently, I bumped my flank into hers to draw her attention.

She looked over at me and smiled slightly. “You know that you’re frequently two different ponies? One who knows when something is up and one who is totally oblivious.”

“I try my best,” I said quietly. “What’s on your mind?”

Iridescence walked along beside me a while longer before saying, “I’m concerned you’re taking us for granted.”

“Us who?”

With a slight grumble, she said, “You and I. As a couple. Since we’ve been together, you haven’t really changed much. You still treat me like your friend.”

I have never pretended to understand relationships but treating your special somepony as a friend seemed right to me. “I’m not supposed to treat you like a friend?” I asked. “Aren’t special someponies best friends?”

“Yes, of course we’re best friends. I more mean we don’t do the things that couples do, you know?” she asked and I didn’t. I had no clue.

“I see,” I said quietly. “You want to do things that couples do that friends don’t? We can do that.”

She smiled. “I’m glad you’re willing to try.” She then added after a pause, “You have no idea what those things are, do you?”

“No clue,” I replied and she laughed.

“I sometimes forget that you are you and nothing you do is malicious. I’ll take the lead on that, then. You just follow, okay?”

Nodding quickly, I replied, “Yes, Sergeant.” and Iridescence shoved me with a hoof. She may tease but when it came to relationships she was the boss.

Later that evening Iridescence and I sat on our respective bunks staring at each other while she tried to educate me in stallionfriend etiquette.

“And you’re certain there isn’t a manual for this?” I asked her after an hour of confusing and somewhat contradictory information.

Iridescence rubbed her nose with her hoof. “If there was, everypony would be matched up and we wouldn’t be having this sort of conversation. All I am asking for you to do is be a little more romantic, spontaneous, and at least consider my feelings before the job. Okay?”

This was going to be my toughest assignment yet. “I will try my best. If you came off shift and I had your favorite flowers waiting, would that count?”

“The first time, yes. Although less now, since you’ve told me about it. Good for romance, but not high marks on the spontaneity side,” she explained.

“How about if I—”

She got up and pressed her hoof against my mouth. “No more hypotheticals.” She sighed. “This is what I get for chasing younger stallions.”

I wrinkled my nose and stood up, thinking, “I can do spontaneous.” I wrapped my hooves around her in a sudden hug.

She gasped and laughed. She squirmed, I lost my balance, and the two of us fell over onto the floor with a heavy thud. Iridescence continued to laugh as I lay on top of her. She had not been expecting that! Of course, neither of us expected the door to open and for Shining Armor to walk in.

He stared at us. “What are you two up to?”

It was clear Iridescence was in shock but I’m a professional. “Spontaneous attack training, Captain. I tackled her. She wasn’t expecting it. She’ll need to be better prepared next time.”

Shining Armor gave me a dubious look, but then seemed to accept that explanation. He, like everypony else, knew I didn’t lie. I got up, helped Iridescence to her hooves, and stood at attention.

“What can we do for you, Captain?” I asked.

The captain said, “I need a courier right now. Somepony fast. I know you’re off tomorrow, but I was wondering if you could take an important letter to General Ironhoof's headquarters in Manehatten.”

It seemed tonight would be filled with all sorts of tests. Here was the captain asking me to work on my day off again right after Iridescence coached me on being more considerate. I paused to consider my options. “You need a flier, Captain? No chance a train is fast enough? Iridescence is from there. Maybe she could see some family.”

Shining Armor shook his head. “Not this time, I’m afraid. Command needs it there immediately. Pegasus speed. You’re one of my few pegasi around here and you never let me down.” He paused and then added, “Not that Iridescence would if speed wasn’t an issue.”

I kept my eyes forwards, trying not to look over at my unicorn companion. I could sense her irritation and trepidation. This was not going to be fun. “You can count on me, sir,” I said, stepping forwards to take the sealed container.

“I have no doubt,” Shining Armor said before leaving our room.

I tried not to look back immediately and could hear the sounds of Iridescence moving. Slowly, I turned and found her in her bunk with her back to me. “I’m sorry… I just—”

She cut me off with a quick raise of her hoof. “Don’t. Just go do your duty. I knew what kind of pony you were.”

That stung, although I wasn’t entirely sure why. I dressed in silence and pulled my helmet on. On my way out the door, I said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” and really hoped that was true. She might still be mad then.

My reputation as a fast flier was getting around in the Canterlot Royal Guard circles. It wasn’t surprising that the captain had asked me. I wanted to enjoy that and the fact that he knew he could count on me. Unfortunately, all I could think about was Iridescence. I was up in the sky flying east as fast as I could while she was back home alone, angry, sad, or all three.

I had to make this right. Somehow I would need to balance my job with my responsibilities to Iridescence. Perhaps it was the time we told the captain about our situation? He was a good pony. He’d understand.

On the other hoof, I didn’t want to risk my career again. What would I be if I wasn’t a royal guard? It is everything I wanted to be and more. What would my dad say if I was relieved of duty? The only son of Stratus Knight drummed out of the guard. Generations of uninterrupted service broken. It would kill him. Actually, prior to his death, he would hunt me down and kill me first. Dad always finished what he started.

That thought darkened my mood substantially. Dad wouldn’t let anything get in the way of his career. Of course, no matter how ignorant I was of anything outside of the guard, I knew that my parents’ relationship wasn’t great. Neither was my relationship with them. I didn’t even want to think about Winterspear’s situation with Dad.

I banked through the clouds and flapped my wings harder. This kind of thinking led to mistakes and I couldn’t afford to make any more. It was time to focus on the mission: get the scroll to Manehatten as fast as possible. Command was counting on me. The captain was counting on me, and that was all that mattered. He was worthy of loyalty.

Loyalty, honor, duty, and integrity. Those were virtues that lasted forever, even once a pony had passed on to the next life. How could doing my duty be wrong? I tried not to dwell on it as the lights of Manehatten were starting to draw near. It was time to make my delivery.

General Ironhoof's headquarters was co-located with Eastern Command. That was one of the largest royal guard installations in Equestria. My destination was one of the few places where you could still find what we’d call professional soldiers; that is to say, ponies whose sole purpose was that of waging war, not defending others. Ponies like my father.

The trouble with that concept is that ponies aren’t the sort of people to engage in wars carelessly. We are the sort to be ready for anything. That meant still keeping professional soldiers around. There is a delicate balance to training warriors that may never see a war but keeping them ready for it.

The compound itself was far larger than what we had in Canterlot. There were multiple barracks, chow halls, and command buildings. I dropped out of the sky and came to a rest on the parade ground just as Princess Luna raised the moon. As I trotted towards the large headquarters, it started to dawn on me how fatigued I was. In all of my musings I had barely stopped to rest. Oh well, I could rest when the job was done.

I approached the main door and the guard lifted a hoof to challenge me. I produced the sealed scroll from my saddlebag and said, “Missives from Canterlot Command for General Ironhoof's headquarters.”

He took a look and nodded. “All the way down, turn right, third door on the left. Knock first,” he said.

“Thank you,” I replied as I headed inside.

The headquarters interior was spotless. It was made out of some sort of smooth, gray stone. Runic would have known what it was. It had the feel of an old Equestrian Castle, the kind you read stories about from the ancient days. I followed the guard’s instructions exactly and ended in front of a wide, metal door. After knocking three times, I took a step back and waited.

The door opened and I found myself looking at a brown-red earth pony in uniform. Not armor, but one of the Equestrian Army uniforms. He was a lieutenant so I snapped to attention.

“Yes?” he asked.

“Missives from Canterlot Command, sir,” I said, offering them to him.

After taking them, he nodded and started to close the door. “Thank you. Dismissed.”

From behind him, a strong, stern voice said, “Hold on just a moment. I don’t recognize that armor. Bring that pony inside.”

The lieutenant pulled the door open and stepped out of the way. As he retreated I advanced into a sparsely appointed office. The walls were practically bare, other than a map or two. The only furniture was a single desk at the very back and everything was arranged in a functional, efficient way. Standing behind that desk was General Ironhoof himself.

The general and I had never met, but I knew him instantly. He looked exactly as my father had described him: tall, stocky, and pristine. He had his signature flat top mane but its legendary jet black color had faded to almost all gray at this point. His coat too, actually, but he looked as fit as any royal guard I knew.

I stood quietly and confidently as the general looked me over. On the inside, I was excited beyond reason. Generals were a rare commodity. Legendary generals that actually had experience in battle were practically non-existent. Ironhoof was both.

“What unit are you with, son?” he asked, stepping around his desk to get a closer look.

“Princess Luna’s House Guard, sir,” I responded clearly. I kept my eyes forwards as he circled me.

“House Guard, huh? So you’re some sort of elite Royal Guard?”

I didn’t move and replied, “No, sir. I was in the right place at the right time. We are trying to build that reputation though, sir.”

General Ironhoof snorted. “A lucky pony, huh? That is fine. Soldiers need luck. You have a familiar look. You're not the normal courier.”

“No, sir, but my father did have the pleasure of serving with you and I look like him. Stratus Knight, sir.”

The general laughed and slapped me on the back, “You’re Stratus Knight’s boy? How about that! I’ll have had the pleasure of serving with three generations of Knights. How’re you liking the Guard?”

“Everything I hoped for, sir,” I said honestly.

The general chuckled. “Oh, you’re most certainly a Knight. Good stallions, good soldiers. How is your father? I know he hated to retire after that bad business with the gryphons.”

“To be honest, sir, I haven’t seen him in some time but when I last did he was as well as could be expected.”

“As well as could be expected?” the general asked. “He could still fly, move, and train. It was just the running and fighting that the bad knee hindered.”

Had the general not heard? Actually, why would he have? Well, there was no harm in telling him. “I’m sorry, sir, I should elaborate. Dad… Stratus Knight lost his eyesight completely about three years after he got home. He was a fine instructor but it has made flying rather dangerous.”

All of the air seemed to be sucked out of the room and General Ironhoof just shook his head. “What a waste. I’m sorry, son, I didn’t know.”

“Not at all, sir. Stratus still does his part. Commander Tsunami has him working with the Cloudsdale guards. They think a blind pony can't use a sword and quickly find out that underestimating an opponent will yield bruised flanks and egos,” I said, pride creeping into my voice.

General Ironhoof laughed. “That is the spirit! Well, son, you’re the Knight now. What did you say your name was?”

I hadn’t, but you never correct an officer. “Silent Knight, sir.”

“Silent Knight. I like that. I’ll remember that,” the general said and I’m confident he meant it. “Keep up the good work, son. Someday Equestria is going to need the service of the Knight family again and when it does, I’ll be asking for you.”

That sent shivers along my spine. Did he mean he’d want me to be a soldier like my father? In a war? “Thank you, sir. I will,” I replied, stuffing the feelings I was suddenly having deep down inside me.

“Very good. Dismissed,” the general said.

I drew myself to full attention and saluted. That isn’t something you normally did inside, but who knew when I’d have the chance again. The general took the cue, stood at attention, and returned the salute.

“Dismissed,” he repeated but I saw him smile. I backed out of the room and waited for the lieutenant to shut the door before I turned away.

The exhaustion I had been feeling when I arrived seemed to be gone. I felt like I could fly home immediately but knew only a fool would do that. I checked in to the guest barracks and crashed into a bunk. I’d head home tomorrow.

I was so excited to tell Iridescence about the meeting. Then I remembered that she might not be in the mood to hear that sort of thing. In that moment, I figured sleep first, problems tomorrow.

Tomorrow came a little too quickly as I awoke to an unfamiliar pony shaking me just before sunrise. “Missives for Canterlot Command,” he said, dropping a heavy satchel on me.

I gasped a “Thanks” and rolled out from under it. Those were going to slow me down. I trotted over to the chow hall and got some breakfast before heading out.

In truth, I flew slowly and the reason wasn’t the weight of the satchel. It was the weight of the conversation I would have to have with Iridescence. She had every right to be mad, as she wouldn’t be mad without a good reason, but I still didn’t understand why. We were both guards. We both had our duty. Why was it wrong that it was so important to me? Maybe she could explain it once she calmed down. That was assuming she was still there waiting to see me.

In my entire life, I had never been so full of dread at the sight of Canterlot. Not even when my father brought me there the first time and left me. I think all stallions have an inherent base instinct to fear an angry mare. Mares rule the world and we are their minions.

The captain seemed pleased when I dropped off the satchel with him. He gave me some sort of positive compliment. I barely heard it. I just smiled, nodded, and thanked him before heading back to my room.

Cautiously, I pushed the door open and peeked in. I had once seen my mother wing a dinner roll from the kitchen, across the living room, and right into my father’s snout when they had a spat, so I knew the danger of projectiles.

“What are you doing?” Iridescence asked, glancing up from her book. She was sitting on her bed, sounding and looking surprisingly calm.

“I’m not entirely sure, per the normal,” I replied as I came inside and started removing my armor.

Iridescence closed her book and gave her full attention to me. “How was your trip?”

“Lonely,” I said in all honesty. After placing the last piece of armor neatly on its stand, I turned to face her. “I’m sorry.”

My mare companion tilted her head and asked the dreaded question: “Do you know why you’re sorry?”

I shook my head. Lying isn’t something I do unless there's a really good reason, and I didn't have one. “Not entirely. I realize that our job encroached on our time together. I also understand that I should value that time equally as job time.”

“You may understand better than you think, then,” she said softly. Iridescence crossed the small room to stand in front of me. “Look, I may have gotten a little angrier than I should about this. Part of me had to realize that you and I are in different places in life and have different goals and that is okay.”

My ears pinned back and I couldn’t help stop my head from drooping. That statement gave me a chill I couldn’t explain at the time. Call it instinct. “What does that mean?” I asked, fearing the worst.

Iridescence blinked at me. “Wow… you’re really upset. I honestly didn’t expect that.” She set her hoof on my shoulder. “Look, nothing worth having is easy. I’m not giving up, I swear. We’ll both just have to try harder. Okay? You try to be less you. I’ll try to be less me. We’ll meet in the middle. Compromise.”

Compromise, I could compromise. Anything to keep my friend. I’d never had a lot of friends and certainly not one like Iridescence. It had never occurred to me when we started dating that it might ruin our friendship. Now, suddenly, I was terrified of that prospect.

Rearing up, I threw my hooves around her and hugged tightly. I think that caught her by surprise because she gasped. I’m not saying that I cried that day but I will say I couldn’t look her in the eyes.

I whispered, “Iridescence, promise me. Promise me that no matter what, you’ll still be my friend. It wouldn’t be worth having anything else if you weren’t.”

“What? Of course! Of course, I promise. We’ll always be friends.” She nodded against my shoulder and hugged me back.

That gave me peace. Iridescence wasn’t the sort of pony to break promises. We stayed like that awhile. I guess sometimes a little fighting isn’t bad if this was the result.

16. Runic Phial, Expert Alchemist

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I sat quietly in my bunk, watching Iridescence get ready. She looked amazing. Her mane was done up, her tail braided, and she had on a dress I had never seen before. It was long, slinky, and had all kinds of sparkling sapphires on it. Once everything was just right, she headed for the door.

Pushing off the bed, I fell in step behind her. She paused, looked back and asked, “Where are you going?”

“With you,” I replied in confusion.

She shook her head and said, “Oh, no, no. It is mare’s night out with Princess Luna and Crystal Wishes. You’re not a mare.”

My eyes shifted to her foot locker and she took my face between her hooves. “Don’t even consider it.”

I snorted. I wasn’t really. “What should I do, then?”

Iridescence shrugged. “I don’t know, but for me it is mare’s night! Why don’t you go hang out with Runic?”

Frowning, I said, “So you don’t want me to come with you and you want me dead?”

She laughed and patted me on the shoulder. “Silent Knight, he is your friend and cousin. Why don’t you go spend some time getting to know him better, okay?”


“Good,” she said before sweeping out of the room, looking the nicest I’ve seen in a long while.

“Mare’s night out. It sounds more like... stallions… not invited.” Yeah, I wasn’t very clever back then.

Runic had closed the shop for the night but I knew him pretty well. I went around to the side door and knocked on it a trio of times. There was no answer. I knocked again and waited. Still nothing. Well, that was easy. I turned to leave, but as I did so every window in the place was suddenly illuminated by a blinding flash.

The door burst open and Runic tumbled out, landing on his back in front of me. He stared up at me through his soot-covered goggles and smiled. “Hi, Silent Knight.”

“Hi, Runic,” I replied. “Success?”

Runic rolled over, stood up, and brushed himself off. “Still in one piece, so I’d say yes. What can I do for you?”

I brushed one hoof against my leg and said, “I thought you might want to hang out tonight. You know... like friends?”

“Great!” Runic exclaimed and walked back into the shop. “Come on in!”

Following him proved difficult as the whole back room was clouded in smoke. “Goggles,” I heard Runic say and then felt when he slapped them on my face.

“Thanks,” I coughed.

Somewhere in the darkness, Runic flipped a switch and fans kicked on. The cloud vented out of the room, revealing the surroundings. I had never actually been in the back-back room. It was all work benches, shelving, and science experiments. To my surprise, it was actually in relatively good order.

Runic pointed to the bench nearest the door. “I’m trying to grow river rocks on beanstalks,” he explained, as if it made sense.

“I wasn’t aware that river rocks were so explosive,” I said playfully.

“They’re not. It was the beanstalks,” Runic deadpanned. “Would you like to help out?”

Friends weren’t something I was familiar with. Iridescence was different, of course. She had always taken the lead. I felt out of my depth just standing there and I am a diligent worker so I nodded. “Sure, what can I do?”

“Hold this,” he said, offering me a metal rod attached to a wire. He had a similar one in hoof. “Could you pick up that beanstalk, too?”

I saw which one he meant and picked it up. “Sure.”

“Great!” He smiled and flipped a switch.

I awoke an hour or so later, my coat standing on end. Runic was next to me, sprawled on the shop floor. I moved closer and lightly shook him. He coughed, sat up, and looked at the beanstalk. I had not realized it at first but I was still clenching the plant in my hoof. It was unbelievable: smooth river stones had replaced the pods. I’m not kidding.

“Great!” he exclaimed. “You must be lucky. Well… that was my mission for the day. What’s next?”

Was he seriously asking me? I had not thought to bring any games and I wasn’t sure he would be into Royal Guard stuff. I found that most ponies were bored by us. Then I had an idea. “Runic, do you think you could help me make a bracelet for Iridescence?”

Runic stroked his chin. “A bracelet? There isn’t a lot of challenge to that. Mostly metal work. I doubt we’d even need potions.” He looked at me and then said, “But for you, why not.”

“Thank you,” I replied and we sat down to work.

It all started with some plain wire. It had the same shine as silver but it was something far more sturdy and less expensive. Runic’s invention, of course.

I selected a thinner, pink spool of wire, and asked Runic, “Mares like pink, right?”

Runic shrugged. “I know what they don’t like: rocks on a first date. Alchemists aren’t always known for their ability to swoon ladies.”

I frowned. Runic was a good guy. He should have a nice mare. If, as my sister taught me, his barn door swung that way. That was a different problem, though, so I looked at him and repeated, “Mares like pink, right?” and nodded a little.

Runic seemed to catch on. “Yes,” he said, nodding in time with me.

“Great.” I wound the pink wire around the silver, making two separate, compact coils in the front. It looked fairly well done for a stallion without any magic. Laying the bracelet on the table, I couldn’t help but feel like it needed more. “Hey, Runic?”


“Do you have any of those sapphires left? The ones in the trash bag?”

He shook his head. “No, sorry.”

I smiled. “It's okay, no problem.”

“Would any of those work?” he asked as he pointed a hoof to a small mountain of sapphires. It was literally large enough for me to leap onto and climb my way to the ceiling.

“Yeah…” I said, blinking. “I think I can find one in there.” I walked over to sort through them all. Eventually, I found one that was the right size and even somewhat shield-shaped. It kind of looked like Iridescence’s cutie mark. I made my way down the pile and set it on the table. “You know these are worth bits, right? Lots of bits?”

Runic shrugged. “Not to me. Those are failures in my book.”

I rubbed my nose with a hoof. “I understand that, but if you needed bits you could sell these and buy things you needed to make rocks. They have real value. I can’t just take one and give you nothing.”

Runic smiled at me. “We’re family, so of course you can have that one.”

I shook my head and replied, “That is kind, but family can’t just take. I can’t pay you now, but…”

“I turned you pink and then electrocuted you,” Runic said flatly.

“Right. Even then?”

Runic nodded. “Even.”

“Thank you, Runic, you’re a good pal,” I said and got back to work.

Runic helped me shape the sapphire into a perfect shield and even built a custom metal fastener to hang it from the bracelet. He was really excited about that bit because it allowed him to fuse the metal directly into the sapphire. The final touch was to add a clasp. Runic wanted to attach it with a torch. I convinced him that his tiny soldering iron was a better plan.

It is important that I don’t give the impression that Runic and I were jewelers or that this particular bracelet was the best one ever made, but it did look like something you might buy in a store. It was special because we had made it together and it meant something. It felt like magic.

“Runic, we’ve done a good thing,” I said to him.

He smiled. “Yeah, I think we did. Fun, too.”

I nodded and patted his shoulder. “Yes. We could do similar things again sometime… if you like.”

“Sure, stop by anytime. I’m sure we could come up with a ton of things to do,” he said.

I put a hoof around his shoulder and smiled. “I’ll do that. Just try not to kill me, okay? I’m attached to my body.”

“Fair enough,” Runic said cheerfully.

”Now, how about we go get something to eat? I’m really hungry and for some reason I’m craving those pods from the beanstalks.”

Runic nodded. “Me, too… I bet we could find those in town.”

We left through the side door and Runic locked up. I placed the bracelet in my saddlebag before we headed off into the night to find beans.

I was asleep when Iridescence burst through the door that night. She staggered ever so slightly as she wandered in. “I’m home,” she whispered loudly. In the dark she fumbled around a bit on her way over to our beds.

“Are you okay?” I asked her quietly. I wasn’t sure why she had whispered… although I was also not sure that it qualified as a whisper, anyway. I’m pretty sure the ponies in the next room heard her.

Iridescence smiled in the darkness, the only light in the room provided by the moon outside the window. “I’m great,” she said. “Goodnight, Silent,” she added before tossing the sheets back on my bed and slipping under them.

“Hey, you realize that—” I started and then shrugged. I pulled the sheets back up around us and went back to sleep. She’d figure it out in the morning.

The next morning I woke up feeling less rested than usual. That was probably due to the fact that Iridescence kicks in her sleep. I rolled over to face her and her eyes opened. She looked at me and said, “Good morning.”

I smiled back. “Good morning.”

Then the color drained from her face. Her eyes got big and she leaped from the bed. Ah, she had figured it out!

“You?! Me. Us!” she exclaimed, not quite forming coherent thoughts yet. “What happened?!”

Stretching out a bit in my newly recovered bed, I looked at her and said plainly, “You stumbled in late last night and jumped into my bed.”

My straightforward response was rewarded with a pillow to the face, immediately followed by a second fluffy blow to the head. “And what did you do?!” she demanded.

“Slept awfully,” I replied, holding up my hooves to fend off further attacks. “You kick in your sleep.”

Iridescence dropped the pillow and stared at me. Finally, some form of realization dawned on her face. She leaned down and kissed my cheek. “You’re a gentlepony and an idiot,” she told me.

I clapped my hooves lightly together. “I’ll allow it. Though my feelings are hurt that you’d think the worst of me.”

Iridescence’s cheeks burned red in a blush. It was cute. I smiled as I let her realization set in. Yes, Silent Knight isn’t clueless about everything.

“Then you’re just a gentlepony,” she said, sitting on the edge of my bed. “Did you and Runic have fun?”

“We did. Although he did electrocute me in the name of science. All told, though, it was a pretty successful evening. It looks like yours was as well?”

Iridescence shook her head. “It may have gotten a little out of hoof. No harm was done, though… none that I can remember.”

“I’ll be sure to check the warrants after breakfast. If there are any for you, I’ll have to take you in,” I said sternly while looking up at her. “Oh, and then there is this.” Reaching over to the nightstand we shared, I tugged open the top drawer and took the bracelet out of it, then offered it to her.

“Where did you get this?” Iridescence asked as she looked it over. As I said, it was magic.

Proudly, I replied, “I made it with Runic’s help.”

“You… You made... this?” she asked and I deflated a little.

“I did.”

“Silent Knight, it is amazing. How did you to do it without magic? I thought you had bought it!” she gushed.

I reinflated and shrugged. “Hard work, dedication, and a semi-crazed but exceptionally talented alchemist cousin.”

Iridescence slipped it on and leaned down to kiss my cheek again. “Aren’t you full of surprises this morning!”

Mission accomplished. I rolled over onto my side. “You are, too. You kick like a mule,” I teased before being immediately rewarded by additional blows to the head with a pillow.

17. Winter Comes

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Days off are fun, but there just isn’t anything like putting on your armor and getting back to work. I considered my job a privilege. What could be better than being a young pony in the House Guard?

My career was well ahead of many other ponies'. It may be arrogant to say, but I was proud of myself and the unit I was a part of. That unit pride, however, also made my life difficult for a couple of weeks.

Iridescence may not have loved the job as much as I did. Lately, it seemed she was more interested in being Princess Luna’s friend than her guard. Her professionalism on shift had slipped at a few inopportune times. Unfortunately, it didn’t go without notice and both Sergeant Windchaser and Captain Armor had spoken to her.

It seemed that on this day, a new issue would be added to the mix. She arrived for her shift half an hour late.

“You’re relieved,” she said, getting into her place beside me.

I nodded and stepped forwards to head back to our room. As I did so, the captain came around the corner. He looked surprised to see me.

“Silent Knight,” he started. “Don’t you ever get tired of working?”

“Never, Captain,” I said warmly.

“Haven’t you been off shift for a while now?”

I nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Shining Armor looked suspicious, fixed his eyes to mine, and asked, “Anything to report?”

I stared back while standing at attention. Any motion and he would know. “Nothing of consequence, sir,” I replied but added, “Though I can do an exhaustive, written report in this case if you prefer.”

The captain looked at Iridescence and then at me. Finally, he shook his head. “No, that won’t be necessary. Carry on.” And with that he made his way down the hall to continue his rounds.

When I was certain he was out of earshot, I breathed a sigh of relief. That was as close as I’d ever gotten to lying to an officer. I truly believed this wasn’t of consequence, because Iridescence wouldn’t let it happen again.

I briefly glanced at her. She seemed shocked. I guess we were all acting a little abnormal lately. I’d been working on speaking more and trying to be an outgoing pony. It put some ponies off, but I was trying to be well rounded.

Iridescence had been… well, I wasn't even sure what. The look I gave her said, ‘Don’t put me in this position again.’ Quickly she nodded and with a slight shrug, I left her to her duty. It was time to do something different and I set course for the small tavern near the barracks. I needed a drink.

The air was chilly and there was still snow on the ground. I never quite understood what the purpose of it was or why the weather ponies still worked during winter. It made more sense to me that if it was cold, you wouldn’t want water falling from the sky… but what did I know? I kept a brisk pace as I headed to the Spearhead Tavern where there would, undoubtedly, be a big fire and warm food.

The Spearhead Tavern was a royal guard favorite. The owner, old Silverwind, had been in the Guard for years. When he got too old to do his duty, he opened the tavern and made it royal guard friendly. Eventually, it was almost exclusive to us. At least in practice and not by rule, of course.

It had taken me far too long to figure out it existed. That wasn’t a surprise, though. Palace guards often went out for harder beverages after work, but Princess Luna’s House Guards were fairly separate. Ponies still gave us sideways glances. Somepony had mentioned it recently, so I wanted to check it out.

I settled on a stool by the bar and set some bits down. “Cider, please.”

I’d never sat at the bar before. Usually, I was at a table catching a meal outside of the chow hall. Tonight felt like a 'sit at the bar' kind of night. Just like it was a 'something other than water' night.

“Rough day?” a familiar voice asked from behind me. I turned to find Shining Armor there. Had he followed me? I immediately stood up to attention and he lightly pushed me back onto the stool. “I’m not on duty, Silent Knight, and neither are you. Switch it off.”

Switch it off? I eased back onto the stool and said, “Perhaps a little, sir… er… Captain?” I tilted my head and referenced the regulations. Officers and enlisted ponies don’t typically mix. “Mr. Armor?”

Shining Armor laughed and sat on the stool next to me. “Shining Armor is fine. Just Shining Armor when we’re in here and our helmets are off. Okay?”

I nodded. “Yes, sir.” He slightly opened his mouth and I corrected, “Yes.”

“Rough day, then?” he repeated. Was this a test to see if I had lied? Did he know? I looked at him and I saw fatigue under his eyes. It wasn’t just that. He looked worse for the wear. Similar to when I had first met him right after the Nightmare Moon incident.

Setting more bits on the bar I motioned to him. “Cider for the ca… Shining Armor. Please,” I told the tender. Looking back at him, I deflected, “Clearly not as rough as yours. Is there something wrong?”

He snorted and accepted the cider. “You’re too observant. Yes... Something has been off between Cadence and me. I can’t put my hoof on it but she is different lately. Things have been a little stressful.”

Lady Cadence, his unicorn bride-to-be, was one of the prettiest, sweetest ponies I’d ever met. We’d not spent much time together but she was often around the palace as she was Princess Celestia’s adopted niece. It seemed implausible that she could be causing the captain grief.

“Iridescence, too,” I said without really thinking it through.

The captain’s brow went up. “Oh? You two are together?” he asked me directly. Stupid, honest mouth.

“Not like you and Lady Cadence, no.” That wasn’t a lie. Their relationship was far more serious and tangible. “We’re close, though. I know when things are off. Partners… well… friends are like that. She’s my best friend.”

“I noticed, too. With Iridescence, I mean. She hasn’t been herself as of late. I think Cadence may just have wedding jitters but I feel something in the air. I think Princess Celestia feels it, too.”

That was disturbing. When Princess Celestia worried about something, it meant a call to action was soon to follow. “We’ll handle whatever it is. Have no doubt about that,” I offered confidently. “How about you? Do you have jitters as well?”

Shining Armor grinned a bit, obviously glad to change the subject. “Not in the least. I’ve wanted to marry Cadence since our school days. I’m actually shocked it took this long to get it settled, but in situations like ours things take time.”

Taking a sip of my cider, I asked, “What situation?”

“Marrying royalty,” he said plainly and without a hint of ego. It was just fact. “There are protocols, of course. Cadence is Princess Celestia’s niece, after all. She is destined to hold a noble title of some form or fashion. She may even rule for all I know.”

“That makes sense,” I said. “She is a unicorn noble in multiple rights, isn't she? Her family line goes back to Princess Platinum.”

The captain’s brow lifted. “She is… How do you know that, though?”

“Perhaps I may have crossed a line, but I wasn’t certain who I would be protecting when I started in at the academy. I simply narrowed the list down and did all of my research to ensure I’d be a good fit. Princess Luna, of course, was a total surprise. There wasn’t any research available.”

Shining Armor laughed. “Your research included looking back through years of my fiancée’s family tree?”

“Of course. Know your very important pony as best you can. It helps you anticipate how they’ll act and make life easier for everypony. Princess Luna loves to read and write, as an example. I’ve made it a point to learn all of the bookstores, libraries, and newsstands in Canterlot so I would know where to look if she went off unattended.”

“I appreciate that level of dedication, Silent Knight, but you seriously need a hobby.”

That made me laugh a bit. “I’ve been goofing off more than I ever have in my entire life thanks to your mentoring. I play board games and help my cousin with his wacky experiments.”

Shining Armor looked at me quite seriously and replied, “Well, it is good to know I’ve been such a bad influence on you.”

My stomach dropped and I said, “Captain, I’m sorry, I—”

He lifted a hoof. “Joking!”

I drank my cider and peered at him over the rim. “Oh, well good, then.”

“Listen,” he said, leaning in closer. “I didn’t come to discuss business but I am worried. You notice a lot more than most ponies, even if you don’t say anything about it. I’m going to rely on you to keep your eyes and ears open. If something out of the ordinary happens, you let me know, even if it seems insignificant. Understood?”

I nodded. “Crystal clear.”

“Good stallion.” He stood. I started to stand with him, but he put a hoof on my shoulder. “Thanks for the cider. We should do it again sometime.”

“Stallion’s night out, sir?”

He chuckled and headed for the door. “Sounds good.”

I turned back to the bar and drained my cider. If Shining Armor was worried, then so was I. Tapping the bar with my hoof, I ordered another mug. I had musing to do.

“You lied for me… I can’t believe you lied for me,” Iridescence said softly when I returned the next morning to relieve her.

Shaking my head, I replied, “No, I said nothing of consequence occurred but would write a detailed report if requested. Nothing of consequence did occur because I know my partner wouldn’t show up late without a good reason and she certainly wouldn’t make a habit out of it.”

We stood together in silence. Per the usual I had arrived fifteen minutes early for shift change.

“You took a risk for me,” she whispered.


“I promise I won’t do that to you again,” she started and then sheepishly hoofed the floor. “My relationship with the princess has been clouding my judgment. I was starting to think I could get away with things… at least until you had to put your neck out for me. I don’t want to turn into the type of pony you have to do that for again.”

With a slight nod, I said, “Please don’t… but everypony makes mistakes. Don’t worry about it.”

She promised earnestly again, “I won’t.”

I glanced at her. “The captain and I had drinks at the Spearhead last night after I was off. He thinks something might be going on around here. It may just be pre-wedding nerves, but I think we should take him seriously and keep an ear out.”

Iridescence shifted slightly beside me. “Around the palace or around here, like you and I?”

“Around the palace. Princess Celestia is also concerned. He was pretty serious.”

“Oh… well, we’ll just have to keep an ear out won’t we? Besides, with you around, I’m not sure what could possibly go wrong, Mr. Perfect Guard,” she teased.

Under my helmet, I gave a slight smile and replied, “Sure, sure. You are relieved.”

“Thank you,” she whispered sweetly before heading home.

The universe was back in order it seemed. Thank Celestia for that. If we could all just make it a few more weeks without any weirdness, we’d be able to sit back, celebrate Hearth’s Warming Eve, and then enjoy a royal Canterlot wedding.

18. Hearth's Warming Eve

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Shaking my head, I sighed. “What a shame.”

“What is?” Iridescence asked from her bunk.

“My sister and her marefriend broke up. She is really upset about it, too,” I explained as I read the letter on the table. Setting down a fresh sheet of parchment, I picked up a pencil in my mouth and started on a response.

Iridescence rose and came over. She slid the letter over to read it herself. Normally they were private, but I had brought it up so it seemed alright to let her see.

“Does she say why?” she asked.

I just shook my head and tried to focus on my writing.

The unicorn’s expression darkened as she read on. “Poor girl… They had been together a while, too. Be sure you’re extra nice to her in that letter. Maybe even take some time to go see her?”

I nodded in agreement and continued to scrawl my condolences across the parchment. One thing I had learned was that when these things happen there is a litany of standard responses: there are other pegasi in the sky, it is always darkest before Celestia’s dawn, so on and so forth. All of that sounded so forced to me. I certainly knew I wouldn’t want to hear anything like that if Iridescence and I split up.

While we contemplated the best response, there was a knock on the door. It was followed by a brief pause before the door opened. It was Captain Shining Armor. Usually he didn’t knock. That was new.

We stood at attention and I spit the pencil out onto the table. “Good evening, sir,” I said.

“Good evening, you two,” he replied, looking to where the pencil had landed. “Silent Knight, I wanted to put on a bit of extra security for Princess Celestia tonight. Can you help me out?”

A spot on Princess Celestia’s House Guard for the evening was a huge opportunity. I smiled and said, “That is most appreciated, Captain. May I ask, is there nopony else? You know I would never refuse if you were in need… but if somepony else can do it, I’d like to pass.” I nodded towards the letters on the table. “I’m behind on writing to my sister and she is in a bad spot… plus, Iridescence and I have tickets to the Hearth’s Warming Eve play. I don’t want to let her down.”

Shining Armor looked a little surprised. He shook his head and smiled. “Oh, no, I won’t have trouble finding somepony. It is a huge career opportunity and I wanted to offer it to you first. You’ve earned that.” He tapped the table and nodded. “But family comes first. Have fun, you two.”

The door closed behind the captain and Iridescence looked at me wide eyed. “What?” I asked.

“You could have been on Princess Celestia’s House Guard tonight. You just turned down something you’ve cared about your whole life!”

Mares are confusing creatures. I tilted my head. “We had plans. You said I was supposed to meet you halfway.” I leaned down to pick up my pencil and got back to writing.

Iridescence watched with a strange look on her face. Was it guilt? Guilt didn’t make sense, but it looked like guilt. We could talk about that later. For now, Winterspear was the most important pony to me. Maybe I should go see her. I had tons of leave time due.

Later that evening, Iridescence and I attended the Hearth’s Warming Eve play. The Canterlot production was the largest in all of Equestria and getting tickets was hard. Being a royal guard, however, had its perks and I was able to acquire two well in advance. We didn’t have great seats but they were what I could afford.

That was my gift to Iridescence. Well, I guess the tickets and me not working security. She had gotten me a wonderful scarf. It was white and blue like me and really warm. I’m not certain what it was made out of, but if somepony asked I would say “the softest comfort available.” The scarf was also extra long, which meant I could share it with her.

We sat together at the play with her hooves around my left foreleg. She still had that guilty look on her face but I hoped the show would change that. The playbill had stated that Twilight Sparkle and her friends would be taking on the starring roles. I wasn’t aware that they were actors, but it was still an exciting prospect.

The lights fell and a dragon came out on stage to narrate. This was going to be a great evening. First a show, and then off to meet our friends. I slipped a hoof around Iridescence’s shoulders and we settled in for the performance.

“I’m not sure Commander Hurricane was that stubborn is all that I’m saying,” I explained.

Iridescence laughed softly as we walked, “Spoken like a true pegasus warrior. It was creative license, Silent Knight. All of the leaders were made to seem completely unreasonable.”

“I suppose that is true. Still…” I trailed off as we arrived at Runic’s shop.

The outside was completely done up in Hearth’s Warming Eve decorations. A sign outside read “Closed For Private Function.”

We headed on inside and found ourselves in a holiday wonderland. Runic Phial did not do anything halfway. The shop was completely decked out in Hearth’s Warming cheer. There were colorful streamers, hanging ornaments, and everything else you’d expect plus some things you wouldn’t. It appeared he had somehow glued fake icicles to the ceiling… at least I hoped they were fake.

“Wow, Runic… This is just amazing,” Iridescence said and I nodded in agreement.

Runic smiled. “Thank you. I wanted it to feel special for our first Hearth’s Warming Eve together! Just like my parents do back home.”

That was a nice gesture. We helped ourselves to some punch and chatted quietly while waiting for the others to arrive.

It wasn’t long after that when the door opened and Crystal Wishes came in. “Good evening, all!” she called cheerfully. “I hope nopony minds, but I brought a friend.”

“The more the merrier,” Runic replied earnestly.

An earth pony walked in behind her. She was light pink and had a mauve mane pulled up in a bun in the back. Two curled strands hung by her ears in the front. Her cutie mark was some sort of pink shoe, the kind dancers wear.

“Hello, everypony,” she said softly, glancing around.

“This is Velvet Step. We’ve been friends since we were fillies and I thought she’d enjoy the party,” Crystal Wishes explained with a bright smile before going around the room with introductions. “That is Silent Knight, Iridescence, and Runic Phial.”

“Pleased to meet you,” I said as we all exchanged casual pleasantries.

Velvet looked a little pensive but that didn’t surprise me. She was being introduced to new ponies in a new place. She cleared her throat and asked, “Is it true that Princess Luna may be coming? I won’t know what to do if she does!”

It was true. Crystal Wishes and Princess Luna had hit it off pretty well. Iridescence, too, of course. I was glad to see the princess making friends. It made work weird sometimes, though.

Crystal Wishes smiled and said, “Don’t worry, Velvet. She is sweet. I’m not sure if she’ll be able to make it, anyway. She has a lot of duties as a princess. Why don’t we have some punch?”

I took that opportunity to chat with Runic. I was a bit excited. “Runic, I got a gift for you,” I started. “I don’t know much about these things but I think you’ll like it.”

Runic tilted his head and asked, “What is it?”

The gift, a rock, was hidden in my scarf. I pulled it out and offered it to him. “About three weeks ago, Princess Luna was on her balcony looking through her telescope. She saw something fall from the sky and pointed it out to me. I’m not exactly sure how, but she tracked where it would land and we went out to see it the next day. It was a rock that had fallen from the heavens. This is a piece.”

Runic’s eyes went wide and he took the rock in both hooves, cradling it like you might a foal. “You got me an extraterrestrial rock?” he asked, tears welling in the corner of his eyes.

I was pretty certain they were good tears, so I nodded. “The moment I saw it I thought of you and Princess Luna allowed me to have it. I’m glad you… huugh!” I grunted as Runic crushed me into a hug. I hugged him back. It was cool; we’re family.

When my vision started going black around the edges he let go. “I have something for you, too. Give me a second though,” he said, turning to go to the back of the shop.

He set the rock down on the counter and brought out a small strongbox with a glass lid. Runic unlocked the box and set the stone in it. Securing it, he put it on the shelf right behind the counter in prime viewing space. I was proud that I had found the right gift.

His gift for me, it seemed, was much larger. From the back room, Runic produced a long, rectangular box wrapped in brilliant blue paper. He offered it to me and I had to take it in both hooves. Whatever it was, it was heavy. “Thank you,” I said, setting the box on the table. I tore the wrapping off and revealed a wooden box.

Curiously I pushed the lid off of it. “Wow!” I exclaimed, drawing the attention of everypony in the room. Typically I’m not loud but this was amazing.

“I made it,” Runic said sheepishly.

From the box, I pulled out the most impressive sword I’d ever seen. It was shiny and new, polished to a silver finish. The hilt and cross guards had sapphires set into round baubles, but the most amazing bit is where the hilt met the blade: Runic had crafted two crescent moons that looked like my cutie mark out of a pale white stone and attached them.

Holding the sword in my hoof, I marveled at its beauty. “Runic… this is a masterpiece.” It was well balanced. I shifted it and took it in my mouth. Balanced there, too.

I set it back into the box carefully, turned towards Runic, and tackled him. It was cool; we’re family.

“Stallions,” I heard Iridescence say as she and the other mares exchanged gifts. I didn’t care. This was amazing.

Helping Runic up, I asked, “How did you do it? It’s perfect and it’s just right for me.”

Runic smiled and shrugged. “I’m friends with a blacksmith. We worked on it together. From all the experimenting you and I do, I was able to figure it out. I did the stones and imbuing. I’m glad you like it.”

I shook my head. “No, not like it. I love it.”

“Great!” Runic cheered.

I made a mental note to request special permission from the captain to carry a non-issue weapon. It was a common request and one unlikely he’d deny.

It was also just about that time that the front door opened and two members of Princess Luna’s House Guard came in. Miley Hooves the Plaguebringer (our affectionate term for her), and her new partner, Harvest Moon. Harvest was the second trainee ever to come out of the academy and go directly into Princess Luna’s House Guard, myself being the first. That was a good thing. Ponies were starting to see this as a good career move.

Our group fell silent and I cleared my throat. “Miley. Harvest.” They both nodded at me, looked around, and separated to reveal Princess Luna.

She smiled brightly when she saw all of us. “Happy Hearth’s Warming Eve, ponies!” she exclaimed, coming in. “Who is ready for the fun to be doubled? I have brought games!”

And she had indeed… two saddlebags full of games, to be precise. I noticed that Velvet Step looked a little shocked but the rest of us knew this side of Princess Luna well. It was one of the things that made her the most endearing and approachable. She was not some aloof noble. She was a pony just like the rest of us. I wished all of Equestria could see her that way.

19. Hearth's Warming Day

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Captain Shining Armor was a very positive role model. He was still working in his office the morning after Hearth’s Warming Eve when most ponies were still asleep. His door was almost always open. I knocked anyway.

“Come in. Silent Knight, what can I do for you?” he said, levitating his quill down to the desk.

I took my helmet off and waited a moment until he caught the message. He took his off, too. I nodded my thanks. “I brought you something for Hearth’s Warming Eve.”

“Oh?” he asked.

Nodding, I set a pair of cufflinks down on his desk. “For your uniform… at least, for the wedding. I know they’re not regulation, but my cousin and I made them. It is an old pegasus custom. If you make a gift, fill it with positive wishes, and present it to a groom, the ancient ponies will bless the marriage.”

Shining Armor accepted the cufflinks and peered at them. “That is a wonderful tradition,” he said and then sighed slightly. “I’ll need them.”

“Sir?” I asked. Wrong title, but still.

“Cadence and I are just going through a little rough patch before the wedding. She really hasn’t been herself. More than what I mentioned before,” he admitted.

“The strain of the wedding, I imagine,” I offered.

He smiled, but only halfway. “Yes, I think that is it, too. Thank you, Silent Knight. This was most kind.”

“Gladly,” I said, then I put my helmet back on. He did the same.

“Sir, I’ve a lot of leave piling up. I know this isn’t the perfect time to ask but after the last letter, I think my sister needs me. She’s having a rough time. Could I have a few days off to go see her? I can take any missives to Cloudsdale as well.”

The captain nodded. “Of course. I’m sorry to hear her situation is that bad. Take care of her.”

“Thank you, sir.” I turned to leave but then stopped. “One more small issue, sir.” I shifted and retrieved the sword Runic had made for me from the scabbard that was hidden under my flank armor. “My cousin made this for me. It isn’t standard issue. May I have a waiver to carry a personal weapon?” I asked as I set the sword on his desk.

Shining Armor looked over the sword before lightly lifting it. “This is a miraculous blade,” he said in awe. He offered it back to me. “A fine weapon for a fine guard. Approved. I’ll do the paperwork later.”

I accepted it and nodded. His word was good enough for me. I slipped it back into the scabbard. Most ponies would never know a royal guard carried a sword. Concealing them made everypony more comfortable.

“Thank you, sir,” I said, standing to attention.

He sat up straight and replied, “You’re welcome. Dismissed.”

After saying my goodbyes to Iridescence, I headed off for Cloudsdale. It felt weird to do so out of uniform. The captain had not assigned any missives and that meant it wasn’t an official trip. I was just Silent Knight, private pony citizen.

When I arrived at Winterspear’s room, I had a moment of trepidation. I had not been able to let her know I was coming. It was a last minute thing. I knocked on the door and hoped she was there.

“Just a minute,” she called. Thank Celestia. After another moment or so the door opened and her face went from confusion to joy. “Silent Knight! What are you doing here?”

I hugged her. She was a little surprised. I guess I had become a hugger. We hugged more and then I came in.

Shutting the door, I said carefully, “I got your letter. More importantly, it is Hearth’s Warming Eve. I missed you.”

Winterspear stroked my mane and peered in my eyes. “Who are you and where is my little brother?”

“Growing up some, I guess. How’re you?”

She smiled a brittle smile. “I’m managing. It was sudden. I think there was somepony else.” She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. It is over now. How is your romance going?”

“Romance is hard. We are doing okay. I get the feeling I’m messing up or that maybe something is off… but I really don’t know anything about relationships and I’m here for you, anyway, not me.”

My sister nodded sagely at me. “It is hard, and this is your first one. It gets a little easier the next time. I promise.”

I frowned at that. “The next time?”

Winterspear winced. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that the way it came out.” She took my hooves in hers. “Look, some ponies get it right in one try. Others have to try several times. Every time it doesn’t work out, you get better at it. You understand more. I’m not saying you won’t stay with Iridescence. I just mean it gets easier.”

I nodded. My expression didn’t betray the small amount of fear that her words had put into me. I replied evenly, “I understand. Thank you… and you’re going to find a great mare, too. You’re too sweet not to.”

“I know. It just hurts right now. Pain is temporary, though,” she said and meant it. I had never heard her use one of our father’s sayings. I wondered if they had made up. "What did you do for your birthday?"

My head tilted. "How do you mean?"

Winterspear groaned. "Your birthday. You just had one. What did you do? Did you and Iridescence go out? Did she really do nothing on your birthday?"

Oh, was that a thing? "I'm sure she would have if she'd known. I didn't mention it. I worked my shift like normal."

My sister sighed and just shook her head.

Clearing my throat lightly, I changed the subject to an even less fun topic. “Not today but… while I’m here, I should probably go see Mom and Dad. Do you want to come? It is the holidays.”

Winterspear sighed. “Yeah… I guess I should, too.”

“We’ll be together. United,” I said firmly.

“Yes, okay,” she replied and it almost sounded like she meant it.

My parents’ house was almost exactly the same from when I had left it years ago. That was partially so my father could find his way around and partially because he was stubborn and didn’t like change.

Mother kept the house immaculately clean even if the old warpony couldn’t see it. That was her way. We hugged when I arrived. My father and I shook hooves. Then we all sat, somewhat quietly, mostly awkwardly.

“Winterspear tells us that you’re part of Princess Luna’s House Guard,” my mother said over dinner.

I nodded. “That is true. We’re a brand new unit and we’re building a lot of credibility.”

“What about Princess Celestia’s House Guard? Won’t you be trying to get into that unit? They’re the best around.” Dad was always quick to get to his point.

I shook my head, which is a silly thing to do in front of a blind pony. “No, sir.” I proceeded cautiously, “Command’s goal is to ensure both House Guard units are viewed as the best of the best. We have the same commanding officer.”

My father stroked his chin. “I see. Well… I guess that is alright. You haven’t made sergeant yet?”

“No sir. Winterspear has, though,” I said with a bit of caution.

“I’d heard,” was all he said which may have been an improvement.

My sister and I exchanged glances and I shrugged. My father was who he was. There wasn’t much hope in changing that.

Mother cleared her throat. “I hear you’re dating a unicorn, Silent Knight.”

That generated a chuckle from my father. “I guess he integrated into Canterlot a little too well.”

I ignored that. “Yes, ma’am, and her name is Iridescence. She is good to me. I’ve also found a cousin in town. On your mother’s side. Runic Phial. He is a little eccentric but he is a good friend and he is family.”

My mother clapped her hooves together lightly and said, “Oh, that is good. You need little friends. You never had a lot as a colt.”

“He had more important things to do as a colt,” my father cut in.

“Yes, dear…” my mom said patiently. “Which is why it is important that now that he has some time he makes friends. Networking is important.” My father snorted but held his tongue. “What about you Winterspear? What about that friend of yours, Caramel Mint?”

Winterspear stiffened in her chair and under the table she set her hoof on my leg, as if bracing for impact. I worked it over in my mind why mom had called Caramel a friend. They were… oh. Oh! I sat quietly and said nothing.

Shaking her head, Winterspear shrugged. “We had a pretty big fight. She met a special somepony and was spending all her time with her.”

“With HER?” my father blurted. “Is she one of those fillyfoolers? That just isn’t natural. Back in our day we knew how to handle those kinds of ponies. You’re better off without a friend like that.”

“I’ll agree with that,” Winterspear said darkly.

“You know things are different now, sir. That sort of thing is more common,” I said and I have no idea why.

“That doesn’t make it right,” was his response.

I opened my mouth to say something else but my mother and Winterspear shook their heads. It was the holidays, I guess.

“Heard you came through here not long ago on official business,” my father said, moving on. “Didn’t even stop to see your old parents.”

“It was courier duty, sir. I had to make a quick turn around and had a short period of time to do a long list of things I wanted to.”

He shook his head. “I’m not complaining, Son. I’m proud of you. Mission first.”

When I was younger that would have meant a lot to me. For some reason, that night I didn’t care. “Thank you, sir,” I said and went back to eating my dinner. We all did and that was probably for the best.

“Right in front of you! He basically called you a monster right there. He said fillyfooler!” I was hot. I’m not prone to anger but I was hot that night as I paced back and forth in Winterspear’s room.

“It‘s fine. Dad will never cease to find ways to tear me down overtly or by accident. I’m used to it,” she said.

I shook my head. “No it isn’t, Winterspear! Ponies shouldn’t treat ponies that way. Princess Luna isn’t that way and she’s an alicorn. Princess Celestia would be embarrassed!”

I paced for a while more before she stood up, came over, and got in my way. She cupped my cheeks with her hooves.

“Listen, little brother. I’m glad you want to defend me, but I don’t need it. I really don’t care what he thinks anymore. He has his life, I have mine. Eventually I’ll tell Mom. Maybe she’ll accept it, maybe she won’t. I hope she does. All that matters is that you didn’t care at all. It didn’t even phase you. The only thing that you cared about was my happiness, so much so you even came here now when I needed somepony. Thank you. You’ve done plenty.”

I swallowed and the anger started to wane. I wasn’t even sure why I had gotten so upset to begin with. Part of it was probably being old enough to see my dad as something other than my hero. “Okay,” I said and then tried on something new. “I love you.”

She looked at me a moment and then smiled. “I love you, too. Now come on, bedtime.”

We headed over to her bed. The perk of being a sergeant was that she had her own room. The downside was that she only had one bed which made it rough for visitors. “You better not kick like Iridescence,” I said without thinking.

“Oh, so you two are sharing a bed?” she asked, raising one brow. Stupid, honest mouth.

Slipping into her bed, I grumbled, “It isn’t like that, you…” I searched for an appropriately teasing insult. She waited patiently. “...clop-minded mare.”

“Bravo,” she said cheerfully, slipping in and lying on the other side of the bed, if you could really call it that. It was a bed for one and we were pretty much back-to-back.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m learning new words on the street every day.”

“Don’t,” she teased.

Everypony was a critic.

I stayed with my sister another couple of days to make certain she was back to her usual self. It was nice and I imagine that is how most families are: supportive and happy to be together. More importantly, it was how we had been back when I was a foal. As you grow up, I think you never realize how much you miss something until you get a taste of it again. Evidently, I missed having family.

Having a big sister was great and I planned on spending more time with her in the future. Unfortunately, however, it was time to fly home. We said our goodbyes and I dropped out of the clouds to head east towards Canterlot. After almost a week away, it was time to get back to regular life and the job I loved.

There was no reason to hurry. I had the entire day off and wouldn’t go on shift until the following morning. That made for a prime opportunity to just fly and enjoy it. There was time for loops, banks, and dives. Freedom is a wonderful thing and even though I was excited to get back to my structured life, I paused for a moment to consider what it would be like if this was my everyday.

My spirits were high as I approached Canterlot. The sight of it, however, immediately filled me with worry. The city was surrounded by a protection spell. A massively powerful one, too. What had happened? I dove towards the city gates and landed outside the barrier.

The guards posted there nodded to me. There were twice as many as usual. That was another bad sign. I galloped through the streets towards our headquarters as fast as I could. When I reached the palace I was moving faster than I ever had before. As I barreled through the hallway, I made a hard left towards the captain’s office. A little too hard, actually.

I sailed around the corner and crashed into two of my fellow guards. I knocked them both down, lost my balance, and fell. Thankfully, my training kicked in so I tucked and rolled while allowing the momentum to carry me down the hall. With a heavy thud, I landed right in front of Captain Armor, a wide-eyed Princess Celestia, several officers, and some really surprised palace staff.

I sprung to attention. “Reporting for duty, Captain!”

Without missing a beat, Shining Armor said, “And this is Silent Knight, the guard I was telling you about. He’ll be taking the lead on Princess Luna’s first watch. Welcome back, Silent Knight.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said and stepped aside as the gaggle of important ponies went by.

Watch lead, huh? That meant we were going to have at least two ponies per shift. Something was up. I made a note to find out later when the captain wasn’t busy. Plus, I should probably make certain I hadn’t just killed two fellow guards. That is the polite thing to do in this situation.

20. A Canterlot Wedding - Part 1

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“Listen up, ponies!” Shining Armor called from the front of the room. “As you all now know, an anonymous threat has been made against Canterlot. Princess Celestia has requested extra security and we are obliged to provide it. We’re not certain when or if an attack will be carried out, but command is inclined to think it will occur near the upcoming wedding. It is a high profile event, which makes it a prime target.”

That also meant that the captain, his bride, or both could be the target of the anonymous group’s aggression. This was simply unheard of, but royal guards stick together and this was starting to feel personal. An attack on our captain and his family was an attack on us all.

Shining Armor continued his briefing. “We’re doubling up on security everywhere and, in some places, tripling it. We’ve called in guards from other cities to temporarily bolster our numbers. They’ll handle perimeter duties and other lower-level functions. You all know this place better than anypony else and I want my top players in key positions.

“Princess Celestia’s House Guard has enough depth to handle the double shifts and then some. Princess Luna’s House Guard is still growing, which means I’ll be assigning some PCHGs to her unit. I realize a lot of you have more seniority, but I’m keeping the PLHGs in charge there. Princess Luna is different and they know her well. Be a good teammate and follow their lead.

“Keep an eye out for anything suspicious. Report everything and do your duty. This is what we get paid for, boys and girls. Dismissed!”

We all started filing out into the hallway. For the time being I was a watch leader. That meant every pony during my watch reported to me. In this instance, that was Miley Hooves and myself. I reported to the watch commander, Sergeant Windchaser. She reported to the officer on duty. It was all very efficient and I would have loved it if I weren’t concerned about the fact that it meant we were in danger.

Miley Hooves was an efficient enough guard. She had been one longer than me but had not been promoted to guard first class. I think it was because calamity seemed to follow her. Prior to being on Princess Luna’s House Guard she had been a Canterlot Guard. She was responsible for keeping the city safe in general. That was something she did pretty well. Keeping it safe from herself, however, was a different story.

Minor incidents and events always seemed to follow Miley. They were never big, dangerous, or even noteworthy. It was just that they happened frequently: a broken table here, a smashed window there. I was amazed at how much collateral damage the little earth pony had done in her career. It made me shudder to think about her insurance premiums.

“I’m sorry, Silent Knight,” she mumbled as we swept up a broken tea cup in Princess Luna’s chamber.

“It is okay. It was an accident,” I soothed.

Miley frowned a bit under her helmet. Her coat was a dark chestnut color and her mane was black. When she was in her armor she almost disappeared in the shadows cast by the helmet. I suppose that is why when she was a filly the other foals teased her and called her 'black cat.'

If it wasn’t her coloring, the others also teased her about her size. Miley wasn’t just petite for a guard. She was petite for a mare and was mistaken for a filly in secondary school on more than one occasion. There was a long list of 'short' nicknames for her, too. Those were just a couple of stories she told me while we were working together. I never had a nickname… much less several. Oh well.

We had the mess squared away just before Princess Luna wandered in from her private bedroom. “Good morning,” she said to us.

“Good morning, Princess,” we responded in unison.

“Your breakfast has just arrived,” I added and indicated to her table. It was all there minus a tea cup.

“We thank thee,” she said before sitting down. The princess looked around and then under the table. “Silent Knight, the tea cup appeareth to be missing.”

Miley’s shoulders slumped a little.

“Small accident, Princess. The steward will be right up with a new one. Until then, we have this…” I sat a mug on the table that I normally used on breaks. It was from the Canterlot Palace gift shop. It was dark blue and ‘My Favorite Princess Raises the Moon' was written on it in white letters.

Princess Luna looked at the mug, looked at me, and then laughed. “Very well, this will do.” She then proceeded to pour her tea into the mug.

I went back to my spot next to Miley and patted her on the hoof. She perked up a little and whispered, “Thanks, boss.”

Boss? That was a weird thing to hear another pony say to me… but not in a bad way. Truthfully, I was pretty good as a royal guard. I'd never thought of myself as a boss but maybe I should. Perhaps I could even be an officer someday?

I nodded at her and we stood quietly while Princess Luna ate her breakfast.

Shift changes had been extended to half an hour. That was so that the oncoming guards could be fully briefed. Unfortunately, since nothing was happening, it led to us with far too many ponies in one place. I stood quietly with Iridescence while Miley stood with Harvest Moon.

When the princess was out of earshot, I asked Iridescence, “How is it being watch lead?”

She shrugged and replied, “There isn’t much to it. Harvest stands there most of the time and if we can talk, we mostly discuss his family’s farm.”

I hedged a bit and then asked, “What would you think if I said I might want to try for officer's candidate school someday?”

Iridescence blinked and turned to look at me. “Really? You never were much on officers before… but you’d be good at it." She added in a whisper, "Of course, that complicates our situation a lot. That isn’t just inappropriate. It is completely against the rules.”

Right… fraternizing. How could I have forgotten about that? “Ah, you’re right. Oh well. It was probably a silly notion anyway,” I said with a shrug.

“What? Are you kidding me?” Iridescence turned completely to face me. “What has gotten into you lately? You’re not just meeting me halfway; you’ve leaped way over the line. It is like you’re a different pony.”

“I thought you wanted me to think about us,” I said, trying to stay faced forwards. “If I become an officer it will be really hard to have an us.”

“Yes, but we’d deal with that then. You can’t give up on your dreams and ideas because it might have an impact on us,” she said in ever increasingly loud whispers. “This job is important to you. You love it. I don’t want you to wake up one day and feel like you gave it all up for me… and then hate me for it.”

“Impossible, I could never hate you.” I said plainly.

Iridescence poked me with a hoof. “You’re a young stallion. You need to learn a little about moderation, Silent Knight. First it was all the job. Now it is not about the job at all. Find a middle ground.”

With a snort, I replied, “I feel like regardless which way I go you’re telling me I’m doing the wrong thing. I can’t sort it all out… why don’t you just—”

“Boss?” Miley broke in. She and Harvest Moon were right there. How had we missed that?

“Yes, Miley?” I asked, turning back.

“It is time to go. You know… unless you’d rather… um…” She trailed off.

Iridescence said with a scowl, “You are relieved.”

That was good enough for me. Harvest Moon took my spot while Miley and I headed off duty.

“Captain?” I asked nervously. “Captain, are you okay?”

“Huh, what?” Shining Armor rubbed his eyes with his hooves. “Silent Knight? Yes, I’m sorry. It's another migraine. I’m getting them more often now. What can I do for you?”

I hated to tell him, so I stalled. “Do you think I would be right for officer’s candidate school, sir?”

Shining Armor nodded. “I don’t see why not. You’re an excellent guard with a perfect record. To be frank, you’re already on the sergeant list. If you were willing to take a transfer, you could be one immediately. I know you like your position, though.”

“I do, sir. I may want to discuss my options with you at a more appropriate time. If that is okay.”

“Of course… but that isn’t why you’re here, is it?”

I shook my head. “No, sir, I’m afraid not. It is time for you to refresh the barrier. I’m sorry, sir.”

The captain pulled himself up from his chair with some effort. He looked rough. Professional, but rough. “Lend me a hoof?”

Without question, I moved to his side and let him subtly lean against me. It looked like we were walking in tight formation. It kept morale high. Most guards didn’t know the state Shining Armor was in and we were going to keep it that way. He could lean on me today. Perhaps some day in the future, I’d have to lean on him.

We moved together out onto the balcony and despite his fatigue, pain, and strain, he did his duty. Once he was done, we carefully returned to his office and he slumped into his chair.

“Thank you, Silent Knight,” he said quietly.

I nodded. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, sir. I see you have some reports to catch up on there. About twelve. I estimate it will take exactly two hours to do them. I’ll close your door and check in on you then.”

“Very good,” he said, already half asleep. “Dismissed.” I swept the reports into my duty bag and walked out, closing the door behind me.

Miley was outside waiting and I motioned to the door. “The captain is doing reports and is not to be disturbed. If anypony calls for him who isn’t an officer do not let them in. If it is an officer, knock loudly three times, wait five seconds, and then open the door. Understood?”

“Yes, boss,” she said and moved in front of the captain’s door. I headed off to the library to review the reports.

The watch leaders for Princess Luna’s House Guard stood at attention in the Captain’s office. That included me, too, of course.

“I’m sorry, sir. We won’t be attending the wedding?” Iridescence asked.

We stood next to each other, but the two of us hadn’t been speaking much this last week. Everypony was a little stressed and we had been snippy with each other. I didn’t like it, but for some reason I just kept doing it. I'm sticking with stress as the reason.

Shining Armor shook his head. “I’m afraid not. Command has decided that having both princesses and Lady Cadence all in the same place is too dangerous. Princess Luna and her guard will be on watch while Princess Celestia officiates.”

“Who will be the officer on duty, sir?” I asked.

“Lieutenant Dyke will be. I’ll obviously still be in charge if something happens, since that would interrupt the wedding, anyway. But to be honest, we won't have to do much if that happens. I shudder to think about what would happen to anypony that interrupted Cadence’s special day.”

We laughed. The captain knew how to keep our spirits up at just the right time. He was a great officer that way, all smiles and confidence on the outside while being exhausted on the inside.

I didn’t have the same level of confidence in Astral Dyke. The lieutenant was efficient and all, but I just didn’t get the same vibe off of him that I did from most other officers. At least the captain would still be around.

It made sense to keep the princesses separate. The plan was a solid one and most of us didn’t mind missing the wedding. It was supposed to be a joyous day, but we weren’t really feeling it. Well… at least I wasn’t.

“You’re dismissed. Silent Knight, a word,” the captain said as the others filed out to their duty. “Door,” he added.

I closed it. “Sir?”

The captain staggered a bit and braced himself on the desk. I stepped forwards but he held up a hoof. “I’m fine. Listen, we need to talk. Do you believe in a soldier’s gut instinct?”

I nodded. “Absolutely, sir.” Soldiers get feelings. My father taught me that and, more importantly, he trained me to listen to them.

“Good. I’ve got a big one. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen today at the wedding. I’m not sure what it will be, exactly, but every fiber of my body says it is going to be bad.”

The room seemed to chill and I frowned. “Perhaps we should cancel the event, sir.”

Shining Armor shook his head. “No… It is time to end this. The game of cat and mouse has gone on too long. We need to face it. I’m just not sure how much strength I have left.”

“What do you need me to do?” I asked, feeling inspired.

“Sergeant Windchaser is an exceptional guard, but her days of fighting are long over. When we get into the thick of it, you need to remember that. She might not be able to keep up and the others will be looking for someone to lead them.”

The captain walked to me, wobbling slightly. He set his hoof on my shoulder and looked me dead in the eyes. “I’ll have your word that they won’t be without somepony to look to?”

I held his gaze without any hesitation. “You have my word, sir.”

The captain gave me a nod and said, “Dismissed.”

21. A Canterlot Wedding - Part 2

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Princess Luna stood on the observation platform looking through the telescope. Iridescence, Miley, Harvest, and I were behind her. “They’re attacking the barrier but it is still holding,” she said, concern clear in her voice.

“What are they, Princess?” Miley asked.

“I am not certain. I have never seen beasts such as these… but I have also been gone for quite some time.”

A new threat it was to be then. “We should warn the captain,” I suggested.

“The wedding has already started… It is too late,” Iridescence responded.

She was right. “That is true, but we have to try. Miley, get down to the throne room and try to warn the captain. If you can’t, find the lieutenant. Harvest, go inform the sergeant. Princess, I think we should go inside.”

Miley nodded and took off. “Yes, boss!”

Harvest followed after her on his own mission.

Princess Luna nodded. “Agreed,” she said as she made her way into the tower.

Iridescence followed and I took up the rear so that I could close and bar the door. We headed down the stairs thinking it would be best to get the princess to her chambers. They were closer to the rest of her House Guard.

We were halfway down when everything started to fall apart. From the windows we saw the barrier suddenly collapse and the creatures started raining down into the city and onto the palace.

“Move!” Iridescence shouted and took off down the stairs to clear a path in front of the princess.

Speed was the critical factor here. We needed to be where all of the other guards were. Thankfully the palace walls were keeping most of the creatures at bay but the windows were proving to be a liability. When we reached the ground floor and came out into the hallway it was pandemonium.

The row of glass nearest the stairwell had been shattered and more than a dozen of the creatures had gotten in. Starry Spur, Risky Storm, and several other guards there were struggling with them and things went from bad to worse. In a swirl of fire the beasts assumed the shape of the pony they were fighting. Knowing friend from foe would be near impossible.

“Stay close to me, Princess,” Iridescence shouted over the melee and her horn ignited into a brilliant royal blue flame. From the aether a dome appeared and surrounded both mares. It was a protection spell not unlike the one the captain used but much smaller. Translucent silver shields danced along the mystical energy and protected the two of them from harm.

Iridescence led the way, pushing aside ponies and beasts alike while concentrating on her magic. I followed close behind and helped who I could but our priority was to get Princess Luna to her chambers. That is the tough part about being a guard… knowing when to leave your brothers and sisters to do your duty.

We cleared the hall and found Miley, Harvest, Lavender, and a few of the others staring at Lieutenant Dyke. He was looking out the window as the creatures rained down on Canterlot.

Miley called out to me, “I told the lieutenant. He hasn’t moved…”

I rushed over and shook him. “Sir, orders?”

Lieutenant Dyke looked over at me. “We’re doomed,” he said. “Look at the city. There isn’t any hope.”

The first word out of my mouth shouldn’t be repeated but after I said it I wheeled on the others. “Listen up. We still have a job to do and we’re going to do it. Iridescence and I are taking the Princess to her chambers. Miley, take Harvest and two others and get to the captain. Whatever it takes. The rest of you bring up the rear behind us. There are a lot of these things in the palace. I need to know they won’t be nipping at our flanks. They can transform to look like us so when you address another guard use the phrase, guard the moon.

“If someone says guard the moon to you, you respond, and the cookies. Pass the word to anyone who seems trustworthy and hope that these things can’t talk. If anyone doesn’t use the right code assume they’re the enemy. Are we clear?” I said sternly.

The group nodded and hurried off to their new assignments.

“What about the lieutenant?” Iridescence asked me.

“No time for him,” I said and moved on. That seemed good enough for the Princess and Iridescence because they both followed me. A few of the remaining guards followed slower, watching our backs.

We reached Princess Luna’s chambers and got her inside. Iridescence and I pushed the large doors closed and locked them. I breathed a sigh of relief and then started to look around to make certain none of the creatures had beaten us there and hidden somewhere.

Iridescence let her spell drop and huffed. Magic takes a lot out of you I’m told and she had held that spell for a while. “What do we do now?”

Certain we were alone, I gestured to Princess Luna. “Stay here and protect the princess no matter what.”

Princess Luna was strangely silent. A shiver ran along her spine and she murmured, “I fear my sister has been injured. I felt it when it happened.”

Gravely, I nodded. “Then it is that much more important that we protect you, Princess. Equestria will need their lady of the night.”

Both Iridescence and I crossed the room to the alicorn and stood close to her. Probably too close but personal space wasn’t a concern at that moment.

The chamber was silent which allowed us the unfortunate opportunity to hear the horrible sounds coming from the city below and the palace itself. The roar of battle and, oddly enough, an explosion or two. My thoughts briefly turned to Runic but I quickly focused back on the task at hand.

Across Princess Luna’s chambers the large glass door leading to her balcony shattered and a dozen or so of the creatures flew in. A dozen was too many for the two of us. I placed myself between Princess Luna and the beasts and called to Iridescence, “Go get help. I’ll hold them as long as I can.”

“No, what about you?” she asked.

“We’re not arguing now; go!” I shouted and that got her moving. She galloped to the door and started to work the lock.

The creatures started to close on me and Princess Luna. Twelve against one… that was beyond my training. From over my shoulder I felt a sudden heat. A pure, blue beam of light blasted past me and swept across eight of the creatures, throwing them hard against the wall. They landed with a loud thud and fell to the floor.

It is easy to forget that not all very important ponies are the same. My VIP was an alicorn with devastating powers. “Great work princess,” I cheered as I charged the four remaining beasts.

“Verily!” she shouted and reared up. From her horn another blast shot out and caught one of the invaders that was moving too slow.

In my charge I bowled over two of the creatures, knocking them aside, and locking up with the third. We went chest to chest and I quickly brought a hoof against the side of its head and sent it reeling.

“Protect the moon,” I heard Iridescence gasp. I stole a quick look to the door. There were three palace guards walking in and they weren’t responding. We were trapped. They set on Iridescence immediately.

One of the creatures I had knocked down got to its feet behind me and clearly thought it had the upper hoof. With all my might I leaned forward and bucked. Both hindhooves caught it right in the chest and sent it sailing across the room.

Iridescence’s magic flashed on and off. Silver shields burned into reality to block blows but she was facing three attackers who had caught her off guard. The odds were stacking up against us.

Two more creatures flew in through the window and I leapt into the air to tackle one. We crashed into a chair and I clocked it hard enough to knock it unconscious. Over my shoulder I heard the sound of horn screeching across armor and then a surprised yelp.

I watched in horror as Iridescence went down. The three creatures standing over her were stomping and seemed ready to finish the job. Two others were making their way towards Princess Luna. My heart raced and my eyes met hers. I tried to apologize as I turned from her and charged the doorway.

With all my might I threw my weight against the three creatures. I hit them so hard the room spun and my vision went black momentarily. When I came to I grabbed Iridescence by the collar of her armor,drug her into the room, and then slammed the door.

It only took a few seconds but I knew the beasts would have reached the Princess. She had a hoof up and deftly smashed it down on a creature in front of her. Thank Celestia she wasn’t hurt. The other was getting ready to attack but I was too fast for it. Being a pegasus has its perks. I was able to fly from the door and crash into the would-be attacker before it could even get started.

With a quick strike of my hoof the last creature was out cold. I panted as I looked around to see if there were any left. Things were relatively quiet again and I hurried over to Iridescence to check her injuries. I couldn’t even look at Princess Luna but I felt her eyes on me.

Iridescence’s armor had been damaged near the back. It was gashed by one of the creature’s horn. Near the back of her flank they had gotten her. I grimaced a bit at the wound. It would be painful but probably not life threatening. Other than that she was dinged up and bruised from the stomping and her foreleg did not look quite right the way it was bent.

Pulling my small first aid kit out I set to work and stopped the bleeding. She was breathing heavily and in pain but she stared at me, her eyes reminding me of my failure. I finished up and rose to check the princess. I trotted over with my head down. I didn’t want to look her in the eyes. I had abandoned her to save Iridescence. We’re just lucky nothing happened.

“Are you uninjured, Princess?” I asked her.

Her mane shifted in my vision, clearly a nod, “I am fine, Silent Knight. You fought valiantly.”

“Thank you,” I said numbly and moved about the room. I dragged the unconscious creatures to the balcony door and pushed them out of the room. Some stirred and I gave them a quick stomp to ensure they remained out cold.

Princess Luna tended Iridescence while I tried to focus on the task at hoof. I needed to get a plan together. I was the only combat-ready defender left there. If these things made another push I would have to rely on the princess’s magic until she tired. Alicorns are very powerful but they needed rest like anypony else.

It was a futile gesture but I pushed a couch across the room and in front of the balcony door. It barely covered half of the opening but it would work for the time being. I stood on it and prepared myself to stop any creature from entering. From that vantage point I could see Canterlot. It was in bad shape. Chaos was reigning.

My eyes focused on Runic’s shop. All around it I could see smoke clouds of different colors and the occasional explosion. I almost felt sorry for any of the beasts that took on my cousin. Explosions were his calling card and he knew how to create some pretty volatile and possibly illegal stuff. I hoped I’d get to see him again. I’d need a job after I was relieved from duty, assuming anypony survived.

Sadness hung over me like a cloud and I started to see Lieutenant Dyke’s point of view. Maybe he had known something I didn’t? Quickly I shook my head and chased away the bad thoughts. “No,” I mumbled darkly. Mistakes or not I still had a duty.

Reaching under my armor I produced the sword Runic had given me. I hefted it to my mouth and glared out of the broken door, daring anything to come towards me… but nothing did. I felt Shining Armor’s barrier pass over me and watched as the invaders were thrown from Canterlot. Cheers broke out in the city and the hallway. It was over… we had won.

I returned the sword to its scabbard and hopped down from the couch. Crossing the floor to Iridescence I checked on her once again. Princess Luna was sitting over the mare and stroking her mane. They both looked pale. I trotted over to the door and unlocked it. Pulling it open, I shouted, “Medic! Medic to Princess Luna’s chambers.”

The cheers of joy went silent and I heard other voices calling for medics. Too many voices. Despite that it wasn’t long before two of them showed up and carried Iridescence away to the infirmary, leaving me alone with the princess. I turned to her and walked over.

I finally met her eyes with my own. There was no accusation or anger there. I saw no disappointment but I felt it in my heart. I knelt down onto the floor, laid my head by her hooves, and whispered meekly, “I’m sorry, Princess. I failed you.”

Princess Luna placed her hoof under my chin and lifted it, forcing me to look at her once more. “Thou did not fail me Silent Knight. Thou assessed that I was in less danger and saved thy companion. Iridescence may very well have died had you not intervened.”

“My duty is to you,” I said softly.

“Thy duty is to protect the little guy. Learn this lesson well, Silent Knight: duty is important but if it blinds a pony and causes him to act foolishly he may not be able to live with the consequences. Would thou rather Iridescence have died?”

The words were cold against me and my heart ached, “No, Princess. Never.”

“Then thy duty has been fulfilled. She yet lives and I am unscathed. The spirit of thy code is as important as the writing. Rise now. We would not want the others to see you in this state. Thou have inspired them and a good leader keeps their own doubts hidden and shared with only the appropriate audience.”

She was right. I could feel sorry for myself later. Rising up, I straightened my armor and wiped my face off. I went to the door and called, “Two guards to Princess Luna’s chamber. Now.”

Miley Hooves came around the corner with… one of the archive guards? I didn’t have time to figure out what he was doing here. Miley was limping a bit but otherwise looked well. “Yes boss!” She responded.

“Are you alright?” I asked her.

“Well enough boss, I’ll see the medic later. There are too many others worse off. Two guards, reporting for duty,” she said proudly, stiffening to attention. The archive guard did the same.

I dared to smile ever so slightly. “Good. You two stay with Princess Luna. I need to find the sergeant and an officer.”

Miley’s head ducked a bit. “The sergeant is in the infirmary. She got banged up pretty bad. The lieutenant too… not that he was any help.”

The captain’s gut had been right. “Alright then. Until proven otherwise I’m in command.” I said confidently even though I felt anything but. “Don’t leave the princess’s side.” I then lightly clapped a hoof on the archive guard’s shoulder. He was a fellow pegasus and straw-colored. “Congratulations, welcome to Princess Luna’s House Guard.”

The pegasus blinked and nodded, “Thank you…”

I left the room and went out into the hall. It was a mess. Furniture was overturned, glass was broken, and it was clear there had been one hay of a fight. All of the wounded were gone, leaving the bewildered guards aimless and without direction.

Approaching the first gaggle of guards, I stomped a hoof down to get their attention. “You three.” I pointed at the group on the left. “Guard duty outside of Princess Luna’s chambers. Right now. Go.” They did so and I pointed at the remaining ponies in order. “Lavender, get to the throne room and see if the captain is there. If he is, tell him I have things under control but need an officer immediately. Risky Storm, courier duty. Get to the city command building and ask for the damage and casualty reports. Starry Spur, up to the observation tower and make certain the creatures are gone. Sound the alarm if you see any.”

I may not be a sergeant or an officer but I’ve found that guards listen when somepony takes charge. They all did just that and hurried off to do what I had told them. That freed me up to make my rounds and collect guards to assign to positions on the floor that the two princesses occupied. That kept me busy and focused on the here and now, not the future.

22. A Canterlot Wedding - Part 3

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It was two hours before I got that officer I requested: Shining Armor himself. That gave me some peace of mind. His expression was a mix of concern and relief. The cleanup was just underway and he came to my side.

“Are you married, sir?” I asked him, trying to lighten the mood, even just a little bit.

The captain shook his head. “No, turns out the bride was a changeling queen that feeds off of love.”

“We’ve all been there, sir,” I said and he actually laughed.

We stood in silence for a while and then he sighed. “What a mess. Is it true Astral Dyke froze up when it counted?”

Ending another pony’s career is a tough thing to do. Having bad officers was even worse, however, so I nodded. Besides, what did it matter? A dozen ponies had been there when he froze and my career was over, too. I defended my mare instead of my princess. It was not exactly a banner day for the Royal Guard.

“You saved a lot of ponies today,” he went on, snapping me out of my thoughts.


“You kept your promise, Silent Knight. When all the cards were on the table you rallied everypony and kept them focused. Dyke froze up. You did your duty and that saved lives.”

Did my duty? I had done nothing of the sort. No, I’d acted like a fool. It's true that I had filled in for the lieutenant, but any of the others could have done that. I stood silently. I should just tell him now and be done with it.

“Are you okay to hold the floor here while I handle everything else? The whole city is a mess, there is a lot to take in, and I don’t have anypony to spare. The injury list just runs on and on.”

“Yes, sir,” I said. Better not to burden him with one more thing right then. It could wait until the more pressing matters were handled. He was responsible for the House Guards, the palace, and the city, after all.

Shining Armor nodded and said, “Good. Thank you… Oh, you’ll need this.” There wasn’t much ceremony to it. We didn’t have time. He took the rank pin off my armor and replaced it with a sergeant’s pin.

Looking down at the pin, I shook my head. “I don’t deserve that.”

The captain looked at me, confusion playing across his face. “Well… I don’t have time to argue it with you and I don’t have enough guards, so you’re stuck with it. Carry on, Sergeant,” he said before heading off to attend other matters.

“Yes, sir,” I said once he was gone.

“Sergeant, huh?” Iridescence asked me from her bed in the infirmary.

It was the first time I had been able to get down to see her… two days later. I had been busy filling in our gaps, going over security, and getting things back together. Canterlot was a mess and all of the extra guards were trying to handle that. That left a whole lot less of us for the palace and the princesses. Then there was the fact that I simply didn’t want to face her.

“I guess,” I said, looking her over. She was on her back with a hoof up in a sling. She was bandaged around the body, both legs, and on her head.

She reached out and took my hoof in hers. “Princess Luna isn’t going to say anything.”

I shook my head. “I don’t care if she does or not. I made a decision. Part of me regrets it but the rest of me is overjoyed I did. Let them relieve me. You’re safe.”

Iridescence nodded and smiled… but it was a sad smile. “About that. Listen, Silent Knight, please don’t take this as me being ungrateful. I am very grateful…” She squeezed my hoof. “I… I don’t want to be a burden to you, nor do I want to be the reason Luna gets hurt.” Slowly, she shook her head. “I don’t think you can do your job with me around.”

“What?” I blinked. “Iridescence, what are you saying?”

She swallowed. “I’m saying you had to make an impossible choice that nopony could win. You made it and it worked out. Next time it might not... but there can’t be a next time. I don’t want to be responsible for ruining your career. When I’m well enough to travel, I’m going home for the rest of my injury time. Then I’ll use my leave time. After that, I’ll probably put in a transfer.”

Gently, I let her hoof go and set mine down. “What about us?” I asked, already suspecting the answer.

Iridescence didn’t say anything for a while. I just stood there. If we were going to do this, we were going to do it now. “I don’t honestly know if I’m coming back,” she started. “It wouldn’t be fair to you, anyway. Long distance just doesn’t work and then there are the regulations… I… I think we should call it quits. Okay?”

My chest hurt. Even though I knew it was coming it felt like somepony had hit me right in the gut. I didn’t move. I couldn’t. I finally said, “Okay.”

“Are you okay?” she asked, worry creeping into her voice. “Silent Knight?”

“Okay,” I repeated. I backed out of her room and then trotted quickly away from the infirmary. Under the weight of my armor, I was having trouble breathing. I had to get away and hide. None of it was worth it. The hard work, long days, pain, and stress hadn’t paid off. I had been one of the elite. Now I had nothing. This was nothing like what I had dreamed of.

My heart pounded as I galloped into the palace, half blinded by pain. I found somewhere to hide. A small room off of the main hall, I think. I tossed my helmet off before I collapsed behind a couch. My body shook and I laid my head on the floor.

“Hello? Is somepony in here?” a pristine voice called.

Oh, no… I was going to be found in this sorry state. What did it matter? I tried to be still behind the couch but my armor rattled as I shook.

Hoof steps came closer and the couch illuminated with golden magic. It gently slid away, revealing Princess Celestia. She raised a hoof in surprise. I must have been the most pathetic pony she had ever seen. “You are… Silent Knight, are you not?” she asked, her voice full of concern.

Words failed me at that moment. I just nodded at her and to my surprise she settled onto the floor at my side. The princess wrapped her wing around me and asked, “What has gone wrong, my little pony?”

I told her everything. Every last detail. At least what I could manage as I fought hard not to sob. It was the confession of a pony with nothing to lose.

Princess Celestia just listened. The ruler of a kingdom, a living goddess, just held me while I unloaded my petty concerns on her. That was just the sort of pony she was. No judgment, no anger, just love. That is why I had wanted to protect her so badly and yet she was protecting me.

Eventually, the shaking stopped and I wiped my eyes. The princess lightly stroked my mane and finally said, “I can forgive you, but it will be meaningless if you can’t forgive yourself. Will you do that for me, please?”

“I still have to face what I’ve done,” I said quietly.

She nodded. “Yes, but that is only part of it. Can you forgive?” She rose and I did the same. I squared myself away and looked up to her.

“I will princess. Whatever it takes, I’ll move forwards,” I promised her.

Princess Celestia smiled and replied, “I’m glad. We’re better off with you than without. Good day, Silent Knight.”

“Good day, Princess.” I bowed deeply. She left me to my own devices and I put my helmet back on. I was still shaking but some things in life are like a bandage. They’re easier to deal with if you rip it off quicker. I decided then and there that it was time to inform the captain.

My account to Captain Armor was similar but lacked the sobbing and most of the shaking, thankfully. He listened to it all without any expression. When I finished, he looked at me and said, “I’m honestly surprised.”

I nodded and said, “I’ll clean out my footlocker, sir.”

The captain shook his head. “Ease up there. You made a mistake or two. A few mistakes that have to be weighed against all of your accomplishments. Dating your peer isn’t against regulations. You also didn’t lie about it. You just didn’t mention it was as serious as it was. Obviously, now that you’re a sergeant, you couldn’t be together…” He winced. “Sorry. Poor choice of words.”

“It is fine,” I said, but it felt like throwing salt on a fresh wound.

“As far as I’m concerned, you made a decision that needs review. The regulations say we investigate it and decide if you acted in a fashion that makes the most sense. Nothing is as black and white as you seem to think. You weighed saving a life against protecting the princess from a clearly smaller threat. Even if your judgment was clouded by affection, it was still a decision any of us would have to consider.” Shining Armor paused a moment and paced back and forth.

“Furthermore, the investigation would likely agree that you saved Irid—a fellow guard’s life without exposing Princess Luna to too much danger. Over and beyond that, Princess Luna did not report this incident, which means the investigation would have to agree that she did not feel at risk or that your decision was wrong. Finally, you could have said nothing. You could have hidden this. You had every incentive not to come here and tell me and yet you did. Your personal integrity is without question.”

This was not going the way I had imagined. It sounded like the captain was proud of me. Maybe he just didn’t want to kick me while I was down.

“Silent Knight? Are you paying attention?” he asked. I had gotten lost in thought again.

“I’m confused, sir,” I admitted. “I feel awful and like I let you and the princess down. You’re not angry. You’re… making excuses for me.”

“Is that what you think?” he asked sternly, a bit of temper rising in his voice.

I stiffened and blinked. “I—I don’t know,” I stammered. He had broken my cool just like that. I wasn’t accustomed to the captain being angry with me. It was startling but I managed to recover.

“Listen up and listen good. Mistakes are part of the job. I made them and I’ll make more. You’re not going to last long if you let every small thing eat you up inside. Is it just that you want to give up? Is that it? That certainly is easier,” he continued, his tone firm and unyielding.

“No, sir, I couldn’t imagine life without being a royal guard.” I replied.

He stamped a hoof. “Then act like it!” he shouted. Not angrily, but like our instructors had in the academy.

“The ponies that make it are the ones that make mistakes and learn from them. You have to do better the next time. It is the ponies that keep making the same mistake that concern me. Which sort are you? Are you going to make these mistakes again?”

I shook my head. “No, sir, never again. I learned a hard lesson.”

“You’re right, you did.” he said, his voice dropping. “Now I could refer this to command for an inquiry but that would be, in my professional opinion, a waste of time. The princess would speak for you. You’d get through without even a mark on your record. Do you want me to waste my and another officer's time or do you think I’m making excuses for you?”

“No, sir,” I said loudly.

“Very good. Then would you agree it is time to actually get to work? I’ve got a laundry list, I need a sergeant to handle it... ” His tone changed slightly. “...and I imagine you need something to keep you occupied for now.”

“Yes, sir.”

“About time, then,” Shining Armor said before motioning me over to his desk. He had schedules and rosters there. Sergeant Windchaser was injured and I was taking over her squad temporarily… or so I thought. Over the next hour, I found out life was going to be different after today.

Sergeant Windchaser was retiring, Iridescence was going on extended leave, and we were getting a new lieutenant that was solely assigned to Princess Luna’s House Guard. Over and beyond that, high command had decided it was time for additional expansion to ensure our unit was close to the same size as Princess Celestia’s. That meant new faces and a lot of training.

I looked it all over and then across the desk at the captain. “Perhaps we could revisit the part about me quitting?”

“Too late now, Silent Knight. You’re in the thick of it,” he replied and honestly, I was glad. The Royal Guard was there for me and I was going to go back to giving myself wholly over to it.

23. A Fresh Start

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“Miley Hooves?”

“Here, boss!”

“Harvest Moon?”


“Lightning Flash?”



“Here, Sergeant!”

“Risky Storm?”


“Starry Spur?”


“Good,” I said as I read through the names on the list of eight. Only one pony was missing… I pushed the thought away. “That is everypony. I want to introduce you all to Thunder Tumble, formerly of the archival guard. He showed true bravery during the battle of Canterlot and has been assigned to our unit.”

Thunder Tumble stood beside me and took a moment to wave. He looked uncomfortable. Archive guards were largely ceremonial. They were different from us, but I had a feeling he’d work out fine.

All told, my squad consisted of myself and eight ponies. That allowed for plenty of coverage for Princess Luna. Miley and Harvest would be working my old rotation while Thunder Tumble and Lightning Flash would work the other. I put the last two together because I thought it would be clever. The first two, well, Miley and Harvest were already partners, so it didn’t make sense to split them up.

The other four ponies covered other areas of Princess Luna’s wing and could fill in when the personal guards needed some time off. Every three months the roles would switch. It was an efficient system.

“I’m glad to see you all well again," I said. "I know it has been a rough two weeks. We’ve pulled through, however, and everything is mostly back to normal. All I ask is that you do your job just like you used to. If you need anything, you know where to find me. Since I’m new to this sergeant business, I hope you’ll forgive me if I look in on you more often than necessary for a little while. You’re dismissed.”

“Silent Knight, you know Radiant Orchid,” Shining Armor said to me before motioning to the unicorn mare. She had a delicate pink coat and a braided red mane that had just the subtlest hint of grey in it.

“Yes, sir. Sergeant, Princess Celestia’s House Guard, correct?”

Shining Armor and Radiant Orchid nodded in unison while she added, “Formerly.”

“Formerly?” I asked.

“Currently of Princess Luna’s House Guard Bravo Squad,” Shining Armor explained.

I offered Radiant Orchid a hoof. “Welcome aboard.” We shook before looking back to the captain.

“We’re going to build a new squad. Eight more ponies to grow the unit out to an undersized section. I’m going to leave the who in your capable hooves. I want you two to work together and hammer out a list of names. Ideally, this should be done before the new lieutenant arrives. I prefer that this House Guard retain its identity before bringing in an outside officer,” Shining Armor explained.

The two of us exchanged glances before I shrugged and said, “Yes, sir. We’ll have it done.”

Shining Armor nodded. “I know you will… Silent Knight, you’re in command until the lieutenant arrives. If you feel something would need my attention, then go see Lieutenant Day, Princess Celestia’s new House Guard commander. Now, if you two will excuse me, it is time for me to get going on a long overdue honeymoon.”

“Have a lovely trip, sir,” Radiant Orchid said with a smile.

I nodded in agreement and added, “Leave everything to us and don’t worry about work at all.”

“I’ll take that advice.” And with that he left the two of us alone.

Sergeant Orchid looked at me and asked, “So, how do you want to do this?”

With a shrug, I admitted, “There hasn’t been a huge list of ponies clamoring to join our House Guard. Most have been voluntold thus far. I guess we can make an announcement and see if there are any volunteers.”

“That seems reasonable. What if there aren’t or they aren’t suitable?”

“I guess we go start voluntelling ponies. I’m sure you have some in mind from Princess Celestia’s House Guard. Most of our current ponies came from the palace guard.”

The mare tilted her head. “You trust me to give you a list?”

“Why wouldn’t I? It is your squad.”

“You’re in command and it is your House Guard. Some ponies would take advantage of that.”

I shook my head. “Well, then those ponies aren’t team players and are short-sighted. The fact you’re here means you stand a better chance of convincing ponies from Princess Celestia’s House Guard to join. I can’t help but imagine that is exactly what the captain had in mind. Not to say you’re not a good sergeant in your own right as well.”

Radiant Orchid smiled at me and winked. “Well, aren’t you a clever pony.”

“I have my moments.”

Much to our surprise the 'Princess Luna Wants You' posters went over pretty well with the Canterlot Guard. We received a long list of ponies that wanted to join. Unfortunately, most of them were from the bottom percentile of guards but it was still an improvement over the last recruitment drive.

It took us about a day to compile a list of ponies we agreed were right for the position and then we added the ones we had in mind. Radiant Orchid and I stood by my desk looking at the files on each of them.

“Well… all they can do is say no. I think this is a good list, though,” I said.

She nodded in agreement. “If we can get Mountain Stone, I’ll be thrilled. He is as solid a pony as they come… both literally and figuratively. I’ll go ask him myself to help grease the wheels.”

“That would be appreciated. Well, that is eight: Mountain Stone, Night Frost, Solar Flare, Incognito, Mixer, Gear Grinder, Blackblade, and Shadestar. It is a good mix of veterans and rookies, as long as we can convince them.”

Radiant nodded. “I think we can. Shame, though, only one mare and two earth ponies. Not exactly diverse.”

“Yeah… I was surprised that we didn’t attract more mares. The amount of unicorns was interesting. More than average. We did our best, though. There is one more thing I’d like to discuss…” I trailed.


I shifted. “Please don’t take this the wrong way but I don’t want to have all eight of these ponies on your squad. I thought I’d move over Lavender, Risky Storm, and one other pony so they can help educate everypony on how we do business, but they certainly won’t second guess you. I’d take three of the new ponies myself.”

She laughed and waved a hoof. “Is that all? That doesn’t bother me. Look, Silent Knight, I know how serious you are about this House Guard. During the changeling attack, we all saw you were professionals. That is one of the reason why I jumped at the position when Shining Armor offered it to me. I’m not trying to bring Princess Celestia’s House Guard to you. I promise. Who is the third pony?”

“Thanks, Orchid, I think we’ll get along just fine then.” I stopped and shifted a bit. I knew exactly who the third pony was going to be. “We’ll sort it out later. For now, I’m one short, so I’ll take on nine.”

“Fair enough. Well… we better get out there and start making offers. Want to take four each and meet back here tomorrow?”

“Agreed,” I said and we went off to do just that.

It had been a long week and I was finally going off duty. At least as off duty as an acting commander could go. Not that I could really complain at the time. Radiant Orchid had been a blessing. She was an experienced sergeant and the two of us had little issue splitting responsibilities. We made a good team.

Together, we had convinced eight new ponies to join Princess Luna’s House Guard: a House Guard veteran, some palace guards, and even one recruit right out of the academy. I’d added the recruit to my squad. They would all be starting next week. We’d have to get them up to our standards but I didn’t imagine that would be difficult.

I was sitting alone at in the Spearhead Tavern drinking a cider. With all of the work, I hadn’t had much time to think about my personal life… which was good. Unfortunately, by being off duty, I had the opportunity to reflect on it. Of course, cider helps make reflecting hard.

While I was alone with my thoughts, the door opened and a sage-colored pegasus stallion wandered in. He wasn’t in uniform and looked rather confused or uncomfortable when he found a bar full of royal guards staring at him. It wasn’t that regular ponies don’t come to the Spearhead, it was just rare.

The staring was followed by general dismissal and everypony went back to their conversations and drinking. The pegasus went over to the bar and ordered. He didn’t seem too out of the ordinary, wearing a pair of glasses and a braided mane with two tones of brown. I didn’t understand his cutie mark, however; it looked like a symbol from one of my math classes in secondary school.

He did seem a bit off, though. Like he wasn’t sure what to do or if he belonged.

I guess I was the only pony still staring because once he got his drink he looked at me and asked, “Is something wrong?”

I shook my head. “No, not at all. I just didn’t recognize that cutie mark.”

“Oh, and royal guards keep a list of every cutie mark? Some sort of profiling, no doubt?”

That made me chuckle and I just shook my head again. “No. I don’t have the memory for that sort of thing. I more meant I don’t understand the symbol.”

“Well, I’m a weatherpony and it is a weather symbol. Not like the usual rain cloud or snowflakes. It's a thunderstorm symbol because the weather I dabble in is very specialized. When Equestria needs some serious inclement weather they come to me,” he explained.

I scratched my head and asked, “Why would we need serious inclement weather?”

“Why do we need dark-clad royal guards that ask strangers questions?” he retorted.

My ears went up and I shrugged. “To protect Princess Luna. I meant no offense. I’m a pegasus but I don’t know anything about being a weatherpony. My father groomed me to be a royal guard from birth.”

The stallion seemed to have another witty comment but he bit it back. “My family too, actually. It didn’t stick though. I’m Rossby Waves.” He offered a hoof.

We shook and I replied, “Silent Knight. Warrior family, too, huh?”

Rossby nodded very seriously. “Completely. Mother, father, everypony… Not me. I liked the weather and I’m not so good at taking orders. Evidently, I have an aptitude for the more violent forces of nature. Seemed like a shame to waste that talent.”

“Well… I don’t know what you do exactly but I’ll certainly agree with that. You should never waste the talent you were born with. I’ve always been good with a sword.”

The weatherpony sat quietly for a while before asking, “Do you really guard Princess Luna?”

“I do. I’m actually in charge of her whole personal guard right now. It is temporary though until we get a new officer.” I explained.

“Neat.” He finished his drink and stretched a bit. “Well… nice to meet you. I’m just passing through doing adult things. Perhaps we’ll come across each other again in the future.”

“Maybe so. Take care, Rossby Waves, and if you’re ever bringing serious inclement weather to Canterlot maybe do me a professional courtesy and let me know in advance? I’ll do the same and make sure royal guards don’t profile your cutie mark.”

He laughed a bit and said, “Deal.”

My office formerly belonged to Sergeant Windchaser. When she inhabited it, she had filled it with decades' worth of mementos and personal effects. My version was barren. I had a desk, a chair, and some file cabinets. It suited me for now.

Sitting was a new trick for me. I was accustomed to standing for twelve hours and more often than not I had my chair pushed to the side so that I could stand behind my desk. That was the case today as I worked through all of my reports.

The door opened and a dark-coated pegasus royal guard I didn’t recognize walked in. That unfamiliarity was odd since he had armor that matched mine. I knew every member of Princess Luna’s House Guard. Then I caught it, the silver bar on his breastplate. I was already standing and stiffened to attention.

“Sergeant Silent Knight?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

He crossed the small office to stand before my desk. “I’m Lieutenant Haze. The new commanding officer.”

“Yes, sir,” I repeated. “We’ve been expecting you. Welcome to the House Guard.”

The lieutenant looked around my office and then back at me. “I was looking for the captain and was pointed in your direction.”

I nodded. “Yes, sir. The captain has finally left for his honeymoon. I’m acting commander of Princess Luna’s House Guard until you relieve me.”

Lieutenant Haze looked surprised. “He left a sergeant in charge?”

“Small unit, sir, and I’ve been here since the beginning. I’m only responsible for the House Guard. Actual officers were his delegates for Princess Celestia’s House Guard, the Palace Guard, and the Canterlot Guard,” I explained.

“I see. Where is my office?”

“You’re in it, sir… at least for now. Command is trying to ensure both House Guards are in parity. They’re doing a little remodeling to ensure there is proper space for us. You’ll have a brand new office in a week.” I moved out from behind the desk and collected my reports and writing utensils.

The lieutenant did not seem thrilled by that. He looked around again and said, “Alright. Where can I find you, then?”

That was a good question. I had no idea. The lieutenant had arrived a week early. I had to think quickly. “Princess Luna’s chambers, sir. She has a secretary’s desk there but no secretary and is accustomed to having me around,” I said and hoped she wouldn’t mind.

“Very good. Dismissed.”

24. Couching Pony, Hidden Miley

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Princess Luna was more than happy to oblige me with my need for office space. In fact, I would dare say she liked the idea. To be perfectly honest, I did, too. Being sergeant meant spending less time with her and that wasn’t something I was ready for just yet. She had been looking after me when I had my weaker moments.

Miley Hooves stood at her post like a true professional. We had discovered that the less she moved, the less likely something was to break. It was a win-win situation for everypony. Her reduction in accidents may have also been due to her newfound confidence. She had finally made guard first class and I knew that made her proud.

I stood quietly at the secretary’s desk, working on my reports. At least that was what it looked like. We really didn’t have much going on and the ponies under my supervision were model guards. That meant there was little to no paperwork to do. It made me wonder what Windchaser had actually been up to. Come to think of it, when I helped her pack up her office, there had been a suspiciously large number of knitted scarves, hats, and socks.

Princess Luna was having tea with Crystal Wishes and I was trying to sketch the two of them together. They were having a heavy discussion about some new book about vamponies. Evidently it wasn’t exactly a promising love story. Drawing is not something I’m excellent at but what else did I have to do? Here I had the opportunity to practice on an alicorn and a unicorn that weren’t moving a lot. Practice makes perfect. That is what Dad always said.

Princess Luna was easier to draw than Crystal Wishes strictly because I had known her longer and didn’t need to stare. I tried to be subtle and look at the unicorn mare when she was busy with her discussion. She caught me a time or two but I just made it look like I was keeping an eye on the place.

She had a braid in her mane that was shaped like a heart. It was an enigma because she had somehow blended the blonde and pink throughout so that they alternated loop over loop. It was clever and unique. It was also a heck of a thing to try and replicate in pencil. I had a lot of time on my hooves though, so I tried.

“Silent Knight?” Princess Luna called.

I looked up and dropped my pencil. “Yes, Princess?”

“Would you be able to escort Crystal Wishes home? It is getting late out,” she asked.

That was an odd request, although typically Crystal Wishes had left by now. A sergeant is never off duty, more or less, but we do have specific hours where we’re expected to be around. Mine had passed. I just had not noticed. “Of course, Princess. I am off hours now. I’ll leave you in Miley’s capable hooves.”

Quietly I rolled up my ‘reports’ and made my way to the door. I opened it and said, “After you, Crystal Wishes.”

We walked quietly together through the streets as I escorted her home. Finally, she broke the silence by asking, “How do you like being a sergeant?”

I shrugged and replied, “It is weird. Being a sergeant is a completely different job than a guard. I’m kind of jealous of Miley.”

“Sometimes success isn’t what we want it to be,” Crystal Wishes offered lightly.

“That is an elegant way to sum it up. That must be your writing superpower.”

She softly laughed and shrugged. “Here we are.” She pointed at a building that looked like a set of nice condominiums. I walked her to the door, opened it, and nodded.

Crystal walked inside and I started to follow alongside her until we got to the stairs. I had no idea which unit was hers and there wasn't enough room for both of us. That meant she’d have to lead. “After you.”

“Well, thank you.” She giggled as she led me up to the third floor and then the fourth door down.

Once I was certain we had reached her condo, I glanced around to make sure it looked safe to leave her. Of course, it seemed like a safe place overall. Good lighting. Stairs nearby in case of emergency. I nodded my approval and said, “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” she replied after a moment of gazing up at me before going inside.

I suddenly wasn’t sure if I should have walked her up to her particular unit. That might have been too invasive, but at least I knew she was home safely. Although I should wait and make sure there were no intruders in her place. If she called out, I’d still be there.

So I waited. There were no sounds. Not that I listened too close to the door. That would have just been weird and inappropriate. No, if she called out I could hear from where I was.

Once I was certain enough time had passed, I nodded and started towards the stairs. That had been enough ‘work’ for the day. I made my way through the city to head home… which was still the same room I'd always had. I just didn’t have a roommate now. Well, sort of.

“You’re late,” Winterspear chided me as I came in the door.

I went to my armor stand and started to undress. “I know,” I said softly. “The princess asked a favor and I knew you’d forgive me.”

Winterspear had come to stay with me after Iridescence and I broke up. It was nice having her there. She was also being a pain in the flank. I hopped onto my bed and stretched out.

“You’re not just going to sleep again are you?” she asked, flapping her wings and hovering between the two beds.

“It had crossed my mind. What did you want to do?”

She frowned. “You’re being mopey. I get being sad, but why mopey?”

I shifted and put my back to her. “You’ll just make fun of me.”

Winterspear moved over so she could loom over me. “Why don’t you try me before you get all judgy? Hmm?”

Rolling onto my back, I looked up at her. “I miss Iridescence. Not in the special somepony sort of way. I just miss my friend. We did things together and now that she is gone, we don’t. I didn’t have friends before, alright? And now, because we tried to date, it's all ruined.

"You can’t stay forever so I don’t want to get used to doing things with you and then losing that, too. It is just better if I focus on being a guard. That is what I’m meant to do.”

Winterspear held her wings still and landed on me in a graceful bellyflop. I huffed at the sudden weight and she poked me in the nose with a hoof. “You had best treat me nice or I won’t come visit ever again. Isn’t it better to have fun and then not than to never have fun at all… or something similar?”

“It doesn’t feel that way but, out of fairness to you, why don’t we go over to the Spearhead Tavern and have a good meal?” I offered, rolling her over and off me.

“Now you’re talking!” she exclaimed, hopping off the bed and tugging me after her with a hoof. She dragged me halfway across the floor before I shook her off and got up.

“Okay, okay! I’ll be fun,” I promised.

The Spearhead Tavern was in full swing when we got there. Following the battle with the changelings, a lot more ponies than usual had started coming in to ‘live it up.’ There was nothing wrong with that and it certainly was good for morale.

Winterspear sat across from me and looked at the wide assortment of ponies inside. “This place is great! I wish we had something similar back home. Our bar is more somber. Too many old warhorses.”

“I don’t come here often but I enjoy it when I do. Also, you should try the hot sandwiches. The one with grilled zucchini and onion is amazing.” I said.

“Okay…” she said, clearly distracted.

Following her gaze, I found myself looking at an earth pony mare. My eyes rolled and I took Winterspear’s chin in my hoof and pulled her to look at me. “Hey, talking here.”

She blinked. “Right, sorry. It so isn’t like this back home. Canterlot is a lot more progressive. So listen… about the not doing things with me because I’ll be leaving soon. What would you say if I said I was staying?”

“I would say I appreciate it but that I’ll be fine.”

Winterspear shook her head. “Not for you. Honest! There is a sergeant position opening in the City Guard I heard about and I’m sick of Cloudsdale. At least here I’d be close to you and you just so happen to have a free bed right now… but I wanted your permission first, is all.”

“Why would you need my permission?” I tilted my head.

“Oh, you know… me horning in on your town, your thing. I realize we’ve been closer lately but I didn’t know if we were that close,” she said plainly, but I could tell she was nervous.

I shook my head. “You won’t be horning in. It would be nice to have you here.”

She drummed her hooves on the table and cheered, “Great! I’ll put in the paperwork tomorrow and send for my things.”

“If you’re going to live with me there will be rules, though,” I said.

“Of course. Let’s negotiate.”

“First rule: no bringing mares home unless you also bring one home for me. Is that clear?”

“Done,” she said seriously.

My eyes went a bit wide and I lifted my hooves. “I was kidding. Please don’t bring any random mares home.”

She pouted. “You’re no fun.”

“Thank you,” I replied.

“I’m sorry, Sergeant, I don’t know how this happened,” Miley’s voice came from the other side of the couch. Her back half was on the side I was on. How she had managed to crash into the thing and go through it I’ll never know. Princess Luna wasn’t telling, either.

Slowly, I circled the furniture trying to figure out the best course of action. When I got behind it, Miley shrugged at me, her front hooves dangling. She was wedged pretty tightly. I stood on my hindhooves and looked over the furniture to the princess.

“Princess Luna… permission to put the couch out of its misery and free Miley?”

The princess’s hoof was to her mouth. She was trying very hard not to laugh out loud and make Miley feel even more embarrassed. Raising her other hoof she waved at the couch and giggled, “Off with its head.”

Dropping back down on all fours, I looked at Miley. “Be really still, okay?” Reaching under my armor, I drew my sword. It had not yet been named and I hoped it wouldn’t be Couch Slayer.

Miley gasped and covered her eyes with her hooves.

First, I made two precise cuts, forming an inverted V from the back of the couch to where Miley was stuck. Then I set my hooves onto each side of the gap and pushed hard. “Okay, try to get out.”

Miley wiggled and pushed against the seat with her back hooves. The furniture groaned and gave away with a loud crack. My earth pony companion tumbled forwards and took me with her. We landed with a thump behind the couch… or what was left of it.

Princess Luna came over to inspect the damage while I stood up and helped Miley to her hooves. “Silent Knight?”

“Yes, Princess?”

“What sort of paperwork covers this?” she asked with a hint of mischief in her tone.

“Form 35G, page two, section seven,” I said with certainty.

Princess Luna's ears shot up in surprise. “Really?”

I shook my head. “No, Princess.”

Sergeant Orchid and I stood in the lieutenant’s office. His brand new, larger office that had finally been finished. It had a window to the outside and several finer touches to it when it came to wood paneling. Mostly useless things.

On the plus side, he’d returned my office to me, which was kind of him. It was one of the few kind things he did.

“I have a hard time taking these reports seriously,” he said, motioning to the parchment on his desk. “Both of you seem to insist that your guards are perfect. No unit is that efficient. You’re just being lazy.” From his desk drawer he produced a book and tapped it. “Officer’s manual. Every squad should have at least one write-up a month. Try again.”

“Sir, if I may just—” Orchid started.

Lieutenant Haze glared at us both. “You may not. You’re dismissed.”

I turned and walked out. Orchid lingered a minute and looked like she may try to argue. She seemed to think better of it and came out with me.

We walked down the hall and when she was sure we were out of earshot she snorted, “That is the biggest load of gryphon feathers I’ve ever heard.”

Quietly, I walked beside as she ranted on for a few more minutes before she finally looked at me.

“Surely you don’t agree?” she asked.

“I agree that it is in his book. I’m not sure it is necessary for our squads but if that is what he wants it is exactly what he’ll get. Then, when the captain gets back, we’ll see if it persists,” I explained.

Orchid stomped lightly. “How do I give good ponies write-ups? That will break their hearts!”

“My plan is to just sit them all down and explain the situation. Then I’ll put together a rotation and give it to them. When they get a write-up in their rotation month, they’ll know it is just because I have to and not because they did anything wrong. One write-up every eight months won’t really hurt a pony’s career. If they actually need a write-up, they’ll also know it wasn’t a fake one.”

The unicorn mare stopped and stared at me. “You’re a devious mastermind.”

I shook my head. “No, I just know how to work a manual. If Lieutenant Haze wants to go hoof-to-hoof with somepony on policies and procedures, he just met his newest opponent. That road goes both ways.”

“You’re frightening me. I’m not sure I even knew this side of you existed,” Orchid said.

“Nopony messes with my guards and walks away completely unscathed,” I said coolly and turned the corner to go into my office.

Orchid just stood there outside looking shocked. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she called.

25. Bachelor Party

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Night Frost stood at attention in front of my desk. He was the third pony to graduate the academy and join Princess Luna’s House Guard immediately. I felt like we were kindred spirits.

“So you’re saying you prefer the night shift? As in, you actually want to stick with it?”

The blue-coated unicorn nodded. “I honestly do, Sergeant. I know most ponies don’t so I thought, why not?”

He was right, of course. Most ponies preferred to work the first shift and I hadn’t ever had a volunteer otherwise. I asked, “That won’t be a problem. How are you settling in?”

“Things have been great!” Night Frost said cheerfully. “This was a huge opportunity and all of the ponies here have been so nice. Plus, Princess Luna is awesome…” He trailed off and then sheepishly asked, “Why? What have you heard? Is there anything I should work on?”

That made me chuckle a little and I waved a hoof. Night Frost had been shy around the others, even a little rough in social situations, but certainly no worse than I had been. “Nothing like that at all. If you do want to work on something, though, I had an idea. You can manipulate ice, right?”

He nodded.

“It could be awfully handy if you had the ability to pull together an ice shield. Something to protect yourself, other ponies, and Princess Luna. Why don’t you work on that?”

Quickly, he replied, “Why not? I mean… yes, Sergeant!”

“Excellent. I’ll change the schedule so that you’re on nights. I doubt Starry Spur will complain.”

Night Frost smiled. “Thank you.”

“No problem. Dismissed.”

Runic Phial was standing in my room. That was a first. He had actually taken the time to come over to the palace and check in on me.

“I heard about what happened from Crystal Wishes," he said. "She heard from Princess Luna.”

Is that so? I was subject to palace gossip, it seemed. Oh well. I shrugged. “Yeah, evidently it isn’t exactly a secret, then.”

Winterspear was sitting on Iridescence’s—no, her bed and reading a fashion magazine.

Runic asked, “New roommate?”

Right, these two hadn’t met yet. I stood up and reached over to pluck the magazine out of my sister’s hooves. “Yes, my sister Winterspear.” Motioning to Runic, I added, “And this is Runic Phial, our cousin.”

Winterspear shifted, flapped her wings, and flew off the bed to land beside Runic. They shook hooves and she smiled. “Silent Knight says you’re a true friend. I’m glad to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Runic replied.

“I heard you gave the changelings one heck of a fight, Runic. I saw some of the explosions from the palace,” I said.

Runic nodded sagely. “They were after my rocks. I wouldn’t stand for that!”

“What?” Winterspear asked curiously and I just shook my head.

“What brings you out today, Runic? I’m sorry I haven’t been by lately. This whole thing has had me somewhat preoccupied.”

“Bachelor party,” Runic said simply.

Winterspear’s head tilted and I asked, “You’re going to a bachelor party?”

Runic shook his head and slipped a hoof around my shoulders. “WE are going to YOUR bachelor party!”

When it comes to romance, I didn’t know much but I knew what a bachelor party is. “My bachelor party?”

“Of course. Now you’re a bachelor. I’m a bachelor. Bachelor party at the shop. Everything is set up,” he explained, tugging me towards the door.

I shrugged. A party sounded fun. “Can Winterspear come, too?”

Runic looked confused by that. “Well… my understanding is it is for bachelors. There may be some ‘mare looking’ and the like.”

I took a leap of faith and trusted my instincts. “It's okay; she likes mares, too.”

Winterspear looked at me with wide eyes, her mouth hanging open. I had just blown her secret casually.

Walking over to Winterspear, Runic eyed her up and down and then nodded. “That checks out. Okay. You’re a bachelor, too, then. To the store!” he shouted and then charged out.

Holding up my hooves, I said, “He is family and I knew he wouldn’t care. I had thought it through.”

Winterspear loomed over me with a stern face. Then she nosed my cheek. “Yup, it’s fine. I trust you. Now let’s go have a party!”

“He… really doesn’t do anything halfway, does he?” Winterspear whispered to me as we stood inside the door of Runic’s shop. The 'closed for a private function' placard was outside and the shop floor was decorated to the extreme.

Runic had lined the shelf tops with large potion bottles that seemed to glow the color of the liquid contained within. It really made the shop feel like one of those nightclubs in town. He had also set out an impressive buffet and some really comfortable pillows.

What unnerved me a bit was that he had built a stage on the longest wall of the shop. Where all the shelving and goods had gone, I’ll never know.

“Come in, come in!” Runic exclaimed as we walked through a door. “Welcome, my guests of honor.”

We made our way over to the pillows and sat down. “That is a stage,” Winterspear whispered to me.

“Yup,” I replied.

There was an explosion of green smoke and Runic appeared on stage with a top hat on. I looked to where he had been beside me and then back up. “How the—”

“Fellow bachelors! In honor of our independence I am pleased to present DJ Pon-3 and the Ponyville Dancers,” Runic announced before leaping down and settling on the remaining pillow.

The lights dropped, a mixing table popped up on the stage, and a white-and-blue unicorn started spinning records. I’m not going to lie... it was amazing. Not so much her music, but more just that my cousin could put this together.

Midway through the first song, three mares appeared on stage in a similar puff of green smoke. They stood on their hindhooves, linked forehooves, and started doing some sort of high kick dance. I sat up straight. The one in the middle was the pink fluffy pony we had met on our trip to Ponyville. For a fluffy pony… well, any pony, really… she had great moves.

Winterspear’s eyes were big. “Th-This is unbelievable,” she stammered.

“Welcome to the family,” I replied and put a hoof around both her and Runic.

DJ Pon-3 and Winterspear were chatting over by the punch while she was ‘between sets.’ The music was just on a simple mix while the dancers were resting. I hugged Runic tightly. “Seriously, Runic, thank you for this.”

“You’d do the same for me,” he said plainly and I knew he was right… and wrong. I’d certainly do something for him but I’m not sure I could pull off this level of cheering up.

Runic pointed a hoof to the dancers and added, “Why don’t you go talk to them? You should practice talking to mares, right?”

I scrunched up my nose at the thought of that. Of course, he was right. Plus there was no real risk here. “I… I guess so. You don’t mind?”

Runic lightly pushed me in their direction. “Nope! I’m going to get some punch anyway.”

“Alright…” I picked up my cup of punch and downed all that was left. Liquid courage. I’d gladly march into battle to face gryphons, dragons, or anything like that. Mares, on the other hoof, were far more dangerous. Pushing up off the pillow, I swayed my way over to the three dancers.

Approaching them, I said, “You three are extremely talented. I can truly say I’ve never seen dancing like that.”

The first dancer, a cream-colored earth pony with a pink mane and tail cheered, “Well thank you! We don’t get to play Canterlot often… even if this is a small venue for an exclusive crowd.”

The second dancer, a violet unicorn pony with a mauve mane, snorted. “I wouldn’t call it a venue.”

“Berry,” the first said hurriedly. “Be nice to the customer.”

“I need a drink,” Berry said before wandering off.

“I’m so sorry. She isn’t normally mean. I think she just expected us to be playing a big hall. Puff didn’t really explain the job very well,” the first dancer said.

The pink fluffy pony interjected, “Pfbbt.”

“Well, you didn’t!”

Softly, I cleared my throat. “Well… hopefully my cousin at least took care of you. I’m Silent Knight, by the way. You don’t have to call me 'the customer.'”

“Oh! How embarrassing. I’m Lighthoof and this is Fluffle Puff. Nice to meet ya! If you don’t mind though I’d like some punch, too, and Berryshine probably needs a little kick in the rump.”

I nodded. “Sure… sure…”

Lighthoof hurried off, leaving me alone with Fluffle Puff. I stared at her before lightly brushing my hoof against the floor.

“I think I’ve been to your house before. We were lost and you gave us directions.”

Fluffle Puff gasped and then nodded. “Pfbbt, pfft pfft pffffft.”

“Exactly. So… you’ve been a dancer for a while?”

The pink fluffy pony quickly nodded and went on, “Pfft, pfft.” She then gestured wildly above her head.

My ears twitched as I tried to track what she was explaining. With a shrug, I figured this would probably be the easiest conversation with a mare ever.

Winterspear and I walked home slowly. It was really late and I thought flying might be unwise. Especially under the influence of Runic’s slightly spiked punch. “That was amazing,” Winterspear said a little too loudly for the middle of the night. “What were you talking to that pink fluffy pony about?”

“I have absolutely no idea,” I said honestly.

My sister tilted her head. “You two talked for almost an hour.”

I couldn’t help it, I laughed. It was good to laugh. “I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. She didn’t actually use words, either. I was nodding politely and she didn’t seem to mind at all. She was nice… At least I think she was.”

Winterspear just shook her head. “Look at you, mingling. Are you going to be able to work tomorrow?”

Tomorrow was going to be rough but I nodded. “I’ll manage.”

When we got back to the barracks, Lieutenant Haze was waiting outside our room.

“Sir?” I inquired as we approached.

“Where have you been?” he demanded.

“Out at a private function,” I said plainly, falling back into work mode.

“I was looking for you.”

“I apologize, sir. I was off duty. Sergeant Orchid was on watch,” I replied, stating the obvious. Or what should have been obvious.

He shook his head. “I didn’t need Sergeant Orchid. I was looking for you and you weren’t here. That is a problem for me.”

To my right, I felt Winterspear bristle but I lightly swayed to bump her. She settled down and I eyed the lieutenant. “I’m here now if you need me, sir. If you feel I was somewhat delinquent in my duty, I’m certain the manual has text outlining this situation.”

Lieutenant Haze stomped a hoof. “I’ll look into that. I needed next week’s roster. You didn’t submit it. I can’t find out which guards are on shift at the last minute. If command asks I’ll look like a fool. You’re sloppy, Sergeant. Making a roster is basic. If you don’t think you can handle it I can…”

He went on like that for about ten minutes. Winterspear and I just stood there at attention.

When he finally finished, I said, “Sir, the roster was posted to the unit board per your instructions in last week’s memo. A copy was then posted in both sergeant Orchid’s and my offices for back up. Was it not on the board when you looked?”

“I want a copy sent to me directly,” he said.

“Then I should assume we should disregard your memo, sir?” I asked.

The lieutenant scowled at me. “No! Follow the order as written.”

“Then I’ll continue to post the roster to the unit board, sir,” I replied.

“You’re not listening. I want a copy sent to me, too!”

“The memo as written does not make such an order, sir. Perhaps you’d like to draft a new memo?”

Lieutenant Haze stood there seething. He hated when I outmaneuvered him on following the rules. He also couldn’t do much about it. One thing that every member of the Royal Guard knows is this: new lieutenants are a dime a dozen. The vast majority of them have never served prior. They go to a military academy and come straight into the guard as an officer.

The good lieutenants are the ones that realize they’re placed with sergeants to learn from them. The ones that don’t last are the ones that can’t get it through their heads that they don’t know everything and that some ponies may just be smarter than they are. I suspected Lieutenant Haze wasn’t going to last.

We stared at each other a while longer. He was waiting for me to flinch. Keep waiting, bucko. I can do this all week. I also thanked Dad for that talent.

Finally he gave up. “Draft a new memo tomorrow and bring it to my office. I’ll sign it. Dismissed,” he said before walking off in a huff.

Winterspear and I went into our room and flopped onto our respective beds. “He is the biggest pony butt I’ve ever met. You should have let me kick him.”

I chuckled. “Sergeant Winterspear, I’m surprised at your short-sighted view of this situation. It is much more fun to teach him about the rules and regulations. Besides, if you did that they’d never approve your transfer and you’d rob yourself the opportunity of hanging out with Runic and I.”

My sister pulled her sheets up and said, “I’m not sure I approve of this new, devious you.”

“Being a sergeant has opened my eyes to a lot of things. I’ve also got a lot of extra time on my hooves to look over the manuals. It is a totally different job but if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right.”

Winterspear turned out the light and said into the darkness, “Well, Celestia help anypony that gets in your way then.”

Mmmm, I quietly hoped Celestia wouldn’t help the lieutenant.

26. Four Sisters

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“Silent Knight?” Princess Luna called from her gaming table. I was still using her secretary’s desk during the day. I liked being closer to her and able to keep an eye on my squad in action. Plus, I just flat out didn’t like spending time alone as much anymore.

I set my pencil down and went to her side. “Yes, Princess?”

The princess was levitating a tiny paintbrush and a model pony. It was one of many figures she was painting for a new war game.

“Doth this look like thou?” she asked, floating the figure close enough for me to see.

Never let anypony tell you that Princess Luna isn’t artistic. The tiny figure looked exactly like me, down to the silver eyes and blue wingtips. She had captured my likeness perfectly. Every detail was right: my coat and mane colors, the dark armor, and even the cutie mark.

I admired mini-Silent Knight. “If you did any better, I might question which one of the two of us was real, Princess.”

Happily, she clapped her hooves together and levitated mini-me down to dry. “Huzzah!” she cheered. I nodded and started to head back to my work. “Silent Knight?” she called again.

I turned back to her. “Yes, Princess?”

“Could we speak a few moments? Thou and I?” she asked.

“Of course, Princess,” I replied and looked over to where Solar Flare stood. “Give us the room. Take position just beyond the door.”

Solar Flare nodded and went outside, leaving the two of us alone. Princess Luna walked over to the sitting area and I followed. We settled on two pillows, then she reached over and took my helmet off. My brow went up. How did she know about the helmets?

“How art thou doing, Silent Knight?” she asked softly.

I smiled at her. “I’m doing well, Princess. I’m finally adjusting to being a sergeant, my sister is moving to Canterlot, and I have good friends to look after me.”

She nodded and gently touched her hoof to my heart. “How is this?”

That made me a little uncomfortable. I hadn’t really discussed my feelings with anypony but Winterspear… well, that, and my blabbering confession to Princess Celestia. I swallowed and noticed Princess Luna was waiting.

“I was sad… Now I’m angry, Princess. A lot of the time. I keep it bottled up but it spills out sometimes. In little bursts. Mostly to frustrate the lieutenant,” I admitted, looking down.

“Wherefore art thou angry?” she asked. “Is it the pain of love lost?”

I shook my head and I meant it. “No, Princess… I’ve mostly gotten over that. I guess it was puppy love. I had never been in a relationship before and it was silly to assume ours would be like some fairy tale. Winterspear says that real love isn’t like that.”

With a sigh, I admitted, “Honestly, we didn’t work great as a couple. We had different goals… but now I’m angry because she left. She just up and left me and you and Crystal and Runic. Everypony! She was supposed to be my best friend! It isn’t fair for her to just take that away from me. I’ve never had a best friend before,” I said louder than I meant to and stomped a hoof.

“Sorry,” I hurriedly added, feeling foalish.

“And thou thinkest she is not thy friend anymore?” Princess Luna asked rather pointedly. It gave me pause and forced me to consider the thought.

I shrugged. “She doesn’t write, she doesn’t visit. Her injury and personal leave time has almost run out. I don’t know what is going on…” I sighed and ran a hoof along the edge of the pillow. “I want my friend back. I never had a friend before her.”

Princess Luna smiled at me and softly patted my hoof with her own. “That is something I understand all too well. Have faith then, Silent Knight. If thou canst forgive her, mayhaps that is all it will take to bring her back. To be honest, I have found myself missing her as well. If thou needest to talk, I hope that thou canst consider us as friends. Iridescence may have hoofed the line a little close, but I am confident that thou canst find a balance.” She picked up my helmet and set it back on my head.

I smiled at her and nodded.

“No, I’m sorry. That doesn’t work for me,” Lieutenant Haze said.

“Sir?” I tried not to frown.

He shook his head. “Your leave request. I have some important Canterlot social functions to attend and I can’t miss them to do your job for you.”

That was that, then. Walk away. That is what went through my mind. My mouth, however, said, “I’m sorry, sir, that is not a regulation answer. You can deny leave for a security-related reason. That is within your right. Denying leave because you have some place you’d rather be is against the regs. They’re very clear on that.”

Lieutenant Haze snorted and said, “Allow me to rephrase, then. It is also within my right to assign less than desirable duties to any pony under my command. If I miss my functions due to somepony insisting that they have leave, I’ll know where to assign those duties. Is that clear?”

“Crystal clear, sir,” I said and then pushed the leave form over to him again. “Just sign here and here, sir. I look forwards to receiving my new duties when I get back.”

The lieutenant lifted a hoof as the paper came close. The look in his eye seemed to suggest he was considering taking a swing at me. That would be a mistake on his part. A painful mistake. He looked in my eyes and seemed to come to the same conclusion. Setting his hoof back onto the paper, he picked up a pencil and signed it.

“Thank you, sir,” I said.

“Dismissed,” he almost snarled.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Winterspear asked me.

I nodded. “Without question.”

Winterspear hugged me and said, “Okay… well… go tell her, then.”

I didn’t need any more motivation than that. It was time to get things off my chest and have life return relatively to the way it was before, if possible. I tugged my small satchel tight against my armor and leaped into the air when I got outside the barracks.

Turning to the east, I set course for Manehatten. I spread my wings wide and started to push the limit. Before I left, I had pulled some very important paperwork: Iridescence’s leave forms. She was running out of time and no transfer request had come in. Technically, I was her sergeant. Her name was on my roster and I was going to hold her accountable. That was my job… even if I had used personal leave time to make the trip.

The address on file was listed as outside of Manehatten city proper. I was flying into the countryside blind but I had confidence that I’d be able sort it out. In the worst case, I’d stop into the local mail depot and have them show me how to get there. Mail ponies always helped out the Royal Guard. Our organizations were like sisters.

My flight was largely uneventful. I spent the whole trip keeping calm, cool, and collected. Letting feelings creep into what I had to do wouldn’t work. This was business. I just had to keep it that way.

When I arrived outside of Manehatten, I realized finding the address would be easy. There were only a few dwellings out that far and all of them sat on huge tracts of land. I spotted the right place and came to a perfect, professional landing in case anypony was looking out of a window.

Iridescence’s house, if you could even call it that, was massive. It was the second biggest home I had ever seen next to the palace in Canterlot. The manor was crafted out of hewn grey stone and glass. I guess that explained all the bits she had.

I approached the large, heavy wooden double doors and knocked. It wasn’t long before an older stallion answered. He was dressed in a tuxedo coat with long tails. “Good afternoon. How may I help you?”

“Sergeant Knight, Princess Luna’s House Guard. I am here to speak with Iridescence. Is she here?”

“Miss Iridescence is indeed. May I inquire about the business you have with her?”

From my satchel, I produced the leave papers. “Official business. Her leave is almost over and she is expected to report back for duty. We haven’t had word from her and I’m here to ensure she is not planning on going AWOL.”

“AWOL?” the pony asked.

“Away without leave. It is a crime,” I said plainly.

The pony lifted his nose with indignation. He did step back, however. “Do come in. Welcome to Eminence Manor, Sergeant.”

I did so after carefully wiping my hoof guards off. There was no reason to be a bad guest. The butler led me through the foyer and into a large sitting room just off of it. “Miss Iridescence, a royal guard is calling for you,” he announced.

To be perfectly honest, I had not prepared for this. Iridescence was sitting on a fancy pillow and she wasn’t alone. The room contained three other unicorn mares, two of which were clearly her sisters.

The first had a coat of spun gold and a shimmering silver mane that seemed to radiate light. She looked older than the others but was, without a doubt, what you’d call a classic beauty.

The second was closer in age to Iridescence. Her coat was more pearl colored and she had a mane that was streaked with fiery orange, bright green, and pale blue.

The third was more of a filly than a mare. She was light green in color and had a simple verdant mane. Compared to the other three, she was pretty mundane.

Iridescence rose suddenly, the shock of seeing me clear on her face.

The first mare looked over and asked, “Iridescence, you know this pony?”

She nodded, her expression going blank. “This is Sergeant Silent Knight. He was… is my superior in the Royal Guard.”

The second mare waved a hoof. “Oh, is that what this is about?”

The third chimed, “He looks angry.”

I shook my head and said, “Not angry, miss. We look like this to discourage ponies from mischief.”

Iridescence shifted and said, “Sergeant, allow me to introduce my sisters.” Motioning to the golden mare she said, “Luminescence.” She went on to the second. “Opalescence.” Finally, the last. “And Dot.”

“My pleasure, ladies,” I said and added a light bow.

“Why are you here… Sergeant?” Iridescence asked nervously.

I still had the papers out. I walked over and set them down in front of her before backing off. “Your leave is almost up. You’re expected to be back on duty and I wanted to make sure one of my unit members wasn’t thinking about shirking their duties.”

Luminescence looked over at me. “Is that all this is about?” she asked with a huff. “Do you always hound ponies like this? She can’t be bothered with that.”

I didn’t move. “I’m sorry, ma’am. She made a commitment and signed a contract. If she isn’t bothered by the idea of reneging on her oath I should point out that she can be imprisoned.”

All of the mares other than Iridescence laughed. Opalescence waved a hoof at me. “You are just too much. Our father is the biggest real estate investor in Manehatten. If you think your little contract will stand up to his lawyers, you’re silly.”

She looked over at Iridescence and added, “He sounds like that pony you were telling us about. That one you left. What was his name?”

“Silent Knight,” Iridescence and I said at the same time.

“Oh? The jilted lover?” Luminescence asked, suddenly very interested.

“Scandalous!” Opalescence gasped, a hoof raised to her mouth.

“A stallion?” Dot squeaked, tilting her head.

Opalescence rose from her pillow. “You’re just here because you’re angry. The lawyers will love that. Why don’t you run along? Iridescence is staying here.”

I ignored her and looked at Iridescence. “You know this isn’t personal. Why didn’t you ever put in your transfer paperwork?”

Iridescence’s ears fell and she replied, “I didn’t want to think about it. Now I’m thinking about just asking for a special discharge. My father can make that happen.”

I snorted. “I see. So you’re just going to quit, come back to all of… this, and act like these ponies? Maybe I shouldn’t have come, then. I’m not sure I’d want to work with a pony like that. That isn’t the Iridescence I knew.”

Luminescence humphed and said, “How rude!”

Opalescence walked a circle around me. “Oh, aren’t you feisty? It is cute that you think she’d want to go back with you.”

Dot nodded. “Yeah! We have cookies here.” That wasn’t quite the snide comment I was expecting. Perhaps she was still in training. Hopefully it wouldn’t stick.

I’m not going to lie, though. I thought Dot was adorable trying to act like her older siblings, but I didn’t let it show.

Iridescence just sat there while the other three berated me with various insults about my stallionhood and my station in life. I barely heard them. I just stared at her. She wouldn’t look at me. Finally, I stomped a hoof. It was loud and echoed in the expansive manor. The mares gasped and drew back.

“Enough,” I said with all the authority of a Royal Guard sergeant. I approached Iridescence.

I ducked my head and forced her to look into my eyes. “You made a promise. You swore the oath! Are you the kind of pony whose word is meaningless? If you are, just let me know. I’ll leave and make certain you get that discharge. You won’t even need your father. We wouldn’t want you around anyway.” I stood up and took a few steps back.

Iridescence rose gracefully and lifted her head in defiance.

“Iridescence, surely you’re not listening to this brute?” Luminescence exclaimed.

“You may like to hide behind Daddy but I don’t. I did make a promise and I’ve had my time off. It is time to get back to work,” Iridescence said, her words filling me with pride.

Dot hurried up and over to hug her. “But I’ll miss you!”

“Don’t worry, I’ll come home a little more often,” Iridescence said, looping a hoof around her little sister.

“You’re making a mistake,” Opalescence sighed.

“No… the mistake was running away. Royal guards don’t do that. Do they, Sergeant?” Iridescence asked me.

“Never. I’ll see you back in Canterlot.” I said, bowing slightly before turning to leave.

Iridescence took a step forwards and said, “Sergeant. If it is all the same to you… meet me at the train station. I’ll need you to bring me back up to speed on what I missed. If… If that isn’t an inconvenience.”

“Train station it is.” I nodded, then walked out of the room and left the manor. Why would anypony need a house so large? You’d just end up with spoiled foals. Well… almost all spoiled. There was an exception, it seemed.

“I can’t believe you came for me,” Iridescence said, looking out the window of our train car.

“Why?” I asked, peering at her.

We must have seemed like an odd pair to the others on the train. A royal guard in Princess Luna’s colors and a high society Manehatten unicorn. We were getting some looks, but I didn’t care. I just kept my focus on my friend who was sitting across the row.

She shrugged. “After what I did to you, who would blame you for hating me?” Her voice turned into a mockery of herself as she added, “Oh, thanks for saving my life. By the way, we’re breaking up and I’m leaving. See ya!” It was painful to hear.

“Water under the bridge,” I said flatly.

Iridescence blinked and looked at me. “And it is that easy? You’re over it? Just like that?”

I shook my head. “No. It wasn’t easy. It was actually awful, but thank Celestia I had friends to help me. My heart was broken. I was sad and mopey. Then I was angry. I think I’d rather have a friend than not, though.”

Iridescence shifted uncomfortably. “So… now what?”

“We get back to work,” I said.

“No… what does that even mean? You didn’t just come get me so I could work. There is more to it than that.”

I got up and moved to her side of the car. Plopping down beside her, I said, “You promised me you’d always be my friend. You’re supposed to be my best friend, Iridescence… my first friend. Maybe we thought that also meant we had to be special someponies, and I guess we were wrong. I don’t know and I honestly don’t want to think about it for now. I can’t.

“I can deal without a special somepony. But I need my best friend. So we go back to work and we start to try to be friends again.”

Shifting, I added, “And not to add any guilt, but the others miss you as well. Did you really want to be like your sisters? They’re rude. Other than Dot, I mean. She was adorable.”

Iridescence wiped a hoof across her eyes as tears welled in the corners. “Of course not. They’re awful, mean, and entitled, but I felt like I had burned the bridge.”

“Friendship is stronger than that and royal guards are family,” I replied.

“I guess it is,” she said, levitating a handkerchief to dab her eyes. “So what is going to be different?”

I thought that over and then said, “You’ll be reporting to Sergeant Orchid… and you’ll need to find a new dorm room. Sergeants don’t share rooms with subordinates and I sort of gave your bed to my sister. When we’re off duty we can be friends just like before. Plus, all the others will be waiting for you when we arrive.”

Iridescence frowned. “What do you mean? How could you have known I would come back?”

“You’re my friend and I’m a good judge of character. Let’s just say I had faith,” I said plainly.

We chatted the rest of the way back. It was awkward but it was a start. I told her everything that had happened and she shared what was going on with her. It was like old times and it felt good. The hours flew by and the train was pulling into the Canterlot station before I knew it.

True to my word, everypony was on the platform waiting: Crystal Wishes, Runic Phial, Winterspear, and even Princess Luna with Miley Hooves and Harvest Moon.

When Iridescence stepped out of the car, there was a cheer before she was mobbed. Princess Luna looked past the group of ponies at me and nodded. I nodded back and joined in the happy reunion.

27. Lieutenant Haze

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“Miley Hooves? Seriously?” I called up.

Miley clung to the chandelier as it rocked slowly back and forth above Princess Luna’s chambers. “I’m sorry, Sergeant!” she called back.

I flapped my wings to fly up, and offered her my hooves. She chose not to take them and instead hopped off the wrought iron and crystal fixture while throwing her own around my neck.

I grunted as I caught her, then slowly brought her to the ground. “How?”

“There was a mouse. I jumped,” she replied honestly.

I looked at her and then up at the chandelier. That had to be some kind of earth pony record. “You’re afraid of mice, but you’ll fight a changeling?”

“We all have our weaknesses, Sergeant.”

“Okay, fair enough. Back to work, okay?”

She nodded and bounded back to her post. Shaking my head, I returned to my seat at the secretary’s desk.

Princess Luna was in her sitting area with Crystal Wishes and they were both catching up with Iridescence. She was off duty and the group had a lot to talk about. I wasn’t paying attention. Call it a professional talent.

I went back to drawing. Occasionally, I drew Miley but to be fair, most of my drawings of her were documenting the pony’s bad luck. I had drawn her stuck in the couch, stuck in the door, stuck in the… let me just say she got stuck in a lot of things.

Today, however, it was Crystal Wishes’s turn. I had probably been paying a bit too much attention to her lately. She was nice to me and very easy on the eyes. But her barn door didn’t seem to swing my way and Velvet Step was one of my friends, so thinking that way was a little awkward. It was still okay to look. No harm there.

The door to Princess Luna’s chamber opened and Lieutenant Haze walked in without knocking. Miley and I straightened to attention. He looked to me and then moved to advance on the princess.

“Sir, can I help you?” I asked, stepping around the desk and blocking him.

The lieutenant looked down his snout but, humorously, had to tilt his head up to me. “I wish to speak to the princess.”

“The princess has an appointment right now, sir. If you like, I can look at her schedule and find an appropriate time,” I suggested.

Lieutenant Haze snorted. “Sergeant, you work for me, not her. You do not keep her schedule and you’re not her secretary. Act like a royal guard. Now move.”

“Yes, sir.” I stepped out of the way and allowed him to pass.

He walked right up to the princess and curtly bowed. “Princess, I would like to discuss the state of your House Guard now and some suggestions I have to improve it.”

Crystal Wishes and Iridescence stared at him wide-eyed as he trotted right over their conversation.

Princess Luna stood up, her regal mane shimmering like the evening sky. “Of course, Lieutenant. As thou canst see, however, we have an appointment right now. If thou wouldst check with Sergeant Knight, we are certain he can find an opening for thee. As we are sure thou art aware, he receiveth a copy of my schedule each day so he can best leverage our security assets. We would have thought thou wouldst receive one, too. In fact, we know this to be true. Perhaps thou shouldst learn to read it?”

The lieutenant took a step back. “Princess… I think it would be best—”

We all caught the look Princess Luna gave him at that moment and he took two more steps back.

“Yes, I think that would be best,” he amended before hastily retreating. “Sergeant, put me in on the next available opening, please,” he called as he sailed by me on his way out of the room.

“Yes, sir!” I replied before opening up Princess Luna’s scheduling book.

“Silent Knight?” Princess Luna called.

“Yes, Princess?”

“We shall not have any openings for at least a week,” she remarked, her voice booming in the room and the hall beyond it.

“Aye, aye, Princess,” I said and started flipping through the book, feeling a little smug. I passed up several openings and penciled the lieutenant in for 15 minutes three weeks from today.

I muttered, “I know who I work for. Do you, you pompous gryphon-flank?” as I looked down where I had written his name.

“What, Sergeant?” Miley asked.

I looked up and around. Had that been out loud? Oh… it had. I had four mares staring at me. Quietly, I closed the princess’s scheduling book and softly clapped my hooves together.

“Flank, Miley. Always go for the flank when engaging a gryphon. Wound their pride first!” I said before returning to my art project.

The heavy bag loomed in front of me. I stood up on my hindlegs and flapped my wings to help keep me upright. I started to batter it with my front hooves, working on my boxing skills. It was a great workout and I really liked to cut loose.

“Is the lieutenant just a jerk or is he really as dumb as he seems?” Iridescence asked me.

We were off duty, but bad-mouthing an officer wasn’t a great idea in general, even if every word was true. “He is new,” I panted as I continued to hit the bag.

Winterspear was next to Iridescence, doing yoga with her. The two had gotten along fairly well after an intense ‘how could you do that to my little brother’ conversation.

My sister said, “That is code for huge gryphon rump.” She evidently wasn’t worried about bad-mouthing somepony else’s officer.

“He sucks all of the fun out of the room,” Iridescence said, holding an impossible pose. She had one hindhoof down, one tucked against her thigh, and her forehooves pressed together. “When is the captain getting back from his honeymoon?”

I dropped down to all fours again and went over to the standing targets. Lining them up, I started bucking them fiercely. “Three... days,” I huffed each time my hindhooves landed.

“I hope Shining Armor sets him straight. He certainly turned you around,” Iridescence said in my direction.

My eyes narrowed in a glare before I bucked the targets harder. That went on a bit longer before I felt like I’d worked hard enough.

Grabbing some water, I came over to the other two. I laid down at the edge of their mats while both them stared at me upside-down. They had managed to get their forehooves beside their heads and their hind ones were stiff and straight up in the air. They looked ridiculous and frankly, the poses weren't very flattering.

“I could push you over right now,” I teased Winterspear.

“You had best not. I like her better than you,” Iridescence said.

“Mares!” I huffed before getting up and heading to the showers.

My shower had run a little long. I had been enjoying the feel of hot water on sore muscles. There wouldn’t be time for a proper lunch but Princess Luna kept snacks in her chambers. Quickly, I trotted down the hall and made a quick right and—crashed right into another guard.

“Ow!” the mare exclaimed. Her coat was the same color as gold and she had the most cheerfully colored yellow-and-orange mane.

I helped her up and stood at attention. “I’m sorry, Lieutenant, I wasn’t being mindful.”

Sunny Day, the lieutenant that replaced Astral Dyke, was what ponies call a perpetual optimist. She was always happy, positive, and cheerful. The word around the palace was that she was also an amazing officer and always took her job 'all the way.'

She waved a hoof. “Oh, you’re fine, Silent Knight. I wasn’t looking where I was going, anyway. I just needed to get some air.”

I remained at attention and nodded. Then I tilted my head. “Air, ma’am? Down in the gym and similar sweat-soaked areas?”

The unicorn laughed, her nose scrunching up a bit. “Figure of speech, Sergeant.” She looked around to see if there were any ponies in ear shot, then leaned in to say in a low voice, “Your lieutenant is frustrating and doesn’t understand what collaboration means. We have an event that includes both princesses soon and he is insisting that we each do our own security plan.”

“That doesn’t make sense, ma’am,” I said. If we did that we’d have guards stumbling over each other.

“Good luck getting him to see it that way,” was her reply but then she smiled. “I shall endeavour to do so, however! He will see the light… or I’ll go tattle on him.” Cheerfully, she trotted on down the hall while I remained at attention. Royal guards typically don’t prance but I’m confident that was the only way Sunny Day moved.

The day before Shining Armor was supposed to return home, I was standing with my squad at our morning meeting. We were just about to rotate off with Sergeant Orchid’s squad and I wanted to get them briefed.

Before I could get started, Lieutenant Haze walked in. We all stood at attention immediately.

“Listen up, ponies!” he called. “I just learned through a friend at the command intelligence group that there is an obsidian dragon located near Canterlot. The brass is worried and I want first crack at the beast. We’ll be heading out immediately to handle it.”

“Sir. Command has assigned us to this duty?” I asked.

“What? No. I just said I learned it from a friend. We’ll be able to get down there and show initiative,” he explained.

I nodded. “So you want all of us to go with you, sir?”

“Yes, this is a dragon! Every one of you.”

“To clarify, you’re ordering every one of us to leave with you to engage the dragon?”

The lieutenant looked at me like I was some kind of idiot. “Yes, Sergeant. You, me, all of these ponies. NOW!”

“I’m glad to hear you say that, sir.”

“That is the spirit,” he replied.

I shifted to face him and stated matter-of-factly, “Lieutenant Haze, I hereby relieve you of command.”

The lieutenant’s jaw dropped. “On what grounds?!”

“Derelictions of duty, issuing illegal orders, misappropriating Royal Guard resources, conduct unbecoming of an officer, inciting mass desertion, unnecessarily endangering lives for personal gain…”

The lieutenant’s face shifted from surprise to impatience to anger. He actually started turning red. Then he did something really foolish. He took a swing at me in front of the whole unit.

I ducked. Then, in one quick move, I punched him in the gut and followed up by sweeping his legs out from under him. He collapsed and while he was trying to catch his breath, I continued, “...assaulting a fellow royal guard, and anything else I can find.”

“Miley, Harvest, take the lieutenant to the stockade while I do the paperwork. Night Frost, go inform Sergeant Orchid that I’m assuming command until the captain returns.”

There was a thunder of “Yes, Sergeant!” and they all set off to do their tasks.

The following morning, I was working quietly in my reclaimed office. There was a knock at the door and then it opened immediately. Captain Shining Armor stepped in and I rose to attention.

“Welcome home, sir!”

“Thank you, Silent Knight. It was a great vacation but I’m honestly glad to get back to work. Everything seems to be running smoothly. Where is the lieutenant?”

“In the stockade, sir,” I replied cheerfully.

“Alright then,” he said before slipping out and closing the door behind him.

It was good to have the captain back.

Not all of my charges against Lieutenant Haze stuck but the damage was done. Even though command has a way of protecting officers, Obsidian Haze still spent more than two days in the stockade. It also became clear to everypony that he had questionable decision-making skills. The final straw was that Princess Luna just plain wasn’t thrilled with him and said so in front of the captain and several other officers.

As such, command gave him a nice, quiet job commanding a supply depot somewhere out west. They also gave me a medal for being brave enough to stand up to him. All of that suited me fine.

The captain was in my office again and I had brought him up to speed on everything that happened in his absence both with my helmet on and off.

“I wasn’t even gone that long!” he complained.

I shrugged. “The palace never waits.”

Shining Armor nodded. “That is true. Listen, I’m going to go personally find a new lieutenant for the unit. I’ve made it abundantly clear to command that we will not be accepting another important pony’s nephew, son, daughter, niece, or love foal. You need somepony that will fit with the culture. Until I find that pony you’re in charge.”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

He turned to leave and then paused. “Any issue with this situation putting Iridescence under your authority?”

“No, sir, that won’t be an issue at all. The job stays first from now on,” I assured him.

The captain nodded, paused for a moment as if to say something, and then shrugged before he left the office.

Alone again. I started to straighten up my desk a bit in preparation for being in command once more. It was something I was starting to enjoy. Would we ever have a decent lieutenant that I could trust?

“Knock knock!” came the cheerful voice of Sunny Day in my doorway.

My body stiffened to attention and I replied, “Come in, ma’am. What can I do for you?”

Sunny pranced in with an extra spring in her step. “Oh, you already did it! At ease, by the way.”

“Pardon?” I asked as I settled into a more casual stance.

“Helping Lieutenant Haze find a new position. I knew he was a silver spoon, arrogant, son of an ‘important pony,’ but I never guessed he would make such a rookie mistake. Especially around a pony like you.”

With a flick of my tail, I asked, “A pony like me?”

Sunny Day approached my desk and set her forehooves on it. She stood and looked down at me. “You’re a tactician, Silent Knight. I’ve kept an eye on you. You’re always six moves ahead.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of what she had said or where she was going with it. “Thank you?”

“Yup!” she practically chirped before hopping back down. “Well played, Sergeant. Looks like it is you and me again when it comes to joint meetings. I’m looking forwards to it.”

“Yes, ma’am…” My eyes followed her as she left. Peering down at the rock Runic had given me, I asked, “What was that about?”

If the rock knew, it wasn’t telling.

28. Game Night

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I slid my card to the edge of the table and lifted it slightly so that I could peek. Timberwolf. My eyes narrowed and swept across the crowd. It was game night and we were all sitting around Princess Luna’s special gaming table.

“I’m not sure I understand the point,” Velvet Step admitted.

Crystal Wishes explained, “If you’re a townspony, you’re trying to figure out who the timberwolves are. If you’re a timberwolf, you’re trying to cast suspicion on some poor townspony.”

Winterspear nodded. “Exactly! And I’m no timberwolf. We need to get them!”

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Princess Luna looking my way. She was a timberwolf, too. It was us against the table.

Runic pointed a hoof at Iridescence. “You’re being quiet. Too quiet!”

Iridescence held up her hooves. “Don’t look at me! I’m a regular townspony. Look at Silent Knight, he is clearly a timberwolf.”

I was, but my face didn’t show it. I used my Royal Guard blank stare on them all and said, “You’d think so, but I’m actually a hunter and if you mistakenly kill me, the pony I point out will be killed, too. If I incorrectly deduce who the timberwolves are, that means we lose a townspony. So, if I’m wrong, that means the townsponies stand a better chance of losing. Personally, I think it is Velvet. She is playing too innocently.”

Velvet gasped and Princess Luna nodded, saying, “We agree! The innocence is a deception!”

“No! It isn’t me. I swear! Please!” Velvet said hurriedly as she looked to Crystal Wishes for support. It only made her seem more guilty. She was about to argue further just as the last sands of the hourglass fell.

“Vote now, ponies!” Princess Luna called.

Hooves were pointed everywhere. Four at Velvet, one at Iridescence, and only one at me.

Velvet frowned and flipped over her card: townspony.

“Mwahaha!” Princess Luna cackled, flipping her card. I did the same. “Timberwolves win! The night is ours!”

Behind her, thunder shook the palace and lightning could be seen arching across the sky outside the windows. Velvet dove under the table and I heard somepony in armor tumble over with a squeal.

The others laughed and Crystal Wishes sweetly went to retrieve Velvet. Those two were good together. I went to my own task and crossed the chambers to help right Miley Hooves.

“I’m sorry, boss, but that was really scary,” she said before tugging herself up by my hoof.

“That’s fine, and precisely why the princess does it.” I winked. Turning back to the group, I called, “Who is ready for a game of Canterlot Express?” and was met immediately by groans.

Winterspear exclaimed, “No! I’m not playing a detective game with you. I’d rather play spin the bottle with gryphons.”

Every other pony at the table nodded.

I sighed. “I’m wounded, but fine. What do we play, then?”

Velvet, who was shaking in Crystal Wishes’s hooves, said, “Something that isn’t scary! Or where I can at least be on somepony’s team.”

Runic suggested, “Shadows Over Canterlot?”

That was met with general agreement and we settled back down to play the game. I looked around the table and smiled. Yes, this is what life was supposed to be.

The evening went late… really late. That tended to happen on game night. We all had had so much fun that nopony wanted to call it quits. Princess Luna and I had a big day tomorrow. She was hosting some visiting dignitaries and I was running all of her security.

“Iridescence, Winterspear, would you please escort Crystal Wishes and Velvet Step home?” I asked as I slid under the passed out Runic Phial and hefted him onto my back. He was sprawled over me, limp and snoring.

Winterspear looked at me and asked, “Who rolled over and made you boss?”

I deadpanned, “Technically, Lieutenant Haze.”

My sister snorted. “Point taken, but I don’t report to you… but you can owe me a favor.”

Crystal Wishes waved a hoof in my direction and said, “We don’t want to be a bother, Silent Knight. Velvet and I can get home alone just fine.”

I shook my head and replied, “I have no doubt, but that still won’t do. Humor me a little and allow me some peace of mind? After all, you never know these days with changelings just dropping out of the sky.”

The unicorn nodded softly. “Well… we can do that for you. For your peace of mind. Right, Velvet?”

Velvet chirped, “Anything for S.K.!”

Winterspear’s ears wiggled and she motioned to the door, “Come along, ladies. I think we best get you home before we all turn into pumpkins.”

Once they were gone, I looked to Princess Luna. “I’ll see you around noon, my Lady.”

“Verily, our timberwolf brethren!” she replied.

Under the weight of Runic, I decided it was better to just take him home with me. We got into my room and I contemplated tossing him on my sister’s bed, but then thought better of it. She wouldn't appreciate that very much.

Instead, I heaved him into my bed and slid in next to him. He mumbled something about sedimentary rocks and then went quiet. I yawned and did the same, minus the rocks, before finding a peaceful rest very quickly.

The next morning I woke up to find Winterspear sneaking in. “Wow, are you just getting home?” I asked.

She went stiff and looked at me with a guilty wince. “Oh, you’re up. Yes. I am. I don’t have to go on shift until later.”

I didn’t understand the look. I wasn’t her keeper. Winterspear then looked past me and smiled slyly. “And who do you have in bed with you?”

Runic popped up and yawned. “It’s me. Where am I?”

Winterspear frowned and snorted. “Hi, Runic. You’re in our room.”

“Oh. Good.” He flopped back into my bed and pulled the sheets up.

I got out of bed and shook myself fully awake. Winterspear was getting into her bunk to go to sleep. “My family is full of lazy ponies,” I muttered with a shake of my head. It was time to don my armor and get to work.

Today we would meet the gryphon dignitaries from their northern kingdom, Nordanver. I always try to be an open-minded pony, but I have never trusted gryphons. My dad had made sure of that. Equestria had assisted them in their internal struggles and they had turned on the very ponies that were sent to help them. Carefully, I strapped my sword into its hidden position and tightened the buckles of my armor.

Before I put my helmet on, my eyes caught sight of my standard issue sword where it hung off the armor rack. It only took an extra minute to strap it in on the other side. It never hurt to have a backup. I looked over my shoulder once more at the sleeping ponies. They seemed so peaceful and careless. My thoughts were slowly working through all the dangers that might be faced today.

I eyed up the ponies in front of me before saying, “Sergeant Orchid and her squad, minus Iridescence, will handle perimeter and door security. Sergeant, I want your two best ponies on the door. You and Mountain Stone will remain close enough to Princess Luna where you can personally protect her if need be… but I want to make certain you keep the lane to the back door clear.”

I motioned to the small door in the back of the meeting room. “That is safety.”

“You’ve got it, boss,” Sergeant Orchid said.

“Lavender, I want you just inside the door to greet everyone. Disarm them with your signature charm, and actually disarm them if they have a weapon. You may have to be forceful in that, but we’re not going to negotiate over it. The duke will be allowed his security, but they will not enter this chamber with weapons.”

There was a shared chuckle from the ponies in the room and Lavender winked at me. “But of course, Sergeant.”

“Thunder Tumble and Lightning Flash. You will stay two steps back and one to each side of Princess Luna at all times.”

“Yes, Sergeant!” they responded.

“The rest of you, I want at the back of the room. Iridescence in the middle. She’ll have her protective spell ready. Miley Hooves, Night Frost, and Harvest Moon, you protect Iridescence so she can focus on the spell,” I ordered.

The three nodded and said, “Yes, Sergeant.”

“If anything does go sideways, our primary duty is to get the princess out of the room. Don’t worry about getting into a fight. Just whisk her through the back exit and as far away as possible. There are more than enough guards in the palace to ensure the gryphons don’t escape. Our duty is only to her safety and then our own,” I explained.

Princess Luna watched quietly. I realized that there was little chance of any trouble, but I liked being thorough and she tolerated that. She cleared her throat. “And where will you be, Sergeant?”

I turned and walked over and took up position exactly at her left. I said, “Glued to your hip, Princess.”

The princess looked over and smiled at me. “Very well then,” she said and then added teasingly, “boss.”

That drew giggles from the guards around the room and I glared at them. They quickly fell silent and I said, “Okay, one more time from the top, everypony.”

Princess Luna paced slowly back and forth in the antechamber as we awaited the arrival of the lead gryphon dignitary Duke Cassius and his entourage. The two of us were alone and I felt the nervous energy radiating from her. She was tense and even fidgeted. At first, it was easy to ignore. I didn’t want to embarrass her, but eventually it seemed as if she was getting worked up.

“Are you alright, Princess?”

Slowly, she nodded before responding, “This is the first major function that my sister has trusted me with. Silent Knight, I haven’t done anything like this in a long time… to be honest I never really did. When I was banished, I wasn’t that experienced in being a ruler. By thy standards, I was little more than a filly. What if this goes wrong? We could find ourselves in a war!”

“Princess, you’ve spent a lot of time preparing for this. Your strategy is excellent and you’ll execute it masterfully. Of that I have no doubt at all. Plus, a war might be a bit extreme. This is meant to be a meet and greet,” I replied.

“Yes, I have prepared but thou knowest as well as I do that that barely applies to the real world. Perhaps it is too soon for me to do this? It wouldn’t be too late to ask Celestia.”

I knew what I had to do. Living up to my name would do her no good in this situation. It only took a second to cross the room to the alicorn’s side. Setting my hoof on her foreleg, I asked, “Princess, do you know the difference between fear and terror?”

She shook her head no.

“When the stakes are high, everypony should be afraid. Fear keeps your senses sharp. It gives you the extra second of pause before you take action. Fear is what helps keep you alive in those horrible situations. It even keeps us extra careful in far more mundane situations. It shouldn’t be viewed as an enemy. It is a friend.

“Terror, on the other hoof, is when you let fear start calling the plays. Instead of allowing it to heighten your senses, you let it consume them. All you can see is failure and you’re paralyzed. You freeze up and ultimately that gets you killed in a war, allows the other team to score in a game, or even create conditions ripe for failure in diplomatic efforts.

“You are a far stronger pony than you give yourself credit for. I can see it in you in the same way I can look at a line of guards and know which ones will keep moving forwards in a crisis. It is in your eyes. It is in your heart. Princess, if you do want to take your rightful place as the co-ruler of all ponies, you’re going to need to start somewhere. How else will you learn?”

With a deep breath I pushed on. “Luna, I know you perceive the large shadow your sister casts as all-consuming. I empathize completely. Trying to live up to my father’s reputation and my family line seems insurmountable some days. In time I may reach the standard that has been set. I may fall short. The most important thing is that I had to start somewhere.

“I’m not going to let my fears turn into terror. Each day I take a step forwards. One hoof in front of the other. That is what keeps me going and I know that you can do this. You will do this. This is what you’re meant to do just like this is what I’m meant to do. Do you know how I know?”

She shook her head no once again.

“If you told me I had to walk into a fire with you, I’d do it without hesitation. If you told me for the good of Equestria I had to stand and be slain, I’d do it without hesitation. If you asked me to lay down my sword in the face of the enemy I’d do it without question. Princess Luna, you represent half the leadership of all ponies. Own that role and be the pony that you know in your heart that you are.”

Princess Luna straightened to her full height and looked down at me. I felt as though I could see her resolve strengthening. “Perhaps it is time that I started casting my own shadow then. I thank thee, Silent Knight. I am glad that thou hast such confidence in me.” She took a deep breath and settled her crown on her head. “They should arrive to the palace soon. We had best go and take our positions.”

“Yes, Princess,” I replied before heading to the door and opening it for her.

29. A Gryphon Summit

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Gryphons, unlike ponies, were not all united under a single flag. Historically speaking, they were a highly competitive bunch and often resolved political differences with swords. For the most part, their lands and kingdoms had been stable for the last two decades or so.

Centuries before that, as I understand it, they had divided their continent into four parts after the death of the last living heir of their royal family: northern, southern, eastern, and the island. After that, four powerful nobles rose to power and each claimed to be king. And that is how they ended up with four kings.

The northernmost kingdom of Nordanver was, without a doubt, the most stable of them all. Those gryphons were primarily seafaring traders who were more interested in selling to ponies and other gryphons than fighting with them. They were the biggest market for pony exports on that side of the world. They also had not betrayed us… yet.

A few years before I was born, there had been some major battling between the southern kingdom of Sudramoar and the eastern kingdom of Austveger over a mountain range. It was rich with precious stones and other resources. Both kingdoms had sent settlers and when the armies got involved, civilians found themselves trapped between them.

Sudramoar’s King Kronson had begged Princess Celestia to send peacekeepers to protect the non-combatants. In her endless kindness, she agreed. General Ironhoof led that particular expedition. My family, of course, was there. In theory it was supposed to be easy. Go to the civilian outposts, fill them with pony soldiers, and make it unappetizing for either army to attack them.

Nothing is ever easy when it comes to war, however.

Stratus Knight had never been the same after he returned from that operation according to my mother. The leg wound was one thing... but his mind wasn’t right. The ponies that went over there had seen horrible things. Things Stratus couldn’t convey to her or me. All he would say was that they saved lives and all they received in return was a knife in the back.

The army of Sudramoar, the very gryphons that asked us to help, had attacked our peacekeepers without warning. Stratus never forgave them and I didn’t trust them. Logically, I realized that the gryphons from Nordanver weren’t those traitors… but a lifetime of your father warning you is hard to let go.

Gryphons or not, mistrust or not, this meeting was going to be Princess Luna’s reintroduction to world politics. I could tell she was still nervous but she also had a resolve the likes of which I had never seen. We stood together on her rostrum awaiting the arrival of our guests.

The official meeting went off without a hitch. Princess Luna greeted the dignitaries from the gryphons, pleasantries were exchanged, all ceremonies were followed to the letter, and as a result our kingdoms agreed to continue to live in peace.

In truth, it had been little more than a polite meet and greet. I would almost say there was little that was noteworthy… at least until the curve ball at the end. Duke Cassius had personally invited Princess Luna to visit his brother’s kingdom in the future and she had agreed. That was going to be interesting and a logistical nightmare.

Once the official function was over, everyone—gryphon and pony alike—had moved to the reception hall where refreshments were being served. I never left the princess’s side, which meant listening politely to numerous stories about why this city or that town was worth visiting and what to do while there. It wasn’t bad conversation; it just wasn’t something I was interested in.

To be fair, Duke Cassius was quite polite and charming. He and Princess Luna seemed to be on the same wavelength and I imagine, as far as politics go, that they got more done in one meeting than most do in several. I actually found myself enjoying his company to some extent. He made the princess smile, so that helped him earn my approval.

“Your aide is so stoic, Princess Luna. The perfect image of Royal Guard pony professionalism,” the duke said as he motioned to me.

Princess Luna softly laughed and nodded. “That he is. Silent Knight was our first guard and hath been with us ever since our return to the world of politics. He is a good luck charm and a confidant.”

My ears gave a slight twitch, but I didn’t dare change my expression or look away. My eyes were set on the wheat-feathered gryphon guard captain that was strutting about the room. Unlike the duke, I had immediately wanted to buck the guy in the beak.

The gryphon in question, Captain Alastair, had criticized our security efforts before the meeting. Now that it had been concluded, he was personally going around to each of my guards and disparaging them individually. Politely, of course… with backclawed compliments. Secretly, I hoped to one day meet him in battle so that I could stomp him. Celestia forgive me for having such dark thoughts.

“That is a delight to hear. I’ve had trouble finding an aide that suits my eccentricities,” the duke went on. “They keep sending me career soldiers. I barely know the current captain. Believe me, I enjoy being safe as much as the next gryphon, but there has to be more. I need someone I can talk to and who helps with details outside of how many soldiers will be with me.”

“Perhaps in time one will grow to suit you? Silent Knight had required a tiny bit of polishing,” the princess replied with a gentle laugh.

My ears were barely registering the conversation that was occurring near me. What I had heard was Alastair ‘whisper’ to one of his men while looking at Miley Hooves, “Look at this one. I imagine she is quite the adept warrior when she isn’t tripping over her own hooves.”

I wanted to leave the princess’s side and go set the gryphon straight but I had already made that mistake once in my life so, instead, I stood there cool, calm, and collected. The perfect aide and guard.

Miley Hooves made me proud and did not react at all. She may have had some bad luck but she wasn’t a poor guard. She was the sort of pony that never gave up and she didn’t even offer a hint of notice to the rude gryphon.

“We love flowers! Especially the pale white ones… carnations, lilies, and the like. We would be so thrilled to see thy wife’s flower garden. Is it large?” Princess Luna asked excitedly.

Duke Cassius shook his head. “No, she only has four bushes or so, but if you want to see one of the most amazing gardens in the whole world you simply must see my brother’s. He is so enamored with the hobby and tends it himself. Other than ruling our kingdom, it is his greatest passion.”

It went on like that for a while but, eventually, Captain Alastair lost interest in his teasing because he was never able to get a rise out of any of Princess Luna’s house guards. It probably wasn’t obvious to anyone in the room, but I was filled with pride. My ponies were professionals even in the face of outright rudeness.

Princess Luna said, “We are so excited about the opportunity to come and visit. We thank thee for the offer. It hath been a pleasure spending time with thee.”

“The pleasure has been mine, Princess Luna. I shall return home and eagerly await your arrival. Perhaps in the meantime we should start exchanging letters? You could write my wife and share gardening tips as well,” the duke replied.

“Verily! It shall be so,” Princess Luna cheered before offering her hoof to the duke. The pair shook before the gryphon stepped back to bow.

The princess and I returned the gesture. I went lower than she did due to my station.

“Until we meet again,” Duke Cassius toned warmly before drawing his entourage close and leaving.

At the end of the evening, after we bade farewell to the gryphons and everypony was finally able to relax, we had been ushered into one of the smaller palace banquet halls. Princess Luna had set up a surprise party for us. Drinks had been poured and she levitated hers high.

“To our first successful negotiation! May we have many more!”

We raised our glasses as a unit. It was good to see the princess feeling confident and happy. She was still trying to find her place in Equestrian politics and this was a great start.

“And to my House Guard, the finest ponies in all of Equestria,” the princess cheered and we lifted our glasses a second time… just a little bit higher. “And now, please enjoy this gathering. It is my token of appreciation for such a fine group of royal guards and their commander.”

All of the ponies stomped their hooves in appreciation before heading over to the buffet to share a meal. The palace staff had been brought in to cater for us and the phonograph was playing some upbeat but quiet dance music.

“Did you hear what that nasty fellow said about my mane? Why, I doubt he would know style if it slapped him in the beak. It isn’t my fault the helmet crushes all the work I put into it,” Lavender was saying in mock offense to Shadestar and Iridescence. The three laughed softly.

Mixer’s ears twitched as he heard that and he peered in their direction. “Who cares what they said. It was the smell that got me. That big silver-feathered one reeked of… Celestia knows what!”

Solar Flare replied, “Dead fish?”

“Spoiled fruit?” Blackblade put in.

Cog shook his head. “No… it was used diapers. For sure.”

Mixer asked with a curious grin, “Why do you know what used diapers smell like?”

Before Cog could come up with a reasonable answer, Night Frost caught me looking their way and asked, “What would you say he smelled like, Sergeant?”

“Probably a towel that was left on the locker room floor for a week, or a day if we’re talking about one of Mountain Stone’s towels. I’d say he was sweating because he was intimidated by all of you.”

The group laughed in response and Mountain shook a playfully angry hoof in my direction. It was all in good fun, of course.

“You betcha!” Starry Spur chimed in. “Fierce is our middle name, y’all! Well… maybe our first name. Wherever it sounds the best in the unit name.”

I chuckled at that and went over to stand beside Radiant Orchid. Even at private functions, it wasn’t appropriate for sergeants to mingle too much with regular guards. We stood in silence and watched the crowd of younger ponies.

Orchid looked over at me and asked, “Care to dance, Sergeant?”

My brow lifted and I looked back at her. “I’m no homewrecker nor am I a foolish pony. Your husband is bigger than me.”

She laughed and rolled her eyes. “My husband is barely bigger than my oldest foal and you know it. Now come on, stud. Humor an older mare with a dance.”

With a chuckle, I offered my forehoof. “Humoring an older mare got me in trouble before, but you look safe enough. Come along, then. Let’s show these young ponies that I have four left hooves.”

Radiant Orchid took my hoof and we moved out onto the dance floor. She took pity on me and we danced slowly to the rhythm of the phonograph.

Orchid lightly teased, “You realize you’re barely older than any of those ‘young ponies’ you’re talking about. Actually, some are older than you.”

I thought it over a moment and then shrugged. “Doesn’t always feel that way, does it?”

She shook her head as we went into a short turn. “No, being in charge has a way of aging you. You’ve been through an awful lot in a very short period of time. I worry sometimes that you’ve taken on too much… but then I realize I’m being silly.”

“Is that so?”

“It is so. You did an excellent job today,” she said quietly.

“It was a team effort.”

“Every good team needs a good coach and you make a very good coach, Silent Knight. I’ve been a guard at least one day longer than you and I know a leader when I see one,” she replied as we took a slow turn.

“That means a lot coming from you Orchid and I appreciate it. I can’t help but wonder what you’re up to, though.”

She smiled. “Iridescence told me that you once talked about trying to become an officer. Maybe you should consider that. Celestia knows you would do better than the last one, not that anypony would have much trouble with that achievement.”

The song drew to a close and I nodded. “Maybe I should… to be honest, I have considered it but I couldn’t see leaving Princess Luna. It must have been hard for you to leave Princess Celestia and you only had to walk down the corridor. For all I know, I’d end up in Cloudsdale.”

We walked together over to the punch bowl in silence. Finally, she spoke up again. “I see your point and yes, it was very hard… I’d have never considered it if it wasn’t for Shining Armor. He said this unit needed somepony like me. Perhaps in time you’ll find a different unit that needs somepony like you. Just don’t keep blinders on, okay?”

“I hear you loud and clear,” I said. “You know, you make an excellent advisor. Are you sure you’re not wasted on this royal guard stuff?”

Orchid shrugged. “As I said, Shining Armor said you’d need somepony like me… for your unit.”

The way she phrased it gave me pause. The captain always seemed to have an angle. Not in the bad sense, of course. Everything he did helped improve my abilities as a royal guard. This particular revelation would probably require a little thinking over.

After another moment, I nodded. “I bet he did…”

30. The First, First Sergeant

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Shining Armor had insisted that I use the lieutenant’s office until we actually had a lieutenant. It was unnecessarily large for me but I did what I was told. He stuck his head through the door and said, “Great work yesterday. I heard the gryphon soldiers were being rude and that nopony even batted an eye.”

“That is correct, sir. It takes more than some feather-brained gryphons to get under the coats of my ponies,” I replied.

“That’s the spirit! Speaking of ponies, I’ve found a good candidate for lieutenant. He is still at the officer’s academy, but I think he’s ready. Plus, he’ll have a great unit sergeant to educate him on how the Royal Guard life actually is.”

I tilted my head. We didn’t have a unit sergeant. Our unit had not been big enough for command to feel that was necessary. “Who is that, sir?”

Shining Armor set a first sergeant pin on the desk and said, “You, obviously. You’ve been running the whole unit for a while and it is getting awkward with Sergeant Orchid and you being the same rank. Plus, after Lieutenant Haze, command and I agree that this unit is too important to deny a new officer the council of a unit sergeant simply because it is small.”

Looking at the pin, I set a hoof on it and pulled it closer. This one I didn’t feel was undeserved. Early? Sure… but I had been committing a lot of time to running the unit. Plus, the captain was right, of course. Unit sergeants for sections had the responsibility of molding new lieutenants. At least the ones smart enough to listen.

I nodded and said, “Thank you, sir.”

The captain replied, “I know it is a bit fast but things change rapidly sometimes. Now, as your last task as unit commander, I need three names of who should get your old position. Then you and I are going to go look this academy pony over and see if he is House Guard material. Understood?”

“Understood, sir!” The captain left me alone to consider who I thought was ready to take on my old job. This was going to be difficult.

Radiant Orchid and I sat at lunch, eating quietly. I looked across the table at her and said, “Orchid, can I ask you something?”

Orchid looked up from her apple salad mid-chew. “Hmm?”

I took that as a yes. “Do you mind that I’ve been promoted so fast? I wanted to see how you felt about that.”

She swallowed and then softly laughed. “You’re sweet to be concerned. Listen, Silent Knight. I wanted to be part of Princess Celestia’s House Guard. I worked really hard to make that happen. You know as well as I do that when you make that choice, promotion opportunities get really slim. Some ponies spend their entire career in the Palace Guard and never make sergeant. That is even more likely as a House Guard.”

Orchid paused to sip her drink. “I made sergeant. That is a big achievement. I also decided to move to Princess Luna’s House Guard. That is an even smaller unit. I’m glad I did. I certainly don’t begrudge you your success. Who volunteers for every extra duty? You. Who knows every regulation and protocol? You. Who looks out for everypony on the team? You. It was always going to be you.” She patted me on the hoof. “No, I don’t mind. You’ve earned it.”

I thought that over and then offered, “But you have more seniority.”

Orchid laughed, shaking her head. “I also have a husband and two foals I like going home to. The higher you go, the more responsibility you have and, as a consequence, the less time at home. That is fine for you—” She winced. “That isn’t what I meant, Silent Knight. You’ll get there. For now, though, it is fine for you.”

The comment hadn’t really stung but she had me there. Orchid had a beautiful family. If I had one like hers I wouldn’t want to stay late, either. My life was all about the job. I smiled at her and nodded. “Then we’re good. That wasn’t why I asked you to lunch, though. I need two names from your squad on who you think should make sergeant.”

Her head tilted and she asked, “From my squad? For your squad?”

I nodded with certainty. “Promotion opportunities are slim and the new first sergeant can’t seem like he favors one squad over the other. Everypony should have a fair shot. I’m going to pick two, you’re going to pick two, and I’ll give the best three to the captain.”

“Look at you,” she teased. “You’re going to make an excellent first first sergeant for this unit. Just remember us little ponies when you make master sergeant and move up.”

I snorted at that idea. Ponies do not make master sergeant easily or quickly and I’d be competing against every pony in both House Guards and the Palace Guard. No, this was going to be home for a while.

“You realize two of these names are from Sergeant Orchid’s squad, right?” Shining Armor asked me.

“I do, Captain. I considered everypony in the unit and asked Sergeant Orchid’s advice on who she thought was ready in her squad. I did the same for mine. I took those ponies and ranked them according to seniority, commendations, and their leadership qualities. These were the three top ponies,” I explained.

“And you’re not worried your ponies will be upset if we bring somepony over from Orchid’s squad?” he asked.

“Not at all, sir. We’re one unit. Everypony is close knit and knows the score. First sergeants can't play favorites and I’ve got a lot of rookies in my squad. Orchid has the more seasoned guards. I took her two recommendations and put them with the best I had.”

Shining Armor nodded and tapped my desk. “Well, you passed the first test. Not that I had any doubt. Now that you have the list, who should get the promotion?”

“I gave you the three names as requested, Captain.”

“And I’m asking you to recommend one to me now, First Sergeant,” he replied.

“That puts me in an awkward position, sir. The best pony for the job per the metrics and Sergeant Orchid’s recommendation is Iridescence. If I pick her, the others may suspect it is because of our friendship.”

“Is she the best pony for the job?” the captain asked.

“Yes, sir. She has the second highest seniority of all of the first class ponies and the most commendations. Her interpersonal skills exceed everypony’s, mine included, and if this were a regular guard unit she would have made sergeant before me.”

“Then make the call, Sergeant,” Shining Armor said pointedly. This was clearly the second part of the test.

I looked at the documents in front of me once more to be sure. Mountain Stone had the most seniority. He had a full year and then some more than Iridescence. At the same time, Mountain had less than half the commendations she did. Iridescence even had a letter of reference from her commanding officer from her time as a palace guard. Then there was Lightning Flash. He was the best of my squad currently, but he really didn’t stack up.

From the group of three, I slid Lightning away and looked back and forth between the two remaining. What would the other ponies think? It was my first decision as unit sergeant and I was going to pick my former special somepony? On the other hoof, how could I face Iridescence if I sabotaged her career because I was worried that other ponies wouldn’t see the facts?

The captain just stood there quietly letting me work it out myself. I slid a piece of paper over to him and said, “Mares rule the world.”

He nodded in agreement. “That they do.”

It so happened that everypony on Princess Luna’s House Guard did know the score and how to read metrics. If anypony was upset about Iridescence making sergeant, I couldn’t tell. The fact that they threw her a small party may have also been a hint.

I eyed the group and said, “Nopony threw me a party.”

Iridescence was sitting beside me, having her cake and eating it, too. “Everypony had expected you to make sergeant,” she said between bites. “You want a reward for doing what you’re supposed to?”

I snorted and then asked, “And why is Winterspear here? She isn’t even part of the unit.”

That yielded a shove from Iridescence, which isn’t strictly regulation but this was a semi-unofficial function and we weren’t in uniform. “I invited her and it’s my party. I’ll invite who I want to. Quit being surly.”

“Fine, fine,” I said before taking a large bite of cake. It was amazing. Crystal Wishes had brought it from Velvet Step’s family’s bakery, Sunridge Sweets. Those ponies really knew cake. I was in a sweets-induced heaven until I saw impending doom. My eyes went wide. It was Miley’s turn to play pin the tail on the pony and she was way off course.

Princess Luna had her back to the rapidly approaching Miley. I opened my mouth to shout a warning but with all of the cake I had just bit into, it sounded like the noises that fluffy pink pony from Ponyville makes.

Time slowed down and I felt my heart pounding in my chest. Princess Luna was about to have a second tail. I pointed a hoof. It was all I could do. Iridescence followed my gaze and gasped.

“Cripes! My backside hath been pinned!” Princess Luna shouted as she jumped straight into the air. Everypony in the room turned to look, horror on their faces.

“What happened?” Miley asked before pulling down the blindfold. For such a darkly coated pony she turned almost as white as me. “P-Princess! I’m so sorry!”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. Everypony else was fawning over Princess Luna, who was taking it in good spirit. Golden magic levitated a slice of cake out the door and I distinctly saw a sun cutie mark on the white flank that was beating a hasty retreat. A set up then… the whole pinning had been a diversion.

I got up and went to check on the princess. She was a good sport and we got Miley back on track. Thank goodness our alicorn rulers have a sense of humor… and a lust for cake.

Princess Luna and I walked side by side back to her chambers. Mixer and Cog were two paces back. As far as strolls through the palace went, this was probably one of the most unnecessarily secure ones.

Speaking softly, I asked, “Princess… before the gryphons came. You mentioned you were young before you were banished. If I could inquire… are alicorns ever fillies? You were born just like any other pony?”

“This is not something that we casually speak of, Silent Knight. Many ponies have certain… beliefs about us. Princess Celestia feels that certain things should remain behind the curtain and I agree.”

That made sense. Some ponies looked at the alicorns as living goddesses. “Of course, Princess. My apologies.”

When we reached the doors I pulled them open for the princess and she walked in.

“Silent Knight, I know thou art off duty, but join me for a moment please. I would like to speak privately.”

“Yes, Princess,” I replied before motioning to Mixer and Cog. “You two take position outside the door here for now.”

“Yes, Sergeant,” they replied as I followed the princess in.

After pushing the door closed, I made my way over to where Princess Luna had sat down. I took a spot next to her.

“Dost thou believe that alicorns are goddesses?” the princess asked me.

That was a very philosophical question. “Well, logically speaking… alicorns are immortal, they have powerful magic far beyond unicorns, they can fly, and they’re larger. If they’re not goddesses, they’re certainly more goddess-like than pony-like. I guess by being so close to you I don’t exactly… worship you. At the same time I know you’re not exactly like me.”

“Ageless,” Princess Luna corrected.


“We are ageless, not immortal. I won’t die of old age but I can be killed. Thus why thou art here to protect me,” the princess corrected.

My nose wrinkled and I shivered. The mere idea of the princess being killed creeped me out. “Ageless, then. Princess, you’re as goddess-like as can be… so I guess I do think of you that way.”

“Dost thou believe that Celestia and I have always been?” she asked.

“I did… but in working here, you both talk about being younger and even foalhoods. It is confusing. I know you’re both older than well-recorded history.”

“Indeed.” Princess Luna shifted and looked me over. “I was once a filly and we have not always been. Thou wilt keep that in confidence, wilt thou not?”

“You have my word, Princess.”

The princess nodded firmly and lightly patted me with a hoof. “If thou wouldst excuse me, I would like to take a little rest.”

“Certainly,” I replied as I got up and left the room, leaving the princess to her thoughts.

31. Into the Darkness - Part 1

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I stretched behind my desk. It had been a long day and there was still a significant stack of guard profiles in front of me. Each one hoped to fill the now vacant spot in Radiant Orchid’s squad following Iridescence’s promotion. I had finally narrowed it down to a short list. That had only eaten up half a day.

Miley was the other half. She had managed to trip, knock over a statue and, as a result, create a pony-sized hole in one of the palace walls. It was her biggest mishap thus far… except that it wasn’t. When the facilities ponies came to patch up the damage, one of them noted that some sort of mites had been aggressively burrowing into and eating the local support beam.

Had there been no hole, facilities would not have seen the damage. I was told that the floor could have given way into the office below at any time should sufficient weight be applied to it.

It wasn’t abundantly clear on whether I should cite Miley, reward her, or just sweep it under the rug like usual. It was also getting late. The sun had been down for an hour or so and I was about ready to go home. Tomorrow, Miley. I closed the file and started to leave.

There was a knock and the door opened suddenly. It missed my nose by half a hoof’s length.

“Oh, Sergeant, I’m so terribly sorry!” Lavender exclaimed.

“No harm done. What can I do for you?”

“Princess Luna is asking for you and she is in a mood.”

My ears twitched. “A mood? She is never in a mood. What sort of mood?”

Lavender shifted. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say sad. She has us stationed outside her chambers. I’d have gone to Sergeant Orchid, but the princess asked for you specifically.”

“Thanks, Lavender. I’ll handle it. You head back to your position.”

“Of course, Sergeant.”

We walked to Princess Luna’s chamber together in silence. Risky Storm was outside the door and Lavender took her place across from him as I went inside.

The phonograph was playing one of the classical pieces that the Royal Canterlot Orchestra was known for. This one in particular was slow and melancholy. Princess Luna was on her settee staring off into space.

“Princess, you sent for me?” My tone was soft. Lavender was right; she looked sad.

There was no immediate reply. The princess just sat in silence until the song drew to a close. “Yes. Please, come here, Silent Knight.” I did so and she took my helmet off. “There is something I need of thee.”

“Of course, Princess. Name it.”

“I have a mission for thee. There is somewhere I want thee to go,” she said as she looked intently at my face. It was unnerving.

“A mission? Have you discussed it with the captain?”

The princess shook her head. “No, it is a mission for me. Not the Royal Guard.”

Most ponies assume that a princess can order a royal guard to do whatever she likes. That isn’t actually the case. We have policies and procedures to avoid that to make certain royal meddling doesn’t result in a systemic failure.

They had to follow the chain of command like anypony else. They order the general, the general orders the brigadiers, the brigadiers order the colonels and so on down the line until it gets to me.

The look on Princess Luna’s face made me care a whole lot less about those policies, though. “Okay… but we could tell him of it. I’m sure he’d agree.”

“He would, but we will not. This mission is between thee and me alone. Canst thou do that for me, Silent Knight?”

It was an awkward position for the princess to put me in, but I wasn’t going to disappoint her. How could I? She was the princess and most likely this was going to be something minor. Perhaps a secret trip to a bookstore or to meet one of her fanfiction fans.

“Yes, Princess. Can you at least tell him after I am gone that you had to dispatch me?”

“Agreed. I need thee to leave as soon as thou can. Fly east towards Fillydelphia. There is a mountain range between here and there. Look for the highest peak that parts the clouds. Thou wilt find a cave there. Go into it and report back thy findings.”

“A cave? What am I looking for, Princess?”

She shook her head. “I cannot say for certain but thou wilt know it when thou findest it. Now… thou wilt need a tool for this task.” Her horn illuminated and tendrils of blue magic reached out towards me. They swirled over my breastplate and for a brief instant it glowed. Then, as if nothing happened, the magic disappeared. “As long as thou wearest thine armor, shouldst thou find thyself in the dark, thou wilt be able to see.”

I blinked a few times, looking down at my armor. “That is amazing. Forever?”

“Nay. It lasts only a fortnight, I’m afraid. Now go, as fast as thy wings will carry thee,” she said, a hint of urgency in her voice.

“Yes, Princess.” I reached for my helmet and she placed her hoof over mine.

“When thou arrivest at the cave thou art, under no circumstance, to enter with thine helmet on. Is that clear?”

“Crystal.” The hoof withdrew and I put my helmet on. I had no idea what I was getting into but it seemed important. I hurried out to make one stop before leaving Canterlot.

It was a stroke of luck. Sunny Day was in her office still working late. Her door was open, which was typical. I knocked and she looked up.

“First Sergeant. Come in!” I did so and she continued, “What can I do for Princess Luna’s House Guard?”

“I need a favor, Lieutenant.”

Her ears wiggled and she beamed. “Oh, Silent Knight needs a favor?”

I shook my head. “First Sergeant.”

“Drat. Well, what can I do for you, First Sergeant?”

“The princess has dispatched me on something only I can do. Can you look after my ponies until the captain gets in?”

Sunny’s head tilted but her cheery expression didn’t change. “Dispatched? On what?”


The mare pouted and then sighed. “Fine, I’ll take care of your ponies…” She then put playful emphasis in her tone. “First Sergeant. But! Silent Knight will owe me lunch.”

Extortion. Never trust the ponies that prance. “Agreed.”

“Have a safe trip then!”

Flying at night with Princess Luna’s vision enchantment spell was both amazing and strange. When she had said I’d be able to see in the dark she was correct, but everything at a distance was washed out colorwise. There were just shades of grey and brown until I got closer.

Despite that fact, finding the mountain the princess was talking about was not difficult. The range in general was not overly large but one particular peak truly did reach into the clouds. When I breached the cover, it was probably around midnight and my body needed a rest.

For a pegasus, I didn’t spend much time in the clouds… or even flying, for that matter. I did it just enough to stay in shape, so it was a pleasant treat to fly above and nap on a fluffy cloud.

I used my rest period to scan the peak and try to spot the cave. At first it seemed like a fool’s errand, since I could hardly distinguish between grey mountain, greyscale vision, and shadows. Over time, my eyes adjusted and the subtle differences became more obvious.

The moon broke through the cloud cover and illuminated the peak. In the pale light, it became all too clear where I was going. The opening itself was large. Large enough for a pony to pull two wagons through side by side. Without a moment’s hesitation, I dove off the cloud and flapped hard for the cave.

Curiosity had taken hold of my soul and I pondered what was going to be found. The distance grew shorter and shorter. This was no ordinary cave; it was a grand entrance. Out before the arch was a landing platform wide enough for multiple wagons.

My hooves clattered on the stone as I landed. It only took a moment of inspecting the platform to realize it was not naturally occurring. The rocky surface had the tell-tale signs of tool work. This had been done by ponies... or some other species. There were no other hints of life and that meant it was time to delve into the entrance of the cave.

The opening was even larger than I had estimated. In fact, I’d guess it was the same size as Canterlot’s main gate. It was smoothly hewn and similarly artificial. Just before I crossed the threshold, the wind blew across me and under my helmet, tickling the tufts of my ears. It was a pointed reminder that I took. My helmet would remain outside while I went in.

Thank Luna for the vision spell. Without it, there would be little chance of success in navigating the cave, since the moon’s light barely reached a few meters inside. I wasn’t that far in before the floor shifted to a downwards grade and started to spiral inwards. The path was leading me deeper into the mountain.

The hair of my coat started to stand on end the further I walked. Even though I could see in the dark, there was nothing but shadow behind me and even darker shadow in front. My vision wasn’t the only sense that was limited, either. There was no sound other than my hooves on the stone. The place felt like a tomb and I quickly realized why.

In front of me, that tunnel opened up into a massive catacomb. It extended out further than even my magically enhanced vision could process. I had just wandered into a village not unlike Ponyville buried deep inside a mountain.

Silence. Nothing but still silence. I was surrounded by empty streets, vacant buildings, and gloom. The wooden doors and windows to the stone buildings had long since rotted out. Many roofs had collapsed as the support beams gave way to time. In some cases, whole walls had collapsed.

My pulse started to pick up and I reached under my armor. The feel of the hilt of my sword was comforting and I drew it. It rang like a bell as I did so and the sound of metal on metal echoed throughout the chamber. Softly, I cursed my foolishness and held my breath. Anything there, dead or alive, would have heard that. Into my battle stance I went, my ears twitching here and there to listen for any sound. There was nothing. Nothing at all.

Fear is good. Fear keeps a pony alive. I crept as quietly as I could into the nearest building. It had been someone’s home. Most of the furniture was still in place, rotting but waiting for the return of its owner. There were no personal effects, however. No pictures, no clothing, no spoiled food. Nothing. Someone had packed before leaving… just not the large items.

A search of several other buildings confirmed my hypothesis. Big items had been left but dressers were empty, cupboards were bare, and there was not a hint of recent occupancy. Whoever lived here had not left in a hurry. It was almost as if the beings that had dwelled here had simply ceased to be. It was unnatural. Either that, or scavengers had stripped this place bare over the centuries.

Slowly, I pushed from the village exterior towards the center. There were shops and stalls to explore on the way. They were all equally abandoned. Neatly, of course. The denizens of this village were consistent if nothing else. That was something I was thankful for. I had expected to find the place littered with bones.

After clearing one more store, my eyes were drawn to the largest building in the village. It was a small keep that rose in the center above all the other structures and I had been avoiding it. I’m not too proud to admit I was frightened. The whole structure had a dark and foreboding feeling to it.

Its spires were tall and sharp, with horrific stone creatures emblazoned on the various roof peaks. They were batlike and had yellow eyes that stared down into the city. At first I thought they were real, but a closer inspection made it clear they were little more than stone. What sort creature would decorate with something so frightful?

The double front door was still intact but the left side of the pair was wide open. An inviting trap. It gave me pause. Once again, I froze to listen. Any noise would give away an ambusher. A breath or a whisper… the shift of a weapon. Anything. Please.

32. Into the Darkness - Part 2

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There was nothing. I took a deep breath and leaped through the door ready for a fight… but no attack came and I felt foolish. Foolish, but not foolish enough to lower my guard as I looked around. Rich purple carpet covered the stone floor and was still in relatively good shape. It ran into the various narrow halls that shot off each side of the foyer. In front of me were two curved staircases that led up to a balcony and I chose that path first.

Both staircases were in the shadow of the large balcony above. It jutted out over the foyer and was likely designed to allow a noble to address those below. It also resulted in the trip up being somewhat blind and that raised my hackles again. When I reached the halfway point on the stairs, it suddenly dawned on me that there was a soft light emanating from above. It wasn’t intense, but it was there.

Light but no sound. I lowered my stance just slightly and crept up until I reached the top. A couple of meters in front of me was a large pillar that I couldn't see around. Light spilled out from the opposite side of it as if it framed a window. That light illuminated two large marble thrones that overlooked the foyer below. They were far nicer than the one Princess Celestia occupied in Canterlot.

For the second time, I felt a wave of fear. Why did this place have thrones? Did someone rule from here? Was Princess Luna concerned that they were coming back? The mission felt suddenly more important… and dangerous. I wanted to see what was on the other side of the pillar. I needed to.

I gave the pillar a wide berth as I crept around it. More light poured out onto the floor and I hesitated stepping into it. Keeping my head down, I carefully tested the light. It was neither warm nor dangerous. I stepped into it and looked up.

Vaguely, I heard the sword clatter onto the floor as my mouth opened wide in awe. My legs weakened and on instinct alone I prostrated myself as I looked onwards at the brilliance beyond the pillar.

This was, in fact, a window. A stained glass window the likes of which I had never seen. It put all of the windows in the palace to shame. By comparison, they were nothing more than colored glass… meaningless.

In the center of this wonder, she stood proudly: a dark purple alicorn more imposing than Princess Celestia. Her mane and tail were painted with the evening heavens in the same way Princess Luna’s were and on her flank was a perfect full moon surrounded by stars.

Even though I knew it was just glass, it was as if I was in her actual presence. Perfect, deep blue eyes stared directly into my soul. The light—all of it—radiated from the alicorn figure. A self-illuminating window. She was awesome to behold… and not the ‘awesome’ we throw around casually. Awesome in the way ponies of old used the word. She inspired in me an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, and fear.

Compared to her, I was nothing. Compared to her, we were all nothing. Nopony could stand in her presence… except one. I suddenly realized there was another pony in the stained glass. It took all of my effort but I tore my eyes from the alicorn to look at the other pony. A foal or a filly. Tiny by comparison. She was a deep blue unicorn with a smattering of black on her flank. Black that surrounded a crescent moon.

“Luna!” I gasped.

What had I seen? I fumbled on the floor for my sword and hurriedly sheathed it. Backing away respectfully, I crawled down the stairs. Once all traces of the light were gone, the grip on my soul released. This dark alicorn was too powerful. I put a hoof on a wall to stabilize myself. My coat was covered in sweat and my breathing had turned ragged.

What sort of magic was this? Who was she? How could a stained glass window have such power? I felt my chest tighten as fear washed over me. It couldn’t be any ordinary window. Canterlot was full of them and I had looked at them more times than I could count. This was different.

As I stumbled out of the keep, I looked around with new eyes. She must have done this. Everything was in shambles yet her window was pristine. That meant she was still here. Her presence had to have been what I had felt. And now she knew I was here, too.

I had seen all I needed to see and I wanted out of the crypt. With little regard to being quiet, I galloped out of the keep and leaped into the air. Flying would be faster. I zipped down the main street and into the winding hallway that I knew would take me out. What was probably minutes felt like hours when I finally burst out into the moonlight.

My landing outside the cavern was not graceful. I crashed onto the platform, sputtering and shivering. Rest wasn’t on my mind, however. It took a second to find my helmet and get it on before I started pumping my wings. I had to get back to Princess Luna and warn her immediately about this magic. We were all in danger!

There wasn’t any time to go through the gate. The princess had to be warned! I flew to the balcony of Princess Luna’s chambers. The great glass doors were open and I zipped through them... and the invisible spell that kept out intruders. Only the princess and her royal guards were keyed for it.

I had too much momentum and tried to pull back as best I could. It wasn’t enough and resulted in a rough, loud landing as I crashed into the princess’s sitting area.

“Intruder!” Lavender called before bursting into the chamber and charging at me. Risky was hot on her heels.

“Intruder?” It was here already?! I turned, ready to fight just as Lavender leaped at me. What was she doing?!

My instincts kicked in and I ducked out of the way. I took her by the forehoof and used her momentum to topple her onto the ground.

Risky took a wild swing at me and I dodged. He got a one-two right in the helmet.

“What are you two doing?!” I managed to get out before Lavender jumped onto my back. She had her hooves around my neck to subdue me. Tucking my head in close, I bucked several times and finally tossed her over me and back onto the ground.


Everything stopped and the lights came on. Princess Luna was standing in the door of her bedroom.

Lavender and Risky Storm stared at me in surprise.

“Sergeant?” Lavender asked, her eyes going wide.

“Of course, can’t you see—” I stopped. Of course she couldn’t. I could see in the dark. She couldn’t. “I’m sorry. You two did excellent on this little test. Please, take up position outside and uh… Risky, go see the medic. You’re bleeding.”

The pair looked at me like I was crazy. Then they looked at Princess Luna. She nodded and they left. Once they were gone, the adrenaline wore off and the shivers started once more, forcing me to kneel.

“Silent Knight! What is the matter? What didst thou see?” Princess Luna asked as she hurried over to me and pulled my helmet off. She cupped my face with a hoof.

“Gone… They were all gone. Nothing left but rotting, empty houses bathed in silence and gloom.” My breathing became easier as the princess held me. The fear was starting to subside.

I continued, “There was a keep and inside I found a stained glass window… it was so lifelike I thought I was staring at real ponies. You were on it with a purple alicorn.”

Princess Luna froze and stared down at me. My words lingered in the air before she finally stroked my mane. “It scared thee?”

“Terrified,” I admitted. “Is she dangerous?”

“Nay. I promise thee she is not dangerous. What thou art feeling… it is a control magic of sorts.” She shook her head. "I can’t explain it other than to say that it will pass. Thou art in no real danger, I swear. Relax and breathe,” she soothed.

“Who is she? You were a unicorn?”

The princess leaned down and kissed my forehead. “Some secrets are best left buried, Silent Knight.” She then fixed me with her eyes. “Thou art not to speak of this to anypony. Give me thy word.”

What was the princess trying to hide? Anypony meant everypony. Including Princess Celestia. Princess Luna never lied to her sister that I knew of… but I had to trust her. I was her protector and what did I know? “You have my word that I will not repeat it unless I believe it to be a danger to us all.”

She nodded and helped me up. "That will do. I can assure you, there is no danger."

Then she fidgeted. With a sigh, she asked, “Were there many bodies? Were they well cared for?”

I blinked in confusion, the haze of the magic starting to wane. “Bodies? No, Princess. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean gone as in departed, I meant gone as in… departed.” I made a motion with my forehooves to mime walking away and leaving.

In her eyes, I saw a glimmer of hope and her expression changed briefly to joy before evening out. “None? No bodies, no bones?”

“No. Whoever lived there had clearly moved away. They left nothing but what was too big to carry.”

Princess Luna brought a hoof to her mouth, tears in her eyes. “They left.” Her tone was joyous. “They left!” she repeated happily before hugging me. “Thank thee. I know that this was difficult but thine action hath brought me great joy. Go and rest, Silent Knight. I give my word that by tomorrow, thou wilt feel as normal.”

“Of course, Princess. Will there be anything else?”

She shook her head. “Nay. Get some rest.”

“Yes, Princess,” I said before I bowed and headed for home.

By the time I reached my room, I was feeling almost completely normal again. Unfortunately, even as the effects of the magic were wearing off, the reality of what I had seen was starting to set in. That place had been some kind of pony village. Probably pegasi and they had an alicorn. An alicorn that dwarfed the ones I knew. There were too many questions and zero answers.

As quietly as I could, I shut the door and removed my armor. Winterspear barely moved in her bed. She was a sound sleeper. I went over to my bunk and turned the sheet back. Another shiver went down my spine and I couldn’t get in.

Princess Luna had been a unicorn. A regular pony. Just like Crystal Wishes, Winterspear, Iridescence, or Sunny Day.

I turned and crawled into bed with Winterspear. That woke her up and through the haze of half sleep she asked, “Whatcha doin’?”

“Bad dream.”

“Okay.” She looped her hooves around me and nestled to my back.

Taking the sheet in my mouth, I pulled it up and over our shoulders before I settled in. It took less than a minute for her to fall back asleep.

The sun would be up pretty soon and I had duty. I trusted in Princess Luna. I’d be fine in the morning and I would hopefully never again have to speak about what I'd seen.

Morning came awfully quick and I stretched out in Winterspear’s bunk. She was still asleep against my back. How that pony slept as soundly as she did, I’d never know. My mind was clear and, true to Princess Luna’s word, I felt like myself again. Yes, I had questions but they were rational now.

Slowly, I rolled over and nuzzled my sister. “Hey, lazy. The sun is up. Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

My reward was a hoof covering my face. “Shhh. If you’re really quiet, it will be like you’re not here.”

“Okay. Well, I’m getting up. If you get up, too, we could have breakfast together. I’ll buy.”

“You don’t pay at the mess hall, Silent Knight.” She pretended to be cross but she was moving.

“Actually, since we’re both up early enough, I wanted to take you to this great place I heard about from Miley Hooves. The breakfast menu looked awfully tempting when we had lunch there.”

Winterspear got up and started to brush her coat into place. “What is the occasion?”

My response was a shrug. “I don’t need one for my own family, do I?”

“I suppose not. Let’s get going, then!”

33. Russet Rook

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“Miley Hooves, you are not a black cat,” I said as the two of us walked through town. “You’re a good guard.”

Miley’s head hung a bit. She’d had another accident that morning and was feeling low. Somehow, she had managed to turn the filly’s locker room into a lake deep enough to sail on. “You say that, Sergeant, but sooner or later I’m going to do something really bad.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think so. All of your… accidents are minor or somehow have a positive spin. That couch had it coming, anyway.”

The little earth mare finally laughed. “Thanks, Sergeant. Still, I’d like to at least try this. Are you alright, by the way? You’ve been quiet all day.”

“I’m fine. I’ve just had a lot on my mind. As far as trying, it is totally up to you. I don’t think it is necessary, but if you’re sure, I’ll support it,” I said as we reached Runic’s shop. “If anypony can help you, it is probably Runic. When he isn’t blowing something up, he is quite capable.”

That didn’t really give Miley a lot of confidence but we went in regardless.

“Hey, Runic,” I called.

“In the back!” he shouted and we started that way when I noticed there was a somewhat familiar sage-coated pegasus stallion behind the counter.

“Rossby Waves?” I asked.

He nodded. “In the feathers.”

I blinked in surprise. “Aren’t you a specialist weatherpony?”

“Yes,” he said flatly. “So specialist that I don’t have a lot of work to do so, I take odd jobs now and then for bits.”

That was odd, but what did I know about weather? With a shrug, I walked past him with Miley in tow. The workshop in the back was dark, illuminated only by glowing green coils of wire. “Runic?” I called out.

“Don’t move!” he replied.

Out of immediate fear, I took Miley’s hoof in my own and we braced ourselves.

The coils faded out and then the regular lights came on. Runic was standing in the center of the room behind a big green box. He had on his goggles and a vinyl lab coat. “Hello!”

I relaxed and let Miley go. Suddenly the box in the middle of the room burst open, sending pink, yellow, blue, and green confetti plus balloons everywhere. Miley screamed and fell over backwards. I just stood there, covered in confetti.

“Party in a box,” Runic explained. “I met a pony with a party cannon. This seemed less violent. I finally got it to work!”

“Of course. Listen, would you be willing to help Miley—”

“Yes,” he interrupted, paused, and then asked, “With what?”

Miley got up, a hoof on her heart. “With my bad luck. I go places and things seem to happen, kind of like that box. That is my luck.”

Runic and I said at the same time, “That was supposed to happen.”

Miley just stared.

Runic stroked his chin. “Bad luck, huh? Maybe I can help! We’ll need to do some research and investigation, though. Are you willing to do that?”

Miley steeled herself and nodded. “Yes.”

“Then let’s get to work,” Runic said before throwing a switch. All the lights went out.


“Yes, Silent Knight?”

“Wrong switch?” I asked.


After leaving Miley Hooves in the capable care of Runic Phial, I took to the sky and flew towards the Royal Equestrian Officer’s Academy. I was meeting Shining Armor there to take a look at the officer candidate he had found.

The captain was early, which was no surprise. I landed next to him, saluted, and then we started towards the entrance.

“His name is Russet Rook. On the surface he is average in about every way. Ranking wise, he is in the middle of the pack. No family history of service and he doesn’t come from a well-connected family.”

“What set him out in your mind, sir?” I asked.

“I think it is a ploy. The way he solves problems is ingenious but it seems his solutions work exactly half of the time. It is as if he doesn’t want to stand out. Nopony can be exactly average. Cadet Rook has no extremes,” Shining Armor explained.

That was indeed odd. I had been near the top of my class but even I wasn’t always consistent with my scores. We’re all good at some things and weak at others. “Why would a pony not want to stick out?”

“Great question, Sergeant. That is precisely what we’re going to find out.”

Russet Rook was an earth pony with a caramel-colored coat. His mane and tail were predominantly orange with a bit of white. Both were perfectly groomed to regulation standards. He stood at a disciplined attention across the room from us. Shining Armor had the cadet’s files spread out on the instructor’s desk.

“You’re right in the middle of the pack, Cadet. If you don’t make any mistakes you’re sure to graduate and find a decent command,” the captain started.

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” Cadet Rook responded.

I stroked my chin a bit. Why was Rook so mundane? By all accounts he was just an average stallion. My suspicion was that the captain had figured it out in part and that I was playing catch up.

“A decent command would likely land you in a city guard. You wouldn’t have much chance at some of the more desirable units,” I said.

Cadet Rook nodded. “I try hard, Sergeant, but I think those units are for other ponies.”

Shining Armor finally showed his cards. “I don’t think you do, Cadet. In fact my belief is that you try just enough to ensure that you’re exactly average and we’re here to find out why.”

It was subtle but Russet Rook’s tail twitched. It was probably his tell. “I’m not sure what you mean, sir,” he responded.

I came out from behind the desk and approached him. “Oh, I think you do, Cadet,” I said while slowly circling him. “You’re very good… but please don’t assume that we’re as easy to fool as your instructors. The captain is a proper officer, you know.”

Russet’s tail twitched again. He otherwise looked quite cool and confident.

Shining Armor caught on. “The first sergeant is right. He knows when ponies are lying. He can smell it and if I can give you any advice, Cadet Rook, you never want to lie to a first sergeant. Especially not one as hard as Silent Knight.”

I stood directly perpendicular to Russet Rook, put on my scariest sergeant’s face, and raised my voice. “What is the big secret, Cadet? Do you think this is some kind of game?”

Russet Rook stiffened and said loudly, “No, Sergeant! This isn’t a game but that is what I want to avoid!”

“What does that mean?” the captain asked.

Cadet Rook looked resigned. “Sir, you’re a unicorn and a Canterlot elite. The first sergeant is a pegasus with a warrior tradition. I’m an earth pony from a rock farm in the middle of nowhere. I am not equipped for the political games that accompany being outstanding. If I dared to challenge the others, they’d see to it that I ended up below average. Average suits me fine.”

The captain briefly looked in my direction. It was subtle and I doubted Russet Rook would catch it. I moved in front of the cadet and went nose to nose with him, staring. “Cadet, are you saying good marks aren’t enough to get a good command? Are you saying you also have to play the political game here in Canterlot to succeed? Do I understand you right?”

“Yes, Sergeant!” he said loudly.

“What do you think, Sergeant?” the captain asked from over my shoulder.

This was going to be one of those quick gut decisions. Sure, we could sit back and think it over, but Russet Rook might change his behavior. We might even scare him off. Here was a pony that was performing below his skill just to avoid dealing with the elite like Obsidian Haze.

It was clear he wanted a career but also he wasn't foolish enough to try and fight the powers that be to soar higher. Being an officer was a lot harder in some ways than being enlisted. Tough call, but I imagined he would be moldable. The sort of pony that could learn. He certainly couldn't be any worse than the last lieutenant.

Plus, if he was, the captain wouldn't be on a honeymoon. This could work out great.

“He’s our pony,” I replied, stepping back and returning to my place beside the captain. “He’ll care more about his duties than trying to impress somepony. That is the kind of officer we need.”


Russet Rook look confused. “Sir?”

Shining Armor said, “Welcome to your new command, Lieutenant Rook. You just became commanding officer of Princess Luna’s House Guard. This is a huge opportunity for anypony. Doubly so for one that is just coming out of the academy. If you mess this up, you’ll make a fool out of me and the first sergeant here. You won’t mess up, though, will you?”

Lieutenant Rook looked surprised but he pulled it together and shook his head. “No, sir. I won’t.”

The captain said, “This is your first sergeant. He’s been with the unit since day one. He has also been acting commander more times than I can even count. A little career advice for you: lieutenants that learn from their first sergeants tend to make it.

“Lieutenants that have the roughest time are the ones that assume they learned everything they needed to know here. Trust me, you didn't. You didn't at all.

"More importantly, I trust the first sergeant more than most ponies. If he says you’re a screw up, the rank won’t save you. Not for an instant. Am I being crystal clear?”

“Yes, sir,” Lieutenant Rook said.

“Sergeant, see that the lieutenant-to-be is briefed. I’ll do the paperwork to make his commission official. He can march with his class later. For now, we have more important work to do. Make sure he doesn’t pick up any bad ideas in the brief time he has left at this academy,” Shining Armor said.

“Yes, sir!” I said firmly.

Shining Armor left and I stood there with the newly minted lieutenant.

“Some more career advice, Lieutenant?” I offered into the momentary silence.

“Of course, Sergeant.”

“Don’t worry about what the officers from the good families do. I’ve been through two already. A coward and an idiot. You’re your own pony… but, if you want to emulate somepony, emulate that stallion."

I pointed in the direction Shining Armor went. “He’s the best officer I’ve ever seen and it has nothing to do with being a unicorn or a Canterlot elite. His wealthy family hasn't served him one bit in his career. It's all him and his desire to serve.”

“That is good advice. I’ll take it,” he replied.

Iridescence and I wandered up and down the game aisle of the hobby shop in Canterlot. It wasn’t nearly as impressive as the store over in Ponyville but it was close and we only had a lunch break to shop.

“What are you looking for?” she asked me.

In truth, I didn’t have a clue and I said as much.

“How about this?” she asked, holding up a box with a bunch of zomponies on it.

“No… I think we have enough games like that already. I’m just hoping for something different to catch my eye. Plus, maybe something that Velvet Step might like. I’m worried she won’t want to come if she doesn’t have fun.”

Iridescence laughed. “Okay, so we’re just trying to find something lighter and happier. Got it. How about for you, though? It has been a while since we got anything for you.”

My shoulders lifted in a shrug. “I guess I’d like one of those empire building games. We don’t play them often but I know Princess Luna likes them. She’ll play with me.”

“Something like…” Iridescence looked around and then selected an extra large box that featured a star flaring and multiple alien races. “This?”

“Yes, exactly like that.” I wandered over to look at the back of the box, my other mission forgotten. There were all sorts of miniatures and I’m a sucker for that sort of thing even though I realize they don’t make for better games. “The princess will love this!”

Iridescence smiled. “You and the princess are so predictable. Come on, then, let’s get this one and get back to work. You can shop for Velvet Step later. Maybe ask Crystal what she thinks she’d like?”

That seemed reasonable and I nodded. “Alright.” When I reached for my bits, Iridescence set a hoof on mine and then pulled her own out.

“This one's on me. It is the least I can do.”

My nose scrunched up and I shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know. I’m your superior now. That might look like currying favor.”

The mare sighed and rolled her eyes. “Alright, then it is a gift for Princess Luna and you can be the custodian of it. Come on, Silent Knight, we both know you’re not going to do me any favors over a board game. I’m paying.”

It crossed my mind to argue and then I just shrugged. “Alright.”

She made her purchase and we left the shop. There was a small crowd of fifteen or so ponies across the street facing one of the buildings and more were wandering up.

“That probably isn’t good,” I said, shifting into royal guard mode and starting to make my way over.

Iridescence nodded and moved to my side as we crossed the street together.

When we reached the outskirts of the crowd, it was clear they were amazed, not angry. From the head of the group I heard a lovely voice. It was clear, bright, and warm.

Slowly, Iridescence and I worked our way to the front where we spotted a crimson mare with a matching mane standing on a box, singing a love song. To her right, there was a petite blue Canterlot guard looking up at her very nervously. She was barely more than a filly in armor and I could see her hooves shaking.

Softly, the guard said, “I’m sorry, miss, but you can’t perform here. Maybe if you could move down the line a bit to a park? Please?” Her eyes were darting around at the crowd.

Iridescence whispered, “Where is her partner? She shouldn’t be here alone.”

A quick glance around didn’t answer that question. The guard was alone and it seemed to be working her up. Guards worked with partners for a reason. You’d always have somepony to watch your back. Thankfully, Iridescence and I had been in the area. We’d be able to help if necessary.

The crimson mare didn’t seem inclined to end her performance in the middle of her song and briefly winked at the blue mare. That only seemed to make the guard more nervous.

“Please?” she asked again.

The other mare finally brought her song to a close and everypony stomped in pleasure. Hopping off the box, she called, “Thank you, everypony! Thank you. Now, unfortunately, we do need to move along. This nice guard is right and I don’t want to be on the wrong side of the law.”

There were some soft awws from the ponies in the crowd, but they got the message and started to disperse. The crimson mare called, “My name is Scarlett Blade in case you want to look me up. Have a nice day, everypony.” She then made her way down the street.

The petite mare, who was a unicorn, sighed in relief and didn’t move. She stood there like a statue, seemingly to make sure that all the ponies were clearing out.

We made our way over to the guard. She was breathing quickly.

“Is everything alright?” I asked.

She blinked and looked up at me as if she hadn’t seen us near the front of the crowd. “What? Oh!” She stiffened. “Yes, Sergeant! The crowd has been dispersed. I should go. I need to go. I'm going to go. Go patrol.”

“Very good, carry on, then,” I replied. Iridescence and I took that as our cue that all was well and headed back to the castle.

“I thought she was a filly dressed up at first,” Iridescence said.

“She was even smaller than Miley. Maybe we’re just getting older and they all look like fillies now?” I mused.

Iridescence laughed. “Speak for yourself. I’m not old or older.”

With a mock glare in her direction, I replied, “I see.”

34. What a Mare Wants

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A pegasus stallion was standing at attention in front of my desk. He didn’t know it yet, but he was my pick to fill Iridescence’s old spot. That was as long as he didn’t blow the interview and prove me wrong.

For the most part, physically speaking, he was no more remarkable than any other pegasus. His coat was white like mine and he had a subdued two-tone crimson and black mane. The only thing that really made him stand out were the braces on his wings. Evidently, he had been injured on the job and the effects were permanent.

That wasn’t a concern for me. He could still fly and in our mixed unit, we didn’t fly all that often anyway.

“You haven’t been a guard too terribly long but your record is solid. Your file says that your citizen comment numbers are good. Your commander finds you to be a dedicated and dutiful guard. He does mention that you occasionally have a temper, though, when it comes to your injury. Any thoughts on that?”

“It has never gotten in the way of performing my duties, Sergeant. I know my job.”

“I see. Why do you think you’re better suited for this position than these ponies?” To emphasize my point I tapped a stack of files that stood almost half a meter high.

“Did any of those ponies work as hard as I did to get here? Have they ever been broken down and refused a medical retirement and still keep going?” He stared at me square in the eyes. “What sort of pony do you want with you, Sergeant? The kind you hope won’t quit or the one you know won’t?”

I’d pegged him right. “Welcome to the team, Astral Bolt. You report to Sergeant Radiant Orchid. Her office is just a couple of doors down. Why don’t you go see her?”

His ears shot up and he had to fight back a smile. He did a good job of keeping it professional but I knew that look. I’d had it before. “Thank you, Sergeant. I’ll do that.”

Closing his file, I nodded and said, “Dismissed.”

I sat on my bed reading the rulebook for the new game Iridescence had given me. It was a very complex wargame where everypony took on the role of a race of aliens trying to rule the galaxy.

Winterspear walked in and asked, “You’re still up?”

Nodding, I tapped the rulebook. “I want to be ready for game night. You’re coming in a little later than usual again.”

She nodded at me.

“Another date?” I asked.

She nodded again.

“A nicer mare, I hope? Am I going to get to meet her at some point or is she going to continue to be a mystery?”

Winterspear waved a hoof. “She isn’t a mystery,” she said but didn’t sound sure of it, at least not to me. “I don’t know if it is going to work out. It probably won’t. What we have is nice for now and I don’t want to complicate it by bringing family into it. Not yet. I hope you understand?”

I didn’t but my sister was entitled to her privacy. “Sure.”

“Thanks, Silent Knight. You’re a great brother. I wish I was half the sibling you are.”

“What does that mean?” I asked, lowering the book to look at her.

She flopped onto her bed. “Hmm? Nothing. Goodnight.”

What an odd thing to say. She’d tell me when she felt like it. I went back to the rulebook for a bit longer before going to bed.

“Is he handsome?” Sunny Day asked me.


“Is Russet Rook handsome? Your new lieutenant-to-be,” she pressed.

My brow arched as we walked down the hallway together. We had just finished coordinating a meeting with both princesses and the Canterlot city council. Now we were on the way to the lunch I owed her. “I don’t know. He is a stallion.”

Sunny Day huffed. “You’re telling me that because he is a stallion you don’t know if he is handsome? I know if a mare is pretty. Your sister is pretty… more in the cute tomcolt sort of way. Iridescence is beautiful. Like an amateur model.”

“Am I pretty?”

The lieutenant giggled and replied, “No! You’re too stallion-like to be pretty. You’re not bad looking, though, and word in the shower is that you were a pretty hot little mare.”

My eyes widened and my head whipped to stare at her. Sunny Day started laughing up until the point I walked face first into an open door. As I crashed, she peered down at me. “Are you okay?”

“I’ll live, but I’m going to murder Iridescence.”

“Runic? Miley?” I called into the pitch black room. The pair had been spending a lot of time together doing their research. “Hello?”

There was movement in the dark and then the light flicked on. Runic was dressed in his vinyl labcoat with his goggles on. Miley was next to him in an identical setup.

“Hi, Silent Knight!” Runic called.

“Do those goggles let you see in the dark or are you two just sitting around without any light now?” I asked.

“Mostly the second one,” Miley admitted.

Runic nodded. “Agreed.”

“Any luck, then?” I asked.

Runic shook his head in frustration. “No. We can’t get any of Miley’s bad luck to occur while we’re together. It is almost as if whatever is causing it knows we’re trying to measure and study it.”

I tilted my head and looked at the pair. Miley was smiling and looking up at Runic. I couldn’t help but smile. “Perhaps your good luck is counteracting Miley’s bad luck and as long as you’re together, she won’t have as many mishaps?”

Runic looked down at Miley and then at me. “I had not considered that! Now we’ll need to measure my good luck and account for that.” He sighed. “Too many variables!”

“Tell me this, then. If you haven’t been able to study Miley, what have the two of you been doing this whole time?”

Miley bounced and said, “I’m helping Runic with his science and alchemy! We’re unlocking the secrets of the universe!” As she spoke, I noticed that she was staring fondly at my cousin the whole time.

“Indeed,” Runic added.

I smiled on the inside. So that is how it would be, then. Fair enough. I turned to go. “Oh, speaking about unlocking secrets. Runic, try to talk Winterspear into using a different one of your mare care products on her mane. She smells like Iridescence and that is a little weird for me.”

“I’ll endeavor to do my best but you know as well as I do that a mare wants what a mare wants and it is impossible to change their mind once it is made up.” Runic said.

"Hey..." Miley frowned.

I chuckled at that. “Indeed.” I winked at Miley and left. I certainly saw what she wanted.

There was a polite knock at my door and I looked up to see Crystal Wishes and Velvet Step peering in. I smiled. “Good morning, ladies. What can I do for you?”

Crystal Wishes smiled back and replied, “Hello, Silent Knight. Velvet and I were about to go to lunch and Princess Luna mentioned you probably had not eaten yet. Would you like to come with us?”

Lunch time already? “Princess Luna would be correct.” Slipping around my desk, I added, “As long as I’m not a third wheel, I would be very happy to go to lunch with the two prettiest mares in Canterlot.”

Crystal Wishes arched an eyebrow. “And when did you learn about flattery?”

“Winterspear keeps leaving these Mares Monthly magazines around. I get bored sometimes,” I admitted.

Velvet Step said, “Well, I can assure you, you won’t be a third wheel. Come along with us.”

We all walked together out of the palace and into Canterlot proper. I listened politely while the two of them chatted about their lives.

Crystal Wishes, as usual, knew the exact right place to go. Picking the best places in Canterlot just seemed to be one of her many talents. Today she had taken us to a small cafe down the block from Sunridge Sweets with outdoor seating. The food wasn’t overly expensive and there was a great grilled vegetable selection.

The three of us sat quietly outside, watching the crowd come and go. Canterlot was full of important ponies with important places to go. At least so they said. I never paid it much mind but I knew the others did. It certainly had had the lieutenant all worked up.

“How do you like being… first sergeant, is it?” Velvet asked.

My ears flicked and I turned from pony watching. “I seem quite suited to the task. I’m really proud of my unit and it gives me more time to spend with everypony. Including the princess.”

Velvet stared at me with her head tilted.

“That means he likes it,” Crystal Wishes translated.

Velvet smiled. “Oh, good! What is a first sergeant exactly?”

“It is my rank. My position is unit sergeant, which just means I’m the senior-most non-commissioned officer of my unit. I’m like the lieutenant’s second in command,” I explained.

Velvet looked at Crystal Wishes who just shrugged and smiled.

Civilian ponies don’t always share my interest in all things guard related. I changed the subject. “I understand your parents make the best sweets in town, Velvet. How is that going?”

Velvet clapped her hooves together and beamed. “They’re doing so well! The ponies of Canterlot love the treats and as new fads blow through, Crystal is always there to steer the ship in the right direction.”

She then sighed a bit. “In fact they’re doing so well I’m not sure I’ll ever be as successful as them.”

Crystal Wishes leaned over and softly placed her head against Velvet’s. “Don’t talk like that. You’re an amazing dancer and soon everypony that is anypony will have heard of you. You’re about to go on your first big tour! As long as you keep working hard you’ll make it.”

I agreed, “She is right. Hard work always pays off. What sort of tour?”

“Thanks, you two. Well, I’ve got my first part in a principal role with the Canterlot Ballet. We’re going on tour across Equestria to perform in all the major cities.”

“Congratulations, then. It seems like your hard work is already paying off. I’ll see about getting some tickets sometime.”

The waiter returned with our lunch so I fell silent. My focus had shifted to the grilled zucchini and onion sandwich I had ordered. The mares seemed to notice and took an interest in their own food.

Midway through the meal Velvet looked over at Crystal Wishes. “Crystal, you have a little…”

“Hmm?” Crystal Wishes replied absently.

Some of the sauce had managed to get on her cheek. Velvet gave up trying to be subtle and wiped it off for her.

“Thank you,” Crystal Wishes said, looking my way and blushing a bit. I tried to look as if I hadn’t noticed. That was a trick I learned from watching Canterlot ponies. It seemed to work.

Crystal Wishes finished and looked to me. “I understand you’ve finally found a new lieutenant?”

“We did. I think he’ll work out just fine. He has a good head on his shoulders and most likely won’t be a hindrance to normal operations. I doubt he’ll interrupt any book discussions.”

“That was certainly awkward,” Crystal Wishes replied.

“Indeed. Awkward, inappropriate, and foolish,” I said. Looking down, I realized my meal was already gone. I never intended to eat that fast but sometimes it happens in good company. “I should be getting back to work. I hope you two will forgive me?”

“Of course, Silent Knight. By all means,” Crystal Wishes said.

“Thank you for coming!” Velvet added.

I nodded to both and settled my tab. As I headed off, I looked back at the pair. They were hugging and I heard Crystal Wishes say, “I’m going to miss you so much! Write to me as soon as you can.”

Those two were good together and I was feeling a little jealous. Jealous and a bit guilty. Velvet was a sweet pony and occasionally I had to stop myself from looking at Crystal Wishes. Me and my unicorns. In any event, it was inappropriate and I owed it to Velvet to behave.

It was a shame that Velvet had to go off with her dance troupe but that was her career. She did her job like I did mine and I respected that a lot. I made a note to check in on Crystal Wishes and keep her company, if she wanted, while her marefriend was gone.

35. Training Day

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“Sergeant, I notice that this unit doesn’t write a lot of citations for its members. There was a brief period where you did and then it just stopped. Why is that?” Lieutenant Rook asked.

Maybe he wasn’t going to work out. “Citations are for guards that don’t do their duty at all or well enough. Without sounding arrogant, by the time a pony is brought into a House Guard, they’re quite professional. Minor citations for little things are largely meaningless and just hurt morale. We save them for when we actually feel corrective action is necessary.”

Lieutenant Rook flipped through his manual and said, “According to the officer’s manual we should write at least one per month.” He then picked up a pencil and crossed it out. “Oh wait... now it doesn’t.”

Okay, maybe he would last after all. “So noted, sir!”

“Next question, Sergeant. Almost every unit of the palace guard keeps different shift hours and some run three shifts. What is the thought process behind our shifts?”

“Princess Luna keeps different hours than most ponies and we’ve adjusted accordingly. She wakes around lunchtime and goes to bed shortly after the dawn.”

“When you don’t keep her up all night playing games,” Russet interjected.

I couldn’t help but smile. “Correct. I should note that having a personal relationship with the pony you guard is essential to success. We do not want to be detached. We must know our VIP so that we can anticipate her and protect her while also being transparent. We are not her captors. That is why our shift change occurs in the middle of when she is asleep. That way both shifts will get to spend time with her.”

The lieutenant tossed his officer’s manual into the waste basket and said, “I don’t think that is going to help me much.”

With a shrug, I admitted, “I ran into the same situation, sir. Sometimes I still struggle with it. Manuals and oaths are black and white. Equestria has many shades of gray. Sometimes you have to make a gut decision and stick with it.”

“So I am seeing. I think if I’m going to truly learn how we do our job I need to experience it from the ground up like you did. Sergeant, I want you to put me on the schedule.”

My brow lifted. A lieutenant pulling guard duty? That was largely unheard of but it was the best way for him to learn what we actually do and spend some time with Princess Luna.

“Yes, sir,” I said, flipping open the schedule book. “You’ll take over for Harvest Moon. I need to train him up a bit for his Guard 2nd Class test anyway.”

“You do that?” the lieutenant asked.

“Of course, sir. A good leader makes everypony else look as strong as possible. If your whole unit looks strong, there will be no doubt as to why. Don’t we owe it to our team members to help them excel?”

“That we do, Sergeant. That we do.”

At that point, I felt confident that Russet Rook was going to do just fine. “Keep that up, sir, and you’ll be general soon.”

“Let’s just start with lieutenant for now, Sergeant.”

“Aye, sir. Aye.”

I sat quietly at the secretary’s desk in Princess Luna’s office, working on my sketches of Crystal Wishes. Lieutenant Rook was standing guard. He was doing well enough but officers’ training doesn’t really prepare you for standing still for hours on end. It was clear he was wearing out but from his expression, I knew he was going to tough it out and learn.

Princess Luna was having tea with Lady Cadence. Her mood had dramatically improved lately and we had not spoken at all about my mission. She and Lady Cadence were discussing the upcoming Hearts and Hooves Day. It was still a month or so away but I guess there is no harm in planning early.

“What dost thou and thy stunning captain have planned?” Princess Luna asked.

Lady Cadence clapped her hooves together. “He says he has a big surprise for me! I have been trying to figure out what it is. The suspense is just too much to bear!”

It was weird hearing about the captain in such a way. I tried to ignore it. “What about you, Luna?”

Princess Luna replied, “I am not certain. Hearts and Hooves is not a favorite holiday of mine. Most ponies will be busy, so I may simply catch up on some work.”

“Oh, Luna, that's no fun! It is the most romantic time of year! I could help you. A pony that may already fancy you might just find the courage to ask for your hoof thanks to some love magic,” Cadence said with glee.

“Thy concern is most kind, but I shall not be sad. It is enough to let the other ponies have a good time. Besides, it would be most inappropriate to just ensnare some poor pony with a crush.”

Cadence reached out to tap the copy of Princess of the Knight that was sitting on the coffee table. “Oh, you can’t fool me. I know you like romance. Perhaps I’ll cast my spell on Silent Knight over there.”

Across the room, I saw the lieutenant’s eyes go large. He wasn’t accustomed to banter yet. I should demonstrate how it is done.

Dropping my pencil, I said flatly, “Oh were it possible for a pony as low as I to love the moon so bright. It is forbidden! It must not be! I could fly into the night sky to reach her and still fall short to her magnificence. Alas, I must only admire from afar.” Yeah… I read Crystal Wishes’s book. Sue me! I got bored sometimes.

Everypony in the room stared at me and then Princess Luna started laughing. “Thou readest the book! Silent Knight, thou never ceases to amaze and delight.”

“One of the many services I offer, my Magnificent Lady,” I said in an over the top way before I bowed.

Lady Cadence giggled and waved a hoof in my direction. “Now I know why you like him so much, Luna. He isn’t all stuffy. You’re safe and you can still be yourself.”

That seemed to ease the lieutenant’s mind. He had been looking pretty stunned. Just another lesson for the new officer’s manual.

“And how about you, Silent Knight? What are you going to be doing on Hearts and Hooves Day?” Lady Cadence asked.

“If I have my way, I’ll be here playing a game or two with Princess Luna. Single ponies need to stick together. She owes me a rematch, anyway.”

“Verily!” Princess Luna cheered.

Being single wasn’t so bad when you had a princess to play games with. In fact, I’d say that it was almost preferable.

“If you say no, it is completely okay. I wouldn’t hold it against you at all… I just felt like I needed your permission,” Iridescence said.

“You do need my permission,” I replied.

She huffed at me. “You know what I mean. Not for the schedule change… for the date. Are you okay if I have a date on Hearts and Hooves Day?”

“I am,” I replied mostly honestly. Iridescence had met somepony and that was fine. We hadn’t been together for quite some time and her dating hadn’t impacted our friendship at all. I simply ignored that part of it.

“Can you cover for me that day, then?” she asked.

I stroked my chin. “I don’t know… maybe I have a date too and I’m technically off.”

The unicorn mare glared at me. It didn’t work this time but I was playing anyway. She asked, “And who is your date with?”

“Princess Luna.”

Iridescence slapped a hoof to her face. “Then cover for me and have a date with her! It is the same thing.”

“It is hard to cuddle in armor.”

I could tell she wanted to pop me one but the beauty of this particular conversation was that she couldn’t. “Please, Sergeant?”

“Oh, well, when you put it like that... Yes, of course I’ll cover for you.”

“Thank you! Thank you so much!” she exclaimed, happily leaning in to kiss my cheek. She then froze, her eyes going wide. Slowly, she reached over, took my helmet off, kissed my cheek, and then replaced it. Leaning back, she nodded. “Thank you, Sergeant.”

“You’re welcome. Dismissed,” I said as I felt my face flush.

“Miley Hooves? You, too?” I asked incredulously. “Iridescence wasn’t in here but two hours ago.”

Miley squirmed. “I know, Sergeant! I asked her first. That is why I’m here. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”

I leaned back and steepled my hooves. “I’m listening.”

“Runic and I are going to a show. I actually asked him and he said yes! The only tickets I could get were for Hearts and Hooves Day. I really want to go,” she begged.

“Far be it for me to stand in the way of your passions, Miley.” I said. Since Runic and Miley had been doing ‘research’ together, she hadn’t had a single accident. I actually wanted that to work out for the both of them. “Okay. I’ll cover your shift for you.”

Miley squealed in delight, “Thank you, Sergeant! You’re so sweet! I mean… you’re great,” she trailed, pushed my helmet up, and kissed me on the cheek.

“No problem. Dismissed.” Twice in one day…

“You said yes to both of them,” Lieutenant Rook said. He had been in the office the whole time just observing.

“I did.”

“But why? You had the evening off and now you’re going to be standing guard.”

That was a fair question. I sat quietly a minute before I explained, “Iridescence rarely uses her leave since she has came back on duty from her injury. They’re stacking up and when somepony else needs her to cover for them, she does it. Sergeant Orchid has a family and I don’t. We’re the only two that can cover for Iridescence, so I’m the logical choice.”

“And Miley Hooves?” he asked.

I grinned. “She is an honest and hardworking guard. She never changes her shift and has a perfect attendance record. My cousin, Runic, is an eccentric guy. If she had the courage to ask him on a date and he said yes, I’m not getting in the way of that. I’m already covering and I actually like standing guard.”

“So in that case it is slightly personal?” he asked and I nodded.

“Exactly, sir. Personal feelings aside, though, I’d have still said yes in her case. She’s earned that much.”

“It all makes sense. You did slightly miscalculate the situation, Sergeant,” Lieutenant Rook said.

“Sir?” I asked.

“There are three ponies that can cover for Iridescence. You, Sergeant Orchid, and me. It also so happens I don’t have any plans, either, so you will be working the first half of Miley’s Shift and I’ll work the second.”

“That sounds an awful lot like an order, sir.”

“It is,” the lieutenant replied.

I smiled. “Very good, sir. Thank you. You’re most kind.”

“Please don’t kiss me on the cheek,” the lieutenant said hastily, leaning back.

Clearing my throat, I replied, “No problem, sir. I wouldn’t unless you bought me dinner first.”

I knocked lightly on the door to Crystal Wishes and Velvet Step’s condo.

“Just a minute,” Crystal Wishes called from inside after a few lights came on. The latch turned and she poked her head out. “Oh! Sergeant Knight… I’m a mess!”

In fairness, I had come by slightly later than intended. There had been a minor scuffle between Thunder Tumble and one of Princess Celestia’s house guards. I handled it but it had made me late. Not that Crystal Wishes was expecting me in the first place.

Crystal Wishes stood in her doorway wearing her night robe. Her mane was pulled up but still showed the wonderful blonde and pink mix. I certainly couldn’t have agreed she was a mess. Yes, she may not have been done up like she is when she goes out, but that made it all the more impressive. She was stunning even when she wasn’t trying. I really shouldn't have been thinking that.

“I apologize for disturbing you this late. I had intended to come over earlier. I know Velvet Step is gone and I wanted to look in and make sure you were getting on fine,” I explained, taking my helmet off.

She blinked and then said, “That is so sweet of you. Please, do come in.”

“Thank you,” I said, following her in as she stepped to the side. I’d never been inside her condo before. It was nice. Well-decorated, of course, but not overly so. Crystal Wishes was a pretty successful author but she didn’t live like one of the wealthy ponies. She was comfortable and that was one of the many reasons she was so approachable.

“How are you getting on?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m fine, honest,” she said, offering me a pillow. “Have a seat?” I did and she went on, “This is the new normal for Velvet and I’m growing accustomed to it. She is getting popular and she’ll be taking off with them a few times a year to perform in other cities. Sure, I miss her, but I wish all the success in the world for her.”

“You are one of the kindest ponies I’ve ever met,” I said quietly. “I have no doubt that you mean it. Besides, I’m sure she’ll be home soon.”

Crystal Wishes nodded and smiled. “Thank you. Yes, she will. Now, isn’t it a little late to be getting off work? And to come all the way here just to check up on me. Who is the kind pony now?”

“Occupational hazard. Staying late, that is. Checking up on you is just being a good friend.” I rubbed my cheek a bit. “Thunder Tumble got into a little fight with a rookie on Princess Celestia’s House Guard.”

“Over what?” Crystal Wishes asked. “Isn’t Thunder Tumble the sweetest, quietest guard in the lot?”

“Only until the first punch is thrown.” I chuckled and then smoothed my hoof over my mane. “It seems that there was a debate over who had the best unit sergeant. Evidently, I was described in less than flattering terms regarding my rigidity. Thunder took exception to that.”

Crystal Wishes laughed. “He was defending your honor? How did you handle it?”

I laughed with her. This wasn’t an everyday occurrence and I couldn’t help myself. “It was tough, I have to be honest. I got them separated of course. Thankfully, Sunny Day responded as well. We agreed it was a wash and that we’d handle our guards individually. Thunder was really upset. It took me a while to get him calmed down.”

“Will he be in much trouble?”

I shook my head. “Small slap on the hoof. He should have been the bigger pony but he really knocked that other guard down a peg. Between you and me, off the record, I was proud of him. He won the fight hooves down.”

Crystal Wishes covered her mouth as she laughed again. “You’re proud of him for winning a fight? I don’t know that I understand stallions.”

“My father always taught me never to start a fight but, if I found myself in one, I had best be sure I finished it. That is what Thunder did,” I explained.

“I guess that makes sense in some way,” Crystal Wishes said.

“How is the writing going? Princess Luna is very eager to get her hooves on it. She just may be your biggest fan.”

Crystal Wishes looked over at her sofa. It was covered with pages. “It is coming along… It feels a little forced at the moment. I need a stallion’s perspective on something and since you’re here, would you mind?” she asked, looking back at me.

“Not at all.”

“If you were in love with two different ponies and had to choose between them, how would you do it?” she asked.

That was one heck of a perspective question. I also wasn't an expert in the matters of the heart. “That is tough… You might not like my answer.”

“Try me.”

“To start, I’d have to make a list of why I thought I loved each pony. If I truly did, couldn’t I say why? If I couldn’t, that might make it easier for me to see I only loved one… or neither,” I explained.

“Alright, you have your lists. What if you could make them for each pony? Which one would you pick then?” she pressed.

I inhaled and thought about that. “I guess I would look for the pony with the more long-term traits. When I imagine being in love, and I don't often, I don’t worry so much about physical beauty and such. Not that I don't appreciate that.

"My mom always says that true love is long term. I’d love the pony that is patient and kind. The sort of pony that will put her desires after my own but would also know when to let me do the same for her. She would have to be my friend and confidant. The sort of pony I could tell anything without being judged.

“It is easy to be trapped in infatuation but I’d take the sweet pony every time. That is how I’d know she was the one. There can’t be two ponies like that, can there? Surely the lists would make it clear and I would know right away which was love and which was infatuation.”

Crystal Wishes was staring at me, her eyes big and soft. They were hazel and unique. Nopony had eyes like hers. I was sure of that. “You’re a romantic,” she whispered.

“Perhaps I am. Perhaps I’m looking for a pony that doesn’t exist. That is fine, though. She’ll be worth the wait. I’d rather get the right one than settle for the wrong one that just comes along sooner,” I said.

“I’m sure she exists, Silent Knight. I just know you’ll see her eventually,” Crystal Wishes promised me.

“I believe you’re right,” I said and then stood. “I should let you sleep. I’ve kept you longer than I should. Thank you.”

Her head tilted and she repeated, “Thank you?”

“I came here to check up on you, but instead I feel suddenly more hopeful about my prospects of love. Thank you, Crystal Wishes. You’re the sweetest pony I know.”

I turned to leave and Crystal Wishes asked, “Oh, Sergeant, what are you doing for Hearts and Hooves Day?”

“I’m covering for Iridescence and Miley Hooves. They both had plans and I didn’t. How about you?”

Crystal Wishes lightly shrugged. “Oh, I’ll probably hang out with Velvet, I guess. She’ll be back by then.”

“I’m sure you two will have fun. Goodnight,” I said as I walked out into the night alone.

36. In Her Majesty's Service

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I leaned against one of the workbenches in Runic’s back room, watching him fiddle with some sort of machine.

Today I was prepared. I wore goggles, stood on a rubber mat, and had a lab coat on. With any luck, I wouldn’t be on the wrong end of an experiment. “So I understand you and Miley Hooves are going to see a show?”

“Yes,” Runic said as he turned a crank on the machine. “We’re going to see a rock show. I’m pretty excited!”

My eyes narrowed. “Runic, do you mean the new show in town, Pony Rocks?”

He nodded and continued to turn the crank. Slowly, a barrel rose up towards the top of the machine. “That one, yes.”

“You do realize that isn’t about actual rocks, right? It’s a musical show. Ponies sing and dance to rock music,” I explained.

Runic stopped and stared at me. “But… it’s called Pony Rocks! Rocks for ponies?” He started cranking again and finally the barrel spilled over into the top of the machine. It began to whir and sputter.

Eying the device, I went on, “I know, Runic. They’re trying to be clever. You may enjoy it, though, and Miley is really excited that you said yes. You wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings, would you?”

Throwing a switch, Runic replied, “No. I don’t like hurting anypony’s feelings.” A conveyor belt started to move, bringing bottles up to the machine that were then filled with pink liquid.

“Then you’ll still go with Miley?” I asked.

“Of course. Miley is a fun lab assistant. I’m sure we’ll have a good time,” he said, coming over to me and handing me a box of labels. He applied one to a bottle and I got the idea. We were making mare care products today it seemed.

“You think she is only a lab assistant?” I asked.

“That is certainly a step up from research project.” He chuckled at me.

I labeled more bottles and glanced up at him. “I see… So, Runic, I’m no expert on this sort of thing but I need to ask a favor, as a friend. Could you be careful with Miley? She may be a little sweet on you. If you don’t feel that way it is fine, but be gentle.”

“Sweet on me?” He tilted his head and put a label on upside down.

“Yeah, you know… like ‘special somepony’ type sweet. I think she likes you,” I said as I apologized to Miley internally. I really did want the best for her.

Runic put another label on upside down. “Oh. Really?”

“Really,” I replied before starting to take his bottles and turn the labels rightside up as he continued to put them on upside down.

“Isn’t that interesting,” Runic said and then added, “Is this a date, then?”

“I think to protect her heart she’d probably say it was an invite to a friend, but deep down she’d like it to be a date, and it does happen to fall on Hearts and Hooves Day.” I continued to fix all of the bottles Runic was messing up.

“I haven’t been on a lot of dates, Silent Knight,” Runic admitted. “As I told you that one time, mares don’t like talking about rocks on the first date. What should I do?”

“Just be yourself.”

The labels were getting far more erratic. The bottle I was trying to fix had six on it.

I continued, “Miley already knows you. She likes you how you are. Don’t do anything silly like pretend to be another pony. Although maybe you should talk about something she is interested in at least once.”

“What is she interested in? She always seems interested in what we’re doing here! Do I talk about that? She was there for it!”

“Slow down there!” I held a bottle in each hoof and tried to fix labels with my teeth. I sat down and stuck out a hindhoof to catch a third bottle. “She’ll prompt you, I’d guess. Just let her take the lead now and again if she tries. You’ll be fine. Please stop the belt, Runic. Runic!”

“Huh?” Bottles tumbled off the line and onto me. The top popped open on one and got all over my mane. “Oh, right.” He turned off the line.

I stood up from the pile of bottles and shook my mane out a bit. It suddenly had volume and glimmered.

“You look great,” he offered.

After looking myself over, I had to agree. Runic’s mare care products were the best and my mane had never looked shinier.

“Thanks, I guess. Look, I didn’t tell you this to get you worked up. I just wanted to be sure you didn’t miss out on something. I know a thing or two about missing the subtle signs that mares send. Actually, I could probably write a book about it. But I don’t want that for you. Just be yourself and you’ll do fine, okay?”

“Okay. I’ll just be myself. It will be fine,” he repeated. “Should I bring a gift? I know she likes quartz. “

I lifted a hoof. “Why don’t you just start with being you and see how that goes? If you have fun, you can worry about gifts and such then.”

“That sounds fair. I wouldn’t want to overdo it. Mind helping me clean up?”

I shook my head. “No, I don’t mind at all.”

We set about to cleaning up and fixing all of the bottles that had tried to bury me alive.

Princess Luna and I sat across from each other at her game table. She was staring me down. Her vicious gaze didn’t rattle me at all. I had her and she knew it. Her magic slowly levitated several pony figures forwards by an exact, measured amount. They were perfectly painted and looked exactly like the members of her House Guard.

“‘Tis thy turn,” she said in an ominous tone.

Her moves had been very limited thanks to my strategy of bottling her up between two hills. Princess Luna played very aggressively and in war that was dangerous. I moved one unit of ponies up onto the left hill. Then I carefully pushed a group of pegasi up on the opposite one. It would all be over soon.

I pointed to the unit on the left. “Those ponies have crossbows—” I then pointed to where the House Guard was exposed. “—and those are the targets.” Picking up fifteen dice, I gave them a little shake before dropping them. We looked them over and I said, “Twelve hits… minus two to your armor saves.”

Princess Luna wrinkled her nose in a sour look. She rolled the twelve dice. “Two saves…” Gently she turned ponies over onto their side. She was careful about whom she chose. She stuck her tongue out before turning the figure that looked like me over.

“Well, you’re certainly not going to win now,” I teased.

She snorted and waved a hoof at me. “I think there is little chance of victory now. Thou hast outmaneuvered me again. Wilt thou show me mine errors?”

“If you would like. Thank you for the game,” I said before moving around to her side of the table. “It all starts with the terrain. Generally the high ground is always favorable. You seem to rely on the fact that your soldiers are better than mine. Never underestimate what unskilled warriors en mass can achieve under good leadership.”

The princess seemed to think that over. “What if both of our soldiers are highly trained?”

“It all comes down to morale, tactics, teamwork, and luck.”

“Luck?” She seemed surprised.

Slowly, I nodded. “It may not seem elegant or comforting but luck will always matter. We do the best we can and hope everything works as we planned… but plans never survive the first contact with the enemy.”

Princess Luna sat her hooves on the table and replied, “I see. Perhaps it is best if thou beginest instructing me in the art of war?”

My head tilted. “Why would you want to learn something awful like that, Princess?”

“The same reason that thou hast learned… just in case.”

That gave me pause and then I nodded. “Very well. A ruler of Equestria should know the basics of warfare, just in case. You'll have an easier time conversing with the generals.”

“Knoweth all royal guards as much about it as thou dost?”

I shook my head. “No, that is my father’s doing. That and my own interest. I’ve had a lot of time to study in the evenings.”

The princess lightly patted me on the shoulder. “I think thy time would be better spent looking for a new companion.”

“I’ve got plenty of companions,” I said, missing the point on purpose. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go over this with Princess Luna again.

“Thou knowest exactly what I meant. Thou canst not turn a blind eye to romance forever simply because of one…” She hedged. “...unfortunate experience.”

I cleared my throat and lowered my voice. I wasn’t particularly interested in Miley Hooves hearing this conversation. “Yes, I know what you meant, Princess. I’m the unit sergeant now. I’ve got a lot on my plate. There are a lot of ponies counting on me.”

“And what of thou? Is this not a life half lived?”

Softly, I rested my hoof over hers. “Princess, I am truly grateful for your concern. That alone is more than I ever saw for myself in my life. I have friends, family, and ponies that are concerned for my well-being. It is enough for me. I would like for it to be enough for the rest of you.”

Princess Luna blinked and looked me in the eyes. “If that is thy wish.”

“It is.” At least I thought so.

“Then we will return to the lessons of warfare. The romance shall be saved for another day.”

Sunny Day slipped out of the shadows to fall in beside me as I walked towards Princess Luna’s chambers. The princess had asked me to see her before I went home for the day.

“As you were,” the unicorn mare said before I could properly salute. “That was some tussle the other night, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, ma’am. Again, I apologize for that. I can assure you that it absolutely won’t happen again.”

Sunny winked at me. “Oh, I’m sure. They’re all terrified of you. If you tell them to straighten up, they’ll straighten up.”

My ear flicked. “Terrified? Nopony is terrified of me.”

“You say that, but they are. After the other night most of my ponies are, too. You jumped into that fight, took some good licks, and still pulled the ponies apart like a professional. You didn’t even lose your cool, just gave that disapproving glare. I was impressed.”

It wasn’t clear to me where this conversation was going. “Alright, well, perhaps it is wise to be frightened by a first sergeant.”

“I’m not scared, though,” she said pointedly.

“You’re a lieutenant and, as best I can tell, nothing scares you anyway. What is your point?”

Sunny laughed a bit and replied, “No point. Just that I’m not scared. Bye!”

She made a right and took off down the hall as I reached Princess Luna’s chambers. I simply didn’t get Sunny Day.

The princess’s door was open and I went inside. Blackblade was keeping watch and the princess nodded towards him from her seat at her game table.

“Take position outside, please,” I told the earth pony and he did so.

After pushing the door shut, I went over and sat across from the princess. She was painting some more miniatures. The current one captured in her magic looked exactly like her. “Her name was Nocturna.”

I racked my brain for a moment before I pieced it together. Of course. Who else? “The figure?”

“The alicorn thou sawest in the stained glass. She was going to be my mentor.”

“Going to be?” I asked.

The princess shook her head. “I do not wish to discuss that. I felt thou hast a right to understand a little more of what thou hadst seen. That way thou mayest make an educated decision on what I am about to ask.”

“Are you about to ask me to go on another mission?”

“I am. Thou art uniquely suited to this work even though thou wouldst be unaware of it. I know circumventing Royal Guard procedures will givest thou pause. Were this not important I would never ask, but I must. Wilt thou be my agent?”

If it had been any other pony I’d have gone to the captain. Any other pony in all of Equestria and I wouldn’t give it a second thought. This wasn’t any pony, though. This was Princess Luna. My career would be in jeopardy and I certainly didn’t like keeping secrets, but when she said ‘uniquely suited’ I didn’t take it as an exaggeration. She seemed genuine.

“Yes. Within reason, of course.” There was nothing else that needed to be said.

“Of course. Thou hast my sincere gratitude.” She took my helmet off and set it on the table.

From a drawer, she produced a silver chain with a white crescent moon pendant. That went around my neck and my vision changed. It was the same as the last time.

“Fly west to the Smoky Mountain. Near the base on the western face, thou wilt find a stone circle set into the cliff’s face. Press the talisman to it and it will open. Report back what thou findest.”

“Princess, is there any way you could be less cryptic about this? What exactly are you hoping for me to find?” I asked.

She straightened and looked at me sternly. “This is difficult for me, Silent Knight.”

We had a staring contest and there was little doubt that she was going to win. I did my best to hang in there, though. If I was to be her agent, I needed to know more.

Finally, she sighed. “Thou art looking for ponies or any indication of where they may have gone.”

It caught me off guard. She’d had me and decided to tell me, anyway. Perhaps I should go easier on her. “Ponies. Alright then, I’ll be on my way.”

When I reached for my helmet, she set a hoof on mine and shook her head. Evidently, the princess wasn’t worried about me being brained.

Off I went to another crypt, most likely. Without my helmet, I decided to exit from the balcony. If there were ponies to be found, I hoped they were friendly. Friendly and willing to have a house guest.

37. Agent of the Night

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“How has nopony ever noticed this?”

The stone circle was not exactly subtle. By my estimate it was ten meters across with ancient runes ringing the outside perimeter. They were unintelligible to me. The center itself contained a smaller circle with a crescent moon emblazoned on it. All in all, not something I’d think an explorer would miss.

Yet the stone itself looked very similar to the mountain face in color and I had known what I was looking for, unlike a wandering pony. It could have also been the fact that all of the surrounding plants were in bloom, keeping it obscured from casual sight. During late spring most of Equestria is particularly lush.

It was more likely the fact that it seemed impossibly heavy and was perfectly flush into the cliff had run explorers off. My wings flapped and lifted me up to the small circle so that I could place the pendant against it.

There was a rumbling from behind the stone. Dust and small rocks began to fall from above so I thought it prudent to back off. Slowly, the circle drew inward about half a meter before rolling off to the side and revealing a gaping entryway. There was no light on the other side, just a long dark tunnel. It took a moment to push the memories of my last trip into the darkness away before I trotted through the opening.

This particular gloomy interior was different than the first. Instead of an endless dark tunnel leading down into a mountain, this one led up. It didn’t take long before shadows engulfed the way in front of and behind me. Even my magically enhanced vision couldn’t see around the spiraling walls.

Darkness is unsettling, even for an adult. On top of that, enclosed spaces aren’t my favorite. They remove the advantage of my wings. This cavern was not as large as the first which limited me even more. That wasn’t going to stop me, however. In fact, nothing could. Princess Luna felt this was important so I was going to see it to the end regardless of how unsettling the location was.

My pace was slow. I hadn’t found any ponies in the first village, but I wasn’t going to assume anything. It was unlikely I’d find anypony, but if I did, they might not be expecting visitors. Slow and steady movements allowed me time to listen. Unfortunately, there was nothing to hear other than my own breath and hoofsteps.

A light breeze brushed across my bare ears, teasing the little tufts at the top. That froze me in place. There had been no movement of air before. Listening carefully yielded no results, nor did looking around. The breeze had stopped so I pressed on.

In the dark, I crossed some form of threshold and instinctively felt the cavern expand before me. It wasn’t nearly as big as the one I had delved into prior, but it was large even for the interior of a mountain. Ahead, I could make out a small group of buildings and started toward them.

Drawing close, it became clear that the architecture was identical to what I’d seen before. Stone buildings, still in decent repair, but with the wooden parts starting to show their age. The doors were little more than sagging curtains that would have hardly kept anypony out.

Carefully, I crept around the nearest block of homes. Poking around inside of the first few proved to be fruitless. Everything small had been removed. There was still some furniture intact but time was taking its toll. It was too similar to be a coincidence. These ponies had simply left as well.

As I stepped back out onto the street, the hair of my coat stood on end. There was something else in the darkness. Perhaps even somepony else. It wasn’t so much that I saw or heard anything. It was just a feeling. Keeping my flank to a wall, I slowly made my way towards the village center.

To my relief, there was no ominous keep. Thank Luna for that. Instead, had it not been buried deep inside a mountain, I would say that it was a quaint plaza. In the center was a large marble fountain that featured a likeness of the alicorn now known to me as Nocturna. Numerous stone benches were scattered around the area, offering a quiet place to rest and watch whatever water that might have flowed in ages past.

Once more I felt the sudden movement of air through my coat and I dropped into my combat stance. It was the feeling you get when another pegasus swoops near: brief but fleeting. My eyes darted about in the darkness but there was nothing to be found. I was exposed in the plaza and an easy target for anything lurking in the darkness.

It was time for action. I wouldn’t be caught unaware by ancient magic a second time. With a heavy flap of my wings, I took to the air and set course for a three-story building that was nearby. My sudden motion seemed to yield results. The air moved once again, but this time clumsily. Whatever was in the gloom had been surprised by my movement. That was to my advantage.

Just below me I heard a soft thump—the sound of something falling to the rock floor and echoing off of the empty buildings. In an instant, I jerked left and swooped back down. It might have been a trick from a would-be attacker, but it may have also been a clue. The risk seemed worth the potential reward.

My hooves touched down near where I’d heard the sound originate. Quickly, I scanned the area and saw that on the ground, near one of the benches, was a small book. Where it had landed, the dust had been disturbed and there wasn’t a hint of any on the cover. I was certain somepony was here and that they had dropped it.

“Hello?” I called.


“I am not here to fight. I’m looking for ponies.”

Even more silence once the echo of my voice ceased. Carefully, I scooped up the book and pocketed it. Princess Luna would know what to do with it. Keeping my eyes turned skywards, I beat a hasty retreat to the nearest building side.

There was no movement of air for the entire journey. Somepony had been here with me for certain, but it seemed that they weren't looking for a fight. Either that or they'd missed their opportunity. In any event, they really seemed like they didn’t want to be found. So much so that in their haste they had left me a book. It was time to see if there was anything else worth finding.

As carefully as I could, I investigated several of the larger buildings near the plaza. They were all in the same shape as the rest. Emptied, abandoned, and slowly decaying. There had been no further sign of my companion in the dark. Were it not for the book, I may have questioned whether or not I was imagining her or him.

I settled my rump into the corner of one small building to limit viable avenues of attack. I’d also effectively trapped myself, but it was a risk worth taking. It was time to take a look at my prize. The book itself was relatively soft and bound in what I’d guess was silk. The cover was a rich purple but otherwise blank.

With careful hooves, I flipped the cover open to investigate. It struck me immediately that the pages were hoofwritten, not pressed. The characters were foreign, however, like ancient unicorn or some other old script. They certainly didn’t make any sense to me so back into the saddlebag the book went.

Drawing upon as much of Iridescence’s stealth as I could, my search took me through a few more of the nearby buildings. Unfortunately, that proved fruitless which meant it was time to leave and report back to the princess. Double-quick trotting seemed to make the most sense to clear the cavern and get back into the relative cover of the tunnel out.

It didn’t take near as long to exit as it had to enter simply because I wasn’t being as cautious. Getting out was the priority and facing would-be ambushers outside the mountain seemed preferable. The scent of fresh air ahead tickled my nostrils and I broke into a gallop. Nothing got in my way as I sailed across the threshold and back out into the night.

Behind me, the mountain rumbled once more and the large round door rolled into place to seal the village away. The fact that it happened without my interaction was odd, but I never really understood magic. With a mighty shake, I knocked all of the dust off my coat before leaping into the air and heading back to Canterlot.

"Thou art certain that somepony were there?"

“Yes, Princess. There is no way that book had been there as long as the village. I believe it was dropped by mistake. Possibly out of surprise.”

“And the village was as the other? Abandoned?”

“Identical, minus the keep with the frightening statues. In its absence was a wonderful plaza with a fountain. It was much preferable.”

Princess Luna softly chuckled. “The statues of which thou speakest are called gargoyles. In ancient times, it was believed they could ward off evil spirits.”

That gave me cause to snort. “Evil spirits, ponies, foals, and anything else with half a brain.”

Princess Luna gave me a curious look and then tapped the book. “I must review this. There is a benefit to having been trapped in the moon so long. These symbols still yet hold meaning for me. My deepest thanks for another mission successfully completed. My heart sings at the thought that thou mayest have found ponies.”

“I know it isn’t my place to ask, Princess, but who are these ponies I’m looking for? Isn’t it likely that they’d just have moved out into the other cities of Equestria?”

She shook her head. “No, they were unlike most ponies and preferred their seclusion. I fear for what may have become of them without a voice.”

“A voice?”

“In time, Silent Knight… in time. Now, it is far too late for thee to be up. Go and sleep. We will speak of this again.”

More secrets. I bowed and replied, “Yes, Princess. Until then.”

“Silent Knight?”

Immediately, I rose to attention. It was Shining Armor in my doorway. “Sir!”

He waved a hoof. “At ease.” The captain came in and shut the door. “I understand that sometime back you had a little intruder drill with your staff.”

I didn’t like where this was going. “Impromptu, sir.”

Slowly, he nodded and then pressed on, “And last night you flew off into the west. Mostly out of uniform.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Is there something I should know about?” he asked.

Lying to the captain was the lowest thing I could imagine doing, even for Princess Luna. Thus far, my missions had occurred during my off-duty time. If I hadn’t had a tussle with my own guards it wouldn’t be anypony’s business. “It is not Guard related, sir.”

He snorted. “I gathered that by the fact that you went without a helmet. Still, the question stands: should I know about it?”

Honor my promise to the princess or honor my oath. They weren’t necessarily at odds. “On the request of the princess, I did an errand. As a friend, not as a royal guard. I chose to wear my armor but I did not act in an official capacity in front of any ponies.”

The captain’s brow went up. “I see. Can you elaborate on the request?”

“I apologize, sir, but I cannot. My word was given and it was of a personal nature to the princess. Please don’t take that as an unwillingness to speak to you or any suggestion of duplicity. You are, of course, at liberty to ask her about the errand in question.”

His expression softened some. “I know how serious you take your oaths, Sergeant. Were I to ask her, would I get an answer?”

“Hard to say for certain, sir, but I imagine no. As stated, it is of a personal nature and, to the best of my knowledge, I am the only pony to which she has spoken about this.”

He nodded. “Should it become a Royal Guard or security issue, what are your intentions?”

“Should that happen, I will refuse any further errands without proper authorization from command. If I believe it necessary, I'll report on it immediately. I give you my word on that.”

“There are few stronger bonds than that. I don’t like the secrecy but the princess is entitled to her privacy. Carry on, Sergeant.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Oh, one more thing. Cadence said you didn’t have any plans for Hearts and Hooves Day.”

“No plans of the nature she suggested, sir, no. She did try to fix me up with Princess Luna. In fact, she did get her wish there, since I’ll be covering for Iridescence and Miley Hooves.”

The captain chuckled. “My wife has her eccentricities. Still, I’m sorry to hear that. You know, my little sister is single. I’m pretty protective of her but you’re the honest sort of stallion I hope she likes. You’re actually a lot alike. If you want, I could send her a letter. Perhaps set up a date?”

Being married to a unicorn that specialized in love magic must have been rubbing off on the captain. “Sir, with all due respect, dating your little sister terrifies me more than facing off against a company of gryphons.”

Shining Armor laughed and waved a hoof. “I just thought I’d offer. She could use a grounded stallion like you and the word around the palace is that you only have eyes for unicorns.”

My entire face felt hot and flush under my helmet. There was a good chance my white coat was now red. This was not a conversation I had ever wanted to have. “Captain, I am at a loss for words. Although that gryphon company sounds appealing at this particular moment.”

The older stallion laughed all the more. “At ease, Sergeant. I’m just giving you a hard time. Don’t forget about being well rounded. Have a good day.” He pulled the door open and headed out.

Doomed. The captain was trying to fix me up now? And since when did the palace have words to get around?

38. Hearts and Hooves Day

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Lieutenant Rook learned quick. Far quicker than any lieutenant I'd seen. Within a month he was up to speed and acting every bit like the officer Princess Luna’s House Guard had sorely lacked. Instead of adding an extra layer of complexity, he helped streamline our operations.

We formed a very effective partnership. Everything was running so smoothly that Princess Luna’s House Guard was earning a reputation that rivaled its sister unit. With the lieutenant assuming so many of the administrative duties, I was able to spend more time training our guards. It was excellent.

The downside to our arrangement was that I saw the captain a whole lot less. Shining Armor made it clear that he had no desire to meddle with a unit that had a capable officer and unit sergeant. We were largely left to our own devices. I missed our mentoring sessions, but it was good to know he had faith in us.

I had relieved Harvest Moon on Hearts and Hooves Day. As I stood guard in Miley Hooves’s stead, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. It hadn’t been that long since I had last been there myself but, in some ways, it felt like a lifetime. Make no mistake, being a unit sergeant was wonderful, but there was a familiar simplicity to standing guard.

“Silent Knight, thou lookest most pleased this evening. Thou art not upset to be filling in for other ponies on thy day off?” Princess Luna asked me.

I shook my head. “Not at all, Princess. In fact, I was reminiscing. It wasn’t too terribly long ago that I was standing here myself and look how far I’ve come. Standing guard has a purity to it. Perhaps I’m a strange pony, but no matter how high I might climb, I don’t think I’ll ever mind standing watch over you.”

Princess Luna smiled at me. “That is certainly a flattering sentiment. Perhaps Lady Cadence was right and thou hast come here for a date.”

Softly, I cleared my throat. “Lady Cadence has some interesting ideas about regulations, Princess. At any rate, if my desire to protect you is an indication of affection, then consider me most affectionate.”

The princess rose from her seat and crossed the chambers to where I stood. Looking down at me, she smiled. “Then I will consider thee most affectionate and loyal. Thou art a rare gem, Silent Knight. I believe myself lucky to have thee at my side.”

“That is high praise, Princess. Being called a rare gem in the long litany of ponies that must have come and gone before me is very flattering. Perhaps I’ll linger in your memory for a while once I’m gone.”

Princess Luna’s ear flicked and she peered at me. “A while? Pony philosophers may claim that a lifetime is but an instant to an alicorn, but they imagine so as outsiders looking in. Allow me to assure thee that they are wrong. I was painfully aware of the lifetimes that passed me by while I was banished.

“Thy life is not the brief, unremarkable candle flame that they would have thee believe. No, thou and the ponies I’ve called friends over my life are more special to me than thou might be aware.

“Time may pass differently for us, but where our lives intersect, it is memorable. I have come to know many ponies and I often see them in their foals. Then I see them in the foals of those foals, and so on. Just as I see past lives within thee.”

She set a hoof on my shoulder. “It is time we share a secret, Silent Knight.”

“A secret?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied before looking past me and tapping my armor where it rested over my cutie mark. “I am certain I knew thine ancestors over a thousand years ago. Thou mayest find it hard to believe, but I remember them as well as I remember yesterday. They were good and honorable ponies that chose to sleep during the day so that they could be with me at night.

“So strongly were they bonded to me that they foresaw my fall. Thy matriarch warned me, but I was too foolish and proud to listen. My youth and the lack of a mentor made me reckless and jealous. Thy forebearers were not enough. I wanted as many ponies to love me as loved my sister. I saw her as competition.”

The princess lifted the helmet from my head and lightly touched my tufted ears. They were pretty unique as far as ponies went; only my father and I had them as far as I knew. “Ponies looked a bit different back then.”

Her eyes lost focus and vacantly glanced into the past as if she were reliving a moment. “One final time, thy matriarch did plead and she swore an oath that as long as I remained true, her family line would be my protectors and companions. There is no doubt in my mind that thou art of that line.”

I blinked and asked, “Princess? Are you saying I was fated to be your guard?”

Princess Luna shook her head. “Fated? Certainly not. Ponies have free will. Guided? Perhaps… but thy cutie mark shows our bond. Thy flank is not the first to bear that crescent moon nor do I suspect it will be the last. The ponies I seek are also of thine ancestor’s line. That is why it must be thee to do this work.”

It was a lot to take in. Did I have an instinctual knowledge of my obligation that motivated me to step forward all that time ago? Had the princess recognized my cutie mark and assumed that I was oathbound to her? Was I necessary to find the ponies she sought and did that cause her to treat me differently?

No… that was not like Princess Luna. She treated the other ponies that protected her just as well. Besides, her motivations didn’t matter; fate or not, I was honored to protect her.

My eyes rose and met hers. “I am proud to be sworn to you if it is so, and honored that you’ll remember me when I’m gone. To be honest, I don’t know where I’d be without you, but I know that right now I would be far lonelier. I’m lucky to be close to you.”

Princess Luna looped a hoof around me. “Thou art a good pony and a fine companion, Silent Knight. Make no mistake: thou matterest to me and I shall always remember our time together.”

My rigid stance fell away and I returned the hug tighter than I probably should have. Being told you matter by anypony is wonderful. Having an alicorn say it is indescribable. It simply can’t be put into words. In that moment it was something I had needed and the loneliness I had been feeling lifted.

It was also in that moment I knew that I'd do anything to protect the princess. Go to any lengths, walk through any fire, and do whatever it took to ensure her safety. Just like the oath demanded.

“Thank you,” I whispered as we held each other.

It dawned on me that I’d probably never see Princess Luna in the same light again. We’d shared a moment, however brief, where we were just ponies. She had generously given me a glimpse into what it was like to be her.

There is a lot of literature available on alicorns and, if I know anything, I know that most of it is just guesses. How many books are there by mortal ponies trying to make sense of a concept they cannot understand? My favorite quote was that alicorns are just regular ponies with sufficiently powerful magic.

Alicorns are ponies, too, without question. They make mistakes, feel emotions, and care about their fellow ponies. There is more to them than that: a power beyond unicorn magic. That isn’t something I understand but the one thing I do know, however, is that when you need them they are there. When you’re sad and alone, they will be with you.

They are hardly regular ponies. In my eyes, I came to view alicorns as living goddesses and I was proud to have the opportunity to protect one.

The lieutenant relieved me a few hours later and I decided to head home. Princess Luna wasn’t going to be awake too much longer and games aren’t always fun with only two ponies. I also had a lot to think about. My father’s cutie mark did not contain a moon and yet, at the same time, Princess Luna was trapped for the vast majority of his life. Was my family’s oath excused while she was Nightmare Moon?

It was something I was still pondering when I reached my room. My attention immediately shifted after the door opened. There was no way what I was seeing was actually real. Winterspear and Iridescence were together on the bed… kissing. So much so it took them a moment to notice I had arrived.

“Oh!” Winterspear gasped as she pushed Iridescence aside. “Silent Knight, wait—”

I took a few steps inside and took my helmet off. My teeth clenched and I had to remind myself to keep my cool. Iridescence opened her mouth and I lifted a hoof. “If you’ll excuse us, I’d like a word with my sister.”

She got the message and trotted out in a hurry. I shut the door a bit harder than I had intended, and when it slammed, Winterspear flinched. I wasn’t sure what to say. In fact, I didn’t have anything to say that wouldn’t be regretted later. In an instant, I had gone from calm to furious. Too angry to be rational, so I turned and reached for the door handle. It was best if I just left.

Winterspear pleaded, “Wait, Silent Knight, please let me explain!”

Pausing, I replied cooly, “Explain.”

“I kept it a secret because I didn’t want to hurt you. I was afraid you’d get angry and send me away and, when it started, if it had ever been a choice between you and her, it would have been you.”

“And this is better?”

“No! Of course not, but there was another reason I didn’t say anything!” She sighed. “I didn’t think it would last. You didn’t see it, but I did. She’d look at you with regret. I thought she just wanted me because I was the next closest pony, her second place prize.”

I frowned and stamped a hoof. “Why would you let her do that to you? You deserve better!” My feelings switched just like that, from anger at my sister to confusion and concern for her.

Winterspear’s ears fell and she lowered her head. “Caramel Mint hurt me really badly. I asked her to marry me and she left me on the spot. She said we were barely a fling. I was just a pony to have a good time with. I never told you… I didn’t want to seem so pathetic. When Iridescence showed interest in me… any interest…”

Tears fell from her eyes. “I just didn’t want to be alone anymore, Silent Knight. Even if I only had her for a little while.”

Moving quickly, I pulled my sister into a tight embrace. “Silly pony,” I whispered softly.

She cried on my shoulder. “I love her, Silent Knight, and I think she actually loves me. I’ve wanted to tell you but I didn’t know how… but if us being together is too much to bear, I’ll break it off. I will right now. I won’t lose my only brother.”

I shook my head and stroked down her back. “Silly pony,” I repeated. “If she makes you happy, I think I can be happy for you. What she and I had was fine, but we work better as friends. No more secrets though, okay? I’m a big stallion. I can take it.”

Winterspear quickly nodded, wiping her eyes. “I promise. No more lies. I need to go get her—”

Stepping back from my sister, I said sternly, “No. She and I need to have words.”

My sister lifted a hoof to protest, saw my look, and lowered it. How could I have been so blind? I turned and left the room intent on finding Iridescence.

I didn’t have to try too hard because she was waiting outside. I’ll give her credit: she wasn’t a coward. She had not run away a second time. I stalked over to her and looked her over. She looked back, deep shame in her eyes.

“Dot was confused about me being a stallion,” I said.


“Mare potion?” I asked.


“Not something you normally do?”


“If you hurt my sister, we’re done. If you’re just playing with her because we’re not together, I’ll never forgive you. Ever. Iridescence, I swear I’ll make your life a living nightmare. She isn’t a second place ribbon. Am I perfectly clear?”

Iridescence looked me in the eye and said, “Crystal clear. I promise it isn’t about you. I’m not going to stand here and swear that it will work out, because life doesn’t work that way. Look at what happened with us. I will swear that it isn’t about you, though. What she and I have would have happened with or without you. Is that good enough?”

“I’m a big enough stallion to know that is as good a promise as one can give in the matters of the heart.” I leaned in close and Iridescence stiffened, prepared to take a verbal blow. I whispered, “Be good to her. Her last mare was cruel and broke her heart. She is in love with you.”

She nodded, swallowed, and asked softly, “We’re… okay then?”

“Celestia, no. Not at all, but for her sake I’m going to walk away.”

I left Iridescence there. She looked stunned and I felt like I needed a drink. Sometimes it is tough being the bigger pony.

It seems like the Spearhead Tavern was not a popular location late on Hearts and Hooves Day. I had the whole bar to myself while I sat, drinking cider.

“Rough night?”

I turned to find the captain at my shoulder. “I couldn’t even begin to explain,” I said and then tilted my head. “Didn’t you have a special evening planned with Lady Cadence tonight?”

Shining Armor sat down next to me and ordered a round for the both of us. “I did. Something really great actually. Dinner, a play, and such. Midway through the play I was summoned on royal business. Cadence took it gracefully but I’m sure she is long asleep by now. I’ll have to make it up to her tomorrow. What’s on your mind?”

“I don’t understand mares,” I explained simply.

“Said every stallion that ever lived,” the captain finished for me. “What specifically this time?”

I wasn’t sure I should say. Was this private? Looking over to the captain, I shrugged. Why not? He had never seemed to judge anything before. “I caught Iridescence and Winterspear together.”

“Oh. By Celestia,” he started and put down bits for more cider. “That is not what I was expecting. How’re you handling that?”

“I was quite angry at first, then I felt bad for Winterspear and my desire to protect her kicked in. Right now, I would very much like to punch something. I’m so confused… Do all mares like other mares?”

The captain shook his head. “I don’t think so, otherwise society might fall apart. No foals and all that. Some ponies like both, though. I guess Iridescence does.”

“Why my sister? Is it because of me? Or is it really unrelated? This is just so confusing,” I replied before I drained my mug and picked up the newly arrived one.

“I’m sure it is,” he mused over his mug. “So what now?”

I shrugged. “The career thing is working out pretty well. I figure I’ll just keep that up. Plus, I’ve got good friends. Maybe that is enough.”

Shining Armor frowned and said, “Don’t say that. If you wall yourself off, you may miss something you’ll regret missing later in life.”

That was certainly easy for him to say. He was married to a unicorn that almost rivaled the princesses in beauty. I thought about that and sighed. He was also right, though. Sometimes I hate when he does that. “Yeah… yeah…”

“Good,” Shining Armor replied before patting me on the back. “Now, unless you have any other plans, I’d like to rant a while about the work-related idiocy that interrupted my evening. Would that be fine?”

That sounded like a good plan to me. I had nowhere to be and it would be a good distraction. Plus, I wanted to know what was so important that they had to go pull the captain out of a play. “By all means, sir. Anything to take my mind off the idea of my sister and my ex being together.”

Shining Armor shifted on the stool, waved at the bartender, and then gestured for more cider as he said to me, “You’re probably going to need another. My thing isn’t nearly good enough to distract from that.”

39. Diplomacy in Force

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Shining Armor, Russet Rook, and I stood around the table, looking at piles of paperwork.

“This is going to take a lot of planning,” I said.

Lieutenant Rook nodded. “Yes, and perfect execution. Help won’t be within hooves’ reach.”

“If any two ponies can figure it out, it will be you two,” Shining Armor said.

I tapped the large roster sheet with a hoof. “Twenty total ponies in the House Guard plus twenty palace guards. That is pretty slim should anything go wrong.”

“True, but moving with too many more will become a liability as well. I’d rather not have to figure out the logistics for that. Princess Luna is also pretty formidable on her own. Plus, every one of our ponies is worth at least two regular guards,” the lieutenant said.

I shifted a document to the captain. “How about we drop four palace guards for these ponies? The gryphons wouldn’t be able to tell the difference and in a fight, their protection magic would give us a huge advantage.”

Shining Armor’s brow lifted and he asked, “Unicorn Temple guards?”

“Unicorn Temple guards,” I confirmed.

The lieutenant tapped the paper. “I love that idea. They may not be good fighters but if we can defend them they can shield us and maybe even tend our wounds. If we employ them the way the sergeant is suggesting, they’re a real force multiplier.”

Shining Armor nodded. “Unicorn Temple guards it is.”

Princess Luna cleared her throat and the three of us turned to face her. “Ye three realize this is a diplomatic meeting, not an attack, yes?”

“Of course, Princess,” Shining Armor said and then hedged. “But with you being in their kingdom and across the waters, we just want to be sure we could protect you. Consider us being foolishly overcautious.”

The alicorn rose from her seat and approached. “Thou mayest be as cautious as thou likest, as long as everypony remembers this is a peaceful mission. We will not have the gryphons misunderstanding our security precautions as a sign of distrust.”

Lieutenant Rook looked at me. “I want you to spend extra time with the unit to make sure they understand Princess Luna’s wishes. I’ve heard the stories about the gryphons trying to provoke a fight when they were here. That same behavior won’t be tolerated when we are their guests. We should be the bigger ponies.”

“Aye, sir,” I replied and made a note to discuss that very thing with my ponies. Especially Thunder Tumble.

“We’re going where, Sergeant?” Miley Hooves asked me.

“Princess Luna has been dispatched to conduct diplomacy with the ruler of Nordanver, the northern gryphon kingdom,” I replied, keeping my tone even. “We, of course, will be accompanying her. That is no small task. In fact, it is the largest challenge for us yet. That is a huge vote of confidence for this unit and we now have the opportunity to truly prove we are peers to Princess Celestia’s House Guard.

“Our journey will begin with a train ride to Baltimare. From there, we’ll set sail and cross the sea to the capital city of Margull. We’ll establish a safe dwelling for the princess and see that she can go to and from her meetings without incident. This isn’t going to be easy. A lot of the resources we take for granted won’t be available to us. There is little room for error, but I have every confidence in you.” I paused and looked at all of my ponies as they were mustered. I wasn’t just paying them lip service. I trusted them.

“The lieutenant and I do not expect any hostility, but that is no reason to be unprepared. We need to treat this situation as if it were the most danger Princess Luna has ever been in. At the same time, we do not want our hosts to feel as if they are not trusted. It will be a delicate balance.

“Finally, and most important of all, there can be no incidents created by us. No fights with the gryphons. No violations of their laws. No name calling. We are the bigger ponies and I expect you all to remember that. Do not start a fight. Do not let them goad you into one.”

I stamped a hoof. “But by Celestia, if some feathered troublemaker takes a swing at you, put him down and out cold. Don’t overdo it, but make it clear we won’t tolerate such immaturity. Have I made myself clear?”

The group shouted in unison, “Yes, Sergeant!”

“Good,” I said before starting to pass out rosters, schedules, and travel plans. “Memorize these. Do not take them outside of the palace. Once you know them by heart, destroy them. We leave in two weeks. If there is anything you need to do here, be sure you get it done soon. I’m counting on everypony to be ready. Do not disappointment me. Dismissed.”

I stood on my hindhooves and used my wings to keep me upright. It was a skill I was getting quite good at. My forehooves peppered the heavy bag with blows, working on my boxing skills and getting my workout in.

“That was one heck of a speech. If I didn’t know any better I’d think you were sending us off to war,” Iridescence said as she approached. It was the first time we’d spoken outside of work in a while. She reared up and held onto the other side of the bag so that it wouldn’t sway so much. I continued to pummel it.

“Maybe I am,” I grunted as I threw another jab. “I don’t trust gryphons and we’re walking right into their roost. If something goes wrong, we’ll be right in the middle of it.”

I hit the bag hard and Iridescence slid back with it. Her head poked around the side and she asked, “Are you angry? You’re never angry. What is going on?”

I eased up a bit to ensure she wouldn’t go flying while I thumped the bag with my hooves. “No.” Thump. “Maybe.” Thump, thump. “I don’t know.” I huffed. I dropped and walked over to the bucking targets and started in on them without further explanation.

Iridescence came over to watch me. “Are you mad at me? You’ve been almost all business since… well, since we broke up. Even more since you found out about Winterspear and—” Her eyes went wide as I bucked one of the targets so hard I broke it in half. “Alright then.”

“I’m not mad at you,” I said, inspecting the broken target.

“You really look mad at me,” she replied.

“I’m not mad at you,” I repeated.

“The target disagrees,” she prodded.

I’m not mad!” I shouted at her. My ears fell.

“Well… maybe you should be,” Iridescence said flatly. She approached me. “I broke up with you and ran off. As soon as you came to get me, I got cozy with your sister. On top of that, we both hid it from you. If somepony did that to me, I’d be real angry. You haven’t done anything.”

Clenching my teeth, I growled, “What am I supposed to do, then?”

Iridescence poked me with a hoof. “Get angry. Tell me off. Tell Winterspear off.”

I did not like being poked but I kept my cool and replied, “Tell off my best friend and my sister? That doesn’t sound like something a good friend would do. Do you know how heartbroken she was?”

Iridescence poked me with a hoof again. “Oh yeah? And good friends just lie to each other? Huh?” she taunted before punctuating it with another hoof poke.

That was enough of that. She went to poke me again and I stepped in close, letting her hoof go by me. I bumped her with my chest and bowled her over.

“There you go,” she said, looking up at me.

“What do you want me to say?”

“Anything! You just sat there and took it all. You’ve got it all bottled up inside and now you’re telling the section to finish fights. You’re preparing for a war! If you keep this up, you won’t have to worry about us starting a fight with the gryphons. It will be you. So why don’t you just be the bigger stallion and get it out of your system right now?” She reached up to lightly poke me on the cheek with her hoof.

That set me off. The gates flew open and my hoof came down hard beside her. “You never should have left! I could have taken it! You just assumed I couldn’t. You never should have lied, either! Winterspear had her reasons, but what was your excuse? Aren’t we best friends? You sure haven’t acted like it lately. I try to be myself and you say it isn’t enough. I try to meet you halfway and it's too far. I’m tired of being wrong and I’m tired of everypony treating me like a fragile foal.”

My voice dropped to the normal tone. “I’m tired of being a third wheel. I was just starting to feel right again and then there you are in bed with my sister. Now everypony has somepony but me. When I was with you, I got used to the idea that there was more to life than the job. Now that I know that, if I think about it, I get muddled. It is just easier to focus on my work than worry about what I’m missing.”

Iridescence poked me in the cheek with her hoof and said, “Boop.”

I slumped down to rest against her. “I see.” The anger subsided. Now I was just exhausted.

She rolled over and looped her hooves around me in a tight hug. “I’m not going to make any excuses for my behavior. I didn’t treat you like a friend nor did I give you the respect I should have. When you didn’t get angry, I questioned whether or not you even cared but watching you lately had shown me otherwise. I owed it to you to help you express that anger.”

“By picking a fight?” I asked. “That was pretty risky. That target could have been you.”

Iridescence buried her nose into my mane and snuffled. “Honestly, I’d have deserved it. I’ve been a gryphon’s butt. I’ve been acting really selfish. Seeing what it did to you really opened my eyes. I couldn’t let it go on. Especially not with this big mission coming up. Now I don’t want you to just say you forgive me and that we’re fine. You obviously got some of it out there but if you feel a need to yell some more, we can do that.”

I really didn’t feel like yelling. In fact, I was hoping she’d just hug me like that a while longer. It was nice, even if it was just platonic. What was important was that we really hadn’t been close since she got back. We were just pretending and going through the motions. This was an actual love. The love of one friend for another.

“Okay,” I said.

“Uh… should we leave?” one pony in a small group asked from the other side of the room. How long had they been there?

“Yes!” we shouted in unison.

“Hey, Sergeant, did you say something to Runic?” Miley asked pointedly.

I inhaled some of the water I was drinking and started coughing. Lieutenant Rook, the coward, immediately fled my office.

When I started breathing again, I looked at Miley and asked, “Why do you ask?”

“He has been acting a little off lately. At least off for him, anyway. He is paying more attention to me and asking me about things I like instead of just science.”

“And that is a bad thing?” I asked.

Miley Hooves lightly stomped. “No, it isn’t bad. Just weird. You told him, didn’t you?”

I set my hoof on the desk and nodded. “I did. I wanted to see where he was mentally. He thought you were taking him to a show about rocks and I wanted to be certain he didn’t miss an amazing opportunity.

She tilted her head. “Amazing opportunity?”

“To find love. To do something other than invent alone in that back room. You’re an amazing pony, Miley, and if he never saw that, it would have been sad. No, maybe even a tragedy. I know I shouldn’t have meddled but I couldn’t help it. I care about you both, you just seem good together, and you can’t stand there and tell me you weren’t looking at him like that.”

Miley muttered, “Maybe.”


“Okay… yes,” she said but then looked up at me again, fire in her eyes. All mares, including petite ones, can be frightening. “But you still shouldn’t have meddled!”

Holding up my hooves, I quickly agreed, “You’re right and I won’t again. I promise. It is all you two from here on out.”

“Okay then…” she said, eyeing me as she walked out. Once she was beyond the door, she poked her head back in, looking every bit her normal, cute self. “Thanks, boss!”

I just winked and counted my blessings that I had gotten that one right.

40. I'll Be Seeing You

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“This is ridiculous,” I said as Winterspear remained flopped over my back. She was resting on her belly with her hooves dangling off both sides of me. It was like carrying a rug or really heavy saddlebags.

“I’m your burden to bear,” she teased.

“Iridescence says you’re still a bit angry and feeling lonely. Well, now you can’t be alone because I’m going to stay here until you talk to me.”

“This is going to get really awkward when I go to the stallion’s room.” I walked us through the streets of Canterlot. We were certainly drawing a lot of attention.

Winterspear wiggled and hugged around my belly. “I’m willing to take that chance.”

“You’re a pest.”

“I’m your pest,” she chirped.

I walked into Sunridge Sweets and was quickly greeted by Pepper Ridge, who was behind the counter. “What can I get for you today, Silent Knight?” he asked, peering at me like I was insane.

“Do you have any bread today? I know you don’t normally put it out, but Crystal Wishes says yours is the best in town,” I said.

Pepper Ridge winked. “Of course, for family friends I do. Anything else?”

“A cookie for my saddlebag. Something with peanut butter so it stops talking.”

“Done and done,” Pepper Ridge replied as he filled my order. I thanked him and headed back out to continue my errands.

I sighed. “Honestly, Winterspear, I’m not angry at you. How can I be? Perhaps who you picked wasn't ideal, but the reason why makes perfect sense. So I get a little angry now and then but I’ve worked most of it out at the gym and talking to Iridescence. I’m mostly back to my usual self.”

Winterspear nibbled on her cookie. Her tongue flapped about extra hard trying to keep the peanut butter from silencing her. “Okay,” she managed. “But you’re still not talkin’.”

I looked over my shoulder at her and asked, “What are we supposed to talk about? I’m honestly not mad at you. I could never be mad at you. If I had been in your situation I’d probably have done the same thing.”

The cookie vanished and she said, “You are in my situation and you’re not talking.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“I told you before, it gets easier after the first time. That doesn’t mean when the first time ends it isn’t really hard. You’re not angry anymore. Great! You’re now sitting alone and wondering what you did wrong. Why you weren’t good enough.

"I haven’t seen you look at a single mare since I’ve been here. In fact, this is probably the closest you’ve been to one in awhile,” she replied, drumming on my stomach a bit.

Lifting my nose proudly, I said, “I’ll have you know I was most recently in the arms of one of the most perfect mares in all of Equestria.”

“Hugging Princess Luna doesn’t count. That is like hugging Mom,” Winterspear retorted flatly.

My proud nose fell and I grumbled, “Okay, fair enough. What do you want me to say?”

“Tell me the truth.”

I rolled my eyes and turned the corner, heading towards the farmer’s market. “I don’t know what you want.”

“I think you do.”

“You want me to just come out and say it? To say that I don’t think I’ll find another mare like Iridescence? One who gets me? That I’m going to end up doing nothing with my life other than my career like Grandfather or Dad?

"Or that I’m sad that somehow that now sounds bad to me? Before her, I’d have been thrilled to just be a guard my whole life. Now I know there is more to life and that just makes it worse.” I huffed and walked along the stalls with my pegasus saddlebag. Ponies stared but it didn’t bother me.

Winterspear sighed. “You think that’s true? That she was the only one? If so, I’ll let you have her back. Honest.”

“I’m pretty confident it doesn’t work that way, but thank you,” I said and then shrugged. “What do I know, Winterspear? There are only a few things I know are true. One, I love guarding Princess Luna. I know that part of my life is right. Two, I love you despite how big of a pest you’ve become. Three, I liked what I had and I miss it.

"I don’t have a pony to come home to or to hold. It is like the captain was trying to tell me all that time ago. I had to find balance. I did and then it went all out of whack. I’m a busy pony. When am I going to find time to find a mare? It isn’t as if there is one right under my nose.”

“You can hold me.” She wiggled on my back.

“That sentiment is sweet… and creepy, but you know what I mean. Don’t tease me. You’re getting what you asked for,” I said.

She nodded. “Right, sorry. I’m going to be honest. I’m not completely used to you having feelings yet. I know you’re my little brother, but you have always been far stronger. Finding out you’re a living pony like the rest of us is scary.”

That stopped me in my tracks. I turned and looked back at her. “Seriously?”

“Of course! Everything I did was wrong. Everything you did was right. When Dad was going off on me, you always came to comfort and help me after. You never made me feel like I was stupid or useless. You never judged me. You were even willing to argue with him over the holiday just for me. I look up to you. You’re my rock,” she explained.

My nose twitched. “We have a pretty screwed up family, don’t we?”

“Yeah… I was hoping you’d never notice.”

I started moving again and fell silent while I did my shopping. With everything I needed settled in my actual saddlebag I turned to head home. “Look, I’ll get over this. I just didn’t know how to deal with it. Evidently, my process involves breaking targets, sparring with Iridescence, and wearing you like a saddlebag.”

Winterspear hugged my belly again. “I’m your burden! Besides, I’m also just trying to spend some time with you before you go. It will be the longest we’ve been apart since we started living together.” There was a bit of sadness in her voice.

“I guess that’s true. I could pull some strings and get you assigned to the Palace Guard support,” I offered.

“Thanks, but no. I have some pride you know! My duty is with the city guard and I don’t plan to run off to some gryphon kingdom. But I want you to promise me you won’t do anything stupid there,” she said, suddenly very serious.

I shook my head. “I’m not angry. I won’t start a fight.”

“No…” She started flapping her wings, lifting off my back and landing in front of me. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this mission. We’re talking gryphons here, Silent Knight. Dad might not be the most normal pony but you know what they did to him. Don’t do something foolish.

"Don’t be some hero that sacrifices himself for everypony else.” She poked me in the chest with a hoof. “Be the kind of hero that figures out how to save everypony at the last possible minute. Promise me.”

I put my hooves around her and gave her a hug. “I promise, but you don’t need to worry. This is a mission of peace.”

“We’ll see,” she said, squeezing me tightly and then letting go so that we could get back home.

Velvet Step smiled at me as she opened the door. “Well, hello, Silent Knight! Won’t you come in?”

I smiled in return and nodded. “Thank you. I’d love to. Welcome home.”

The mare cheered, “Thank you! It’s great to be home. What brings you out today?”

“I can’t really go into specifics but I’ll be going away on a mission for a while. I wanted to drop by to say goodbye to Crystal Wishes… and, now that I know you’re home, you as well.”

She winked. “Two friends in one visit. Well, make yourself at home. Crystal is just getting ready for the day. I’ll go let her know you’re here.”

“Thank you.” I settled myself onto one of the pillows in the living room. At least Velvet was back. That made saying goodbye a little easier. I heard the pair talking quietly in the other room and some hasty preparation.

Crystal Wishes came out in a bathrobe, her hair put up. Velvet trailed along behind. “Oh, I am terribly sorry you have to see me like this, Silent Knight, but Velvet said you were leaving?”

Nodding, I replied, “You’re fine, Crystal Wishes, truly. She is correct, I’m afraid. Off to do my duty. A month or longer depending on the situation. I didn’t want to disappear without saying goodbye, though. That wouldn’t be proper.”

The mares came and sat across from me. “You’re awfully kind,” Velvet said.

Crystal Wishes nodded in agreement and then asked cautiously, “Is there trouble? Are you going to be in danger?”

I shifted uncomfortably. “Please don’t think me rude, but I’m not at liberty to say.”

The pair exchanged looks and then nodded. “I understand. Procedure,” Crystal Wishes replied.

I smiled weakly. “So it is. I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I just wanted to ask if it would be alright to write you while I’m gone… and Velvet, too, of course.”

Crystal Wishes eagerly nodded. “Yes, of course! We should all stay in touch. Though I am uncertain how to return letters to you.”

“That, I can share. You see, by the time you receive my letter it will be from where I was, not where I am. That information is not as useful. You’ll respond to that location and royal agents will know how to secretly forward it to me,” I explained.

“How neat!” Velvet said.

“Very efficient,” Crystal Wishes agreed.

“Well…” I started, standing up. “I’ll let the two of you get back to it. I have an appointment I must not be late for. It was a pleasure seeing you both again. When I return, I’d love to have a little event to celebrate.”

“Oh yes! That would be wonderful. Until then,” Crystal Wishes said.

Velvet chimed in, “Safe travels.”

I nodded to both and let myself out as I headed to the Unicorn Temple at the edge of town.

Very few ponies are aware of the Unicorn Temple in Canterlot. It isn’t advertised or obvious. From the outside, the compound looks like nothing more than a tall stone wall with a big set of red double doors in the center. None of the buildings inside rise high enough to be visible from the street but if a pony went up into the nearby buildings, however, they could look inside, providing they could see through the dense canopy of trees.

The only reason I knew of the Temple was because of my deep research into the Canterlot Guard and all of the associated parts of it. The Temple was protected by temple guards who were loosely affiliated with the Royal Guard. By charter, they were subordinate to the same chain of command I was but, in reality, they operated wholly independently.

They conducted their own recruiting, training, and promoting. Temple guards and royal guards rarely crossed paths. Jurisdiction was exceedingly clear: temple guards protected everything inside the wall. Royal guards protected the rest.

I approached the large doors and knocked. The members of the Unicorn Temple worshiped alicorns. From their perspective, alicorns were living deities and should be treated as such. That wasn’t a tough sell for me.

They also invested their time in studying protection and healing magic so that they could serve the ponies of Equestria. They strived to do good works in the name of the alicorns and, should they do enough in their lifetime, they believed they were afforded a seat beside the ancient alicorns in the afterlife.

Furthermore, according to them, if a pony was so selfless, so passionate, and so kind that they went over and beyond what many would see as normal, they may even be reborn as an alicorn. That, they believed, was how Celestia came to power. It was a philosophy I could understand… other than the alicorn rebirth. To my knowledge, there were only two living and there had not been a new one for thousands of years.

Princess Celestia had once said that she and Princess Luna weren’t the first alicorns, but she never elaborated. I was probably one of the few ponies in Equestria that knew anything about Nocturna. It was probably better to keep it that way, too.

For the time being, I was happy to have a seat beside a living alicorn and it was my duty to ensure she had the best possible protection. I thought temple guards would help, so I had made a request for an audience.

After a short wait, the doors opened and I walked inside. The temple grounds were beautiful. There were no signs of the modern Canterlot architecture. Everything was hidden inside a perfectly manicured garden. Every building had been erected in such a way that it blended with nature.

Standing on the path before me was a single unicorn mare. Her coat was a pale pearl color and was accented by a simple blonde mane. She wore armor, but it was of an ancient style, the sort of suit you would see in books about the knights of old. Despite having a historic aesthetic, it was in perfect condition and polished to a gleaming silver.

She approached me. “You are Silent Knight, First Sergeant of Princess Luna’s House Guard?”

My research had mentioned that these ponies were quite formal and very traditional. I removed my helmet and bowed. “I am. May I have the honor of your name?”

The unicorn bowed her head in return. “I am Ferrel, Exemplar of the Temple Guard. I welcome you to our grounds.”

Members of the Unicorn Temple gave up their given pony names for single, simpler ones. The ones they chose were often very different than what you might expect. “Thank you. May I assume that you are the pony to which I should state my request?”

Ferrel nodded and replied, “I am and I am listening. How may the Temple Guard serve?”

I explained everything in detail. I held nothing back or made any false claims. This mission could be dangerous and I wanted to be certain the Temple Guard knew my expectations. The unicorn mare stood there unmoving. Her expression was blank and her stare was a little off-putting, but I didn’t let it shake my cool.

“Thus I feel, if you could spare four temple guards, the risk to Princess Luna would be greatly diminished.”

The exemplar replied after some thought, “It is almost unheard of for temple guards to leave temple grounds, even in the pursuit of their duty. You have valid concerns, however, and I agree that we may be able to greatly assist you. We will serve beside you as requested.”

It had been a long shot but it appeared it was going to pay off. I bowed and replied, “You have my thanks, Exemplar Ferrel. I must apologize for coming with so little time to spare. Secrecy had to be maintained. We leave in a mere days. Will your guards be prepared?”

“We are prepared,” she said with certainty. The unicorn motioned to her right and three other unicorns in similar armor stepped out from the shadows of the trees. They all had saddlebags and looked ready to travel.

I blinked. “Forgive me, but you’re already prepared? How could you have known?”

“We are and we have always known,” Ferrel replied cryptically.

It seemed better not to push on that subject. “Very well. Again, you have my gratitude. Please meet us at the train station in three days’ time when the moon rises.”

“We will be there.” She turned and walked down the path.

Slowly, I took three steps backwards and then turned to go. Once I was outside, the doors shut behind me and a shiver ran the length of my spine. How could they have known? I shook it off and hurried back to the palace to inform the lieutenant. It looked like we had all of our ponies now. It was time to get going.

41. Into The Gryphon's Roost - Part 1

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I stood in the station looking out at the night sky. A special train had been brought in to convey Princess Luna and her retinue straight to Baltimare. Once we were there, three identical ships would be waiting in the harbor. We would board one and all three would set off on slightly different courses. Nopony would know for sure which one the princess was on.

Mentally, I went through my checklist again. Twenty house guards had arrived as expected. Sixteen palace guards, too. Finally, four temple guards had arrived precisely on time, shrouded in silver cloaks with the hoods drawn. In retrospect, there was little chance I could pass them off as palace guards, but I doubted the gryphons would have any clue who they really were.

Everypony boarded the train and we were off. Princess Luna sat quietly in the private passenger car, looking out the window as Equestria went by. I couldn’t get a read on her. She seemed to be conflicted. There was pride there; this was to be her first official journey as a head of state, after all. I also think I sensed fear. Alicorns are ponies, too, and ponies can be afraid.

I took a seat next to Miley Hooves, who was sitting across from Exemplar Ferrel. She was openly staring at the unicorn temple guard, so I gave her a gentle nudge.

“Sorry,” she whispered.

The unicorn’s head turned and her blue eyes caught ours. “Why are you sorry? Curiosity for the sake of curiosity is not rude. Do I appear so different to you?”

“Staring is rude. I’m sorry,” Miley repeated before shaking her head. “No, not different. Just… different? You aren’t like most unicorns. You remind me of the princess.”

Ferrel bowed her head. “You have my gratitude. We model ourselves after our alicorns so that we may be closer to them. We seek to do as they do and spread harmony across the world.”

Miley fidgeted. “Is it true that your magic is some of the most powerful in all of Equestria?”

“That depends on how you define power. We study magic that protects and heals. Never do we stray from that. Some ponies would say that such magic is not powerful because it cannot be used for personal gain or for force,” the unicorn explained.

I chimed in, “And what would you say?”

Ferrel’s gaze shifted to me. “Power does not interest me, but our magic is quite strong. The longer a temple guard practices, the stronger the spells become. The more faith a guard has, the wider the effect.”

Miley blinked at that. “Faith? Really?” I nudged her and she looked up at me.

A smile crossed the unicorn’s face and she replied, “Yes, faith in the alicorns and faith in harmony. We believe that if we have faith in them, they will have faith in us and bestow their aid when we need it most. Thus, the spells have a wider effect.”

“Amazing,” I mused with a smile. “Though I’m intrigued, I hope I never have the opportunity to see your magic.”

“Indeed,” the unicorn replied, watching Miley. The petite mare was looking back and forth between Ferrel and Princess Luna.

“What defines a protection spell?” I asked.

“The definition is somewhat broad,” Ferrel admitted. “In general, protection spells shield ponies from some type of harm. Others may strengthen a pony and give her the ability to keep going even when injured, at least until the body is no longer capable of doing so. Others are more subjective. For instance, gravity spells.”

Tilting my head, I asked, “Gravity spells? For protection?”

“Indeed. It is tough for a pony to do harm when they feel as if they are being pulled towards the ground. It makes flying most difficult and removes the advantages a pegasus possesses,” she explained.

I didn’t like the sound of that at all, but thankfully she was on my side.

We fell silent for a moment and then Miley chimed in, “So if you worship alicorns, why don’t you go and talk to Princess Luna? Wouldn’t that be awesome?”

“Miley,” I said hurriedly.

“That would be inappropriate,” Ferrel replied.

“No it wouldn’t. I talk to her all the time.” Miley beamed.

“Miley!” My voice rose this time.

“It would be inappropriate for me,” Ferrel replied again.

“I don’t think s—” Miley managed to get out before I covered her mouth with my hoof.

“Apologies, Exemplar. Some things look a lot simpler to our youth.”

“Of course, Sergeant. Thank you. If you will excuse me, I believe I need some sleep,” she said, getting up.

I followed suit, keeping a hoof on Miley. The unicorn and I bowed and she went to the sleeper car. I glared at Miley and she squeaked, “What? What did I do?!”

“Never discuss religion with ponies! It’s rude. If she says it’s inappropriate, it’s inappropriate. For her, at least,” I explained.

Miley’s ears folded. “Sorry, boss… it just seems weird. There is an alicorn right there.” She pointed as if I was unaware. “But I promise I won’t pester her about it.”

“Good,” I replied before sitting back down. I leaned over on the small mare, putting my weight against her.

“What are you doing, Sergeant?” she whined as she struggled to hold me up.

“Your punishment is that you have to be my pillow. That way I’ll know exactly where you are.”

Miley huffed. “Rude!”

The rest of the train ride went without incident and I discovered that once she stopped squirming Miley actually made a pretty good pillow. I filed that away into my mental ‘useful information’ storage when I woke up. Most of the other ponies, other than the ones on duty, were still asleep. I got up and went to check on those who were awake. They had nothing to report.

Princess Luna was still sitting in her seat and I went to her. “It will be time for you to sleep soon, won’t it?” I asked. The sun was due up and usually the princess was in bed just after.

“I suppose so… though I am too anxious to sleep,” she admitted.

“Are you worried something will happen, Princess?” I asked as I felt the hairs of my coat standing up.

She shook her head. “No. I have not been part of royal proceedings for quite some time. My sister has handled it all. Now I am finally taking my rightful place, but I am uncertain. Failure here may lead to aggression with the gryphons.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. Nerves again. We'd already had one pep talk about this. “I see. Princess, you are not your sister, nor should you try to be. You are an alicorn in your own right and one worth emulating. I have faith in you to do the right thing. You will not fail.”

Princess Luna smiled slightly and said, “I am glad thou hast so much confidence in me. I hope it won’t be misplaced.”

“Never,” I said and patted her hoof. The train started to slow and it was clear we were pulling into the station. “We should get ready to transfer to the ship, Princess.”

She nodded in agreement and we got on our way.

There is one thing in life I had never experienced up until that point: being on a ship. As a foal I had loved stories about pirates and swashbuckling. Those stories didn’t mention anything about being seasick. Sailing may be for some ponies but it was not for me.

Every day I spent as much time in the air as I could. I flew patrol around the vessel until I dropped with exhaustion. Once that had happened it wasn’t long before the seasickness took me. It really made doing my duty difficult, but thankfully the lieutenant seemed to be unaffected. He kept ordering me on patrols so we could try to hide the fact that I was a mess.

By the time we reached Nordanver, I was exhausted… exhausted and exceedingly thrilled to see it. It took all of my self discipline not to dive off the deck and fly to the land. I wanted to roll around in nice, immobile grass, but I had a job to do. It was time to get serious.

I supervised the princess’s disembarkation and the security of her carriage. We had requested there be no fanfare or welcoming parade and that wish had been honored.

We were met by a unit of gryphon soldiers under the command of Captain Alastair. He watched us like a hawk and it felt as if he was counting my ponies.

“You look ill, Sergeant,” he called to me as I sat on top of the carriage.

“Green is the latest in guard fashion,” I replied as seriously as I could.

His guards formed up in front of and behind ours and we marched our way to the palace that sat in the heart of Margull. Tomorrow, Princess Luna would meet with Duke Cassius’s brother, King Ranald. Until then, I planned to sleep as long as I could once we got to the palace.

King Ranald was a very gracious host. He set Princess Luna up with an entire wing of his palace. It came complete with a place for her to sleep, work, and relax. There was also a reasonable supply of nearby bedrooms for us. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough beds for everypony but we made do with that.

Ponies on opposite shifts shared easily enough. That solved most of the problem, but there were still a few too many of us due to my respecting common procedures and hierarchy. I set Exemplar Ferrel up with her own room and did the same for the lieutenant. I’m all for equality, but ponies like them have appearances to keep.

Orchid, Iridescence, and I shared one room with two beds. We figured at any given time at least one of us would be up and awake. I did the same for the sergeants in charge of the palace guards that were supporting us. All in all, it was a workable situation. I was glad the lieutenant had rejected the idea of bringing even more ponies.

After I had worked all of that out, I put Orchid in charge and collapsed into one of the beds. I had not had a good night’s sleep in days and if I was going to keep my wits about me, I would need it. If I were to guess, I’d say I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow.

I woke up much later, some time in the middle of the night. Iridescence was gone and Orchid was sound asleep in the opposite bed. Shift change had clearly happened without my involvement. I was still pretty groggy and could have used more sleep but decided it would be best for the first sergeant to get up and do some rounds. I was stiff as I dressed myself, but I finally got ready and made for the door to leave.

When I opened it, I found a figure standing there staring at me. I reared back on instinct and settled into my battle stance. It took a moment to dawn on me that I was not in danger.

Exemplar Ferrel never moved and finally said vacantly, “Be wary, Silent Knight. Be wary.” And, just like that, she turned and walked off down the hall.

“What in Celestia’s name?” I asked out loud before stepping out of the room. I looked down the hall but the unicorn was gone. That unnerved me and I hurriedly went to check on my guards.

Iridescence asked the moment I walked up, “Are you okay? You look… I don’t know how you look.”

“I just saw a ghost,” I replied and then motioned with a hoof. “Status?”

She blinked. “All is well at last check. The next check is in a quarter hour. What do you mean you saw a ghost?”

“Exactly what I said. I saw the temple guard Ferrel outside of my door. She told me to be wary and then disappeared.”

Iridescence shifted my helmet so she could get at my forehead. “Are you sure you weren’t dreaming? Do you have a fever? That ship did a number on you, after all.”

“You’re probably right,” I replied, starting to come down. “Still, I’m going to stick around for the next check and then get back to bed unless you need to be relieved.”

“I think you’d best sleep,” Iridescence said. “You clearly need it more than I do. If I get stuck I’ll go get the lieutenant. He won’t mind.”

That was true. The lieutenant wouldn’t mind at all. “Alright. Let’s get to that check… and start staggering the intervals a bit. I don’t want to be too predictable. Sleep deprivation or not, we shouldn’t make it easy.”

“Yes, Sergeant,” she replied and we went to check the guard posts together.

42. Into The Gryphon's Roost - Part 2

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The exemplar’s warning, in addition to being cryptic, seemed to be without merit. Iridescence and I patrolled the halls, checked on door locks, and shifted our guards around to break up patterns. It led to another long night and further interrupted my sleep cycle.

At the same time, it also seemed to confuse the gryphons to no end. I got the impression that some of them were watching us. It could have been curiosity. It could have been sinister. It could have been because we were doing all sorts of things in the middle of the night.

I’m not sure I’ll ever know for certain. Perhaps by taking action we’d stopped whatever I needed to be wary of. In either event, I was even more weary than wary by the time we were done.

Iridescence stretched and asked, “Are you going to relieve me or do you want me to go get the lieutenant?”

“I’ll take over for now.”

Her head tilted. “Are you sure? You look like you need to sleep.”

“I’ll sleep during the day. There is less chance of anything happening then since Princess Luna will be with King Ranald.”

Iridescence shrugged. “Yes, Sergeant. They’re all yours.” As she headed off down the hall, she paused and looked over her shoulder. “Maybe you really did just see things.”

“Yeah, it was probably just the seasickness and lack of sleep. I’ll be fine soon. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” she repeated before disappearing.

It probably was exactly what I’d told Iridescence but, deep down, I didn’t believe it. Not for a minute.

If it’s not obvious, I don’t like gryphons in general. King Ranald was no average gryphon, however. He was a no-nonsense, everything-above-the-table sort of monarch. When he spoke, it was from the heart and his words glimmered with honesty and integrity. Princess Luna seemed to like him and it was tough not to feel the same.

Many of the discussions on the first day were very informal. The pair just walked through the castle gardens and chatted while Thunder Tumble and I stayed two paces back and one pace to either side.

King Ranald had only one guard close to him, but there were numerous others on the balcony above the garden and at the doorways. That made me nervous even though it is customary that the hosting sovereign provides most of the security for visiting dignitaries. To push for more than two personal guards would be an insult and Princess Luna had made it clear we would not be insulting our host.

Besides that, Alton, the King’s personal guard, was a trustworthy sort. I got the impression that he was heavily invested in everything going smoothly. He’d have protected both leaders if something had gone awry. At least I believed he would.

The conversation between our respective charges was light and less formal but it was clear that they were using it as a time to get some of the less important agreements out of the way. That way, when they came to the table, there would already be common ground.

“Equestria delights in many of thine imports,” Princess Luna said. “My sister and I desire to keep trade as free as possible so that thy merchants may continue to find us welcoming partners.”

King Ranald chuckled. “I think there is no danger of my subjects thinking you as anything less than welcoming. There is no secret that ponies are our largest market. Outside of our own lands, of course.”

Princess Luna paused and nodded. “Indeed. Then I would ask, what is thy stance on piracy? We feel as though more ships than usual have fallen victim as of late.”

“Piracy is certainly bad for business on both sides of our common sea. My subjects have also been making their concerns known to me,” he responded.

“Wouldst thou be willing to increase the amount of ships committed to combating it if we were also willing to do so? Could we yet further agree to coordinate and offer protection to all ships, not just those under our respective flags?” Princess Luna asked carefully.

“A joint venture to protect all ships from pirates? That is a novel idea. It may certainly bring our naval forces closer together and it would certainly be better for business. Exactly how large of an increase are you considering, Princess?”

“We feel as though the problem is getting out of hoof. A tenth again over what exists now with the hope that as we work together, the amount of ships required will decrease,” Princess Luna replied.

King Ranald paused and lightly plucked a brilliant rose from a nearby bush. He smelled it before offering it to the princess. “Consider it done, my friend.”

The lieutenant and I sat quietly in one of the local taverns having a cider… or at least what gryphons called cider. It wasn’t remotely the same but it was about the only drink they made that I could stand other than water. The week of negotiations had been going well. Princess Luna was confident that she would have an official agreement signed soon.

“You’re looking better, Sergeant,” Lieutenant Rook said.

With a nod, I replied, “Thank you, sir. I’m feeling more like myself. A couple of good sleeps have really cleared my head.”

Lieutenant Rook smiled and then asked, “See any more ghosts?”

“No, sir.” My tone remained flat. In private, the other sergeants and the lieutenant had teased me a bit. They’d written the whole thing off as paranoia and the exemplar had been her usual confusing self about it.

I still wasn’t convinced yet, but instead of crying wolf I was just going to be extra diligent. “I still think some of the gryphons are up to something. That Captain Alastair rubs me wrong, and he—” My eyes drifted up. “—just walked through the door.”

We both watched as the gryphon approached.

“Well, well. I see you two are not under the princess’s hoof today. Did she give you the day off? If you two are here, who is keeping account of those misfit ponies you call guards?” Captain Alastair taunted as he approached.

Lieutenant Rook yawned and replied, “Our misfit ponies are smart enough to manage themselves for an afternoon. They don’t require an officer’s constant attention to ensure they don’t ruffle each others’ feathers.”

Alastair lightly clapped for the lieutenant and said, “Bravo. My men ruffle each others’ feathers because they’re all winners. I would gladly put them against your little bunch of ponies any day of the week.”

I took a long drink from the cider and set it down. “Hmm, a whole company of gryphons against a mere 40 ponies. I don’t know… You’re being awfully generous with the handicap. Do you have any other friends you could invite to help you? I imagine not.”

He’d never admit it but I’m pretty sure the lieutenant had to stifle a laugh at that one.

Captain Alastair seethed, “You dare insult my company? Is it a challenge you’re after?”

The lieutenant set a hoof down between me and the gryphon. “No, he is most certainly not insulting your company or offering a challenge. We would be poor guests if we did that, just as insulting our unit would make you a poor host, and nobody here is a poor guest or host. Right?”

“No, of course not,” the captain said. “But perhaps before you leave we will see who has the best soldiers.” He turned with a dramatic flare and marched out.

“Hoofing the line a little close there, aren’t you, Sergeant?” the lieutenant asked.

I shook my head. “Oh, no, sir. I honestly believe he doesn’t have any friends.”

Lieutenant Rook’s face contorted as he tried to remain stern. He half-smiled and swallowed another laugh. “Just keep it cool for a few more days. Then we’ll be on our way home.”

“Aye, sir. Aye,” I muttered, finishing the swill they called cider.

I sat quietly in the room I was sharing with Iridescence and Orchid. A parchment rested on the desk in front of me with only three words on it: ‘Dear Crystal Wishes.’ It was proving to be very difficult to write a letter to her and I wasn’t sure why.

When we had first arrived I wrote one and it was pretty mundane. I talked about my poor time at sea and what the Margull looked like. I was not allowed to discuss any of the official business going on and that didn’t make for a good letter to a friend anyway.

“Dear Crystal Wishes. I know you’re into mares and currently with our mutual friend Velvet Step but if you ever decide you want to try stallions please look me up,” I said out loud sarcastically.

I rubbed my face with my hooves. What was I doing? Picking the pencil back up and, starting again, I wrote:

It is certainly not a sure thing but we may be coming home soon. I dread the thought of getting back on that ship but the idea of returning to good friends like you fills me with excitement.

Each day here has been a testament to how important true friendship is and a reminder about what life could be like without it. Though I have no regret in my chosen profession, a trip like this one gives me pause. I can no longer imagine a life solely devoted to the pursuit of war.

I ask that you keep this realization confidential as I would not want to share it with my comrades in arms. Please give my love to Velvet Step and her family. I look forward to seeing you soon.

Your Friend

Silent Knight

Well, that was certainly much more appropriate. I dropped the letter in an envelope, sealed it, and addressed it to Crystal Wishes. Then I tucked it in another envelope, which I addressed to the small Equestrian Consulate that was local to the area. They’d handle all of the cloak and dagger business.

With my missive written, there wasn’t much else to do. I left the room to go find Alton. He and I had been sharing security best practices. It was all general concepts, of course, but he had some pretty solid ideas that I wanted to incorporate. I guess diplomacy was a good thing. I certainly was starting to learn that you could trust some gryphons.

The temple guards were a constant source of amazement and conversation for the rest of the pony retinue. They rarely, if ever, spoke and did exactly what was asked of them without question. Once that was complete, they spent their time sitting in silent meditation or reading from a single book that all four of them shared.

On the few occasions they had been taunted by gryphons, they acted as if they had not heard their would-be tormentor. Their ability to ignore was immense, so much so that one particularly excitable gryphon jumped at Exemplar Ferrel in an attempt to startle her or get any sort of reaction at all. She didn’t so much as flinch. The surprised gryphon landed right in front of her before being hauled off by his sergeant. I wanted that level of self-discipline.

Unfortunately, as a result of their quiet nature, the other ponies tended to steer clear of them. I wasn’t sure if I should feel badly about that or not. It didn’t seem as if the temple guards cared. In the spirit of positive relations, however, I decided to try and spend some time with Exemplar Ferrel to learn more about them.

She was easy to find. When she wasn’t on duty, she would often be sitting in the palace garden with her eyes closed. That is how I found her.

I softly cleared my throat and asked, “Excuse me, Exemplar?”

Her eyes opened slowly. “Yes, Sergeant?"

“I was wondering if you’ve had lunch yet and, had you not, if you’d care to join me?” I offered.

Exemplar Ferrel rose and lightly brushed off her armor. “I will join you.”

With her agreement, we went together to the palace dining hall. King Ranald had insisted that all members of Princess Luna’s retainers have access to it. It was a boon since gryphons and ponies have very, very different diets but the staff there was capable of providing for us.

After selecting some fine bread and vegetables, we sat across from each other. I cleared my throat. “Would you mind if I asked you a few questions, Exemplar?”

“I would not mind, though I may not answer, if that is something that you can accept,” she replied.

“That is only fair. You and your temple guards have been extremely dedicated to our efforts here. I’m only sorry that there hasn’t been more… social mingling. I hope you and yours do not feel excluded,” I started.

“That is of no consequence. We are unaccustomed to ‘social mingling,’ as you put it. Our lives are spent sequestered within the temple walls learning and growing. Here, we are learning different skills and growing in different ways. It is valuable to see the outside world and bring that knowledge back every so often.”

I nodded slowly. “That makes perfect sense to me. I hope to take some of the knowledge from inside the walls and bring it out, if you’ll allow it. May I ask about your title? I realize that the temple guards have long since stopped using the ranks the other royal guards use, but I assumed you were an officer?”

“Nay, Silent Knight. We do not separate ponies between enlisted and officers as you do. In some ways, all ponies are officers and in others, none of us are. An exemplar exists to show the way for the others. It is my duty to not only follow our faith but to also lead by example so that others may walk in my hoofsteps. A pony cannot rise to where I am until she fully understands herself and our ways.”

“Then you are the leader of the Temple Guard? The highest authority?” I asked.

She shook her head. “A leader by example, yes. The leader, no. The Temple is led by the exarch, who presides over the temple guards, the unicorn priests, and the layponies. The highest authority temple guard is my superior, the archon.”

“An exemplar is still very important, it sounds to me,” I said before finally starting to eat my lunch.

Exemplar Ferrel shrugged and said, “No single exemplar is important. The idea of the exemplar is important and the example we set is necessary.” She took my cue and started to eat as well.

This was all fascinating to me. It was like a new aspect to the world of guards and soldiers that my dad had never taught me. “Perhaps when we return, I’ll be able to come visit you on occasion. I would like to know more about the temple. If that is allowed.”

She nodded.

Slowly, a thought dawned on me and I looked around the room. There weren’t any ponies within earshot and most were too busy with their own conversations. My voice dropped to a whisper. “Do you know the name Nocturna?”

The effect on the exemplar was immediate. Her ears shot up and she locked eyes with me. There was surprise in her face for an instant before it disappeared into the usual blank expression. “Yes.”

“Can you tell me anything about her?”

“Can, yes. Will? No. My apologies.” She looked back to her food and the vacant expression hardened. That was certainly a reaction.

Changing the subject, I said, “I imagine we’ll be leaving soon.”

The exemplar paused and looked up at me. “I imagine not,” she replied without explanation.

I swallowed, really disliking the certainty in her voice.

43. Into The Gryphon's Roost - Part 3

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“Sergeant! Sergeant!” Miley Hooves called as she and Harvest Moon galloped into the sitting room we had been using as an office. They were out of breath and looked worried.

Standing immediately, I asked, “What‘s wrong?”

Miley pointed a hoof out the door. “One of the gryphons was asking us about our rotations and schedules. He said he wanted to compare notes.”

I breathed a sigh of relief and sat back down. This was concerning, but with the way they’d came in I had been ready for a fight. “What did you tell him?”

Harvest Moon beamed with pride. “We told him our schedule back at the palace. That wasn’t a lie! He didn’t specify which schedule he wanted.”

“Do you happen to know which gryphon it was?” I asked.

Miley shook her head. “No, Sergeant. They all look the same to me.”

I raised my brow at her. “Miley, that isn’t nice… But I get what you mean.”

“I did look at his armor and uniform, though. It was the same as that mean gryphon, Captain Alastair,” Miley continued. “That is important, right?”

I stood once more and said, “Very. Good work, you two. I want you to go speak to everypony. Pass the reminder that they should not discuss our procedures with anyone. Just have them direct any questions to the lieutenant or I.”

“You’ve got it, boss!” Miley said before she and Harvest trotted out to get to the task at hoof.

Something was happening in the background and I wasn’t exactly sure what. It could be a threat or it could just be Alastair playing games to annoy us. In either case, I needed to bring the lieutenant up to speed.

“It is my distinct pleasure to sign this agreement between Nordanver and Equestria,” King Ranald said loudly to the assembly as he signed the oversized parchment on the table in front of him. He sealed it before adding, “May our great kingdoms prosper through these mutual agreements.”

Princess Luna levitated her quill to the page while speaking loudly, “It is my privilege and honor to enter into this arrangement. Thou hast been a most generous host and I know we shall reach a new level of cooperation with our most valued partners.” She then sealed the document as well.

The chamber burst into hoof stomps and claw clapping as the agreement was finalized. This had been a major accomplishment for Princess Luna and I knew she would be very proud. I was glad to be going home soon, but the exemplar’s words still haunted me. The deal was done, so what was left to do here?

A reception was to follow the formal agreement and I motioned a few of my ponies off early to ensure the hall was secure. I lingered with the lieutenant so that we could both keep an eye on Princess Luna.

King Ranald and Princess Luna clasped claw to hoof and lifted both over their heads. The room was once again filled with cheers of approval.

“Thank you, my friends,“ King Ranald said. “Please, join us for some refreshments and entertainment in the banquet hall.” He motioned to the door and everyone started in that direction.

The procession was quite informal and as the sea of bodies moved before me, I realized I would not be able to easily reach Princess Luna should she need me.

I started to move through the crowd. “Excuse me… Please. Excuse me. Official business,” I said, bumping into gryphons on the way as I crossed the stream.

Looking out from the crowd, I could see that Captain Alastair and two additional gryphon soldiers were on the dais with the king and princess. Thunder Tumble was there by himself.

“Pardon!” I grunted as I bumped into another gryphon. This was it. I had to get there. My wings twitched as I prepared to leap into the air.

The lieutenant saw what I saw and was caught pushing against the stream trying to return to the dais. We had miscalculated. We sent too many ponies to the reception.

It was now or never. I leaped as high as I could, wings snapping out to both sides. They clipped several gryphons and I said firmly, “Excuse me.” I also drew the attention of everyone that had not yet left.

Captain Alastair was closing in on the princess. Thunder Tumble turned and advanced as well. No one was to get within a meter of Princess Luna. Especially not a gryphon soldier. There were gasps in the hall as I landed heavily on the dais right in front of the princess, wings spread wide to shield her.

“What is this all about?” King Ranald demanded.

Quickly, I turned the motion into a formal bow, watching the smug look on Captain Alastair’s face.

So that was his game all along. It wasn’t to hurt the princess. It was to make us look foolish and we… no, I had fallen right into his trap like the greenest guard. All of the probing and games were just to make me paranoid. Diplomacy would be wrecked over a rash action by a stupid sergeant.

With as much decorum as I could muster, I started, “Apologies, kind king. I—”

Princess Luna’s hoof came over my wing and she tugged me closer to her. “Indeed; apologies, my friend. Sergeant Knight reacted on instinct to the crowd. He would never intentionally try to offend thee. He hath merely been conditioned to act as such.”

I fell silent and let my wings slowly fold.

“Of course,” King Ranald said, his expression shifting to a smile. “They train constantly and never get to use those skills. When a situation even mildly resembling what they’ve trained for occurs, they’re probably ready to leap into action.”

Princess Luna’s grip on me loosened and she softly laughed. “Literally. Come, Sergeant, perhaps thou wouldst feel better standing close to me during the reception?”

Knowing my place, I quickly nodded. “Yes, Princess.”

If I had anything to say about King Ranald, outside of his positive personality, it would be that he was a generous monarch. The reception was, without a doubt, fit for a king and princess. His palace staff had gone all out to ensure there was a huge selection of food for both ponies and gryphons.

Then there was also the dessert table. The centerpiece was a giant cake that was decorated with gryphon heraldry on one half and pony heraldry on the other. I guess it symbolized unity through treats. It was surrounded by just about every other dessert I could have imagined. It was the sort of thing that, if missed, would haunt the cake bandit for years.

To keep the mood light and fun, King Ranald had brought in the Royal Army Festival Orchestra. They played all sorts of upbeat dance numbers on their classical instruments. It was certainly something. I had a twinge of regret that I had made a fool of myself and ended up at Princess Luna’s side. It certainly would have been nice to sample all the delights and maybe even dance a little.

The celebration went on for a couple hours before everyone, gryphon and pony alike, started to wind down. Some went home while others mingled and shared quiet conversations. Princess Luna had met and greeted half the nobles in the kingdom by that point and was looking tired. A smile crossed her face, however, when she spotted her friend.

Duke Cassius approached and bowed. “Princess Luna! I am delighted that my brother was so agreeable to you. I think this trip has been a rousing success! Though I am concerned that it has been nothing but work for you. It was my hope that you’d be able to see some of our beautiful country. Captain Alastair suggested that I invite you to my manor so that you may relax and meet my family. Would you do me that honor?”

Princess Luna smiled. “I most certainly will. My schedule is flexible and it would be wonderful to see more of Nordanver. Accept my deepest gratitude for the invitation. I am eager to spend some time with thy family. We’ve often spoken of thy wife and I am excited to meet her.”

“Thank you, Princess. I shall go and make the preparations immediately. My manor is a mere day’s ride away by train. Would tomorrow be too soon to leave?”

The princess looked to me and I spoke with a confidence I didn’t feel, “We can be prepared to move you, Princess. That won’t be a problem at all.”

Ferrel’s words ran through my head. How had she known? It seemed that we were going to stay in the gryphon kingdom a while longer.

Gryphons and ponies seemed to have very different ideas about train design. It only made sense. All gryphons can fly, so there was not a pressing need for them to have passenger cars. Their trains were generally used for hauling heavy materials.

Duke Cassius, however, had a lot of sway and did find a couple of cars for the princess to use. They were far older than the ones we use in Equestria but the gryphons had done a good job cleaning them up. Despite that, age is hard to hide.

The pair of cars were pretty noisy on the whole since they were crammed full of ponies. The gryphons had built them three to four times longer than ours. This was likely to ensure they were the same size as the flat beds that hauled goods. We did the best we could to give the princess personal space but that proved to be a difficult task. To achieve some level of privacy, we hung a curtain and tried not to sit too close to it. It was the best we could do.

Our trip, on the whole, was uneventful. It took from sunrise to sunset for us to reach the station nearest the Duke’s manor. His lands were vastly different from the seaside venue of the capital. It was rougher territory, filled with lush trees and rolling, rocky hills. There were plenty of places for ambushes and the whole area filled me with dread. Honestly, it reminded me of Princess Luna’s gaming table.

A single cobblestone road wound through the hills towards the manor, which had been built on top of a plateau and offered visibility for miles. We tried to keep moving as fast as possible so that the princess would be exposed for the shortest amount of time.

Duke Cassius had sent a whole company of his soldiers to help secure the way. They were polite, friendly, and vastly different than the ones under Captain Alastair’s command. They were sensitive to our security concerns and were under strict orders from the Duke to handle us with care. To my pleasure, King Ranald had also sent along Alton as our guide.

We arrived just before dinner time. Duke Cassius’s manor was not as big as I had expected; it was certainly larger than the one Iridescence had lived in but for someone of his station it was quite humble. The walls were made of stone that seemed to come from the local landscape and each window was set with stained glass.

In contrast to the rough country surrounding the manor, the Duke had gone to great lengths to replicate his brother’s garden. Flowers of every sort were in bloom and the trees were laden with fruit. The whole area seemed like a paradise in an otherwise harsh land. It was an impressive feat of gardening even if it was far smaller by comparison.

The manor was situated in the center of a village that had clearly grown up to some planned design. The buildings were carefully placed so as not to disrupt the green spaces and all of the roads were laid out with care.

Upon our arrival, we were informed that due to the small size of the manor and the number of ponies we had brought, many of our guards would need to stay in the village.

I cleared my throat and announced to the assembly of ponies, “The lieutenant, Exemplar Ferrel, Sergeant Iridescence, Miley Hooves, Harvest Moon, Thunder Tumble, Lightning Flash, and I will be staying with the princess. Sergeant Orchid will settle the rest of you in town or with the ponies from the local consulate. Be on your best behavior and be ready to come if we call you. In the meantime, Sergeant Orchid will be setting up rotating leave so that you can explore a bit and relax. You’ve earned it.”

It was plain enough to see that the other guards were nervous, but there was not a lot that could be done about it. Duke Cassius was not the sort of gryphon that would allow any harm to come to a guest in his household. With any luck, we’d spend a week or so relaxing while the princess enjoyed a short vacation. Then we could finally go home.

I am not ashamed to admit that I was feeling homesick. Returning to Canterlot meant not being stressed and I could stop looking over my shoulder. It also meant I could see Winterspear and Runic again. Then there was Velvet as well as Crystal Wishes, with her always perfectly kept blonde and strawberry mane… and the captain. I missed the captain, too.

“Silent Knight?”

“Hmm?” I replied, still in thought before blinking. “Apologies. Yes, Princess?”

Princess Luna peered at me. “Do these sleeping arrangements work for thou?”

I hadn’t been paying attention while I was off thinking about home. I’m certain they were fine but I hedged, “If you are comfortable with them, Princess, then I am as well.”

She softly clapped her hooves together. “Huzzah! We shall have a slumber party!”

“Evidently we shall, Princess.” I wondered exactly what I just had agreed to.

For reasons unknown, Princess Luna had selected me as the pony she wanted to share a chamber with. It made far more sense for her to pick Iridescence or Exemplar Ferrel, but she decided I was the best pony for the job.

Each night before bed she would pick an activity from a seemingly random list we worked through because, to quote her: “That is what one does at a slumber party.”

I’m not positive but I think it may have been some form of punishment for acting out at the ceremony. Either that or she liked the idea of teasing me. No pony will ever know for certain and, least of all, me.

On the third night I was lying in bed waiting for the princess to brush my mane. It was, evidently, now part of our routine. Or so I was told.

“If you’ll just sign these last two, Princess,” the unicorn from the local consulate said. I hadn’t caught her name. She was just one of the unicorns that were helping out on the diplomatic side. They had their own security. I was also too busy thinking about what tonight’s torture would be.

The night prior we had given each other hooficures, though I use that term loosely. She had to enlist professionals to undo what I had done to her hooves the next day. The evening before that disaster, however, had been truth or dare. I was not particularly thrilled by any of the activities but by that point I was sure that tormenting me made Princess Luna happy, so I went along with it.

“The duke is a very agreeable sort of fellow. You and he seem to be in sync on a lot of issues. Are you enjoying your time here?” I asked.

Princess Luna finished brushing and started to style my mane. It was not a style for a stallion. “I am. This hath been most relaxing and his family is very kind. He is far more practical than most nobles and knoweth when to just be a regular gryphon. It is refreshing to have someone who understandeth that one cannot be a princess every hour of every day.”

“Does it wear you out? Being a princess, that is, Princess.”

The princess poked her head over mine from behind and replied, “Thou really canst call me Luna, Silent Knight. There are no other guards around and I am doing thy mane… but yes. Being a princess every day weareth me out, much as I imagine thou strictly being a guard every day weareth on thou. Speaking of activities other than being a guard, has thy heart mended enough to look again?”

This was getting quite personal but in that moment as I looked into her eyes I saw Luna… not the princess. Alicorns are ponies, too. Just really powerful, scary, deity ponies.

With a weak smile, I said, “It has for the most part. I had never had a special somepony before. To be honest, I’d never looked past my ambition to be a royal guard.”

I shrugged and went on, “Iridescence showed me a whole side of life that my father had never prepared me for. All he wanted was a perfect guard for a son. I’m not certain how to find a special somepony, to be honest. Iridescence was just right within hoof’s reach… convenience, I guess… I know that isn’t typical.”

An additional set of combs floated by me as Princess Luna continued to work on my mane. For once I was thrilled to have a helmet. She was quiet for a while and then finally said, “Thou art correct. That is not typical, but when hast thou been afraid of a challenge? If thou findest a mare that thou likest, then why not try and woo her?”

“I’m not sure how,” I said, frowning. “Besides, what if she doesn’t feel the same way about me that I feel about her? What if she is already with another pony? Being crushed once was bad enough. Learning experience or otherwise. Why do ponies willfully go out looking for that?”

Princess Luna set all of the combs down on the bed and sat up. “No pony goes looking for that! Sometimes things just do not work out. Thou canst not be afraid to try due to a little pain. Now, I shall help thou buildest confidence! Woo me.”

Terror filled my body and I almost fell off the bed as I scooted back on my flank. I lifted my hooves and exclaimed, “I couldn’t do that, Princess!”

The princess rose and pressed closer. Her forehooves rested on either side of my shoulders and she peered down into my eyes. “And why not? Am I not worthy of wooing? Dost thou not think I am beautiful, Silent Knight?”

None of my military training had prepared me for this moment and I stared up at her in fear. “No, Princess. I mean yes, Princess! You’re beyond beautiful and worthy of wooing but it wouldn’t be appropriate. You’re the pony I protect!”

Princess Luna leaned in even closer and I turned my cheek to her. My eyes closed and she whispered, “Call me Luna.”

I peeked at her with one eye and said, “You’re beautiful, Luna, but it wouldn’t be appropriate.”

Then it happened. Princess Luna nosed my cheek before sitting back to laugh. “Silent Knight, I meant for thou to practice wooing with me. Not actually! Art thou that afraid of mares?”

My poor pony heart was racing and I realized I had my hooves in front of my face as a shield. Slowly, I shifted right-side up and said, “You’re a diabolical prankster… and yes. Mares terrify me.”

“Do I terrify thou?” she asked.

“Most certainly,” I said, in all honesty.

Princess Luna offered her forelegs spread wide. “Wouldst thou like a hug?”

I softly muttered under my breath, “Yes, please.”

We hugged and she said, “When we get home, we shall work on this fear of mares.”

“Okay, Luna.”

Silently, I followed behind Princess Luna and Duke Cassius as they wandered through his village. In the time that I had spent in his company, the duke almost never went anywhere with a full guard. I largely suspected that the one guard he did have with him was out of courtesy to the princess so it did not look like we were untrusted. For that task he had selected Alton, possibly because he was familiar to us.

Over the visit, I had become even more accustomed to walking next to Alton. We did not converse on duty but there was a mutual respect and understanding. We walked in step, kept perfectly in line, and made it look natural.

In some respects, we had become partners like Iridescence and I had once been. Princess Luna and Duke Cassius were setting a good example and we wanted our respective units to see that same common understanding in us.

On the eve before the end of our trip, we were just finishing up our last shared shift. I was certainly going to miss Alton but I was also ready to get back to Canterlot.

“Oy, Sahgeant. It has been a real pleasah workin’ with ew,” Alton said.

I smiled and nodded. “Indeed, Alton. You’re a proper soldier. We certainly work well together.”

“That we do. Since we’ll be leavin’ tomorrah, would ew care to join me for a goodbye drink?”

Inside, I grimaced a bit. Gryphon cider was horrible but Alton was a good sort of fellow and we had worked together almost the whole trip. “Of course, lead the way,” I replied and he did so.

There was one small inn right near the manor. It reminded me a lot of the Spearhead Tavern back home and once we were inside, I knew why. It was where all the soldiers hung out.

Alton walked in with me in tow. All of the gryphons paused for a moment and looked our way.

“Evenin’ chaps! We’re ‘ere for ah drink,” he called and the gryphons raised their mugs in our direction before going about their business. As I had said, these were very different gryphons from the ones Captain Alastair associated with.

We sat at the bar and I ordered a cider. To my surprise, it was not awful. Alton seemed to notice the look on my face and said, “Oy, that is made from the Duke’s fruit trees. Far better than the swill back west, eh?”

I lifted the mug and said, “Here’s to that, to a successful visit, and to good soldiering.”

Alton lifted his as well and we bumped mugs. “Ain’t that right. Politics aside, at the end of the day, soldiers are soldiers, aren’t we?”

We certainly were. Maybe all gryphons weren’t so bad. “You’re right about that. You and I would make good partners. Perhaps you can travel with the Duke on his next visit. At this point I’m sure there will be one.”

“Ah’d like that,” he said. “I’ve always wanted tew visit Equestriah. It seems like ah nice, quiet place.”

I chuckled. “We try to keep it that way, when we can, at least. If you ever decide to move there I’m sure I could find you a job.”

Alton nodded and raised his mug once more. “I’ll keep that in mind. Now tew peace, and keepin’ it that way.”

My mug went up again. “To peace.”

I finished packing the last of the few belongings I had brought with me to Nordanver. Princess Luna was still working through her luggage but she seemed to have a good handle on it. Levitation magic certainly makes that easy.

She seemed distracted enough for me to sneak one more letter in. Resting against the wall, I took my pencil up again and started another letter.

Dear Crystal Wishes

The time is finally here for us to say goodbye to our gracious hosts and return home. I imagine that we’ll be hot on the tail of this letter. Fortunately for it, mail moves faster than royal entourages.

I’ve made a fool of myself here. I let my distrust of gryphons blind me and I acted rashly. I realize now that I need to reevaluate irrational judgements. Thankfully that did not jeopardize the lasting good that has been done by ponies with cooler heads.

Our mission has been a great success and I think much has been done to bring pony and gryphon together. Please know that I look forward to seeing you and the crowd at your earliest convenience.

If I’ve done my math right this letter should arrive precisely on your birthday. Velvet Step told me the date before I left and urged me to hurry home for what she had planned. Please accept my deepest apologies for not being there myself but know that you’ll be in my thoughts.

Happy Birthday, Crystal Wishes. I know you’ll have a wonderful party.

Your friend

Silent Knight

I left Princess Luna alone and did the usual letter process. There would be one more carrier going out either late tonight or early in the morning. When I reached the mailbox outside of the consulate, I dropped my envelope in. It had been a good trip. Even I was a little sad to leave. Only a little, though.

44. Into The Gryphon's Roost - Part 4

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From the desk of Sergeant Iridescence
Acting Unit Sergeant
Princess Luna’s House Guard

On the morning of our last day in the Northern Kingdom, we bid warm goodbyes to our hosts. Duke Cassius had acted so wonderfully toward Luna it was clear to us all that he was sad to see her go. Both he and his wife had opened their home and treated us like family. It had been a wonderful trip.

“I am so sad that you are leaving already, Luna,” Duke Cassius’s wife had said, holding the Princess’s hoof in her claws. “I promise to write every week so that we can discuss gardening.”

Luna was all smiles. “Please do and I shall do the same!”

Duke Cassius arrived shortly after with several gift-wrapped boxes. “Princess, I have a few things for you and your sister. Please enjoy them when you’re home safely.” He set them aside for one of our ponies to carry before taking Luna’s other hoof.

“We shall count down the days before we can return to Equestria to visit and see all the good our agreement has done. You are always welcome in my household.”

I stood there quietly listening. The negotiations had gone really well and it was nice to see the Princess making friends. They did seem to be laying it on a little thick, but I knew the Duke and his wife were genuine and it was just their way.

Silent Knight was up early to arrange the march to the train station. He had been in a good mood since the evening before and looked to be enjoying the coordination with the gryphon soldiers. It was pretty odd to see given his general dislike of their kind. He had merely said to me, “Soldiers are soldiers.” I guess the Duke’s good mood was infectious and that certainly wasn’t a bad thing! Celestia knows he needed to lighten up a little bit.

Miley, Harvest, Thunder, Lightning, and the others were easy enough to get moving. They were clearly ready to go home. I mean this in the nicest way possible, but to my surprise I was missing Winterspear more than I thought I would. We’d not been together very long but it had just clicked. She had been on my mind the whole trip and, to be honest, I was a little distracted by thinking about getting back to her.

“All right, ponies, let’s do this by the numbers,” Lieutenant Rook called as he took the lead of the column. Duke Cassius had assigned a gryphon unit to us again and I noticed Silent Knight fell into step with the one named Alton. They actually seemed like pals.

We moved out with a great deal of fanfare. The Duke and his wife looked sincerely sad. They walked halfway down the hill with us and had even sent a band to play us off. It was actually pretty sweet.

I could also tell that Luna wasn’t quite ready to go home. She had confided in me that the time off had done her spirits a lot of good and she was hoping to stay a little longer before returning to the normal routine back at the palace.

“Keep together,” Silent Knight called. “We may be going home but let’s not be sloppy about it.”

My squad wasn’t quite in formation so I gently pushed my ponies back into line. It was a bit nitpicky, but Silent Knight was the boss and disobeying him in front of everypony would be foolish and rude. We were having enough trouble in our private life. I didn’t want to get on the wrong side of him at work, too.

He’d been frightening when he caught me with Winterspear. There was violence in his eyes and he’d actually threatened me. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t blame him for that. What frightened me was the conviction. His threat was more of a fact. Thankfully, we seemed to be on the mend, but I certainly wasn’t going to push it.

Just in front of me, the weird unicorn temple guard looked up and said, “I think the rain will begin soon…” but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. What in Equestria did that mean?

The tip of her horn illuminated and I could feel her drawing in a great deal of energy.

She had gotten to Silent Knight a few times during the trip and I wasn’t going to let her get into my head, too. I was just ready to have her out of my mane so I turned my attention away from her. Silent Knight seemed to react, however.

A chill went down my spine shortly after. I saw Silent Knight and the gryphon Alton discussing something quietly and the lieutenant dropping back to listen in. They were looking on either side of the road where we were passing between two rises. The discussion ended and Alton nodded. He leaped into the sky and as soon as he was airborne he screeched a warning and pointed to the north.

“Ambush!” Silent Knight yelled right before the shooting started.

From both sides of the road, crossbow bolts rained down on us. There were sudden cries of pain from ponies and gryphons alike. I watched in horror as Alton dropped from the sky like a rock, clearly hit. Lieutenant Rook gasped loudly, stumbled forward, and then fell.

And I just stood there.

“Shields, now!” Silent Knight commanded.

The temple guard’s horns were already erupting into light and domes appeared over us. They sent the bolts skittering but a lot of damage had already been done. Ponies were down and bleeding.

What was I doing?

Instincts finally kicked in. “Gather the wounded!” I shouted.

Miley Hooves was already helping Thunder Tumble up. He had been hit in the side and was, unfortunately, not the only one. Risky Storm had so many bolts sticking out of him… he wasn’t moving, either.

It was best to focus on the ponies nearest to me.

Exemplar Ferrel was walking about calmly in the chaos. Her horn was haloed in bright silver, holding up a dome wider than all of the others. Her expression was blank as if she were wandering about on a sunny day, but she was carefully helping ponies up and hoisted them off on other unwounded guards.

My attention was quickly drawn to Silent Knight as he worked the Lieutenant onto his back. I hurried over and gave him a hoof. Russet Rook groaned out the words, “Leave me. Get Princess Luna out of here.”

“No heroes today, Sir,” Silent Knight replied as he stopped to check Alton where he laid on the ground. A frown crossed his face and he gently set a hoof on the gryphon’s shoulder before looking up and yelling, “Focus, everypony! This is the real thing but we’ve trained for it. We need to get to the station. Iridescence, stay next to Princess Luna and shield her. Come on, ponies, help the wounded, we’re moving out now!”

The winds of magic brushed by my horn and I focused on them. Slowly, the shield expanded out and grew. I wrapped Luna in it and moved close to her side. That was my task, and I had to focus on it.

A scowl had darkened the Princess’s expression and it quickly turned to anger as she took stock of what was happening. I was worried about shock. Ponies, especially princesses that were locked alone in a moon for a thousand years, simply aren’t used to being dropped into a battle. The Princess quickly found herself, however, and moved with us. Her horn lit and readied what I could only assume would be lethal magic.

We started advancing again while the shields were doing their job of keeping the bolts away. Then the shooting suddenly stopped, I presume because the gryphons had figured it out. Five score or more leaped from their hiding places to land within our midsts and attack at close quarters.

The shields had not kept them out. It was most likely because the spell was designed to deflect fast moving objects, not present a wall.

Silent Knight hurried over and pushed the Lieutenant off onto my back. “Don’t drop him and don’t stop no matter what,” he commanded as he turned toward the gryphons and defended my rear.

Lieutenant Rook was barely conscious. He had been hit three times: the leg, the rear flank, and the side. I noticed Silent Knight had been hit, too, but it looked like his armor had spared him.

“Keep moving,” he ordered loudly over his shoulder.

I heard Lavender scream in pain but looking back wouldn’t help. Silent Knight said move so we moved forward. To be honest, I didn’t want to look back. I’d been in my share of fights. I’d even managed to make it through the changelings. This was nothing like that, though. This was different.

Luna actually growled and took aim with her horn. The gryphons that had landed in front us were struck by a devastating blue beam and sent reeling like rag dolls. Our escape route was clear.

Captain Alastair landed off to the right and sneered, “The Princess will fetch a hefty ransom from the Duke. He is so enthralled by you ponies. Unfortunately, the rest of you won’t be necessary. If you surrender, though, I might let you live.”

Silent Knight didn’t hesitate for an instant. He charged and reared up on his hindlegs. I think the gryphon had grossly underestimated what it would feel like to be hit by a stallion wearing hoofguards. He barely tried to block in a sign of foolish bravado. Silent Knight hit him twice and knocked him down.

“Keep moving forward!” he yelled. “Fighting retreat!”

Our ponies and the remaining gryphon guards engaged the would-be raiders while we kept moving the Princess forward. I could see the train station and knew if we could get to the train we might get away.

“Hurry, everypony! We’re almost there,” I called as the melee behind me continued.

Captain Alastair was back up and moving much more carefully as he circled Silent Knight. The two leaped at each other viciously. He and Silent Knight fought at a brutal tempo. There was no love lost between them.

Alastair got a few good licks in but it was a somewhat one-sided fight. Silent Knight, for all his social awkwardness, was a professional warrior. He devoted too much of his life to it and it showed. His hooves found the gryphon numerous times before the pair locked up and went to the ground.

They wrestled and the advantage quickly shifted to the gryphon given his claws and size. I heard a crack and Silent Knight grunted in pain. His right wing hung limp and I turned to go to him but Sergeant Orchid shoved me from behind.

“No,” she commanded firmly enough to keep me moving forward.

“Keep moving. Keep moving. Keep moving,” I repeated over and over again.

Luna’s horn burst into light and she shot gryphons out of the air that were foolish enough to get in front of us as we neared the station. I was struggling to keep my shield up and around her, but thankfully the temple guards had layered us in protection. The ponies we had advanced ahead of were not as lucky. Crossbow bolts started to fly toward anypony that wasn’t under the cover of a spell.

I stole a quick glance over my shoulder just long enough to see Silent Knight up and moving again. He was shaky and his wing was bent at an angle I knew was unnatural. I didn’t see Alastair anywhere.

The shield had left several more ponies unprotected and there were numerous small combats occurring behind us. Silent Knight was milling around trying to help ponies disengage. He trampled a downed gryphon attacker as he charged forward to knock two others off of Harvest Moon. They got up together and galloped after us with a few ponies in tow. Too few.

The gryphons moved to pursue, including a wobbling, beaten Captain Alastair, who dropped out of the sky.

As we reached the station, I yelled, “Miley, get to the engine and get us moving, now!”

She went without responding and I sent the Princess in with the temple ponies. Sergeant Orchid was helping the wounded on as I went back toward the rest of our unit. I barely felt the weight of the Lieutenant on my back or Exemplar Ferrel step up to my side.

The train started pulling out from the station, car by car. From where I was, it looked like the gryphons would catch the stragglers for sure, at least until Ferrel got to work. Her horn lit once more into brilliant silver and, just like that, every gryphon suddenly fell from the sky as if they were too heavy to keep themselves aloft.

Our ponies also seemed to struggle to move but Silent Knight shouted, “Gravity spell. Don’t give up. Keep going!”

They didn’t need much more encouragement than his words and a few shoves. As the last car was starting to pull out they arrived at the platform. Exemplar Ferrel stepped on, maintaining her spell, and so did the others. Silent Knight was pulling up the rear.

“Come on, Sergeant!” Miley Hooves called from over my shoulder. “I got us going!”

I waited a step longer and got onto the last car with her. Huffing and puffing, Silent Knight leaped off the end of the platform and landed on the back of the train. He was the last pony on. I didn’t care to think about how many others were back on the road. They had fought valiantly, as had our gryphon escorts.

“We made it,” I breathed but he shook his head and pointed. The range of the gravity spell was finite and it seemed the further you were from the caster, the easier it was to move. Some were flying again. Others were loping on all fours and looked determined to get their prize.

“Gravity or not, they’re coming. Move the Princess as far forward as we can! We’ll get rid of some of the weight and speed the train by dropping the extra cars. We don’t need to ride in style. Go!” Silent Knight ordered and we all moved into the door just as the first gryphons started catching onto the rails and pulling themselves up.

Miley, to our surprise, pulled some potions out of her pack and threw them at the back of the car. Where they landed, flame immediately sprung to life. That certainly slowed the gryphons down but they kept piling in. We charged through the overly long rows of seats while the back was fully engulfed. When we reached the doorway between the last and next car, I felt two hooves hit and then shove my rump forward. The force plus the weight of the Lieutenant on my back carried me into the next car. Rook landed past me with a thud and a groan.

As I looked back, I saw Captain Alastair with his claw around Silent Knight’s hindhoof, holding him as he struggled and kicked. Silent had landed between the cars, right by the coupler.

Our eyes met and I shouted, “Don’t!”

He pulled the pin holding the two cars together without hesitation and our half immediately leaped forward as his began to slow. The whole rear of the car was on fire and I saw him kick Alastair right in the beak, knocking him back. The only way out was the door Silent Knight occupied. He stood in it, drew his sword, and spread his unbroken wing to trap the gryphons inside the burning car while we raced down the track, leaving him to face them alone.

My heart sunk and I laid wearily onto the floor, watching Silent Knight drift further and further away.

45. Into The Gryphon's Roost - Part 5

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From the desk of Sergeant Iridescence
Acting Unit Sergeant
Princess Luna’s House Guard

Silent Knight was putting up a valiant but losing fight in the door of the train car. He was determined that the gryphons were not going to have a chance of reaching us.

His words echoed in my mind, “No heroes today, Sir.”

Stupid, stupid pony. The gap between the cars was growing swiftly as his slowed and ours sped up. He kept stealing brief glances over his shoulder and when it became clear that no gryphon could possibly reach us he just… went down.

The gryphons immediately pounced on him. Their heavy forms blocked any chance of seeing him and I screamed. I didn’t mean to, but I did. Everypony had stopped to look at me.

That was it. He was gone.

Behind me, I heard hooves galloping down the car. I turned to look just as the pearl-coated unicorn leaped over me and off of the train. She sailed forward on wings of light as silver magic shimmered around her form until she suddenly disappeared.

Down the track, I saw her pop into existence in the other car. Her sudden arrival sent gryphons tumbling about, leaving her standing over Silent Knight’s body. She looped her hooves around his unmoving form and her horn illuminated once again.

There was a crackle of air and a soft pop. The pair appeared beside me and she eased him to the floor.

“He is badly injured,” she said with a plain coolness that unsettled me.

Silent Knight’s sword was still clutched in his mouth, both bloodied. He didn’t move or make any sound.

Magic flared on Ferrel’s horn and she gingerly touched him. “He is stable but magic has its limits. I must rest.” Without another word, she walked to an empty seat, collapsed into it, and promptly fell asleep.

The rest of the squad came over to stare down at where Silent Knight rested.

“Miley, get him bandaged. Be careful,” I said firmly.

The others were in shock and I stamped a hoof. “Listen up! We’re not out of this yet. We don’t know what is waiting for us or if they’ve given up. There is no time to feel sorry for ourselves. I need every uninjured pony on watch. Now!”

They jumped to attention and I continued, “Thunder Tumble, get me a head count. Sergeant Orchid, you’re in charge of making sure this train moves as fast as possible. Miley, when you’re done with the First Sergeant, tend to the others. Get moving.”

Training and instinct took over and the ponies started on the tasks I set them to. I went to where the temple guards were. “You”—I pointed at the first—“back of the train. If the gryphons get anywhere close, I want a gravity spell. Can you do that?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Get to it. You”—I pointed to the second—“take care of the Exemplar. Make sure she hasn’t overdone it. Check her for injuries, too.”

“Right away,” she said before hurrying off.

The final one I put a hoof on. “You go to Silent Knight. It is extremely important that he lives. I know you have healing skills other than magic. You can tend his wounds. Help Miley.”

He nodded and hurried off. I jumped onto one of the benches where I knew everypony could see me. “Good work, ponies. When it all fell apart, you did your jobs. Everypony here did exactly what was expected of them… but we’re not done. We have to get Princess Luna to the ships. We have no idea how deep this goes and we won’t be stopping at the palace. Do whatever you need to do to get right in the head, but do it quick. By sundown, we’ll be at the port. Be ready.”

I made the call. Right or wrong, I made it. Before the train reached the city, we stopped it and bailed out. With our wounded across our backs, we made for the port. By the time the train pulled into the station, we would be on the ships and setting sail. We’d let the Duke sort out who was guilty.

Luna had been strangely silent. She did not argue with me. She simply did as she was told and followed along with the plans I made to get us all out of the Celestia-forsaken continent.

Silent Knight groaned on my back. He was heavier than I had estimated, but I just had to be the one to say I’d carry him. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done that. It is hard to command from under a heavy pegasus stallion, but the thought of him being injured and stuck on anypony else was more than I could bear.

The head count had not been as bad as I had estimated, at least if you didn’t consider Duke Cassius’s gryphons. We had three missing. None confirmed dead but, in my heart, I didn't believe ‘missing’ any more than anypony else.

The palace guards had fared worse. They had six missing and one poor pony didn’t survive the train ride. Silent Knight was in bad shape and Russet Rook was in a lot of pain. Rook was occasionally lucid enough to be useful but we still had to carry him.

Getting to the port was not difficult. The city guard were unconcerned, uninterested, and uninclined to stop us. We reached the ships without any trouble and got loaded up. I dumped Silent Knight into one of the bunks harder than I intended and he groaned.

“You have to hold on a little longer. Please… I can’t do this alone,” I whispered before heading back up on deck to look at everypony else.

“Cast off immediately,” I shouted to the captain.

He nodded and set his ponies to it. Within half an hour we were underway and facing a long voyage across the sea. A very long voyage…

“I’ve killed him,” I said meekly to Lieutenant Rook.

He was up and on the mend. He still had a horrible limp, but thankfully he had resumed command. “Iridescence, you made the best call you could in a high-intensity situation. It is the same call I would have made. More importantly, it is the same call that Silent Knight would have made.”

I set my hooves on the rail of the ship. “He is going to die. If we stayed in the gryphon capital, we could have gotten him to a doctor. They could have helped him!”

Rook reached a hoof out and pulled my face toward him. “Your duty was to protect the Princess and that is exactly what you did. Don’t dishonor Silent Knight by second guessing yourself. Iridescence, he is injured because he chose to sacrifice himself for that duty. If you had risked the Princess to save him, you would have sullied that sacrifice.”

He let me go and continued, “It is ugly to say but soldiers die. That is what we do. Silent Knight knew… knows that better than anypony. It is the harsh reality that we rarely want to face. Honestly, ponies like him and I… this is always how it goes. There is no happy ending. We just try to make it count when it is our time. What he did counted. Don’t cheapen it.”

“That… That is horrible! How can you be so callous?!” I demanded.

“Violence is horrible. War is horrible. They are the antithesis of rationality and harmony. Every pony lost is a tragedy, but that is exactly why Silent Knight and I do what we do. We go willingly so that the average pony will never see this part of life. We die so that others may live. I have no delusion that I won’t end up the exact same way. If it wasn’t for him, I would have! When it is my turn, I hope no poor pony feels guilty.”

Lieutenant Rook drew himself up to his full height. “If he dies, he dies. It won’t be your fault. The only ones to blame are the cowards that ambushed us. Silent Knight made his choice and now it is time for you to make yours. Are you going to wallow in guilt, or make it worthwhile? What will it be, Sergeant?”

Tears for my friend threatened to fall but I willed them away. My heart broke as I did it, but I drew myself to attention. “Duty, Sir.”

The lieutenant nodded and said, “You’re acting unit sergeant, then. Pick an acting sergeant for your squad.”

“Yes, Sir,” I said quietly as I turned to go to my duty.

“How is he?” I asked.

Luna was lying across the head of her bed with Silent Knight propped against her. She had graciously given her more comfortable quarters to him.

“He needs more medical attention than we can provide,” Exemplar Ferrel replied.

The unicorn priestess had been tending Silent Knight carefully, but she would not look directly at Luna or speak to her. It made for a somewhat strange situation since the Princess had been unwilling to leave her favored guard. The pair merely tended him and did not mingle.

“Will he make it?” I asked hopefully.

Luna replied, “He is in great pain. I fear there are internal wounds we cannot readily see.”

Exemplar Ferrel responded in her normal, emotionless way, “He will make the journey home. Once there, I cannot say.”

“How can you be so certain?” I asked

“I have faith in the alicorns,” she said plainly without looking away from the bandage she was replacing.

I looked at Luna, who simply shrugged, then back at the priestess. “I’ll take that as good news, then. Let me know if anything changes, please.”

“Of course, Sergeant,” Ferrel said.

Leaving the strange pair to care for Silent Knight, I went back up on deck to pray for strong winds. Just a few more days and we would be in Equestria. Then we could get him to the finest hospitals around.

“Balitmare in sight, Captain!” called one of the sailors in the crow’s nest.

Lieutenant Rook limped up and shouted, “I want all of the wounded on stretchers immediately. Incognito, fly to the shore as fast as you can. We need medics ready to receive us.”

“Yes, Sir!” Cog shouted. He was already in the air and speeding toward shore.

I hurried down to Luna’s quarters. “We’re here!” I blurted nervously. “We need to get him on a stretcher.”

Luna nodded and gently laid Silent Knight fully onto the bed. He didn’t groan or even move… he was just limp and pale. His breathing was shallow, too.

Solar Flare and Astral Bolt arrived to take him. They went to move Silent Knight, but Luna blocked them. Gently, she levitated his form with her magic and nestled him onto the stretcher.

She fixed them with a stern gaze. “Thou wilt be most gentle with him.”

Quickly, they nodded, took their positions, and lifted Silent Knight to move up onto deck. I followed behind them, unable to take my eyes off him. I was worried that if I did he’d… depart.

Exemplar Ferrel stood with the wounded, staring vacantly off into space. When Solar and Astral set Silent Knight down, she seemed to snap back to reality. Immediately, she went to him and her horn flared into silver light. She touched it to his forehead and then dispassionately said, “He does not have long.”

Everypony on deck stopped what they were doing and turned. The ship slowly pulled into port and the sound of sirens became obvious. I willed my hooves to carry me to the stretcher. Silent Knight had stopped moving. My head fell and I nuzzled his cheek... It was cold.

I whispered softly, “Just fight a little longer… please. Just a little longer.”

Lieutenant Rook found a voice and he called sternly, “The ramp is coming up. Stretcher carriers, to your posts. Get the First Sergeant down and into the nearest ambulance. Move it, ponies!”

It snapped them out of their grief and they went back to their duties. I didn’t. My hindlegs gave out and I just sat as they carried him away.

46. All Good Things... - Part 1

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“Do knights naturally know how to dance? Am I making a big leap of logic here by assuming they do? Do you know how to dance? Could you tell me? Please?”

“You stupid pony… You promised! You promised me! What am I going to do?”

“If not that, then how about the third chapter? What did you think of that? Please tell me what you think. Please?”

“I didn’t run away. I wanted to. Celestia knows I wanted to. That didn’t seem fair to you, though. This is never what I wanted. It shouldn’t have gone like this. Please, I miss you.”

“Oh Celestia. Please help him. There is so much more I wanted to say. Do you know I got his letter before I found out? I was so excited and then… well, you know all about it, don’t you? Please, our story can’t end like this. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end at all.”

The voice was familiar and sweet but filled with sorrow and regret. The words were quiet whispers at best. I inhaled softly and the scent of roses filled my senses. It was a nice balance to the aches I felt all over. My eyes opened and I was immediately blinded by lights above me. There was an angelic face over me. Clearly, I had never made it off the train. Then I heard her gasp.

“Doctor! Doctor, come quick! He’s awake!” Crystal Wishes shouted.

I smiled at her. At least I think I did, since I was pretty groggy. “Hello beautiful,” I muttered.

“And he is delirious!” she added.

I was vaguely aware of the doctor and a horde of nurses coming in to poke and prod me. I hurt all over.

“Sergeant, do you know your name?” the doctor asked.

“Silent Armor,” I replied.

He shook his head. “Try again.”

“Shining Knight," I said.

Again with the head shake.

“Silent Knight?”

The doctor nodded and said, “That is right. You’re Silent Knight. Do you know where you are?”

“No clue.” My head lulled a bit as I started to look around to get my bearings.

“Try?” the doctor urged.

My sluggish brain started to work. “Probably not a gryphon hospital. They typically don’t employ pony doctors,” I said as the fogginess in my head started to slowly evaporate.

Without any warning, memories flooded back. Battle! We were in a battle! I bolted up right. As I did, my vision went black. A hoof rested on my chest, urging me to lay back.

“Easy there, Sergeant. You’re banged up pretty bad, but you’re quite the fighter. You made it across the sea, got patched up in Baltimare, and now you’re home in Canterlot. You’ve been out for a while. Welcome back,” the doctor explained.

Canterlot? I was in Canterlot? Of course I was, Crystal Wishes was here. She wasn't in the battle. Was she? No. My heart started to slow to a normal pace.

At least I had missed the voyage back. Injured and seasick would have been awful. “Thanks, Doctor.”

More details started to cut through the haze. Then my heart started to race again. “The princess?!” I gasped. Once more I tried to sit up and was only rewarded by blackness and pain.

I heard Crystal Wishes’s breath catch and she set a hoof on mine. “She is fine. She didn’t have a scratch. Please be still, Silent Knight.”

Relief flooded my senses. The princess was fine. I was fine... relatively speaking. That wasn't it, though. We weren't done. “How many?” I asked.

“What?” Crystal Wishes replied.

My vision started to clear again. “How many did we lose? How is the lieutenant?”

“The lieutenant is fine. His injuries were painful but superficial. He has almost gotten the limp worked out. The doctor says he’ll recover completely… He’ll be so happy to see you. Every day he comes by.” She was stalling, I could tell.

“Crystal, please. How many?”

“Ten in all… most of the gryphons, too,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

One quarter lost plus all of those gryphons. They had been betrayed by one of their own for money. It was atrocious.

The doctor cleared his throat as I brooded. “Sergeant.” He clapped his hooves in front of me. “Sergeant!”

My head shook lightly and I looked up at him. “Yes, sir?”

“You’re going to be in recovery a while. For now, you shouldn’t have too much excitement and we need you to start eating whole food as soon as you can. I realize you’re a soldier, but you’re not immortal. I’ll have a nurse go over the rules.

"Additionally, you might experience something we call combat fatigue. That typically requires counseling. I'll leave some pamphlets."

“Understood,” I said flatly. I’d do as I was told to get better and strong again. That was important. Not for myself, but for those we lost. I doubted I'd need counseling though. Knight's had been able to handle combat for generations. That was for other ponies.

Besides, I had more important things to focus on. Alastair was going to pay. As soon as I was well I’d see to that.

“I’m sorry, Silent Knight. Please, look at me,” Crystal Wishes said from my bedside.

I turned to her, upset, hurt, and furious; eager to lash out. Then I saw her face and her beautiful eyes. The ferocious storm calmed momentarily and, after all, there was no sense in upsetting a lady. At least not this one.

“You’ve been waiting for me to wake up this whole time?” I asked.

She smiled and nodded. “Not just me, though. Everypony. We’ve been taking turns so that one of us would be here when you woke up. Somepony that cares about you has been here every minute since you arrived. Even Princess Luna herself. I have been here most of the time though, because of my flexibility. A pony can write anywhere, after all.”

“Really? That seems like quite a lot of waiting. How long has it been?”

Crystal softly stroked my mane. It sent shivers down my spine. She'd never touched me like that before. “You have a lot of good friends and family who couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. You gave us quite a scare… but you’re stubborn. The doctor told us you didn’t seem interested in… leaving.”

She paused and seemed to be considering whether or not to tell me. Reluctantly, she answered, “A month. A bit longer actually.”

It made me smile to know that the others had been watching over me and that I’d survived. I’m certain that would stick in Alastair’s craw. Pegasi were tough… especially pegasus warriors. I nodded. “Sounds right. Still, work to be done. How bad is it?” I took a moment to look and feel about. I seemed to have all my bits. They hurt but they were there.

It seemed to pain her to say it, but she went through the list. “Multiple fractures in the right wing. A couple of shattered ribs which did some nasty things inside you. You took… I think they called it a bolt near the base of the neck in the back. Several wounds in the body, a nasty blow to the head or two, and bruises all over. I saw your armor and nearly screamed in horror. It was barely together.”

“It probably saved my life,” I said plainly. “Speaking of which, how is it that I’m here? The last thing I remember is separating the train cars.”

“Iridescence said Exemplar Ferrel saved you. She used some sort of teleport spell to pull you back. Her magic then stabilized your wounds. It was miraculous… at least the doctor told me so. He, ah… well, he wasn’t sure you’d ever wake up when you arrived from Balitmare.”

She wiped her eyes and continued, “Exemplar Ferrel was comfortably certain you would. Once you survived Balitmare, anyway. She’s an odd mare… never quite with us in the here and now, but she’s been by to check on you a few times.”

That made little sense, but nothing ever did with the exemplar. I was quite grateful that I had worked out the arrangement for the temple guards to come along, though. Who knows what would have happened if they had not been there. “I’ll have to thank her, then.”

She nodded. “That would be a good idea. Now, if you don’t mind being alone for just a short period of time, I really want to let everypony know you’re up. Winterspear will want to come over immediately.”

I waved a hoof at her. “I’ll keep. Thank you for being here, Crystal Wishes. It is nice to see you.”

She paused before she left. “It is really nice to see you, too.”

“What happened to not being a hero?” Winterspear asked, pointing at me.

I shrugged. “I wasn’t being a hero. I was the last pony and it was likely I wasn’t going to make it anyway. If I had acted to protect myself, I still probably wouldn’t have made it and a lot more ponies would be in here with me. It was the right call. Simple numbers.”

Winterspear wanted to hit me. I could see it in her face, but she held her hooves in check. There were perks to being injured. “You’re not a number,” she growled.

I reached out and looped a hoof lightly around her shoulders. Weakly, I tugged her in closer. “I know, but I am a soldier. That’s the job. It worked out alright so you can’t be too angry with me. Besides… I’m hurt.”

She laughed bitterly and replied, “Milk it all you can. When it is time for you to start getting back on your hooves, I’m going to wreck you.”

I squeezed her against me. It hurt but I wanted to do it. Then I nuzzled her cheek. “I look forward to it. I’ll be glad to get out of this bed and back to work. It feels like I’m just being a complete leech.”

“Oh, I think you’ve earned it, but I hear you. The doctor said you’ll be able to at least get out of the hospital and on light duty soon. It will be nice having your snoring self back at home,” she said.

“I don’t snore.”

“Listen, little brother. I have sat here for hours while you were out and so has everypony else. There are too many witnesses for you to silence. You snore. Accept it.”

“Fine. Until I have evidence otherwise, I’ll accept that. I still think you’re wrong, though,” I grumbled.

“Oh. So there is one more thing. Your lieutenant and I agreed it was time to do the paperwork for new quarters. Iridescence got your old room. They moved you to bigger quarters more fitting for a first sergeant and I tagged along. It is nice.”

“That’s okay. A room is a room.” I said.

“It is more than a room. First sergeants have nicer quarters. You should have requested them a long time ago.” She leaned in and kissed my cheek. “Okay. I’m going to go. You’ve got a line down the hall to see you. I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“And the whole thing burst into flame. She is really talented, Runic,” I said.

Runic beamed at me, nodding. “She is a master of labeling. Workplace accidents are at an all time low. She’s cut my insurance rates in half! Anyway, those conflagration potions are pretty handy when you need them.”

“And what exactly do you need them for?” I asked. They were pretty much a weapon, after all.

“Weeding the garden, feisty rats, and the occasional changeling attack. A stallion has a right to defend his rocks, you know.” Runic explained.

I laughed and nodded. “Of course. Are you and Miley spending time together now that she is back?”

Runic shifted. “Yeah. At first, it was awkward and kind of hard on her. I know you all saw… well, you were there. She had to adjust to being back, but she went and saw a counselor so I think she’s okay now. We talked… a lot. We’re experimenting and doing alchemy again. I even asked her on a date. She said yes, of course.”

“Of course.”

“I’m a bit rusty but she is going easy on me. It has been a lot of fun. Most things seem to be back to normal,” Runic mused.

I leaned back against my pillows. “I sure hope so. I’m ready to be back to normal.”

Runic got up and came over to bump hooves with me. “When you’re well enough, I’m going to throw a party for you. I’ll get that fluffy pink dancer that you liked again. See you later, Silent Knight. Get well!”

Great, another forty-five minutes to endure without understanding a word. Oh well. Runic threw the best parties anyway.

“And now you’re pretty much up to speed,” Iridescence said after going over every detail of what had happened since we’d been back. She had been acting unit sergeant while I was on injury leave.

Sergeant Orchid had passed on the opportunity so she wouldn’t be spending more time away from her family. There was a rumor that she was going to retire. I aimed to talk her out of that.

“It sounds like you’ve kept on top of everything to me,” I said simply. There was a lot Iridescence hadn’t said. It had been all business.

She nodded and grumbled, “Well, you can have it back as soon as you’re well. I’m not sure this is for me. Once you were… well, until the lieutenant was awake, I had to make the tough calls. That may be fine for you but I’m not you. He had a very morbid opinion about everything.”

We sat in silence for a moment and then I scooted over on the bed. Patting the spot next to me, I asked, “What’s on your mind?”

Iridescence slipped carefully onto the bed next to me. She was worried about hurting me, I think. I looped a hoof around her shoulder.

“You just pulled the lock pin out like it was nothing. How could you do that to me? You were going to die,” she murmured.

I ruffled her mane. “It was the best chance to save the princess, you, Russet, and as many ponies as possible. Alastair had me and he wasn’t going to let go. It was simple math.”

Iridescence frowned. “You sound just like the lieutenant. How can the two of you be so confident about dying? It is horrible.”

That made me laugh. So much that it hurt actually. I winced and Iridescence looked at me like I was crazy. “You think I was confident? I was scared. Horribly scared and alone. It felt like when my father had left me in Canterlot, but I did what I had to do to protect my friends. I’d do it again.”

With a sigh, I pushed on, “Listen, I realize not every guard thinks about giving their life. For some ponies it is just a job, but death is always a possibility. The lieutenant and I keep that in the front of our mind so that we can be ready when we have to be. I’d rather it have been me than you or the princess.”

Iridescence hugged me tight. It was painful. “I’m not ready for you to leave. You can’t do that to me, Silent Knight. That just seems so sad. Maybe I’ll be a hard soldier like you someday, but I’m not so sure I want to be. For now, I’ll leave it to you and the lieutenant. Why don’t you come back soon and take over? I need my friend and my first sergeant back.”

Lightly, I bumped my head to hers. “Yeah, as soon as they let me out of here, I’ll be back. Now… unless you’re going to do something for me, get out of my bed. I need to sleep.” Teasingly, I pushed her with both forehooves.

She laughed and got up. “Okay, okay. You want me to send the others home until tomorrow?”

“I hate to do it, but yeah… I’m exhausted and I’d really like to sleep for a while. You don’t think they’ll mind, do you?”

Iridescence shook her head. “For some ponies? Maybe. For you, not at all. Get some sleep.”

47. All Good Things... - Part 2

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“You look awful, Sergeant. Although for an ugly pony like you, I suppose that is normal. No pony has to see that face when you’re up in the clouds,” Lieutenant Rook said with a chuckle.

Ponies were making me laugh a lot lately. It hurt. “At least I can fly. Why didn’t you bring me any fruit? Isn’t that all you earth ponies do?” I was off duty and on medicine. I felt confident I could get away with it.

Russet Rook laughed and shook his head. “That is a stereotype. We also grow vegetables. So, how’re they treating you here?”

“I’m about sick of being poked and prodded,” I admitted. “Once I’m strong enough to get up, I’m going to hit the gym. It is about time I started working my muscles.”

“Don’t overdo it. I don’t want you getting out, hurting yourself, and ending up right back here. The unit needs you. You took charge when I went down, not that that should surprise anypony. Thank you for that and for not leaving me there to die.” Russet just let that linger there a moment before he waved a hoof. “Anyway, you’re a hard pony, Silent Knight. I heard you get hit when I did.”

I shrugged. “The armor took the most of it. You got hit three times. They were aiming for you, breaking the chain of command. It is what I would have done. That bolt I took was probably meant for you.”

The lieutenant snorted. “So I owe you two, then?”

Sagely, I nodded. “Yes you do and don’t forget it… sir.” We sat in silence a moment and then a thought occurred to me. “Sir?”


“What is the damage? Do I need to get prepared to head into a war as soon as I’m well?” I asked pointedly.

The lieutenant shook his head. “No. The princesses agreed they didn’t want to overreact without all of the facts… although between you and me, it took a lot to calm Princess Luna down. I’ve never seen malice in her before, but she was outraged. We’re lucky you woke up. I’m not sure Princess Celestia could have kept her in check if you didn’t. We’ll honor the treaty but I think whatever trust that was built died on the vine right there.”

He took a deep breath and then continued with another shake of his head, “King Ranald and Duke Cassius are embarrassed and livid. Obviously, we don’t know if they’re involved or not. Intelligence is looking into it. But they’re in charge now. We’re out, Silent Knight.”

“I see,” I replied.

We exchanged glances and the lieutenant said, “Captain Alastair and his entire unit have been declared enemies of the kingdom. Both kingdoms, actually, and there is an astronomical bounty on their heads.”

“I could stand to be rich,” I said with a smile. The statement was kept light but some part inside of me meant it. Not the rich part, of course…

Russet Rook chuckled and shook his head. “I’ll let that slide given the circumstances but, seriously, we’re out. Now, you get well, and that is an order.”

“Aye, sir!”

“You are looking much better,” Princess Luna said while she sat on my bed and stroked my mane.

She was treating me a bit more like a foal than usual and it was tough to take it while my subordinate guards watched. Out of respect for me, most of them stood outside the door. Miley was having none of that today. This sort of thing seemed to delight her.

“You?” I repeated. The princess had most certainly said ‘you’.

“Oh, yes.” She smiled. “You’ve been out for a while and wouldn’t know. Once we returned, I decided it was well past time that I learn to speak as a modern pony. I’ve had language lessons twice a week. I still slip up, but great progress has been made. Now, as I said, you are looking much better.”

“I’m sorry I missed that. Thank you, Princess. I’m feeling better. Honest,” I said and squirmed.

“Be still,” the princess admonished before going back to mothering me. “The doctors said your recovery is ahead of schedule. They further say that you are very hearty and willful. I told them that this was so. I wanted to move you to my wing of the palace but they say it is too soon.”

“Imagine that,” I teased. I closed my eyes and let her comb through my mane a bit more. “Thank you for caring for me, Princess. I’m told you wouldn’t leave my side.”

“I would not. You so willingly gave up all to protect me and your ponies. The least I could do was tend to you. I have aided Winterspear in making your new quarters suitable. They shall be comfortable when you return home.”

I pondered what that meant. I suppose I’d have to find out later. “Thank you, Princess. I was hoping to talk about the next steps with the gryphons.”

Princess Luna rose and slipped off my bed. Lightly, she brushed her hoof to my cheek and shook her head. “Get some rest, Silent Knight. The doctors have made it clear that you are not to be stressed or excited.” She smiled as she changed the subject. “If you like, I can bring game night here this week.”

“That would be wonderful, Princess. By all means, please bring everypony.”

“Verily!” she cheered before heading out.

Shining Armor stood beside my bed, levitating a small wooden box. “Glad to see you’re recovering so well. I read your report which, I hope you realize, you didn’t have to file while you’re on injury leave. It was good to get your account, though.”

With a shrug, I admitted, “I have a lot of time on my hooves here. I thought I’d write it out while it was still somewhat fresh in my mind. All the time in between was lost, so perhaps my perspective would be clearer for what happened that day.”

The captain nodded. “It was quite precise and filled in a few gaps we had from Iridescence’s and Russet Rook’s reports. Although in their accounts, you were far more heroic.”

I snorted. “No heroes that day, sir. We were just doing our job.”

Shining Armor reached out a hoof and tapped the wooden box. “The medals in here say otherwise.”

My head drooped. “Medals go to the ponies that didn’t make it back, sir. I was one of the lucky ones.”

The captain nodded stoically. “I’m not sure I’d call you lucky but to your point, those ponies will be honored as well. We can’t not honor you just because the gryphons weren’t good enough to finish the job.”

“Well, I’ll send them a thank you note for being sloppy,” I said as Shining Armor opened the box to reveal the three medals inside. The one in the center was an alabaster cross. I looked away in shame.

“I thought you might feel that way. That is why I brought them myself. I know a big ceremony isn’t your sort of thing, but you’ll likely have to go through it. I’ve delayed that until such a time when you’re buttoned up and back to your normal self. I know you don’t believe it, but you’ve earned these,” he said, closing the box and levitating it to the stand beside my bed.

I shrugged and changed the subject. “How have things been here?”

The captain let it go and replied, “They’ve been well… but busy. I know you’re not supposed to have too much excitement, but I wanted you to hear this from me. I’m being reassigned.”

My body went rigid. This was not news I’d wanted to hear. “Sir? Are you serious?”

“Yes. Cadence and I are going to a place called the Crystal Empire. It recently reappeared. A whole part of Equestria just popped up out of nowhere. Princess Celestia is quite concerned about it and has dispatched us immediately to secure it and provide leadership for the ponies there. The timing couldn’t be worse, but I wasn’t going to leave without seeing you first, though.”

“I appreciate that, sir,” I said, but I didn’t feel it. Over time, I’d relied less on the captain but it was nice to know he was still there. Now he was leaving and I had no idea what to say. “We could write?”

He nodded. “Of course. My advice may be a bit delayed, but it will come. I imagine you might want to talk from time to time given what is coming.”

“More bad news, sir?” I asked, unsure where he was going with this.

Shining Armor nodded again. “I’m afraid so. Princess Luna and I feel like you would be well suited as an officer. As such, once you’re well, we’ve arranged for you to attend the Royal Canterlot Officer’s Academy… unless you choose not to. I hope you won’t pass on the opportunity, though.”

I blinked. “Pardon?”

“Officer’s candidate school. You’ll earn a commission and a command. There are few ponies as deserving as you.”

“I honestly appreciate it, sir. It would be a great opportunity. No one in my family has ever done that… but I don’t want to leave the House Guard. I’m willing to give up a lot to stay with Princess Luna,” I explained.

Shining Armor nodded. “We suspected you’d say that. Which, even though it is highly unusual, we’ve arranged it so that when you earn your commission, you’ll take over as commanding officer of the PLHG.”

“How, sir? What about lieutenant Rook?”

“We’re thrilled with Russet Rook. He is a good officer and an excellent planner, so command wants to put that to use. They’re going to move him up to be the executive officer of a new joint command that will oversee both House Guards. It is a good position for him.”

A new command over both House Guards? That was awfully convenient. Too convenient, actually. “Wait, sir. What about Sunny Day? She’s been with Celestia’s Guard for a while and certainly has a heck of a lot more seniority than Russet. He’s been a lieutenant for less than a year.”

Shining Armor cleared his throat softly and rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, I know. Sunny Day is a great officer and Princess Celestia is happy with her. This new joint command is going to happen, though. It is part of a bigger plan and will need to be staffed. Russet is an excellent strategist and let’s just say that his combat experience, regardless of how much of it was spent unconscious, is being highly valued.

“With that said, Sunny Day is fairly attached to Princess Celestia. Politics are politics. It may not be completely fair, but all parties will be satisfied and the command of your unit will be open regardless of your choice. So, that is the question, Silent Knight: is it going to be you or is it going to be somepony else?” He looked squarely at me, waiting.

It was quite an offer: a slot in the best officer’s academy in all of Equestria, command of my own unit, and remaining with Princess Luna... or being stuck under some new pony. It was an offer that couldn’t be refused. The powers that be had me; there was no choice to make. “I accept, then. Who’ll be taking your position?”

“I honestly don’t know yet. I’m sure there is a short list of senior officers ready to step in. That will be decided soon, but command seems to be going in a different direction. The position will be more hooves off with smaller subordinate commands for each area I previously managed,” he explained.

Now it was starting to make sense and that made me chuckle. “They don’t think another pony can handle filling your hoofguards?”

Shining Armor shrugged and replied, “I guess not. I imagine the Captain of the Canterlot Guard is going to be more of a figurehead by the time they're done, if it even exists at all.”

I offered a hoof. “Thank you, Cap—Well, I suppose it is just colonel now then, isn’t it?”

He nodded and bumped his hoof to mine. “It is, and don’t thank me. You’ve earned it. I look forwards to reading letters about your successes. Come and visit me sometime, okay?”

“You bet, sir. I’ll absolutely do that. Safe travels for you and the Mrs.,” I replied and he turned to go.

Before he left, he turned back and fixed me in his stern gaze. “Silent Knight, I want to give you a piece of parting advice. Sometimes, soldiers get wounded on the inside, wounds that you can’t see and doctors can’t heal… and sometimes, those same soldiers are too worried what others will think of them so they don’t seek help for that kind of wound. Don’t be that kind of pony, all right?”

There wasn’t much I could say about it, so I nodded and replied, “Yes, sir.”

As the door closed behind him, I felt bad for the pony that had to fill Shining Armor’s shoes. The Captain of the Canterlot Guard was a highly visible position with a lot of responsibility. There were fewer more important titles in the Royal Guard, even if it was going to be a figurehead. The pony who filled the position prior had done it the best and now he was off to his next command. It would be a tough act to follow and I was sorry to see him go.

“Hi, Silent Knight!” Velvet Step said from somewhere in the balloon maze.

During my time in the hospital, ponies had sent an ever-increasing volume of flowers, balloons, and cards. At this point, it had turned into a joke.

I called into the sea of gifts, “Hello?”

Crystal Wishes and Velvet Step managed to get through. The two of them were laughing a bit.

“This is getting out of hoof, Silent Knight,” Crystal Wishes said.

“Agreed, but it makes ponies happy so who am I to spoil their fun? I’ll get it all cleaned up,” I replied.

“I understand you’re to be released tomorrow?” Crystal Wishes asked as Velvet went about the task of organizing the cards on the night stand.

Happily, I nodded. “Yes! In my own bed and back to light duty. I’ve been here too long.”

“Say, Silent Knight, what is this?” Velvet asked as she picked up the wooden box.

“Oh… those are just some medals. No big deal,” I hedged.

Crystal Wishes turned to look as Velvet opened the box. She stiffened. “No big deal? I don’t know too much about medals, but I know a Celestia Cross when I see one.”

Velvet asked, “What is that?”

“It is the highest honor the Guard has to offer,” Crystal said proudly. “It is extremely rare. To earn one the pony usually has to d—” She saw my face. “—do you know what Velvet? Why don’t we leave the sergeant’s medals alone.” Quickly, she closed the box.

“O-Okay,” Velvet said, hurriedly putting the box down.

“I’m sorry,” Crystal Wishes whispered to me.

I shook my head. “It is fine. Listen… Crystal Wishes, I need a favor. It is a lot to ask and I’m not good at doing that.”

Both mares looked to me, their eyes going bigger.

“Yes? Anything!” Crystal Wishes said, oddly a little excited.

“Shining Armor and Princess Luna have arranged for me to go to the Royal Equestrian Officer’s Academy. I’m not worried about any of the military stuff. I’ll be fine there. It is the gentlepony part that concerns me. I don’t know anything about it and… well, you’re such a fine and proper lady. I thought if you’d tutor me I might be able to fit in. Would you be willing to do that?”

“Of course,” Crystal Wishes replied, her tone dropping slightly. “When do you start?”

“It isn’t immediate. The current class has to finish and I’ll go in at the start of the new one. Plus, I need to get through all of my physical therapy. I’m certainly not going to start and be unable to do the training. That would just be awful.”

Crystal Wishes smiled. “Well, then, that will give us a headstart. Come by my place once a week and we’ll go over the finer points of civil society.”

I nodded. “Thank you, Crystal Wishes. You’re the best.”

“Anything for you, Sergeant,” she said with a wink.

It was well past visiting hours and I should have been asleep. Tomorrow, I would be fit enough to leave the hospital, but today I still had to follow all of the rules. There were far too many rules at the hospital, even for me. There was a reason I was still awake, though. I’d been waiting.

After a soft sigh, I cleared my throat and called, “Are you going to skulk around out there all night or are you finally going to come inside?”

There was no immediate reply but eventually Radiant Orchid popped her head in to peer at me. We stared at each other in silence for a while before she finally said, “Hey… you’re still up.”

“I am. You’ve been pacing out there for hours. Either come in or go home.”

Orchid nodded and decided to come in. “Sorry about that,” she replied before heading over to the side of my bed. “How’re you?”

“Morale is currently high because I’m being released tomorrow. Other than that, I still hurt all over. How’re you?”

The older mare shifted back and forth a bit. “I’m doing better than I thought I would. The nightmares have stopped and I’m handling what happened to us pretty well.”

“But?” I pressed.

Radiant Orchid smiled a brittle smile. “That obvious?” She sighed. “What if it had been me? My poor husband and foals, I keep thinking about them.”

All I could do was nod. Orchid had a beautiful family.

“So… I wanted to talk to the lieutenant about a transfer to the city guard or something. Before I asked him, though, I knew I’d have to tell you. Silent Knight, it isn’t that I’m afraid for myself. Honestly, in the moment, I did my job. It was after… when I think about…” Tears welled in her eyes and she had to stop.

My hoof found hers and I held it. “Radiant, I respect that. Celestia knows family is important… I have to do something awful, though. I have to ask you to stay, at least temporarily. You’re going to be the unit sergeant.”

Radiant Orchid stiffened. “What? Silent Knight, you can’t be serious. You’re going to be fine. The doctor said you’ll recover. He said you’ll be as good as new.”

“They’re going to send me to the officer’s academy to earn a commission,” I explained. “I’ll be taking command of the unit. You were placed here all that time ago to be the voice of wisdom and experience. Shining Armor wanted you to mentor me. A new lieutenant needs an experienced unit sergeant.”

The mare shook her head. “Iridescence—”

“Isn’t ready. I need you, Sergeant. By Celestia, I’m so sorry to ask but I need you.” I let her hoof go and reached over to my night stand. Astral Bolt had brought me the mangled First Sergeant pin off my armor when he visited last. I picked it up and put it into Radiant’s hoof. “Just until she is ready. I promise.”

Radiant Orchid closed her hoof over it and stood in silence. Our eyes met and then she nodded. “Just until she is ready. Get well, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll get the paperwork started once I’m back on duty.”

48. Homecoming

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“Well, what do you think?” Winterspear asked me as we stood in the living room of our new quarters.

They were certainly bigger than a barracks room. Just about six times the size actually. We had a living area, separate bedrooms, a private bathroom, and even a small kitchen. Beyond the physical scale of the place, Winterspear and our friends had carefully decorated it to reflect what they told me was ‘my style.’

There were pictures of famous military ponies, maps of ancient battlefields, and all sorts of guard-related paraphernalia. It was comfortable, too. All of the furniture was softer and plusher than what I’d had before. That was probably Winterspear’s doing and I wasn’t going to complain. It was a lot more than I needed, but rank has its privilege.

“Well? Say something, Silent Knight,” Winterspear repeated. I had been limping around and inspecting in silence. I guess I went too long.

“You really went all out. This is seriously too much. Can I afford all of this?”

Winterspear laughed and shook her head. “Not on a first sergeant’s salary alone, no. You do get a monthly housing allowance, though, and with that it is fine. Plus, since we’re living together, I can use my housing allowance, too. Believe it or not, we’re barely paying more than we did to share that single room.”

“That room was free,” I reminded her.


I sat on the couch and then immediately got up. I had been off my hooves too much lately. “What about Mom and Dad?”

“Plenty of money for them still, especially once you become a lieutenant. Come on, please try to enjoy this a little bit, okay? This is a major step up in lifestyle for us.”

I nodded and went over to nuzzle her cheek. “You did great. I really do like it. Thank you. About Mom and Dad…”

Her ears folded back. “Do you really want to do this right now?”

“I’ll be fine,” I replied.

“I sent them a letter as soon as I found out. Dad sent one back,” Winterspear explained. She went into her room and returned with the paper. “Here you are.”

The letter was brief and written in my mother’s script.


If he made it back alive he’ll wake up. They had their chance and blew it. Pat him on the back for me.


“Can’t fault him with the accuracy of his statement,” I said before tossing the letter on the table. “Alright, then. I don’t know what I expected. Mom, too?”

My sister quickly shook her head. “No, oh Celestia, no. She came immediately. She was the one that brought the letter. The doctors told her it could be weeks or months before you woke up and eventually she had to go back, though. You know Dad can’t be left alone for long. I’m sorry, Silent Knight.”

“I know. Honestly, I’m fine. You’re all the family I need.”

Winterspear hugged me and it hurt considerably less than a few days prior. We lingered that way until it started getting too quiet.

“Back to work tomorrow?” she asked.

Eagerly, I replied, “Yes. Light duty but still. Say, have they fixed my armor?”

My sister nibbled on her lip. “Not yet… You’ll have to go without it for a little while or wear some loaners.”

“Really? I’m patched up but my armor isn’t?”

Winterspear looked awfully guilty and she wrung her hooves. “Well… you know how it is. Sometimes they get behind. Your armor was really beat up and you asked for the same suit. It would have been easier to just get a new one.”

I looked her over, stared a moment, and then nodded. “Alright, then. Do you want to come with me to the gym? The doctor said I’ll need a partner for a while to make sure I don’t overdo it, and I guess to pick me up when I fall.”

“Of course! Let’s get down there and get you back to your overly fit self!”

I limped through Canterlot on my way to the Unicorn Temple. My wing was still in a cast so flying was out of the question… assuming I could even get myself off the ground, which was equally unlikely. It wasn’t important that I moved fast, however. There was a mission to accomplish and I had all day to do it.

Eventually, I reached the large double doors and carefully knocked. There was silence for a while before it finally opened, revealing a young temple guard in the ancient style of armor. He looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and confusion.

“Good day,” I said. “Please inform Exemplar Ferrel that Sergeant Silent Knight is here to see her. I don’t mind waiting.”

The temple guard nodded and then motioned to a small patch of grass inside. “Not at all. Please, come in and sit.”

“Thank you,” I replied before limping in and settling on the spot. It was good to sit. Walking all the way to the temple had taken a lot out of me.

Without another word, he turned and walked out into the temple grounds, leaving me alone on my spot. The peace and tranquility of the area struck me. The sounds of Canterlot were simply absent. I wasn’t sure how that was possible but there was no city noise. Most likely magic.

The garden was quite soothing and I went from sitting to lying… and then from lying to dozing. The sun hit the spot just perfectly, warming me up.


I blinked and found Exemplar Ferrel standing over me. Perhaps I had caught a brief nap. Slowly, I pushed myself up and off the ground. “Exemplar. Forgive me, please.”

“Quite alright. You are still healing. What can I do for you?” she asked evenly.

The exemplar was always all business but I didn’t mind. I reached into my saddlebag and carefully pulled out a wrapped bouquet of flowers. “These are for you, as a small token of thanks for saving my life.”

I was met with a vacant stare and some blinking before the exemplar accepted them with her silver magic. “You have my gratitude, Silent Knight, but this truly isn’t necessary.” For a brief moment, I saw her admire the flowers before going back to her carefully controlled expression.

“Necessary, no. Important to me, yes. You risked your life to save mine. Nopony else could have brought me back and, to be perfectly frank, I wasn’t keen on dying there. I just did what I had to,” I admitted.

Exemplar Ferrel remained steady as she held the bouquet in her hooves. “It was not your time,” she said with her unwavering certainty.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

The exemplar shook her head. “It was not your time, Silent Knight.”

“How can you know that?”

“Explaining would be extremely difficult and likely unbelievable. Please forgive that. It was simply not your time.” She lightly smelled the flowers and then added, “Thank you for the flowers. You are most kind. Good day, Silent Knight.”

She turned her back to me and headed off into the garden while I tried to figure out what she had meant. Magic… It had to be magic, and I knew I’d never understand it. I tried to put it out of my mind. It was time to get home and rest up for tomorrow. I’d be going back on duty.

“Good morning, Sergeant,” Miley Hooves said as I passed her in the palace.

“Good morning,” I replied.

“Welcome back, Sergeant,” Harvest Moon chimed in.

“Thank you.”

I managed to get into my office about an hour late after I was stopped by and then thanked everypony in the entire palace. Please don’t think ill of me, but I was tired of being the patient. I just wanted to get back into my old life.

“Good morning, Sergeant,” the lieutenant said as he poked his head through my door. At least I knew he wouldn’t coddle me. “Everything you need to get back up to speed is on your desk. Once you’ve worked through that, I want a transition plan from you. I don’t want any gaps while you’re gone at the academy.”

“Yes, sir. No problem at all,” I replied.

“Glad to have you back. You and I will need to go over that plan as soon as possible. Plus, I want you to meet with the new major next week. She’ll be taking over both House Guards. It seems command wants to distribute the authority of the Captain of the Canterlot Guard out. I guess they’re already worried that whatever poor pony gets the position won’t live up to the example Shining Armor set,” he said.

I chuckled. “I’m glad it isn’t me.”

Lieutenant Rook nodded gravely. “I’m going to agree with you there. At any rate, the major should know you. You’ll be reporting directly to her. You’re also going to be acting commander here until you leave. Leadership wants me to invest my time in helping the major set up the joint command. Is that an issue?”

Quickly, I shook my head. “No, sir. In fact, I’m glad for that. I’ve had my fill of coddling.”

“Good stallion. Unit meeting in two hours. We’ll need to brief everypony and you need to meet the replacements.”

“Aye, sir. I’ll be there,” I said, settling behind my desk. Replacements. What a horrible word.

He cleared his throat. “And not to coddle, but are you sure you're up for this afternoon?”

“No, but we can’t put it off on my account and it won’t ever get any easier.”

“Celestia knows that is right. See you in two.”

Before he could leave, I asked, “Russet?”

His brow arched and he stopped. “Yes?”

“Did they railroad you for me?”

“I assume you don’t want me to lie to you?” he asked.

“My preference would be that you be honest.”

Slowly, he pushed the door closed, leaving his hoof on the handle. “The new command was coming once it became clear that Shining Armor was to be reassigned. That part is true. Look, you saved my life. You almost gave yours. My report was honest and I gave you all of the credit.”

I opened my mouth and he lifted his hoof from the door to stop me. “I get it. You just did your job. We’re not going to argue over it. The point is, the gryphons took me out and you took command and got the princess to safety.

"It was made clear to me that you would never step over me, so I was given a choice. Move up to executive officer of the Unified House Guard or take a new command elsewhere. It isn’t a bad deal but, if it were anypony else, I might be bitter about it.”

That is about as clear as it gets. “Railroaded, then. Well, it isn’t like you won’t be around. Have you talked to Sunny Day?”

“You’re right. Perhaps in time I may end up in command of the Unified House Guard and that is certainly a step up.” He shrugged. “We talked. She got the message. Thankfully, she is about half as attached to Princess Celestia as you are to Princess Luna, which is still a whole lot.”

I sighed and shook my head. “It rubs me wrong that my career is impacting the careers of other ponies.”

Russet Rook laughed. “Welcome to command, Silent Knight. Don’t forget that some of us tried to play average to get a nice average command and avoid the politics. You and the captain messed that up.”

We shared a smile and then I shrugged. “I guess you were a smarter pony then. Alright, well, I had to ask. See you in two.”

He nodded and left.

I paced across the unit room. “Listen up, ponies. I know I’ve been gone a while and realize many of you saw me at my weakest. All of your kindness and caring is greatly appreciated. With that said, it is time for me to get back to work. I’m your unit sergeant again and it is going to be business as usual. We need to be professionals.”

Looking at the three new ponies, I went on, “I’m not sure what you’ve heard but I’m not a hero. Nor am I some super soldier. I’m a pony like you and as such I expect you to treat me like a regular guard. This week I’ll get a feel for where you came from but remember, this unit operates differently. You’re in the House Guard now. I expect you to be the very best. Is everypony clear on those points?”

“Yes, Sergeant,” they replied in chorus.

“Very good. Lieutenant?” I said, stepping aside.

“Alright, we’re going to be seeing some changes around here. First and foremost, command has decided to unify the House Guard into one company. Evidently, we officially rate as equals now. Good work on that, everypony.

"Both units will report to a new commanding officer. She’ll be arriving soon and, eventually, I’ll be her second-in-command. That means helping the major set everything up and working out some of the integration. As such, Silent Knight will be acting commander until he becomes the official CO.”

The ponies in the room stomped their hooves for that.

“Easy now. I’m still here,” Lieutenant Rook said. He then waved a hoof in my direction. “Sergeant.”

I nodded. “Life goes on like normal. I’ve picked Radiant Orchid to succeed me as unit sergeant and we’ll need a new sergeant to replace her. We’re going to look internally, obviously, before going outside the unit. If you’re interested, let me know.”

“There is one more twist,” the lieutenant broke in. “This came in right before the meeting.” He held up a piece of parchment. “We’re getting a third squad so there will be an additional sergeant’s post. Each House Guard will be a full-sized section.”

It seemed our little family was going to grow even more. In some ways, it made sense. Princess Luna should be able to travel without the need of palace guards. Nine more ponies would certainly make that easier. “Alright, then. If anypony has any questions I’ll be in my office.”

“My office,” the lieutenant corrected.

“I’ll be in the lieutenant’s office,” I amended. “Dismissed.”

The lieutenant and I walked to his office. As he settled behind the desk, I asked, “A new squad, huh?”

He nodded. “Yup. Command feels that palace guards won’t be suitable for Princess Luna’s travels and after the gryphon incident, they only want the best looking out for her. I’m not going to sugarcoat this, Silent Knight. We’re some of the few guard ponies with actual combat experience.

"Things are going to be different now. Eyes were opened to the possibility of violence and actual threats to the princesses. This isn't like before, where the worst you might get was an overzealous pony with a crush. Command expects us to prepare our guards for potential violence. They don’t want to send ponies abroad anymore that aren’t prepared for what we went through.”

I grimaced. “I want to remind you that I was one of the ponies that decided to take palace guards with us.”

The lieutenant set a hoof on the desk. “I’m aware. You can’t look at it that way. They did their duty and you did yours. You saved lives. How many times am I going to have to say that you saved mine? Look, Sergeant, survivor’s guilt is rough. It happens when a commander loses ponies…”

Russet Rook looked around his desk and muttered, “I think I have a pamphlet on it here somewhere. Maybe you should talk to somepony. It helps. Beyond that, you need to be sure you’re right mentally before you take command. If you’re going to be unable to potentially send ponies to their deaths because you can't stomach it I need to know.”

Survivor’s guilt? Is that what they called this feeling? Was that the same as combat fatigue? It didn't matter. I'd overcome both. I looked him in the eyes, “It won’t stop me from doing my duty.”

“Good. It has ruined ponies in the past. Remember, Silent Knight, you were ready to die. You even chose to. Would you want us sitting here regretting we had survived because of your sacrifice? I sure wouldn’t if it was me.”

It was a cruel lesson, but I absolutely wouldn’t have wanted everypony sitting here sulking. I had made my choice for a reason. I shrugged. “I can’t disagree. Could we get back to business? I’m feeling like a patient again.”

“For now, yes. No problem. Who is the top of your list for the new sergeant?” he asked.

“Hooves down, Mountain Stone,” I replied. “He is more than ready and he certainly held his own over there. I can’t see any justification to move anypony past him. He is more rigid than Orchid but I think he has been with us long enough to work some of that out.”

“Done. Radiant Orchid is going to replace you?”

“We had a heart-to-heart,” I explained. “She was very honest with me when I was in the hospital. She wants a transfer but I convinced her to stay temporarily. She is thinking about her foals and I can respect that. At the same time, I’m not sure Iridescence is ready for this. In the long term I’d hate to go outside, as that isn’t how we do things here.”

Lieutenant Rook nodded. “No kidding. Anyway, Iridescence was upset on the ship, but she did get the job done when it counted most. She certainly didn’t lock up under the pressure. She may not have liked it, but she was effective. I think with a bit of grooming she’ll be ready eventually.”

“That is a good point. I’ll discuss it with her and see that she and Orchid spend a lot of time together,” I said.

“Who gets the new squad?” Lieutenant Rook asked.

“Miley Hooves.”

He snorted. “You can’t be serious. What about Lightning Flash? Wasn’t he in line ahead of her?”

“Completely serious. Outside of her little accidents, which have been getting better, Miley has never once cracked under pressure. She tries harder than any other pony. No matter how many times she has been knocked down, she just gets back up again. Lightning is good but I don’t know that he has her drive,” I explained.

The lieutenant didn’t look positive but he shrugged. “Your call. You’re right about her tenacity, I guess. If you think she can lead ponies, I’ll support you.”

“I have some thoughts about the new squad, too. I want to do some reorganization. Instead of bringing in eight new ponies with one of our sergeants, I want to spread them out across all three squads to help them learn how we do things.

"Plus, I want to look for a medic per squad. Not somepony trained in first aid. I mean a full-on medic. Ideally some that are looking to become doctors sooner or later.”

Russet Rook looked at me and then nodded. “That is an excellent idea for a unit like this one. You’ll lose some fighting capabilities but trained medics make sense, especially if it were Princess Luna that was wounded.

"I guess we’re not going to have temple guards with us on every mission. Although maybe we should… At any rate, if we’re going to do this, we need to look for the best and make it a permanent position in the squad. Sergeant, medic, and seven standard guards.”

“Exactly. Shouldn’t be too hard to sell to command. We may even set a new standard. I’m going to need a different list of ponies, though.” Tapping the pile on the desk, I added, “These are all guards.”

Lieutenant Rook snorted. “Technically, I’m command now. I’ll just need the major to sign off. I’ll have the list to you shortly so you can start vetting.”

“Thank you, sir. Anything else?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Just have it all buttoned up before you start the academy. Get back in shape and we’ll see about where they’re at with your armor.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Oh, and go see the pony resources warrant officer. She has about a thousand forms for you to complete.”

That sounded like an awful idea. The thrill of being back to work could only distract me so long. With a sigh, I replied, “Bureaucracy at its finest. I’ll take care of it, sir.”

It felt weird being in gold armor. Unfortunately, it was all Russet Rook could find for me on short notice. Light, ceremonial, standard Palace Guard armor. I would take it for the afternoon, however, because there was no chance I was going to be out of uniform.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Iridescence whispered to me.

“Not remotely, but they’ve been patient enough,” I breathed. Briefly, I closed my eyes and lowered my head. It took a moment to draw in the courage to cross the threshold into the cemetery.

The Equestrian Guard Cemetery holds a special place in the heart of every royal guard. There are several places we may choose to be buried when we die, but only the most honored are laid to rest there. My ponies were worthy of that honor and they’d been waiting for me.

Iridescence lingered close to me in the event my body physically gave out. I wasn’t nearly strong enough yet to carry the burden of armor. Although that was the least of the burdens I felt. We moved slowly, the only sound the click of our hooves on the white stone walkways.

Duke Cassius, in his kind way, had seen to it that all of those that fell that day were recovered respectfully. Their bodies were returned to our shores and had been laid to rest here following a beautiful ceremony, from what I was told. In my condition, I’d missed it and, deep down, I was glad for that.

“There,” Iridescence said softly, pointing out three fresh graves.

Stepping from the walk onto the grass, I stumbled and bumped into my companion as my forehoof gave out. She caught me and helped me onward.

Three graves, three headstones, three names: Starry Spur, Risky Storm, and Lavender.

The gravity of the moment weighed heavily on me. There was finality here. It hadn’t all been a nightmare or an adventure story where nameless minions died. This was where my ponies were and would remain. My teeth clenched as a wave of anger and sorrow hit me.

“Silent Knight,” Iridescence whispered. “I think it is time to go.” She set a hoof on my shoulder and tried to gently guide me away.

I pulled away from her and stared on, ensuring I’d always remember. Iridescence tugged me a bit more forcefully and I struggled against her as best I could. My body just wasn't strong enough, though, so I finally gave in.

We turned and headed back down the path. I couldn’t help but reflect on what Exemplar Ferrel had told me. How could she know it wasn’t my time? How could anypony?

She had been so certain. It still didn’t make this any easier. I felt responsible for these ponies and they were no closer to justice than the day of the ambush. It was frustrating. I wanted to be out looking for Captain Alastair, and yet I could barely carry the weight of armor. That would be rectified. I just had to move forwards.

“Silent Knight, are you alright?” Iridescence asked.

I couldn’t answer and I didn’t feel like talking. She let me be and we made our way off the cemetery grounds. Without a word, I headed for home. There was work to be done. He would pay for this.

49. Some Measure Of Peace

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Tranquility and peace. That is what the Unicorn Temple represented. Few ponies ever walked the grounds or even realized they existed. I had found them to be a refuge from the outside world. The temple guards had no objections to my visits or my exploration. The priestesses and other ponies simply ignored me.

Most days, I would wander through the lush orchards. Other times, I’d lie in the sun or by the small stream that ran the length of the compound. Whenever I felt guilty about what had happened to the other ponies, I’d find some measure of harmony among the grass and trees.

I thought about those ponies and Alton a lot as I worked to get well. It was Lavender’s charming way or Risky’s daredevil behavior that I missed. Starry Spur was a particularly sore spot of guilt for me. We had never really gotten along. I’d never been kind enough to him and now I wouldn’t have the chance to fix that.

Alton also gave me a lot of pause. He had not just been my ‘gryphon friend’ but a true comrade in arms. We were alike and I would have never wished him ill. He gave his life protecting ponies.

I was going to be the one to fly up for recon but he had said he knew the surroundings better, and I let him go. That thought soured my stomach. It could have been me. It should have been me.

“Silent Knight?”

I jumped in surprise. Exemplar Ferrel was looking down at me. For the observant guard I claimed to be, an awful lot of ponies snuck up on me lately.

“Yes, Exemplar?” I replied.

“You are distressed,” she said before sitting down across from me.

Quietly, I tried to reflect on my expression. Had I given myself away? Was I losing my guard’s edge? More importantly, had she been watching me while I was in the temple grounds? I searched through all of the possibilities before I became aware of the fact that the exemplar was staring at me… waiting for an answer.

“Yes,” was all I said.


I brushed my hoof through the grass. It was tough to put into words. “I shouldn’t be here.”

The exemplar’s head tilted and she replied, “You are always welcome on the temple grounds.”

“That isn’t what I mean. All of those ponies… and Alton, and his gryphons. They were all killed and here I am, enjoying the beauty of this garden. It should have been me in one of those graves.”

Exemplar Ferrel shook her head. “It was not your time.”

Anger flared in my chest. My tone took an edge as I practically growled, “So you’ve assured me repeatedly. How can you be so certain? You’re not much older than me and you’re certain about everything. I’m not sure about anything at all.”

Without missing a beat, the exemplar inquired, “And how old do you think I am?”

“What? What does that matter?” I asked. She just stared at me. “I’m not sure. Midway through your third decade?”

“Flattering, but in truth I am that five times again,” she said plainly.

My focus changed completely, the anger vanishing in a haze of confusion. I shook my head. “Pardon? How? Ponies don’t live that long.”

“Are alicorns not ponies? Are the princesses not far older still? Unicorn priestesses study magic that heals and defends. It protects us from age and many of the things that would fail most ponies,” she explained.

That made sense in some ways, and it was hard to argue the alicorn point. Princess Celestia was over a thousand years old. Far over, actually. Princess Luna had been sort of frozen in time and obviously they both had lived before that incident. I mulled it over and finally replied, “I can accept that as fact.”

“Thank you. Now that we have established why I am so certain… why are you? How can you know better than I that you should be dead?”

“I… I’m… I’m not sure. I’m just feeling guilty and I miss them. I was supposed to protect them. I failed. I still see their faces in my dreams.”

Exemplar Ferrel stared through me. “You were supposed to protect the princess and did. They did the same and as a result they have departed. It is unlikely that you actually see them… They are probably not lingering.”

It was another callous explanation. Ponies seemed to have numerous logical ways of looking at what happened. Even I did, but it didn’t make me feel better. I frowned briefly and then asked, “What happens when a pony… departs? Are they happy? Are they frightened? If they’re not lingering, where are they?”

“Nopony could ever know for certain…” the exemplar started and then I guess she caught my expression. She lifted a hoof and set it on my shoulder. “We believe that when a pony departs, they go to the same realm as the ascended alicorns. It is a comfortable place where they are want for nothing and are cared for.”

“What do you mean, ascended alicorns?” I asked.

The exemplar blinked and seemed to be at a loss for words. She shifted uncomfortably. I had never seen her do that before. Finally, she replied, “Alicorns can ascend. When they decide their time is over, they simply pass on… Retire, if you will.”

“You mean they die? I thought they were ageless,” I said in fascination.

“It is not that simple. An alicorn can be killed, thus your job’s existence. They cannot, however, die of old age. They are ageless, as you say. When they have decided they have lived long enough, they move on to the next world.”

That didn’t completely make sense to me. “So… they end their own life?”

“No, it is not so. With their magic they ascend and move on without a death. Once they have done so, they may not return, or at least have not yet.”

Lightly, I pushed a rock around in front of me. “So my ponies are happy and safe, you think?”

“I do, and I believe they would not want you to be sad. Miss them, certainly. Feel to blame, no. Does this help you?”

“It does, a little. I’ll try to keep it in mind as I move forwards. Thank you, Exemplar.”

“You are most welcome. Come and visit as much as you like, Silent Knight. You are not meant to languish in self-pity and doubt.”

That was an odd thing for her to say, but my thoughts were shifting. One mystery at a time. Pieces of a different puzzle were starting to come together. I took a chance and pressed, “Did Nocturna ascend?”

The exemplar froze then briefly looked around. She leaned in close and whispered, “No. She was murdered, and that is far more than I should say. There are many things that happened in the times before the sisters’ rule, Silent Knight. Things that most ponies would not understand. We protect those secrets, as do your princesses. Some things are best left buried.”

“Do I need to know these secrets to protect Princess Luna?”

“That is not for me to say. Ask her about the House of the Night. She will decide what is best.”

Slowly, she rose and bowed her head. “Proceed carefully. The knowledge you seek is a large burden to bear. Good day, Silent Knight.”

“Thank you, Exemplar. Good day.”

There was a reason my armor took as long as it did to be ready. It was because I have kind friends, family, and a doting princess. To celebrate my return to duty, they all conspired to give me quite a surprise.

“Not that it is unusual for him, but I think he is speechless,” Winterspear told the assembled crowd of Princess Luna, Russet Rook, Iridescence, and Runic Phial.

To be honest, I was. Slowly, I circled the stand that held my new suit of armor. It was mostly recognizable as the original set I had worn. All of the damage from the battle had been repaired, but they had gone beyond that. The plates had been strengthened, the hoof guards had been built up, and there were wing guards. Most interesting of all ,my cutie mark had been painted beautifully on the flanks.

“It is amazing,” I finally said.

“We suggested a lot of tweaks based on our experiences with the gryphons,” Iridescence pointed out. “Chances are your suit will be the model for future combat guard armor. This particular set is made from Cloudsdale steel, too. Perfect for a pegasus warrior.”

Runic clapped me on the shoulder. “I did some of my alchemical work on it, too. The metal is now stronger and lighter, like your sword.”

Princess Luna chimed in, “I have enchanted it, as well. We can discuss how to take advantage of that later. The unicorn exemplar has also blessed it. She was most accommodating even though I had to speak to her through an intermediary.”

The lieutenant added, “I’ve already got the approval for using non-issue gear and technically, this is your issued armor. It incorporates some pieces of what little was left from the original suit in it.”

Winterspear nudged me lightly. “Now we just need to get you healthy enough to wear it.”

I grunted lightly. “To hay with that. I’m putting it on now. Enough of this out-of-uniform nonsense. Give me a hoof.”

There was general disagreement with that idea but I was not going to be denied. I started to don my armor. It was Cloudsdale steel and Runic had said he had made it lighter but it felt awfully heavy. Iridescence and Winterspear helped me get the rest of it on.

“It is a little loose,” I said.

Russet Rook politely cleared his throat. “You used to be heavier, Sergeant. We’ll have to fatten you up a bit.”

“Verily!” Princess Luna cheered. “Let us go and feed Silent Knight cake.”

“Cake?” I asked.

Iridescence smiled. “Time for your ‘welcome home’ reception. We’ve been putting it off as long as we could. Come along, Sergeant. Your unit is waiting.”

The group started making their way out and I followed quietly behind. It was good to be back in the armor. It also felt heavy and I stumbled a few times. Nopony said anything, but Iridescence and Winterspear walked really close to me just like I had once done for Shining Armor. It was kind of them.

“I think I’m going to need a lot of cake,” I said.

“There are worse problems,” my sister replied warmly.

I stiffened when we arrived to the ‘reception.’ The entire unit was in attendance and they were in their armor. There were also several senior Canterlot officers as well. What tipped me off that this wasn’t going to be a normal affair was the fact that Princess Celestia was in attendance and not already over by the cake.

“Iridescence?” I asked quietly before trying to back out of the room.

She blocked my retreat. “Sorry. This was the best compromise we could get. Smile, be gracious, and it will all be over soon. Then we can really party.”

The assembled ponies started stamping their hooves and cheering when they saw me. Princess Celestia looked up and said, “Our guest of honor has arrived.”

Princess Luna moved to stand beside her sister. Winterspear bumped me with her flank and I slowly walked to where the two princesses stood. I’m used to ponies staring at me, and they all were. I probably shouldn’t have worn the armor. It was tiring me out already but I made it to the pair.

Princess Celestia spoke softly but her voice carried across the room. “Silent Knight, in recognition for your faithful dedication and your willingness to sacrifice yourself to protect Princess Luna and your fellow guards, it is my distinct honor to present you with the Celestia Cross.”

“Attention!” I heard Russet Rook say behind me and every guard in the room stiffened.

Princess Luna levitated the medal from where it rested in its wooden box. I ducked my head and she slipped it over my helmet and around my neck. It felt very heavy. Too heavy. The weight was almost too much to bear but I thought about what the lieutenant had said and straightened up.

Princess Luna spoke next. “Thank you for your service to Equestria, your fellow guards, and your princesses.”

Princess Celestia lifted a hoof and said, “Silent Knight.”

I turned and all of the ponies in attendance started stomping and cheering again. My expression held as I stared blankly to the back of the room. Never let anypony shake your cool. All the faces in the room blurred together except the eleven in the back. I’ll never forget those eleven. They did not stare angrily at me, nor did they seem to have accusatory expressions. They simply looked on peacefully.

“Silent Knight,” Princess Celestia repeated softly.

Lightly, I shook my head and the vision disappeared from view. Public speaking without warning is not something I’m good at. In fact, it terrifies me. I’d given good pep talks to my guards before but this was different.

What in Equestria was I going to say to these ponies? Why would the princesses put this on me suddenly and without warning? It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. What could I say to this crowd?

In silence, I puzzled through every speech I’d read or listened to. In the back of my mind, an idea crystallized. Words started to line up. I knew what I had to say.

“I accept this honor not for myself but on behalf of those ponies that are here with us in spirit today. May we never forget them or become callous to the loss of others.

"As guards, we must always be willing to lay down our lives for our duty and our friends, but we should never seek to do so needlessly. When you look at this medal, do not think of what must be lost to earn it. Look to it as a reminder of all those ponies who have given their lives in the pursuit of the dream that someday there will be no need for soldiers at all. Thank you.”

The room erupted into cheers and hoof stomps. Princess Celestia leaned in and whispered, “Well said.” She then lifted her head. “Please join us in welcoming Silent Knight home. Eat, drink, and have a good time.”

Princess Luna went over to a few pillows and announced, “And Silent Knight shall sit with me.”

I didn’t need any other coaxing. It seemed the princess had noticed the strain the ceremony was putting on me. My legs practically gave out when I reached a pillow and I gracefully collapsed onto it. My descent was controlled but I highly doubted I’d be able to rise unaided. “Thank you, Princess.”

She smiled at me. “Of course. The party pony should have the privilege to sit. I imagine once the officers pay their respects you will be able to have a good time. Allow me to help.” Her horn illuminated and she lifted my helmet free of my head. That helped a bunch.

For the next hour, a parade of officers came by to shake my hoof and say a few words to me. I tried to rise on instinct for each one but Princess Luna kept putting her hoof on my shoulder and the officers kept insisting I stay seated. That was weird, but they were polite. Eventually, they cleared out and all of the off-duty members of the House Guard removed their helmets.

“Finally,” Iridescence said as she and Winterspear came over. “Okay, let’s get you out of that armor.”

It seemed foolish to fight as it was wearing me out and, to be honest, I didn’t have much say in it. I had crashed and one more day of being the patient was fine. “Yes, please,” I replied and Winterspear and Iridescence helped me remove it.

Even without all of the extra weight, it was tough to rise. Princess Luna helped me and I went to join my friends. She had invited them all, which was a nice touch. We settled in for a fun night of dancing, games, and cake.

Crystal Wishes was alone and stuck out a great deal in the sea of guard ponies. I made my way over to her and smiled. “Hi.”

She smiled back. “Hi, Silent Knight. You looked dashing in your new armor.”

“It was a wonderful gift. I only wish I could fill it… but then maybe it is best for today I don’t so that you and Runic aren’t the only odd ponies out. Thank you for coming, though. It is nice to see you.” Briefly, I looked around and then asked, “Where is Velvet?”

With a wink, Crystal replied, “Oh, I don’t mind being around ponies in armor, but thank you. She is in Manehatten with her troupe but does send her best wishes. She wanted to be here, but we just didn’t know when the ceremony would be...” She trailed a little, then continued, “Winterspear wasn’t sure you’d be ready.”

“Oh,” I started before looking my sister’s way. Then I shook my head and added, “So this is a party. Why don’t you take a wounded pony over to the punch bowl? I’d love to hear how your newest story is coming along.”

Crystal smiled and said, “Of course. You see, it has been quite a struggle for me. I can’t get the characters just right…”

Every morning and evening, Winterspear and I worked on my physical training. We’d alternate various exercises so as to not overstrain any one part of my body. It was slow going at first but I was starting to regain my strength and weight. I could even fly as long as I didn’t carry anything.

In addition to our workout sessions, my sister was also cramming me full of food. The doctor had given her specific instructions and she was following them to the letter. That meant me being stuffed with alfalfa and legumes. I’m not a fan of either but Winterspear wasn’t taking no for an answer. Either way, I was glad to have a sibling that cared so much.

All in all, I was starting to feel like myself again and was glad to be back to work. I stood behind my desk going through all of the guard applications and medic files. After our experiences with the gryphons, we were suddenly a very popular unit. There were far more ponies available than positions and I was still narrowing it down.

My door opened and the lieutenant walked in with an unfamiliar mare in tow. I stood to attention. “Good morning, sir.”

“Good morning, Sergeant. I would like to introduce you to Major Measure, the new Unified House Guard commander,” he replied.

Major Measure was an interesting looking unicorn mare. Her coat was a very subdued green color that darkened toward her hooves. In stark contrast, her mane and tail were both ruby red in color, although there were also twinges of grey in both. She wasn’t wearing her helmet and her mane was styled exactly by the book.

The major approached my desk and looked me over. She seemed to be paying attention to my new armor. “It is nice to meet you, Sergeant. I’ve heard a lot of good things about you from the lieutenant.”

“A pleasure, ma’am,” I replied.

She continued to stare for a minute more and then nodded. “Princess Luna’s armor style is quite interesting. I haven’t seen anything like it. I suppose I should stick with the standard for now, however. I understand you’ll be going to officer candidate school soon?”

“Yes, ma’am. Once the new class starts and I’m certain everything will run smoothly in my absence.”

“It is quite rare for an officer to return to the same unit they were enlisted with. Are you not concerned with discipline and familiarity?”

I shook my head. “No, ma’am. That won’t be an issue with this unit. The ponies here are accustomed to me being their commander. I’ve been acting commander on more than a few occasions.”

“And there is no issue with your previous romantic relationship? Aren’t you recommending that same pony for unit sergeant in the long term?”

The major had clearly done her homework. I liked that even if she was grilling me. That was something I could appreciate. Again, I shook my head. “No, ma’am. That is over. I won’t lose sight of my duty and neither will she. We’ve moved on.”

Major Measure didn’t give any indication one way or the other of how she felt about my answer. She finally nodded. “I see. Well, your dedication to your duty is certainly not in question. You seem to have proven that more than most ponies and, given that I don’t really have a say in it, I’ll wish you the best of luck. If you have any issues, you’ll let me know, of course?”

“Of course, ma’am. Thank you.” I meant it. The major was obviously tough but I liked that. I was pretty sure we could work together.

“Very good, then.” She looked to Russet Rook and added, “I want to meet the other sergeants and then head over to meet Princess Celestia’s guards.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said and the pair went on their way.

Iridescence, Winterspear, and I sat at a table in the Spearhead Tavern.

“I’ll have a cider, please,” I told the server.

Winterspear shook her head. “He’ll have milk. He can have cider when he is all well again.”

The pony serving us looked from me to Winterspear and decided she was more scary. “Milk it is,” he replied before trotting off.

I scowled. My sister didn’t budge. “You’ll be well enough soon. Quit complaining.”

I shrugged. “Okay. Now, we have two items on the agenda.” I called our little meeting to order with a light clap of my hoof on the table. “We need to discuss the unit sergeant's position and Runic’s birthday.”

“Why don’t we discuss Runic’s birthday first?” Iridescence suggested.

Winterspear shook her head. “Try again.” My sister was turning into a tyrant.

I cleared my throat. “I think, in time, it should be you, Iridescence. You may not have liked having to make the tough decisions but you did it and did it well.”

“That didn’t make it any easier. Just because I got them right that time doesn’t mean I will next time,” Iridescence said as our drinks arrived.

I shrugged. “No, it doesn’t, but when the chips were down you took over and led. That is what is important. If it isn’t you, I’m going to have to find somepony outside and I honestly don’t want to do that. Everypony trusts you and Radiant Orchid isn’t going to be around forever. You have the unique opportunity to have her mentor you.”

Winterspear nodded in agreement. “I know it was tough but I really think this is right for you. Before all of this, if the opportunity had come up, you’d have taken it. Right?”

Iridescence nodded begrudgingly. “Yes… but that was before all of the combat and such was real. It was just something that may happen but probably wouldn’t. Up until that point, we just kept Princess Luna safe from fans and stampeding ponies. Now we've been in two different battles. Things are different.”

I swirled my milk before drinking it. “Are they? If that is the case, why not quit all together? We fought the changelings before and you came back. If you stay in your current position, you still run the risk of the same thing happening. Where you fit in the hierarchy doesn’t change that. What happens if next time they manage to kill me and Orchid?”

That garnered a dirty look from my sister but it was true. Sometimes we have to hear things we don’t want to hear. Iridescence shrugged. “Nopony got killed during the changeling incident.”

“My second point still stands,” I replied and then lightly nudged her. “Are you worried about that or something else?”

“You’re a tough act to follow. The bolts started raining on us and there you stood, cool and collected even after being hit. I was just stunned and watching at first. That hesitation could have killed more ponies.”

“The first time is always the hardest. The next time you’ll move quicker,” I said.

Iridescence looked at me in confusion. “You’ve never been in an ambush before. How can you say that?”

Winterspear shifted uncomfortably and said, “Let’s just say he has been in situations close enough. Dangerous situations where injury was a real risk. Leave it at that.”

I thought about my father and his unorthodox training methods, but didn’t say an extra word on the subject. Iridescence looked at both of us. She finally said, “I guess it is me then, isn’t it?”

“It should be,” I said. “You’ll have a fine mentor and you’ve been through the worst already. Thankfully, we have some flexibility here. You will have to decide, though. You have to want it. I don’t want you there if you’re doing it halfheartedly or are afraid of what will happen if things go sideways again. I don’t want you wasting Orchid’s time, either. I had to beg her to stay and she also has two new sergeants to train.”

“I’ll work on the wanting it part. I won’t do anything halfheartedly, though,” she replied.

Winterspear drained her mug and set it roughly on the table. “Good. That is settled. Now, Runic’s birthday.”

“We need to get Miley Hooves involved. Honestly, at this point she may know Runic better than the rest of us,” I said.

Winterspear made an exaggerated wink. “I bet she does.”

“You’re terrible.” My cheeks flushed and I lightly pushed her. She went to push me back but I lifted my hooves. “Wounded pony!”

Winterspear just glared while Iridescence laughed.

“Seriously, though, Miley is essential,” I said.

Iridescence nodded. “I agree. Runic throws the best parties so it will be tough to top that. We need to do something big and surprising.”

“And rock themed,” I quickly added in.

Winterspear nodded. “Yes, rock themed, but something everypony can enjoy.”

“Perhaps Princess Luna would allow us to use the palace gardens?” Iridescence put in.

“Great idea,” I said. “Plus rocks lend themselves to outside. Well, rocks and explosions anyway. You know what? I’ll go over and see Velvet’s parents. I bet they can make some kind of rock candy.”

Winterspear tapped her hooves on the floor. “What about entertainment? Should we go find those Ponyville dancers? We can certainly get DJ Pon3, or do we want to go more classy?”

Iridescence pondered that and said, “Well, the palace garden seems like more of a classy place. I want Runic to be comfortable, though. I’ll see what I can dig up. Maybe classical musicians playing contemporary music?”

“I like that idea.” I replied and then nodded with satisfaction. “We’ve got an excellent start. I’ll run it by Miley and then we’ll have to come up with a reason for Runic to come to the gardens.”

“I’d suggest leaving that to her,” Winterspear said.

“Fair enough,” I replied and then asked, “Can I have a cider now?”

“No!” both mares shouted.

50. One Long Day

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My trips to the Unicorn Temple were becoming more frequent. The peaceful garden and the little chats with Exemplar Ferrel worked wonders for relieving the tension I frequently felt. Winterspear helped me with the physical wounds and the temple aided the mental ones as best they could.

The garden itself was full of curiosities. Every trip allowed me to discover new things. My favorite feature was the small brook that ran through the center of the grounds. I had no idea where it started and even less of an idea of where it ended. The temple was, after all, in the middle of Canterlot. It was magical but that was no surprise.

I stood on the delicate wooden bridge that spanned the water and watched little orange fish swim about on whatever business fish had. There was little doubt that it was important to them.

The sound of soft steps on the path reached my ears. Eventually that shifted to hooves on wood. “Back so soon?”

I turned to the exemplar and bowed. “Yes. I go to the gym twice a day. It only seems fitting that I come here near as often. That isn’t a problem, is it?”

“No. You are always welcome here, Silent Knight.”

“And you always seem to find me when I am,” I replied.



The exemplar’s head tilted and her light blue eyes briefly went vacant. She then blinked and replied, “I like you.”

Softly, I chuckled and looked back to the busy fish. “I like you, too. That hardly seems like the sort of thing that motivates you, though.”

Exemplar Ferrel moved to my side to peer down with me. “In most cases, I would agree. In this case, I speak the whole truth. I enjoy your company. You are not a temple guard and have little care for our business. You come here for peace.”

My ears twitched at that and I asked, “Do others not?”

“Few ponies come here. I am often surrounded by only others of this temple. Your guards often have need of you, yes?”

“They do.”

“As do mine, and we all live here together. They look up to me at all times. I do not count any among them as a friend. The same is true for the ponies in the other orders here. They all keep a healthy distance,” she explained.

“Because you’re an exemplar?”

The unicorn shook her head. “No, because I am odd.”

“You’re odd, but not that odd. Surely they don’t dislike you.”

She shook her head again. “No, they don’t. They just keep the distance.”

One of the little orange fish swam by itself in a circle. The others kept on going about their day. “Not that I’m asking so that I can keep my distance, but the other temple guards I met aren’t like you. You have a talent they don’t, correct?”


I shifted my attention back to her. “Tell me about it.”

“It is hard to explain and largely unbelievable,” she replied.

“Tell me anyway. In the worst case, we discover that there is just one more aspect of magic I don’t understand. That is no different from yesterday.”

Exemplar Ferrel seemed to contemplate that a moment and then nodded. “I’m not certain it is magic so much as my unique talent… or curse. I was a strange foal prone to bouts of silence and sudden terror. My cutie mark appeared before I could speak.”

The exemplar’s cutie mark was an hourglass of sorts. The top was open with both the sand and glass being blown away as if they were no more than dust.

“For as long as I can remember, I have seen glimpses of the near future. They always come in threes and, inevitably, two are always false. The visions most often come in sleep. Others come while I am awake. In either case, they are so real, so vivid, that I have difficulty knowing what reality is. Am I talking to you now or experiencing a vision? I can’t be certain.”

That floored me. “So you know what will happen but it is clouded by what won’t?”

“Yes, and I have perfect recall of each vision whether they occur or not. To me it as if they have all occurred. I try very hard to recognize when one is coming true, but I can’t be sure until it has already passed.

"I spent the first century of my life running around shouting about doom and ruination that only occurred one-third of the time. It ensured I lacked credibility and that ponies would keep their distance.”

The idea of not really knowing what reality was frightened me a bit. “How do you deal with your talent?”

The exemplar shook her head. “As best as anypony can? The temple keeps me isolated and when I am alone, I rarely have visions. If I do, they only apply to me. It is when other ponies get into the mix that they increase. When we left these walls, I was in the proximity of three other temple guards, your House Guard, the Palace Guard, and Princess Luna. It was overwhelming.”

“You seemed to have functioned beyond fine,” I said softly.

She smiled. “Indeed. Suffice to say, I did the best I could. It is hard to know if my actions had any effect, however. The night I warned you, I saw two visions of Princess Luna being attacked in her chambers and yet she was not.”

“The warning set me on alarm and we took a lot of action that night. Perhaps that threw off the would-be attackers,” I suggested.

The exemplar softly shrugged.

Idly, I brushed a hoof along the smooth rail of the bridge. “What did you see the day of the ambush?”

“Turmoil,” she replied.

“Of course you saw turmoil, we were going to be attacked.”

“That is not what I mean. I saw three visions for the princess, three for myself, three for you, three for the gryphon... and so on and so on. I look for commonalities in visions. When there are so many coming so frequently, that becomes impossible. I wasn’t wholly aware for most of the day. It became unclear what was real,” she explained.

My head bobbed in a soft nod. It was largely unbelievable, but I had no reason to doubt her. The exemplar had a talent that was both infinitely powerful and equally useless. Most ponies would likely have been driven insane by it. Perhaps she was. “So, you live this way every day?”

“Yes. The frequency isn’t as bad within the temple grounds and I am easily able to perform my duties. Beyond that, when I am certain I am in reality, I cling to it. Your visits these days are rarely worthy of a vision set. Thus, when you are here, I know that now is most likely now.”

“I’m glad I can be of some service, then. I was worried I was doing more taking than giving.”

“Even if that were the case, we are here to serve. Still, I would not be upset if you chose to keep coming even after you have decided to let go of the specter that is astride your back. Good day, Silent Knight.”

My head bowed politely to her and I replied, “Good day, Exemplar.”

Princess Luna and I sat across from each other in her bedroom. We were laid out on plush pillows, enjoying a bit of silence. It was suspicious… very suspicious. She’d sent the guards out of the main chamber and came all of the way back to be as far from them as possible.

“I’m certain I’ve found them,” the princess said finally.

“The ponies you’re looking for? How?” I asked.

The book I’d found levitated from her vanity and landed between us. “This is a journal. When you went to Smokey Mountain, it seems likely that you were noticed. You probably surprised the pony in question and as a result, she dropped her journal.”

That made sense. It was careless, but then again, the princess had never said I was looking for soldiers. “The journal explains where she was from?”

“Verily,” she replied but without excitement.

That was a strange reaction. “Aren’t you pleased, Princess?”

With a sigh, she continued, “I am and at the same time not. These ponies do not know me. What if they don’t trust me? They are living in exile. Why should they wish to return?”

“Exile? Where?”

“The Badlands. Their ancestors fled there a thousand years ago to build new settlements as far from the old capital as possible. They’ve been forgotten.”

A thousand years ago. “When you were banished?”

“Yes. When I was banished by Celestia.”

There were so many pieces to this puzzle that I was missing. It was time to gather a few more. “What is the House of the Night?”

Princess Luna’s ears stood up straight. “Where did you hear that name?”

My head shook. “I won’t say. What is it? Is it related to these ponies?”

“Yes. They fled because the House of the Night became vacant. In their minds, aggression had been brought against their last alicorn.”

“Princess Celestia banished you. That is the aggression? They were frightened of her?”

“Most frightened. My sister and I are alicorns far more powerful than you are aware. For her to banish me… well, consider that the most frightening thing that could be imagined for these ponies. It would be viewed as an attack regardless of the circumstances. Much like when Celestia disappeared upon my return.”

My stare went vacant. An attack? “Princess… are we in danger of some sort of cold war with these ponies and don’t know it?”

“Potentially, yes. That is why it is critically important that you get well enough to travel. You’ll need to go to them and pave the way for me to visit.”

My heart started to beat faster. A potential attack was not a secret matter. It was a security issue. “How do you know they won’t attack me?”

“I don’t, but I suspect they will not.”

“You suspect? How can you send me into a lion’s den on a suspicion alone?” My tone raised just a little.

The princess shifted slightly and replied, “Because I must! You will carry a banner of peace, of course, but I suspect they will not attack because they will recognize you as a distant relative. You share the same ancestors.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Your family line is not all pegasi. They will recognize your ears and cutie mark.”

My heart raced and it was harder to keep my composure. “Princess, what kind of ponies are these? What are you hiding from me? I have a right to know!”

The princess looked tormented. Indecision and concern played across her face and she made no effort to conceal it. When she finally spoke, her voice was quiet. “They are nox ponies. Pegasi of the night, if you will. Your family shares a common ancestor: Moonlit Star.

"She was the matriarch of which I spoke all that time ago. She was to help me as Starswirl the Bearded helped Celestia. I was too stubborn to listen to—” The princess stopped, tears pooling in her eyes. With a deep breath, she pushed on, “—to a ‘normal’ pony.”

“You mean a non-alicorn?”

The tears fell onto the pillow. “Yes. I was a fool. A young and arrogant fool. I refused her help! I denied her oath. It was all out of selfishness. They had lost their leader! I was all that remained and when they needed me the most, I acted as a foal acts.”

It was starting to make sense. The princess was distraught, but I just had to ask, “Who murdered Nocturna?”

Her tail lashed and she rose. “I don’t know!” The princess’s voice echoed in the bedroom and I was compelled to duck my head.

Princess Luna took a soft breath. “We were all on a trip to the Crystal Empire for an alicorn summit when it happened. I was too young to be part of the proceedings. Celestia saw it all, though, and somehow managed to escape. She said they underestimated her. We were surrounded by grief and fear. Before whoever did the deed could find us, she grabbed me and teleported us away.”

After wiping her eyes, the princess reached down to lift my chin. “Silent Knight, in one instant, both alicorn houses were nearly wiped out. My sister and I were all that was left and we were too young to rule.”

Both houses? If there was a House of the Night, then it was made sense that there was a House of the Day. “Wait, Nocturna wasn’t the only one murdered?”

“No… I said both houses were nearly wiped out, Silent Knight. Now do you see why these ponies would be frightened? They were left with an arrogant, stupid foal to rule them. An arrogant, stupid foal that succumbed to the nightmares and was banished by her rival. One alicorn left to rule them all: an alicorn of the sun.”

Frightened? Hardly. I’d have been terrified. In fact, I was. Something was out there that could murder alicorns? Multiple alicorns? An Equestria without alicorns was no place to be. Then the one word stuck out in my mind. “Rival? What do you mean, rival? She is your sister!”

“Yes, she is. We have discussed this enough. You need not know more to act as my agent in this regard. You will get well, complete your training, and then you will go and visit the nox ponies. Is that clear?”

More secrets. Always more secrets. Could I keep this secret? Should I? I'd made an oath to Shining Armor. My head bowed and my heartbeat had not slowed. “Yes. I will do as you command. I am your agent."

I would go, yes. That part I could agree to.

Knowledge is heavy. Knowledge is power. I had knowledge that I both didn’t want and, at the same time, was compelled to investigate. I needed to talk to somepony else but I couldn’t. Where was the colonel? He would know what to do.

Where was he? Off in the Crystal Empire doing Celestia knew what… Celestia knew.

The Crystal Empire! Were Shining Armor and Lady Cadence in danger? Those crystal ponies had murdered alicorns. Should I warn him? Could I warn him? The thoughts raced in my head and got muddled. I stumbled and the ache of losing my own ponies bubbled up to the forefront of my mind.

Enemies within. Enemies across the sea. A secret lair of ponies that may even be at war with us. Were they watching even now? One had been close enough to drop a journal but I never saw her. We were all in danger and something had to be done immediately!

My hooves turned right instead of left. Quickly, I went down the hall to Sunny Day’s office. Her door was closed. It was never closed. I pushed it open and stormed in. My heart was beating too quickly in my chest.

There was a surprised squeak. The little blue pony resources pony, Azurite, was in Sunny’s hooves.

“Sergeant, have you lost your mind?!” Sunny Day demanded loudly.

She didn’t know that I had. I stiffened to an abrupt attention. “Apologies, ma’am! I need to speak to the princess immediately.”

The lieutenant’s anger evaporated. “What’s happened? What is it about?”

“My apologies. I can’t say but on my word it is urgent.”

Sunny Day nodded and eased back from Azurite. “Sweetie… why don’t you go back to work.”

“Okay,” she replied nervously as she headed for the door. Before going out, she stopped and said, “You’re looking better, Sergeant.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” I said absently.

Once Azurite was gone, Sunny Day approached me. “Can you give me anything to take to her? She’ll want to know something. You can’t just interrupt the princess’s day on your word regardless of how good it is.”

The adrenaline was starting to wear off. What was I doing? This was a risky move. Actually, it was a career-ending move. Sunny Day would let it go, though. No. Never let anypony shake your cool. There were enemies nearby. “Tell her that they underestimated her.”


“Tell her that. I’ll wait here.”

“Yeah… okay, Silent Knight. I’ll tell her.” Sunny Day gave me an odd look before hurrying out.

“You’ve certainly come a long way from hiding behind couches, Silent Knight,” Princess Celestia said softly.

We had met in her office near the throne room. She’d agreed to see me immediately and here we were. I didn’t have a plan. My heart pounded in my chest. She wasn’t going to know that, though.

My instincts kicked in as I sized the alicorn up. She was bigger than me and full of inconceivably powerful magic. Not a great matchup. My tone remained even. “Yes, Princess. What you did for me that day shaped me more than you might know.”

In other circumstances, I think that would have made her smile. She didn’t smile, though. “You’ve been spending a lot of time alone with my sister. What have you two been up to?”

It was a measured question with deep meaning. "Talking. Talking a lot about the past.”

“That is all? What is it that you hope to achieve here?”

“Is that not enough, Princess?

“It is, but it lacks a certain ambition that some ponies have had in the past.”

The hairs on my neck rose. “Princess… are we enemies? I need to know if we are.”

She tilted her head and looked at me curiously. “Why would we be?”

“I—” My voice trickled to a whisper. “I don’t know. I’ve learned things. Princess Luna said you’re rivals. I can’t protect her from you. We’re at war...”

“My little pony…” Princess Celestia rose and came around her desk, advancing on me. I recoiled and started to drop into a combat stance before she settled next to me. In a fluid motion, she lifted a wing and softly wedged me between it and her body.

“Silent Knight, I understand that what happened to you was horrible and traumatic. We’re not at war, though, and I am not your enemy. She is my sister. If I was her enemy, why would I have ensured her restoration from the nightmare?”

How would I know? None of it made sense. Who could murder an alicorn as powerful as Nocturna, anyway? The mere visage of her was more than I could handle. It wasn’t just Nocturna, though. It was alicorns… with an s.

What was I doing? I’d lost my mind. “I’m sorry, Princess. I’ve wasted your time. I’m just not sure what is what right now. Can… Can you tell me what she meant by rivals? It might give me some peace.”

The princess peered down at me and then nodded. “A long time ago, alicorns of the sun and alicorns of the moon were rivals, this is true. You could, in some ways, consider us different kinds of ponies. Our magic and talents are different, our philosophies were different, and we comprised two houses: the Day and the Night.

“Each house vied for the adoration and love of all ponies. This rivalry was escalating to the point where violence was not outside the realm of believability. To avoid it, an agreement was reached and, for the first time ever, sisters were chosen and appointed to the houses. There was hope that our love for each other would mend all wounds and allow us to share.”

“Did it?” I asked.

“Look upon Equestria and tell me that our land is divided.”

She was right. Equestria was amazing. Ponies spent more time working together in harmony than anything else. Peace, harmony, and friendship. “It worked… but you also ruled a thousand years by yourself.”

“Yes, that is a fair point. It will take some time, but Luna will eventually be my peer and we will rule equally. Do you believe I withhold power from her?”


“Then does this give you peace?” she asked softly.

With a nod I replied, “It does… I would not want you as an enemy.”

“Due to my power?”

“Due to your kindness. It is easier to fight an enemy you can vilify.”

The princess paused as if to consider that. “Your secret meetings with Luna have been about this?”

There it was, then. All the sneaking around and I’d just blurted it out in a fit. My mind had been so muddled I hadn't fully considered what was happening. Carefully, I had to consider my promise to Princess Luna. No other pony but within reason.

I’d also given my word to Shining Armor that if this became a military matter I’d warn him. Had this been a military matter? It had felt that way. I’d taken what Princess Luna had said as a risk. It was a grey area. “In part, yes, Princess.”

“Well, what a shame. I thought she had succumbed to your charm.”

I stiffened and moved away from her. “What?! No, ma’am! That is inappropriate."

She laughed and lifted her wing. “No less inappropriate than accusing the ruler of a kingdom of being an enemy.”

My ears shot up. “Asked, Princess! I asked. Respectfully.” I slowly backed out from under her wing, my head held low.

Princess Celestia nodded and then her expression went firm. “Silent Knight, what you know is dangerous. You’ll understand that I must know your intentions for that information.”

“Yes, Princess. My intentions are to do as your sister commands. I am hers. If she orders it kept secret, it will be so. If she feels I should tell—” The words caught in my throat a moment and I bowed my head. “—I’m sorry, Princess. I’ll do as she orders.”

I’d chosen one princess over the other and I meant it.

Princess Celestia’s head tilted a moment and she replied, “This is precisely what our mentors were trying to avoid but I respect your loyalty. I should caution you: most ponies are not ready for this knowledge. You may be in a weakened state, but you are still stronger than most and look at how it impacted you. Please exercise good judgment and not just blind loyalty.”

“I understand and again, my apologies, Princess. It truly wasn’t my intention to offend you,” I said meekly. The words were hollow, though. No, I had not meant to offend her, but I had made it abundantly clear that I'd taken her sister’s side. They were not joint sovereigns to me.

“Focus on getting strong. Luna will have more need of you and it is her right to investigate the past. I believe you will be a voice of reason for her. Please do not make me regret trusting you with my little sister.”

“Yes, Princess. Again, my sincere apologies for my words and actions today. It felt like I was back… there. I’m worried about being ambushed. Things became confusing.”

Princess Celestia shook her head. “Your heart was in the right place. Now, should it ever come up, you thought you remembered something about a gryphon spy infiltrating the palace and I was the only pony you knew for sure you could trust. A fit of paranoia following your injury.”

“Yes. Another ponynapping attempt. Paranoia. Good day, Princess.”

“Good day, Silent Knight.”

“We were just kissing.”

My hooves came up. “It isn’t any of my business, ma’am.”

Azurite set a hoof on her desk. “Just kissing! Nothing else. The regulations allow for officers and warrant officers to date. I don’t work her file.”

“Ma’am, honestly, it isn’t my business.”

“She is a great officer. She wouldn’t do anything wrong.” She was leaning across the desk in what I guess was an attempt to be intimidating.

The passion was there but Azurite was smaller than Miley and looked like somepony’s kid sister. I wasn’t exactly shaking in my hoof guards.

“Ma’am! I have no doubt of that. Sunny Day is an excellent officer. I wouldn’t cause her any trouble, so please stop telling me what you two were doing. I don’t need to know!”

Azurite peered at me. “Then why are you here?”

“You left a reminder in my mailbox to come see you at my earliest convenience.” To emphasize the point, I held up the little note. It was blue, like her, and covered in glitter… like her.

She slapped herself on the forehead and turned bright red. “Sweet Celestia, yes. You need to sign a form.”

“I signed about a thousand forms the last time I was here. Is there really another one?”

Azurite nodded and dug through my file. She produced one document and slid it across to me. “By signing this form, you acknowledge that Colonel Shining Armor and Princess Luna are covering your tuition to the Royal Equestrian Officer’s Academy and if you do anything that lacks integrity, that tuition will be pulled and you will be responsible for paying your own way.”

“Okay.” My signature went on the page. “Anything else, ma’am?”

“It was just smooching. You can smooch on duty during breaks. I’ll get the regulations manual.”


“You can smooch on duty!”

“Ma’am, please…”

“Dismissed!” she said with a huff and I hurried out before she could get her manual.

It had been a really weird day in the palace. My talk with Princess Luna had worked me up in a way I hadn’t expected. My reaction had been sudden and strong. I was under the impression we were at risk.

The talk with Princess Celestia had calmed me down and embarrassed me on several levels. As soon as that was done, I had been reminded that other ponies were paying for me to go to a really expensive school. That, in turn, reminded me that soon I wasn’t going to be a unit sergeant anymore.

Change was in the air and I wasn’t certain all of it was good. I’d been so busy running around like a crazy pony that I’d made zero progress on Runic’s birthday party. There was still a ton to do and I hadn’t even spoken to Miley yet. That was my next activity.

Getting up and down was starting to get easier but still took effort. I left my office and headed for where I thought Miley would be: her office.

“Excuse me! Excuse me, please. Mr. Guard Pony?” The voice was sugary sweet and bubbly. “Yoohoo!”

“Me?” I asked as I turned around to find a pegasus mare flapping up behind me. She was four different shades of pink, to be specific, and had a cutie mark of little hearts that trailed all over her flank. Without a doubt, I was looking at a pink nightmare.

She came to an abrupt stop and then nodded. “Yes, you! Oh, you look hurt. Are you okay?”

I shook my head. “You should see the other guy. I’ll be fine. How can I help you and how did you possibly get back here unescorted?”

“Oh, good! It’s fine, most ponies don’t mind me.” She offered a hoof and smiled happily. “I’m Lovey Dovey!”

I straightened to my full height but took her hoof to shake. “Royal guard ponies are supposed to mind you. They’re supposed to mind you not getting back into the princess’s private wing. I’m Silent Knight, and let me help you back to the tour.”

“Oh! Silent Knight? Of course you are! That makes so much sense,” she chirped as she looked directly at my chest. After a brief moment of silence, she went on, “I’m not on a tour. I’m on a mission!”

“That mission wouldn’t involve the princesses, would it?” I asked suspiciously.

Suspicion seemed to go right over Lovey’s head. “No! Maybe! You can never know with matters of the heart. Where the love lines go, I follow.”

“Love lines?” I asked and the words vaguely sounded familiar. “Are you a friend of Sunny Day?”

“Yes! Is she here? She’s always here, right?” She beamed at me. “I’d like to stop in and see her. She is one tangled mess of love lines, you know. A natural curiosity!”

“Sunny Day is?”

“Yes. Where is Sunny’s office? Take me to Sunny, please?” She leaned in a little too close for comfort, but I didn’t flinch.

“What about your mission?” I asked her.

“What mission?”

My guards had let an insane pony into a restricted area. I was going to have to issue all kinds of citations. For now, however, I just wanted to keep her calm. “Your love line mission.”

“Oh! Yes! That. It’s ongoing. Sunny can help… well, maybe. Okay, so probably not. She couldn’t hurt! Why don’t we go see her first and then you can go back to doing your guard thing?”

“Alright… if you’ll come with me.” I held her hoof in my own so she couldn’t get away.

Lovey Dovey giggled and held on tight. It didn’t take long for me to get her out of Princess Luna’s wing and into Princess Celestia’s. We garnered all kinds of looks as we made our way to Sunny’s office.

This time Sunny Day’s door was open and I led my prisoner in. “Ma’am, does this belong to you?”

There were mutual squeals of delight and even though it should have been impossible, the pink pegasus escaped my grasp to pounce on Sunny. There were hugs, more squeals, and indecipherable words exchanged quickly between them.

Eventually, the lieutenant cleared her throat, put on a professional face, and replied, “Yes, Sergeant. Was she causing trouble?”

“I caught her in Princess Luna’s private wing unescorted.”

Sunny Day turned the pegasus and said, “Now, Lovey, we talked about this. You’re supposed to wear your pass.”

Lovey Dovey chirped, “I left it in Ponyville! Besides, nopony minds me.”

“Yes, I know, but when you do that you give ponies like the sergeant cause for concern and he has had a rough day. Right, Sergeant?”

“Yes, ma’am. I assume if I check the access roster she has the appropriate pass?”

“Yes. No citations today. Lovey Dovey is Equestria’s finest matchmaker. She is also Princess Celestia’s unofficial Secretary of Love.”

“I see.” I didn’t. “Will there be anything else, ma’am? May I assume I can leave her in your care?”

Sunny Day laughed and nodded. “Yes, of course. Dismissed.”

This was turning into a really weird day. Hastily, I left the office and headed out to try to find Miley again. As I approached her office I noticed that there were less guards in the hallways than I would have set. They were looking at me, too. Something was up.

When I got to Miley’s door, I knocked and walked in. The newly minted Sergeant Miley Hooves stood up suddenly. “Boss!”

I laughed. “I’m not an officer yet.”

Miley shrugged and replied, “I was… uh… practicing. What can I do for you boss?”

“This is a social call.” She relaxed a bit. “We want to throw a surprise party for Runic for his birthday. We have some tentative plans but Winterspear and Iridescence informed me that I have to run everything by you.”

Miley’s head tilted and then she seemed to get it. “Oooh. That is funny that you want to do a surprise party. They’re right. ”

“He is my cousin and I had him first. Why is it funny that I want to do a surprise party?”

“I’ll take that under advisement,” Miley said. She at least giggled when she did it so I didn’t feel too bad. “No reason!”

She was acting weird but she probably had a lot going on after being promoted to sergeant. It only took a moment to explain everything we’d prepared for the party.

“Oh, that sounds like a pretty great plan. You know, after our rock concert he has really been into that sort of music. Can we find somepony that can play that?”

“We can certainly try. How are you going to get him to the gardens?” I asked.

Miley waved a hoof at me. “Oh, don’t worry about that, Sergeant. He’ll go where I tell him. I have that effect on stallions. They never see it coming.”

“Alright. That is good, then.” Mares. They certainly still ruled the world. That hadn’t changed, at least. Although I'm not sure Miley was as strong in their ways as she let on.

The petite sergeant came around her desk and looped her hoof around mine. “Oh, I was just about to head over to see the lieutenant about the vacancies in my squad. You should come, too.”

“Agreed. Although we can’t walk hoof in hoof. Ponies might get the wrong impression.”

Miley blinked and then nodded. “Oh, yeah, maybe we should just walk together, then. He is in the conference room with the major.”

We set out together. “There can’t be any hoof holding while I’m gone.”

“Yes, sir, understood.”

She led me through the hall and to the conference room. Miley stopped and said, “Go on in. I’m going to straighten my armor. I don’t want the major to think her new sergeant is a slouch.”

That struck me as slightly odd but, with a shrug, I opened the doors.


Ambush! My heart leaped into gear and I dropped into my combat stance, wings raised. It only took a second to draw my sword. The room was full of gryphons in armor.

“Woah! Silent Knight. Easy.” It was Winterspear’s voice coming from one of the gryphons, her eyes wide.

My breath was coming quickly and sweat was beading under my helmet. I blinked. Not gryphons. Ponies. My ponies all staring at me in shock and silence. There were balloons and a big ‘We’ll miss you’ banner strung along the back wall.

Winterspear came to my side and carefully took the sword out of my mouth. “Easy. Easy. It’s a going away party.”

“I’m sorry,” I muttered. In my chest, my heart was still racing.

The room was packed full of ponies. Princess Luna, Major Measure, Lieutenant Rook, Lieutenant Day, most of my unit, and, for some reason, Azurite. They were staring at me.

Princess Luna cleared her throat. “Think nothing of it, Silent Knight. Perhaps a surprise party was in poor taste. Please, come in and let us send you off to the officer’s academy properly.”

“Yes, Princess.” Slowly, I walked into the room feeling every bit the fool. “Thank you all for this. If it wasn’t clear, I wasn’t expecting it.”

There were some light chuckles and then somepony turned the music on. The party got underway but I couldn’t help but feel like I was the center of attention. Of course, that made sense because it was a party for me.

“Are you prepared for your studies, Sergeant?” Major Measure asked.

“Yes, ma’am. As soon as the colonel informed me of the appointment, I had Winterspear pick up the recommended reading. I’ve been poring over that during my recovery.”

She winked. “Smart pony. I have no doubt you’ll be at the top of your class. Try not to show up the other ponies too much. Nopony likes a show off.”

That made me chuckle. “Yes, ma’am. Message received.”

Iridescence wandered over. “Tomorrow is your last day as unit sergeant, huh?”

“It looks like it, yeah. You’ll be all Orchid’s and I’ll just be around until it is time to start my training.”

The mare tilted her head. “So, you’ll just be nosing around here looking over our shoulders?”

“More or less.”

“Great.” Iridescence laughed and wandered off.

Sunny Day and Azurite were next. “You’re going to be my peer,” Sunny said cheerfully.

“I’m not sure I’ll ever be your peer. I’ll be your counterpart, though.”

Sunny giggled and shook her head. “Sure, sure. You’re the one that is tough as nails. I hope you don’t mind, but I invited Azurite because she doesn’t get out much and we’re dating.”

“I don’t mind. She was yelling at me earlier that smooches are okay on duty.”

Azurite turned bright red and ducked behind Sunny. “I didn’t yell,” she mumbled.

Sunny Day laughed. “She gets forceful sometimes. Are you set to go?”

That made me shrug. “I guess. Giving up the unit sergeant position feels weird, but Orchid needs to get settled. This way I can mentor her a bit. I hope you’ll forgive me for having poached her.”

“I think that is a good idea and I might, in time. You’ll just have to make it up to me! Well, we’ll let you see all the other ponies.” She started to move but Azurite stepped in front of her and looked up at me.

“I freak out in crowds of ponies. Royal guards are fine but not regular ponies. Anytime they get around me it’s like I’m being attacked. It used to be worse than it is now, but it comes and goes. Nopony thinks you’re weird. They understand.”

Slowly, my head bobbed and I smiled. “Thank you. You’re a good pony relations pony.”

“It’s my passion. Come see me sometime,” she replied before heading off with Sunny.

Princess Luna was sitting alone and I decided it was better she not. As I approached, she lowered her head to be on my level. “The surprise party was a foolish idea. It was mine and I apologize.”

“It’s fine. I’m going to be fine. It is a lovely gesture and was totally unexpected.”

The princess nodded softly and then whispered, “I understand you saw my sister today.”

My stomach sank and I swallowed. “Yes, I had concerns. Paranoia mostly. It was stupid of me to do what I did.”

She shook her head. “No, it wasn't. The concerns were real enough to you and I should not be going behind her back. I have fostered in you a sense of distrust that is unfounded. I understand you chose me over her.”

“Was there ever any doubt that I would do otherwise?” I asked.

The princess shook her head. “No… though I should not encourage that sense of personal loyalty. There should not be a choice. At any rate, Celestia will become my advisor in regards to our business but will allow me to take the lead.”

“It will be better that way, won’t it?”


I shifted uncomfortably, uncertain what to say. Forcing Princess Luna to speak to her sister had not been my intention and yet that was where we were. Perhaps it was for the best.

“Nightmare Night is in a few days. Are you going back to Ponyville this year?”

Princess Luna looked up and blinked. “So it is. I’d forgotten, given everything that has been happening, but a promise was made and I shall honor it. You will not sneak off to protect me again. This time I’ll have proper coverage.”

“No, this year you’ll have to do without me, Princess,” I replied softly.

She nodded and cleared her throat. “Now, enough of this. You have a life to live. Go mingle at your party. These ponies are here to see you.”

“Yes, Princess."

Iridescence sat at our table while Winterspear was finishing up my special, awful dinner. It had been an extremely long day and I was exhausted.

“I need your advice,” Iridescence whispered to me.

Quickly, I shook my head. “No. Not a chance. I’m not helping you pick out something special to wear for Winterspear again. I’m glad we’re all good now and I thought I was okay with it, but it was just weird. Go ask somepony else!”

That earned me a light hoof to the shoulder and I glared. Wounded pony!

Iridescence shook her head. “I agree that was weird and I’m sorry. That isn’t what this is about.”

“Then why are we whispering?” I asked.

Iridescence eyed me menacingly. “I don’t want to scare your sister.”

“You’re scaring me,” I replied in whispers.

“I’m thinking about moving Dot here. She isn’t happy at home and I don’t want her in an environment she doesn’t like. I’d rather she live with me.”

My head titled. Dot had been very different from her sisters. I could see why she wouldn’t like it in Manehatten. “Why would that scare Winterspear?”

“Oh, I don’t know… I’d have a filly! Do you even remotely understand relationships?”

I just stared at her. “You know better than anypony I don’t.”

Iridescence’s ears twitched and she sighed. “Okay, I walked into that and I apologize. Fillies and colts complicate relationships. We won’t have as much time to be together and Dot will always be around. It is tough enough when the foals belong to both of you but in this case, Dot would be nothing but an inconvenience to your sister.”

“I think she’d be more hurt that you thought she’d be upset at you for doing the right thing. Even more so if she knew you came to me first.”

The unicorn grimaced a bit and her ears drooped. Winterspear came out of the small kitchen and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Iridescence pointed at me and replied hastily, “He said he wouldn’t help me pick out things to wear for you anymore.”

Winterspear looked at me and then said flatly, “In this one case I’m going to side with him. That was weird, sweetie.”

Hah! Silent Knight 1, Mares 239,617.

Iridesence toyed with her plate. “What would you say if I told you I wanted to move my little sister in with me? She is really unhappy at home and my older sisters are being insufferable to her.”

My sister started serving us and replied, “As somepony with a screwed up family, I’d ask when she was going to get here.”

I lifted a hoof and opened my mouth to speak. Winterspear looked me in the eyes and amended, “Not you.”

I went back to being silent.

“Really? That easy?” Iridescence asked.

Winterspear laughed. “Raising a filly her age won’t be easy, but we’ll manage.”

Iridescence shifted. “We?”

“Unless you don’t want me to help?”

“I just didn’t know if you’d want to. She isn’t your burden.”

Winterspear leaned close to kiss Iridescence on the cheek. It weirded me out but I ate my horrible, special dinner without comment.

“It rolls down hill. If I can get Silent Knight back in fighting form, I’m certain I can help raise a filly. I imagine she’d be less whiny about it too. So there is that…”

Silent Knight 1, Mares 239,618.

51. Section Sergeant No More

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Princess Luna had some wonderfully comfortable furniture and I was relaxing on her sofa. The original one had died honorably at my hooves in the daring liberation of Miley. This one was a suitable replacement, though.

From all the proper eating and exercising, I had started turning into a well-built stallion again. Despite that, both the princess and Winterspear insisted that I rest twice a day. So I was resting, on duty, on a couch. Not that I had any official duties currently, but it still bothered me some.

My nerves had also improved considerably. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of having lost ponies but, more or less, I’d accepted the notion that just because they died, I didn’t have to as well. I was still muddled on the fact of responsibility and how to resolve the issue. I needed to sort that out, too, because I was going to be an officer and that could potentially mean sending more ponies to their deaths.

That was part of the job my father had never prepared me for. All of the training had been about being an enlisted guard. About giving your life. I guess he never expected me to become a sergeant and he certainly didn’t expect me to become an officer. That, he had said in a letter, was a shameful waste of my talents. He’d recommended I decline. I’d wrote back that I’d consider it and I did for all of two seconds.

There was a knock at the chamber door and Shadestar opened it. “Princess, courier here for you.”

I poked my head up over the back of the couch. Shadestar had a small pile of scrolls trapped in her magic as she closed the door. Princess Luna levitated them up and towards where she sat opposite from me.

The princess sorted through the pile and dropped them all when she reached one in particular. She quickly broke the seal and pulled the scroll open. Her eyes moved along the lines as she read excitedly… at least until a frown darkened her expression.

“Bad news?” I asked.

“It is a letter from Duke Cassius, our usual correspondence until the very end. He states that Captain Alastair and his band of rogue soldiers continue to elude authorities in Nordanver. He goes on to say that they seem to be backed by a wealthy benefactor. It is turning quite political.”

Slowly, I sat up. “Who would back a murderous brigand like that?”

The princess shook her head. “I don’t know, but we should trust in Duke Cassius. He will make good on his promise to find justice for all those slain.”

“Of course he will,” I replied absently as I slipped off the couch. “If you’ll excuse me, Princess. I think I’m done resting for now.”

“Yes, by all means. I know that you are feeling much better. Winterspear has informed me that soon you’ll not only be completely well but in better shape than before.”

I wasn’t fully paying attention. My mind was focused on reaching out to some sources at command intelligence. We had operatives everywhere, especially in the gryphon lands. Perhaps it was time to aid the duke in finding his rogue captain.

“Yes, Princess. I’m feeling rather motivated at the moment. Have a lovely afternoon.”

She stared at me but nodded. “Yes… and to you as well, Silent Knight.”

“I’m sorry, First Sergeant, you don’t have the clearance for that sort of thing, regardless of who you work for.”

Slowly, I nodded at the pony behind the desk. He was a guard first class and I couldn’t hold it against him that he wouldn’t share classified information.

“Agreed,” I replied and then changed tactics. “Listen, I don’t want to go about this the wrong way. Could you give me the paperwork for the request? I’m not asking who or where the ponies are in Nordanver.”

“Allegedly are,” he corrected.

“Allegedly,” I quickly amended. “All I’m saying is this is a diplomatic matter between Princess Luna and Duke Cassius. If we can help him find his rogue officer, it will be great for the bonds between our kingdoms. You don’t have to give me any information and I won’t pass anything on to him that compromises the alleged ponies’ covers. May I please have the paperwork to request access to those intelligence reports?”

The pony sighed. “If I give you paperwork to request access to the alleged reports, it would be like admitting that such reports exist. The only way to get access to such reports, if they exist at all, is to have somepony vet you and assign it from the top down.”

Beaurocracy was fun. He had a point, though. Finally, I replied, “I’m tracking now. Is there any possible chance you could tell me which pony to talk to?”

“Classified,” he replied.

I took a deep breath and rubbed the bridge of my nose. “Okay. I appreciate that you take your job seriously. It is commendable. I also take mine seriously. Dead seriously. I’ll level with you.

"The bastard murdered ten ponies and a gryphon. One friend, three squad members, and some poor ponies that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. If I do anything… anything with the rest of my life, it is going to be to find him and kill him.

"I don’t care what is in my way. I’ll go over it, through it, or around it. So let me ask you something. Am I going over you, through you, or around you?”

The pony swallowed nervously and leaned back a bit.

“Now, is there anything… anything that you can do to help me that wouldn’t violate your position or the regulations? Anything you’re not mentioning that isn’t classified that if I knew to ask about that you could help me with?” I stared at him, my eyes locked on his. He was sweating.

After an intense amount of eye contact, he finally blinked. “You should talk to the sergeant major. I think you two would get along. He is a blue earth pony and usually has lunch at the Spearhead Tavern on Wednesdays alone.”

“Thank you. Truly,” I said and meant every word.

I had a lead.

“Well, hello, Silent Knight! You’re looking healthy,” Velvet Step called from behind the counter at Sunridge Sweets.

I smiled and replied, “Hi, Velvet. Thank you. Helping out today?”

She nodded. “Yeah. Mom is busy with the baby so I’m helping Dad while she’s at home with little Red.”

“The baby?” I blinked, then it clicked. “Oh, that is right! Your mother was pregnant when I left. Is it a boy or a girl?”

“A boy!” Velvet beamed. “I’ve got a little baby brother. His name’s Red Velvet, which was a little weird at first, so I just call him Red.” She waved a hoof. “Anyway, what can I do for you?”

“Two things,” I said. “First, since I have you here, I would very much be honored if you would grace us with your presence at the surprise birthday party for Runic Phial. Second, if your father is up to the challenge, I need a caterer that can handle rock candy and rock-themed treats.”

Velvet Step eagerly clapped her hooves. “Of course I’ll come! That sounds like a lot of fun and Dad will take on any challenge!”

Pepper Ridge stuck his head out from the back of the bakery. “I’ll do what now?”

“Don’t worry about it, Dad, I’ll tell you later,” the mare called. “Are you going to ask Crystal Wishes?” She looked back at me.

I thought that was a strange question. Of course I was going to invite her. What sort of pony would invite one half of a couple and not the other?

I nodded. “You bet. Do you know if she is home? I need to discuss the music with her.”

Velvet quickly nodded back. “She is. She has a deadline to meet.”

“I wouldn’t want to disturb her-”

“You won’t!” Velvet chimed. “Trust me. She wouldn’t want to miss out on an invitation and a chance to help. Why don’t you go see her?”

“I’ll go right now, then,” I said as I headed for the door. “Thanks, Velvet! You’re the best.”

Velvet laughed and waved me out. “You have no idea!”

I was a little nervous going to Crystal and Velvet’s condo. Crystal Wishes had spent a lot of time taking care of me while I was injured and I had not been able to see her much afterwards. There was a lot of work to catch up on and I hoped she understood that. Crystal Wishes was always so selfless and I felt like I may have taken advantage of that.

Lightly, I knocked on the door. There was also the slightly awkward fact that I found her very attractive. I already had a thing for unicorns and she was quite a unicorn. She was a petite and proper lady.

That was very different than the mares around me at work, but I tried not to stare when we were together. After all, she and Velvet were an item and I would never, ever, want to hurt Velvet. She was the sweetest pony alive. Plus, the whole barn door swinging thing.

The door opened and Crystal Wishes smiled. “Sergeant, what a pleasant surprise. Won’t you come in?”

“Thank you, please,” I said as I walked into the condo. I took my helmet off and set it by the door. “I apologize for coming unannounced. Velvet said I would not be intruding.”

“And Velvet was right,” Crystal Wishes replied before heading over to her seating area and settling there. She offered me a pillow across from her and I accepted it. “What is the occasion?”

“Runic Phial’s surprise birthday party. I would very much be honored if you would attend and I know he’ll be delighted to see you,” I started and then added, “I also need your advice.”

Crystal Wishes smiled brightly and nodded. “Of course. You can consider me RSVPing a yes. Now, what sort of advice do you need?”

“The party will be held in the palace gardens so we want to maintain a certain level of decorum. Runic is really into rock music right now, though. We were hoping we could find some classical musicians that play rock songs. Can you help with that?”

The unicorn paused and seemed to be deep in thought. “Tough, but I think I can do it. I certainly know whom to ask. Leave that with me.”

“Great! Thank you, Crystal. I knew I could count on you,” I said and started to rise.

“Are you in a hurry?” she asked and I immediately sat back down.

I shook my head. “No. I’m done for the day. I wouldn’t want to impose, though.”

“Sergeant, you’re never an imposition. Besides, it is about time we discussed the tutoring you asked for, is it not?”

She had a great point. “I think you’re right. I’ll be starting at the academy soon and I’d hate to squander any time before then. Did you have the chance to look over the materials?”

“I have indeed,” she said. “I believe you are well spoken and polite enough to skip most of the etiquette items. To be fair, proper Canterlot etiquette isn’t that different from how you treat your officers. Just treat all other ponies the same way. Where I imagine you’re weak, and no offense is meant, is polite conversation, fine dining, dancing, and lying about insignificant things.”

The list seemed a bit longer than I had hoped and I was positive there was nothing about lying on the documents I sent. “No offense taken,” I said. “But I’m not really comfortable with the lying part.”

Crystal crossed her forehooves and said, “We’ll call it a creative interpretation of the truth, then. No outright lying. Now, as I see it, we’ll need to work on these things together. Since I’ve had time to fully study what all is required, I think initially you should come to see me twice a week after hours. Is that acceptable?”

It was to me but I hedged, “That sounds like an awful lot of your time being invested in me. I really don’t want to be an imposition… and I certainly don’t have any way to pay you back. It would just be me taking advantage of you.”

“As I said, Sergeant, you’re not an imposition.” She then laughed, “And you are not taking advantage of me. I want to help you with this. Helping ponies fit in in this awfully fickle city has been a labor of love for me since I was a filly. Consider it my second calling in life. I have no idea what that cutie mark would look like, but I’d have it if I weren't a writer.”

“Then I accept,” I replied. “I’m yours two nights a week.”

Crystal Wishes’s eyes glimmered and she replied, “Excellent. Would you care for some tea before you left?”

I started to rise. “I should really be going.”

The mare shook her head. “First rule of polite company: you cannot go until you’ve politely said no. You should allow your host to offer something twice. Refuse it both times if you don’t want it and once if you do.”

The look on my face probably displayed my confusion because she explained, “You refuse once to show your host that you don’t want to be a burden to them. They will then insist and you may accept. If you truly don’t want what they’re offering, refuse a second time.”

I slowly sank back down to the pillow. “Thank you for the offer of tea but not this late in the evening.”

She nodded and offered, “Are you certain? Perhaps just a half cup to warm you for the road?”

This was going to be challenging. Not to learn but to execute. If I had to do it too often, I might be spending a lot of time in the gym punching the heavy bag.

I smiled and shook my head. “I really shouldn’t. I need to get home to Winterspear. She’ll have my special dinner waiting.” I then slowly started to rise again. Halfway up, I paused and looked at her. She nodded and I got all the way up.

“Thank you,” I said.

She just giggled.

Mares. My whole life was ruled by mares. Crystal Wishes saw me out and I headed home. In all fairness, I felt like mares ruling the world wasn’t that bad. Especially when they were cute unicorn mares.

52. Happy Birthday Runic

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It was a dark and stormy night. The rain was coming down in buckets. A weatherpony had gone rogue, or so the papers said. I stood under an awning in a long coat and fedora. Iridescence was next to me, looking nervous.

“What’s the matter, doll?” I asked her.

Slowly, she turned her eyes up at me and then glared. “We’re not playing the detective game anymore. You’re not a hard-boiled private investigator pony!”

I sighed. “Oh, you’re no fun.”

Winterspear returned from inside the station. “The train is just running a little late, is all. Perfectly normal.”

“That isn’t why I’m nervous,” Iridescence replied.

“I know… but don’t worry. Everything will be fine, I promise.”

“Winterspear is right,” I added.

In the distance, the train whistled. It wouldn’t be much longer now.

Iridescence reached out and took Winterspear by the hoof as the engine pulled into the station. It hissed and steam poured out. Across from where we were, the door to the passenger cars slid open and the shadow of a little pony was cast out onto the dark platform.

From the well-lit car, she stepped out, her hooves clicking on the wood. She looked around and then spotted us.

“Here we go,” Iridescence said under her breath before stepping forwards.

The pony took one more step towards us and then galloped over to throw her hooves around Iridescence. “Hi!”

Iridescence smiled. “Hello, Dot. I’m so happy to see you.”

Dot squeezed her sister. “Me, too! Thank you for letting me come stay with you. I couldn’t stand it there. Everypony is so mean!”

“I know, sweetie. You can stay with me as long as you like. Now come out of the rain, there are some ponies I want you to meet.” The two walked under the awning and Iridescence pointed at me. “You remember Silent Knight, right?”

Quickly Dot nodded. “Yup, the angry stallion you used to be with.”

Iridescence cleared her throat and shook her head. “No, he isn’t angry. He is my friend, okay? Be nice to him.” She then trailed a bit and motioned to Winterspear. “And this is my special somepony, Winterspear.”

The filly nodded and then followed the motion. I’ve found that young ponies are painfully honest. Dot was no exception. “She looks like him.”

The unicorn laughed nervously and her eyes quickly darted between my sister and me. “They’re siblings, like you and me.”

Winterspear smiled and cut in, “It is very nice to meet you, Dot. I’ve been excited for you to arrive! We’ve set up a whole room for you at your sister’s place.”

Dot looked up at Iridescence in confusion. “I had my own room before.”

Iridescence quickly cupped a hoof over the filly’s mouth. “Yes, you did, but I don’t have the bits like Daddy does, so having your own room here is really special, okay?”

The muzzled Dot just nodded.

Poor Iridescence. She wanted this to go perfectly. I didn’t mind how Dot was and I doubted Winterspear did, either. With a smile, I took my fedora off and set it on Dot’s head. “Okay, I’m going to go get your bags. You ladies get indoors and out of the rain.”

They all nodded and as they went inside the station I heard Dot say, “It makes sooo much more sense that you’re with a mare. I was really confused. Luminescence said you were just showing off a stallion so that you’d literally have something to wag in front of them.”

I heard Iridescence gasp and my sister laugh as I made my way over to get the bags.

I stood quietly as Radiant Orchid unpacked her personal effects and started to decorate the office that was formerly mine. There was a box next to me and I peered in it. Three pencils, two pads, and a rock Runic had given me to use as a paper weight. I shrugged.

“I can’t believe you leave tomorrow. Everything is changing so quickly,” she said.

Silently, I nodded. Tomorrow was going to be different. I wouldn’t be coming to the palace. There would be no armor. I would be doing all the preliminary requirements for the Royal Equestrian Officer’s Academy: medical check, psychological check, background check, and things of that nature.

A couple of weeks after that, I’d officially be a cadet. I was too old to be a cadet. Hopefully nopony would notice. I’d also be the first officer in my family and there had been a lot of soldiers before me.

“Are you excited? Nervous? Registering anything that a pony might consider an emotion?” Orchid asked.

“I’m concerned the other cadets will think I’m old,” I said.

She laughed and shook her head at me. “Yes, you’re older than a cadet but you’re not old. Good Celestia, you’re not even middle aged and let me remind you that I almost am. They’re all going to look up to you. You’re a mustang!”

A mustang, huh? A mustang is a royal guard that completed enlisted training, spent time as an enlisted guard, and then went on to complete officer training and earn a commission. They were pretty rare and were always more experienced than their peers. Of course, sometimes they fall back into enlisted habits, which isn’t a good thing.

“I’ll be one when I finish,” I corrected.

“Splitting hairs,” Radiant Orchid replied. “You know you’re going to finish. They know you’re going to finish. You’ve got a lot of sergeant experience, combat experience, and I heard you have one of Canterlot’s finest ladies training you on the gentlepony stuff. You’re golden. Try to have fun. Celestia knows you probably won’t learn anything.”

I started to argue but she had a good point. Maybe it would be fun. “Fine,” I said and then added, “You better not wreck my unit while I’m gone.”

“On Fridays, I’m going to let them wear socks,” she said in a tone that I couldn’t judge between mocking and serious.

“I’ll have you in the stockade if you do.”

“You probably would,” Orchid said. She came over and took my hoof in hers. I shook it in return and smiled while she continued, “I know we’ll see each other but I want you to know I’m proud of you. Go be the guard you were always meant to be.”

“Thanks,” I replied, giving her hoof a light squeeze. “Enjoy settling into your new role. The lieutenant is here if you need him.”

“Yup. Now scoot. Go set up your new office so it is fresh when you get back,” she said, shooing me out.

I pushed the door to the Spearhead Tavern open and walked in right around lunch time. The place always looked different at that time of day. It was better lit, thanks to the sun coming in the windows, and ponies weren’t drinking anything hard. Most were just eating lunch.

There was an earth pony sitting alone at a table with his helmet off. He was pretty much all grey by that stage of his life but there was some blue left. Enough to recognize him and, despite the grey coat and mane, he was still fairly fit. All of the other guards gave him a lot of room.

Easing across the tavern slowly, I slipped onto the stool across from him and he looked up at me. The pony’s brow arched and he had the look that a cat has when it corners a mouse. I was no mouse, though.

“Good afternoon, Sergeant Major,” I said with my highest level of professionalism. “I apologize for interrupting your lunch.”

“Never a good idea, Sergeant…”

He wanted my name. That was a ploy senior NCOs used to make others go away. We all look relatively the same in our armor, so with a name they could dole out punishment.

Of course, in my case he could narrow it down really easily and I wasn’t about to run. “Silent Knight.”

“Silent Knight,” he more chewed my name more than said it. “What brings PLHG to my table?”

I shook my head and took my helmet off. “Nothing to do with Princess Luna. Just me.”

“What brings you to my table, First Sergeant?”

I reached into my saddlebag and produced the alabaster cross. Setting it on the table, I leaned in and said softly, “Sergeant Major, I’ve got a gryphon problem. I’m betting you’ve heard about it and I am hoping you can help me with it.”

That caught his attention and he replied, “I’m listening. Knight a family name?”

“Yes, it is,” I replied.

The sergeant major sat in silent contemplation before smiling. “You boys have a habit of getting hurt over there. You’ve come to the right pony.”

“I was hoping you’d say that.” It was the in I needed so I got down to business.

It seems that keeping a surprise party secret for two weeks is a difficult task for most ponies. Not me, of course, but everypony else struggled. It made game night extremely difficult as everypony acted strange around Runic. I went from party planner to secret protector. At one point, I had to flat out tackle Winterspear to keep her from saying something. Thankfully, Runic was oblivious to our poorly executed subterfuge.

It was finally the night of the party and we were all hiding in the garden, waiting for Miley Hooves to arrive with our guest of honor. I had carefully instructed her to ensure he didn’t have any volatile alchemy supplies on him. We didn’t want any casualties.

Over my shoulder, I heard the sound of an owl hoot. It was our signal that the party pony had been sighted. We crouched lower and waited.

Miley had Runic by the hoof and was dragging him out into the garden. “You have to see it!” she said cheerfully. “The biggest flower I’ve ever seen. We can totally make a potion out of it.”

Runic lightly nodded but didn’t seem as thrilled. Alchemy without rocks just wasn’t the same for him. When they got within range, we all jumped out and yelled, “Surprise!” At least most of us did.

For not being a trained soldier, Runic was pretty quick. He tossed several smoke bombs on instinct and filled the whole area with a dense fog.

“Runic.” I said in my normal tone.

“Yes, Silent Knight?” he responded.

“Surprise. Happy Birthday,” I said flatly.

“I see that now.”

We waited for the smoke to clear and then the party got underway. Crystal Wishes had found an amazing string quartet that agreed to play the rock songs Runic was into. They were led by a pony named Octavia and were some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever listened to. Even if you aren’t into rock, the music was great.

Everything was perfect and the garden was full of Runic’s closest friends. We were being introduced to some of Miley’s crowd for the first time, too. Mixing two different groups of ponies was interesting but it worked out. I never doubted Miley would have good taste in others.

“And this is my friend Val!” Miley said happily as she introduced a grey unicorn mare. Val had an almost-purple mane that had blue-grey highlights.

“Nice to meet you,” I said.

Val smiled and nodded. “It is nice to meet you, too, Silent Knight. I’ve heard a lot about you. I understand you rescue Miley often?”

We laughed and I replied, “Only as often as necessary.”

Miley huffed and gently pushed me. “Don’t you have other ponies to bother?”

“I do, actually. Take good care of my sergeant, Val. Have fun!”

Quietly, I walked around to make sure everything had been laid out right before allowing myself to relax. The cake Velvet’s parents had made was beyond my expectations… except for a slice that had been stealthily cut out of the back.

I looked around and my ears twitched as the bushes nearby rustled. I approached and peeked in. A white flank was beating another cake-related hasty retreat.

“Have some dignity!” I called teasingly. “You’re the ruler of a kingdom!”

“What?” Princess Luna said from behind me. Somehow she had crept up on me.

I turned to face her. “Cake bandit, Princess,” I reported.

Princess Luna peered and the nodded. “I’ve seen this work before. Little harm has been done. Come, join the party. You put a lot of effort into bringing us all together.”

We walked together and I replied, “I really think she has a problem.”

The princess just laughed.

Velvet Step and Crystal Wishes were politely chatting with some of Miley’s friends and I wandered over to practice politely injecting myself into the conversation. I waited for Velvet to stop speaking and said smoothly, “Good evening, ladies. Don’t you all look lovely tonight?”

That garnered delighted giggles and an approving wink from Crystal Wishes, who said, “You’re looking like your old self, Sergeant. Perhaps even stronger than before. What is your secret?”

She was right about that. A few weeks ago, I was a sorry excuse for a military pegasus. Now I was healthy, strong, and broad once more.

“I owe it all to Winterspear. She has been a tyrant with my meals and exercise. I’ve recommended her to the Royal Guard Training Academy as an instructor. If my time under her has taught me anything, it is that they’ve gone soft there.”

More polite laughter. What can I say? I had a good tutor.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dot sitting alone and idly pawing the ground. “If you’ll all excuse me, there is a special little filly that needs some attention,” I said before lightly bowing my head. I trotted over to her and called, “Hey Dot.”

“Hi, Silent Knight,” she mumbled without looking up.

“Are you enjoying the party?” I asked.

Dot bobbed her head. It was yes and no at the same time. “It is alright, I guess. There aren’t any ponies my age here.”

I sat down in front of her and pawed the same spot. “Oh I see. We’re all too old for you?”

Dot looked up and shot me one of Iridescence’s looks. It was horrifying, even on a small pony. “It isn’t the same.”

I shook the frost off my coat and nodded. “I know what you mean. Parties used to make me nervous. It’s easier with friends. Are you making any friends yet at school?”

The filly frowned. “Not yet. Fillies are mean here, too. Not as mean as in Manehatten but still mean. I’m the new girl. At least when I come home Iridescence is nice… and I like you and Winterspear, too.”

I struggled to come up with something to say and then I got an idea. “Say, Dot. Have you ever flown before?”

That caught her attention and she looked up at me. “Flown? No. I’m a unicorn. All I can do is magic.”

The disparaging comment on magic aside, I grinned. “Would you like to fly?”

“Well, yeah!” She perked up even more.

I got up and knelt beside her. “Hop on my back and hold on tight, okay?”

Dot did so and cheered, “Okay!”

I stood and started to prance around the garden looking for a long enough patch to get going. Iridescence noticed and came over with Winterspear.

“What are you two up to?” Iridescence asked cautiously.

“We’re going to fly!” Dot exclaimed.

Winterspear looked concerned and hedged, “I’m not sure. Silent Knight isn’t feeling his best lately…”

“Please, Mom?” I said flatly and Dot mimicked me. I didn’t really wait for permission before I started galloping across the garden and leaped into the air.

It was easier than I thought it would be. Dot didn’t weigh anywhere near as much as my old armor and gear. Besides, I was probably in the best shape of my life at that point. I just hadn’t pushed it in a while.

“Wow!” Dot screamed from above me. I felt her hold onto my neck tighter. “I can see everything!”

I made certain she could, too. We made two wide circles around Canterlot and then a close one around the palace. She cheered the whole time and I did, too. It was great to be well.

Finally, I landed us safely in the garden and she hopped off. With a warm hug, she squealed, “Thank you, Silent Knight! That was awesome!”

“You bet, Dot,” I replied and then groaned under the sudden weight of Runic Phial.

As he landed on my back, he cheered, “Me next, me next!”

“Runic, you’re a pegasus! You can fly,” I said.

“But I’m the birthday pony!” he retorted in a mock whine.

If the birthday pony wanted to fly, we were going to fly. I grunted and then took off. The whole time, he shouted, “Wheee!”

53. Silent Knight, Cadet - Part 1

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I arrived at the academy early to get myself oriented. I’d been there before, but never as a cadet. Being in a uniform instead of armor felt strange. It felt even stranger without my First Sergeant pin. Outside the academy, I’d had responsibilities. Inside, it was as if I was starting at the beginning again.

After checking in, I went to the muster area to wait. Several other cadets showed up early. They looked young to me. In the currency of years, I wasn’t much older, but guard life ages you in other ways. Some of them chatted idly and others just sat there looking frightened. I’d seen that same look at the guard academy right after secondary school.

In time, more cadets showed up. It was odd to sit there and watch the next generation of guard leaders assemble. Some of these ponies wouldn’t make it. In fact, statistically speaking, about half would not receive a commission. There were more interested ponies than positions in the Royal Guard’s enlisted rank, and officer positions were even more competitive. It was rare that a bad pony got through, and yet somehow I’d caught two of them in my career.

Ten minutes before the official start time, I moved to the front of the room and stood at attention. That garnered some quiet conversation, but I knew what was coming. They didn’t. To my surprise, another pony came and stood next to me at an equally perfect attention. I gave him a brief glance and nodded. Another mustang.

Three minutes before muster, the doors boomed open and the instructors strode in shouting, “Line up, move, move, move!”

The lead one called, “Act like you have some sense of pride!”

The other cadets scrambled to get up and rush into line beside us. The instructors broke off to start yelling at them as they moved into position. The lead instructor walked down the line and started criticizing postures. He practically ignored me and the pony next to me.

That pretty much summed up what the first two weeks of the academy were like. That is the time where they teach civilian ponies to be military-minded. Stand at attention, march correctly, use the right terms, speak appropriately, and other similar things. Ponies that mess up get attention. The ones that do it right get ignored. I was ignored a lot, and that was fine.

“Cadet Knight, your performance thus far has been exemplary. It is almost as if you were a decent royal guard before you got here,” Senior Instructor Blackhoof said from the other side of his desk.

I’d made an appointment for some of his time. Most cadets stayed on campus in the evenings, but it wasn’t wholly necessary. I’d engaged Crystal Wishes as a personal tutor and wanted to have the freedom to continue our classes. It was slightly unusual, but then again, my case was anything but typical.

“That is how rumors start, sir,” I replied as straight as I could.

A senior instructor would never crack a smile in front of a cadet, and this one certainly didn’t. “Your request for evening liberties is approved. I think this private tutor is an excellent idea, and you’re already ahead of most of your peers. If you show up late one day, however, your plot will be running laps until time stops. Are we clear?”

“Yes, sir!”


Onyx Mace and I sat across from each other eating lunch. He never said much, which was fine by me. From what little conversation we did have, I learned that he was a royal guard out of Baltimare. He was married, older than me, and wanted to improve his life, so he applied for a position in the academy and was accepted on some sort of scholarship.

Three other cadets approached us. “Tell me something,” the first one said. “How come you two never have anypony come down on you?”

Onyx didn’t even move. He just kept eating his lunch.

I shrugged. “We’ve been through this once before. We’ll be learning more on the back side.”

“I told you,” one of the others said, tapping the first with a hoof. “They’re mustangs. They’re the ones who know how to do it right.”

The first one shrugged. “So you two can help us when we’re not in class? I’m getting tired of being yelled at.”

Onyx snorted and said, “Wrong business.”

It took a lot of effort, but I suppressed a grin. “We’ll all be getting yelled at for as long as we’re royal guards. If you want pointers, I’ll be glad to help you out. It means putting in more hours, though.”

The third cadet said, “My dad said that those ponies are the only ones that make it. Is that true?”

“Yes,” Onyx said between bites.

I continued, “You have to stand out. Half of the ponies here aren’t going to graduate. We lost six in the first two weeks. I’ve never seen ponies run so fast.”

Again, I suppressed a laugh. Onyx didn’t.

“You know that isn’t funny! Those ponies were trying really hard,” the first one challenged.

I lifted a hoof and said, “Easy. We don’t mean anything by it. It’s just, well, the first three weeks are the easiest.”

That is not what they wanted to hear. The second pony’s eyes went wide. “I… I’m done for.”

“Not if you work hard,” I replied as I finished my lunch. Lightly, I tapped Onyx on the shoulder. “Come on. I’d guess we’ve got about five minutes.”

Onyx grunted and got up. The three cadets looked at us curiously. “Lunch is another 20 minutes. We haven’t even had time to eat yet,” the first said.

I shrugged, Onyx snorted, and we went to stand at attention near the doors. Three minutes later, the instructors galloped into the lunch area and interrupted the meal.

Onyx chuckled. “Newbies.”

Crystal and Velvet had moved all of their living room furniture to make room for dance practice.

“Shouldn’t Velvet be here for this?” I asked nervously.

Crystal Wishes arched one brow. “No. Velvet isn’t this kind of dancer. Are you worried I can’t do it?”

Quickly, I shook my head. “That isn’t what I meant at all.”

We were on our hindhooves standing really close together and somewhat intertwined. Whoever invented this sort of dancing was a monster.

“Then what do you mean, Sergeant?” she asked.

“Cadet,” I corrected.


My hooves crossed the wrong way and I had to flap my wings to keep upright. “I’m not a sergeant anymore. I’m a cadet now.” I did my best to keep up with the steps as we went through what Crystal called a waltz.

“Be that as it may, you’re deflecting. Now don’t fidget, and answer the question. What do you mean, Cadet?” she pressed.

Fidgeting felt an awful lot like dancing, but we did a spin. I cleared my throat. “Well, we’re awfully close. I don’t want her to get the wrong impression.”

Crystal gave me a strange look as we went into an elegant turn. “Why would she get the wrong impression?”

This was feeling awkward. The dancing, of course, but also the conversation. “You know… you and Velvet. Me horning in on all of your private time.” I dipped Crystal and she peered up at me.

“Wait, private time? Do you think Velvet and I are a couple?” she asked incredulously. “We’re not a couple. We’re just friends.”

I dropped her. She squealed in surprise and landed with a graceful thud… if there were such a thing. I quickly reached down to help her up. “I’m so sorry!”

She set her hooves on my forelegs and asked, “Did you really think Velvet and I were a couple?”

I nodded.

“You’re the only one, right?”

I shook my head.

“No… Velvet and I…” Crystal went silent and she seemed to be looking past me at nothing at all. Her expression was blank. Suddenly, she gasped. “Oh… Celestia…” Crystal dropped her face into her hooves. “So many stallions.”

Lightly, I cradled a hoof around her. “Oh, I’m certain it isn’t that bad.”

Crystal Wishes stared at me. “Really?”

I nodded. “I’m just really accustomed to mares that like mares. Maybe I just… assumed.”

“And everypony else assumed with you?”

“I have that effect on people. I’m the boss.” I replied.

Crystal Wishes laughed. It was a cute little laugh. The beautiful lady unicorn was nestled in my hooves, giggling. I dropped her again.

“Silent Knight! What the hay?” she asked, a bit of the lady slipping.

I blinked. “I’m so sorry, Crystal Wishes!” I reached to help her up and she looked at me with a total lack of trust.

She finally took my hoof and I righted her as she asked, “What is up with you?”

“You’re sweet and selfless. You’ve always helped me out. I just thought you were being a good friend. Then we’re dancing, you tell me you’re not into mares, and giggle at me. That is a whole lot to take in,” I explained.

Crystal Wishes’s brow arched. “Oh, go on?”

“I’m not very good at relationships, but I believe Winterspear would say you’re sending signals. And, honestly, now that I think about it, Velvet was trying really hard to help you, which was really confusing. It sort of felt like she was trying to wrangle some sort of three pony relationship,” I rambled. “Which I’m not against, but, to be frank, I think my capabilities will limit me to a single mare.”

Crystal Wishes laughed more and tumbled onto her back. I guess it was pretty funny, really.

I settled down next to her. “If you’re not seeing Velvet I’d really like to ask you out.”

Behind us the door opened and Velvet came in. Her head tilted at the sight of us on the floor.

“Hi,” she said. “This doesn’t look like dancing.”

Quickly, Crystal got up and exclaimed, “He thinks we’re a couple! Everypony does. Isn’t that great?”

Velvet looked skeptical. “Reason tells me no but your expression says… yes?”

“He finally asked me out!” she cheered.

Blindingly fast, Velvet hurried over. The two mares embraced and bounced while giggling and squealing.

I cleared my throat. Why is it when I want ponies to ignore that I’m in a room, they don’t, and yet when I want to be there, they do? “Still here,” I said.

The pair stopped celebrating and let go of each other.

“So…” Velvet said. “Everypony thinks we’re a couple? That would explain why nopony has asked either of us out in a while, but we’re not that bad… right?”

Crystal made a face and said, “Just think about it for two minutes.”

Velvet did and sighed. “Oh, Crystal, I’m so sorry! It actually kind of looks exactly like that… especially with me being… well, you know.”

“Crystal was just as… uh… familiar towards you, Velvet,” I put in, although I didn’t understand the second part. Slowly, I got up and came over to the two. “I have to get back. Cadets get very little liberty. Keep your date book open, please.”

I hugged them both out of habit and quickly snuck out. When the door closed, I heard a duet of high pitched squeals.

Getting to the academy on time was never really a hard thing for me. It was a surprise that the ponies staying on campus were still struggling with the early morning drills. Being awake early was part of being a royal guard. Of course, in my case, my schedule was normally different, but adapting back was easy.

We were galloping along the exact same path in Canterlot that I’d galloped a thousand times when I had been a Royal Guard trainee. It was familiar and brought back fond memories of simpler times.

Of course, I was still full of fond memories from the night before. Crystal Wishes was not, in fact, with Velvet Step. She was, in fact, eager to spend her time with me.

Why mares could never just come out and say things, I’ll never know. But that didn’t matter now. As soon as I graduated, the two of us would start dating. In the meantime, that would also make my evening tutoring sessions with her… tense, but in a good way.

“Stop smiling,” Onyx said next to me between breaths.

Quickly, I wiped off whatever grin was on my mouth before one of the instructors noticed. They’re not keen on that sort of thing. I put my blank expression back into place and nodded a thanks to my companion. We hurried on. We’d make time, but some of the younger ponies were doing it faster. That was okay, though. Never try to compete with another pony—just yourself and the standards.

Once our gallop and all of our other physical exercises were completed, we hit the showers. Onyx gave me a look. It was possible that I was smiling again.

I shrugged under the water. “I’m in a good mood. I can’t help it.”

His eyes rolled and he grunted, “Don’t show it. Looking like all the others around here.”

“Yeah… I know. I’ll work it out. Come on, hurry up and get clean. You smell like a gryphon carcass. We need to get to our desks and help our three adopted foals get ready for tomorrow’s exam. What will they say if Mommy and Daddy aren’t there first?”

Onyx chuckled and then stopped cold. “Who is Mommy?”

I shut the water off, shook my coat out, stretched my wings, and replied, “Clearly you, you nag…”

54. Silent Knight, Cadet - Part 2

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Onyx frowned at his handbook. “May die of boredom,” he said. In fact, that is all he had said for two days.

“I’m aware. They’ll bury us together,” I replied as I looked down at my copy of the officers’ handbook. When I was a sergeant, I couldn’t understand why so many officers clung to the book. Now I knew: ponies weren’t just expected to be familiar with it. They were expected to memorize it word for word.

We were committing it all to memory so that we could regurgitate it on tests. Sure, it had been like that in the Royal Guard Academy, but this was going to the extreme. I would say most of the information wasn’t useful for what happens daily on the job. That didn’t change the requirement, though.

“Let’s just get through this and we’ll move on to more interesting things,” I said.

Onyx grunted and we continued on. It was a painful experience and it seemed like the younger cadets had an easier time with it. They didn’t have anything to compare what they were reading to and just took it on faith. Lucky ponies.

The class had started to be narrowed down. Each week meant more ponies quitting or being washed out. That was the nature of the beast. With our help, the three younger ponies had managed to hang in. They’d make decent enough officers.

It was also interesting to see who was rising to the top on their own accord. Onyx and I had a huge advantage so it was no surprise we were there. I was more interested in the ponies that were excelling without previous guard experience.

I set my manual down on the table in front of me and looked around. Most of the top students were the foals of other Royal Guard officers. They were either predisposed to the job or their parents had made sure they were ready for it. All told they were pretty standard… save one.

At the head of the class was a dark grey stallion. He was an outsider in every sense of the word. The Crystal Empire had recently reappeared and the crystal ponies were slowly reintegrating into society. They weren’t the only denizens of the Frozen North, however; there were also frost ponies and he was one of them.

The pony went by Cobalt Thane and he was pretty tight-lipped about himself and his type of pony. He had a horn like a unicorn but was also as big as an earth pony… which he said was common for frost ponies. What really set him apart was the fact he had a mane not unlike a lion’s up his chest and around his shoulders. It was a very light blue, like his tail, and looked furry.

His pony mane, for lack of a better description, was similarly dense and styled in a way that barely met regulations. It was spiked and somewhat all over the place in the front. What rounded him out as different were his pointed ears and strikingly violet eyes. Most of the other cadets had steered clear of him because the rumor was that he used dark magic, but I hadn’t seen anything like that.

By my guess, Cobalt was probably the first frost pony to apply to any Royal Guard position in contemporary history. For all I knew, he’d be the first frost pony Royal Guard officer. What I did know for sure was that he worked hard all the time. When the other younger ponies were goofing off, he was training or studying. It gave me a lot of respect for him.

“Book,” Onyx said.

“What?” I blinked.

Onyx pushed my manual up against me. “Quit staring.”

“Oh… yeah right. Book.”

I settled in for another long session of facts and figures only to be interrupted by the door opening. Sergeant Major Blackhoof marched in and faced the class.

“Listen up, cadets,” he called from the head of the room. “While I am certain you all love reading those manuals, it is time for some applied training! Hoof-to-hoof combat. Everypony, get your flanks down to the gym.”

In my head, I cheered loudly and got up to follow alongside Onyx. Finally, something that didn’t require rote memorization that I’d have to forget later.

The Royal Canterlot Officer’s Academy boasted the finest gym I’d ever been in. It had every form of exercise equipment known to ponies. It also sported two full sized sparring squares and we were all standing around one of them.

“I need two volunteers,” the sergeant major called.

I looked at Onyx and he said, “You first.”

“Alright,” I replied and stepped forwards.

“Cadet Knight! Brave pony,” he said and then pointed as another cadet stepped forward. It was the leader of the trio we had been tutoring. Cody or something. I had not learned many names yet. There wasn’t much point to it.

We squared off and Cody said, “I’ll go easy. I know you older ponies don’t move as fast as you used to.”

There were a lot of ‘oohs’ from the crowd. I did my best not to crack a smile.

“Don’t worry about us old ponies, Cody. Just give it your all,” I replied.

“Hobby! My name is Hobby.”

The instructor gave me the briefest of looks and I dropped into my combat stance. “No magic, no flying. Hooves only. Go!” he shouted and I let the lesson begin.

I sat quietly at one of the tables in the muster area, writing a letter to Shining Armor. It was difficult to sum up two-thirds of my time at the academy but I was doing my best. A letter was long overdue.

It was strange being at the academy but, at the same time, it wasn’t that different than what I did every day. I missed my ponies, though. I’d been with the same unit for my whole career and while I sat in class, Radiant Orchid was busy vetting the final ponies I had picked to fill out the House Guard. They likely wouldn’t have any idea who I was when I reported back.

To Colonel Shining Armor
Crystal Empire Garrison, Commanding


I’m about eight weeks into my time here at the academy and it is going well. The senior instructor is as tough as they come and I’ve learned a whole lot from him and his staff.

It has been interesting to see the younger ponies grow. They weren’t soldiers but they’re shaping up well, at least those that are still here. That is just the nature of the beast, though.

How are things in the Crystal Empire? How is Lady Cadence? I have some concerns that it may be dangerous there but I know you’ll more than rise to the challenge.

As much as I am loathe to do so, I need to ask you two favors, sir. One is minor and may interest you. The other is… well, it is a lot. I understand if you refuse.

The first relates to your location. There is a student here by the name of Cobalt Thane. He is a frost pony. I imagine there are more there near you than there are anywhere else. If you could forward any information you have on them I would appreciate it. I have an academic curiosity.

The second favor is not academic at all. Sir, I know we have ponies over there. I know they’re working on the situation. You have a lot of clout. Please consider placing me on the inside. Even if I could just read the reports, I wouldn’t feel like I’m sitting here helpless. I’m doing better. Far better… but I can’t let this go. That may result in me being a sorry excuse for an officer but this time, this one time, I need to see this to the end.

I paused and looked over the words on the page. It was a lot to ask. There was no reason for him to agree and I shouldn’t have asked. Still, I had to. I needed to. Quickly, I moved on to something less serious.

You may find it interesting that older ponies with experience still have an extreme advantage over younger ones when it comes to hoof-to-hoof combat. Onyx Mace, who is a classmate of mine, and I taught a whole graduation class that age is rarely the determining factor in a battle. I’m not going to say I didn’t enjoy tossing them around for a bit. They started out so smug! One of them even called me old.

Idly, I sketched a picture of a helmet by itself into the letter. It was subtle but I knew the colonel would get the message.

I believe you know Crystal Wishes. I can’t recall at this minute if you’ve interacted more than an introduction. She is Princess Luna’s friend. For the longest time, I thought she was with her roommate but evidently I was wrong.

It has been a while since I’ve dated. You know how the last one went, but this feels different. She looks at me in a way that feels special and when she does so it is indescribable. I know you know what that is like. I don’t want to get ahead of myself but I think she might be the right pony for me. A better fit for sure.

Obviously, I may be seeing something that might not be real. I don’t know much about this sort of thing but if you or your wife have any advice I’ll gladly take it. I’m both excited and frightened. I don’t want it to go the same way again. What if she can’t live with a soldier?

I’ll be looking forwards to your response.

Cadet Silent Knight
Royal Canterlot Officer’s Academy, Student

Carefully, I folded the letter and slipped it into an envelope. The contents were highly confidential so I made a note to slip it into a larger envelope before mailing. Shining Armor always provided good advice to me. Probably better than anypony else. He’d know what was best.

“Come eat at the table, Silent Knight,” Winterspear said softly. “You’ve already memorized that book.”

She was more or less right. I tossed it on the couch and came over to sit between Dot and Iridescence. They weren’t speaking to each other at the moment and it somehow felt extra cold to be near them.

Winterspear set a plate in front of me. “It is okay if you eat fast. I know you don’t have long.”

I nodded and started eating. Looking around, I found that I was the only pony doing so. Slowly, I set my fork down. “Are we all in a fight?” I asked cautiously.

Dot shook her head. “No! Just Iridescence and I.”

Iridescence folded her hooves. “We’re not having a fight. You fight with equals, not superiors. You have to learn that while you’re here, I’m boss.”

The filly stuck her tongue out and huffed. I’d always been curious why she looked so much different than her sisters. What she lacked in the physical attributes, however, she more than matched in mannerisms. It was chilling. I was sitting between Iridescence and mini-Iridescence.

Winterspear pointed at my plate. “Eat. You’re fine.”

I ate since my evening liberties were generally short. Plus, I didn’t want any part of this. It felt a lot like home and not in the good way.

“How was school today?” Winterspear asked Dot.

The filly’s expression changed and she bubbled a bit, seemingly forgetting she was angry. “It is going better! I have some friends now. They’re not the popular girls but the popular girls are all really mean.” She then frowned. “And I was supposed to meet them for dinner tonight but somepony said I had a curfew.”

“Fillies your age shouldn’t be out roaming the streets at night!” Iridescence exclaimed.

“Well my friends’ parents don’t agree!” Dot shouted across me.

I slid back from the table, though I didn’t move too quickly. Mares sense motion.

Iridescence turned and glared at the filly. “I. Don’t. Care. Your friends are a year older. Next year we’ll discuss it. For now, you come home when I say you do. Now eat your dinner. Winterspear worked hard making it.”

Dot just glared back.

Lightly, I set a hoof on Dot’s head and turned her to face the plate. “I can’t handle that look from you. Eat so you can grow up to be bigger than your sister.”

The little unicorn giggled at that and swatted at my hoof. “Fine, but only for Winterspear. She’d let me go out!”

When I looked across the table, my sister was gone. In her wake, there was nothing but a swirl of feathers. Smart cookie. I took a note from her.

“Well… I’m going to go back and study more. You two… well, just don’t murder each other here. If you’re going to do it, do it somewhere convenient.”

55. Silent Knight, Cadet - Part 3

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The sun was at its highest point for the day and the heat was setting in. It was abnormal; we were supposed to be in the end of fall and yet it felt like midsummer. I was sitting under a tree in the academy courtyard, trying to enjoy my lunch break. The shade helped but, in general, it was miserably hot. It also didn’t help that I was wearing my cadet’s uniform. I’d take armor any day over wool clothing.

“You are Silent Knight, are you not?”

I opened one eye to find Cobalt standing over me. He looked awful. His thick mane was plastered against his head and his uniform was a mess. My guess was that he was even less acclimated to the heat than us locals.

I nodded. “I am. What can I do for you?”

“I understand that you help other ponies. Do you help anypony, or only ones that are not near you in the ratings?” he asked.

Softly, I chuckled and shook my head. “Anypony, depending on what you need help with. I’m not an expert in most areas. What did you have in mind?”

The frost pony moved into the shade. “The other ponies look up to you. They do not seem to relate to me at all. I cannot be an officer if ponies cannot or will not speak to me.”

What a strange world I found myself in, where another pony came to me for advice on how to relate to other ponies. This poor cadet had it all wrong but I was willing to try. I rose and replied, “You’re right about that. I think it’s because you’re an imposing figure and they don’t know what to think of you yet.”

His brow raised. “Imposing how?”

“Think about it. I’m a pretty big stallion. You and I are about the same height and build, but you look bigger because your coat is thicker. Plus, you have that mane. Surely you notice in our hoof-to-hoof combat training that your opponents hesitate to engage you.”

Cobalt stood silently and was probably thinking it over. Finally, he said, “I thought they were frightened of my combat prowess.”

That made me chuckle. “You’re good, there is no doubt there. But you’re not so insurmountable that that alone scares them. It’s your figure. It’s an advantage in that situation.”

He frowned. “I see… but now I’m not sure I see a way to fix this. I can’t be a different pony. What do you suggest?”

“I’m no expert but I think that part of what you’ll have to do is approach other ponies first, whether you need something from them or not. Like you did with me. Introduce yourself, spend some time with them, maybe even share a little bit about yourself and learn about them,” I explained.

The frost pony’s violet eyes fixed mine for a moment before he looked up at the tree. “What you’ve said makes sense. Where I come from, it is considered rude to inquire about other ponies’ business. If they don’t offer, you don’t ask.”

“You must feel like everypony here is rude, then. Canterlot ponies are curious by nature.”

He nodded idly. “So I have discovered. What is special enough to warrant this curiosity in me?”

“Nopony here has ever seen a frost pony… or a pony with a lion-like mane. They stare at crystal ponies, too. New and different is interesting. For instance, if I were curious, I’d want to know whether or not frost ponies had disappeared with the Crystal Empire or not.”

Cobalt shook his head. “We did not. We live much further north. When they disappeared, we assumed the worst and kept to ourselves, lest the same happen to us.”

“And that is profoundly interesting. A group of ponies in a frozen wasteland living on their own for over a thousand years. You have your own culture, art, and customs that may shed light on our own society or history.”

The pony let out a light sigh. “And I am to just stand and be interrogated so that I am approachable?”

I laughed and shook my head. “No, you’re not going to be interrogated, and the ponies here would consider it rude if you didn’t ask your own questions. Consider it—” I thought it over. “An intelligence exchange. They ask, you answer. You ask, they answer.”

He stood in silence again, contemplating that concept. “What do I ask about?”

That was a tougher question. Ponies that weren’t used to asking anything might ask some wildly inappropriate things. “Just… general things. You might ask what they’re interested in or what hobbies they have.”

“I see.”

We stood in silence for a while. My best guess was that he was trying to come up with something to ask me. I was willing to wait.

“Do… pegasus families… typically leave cloud cities?” he finally asked.

It was good enough for a start. I nodded, “They do. Not always together, though. My parents live in Cloudsdale, and my sister and I live here.”

“I see. Do you not miss your parents?”

I coughed lightly and tried to answer that one in my head first. I didn’t want to discourage Cobalt. After a moment, I shrugged. “My parents and I aren’t really close. To be honest, as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized my father is not a nice pony… I can’t say I miss him most days. Maybe the idea of him, though. How about you?”

“I see,” he repeated before following up with a nod. “Very much so. I miss my little siblings and my parents. Our family is very close and being away has been a strain.” He then shifted and added, “I hope it’s okay that my family is close. I’m not trying to one-up you.”

I shook my head. “No, most ponies’ families are like yours. I hope you’ll get to see them again soon. We should probably head back inside, though. It’s close to the end of lunch.”

Cobalt replied, “Yes. Well… this has been… awkward, but thank you.”

“No problem at all.”

My quarters looked different than usual. Winterspear had been making herself at home even though she claimed to spend most of her time at Iridescence’s place. Not that I minded. Everything was decorated for Hearth’s Warming Eve and I was feeling the spirit.

“Alright, be a good colt and blow out the candle,” Winterspear said as she sat a cupcake down in front of me.

“You know I don’t really care about my birthday, right?”

“Yes, I do, but I care and I almost lost you this year, so shut up and do this for me, okay?”

I shrugged and blew the candle out. “Thank you for this. The place looks great. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to help.”

Winterspear shook her head. “You’re in school. It is a miracle you got enough liberty for the holiday. We can spend more time together after you graduate.”

“That’s true. Perhaps we can even double date.”

“Come again?” My sister looked confused.

“Crystal Wishes and I with you and Iridescence,” I explained.

Winterspear just stared at me. “Seriously?”

“Yup, seriously. We’re going to date.”

She blinked. “What? She is into stallions? But I thought she was with Velvet Step.”

I held up a hoof. “Honest to Luna. She doesn’t like mares like that.”

“She could have fooled me!”

“Fillyfooled you?” I tried not to grin.

My sister groaned and shook her head. “No more jokes for you.”

I stuck my tongue out at her and then smiled. “I asked her out and she said yes. She and Velvet were extremely excited about it. So… we’re going to go out. Which is a lot easier than the signals I was getting. I thought I was going to have to date them together.”

Winterspear looped her hooves around me to hug. “It is about time you got back out there. When you… found us, I was worried you weren’t going to bounce back. It was all Royal Guard stuff. What happened?”

Softly, I nuzzled her cheek and hugged her. “I almost got killed and realized I wanted more in life than that Celestia Cross. Nearly dying puts a lot into perspective… like how it isn’t worth it to stay mad at a sibling, or a friend. Or finally figuring out you’ll never find that certain approval because it won’t ever come. A pony can get caught up focusing on those things and then suddenly everything is over, and what is left?”

“You’re not a colt anymore,” she whispered softly to me as we cuddled.

I shook my head. “No, but I’ll always need my big sister and if she ever needs me, I’ll be there for her.”

She squeezed me and replied, “I love you… Moving here was the best thing I ever did.”

“I love you, too. And I’m glad you did.”

My sister gave me one more squeeze before leaning back and peering at me. “Did you really think you were going to figure out a way to date them both?”

Sometimes I regret that I have a solid memory and recount stories accurately. Too accurately. “I did.”


My brow arched and I peered at her. “Ambitious, huh?”

She laughed and playfully shoved me. “Ambitious, hilarious, foolish, insane, and other similar words. Stick to one. You’ll live longer.”

I huffed in mock offense. “I’ll keep that in mind!”

I sat quietly at my desk, looking down at the test booklet in front of me. It had been a challenge, it had been stressful, it had even been confusing, and it was nothing like the tests back in the Royal Guard Academy. This test had been full of ethics questions, hypothetical situations, and scenarios that ended up with ponies dying no matter what.

That was what bothered me the most. Hypothetical, non-existent ponies dying really bothered me. It was the nature of being in command, though, and I had made the best decisions I could. That was really all that the guard asked for. I just expected better from myself.

Now the test was over for me. I felt pretty confident with my answers but I was concerned I had finished too soon. Most of the other cadets were still working. Onyx was sitting back and scratching his head. Cobalt had his eyes closed. I shrugged and waited for the time to expire.

Waiting gave me a moment to reflect on everything I had learned. Being a royal guard was all about making sure you did what you were supposed to. There was always a pony around to tell you exactly what to do. Being a Royal Guard officer wasn’t the same. A pony was expected to make decisions and take responsibility for them. Those decisions might be measured in lives.

It was a frightening prospect but I had faith I could handle it. I had already sent ponies into battle and lives had been lost. Now I was going to be responsible for my actions and theirs.

At the head of the room, the small clock chimed and the sergeant major rose. “Alright, cadets, that is time. Pencils down. Bring your exams up and go on your way.”

Some of the other ponies made sounds of dismay. I rose and approached the desk at the front and set my booklet on it. Briefly, I nodded to the instructor and he returned it. Now there was nothing to do but wait.

A group of ponies stood huddled around the scroll that had been posted on the wall outside of the classroom. I waited patiently as they shouldered each other aside to look. It was a spectacle. Some ponies looked and their heads fell immediately. They would not be graduating. With any luck, they’d just be held back a class.

Other ponies, seemingly unaware of their failed peers, would cheer, dance, or do some other obnoxiously loud activity. Cody fit into that category. These ponies would graduate and receive their commission.

I felt the presence of Onyx to my side and he asked, “Look yet?”




He snorted and shook his head. “Not you. Me. Go look.”

That made me chuckle on the inside. Cooly, I nodded and got up to go take a look. The ponies had dispersed and were breaking into groups of congratulations and consolations. When I got to the list, the chuckle on the inside broke out.

I read the parchment loudly over my shoulder, “Number one in the class. Onyx Mace.”

The stallion got up and grumbled on his way over, “Not funny.”

I tapped the parchment and said louder, “Number one in the class. Onyx Mace!”

He shouldered me aside and looked at the parchment in confusion and disbelief. “How?”

“No clue. It certainly isn’t your social skills.”

That made him snort. That was generally as close to a laugh as Onyx got. He slid his hoof down. “Number ten. Silent Knight. Pretty good."

“Agreed,” I replied before looking at the list again. There was one more name I wanted to see. Cobalt Thane, number twelve.

Onyx turned and said, “Get your stuff. Drinks are on me.”

If Onyx knew anything, it was tradition—and tradition stated that the number one pony had to buy the drinks. I was more than happy to oblige him in that as we headed off to the Spearhead.

Winterspear helped me straighten my uniform. She carefully aligned all of my medals and then slipped the Celestia Cross around my neck.

“There. Perfect,” she said. She was dressed in her armor and it had been buffed to an immaculate shine. My sister had an important role to play today.

“To be honest, I’m shocked it is already over,” I admitted. “Twelve weeks just flew by.”

“Such is getting older,” Winterspear replied. “I’ll see you after the ceremony. Congratulations!” She went to hug me but then stopped. “Hugs can wait… Wouldn’t want to muss up your uniform.”

I nodded and headed out for the academy. After checking in, I found Onyx. We stood together as we waited for instruction for our pass-in-review. His eyes occasionally dipped to the medal around my neck. It caught the attention of several other cadets and soon we had a small crowd.

Gently, I deflected questions until I was rescued by the sound of Sergeant Major Blackhoof coming in. He was in his ceremonial guard armor and it was polished to a high shine.

“Ponies, today is the first day of your new life. When you cross that field, whoever you were will be gone. In the place of that pony will be a new, stronger version. That is a necessity because the roles you take on from here on out will not be easy. Your successes and failures will be measured in lives. Never forget that. Fall in!”

The pony who I was would be gone? Could that really be the case? Could simply marching across this field really turn me into a new Silent Knight? Maybe he was right, but I quickly shook the thought away and started to assemble.

We all fell into formation. The top-performing cadets moved into the front and I was placed on the wing of the first rank. I had done pretty well while I was here, and so had Onyx—though for him that was an understatement.

I was going to miss him. After today, we would go our separate ways. We all would.

The drummers started drumming and we began to march in place. The instructors pushed the large doors to the academy headquarters open and we began to move forwards in perfect step. Waves of cheers hit us as we crossed the threshold. The families and friends of the cadets were in the stands to share the special day. When I had graduated from the guard academy, if you could call it that, there was nopony there to cheer me on. This time, however, I had a whole section.

In exact time and rhythm, we marched across the field. When we reached the midpoint, we perfectly pivoted to face the crowd in a maneuver that made us look like a wave of rushing water. At the head of the field, in front of the stands, was a dais where the commandant of the academy was waiting with his senior staff.

“Company halt!” the senior instructor called and we did so. The commandant began to speak but I honestly wasn’t paying much attention to him. It was all pretty standard: duty, honor, responsibility, et cetera. My mind was focused on the crowd and how I had found a life I’d never expected.

Iridescence and Winterspear were there in ceremonial armor. They really did make a good couple. It had been so difficult to adjust to but I was glad my sister was happy. After my run in with the gryphons, I had let go of any lingering resentment. It just seemed petty at that point. Today, they were there and looked as proud as anypony else.

Miley Hooves was beside them dressed in her armor, which really contrasted with Runic Phial who, evidently, looked great in a suit and top hat. The little mare was holding hooves with him, full of confidence and glee. She certainly had come a long way and I was so glad to have paired her with Runic. They were good for each other… and they had been good to me.

Velvet Step was there, too, in a lovely summer dress. She sat close—but not too close—to Crystal Wishes. There wasn’t a more loyal friend than she. Velvet had invested a lot of her time and energy into putting Crystal and I together. I could never repay her for that.

And then there was Crystal herself. She was in the most elegant of gowns. Nopony else could have held a candle to how she looked that day. Her blonde and pink mane wasn’t in the braid; instead, she had left it long and flowing, and it accented the shimmering silver gown she wore. Radiant would be the only word to describe her. I was certain I’d have that memory of her for the rest of my life.

Last, but certainly not least, Princess Luna rounded out my cheering section. She was my surrogate mother, more or less. I was not certain if I really protected her as much as she protected me. I also didn’t care. We loved and protected each other like families ought to. Normal families, anyway.

Princess Luna sat next to two empty seats. I’d invited my parents. That seemed to be a foolish gesture but it honestly didn’t bother me that they didn’t come. My real family was there, and a pony couldn’t have asked for a better one.

“And so I charge each and every one of you to remember one thing for your entire career: we do not exist to cause war or conflict. We exist to ensure peace. In everything you do, try and promote peace and harmony, and our world will be a better place for it,” the commandant continued. “Mares and gentleponies, it is my pleasure to present to you this season’s graduates!”

The stands erupted into cheers and hoof stomping. It was deafening, but it also felt right.

Sergeant Major Blackhoof shouted, “Fall out and be pinned!”

We broke ranks and started off individually towards the stands. I reached out a hoof to briefly touch Onyx’s shoulder. “Been a pleasure,” I said.

“Likewise,” he replied before heading off to find his wife. I’d probably never see him again, but that was okay. That is the nature of the Guard. We were brothers even at a distance.

My gaggle of ponies found me. There was a lot of individual cheering.

“Silent Knight, we have a surprise for you,” Princess Luna said with her wings spread wide to keep something hidden. I tilted my head and she stepped aside to reveal Shining Armor.


He smiled and approached. “If you will allow it, I would like to have the honor of pinning you, Cadet.”

A new lieutenant has the right to choose who places their rank pin on their uniform. Usually this is done by a father or family member. I couldn’t think of any pony better for me.

“It would be a privilege,” I said.

Shining Armor stepped in front of me while levitating a small wooden box. Winterspear moved in beside him. The colonel opened the box and carefully removed the silver bar from it. With a combination of magic and hooves, he pinned it on my uniform and stepped fluidly out of the way. I turned ever so slightly to face Winterspear directly.

Winterspear stiffened to perfect attention and lifted her hoof to render my first salute. I returned it crisply and offered her a pure silver twenty-bit piece. It was an old tradition and one I liked. That made it official. I was a lieutenant now.

My friends stomped and cheered while my sister hugged me tightly, tears in her eyes. “So proud!”

“You have done well, Silent Knight,” Princess Luna said as I shook hooves with Shining Armor and Runic.

“Thank you, Princess. This wouldn’t have been possible without you and the colonel. I owe you both a lot.”

Shining Armor shook his head. “You don’t owe me anything. Just keep looking after your ponies. That is all I ask.”

“Verily! Come, it is time for us to celebrate! For on the morrow, we must go back to work!” Princess Luna cheered.

“And so we do!” I replied.

We all left the field together. I made sure to stay beside Crystal Wishes. After all, what sort of officer and gentlepony doesn’t walk with his lady?

The new Silent Knight was right where he should be. He was a Silent Knight who knew there was more to life than a job. A Silent Knight who no longer worried about his family name.

A Silent Knight who was now his own pony.


View Online

I was alone out on Princess Luna’s balcony looking up at the stars and moon. They were beautiful tonight. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and not even all the lights in Canterlot could mask the brilliant scene.

The celebration was still going on in the chamber behind me. Princess Luna’d had about three ciders too many and was dancing with everypony. She’d forgotten to take her hoof guards off, too. I tried to warn her but she was enjoying herself too much.

The others were in a relatively similar state. We’d played a few games and kept it somewhat cordial, but when the sun went down, the harder stuff came out and things got a bit rowdy.

My ears flicked at the sounds of hoofsteps behind me. I looked over my shoulder and nodded at Shining Armor as he approached. No armor and no rank pins tonight.

“You’re missing your party. If you’re not careful, somepony will sweep that sweet unicorn off her hooves while you’re not looking.”

I chuckled and replied, “All due respect, sir, she’s been dancing with your wife most of the evening, so you may want to keep an eye out, yourself.”

The stallion came to my side and set his forehooves on the railing. “Cadence is beside herself with joy. You know she is all about romance and relationships.”

“That I do. It meant a lot to me for you two to come all of this way for my graduation.”

Shining Armor shook his head. “Wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I have to ask, though, why are you out here alone?”

“I just needed a minute. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good party as much as the next pony, but all the congratulations and gifts… it’s a bit much. I’m not sure I’ve earned that.”

“You haven’t,” he replied, surprising me. “This is just to get you started. You’re an officer now, Silent Knight. It is all big picture. Every day is something new and you’re going to have to earn the party. I wish I could tell you that it is easy or that things are going to be the same as before. It isn’t and they won’t be, but that is okay.”

“It would be easier if you were here,” I replied quietly.

He shook his head. “Nah, you’ll grow just fine, and I’m only a train away. Now, please, come back inside. The others will notice soon.”

My brow arched. “I thought it was my party?”

“It is as much for them as it is for you. They almost lost you, and lately you’ve been a bit… well, we’ll call it driven, when it comes to the gryphons. That can all be dealt with tomorrow or the day after. For tonight, just be with them. Enjoy them and let them enjoy you, Silent Knight, the pony.”

I looked over at him and then turned to walk back into the chambers. “You’d make an excellent father,” I said without looking back.

“You sound like my parents,” he replied with a bit of levity. He trotted back to my side and nodded at me, matching my gaze briefly.

The stallion set a hoof on my shoulder and then cleared his throat loudly. “Mares and gentleponies, Silent Knight!” he called, drawing all of the attention to me.

There were delighted cheers and well wishes from all of my friends. The colonel was right. All that other stuff could wait for another day. Tonight was a night to celebrate.