The Black Sheep

by Irrespective

First published

How far are four Guards willing to go to ensure the safety of the Kingdom and the Crown?

One would think that the Royal Guard Corps would have quite a few reforms to enact after having a princess impersonated, a Captain enslaved, a wedding crashed and a Capitol invaded.

One would be wrong, however.

Now, in the midst of this miasma of ineptness, a squad has been tasked with the nigh impossible: successfully pull off the Black Sheep. A determined Sergeant has a plan, but are his subordinates willing to pay the price he asks and for as long as he is asking for?

Now with A Most Worthy review by Cyonix!

I - How Things Are

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It was another glorious and superb morning in Canterlot, with the golden rays of Celestia’s sun gently peering over the distant horizon and tenderly giving all beneath it the gift of its warm embrace. Not even the cobblestone streets could refuse; they too seemed to come to life with the touch of the rays, shedding their grey moods from the evening to one of a delighted white. Ponies cheerfully greeted each other with pleasant salutations as the moved to complete their early activities, and the warmth of friendship was just as bright as the sun itself.

Yes, it was looking like another absolutely miserable morning.

Private Light Hooves sighed as he turned away from the window in his modest apartment. It was a delightful day, but he was scheduled to be on duty at the palace in half an hour and that meant that he would be, more likely than not, guarding corridor J-12 again, and that meant he would be spending this fantastic day staring at a blank wall and telling the odd lost pony that the throne room was two hallways over and one hall way up, and that the only thing down the hallway he was guarding was the Royal Custodial Closet. It was a cheap, boring, and rather unfulfilling assignment, but he was duty-bound as a Royal Guard to do it.

We surely don’t want anyone stealing the royal mop bucket, he morosely thought.

He sighed again as he looked at himself in the mirror. White coat, blue eyes, blue mane, and blank flank. The enchanted ring that sat at the base of his tail was still working, and he wouldn’t get in trouble for being in violation of subsection 9(b) when he arrived at the palace to report for his shift. With a sad smile for good luck coming from the mirror and another deep sigh, Light Hooves turned from his mirror and left for work.

The coming misery of his shift was all the more pronounced now that he was out in the sunlight. A few of his neighbors called out as he left his apartment building and began walking down the street, and he replied kindly back to them and thanked them for the well-wishes. The cobblestone streets felt pleasantly warm under his hooves, and the smells from the nearby open air market began to waft past his nostrils, enticing him to deviate from his course for some hot cross buns, or perhaps a churro. He had a weakness for those, and it made him wish all the more that he could be out and about on street patrol, enjoying the treats and conversation with the other ponies who would be out and about as well.

He managed to trudge the rest of the way to the palace without interruption, and he heaved another sigh as he moved around the grounds and Checkpoint Charlie came into view. Regulations stated that all guards were to be scanned and verified as an actual pony – and not a changeling – but ever since the Royal Wedding enforcement of the regs had become more and more relaxed, and he could see some of his fellow guards simply strolling through the wide-open gate with nothing more than a nod from the guard on duty at the Checkpoint. He received the same nod, and with the realization that today was going to be like every other day, he moved to collect his armor from the Quartermaster’s armory.

It’s not like the threat isn’t as real, he thought to himself, as he fastened the buckles on his armor. There’s still plenty of other nasty things out there that want to attack us, and the changelings weren’t destroyed. They were simply banished back to the Badlands, they could very well come back.

Wrapped up in his thoughts as he was, he mechanically moved through the motions of finishing his armor, placing his helm on his head, and collecting his spear. He then moved from the Armory to the Mess Hall, and once in he trotted over to the assignment board.

“Let’s see.” He muttered to himself. “There. Light Hooves, Private. Assignment: Corridor J-12.”

A long, deep sigh accompanied this. Perhaps he should go to Captain Shining Armor about this. He was back from his honeymoon now and bound to be in a good mood, perhaps he could make some progress that way.

He then started to turn, but then noticed an asterisk he’d missed before. A new squad assignment? It hadn’t been that long since the last one. Eagerly he moved to the squad board, hoping that a new squad leader would get him the opportunity to move assignments.

It only took a few moments, and he found it: 40th Squadron, under Sergeant Pokey. He hadn’t heard of him, but he probably was like all the other Sergeants he’d met. He smiled, though, as he saw the next name on the list: Private Clover Leaf. The two of them had gone through basic together and had remained friends afterwards, and he enjoyed her company during lunch and dinner breaks. It would certainly liven things up to serve with her.

The last name he didn’t recognize: Corporal Light Wing. He assumed he or she was a Pegasus, based on the name, so that meant he would be serving with the Sarge mostly. Clover was a Pegasus too, and it made a lot of sense to keep the flying ponies together.

“Light! Hey, Light! Over here!”

Light Hooves groaned and smiled as he heard the voice, and he moved towards the guard who had called out to him. He may be stuck in corridor J-12, but at least having Clover in his squad would give him a much needed boost of happiness.

“Hey-a, Light.” She greeted once he sat down next to her. “Long time no see. Did you miss me?”

He groaned audibly as one of her wings bumped playfully into his armored shoulder. “Miss you? Why would I miss your abuse?”

“Oh, just admit it.” She replied, as she batted her eyes. “You like me and you missed me. There’s no shame in saying so.”

This earned an eye roll. “Right, sure. Whatever.”

“Please don’t tell me you simply sat in your house for your leave.”

“Fine, I won’t tell you then.”


“But I did.”

She glared at him now. “Really, Light. You’ve got to get out and about more. It’s not healthy to be such a home horse, especially with the social expectations your job has.”

He scoffed at this. “Guarding corridor J-12 requires very little social skill, you know.”

“You’re still there?” she gasped, and he nodded. “That’s horrible! Why haven’t you said something? You’ve been in that same post since we got out of basic!”

“I have said something. It didn’t go anywhere.”

“Well, now that we’re squad mates, we’re going to do something about that.” She declared. “That’s just pathetic, Captain Armor shouldn’t keep you in the same post forever. You and I will go to the new Sick first, all right?”

“Fair enough. Where have you been lately?”

“Perimeter patrol.” She preened, her wings ruffling slightly in pride. “It’s been a blast, and I’m doing good with the training. Lieutenant Daisy Chain says I’m progressing by leaps and bounds, and if I keep getting good marks I’ll be up to Chariot detail in the next month or two.”

“Nice!” he replied, as he hoofbumped her. “That’s awesome to hear. I hope you get to move to that soon. That would be quite the honor.”

“Thanks.” She replied, a hint of a blush on her white cheeks. “I think it would be fun to travel with Celestia, don’t you?”

“I’d like to, but I don’t think earth ponies get to do that kind of thing.”

“And that’s not fair or right either.”

The two chatted about this and that for the remainder of the time, then said their good-byes as they left to their individual assignments. Light Hooves’ dour mood returned as he wound his way through the hallways, up the stairs, and then to his assigned post. Nothing had changed; the hallway was still a short, 12 foot hallway in a drab off-white color scheme with two doors at the end, one for brooms and one for mops. He sighed deeply again, assumed his regular stance on the left of the hallway, and went to work being a guard.

Twenty seven seconds into his post, his partner showed up. The Sarge, obviously, looked like every other guard at the palace, but Light could see in his body language that he was a bit more uptight, or high-strung, or cranky and stubborn, however one wanted to describe it. He was going to be a definite stickler for the Regulations, so Hooves dropped his spear towards him.

“Halt and identify.”

“Sergeant Pokey, 40th Squad. Reporting for duty, assigned partners with one Private Light Hooves.”

“Code word?”

“Sunshine Ladybug.”

“Very well.” Hooves returned his spear to upright. “Nothing to report at this time, Sergeant.”

Pokey nodded, and moved to his post without further comment.

The hours then meandered by, and the Private amused himself with trying to bore a hole in the wall with his eyes. It was the same thing he tried every day, and every day ended in failure. He really couldn’t do anything else until someone spoke to him, and it seemed no one was going to get lost today, so there he stood with his non-magic eyes. He might have tried to strike up a conversation with his fellow guard, but given that it was a Sergeant and that Sergeant Pokey seemed to be of the straight-nail personality he didn’t want to get into trouble on the first day with a new commander.

“This is a very unfulfilling assignment, isn’t it?”

Light was actually a bit shocked, but he then turned to the Sarge. “I’m sorry. What was that?”

“This is an unfulfilling assignment, is it not?” he repeated.

“It’s not my place to say if it is or not, sir.”

“Do you always break regulations while on duty?”

This made Light pause for a moment, mostly so he could review in his mind if he had broken a regulation or not.

“With all due respect, sir; I have not broken any regulations.” He replied, while keeping his gaze forward. This had to be some kind of trap to get him into trouble.

“How do you figure that?”

“I am permitted to speak when I am asked a direct question by a superior officer, sir.”

The Sarge eyed him warily, but Light didn’t rise to the bait. He wasn’t going to fall for it, especially if he wanted any sort of hope of getting away from this accursed hallway.

“So you say.” Sarge finally said. “Well, I do believe it is lunch time. I’m going to head off to the mess hall. I hear they have a delicious daffodil salad today; it’ll probably sell out quick. You wanna come with me?”

Another trap. Daffodil salads were one of the best meals the mess hall offered, but it wasn’t worth it. “No, sir; thank you. I shall remain at my post until you return from your meal.”

“You sure?”

“I am quite sure, sir.”

“Very well. Carry on then.”

Light didn’t reply to this, but he did watch the Sarge leave out of the corner of his eye. What was his game, what was he trying to do? Was it just to see if he would be in compliance? Was it an attempt to sabotage him? Well, whatever it was, it wasn't worth it to worry.

“You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Yes, please. Come in, Private.”

Light entered the small office, and then sat in the chair across from Sergeant Pokey. On the desk between them the Sarge had Light Hooves’ personnel file spread out across the length of it. Light wondered about this for a moment, but then shoved the thought out and focused on his commander.

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me on short notice, Private.” He started. “I appreciate that you’re taking personal time to do this.”

“Not a problem at all, sir.”

“Good. Now, first thing first. I’m sure you figured out I was testing you earlier today by talking to you and inviting you to lunch.”

“The thought did cross my mind, sir.”

Pokey smiled a bit. “You passed with flying colors. There aren’t very many ponies who have the discipline you do, so I’m putting a kudos in your file. I feel it’s always important to acknowledge when a pony does a good job.”

Hooves sat up a bit straighter. A kudos would be a great first step to getting away from corridor J-12. “Thank you, sir. I do appreciate that.”

“Not a problem. Secondly, I like to get to know my subordinates, so I wanted to just chat with you for a bit. What you tell me will be held in the strictest of confidence, but don’t feel obliged to answer any question you don’t want to.”

“Noted, sir.”

“So, where are you from?”

The next half hour was spent talking with the Sarge about the little things in life. Pokey mostly listened as Hooves told him about his family, his upbringing, and why he’d joined the guard. There were a few more questions as they discussed his future, and Pokey seemed pleased that he planned on working up the ranks for a bit, if for no other reason than to get the Sergeant retirement benefits.

After all of that Pokey then asked a rather unusual question. “So tell me. Is there anything about the Royal Guard, in general or specific, that you feel needs to be improved?”

“Improved, Sir?”

“Everypony has something that they don’t like about the Guard: for some it’s the food, some complain about ration sizes, some complain about the long runs, others hate the pay. So, if you could, what would you improve about the Guard? Larger bunks, perhaps? More personal leave time?”

Light only had to think about his reply for a moment. “In all honesty, sir; I feel that the discipline of the Corps needs to be addressed.”

“How so?”

“I see a lot of regulations being ignored or pushed aside; nopony seems to want to follow them. Most Guards saunter around the grounds with no clear purpose, they engage in conversations with each other during posts, and they fail to enforce basic security protocols. I really don’t know how we could protect the princesses or the public with things the way we are. We seem to panic as much as the public does, if anything. The recent changeling incident proves it. We need to have better discipline, better training, and better results. Captain Armor had neglected the rules for too long, and it’s got to stop. Otherwise, we’re going to end up as the butt of a lot of jokes, sir; and eventually ponies will pay a high price for our ineptness.”

Pokey nodded, but didn’t reply. He then slowly stood, turned to face the sole window in the office, and his gaze grew distant as he looked over the sights before him.

“Private, thank you for sharing that.” He said after a minute of silence. “I agree with you wholeheartedly, there must be a greater focus on discipline. Tell me, would you be in favor of any programs that would help that?”

“I believe I would be, sir; as long as they produce actual results.”

The Sarge turned from his window and looked at the Private. “And if the results couldn’t be immediately assessed?”

“I would have faith in my superior officers, sir.”

Pokey nodded again. “Very well. You know the em-rad starts tomorrow at 2300, yes?”

“I do, sir.”

“Good. We will be having a squadron tomorrow at 1900 to discuss our assignment. I’ll also leave some extra time for you to get acquainted with Corporal Light Wing.”

“Thank you sir.”

“Is there any questions you’d like to ask me?”

Light’s stomach rumbled slightly. He did have some, but they could wait.

“Not at the moment, sir.”

“All right. Please, feel free to ask if you do have one in the future. Anything else you’d like to discuss?”

“No, sir.”

“All right. You’re dismissed then, and thank you for sharing what you have with me.”

Light stood, saluted, and then turned and left. Sergeant Pokey was a bit of an odd duck, but he seemed pretty straightforward and honest, and nice enough in his own way. He’d had worse first encounters with other Sicks, so Pokey would probably be respectable enough.

Since his shift was over, Light decided to get a meal and then head home for the evening. He was about halfway through The Art of War by Sun Horseshoe, and it was proving to be a fascinating read that he’d like to get back to. He probably could have finished the book if he’d read straight through, but he’d been especially interested in the doctrines outlined in chapter three, and especially the factor of strategy. He’d reread it a few times, and was now just moving on to the rest of it.

“Know thyself, and know thy enemy, and you shall win a thousand battles.” He recited to himself. It was a passage that had stuck with him, and at every level he found it to be truth. He then smiled as another passage came to mind:

“All warfare is based on deception.”

He was glad some things were beyond his pay grade. Given the recent changeling invasion, deception had a whole new meaning.

The mess hall was mostly deserted when he entered, since the night guard had already begun their shift, and this happily meant there was no line to get dinner. There was even some Daffodil Salads left over, and they were still fresh, so Light happily took one and then moved to grab a bottle of apple cider.

“Light! Hey, Light!”

Clover? She was here too? Well, he was more than happy to go chat with her, so he smiled as he moved through the tables and Clover bumped him playfully as he sat.

“Hey-a, Light. Where you been? I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Why in the wide, wide world of Equestria would you do that?” he replied, as he popped the lid on his cider.

“Well, I missed you.” She replied, as her wing brushed his side. “It gets lonely, flying among the clouds and racing other pegasi.”

“You’ve got a funny definition of lonely then.” He laughed, and she chuckled too.

“Perhaps. But I won’t be tomorrow since I get to be posted with you.”

“You will?”

“Yeah. Sarge mentioned it when I spoke with him earlier. He needs to do…something, I don’t know what, so that means you need a partner.”

“What about Light Wing?”

“The Corporal is pulling desk jockey duty tomorrow. She forgot to renew her Flacks. She’ll be clear by the time em-rad starts, though.”

“Have you had a chance to meet the new Sick?”

“Yeah. We had a short little meeting earlier today.”

“How’d that go?”

“Oh, well enough I guess.” She shrugged, as he took a large bite of salad. “I mean, the guy is really by-the-book but otherwise he seems pretty solid.”

“Is by-the-book bad?”

“No, it just is a bit unusual. It’s actually nice that he’s trying to follow Regs. Goodness knows we don’t have many who bother with them anymore.”

“I know. We really need something to change or we’re going to have another changeling fiasco. That was embarrassing enough.”

“You just got done with a meeting with him, didn’t you?” she asked, and he nodded. “Did he ask you what he thought needed to be fixed in the guard?”

“Yeah, and I said basically that reforms were needed. He asked you too?”

“Yup. I told him pretty much the same thing. I phrased it as ‘we need better enforcement’ but it’s the same idea.”

“Think he can do anything about it?” he asked around a bite.

“Not likely, unless we pull the Black Sheep off successfully.”

He scoffed at this. “Please. Didn’t they just turn themselves in last year at Checkpoint Alpha?”

“No, that was the year before. Last year no one tried. I think the Sick proclaimed it a waste of time and didn’t bother, if I remember right.”

“No, you’re right. I remember now. It was 9th Squad last year.” He remarked.

“9th Squad?” she repeated, but she had to wait for him to swallow before a reply came.

“Yeah. My last Sick was that Sick. He made a point of telling me that it was a useless exercise and that it needed to be eliminated. Along with a lot of justification for talking while on duty, and then totally forgetting what he was talking about and moving on to tell me about a dinner party he’d attended with Prince Blueblood.”

Clover snickered at that. “Bluebood. I still am amused that nopony realizes that’s just his first name and not any sort of title.”

“So now you’re saying Celestia’s first name is Princess?” he joked. He had to get the jabs in when he could with her.

“No! I’m not saying that at all.” She defended.

“And then consider poor Princess Luna.” He continued. “To have your parents give you the same first name? Terrible! Oh, or is it really like the way names work in Neighpon, where the last name is first and the first name last, so they are really Celestia and Luna Princess?”

“I think the daffodils have gone to your head you horse feather.” She teased, and she bumped him playfully again.

“No, staring at a blank wall turned me into a horse feather.” He laughed. “You’ll get to see tomorrow how much not-fun it is.”

“I’m sure I will.”

II - Pep Talk

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Private Light Hooves was amused.

Now, to her credit, Private Clover Leaf was doing an exceptional job of guarding corridor J-12. She was stoic, steadfast, silent, and as serious as the job required. She was performing on a level that other guards didn’t even dream of, and that impressed Light.

But he could sense her irritation at being stuck where she was, doing what she was doing, and he had to try very hard not to laugh at her pent up energy.

It was mostly in the little things, things that would go unnoticed by an untrained eye. He caught a few times, in his peripheral vision, when her feathers flexed a centimeter or so before settling back where they should be. He heard her tendons tensing, aching for action, movement, or something. He heard her teeth grind a few times, especially when she would hear the voices of her fellow guards drifting down the hallway as they walked their patrols. He even thought, once, that he could smell her eagerness to move, but he soon found that was just somepony's lunch wafting by.

He was hardly surprised, then, when she visibly tensed as their replacements from the night guard finally arrived for their shift. They both felt a wave of irritation as the two unicorns casually strolled into view, chatting about who knew what.

“Halt and identify!” Clover shouted, as both of their spears dropped into a threatening stance.

“Woah, easy!” One guard replied. “It’s just us, Half Baked and Vanilla Swirl.”

“What’s the code word?” Clover challenged.

“Code word?” Half Baked replied. “What code w… what was the code word, do you remember?”

Light and Clover glared at the two as they muttered between each other. After a few moments, Vanilla brightened and turned to the two.

“Oh! It’s so dumb. ‘Sunshine ladybug.’”

“Very well.” Clover replied, as they withdrew the spears. “Carry on.”

“What burr got under her saddle?” Half Baked asked, as Light and Clover walked away.

“Nah, she’s just in that paranoid 40th Squad.” Vanilla replied. “They’re all uptight, just like that Sergeant of theirs.”

“What a way to live. Their problem, I guess. Now let’s resume, shall we? I was up five to two…”

They both maintained their composure until they reached the armory, but then Clover heaved a deep sigh as they removed their helms and replaced their spears.

“Uptight, are we?” she dejectedly said. “Paranoid? Since when did following the Regs mean you were paranoid?”

“We’re not, it’s just them. They don’t like that we do what we’re supposed to because it reminds them that they’re not doing it.”

“It’s still aggravating.” She replied, as she stretched her wings. “And I don’t know how you’ve managed to go so long guarding that corridor without going brain dead.”

“I think I already am. That’s why I’m perfect for it.”

Clover whapped him over the head with one wing, but then smiled at him.

“You are nothing of the sort.”

“Well, it would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?”

“It doesn’t explain anything.” She glared at him now. “But let’s get going. We’ve got that squad meeting to get to.”

“Have you served with the Corporal?” he asked, as they trotted out.

“For a bit, two rotations ago. She’s pretty nice, but a bit prideful and perhaps overconfident. I think you’ll like her well enough though. She sticks to the Regs like we do.”

“I’m actually impressed you held it together back in that hallway.”

“Oh, I have no idea how I held it!” she laughed, as she bumped him. “I thought for sure my brain was going to ooze out of my ears at some point!”

“You did well but I can see why you like perimeter patrol better.”

The two chatted as they made their way to Sergeant Pokey’s office. Pokey and Corporal Light Wing were already there when they arrived, but Light Wing broke off her conversation to salute the two as they entered.

“Private Clover, pleasure to be serving with you again.” She said, as the salute was returned. “And you must be Private Light Hooves.”

“Pleasure, Ma’am.” He replied, as they hoof-bumped.

“I think, Sarge, that we’re going to have to just call him Hooves. Who had the bright idea to put two Light ponies together?”

“The powers that be, I suppose.” Pokey chuckled. “You all right with that, Private?”

“I’ve been called worse.” He replied. “I’m fine with that.”

“I’m looking forward to serving with you, Private.” Wing continued. “I’ve heard your service has been outstanding but repetitive.”

“Like you wouldn’t believe.” He chuckled.

“All right, let’s get this out of the way.” Pokey stated, as he shut the door to his office. The other three stopped their conversations and focused on him as he walked back to his desk. “Hooves, Wing, you two think you can get along together?”

“I don’t see why we couldn’t.” Wing replied, as she gave Hooves a smile. “Anyone who likes Donut Joe’s maple bars is an instant friend of mine.”

“Ditto, sir.” Hooves added.

“Very good. Now, em-rad starts in a few hours, and I was given our assignment yesterday. I’ve met with you all individually, and I think that we have a chance of being successful. It’s going to take all four of us working together, though; and we’re going to need to be precise and quick.”

“We pulled the Black Sheep, didn’t we?” Clover asked. Pokey nodded.

“We’re the Black Sheep squad.” He confirmed.

No one replied to this, but the sidelong glances and shuffling of hooves spoke volumes.

“I know it’s not the greatest, but hear me out.” Pokey continued. “We can turn ourselves in now and not even try, that’s true. But in our conversations, all of you spoke to me about how the guard needs some kind of reform. Discipline is non-existent, and we’re a poor excuse of a military force.

“But look at this.” He had pulled a scroll from a nearby bookshelf, and he now unrolled it on his desk. It took up the whole surface of the desk, and the three subordinates looked eagerly at the drawing that was on it.

It was an old drawing, one in the style used by artists just after the Unification. Both Celestia and Luna were pictured in the slightly cartoonish and flowing style, their wings extended fully and their heads held high, but yet in the background. In the foreground stood three rows of guard ponies, twenty four across and dressed in the familiar armor that had perpetuated down to the present. Each guard held a spear, but half of them held the old legionnaire shields with a stylized version of Celestia’s sun boldly and proudly displayed on the front, while the other half held shields with Luna’s crescent moon. As he looked over it, Light Hooves felt a proud chill of awesomeness flow from his hooves to his mane, and a wide smile appeared on his muzzle.

“This is from our Legionnaire days, just after Unification.” Pokey went on. “As ponies began to work together, we became a mighty military force, one able to both tame the new land of Equestria and to protect it from outside threats. In time, these Legionnaires gained names that still haunt our enemies: Celestia’s Rage and Luna’s Wrath.”

Through the mystic chords of time, Light Hooves heard the distant din of battle begin to play in his ears. He could hear sword clashing against sword, shield smashing into shield. He heard armor clanking and flexing, heard the ground being churned and whipped like the foam of the sea from the prancing and dancing of steel hooves. Shouts of victory drifted in the air, and all three subordinates couldn’t help but smile deeply now.

“We were a nigh unbeatable force. It was said, in fearful and whispered tones, that Rage would break whole armies into pieces and that Wrath would grind them into dust. When we marched against our foes, most simply fled and those that did stand against us cowered in fear.”

“That is severely cool.” Wing remarked, as the echoes of distant hoofbeats, in perfect rhythm and cadence, thundered down ancient dusty roads.

“So, what happened to us then?” Clover asked. “We’re nothing like that now.”

Pokey nodded solemnly, and another scroll was unrolled on top of this first. This one depicted the all-too familiar story of Luna’s fall to Nightmare Moon.

“Nightmare Moon happened. We all know the story of her fall and the battle that took place between her and Celestia.” Pokey said.

"Luna, I will not fight you! You must lower the moon!” Celestia’s voice danced through the air. “It is your duty!”

“Luna?” came the ancient reply. “I am … Nightmare Moon! I have but one royal duty now: to destroy you!”

“What no pony realizes is what happened after that fateful encounter. The Elements of Harmony struck, and Luna was banished, yes; but then what of Celestia? If you were to ask, most would shrug and say she went back to her normal duties.”

And through the æther, four ponies heard something no pony had heard in a thousand years.

The sound of Celestia crying.

This was no mere sniffle of sadness, either. No, this was the wailing of an anguished soul, one who has experienced a loss far grander than most will ever experience in their lives. It was a howling, fevered, and totally destitute cry; one that could make even the heavens weep for sympathy for the tortured soul offering such laments. Even a thousand years later, four ponies fought back tears at the haunting sound of it.

“They would be wrong.” Pokey said; a slight hitch in his words. He regained his composure quickly however, and continued. “Celestia experienced something that fateful evening that no pony should ever be called to bear. She loved her sister, as truly and deeply as sisters can love one another. Their familial bonds were strong, and to have them severed so nearly killed our Princess.

“She went into mourning for a full six months. She hardly slept, she ate even less. She would attend to her duties and she did her best to do what Luna had done, but there are many personal writings from the time that speak of her sorrow, her despair, her utter loneliness despite being surrounded by others. She was a broken mare, in every emotional way possible, and many wondered if she would ever recover.

“But then the Age of Diplomacy opened.” Pokey continued. “Celestia turned her sorrow into repentance and action. She became fixated and determined on one goal: to bring about an Equestria that would not only accept Luna and her night, but love it as well. Gone would be the monsters and the fears of old: ponies would be able to freely walk, talk, and play in the shades of evening with glee and contentment.”

Again the voices began to carry from the past, but there were many this time, and it was hard to pick out a singular one. Snippets of conversations danced by, and the three subordinates caught them for a few moments before they flitted away:

“Celestia, the Griffon Empire accepts your proposal. With this treaty, we will open a new era in…”

“…ddle Arabia and Equestria hereby renounce all former animosity and do declare themselves to henceforth be friends and allies…”

“…have ratified this pact of non-aggression. Yakyakistan will remove…”

“With external threats placated by paper, the Legion’s focus turned inward.” Pokey continued over the mystic voices. “We spent many years driving the nightmares and the monsters from Equestria, corralling and herding them… well, like sheep if you will. Celestia refused to totally destroy them, however; and we could not drive them into the lands of our new allies, so it was agreed that they would be moved and held in the Everfree Forest. Small outposts stood at the boundary for some years after we had finally driven them all in, but they were slowly abandoned as their attempts at escape diminished.

“Then, as peace prevailed, the need for our services waned. With no enemies to fight and no threats to Equestria, we moved from Legion to Guard, and now we are little more than tin plated tour guides, and we stink even at that. Our heritage has been lost to the ages, and now we suffer for it.

“Now, I’m not saying we need to return to this.” He pulled the Nightmare Moon drawing away to reveal the first Legionnaire painting. “The Age of Diplomacy was revolutionary, in a great many good ways, and there is no need for Celestia’s Rage or Luna’s Wrath anymore. What I am saying is that our charge and purpose now is to protect the ponies of Equestria and their rulers, and we can’t do that unless we have some major reforms. There are still threats in our world, and evil has not been totally vanquished. I’m sure none of us want another fiasco like the Changeling incident, but we all know the only way to make any real, meaningful changes around here is to successfully pull off the Black Sheep. The audits will fly, procedures will be evaluated, and it will be the first step of many in our return to effectiveness.

“If you don’t agree with what I’m saying, then walk away now.” Pokey stated firmly, as he looked his subordinates in the eye. “Turn me in, even, and let me enjoy the dungeons during em-rads. But if there’s an ounce of truth to what I’m saying, then I think you’ll agree that we must try. I believe we can pull it off, and I think you all know it too. So what will it be?”

There was a moment hesitation as the three thought. It only took that moment, however, for a decision to be made.

“I’m in.” Clover simply stated.

“I’m willing to give it a shot too, sir.” Hooves added.

“Make it three, sir.” Wing added. “I’d love to pull a successful Black Sheep.”

“Thank you.” Pokey replied, his pride showing in his face. “Now, for the sixty-four thousand bit question: How do we foalnap Princess Celestia?”

III - The Heist

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Private Light Hooves was really feeling the depression now.


Because it was ridiculously easy to sneak around the Palace.

The four of them moved through the hallways with only the bare minimum of stealth. Pokey had provided all of them with saddlebags and canvas shoes that made their footfalls silent on the marble floors in place of their usual golden armor but they had taken no other precautions.

Occasionally they would duck and cover as a Guard would walk by, but other than that they pretty much walked through unopposed. Pokey himself seemed to practically skipping through, as if it was just a pleasant walk through a sunny park on a mild spring day.

During the planning, Pokey had said this would be the easiest part. He had watched and mapped out patrols during his days off, and he knew every schedule and every rotation, down to who was in what squad. He had also surmised the cleaning schedule, so they knew when the support and cleaning staff would be working and when they would finish. Light Hooves hadn’t totally believed him when he’d shown them all this, but now it was glaringly obvious how right he was and how deficient the Guard really was. He could see, in his mind’s eye, some pony just hopping through the defenses despite being bright pink and singing show tunes.

Onward they pushed, however, and upward until they reached Celestia’s private wing. This was the middle, and slightly more difficult part. Two guards stood on either side of her doors, their eyes sweeping the hallways for any intruders. Hidden in a perpendicular hallway, the four stopped and then paused as Pokey surveyed around the corner carefully.

“All right.” He whispered. “Two guards, easy enough. Time for the Smog.”

Hooves pulled out two golf ball sized pellets from a pocket on his stealth boots. Light Wing and Clover began flapping their wings as gently as if they were providing a Breezie breeze, and they adjusted the angle of thrust at Pokey’s instructions to ensure the breeze would drift down the right hallway. Once all was ready, Pokey nodded to Hooves and he popped the pellets right in front of the two pegasi.

The only indication that the pellets had worked was that they quickly began to disintegrate. Pokey had warned them that the sleeping gas pellets were tasteless, odorless, and completely undetectable, so with the pegasi breeze it made knocking the two guards out a cinch. No pony moved until they heard armor and spears crumple to the ground, and a quick peek around confirmed that the two were out like midnight.

The Pegasi flapped a bit harder to clear the remaining fumes and then the four walked down the hallway and up to Celestia’s doors. The third part was going to be the hardest, and Hooves took a moment to pull another pellet out of his boot while Pokey put his ear against the door.
After a few anxious moments, he nodded to the others and then gently pushed the left door open.

Light Hooves found Celestia’s personal chambers to be unchanged from the tour he had been given as a Cadet back in Basic. The soft crackle from the fireplace accented the serene mood quite nicely, so much so that they found Celestia herself snoring softly and peacefully from behind a desk, having somehow fallen asleep standing up. A stack of papers and scrolls were scattered before her, and her horn was mere millimeters from impaling some dreadfully dry proposal. Her regalia had been thrown haphazardly across her bed and without it, she looked almost like a normal, mortal pony, one who lived a normal life and had normal dreams and did normal things.

The thought was interesting, but Hooves shook it away as he pocketed the pellet. The four then crept around Celestia and took up their positions. Pokey had been quite through in this stage of planning, and each member of his squad now had something specific to do. Pokey’s instructions began playing in his head again as they made their moves.

The largest threat will be Celestia’s mouth. He recalled, as Clover went airborne and carefully and silently slipped a muzzle over hers. The first instinct anypony has when they find themselves being assaulted is to scream, and Celestia can scream, especially since she perfected the Royal Canterlot Voice. If she opens her mouth, it’s all over.

The second threat is her horn, as Wing also silently flew up to gently slip on a suppressor ring. The next natural instinct for her will be to use a repulse spell, anything that shoves the attacker away from her. I don’t need to tell you how powerful her magic is. We’ll find ourselves in Los Pegasus if she gets a magic blast off.

Next will be her legs. He recalled, as everypony pulled two halves of a shackle out of their bags. You might think it would be her wings, but she hasn’t flown in ages and her wings, though powerful, aren’t going to cause the amount of damage her legs are.

On the silent count of three, four pairs of shackles moved to clasp around Celestia’s knees. This part of the instructions had confused Hooves, but Pokey had been patient in his explanation:
Wrapping up her ankles works fine if the shackles are tied to a post or a wall or if we could chain them together; but chains are too noisy for what we’re doing and without them there’s nothing to stop the movement of her legs. By restricting her knees, we take out her ability to both kick and run. The worst she could do is hobble away from us, if she can get upright.

Hooves held his breath as his shackle softly closed, then clinked as the lock engaged.

And then Celestia’s eyes popped open.

The sequence of events that followed happened with such dizzying speed that it was only after everything was over that Hooves managed to get a hold of what had occurred.

Sure enough, Celestia had first tried to open her mouth to scream, while simultaneously trying to fire off a spell. The muzzle held firm against her, preventing the Royal Voice, and Hooves had seen extra magic pour into the bottom of Celestia’s horn before it flowed up, hit the suppressor ring, then ran back straight into Celestia. Her eyes somehow got wider after the one one-hundredth of a second it took her to realize her voice and magic had failed her, and it took another three one-hundredths of a second for her to both flare her wings and kick with her legs.

The attempt at kicking with a rear hoof knocked off Celestia’s balance and sent her down hard in reverse and to her left side. Her eyes somehow went wider, but she still thrashed as much as she could with her legs and began to sweep her wings in a wide and furious arc.

Clover and Wing had to gain altitude quickly to avoid the furious flapping, Hooves was forced to retreat a step back to keep from being impaled, but Pokey was not so fortunate and he caught the leading edge of one wing square in the chest, sending him airborne for a few moments before he landed with a crunchy sounding thud by the fireplace. This motivated Celestia to thrash harder, and she now looked something like a bird who had hit a pane of glass. Hooves, however, saw what was trying to do: Her wings were providing lift and she was trying to fly. All she had to do was move ten feet to her balcony, and one of the perimeter patrol pegasi were bound to see her and come to her rescue. In the half-second he had to contemplate this, Hooves realized he needed to pop a sleeping pellet and get her knocked out.

What actually happened made Private Light Hooves an inglorious legend.

He pulled the pellet quickly from his pouch, deftly swept down and under a wing then reached up quickly, but instead of popping it in her face he managed to shove it right up Celestia's left nostril with a squelchy sounding hhnph!

Celestia continued to flail and thrash as much as she could, but now her left eye twitched violently and she tried – vainly – to reach up and remove the obstruction that was assaulting her royal nose. After five or six seconds of this, her eyes rolled back in her head and she flopped with no further protest.

The two pegasi landed next to Hooves and Pokey slowly approached from behind. Each took a moment to admire Hooves’ hoofwork, and then all three turned to look at him. Clover and Wing both looked like they might explode with laughter; and Pokey gave the Private a look that was both amused and horrified.

“You shoved the pellet up her nose?!” he whispered harshly.

“I wasn’t trying to!” he whispered back in defense. “She moved right into it!”

“That’s not going to injure her, is it?” Clover whisper-asked.

“No. She might sleep for twenty-four hours or so and have a severe case of dry nostril but she’ll be fine otherwise.” Pokey whispered back. “Let’s get her out of here.”
The wing restraints were added quickly, and then a Celestia-sized burlap bag was produced and she was not-so-gently placed within it. Having completed that, Pokey nodded to Clover, but she pouted and groaned softly.

“Are you seriously going to make me do that?!” she quietly protested.

“Yes I am. Hurry up; perimeter patrol will be swinging around soon. It’ll work, trust me.”

“Trust him.” She muttered, as she silently walked out to the balcony. After scanning the sky and finding no patrol, she moved out a little further and then glanced towards Checkpoint Beta. A lone guard, looking bored and almost asleep, stood by the gate; his spear nearly slipping from his grasp. Clover went airborne by a foot or two, focused on the guard and then shook her head.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this.” She muttered. Refocusing on the guard, she gasped theatrically, feigned surprise, pointed to the sleepy guard, and then whispered in a hopefully convincing tone of shock:

“You broke a Pinkie Promise!”

Instantly, the bushes next to the guard began rustling. Clover couldn’t believe it! That had actually worked?!

“WHO BROKE A PINKIE PROMISE?!” the bush shouted. A bright pink pony suddenly launched out of the bush as if shot from some sort of party cannon, and the poor guard was knocked head over hooves for a good five feet before landing on his rump. The pink mare grabbed both of his shoulders, and with fire in her eyes, began to shake him violently.

“It was you, wasn’t it?!” she shouted at him. “C’mon, buster! Confess! I’ve caught you red-hooved! Don’t deny it!”

“I don’t even know what I did!” he blubbered with the shaking.

“Clover!” Pokey hissed. “Get back here!”

Clover flew quickly back in, and the four waited for a few moments as they heard foot guards move towards the commotion. After another few moments, the pegasi on duty flapped by their field of view, and they could hear the poor guard still getting the sense shook out of him as more guards tried to pull the manic pink pony off of him. Their shouting was so intermingled that they couldn’t make out what exactly was being said, but once they heard wings flapping furiously they knew it was time to move.

“Remember, take her to the safe house as quickly as possible.” Pokey instructed, as Clover and Wing grabbed a corner of the sack, thus making it look like a giant brown banana with four white legs. “We’ll be there as soon as we can to help you get her tied down.”

They nodded, and then took off. Hooves and Pokey moved to the archway between the balcony and the room and watched as they dropped low, cleared the outer fence, and then silently flew away into Canterlot’s night. Once out of sight, the two of them moved back through the room, but Pokey paused for a moment to place a single piece of paper by Celestia’s regalia.

“What’s that?”

“Just a note so they don’t worry about the Princess.” Pokey replied. “Let’s go. Pinkie Pie is going to be irate when she finds out that Pinkie Promise was a false alarm.”

The two slipped out of the palace the same way they snuck in, but with even less stealth since it appeared that every guard pony on duty had responded to the ‘incident’ out by Checkpoint Beta. With none the wiser, the two moved through the empty Checkpoint Charlie and off towards the safe house.

“Sarge? Did we actually just pull off the Black Sheep?” Hooves had to ask, as they moved into a steady trot.

“Yes, Private. We did.” He replied with pride.

IV - Luna's Ascension

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Luna was ready for this evening to be done and over with.

Her dream walking had gone well enough for the majority of the time. Nightmares had been dispatched, dreams tided up, and sound advice delivered to soothe aching hearts and troubled minds.

And then the ‘incident’ occurred.

It had taken the better part of two hours – after she had been yanked from the dream world in a rather rude way by the night shift guards – to take care of said incident.

She had first tried to figure out why one Pinkamina Diane Pie was in Canterlot and accosting a poor sentry. She then had to figure out how said Element of Laughter had gotten to Canterlot, and then she had to spend quite a bit of time figuring out what a ‘Pinkie Promise’ was and how the hapless sentry had been guilty of breaking one. Having dealt with all that, she then had to place the pink mare on an express train back to Ponyville – the explanation on why she couldn’t return the same way she’d came had made even less sense than everything else – and then check to make sure the sentry had received adequate medical attention.

It was one of the rare times she was actually looking forward to the Tantabus, since that would not try to rip apart reality like Pinkie Pie was so wantonly doing.

She slowly glided down to her balcony, inhaled deeply to try to clear out the steadily growing migraine headache, and then lighted her horn to gently lower her moon.

She then tapped a hoof idly as she waited for her sister to raise the sun and thus complete the daily ritual. Usually she would meet Celestia on her balcony to do this, but they both understood that if Luna did not come that meant it had been a long and taxing night and Celestia would let her rest with no questions asked.

A full twenty seconds passed, and Luna’s tapping intensified. What was keeping her? She really wanted this night to be done and over with.

At thirty eight seconds, Luna began grumbling. At fifty one seconds, Luna’s left eye had a quick spasm. At one minute precisely, she took off again and shot over to Celestia’s balcony. What in Equestria was holding her up?

“Celestia!” she shouted immediately upon landing. “Did you sleep through your alarm again? This night has ended most unpleasantly and I need…my…”

Her rant trailed off as she looked around the empty room. It took a moment for her mind to fully register the lack of a sister within, and her breathing began to quicken as the gravity of the situation began to weigh on her.

“Tia?” she called out softly. “This isn’t funny. Where are you? You need to raise the sun.”

She stopped at her sister's bed, the panic attack on the verge of erupting. She then noticed the note, and her magic shakily grabbed the paper and lifted it to her eyes.

It took only another moment for Luna’s magic to wrap around Celestia’s bedroom doors. They opened inward slowly, revealing two dead-asleep guards and four other guards who were poking their brothers-in-arms and calling for them to wake up. They snapped to attention as Luna slowly emerged, her steps unsure, her eyes on the floor and her breaths coming in short, rapid snorts.

“Princess Luna!” one guard gasped, vocalizing the thoughts of the rest. “What are you doing in there?”

“Gentlecolts?” her voice was barely above a whisper. “I believe we have a rather serious issue at hoof. C-could…” her voice hitched, and she had to take a moment to steady her nerves. “Could you find C-Captain Armor for me, p-please, and have him c-c-come h-here?”

Captain Shining Armor was having an absolutely miserable morning.


Because one of his squadrons had the audacity to actually be successful in pulling off The Black Sheep scenario.

He glanced up at the hourglass on the desk before him, quickly took note of the position of the sun in the sky – a sun that had been trembling as it had risen under Luna’s power – and then inhaled. The worst part of this whole thing was that even though The Princess had been foalnapped, there was still another Princess to answer to.

“Corporal, Sergeant.” He called out to the two guards by the main doors. “Please move fifteen feet to your left and right, respectively.”

The guards looked confused, but shrugged and then did as they were told. Shining again glanced at the hourglass, closed his eyes, and inhaled.

“Seven, six, five…” he muttered, and then finished the countdown in his head.

Precisely as zero entered his brain as not a number, the doors were seized in Luna’s magic, then flung open with such force that one broke a hinge at the top. Spider web cracks appeared in the walls from the impact and the two guards jumped another five feet sideways before realizing they had almost become pony paste.

“WHERE IS MINE SISTER?!” Luna demanded; her voice near Royal Canterlot Voice level as she stormed in.

“Hiding somewhere with earplugs, most likely.” Shining mumbled.


“Princess Luna, you need to calm down.” Shining replied firmly. “Shouting at me and smashing things isn’t going to bring Celestia back. I know for a fact your sister is safe and unharmed, and if you can relax for a moment I can explain what happened.”

Luna went from bristling with anger to deflated defeat in a heartbeat, and her gaze went to the floor in embarrassment. “My apologies, Captain. I am only concerned for the welfare of my sister.”

“I know, and I understand.”

“So what has happened to her?”

“Short answer is she’s been foalnapped by some of my guards. Long answer is…”

“Why would your guards steal my sister?” Luna interrupted. Her eyes met his again with concern and surprise. “And have you thrown them in the dungeon yet?”

“Answer to the second question is no, because I don’t know the names of who actually did it. We’re still working on that. First part goes back to my long answer: she was foalnapped because they were told to.”

Luna gave him a confused look but said nothing, so Shining continued. “Every year we run Mock Readiness and Deployment drills to test our operational abilities. Various scenarios and trainings are held when we do this, but every year one squad is tasked with foalnapping Celestia, to see how well she’s protected. It’s officially known as Scenario 55, but somewhere down the line it bacame known as The Black Sheep. For the last four hundred and eleven years, no pony has been able to breach the defenses and Celestia has been safe. Some pony finally figured out how to get to her this year.”

“How do you know for sure this is what happened?”

“Because of the note you found.” He replied, as his magic held it up. “If they are successful, the Sergeant in Charge is to leave a ‘ransom note’ that says what this one says: ‘Baa Ram Ewe.’”

“So, she is safe?”

“She is being watched over by, probably, the four best guards in the whole Corps right now.” Shining replied warmly, and he even dared a smile. “Any Guard who can foalnap your sister is also going to be able to keep her safe from pretty much any threat. Plus, all she has to do is tell them to release her and they will. They’re still bound to serve her. And, as the cherry on the cake, we are talking about Princess Celestia. If she does happen to run into something that is bad in reality, I think her wit and her magic will get her out of it. In all honesty, she’s probably trying to talk her way out of her captivity now.”

“All right.” Luna sighed. “So what do we do now, just wait for her to return?”

“Well, no. We have to try to find her now.”


“We as in the guard, but you’re more than welcome to help. Scenario 55 has two components: foalnap the princess and recover the princess. We’re treating this like it was a real foalnapping, so now the challenge is for us to figure out where she is and ‘save’ her. I’ve got ponies working on various leads now, but until we find her you are in charge.”

“I am?” Luna asked, and Shining nodded. Luna then started to say something but bit it off with an audible click as a thought entered her head. She mulled it over, and a small smile now appeared.

“I am in charge?” she repeated.

“Totally and completely. We will answer to you.”

“So, instead of pulling my Nightmare Moon stunt, you’re saying all I had to do was arrange for my sister to be foalnapped?”

“Let’s not get too crazy.” Shining smiled. “Scenario 55 was invented six hundred odd years ago, so it wasn’t in play when you were banished.”

“Parasprite pox.” She muttered, but the smile didn’t wane. “Very well. My first order then is to call up Princess Mi Amore Cadenza to take over my duties while I assume my sister’s during the duration of this ‘crisis.’ Where is she?”

“Asleep in our suite still. Corporal Melon, will you go summon her please?”

“Make sure my wife gets my life insurance and pension.” He remarked, but then he left to do as told.

“Now, what leads are you working on, Captain?”

“We’re trying to determine the origin of the note. I’ve also got Lt. Daisy Chain and Lt. Stone Spring interviewing everypony who was on duty last night to see if somepony saw or heard anything. We’re also trying to wake up the guards who were knocked out last night, they might have some intel we can use.”

“Do we know how Celestia was taken?”

“No, not yet. My working hypothesis is that the Guards were taken out with a sleeping spell or something like that. They probably used the same thing on your sister. I’m also willing to bet bits to barley that there were pegasi in the squad that got her, there’s no way they could drag your sister through the hallways without somepony noticing. Pinkie Pie’s arrival was nothing more than a diversion; it distracted the Pegasus guards and allowed them to fly her out.”

“That does make sense.”

“I’m going to take hoofwriting samples as well and compare them to the ransom note. If I get a match then that’s a quick way to end this. I’ve also sent patrols out into Canterlot, they’ll be keeping an extra eye out for anything strange.”

“Won’t that cause some undue alarm amongst the populace?”

“It will, yes.” He sighed. “So that does mean that either you or I will need to issue some kind of statement about what has happened. I have a press release ready to go, and I planned on making the announcement myself unless you’d like to.”

“No. It would be best for you do to so. It will be more convincing if Captain Shining Armor, hero of the Changeling Invasion, tells everypony not to fear.”

“All right. As soon as we get Cady up to speed I’ll make the announcement.”

“Is there anything else I can assist with?”

“Perhaps.” Shining tapped a hoof to his chin for a moment. “Do you have any way of reaching out to Celestia? Some sort of magical or psychic sister connection you can utilize?”

“I can search for her in the dreamscape.” Luna replied, after thinking a moment. “But it would be difficult to find her unless she is having a nightmare. There is also the possibility of…well. That is a long chance.”

“What?” Shining pressed.

“I will need to do some research first. I do not know if I can work the spell; it has been over a millennia after all.”

“All right. Look into it, please, and let me know if you can work it.”

“Announcing Princess Mi Amore Cadenza.” The Sergeant by the door announced.

Both Luna and Shining turned to face her, and then both had to stifle a laugh. Cadence had the worst case of bed head they had ever seen, the whole of it looked like a small flock of birds had taken up residence and set out a mailbox somewhere. Her eyes were only half open, and she offered a huge yawn as she entered the room.

“Shining?” she said over the top of her yawn. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing too bad, my dear.” He cooed, as they nuzzled each other and she yawned again. “I just need you to take over Luna’s duties while we find out who foalnapped Celestia.”

Cadence’s eyes popped wide open with this. “Auntie Celestia? What’s happened to her?!”

Private Light Hooves was never happier to guard corridor J-12 in his entire career as he was right now.

Given the late night he had endured and the manic nature of it, this simple duty gave him the chance to rest and to recover, and to steel himself. Having actually pulled off the Black Sheep meant that, eventually, Captain Armor was going to interrogate him to see if he was involved. He wanted to make sure that he didn’t cave.

The alibi was easy enough to maintain: he and his Sick had gone home and stayed home for the evening, and the two pegasi had flown to Ponyville as part of their official em-rad assignment: checking the total flight time to and from the Elements of Harmony. They had been clocked leaving Canterlot, doubled back undetected to foalnap Celestia, then reversed and flown back in the average time. No one was the wiser, and it made it easy to keep the details straight.

Hooves was also happy that Sgt. Pokey was with him, as he was allowing short breaks to rest eyelids. After the events of last night, he needed the rest just to make sure he wouldn’t get caught napping and thus blow his cover.

“Doing all right over there, Private?”

“I’m fine, Sir.” He replied. “Though I do appreciate you not busting my chops over my fifteen second ‘breaks.’”

“I see nothing.” He replied, but gave him a wink. “Besides, it’s understandable. I’d give you leave for successfully completing your mission normally.”

“Do you really think we have Celestia secure?” he asked softly.

Pokey decided quickly it wasn’t worth calling Hooves out on his breech of protocols today either. “She is. I’ve had time to prepare everything, don’t worry. She won’t get loose. I’d be surprised if she’s even awake by the time we get off.”

“I really wasn’t trying to shove that up her nose.”

“I know.” He chuckled slightly. “But it worked. It’ll make for a good story when all this is over; and I’d bet bits to barley that even Celestia will laugh about it later.”

“I hope so. Otherwise I hear the moon is a popular travel destination for convicts.”

“Nah. She’d just send you to guard the Everfree for the rest of your life if she was going to punish you.”

“Oh, great.” Hooves moaned. “That’s so much better.”

“You think that’s bad? Imagine what she’ll do to me as your Sick.”

“I’d rather not.” Hooves shuddered.

“In all honesty, I’m sure Celestia will understand. As our General, she knows about em-rads and about the Black Sheep. She might not be too pleased about our methods, but she will respect why we did it, and we won’t be punished. We were just following orders, after all."

“That’s true. Do you think Corporal Wing and Private Clover are holding up all right?”
“They are. I was able to get them a 24-hour leave since they did ‘complete’ a mission. They’ll be good and rested for tomorrow.”

Hooves nodded, but then said nothing more. Pokey said nothing more as well, but a small smile did play out as he heard a soft snore coming from his subordinate after a brief moment.

V - Terms and Conditions

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Celestia was having a miserable day.

She had just realized this after regaining consciousness, and the headache that threatened to split her skull in half like a ripe coconut reinforced the notion.

She groaned, inhaled, and then mentally began working backwards to figure out what had happened to her. She remembered reading over the new budget – a rather boring and uninspired thing that plagiarized horribly from last year’s – and then she remembered deciding to close her eyes for just a few moments to take a break from the legal jargon that threatened to make her go cross-eyed. She then remembered hearing a faint click sound, and then some kind of assault.

That’s were things got a little fuzzy, but she remembered the pain quite well.

She also remembered that something had been rammed up her left nostril.

It felt as dry as the surface of her sun up there.

She groaned a bit as she tried to move, with the realization that she was laying on her left side. Her forehoof moved only a fraction until it hit some kind of restriction and she heard chains clinking and rattling together.

Had she been foalnapped?

She tried moving a rear hoof, but the same result occurred. The chains caught and checked her movement pretty quickly, she could move it enough to stand possibly but not much more than that.

An attempt at spreading her wings was met with similar restrictions. Something held them tightly to her sides, they would not move in any direction no matter how she flexed.

Well, she thought, I’m done playing nice now.

It was a noble statement, but playing rough didn’t help her any. As soon as she flared her magic, it was violently rammed back into her skull, and she imagined for a brief moment the sensation she had just felt was what a wedge felt like when it was being driven in by a sledgehammer.

“I would advise against the use of magic, your majesty.”

Celestia turned her head to try and see her captor in the darkness, and she intended to say ‘who are you?’, but it was just then she discovered she had been muzzled, so the words came out more along the lines of “moo er oo?”

“Sergeant Pokey, your Highness.” Came the reply. Apparently the Sergeant had understood her. “40th Squad, under Lt. Daisy Chain. I am the Sergeant in Charge of the Black Sheep squad that foalnapped you.”

“Ol-apped ee?”

“Yes. I apologize for the rough handling, but we had to do it. We were under orders to make the scenario as realistic as possible.”

“Ere m eye?”

“In a safehouse, but still within the bounds of Canterlot.” He replied. “Being a good foalnapper, I’m afraid I can’t tell you exactly where.”

“N nee estnints?”

“You would have blasted us to the moon by now without them.” He replied. “Or flown away. Again, we’re striving for realism here.”

“Eleese ee iss nstnt.”

“If that is what you wish, then I will.” He replied, and she heard hoofsteps coming towards her. “However, before I do, I would like to ask you to consider something.”

“Eye nn’t eel ike isening.”

“I know, but hear me out all the same. Scenario 55 hasn’t been successful in over four hundred and eleven years, right?”

Celestia didn’t reply, but glared towards where the voice was emanating from in the darkness.

“So, it stands to reason that the protocols to find you are also four hundred eleven years old. If this was a real foalnapping, how long would it take the Guard to find you using those protocols?”

He had a point, and that was infuriating. Celestia’s glare softened a little.

“If we keep you here, then the methods undertaken by Captain Armor and your Sister can become the new standard. If this unthinkable thing should ever happen again, there will be clear guidelines on how to find and rescue you.”

“Eye nn’t wnt oo ee ike iss oo ouw.”

“I realize that. I wouldn’t like being tied up the way you are either. But if I release even one of your bonds, you’ll do everything to break free, will you not?”

She would. Celestia grumbled again, shuffled her hooves, and sighed. This irksome Sergeant was making some good points.

“Sarge? You down here?”

“I am. Come on down. The Princess just woke up.”

“And you’re not a pile of ash yet?” the female voice replied. “Wow. I didn’t think the suppressor ring could hold back Celestia’s magic.”

“This particular one can.” He replied, and Celestia focused. Two, no. Three sets of hooves descended a flight of stairs, then took a few steps into whatever room she was in. Celestia then became aware of a slowly increasing light, just slow enough to let her eyes adjust without hurting them.

“Is she all right?” a second female now asked.

“Mostly. She’s not yet told me how she feels, but I’m imagining a rather large headache, sore muscles, and a dry nostril from the pellet. Did I miss anything in that, your Majesty?”

“Eye ngs ert.”

“What?” a male now asked. “What’d she say?”

“Her wings hurt. That’s to be expected too.”

“Well, we can’t leave her like that.” The first female replied. The light had come up in the room enough to allow Celestia to see the four guards in the room with her now, and she rolled up and over until she was in a sitting position.

“Your highness, the rest of the 40th Squad. This is Corporal Light Wing, Private Clover Leaf, and Private Light Hooves.”

“Ice oo eet oo.”

“What?” Hooves asked again.

“She said it’s nice to meet you.” Clover replied, as her wing cuffed Hooves over the head.

“We were just discussing her captivity before you came down.” Sgt. Pokey continued. “Obviously, she does not wish to remain bound, but if we release her then the mission will be over. I’m not sure what else we can do at this point.”

Celestia knew that tone, she’d used it herself a million times. She knew that he knew of a way, and he was trying to get her to think of it. Her mind began to work, going back and moving through the synapses in an effort to find something to help her. It only took a moment, and then she smiled.

“Eye es n popinition.”

“Oh?” Pokey replied.

“Ut eye eed iss akn ff.”

“But you’ll scream.” Hooves noted astutely.

“Nuh uh.” She shook her head. “Ust Ee. Eye iv oo eye Olmn Oth at eye ill ot eem. Eye ill eek et eh olum eye em eekng et ouw.”

“Translation please?”

“You are hopeless, Hooves.” Clover laughed. “She said she’ll speak at the volume that she’s speaking at now, and she gave her word that she won’t go any louder.”

“What good is her word?” Wing asked, but that question got a withering glare from the Sarge.

“It’s more than her word. She has offered her Solemn Oath. Take the muzzle off, Wing.”

Wing looked a bit flabbergasted, but she did as she was told. Celestia dipped her head softly to allow Wing to reach without flying, and then she worked her jaw for a moment as Wing retreated.

“Thank you.” She finally said. “That feels much better. I must admit, I am finding this whole experience to be quite novel. I’ve never been properly foalnapped before.”

“No?” Hooves asked, and Celestia smiled as she shook her head.

“No, my little pony. Four hundred eleven years ago, an intrepid group managed to break into my personal chambers, but I wasn’t there at the time. The Black Sheep scenario was declared a success, though, since they had gotten that far. None have actually managed to get me out of the palace.”

“Oh.” Hooves replied, as he somehow went pale. “Oh.”

Celestia’s head cocked to the right. “Are you all right, Private Hooves?”

“We’re so dead.” He said, as he stumbled back a step and began to tremble. “So, so dead.”

“Hold it, Hooves.” Pokey stepped in. “No one is dead. We had been given orders to do this, so we have nothing to be punished for.”

“That is correct.” Celestia smiled. “You and your fellow squad members have done nothing wrong. Though, I would like to know who shoved that sleeping pellet up my nose.”

“I am so dead.” Hooves whispered, and he went even paler.

“Oh, so that was you?” Celestia giggled. “A very ingenious move, I must say. That was probably the only thing that saved you from certain destruction.”

“It was?” he asked, though he looked like he was going to lose his lunch.

“Indeed yes. Let’s see. I believe I caught Sgt. Pokey with my wing, so he was unable to continue the assault against me. Cpl. Light Wing and Pvt. Clover Leaf were unable to press any sort of advantage. Given another thirty seconds, I believe I could have raised a sufficient ruckus to gain the attention of the Pegasi patrol.”

“She really would have.” Pokey replied.

“Please, Private. You really have nothing to fear from me. I will not prosecute you, and anyone who does try to will face my wrath.”

Hooves had a little color return to him, but not much.

“Now, before we go any further, may I ask some questions?”

“You may, but we are under no obligation to answer.” Pokey replied.

“Very well. How long have I been out?”

“You are approaching twenty hours.”

“That long, really?” she sounded impressed. “My. I don’t remember the last time I slept that long. How is my sister handling my disappearance?”

“As well as can be expected. She is working with Captain Shining Armor to discover your whereabouts.”

“And the citizens of Equestria?”

“Have been told that you are taking part of a military exercise that requires your absence. The overall feeling I have heard is one of amusement and wonder that you would participate in such things.”

“Good.” She replied. “I would demand my release if there was a panic, but if everypony is all right then perhaps I can stay here. I am curious to see how long it takes to find me, I admit.

“Now, I believe we should discuss my captivity.” Celestia continued. “I would rather not be bound and chained for the entire time I am being searched for. Perhaps we can make some other sort of arrangement?”

“What would you suggest?” Pokey asked.

“Let’s start with what you want.” Celestia replied. “You are the foalnappers here.”

“Our orders are to make this as realistic as possible.” Pokey replied, his tone going to no-nonsense. “So, whatever we do needs to retain the element of you being bound and unable to act. As a proper foalnapper, there is no way me or my partners in crime would allow you to be free of any of your restraints. Whatever arrangements we come to must include your captivity.”

“I believe we can accomplish that.” Celestia replied. “I propose that I offer you another Solemn Oath: That I will not make any attempt to escape from this room. I not use magic, flight, or sound to aid me in any way, and I will only attempt to flee if you allow me an opening that would naturally occur.”

“Question.” Hooves stuck a hoof in the air. “What is a Solemn Oath?”

“A Solemn Oath, Private, is Celestia’s word made law.” Pokey replied, before she could. “Once she has given it, it cannot be rescinded, revoked, or removed by any means. She will be bound to her word.”

“All because she says she’ll do what she says she’ll do?” Wing asked.

“What does a pony have if they don’t have their word?” Celestia asked.

“Very little indeed.” Pokey replied. “If you are willing to make such an oath, Princess, then I will accept it as equal to your captivity. Corporal, Privates? Will you accept her Oath?”

Celestia sat up straight again and somehow looked even more regal than she had before. “Before you do my little ponies, let me make my Solemn Oath official. I, Celestia, Princess of Equestria, Sovereign of the Sun, will not make any escape attempt from this room until permitted to do so by the Royal Guards who have captured me. I will not use my magic, I will not use my wings, and I will not use my voice in any way that will reveal my location or aid in any type of escape attempt. In exchange, the four royal guards who do now witness this Oath agree to free me from my physical restraints and to allow me free access to this room I am presently in, and any future part of this safe house they deem I may travel to, and to keep me safe and uninjured. This is my Solemn Oath.”

No one replied to that. There was energy in the room at that moment; a power unlike any besides Celestia had ever felt before. Indeed, the four guards even noticed that Celestia seemed to be glowing slightly, as if the sun had entered into her soul as was now radiating out from her. There was a shared glance between the four, but it only took that glance to know what their decision was.

“Princess Celestia, as the Sergeant in Charge of the 40th Squad and in their behalf, I accept your Solemn Oath. Let it be as you have said: as you are bound to your word, we are bound to ours.”

An even larger rush of energy pulsed through the room. There was no doubt in anypony’s mind now: Celestia was bound to her word. It almost felt like the very fiber of existence had been tapped into and then modified, and the overall feeling of complete obedience to what had been agreed to was undeniable.

“Thank you.” Celestia said, with a broad smile.

“Corporal, remove the shackles, please.” Pokey ordered. “Pvt. Clover, remove the wing restraints.”

Both did as instructed, and Celesta took a moment to stand and stretch as she did so. Her wingtips brushed the ceiling above her, but then they settled in at her sides and she smiled warmly.

“Aren’t we forgetting the suppressor ring?” Hooves asked.

“Please leave it.” Celestia replied. “It will be much easier for me to remain true to my Oath with it on. My magic can be traced if I use it in any way.”


“Now, would you all do me the favor of telling me how you managed to pull off the greatest heist in the history of Equestria?” Celestia asked, with a bit of mischievousness. “I am dying to know how you got into my room.”

“How do you know about Solemn Oaths?” Celestia asked.

Pokey chuckled a bit. His subordinates had been dismissed for the evening, leaving him to ‘guard’ the princess. He was standing near the stairway and Celestia had remained near the middle of the room, which turned out to be a smaller place that what she initially thought. She had the impression she was in somepony’s basement instead of a warehouse or commercial space, but then she had put that aside and had a nice conversation with all four guards over the past hour.

“I’m a bit of an oddity, your Highness.” He replied. “I’ve always enjoyed studying ancient Equestrian history. I learned about Solemn Oaths while reading something about Windingos once, but I don’t remember the exact name of the text.”

“I see.” She replied. There was a hint that he was holding back, but Celestia decided not to press him about it. “Another question, if I may.”


“What are you true motivations in my foalnapping?”

“What do you mean?” he replied. “I am following orders, nothing more.”

“So you keep saying.” She replied. “Yet the point that I was not sufficiently guarded was made the moment you entered my quarters. It feels like by taking the extra step to actually foalnap me, you are trying to make some sort of point, especially given the obvious amount of planning you put in to the execution of this plan. It would have taken you months to figure out how to remove me.”

Pokey hesitated for a moment, his thoughts obviously being sorted out. There was a brief moment of confusion drawn in his features, as if he hadn’t expected her to realize all this; but then that changed over to a posture of slight defiance.

“Personal considerations should never be mixed with one’s orders.” He replied. “I may have my own opinions, but they are not important to the primary task I was assigned to.”

“You’re not going to give me a straight answer then, are you?”

“I’ve given as straight an answer as I can give.”

Celestia sighed. “Very well. I suppose I have some time to figure out what your true intents are, and why you did all this.”

“You’re welcome to guess all you want.” He replied. “However, I’m afraid I must beg my leave now, as I do have some reports to fill out before tomorrow.”

“One thing before you go: I would like to ask for an amendment to my Solemn Oath, if I may.”

“What sort of an amendment?”

“I wish to contact Luna. Mind you, this is only to reassure her that I am well and that she need not worry about me. She’s as old as me, but yet she still worries like a foal sometimes.” Celestia chuckled lightly. “She nearly tore down the North Wing of the palace the first time I overslept my alarm after she returned.”

“I remember the incident.” Pokey replied. “But how will you contact her without your magic?”

“There is one way.” Celestia frowned deeply. “It will involve moving through the Old Magics, but it will not reveal where I am by doing so.”

Pokey thought for a moment. “Do you speak of Somnum Exterreri?”

Celestia gave him a knowing look. “I do. How do you know of it?”

“Like I said, I enjoy studying history.”

“You enjoy very distant history.” She countered.

“All history has lessons to learn.” He shrugged.

“Somnum Exterreri solebat est aliquid in rerum studia fortuia.”

“Sed usque talis est fortuita lectio tantum influit.” He replied.

“That it will.” She replied. “Will you agree to my amendment?”

“Provided you do not violate any of your previous terms, I will permit you contact with your sister through the Sommnum Exterreri.”

“Thank you, Sergeant. I will not reveal anything about you or your squadron.”

Pokey nodded, and she watched him ascend the stairs then listened as he dropped some sort of trap door and secured it with an iron bar, more than likely.

“I have been abducted by a very strange pony.” She remarked to herself.

VI - Will You Dream for Me, Dear Sister?

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Luna inhaled deeply as she closed the ancient grimoire before her. She had not studied the Old Magics since her return, and she had rapidly remembered why. The spell that she had thought of that might help in finding her sister was complicated, involved, and borderline illegal now, depending on how she actually cast it. However, short of stumbling onto her sister in the dreamscape it was the best way she could think of to help.

“I never did like those complicated ones.” She muttered, as the book floated away to a nearby stand. Luna was a mare of action, always had been. Of course, sibling rivalry meant that she had learned every spell Celestia ever had, but Luna had always been more at home with the straightforward spells. It was rather hard to remember if the equuis came before or after en parium tarta when you were bashing in shields, so she had tended to let Celestia handle that part.

She was always better at long-term strategies anyway.

There were still other options to pursue, however, and she had felt bolstered by Shining Armor’s confidence. Despite having only one hour of sleep to run on that day – Captain Armor had insisted she get some rest while he worked out what had happened to Celestia when he was first summoned – the two of them had collaborated well and had several sound leads to follow on her sister’s whereabouts. Cadence had also risen to the challenge as well, and she was willing to take over most of Luna's duties - barring of course her dream walking and raising the moon - and the two of them were willing to give all their time and talents to discovering who had committed this most heinous crime.

Yet, as Luna thought of this and rose from her seat, she chuckled. Despite his bravado, Shining Armor held an undercurrent of annoyance and perhaps even embarrassment at having to even deal with this issue. She knew how he felt: he had thought his Guards to be a well-trained Corps, but now it appeared that they were closer to being Court Jesters. Doubtless he would have to do some damage control to keep his ponies from becoming a laughingstock, and she felt some sympathy for that. Before her Wrath had become the force they were, there had been many times she’d led inept and ill-prepared ponies into battle, only to have to limp back with her tail between her legs. It was always an embarrassment to have to report back to her sister about her troop’s latest failures back then, and she was pretty sure nothing had changed in that regard.

However, the lack of sleep was finally getting to her, so Luna crossed her room and moved into her bed. Banishing a few nightmares would help her feel better as well, and there was a remote chance whomever had abducted Celestia could be having a nightmare about doing so and thus lead her to them. It was a long shot, but it was a shot.

Once she was settled in and comfortable, Luna closed her eyes and immediately moved to the dream world. She glanced along the endless row of doors stretching before her, wondering if she should stay within Canterlot’s dreams that night or perhaps move further out.

Before she made any choice on that matter, however, she closed her eyes again and tapped into the Vein. She wanted to see if there were any truly nasty nightmares that needed immediate attention before defeating the lesser ones.

She felt along the Vein, reaching across the vast land of Equestria and feeling the emotions of the ponies now at rest. Happily, most were content and sound, sleeping with warmth and joy. A few were dreamless but still restful, and there were only one or two that were actual nightmares, but even they felt minor.

Luna’s dream knees suddenly buckled under her, and she gasped in pain as it hit her.

A Nightmare, one more powerful than she had ever felt before, slammed into her much the same way a train slams into any pony foolish enough to stand on the tracks. She had to close her eyes and focus on the mechanics of breathing for a moment before enough strength came back to her to permit standing.

This would not do.

Instantly she was off, her wings propelling her faster than what could be accomplished in reality towards this vile intruder. The poor pony who was suffering under such darkness could be traumatized for life if this went on for much longer. There would be swift banishment, then tender care and reassurance that Luna would personally help this victim recover. She would settle for no less.

In but a few dream moments, Luna came to a stop in front of the door that held the monstrous Nightmare. It was a plain white door with a simple brass doorknob, and Luna began to fret that the pony suffering under this terrible terror was a small filly. She ripped the door open quickly, but was blown back a few feet by a furious storm that was brewing right at the threshold. A few flashes of lightning hit, and a strong, driving rain began to pour out onto the dream clouds.

Luna narrowed her eyes in concentration, lowered her horn and then allowed her magic to flare and flash, puncturing a hole in the storm large enough for her to enter. Another flash of magic cloaked her presence, and into the raging mess she went.

Ten steps in, the storm thinned rapidly, and Luna soon found herself standing on a single cloud. The air was late spring warm, her stars bright and her moon full. Confusion began to build as Luna looked around; where was the Nightmare? This was all rather peaceful and serene.

There was a small city below her, one that looked familiar. Stately homes near the edge, larger apartment-type buildings towards the center. A dainty castle, even; one that was…was….

“No.” Luna whispered, her pupils shrinking. “This can’t be!”

But it was. It was her home from so many years ago: the Castle of the Two Sisters. Emotion threatened to overwhelm her as memories, some pleasant and some best left to be forgotten began to flow like water from a broken dam.

“Vile fiend!” she shouted, as she took off and hovered in the air. “Show thyself, and I shall give unto thee the battle that thou art wanting! Do not hide under the veil of memory and emotion; it will not give thee aid!”

“And where do you think you’re going?!” she heard herself shout back.

“No!” Luna’s voice failed her. “Not this, you wicked monster!”

Luna’s protests were ignored, however; and she quickly became a witness to the one thing she never wanted to see again:

Her battle with Celestia when she had turned to Nightmare Moon.

She slumped back to the cloud and began to hyperventilate as she watched Celestia soar into the sky, her evil past self in close pursuit. She watched with ever growing horror as her dear sister dodged and weaved the blasts of magic Nightmare Moon sent at her. How could any pony being dreaming of this?!

Celestia then shot skyward again, and Luna had a bit of lucidity return to her. Celestia had not pulled this maneuver back when they had fought a thousand years ago, so some pony was beginning to manipulate what was happening. Luna got back to her hooves as Celestia roared by her, but just as she did so she pulled into a hard roll and came back around to face her sister.



“Help me, sister!” Celestia called, as she collapsed her wings and dove to miss another magic blast. “I cannot defeat this Nightmare on my own!”

This filled Luna with the drive she needed, and she shot off a blast that hit Nightmare Moon square in the chest, thus ending the chase. Luna then swiftly flew down to her sister’s position as the Mare in the Moon recovered and snarled at them.

“What is the meaning of this, ‘Sister’?” Nightmare Moon asked. “This apparition next to you will not deceive me. Luna is gone, only Nightmare Moon remains!”

“No.” Luna replied. “I am no longer you. I will never again be you! You, who were born out of jealousy and spite, are the antithesis to everything I ever wanted and hoped for. You can never bring me the love I wanted; the only thing you can bring is destruction and misery!”

“Fool!” Nightmare Moon spat.

“No.” Luna shook her head, as both her and her sister’s magic powered up. “You are the fool. It took me a thousand years to realize it, and I will never forget it.”

The combined magic blast that came from the Two Sisters was more than enough to dispatch the Nightmare before them. It simply tore through the fake Nightmare Moon and then dissolved her into thin wisps of smoke that evaporated into nothingness. The two sisters then few up to Luna’s cloud, and Celestia’s legs gave out as soon as she touched the dreamy surface.

“Are you all right, Tia?” Luna asked anxiously.

“I am now.” She said, while catching her breath. “Thank you, Lulu.”

“Where are you? Who took you? Why did you let them? Why haven’t you escaped?”

Celestia smiled at the rapid flow of questions, but instead of answering she sat up and then looked skyward.

“You know, Lulu, I was always envious of what you could do with the stars and the night skies. The patterns, the contrast between the light and the dark.”

The non sequitur threw Luna for quite the loop, and she sat for a moment as she tried to process this. “Tia, what are you babbling on about? You’ve been abducted, and you want to talk about my night?”

“Oh, but the worst!” Celestia laughed. “The worst was when you’d use the Borealis. I couldn’t sleep when you’d paint with all those vivid colors. I was so in awe of what you could create with the greens, the reds, the yellows. I would stay awake, just watching you and those marvelous, broad strokes that you’d cascade over your stars. I couldn’t help but dream of them for months afterwards.”


“I tried, once, to recreate them after you’d been banished. They were horrible, and that’s being generous.” She chuckled. “They were so flat and dull and static, ponies asked for months later who had gotten ill and thrown up on the night sky. I never did try again. It was something only you could do.

“I never tried to move your stars after this night, either. The moon had to cycle, of course, but I knew I could never create a sky like you could. The astronomers grew bored after a time and asked me to maybe move a few here or there, but I always refused to. There wasn’t any point in trying.”

“Tia, I…”

“I don’t know how you did it, night after night. If only…” her voice caught with emotion, and there were tears in her eyes as she met Luna’s worried gaze. “If I had only realized how you felt, and why. I was so blind to you, so…”

“Tia, really. What has happened is in the past now, and we both will make sure it never happens again.”

“Of that I am sure.” Celestia replied, and then she sighed. “Lulu, I am sorry. I am sorry I wasn’t attentive enough, and that I brushed you aside. I’m sorry that my actions led to your banishment. I should have realized, and I should have taken your concerns seriously. I was blind. Blind to the truths you were telling me, and it took until this moment for me to realize what you were saying. If I had only taken….”

“Celestia.” Luna took her cheeks in her hooves. “Stop this. Bemoaning the past will not help the present.”

“True. We have things to discuss, don’t we?”

“Yes. Let’s start with where you are, shall we?”

“I wish I could tell you, but I’m afraid I can’t.”

Luna blinked. “What?”

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything about where I am or who took me. I’m only allowed to let you know that I’m not hurt and being taken care of.”

“I thought we agreed to no more secrets between us, sister.” Luna said, her tone threatening.

“Believe me, I would tell you if I could. My foalnappers are very through though, and I had to make a Solemn Oath to them to even be allowed this contact.”

“But you’ve contacted me. Since you’re using your magic to do so…”

“Lulu, wait…”

“…then I can simply trace it back to you!” Luna finished triumphantly.

“Lu, it’s not…”

It was too late. Luna’s horn flared, and she smiled smugly as her magic flowed off her horn and to Celestia’s. However, the magic didn’t connect, but instead pushed through her as if she was made of the same dream material as the cloud they sat upon.

“You’re not using magic?” Luna asked.

“Not my magic, no.” she replied, as Luna canceled her spell. “I’m working through the Old Magics to reach you.”

“Old Magics.” Luna repeated, thoughtfully. Her eyes then went a bit wider. “That means that…that this Nightmare…” she trailed off as she looked around. “It’s the only way you could have reached me. How did you make it?”

“I wish I had made it; I might be able to be rid of it then. Lulu, this is the only thing I’ve been able to dream since your banishment.”

Another pause. “What?”

Celestia nodded solemnly, and looked over the dream city. “Yes. Night after awful night, ever since the Elements struck, it’s been the same. Every word, every magic blast, every tear and every emotion I felt as I watched you get carried to the moon. I finally had to remove my ability to dream, I couldn't stand the tourture anymore. This the first time in nine hundred years that I have. I don’t know that I’ll ever be rid of it.”

“Tia, if I had known....” Luna trailed off, glanced over the city then met her sister’s gaze firmly. “Tia, we can beat this together. Once we get you back, I will spend as much time as needed to get you over this Nightmare. I will devote every night to it if I must.”

“Thank you, sister.” Celestia gave her a quick nuzzle. “I would appreciate that.”

“You could come back now you know. I am told the Guards will release you if your say the word."

"They would. But I'm going to stay captured for now. I think it would be good to see how long gone it takes to find me, just so we know what to fix in case this is ever real."

"I don't like that, but you are right I suppose." Luna sighed. "Can you not even give me a small hint?"

“I’m afraid not. But hopefully knowing that I am uninjured will give you some peace and motivation to find me.”

“That it will, sister. That it will.”

VII - The Corporal

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“All right, listen up!” Captain Armor’s voice boomed across the parade grounds. All conversations stopped as three hundred pairs of eyes focused on him. “I’m sure you all know what’s happened, but just so we’re clear, I’m going to spell out why you’re all here.”

Light Hooves silently gulped.

“Two nights ago, at approximately oh-five hundred hours, somepony here had the audacity to foalnap Princess Celestia. They made me look like a fool in front of Princess Luna AND the citizens of Equestria, and I’m not going to be a happy camper once I find the maggots responsible for doing this.”

So, so dead. Hooves moaned inwardly.

“However, those same maggots have some rather fortunate rules working for them. Since this was done during em-rads, it means I can’t just bust your rumps until someone confesses. I have to do this like it was a real kidnapping, so I have to follow ‘due course’ and ‘reasonable suspicion.’

The last two phrases were spat out like he’d eaten acid.

“So! We’re going to do this the ‘legally right’ way. Starting today, most of you have new assignments, and thanks to the miscreants who swiped away our beloved leader, you’re going to all be pulling overtime trying to find her. Lieutenants Daisy Chain and Stone Spring will meet with your Sicks individually and you will be given your new assignments from there. Prepare to be miserable, my little ponies, because you’re not going to have a moment’s rest until I see Celestia’s lovely magenta eyes again. Got that?!”

“Sir, yes sir!” the field barked back at him.

“Good. Now, your equally-beloved Princess Luna has a few words she’d like to share with you as well. Your highness?”

Shining stepped back by his lieutenants, and Princess Luna cleared her throat before giving all the assembled guards the evil eye.

“Fillies and Gentlecolts, I hope you appreciate the severity of this matter. Losing my sister is not only a personal blow, but it takes a broad swipe at Equestria itself. Without her, we are a nation at half-strength, and I will not tolerate any shirking of duty until we find and return her. I expect all of you to give your absolute best, and to treat this as if Celestia had been abducted in reality.

“Do not cover for your fellows, either; if you are doing so.” She continued. “The ponies responsible for this will be dealt with, and any collaborators will be harshly reprimanded as well. If you know something, I expect you to say something. Do not allow pride to blind you to your duty.”

Luna then stepped away and out of the grounds. Shining Armor stepped forward again, and smiled wickedly as she did so.

“Now then, my little ponies. Let’s get to work.”

“Good Evening, Princess!”

“Good Evening, Corporal!” Celestia replied, her cheerfulness matching Light Wing’s own. “How are you doing?”

“Not bad, just finished up at the palace. What do you have there?”

“Oh, I found a chess board while I was looking around earlier. I thought it might be a nice way to pass the time, and I enjoy playing against any pony – even if it is myself.”

“So, who’s winning?”

“I am, of course.”

They both laughed at this, and Wing placed a set of saddlebags on a nearby table. “I’m glad to hear that.”

“What do you have there?”

“Well, Sarge put me in charge of guarding you tonight, so I thought we might as well have some snacks while we pass the time.”

“I see!” Celestia giggled a bit. “What do you have?”

“Junk food, of course.” Wing beamed. “Hay chips, crackers, some of those cake roll things, some Moon Pies…”

“Oh, I love Moon Pies. Did you happen to bring anything to drink?”

“I did not.” She replied, as she began unloading the snacks from her bags.

“Not a problem, I have some leftover lemonade in the icebox. I’ll go grab it.”

“How are you getting along without your magic?” Wing asked as Celestia moved across the room.

“I manage.” Celestia giggled again. “I have nearly forgotten a few times that I’m not supposed to use my magic, but I’m in the groove of using my hooves again now.”

“Again? There was another time you couldn’t use your magic?”

“I lost a bet to Luna once. I had to go one whole week without using any magic.”

“Woah.” Wing replied, as she poured out the chips into a bowl. “How long ago was this?”

“It was…what? Twelve hundred years ago about.”

“How old are you?” Wing blurted in amazement, as Celestia sat again with the lemonade and two glasses.

“That’s a bit personal, don’t you think?”

“Oh, good grief, I’m such a busybody.” Wing smacked herself in the forehead. “Forget I asked. I just get carried away sometimes.”

“No harm done. If I do tell, will you keep it secret?”

Wing nodded vigorously. “You bet. I’ll even do that Solemn Oath thing. Not a peep, ever.”

“I am one thousand three hundred eighteen years old.”

“See, now, you tell me an impossibly high number and I fully expect you to, but then it doesn’t really register.” She replied, as the bowls of snacks were placed on a table in the middle of the room. “I can’t really process a thousand years. I really can only see you as maybe thirty to forty years old.”

“Luna constantly complains that I don’t look a day over thirty five.” Celestia laughed now. “I get her right back by saying she looks no older than twenty.”

“Exactly!” Wing pointed to her to add emphasis. “She doesn’t! I have to remind myself you and her are actually a lot older than I think you are.”

“Well, it’s not something we flaunt. In all honesty, I forget how old I am sometimes.”

“That’s not all bad.” Wing replied.

“Would you like to play a round with me?” Celestia motioned to the chess board.

“I think you’d kill me, but sure.”

“I’ll go easy on you, I promise.” Celestia chuckled.

The two snacked on some chips as the board was reset, and Celestia was kind enough to let Wing have white and thus the first move. After moving out a pawn, Wing smiled smugly.

“There. Beat that.”

“I will try to.” Celestia replied with a smirk. “How go the efforts to find me?”

“Oh, Captain Armor is one unhappy camper. He’s got everyone pulling extra hours, double duty in some cases. Most of it is searching the city for any clues for where you are, but there are some squads that are on ‘super-secret’ missions too.”

“What are you doing?”

“Perimeter patrols still, but now I’m flying over all of Canterlot instead of just by the palace. I’m supposed to be looking for any indication of where you are, or any signals you might be trying to send.”

“That’s it?”


“Has he accounted for the fact that you might be the Black Sheep?”

“Kinda, I guess? He’s got Private Clover flying with me, and one other Pegasi squad flying as well.”

“Only the two?” she asked in surprise.

“Yeah. Conserving resources, he says.”

“Perhaps, but I would envision at least five squads for a search party.” She replied. “Two seems hardly adequate.”

“Well, there you go.” Light Wing shrugged, and then moved a rook.

“Is this affecting you physically?”

“No, not at all. I love flying. This is almost a dream come true, really.”

“How so?”

“Knight takes pawn just like so!” Wing cackled, as she removed the piece. “Let me go back a bit to explain. Ever since I was teeny-tiny Wing, I wanted to join the Wonderbolts. I trained, I practiced, I worked my wings off year after year so I could fly with them. I knew it was my destiny, to be one of the greatest flyers of all time.”

“You remind me of somepony I know.”

“Rainbow Dash?” Wing laughed, as she moved another pawn. “Yeah. Nice mare, but I totally copied her life’s ambitions unintentionally. I didn’t even know she existed until Luna came back. Anyway, biggest difference between Dash and I is she actually has the talent to join the Bolts. I don’t.

“I remember it pretty well.” Wing paused for a drink. “Um, let’s see. About eighteen months ago, I guess it was. Camp opened up, and Commander Spitfire had four openings for trainees. Twenty ponies showed up that day to get on, myself included. We ran the obstacle courses, the endurance and fitness tests, all that. The last test was a pure speed run, and I flew my wings off. I was going so fast, I tell you, I nearly caused a sonic rainboom. I was impressed with myself, if I may say so, and I found out my total time was an all-time personal best that day.

“Problem was that I took fifth place overall.” Wing’s gaze went to the board, and she paused as the memories came floating back to her. “Now, fifth out of twenty ain’t bad, but it ain’t good enough either. I was devastated that day, and I was pretty inconsolable for a few weeks after that as well. I fell into a pretty deep funk that I never thought I’d get out of. If all that work only got me to fifth, then how could I possibly give any more to go higher? I knew I just didn’t have it in me. I had given my absolute best, but it wasn’t good enough.

“Finally, my Dad sits me down one day, and he says: ‘Light Wing, you have to stop moping around all day. So you failed. So what? Ponies fail all the time. For every one successful restaurant there are ten that folded up and went under. That doesn’t mean you give up. You just gotta adjust and find a different way to accomplish what you want.’

“’But Dad!’ I whined to him. Oh, and it was an epic, high-pitched ‘da-aaaa-aahhh-dd’ too.” They both laughed. “’I want to fly with the Wonderbolts! What else could match that?’

“’You ever think of joining the Guard?’ he tells me. ‘Plenty of fast flyers there, and they have to pull Celestia’s chariot around all day, too. It’s not your exact dream, but it’s close. The way I sees it, you can mope about what you don’t have, or you can have something close to it that might still make you happy. I know for sure you’ll never get anywhere with how you’re going about things now.’

“The pep talk didn’t help my mood much, but it did get me thinking. I could use the Turf to pay for the college education I suddenly needed, and…”

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but Turf?”

“Oh, right.” Wing laughed a bit. “Tuition Reimbursement Fund.”

“Ah. All right.” Celestia nodded in understanding. “I do try to stay on top of military slang, but they keep inventing new acronyms just as I figure out the old ones.”

“I can relate. I still hear things that just make me go ‘what?’” Wing chuckled again. “So, after a bit of contemplation, I decide to join, mostly for the Turf. Get an education in then get out. After my failure, I didn’t think I had any flying skill in me so I didn’t think the guard would have me on any flying missions, and I just resigned myself to having a mediocre job somewhere.

“Once I sign up, Lt. Daisy Chain puts me in flight training, and she quickly becomes impressed with my skills. I felt renewed by her praise, and I found a sense of purpose again. I’m one of the best flyers in the guard, and if there is an actually emergency I can do a whole lot more good as a Guard than I can as a Bolt. So all of this flying is good practice; good training. I’ll be all the better when it’s all over with.”

“Do you plan on staying in the Guard long?”

“For a while, I suppose. I was promoted to Corporal when I re-upped, and the Lieutenant put me on perimeter patrol then as well, which has been a blast. I’m still getting my education, though; and I’m trying to decide if I’ll stay in the Guard or if I’ll go private sector. I’m not too worried about it for now, though.”

“I’m pleased to hear you learned from your experiences.”

“Yeah, though I wish there was a better way to learn such things.”

“No truly important life lesson comes easily. That’s one reason why I had Twilight Sparkle write those friendship letters. It helped her to see them a bit more clearly when they came.”

“Does she still do that?”

“Not as much anymore.” Celestia smiled. “Which is fine. The lessons are now imprinting on her heart, and that’s where it really matters.”

“I guess that’s true. Check, by the way.”

“Already?” Celestia gasped theatrically. “Well, what should I do then?”

Wing watched in horror as Celestia moved a knight to take the offending princess, then whistled.

“How’d I miss that one?”

“You didn’t see my knight?”

“Somehow, no. I saw your other princess over there, and the queen, but not that.”

“So what will you do now?” Celestia asked smugly.

“I suppose I’ll do this.” She replied, as she moved her queen.

“Not bad, but you’ve left yourself open now. Checkmate.”

“What?” Wing looked the board over, then over again. She then pouted, folded her hooves together. “I want to play a different game now.”

VIII - The Calculating Sergeant

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“Hey Sarge.” Light Wing called, as Pokey entered the room and crossed over to them. “You any good at chess? The princess is wiping the floor with me here.”

“I know how to move the pieces, but that’s about it.” He replied, as he looked the board over. “Never really had friends who liked to play.”

“A shame. Chess is a noble game, you should play more often.” Celestia offered.

“I’ll see what I can do.” He replied. “Wing, your time’s up. I’ll take it from here if you want.”

“Not a moment too soon.” Wing replied, as she stood. “I concede this match, your Highness. I think withdrawing costs less points then losing, anyway.”

“Depends on the league.” Celestia chuckled. “But I expect a better effort next time!”

“Right.” Wing rolled her eyes, but smiled. “Maybe I’ll bring my own game. Later!”

The two wished Wing a good evening, and then Celestia sighed as she gave the Sergeant a wary look.

“What?” he asked, as he placed his saddlebag down on the floor.

“I figured it out.”

“Figured what out?”

“Why you foalnapped me.”

“Oh?” he replied, as he sat down in front of her. “Do tell.”

“You’re mad. It’s pretty obvious, once I thought about it.”


“Angry, upset, perturbed, irked, annoyed…”

“Thank you.” He cut her off. “Why am I mad at you?”

“You blame somepony for something, and you’re taking it out on me. The only variable I haven’t fully worked out yet is who.”

“Ah ha.” He said, as he idly looked over the chessboard. “Any suspicions on that? Theories? Hypotheses?”

“Thank you.” She cut him off now. “I’m thinking it has something to do with the Guard, something within it.”

“Like what?”

“Well, let’s see.” She moved a pawn out idly. “It must be a big axe you have to grind, that’s for sure.”

Pokey moved a pawn to match hers. “A very big axe indeed. What grudge could I harbor that would be that big?”

“I’m thinking it’s a disagreement with a superior officer.” She moved a knight now. “Thus it must be something with Lt. Daisy Chain or Shining Armor. They must have slighted you somehow.”

“Interesting.” He moved a princess out. “Keep going.”

“Perhaps you were passed over for a promotion. I’ve seen Sicks grow jealous before when others are picked before them. It’s a very high assignment, too.”

“I like the thought.” He replied. “That, however, is not it. Stone Spring has been a Lieutenant longer than I’ve been alive, I’m pretty sure, and Daisy Chain was promoted with Captain Armor while I was still a Corporal. I wasn’t even in the running.”

“I see.” She replied, as her rook took one of his pawns. “It could still be you feel that you are more qualified than them.”

“Why would I feel that way?”

“Happens all the time.” She shrugged. “I have seen plenty of cases where decisions made by the superiors are derided by the subordinates.”

“Mm.” he replied, as he idly moved a pawn. “What could they have done that would drive me to superiority?”

“Indeed.” She replied. “What could they have done? Perhaps a policy change?”

“It would have to be a pretty drastic policy.”

“That it would.” She took his pawn with a princess.

“And how would my actions bring about my advancement?”

“What do you mean?”

“How is what I am doing going to bring about my advancement? How does foalnapping Celestia get me to Lieutenant, or Captain? You will flat reject any such advancement if my motives are for personal reasons, no?”

“That is true.”

“So I have done all this for nothing, then.” He replied, as his Queen took a rook. “Months of planning, convincing a squad of ponies go along with my delusions of grandeur, all for naught?”

“Surely it isn’t all for nothing.” She replied, as a Princess took a pawn.

“What can I gain at this point?” he asked, as a pawn took her queen. “In the Formal Review, my personal agenda will be discovered, no matter how well I’ve hidden it. What can I gain when it is revealed all my actions were for personal, selfish reasons?”

“Perhaps it is not selfish, then.” she asked, as her Princess moved down the board. “But you still have something to gain in doing this.”


She slowly lifted her hoof off of her princess, but her gaze remained firmly and sternly on Pokey. “It would be wise, Sergeant, to evaluate your moves.”

“I already admitted to knowing only how to move the pieces, nothing more.”

“Exactly.” Her gaze became harder. “And that will bring about a great deal of anguish for you. Be careful of where you move, and why. Your movements can not be undone, and if done in error you will find everything you are working for to be destroyed in an instant.”

He then glanced down at the board, and found that a pawn had put him into checkmate.

“You…?” he asked.

“Be sure that you are making the right sacrifices.” She replied to him. “It would be a shame if you are unintentionally condemning yourself.”

IX - The Private

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“Sorry, sir.” The Corporal shook his head. “Nothing.”

There was an audible toink! noise that came from somewhere, and Shining’s right eye twitched.

“All right. You’re dismissed for now.”

Shining wrote on the parchment before him as the Corporal left, but then he sighed as he felt Cadence’s hoof rub his shoulder.

“You ok, honey?” she gently asked.

“I’m all right, I suppose.” He replied, as he let her gentle rubbing motion soothe him. “I just had a good feeling on that last one.”

“It’s all right. You still have some other leads to follow, right?”

“I’m running out of leads, that’s the problem.” He sighed deeper. “One month in, and I’m no closer than when I started. Guards on duty that night don’t remember a thing.” he tapped the parchment as he spoke, as if checking them off. “Pinkie Pie doesn’t know who made the accusation of a broken Pinkie Promise, only that it was a Pegasi. I’m still trying to figure out how she got here.

“No witnesses from the city. No fur samples, no evidence. Not even a hoof print! I’ve got next to nothing to work on.”

“I suppose this means you have some really good guards, at least.”

Shining swiveled around to look at his wife. “I guess, but this is still annoying. They didn’t need to be this good. I’m going to have a field day with whoever did this, I can tell you that.”

“Sir?” a voice piped up. Both turned to see Private Clover walking into the command center.

“Yes, Private?”

“I have the report from Sgt. Pokey.” She passed a paper to the Captain. “He wanted you to see it.”

“Thank you. Where are you posted to today, Private?”

“Street patrol with the Sarge, sir.”

“All right. Get back to it, and I’ll get in touch with your Sick later.”

“Yes sir.”

“He hardly even looked at it?”

“I think I caught him at a bad time.” She replied, but Pokey still shook his head.

“Typical. Well, I filed it like I was supposed to. His fault if he doesn’t read it.”

“I guess so, Sir.”

“You hungry? Let’s stop here.” Pokey pointed to a Neighponese Restaurant just across the street from them. “My treat. We’ve been searching pretty hard today.”

“I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll ever find the princess.”

Pokey shook his head. “It’s not looking too encouraging, is it? Best we can do is just keep looking.”

Clover and Pokey sat at one of the outdoor tables, and a waiter quickly appeared, took their order, and informed them the meal would be free since the Guards were on duty. After a bit of back-and-forth on why that wasn’t needed, the two guards relented and then dug into the wantons that had been left at the table.

“So, how is your boyfriend holding up?” Pokey asked.

“Boyfriend?” she repeated, her cheeks going red.

“Don’t play coy with me.” He teased. “I know you’ve got the hots for Light Hooves. C’mon. You can tell me. Is he still miserable up there on J-12?”

“As ever.” She sighed. “He had a little hope he’d escape when Cap’n told us about the new searches, but since he’s still there he feels like he’s being punished and/or is cursed.”

“Well, I am trying to get him off of that.”

“I’m sure you are, but I don’t think Captain Armor is really listening to anything that doesn’t involve where the Princess is.”

“That is a good part of it. Just reassure him when you see him for me, all right? Things will get better, eventually.”

“I will.”

“Hey Princess!”

“Good evening, Private! How are you?”

“Oh, I’m all right, I suppose. How are you holding up?”

“I’m just fine, thank you.” She replied.

“Good, good.” Clover smiled deeply. “It’s been a few weeks, so I was staring to worry you were going stir crazy or something.”

“Not yet.” Celestia chuckled. “How goes my rescue?”

“Not very well.” Clover replied, as she placed her saddlebags on the table. “I think Captain Armor is starting to get frustrated.”


“Yeah. He has us running more laps lately, and he seems to be a bit short on temper. Our search parties have doubled, too. Luna is doing a good job in your absence, though. I hear grumbling from some of the royals about her stoic, unreadable emotions, but she’s fair and balanced in her decisions.”

“Good. Luna is a kind-hearted pony beneath the stone exterior. She's also always up for a good joke, but be careful about pulling pranks on her.”

“Why? What happened?” Clover asked, as she sat in the chair by the chessboard.

“I put her hoof in warm water when she was sleeping once.” Celestia cringed at the memory. “Let’s just say I had to take several baths to get the smell out of my mane from her revenge.”

“I’ll leave her alone, then. Oh, you’re still playing by yourself?”

“Unless you’d like to play.”

“I guess I could. Wing told me you smoked her a while ago.”

“It was her own fault.”

“Probably. She said so when she told me the story.”

The board was already set, so Celestia merely turned it to give Clover the white. After a moment of contemplation, Clover moved a knight out to open.

“Not bad, not bad.” Celestia replied. “Would you like something to drink, Private? I just squeezed some lemonade this morning.”

“Sure, thank you.”

“Be just a moment.”

Celestia stood and crossed over to the icebox but became distracted by a letter on the floor. She picked it up, looked at the envelope, then held it up.

“Is this yours?”

“OhhorsefeathershowdidIlosethat!” Clover’s face went beet red. She was up and swiped it away from Celestia in half a second.

“What was that?” Celestia’s smirk turned mischievous. “Perhaps a love letter to a special somepony?”

“It’s…I mean, it’s not…well, it’s kind of…” Clover stammered, and the red spread to her whole head.

Celestia laughed at Clover’s embarrassment. “Forgive me, my little pony. It’s really not any of my business what it is.”

“It’s ok; but you’re right. It is a love letter.” Clover replied in deep embarrassment.

“May I ask who the lucky stallion is?”

“Light Hooves.” She replied, and then gave a silly giggle.

“I see.” Celestia gave a motherly smile. “Does he know of your affections? It’s your move too by the way.”

“Oh, right.” Clover looked down at the board. “Well, there’s times I think he knows, and then there’s times he seems oblivious to it. Like just tonight, while we were eating dinner. I asked him if he was free this weekend to do anything and he replied with that he didn’t have anything planned and then he shoved a sandwich in his gob.”

“Remember he is a stallion, dear.”

“I know, I know.” She laughed. “But he’s different than most of them are. He’s sweet, and thoughtful, and he worries. I don’t know why I find that endearing but I do. He’s always looking out for others, too. He’d be fantastic at street patrols if he ever got the chance.”

“How long have you known him?”

“Since we both entered basic together. He was in my class. I developed a crush on him there.”

“Do you think he’d be willing to enter into a relationship with you?”

“I think he would be, but there are a lot of things that scare him off.”

“Like what?”

“Well, my parents for one.” She replied, as she moved a rook. “I come from a long line of Guard ponies. You might remember my Father, Lieutenant Lucky Break?”

“Ah, yes!” Celestia brightened. “I remember the good Lieutenant very well. He retired to take care of his young daughter, so that must have been you then.”

“Guilty.” She replied.

“Remind me to ask you about him when you finish your present story.”
Celestia moved a rook herself.

“I will.” Clover smiled. “But so you know his personality, too. Very by the book.”

“That he was. I know I told him a few times he was going to give himself a hernia if he didn’t relax a little.”

“He never did. So when he met Hooves the first time, it was like he was a drill Sergeant again and Hooves was the hapless recruit. Mom tried to intervene, but the damage was already done.”

“That would be a bit intimidating.”

“And then Grandpa. He was a Sick way back when too; so he’s as bad as Dad sometimes. Then you throw in that we’ve been a military family for two hundred years, and then you see why it makes him a bit nervous."

“Is that the main thing that causes problems?”

“Mostly, yes. I mean, he’s a bit afraid of commitment too, but I think I could get him over that. He’s a bit unsure of himself, but once he gets away from that corridor he’d learn he can do more than he thinks.”


“Oh, he’s been assigned to corridor J-12 since basic. For the last six months, all he’s done is stand there and stare at a wall.”

“Why hasn’t he reported this to his superiors?”

“He says he has. Nothing has helped. That’s one reason why I agreed to foalnap you: I was trying to help him get to a worthy post.”

You have no idea how important his post is my little pony.

“I’m pretty sure he’ll have a different post after all this.”

“Yeah. Might be guarding the Everfree but it’ll be different.” She sighed.

“I’m not going to do that.” Celestia kindly replied.

“I know. But he’s convinced that’s what’s going to happen. It’s those kinds of things that drive me nuts about him. He really is a good pony, and he’d do fantastic if he was allowed to show it.”

“Well, when I see him I will reiterate he is not in any trouble for what has happened. I will also speak with Captain Armor about moving him to street patrol. Or maybe I should assign him to my personal guard detail? It’s clear I will be in need of a few new faces.”

“He’d probably pass out if you offered that to him.” She chuckled.


“What?” Clover glanced over the board. “Oh, shoot. Another round?”

“I’d like that.” Celestia smiled.

X - The One Who Needs A Little Help

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“Are you sure you’re all right, Private?”

“I am fine, thank you.”

Celestia gave him a dubious look, but Private Light Hooves wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“Really. I have plenty of snacks over here and cold drinks if you’d like.”

“No, thank you.”

“You do realize you’re not on duty, yes?” she asked. “Or do you not trust my snack selection abilities?”

He went pale again, and Celestia really wondered how a white-furred pony could do that. “No, not at all. I’m sure you’ve done just fine with that.”

“But still you won’t join me?”

“No, thank you.”

Celestia cut off a grumble of annoyance. She had been trying to talk to Private Hooves over the last month and a half, but it was like trying to talk to a rock. She then pondered her moves for a moment, stood, and crossed the room.

The poor Private looked like he might wet himself. Though he remained still, Celestia could see great beads of sweat form quickly on his forehead, and they began to drip down his face as she drew nearer.

Celestia said nothing, but she sat next to him and began staring at the wall with him. She could hear him shaking in his horseshoes, and he managed to go even paler than he had before, but he somehow stayed firm. His dedication to regulation was admirable, but he lacked flexibility. If he couldn’t adapt any better than this, he wouldn’t get very far in the Guard at all. She kept all this to herself, though; and instead kept staring at the wall with him.

“I give.” She announced after a few minutes.

“Give what?” he asked.

“I don’t see what’s so interesting about the wall.” She replied, as she leaned forward and peered closer. “It’s a very ordinary looking wall.”

“That it is.”

“Are you fond of staring at walls for hours on end, Private?”

“No ma’am.”

“So why do you do it here? You are free to move about. I have promised not to escape, and I have remained a prisoner here for over a month now. If I was going to go back on my Solemn Oath I would have by now.”

“That’s not why.”

“Then why?” she asked.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to say.”

Celestia let the grumble out this time. “All right, Private. You’ve forced my hoof. As your General, I hereby order you to come sit down.”

“You can’t do that!” he protested, as he turned to face her.

“Oh?” she mischievously replied. “And why not? I do believe I am the most senior officer in the Guard Corps, am I not?”

“Well, yes. But I’m supposed to be guarding you, and I can’t do that if you won’t let me.”

“What are you protecting me from?”

“I’m not!” he exclaimed, his frustration coming to a boil. “I’m protecting me!”

This made Celestia pause, and the poor Private looked like he was on the verge of tears.

“There.” He choked on his emotions. “There’s the true reason, alright? I’m afraid. I’m a coward. I’m in over my head here, and I’m terrified. I just want to get out of this mess I’ve somehow gotten myself into, and then to forget I ever had a hoof in any of this.”

“Why such fear, my little pony?”

“I know you’ve said I’m not in trouble for what’s happened.” He replied, as he sat heavily. “You’ve said that I was just following orders, but I know I’m trouble for all of this; there’s no way I couldn’t be. Foalnapping the Princess has got to get me banished to Everfree detail, if not outright booted from the Corps and thrown in the dungeons.”

“But I have told you that none of that can happen, on my own personal orders.”

“Yeah.” He scoffed, and then he wiped his nose with a hoof. “Tell that to Captain Armor. There’s no way he’s going to forget what I did. Once you return, you’ll get bogged down in catching up in your work, and then he’ll nail me to the wall and start hanging pictures off of my snout.”

Celestia wanted to reassure Hooves that such a thing would not happen, but she found she couldn’t say the words. He was right: given six months, or a year, her duties could slowly erode the memory of what had happened away, and she could possibly forget about him. He would then be at the mercy of Shining Armor and whatever justice he felt needed to be meted out, even though the good Captain wouldn’t do something like that.

“Come, sit down.” She motioned to the chairs again. “Let’s talk about this, shall we? I think we can work out something that prevents your ouster.”

They sat, and Celestia took a moment to pour out some water for the two of them. Once the Private had taken a long drink, she smiled warmly to try and ease his concerns.

“Now, tell me about your concerns, please?” she gently asked. “I promise you that we’ll work through this.”

He took another moment to compose himself before replying to her. “I really should have seen this coming. I talked to Clover about this in basic, about why I had joined the Guard. She told me I was infatuated with the romance of the Guard; all the brass and the pageantry and all that. I thought I would just walk around Canterlot, perhaps stop a petty theft every now and then. I didn’t ever think I’d have to do something like this. I can’t do it, Princess. I’m not cut out for it. If I have a panic attack over something serious like this, how am I supposed to actually protect Equestria, you, Luna, or anypony else for that matter?”

“Do you wish to resign?”

“I might, I don’t know.” He sighed. “It would be better than having Captain Armor glaring at me all the time.”

Celestia paused for a moment as she thought. “I don’t think you need to resign. In fact, I think you could be a great asset to the Guard Corps. You just need to know what you are.”

“I know what I am.” He grumped.

“No, I don’t think you do.” She replied. “Let’s try something, if you don't mind; something along the lines of a mental exercise. If you still feel the same after I’m done, then I’ll personally see to it that you’re placed somewhere where I can keep an eye on you. Deal?”

“All right. I guess I can’t lose much else.”

“All right. Now, first, close your eyes. It’ll help you to focus if you’re not staring Princess Celestia in the face.”

He obliged, and he dipped his head again as if in thought.

“All right. Now, I want you to focus your efforts on working from your heart, not from your head.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“The head is a very logical place but it can become fixated at times with what it believes is truth. The heart was given to us to balance the head, to help see that things inherently have emotion. If we deny the heart, then we deny the full breath of what we are.”

“Ok. So how do I work from the heart?”

“Just feel the answers.” She replied. “You’ll know the difference, trust me.”

“All right. I can try, I guess.”

“Now, to start, I want you to imagine what it is like to ride a cloud. Pegasi have tried to describe the sensation for ages, but I want you to see it from the earth pony perspective.”

“All right.”

“I want you to feel the cloud beneath you, supporting you. Imagine you feel the tickle of moisture on your legs, the soft breeze of the winds aloft blowing in your mane. How does it support your hooves; how does it flow as you push it through the sky?”

“Well, it…”

“Remember to feel it, don’t think it.” She offered, as the Private began to glow from within. Celestia smiled as wide as a Cheshire Cat as she saw the Private feel the answer to her question, and a small cloud no bigger than him formed under him.

“You have it?”


“Good. Now, instead of just one little cloud, imagine a gigantic stratocumulus cloud stretching out before you, something like if you were to visit Cloudsdale but without the city and multiplied as far as you could see. There’s a soft sunset off in the distance, just at the point when I slip the sun behind the horizon and Luna begins to peek the moon out. The clouds are bathed in brilliant reds, deep yellows, and a few soft pinks.”

The safe house faded from view as everything she described began to appear. Soon, a vast space that they inhabited was filled with the color saturated clouds, and she nodded in appreciation.

“You have it, yes?”

“I believe so.”

“Good. I’m glad you said believe and not think. Believe means you’re feeling. Now, for the sky. It’s showing some of Luna’s stars, but not all of them yet. It’s in that twilight transition between the navy blues of night and the soft yellow of day. A few twinkle here and there, as if winking to you.”

It only took a moment this time for the scenery to match the words.

“Oh, a fan of my sister’s work I see!” she chuckled.

“What?” he asked, as his eyes popped open. “Wha-? Where are we? Where did you take me?”

“I did nothing.” She replied, as he continued to look around. “This was all created by you.”

“I can’t create stuff like this. I’m just an earth pony.”

“Just an earth pony?” she repeated. “My young friend, that thinking is exactly why we are here. You have successfully created all of this through the Old Magics.”

“Old Magics?”

“Yes. Though I don’t really like the term.” She sniffed. “Really, they should be called the Deep Magics, but such things happen over time.”

“How in Equestria did I work any kind of magic?”

She gave him a warm, motherly smile. “That is a question I cannot answer right now; it would take too long. For now, let us focus on one very important thing – what you are.”

“Again with the what.” He grumbled. “What I am is an earth pony.”

She nodded. “Yes, but what else?”

“What else is there?”

“Precisely!” she cheered, as she wrapped one wing around his barrel. “The answer to that is just over here.”

Hooves followed her outstretched hoof, and he found a broad gate had appeared out of nowhere. It was a golden bar gate, with decorative fleur-de-lis at the tips and two silver cross bars supporting the individual bars.

“Did I die?” he asked.

“No, you did not.” She laughed. “But beyond that gate is the answer to the what. If you can trust me, I assure you that there is nothing but goodness and instruction on the other side of that gate. Once you have your answer, you will return to the safehouse, unharmed and just as you were, save for some wisdom that may help you.”

“Will you go with me?” he asked, as they both walked towards the fence. A split appeared as they did so, and a massive gate opened wide on two oversized hinges.

“I cannot. This journey must be taken alone, but I have travelled it before.”

“You have?”

“Yes. Will you step through?”

He looked between her and the sprawling opening before him, obviously torn over what he should do. He knew Celestia couldn’t make him choose, nor would she offer anything more than what she had. The choice had to be his, completely of his own volition. It only took a few moments of contemplation, though, until he nodded firmly and squared his shoulders.

“I’ll do it. If you say it’ll help me then I’ll trust you.”

“Then enter, my little pony.”

He did so, a resolute bounce in his step. She watched him as he passed through the gate, but then turned her gaze away to the scenery that was behind her for a few moments. The Private had a good imagination, she had to admit. Usually the Legionnaires came up with flat, monochrome clouds and simple wood-slat fences. With such an imagination, he could be a great strategist.

She then turned her gaze back and found the gate unsurprisingly empty. She smiled a bit to herself, and she hoped that the good Private would get the clarification he needed. Perhaps she would bring this back from the dustbin of history; it would be a good motivational tool and they would need a pick-me-up after losing their princess.

Celestia then blinked a few times. The gate still was there, unchanged. Usually by this point, she would be back in reality so this was unusual. She glanced around inside the gate but found no pony there, so why was she still here?

After a shrug of her shoulders she decided to move inside the gate. It couldn’t hurt to know what she was as well, even though she knew already. It was never bad to have a refresher course.

The heavy gate swung shut behind her, but Celestia was unperturbed. She simply kept walking forward, moving among the soft and colorful lumps of cloud and admiring the scenery. She had missed the true twilights that came with two sisters controlling the heavenly bodies, so with Luna’s return she had been soaking in the majesty that came with her moon-handling skills.

“Who are you?”

Celestia stopped walking. She hadn’t really heard the voice, even though she had. She smiled as she remembered how the magic here worked, and she held her head high.

“I am Celestia, Sovereign of the Sun, Princess of Equestria and Monarch of the Day. I rule the realm of the pony with my sister, Luna.”

“So you say.” The not-really-a-voice intoned. If it was a voice, it was a deep, solid voice; one that Celestia imagined the very Earth itself might have. “Do you rule softly or heavily, Princess?”

“I am as soft as I can be but heavy when I must be.” She replied, without missing a beat. “My kingdom is based upon the principles of Harmony: kindness, generosity, laughter, honesty, loyalty, and friendship. These combined are able to make peace and happiness prevalent.”

“You are sure of who you are.” A new not-voice spoke. Celestia loved this voice: silvery-soft, delicate, but yet with a taste of finality and absoluteness. “But do you know what you are?”

“What am I?” she repeated. Though she already knew, she took a moment to really contemplate the question. “What am I. I am a Princess, an Alicorn ruler of a Kingdom given to me by a confederacy of tribes with the task to bring love where there had been hate. I strive to bring light and kindness, prosperity and peace in answer to that charge.

“I am a teacher and a mentor.” She continued, deep in thought now. “I guide my little ponies on the paths they should take, offering council and guidance as needed but also allowing them to grow individually as well. I impart of my wisdom as liberally as I can, both in the realms of magic and academia. I help my ponies learn how to learn themselves and to be curious about the world around them.

“I am a sister. Though I have…” she found a tear impeding her thoughts, and she had to take a second to rein in the emotion behind the tear. “…failed, in a large part, as one. I love Luna more than I love life itself, and when I lost her to the Nightmare, a part of me died as well. Had she been destroyed instead of banished, I would have been destroyed as well. Her kindness has led me though difficulties I could never defeat on my own; her laugher brightened my soul when all other comfort has fled. I have spent many lifetimes making a world where my beloved sister would be able to show others the true greatness that she holds within her. Though it may take some time, I can see my ponies already beginning to love her as I do. I will remain faithful to her, follow her to the ends of Equestria and back again.

“But what I am, at the heart of it all, is a pony.” She said, the answer coming from deep within her very self. “I am an earth pony, tied to the land and a steward over it. Indeed, I even hear the earth, deep and strong, faithful and true to all who dwell upon it. From the earth I draw my own devotion and sustenance, and from the earth I speak with power and authority.

“I am a pegasi. I use the magic of the wind and clouds to soar though the heavens, bringing rain to the drought and light to the darkness. I use my wings to shelter and protect, to guide and to elevate. With them, I will reach out to any; from all of ponydom to a single faithful student.”

Celestia smiled broadly as she thought of her most faithful student, then continued. “I am a unicorn. Ever drawn to virtue and innocence, I use my magic to further the cause of Equestria. I defend her from enemies with my horn; I give warmth to her from within with my spells. My magic is devoted to service, and I will use every last ounce of strength I have to defend those whom I have stewardship over.

“In the three tribes, I am one. Given the attributes of all so that I may serve all, I remember always that I am one of them in the end. I am no greater than the farmer who brings the apples from the trees, or the pegasi who moves a single cloud, or a unicorn who cooks or builds. What I am is their servant, and their friend. In all things and in all ways, I strive to make their lives better. I may fail, I may falter. But I will try, with every bit of try I have.”

“Well spoken.” The soft not-voice replied.

The pseudo-reality then faded away quickly, but Celestia held her head high and smiled as reality returned.

Celestia smiled deeply as Private Light Hooves blinked several times. He then looked around the room, then towards the princess.

“Welcome back.” She replied. “I trust you received some answers?”

“I thought you said you wouldn’t come with me.”

“I said I could not go with you. The journey is an individual one.”

“Then why were you the one talking to me?”

“The voices you heard were not really voices.” She replied, as her voice adopted a wise sage tone. “Everything that you experienced came from within you.”

“Within me?” he interrupted, as he looked at his hooves.

“Yes. The journey you took was an introspective one and the voices you heard came from within you. They do, however, tend to not sound like your own internal voice, but rather voices you equate with authority; so thus my voice and Luna’s tend to feature heavily.”

“It was so strange, but yet…”

“Wait.” Celestia held up a hoof to cut him off. “Before you go much further, you need to know something very important.”


“What you heard, felt, and saw was meant for you alone and none other. You should not share what you experienced with others, but rather treat it as special and sacred even.”

He nodded slowly. “I guess that makes sense. So I guess you wouldn’t tell me what you went through either?”

She shook her head softly.

“Thought not. But I’m still not quite sure why I needed to know what I am. I’m glad I do know; don’t get me wrong. It’s been very eye-opening.”

“Most ponies can tell you who they are very easily, but that’s only part of the equation; it’s a bit like saying ‘plus three equals.’ In order to have a full understanding of who you are, you need to know what you are. With both parts, then you can come to the answer.”

“I am a Guard.” He said softly to the table.

“And a very good one, with some training.” She replied. “Don’t sell yourself short, Private. Stay humble, but also be confidant. I’ll speak to Captain Armor if I have to when return to get you off of corridor detail, but understand that even in that you are important and necessary.”

“I think I understand that better now.”

“Good.” She smiled deeply. “Now, would you like a drink? I have a fresh batch of limeade I’ve just made this morning.”

“I would like some, yes.” He smiled back.

XI - Boxes are our Friends

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“Well, what shall I do now?” Celestia asked herself. “I’ve tidied up the living room, the restroom is spotless, and the food has all been put away. I don’t suppose there’s much else for me to do.”

Celestia glanced around the room, but then her gaze settled on a bookcase that Sgt. Pokey had filled with some books from the Canterlot Public Library that she had requested.

“Ah!” she cheered. “I shall read Horses and Horseapples, I believe. I’ve been meaning to get to that one for the last two hundred years.”

Celestia moved to the bookcase, but then noticed three large boxes that were idly lollygagging in the nearby corner. They had been there the whole time she had been ‘captive’, tempting her to peek; but she had refrained from doing so until now. Curiosity got the better of her, and she moved over to take a quick look.

“What is in you, my little boxes?” she asked, as she pulled the first one down off the stack.

The first box held nothing but smaller boxes, folded flat and stacked tightly together. She frowned at this and then moved it aside.

“I hope you have something more interesting.” She told the second box.

She was not disappointed. The box held but one item: a plush toy version of herself.

“Or, at least you resemble me.” Celestia pulled the toy from the box. “You have my Cutie Mark, my regalia, and my mane, but you have a pink coat. Perhaps you’re a sunburned version of me?”

Celestia laughed a little at her own joke as she looked the stuffed toy over more closely. It was a soft toy, one any little filly would love to have. Indeed, this one did look like it had been loved, as some of the fur had been worn thin on one side, just before a wing, and the hairs of the mane looked like they had thinned a bit and were a bit tangled. Celestia nuzzled the toy; then placed it on her back.

“You shall stay with me, Little Celly, until I find out who you belong to.” She announced, as she grabbed the third box. “You should not be contained in a bo…oof!”

The third box was extremely heavy. Celestia huffed out a grunt of exertion as she pulled the box towards her.

“Goodness! What is in this? It feels like it is full of lead.”

She lifted the flaps of the box, but found no lead. Instead, she found…

“Papers and books?” she asked, as she pulled out the items and began laying them around her. Thick tomes regarding ancient mythology sat amongst what looked like research and exam papers, with several bundled together as if they had been submitted for peer reviews. She grabbed one bundle of papers that was tied together simply along the side.

“What is all this, Little Celly? They almost look like research papers. Was one of my captors a college student at one point? I would bet these are Sgt. Pokey’s. What do you think?”

Little Celly wasn’t sure either.

“Well, let’s see. This one is entitled Nightmare Moon. What do you think he wrote about my sister, hmm?”

Little Celly wasn’t sure, in all honesty. Since they were not in her box, she hadn’t had a chance to look them over.

“Well, we shall now. Let’s see.” Celestia flipped to a random page and began reading.

…when the truth shows that this is a merger and slight corruption of the Sombra Legend. Having been defeated over a hundred years ago, the memory of Sombra’s cruelty was still somewhat known to the elder population, but not to the younger. As oft happens in the retelling of a tale, the substitution of Sombra for Nightmare Moon was a natural change, especially given that Luna’s corruption had occurred so recently, and with the memory of the fight fresh in the collective consciousness, Nightmare Moon took over where Sombra had been forgotten.

Celestia flipped again, interested in what she’d read so far.

But out of respect and love, Nightmare Moon was emphasized while Luna was downplayed.

“What?” Celestia blinked, confused.

The Royal Archives do mention Luna’s fall to Nightmare Moon, but there is a clear and distinct break in the narrative. All sources emphasize that Nightmare Moon was responsible for the Lunar Eclipse, and the destruction of the Castle of the Two Sisters, but in reading the history one would come to the belief that Princess Luna had been destroyed by Nightmare Moon prior to her fall.

“She was.” Celestia replied to the notes. “The Nightmare had taken over her heart before it took her body.”

Thus, Princess Luna has all but been forgotten. In the public consciousness, Princess Celestia still reigns supreme, and none seem to remember that she has a Sister who will return on the longest night of the thousandth year. If any pony does remember Luna, it will be because of her ties to the Nightmare, and not because of her deeds before then.

Celestia flipped to the back of the papers. She didn’t want to read about her sister being forgotten. A small letter fluttered out as she opened the last page, and she picked it up in interest.

“’Final Grade: Fail.’ Fail?” Celestia questioned. “Why did he fail? Let’s see. ‘Stop wasting time in fairy tales and nonsense?’ What? ‘No pony is interested in little foal tales?’ My sister was never a mere foal tale!”

Little Celly bounded off of Celestia and into the box.

“You’re right, Little Celly. Perhaps one of these other papers was reviewed more favorably.”

The sudden thud of an iron bolt being slid out of the way interrupted her thoughts and sent her into a slight panic. Celestia hastily gathered up the books and notes, rammed them back into the box, and pushed it back into the corner as the door creaked open. The other two boxes were hastily thrown on top, but Little Celly was hidden by the Bookcase as Light Wing came down the stairs.

“Hello, Princess.” She cheerfully greeted. “Not trying to escape, right?”

“Oh, no!” Celestia tittered. “I was actually just reading a little bit.”

XII - Do You Doubt The Power of The Moon?

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Two whole months.

Two months of no Celestia.

Captain Shining Armor was just about at his wit’s end. All of his leads had fizzled out, his extra patrols around Canterlot and out into the surrounding area had come up with zilch, and his ‘interrogations’ had come up empty as well.

There was only two other options his harried brain could come up with: put each of his Guards on the racks until they confessed, or to go knock down the front door of all their houses.

Both were very much illegal.

He dug his hooves into his forehead and rubbed. Perhaps Luna would give him some good news tonight. She had said she was close to perfecting the searching spell; it was the only thing that had kept him sane. As soon as her spell hit on Celestia’s location, every pony in his Corps was going to march to the rescue, and then the four miserable miscreants who had put him through this were going to pay.

“Captain Armor?”

“Princess!” Shining smiled deeply, and bowed to her as she entered. “I hope you have good news for me?”

“I believe I do. I have been practicing all day today, and I believe I am ready to cast the Searching Spell.”

“Excellent!” he clapped his hooves together. “What do you need from me?”

“I will need four of your pegasi guards.” She replied. “To have the maximum reach, I need to be high above Canterlot. The spell will then search downward until it finds my sister.”

“Wing! Clover!”

The two pegasi appeared in an instant and saluted. “Sir?”

“Go get two pegasi from 22nd Squad, and then fall in with Princess Luna. She needs your assistance tonight.”

“Sir!” they shot off into the palace.

“Have them meet me outside. I shall form a cloud large enough for the five of us to stand on, and they will ensure I am not interrupted as I cast my spell.”

“Of course.”

“D’ya think this’ll work?” Clover asked, as they both cantered down the hallway.

“I have no idea.” Wing replied. “I suppose it will, I guess.”

“It was a good run though, wasn’t it?”

Wing smiled deeply. “It was an amazing run. We’re going to go down in the history books.”

“And then get sent to the moon.”


Yes, it was a good night for a spell.

Luna rolled her shoulders, eliciting a few cracks and pops. Corporal Light Wing, Private Clover Leaf, Private Barn Stormer and Private Moon Dream were going to be witnesses to the first casting of the Soror Inventum Spell in over a thousand years.

Truth be told, Luna felt a bit giddy. This was her first attempt at using some really heavy-duty magic since she’d returned from exile – her dreamwalking excluded – and she wanted to see how much of her former power had returned. Though she had assumed she was back to full magical strength when her mane had gone ethereal again, she wasn’t totally sure if she really was.

Now she would know for sure, and she would save her sister in the process. That alone was enough to make her smile madly and giggle a bit in joy.

“All right.” She announced, as she looked over the square cloud she had made. “Each of you take a corner, and make sure I am not disturbed while I cast this spell. It will go very badly very quickly if I cannot maintain my focus throughout the entirety of it. I give you authorization to use every means available to you – short of lethal means – to carry this order out. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Princess.” The four replied, though the two ponies from the 22nd squadron seemed nervous.

“Take your positions.”

The four Guards did so and Luna waited for them to establish a visual contact with everything around them. Once they had established their perimeter, Luna smiled.

Time for the magic.

She began to work the spell, carefully crafting the individual components in the air before her. It was a deliciously intricate spell, one with weaving components and synchronizing levels of patterns and little sparkles even.

Much as she might hate the complex spells, they were an absolute delight when they were done right, she had to admit.

“Mmm.” Celestia groaned a bit. “Been a while since I’ve had a headache.”

She gently lifted Little Celly off of her back, placed her on the table, and moved to put away the research paper entitled Moonshine’s Distillery Techniques – A Critical Study that she had been reading.

“What?” she asked, as she put the paper away in the box. “Oh, don’t worry about me. I’ve probably been reading too long. I just need a drink of water, and a little break.”

Celestia moved over towards the sink, but then suddenly felt a wave of pain unlike anything else she’d felt in a long time pushed into her skull. The pain was enough to make her loose her footing, and she fell hard on her left side.

“Ow!” she screamed. “What is this? I’m not using my magic, so where is this…?”

Her eyes widened in horror.

“Oh no! Luna! She’s using the…GGAAAHHH!”

The pain tripled in intensity, and Celestia grabbed her head.

“LUNA!” she shouted. “You’re doing it wrong! You need to…YYEEEAAAHHH!”

Anything she might have said was completely lost in the waves of pain that were radiating through her body, from the base of her horn back and from her pelt inward.

“LUNA!” she shouted in the Royal Canterlot Voice. Her Solemn Oath was completely forgotten as the pain threatened to rip her apart. “Please, Luna! Stop!”

Luna paused.

Was that Celestia? She had heard something. The Guards hadn’t moved, so it wasn’t anything nearby. Celestia must have been calling out to her.

“Well, more power is needed then!” she cheerfully announced. Her eyes glowed pure white as she poured every last bit of magic she had into the spell.


Celestia couldn’t remember when she had felt this much pain.

She really couldn’t remember her name at the moment, to be honest.

Her legs were thrashing in every direction possible, her wings were flailing in wide circles, foam was coming from her mouth, the spasms were coming in fast and furious, and her eyes were clamped shut in pain. The game table had been caught in the agony and it was quickly beginning to resemble shredded cheese.

All she wanted was for it to all stop.

Had she been in a proper frame of mind, she might have noticed the iron bolt being slammed out of the way, or the trap door being nearly ripped out of the floor. She might have watched Sgt. Pokey try to take the stairs four at a time, miss the second group, bounce off the stairs, and then hit the basement floor with a sharp thud. Sadly, the torture she was enduring prevented all that.

“Crabapples and Horsefeathers!” he hissed through gritted teeth. With one hoof wrapped around his ribs, he moved as quickly as he could to where she was writhing. With a quick move around her wings and over her hooves, he reached over and ripped off the suppressor ring.

Luna sighed, blinked, and her eyes returned to normal.

No luck.

The spell should have worked in five minutes or less. She had let it go for a full fifteen. At this point, she risked injuring those beneath her who were sensitive to strong magic surges.

“All right, that is all.” Luna announced sadly. “It did not work. Let us report back to Captain Armor.”

“Horseapples and Crabfeathers.”

“I think you’ve got that backwards.” Celestia joked weakly. Her eyes were open but unable to focus in on anything, but she felt the Sergeant softly lift her head up and tilt her mouth slightly upwards. Two gentle strokes from some sweet smelling cloth cleaned the foam from her mouth, and then she felt the cool edge of a cup touch her lips.

“Drink this, but slowly.” He instructed. “It will take away the pain and help you recover.”

Celestia tried to, but her mouth felt swollen and raw. Only a few blissful drops made it across her tongue and down her throat, the rest dribbled out onto the floor.

“Here, try again.”

This attempt was better, and she sipped gently. The gnashing thunder that was ripping her insides began to calm, and she smacked her lips as she felt the relief trickle farther and farther.

“Interesting concoction. What’s in it?” she asked.

“Wormroot, Grildshum, Toffida, Echanucia, and a few drops of honey for flavor.”

“A rather interesting drink.” She remarked, as her eyes started to focus in again. “Usually it’s counterindicated to use Toffida and Wormroot together.”

Pokey helped her to sit upright and made sure she was stable before handing her the cup. Once in hoof, he replied to her but moved towards the table in the room.

“Normally you’re right, however; the Grilshum acts as a neutralizing agent both for that and the pain.”

“What are you making now?”

“A salve for your horn.” He replied, as he emptied the contents of a previously unnoticed saddlebag onto the table. “You’ve got some nasty magic burns running up the length of it. Best to get it treated quickly.”

“I’m not surprised.” Celestia replied, as she reached up and gingerly touched the appendage with one hoof. “Luna put a lot of power into that spell.”

“If I had only known.” He replied, as he placed some herbs into a pestle. “I had no idea she was going to try to do that tonight. If I had, I would have removed that suppressor ring earlier.”

“How did you find out?” she asked, as she sipped her drink.

“Once Luna summoned the 22nd squad and mine to guard her during her spell the other guards started talking. I heard it from the 12th Squad as I was getting ready to leave for the evening. I bolted straight here when I found out.”

“I’m glad you did. What are you mixing up now?”

“Grilshum,” he said. As he continued, he held up each ingredient momentarily before placing it in the pestle. “Dragon’s Breath, Aloe, Silvates of Calcium, Moonmilk, and Dandelion.”

“That’s one of Starswirl’s.” she remarked, as he turned around to the table and grabbed the mortar. “You seem to be missing one ingredient, however.”

“Which one?” he asked over his shoulder. Celestia heard the mortar start to grind against the sides of the pestle.

“The Sorrowful Tear of an Anguished and Repentant Soul.”

Pokey then turned back around. Celestia then noticed that large tears had built in the corners of his eyes and were now beginning to flow down his cheeks. He moved the pestle to catch one of these tears, and then resumed his grinding.

“I think I have that covered.”

“Sergeant, you didn’t…”

“No, this is my fault.” He cut her off. “You’re going to say it’s not my fault, but it is. I knew Luna was close to perfecting the Inventum spell, and she and the Captain are getting desperate to have you back. I should have had that suppressor ring removed yesterday, if not this morning. You’ve been foalnapped long enough.”

“I have?”

“Yes.” He replied, as he poured out the pestle into a larger bowl. Fresh water was added and mixed as he continued. “I was actually going to speak to you tonight about the terms of your release, and the timing.”

“What were you thinking?” she sipped her drink again.

“Tomorrow, before dawn. I thought it would be inspiring to have you appear on your balcony in a blaze of glory and triumphantly raise the sun once again. After that I and my squad would be at your mercy.”

“Very dramatic.” She replied with a slight chuckle. “But do you think you need to hold me longer now?”

“No. You are free to leave whenever you’d like. My orders were for you to remain uninjured while captive, so I have failed and my orders are now revoked. If you wish to stay it will be as my guest, not as my prisoner.”

“I think I will wait until tomorrow, at least.” She replied. “Your drink is doing wonders, but I still don’t feel up to moving too much right at the moment.”

“Very well.” He replied, as he now dipped a long strip of cloth into the bowl. “This will just be a minute more, and then you can place this on your horn.”

“It would work better if you did it. You would be able to wrap it tighter.”

“If you wish me to, then I will.”

Celestia nodded.

“So, I have been thinking about our conversations.”

“Oh?” she asked.

“Yes. You’re still not any closer to my motives, you know.”

“Well, I suppose I’ll just have to accept defeat and wait for the Formal Review.”

“But I have thought about what you said that first night, about evaluating my moves.”

“Good.” She replied. “And what are your conclusions?”

“I believe that the sacrifices I am making are worth the end result.” He replied. “And that you will see that as well.”

“I believe I will.”

“You know, I really didn’t expect you to even care.” He replied. “I thought you’d just happily sit back and wait to be rescued. I didn’t think you would start psychoanalyzing me.”

“You do realize that I’ve never been that type of pony?”

“I do now.” He replied. “I guess I made some sacrifices that were unnecessary. This is ready.”

Celestia laid down on her stomach and angled her horn towards him. His touch was soft but yet firm, and he had the wrap tight without it being uncomfortable. He was swift in his movements as well, and it only took him a minute at best to have the whole length of it wrapped.

“Thank you. I believe that shall heal nicely now.”

Pokey nodded solemnly. “You’re welcome.”

“How did you know of Starswirl’s Salve?”

“I entertained the notion of being a Doctor when I was younger, but I didn’t do very well in biology, anatomy, or terminology.” He laughed softly. “The only field I was any good in was the Apothecary. It just so happened to dovetail into my college studies when I reached that point in life.”

“How so?” she asked through a deep yawn.

“I’m sure you’ve found my old notes by now. I was studying to be a history professor, but I quickly became engrossed in the field of mythology. As I studied the established and natural histories, I was amazed to find how many times the mythology was involved. Nightmare Moon, for example, influenced the entire Age of Diplomacy, but yet she had become this scary monster that would come gobble you up if you didn’t eat your vegetables by our modern times, if anyone even remembered her at all. As I recall, even your prized student Twilight Sparkle didn’t really know about her until two or three days before her return.

“So, I turned my studies to that. However, I was a poor student, and eventually I flunked out. It was then I made the decision to join the Guards, until I could save up enough to open my own pharmacy. Life…”

His eyes went distant and hollow as he paused.

“Life had different plans for me, however, and here I remain.”

He heard soft snoring, and he smiled. What he hadn’t told Celestia was that he’d also added Moon’s Breath to the concoction, and that the mild sleeping aid would probably not need long to send her pain soaked body into slumber. She’d clocked out on him just as soon as she'd asked her last question.

“Until tomorrow, then.” He spoke softly to her sleeping form. He slowly limped his way upstairs, paused to look back at her for a moment at the top and then left with the door wide open.


“Shining, sweetie? Are you all right?”

“The spell failed?” he repeated, his left eye twitching.

“I’m afraid so. The only other possibility is that Celestia was not in range of my spell, but I placed enough power within it to reach clear to Ponyville. From what you’ve told me, it is unlikely the Guards took her farther than that.”

“Yes. Yes, that is quite unlikely.”

“Sweetie?” Cadence placed a hoof on her husband’s shoulder. If she didn’t know any better, it sounded like several things had snapped inside of him already.

“I’m fine, Cadence, just fine.” He told her, without looking at her or anything in particular. “I think I just need to go to bed now. I’ll formulate the next step to take tomorrow.”

His left eye twitched dangerously.

“I’ll come with you.” Cadence replied. She didn’t want him to be alone right now; she was afraid of what he might do in desperation. This, however, brought his focus to her and the soft smile he now sported took away some of her concerns.

“I’d like that, thank you. Let’s go.”

XIII - The Return

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“All right, you maggots! Line up!”

Wings flapped, hooves shuffled, and after a minute the Guard got themselves into Form. Shining took a moment to look over his assembled troops, his left eye still twitching as the Luna-raised sun glinted off of their golden armor.

“Today, my little ponies, is a most auspicious day.” He belted out. “As you may or may not be aware, today marks sixty-three days since Celestia disappeared. That’s sixty-three days Luna has had to raise the sun, sixty-three days that diplomatic meetings have had to be cancelled, sixty-three days that my wife has had charge over the courts of Equestria. Sixty three days, my little ponies, is enough. This annoying little ‘game’ that you’ve been playing with me is now at an end, and we are going to have Celestia back within the hour.”

“How, sir?” a voice came from somewhere in the back. “No pony knows where she is.”

“Ah!” he replied, with a maniacal chuckle. “I’m so glad you asked, Private! Come on up here and I’ll show you!”

The offending Private didn’t really have a chance to say otherwise, as Shining’s magic instantly seized him and pulled him up to the stage rather roughly. After being dropped at Shining Armor’s feet, a dangerously demented leer appeared in the good Captain’s eyes.

“Now, then. There are at least four ponies here who do know where she is, aren’t there?”

The Private scooted back on his rump to try and escape the melting gaze. “I suppose so?”

“Well, all we have to do is find them and have them tell us where she is. It’s really as easy as that.”

That left eye was beginning to creep ponies out.

“Now, Private. Do you know where she is?”

“No, sir. I don’t.”

“LIAR!” he bellowed. His magic flared again, and the poor Private now found himself suspended in the air just in front of Shining. “YOU DO KNOW, AND NOW YOU’RE GOING TO TELL ME!”

Another band of magic jumped from Shining’s horn, and it struck the Private square in the chest. He grunted for a moment, as if in pain, but then went straight as a board. His eyes focused on two different points before him, and a few Guards in the front row took a step back in fear.

“I do not know where the Princess is.” He replied, his voice cold and emotionless. “I do not know who took her.”

“Good.” Shining Armor dumped him on the ground again, then offered a short maniacal laugh as he turned to face his Guards. “Now, we’re going to do that to everypony here until I get an answer! Let’s begin, shall we?”

“Lousy punks.” Hooves grumbled. He spat on his helmet and began rubbing. “Make me late with their stupid stunts. At least it was just a…a…”

He froze as he reached the threshold to the parade grounds. Shining Armor had just jumped from the podium, with a wild laugh and a creepy, almost-evil looking twitch in his eye, and had seized a poor unicorn guard in his magic. Hooves then backpedaled a bit as he watched his Captain use his magic to rip the confession from his comrade.

“I do not know where Celestia is.” The poor unicorn droned. “I do not know who took her.”

“NEXT!” Shining bellowed, as he dumped the guard. The magic then sized the next pony in line.

Just then, Hooves noticed Sgt. Pokey. He was mouthing something to him desperately, and it only took a moment for him to make it out:

Get Celestia.

Hooves slammed his helmet on and took off into the city.

“That does feel much better, I must admit.” Celestia remarked, as she removed the bandage from her horn. She then looked at herself in the small mirror on the wall. “Not bad at all. I might need to take it easy on my magic usage for another day or two, but the burn does appear to be gone.”

Little Celly seemed to cheer in joy.

“Now, then. How should I return, hmm? Should I just walk up to the gates, or should I have the 40th squad escort me back? Perhaps I should teleport back?”


“Light Hooves?” she asked, as said pony came crashing down the stairway. “What’s wrong?”

“Captain Armor!” he panted. “He’s…he’s lost it! He’s ripping confessions out of the Guards, trying find out who took you!”

It took Celestia a moment to process this, mostly because it sounded like something Sombra would do, not Shining Armor. Once that moment of shock passed, however, Celestia’s horn flared with magic.

“Veritas et mendacium.” She muttered. “Hooves, hold on!”

Panic had now descended on the parade grounds.

During Light Hooves’ run to the safehouse, one unicorn had blocked Shining Armor’s attempt at using the Truth Magic on him. This somehow made him instantly guilty of the crime, and two of his fellows had then tackled him to force him into a confession.

This led to four others - who agreed that this was going too far - trying to pull the two off. It didn't take long to get the rest of the Guards into the fray, and now there were several groups fighting amongst themselves and with whatever warring group brought their own fight too close.

Shining, for his part, simply continued to laugh manically as he would seize ponies at random and force out their confession. He may have caught a few ponies more than once, but in his agitated and unthinking state he was sure he’d get to the culprit eventually.


Oh, horseapples.

It was later said that the entrance Celestia made that morning was one of the most glorious ones anypony had ever seen. There was a blindingly bright flash of light that pulsed just before she emerged from within it, her wings unfurled to their full reach and her horn held nobly high. She descended gracefully, her snow-white fur as pure as it had ever been, and her Magenta eyes quickly reminded any who saw them just who was in charge, and who had been for the last thousand plus years.

However, hardly anypony noticed. Most of the guards were still fighting with each other, and the cacophony had not been interrupted by her Royal announcement of arrival. With a frown, Celestia’s horn flashed again, and every Guard suddenly found themselves frozen within her magic.

“Would somepony care to explain to me what is going on here, exactly?” she asked sternly.

No one was really willing to come forward, it appeared. Celestia turned her fierce gaze on Shining Armor, and she could almost hear him wilt.

“Meet me in the throne room.”

There was no further discussion, and Celestia disappeared in a flash. The magic grip released, leaving many bruised and battered Guards lying around the grounds, but all were staring at Captain Armor.

“Lt. Stone Spring?” Shining softly said after a moment, the fear audible in his words. “I’m leaving you in command for a few moments. I’ve been summoned to a conference with the Princess.”

Silence reined as Captain Shining Armor left the grounds. Nopony really could even process what was going on, or what had happened. Or, at least, no pony could until they heard somepony retching.

All eyes turned towards the side of the grounds, and everypony was treated to the singular sight of Private Light Hooves introducing his breakfast to a waste receptacle. His normally white fur was now a lovely shade of puke green, and he reared back for air before continuing his stomach-emptying repartee.

“Move! Move!” Sgt. Pokey shoved other guards out of his way. He reached the Private just a moment after the other two in his squadron, and Clover quickly began rubbing his back.

“That was the most miserable ride I have ever taken.” Hooves groaned into the can.

“Your first teleport always is.” Clover replied. “It’s worse since it was Celestia. The sickness is more pronounced if the teleporter has high magic.”

“Wait. You four were the Black Sheep?” a pony managed to vocalize the thoughts of all.

“Astute observation, Half Baked.” Wing dryly replied.

“All right, back up.” Pokey ordered. “Give him some air.”

“But, how did you…?” a slate-grey pony with a grey-white mane and tail asked, as he approached them.

“Lieutenant, with all due respect, now is not the time to be going over our methodology.” Pokey snapped at Stone Spring. “We’ve got a whole mess of ponies that are in need of medical attention right now.”

“Right!” Stone Spring replied, as if coming to his senses. “Get the medics out here, stat!”

“Sergeant Pokey!”

“Your Highness.” Pokey bowed.

“You and your squadron are to follow me, immediately.” Luna barked. “The rest of you are to carry on with your previously assigned duties.”

“Ma’am!” came the reply back from the crowd.

“Lieutenant, are…” her sentence stalled as her eyes settled on Stone Spring. “Ah. Lieutenant, do you make a habit of not being in uniform?”

“I, well…” he stammered, as he suddenly realized he was not. “I was called here in an emergency, you know, and…”

The excuse fell flat on its face in front of Luna’s hard gaze. “I do believe that is why you wear the Look-Alike ring at all times, is it not?”

“It is.” He muttered to the dirt.

“We will discuss this later.” She replied. “Do you need more medical assistance for your troops?”

“No, we’re good here.” Stone Spring replied. “If that changes, I’ll inform you.”

“Good. You four, this way.”

The 40th squad fell in behind the Princess, and followed her silently as she began to lead them through the palace. The only sounds in the empty hallways was the clopping of their own hooves, and the air of foreboding doom seemed to be growing as they trotted further in.

However, the squad was in for a pleasant surprise. Luna led them up and in to a large diplomatic suite, one usually reserved for visiting dignitaries and Very Important Ponies. Though she tried to be serious, there was a smirk on her face as Luna pushed open the door and motioned for the four to enter.

Inside, they found a rather remarkable and wonderful sight. The suite consisted of one large circular room, with soft couches and chairs scattered among end tables and marble pillars. A large main table was in the middle of the room, and this was filled with a tantalizing assortment of foods and drinks, most of which set mouths to watering. A balcony wrapped around half of the perimeter of the room, and large bay windows offered both access to the outside and an unparalleled view of the Equestrian countryside.

“By order of my sister, Princess Celestia, you are to remain in this room during the Inquisition.” Luna remarked. “You may leave only if called for. You are also hereby placed on inactive duty until further notice.”

“Not a bad punishment.” Wing remarked, as all four looked around the room.

“Celestia has always been lenient in her punishments.” Luna remarked. “The dungeons were proposed, but that idea was nixed rather quickly. You also will be expected to join my sister and myself for dinner this evening. Until then, the time is yours. If you need anything, ring the bell by the door and the servants will bring whatever you request, within reason.”

“May I ask what’s happening with Captain Armor?” Hooves asked.

“Captain Armor is having a rather unpleasant conversation with my sister at the moment, and I suspect it will continue until dinner. Do not concern yourself too much for him. Despite this hiccup in protocol, I imagine he will remain as Captain for now.”

“Great.” Hooves moaned.

“Any other questions? No? Until this evening, then.” Luna remarked, and she turned to leave the room.

“Are you mad at us?” Wing blurted out, just as Luna opened the door.

“I was.” she replied over her shoulder. A slight smile could be seen on her face. “But I am no longer. Your four have done a great service to Equestria, and you have my thanks and gratitude. Because of you, we now know that a great many things need to be addressed within the Royal Guard Corps.”

“You’re welcome, then? I guess?” Wing replied.

“We shall go with that.” Luna replied. “Until this evening.”

She then left. The four ponies made themselves comfortable by loading up platters of food, filling large, frosted mugs with root beer, and allowing soft cushions to become acquainted with their posteriors.

“Man, this is the best punishment I could have dreamed of.” Clover remarked. “Good food, root beer and lemonade, soft furniture. My Dad’s gonna say I’ve gone soft.”

“Your dad is going to have a conniption when he finds out his daughter abducted the Princess.” Wing chuckled.

“Probably.” She laughed back. “So, what happens now, Sarge?”

“I don’t know exactly. We’ll just have to see, I suppose.”

“What happens now is you receive my thanks.” Celestia’s voice echoed in the room. A brief moment later, the Princess herself arrived in the room in a flash of light, her regalia shining in midday sunlight, her eyes ablaze with warmth and her glory fully restored; though it was hard to argue it had diminished in the slightest. Each guard rose and bowed to her, but she ordered them up as soon as they did so.

“No need for that, not in these private settings. Here you are my friends, and I had hoped to spend some time with you as friends before returning to my duties.”

“Thank you, Princess. And thank you for the accommodations.” Sgt. Pokey replied. “We are humbled by your graciousness.”

“Well, it was the least I could do to repay you for your care of me.” She giggled. “How are the grapes, are they fresh?”

“Quite fresh, yes.”

“Good.” Celestia used her magic to pop one into her mouth. “Mm, yes. Very good indeed. It’s good to have my magic back, too.”

“I thought you were busy ‘discussing’ things with the Captain.” Hooves remarked.

“He’s now talking with his wife and Luna.” Celestia replied, as she sat on a couch and motioned for the others to do likewise. “They’re going over what happened today. It’s not going to be pleasant for him, especially when he has to explain himself to Cadance, but I feel it’s important for them to have this last bit of time together to evaluate and to finalize everything, as it were.

“And to fully answer the question you asked earlier, a great many things are now going to now happen. First, we are going to have a Formal Review of what happened. We will go over how you managed to foalnap me, why Shining Armor and the Guards couldn’t find me, and what needs to be rectified for the future. This may take several weeks, however, and you will be required to stay nearby for the interim until we get this all sorted out. You will still have your duties to perform, however.”

“Luna mentioned something about an Inquisition.” Clover pointed out. Celestia laughed at this.

“Did she? Oh, goodness. I suppose she is calling the Formal Review an Inquisition just to make it sound more intimidating. She always does like to do things like that. In either case, you four are fine. As I said at the beginning, you will not be punished for what has happened. In fact, that brings me to another point I wish to go over with you.”

Celestia then sat up straight and looked at the four in turn. “As your General, I have decided that your actions are meritorious enough for promotion. Though I cannot make these ranks formal and binding without Captain Armor’s approval – and that probably won’t come until after the Review – I can give you all a field promotion for the meantime. This means that you, Private Light Hooves, and you, Private Clover Leaf, are now hereby promoted to the rank of Corporal. Corporal Light Wing, you are now Sergeant Light Wing, and Sergeant Pokey, you are now hereby promoted to 2nd Lieutenant.”

There was a bit of a stunned silence in the room, before all four thanked the Princess at the same time and over the top of each other. Celestia smiled and took it all in until each had offered enough thanks for her actions, and then she took a drink of her root beer before continuing.

“Now, I also don’t want to separate you four just yet. I am planning on assigning you to my personal guard detail, but I’m still working out some details pertaining to that. I’ll let you know what I come up with once I am done, but just keep in mind we all are going to be spending a lot more time together.

“Was there anything else?” she asked herself, as she tapped a hoof to her chin. “Oh! Yes. Corporal, I’m sorry about the sudden teleport this morning. I understand the trip was a rather unpleasant one.”

“To put it mildly.” Hooves dryly remarked.

“You are feeling better now, yes?”

“Fine, ma’am. Nurses checked me out and I’m clear.”

“If we do that again I can add some magic to prevent Teleport Sickness. I’m usually better than that but the shock of what Shining Armor was doing made me forget about that.”

“It’s all good your highness.”

“Good. Now, one last thing. I want to apologize to you all for breaking my Solemn Oath.”

“What?” Three ponies blurted.

“Yes, I’m afraid I used the Royal Canterlot Voice when Luna used the Soror Inventum spell yesterday to find me. She didn’t synchronize her second and third layers properly, and the suppressor ring I was wearing would have prevented it from working anyway. All of the power she put into the spell went into my horn and began to build within me, causing a great deal of pain and anguish. I called out to her with the Canterlot voice in a vain and pain-filled effort to get her to stop.”

“There is no need for an apology, Princess.” Pokey replied. “You did not violate the terms of the Oath.”

“How do you figure that, Lieutenant?”

Pokey smiled, mostly because of his new rank. “We were under orders to keep you safe and unharmed. When the spell hit you, we failed on our end. Your Oath was only valid if we followed our orders, as we are all Guards. Since we did not, the Oath became void before you violated it.”

“I’d agree with that.” Wing remarked.

“Me too.” Hooves piped.

“Besides, if you had violated your Oath, we would have felt it.” Pokey continued. “We would have felt the magic seal break if you had.”

“Was that the magic surge we all felt when she made the Oath?” Clover asked.

“Yes. Bound as we all were, we would have felt the magic’s removal. Since we did not, the Oath was never violated.”

“Well, I can’t argue with all that.” Celestia replied. “So, we are even then. And now, we will all move forward with the reforms that the Guard so desperately needs. My friends, you all have done Equestria a great service with your actions, and I thank you again for it. Who knows, this could be the first step in a new era, one that bards sing songs about in a hundred years.”

“That would be quite astounding, Princess.” Lt. Pokey replied, with a laugh from all.

“I know why you foalnapped me.”

“You keep saying that.”

“And I meant it every time. I know why.”

“All right. I’ll bite. Why did I foalnap you?”

Celestia looked over the twilight that was descending over Canterlot. “You wanted me to see that no reforms have been made.”

He didn’t reply to her.

“It was obvious, you know. I had it figured out by the time you had told me the details of your infiltration.”

“Why didn’t you say so?”

“Why didn’t you say so?” she shot right back. “You could have saved yourself a lot of trouble. If you had just said so, we could have returned that evening and the reforms would have been reviewed immediately.”

“I didn’t think you’d believe me.” He replied softly. “Why would the Princess of Equestria believe some shmuck sergeant who had foalnapped her? I was convinced the only way you’d believe me was if I took you and kept you.”

She gave him a look. “Pokey, I’ve been a diplomat for over a thousand years. I’ve interacted with everypony from emperors, dignitaries, presidents and heads of state to farmers, bakers, candlestick makers and millwrights. I would like to think that, at this point, I know how to read a pony’s face, their body language. You told me all I needed to know without saying a word. I would have believed you.”

“Hence the warning during the chess game.” He replied. “You knew all the moves I would make before I even had two pieces moved.”

“And again, you could have saved a lot of trouble by just telling me all this.”

“I have failed.” He said to the railing in front of him.

“Pokey, you’ve not failed.” Celestia replied, and she smiled as he looked to her. “Any military commander worth his salt must know how to read the battlefield. You see policies that need to be enforced. Now I do as well. That would count as a victory. The only error you may have made is by not keeping your commanding officer in the loop. Other than that, you have achieved your objectives. The only difference is how soon those objectives could have been met.”

“I suppose.”

“Look, I wouldn’t have promoted you if I thought your reasons for all of this were selfish. You wish for a secure and peaceful Equestria, as do I. You saw that it was impossible for such a state to exist with the way things were. I see that now too. I now need to find out why we are where we are. Your intents were pure, and that holds great weight for me. Just please don’t hide things from me. I am your Princess and your General. I am here to help and serve my little ponies, but I can’t do that when you won’t let me.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, your highness.”

She smiled deeper at him. “Good. Now, I believe that Luna will be joining in short order. Shall we rejoin the party?”

“And not a moment too soon!” Luna’s voice carried from inside. “Thou shalt all now witness one of the greatest marvels of any era, as only I canst produce! Thou shalt be privy to the glory that is a Moon-B-Que!”

“Moon-B-Que?” Pokey asked. Celestia chuckled.

“You have not tasted a Hayburger at its full flavor until it has been grilled over moon rocks. There’s really nothing like it.”

Celestia then leaned in closer with a smirk.

“Or perhaps it’s because she has a special sauce. I believe it uses mustard and vinegar.”

“Thou shalt not reveal mine secrets!” Luna shouted. “Mine methods are a trademarked and proprietary secret, and if thou blabbest mine secret blend of eleven herbs and spices thou wilt find thyself with a charcoal briquette for a burger!”

Both Pokey and Celestia chuckled.

XIV - Final Thoughts

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“Why do you not partake in the festivities, Lieutenant? Are not my hayburgers the most delicious thing you have ever deigned to indulge in?”

“The burgers were quite good, yes.” Pokey replied. His gaze remained out in the stars, however. “I just needed a few minutes alone.”

Luna gave him a knowing look and then moved to stand next to him. Neither of them said anything for a few minutes, but after those minutes had ticked away Pokey sighed.

“I was so sure.” He said to the stars. “So confident, so prepared. I thought I had it all planned out. I knew exactly how everything would happen. I knew how your sister would react, what she would say, what she would do. I knew what you would do, what Captain Armor would do, what he wouldn’t do. I was…”

He trailed off.

“…arrogant.” Luna finished for him. She looked out over the same stars with him. “Prideful, perhaps conceited even. Months of planning, all for naught. The best laid plans that any pony could have ever conceived, but then you find you’re completely wrong about everything once you put those plans into motion. You find yourself in the land of doubt, of darkness and of ruin. You find you’ve been so consumed with…with….”

She now trailed off. After a moment, Pokey inhaled deeply.

“It seems we were both wrong.”

“Your errors pale in comparison to mine.” She replied.

“In a way, they’re not so far apart.” He looked her in the eyes now. “The scale may be slightly different, but arrogance is arrogance.”


“But then we emerge on the other side.” He turned back to the stars. “Humbled, perhaps a bit timid, unsure of ourselves. We want to undo what we’ve done, to go back and correct the mistakes that led to our downfall. But all we can do is move forward, make the most of what we’ve got left. Start anew somehow, and make the future what it should be.”

He then turned to face her again. “Princess, I need help. The one thing I see, more clearly than anything right now, is how little I really know, and how underqualified I am for the rank Celestia has bestowed on me. If I may be so presumptuous, I would ask if you might train me.”

“Me? Train you?”

“Before your banishment you were the finest battlefield commander, bar none.” He smiled a bit sheepishly. “I am something of an amateur historian, and everything I’ve ever read says that your troops were unequaled, even next to Celestia’s. If there’s anypony who has the qualifications, it’s you.”

“You really believe that?” she asked, a small note of pride in her voice.

“Completely. I can stay for a few hours after my shift each evening, if you’re willing to take me on as an apprentice. I will submit totally to your teachings. I just…”

He paused.

“If I am to remain as a Guard, I must be more than what I am now. I can’t achieve that on my own, I see that now. I am willing to submit, if it means I can improve.”

Luna looked him over dubiously. “You will submit to anything I throw at you?”


“You are going to be one miserable pony.” She smiled menacingly. “Deal! I will teach you, and you will feel a pain you’ve never before felt in your life.”

“I welcome the challenge, General.”

“Good. There is a difference between pride and confidence, and we shall see how much of the latter you possess. For now, let us return to your squadron. They worry about you.”

“I couldn’t ask for a more loyal group of ponies.”

“They are exceptional.” She agreed, as they began walking back in. “I would even dare to say you four are destined for great things.”

“I would like nothing else, for their sake more than mine.”