Princess Luna stood before her long mirror and tried to hide the trembling in her body. Her moon hung heavy in the sky, unmoving in night eternal so long as her sister was spirited away.
"I beg you to reconsider, princess... your power is too precious to be wasted on the front." The captain of the royal guard stepped carefully to her side. "I have sworn an oath to Princess Celestia that no harm shall come to you as long as I draw breath as have the other Praetorian guard."
"Captain I appreciate your loyalty..." Luna began as slowly she levitated and buckled the various pieces of her bright silver armour into place. "But the moment they touched my sister, this became personal... I will not sit idle while Equestria is razed around me! Word has been dispatched on swift wings to every city in Equestria! The armies shall be raised and we shall crush this menace in the Everfree once and for all!”
"Do you fight for this world or for your own redemption..." The captain didn't manage to speak for long before Luna turned her shining emerald eyes on him.
"Watch your tongue! I am still the princess and I shall have you in the stocks for speaking to me in such a way!" Her cheeks flushed at her sudden rage and she looked away. "My apologies, Captain... You have only my safety at heart... but I will fight... for my sister... and I can think of nopony I would rather have at my side, than yourself."
"I should indeed have held my tongue, my apologies... You do me great honour, princess." Carefully he moved closer and adjusted her helm to sit more square, earning a chuckle from the princess. "The Praetorian Guard stand ready... as do the Stewards of the Citadel... less than one hundred of our staff but no mere recruits. We are all that remains of the Equestrian Army, the only still alive trained in the arts of warfare."
"I remember the days when our armies were ten thousand strong... Our knights brave and bold..." Luna's voice trailed off in memory as she began the long walk towards the main courtyard.
"Nopony who now lives can not trace their line back to a knight of the crown, bravery and loyalty run deep in them all..." The captain nudged the door open and the princess strode through to look upon the assembled host.
Sister... give me strength... "Free Citizens of Equestria!" Princess Luna began, all eyes turning towards her. The most influential ponies in Canterlot waited with bated breath for the princess to continue. "Today we strike a blow at the very heart of our ancient enemies! Our brave knights stand outside the city walls awaiting my orders!"
The crowd milled with uncertainty. Many in Canterlot were scholars and teachers, those used to the soft and easy life. Luna felt her heart sink at the unexpected reluctance, her voice softened but lost none of the impressive volume. “I ask no pony to follow me where I must go save those who have pledged themselves to my service, I will lead no reluctant souls to war... though know this... I go myself. I will fight on the front lines, to defend the honour of all ponykind... I will fight for the honour of my dear sister who has blessed me with a second chance even after I have caused ruin to us all. I know you are reluctant to follow the words of one who brought doom in her wake not long ago.”
Her eyes looked to her captain beside her and then back to the assembled ponies. She slowly lifted her crown and let it float to it's place on the small throne beside Celestia's dais. “I do not address you as your princess today... just... Luna... I beg you all to stay in your homes... guard your foals and your loved ones as best you can... for if we fail it will be your magic alone that will hold back this evil...”
Voices raised in protest now, many ponies speaking about their concerns but slowly Luna walked from the castle, her guards assembled in their best armor, each looked ready. “Have I done the right thing Captain? I have so few ponies who could be called my friends... will Twilight succeed?”
The captain looked back at the ranks now following the armored princess. “may I speak freely, Princess?”
She nodded to him and the captain turned back to look upon her, he had the faintest of smiles on his lips. “Between Twilight and Moonlight I doubt the enemy will hold... we will win this day... have faith, Luna...” His cheeks reddened slightly and the young princess smiled.
“I will certainly tell my sister of your devotion... now... let us be ready...” Her eyes looked down the long road from the city to the dark of the Everfree Forest, to the swirling storm clouds growing stronger by the moment. The air crackled with dark and uneasy magic. Luna's sharp eyes gazed out over the horizon as far as she could see and she gave a little grin when a purple star shot up high into the cloudy sky like a firework. Twilight was ready.
This is for you Celestia... The moon princess picked up her pace and finally broke into a gallop, behind her the thunder of hooves followed close as the guardians of the palace rode to war.
Skies of Knives
Captain Dash darted through the formations, each pegasus kept his or her eyes forward and stayed ready. The long flights, all the drills and duels were leading to this point. The goblin storm clouds loomed all the larger.
"Look at the size of that storm..." Dash heard one pony gasp with wide eyes.
"Cut the Chatter, Firefly. Group one! Get a vortex started to blow this storm up!" Dash called above the sound of the wind and half her squadron peeled away to begin moving the air currents.
"Group two! Watch them! Make sure nothing breaks their concentration!" A second smaller group of ponies banked hard and broke formation to follow them leaving Dash with the remainder. The fastest fliers hand picked by Rainbow herself. Each wore a patch with her own cutie mark upon their chest. "just like Twilight planned... LETS DO THIS!" she called and the fliers pulled close and everypony went barreling into the storm itself.
The wind currents were powerful and nearly random but the dark laughing shapes in the mist were what got to the fliers first. Something was alive about this storm. "Hit the cloud banks from the inside!" Dash set an example, kicking and plowing through as many groups of clouds as she could manage. But that's when the worst began.
A sickening bolt of green lightning coursed towards the formation and Dash cringed as a pony to her left, a colt she had barely talked to except on winter wrap up, took the brunt of the blast. The formation watched helplessly as he shrieked pitifully and fell smoking from the sky. Some ponies were beginning to falter.
"Hold together! Hold together!" Dash yelled above the mounting wind before a blast of lightning coursed past her, singing her tail. "Don't stop! The ponies on the ground are depending on us!" She set an example and spun in a tight spiral, moving upwards fast her form punched through the clouds and sent pale starlight streaming down into the clouds, illuminating it within and nearly reaching the ground below.
Redoubling their efforts the rest of Dash's squadron began following suit, their vortexes beginning to destroy the storm from within. Dash grinned wide, it was pure speed and agility. Weaving through storms and jagged knives of lightning, dodging air currents and rolling under fierce gusts. Soon she knew she was on her own, her personal bodyguard made up of the fastest amongst the pegasus, but she was leaving them in the dust. There were flashes below, dark radiant purple light streaming through the clouds beneath her. The moment was enough distraction. Her eyes went wide as saucers and a bolt of lighting arced towards her.
The Sound of Thunder
Captain Applejack looked left and right, the strongest and bravest ponies held the front. Her own brother was at her side and winked to her beneath the visor of his helmet. It was hasty and made from bits of old stove but all the biggest stallions or strongest mares carried the armor. They might not have looked all that impressive but they were knights none the less.
"Now... don't let the title get to ya, big bro... 'First knight of Equestria' ain’t nothin‘ to sneeze at." Applejack chuckled and nudged the big red coated stallion.
"E'yuup...so, all those stories Granny told us... ‘bout honour and duty... feels ‘bout right don't it?" He looked back at the earth ponies and the unicorns who were assembled. "Always wanted to see a hundred pony charge..."
"Ain't nopony seen one of those in a long time..." Applejack took a breath to steady her nerves, "Dash will be overhead any minute now... I reckon it's about time..." She stepped forward and turned to face the ranks under her command. "Everypony! Eyes forward! Now... I ain't gonna lie to y’all... this will be the hardest thing anypony has done in their lifetime... y’all are gonna see friends hurt, family... lovers... some ponies might not be comin‘ home... but if we don't stop this here and now... then we're lookin‘ at the end of everythin‘... the end of family... the end of tha world as we know it!" She shouted and the ponies reared in a great cheer.
Big Mac stepped forward and mustering all the courage he had at his command he yelled out what he had heard over and over since he was a foal. His chest filling and his voice booming for everypony to here from here to Canterlot. "Ride Now! Ride fer Wrath! Ride fer Ruin! And the World's Ending!" The usually soft spoken pony's call to battle raised an ever bigger cheer from the troops and before any could try to stop him, he tore off towards the twisted trees of the Everfree Forest and the crawling shapes of evil within.
Applejack shook her head with a grin and followed her brother as the rest of the regiment broke into a run after her. The earth shook more than in the running of the leaves, this wasn't a race with a dozen ponies, this was the charge of warhorses. The thunder rose and drowned out the sounds of storms or individual hooves hitting earth. It was a solid wall of noise the more they charged the faster it became. At the head of the line Applejack saw shapes scurrying away into the shadows and behind stones to escape the charge and she just grinned. Great Grandpappy would be proud...
Within the Longest Night
Clover was dead tired and he knew that he'd fallen behind the charge. The sound of beating hooves echoed into the woods. It was raining, but he expected that. So many pegasus ponies tearing the sky open, it was bound to let out a lot of water. Over the uneven earth he limped slowly hoping his ankle was just twisted and not broken. Here and there he came across a pony who had fallen to the goblin's claws. They groaned and twitched though some he knew were already gone. He had been one of the lucky ones relatively speaking.
He had tripped headlong over the dead. Once he came to all he could do was wander the Everfree Forest and look for any of his friends. A particularity bad groan from his left caught his attention and the earth pony carefully nudged a bush aside. What greeted him wasn't the least bit pleasant. Clover didn't know this pegasus' name but he looked relatively intact.
"B-buddy... you alive?" He spoke gently, blushing at the soft whistling through the gap in his newly lost tooth. The pegasus carefully flickered his eyes open and groaned.
"L-lightning... ooooh..." he managed to choke before reaching up to the earth pony. "Help..."
Clover winced and looked at his scorched coat. "I’m not doing so well myself..." Clover began before the pegasus chimed in.
"Please... I... have a filly waiting..." He pleaded and gulped gently. "I gotta see her again..."
Clover leaned down and carefully nudged the burnt pegasus. "hang on... I’ll walk us back..." The pegasus strained and with a little effort managed to get himself onto Clover's back, hanging on by his saddlebags. "Name‘s Clover by the way..."
"Raindrops..." the stricken pony responded, "You from Ponyville?"
Clover gave a little nod and plodded best he could on a swollen ankle, "Just outside of town, have a little cottage near the farm I work on. Can't wait to get back there." He continued, thinking of the warmth of his bed and the comfort of the little hearth. He paused when he felt the pegasus slump a little.
"Raindrops! Hey don't fall asleep..." He jostled the pegasus and he let out a groan. "Tell me about this filly of yours... she's gotta be special if you're willing to walk back from the dead for her."
"My filly..." Raindrops began and shook his aching head to try and get some feeling back, concentrating on her face in his mind. "Wish she was my filly... I work with her... at Pete's Moving Company in the afternoons. In the morning she delivers the mail."
Clover thought for a moment. "Ditzy? She's the mailpony around here I think, right?"
"Yeah, that's her..." There was a sound of a smile in Raindrop's voice. "Everypony thinks she's simple... even dumb... but she just... floats away sometimes... like the bubbles she has for her cutie mark. She's always willing to smile and lend a hoof... she likes to laugh and you should see how she lights up when you give her a muffin... I think I love her but, it's hard you know... telling somepony how you really feel."
Clover thought about his life, so far devoid of romance. "Don't wait too long... Never wait too long. You survived a war... that's gotta be something, right?" Clover's thoughts turned again to his little cottage and the hearth, thinking about perhaps inviting somepony to share it with him one day.
"Yeah... yeah... if I make it through this I gotta ask her..." The pegasus slumped a little and kept talking, Clover only half-listened as the yellow pegasus related in detail how he would ask her and how their first real date would be wonderful. Clover laughed a little and kept carrying the pegasus back towards the town and the safety of the field hospitals.
The night never ended, nobody could tell what time it really was anymore but that didn't matter so much, spirits were getting lower all the time as the wounded and the dead were gradually coming back to town. Ditzy limped silently through the lantern lit streets, her wounds weren't so severe now and after the promise of as many muffins as she could eat, she was feeling more like herself again.
"Ditzy!" A voice called her, a young filly wearing a red and gold cape ran up fast as her legs could carry her. "Cutie Mark Crusader Courier, Applebloom reporting!" she snapped off a perfect salute and Ditzy smiled.
"At ease... what do you have to report?" The small pony reached into the pouch she carried and produced a note.
"Nurse Tenderheart told me to give you this, there's a pony in the tent outside the boutique who wants to see you." She expertly handed over the folded note and saluted again before running off. Ditzy watched her go and smiled to herself. Everypony doing their part for Equestria.
The note was simple and she started off towards the medical tents as she read. Pegasus injured, Tent 4b, requested your presence, name of Raindrops. She read the last part over and over, biting her lip. She worked with Raindrops, he was one of her closest friends. That and she was fairly sure that he had a crush on her. Ditzy had often thought of asking him out to dinner but she'd never been a pony to make the first move. Expertly tucking the note between the feathers of her wing she trotted off fast as her legs could carry her.
The medical tents were something that nopony would ever want to see on a full stomach. The creatures in the woods were vicious, as Ditzy herself knew all too well. There were groans of ponies with more than one hoof in the grave mixed in with the crying of those who had already had a loved one slip away. She lowered her head out of respect and kept her eyes on her hooves as she weaved through the tents.
Tent 4b loomed before her, carefully she eased the flap open and trotted within. A single lamp illuminated the row of cots just enough to see a young filly and a much older stallion easing a white sheet over the form of a mare who had given her all for Equestria. Trying not to cry, Ditzy closed her eyes and made her way to the back of the tent and the blue coated nurse pony.
"Mr. Drops... she's here..." She whispered to the pegasus and looked to Ditzy with a frazzled smile before departing for her endless stream of duties.
"H-hey Rain..." Ditzy eased herself down beside his cot, looking at the bandages along his body and the unfortunate smell of burnt hair.
For a moment he didn't respond, his eyes looking away into space before a soft touch to the cheek made him turn. Ditzy would always remember his smile, for years to come she would think back on it, back to the look in his eyes and the relief plastered over his face. "Ditzy... thought I’d never see you again..." He managed to speak softly.
"SHH shh... it's ok... I’m here now.." She whispered to him and watched as he silently began to cry. "You're safe now... a-away from those... things..." Her voice cracked as she carefully dabbed the tears away from the edges of her eyes.
"Never flown so hard... been so scared..." He began to speak again, slowly letting his eyes close. "But I had to... it was important... had to... m-make..." He trembled and shook his head best he could when he felt the black tendrils of sleep crawl up around him. "N-no... I had to make you... proud of me... had to make sure I saw you again..."
"Why did you need to see me? I'm nothing special, I just deliver the mail and move furniture..." She sniffed a little as Raindrops turned his head to her, opening his eyes again, those eyes she felt like she could fall into.
"You're the most... important pony in the world..." He breathed out as he began to smile again. Maybe it was what the nurse gave him to numb the pain or his recent ordeal that gave him the courage now but he reached out a bandaged hoof and touched it to Ditzy's damp cheek. "You're the filly I love..."
Ditzy closed her eyes and enjoyed the soft touch and the words that she heard from him, no pony ever showed her this kind of dedication. Nopony ever made a confession this deep to her it was another moment she would remember for the rest of her life. Carefully she kissed the pegasus who spoke his love to her and whispered. "Now you swear... swear to me you will recover... because you've made me the happiest filly in this town... and neither rain... nor monsters... nor death... is going to keep me from doing the same for you..."
She would remember this night fondly, the endless night at Raindrop's bedside. It was, after all, the moment she found the stallion who would become her husband.