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[RGM] Sword and Shield (Part 2)

By NickBeard
Created: 11th April 2021 11:48:44 AM
Modified: 12th June 2021 10:48:13 PM
/rgm/ oc safe action adventure combat storm creatures

  1.  
  2. ACT V: ON A SWORD'S EDGE
  3.  
  4. >you are Corporal Sword Glitter
  5. >now that you have reunited with some of your squadmates, you're on your way back to your airship to get out of here
  6. >the rest of your team is waiting for your return there
  7. >after leaving the barn, you expected to run into hostiles soon, but the streets are surprisingly empty
  8. >Longrun told you most of the Storm Army is converging on the Royal Palace now, hence the lack of enemies
  9. >that's one of the cats' last line of defense, as the rest of them have been already wiped out
  10. >yeah, you noticed that...
  11. >but luckily for you, the temple where the Razor landed is still in Abyssynian hands
  12. >in no small part thanks to your squad
  13. >they fought off the Storm units attacking the feline positions there
  14. >even if that position was attacked again, the rest of Phoenix are still there to assist the cats
  15. >so there is hope it won't be overrun by the time you make it back
  16. >that's what you gathered from the Major's quick sitrep
  17. >now it's a well-paced trot back to the temple square, with Longrun leading the way as usual
  18. >then Starstorm, you and Shield
  19. >and as it was so far, things just can't happen smoothly or without trouble
  20.  
  21. >"Heads up team" Longrun exclaims, after taking a turn to the west "Enemy patrol dead ahead. About five creatures"
  22. >following him, Starstorm gestures a "Stop"
  23. >"Okay, we're on borrowed time here, so we'll just quickly take 'em out. Glitter, Edge, you'll stay on the right, and open fire as soon as they're in range for you. Me and Longrun will hug the walls here, and engage when you do"
  24. "Roger"
  25. >"Roger"
  26. >both you and Shield do as told, and open fire as well, since the Stormies have already spotted you
  27. >but dishing it out from both sides does the trick, and the patrol gets reduced to dead meat in less than a minute
  28. >no doubt, Major Startstorm is a serious force to be reckoned with
  29. >she took out five of the six creatures
  30. >"That's it then. Let's move on" she urges
  31. >all four of you resume the trip back, staying vigilant
  32. >after a few hundred meters, you take a turn to the right
  33. >another wide, sandy street, the usual for the city
  34. >the houses here are larger and more elaborate though, as you're no doubt approaching the city center, as in, the richest portion of the city
  35. >but that matters not here, this street is as empty of cats as any other so far
  36. >this means they either used their leverage and escaped with the help of guards in the very beginning
  37. >or got unlucky, and got enslaved like the group you encountered earlier
  38. >but this is only a fleeting thought as you trot alongside your team
  39.  
  40. >"Alright, after that bend in the road it's a straight shot to the temple square. Cheer up you two, this nightmare is over soon" says the Major after a little while, trying to sound a bit inspirational
  41. >it's a welcome change from her usual, slightly angry monotone
  42. >maybe she feels bad about you?
  43. >that you were left behind?
  44. >but Longrun equalizes the mood immediately
  45. >"THIS nightmare. But the Major didn't speak to you about the blockade yet. Sure, we might very well get back to the ship in one piece now, but once in the air? Those Stormie airships won't just let us pass them, you know?"
  46. >you gulp
  47. >you indeed didn't think about this so far
  48. >getting past a whole fleet of airships gonna be difficult
  49. >but a...
  50. "B-blockade?"
  51. >"Yeah Swordie" Longrun continues in a flamboyant manner "Ya know, lots of airships encircling a place? It's what happening right now. Storm King gonna emphasize what's his, his. No in or out"
  52. >you'd despair, but instead take a peek at the Major
  53. >she's making a pout, or more like, a pout-frown
  54. >"That's a problem for later, Sergeant. For now, let's just focus on getting back"
  55.  
  56. >you're not sure what to make of Starstorm's reaction
  57. >it's hard to read the Major's emotions, but that sounded like a weak cope instead of ignorance
  58. >and that's not good
  59. >you know if the Major is concerned, then there is a REAL problem
  60. >maybe this will be the Phoenix's swan song? It's final flight? Hope not
  61.  
  62. >as you reach the bend in the road, a wall breaks down right in front of you
  63. >it's another one of those damn Tank units!
  64. >"Oh no, not one of THESE guys again!" Shield whines, his reaction being understandable
  65. >you can still see the crinkles in his armor
  66. >regardless, he takes up combat stance, and lights up his horn
  67. >you and the rest of the unit does likewise
  68. >but to you surprise, Scroll emerges from the hole the creature just created
  69. >"Whoah, whoah, calm!" he says, as he envelops the brute's head in magical energy "Hold your fire lads, I got this one"
  70. >you all stand down, except Starstorm
  71. >"You sure you can handle something THIS big?"
  72. >"As I said Major, I got this" comes the answer "He might be very strong, but his mind is weak"
  73. >Scroll finishes casting his spell
  74. >the creature remains in a trance-like state, staring in front of himself
  75. >the most magical Paladin looks into his eyes
  76. >"Look at me. Look at me. I am your master now. You will do as I say. Now, walk forward"
  77. >the Captain points him in the direction of the square
  78. >and the heavy creature indeed begins to walk
  79.  
  80. >this display of magical prowess left you in awe
  81. >you heard of mind-bending spells, but never saw one in effect
  82. >it's one of those "dark spells", the use of which is immoral, and not taught anywhere
  83. >but they exist, and as a matter of fact, you also heard of some Royal Guards who can use them
  84. >technically, it would be allowed to use one of these as a last resort
  85. >luckily, ponies in Canterlot never made a case for their usage
  86. >and when actual trouble hit Canterlot, spears were whipped out, not mind tricks
  87.  
  88. >"Impressive, Captain! Now, do me next!" Longrun jokes, as you trot towards the temple square, with your unlikely ally in tow
  89. >Scroll rolls his eyes, then turns to you:
  90. >"Sword, Shield, you're alive! Didn't think you'd be found so quickly though. I'm beyond glad!"
  91. "Nice to see we reassemble one by one indeed!" you answer, feeling happy that Scroll is happy for you
  92. >like the Major, he is usually much more reserved with his emotions
  93. >but it seems he was worried about you too
  94. >"And I'm glad *I* didn't have to fight that brute!" says Shield
  95. >"What can I say? We work fast!" chimes in Starstorm as well "But what about the square? Is it still secure?"
  96. >"Not exactly. Storm units are converging on it from the west and the north, but the cats are still holding out. Breakpoint and Sabersong are helping them, but they wouldn't last forever. Hence I thought about going after HIM. He would help us in the fight. But with Sword and Shield found, that might not be needed. We might be able to leave as soon as we get back"
  97. >"Then let's not dawdle around now. Forward squad, double time!"
  98.  
  99. >you reach the square with the temple
  100. >and finally, there she is!
  101. >the Wind Razor, a sight for sore eyes!
  102. >it's moored in the middle of the square
  103. >you can also see Breakpoint and Sabersong on the top deck, firing towards the west
  104. >the streets leading to the square are all barricaded off
  105. >you're approaching one such blockade right now
  106. >the cat soldiers manning the barricade recoil in fear
  107. >surely, not at the sight of some armored equines
  108. >with shaking paws, one of them points at the obvious source of dread
  109. >"W-what is that?!"
  110. >"The help we promised to bring. May I?" says Starstorm, as he levitates a table away to get through the improvised roadblock
  111. >you follow her, and the Storm Heavy also stomps into the square proper
  112. >the previous soldier also follows, and addresses the Major
  113. >"You promised a squad of ponies. This...this isn't a pony. What is this even?! And why does it follow you?"
  114. >the Major turns back, and answers nonchalantly
  115. >"This is exactly one unit of Storm Army heavy infantry. Whose control now we relinquish to you...I guess. Scroll?
  116. >Scroll begins casting a spell, again having the creature's head in focus
  117. >"You will remain here. The cats are your friends now. Your former friends are your enemies. Do you understand?"
  118. >the Storm Heavy grunts something unintelligable
  119. >"Good. We're done then" says Scroll, then adds really quietly, that only you can hear:
  120. >"...I think"
  121. >he and Starstorm turn to the cat again
  122. >the feline looks beyond confused, not unlike his troops a bit further back staring at you
  123.  
  124. >"But, but..."
  125. >"He will remain here to fight in our place" says the Captain
  126. >"Because sadly, we have to leave now" adds the Major
  127. >"But don't worry my cat friend! He is docile. Except if he gets the chance to rip off a few Storm Creature arms" says Gunny
  128. >the cat looks back and forth between you and the creature
  129. >then finally his gaze settles on the squad
  130. >"You lied to me! This isn't what you promised! We helped secure your ship, and this is the "help" you bring in return?!"
  131. >"We promised help, and we brought help. I think this was a fair trade. I rest my case" says Starstorm without a hitch in her voice "Okay squad, on me"
  132. >the Major begins to walk towards the airship, and you follow
  133. >but the cat soldier doesn't budge
  134. >"Wait! Do you think you can just get away with this like that? NO ONE ruses an officer of the Armed Forces of Abyssynia!"
  135. >the Major turns back for a moment
  136. >"I just did"
  137. >then resumes walking
  138.  
  139. >the squad walks up to the Razor
  140. >looking back, the cat is still furious, but there is nothing he can do
  141. >he probably saw what Starstorm is capable of earlier, and wouldn't want to stop her, for the obvious reasons...
  142. >but still, you feel bad for these poor cats
  143. >they realy just want to defend their homeland
  144. >but by now you know ACTUALLY trying to help them can incredibly backfire
  145. >so you just sadly accept that you will leave these cats to face overwhelming odds without your help
  146. >"Saber! Breakpoint! We're back!" shouts the Major
  147. >the two paladins stop firing, and lean over the railing on your side
  148. >"Whoah-ho-ho! If this isn't Sword and Shield! Welcome back friends!" Breakpoint exclaims with excitement
  149. >then Saber has her say, too
  150. >"Shield? And...Rookie? I never would have guessed... Well, you're either very lucky or maybe you're indeed tougher than you look. Either way, I hope you were worth this little detour"
  151. "I'm happy to see you too..." you answer
  152. >"Cut it off, Saber. Breakpoint, get under deck, and start the engines!" Starstorm barks the command "Longrun, Shield, you release the anchors!"
  153. >things are starting to speed up
  154. >the major unlocks the ship's ramp with the spell, and folds it down
  155. >but as she starts to walk up the ramp, you hear loud wheezing
  156. >you know what the all too familiar sound is
  157.  
  158. >it's artillery, and no doubt it's targeting the ship!
  159. >you look up, and cry out
  160. "Squad! Artillery!!!"
  161. >you're not sure what to do
  162. >and everypony except Shield, who's readying some spell, remains calm
  163. "Major?!"
  164. >the major looks up into the sky, almost looking bored
  165. >as the sound's increasing, you know the cannonballs will strike soon
  166. >but they simply ricochet off from some surface higher above
  167. >now you see there is an energy sphere surronding the ship!
  168. >barely visible, you could only tell its presence from the ripple the cannonballs caused
  169. >you look at Shield questioningly
  170. >it couldn't be him, but he is the only one you could imagine casting such a strong barrier
  171. >he looks at Starstorm in return
  172. >she says:
  173. >"Yeah, it was Scroll. But he couldn't create such a strong shield without our help, so all of us helped him by supercharging it while he casted it. Advanced mage technique. You two still have much to learn"
  174. >you can see Shield muttering a silent "Whoah" while Sabersong just silently nods with a smug smile
  175. >ah, typical...
  176. >but you're happy the squad thought of everything
  177. >the ship is indeed sitting ducks landed like this
  178. >but you hope not anymore
  179.  
  180. >Starstorm boards the ship now, and you follow
  181. >and that the anchors have been released, the rest of Phoenix walks up the ramp too
  182. >Scroll is the last, he pulls up the ramp-door and locks it
  183. >the Major barks commands:
  184. >"That shield won't protect us while ascending. Longrun, take over the wheel! Scroll, change the propelling direction! Let's speed us up!"
  185. >the Captain enters the engine room at the back, and lifts up a trap door
  186. >he casts a spell, and the Razor suddenly gets an upwards jolt
  187. >now the propellers facing the ground, you ascend so rapidly as if a thousand pegasi were lifting it
  188. >no wonder, the Razor's magitech engine is rated at 4000 pegasuspower max
  189. >"Okay, we're high up enough. Change back to forward propel" shouts Longrun from the front after just half a minute
  190. >you now sit down, and lift the viewing port cover next to you
  191. >you indeed ascended hundreds of meters
  192. >but looking to the horizon, over the harbor, you see exactly what Longrun told you earlier
  193. >the Storm Army fleet has their airships positioned around the city in a perfect circle
  194. >they are only a few clicks out
  195. >you gulp, and just face back forward
  196. >the Hippogriffs are sitting opposite to you
  197. >you barely noticed them so far, but now Coral greets you warmly
  198. >"I'm so glad you made it, Corporal Glitter! You, and Sergeant Edge too! I was so worried!"
  199. >"Yes, it's indeed a relief. We would feel more than bad if our saviours perished" adds the ambassador
  200. "And I'm glad you're alright too. Let's just hope we can say the same a few minutes later as well"
  201. >"We should surely make it now" continues Seabeak "The Major told us the Wind Razor is the fastest airship in the world, AND armored too. What could possibly go wrong?"
  202. >well, you'd rather not answer that...
  203.  
  204. >the Razor is moving at flank speed now
  205. >you have cleared the city, and over the water now
  206. >you're obviously going back the way you came from, over the ocean
  207. >Major Starstorm walks to the front, next to Longrun
  208. >"I really don't like the look of that..." says the stallion at the wheel "That stormcloud doesn't look natural to me"
  209. >you stand up, and try to see what he's talking about
  210. >even from where you are, you can still see through the forward viewing port
  211. >and it's true, some awful blackness is looming in the not so far distance
  212. >as if a part of the blockade were replaced with a stormcloud
  213. >but for what reason?
  214. >camouflage maybe?
  215. >now Scroll walks up next to Starstorm
  216. >he takes a good look, and after a momentary grimace, he speaks
  217. >"Yes. That had to be conjured up. It's sunny skies all around, no other cloud in sight"
  218. >"Well, the Corporal did mention a mage among enemy forces. One she defeated. Maybe they have more than one? Weathermancers, maybe?" reacts the Major
  219. >"I can imagine anything at this point..." says the Captain in a moody tone
  220. >"So, what's the plan anyway? Do I just sail into the blockade headfirst, shooting our way out? I'd appreciate your insight, Ma'am" inquires Longrun, slowing down the ship a bit
  221. >"What are you doing?! Flank speed ahead, aim for that stormcloud!"
  222. >the Major doesn't wait for his officer though, and pushes the gear lever forward
  223. >"I can't believe... That's your plan?!"
  224. >"Got something better? We'll lose them inside that cloud"
  225. >"And what if it hides more ships? We'll just crash into them"
  226. >"That remains to be seen... Just keep this direction"
  227. >Longrun lets out an annoyed snort, and shakes his head slighty
  228. >"Aye, aye, Ma'am..."
  229.  
  230. >the Captain and Major walk back to their seats
  231. >you sit down too
  232. >the squad is on the edge, everyone is visibly tense
  233. >you look at Shield
  234. >he probably sees your despair, and gives you a weak smile
  235. >and a wink
  236. >you try to smile back, but not sure how well it turned out
  237. >Sabersong notices this, and chimes in:
  238. >"Looking after your girlfriend, huh Shield?"
  239. >"Uh, would you cut it out?" comes the answer
  240. >"I'm just jesting you two... You're fine, right Rookie?"
  241. "I'm... I appreciate that you're trying to lighten the mood"
  242. >"We've been through worse!" says your least favorite squadmate "Is that right Major?"
  243. >the Major looks at Saber with a deadpan
  244. >"Sure"
  245. >"Just as I said!" continues the Staff Sergeant
  246. >but as she finishes her sentence, you hear a muffled "Boom"
  247. >all members look around, then lift their port covers behind them
  248. >you too
  249. >what you see, isn't very reassuring, although not surprising...
  250.  
  251. >"Storm Army airships are converging on us from both sides!" shouts Starstorm, standing up
  252. >"Oh, how utterly wonderful!" comes the response from the pilot
  253. >"We'll just outrun them. Maintain our speed"
  254. >"Will do. Also, keep those port covers open for me, would'ya? I wanna see how close those ships are getting"
  255. >you all open up every one of those
  256. >due to the high speed, the air blowing in whistles throughout the crew deck
  257. >the ships giving chase are still firing on you, with more ships leaving the blockade
  258. >no doubt, at this point they are adamant about seeing you crash into the water
  259. >one ship in particular, bigger than the others, is a pretty crack shot
  260. >its cannonballs are wheezing past the Razor, but they don't hit
  261. >but the situation is most concerning, nonetheless
  262. >"Mr and Mrs Ambassador, I want you to get lying down on the deck. Safer that way if we actually get hit" says Starstorm his next command "And you, Phoenix, get up to the combat deck! Be ready to engage any ships once we get close to the blockade"
  263. >Coral gives over the baby to his husband, who indeed gets down on the deck, and wraps the little one in a wing
  264. >but she herself steps forward
  265. >"Major, we will never escape this way. But we have the advantage of speed. Let's climb higher, fly OVER the blockade"
  266. >"I'd rather keep them in my line of sight. And besides, this ship has the weakest armor on its belly. Would be unwise to expose that to the enemy"
  267. >"Then at least let me help fighting! I could fire one of those guns"
  268. >"No way! VIPs are not to get involved! You get down too, stat!"
  269. >"Ma'am" Longrun interrupts "The Hippogriff has a sound idea. Let's just ascend quickly, and leave behind this mess"
  270. >"As I said, if we get hit in the..."
  271. >BANG!!!
  272. >Starstorm can't finish her sentence, the sound of awful shattering and breaking filters it out
  273. >it came from the back, the gondola rocks to the side, and you lose balance momentarily
  274.  
  275. >"Shit, we've been hit!" cries Longrun
  276. >"And so much for our speed advantage" says Coral "Look!"
  277. >looking to the sides, you can tell the ship has slowed down significantly
  278. >and the Storm Army ones have gained a lot of ground
  279. >well, air...
  280. >"Great... Scroll, check on the engine, it must have taken damage!" comes from your commanding officer, pointing her hoof "The rest of you, get up to the combat deck already! Not you Miss, I already said, you remain here!"
  281. >poor Coral wants to help so hard, but it's clear, Starstorm won't take it
  282. >so she gets down to the ground finally, grumbling, although getting some consoling words from her husband
  283. >but you stall no longer, and trot one deck up
  284. >Starstorm arrives too, with only Scroll and Longrun remaining on the crew deck
  285. >you and the squad open up the firing ports, and see that the enemy ships have almost catched up to you
  286. >you can hear them too, and unlike the Razor's subtle whizzing, their engines sound more like a very angry bumblebee
  287. >they also exhaust black smoke
  288. >what sort of engines are that?
  289. >whatever they are, they seem rather potent
  290. >and their guns are potent too
  291. >damn their lucky hit, you can only hope the Captain can fix the damage quickly
  292. >if not, this escape will devolve into naval combat
  293. >and you're not yet qualified in that
  294. >crew served weapons and naval tactics: Week 26
  295. >you had five weeks of Paladin training altogether
  296. >this is not good
  297. >you're eyeing the hardware you're supposed to use soon
  298. >"breechloaders"
  299. >you never saw anything like that
  300. >you only saw those silly, fat, muzzle-loading howitzers in Canterlot a few times
  301. >the "Party Cannons" as the crews nicknamed them
  302. >but this?
  303. >wizard tech in comparison
  304. >although you could still serve as an ammo handler and spotter
  305. >and of course...there is also "the thing"
  306. >if the breehloaders were "wizard tech", then this is simply beyond this world altogether
  307. >the "Firecracker" as your teammates call it
  308. >more precisely the Mark I Magic-Actuated Multi-Firebomb Launcher, Experimental
  309. >four thin barrels, arranged in a 2-atop-2 configuration
  310. >ten 2-bomb clips of ammo for each barrel, 80 bomb capacity altogether
  311. >the clips are along the length of the barrel, stacked after one another
  312. >the bombs use a nonstandard propulsion, apparently some enchantment
  313. >hence why each of the clip holders have a little crystal poking out on the top
  314. >those are the "triggers", which need some magic to discharge a bomb
  315. >but it's still under work, and was never field tested
  316. >and if anything, someone like you surely shouldn't even touch such a thing
  317.  
  318. >you step next to the guns on the starboard side
  319. >you wait for someone more experienced to help you, and of course it's Shield
  320. >he understands your situation in a second, and says:
  321. >"Spotter and reloader? Works for me. We could operate all four guns on this side that way"
  322. "I thought about just...AAAHHH!!!"
  323. >the Razor gets hit again, and it rocks the gondola hard
  324. >this time, on the side, the deck underneath you
  325. >you can only hope it didn't penetrate
  326. >the sandwiched armor should be able withstand this, but the Razor wasn't designed for extended combat engagements
  327. >after both the ship and you regained balance, you'd try to finish your sentence, but a familiar sound beats you
  328. >"Glitter! Edge! Don't just stand there, and start working those guns! We're dead if we don't fight back!"
  329. "Yes, about that Major, I can't actually operate something like these..."
  330. >"Well, improvise!... Argh, Edge, show her!"
  331. >"Um, yes Ma'am!"
  332. >at this point, two ships have completely catched up to you, and fly on both sides of the Razor
  333. >the bigger -you'd think a cruiser- is giving chase on the port side
  334. >on the starboard, you're now facing a ship not much larger than the Razor, outfitted only with a few guns
  335. >Starstorm, Saber, and Breakpoint started to deal with the cruiser, and are firing the breechloaders to great effect
  336. >BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
  337. >the sound of the guns reverberate throughout the deck, and you feel your ears ringing a bit
  338. >you feel you should start doing the same, but not before you get a crash course in cannon operation
  339. >and you think you have about...five seconds in total for that
  340. "Shield, what do I do?! I don't think I could operate any of these!"
  341. >"Just help me with the ammo dispensers, okay? Make sure there's always a cannonball ready"
  342. "Right, I think I can do that..."
  343. >the ammo dispensers are huge boxes on the walls, one for each gun
  344. >they seem rather intuitive to you, as they have only one oversized button near the bottom
  345. >that operates a trap door, which releases a single cannonball, which then rolls down on a little pair of rails to a small receptacle, right next to the breech
  346. >well, that's not hard to do
  347. >you push the button right after Shield fires a gun
  348. >he moves on to the next one, and loads the cannonball
  349. >then what you think is the wadding, then the powder charge, then the cannonball itself
  350. >finally the fuse, and BANG!
  351.  
  352. >the Razor leaves behind the greyish smoke from the shot in a moment
  353. >although you have slowed down, you're still moving at a significant speed
  354. >but so does the enemy
  355. >your current nemesis already got a few hits, but it's still very well operational
  356. >how do you even take out an airship for good anyway?
  357. >well, shooting the gondola until it falls apart seems a little tiresome
  358. >how about shooting the envelope?
  359. >the airship you and Shield are fighting right now is just a blimp
  360. >it doesn't have the segmented envelope of the Razor, which is a so-called "Zeppelin"
  361. >so maybe it will go down once it has enough holes in it
  362. >slowly sure, but it will eventually fall into the ocean
  363. >you should suggest this
  364. "Shield, how about shooting its envelope? That should take it down quicker...AH!"
  365. >the Razor just got hit again, now as if from both sides
  366. >you can hear Longrun's swearing from a deck below
  367. >also, the Major's inquiring about the Captain's progress on the engine, but her lovely screaming gets no response
  368. >"Swordie, they hold so much gas that it would take too much time! We should aim at tactical targets, like the firing ports!"
  369. >with that, Shield fires the next gun, and actually takes out one of the enemy gun positions on the blimp
  370. >"You can try shooting it tho" he adds
  371. >sure, that won't hurt
  372. >it's not like your assistance would require so much concentration
  373. >so you charge up a combat spell, and fire away
  374. >it strikes the blimp's envelope and....
  375. >BOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMM!
  376. "Whoah! What the...?"
  377. >you felt the heat from that one!
  378. >did you just blow up that airship with a single hit?
  379. >"Dang, what the... do these amateurs fill their airships with HYDROGEN?" Shield looks up from his aiming at you
  380. "Do they?!"
  381. >you know that hydrogen goes boom-boom when shot, but why would anyone use that for filling an airship?
  382. >although honestly, they probably didn't expect to face spellcasters who can just lit up their floating tools of invasion
  383. >Shield cries out to the Major, trying to talk over the sound of the other airship's engine, and the guns firing
  384. >"Ma'am! These airship are filled with HYDROGEN! Sword just took one out with a single hit. You could just..."
  385. >Starstorm doesn't even wait for the sentence to end, and fires a quick shot at the chasing cruiser
  386. >but there's no such luck
  387. >"Well, this one's helium, just like us. Seems like they cared more about their bigger ships"
  388. >well, drat
  389. >no easy way out from this battle
  390.  
  391. >meanwhile, Scroll has returned from his engine-fixing
  392. >and considering the Razor didn't speed up, that means he didn't succeed at his endeavor
  393. >"Major, two of the magic converters have completely fried themselves. It's impossible to fix them mid-flight. We'll have to make due with this speed, I'm afraid"
  394. >"Peachy... Understood, just help here then, we need all hooves on deck"
  395. >the Captain mans one of the guns on the port side, and Shield does too
  396. >now with one pony for each gun, you reach an unprecedented rate of fire
  397. >and with no other enemy ship on the starboard side, you decide to check on the VIPs one deck below
  398. >and on Longrun too
  399. >as you trot down to the crew deck, the ship gets get hit again, then again
  400. >by now, you're expecting the shaking that comes with it, and it barely throws off your balance
  401. >you can see the port covers are closed now, so no cannonballs could be shot inside
  402. >those covers are armored too luckily, wood-steel-wood, just like the body
  403. >although this way, Longrun barely sees anything of the battle that happens around the "lady", as he sometimes called the ship
  404.  
  405. "Mr and Mrs Ambassador, is everything okay?" you ask
  406. >the answer is obvious on the part of Mr Seabeak, as he is shaking, and covering his face with his claws
  407. >Coral, on the other hand, looks to the side, as if she was seeing the enemy ship through the wood
  408. >and for a change, you get hit once again
  409. >where the cannonball strikes, you can see the planking getting bent inwards, although the steel plate stops the penetration
  410. >"Corporal, if we don't do something fast, these Storm Army ships will chip away at us until we fall down in pieces"
  411. "Nothing you can do, but we're on it..."
  412. >"You just chill Miss" shouts Longrun from the front "Hey Sword, we're okay here, shouldn't you help one deck up?"
  413. "All guns are manned on the port side. And they seem to handle this cruiser well....
  414. >BLAM!
  415. >the whole ship shakes again
  416. ....enough... Overall..."
  417. >"So glad Swordie, but I still feel we're getting gangbanged. So gimme a precise sitrep"
  418. "Okay"
  419. >with Longrun not being able to see to the sides, you should be his eyes
  420. >you lift a single port cover on the port side
  421. >the cruiser is still chasing, but it's pretty messed up by now, and is slowing down
  422. >them breechloaders did a number on her
  423. >on the starboard you see nothing still...oh wait
  424. "Enemy ship approaching fast, at 4 o'clock!"
  425. >"Then you have something to do, aren't you corporal?"
  426. "Yes Sir! On it Sir!"
  427.  
  428. >you gallop one deck up
  429. >"Where were you Corporal? You're needed!" Starstorm snaps at you
  430. "Just checked on the VIPs, Ma'am"
  431. >"Don't! We have multiple enemy ships converging on us!"
  432. >"The whole damn blockade is trying to hunt us down!" adds Breakpoint
  433. >although the chasing cruiser has been dealt with, two more is already very close
  434. >and they are even bigger, with more guns
  435. >dealing with them will be...most challanging
  436. >you didn't even notice them just a minute ago
  437. >it seems the cruiser itself was blocking them out from view
  438. >but now that has buggered off, two destroyer-sized ships are trying to take its place
  439. >"Everypony, to the cannons!" gives Starstorm the order
  440. >well, everypony does, except the sixth...
  441. "Major, there is another problem...two in fact"
  442. >"What?!"
  443. "First, there is another ship coming at us from the starboard side. Secondly...I still cannot use these guns!"
  444. >the Major shoves you away, and looks out on the starboard side
  445. >"Well, dang... I can't advise anything Rookie, improvise! I can't spare anypony from the port side, those destroyers will mess us up if we don't fight back"
  446. "But..."
  447. >"It's just a cruiser... Use the Firecracker dang it! Just apply some magic to the crystals, it's not hard!"
  448. "Aye-aye Ma'am!"
  449. >with that, the Major returns to the other side, and you're left alone to deal with the cruiser
  450. >you look back at the Major, being all uncertain
  451. >you should do what now?
  452. >you were told before that this experimental cannon is unstable, and should be handled only by a skilled arcane weapons operator
  453. >which are only Starstorm and Scroll Writ
  454. >but it seems right now, you have no chance
  455. >you let out a sigh from really deep
  456. "Okay Sword Glitter... Let's do this"
  457.  
  458. >the enemy cruiser have arrived next to you
  459. >you're facing its guns, and they're opening fire on you, as you'd expect
  460. >their rounds strike the Razor, one right next to your firing port
  461. >okay, let's see
  462. >you aim the Firecracker somewhat higher up
  463. >now, it should strike the side of the enemy ship
  464. >but which triggering crystal should be activated first?
  465. >there are 40 of them!
  466. >maybe the one that's closest to the muzzle?
  467. >after all, the ammo is stacked in this weapon
  468. >so the clip closest to the muzzle should spent first
  469. >maybe this is indeed not that hard?
  470. >you cast a spell on the crystal like if you used a staff and...nothing happens
  471. "THE FIRECRACKER ISN'T FIRING!!!" you cry out in panic
  472. >both Starstorm and Scroll looks back at you
  473. >"Sword! The safety rod! Pull it out!" says the Captain
  474. >you look at the weapon and don't get it
  475. >what rod?
  476. >then you notice a ring at the butt end of the weapon, that's indeed attached to a rod, that runs between the four barrels
  477. >you grab it with TK, and pull it out
  478. >now it should be ready to fire?
  479. >you adjust your aim a bit, and cast
  480. >the Firecracker indeed fires, and a little sphere comes out of the top-right barrel
  481. >it leaves a golden-sparkly trail behind itself, and its sound indeed reminds you of a firecracker
  482. >but you can barely notice that before it strikes the side of the enemy ship
  483. >hard!
  484. >as the projectile hits, it explodes, and it causes some fire too
  485. >firebomb launcher, alright!
  486. >you repeat the process, now with the other barrel
  487. >you score another hit, and the explosion and fire do their jobs as previously
  488. >you aim at the gun ports, and although you didn't score a direct hit, the gun operators have left their positions
  489. >they're giving up so easily, huh?
  490. >you didn't even strike on the full lenght of the enemy ship
  491. >you'd like to do that, but the bulky weapon has very limited horizontal traversal on its mount
  492. >well, it's still experimental, after all
  493.  
  494. >the enemy ship remains silent for a bit, and comes somewhat closer
  495. >now you see dozens of Storm Creatures pouring out from below deck
  496. >maybe they feared they will burn inside?
  497. >as the ship is still on fire
  498. >but the Creatures don't panic
  499. >many of them are armed with bows or crossbows
  500. >and they seemingly all aim at you
  501. >so they want to take out the dangerous gun operator with a precise hit?
  502. >you remember those arbalisters from earlier, and they were indeed a crack shot
  503. >without letting any of them firing a single bolt, you activate the Firecracker again
  504. >PFWHOOSH! PFWHOOSH! PFWHOOSH!
  505. >the bombs fly through the air with their distinctive sound
  506. >as they hit their target, they tear up the deck, and the Storm Creatures fly in all directions
  507. >all right!
  508. >that was at least six consecutive bombs, and they seemingly took out everyone on deck, even the pilot
  509. >with the crew gone, the Storm Army airship flies on aimlessly, slowly veering off from its course
  510. >you decide to share the good news with your commanding officer
  511. "Major, the enemy cruiser has been dealt with!"
  512. >"Good job Rookie, keep it up!"
  513. >"More will come on that side for sure, so put that weapon to good use!" adds the Captain, nodding with approval
  514. "Will do!"
  515. >until then though, wish you could help with those destroyers, but there is only ONE Firecracker on this ship
  516. >and it's on the starboard side
  517. >but it's not like you won't see action very soon anyway, as you already see more ships approaching
  518.  
  519. >the approaching ships seem to be like one cruiser and one destroyer
  520. >you're getting ready to cast, but then you get tossed to the ground
  521. >what the hay?!
  522. >something just striked the ship from the back!
  523. >something really powerful
  524. >no way the Storm Army has a gun of such large caliber!
  525. >and now you feel the ship is slowing down EVEN MORE
  526. >"Ah, don't tell me our engine got hit AGAIN!" barks Starstorm
  527. >"I don't think so..." says Scroll, and he gets topside
  528. >and only about twenty seconds later, he gets back, horror on his face
  529. >"We got hit by a damn harpoon! There's a ship on our tail, and it's rolling up the chains binding us! We will slow to a halt in no time!"
  530. >"We have to remove the harpoon immediately!" answers the Major
  531. >"I think it's got embedded just over the engine. Let's take a look"
  532. >the Major and Captain go one deck below, while the ship is slowing down significantly
  533. >the cruiser and destroyer have also catched up to you, while the two destroyers on the other side are still madly firing
  534. >you're waiting for the enemy on your side to be at striking angle
  535. >you activate the crystals on the Firecracker
  536. >too bad half of them are actually on the bottom of the weapon, as this whole shebang is symetrically built
  537. >why is this even mounted this way?
  538. >nevertheless you fire away, and the satisfying Pfwhoosh-es and BANGs indicate that you're doing a good job once again
  539. >it's almost as fun as using the Storm Mage's staff!
  540. >both ships get hit hard, and seeing the previous cruiser's fate (that has floated away since), they decide to put some serious distance between you
  541. >meanwhile, Starstorm and Scroll have came back
  542. >"It's impossible to remove the harpoon!" she pants "It embedded itself in the ship's aft superstructure! If we tear it out, the engine falls out with it too!"
  543. >"We'll have to cut through the chain holding us somehow. Maybe I can do it using a tandem laser-spell with the Major, but the rest of you will have to cover us, as Storm Army infantry will surely try to stop us from that ship's deck!"
  544. >"Then let's go!" says Sabersong enthusiastically
  545. "Wait!" you shout "What about the two destroyers?"
  546. >"They'll have to wait Corporal, the harpooning ship is now our priority! Let's go!"
  547.  
  548. >sure, the Major's answer makes sense, as until that one isn't taken out, more and more ships can easily catch up to you
  549. >but also, the destroyers are really giving you Tartarus
  550. >how much longer the Razor's armor can hold?
  551. >the sheet metal between the planks is now visible in many places, as the power of the hits has thrown off the planks on the inner side
  552. >you should follow your orders and help the Major, but your gut instinct tells you somepony should continue killing those destroyer airships
  553. >but a rude voice interrupts your logical thoughts:
  554. >"Rookie, you have cannonballs in your ears? The Major said she needs cover fire! So get your flank on the top deck, NOW!"
  555. >okay then, if the Major needs cover fire right now, then you'll provide some SERIOUS cover fire
  556.  
  557. >Sabersong waits for you impatiently, and honestly, she is right
  558. >"Well???"
  559. "I'm coming, just hang on a sec. I have an idea!"
  560. >with that said, you grab a good hold of the Firecracker within your levitation spell
  561. >and yank the whole weapon upwards, trying to strip it away from its mount
  562. >"Wha-WHAT are you doing?" asks Saber with disbelief "You don't suppose you can just... You CAN'T just do that, you know?!"
  563. >you don't answer, just violently pull on the weapon again, then again
  564. >on your next pull, you manage to break the elevation mechanism
  565. >then you pull again, and the screws binding the weapon to its mount give in, and you lift up and out the weapon from its original position
  566. >now you levitate it right before yourself, but making sure its muzzle is pointed upwards
  567. "Okay, I'm ready!"
  568. >Saber has her mouth agape
  569. >"Goshdarnit Rookie... That weapon is EXPERIMENTAL! It was mounted so securely because too much resonance can jam it! You might have just ruined a million bits in research!"
  570. "This thing is our greatest tactical boon. It would be a mistake not to use it to its full potential. If it jams, it jams, but I'll have to try! This is our last chance"
  571. >"Rookie, you're a fool, an undisciplined fool!... Ah, gimme that thing!"
  572. >you walk up to Saber, and past her
  573. "No. Your magic is strong. You can score precision hits on your own. I can't, so my best use will be to operate this monstrosity. Now come on, let's save this ship!"
  574.  
  575. >you walk up the stairs leading to the top deck, with Saber in tow
  576. >the Firecracker is in your magical aura
  577. >the rest of your team took up position at the aft railing, with Shield having a barrier conjured up in front of them
  578. >so the others can thin out the infantry on the harpooning ship, mainly the arbalisters
  579. >meanwhile the Razor has slowed down to well below its cruising speed, pulling the Storm Army one along
  580. >those chains have to be cut real fast, or you'll be COMPLETELY overwhelmed in no time
  581. >but now you have a little something that could turn the tides somewhat in your favor
  582. "Major, I'm here! Let me try something..."
  583. >all members of the squad look at you
  584. >their expressions aren't unlike Sabersong's just a minute ago
  585. >with the possible exception of Scroll, who seems more intrigued than surprised
  586. >"Corporal, you're not serious..." Starstorm mutters
  587. >you don't answer, because you obviously ARE serious, and step to the railing with the Firecracker aimed at the enemy ship
  588. >with no one trying to stop you (and Shield visibly channeling even a bit more magic into his barrier spell), you gently focus on the next activator crystal on your weapon
  589. "Hey Stormies! Catch THESE!"
  590. >you begin to fire your launcher madly, casting magic at the activators one after another
  591. >"PFWOOSH! PFWOOSH! PFWOOSH!"
  592. >the bombs fly through the air, and strike the bow of the ship, tearing off the bowsprit after the first few hits
  593. >the Stormtroopers onboard fall off their feets, but try to get up quickly
  594. >you should adjust your aim, and hit them directly
  595. >but that's harder to do so with such a heavy weapon, then with a staff
  596. >nevertheless, you aim a bit higher, and fire multiple bombs right in the middle of them
  597. >although you probably already took out the most problematic enemies, you don't stop firing, determined to take out the ship wholesale
  598. >it's what keeps you from escaping with its harpoon holding you in place
  599. >as more and more bombs hit, its rigging starts to give in, with ropes tearing apart, hitting the deck already in flames
  600. >that ship is toast, quite literally
  601.  
  602. >"CORPORAL!"
  603. >you turn your head in the direction of the sound
  604. >it was the Captain calling you out, successfully shouting over the PFWOOSH-ing of the Firecracker
  605. >you stop firing to listen what he has to say
  606. >"Corporal, try to aim at the harpoon port! A few good hits might be able to tear it out from its place, setting us free"
  607. >you nod, and resume firing
  608. >you aim just like Scroll said, but the Razor gets hit multiple times just as you fire
  609. >you literally fire around your target, messing up the ship even more, but not hitting the harpoon port
  610. >at this point, the chasing ship is completely in flames, and its ribs are visible in many places
  611. >you adjust your aim, and now score hits where you want to
  612. >the explosions tear apart the whole bow section of the enemy ship, and you can see the harpoon gun falling out
  613. >the same moment, the Razor jolts forward, as the only thing that binds the other half of the chain now is gravity
  614. >the chain flips under the Razor, and you leave your adversary behind, barely intact, completely in flames
  615. >you stop firing, and lower the Firecracker for a bit
  616. >you look around, to perhaps give a word of explanation to your squad, but that probably won't be necessary
  617.  
  618. >the first to speak up is Shield, who just disengaged his barrier spell
  619. >"By Celestia's mane Sword, that was crazy! You showed 'em, you bloody showed 'em!"
  620. >"That was badass, way to go Corporal!" says Breakpoint
  621. >"I can't believe that worked..." says Saber, still in some disbelief
  622. >Scroll just nods at you with a smile
  623. >but Starstorm speaks:
  624. >"This was indeed crazy, but it definitely worked. Good job Corporal. But we're still in great danger. New plan: You take out the chasing ships the same way you did this one" she points at you "Prioritize the destroyers. And Sergeant Edge will cover you with a shield while you do so. The rest of us will get back on the guns"
  625. >Starstorm stops shouting and gesturing, and trots back under deck with Saber, Scroll and Breakpoint
  626. >you and Shield get into position on the port side
  627. >he already has his spell conjured up, and the blue magical barrier forms a wall right in front of you
  628. >you aim the Firecracker at the closer destroyer
  629. >but before you'd fire, Shield's voice stops you for a moment
  630. >"You know Swordie, we might just make it. All thanks to you!"
  631. >he winks at you
  632. "Never fear until you see me!"
  633. >you wink back
  634. >now it's time to finish this battle
  635.  
  636. >you fire away the Firecracker, scoring easy hits on the chasing destroyer
  637. >its hull already wasn't 100% immaculate, but now you'll make sure to mess it up real good
  638. >as there are infantry on this one's deck too, you take those out first
  639. >as the bombs land among them, they panic, and with nowhere else to flee, some just jump overboard, plummeting into the ocean
  640. >surely, jumping from so high, it will be a hard landing, water notwithstanding
  641. >with them gone, you don't have to fear their bolts and arrows, making it easier for Shield to maintain his barrier
  642. >but the Razor is still getting hits, and you're sure she can't take much more of this
  643. >so you aim at the gun ports, and send some bombs there too
  644. >they have good effect on target, and by now, you really got the hang of the weapon
  645. >you can fire it FAST, triggering the activator crystals one-by-one in quick succession
  646. >since you simply levitate the weapon, you won't have a problem with the crystals on its underside either
  647. >by now, one row of clips have been depleted
  648. >firing it this way, you can make sure the weapon remains balanced in your telekinetic grip
  649. >with your adversary being a destroyer, it has many guns, and not having perfect aim, you messed up its hull so much, that it drops burning pieces of wood like if it was some evil pinata
  650. >but the guns are still firing, not giving up on taking out the Razor
  651. >guess the artillery crews of the Storm Army are even more fanatic than its infantry?
  652. >by now, there must be many holes in your hull
  653. >but that's true for the other ship, too
  654. >one of them is so large, you could easily lob a bomb into it
  655. >after a few misses, you manage to do so, and an explosion rocks the ship
  656. >flames shoot out of the gun ports closer to the bow, then another explosion occurs
  657. >as a chain reaction, the rest of the gun ports spout flames too
  658. >and a second later, the ship meets its end in one final, gigantic explosion
  659. >the shockwave throws around the Wind Razor too, and quite a few burning pieces land on the deck
  660. >luckily Shield reacts fast, and turns his frontal barrier into a full bubble shield
  661. >the flaming planks that hit it harmlessly fall of
  662.  
  663. >"Good work Sword! Now get the other one!"
  664. >as the previous ship has been dealt with, with only its envelope left intact, the other destroyer quickly takes its place
  665. >so far, only a few of its guns could hit you, as they didn't have the proper striking angle
  666. >but now, they can fire a full broadside, and they do so
  667. >the Razor rocks hard again, and loses its bowsprit and some of the rigging gets torn apart
  668. >you only now notice that this destroyer has two rows of guns, albeit of smaller calibers
  669. >hence they could hit you higher up, with the upper row aiming at your deck
  670. >good thing you're protected by Shield's barrier spell
  671. >but if you can take down this one, you should be able to deal with the rest relatively easy
  672. >the Storm Army doesn't have anything worse to throw at you, right?
  673. >"Sword, look! Another destroyer coming up, 7 o'clock!"
  674. >Shield points to it, and indeed another damned big Storm Army ship joined the fray
  675. >you take out one, and it gets replaced by another one?
  676. >just great...
  677. >"How much ammo you have left?"
  678. "I have fired away a full row of bombs, plus most of the next row. So two full rows, and a little. Around 45?"
  679. >"Dang, that might not be enough!"
  680. "Do we have any spare firepower left?"
  681. >"No, but...I have an idea. Target the ship's engine compartment, let's just slow 'em down. If they can't give chase, we won"
  682. "Okay. Sounds like a solid idea!"
  683. >you aim accordingly to Shield's instructions, and tear up the aft section of the ship with your bombs
  684. >but it just doesn't want to slow down, despite you being rather accurate with the Firecracker
  685. >"It seems their engines are actually armored? Fire on, some more hits oughta do it"
  686. >meanwhile, the next destroyer have completely catched up, and tails the one you're fighting
  687. >good thing they don't have anymore of those harpooning ships, nor their ships having guns on the front
  688. >otherwise you'd be in even bigger trouble
  689. >so you just fire on, and finally, one bomb penetrates, and the engine lets out flames from its exhaust port
  690. >it seems all the burning stuff from these firebombs did their work, and melted the engine's armor
  691. >with the engines stopping, the destroyer suddenly decelerates, and the other airship tailing so close, runs into it
  692. >with probably the most violent kiss that was ever given in naval warfare, the weakened aft section of the crippled destroyer gets cut in half by the fortified bowsprit of the tailing one
  693. >lodged into each other, both ships get left behind
  694.  
  695. >meanwhile, the Razor is getting closer to the blockade itself
  696. >busting through that will be a challange in itself, but perhaps you can escape by flying through that suspicious stormcloud lingering about, as was planned by Starstorm
  697. >it's as if one part of the blockade was replaced by that cloud for some reason
  698. >but what reason?
  699. >you can't think about it right now, as some ships on the starboard side are still giving chase
  700. >you can hear your own cannons firing, and see those ships getting hit hard
  701. "Maybe I should spare some ammo for the blockade? Our guns could deal with these now, are they not?"
  702. >"We're already like a flying colander, these ships have to be taken out now. We'll deal with the blockade when we get there"
  703. "Okay. Makes sense"
  704. >makes sense, as in there isn't a good decision here
  705. >the Razor is in a very bad shape now, and it's actually resonating a bit in a weird manner
  706. >probably the superstrucure itself got some damage, which isn't good
  707. >so you take aim, and begin firing what's the remainder of your ammo at the enemy ships
  708. >Shield casts his barrier in front of you again, as a precaution
  709. >a cruiser goes down fast, then you introduce the Firecracker to another one
  710. >this one has put some distance between you, so you angle your shots to hit it
  711. >some bombs miss at first, but after finding the correct range through the misses, you score hits
  712. >the bombs explode on the deck, and take out the rigging in a manner, that the gondola remains held by only two ropes in the back
  713. >it dangles from the envelope like some oversized teabag, while its still running engines propel it downwards
  714. >you don't have to worry anymore about this one either
  715. >you quickly take out another ship, a little one, probably just some patrol skiff
  716. >with so many ships destroyed, you realize you are down to only one giving chase
  717. >but it's a toughie, a destroyer
  718.  
  719. >you now know these have armored engines, so maybe shooting those don't really spare ammo, unlike Shield suggested earlier
  720. >instead, you try to go for another chain reaction
  721. >these destroyers must carry some of their blasting powder just lying about, the dumb fools
  722. >and although you concetrate your fire on a single spot, the ship just doesn't want to explode
  723. >maybe only that one crew was so dumb?
  724. >now matter how much bombs you lob in the hole you created with your previous hits, the ship remains intact
  725. >although the section you're pounding looks like some burning skeleton, with the planking completely blown away
  726. >but most of the guns are still intact, and firing
  727. >oh, come on!
  728. >fine then, if you can't do it that way, you will do it the hard way
  729. >you send your bombs one by-one to the gun ports
  730. >but as you'd take out the last ones, you're out of bombs
  731. >the Firecracker is empty
  732. >you quickly try each of the activator crystals nevertheless, but there is no doubt about it now
  733. "Shield, I'm out of ammo!"
  734. >"Dang... Fine, let's not linger here anymore then"
  735. >you drop the empty Firecracker on the deck, and follow Shield under deck
  736. >Commander Starstorm and co. are still firing the guns of course
  737. >maybe, they can finish the job now...
  738. >"Why did you stop firing? There is still one ship intact" shouts Starstorm over the sound of the bang of the guns
  739. "The Firecracker's out, ma'am" you answer
  740. >"Great. Well, then don't just stand there, open up one of the empty ports and use your magic"
  741. "Yes Major..."
  742. >you step to one of the empty gun ports, and Shield to the next one
  743. >you're not sure how much good your relatively weak magic will do, but every little effort counts, right?
  744. >so you open up the port cover, and look at your target
  745. >as you fired a salvo of firebombs at it just minutes ago, it's flaming in multiple spots
  746. "If we could wait a bit more, those flames would just consume it..." you comment to Shield
  747. >"Yeah, it would... Wait, you just gave me an idea!"
  748.  
  749. >"Captain!" Shield shouts over your head "Could you cast one of your wind spells at the destroyer? Your strongest one. Let the flames consume it!"
  750. >Scroll immediately leaves his position, and goes to the hatch leading to the top deck
  751. >"Great idea, Shield. Gimme a moment"
  752. >"Do you need me to cover you?"
  753. >"No, I'll manage"
  754. >Captain Writ gets up to the top deck, and disappears
  755. >from your firing port though, you can already see a strong wind blowing over the destroyer
  756. >the wind makes the fire spread faster, and in half a minute, their entire ship is in flames
  757. >the guns go silent, and with the envelope catching fire too, there is danger the fire will spread to you
  758. >as it seems in a last ditch attempt, the destroyer tries to ram you
  759. >Starstorm of course notices, and gives orders
  760. >"Dangit, we can't let it touch us! Telekinetic blast, on three!"
  761. >you look at the ship through your port, and charge up your spell
  762. >it's indeed almost in your face now, you can feel the heat from its flames
  763. >"One...two...Three!"
  764. >you and the whole squad releases the spell at once, and the flaming ship gets pushed away some
  765. >"Again!" comes from Starstorm "One...two... Three!"
  766. >you all blast again, pushing it away some more
  767. >you also notice that despite all the flames, it's speeding up
  768. >it's probably trying to ovetake you, then brake, so you'd run into it
  769. >well, not if you have anything to say about it
  770. >looking out your port, its rudder and propellers are right next to you
  771. >you grab its rudder in your TK, and turn it right, then tear the whole thing off
  772. >and smash it into the closer propeller
  773. >the airship slows down and veers off, now without a means to change course
  774. >you look after it, and for any other potential ships giving chase
  775. >but it seems they left you alone for now
  776.  
  777. >everypony steps away from the guns
  778. >you step away from your firing port, and close it for now
  779. >Major Starstorm speaks
  780. >"Good job everyone. Especially you two"
  781. >she's looking at you
  782. >Shield steps next to you, and pats on your back
  783. >"Sword here deserves all praise. She's done the heavy lifting after all. And that last trick... That was something else!"
  784. >you blush at these words, but honestly, you feel them kinda justified
  785. >you DID some heavy lifting in the last few minutes...
  786. "But let's not forget about Shield's protective spells either. Or that wind spell suggestion..." you say in turn
  787. >"About that" says Starstorm "Scroll went up to the top deck, but didn't return. Let's check on him"
  788. >as you and Shield are the closest to the stairs leading upside, you take the opportunity
  789. >on the top deck, you see Scrool, looking into the not so far distance
  790. >what you can see is strange, indeed deserving attention
  791. >the Storm Army ships in the blockade are giving way, as if they were too scared to face the Wind Razor
  792. >the torn and ragged Wind Razor, barely able to fly
  793. >the rest of your squad arrives on the deck now, and they are giving the new situation a stare, too
  794. >"I don't like the look of this, Major" says Scroll moodily
  795. >"Why would they just let us through? If they didn't fear us so far, I doubt they just changed their minds" the Major answers
  796. >"That's what bothers me too..."
  797. >and then, you can hear it
  798. >a loud horn blaring, coming from within the stormcloud
  799. >as the Razor is getting closer, you can see the cloud dissipating somewhat, revealing it...
  800. >the largest Storm Army airship you ever saw
  801.  
  802. >the gigantic airship blares its horn again, as if announcing its presence
  803. >the clouds around it are clearing rapidly now, confirming they were magical in nature
  804. >seeing its full size now, it easily dwarfs not just the Razor, but those destroyers you took out, too
  805. >so that's why the ships in the blockade dissipated
  806. >giving way to this monster
  807. >"By Celestia..." mutters Breakpoint
  808. >"That must be the Storm King's ship. So THAT'S what they were hiding" says Scroll
  809. >"Oh snap..." says Starstorm, but her mild reaction doesn't match her expression
  810. >a face of pure horror
  811. >you never saw her like that
  812. >and now, you also feel a chill going down your spine
  813. >not sure if because of her, or because of your new gigantic adversary
  814. >but Starstorm being afraid tells you for sure: Now is the time for fear
  815.  
  816. >the Storm Army's flagship slowly starts to turn, no doubt to line up a broadside with you
  817. >and what a broadside that is...
  818. >four rows of guns, with at least thirty in each row
  819. >the Razor will not survive a salvo from those, not in her state
  820. >and no amount of magic can protect you from such concentrated fire
  821. >even Shield's barrier would break from it, and kill him subsequently
  822. >and you don't have the firepower to take it out, either
  823. >were all your efforts in vain so far? So just to go out in an inglorious blaze of glory at the very end?
  824. >you will find out real soon, but your chances are very bleak at the moment
  825.  
  826. >the enemy airship is really huge, which also means it must be very heavy
  827. >so it's really slow to turn as well, which buys you some time
  828. >but what that's enough for?
  829. >surely that's not enough to get out of its range, especially because you have to get CLOSER at first to pass it
  830. >"Alright team, let's get down to the crew deck. Let's warn the hippogriffs, this mission is now compromised"
  831. >"Which means...?" asks Breakpoint
  832. >"We can no longer ensure their protection. We'll have to let them go"
  833. >"And go where?! They can't just fly home from here. And they even have a baby with them..."
  834. >"I get you Lieutenant, but their chances for survival are even worse if they stay"
  835. >"Come on Major. We are Phoenix Squad! We never back down, and we never falter! Surely, we will think of something, right?"
  836. >"Lt. Breakpoint. Look at that ship. Our survival is also dubious"
  837. >"But if we..."
  838. >you don't hear what Breakpoint answers, as your attention veers off
  839. >you can see an airship in your peripherial vision
  840. >you turn your head to focus on it
  841. >ah, it's just the first cruiser you took out with the Firecracker
  842. >funny, it's still afloat, and mostly intact
  843. >if it continues its course, you would maybe even collide with it
  844. >collide...
  845. >collide...
  846. >wait...
  847. >that gives you an idea
  848. >an idea, that could save all of you
  849. >well, ALMOST all of you...
  850.  
  851. >in ancient Pegasus dramas, the heroes made decisions that served the greater good
  852. >despite all odds, they made a choice, and their sacrifice was worth it in the end
  853. >well, maybe you're no hero, but you're thinking it's worth it...
  854. >your squad don't deserve to die
  855. >and those hippogriffs don't deserve to die either
  856. >all that effort, all that risk and pain to save them can't go in vain now
  857. >but there is not much time left...
  858. >so mustering up all your courage, all your determination, you make your choice
  859. >you take a deep breath, and step forward
  860. "Major Starstorm? I have a plan..."
  861.  
  862. >the Major hastily turns towards you, visibly under stress
  863. >well, no wonder...
  864. >"A plan? Really? And what that would be?"
  865. "Major, I know we simply don't have enough firepower to take out that ship... But I'm sure it couldn't take a direct hit from a battlecruiser"
  866. >the Major's eyes go wide
  867. >"W-what do you mean?!"
  868. "You see that floating ship to the right? I took out its crew earlier with the Firecracker, but it's still in a flyable condition. Bring me closer, so I can board it. I will drive it right into the enemy flagship. THAT will surely take it out. Then you'll have a straight shot to open seas"
  869. >the Major listened with wide eyes so far
  870. >but now her mouth remains agape too, before she can speak
  871. >"Corporal, what you suggest... You know what you suggest is suicidal, right? I simply cannot allow you to do this. If you go through with this, you will surely die..."
  872. "Don't worry Major, I know what I signed up for. We're Celestia's elite, right? We never falter, we never back down. And neither you or those Hippogriffs deserve to die. So I'll take one for the team. This is the only way I see"
  873. >the Major's expression goes from surprised-and-scared to sad, and her voice is almost pleading now
  874. >"Corporal... /Sword/... You don't have to do this. There should be another way! We won't sacrifice you, we can do this together! Shield can erect a barrier that is strong enough, and we will just...
  875. >heh, funny...
  876. >is that the first time she ever called you that?
  877. >simply "Sword"?
  878. >oh, what war does to ponies!
  879. "Major Starstorm" you interrupt "Surely, I didn't make this decision all willy-nilly, but you know our chances as well. Shield's spell isn't powerful enough against a salvo from that ship. And the Razor itself is in shambles, it can't take much more punishment. Just tell Longrun to fly us closer to the ship I mentioned. This is final. We don't have much time left"
  880.  
  881. >Starstorm looks deep into your eyes for a second, then lets out a short sigh
  882. >"Okay. So be it. I understand. I'll instruct the Gunnery Sergeant to make the necessary maneuvers. You just...get ready"
  883. >you nod an affirmative, but before the Major could turn back, Shield jumps to her
  884. >"No, wait! You can't let her do this! Sword, - now he turns to you - you already did so much! I'll go instead! You can't just... YOU don't deserve this! I can do this, you stay!"
  885. >you shake your head
  886. >ah, Shield can't stop trying to be a hero huh?
  887. >sure, he wants to repay you, but when you saved him, the circumstances were different
  888. "Shield, look... This is MY crazy plan. So I have to do it. I appreciate that you care about me so, but you can't stop me either. Let things happen. You said it: Sometimes, you just need to let go"
  889. >"But, but..."
  890. >"She made her decision Sergeant" interrupts Starstorm, putting a hoof on Shield's chest "For better or worse"
  891. >with that, Starstorm disappears under deck
  892. >Shield doesn't resume his pleading, he's just looking at you, with a strange mix of expressions
  893. >for a few moments, there is eerie silence, only the magitech engine's strange whizzing can be heard
  894. >then suddenly, another loud blare from the enemy flagship
  895. >but the squad doesn't even look there
  896. >they're looking at you
  897. >and they all have a frown
  898. >even Saber, despite you know she never liked you
  899. >now Scroll hangs his head
  900. >he speaks
  901.  
  902. >"I know I can't possibly talk you out of this, but I'll try: Celestia instructed me to bring you home safe. She sees much potential in you. And now I know, more than ever, why. I will do this instead. I saw my fair share of action. It's time that I retire finally"
  903. >Scroll looks up at you
  904. >you look into his eyes, then to the sides
  905. >you just passed the flagship, and took about a 45 degree turn to the right
  906. >Longrun is bringing you closer to the cruiser that YOU will use to save the team
  907. >you look back at Scroll
  908. "Then you must tell Celestia to find another replacement. Look, I'm just a Royal Guard. You are all veteran Paladins, Celestia needs YOU in her team. Equestria needs YOU if some danger lurks within or outside its borders that only a Paladin can stop. I'm a small sacrifice, really"
  909. >"No Sword, you're wrong. You ARE a Paladin. You have all the qualities that make one. Believe me"
  910. >Scroll turns to see the enemy ship, then back at you
  911. >you're not sure what answer he expects, so you just smile a bit
  912. >Breakpoint steps to you now, the stallion of few words
  913. >"Corporal, I dunno what to tell you but... It was heckin' great to have you as a squadmate. The Captain is right about you. You are a Paladin through and through"
  914. "Thanks big guy. Was great having you, too" you say, extending your front leg for one last hoof bump
  915. >Breakpoint complies with a smile, albeit a weak one
  916. >and now, Sabersong has her word too
  917. >"You know Rookie... Maybe the others had the right idea about you. Maybe you are indeed Paladin material. If you'll pull this off, well... I'll be impressed. And maybe a bit sad, even. We could have kicked more ass together"
  918. >whoah
  919. >now that's more than she could ever muster in friendliness towards you
  920. >war indeed does break ponies!
  921. "Thanks, I guess. And don't worry, you can kick ass with the others even better. Stay strong, Psychomare"
  922. >Saber tries to force a smile, but fails to, so just nods instead
  923.  
  924. >you now turn back to Shield, as you see he still has something to say
  925. >sure, final words, huh?
  926. >you don't die every day, after all!
  927. >"Sword, I'll respect your decision, so lemme just say: You were the best comrade a soldier could ask for. I'm sad but... I'll think about these few weeks we served together. You really brightened up my days, you know? So you know... Farewell"
  928. >at that last word, Shield drops a tear
  929. >poor guy
  930. >there must be so much he didn't say, is there?
  931. >so you take off your helmet
  932. >as there is something you need before you depart this world
  933. >and you think he needs it too...
  934. >you lean in close to him, your muzzles are almost touching
  935. >and look deep into his eyes, and begin in a soft tone
  936. "Shield, do you know what I considered my middle name so far?"
  937. >"No?!"
  938. "Professionalism. But screw that now. I'll never have to live this down"
  939. >with that, you press your lips against Shield's
  940. >your love interest - why hide it now? - is shocked for a moment, but then accepts it in full
  941. >but the kiss, the sweetest kiss of your life, can last only a few seconds, as you hear Major Starstorm's voice
  942. >"Um... Corporal? We're beside that cruiser. It's time. Now or never"
  943. >you separate from Shield, and caress his helmet, just over his cheek
  944. "Farewell Shield. See you one day. Somewhere else"
  945.  
  946. >the Razor slows down, so you can make a jump to the yet aimlessly floating Storm Army cruiser
  947. >"Corporal Glitter?" the Major's voice stops you for a moment
  948. >you turn back
  949. >"Longrun sends his best regards. And also... It was a real honor serving alongside you"
  950. >Starstorm salutes, then the others follow suit
  951. >they all wear Starstorm's dignified, serious expression
  952. >even Shield, while fighting his tears
  953. >you salute back
  954. "The honor was all mine. See you, Phoenix"
  955. >you wave a goodbye from the salute
  956. >it's time to do this
  957. >what must be done
  958.  
  959. >you step on the railing, then kick yourself off forward with your hind legs
  960. >your jump is long enough that you land in the pile of charred planks that can be considered the enemy cruiser's deck
  961. >there are quite a few Storm Creature bodies around as well, those that weren't blown off from the deck earlier
  962. >watching your step, to don't simply fall one deck down through the holes, you make it to the steering wheel
  963. >meanwhile, the Razor has hurried away
  964. >it better did, as the dreadnaught will have an angle on her in about...thirty seconds by your estimates
  965. >but that should be enough to pull this off, and give your buddies a chance to live
  966.  
  967. >the storm creature pilot has himself entangled in the steering wheel's spokes
  968. >of course, he's dead, so you hastily remove the body, and grab the wheel with your magic
  969. >you begin steering, and the ship turns 90 degrees to the left
  970. >now that you're in the right direction, you push on the gear lever, putting it in its frontmost position
  971. >you can't read the obscure writing on the lever, but it probably says "Flank speed", like on the Razor
  972. >you're not an airship pilot, but you have the basics down just enough to fly this thing
  973. >...into that other thing just in front of you
  974.  
  975. >your cruiser jolts forward with its distinctive "BRRRRRR" sound
  976. >nothing can stop you now, it's a straight shot to the flagship
  977. >your mind is empty, you fear nothing, you feel nothing
  978. >you only have one goal in sight: reach them before they can fire
  979. >the distance is being closed quickly: 700 meters, 650 meters, 600...
  980. >now you're close enough to see the creatures on the top deck
  981. >they are apparently in panic, noticing something is wrong
  982. >surely, as a rogue airship is flying straight towards them!
  983. >now you can even see a creature giving you flag signals
  984. >most probably indicating an order to stop
  985. >yeah, that won't happen
  986. >you don't feel scared
  987. >you feel a kind of freedom
  988. >it's strangely exhilirating, flying like this into something that is inevitable, but is still your choice
  989. >now the ship in front of you stops its turn, and reverses it completely
  990. >now it tries to line up its guns with YOU
  991. >yes it worked!
  992. >the Razor is saved!
  993. >it'll now probably try to stop your ship with a full salvo, but it's too late for her
  994. >you couldn't steer away now even if you wanted to, the collosion will happen
  995. >150 meters, 100...
  996. >the guns closer to its bow begin to fire, and score multiple hits around you
  997. >with a sudden kick in of your survival instincts, you lie down, just before a cannonball trashes the wheel
  998. >no wheel, doesn't matter, a few seconds until collosion
  999. >actually, you don't wanna die that way
  1000. >you don't wanna get smashed between two airships
  1001. >you choose falling
  1002. >you spring up, and make a run for the railing, and jump over
  1003. >as you begin to fall, you turn in the air and see the cruiser reaching its destination
  1004. >it crashes into the dreadnaught, its gondola quickly becoming one with the bigger ship's
  1005. >the planking falls like rain from both ships, indicating the destruction is sufficient to consider this a mission success
  1006.  
  1007. >well Sword, you did it
  1008. >you did what not even you truly believed in
  1009. >you took the center stage, and saved your unit
  1010. >now you're plummeting towards the ocean, only hoping for a quick and painless end
  1011. >it won't be that, but heh, doesn't matter now...
  1012. >will the armor help?
  1013. >400 meters
  1014. >this surely can't be survived, right?
  1015. >300 meters
  1016. >you did what had to be done
  1017. >200 meters
  1018. >if you could live again, you'd sign up again, you'd serve again, you'd get that faithful letter again...
  1019. >100 meters
  1020. >and you'd still say YES to Celestia!
  1021. >50 meters
  1022. >Because you. Made. A difference!
  1023. *SCREEEEEECH!*
  1024.  
  1025. >you feel a jolt just after a piercing screech
  1026. >what's happening???
  1027. >you didn't strike the water
  1028. >you got whisked away by something, and you're still in the air
  1029. >you're moving fast, and towards the shore no less
  1030. >"Hang on, Corporal!" comes from a familiar voice
  1031. >you gasp a little from the surprise
  1032. >it's Coral!
  1033. >she flew in to save you!
  1034. >you can still hardly comprehend how that could be, instead of becoming fish food, but you're happy nonetheless
  1035. "Coral! H-how?!"
  1036. >"Did you think I'd leave my little Paladin for death? Brace yourself now, we're turning back to the Wind Razor!"
  1037. >Coral makes a huge arc in the air, and she's gaining altitude too
  1038. >and she better does, as the airships that moved over just a few minutes ago are now assembling to assist the trashed flagship
  1039. >or at least that's what you think they're gonna do
  1040. >but simply put, they're flying in the same direction as Coral does
  1041. >hopefully, they won't catch up to you
  1042. >Coral does her best, she's flapping like crazy
  1043. >no doubt this is exhausting even for a hippogriff like her, as you're not exactly light or aerodynamic in your armor and robes
  1044. >"We'll make a torpedo. Pull up your hind legs to your body!"
  1045. "Okay?"
  1046. >you don't know what the hay that means, but you comply anyway
  1047.  
  1048. >after you pulled up your legs, Coral wraps her own hind legs around you
  1049. >now you don't dangle from her claws like some prey, but you're snugly fit to her barrel
  1050. >so THAT'S what a torpedo is
  1051. >the name of this hippogriff flight move
  1052. >now she is able to speed up even more, and fly higher up
  1053. >the Razor is moving at its top speed about two clicks in front of you, but the distance is being closed fast
  1054. >but you can also hear the sounds of effort from Coral
  1055. "Can we make it?"
  1056. >"You think I can't catch up to an airship with crippled engines? I'm a hippogriff, pony!"
  1057. >you don't answer, just pretend that Coral is as good a flier as she is confident
  1058.  
  1059. >you were flying for a few good minutes now
  1060. >your eyes are watering from the wind rushing into them, but you have almost reached the same altitude as the Razor
  1061. >Coral has slowed down a bit, but now she is doing a final push, and ascends above the airship's level
  1062. >now there are only a few hundred meters between you
  1063. >you'd gladly turn back to see if the Storm Army ships are giving chase or not, but honestly, it doesn't matter now
  1064. >you also don't want to create anymore drag than you already are by moving around
  1065. >you're in the finish line now, and you can see your squad on the top deck, probably anticipating your arrival
  1066. >"Ahhh, I can't take much more of this!" says Coral, sounding exhausted "Prepare for a hard landing!"
  1067. "I was prepared for an even harder one..."
  1068.  
  1069. >"I'll need my legs to slow down my landing! Corporal, I'll release you, just keep your legs pulled up, then extend them at the last moment. If you do it correctly, you'll land safely, and just slide harmlessly along the deck" says Coral on your final approach
  1070. "Wait, wait, don't release me yet, I can't possibly....AHHH!!!"
  1071. >it's too late, as your hippogriff companion lets go of you, and you fly on with significant speed onto the deck of your ship
  1072. >but you don't have to experience what Coral warned you about, as Shield's magical aura wraps around you as soon as you touch the deck of the ship
  1073. >you still slide along the deck a significant distance, almost crashing into Coral who landed in front of you, but without the aid of magic
  1074. >coming to a harmless stop, Shield's aura dissipates, and Phoenix squad bursts into a cheer
  1075. >"Whoo-hooo, yeah! The hero is back and alive! All hail Sword Glitter!" comes from Breakpoint
  1076. >"Omigosh Sword, you're alive, I'm so glad, WAHAHA!" says Shield, rushing to you immediately
  1077. >you'd try to scoop yourself up from the ground, to receive the inevitable hug in a more dignified manner
  1078. >but Shield hugs you right there on the ground, and heck, you gladly recieve, sitting up in the process
  1079. >"I was sure you were a goner!" he says "You can't imagine how happy I am that you were not!"
  1080. "I can kinda see that, heh!" you answer, your front legs still wrapped around Shield "But all the praise should go to Coral"
  1081. >and you just reminded yourself that you didn't even thank her for her deed
  1082. >you release Shield, and turn to her
  1083. "Coral? Thank you for saving my life. I can't properly express this, but thank you! I... this is a strange feeling, but let it be enough that you earned my gratitude for a lifetime"
  1084. >"We're all very grateful for saving our Sword Glitter. Thank you, Miss!" now says Shield too
  1085. >Coral is now standing, and although panting heavily, she can't shake the overall dignified appearence that emenates from her species
  1086. >she puts a claw clenched into a fist to her chest, and exclaims proudly
  1087. >"What can I say? I would never leave a comrade and a FRIEND for dead! Especially one that saved ALL of us"
  1088. >you can only smile sheepishly at that
  1089. >it feels good that she called you a friend...
  1090. >and it feels good she risked her own life to save you
  1091. >and honestly, it feels good that you are the hero, and not a tragic one!
  1092.  
  1093. >now Starstorm has her say, who strangely enough, was just an onlooker so far
  1094. >"Sword... Corporal. I don't know how to tell you, but you just pulled off the boldest, craziest thing I have ever seen. And let it be enough, that as a long time Paladin, I've seen my fair share of crazy things. Celestia told me that you're the best of the best before you joined the unit. I had my doubts, but no longer. And I'm also glad that the only one that was killed today was The Rookie... But Sword is here to stay"
  1095. >meanwhile your attention shifted to Scroll momentarily
  1096. >he seems to be really relieved that you stayed alive
  1097. >he backs up what Starstorm just said with a nod
  1098. "Thank you Major! That's big praise coming from you!"
  1099. >"Come on, Corporal. Any Paladin would tell you that. Even Saber. Isn't that right, Staff Sergeant?"
  1100. >Sabersong, so far, took the backstage, although you did see a smile on her face previously
  1101. >it's just hard for her to openly praise you, most probably
  1102. >not that you require it though
  1103. >but dang, does it feel good!
  1104. >nevertheless, Saber steps forward for a word
  1105. >"Yeah, I agree with the Major. You're tough stuff, Glitter. Nopony could deny that. Not even me"
  1106. "Gee, thanks. But I feel crazy describes me more than tough, just as the Major said"
  1107. >"Well, we're ALL crazy here, so welcome to the team" she answers, then quickly steps back
  1108. >it seems that was enough for her
  1109. >you won't blame her, and if she stays like this, you've already made leaps in your relationship
  1110. >but to your surprise, she steps forward again, with your helmet on her right hoof
  1111. >"And hey.../Paladin/. You dropped this"
  1112. >she throws you back the helmet you didn't put back on after you, um... said goodbye to Shield
  1113. >you didn't think it would make much of a difference in what you thought would be a suicidal move
  1114. >you put the helmet back on, and slide back the face plates
  1115. "Thanks, Saber. Real attentive of you"
  1116. >"Yeah, yeah! Just don't forget it next time you go suicidal, okay?"
  1117. >you can only muster a silly eye roll in response to her silly tone
  1118.  
  1119. >among all the praise and pleasantries, the Razor put significant distance between herself and the seaport
  1120. >the Storm Army ships didn't give chase after all, instead rushed to the aid of the crippled flagship
  1121. >the flagship YOU crippled
  1122. >feeling like being in the clear, you let out a long sigh
  1123. >maybe, just maybe, this can be considered a successful mission now
  1124. >all VIPs secured, and you're moving towards the RV point at last, where the Hippogriff Navy will pick them up
  1125. >with that said, Starstorm also thanked Coral for her bravery, as despite a VIP, she flew in for you like she was a part of the team
  1126. >"Yes, I'll also consider this joint operation a success!" she laughs "And now if you'll excuse me, I'll go to the crew deck, and calm my husband down. He must be dead worried"
  1127. >but before Coral could leave, a very loud Longrun emerges from one deck below
  1128. >"Sword! Sword! You rascal, you stayed alive? Well dang, I'll be! But don't you dare trying to kill yourself next time without saying goodbye to ol' Longrun first, eh?"
  1129. "Sorry Gunny. You were steering, and there just wasn't...OOF!"
  1130. >Longrun engages you in a proper bear hug before you could finish the sentence
  1131. "...enough time to do so"
  1132. >Longrun releases you, and looks you in the eye
  1133. >"Sword, you don't know how much it would've pained me losing you" he says now in a dead serious tone "You're a cute lil' Paladin. I mean great, heh. You're a great Paladin. That's what I meant. Strange wording, I know. Southern lingo, comes back to me from time to time, sorry"
  1134. >you raise an eyebrow at that "strange wording", but can't stand to don't smirk a bit, either
  1135. >come on Longrun, not you too!
  1136. >like, professionalism and all!
  1137. >but you're not a great example of that either, in all honesty
  1138. "What could I say? I'm glad I didn't die as well!"
  1139. >now Shield steps to you
  1140. >"Hey Longrun. If you're here, and the rest of Phoenix Squad too... Who steers the ship?"
  1141. >"I fixed the wheel in the right direction. It's hundreds of miles of open seas in front of us, so not much steering will be required. Besides, I asked the Ambassador to keep an eye open"
  1142. >"I understand your cheer right now, but get back to the wheel, right Sergeant?" chimes in the Major
  1143. >"Right" answers Longrun "But maybe you should get below deck too. Get some rest. Especially you, Sword!"
  1144.  
  1145. >Longrun leaves, and you would follow, but Starstorm stops you and Shield
  1146. >"About you two... I saw that kiss earlier. I understood the situation, and I don't want to stomp out any delicate emotions, but keep all that under wraps, okay? You're in the same unit, and you might just risk your lives again tomorrow. It's better for you, and for all of us to just remain comrades. Of course, I don't care what happens between you off duty. But let's keep this professional. Understood?"
  1147. >Shield looks at you, and you look at Shield
  1148. >you see he's blushing, but you feel you're blushing even harder
  1149. >nevertheless, you're the first to answer
  1150. "Of course Major. It was just... A moment of weakness on my part. We'll keep this /professional/ for sure"
  1151. >"Yes. Professionalism. I consider that my middle name actually" Shield doubles down "It'll be all okay Major, I swear"
  1152. >Starstorm raises an eyebrow, and looks back at you, then at Shield, then back at you again
  1153. >you're not sure how much any of that convinced her, especially considering your tumbling tone
  1154. >Shield could actually say all that with a straight face, being a trained officer and all, but it sounded a bit flaky still
  1155. >and who knew, he just inherited your middle name...
  1156. >"Alright then" Starstorm says finally "I'm glad we straightened that out. Now get under deck, double time! And get some rest, that's an order!
  1157. >you begin to move, with Shield behind you
  1158. >and although you manage to stay expressionless, your heart is smiling
  1159. >you told the Major, and even told yourself that it was just a moment of weakness
  1160. >but now you know, you FEEL that it was not
  1161. >that kiss was as genuine as it could be, and would have happened eventually
  1162. >at least that's what your young, impressionable heart tells you right now
  1163.  
  1164. >you're on the crew deck now, and take a seat, just opposite of the Ambassador
  1165. >he greets you warmly, and with great enthusiasm
  1166. >"Corporal Glitter! I'm so glad you're still with us, and didn't perish in all that daring heroism! And of course, you have my eternal gratitude for saving all of us! I'll make sure to mention your feats -and of course, all of the squads' feats- to Queen Novo when I'll get back to Mount Aris"
  1167. >although that was addressed to you, Major Starstorm answers instead
  1168. >"Much appreciated Ambassador, but please also make sure to mention the growing threat of the Storm King to your queen. You saw just how powerful he become. You hippogriffs better prepare for war. But I guess with your research secured, you could feasably use the Pearl against him. Whatever that entails"
  1169. >the Ambassador instinctively puts a claw on his suitcase, holding his years of research
  1170. >"I must stress that using the Pearl would only be a very last resort" he answers "It is a sacred artifact first and foremost, not a weapon, even if it can be turned into one in the right claws. But I'm sure our regular forces will be able to deal with this threat in the... traditional manner. I dare say, our Air Corps is the strongest in the world currently, even notwithstanding the Storm King's airship fleet. Our warriors would board and disable them before they could become an actual threat, in the case of an attack"
  1171. >"I hope you're not exaggerating. Could you maybe tell me how many troops your armed forces number, altogether?" comes the inquiry from Starstorm
  1172. >ah, politics and strategy
  1173. >important and interesting topics, but you don't have the energy even to just listen to them right now
  1174. >instead, your gaze shifts to Coral, who's holding Flurry Tides, their baby daughter in her claws
  1175. >she is now awake, and looking around without much expression
  1176. >it's incredible, but if your memory serves correct, she was asleep during this whole ordeal
  1177. "Gee Coral, hippogriff babies are really calm... She didn't wake up nor cry even once, yet we escaped through a war zone!"
  1178. >"Indeed they are" says Coral, cradling her baby a bit "In this stage of infanthood, they need 18-20 hours of sleep a day. And they sleep very deeply, too. They are only awake to get fed and to excrete, basically"
  1179. "Wow, impressive. I bet many pony parents would take that deal, hehe"
  1180. >"Nonsense! She'll become a little crying machine in a year or so. But I can deal with that. As I'm sure pony parents can deal with it too. But you'll see when you'll be one"
  1181.  
  1182. >Coral's last words inadvertently shocked you a bit
  1183. >you?
  1184. >a parent?
  1185. "No thanks, I don't plan on becoming one. I live for service!"
  1186. >Coral chuckles, and lifts the baby right up to her head
  1187. >"You heard that, Flurry? She is so devoted!"
  1188. >she chuckles again, and turns to you
  1189. >"Sword, I was thinking the same way when I was your age. But eventually you'll get more serious, find someone you feel like you can live down your life with, and start to think about a baby"
  1190. >yeah, find someone huh?
  1191. >well, maybe you did, but that's just some casual love, even if it feels genuine
  1192. >in the armed forces, that is already too much
  1193. >but your heart isn't a military organization, it's a delicate vessel of emotions
  1194. >and you can't order it around like you would a subordinate
  1195. >but dangit Sword, why can't you?!
  1196. >Celestia's champion should be better than that, right?
  1197. >Celestia's champion...
  1198. >heh
  1199. >that sounds so cool, although you're not even sure you've earned it
  1200. >you're only sure about one thing: that this was the longest day of your life, and all the happenings and now these thoughts are a bit too much for you
  1201. >you're hella tired, and could use some shut eye
  1202. >like, right now
  1203. "I think I'll just sleep now" you say casually to Coral
  1204. >"Do sleep, brave Corporal. You've more than earned some rest"
  1205. >you close your eyes, and can feel you will drift off to sleep in a few minutes
  1206. >you can still hear the voices of Starstorm, Scroll Writ, and even the Ambassador, but you pay them no mind
  1207. >as Coral said, you have earned your rest
  1208.  
  1209. >"Sword! Hey, Sword!"
  1210. >"Sword, are you still with us?"
  1211. >"Hey Glitz, wake up!"
  1212. >you are Corporal Sword Glitter, and you haven't been called "Glitz" ever since high school
  1213. >you never told about this nickname to anypony in the team, but it seems Longrun has a penchant for coming up with them
  1214. >you open your eyes, and see only a partial squad here on the crew deck
  1215. >also, you feel like you could have slept more, but this will have to do
  1216. >for a change, it's Breakpoint who's at the wheel now, and Longrun is sitting opposite to you
  1217. >and as he's the one who woke you up, maybe he will also tell the reason for it
  1218. >you can only hope it's not some emergency
  1219. >again...
  1220. >"Sorry for interrrupting your sweet dreams, but we're nearing the RV point where we'll hand over these VIPs to the 'Griff Navy. If you want to say any goodbyes, now it would be the time"
  1221. >you'd rub your eyes a bit more open, but you quickly realize your armored horseshoes prevent you from doing so
  1222. >so you just try hard to see through the "dream haze" still lingering over your eyes
  1223. "Thanks Longrun. I definitely want. Coral deserves a proper farewell from me" you answer
  1224. >"Thought so. She's on the top deck, along with the Major"
  1225. >you slide down from your seat, and make your way to the stairs leading one deck up
  1226. >you pass the rest of the squad, and they seem to be in almost the same state as you were just a minute ago
  1227. >tired, whacked out expressions
  1228. >veteran Paladins or not, this was a long day for them too
  1229. >they pay you no mind, except for Shield of course
  1230. >"Hey Sword" he greets you
  1231. "Hey" you greet him back, still a bit groggy
  1232. >that's all the conversation you could muster before you take the stairs up
  1233.  
  1234. >"Damn leaky airship! I can't sleep in this draft!"
  1235. >you search for the source of Sabersong's complaint, that you only faintly heard up here on the combat deck
  1236. >looking around, you see no penetrative hits anywhere
  1237. >so it must be the firing port windows not closing perfectly
  1238. >as a quick solution, you close the trap door connecting the two decks
  1239. >and you hear an even fainter "Thanks" as a response
  1240. >wow, her manners are improving by the hour
  1241. >incredible
  1242.  
  1243. >you make it to the top deck
  1244. >Major Starstorm, Seabeak, and Coral with the baby are here
  1245. >you walk up to them
  1246. "Major!" you stand at attention for a moment
  1247. >"Ah, Corporal. Slept well?" asks the Major, without any hint of irony
  1248. "I slept so deep like never before"
  1249. >"Right. You'll find that ability useful on multiple day long missions. Where you might catch some sleep one day, but not the next. I still remember THAT jungle patrol... But this is no time for reminiscing. Perhaps I will tell you about it one day"
  1250. "Sounds tough. Almost as tough as busting through a fleet of airships..."
  1251. >"I get ya, but I assure you, we'll have a harder mission one day"
  1252. "I think I'm ready for whatever the future could throw at us"
  1253. >"Now, now, I'm sure you just became REALLY confident in your abilities, but you still have to finish your training. You're not a full-fledged paladin yet"
  1254. "I know. And I'm up for it. Let's just get back to Equstria already. I'm a bit tired of storm creatures and open seas"
  1255. >"Aren't we all?" answers Starstorm, then turns towards the Ambassador "Mr Seabeak, can you see your ship yet? We should be pretty close to the rendezvous point by now"
  1256. >"I...can? I think I see a ship sailing in the distance" answers the tall hippogriff
  1257. >Starstorm walks to the bow, and checks out what was just heard
  1258. >"That's indeed a sailing ship, but I can't take out its flag yet. I'll assemble the squad, just in case"
  1259. >with that, the Major disappears under deck
  1260. "I hope they aren't pirates..." you say, and step to Coral
  1261. >"Nah, they wouldn't dare to come this close to Hippogriff national waters" she answers
  1262. "I sure hope so. But, we're this close to Mount Aris then?"
  1263. >"Yes. You should get closer after we depart, and take a look. Our city looks majestic"
  1264. "I'll try to convince whoever piloting to change the course a bit" you say, and look over the ocean for a few seconds
  1265. >you continue
  1266. "Anyway, I'm glad we came to know each other. And that you turned out to be more than just a mission objective. And of course, you too Mr Ambassador..."
  1267. >you say that, but honestly, the Ambassador was really just a VIP to protect
  1268. >nothing more, nothing less
  1269. >"I'm glad too, Sword. And you ponies made a pretty good impression on me overall. I heard a lot about Equestria and your species, and I'm happy I could actually meet you. Even if under such circumstances"
  1270.  
  1271. >"I share that sentiment" adds Seabeak "You ponies are noble creatures, just as Queen Novo stated on multiple occasions. And I'm even happier about our encounter because, let's admit, without you my little family and myself would be slaves by now"
  1272. >"Now, now honey" says Coral, with an eyebrow raised "Don't you think I wouldn't had anything to say about that"
  1273. >she picks up her ancestral trident for emphasis
  1274. >you didn't even notice it was beside her
  1275. >"I know you would have fought!" snaps the ambassador at his wife "And you would have left little Flurry an orphan, and me heartbroken! Don't worry though, once we get home, we won't even leave our house!"
  1276. >"As if!" answers Coral, now equally triggered "You're the most unadventurous hippogriff I've ever met! I'm almost happy I got into some adventure finally"
  1277. >"Yes, it was some "adventure". I swear, sometimes you act so daft!"
  1278. >Seabeak closes the conversation, and turns his beak up
  1279. >"Yeah, he is pissed" says Coral to you quietly, smiling smugly
  1280. >you smile back, but their little outfall is none of your business
  1281. >you ask Coral instead:
  1282. "So, did you accept it finally?" you say, sliding a hoof along the trident's haft
  1283. >"Oh sure" she rolls her eyes "He will stay like this for a grand total of ten minutes"
  1284. "I meant your trident" you giggle "You said only the worthy should wield it. Don't tell me you don't feel worthy now"
  1285. >Coral looks at the ground, and lowers her weapon a bit
  1286. >then she answers, looking into your eyes again
  1287. >"You know, if anything, I really feel it should be yours now. After everything you've done"
  1288. "You've done a lot too. Like, saving me..."
  1289. >"Yes, but I didn't kill anyone with it. Or participate in the fight. What would my grandfather say?!"
  1290. "You know what? He would say: I am proud. You might have not fought directly, but you were WILLING to help us. And when it mattered the most, you ACTED. And saved one who couldn't have saved herself... And I think the most noble warrior is the one who stands up to the one next to her. If anything, that's worthy of being proud of. And thus, worthy of this weapon"
  1291. >Coral looks along her weapon with a serious gaze, and adjusts her claws on it
  1292. >"I...I didn't think of it that way. But... you might be right. I'll hold into it. Who knows, maybe I'll fight the Storm Army with it one day. Thank you for your insight, Corporal Glitter"
  1293. >she says that with a warm smile
  1294. >she reminds you of Princess Celestia yet again, that smile and intonation is all the same
  1295. >meanwhile, you notice three flying creatures on the horizon
  1296. >as they're getting closer and closer, you see they're armored, and sport sleek figures
  1297. >yup, they are hippogriffs
  1298. >it seems your mission is almost officially over
  1299.  
  1300. >the three hippogriff warriors have arrived, and float right in front of the Razor
  1301. >meanwhile, the rest of your squad also assembled on the top deck
  1302. >the middle warrior of the trio, a blue male hippogriff salutes, and announces himself
  1303. >"Captain Stratus Skyranger, of Her Majesty Queen Novo's Royal Guard, requesting permission to land on deck"
  1304. >"Major Starstorm, Equestrian Special Forces. Permission granted" says your squadleader saluting back, getting the formalities out of the way
  1305. >the small team of guards touch down on the deck, and you can't not notice the momentary horror on their faces as they do so
  1306. >that is, the loose planking creaked so bad under their claws and hooves, that one could think it will give in
  1307. >"Then you must be Phoenix Squad" their captain continues "And I see you escorted the Ambassador and his family back safely. Mr Ambassador? Mrs Ambassador? Happy to see you alive and well" he nods towards them "We will fly back to the escort vessel shortly"
  1308. >Coral salutes back, which the Captain doesn't get at first, but she explains herself
  1309. >Seabeak says few standard pleasantries, as you'd expect from someone of his standing
  1310. >Captain Skyranger now turns back to Starstorm
  1311. >"Let it be known here Phoenix Squad, that you have Queen Novo's most sincere gratitude for carrying out this mission successfully. We both know the details of why this was so important, so I shouldn't restate them. In short, you've done us a great service, that our Queen won't forget"
  1312. >the Major's mouth twitches for a moment, then answers
  1313. >"Oh yes, Queen Novo is very welcome. Now I sure hope our diplomatic relations will go as swimmingly as this mission DIDN'T go"
  1314. >oof, you could almost cut Starstorm's sarcasm, it was so thick
  1315. >the two hippogriff guards take a glance at each other, while their captain furrows his brows for a moment
  1316. >"I do see your ship have taken damage. I hope you didn't get injured yourselves though. Of course, everything will be compensated by our Queen in a more than adequate manner"
  1317. >"I'm sure Celly and Novo have it figured out more than we realize. And don't worry about us, as you can see we're all in one piece"
  1318. >that one was so cold, that the air have almost frozen around the Major
  1319.  
  1320. >"I admit, I feel a little uneasy right now. I have spoken on our Queen's behalf, but as a soldier to a soldier, I'll admit: we should have taken all this risk, not you"
  1321. >"Then we agree about that" Starstorm nods approvingly, with similiar reactions coming from your squad "And just for the record: I'm angry at our leaders, and not at you. You're following orders, just like we did. But what was done is done, we all survived, the mission is complete, and let's leave it at that. Anything else?"
  1322. >Captain Skyranger lets out a silent sigh
  1323. >"No, I don't think so. But I believe that's our cue. Mr and Mrs Ambassador, you're ready?"
  1324. >"Yes" Seabeak answers "But let me say goodbye to this heroic squad of ponies first"
  1325. >"On my behalf too..." adds Coral
  1326. >"Yes... So let me and my wife thank you for everything you've done. You are truly noble and brave, just like your legendary namesake"
  1327. >as Seabeak says that last part, he looks at you for a moment, then he continues
  1328. >"So farewell to you all, and if we meet again, I hope it will happen in more peaceful circumstances"
  1329. >"Farewell, Ambassador" Starstorm simply says
  1330. >Seabeak waves back once, then takes flight
  1331. >the two guards extend their wings, and follow suit
  1332. >but Coral is stalling
  1333. >"Honey, you're coming?"
  1334. >"Yes, yes. Just fly ahead, I'll follow soon" she answers, then turns to the squad
  1335. >"Thanks for protecting his ass" she smiles "And Corporal Glitter...Sword. You're the best! Remain the best!"
  1336. >you walk up to Coral
  1337. "Thank you! But I'm sure any of us here could go for that title... Including you"
  1338. >"Ah, so humble. But let's not flatter each other any longer" she says, then lowers her voice "Come and visit me in Mount Aris if you'll have the time. And bring Shield too, if you wish"
  1339. >she winks
  1340. "Eh...heh... I'll consider it, hehe" you answer, blushing heavily
  1341. >"We should really go now, Miss" you hear the hippogriff captain, already hovering
  1342. >"Well, goodbye Sword!" says Coral, shaking your right hoof "Goodbye Phoenix Squad! All the best to you!"
  1343. >Coral waves as she lifts herself into the air, then turns around, and flies away with the captain
  1344. >your squad says their farewells too, as it seems they grew to like her as well
  1345. >except Sabersong of course, but you're hardly surprised at that
  1346. >you and the squad look after them until they get back to the hippogriff ship, then Longrun is the first to speak up
  1347. >"And I guess that's a wrap. Another job well done!"
  1348. >"Indeed" comes the Major's reaction "Let's head home already. I think we saw enough of the world for a while"
  1349.  
  1350. EPILOGUE
  1351.  
  1352. A few days later...
  1353.  
  1354. >you're looking at the pony, wearing her full dress uniform, being all happy and confident
  1355. >she's almost ready to move out, just needs to adjust her sash a bit...
  1356. >ah, perfect!
  1357. >as Sword Glitter is looking back at you from the mirror, you see the cutest and prettiest trooper to ever serve in the EUP
  1358. >you might be full of it, but it's still true
  1359. >as a matter of fact, you will get reassurance right now
  1360. >"I never liked uniforms too much Sword, but you make it work" says your mom, walking just behind you
  1361. "Thanks. Thought so you will warm up to them one day"
  1362. >Mom steps a bit to the side, so she is more visible to you in the mirror, then continues
  1363. >"It's not that. It just looks good on you. But I'll admit, this Battlemage dress uniform looks better than the Royal Guard one"
  1364. >although mom is right about the uniform, she doesn't know in what unit you actually serve
  1365. >she is not supposed to, like anypony else
  1366. "I'm glad you like it better" you answer
  1367. >"So this medal ceremony you're going to partake in... Who gets awarded exactly? You never told me too much about your unit. Phoenix Squad is it? I'm still a bit confused about what you exactly do"
  1368. >your gaze shifts away from the mirror for a moment, and scrunch up your nose instinctively
  1369. >if there is one part you really hate about your "new" profession, it's this
  1370. >the part where you have to lie...
  1371. >or at least, only telling a very small part of the truth
  1372. >"Phoenix Squad is "platoon zero" of the battlemages, and we basically just test new weapons and technologies. Nothing too serious, or dangerous. Veteran members of the other platoons get awarded now for their long service. Of course they get honored by all of us being there"
  1373. >Mom puts a hoof to her mouth, thinking about what you just said
  1374. >"So, that means... You would never be actually deployed against an enemy, if it came to that, right? Because you and your unit only...test weapons. Right?"
  1375. >oh boy, if she only knew...
  1376. >"Yes, correct. That would only happen as a last resort"
  1377. >mom lets out a relieved sigh
  1378. >"I'm so happy!..."
  1379. >but then she tenses right back up
  1380. >"I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to my baby! Sword, promise me you'll never get into something that could be fatal. Please... You're my only child. Your father and me would be devastated if..."
  1381. >you feel bad about this, but you have to interrupt
  1382. >you went through these same arguments after you signed up to the Royal guard, but unlike back then, she hit the nail on the head this time
  1383. >you turn back, facing her
  1384. "Mom, we've been through this already back when I signed up, and nothing bad happened to me. And besides, I'm an adult and can watch after myself. I'm part of a new unit yes, but this doesn't change things as much as you'd think. Everything will be okay. You can stop worrying"
  1385.  
  1386. >Mom scratches the carpet with a hoof for a few seconds
  1387. >she's looking down, but then looks back up at you
  1388. >"Fine, fine, very well. I'll calm down. But you can forgive a mother for worrying about her daughter, can't you?"
  1389. "Aw, how could I be mad? I just don't want you to become a nervous wreck is all" you say, and hug the pretty mare, from whom you definitely inherited some of your features
  1390. >Mom hugs you back, but you hiss up, and push her away some
  1391. "Ahh, please, not so tightly, oww..."
  1392. >despite her dainty hugs, that hurt
  1393. >of course, it's your fissured rib
  1394. >it's only a small fissure, but still
  1395. >she releases you, and gives a bit surprised look
  1396. >"What's the matter dear? I barely even touched you"
  1397. "It's my side... A small injury. Nothing serious, really. Just go easy on the hugs for a few weeks, huh?"
  1398. >Mom just started to calm down, but now she is back to concerned mode again
  1399. >meanwhile, your father came to you too, but he didn't say anything so far
  1400. >"WHAT injury? You said you didn't do anything dangerous in your new unit!" she says, with one eyebrow almost sky high, and her voice booming with concern and demand
  1401. "I... fell off a ladder. While affixing an experimental weapon system to our unit's airship. It's just a fissure in one of my ribs, and it was all my fault. And it's a VERY small fissure. You don't have to worry about it"
  1402. >of course, that happened either during the embassy collapse, or when the Storm Mage smacked you with his staff
  1403. >but that's all top secret Paladin stuff that civvies aren't supposed to know
  1404. >it's all covered up, not like there would be anyone aside from a few handfuls of ponies knowing about it
  1405. >"A rib fissure?! You didn't even..."
  1406. >"Honey, please" your dad interrupts now "Sword just didn't tell you, because she knew you would be FAR TOO worried. But she said it's just a SMALL fissure. She'll be okay in no time"
  1407. >you smile at both of them as your dad says these words
  1408. >unlike her, Dad pretty quickly accepted that you wanted to be a Royal Guard
  1409. >and although he also only knows the official reason for your injury, he's probably aware there is some mishy-mushy stuff behind it
  1410. >but he didn't insist upon inquiring too much
  1411. >you told him early there WILL be things you won't be able to tell
  1412. >in that sense, he is more "in" than Mom
  1413. >but now she gives him a piece of her mind
  1414. >"So you knew it huh, buster? And you didn't tell me our poor dear was injured? I...I... Well, we'll see about that!"
  1415. >"Fine, but let Sword go now, okay? I think she's already too late"
  1416. >one of the (many) things you like about your father is that he always knew when to break up arguments
  1417. >just like now
  1418. >it's for the best if he'll handle Mom from now on
  1419. >he has his way of sweettalking her, that usually works
  1420. "Dad's right. I'll have to be in the Palace in forty minutes. So goodbye you two! And please, don't tear each other apart while I'm away. I'd be a shame if I had to call a /Royal Guard/ because of that!"
  1421. >you turn around, and open the door
  1422. >the last thing you hear is Dad's laughter
  1423. >and also Mom's voice, but you couldn't make out what she said, you're on your way now
  1424. >because you really shouldn't be late from your OWN medal ceremony
  1425.  
  1426. >you arrive in the castle
  1427. >what you feel really bad about is that you had to lie about YOU being decorated
  1428. >it will be a private ceremony, only Phoenix, the Royals, some of the top brass, and select troopers from the Battlemages will be present
  1429. >or they are already being present
  1430. >you are almost late, and should go to the throne room
  1431. >despite the fact you were inside the castle a few times, you don't actually know the way
  1432. >you never actually guarded the inside of the castle
  1433. >and you feel too proud to ask for directions from any of the guards
  1434. >so you just walk on at a good pace, hoping you will find your way
  1435. >oh come on, will a silly labirinth-like castle stop you?
  1436. >Corporal Sword Glitter, the "Zeppelin Buster"?
  1437. >that's what one of the battlemages called you just the day after you arrived from the mission
  1438. >heh, it has a nice ring to it, but you better not let this go to your head
  1439. >nevertheless, it seems most of the battlemages are in the know, and aware what does Phoenix partake in
  1440. >that, or just Longrun ran his mouth too much again...
  1441.  
  1442. >while you roam the castle, you're thinking about your medal
  1443. >the Grand Cross of Bravery, with the Sun and Moon and Star Cluster
  1444. >the highest tier of a relatively common medal awarded to troops for bravery
  1445. >this makes it the second highest award a member of the EUP can get, and you're brimming with pride that you will get it
  1446. >Starstorm herself recommended you for this one
  1447. >although it was only said "Phoenix Squad's medal ceremony", and it wasn't said specifically you will get this medal, you don't think the Major's recommendation got rejected
  1448. >after all, you very clearly risked your life to save your whole squad
  1449. >you easily fit the criteria for the award
  1450. >your head is in the clouds as you almost bump into Shield
  1451. >"Hey Sword, where were you? I almost sent a few guards to look for you. The ceremony is beginning in five minutes!"
  1452. "Hi Shield... Whoah..."
  1453. >you are taken aback for moment by just how dapper he looks in his full dress uniform
  1454. >as if thinking about your medal wasn't enough for your excitement
  1455. >you almost reach to your collar to let out the hot steam, figuratively
  1456. >"Something wrong?" he reacts in a bit flamboyant manner
  1457. "No... Nothing. Everything's fine"
  1458. >"Then let's go. And yeah, you look killer too in your uniform"
  1459. >you begin to walk with Shield, who seems to know the way
  1460. "I guess I don't hide my emotions too well, huh?"
  1461. >"I think you didn't even try. But hey, fine by me..."
  1462. "Actually, I just wanted to ask what the therapist said. Will you get back your normal gait?"
  1463. >you try to change the topic quickly, but your cheeks are still rosy
  1464. >but honestly, you DO care about Shield's well-being
  1465. >it's just that you really like how he looks right now
  1466. >"He said I'll be able to gallop with full speed in two weeks if I follow the healing regimen closely, but my strange new gait will remain somewhat. I guess not even Celestia's healing magic is perfect"
  1467. >during talking, Shield picks up the pace
  1468. >you really only have a few minutes now
  1469. "Be glad that some gait is the only thing that will remind you of Abyssynia. Those healing sticks saved your life. Celestia DOES care about us"
  1470. >"Yeah, she really does. That's why she sent us directly into a war zone at the last possible moment. But hey, that Wound Medal and Combat Cross are totally worth it!"
  1471. >was that just...sass? Coming from Shield? The officer from the Academy?
  1472. "Whoa Shield" you answer "Didn't know you can speak against Celestia like that. I'm in disbelief"
  1473. >"Don't be. It's just that a good soldier has to realize mistakes, whether he or others made them. Regardless of rank, title or standing. But shhh, here we are"
  1474.  
  1475. >you arrive at the throne room
  1476. >the rest of Phoenix are already here, all dressed up too
  1477. >"Took your sweet time" Starstorm addresses you "Will you two continue being separated from us, no matter the place?"
  1478. >you look at the Major as she says these, and although she sounds serious, you can see the hint of a smile in the corner of her mouth
  1479. >next thing you notice, is the number of service ribbons on her uniform
  1480. >to say the least, it's stacked
  1481. >the Major never particularly bragged about them, but you knew that she was decorated
  1482. >you just didn't know she had so many awards
  1483. >the others also have badges, or medals on their chests
  1484. >even Shield has a "Unicorn Sharpshooter" badge
  1485. >only your chest is empty
  1486. >but not for much longer!
  1487. >you hear the fanfares from inside
  1488. >you and the squad enters the throne room
  1489.  
  1490. >the fanfares stop, and you stand between two rows of battlemages, facing the royals
  1491. >yes, both Celestia and Luna are here
  1492. >this is the first time you see Princess Luna up close
  1493. >on her right, there's Celestia herself
  1494. >on her left, a batpony mare, wearing silvery armor, without a helmet
  1495. >she's probably captain of the Nightwings, Princess Luna's elite company of guards
  1496. >in role, they are somewhat akin to the battlemages
  1497. >except they don't use magic, and are fanatically loyal to Luna, and Luna only
  1498. >the captain's dark coat, slit pupils, and stern look make her a bit scary sight to behold, to say the least
  1499. >good thing she and her kin are on your side, or at least on Luna's
  1500. >beside her, here is the Captain of the Canterlot Royal Guard, Major General Highwind, the chairpony of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Commander Spearfeather, and Colonel Roughspell, the commander of the Battlemage company
  1501. >and of course here are you, Phoenix Squad
  1502.  
  1503. >Princess Celestia starts her speech:
  1504. >"We have gathered here today to honor the heroism of the Royal Paladins, Phoenix Squad, who are back from an incredibly difficult mission from a far away place. They were tasked with extracting the Hippogriff ambassador from Felin al-Kot, the capital city of Abyssynia, the realm of the cat folk. Their task was not an easy one. They not just had to race time itself to get there before the Storm King's army did, they also eventually had to fight this mighty force itself. Added to their hardships, the Ambassador also had a family there, and they also needed extraction. It's as if fate itself worked against these brave ponies, but despite all odds, they prevailed, completed their mission, and returned home safely"
  1505. >you shift your eyes a bit towards your squad
  1506. >the "returned home safely" part is a bit wonky, but you see no reaction
  1507. >oh well, victory speeches be victory speeches
  1508. >you notice that though, Princess Luna looks a tiny bit bored
  1509. >she stands straight and dignified, but that belies her feelings you think
  1510. >funny...
  1511. >you revert your attention back to Celestia
  1512. >"You might ask why this mission was important, why partake in such a rescue. The hippogriffs are our longtime allies. They're much alike us. I'd like to say they are as much the center of culture and civilization in the south as we are in the north. But right now they are facing a war. The brutal Storm King will eventually reach Mount Aris, and try to take down this noble race. What we did now was buying them time. If Novo had sent her own forces to rescue this diplomat, the Storm King easily could have turned his fleet against them in retaliation. Of course, by engaging him we have presented ourselves as a new potemtial target. But I believe Novo will deal with this tyrant before it would come to a conflict between us and the Storm King. If you had any doubts, now you see why this mission was both importand AND justified"
  1513. >the Princess pauses for a few seconds, then continues
  1514. >her so far pretty serious expression changes to her trademark moderate, but warm smile
  1515. >"And now, to present the awards to the unit. To say they went above and beyond the call of duty is an understatement. They always do. They are some of the best of the best. But a few of them even went that extra mile this time, that deserves extra credit"
  1516. >a military aide gives Princess Luna a decorated box
  1517. >that must contain the medals
  1518. >you should remain humble and patient, but your excitement starts to increase
  1519. >you?
  1520. >getting decorated?
  1521. >goodness, this is so awesome!
  1522. >"Lieutenant Breakpoint, step forward!" Celestia calls out the first medalist
  1523. >Breakpoint steps out from the group, and in front of Celestia
  1524. >the huge stallion has a proud smile, but otherwise he is totally calm
  1525. >"Lieutenant, time and time again you have proven to be the backbone of your unit, that calm and dependable pony who doesn't seek glory, but always there as support when support is needed. This wasn't different during this mission either. That is why I award you the Good Soldier Medal"
  1526. >Celestia levitates out the aforementioned medal from the box Luna is holding
  1527. >and pins it on Breakpoint's chest
  1528. >"Please, continue being like this, soldier. We all appreciate your efforts"
  1529. >Breakpoint salutes, and returns to the group
  1530.  
  1531. >the ceremony continues with the next awardee
  1532. >"Sergeant Shield Edge, please step forward!" Celestia calls out your friend
  1533. >Shield walks in front of Celestia
  1534. >again, you aknowledge to yourself that his gait is barely noticable
  1535. >lucky pony, his adventure could have ended worse
  1536. >"Sergeant, although you are far from inexperienced, this was your first mission of this scale. I was made aware that with your bravery and combat skills you tremendously helped your team succeed. But also, you have been through the worst of the worst during the mission. Alongside Corporal Glitter, you have been separated from your unit, and also got heavily injured. Not once, but twice. You've been saved both times by your comrades' intervention, but you never would have gotten into these situtations if you didn't risk your life for the success of the mission. Despite it all, you've never given up, and carried on with good conduct. Thus, I award you the Combat Cross AND the Wound Medal"
  1537. >Celestia's aura wraps both medals, and they get pinned on Shield's uniform
  1538. >Shield is happy, you can tell
  1539. >he well deserves those, maybe even more
  1540. >"Your devotion would provide a fine example to every young officer coming out from the Academy, Sergeant Edge. Carry this mindset on"
  1541. >with these words, Shield gets dismissed
  1542. >he smiles and salutes, and returns among you
  1543.  
  1544. >the next award should be yours
  1545. >oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!
  1546. >you can see Luna is aware of your excitement
  1547. >she looks into the medal case, then at you
  1548. >her mouth turns momentarily upwards, as if saying "This is gonna be good, you see!"
  1549. >"Corporal Sword Glitter, front and center!"
  1550. >reacting to Celestia's words, you get in front of her, beaming with pride
  1551. >you puff out your chest, and await her award speech
  1552. >"Corporal Glitter, it was a long time ago I saw so much heart and dedication from a soldier as I did from you. Despite the fact you didn't nearly finish your Paladin training, your wits and pure will shone through, and helped win the day. But leaving it at that would be an understatement. As I mentioned, Sergeant Edge and you got separated from the rest of the team, and he got gravely injured. Despite facing an extremely dangerous enemy mage in combat, you persevered, and healed the Sergeant, then helped him and yourself back to your airship, fighting hostile forces along the way. And during your getaway, when everything seemed lost, you were very obviously willing to sacrifice your own life to save your squad and the Hippogriff VIPs, with a daring manouver against the enemy flagship. Corporal, these feats prove that you are a true Paladin in spirit, and someone every soldier of the EUP could strive to be. For these reasons I award you the highest decoration I can bestow upon a member of our armed forces, the Equestrian Medal of Eternal Fortitude"
  1553. >GASP!
  1554. >no way!
  1555. >you're getting THE Medal of Eternal Fortitude?
  1556. >only a few dozen ponies got awarded with this ever since its founding, centuries ago
  1557. >and a bigger number of those were posthumous than not
  1558. >you must be dreaming right now!
  1559. >but you are obviously not, as Celestia grabs this final medal from the case...
  1560. >...and pins it on your uniform
  1561. >you are so overtaken by this, that you almost forget to salute
  1562. >"Wear it with pride, Corporal. And remember: it's not simply the medal that honors you. You honored yourself by acting the way you did"
  1563. >you now salute, and return among yours
  1564. >you must be grinning, because Shield also does
  1565. >Longrun winks at you, and Breakpoint lets out a "Nice one!"
  1566. >of the two mares, Starstorm just nods, while Saber has a grimace mixed with a smile that you can't really place anywhere
  1567. >maybe, you shouldn't
  1568. >Scroll, reserved as ever, just smiles at you
  1569. >it's the same smile he had after you returned to the Wind Razor with Coral
  1570. >but the ceremony is not over yet
  1571.  
  1572. >Celestia speaks yet again, while Luna just seems relieved she no longer has to play medal case-holder
  1573. >"And now it's time for me to award the unit as a whole. The feats of some members may be more extraordinary than those of others sometimes, but Phoenix is one. They achieve their victories as a team ultimately. Commander Starstorm, please present the unit colors"
  1574. >Starstorm walks forward, with the unit's flag held up high
  1575. >she stops, and lowers it, so the flag is exactly face level for the tall Princess
  1576. >Celestia presents the Major with the unit's newest battle honor
  1577. >it says /Rescue mission at Felin al-Kot, 1107/
  1578. >the Princess places it under the previous one, and affixes it with her magic
  1579. >there are a LOT of battle honors already
  1580. >dozens
  1581. >/Yak raid on the Crystal Empire, 1103/
  1582. >/The battle of Canterlot, 1101/
  1583. >/The great Southern Jungle patrol, 1092/
  1584. >it goes all the way back to the very first mission of the unit
  1585. >to a certain /Mission under the mountain, 121/
  1586. >that nopony ever explained what was...
  1587. >but beside these, there is a separate little banner hanging alongside the unit's colors
  1588. >that you didn't see before
  1589. >one with names
  1590. >dozens of them...
  1591. >more than likely, the names of the squadmembers Phoenix has lost during its very long history
  1592. >you're glad that this time, no more names got on that banner
  1593.  
  1594. >with the newest battle honor in place, Major Starstorm turns around, and presents the unit's flag to the whole throne room
  1595. >everypony, except for the royals, audibly snaps to attention, and salutes the flag
  1596. >after everyone paid their respects, the Major returns with the unit colors to you
  1597. >"One more for history" she says very quietly, as she lowers it
  1598. >she isn't the very sentimental type (that would be you), but this sounded like that
  1599. >but this isn't her first "slip" either, so the observant trooper could tell that indeed, Major Starstorm does have a soul, and isn't just a war golem camouflaged as a pony
  1600.  
  1601. >with all eyes being on Celestia again, she continues talking
  1602. >"Once again, I want to thank the Paladins for their continued service. Phoenix Squad, you were my sword and shield during history, being there for me when I needed you the most. And I'm sure you will continue being by my side, no matter what happens"
  1603. >with that, Celestia lowers her head, as her sign of respect
  1604. >Luna does so too
  1605. >and for the first time, she speaks too
  1606. >"And let me also personally thank you for being by my sister's side during all her years ruling alone. I know it was hard for her, but it gives me some ease that a noble group of warriors were always ready to aid her, if she needed it. Carry on that legacy"
  1607. >Luna deeply lowers her head once again, and the squad salutes her back
  1608. >and although you should probably feel humbled and dignified right now, you just can't
  1609. >your medal, Celestia's speech, Luna's speech, all that honor expressed towards you
  1610. >all you feel is pride and joy
  1611. >well, not everyday does a pony get the Equestrian Medal of Eternal Fortitude!
  1612. >although too bad you can't even present the medal to your parents because of your unit's secretive nature...
  1613. >...you are still convinced that this is your
  1614. >BEST
  1615. >DAY
  1616. >EVER!
  1617.  
  1618. SOME TIME LATER...
  1619. >you are Captain Scroll Writ
  1620. >you're in Princess Celestia's private quarters, standing on her balcony next to her
  1621. >you look over the horizon, with the sun crawling ever so close to it
  1622. >it's almost dusk, and time for Celestia's daily duty again soon
  1623. >"Thank you for bringing those maps over, Scroll. Most appreciated" speaks the Princess next to you
  1624. "Don't mention it. It's for the best if you have them now, here in your quarters"
  1625. >"Indeed. I might be paranoid, but I'm trusting less and less ponies with such sensitive information nowadays"
  1626. >Celestia sighs, and looks at the ground
  1627. >it's as if her ever-flowing mane are doing the flows a bit slower than usual
  1628. >but it's probably just your imagination
  1629. "Better safe than sorry. But you can trust us"
  1630. >"I know. Like I always could, for the last thousand years. And although I found the Bearers for the Elements, I feel that your role in protecting Equestria is far from over..."
  1631. "Princess, whatever fate could throw at us, we're ready for it"
  1632. >Celestia just gently nods as an aknowledgement
  1633. >you both remain silent for a bit
  1634. >after a few minutes, you continue
  1635. "I have to admit that without Sword, I wouldn't be here talking with you. Nor the squad. You were right about her"
  1636. >for the first time since the conversation started, Celestia smiles
  1637. >a bit wryly
  1638. >"See Scroll? I still know how to pick 'em"
  1639. "You sure do Princess. If only Starstorm could trust you as much as you trust her"
  1640. >"She's just like that. She can't fully trust anyone. But I don't fault her for it. That's probably the reason after all these years of service, she is still alive and standing"
  1641. "True. And considering her childhood, I'm not surprised"
  1642. >Celestia's expression darkens somewhat, her voice is moody again
  1643. >"For centuries I picked those I should have helped instead. Orphans, ponies lost in life, young impressionable fools, even convicts sometimes. All because I knew they would serve me without hesitation, and they would put their everything into the fight. And what they always got in return? Another chance to die next time, whenever I said so. A shiny piece of metal, on occasions"
  1644. "Don't be so hard on yourself. You always did what you did to serve the greater good. So that ponies could sleep safe and sound, night after night"
  1645. >"In blissful ignorance. Unaware of the dangerous world around them" Celestia adds
  1646. >you think about that for a bit, then answer
  1647. "Maybe for the better. Look at those of us non-ignorant: jaded and weary. Those ponies at least live a happy life"
  1648. >"And that's all I want for them" the Princess answers with a slightly bitter smile
  1649. "And that's what you always provided" you say, and try to cut the conversation short. It turned a bit sour, and you wouldn't want to sadden her even more
  1650. "I think I'll take my leave now, Your Highness. Have a peaceful night"
  1651. >you salute, turn back, and make your way towards the door
  1652. >almost there, the ever-calm voice stops you
  1653. >"Captain Writ?"
  1654. "Yes, Your Majesty?"
  1655. >Celestia has your attention, but she hesitates to speak
  1656. >she has something on her lips, but eventually decides to keep it to herself
  1657. >"It's nothing, Captain. Have a good night"
  1658. >you nod, and leave the room
  1659. >you're a mage, a paladin, and an intelligence officer
  1660. >but not even you could crack an immortal
  1661.  
  1662. SOMEWHERE ELSE IN CANTERLOT...
  1663. >you are Corporal Sword Glitter
  1664. >here you are, on one of the platforms overlooking central Equestria
  1665. >and you're looking at the beautiful sunset
  1666. >you're sitting on the very edge of the platform, which, as a former Royal Guard, you know to be forbidden
  1667. >but you don't bother now, the sight is just so serene, that you have to experience it from as close as possible
  1668. >and indeed, from here, it looks like as if you could touch the Sun if you jumped
  1669. >but you had enough excitement during the mission, now you just want to sit here, enjoying the view
  1670. >along with...Shield
  1671. >yeah, after the medal ceremony, he proposed he will escort you home
  1672. >taking the scenic route...
  1673. >he suggested he would show you a path that is absolutely breathtaking
  1674. >he did, but he was surprised that it didn't take your breath
  1675. >as a former City Guard, with a fair amount patrols behind yourself, you knew the route well
  1676. >still, you appreciated the effort
  1677. >then after a good walk, you ended up here
  1678.  
  1679. >so now you just sit here, overlooking the setting Sun
  1680. >"This is just so beautiful, isn't it Sword? As the reds and oranges dip below the Unicorn Range..." says Shield suddenly, audibly overtaken by the sights
  1681. "Indeed it is! Mhhh, and heh... I guess a poet is lost within you!"
  1682. >Shield puts a hoof behind the back of his head
  1683. >"Come on! It wasn't that poetic... I just stated a fact"
  1684. "I know!" you giggle "I meant it literally. A poet is lost within you...VERY deep inside!"
  1685. >"Sheesh, Sword... I know it was a bit cliché and far too cheesy, but that was the best line that came to my mind, okay? I just wanted to break the silence a bit"
  1686. "But...why? Silence isn't necessarily bad..." you inquire, tilting your head a bit
  1687. >"Yeah, but... I just thought, well... What sort of date is this if we just stay completely silent? I wanted to say...something"
  1688. "Ohhh... A date? Whoever told you this was a date?!" you say, putting a hoof to your chest, fiegning obliviousness
  1689. >"Well, uh...yeah. I was jumping to conclusions, then. Sorry about that. It's not a date, then. Okay. Duly noted"
  1690. >Shield droops his ears, as if his stuttering wasn't enough of an indication dating isn't his forte
  1691. >oh come on, is this silly serious?
  1692. >you slide a bit closer to him
  1693. "Well, it's not a date, but... We can MAKE it a date, hm?"
  1694. >"We...can?!" he looks back at you from the kilometer-long drop underneath you
  1695. "Duh! You just need to try! Gee El-Tee, they really don't teach dating at the Academy, are they?
  1696. >"They don't. And I'm sure I would've failed at it even if they did"
  1697. >and he lowers his head again...
  1698. "Sheesh, come on!" you say, and put a hoof under his chin, turning his head back to facing you
  1699. >then you continue
  1700. "Shield, you dared to stand up against some of the worst this world can offer, but you don't dare to say what's on you heart? Because that's all you need! Now come on, don't let me spell it out for you"
  1701. >Shield looks deep into your eyes
  1702. >then covers his own with his hooves
  1703. >"I'm...so silly. We already kissed... And I wanted to pretend it didn't happen, because it was a sort of in-the-heat-of-the-moment thing. But I have to realize I was probably wrong"
  1704. "It was exactly that... But isn't that what this feeling is all about?"
  1705. >as you say that, you start to wrap your hooves around his neck...
  1706. >...and at the same time, he encircles your croup with his forelegs
  1707. >"You must be right... I think you ARE right. Actually, I KNOW you are..."
  1708. "Then what are you waiting for?! Say it!"
  1709. >"Sword? I love you!
  1710. "And I love you too! You silly-willy-nilly!"
  1711. >you hug him and giggle
  1712. >then you kiss
  1713. >and unlike on the airship, this isn't a kiss of desperation, but that of confirmation
  1714. >and you remain like this, entangled, for Celestia knows how long
  1715. >happily, lovingly...
  1716. >perhaps even a bit unprofessionally...
  1717. >because sometimes, you just need to let go
  1718.  
  1719. *screen wipe*
  1720.  
  1721. THE END

[RGM] Sword and Shield (Part 2)

by NickBeard

[RGM] A Hearth's Warming Patrol

by NickBeard

[RGM] Sword and Shield (Part 1)

by NickBeard